Passing Trains

Short Stories... All Aboard!


Whale, Dead Ahead!

From the first faint light of morning, distant, ominous clouds electrified the eastern sky. The late spring weather was turning around, backing up, threatening a full-blown nor’easter. Even the temperature came down mighty cool for June, yet the breeze had not yet given way to the full force of the approaching wind.

It was our day off, and feeling trapped by six consecutive days of looking at walls in a seemingly forgotten dining room, we decided to take the ferry from Shelter Island across Gardiners Bay to Sag Harbor. From there we’d drive toward the Atlantic and then down the coast to Southampton where we hoped to find a dining room occupied by bonafide customers instead of empty tables. So, at 8 o’clock that morning, I and my job-scouting partner approached the tiny eastern Shelter Island dock with little more than new employment opportunities on our land-loving minds.

But before we depart for Sag Harbor, let me say a little about Shelter Island. If you look at a map of eastern Long Island, you’ll see right off how it got its name. Yet, islands are also sheltered by their isolation, and such separations tend to attract those who build their summer cottages far apart, so far apart they create castles behind moats. A long walk or short ride between each island dwelling, and you’ll see not another living soul out or about. Thus, we suspected the hidden residents of Shelter Island left before dawn and returned after dark with their lamplights and lanterns well out.

When Charlie and I had first arrived by ferry from the Greenport side of Shelter Island a week earlier, we stopped at the little mariner’s bar about six ferry-lengths up from the dock. While we waited for our tuna-salad sandwiches, the old bartender, assisted by two equally old-salt patrons, volunteered a current history of Shelter Island (c. 1967).

It pays to know that the Shelter Island locals don’t usually encourage strangers, especially those coming off the...

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Loxahatchee News

You may recall my neighbor, Mrs. Ingram. For the past several weeks she’s been preoccupied with a particular flower pot, the same flower pot she asked me to pick up for her last year. “Just one of those red clay ones,” she said, “you know, ‘bout yeah-high and yeah-wide,” her aging hands indicating height and diameter. “Better get a bag enough of potting soil, too” she added.

Mrs. Ingram lives in a small house in fair need of a new coat of red paint. She has an oversize dog named Glory, and boy, does his personality remind me of Tinker. When he’s restless, she puts him “out on the acre” for the night. And when he’s out, on patrol, he rounds my tent by the hour, often sitting by the flap waiting for a hand-check. He also knows about the two wild pigs living out back, and makes them no trouble – and the pigs oink likewise.

Mrs. Ingram is a private person whom, aside from Glory, lives alone. Once or twice a month a young woman visits, takes her to the store, spends a little time, then drives off. Not much else I can tell you about Mrs. Ingram, except for her pot.

A year ago Mother’s Day, the florist delivered three beautiful, single-potted white lilies. I know this because the driver, an 18-year-old wearing his girlfriend’s earrings, confused my tent with Mrs. Ingram’s house. Then, he came back again when she didn’t answer her door. I told him to just leave the flowers on her porch, she’d get them soon enough. He was convinced by the tip, and my encouragement to never get a haircut.

A few days later I saw the lilies inside her window. In all the time I’ve known Mrs. Ingram, I’ve never seen her take an interest in anything beyond the interior of her house. Her acre looks the same as it did last year, and the year before that; tall, wild grass around stands of impenetrable jungle. Certainly, not a hospitable place for planting delicate exotics, or growing hybrid corn.

Except for the peeling red paint, her house also looks the same; modest, but sturdy. Of note, however, is precisely where her modest house sits; on the top of a man-made rise, indicating her abiding respect for nature and Noah’s returning rains. A few neighbors thought she was crazy “sittin’ up there”, that is, until tropical storm Irene dropped the deep blue sea onto our floodplain. It was then wading neighbor Sam keenly observed, “That Miss Ingram, she ain’t crazy.”

Meanwhile, I had forgotten about the pot until recently, when I began noticing Mrs. Ingram puttering around her porch. Two or three times each day she came out to move that “yeah-high” pot, a foot north, a yard west, a pace south. The pot moved as the sun moved. Half an hour of afternoon rain, then back on the porch. Her and Glory, tending the pot. From my flap I could see healthy green leaves sprouting up, a little higher and greener each day. And at night, I would ask Glory about this, but as usual, he just wagged his 5-pound tail. Like Tinker who looked after me when I was six, all business. A hand check, then back to his silent rounds.


Early this morning, and still half asleep, I thought I heard something. I turned and looked over toward Mrs. Ingram’s porch. Everything appeared just the same as it did yesterday, and the day before that. Everything except her pot, and the new, white lily faintly ringing its morning bell.

© 1997 D.M.Molloy