Struggles (AR) in the Times of Pestilence

The fictional town of Stuggles, Arkansas morphed from a small town coping with abandonment by its principal employer, a manufacturing plant, into a community on life support, thanks to a virus for which no immunity nor any treatment exists.  The center of the dying town’s social life, The Fourth Estate Tavern, was ordered closed to help limit the spread of the virus. The tavern’s owner, Calypso Kneeblood, well on his way to recovering from lung cancer surgery, finds himself confronted with yet another calamity. His sole source of income dried up instantly with the tavern’s closure, just months from making the last few payments on the mortgages on the building that houses his business and the house in which he lives. Kneeblood’s health insurance payments, too, are in arrears, leaving him vulnerable to further financial ruin; and to illness from which, if he is infected, he may never recover.

Almost every business in the vanishing community is shuttered, even the gas station. The shelves of the sole grocery store are almost barren within hours after being restocked by the grocery supply company. The grocery’s hours have been cut back to four hours a day, three days a week.

The hospital in Grandview Springs, Arkansas, twenty miles away, is full. Patients arriving at the emergency room are shuttled into hallways, where exhausted doctors and nurses try to make them comfortable while they either slowly recover their health or die. Struggles’ only doctor, Melissa Daniels, no longer answers her telephone. No one knows what has become of her.

In the midst of this already cataclysmic scene, a fire engulfs the shuttered plant, killing three fire fighters and eliminating the possibility of attracting other businesses to fill the void left by Sternberg Refrigeration; Sternberg was the refrigerator manufacturer that abandoned its plant in Struggles.

With this gruesome situation as a backdrop, we notice a thirty-something woman come on the scene. Her face concealed by a surgical mask, she knocks on the window of The Fourth Estate Tavern. Kneeblood, keeping busy by sweeping the floor of the tavern, hears the knock and looks up.

“We’re closed. Everything in town is closed!” His voice is loud enough for the woman to hear him. He’s sure of it.

Still the woman knocks again, this time harder, the insistent rapping against the glass causing the window to rattle against its frame. “I know, but I need to talk to you! Come closer, please, so we can talk, okay?”

Kneeblood shuffles to the window, keeping his distance from the young woman even though there’s glass between them.

“You’re Calypso Kneeblood, right? I have a proposition, Mr. Kneeblood, that could save your tavern and this town. If you will put yourself at my disposal for twenty-one days, I think we can beat these gut punches!”

During the course of the conversation that followed, Kneeblood’s initial skepticism turned to curiosity and then to interest and then to enthusiasm. His enthusiasm would become passion before the young woman walked away.

Her plan would be hard to implement and would require him to sell the ideas, hard, to the remaining influential residents of Struggles, the thought, but it just might work.

***

The idea for this obviously as-yet-unfinished story has been rattling around in my head for a very long time. The idea of introducing the virus is new, but the rest is almost old enough to grow mold. I lose patience with myself when I’m writing fiction; my mind gets so far ahead of my fingers that I just can’t keep up. When I find the words on the screen so far behind what I see in my mind’s eye, I get frustrated and step away. The idea is that I’ll return when the frustration subsides. But I rarely return. This story, I think, has legs. But it will require discipline and the ability to corral my frustration, no easy task. Perhaps I should follow one of my recent ideas: write short stories that, collectively, can become elements of a full-blown novel. I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not. 

The outline above was not written as a component of a story; it’s simply an outline of ideas. The way they are presented would be very different. The summary above would be revealed by showing actions and thoughts over the course of several months and several chapters. Patience. 

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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3 Responses to Struggles (AR) in the Times of Pestilence

  1. Thank you, Pauline. As always, I appreciate your confidence in my writing and your urging me to keep writing. And thank you, Barbara, for supporting Pauline’s advice.

  2. Barbara Blansett says:

    John, please heed Pauline’s words and do put this to paper.

  3. Pauline says:

    Time to put your fingers to the grindstone and complete this powerful novel! My interest is piqued from just this opening page. Go for it!

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