July, 1963

1984

Jared showed feigned interest as his girlfriend Dianna’s father gave a thorough recitation about each of the smiling people in the various framed photos on the bookshelf. Dianna gave him an apologetic smile.

“…and this is all of us at my cousin Mason’s graduation from High School. He was the first of us through. That’s Mason with his arms around me and my sister Sophia, and that’s mama, daddy, grandpa Ralph, Aunt Louise and Uncle…”

“Dad, can we do this another time?” Dianna interrupted.

Jared raised his hand in a clumsy attempt at civility. “Is Sophia the one that disappeared?” he asked.

“Yes,” Dianna quickly replied, saving her father from having to answer the question. “Sorry, daddy. I told Jared about Auntie Sophia.”

The smile on Dianna father’s face changed to a melancholy grimace. He shook his head. “Well, then, did she tell you it was one of those times, every fifty years or so when the moon goes all red? But that happened in the morning, as the moon was setting, before she’d gone to work. Anyway, yes. Let’s save that story for another time.”

“All I want is to stop sifting through again and again the very little we have ever known about her disappearance,” said Dianna’s mother. “If she left, she left. Terrible of her to just take off like that, if that’s what actually happened. But it would be good to know one way or the other, because if she’s dead, I mean, if she was murdered or something awful like that, then all we want is to lay her to rest.”

Jared leaned over to Dianna and mouthed, “Sorry”.

“I’m going to show Jared the famous tire swing out back,” Dianna announced.

“No, no. Time to eat. Everyone come sit down and we’ll get dinner on the table,” Dianna’s grandmother said as she stood in the kitchen doorway motioning everyone through. “Let’s not scare off Dianna’s young man just yet with stories about my poor Sophia.”

***********

Twenty years earlier

“Great stuff tonight, Sophia,” Philip called out as he passed the women’s open dressing room door.

“Thanks!” Sophia called back. She heard the backstage door open and Philip bidding a good night to Charlie the doorman.

It was a darn good night, Sophia thought. She wanted to thank Gus and Thaddeus, too, but she was pretty sure the guys were already out the door with whomever they’d set their sights on in the club.

Guessing who the fellas would end up with at the end of the night was a game Sophia liked to play. This night she guessed Gus was off with one of the four boys sitting in the back and Thaddeus with the woman in the tight-fitting blue dress at the table up front. Thaddeus always went for the ripe, low hanging fruit. Philip wasn’t part of the game. He was crazy in-love with his fiancé and out the door right after the last set.

“Nice night for it,” was Charlie the doorman’s standard salutation for anyone leaving the club. “Need a cab, Miss?”

“Yes. Thank you, Charlie,” Sophia said, keenly aware of Charlie’s gentlemanly ritual of seeing the women of the club safely off. When the quartet played their first gig at the club, Sophia insisted she would bus it home, but Charlie insisted he pay for a cab. From that point forward, Sophia agreed to let Charlie to call a cab, but refused to let him pay. Living clear across town, she paid with what usually amounted to most of her miniscule take of the evening’s door.

Sophia lived in a one-bedroom apartment she inherited, so to speak, when her grandfather died. She was the one who nursed him through his final days and decided to take over payment of the rent after his death. The apartment was in the sprawling projects along the river, near industrial district where most project tenants worked. As did she, though she considered her circumstance different.

Her day-job was as a senior secretary for the operations manager at Tigart Manufacturing. She started in the Tigart secretarial pool during summers in High School and a few years later, was assigned to the new operations manager, Richard Stanton. Stanton was shy, nervous, and very well-mannered. Her position was the envy of the other secretaries because almost every secretary was subjected to every form of disregard, from being entirely ignored to blatant insult and harassment.

But what filled Sophia’s world was music. It was her total joy. She needed nothing more. It took her far away from grind of her daily life and made the world a wonderful place to be.

Sophia took every chance she could to play or listen to music. She would surreptitiously eat her lunch at her desk so that she could spend her lunch hour at the upright piano in the employee commons. On Wednesdays after work, she headed straight home to eat a quick bite before walking the 5 blocks to the First Fellowship of Christ, the church her family attended when she was young, to practice playing on their Baby Grand Steinway, as well as practice her singing. She had the place to herself, which gave her space and time to work out a tricky bit of something new or rehearse songs for the quartet’s weekend gigs. When she was done, the night janitor, a middle-aged man she’d known all her life only as Mr. Johnson, would walk her home.

Tuesday and Thursday evenings were rehearsal for the Friday and Saturday night gigs with the quartet. Gus was the group’s leader. He did a great good job at maintaining their standing gigs at three small neighborhood clubs, and occasionally landing a private party, musical event or festival. Gus ponied up for a cab to collect Sophia, Philip, and Thaddeus, so they could rehearse in Gus’ make-shift sound studio that he also called home. They rehearsed long into the night polishing up their repertoire and hammering out new material. Gus was adamant Sophia jam with the guys with some scat singing, but if there was one thing she could not quite get the hang of, it was scat. Nevertheless, every week, he encouraged her to try. But when it came to the gigs, she would bow out during the instrumentals and just let the boys rip.

The third weekend of the month, unless Gus had scored a gig, was her time to catch up. Saturdays were spent doing chores and errands, and if time allowed, a little bit of window shopping. Every Sunday was a trip on the bus for dinner with her brother, his wife, their three children and her mother.

Mondays were the only evenings to do whatever she wanted. She joked that it was a good thing she only had Mondays open, otherwise she would end up broke on cover charges at clubs to hear groups play and on tickets to concerts. So, Mondays were typically a quiet night at home for Sophia, especially in winter when it was too cold for much of anything else than the occasional trip to the ice rink with her friend Barbara from work. Every so often she attended the Monday night single adults’ mixer at the church, at the urging of her brother who was desperate to see Sophia settled and out from under his charge. Other times she walked to the library to check out a couple albums of favorite musicians or discover new ones. In summer she like to take the long way home from work along the busy promenade along the river. She would treat herself to dinner with a hot dog and a Coca-Cola from the vendor on the docks. She enjoyed sitting on a bench watching the boats and people go by.

On the second Monday in July of 1963, two days after the fantastic night at the club with the guys, and three weeks after her 23rd birthday, the only thing anyone knew that Sophia planned for her evening was one of her quiet nights at home. The remnants of a tropical storm had turned the weather wet and windy. She told her friend Barbara that she was looking forward to staying home listening to the records she recently checked out from the library. The last time anyone saw Sophia was her saying good night to her boss Richard Stanton.\

—————————————

Prompts used in1984″ are: Bloodshot moon; I should go; chip away

OK, but, no one said it was Wet T-Shirt Night

Amanda stood facing her boyfriend Eric in her gym outfit of sports bra, heavy cotton crew neck short sleeved t-shirt and ankle length black leggings, dripping from head to toe in water.

“If you ever wanted to see me in a wet t-shirt contest? Well, here I am.”

Eric stifled a laugh. “Uh. Yeah.”

Other than the clear definition of the heavy seams of her sport bra and her underwear’s waist and leg bands, and perhaps a some soft who-would-actually-notice nipple definition, Amanda’s wet attire did not reveal anything beyond a jogger caught in a downpour. Only, it wasn’t raining.

“Seriously?!” Amanda argued. “I’m all wet and so, I thought you’d be, like, turned on. I mean,” she continued, looking down at herself, “it’s all sticking to me.”

“No, yeah,” Eric said, still stifling a laugh, “I mean… you are…seriously, man. Crazy! Seriously, how’d you, like, get all wet anyway?”

“Gina,” Amanda said. “From the West Building? She was in the pool, swimming, and no one else was down there. I stopped by the Cabana to see if anyone was using the sauna and, yeah, well, she dared me to jump in. As is.”

Amanda and Eric stared at each other.

“OK, so,” Amanda continued, “I’ll just…” she gestured toward the bathroom.

Eric gave her the thumbs up and settled back on the couch watching the big game, as before.

Hard Times Require Beer (and a Favorite Uncle. Oh, and a Porterhouse)

Elliott’s favorite place is on his aunt and uncle’s back porch leaning against the house in an old kitchen chair with his feet up on the railing. Summertime finds him with an iced tea or a beer. Winter is a hot mug of coffee, or at Christmas, with his aunt’s holiday hot toddy. Elliott could sit like this all day watching the world drift downstream along the fork of the river at the edge of the property.

But on this summer’s day Elliott was leaned forward, elbows on his knees. He slowly peeled the label off of a bottle of beer, wadding up the remnants between his fingers and then poking them down the bottle’s neck. He thoughtfully placed the bottle with the other empties, then reached for another in the cooler under the chair. He took a long draw off of it before going to work removing its label.

“Hard times are easy to find, aren’t they?” Elliott’s uncle’s voice came from just behind the screened door.   

Elliott reached into the cooler and offered his uncle one. The man took the beer and sat on the stairs on the edge of the porch, looking back at his nephew.

“You need to get a new No Trespassing sign,” Elliott said, pointing out toward the river.

His uncle glanced out across the property and shrugged. “Folks can pretty much guess what it says.”

“It’s not like a new sign’s ‘gonna set you back.”

“Don’t see the need, son. But thanks for your concern.”

Elliott finished his beer, jammed to the bits of label down the bottle, set it down with the empties, pulled out another one and got to working on that label.

“Look, kid, it’s a bum deal, but a case of beer isn’t going to make you anything but a drunk, sad-sack S-O-B, more than you already are.”

“Yeah? Well, could be worse,” Elliott grumbled. “Could be out with my guys making a night of it. Been a while since we were out looking to score.”

“OK. I’ll give you that,” his uncle conceded.

Elliott stopped fiddling with the bottle and looked up at his uncle. “Look, I’m a grown man, I know life’s not about scoring, and it’s not always going to turn out to be like some huge winning lottery ticket. I just wish,” he shook his head. “Whatever. Forget it.”

“No, I get it,” his uncle replied. “And don’t go mistaking my big mouth for God’s only truth. I just been around the block a few times more, is all.”

“I appreciate you bein’ here for me.” Elliott smiled as he took a moment to focus his thoughts. “I mean, if we’re talkin’ truths here, me and her? We were chalk and cheese. Take this place,” Elliott leaned his chair back into his customary position, “I love it here!” He sighed as he opened his arms wide. “How can you not love every bit of this?”

“I agree, I agree, of course” his uncle said. “But, you only brought her around that one time. She didn’t take to the place?”

“Who knows. I mean, she said it was pretty out here, but, yeah, I guess not. Anytime I suggested we come out here? She’d make a face and then say we should go shopping at the mall, or see a movie, or go out to dinner, or hang out at the casino, or whatever.”

Two gun shots echoed through the valley, setting a flock of startled crows aloft.

“Mick and Geraldine’s got their grandkids for the summer. Teaching them how to shoot,” Elliott’s uncle explained. Elliott nodded.

“So, how ‘bout I take you and Aunt Mary out for a bite?” Elliott said as he gave his uncle a slap on the back. “Your choice!”

Elliott’s uncle smiled. “Oh, well then, I could do with a porterhouse from River Bend Grill. With one of their whiskey sours Mary likes? You’re on!”

———-

I like to accumulate prompts and then have a go (as the Brits say). Mostly, I like to force myself to just “get with the program” and write, something, anything!
The Un-OLWG prompts used are: big door prize; a simple kitchen chair; hard times are easy to find; gut shot; chalk and cheese; while the world drifts downstream; no trespassing; mistake my big talk for truth; who am I kidding; shamelessly speak the truth

The Old Man and the Enchantress

As Alice stood at the kitchen sink filling a glass of water, she looked out the window to see her husband Ed dozing in the chaise lounge in the yard; his “picnic recliner,” as he liked to call it.  The spring sun was high and warm, thoroughly melting away the spring morning frost.  Alice smiled wryly to herself. Ed’s nap was going to last only as long as she let him think she hadn’t caught him goofing off again.

Cutting the arcadian scene came an explosion of cawing and flapping wing chaos.

“LITTLE!” Ed yelled as he sat up, “I swear to God! You damn bird!”

He ran to the coop in a fury. Alice’s wry smile changed to a giggle as she watched the drama unfold. She opened the kitchen window and called out. “Ed! Those two chickens at it again?”

In a casual trot from the direction of the coop came a small hen and her partner-in-crime rooster. Alice walked out to the yard and headed toward the birds.

“You GIT! SHOO!” she scolded. The two birds stood stock still and then began pecking at the ground, as if they were just out for an pleasant afternoon walk, minding their own business.

“I said, SHOO!” Alice scolded again, this time charging the birds. They fluttered a bit. The rooster took a short flight , but the hen stood her ground, head cocked to one side.

Ed strode across the yard with another bird in his arms. “What is it with those two? I swear to God! Look what they did this time.” Ed held out the bird in his arms. It had blood oozing from its breast. Alice and Ed looked at the rooster and the hen. The pair of them had settled onto Ed’s chaise lounge, as if they found themselves a new, comfy nest.

“Damn birds,” Ed grumbled.

***

Pretty sure this goes under the column of “Feel free to seize the prompts, twist them, form them, play with them as you will“, and is inspired by characters I find so fun: A Golden Comet

Tears of a Clown

Daniel drove the DeSoto with its broken headlamp lid onto the fairgrounds toward the rodeo stadium as the young man at the gate instructed. The slow roll across the grounds of all the other devoted owners of classic cars who could no longer keep their precious automobiles looked every bit the funeral procession. Daniel let his observation linger, allowing time to take it in, rather than tossing it off.

That night, three months ago, lost in the country after the fight with Susan, Daniel sat for a long time in the DeSoto. The hum of cicadas filled his ears and the occasional firefly dancing by caught his attention. Other than turning the car around and heading back the way he came, he hadn’t a clue what to do next. In those still, dark minutes he finally calmed down long enough to realize everything he’d ever wanted, everything he’d frantically pursued, even everything he achieved amounted to only desperate, foolish clap trap.

“You watch all that mopin’,” Daniel remembered his grandmother saying, “or you’ll burn down the house with all that moonin’ about.” She did not tolerate whining or complaint. “Rise above it!” she would holler. “I’ll have none of your sad-sack today, mister.”

A tough, angry woman, but Daniel and his siblings owed their grandmother their lives. So Daniel looked forward, never lingering a moment too long on the negative, just like his grandmother insisted. Or, at least, that is what he thought she wanted. Daniel had been running from his grandmother’s disdain his whole life, only to find himself exactly nowhere in the middle of nothing. It was not Susan’s fault he lost his temper. That night was a long time coming.  

So, here he was, at the auto show, ready to start again, but this time without pretense.  He had quit his job as a sales director and took a couple of part-time jobs washing dishes at night and delivering various products and supplies during the day. He sublet his place to a friend and moved into a hostel for traveling businessmen to save on expenses. Now it was time to unload the final burden of his past. The DeSoto was an expensive toy; a misguided attempt at showing the world he was the positive person, the fun-loving guy, the can-do cheerful chap. Today, if he were lucky, he’d get a good deal on the car, which would be enough to pay for the first quarter of architecture courses offered at City College.

Daniel chuckled to himself when he pictured the frown on his grandmother’s face.

***

This week’s UnOLWG prompts are: Tears in a sandbox; whimpering and complaining; It might burn down your house…and TNKerr’s preamble story about Daniel and his DeSoto.

The Brick and Mortar Bar and Grill

The Brick and Mortar Bar and Grill was, at long last, at capacity after the long wait for COVID19 to finally be classified as a seasonal flu. Husband and wife owners Craig and Allie were among the fortunate few restaurateurs in Cedar Falls that managed to stay in business all the while.

Marianne walked into the place a couple of weeks after the all-clear. It was a strange feeling walking in alone. She was very aware of the empty space around her body. She took a moment to let her eyes adjust to the gloom before spotting Craig behind the bar. She made her way to an empty stool and waited for him to see her.

“Holy crap!” Craig finally exclaimed. “Long time, cuz!”

Craig reached an arm over the bar and Marianne rose to meet his familial embrace.

“Can I just say, I’m not used to seeing you behind the bar.”

“Yeah, well,” Craig shrugged. “It’s still gonna take some time, ya know, to rebuild. Don’t have the capital for a full staff yet.”

“Well then, Mr. Barkeep, I’ll have a martini. Vodka. And, don’t forget, I’m a big tipper, so top shelf.” Marianne winked and smiled.

Craig shook his head. “Don’t give me that. You don’t know one shelf from the other, let alone one drink from the other. Just to prove, you want olives or lemon twist?”

Marianne stalled. Her cousin had caught her out. “Olives? I didn’t have lunch. But, do you have green? I hate black olives.”

Craig laughed. “Right-o. Green olives it is.”

He mixed Marianne’s drink in a shaker, poured it into a large glass, and with a flair for the dramatic, brought out a jar of green olives with pimentos. As Craig handed Marianne her cocktail, Allie walked up to the bar with a full tray of empty glasses and dirty plates.

“I need four of the usual, two shots, and a…”, Allie paused as she pulled out her writing tab from her apron pocket, “A grapefruit vodka, tall, on ice with fuzzy water, whatever that is. For six.”

Craig peered into the restaurant at table six. “Four Buds, two JDs and a tall Greyhound with seltzer,” he repeated.

As Allie cleared her tray in the into the wash bin, Marianne impatiently waited for Allie to see her. “Hey,” Marianne finally said.

Allie looked up.  “Oh! My God! Mary!”

The women hugged, pulled apart to take each other in, and then hugged again.

“Boy, you guys are really back to basics, with Craig running the bar and you waiting tables. Jesus!”

“Oh, you just watch out or I’ll put you to work washing dishes,” Allie replied.

Marianne took a sip of her cocktail and studied Allie as she finished clearing her tray and loading up again with drinks and plates from the kitchen window. The woman looked beat. Craig looked happy, but Marianne could tell her cousin’s smile was forced.

“OK, sure. Why not? I’m game.”

Craig and Allie exchanged looks.

“Seriously, we could use the help,” Craig said.

“Grab me an apron and put me to work.”

*******************************

The three friends sat around the front table nursing their beers. The clock over the bar ticked past 3AM. Oscar the cook waved goodbye from the pass through and everyone bid him a good night.

The last of the guests was asleep with his head on his table in the back. Craig routinely looked at the man and checked his watch.

“Did you call?” Allie asked. Craig nodded. Allie looked at the man, which made Marianne look at him as well.

“Who is he?” Marianne asked.

“He rolled in with the pandemic,” Allie replied. “Nice guy, but definitely a heavy drinker. He’s got a son in the area who we can call if he’s too far gone. He should be here soon.”

The friends turned their attention back to one another.

“I’m just going to say it,” Allie said. “It’s damn weird without Max here.

Marianne smiled to herself and nodded. “It was weird walking in here tonight without him.”

“How you holding up?” Craig asked as he gave Marianne a squeeze on her arm.

Marianne threw back her head and shook it, fighting back the sudden onslaught of tears. She pulled herself back together with an audible sigh.

“Ya know, this is just what I needed. A tough night washing a ton-load of dishes,” Marianne paused. “There was no room in my head for anything but the task at hand.”

“You made Oscar’s night, that’s for sure.”

“How the hell does he manage all that?”

Craig and Allie shook their heads.

“Well, we thank you for pitching in.”

“I told you, I’m a big tipper.”

The three chuckled, then Allie said, “Ya know, we couldn’t pay you much. In fact, we’d only be able to split tips with you, but if you need to get out of the house a couple nights a week…”

Craig looked at his wife a little appalled, but then noticed Marianne seemed to be considering the offer. Just then the bell on the front door rang and a young man stepped in. Craig got up and nodded in the direction of the man in the back.

“Sorry ’bout this Craig. Hi Allie,” the young man said. “In fact, I’ve been meaning to ask ya’ll, next time? Call me right when he gets here. We’re trying to help him get clean.”

Craig nodded and shook the young man’s hand. The friends watched as the young man wrestled his father awake and assist him as he stumbled out of the restaurant into the dusk of early morning light.

Apartment #404 Error

Toni stepped back out into the hall to double check the number on the door. She shook her head. Of course it was her apartment. Her key would not have worked if it wasn’t.

“Oh, there you are! This cake is fantastic, honey, you want some?”

An older woman and man were sitting comfortably on Toni’s couch. The woman had a wide, warm smile. The man, with an equally pleasant smile, placed his empty plate on the coffee table and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Darn good!” he replied.

Wildly confused, Toni looked down the hallway to the apartment building exit, contemplating if she should make a run for it. She looked back at the couple in her apartment. The woman was standing now, holding out a plate with a piece of cake.

“Well, come on in, honey!,” the woman said. “Look! I got us some cake. Have a piece!”

Toni walked cautiously into her living room, leaving her front door wide open as a precaution and clutching her purse and coat against her chest as if it was armor.

The man asked, “Have a good day?”

“Uh, can I…”

The woman stepped toward Toni with the slice of cake. Toni back up a couple of steps, waving the woman off.

“No, I don’t…”

“Oh, come on, now, don’t be like that. Have a piece! We got it from the bakery you told us all about,” the woman said.

Toni thrust her hand out to stop the woman’s further approach. “Excuse me, but…what…how the hell did you get into my place?!”

The man huffed, “Well, you didn’t leave us a key, so what’ya think? We had to find the manager!”

“What? He just let you in?!”

Toni took out her phone and dialed the building manager, retreating back into the hallway to wait for him to answer her call.

The man and woman exchanged disbelieving looks. The woman walked into the kitchen. Toni heard her throw the plate with the slice of cake she had been holding into the sink. The woman came back out, and in a low, angry tone that sounded almost like a growl announced to the man that they were leaving. The man shot Toni a look, which she thought seemed strangely sad.

The man and woman left the apartment, slamming the apartment door behind then and aggressively brushing past Toni where she stood in hall. As they cleared the apartment building exit, Toni heard the woman curse a blue streak.

Toni’s call to the building manager went to voicemail. She sent a text instead, trembling as she keyed in her message. She then went back into her apartment and started to go through all her belongings to see if anything was missing. Maybe the man and woman were burglars. A sweet old couple like them? The manager would never suspect them of being anything other than her parents, or an aunt and uncle.

A couple of hours later Toni overheard her neighbor talking in the hallway to another resident.

“John finally found his grandparents at a hotel downtown. They said I threw them out! I was so confused, like, how could I throw them out when I hadn’t even seen them!”

“But you left them a key under your mat, right?” replied the other.

“They said they didn’t find the key and so they had to get the manager to let them in.”

“Have you talked to the manager?”

“No, he hasn’t returned my calls. God, they are so pissed. Now they won’t even answer the phone. John’s gone to the hotel to talk to them. It’s just so screwed up!”

Toni shyly opened her door and approached her fellow tenants. “Sorry, um,” she began, and then gave out a little laugh. “Hi. I’m Toni. Yeah, uh, I think I know what happened.”


In response to TBP Redux #14

Care to play a game?

The OLWG #193 prompts are:

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!


Good Fences

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.

“Mither Ra-ciff?

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!”

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?”

“Daryl’th friend.”

“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.

“Hey Tina.”

“Hey yourself!”

“What’s up?”

“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.

Mack and Officer Dink

worms eyeview photography of coconut trees

Mack woke to the sound of waves gently rolling onto the beach. The sand was cool and damp, and the air was still. The morning’s sunlight penetrated his eyelids, but he was not ready to open them. Sunburned and hungover, he had no desire to leave his darkened cave of sleep to face whatever carried over from the antics of the night before.

“Hello sir. Time to get up. C’mon.”

The voice startled him, and he sat up. He had to shade his eyes from the sun that was now high in the sky. The person who spoke was uniformed police. Mack looked around, surprised to be on a beach he did not recognize.

“Are you Mack Steadman?” the officer asked. Mack nodded.

“C’mon. Get up.”

“Am I…” Mack gagged on his dry mouth and coughed. The officer handed him a bottle of water. Mack nodded his thanks and gulped down the entire thing.

“OK, I’m taking you to the station. We’ll have your wife come get you there,” the officer held up his phone. “Smile!”

“Rather you didn’t do that,” Mack said.

The officer smiled. “I’m sure you don’t. I have to send it to your wife so she can confirm it’s you, though from the picture she gave us, I’m not sure she’s going to recognize you.”

Mack dropped his head in humiliation. The sudden change in posture threw off his balance and he stumbled.

“Whoa, there, big guy.” The officer reached out to keep Mack from falling down.

 “How’d you find me, anyway? I don’t even know where I am.”

“Oh, I’ve been with this precinct for many years. When we get a call from a frantic wife, girlfriend or parent, all we have to do is look at the incidents and complaints filed the night before, check in with the beat cops along the boardwalk and follow the trail from there.”

The officer’s phone beeped. “OK, your wife confirmed its you. Let’s go. You got shoes?”

Mack looked down at his bare feet. “I, uh, did…”

“Nevermind. I keep flip-flops in the trunk. Don’t suppose you got your I.D. on you.”

Mack patted himself down and shook his head.

“Well, not surprising. We’ll take care of reporting your wallet stolen when we get there.”

The two men walked off the beach to the promenade. Mack was aware of the dirty looks he was getting from the people they passed.

“Probably should get you cleaned up. Beach shower is just over there,” the officer pointed to a drab cinder block structure a few feet away. “Don’t want to have to clean all that sand out of my cab. Make you a little more presentable for the wife.”

“Officer, it won’t make a difference, but I certainly appreciate you being a good guy about all this. A fair dinkum cop is not something I deserve.”

The officer let out a laugh. “That’s not what people typically say to me when I tell ‘em I have to bring ‘em in.”

“Hey, um, mind if I ask if there were any other, what’d you call them, frantic phone calls, yesterday, about anyone else?”

“No. Why?”

“I’m wondering where my friends got to.”

“Oh, I’m guessing they managed to make it back to their hotels, Mr. Steadman.”


Prompts from UnOLWG this week are: Sunburned and hungover; fair dinkum; smiling cameras.

Always comes up with stuff I have to look up! Thanks for intro to “fair dinkum”.

The COVID Shag

Shawna frowned at her beaming husband, Carter.

“I actually got used to you with long hair.”

“Really? I thought you hated the COVID shag look. I sure did.”

“No, I said I don’t like it on me.”

“Oh. I love your hair long.”

“It itches my neck. Can’t wait to cut it.”

“But, you are waiting.”

“I’m waiting until I get vaccinated.”

“Why? If it’s bugging you, get it cut.”

“Why can’t I just do what I want, how I want, hm? You wanted to get yours cut, fine. I don’t. Not yet.”

“You going to cut it short, like always?”

“Like I said, I don’t like long hair on me.”

“I do.”

“Well, I liked you with longer hair, but you didn’t ask me.”

Shawna and Carter stared at each other, unsure what the next move should be. If there is one thing this year cooped up together demonstrated, it’s that it is best to just let the conversation freely wander around the trivial things, rather than piling them up into burning pyres of marital discontent.

“Why’d you like my hair longer?” Carter asked.

Shawna shrugged. “Oh, I guess it made you look… I don’t know… not exactly sexy, but, yeah. Sexy. Sexier.”

“Huh.”

“Not so buttoned-up, I guess.”

“Huh.”

“Why do you like me with long hair?”

Carter took a moment before replying. “This’ll sound weird because you’ve always had short hair. But, it makes you look… more feminine.”

“How’s that weird?”

“Well, because… OK. I’ve always thought that you’re pretty, right? Long hair makes you… different pretty.”

“Different pretty.”

Carter smiled, “Yeah, whatever that means.”

“So, you’d like me to be different.”

“No, that’s not what I said.”

“Do you want someone different?”

“Shawna, please don’t do this. We agreed. I love you just the way you are. I don’t care if your hair is short. I just happen to really like it long. That’s it. I don’t want someone different. Please, please, don’t do this.”

Shawna gave Carter a quick hug around the waist, then walked out of the room. Carter sighed. It was going to be another one of her sulky days.


The haircut prompt made me laugh. All three prompts this week are: Let it wander around; Burning pyres; I don’t like your haircut