Literature 1-19-2009

miniStories: “The Mayflower” by Deborah Girdwood

This understated, surprising short by Deborah Girdwood neatly captures the quiet yearnings at the heart of adult family life. "The Mayflower" was selected as a miniStories winner by Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl.


The Mayflower

Tim and Helen were having dinner with friends, Hap and Mirabelle, at Anthony’s on Pier One in Boston. Before leaving the city, they went on a walk. The men strode together while behind them Helen and Mirabelle exchanged deeper confidences about their adolescent children. Mirabelle had girls, so she had lots more to say. Up ahead a small crowd gathered and pointed with great excitement as a tall sailing ship approached the wharf. The grown friends took seats on benches, and watched the ship dock as the sun set.

Lights came on and the crew noisily disembarked, in costume. Upon seeing Hap’s lit cigar, a sailor approached. “Have ye a mite more tobacco to trade, gentlemen?” Hap nodded and nudged Tim with his big elbow. Tim was staring at a lady in a great emerald green hoopskirt being escorted by the captain and his first mate. Her waist was cinched tight in a bodice and two corkscrew curls fell into her cleavage. More sailors approached. Pulling out their silver flasks they drank to Helen and Mirabelle, clutching each other as they sang a four-verse song about tobacco and love to the harbor’s rising moon.

Going home on Route 495, Helen and Tim kept the Wagoneer’s windows rolled down and drank their Dunkin’ Donuts decaf coffees in silence. Helen found her son’s pack of red cinnamon Trident on the floor and offered a piece to Tim when they pulled into the driveway.

The parents came up from the garage through the cellar. Helen tugged on the back of Tim’s jacket before he opened the door. Awkwardly, he turned and kissed her for a moment, his hand on the doorknob. All the lights were on and Ben and Nathan were watching cable in the den. Helen and Tim stood behind them on the couch while Nathan flipped channels and Ben groaned, “Leave it there!” Helen rushed for the bathroom. On his way up the stairs, Tim shouted down, “Don’t watch any of those scrambled channels, guys. You’ll screw up your eyes.” Nathan groaned. Ben rolled his face into the couch. Helen came out drying her hands, “Good night, boys.”

Meeting in the master bedroom, Tim caught Helen’s eye for a moment. Helen opened the closet door and tossed him his burgundy velour robe. “Jacuzzi?”

Later that night, nearly dawn, Helen woke up. Now Nathan’s voice was definitely changing. Ben was looking at colleges. Before they’d parted, Mirabelle had invited Helen on a group trip to the Galapagos, because maybe mothers needed to fly from nests, too, sometimes. Helen thought about how it would feel to go. She pulled her nightgown down around her knees and got out of bed. Downstairs the MTV was still on. She turned it off and in the silence she remembered the dream she’d had. She was looking at her sons asleep on the couch through a mail slot. She opened and shut the metal flap, trying to wake them up with the clanking but they would not.

About the author: Deborah Girdwood has written short fiction, adapted a play, Zelda and Scott, and co-written two original screenplays. She worked with director Jamie Hook to write and produce the feature film, The Naked Proof, and co-wrote Route One with director P.H. O’Brien. Girdwood spent her salad days running art-house cinemas in Seattle, but is originally from New England. She now lives in the Whittier neighborhood with her two daughters and painter Kevin Beaudin. She works in the offices of The Children’s Theatre Company and programs Childish Films for the downtown Minneapolis library. She is now writing a new screenplay, or a collection of short stories, and maybe both.