Almost: Fiction by John Whittier Treat

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Almost
in homage to Yasunari Kawabata
by John Whittier Treat

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his was a good year for the wild blackberries. Autumn along the bottom edge of Puget Sound was beautiful.

Their place was at the very end of the salt marshes outside of Olympia. Tom got the car out of the garage they’d added after the last flood had made them rebuild everything. In the old days, they were told, there had been a bait shack on their property, and an unofficial park where children fished. Tom had on a clean white shirt and one of his two sports coats, neither of which he needed to wear much anymore.

Jack stood outside the locked front door of their house, gripping a paper bag with things he’d want if they made him spend the night. Tom pulled the car up, opened the driver’s door and extended his legs onto the gravel to retie the laces of his right shoe.

“My turn this time. I’ll drive. Look, sun. Our lucky day.”

Jack got in on his side. He didn’t say anything.

“We could have put this off, but what would be the point. It’s a good day for a drive. We’ve got nothing planned, I can stay in Seattle if that’s what they say to do. Put your seatbelt on.”

Tom was taking Jack to the hospital in Seattle.

Their street was damp and the potholes seemed worse than usual. Jack stared straight ahead while Tom occasionally took his eyes off the road to glance his way. They had to cross two big hills to get to I-5. Tom slowed down when their car needed to squeeze right to make room for a school bus coming the other way.

“Thanks,” Tom mumbled under breath when the bus driver moved over as well.

“Are we almost there?” Jack asked.

They passed a minivan coming the other way.

“Are we almost there?” Jack asked again. Tom mumbled thanks to the driver of the minivan.

It took a long time to get to I-5. They ran onto the shoulder many times to make way for oncoming vehicles. Tom always mumbled thanks, and Jack never got an answer to his question. Tom sat as straight as a tree in his seat, and Jack kept staring straight ahead.

“Thanks.”

“Are we almost there?”

Clouds covered the sun. Tom turned on his headlights.

“Thanks.”

Tom had always been a more careful driver than Jack. He had never had an accident, not even when they’d done this drive in the middle of the night, both terrified and Tom nearly faint with panic.

As they eased onto the ramp leading to the highway going north, Jack’s legs started to tremble. He placed his left hand on Tom’s right thigh.

“Are we almost there?”

Tom slept that night on a long vinyl sofa in one of the waiting rooms. Jack had forgotten his paper bag in the car and hadn’t asked for it. They released him around noon the next day.

“I’m driving him home. Thanks for everything.”

Tom got the car out of the parking garage and pulled it up to the double glass doors. A male nurse helped Jack out of the wheelchair and into the passenger’s seat.

“Thanks.”

Tom moved yesterday’s paper bag off the seat and threw it into the back. “I’m driving us home now.” When the weather was better, Tom thought, we’ll come back to Seattle and have some fun, like we used to.

Jack stared out his window as they drove down the Seattle street to I-5. Tom reached over with his right hand and placed it on Jack’s thigh.
“Are we almost home?” Jack asked.

A big truck moved into the center lane to let their car merge onto the highway traffic headed south.

“Thanks.”

Two motorcyclists waved to signal them to pass.

“Thanks.”

A state trooper’s arms ordered them to move to the far left lane to avoid the accident up ahead.

“Thanks.”

“Are we almost home?”

Past SeaTac a flatbed trailer loaded with timber got into the climbing lane.

“Thanks.”

Jack was grateful to the drivers on the highway, and to the doctors at the hospital. After Tacoma the sun came out and shone on the pine trees on either side of the road.

“Are we almost home?”

They were almost home when Tom exited I-5 at Olympia and started down their long, damp street with the many potholes.

“Yes.”

This was a good year for the wild blackberries. After he put Jack to bed, Tom thought he would go out and gather some. Autumn along the bottom edge of Puget Sound was beautiful.


 

John Whittier Treat lives in Seattle. He has published short stories in Jonathan and QDA: Queer Disability Anthology. His first novel, about the early years of the HIV epidemic in the Pacific Northwest, is entitled The Rise and Fall of the Yellow House and was issued by Big Table Publishing in the fall of 2015. He is now at work on a novel about a stutterer who saves the world, First Consonants. Visit the author’s website at: www.johntreat.com.