Beached Whale Jim Ross Micro-Fiction

pages Beached Whale

by Jim Ross

Published in Issue No. 260 ~ January, 2019

Beneath a gazebo, wearing a canary housedress, her matted hair having outlived numerous stylists, an old woman catalogs the skeletons of her lifetime.

Joining her on the short arm of an L-shaped bench, I ask, “You got somebody here?”

“They’re all spread out.” She gestures in succession toward each family plot.

“Good to have a place you can call home,” I say.

“My sister’s ashes they’re bringin’ over from Winchester, that’s what I’m waitin’ for.”

“You remember what was on this spot?” I ask.

“It was my church,” she says. “Lots of the people you’re lookin’ at were there the day it burned down. All that’s left is two concrete steps goin’ nowhere.”

“I been wonderin’,” I say, “over there, where it looks like people could eat standin’ up, what was that?”

“You’re lookin’,” she says, “at what’s left of an old shanty, had a stove, we cooked dogs and burgers, and people brought what they could—potato salad, sliced tomatoes—the best tomatoes grew here—ham ‘n beans, or a warm peach pie. This was peach and apple country, you know.”

“You got a name for this place?” I ask.

“A beautiful name,” she says, “we called it ‘The Festival.’”

“What was it like,” I ask, “as a kid?”

“Hearin’ ‘The Festival’ meant magic. Still does. Nobody had much of anythin’—they mined silica, worked the mills, ran small farms, worked orchards, had jobs at hotels in town, ran home industries. Knowin’ all winter long that come spring you’d get an ice cream at ‘The Festival’ meant the world to a child, and not just to a child.”

“Looks like the skeleton of a beached whale,” I say.

She laughs, “And what would a whale be doin’ in our cemetery?”

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After retiring from a career in public health research in early 2015, Jim Ross resumed creative pursuits in hopes of resuscitating his long-neglected left brain. He's since published 75 pieces of nonfiction, several poems, and 200 photos in 80 journals in North America, Europe, and Asia. His publications include 1966, Bombay Gin, Columbia Journal, Friends Journal, Gravel, Ilanot Review, Lunch Ticket, Kestrel, MAKE, Pif, and The Atlantic. In the past year, he wrote and acted in his first play based the essay Getting the Last Word, published in the August 2014 edition of Pif. In addition, one of his nonfiction pieces led to a role in a soon-to-be-released major documentary film. His goal is to combine creative nonfiction with photography. He and his wife--parents of two health professionals and grandparents of four wee ones--split their time between Maryland and West Virginia.