If you've reached this blog, welcome. Unfortunately the content on this page has been moved and is being updated at my new blog:

Hope to see you there.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Gathering Hour - 9/27

Louisa rubbed at her temples, then pulled off her glasses and gave her eyes the same treatment. She leaned forward on her elbows, cupping her drooping head. Creaks and snaps erupted from her desk and the casters on her chair while her stomach grumbled and papers listed. She sighed and glanced at the clock on her screen. Her pulse began a quick staccato.

The morning flipped into afternoon.

A rhythmic set of taps sounded against her cubicle wall. She spun and found Charlie peering through the slim opening. His multicolored tee shirt brightened up the cluttered space and countered the stormy clouds hanging outside the tinted windows.

She tried to keep her smile from looking too weary while Charlie's gaze scanned her desk and then the stacks on the floor before settling back on her face. Louisa set her glasses on her nose and hoped her eyes weren't puffy or red from the rubbing.

"Looks like you're ready for lunch," said Charlie with a half grin.
"I guess," she said, pushing some errant straight brown locks behind her ears. She swept her eyes over the folders waiting in her box. Rubber bands stretched around the packages like nooses.

"Who's coming?"

"Just the regulars."

Louisa looked down at her fingers as she winced.

"Sam's swamped."

"No," she said, looking back up at Charlie. "This is swamped. He procrastinates."

Charlie held up his hands, palms defenseless.

Louisa shook her head, hefted her bag onto her lap from its spot beneath her desk and began a search for an aspirin. "Where were you thinking? I could go for Pisa's?"

"I’ve got a craving for The Barn."

The smell of burnt meat flared into Louisa’s button nose. She grimaced as the white bottle turned out to be as empty as a freshly rolled cannoli. "Didn't we go there on Monday?"


She leaned over and shook her drained cup complete with straw and the restaurant's mustard stained name emblazoned across the paper thin sides.

Charlie propped his elbow on top of the cubicle wall and scratched at his chin like a standing Rodin. "Thai?"

Louisa checked her watch. She blew out a long breath as she shook her head. "I've got a meeting at 2."

"Ready?" Adam paused at the cordoned wall. He hooked his thumbs through the belt loops of his sagging jeans as he bounced on his sneakered toes.

"We're still deciding where to go," said Louisa.

Ned strode up and towered behind Adam, his bushy brows dented as he tilted his long stork neck to crane a glimpse inside. "I thought we were getting sandwiches."

Rain began pelting at the panes in hard wet slaps. Louisa scooped her jacket off the back of her chair. "It's pretty cold out." She stood and slipped on her coat.

"Supposed to rain all afternoon," said Ned.

Adam rubbed at one of his needle thin arms. "Something hot would be good."

"That salad bar place has soups," said Charlie.

Louisa adjusted her cuffs. "Wasn't that where you got food poisoning a few months ago?"

Charlie frowned. "I don't think so."

"No, I think she's right," said Ned. "The tuna fish, if I'm recalling correctly." Louisa met his cocked eyebrow with a nod.

Charlie winced and drummed his fingers against his stomach. "Okay, no sandwiches."

A waft of doughnut-sweet perfume preceded Angie's swirl into the gap between Charlie and Adam. "Hey Louisa. Guys."

Adam shifted aside to give her and the cloudy scent more space while Charlie's mouth drooped into a grin.

"Angie," said Charlie, the corners of his lips curling.

Angie tousled her blond hair and gave him her glistening smile.
Louisa shouldered her bag as Angie's liner rimmed eyes settled on her like two pitted olives. "What's the plan?"

"We're still deciding," said Charlie. He raked his hand through his hair. "Any suggestions?"

Angie shrugged and twisted a golden tendril. "How about Pisa's?”

"Sounds great to me," Charlie said.

Louisa watched his eyes dribble down to Angie's finger tips as she tended to the hem of her floral print skirt. Louisa gripped her bags straps and tore her widening eyes from Charlie's preoccupied face. She settled them on the molding between Adam and Ned. "Guys?”

"Sure," said Adam while Ned bobbed his head in assent.

"Then let's go," Louisa said, motioning toward the exit with a sharp exhale. "Before I lose my appetite."

Sunday, September 26, 2010

And the winner is - 9/24

Jeremy shuffled down the hallway. Horns and whistles along with pounding feet continued to echo out of his subconscious.

"Morning," said Stan. He flipped the newspaper before him as he leaned against the kitchen counter, fresh coffee already in hand.

"Hey." Jeremy fumbled into the cabinet for his travel mug and poured himself a brimming cup.

The newspaper crackled as Stan flipped down a corner. "You alright?"

Jeremy shrugged and sipped, wincing as the steaming liquid hit his lips. "Didn't sleep all that well. Weird dreams."

"Like what?"

Jeremy frowned, the hazy memory slipping away like smoke. "I think there was a race track. But a whole bunch of animals were running, not just horses or greyhounds. These two, like a cheetah and a polar bear, were neck and neck at the end."

"Sounds like you're still trying to make up your mind."

"Is that your professional opinion, Dr. Freud?"

"No," Stan said with a shrug. "I'd have to charge you for that."

Jeremy grunted. "I'm going to pick it out today." He sipped again and let the brew burn his throat on the way down.

"So that's why you're up so early on your day off."

"When else am I going to do it? I'm stuck commuting the rest of the time."

Stan glanced down at his wrist. "Speaking of which. I gotta fly." He folded the paper and tucked the gray pages into the crook in the arm of dress shirt. He disappeared around the corner leading to the front door with a swish of slacks.

Jeremy heard his loafers slap against the entryway's tiles.

"Good luck."

"Thanks," he said. "Don't bother locking it."


The door closed and the latch stayed put. Jeremy straightened his damp hair, his gaze flicking to the digital clock on Stan's microwave shoved into the counter's back corner.

You're going to miss it, he thought.

Wouldn't have to if you could make up your mind, a childish voice whined from within him.

He stalked toward the door and tied on his sneakers. Sloughing on his jacket he headed out into the crisp morning. He cupped his mug in his hand as he headed out toward the sidewalk.

Stan's sedan blinked at the intersection up ahead, and then he turned out into traffic.

Jeremy stopped at the bus stop at the corner and curled into his coat while a brisk wind cut at his lapels. His mind drifted back into a morning stupor until the rumble of the bus neared, then settled with a hiss before him. He swiped his pass through the reader and then dumped himself into one of the bucket seats by a window near the back. A squish sounded as he slumped.

"Not today." He felt the moist lump along his right pant leg and lifted his knee. Lime green gum stretched in tendrils like mozzarella.

The bus surged and his coffee bubbled out of the drinking spout. He sucked up the fiery drops, burning a few more taste buds off his tongue.

He tried to forget the sticky substance and the sting as the bus began to crowd. Instead he gazed out the window as the minutes gathered into tens of minutes and then neared an hour.

The draping line of triangular flags fluttered around a nearing lot.

Jeremy yanked on the stop cord and stood, cracking his head onto the ceiling. He squeezed past those dangling from the hand rails and nearly toppled as a pair of travelers jumped for his seat at the same time. His hand grabbed onto the pipe by the back exit and he hauled himself into the stair well. The bus surged to a halt and the doors swung with a groan.

Jeremy trotted out and checked on the gum as the bus rumbled on. The mass had hardened and he picked it off, tossing the lump into the bus stops garbage can before walking along the line of cars glistening beneath the flags.

He turned at the first driveway and headed toward the stout, glass faced building occupying the center of the lot like a hole in a doughnut.

The door chimed as he stepped inside.

"Good morning," said a rotund man rising from behind a sprawling desk occupied with files. He pressed down at his tie as he rounded the furniture and strode forward, hand extended. His broad grin sparkled like the top of his head. "It's good to see you again."

Jeremy traded the cup in his hands and shook. "Yeah."

"Jeremy, right?"

Jeremy smiled and drew back his palm, his fingers wrapping around his mug and knuckles whitening. "That's me." He glanced at the black rectangle pinned by the other man's tie and added, "Barry."

"What brings you in today, test drive again or just a browse?"

Jeremy blew out a long breath and cast his eyes out the large windows. The flowing curves along the ebony sports car tugged at his gaze.

"She is a beauty," said Barry. "Moves like a cheetah."

Jeremy frowned and pivoted to peer through another set of panes. A stout azure hatchback with eco labels by the trunk stared back at him like a clear summer sky.

"Then there's the environment to consider," Barry said with a grim nod.

Jeremy swallowed and turned back to Barry. He shoved a thumb out into the compact lot.

"I'll take that one."

Friday, September 24, 2010

To the Tropics - 9/23

Darren grabbed the suitcase in his sweaty grip as his turbulent stomach bounced against his ribs. The clattering wheels scraped against the tiles as he dragged the towering bag another foot. He stopped, sighed and set the rectangular sack on the pair of casters. His shoulders drooped and he kept his eyes downcast.

It won’t be so bad, he thought.

"Are you alright?" Becky shifted her pack on her shoulder and glanced away from scrutinizing the line coiling around them. Her forehead wrinkled even as she continued to bounce on her flip flopped and freshly painted toes.

Darren shrugged and rubbed at his nose. Be a man, he silently scolded.

"This is hour what, fourteen?"

She rolled her eyes but giggled.

"It won't be much longer," she said sweeping her arm toward the counter like a game show mistress revealing a prize.

Darren peered at the queue curving along the roped aisle like a sleepy eel. Through the shadows of hunched forms, baggage and thick lettered signs he picked out the counter across strips of industrial carpet.

His heart bashed against his chest as if fighting to break free. He dropped his gaze back down to his sneakers where the muted reflection of the dangling artwork resembling a flock of birds looming above his head flapped against his shoelaces. His entrenched feet seemed to float with the drifting wings.

If only it were that simple, he thought.

He squeezed his eyes shut as the line sludged forward another few steps. With a deep breath he lifted his head and hauled their luggage to the bend in the roped off path. The bulging sides swayed and he grappled to keep the tower upright.

"You sure you don't want me to deal with that?" Becky tilted her head. “It’s mostly my stuff.” Her voice softened and she reached out to lay a hand on the one he had tightly gripped around the top handle. “I guess I over packed.”

He shook his head and heaved the sack back onto its pudgy base.

"I got it.” He forced his jaw to unclench while he stared at the tattered case. The canvas sagged under the weight of Becky’s entire summer wardrobe but stayed put. He wished he had the same command on his wobbly knees.

They trembled even more as Becky leaned over and pecked him on the cheek.

"We're going on our first vacation," she said with a broad smile and a glimmer in her hazel eye like flickering sunlight on waves. "Relax. It’s supposed to be fun."

"Sorry." Darren raked his hand through his hair and gestured toward the line. "One more foot until the end."

“You sound so morose,” she chided with another titter.

They shuffled forward with the rest of the horde.

Darren sniffed and his stomach grumbled with a new demand like a dog sniffing something unfamiliar. He sent his gaze through the crowd and picked out a container of greasy fries in the stubby hands of a child occupying a stroller. Another sweep failed to pin point the savory aroma of cooked lentils and the perky scent of coffee.

"You want the trail mix?" asked Becky. She began to pull around her pack but he shook his head.

"No, it'll give me something to do while we’re in the air."

"I didn't pack that much," she said with a grin.

A wave of nausea tempered his appetite as they shuffled forward again

"Almost there," said Becky. She danced aside to reveal the three groups waiting in front of them.

"Great." Darren tugged at the folded label on the bag.

Bet you can’t wait to leave either, he reflected.

“Hey.” He looked up to find Becky pointing to a flat panel display hanging from thick cables. "How about we go there next time?" He followed her finger to where the Taj Mahal shone bold and white, accompanied by the word India in flowing script. Then the image faded out to the Eiffel Tower and a crisp lettered France. “Or there?”

Darren forced down the lump in his throat as he watched the advertisements for destinations, half a world away, rotate while Becky’s grin spread. He stuffed his damp hands into his jeans and strained to breathe. A shiver raced across his back and he gritted his teeth.

"You know, Beck..."

She beamed. "Only two more."

"Listen," he shoved the bag forward and to the side then stepped up next to her. He took her hand and winced as she frowned down at his moist fingers. "I think I should tell you something."

With fluttering lashes she gazed up at him as her smooth brow creased again.

"I have an issue." He glanced around at the line of fellow travelers and lowered his voice. "With flying."

Her mouth gaped open. "You're telling me this now?"

"I thought I could handle it." He grimaced then motioned at the line.

She kept his hand as they stepped up into second place and dragged along their baggage.

"It's only what, four hours to Honolulu?" he asked.

"Six, including the stopover”

Darren drew in a sharp inhale.

"Are you going to be alright?"

A nervous chuckle wobbled through his throat. "Maybe I'll start the Mai Tai's early."

She squeezed his hand and kissed his cheek again. His heart beat quivered as her eyes grew wide, like a doe in the center of a dark highway.

“Next!” shouted an attendant.

"Come on.” She cradled his hand, guiding him forward and across the strips of carpet as if he might break.

A terse smile greeted them at the counter along with a winged pin stating the attendant’s name as Jane. Darren heaved the bag onto the weigh stand as Becky deposited their tickets and ID’s into Jane's expectant fingers.

Jane looked down at the text then clucked her tongue.

Darren exchanged a glance with Becky then stared at the woman with their trip in her hands.

"I'm afraid you've been delayed."

Becky sagged onto the counter. "What?"

"There's a storm down in Houston and you're first plane’s been held up." Jane clacked on her keyboard with glossy nails then gave a saccharine smile. "I can check your bag though." Her hands flowed on with the process before Becky’s gaping mouth twisted into a grimace. A ticker punched out a long luggage tag while Jane asked the requisite safety questions and they grunted their responses. Threading the strip through the top handle Jane sealed the loop and tossed their luggage onto the conveyor belt rattling behind her stand.

"How long is the delay?" asked Becky. Her voice shook and Darren watched her eyes begin to water.

Jane punched another round of on her keys.

"It looks like the departure time’s been pushed back three hours.” Jane looked up and the corners of her mouth lifted again, “For now."

Becky groaned then lifted her hand to her mouth as if stopping the sound could somehow fix the weather.

Darren reached for the tickets and plastic offered back by an undaunted Jane and guided Becky from the counter

“Next,” shouted Jane.

Becky’s head swayed and she hugged herself with trembling arms. “What are we going to do? We’re might miss our connection.”

Darren smiled as he stomach settled and his heart obtained a steadier beat. "Mai Tai’s and trail mix, anyone?"

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Sniffles - 9/19

Wendy's arm shook as she brought the cup of milk to her lips. Shivering, she set the glass back down on the woven place mat. Her head wobbled as she seemed absorbed in watching the liquid slosh.

"Are you alright?" asked Arnold.

"I'm fine, Uncle Arnie." Wendy tugged at her cardigan and pulled down on the woolly sleeves until they covered her hands.

"Are you sure?" Mae set down her spoon and frowned as Wendy seemed to sway in the kitchen chair.

Wendy glanced up, her head listing to one side.

"Do I have something on my face or something?" She scrubbed at her reddened nose with her sleeve.

Arnold reached across the table and laid his fingers on her limp hand still lying by her glass. His hand jumped back and Mae saw worry seeping into his eyes.

"She's boiling!"

"Nuh huh." Wendy shook her head and clutched again at her sweater. "I'm cold."

Mae wiped her hands on her cloth napkin and tried to keep calm. She reached over and brushed away Wendy's set of straw thin bangs. She pressed her wrist against Wendy's forehead like she remembered her mother doing when she was a girl. Mae sucked in a quick breath. The girl's skin seemed to radiate heat like the base boards running along the floor.

"Wow. No sweetie, you're warm."

Wendy shivered and hunched down into the chair. She sneezed and curled in on herself like a turtle.

Mae stared at her for a moment. Sandy's voice ran through her head with all the various contingency plans for the weekend sleepover. Unfortunately she realized her sister had forgotten to include high fever on the list of action items.

She thought back to her own winter flues.

"Isn't time for a movie?"

Wendy's head lifted a bit and a tentative smile stretched between her plump and rosy cheeks. "Ok..."

"What did you mom leave?"

"The Little Mermaid I think," recalled Arnold with a worried stare across the table.

"How about watching that?" ask Mae. "We can pull out the couch in the living room and you can snuggle right in with Baxter and watch it on the big TV."

Wendy's eyes grew a bit wider and then drooped once more as if all her energy had been spent. "Really?"

"Sure thing honey." Mae pushed back her chair and gave Wendy a peck on the part running across her scalp. She noticed a bit of sweat popping up amidst the soft roots. Patting down errant strands she stood and held out her hand.

Wendy slipped hers into Mae's and wiggled free of her seat. Her socks brushed against the tiles as she shuffled around the table.

Arnold's chair rubbed against the floor as he stood and led the way to the living room.

Meanwhile, Wendy sagged onto Mae's arm. She looked down to find the girl’s baggy pajama pants wobbling with each stride until she seemed about to fall over.

"Here," said Mae, scooping Wendy up onto her hip. Wendy's head slumped onto her shoulder and Mae wrapped her arm around the fiery body.

"I don't feel so good..." murmured Wendy.

Mae brushed Wendy's stick straight hair over a toasty ear. "I know," she cooed.

A squeak and thump sounded down the hall. Mae turned into the living room and found Arnold arranging the couch cushions into a padded wall like a miniature fortress.

"How about some blankets?" whispered Mae.

He nodded and hurried off toward the closet in their bedroom.

Mae sat down on the tucked sheets and gently spun Wendy onto the bed. The girl squirreled into a fetal position and gave a small whimper.

A soft meow rose from the other side of the pull out mattress.

Mae scratched on the cloth. "Come here, Baxter."

White socked front paws and a striped orange face peeked up over the edge. With a bound the cat leapt up onto the bed and padded daintily around the curled girl. A flick of her tail preceded a kneed at the sheets and then the cat settled down by Wendy's face.

“Hi, Baxter,” Wendy murmured. Her hand reached out and pressed heavily into the cat's soft fur then laid still.

"Here," said Arnold, his voice muffled by down and flannel.

"Is that all of them?" asked Mae with a grin.

Arnold shrugged as his poked around what appeared to be every blanket and comforter in the house. He set stack onto the floor.

Mae took the one off the top and flapped open the folds. She turned back to Wendy and found her already asleep. Mae rose slowly from the bed and tucked the plaid blanket around Wendy's coiled body. Baxter shifted slightly to avoid the fabric, tossing a disgruntled look with her feline eyes.

"Keep her company," said Mae.

The cat's eyes blinked in either assent or reproof. She gave the limp hand on her back a quick lick then settled back onto her paws.

Mae added another blanket and stepped back out of the room.

"Should we call a doctor?" asked Arnold.

"I don't know." Mae shook her head. She wrapped her arms around her torso and hoped she imagined the sudden chill. "Do we have a thermometer?"

"I don't think so..." Arnold ran his hand through his wavy hair. "She's definitely got a fever."

"What did your parent's do when you were sick?"

He blew out a breath and cocked his head.

Mae rolled her eyes. "Come on, it wasn't that long ago."

He smiled. "I think aspirin and sleep. At least that's all I can remember."

"I got the chicken soup treatment." She gnawed her lip and peered into the room.

Wendy's mouth gaped and thick moist breaths wetted the pillow.

"You think we should call Sandy?"

"She'll be pissed," said Mae.

"It's her little girl."

"It's the first time she's had a real weekend away in what..." she waved her hand toward their living room, "four years?"

"If Jake doesn't understand then it's best she finds out now."

Mae stared at Arnold until he shrugged.

"I'd understand if the situations were reversed," he reasoned.

Mae blew out a long exhale and then peeked back in on Wendy. Baxter's purr rumbled like a rolling thunder even as Wendy's curl encircled the furry body like a vice. The girl's cheeks were even redder and Mae thought she saw a sheen of sweat on her face.

With a sigh she headed toward her purse dangling on the coat rack by the front door. "If she kills me, I expect you to avenge my death."

Arnold smiled and held out his phone. "Deal."

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Game Night - 9/18

Mike set the pot on the stove and turned the knob on the burner to high. He rubbed the back of his neck as he stared into his living room and tried to remember how to breathe.

"Can I get you anything else?" he asked over the clacking on his squat table.

Jane swirled the tiles around on the smooth surface, her face intent on the pieces. "No, the tea will be great."

He pulled out a pair of mismatched mugs and the thin assortment of tea bags, stashing them onto the counter overlooking the sparse seating area. His gaze lingered on Jane, kneeling in her dark jeans and sparkling top. The glinting green and blues matched the geometric shapes in the carpet and even the frayed edges of his second hand couch.

She fits right in, he thought with a bit of wonder.

With a small grin he set out a bag of sugar, a pair of spoons and then joined her.

"Sorry about this," he said, dropping to sit cross legged on the opposite side of the low slung table. He scooped up his beer and drowned the last of the hoppy contents.

She glanced up and gave him a pearly smile. His chest warmed with more than the alcohol streaming down his chest.

"It's fine. I sit on the floor all the time."

He returned the grin and set his bottle back on his recently purchased coasters. Looking over the tiles he frowned. "I haven't played this in years,"

"I'm sure you'll remember how it goes."

Jane settled into a kneeling position after a quick tug at the hem of her shirt. The motion exposed a bit more of her collar bone and Mike did his best not to let his eyes linger like some ogling teenager.

"Thanks for suggesting the game." Mike pulled out the requisite starting tiles. "Not many girls do that kind of thing." He flipped the blocks on to their sides, the black faces and white dots staring at him in a cluttered mass.

"I thought it would be fun. I mean we talk about a game night at work all the time." She tucked away an invisible strand of hair behind her ear.

"Yeah, it's too bad the others couldn't make it."

She nodded and scattered the face down tiles again with another wave of her hand. The motion made her peach tinted nails swirl.

"Well, I think I'm ready," said Mike, wiping his sweaty palms on his slacks.

“Right,” she said with a nervous chuckle.

Jane flipped up one of the face down tiles from the cluster gathered at her right. A single dot occupied either end of the rectangle. She set the block between them and then aligned her own set of starting tiles into a neat wall.

"Why don't you go first," she said.

"Is that some kind of handicap?" Mike gave a lopsided grin and placed a four and one sided tile into place.

"No," said Jane, adjusting the block so the sides met in a seamless line. "I’m a guest. I’m supposed to be nice."

"Are you sure you’re not some kind of domino shark out on a feeding frenzy?" Mike placed his next piece.

She laughed and shook her head. He watched her eyes bounce between her neat array and the tiles between them. "No. But I played with a few folks for a while on a kind of regular basis." She laid down her tile. "I want to make sure you've got a fighting chance."

"Were you on a team or something?" He set another block into place.

She shrugged a bare shoulder and chewed on her lower lip.

Mike found himself wondering what her lipstick might taste like. He shook away the thought as she continued, her tone a bit less lighthearted than she had been moments earlier.

The plastic edges of her tile snapped as she set the block into place. "My last boyfriend and I kind of made a habit of it."

"Oh," said Mike suddenly wishing conversations had a reverse button. He slid his tile against the last one.

"You can actually bet on the game, if you can believe it." She shook her head and aligned her four by two next to his.

He swallowed but couldn't help asking. "What happened?"

She glanced up, her head tilted to the side. "What do you mean?"

He waved his pulled tile around the unmentioned details. "With the guy..."

"Oh," she winced and had to draw a piece for herself. "We just had different ideas about things, about the future."


"Don't get me wrong," she said putting a five by five onto the end of one branch. "Not like I'm looking to get married and have eight kids tomorrow or anything," her words rushed out in a nervous rhythm. "He just felt like he wanted to keep, you know, being out there and I wanted something more stable."

"I can see where that would have become an issue." He placed another tile alongside a fellow block.

She shrugged again and her shoulders sagged a bit. Leaning into the table she contemplated her next move. "It was hard but I think things turned out for the best."

"I'm glad." An edgy chuckled found a way out of his chest. "You two'd probably be kicking my butt at this otherwise."

Jane looked up with a frown. Mike felt his stomach waver and wondered what he had said wrong.

"Is something burning?"

"Huh?" The acrid scent broke through to his brain. Mike looked up at the kitchen. Coils of smoke rose from the burner and gathered around the single florescent light streaked across the ceiling.

He leapt to his feet and rushed over to the stove. The bare back burner glowed crimson while the pot rested on the cool front coil. He flipped off the knob and turned on the one beneath the tea pot.

He shook his head and sat once more across the table.

"Sorry about that." She smiled again and he caught her eye. "Must have been distracted."

Her smile stretched and a bit of color flared on her cheeks.

"No problem," she said, turning her tile between her fingers.

"Your turn?"

"Yeah," she said, finally putting a five by three into place on the end of a jagged line.

"Sorry, but domino," said Mike as he set down his last tile.

Jane's mouth opened and he watched her stare at the finished spider web of plastic blocks. The rest of the tension ebbed from her body after the quick perusal and the grin returned.

"Nicely done."

"Beginner's luck, I'm sure."

"No," she said with a shy glint in her eye, "I think I was just a little distracted."

Up at six - 9/17

The hands ticked.

"What time is it?" Sam asked.

Jesse peered at the round clock set upon his stomach. One pointed arm hung straight down while the other neared the twelve.

"Almost six," he whispered.

Sam lay back in his twin bed and squirmed into the superheroes decorating his pillow.

"When did mom say we could get up?"

"Seven," answered Jesse.

Sam flung the blankets over his head in frustration then threw the comforter back again so he could breath.

"Did you hear anything last night?"

Jesse shrugged and tucked an arm under his head as he stared at the dimming glow-in-the-dark galaxy adhered to the ceiling. "I thought I heard something on the roof."

"Me too," said Sam. He reached up and pulled aside the heavy curtain over the window set between their beds. "Hey!"


"It's snowing," Sam said in a hoarse whisper.

Jesse rolled over and took his own peek through the curtain. Frost clung to the corners of the panes. Large flakes drifted down like a slow motion pour from a cereal box. The blanket of thickening snow from the previous days softened the street and made all the cars along the road look like marshmallows.

Jesse's nose began growing cold. He tucked back into the warmth of the blankets and took another look at the clock.

The thin rod continued in its quick circular path around the numbers. Then the larger hand moved to stand straight up.

He tossed the clock to the side. The round device rolled and blended in with the baseballs on the sheets. Throwing off his blankets gave Jesse a quick chill. He swung his legs off the bed and squirreled his feet into his waiting hockey puck slippers.

"Come on."

"What?!" Sam dropped the curtain and propped himself up on his elbows. He stared with wide eyes. "Mom said seven."

"Mom said we couldn't get up AND bother her and dad until seven." Jesse stood and made sure to keep his voice low. "I'm not going to bother them."

He padded across dusty blue carpet of the recently tidied room and pressed his ear to the football poster on the door. The thick paper crackled. The house on the other side gave a few settling groans. His hand gripped the door knob. The clicks of his slow turn seemed to roar.


He pulled the door open enough to peer into the hallway. A gust of unheated air coiled inside and caused him to shiver. Snow softened light trickled through the window outside their room and fell on the thin rug laying upon the wood floor. The scent of pine and the lingering smoke from the fire the night before clung to the walls.

Glancing up the stairs, he saw their parent’s door closed.

Behind him the springs in Sam's bed snapped. He felt his brother's warm hand on his back as Sam peered over his shoulder.

"You sure?"

"I'm just going to look." Jesse crept into the hall. His heart thrummed against his new set of baseball themed pajamas. "Stay here if you're scared."

"I'm not scared," mumbled Sam.

Jesse laid his fingers on the banister winding toward the second set of stairs. The cold metal between the garlands ran up his arms. He heard Sam padding along behind him and, perched on his toes, he continued on.

He waited at the top of the stairs to the bottom floor and held up a hand. Sam stopped at his side, lower lip chewed upon like a stick of gum.



Another rustle and thump sounded by the front door a mile down the stairs.

"You think it's him?" Sam squatted down and tilted his head to peer downstairs as if he had bendable and binocular vision.

"Maybe," said Jesse.

"But it's morning already."

"Could be he's running late," said Jesse with a shrug.

Sam frowned. "I hope he didn't forget my new bike."

"Let's find out."

Jesse put one foot on the edge of the first stair, where the wood creaked less and shifted his weight. Then he lifted his second foot and placed it at a similar spot on the next stair. After he had managed four silent steps, Sam began the same process.

"Can you see anything yet?" asked Sam. One of the middle stairs gave a groan as he stepped.

"Watch it," snapped Jesse. He leaned forward though, peering through the railing toward the living room around the corner. "No, not yet."

They reached the bottom step, hands gripping the rail and making the decorations rustle. Angling forward gave Jesse a glimpse of the tree's lower branches and the glittering lights twinkling from the night before.

Above them the floor crackled.

Jesse and Sam looked at one another, frozen like the cars outside.

Footsteps began a slow march down the top flight of stairs.

The two boys turned in unison, shoulders bashing into one another as they started a noisy creep back up the steps.

"I bet it's dad..."

"I told you to be quiet," muttered Jesse.

They reached the top of the stairs and began a scamper toward their bed room. Their dad met them. His hands rested on his sweat pant covered hips and his greasy hair carried the press of his pillow.

"You know the rules, boys."

"It was Jesse's idea," pleaded Sam.

"I was just going to look," argued Jesse. He jabbed Sam with his elbow. "It was his fault you woke up."

Their dad raised a pointed finger. "I don't want to hear it."

The two hung their heads. Jesse wiggled his toes in his slippers and suddenly missed the warmth of his blankets.

On the top floor, another set of steps began a slow walk.

Mom, thought Jesse with a wince.

"Alright," said their dad.

Jesse looked up in tempo with Sam. Their father’s stern expression broke into a weary grin. "You know how this goes. One with breakfast."

Jesse bounced on his toes while Sam quivered in anticipation of a quick flight. He watched his dad's smiling face and waited for the final command. "Go on," he said with a playful swipe at their heads.

The two sprinted around the corner and dove down the stairs.

"Bring them to the kitchen," their dad said after a yawn. He began down the second flight of stairs and the door to the kitchen swung but Jesse barely heard the noise. His thoughts had no other notion except the colorful packages packed beneath the tree and the weighty decision of which to open first.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Soaked - 9/14

Wendy watched as Jimmy race down the school’s front steps. His backpack jumped on the too loose shoulder straps, the bulk threatening to bowl him over. He skidded to a stop and pulled open the backseat door.

"Hi mom," he shouted, tossing the backpack onto the floor and hopping inside.

Wendy waited until he had buckled his seat-belt before lowering the parking brake and merging into the rest of the traffic from the afternoon pick up.

"How was your day?" she asked, her eyes flicking between her son's reflection in the rear view mirror and the road.

"Fine." He scrubbed at his nose and stared out the window.

"What did you do?" she prodded.

"Same old stuff."


He sighed and picked some dried mud from his jeans. "We did more multiplication today. Susie Jacobs beat everyone as usual. Um...We read more of that book with the dog. Had to practice again for the end of the year concert." He shrugged. "Same stuff."

"Mrs. Anderson told me something happened to your homework?"

"Yeah." He scratched at his neck like the back leg of a dog. "It got torn up in the fan."

Wendy raised her brows but kept her tone skeptical. "Really?"

"When I went to turn it in," Jim said, rubbing at his eyes and yawning, "the fan by Mrs. Anderson's desk just sucked it right up. Cut it into a million pieces."

Wendy managed to keep her face expressionless.

"That's not what Mrs. Anderson told me."

Her son's face paled and he tugged at his wrinkled shirt collar.

"What did she say?"

Wendy pulled up to a red light and looked over her shoulder, her voice and eyes both stern. Jim froze as if she had caught him, like a squirrel, in headlights. "Why don't you tell me the truth? I bet the two sound the same."

"Mom," Jim crossed his arms and pouted.

"Jim," Wendy said mimicking the whiny octave.

He mumbled behind his hand.

Wendy turned back to the road as the light changed. "I didn't catch that."

His hand flung into his lap. "It got soaked."

"Now how would that happen on such a fine summery day?"

"You know already, why do I have to say?"

"Because you lied first," Wendy said her tone serious.

Jimmy heaved a sigh weighted with the rest of the world. Wendy allowed the silence to linger until it grew uncomfortable. Her patience however stretched longer than her sons.

He sank deeper into the backseat before he began talking again.

"Billy Johnson and I were making water balloons during recess. My homework got soaked when they started bursting in my bag."

Wendy let out a soft exhale. "What were you going to do with the balloons?"

"Toss them at Susie Jacobs..."


"She's always making us look bad with all her 'Oh I know Mrs. Anderson', 'Pick me Mrs. Anderson'". He shook his head.

"And how would you like it if she tossed balloons at you?"

Jim rolled his eyes and fogged up the window with a breath. He began tracing figures into the mist.

"Jim. Answer me."

"I wouldn't like it at all." he muttered.

"So maybe it serves you right for getting your homework wet when you were going to do something so mean."

He rubbed out the drawing with an angry fist. "Guess so."

Wendy shook her head and gripped the steering wheel. "I want that done first then when we get home."

"What done?"

"Your assignment. You still have to turn it in."

"But I did it already!"

Wendy caught his exasperated expression in her mirror. "Did you turn it in?"

"No," he muttered, banging his legs against the seat.

"Mr. Anderson gave me a new assignment for you, too."

"Ah, mom."

"It's just one problem."

He slouched again and folded his arms with a huff.

"Mrs. Anderson wants you to come up with how many water balloons you'd need for each person in your class to have 3."

"That's easy."

Wendy held up a silencing finger and her son, for once obliged.

"But every student in the fourth grade also gets 3 and then each third and fifth grade student needs to have 2. And the teachers each get 4."

Jim's mouth hung open, ready to argue but his brow furrowed in obvious thought. Wendy almost heard his brain cells chewing on the answer.

"She wants the number on the top of your assignment tomorrow."

Jim began counting on his fingers and then gave up. He dug into his bag and withdrew a damp notebook and stubby pencil.

"Don't you think that'd be a lot?" he asked, scrubbing his eraser end in his hair.

Wendy smiled and turned another corner. "More than you could fit in your bag."

Jim rolled his eyes and whined another "Mom..." before burrowing back into the question.

Promotion - 9/13

Lisa scanned the resume of Cathy Johansen for the third time.

"She has the right background," said Bruce, on arm resting on the opposite side of her desk.

Lisa sighed and set the stapled pages onto her blotter, face down. Leaning back in her chair, she tapped her ball point pen against the palm of her hand. "Sure, but I'm not convinced she's right for the position."

"What do you mean?" He frowned and adjusted the end of his tie.

"She's always so..." Lisa waved the pen, searching to find the most tactful description. Instead, she hunched her shoulders and twisted her features into an apologetic expression.

"Ah," said Bruce, seeming to catch on. "You mean the..."

A gentle tap sounded on her office door. Bruce closed his mouth with a wince. Lisa cocked a question eyebrow at him. He sat back and sighed, but nodded in assent.

Thanks, mouthed Lisa. "Come in," she said.

The knob turned and Cathy stuck her neatly coiffed head into the room.

"I'm sorry," she said with worried frown. "Am I early?"

Lisa glanced at her computer's clock amidst the charts and updating graphs. The digits then ticked over to the top of the hour.

"No, not at all."

Bruce angled his chair away from the desk, making room for the second one sitting empty.

"Have a seat." Lisa leaned forward and pointed with her pen.

Cathy made sure to shut the door and then took the chair, scooping her skirt under her as she perched on the edge. Her fingers tugged at one another while her gaze swept over the mounds of paperwork arranged in neat piles.

"I'm sorry I didn't bring anything with me to take notes."

"Its fine," said Bruce with a steady smile.

"We just wanted to talk with you," added Lisa.

"Is this about the new position?" Cathy glanced between the two then her cheeks flushed. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to jump in like that..."

Lisa folded her arms and laid them on the desk, pages crinkling beneath her suit’s crisp sleeves. With a settling breath she decided to go straight to the point.

"I'm afraid we're going to go with Deborah to head the new overseas marketing division."

Cathy's shoulders curved and she set her hands down into her lap as if they suddenly weighed a ton. "I see." Her head tilted to the side, like a rabbit listening for danger. Her smooth forehead frowned. "I don't mean to pry, but...could you tell me why?"

"It's not a reflection on your work," said Lisa, softening her tone. "On the contrary, you're knowledge of market dynamics is a tremendous asset to the department. We simply thought she would have more success dealing with the clients on a personal level."

"They can be really difficult sometimes," continued Bruce.

Lisa nodded. "Deborah's been in the field, if you can call it that, for a number of years and knows how to wheel and deal. She's got the thick skin for rough negotiations. Your experience is more academic and while substantial, doesn't really fit the demands of the position."

Cathy's head bobbed slowly. "Thanks for telling me," she said after a moment of silence. Standing, she patted the sides of her skirt with her hands as if confirming the existence of her own legs. "Sorry, was there anything else?"

"Not really, but if you're willing I’d like to have you working with her once she's settled in and get you some additional firsthand experience. See if we can't expand your own skills."

Cathy solemn face brightened. "I'd like that."

"It would be a great addition to your resume," said Bruce.

"More than that, it'd be great for me to have you two working as a team. Your brains behind her charm would be a knock out combination."


Lisa smiled at the young woman's innocent surprise. "Definitely. Now, please, be honest with me. Are you going to be ok with this?"

Cathy tugged at her hands again and chewed at her lip, giving the question adequate thought. "Yeah, thanks."

"Great," said Lisa. "I am still expecting those numbers on my desk in the morning."

"Sure thing." Cathy thumbed at the door. "I just have a few more statistics to crunch if you want it sooner."

Lisa raised a calming hand. "I don't need them until tomorrow."

"Right, sorry." She blushed and stepped toward the door. "I should probably get back though. I was waiting on some reports to come in on the London exchange."

Lisa gave her a dismissive nod. "Thanks, Cathy."

Cathy slipped through the door and closed it behind her.

Bruce let out a slow exhale.

"That went better than I expected."

Lisa shrugged. "She's smart and eager, overeager," she corrected. "Deborah should be a good influence."

"Who knows, perhaps one day she'll have mine job."

"Are you kidding me?" Lisa snorted and tucked away the resumes on her desk into their respective folders. "One day she'll have mine."

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Better Fit - 9/12

In the floor length mirror, Debbie watched her mother, Blanche dab her handkerchief at the corner of her eyes. The cloth came away stained with foundation and mascara.

Debbie's stomach churned with a wave of sudden nausea and her heart fluttered as if the organ wanted to split in two. Her mouth became dry and she decided to hold off voicing her decision for another few minutes. Instead she asked, "Are you alright, mom?"

Blanche sniffed and clutched the hanky in her be-ringed hands.

"You look so beautiful."

Debbie swallowed and forced her eyes to take in her own reflection rather than being pulled toward the dressing room door a few feet away. Her sweaty hands trembled as she fluffed the marshmallow sized skirt, making her legs itch as the mesh rustled underneath. She patted down the bead covered bodice squeezing her torso into a snug hourglass and tried to breathe.

Tucking away the hanky, Blanche adjusted the lace hem of the veil tumbling down from the jeweled tiara mounted upon Debbie's head. Her bare shoulders shook with a sudden chill.

"Are you catching cold?"

"No, mom."

"The air conditioners then, they keep these dressing rooms like ice boxes."

Debbie sighed and pivoted away from the mirror.

"It's hard to breathe in this," she growled tugging at the square neckline standing like a wall over her chest. "I feel trapped." Her eyes hung on her mother’s face, willing the insinuation to land home.

Blanche patted away her hands with a testy cluck of her tongue. "Careful, you'll stretch it."

Debbie’s head hung and she stared down at the gown. "How can I stretch it? It's made of cement."

"It needs to be stiff to keep you all together."

"Yes, but I need oxygen in order to keep live."

Blanche heaved a sigh and finished her tugs on the veil. Debbie dropped her eyes back to the soft flower patterns stitched along the hem of her dress while her mother took a step backwards. She heard a soft crinkle as Blanche's lean arms folded over her silk blouse.

"Wedding gowns don't go with frowns, Deborah."

Debbie bobbed her head as she twisted at the weighty boulder attached to the gold band on her left hand. The ring slipped with surprising ease over her knuckle. A flash of skipping rocks across a pond came suddenly to mind.

The memory vanished as her mother took her chin hand and tilted Debbie's face back to her.

"You look like an angel."

"I feel like a cream puff."

Blanche laughed. "A cream puff?"

"No, literally. How about we have some lunch?" Her roiling stomach let out a grumble to second the notion or perhaps, she thought, in anticipation of the pending dining topic. Somehow lunch seemed to make the discussion more palatable.

Blanche frowned and picked off an errant thread. "You need to be careful."

"Of what?"

"A pound or two can make a big difference in how this sits. Don't you want to look your best for Jake? He is such a dear."

Debbie chewed on her lower lip and bit back her answer. Jake's disinfected smile on his sharply cut visage, the one her mother expected her to spend the rest of her life looking at, hovered before her eyes. Her stomach grumbled again as Malcolm’s softer smile on his earthy face sprang into mind, warming her like a comforting embrace.

With a sigh, she stuck to her appetite's demands. "You know I've been good all week. Right now, I'm starved."

"Only two more days dear."

Debbie rolled her eyes and turned back to the mirror as the seconds ticked by at racing speed. She wiggled her torso in an attempt to make the bodice sit more comfortably. No amount of adjustments seemed to lessen the crushing hold on her ribs. She trailed her fingernails over her collar bones and then down the edges of the dress.

"Careful, Debbie," her mother chided as her newly manicured nails rattled at the faux pearls.

Debbie stilled her hands but the urge to move remained. She poked her bare foot out from the hem of her dress and rolled one ankle and then the next. Her toe ring on her second foot sparkled.

"Be sure to take that off."

Debbie sucked in a gasp as she slipped her foot back beneath the dress and began bouncing as if warming up for her morning run.

Her mother offered the tissue lined box with the pair of crisp white heels.

"Do you want to try these on one last time too?"

Debbie shook her head and rose up on her toes as if the pointed shoes already cut off the circulation in her feet and forced her up on the two inch spikes. "I'd be about here," she noted, feeling two inches too tall.

"Then the hem line is perfect." Blanche drew the shoe box into her arms, clutching the cardboard and thin paper like a child.

Debbie wobbled and then braced herself against the mirror, leaving sweaty fingerprints on the glass. The air conditioner gave another hearty blast and goose bumps bloomed on her bare skin. She shivered again.

"I'm going to change."


"I feel like I've been standing here for an hour!"

Blanche relinquished the box to one in the pair of plush floral print chairs set in each corner of the changing room. "Alright, bride's prerogative."

Debbie straightened her shoulders and clutched at the front of the gown as her mother unfastened the loops along her spine. She savored the first full breath she managed once the prison of lace and cloth relinquished her body.

She leapt free of the bodice and skirt and thrust her mother the gown by the pair of satin hanging loops. She slipped off the tiara and veil, laying them on the second plush chair then turned her back as Blanche tittered over the placement of the dress on the ivory hanger and refastened the loops around an invisible bride.

Out of the corner of her eye, Debbie noted the dress formed a more appealing shape wrapped around nothing at all. With a deep breath, she focused on her skirt, sweater and sandals, savoring the comfort of familiar clothes and with each passing moment, feeling more like herself. Behind her, Blanche finished wrapping the dress back into the protective sleeve with a shimmer of plastic.

"So where do you want to go?"

"Go?" asked Blanche.

"For lunch." Debbie swung her purse onto her shoulder and turned to her mother. Blanche's hands gripped the padded hanger as if holding onto the edge of a cliff. Even with all the blush, Debbie watched her mother's face pale. "I promise," said Debbie, raising her right hand as if swearing in on some courtroom stand, "to have a salad." She made sure to vow nothing else.

Blanche's face burst back into color and her mother's smile returned.

"Your choice dear," said Blanche, releasing the hanger to a golden hook sprouting from the wall. "You know what's good around here better than I do."

"You're right," said Debbie with a sudden wave of confidence. She turned toward the dressing room's door. The idea of lettuce and vinaigrette, followed by the necessary dessert in response to her mother’s certain breakdown, making her mouth water.


She stopped with one hand on the door knob, frowning at the pause in their departure.

Blanche gestured toward the dangling gown. "What about the dress?"

Debbie gave a half hearted shrug. "We can deal with it later."

Blanche frowned. "Are you sure?"

Debbie stared at the sheen of wrinkled plastic. Her stomach growled. She wiped her damp palm on her purse strap. Malcolm’s face sprang back into her thoughts, calming the patter in her heart and causing the storm in her stomach to ebb. "I can't get married without it right?"

With a chuckle, Blanche shouldered her own stout purse. "You won't make much of a bride without a wedding dress, Debbie."

Debbie's lips coiled into a weak smile and she opened the door for her mother. Her eyes however, remained trapped by the hidden beads and fabric.

"I guess I won't," she said to the empty room. She drew in another deep breath, relishing the full expansion of her lungs. "For better or worse," she whispered, then shut the door and headed for lunch.

Eagle's Landing - 9/11

Clyde's fingers danced over the frets on his guitar while he strummed across the strings with a calloused thumb. At his side, Boxer lay with his gray muzzle on his matted paws, drooping eyes following the walkers flooding by on the asphalt path.

Around the pair, the crowds continued to gather, their footsteps drowning out Clyde's harmony. He shrugged and kept playing, the tune rattling between his ears as the notes fell without impact on the distracted audience.

"Do you think they're going to make it?" asked a young woman in a flaring ochre smock dress with knee high socks pulled up to the hem. She clutched a newspaper to her chest as if worried about the pages scattering to the wind.

"It's NASA," said her counterpart, a young man with a mane of wavy locks and crimson tee-shirt. "Of course they'll make it." His wide pant legs slapped against one another and they hurried on.

Clyde mellowed his tune as he watched them work through the growing array of people filling the grass of Central Park. The pair squeezed onto a free patch, the lady using the paper to protect her skirt from the damp blades.

"They sound pretty sure," said Clyde down to Boxer. The hound lifted his head, tongue drooping out with a set of pants.

Clyde twisted his clawed hand into another set of cords while the stream continued to flow down the winding trail.

"You know what this is," said a balding fellow, bow tie loosened around his sweat stained collar and gray flannel suit coat draped over his arm, bared by rolled sleeves.

"What?" A younger man, hands filling the pockets of his striped trousers beneath his sports jacket, asked as he kept up with the older man's rapid pace.

"A hoax. Compete hoax." They strode past within a cloud of self confidence.

Clyde shook his head. "Seems a lot of interest for a hoax." Boxer's tail wagged in slow agreement.

A lady in a matching two piece suit and neckerchief leaned toward her friend in a short flaring plaid skirt as if conspiring. "We're going to beat the Russian's this time for sure."

Clyde looked down the stream of figures pouring into the Park. Cars had pulled up along the sidewalk, dotted with those watching from roofs and hoods.

"Don't see any Russians..." he noted to Boxer as the two women clack on in their stout heels.

With a respective sigh and huff, the musician and dog turned toward the sea of young and old from across the city sitting upon the grass. Everyone faced the screens posted along the front edge of the lawn. The hum of conversations blended with the passing wind and flutter of leaves hanging in thick clumps on the park's clusters of trees.

Speakers then crackled to life with the steady voice of Walter Cronkite and hushed the murmurs.

Clyde slowed his fingers down into a softer rhythm, matching the cadence and tenor of the reporter. His fingers seemed the only movement in the entire park. Chests ceased to rise and fall as everyone held their breaths. Hands clutched one another, fingers frozen in place. No one shifted, no one moved, no one spoke. Everyone watched and waited.

Clyde silenced his strums as the black and white image filled the screen. Boxer shuffled up to his feet and leaned into the leg of his dirty jeans. Clyde's fingers dug into the dog's fur, absently scratching in time with his last tune.

They watched together while the static on the screen revealed a blocky figure descending a ladder, moving with fluid jumps as if through water. The bottom of the picture labeled the distant location in pixilated letters. A muffled voice came through the speakers, accompanying the final hop down on to the pale lunar surface.

A single voice broke the silence as the crowd roared as one.

Clyde gave Boxer a heavy set of pats and then took hold of the neck on his guitar once more. He pulled on his own adrenaline, blended in the energy of the shouting, crying and exuberant people around them, and rocketed across his strings.

Over his vibrant scales the buoyant crowd began to deflate and then disperse. Clyde watched some wiping away tears, others held hands. Some walked as if stunned, the surge of bodies keeping them from wandering as they all made their way back to their normal lives.

Clyde turned to watch his fingers on his frets, allowing the music to take him away.

A pair of Chelsea boots stopped before his open guitar case. One shiny toe matched the rhythm. Clyde shifted into a simpler array of cords and glanced up.

The young man with a thick set of square glasses bobbed his head along with the tune, a wistful smile stretching beneath his thin mustache.

Clyde turned back to his strings and dove into another roller coaster of notes.

"Out of this world, man" said the fellow.

Clyde smiled through his stubble and wandered into another rapid melody. A few scuffed quarters finally tumbled into Clyde's case and the feet moved on.

Clyde finished the set and then rested his fingers. He gave Boxer a scratch, the dog's tail thumping wearily on the path.

"See there, boy" Clyde said, reaching down for the coins and flipping up tails, "the Eagles have landed."

Friday, September 10, 2010

Being Late - 9/8

Jill pulled another folder from the leaning stack occupying the mesh basket at the corner of her desk.

A soft bell rang from her computer.

With her stout red pen poised to bloody the errors on the page, she flipped open the folder and glanced at the glowing screen.

Dinner, the calendar's reminder window stated, 30 minutes overdue.

"Ah!" she groaned.

Slamming down the manila cover, Jill jumped out of her rolling chair. As she grabbed for her jacket and purse with one hand, she dealt with shutting down her system, stowing away the paperwork and pulling the string on her desk lamp with the other. With her bag in one hand, she squirmed into her jacket as she trotted through the sea of empty cubicles, all doused with shadows.

Banging on the down button failed to speed the lift, but she bashed at it repeatedly anyway.

"You're never on time," she said to her reflection in the elevator's gleaming doors, mimicking her mother's admonishing tone. She imagined the waggling finger joining the reprimand and shook her head.

After a long exhale and a dozen taps of her toes, the elevator slid open. Stepping inside she gave the lobby button the same assault with her manicured fingertip.

After a quiet descent, the elevator opened up into the ground floor with an echoing ding.

Jill trotted toward the exit, the clack of her heels rising up into the open expanse of the dim lobby. By the front doors a janitor circled a rumbling polisher, leaving a gleaming row of marble tiles.

She gave him a wave and he nodded, shaking the cords of his headset, the wires disappearing into his chest pocket.

Pounding rain greeted her as she pushed through the frosted glass door. Jill skidded to a stop and glared up at the sheets of water lit by the stalks of lamp posts in the front parking lot.

She glanced down at the handle of her purse and sighed. The two loops meant to hold an umbrella dangled empty.

Where did I forget it this time?

Jill's shoulders sagged as the image of her umbrella, splayed and lying on the floor before her passenger seat came to mind.

Pulling her jacket close, she lifted her purse above her head and started to scamper toward the lone vehicle occupying a crisply outlined stall.

Water splashed against her nylons and drops soaked into her skirt. Each hurried step through the puddles seemed to find a crevice for the tip of her heel, leaving her wobbling and lurching to stay balanced.

She dug for her keys as she neared her car door, her fingers cold and growing numb. The metal ring felt dull in her hands and she fumbled to slip the key into the lock, adding another tiny scrape to the azure paint. Ducking inside, she slid onto the leather seat like a can out of a vending machine. She tucked her legs inside and shook out her purse. She gave the dry umbrella a glare and then dumped the damp bag into the well, causing droplets to scatter across the floor mat.

Pulling the door closed she shivered, buckled her safety belt then thrust her key into the ignition. The engine roared to life. She flicked the defroster on and pushed the gauge to the fattest end of the red line.

She drew the pip of her phone's headset to her ear as she began to navigate out of the lot.

"Call home," she said to the device propped on her dashboard as she flicked on her wipers and pressed the gas. The seconds seemed to draw out until the other end of the line picked up.


"I'm sorry. I'm on my way now."

Daniel laughed and Jill frowned as she merged onto the main road.

"How long have they been there?" she asked.

"They're not here yet."

Jill frowned and growled as the street light up ahead turned red. "What?"

"They called at 7 and we talked for a bit." Daniel chuckled. "You mom asked how things were going so I told her about the Anderson account. She figured you'd be late so I told her I'd call them when you called me to say you were on your way."

Jill sagged into her seat as she drew to a stop. "Am I that predictable?"

"Maybe a little."

She shook her head and wiped away some residual drips of rain. "Why do you put up with me?"

"Who else can I test recipes on?"

"My parents, Chef."

"I should call them," said Daniel with a smile in his voice. "They'll probably be here when you are, and dinner will be hot from the oven."

"You're too good for me."

"Drive safe."

She hung up and drew the pip from her ear as the light turned green. Pressing the gas brought on a whirr from her tires. The back end of her car swung out in a hydroplaning spin and she circled into the middle of the intersection. Her hands gripped the steering wheel as her eyes widened at the encroaching sets of headlamps.

Horns seemed to blare from all directions and tires squealed. Water splashed into her windows and then the car jolted as a pair of cars slammed into her front and rear.

The air bag blossomed out of her steering wheel, her seat belt tightened across her chest and then everything turned quiet.

Jill took a deep breath as the inflated bag began to sag. With a trembling finger, she pressed the call button on her phone, still tucked in its stand.

"So, now I really am going to be late."

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Offer - 9/5

Mabel peered through her faded, lace trimmed curtains at the slowing Cadillac. The car, complete with a pair of steer horns mounted on the hood, rumbled to a stop in a cloud of pale dust on the other side of her picket fence. Stubborn weeds twined around the paint cracks marring the sturdy planks.

A curious hawk coasted through the clear sky, blotting the morning sun for a moment. The shadowed stretch of wings rippled over the white steel with a piercing shriek.

Mabel watched the bird drift over her barren fields and down the slope toward the dry stream bed in the valley below. Then, she set down her knife alongside the split orange she had divided for juicing and sighed. Citrus blended with the heavier aroma of coffee from the percolator bubbling on the counter. The breakfast flavors however turned sour on her tongue as the car's driver door opened.

A trim chauffer in bland suit swiveled to open the passenger door behind him. He straightened his cap as a tall figure uncoiled from the interior.

"Phineas Ragen," Mabel growled.

Pressing down on the curving ends of his waxed moustache and then adjusting his sunglasses, the pasty face man surveyed the rolling hills surrounding the house from over the sheen on the vehicle’s roof.

Mabel didn't need to guess at the greedy thoughts churning beneath his slick backed hair and thin grin. The plans he had brought with his first visit spun before her crow's feet flecked eyes. Diagrams of supposed petroleum output, photographs of potential machinery, and the amount of the check he had wanted to pay her for her land, for their land, swirled so much Mabel pressed a hand to her suddenly rolling stomach.

She had not sold out then, she thought, and she was not about to cave in now.

"Give me strength, Ned," she asked to the ghost she always felt hovering at her shoulder.

Her imagination, she knew, gave the sense of her long passed husband's strong hands gently squeezing her upper arms through her thin flannel shirt. Real or not, the touch calmed her belly and leveled her nerves.

She watched with a lifted chin as the chauffer slammed closed the door and hurried around the front of the car.

Meanwhile Ragen tugged the end of his shirt sleeves back into place and lay flat the shoestrings on his bola tie. The rhinestone and turquoise pendant at his throat glistened. Gravel crunched beneath his sharp tipped boots as he rounded the trunk and hovered like a vulture before the pickets. In his hand dangled the ever present briefcase full of his predictions and plans. The snake skin leather seemed to slither around the square frame. His shaded gaze lingered on the front porch as the chauffer opened the other door.

With a scowl Mabel pushed back the edge of her curtain in order to see who had joined the greased man on his unannounced visit.

The glint of a nail file bounced back the morning light. A mane of bleach blonde hair surrounded a disinterested face and two finely arched brows mounting a pair of sunglasses with dish plate lenses.

Mabel watched the woman's wet, salmon stained lips move.

"What do they farm here, Phineas, dust?"

"They don't farm anything here, Gloria. Not anymore."

Mabel's dull finger nails scraped across the counter.

The woman pouted and tucked away her nail file somewhere into the car's interior. "Then why are we here?"

"For the future, my dear. The future."

Ragen turned and offered his hand. The seams of his damp shirt strained against his shoulders. After a moment the tips of manicured fingers slid into the waiting palm. Spiked heels drifted into nylon legs and Gloria's snug violet dress.

Mable found the whole plastered ensemble made the woman look like a spoiled sausage.

Straightened from her lean into the window, Mabel wiped her juice stained hands on the towel draping her shoulder. She closed her eyes as the hinge on the fence door groaned and footsteps started up the path to her front door.

Gathering her coffee pot and waiting mug, Mabel turned to place them on the round table occupying the center of kitchen. The stain glass lampshade hanging over the sparse table swayed as her frizzy gray curls brushed against the scalloped edge. She stilled the movement without a second thought then pulled off the towel from her shoulder, folding the edges carefully. She laid the towel on the placemat next to hers, the setting bare except for the decorative plastic daisies.

Her screen door gave a moan then a quick rap echoed down the front hall.

In the following silence, a meaty zap came from the bug catcher as the device snatch a fly from her wraparound porch.

Mabel gazed toward the door and silently wished Ned had bought a bigger one.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Tall Tales - 9/3

Barry bumped into Jill as he lugged himself through the door.

"Watch it!" she snapped, rubbing at her bony arm through her school issued cardigan.

"Sorry," said Barry over his shoulder.

Jill's eyes began to grow wide behind her round glasses. Barry turned away to hide his spreading grin and navigated the rows of identical chairs and desks marching down the classroom tiles. A few curious faces looked up from putting the finishing touches on their assignment as he passed.

"What are those?"

Barry dumped his bag onto his desk and looked up at the scrawny girl thrusting a finger at his bag.

"Huh?" he said although he knew exactly where she pointed.

Jill rolled her eyes and put her other hand onto her narrow hip. "Those."

Barry followed her finger to the wooden carvings dangling from the zipper of his backpack. The curved and polished edges gleamed and the bright feathers contrasted against his marker drawings on the canvas bag.

"Oh, just some totems."

"Totems?" ask Jill's best friend Abby. The blond girl leaned into the aisle from her own seat beside Barry in order to gain a better look.

"Yeah." Barry slid into his chair and began to pull out his homework binder. "My mom got them on her last expedition in Mexico."

In the seat in front of Barry, Danny swiveled to join in the conversation. He rested his chin on his hands gripping the top of his chair.


"Like from some store?" asked Jill.

"Like from a tomb," countered Barry. He didn't mention the tomb had been a display at the museum where his mom had been conducting some research, nor the price tags he had scrubbed off the night before. Both would only ruin the story.

"Awesome," said Danny.

A few more classmates came to hover around Barry's desk. Their eyes and interest covered him like a blanket.

Barry twisted his bag as if to pull out a pencil while incidentally making the dangling 'totems' sway.

"What do they do?" asked Marty.

"Ancient Mayan secret," answered Barry.

"Wow," said Abby.

"Neat," added Ben

"Can I touch?" asked Susan.

"Did your mom find anything you can't clip to a bag?" asked Jill. She folded her arms and raised two thin eyebrows so they curved over her frames.

Barry kept thumbing through his pencils, working on picking the right one for the day, and managed to avoid her skeptical gaze. His thoughts ran across the other gifts accompanying his mom’s trip. A postcard, probably purchased from the same store as the ‘totems’ burst into his thoughts.

"A Chief's Headdress."

"No way!" said Danny, tipping his chair forward to touch the feathers.

"Yeah," said Barry with a shrug. "She found them all in the same place. It has feathers just like these." From the picture on the postcard, the headdress did look a lot like the totems.

Danny's hand pulled back and returned to the tight grip on the chair’s plastic rim.

Barry dumped his bag onto the floor during a wave of oohs and ahhs.

"If those totems,” said Jill, putting the stressed word between two sets of air quotes, “are from a tomb then why do they look so new?"

Barry scowled at her as he tried to form a plausible counter argument but then a tall shadow fell across his desk.

"What's all this?" Ms. Chandler peered over everyone's head from the perimeter of the circle.

Barry focused on etching his name on his homework while various students attempted to supply simultaneous answers.

"Barry's mom brought home a chief's headdress," said Abby.

"Barry's got totems from some ancient tombs in Mexico,” Marty stated as if a sudden expert on Barry’s mom’s activities.

"Look at these Mrs. Chandler," said Danny, pointing again at the bag.

Ms. Chandler patted the air and the tinny voices fell quiet.

"That sounds fascinating."

Barry felt her steel eyes lock onto him and silent speculation pass through her thoughts. He tracked the stub of his pencil over each letter in his name.

"It sounds like Barry has a head start on this semester project about Ancient cultures," she said finally.

"Aw, a project?” grumbled Marty.

"Ms. Chandler,” pleaded Abby, “it's just September!"

"That's not fair,” said Danny. Barry watched him pout on his fingers and staring hungrily down at his bag.

Ms. Chandler silenced the room again with another wave of her hand.

"Everyone find your seats. We've got a lot to cover today."

The class grumbled and dragged their feet to follow their teacher’s instructions. Meanwhile Barry sagged into his chair and hoped the book his mom had also brought had better stories to tell.

Debate of the Profrane - 9/1

* As per this assignment's instructions, the following piece contains swear words that might be offensive to some readers. Proceed at your own discretion.

Ted popped the tab on his third beer and sagged back into the folding chair. The canvas back strained around his sweaty bulk and the flimsy steel tubes groaned. He stuck his hairy legs out into the drips of the rotating sprinkler watering the patch of brown grass making up Stan's backyard.

"Anything on this weekend?"

Stan waved his already luke warm beer from his seat at Ted's side. "Nothing but crap."

Ted grunted in agreement and watched the ribbon of water patter against Stan's stark sock tan.


"Preseason." Stan spat a hunk of frothy spit onto the steaming bricks.

"Babies hardly play in those."

"Just the sucky ones. That shit's not even worth watching." He drowned a mouthful of saliva with a gulp of brown brew. "Pennant’s not even started yet."

"Hell, those guys don't even look like athletes." Ted rested his can on his bloated stomach and let out a belch. "Fat asses standing around."

"Not as bad as golfers. Pompous jerks."

"Their clubs probably cost more than my car."

Stan snorted. "Your car's a piece of shit."

Ted glanced over at his mound of gashed steel and melting rubber parked at the end of the driveway. Sunlight bounded from the rust stains and dents.

"Not like I’m driving at Indy or anything," he grumbled.

"Now that's a fucking joke."

"Racecars?" asked Ted.

Stan shook his head, causing the lines of sweat pouring down his face to wobble like his double chin. "How can you call it a sport if you're sitting on your ass, driving in circles? Every fucking person in this city does that every damn day."

"Not as bad as those soccer players."

Stan glanced across the wavering air as he guzzled another mouthful.

"Fakers." Ted pretended to twist his leg out of joint and let out a high pitched moan. "Bastards falling to the ground, whining like little girls."

"But at least they're doing something. Scoring goals or some such shit. Not running in circles like those fucking cars or those skinny-ass runners." Stan squished as he adjusted his seat in the bucket chair. "I don't get those other events though, where they're throwing shit or jumping over crap."

Ted shook his head. "I heard one guy in the Olympics wore gold shoes. Can you believe it? Gold fucking shoes?"

"Man," Stan swallowed. He waved with a sausage finger. "Then you've got all those other rich man sports. Skiing, tennis, horse racing. Nothing any of us normal guys can afford to do."

"You have to have a fortune just to start." Ted tipped back the last of his beer. "Don't get me started on how much they pay those damn basketball players now."

"Did you see that crap this summer about that guy switching teams?"

Ted nodded and leaned into the cooler for another beer.

"You know the one good thing about all those sports?

Ted popped the top on the dripping can and took another swing. "The cheerleaders?"

Stan clanked his beer against Ted's. "Damn straight."