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Nichol's Close

by DougLarkin


Dan Nichols had been on the island for 66 years, 6 months and 13 days. Today was noon so that adds on an additional four hours give or take a few minutes due to the slow docking speeds of the boats when he was younger. He barely remembered a life outside the island and had made little effort since his boyhood years. Brought by his mother at age two and between then and now he had only left the island for a few select doctor visitations, five in total. The island was his primary place in this world. He had aspired notions within himself to be the islands only astronomer, when that didn’t work out due to costs of the smallest telescope stocked by the store costing more than a few years of savings, he studied botany and even purchased and assembled a greenhouse. When nature’s cycle proved too harsh and inflexible for his ideals and short span of human life, he chose then to become a family man but was quickly scared off when the more fine human trivialities of relationships became daily work on top of the serious actions involved in reproducing humans. After this he had made a feeble attempt to document family history and even after being discouraged by extended family, both in person and over the phone, he pushed on in fear of half formed achievements and learned their family had been on the losing side throughout history and had only survived because they sold information regarding hidden paths through groves and woodlands in exchange for safe passage and exclusion from the future raid which would wipe out their brethren. Dan then knew that this was a history better buried so he left the sheets apart and disorganised so no one in their right mind would dedicate time to sort them out, though all relatives he had reached in his research had made attempts to cover their tracks.

He was then diagnosed with shingles, piles, lupus and gum abscess all within the space of 14 months since turning sixty-eight. His thoughts had turned morbid and when he chose not to venture into the village any longer he began to believe that the end was near.

On days when Dans moods were gloomy enough to diffuse all motion and the weather followed that up by taking a turn for the worse, Dan felt there seemed to be little hope in what tomorrow would bring. Dan would then remember his mothers soft words to him when he had been beaten up by the local bullies, 'Shh shh, there now darlin, you're alright. They're just not nice. Not like you. That's a good lad. There now. Now now.’ This brief exchange, the only time ever it ever focused on the age Dan was presently undergoing, proved to be strong words to Dan, who scorched them as a mantra on a wall against any attempts to rob him of inner comfort. So when living became a chore and somewhat dependent on the earthly elements, the habit of referring to this sentiment continued driving him.

He would sit in the field, just on the green cropped curving arch at the top of the field that looked out over at other curved fields, bordered by dark green hedges and long low hanging oak tree branches. He liked to listen to birds and the bees when it was hot and the sheep when it was cooler and the machinery and livestock when it was harvest season.

His mother was buried at the bottom of the field south of his home and he made the effort to go out and dig a grave next to hers where it seemed the best place in the shade of the cherry trees. He expected to die from the ailments or he would grow weary of pain medication and stand above the grave and turn his only pistol on himself to fall back in, he had even gone so far as to arrange and pay in advance for a man to come and ‘fill in a ditch’ on the day he planned to do it.

He was designing a mechanism for self burial to cover at least one layer of loose dirt over himself, in case the gravedigger had a fear of blood. Such plans never became reality and Dan was no man of god but he found himself praying for either quick recovery or a sudden death. When a man spends such time sullen in morbid nature he can become bitter but Dan has just gone quieter than normal and was satisfied to listen to the day go about its business, with each day having less and less to do with him.

So when he spotted the little girl climbing the cherry tree in his field, overhanging the gravesite his thoughts had held sacred in his mind for so long, he watched with casual interest, as if the summer wind has simply blown this girl into his property and he was curious if she would pluck the fruit and fly off to her nest back the way she had come. She looked exactly like a niece he had many years ago from a sister who he didn’t see anymore. He realised that niece wouldn’t even remember him now and probably was old enough to have finished college somewhere out in the world. The niece had seemed to like him and talked non-stop though he was ill at the time and yet she told him about every subject she did and what each of her friends favorite thing was to do on the weekend and that she wanted to ride horses when she got older, and learn to heal them when they were sick. Dan wondered then how he could have ever shared such words with a fascinating and bright girl, he liked to think he just listened but he must have talked back and it seemed so impossible he was capable of that now.

As a child, Dan had been seen with modest behavior by adults and educators early in life, and while not showing any bright characteristics they saw room for seeds of knowledge, thoughts on anything much except what he could recite from memory no better than the average child of which there were plenty within hearing distance and Dan, for all his derivative and meek sense of purpose, was a quiet relief when compared to most other children. Dan’s sister Arleen was difficult from every stage and angle. Her presence was still held in infamy in the local schoolhouse. She was smart but unfocussed, wild yet calm, smooth as a cat but as quick to notice and strike as a hawk. She was only Dan’s half sister but it was like his other had bred with a visitor from a passing viking ship. Dan was happy to play with Arleen for all her manic sense of fun which balanced out with a Dan’s softer sense of outdoor activity. Dan had forgotten so, but his happiest moment had been in his sixth year and fourth month on the island when he had jumped through rows and rows of chopped wheat with his sister and then that evening went down to the old neighbors rusted old farm shed and they had jumped over the huge round wrapped beals that were bursting from drying out and they found the batch of kittens and they played with them there in the tuffs of hay and black plastic wrapping until the daylight from the open shed door turned to amber. Dan didn’t realise it but when he received news of his sister and her whereabouts and going-ons throughout the years and the small internal unknowable instincts inside himself called up the feeling from that evening long ago when he had been on his chosen home for six years, and he could believe that still same feeling could rise up out of this same island again. Dan spent much time hoping Arleen had discovered something similar to that feeling, that he felt their mother had given them and he hoped the best for her and her child in finding it where they chose. Had more substance abuse taken its toll on Dan’s aging mind he would have become accustomed to revisiting the memory in his searching out for the feeling nostalgia has mingled with. Instead he simply wished for summer and the island to be calm and life to be easy and more laughter and for it all to come from someplace outside of him. Otherwise he would look up when birds he recognised flew by in flocks and he would mumble to himself or laugh lightly at some memory passing through his mind and people who lived nearby would then start to think he had gone funny in the head.

The most Dan had talked to a woman was when he had to read letters to his mother when her eyesight was fading. Besides her he once had a career advisor who dedicated a whole forty minutes with him in sporadic attempts at boilerplate conversation. When his sister had returned to the island two days after his mother had passed to attend the funeral, she had spoken so few words to him, short emotional words meant for his mother and his questions had been so distant and plain he must have felt a stranger to her. She had been quiet, distant, hard, tall, thin and intent on this business she had inherited the right to attend, be the final one of its kind. Outside of his mothers funeral, and the doctors visits which had come before, and he felt he was essential, he could only think of all the company he had excused himself from over the years believing he was ill fitted, too awkward and making others uncomfortable and now, while he was still unseen in his field by the girl in the cherry tree, he felt he should move off quietly and let the girl believe herself a master thief. As so often was the case, Dan restreated for home. He then saw he was forced to move anyway since he now saw the girl in the cherry had a small dog following her on the ground and he was not the biggest fan of animals, since that one summer when that crow had taken his bread he had left lying on the bench while he fumbled with a cheese slice that caught in its own wrapping. Dan had a walking stick and when he moved off the grass and onto the stone and mud edge of the field, he stumbled and almost lost his balance, his walking stick scraped against the hard ground and he then heard the dog bark. Dan wasn’t proud when he got onto the road, having sort of half sprinted away from the direction of the dog's short sharp barks. He ducked into his neighbors apple tree orchard and managed to disappear from view of anyone even who would be up high in cherry trees. But by then the dog had already started to bark.


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113 Reviews

Points: 9356
Reviews: 113

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Fri Jun 07, 2024 6:03 pm
Ley wrote a review...



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Hello fellow writer! Ley here to write a tortoise-y review on this amazing work you've published! This is a new review style that I'm using only for the month of June, in spirit of the Great Tortoise Race! Let's get started, 'shell' we? xD

Shell Start: Wow, so to start off, I felt so bad for Dan while reading this. I can't even imagine dealing with all those health issues, while also finding joy and solace in memories of his mother. I enjoyed reading about his solidarity, though I wish he had someone he could confide in and be with! Soon, we meet the girl climbing the tree. I noticed right away how Dan backed away, and we can elaborate on that more in the next few parts.

Favorite Leaf:
Let' start with the girl climbing the tree, which seemed to be a major turning point in this short story. I found myself smiling, and then frowning, and then... smiling again? The girl climbing the cherry tree represents a moment of unexpected intrusion into Dan's solitary life. Her resemblance to his niece and the presence of her dog stir memories and emotions. This encounter also highlights Dan's instinct to retreat, a pattern seen throughout his life. His reaction to the dog, triggered by a negative memory of a crow, further emphasizes his tendency to withdraw from potential discomfort or conflict. Nicely job encapsulating the true nature of our main character here!

Dan's diagnosis with multiple medical problems within a short span signifies the fragility of his existence. His thoughts turning morbid and his preparation for his death, including digging his own grave and considering a mechanism for self-burial, reflect a man deeply aware of his acceptance with passing. His prayers for either recovery or a quick death reveal a desire to escape the prolonged suffering his illnesses bring. You pulled at my heartstrings with this one, but it was perfect for the setting and mood you wanted to bring to this story. I loved this!

Shell Fractures:
I couldn't find anything wrong or think of any suggestions for revisions to this piece! You did a wonderful job all together! :D

Tortoise Wisdom:
My favorite quotes/sentences:

So when he spotted the little girl climbing the cherry tree in his field, overhanging the gravesite his thoughts had held sacred in his mind for so long, he watched with casual interest, as if the summer wind has simply blown this girl into his property and he was curious if she would pluck the fruit and fly off to her nest back the way she had come.

The turning point! Ahh! Lovely, and what a plot twist!

Dan wasn’t proud when he got onto the road, having sort of half sprinted away from the direction of the dog's short sharp barks. He ducked into his neighbors apple tree orchard and managed to disappear from view of anyone even who would be up high in cherry trees. But by then the dog had already started to bark.

Even more background on Dan and his internal thoughts. I loved the ending, it was dramatic and appropriate. :)

Overall: Overall, this story pulled at my heart strings. I physically wanted to inject myself into the story and become Dan's friend <3 Lovely job. Can't wait to read more of your work in the future! <3

Thank you for taking the time to read this review! I hope to see you join the race, and keep being awesome! Happy Writing~

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Tue May 21, 2024 3:40 am
khushi17bansal wrote a review...



Hi!!!

Dropping in for a quick review here! I want to start out by saying that I really enjoyed your quaint little story, I love how you have characterized Dan, the tone of the story and the way it seems to stretch with really long rambling sentences beautifully emphasises Dan's age and really brings his character to life.

However, I feel like you can make your paragraphs shorter, which will make the entire installment easier to read. And, there are a few grammatical errors here and there,

On days when Dans moods were gloomy enough to diffuse all motion and the weather followed that up by taking a turn for the worse, Dan felt there seemed to be little hope in what tomorrow would bring.


There should be an apostrophe here, "On days when Dan's moods...."


That's a good lad. There now. Now now.


There should be a comma here, "There now. Now, now."


So when he spotted the little girl climbing the cherry tree in his field, overhanging the gravesite his thoughts had held sacred in his mind for so long, he watched with casual interest.....


There should be a comma after "So, when...." also, here, it should be 'a girl' instead of 'the girl' because the article 'the' suggests that the girl is familiar to Dan, or has been referred before in the story both of which are untrue.

Then again, these are very small errors so don't worry about them too much, a quick spell check and you're good to go!


I really love how simple your story is and how you have managed to keep things interesting without everything getting too complicated or long winded. Moreover, I loved your ending! The rising action seems to give it a cliffhanger ending which lends itself beautifully to the readers imagination, wraps up your story neatly and makes it memorable.

However, there are a few things that I don't quite understand.

The island was his primary place in this world. He had aspired notions within himself to be the islands only astronomer, when that didn’t work out due to costs of the smallest telescope stocked by the store costing more than a few years of savings, he studied botany and even purchased and assembled a greenhouse. When nature’s cycle proved too harsh and inflexible for his ideals and short span of human life, he chose then to become a family man but was quickly scared off when the more fine human trivialities of relationships became daily work on top of the serious actions involved in reproducing humans. After this he had made a feeble attempt to document family history and even after being discouraged by extended family, both in person and over the phone, he pushed on in fear of half formed achievements.....


Here, you have said that Dan couldn't afford even the smallest telescope the store had, it tells the reader that financially Dan is very hard up, however, afterwards you have said that he purchased and assembled a greenhouse to study botany.

I'm not particularly knowledgeable but I get the feeling that assembling and purchasing a greenhouse should be more costly than buying a simple telescope. The story also seems to be in a modern setting, ("being discouraged by extended family, both in person and over the phone"), so this bit of information has got me confused.

Also, in this very same paragraph, you have mentioned that Dan gave up botany because,

"nature’s cycle proved too harsh and inflexible for his ideals and short span of human life...."

I don't understand this? What about plants insulted his ideals? What were his ideals? Was he studying botany from scratch? If so, why? What does his life span have to do with anything? Was he not young when he tried this?

Perhaps if you give us more information or perhaps a hint on what his ideals were and what went wrong this bit would be easier to understand.



This brief exchange, the only time ever it ever focused on the age Dan was presently undergoing, proved to be strong words to Dan, who scorched them as a mantra on a wall against any attempts to rob him of inner comfort.


This is another line that has me very confused, I honestly don't understand this at all, What do you mean when you say "the only time ever it ever focused on the age Dan was presently undergoing"?

This line makes me question Dan's relationship with his mother because it gives me the impression that she did not comfort him often even though he was bullied. This makes me feel like she, perhaps, wasn't the best mother.

And the part where he scorches the words on the wall, is this a literal wall? Or is it supposed to be figurative? Like a metaphor for his mind? If that is the case, I feel like it needs to be clearer.



Dan spent much time hoping Arleen had discovered something similar to that feeling, that he felt their mother had given them and he hoped the best for her and her child in finding it where they chose. Had more substance abuse taken its toll on Dan’s aging mind he would have become accustomed to revisiting the memory in his searching out for the feeling nostalgia has mingled with....



This line surprised me a little, substance abuse? If this was mentioned earlier in the story in afraid I completely missed it. Nowhere did I get the feeling that Dan was abusing substances, so this takes my perception of Dan for a toss, I thought he was an aging man with illnesses who took pain medication, but now..... I'm not so sure what to think of him.



Overall, I really, really enjoyed reading your story, it's a lovely little tale. You have Dan beautifully characterised and the way Dan mused upon his death and the way he planned his burial in such a straightforward pragmatic way and the way it was mentioned in the story, so simple and casual like it was a normal thing to do, gave the story such a delightfully wicked turn! I immensely enjoyed that part, it's a marvellous twist!


Everything expressed in my opinion, accept or reject whatever you want.


Take care!

--KB





The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means.
— Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest