This is a short story I wrote for a contest. I had 24 hours to write using a farm, a horseshoe, and a giant. I have not received feedback, but I am aware of the weak points of my story. Still, I enjoyed writing this piece.
On Becoming a Giant
“Here comes that cranky wife of yours.”
Phil glanced across the yard and took in the sight of Maggie on her mission before resuming his fight with the rusted bolt.
“Yup, Luke! Looks like you chose the right adjective!”
Phil waited until his wife stopped nearly six feet from the John Deere 4020 before he resumed swinging his hammer. He knew the oil had not had time to weaken the bolt’s grip on the hydraulic pump, but he needed to delay his wife’s announcement of the way things were going to be from now on.
Maggie understood the purpose of the unnecessary noise, so she struck her familiar pose of strained patience and began boring a hole through the back of Phil’s head.
Phil finally stopped his futile hammering but kept his gaze on the tractor.
Luke watched in disbelief as Maggie turned to him and said, “Luke Guthrie, I’ll have you know that I am not cranky, and you’d be much smarter than you look if you kept your unfounded opinions to yourself.”
Too shocked to say anything and smart enough to stay quiet even if he could have thought of something to say, Luke dropped his eyes to the ground.
Maggie then turned to Phil. “And you, Phil Johnson, I’ll have you know that I will burn in hell before I get pregnant again. I have born you a child every single year for the last ten years and I am done! Either you get a little snippity-snip-snip or sleep in the barn from now on.”
Maggie marched back to the house and punctuated her message by slamming the kitchen screen door.
Phil leaned against the tractor tire, smiling. Luke scowled.
“Wow. That was kind of rough.”
“Nah. She’ll get over it once she holds that little bundle of joy in her arms. She always does.”
“No. I mean the part where she said I don’t look very smart. That was cold.”
“Aww, don’t you worry none ‘bout that. Maggie likes you. She’s just all hormonal. I sure hope it’s a boy this time. Those eight girls are cuties, but they ain’t much help around the farm.”
And that is how my father found out I would be offspring #11 and son #3.
Dad had told me that story nearly every time we worked together in the barn. I guess that’s why it replayed in my head now as I sat on one of the few remaining hay bales in our classic red barn. Dad must have gotten that snippity-snip-snip because I was the last of the brood.
Looking around the near-empty space was too painful, so I kept my eyes glued on my newly acquired football helmet situated on its own lonely hay bale. The oversized G was laughable. I was only 5’ 10” and I was a New York Giant. A Giant. Pretty funny.
How many times had my over-sized high school teammates pushed me around? They never blocked for me, yet I somehow managed to get the ball into the end zone. My stature and love of football also wreaked havoc at home as I often tossed and turned in my bed listening to mom and dad argue about my unreasonable pursuit of football.
“You and I both know Jackson is too short and too small-built to be a football player. He’ll get maimed!”
“He’s fast and fearless, Maggie. Have you ever seen a kid run as fast as Jack?”
“Don’t you remember the EMTs carrying him off the field last year? Didn’t that get through your thick skull?”
“Aw, he popped back and only missed one game. He’s a tough little booger and he has his heart set on playing football.”
Walking through the barn door with that helmet in my hand was supposed to be my dream come true. I had played the scene over and over in my head numerous times, but today, it was the hardest thing I’d ever done. I had been drafted just a few days after dad’s heart attack; he never knew I was now a New York Giant.
I emerged from my thoughts to greet my sister with an equally unenthusiastic “Hey.”
“What are you doing out here all by yourself?”
“Just thinking about how I took the baby-of-the-family status from you. I ripped it right out from under your nose and you couldn’t do a thing about it.”
“I don’t think you had anything to do with that, but just so you know, I would have been a much better baby of the family than you.”
Julia plopped down on my hale bale, nearly pushing me off.
“You probably would have. At least mom and dad wouldn’t have spent all those years arguing about you playing football.”
“True.” Julia laughed and pushed me off the bale. “Now, get up off your derrière and come inside,” she commanded. I grabbed her extended hand, once again surprised by her physical strength compared to her tiny frame.
As we neared barn door, I nodded towards the horseshoe hanging above the transom. “Mind if I take that with me?”
“Nope. You planning on having 11 kids? Dad always told me that horseshoe was responsible for all the mouths around his table. After you were born, mom made him take it off their bedroom wall. He was supposed to throw it away, but as we all know, he simply moved it.”
“From what I understood in Ms. Jasper’s health class, it takes two people to make a baby, not a horseshoe hanging on a wall.”
Julia’s giggle was contagious, and I laughed a bit as I grabbed dad’s hammer from the work bench and hooked it on my belt. The familiar feel of the hammer banging against my hip as I climbed the ladder made me ache to do one more project with my dad. I went as high as the fourth rung due to the wobbly ladder and my fear of heights and used the hammer’s claw to pry the horseshoe away from the wall. It took a bit of work, but Julia’s incessant asking if I needed a woman to do the job energized me.
We were both a bit shocked when a 12” square piece of wood pulled loose from the wall with the horseshoe. I stood looking incredulously at the chunk of wood in my hand.
“Wow! You’re stronger than you look!”
“Check and see what’s in that hole.”
“Um, no thanks. There could be a rat, a bat, or any other hungry critter in there.”
“Get down. I’ll look.”
The risk of hearing Julia’s version of this event in the years to come kept me from scrambling down the ladder and letting her plunge her hand into the hole. I reasoned that if some wild animal took a finger or two, I would just have to learn to play football with fewer appendages. And with that thought, I plunged my hand into the hole.
After covering all the space my courage would allow, I made one more scan to the back of the hole.
“Sorry to disappoint you, but it’s just a hole in the wah . . .”
“What? What did you find?”
I withdrew my hand, my fingers wrapped around the object. As I descended the wobbly rungs, Julia was pulling on my arm.
“What is it? Hurry!”
I opened my hand while we both looked on.
“A key? Wow? This is just like that book I read last month! I would have never guessed why that serial killer locked his victims’ thumbs in a box and kept them! Maybe . . .”
“Julia, I think you read way too many mystery novels.”
“You’re right. It’s probably something simple like Dad having a hidden liquor cabinet or his own safe. You know how he liked to hide money from mom so he could surprise her with a pearl necklace or amethyst ring. Then she could pretend to be mad at him for spending money when they had 11 kids to feed and put through college.”
I just looked at her.
“Sorry, Jacks. You probably don’t remember those days.”
Julia was right. I never knew my parents to be truly happy and the idea of their surprising each other with gifts was foreign to me. All I knew was the constant tension between them. Every issue became a tug-of-war with neither one winning. The rope was always taut, shrouding our home in gloom, but somehow, it kept my parents together.
“So, Detective Julia, any idea what this key unlocks?
Just then, Evan, Phil and Maggie’s fifth offspring appeared in the doorway, and I discreetly dropped the key in my pocket.
“Are you two coming in to help us eat all the victuals carried in by the church ladies?”
“Why can’t you just say food like the rest of the world?” Julia chided.
I was putting away the ladder when Evan noticed the horseshoe in Julia’s hand.
“The horseshoe? Really? Who wants that thing?”
“You know how sentimental little Jacks is,” Julia responded, messing up my hair. She knew how I hated that gesture.
“Whatever floats your boat, Jackie boy.”
As usual, the church ladies did not disappoint. Each dish was someone’s specialty, and we all ate as if the hole in our hearts could be filled with meatloaf and Dutch apple pie.
I had just swallowed my last bite of dessert when I realized Julia was gone. The others noticed as well.
“She always had a knack for disappearing when it was time to do dishes.”
Everyone began chattering about their methods for avoiding chores when they were young. I cleaned a few dishes then sneaked out of the kitchen, eager to find my sister. I didn’t know where she was, but I knew what she was doing.
With the dishes done and darkness beginning to nudge out the daylight, everyone began taking possession of a bedroom or leaving for their own homes nearby. I searched the basement and then the attic to find Julia.
I was fine with never knowing the real stories behind the horseshoe and the key, but Julia now had a mission that would consume her until she found the truth.
As I walked past mom and dad’s bedroom, I felt rather than heard Julia, so I quickly darted into the room, making sure the door latch did not betray my entry.
“Julia?” I whispered. No response. I said her name three more times, then turned to leave. I must have imagined the nudging I had felt to come into this room. Then, the floorboard squeaked.
“Shhh! Don’t you know how to be quiet?”
“Julia? What are you doing in the closet?”
“Come here, dufus. Don’t step on the fifth board from this side of the bed!”
I stood counting the floorboards before tiptoeing to the closet. The only light available was a penlight, but I could see a square hole in the floor and a steel gray box.
“I think I found something. Give me the key.”
Aggravated that Julia still bossed me around, I hesitated before plunging my hand into my pocket. Before she could snatch the key from my hand, I clasped it and pulled my arm out of her reach.
“I’ll try the key. I think I know how to unlock a box.”
“Well, hurry up, Jacks.”
The Dutch apple pie seemed to swell in my stomach as I tried to slide the key into the lock.
“Turn it over!” She once again reached for the key, and I once again raised my arm.
“Patience, Miss Priss.”
“Sorry, but would you hurry up?”
I rotated the small key, poised to try the lock again but stopped before inserting it.
“What are you waiting for?”
“I don’t know, Julia. Do you think we really should open a box that doesn’t belong to us?”
“But it does belong to us. Mom and Dad are both gone. Everything left is ours.”
“How did you even know this box was here?”
“One time, Mom came in here to get some cash to pay for a new refrigerator. I might have peeked under the bedroom door to see where she kept that cash. I totally forgot about this secret place in the closet until I had looked everywhere, and I mean everywhere else in this house.”
“I still don’t feel right opening up a private box.”
“Just do it! We’ll deal with your sense of morality later.”
Julia reached for the lid, but I quickly grabbed her hand. “Wait.”
“Wait for what?”
“We have no idea what we are about to find, if anything at all.”
“You’re right. Go ahead.”
I locked my eyes on Julia’s face as she lifted the lid and reached inside.
“Truck title. Mortgage papers. Savings book.” Julia opened the small navy booklet. “Well, if we divide that up, we each go home with $120. All this hype over nothing. I was hoping for something a bit more exciting.”
“I told you it was nothing.”
Suddenly Julia’s eyes widened. “Well, what d’ya know?”
I looked inside the box as Julia lifted the bottom red velvet panel and removed a tri-fold document.
Ignoring me, she began reading silently, moving her lips, a very annoying habit. When she finished, she slowly re-folded the paper and stared straight ahead.
“What? Julia? What does that paper say?”
“Oh Jacks! I had no idea. I don’t think any of us knew. How could we?”
“Julia!” I snatched the paper from her hands as she resisted, nearly tearing it.
As I read the words on the paper, a crack began making its way through my entire life. I’m not sure how many silent minutes passed before I spoke.
“Who is Luke?” I asked.
“Luke? Luke Halstead? That’s the only Luke I remember. He lived a mile down the road in the old Cronklin place. He and his wife moved away a long time ago.”
“About the time I was born?”
Julia’s face answered my question.
“I’ve got to find them. How do I do that?”
Julia was always resourceful in finding information and I was counting on her help.
“First thing tomorrow, we will go down to the courthouse and find some answers. Right now, we need to get to bed.”
Three hours later, I surrendered my battle with sleep and went back to the barn. I told myself I was going to retrieve my football helmet I had left there earlier, but I really just wanted to talk to Dad. However, every question I hurled into the dusty, manure-ladened air was met with silence.
The hypocrisy of the oversized G on the helmet in my hand suddenly sickened me. Giants are supposed to be larger-than-life characters, having more importance, strength, and size than normal humans. Instead, I had spent my life wallowing in self-pity over my short stature, the assumption that my mom never wanted me, and the belief that I was the basis for the strain between my parents. I had foolishly worshipped all those self-centered ideas and had convinced myself that a football helmet brandishing a G for Giant would fix everything.
Being a New York Giant would make me a true giant. I would snatch the ball from the air and my feet would take flight, dodging and jumping over opponents trying to take me to the ground, knowing my dad was in the stands whooping and hollering, making sure everyone knew I was his kid.
How could one piece of paper change everything I saw in the future as well as what I saw in my rearview mirror? My heart raced as I thought back over all the significant events in my life with the knowledge I now had. All those birthdays and I had no idea.
Mom! How did mom feel every time I celebrated a birthday? How could she live with herself, knowing what I now knew?
There was no way my brain could reconcile the woman I had known my entire life with information contained in that paper.
As Julia and I drove to the courthouse the next morning, I asked Julia that very question.
“Who says she knew, Jacks?”
“Her signature is on that paper, isn’t it?”
“No, it isn’t! I read that thing six times. Dad is the only one who signed it.”
“How could that be? Something like that couldn’t have been legal without her signature.”
Julia and I spent four hours in the courthouse as well as traipsing all over town finding city officials who would have been involved in the event recorded on that document. It wasn’t until we were sitting in the lobby of the local nursing home, visiting with Dr. Lowell that we began to understand.
“Your father did what he thought was best. He was a bit of a rascal, but he profoundly loved your mother. She was fragile at that point, and he wanted to protect her. I’m so sorry you found out this way. I think your dad always intended to tell you.”
“So, Luke Guthrie agreed right away, or did he need some convincing?”
“Luke, bless his heart. It was originally his idea. He would have done anything for your folks, but this was not a sacrifice for him. Luke was convinced his mission in life was to step in and adopt your twin. Jackson, your mother would not have physically or emotionally been able to care for your brother.”
“But he was my brother. You don’t just give away a baby!”
“Your dad didn’t just give away your brother. He placed him in a loving home, a home that could deal with his severe disabilities. Luke’s wife ached for a baby and had all the love, time, and energy to devote to a baby with special needs. It took me a long time before I understood why he went to such lengths to protect your mother but after talking with Luke and his wife, I realized your father was making the right decision.”
“And my mother?”
“Your mother nearly died giving birth. She never knew there were two babies. but if you ask me, she always knew something was amiss. Jackson, you also need to know that Luke and Lacey Guthrie have passed away. Your brother lives in group home.”
Two months later, I walked into the Good Samaritan Home in Denver with my Giants helmet tucked under my arm. It was now time for me live up to that oversized G somewhere besides the football field.