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Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Yellow Rose - No. 202

Paul widened the blinds between his thumb and index finger, causing the plastic to snap, and peered into the terminal.  "How long has he been here?"

"I think he got off the 1 pm coming from De Voit," said Frank, leaning against the steel filing cabinet flanking the window and drawing on his stubbed cigarette. 

Paul checked his watch, the analog face showing the two hours of intervening time. 

"What are we going to do?"

Releasing the blinds, Paul pivoted and scowled.  "We can't just leave him there."

"Should we talk with him?"

"I don't know."  Paul scrubbed the back of his neck.  "I don't want to get into trouble or frighten him.  It could look pretty weird, strange guy talking to a kid like that."

"What about the police?"

"That's getting a little serious don't you think?"

"I think there's a kid out in the terminal who needs some help,” said Frank, bald head glistening above his raised and bushy brows.  “I think we should at least try something."

"All right, all right.  I see what I can get from him.”  Paul tugged at his company shirt, making wrinkles vanish in the navy-blue fabric.  “Keep an eye on us though, you know, like back up.  I don’t want anyone getting the wrong impression.”

"Right.”  Frank smashed his cigarette out among the other butts in the ashtray on Paul’s desk before stuffing his hands into his overall’s pockets.

With a nod, Paul strode from his office.  Exhaust fumes, heated rubber and carbon monoxide hung in the air like taffy.  The hiss of brakes, the thumps of storage compartments being closed, and the shuffle of weary travelers undercut the general malaise dominating the terminal. 

Heading for the benches lining the brick-faced wall beneath the flipping arrival and departure sign, Paul slowed.  The scarlet CANCELED on one row caught his eye and he cringed.  Putting aside the morning’s other debacle, he glanced over his shoulder.

Frank drifted along the walkway behind him, grease smeared jumpsuit dropping over a matted tee shirt.  The mechanic gave a thumbs up and a half smile revealing his missing canine.

Dropping his gaze to the crack-etched concrete, Paul sought an appropriate introduction while his work boots carried him forward.  A fading, floral scent teased his attention from the ground as he neared. 

Perched on the wooden bench beside an Army castoff duffle nearly as big as him, the boy swung his feet like two out of sync pendulums, one-size-too-big loafers dangling.  With nimble hands he clasped the stem of a sunny-yellow rose, petaled-head bowed, as if the flower had fallen asleep.

"Nice flower," said Paul.

The boy's cobalt eyes wheeled on him, becoming wide like dish plates.  His leg swinging ceased and his grip on the stem tightened.

Smiling, Paul lifted his hands, showing they were empty.  The boy's eyes flicked to one and then the other before resettling on Paul's face. 

"My name's Paul."

The little boy gulped.  "Mine’s Barry, but I'm not...."

"Supposed to talk with strangers?"

Barry nodded.

Paul unclipped his controller id badge from his left breast and held it out.  "I work here."

Barry released one taut hand from the rose and accepted the badge, pondering the photograph as if it held a mystery.  His sandy bangs obscured his downturned face.

"I notice you've been sitting here for a while and wanted to make sure everything's okay."

"What do you do?"

"I help make sure the buses get where they need to go.  Sometimes there are delays or breakdowns or...well…complications.”  The scarlet sign up above gleamed at the corner of his vision.  “Whatever happens, we have to make things work.  Get people where they need to be."

Barry frowned, and offered back the badge.  "Delays mean that people are late right?"

"That's right.  Are you waiting for someone?"


"Your dad."


"Your mom?"

Barry shook his head.

"Then who?"

"I got adopted."  He yanked a wrinkled ticket from the pocket of his adult-sized denim jacket, the garment engulfing his twiggy frame.  The bus itinerary spoke out through the ripples while handwriting filled the page stapled to the tougher sheet.  He hefted both as if the collection weighed a ton.

Paul took the papers.  The trip information from De Voit to Anderville confirmed Frank's observations, but the second note caused Paul’s stomach to seize.

"Dear Barry.  Welcome to our family.  I'm so sorry we can't be there to pick you up at the orphanage.  Don’t worry.  We'll be there waiting for you at the bus station in Anderville.  Love Judith."

"Ms. Masey said I should bring Judith a flower,” said Barry, staring at the limp rose.  “That we'd take another bus…home…together."  Tears began pooling in Barry's eyes, and he rubbed his sleeve across a now running nose.

"Do you know where home is?"

Sniffing, Barry frowned as if in epic deliberation upon the diverting question.  "Match. Molkelson. Mick—"



Goose bumps crept across Paul's skin as if a shadow had crossed over the sun. "Your new folks were coming from Mitchelson?  This morning?"

"That's what Ms. Masey said when she put me on the bus this morning." 

Exhaling, Paul forced his hands not to wad the papers into a ball to deal with the anxiety flooding in his veins.  “I’ll make you a deal.  You stay put and I'll see what I can find out."

"You think you can find them?"

Paul buried his cringe.  "Maybe.  I'll be right back, okay?"

Barry nodded, and sat a little straighter before stuffing a fallen petal into his pocket.

Returning the pages, Paul marched toward his office.  "Keep an eye on him," he said to Frank as he passed by.

Flipping through the Rolodex on his cluttered desk, Paul found the number for the Mitchelson terminal and dialed, each number thumping around the rotary phone. 

"This is Mitchelson."

"Mark?  It's me Paul at Anderville."

"This has been a crazy morning, huh?"

"Yeah, but I've got another little...problem on this end.  I was wondering if you could look up a passenger for me."

"Sure.  What do you got?"

"First name of Judith.  Leaving Mitchelson for here some time today.  Probably going to arrive by 1."

"No last name?"

"No, sorry."

"That might take me a bit then.  Everyone’s still looking for people here.  Paperwork’s been a madhouse."

"I can imagine.  Call me when you find her?"

"Sure, sure."

Paul hung up, and scowled at his desk.  He skimmed over the mess of itineraries, mechanics reports, and lingered on the daily newspaper.  The morning’s incident, however, had yet to reach print.

His door squeaked as Frank peek inside.  "What's going on?"

"He was supposed to get picked up from someone coming in from Mitchelson.   I've got Mark looking into it."



Frank entered, and closed the door.  "Were they on the 10 am?"

"I'm not sure.  Mark can find out."

"That'd be terrible."

Paul crossed his arms, his body rigid.

After a glance through the windows into the terminal, Frank manned his post by the cabinet again, lighting another cigarette off a briskly struck match.  "Why's he on his own anyway?"

"Said he was adopted.  Sounds like they sent him here to meet up with his new folks."

"Who the hell sends a kid on their own like this?"

"Maybe they could only afford to go halfway.  You know how hard things are these days.  But who knows?"

"Irresponsible, that's what it is."

Paul shrugged.  "Seems like they were going to meet him here."

"But they're not here."

"No, they're not."

Paul's phone rang, the tinny sound like glass shattering.  He plucked the receiver before the second ring ground against his nerves.

"This is Anderville."

"It's Mark."

"That was fast."

Mark sighed.  "She was on the 10 am."


"She's wasn't one of the lucky ones."

Paul sagged into his chair, the casters screeching and back rail giving a groan.  "Thanks...."

"Sorry for the bad news."

"Not your fault.  Take care.  I hope things calm down for you."

"You too."

Paul pressed the pips in the phone's receiver, while cradling the headset in his hand.  Flipping through his Rolodex again, he found the number for city hall. 

"How may I direct your call?"

" you have a children's services department or something?"

"One moment."  The line popped with the transfer.

"Health and Human Services," said a crisp woman on the other end of the line. "How can I help you?"

"My name's Paul Gafter, I'm a controller down at the bus terminal.  I've got a little boy here...alone...his parents were in the Mitchelson to Anderville crash this morning."

"Oh my."  The woman's voice softened.  "How tragic."

"Yeah.  I'm not really sure what to do with him."  

"I'll send someone down right away."

"They can come find me,” said Paul, “or, well, he's easy to spot.  He's the kid with the yellow rose."

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

After Dessert - No. 200

Holding her hand between the candles and a stout vase cluttering the table, Carl squeezed her fingers.  "Are you ready?"

Wendy dabbed her lips, hiding evidence of her last bite of tiramisu.  "You make it sound so ominous.”

"You can't think I'd let Valentine's Day end with dessert, could you?"

Although drawing her mouth into a curt pout, Wendy couldn't prevent the expression of disdain from melting into a broad smile.  Her cheeks tinged, matching the remaining Pinot in her glass.  "What have you done?"

"You'll have to find out."  The flames and a mischievous sparkle glinted in Carl’s gaze.

Wendy narrowed hers into threatening slits, but returned the squeeze.  “Let me just use the little girl's room first."

"Sure, I'll meet you in the entryway."

With a totter in her step from the extra glasses of wine, Wendy sauntered passed the other tables, enjoying the sway in her hips, the rustle of her claret skirt, and the feeling of Carl's gaze following her through the velvet-lined and candlelit restaurant.  The same hushed conversations over decadent meals seem to cluster around every couple, each holding hands, exchanging knowing smiles, and in a world unto themselves.

She took the two steps out of the dining area, hand braced on the wall.  Turning toward the exit, she halted and spun back the other way. The corridor quivered like an amusement park’s fun house.

"Are you looking for the restroom, Ms?"  The waiter paused, a tray of chocolate flecked desserts held at his shoulder.

Wendy blushed.  "Yes."

"That way," he said, tilting his head down an opposite corridor.


With a nod, he stepped onto the dining floor and delivered the contents of his tray to a waiting pair.

After a few deep breaths, physics reclaimed control of the hallway and Wendy’s legs steadied.  Gliding her fingertips along the stucco, she passed the opening into the kitchen, where scrubbing and the clatter of dishes dominated.  At the end of the corridor, the artful circles denoting each bathroom retained the fresco style dominating the rest of the restaurant.  She knocked on the women’s, but no one replied.

Opening up the door, she found a quaint bathroom: toilet, pedestal sink, and wrought iron stand with two baskets, one with folded hand towels, while the other held those previously used.   Attending her business, Wendy washed her hands and soaked one of the towels.  She dotted her face, letting the chilled water temper the heat of the wine, and investigated her features in the gild-lined mirror.  Finding her makeup and curls holding up, she tossed the hand towel into the used basket. 

“Let’s see what he’s up to tonight,” she said to her beaming reflection.

Grabbing the door knob, she pulled.

The lock failed to budge, the door to open.  She rattled the latch, and yanked again.  Her heart began beating faster.

"Oh come on," she said.  She gave another hearty yank.

A knock rapped on the door.  "Is everything okay?"

Wendy leaned forward, pressing her forehead on the wooden panel.  "I'm afraid I'm locked inside."

"Oh no.  Not again," said the woman on the opposite side.

Wendy scowled.  "Again?"

"Hold on," said the woman.  "Were you here with someone?"

"My boyfriend, Carl.  He's in the black pinstripe."  A vision of all the other men wearing suits sprang into her thoughts, and she shook her head.  "He's got dark hair.  We were by the window."

"I'll find him, Ms."

"My name's Wendy."

Rushing footsteps dwindled off.  Wendy stared at the door, unsure the other woman had collected her name.

Oh Carl, you're going to kill me, she thought as she leaned against the wall.  She met her ruffled reflection and matched its scowl.  "How can you always do this?  Everything's going incredibly, and you have to get yourself locked in the damn bathroom."

"Wendy?"  Carl's voice cut through her debate.  "Are you okay?"

"I'm stuck," said Wendy, "but I'm fine.  Not like there are alligators coming out of the toilet or anything."

"You sure?"

"Yeah.  Can they get me out?"

"They're calling the Fire Department."

"Oh God.  Why?"

"Apparently, when this happened last time, they had to take the whole door down.  They said it might be a while."

Wendy cast her gaze over the bathroom supplies, looking for anything that might aid the endeavor.  A cleaning brush and decorative assortment of soaps stared back.

She drifted against the door again.  "I'm so sorry."

"For what?"

"Ruining tonight.  It's been great."

"You haven't ruined anything," said Carl.

"But you had plans.  You know, whatever we were going to do after this."

"So?  The important part is still happening."

"What's that?"

"You're here."

"Sort of."

"No, really.”  He released a long sigh.   The door thudded as his weight pressed upon the paneling.

Wendy frowned.  “Are you all right?”

“I am, in fact.  Well, no I guess I’m not.”

“Carl?  You’re scaring me.”

“Sorry.  I was going to do this later, but Hell; I don’t want to wait anymore. Wendy, would you marry me?"

She pressed her hand to her chest. "You're asking me now?"

"Well, I'm standing outside a ladies room in my best suit looking like I'm speaking to a door.  And even though I had tickets for us to go on a moonlight cruise where I was supposed to do this up at the bow with music and everything, I can't think anywhere else I'd rather be.  And well, I guess I want to keep it that way.  So, yeah, I’m asking now."

"A moonlight cruise?"

"Out on the harbor."

"You have a ring?"

"I'm staring at it right now."


He laughed, and then the mirth dwindled into a nervous tremble.  "I'm serious."

"So am I."


Wendy smirked at the door’s paneling, the image of Carl’s furrowed brow and the worried dimples at his quirked smile as clear as the wood grain.  "Are you going to keep the Fire Department from rescuing me unless I answer?"

"Maybe.  You know how jealous I can get.  There could be some good looking guys with axes."

"Not as good as you."

"You don't know that," said Carl, his voice dipping low.

"I do," said Wendy.

He drew a sharp inhale, and the door shimmied with his hand pressed against the surface.  "You sure?"

Wendy’s smile spread until her cheeks felt like bursting.  "Yeah, I'm sure."

Monday, September 26, 2011

Shelved - No. 199

Amanda sat at the hotel bar, elbow on the counter, chin in her hand.  By the entrance one of the cleaning staff mopped suggestively.  The bartender arrived, rubbing a silver shaker with a dish towel. 

"Can I get you anything else?"

"No."  Amanda drooped on the stool like a wilted straw.  "You're closing, huh?"

"We've been closed for fifteen minutes."

"Oh, sorry."  Forcing her watery spine to straighten, she gave him a weak grin.  "What do I owe you?"

"I have your hotel room number, Ms. Kurtis.  The charges will be on your bill at check out."

"That will be a nice surprise."

His half-grin dripped with concern.  "Are you sure you're all right?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, usually a woman like you doesn't sit at my bar all night, especially dressed like that."

Amanda snorted, and cast her gaze down at her cherry-red, halter-top dress, the slit exposing half her thigh.  "What do you typically have?"

The bartender shrugged. "Business men mostly, here for conferences like the one this week.  Or folks stuck overnight because of a flight cancellation."

"I am here for the conference all right, but I guess I don't qualify as a business man."  She shoved her empty glass at him.  "I was supposed to meet someone."

"Stood up?"

"Sort of."  Setting her purse onto the table, she jostled out her beeper, one typically blaring during the Stock Market’s open hours.  Now, however, the screen remained dark.  "He paged me a while ago for a drink.  I knew he’d be late.  I should have known he wouldn’t make it at all."

"So what are you doing here?"

"I don't know.  I guess I thought there might be a chance.  He's not the kind of guy to make the same mistake twice."

"What kept him?"

"What always has: his goddamn ego."

"Oh."  Storing his shaker, the bartender flipped his towel over his shoulder.  "What are you going to do next?"

Amanda scowled, the drumming of a distant hangover beginning at her temples adding depth to the furrows.  "What are you, some kind of social worker?"

Undaunted, the bartender smirked.  "I like to help out when I see a glum face."

"Glum isn't the word for it."  She chortled.  Seizing the edge of the counter, Amanda kept her bitter humor from wobbling her off the stool.

"What is?"

Amanda shook her head, and then thought better of it as the glass bottles and slab of ebony bar swirled.  "Stupid.  I mean, I actually thought if I stayed here long enough he might show, or at least call again.  I thought that this time, things might be different."

"This guy’s worth a second chance?"

"I thought so.  But I guess he doesn't feel the same way."

"Is he famous or something? A professor? Executive?"

"All of the above.  He's a PhD in Economics.  The keynote for tomorrow's closing festivities.  He's going to be talking about new ways to raise capital.  The theory he's been touting to all of the papers and talk shows.  Probably will get him a Nobel if he stays on track."

"Sounds like he has his hands full."

"I know.  I just...I don't know, let my imagination get away with me.  Let me think of all the possibilities, of the future.  Of me being one of those things on his list again.  Stupid."


She snickered.

"What does the future look like now?"

"Full of pillows and aspirin."

"That's sounds promising."

"I guess I'll find out in the morning."  Sliding off the stool, Amanda braced herself on the counter until her legs steadied.  "Thanks."

"It's part of the job."

"I doubt that."  She dug a twenty out of her wallet.

"The drinks will—"

"Be on my hotel tab, I know.  This isn't for that."

"You don't need to—"

"Consider it a tip."  She heaved the bill across the counter, gave it two pats, and then regained her balance with two hands on her purse.

The bartender kept his gaze steady.  "Can I give you one last tip then too?"

"Sure, shoot," said Amanda.

"Move on."

She grimaced. 

"Sorry," said the bartender.

"No."  She raised a hand, muting his apology. "You're right.  It’s advice I should have followed years ago."

Rapid knocks against the glass dissolved the bartender's smile.

"Boss?"  The attendant with the mop hovered by the front door.

"We're closed," said the bartender, glancing along the counter as if dealing with another problem in the vacant space.

"Yeah,” said the mop-wielder, “but, I think he's here for her."

Swiveling on her heel, Amanda faced the pointed finger being thrust at her as Don communicated in pantomime with the bar's cleaning staff.

The bartender snorted.  "That him?"

"Yeah," said Amanda, her heart pounding against her ribs as if to break free. 

"We're closed."

"I know.  Thanks, again."

Striding toward the doorway, Amanda wavered into a spill of light flooding the threshold.  Don stopped his gesticulations and a smile crept onto his lips, regret hovering at the corners of his mouth like worn bookends.

The mop-wielder unlocked the door, and held it open as she neared.

Amanda nodded her head.  "Thanks.”

She strode through and the bar's entrance snapped shut, locking behind her with a clack.
“I’m so glad I caught you,” said Don.

Amanda gripped her purse.  "Good night, Don."

Taking the only other route to escape, Amanda strode toward the lobby. 

"Wait, I can explain."  Don matched her gait.

"You don't need to."

"Dinner ran late, and there were some reporters with questions, and then I need to go over my notes for the speech tomorrow—"

She spun to face him. 

"I don't want to hear this."  For a moment, she clenched her eyes shut, as the same scene rose out of the past and replayed in the half bottle of gin drowning her system. Dragging in a deep breath, she met his gaze again.  "We had our chance."   She leaned forward, brushing a kiss onto his cheek, and then retreated to a prudent distance.  "Go back to your notes."


"I'm better than this, Don.  Better than being someone's second, or Hell, third default, summoned after everything else’s been taken care of.  I'm better than it now, just like I was better than waiting around for you seven years ago, just to be shelved."

"I made a mistake then.  I don't want to make it again."

"Neither do I.  Have a good night, Don.  My best with the speech tomorrow, and all your success after that.”

Putting her heels into action, Amanda marched across the plush carpet and stabbed her finger at the elevators’ up button.  Her gaze downcast, she ignored his dumbstruck presence lingering in the corridor and the claws clutching her heart.  The former vanished and latter lessened, as she entered the elevator and the doors shut, carrying her upward toward the future somehow just now, opening up before her.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Next Move - No. 190

A curt trio of knocks smacked the hospital room's door.  Gabby looked up from her scattered newspaper, and lowered the financial pages to her blanket-covered lap. 

"Come in?"

The door opened, and a pair of loafers slapped the sterilized tiles.

"Mr. Anderson," said Gabby, straightening against the puffed pillows.

He held up a wrinkled hand.  "Don't get up."

"I have the reports here, if you wanted to go over them."  Gabby's her heart thumped, creating a corresponding sprint on the monitor by her bedside. 

A thin smile crept across Anderson’s withered lips.  "Why else do you think I'm here?"

"I know, sir.  I don’t mean to leave you stranded."   

Anderson halted a stride from the mattress, his suit as crisp as the bed’s tucked sheets even with the box nestled beneath his arm.  Adjusting his gilded frames, he cast a bespeckled gaze over the illuminated equipment.  "They're taking care of you?"

"Yes," said Gabby, "they've been very kind."

"Do they know what it is?"

She blew out a frustrated breath.  "They haven't quite nailed it down I'm afraid."

"Is this what hit you during the stockholder's meeting?"

Gabby winced.  Her stomach gurgled with the reminder of nauseous waves and scowling suits sitting around the meeting room’s table.  "To a lesser degree, yes.  I think so."

"The health insurance is covering it?"

"As far as I know."


Gabby drew a deep breath.  "I don't think I'll be discharged before the meeting, however."

Anderson frowned.  "It's that bad?"

Gabby clutched the newspaper, the crinkling underscoring her nod.  "But I'd be happy to go over the figures."
For a few heartbeats, Anderson drummed his fingers against the box beneath his arm.  "Well then, we better discuss them now."

The tension in Gabby waned.  Folding the newspaper, and gathering the other sheets, she set the heap aside.  "They're in my briefcase."   She shifted on the mattress before a dizzying wave sent her sagging into the cushions.  Closing her eyes, she fought for a deep breath.  "Just...give me...a moment."

"Take your time," said Anderson, his voice drifting from across town.

The world swirled behind Gabby's lids, and she clawed her fingers across the sheets.

"Should I call a doctor, Gabrielle?"

"No, sir."  Opening her eyes, Gabby forced a grin onto her lips.  "If you could just get me my briefcase, I don't think I can manage getting up right now."  She gestured toward the cabinet tucked in the corner. 

Striding across the room, Anderson swapped the box tucked under his arm into the pit of the other, and opened the door. 

"It's at the bottom."

Gabby grimaced as Anderson shoved aside her coat, and the suit she'd been wearing when admitted after her initial collapse.  Hefting the mahogany case from the chest, Anderson closed the cabinet, and returned to her bed.

"Thank you," said Gabby.  She unclasped the latches, and dug inside as if after a Christmas present.  Retrieving her tablet, she activated the screen with a single swipe.  "You see here—"

Gabby glanced up at Anderson, towering above her like a wasted birch, and then to the lone chair tucked by the window.  The metal frame and cushion contrasted with the massive, leatherback seat waiting behind Anderson's office desk.  Following her stare, Anderson pivoted and collected the seat, drawing it close to her side.

"I'm sorry sir," said Gabby.  "I'm sure I could ask them for something more comfortable."

"It's fine."  Anderson set the box on the bedside table, and leaned forward.  "Go ahead."

Gabby shifted, ensuring he had a clear view of the screen.  Diving into the quarter's numbers, she covered the new acquisitions, shares sold, and the influence of the rollercoaster market on the company's investments.  As she reached the final charts, however, her vision tunneled and she halted in order to catch her breath.  Pressing a hand to her chest, she forced suddenly muddy air through her lips.  Her arm trembled, and she lowered the tablet before it tumbled from her weakened grasp.

"Don't push yourself, Gabrielle."

"I'm...not.  A...moment."  The room swirled, creating a kaleidoscope view of the cabinet, door, and Anderson's deep wrinkled frown.  Closing her eyes, Gabby fell back into the pillows.

At the edges of her consciousness she heard Anderson rise, and the door open.  Hurried footsteps returned, and fiery hands touched her arms and throat.  Plastic covered her mouth, and a crisp breeze brushed against her skin as a blur of voices chattered like static.

Like a window being opened, fresh air entered her lungs a moment later.  Wilting into the cushions, Gabby gulped until her breathing steadied.

"That's better."

Opening her eyes, Gabby found Dr. Milton at her bedside, grim smile on his lips.  She touched the plastic dome strapped over her mouth, and followed the cord to the tank beside the physician.

"What is this?"  Her question echoed as if she shouted from the base of a well.

"Oxygen," said Milton.  He leaned over, and withdrew the mask with an unblinking stare.  "Are you feeling all right?"

"Yes, thanks."

"We'll keep it close, okay?"

Gabby nodded.

"I'll check back with you in an hour or two."  Milton patted her hand and pivoted.  His turn revealed Anderson, hovering by the door. 

"You can stay, but don't let her push herself too hard," said Milton.

"Yes, Doctor," said Anderson.

Milton exited, and the clack of the door shutting lingered.

"I'm sorry," said Gabby, her face flushing.  "I can finish—"

"You've done enough," said Anderson, coming back to her side.  "Now it's time to rest."

"Rest?"  Gabby chuckled.  "I haven't been able to do that for years."  She reached for the tablet lying on the bedside table, but Anderson placed a hand on her wrist.

"Try this instead."  He withdrew the box, set alongside the slumbering piece of technology.

Gabby accepted the box with both hands, wary of its weight and her own brittle strength.  "What is it?"

Anderson drew the lone chair back and sat.  "My grandfather gave it to me when I was a boy.  I was hospitalized with pneumonia for weeks."

"That sounds terrible."

"This helped," said Anderson.  "Go on, open it."

Gabby unlocked the box.  Within, a tiled board glittered with squares of ivory and onyx. 

"The pieces are inside."  Anderson lifted the lid, revealing the corresponding pawns through kings tucked in individual, velvet-padded squares.

"It's beautiful," said Gabby, reclaiming her breath. "But...I'm afraid I've never played before."

"Never played?"

Gabby shrugged.  "I've never been one for games.  My nose was always in the math problems or a calculator.  I guess that's why I can't stop now."  She gave the newspaper a pat.

"I've never known you to back down from a challenge.  I didn't think you'd start now."

Gabby grinned.  "Are there rules?"

"Of course."

She searched beneath the lid, and then the storage space on the other side.  "Where?"

"In here," said Anderson, knocking his finger against his temple.

"Are you sure, sir?  You have a busy schedule."

His grin returned, this time wrinkling his cheeks and glittering in his eyes.  "Why do you think I'm really here?"

Gabby blinked away an initial wave of confusion, and then met his steady gaze.  "All right.  How do we begin?"

With a satisfied nod, Anderson plucked the pieces and began assembling them into rows.  Gabby watched intently as he set each into place and then explained how each moved across the board.

"Sounds simple enough."

"Indeed."  Anderson shrugged off his suit coat and draped the garment on the bed.  Waggling his fingers over the board, he set one pawn into motion. 

Choosing her own piece, Gabby countered and the game began.  At one point, Doctor Milton arrived.  Without interruption he checked on her vitals and marked her chart, before departing again with a faint hush of his lab coat.

At the start of the fifth game, Gabby caught the noon chimes from the church across the street.  The flag from her digital calendar sprang up in her thoughts.

"Sir, you're going to be late."

"They won't start the meeting without the CEO," said Anderson, placing his knight.

"Did you want to go over anything else?"  She cast around for the tablet.

Anderson stood, and donned his suit coat.  "I can handle them.  You just worry about your next move."

Gabby closed her gaping mouth, and followed Anderson as he exited.  She stared at the door for a moment, before drifting into the pillows.  Sliding the newspaper from the bedside table onto her lap, she gave the columns a glance before putting the sheets aside, in exchange for contemplating the remaining pieces on the sixty-four squares.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Running Errands - No. 185

Plopping Barry into the shopping cart's child seat, Gail gave his nose a bop.  "Ready to be a good boy?"

He grinned, swinging his legs, and bashing pudgy hands onto the cart's handlebar.  His mouth opened wide, a saliva bubble popping in his broad grin.

"Let's hope so," said Gail.  Tossing canvas bags into the cart, she stowed her purse beside Barry's squat form.  She shoved the cart forward, avoiding her little boy's swaying feet, and walked through the market's automatic doors. 

A gust of chilled air pebbled her skin as the casters clattered on the tiles.  Towers of fruits and vegetables greeted them in a rainbow assortment, while aisles of products lined the interior. 

Fetching her list from her purse, she perused the various items until Barry flailed his hands at the page. 

"This isn't for you," said Gail, darting the list away.

His face contorted with a wordless wail.

Gail rolled her eyes, and dug into her purse.  Pulling out her keys, she looped the ring around Barry's wrist and then jiggled his hand, making the keys clink.  His attention swung to the shiny metal, and he burbled as he played with the makeshift toy.

Making her way through the market's aisles at a brisk pace, Gail collected the items on her list, had a minor debate between cereals on sale, collected a bag of apples and grapes, and then headed to the checkout lines.

Shoppers, with carts and baskets, waited at each, joined by the beeps of barcode readers and shuffling feet. 

"That wasn't so bad," she said to Barry, one of his hands now filled with the used list.

She joined the shortest line.  While he bashed the keys and paper scrap together like cymbals, she scanned the shelves of magazines.  Plucking one advertising the easiest evening meals, she skimmed while leaning her hip against the cart's handle.

Barry gave a squeal, and tossed the keys and balled page as he lurched for the magazine's cover.  The ring fell through the gap in her cart, and clanged to the floor.  The used list tumbled to her feet.

"Barry."  Gail pulled the magazine away.  She bent to collect the list and then hefted the cart to the side, intent on retrieving her keys.

"Here," said the elderly man in front of her. 

Gail stopped short, as he offered the ring with broad smile.

"Thanks," said Gail, reaching over to collect the keys.  

Barry squirmed, and flexed his hands.

"You've got a handful there," said the man.

"Don't I ever," said Gail, giving Barry the keys, and resting the magazine onto his seat.  She began adding her purchases to the checkout conveyer belt, while the elderly man retrieved enough cash to pay his bill.

"Bye," he said, giving a wave with the hand not holding his bag of groceries.

"Bye," said Gail.  "Say bye, Barry." 

Barry looked up from the keys, followed her gaze, and added his own wordless farewell and hapless wiggle of the ring.

The man moved on, and Gail pushed up to the pay stand. 

"Afternoon," said cashier.

"Afternoon."  Gail collected her credit and market discount card while the cashier began swiping each item crossed off on the list now balled into Gail's purse.  She watched the prices tally on the screen until the sound of a ripping page made her cringe.

The cashier froze.  "What about that?"

Gail swiveled her gaze to Barry.  He held the keys in one hand, the torn cover of the magazine in the other.

"Barry."  Gail rubbed her temple as he quieted, blue eyes wide.  His bald held wrinkled, and tears threatened to pool.

"It's all right, it's all right," said Gail.

She extracted the magazine from Barry's grip, and offered the bundle of recipes and home keeping tips to the cashier.  "We'll take this too."

The cashier rolled her eyes, took the magazine, and swiped the barcode beneath the laser beam.  She filled the two canvas bags with the groceries as Gail ran her cards through the reader, added her pin and accepted the price.

"Thanks," said Gail, accepting the receipt.  She pushed forward, gathered the two bags into the cart, and headed for the exit.

Trading her keys for the receipt, she avoided Barry's howl of dismay with the quick swap. 

"Now," she said, making her way into the parking lot as her mental list of things to do swirled, “what’s next?"

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Nuts - No. 184

A repetitive ping, in time with his pulse, dove into Sampson's consciousness.  He squinted through the drumming in his head.

"Welcome back." 

The woman's soft greeting echoed against his skull, and the hazy outline of her figure hovered at his shoulder.  A pen light’s beam shot into his eyes, blotting out the halo of a steel roof flanked by illuminated equipment. 

"Mr. Vern can you hear me?"

Sampson worked his thickened tongue.  "Yeah."  A tug on his hand prevented him from brushing aside the woman's flickering ray.  He chewed, loosening his jaw.  "Who are you?"

"My name's Edna."

The name failed to find corresponding face in his mind.  "Where am I?"

"You're in a Harborside Ambulance.  We're taking you to the emergency room."

"Oh, great."  Sampson groaned, and listed his head to the side.  The thin pillow under his head crinkled.

Edna clicked off her light, stowing the tool in the front pocket of her navy-blue uniform.  Her square face, flecked with wrinkles, but housing an icy pair of blue eyes, remained near, her gaze intent.

Sampson glanced away and down his arm, discovering an IV tube taped to his hand, and straps pinning him to a gurney.  "What happened?"

"You had an allergic reaction.  The club owner called 911."

"Club owner?"  Swirling lights, thumping base, and a swish of one drink following the other, paraded through his thoughts.  His hands burned, remembering the touch of flesh against his palms.  "Oh.  I guess ah...something had almonds in it."

"Is that your only allergy?"

Sampson nodded.

"I gave you an antihistamine.  That's reduced some of your symptoms.  You're hands aren't quite as swollen anymore at least."

"Can I see?"

"Sure," said Edna.  "Just say lying down."  She unclasped the strap around his left hand.

Bringing his palm close, Sampson inspected his ruddy palm, and the coating of tiny bumps.  He waggled his speckled fingers, each wavering like a plump sausage.  "How long will it take to go all the way down?"

"It depends," said Edna.  "Sometimes hours, sometimes a few days."  She frowned.  "Haven't you had this before?"

"Not this bad."  He dropped his hand to the gurney, and rubbed the mattress, easing some of the itch on his skin.  "She's going to kill me."


"My girl friend.  My fiancĂ©.  Becky.  We're getting married this coming weekend, and if my ring doesn't fit I'm not sure what she'll say."

Edna glanced at his hand, her wrinkles deepening.  "I bet it'll calm down.  You had a fairly mild reaction all in all.  I think the alcohol in your system really knocked you out."

"Yeah, we were having a pretty good time."

"No offense, but if you knew you were allergic, why were you eating almonds?"

Sampson flushed, the heat in his cheeks matching the warmth in his hands.  "I didn't.  I guess one of the girl's...ah ladies, had some almond in their moisturizer or body spray or whatever they use."

"Oh," said Edna.

Sampson winced.  "Maybe we can just keep that between us?"

She laughed.  "Sure.  I don't want to get you into more trouble."

"From what I can see, you're getting me out of it."

Edna grinned, and checked her watch.  "We should be there in another minute or two."

"Do you know if someone called her?"


Sampson nodded.

"I'm not sure.  You had a crowd around you when we arrived, and carted you out."  She bent, and returned with his wallet and keys.  "This is all that was in your pockets though."

The thought of a strange woman rifling through his slacks made him wince.  "Yeah, my best man confiscated my phone before we left."

"Thoughtful of him."  She set his possessions on the gurney.  "You can give her a call when we get you admitted."

The ambulance swayed in a right hand turn.

"Do you see a lot of this?"

Edna checked his IV drip, and shrugged.  "This time of night, we get called in for fights mostly.  I don't crash a lot of bachelor parties."

"I guess that makes more sense."  Clenching his eyes shut, Sampson blew out a long exhale, the headache drumming his brain settling in for the night.

"You all right?"

"Yeah, just coming back to reality."

"Is it that bad?"

"No."  Sampson chuckled, and then halted as the laugh jostled his throbbing head.  "I didn't think the night would end up like this though."

"Sounds like you had a pretty good last hurrah before your...ah...incident."

"I hope it won't be the last."

Edna scowled.  "Becky might disagree."

Sampson snorted.  "Not what I mean. The hurrahs are more fun with her anyway."

"She sounds like she's a good catch."

"Yeah.  That's why I want to get rid of this."  He examined his hand again, finding the same pebbled skin, puffed flesh, and flaming color.  "This wedding's really important to her, you know?"

"I can imagine."

"Aren't you—" Sampson glanced at Edna's left hand, her fingers bare.  "Sorry."

"Don't be," said Edna.  She hefted a clipboard, and began making brisk notes.  "I'm sure she'll be more worried about you than the wedding."

"You think so?"

Halting her scribbling, Edna met his gaze.  "Wouldn't you be?"

"Well, yeah, but she's spent all this time picking out flowers and her dress and everything.  Can you imagine me showing up with boxing gloves like this?"  He waggled his hand.

"I bet she'll just be happy you're there."

"I hope so."

The ambulance lurched over a bump, and then halted.

"We're here," said Edna.  She rose, and opened the doors at Sampson's head.

A gust of night air swirled into the interior, rustling the gurney’s loose straps as the engine quieted.  Sampson listened as another door opened and closed, and then footsteps neared.

"Is he doing okay?"

"Yeah," said Edna.

The driver, a skeletal man with a pinched face and charcoal eyes, appeared.  He clasped one side of the gurney, Edna the other.  Sampson snatched his wallet and keys and they hauled him from the ambulance.  The thump of wheels being extended rocked him on the mattress, and then the casters rattled as they guided him through the cold lights of the emergency entrance, through the automatic doors, and into the hospital's sterilized interior.


Sampson turned toward Becky's voice.  She rushed down the corridor, clutching her coat, sleeping sweats flapping.

"Hold on," said Edna.  They slowed the gurney, and she stepped back, giving Becky room to come to his side.

Becky's wide eyes flickered over him in a frantic search.  "Are you okay?"

"Yeah," said Sampson.  He lifted his hand to brush away a sudden tear springing down her cheek, but froze as the cherry bumps gleamed in the fluorescents’ harsh glow.

"Oh no," said Becky, covering her mouth.  The diamond on her finger glittered.

"It'll go down by this weekend."

She scowled, and batted his shoulder.  "I don't care about that.  I just want you to be all right."

Sampson's mouth drooped into a grin.  "Stick with me, and I will be."


Edna reappeared.  "We need to get him admitted now."

Becky jumped aside like a startled bird.  "Of course.  Sorry."

"Check with the main desk, and they'll tell you where to find him."


"See you soon," said Sampson.

"Damn right," said Becky, her snapping tone softened by a worried smile.

Edna grabbed the gurney's side, and they started moving along the corridor again.

Sampson watched the ceiling tiles pass overhead until they parked him in a stall wrapped in sage curtains.  "I guess you were right," said Sampson.

Looking down from hooking the IV bag to a rack attached to the wall, Edna smirked.  "I get lucky sometimes."  She gave his shoulder a pat.  "Take care of yourself, Mr. Vern."