A Virtual Colloquy - What are YOU reading?!

Category: Short Stories Page 1 of 2

A Recorded Life: Restored Memories – a short story

Nearly five-hundred years ago there was a book that came across my path. I know you’re thinking I’m speaking figuratively here but I’m not. A book literally came across my path. I was walking in the woods along a well-worn and shaded path when a book stumbled out from the underbrush.

Yes, I was taken aback, astonished you might even say. This kind of thing doesn’t happen every day, you know. What kind of a book keeps itself in a wooded underbrush? It’s fraught with danger even for the hardiest books! Dampness being the least of his problems, there were mice looking for nesting material (they can’t read you know) and hungry beetles looking for a good snack (book bindings are nutritious).

This book had obviously been neglected. As it pulled itself out into the path, I could see its binding had indeed been recently chewed. Its cover, once pristine and gold pressed, was faded, and so worn I could not make out the title. Its pages dragged along the ground as it used its cover to pull itself to a slightly upright position directly in front of my feet.

I stopped, and withdrew in disgust, blindly blaming the book for its condition. What degeneracy could bring a once proud book to this level? But then it sighed and slumped to the ground as if dead right before my eyes. My heart softened at the sight. Stooping to the ground, I gently gathered the poor weak thing into my arms. As I stood and brought the book up, it nestled to my chest like a lost and exhausted child and sighed its covers shut.

I resolved to bring it home immediately, in the hope of restoring it to health. I didn’t have much hope for it though. It seemed so weak and frail, possibly already expiring in my arms as I hurried my step. By the time I got home, all that would be left to do was cremate the poor thing, use it as a fire starter to keep my cabin warm. At least it would be useful one last time.

I quickened my pace further at the thought and got home as fast as my feet could carry me. I tried my best not to shake or jostle the (hopefully) sleeping book in my arms as I went. It shifted its weight and rustled its pages in response each time I stumbled or jerked too suddenly to avoid a low branch or diving bird.

When I reached my cabin door, I knocked gently with my foot, hoping my elves would be alert to my presence and come pattering in to help me. The book was completely asleep in my arms and its dead weight needed both my arms to carry it. I didn’t want to shift its weight and disturb it.

They came running as I had hoped they would, and seeing me with the poor tattered and torn book fainted dead away in my arms, both were moved to compassion and jumped to assist me as best they could. Being so small, it took both to open the door, but they achieved the task as quiet as mice. They instinctively knew what to do and bustled about the cabin, stoking the fire and getting a good strong broth going on the stove.

I moved toward the couch and gently laid the book down upon the cushion so as not to wake it. Arranging a few small throw pillows so that if it did stir as it rested it might not roll off the couch to further injure it, I set myself up in the chair across the room to start my vigil.

“What could I do?” I thought to myself as I sat in rapt attention to its every ragged breath. “Is there something it needs? Some spell I could use to insure its quick recovery, or at least its peace?” My elves knew my thoughts, they always did. It wasn’t that they had some extra special sense, a telepathy to read my mind. They’d simply spent their whole lives in my presence and in several hundred years, you learn things. But they, being older than I, seemed to have seen this kind of thing before. They knew what the poor thing needed; a quiet, safe rest for now, and some attention once it had gathered some strength.

My watch dragged on into hours. I was already exhausted from my travels and was looking forward to a long and quiet rest myself when all this trouble began. What trouble, you ask? I mean, really, how much trouble can an old book be? You obviously haven’t read many books. One book can change your life, lead you to another that changes you yet again. One well-written line, one finely crafted paragraph, one poignant and timely chapter, can change the world. And this book looked like it had seen some action in its past. Why was it even here?

I sighed a tired breath as I watched it rest upon my couch, my sweet and worried elves bustling quietly in the kitchen and pattering back and forth between us and their duties about the cabin. “Where could it have been? What brought it to my path? And what would be in store for both of us?” My eyes fluttered, I leaned back in my chair, resting my head on as I pondered, and drifted off into sleep.

I dreamt some sweet and pleasant dreams of my early childhood. A fishing pond with my long since passed grandfather. My mother’s face as she presented my birthday cake. My father’s kiss on my head as drifted off to sleep. The dreams got darker as my mind went deeper into my subconscious. The man that broke my heart. The teacher that hurt my feelings. The friend that betrayed me. I shifted in my seat, opening my eyes a bit to gaze upon the book. The sun had finally set, the room had grown darker, but it was still there.

With a pat of a small elvish hand upon my knee and the smell of a strong kettle of stew in my nostrils, my mind went back to the past in my dreams once more.

Witchery school pranks and antics, lover’s spats, children born and raised or passed on before me; my life continued to roll by in pictures like a flickering film on a silver screen before my mind’s eye.

I suddenly woke with a start. What had happened? How long have I been asleep?

The cabin room was filled with morning light diffused by the gauzy curtains I had hung over the windows last year when the morning sun had begun to shift and blind me with its brilliance. Birds twittered outside and I could hear the chattering of my elves in the kitchen, the smell of breakfast wafting in.

Was it a dream that I found the book in the path yesterday afternoon? Had I imagined the whole affair? I was exhausted from my travels. I’m not as young as I used to be. Maybe I should start traveling with a companion for safety’s sake. And then I heard a soft sigh from the couch.

There it was, sitting up on my couch with a hot cup of tea sitting next to it as if it belonged there, as if it wasn’t breathing its last just a few hours previous. I sat up and stared and it stared back. It shook its covers and fluttered its pages in response to my stare, as if to say, “What did you expect? You can’t leave a story in the cold brush forever and expect it not to come crawling back for help!”

Confused by its signs of indignation, I quietly rose and approached it. Standing over it, it shrunk back into the couch. Did it sense my confusion as hostility? A rustling in the doorway alerted me to the presence of my elves. They had come when they heard the commotion. Worried about my state of mind, how I might react to the presence and attitude of the book, they came to reassure and console me in the hopes of…what?

I looked at them. I looked at the book. Why should I feel such confusion? It’s just a book with faded cover and tattered…wait a minute.

I sat down on the couch beside the book and took a closer look. It seemed that in the night the elves had ministered to the thing in a way I had not thought to do. Its cover was clean. The dirt gently brushed away. Its leaves shaken out and smoothed over. Its dampness dried out. It didn’t smell half bad either.

I smiled at it and it straightened itself back up, almost seeming to reach for me. My heart softened. I had known from the start that this was no ordinary book, but my exhaustion, the darkness, had started my imagination and fear had set in instead of curiosity.

What was so familiar about this book? I couldn’t put my finger on it. We sat across from each other almost as friends would when something strange began to happen. The longer I sat, the slower and deeper my breath became. The book seemed to “breathe” with me, the front cover gently rising and falling like a chest. I couldn’t tell who was affecting whom. Was the book relaxing and copying me or was it the other way around?

Time seemed to slow, as if I were dreaming, when images began to flicker through my mind. Far distant childhood memories, adolescent dreams and plans, more of the same, like my dreams the night before. The images startled me, and I looked back at the book beside me. For the first time since I had found it, I could almost make out the letters of its title. I reached for it and it came into my arms and settled down into my lap.

It lay closed upon my lap, warm and heavy like a cat. I still could not quite make out the letters on the cover, so I opened it and began leafing through its pages. The images that came to me were far more vivid now. Whole scenes played out in my mind. The time I fell in a well and was stuck there all night. The moment I first fell in love. The day my father passed away. It all played out, not in real time, we’d have been stuck there forever, but like I simply remembered every moment all at once.

When I looked at the pages and began to read the words, I realized they were my memories written out word for word. The first chapters were the most faded and the hardest to decipher. Some pieces were bold and in a large font, some smaller and printed more like a romantic script.

I flipped through the pages. Hundreds of years all written here. Was everything here? Would I find memories written here that were so far back in my subconscious that they seemed like someone else’s story? And what about the future? Was my life already written out? Was there such a thing as fate?

I started to thumb through the pages faster and the book, stiffening in my lap, tried to shut its covers against my curious eyes. My hands grasped it tighter and brought me to this moment, holding the book and turning a page.

The next words were there but faint and shimmering, getting more and more faint with every page I turned until there was nothing but blank paper.

My hands loosened their grip and the book quietly closed itself. It sighed in my lap. I looked up from it and my elves were there beside me. They were curious too, but not about what was in the book. I think they knew the whole time. I sensed their tension the moment we had come into the house. No, I believe they were more worried about my reaction. What did they think I would do?

When I looked back at the book, the cover was pristine as if it had just then been created. The leather cover was soft and the binding clean and tight. The letters of the title were once again embossed with gold and I could clearly read the title now.

“Your Life”

Mind Wandering

“If you can be anything be a ____.”

Be a bird.

Be a bug.

Be a mom.

Be a hero.

Be an ass.

Be a jerk.

Be a kid.

Be a student.

Be a master.

Be a slave.

Be a product of your own imagination.

Hmm…there’s a good one.

I can’t say what you should be if you could be anything. I mean, if I told you to be a hero, maybe you’d argue that isn’t what you want to be. Even if I could come up with the perfect thing, with all the reasons and arguments for it, you’d probably be unhappy being that.

So…be a product of your own imagination. Dream it up and be it. Find out what it takes and do it.

What would I be if I could be anything? I’m thinking about that. There are several ways we could go here. Philosophical, fantastical, poetic, romantic. If I could be anything I’d just be me, but without the self-conscious part of me. I’d like that part of me that makes me worry what people think magically removed and thrown into the fire. That part that says, “No, Michelle, don’t. Just keep those words to yourself. If you say that, everyone will be angry with you.” That piece of me that says, “You can’t. You don’t know how. You’re not good at that.” Take that away too and I’ll just happily bob along without a care in the world.

If I were self-assured and confident, I’d be able to go anywhere and do anything without the fear of looking like an idiot. I could ask a question in a classroom. Hell, I could take a class, maybe even discuss philosophical ideas with peers. I could invite a friend out to go shopping and try on interesting clothing, just to see how it looks. I could sit in the park under a tree with a book and big cup of coffee and read without worrying that people think I’m weird. Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?

If I could be anything, I’d be a bird, probably a big bird with few predators. I’d fly high up into the sky and look down on the world and wonder, “Where could I go today?” Birds probably don’t adventure, test out their flying skills, or see how far they can go, but I would. I’d stand on something really tall and fall off, plummet to the ground headfirst, and then spread my wings at the last minute and soar to the rooftops again. I’d spend my whole day flying as far as I can in one direction just to watch the land beneath me change. I’ve always wanted to fly.

If I could be anything, I’d be a kind person, the loving person, the person people go to for help and comfort. I’m afraid my compassion skills are fake, my friends. When you’re troubled, I really just want to tell you to get over it and move on. When I do something nice for others, it’s because it’s easy and/or convenient. I’m not a good listener. I tend to hear you out a bit and then tell you how I dealt with a similar situation, and then walk away if you get emotional.

I know lots of people think I am genuinely kind and attentive, but it’s an act that I put on for as long as I can stand it. Most of the time, I avoid real connection with people so that I don’t have to deal with them. That’s why I like text and social media so much. It puts a kind of permeable wall between me and my friends, one that I can see through and sometimes communicate through but can shut down and walk away from at any moment.

Honestly, I can only maintain a hand-full of deeper relationships and right now, my dance card is full.

If I could be anything, I guess I’d just want to be the real me without the fear of being judged and dismissed.

What if I went on one of those spirit quests like you see in movies? I’d sit in a dark hut and smoke something serious…then let my mind wander. Where would I go? Probably down a dark nasty path and find out that in my heart of hearts, I’m am an axe murder, a sociopath that really cannot grasp that other people have their own lives, that they matter too.

I don’t believe I am a nice person at heart and that scares me. What if someone finds out who I really am?

Bird Watching

Ideas coming into focus. I search for a place to sit and quietly watch them settle, hoping I can make note of them, capture them before they…

Be careful! Don’t startle them. Any sudden movement or noise may scare them into flight and who knows when they’ll be back again. Ideas, like birds, are flighty things.

An old woman sits on a park bench and watches the birds. She simply watches, content and satisfied with her view. They alight, coo, and walk around pecking the ground at her feet.  

A young mother comes by, pushing her new baby in a stroller. It’s one of those big heavy contraptions that a car seat fits into. From her park bench, she sees the mother arrive in the parking lot. Stepping from the sedan, she walks to the back of the vehicle as the trunk pops open. She reaches inside, and with both hands heaves the stroller base out onto the pavement, snapping it open as she lowers it to the ground.

“I remember being that strong,” the old woman thinks. The young mother maneuvers the stroller to the side of the car, opens the back seat door, pulls the baby car seat out of its base, turns on one foot and sets it atop the stroller, locking it into place with a snap.

“Does that baby even know where he is?” She chuckles to herself. “I sound like an old woman, even in my head. Back in my day…” She smiles as she watches the mom start her brisk walk around the park. She’s here for the exercise and baby is the resistance weight. “Two for one deal,” she thinks, “Mom gets a good walk and baby get some fresh air. He’s probably napping the whole time anyway.”

She goes back to her birds as they settle once again at her feet, instinctively pecking the ground. There are so many different varieties of the same kind of bird. Pigeons are not known for their beauty, but they are fascinating. Interspersed between them are several sparrows that flit in and out of the group, dwarfed by the lumbering pigeons.

A war cry is sounded to her right and the pounding of small feet, “Josh, honey, no! Don’t chase them off!” Mom comes walking breathlessly after her toddler son just as the birds scatter to the sky and trees. “I’m so sorry. He gets so excited about the birds.” She bends down and scoops him up into her arms. “That’s ok. They’ll be back. I love watching them return just as much.” Mom smiles. “How old is he?” “24 months and always running.”

Twenty-four months. Why not just say 2½? It’s strange the way we do that with a babies age until they’re three years old. Maybe after that it gets too cumbersome. Fifty-four months would be a lot to calculate, I guess.

“Sit down, honey. Let him chase around the bench for a moment and catch your breath.”

“You don’t mind?”

“Not at all. He reminds me of my own sons when they were that age. Always chasing after something. I’m just sitting here taking in the sights and right now, you’re it!”

“Thank you. Young boys aren’t always welcome. All that energy. They have to run it off somewhere!”

As she takes a seat, she leans forward to set her son down. The moment his feet hit the ground, he wobbles and takes off again, toddling to the back of the bench. He babbles about the rocks and sticks he finds back there as the two women smile and listen. While he’s distracted and out of view, a few birds return to the ground in front of the bench.

He makes his way around to the side of the bench, quietly, almost stalking his prey. He’s showing a lot of restraint for a two-year-old. He wants to see the birds so badly. As another bird lands he bolts out among them, “Birds!” They scatter and he laughs ecstatically. Mom and the old woman shake their heads. “You’ll never catch them that way,” mom playfully scolds.

“I don’t think he wants to. He sure gets a lot of joy from the power he exerts over them. See that smile as they scatter? He has won his battle.”

“Birds!” the boy yells again.

“Yep. Birds. Birds everywhere.”

He smiles and grabs mom’s hand, pulling her in the direction of the playground. “I guess we’re leaving. It was nice talking to you.”

“Nice meeting both of you. Have a good time out there!”

She settles back into her spot on the bench and sighs. The quiet of the park starts to move back in and surround her. The birds have returned, along with a small squirrel. They don’t seem to mind the small stranger and she watches as the birds move out of the way when he darts in among them. They all know this is where people will leave snacks for them. They scour the ground around the bench for bits of popcorn, sunflower seeds, and cracker bits. So much energy put into scratching around for scraps.

It’s warm out today, but the soft breeze brings comfort. It smells of fresh cut grass and wet pavement. She takes a deep breath and tastes the scent. It brings back memories of her childhood in this same park. Climbing the jungle gym and standing atop that slide thinking it was the longest drop she had ever seen. Looking toward the playground, she can see young girls on the swings. Their bare feet pointed to the sky, hands reaching to the side to try and touch as they pass back and forth.

She hears their mom call to them from a picnic table nearby. “Come eat your lunch, girls! We have a little work to do, but I think it will be fun.” The girls jump from the top of the arch of their swing and land gracefully in the sand, plop, plop. One stumbles over from her dismount, not so graceful but full of energy, rights herself and comes running behind her sister. “Nice one, dork.” “Stop. Please don’t start, you two.”

The girls fall to the table and begin munching on sandwiches and chips, as their mom picks up a book and starts to read to them. The cover is so bright and bold, the old woman can see it from her park bench. “Drawing with  Children” is says. They must be homeschoolers, she thinks.

“Girls, after you eat, let’s try to draw things we find in the park. What do you think?”

“I’d rather swing!” the older one states. “Me too!” her little sister chimes in.

And then surprisingly, “So would I!” says Mom. She closes the book and heads toward the swings, both girls running ahead to get there first. The swinging commences with gusto, Mom reaching the highest point first due to her expertise. The girls struggle to keep up.

“Ok, that’s enough for me!” Mom stops pumping her feet and slows the swing to hop off.

“I’m beat. I think I’ll draw birds instead!” She goes back to the table, picks up a sketch pad, and sits in the grass. Within a few minutes, both girls are by her side. They want to see what Mom is drawing. “You guys, I can’t get anything on paper with you pushing your face in to see what I’m doing. Get your own sketch pad and draw something yourself. We can share ideas in a bit.”

Running to the table and back, they plop down in the grass beside her and begin to draw with intention.

The old woman smiles as she watches the swings sway and slow and finally stop. Her birds begin to return, and her attention is pulled toward them once again. There are more now. A few of her favorites have arrived. They are clearly pigeons of the same build and make, but these are snow white and without a blemish. How does that happen? They look like obese doves, ones that escaped from someone’s wedding cake and have been gorging on bits of cracker and popcorn instead of their usual kept bird diet of clean birdseed.

Stroller mom walks by, earbuds in. She isn’t loud or sudden, so the birds just move out of the way as she goes by, returning to their pecking the moment she passes. It’s a small neighborhood park, so she passes by every couple of minutes as she does her loop. The fourth time, she slows and stops to sit and rest.

“Do you mind sharing the bench for a moment?” she asks the old woman, slightly out of breath.

“I’d love to. I was hoping you’d stop so I can get a glimpse of the new human.”

Stroller mom chuckles. “He is pretty cute, if I do say so myself.”

“I’ll be the judge of that.” She smiles and Stroller Mom lifts the canopy of the car seat to reveal her prize. Her new son, all chubby and swaddled, sleeps his afternoon away, completely unaware that he’s being rocketed around the park.

“Don’t you wish you could sleep like that?” she asks.

“I wish he’d sleep like that at night!”

“That’s the way, isn’t it? As soon as it’s quiet, the noise in your head gets louder and you can’t get a moments rest. I’ve always had trouble sleeping at night. It’s when all my ideas start to come through. My husband used to complain that I’d be up all night writing out ideas, only to sleep all day while the tv blared and the traffic snarled outside our window.

“Babies probably feel the same way. Once all the stimulation is gone, they start to think and process, and then cry about it. I know I did!”

“That’s funny. I do the same thing. Growing and creative minds must be so similar.”

Stroller Mom closes the canopy. “Breath caught. Three more laps and I’m off to the showers. Thanks for the insight. You come here often? Maybe I’ll see you again?”

“Every afternoon I can, that is, until it gets too hot.”

Stroller Mom smiles and gets on her way.

The birds are quick to return to the ground around her bench once again. She is quiet and doesn’t move much and besides, she has seed they can’t resist.

“It’s fascinating to me how easily they startle and how quickly they forget what scared them and return. Do they forget, or is the lure of food too much for them to ignore? Or maybe they know how fast they are? Whatever the reason, they’ve gotten this far with the strategy. Look how many there are!”

As she sits and ponders the evolution of park birds, she notices a woman walk in from the parking lot with a lawn chair and a sketch pad. Clad in a flowing skirt and a tank top, she seemingly glides across the park like a dryad.

She seems to know exactly where she’s going, a small shaded spot under a flowering tree directly across from the old woman. She sets her lawn chair down and situates it so she is facing the old woman and her birds, expertly flipping open her sketch book. She attempts to pull a charcoal pencil from behind her ear, but it gets tangled in her flowing gray hair.

“Ugg.” The old woman hears her grumble to herself as she sets the sketchbook down and tries to extricate the pencil. The birds are frightened into flight once again by the angry flop of the sketch book.

“Dammit.” She looks up at the old woman and eyes her apology.

“It’s ok, sweetheart. They’ll be back soon.”

The artist smiles at the old woman, too shy and embarrassed to approach and speak. She’s there to draw after all, not have a conversation. The old woman has been her subject for weeks now. The looks are all the conversation either of them needs. She gathers her pencil and paper, settles back in her chair and waits quietly, filling in from memory where she left off the week before.

The old woman knows what the artist is up to and subconsciously tries to look her best. She sits up a tad straighter, fixes the fallen hair from her bun, and sucks in her sagging belly as best she can. With the return of the birds, the distraction of an adorable squabble between a chipmunk and a pigeon, she relaxes again into her natural state, and the artist attempts to capture the charm with her pencil.

One of the swinging girls has taken an interest in the old woman feeding the birds and comes to investigate. She’s been creeping up slowly and shyly from the side for several minutes. The old woman noticed her minutes ago but hadn’t said anything yet. She hoped to allow the girl to prove her bravery and approach. After several slightly stressful minutes, she decided to help and speak first.

“Is there something you need, dear?”

The girl glances back at her mother for encouragement, returns her gaze and shakes her head no.

“There’s plenty of room for two here, if you’d like to sit.”

Again, the girl glances back at her mom. Mom smiles, “It’s ok. Most people warn you with behavior if they bite.”

The old woman chuckles. “Oh, I don’t bite anymore, but I used to. Do you want to hear the story?”

The girl looks down and smiles from under her blonde bangs. “Yes.” She says, and giggling walks up and plops herself on the bench beside her.

“Well, I fibbed a bit there. I never was a biter, even when I was little. More of a hugger.”

The girl smiles up at her. “A hugger?”

“Yes. I’ve always loved hugs from anyone I meet. You can tell a lot about a person when you try to hug them. Some move away when you try to put an arm around them. Some don’t but stiffen up when you hug them, like they’d rather you didn’t but can’t say no. And then some…oh these are very special; they simply melt into your arms like it’s all they ever needed in the world but never had.”

The old woman is tossing the last of the seeds in her bag to the birds as she talks. She stops and looks at the youngster beside her. “What kind of a hugger are you?”

“Me? I don’t know.”

“Would you like to find out? I’ve always found that asking a person if they’d like a hug before you hug them is a good idea. Some people just don’t appreciate a touch from someone they don’t know and springing it on them makes it much worse. Would you like a hug?”

The girl looks to her mother. She’s always been told to keep her distance from strangers, not because they’re dangerous, but out of respect for their space. The mother is walking over with the picnic basket in one hand, a backpack over her shoulder, and holding her little sister’s hand. “That one has always been a hugger. We’ve been working on consent since she was tiny.”

The old woman smiles at the thought. She never could understand why anyone would want to refuse a hug, but to each his own. We have to respect each other’s feelings if we’re going to want people to respect ours.

The little girl stood up from the park bench and turned to the old woman and as she leaned in for a hug, her little sister came barreling in from the side. “Let me in!” she squealed and all three melted together in a comforting embrace like old friends.

“You smell like a grandma!” the little girl chimes. The old woman chuckles, “That’s because I am a grandma, several times!” The older girl laughs, “I knew it. Only grandma’s give hugs like that!”

“Come on girls. Let’s give her a break from your ruckus. We have baseball practice in an hour.” Shifting her attention to the old woman. “I hope we weren’t bothering you. We see you here every week and kind of feel like we know you.”

“Never a bother, dear. I love hearing the way you talk to them. I feel like you respect their person and they sure seem to love you.”

“Thank you so much for saying that. Really. When we took them out of school and decided to ‘unschool’ I was terrified about what it would look like to people. Most people just laugh and shake their heads. Some are outright angry and have told me in no uncertain terms that if I didn’t get control over them, show them who’s the boss now, I’d lose them when they are teenagers. I just don’t see children that way, something to be controlled and molded into what we want.”

“Neither do I. That’s how we were raised, and I always feared my parents. They thought they had control over my brother and I, but we just lied to them and hid our real lives away until we were old enough not to need their approval. But wouldn’t it have been nicer to be able to talk about things together? Ask questions and get their advice?”

She sat thinking about the last time she saw her mother. “No dear, you’re doing right. Things change and so can we. These days we need to communicate openly, use less force, and allow children to do things their way as long as they aren’t hurting anyone else.”

Sighing in relief, “You have no idea how much that means to hear someone say that.” Gathering up her things, “Listen, we need to run, but you’ll be here next week? Maybe we can talk more?”

“Of course! I’ll bring some cookies.”

“Like a regular play date for grown ups.”

They both laugh. “Bye, then! See you next week!” She calls as they race to their car.

The afternoon rolls on and the shade of the tree starts to move off her favorite bench. It’s almost time to head home. Most of the birds have given up on getting any more food, but there are a few persistent beggars pecking around under her feet. “There’s no more, I tell you. Why do have to try and ruin a beautiful day?” She chuckles at them.

A scream of indignity calls her attention to the parking lot. The toddler doesn’t seem to want to leave yet and mom insists with her most stern voice that it is, indeed, time to leave. She argues with the boy but finally gives up, reaches for him and scoops him up, plopping into his car seat. That’s when the real howls begin.

She looks up apologetically at the old woman on her bench and the old woman, in turn, gives her the sympathetic universal look of, “We’ve all been there.”

The artist/dryad seems to be giving up on the moment as well. She’s packing up her pencils and folding her chair. Will she come to talk to the old woman this time? Her focused attitude as she packs and heads toward the bus stop says, probably not.

“I would have liked to know her story.” She thinks as she gathers her things as well, slings her bag over her shoulder and dusts her hands of any bird seed crumbs. Two quick beeps of a car horn alert her to the presence of her ride home.

Her daughter pushes the passenger side door open from inside, “Hi, Mom. Do you need help with your things?”

“Oh, no, I’ve got it. I’ll just put these at my feet.”

“Have a nice time?”

“Always do. And today I met a new person.”

“Got a hot date, Mom?”

“Oh, no. Too young even for me! Would you mind stopping for coffee on the way home?”

“That sounds nice. Let’s go in and get a muffin too!”

The Agony of Decisions – A Short Story

I feel like my soul is split in half! “Split in half.” That’s a joke; more like splintered into a thousand pieces.

‘Hurry up!’ she says. Yeah, right. That’s just what I need. If I lift a foot to hurry my pace, I feel like I’ll become uprooted by the wind and blow across the desert like a tumbleweed. These decisions can’t be made lightly. I need time to think.

Why does everyone have to bombard me with their advice? It’s like an invasive weed in my heart. Here I am, on my hands and knees, pulling out the weeds on one side, while they sow seeds on the other and I’m watering it all with my tears.

What can I do? Speak my mind and risk being ostracized by everyone I know, or worse? Should I remain silent and watch as the situation deteriorates? It’s better to say something now and stop the snowball before it gathers more material and crushes everything, right?

But what if it would have stopped on its own? What if the sun comes out hot and melts it all away before it ever gains momentum? What if I’m wrong and should simply keep my mouth shut?

I’m torn. “Splintered” is a good word for the feeling. There aren’t two ways to go. There are thousands of choices to consider.

Back to my principles, that’s what I should consider. What are my core principles? What is my ultimate goal? What is it that drives me?

The Stoics say to live and die by a prescribed set of principles, and that’s what I feel like I’ve been doing. It was easy until now. Live well so that death is welcomed. Be honest so that people trust you. Don’t let negative emotions overwhelm your judgement and rule your life.

But here I am, stuck with a life or death decision. Is everyone waiting for my answer? Will my choice to voice my opinion influence others? What’s next? Will there be a line of people outside my virtual door waiting to hear my advice, set their own dreams aside, and follow my brilliant assessment of the situation?

I doubt that.

It could be worse. Once I take a stand, I could be ridiculed, thrown out of society, tossed out alone into the cold to fend for myself forever.

“Screw them!” That’s what I want to say, how I wish I could feel. My opinions are mine alone. They don’t have to agree with me, but they do have to respect that I have the right to make my own judgment about things that directly affect me.

But then I start to cow. Sometimes my need to belong to the group trumps my personal convictions about what is “right.” I need friends more than I need to be right. It makes me sick.

Here she comes again. “And what will you be having for dessert tonight?”

I shift in my seat, take a deep breath and make the bold statement I’ve been agonizing over for the last ten minutes, “To hell with the calories! I’ll have the chocolate cake.”

Fiction or Memory – A Mother’s Story

The truck was stifling hot, but I sat there, both hands on the wheel, tears streaming down my face, breath hiccoughing and short. I’d walked out before the argument could escalate any farther, that was a step in the right direction.

It had started about the dishes. Of all the stupid things to fight about. I just wanted them done without the bickering, without the horseplay and insults that fly between brothers. I just wanted them clean and put away before lunch. Why could they not do that? It isn’t like they had a long, demanding list of chores. They had two: clean the bathroom once a week and do the dishes.

“We are doing them! Why can’t we do them our way and have fun while we are doing them?”

“Because your ‘fun’ makes me a nervous wreck, you guys. The point of doing the dishes without me is so that I can have half an hour to read. I can’t read if you guys sound like you’re on the verge of a physical battle.”

“We’re not. We’re just playing.”

They’re young boys and the mood can go from teasing to serious in a flash, without any warning to the other. And it grates my nerves to hear them fight and bicker like this.

“Just do the dishes quietly and be nice for a few minutes, please. I want to read. Please help me. I need this.”

I settle down on the couch but before I can get to the end of the paragraph they start again. Sighing quietly to myself, I put the book down. I can’t go help and separate them. They need to learn to work together. Listening to them giggle should make me smile, but the tension in my neck starts to rise with every titter. The tone changes and then the insults start…again.

I can’t take it. I’m going to yell if I have to keep listening to this. I put the book back on the coffee table and head through the kitchen to the front door. I grab my car keys as I pass them and they both look up from the sink.

“Where are you going?”

“I need to be alone awhile,” I say as I choke back tears. “I’m going for a drive.” I try not to slam the front door behind me as I head to the truck.

And here I am again. I’m patting myself on the back for not yelling or falling apart. But I still feel like a madwoman. If anyone saw the scene, they’d wonder what was upsetting me. What is it about those two play fighting that bothers me so much? Kids fight. Why do I get so upset?

Maybe if I’m not there they’ll get it done and I won’t stress out. But shit, they’re missing the whole point. I could easily do them myself. I really just wanted the extra half hour to read…or maybe just to myself? Maybe going for a drive is exactly what I need. I just need to be out of the way so they can work it out without me.

Starting the truck and blasting the air-conditioner, I tune to my favorite radio station, back out of the driveway and head down our dirt road. Where will I go? I have no idea. I decide to just head away from the house for fifteen minutes and then head back. As I drive and sing along to the music, the tension slides away and I smile. Another step in the right direction.

Will the dishes be done when I return? If one of them does try to kill the other, will their Dad step in before it goes too far? Of course. I keep driving. I just needed to get away for a moment.

Oh, my darlin’ Clementine…

My neighbor has a burro and I love her. When I walk by, I frequently talk to her. Usually, she just stares back at me with those sweet, sad burro eyes, but sometimes she talks to me. I want to take her home with me. I wonder if she’d be missed.

When they came looking for her, I could just ask like I don’t have the foggiest idea what they are talking about.

“I’ve had this sweet girl for years. We’re pals!”

If I had a burro of my own, I’d take her for walks around the neighborhood. When we met up with people they’d ask about her.

“Where did you get that lovely burro?”

“Funny you should ask! It’s an interesting story.”

And then I’d regale them with tales of our adventures together. She would be a conversation starter. You know, kind of like having a baby with you at the park or the grocery store. People always want to talk to a person with a baby. A burro would be even better.

Pop – A Love Story

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Photo by Laith Abdulkareem on Unsplash

“One Arrow” simply scrawled in pencil on the back of an old faded business card with a familiar address. She grinned. This one was easy. Excitement spread through her body as she made her way through the city, not to the address on the card but to the one the “one arrow” had directed her to. He’ll be waiting there with that smile, with that touch her soul craved.

She had found the card wedged in the driver’s side window of her VW when she left work. It wasn’t the first one she’d found. She’d been seeing Jay for months and every time he was able to get away from his work, she’d find a business card on her windshield, a short cryptic message about where she could find him. She’d smile when she saw the card, pluck it from its spot and sit inside the car to muse over it and figure out where to meet him that afternoon. As soon as she had it, she’d turn the key in the ignition, fire the old bug into action, and make a beeline for the spot.

Sometimes it was a secluded part of the wilderness park, an empty lot, or some other remote outdoor location. Other times it was an abandoned house on the edge of town or a friend’s apartment that he’d secured for the meeting. Once it was a swanky hotel room in the city with a giant bathtub, eight flights up, and set in a giant window overlooking the streets below. She just never knew where he’d lead her next and that was the fun of it.

When she arrived at the “one arrow,” the big wilderness park at the edge of the city, she knew something was different the moment she saw him. She pulled her car into a parking spot and switched the ignition off as he moved toward the car door to let her out. Taking her hand and pulling her from the car, she moved easily into his arms and held him close.

Walking to their usual spot near the pond, she sensed his nervous energy. She felt as if he might take wing at any moment. Car horns, birds, a barking dog, all made him jump out of his skin. When she asked him if anything was wrong, he said he was worried that someone was following him.

“Why would someone be following you?” she asked.

“You know I’m not supposed to be here.”

“I know but…” her answer trailed off as she thought about why. He had never really told her why and for some strange reason she accepted it and didn’t press for answers. She wasn’t typically the gullible sort, but his mystery intrigued her and she couldn’t quite put her finger on why. She didn’t want to.

He wasn’t all that handsome, not much taller than her and thickset. He had dark, close-cut hair and deep-set eyes that glimmered when he looked at her in the strangest way as if they had no real color. His eyes were almost silvery, reflecting the colors he was wearing or looking at. He wasn’t skinny or fat, but he looked big, well-fed and strong. It was his hands that attracted her, his strength when he pulled her close and kissed her. She felt overpowered and weak, a feeling she had never enjoyed in the past. With him, she felt safe, at home, and all the mystery only made the affair more alluring to her.

“There are things I need to tell you. Things I didn’t think I’d have to tell you, but…”

“You can trust me, you know.” She murmured, looking down at her feet dangling over the edge of the block wall they were sitting on. “I’m not going anywhere.” The park was empty this time of day. Large trees looming over them, as they sat together on the retaining wall along the edge of the park. The sun was starting to set and the shadows were deepening.

“It’s getting late and I don’t want us to get caught in the dark. Not now.” They hopped off the wall and started to make their way back to the cars. She could feel his tension get stronger. Something was really bothering him. Walking up between their two cars, he took her hands in his and kissed her. She melted. All was right. She was starting to think maybe he enjoyed creating the mystery as much as she enjoyed being in it.

“Come back here tomorrow. Ok?”

“Again? So soon? It won’t be suspicious of you leaving two days in a row?”

“Maybe, but it’s important. I’ll think of some excuse. I need to talk to you, but it doesn’t feel safe right now. Tomorrow?”

“Sure. Same time?”

“Yes.”

He pulled her close, one hand behind her head, wrapped up in her hair and kissed her deeply.

“I love you.” She whispered as he walked away.

She was only a few miles from home, but the ‘wilderness’ park was in the edge of the city and driving home just after sunset, rush hour, took her more time than usual. She pulled into the parking garage under her apartment building well after dark. Even in the familiar garage, she was never comfortable coming home alone at night.

Her reserved spot was tight for most cars, but her 69 VW bug fit with ease. Shutting off the engine, it sputtered once and died. She grabbed her bag from the vinyl seat next to her, got out and fumbled with the key to lock the door behind her. That’s when she heard the noise.

Coming home in the dark always set her on edge and even though the parking garage was brightly lit, there were deep shadows in the corners and plenty of places to hide behind cars of all shapes and sizes. She ignored the quiet shuffle and pop sound she believed came from the stairwell beside the elevator entry and walked on.

As she approached the elevator doors, she breathed a sigh of relief when she pushed the call button and the door immediately slid open. Stepping inside, turning to push the button for her floor, the doors started to close, stopped, opened, and then closed again as if someone had put their hand in the way to hold them open.

The doors closed completely and the quiet hum of the elevator machinery filled her mind as the car carried her slowly to the third floor where she lived.

That soft pop sound again. Her heart raced when she heard it, especially so close and in such a confined space. But she could see there was no one there, nothing to bother with, probably just the elevator noise she reasoned.

The elevator stopped at her floor and in a moment the doors slid open to let her out. Walking down the hall toward her apartment, she heard the doors stop closing, open, and then close again behind her. She walked a bit faster, with her keys clutched in her fist just in case, unreasonably frightened. Why was she being so skittish? Maybe his strange fear and cryptic tone had creeped her out more than she thought. But he was just being mysterious to make it more fun. It’s just a game.

Instinctively she pulled the door key out as she approached, slid it in the deadbolt lock, swung open the door, stepped inside and quickly shut it behind her, sliding the bolt back at the same time. A big sigh came from her. That felt good. She was home. Safe.

Turning into her apartment, she dropped her bag on the floor and screamed. He was there, just sitting down on the couch. What the hell? How could he be here? She had never told him where she lived.

Jumping up from the couch, he rushed to her side, “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean…sorry…let me get that.” The words tumbled out of his mouth as they both reached for her bag and keys.

“How in the world…?” She couldn’t even form whole sentences. Even now, standing up straight, knowing it was him not a murderous intruder, her heart was racing in her chest from fear.

“I know. I’m sorry. It’s just…let’s sit down a minute. Let me get you a drink of water or something.” He ushered her to the couch and sat her down, moving through her apartment as if he had lived there for months. She set her purse down on the couch beside her and stared wordlessly as he moved toward the kitchen and reached for the cabinet to get a glass. He crossed over and grabbed her favorite whiskey, the one she hid behind the breadbox, not the cheaper mixed drink stuff she had in the pantry for parties.

He walked back in, short glass, two ice cubes, two fingers of whiskey, just how she liked it. How? They’d never drank together. He’d never been here. She just sat and stared, trying to slow her heart rate and catch her breath as he sat beside her and handed her the glass.

“Are you ok?” he asked. She hadn’t yet said a word. She just stared and took a sip, watching him warily.

“I guess, but…”

“How did I get in?”

“How did you even know where I lived and why are you here? You said meet again tomorrow.”

“I have a lot of ‘splainin’ to do’ right Lucy?”

She just sat dumbfounded. Jokes. Right now? Maybe she should call 911. He might be crazy. She didn’t really know him that well, really. What if he turns violent? Why in the world is he here?

“Don’t be afraid of me. I’m not.”

And now confusion filled her. She started to set her glass down but picked it up again. She might be able to use it as a weapon.

He smiled sweetly. “I’ve scared you and I’m so sorry I had to do that. There was no other way.”

“No other way to do what?”

“Get away from them. I couldn’t say it out loud or even really think of it too much. I just had to follow my instincts. You’re easy to follow in that red bug, so I just followed you here tonight.”

“But how…you were here before me.”

“Just seconds.”

“How? If you followed me, how could you be on my couch when I walked in?”

“That’s going to take a bit more explaining. Finish your drink while I make us a snack. I know you’re hungry at this hour.”

Just as casually as he uttered those words, he rose from the couch and went to the kitchen. The open layout between the livingroom and the kitchen of her small apartment allowed her to watch him as he moved around the kitchen with ease, throwing together a plate of salami, cheese and some grapes he found in the fridge. When he returned, he set the plate between them on the couch and encouraged her to relax and take a few bites while he told his story.

The gist of it?

Several years ago, he came here and was soon followed by three “things” that didn’t want him to be here. They made it abundantly clear he was not welcome on this planet.

“Wait, ‘on this planet’?”

“Yes. I guess I kind of jumped into that. Maybe I should back up.”

“I’d say.” He had to be crazy. She sat munching quietly listening to his story, all the while trying to figure out how to get away from him. Could she make a run for the door? Her building was notorious for ignoring the drama that went on in the halls on a daily basis. Would her neighbors just assume there was some domestic dispute going on and ignore her cries for help? Maybe she could fain fidgeting with her phone but really be dialing 911 while he spoke. They’d send someone to investigate if someone called 911 but just left the line open, right?

“I’m not going to hurt you, you know. I’m the same person I was an hour ago. The same person you’ve been meeting and loving for the past six months.”

“Yes. But…now you’re mysteriously in my apartment and telling me how you came to be on earth. I have some reason to a little wary, don’t you think?” She was feeling bolder. Oddly enough, even now, she really didn’t feel threatened by him. Just like at their meetings, she felt strangely pulled toward him. He’d always given her a safe, at-home feeling. It was why she had started to fall in love with him. What was he doing to her?

He began his story again but from farther back. He was an alien, not a non-citizen from another country, a real alien from another planet. “Right out of the movies,” she thought. It figures. The man she finally feels something for ends up not even human.

He said he couldn’t get into the physics of it, how he got there, etc. Not that she wasn’t smart enough to understand, but the less she knew, the safer she was. That old line. Really, he just didn’t think he had time to explain at the moment. The important things needed to be said first, before they found him and did what they wanted to do.

He came here to get away and figured he would just blend right in with us. It was working for a while, until he met her. At first, he was only a little interested in her. She was attractive and intelligent, fun to talk to over a couple beers and a cheeseburger. He had been on this planet for what seemed like a few years to humans, but millennium to him. He was beginning to be lonely and then there she was, someone to talk to. Why was she different? He didn’t know. He only knew that he felt safe with her, at home for the first time in eons.

The relationship progressed with ease, from dinner and drinks to long days at the beach, and then one day she kissed him and it was over. He felt that kiss all the way to his toes. He was alien, he kept telling himself. This can’t happen. But it did.

There they were, checking into a hotel, and the rest was history. It had been the best months of his long, lonely life. She touched his soul and he couldn’t let go.

“I felt that, you know?” She stopped his story.

“Felt what?”

“That instant connection.” She instinctively moved closer to him, putting her hand on his knee.

“I’ve never felt that with anyone before. I was planning on telling you tonight but you were so anxious and then we parted so quickly. I didn’t have the chance to bring it up.”

“I’m sorry about that. There’s something going on. They’ve caught on to where I am and it could be any moment that they take me back.”

“Who? What? You need to explain more. Maybe I can help?” She was starting to get caught up in this crazy story.

He sat bolt upright at a sound she didn’t hear. “What?” she asked, “What’s happening?”

He looked into her eyes, took her hand, and suddenly a feeling of complete peace. She saw nothing, felt no physical sensation whatsoever. There was only thought, presence.

“I knew it!” She felt him think. She felt it. She couldn’t hear it or see it. The thought was just there.

“You’re one of us!” His elated astonishment washed over her like a wave of warm liquid.

“One of what? What’s happening?” She wanted to panic, knew she should be panicked by this sudden lack of physical being, but she couldn’t. Just like the first time she saw him and that first kiss, she felt at home here, as if she had always been this way.

Just as suddenly it was gone. Pop, they were standing in the park hand in hand. She collapsed to the ground under the sudden return of weight on her consciousness. For a split second it was devastating. She gasped for breath, feeling her lungs fill with the heavy physical air. He knelt beside her, reassuring her that he was still with her.

“The first time is a shock. I’m so sorry you have to feel it. It gets easier.” He whispered to her as she took another breath and attempted to slow her heart rate.

“What the hell?” Losing her physical body for a moment was exhilarating, coming back to it was terrifying. How did it happen? And how could anyone get used to it? She felt crushed and smothered by the weight of the universe. That’s when she threw up.

“I’m sorry. Oh, sweetheart, I’m so sorry you had to go through it like this.” His cooing over her was becoming annoying now.

Getting herself under control, another deep breath, she stood and straightened her shirt, shivering in the cold. Too bad they couldn’t have manifested some jackets when they popped out of and back into existence!

“We need to move.” That was the soundest thing he’d said so far. Walking would keep them warm and distract her from the thoughts racing through her head. “We may have escaped the moment, but they won’t be distracted for long. I’m afraid I’ve dragged you into this now.”

“Dragged me into what? What just happened, Jay? What are you?”

“Alien to this world, but it looks like you are too. Did you not know?”

“I’m not alien! I was born right here in this city. I know my parents. We have never moved to another neighborhood, let alone another planet. You have the wrong girl.” This was insane. Clearly he had drugged her or done some hypnosis trick on her to get her to think this was all real. It all seemed like a pretty elaborate hoax to get her to run away with him. And completely unnecessary. She’d already started to fall for him. Why must she always fall for the crazies?

They walked quickly toward a thicker stand of trees and away from the entrance of the park.

“Where are we going? I’m freezing and I’d really like to go home now.”

“There’s a cave further into the park. It’ll be safe there for a while and we’ll be warmer.”

They walked in shivering silence for several minutes. There was nothing she could do. She couldn’t run from him here. It was dark and cold and no one was around. The park had been closed for hours, no rangers or park attendants to help. She was stuck. She thought maybe she could humor him for a while until she found a way to escape, all the while not really wanting to. It was that safe feeling again like she was where she was supposed to be. So strange.

“Here it is.” And he pushed aside some branches to reveal a small hidden cave dug out of the sandstone. It was just surreal like she’d stepped into an old movie. There were a few blankets and bottles of water stored away in the back of it. He rummaged around, picked up a flashlight, turned it on and set it up on its end to shine on the ceiling of the cave, casting a warm glow around them.

“There. That’s better.”

“Is this your house? Do you live out here?” She looked around her, the flashlight lantern dispelling the darkness to the far reaches of the cave and revealing a small homey interior.

“Well, not really. Not all the time. It’s just one place I like to come to when I need to be alone. For some reason, they can’t find me here but I can’t stay in it forever.”

He bustled about making tea on a small camp stove, like an old frontier woman. Shaking out a sleeping bag and draping it over a rock, he motioned to her. “Here. You can sit here and keep warm in this for now.” She reluctantly sat as he draped the sleeping bag over her shoulders.

“How long do we have to stay here? Who can’t find you here? And what in the hell just happened?” Her questions came pouring out of her as she became more and more aggravated by his empathy for her.

“I know. You have lots of questions. So do I! I had no idea that would happen. I’m as shocked as you are really. I know we had a connection, but I had no idea it went that far. I had no idea anyone else could do it. I thought I was the only one!”

While she was shocked, scared, and a little hostile, his line of questioning was excited and curious. The more he rambled on about transbody experiences and “they” and how can this happen, the more irrationally irritated she became.

“Stop, Jay. Just stop. You need to slow down and tell me what’s happening as best you can. I’m on the verge of a nervous breakdown.”

“Oh yes! I’m sorry. I’ve just been alone for so long. You have no idea how lonely it is. I mean, I’m here walking among you but connecting with no one. Surrounded by people but completely separated. The very idea that one other like me could exist never occurred to me.”

“One other like what? What are you?”

“Well, that’s a good question. Since I always believed I was the only one, there is no definition, no simple title. You could be called a woman, a human, an American, but me? I’m nothing. I belong to no group that helps others define me. I’m…a…me.”

She just sat staring at him for several minutes while he sat across from her smiling like the Cheshire Cat. He was shivering and instinctively she pulled him close and shared the sleeping bag with him. There was that feeling again, that home feeling. She turned her head to look at him and he was still grinning.

“Why are you looking at me like that?”

“You did it. I can’t believe it. I took your hand and you just gave it up, your whole existence in a flash. It was unbelievable.”

“I didn’t do anything. You did it to me. You took my hand and pulled me somewhere.”

“No,” he said shaking his head, “that’s not possible. I’ve done this a hundred times over the years I’ve been here and no one has ever come with me. I was only feeling bad that I was about to pop out of your life to get away from them. You just came with me. You trusted me. You instinctively let your physical self go and POP we were gone. You’re different.”

There was silence between them for quite some time. They huddled close together in the warmth of the sleeping bag, both considering what had just occurred. He was right. She had gone with him, voluntarily. The moment he took her hand and looked at her…

Never before had she felt so complete. All her life she’d struggled to fit in with the people around her. Her parents were good people with honest intentions. They loved her. She knew it, she felt it every day. But something was missing. The people she had met at school, at work, online in chatrooms and social media groups, filled her life with obligations and responsibilities. But every day, she came home to her apartment alone. She had never felt connected to them, never felt a kinship. It was like there was an invisible bubble around her that kept her from actually reaching out. She had begun to believe something was wrong with her. Had she created that bubble? What kind of person can’t love?

And then she met him and it all changed. It didn’t creep up on her. It didn’t slowly seep into her consciousness. It hit her. The bubble burst. No, he walked right into her bubble and they were in it together. The rest of the world didn’t exist to them.

He didn’t need to explain the details of his existence. He didn’t need to comfort her or take care of her. They were home when they were together and nothing else mattered.

He sat upright again listening. “What do you hear?” she asked him, knowing already what it was. Footsteps nearby, several heavy people shuffling through leaves and murmuring in hushed tones. The sound of quiet searching.

“They can’t see us here. They’ll walk right by. They know we’re close but for some reason this place shields us.”

“But we can’t stay here forever.”

“No, we can’t.”

She took his hands this time, looking into his eyes. And POP. They were gone forever.

Held Captive by the Writing on the Wall

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Photo by Henry & Co. on Unsplash

“D.D.S.R.”

The letters stood out black and heavy on the clean white wall of her cell. She sat there before them, cross-legged, and puzzled.

How long had she been here, she couldn’t say, but she did remember when they arrived to take her. She could still hear the doorbell ring. She flew, freshly showered and barefoot, to the door only to find three men in black suits instead of the friend she expected.

These are no salesmen, she thought, immediately trying to close the door and blot out the vision before her. Before she could get the door closed and latched, a heavy arm clothed in black polyester reached though and stopped it. She could still see his hand on the door, his fat fingers curling around the edge, and the door suddenly pushing open into her face, the blinding pain as the door hit her nose and knocked her backward.

As the doorknob pulled from her hands, she reflexively reached to her face and stumbled backward into the foyer. The first man at the door entered quickly, the other on his heels, the last turned to shut the door behind him.

He strode quickly toward her and grabbed her upper arms to stop her from falling completely to the floor. The man behind, taller and thinner than the fat-fingered man that had hit her with the door, moved lithely to her left side and behind her, holding her shoulders so tightly she knew there would be no struggling against them. They had her pinned. She was upright but not standing on her own two feet.

The third man, the one that turned to shut the door as the first two entered, stood quietly by the door. So surprised by the sudden attack, she wanted to scream out but could not find the breath. She was held between the two men in shocked silence.

The door shutter, also clothed in a fine black suit, clean-shaven and serious, like the characters in Men in Black, looked from his steel-blue eyes and blankly stated, “You know why we’re here.”

She stared. “I do?” she stammered out.

“Don’t play stupid, Carrie. We know who you are. You can’t talk or buy your way out of it this time.”

With a flick of his wrist, he signaled to her captors to bring her toward him. Turning to the door, he opened it, took one quick look down the street, saw no one, and motioned them to follow. They lifted her like she were a floor lamp, clamping a smelly cloth over her mouth as they approached the door.

That was all she remembered. When she woke, she was unmolested. Nothing hurt but her nose from when the door hit it. She was dressed the same as when she had so eagerly answered the door. But now she found herself in this empty, windowless room, with these letters hastily painted on the wall before her.

Where was she? Why did they call her Carrie? And what did these letters mean?

Morning Train of Thought

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Photo by BRUNO CERVERA on Unsplash

Crap. That’s exactly what I have. It’s the fifth day in a row that I’m coming up empty.

Every morning, I get my coffee, grab my laptop and plop myself down on the couch before the sun comes up. I take moment: coffee to my left, laptop closed in my lap (of course), cat walking up to curl into a ball on my right. It’s dark and quiet. I take a sip of coffee, crap, it’s already cold. Husband started the coffee maker when he got up for work  an hour and a half before me. The carafe isn’t doing a very good job of keeping it hot these days. Gently, I scootch the cat over (he complains) and get up to warm up my cup, add a sprinkle of cinnamon to hide the “warmed up coffee” taste, and start a new pot.

Shuffling in my slippers and flannel pants back to the couch, I find the dog has taken my spot.

“Really?”

She looks up at me with those puppy dog eyes. Ha! Puppy dog eyes! Of course!

“Move dog.”

She jumps down and goes to her regular spot by the window, ready to stand guard against any intruders, coyotes and ravens mostly. She’s more of a warning dog than a guard dog. She’ll bark up a storm but never go out to chase anything, not even a rabbit.

I sit down with my coffee. The leather couch was kept warm by her furry butt. I take a sip of cinnamon coffee, breathe in the smell (the best part), and reach for my laptop. Work will get done today! The words will come!

…buzz..buzz…

Damn it. I forgot to turn off my phone when I got up. A text from a friend comes through.

“Up yet?”

Of course I am. He knows that. And I keep reminding people that I’m trying to start a morning routine of staying focused on reading and writing, no outside intrusions. It’s not his fault. I should just ignore it until I’m done, but…

“Good morning! Yes, but trying to work today. Ttyl?”

“Sure gorgeous. Have fun!”

And now I’m thinking about that. What else do I have to do today? Water the yard (I forgot yesterday). Clean up the kitchen. Dust and vacuum the living room. Pay those bills. I should write this stuff down so I don’t have to hold in my head, so I get up to get my notebook. I’ll just make a quick list and set it aside for later.

The sky in the east is starting to lighten. There are clouds being highlighted by the first edge of the sun. Wow. Pretty. I  better take a picture of that. And…post it on Instagram. No sense in just me seeing it. Oh look at that! She’s up too and posting pictures of her own sunrise! Hello friend!

Twenty minutes later…

Crap. Where did my early start go? The sun is shining strongly across the desert now, throwing the most special sidelight onto the joshua trees and cholla. I should probably go water the plants before they all die. I can feel them judging me for my lack of attention to their needs. It’ll only take a couple minutes and then I can get back to work without that hanging over my head.

Ok, that’s better! I’ll need a fresh cup of coffee, of course. As I’m pouring it into my favorite cup, in walks my younger son with his girlfriend in tow. “Are you making breakfast?! Awesome!”

Crap.

Love Story

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“I love you and I don’t want to.” She whispered as she lay there beside him. Her back against him in the dark, she could feel him breathe beside her, quiet, rhythmic breaths that indicated deep sleep. He couldn’t hear her. If he could she wouldn’t have allowed the words to slip out.

A deep sigh escaped her lips as a tear fell from her eye and hit the pillow, audible in the quiet darkness of the night. She started to spill the rest of her feelings, quietly beside his silent form.

“I wanted a night or two, maybe an ongoing thing to return to when I felt the need to let loose. I wanted a place to go when I wanted to pretend I was young and free from all the responsibilities I’ve built up over the years. And now here I am, falling in love, feeling that pull to care for you, to need you. The feeling scares me. It gives me more to worry about instead of less. I’ve added more responsibilities to my life, not escaped the ones I had. I don’t want this.”

In his sleep, he turns to her and pulls her close to him. His hand runs over her hair and he sighs, resting his hand on her hip. Her tears flow as she realizes how special this moment is, how much she doesn’t want to lose this man that has worked his way so deftly into her heart. But how?

Can there be other ways to love a person? Do all romantic relationships have to follow the same course? If I love you both, do I have to have two husbands to care for in the same way?

Hours later, she’s restless and rises to shower and dress. As she’s gathering her purse and keys, he raises a hand and beckons her to him. She sits at the edge of the bed beside him and leans in to kiss his face. “See you in a few weeks?” He quietly asks in that sleepy satisfied voice she loves so much.

“Sure baby.”

“I love this.”

“Do you?”

“Just like this. As long as you want me.”

She smiles and runs her fingers through his hair, kissing him before she leaves. It feels so good. Maybe it can go on. Maybe she can love him just like this.

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