Welcome to the Chubby Chatterbox Newsletter, where I’ll be posting favorites from the Chubby Chatterbox archives. In addition, my complete thriller Return of the Mary Celeste will soon be serialized here for those who have asked for something beyond a regular post.

My novel is based on a true event, arguably the greatest maritime mystery of all time. In 1872 the crew and passengers of Boston brigantine Mary Celeste abandoned their seaworthy ship and its valuable cargo, vanishing in the middle of the Atlantic. Speculation over their fate has never abated. History records that after the Mary Celeste tragedy no one from that fateful voyage was ever seen again. History is about to be rewritten…

Return of the Mary Celeste

Prologue

Tragedy struck the brigantine Mary Celeste on the morning of November 25, 1872. The hourly log was later recovered from the deserted vessel; At 8 a.m. the last notation was made. By 9 a.m. no one remained aboard to chalk the next entry.

Something had terrified Captain Benjamin Briggs and his crew, prompting the seasoned skipper to make a decision certain to affect not only himself, his ship and crew, but his family as well—his wife and two year old daughter were aboard Mary Celeste. Much ink has been spilled in fanciful and scientific attempts to explain the calamity that engulfed this perfectly seaworthy ship, yet all that is known for certain is this: in a matter of minutes Captain Briggs became convinced that the only way to save their lives was by ordering everyone into a hastily launched lifeboat. By giving the order to abandon ship, he also launched the greatest of all maritime mysteries.

On December 5, 1872, a month after leaving New York Harbor, Mary Celeste was found drifting on a calm and empty sea. The ship was in fine condition, perfectly intact with valuable cargo safely stored in her hold, but the crew and passengers had vanished. None were ever seen again.

Until now….

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Hemingway's Coat

March 9, 2015

 

 

This piece of fiction was first posted on 11/2/12.

 

 

*********************************

 

 

“I thought you wanted to be a writer,” the old woman said to fourteen year old Becky. 

           

“I do, Granny. My brain is full of ideas, but I have trouble putting them down on paper. All of the kids at school have computers. I wish I had one.”

                 

The old woman looked at the orphaned granddaughter she’d spent nine years struggling to raise. Every cigarette the old woman had ever smoked was present in her voice when she said, “Sorry, kiddo. Money’s tight. We barely manage to keep up with the rent on this old trailer.”

                 

Becky’s cheeks turned crimson. “Sorry, Granny. I’m being a brat.”

                 

“Go to your room and write something while I scratch up some dinner. Practice makes perfect, they say.”

                 

Becky’s hair was getting long. Granny used to trim it, but now her hands shook too much when she held the scissors. Becky pulled her hair back from her face, bent down to kiss her grandmother’s wrinkled cheek and headed to her room.

                 

It hadn’t been easy for the old woman, living off disability and welfare checks. A computer for her granddaughter would be nice but there was no money for it, not to mention the monthly internet service. The Child Protective Services had already knocked on the door to find out why the phone wasn’t working.

                 

The old woman took a long pull on her cigarette, exhaled a cloud of  grey smoke and extinguished the cigarette in the horseshoe ashtray beside her tattered Barcalounger. She was down to her last few cigs; she’d finish this one later. Shouldn’t be smoking around the kid anyway, according to the Child Services Nazis.

                 

After reaching for her cane, she lifted her bad leg from the “otman” and struggled to stand. Instead of going to the kitchen to open a can of raviolis, she teetered to the hallway and peered into her granddaughter’s bedroom. Becky was sitting at a desk salvaged from a Dumpster behind the trailer park. One of the drawers was missing. Yellow writing pads from the Dollar Store were stacked on the desktop near a dented lamp, another Dumpster find. Her granddaughter was staring at a blank page.

                 

She shuffled off to her room and dropped onto the corner of her bed, exhausted. She was getting weaker every day. She didn’t need a crystal ball to know that one day she’d be zipped into a bag and carried out of here. What would happen to the girl then? She shuddered to think about it.

                 

Her closet was only a few steps away, but reaching it was an agony. She managed. Inside, her clothes hung as cruel reminders of better times—pretty things that once caught the eyes of handsome men—back when her skin was smooth and soft, not like the wrinkled crepe now hanging from her bones. A knockoff Schiaparelli sweater came into view, bought with her first paycheck when she wasn’t much older than Becky. The shiny eyes of a fox stole glinted in the shadows.

                 

She couldn’t remember the last time she’d acquired anything new, but pretty things weren’t needed anymore; she seldom left home. Recently, she’d acquired the habit of talking to herself out loud when alone. “Vintage clothes are all the rage right now. There must be a pretty penny here.” She paused, closing her rheumy eyes as she rubbed the throbbing pain in the back of her neck. “Enough for a computer? Probably not, but enough to keep the wolf from our door a bit longer.” She made a mental note to have the girl box up these old things for a trip to the secondhand clothing store down the road. For now, she pushed them aside.

                 

Her fingers reached into the dark recesses of the closet, finally closing on the subject of her search—a man’s pea coat, the navy-colored wool slightly moth bitten. She carried it to her granddaughter’s room and settled onto the corner of Becky’s bed. The pad of paper in front of her granddaughter remained untouched.

                 

“I have something for you,” she said. “It isn’t a computer, but I’m hoping you can put it to good use.”

                 

Becky eyed the old jacket, a furrow deepening between her eyes.

                

“Ever heard of a writer named Ernest Hemingway?”

                 

“Granny! Of course I have. He was one of America’s greatest writers. We studied him in school.”

                

“Well, here’s something you don’t know; he and I were once an item.”

                 

“An item?”

                

Granny sighed. “Yes, a couple. This was before I met your grandpa. Ernest and I eventually broke up, but he left behind this coat.”

                 

Becky’s eyes widened like saucers. “That’s Ernest Hemingway’s coat? Granny, are you fooling me?”

                 

“Have you ever known me to fool you?”

                

Speechless, Becky shook her head.

 

The old woman stood and draped the coat over her granddaughter’s slender shoulders. “In many cultures it’s believed the talent of a person rubs off on their clothing.” Fortunately, the girl didn’t ask her to name them.

                 

Later that evening after the old woman had finished smoking the rest of her cigarette and was lumbering off to bed, she paused to peek inside her granddaughter’s bedroom. Instead of being fast asleep, Becky was wrapped in the pea coat with the cuffs rolled up to expose her wrists. She was writing furiously. 

                 

It occurred to the old woman that pea coats were traditionally worn by sailors. Had Hemingway been a sailor? She didn’t think so. The girl would learn the truth eventually, but by then the pea coat would have served its purpose. It had been abandoned, left hanging in the closet when she rented the trailer years ago.

                 

“A little fib isn’t so bad,” she mumbled to herself, “especially if it’s all you have.”

 



Comments

18 Comments
Well, it did inspire the girl to write. I wonder if she could pay some bills if she stopped smoking?
By: Alex J. Cavanaugh on March 9, 2015
It may be fiction, but it could be a reality TV show. So many people across North America are living on the edge like the characters in this story. I don't think the smokes would change their lives all that much in the grand scheme of things. Sad story...
By: Daniel LaFrance on March 9, 2015
A coat as a muse. That's a fun thought.
By: Michael Offutt on March 9, 2015
The gift of imagination may be better than a computer.
By: Cranky on March 9, 2015
a wonderful tale. i, too, hated the smoking part, but i know lots of folks live that way.
By: TexWisGirl on March 9, 2015
If you are born with the gift, you will find a way. Sometimes you just need a bit of a lift.
By: mimi on March 9, 2015
I remember this story--I STILL love it!!
By: fishducky on March 9, 2015
What a well crafted story Stephen. You really got inside that old ladies head and failing body. Wonderful job and a beautiful story. .
By: Akansas Patti on March 9, 2015
There's gotta be a second part to this story. I've made my predictions. I have find out if I'm right!
By: red on March 9, 2015
You couldn't have painted a better picture of that scene in the rickety old trailer if you had used paint and a canvas!
By: Pixel Peeper on March 9, 2015
Now I want to send them an anonymous donation!
By: Val on March 9, 2015
A great tale!
By: John on March 10, 2015
You have quite the gift with fiction, too.
By: Shelly on March 10, 2015
this story was great- so visual ....I could see the old woman with her cigarettes......and the young girl teetering towards an uncertain future. Well done!
By: Kathe W. on March 10, 2015
The love of a grandma goes very deep! I know!
By: Bouncin Barb on March 10, 2015
I really like this heartwarming story, Stephen. You do fiction as well as nonfiction. I see that Shelly said so too. You did have me going there. I thought Granny and Hemingway were a hot item in days of ole.
By: Robyn Engel on March 10, 2015
Very nice, indeed, Stephen!
By: Michael Manning on March 11, 2015
A feel-good little yarn, well told. (Although I've never been a fan of Hemmingway!)
By: Bryan Jones on March 12, 2015

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