The Slide (An Excerpt)
In the fall, I posted excerpts from two books I’m currently working on: Shelter Me, an historical novel about a French village that rescued Jewish people, mostly children, in WWII; and David: Reign, Part 2 of my projected trilogy of novels on the life of King David.
Here, I post two excerpts from a book my daughter Sarah and I are working on. It’s called The Slide. It’s about the estranged relationship between a former pastor, Tom, and his daughter from an affair, Calliope.
This post combines excerpts from two early chapters: the opening chapter, which I wrote. It tells the story of how Tom survives, narrowly, being buried beneath a massive mountain slide (I researched both the Hope Slide of 1965 and the Frank Slide of 1903 for verisimilitude); and the beginning of Chapter 4, which Sarah wrote, about Calliope’s first memory of her father.
I hope you enjoy.
April 13, 1983
The slide wasn’t his idea.
Everything else was.
He thought for sure he was dead: buried deep and long beneath the wildness of that whole mountain collapsing, sudden and complete. Everything instantly remade. A wide lake emptied, just like that, then filled brim-full with wood, mud, rock. A thousand acres of Douglas fir, red cedar, Swedish aspen crushed to splinters, ground to powder. A whole bend and stretch of river dammed. Limestone dust churning air into thick paste, caking everything. The air brewing lightening in its belly. The landscape forever altered.
And in a blink, without warning, half the town of Lincoln gone. A school, two banks, three churches, the Rotary club, the Legion Hall, twelve businesses, five holes of the nine-hole pitch & putt, sixteen links of rail car, ninety-three homes, and three-hundred and eleven women, men, children: all entombed. More than half the bodies still there, buried in a mausoleum of rock and mud three miles long, five miles wide, two-hundred feet deep at its deepest.
One house survived intact. A river of shale plucked it clean from its foundation, carried it almost a quarter mile. It rode destruction like a wave. An entire family huddled together inside, screaming all the way, then silent, astonished to come to a dead stop and still be living. Unbruised, unscathed, each stepped from the front door onto an endless horizon of rock.
Afterwards, after layers and layers of investigations, studies, reports, politicians blaming other politicians, governments haggling over who pays what, geologists explaining and quibbling about how things like this happen, tourists flocking, travelers gawking, eye-witness giving conflicting testimonies, after a flurry of hoaxes, rumors, wild speculations, conspiracy theories, jeremiads, debates, policy changes, after a brisk trade in gimcrack souvenirs, after the dredging up and sifting through of sixty-three years of scientific predictions and centuries of Blackfoot and Kootenai legends - after all that, no one really knew why the mountain came down. No one could fully account for the slide.
“These things,” one man said, “are just the way they are.”
But there were many explanations anyhow. Some said great and ancient subterranean rivers, surging and twisting age on age, ate away the mountain’s insides. Others that some deep-down seismic shaking worked its way up through veins and seams of granite and finally split the thing in two. Others that a labyrinth of abandoned mine shafts from a century earlier fatally compromised the landmass, and made catastrophe inevitable. At least one preacher claimed it was divine retribution for a nation gone wayward.
But it didn’t matter, not to him. To him, the slide was pure redemption. To him, sheer windfall, a gift of earth and sky. A divine kiss. To him, it was a simple and flawless way out of a life that had become more wearisome than he could endure and more entangled than he could escape. For him, that slide was a wide-open door into a future he could barely imagine but desperately needed.
But all that came later.
First there was the terror, as pure as anything he’d ever known.
April 27, 1983
One of my earliest memories was of the slide.
The blue one.
That was back when father was going through his build-it-fix-it phase. He’d gone to the hardware store near our house and bought a brand-new toolset and went to work on anything and everything. Mother standing in disbelief as creaks and leaks and cracks that had been a fixture of our old and broken home disappeared one by one. After he’d fixed everything that had been falling into disrepair, he went to work creating.
I understood it later for what it was. For what he was. A man who went through phases. Who grabbed hold of one idea at a time, and when the time was up, who dropped it, swiftly and without another thought, and then picked up the next one.
That is how he came to leave us. We were just another phase he outgrew.
But that came later. First there was the slide, and a girl so innocent she could not see yet the failings of the man who made it so blue and perfect.
In those days — proud of his newest creation — he would stand smiling as I wrestled my way through the jungle gym and laughed with me as I zipped down the slide towards his arms. I was in awe of him. The man who knew everything. Who knew how to make a perfect blue slide out of nothing. Who taught me not to fear the long way down because he’d be waiting at the end.
I would have been only three at the time but my memory of that slide and the man at the bottom of it is clear. I think my mind has held on to it so fiercely because that was the last time we were whole. We were happy and complete. Soon after it all went to pieces.
When the news came on the television about the rockslide that took out Lincoln, that blue slide was the first thing that flashed into my mind. Not the bright and wonderful thing it was, but what it became. I remembered the last time I saw it, as mother and I left the house at the end of Prichard Drive forever. Decrepit, faded, half swallowed by weeds. A forgotten relic from a kingdom that had long since crumbled.