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Friday, February 25, 2011

Best Intentions - 2/11

Grandpa shrugged on his wool coat. “I'll be back in a bit,” he said, plucking his derby from the hat stand.

“What?” The chair in the kitchen squeaked against the linoleum tiles and Todd's swift stride took him to the front hallway. The front door gleamed as the sun poured through the frosted glass.

“Where are you going?” asked Todd.

“To the store,” said Grandpa, donning his cap. He made sure the brim was level with an extra tug.

Todd glanced back at the kitchen where stacks of unattended reports threatened to topple and then scrubbed his hand through his hair with a sigh. “What do you need? I can go.”

“Nonsense. It's my errand and you’ve got work to do.”

“Yeah, but Dad...” Todd reached the key basket before Grandpa and plucked the glittering ring out from the array of odds and ends once cluttering jacket pockets. “It's getting dark.”

“It's four in the afternoon, Todd.”

“You might hit traffic.”

“So? Not like I've got a hot date.” Grandpa scowled and held out his wrinkled hand. “I'm a big boy, son. Hand over the keys.”

“Don't you remember last time?”

Grandpa’s sloped shoulders rose like the haunches of cornered cat. “That wasn't my fault. She was the one who backed out of the stall without looking.” He waggled his finger. “The police even said so.”

“Yeah, but you weren't exactly on the ball with the brakes.” Todd rubbed at his temple while looping the key ring around his finger and clutching the bundle into his fist. “I don't mean to sound patronizing here, but you're not the driver you used to be.”

“What are you talking about? I'm a perfectly good driver. I taught you didn't I?”

“Forty years ago.”

“And so? Car's haven't changed that much.”

Todd heaved a sigh and held up both hands in a placating wall. “Indulge me, would you? Just let me drive.”

“You're working.”

“I need a break.”

“I'm not a child.”

“I know. But I have a stack of tickets and scrapes on that rust bucket of a car telling me that you driving just isn't the best idea anymore.”

Grandpa folded his arms across his chest and turned to talk to the coat rack. “Do you hear this? My own son telling me what I can and can't do.” A pair of dangling jackets drooped in silent agreement. “You’ll see, next he’ll try to keep me from mowing the lawn or shoveling the walk.”

“Maybe I will,” said Todd.

Grandpa waved his hands in dismissal and yanked off his cap. “I didn't really need to go anyway,” he confided to the derby.

“No, Dad. Come on.” Todd grabbed his jacket from the rack and slipped into the sleeves. “We'll go together. I've got to get more paper for the printer anyway and Julia and the kids will need milk for breakfast.”

“Then go, go. Don't let me stand in your way.” Grandpa hung his cap back onto the bare hook.

Todd zipped his coat and caught his jowl in the teeth. He winced and heat laced his tone. “Dad.”

“I don't need a chauffeur, Todd.”

“Je…” Todd swallowed the curse beneath Grandpa’s cautionary, ice blue glare. He drew a deep breath and tried mellowing his voice. “I'm not trying to be your chauffeur. I just want to keep you safe, keep the other folks on the road safe. Imagine if the last accident had been on the highway instead of a parking lot. You could have gotten hurt. Those kids could have gotten hurt.” Todd laid his hand on Grandpa's shoulder. The bones poked through the wooly padding and the thinning muscles, making the body beneath seem frail, like an oak in winter. The weary stoop in Grandpa’s shoulders nearly had Todd’s palm slipping off. “I don't want to be the bad guy here,” said Todd. “But sometimes-.”

“Sometimes you have to do what's right, not what's nice.” Grandpa snorted and shook his head. “Your mother raised you right you know that?”

“You didn't do so bad a job either,” said Todd.

Grandpa harrumphed and plucked his cap. “So what's keeping you?”

“The door,” said Todd. He opened the front entrance with a jangle from the bells looped on the knob and strode outside. Grandpa followed and buttoned his coat over his ample belly as Todd locked the door. They strode along the brick walkway, heads bent at matching angles against the crisp autumn gusts coursing down the street and swirling in the cul-de-sac.

“Hey Mr. Taylors!” cried the Anderson kids. The two boys waved from their bikes as they raced past with snapping gears and whirring tires.

“Hi boys,” said Grandpa with a wave.

“Good afternoon, Todd. Gerald,” said Mrs. Jones as she shuffled along the sidewalk after her leash-free mini poodle, Curly.

Todd watched the dog sniff at his lawn as Grandpa waved again while plodding at his side.

They reached the rusted sedan perched at the curb behind a gleaming SUV. Todd strode around the hood to the driver's seat of the vintage car. Popping the locks, he hopped inside and leaned over, pulling the latch on the opposite door. Grandpa plopped into the bucket seat and slammed the door with a bang.

“Buckle up,” he said, pulling the strap across his chest.

“Yes sir,” said Todd. After clasping the belt, Todd inserted the key and the engine stuttered once before turning over.

“Watch the clutch,” said Grandpa.

“I know.”

“And the brakes are loose. Give yourself some extra space.”

“I know, Dad.”

“And don't forget your blinker.”


Grandpa held up his hands in defeat and then clasped them in his lap before staring serenely out the windshield.

Todd shook his head, closed his eyes for a moment and gripped the leather wheel. Drawing a deep breath, he put the clutch in reverse, grasped the passenger head rest, peered through the rear window, and backed them away from his SUV's bumper.


“Dad!” Todd clenched his eyes closed as he swiveled forward. After a grinding shift of gears, he smashed down on the gas.

The tires thumped and a barking yelp squealed from beneath the hood of the car.

“Curly!” cried Mrs. Jones.

“Safe driver, huh?” asked Grandpa.

Mrs. Jones scurried toward them in a little old lady shuffle, clutching her coat against her sunken chest. Meanwhile the Anderson boys shouted to one another and wheeled around, eyes gleaming with curiosity.

Todd stared out of the windshield, various levels of guilt rising.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Almost Broken - 2/9 & 2/10

Sandra hip checked the refrigerator door closed. Her armload of vegetables threatened to topple but she scurried toward the sparse bit of counter between the sink and cabinet.

"You got it?" asked Paul as he twisted the corkscrew into the neck of the night's second bottle of merlot.

"Yes," said Sandra, disgorging the harvest onto the faux stone.

"No, no," said Viola, tapping with her knife on the wooden cutting board. "Over here." She motioned at the sliver of space between her and the stove.

"It's ok, I can chop over here," Sandra said, snatching the second cutting board from its lean behind the faucet.

"But you don't have room," said Viola. She huffed and took the two strides to reach Sandra's side and swiped the vegetables into her manicured hand. "I'll do them."

Sandra watched her sister's stomp back across the kitchen, the bags crinkling. Viola set them down in a neat row and continued processing the salad components beneath her methodical blade. Sandra suppressed a heavy sigh. Paul popped the cork on the wine.

"You know if you finally redid your kitchen like we did last year, you wouldn't have to squish like that." Larry leaned back in his chair, stretching his feet beneath the square table. He popped another olive into his mouth from the tray of hors oeuvres.

"I like it," said Sandra, gathering the dishes for dinner from the drying rack. "It's cozy."

"It's tiny," said Viola. "It works because there's only the two of you but eventually..."

Sandra closed her eyes as she set one plate upon the next. The glug of wine being poured joined the simmer of pasta water and plop of the spattering tomato sauce. Suppressing a long exhale, Sandra carried the necessary cutlery and brought everything to the table.

"Here," said Paul.

"Thanks." Larry said, holding out his glass for a refill.

"Do you like it?" asked Sandra as she began making up each of the four place settings on the squat table draped in a sage cloth.

"It's a little sharp for my taste. To vinegary," said Larry. He smacked his lips together and then took another sip. "It'll do I suppose."

"I meant your kitchen." Sandra thumped down a fork onto the nearest bamboo placemat.

"Oh, that, yes. My designs worked out well."

"Your designs, maybe," said Viola. She scraped the knife down the board to drop the tomato's juices into the salad. "The contractors..." Shaking her head, she sliced into the cucumbers.

"They were fine," said Larry.

Viola snorted. "They ruined the carpet, and the vents still don't work right. You remember when Janey nearly burnt those cookies? The drapes smelt of smoke for a week."

Larry waved off Viola's concern and sifted through the pickles for another olive.

"When you guys renovate-" Viola began again.

"We're not renovating," said Sandra.

"Fine. If," said Viola, "you renovate this place, don't use them. I can give you the names of some other contractors to work with that won't raise the cost ever hour. The ones we should have gone within the first place."

"Have any new projects on the horizon?" asked Paul. He handed Sandra a brimming glass and she rewarded him with a peck on the cheek.

"With Janey's practices," Viola pivoted from the counter and waved the knife like a baton, "four times a week now if you can believe it. Well, it's difficult to plan much of anything."

"Those practices," said Larry with a scoffing snort. "Now there's a waste of money."

"Janey has potential. It needs to be fostered." Viola tossed down her knife and scooped up the salad tongs. She raked through the ingredients as if digging for gold.

"Is she having fun?" asked Sandra. She leaned against the stove at her sister's side and avoided vegetable shrapnel.

"Can't you see it when she's playing?" asked Viola.

"She looks nervous to me," said Sandra.

"Oh, you're just remembering how you felt. You nearly threw up each time mom made you go on stage." Viola gathered the salad and plopped the bowl into the center of the table. "Dressings?”

"On the door," said Paul.

"But no, nothing planned with her madam’s schedule dominating all." Larry gave the organic ranch dressing Viola set down a skeptical frown. Viola let out a huff and deposited herself in the opposite chair.

"Excuse me for putting someone else first." Viola snatched at the topped-off wine glass.

Larry stared across the table. The pasta simmered over and the timer dinged.

"Who's hungry?" asked Paul.

With pot holders over his hands, he hefted the boiling pasta and dumped the contents into the strainer waiting in the sink. A plume of starchy smoke drifted to the ceiling and clung like spider's webs. Sandra placed a bowl by his side and then found a ladle for the sauce. As she stirred she heard Viola rising from the silent table.

"Basil?" she asked sticking her nose over Sandra's shoulder.

"And oregano with a hint of mint."

"Mint?" Viola shook her head. "Mom never used mint."

"I know," said Sandra banging the handle on the pot's rim to clean off the ladle. "My version."

"Hope it's good..." said Larry.

Viola snapped her gaze around like a cat ready to pounce. "If it's not, I'm sure you'll know where to get something better."

"Excuse me for knowing what I like." Larry finished his wine.

"Um..pasta's ready." Paul set the strainer on the pot, leaving both steaming in the sink.

"Right," said Sandra, glancing at the table already dominated by Viola's salad. "Buffet style it is."

Larry pushed back in his chair, the legs squeaking against the tiles and hefted his plate like a shield.
Paul dug out the pasta fork and handed the utensil over like a weapon.

"Go ahead," said Viola as Paul picked up his dish and hovered at the table. "Boys first."

Sandra gathered the other two plates and they proceeded in a dirge passed the pasta and sauce. They all gathered back around the table with a squeak from the chairs.

"Salad?" asked Viola.

Sandra dropped her fork halfway to her mouth in order to catch the tongs flung in her direction.

"Thanks." She filled her smaller bowl and then offered the tongs to Larry.

"No," he said around a mouthful.

"Could have guessed that." Viola snorted and pierced a tomato.

"And your nagging,” said Larry, “right on cue."

Larry and Viola stared at one another across the table. The two stubby candles flickered.

Sandra glanced over at Paul while Viola and Larry both returned their focused to their meal. Paul gave her a shrug and Sandra rolled her eyes and then twirled her fork in the spaghetti. The silence hung, broken only by slurps and crunches as well as glasses clinking against rings and teeth.

"Well," said Sandra.

Viola patted at the sauce on her lips with her napkin. "I'll check on the cake."

"The oven will beep." Sandra shook her head as Viola waved her concern away.

Violet peeked into the oven while Larry slurped up another mammoth wad and then scraped away the dregs on his plate. His phone buzzed and he dropped his fork and tipped down the last of his wine as he squirreled the device free from the pocket of his slacks.

"I asked him to turn it off," Viola said to the half opened oven.

"Hello?" Larry pushed away from the table and stood. "Just a sec." He gave a gesture Sandra assumed implied they should carry on without him, before he headed down the hall to the living room.

"Viola..." said Sandra, twirling her glass by the stem. "Is everything..."

Viola shut the oven with a clang and dusted off her hands on her skirt before peering at her nails with a scowl.

"Be right back," she said, "something on my hands." Viola disappeared and the door to the bathroom slammed closed.

"Wow..." said Sandra, sagging over her half eaten meal. "What are we going to do?

"More wine?" Paul waggled the wine in an offered pour. Sandra held her glass out until the bottle ran dry.

Moving Day - 2/4

Rain slicked the sidewalk. Streams washed down the concrete and made waterfalls as the floods rushed over the curbs. Whole oceans grew at clogged storm drains.

Arnold hunched on the curb into his drenched rain jacket as another passing car sprayed the lower half of his jeans. The soaked denim clung to his hips as the pants grew heavier with each vehicle surging past.

"Come on," Arnold said under his breath.
He peered through the sheets and down the misted road. Seeing nothing but sedans, SUV's and a hybrid, he bowed his head and endured the downpour. The rain drummed against his raised hood and dripped around the rim to fall like a curtain onto his sopping wet sneakers.

"You just had to say yes." Arnold shook his head and stomped his feet, creating little explosions out of the puddles. He endured another streaking rush of water-splashing traffic and then resumed peering along the fogged block.

Through chilly downpour, he spotted the striped orange hood of the moving van careening toward him like a pitched snowball.

"Finally," said Arnold. He straightened his shoulders and the water poured down his back in sheets.

The van gushed to a stop at the curb and the puddles swarmed over the sidewalk. Arnold took a step back, and frowned up at the driver's window. His scowl deepened as a smaller evergreen hatchback trundled passed and then backed into spot on the sidewalk by the van's front bumper.

The van's driver side door swung open.

"Damn it's wet," said the driver as he clambered out of the truck. He put up his slicker’s hood and the rain pattered against the dry fabric, dousing it in seconds. "You must be Arnold."

Arnold retained his scowl as he nodded. "Yeah."

The door to the hatchback opened and an umbrella emerged, the scarlet canopy opening with a pop. A pair of sneakered toes poked out next, testing the depth of the water before the driver unfolded from the car seat.

"Hey Viki," said Arnold.

Viki tilted back the umbrella to reveal a gleaming smile, matched almost by the twinkle in her sapphire eyes. She curled into her sunny yellow rain jacket and began tip toeing through the sloshing water, trying valiantly to keep her rolled cuffs dry.

The van driver slammed the door shut.

"Arnold," said Viki. She leaned over to shade him under the canopy long enough to give him a quick peck on the cheek.

The van driver coughed.

"This is Martin," said Viki, tipping the umbrella toward the barrel-chested man. "You remember me telling you about Martin?"

"Yeah," said Arnold. The brief conversation swirled out of the depths of his mind, draped in the beginnings of what would be a throbbing hangover. He recalled some connection between Martin and Viki’s new job three states away, a co-worker or subordinate or something.

Martin extended a massive hand and narrowed his beady eyes into slits. Arnold glanced at the palm, and then up into the taller man's cowl.

"Hey," Arnold said, giving Martin's massive palm a stiff shake. Martin's hearty squeeze lingered on Arnold's rain numbed fingers. "'re really going through with this?" he asked Viki.

Viki peered at the storm and then up the stoop leading into the brick-faced apartments lining the block.

"Yeah, the change will be good for me."

"The weather doesn't seem to think so," said Arnold.

Viki shrugged. "Thanks for showing up."

"Of course," said Arnold. "What are friends for, you know?"

"Right...well, we should get this over with I guess." She jingled her keys and settled on one for her front door. "Pretty much everything's packed; it's just a matter of getting it downstairs. I figure the mattress; bed frame and the sofa should go first. Everything after that's small, so you don't need to hang around if you have plans."

"Plans?" Arnold scoffed. "Wouldn't miss traipsing up three flights of stairs repeatedly for the world."

Viki chuckled and gave his arm a shove.

Martin interrupted with a well timed sneeze.

Viki gave Martin an apologetic grin. "We should get started..."

"Either that or we'll need a boat," said Martin.

Viki laughed again and Arnold bowed his head, hiding his scowl behind another sheet of dripping rain. He stared at his sneakers as Viki headed toward the stoop, while Martin plodded behind her like a protective shadow. Glancing up the stairs, Arnold watched Viki unlocking the door, and then Martin helping her to push the heavy weight open. He said something Arnold didn't catch, but Viki laughed again.

Arnold hunched into his rain jacket and kicked his sneakers into the puddle to watch the water slosh.

"You coming?" asked Viki.

Glancing up, he found her framed in the doorway, the umbrella closed and drooping from her hand like a stained waterfall. In the background, Martin loomed, but Viki's smile spread, even though the curl of her lips drooped as if weighted from the rain.

"Yeah, I'm coming," said Arnold. He shook the drops from his shoulders and took the stairs two at a time. Pushing back his hood he stopped on the threshold and gave Viki a half smile. "Wouldn't miss it for the world."