The Sizzlers’ Anniversary Celebration: Don McNair

     Welcome to the August 2nd edition of the Sizzlers’ Anniversary Celebration. Don McNair, a long-time and multi-published fellow member of the Gulf Coast RWA, is our guest today. Don writes (as Donna McClaire), teaches online writing classes (WritersUniv.Com and, and provides professional editing services to writers through his business,
     Don’s first novel, The Long Hunter (Medallion Press, 2006 as Don McNair), was a moving YA novel on coming of age on the Virginia frontier. It was followed by EPPIE finalist Attack of the Killer Prom Dresses (Calderwood Books, 2008). Don then published two novels with Red Rose Publishing in 2009—Maxwell’s Mansion (inspired by his own home restoration experiences) and Valley of Love. Don’s most recent novel for Red Rose, Waiting for Backup!, which he co-authored with Elizabeth Hollaway (writing as Khandi Turneo), is scheduled for release this August.  Don’s shares with us today his unpublished short story, Man on the Park Bench.

By Don McNair

     Jim Morton tapped an idle rhythm on the park bench’s iron arm as he looked up Christopher Street toward the town’s center. No one was in sight except for two old men standing under the maple trees lining the sidewalk, talking together with hands clasped behind them. A cold breeze rustled red and yellow leaves around their feet.
     Morton shifted his thin body and looked south. That day he’d left town for good a generation ago, he could still see the river from there. Now, little Monopoly houses blocked the view. Third rate houses with dark roofs and grey plastic weatherboard, with decrepit cars outside, and junkyard bicycles leaning against same size trees that hadn’t even been there before.
     Maybe Betty lived in one of those houses. She didn’t say where she lived when he’d called her not an hour before, and he didn’t think to look at the address in the telephone book. But then again, maybe she’d married well and lived uptown in one of those condos he’d heard about. Maybe she did.                                                                                                                                                                            

     He turned toward his bench partner, a black man wearing a neat tweed jacket under a London Fog overcoat. “I ain’t seen her since she was a young’un. Think I’ll recognize her?”
     “You might, man. You just might. How old was she then?”
    Morton’s thick eyebrows bunched up. “Hell, I won’t recognize her. She was only five.”
     “You might. Family resemblance, that type of thing.”
     “Yeah, I guess.”
     If pigs could fly. He’d tucked her into bed one December evening, took off, and here it was twenty five, thirty years later. A lot of water had gone over that dam.
     “Remember what she looked like then?”
     The black man seemed bound and determined to keep it going. He turned toward Morton, who was hunched down in his khaki overcoat and wrinkled dungarees. Thick grey hair peeped from under his baseball cap. He was in his fifties, and on days like this when the wind gusted and the air smelled of snow, he felt his age.
     “She was pretty as hell, just like a picture book. But I couldn’t pick her out now, even if she waved a flag or something.”
     Something moved in the park. A woman in a faded blue cloth coat and high rubber boots took quick steps toward them, head down against the wind. She looked up with squinted eyes, saw them, and stopped. She took a cautious step.
     “That’s her,” Morton whispered, sitting up. “God, don’t ask me how I know, but that’s her.”
     “Right. Well, you don’t need me here. I’m moving on.”
      The black man stood and walked north, whistling an unfamiliar tune. Morton looked back toward the woman. He stood and pulled the cap from his head, felt the wind’s bitterness, and put it back on. She walked across the street toward him, head down and turned away from the wind, and stopped by the bench.
     “You Jim Morton? I mean–Dad?”
      He took his hat off again and wadded it with busy fingers.
      “Yes ma’am, I am. Didn’t take long for you to get here Betty.” He shivered, and pulled his cap over his ears to lock out the cold.
     “I live over there in them apartment buildings.” She pointed across the park. “I’d’a been here sooner, but John, he drove the car to work.”
     For several seconds they were silent, both looking down.
     She looked up. “Hey, why don’t you come over to the apartment? It ain’t much, but it’s warmer there. You have time to do that, don’t you?”
     “No, I I really don’t. I gotta move on in a minute. Gotta catch my ride.”
     “Well, let’s sit down, then. How you been?”
     They both sat. “Tolerable. Nothing to brag about, but tolerable. You doin’ all right?”
     “I guess. Daddy, why did you leave us?”
     Just like that. He looked at his dirty knuckles, then toward the park. “Just one of them things, I guess. Your Momma and me, we just didn’t get on.”
     “She said you beat her up.”
     “Well, yes, and I’m sorry for that.” He tried to think of something, anything, to change the subject. “What’s happened to you since then?”
     “I’m married, got three kids. Guess you already knew that.”
     “I didn’t know about the ‘three kids’ part. Knowed you was married, though. I found that out.”
     She shivered, and pulled her coat collar up around her ears. Her hair was unkempt, dirty looking. It was blonde, but the dark roots meant she’d grown out of her natural blonde hair. She had the family resemblance, though. Slit like eyes, a broad nose, high cheekbones, even the dimple. He rubbed his own chin absently, watching her. Was it the light, or did she have a black eye? He reached up to touch it.
     “An accident,” she said, pushing his hand away. “I had an accident.”
     “Looks like somebody beat you up. Your old man treatin’ you all right?”
     She looked away. “He he hit me there. He don’t mean to. But sometimes he’s been drinkin’, and I say something he don’t like. I guess it’s as much my fault as his.”
     “Mebbe so.”
     He used to hit her mother, too, like she said. Sometimes she’d leave him, and then he’d cry, and promise not to do it again, and she’d come back. He’d beat her up pretty bad that last time, the night he’d left. She called the cops, and he just walked out and left her. Left with only a dollar in his pocket. He’d hitchhiked west, got as far as Kansas City before he robbed that store to get something to eat. He blinked, trying to make the picture go away. The frightened clerk, her screaming sobs, the popping noise the Coke bottle made when he hit her to shut her up. It made headlines the next day, about her being nearly dead. He’d hid for three days before hitchhiking out of town.
     “Three kids, you say.”
     “Two girls and a boy. The oldest’s fourteen. She’s got a mind of her own, I’ll tell you. She’s pregnant, too, don’t know who the daddy is. I know’d who her daddy was, but he wouldn’t marry me. One of them snooty people, know what I mean?”
     He nodded. “Yep, sure do. Enough of them in the world.”
     “My boy’s eleven years old. Sharp as a tack. Wants to be an astronaut, or a policeman, or some such thing. Seems like it changes every day. But he’ll probably wind up like his daddy and me, working at the tractor factory.”
     “I worked there once. You know they’ve been there since before World War I? Made tanks for Uncle Sam, I think. Long time, ain’t it?” He looked at his wristwatch, then up at her. “Well, I’d better get goin’ now.” He shuffled his feet, as if to get up.
     She stood, and adjusted her wrinkled coat. “When you goin’ to be back through here again?”
     “You cain’t never tell. I’m goin’ out to California, now. Probably spend the rest of my life there.”
     “If you come back, you can stay at our place. We’ll make room.”
     “Maybe I will.” He looked at his watch again. “Well, I’ll be seein’ you.”
     “I can stay and wait with you,” she said. “If you want me to.”
     He reached up and touched her arm. “I appreciate that, darling, I really do. But you know, I–I’d like to remember how you look when you walk away. So I can see you all at once.”
     She looked puzzled, then nodded. “Okay, Daddy, if you want me to. Well, goodbye.”
      She started to leave, then hugged him awkwardly, brushing her lips on his cheek. She crossed the street and walked up the park path, and was soon out of sight.
      Morton leaned back and watched the spot where she’d disappeared. He wiped tears away with a dirty finger, and looked toward town. The black man was coming back. He stopped by the bench and reached into his jacket pocket.
      “Well, how was it, man? She like you thought she’d be?”
      “Guess so. But I don’t really know what I was expecting, Ron.”
     The black man fumbled in his pocket, and brought out a key. He knelt and inserted it into the leg iron that anchored Morton’s right ankle to the bench leg, and turned it until it clicked. Morton rubbed his ankle.
     “You tell her you killed your old woman, an’ was on your way to prison for life?”
      Morton shook his head. “Didn’t seem like a good time. She’s got her own problems.”
     “Don’t we all. Here, stick your arms out.”
      Morton did, and the other man snapped handcuffs onto his wrists.
     “You know we broke the rules here. They find out, they’d probably fire me. Keep your mouth shut, understand?”
      “Sure, no problem.”
      “Don’t think I’m getting soft. I even hear you breathe wrong, I’ll stomp you with both feet.”
      “Okay, Ron. I hear you, man.”
      “Well, let’s go. The van’s right around the corner.”
     They walked up the block. As they turned the corner, Morton looked back across the park. No, he’d never see her again. Life in prison was a long time. Even if he did get paroled, it would be a long time from now.
     Besides, she was in her own prison.
     He turned, and they walked toward the van.

The End

Thanks so much, Don. Tomorrow, Editor Megan Records of Kensington/Brava blogs. Rita VF


5 Responses

  1. Didn’t brag too much about Don in the post but his “21 Steps to Fog-Free Writing” which he teaches for is one of the best classes I’ve ever taken. Man on the Park Bench is a great example of his super clean writing. Love the story, Don/Donna. RitaVF

  2. Wonderful story, Don- thanks for sharing it with us and for being a guest during our anniversary month. We miss you!

  3. Thanks, Don. A thoughtful depiction of the age old problem of domestic abuse and its never-ending cycle.

    Appreciate your presence on the blog! You’re definitely one of a kind–and a keeper!

  4. Thanks for sharing your short story, Don. Loved it. I’ve always loved your style and your subjects. Keep up the great work.
    And congratulations to the Sizzlers!

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