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Aug 15 2017

Reunions Flash Fiction #WEPFF Stew In The Forest of No Trees

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August is a very exciting month! I’m writing, editing, reading, and celebrating my birthday.

Assumably. Technically, it’s the day I was assigned. You can skip the astrology and numerology because the date on that sheet of paper is just a what someone put down. It’s barely even an educated guess.

I’ve said it before, but let me say it again, I’m really not like you.
I’m kind of like them:

Captain Fantastic Free to watch for Amazon Prime users.
(Content warning: You will see Viggo Mortensen fully nude, but it’s a non-sexual scene.)

Despite years of therapy and whatever, I’m still not ready to fully discuss the exact details of my childhood, especially the time between when I lived with my parents and the events that happened prior to American foster care and adoption by my family.

I’m telling you this as a disclaimer, because the story I’m about to share might not make a lick of sense to you. It’s deeply emotional for me, which is why I’m declining the usual full feedback. I’m not honestly sure why I’m sharing this story, which is inspired by my life and combined with a child character from the Captain Fantastic movie, and sprinkled with some imagination. I should also mention that, in Lenni-Lenape culture, names are given by the name giver, and it might be YEARS before a name is given.

I looked at the prompt, and then saw comments where people associated the word “reunions” with something horrible, and then I thought about a time when I longed for a reunion with every fiber of my being, every drop of my soul, every bit of my life force. And the following story just came out.

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Stew In The Forest of No Trees

By J Lenni Dorner




The pigtailed girl who smells like raisins pokes at my arm. “What’s wrong with his skin?”
Her friends start a chorus of laughs and ewws. I remain as still as an oak. Cruel wind may ruffle my leaves, but I won’t blow down.
“Good morning, class.” An elder taps a podium with her stick. “Where’s Stuart Doe?”
Thirty pairs of eyes set on me. None belong to wolves, yet I feel as if they’re a hunting pack, ready to attack me from all sides.
“Stuart, in this room, you stand when addressed.” The elder’s stick keeps a beat on her palm. “Well?”
Snickers and rude remarks fill the silence. “Get up, dummy,” someone behind me says with a shove to my shoulder. Unsure the purpose, I rise.
“Causing trouble is not in your best interest. It will not win you any friends, nor will it help your grades. Am I clear, Stuart?”
She keeps using that name. My hand shakes as I reach into my pocket. “Stew.” I hold up the label I peeled from a can. I point to the word that matches my name, then to my chest. “Stew.”
“You are not a canned food, young man. Stuart is a noble name. I do not take kindly to jokes.”

Last week I was with my family. Last week people didn’t stare at me. Last week I looked the same as everyone I knew.
Attempts at communication with these people are all failures. No one is able to understand my name. It’s a simple basis of greeting. This is especially bothersome as I’m certain the label is in their language, and that I mastered the pronunciation of the word.

“Are you hungry there, feller? Tell me your name and I’ll get you all the food you want.” A man in darkening-sky colored clothing waits for my reply. I point to the shiny gold letters on his jewelry. “Miller. That’s my name.” He touches his chest as he says it. Then he points to me.
I know what he wants, but I lack a reference. Elders, most dressed as Miller, buzz about, ignoring some sounds and responding to others. Those not dressed the same are watched. Intruders to the hive. I wear only deerskin pants. Another intruder to watch, to sting.
“Look here. A can of Dinty Moore’s finest.” Miller waves a can back and forth, an obvious attempt to direct my attention. “Stew. Everybody likes stew.”
“Stew.” I smile. I didn’t have what he wants. But he said that everybody likes stew, and I wish to be liked by everybody. I point to the word on the can and then to my chest. “Stew.” Upon seeing his face wrinkle in frustration, I decide to elaborate. “Miller,” I point to his chest, “Stew,” I point to my own.
He nods and smiles. “Well, how about that. Your name’s Stew? That’s my brother’s name!” He slaps his knee. “You’re not just saying that to get the food, are you son?”
I shake my head. He’s pleased. Later, when he’s not looking, I take the label with me. Seeing it should remind others that everybody likes stew.

Dinty Moore Beef Stew image by J Dorner

Except others do not like Stew. Seeing the label evokes laughter and even violence.

“You’re in my spot.”
I produce the label, ready to attempt communication with a male around my age. He must surely be a warrior, for his size is suited for little else. “Stew.” I point to the word, then to myself. “Stew,” I say again.
“I ain’t feedin ya, dummy.” He shoves me to the ground. Angry words drip from his mouth as his fingers coil, forming fists. He strikes at me once I stand up, but I maneuver away. I’ve fought worse than him, but never without a weapon. My bow, my knife, even my rope were taken away last week. These people have given me no time to make replacements.
The warrior continues to swing at me, but his training has been lax. I move out of the way each time. A hand from behind closes on my shoulder, trapping me just as a swing comes up. My head snaps back as the fist collides with my jaw, splitting my skin.
“Both of you, my office!” The hand tightens, forcing my direction.
“Serves you right,” someone says as I’m paraded by.
“Guess you won’t be chief,” another chimes in.
The playground explodes in the most peculiar sound I’ve ever heard. All those my age open their mouths wide and slap their hands to their lips, altering the “waa” syllable they’re whooping. What ridiculous display this represents, I do not know. Their eyes, and the stance each takes, tells me this is a warning.

The office is like a bear cave. It could be a shelter, a refuge, or it could be a final destination. I’m handed a cloth and told my parents will come soon.
My parents! What will they make of this place, of these people? I wonder if I should shed the clothing they’ve put me in. Bizarre coverings that would stand out in the forest.
I stare at the strange device on the wall. Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock. They say it marks the sun’s movement across the sky. I’m not sure these people have ever looked up. Tick tock, tick tock. My leg bounces, eager to be free of this invisible trap. Reuniting with my family means going home! I ache to sit by the fire, to share my observations. There is much to discuss.
I long for our evening sounds. Soon I’ll hear the owl hooting in the night and the cry of the bobcat. Even the crickets will be welcome to my ears. Tick tock.
“Stew,” my heart breaks as I look up. The people who I’ve stayed with for the past few days stand there, arms folded, staring at me.
There will be no reunion today.

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985 words : MPA

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33 comments

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  1. Laura Clipson

    This is a very moving piece, thanks for sharing.
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    1. J Lenni Dorner

      Thanks for commenting. Glad I could move you.
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  2. Pat Hatt

    The mindset sure is a bit primal as he tries to work his way through things. The stew addition was a great idea. Very engrossing write indeed.

    1. J Lenni Dorner

      A bit primal. That’s an excellent description. Thanks for commenting.
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  3. Pat Garcia

    At first, I was pulled into a world of war in my mind and the disappearance of nature. Then I went back and read some parts again and I could see the intricate weavings of your story.
    Excellent job.
    Shalom aleichem,
    Patricia
    Pat Garcia has this post to share WEP Submission – AUGUST 2017 CHALLENGE, REUNIONS, A Poem, by Pat GarciaMy Profile
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    1. J Lenni Dorner

      Thank you.
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  4. C. Lee McKenzie

    You made me ache for this child, the sudden misfit, the one suddenly vulnerable and without anyone to turn to for help and understanding. There are so many children who suffer like this. Excellent contribution today.
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    1. J Lenni Dorner

      Thanks for commenting, enjoying the story, and caring.
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  5. Elephants Child

    Heartbreaking.
    And still happening today.

    1. J Lenni Dorner

      Yes.
      Thanks for commenting.
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  6. Denise Covey

    Hello J Lenni. First, happy birthday! Hope all the planets align for you and you have a wonderful celebration.

    Loved ‘Stew’. So did you get the idea from the tin? It sure was a great rendition of how it feels to be the outsider, the fringe dweller, the one who makes others (in this case, whoever the others were) uncomfortable. Stew will really look forward to when his reunion with his family comes about. I always love great imagery and you hit me with: “Cruel wind may ruffle my leaves, but I won’t blow down.” Tells it like it is.

    Thanks for sharing a great flash for WEP’s REUNIONS. Was a pleasure, as always.

    Denise 🙂
    Denise Covey has this post to share Write…Edit…Publish August challenge – REUNIONS. My #flashfiction, The Reunion.My Profile
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    1. J Lenni Dorner

      Not sure about the planets, but I know the moon plans to align itself between the sun and Earth, so that will be fun to watch. (In America.)

      People have asked me how I got the name J. (Which, yes, that’s what I put on the legal paperwork. And the frustrated people gave up and let it be.) While my story is less interesting (to me, anyhow), I considered another way that someone without a name could come up with one. And there you go. Stew.

      That reunion with the bio family would be many, many years from the time of this story. I honestly don’t know the right English words to accurately write all the emotions of that day. I can sign a few in LSFB, but trying to translate those… that’s where the English language comes up short.
      “What’s the translation for that?”
      “There isn’t one. It sorta means this, kinda, but… your language needs more words.”
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  7. Nilanjana Bose

    Brilliant portrayal of the outsider and baffled misfit. And a unique take on the prompt. Way too many children out in the world still made to feel ostracised and lonely. Thank you for a great, thought provoking and poignant read.
    Nilanjana Bose has this post to share Catching up : Write…Edit…Publish…August 2017My Profile

    1. J Lenni Dorner

      I’m glad you enjoyed it.
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  8. Yolanda Renee

    As I read this I was reminded of the reaction my son had when we moved him from one school to another. He was unprepared, a foreigner in a foreign land. Lost. It breaks my heart even today to know how it’s formed him, affected his future. Touching and sad, but beautifully done!
    Yolanda Renee has this post to share WEP – REUNIONS “FIRST LOVE NEVER DIES”My Profile
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    1. J Lenni Dorner

      Thanks so much. I haven’t fit in anywhere since I was very young. Which, as an author, does me in from time to time.
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  9. Donna B. McNicol

    A sad, poignant story that brought me back to the weeks I spent on the Blackfeet Reservation. Proud people, friendly people, warm people, caring people, but cast-off people.

    Thank you for sharing this story, it tore at my heart.
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    1. J Lenni Dorner

      A different tribe from mine, but I’m sure we have many of these feelings in common. Thanks for commenting.
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  10. Julie Flanders

    Oh, this was so sad! I felt so awful for Stew and my heart broke for him at the end. What a touching story. So nice to meet you thanks to this hop!
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    1. J Lenni Dorner

      Thanks. Great to meet you, too.
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  11. dolorah

    Culture shock. So hard to learn a whole new life. Especially when not your choosing. So many natives suffered with indoctrination. The government left those Native children in the hands of sadistic people who disguised cruelty under a cloak of divine intervention. I would not doubt the children lived with PTSD their entire lives.
    dolorah has this post to share WEP: REUNIONSMy Profile

    1. J Lenni Dorner

      Thanks for stopping by.
      That’s not exactly spot on for me, or for this story, but it’s in the neighborhood.
      Thanks for reading and commenting.
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  12. DG Hudson

    A beautiful story which highlights the differences in culture that seems to bring certain minds to a ‘them or us’ attitude. Some people seem to be born bullies. Some get that way from observing their parents or family. My hubs has half Native Indian heritage, and is a member of his mother’s Native or First Nations band here in British Columbia. I left the US South because I didn’t like the weather, but I also didn’t like the attitudes prevalent there. In Canada I saw cultural diversity and a more tolerant attitude.

    Liked your story, written with sensitivity and making no judgments on the behaviour of those raised with no social conscience. Bravo.
    DG Hudson has this post to share Reunion – The Wanderer – WEP August ChallengeMy Profile

    1. J Lenni Dorner

      The story is also related to the first time in my life that I experienced bullies and inequality. If you spend your first few years without it, the concept becomes very difficult to process. But instincts remain, thus the wolf reference. I didn’t understand the “Indian war cry sound,” having never heard it before that moment (not my tribe), but I understood that there was a mean spirit behind it and I was meant to feel threatened. I gave Stew that experience because it was terrifying and made me realize how alone I was. Which is the rock bottom I needed Stew to be at for that desire for a reunion to really break the heart of the reader when you find out it isn’t going to happen.
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  13. N. R. Williams

    Happy Birthday. A very interesting story. I can see how confusing life is for your character and I think for all children who find themselves with one foster family after another. Well written.
    Nancy

    1. J Lenni Dorner

      Thank you so much!
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  14. Lisa Wilton

    I’m really intrigued as to where Stew came from and who he is. You definitely left me wanting more. Nice work! 😀
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    1. J Lenni Dorner

      Thanks.
      Writing this wasn’t that hard. Publishing it was like giving myself a heart attack. I deleted it many times. I doubt very much I’d write more of his story, as it is so very close to my own.
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  15. Deborah Drucker

    Makes me wonder if Stew was anywhere close to the actual pronunciation of this boys name. A good depiction of what the experience was like through his eyes. The teacher was so insensitive, harsh. I am thinking it would have been in more olden times, I hope, because of the stick pounding on the podium. I hope his new family turned out to be kind.
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    1. J Lenni Dorner

      This has always been hardest to explain to people who weren’t born into my culture. I, like “Stew,” wasn’t given a name at birth. The name giver gives you a name when it is time, which has to do with a vision or prophecy (I’m not a name giver, I don’t know the exact events). You might be a day old, you might be a decade old, you might be thirty with children of your own. It comes when it comes. And once you get a name, you only share what it is with one other person, generally. (This keeps witches from cursing you, in our lore.)

      So no, Stew isn’t close to the actual pronunciation. The actual way he’d have been referred to is by your relationship. “My friend’s oldest son.” “My brother.” “The rabbit hunter.” “The boy from the other side of the river.”

      The teacher, by the way, was… not very fictional. I don’t know about olden times, but she used that pointer stick to smack her podium, whack the blackboard, beat dents into the wall, etc. She made the administration and other teachers nervous, always yelling at them (just as much as she did the students). It was the nineties, but she had been teaching for a very, very, long time. Were this an urban fantasy, she’d be an immortal creature from the dark side. Voldemort would have been all, “No no, don’t kill her. Don’t recruit her as a death eater. Just… leave her alone and hope she doesn’t notice us. Yikes.” Ha ha ha.
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      1. Deborah Drucker

        That would make it even harder for this boy to try to fit in with his new environment, the big cultural differences. And even harder to have the teacher from hell. Your story came across fine. I feel pretty vulnerable many times when I am about to post something especially if it is close to me. I have found others to be receptive. I think we can feel this vulnerability as writers. 🙂
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  16. Hilary Melton-Butcher

    Happy year ahead and I hope things align for you. Fascinating take on a name and then the weaving of the story line into a way of life most of us don’t relate to, though we should … sad he couldn’t get away – as others have said, not many do … cheers Hilary
    Hilary Melton-Butcher has this post to share Senior Moments … such is life in the fast lane!My Profile

    1. J Lenni Dorner

      I relate all too well. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!
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