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Monday, May 31, 2010

Broken Dishes - 5/30

Doris unpinned her silver name tag and flung it into the bottom of the narrow olive green locker. With a flick of her wrist the metal door banged closed. She spun on her stout heel and froze. Ted filled the staff room door.

"I'm sorry, Doris."

She tossed her head, bobbing her ebony curls and folded her arms across her blouse. The front and sleeves were speckled with the butternut risotto and Anjou remnants from her last dropped tray. She tossed her glare over at the rack of aprons and tapped her toe in an impatient staccato.

Ted took a step into the room, hands stuffed into his maitre d' slacks. "You know it just wasn't working out."

"Sure." Her fiery glare swept up and landed on his wounded face. "Then why are you standing in my way? You wanted me out, so move."

"Doris." Ted's shoulders slumped. "I wanted to explain."

"Explain? I thought you did a fine job when you were screaming at me. I bet the entire restaurant heard."

Ted winced. "I'm sorry about that. My temper got the best of me." He sighed. "But that was the third tray you lost tonight. The eighth one this week and it's only Friday."

"They're slippery. I've been telling you that since I started."

"No one else seems to have a problem with them," Ted snapped back.

"Well I'm not Ben or Sandra or Marc or any of your other perfect waiters," she said curtly, her voice rising to a crescendo.

"I know." Ted took a long, deep breath and adjusted the stiff bow tie at his neck. "I just wanted to apologize for yelling. I couldn't let you leave with that hanging over me. So, I'm sorry."

Doris sniffed at the spicy scented air and blinked away the frustrated tears that were crested her mascara lined eyes. "Are you finished?"

Ted nodded and stepped to the side. "At least you'll have more time now..." he murmured with a slight shrug.

"More time?" Doris brushed at her cheeks to make sure they were still dry as she stepped to the door.

"For performing."

She froze and glanced over at the vested man. "What are you talking about?"

"Ben mentioned you play the flute. That you were really good but just hadn't landed anything yet since you were new in town. This way you can focus on that."

"Sure, Ted. But how am I going to pay the rent?" Her voice wavered and her hands clutched at the ruby red straps of her purse slung over her shoulder.

Ted managed a small smile. "It just so happens I know the guy who's the assistant to the guy that runs the auditions for the city symphony." He slipped a folded piece of paper from his pocket and held it out over the black and white tiled floor. "He's always looking for talent."

Doris blinked. Her entire body froze except for her eyes which flicked between the paper in Ted's hand, his wavering smile and back again.

"What is that?" Her knees felt like they were shaking as much as her voice.

"His number." Ted shrugged again. "I told him you'd call. It's the least I can do."

Doris managed to uncoil one white knuckled hand and took the note. Her shiny, manicured fingers opened the paper and she saw Ted's neat print in the form of seven numbers and a name.

She leaned into the doorframe. "You know Joe Camble?"

Ted nodded. "We were in college together."

"This is Joe Camble's number?"


"And you told him about me?"

"I told him about you playing the flute, not about the waitressing."

Doris let out a nervous, high pitched laugh. Her fingers tightened around the note and she clutched it to her mottled shirt.

"This is just..." She swallowed and brushed away the startled tears that tumbled down her face. "Thank you."

"Just remember me when you've got free tickets. Betty loves the symphony."

Doris laughed again, this time it came from deep within her belly. "Well, I've got to make it first."

"Then call Joe and get to it," Ted said with a broad grin.

Doris shook her head and glanced down with disbelief at the crumpled note.

"I will." She looked up with a wobbling smile. "Thanks Ted." She stepped forward and he accepted the hug carefully in order to avoid smearing his dark vest and pristine sleeves.

"No problem. Just be sure you're a better musician than you are waitress."

She brushed away the last drops and adjusted her purse. "That shouldn't be hard."

"Break a leg then."

"Better than dishes."


Doris waggled her fingers. "See you around."

"See you on stage."

Friday, May 28, 2010

Check up - 5/27

Polly had been concerned until the scales showed an extra 200 pounds. She patted the coarse hide and added another handful of hay to the tough.

Kifaru let out a snort and continued to chew absently while Polly checked out the rest of her vital signs.

"Is she ready?" Adam's voice shot over from the other side of the examination room and ended in a round of sniffles.

Polly gave the small rhino another pat before the veterinarian stood. Her knees popped and the small of her back flared. She rubbed absently at the spot through her khaki shirt and rubber glove. She heard Adam take a few steps forward and then sniff and let out a small sneeze.


Polly gave him a tired smile and nodded.

"Thank goodness."

"Would it have been that bad?"

"If our main attraction was too sick for the opening?!" Adam scoffed and wiped his nose again.

"She's not an attraction," Polly said, folding her arms.

Adam winced, sneezed and nodded. "I know, I know." He waved his clipboard apologetically. "Damn allergies get to me you know?"

Polly relaxed her shoulders and managed a smile. "They have medication for that."

"I'd be drowsy all day," Adam countered with another sniffle. "It's not bad when I'm outside. In here..." he sneezed as he waved at the enclosed room and its air thick with hay, pollen and dander.

In the hanging quiet, Kifaru let out a small, almost mournful little cry.

"Ready?" Polly asked the animal rhetorically.

She walked over to the small doorway that led outside, unclasped the latch and heaved it open. Warm rays of sunlight, the scent of grass and the quiet murmurs of a distant crowd gurgled like a stream.

Kifaru trundled forward tentatively at first. She let out another call. Through the small opening a deeper rumble sounded. The flakes of hay on the ground jumped with heavy steps.

The little rhino quickened to a trot and lumbered through the doorway.

Polly squatted down to peer after the animal.

The small gray body had closed in on her mother. The larger rhino seemed to glare at the opening for a moment. Then she gathered her calf and together they made their way down the sloping green of their enclosure.

"Where are they heading?" asked Adam.

"Towards the viewing area actually."


"Maybe," Polly said, standing and letting the doorway close once more. "They'll go where they want to."

"I know, but it would really help if they were at least visible to our visitors."

Polly shook her head and stripped off her gloves. "You should explain it to them. Perhaps they'll be more accommodating if they understood your budget concerns."

"Polly." Adam's reddened eyes glared at her and her dry humor.

She raised her shed gloves in defeat. "I'm just glad she's healthy and with her mom. Everything else..." Polly shrugged.

"Everything else keeps us employed," countered Adam.

"Well, how about this." Polly patted his shoulder and guided them out of the examination room. "You worry about people coming through the gates and I'll worry about the animals they're coming to see."

Adam scrubbed at his nose and inhaled a fresh breath as they walked down the back corridor along the edge of the enclosure. He shook his head.

"I think that deal's a little lopsided."

Polly laughed and shrugged. She pulled another tissue from her pocket and handed it over.

Lost Luggage - 5/26

Even before she was certain that she would lose the heavy case, Pauline had been worried. She never liked traveling with that kind of cargo especially when she knew she was being trailed.

There hadn't been much of a choice, however. The train was leaving and she needed to be on it. Either that or she would miss the rendezvous and all the work of the past few days would be lost.

She had suspected the dark figure, hurrying down the station had been the same one that had lingered in the alley when she had left the bank. Of course, she hadn't seen his face until now.

In her minds eye they were all heartless brutes with hard eyes, stern square jaws and nothing but a malicious sneer etched onto their lips. She found this man softer than she had thought possible. He had a sadness in his eyes that she would never have suspected in a member of her long time foe. His voice even carried a heavy weight.

"I'm sorry to have to do this."

He continued to point his silenced barrel at her while his free hand worked at the shelf above the train cabin's seats.

"Right," she slurred.

The gun stayed steady, aimed at her stomach, but she doubted even its wielder thought the weapon was really necessary. His surprise ambush through the adjoining cabin had caught her off guard. She, foolishly, had been watching the public corridor and he had struck with surprising efficiency through the slim doorway.

Flecks still wavered before her eyes from the blow he had landed on the side of her head. More than sweat dribbled down her cheek.

Now, her arms were beginning to burn from the tight straps binding her wrists. The muscles in her back had also begun to flare from the awkward position he had tossed her into between the twin rows of facing leather seats. As her fingers started to grow numb the chill of the metal floor on her skin ebbed.

He hauled the square plastic case with its two wheels down from the shelf. It landed heavily on the ground with a dense thud.

She let out a hoarse sigh.

"We need it," she murmured.

"So do we."

"You don't understand..."

He slipped out the handle tucked into the top and pivoted the case so it sat ready behind him. "No, I'm afraid you don't."

Pauline widened one of her eyes, the one not wincing around a crimson droplet as the trains bouncing light glistened off the closing barrel.

"Please," she said again.

He seemed to understand the resignation in her voice. The barrel tip rose to aim between her eyes. At least that way, when the flash and deadened pop sounded, her failure would have a swift ending.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Choosing Pie - 5/17

The front door opened with a cascade of soft chimes. A summer breeze stirred up the flowers and rustled the hanging gowns that lined the back wall. The dresses and stacks of crates and folded chairs created a wave of white that filled the back of the stout store.

At the front counter, Sandra looked up from her notebook, clicked her pen closed and set it aside. A broad smile stretched across her lips as she rolled up her crimson sleeves.

"Good morning, Mrs. Anderson."

Mrs. Anderson's tight bun pinned to the back of her head, barely bobbed with her curt nod. The loose drape of her floral patterned scarf fluttered as she floated forward. The delicate fabric rubbed gently against the fat pearls ringing her wrinkled neck. She kept hands delicately folded in each other, causing folds in her coral sleeves that peeked beneath the silk. A glistening ivory purse dangled at her elbow and swayed to a stop as she came to the counter in a heavy cloud of lily scented perfume. Sandra blinked to keep her eyes from watering.

"Thank you so much for seeing me," said Mrs. Anderson.

"It's not problem. Many of my bride’s mothers come to visit me."

"I'm glad to hear that." A crisp glint sparkled in her icy eyes. "You know I don't want to interfere but I just wanted to make sure Betty's has everything covered. Weddings can be such an ordeal to plan and she hasn't mentioned much to me."

Sandra watched Mrs. Anderson's eyes peruse the boxed flowers and hanging garments behind her.

"I think Betty has a good handle on everything."

Mrs. Anderson's head whipped back around. "Well, she's never done this before." She laid a conspiratorial hand on the counter lined with tabbed folders. Her glittering diamond and gold band clacked against the counter and sparkled. "Not like us."

"Of course." Sandra felt her smile turn as sweet as icing. She picked up her cell phone resting by her abandoned pen. "Did you want her to be here?"

"Oh no," countered Mrs. Anderson with a swift wave of her manicured hand. The pearls about her neck rattled. "She's so busy these days. I don't want to be any trouble."

Sandra set down the phone. "Why don't you have a seat and tell me what were you concerned about?" She motioned to the tall stool standing empty at Mrs. Anderson's side and then clasped her hands lightly on top of the counter.

"Thank you." The older woman stepped up into the chair and placed her purse on the crisp white seams of her lap. She sat straight and rigid, just like her tone. "I wanted to make sure she had the lilies all ordered for the altar."

Sandra licked her lips and settled her feet in place on the beige carpet. "Betty wanted roses actually."

"Really?" Mrs. Anderson shook her head slightly and blinked viciously. "Lilies are really more appropriate."

"Maybe but that's what she'd like." Sandra shrugged and kept her voice chipper.

Mrs. Anderson let out a small short, breath. "What about the cake. She ordered five tiers of course?"

Sandra spread her smile. "They wanted pies."

Mrs. Anderson pressed a hand to her chest. "Pies?"

"Yes, five of them. They thought that would be more fun. I'm sure you know how much Jeremy loves pies."

"Who has pies at a wedding?"

"Your daughter," Sandra said as gently but as firmly as she could.

"I never heard of such a thing." Mrs. Anderson's bun wobbled with another startled shake.

"It's rather popular these days for those looking to shake up old traditions."

Mrs. Anderson's tone lowered to a hoarse whisper. "But this is a wedding, not some kind of picnic."

"Perhaps you should talk to her about it."

"No." Mrs. Anderson waved off the suggestion with a single swipe of her hand as her words tumbled. "Can't you just change it? Make it right? Isn't that what she's paying you for? To help throw her the perfect wedding?"

"She's paying me to make her wedding, Mrs. Anderson. I only make suggestions. The decisions are all hers and Jeremy's."

"Good gracious." She poked at the counter with a firm finger. "She's going to make a mess out of the whole thing. I mean, first it was not wearing my dress and now the flowers, and this. Pies!"

"I think it will actually turn out quite beautiful. Your daughter has excellent taste." Sandra reached into her file drawer and pulled out a fat folder. She turned it around so that the photograph of Betty and Jeremy that covered the front faced Mrs. Anderson. "I'd be happy to show you some pictures of their selections."

Mrs. Anderson's hands recoiled from the counter and clasped around her purse's shiny handles. "Someone has been filling her head with all sorts of notions." Her lips firmed, sending wrinkles around her mouth. Those lines matched the ones around her squinting eyes that were aiding the glare shooting across the counter.

Sandra set down the folder with a soft sigh. "Again, I'd suggest you speak with her. This is her wedding after all."

"But I'm her mother. I know what a wedding is supposed to be." She slid off the seat and slung her purse back onto her elbow. "I thought you did too."

Sandra endured the speculative stare. "I know what kind of wedding your daughter wants and that's what I want to make happen."

Mrs. Anderson shook her head once more. "Someone has to talk some sense into her."

"Be my guest," said Sandra with a broad grin.

"I didn't want to be any trouble," said Mrs. Anderson, once again punishing the counter with a quick tap of her finger.

"I'm sure Betty would love to share what they have in mind with you. And if they have any changes to make, they know where to reach me."

Mrs. Anderson's arms folded once again. "You'll be hearing from them. Soon," she added ominously.

"That sounds terrific," countered Sandra cheerily.

"Well then. Thank you again for your time," said Mrs. Anderson, turning towards the door.

"My pleasure." Sandra's words were drowned out in sharp jangle of her door chimes. She winced and picked up her phone as she watched Mrs. Anderson storm towards her rental car.

Her thumb dialed the number written across the top of the folder.

"Hi, Betty?" She smiled at the warm greeting and the quick question that came from the other end of the line. "Yeah. You were right. She just left.”

Friday, May 14, 2010

Out of style - 5/13

Diana's hands burned from the handles digging into her palms. The square bags thumped in rhythm with her strides as she and Frankie traversed the last of the tiles that coated the mall floor.

"And I was going to tell him..."

"Hold on..." Diana said, cutting off Frankie's story with an awkward wave of her burdened arm.

Diana tottered over to the rack poking out from around a trio of well dressed mannequins. The paper crinkled as she dropped the shopping bags to her sides. Her mouth gaped open.

"Can you believe it?" Her hands reached out and fondled the tassels dangling off the leather.

"No." Frankie hoisted her purse strap onto her shoulder and swapped her shopping bags from one hand to the other. "That thing needs to be burned."

"What?" Diane flashed her a sharp look as her hands worked the shoulders of the jacket off the plastic hanger. She twirled the magenta beast around to lay against her chest. The metal beads at the end of the tassels clicked and swayed. Diana turned to Frankie and struck a pose. "It's gorgeous."

"You have got to be kidding me. Nothing should be that pink with that many sequins except a tutu."

"Frankie..." Diana clutched the jacket with both arms. The thick leather groaned in the embrace.

"Diana..really?" Frankie tentatively walked forward. She let her fingers touch the shiny fabric for a moment. Shaking her head, she raised her eyes off of the shine and glitter. She absently rubbed the tips of her fingers as if trying to wipe away something sticky. "What would you possibly wear it with?"

"I don't know." Diana brightened and she held the jacket out so she could better examine the silver dots lining the shoulders and trailing down the arms. "I used to wear something like this with leggings..."


Diana shrugged. "It was a while ago. But damn did I look good."

"Yeah, because everyone else was dressed like that too. Hell, I probably had leg warmers and hair teased up to the roof." Frankie folded her arms. "But it's just not done any more."

"Someone thinks so. It's for sale."

"Yeah, super sale," countered Frankie. Her red tipped finger flicked out to the sunny sign propped up above the rack.

Diana lowered her arms as her eyes descended on the sign. "Oh..."

"It's about as far out of style as a corset." Frankie tucked away a fallen strand of ebony dyed hair around her ear and dangling gold ear ring.

"Maybe," Diana said softly, her eyes lingering on the large discount. Her fingers tightened around the leather. The sequins were cool against her fingers. "But it's still going to be mine."

"You're wasting your money," warned Frankie.

"It's mine to spend." Diana folded the jacket over her arm and scooped up her bags. "Don't worry. I'll warn you when I'm going to wear it."

Frankie shook her head as they turned towards the cashier. "You won't need to. I'll see that coming from across town."

Diana rolled her eyes and quickened her step. With a sway of her purse and crunch of her bags, Frankie caught up in a half dozen strides.

"You know..." Frankie started quietly.

Diana let free a heavy sigh. "What?"

"I might still have those leg warmers..." She caught Diana's eyes and the two burst out into girlish laughter.

Lost - 5/12

David's feet shuffled to face him in one direction, and then the other. His sneakers cleared a circle of dirt from the dry leaves that covered the forest floor. An irritated sigh put a puff of frosted breath before his face.

"Any ideas?" Arnold looked up from the pamphlet covered in multicolored lines that wound over each like wet spaghetti. The thin page crinkled beneath his Gore-tex fingers. He shifted on his numbed feet, trying to work the straps of his backpack out of the rut that creased both shoulders. The muscles tingled with the brief relief from the weight.

David shrugged. "No..."

"We must have missed a turn back there."

"Really?" David ignored Arnold's rolling eyes as he tromped past him in order to gaze down the trodden path they had just come down. His peered into the dusk tinged light filtering through the bare branches. "I swear that's a trail." He swiveled and his gaze shot down to where the vector of the path should point. He met a thick corpse of trees and underbrush turning autumn tones.

"I don't see any markers," said Arnold. His hands folded the map and his arms dropped down to his sides.

"Humbug..." David muttered.

Arnold snickered. "Did you just say 'humbug'?"

David shot him a glare but it did nothing to temper the grin plumping Arnold's chilled cheeks.

"Well, sorry Mr. Scrooge." Arnold shook his head and his humor drifted as he watched David stomp back to the other end of the clearing. "I think we should head back."

"What?" David shot a glance over his shoulder before he kicked at some of dry leaves. They just revealed more dirt and nearly frozen ground. "You know how long that would take?"

"Better than getting lost stumbling around out here." Arnold stuffed away the map and stuck his thumbs through the loops in his dirty jeans. "Come on. There's not much light left."

"Exactly." David said, bending aside a naked sapling. "We should be almost back to camp."

"Right..." Arnold scanned the quieting forest. "Which way would that be again?"

David slung him another glare as he turned away from the uninformative brush. The thick sleeves of his jacket bulged as he folded his arms across his chest. "I don't know."

"You could have said that twenty minutes ago."

"Well...I'm saying it now."

Arnold held up his gloves and toned down the sarcasm soaking his voice. "Ready?"

David swung one more glance at the floor coated in fallen debris, the silent stands of trees and up to the streaks of thin clouds. Their feathery edges were tinted with the setting sun, standing them out from the stretch of icy blue overhead.

"Come on. We can try from the other direction tomorrow."

David shrugged and stuffed his hands into his coat pockets. His head hung. His eyes wandered over the crushed leaves and well defined path that fell under his hiking boots. He could see their earlier foot prints, facing the other direction and he stomped down on the first pair of larger prints.

Behind him he heard Arnold shifting his pack and tucking away the map. Then Arnold’s size 16's were crunching along after him.

David heard him snort. A slight burst of chilled air brushed onto the back of his neck with Arnold’s low snicker.

"I can't believe you said Humbug..."

Monday, May 10, 2010

Favorite Patient - 5/7

Liza's breath stopped as she flipped open the tabbed folder. Her heart fluttered like a bird's wing once it remembered how to beat.

No wonder Rachel had given her that look.

With a steadying exhale she closed the folder. Her knuckles tapped a quick knock on the taupe door and then turned the knob.

He was already shifting in the padded chair in order to toss an awkward and anxious glance over his shoulder. The movement rattled the folding stand that hovered at the plump arm rest next to the reclined seat.

Liza hoped her smile did not stretch beyond what was professional as she met his eyes. They were dark and deep as always, but today she could see a rim of nervousness quaking around the edges.

"Good morning Mr. Jenkins," she said.

"Eli, please," he said with a small grin.

She stepped over to the counter that lined the wall and laid down the file carefully. The movement wafted up a sanitized and slightly minty scent. She hoped her coloring cheeks were hidden behind her back and the high collar of her white lab coat. Her twitching fingers fumbled on a pair of gloves and gathered up the tray of picks and crooked instruments.

"How are you feeling today?" she asked as she laid the tray on the swiveling stand. Across the way she noted the quick beats of his heart on the monitor.

"Well...kind of nervous I guess," he admitted slowly.

"Don't worry. Doctor Adams has done this same operation countless times." She stared down at her hand that had somehow landed on his stiff upper arm. Thankfully, he didn't seem to notice.

Instead his hands rubbed at one another and his gaze seemed to flutter around the small room. They dabbled in the light streaming through the tinted windows, bounced off the computer monitors that already showed x-rays of his mouth and swept across the travel posters that coated the ceiling around the adjustable light that hung over head.

Liza withdrew her hand quickly and turned back to the counter.

"I know," he said. "I've just never gone under before."

Opening one drawer she shook out a blue bib and the accompanying cord that ended in two metal clips.

He shook his head and he shrugged as if embarrassed as she turned back to the reclined chair.

"I sound like a big baby."

"Not at all," said Liza. She laid the bib gently on his chest and he tipped his head forward so she could clip it in place. A few steps had her on his other side of the seat. She wheeled over the rolling stool with a rattle of the casters and perched herself on its edge.

"This is the first experience most of our patients have with anesthesia. It's perfectly normal to be a little nervous."

"If you say so..." he said with a growing grin. Hers broadened as he took a deep breath and his tense shoulders seemed to relax.

"It's just going to take a few minutes and then you'll wake up and it'll be all over."

"That'll be too bad," he said with another spread in his smile and a nervous knead of his hands.

She tried to hide her blush by turning to the towering stand by the beeping monitor and its wobbling case of clear fluid that dangled from the top arm. She pulled out the needle and attached it to the long tube that would drain the anesthetic into his veins. Swiveling back she adjusted the arm rest at his side.

"Just lay your arm here." She indicated with a gloved motion. He rested his arm on the pad, palm and veins facing the Hawaiian beach over head.

"It'll be strange not having to come in every few weeks..." he began, his words tumbling in a quick ramble. "I's been like a second job trying to get all of this taken care of."

She swabbed his inner elbow and nodded as she wrapped around the plastic tourniquet just beneath his bicep.

"You take away the throbbing pain and medication and it's been a pretty nice time..."

Liza focused on the needle's edge, drawing it to the surface of his skin where his blue vein bulged. Her breath stilled in her chest as her training took over the next few moments of motion.

"I know I'll miss..." he winced as she slid in the needle. "Miss seeing all your faces," he finished in a rush.

She stretched some tape over the insertion point. Her hand rested lightly again on his bicep. She swallowed deeply as her training gave way to more girlish thoughts.

"I know we'll miss you here in the office. You've been a really great...patient." She held his gaze for a moment and then shook herself free. There was a time table to adhere to. She gave his arm a squeeze and snapped back onto her feet. The wheels on the chair creaked as they rolled on the tile. With precision, she turned to the drip that had already begun to steadily drop from the bag and down the tube. She adjusted the flow with a practiced eye. The routine and methodical steps helped to ease her quaking nerves.

Then, in the window's reflection she caught his slowly drooping gaze watching her face. She smiled and dropped her chin before swooping back around to the counter. She flipped open the folder and made a few quick notes.

"That feels kinda funny..." he said, his words slurring a bit already.

Liza turned back to him and hovered above his chair. His head lolled slightly on the padded head rest and his cheeks were already slacking. The monitor beeped in a steady rhythm along with the drips.

"Just try to relax."

"Are you going to stay?"

"Yes. I'll be here through the whole operation." She patted his drooping shoulder.

"Good...that's good..." he said. His dazed eyes wandered around where she suspected her face had become fuzzy. After a brief fight with his own lids, Eli's eyes slid closed.

Liza let out a long exhale and lingered on his sleep induced face. It would probably be the last time she'd get the chance. Soon Doctor Adams would have his mouth gaping open with gauze and supports and there would be blood and tugging tongs working to finally remove those erupted molars. Then all of Eli Jenkin's dental work would be done and he would vanish until his six month appointment.

Not that she was likely to see him for a routine cleaning.

Just do it, she heard Rachel and the other receptionist prod as if advertising for Nike rather than trying to get her a date.

She glanced once more at his slack jaws and the sway of bangs crossing his forehead. The slight dimple that remained at the side of his mouth helped make up her mind.

Gathering her nerve, she turned back to the counter and slipped out one of her business cards from the tidy rack along the wall. Flipping it over she covered the blank face in a crisp set of nine digits.

She glanced over to ensure her anesthetic was doing its job as she stepped over to his jacket dangling from the coat rack in the corner.

It wasn't quite the same as leaving a quarter under his pillow in exchange for a lost baby tooth, but she hoped the modified card would be one of the better surprises to be left by a tooth fairy. She tucked it into the side pocket that gaped expectantly.
Another knock on the door had her swiveling back to the opened file.

"Morning, Liza," said Doctor Adams as he strode into the room.

"Good morning Doctor."

"Is Mr. Jenkins all set?"

"Yes." She handed over the file as the Doctor slid into the rolling chair by the tray of tools. "He was a bit nervous."

Thursday, May 6, 2010

One Signature - 5/5

When the mute servant had shuffled in with his tray, Marie had known he held her last meal. The broth had been thin, turnips past ripe and mutton stringy. She had only managed a few mouthfuls before her stomach roiled. The oily taste still coated her tongue as she stared out of the narrow slit in the stone. Through the crevice she watched the first rays of light rise and pale the sky.

Smoke rose up in gray plumes from the camp fires surrounding the outer walls. The wavering coils soon blotted out the wisps of clouds raking across the dawn. Rumbling carts, the clang of metal gear, the murmurs of growing crowds and cries of animals of all sorts, laid upon each other until the quiet night had given way to a raucous cacophony.

Marie let out a breath and leaned her ragged bangs against the flaking whitewash. The thin linen dress she had been left with drooped on her sagging shoulders.

The swiftly arriving horde had come to see only one thing. It would not be long before they received their spectacle.

Drawing in an inhale laced with moist mold and mildew, she turned away from the strengthening day and building noises.

A pair of bare footed steps had her across the small chamber. Beside the thick oak door, the sloping pedestal stood like a sentry. A dust speckled ray fell through the rusted iron bars and on to the curving edge of the lone page that covered the warping table. The squat inkwell, stick of bloody wax, flickering hunk of candle and dagger-like quill kept the sheet company. The parchment felt smooth and fragile in her fingers as she lifted it from its perch. Her sullen eyes passed over the finely scripted lines and the dark splotches that littered the edges like dead flies. The gaping space at the bottom beckoned.

Marie stared down at the unblemished band. It was just large enough for her signature and seal, for which the dry surface seemed to silently yearn.

Her dirt stained fingers absently twirled at the heavy ring dangling from the chain about her neck. She could feel each cut etched into the iron that covered the flat surface. The symbol floated before her eyes as it had once fluttered in the dark blue fields of rippling flags.

She rested the document back on the tabletop as the clink of boots and rustle of plush robes echoed beyond the door. Her feet barely seemed to touch the stones as she drifted back towards the window. A brief gust streaked across her face and stirred the ragged locks that hung around her ears. The ghostly chill sent a shiver across her shoulders.

The rattle of keys was followed by the groan of iron hinges and then the pounding of footsteps.

Behind her, Marie heard the crinkle of parchment.

"You still refuse?" Rommel's voice came hard and crisp. She couldn't help but hear the lingering frustration that undercut his tone. But his sympathy, however muted, would gain her nothing. Neither would her words.

Pursing her lips, Marie continued her stare out into the morning. Across her narrowed vision a murder of crows took flight.

"You know what that means?"

She simply nodded.

Another set of heavy footsteps trotted across the small chamber. The soldier's shadow dropped over her like a shroud. His rough hands reached for her wrists and lashed them tightly. The sharp edges of the twine bit into her skin. She swallowed down the burning urge to cry out in protest.

As the last of the taunt knot was tied, she heard Rommel push the heavy door all the way open. "Will you come willingly?"

Marie closed her eyes for a moment. She drew in a deep breath before turning slowly on her bare toe. Leveling her gaze on Rommel's bearded face, she firmed her resolve. "I have done everything I have, willingly."

"So be it." With a startling rise of zeal, he ripped the thick parchment in half. The two sides drifted down from his hands and fell upon the ground with a deathly hush. Rommel's coppery robes swayed as laid a ringed hand expectantly on the side of the oak.

Marie lifted her chin. Her shoulders relaxed. Each breath came steadier than the last. If she could not show him how a woman could rule, she would at least show him the way one could leave this world.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Up in the attic - 5/4

Bernie waved his hand at the anxious face of his son-in-law. "Go on. Won't take me a minute to find them."

"Alright." Eddie raised both hands in defeat and headed back down the hall.

Bernie waited for him to round the corner before reaching up for the dangling string. The frayed edge tickled the rough skin on his fingers. Tightening his hand around the knot at the end of rope he pulled.

The hatch in the ceiling creaked and groaned. The panel nudged a half inch and then thudded against its swollen sides. Bernie sighed. He let go of the string and rubbed at his quietly throbbing shoulder while he glared up at the stubborn hole that led up to the attic.

Behind him he could hear the rustle of snow pants and the rip of laces being tied. Down the hall brief arguments about mittens, calls to tighten a scarf and jokes about impersonating snowmen drifted.

Bernie sighed again and reached back for the rope. With his grinding shoulder loosened, he gave the panel a harder tug.

After a creak and snap, he was bombarded by a cascade of furry creatures. They bounded down the folded stairs attached to the hatch and bounced off the wrinkles on his upturned face. The stuffed chicken, puppy dogs and zoo of other animals scattered around his fuzzy slippers.

With a shake of his head, Bernie pulled at the folded ladder and rested the end on the dense carpet coating the floor. Gripping the nearest rungs he drew in a quick inhale and took the first step.

The ladder sagged a bit under his weight, more so than he remembered. After an initial groan of protest, it steadied. One by one he climbed until his head popped through the dark square.

Musk and dust floated in the air like pollen in spring. A hint of insulation foam mixed with the scent of dry wood and a lifetime of odds and ends.

At first Bernie could only make out the collapsed card board box. The other half of the menagerie that colored the floor at the base of the ladder filled the sagging container. Bernie shoved it back upright and scouted a spot where he could finish his climb.

Another dangling rope smacked into his head as he braced his hands on his popping knees. He remembered better than to straighten up all the way, even though his back soon let him know what it thought of that idea and the sharply sloping ceiling.

An easier tug on the string clicked on the single 60 watt bulb. The yellowing light struck the square edges, rounded slopes and teetering towers that rose up to the rafters. Turning slowly, Bernie scoured over the mess.

Where had he put them?

Hunching even further, he waddled like a crab down the meandering corridor through the stash, to what his instincts suggested was the most promising corner. He squeezed past an old bookcase with fading sky blue paint and pink daisies, then a dual stack of boxes covered in scratched out Sharpe. As the roof beams brushed against his salty hair, he let out a hefty sigh of satisfaction.

Against the edge of the roof leaned the slats and rungs of the pair of sleds. The ropes through the forward rudders drooped and there was enough dust to look like snow over each stained panel. The runners were dotted with rust and rattled as he inspected them. The rust and dust couldn’t blot out the solid construction that lasted over years of disuse.

With a grunt at each step, Bernie pulled one after another through the narrow passageway and then down the rickety ladder. Two careful strides had him over fallen animals as he carried the two sleds into the now empty foyer.

Like the toys, the linoleum of the entryway was cluttered in discarded gloves and abandoned ear muffs. Bright snow glowed in the strips of windows to either side of the thick wooden door and filtered on to the disarray. Through the frost rimmed panes Bernie watched the assortment of kids of all ages decked in colorful gear along with a merrily bounding dog, poke in and out between the drifts. Laughter soaked through the glass along with the thuds of well aimed snow balls.

Bernie set both sleds against the door and leaned against it as he chucked off his slippers.

"You found them?"

He glanced at Grace as she padded in from the kitchen. Her weathered hands were cupped around the stubs of candles. The line in her mouth spoke of quiet disapproval.

"Yeah." Bernie tucked the hem of his corduroys into his wool socks and began tugging on one snow boot after another. "They were behind Jennifer's bookcase."

He could feel the frown descending quickly beneath Grace's dangling bangs without having to look up at his wife. "You're not going out there?"

"Why not?"

"Don't you remember why we put them up there in the first place?"

"Kids got too big,” said Bernie.

"No, the three of you nearly killed yourselves sliding down that hill."

Bernie shrugged. He unhooked his down padded coat from the ladened wooden rack on the wall.

"You could break your neck," continued Grace, "or worse, your hip."

As he slipped his arms through the soft sleeves, Bernie peered through the glass at the romping out in the snow. He zipped up his jacket.

Turning, he scooped out the wax stubs from the nest of Grace's crooked fingers. He pecked her peach-fuzzed cheek, hardened by her hard lined lips.

"It'd be worth it."