just shallow socializing
and then I heard this …
she’s already cooler than me
The following two stories have all three of the above prompts, but they are not literally spelled out. Can you spot them? Give it a try!
Lee Radcliff continued to work in silence for the better part of ten or fifteen minutes, fully aware he was being watched as he weeded his flowerbed. Lee knew who was watching him and he did everything possible to point his attention in the opposite direction.
The meek four year-old voice was far enough away that he could justify not hearing the little girl call out his name.
“Mither Ra-ciff? ‘cue me Mither Ra-ciff?”
Please kid, Lee thought, go away.
Lee looked up to his wife Marianne standing in their door. She nodded toward the little girl. Lee turned around to see their neighbor’s youngest child Jenny standing as she usually did on her side of the low chain link fence with her fingers twisted around the thin metal and her face pressed hard against it.
“Little Jenny, don’t do that,” Lee grumbled. “You’ll get a mark on your face.”
Jenny pulled back from the fence as Marianne made her way across the yard.
“Where’s your mommy today honey? Is your daddy home?”
“No,” Jenny said, then offered, “Daryl went to Mickey’th.”
“Who’s Mickey, honey?” Marianne asked.
That poor, damn kid, Lee thought. He shook his head and went back to weeding.
Marianne asked again, “Jenny, sweetie, who’s Mickey?”
“Does Mickey live nearby?”
Jenny shrugged a quick, sharp, sort of spasm with her shoulders.
“Sweetie,” Marianne continued, “Where’s your mommy?”
“She went to work.”
“OK, your brother is at Mickey’s, whoever that is, and daddy? Where’s daddy?”
Jenny nodded her head, up and down repeatedly, like a horse frustrated with its bit, followed by her little spastic shoulder shrug, and then the two together, then finally replied, “Daddy’ thleep.”
“Well, then, hm.” Marianne turned to wage Lee’s response, but he was ignoring the conversation.
“Why don’t you come on over here, honey.” Marianne gestured toward the gate of Jenny’s yard with a sweep sweeping her arm over the sidewalk, and then circling her wrist as if waiving Jenny in. “C’mon. You come spend the day with me and Mr. Radcliff.”
Lee shot a scowling look at his wife. It was difficult to get anything done with the kid underfoot. Lee decided it was high time he had some words with Jenny’s folks. That poor damn kid.
Marianne walked up to Lee with Jenny in hand. Lee dropped his head to his chest in frustration and defeat.
“Let me finish in the yard,” he pleaded, “and then some lunch, and I’ll set up the train, OK?” he said.
Marianne smiled and Jenny jumped up and down, squealing, “Train!! Train!!”
When I’m 64
At sixty-four, Ken knew he was fortunate. He was, for the most part, in good health, comfortable, and though he never pictured himself single, and living in a small town in the mountains, he knew he shouldn’t have any complaints about his lot in life. He had several good friends and plenty of work as the town’s only general contractor. So, as long as his the old bod’ could hack it, he’d keep building homes, mending roofs, remodeling kitchens and live out his days where he was.
Ken had not always been a bachelor. He had two ex-wives. No children, hence, the two ex-wives. His first wife, Marcie, was actually the one to say she didn’t want children. Ken knew she was perfect for him. But, two years later, over dinner one night, she announced she had a change of heart. She filed for divorce the next day. Losing Marcie was a hurt that never did heal.
Abigail, his second wife, figured Ken was just a typical guy afraid of kids. She was sure that, once she was pregnant, he’d be OK with being a father. Ken cared about Abigail enough to agree to think about it, meaning, he would think about getting a vasectomy. She was gone as soon as Abigail landed a lover who, when learning she was having his baby, promised to marry her (and believe me, she tried her luck with more than a couple of men).
Ken quit his job as a foreman shortly after Abigail left. He moved to the small town in the mountains and hung his shingle out as a general contractor. Here, he could not only start over, he was far away from his failed marriages and the rest of his disappointed family. It was a fresh start with new people who knew nothing about him, and time to rethink his prospects.
That was almost 30 years ago.
“Hey, Ken!” John Capshaw called out when Ken came through John’s hardware and feed store door. “You made it in, and in one piece!”
“It’s not as bad as the last couple of years. Even found a place to park.”
John finished ringing up a line of people purchasing various Christmas decorations and supplies. He thanked the last of them as they left and then went looking for Ken, who was contemplating items in the plumbing aisle.
“This town during the holidays, I tell ya. Man! Anything I can help with today?”
“Don’t think so my friend. Just making mental notes. I promised the Fairchilds I’d do some work on their place. You know Don’s still laid up.”
“No, didn’t know. Figured he’d be up at back at it by now.”
“He’s had some complications. Not sure what, but Alice called last week and asked if I’d see to a few things around the place while he’s recovering. Their bathroom’s in pretty poor shape.” Ken placed a hand on John’s shoulder, “You have a good Thanksgiving?”
“Oh, sure. Always good to have the family around. Too much food, as always, but you get my grandmother and Carol in the same kitchen? It’s gonna be a cook-off!” John patted his stomach. “You go to your sister’s this year?”
“No. If I’m going to sit around with nothing better to do than watch the game, I might as well stay home. I’ll see her in summer.”
Ken selected a couple of pipes and fittings from the shelf and followed John up to the register. “And a bag of popcorn, and that’ll do it.”
His purchase tucked under his arm, Ken walked slowly back to his truck, munching on his popcorn while taking in the spectacle the little town’s business district magically transformed into a scene from a Christmas card. The merchants and Street Department colluded each year to wait until fairly late in the evening on Thanksgiving to completely decorate the stores and streets. Locals and visitors alike stream in the following day to see the decorations with the same excitement they had as children when they rushed from their beds to see what Santa Claus silently slipped in their stockings the night before. The town would be jammed with people from now through the first of January.
Ken’s phone chirped. He looked to see who it was before answering. It was his sister. He took in a sharp breath and answered the call.
“What’s up? It’s Thanksgiving! I meant to call, but things are just crazy here. Donovan and Cheryl’s baby was not having a good time of it, and, well, you know…crazy! I’m sorry I didn’t call yesterday. What’d you do?”
Tina was an affable, warm hearted woman. Ken’s senior by eight years, Tina looked very much like their mother. So much so, it sometimes gave Ken a bit of a start. Their mother died when Ken was nineteen and during those first years after her death, Ken looked to Tina more as a parent than a sibling. Tina never quite kicked the habit of playing the parent ever since.
“Did you go somewhere? Thanksgiving with friends? Anything?” Tina proded.
“I was at the Lutheran church for a couple hours in the afternoon. Helped them clean up after their annual community turkey feed. They sent me home with leftovers and I watched football the rest of the night.”
Ken and Tina finished their call with Ken promising to consider Tina’s invitation to come to her place for a visit sometime between Christmas and New Year’s. He climbed into his truck and drove home.
For a long while Ken stood on his back porch and watched as the afternoon wane into twilight. The temperature made a sharp drop, but Ken did not move to get a coat. He was too deep in thought to take much notice.
It was always the holidays that made the bachelor life rub him a little the wrong way. From time to time over the years he would think about pursuing something with one woman or the other he met along the way, but inevitably ruled out the idea. But each year with the advent of the holiday season came the keen reminder of how lonely he truly felt.
As the twilight gave way to nightfall, Ken could barely make out the black silhouette of an owl, the female who nested somewhere nearby, slowly sweeping by, on her way to her favorite perch in the tree next to his house. Ken marveled at the grace of her flight, and grateful for her company.