at Ogden's Twist
Trace Gregson, thin and curly at eleven and generally happy-faced,
cringed whenever he saw Dirty Molly Sadow. If there was such a
thing as a bad witch about in the world, she was it. People said
her toes were black with earth rich as The Hollow, and that she
smelled foul as chicken leavings.
Molly walked to the Amicalola River behind her little shack with
a burlap bag in her hand. Her calico dress was rotten with age
and stain and gray hair hung thin as tree moss on her shoulders.
The beat of a limp was in her gait. Now and then the bag bumped
along the ground as if the weight was too much for her to tote.
Trace thought he heard muted cries coming from her side of Ogdens
Twist, this torturous turn in the Amicalola River, as he hid in
the weeds on the side across from Molly. One keeper trout flattened
its rainbow inside his wicker creel.
it hit him. Mollys bitch of a Golden Retriever, Muscatel,
had been full of pups but days before, her body low with the swelling.
The soft cries came to him again, almost like prayers in the front
row at church, and then Molly heaved the bag into the fast part
of Ogdens Twist.
bag hit with a big splash and sank in a swirl of current. Dirty
Molly walked off without looking back.
in dungarees and sneakers, leaped into the river as soon as she
went behind a mound of trash. The chill of the water hit him with
a crushing blow. His breath held for him. On his second drop into
the swift water, he found the burlap bag. His hand closed on the
soft mass. The squirming in it telegraphed up his arm. Ashore,
gasping for breath, he pulled the old shoelace loose from the
twisted neck of the bag and dumped the contents in the tall grass.
His eyes lit up. Life plummeted out! Five Golden Retriever pups
spilled onto the grass. A sixth fell out and lay still. Trace
felt his own heart bang in his chest.
the dead pup and his gear on the bank of Ogdens Twist, he
rushed off to the most reliable and kindest man he had known in
his short life, Uncle Jack Parlee, a retired mailman. Living alone,
Jack kept a small garden on the river, this side of Ogdens
Twist, a small garage notorious for its collection of old tools,
and two old and labored hounds who were bent and slow in their
years. Nameless, he simply called them my old boys.
Trace knew it would happen, the salvaged pups were given a new
home in a corner of the porch. The sun streamed in there at crazy
angles at different parts of the day. Some days, by the rays,
he could tell the hour or see his growth pattern on the wall.
Trace could always sense the warmth of the porch. Jack promised
nothing, but set straight away at continuing the salvage. He patted
his nephew on the back of his head. You got heart, boy.
Momma did you good. Traces father had died five years
earlier in a late night truck crash on the main highway west of
the Amicalola. He and his mother now lived alone in their house.
returned to get his fishing gear and to bury the dead pup. The
sun was getting back a piece of his body, touching him reverently.
For a brief moment he felt the thanks in it and the quick needles.
A lone cloud sailed along at the bright horizon against Storm
Mountain. He decided that at any second the cloud and the mountain
top would collide. Hed be too far away to hear the crash.
Still a long walk from his gear, he heard the howling and abated
fury of a dog. For sure, he thought, it was Muscatel trying to
reclaim her pups. At the banking of the river, Trace heard Muscatels
baying cry. It sounded like a friends mother calling home
her children just as darkness came filtering over the horizon.
Muscatel hove around the trash pile behind Dirty Mollys
house. Her nose was bent to the ground and she was howling weirdly.
The noise caught up in Traces chest. It made his heart beat
with a new tempo. He felt as if he had just come up from another
dive in the cold water.
stood at the waters edge, her quandary evident to the sole
onlooker. She stood as lonely as Trace Gregson had ever seen loneliness
stand. The water moved swiftly, the beautiful Golden Retriever,
like a statue, stuck her head into the air above the river. From
where he sat in the reeds and tall grass, Trace believed she was
measuring distance or possibility, or both. He knew he could not
move her from that spot, could not drag her.
cloud and the mountain went their way, silent and distant. The
water of the Amicalola and Ogdens Twist, here and there
turbulent, continued on its rush to the sea miles away.
though silent as smoke, punctuated the air against a deep green
background of leafy trees, and the hum of bees and birds came
as softly as a new engine.
parallels slowly came to Trace Gregson in the days that followed.
pups sure is pretty, Trace. Bet they grow like weeds from now
on. Hate to have them loose in my beans and corn. Theyd
grow me under. His Uncle Jack sat on the rocker on the porch.
You keep an eye on that hag of a woman, that dog of hers,
too, she ever leaves her watch. And if she gets fat again, you
got more swimming to do.
And for weeks on end he saw Muscatel standing at the river, no
longer baying out over the water, but watching, distance and possibility
still crowding the air. Trace fished every day on his side of
the river and thought about the widows peaks his uncle had
told him about that he had seen in parts of Maine and in New Bedford.
Lookout women waiting for their husbands ships. Bout
as patient as you can get, he said, but needing a
sure view of what was going on, what might happen. They plain
last saw their man there, hoping to see him again at the same
place. He thought the hapless mother would never leave her
peak. Uncle Jack made no suggestions to that consideration.
It was months later, the pups sturdy as rocks, thick in the chest,
bearing names he and Uncle Jack had conjured up out of a big collection
of books, Trace saw the swelling again as it rounded Muscatels
frame. Soon after, he began a new vigil at the river. Every day
he dug worms for the morning, saw Dirty Molly come evenings from
the chicken farm where she worked, saw her off on the weekday
Rain had cooled the night. Morning was bright and leafy and green
all the way to the mountain top. It was Saturday, his fly line
floated down into the bubbling water of the river. Something in
the air hit him broadside. It was the sound he had heard before,
the near muted cries, the sense of loss or doom. Dirty Molly was
making the same trip. On his belly, he slipped quietly through
the weeds, his eye on her. Another burlap bag was in her hands.
Again it bounced on the ground. Again it was heaved into the water.
Again she turned away and did not look back.
The cold water hit him again. His breath hung on again, but he
felt a sudden panic this time. Nothing came to hand on the first
or second dive. He dove a third time, his dungaree pockets now
loaded with water, his sneakers heavy, his chest ready to burst.
Uncle Jack would be on the porch with the dogs. The sun would
be pouring down on them, sort of holy and secret and full of goodness.
reached through the cold darkness, now desperate.
bag touched his hands and seemed to loop away. He dove again and
found it. Dirty Molly had wound a wire loop about the knotted
neck. A point of wire pricked his thumb. The jackknife was in
his dungaree pocket. He scrambled ashore, the bag instantly whipped
out of water, the liquid film still crowding its surface, the
whole bag sealed against breathing.
knife was sharp and cut the bag easily and five more pups, spitting
water, legs still at torment, spilled from the bag. As before,
he put them in his creel and hurried off to sanctuary. He wondered
how many of these trips he had missed in Muscatels life,
or in the life of any other dog that Molly might have kept.
as before, came again for days on end to the edge of Ogdens
Twist. Trace watched her in secret as she sniffed the ground,
sniffed the air itself, his own heart always in riot and commotion.
girl, youll have your day.
two batches of kindred pups looped their harmony. Jack kept them
in the yard, now with a fence around it. Though the garden was
smaller, the dogs were bigger. One of his old boys had passed
on and was buried at the edge of Ogdens Twist.
nights the porch for Trace was a piece of heaven.
one night, as the sheriff told it, someone had slipped into Dirty
Mollys shack to steal the horde of money it was said she
had hidden away. Molly supposedly caught him at it and died of
a heart attack. There were no bruises on her.
Muscatel was on her own.
morning, his fishing pole over his shoulder and his creel braced
with a pair of trout, Trace and Muscatel came together on Traces
side of Ogdens Twist, that adventurous spin in the Amicalola.
had not seen her for weeks.
girl, he said, we got some catching up to do.
The two apparent strangers walked down the narrow road leading
away from the river. The occasional trees overhead were umbrellas
and loaded with warm sounds.
Gregson knew the sun beating down on Muscatel and him was holy
and full of grace. The back of his neck was warm. The warmth flooded
his body. His hands felt it, and it went scurrying the length
of his arms. He whistled. Muscatel, somewhat heavy-footed, trotted
along beside him as if she were a long time fishing pal. Jack
saw them coming.
folks at Ogdens Twist still say such a howling ensued that
day that stories could be written of it.
Sheehans Epic Cures, (short stories), 2005 from
Press 53 won an IPPY Award from Independent Publishers. A Collection
of Friends, (memoirs), 2004 from Pocol Press, was nominated
for PEN America Albrend Memoir Award. His fourth poetry book,
This Rare Earth & Other Flights, was issued by Lit
Pot Press, 2003. Print mysteries are Vigilantes East and
Death for the Phantom Receiver. An Accountable Death
is serialized on 3amMagazine.com. Five novels seek publication.
His short story collection, Brief Cases, Short Spans, is
under consideration. He has eight Pushcart nominations, and a
Silver Rose Award from ART for short story.