Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Spring (the season) (07/23/09)
TITLE: Guts ... and Spring Beauties
By Beth Muehlhausen
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Sadie spent three months in the hospital after her father’s old Buick named Guts slid on ice and plowed into the engine of a Norfolk and Southern. She laid like a corpse in traction, a fractured and fatherless waif in need of medicinal hope to match her mega-doses of morphine.
The car was originally named Gusty, and it reeked of gas and cigar smoke. The seats were decorated with random oily spots as if someone had sprinkled bacon grease here and there. The chassis wore smallpox-like rust marks that had eaten away large patches of metal to expose gaping wounds.
“Gutsy ain’t nothin’ but a rattle-trap hunk o’ junk,” her mother said.
But Sadie thought joy riding with her father was paradise. She crouched on the floor opposite the driver’s seat, lifted up the rubber mat covering a baseball-sized rust spot, and watched the snow-covered road whiz by underneath. “Go faster, Pa, faster … faster!!!”
“It’s winter darlin’ - but next spring we’ll train old Gutsy for the races. Yeeee haw!”
She was proud of him for trading two of his favorite squirrel guns for Gutsy so they could have a car. One day he re-christened the Buick with brownish tobacco spit that splattered across the dented radiator grid. “I’m calling this baby Guts - ‘cause that’s all they’ll find of me if I ever crash it.”
A month after the accident, Sadie’s mother was evicted from their trailer and relocated to an isolated, government-funded shelter. Very few people came or went. “It’s like bein’ in solitary confinement way out there,” Sadie’s mother told the hospital nurses, “but I like it that way.”
Time passed, and Sadie improved. One day in March, her mother said, “C’mon girl, you’re good enough to get better on yer own. Today I’m takin’ ya with me.”
She wrapped Sadie loosely in a bed sheet, then swooped her up and lunged through the door of the hospital room like a human Secretariat bolting from a starting gate at the Kentucky Derby. A nurse screamed as they galloped toward the nearest EXIT sign. But so what? Soon they were cruising along in a modest sedan provided by the halfway house.
“Yer gonna love it there, honey. Just wait and see.”
The world had changed since Sadie entered the hospital: no snow or ice. The trees wore a gauzy, faint tinge of lime-green. “Can we roll the windows down, Ma?”
“’Course we can!” She stopped the car, leaned over, and cranked the window with a few swift jerks. “There!”
The fresh-scented wind swirled Sadie’s long auburn hair in her face, leaving her almost as intoxicated as her father had been the day of the accident.
Eventually they pulled up to a one-story complex, and her mother hurried around to open her door. “C’mon, honey. I wanna see ya walk.”
Sadie stepped out of the car with bare feet while her untied hospital gown ceremoniously flapped in the breeze.
“Look Ma, Spring Beauties – they’re bloomin’!”
Low-growing white and almost-lavender blossoms resembling miniature stars grew next to the parking lot. They spread over the ground like a carpet of living snow that stretched all the way down a slight incline toward a giant, tear-swollen, blind-and-opalescent eye: a slushy pond in the process of thaw.
While her mother steadied her arm, Sadie wobbled like a Tennessee walking horse in training - legs arched, toes pointed in response to the dewy cold - leaving a path of crushed flowers behind her.
“It’s spring, Ma!” Sadie stopped and gestured toward the trees, the sky, and the Spring Beauties, as if to embrace it all. “Pa said we’d run old Guts hard, like if he was trainin’ for a race, once it warmed up.” She grimaced. “I miss him, Ma. And I miss Guts.”
Her mother stooped to pick a handful of little flowers. “Look here, Sadie. Up close.”
Sadie cupped her hands to hold the star-shaped blossoms. Microscopic purple threads streaked the five petals comprising each one.
“See? See them tiny little veins?”
“Yeah Ma, I see.”
Her mother sighed. A chilly wind gusted up from the pond, carrying wet, earthy smells. “Spring is when dead things wake up. Them are bloody drips from Jesus’ crown of thorns. He’s still alive, takin’ care of everything – including Pa, and maybe even Guts.”
Sadie clutched the flowers to her chest as the wind shaped a cloudy configuration in the sky. It was, most certainly, the shape of an old, holey Buick.
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