This is another shot at fiction writing. I write this primarily because I enjoy it and it relaxes my mind in a way I feel is productive. If you like it, great. If not, I'm sorry I've wasted your time.
Herb Kenwood is the only man I've ever known that has a doll collection. His wife died in '94, and he has changed the dolls' dresses every season since, just like she used to. Herb really misses his wife, Mary Mae. They were sweethearts, and got married right out of high school. They tried to get married right in high school, but I guess Mary Mae's parents caught wind of it and managed to get the whole thing shut down before it started. By summer, things were settled down enough to tie the knot.
That's one thing I like about ole Herb. If he doesn't have a good story up his sleeve, he's either sleeping or dead. I don't know how he gets them all, but I know at least some of them are true. I used to ride my bicycle to Herb's house any time I could to hear his stories. I did it so many times I could ride it in the dark without even thinking about it. One time, though, stands out in my memory. It was right when we got home from our big vacation in the Ozarks. Grandma called and told us that Mary Mae was in bad shape. They lived on the same street, and Grandma had been taking groceries down to them since Mary Mae had been a little sickly most of the summer. When my grandma told us she was really doing bad, I jumped on my bicycle and tore down the lane. I was in a little bit of a panic. I never knew anyone that died, and I didn't know for sure what would happen if I did. I figured I'd go ask Herb what to do when someone's about to die, but halfway there I realized that probably wasn't a good idea. I just kept peddling, because I didn't know where else to go. I rounded the corner and cut straight into Herb's yard. I didn't bother with a kickstand or the flowers or anything. I threw my bike at the foot of the steps and lept up them in one bound, straight into Herb's belly. "Slow down, Champ!" he warned.
Herb has always called me Champ. He used to thunk me in the chest with his middle knuckle when he said it. I guess he did that instead of shaking my hand, until I graduated high school. Now he shakes my hand. We shake hands like men, even though he'll always think I'm young and call me Champ. I practically grew up at Herb and Mary Mae's. I knew where they hid the key under the porch, and could tell Mary Mae everything she had in her junk drawer. I used to work with Herb in his workshop, making sweet briar pipes. Herb liked to use sweet briar because he said "it really makes the tobacco taste pop." We would sit on stools for hours, carving sweet briar, he telling stories and me mostly listening. He can tell the most fascinating stories. His deep, rumbly voice sounds like he talks out of a metal can. He would sit with a smoking pipe in his mouth, and a half-finished one in his hand, telling me war stories or "me'n'MaryMae" stories or just flat-out made up stories. Sometimes we would laugh so hard that he would have to lay down his chisel so he didn't cut himself. Then he would thunk my chest and say, "Let's go inside and see if Mary Mae can't work us up something to drink."
The day I flew into his lap off my bicycle, he didn't say anything. He just stood up and walked to the door as if to invite me in. We walked inside and I saw the scariest thing I'd ever seen. The lights were low and the furniture had been rearranged. Mary Mae lay on a cot in the living room with blankets piled on top of her. Her oxygen tank stood as a sentry at the foot of her bed. Her eyes were closed, and her warm smile had been chased away by pale, straight lips. She breathed in short, labored puffs. Herb's big brown chair with the stuffing peeking out the right armrest had been moved to her bedside, no doubt so he could hold her hand.
Herb nudged me from behind so he could close the front door. "Why don't you sit down there, Champ," he suggested as he trudged toward the kitchen. As I sat timidly on the edge of the brown chair, I couldn't believe my eyes.They were seeing something I could never believe was true. It had to be wrong! Mary Mae wasn't a sick old person! She was happy and full of smiles, all the time. I think she smiled more than any of the porcelin dolls that decorated the shelves in the dining room. They smiled all the time, because they had to. Mary Mae smiled because she wanted to. She would smile as she took them down off the shelves one by one to put their spring dresses on for Easter. She would hum happy tunes while she worked, smiling even if the drain was plugged and the beans were burning and Herb was late coming home.
[disclosure: this will hopefully be a continuing story.]