was written in response to the 2008 Tracy Island Writers
Forum's 'Three Object Challenge.'
many times in his life when Jeff Tracy gave thanks for the
quiet intuition of his mother. Her ability to read between the
lines was a real gift, particularly when it came down to
something she sensed was troubling one of his sons.
intuition was the reason he was zig-zagging down the road now;
hands gripped tightly on the wheel of a rusty old truck and
heading in the direction of the cabin.
originally hadn't planned to come to Kentucky for at least
another three weeks. The middle of August still seemed a long
way off when he was trying to juggle a rescue organisation
with a multi-billion dollar corporation. But then his mother
changed all that by asking to have a word with him in private.
feeling you need to take Virgil to the cabin early this year,
son," she told him quietly behind closed doors. "I know you're
not due to go there for a few more weeks, but things just
don't seem to be sitting right with Virgil lately. I think
it's important for you to see if you can get to the bottom of
whatever's bothering him and the sooner you do it the better."
reaction to the observation was one of surprised aggravation.
What gave her the impression Virgil was unhappy about
something? Virgil seemed all right to him. Even if he wasn't,
all of the boys knew if there was a problem of some sort they
were free to come and discuss it with him.
had been said so far.
all that, Jeff. Of course I do. But trust me; Virgil's got
something on his mind right now. I sense it. All I want is for
the two of you to talk about it before it gets out of hand."
So here he
was in the middle of nowhere; avoiding the jagged ruts and
knee deep holes, on his way to spend the next three days alone
with his son. Thank goodness Jeremiah had been more than
understanding when he contacted him with the last minute
change of plans. His old hillbilly friend from Kentucky didn't
have any hesitation in making the old cabin by the Mississippi
available to him at such short notice. He'd said they could
come over tomorrow if they wanted to. The cabin was theirs to
use at any time.
real nice to see you again Mr. Tracy," he acknowledged during
their short discussion over the vid phone. "And don't you
worry. I'll make sure Ma's got plenty of food on the table for
your arrival and enough gasoline to fill up the truck."
"Jeremiah's a good man, Virgil." Jeff suddenly said out loud,
immediately grimacing as his statement coincided with another
jolt that nearly catapulted the truck skywards. "How in the
hell is a man supposed to drive along these roads?" he ended
with a questioning grumble into his chest.
worry about it Dad. You're doing fine."
Virgil was relaxed when he responded, calmly sitting in the
passenger seat, taking in everything to do with his
surroundings. It didn't seem to bother him that they'd already
taken three wrong turns or that they'd had to stop several
times to reload all their belongings after nearly becoming
airborne. It was one of the things Jeff Tracy loved about the
son who was the most like his precious Lucy. Nothing seemed to
faze Virgil. He took everything in life as it came.
the next three days Jeff was pretty sure life "as it came" was
going to revolve around what Virgil found the most relaxing
... his simple love of nature and how it saw it through the
pages of his sketches.
sketching was all he had done; hour after hour at the end of
the landing stage, his bare feet dangling in the river. A far
cry from what the other boys got up to when they came to the
smiled as he remembered.
couldn't help himself. He wasn't able to sit still for more
than five minutes. The last time they came to the cabin
together, Scott had talked him into exploring the whole of the
surrounding area on foot. In three days they'd hiked so far
and for so long, his legs felt like they'd canvassed half the
state of Kentucky.
the complete opposite. He had no desire to leave the cabin.
They slept all day and stayed up all night indulging in their
joint love of star-gazing. It led to so many interesting
discussions and not all of them focussed on astronomy. John
was such an astute and knowledgeable young man.
just point blank wore him out. Not even the Mississippi river
was off limits to him. They swam and they swam and then they
swam and they swam. He didn't know how the boy kept doing it.
His own muscles had ached for days.
And as for
Alan ... Jeremiah's old black truck would never be the same
again after three days of Alan souping up the motor.
breathed deeply and loosened his grip on the steering wheel.
Life sure was good when he brought his sons to Kentucky. He
enjoyed every single moment of it.
stemmed back to when he first approached Jeremiah Tuttle to
act as one of International Rescue's agents. It seemed like
common sense to have an agent he could trust centrally located
in Kentucky and he and Jeremiah had been friends since his
service days. Over a glass or two from the old barn still and
an unforgettable supper of "Ma's beans", Jeremiah had told him
about the existence of the cabin. Twenty miles to the south,
right on the edge of the Mississippi river, the small four
room shack was the ideal place to go when a man needed to get
away from life for a while.
it could also work out kind of strategic for you and your
secret organisation, Mr Tracy," he'd said from across the
table. "I can guarantee no-one will ever find you there.
There's nothing around those parts for over fifty miles."
with an honest handshake, he'd taken up Jeremiah's offer for
International Rescue to use the cabin. So far there'd been no
need for it other than to spend some one on one time with his
all seemed to love it, despite the primitive accommodations.
It was shelter from the rain, a bed in the evening and a place
to prepare food for the table. It also provided them with the
atmosphere to relax and open up about the things that bothered
been some difficult conversations at times, a few explosions
and a number of admissions he'd rather not heard.
that was said at the cabin stayed at the cabin and the boys
were happy about that.
happiness of his boys ...
what, it would always be his number one priority.
main reason he'd acted on the intuition of his Mother and
brought Virgil out to the cabin early.
Jeff couldn't help but feel that his mother was way off base
this time. He'd been making some discreet observations of his
own since the discussion on Tracy Island and so far Virgil
hadn't given him a single reason to be concerned.
Virgil had been a little surprised when he was informed they
were leaving for Kentucky ahead of schedule but he happily
accepted the change of plan. He'd chatted as he always did
during the flight from Tracy Island to the mainland. He'd
joined in the conversation when they met up with Jeremiah
Tuttle. He'd even laughed at the old souped up truck and
enquired if Alan was to blame for the hole it had made in the
decided, glancing sideways at his son again. The more he
thought about it, the more he was convinced there was nothing
wrong with Virgil.
would be no need to say anything at the cabin.
Mississippi river was magnificent and so was the view from the
old broken down landing stage stretching out in front of
Jeremiah's cabin. If only he hadn't taken another wrong turn
laughing with Virgil over Lady Penelope's recent bizarre gift
to Jeremiah, they'd have arrived early enough to take in the
it hard not to start laughing all over again as he pictured
the look on Jeremiah Tuttle's face when a personal note of
thanks for his assistance during her recent mission in
Kentucky was accompanied by a boomerang from Bonga Bonga.
was totally flabbergasted.
turned away from the water and still wondering what possible
use a hillbilly might have for a boomerang. Knowing Jeremiah,
he'd think of something. But with the sun almost gone and the
sparkle on the water fading, there was no time to think about
Jeremiah, Lady Penelope or the boomerang. Right now, the most
important thing to do was to make sure the truck was fully
unpacked before dark.
next time Ma Tuttle offers me an extra helping of her beans,
can you remind me why it's in my best interests to say no?"
face broadened again as a mortified Virgil gingerly appeared
from the rear of the cabin and moved to join him on the
that might have been what the hurry was." he chuckled with an
affectionate pat to Virgil's back. "You must be the only one I
forgot to warn about those beans, son. They're pure dynamite
and I mean that in every possible interpretation."
sarcastic "thanks a lot Dad" and a warning not to go anywhere
near the cabin for the next half an hour accompanied the look
he used to love so well. As they walked together towards the
truck he suddenly felt the need to be close to Virgil. He
joked and wrapped an arm around him; assuring him all was
If a man
could walk on the moon and raise five sons single-handedly, he
was sure he could survive the aftermath of the experience of
them over an hour to finally get everything into the cabin.
had prepared things well for their arrival and it only took a
couple of matches to make them feel at home. The fireplace in
the corner burned brightly; the old stove was nearly warm
enough to cook their supper and the freshly lit lanterns in
each of the small rooms gave off the most wonderful welcoming
sure is determined not to let us go hungry." Virgil commented
as he busily unpacked the four large boxes she'd insisted they
bring along for the trip. "I swear there's enough food in here
to last us for a whole week, Dad."
packaged tray with the words "Tuesday supper" now joined the
four beers he'd already set out on the table.
Grandmother's not the only one, by the look of it." Jeff
pointed out, indicating the numerous rows of tinned beans
stacked from one end of the cabin to the other. "Guess that's
Ma Tuttle's way of saying she intends to take good care of us
eyebrows said everything as Virgil returned to his work.
way Dad; I took the liberty of putting my things in the larger
room this year." he said, this time without looking up. "I
hope you don't mind. I needed the space to lay out the canvas
for the painting I'm starting tomorrow."
of uneasiness momentarily stabbed in the pit of Jeff Tracy's
stomach. Virgil never painted when he came to the cabin. He
always preferred to sketch and engage in thought-provoking
conversations. When Virgil painted it was the family joke that
he'd been kidnapped and put into a trance by aliens. He
switched off from everything and everybody.
I'm fine." was the casual reply to the equally casual
question. "Grandma just asked me to paint something for her a
while back and I thought it was about time I made some sort of
washed over him. Yes she had. Of course she had. He remembered
now. It was the day after he returned from Australia after his
short vacation with Lady Penelope. His mother had turned to
Virgil over breakfast and asked him if he minded painting her
something new for her bedroom wall. Something "restful" that
would remind her of the old days.
begun to tease her by pointing out she already had something
restful. What was wrong with the beautiful view she had from
her beachside balcony, he'd enquired.
A touch to
his hand and a gentle smile was the only answer she gave.
Mississippi will be wonderful on canvas. Grandma will love it.
Don't you think so Dad?"
nodded and smiled fondly at the son who looked so much like
Grandma will like it very much, Virgil." he replied, moving
forward to grab the beer. "Now how about you forget about
unpacking those boxes for a while and come and join me by the
winked and held up the bottles.
the truck, those beans and watching Jeremiah trying to figure
out that boomerang, we men sure could use a beer."
overnight rain left behind a sweetness which reminded him of
life on the farm in Kansas. In the small but comfortable bed,
Jeff yawned and stretched his arms and legs under the warmth
of the hand knitted blanket. He couldn't think of a more
perfect way to begin the day than to wake up to the freshness
of saturated pine trees coupled with the aroma of freshly
rolled over onto his side and breathed a sigh of contentment.
The coffee meant that Virgil was up and probably had been for
several hours. Even on the island Virgil made the most of
every day, especially a day where he knew he was free to do
nothing but immerse himself in creativity.
of the coffee continued to beckon to him until it was no
longer tempting to stay in bed. He rose and padded his way
through the cabin dressed in only his shorts. Normally he
didn't feel comfortable until he was suitably washed and
dressed. Out here, it didn't bother him.
a man didn't even have to shave.
sigh escaped, this time a sigh of happiness, as he filled his
coffee cup to the brim. Last night had meant a lot to him as a
father. It wasn't often he got to sit by the river under a
full moon and talk about life with Virgil. He was such a kind,
sensitive and gentle man. Lucy would be proud their second son
had grown into everything she wanted him to be.
around the cabin.
habit already had him in search of the day's financial pages.
After a few moments he felt himself redden when he remembered
there was none to be had. Then his eyes came to rest on a
package carefully wrapped in bright blue paper. Virgil must
have unpacked it earlier and left it in the centre of the
had told him about some package she'd put in the bottom of one
of the boxes. Virgil was to open it the night before they
returned home, she'd said. He'd assumed it must have been an
early birthday present. Virgil's birthday was in two weeks.
He took a
moment to pick up the package, turning it over and over in his
hands. Whatever it was, it sounded fragile. He was amazed it
had survived the journey to the cabin. Lord only knew what
sort of surprise Virgil was in for in the next two days time.
faded jeans and an old university t-shirt, Virgil hurried up
the landing stage towards the cabin.
still having trouble with those beans?" Jeff frowned when he
wasted no time rushing past him.
to explain, I'm afraid." Virgil replied snatching up his
pencils and sketch-pad. "Sorry sir. I just don't want to miss
this. It's a once in a life-time opportunity."
his head. Now Virgil was scurrying back towards the river.
What in the blazes was he doing? One minute he was determined
to paint a canvas of the Mississippi for his Grandmother; the
next he was tearing down the landing stage with a sketch-pad
in his hand.
cat, Virgil?" he queried later on; peering at the
image in front of him.
"Not a cat
Dad. I actually think it was still a kitten ..." Virgil
explained over another forkful of his eggs. "It looked like it
couldn't have been more than a couple of months old. By the
way these are good." he trailed off, looking towards the stove
declined the offer to refill his own plate; electing to just
have another cup of coffee. Instead, he continued to dwell on
the sketch ...a small, fluffy kitten pawing at a wilted reed
in the safety of the grass near the river. Where had it come
from? How long had it been there? He hoped it was wild and
hadn't been dumped. It might be a good idea for them to take a
walk later on and keep an eye out for the animal. If it wasn't
wild maybe Jeremiah would consider giving it a home.
suddenly smiled again.
wondered if he'd found a use for his boomerang.
walk along the Mississippi on dusk failed to locate any trace
of the kitten. There were no rustles in the grass, no
frightened miaows; only the distant outline of Jeremiah's
cabin and the peaceful silence of the wilderness.
the last three quarters of an hour that silence had included
glanced worriedly at his son as he walked along the river
beside him. He didn't know what was wrong.
Virgil seemed to be enjoying the story of how he and Lady
Penelope stumbled on the boomerang during his vacation at
Bonga BongaThat Lady Penelope had been so determined to locate
the missing sheep from her "little family" she'd insisted they
travel together on horseback. That he'd needed to carry her to
the shade of a gum tree when the midday heat overtook her and
she fainted. That they'd stayed out there for hours and come
home with a battered old boomerang.
story went on, though, the conversation became more and more
it was over, Virgil had nothing to say to him at all.
it was the casual answer to a question which was starting to
become increasingly a lot less casual.
sure about that, Virgil?" he asked a little more firmly.
shrugged and said the walk had made him tired... that the
kitten had completely derailed his plans to start the canvas
and the thought of letting Grandma down had started to bother
him like heck. It was all right, he said. He still had two
days to get it done. He'd make sure he had an early night so
he could get started on the canvas first thing in the morning.
Jeff Tracy let the relief wash over him. He didn't know why he
grabbed every opportunity to worry about his sons. He had
already made up his mind his mother was wrong about Virgil and
there was still no reason for him to think otherwise.
joked together about the beans. They'd shared a beer and
talked about family. They'd searched the banks of the
Mississippi trying to find a fluffy kitten.
shared the story of the boomerang.
So why did
he still feel so apprehensive when Virgil went to bed before
he'd eaten his supper?
apprehension faded with the morning dew as the sun once again
rose over the tranquillity of Jeremiah's cabin.
still the smell of freshly brewed coffee. Breakfast was ready
and waiting for him on the stove. Out on the landing stage,
Virgil was already working intently on his grandmother's
looked like they were back to normal.
smile flashed sideways as Jeff reached the end of the landing
morning, son. Thanks for the coffee." He indicated the cup and
took the opportunity to take a grateful sip of the contents.
He was so
like her. The same profile ... the same manner ... even the
same beautiful chestnut hair which glimmered in the Kentucky
sunlight. He could stand and look at Virgil for hours. It
always made him feel happy.
again, Jeff felt the need to get as close as he could to his
son. Instinctively he wrapped an affectionate arm around
Virgil's shoulders and ran his eyes over the canvas.
"So how is
it all coming, then?" he enquired brightly. "It looks like
you've been busy."
smile ... this time slightly distant as Virgil continued to
absorb the view of the river; his long hand moving deftly
across the canvas.
doing OK, I guess." he eventually responded. "At the moment
I'm trying to get the background right before the sun gets too
had always been a man who could take a hint and Virgil was
terrible at being subtle. His brothers were right. When Virgil
painted he did turn into an alien.
that's the case I'd best leave you to it then." he replied.
"I'll be out taking a walk if you need me."
Dad; see you later." told Jeff there would be no need for him
to hurry back to the cabin.
like he'd been out here for hours watching the kitten tumble
and flip. It pounced on an unsuspecting spider. It darted in
and out of the long grass. It crouched and imprisoned a leaf
and didn't give up until it was shredded. The antics of
animals had always enthralled him. It had been a long time
since he'd taken the opportunity to enjoy the simple pleasure.
was wild. There was no doubt in his mind about that. It was a
shame. At the moment it was every bit as cute as any other
domestic cat. Too bad the fluffiness would soon turn into an
unsightly brownish grey coat and the playfulness would be
replaced with the need for neighbouring birds to watch out for
themselves in the evenings.
eyes widened as the kitten tried to scamper up a nearby tree,
as if it had read his mind. Forget that. The birds around here
had better start watching out for themselves now.
only ever had one cat in his life and that was the one he'd
grown up with on the farm in Kansas. It didn't do much to earn
its keep as he recalled. His Father used to complain to his
mother that she was missing the point by feeding it three
times a day. It was supposed to keep the farm free of mice,
not money, he'd told her.
died, it came as no surprise that another cat was suddenly
glanced down at his watch. It was almost lunch time. He had
been out here for hours. He wondered how the painting was
progressing. Hopefully it was now ahead of schedule. The last
thing he needed was a repeat of the previous evening with
Virgil so unhappy. He knew the canvas meant a lot to him and
that he wanted to please his grandmother, but he didn't want
Virgil to put himself under pressure when he had brought him
here deliberately to relax.
wanted Virgil to talk to him.
been doing more than just watch a wild kitten play in the
hours he'd been giving Virgil his space. He'd been mulling
over Virgil's reaction to the boomerang story as well as
thinking about the number of times he'd been "tired" recently
when conversation started on Tracy Island. They both had a
It was the
words "Bonga Bonga."
appeared to be rather pleased with himself as he carried the
partially completed canvas inside and laid it out on his bed.
A cold beer and some decent food were sounding like a good
idea. After a day of painting the Mississippi River there was
no other word for him but drained.
take long for the hiss of opening bottles to fill the air in
is more like it." Jeff berated him from the stove. "I hope
you've got a good excuse to get you out of trouble with your
the interests of family bliss," Virgil grinned sarcastically.
"Here you go, Dad."
over a beer and looked into the frypan with interest. "How
long is it until supper, then?" he enquired, pleased at the
prospect of his favourite.
so I'd appreciate it if you would see to setting the table for
decided over an hour ago that the best thing to do was to get
supper over with as soon as it was dark. Neither of them had
eaten since breakfast and Virgil would be hungry. However, the
last thing Jeff felt like was food. He'd thought about the
situation of Virgil and Bonga Bonga all afternoon and the more
he thought, the more he worried. He wasn't sure how he was
going to raise the subject or if was a good idea for him to
raise the subject at all.
long deliberation he elected to stay silent, at least for the
time being. Further observation was required; he decided and
made his plans. If he still had reservations this time
tomorrow he would know he needed to bring things to a head
it all right with you if I open this thing early? I'm sick of
it being in the middle of the table every time we eat."
grinned and momentarily forgot all about observation.
to him that Virgil had been pretending to be aggravated about
his Grandmother's package from the moment he found out it was
his. Virgil was a bad actor when it came to conveying
aggravation. What he simply was; was curious. He wanted to
know what was inside and he didn't want to wait another twenty
four hours to find out. That was one trait Virgil hadn't
inherited from his mother. Jeff had to admit he was more than
Virgil..." he warned. "Your grandmother gave me very clear
instructions on the time-line I'm supposed to follow with that
gruff was one of his specialities.
Unfortunately for both of them, he'd forgotten that
persistence was one of Virgil's.
slept. How could he? He was worried sick about his son.
sat alone at the end of the old landing stage and rubbed his
tired eyes. He never watched the sun rise over Kentucky unless
he spent his night star-gazing with John. If he hadn't agreed
so readily to let Virgil open the package he wouldn't be about
to witness the sunrise now.
understand why Virgil had gone to bed without supper again
when he saw what the package contained. It was only a glass
bottle containing some sort of shrivelled up message. His
mother had probably written it herself to say that neither of
them could be trusted.
on the door had made no difference. Offering to reheat his
supper didn't get any sort of response either.
tired. He was anxious. And he was officially done with relying
on observation. Something was wrong with Virgil; he pretty
well suspected what it was and it was time for him to do
something about it.
sun came up it would be time for the two of them to talk... in
the four walls of Jeremiah's cabin.
protested that he had to finish the painting. He said to stop
over-reacting. He didn't need to talk to anyone about the
message in the bottle. He would find his own way to deal with
it, thank you very much.
please, Father. I need to set up my canvas. I don't want to
disappoint my grandmother by not finishing something I start."
turned and snatched up the canvas and stalked his way out of
the cabin. He wasn't happy being confronted.
declined the offer of breakfast. He'd said he didn't feel like
coffee. He'd avoided all eye contact since he'd opened up the
door to his room. The whole thing was getting out of hand.
the punt and strode after his son as he marched down the
landing stage in an irritated silence.
all the result of me going toBonga Bonga with Penny isn't it
stopped dead and reddened immediately.
know what you mean, Father." he eventually murmured into his
you do, Virgil."
paused for a while and then turned around to look him squarely
in the face. Anger and embarrassment soon filled the air.
showed you what I put in that bottle, didn't she Father?"
did, is that a problem for you, Virgil?"
is a problem for me."
then, it's now a problem for both of us."
face contorted. He swallowed hard.
you'd agree that what's in there makes things between us
me be the judge of that."
easy to bring things out into the open. It was unsettling for
both of them to confront the fact that they both had the same
desires as a man. Virgil said at first he'd been all for the
visit to Bonga Bonga.Like the other guys, he meant it when he
said his father needed a vacation. He was glad Jeff enjoyed
being with Lady Penelope. She was a beautiful, intelligent
for a long time before continuing. He needed to be reassured
ten times over that nothing had changed. That what was said at
the cabin stayed at the cabin.
guarantee me that, Father?"
squared his jaw. What choice did he have? He was the one who
encouraged the boys to get things off their chest. He nodded
and steeled himself for the worst.
right." he said grimly. "You have my word."
down the canvas. Anger and embarrassment had turned to
no easy way to say this but he and Penelope had been
"together" for over seven months. He originally hadn't meant
for it to happen but it did. It was a casual thing. No
commitment. She could still see anyone she liked. What he
didn't expect and couldn't deal with was Penelope extending
her casualness to include his own Father. He thought her
invitation for Jeff to visit Bonga Bongahad been made in
wasn't. Was it Dad?"
the brown eyes bore through him; two brown eyes that demanded
an answer when he didn't know what to say.
But he had
to say it. Virgil expected it. There were never any secrets
kept when they came out here to the cabin.
was no use denying it. Yes; he had to admit there was an
attraction. Twenty two years was a long time to be without the
touch of a woman. At Bonga Bonga he'd decided he wanted to
feel that touch again. It had all started out so innocently,
just the two of them sitting under a gum tree. Then it began
to escalate. A kiss or two... a gentle touch ... he was very
fond of Lady Penelope. What he didn't bank on was things
continuing to the point of intimacy. He was just lucky a
half-buried boomerang stabbed him in the butt and made him
come to his senses.
Penelope and I will remain as colleagues, Virgil, "he said.
"Let me assure you there will never be anything more between
us than that. She's almost thirty years younger than me. It
took a boomerang to remind me of that. That ..."
the fact I've finally accepted that even though I try, I'm
never going to be able stop loving your mother."
stillness of the Mississippi magnified the silence. The rustle
of the kitten playing in the nearby grass went completely
know that." Virgil's voice, when it came, was now barely more
than a whisper. "But believe me; no one wants you to be happy
more than I do. That's why I couldn't tell you about my
involvement with Penelope. There's no easy way to say to your
Father you'd prefer he wasn't screwing your lover. So I wrote
how I felt on a piece of paper, put it in a stupid bottle and
threw it into the ocean over Tahiti. The last thing I expected
was the bottle to wash back up on Tracy Island. I didn't even
know it had until I opened Grandma's package last night."
lowered his head.
the message in the bottle Dad. What I wrote about you and Lady
Penelope was inexcusable. I hope you can forgive me and
understand I only wrote it because I had to."
looked into the identical eyes of the only woman he had ever
loved. Eyes that had shone with love for him; eyes life had
taken away before he was ready to say goodbye.
done nothing that needs forgiving Virgil." he murmured,
turning away sadly from his son. "You go on back to your
canvas now. We'll talk more about this later. "
seen a woman as happy as his mother when Virgil proudly
unveiled the canvas in the lounge of the Tracy villa and
dedicated it all to her.
Mississippi River...an old landing stage...
no mention of the kitten that played in the long grass. She
made no mention of the boomerang. The empty bottle floating in
the Mississippi seemingly went unnoticed, too.
smiled and nodded her head at him; pleased.
on, she couldn't resist knowing all about the empty can
labelled "Ma's Beans" which proudly stood in the foreground of
in a position to explain art or its interpretation to you
Mother." Jeff Tracy said with a wink in Virgil's direction. "I
think its best that you direct any questions in that regard
squarely in the direction of your grandson."