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The Unraveling: A Short Story


I never know where the inspiration for a story will come from. I leave all that to my muse. She is much more attentive to such matters.

This story came to me while listening to The Oldies on Amazon radio. “The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers came on, and this story was born.

I hope you enjoy it, and thanks for giving it a read.


The Encounter

He blended with his surroundings, a discarded man on a forgotten street corner in a town rapidly sliding down the economic slope. We see them every single day, setting up their one man, or woman, shop, sign in hand, help me, need money, no food, the thousand-yard stare looking through those who pass them by.

Why did I stop? I’ve never stopped before, truth be told, never saw the point in it, one of thousands, tens-of-thousands, every intersection of every city, the unwashed . . . the unwanted. What difference could my couple bucks make, my justification, the Bible According to Peter, as in Peter J. Babcock, VP of Babcock Savings and Loan, fourth generation Babcock raking in the money, sipping martinis at the Chamber of Commerce meetings, estranged wife, two kids who hardly know me, the latest Babcock Golden Boy.

He had no sign. That was the first distinctive feature. No sign, no declaration of need, no plea for assistance. Just sitting there, on the curb, watching life streak by him, figurative and literal, absolutely no chance of him catching up, keeping pace, not even in the race. And he was dressed well, Brooks Brothers well, Versace sneakers well, tailored, well-cut, but dust-covered, a random hole in the fabric to announce his current status among the living, swimming against the current without fins.

Either Goodwill was selling some mighty fine clothing of late or the man, at one time, had spent lavishly.

Sixty, maybe seventy years on this planet, white hair, full beard, nails chewed down the quick, the smell of rotgut booze rising with the heat.

My curiosity was piqued.

I stopped, moved into his line of sight.

“You doing okay, old-timer?” Ignorant question right out of the chute. Of course he wasn’t doing okay.

“Gettin’ by, thanks for asking.”

“Is there anything I can do for you?” Strange, coming from me. There wasn’t a damned thing I could do for him, not for any of them, my thoughts prior to that encounter. Just move on, Pete, make your escape and don’t get involved.

“It’s what I can do for you, young man. Buy me dinner and I’ll share a story with you. Even swap. We both come out winners. I love me a good story, don’t you?”

There was a diner a block down on Hawthorne. I looked in that direction. Looked back at the figure in front of me. He was smiling, missing two front teeth, smiling nonetheless, a smile which had seen some serious miles of rough road.

What the hell?

“There’s a diner down there.” I pointed. “Mac serves damned fine meatloaf. Follow me. You can tell me your story there.”

He rose, dusted himself off a bit, smiled again.

“Lead on, young man. I also love me some good meatloaf.”

In every major city in the U.S.

In every major city in the U.S.

A Story Over Dinner

Stares from the respectable followed us inside the diner. We found a table, sat down, the only thing allowing us to do so was my stature in the community, rank having privilege even when it is rubbing shoulders with the economically-challenged and socially-rejected.

“My name’s Peter. What’s yours, if you don’t mind me asking?

“You’re buying the famous meatloaf, son, so you can ask anything you want. Edgar is the name I was born with, but on the street it’s just Gar.”

The waitress approached with something less than enthusiasm.

“Mister Babcock, welcome back,” but her words didn’t match her facial expression. “What can I get for you and your acquaintance?” She didn’t say friend, but acquaintance, only willing to go so far with the niceties. Her name is Tilly, thrice married, once to a felon while he was in prison. No kids, minor rap sheet herself, and it was obvious Tilly felt herself higher on the social ladder than my dinner guest.

“Two meatloaf dinners, Tilly. And I’ll have Scotch, rocks. Gar, anything to drink?”

“Peter, your drink selection is just fine by me. I love me some Scotch. Make that two!”

Tilly gave us one more look of disapproval and then went about her minimum wage job.

Gar smiled a gap-smile at me.

“Fine clothes, Peter, and the patrons here treat you with a high measure of deference. I’m guessin’ a lawyer, doctor, or banker. Which one be you?”

“You have a good eye, Gar. I’m a banker, fourth-generation. But I’m not here to talk about my profession. You promised me a story, so pay up. You’re wearing some clothes which were once pretty damned expensive. Is that part of the story you’re about to tell me?”

His cough was phlegmy. His eyes sparkled with laughter.

The Story

“I was a lawyer once, Peter, had my own firm, Wall Street as a matter of veracity, had fifty subordinates, a home on Long Island, all the rewards for a man of stature. Had me a lovely wife, she herself a lover of nice things, diamonds and such. Had me four cars, vacation home in the Adirondacks, took cruises, full portfolio of investments, two kids, white picket fence . . . “his eyes clouded over. “I had it all, young man, and then I didn’t.”

Tilly had delivered our drinks. He took his first sip, closed his eyes, sighed.

“It’s like the unraveling of a fine sweater. It begins with a single thread, hardly noticeable, you know? You might go weeks and not notice that one loose thread, but unnoticed that thread will grow in length, and it’s connected to others, so the weeks pass, and the months accumulate, and you take a closer look, finally notice the thread, and one has become many, and that high-priced sweater ain’t worth a damn then.” Again, the cough, rattling inside his chest. “A good Scotch is sometimes better than sex, don’t you agree, Young Peter?”

Our meal arrived. For a good ten minutes, no talk, just the savoring of good food.

“The unraveling, it happens quicker than you might think, although truth be told, years from start to the finish you now see. I simply didn’t read the signs properly. Much too busy to read the signs. Too many drinks at power lunches. Missed school functions for the kids. Late to holiday gatherings, too much work to do. An affair or two with personal assistants at work. All the signs were there, but I didn’t notice a one of them. Now I’ve got nothing but time, I read more signs than you can shake a stick at, and I’ve got absolutely nothing to lose. How about you, Peter Babcock the Fourth? Any loose threads?”

The final destination for us all

The final destination for us all

Getting Down to It

I ignored his question. Thought of my separation, my wife living with her parents, kids with her. I shook my head, took a sip of the Scotch.

“Is there anything I can do for you?” I fumbled with my wallet, my default action, money cures all ills. “I’ve got one-hundred I could give you, tide you over for a few days.” What the hell was I saying? I didn’t know this man. I would never see him again. What difference could one-hundred dollars possibly make for him?

“I don’t love me money, Young Peter. Got no use for it. That train left the station a long time ago. Money is just one more of those threads. Besides, you delivered on your part of the deal, a meal for a story, and I thank you for it. I’ve got cancer, I do, lung cancer, too many Cuban cigars back in the day, and your money won’t be fixing that. If you’ll excuse me, now, I’ve got a game of checkers I’ve got to get to. Old Matthew, in the park, he gets him a bit cranky if I don’t show up for our weekly game.

“You take care, Young Peter. Look after those threads, or I’ll be seeing you in the park, someday, for a game of checkers. And, if you wouldn’t mind, leave a nice tip for Tilly. She’s had a rough row to hoe.”

And with a wave he was gone!

2021 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)


Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on June 18, 2021:

And you are very kind, Misbah! Thank you so much, and blessings to you always.

Misbah Sheikh from The World of Poets on June 17, 2021:

An all-rounder is a person who has many types of skills and abilities. You can write anything with the same great passion. You are a source of inspiration to me and to many of us here. I am grateful

Blessings always

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on June 17, 2021:

Thank you Meg! That's the key, isn't it, learning the lessons and acting on them.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on June 17, 2021:

Thank you Rodric. Yes, a warning indeed, cleverly disguised as a story and life-lesson. Gar ain't no fool!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on June 17, 2021:

Brenda, thank you! Thank you for purchasing the book. And thank you for your very kind words.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on June 17, 2021:

Thank you Rosina! I'm very glad you enjoyed the story.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on June 17, 2021:

Linda, blessings to you. I hope your fortunes change for the better soon, with a bit more permanence. Thank you for sharing this; I think it's important for us all to realize just how quickly it can all disappear for us.

Hugs coming your way!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on June 17, 2021:

Thank you Misbah! An all-rounder? I don't know the reference, but it sounds like a good thing, so thank you again. I'm very happy your enjoyed my gift to you.

Stay safe, be happy, and do all things with love!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on June 17, 2021:

Thank you so much, Vidya! I appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on June 17, 2021:

Oh Denise, I've had a few sweaters unravel, for sure. Now I only wear polyester. lol

Blessings always

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on June 17, 2021:

Thank you Chitrangada Sharan! I'm very happy you enjoyed this.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on June 17, 2021:

Thank you Mr. Happy! Me and gambling do not mix well. I love betting on horse races, so I just don't go to them. Problem solved. lol I can be a bit of a compulsive if I allow it to happen, and avoidance is a wonderful tool.

Cheers to you, my friend!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on June 17, 2021:

Thank you very much, Pamela! It's strange where inspiration comes from, but I love the journey as a writer.

DreamerMeg from Northern Ireland on June 17, 2021:

Great story yet again, Bill, I almost have the feeling that Gar will disappear as though he never was, as soon as he is out of sight of Peter, especially as he used Peter's full name, even though he hadn't been told it.

Peter has received a warning and he recognises that. Just hope he will act on it.

Rodric Anthony from Surprise, Arizona on June 16, 2021:

I love the moral of this story. Young Peter better listed to Gar. I love the name Gar. It reminds me of the character on Titans who plays the animal shifting hero.

Caner will put life in perspective. I love Gar's charity toward Peter by allowing him to serve him. I love the story, no, warning Gar gave to Peter. He is separated from his wife and kids. He'd better fix that thread. This is a great cautionary tale, Bill.

BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on June 16, 2021:

What a great story!

I love the unraveling...it is like that. We never seem to notice until it's already unraveled too much.

It is great that you took notice of the one without a sign, the one who really appreciated your friendliness.

Great story.

Oh...I ordered the book for my mother. Thank you.

Rosina S Khan on June 16, 2021:

A marvelous story, Bill. It's true we shouldn't take anything for granted in our life as in the case of the stranger in the story. I really like the way you weaved a deal between Pete and the stranger. A story from the stranger and a meal for him by Pete. Fabulous writing.

Linda Rogers from Minnesota on June 16, 2021:

Wow Bill, I have major goosebumps. You are such a gifted writer that always makes me fall into a deep, thoughtful place after reading your work. This story is sadly very understandable for many of us after the Covid Pandemic. My dear twin sister & I thought we would be homeless about 2 months ago after sis lost her job due to Covid. She now struggles with long haulers, & struggles with short term memory loss, lethargy etc.. our credit took a hit which caused us to be rejected for rentals. Thankfully, a miracle happened; a realtor who knows and respects us, told a man bidding on buying a home, about us. 4 people were fighting for this house and he won the bid. He only wanted the home for the garage, to put his toys and excess stuff in. We are all living so close to homelessness and this was the closest I've ever been to it. We are all one and all have our story to tell. God bless you for filling my soul up and reminding me how blessed I am. I believe you just inspired me to tell my story here. Love Linda

Misbah Sheikh from The World of Poets on June 16, 2021:

Mr. Bill, I can't thank you enough for this fantastic story. Every word was enjoyable to read. Nothing in this world is everlasting. I felt like I was watching a movie while reading this story. All of it was possible for me to envision. What I can say is that, do you know you are an all-rounder. Thank you for this wonderful story and the lovely message it contains. Hats off to you, Sir. You are a source of inspiration.

Stay happy and healthy.

Many Blessings to you

VIDYA D SAGAR on June 16, 2021:

Wonderful story, Bill. Very engaging and strue to life narrative. One sure does need to look out for those threads. It doesn't take long for circumstances to change if one is slack. Good moral. Thanks for sharing.

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on June 16, 2021:

I guess you have known a bit about those threads yourself. I appreciate the reminder to watch our own sweaters! Great story!



Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on June 16, 2021:

Nice and engaging story, and I liked the flow! Stories are inspired by real life, real people, and as such this sounds familiar!

Thank you for sharing this!

Mr. Happy from Toronto, Canada on June 16, 2021:

If anyone asks me what type of music I listen to, I usually say: "Anything but country music" but that song wasn't bad. I think I heard bits of it before and paying attention to it now (as in the words), it's pretty good.

I don't gamble much with money, maybe an odd lottery ticket here and there but I do gamble with my life experiences. Haha!! Someone asked me why I want to hike a trail where some have died before and I said: "See if I can do it." lol

I enjoyed your story, in its attention to details, with the small twists and turns You managed in a very short time. Ya, haha ... You definitely good at the craft. Cheers and thanks for sharing!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on June 16, 2021:

No offense take at all, my friend. That is a huge compliment. Thank you! Enjoy the sunshine. We earned it.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on June 16, 2021:

I really like this story, Bill. I believe life as you know it can slip away if you do not pay attention to your family or even your job.

I think your music is also fitting for this story. Inspiration comes from many places for sure. You are surely a talented author, Bill. I enjoyed reading this story.

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on June 16, 2021:

What a sad story, but all so very true. As usual, you are the master of bringing characters to life. Please don't take offense—I mean this as a compliment. I see this tale as a Hallmark movie.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on June 16, 2021:

Thank you Peggy! I come from a long line of spinners. :) I appreciate your comment.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on June 16, 2021:

Been there, done that, Sha, and I'm not doing it again. Thanks for reading, commenting, and being a great friend.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on June 16, 2021:

Thank you John, and The Beatles thank you as well. Glad you enjoyed it.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on June 16, 2021:

Thank you for the words of praise, Marlene. I'll try to always live up to them in my writing.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on June 16, 2021:

I'm very happy you enjoyed it, Ravi! Thank you!

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on June 16, 2021:

What a sad slice of life. There are too many families torn apart for all too many reasons. When we see people living in the streets, all of them carry stories. You surely know how to spin a tale!

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on June 16, 2021:

And the moral of the story is: Don't lose sight of what's important, respect others, show friends and family they're loved and important to you, or it'll all come back to bite you in the ass.

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on June 16, 2021:

You are right Bill, our inspiration often comes unexpectedly. Love this very human story, and the Beatles songs are very appropriate.

Marlene Bertrand from USA on June 16, 2021:

Your story is a reminder that nothing is guaranteed in life. And I know this story is fictional. At the same time, I imagine this is a real life story for many. Just change the name. You a wonderful storyteller.

Ravi Rajan from Mumbai on June 16, 2021:

A nice story Bill. It is a nice anecdote that brings us interesting strangers we pass by in our lives. Thanks for sharing this wonderful story.

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