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Monday, October 31, 2011

Acceptance - No. 233

The red flag sprouted from the side of the mailbox, indicating delivered contents.

"Maybe it's not here yet," said Walter.

"They said six weeks for a reply."  Staring at the box, Bethany chewed her lower lip.  Dust and a film of mulch melted onto her tongue, providing a taste of the surrounding fields.

Stopping the nervous chomp, she scrubbed her mouth with the inside of her checkered flannel, dousing the countryside flavors in hand-washed cotton.  She took the mailbox tab between her thumb and index finger.  The sun-warmed metal heated her skin.  Her touch vibrated the box upon the twiggy stand she remembered watching Walter and Pa hammering into the earth.

After a jerk, the lid opened.  Edges of envelopes faced her along with a rolled newspaper.  She retrieved the lot, cradling the bundle in the crook of one arm.  Tossing Walter the newspaper, she flipped through those remaining.

"Well, Bets?"

Bethany scowled, pitched bills and a letter from Aunt Margery at Walter, and then stood stock still.  The return address stared back at her, the pressure of the type bars depressing each letter.

Holding out the other mail, she released the bundle, absently hoping Walter might be there to catch.

With her hands shaking, Bethany turned the envelope over.  She worked her nail between the back flap and adhesive, gingerly peeling the two apart.  Once opened, she plucked the single sheet and unfolded the page with care.

A swell of wind rippled across the upper edge, bending the corner and obscuring the letterhead and salutation.  Holding her breath, she skipped to the initial paragraph, her eyes darting from word to word.


Surfacing from the contents, she met her brother's wide-eyed stare.  She felt her mouth beginning to curve, her eyes to water.  Before she could even relay the news, he dropped the rest of the mail, scooped her up, and swung her around, her legs flying, the page fluttering.  He set her down, and howled with victory.

"I knew it!"

"Hush," said Bethany, fighting to regain her breath, and waiting for the world to cease spinning.  "He'll hear."


She bit her lip again, and clutched the letter close.  "You know Pa's not going to be so happy."


"I'll be leaving, just like Mom—"

The screen door opened with a thump.  "What's going on Walt?"

Bethany winced, and slipped behind Walter's broad shoulder.  "Just the mail, Pa."

Hearing his footsteps creak upon the porch slats, Bethany cringed.  She lowered her voice.  "Is he coming?"

"Of course he is," said Walter.  "He's not daft.  He knows something's up."

"What am I going to do?"

Turning around, Walter grabbed her shoulders.  He straightened her as if hefting a bale of hay.  "You tell him the truth."

Giving her a firm nod, Walter began collecting the scattered mail.  Bethany squared to her father as he traipsed down the front path, dust wafting from his dungarees and the sweat-stained tee-shirt plastered to his bony torso.  He stopped at the opened gate, and set a calloused hand on the picket.


Bethany tightened her grasp on the letter.  "I...I got into school, Pa."

Walter, his hands full of the retrieved mail, side stepped, preventing anything from intercepting their father's scowl.


"College," said Bethany.

His knuckles turned as white as the fence’s flecked paint.

"It's only a day's bus ride away."  Bethany extended the letter.  "And they offered to pay for everything."

"She got a full scholarship," said Walter.

Pa held up a quieting hand, and Walter shuffled back a stride.  Seizing the letter, Pa dragged his gaze to the typed offer.  When he finished, his hand dropped as if made of lead, his head bowing.

Bethany glanced at Walter, his worried frown latched upon their father's downturned face.  Stepping forward, Bethany laid a tentative hand on Pa’s bare fingers, tense upon the fence post.


Looking up, he wrapped both arms around her, smothering her in his chest.  His hot breath wet the top of her head.

"I don't have to go, Papa," she said, her words muffled.  "I can stay.  I won't be like her, I won't leave."

"No, no," he said into her raven hair's center part.  "My little girl's going to go to college.  She's going to go be somebody."

"I promise I'll come back, Pa.  Every holiday, every vacation."

"I know you will."  He slackened his arms, and cupped her chin with one hand.  The scarlet rim around his eyes glittered.  "You're going to do us proud out there won't you?"

His face blurred with the tears pooling in Bethany's eyes.  She nodded dumbly, and then leapt back into his arms.  Her father released her long enough to drag Walter into their embrace.  She savored their musky stench and their body heat, knowing neither could be packed in the bags she'd take when she finally departed for a wider world.

Friday, October 28, 2011

A Developing Story - No. 225

Lucy knelt by the body, her paper-thin coveralls crinkling over her khaki's and blouse, the booties hiding her stout loafers.  Through her plastic gloves, the corpse's chill radiated against her fingers as she examined the dead man's hands.

From the floor above, footsteps descended the stairwell.

She didn't bother looking up from the bluish nails and their clog of pale flesh. 

"Morning, Doug."

"Lucy," said Detective Marshall.  He towered over her, hands in his pockets, gaze perusing the body.  "So?"

"The final blow might have been the fall, sometime between 1 am and 3."  She gestured toward the man's lower half, twisted like a cork around an ample waist.  "I'm sure the concrete didn't soften his landing."

Doug narrowed his eyes.  "An accident then?"

"No," said Lucy.  She plucked the dead man’s wrist and held up his stiffening limb.  "There was a fight.  I'd guess you're looking for someone with some substantial scrapes.  We'll take samples and see if we can get you any more evidence."

"Anything identifying who he is?"

"No wallet so far.  There might be a name stitched to his clothes, but I haven't gotten there yet."

Nodding, Doug began a slow pace around the basement landing.  His dress shoes slapped the cement in a steady rhythm, punctuated by the other officers shuffling around the tight space, collecting fingerprints from the banister and marking blood spatters on the floor.

Resuming her inspection, Lucy delved into the pockets of the man's suit coat, and as suspected, found only lint.  The back of his shirt collar provided a tag with washing instructions but no name.  

Bruising purpled his neck, however, and as she traced along a clean shaven jaw, Lucy paused at the man's indigo lips.  His mouth curved in a frozen pucker, like a fish.  Inserting her fingers, she brushed against teeth, and then hit a solid mass.

"Doug," she said.

He pivoted and loomed again, keeping a discrete distance from the corpse.

Meanwhile, Lucy waggled the lodged gag free.  A roll of film emerged, and she stared at the used cylinder filling her hand.  She glanced up at Doug.  "Microfilm?"

"Looks more like photographic film to me," said Doug.  His inky brows furrowed.  "Why would someone do that?"

"Isn't that what you're here for?"  Lucy beckoned an officer for a baggie and deposited the film.  She offered the plastic sack to Doug.

Keeping his hands in his pockets, he tilted his head toward his stick-thin Lieutenant making his way down the stairs.

"Take that Renny," said Doug.  "See what they can get out of it."

"Sir."  His pallor fading, Renny donned one plastic glove before accepting the bag.  "I think I've got a name on our...individual."

Doug focused on the corpse.  "And?"

Holding the film's bag to the side as if fearful it might be infectious, Renny dove into a flip book of notes.  "Doctor Felix Vederasco.  He was a resident in the apartment building.  The Penthouse.  He returned home late last night, around 11 pm according to the doorman."

"Is anyone else missing?"

"No," said Renny.  "The manager's been able to contact all the other residents."

With a non-committal grunt, Doug began sweeping his gaze around the scene again.  Lucy stood, and withdrew her gloves.

Tearing his gaze from the body, Renny folded away his book.  "I'll get this heading to forensics."  He swiveled, and dashed up the stairs.

"He likes bodies about as much as you do," whispered Lucy.

Doug almost hid his chagrin.

With a sober grin, Lucy raised her tone.  "There's bruising developing around the neck.  I think they'll resemble fingers.  It suggests that he was alive when the film was forcefully inserted."

"And then he was pushed down the stairs?"  Doug hunched his shoulders and scowled.  "That doesn't add up."

"Maybe he was intoxicated, or drugged.  I'll be able to tell you more when I can conduct a thorough examination."

"Let me know when you're done."

"Will do."

Renny tramped down the stairs again, paperwork now filling his hands.  He retained his gaze on the pages when he reached the bottom tread.

"They've gotten us his telephone records for the past few days."  He flipped through the first sheets, his eyes flicking across the contents.  "He received a call this morning, around 1 am."

Doug tensed.  "From whom?"

"There's just a number," said Renny, already retrieving his cell phone from his suit coat’s pocket. 

He dialed while the junior coroners lumbered down the stairwell with a backboard and ebony body bag. With a cringe, Renny dropped down the last step and pressed his back against the wall, giving them room.

"Hello," said Renny into his phone, "who is this?"

Lucy heard muffled screeching on the other end of the line.  Jerking the phone from his ear, Renny stared at the mobile.  After a sudden slam, the call ended.

"She doesn't seem like a morning person," said Lucy.

"They never are," said Doug.  "Trace down the other numbers," he said to Renny, "and then we'll start with your friend there.  See if she's more cordial after coffee."

Renny nodded.  His gaze drifted toward the coroners beginning to maneuver Mr. Vederasco into the bag.

Doug followed his subordinate's focus, his jaw stiffening.  "Why don't you call from upstairs, Ren."

"Yes...yes sir," said Renny.  He bobbed his head at Lucy.  "Doctor."


Renny locked upon the paperwork again, and dialed as he ascended the stairs.

"I should be in touch this afternoon," said Lucy as the coroners zipped the bag closed and heaved the body onto the board, leaving a taped outline on the concrete.

Doug swept his gaze over the exposed cement, awash in darkened blood.  "Slow week?"

"Fortunately, yes," said Lucy.

"Lucky you.”  Doug stepped aside, allowing the coroners to cart the body up the stairs.

"Enjoy your interviews," said Lucy.

Doug snorted.  "Better than dealing with the corpse."

"At least they don't talk back."

He smirked.  "Sometimes they have something interesting to say."

"I hope I will too," said Lucy.

Sharing a nod, she headed after Felix, leaving Doug with the bloodied floor and an unknown killer on the loose.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Harold's Muse - No. 222

Singing an ambling harvest tune, Harold scrounged through the pile of rubbish outside the back entrance to the Dove Tail Inn's kitchen.  He plucked a half-eaten apple and a handful of wilted turnip greens from the refuse, before the door hinges' creaked.

Hugging the shadows, Harold willed himself to vanish against the plaster and into the shade of his hat's flopped brim.

Meanwhile, firelight created a slivered silhouette out of the servant girl standing in the opening.  Around her, the warmth of blazing hearths and merriment flooded across the threshold, twined with smell of savory meats and fresh baked loaves. 

"Here," she said, "take this instead." She offered a bundle wrapped in a sauce-spattered rag.

Harold clutched his findings close.

"It's all right," said the girl.  She stepped from the kitchen, her rounded cheeks dimpled by a tentative smile.

Gently discarding his collection, Harold neared.  He held out both hands, and the girl placed the bundle on his grimy palms.

"Thank you, Miss," said Harold.  He bowed his head, and scraped his foot upon the cobblestones.


The girl winced.

"You're welcome," she said before dashing back inside as the Inn's husky matron hollered her name again.

Cradling the bundle, Harold stared at the closed door.  Pots clanged within, and snapping embers spoke of stirred fires.  The glug of pouring ale or wine made his mouth water.  With a glance at his treasure, he chortled.

A Melinda inspired tune swelled in his chest, and he sang to himself as he shuffled along the wall separating the Inn's private dining chambers from the side alley. He sang as he crossed wagon-carved ruts the main thoroughfare, and traversed another debris cluttered lane.  He sang until he reached the river gleaming beneath the rising moon.

Finding a spot for himself on the stone banks, Harold began modifying the verses as he investigated the bundle's contents.  He added a line for the discovered half-loaf of rye and created two stanzas for the hand-sized wedge of verdant-veined cheese.  He tweaked the chorus to include a reference to the cluster of walnuts.  Between famished bites, he bellowed the praises of the sweet Melinda, making generous comparisons to the lapping waves, and the pure gleam of the orb overhead.

As Harold belted out a new verse on how Melinda might also rival the sun, a pair of shutters cracked open from the clustered homes lining the waterway.

"Will you shut up?"

Harold ducked a handful of mortar pitched at his head.

"Go on," said the disgruntled listener, "get out of here."

Harold doffed his hat in an apologetic salute.  Tucking the empty napkin into his tattered coat, he scurried down the waterfront.  The shutters snapped closed, and a nighttime quiet draped the waves and surrounding blocks.

Winding his way along the river, Harold spotted the bridge and his good-nature rebound. Oil-fueled lanterns glowed across the archway, intensifying the shadows underneath.  Harold started in on another tune inspired by the dry patch of earth waiting beneath the stones, and the meager possessions he'd accumulated between the pylons.

"Hey," said a shadow down a perpendicular lane.

Hunching into his coat, Harold ignored the nearing shade.  The footsteps, however, matched his pace, and then neared at a trot.

Diving into his song, Harold focused on a new stanza and ignored the stranger in his wake.

"Hey, you, with the hat, stop."

Closing his eyes, Harold hurried on, until a hand landed on his shoulder.  The heavy grasp halted him in his tracks, silenced his voice, and then spun Harold where he stood.

A burly fellow clouded in haze of beer, with a thick ebony beard stared down, eyes like onyx blades.

"I'm sorry if I bothered you, sir."  Harold cowered in anticipation of a forthcoming blow.

Instead, a beaming smile appeared between the man's bushy lips.

"Sing that bit again," he said.  "The one you were belting at the river."

Frowning, Harold glanced back the way he had come.  The spot where he'd eaten lay empty, the windows all shuttered against the night.  He struggled to recall the tune, but the notes and the words slipped through his mind as if greased.

"I don't know what you're talking about, sir."

"Sure you do.  The one about the Inn's servant girl."

"The girl?" 

Harold squeezed the sauce-stained linen sprouting from his pocket.  The warmth of the Inn and Melinda's smile stirred his memory.  Closing his eyes, he started humming.  As the words tumbled back from the depths of inspiration, the burly man released Harold's shoulder.  Regardless, Harold sung on, beginning to sway and bob his head in the rhythm.  As the last stanza crossed his lips, he quieted, and opened his eyes.

Latched onto Harold's face, the man stood stock still, his gaze intent.  "How would you like a job?"

Harold smirked.  "I'm not sure sir.  It's been a long time since I've had one."

The man's grin returned, his teeth catching the moonlight.  "Fair enough.  I'd like to offer you one."

Tilting his head, Harold looked the man up and down, from polished boots to the cape draping his broad shoulders and hiding a barrel-sized form.

"Doing what?"

The fellow tossed back his cloak, and Harold flinched.  Instead of a sword, dagger, or quick punch, however, the man revealed a scarlet and tangerine checkered tunic beneath the dun-colored fabric.  He set his hands on his hips.

"Have you heard of the Burling Brothers?"

Gaping, Harold shook his head.

"Really?"  The man's smile faded a hair.  "Well," he said, recovering his bravado, "I'm Mathias, the third in the quintet.  We're a traveling troupe of players."

"Good for you," said Harold.

"Thanks," said Mathias with a chuckle.  "I heard you singing from inside the Inn. You're good.  We could use a man with that kind of voice, that kind of spin with lyrics."

Harold shrugged.  "I just sing what comes to mind."

"That's fine, that's fine," said Mathias.  "My brother Edgar can help you with the rest."

"Well I don't know...."

"Wouldn't you rather be inside the Inn's then out in the garbage?"

The idea of being dry and fed, cozying up to flames and friends, stirred a sense of loneliness within Harold's gut. He glanced toward the bridge, and his make-shift hovel underneath.

Additional footsteps diverted his gaze.

Four more figures emerged out of the night.  One cupped a hand to his mouth, aiding his already booming voice.  "Did you find him, Mathias?"

"Yes," said Mathias.


"He's making up his mind."  Mathias grinned, and swept his arm toward the foursome slowing at the riverbank's edge.  "My brothers."

"I see," said Harold.  He shuffled back a step, and curled into his coat.  "I don't know...."

Mathias relaxed, his poise softening.  Digging into his tunic's pocket, he offered a handful of coins.  "No rush my friend.  Take the night.  Think it over."

Harold stared at Mathias' open palm, and froze.  The burly man grabbed Harold's hesitant arm, deposited the coins into his dirty hand, and folded his fingers over the bit of money.

"We'll be leaving the Inn in the morning," said Mathias.  "Come join us if you like, if not, at least find yourself a good meal."

Mathias thumped Harold's shoulder, nearly pitching him into the river.  The player's smiled again, and he turned, sauntering off into the waiting band of his compatriots.


"He'll tell us in the morning," said Mathias.

The four others shrugged, and then they started back into town.  One, a high tenor, began a tune, and after a few steps their harmony blossomed.

Harold waited until their voices dwindled.  He imagined them inside the Inn, snug and warm, maybe having another drink or bite to eat delivered by the fair Melinda.  Their song lingered in his ears, bawdy and merry like a summer day.  He glanced at his closed fist, the coins countering with a metallic chill.  A shiver dashed through him, and he hunched deeper into his coat. 

Even when he crouched beneath the bridge, and bundled into the threadbare remains of once-horse blankets he'd gathered over the intervening months, the song of the Burling Brothers teased.  Within the comforts of his known possessions, Harold watched the river surge by and wondered what the morning would bring.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Late Night Visitors - No. 220

Vicky delivered the plates of gravy smothered roast beef and barbeque chicken.

"Enjoy," she said, beaming at Ned and Martin, both with cutlery already in hand.

"Thanks, Mrs. Werner," said Martin.

“Smells great,” said Ned.

Vicky’s smile stretched.  “I have to make sure you out-of-state boys get at least one home cooked meal a week.”

While Martin cut into his chicken, Ned halted his fork above his beef.

“Mrs. Werner,” he said, hushing his basso voice, “is Paul okay?”  He gestured across the diner, where Paul aligned bottles of condiments on a scrubbed table.

“I think he’s fine,” said Vicky.  “Why?”

“He said he wasn’t going to come out with us later,” said Ned.

Martin spoke around a mouthful of potatoes.  “He said he wasn’t feeling well.”

“He hasn’t said anything to me,” said Vicky.  She chased away her descending frown.  “He’s probably just tired.  Been working and studying too hard.  Not that you two would know anything about that.”

After patting Ned’s shoulder, softening the maternal jibe, she plodded to the counter.  Plopping onto a vacant stool, her sneakered feet sang with the reprieve.  She absently smoothed out her half-apron’s wrinkles, while watching Wilson through the service window as he scoured the griddle.

"Any more?"

"No,” said Vicky.  “I shut off the sign."

"You shut it off before those two dropped by."

"I'm a softy for the regulars, sue me."

Wilson snorted, and kept scraping charred grease, the bow in his head nearly obscuring his grin.

Dragging over a water pitcher, Vicky filled three glasses.  Behind her, she heard Paul wiping the table of the diner’s last booth.  The swishing of the cloth joined Ned and Martin’s munching, but the lack of Paul's usual humming gaped.  Once through, he joined her at the counter, sagging on a neighboring stool, the wash towel abandoned to the counter.

Sipping her drink, Vicky tilted her head.  "What's wrong hon?"

"Nothing," said Paul.  His features darkened as he stared into his water, hands gripped around the beaded glass.

“Are you feeling okay?”  Vicky reached for his forehead, hidden behind a flop of bangs, but Paul flinched away.  She lowered her hand, and feigned an inspection of a waiting breakfast menu.  "Is Wendy coming by tonight?"

"Leave him alone," said Wilson.

Vicky glanced between the similar features, one old and grizzled, the other young and taut.  Each man diverted his gaze with identical head turns, intent on avoiding her eyes.

"I've missed something,” said Vicky, “haven't I?"

"It's nothing, Mom," said Paul.

"It's got to be something to have you here closing with us on a Saturday night instead of out with your friends or meeting with your girl."

"She's not my girlfriend anymore," said Paul.

Vicky stiffened as her son’s wounded gaze traversed the knickknacks hung above the kitchen’s window.

"What happened?"

"Leave him alone, Vicky," said Wilson.

"Why should I?"  Vicky scowled at her husband.  "You apparently know what happened."

Paul dove back into his glass.  "Dad took the message."

Vicky blinked at him as the notion wormed through her salted-hair.  "Wendy broke up by leaving a message with your father?"

"Sort of," said Paul.

Wilson grimaced as Vicky held him in her sights.

"What does sort of mean?"

Lumbering through the kitchen's swinging door, Wilson drank down half his glass before dragging a sausage-thick arm across his mouth.  "Do you want me to tell her?"

Paul shrugged.

After a long sigh, Wilson lowered his voice.  "Her sister was the one who called.  She said they caught this fool," he thumbed at Paul, "and Gail Jenkins together on campus.  Said Wendy didn't want to see him ever again.  I could barely make out the story through the sobbing in the background."

Vicky gaped at Paul.  "You didn't?"

Paul, however, locked his wide-eyes on Wilson.  "She was crying?"

"Well yeah," said Wilson.  "The girl has a right doesn't she?  You...."  He waved his glass to encompass the act.  "With her best friend."

"It wasn't like that," said Paul, cupping his head in his hands.

"What was it then?"

"Don't give him any sympathy, Vicky."

She waved Wilson to hush, and laid a hand on her son's rounded shoulder.

"I was just asking Gail some questions," said Paul to the countertop.  "I figured they'd talked about it before and I could get some ideas."


Paul tilted his head.  The pain in his eyes nearly wrenched Vicky's heart from her chest.

"I was going to ask her to marry me,” said Paul.  “I figured Gail might know if Wendy had any, you know, dreams about being proposed to or whatever.  I wanted to make it special."

Vicky exchanged a glance with Wilson, his face pale beneath his day-old stubble and sweat-stained bandana.

"You have to tell her," said Vicky.  “Call her.  You’ve got your phone on you don’t you?”

"She doesn't want to see me," said Paul, resuming his staring contest with the counter.

"It's a misunderstanding, hon.  You have to set it straight."

"She's not going to listen.  She's made up her mind."

"But she's not happy with it, is she Wilson?"

Wilson cupped his glass in both hands.  "She did seem pretty upset."

"You should go over there, talk with her."  Vicky sprung from her stool.  "Or I'll call her mother and—"

"Mom, please don't."

"I will if you don't go."  She pointed at the door.

"Fine, fine."  Paul stood, finished his water, and raked a hand through his hair.  Stuffing his hands into his jean pockets, he shuffled toward the door.

"Good luck, Paul," said Ned.

Paul waved a limp hand, and then grasped the door knob.  After a thud of the bolts unlocking, he exited into the night.

Wilson leaned onto the counter.  "Do you think he'll actually go?"

Vicky stared at the door as she resettled on the stool.   "Do you think she'll understand?"

"You did," said Wilson.

"Yeah, well, I'm a catch like that," said Vicky.  She pecked his cheek, before heading toward Ned and Martin's empty plates.  "Anything else I can get for you, boys?"

"No," said Ned, stifling a chuckle.

He met Martin eyes, and they both started laughing.

Vicky frowned.  "You think my son getting his heart broken is funny?"

“No, no,” said Martin. He waved at Ned.  “Show her.”

Grinning, Ned retrieved his phone from beneath the table, the panel glowing.  Vicky noted the number, Wendy's number, on the screen’s bottom edge as Ned offered the device.

Balancing the plates and silverware, Vicky brought the phone to her ear.  "Wendy can you hear me?"

"Yes," Wendy sniffed.  "Yes I can, Mrs. Werner.  I heard the whole thing"

Vicky almost dropped the dishes.

"I better get cleaned up," said Wendy.  "I probably look like a mess."

"Do that," said Vicky, regaining her voice.  "I'm sure he'll be by anytime."

"I hope so.  Goodnight, Mrs. Werner."

Once Wendy hung up, Vicky returned the phone, and then stood rock still.

"Mrs. Werner?  Are you okay?"

She drifted her stunned gaze to Ned, whose boyish face crinkled with worry.

"Yes, I'm fine."  Speaking the sentiment restarted her gears whirling.  "Would you boys like some pie?"

"But you're closed," said Ned.  Martin glanced at the pie stands on the counter and grimaced before nodding in agreement.

"Hell," said Wilson, bringing over the remains of apple and blueberry confections. "After what you did, it's on the house."

Friday, October 21, 2011

Movie Night - No. 214

At the kitchen sink, Patty listened as Becky sang along with her music.  The rhythmic bass thumped from the floor above, saturating the ceiling and making the standing water tremble.  As her week-frayed nerves rose to the point of shouting a request to turn the volume down, the music snapped off.

In the sudden lull, Becky descended the stairwell, her skipping barely making the treads creak.  The banister, however, rattled when she reached the first floor, and swung around the post.  The same staggered stride brought her toward the kitchen door.

Seizing the sponge, Patty held her breath.

Becky burst into the kitchen, and pirouetted across the tile. "What do you think, Mom?"

Her smile stretched, her braces glittering around indigo rubber bands.  The peasant blouse, with a paisly carnary-yellow pattern bleeding to mustard, puffed out around the leather belt cinching her trim waist.  Her mint green leggings accentuated her twiggy limbs, as did the clunky wedge sandals laced up her calves with Grecian inspiration.

Diverting her gaze to the dishes, Patty swiped at a tomato sauce smear.  "You look great."

Becky folded her arms, the wide sleeves draping to her knees.  "What?"

"Nothing," said Patty.

"No, you hesitated."  Becky glanced down at her outfit. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing, honey."

"You don't like it."
Patty shut off the faucet, and grabbed a kitchen towel.  She dried her hands with care.

"It''s not something I would wear."

Becky tilted her head.  "Why not?"

Flapping out the towel, Patty took her time folding as she formulated a tactful reply.  "I don't look as good in yellow as you do."

"Oh."  Listing onto the counter, Becky cupped her chin in her hand and stared at the clock.

"When are they picking you up?"

"Seven," she said, beginning to inspect her mauve nail polish.

"And the movie's at?"

"Seven thirty."

"So you'll be home...?"

Becky rolled her eyes.  "By ten.  Geeze, Mom, I know the routine."

"Doesn't mean I'm not going to check."

The doorbell rang.

"I got it!"  Mark hollered from the living room, and stampeded toward the door.

"Mom," said Becky, her eyes pleading.

"He's just trying to get on your nerves."  With a shove Patty started them out the kitchen, and down the hallway.

Mark unbolted the front door, and yanked.

A sea of primary and pastel colors swirled before Patty's eyes as giggling rippled across the threshold.

"Look, the circus is here again," said Mark.


Patty grimaced at Becky's shriek.  Mark meanwhile spun, and ducked beneath Becky's swipe as deftly as one of his video game characters.  Dashing back to the living room, he cackled.

"Don't mind him, girls," said Patty.  She supressed her own chuckle as she noted the same style of wardrobe decking the trio of girls on her stoop.

"It's okay, Mrs. Baker," said Carrie, absently straightening her blonde locks.

"Bye," said Becky, trapising out the door.

The quartet spun as one, ponytails and curls bobbing.  Spare fabric billowed like albotross wings during their dash through a dusky evening, toward the waiting family-van and it's headlights illuminating the curb.

"You girls have fun," said Patty.

Heedless, Becky twirled before her friends.

"Darren Phillips is going to love it," said Violet.

Patty frowned.

Becky froze, eyes wide even while her smile glittered and her cheeks rivaled roses.  "Do you really think so?"

"Of course," said the trio.

Catching her arms and they raced on, tittering about their outfits and tossing in a few other boys names along the way.  As they hopped into the van, the interior light radiated upon their bright colors before the bulb dwindled.

Patty waited for Carrie's mom to wave, and flash her headlights in farewell.  Standing in the doorway, she watched the van drive off, and vanish around the corner.

"Darren Phillips," she whispered. 

His freckled face and gangly form appeared in her mind's eye as he traipsed down the school's basketball court in the final quarter before Becky's last game.  She winced, recalling a similar young man, in more era appropriate snug shorts and clinging tee, catching her eye decades earlier.

Sighing, Patty shut the door against the night and the memory. 

The soundtrack to Mark's game punctuated the sudden quiet with blips and swooshes.  Returning to the kitchen, Patty started the kettle heating and fetched her book from the counter.  Finding her reading spot, she plucked out the bookmark and dove into the paragraphs, forcing her gaze on the words instead of watching the clock tick toward ten and the simmering concerns stewing in her belly.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Bad Behavior - No. 209

George cringed as Patch raced through the shallows after the nearby game of Frisbee’s errant throw.

"No, Patch!"

Heedless, the mottled mutt bounded through the water after the disk, the plastic floating like a cherry-red pie atop the waves.

The Frisbee players laughed, and one, a chicken legged boy with neon-orange trunks, chased after him.  As the depth increased, Patch's retriever nose and the white tip of his Beagle tail became the sole indicators of his progress.  The boy splashed and then dove head first, swimming past the mutt like a fish.  Popping out of the frothy water, the boy claimed the Frisbee and waved sun-kissed arms, earning a round of cheers from the beach.  As the boy started for shore, Patch turned about and with an undaunted dog-paddle made landing.

George waited, hands on hips, as Patch received a rub on his head from the boy for his canine efforts.

"Come on, Patch."

The mutt lifted his head and stared at him across the sands, body rigid.  Following the dog’s snout, the boy winced and held the Frisbee like a shield.

"Sorry, Mister.”

"It's not your fault," said George.

Grinning, the boy gave Patch a final ear ruffle, and then sprinted back to his game.

Patch meanwhile shook from head to toe, flecking the sand with briny specks.

"Come on, boy," said George.

With salted spikes of fur, a wagging tail and lolling tongue, Patch traipsed over.

"Mr. Adams?"

Francis stopped at George’s side.  With a weighted sigh, the dog trainer folded his arms across a bared chest.

Grimacing, George locked eyes with his approaching mutt who had slowed to a wary slink.  "I guess we're not improving.”

"I would say not," said Francis.

Barking increased behind them.

"I need to see to the others," said Francis.  "Preferably without a distraction.”

"I understand,” said George.  He fished his wallet from his mint-green Bermuda shorts.   Handing over the required cash, he signed at the few old receipts remaining behind.

"Should I expect you next week?"

"I think we're going to need a little break."

Francis nodded, and pivoted.

"Let's heel people!"  He marched away, the soft grains squishing under his crisp, barefoot stride.

George found the clip at the end of the leash as Patch approached.  "Did you enjoy that?"

Patch barked, his tail increasing its sway.

Shaking his head, George caught Patch's collar and clipped the line.  The mutt strained against the cord, but after a tug, slowed to a jagged walk at George's knee.

Taking a route away from Francis and the others in the behavioral class, George weaved between towels and mats laid out for picnics, pasty summer travelers seeking a sun bath, and glistening locals of all shapes and sizes flaunting bared body parts not condoned for city streets.  As they ventured from the parking lots and boardwalks enabling access to the nearby stores, the crowd began thinning. 

George lengthened Patch's leash and the dog took quick advantage of the freedom.  Nose to the ground he stiffed at the sand, snuffing as grains flew after each quick dig.  He wandered up into the dunes, and back to the shallows, weaving like a drunk driver.

Letting the mutt wander, George cast his gaze over the water.  He traded hands occasionally as Patch circled, keeping the leash from coiling and cutting his legs out from under him like his once-held job and the expectant mound of bills.  Avoiding a descent into mundane concerns, George absorbed the serene ocean waves flowing toward the horizon, the lapping creating a soporific beat against the shore.  The rhythm, drenching mid-day sun, and Patch's pattern of investigation, lulled George into a standing stupor, one worlds away from the troubles waiting at his door.

The sudden tug on his arm, however, broke his daze.  Patch barked, and strained against the leash.

"Quit it," said George.

Patch looked up, tail alert.

"Come here, boy."

As if directed otherwise, Patch wheeled, and yanked George toward whatever interesting prize he'd discovered.  Stumbling after him, George avoided popping his shoulder out of joint, but created an encouraging amount of slack in the line.  Patch charged, but finally halted a few feet further down the beach.  With his front paws he scraped at the surface.

Nearing, George spied a glint of sunlight pooling on whatever Patch had found.  Gathering the line, George finally hauled Patch away by grabbing the dog's collar.

Even kept at arm’s length, Patch barked victoriously as George stared at the half buried treasure.

Dropping to a knee, George plied away the neighboring sand around the glass, careful to keep his hands from the jagged edges his instincts warned lay below.  As rounded edges appeared, and the slope descended into cooler depths, he released Patch and dug with both hands.  The mutt bounded around the hole, wagging his tail.

Gradually, the object resolved into a bottle, the glass clear except for the barnacles adhered to one side and the scars of wear.  Lifting the bottle out from the hole, George plopped onto the neighboring sand.  Patch sat by his side as he cupped the neck and end.

Within, George spied a roll of sepia tinged parchment.  Working the wax off the mouth, he upended the bottle, the page slipping into his hand.  He set the bottle aside and carefully unrolled the sheet.

Crinkling followed, but the ink gleamed, evidently protected until now.  George's eyes grew wide as he read the text once, and then a second time, and then noted the familiar coastline etched onto the page.  Bracing his arms upon his bent knees, George allowed the page to curl.

After a scan across the water, George locked on to one particular island glimmering at the horizon like a faceted jewel.  He tallied the needed supplies for the short journey to the opposite shore.  Expending his last paycheck seemed a worthy exchange for the promised return offered by the bottle’s note.

George’s mouth stretched into a broad grin as he gazed at the emerald spit.   He scrubbed Patch's neck. 

"Good boy, Patch.  Good boy."

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Diamond Cutter - No. 208

Burt propped his feet up on the ottoman.  The mammoth hearth dominating the lodge’s main wall warmed the soles of his slippers.  Flipping open the newspaper, he started with the far left column and began working his way down and across.

The neighboring chair hushed.  With a grunt, another foot thumped onto the plush footstool.

Burt shifted his feet aside with a weighty sigh.

"Sorry," said his new neighbor.  Pain laced his voice as the man settled.

Burt cocked down the edge of his paper enough to take in the wavy curls, verdant fleece and cast covering the other man's right leg along with the crutches now laying on the floor.

"Grady's Drop?"

"No," said the younger man.  "I did it on the Diamond Cutter."

Burt gave a derisive snort.  "Dangerous."

"Not usually."

"Who do you think you are?  Some kind of skiing savant?"


A tittering round of giggles rippled across the lodge.  Burt scowled as a clutch of young women decked in gear more suitable for a catalog than the slopes, flowed over like a rolling avalanche of yarn and Polar-tec.

"Excuse me," said one.

She elbowed her friend who balled up her courage as tightly as her sweater.  "You're Wes Decon right?"

"Yes," said Burt's neighbor.

"Could we," said another girl.

"Get your—"

They dissolved into girlish laughter as if directed by an unseen signal.

"Sure," said Wes.  Despite the broken leg he beamed a grin, encouraging more tittering, and accepted the notebook one of the girl's offered along with a pen from another.

"Thanks," said the cluster.  "You’re the best."

They flitted off like a flock of stirred canaries and perched by a nearby table of young men who were scowling out the windows at the fog-laced mountain and hunching their shoulders.

"The best? Apparently not," said Wes, sagging back into the overstuffed arm chair.

Burt cocked a bushy brow.  "One broken leg going to stop you?"

Wes sighed and sank deeper into the cushions.  "This isn't the first."

"Gonna be the last?"


A waiter arrived, carrying a tray with a towering mug steaming like a smoke stack.

"Thanks," said Wes, fishing out a plump wallet.

"Sven says it's on the house," said the waiter, placing the drink on the chair's side table.

"For you then.”  Wes palmed a bill and held out his hand.

The waiter, dumbstruck, shook hands and stammered, "Thank you, sir."   He straightened and tactfully avoided looking into his now clutched fist.  "Can I get you anything Mr. Leopold?"

Burt waved a dismissive hand.  The waiter scurried off, but Burt cringed as Wes's gaze locked upon him.

"Leopold?  Not, Burt Leopold?"

"What if I am?"

"Woah.  I mean, talk about a legend."

Burt stared through the gray pages propped before him.

"I mean, Gold in the 50's and 60's," said Wes.  "World Champion more times than I can remember and you held the fastest time on the Alpine Route until—"

"Until I stopped."

"You stopped in your prime."

"I stopped when I needed to."

"But why?  I didn't hear about you getting hurt or anything."

Lowering the paper to his lap, Burt gazed into the snapping embers.  "Not me.”


Shooting his glare to Wes caused the younger man to finally clamp his mouth shut.

Then, Wes' eyes widened.  "Oh right, your wife."

Burt pursed his lips together and dropped his gaze to the crumpled pages.  The fire crackled in the moment of silence.

Wes drew his cup over with a rub of porcelain against wood and held the mug in both hands.

"I'm sorry," he said.  "Sometimes I don't think before I speak."

"Or look before you ski," said Burt, the tension melting off his shoulders.

Wes chuckled.  "No I saw the drop the whole way, right until it smacked me in the face."  He shook his head and his humor dwindled into a long exhale.

"Why do you sound so resigned?"

"Well, after this."  He swept the mug to indicate the cast. "I'm not sure what I'm going to do."

"Seems like you've still got enough attention."

Wes glanced at the young cluster chatting over drinks.  "They'll forget about me when they recognize the next face."

Burt pointed a gnarled finger at the wallet resting on Wes’ flat stomach.  "You got enough in there to buy this damn place if you wanted."

"Me? A lodge owner?”

"Why not?"

"I don't think I could sit in here all day dealing with the customers when there are slopes right out my front door."

"You get used to it."

"What do you mean?"

"Who do you think owns this place?"  Burt withdrew his own wallet.  Fetching one of the lodge's business cards, he dangled the hard rectangle in the gap between them.

Wes squinted at the text.  "Hey, that's you."

"Precisely."  Burt tucked the card away.

"But don't you miss it?"

"Miss what?"

"The slopes?"

Burt rubbed his thumbs against his wallet, the leather worn from countless other nervous streaks of his flesh against the surface.  "Not at all."

"Isn't that how...Your wife?"

"She caught pneumonia,” said Burt, his voice low, “probably while watching from the crowd during one of my races.  Wilted like a flower."

"And you haven't skied since?"

"What's the point?  She's not there at the bottom of the hill."

"How do you know?"

Burt glared across the intervening space.

Wes cupped the mug close like a shield.  "I just mean, she could be watching from, you know, Heaven or something.  Would you rather have her watching you talk to a broken kid like me or see you out there?"  He thumbed at the expanse of glass and the dusted evergreens threaded with white streaks, open and flowing like waterfalls.

Burt stared at the view while a familiar surge of adrenaline threaded his veins. Breaking the hypnotic trance of watching bodies swoosh and cut into the powder, he stuffed his wallet away.

"Maybe."  Burt opened up the newspaper again and set his sights on an unread article.

"Well when you do go back out there," said Wes, "watch out for the Cutter."

"The Cutter?  Ha.  I used to do that one in my sleep."

Wes grinned.  "I'd like to see that."

"Yeah," said Burt, the columns blurring.  "So did she."