© 2020 Bill Murphy. A work of flash fiction, a writing assignment of The Little Egypt Writer’s Society of Southern Illinois, March 10, 2020.
Hello. My name is Gloria Watkins. I am seventy-three old, and this is my story. I’ve never shared this with anyone except my dear mother, and even she steadfastly refused to believe it. No doubt, neither will you.
My story begins with my parents. But then, doesn’t everyone’s? My parents were wannabe hippies. Their problem was, they were from Kansas, not exactly a hotbed of hippy culture. So the week after graduation from high school, the young lovers ran off and got married. Their plans were to stake their claim to a free life somewhere in the wilderness of Alaska. They only made it to the vast plains of Montana.
The Greyhound Bus pulled into a tiny one-horse town for a short rest-stop. While inside the small store buying snacks, they noticed a help wanted sign offering employment for ranch hands. Within minutes they made the call and were hired. Little did they realize that this tiniest of hamlets would become their pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for years to come.
The match with the rancher and his dear wife must have been arranged in heaven. Soon their childless employers took on the joys of surrogate parents. This happy arrangement became even happier the following year when I was born.
The rancher had a retired railroad boxcar which he used for storage. It was soon converted into a home for me and my parents. It sat about a hundred yards from the main house, and fifty or so from the barn. After a few weeks of loving work and talented craftsmanship, that former utilitarian box looked nothing like its former self. The final touch was the flower boxes under every window. It was beautiful!
I was seven when I met Alf.
Night skies in rural Montana are nothing like in Chicago or Miami. Rural Montana has few sidewalks to ‘roll-up.’ Were it not for the stars above, night could be overpowering. Instead, night time was illuminating. The skies above became kaleidoscopes of heavenly light.
It was on such a beautiful star filled night that I first saw Alf.
If he had a name, I’m sure it wasn’t Alf. He couldn’t talk, not in a language I could understand anyway. I called him Alf because that’s the first word that popped into my head when I first noticed his hairy body that night.
I was laying on a small blanket on the ground, about midway between our house and the barn. This area was near to where the woods encroached onto the property… and where I’d seen deer before. I lay on my back watching the stars above while looking for shooting stars, and listening for the soft hoof steps of deer.
Instead of hoof steps, I heard instead the crack of a small branch. I rolled over to face the sound. It took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the deeper darkness of the woods. And then I noticed movement, and slowly sat up.
Looking back now, perhaps it was because I was sitting, and not standing, that Alf didn’t over-react to my presence. Perhaps he saw that I was not a threat. Perhaps.
That first night we both just gazed at one another. He stood. I sat. Silently. How long we held that pose I don’t know, only this: it was for a very long time. Neither of us made a sound. Neither of us moved. It was a strange period of what could only be called bonding. Far off in the distance a coyote howled. Alf turned slowly, and walked away.
I made it a practice, as often as I could, to spread my blanket on that same spot and lay there under the stars. I did this three to four times a week. And at least twice each week Alf would return. For many weeks, we’d simply stare at one another silently.
And then one night, Alf raised a hand, and slowly and carefully began to move his fingers. He was attempting to sign to me. This happened for the next two or three times we met. Then one night, I stood, and took a slow and nervous step toward him. He responded by turning and walking away, not to return for many nights. I took this as a sign to keep my distance.
And so we continued our silent late night meetings. We met this way for over four years, under the stars, separated by far more than simple distance. I was never able to learn his sign language, yet I continued to feel from his countenance that he was trying to communicate only friendship and goodwill. The last time I saw Alf was the night he brought his mate and baby to our meeting spot.
The small duplicate of Alf was tiny, surely newborn. Yet it too was covered with a thick coat of hair. The mother, shorter than Alf, was stocky. She cradled the infant in her arms, as it clung to one of her huge breasts.
Alf then made a sign using both of his large hands. It was a sign one could not mistake. He moved his hands to his eyes and slowly rubbed them in a rotating motion, as if crying. Then he placed an arm around the female and led her and the child into the forest.
I never saw Alf again.
We lived on the ranch for six more years. By then, a large ski resort had been built in the hills beyond the rancher’s spread. Even Montana seemed to be changing, even shrinking. It was beginning to lose the rich splendor of its summer’s nights. My parents were older and wiser. They saw that their cherished rainbow was fading. We moved south to Georgia.
I’ve often wondered how ‘Little Alf’ is doing.