Saturday, November 19, 2011

"The Eden Effect" by P.J. Lincoln (Novella)

Genre:  Romance, Suspense

Short Story Type:  Novella

Summary:  If you had the chance to be nineteen again, would you make the same choices? Would you marry the same person? Would you choose a career over family?

For elderly couple George and Eve Adams, such questions become a reality. As the result of a romantic trip down memory lane, George and Eve stumble upon the fountain of youth in the form of an apple. A stunning transformation pushes their lives, linked together for more than fifty years, into unforeseen troubled waters.

After decades of raising her family and supporting her husband’s career, Eve is ready for change. It’s her turn and she’s determined to make the most of it. George, meanwhile, is content to continue on as before, perhaps even have more children! Sparks fly and where the dust will settle, well, only time will tell.

Chapter 1

George Adams took a lengthy lead off of first base with every intention of stealing second.

“Can your catcher throw?” he asked Genesis Manufacturing’s first baseman, a human stick figure of at least six feet seven inches.

“He’s got a rifle back there,” stickman said. “I wouldn’t risk it if I were you.”

George represented the winning run for Abel’s Pub in the championship game of the semi-professional Detroit Baseball League. The game was deadlocked in the top of the ninth, but he was never one to play it safe.

“Nobody in this league can throw me out,” said George, grinning at stickman. “Where have you been, under a rock, boy? You ain’t heard of me or what?”

“Oh, I’ve heard of you Adams. You’re a real legend—”

“Well, thank you.”

“In your own mind, asshole,” stickman said. “Go ahead, run. See what happens.”

After the first pitch to his teammate, George ambled back to first and kicked the bag. A few more rounds of jawing with stickman and his teammate had a two-ball one-strike count. It was the perfect count for him to put his money where his mouth was.

Dick Curtis, coach of Abel’s and the pub’s owner, wiggled his right index finger and gave George the signal to break for second base. Genesis Manufacturing’s Bob Burton, a.k.a. the rifle-armed catcher, called for a quick pitch out. In one motion he popped out of his crouch, stepped away from the batter, caught the ball and fired a rocket to his shortstop covering the bag.

The ball sailed high and the Genesis shortstop leapt in the air to stop it from going into centerfield. Running like the wind, George collided with the shortstop as he slid hard into second base. He was called safe, but his rival lost his balance and came down spikes first on George’s left knee. Blood began to immediately trickle through his uniform and out onto the infield dirt. His wife ran from the stands.

“Georgie, Georgie,” Eve screamed as she ran. She cradled him in her arms when she arrived.

“My knee, my knee,” he yelped like a wounded hunting dog. “Something’s broke, Eve, something’s broke.”

Players surrounded the couple. Eve took her thin white sweater off and wrapped it tightly around her husband’s swelling knee.
George looked to the heavens. In his heart he knew he’d never step back on the diamond as a player. His baseball career, which had occupied his free time as a child and Sunday afternoons and evenings as an adult, was over.

IT WAS A SCENE GEORGE ADAMS replayed for the next fifty years. If only he hadn’t tried for the steal. If only he hadn’t slid so hard. If only the catcher’s throw had been a fraction earlier or later. If only. His lamenting drove Eve to distraction at times.

On a muggy June afternoon, he was in full rant. He made Eve drive all the way to southwest Detroit from their home in Novi, some thirty miles away, to stare at City Park’s ball diamond, where the fated game took place.

“That damn Burton,” he grumbled, looking at the field from the passenger’s seat of the couple’s Ford Taurus. “If he hadn’t pitched out, I never would have wrecked my knee.”

“What difference does it make now, George?” Eve said, sounding agitated. She knew how much baseball meant to her husband, but wanted to tell him that he was never going to play in the Major Leagues anyway. Get over it, in other words. “Why don’t we go back home and get an ice cream?”

George shifted in his seat as Eve drove away from the park, which was scattered with children running around a playscape. The baseball field was empty, though, and he continued to stare at as if players might start running out onto it ala Field of Dreams.

“Ah, you’re right,” he said, his voice dry and a touch hoarse from age. “Thank you for indulging me, darling. Let’s not spoil the whole day. Let’s go to Cloverdale.”

It was early evening by the time the couple made it back to the northern suburb of Detroit. Despite the eighty degree temperature, George was dressed as if it was a cool fall day. A dark green turtleneck was visible inside of a heavy fleece pullover, which carried the insignia of his beloved Alma matter, Michigan State University. He rationalized his attire by telling Eve the ice cream parlor would be cold inside.

But they both knew better. At seventy-nine, George Adams was simply old. His once long and fluid stride had been replaced by a shuffle. Watching him walk into the ice cream parlor, so stiff, so slow, so timid, was increasingly painful for Eve to see each Saturday evening.

While age had chiseled away at his physical abilities, it also had also changed his demeanor. As an insurance salesman for Mutual Life, he had been outgoing and personable in his working days. He had an easy way about himself, a quiet confidence. It put others at ease and made him relatively successful as a pitchman. His love of competition also pushed him to outsell his colleagues, a trait the brass at Mutual Life loved.

Some of his charm remained. He was quick to smile and laugh with those that crossed his path, his barber, Charlie, the pretty young waitresses at Cloverdale’s, and even the emotionless clerks at the drug store. But home was a different story.

George was often terse and distant with Eve, seemingly uninterested in anything—news of their three children, politics (although he wasn’t above screaming at the television when the president’s latest sound bite was aired), or even sports. He had lived and died with the Detroit Tigers for decades, but his interest had fallen to almost nil the past few years. Nothing tasted good to him except for Cloverdale’s butter pecan ice cream.

So the weekly trip to the ice cream parlor, a ritual in the Adams’ household since Anne, Jenny and Richard were little, thankfully remained. In the winter months, it was often the only reason George wanted to leave the house.

But this June evening, George was able to set aside his frustrations with getting old, having a gimpy knee and assorted aches and pains. It was as if the trip to Detroit and his grousing about the “Play” had happened on a different day. Whatever the reason, Eve was just happy that her husband’s mood had lightened and the fussing had stopped. In the ice cream parlor, George and Eve sat side-by-side like high school sweethearts.

“What’s it going to be tonight, Georgie?” she asked, pretending not to know the answer. She was the only one, besides his mother, that had ever been allowed to call him Georgie. A boss at Mutual Life made the mistake of saying it sarcastically and got a fat lip for his trouble. He nearly lost his job for the poke, but was kept on because of his high productivity.

“You know, the butter pecan looks good tonight,” he said.

“Hmm. Butter pecan. I think I’ll try this new Mocha Delight,” said Eve.

“Coffee ice cream? Whatever happened to just ordering a cup of coffee with your ice cream?”

“Oh do not be such a stick-in-the-mud, Georgie,” she said, smirking at his mockery. Whenever Cloverdale’s introduced a new flavor, which was usually once or twice a year, Eve was all over it. More times than not, the new flavor was a hit with the silver-haired but surprisingly spry seventy-four-year-old grandmother of five.

“Feeling a little frisky tonight?” she asked.

“You didn’t see the little blue pill I took with my arthritis meds,” he said, letting out a raspy fit of laughter. “I thought a little later …”

“So you’re still a pig, even in your old age. Is that right?”

“Oink, oink, oink.”

“Oh shut up and give me some sugar,” Eve said, laughing, grabbing the old fart by a fluffy fleece collar.

A little boy in the booth next to the elderly couple protested the smooching.

“Oh, that’s gross, Mommy, make them stop,” he said.

George looked back at the boy and gave him a good-natured evil eye, which the ten-year-old’s mother caught. “Put a cork in it kid.”

George Adams’s friskiness was due to his plan for the evening, after he and Eve finished their ice cream. It was a plan that he hadn’t let Eve in on, and it was something he had thought about for a few weeks, since the weather had gotten warm in mid May.
Long before Walgreen’s invaded the corner of Ten Mile and Novi roads, an apple orchard stood as one of the city’s landmarks. People from the entire tri-county area came to Culver’s Orchard for the wide variety of apples, fresh cider and hay rides.

But by the early 1980s, old man Culver was too feeble to run the orchard and his lone child, a gym teacher, was more interested in coaching high school football than selling apples. So Culver, who had sold nearly half the orchard a few years before to developers, shut down the orchard. Michael Culver hadn’t the heart to sell the remaining land, even after the old man passed in 1989, until years later. A Walgreen’s popped up in 2004, where the little shop his father tended once stood.

But George Adams never forgot about the orchard. How could he? It was where he and Eve had met. She helped Culver run the shop every summer and fall starting with her sophomore year at Northville High School. George worked there, too, pruning trees and doing whatever else the old man told him to do after classes let out at Michigan State for the summer.

At first, despite their age difference, he was too shy to say much to Eve except, “good morning” and, “good night.” As a time went by, he gradually became more courageous and eventually asked Eve on a date. He had already proposed twice to her by the time she graduated high school. Eve resisted his proposals until she turned nineteen. The winning line came with a crumble of golden delicious apple stuck to the corner of his mouth. She thought he was so cute and sincere.

George and Eve married in a historic church in downtown Northville on June 15, 1957. Now, the day before their fifty-fourth anniversary, George Adams had an idea.

“Let’s get the heck out of this gin joint before the entire night is wasted,” he said.

George reached slowly into his back pocket and pulled out a wallet that looked like a remnant from the Eisenhower administration. He tossed a ten dollar bill on the table and then grabbed Eve’s hand and yanked on it.

“So soon, Georgie?” Eve asked. “Why don’t we stay and have another coffee?”

“No, no. Let’s go. There’s somewhere else I want to go tonight.”

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