The wooden bleachers faced a mulch clearing roughly the square footage of the Applebee’s three miles down the highway. To the left, from the perspective of the audience, was a shallow pool in which a buoyant tree trunk lay on the water’s surface. To the right, a red tool shed squatted on the far edge of the mulch. Standing guard behind the clearing was a dense pine forest blocking the setting sun, what wasn’t already blocked by oncoming clouds.
Lucy Monday sat by herself in the slowly decomposing fourth row, the last to be replaced. It showed its age, but she arrived early to keep her spot. Families, tourists, and old cast members of the show found seats throughout the rest of the bleachers, quickly filling to capacity. The Maine autumn breeze sent a shiver through her pale body, and she pulled her jacket up to her chin and zipped it to her neck.
Sitting there, alone among many, she wasn’t sure how she was supposed to feel. The show was the last of the season, before the tourists stopped pouring in for the hiking and started trickling in for the snow. More importantly, it was her husband Art’s final show. At the age of 66, he was finally retiring. Some might say he should have retired years ago. In a way, he already had, limited to more of a guest-starring role with snappy punch lines and one-liners to toss at the younger members of the cast. It was a rough day when he realized he couldn’t climb up a tree, throw an axe, or balance on a log without feeling the pain of his arthritis. Art finally admitted his old age, and that he felt ‘empty’ in his diminished state. He would come home cranky from a show that needed less and less of him. Lucy was ready for that part of Art to retire, but it’d been forty years since she knew him as anything but a lumberjack.
She spotted the show’s current lumberjill, Sheryl, dressed in green flannel and tight jeans, talking to some former cast members by the entrance. Every time she saw her, Lucy felt the excess midriff she’d accumulated since she sported a similar pair of jeans, and looked better in them, during her days as the show’s lumberjill back in the seventies, eighties, and into the nineties. That was when her Art was the star, The Artful Lodger. Together they were a tour de force in the lumberjack world. She would strut out with her form-fitting jeans and eager chest to introduce the muscles that could climb up a pole in fifteen seconds, the same muscles that held her closely every night. Now she came to the show just to see Art pick axes off the mulch, the job for an afterthought. The name of the show used to be The Artful Lodger’s Lumberjack Show; then it changed to The Great Wilderness Show featuring the Artful Lodger. Now the show didn’t even include his name.
“Hey kids, go run to grandma,” she heard from her right periphery. It was her son Connor, shuffling along with the last minute crowd, along with his family. Lucy stood up and embraced her incoming grandchildren, neither yet tall enough to reach her shoulders for a hug. Then came Connor, lanky and a foot taller than Lucy. The first gray hairs of middle age peppered his blond temples, and with his sharp shoes and expensive jeans, neither of which Lucy could say the brand, he was about as out of place in the Maine backwoods as Art was in the show. Behind Connor was his wife, Marcy, who Lucy always thought looked like Audrey Hepburn. Their kids mirrored her good looks.
“Thank you for coming,” Lucy said as they side-stepped into the fourth row. “I know we’re a long drive.”
“Sure thing,” said Connor, zipping his jacket and surveying the crowd. “There are a lot of people. Is this still that popular?”
“Well it’s not usually this packed,” she said. “But a lot of folks came when they heard dad was doing the logrolling again.”
The words sounded even more unbelievable out loud. Her Art, at 66, doing the logrolling competition. It took some convincing for the show’s owner. Art claimed he was nimble enough, and he pointed out the arthritis was in his hands, not his legs or feet. So the owner let him have one last hurrah, and he promised to advertise heavily for the event. It’d be like old times, if only for a few minutes. Lucy woke every morning of the past week or so with the other side of the bed empty while Art jogged down their driveway and back. She hadn’t seen Art step on a log in years, but she surmised he could do it. Winning was another matter, but he was the Artful Lodger after all, and she was looking forward to a meaningful end to the Mondays’ involvement in the show.
Back to Fiction.