5 Stories and Poems from Vashon Island Writers
In late 2020, !Attention! Artists at Work announced “The Literary Project,” a literary Flash Fiction/Prose Poetry Project by Island writers. !Attention! Artists at Work is an initiative by Open Space for Arts and Community designed to hire artists during the challenging economic circumstances caused by COVID-19. 31 artists participated in “The Literary Project,” 23 of whom were financially impacted by COVID-19 and compensated for their submissions.
Stories from “The Literary Project” are now available to view for free! We are releasing the entire collection five stories at a time for the next several weeks. This week features stories and poems by:
Emily Keiko Pruiksma
John van Amerongen
The Loyal Twenty
By Camille Reeves
I was up in Montana somewhere headin’ to a job, and me and my team pull into a town ’cause we need gas.
The guy at the gas station says, “We only take cash.”
I laughed and I said, “We’re gonna need a lot of gas.” I mean, I had all kinds of trucks and equipment…
So the guy says, “Okay, why don’t we do this: that’s your pump. Pump as much gas as you like and, when you get done with the job, bring me the cash to pay for it.”
Seemed pretty trusting. But the town was only several hundred people. It’d be hard for anybody to get away with anything!
I wasn’t about to ruin this man’s trusting nature, and we weren’t gonna make it to the next gas station, so I gave him my word. I shook his hand, and we were on our way.
Over the next few weeks, we’re pumping and pumping, and we finally wrap up the job. When the guy tallies it up, he says I owe him $100,000 cash!
I’m like, “Uh, oka-ay…” I had to make good on what I said, but that was a lot of cash.
When I got back home, I told the lady at the Bank I needed $100,000 in cash. She laughed. Of course she did! Who asks for a hundred grand in cash?
I got $50,000 out of her, and had to sell one of my excavators, but I went back out to Montana with the amount I owed. When I rolled into town, the same man was at the gas station. Turned out, he was the mayor and also the minister at the Church. In a town this size, one guy can be all those things. After he’d put the money in his safe, he invited me out for a beer. Said he was buyin’.
“We do everything in cash around here,” he said “’Cause we want the money to stay here. We don’t have much. We don’t need much. But when it leaves, it never comes back.
“Every time somebody uses a plastic card, a little bit of that money slips away. Maybe richer folks wouldn’t notice – they like convenience – but I want my money to pay people I know. As much as I can anyway. And I think most people around here feel the same way.”
The bartender – who was also the mailman and the high school basketball coach – set our beers on the bar and the guy pulled out his wallet. He took out a twenty – it was all beat to hell – and he held it up.
“This same twenty dollar bill has been in this town for the last twenty years. And I intend to keep it that way.” He put it down on the table.
“Well, sir,” I said. “I just brought you a thousand brand-new, 100-dollar bills. May they serve you as well as that loyal twenty.” We cheersed to that.
Sing — December 2020
By Emily Keiko Pruiksma
Wearing masks, we stand at the window of a dying friend. Among the stalks of the winter-drab garden, we who are outside can see the living room light illuminate the hospice bed within.
“I’m glad you came,” she says, “I’ve wanted to hear the choir sing again, one more time.”
There are only three of us – soprano, alto, tenor – members of a family bubble, quarantined and separate from the other eighty voices who would have joined us on an ordinary night at rehearsals and performances not so long ago. But it is no ordinary night and to open our mouths now in song feels so dangerous, precious, and rare.
In the cold of December, under the expectance of rain, we sing Amazing Grace, Ipharadisi, Siyahamba. Breathing together, we hear the many in the few.
“We are rusty from not practicing,” I say, laughing.
“That’s okay,” she says, “Just sing.”
By Rowan Schroeder
My cat saw a garbage truck today. From my point of view, it wasn’t a big deal. Not surprisingly, being inside in online classes all day makes you not care about a lot of things. I continued to sit on my computer, doing busywork until I could leave. Walking into my kitchen, I see my cat looking at me. I can sense in his eyes he has a lot of energy. Exiting my house, I leave the door open a crack. I sit down in the sun. The world is cold, but the small amount of sunlight that made its way through is enough warmth for me. I can hear the door creak open, and my cat is staring at me again. This time it is only for a brief moment before he bolts to the apple tree. When he’s outside, it seems that he views everything differently. His ancestor’s instincts kick in the second he smells fresh air, or the second he touches grass. Everything he looks at is being analyzed, figuring out if it’s safe or if it could pose a threat. He leaps up onto the trunk of the apple tree and scurries up in a flash. Amongst the birds chirping and wind blowing. I hear a low hum approach down the street, and so does he. He takes a spot between several branches where he can peek his head out while remaining mostly undercover. Within 20 seconds, a 30-foot garbage truck screams down the road. As he looks at the truck, he becomes intrigued, as do I. What does he think of the garbage truck? Maybe he sees it as a giant predator, one he should stay far away from. Do animals see human-made vehicles as a foreign species? If so, then why do deer jump in the way of a car? It seems to me that animals know. Animals know we humans brought these metal predators into existence. They see us getting inside them all the time, right? More than that, I think animals simply function based on their evolution. They’ve evolved to hunt certain species and hide from others. When a large metal object whizzes by them, It’s not in their genetics to know what it is, to know if it’s dangerous or not. It was introduced faster than their evolution can keep up with. That’s why my cat is so intrigued by the truck. Going back inside, I take my cat and place him back on my lap as I continue class. He quickly forgets the truck and passes out. Not surprised, he’s just a cat.
By John van Amerongen
The old gal was talking in her sleep again. She’d groan like a tired black lab whenever the weather came up from the stern quarter. She kept time with the drop of the bow and the yaw of the gimballed compass illuminated by a faint red glow. It was the only thing I could see from the helm, but I just stared straight ahead. I didn’t have to look down. I knew right where we were and right where we were going… and so did she. It was a groan of comfort and good fit with no sharp edges. We were lounging in “the hammock,” lollygagging along at eight knots in the trough of a long slow swell that built up out of the northwest in the late summer. Back in March, running north for herring, it was all sharp and edgy and uncertain. But now, we were going home.
Foresta for the Trees
By David Mielke
When Foresta lumbered up from her cushy chair for more chips and saw the side view of her belly on Zoom, she wanted to cry. But instead she clowned, grabbing her lockdown blubber, jiggling it into the camera and saying to her friend on the screen, “God, Marge, isn’t it disgusting?”
Marge looked stricken and told her if it bothered her so much she should eat healthier and get some exercise. This pissed off Foresta, because she’d wanted a sympathetic giggle, not a serious suggestion. She made an excuse to end the Zoom without making a date for the next one, and abruptly closed the meeting. It didn’t occur to her that Marge was struggling with her own pandemic poundage, soothing herself with fattening comforts, berating herself for failing at taking her own advice. But why would it? Foresta wasn’t one to imagine herself into the shoes of others. So when she resolved to walk four times a day up and down the long driveway through the woods that connected her cottage to the road, she just wanted to get rid of the Covid fat bulging over the top of her sweat pants. She’d already forgotten about Marge, and she certainly wasn’t thinking about the trees.
It wasn’t even the trees she noticed on her first week of walks, it was the moss covering them, like cozies roughly knitted in hues of green. Dense dark green on the trunks, wispy light green on the limbs. For several days she pondered which shade might best bring out the green flecks in her eyes. It took a month of walks before she wondered if the trees noticed her parading back and forth each day. Were they judging her gut? Were they cheering her on? It depended on her mood. Either way it made her suck in her stomach and pick up her step.
After two months she noticed some of the trees were leaning at angles that made them vulnerable to gravity. She wondered if their fear of toppling gave them the strength to hold themselves up. Did they mourn their fallen neighbors? Did their broken branches hurt where the storms had snapped them off? Did they feel cold at night, or did the moss help keep them warm, at least on the sides where it grew?
It was another month before she realized she felt comforted by the trees. She felt like they were encouraging her. She felt less alone. She sent Marge an invitation for a Zoom.
About the Authors:
Camille Reeves is an Island writer, musician, performance artist and independent scholar. Many in the Vashon community are familiar with her work as a singer-songwriter, performing with her band The Diggers from 2009 to 2012, her duo Cherrywood Station (with Island artist Gus Reeves) from 2014 to 2018 and, more recently, with her R&B/Soul project, The Confessions. Others know her as a teacher and mentor of young people through the music lessons she offers at her home studio.
Last year, Camille was elected to the Board of The Vashon-Maury Island Community Council, and currently serves as secretary.
She lives with her five-year-old daughter in a historic building on the Westside, where they spend their time meditating, making art and working on their budding hobby farm.
Emily Keiko Pruiksma has called Vashon home since 2002 when she moved to the island as an apprentice at Hogsback Farm. Over the years, she has served the community as the VIGA farmers market manager, worked at the Vashon Library, hosted a popular stop on the Vashon Island Art Studio Tour, and founded the Free Range Folk Choir with her husband, Shane Jewell. Writing has been a quiet enjoyment for most of her life and she is honored to share the stories that come her way.
Singer/songwriter John van Amerongen has been developing his personal style and sharing his musical talent on Vashon Island for more than 40 years — ever since he stepped up to the mic to perform his signature tune “Truckstop Chili” with his bluegrass band of the same name.
With a wry sense of humor and the ability to tell stories of hard-working men and women, he has performed live and delighted radio listeners up and down the Northwest & Alaska coastline from Astoria to Dutch Harbor.
His career includes much more than songwriting. After commercial fishing, building crabbers, and editing the Alaska Fisherman’s JOURNAL trade newspaper for 22 years, he was hired in 2006 to write a book for Trident Seafoods Corporation highlighting its founder Chuck Bundrant and the development of modern commercial fisheries in the North Pacific and Alaska. Titled Catching a Deckload of Dreams, the book was published in 2013. Subsequently, in 2019, he recorded an audio version of the book which is available online in podcast format.
David Mielke was born in Campbell River, BC, where an extraordinary teacher named Marie Rackham helped him turn his life around when he dropped back into high school after running away from home at the age of 15. He went on to work in Los Angeles as an actor and singer, both appearing in film, television, and regional theatre, and creating and performing one-person shows under the banner of his company, The Rainbow Man Productions. His original works include “Rediscovering the River” and “Spirit of the Unicorn.” When Marie was diagnosed with cancer, David returned to Canada to care for her, and together they created 114 episodes of the award-winning Cozy Grammar series of video courses as a way for her to be, as she put it, “where cancer isn’t.” After her death, he worked in LGBTQ social services before returning to working as an actor, producing additional content for Cozy Grammar, and creating and performing his own shows. Recent work includes his “Broadway in the Yurt” video series and his performance as the writer Brian Doyle in the premiere of “Kissing the Joy as it Flies.” Member of Actor’s Equity, SAG-AFTRA, and ACTRA.