by Adeline Staplin Brown
[This story is taken from The Shining Light Part 8 for 8-20-2000. I really liked it, and decided to share it with you. There are some things in it that I don't agree with, (i.e. magic, eating clam chowder, being in Heaven as soon as you die), but other than those minor differences, it is a very good story. Enjoy.]
I'm Rilla Dustin. I guess no one ever had a more one track mind than I've had until now. I can't even remember when I got the idea of being a girl reporter, but that was all I wanted until just recently.
I was still in high school when I sold my first article with by-line to the Daily Clarion. After commencement I stuck my diploma into a drawer and went to work. I was walking high.
At first, Editor Caldwell saw to it that I learned everything. I set type, sold advertising, and collected bills. But it was plain right from the start that I had a nose for news. Mr. Caldwell used to say that I could smell news before it was news. I scooped the only crime that ever happened in Sedgwick. And more than once city papers have printed my columns, by-line and all. They paid for them, too.
Then all of a sudden I became dissatisfied with doing exactly what I'd always wanted to do. Even though I was doing a good job, something had gone wrong. The romance had leaked out. I had almost gloried in being a part of the paper which gave the people the news in an honest straightforward way. Our paper had always been a clean sheet. Then I began to notice all of these yesterday's papers in the trash cans. I knew well enough that a stale newspaper was no newspaper. Still, it troubled me to see my by-line peeping out of a trash can. I began to feel like a child writing upon the sand.
I told myself that yesterday's news lingered in the minds of the people today, and that they weighed today's news by what they'd read in the past. But it was no good. I began to feel that I simply had to do something that would last, something permanent.
Then I began casting about to see what I might do that would be permanent. I've never done anything but write and help Mother with the housework. Then one day I interviewed the librarian about the new wing of the library; I took special note of all those books. Even a real turkey of a book isn't crammed in the waste can the day it is printed. If I could write a good book, it might be read for years. Surely it would be better to write a book than news. Maybe I'd do both.
Naturally, I didn't tell my parents, Mr. Caldwell, or my friends how I felt. I knew they'd point out the fact that I had a permanent job for as long as I wanted it. They'd ask me what more I wanted. They wouldn't understand, and I didn't tell them.
But I did take my two-weeks' vacation. I even told Mr. Caldwell that I might stay longer and make up for the vacations I hadn't taken. I told no one where I was going, but I took my typewriter. At least, I was going to find out if I could write a book.
I found an old cabin on a high cliff above the Pacific at the end of an onion field. The only modern convenience was a dangling light bulb in each room. My Japanese, truck-gardener landlord assured me that the roof did not leak. There was another cabin next door, but the roof was a sieve. I was positive that no one on earth would want it. Here was solitude - no telephone to ring, nothing to disturb me. I didn't even ask the Japanese if he meant to rent the other cabin. I was sure he couldn't if he wanted to.
It took a day to clean up the place. Then I set the table before the big window looking out toward the Pacific. The tang of the sea was fresh and pungent in my cabin. So was the smell of soap and the nip of onions.
I put a fresh, yellow second sheet in the typewriter and stared at the sea. I'd heard and read that the first paragraph was the most important. Therefore I'd think until my perfect paragraph came to me. I began to realize that writing a novel was different from scouting for news and writing facts.
At that moment an amazing thing happened. A red station wagon jounced along on the rutted earth before my cabin. A couple of tow-headed youngsters had their heads out the window, and there was nothing wrong with their lungs.
"Daddy! Daddy! Da-a-d-y-y, somebody's got our cabin!"
The station wagon parked beside the other cabin with the sieve roof. A long, lean young man with a golden thatch of hair unfolded and got out. Those two with him literally spilled out. They were perfect ditto marks, absolute duplicates of the young man.
He wasted no time but began piling luggage upon the sagging porch. His duplicates leaped astride the baggage and began riding fast and furiously. The young man didn't mind. He just kept on unloading.
He unearthed a ladder from someplace and rolled out some big black rolls of something. He carried one of those rolls to the roof, and I never heard a hammer make a faster rat-a-tat than his did. Almost as if by magic he had half of the roof covered and was going strong.
With a long sigh I covered my typewriter. My perfect paragraph would not come to me now. I was thoroughly irked with the Japanese for renting the cabin. Since my secret place of solitude was gone there was no profit in sitting here and watching the neighbors.
I left the cabin and began to walk the cliff. The wind was strong against me so that I had to force my way through it. But even so, I was able to walk fairly fast. The sky was turning a dull gray with dark churning clouds. The sea was a peculiar-laden color with sulphur tones and wild whitecaps. There was a good chance that we'd have a storm, but I thought I'd have plenty of time to finish my walk.
As I walked I felt better. I'm not a volatile person who changes easily. But in spite of the way I felt about the young man and his duplicates, I began to feel that I'd find the permanent work I was looking for. That made me feel so good that I even forgot to watch the clouds scudding overhead. That was my mistake.
A fat raindrop fell upon my nose and spattered. Then, without warning, the skies ripped open and sheets of water fairly drowned me. I fled for home. The wind changed and pummeled me viciously. Protecting my eyes with a hand, I looked for the cabin. It seemed a long way off. I wondered how I'd gone so far. Lowering my head against the storm, I forced myself to keep on putting one foot before the other in my squashy, wet oxfords. I struggled against the wind until I thought I could not possibly take another step. But I did. I walked until I heard another sound besides the wind and sea, and there was that red station wagon coming at me. I stepped aside to let it pass; and it stopped, showering me with sand and water. The door flew open, and that lean young man yelled, "Get in!"
"Get in! Get in!" his duplicates chorused.
I knew all the rules about getting into a strange man's car, but none of them seemed to apply. I climbed in and slammed the door. When I could get my breath, I told him, "You won't appreciate what I'm doing to your car."
"Plastic," he grinned. "With my wild twins I have to have plastic seat covers."
"Twins," I said. "I thought they were. Twins are nice."
"I think so - most of the time," he grinned.
"Did you finish your roof?"
"Sure," he nodded, "and got things sort of halfway straightened out inside."
By that time he'd reached my cabin and drove so close to the porch that I could get out without getting any wetter than I was. For a second, I just sat there. I had to thank him, and I didn't know his name.
"I'm Rilla Dustin," I told him.
"The reporter," he grinned. "I'm Keith Rodgers and my sprouts are Frank and Francis." Before I could say anything, he hurried on. "We have a pot of clam chowder on the back of the stove and a fresh pot of coffee. We'd be happy to share it with you."
"Oh good, company!" the twins set up a joyous shout. "Company!"
"Thanks for the invitation," I told him. "I'll put on something dry and come over."
It was surprising how much he'd accomplished in a short time.
There was a fire in the fireplace, and the fragrance of chowder and coffee filled the cabin. While he set the table, the twins were busy telling me that they were three years old, holding up three fingers. Their mother was in heaven. They went everywhere with Daddy. After awhile they were going to school, and then they were going to be cops, engineers, sailors, and firemen - maybe.
The chowder was good. So was the coffee. When we were through eating, we sat by the fireplace with a cup of coffee in hand and talked. He knew a great many things about a great many things, but he was a modest man. The room grew dim while we talked. Turning on the lights, he called his sons, "Time for P.J's."
They were reluctant but obedient and soon appeared stuffed into pajamas. They sat on stools at their father's feet.
"We always have family prayer," he stated matter-of-factly and reached for his Bible. He read about Paul in the storm and shipwreck, and read it so it lived before your eyes. As small as the twins were, they hung onto every word.
Suddenly, they were upon their knees. I knelt. The twins prayed first. They thanked [Yahweh] for saving my life. They thanked Him because I was their company. They didn't seem to leave out anything at all. As for Keith Rodger's prayer, it was as humbly direct as his conversation. As for me, I tried to pray, but I'd grown a little rusty.
Then when the twins were in bed, we talked some more. He asked me, "How did you find this place?"
"I was looking for a place where no one would find me," I told him, "and I thought I'd found it."
"It must have been quite a shock when we barged in on your privacy."
"It was at first," I told him. The first thing I knew I was telling him about the way I'd always wanted to be a reporter, and how I'd grown to feel about it. I even told him about hunting for something permanent, and that I'd been trying to start a book when he arrived.
He seemed to think that all I'd said made sense. He sat there nodding as if he understood every word. He made me feel that he did.
Next morning, the sun was shining and the sea and sky were a glorious blue. I popped out of bed and built a fire in the small tin stove to make a cup of coffee. I carried the toaster to the front room so I could watch the Pacific while I ate my toast and drank my coffee.
This morning I was going to start my book. Then I saw Keith Rodgers at an easel with palette and brush in hand. He must be painting that pine and the tumbling sea.
It hit me in a flash who Keith Rodgers was. Why hadn't I recognized him? What had happened to my sense of news? Here was a famous painter in a miserable shanty, and probably I was the only one who knew where he was.
I forgot my coffee. The news hound in me was at full gallop. I even had a title. "Famous Artist in Miserable Shack." Then I stopped dead still.
I had come here for solitude to write. He'd come here for solitude to paint. I didn't even write the title. I ripped the sheet from the typewriter and wadded it. Here was a story I wasn't going to write.
After washing my cup and saucer, I went back to the typewriter. My perfect first paragraph eluded me. Besides Frank and Francis were whooping it up along the rim of the cliff. I could see them falling to their death. How could one write a perfect paragraph with that going on? I did the only thing I could do. I went outside and called to them, "Come here a minute."
They came, yelling at the top of their lungs, "Tell us a story!"
"Sit down and I will," I told them. They flopped on my doorstep, and I tried to tell them about Daniel. I'd always thought I was a pretty good storyteller, but I couldn't compete with Keith Rodgers. They interrupted so much that I suggested that we go down to the beach.
"Might as well," Frank said, " 'cause you're not such a good story-teller."
I didn't know it then, but I was setting the pattern of my days. Day after day, I'd eat my breakfast, and by that time those twins would be whooping it up. I'd be afraid they'd fall and break their necks. So, there was nothing for me to do but to take them to the beach and keep them safe while their father painted.
I usually cooked the evening meal. But whichever of us cooked it, we all ate together. We had those good long talks after the boys were in bed, and every evening we read the Bible and we prayed. To tell the truth, I began doing some Bible reading and praying of my own. One day I read a verse that fitted me.
"As thy servant was busy here and there, he was gone."
Days sort of ran into days until I suddenly realized that my vacation was coming to an end. I began to take inventory. I hadn't even written the first paragraph. However, I had gotten back my vital relationship with God again. I had the memories of those long talks with Keith and the memory of those moist kisses of his twins. I was brown and felt remarkably fit, but I still had not found my permanent job.
"I have to go back to my job tomorrow," I told Keith that night.
"Back to your job?" he cried. "I'd hoped - " his voice trailed off.
Like I'd said, he was a tall, lean young man. In two strides he was by my chair. "We're your permanent job," he told me.
I stared up at him.
"We love you, Rilla. We need you very much."
"Listen, Rilla, I'm trying to tell you that I love you. I'm asking you to marry me. Will you, Rilla? Will you marry me?"
"Oh yes," I told him.
And then I knew that my hunch had been right. This shabby old cabin was the exact spot where I was to find my permanence. I suppose I'll find myself taking off after a bit of news now and then, but my real job will always be Keith and our twins.