My imaginary Friends: #5 Fred Podolski, the Guy on the Crackers and Cookies Run  

I create back stories for every single one of my characters, even the most minor figures.

Fred Podolski was a thumbnail sketch of a character in my novel Tsunami Cowboys. All we know is that someone dreams about him driving a truck in pea soup fog in the early morning hours. Fred causes an eleven car pile up.

Fred Podolski. What did Ronnie know about him, anyway? He was related to Gus, the owner of her favorite downtown café. When she went in at lunch for a bowl of soup, sometimes Fred sat at the front counter chatting with his brother or sister-in-law.

Fred had a solid build and a ruined back. He always had on driving gloves, his sensitive long fingers poking through the soft leather. That was the extent of their connection, or so she’d thought. The dream informed her otherwise, letting her know that karmic threads attached them. Those threads had twitched mightily in the gray hour just before dawn. …. She went back one last time over the dream’s images. Ronnie re-viewed a freeze frame of giraffes and lions, the crates of animals dumb and placid, upside down in cardboard boxes. Fred would be on a ‘crackers and cookies’ run. He’d bash into a blue Subaru head on. – from the chapter Precognitious

Six years later I wrote a book of short stories titled The Trail Back Out. I returned to Fred and his life in Princess Rain Clouds. What happens if you’re a man whose job entails that you’re on the road most of the time? What if you have kids, and a wife with a family who doesn’t like you very much and doesn’t hide that fact?

Late that afternoon, before the sun sank, the fathers and kids erected tents. Jake and his father tamped tent stakes into the root beds of thick grass while Hannah watched. Fred’s handsome face was red and the skin around his eyes was tight. He flexed his fingers. He disliked using his hands for anything but driving, and even then he always wore driving gloves.

Fred wrestled with the tent in frustration.

“Need some help there, Fred?”

“Christ, Aaron, don’t you ever mow this place?”

“Nope. It’s lakefront property to a cabin in the woods, Fred, not a lawn in the suburbs,” Aaron answered mildly. He was preoccupied with the Weber grill, prepping it for the meats to come. And he pushed rocks into place for the fire pit, making their circle bigger. “Somewhere you’d rather be?”

“Honestly? I swear to God, Aaron, if I wanted to erect a tent, I would have moved to Maine and bought stock in goddamn L.L. Bean.”

“Hey!” exclaimed Jake. “Dad! Did you get a new tattoo?”

“I want to see it too!” Hannah moved closer and her father rolled up his shirtsleeve to show them the red Celtic knot on his right forearm.

Uncle Don scrutinized it. “Nice,” he commented. “But, a Celtic design? Sure and begorrah, it’s the Clan Podolski out of Ireland’s Glenballyemon.”

Hannah giggled. “You talk funny, Uncle Don!” – from Princess Rain Clouds

Poor Fred.

Notes: © Jadi Campbell 2021. All photos and images © and property of Jadi Campbell. Tsunami Cowboys was longlisted for the 2019 ScreenCraft Cinematic Book Award. The Trail Back Out was a 2020 Best Book Award Finalist for Fiction Anthologies. The title story was longlisted for the 2021 ScreenCraft Cinematic Short Story Award.

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