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Standing on a bridge watching life go by

12 Oct
brown mountain under blue and white sky

Photo by John Horrock on Pexels.com

 

“The thing is,” Reuther said as he stared off at the scraggy mountain top, “I’m past my fertile period. Making it as a fiction writer is out of the question.”

“That again,” Ritter said, rolling his eyes. “Every time you hit a wall with your writing you go on about being past your fertile period.”

“Well, it’s true.”

“It’s not true. C’mon. Let’s check out the Deckers Bridge and see if any trout are rising.”

“Since when do you care about trout rising?” Reuther said.

Ritter hoisted up his backpack and started off toward the bridge some fifty yards away. “I don’t, but it will get your mind of your stalled writing.”

“It’s not stalled. More like done … over, finished, kaput.”

Ritter didn’t want to hear it. Just that past winter, Reuther had come out with a dozen short stories that had wowed the literary world. What had followed had been the kind of success and attention that anyone would kill for – glowing reviews in the New York Times and Publishers Weekly, interviews on CNBC and the major networks, even a bit part in some silly reality show. Sure, it was October now, and much of the hoopla over Reuther’s book was in the rearview mirror. And that, as Ritter saw it, was the real problem.

“You’ll just have to write another book,” Ritter said as they stood on the bridge and peered into the roiling waters of the South Platte River. Ritter liked it here, particularly in the fall on weekdays, when it was quiet and the summer vacationers were long gone.

“I guess so,” Reuther said.

“You guess so. Shit. Just do it,” Ritter said, turning now to face his longtime hiking buddy. “I mean, God sakes alive Reuther. When you got into this writing business, you knew it wasn’t going to be a walk in the park.”

“But I’ll never write anything as good as Misfits, Dreamers and Mad Poets again,” Reuther said, referring to his book.

“Probably not,” Ritter said, as they both watched a blonde woman in a skin-tight kayaking outfit suddenly emerge from the Ponderosa pines on the far bank.

“Wow. Not bad,” Reuther said.

“Er … not bad at all.”

“Boyfriend is probably right behind her somewhere.”

“Of course,” Ritter said.

Sure enough, a young, svelte and sturdy man clad in his own skin-tight kayaking outfit, the lightweight water craft balancing upon his back, emerged from the forest.

“You see Mike. We all have our time in the sun.”

“Guess so ol’ Bean.”

They watched the couple move quickly down the embankment and to the water before climbing  into the two-person craft. All at once, the man looked up toward the bridge where our two heroes stood, giving them a thumbs-up, a gleaming toothed smile, before using a paddle to nudge the the kayak into the swirling water. The woman, sitting behind him in the kayak, smiled and waved as well. They two of them appeared, Reuther thought, to be the very epitome of youth, and beauty and vigor. They were, he realized, the kind of people that could be found everywhere in the West anymore. And just like that, the kayak was heading downriver and then under the bridge and past them.

“There’s a rise over there,” Ritter said, pointing to the spot behind the boulder known as Elephant Rock that formed a deep pool.

Reuther had been watching the kayak carrying the young couple grow smaller down the South Platte. He turned to look where his buddy was pointing. Sure enough, a large ring slowly expanded from near Elephant Rock. “Guess I should have brought my fly rod,” Reuther said.

He thought back of a few years ago, when he first came out here from back East. Back then, he’d been fishing four and five times a week – when he wasn’t writing his brains out that is.

“You need to quit moping around and get back to it,” Ritter said as if reading his mind.

“Guess so,” Reuther said.

“You guess so. Hell.”

They stood for a while on the bridge not saying anything. A breeze carrying the hint of winter blew against their faces. The sun disappeared behind some clouds.

“A cold beer wouldn’t be bad right now,” Ritter said. He was leaned over the bridge’s iron railing watching a cluster of fall leaves drift below him. He straightened and smiled at Reuther.

They both turned to gaze across the two-lane road feeding into the village at the blinking beer signs of the tavern.

“Shit yeah,” Reuther said.

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The Bargain

6 Sep

Ritter poked at the campfire as he mulled over the question.

“What if I had choice between giving up hiking and rock climbing or spending the rest of my life with Annie Klondike?” He furrowed his brow and looked quizzically at Reuther.

“Right. What would you choose?”

“But that’s absurd,” Ritter said, tossing down his stick.

“Just work with me here Jon,” Reuther said.

“I would never give up hiking and rock climbing. I mean … those are my passions.”:

“Okay,” Reuther said. “I get it. But what if giving them up would mean being with Annie … the gal you’ve long pined for … for the rest of your life.”

“But it’s not going to happen,” Ritter said, throwing up his hands.

“No. You’re right. It’s not going to happen. Unless you believe in magic and such possibilities, no one is going to suddenly appear and offer you such a bargain.”

“Right,” Ritter said.

“Still … what would you choose?”

“Jeepers. You’re not going to let this go. Are you?”

Ritter studied Reuther’s smiling face as his longtime hiking buddy moved closer to the fire, his face lit up crimson from the flames.  He appeared almost otherworldly. Ritter had a fleeting thought that perhaps Reuther was a kind of supernatural being who could indeed make such a thing happen. A chill ran through him that even considering an answer would involve him in a sort of Faustian bargain.

“Well … Reuther said.

“Who do you think will win the World Series this year?” Rutter asked, a nervous lopsided grin crossing his face.

“Jon. C’mon.”

“You c’mon,” Ritter said. “This is just stupid.”

“Maybe,” Reuther said, rocking back on his heels and looking skyward. “Then again …”

Ritter poked some more at the flames. “Well what about you Reuther?”

“What about me?”

“Let’s say you had a chance to have your book be a bestseller and make you a boatload of money, perhaps a movie deal. You even win a Pulitzer. You gain worldwide fame.”

“I … don’t follow Jon,” Reuther said.

“Sure. Let’s say that happens, but only if you agree to spend the rest of your life unplugged, off the grid, in some lonely, one-room cabin in say … Greenland? Cut off from everyone you know and love … forever.”

Ritter watched Reuther consider the question as he chewed on his jerky.

“Interesting proposal Jon.”

“Yeah, it is,” Ritter said with a laugh, jumping to his feet.

He watched his buddy consider it for a few more moments. “I wouldn’t take the deal.”

“Why not?” Ritter said.

“It’s a no-brainer,” Reuther said.

“But you’d have everything you always wanted … a bestselling book, fame, immortality.”

“And no one to enjoy it with.”

“Er … right,” Ritter said.

“So.”

“So what?”

“I guess you’d give up your outdoors pursuits if it meant you’d gain Annie.”

“Never,” Jon said.

“But she’s your dream girl.”

“Dream girl?” Ritter considered the very words. Dream girl? A buxom outdoors gal who piloted prop planes around the Northwest and Canada. A sharpshooter and trapper, who drank her whiskey straight and could more than hold her own with any man. Surely not a gentle lass, and yet …

“She’s promiscuous,” Ritter said.

“And your point is?”

“No … no I wouldn’t even consider such a foolhardy notion of giving up hiking and climbing. Besides, this whole dialogue has been ludicrous.” Rutter got to his feet. “I’m going to bed.” He headed toward his tent.

“Funny isn’t it?”

“What?” Ritter said. With his back to Reuther, he stopped halfway between the now-dying campfire and his tent.

“These gals. They sure do funny things to our heads.”

“They sure do,” Ritter said. “They sure do.”