Category Archives: Fiction

Locked Secrets

Version 6

Locked Secrets

I’d just received my school’s math prize and my Uncle Jimmy, after handing me a twenty dollar bill, had, in his usual self-effacing manner, proclaimed that I must have gotten my smarts from him.  “How is it that you are both the pretty one and the smart one in your family?”  He teased.  My sister Eleanor was out of the room at the time.  If she’d been there and I hadn’t, he would have been proclaiming her the prettiest.  We all knew this about our uncle.  He adored us, and was not above flattery in revealing the fact.

This time, however, he had overlooked  both the precociousness and competitiveness of my two-and-a-half-year-old youngest sister, Stephanie.

“Elebben, eight, twenny, fiteen,” she recited proudly!

“Well, forgive me, Missy. Aren’t you a smart young lady, knowing how to count?” He reached into his lumpy pocket and tossed her a nickel.  Amazingly, she caught it.  Perhaps she was going to be the first athletic one in the family.

“Fohty-two!” she exclaimed proudly. “free, sebben-elebben, one, one, one.” This time he extracted his wallet, took out a one-dollar bill and handed it to her.  Putting his wallet back in his back pocket, he turned one side pocket inside out. “But that’s it, Teffie.  No more money. If you want to go on counting, it will have to be for free.”

His other pocket still bulged with its contents: coins, a rubber ball to throw for our dog Pudge, oatmeal cookie bits in a small plastic bag–also for Pudge.  My Uncle Jimmy always proclaimed that doggie treats were a real gyp and that no self-respecting dog would perform for such a dry, tasteless mouthful.  So, he preferred to bake his own dog treats.

My sisters and I agreed, and sometimes we would perform, hoping to be rewarded with one of Pudge’s treats.  We were all constantly performing for our uncle, whom we adored. He was the one person who paid more attention to us than to our parents when he visited.  He was our favorite babysitter, and our parents’ favorite as well, as he always waved away payment.

He would take us to Fern’s Cafe for strawberry malts, greasy hamburgers and mashed potatoes and gravy, since Fern didn’t have a French fryer. He took us for wild rides over cow pastures in his beat up old red Ford pickup.  Once he took us to a matinee cartoon show in Pierre, sixty miles away, and got us home and in bed again before my folks got home.  We were sworn to secrecy and so far as I know, none of us ever told.  I know for sure I didn’t.  My Uncle Jimmy had my undying loyalty.  I would have borne torture before giving away any of his secrets.

Sadly, Uncle Jimmy died during one of those wild rides across the South Dakota prairie.  This time he was flying solo over a dam grade and veered too far to the right, rolling the pickup.  He drowned trying to get out of the passenger door, the pickup mired driver-side down in the mud at the bottom of the dam.  We had always felt like such ladies as Uncle Jimmy graciously got out of his pickup to personally open the door from the outside for us.  We didn’t know then, as we know now, that it was a peculiarity of that door that it would only open from the outside.

“Thank God the girls weren’t with him,” my mother sobbed to my father, as they sat side-by-side at the kitchen table, my dad’s arms around her.  It was past midnight, and they were sitting in that room furthest away from our bedrooms, thinking we wouldn’t hear her sobs.  But, unable to sleep, we had stolen out to the living room to listen––all consumed by that missing of Uncle Jimmy that would last our whole lives.

“Oh, he never would have driven that wildly if the girls were with him,” my dad said.  But Eleanor and I and even Steffie just exchanged that look that we were to exchange so many times in our future lives together––that look that children exchange that would tell their parents that they know something their parents don’t know––if only their parents took the time to notice. Even Steffie understood.  And Uncle Jimmy was right when he proclaimed her wise beyond her years.  Even Steffie never told.

(This is a work of fiction.)

 

The prompt today was recite. (A repost of a story from a few years ago.)

Most of the Time: A Serial Tale, Chapter 4

Most of the Time

Chapter 4

 “And the tea, as always, was marvelous!” What?  What had Marjorie just said to me? Her statement was a complete non-sequitur, for I had been daydreaming about rum and Cokes and it was microwave pizza I had tasted as I bit into dainty canapés selected from a tray at the ladies luncheon in support of something-or-other.

Although I hadn’t been back to see Ninny Ricketts in the month since I’d first visited, she was often in my thoughts,  as was her “zero” quote.  “If you look at zero you see nothing; but look through it and you will see the world. ”I hadn’t been able to resist asking Peter what he thought it meant, but he had just stared at me in that puzzled and somewhat irritated manner that signaled this was not a topic worthy of his consideration, then went back to the fascinations of the Dow Jones Average or stock issues or whatever it is they display on the Money Channel’s report of the roulette wheel-like game they call the Stock Market.

How anyone could find the making and losing of money to be their primary hobby was as much a mystery to me as my humming was to Peter.  How in the world had we wound up together? Marjorie was now going on about something else.  I caught every tenth word or so, but luckily there was an entire table full of women hanging on her every word, so I was absolved of the obligation of following her drift.  “Paisley . . . carpet nap . . . ceiling coves . . . The words faded away.

My hidden adventures had started the third year of my marriage.  It was my friend Sharon who had suggested “slumming it” by going to one of the pool parlor bars frequented by both blue-collared locals and college kids from the nearby University.  We were barely beyond college age ourselves, both disenchanted with our “picture perfect” marriages, though we had not yet admitted it to ourselves, let alone to each other.

We’d know each other since we had scabs on our knees and chigger bites on our skinny shins from rolling in the grass clippings left in the wake of my dad’s hand-push lawnmower.  She’d always been the adventurous one, pulling me along in her wake.  She had helped me pad my first training bra and crammed my first tampon into me, stubbornly insistent in spite of my protestations that it would never fit.  She had procured for us our first fake i.d.’s and explained the logistics of diaphragms and KY Jelly long before we needed either.  With three older brothers, she knew the ways men thought and wasn’t afraid of them—a feat I never have become versed in, despite years of her tutoring.

She knew how to get along with men and was one of those women who, by merely sitting down in a booth in a bar, somehow attracted invitations to play pool or to dance or play darts from whatever close fraternity of men that was pursuing that pastime.  She was the one men sent drinks over to, the one who was responsible for us sailing into packed clubs while others stood in line to do so.  She was my tutor of sin and even though I wasn’t a very good student, somehow some of what she taught me has stuck to me to be resurrected when I needed it most—when I was sinking in, mired by the awful normalcy of life in the affluent suburbs.

That was when we began our twice-yearly other life­­­­­—the shopping trips to Ross Dress for Less to buy slutty tops, cheap skirts and strappy shoes­­—the nighttime trips to workers’ bars and gay bars and V.F.W.’s.  The object was never to find a new man or even to find a man for a one-night-stand.  As a matter of fact, after twenty-two years of such sojourns—first with Sharon and then on my own—I was still a virgin slut.  The thrill was in becoming who I might have become if I hadn’t married Peter, just for a night or an afternoon.  To try to fit in with people who may not have had much else but who still possessed the ability to have fun. To let go. To be what I wanted to be without worrying about what other people would say or think or do.

It is inevitable that we got into some trouble—the one night flirtation that turned out to be the new dentist who had come so highly recommended.  “Don’t I know you?” he had asked, as I prepared to open wide for my first appointment.  He had looked at me quizzically three or four more times during the appointment, and just as I was leaving, he had said, “Aren’t you . . . ?” But I had left quickly and never gone back.

“Why don’t you want to go back to him?” Peter had queried, but I hadn’t answered.  Finally, the fifth time he quizzed me, “Bad breath” I had said. He was surprised. No one else had had that problem with him, he said, and insisted that he wanted to make an appointment with him himself to check him out.  “He hums under his breath all the time,” I said.  “And whistles.”  Peter put down the phone.  Neither of us ever saw the quizzical dentist again.

I squeaked by that time. Peter faded away into the man cave that would one day house my guns as I settled back into my Hercule Poirot mystery.  So many years ago, I was living a vicarious life and therefore had more of an appetite for the literature of adventure. It would have been reassuring to me then to know that one day, I would be less dependent on mystery authors for my thrills and would be ready to write about my own adventures.

The book I have written and the book you are now reading is a saga of stubborn adherence to a belief that adventure is something that can be dammed up but never completely squelched; that revenge need not be executed by violence; and that by looking through the zero, one can sometimes actually see the world that society seems to be trying so hard to keep obscured.

But way back then, over twenty years ago, I was dependent on Agatha Christie to impart fairness to my world. I am both your narrator and that long-ago self as she settles back further on the cushions of the sofa and raises the book closer to her eyes. There is murder in this book, the second most famous in England, but what I intend here is more than a saga of violence.

220px-DavidSuchet_-_Poirot
Thanks to Joni Koehler for today’s prompt, which was a doozie.  It was from Erik Larsen’s “Thunderstruck.” First sentence: “There is murder in this book, the second most famous in England, but what I intend here is more than a saga of violence.” Last sentence: “And the tea, as always, was marvelous.”  Thanks for furnishing a real challenge this time, Joni.  You devil!

If you go backwards for the past three days in my blog, you will find Chapters 1-3 of this tale.

Who will give me the next prompt?  Nope, still not doing the WP Daily Prompt.

Most of the Time: A Serial Tale, Chapter 3

The prompt I have been doing for the past three days involves taking the first and last line of a favorite book and using the last line as the first line of my writing and using the first line of the book as the last line in my piece.  Links to the results of the first two chapters, if you haven’t read them, you can find below.   I’m going to continue so long as people keep providing me the first and last lines.  More info about that is at the end of my Chapter 2.  So, here goes Chapter 3:

Most of the Time

                                                                            Chapter 3

Nothing that is not there and nothing that is.  That is what most people think about.  There were a few of such thinkers scattered atop the stools along the long bar that ran front to back on the left side of the room.  The right side was taken up by three pool tables and a series of plastic beer signs where water bubbled up from deep springs and pristine rivers and, supposedly, directly into amber bottles with labels such as Pabst and Old Milwaukee.

This was the sum total of nature that Ninny had thought to infuse within her establishment.  No fern bar this.  A bit of black mold, perhaps.  And as noted before, the place seemed equally devoid of human nature–the drinkers here like robots with glazed eyes seemingly staring at the mirror behind the bar or the bottles in front of the mirror, or perhaps their own reflections reflected behind the bottles.  Little conversation seemed to be going on.  There was no music.  Even the bartender, an ancient man with unintentional chin whiskers and a small protuberant belly over a tight-cinched bolo belt and baggy Levis, seemed to be muffled–negotiating the world behind the bar without clinks of glasses, or pops of bottle corks or whooshes of the draft beer dispenser.  It was as though I’d entered a “Quiet” zone.

Ninny being gender non-specific, now that I thought of it, I wondered if this quiet gentleman was, in fact, Ninny.  I established myself on a bar stool, ordered a dirty Martini, then took myself and my over-sized bag off to the ladies room where I struggled out of my shooting range jeans and into the diaphanous swirly skirt of the day.  Under my T-shirt was a spaghetti-strap little top that color-coordinated with the skirt.  Let the games begin.

Unsurprisingly, no one seemed to notice my transformation as I sashayed back into the room I had purposefully and sedately left only moments before, but as though I had caused the change in the room, the jukebox immediately sprang to life, causing the Pabst Blue Ribbon sign to blink off and on, seemingly in cadence with the song.  It was familiar, but I’ve never been good at remembering the names of other people’s songs…nor my own, as a matter of fact.  It was something about somebody’s baby being somebody else’s baby now, but that doesn’t narrow down the field much.

I parked my recently-freed shanks on the bar stool, allowing my skirt to hike up as it was wont to do.  The controlling part of my life was over for a few hours.  I looked around the room, seeing what new adventure was about to present itself, and my eyes fell immediately on a wizened little woman sitting at the end of the bar.  She was not, understand, old.  Simply wizened, with sharp little features:  nose, chin, cheekbones.  Even her eyes made sharp little glances around the room, as though she was taking everything in. Me, too, although I could never catch her eyes on me.

After every sip of what looked like a Rum and Coke, her sharp little tongue darted out of her mouth to extract every drop from her lips, as though she was unable to control this “Yum yum” action–every sip duly acknowledged and appreciated.  She had the fiery intelligent demeanor of a weasel or a mink.  Darting, secretive and swift.  I observed this all with my own sneaky eyes as they executed furtive reconnaissance missions in her direction while seeming to be merely surveying the room.  In fact, I couldn’t have told you a thing about any of its other inhabitants.  My long glances in various directions were merely subterfuge.  It was little weasel lady that was drawing my full attention.

She was tidy and trim, in a polyester sea foam green pant suit with a flowered polyester blouse–the collar turned neatly over the collar of the jacket.  On her wrist was a dainty bracelet of fake pearls and tiny rhinestones.  Her shoes were thick-heeled and square-toed-like shoes a schoolteacher might wear.  Her hair, in tight little ringlets, looked as though she’d just ducked out of the beauty parlor for a quick drink before her comb-out.  She could have looked severe, given her sharp features and tailored clothing, but she was saved by a sweet rosebud mouth, the corners of which curled up as she drew her lips into a tight little compressed grin.

There was a plate of peanuts on the bar beside her, and I picked up my drink and moved over to the bar stool next to her, as though in pursuit of them.

“Hungry,” I half-chortled as I took a handful and stuffed most of them into my mouth.  I half-expected her not to answer, but saw her raise a finger at the barman and say in a sweet little-girl voice moderated by a smoker’s huskiness : “Nestor, give this lady some fresh peanuts, please.”  Then she looked at me quizzically, causing two little furrows to pop up over her tiny straight ski-slope nose.  “You want something else to eat?  We have frozen pizzas that are pretty good.  Or sub sandwiches we can also heat up for you.  Chips. Beef jerky.”

“Pizza sounds good.  Are you Ninny Ricketts?”

She was.  We polished off one little pizza and then another.  I switched to Rum and Cokes, which went much better with pepperoni and tomato sauce and cheese than gin did.  We talked for three hours, and by the end of that conversation, I almost understood the quote hanging on the wall behind the bar between the bottom shelf of liquor bottles and the top of the draft beer dispenser.

“If you look at zero you see nothing; but look through it and you will see the world. ”

“What does that mean, Ninny? ” I’d asked her when I first noticed it.  We were only fifteen minutes into our initial conversation at that time.

“If yer just lookin’ at it, you’ll never know,” she shot back at me with those furrows over her nose again.  But then she smiled. “I reckon soon enough you’ll be seein’ through it like everbuddy else at the bar.”  Then she chuckled, and for the next three hours we talked about football (her interest, not mine), politics, recipes for shortbread, the freeing qualities of polyester, the clitoral orgasm, Parcheesi, the Nebraska watershed, stepmothers, the immorality of Christian missionaries in Africa, lawn fertilizer, Walt Whitman, Edith Sitwell, Bob Dylan, Patty Duke, Cheetos, Philodendrons and Richard Nixon’s incredible gall.

I’d left my house at 11 a.m. for my supposed trip to the firing range. By the time I thought to look at my watch again, it was nearly four.  If I stopped at the grocery store on my way home and made a few quick and non-selective runs down a few aisles, I might be able to fill up enough bags to convince Peter I’d had a long leisurely shopping session after my shoot.  I paid my bill, told Ninny I’d be back soon because I’d enjoyed talking to her, and walked calmly for door, breaking into a sprint only after I reached the parking lot.

In the car, I wriggled into my Levis, extracted myself from the skirt by pulling it over my head, pulled my T-shirt from my purse and pushed one arm through the armhole as I turned on the key, the other as I let up the hand brake.  As I drove, I tried to will myself to slip back into home mode.  But as my body got closer to home, my mind seemed to slip further away from it.  And although I was no closer to solving its puzzle than I’d been four hours ago, my final thought as I drove into my driveway was one I’d be puzzling over for a good many months to come, “If you look at zero you see nothing; but look through it and you will see the world. ”

The Prompt: The book suggested to furnish the beginning and ending lines of this chapter is “The Nothing That Is: A Natural History of Zero” by Robert Kaplan. First line: If you look at zero you see nothing; but look through it and you will see the world. Last line (which quotes Wallace Stevens): Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.  My thanks to Robert Okaji for furnishing a beginning and end for me to fill in today.  Please keep those prompts coming in.  Without them, this story will abruptly end.   Judy

See the first chapter of this piece HERE.
See the second chapter HERE.
See Robert Okaji’s blog HERE.