LOOKING FOR NANNA • by Gerald Warfield

When I got home from the quarry that night, Nanna had wandered off again. I could see the cottage from a ways down the path. She’d left the door open.

It started before Christmas, her forgetting stuff, but she could still find her way around. Come spring, though, I’d get home dead tired, and she’d be gone.

Sissy couldn’t help much. She lived too far away, although she came every fortnight or so to help me and to get Nanna cleaned up.

“What you need is a wife,” she said when we were on the porch, out of Nanna’s earshot.

“Couldn’t saddle no wife with lookin’ after Nanna.”

“There’s lots of women could take a shine to you.”

“Don’t, Sissy.”

Her brow crinkled, like she was trying to figure something out. “Then you gotta block the door, bar it from the outside, or even better, tether her to the bed. You could make it long enough so she could get around, even out on the porch.”

“I don’t know. She might get tangled up and trip.”

Sissy just shook her head.

It wasn’t so bad, taking care of Nanna, ’cept when I got really tired. Mornings I had to milk Patty ’fore I went to the quarry. Never time to churn, so I dropped the milk off at Carl’s. Carl made cheese. Traded us vegetables and eggs.

Quarry work’s hard, and if you’re sleepy it’s dangerous. Missed the chisel once. That woke me up. Hand never did heal right. Course, my hands are rough anyway from workin’ stone. Rougher’n a plowman’s.

I refused to leave Nanna tethered. But looking for her in the woods at night—that was scary, peering into the shadows, wanting to find her, and at the same time afraid I would.

Anyway, that night when I lit out hollerin’ for Nanna, somebody answered, and I saw another lantern down the trail.

“Your Nanna’s wandered off?” It was Edward, one of Carl’s sons. He lifted the lantern, his face glowing in the light, all smooth like he’d just shaved.

“Yeah,” I said and glanced down at my feet so I wouldn’t stare.

“I heard you. Came to help.”

“Thanks, Edward.” I called him Edward, ’stead of Ed. He said he liked it.

“I can still remember when she bandaged up my leg that time I got burnt so bad.”

“Me too. She was always takin’ care of people.”

“Here, you go that path. I’ll take the other one.”

Few minutes later he called out.

When I reached them, Nanna was clutching her rag doll and had her other arm around Edward.

At the fork that led to his cottage, Edward put a hand on my shoulder. “Next time she goes missing you holler ’cross the creek.”

After that, I tethered Nanna on the days I went to the quarry. It was a long tether, and she didn’t cry, but a week later I got careless and left the paring knife out.

When I called ’cross the creek, Edward was there with his lantern double quick. We followed the trail she usually took, and when we came to a fork he said we should split up.

“No,” I said hesitantly. “Keep me company.”

“Okay.” He reached over and put his hand on my shoulder. I must have started.

“Sorry,” he said.

“It’s all right.” I wished I hadn’t looked away. What was wrong with me?

We trekked a while before we found her huddled on the path. “I was lookin’ for my baby,” she said, her eyes watering, “but my foot’s got hurt.”

Kneeling, I felt her swollen ankle. Edward put his arm around her, and she leaned against his chest.

We made a cradle, me holding Edward’s arm and his holding mine.

“Comfy up there?” he asked.

“Oh, yes,” Nanna said, clinging to us both.

Edward looked across at me, grinning. His brown eyes… and I looked away, again.

We had to leave the lanterns and only got a little ways before Nanna fell asleep. We couldn’t hold her up straight, so we wedged her tight between us linking arms over each other’s shoulders. My heart thumped like I was gonna keel over.

Almost there, I kinda moved my fingers on his shoulder, and he kinda moved his fingers on my shoulder, too. Course it didn’t mean nothin’.

When we got to the cottage we laid Nanna on the rope bed. Edward smoothed her gray hair, and she turned onto her side.

“I know you love her,” he said softly, “but you don’t show it much, do you?”

Nobody ever said that to me before. I looked down at Nanna and opened my mouth, but nothing came out.

“You know, I think you’re afraid to touch people.”

I turned to the door, my heart racing. “We gotta go back for the lanterns.”

Starting back down the trail, we could barely see and kept running into spider webs on the edges of the path.

We found the lanterns where we’d set them on a rock.

“We shouldn’ta left them burning,” he said.

“Yeah.” I kneeled down and snuffed the wick.

He snuffed his, too, and we stood up, each with a lantern.

Blinded from the afterglow, I reached out my other hand and met his, reaching for me.

“Well, I guess we can stumble back together.” My voice was rough.

He slipped his arm around my waist. I got up the nerve to put mine around his, too.

We started back and the moon came out. I glanced sidelong at him and saw the spider webs, silver in his hair. They were like a veil, and it reminded me of Sissy’s wedding when she wore a veil.

“I was thinkin’,” he said. “You’re kinda by yourself, and it’s crowded at my place. Maybe I could stay with you and help out.”

We put the lanterns down, and I guess the dam kinda busted: I threw my arms around him and kissed him.

Gerald Warfield’s short story, “The Poly Islands,” won second prize in the first quarter of the 2011 Writers of the Future contest. The same year, his humorous story “The Origin of Third Person in Paleolithic Epic Poetry” took first place in the nationally syndicated Grammar Girl short story contest. “Spores of the Volcano” appeared in NewMyths and the Campbellian 2014 Anthology. “Return of the Mayflower” is scheduled to appear in Perihelion. Several of his flash pieces have previously appeared in Every Day Fiction. Gerald published music textbooks and how-to books in investing before turning to fiction. He is a graduate of the Odyssey Writers Workshop (2010) and a member of SFWA.

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 average 4.3 stars • 23 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • Paul A. Freeman

    Great voice, great characterisation, great theme. As with yesterday, I felt the ending let this piece down. Just an acknowledgement that it’d be mighty fine if Edward moved in would have fitted in with the understated action running through the story.

    Oh, and a tip on getting an apostrophe at the beginning of a word (as opposed to single quotation mark), folks – press ‘ctl’ then single quotation mark twice, i.e. in words like ” ‘cept ” or for any initial letter elided.

    • Gerald_Warfield

      Thanks for the tip, Paul.

  • JAZZ

    Sorry to disagree, Paul, but the ending did not let the piece down….the ending was just the beginning.
    A great piece, Gerald, are you planning on following it up..?

  • MPmcgurty

    I agree with Paul on the voice and the ending. The voice appealed to me, despite my general dislike of words that begin with an apostrophe. When an author uses even one or two of them, my eyes start picking up other words that might have been apostrophe’d and are not. It’s distracting. The last paragraph jarred me; it nearly turned an otherwise pleasant awkward-love story into one resembling a Harlequin novel.

    Good story told well, Gerald.

  • Tony Acarasiddhi Press

    A fine story.

  • Kendall Furlong

    Excellent story, Gerald. I think the voice and the ending were right on target.

  • S Conroy

    Really enjoyed the story. Very well told.
    Like MPmcgurty, especially at the beginning, I found the words beginning with apostrophes (not including dialogue where I think it’s appropriate) a bit distracting. By the end I was so deep into the story that I didn’t notice anymore.

  • Lorraine Heisler

    Very nice story. I loved the metaphorical wedding veil of spider webs. The ending worked for me, but I’m with Paul in that I’d have been more satisfied if I’d been left with the protagonist teetering on the precipice, rather than seeing him take the plunge.

  • Sally Nemenyi

    I didn’t notice the apostrophes at all. I thought it was a great story with good characterisations, fast pace and a surprise ending. Loved it!

  • Vicki Doronina

    >from _a ways_ down

    Is this folksy US expression like hollerin’?

    • Pretty much. Many in the south talk like that as well, and I think it fit the characters of this story nicely.

  • Beautiful story… I, too, found “the kiss” a bit jarring, but see how it could work. It would have been more within character for him to do something less direct; at the same time, maybe it was time for him to act out of character.

  • Chinwillow

    Haha! Now this was great!!! Super voice, easy read… Did not see that ending coming and it made me laugh right out loud, Enjoyed to the max. Didn’t catch the apostrophe…

  • JAZZ

    On a scale of 1 – 10, how important is an apostrophe in a very good story.
    I thought so.

    • Honestly, about a 9.

    • Paul A. Freeman

      You forgot the question mark, Jazz. That would be a 7.5.

  • Loved the voice in this. And the scenes were easy to visualize. I didn’t think the dialect was too overdone. It was necessary for more realiztic characters and I believe it worked. Yeah the apostrophes are annoying but things like that can be cleaned up in an edit.

    Looks like everyone is divided down the middle with the ending. It was too much for me. As others have said, he’d already taken the jump, and the story would have been better served with a hint at the future (as it did) without the sudden kiss. That was a massive jump to make in a couple paragraphs.

    Overall I thought it was a very good story. It felt original, and it touched on some pretty deep topics. Great job!

    Thanks for sharing.

  • JAZZ

    And do you colour inside the lines, Scott..?

    • Not sure what you’re asking here Jazz. And what does your question have to do with the story we are discussing?

  • Great work Gerald. Very moving, and the accents were spot on.

  • Gerald_Warfield

    Thanks, everyone or your comments. I’m considering publishing a collection of my pastorales (this is about the twelfth, I think), and you’ve given me a couple of issues to consider.

    • I’d certainly be interested in reading that collection. Hope you can share the details when the time comes. Good luck with it!

  • Mickey Hunt

    About dialects. As a Northwesterner settling in the South, my ear became tuned to the many regional accents and dialects here, each one with its own unique pronunciations, idioms, and patterns. For example, someone from upstate South Carolina will sound very different from a person in central North Carolina. The variation in the spoken “music” is endless. One thing that irks me is what’s represented as a generic southern accent in movies, an accent that sounds to me like maybe it’s out of Alabama. Some may imitate what they imagine a general Texas accent might sound like. I can’t tell the geography of Mr. Warfield’s story, but I do wonder if the accent is studied and particular to a certain location. It might be. My “mentor” in capturing dialect is the Appalachian poet and fiction writer, James Still. Mr. Still was from Alabama but moved to eastern Kentucky. He learned the dialect of the region by listening in on private conversations on the party telephone line. His approach is to capture the “accent” into a sort of rounded impression, rather than an exact rendering, relying on a whole view of the language and characters that shapes every part of a story. I say he is my mentor only because I knew him well for a time, though I don’t have his gift. I hesitate even to make the attempt. It’s a high level of storytelling and is a lot of work.

    • That’s very interesting Mickey. Thank you for sharing. Dialects are fascinating. My linguistics course back in college is one if the few I remember well, and the study of dialect is one of the reasons.

  • Jeanne Cavelos

    Lovely story!

  • Netty net

    I like the beginning, before Christmas; some left the door open.

  • Sarah Russell

    A wonderful story, well told. I agree with Paul about trusting the reader to finish the scene. But so, so well done.

  • Gerald_Warfield

    I asked a friend of mine, a Brit author, to check the dialect. He was fine with it as rural English speech. Interestingly, he said that a great source for rural English accent was Ned Stark (Sean Bean) in Game of Thrones.

  • Chris Antenen

    Lovely story of family and loyalty–and well written.

    Since everyone commented on the dialect construction, let me put two ideas out for comment. I’ve been ‘taught’ to put very little effort in it, but rather to use a few apostrophes to stand for missing letters, but not to use the method on every word. The thought is that the reader will get into the dialect anyway. The other idea I’ve used is to spell the word as it would be said, — cept and maybe fore — and an occasional dropping of the g. When I’m in the character that comes naturally.

    I think the idea of too much spelling out and too many apostrophes can hold up the reading. I recently read Their Eyes Were Watching God, and could hardly get through it because of the excellent and exact rendering of the dialect.

    Trying to follow rules to write in dialect has many pitfalls, so I think each writer should have the freedom to use what works for him or her. One rule I would use is to read it aloud to yourself, or get someone to read it aloud to you. Any stumble by the reader should give you a reason to make a correction (or not!)

    Thanks for the tip, Paul, didn’t know that.

    I agree with all about voice, theme, and too much ending.

    Still — worth a five.

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