Featured Short Story: Down An Old Dirt Road

Welcome reader! This week, I’m featuring a short story from my archives. “Down An Old Dirt Road” is based on the writing prompt: a woman is sitting on the front steps of an old, ramshackle house, in an elegant black dress.


Down An Old Dirt Road

The lyrics of an old country song ran through her mind as she sat on the front steps, staring at the dirt walkway. But she wasn’t really seeing it. Missy’s childhood in this broken down little shack was playing like a movie in her head. Her bare feet beating across the rough planks of this front porch, chasing after one of her little sisters. Tucking in with her six brothers and sisters to sleep at night on an old mattress in the corner, on the floor. Her mother occupying the only bedroom in the house, waiting for her father to come home. He never did. He’d been a casualty of the war. Not a physical casualty but he was never the same when he’d come home. He walked out one night, never to return, leaving her mother seven mouths to feed on a housekeeper’s salary. They never had enough of anything.

That was until the night of the accident. Her mother was dead on her feet so she’d taken a ride from their landlord, Mr. Dix, who owned the farm up the road. Their ramshackle house sat on the corner of his property. Mr. Dix had seen her mother walking on the side of the road with her brothers and sisters in tow and offered them all a ride. The kids had piled in the bed of the truck. Her mother rode in the cab so they could discuss the late rent her mother owed him. Missy had always wondered if there wasn’t something more between her mother and Mr. Dix. Her youngest brother, Tommy, had arrived after her father had left them. And he looked nothing like the rest of them. None of that mattered now. Some kids out joy riding on the backroads took a sharp curve too fast, hitting Mr. Dix’s truck and sending it tumbling down a ravine.

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Missy had walked home from her job at the carhop that night and found the house empty. She was washing the grease from her face at the only sink in the house when the sheriff arrived with the news. Her entire family was gone. She was all alone at fifteen. They shipped her off to live with some aunt on her father’s side who she’d never met. She relived that night every year on this day.

The breeze came up, cool across her bare arms, bringing her back from her memories. She pulled her arms around herself a little tighter as she glanced out across the front yard. The sun was going down. She’d have to leave soon. Her high heeled shoes lay where she’d dropped them in the dirt, near her feet. If her mother could only see her now.

Her aunt Helen was her father’s only living relative. They’d lost contact after a disagreement no one could remember the source of anymore. Helen had married a prominent attorney but had been widowed young. They’d never had any children. Missy started a private school a week after moving into her aunt’s house. Her classmates had always made sure she knew she was a charity case and came from the wrong side of the tracks. Missy knew fate had given her an opportunity she never would have had otherwise and she was desperate not to let her mother down. She was going to make something of herself. Be a woman her mother would be proud to call her daughter. Despite her humble beginnings, nothing was going to hold her back. Not even the chiding and sneering from her classmates.

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Missy had graduated top of her class and received glowing recommendations from her teachers. She’d gone to college. Something she never dreamed would ever be in her future. And now here she was, in a black designer gown, on her way to receive an award for her work helping impoverished single mothers. The kind of help that would have made a difference for her own mother, if it had been available to her.

When she’d finished law school, Aunt Helen had called her crazy for taking a job with a legal aid group. She’d turned down the opportunity to clerk for a supreme court justice to take that job. It paid a pittance and she could only afford to rent a single room above an auto repair shop. But she’d saved every penny she could until she felt sure she had enough money. Then one day, Missy had driven across the state to old Mr. Dix’s farm. She was relieved to find that their little shack was still standing and that Mrs. Dix was still living at the farm. She’d sat in the Dixs’ kitchen, across from Mrs. Dix, and offered every dollar she’d saved to buy the little shack. Mrs. Dix said she must be touched in the head, said that dump should have been torn down years ago. It was a miracle the wind hadn’t taken it down already. But Missy was determined. Mrs. Dix finally agreed to sell it to her, along with a small parcel of land around it. Mrs. Dix had walked her to the door, shaking her head, wondering aloud what Missy could possibly want with that place. That was a long time ago now. Missy built a strong reputation and eventually started her own firm. She never forgot where she came from and never turned a client away for her inability to pay.

Missy still came back every year at this time, just to be with her memories. She had enough repairs made to the house, to keep the rain and the varmints out. But she hadn’t changed anything else over the years. There hadn’t been any money for proper funerals when her family had died. This was their monument. A memorial to their time here on earth.

Sometimes Missy missed her life in that little house. No indoor plumbing aside from the sink in the kitchen. One working light over where her mother had put their kitchen table. In the evenings, they would gather around that table to eat whatever their mother had managed to put together for dinner. They’d laughed, they’d fought, they’d been a family.

“Ma’am, we’re going to have to get going. Wouldn’t look good for the guest of honor to be late.”

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Missy hadn’t even heard her driver, Neal, approach. He’d been with her for the past two years. She’d always felt a little pretentious having a driver. Like she was putting on airs she had no right to. Her sister, Kim, would call her a snob. Her mother would find it embarrassing, her daughter being driven around in that big SUV.

“Of course. I’ll be there in just a minute,” she replied to Neal with a smile.

“Yes, ma’am,” he replied, turning on his heal to return to the waiting vehicle.

Missy took in a deep breath, as if taking in every ounce of this place her lungs could hold. She let her breath out slowly before reaching for her shoes. She dusted her feet off before she slipped them back on. She got to her feet and started back down the dirt path to the gravel road in front of the house. She made it ten paces before she turned back around, indulging herself with one last look.

“Bye Momma. See you next year,” she thought. Then she turned and quickly walked away.


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