I’m excited to announce that the short story, The Back Of His Mind, is now available on Amazon. Although it’s a work of fiction, it’s based on the true story of my Great, Great Grandmother. I’ve attached the beginning portion below for your reading enjoyment.
THE BACK OF HIS MIND
Little Jackie Irving squinted his eyes as he walked along the dusty Main Street of Hagensville, Michigan. The passing horses and buggies kicked dust up all around him, and his eyes were stinging now. He could see the general store through the dust cloud and picked up his pace. His penny was gripped tightly in his hand, and it had become sweaty. Grandpa had just given it to him in exchange for helping to clean the barn that morning, and now he was on his way to spend it. He knew exactly what he wanted. Jawbreakers. Red ones. They were cherry flavored, and it was his favorite. Ma never let him have candy, but she and pa were visiting friends that afternoon, and grandpa had told him to pick out whatever he wanted.
It was a beautiful summer day, and he bounded easily up the steps two at a time, eager to escape the dust. As he opened the door, the bell attached to it jingled, and everyone in the store looked up to see who had just entered. He paused a moment and looked back at them. There was an older man looking at seed and a well-dressed young woman telling her daughter not to touch anything. He could only see the little girl’s long, dark curls and the back of her dress as she turned to obey her mother.
“Well, if it isn’t Little Jackie,” the robust woman behind the counter announced. She was Mrs. Stevens, his grandma’s neighbor.
“Mornin’ ma’am.” He tipped his hat to her and then removed it.
“Did your grandma send you in to get something for her?” Mrs. Stevens queried.
“No, I came on my own.” Mrs. Stevens looked confused, and he continued on as he moved towards the counter and the candy jars lined up on it. “I got a penny, and I want one cent’s worth of jawbreakers. But only the red ones,” he added.
“You mean you have a penny?” she corrected.
“No. I got a penny, and I want jawbreakers,” was his stubborn reply.
She smiled at the old man who was listening, picked up a paper bag, and started scooping jawbreakers into it. “You sure you want a whole penny’s worth? That’s an awful lot of candy for one boy.”
“I ain’t no boy, ma’am. Going on thirteen next month.” He wanted to add that he was also too old to be called Jackie anymore, but didn’t.
“Oh, you’re right. You’re practically a man!” She smiled again and handed him the bag of jawbreakers. He gave her his sweaty penny and stepped to the side to pop a jawbreaker into his mouth before he left the store.
As the outside layer started to melt, he tasted the cherry flavor. His head dropped gently against the wall he leaned on, his eyes closed, and his tongue savored the treat. He tried to break it open with his teeth, but he was never able to do it. His ma always said one of these days he was going to chip a tooth, and then he’d be in for it, but he’d been lucky so far.
As he sucked on his jawbreaker, he sensed someone watching him. He opened his eyes to see the little girl staring at him. She really wasn’t that little. She had to have been eight or nine; but her arms and legs were thin, and her bones were tiny like that of a bird. She was smiling shyly at him from behind long, dark lashes that hid big, blue eyes. Her hair was formed into perfect ringlets that hung halfway down her back. Jackie had never seen a girl that was so clean and pretty and thought she looked like a delicate doll that had come to life.
He smiled and walked over to her, squatting down to her height. “Well, whose pretty little girl are you?”
She smiled even wider at the compliment and threw a glance at her mother, who was picking out some fabric now. The mother was just as clean and pressed as the little girl.
Must be rich folks, Jack thought. But instead he said, “What’s your name?”
“Jane,” she answered in a soft voice.
“Jane. That’s a pretty name for a pretty little girl. I’m Jack.” He paused a moment before continuing on. “Jane, have you ever had jawbreakers?”
She nodded, still smiling.
“Would you like one of mine?”
Again she nodded, and Jackie held his bag open for her to pick out one of his precious jawbreakers. She leaned over the bag to look in, glanced up at him again to make sure it was still all right, and then reached her delicate little hand inside to pluck out a jawbreaker and pop it into her mouth. Her cheek bulged as she sucked on it and stood there looking at him.
Jackie had never liked girls, but he’d never seen any as pretty as she was, and he had a hard time leaving her.
“So how old are you, Jane?”
“Boy, you’re almost as grown up as me,” he teased.
She was smiling even wider when their conversation was interrupted by a loud voice.
“Jane! Jane!” It was her mother. She had just noticed that Jane wasn’t by her side. “There you are. You’ve got to stop wandering off.” She grabbed the girl’s arm and then noticed the bulge in her cheek. “What’s in your mouth? Did you put a button in it again?” she asked as she pried poor Jane’s mouth open. “Candy! Where did you get candy? Did you steal it?” she accused.
Jane’s smile was gone now, and her chin started to shake.
“She got it from me, ma’am,” Jackie intervened.
“You?” She looked momentarily stunned by the appearance of the tall, lanky boy with disheveled hair and a hole in the knee of his trousers. She pulled on the girl’s arm again, this time harder. “Haven’t I told you not to accept things from strangers? I declare, Jane, I should tell your father about this.”
Jane was crying now, and it broke Jackie’s heart. “But, ma’am, I ain’t no stranger.”
The woman frowned at him, turned back to Jane, and held her hand in front of her mouth. “Spit it out.” Jane’s eyes looked to Jack for help, but there was nothing he could do, and Jane obeyed her mother. Satisfied, she took the girl’s hand and pulled her out of the store without another word. Jane looked over her shoulder at him, the tears running down her cheeks. Her jawbreaker lay covered in dust on the floor in front of Jackie, right where the girl’s mother had dropped it when she had pulled it out of her mouth.
Jackie was stunned. He had just been trying to be nice, and now one of his precious jawbreakers had been wasted. The beautiful mother had been so cold, unlike his own mother, and he shivered at the thought of what might happen to poor little Jane.
Jackie didn’t see Jane again that summer, and his family returned to their home in Canada, far away from the small town they visited every summer. The winters were very hard, so the summer was the only time they could get their horse-drawn wagons through the roads to visit his grandparents.
As a matter of fact, Jackie didn’t see Jane again on any of his summer trips to Hagensville, and he often wondered what had become of her.
The year was now 1884, and nearly ten years had passed since he had had his encounter with the pretty little girl in the store. He was twenty-three now, and he had grown to just over six feet tall. Sharp, green eyes drew one’s attention away from his strong jaw. His once untamed hair now laid down gently against his head with the help of some hair tonic, and he had overheard girls telling each other how handsome he was, but he never paid them any more mind than that. They were silly and flighty, and he really didn’t see anything he had in common with them.
Now he was leaning on the counter in the Hagensville General Store and talking to Pete, the son of Mrs. Stevens. He was one of Jack’s childhood friends he had made from his summers spent here, and Pete had taken over the store when his mother had taken ill.
They were laughing and telling stories when there was a jingle and the front door blew open as if by the wind. Naturally they both stopped talking and looked up as the most beautiful woman Jack had ever seen seemed to float into the room. She paused near the door, took a quick glance from side to side, and then moved quickly towards the counter.
Jack was frozen. He couldn’t talk, he couldn’t move. All he could do was stare at the exquisite vision before him.
She was about five and a half feet tall, which was tall for a girl in 1884. Her wavy, black hair was pulled loosely into a knot on the back of her head with big curls escaping on the top. Her perfect porcelain skin was broken by two large, blue eyes that were framed by long, dark lashes that flipped up on the ends. Her lips were pink and full, and they smiled at Pete as she neared the counter. All this was supported by a thin neck that added both an air of delicacy and elegance. She wore a fashionable dress with ruffles on both the sleeves and hem, and the waist was cinched so small that Jack couldn’t imagine her being able to eat.
And then his stare was broken by Pete’s voice. “Good afternoon, Miss Jane.”
“Good afternoon, Pete,” her voice lilted back.
“I’ll bet you’re here to pick up that package of yours.”
“Well, you bet right,” she laughingly flirted.
As Pete turned to retrieve Miss Jane’s package, the woman glanced at Jack, their eyes holding for a moment as time seemed to stand still around them. The gaze was broken as she smiled and looked away, pink streaming into her cheeks. There was something very familiar about her, but Jack couldn’t quite put his finger on it. Miss Jane, Miss Jane, Miss Jane. His brain was going through its archives when Pete came back.
“Here it is, straight from Chicago.” He hesitated a moment as if gathering his courage. “I was wonderin’, Miss Jane, if ya don’t mind me askin’ what it is. You know, it being from the big city and all.”
“Certainly, Pete, but you have to promise not to tell.” She smiled mischievously, and it triggered another memory for Jack. Miss Jane, Miss Jane, Miss Jane. Where did he know her from?
When Pete nodded in wide-eyed agreement, she continued.
“It’s a new mantle clock for my parents’ anniversary coming up next week. Now, you won’t tell anyone, will you, Pete?”
He smiled. “No, ma’am. Wouldn’t think of it. Anything else for you today?”
“Oh, just a jawbreaker. A red one.”
Pete laughed. “You almost forgot your usual treat.” He dug one out of a jar on the counter and offered it to her on the scoop. She childishly popped it into her mouth, causing her cheek to predictably bulge out like a squirrel’s.
“Good day then,” she mumbled as she nodded to Pete and then turned to nod and smile at Jack with a coy smile that triggered his final memory. Not Miss Jane, but Jane, the pretty little girl that he had always wondered about. And she still liked red jawbreakers, just like him.
Jack jumped off the counter to stand up straight and return her nod. “Good day, ma’am.”
She paused, looked at him oddly, and then turned and walked out the door on the same breeze that she had come in on.
Jack just stood there in her aftermath with a foolish grin on his face and looking at the door.
“Jack, what’s the matter with you? Ain’t ya never seen a woman before?”
Jack snapped out of it and caught his breath again, but the smile remained on his face and his focus on the door. “Pete, you’ve just seen the woman I’m going to marry someday.”
Pete laughed. “You can’t marry her, she married Tom Taylor two months ago!”
The rest of the short story is available on Amazon for only .99. Below is the link.