Write Far Away
Updated: Jan 18, 2022
"Things are not looking good for the mighty Musketeers with thirty seconds left in the game and fifty yards. It looks like they've called a time-out. I want to take this opportunity to remind all of the fine folks who listen to WJKM that you can get your film developed over at Mr. Ken's Pharmaceuticals. That's right! Ken guarantees those pictures in one hour or less. It's not 1970 anymore, so step into 1978 and enjoy faster, more convenient film developing at Ken's Pharmaceuticals on Second Street right beside Frank's Diner. Pick up Grammy's meds and grab your photos from tonight's game in one easy stop. WJKM is the voice of Clarkstown, and I'm Chuck 'The Duck' Williams."
"Small towns are notorious for their enthusiastic hometown football fans. Anyone interested in the game is at the game, and that's everyone except for the old codger, Huffy McWhorter, who lives alone out by Byers Creek and hands out shoestrings for Halloween. Duck is a fine commentator, but the reality is that the only folks listening to the broadcast are Duck and the three people sitting behind him. Ken first opened the pharmacy in 1937, and all he talks about these days is how he spent more on that one-hour photo lab than he did on the entire shop back in the day. It takes all kinds to make up a little community like Clarkstown," says Tommy from his steel-framed single bed as his friend Stuart listens intently.
Stuart sits comfortably in Tommy's second-hand wheelchair by the bed as our storyteller takes a brief break.
"Tommy, dude, why did you stop? It was just getting good, man."
"You are not a surfer Stuart. And you're getting crumbs in my chair." Tommy swipes the Pringles from his friend and crunches on a couple of them."
"Yeah, well, you owe me two chips. You can't go and steal a fat kid's food without paying the consequences, ya know."
"Well, if you don't stop trying to do wheelies in my chair, you are gonna break it. Then you'll be carrying me to school." The two boys laugh at each other, and Tommy continues with his story.
"We're back, folks, and just in time. It looks like the quarterback is about to go down, which will end the game. No. Wait! He manages to release the ball, but unfortunately, the pass will be incomplete. I stand corrected! Little Tommy comes out of nowhere! Either I'm crazy, or that kid must have leaped seven feet into the air to make the catch! Boy, oh boy, this boy sure can run. Look at him go. Twenty, fifteen, ten, five, and TOUCHDOWN! The Musketeers win their homecoming game twenty-eight to twenty-four! What a catch, and man, no one even got close to that kid. I've never seen anyone run like that. The cheerleaders will line up to dance with the star of the game tonight."
Stuart leaps from his seat, "Wow, Tommy! That was the best story I've ever heard." He then reclaims his chips.
"Thanks, Stuart. I made it up just now."
"Dude, that's your superpower."
"Superpower? I've been in a wheelchair my whole life. Freaks like me do not have superpowers."
"Um, Tony Stark. He's in a wheelchair doofus. Oh, I forget, you don't like to read like us intelligents."
"I believe you are trying to say intellectuals doofus."
"I don't get it. You have the best imagination of anyone I know, but you always cheat your book reports. You'd make one hell of a writer. It's weird because you don't like to read. I just figured a good writer must be a good reader."
"Yeah, I don't know. Books are boring, to be honest. I have more fun making my own stuff up. I've never tried writing either. I doubt I'm that good anyway. You're the only slob that'll sit long enough with me to listen."
Stuart wipes the grease from his Pringles onto his shirt and says, "I may be a slob, but I have taste, and you are good. Those jerks who pick on us at school don't have your gift. Most of the guys who graduate class of 1979 will end up working at the factory by the summer. It would help if you got out of this town, Tommy. You need to forget everyone here and run away. For real. All of that extra detail about the radio guy and Ken. Who else thinks to do that crap?"
"How am I going to run anywhere, hotshot? Look at me."
"You can be so dumb for a smart kid. Okay then, you should write away. I mean, write far away from here."
"Wait, what? What did you say?"
"I know that sounded dumb, Tommy, so you don't have to pick on me about it."
"No, I kind of liked it, write far away. I like the way it sounds."
"Really? Cool! Anyway, all those jocks will have bad backs between getting hit so much and working on the assembly line. Their superpowers are gone as soon as they grab that diploma. But your powers will keep growing and improving forever, Tommy. All you need is a pen and notebook paper."
"I don't know, Stuart. Maybe."
"Well, whatever it is you are afraid of, you need to forget it. Tony was probably scared of the suit the first time he put it on, but he did it anyway, and BAM! Iron Man. I'm guessing he'd be more afraid of my mom, who will beat me if I'm late for supper, so I have to go. Think about it. Don't forget me when you build your fortress somewhere in the Alps. I can be your sidekick—later nerd face." Stuart lets himself out through the window and closes it behind him. Tommy sighs and ponders for a moment before reaching into his nightstand to pull out some paper and a pencil.
He stares at the crumb-covered wheelchair beside the bed. The contraption has felt like a prison his entire life. At this moment, he realized Stuart never saw the handicap. Instead, his friend only noticed the super-human abilities of his lifelong companion. Tommy's mind has always been free to explore and navigate far beyond the borders of his small town for as long as he can remember. He was the first man on Mars once, and the next day, he took advantage of an endless supply of oxygen as he rode dolphins beneath the sea. Recently he scored the winning touchdown and, before that, saved the prettiest girl in school from a burning building.
We're all trapped by something. Fear often holds each of us firmly and strongly suggests that routine is best. A pattern is safe, and we all deserve to live life stuck in some foreordained groove that's impossible to escape. Sometimes a pal like Stuart comes along to give us a slight nudge unknowingly. A push was all Tommy needed, after all, because he'd always known the intensity was there but ignored the feelings. "I guess Stuart is my radioactive spider," Tommy thinks to himself before laughing out loud.
The pencil rolls between Tommy's fingers as his vision builds velocity and vivid images assemble within his mind. A whole world materializes within his reflections like it has a myriad of times. Before, his expressions were seized by the cosmos and thrown into a cell for an audience of one. A lost story is a tragedy, so today, he'll step from his boundaries and escape along with his words. The pencil glides over the paper as if it takes on its own personality and forgets it's an instrument guided by Tommy. Sentences evolve, and paragraphs unfold while our hero uses his newfound ability to rework his perspective.
Tommy reads the first few lines aloud, "Write Far Away by Thomas Browning. The more my friend spoke, the further away my wheelchair appeared. It was almost like God's way of telling me that I didn't need it anymore. That piece of equipment has always defined me but not now because today, I learned that I have a superpower thanks to my best friend. My words will catapult me from Clarkstown one day, but until then, I'll use them to wander anywhere, and the only limitations are the ones I allow. Stuart breaks my concentration, 'I know that sounded dumb, Tommy, so you don't have to pick on me about it.' No, I kind of liked it; write far away. I like the way it sounds."