In my recent talk with Sherri Rabinowitz on "Chatting with Sherri" I mentioned that I've been working on a collection of linked stories. That project, Suburban Gothic, has undergone many changes in tone and content over the years, but its one constant has been a novelette entitled, Tender Weeds, inspired by Ambrose Bierce's short story, "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge". Over the next month, I'm going to present Tender Weeds in installments. In between those posts, will be others with observations about Bierce's story, and the manner in which creative artists borrow and rework other artists' material, because I have a few things to say about both. But, in the meantime, I'll begin with Part I of Tender Weeds. I hope you'll stay tuned....
Irene was dozing when she became aware of the chafe at her throat. She had no idea how long she and Hugo had been on the road. The sun was still ascending when they’d left his ranch, but she hadn't bothered to check the time. She had followed Hugo dutifully to the Jeep, and settled into the passenger's seat without a murmur. It had been a bad night and she was glad he was behind the wheel, dealing with the mountainous curves and hazy dawn air. As soon as he'd pulled out of the driveway, she’d opened the windows, leaned back, and let her mind drift, her senses go drowsy and dull.
But then the rub started, the irksome sense of something abrading her skin, scratching into her comfort, rousing her from a dense and dreamless sleep. She sat up and reached for the visor, hoping to find the irritant and flick it away. But when she looked at herself in the mirror, past a lock of rust-hued hair that had worked its way out of her ponytail, and investigated the pale flesh where her Adam’s Apple would have been, had she been a man, and found nothing, she let her gaze wander. That’s when she saw the silver coupe weaving behind them.
The car’s erratic motion jolted her nerves. She flipped up her visor, and turned to Hugo, “Looks like we’ve got a drunk behind us.”
Hugo glanced in his rear view mirror—"I see him.”—and sped up.
The coupe answered by swerving and driving parallel to them.
Irene tried to see who was at the wheel, but the figure was blurred. She squinted, blinked, and thought she saw its head turn, its eyes fix on her own. But then the image was gone, blocked, as the coupe was overtaken by a cobalt blue convertible crammed with passengers—rowdy young men in striped baseball jerseys who were blighting the morning’s peace with an off-key rendering of some song Irene didn’t recognize.
“Probably on their way to a game,” Hugo’s cheeks dimpled, his expression glossed to the brink of rigor.
“Yes,” Irene sighed, relieved that he was turning on his signal, veering toward an exit ramp. “Probably.”
She checked the clock on the dashboard. It was almost nine.
© 2013 Barbara Froman
All Rights Reserved
Next: the film adaptation of "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge"
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