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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Jim Ross is a health researcher specializing in child and adolescent health. Of note, he directed the last national study of the physical fitness and physical activity of American kids. He splits his time between Silver Spring, Maryland and Berkeley Springs, West Virginia. He attended Georgetown University for undergrad, and Howard University for grad school. In his 20s, he wrote creative non-fiction stories, then buckled down to raise a family and pursue a career.. A few years back, he remembered who he'd been and resumed going to modern dance performances, growing fat tomatoes, engaging in long conversations in saunas, going on long walks, getting lost in the woods and writing stories from life. He previously published stories about the integration of the DC snipers into the Silver Spring YMCA in TheAtlantic.com and elsewhere on the 10th anniversary of the DC sniper shootings. He aspires to spend more time hiking in the South of France where it's cheaper to fill your empty water bottle with fine local wine than to buy a bottle of water. Viewing parenting as a fine art,that takes a village, he and his wife, Ginger, look forward to becoming grandparents one day.