Gateways: “Shangri-La” By Isaac Rathbone read by Keenan Odenkirk



TRANSCRIPT: Isaac Rathbone is mostly a playwright and also has a few short films under his belt. He tells us he is always searching for challenging environments for great characters to grow in and is a stickler for creating the right dialogue. His work has been featured at Paragon Fest and you can find examples on newplayexchange.org. This is “Shangri-la”.

They called him “Doc” in the service, but no one knew exactly what branch he served or if he was even a medic. On a flag pole above his trailer flew the black POW-MIA flag. But no stars and stripes. Most days when I went to drop his mail, I’d find him wandering his yard, muttering to old friends and perceived enemies. The term yard may not be the right word for individuals of certain standards. Nestled in the tangles of over grown vegetation sat the shell of an old Pontiac, a rusted out water softener, some TV dinner trays and two long de-commissioned riding mowers. Covering these artifacts of America’s Industrial Spirit grew vines, shrubs, saplings and flowers of exotic appearance. No one had bothered to come identify them as members of the local Horticulture Club rarely made special visits to the Shangri-La Trailer Park. 

Doc’s Daughter gave me a wink and sometimes a delightful wave any time I came to drop off. She was younger than I was, but old enough to know what she was doing. She still keeps that hair shoulder length and blonde. She has the presence of someone you don’t bet against in a donnybrook and the beauty that takes the sting out of a hangover. 

I talked to an Old Letter Carrier about it at The Six-Pointer, a local hunting bar where we enjoyed post-route beers. These summers were harsh on him, as he was sweating more than our chilled bottles. He used to have my route until his transfer. He needed to stay in his truck more as his gout made the walk down and back into the trailer park too much. He knew all about Doc’s Daughter. “You stay away from that girl. She’s the type that’s got trouble tattooed on her backside. Hmmmph. Gonna go piss.” 

I watched him gingerly slide off the bar stool with a wince. His right foot was no doubt on fire. His drinking was killing him, a fact that was causing him to drink more. I watched my future, overweight and empty, hobble through the restroom door labeled “Bucks.” 

The next morning, I parked my truck on the shoulder of Route Twelve. The dirt roadways of a trailer park are not easily navigable by large vehicles. The gravel arteries are pocked with divots, holes and loose stones. Not to mention the roaming stray animals and diaper-clad daredevils cruising around on mini plastic hot-rods. The entrance into the park is a steep slope. My predecessor’s Mount Everest. Walking down and in, I was to deliver the coupon books and catalogues to folks who either didn’t have

the chance or the desire to participate in the free market. But glossy pictures are the best fodder for daydreams here. 

My last delivery was always Doc’s place. It’s tucked in the back of the park and closest to the river that everyone’s Grandpa remembers flooding. This morning, I didn’t see the old man wandering through his maze of shrubbery, rust and cracked rubber tires. Doc sat on his porch, causing the graying particle board to smile between the two cinderblocks. I handed off his bundle and he gave me a smile of his own. A chill shot up along the back of my body. There’s something about a mouth full of gums that sows distrust. Call it prejudice if you will. I turned to make a swift exit, but standing in my way was Doc’s Daughter. Her gaze made me forget all about her father’s orthodontics. The soft breeze delivered her smell of menthol and what I assumed was a fruity shampoo. The flowers and plants seemed to bend and bow to her passing figure. She stood at the doorway and gave me one last wink and a smile that struck me in the chest like a Whaler’s Harpoon. 

That first Saturday was a lazy summer day. The kind where even folks who don’t have steady work feel the need to take a load off. There was no sign of Doc on the premises. Their residence had no proper box, so it was in through the doggie door, which I had never noticed before that day. Nor had I ever seen a dog. I was on all fours slipping the parcels through the flap when the door opened. Doc’s Daughter’s bare ankles stood inches from my face. I climbed skyward, noticing her loose fitting athletic shorts and a bright green tank top on my way up. Her hair was in a rope-like braid and her red lipstick and dark eyeliner were crisp. Perhaps recently applied. I asked about Doc, which was met with a laugh. Her fingertips, ignoring the bundle I held out, smoothed over the wrinkles of my government issued shirt. With the sudden grasp of a predator, she yanked me into the trailer and kissed me with a mouthful of menthol and that fruity scent. The door closed loudly behind me. 

I crouched over the bed frame putting the dusty boots back on my feet. I rose to buckle up my government issued shorts that now wouldn’t itch in this heat. I wandered the inside of the double- wide. A photo hung on the wall, featuring a group of Army officers in front of a drab office building. The structure was surrounded by barbed wire fencing and a sign with Japanese characters. Doc was in the crowd, with a full head of hair and full set of teeth. In front of the television slumped a couch that looked like a large person in a hospital gown who’s numb to the bad news. There was no easy chair. Throughout the inside were more plants and flowers. Quite an array of them, too. Seedlings, aloes, cactuses sat on the sills and counters. Their containers ranged from the standard terra cotta to paint cans and Fast Food cups. Doc’s Daughter stood in the bathroom, re-applying her lipstick in the mirror. After a quick self-inspection, her soft feet delicately tapped the linoleum floor and she opened the door, showing me the way out. 

That way my Saturday ritual. Doc would be out. She let me in. I would forget I was supposed to be on my route. One afternoon looking at the old photo, I swear there were some flowers growing on the barbed wire that now grew outside. But the black and white didn’t help. Each Saturday she showed me out and each Saturday I longed to stay. I stopped drinking at the Six-Pointer. Sitting in a dark room when the sun was out made me sick. I hated being in my mail truck, so I walked as much as I could. Even in the rain. Especially in the rain. I was taking longer showers, but a cold soaking downpour from Mother Nature made me come alive. Almost as much as being with her. It ate at me every time I had to leave. One Saturday morning she opened the door and I asked if there was ever a possibility for us to spend more time together. 

“Soon enough,” was her sweet reply. My last Saturday, she was waiting outside, sitting on the busted seat of one of the old mowers. Her bare legs surged out of a pair of jean cut-offs that were made of more frayed threads then denim. She grabbed my collar and pulled me in close, like always. My fears of being out in front of everyone were gone. The simple desire of putting down roots here with Doc’s Daughter swelled in my stomach. I dropped my mailbag. Letters and magazines fluttered away, with some most likely ending up in that beautiful creek with its raging and pure waters. The longer she kissed me, the more the earth pulled at my feet. She stopped and bent over to gather my un-needed Government issued clothes. All I could think was…soon enough. That was August 22nd, 1987. I’ve grown here in Doc’s Yard for many summers. The hot sun is all I have to gauge time. Grow, wither, freeze and grow again. I haven’t seen my reflection, so I don’t know what genus I am. New carriers have come and gone on my route. Hell, I even saw the old timer sub in once or twice way back. Oh, to shout out to him and say that he was wise. He hobbled right past me in that garden prison. Doc wandered the grounds for many years, chatting it up with those of us outside. This was a method he came up with to hold and move prisoners in wartimes. He says there’s nothing he can do for us. Since the state took away his license, he can’t drive to get us the antidote. So he says. He died some time ago. But she’s still here. She still takes men in. All ages, races, occupations. I recognized the Dog Warden from Hoover county. He’s a few yards away from me, a patch of yellow flowers. Some stay in the house. Others are out here. But here were are. Where we always wanted to be. In this little part of Shangri-La.

Keenan Odenkirk is a Chicago based actor originally from Tucson, AZ. He grew up with a deep love for fantasy and sci-fi, favorites being the Martian Chronicles, Harry Potter, Eragon, Hyperion, and Shakespeare’s more fantastical plays. I am an ensemble member of Quicksilver Shakespeare Co. and most recently appeared in the Valiant Theatre New Works Festival.


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