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A collection of connected stories about loss and recovery.The book is available through Kindle. The book is also an audiobook read by Alex Hyde-White.
The book is a collection of connected stories similar in structure of Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson.
Return of the Exiles
IT was a hot July day when they met at the Hemingway Memorial in Sun Valley, Idaho. The brook was high and fast running underneath the bust of the celebrated writer. Declan carried a chest full of roses from his garden, and Sean Dineen brought some cheese, cups and bottles of red and white wine. Dexter Flanagan stood on the hill, holding his guitar case. Sean Dineen examined Hemingway’s bust in profile.
“So this is the monument to old Ernie, eh?”
“That’s right,” Declan said. “It was here where Kate and I were married 20 years ago.”
“I’m glad I made the trip,” Sean said.
“It’s a nice bust,” Dexter said. “I like the inscription, too. I’ll have to read Hemingway.”
Declan could still see Kate wearing her blue wedding dress with a light-colored hat and veil, listening to him play a Beatle song about loving one person above all other people and things. It had been hot, that day, and after the song ended, they were married, the judge’s words carrying above the sound of the narrow running stream. Many of the people from that day were gone, including Kate. Now, he only had a yearly ritual.
“Kate loved roses,” Declan said.
Sean Dineen cut some slices of cheese and held up the wine bottles. “Red or white?”
“White,” Declan said.
“I’ll take the red.”
“I have some ginger ale,” said Dexter.
He produced a bottle of ginger ale. Then they heard Sami’s voice.
“I could use a shot of ginger ale.”
Wearing jeans and a tank top, her hair natural brown and held by a red bandanna, she walked down the path toward the monument.
“Our local artist has arrived,” Declan said.
The night before, they had attended Sami’s opening at a Sun Valley gallery, her brooding but somewhat surreal landscapes greeting guests and admirers. Dexter had provided acoustic folk and blues music for the show. Now Dexter and Sami held hands while Sean passed a cup of white wine to Declan. He then poured red wine for himself. They would eat the cheese after the last rose was sent downstream.
“Wine and cheese. Hemingway would approve.”
“I’ll have my drink later,” Declan said.
They watched as Declan took the roses out one by one and placed them into the brook. “Sweets to the sweet,” he said. “Farewell.”
They listened to the running water and many birds singing in the trees. Sean Dineen felt moved, watching the floating roses and thinking about Rachel and Priscilla. Did their spirits dwell in the hidden forest places? Declan was also quiet, following the roses as they drifted into the current and disappeared downstream. A small wooden plank ran across the stream and there were cottonwood trees along a forest path. Declan wondered if Kate watched him from behind the trees. Below the monument was a golf course. In the distance, they could hear bulldozers clearing a field for another clubhouse.
Declan held up the last flower, a red and pink long-stemmed Princess Diana rose, and dropped it into the current. The rose turned in a circle and moved in toward the bank where it stopped. They sipped their drinks and watched as the final rose rested on a fallen branch touching a slight eddy of pebble-colored water.
“That last rose doesn’t want to leave us,” Sean said.
“I think you’re right,” Declan said. “But Kate won’t be denied even one rose.”
Dexter and Sami were silent. Then Declan spoke.
“I wonder if I should push the rose out into the stream?”
“Let’s wait,” Sean said.
“For what?” said Dexter.
“Maybe a sign.”
Declan remained silent. They began eating the cheese with their drinks, aware of the rose stuck by the bank. A middle aged man with short gray hair and wearing shorts appeared on the path, a black Labrador following him.
“Hello,” the man said. He turned to the dog. “Come along, Skipper. Don’t bother these people.”
But Skipper jumped into the brook before the bust and stood in the running water. The dog looked back at the people on the bank. Then he lumbered toward the stationary rose, rippling in the shallows.
“Now Skipper,” the man warned. “Don’t eat that rose!”
They watched as the big black dog suddenly nosed the flower into the middle of the brook. It was caught by the current and soon disappeared downstream.
“Hail to the skipper,” Declan said. He lifted his cup of wine and the others raised their cups. “The journey begins.”
“Skipper, you come along right now,” the man warned. He looked at them. “He never listens.”
The visitor finally turned and walked down the path. The black lab suddenly jumped from the brook, shaking off water, and chased his master around the turn. Declan met Sean’s eyes and suddenly began laughing through tears. Sean Dineen started laughing. Then they all hugged each other in a circle while laughing. When the circle was broken, Dexter took out his guitar.
“That calls for a song,” he said.
Dexter started plucking a familiar rhythm in ¾ time. Sami took Declan’s hand and they began a slow waltz while Sean poured himself another drink.
“If music be the food of life, play on,” Sean said.