Writer's Digest Award winning Short Story by Stephen Woodfin, Part II of II

The Promiscuity Defense

He Ain’t Leaving; He’s Gone

Part II of II

Every morning after coffee with the boys, Woody drove his Ford truck out the front gate of the complex across the street to the Tom Thumb. He filled up with gas, usually only a gallon or two, since he had done the same thing the day before. Occasionally, he bought a couple of pieces of fruit, some canned chicken, and a loaf of bread. Then he drove west on County Road 30-A a couple of miles to Grayton Beach where he could take his truck on the beach.

For the last several years, the beach patrol had ignored his expired beach permit. “Hell, I ain’t going to run over nobody,” Woody said every time they asked him about it.

The regulars at Picolo’s always flagged him down as he came back to the road when he finished his beach drive. He would act like he didn’t know them for a minute, and then agree to have lunch with them.

On this particular day, he altered his pattern. Instead of making his way back home, he drove north a couple of miles to the south shore of Choctawhatchee Bay. At Point Washington, he entered Eden State Park and found a picnic table near the placid, brackish water.

He sat there a long time, ‘til the sun was getting low in the sky.

When he exited the park, he pulled into the cemetery next to the Methodist Church and parked near a fresh grave.

“Not much to report today, Maggie,” he said. “There’s a big blow out in the Atlantic, but it’s going to miss us. Hardly anybody on the beach. I had grouper at the Fish House last night, but it wasn’t as good as yours.”

Before climbing back in his truck, he placed a bouquet of flowers from the state park on the long-ago set, double headstone, complete now save for the second date beside his name.

Next thing he knew, it was dark outside, and a Walton County deputy was knocking on his window.

“Mr. Woody, are you all right?” the young deputy said.

“Can’t you just leave me alone?” Woody said.

“It’s late, Mr. Woody. This is not a safe place for you to spend the night,” the deputy said.

“Well, all right then,” Woody said. He started the engine, turned on his lights and just sat there. After a minute he rolled his window down and sheepishly said to the officer, “Son, do you think you could show me how to get to Seagrove?”

Through the window of Woody’s truck, the officer could see a number of rotten bananas and loaves of molded bread in his back seat.

“If you’ll follow me, I’ll lead you home, Mr. Woody?” the young man said getting into his patrol car.

It’s now or never.

#

The next morning, he changed his routine again and drove to the Wheelhouse to see the boys. Contrary to his customarily neat appearance, his clothes were wrinkled, his hair uncombed. He couldn’t pay attention to the conversation.

“What’s wrong, Woody?” Whitey asked.

“I can’t quite put my finger on it,” Woody said.

When they started to go their separate ways, Woody asked Marvin if he would come outside with him. When they got to his truck, Woody stepped up into the cab. Before he shut the door he said, “Marvin, you’ve been a good friend.”

Marvin noticed a note card with black magic marker printing lying face up on Woody’s dashboard. On it, in Marvin’s handwriting, appeared one word: QUIETUS.

Woody looked him in the eye for a moment. “It’s a good word,” he said. He started his engine and pulled onto County Road 30-A heading east.

“Give ‘em hell, Woody,” Marvin said as he watched him drive away.

#

In a couple of days, Woody’s son and daughter came to the Wheelhouse to see the boys.

“I don’t suppose you’ve seen our dad today?” the son asked.

“Haven’t seen him since Monday,” Whitey said.

“When we saw him, he was heading west on 30-A,” Marvin said.

“Thanks, we’re afraid he might have gotten lost,” the daughter said.

“If you’ll leave us your numbers, we’ll call you when he shows up around here,” Marvin said.

After they left, Whitey asked Marvin, “I thought you said he headed east yesterday. You just told them he went west.”

“Would you rather be lost or trapped?” Marvin asked him.

#

A few days later, when Woody made it to the east coast of Florida, he got out of his truck and took off for the beach. In the twilight, he stripped down to his shorts and waded into the water.

You want to go skinny-dipping, Maggie?

 THE END

 (He Ain’t Leaving; He’s Gone is part of Stephen Woodfin’s short story Collection, The Promiscuity Defense and Other Short Stories.)

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