The Gift

“It’s time!” Sheila announced to the room as she pointed at the clock. “Let the party start!” She pulled a Christmas popper apart, releasing a handful of confetti into the air. Everyone laughed and then chairs shuffled and drawers slammed as my coworkers closed up for the Christmas break.

I closed my tabs on the computer, shut it down, slipped my pens into a cup, and stacked papers into a pile before sliding them into a tall file sitting on my desk. Opening my top drawer to pull out my mirror to check my make-up, I noticed a gift sitting in the back of the drawer. Hmm, I thought. That’s strange. “When did that get there?” I whispered under my breath. I looked around, but no one was nearby. I spotted a tiny tag on it with my name written I curling festive letters.

I looked around once again, but the office had been deserted from everyone headed to the cafeteria. I pulled the gift out and set it upon my desk. The burgundy box was held together by a bright silver ribbon. Jewelry entered my mind, and I wondered who would have given me jewelry at work. And did they know I was dating someone? Nobody here knows that though, I mused.

Curiosity got the better of me so I pulled the ribbon. The bow slid easily apart and shimmered as it landed on the desk. I stared at it for a moment, appreciating the moment. I lifted the lid and exchanged one sparkle for another as gold shined out at me from a bed of white. A tiny key glittered at me.

I picked it up and stared at it, turning it first one way, and then the other, watching the light reflect. What is it for? A charm for a necklace or a bracelet? It couldn’t actually unlock anything, could it? Maybe a locket…or a diary…or even one of those tiny old suitcase locks.

I put it back in the box, then picked up the lid and noticed a note inside. It too was written in curling festive lettering:

“I’ve been watching you closely

and know your heart is good.

Come visit my amazing world,

by unlocking a door of wood.”

I looked around again, instinct I guess. I knew there was nobody left in the office. This is crazy, I thought, as I stared at the walls hoping a door would emerge from the drywall. But, no doors emerged, not big or small, so I put the lid back on the box and slipped it, along with the ribbon and note, into my purse. I’ll deal with it later.

A Squirmy Child

“No!” screamed the child. The tired mother looked near her wits end. The child squirmed in her arms and pushed at the stuffed toy.

The doctor behind them, waiting to enter the church sanctuary, cleared his throat. Neither the child or the mother noticed him. He raised an eyebrow and squinted one eye at his wife.

“I want to go home!” The child kicked out and hit the doctor’s wife’s purse. Looking at his wife, the doctor whispered, “Are you all right?” She nodded and smiled at him, patting his arm.

“It’s okay, Abbey,” the mother said soothingly, patting the child’s back. “After church we’ll get an ice cream.” The child stilled for a moment, then resumed her crying as the mother rocked her, still patting her back.

The doctor looked at the other people in line, assuming they felt the same way he did as they shuffled up the stairs. “That’s it!” he whispered loudly to his wife.

“It’s okay. She’s trying,” the wife told him, squeezing his arm gently.

An odor ripped through the foyer. The doctor quickly covered his nose and puffed out his chest. “Um, ma’am?” He tapped the frazzled mother. “Could you take your child away? She’s disrupting everyone.” He spread his hand, waving down the line.

People shuffled awkwardly and looked away from the doctor. His wife stared at a painting on the wall. The child stared at the doctor, silent, as mucus oozed from her nose into her mouth.

The doctor cleared his throat again. He glanced at the people in line and his wife. Nobody was watching the interchange any longer. Their faces were aimed in every direction away from him.

The mother’s eyes filled with tears. Almost as if the child sensed the mother’s distress, she began to scream and squirm again, until she kicked the doctor in the chest.

“Oomph,” he grunted, then snickering surrounded him.

HL Pic Series: 2-Mavis

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Mavis sat alone in her rocking chair, wrapped in an old frayed shawl with a dirty afghan across her lap. She stared at the dusty television that no longer worked, and wondered if anyone would knock on her door today.

The postman used to knock everyday, handing her mail with a cheerful smile and a good word, but recently he had begun leaving the mail outside on the mat – not that she received mail every day. Some days she was too tired or sore to open the door, bend over and pick it up. Those were not good days for the mail, because something bad always happened to it. Rain would soak it through until the ink ran, or a bug would inevitably get squashed on it, or a neighbor’s dog or cat would leave footprints across the envelopes as they ran through her yard. Wet and dirty mail is not fun to open.

Today she longed for company. She was tired, but was on the lesser side of sore and thought she could make a pot of tea for a visiting friend. She thought it would be nice if her nephew, Tommy, would drop by and fix the television. He was handy with electronics, but she didn’t know if this tv could be fixed again. She had no money for a new one, either. She shook her head. Money, money, money. Everything costs too much nowadays.

The small stipend she worked all those years to put into social security was now barely enough to pay for her groceries each month. She was lucky Harold had paid off the house before he died, because she could not afford to live if she had a rent or a mortgage payment nowadays. She kept the heat low and only used the air conditioning in emergencies, had no cable and only a house phone without a long distance plan. She didn’t need one, as she had nobody left to call these days, and she needed to keep costs down.

A knock sounded at the door. She looked up, startled. She was lost in her thoughts again. Was that the door? She slowly got to her feet, holding the rocker steady and letting the aphgan fall to the floor. She stared at it for a moment and then shook her head. That must be how it gets so dirty. She stepped on it because she could take a long enough step to pass over it. Shaking her head again, she went to the door.

A dirty little girl stood outside, holding her mail.

“Here, Missus,” she said. “I saw your mail laying on your mat, so I thought I’d get it for you.” At the aged woman’s nod, the girl continued. “My name’s Emmy Gorth. I live over there.” She pointed at a house with a leaning porch and chipped paint diagonally across the street.

Mavis studied her for a moment and then shrugged her shoulders. “Hello there, young Emmy,” she said. “I’m Mavis Bell. Would you like to come in for a cup of tea?”

Emmy looked at her dress and then at Mavis with a lift of her eyebrow.

“Oh, that doesn’t matter. You’ll be sitting on a proper chair, so it won’t even show.”

Emmy looked across the street and then down at the mat, thinking.

“I guess I could. I’m not much of a fan of tea, though. Do you have any Koolaid?”

Mavis put a thumb under her chin for a moment and then shook her head, “I’m sorry, I don’t have any. Only tea.” She tilted her head sadly to the side as the smile slipped from her face.

“Um… okay. I’ll try tea, I guess,” said Emmy.

Mavis’ face lit up as the girl walked past, handing her the mail. Mavis dropped it on a side table and guided Emmy to a wooden table with two rickety wooden chairs. Emmy sat down rigidly and fanned the wrinkles out from her skirt. Mavis went to start the kettle.

“You are a very special guest today, so guess what?” Mavis asked with a smile.

“What?” replied Emmy with a sparkle in her eye.

“We are going to use my very best china service for our tea today.”

Emmy’s eyes grew wide and she watched every move Mavis made as she prepared the tea.

“I think I have some sugar cookies left here,” Mavis said, fishing around in an old coffee tin on the counter. She brought the tea and cookies to the table on a fancy silver tray.

“Now be careful, it’s hot. And here, put this honey in it,” Mavis said.

Emmy stirred the honey around the rose-covered tea cup in a gentle manner, suddenly sticking her pinky up. Mavis’ eyes sparkled as she smiled. Emmy picked up the cup, blew over the top and tentatively tasted the tea.

Her eyes flew up in surprise. “This is pretty good! It tastes like lemon!” She took a bite of cookie. “Mmmm…”

The two talked over the tea and cookies for a couple of hours. Mavis regaled the girl with stories from her youthful days until all of a sudden Emmy’s eyes grew wide and she popped up off the chair.

“I have to go! My mom will be home anytime now.”

“Oh, I’m sorry to see you go, Emmy, but I hope you come back to visit another day,” Mavis told her. Emmy nodded and waved and rushed out the door. Mavis smiled and cleaned up the dishes.

I believe I feel good enough to make a sandwich, she thought.

 

 

 

 

 

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HL Pic Series: 1-Brigid

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Brigid leaned her bicycle against the wall, hoping it wouldn’t fall again. She needed to make her flower delivery and did not want to lose the little bit of soil left in the baskets. Last week she hit a rock and fell off her bike, spilling flowers and soil onto the pavement in front of Cookie’s Bakery. At least twenty heads had turned to look at her, but she could do nothing except pick up her bike and put the flowers back into their arrangements as close as she could remember. Her face had burned, but she did not look in the window a second time. She had not ridden past the bakery since.

She looked down the street and blew hair from her eyes. She missed seeing Cord’s smile.

They’d been friends since 1st grade when Molly Buttercup had yanked the swing from her grip, sending her sprawling in the dirt. Cord came to her rescue, helping her up and dusting off her scratched knee. She lost her heart in that moment. Afterward, he was always friendly and funny to her, but treated her more like a little sister – someone who needed protecting.

She sighed. Maybe she should stop in to buy a cupcake. Summer vacation was almost over and she would rather face him now, than after school started back up. It was their last year and she really hoped he would ask her to the homecoming dance, but knew it would probably be Bella this time. He seemed to rotate through the five: Bella, Ciara, Olivia, Mona and Lyric. Who named their daughter Lyric, anyway?

She delivered the flowers to the cafe without incident and returned to her bike. She pedaled fast, trying not to think. She knew it would be easier to just do, and not think about doing. Thinking about a plan always seemed to stall her in her tracks and make her lose confidence. That’s why after all these years, she still just gawked at him sometimes. Leaning her bike against the wall on the side of the bakery, she steeled her face into a pleasant expression and stepped into the bakery, trying to be nonchalant.

Of course, she tripped over the door jamb and stumbled.

Cord’s warm hands gripped her shoulders. Her face burned, all nonchalance gone. There he was again, saving her.

She blurted, “Aw, hell!” Then looking up at Cord, her eyes grew huge and she slapped a hand over her mouth.

“Aw, now, Brige, it ain’t that bad,” he drawled. “You don’t need to cuss. You know I’ll always catch you.” He winked.

She didn’t think her face could have burned any brighter as her shoulders drooped. “I’m sorry, Cord. I know you don’t like that kind of language.” Her skin was beginning to tingle where his hands still lay. She looked up at him, through the heat in her face.

He pulled her close for a quick hug and then released her just as quickly. “Um, Brigid?” He shuffled a foot and studied a spot on his shirt.

“Yeah?” She watched him scratch at the bit of flour.

“Um… School’s starting soon, and I was wondering if maybe you’d want to be my date to the homecoming dance this year.”

She blanked. When she didn’t answer, he looked up and into her eyes. The startling green snapped her from her reverie.

“Yes, I would.” She smiled big as a surge of confidence came over her. He smiled shyly back at her. “Geez,” she said, lightly punching his shoulder, “What took you so long to ask?”

His grin grew as big as hers. “I’ve been waiting for senior year. I didn’t want to screw up our friendship, but I think we can handle it now. Can I get you a cupcake?” He winked again.

 

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Hammer and the Fish (a Short Story)

“That dog! You know…that one they call Hammer? Today he grabbed the pinkest and biggest salmon I’ve ever caught! Durn dog took it right off my table.” Gary shook his head, “That twisted dog has an epic ability to find my best fish every single day. I swear I have got to find a way to get rid of him. The other guys just laugh when he steals from me, but he doesn’t bother them at all. If he did, they wouldn’t be laughing.”

“Aww, honey, I’m sorry. That stinks,” said Helen, his wife, as she rubbed his back. “I don’t know what to say.”

Gary slouched in his chair. After a few minutes he lifted his head, “You know I saw a large yacht off the coast today. I need one of those, then I could catch and sell my fish without that oaf of a dog sneaking around. He barely even has to jump to reach the top of my table, he’s so big.” His eyes glazed over and he leaned back, “I’d just take my pole, sit back with a beer and watch the fish pile up into my bucket, if I had a nice ride like that.”

“Aww, babe… do you need a hug?”

“Uff, I’ll tell you about needs… That dog needs a bath. He smells like he visits the dump as well as the dock!”

Oh, calm down, hon. You’ll raise your blood pressure. Oh! I know. I’ll make you some of those fish tacos you love. You know, the kind in tortillas with fried fish and cole slaw? I’ll even put in a little pickle relish – just the way you like them.”

Gary looked at his wife. He studied her. She was always good to him, even when he knew he was being cantankerous. Maybe he was over reacting to the dog, he thought. Maybe tomorrow he’d try not to holler.

***

The next morning Gary watched for Hammer. As soon as he saw the great beast coming toward him on the dock, he threw out a good-sized fish, although not as big as the salmon.

Hammer stopped. He looked at the fish. He looked at Gary. He looked back at the fish. He looked once more at Gary before he bent his head, picked up the fish and headed back toward the shore. At the end of the dock, he turned back and for a brief moment, Gary thought the large curly black-haired head had dipped at him, in thanks.

 

Esme in the Lab (a Short Story)

Esme leaned against the sill and stared at the Eiffel tower from the window of her laboratory. She had been testing bacteria samples on different types of meat all day and longed to go outside, to get out of the hot room that was beginning to reek.

“Bonjour!” Cried the woman who set down a carrier toting two steaming cups and a greased-stained brown paper bag on the center table with a flourish. “I’ve brought you a reward for all of your hard work this week!”

“Welcome back, Helene,” said Esme, plastering a smile on her face as she turned from the window to walk toward the table. “I didn’t think you’d be back in today. How was your vacation?”

“Lovely, darling, just lovely. Henri took me to Nice. We spent time on the beach, had a lovely Champagne brunch, and can you believe he took me to a circus?” She laughed heartily, remembering. “I hadn’t been to one since I was a child!” She removed her glittering scarf, waving her hands as she spoke.

Esme smiled and reached for the bag. Seeing her hands, she paused, “I’d better wash…” She walked over to the sink.

Helene sat down, took a drink of the warm chocolate, and glanced out the window. “I’m so glad it’s not raining today. It’d be a lovely day for a walk along the park.”

“Those were my exact sentiments,” Esme replied, drying her hands on a paper towel as she walked back to the table. Dropping the towel in the waste bin, she reached for a cup and took a sip before opening the greasy bag. “OOO, my favorite!” She pulled a chocolate croissant from the bag. “I am going to need a walk after this treat,” she said chuckling.

“Oh, here…” Helene laughed again as she dug in her giant handbag. “I brought you a souvenir.” She tugged the awkward piece from her bag and threw it at Esme. It squeaked.

“What is that?” Esme shrieked. She caught and held the item upside down. She joined in Helene’s laughter as she bounced it up and down. Both pairs of eyes were riveted on the rubber chicken.

“It’s your new boyfriend,” Helene winked. “You can bring him on our next vacation together!”

The Reverend Todd Young Meets… (a Short Story)

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The honorable Reverend Todd Young arrived at the conference for “The Correlation of Midwest Pastors” in Dayton with his broken suitcase thumping behind him. As he entered the lobby of the hotel, several people turned to look at him. He bowed his head to a few individually, and then went to check in.

Afterward, as he sat on a settee in the lobby awaiting a porter, a man in a golden suit sat down next to him.

“So I see your bag has a broken wheel,” he said, tipping his hat.

“Why, yes, indeed,” scowled the Reverend. “The young man who drove the shuttle from the airport dropped my suitcase and broke it.” He shook his head, “Kids, these days…”

“That is unfortunate.” He held out his hand and said, “I am Lu Helliere.”

“Reverand Todd Young,” he responded shaking the man’s hand. He lifted an eyebrow and looked at his hand as he felt a slightly burning sensation. “That’s an interesting hat you’ve got there.”

Mr. Helliere removed the hat and held it out toward the Reverend. “Take a look. It’s a gen-u-ine Panama hat. I actually got it down there. I enjoy the warmer climates,” he said as he winked at the Reverend.

The Reverend pulled at his collar as heat crawled up his spine. “So what brings you to the conference?”

Helliere chuckled, “Well, I’m a preacher too. I tend my flock and work toward discipleship at my church, and wherever I may.” He winked again.

“Oh, yeah?” The Reverend squirmed a bit as the settee grew warm beneath him.

“Of course. I’m from down south. As I said before, I prefer a warmer climate. You know, I could help you with your bag.”

The Reverend looked around. Nobody paid any attention to them. He looked back at the man and realized his golden suit shimmered. He was not exactly sure why he felt so uncomfortable in this man’s presence, but he wanted to get away from him. “I appreciate that, but it’ll be fine for this trip. I’ve got another back home.”

“Are you certain? You seemed very aggravated when I sat down. Seems like I could lift your burden here, if you allow me to help you. Maybe we could make a deal. I could give you a new suitcase as I happen to have an extra, if you wouldn’t mind saying a few words in this conference on my behalf.”

The Reverend tugged at his collar again. The air seemed to have left the room. “Why, sir, you might be right. I was just a bit annoyed, but he was only a young man and he will learn better manners. I thank you for your generosity, but my case will be fine for this trip.” He nodded at Mr. Helliere and stood up to greet the porter.

As they walked toward the hallway, the Reverend turned around, but the man in the golden suit had disappeared.