Grandma’s Note. Chapter Six.

It’s Monday and here is part six of my serialized story Grandma’s Note.

You can find the first five chapters here: Chapter 1-5


With drowsy, tired eyes Winston inspected the posters from the wall of the jazz club, now hanging on the mirror on the wall in his hotel room. It was already past lunch and he was still in bed, despite having promised himself to rise at dawn and get an early start this second day of his journey. To his defense that promise had been made in the haze of excitement the night before and he hadn’t gotten to bed until it was already almost morning. It seemed as though the storm had finally hit sometime after he had fallen asleep as well since, although only a light drizzle could be heard against the window now, the world outside was all grey and wet. Waking up and realizing it was already way past any kind of early start he hadn’t felt any urgency at all but had rather decided to stay a while longer still in the comfort of the bed. He had after all found out more the day before than he had hoped to accomplish in at least a week so it wasn’t like he was in a rush to get out there and dance around the puddles.

Winston had debated long and hard on whether or not he should take the posters down and bring them with him or let them remain where they had hung for more than half a century. On the one hand he thought them to be a valuable piece of local history that really belonged where they were but on the other hand he of course realized that they were not likely regarded as such by the local authorities and could be torn down on any given day anyway, in which case whoever got the job of taking them down wouldn’t give a fraction of the shit about them that he did. In the end it had been a fairly easy decision and the two posters now enriched his temporary accommodation with their presence. He sat up for the first time in the day and, leaning in closer, inspected once again the two faces he was now convinced belonged to his grandfather and his great uncle. He smiled to himself, shaking his head. Looking at Winston and his father next to one another no one would have guessed them to be father and son, and since none of them bore any noteworthy resemblance to Winston’s grandmother either Winston had always considered that branch of his family tree to be a lineage peculiarly lacking in family resemblance but he knew now that that wasn’t true at all. He was himself apparently a spitting image of his grandfather and he recognized quite a few of his own father’s features in the face of his great uncle Erik.

What otherwise occurred to him as he looked at the poster was how cool they all looked. In their loose fitted suits and fedora hats, if he had seen the picture in another setting he could well have taken them for a modern jazz fusion band rather than an actual jazz band from the forties. A few of them, including his great uncle Erik, even wore shoes that looked more like sneakers, in a variety of colors, than the shiny black ballroom shoes you would have expected. All in all, this effect worked to strengthen the sensation he was already having of that he might as well be looking at a picture of himself.

The larger poster of Alice, other than the fact that she had obviously been a popular headline performer, didn’t appear to have much to tell him as it said little to nothing of what she actually had looked like. She was heavily made up for her stage performance, complete with glitter and feathers and what not, to the point were, based on that picture alone, he couldn’t have picked her out on the street had he ran into her as she was out to buy milk. With that concluding thought he finally dragged himself out of bed and walked over to the window and, inspecting the scenery, he thought that, if nothing else, it was at least a perfect day to spend in a vault looking through dusty old documents.

When Winston roughly forty minutes later stepped out of the hotel lobby, showered and shaven, into the street he was actually greeted by a pleasant early afternoon sun and, deciding that the hunt for documents could very well wait a while, he steered his steps toward the piers, anxious to see what he could find to eat for what would now be brunch. Despite it being earlier in the day than when he had rolled into town the previous evening the streets were just as empty now as they had been then but knowing now what he would find once past the crumbling fishing huts it made a rather different, kind of expectant, impression on him and he was not to be disappointed. Taking a different little gravel path between some huts, a few blocks further down the river, from the one the day before he found a string of them that, joined together, housed a small riverside barbecue restaurant with the chairs and tables in the open air along the water. There were currently no customers, which was understandable since there was no roof and the chairs and tables alike were home to puddles of recently fallen rainwater but, watering as he was at the mouth, Winston simply flipped one of the chairs over and then used the sleeve of his shirt to dry it off, and before he had time to wonder what was next a short, rugged looking, old man appeared before him with a menu, eagerly waiting, as he read, to take his order. Glancing at him through the corner of his eye while reading Winston guessed the man to be an old fisherman, having turned to cooking, rather than catching, the fish in old age and he wandered how long he might have lived in Black Reef and what, if anything, he could possibly tell him. Since there were unlikely to be other guests turning up for quite some time, Winston thought he would have a solid chance at inviting the old man to join him at his table for a chat.

Grandma’s Note. Chapter Five.

Another monday, another chapter of Grandma’s Note. Here’s chapter five.

Previous chapters can be found here:   Chapter One   Chapter Two   Chapter Three   Chapter Four


Having organized with a hotel room for the night Winston was taking an evening stroll through the dark and silent streets of central Black Reef. He had found a hotel merely a block away from where he had parked the car, along the river bank, and to his surprise it had turned out to be of rather high standard, obviously mainly catering to the business community. Of course this meant that the price tag for his room would be quite a lot steeper than what he had anticipated but as it appeared to be the only place offering lodging in the convenient vicinity, apart from a couple of shady looking hostels that might or might not still be open, he quickly decided to spend the extra money and secure for himself a comfortable stay. Not that it appeared to be any risk at all that the hotel would run out of rooms though. From what he had seen so far he might very well be the only current guest. The room he had been given was fresh and modern and he had considered hitting the sack as soon as he set his foot inside the door, but as exhausted as he was from the day’s activities and excitement he felt he might have some trouble falling asleep and not in the mood to watch television or read a book he had decided to go for a walk in the seaside smelling outside air.

Walking through the narrow streets and passageways that made up the quarters behind the tall buildings along the main street he was forced to further reconsider his first rushed judgment of the town. Rather than, as the main street had done, make obvious its modern fate as a ghost town these houses instead stood as an intriguing testament to its former glory and he could almost picture what life there must have been like in another era, imagining boys in knickerbockers running in and out of the small brick walled urban yards. The sound of a church bell in the distance made him think of how nineteenth century literature use the occurrence to let the reader know what time of day it is as well as where in a city the story finds itself at any given moment, by naming the nearest church. ‘The bells struck eleven times for eleven o’clock in…’. He saw before him, but of course couldn’t name the particular church that he himself was hearing at the moment. Slowing his step, he listened more closely to try and make out if it was only the one church he could hear or if there were other ones in the distance but if there were he couldn’t tell. ‘…eleven times for eleven o’clock…’. He thought once more and it struck him that the bells made quite a lot of noise for that late in the evening. Winston tried to remember if he had ever heard church bells that late at home or indeed if the churches there even rung their bells at any time of day. If they did he didn’t think he had ever been aware of it. The sound of them had most likely only formed one more nuance of noise among all the other and never made its presence known. At least not in any way near the way it did there in the back streets of central Black Reef where he felt like he was walking in its shadow.

When the sound of the church bells had since long died away and he had finally grown tired of studying the surroundings Winston moved on to wondering what tomorrow might have in store for him and what in fact his plans were. He knew his grandmother was supposed to have spent a large part of her youth in Black Reef but he had no idea whatsoever where she had lived, for how long or who with, and he also wanted to find out for sure if she indeed had had a brother named Erik, and if so where he had been in age compared to her. Would he be able to get a hold of documents with such information there in Black Reef or were they stored somewhere else? In some larger city? Which one would that then be since there were no larger cities around for hundreds of miles? Should he try to hitch a ride up to Black Reef Island to look around and see what he could find there? Probably not, he decided after thinking it over. As curious as he was to get a look of the place he had to recognize that he might not get too many chances to go out there and he would be well advised to hold off the temptation until he had at least some clue as to what he was supposed to be looking for.

Pondering where he would go in the morning in search of documents relevant to his quest Winston hadn’t paid much attention to where he was now going and suddenly he stopped without really knowing why. Had he heard something or seen something in the corner of an eye? It was still dead quiet and he didn’t think that was it. Looking around he saw that he seemed to have wandered into some very old industrial district that had not yet been either demolished or turned into housing and which seemed to have served as a leisure area at some point in time not quite as long ago, with boarded up old pubs and clubs of various sorts still their to remind of it. He looked back at the one he was just about to pass and saw that it was still advertising ‘live music every night of the week’ even though that appeared to have been a lie for at least a few decades. Wondering if there was something about the place that had subconsciously caught his attention he looked it over with a scrutiny that it was unlikely to have received in a long time but the only thing he noticed that could possibly be of interest was the wall of posters with pictures of performers that had appeared at the club at one time or another. He hadn’t much hope of finding anything worth noting there either but taking his time to look them over his jaw suddenly dropped and he stood frozen, just staring, for a good minute before he could even believe what he was seeing. What he was looking at was … practically himself. Perhaps a decade or so older but there in the old black and white picture on the old brick wall stood a figure that he couldn’t help thinking might just as well have looked back at him from a mirror, holding and resting on a contrabass.

When it had finally sunk in that what he was seeing in fact really was what he was looking at Winston managed to break the spell he had been put under by the sight of what appeared to be himself and could study also the rest of the poster. It was a picture of what had apparently been the clubs resident jazz band in 1946 and below it were all of their names in order of appearance. The name of the man with the contrabass was … he couldn’t believe it. It was Robert. His grandfather’s supposed name. And all the way to the left in the picture, holding a saxophone, was an Erik. So he was looking at a Robert and an Erik, performers in a jazz band in Black Reef in 1946. And here he had thought that the walk was only to clear his head and tire him out before going to bed. With newfound energy and excitement he carefully studied the names and pictures of all the women on the wall but there was no one that either looked like his grandmother or had a name that could possibly be a variation on Wilhelmina. There was however, a few posters over from the one with the jazz band and considerably bigger, a poster with the picture of a young girl who appeared to have been a solo performer, and a popular one at that. Her name, written in large shiny letters across the top of the poster, was Alice.

Grandma’s Note. Chapter Four.

It’s monday again and time flies. It got a bit later today but here is after all the fourth installment of my serialized story Grandma’s Note.

If you haven’t read the previous chapters you can find them here:
Chapter One   Chapter Two   Chapter Three


The wind had steadily picked up during the final stretch of Winston’s drive to Black Reef and as he now was passing the sign telling him he had finally reached his destination, he had both front windows rolled down all the way, letting it blow with full force straight through. Even though he was at least a good fifty miles in from the coast also the air in this part of the river delta had that unmistakable seaside feel and smell that he had always found so enchanting, and although clouds were gathering in the sky ahead for what could very well be a thunderstorm later in the evening the temperature for the moment held steady at the pleasant level of so far during the day. The seemingly endless suburban sprawl had finally come to an end a while back and for the last hour or so he had past through field after field of farmland, which luckily was dressed in its most gloriously colorful outfit this time of year, and after the jazz session had come to its familiar, yet still satisfying, end he had turned off the stereo all together and cruised along in what had felt like an almost spiritual silence. He couldn’t put his finger on it but he had felt a strong sensation of having started something meaningful, a sensation of traveling towards something good, a feeling of exciting expectation.

He had been right in his assumption about the town being right on the river and although not much to look at now, enough signs were there for him to feel confident that the place had held a position of importance during some earlier period in time. A small town of probably not more than ten thousand inhabitants, he guessed, it housed a center that architecturally appeared to belong to a town several times that size. Of course, in any other sense it could hardly even be called a town center anymore. Even the buildings along the main street that, with their large windows on the bottom floor, had obviously been built for the purpose of housing shops and boutiques were either boarded up or converted to domestic dwellings, save for a few pubs, a couple of fast food joints and a kiosk. The little galleria he had passed in the outskirts as he entered the town probably covered all commercial needs nowadays, he figured. Other than a group of middle aged men, trying to hold each other up outside one of the pubs and spelling trouble more than anything else, he hadn’t seen a single person so far and he began to doubt what he might actually be able to get out of his little excursion in terms of useful information.

Discouraged by the sight of it he drove the length of the main street without stopping, hoping it would instead take him down to the river bank, which it did. He felt drawn towards the water and hoped it would paint a more promising picture but what he found was that the idea of polishing up the town by making use of the water front had clearly not occurred to anyone who was anyone in Black Reef. Instead the entire view of the river, from the direction of the center of town, was all but blocked out by a stretch of crumbling wooden fishing huts in different colors, one more flaked off than the next. With a deep sigh, he still parked the car in what appeared to be a parking lot free of charge and followed a little half tarmac, half gravel walkway that lead between two of the fishing huts down towards the water. Once through, he was surprised to find himself looking upon a perfectly idyllic picture of five wooden piers stretching out into a slow flowing river, with a tall and lush green forest on the other side. Four of the piers were girdled by docked leisure boats, of a rich variety, almost to the very last available spot while the fifth and middle one laid bare, reaching further out into the water than the others. The view made a quite dramatic contrast to what he had seen thus far and he was forced to somewhat reassess his earlier, as it turned out premature, judgement of how the good folks of Black Reef had chosen to make use of its placement on the river. Even the fishing huts appeared considerably better kept up as he instead observed them from this side.

Winston heard noises telling of cheerful gatherings coming from some of the larger boats and considered trying his luck with simply walking up to one of them, but spotting two figures seated in deck chairs with fishing rods in their hands, all the way out on the middle pier, he decided to try them instead. Closing in on them and seeing the figures belonging to two elderly men he dared suspect that his choice had been a wise one and when one of them already upon introduction owned up to having lived in Black Reef his entire life Winston thought that he just might have hit the jackpot. He asked the man if he knew of a Black Reef Island and was told that, although unbeknownst to the majority of the current Black Reef population, the town had actually been named after the island, which was to be found a few miles further up the river. He then went on, needing little to no encouragement, informing Winston that the little island, named for its characteristic black rocks, had been an important reloading station during the very early days of goods transports along the river but that, falling out of use, it had been declared a nature preserve in the early twentieth century. Nowadays, the man concluded, very few people ever took notice of its existence.

Excited and intrigued by what he had been able to find out so quickly, Winston straightforwardly asked the old man if he knew of anything that might have taken place on the island in say the thirties or forties and the man gladly picked up the trail again, explaining that nobody had cared about the ban against setting foot on the island right up until the mid seventies and that, peaking in the fifties, it had been an immensely popular recreational area for families and young people alike. There had even been, the man told, a few cottages built within its midst around that time. Then, the old man concluded anew in a tone that told Winston it was time to leave the two men again to their peaceful fishing, from the mid seventies through the eighties the ban had been rather rigorously enforced and all the visiting to the island had successfully been put to an end. Now, since about a decade back, he said, there is once more hardly any enforcement of the ban but the island has been overgrown to the point where few, if anyone, ever get the idea of walking ashore. Already deep in thought from the newly acquired information, Winston thanked the old man sincerely, wished both him and his silent companion good luck with their continued fishing, and turned back up towards the center of town to try and find somewhere to spend the night.

Grandma’s Note. Chapter Three.

It’s monday again and, as promised, it’s time for the third chapter of my serialized story Grandma’s Note.
If you haven’t read the first two you can find them here:

Chapter One. Chapter Two.


Back in his car, and back out on the highway, Winston was deep in thought. The car stereo was turned up loud, playing a cd with some classic old jazz session that his grandmother had given him as a birthday gift a whole lot of years ago, before she had started to lose her wits. Winston didn’t know much of anything about jazz, and always struggled to remember the names of the performers in the session when he didn’t have the cover of the cd readily at hand to consult, but he liked to listen to it in the car and it always helped him think. Especially so in this very moment in fact since it had almost always been playing in the background at his grandmother’s house as she was telling the stories he was now trying to recall.

The first thing that had caught his attention among the writing on the note, other than the four signatures, was the name of the place where something of immense importance was supposed to have taken place so very long ago. Black Reef Island. Had he seen it that morning it wouldn’t have meant a thing to him, as he had never seen or heard it before that day, but reading it on the note he had remembered seeing at least the name Black Reef on a number of signs along the highway. It had referred, he remembered, to what was probably a town a few hundred miles further up along the road, which would place it in the middle of the river delta if he wasn’t mistaken. Considering the name he wouldn’t be surprised to find it on the river itself, he thought. Of course, the signs had said Black Reef with no reference whatsoever to any island, and there was a chance that the two weren’t at all related, in which case he was now driving hundreds of miles for nothing, but he had figured it good enough of a lead to take a chance on.

Also catching his attention had been the year mentioned on the note. 38. 1938. At the very beginning of the second world war of course but without more to go on he figured that to be a coincidence more than anything else since the war hadn’t had much of a presence in the area, and certainly not as early as that, and he couldn’t remember his grandmother ever mentioning anything that he had connected to the events of the war either. No, he was rather trying to put it in relation to what might have been going on in his grandmother’s life and, born in 1916, he worked out that she would have been 22 years old at the time. 22. He tried to picture his grandmother as a 22 year old and found it a lot easier than he would have expected, but then she had always felt like a young spirit, in both heart and mind, right up to the point when she had very much not anymore. Winston felt a sting of sadness remembering her last few years but quickly shook it off as it was not what he wanted to focus on at the moment.

1938. What was going on in that area during that period of time? He wondered to himself and probed his memory for what he might know in terms of local history. It must have been very much still in the middle of the depression, or at the very least have felt like it to those living there at the time, with the institutions of the formerly so prosperous ship building industry along the river crumbling one after another. As sheltered as the people of the area had been from the horrors of the war, they would surely still have lead a rather bleak existence, he figured. But then again, something appearing as a matter of life or death to a bunch of twenty somethings wouldn’t necessarily have had anything at all to do with the local sociopolitical climate, would it? No, the more he thought about it the more he started to accept that he couldn’t begin to put much together at all with what he knew so far. All he could do at the moment was to enjoy in silence some of his grandmother’s favorite jazz music on his way to Black Reef, and hope that he would find something that could point him in the right direction when he got there.

Grandma’s Note. Chapter Two.

I know I said that I would post new chapters to this story mainly on mondays, but in order to get it off the ground (and because I already have quite a few of them lined up) let’s do another one right now.
Here we go.

Oh yeah, if you haven’t read the first chapter you can find it here.


 

Winston was careful balancing his weight on the branch with the saw in his hand. Testing the branches he had been satisfied that at least the bottom two would be able to support him and since the fourth one from the bottom was a bit tricky to access he had climbed up to stand on the bottom one and, having carefully cut away a bunch of the smaller branches, was resting his hip against the third one, reaching out to saw off the fourth. It was farther off still than he had anticipated and even standing on the branch he had to get up on his toes and really stretch out his full length.

Placing his right hand a bit out on the branch to steady it he had the saw ready in his left to cut through it right in by the trunk, but as soon as he had transferred just a fraction of his weight to his grip in order to support his movement he heard a rumbling sound from inside the tree and immediately knew he was in trouble. Next thing he knew, the branch shattered into a cloud of dust and tiny fragments of dried bark and wet rotten wood, and with nothing to hold on to, to support his upper body, he pivoted around his hip against the third branch, like some kind of accidental gymnast, and crashed to the ground, landing flat on his back.

The wind completely knocked out of him, it was a minute before he fully realized what had happened and as he started to come to the first thing he noticed was the saw, still in a firm grip in his hand, and he was thankful he hadn’t seriously injured himself. The next thing he became aware of was an unpleasant crawling feeling making itself increasingly unbearably known along his legs and, managing to sit up and take a look, he realized to his horror that the rotten branch had been home to an army of ants that had now turned into an aggressive invading force of his nether regions. Filling his drained lungs back up again with one big gasp, he flew off the ground and had his pants off faster than ever before in his life, doing a no doubt silly dance and swinging them around like a pathetic pantomime impression of the majestic windmill standing on top of the hill behind him, proceeding thereafter to slapping his legs with them in order to fight off any remaining annoying little enemy soldiers.

When finally confident to have successfully upheld the sanctity of his bodily territory, he bended over, resting his hands on his knees, to draw his first sequence of controlled and regular breaths in what now seemed like a rather long time. He had just settled back into his normal rhythm and was about to break out laughing when he saw it. In the commotion he had forgotten all about it and the sight of it snapped him back into the apprehension of where he was and why. There, on the ground, among ants and bark and rotten wood was a note, a neatly folded piece of old brown paper.

Winston could hardly believe his eyes and would probably have rubbed them had his hands not been so dirty from his falling out of the tree. He carefully picked it up and his hands were actually shaking as he started to unfold it. It was damp and had it been left inside the branch for another decade or so it would probably have started to face the same destiny as the rotten wood it smelled like, but it held together and once unfolded the writing on it was still clear to read.

The note consisted of a body of text, written in what looked like black ink by a hand that he did not recognize to be his grandmother’s, and at the bottom were four different signatures, written in red with what he with a chill thought could in fact be blood. It said

We hereby solemnly swear,
in our heart of hearts,
to always remember but never speak of,
to the end of our lives and beyond,
what happened on Black Reef Island in the summer of 38.

Alice & Wilma
Robert & Erik

The first thing that jumped at him off the paper was the names, one of which was entirely expected while the other three were surprises that all somehow made sense, some in ways that he himself couldn’t make sense of. The one he had expected to find was Alice, the name of his grandmother’s mysterious friend and the name that had frequented her stories by far more often than any other, and Wilma, although not at all expected, he quickly identified as referring to his grandmother. Winston had always known his grandmother’s name as Mina and had it not been for the knowledge of his own name having been chosen for its matching initial letter he might not have ever known that her full name was actually Wilhelmina, but, as it was, he did know that and it wasn’t a stretch that she would instead have gone by Wilma in her youth. The two male names he had not expected to find in any shape or form but looking at them where they stood he could after all produce possible subjects for the both of them. Winston had never met his grandfather, and knew that his father hadn’t either, but the one and only thing he thought he knew about the man was that his name was supposed to have been Robert and he remembered, from a long time ago, his father a few times mentioning the existence of an uncle Erik.

Having examined the names individually the next thing that caught his attention was the ordering of them on the paper. From the placement on separate lines and the presence of the “&” symbols it seemed clear that the names had been specifically ordered in pairs with the girls’ names in one and the boys’ names in the other. Given what he thought to have figured out about the identities of the people involved he got the feeling there might be some significance to that fact that he was, as of yet, entirely unaware of, and it sparked his interest.