Tell Me A Story Tuesdays – Wylly Catches The Big One

Wylly Folk St John

“Oh noooo! Here he comes! How do I escape?”

Wylly smiled a tentative smile at the bearded man staring her down from his place on the ship’s deck. Picked up at sea by the US Coast Guard an hour or two earlier that day, Wylly was doing her best to look both glamourous and contrite as she lounged in the warm sun somewhere between Cuba and the Florida Keys.

She felt safe enough with the ship’s crew bustling around her, intent on the business of sailing the cutter, but there was something in the man’s face that made her unsure of just how to respond. Knowing he was a dreadful womanizer made her lean in a direction she’d never been very good with. While other women were flirting their way to what might have been considered a successful marriage by some people, Wylly had chosen what she viewed as a less restrictive path with more opportunity for adventure, than diapers and dinner parties.

She had planned the direction of her life at an early age after reading a copy of  ” Little Women ”  and deciding that she too wanted a writer’s life like the character “Jo” in the Louisa May Alcott novel.  Growing up, Wylly had carved out a semi-permanent writing spot at one end of the dining room table grateful that her family ate most of its meals at the smaller one in the kitchen. The dark dining room with its heavy drapes and solidly built table had been her own personal retreat, a place where her imagination could take her anywhere, except on Sundays and holidays when her mother insisted they use the room for its intended purpose. Days when the Sunday roast or a Christmas turkey graced the table were times when Wylly would take her Bennett miniature typewriter that she had won in writing contest up to the window seat on the stair landing and tuck herself  in behind the dark drapes that always seemed dusty no matter how often her mother cleaned them.

After winning her typewriter with a piece she had written for Odd Fellows’ magazine the year before at age ten, she had learned to type so quickly that she surprised everyone including her father who always acted as if he believed she could do anything. Wylly privately had wondered if the Odd Fellows editor would have chosen her as the contest winner if he had known she was a girl. She had sent the story in with her full name, William Michael Folk instead of the shortened version her friends and family called her, Willie or Willie Mike,  and while neither of these would have seemed girlish or feminine, she had never quite believed that it was the quality of her story that given her the prize of the typewriter that she treasured above all other possessions.

By age seven or eight, she had already grown tired of always having to explain her unusual name to people. It didn’t help that she had two younger brothers by the time she was old enough tell people how her parents had wanted a boy for their firstborn and the surprise of a girl child did not stop them from christening her with the name they had already selected. Later she would realize that this was not intended as harmful gesture, but one which fit her parents desire to be a bit avant-garde amongst their small town peers.

Within a few years of her birth, the young family had moved to the more cosmopolitan location of Savannah, Georgia where her father could find more work as a bookkeeper, but Willie’s name continued to set her apart in the same way her desire for adventure would make it difficult to plan a similar future to the other girls in her high school graduation class.

Later after a secret marriage became public, she began signing her name Wylly Folk St. John taking her husbands name while keeping her own long before it became acceptable and in doing so, she found a name that fit the writer’s life she had envisioned as a child.

Wylly could almost forget about her husband Tom as she sat staring into the eyes of this famous man who at least from first appearances seemed to be every inch the cigar smoking, loud talking character, she’d read so much about. Knowing as she did that much of what he wrote was from his own life only made him more intriguing to Wylly and she thought for a moment about what she might say to make amends for what she had done.

Before she hired the fishing boat off the Florida Keys she had gone around to a series of bars talking with different boat captains before finding the one she thought would know where to take her in order to find the particular catch she was hoping to land. It had taken several days of walking in and out of hot dusty bars before Wylly had found the man who claimed to be the second cousin of Carlos Gutierrez, the Cuban fisherman whose stories had been the seed corn for the rich fish tale written by man now standing before her.

Wylly had worked hard to persuade the old man to take her out to sea and in the end it wasn’t a sweet smile or her polite southern manners that made him decide to do as she wished , but the sizable amount of cash that she’d had in an envelope, folded and tucked into the corner of the alligator handbag that hung by a short strap on the crook of her arm.

She had grown tired of the search and had almost gone back to the Atlanta newspaper in defeat having bet her friend and editor, Andy Sparks, that she could come back with the story. Wylly had been at the boat dock early this morning as she and  the old sailor had arranged the night before and gave him half the money up front with an agreement to pay the rest if they found her story.

The morning had been cool for the Florida Keys, but then any bit of ocean breeze was more refreshing than all the hot air she had been wading through over the last few days. In almost all the bars she had visited, the impact of the slow moving ceiling fans did little to provide relief from the blistering heat of the summer sun. A heat which seemed to be compounded by an endless amount of hot air coming from the mouths of the locals that lined the bars complaining to anyone who would listen about how good things were before the tourists took over.

Wylly stood as the small fishing vessel took to the open water and looked back to see the land disappearing behind her. The things she would do for a story, she thought to herself, hoping that this guy had been telling the truth. Wiry and weathered, he moved a bit slower than Wylly would have wished, but she calmed herself with the thought that it was too late to do anything about her fears now. She wrapped the ribbons of her sun hat a bit tighter and turned into the wind watching the sea.

They had been out for what seemed like hours as they followed coordinates permanently charted in the old man’s mind never stopping to check a map or even to break for lunch. Wylly had offered him half her sandwich when he appeared to have no food, but he shook his head abruptly as if looking away from the sea for a second might take them off course. Seeing this Wylly began to think that perhaps her money had not been wasted after all and just as she was reaching into her bag to get an apple, she saw a boat in the water in front of them.

As they drew near, she saw the elusive man she’d been hoping to find, but the old man piloting the boat acted almost as if he didn’t see the famous yacht in front of him and suddenly Wylly’s screams were competing in volume with the man on the opposite boat, who was shouting and waving his arms with a franticness that confirmed they were in real trouble. Just as they were about to slam directly into the boat she could now identify by the familiar name Pilar, the old man she’d hired to help her, gave the wheel a sharp spin and the boat veered at the last minute scraping a good piece of the hull from the Pilar while tearing a substantial chunk from the one she was on.

Uncertain what of to do, she gathered her belongings quickly when she saw the water spilling in through the hole and climbed up on the edge of the boat holding on while the two men argued. ” Damn it Carlos,”  the younger man said ” just what in the hell were you trying to do!”  ” Carlos, but I thought he was his second cousin…” she said first in the old man’s direction and then a bit louder to the bearded man who looked as if his heart might stop from the exertion and the venom he was spewing.

With no one really listening, she picked up the dirty radio mike uncertain if it would even work and remembering what she had learned from an interview during the war, She began to send out a request for help by screaming Mayday, Mayday over and over until the subject of her search, Earnest Hemingway finally took a good look at her and said, ” Good God woman…now you’ve alerted the damn Coast Guard, this will be all over the newspapers by nightfall! “

He said all this perhaps realizing somewhere between newspapers and nightfall, that the press might be closer than he thought. ” Listen lady,”  he began, ” you better not be a reporter…”  Her silence was the answer and he snatched his battered cap off and threw it in the direction of the man she now knew as Gutierrez. What rich luck was this she thought, having mistakingly hired the old sea captain people were saying was the model for the old man in Hemingway’s latest novel. She picked up the cap where it had fallen unnoticed as they began a back and forth shouting match that had all the rhythm and familiarity of an old married couple.  Tucking the cap into her bag, she thought that this was a far better souvenir than the rum she had planned to bring back and she thought it was hers to keep until she saw the shadow fall across her a bit later while sunning on the deck of the coast guard clipper.

Looking into eyes of the man who had bagged bigger game before than her, she shivered as she heard him say…” I believe you have something that belongs to me.”

********

If you read my story last week, you may remember I wrote about my great aunt Wylly and then I used photographs of her and her home to set the stage for our story topics this week. It gave me a tremendous amount of pleasure to send her on an adventure as a reporter in search of the big story. I hope you enjoy reading it as much I as did imaging the possibilities of an encounter with consequences.

Big thanks once again to Judy Harper  who joined me again this week. Her story can be found here. Also joining in with a story of her own, Gaelikaa’s words can be found here.

I want to thank everyone who left a topic sentence for us and for TMAST. It’s always more fun when others participate and I hope you’ll consider writing a little story of your own next week.

Please go here to find the pictures for next week’s TMAST and offer up suggestions for topic sentences based on the photographs.  I need to warn you that in honor of Halloween, these pictures are intended to inspire a scary story or two. Even though they’ll be posted after the goblins are gone, I hope you will all come back next week to see what we dream up.

Independence Day

American Flag - Elizabeth Harper

‘My Country, ‘Tis of Thee …’  are the words running though my head this afternoon.

I left the United States seven and a half weeks ago and aside from a few passing moments, I have not been really homesick until today. Today is the 4th of July, if you’re reading this and you’re an American, the date has meaning. Today in England, there is nothing on the news to indicate what’s happening on the other side of the ocean. The US seems to make the news here everyday, but today, when I’d like a glimpse of home there is nothing.

Cullene's Table - Elizabeth Harper

I’ve tried to create a bit of flavor from home by making some of my favorite family recipes. Things you’d recognize on any table at any gathering on July 4th.  I thought it would help, but I think I miss the traditions of the day and the people I love from home even more.

Watermelon

My sister in Alaska quite sweetly made me my very own version of a Peachtree Road Race number with a few modifications to fit my geographical location.  I usually run this race every year with exception of a few when I’ve been out of the country on vacation. I spoke with one of my closest friends this morning as she was preparing for the race. We ran the Marine Corps Marathon together last October and it would have been fun to run the what is touted as the world’s largest 10K run, with her today. It’s limited to 55,000 runners and the race numbers are almost as valuable as one of Willie Wonka’s Golden tickets.

Race Ticket

The weather here was quite different from the 91 degree heat I noticed on the Atlanta Journal website. Of course it’s always heat stroke weather for the Peachtree and it would not be right if wasn’t hellishly hot. Which is why when I looked out the window today and saw the weather here, I decided to skip my morning run.

Water Window

With the windy wet weather we’re having here, our barbeque chicken had to be cooked in the oven instead of outside on the grill. John keeps referring to the amount of food I’ve prepared for just the two of us as a feast. I can’t help thinking about my dad manning the grills on the 4th. Yes, you read that right. I said grills as in at least two and sometimes three. Chicken and burgers and ribs … oh my! Even though there were usually only five to ten people at our house on the 4th, my dad would cook as if the whole neighborhood would be on the doorstep before the day was out. We would have leftovers for days … with so much chicken you’d think you were going to start clucking if you had to eat another piece.

July 4 Lunch 2008

It’s been a quiet day here at my home away from home. Thanks to my sister in Alaska who took the time to dig out some family genealogy …we’ve spent a bit of the day reading about the life my ancestor, John Sparks who along with many others fought for American Independence.

Apple Pie

It’s late evening and John and I have had our first 4th of July together. We’ve had a lovely meal and lots of conversation about the ways our respective countries are both different and alike. When I went to Wikipedia to see who wrote the lyrics to ‘America’ also known as, ‘My Country, ‘Tis Of Thee,’ I found that Samuel Francis Smith wrote the lyrics without knowing that the melody he was using was the same as the one used for ‘God Save The Queen,’ the national anthem of the United Kingdom.

Imagine that … I guess in some ways we’re really not that different after all.

Reposted from original GOTJ

Sorry to have such tiny photos, but the originals were smaller on the first GOTJ blog.