Category Archives: Story

Mystery Surveillance

Steak-public-domain
Illustration by Starstone at Lithuanian Wikipedia

I recently had a 3.5 hour lunch meeting with two friends at one of the nicest restaurants in Ajijic, Mexico.  While we were there, the scenario I am about to describe started to unwind at the next table—the one directly in my line of vision.  See what you make of it:

An elderly Anglo white-haired man sat alone at the table for 1/2 hour or more. Then a respectable-looking middle-aged Mexican woman joined him, sitting at a right angle to him. Both of their faces were clearly within my sight and I could see that for the next hour, she never smiled at him. She smiled at the waiters, but not at him. Nor did she often talk to him. He looked excited when she came in, smiled and talked a blue streak. She just stared in front of her,  not looking mad, just not ever engaging or talking, and only occasionally looking at him. Once she nodded. Never said one word. The waiter came and brought a dinner plate of food which he sat in the middle of table. and placed two small empty plates in front of them. The woman piled what looked like shish-kebab and rice on her plate. He put food on his plate. Obviously, they were sharing a meal. She ate neatly, spearing the food piece by piece. He ate. He talked some. She never looked at him. I wondered if it was a blind date and she wasn’t interested in this old codger, or if she was perhaps his housekeeper and he had invited her out. She ate all on her plate, filled it twice more and ate it bit by bit. Drank her margarita. He had a tall beer. He ate the food on his plate and filled it again at least once.

When the waiters came, she smiled and talked to them. I thought their meal was through, so was surprised when the waiter brought two more full meals—a huge steak and fries for her, steak and baked spud for him. She ate one French fry after another from her fork, but no meat. Eventually, she cut off a small piece of the steak and ate it. He ate his meal and for most of the time they ate, there was no talking. Then he talked a bit, smiling and animated like he was telling a story. She occasionally nodded. Didn’t talk. No smile. So odd. This went on for a couple of hours!

She asked the waiter for a doggie bag and he brought one Styrofoam container. She put her huge steak in it and some French fries. The old man cut off part of his steak and gave it to her to put in her container. When he finished, the waiter took his plate away and I thought they’d leave, but the waiter brought the dessert menu which the woman looked very interested in. All at once she was animated and talked a little bit to the man. They shared a chocolate mousse which she seemed to enjoy immensely. She then talked to the man a bit. Two and a half to three hours had now passed. I was pretty sure she had probably come out with her employer and was being sure not to flirt and to make it clear this was not a date. He still seemed interested in her, but with no reciprocity.

The waiter brought the bill in a basket and presented it to the man. He had a look at the total and passed it over to the woman, who opened her purse and paid the whole bill with her credit card!!! Now the whole scenario was a mystery again. She left first. He left after and I made sure to follow him out. She was totally gone by the time we got to the door. He headed out toward the lake, a few blocks away, on his own. Now I’ll never know what the deal was. Can you guess?

 

Delta Flight 15

Go get a box of Kleenex NOW if you are going to read this story sent to me by my friend Gloria. She always sends outstanding photos and stories but this is the best so far:

A good story after all the bad ones we hear. I had never really thought of what happened to all the other flights headed for the States on 9/11. It is past 16 years since 9/11 and here is a wonderful story about that terrible day.

Jerry Brown, Delta Flight 15…(true story)
Written following 9-11:

On the morning of Tuesday, September 11, we were about 5 hours out of Frankfurt, flying over the North Atlantic. All of a sudden the curtains parted and I was told to go to the cockpit, immediately, to see the captain. As soon as I got there I noticed that the crew had that “All Business” look on their faces. The captain handed me a printed message. It was from Delta’s main office in Atlanta and simply read, “All airways over the Continental United States are closed to commercial air traffic. Land ASAP at the nearest airport. Advise your destination.”

No one said a word about what this could mean. We knew it was a serious situation and we needed to find terra firma quickly. The captain determined that the nearest airport was 400 miles behind us in Gander, Newfoundland. He requested approval for a route change from the Canadian traffic controller and approval was granted immediately — no questions asked.

We found out later, of course, why there was no hesitation in approving our request.

While the flight crew prepared the airplane for landing, another message arrived from Atlanta telling us about some terrorist activity in the New York area. A few minutes later word came in about the hijackings.

We decided to lie to the passengers while we were still in the air. We told them the plane had a simple instrument problem and that we needed to land at the nearest airport in Gander, Newfoundland, to have it checked out. We promised to give more information after landing in Gander. There was much grumbling among the passengers, but that’s nothing new.

Forty minutes later, we landed in Gander … Local time at Gander was 12:30 PM … that’s 11:00 AM EST. There were already about 20 other airplanes on the ground from all over the world that had taken this detour on their way to the U.S. After we parked on the ramp, the captain made the following announcement: “Ladies and gentlemen, you must be wondering if all these airplanes around us have the same instrument problem as we have. The reality is that we are here for another reason.” Then he went on to explain the little bit we knew about the situation in the U.S. There were loud gasps and stares of disbelief. The captain informed passengers that Ground Control in Gander told us to stay put.

The Canadian Government was in charge of our situation and no one was allowed to get off the aircraft. No one on the ground was allowed to come near any of the aircrafts. Only airport police would come around periodically, look us over and go on to the next airplane. In the next hour or so more planes landed and Gander ended up with 53 airplanes from all over the world, 27 of which were U.S. commercial jets.

Meanwhile, bits of news started to come in over the aircraft radio and for the first time we learned that airplanes were flown into the World Trade Center in New York and into the Pentagon in DC. People were trying to use their cell phones, but were unable to connect due to a different cell system in Canada. Some did get through, but were only able to get to the Canadian operator who would tell them that the lines to the U.S. were either blocked or jammed.

Sometime in the evening the news filtered to us that the twin towers buildings had collapsed and that a fourth hijacking had resulted in a crash. By now the passengers were emotionally and physically exhausted, not to mention frightened, but everyone stayed amazingly calm. We had only to look out the window at the 52 other stranded aircraft to realize that we were not the only ones in this predicament.

We had been told earlier that they would be allowing people off the planes one plane at a time.At 6 PM, Gander airport told us that our turn to deplane would be 11am the next morning. Passengers were not happy, but they simply resigned themselves to this news without much noise and started to prepare themselves to spend the night on the airplane.

Gander had promised us medical attention, if needed, water, and lavatory servicing. And they were true to their word. Fortunately we had no medical situations to worry about. We did have a young lady who was 33 weeks into her pregnancy. We took REALLY good care of her. The night passed without incident despite the uncomfortable sleeping arrangements.

About 10:30 on the morning of the 12th a convoy of school buses showed up. We got off the plane and were taken to the terminal where we went through Immigration and Customs and then had to register with the Red Cross.

After that we (the crew) were separated from the passengers and were taken in vans to a small hotel. We had no idea where our passengers were going.

We learned from the Red Cross that the town of Gander has a population of 10,400 people and they had about 10,500 passengers to take care of from all the airplanes that were forced into Gander! We were told to just relax at the hotel and we would be contacted when the U.S. airports opened again, but not to expect that call for a while.

We found out the total scope of the terror back home only after getting to our hotel and turning on the TV, 24 hours after it all started. Meanwhile, we had lots of time on our hands and found that the people of Gander were extremely friendly. They started calling us the “plane people”.

We enjoyed their hospitality, explored the town of Gander and ended up having a pretty good time. Two days later, we got that call and were taken back to the Gander airport. Back on the plane, we were reunited with the passengers and found out what they had been doing for the past two days. What we found out was incredible.

Gander and all the surrounding communities (within about a 75 Kilometer radius) had closed all high schools, meeting halls, lodges, and any other large gathering places. They converted all these facilities to mass lodging areas for all the stranded travelers. Some had cots set up, some had mats with sleeping bags and pillows set up.

ALL the high school students were required to volunteer their time to take care of the “guests”. Our 218 passengers ended up in a town called Lewisporte, about 45 kilometers from Gander where they were put up in a high school. If any women wanted to be in a women-only facility, that was arranged. Families were kept together. All the elderly passengers were taken to private homes.

Remember that young pregnant lady? She was put up in a private home right across the street from a 24-hour Urgent Care facility. There was a dentist on call and both male and female nurses remained with the crowd for the duration.

Phone calls and e-mails to the U.S. and around the world were available to everyone once a day. During the day, passengers were offered “Excursion” trips. Some people went on boat cruises of the lakes and harbors. Some went for hikes in the local forests. Local bakeries stayed open to make fresh bread.

As for the guests, food was prepared by all the residents and brought to the schools. People were driven to restaurants of their choice and offered wonderful meals.

Everyone was given tokens for local Laundromats to wash their clothes, since luggage was still on the aircraft. In other words, every single need was met for those stranded travelers.

Passengers were crying while telling us these stories. Finally, when they were told that U.S. airports had reopened, they were delivered to the airport right on time and without a single passenger missing or late. The local Red Cross had all the information about the whereabouts of each and every passenger and knew which plane they needed to be on and when all the planes were leaving. They coordinated everything beautifully. It was absolutely incredible.

When passengers came on board, it was like they had been on a cruise. Everyone knew each other by name. They were swapping stories of their stay, impressing each other with who had the better time. Our flight back to Atlanta looked like a chartered party flight. The crew just stayed out of their way. It was. mind-boggling. Passengers had totally bonded and were calling each other by their first names, exchanging phone numbers, addresses, and email addresses.

And then a very unusual thing happened. One of our passengers approached me and asked if he could make an announcement over the PA system. We never, ever, allow that. But this time was different. I said “of course” and handed him the mike. He picked up the PA and reminded everyone about what they had just gone through in the last few days. He reminded them of the hospitality they had received at the hands of total strangers. He continued by saying that he would like to do something in return for the good folks of Lewisporte.

He said he was going to set up a Trust Fund under the name of DELTA 15 (our flight number). The purpose of the trust fund is to provide college scholarships for the high school students of Lewisporte. He asked for donations of any amount from his fellow travelers. When the paper with donations got back to us with the amounts, names, phone numbers, and addresses, the total was for more than $14,000!

The gentleman, a MD from Virginia, promised to match the donations and to start the administrative work on the scholarship. He also said that he would forward this proposal to Delta Corporate and ask them to donate as well.

As I write this account, the trust fund is at more than $1.5 million and has assisted 134 students in college education. “I just wanted to share this story because we need good stories right now. It gives me a little bit of hope to know that some people in a faraway place were kind to some strangers who literally dropped in on them.

It reminds me how much good there is in the world. “In spite of all the rotten things we see going on in today’s world this story confirms that there are still a lot of good people in the world and when things get bad, they will come forward.”

This is one of those stories that need to be shared. Please do so.

Fourth Floor (17 minute Writing)

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4th Floor

When I was a young girl, I worked as a maid in a small hotel in Puerto Vallarta. It was not one of the big all-inclusive monster hotels, but rather a place small by comparison. Perhaps twenty-five rooms per floor, four floors. Esmerelda, my best friend, got me the job. She had worked there for many years and so had the prime assignment on the first floor. I, being new, was assigned to floor 4. That entire floor was my responsibility. The sheets, towels, trash cans, restoring chairs moved by large parties to other rooms back to their prescribed place, restoring order in rooms seemingly hit by a big wind—clothing strewn here and there, drinks spilled, sometimes crude messages scribbled on the mirrors with lipstick or dripping creams whose origins I didn’t care to guess. This job was like a new book that I read each day. What of the person who had slept in that room last night still remained? What did the condition of their room tell about them?

One day, after I had knocked on the door and announced myself, hearing utter silence, I entered a room to find a man still sleeping in the bed. I could tell it was a man because of one foot which stuck out from under the sheet. He slept on his stomach, very near the edge of the bed that faced toward the center of the room, his face turned toward the space between the two queen-sized beds. He slept soundly, which is a strange adverb to describe the way he slept because he actually made no sound. Not a whistle of breath through nostrils. Not a loud inhale through the mouth that seemed to catch against barbs in the throat to create a snore. Not the soft vibrations of lips as he exhaled. No inhalation or exhalation, now that I grew closer, and suddenly I became sure that this man had died in the night in this bed that I would have to strip and remake in this room that I would need to clean many more times if I continued in this career in this hotel and that I would always remember that a man had died in this room and feel a slight hesitation as I put the key in the lock.

Feeling already that this would be my true future, I moved closer to the bed to meet my fate as well as the fate of this stranger. I sat myself on the bed across from him, moving my head down to his level to look closely at his face to see if his eyes were open—to see if his last thoughts would be revealed in them or in the curl of his lips, upwards or downwards. To see what sort of a man he might have been. To see what he might look like with life leaked out of him before making the call to the desk for someone to aid me in dealing with this matter.

It was a pleasant face with no panic written on it. A face at peace. A face with a day and night’s stubble on it that would have been shaven by now had he had one more chance to do so, as it was clear there was no more than 24 hours of stubble on those swarthy cheeks. He was handsome. I was sad to have such a man departed from this world.

I do not know what possessed me that I reached out to touch this man on the hand that hung down a bit from the bed, as though it had dropped there absent-mindedly, unconsciously, in sleep. Expecting to find it cold, I was surprised at its warmth. I held it more firmly, seeking with one finger to find a pulse.

“Hello.” The eyes opened. Those lips breathed and they spoke. Those lips smiled, as did mine. And that is how I met your father. And that is how I came to be your mother instead of a girl who cleaned rooms on the 4th floor of a small hotel in Puerto Vallarta.

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During our four day writing retreat in Puerto Vallarta, we did a series of four to twenty minute timed writings to prompts.  In this one, our “leader,” Judy Reeves, told us to take ten photos, then to choose one small detail from one of the photos to write about for seventeen minutes. This was the piece I wrote yesterday to that prompt.  I’m now home, promptless, as WordPress hasn’t published the prompt yet.  I soon have to take a friend to the airport, so will share with you this bit of our lovely four day get-away with writing friends.

Snowball in Hell


I just got home from a luncheon where I was surprised to discover I’d received the 2017 Ojo del Lago Award for outstanding literary achievement in the category of best fiction for a short story, “Snowball in Hell.”  I don’t believe I’ve ever published it on my blog as it was done as a timed writing for my writing group in La Manzanilla. Since it loosely follows the prompt for today, which is “tentative,” I’ll stretch things a bit and publish it today:

Snowball in Hell

“There’s not a snowball’s chance in Hell,” she snarled at him as he beat a hasty retreat out the door. Everyone knew she was a feisty old dame, but she still felt compelled to prove the fact often enough to remind herself of the truth of it. Lately, she’d been feeling herself mellow. Growing teary-eyed at the sight of kittens on YouTube videos—having little heart-flutters when she glimpsed other women’s grandchildren in photos on cell phones.

When she stood back to consider this strange new course of events, she could only view it as she might view a mysterious disease—look at the symptoms, try to figure out a cure. Surely, being around children or kittens might help. Nothing like reality to pop the bubble of a fancy. Kibbles underfoot and gumdrops in the sheets could surely cancel out cute. Although she had no experience with such cures, since they’d never been necessary before.

Jake had wanted kids long ago. Actually, he’d gone on wanting them for a good twenty years—as long as she might have provided them—but her refusal had been as determined as her response today, when he had asked if she perhaps would be interested in a Caribbean cruise. Her on a cruise ship with old men in madras shorts and women in beauty-parlor hairdos? She tried to think of what she would do on a boat. She had taken a mental oath years before to never play shuffleboard and bridge made her dyspeptic. She’d discovered this in college, waiting for Karen Schuller to play her hand, drumming her long perfectly polished fingernails on the bridge table, screwing her little red cupid box mouth into a perplexed knot.

“Play the damn card!!!” she’d screamed internally, afraid that if the bitch ran one more finger tattoo on the table that she’d slam her fist down on that perfect hand. It seemed easier to give up bridge than to give up the aggression she felt every time she heard the sharp drumming and viewed that pensive mouth.

Cruise ships, she was sure, were full of Karen Schullers, all grown up, with fingernails an inch longer, lips forty years more wrinkled. And they made you eat things like lobster and crabs—giant underwater bugs that no one would ever convince her were meant for consumption. But the truth of it was, that aside from these irritations, being cooped up in a cabin with Jake for a week or more must didn’t carry any attraction for her any more. The old coot got stranger by the day. Just last night, on the couch, watching Ray Donovan, he had tried to hold her hand. Forty years married and like a teenager, furtively reaching over. They’d been done with all that syrup years ago, but now, why was he thinking hand holds and Caribbean cruises?

What month was it? She tried to sort out a reason. Valentine’s Day, birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas––not that they ever observed any of them. Finally, she gave up. There was no accounting for old men in their first states of senility. She would just have to put up with it, but she didn’t have to go along. She settled herself more solidly into her chair and grabbed the remote, switching on the TV connected to her computer. Millie Perkins had Facebooked her another puppy/bunny video. She tried to resist, but found herself moving the mouse over to the arrow. The bunny had loppy ears and the puppy had very long hair and a little vest. She clicked off the TV quickly when Jake came into the room, but didn’t greet him.

“Clara?” he asked tentatively. She pretended not to hear. “Honey?” In his hand was an envelope that looked sort of crumpled and a bit dusty, like he’d been hanging onto it for awhile. “Remember your last checkup? The results came a few days ago.” She looked up at him, and his face looked soft––like the face of the bunny. Something was written on it––a different sadness that she hadn’t seen before. He sat down beside her on the couch and risked once more taking her hand. And this time she let him.

http://chapala.com/elojo/index.php/218-articles-2017/september-2017/3872-snowball-in-hell

The prompt today was tentative

Eavesdropping

Here is a Skype conversation that transpired last night between okcforgottenman and me. Wanna eavesdrop?

[2017-09-05 23:40:26] Judy: Okay. You are not going to believe what just happened!!!!
[2017-09-05 23:40:44] okcforgottenman: I don’t believe what just happened!!!!
[2017-09-05 23:40:50] Judy: I heard a crash in bedroom and what sounded like breaking glass.
[2017-09-05 23:41:12] okcforgottenman: gulp
[2017-09-05 23:41:34] Judy: I went in and there was a cloth doll on the floor..Kittens were charging around. I picked up a different cat toy and when I did, something flew up out of it. It was a bat that must have flown in through the gap I left in the sliding glass door for the kittens to go in and out through!
[2017-09-05 23:41:50] okcforgottenman: HAHAHA
[2017-09-05 23:42:18] Judy: The kittens pounced on it, it got away, flew up, I grabbed a pillow and threw it on top of it and it started to wiggle out from under it.
[2017-09-05 23:42:30] Judy: This was a rather large bat.. and they have rabies here!
[2017-09-05 23:42:46] okcforgottenman: Yes, scary. But hilarious.
[2017-09-05 23:42:54] Judy: I pushed the pillow over it and stood on the pillow and looked around for something else to throw over it.
[2017-09-05 23:43:03] okcforgottenman: (I had a bat experience in St Louis.)
[2017-09-05 23:43:05] Judy: But I couldn’t move or the bat could wiggle out.
[2017-09-05 23:43:29] Judy: I jumped up and down on the pillow, stomped on it, but it was a thick feather pillow and I had on Crocs.
[2017-09-05 23:46:09] Judy: The only think I could reach was their stainless steel food dishes, so I edged the pillow up and stuck the dish over it, then got another dish to weight it and got two books to put on top. I went into kitchen and got a plastic flat thin cutting board, slid it under the dish, put a book under and over it and unlocked sliders, then took it outside and dumped it. I actually think it was dead by then. Ugh!!! It is on front steps now. Doors and screens shut. Never thought of bats coming inside. Thought they didn’t like the light.
[2017-09-05 23:46:16] Judy: God. What next?
[2017-09-05 23:47:09] Judy: Its wingspread was probably six inches.
[2017-09-05 23:47:16] Judy: Tough little bugger.
[2017-09-05 23:47:23] okcforgottenman: Check on it later, maybe. Don’t want a crippled bat in Yolanda’s path tomorrow.
[2017-09-05 23:47:55] okcforgottenman: How you suffer for blog stories!
[2017-09-05 23:47:59] Judy: It will be in Pasiano’s path first.
[2017-09-05 23:48:01] Judy: Ha.
[2017-09-05 23:48:03] Judy: yes..
[2017-09-05 23:48:09] Judy: no. no photos.
[2017-09-05 23:48:19] okcforgottenman: I wasn’t gonna ask.
[2017-09-05 23:48:37] Judy: and there was another little stand for a doll I made but must be under the bed. I had two little handmade dolls up there that are gone.
[2017-09-05 23:48:39] okcforgottenman: What made the sound of breaking glass?
[2017-09-05 23:48:45] Judy: probably destroyed.
[2017-09-05 23:48:55] Judy: I don’t know.. perhaps the metal stand for the doll.
[2017-09-05 23:49:20] okcforgottenman: How did the kitties react while you were battling?
[2017-09-05 23:50:02] Judy: Without knowing it, I was kicking the stand around when i chased the bat and kept thinking I heard breaking glass. For awhile I thought the bat was making the noise..but then once it was under the pillow, and I still heard the noise, I realized it was coming from behind me and was me kicking the little metal stand.
[2017-09-05 23:50:32] Judy: I opened the door and they ran down the hall to terrorize Annie in my bathroom. I could hear her hissing. Never a dull moment, Dux.
[2017-09-05 23:50:44] Judy: better go see if she ran into my closet.
[2017-09-05 23:51:09] okcforgottenman: Doggies none the wiser?
[2017-09-05 23:51:24] Judy: Annie is asleep in her bed in the tub in my room.
[2017-09-05 23:51:51] Judy: No noise from dogs that I remember. If they’d been in the house the whole room would’ve been wrecked.
[2017-09-05 23:52:00] Judy: gonna go give kitties more food and water. They can’t eat past 1 AM because they are being spayed or neutered tomorrow.  Poor tykes.
[2017-09-05 23:52:38] okcforgottenman: Shame you couldn’t adopt the bat, teach him to play fetch with Morrie.
[2017-09-06 00:01:53] Judy: Oh god, Dux. What a life. Do you think I have more odd things happen than most people or do I just make more of a fuss over them?

(Published before Dux (aka okcforgottenman) responded further.)

R.I.P. little interloper.  Wish I hadn’t overreacted and you’d been able to fly away. I admit that I panicked. I had my film group over to watch “Love at First Bite” on Sunday night.

In Cold Blood

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                                                        In Cold Blood

I’m sure that the horrible, violent and senseless murders described in Truman Capote’s book In Cold Blood captured the imaginations of most of us in the U.S. Unaccustomed to such vivid descriptions of such violent acts, what small town family did not start locking their doors at night?

The slaughter of the rural farm family occurred on Saturday night, November 14, 1959; and although Capote’s book was not published until 1966, the press made much of it at the time it happened and I was well aware of most of the details of the murder of the father, wife and teen-aged children—a boy and a girl––as well as the capture of the two men who had murdered them. I was especially affected by the sad detail of the discovery of the girl’s Sunday School money tucked into her shoe in the closet. Whether she heard the men breaking in and hid the money so it would not be found or whether she placed it there so she wouldn’t forget, the detail has the same poignancy

After the murder, as I lay in bed at night––especially on summer nights when I found it even harder to surrender to sleep than during blustery cold nights in the winter––I often thought to get up and check the doors again: the front door, the door to the garage, the door from the garage to the mud room, the door to the basement and the back door off the pantry that led to the back porch. All had push-locks accessed by a key from the other side.
On one night in particular, that summer that I turned 13, I lay awake listening to the night sounds that streamed in through my screened window. My window adjoined the front door stoop and it suddenly occurred to me that anyone could slice the screen and easily enter. I got up from bed to close the window and open the air conditioning vent in the floor under it. While I was up, I decided to check all the doors again. All were securely locked except for the lock to the back “porch” which was really just a platform four or five feet wide with a hand railing that ran the entire length of the house from the back garage entry to the pantry/kitchen area.

The pantry held a sink for my dad to wash up in when he came in from the ranch, and since we rarely locked our house, many times he would just walk along this platform/porch and enter the house from the back where he pulled off his boots and emptied his cuffs off the back porch so he wouldn’t track wheat chaff or mud or other souvenirs of his day’s work through the house. Then he’d wash his hands and neck and face in “his” special sink and make his way to his rocking chair in the living room, where he’d spend the rest of the day resting until supper and reading before bed.

This platform/porch was actually quite a distance above the ground because our lot was on a small hill that sloped from front to back and right to left. This enabled the windows in the basement to be above ground level, whereas there were no windows at all in the front of the basement. On this particular night, I stepped out onto this roofless sideless porch platform. I could see the big dipper and part of the little dipper and the thousands of other stars in the summer sky, but I didn’t know the names of any of the other constellations.

I could smell the newly cut grass that my mother had mowed in the early evening of that day, after the sun had gone low in the sky. I remembered when I was little how my dad was less tired by the time he got home and so he’d mow the huge lawn around the old house. My mom would come after him with the lawn sweeper that collected the grass cuttings in a huge canvas cube open at the top to dump the grass into a huge pile by the gravel road where we kids would build nests and play bird. I was the baby bird fed imaginary worms or, if we’d had the right dinner, sauceless spaghetti, by my older sister.

By my teen years, however, my dad would be too tired when he got home from a day that started at 5 or 6 in the morning and often didn’t end until 8 or 9 at night if they were cutting wheat. His life was a hard one and I often wondered if he resented coming home to daughters reading on their beds or talking on the phone to friends.

Did it seem unfair to him that he worked so hard to support daughters and a wife who had such a life of ease? Although I had not yet started to really write, except for a diary I once kept for a few months or assignments for school, I did have an active imagination; and from a very early age, I had concocted elaborate stories all involving imaginary selves of the future.

Now on this night, I wondered why that door that I had checked before coming to bed to read was now open! Who and why would anyone open a locked door? As I lay thinking, I heard the door to my parents’ bedroom farther down the hall open. I could hear my father’s heavy barefoot tread turning not to his right—to the bathroom between their room and my sister’s––but instead to the left. Down the long hall to my room, the entrance hall, the kitchen, the mudroom and the back porch. I could hear the door opening and a few minutes’ delay before he padded down the hall again and closed his door.

Chill. I felt it zoom down my spine, hit my tailbone and ricochet back up to my brain where it froze the back of my head. I waited. For five minutes, and ten. Barely breathing. I cracked my door and when I could again hear my father’s loud snores, I sneaked back out to the door to the back porch, which was once again unlocked. As quietly as possible, I pushed the button lock in, then returned to bed where I remained vigilantly awake for the rest of the night. Twice more, my father got up to unlock the door. Twice more, I got up to relock it.

During all those long hours before dawn, I imagined the scenario. My father, formerly my protector, allowance provider and generous benefactor to the pleasures of my life—turned in my mind into plotter. He, too, had read all of the coverage of the Kansas murders, and it had given him ideas.  He had hired a man to sneak in, to bind him up and leave him helpless and then to kill us all. He wanted to be free. He was tired of his idle daughters, tired of his wife.

My father had, previous to this, gone through one of his week long silent periods where we knew he was upset about something—cattle prices, the threat of hail before harvest, my mother or us. We never knew what caused these silent periods where he would speak to none of us and sometimes even move to the basement to sleep. They never lasted over a week and afterwards he would be our same joking, generous, hard-working dad. But during those times, we tiptoed. We tried to cajole and charm, but it didn’t work. If we asked if he wanted his head rubbed, we were met with a curt sideways bob of the head or a “Not tonight!”

This was unheard of at other times, when we’d ask for money for a new dress or the show and he’d answer with, “Ya. Rub Pa’s head!” We’d do so, and then the wallet would come out. Not that we didn’t rub his head gratis as well. It just got to be a joke—this returning of favor for favor. Then he’d hand us his wallet and put his hand over his eyes, like he didn’t want to see what we’d take. We’d always show him, though. Was this okay? It always was.

At times other than his silent periods, he was our loving dad. Proud of us. Funny around guests, and talkative, but when home alone with us, usually tired––sleeping or reading one of the piles of magazines and books that lay on the long coffee table beside his chair. I mention the silent periods as an explanation of why I might even in my most fertile imagination conceive of an idea that my dad would be capable of planning to “off” his entire family.

But, imagine it I did. I became the protector of our family that summer, lying awake for as long as I could to listen for my father’s footsteps down the hall. And this was not the only night that he got up once or twice to unlock that back door. I never said a word to my mother or sister. I perhaps told my best friend, thinking if my protective efforts failed, at least one person could point the way to insuring the perpetrator of my demise came to justice.

In later years, I forgot about that terrifying summer and went back to loving and admiring my dad almost as much as before, but by then there was a difference. Whether it was caused by radical ideas picked up in my sixties college life and my need to define myself as more modern than my parents—who were themselves quite liberal––or a vestige of that summer of distrust, I’ll never know.

By the time my dad died eleven years later, they’d sold the house in town and moved to a smaller house they built a mile out of town. It was to escape town taxes, my dad always said, but I’ve always thought that for him it was a return to his early homestead days in another house with nothing in view but prairie grasses and a big weathered barn. This new “country” house built by my parents after I left high school was closer to town than the homestead of my grandparents, but was within sight of the big red barn of a farm he’d bought years ago for a hired man and his family to live in and afterwards rented out. The barn sat squarely between my parents’ new modern modular and the old farmhouse. There was a small lake nearby with otters and where the wild geese landed overnight in their migrations.

It was one summer night when I was home from college for vacation that my dad got up from where he’d been sleeping in his chair and walked through the hall and kitchen and out the back door of the house.

“Where do you think he’s going?” I asked my mother.

“Oh, he likes to go out to sniff the night air and have a pee in the dark,” she said with a chuckle. “He loved to pee off the back porch of the house in town at night, even though it was so much farther away than the bathroom. I never could convince him not to do it. I worried that the neighbors would see him. But I think he thought it saved water, or perhaps it just reminded him of his youth—peeing out the back door of the house into the night air.”

This post was written in response to Elyse’s scary babysitting piece which you can read here:  http://fiftyfourandahalf.com/2012/08/01/all-the-cool-kids-are-doing-it/

 

 

Vocabulary Lesson: The 7 Word Challenge

https://7words2inspire.wordpress.com/2015/09/26/word-list-week-4/ Write a story or poem making use of as many of these words as you wish: (oneiric cigar shenanigans cold-cocked finish sun-dried knickers) To save you the bother of checking them off, I’ll tell you I used them all—in order. The unbelievers can check them off anyway if they wish.

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                                              Vocabulary Lesson

She was more than irritated. Pissed, really, as she thumbed through the dictionary in search of the word “oneiric.” Any word that needed to be looked up didn’t belong in a “Dear Jane” letter anyway–as though to the very end he was trying to demonstrate his superiority—her inferiority.

Fuck! She slammed the dictionary to the floor, picked up the half-smoked cigar he’d left in the ashtray last night, relit it and surveyed the new paper cut on her index finger. Just one more of his shenanigans, she thought. Right after he’d cold-cocked her with the news that he and she were finished—that he was leaving her FOR HER MOTHER!!!!!!, he’d lit up his Cubano for one more puff before grinding it out and handing her this letter, telling her not to open it until he’d gone.

His finish had been pretty much like their beginning—with him ending up on the floor. But this time she was standing over him rather than lying on top of him. Idly, she flicked an ash into his open mouth, hitting him squarely on his tongue. The sun-dried blood on his lip looked like the smudge of a lover’s lipstick. Around his head were the remains of the crystal candlestick her mother had given them for their wedding.  She sucked at the paper cut, then at the gash across her palm that she had gotten from a shard of the candlestick that had taken a far smaller part out of her than it had out of him.

Far away in the kitchen, the phone rang and rang. Probably her mother. Well, let her get her knickers in a bunch waiting for him. Let her think (for as long as she could put off coming to investigate) that her daughter had reclaimed her property. She was in possession for now and everyone knew possession was 9/10ths of the law. She took another long draw before examining her wounds again.

Then, her curiosity getting the better of her, she moved back to the dictionary to thumb through the o’s. When she’d found the word, she chuckled and looked back at her lost love. Gone from this world, but no one would ever know it if she just shut his jaw and wiped off the bloodstain. As a matter of fact, he’d look downright oneiric!


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f you want to join in the fun, post your story or poem HERE.

https://eternityinabox.wordpress.com/2015/09/26/word-list-for-week-4-submit-your-creativity-to-7-words/