Category Archives: Short Stories & Poetry

On Poe, Words, and Legacy ~ A story for @RBwood’s Word Count Podcast

The prompt for the latest episode of R.B. Wood’s Word Count Podcast asked that we use the month of September and the picture below in our setting. Richard snapped the photo of a statue of Edgar Allan Poe near Emerson College where he’s in studying for his MFA.

My story inspiration

This may be the first non-fiction entry I’ve written for the podcast. I was struggling to find some way to incorporate Poe into a story. A couple of days before the due date, I found out I would be attending a funeral. Somehow, I knew a story would find me there, and it did. 😉

 

You can also listen to me reading my essay on episode 70 of R.B. Wood’s podcast.

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I attended the funeral of a friend’s mother recently. As this short tale is based on truth, let’s just call her Elsa, which is not her real name. Because Elsa died outside her country of birth, there was no one in attendance from her generation. It’s likely most of her friends would have pre-deceased her anyway. Everyone at the intimate ceremony was friends with her daughter, who like most of us were in our fifties or early sixties.

Earlier that September morning, I read interesting factoids about Edgar Allan Poe to inspire a tale for this podcast. Unlike Elsa who passed away just shy of her ninetieth birthday, Poe died at the young age of forty. To this day, the circumstances of his death remain a mystery. Though intriguing as that is, what struck me was that his enemy, a rival author, wrote Poe’s lengthy obituary, portraying him as a drunken, womanizing opium addict who based his darkest tales on personal experience.

Thankfully, funerals are a rarity for me, but the timing of it did arouse my curiosity. Perhaps it’s Poe’s recurring theme of death in his writing which made me think of the coincidence. Whatever it was, the  thought of the libellous obituary written for him stayed with me as an old priest prepared to speak at Elsa’s funeral. He approached the lectern carrying a piece of paper in one hand and a champagne flute of golden brown liquid in another.

It was not yet one in the afternoon, but the alcohol had been flowing for some time.

The priest reminded me of Harry Dean Stanton, only smaller in stature and with the same tired, deep-set eyes and weather-beaten appearance of the actor’s later years. Stanton was 91 when he died only a few weeks ago. The priest looked 101. Maybe that’s why I felt comfortable with him speaking to us as if we were his children. After all, we were the kids in that room. He spoke eloquently about the importance of mothers and what they gave to their children—the gift of life, praise, and discipline.

He raised his glass and toasted Elsa before taking a long sip. Only a few of us were holding a drink, but we all mimicked raising a glass anyway. From where I sat in the back row, I saw friends look at each other and smile. Like me, they probably didn’t know what to make of this man.

The priest stood confidently addressing our small group and waxed lyrical about friendship. Friends are important, he said, and hopefully, unlike him, we don’t all meet our friends in cheap bars.

He took another sip of his drink.

Wide-eyed, the woman beside me turned to me, “What is he drinking?” she whispered.

I shrugged. My best guess was bourbon. And like her, I found this man’s honesty and self-deprecation strangely admirable.

The priest continued.

“Because I wear this collar, it’s my job to comfort you,” he said. “I’m a man of god, after all, much to the chagrin of the bishop.” Several people let out a boisterous laugh. Like a slow-leaking balloon, the words of the priest deflated the tension in the room. When Elsa’s daughter got up to pay her respects with a moving speech, she revealed how her mother married a much younger man in her father. The short but touching tribute left several of us dabbing away tears after she finished and took her seat.

The priest resumed his position behind the lectern. With the timing of a seasoned comedian, he looked at Elsa’s daughter and said, “You didn’t tell me your mother was a cradle robber!”

A collective gasp filled the room.

The pejorative term was said without an ounce of malice. His words were not delivered in the same vein as the obituary for Poe. They may have shocked us, but there was no ill intent behind them. We laughed even as we cried.

When the service ended, several of us expressed how we wished this priest would live long enough to deliver our eulogies. In his dry-witted, surly manner, he had endeared himself to us, seemingly without even trying.

The words about Poe upon his death damaged his legacy for almost a century until they were proven to be false. This realization, coupled with my recent funeral service gave me a newfound respect for those who must encapsulate a person’s life with merely words.

Words have the power to deceive, to hurt, and to heal. How we choose to use them is a  testament to our own legacies.

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Thank you for reading and/or listening. Feel free to leave a comment or question. Feedback, whether good or bad is always welcome.

~eden

**

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STICKS AND STONES ~ A story for @RBwood’s Word Count Podcast

The prompt for the latest episode of R.B. Wood’s Word Count Podcast asked that we use the month of July and the picture below in our setting. Of note, R.B. Wood took this photo while hiking in Zion National Park, Utah. This is the beginning of the Narrows hike, where previous hikers sometimes leave their walking sticks for future hikers.

My story inspiration

The current state of politics inspired this allegorical tale, along with the old saying “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”

You may recognize the boy in the story. 😉

You can also listen to me reading the story on episode 68 of R.B. Wood’s podcast.

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The boy’s three-foot wiry frame is small for someone his age. Judging from how he is dragged along more quickly than he can walk, his arm must hurt. He seems unable to pull away, or perhaps he is afraid to let go of the large hand gripping his.

People around him are carrying walking sticks to navigate the stone-filled muddy river. Some even use two poles to help with their balance. Flash flooding is not uncommon on this leg of the hike.

The boy runs to keep step with his father and trips on a rock. He is wet up to his waist before Fred yanks him up by the arm.

“Look what you’ve done. You’re soaked!” The large man shakes the child like a wet rag.

“Oww, my arm hurts!” The boy appears on the verge of tears. “I don’t want to walk anymore,” he whines.

“Don’t you cry, don’t you dare cry. Crying is for babies!”

The boy stands in the river, his chest heaving. He passes his forearm across his face and swallows his tears. “I’m not crying.”

“Don’t ever embarrass me in public. You are not a girl. Only girls cry, you hear?”

“Yes sir.”

Inside the Narrows, Zion National Park’s most popular trail, Fred pushes out an exasperated breath. The park is swarming with tourists. He thought he could avoid the crowds by catching an early shuttle—but not today. He can’t even visit one of America’s most beautiful parks without an infestation of foreigners.

Just then, a family of questionable background walks by single-file. They look Mexican or Asian, not American anyway. They speak to each other in some annoying language he cannot understand. Under his breath, he curses, “Fucking immigrants.”

One of the kids, a girl of about twelve must have heard him. She turns in his direction and stands tall. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” Though each word is spewed at him with disgust, her eyes convey pain.

The girl’s mother pulls her away. She is less defiant than her daughter. “Kimmy, don’t cause trouble, come on.”

“But Mom, that man called us …”

“Never mind what he said, just leave him alone.”

Fred looks on as the family moves away from him.

“Dad, what did she say to you?” the young boy asks.

Fred takes some satisfaction in scaring off the foreigners. If he were not clearly outnumbered in this tourist spot, he would have happily told them to go back where they came from. He kneels until he is eye-level with his son. “You see, Donald, that girl is an example of a child who does not listen. In the old days, children who did not obey their parents would be beaten by sticks and stones. It broke their bones, but they learned to behave. Calling a child a name like idiot or stupid is not enough. Do you understand?”

Donald wrinkles his nose. “I think so.”

Fred picks up his son and continues on the trail. The July heat is relentless, but walking in the water cools him down. Even though Donald is only six, Fred has big plans for him. Donald will take over his business one day, but not before he learns the ways of the world. No way is he leaving his life’s work to someone who does not share his values or his love of country.

Fred will give his son everything he can, but more importantly, he will provide a strong foundation for him as a man. Like him, little Donald will grow up to be a confident ladies’ man, a strong negotiator, and a world-class leader.

That will be his legacy to this son.

Donald squirms in his father’s arms, and Fred stops mid-stride. “Do you want to come down?”

“Yes, sir, I feel better now.”

“Are you sure?” Fred says.

“Yes, I want to walk with a stick like everybody else.”

Fred lowers Donald until the child is ankle-deep in the river. “You will walk, but you are not like everybody else, you hear?”

“Yes sir.”

Fred finds a large stick. “This should be the right size for you,” he says. “Not too big for my boy, right?”

Donald grabs the stick with his little hands. A wide grin stretches across his face. “No sir, it’s not too big. No stick is too big for me to handle.”

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Thank you for reading and/or listening. Feel free to leave a comment or question. Feedback, whether good or bad is always welcome.

~eden

**

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IN TWO MINDS ~ A story written with Bill Kirton (@carver22) for @RBwood’s Word Count Podcast

The prompt for R.B. Wood’s Word Count Podcast #67  asked that we use JUNE in the setting AND the picture below:

For this story, the fabulous Bill Kirton and I are at it again!

You’ll recall I joined forces with Bill on two other shows:  “The Wrong Shoes” and Selfie Love.”

“In Two Minds” came together quickly, and we think it’s one of our best stories to date. I wrote parts 1 & 3, and Bill penned 2 & 4. There was no discussion of plot or characters prior to writing each part. We simply played off each other’s segment.

The title (Bill’s idea) is just as it implies, an exploration of two minds, evident in both the story and our collaboration.

Listen to Bill and me reading the story here.

You can also learn all the latest from the Facebook page for the Wordcount Podcast. Please LIKE the page if you get a chance. I know R.B. would love to have more people on the show. It’s a great way to hone your writing chops and be part of a supportive group of authors.

Thank you and hope you enjoy the story!

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I hate crowds, but here I am at one of the busiest places in New York on a June afternoon. The Jones Beach Theatre kicks off the summer with a free concert featuring famous musicians, and some not so famous. Though it is never confirmed, rumours swirl that music agents dot the crowd in search of fresh talent. The concert attracts musicians from all across the country and goes on for the entire day. It’s believed that catching the attention of one influential agent amongst 15,000 concertgoers is still a better odd at success than uploading a viral Youtube video.

I would not be here if it were not for James. He and I have just started seeing each other; it’s our third date. His teenage son is in a band that will play here today. Given the chaotic start, I imagine their band won’t appear until the second half of the show.

It’s only noon, and it’s sweltering.

Greasy people in shorts and tank tops, smelling of coconut scented lotion, are in constant motion around me. We are seated in the middle of a row where twenty-somethings shuffle by us to get to the end of the aisle or to their seats. They carry trays of beer and snacks. I stand every time someone passes in front of me, not to give them room, but to avoid having them touch me.

My germaphobia is on high alert.

“You all right, Maggie?” James touches my arm lightly as I sit down again. “You must be hot in that long sleeve blouse.”

I shake my head. A bead of sweat pools at my hairline, but I dab it before it rolls down my face. “No, no … I’m fine.” It’s a lie of course, but I like James. I’m willing to tough it out for a few hours with him here.

He leans toward me and brushes a sticky strand of hair from my cheek. “You’re such a good sport for coming out here with me today, especially in this heat.” He smiles in a way that makes my stomach drop a little. “How about I go buy you a souvenir T-shirt?” he says. “I’m sure it will be a lot cooler than what you’re wearing.”

I am hot, and only getting hotter. I suddenly feel heat rush to my face. “Thank you, James, but I won’t be able to wear it anyway.”

“Why not?”

“It’s … it’s the formaldehyde. They use it to treat new materials, so I never wear anything new unless I wash it first.”

James furrows his brow as he looks at me. 

Have I offended him?

+++

Bizarre creatures, women. Necessary, essential even, but so hard to fathom. There’s not much I like more than putting on a fresh, brand new shirt. Does that mean I’ve got a thing for formaldehyde? Poor Maggie. She’s sitting there, obviously uncomfortable from the heat, but it’s more than that. It’s the people. I sort of knew it from how I first met her. In a library of all places. Who the hell goes to libraries nowadays? Well, obviously Maggie does. I was there to look up something for Cal. He’s written a couple of new songs for the band which they think could be their breakthrough. I have to admit the lyrics are pretty impressive but he said there was something missing from the second one. He’d been a bit ambitious, tried threading different sets of references together and wanted to get Norse myths into it. He’d looked online but hadn’t found anything extreme enough – he wanted weird hybrid creatures, the things that popped out when Gods had sex with humans – so I said I’d check the stacks in the university library. And there she was – not in the main building, but at a single table tucked away in a corner of the stack. Little halo of sunlight around her hair, stunningly beautiful – so much so that you’d expect her to be gliding about where there were others to admire her. But no, she was in a near empty building, reading quietly amongst dust and volumes that were rarely opened.

She’s an enigma. OK, we’re still new to one another but at least she’s here. I really thought she’d say no when I invited her to come. I mean, The Jones Beach Theatre? First concert of the summer? Hardly the place for someone who’s agoraphobic. But she’s here. That’s a positive, right? But can anything come of it really? I can’t help feeling I’m invading her space. When I brushed back her hair then, she flinched. Only slightly, a conditioned reflex. She smiled to hide it, but it was there. And yet we’ve kissed, I’ve held her. Nothing much more yet and I’m trying not to rush things, but if she always needs to stay in that cocoon of hers, well…

God, the noise. That’s the trouble with these things – most of the stuff onstage is derivative. Tribute bands without admitting it. The present lot are probably copying Spinal Tap, with the amps set to 11. I’ll be glad when Cal’s set’s over. I won’t look for him. His mum’s here somewhere so she’ll probably find him and embarrass him in front of the band. Maggie and I will just find somewhere quiet. Yes, quiet would be good.

+++

I’m relieved when James takes my hand and brushes his lips over the fingertips. Despite the heat, a shiver runs down my spine.

He is unlike the others. James is gentle and considerate, and when I’m with him, I feel like what I imagine a normal woman would feel like. I can only owe this to him being a father. He cares about more than just himself. I sensed that when he approached me at the library where we first met. He immediately apologized for disturbing me and sat in a poorly lit area so he would not infringe on my space. I felt bad for him, trying to read in the dark like that. When I gestured for him to sit closer to the window and the light, closer to me, he almost seemed reluctant to do so, but he did.

I always fall for the shy, quiet types.

It’s been two years since Mike, even if I’m reminded of him every time I walk by the overgrown flowerbed in my backyard. The patch of wild flowers is hidden behind my wood shed, a dilapidated structure used to store garden equipment, along with leftover cans of paints and cleaners. I repainted that garage with three coats of oil paint. The smell was awful, but for a time, it masked the odour of the body.

It was with Mike that I learned everything I needed to know about formaldehyde. Mike turned out to be an abusive drunk after our initial honeymoon phase. My biggest mistake was inviting him to live with me after only a few months. He must have been on his best behaviour before then because he changed immediately after moving in. From the moment he came home after work, he drank beer and hardly moved from the couch in front of the TV. Next came the hard liquor, soon followed by his violent fits of rage.

Ten drops of methanol added to his scotch over three nights was all it took. The chemical metabolized into formaldehyde inside his body and led to respiratory failure. Mike’s asthma sped up his demise. The hardest part was keeping his body in the shed while I dug up the flowerbed.

But James is not Mike. He’s different from the rest. He’s not a loner. He has people who depend on him. That will make it difficult for me to fall back into old patterns.

The others are gone now, in the past. James is my future.

I palm his face and offer a sweet smile. “I’m just being silly,” I say, “Of course, you can buy me a T-shirt. I’d love to have one as a reminder of our day.”

“Excellent!” he says. A grin lifts the corners of James’ big, brown eyes. He appears genuinely pleased.

+++

You know, maybe I’m seeing problems where none exist. As I’ve said, we’ve kissed, touched, and she’s here beside me. Even in this heat, she’s still looking great. I couldn’t resist kissing her hand. And she let me, even smiled. It was magical – her and me, a little oasis of quiet in the din. And she touched my cheek, trailed her fingers over my lips. No recoils, no flinching. Maybe it’s my imagination again. It’s just that she seems so fragile, vulnerable. That’s so bloody attractive nowadays, when women’s sexuality has become so … well, aggressive. She’s probably just shy. I’m going to get her that T-shirt but I don’t want to leave her alone here with all these strangers around her. We’ll get it after Cal’s set.

I can’t help feeling sort of special that she’s let me get this close. It seems like a real date, the first. The other two we’ve had so far were fine but there was a distance. We were feeling our way – both of us. You know, I even think she may be a virgin. I know it’s unlikely. I mean she’s well into her thirties, but there’s that mystery about her, that otherness. Makes me want to protect her. I know, I know – typical male fantasy, macho crap, but I can’t help it. It’s that fragility. When I was at her place for dinner, it was almost a parody of the single female. The place was immaculate, the kitchen spotless. She’s a wonderful cook. The meal wasn’t at all fussy and yet the flavours were superb, but she blushed when I said so, waved away the compliment and said something about adding chorizo oil at the last minute.

But she’s no handyman – the garden, the shed, they’re just embarrassing really. It’s a nice place, lots of potential, but it needs a bit of TLC. The shed ought to come down. Apart from the state it’s in, it’s right at the front, hiding the bit of garden that’s got the most potential. The central flowerbed’s a disaster. All around the edge she’s got delphiniums, lavatera, hollyhocks, foxgloves – that sort of thing. It’s like a wall of flowers and, in the middle, where you can hardly see them, there are phlox, Californian poppies and peonies. It needs a man’s touch. I’m toying with the idea of surprising her. She has a graphics conference in Massachusetts next month. I’m thinking of giving the garden a make-over while she’s away. Put up a new shed, fix the trellis at the side of the house. Most of all dig over and replant that bed.

That’s for later, though. For now, I’ll just sit with the beautiful Maggie and watch my own kid, whose nappies I used to change, excite these thousands of people with his music. Life doesn’t get much better.

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Thank you for reading and/or listening. Feel free to leave a comment or question. Feedback, whether good or bad is always welcome.

~eden

**

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SILENCE #poem

It’s been a long time since I wrote a poem. This is one I started more than a year ago when I was having a difficult time writing. I’d forgotten about it until I perused the many drafts on my blog which have yet to be published.

The poem says a lot for how I was feeling and how I continue to feel at times. I never published it, probably because I wanted it to be perfect before I did.

Today, I could not feel more imperfect. I don’t say this to solicit sympathy. It’s simply a statement of fact that some days will be less rosy than others.

Even if the poem goes unread, it will no longer just be silent words in my head.

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Silence

Silent

I’ve been silent for so long

So silent I’ve lost my own voice

So silent I don’t know what I sound like anymore

When I speak, I gauge another’s reaction to my voice

I see confusion where I once saw recognition

I sense disagreement where there was once agreement

I feel discomfort in the space between us

Where a pillowy air of comfort used to be

How did I get here?

I’ve been too quiet

For too long

It’s time to hear my voice again

Time to speak and express

It’s no longer important how I came to be here

It’s only important where I go from here

 

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THE FURY OF POSEIDON ~ A story for @RBwood’s Word Count Podcast

The prompt for the latest episode of R.B. Wood’s Word Count Podcast asked that we use the month of May and the picture below in our settings. Of note, R.B. Wood took the picture with his i-Phone while on a cruise in Boston Harbour. He also contributes a story to this podcast!

My story inspiration

This was a hard one for me. I know nothing about sailboats, and taking a cruise is not my idea of a vacation, though I have taken short sightseeing excursions at sea. With that in mind, I had to conjure up an interesting story premise. As I usually like to write about relationships, love, death, and include a twist ending, The Fury of Poseidon materialized.

I didn’t intend for this to be a cautionary tale, but it ended up that way. I even learned a thing or two about sailboats!

Hope you like it.

You can also listen to me reading the story on episode 66 of R.B. Wood’s podcast.

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Debby was getting married, finally.

When I introduced her to James a year ago, it never occurred to me that they would hit it off so well. Amongst our group of friends, Debby was the only one not married. Most of the time, she seemed happy to be single, but there were moments when she confided in me that she didn’t want to be alone forever. Those moments were rare but telling. It let me know, that as her best friend, I had to set her up as often as possible.

Jim, as Debby called him, was that rare combination of good looks, manners, and humility. Financially secure as a senior partner in a law firm, he had grown children from a previous marriage. Debby was never the maternal type, and she was past her childbearing years anyway. The match was perfect.

With James, she catapulted into a whole new sphere of experience. Debby had never known a luxurious life. She earned a modest living, and though generous with friends, she rarely spent on herself. Her hairstyle was the same as it was twenty years ago, her clothes purchased from second-hand stores. Underneath the dull exterior was a brilliant gem, but most men never bothered to scratch below the surface.

James did, and it renewed my faith in all men.

Debby invited her bridal party for a week to Curacao to thank us for helping her plan the wedding of her dreams. It was an all-expense paid trip for two bridesmaids and for me, her matron of honour. We could not get away from our husbands and kids fast enough!

Debby had been to Curacao once before when James flew her there at Christmastime. It was then that he proposed to her on his boat. As an added surprise, he even renamed the boat after her.

James arranged for us to stay at his property on the Dutch Caribbean island. We had exclusive use of a butler, maid service, and his yacht. On our second day in paradise, we lounged on the deck of the eighty-foot boat drinking wine and snacking on Dutch cheese and smoked sausage. As we drifted in the middle of the ocean, the sun play hide and seek behind large clouds.

The boat’s captain, Miguel, was a character out of the movies. His coffee-coloured skin contrasted boldly against gold-hooped earrings in both ears. Deep lines etched his face like scars, making it difficult to tell his age. He could have been forty or sixty. Only his incessant smile softened his expression.

“Did you know that according to legend, every boat is recorded by name in the Ledger of the Deep and is known personally to Poseidon, god of the sea?” Nicole said. She was the nervous bridesmaid of the group, having never set sail before this trip.

Debby laughed as she poured herself another glass of white wine. Her freshly manicured pink nails shimmered in the sunlight. “Nikki, for someone who’s never sailed, you know a lot about this!”

Nicole shrugged. “It helps to know a bit, makes me feel less anxious, but I did learn it’s bad luck to rename a boat without purging its name and erasing it from Poseidon’s memory.”

“Yes,” Debby said, “Jim knows all the sailor superstitions. We had a small ritual on the boat, but to erase every trace of the old name from it is a bit much.”

“What was the old name?” Nicole asked.

Debby made a face and pointed out to sea. “You see those fish?”

Far off in the distance, grey marine creatures arced high above the ocean and splashed gracefully back into the water.

“You mean dolphins? They’re not fish, you know. They’re warm-blooded and they’re mammals,” I said.

“I know, I know.” Debby swatted the air with her rosy nails. “Well, for some reason, Jim named the boat Dolphina after his favorite dolphin.” A puzzled look crossed her face. “How he can tell one dolphin from another is beyond me.”

We laughed, but Nicole remained serious.

“Do you ladies want to go swimming with the dolphins tomorrow?” Debby asked, “It’s kind of the thing to do around here.”

Jane, the other bridesmaid and also Debby’s cousin let out a sigh “I’m just as happy to spend the day swimming or on the boat. I need to work on my tan, that’s … if the weather co-operates.” A gust of wind whipped her long, red hair straight in the hair.

“I can’t believe how dark it is. What happened to the sun?” Nervous Nicole wrapped herself in a mesh cover-up. The warm ocean air suddenly cooled and goose bumps popped up on my arms.

“This is strange for the month of May, look like it might rain,” Miguel said. He stood at the helm eying the horizon. The sails flapped wildly and the boat began to rock.

“What do you think, Miguel?” Debby raised her voice above the rising howl of the wind. “Should we head back?”

Miguel was already on the move, busy reefing the mainsail. “Yes, Ma’am. We best get back to shore. The wind will give me resistance, so it will take time.”

“How much time?” I asked, sensing panic in Miguel’s voice.

At that moment, Debby arose from where she sat just as the boat hit a choppy stretch. She fell to her knees. Before she was able to stand up, the boat pounded down on another large wave and loose gear slid from one side of the deck to the other. Nicole and Jane screamed. That was right before water slapped me in the face so hard that it momentarily blinded me.

+ + + +

At Debby’s funeral, I overheard the words “shocking” and “unbelievable” used over and over again. When I delivered the eulogy, I had to come to grips with the events of that day. According to Miguel, a dolphin, larger than one he had ever seen, shot into the air at the stern of the boat just as Debby stumbled blindly to find her balance. On its descent, one of the dolphin’s fins struck Debby as she was getting up. She suffered multiple skull fractures from the impact and never regained consciousness.

Part of the dolphin’s body also crashed against the boat before falling into the water. No doubt it would have been injured, but a search for it turned up nothing.

It was a freak accident, surreal, in fact, yet I could not ignore that perhaps we had offended Poseidon, for immediately after that incident, the sun re-appeared and the winds died down to a gentle breeze for our solemn two-hour sail back to shore.

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Thank you for reading and/or listening. Feel free to leave a comment or question. Feedback, whether good or bad is always welcome.

~eden

**

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THE COTTAGE LIFE ~ A story for @RBwood’s Word Count Podcast

The prompt for the latest episode of R.B. Wood’s Word Count Podcast asked that we use April in the setting AND the picture below, taken by friend and fellow writer, Bill Kirton.

My story inspiration

I write a lot about women, loneliness, and murder. They are themes that haunt me daily as I work on my current trilogy. For a short story, however, it’s not practical to squeeze in too many ideas; it can become convoluted. For “The Cottage Life,” murder is not a central theme, but an ambiguous by-product. I hope you like how it turned out.

You can also listen to me reading the story on episode 65 of R.B. Wood’s podcast.

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Spring in this part of the world could hardly be called warm. The snow has melted due to monsoon-like rains, but it’s left a chill in the air. The dewy, mild temperatures normally associated with this time of year are buried along with the crocuses.

My fingers tap against the steering wheel as I grip more tightly than necessary. Classical music intended to soothe begins to irritate me. I turn off the radio, preferring quiet. The four-hour drive outside of the city gives me time to reflect on last April. The cues from family and friends indicate they think I’m still grieving.

I wear my mask well.

A year ago, I lived with my husband, Mike, in a small cottage on a lakefront property. The house wasn’t much to look at, compared to other homes on the lake, but the land it sat on was worth a great deal. All the lakefront homes within five miles of where we lived had appreciated two, three, four times over the last decade. We held on to our investment despite numerous offers to sell from greedy realtors and other interested buyers. I knew that if I was patient, the real estate market would work in my favour.

I put up a fight initially when my husband suggested we sell our suburban bungalow in the city. He brought up the subject as we sat down for dinner one night, a home-cooked meal of steak and potatoes, fresh baked garlic bread, and a side of green beans.

“Come on, Beth,” he said. “We don’t take advantage of half the things the city offers. Let’s sell while the market is hot and use the profits to winterize the cottage. That way, we can live up north all year round.” He slathered more butter on his bread, his fourth slice.

“How about our friends?” My brows furrowed.

“Our friends will just have to make a trip to visit us. They love coming to the cottage in the summer. Everyone hibernates during the winter, so what’s the difference if we live here or at the cottage?”

“I suppose so …,” I said, “But we’d have to downsize. The cottage is tiny.”

“So, we downsize.” Mike cut into his fatty steak and swallowed the piece, barely chewing it. “Besides, we’ve finally finished paying off our debts. Why carry the expenses of two properties? We can only live in one place at a time, anyway.”

Yes, we had finished paying off our debts, but what he neglected to say, was that they were his debts, not mine. Months earlier, we made the final payment on a loan that was used to pay off legal fees from an investment that had gone sour. That was after I cashed out my retirement savings to offset the bills. I resented using my funds to pay off his mistake, but we were married. What was his was mine, and that included his debts.

“I don’t know about selling,” I said. “It’s a big change at this stage in our lives.”

Mike finished off his steak and potatoes. The beans on his plate remained untouched. “Sure, it’s a change, but you’re always saying we need to be open-minded, so I’m taking a page from your book.”

I sighed. “How much do you think we can get for this place?”

My husband burped and wiped a napkin over his double chin. “I’ll call Bob tomorrow and ask him. What’s for dessert?”

+++

Living in a cottage highlighted the issues in our marriage. The problems existed before, but the self-imposed isolation magnified it all the more. Mike loved sports, so he spent most days glued to the television. It amazed me how he could seamlessly change the channel from hockey to football to basketball. It was endless. I would putter around the six hundred square foot space doing odd jobs, reading when the TV wasn’t on full blast, and cooking. The biggest part of my day was preparing Mike’s meals.

And so we lived in that cottage, though lived would be too strong a word. Existed might be a better word. Or rather, coexisted. If Mike and I said a hundred words between us during our waking hours, that would be an interactive day. We tolerated each other, but that was it. After nearly forty years of marriage, should I expect more?

When an agent offered us $1.5 million for our cottage after we were there less than a year, Mike suggested we sell.

“We’re still settling in here and now you want to sell? And where are we going to go?” I said.

“With that much money, we can go anywhere. How about Southwest Florida? You know Murray and Betty love it in Fort Myers.”

“I’d rather die here than move to Florida with all of those blue-haired ladies. All they do is wait for their 5 PM buffets. I wouldn’t fit in with them.”

Mike must have heard the annoyance in my voice. He grabbed the converter and switched on the TV, didn’t even look at me as he spoke. “You know, you’ve never fit in with my friends’ wives. You think you’re better than them because you’re a vegetarian?”

“What?” I shouted. “That’s ridiculous!”

“Is it? We hardly ever get invited for dinners because they’re all worried about what you can’t eat. You need to eat more, Beth!”

That was one of our last conversations before Mike dropped dead of a heart attack a few weeks later. The doctor said his lack of activity and overeating was a lethal combination. You may say I killed him slowly with my cooking. You may say that, but it wasn’t against the law to make sure my husband ate well.

+++

I pull up to the unmarked area where there is a clearing of conifers that offer light and shade in varying degrees. There are large rocks nearby, but they won’t be a problem to remove.

I step out of the car and breathe in the crisp, fresh air. The sun streams through the canopy of trees, and I tilt my head toward a warm ray of light. A few minutes later, the sound of snapping twigs draws my attention down the hill. A tall man approaches, carrying a folder. “Beth?”

I recognize his face from his realty listings. “Nice to meet you, Jim.”

He shakes my hand firmly. “I parked below,” he says, pointing in the general direction from where he came. “I thought to check out the surrounding area for you. You never know what might offer you the best view.”

“Yes, of course. This is very different from Lake Mishog, where I sold my old cottage,” I say.

Jim looks at me with empathy in his eyes. “True, and I’m sorry to hear about your husband.”

I nod, but say nothing.

“Well, you won’t be disappointed here,” Jim says, as if to reassure me I made the right decision. “This area is underdeveloped and a much better deal than anything you will find on Lake Mishog. You can build the cottage of your dreams here.”

I lower my gaze. “I’m looking forward to it,” I say.

flourish

Thank you for reading and/or listening. Feel free to leave a comment or question. Feedback, whether good or bad is always welcome.

~eden

**

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LOVE AND DEATH ~ A story for @RBwood’s Word Count Podcast

The prompt for the latest episode of R.B. Wood’s Word Count Podcast asked that we use February in the setting AND the picture below:

red rose

My story inspiration

Given the prompts, it was almost too obvious to write something about Valentine’s Day, but I did so anyway. As my stories usually have a twist, (and I’m a bit twisted myself), “Love and Death” became the result.

You can also listen to me reading the story on episode 63 of R.B. Wood’s podcast.

Hope you enjoy. 😉

flourish

When February rolls around, I think of two things: love and death. They happened at the same time for me many years ago, and I cannot unlink their connection in my brain any more than I can sever my arm from my shoulder.

Actually, the latter would probably be easier to do.

How many years has it been? I’ve lost count. If it were not for the calendar hanging by my bed, I would not know what day it was.

It was supposed to happen on Valentine’s Day, going on a decade ago now. It was the day my love and I had planned to be together. After so many false starts, which included a death in his wife’s family, and my husband’s surgery, we finally saw nothing else to delay our union. We decided on Valentine’s Day as our official “coming out” day. It was perfect. How could it be any more romantic? Two people who had loved each other privately for years would now finally be together.

I don’t recall how we determined that I would tell my husband first. At the time, it wasn’t important for me who made the initial move. I just knew that by the week of February 14th, we would no longer have to keep our relationship a secret. After that critical step, we would separate and file for divorce. We would try to make it as painless as possible, even joked that maybe our respective spouses might not be too upset about it. After all, neither of our marriages had been on solid ground for some time.

We had decided not to reveal the affair to our spouses. What was the point? There was any number of reasons I could use to end my marriage. I ended up telling my husband I was tired, tired of his apathy. It was true. After so many years, his lack of affection had whittled away at my self-confidence. The kids were gone, and it seemed like he no longer needed me. At one point, I even thought that maybe he was having an affair, but he wasn’t the type. He was a workaholic and much too timid to seek out another relationship.

No, he had just gotten lazy. He took me for granted. It wasn’t a new problem. We’d gone for counseling for this very issue only a couple of years after we got married, but old patterns are hard to break. I know. I fell into them myself. We grew further and further apart until I became numb. Then Jack came into my life and everything changed.

I meant something to someone who appreciated me. And Jack was that someone, and he was so appreciative. God … he was amazing in every way—boyish and playful outside the bedroom, powerful and insatiable inside of it. I had never felt so alive than when I was with him.

* * * *

At Jack’s request, I saw him the day before Valentine’s day. It seemed odd that he had texted me instead of responding to my lengthy email from several nights earlier, an email in which I explained how happy I was that I had told my husband about us. I went into great detail about what I had said. Jack and I were always good in that way. We didn’t keep any secrets from each other. It did not alarm me that he didn’t respond immediately to my email. He and his wife had taken a weekend away to their cottage. It was there that he had planned to break the news about us to her.

When Jack and I met in the apartment I had secretly rented for our meetings, he appeared like he always did—happy to see me. He came with a bouquet of red roses in hand and kissed me. I felt loved by him, like I always did. I remember placing the flowers in a vase, taking my time to relish the moment of not having to hide anymore. We could finally live our relationship in the open, or so I thought.

My memory is fuzzy from the time Jack spoke that night. I don’t recall hearing the words, but I know he must have said them.

I can’t leave my wife.

She said she would kill herself if I did.

I’m sorry. I am so sorry.

His words hit me like a slap that resonated throughout the echoey apartment. I remember touching my cheek as heat rose to cover it. I picked up the shears I had used to cut the stems of the roses and then everything went black.

To this day, I have no recollection of what happened afterward that evening. They said I killed Jack in a fit of rage; I’ve accepted that I must have. I just wish I could remember it. It’s hard to imagine I could do such a thing, but perhaps love does crazy things to people.

flourish

Thank you for reading and/or listening. Feel free to leave a comment or question. Feedback, whether good or bad is always welcome.

~eden

**

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SELFIE LOVE ~ A story written with Bill Kirton (@carver22) for @RBwood’s Word Count Podcast

The prompt for R.B. Wood’s FIRST Word Count Podcast of 2017 asked that we use January in the setting AND the picture below:

wcpc 62 prompt

And … I didn’t write the story on my own.

You may recall I collaborated with Bill Kirton, the esteemed Scottish author for a story titled: “The Wrong Shoes.” That was already two years ago!

Since then, Bill and I have wanted to write together again, and we’ve done it. Hopefully, we will do it again this year.

This story is written in two different voices as an e-mail exchange. Bill started it, and we went from there. Neither of us knew where the other was going. It was both fun and a challenge to write this saucy tale. You can learn more about the process on Bill’s blog.

I’m excited to write for R.B. Wood’s podcast again. The new year brings with it many creative opportunities, and I look forward to sharing my writing with you.

Enjoy “Selfie Love.” You can listen to Bill and me reading the story on episode 62 of R.B. Wood’s podcast.

eden and bill selfie love

flourish

Sorry, Laura, I don’t get it. I mean, it’s been, what, 2 months? And not a word. Then suddenly, you send this. The photo. I know, I know, we said no commitment, no follow-ups. And that was right. I knew there’d be hell to pay with Alice if she knew. I mean, wives get understandably pissed off with that sort of thing. You made it pretty clear it’d be the same with your Tom. They wouldn’t understand. Of course they wouldn’t. I get all that, but I don’t know, I thought we’d at least keep in touch somehow. But not like this. An email, no words, just this attachment. What the hell’s it mean?

At first, I thought it was maybe just your way of saying you remembered a great night, a great way to start the year. Just the two of us, the house by the water. But I don’t remember us taking a shot like this. There were much better views. I mean, when the tide’s out like that, the estuary’s… well, just mud. Then I remembered, we did take some shots from here, but we were just fooling around. They were all selfies. So I looked through them. Great memories, certainly. You look as gorgeous as ever. And we’re both grinning like idiots. But then it struck me that one of them was taken from exactly that point on the road, the same point as the one you sent. Not just approximately, but exactly there. The single phone wire top right, the rail bottom left, the angle… If it was just a shot of the view, it’s a helluva coincidence.

But it’s not a coincidence, is it? It’s the selfie. You’ve just photoshopped us out of it. Used bits of the other shots to paste over us. And you’ve done a helluva good job. But why? Is it a fancy way of saying it won’t happen again? No more nights or weekends? I want to believe you sent it for good reasons, not scary ones. So humour me, will you? Remember, I have a very small brain, so I need things spelled out for me. What’s it mean? Please.

Love and lots of our kisses

Ross.

*****

Ross,

You’re right. This is a strange way to reconnect … and I’m sorry.

I had this email in my “Drafts” for days. Frustration, more than anything made me finally hit the send button. Now, I wish I hadn’t. I wish I’d had the courage not to follow up as we’d agreed. I hate myself for my weakness.

This cryptic photo is the umpteenth iteration of this email, started more than a week ago. I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent trying to find the right words, and in the end, there were no words. I thought the picture would explain it better.

I had hoped you would understand. You were always in tune with my moods, even in the beginning when we were only speaking through emails and messaging. It’s why I originally agreed to Skype. What we had is something I’ve never had with any other man.

I’m saying this not because I blame you. Our time together brought me more happiness than I’ve had in my marriage in years, but now … I’m being punished. How fucking selfish of me for pursuing my own needs!

Oh Ross, don’t you see? If only I could erase us from that freezing day in January as easily as I photo-shopped us out of the picture, I would.

Forget about me. Forget about us.

Be the stronger one, and don’t contact me again. Please.

*****

Laura,

I’m sorry if you thought the long gap meant that asking me to be strong had worked. No chance, I’m afraid. No, it’s the same as it was for you. Different versions of this email have come and gone. The first one came out of panic, anger, said all sorts of despicable things that would have guaranteed it was over – you and me, I mean. Then the pathetic self-pity kicked in and I was pleading, begging – a completely unlovable, cowardly wimp. Thank God I didn’t send them. I hope I’ll be able to keep all that in check this time because I need to understand why. I can’t get past that word. Why? Why? Why? It just keeps on eating at me.

I’ve re-read your note so many times I could probably recite it from memory, but there’s so much of it I don’t understand. That January night seems decades away so maybe my recollections are skewed, but I don’t remember agreeing that there wouldn’t be any more. We were a bit quiet at the end but I thought that was because the weekend was over and we’d be going our separate ways – but not forever. I’m obviously not always in tune with your moods as much as you say. I certainly didn’t pick up on that one. Maybe I only ever saw what I wanted to see. You said yourself that us being together brought you happiness. It did. That’s what I saw.

You know, I thought I was joking about having a small brain but trying to decipher your email makes me think it’s probably true. In different circumstances, we’d have thought the symbolism of erasing a couple from a selfie was brilliant, but not when it’s us. God, we’ve been so careful, even with one another. Remember how we resisted that word ‘love’ for so long. Joked about it only being lust. Love was dangerous, threatened everything. But we were just fooling ourselves. In the end, it had to be said. And it was true. Still is. And part of the deal was that we’d only let ourselves say it as long as no one else was hurt by it. It’s been hard sometimes to hide it, but we’ve managed it. None of our friends suspect anything. It’s not going to be nearly as easy hiding the ache there’ll be if we do stop.

I’m just rambling. I don’t know what to say, how to convince you. You say you’re being punished – how? What’s punishing you? Who’s punishing you?

Sweet Laura, I don’t want to be the one who makes you miserable. If the problem is things I’ve said or done, tell me please. If the only way to take away the hurt is to say goodbye, I’ll say it. I won’t like it, but I’ll say it. Remember when I told you about that bit from Byron? I wasn’t being a pseud or pretentious. I meant it. It was something I read at school. I must have been 16, maybe 17, and it summed up exactly what I wanted. And it’s what I had, have with you.

Oh that the desert were my dwelling place

With one fair spirit for my minister.

Then I could quite forget the human race

And, hating no one, love but only her.

Corny? Maybe. Melodramatic, yeah, probably. But that’s what you are – my one fair spirit.

If you don’t reply, I’ll know it’s finished. I won’t write again, won’t ask any more questions or be so bloody needy. But I’ll never forget you.

All, yes, all my love.

Ross.

*****

Oh Ross …

I haven’t been able to stop crying since I got your note. I’ve told my husband I’ve come down with a bad cold. Thankfully, he doesn’t suspect otherwise. Truth is, I can’t dislodge you from my heart, no matter how hard I’ve tried. Until I read your email, I was barely functioning.

When I wrote to you, I was so confused. I didn’t see another option but to end it with us. I’m in a difficult place, but my tears haven’t all been sad ones. Reading your words gave me joy as well, especially the part where you said you still love me. Secretly, I must’ve hoped you would write back even though I asked you not to. I also love the piece from Byron. You see Ross, you do know me, even better than I know myself these days.

I’m so sorry I caused you pain. I never intended to. I just hurt so much after coming back from our weekend. With you, I discovered what it was like to feel true happiness. Our time together was bliss, and I’m still shocked that we managed to meet. We went from emailing one another to Skype to finally spending the night together. How many people get such an opportunity, and how many actually take it?

And though I’ve always believed that we should want what we have, I couldn’t resist you … so here we are.

You once asked me why I never called your wife by her name. I don’t think I ever responded, but I’d like to tell you now. The reason is because she and I don’t have a relationship. She’s your wife. If I were to use her name, it would bring her to life in my head, as if she were connected to me somehow, which she isn’t. And that goes for my husband as well. I never mention his name when I talk to you.

We’ve been so careful to keep our spouses and friends outside the world we’ve created. It’s just been the two of us … until now.

I waited as long as I did before I sent my first email because I had to be sure.

Ross, I’m pregnant with our child.

*****

OK darling, I haven’t given it enough time to think this through but I can imagine how anxious you are to know my reaction. Don’t worry, it’s good. More than good, it’s bloody brilliant. But that’s just the beginning. We can’t do this through emails. We need to be together to talk about it, back at the house by the river. Now, or as soon as you can make it.

You didn’t say what you thought about it. Hard to, really, there are so many obstacles in the way now. I think there might have been a time, when I was a lot younger, when this would’ve scared the hell out of me. I don’t like to think of what I might have done. Now, though… Well, I just hope we want the same thing, but I’ll go along with whatever you decide. It’s your body.

It won’t be easy, untangling ourselves from the lives we’ve lived so far, but we can do it. We have to. I feel bad, very bad, about how it’ll hit Alice and Tom. There’s no way round that. It’s not like erasing them from a selfie. So much for not hurting anybody. But we’ll make it as easy as we can for them. In the end, love’s such a selfish thing, but it’s also a gift, the best thing in the world. And we have it, and now there’s a chance I’ll have not just one, but two fair spirits. We can make it. We can make it.

flourish

Thank you for reading and/or listening. Feel free to leave a comment or question. Feedback, whether good or bad is always welcome.

~eden

**

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Filed under Short Stories & Poetry, Writing Joint Ventures

SCENE FROM A BAR ~ My story for @RBwood’s #WordCountPodcast

Congratulations to author, R.B. Wood on his 60th episode of the Wordcount Podcast! 

You can hear me read this story on: Episode #60 of R.B. Wood’s THE WORD COUNT PODCAST.

The prompt asked that we use 3 words in the story:

Charming | Key | Computer

STORY INSPIRATION: I never frequented bars in my single days, but on occasion when I dine out alone, I enjoy sitting at the bar. It’s a great place to “people watch.”

~ eden

* * * *

I hate this place, too noisy, too busy, yet my geeky brother-in-law insisted it was the best bar in town. He should know, he said. He used to work here before he moved on to better things.

In every corner, people are talking fast, acting smart. I feel out of place even though I’ve been here before, but at the time, I knew exactly what I wanted. Today, I don’t know what’s going to happen.

The place caters to all types, though a woman with a halter top that barely covers her ample breasts seems out of place. I was once her age. I probably looked as silly as she does in that get-up, but like her, I must have feigned obliviousness. A twenty-something is now chatting her up, and they’re both laughing. Another man approaches them and asks a question before he moves on. This man is older, full beard, seems a lot more aware. He walks with purpose and his eyes dart across the room behind his Buddy Holly glasses.

Hipster, I think to myself.

A woman catches his eye. She is completely different from halter top girl. Well dressed in a suit and sophisticated, she looks like a banker or a lawyer. You can tell she’s serious too. She knows exactly what she wants and has no time to fool around. I wish I was in her shoes. When the hipster approaches her, they exchange a few words and he is definitely interested. He nods quickly and gestures for her to follow him. They move toward one of the many busy tables occupied by patrons. There is only one free seat and she takes it, setting her briefcase by her feet. They start talking for a bit before she pulls out her cell phone and shows him something on the screen. He gesticulates with his hands, then touches his ear like he’s playing a game of charades. I almost burst out laughing.

Three words.

First word.

Sounds like.

Bird.

Is it a bird?

Is it a plane?

Wait, now he’s sticking up his index finger while he says “Just a minute, I’ll be right back.”

“Sure,” she says and returns her gaze to her cell, swiping the screen back and forth. She seems content to wait.

My imagination is active today. I must be bored or nervous or both. I’m waiting for my man to return. Unlike the hipster servicing the businesswoman, my guy isn’t quite as committed or attentive to me. He excused himself fifteen minutes ago and has not returned. For the brief time after I shared my story when I sat down in front of him, he nodded and his eyes lit up. He asked a couple of key questions before stepping away.

I want to remain hopeful. That’s all I can do.

“Miss Hermeez?”

I swing around in my chair to face the man pulling up a seat in front of me. His main features are a jutting chin covered in peach fuzz and pretentious wire-rimmed glasses atop a Roman nose. He wants to look older than he is, but it’s not working—not on me anyway.

“Oh … hi, you’re back.” A sigh of relief escapes my lips. “Actually, the “H” is not pronounced.”

“Huh?” He looks at me like I have a third eye.

“My name is Hermes. The ‘H’ is silent. It’s French, like the designer.”

He stiffens his back and takes a deep breath. His vacant eyes tell me he’s never heard of Hermes.

“All righty then,” he says and continues in a robotic tone, “Miss ah … Miss ahhh … Air Meez.”

I decide against correcting him again. Charming, he is not.

So, here I am at the Apple Store genius bar, and across from me is Billy, who can’t even say my name properly. He’s obviously no genius. If he were, I wouldn’t still be sitting here.

“I’m afraid your laptop is now a boat anchor,” Billy says. “There’s nothing we can do. I hope you had everything backed up to an external hard drive.”

I bite down on my lower lip, and the room begins to spin. I see hipster dude walk out from behind the genius bar carrying a box. It looks like the latest iPhone. A wall of colorful accessories expands and contracts like it’s about to explode. The noise inside the store turns to a dead silence. I’m drowning in perspiration. It dots my back and rises to the surface of my forehead, then begins dripping down my face.

If Steve Jobs were still alive …

“Miss?” Billy says.

His voice snaps me back to attention.

“Are you all right?” He suddenly looks concerned.

“No … no, I’m not!” The sound of the room is reawakened by my voice. “This isn’t just my computer, it’s my life. If you’re going to give me bad news, you can’t say it like that. A little small talk at least, but this …”

Billy dips his fuzzy chin, and I half expect something snarky to come out of his over-entitled millennial mouth.

“Yes, Miss Hermes. I’m sorry to be so blunt. I just thought you would want to know. Did you …?” He drops his gaze again. “Were you able to save everything before your computer shut down?”

I swallow hard, shake my head slowly and feel tears welling in my eyes. Billy looks horrified and squirms in his seat. He jumps up, almost knocking his chair over.

“I’m going to call my manager,” he says. “I want a second opinion.” He holds up his palms toward me as if to say Hang tight, help is on the way!

Before I can say another word, he’s run off.

I pull myself together. I’ve never been fond of bars, especially genius bars.

Thank you for reading.

Feel free to leave a comment or question. Feedback, whether good or bad is always welcome.

~eden

**

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Comfortably Numb ~ My story for @RBwood’s #WordCountPodcast

You can also hear me read this story on: Episode #59 of R.B. Wood’s THE WORD COUNT PODCAST.

The prompt asked that we use 3 words in the story:

NEWSPAPER | CIGARETTE | SCOTCH

NOTE: This story is excerpted and rewritten from a longer one, which I wrote earlier this year. It is partly inspired by a friend going through a difficult life change, and of course, by Pink Floyd.

~ eden

* * * *

I’ve let go of so much. The kids are gone, moved away to University. They don’t need me anymore. My husband, Mike, still works. Someone has to pay the bills. He doesn’t need me either, but he puts up with me. I suppose it’s better than being alone, but my guess is it’s only marginally better for him. We navigate around each other without saying much. It’s not comfortable, but somehow we put up with each other. Complacency settles in after nearly thirty years of marriage, and with it, a dull ache fills my days.

It wasn’t always this way, but I remember exactly when everything changed. Six months ago, I picked up the Sunday New York Times like I did every week and read another study about climate change. I was a concerned citizen most of the time, but that day I thought: Why the hell should I care anymore? I’ll be long gone when the earth blows up. Even my grandchildren’s children won’t be around.

In that same paper, another article praised the benefits of alcohol and how previous studies had been overly cautious. In fact, scientists now encouraged drinking for middle-aged adults. Three to four glasses a day—beer, wine, liquor—it didn’t matter. Good for the heart and an excellent way to relieve stress. Next thing you know, they’ll be touting cigarettes as the new health fad!

I threw the newspaper across the room.

Garbage! All of it, garbage! I couldn’t believe anything anymore.

Something in me must have snapped because nothing was the same after that.

I was not the same.

*   *   *   *

Hunger wakes me up, but I don’t get out of bed immediately. After drifting in and out of sleep for what seems like hours, I make my way downstairs. It’s already close to noon.

Dishes and a frying pan balance precariously atop the counter next to an empty sink—Mike’s bacon and eggs from last night’s dinner, his cereal from this morning.

The kitchen is in need of a thorough cleaning. Why my husband does not load the dishwasher is beyond me. The appliance does not exist for him. It’s the same with the laundry. He must think clean underwear and shirts just magically appear in his closet. I resent picking up after him, but he’s right about one thing—it’s me who has changed, not him.

I have not wanted to do anything in months. Even the thought of a few household chores hollows me. My brain feels pickled. Most days, I walk around sweaty and lethargic.

The light on the home phone blinks red. It’s been blinking for weeks now. I know the messages are for me, but I don’t want to listen to them. I wish people would stop worrying about me. I don’t dare turn on my computer. The thought of unanswered e-mails in my inbox makes my stomach lurch.

Something burbles to life and I spin in its direction. My feet shuffle in a robotic motion to find the source. The buzz continues, and I register it’s coming from my purse. I snatch the bag off the dining room table and empty its contents on the floor. My cell phone vibrates on the ceramic tile like a small, frightened animal. I grab it in a panic.

“Hello, hello.”

“When did you get up?” says the voice on the other end of the line. Mike’s words jolt me to attention.

“Right after you left for work.” I’m on the defensive already.

“Are you sure?”

“Of course I’m sure, why?”

A pause. “I called earlier, that’s why.”

“Well … I must have been in the washroom, didn’t hear the phone.” I wonder if my friendly housewife voice fools him. “Did you want something?”

“Yes,” he barks. “Iron a few shirts for me. I need them for meetings this week.”

Please would be nice, I think to myself.

Mike’s words pinch, but I keep my thoughts to myself and somehow manage a cheerful, “Yeah, sure.” That’s how we talk to each other—no nuanced arguments, no fine points to be made.

I hang up and rage nudges up my stomach. It lodges in my chest like indigestion.

“How dare he talk to me that way?” I mutter to myself. Now I have to clean the house and iron. I loathe ironing.

*   *   *   *

It’s Mike’s night out with the boys, and I manage to throw together a dinner of lasagna (from frozen of course) along with a salad (out a bag). He doesn’t seem to care. His mind is on watching the game and drinking with his friends anyway.

Now that he’s gone, I plod to the kitchen and crack an entire tray of ice cubes into the sink. I scoop up a handful, drop them into a tall glass of white wine, and gulp until the cold freezes my brain.

I’ve become an impressive drunk in that way where no one suspects I’m drinking.

My doctor prescribed antidepressants for me. They must be working, as I’m more productive now. I’m cooking again, and the house is clean. I even managed to respond to a few phone messages, and the other day, I fired up my computer. When I saw more than 300 emails in my inbox, I shut it down. Responding to emails would have to wait.

Playing around with what my doctor recommended has been tricky, but it’s one of the few things I do to empower myself. Instead of one pill with food, I take half a pill with a shot of Scotch. Yeah, the alcohol is a no-no, but … I seem to be okay so far.

I even had sex with my husband last night. Afterward, he flopped off me like a giant walrus, a fat limb-less torso. The only thing missing were the tusks. I didn’t enjoy it, but he must have. He seems nicer to me today than he’s been in a while.

As for me, I don’t feel much anymore. Numbness replaces the dull ache. It’s comforting really, much like a warm, cozy blanket.

Thank you for reading.

Feel free to leave a comment or question. Feedback, whether good or bad is always welcome.

~eden

**

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95 Days ~ My story for @RBwood’s Sizzlin’ Summer #WordCountPodcast

You can also hear me read this story on: Episode #58 of R.B. Wood’s THE WORD COUNT PODCAST.

The prompt asked that we use the phrase:

“I was enjoying the summer holiday when…” 

I was in NYC when I wrote the majority of this story, sitting in Bryant Park with the sun on my face. I love the city, and no matter how long I stay, it’s not long enough.

The story is somewhat of a lament for how quickly time passes, especially in the city that never sleeps.

* * * *

I was enjoying the summer holiday when he showed up.

Well, he showed up would not be totally accurate.

He may have been a she, and neither really showed up in the traditional sense. I never saw a face or heard a voice. Like I said—it wasn’t a traditional relationship, and I knew that from the start. That was the allure, I suppose, but now that it’s over, the hard work begins.

I’m rambling, and I’m sorry if this comes off nonsensical. Some days, I feel like what happened was all in my imagination. Maybe I created the whole thing. It’s hard to know anymore. I only know I’m left wanting, though richer for the experience.

Let me take a step back to the beginning of summer when this all started. It was the oddest of meetings, and my heart was open, as it normally is. I’ve always considered that to be a strength, not a weakness. Despite growing more cautious over the years, I was never one to shy away from a mystery.

I’m a sucker for words. That’s why I chose to become a writer. My life is an open book in many ways, but I was stuck. Call it writer’s block or lack of inspiration. Call it a muse on vacation. Whatever it was, I was haunted that I might never write again.

I use words to expose who I am and to entice potential readers to connect to me. Though I’m aware I make myself a target for some odd people, I’ve never had any problems. With the amount of time I spend online, it’s inevitable to run into my share of … shall we say … eccentric people. The thing is, they don’t scare me. I’m good at weaning out the cons from the authentic.

And yet, I didn’t see this one coming.

I received the first poem on June 20th. I remember it well because it was a balmy evening—the beginning of summer. I was sitting at an outdoor café when a young boy approached me.

“Are you Julia?” he said.

I did not know him, thought it was too late for a boy of his age to be out on his own. “Yes, I am, and who are you?” I looked into his bright, blue eyes and immediately felt an odd familiarity. Was he the son of a friend?

“I have a something for you,” he said, handing me an envelope before he turned to walk away.

I searched for an adult near him and saw none. “Wait!” I said, staring at the non-descript paper in my hand. “Who is this from? Who are you?”

Too late.

He weaved his small body between tables of the crowded café and disappeared into the night. I got up to look for him, astonished that I lost sight of him so quickly. I asked patrons nearby at the edge of the restaurant where he went, but no one could give me a definitive answer.

That first poem read:

Summer is officially begun

So this will be my number one

I spread love and hope and grace

No matter the time or place

Do not seek to find the answers

In life we are but mere dancers

We jump, we twirl, we bow

The time to live is now

 

And so it began …

 

Poems showed up mysteriously for me daily after that. The language was never aggressive. The writer wasn’t the best poet but he wasn’t the worst. I say he, but it could’ve been a she. I just don’t know. At times, the poems rhymed, but most of them did not. Many of them were just a few lines. The only thing they had in common was each one was numbered.

Strangers delivered many of the envelopes, and none of these so-called couriers ever disclosed information about the sender. I found some poems left for me at my place of work. Only one was found at my house. It scared me, even though I suspect this person had been tracking my whereabouts from the start.

When I found the letter in my home mailbox, my mind immediately conjured up the negative, but I rationalized if he or she wanted to harm me, they would have done so by now.

The next day, as I sat in the park desperately trying to kick start my manuscript, a stranger delivered an envelope to me. I had grown accustomed to this crazy, strange occurrence. I simply accepted the envelope and said, “Thank you.”

It was a peaceful afternoon, and aside from a few kids running in the distance, the park was quiet. A cool breeze replaced the humidity in the air. I tore open the envelope to read poem number ninety-five.

As a new season begins

An old one must end

Ninety-five days

From Solstice to Equinox

Summer is closing

And so must I

May my last words

Be the start of your next ones

A slow smile of realization crossed my face. I picked up my pen and stared at the blank lines on my notepad, determined to break through.

Thank you for reading.

Feel free to leave a comment or question. Feedback, whether good or bad is always welcome.

~eden

**

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PUPPY LOVE ~ A story for @RBwood’s #WordCountPodcast

You can also hear me read this story on: Episode #56 of R.B. Wood’s “The Word Count” podcast.

The prompt asked that we write a story based on three words:

Cat | Dawn | Flower

I couldn’t come up with a cat story, so I did a different take on the prompt. It’s partly inspired by real events and my own mixed feelings about owning a pet.

*  *  *  *

In my haste out the door, I almost tripped over the white furball just outside my front step. Button eyes stared up at me as if to say: What took you so long? I’ve been waiting for you.

A dog, or more accurately—a puppy, its fur looked fresh and cottony-soft.

I knelt down to it with the instinct of someone who appeared comfortable with animals, but I wasn’t. I never had a pet as a kid. Now living on my own, more than a few friends had advised me to get a cat or a dog. I never wanted the responsibility.

The small dog seemed harmless and docile. It pushed its head against my palm affectionately when I pet it. Pretty darn cute. It wasn’t a stray. That much, I could see. No tags, no collar, but someone had to be looking for it.

I almost forgot the reason I opened the door, headed for my morning jog. I stepped outside to see if the dog’s owner was near by. Maybe he got away during his walk. The street was empty. No surprise. Dawn on a Saturday was usually too early for my neighborhood.

When I swung back toward my apartment, the dog boldly walked through the open door.

“Hey!” I cried out. It stopped and turned to face me, his head tilted to one side. Something in me melted. I wasn’t going to make my morning run.

My friend, Doug knew all about dogs, having owned different breeds over the years. He dropped by immediately when I called him.

“Great temperament,” he said, crouched on the floor with the dog in his lap. “It’s a male, and he’s a Westie, a breed from Scotland.”

I smiled as the dog jumped out of Doug’s lap and pranced around my apartment like he owned it. “I don’t know where he’s from, but he’s full of confidence for a little guy.”

“Here’s some food for him.” Doug handed me a large plastic bag filled with kibble. “I’m guessing he’s no more than three months.”

I sighed. “What should I do? I can’t keep keep him.”

Doug pushed himself off the floor. “I’ll call my vet. He can check if there’s a microchip. In the meantime, create some posters for the neighborhood. He’s a beautiful animal, someone’s bound to miss him.” He handed me a roll of plastic bags.

“What’s this?”

“Poo bags. You’re going to need them,” he said.

***

The vet found no microchip but said the dog was otherwise healthy and happy. I stuck up posters around the neighborhood and placed an ad in the “Found” section of the online local paper. I even scoured the Internet for announcements of missing dogs but found none that matched the puppy now making himself at home in my apartment. It felt odd to share the space with another living creature, but here he was. Out of some need to give him an identity, even a temporary one, I called him Scottie—an unimaginative but safe name until his owner came for him.

Scottie never barked, and in many ways, behaved more like an independent cat. He snuggled beside me on the couch when I watched TV, his little body warming me like an electric blanket. He let me know when he needed to go outside to do his business. He was the perfect pet really, one I wished I’d had as a kid. I decided if no one came to claim him after ten days, I might consider adopting him.

The morning before my self-imposed deadline date, I received a call from someone claiming to be the owner of Scottie. The man spoke enthusiastically about the dog, described his appearance perfectly. He said his young daughter had left the door open one night and the dog must have slipped out. I told him to come by in the early evening to pick up Scottie, citing errands I had to run during the day. I lied. When I hung up the phone, my throat burned. How the heck did I become so attached to this animal in less than two weeks? I crouched on the floor and Scottie jumped around me playfully, his cue for me to pick him up. I hugged him to me and felt tears sting my eyes. The wetness rolled down my cheeks onto the soft curls of Scottie’s head.

***

My last moments with Scottie were bittersweet. When a little girl of about seven entered my apartment with her father, her face lit up and the dog ran to her. She squealed and the puppy squealed louder. Her joy only cranked up the excitement for both of them. The dog belonged to her. There was no question about it. My own feelings that Scottie might miss me, even just a little, faded immediately.

“Looks like he’s happy to see you,” I said to the girl. “What’s his name?”

With glassy eyes and a wet face where the dog had licked her, she looked up at me, “Flower,” she said.

Flower?

“Oh …” I tried not to sound judgmental. “What an unusual name.”

The father took me aside. “Yeah, it’s not a great name,” he said, “but she wanted to name it after a dandelion because of his fluffiness, only she can’t say the word dandelion.” He shrugged. “We definitely have to come up with a better name.”

I smiled and watched his daughter play with her puppy, then something hit me. The dog was leaving, but I wanted him to leave with a small piece of me. In a hushed tone to the father, I said, “I called him Scottie for the time he was with me. He seemed to like it. Maybe that’s an option.” When the dog heard me say his name, he perked up his ears and barked before running to me.

“Wow, he does seem to respond to that name,” said the father. He looked over to his daughter. “Sweetheart, how about calling him Scottie?”

“I like the name,” she said in a high-pitched voice.

***

Scottie returned to his rightful owner, and my space was returned to me. While watching TV later that night, I instinctively placed a hand on where the puppy had taken his place beside me. The chair seemed almost too big without him now. A thought of getting a dog crossed my mind, but it was a fleeting thought. For more than a week, I took care of a puppy. I even got to name him and did a good deed by reuniting him with his owner. I had been a dog-sitter, and that was more than enough … for now.

Have you ever had a pet? Any strange pet names? Feel free to leave a comment or ask me a question. I’d love to hear from you.

~eden

**

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THE RUNNER ~ A story for @RBwood’s #WordCountPodcast

You can also hear me read this story on: Episode #55 of R.B. Wood’s “The Word Count” podcast.

The prompt asked that we write a story based on three words:

Dog | Wheelchair | Addiction

This was a tough one for me because the three words seemed unrelated. The idea finally came to me when talking with a friend who is an avid runner.

*  *  *  *

The man breathed heavily when he came to a halt. He removed his gloves and wiped the sweat from his face, plucked the water bottle from his backpack and drank half the Gatorade inside. A vast sky of crimson hues swirled above him, interrupted only by a ribbon of yellow that disappeared beyond the horizon. It was a perfect sunset. Only the muffled noise of distant traffic penetrated the quiet until a loud bark broke the calm.

He clenched his jaw when the dog continued yelping. A dog had changed his life five years ago, and each time he heard one barking, his back stiffened. He tucked his chin into his chest and tried to relieve the tension pressing against his spine.

The rain had stopped, but he was still soaked. Even though the downpour lasted less than a minute, his nylon jersey clung to his torso like static.

He was at the mid-point of his five-mile run, having stopped several times already to take a break. It had taken him a long time to build up his stamina again. He used to run fifteen miles without any problem. Now, everything was difficult where it once seemed effortless. He closed his eyes and felt his thighs tightening, burning from the run. How was this possible? He let out a heavy sigh before opening his eyes. The sensations below his waist disappeared when he peered at his body trapped in the wheelchair.

No legs. Both amputated six inches below his hips.

Phantom limbs, his doctor said. Because he had been a runner all his life, his muscle memory was better than that of other amputees who had lost their legs.

A runner, ha!

He could hardly call himself that anymore, could he?

Running was his obsession at one time. Similar to a drug addiction, he needed a hit of it everyday. He fed off the adrenaline, the pounding in his chest, the sound of his feet hitting the ground. Right before he lost his legs, he was training for his third New York City Marathon.

Now, when he tells his wife he wants to go for a run, she helps him pack up his wheelchair in the van, and they drive to one of several starting points. She picks him up a couple of hours later when he calls her.

Run. What a joke, but what else could he call it?

The same high pitch he heard earlier cut the silence again.

Damn dog.

The barking persisted and grew louder. The sky darkened and heavy raindrops thrummed against the metal of his wheelchair. It must have camouflaged the sound of fast-running paws. He didn’t see the shaggy mutt until it leapt on top of him.

A young female in jogging gear came running behind the dog. “Chester, come back here!”

The furry creature pranced on where his lap should have been.

“Chester, off!” The woman yanked the dog by his collar away from the wheelchair. She immediately clicked a leash on him and tightened her hold. The dog had little room to move from her side. “I am so sorry. He got away from me down in the valley. Are you all right?”

The man looked up at her face. Her big blue eyes opened wide, a furrow in between her brow. Rain ran down her cheeks and made her appear as if she was crying, but she wasn’t.

“I’m fine,” he said. He brushed off the mud tracks on his jersey from the dog’s paws. “He’s a feisty one, you should keep him on a leash out here.”

She shushed Chester when he barked again. “I know. He’s still a puppy, too much energy … I took him off leash to let him run some of it off, but I didn’t expect him to get away from me.” She hesitated and her face changed. “Are you okay? I mean … will you be all right to get home?”

He recognized the look, an expression of someone who knew she could walk away, but was hesitant to do so because he obviously could not. It was sympathy. He didn’t want it, didn’t need it, but had learned to accept it. He likened it to the brief interaction one makes before throwing a few coins in a beggar’s cup. The act of charity makes it easier to keep going.

“I’ll be fine,” he said, releasing her of her guilt.

“Okay.” She smiled and loosened her grip on the leash. Chester took a few steps toward him before she pulled him back. “Sorry again about … you know, Chester jumping on you.”

He nodded and watched her jog down the valley. Even under loose track pants, he could tell she had strong, muscular legs—runner’s legs, like he once had before the accident. Chester reminded him a bit of that dog—the one he swerved to avoid hitting on that two-lane country road.

The dog survived.

The driver of the truck he collided with also survived.

The only thing that didn’t make it—his legs.

Has an animal ever crossed your path while you were driving? How did you react? Feel free to leave a comment or ask me a question. I’d love to hear from you.

~eden

**

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THE LETTER ~ A story for @RBwood’s #WordCountPodcast

You can also hear me read this story on: Episode #54 of R.B. Wood’s “The Word Count” podcast.

The prompt asked that we write a story based on three words:

Chocolate | Lust | Thorns

Since it was around Valentine’s Day when we received the prompt, my story touches on love … sort of. 😉

*  *  *  *

Dear Adam,

I want to offer you an apology for my behavior the past two weeks. I know most women would’ve jumped at the chance to go with you to some romantic spot for Valentine’s Day. Your invitation caught me off guard.

I panicked.

Instead of graciously accepting your gift, I stopped accepting anything from you, including your calls and texts.

Let me start by saying, you’ve been patient. You’ve followed my lead, and from our first date more than six months ago, I’ve led you to my door but never through it. It must have crossed your mind why a thirty-year-old woman would seem so … puritan. Yet, you never asked, so I never felt the need to explain.

I care about you, Adam, very much, and you have a right to know why I ended our relationship so abruptly. This letter is further evidence that I lack the courage to even pick up the phone and call you. I’m taking the coward’s way out, but I hope you will understand.

Valentine’s Day is a dreaded day for me, but by design or by coincidence, I’ve managed to avoid the holiday for years. When I couldn’t avoid it with you, I had to retreat.

I celebrated Valentine’s Day for the last time seven years ago. He was much older than me, unlike anyone I’d ever met—well traveled, confident, a little dangerous. He excited me, and I looked forward to how we would spend Valentine’s together.

On that day, he made a special request of me—a gesture that would show my love for him, he said. I was reluctant at first. I didn’t know him all that well, but he had showered me with champagne, chocolates, and a dozen of the most amazing long stem red roses I’d ever seen. I thought it only fair to give him what he wanted, so I allowed him to tie me up.

Not long after, I discovered his true intentions, but it was too late. The more I screamed and begged him to stop, the more I fueled his lust. The cost of love, he said, was not the price of candies and flowers. True love had to be measured by different commodities—commitment, strength, sacrifice. How else could I value him if there was no risk involved?

I told him I wasn’t willing to pay the price for him, but it didn’t matter. He was determined I would learn to enjoy the pain.

I did not. I passed out from it.

By the time I awoke, he was gone, but not before he left his mark. I never saw him again. I assume it was because I failed his test.

You did me a favor, Adam. You forced me to confront the scars of my past. The problem is my scars are real, not just metaphorical. I am, forever, damaged goods.

I have enjoyed every moment with you. I wish it could have ended differently.

With affection,

Brenda

* * * *

 

“How does that feel?”

She sighed, “It feels good, like a feather. I love how gently you touch me.”

I stared at Brenda’s well-formed back as she sprawled on her stomach, naked but for the white sheet that wrapped around one of her calves. Her loose, chestnut hair framed her face, which was turned away from me.

I continued to kiss below her neck and felt the ridges against my lips. She stiffened and then relaxed. I brushed my lips over the raised, carved letter on her back—the letter S.

He had taken his time cutting into Brenda’s flesh, the letter etched from the thorns of the roses he had bought her that Valentine’s Day. The cuts were deep, the design ornate. The pain must have been excruciating.

I closed my eyes to suppress my anger.

“Adam?” Brenda turned to her side and propped her head on her elbow facing me.

“Yes, my love.”

“Thank you for being so persistent, for not giving up on me.” She dropped her gaze and picked at imaginary lint.

I tilted my head and forced her to look at me. “What that monster did to you was not your fault. You didn’t ask for the scar on your back.”

Brenda stared at me with glassy eyes. “It’s been two months since you walked back into my life, and I can’t believe how lucky I am to have you. It’s just that …” Her face, hidden in shadow, turned a deeper shade of pink.

“What?” I asked. “You can tell me anything, you know that.”

She cleared her throat. “Okay … why haven’t you asked me what the S stands for? You must be curious.”

Brenda was right. I was curious. I had almost asked her the first time I saw the well-formed letter. It spanned the entirety of her back from the base of her neck to her tailbone. What once must have been a blood-red scar had now faded to purplish-pink, several shades darker than her skin. Brenda said she could not remember how long he cut into her before she fainted. I suspect she must have struggled for the top half of the S. Parts of it had healed as jagged clutters and bumps, contrasting the smoother curve at the bottom.

My guess was the letter stood for the initial of the man who did this to her. A narcissist—Steve or Sam or some other shitty name. Or maybe it was the symbol of a serpent or something else, who knows? The man was a sadist, a psychopath. Would I even be able to make sense of it if I knew?

“Adam, are you okay?”

Brenda’s voice snapped me out of my thoughts, and just like that, I found my answer. “I know what the S stands for,” I said.

She took a quick breath and her eyes widened. “You do?”

“Yes,” I said, in a confident manner. I cupped her cheeks in my hands. “It stands for … sweetheart … which is what you are to me.”

A look of relief washed over Brenda’s face. It confirmed I had made the right decision. She had never wanted to tell me what the letter stood for, and I, never needed to know. 

Do you have any scars you wish to share? Feel free to leave a comment or question. I’d love to hear from you.

~eden

**

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I Just Want to Be Your Everything ~ A story for @RBwood’s #WordCountPodcast

You can also hear me read this story on: Episode #53 of R.B. Wood’s “The Word Count” podcast.

The prompt asked that we write a story based on:

Celebrity Death, a Fan’s Perspective

Here is a story about a celebrity from my past. I hope you enjoy. 

*  *  *  *

When I was twelve, I stuck his poster on the ceiling above my bed. There was no place for it anywhere else in my room. Pictures of other teen idols already plastered every inch of the walls.

I sent for his poster via mail, no Internet in those days. I remember slipping twenty dollars into the envelope with the order form. I even wrapped construction paper around the bill so it wouldn’t be visible through the envelope. As a member of this musician’s exclusive fan club, I was one of the few given a chance to buy his limited edition poster. That’s how it was sold to me anyway. When I look back, twenty dollars was a lot to spend on something so trivial, but I had wanted it—badly.

The poster took exactly fourteen days to arrive. I remember this because it was the first of February when I mailed away for it. For two weeks, I must have listened to his album a hundred times while kissing his face on the cover even more times than that.

When I came home that Valentine’s Day from school, my mother both informed and chided me. She had a skill for doing that.

“I put some parcels in your room,” she said, as she paused while stir-frying beef and bok choy in the wok. The entire apartment smelled of garlic. “I hope you’re not wasting money on silly things.”

I made a face. “No, Mom. I’m ordering books and records, that’s all.”

I subscribed to both Columbia House Records and Columbia House Books. Membership consisted of paying a penny for a dozen albums and books, followed by a two-year contract to buy more books and albums at regular prices. I can’t remember how many more I had to buy, but it was worth it in the end. I loved getting mail, and Columbia House ensured I received something regularly.

Mom shook her head and returned to her cooking. “Oh … and there was a cardboard tube that came too. Your brother wanted to play with it, so I gave it to him.”

I don’t remember what else she said after that, if anything. I ran to my brother’s room and found the door closed. Unusual, since he didn’t normally close the door.

“Ha, ho, ha, ho, hiiii yah!” Sounds came from inside his bedroom, my brother’s voice.

I swung open the door to see my ten-year brother, clad in an undershirt and shorts, jumping on his bed with the tube.

He stopped in the middle of a kick and stood firm on the bed. Blood rushed to my face when I met his eyes.

“Give me that!” I lunged for him, but he leapt back like a Ninja.

“No!” he said and jerked the tube behind his back. “Mom said I could have it.”

“Mom!” I screamed as loudly as I could. “Jimmy won’t give me back my tube. It’s mine!”

We breathed hard staring at one another while we waited for her answer.

“Work it out,” she said finally, “or I’ll confiscate it.”

I had to get the cylinder out of my brother’s hands before he destroyed what was inside. Even as I fumed, I knew I had to remain calm. Jimmy jumped off the bed with the three-foot tube in hand.

“Who are you supposed to be anyway?” I asked.

“Fu Sheng,” he said, rubbing his nose as he offered a disdainful snort.

Fu Sheng was my brother’s hero—a martial arts film star.

“I see.” I slanted my head and squinted at him. “I don’t think Fu Sheng ever used a sword.”

“I don’t care,” he said. He eyed me with defiance and a firm grip on the makeshift weapon.

I took a deep breath as I envisioned grabbing the tube from him and whacking him on the head with it. I didn’t do it though, knowing the consequences would not be worth it. Instead, I had to do some heavy bargaining. My brother, to this day, is a steely negotiator, and he doesn’t compromise.

By the time I left his room with the poster, he had the tube, half my weekly allowance, and my word to do his share of the dishes for the remainder of the month.

It didn’t matter though. All was forgotten once I was inside my room. I knelt down and placed the poster on the floor. Two hardcover books secured the top corners as I gingerly unrolled the paper toward me. Made of shiny silver foil, I knew this would be my most prized poster yet. Etched into the surface was a black outline of my teen idol.

In black marker, he wrote “To my biggest fan. With love.” He signed his name in an illegible scrawl. My heart thumped. Though no colour reflected in the mirror-like surface of the poster, I knew I was blushing.

* * *

Ten years later, my teenage crush, Andy Gibb, died at the age of thirty. He was a talented musician and songwriter whose debut album, Flowing Rivers, spawned two number one hits:  “I Just Want to Be Your Everything” and “(Love Is) Thicker Than Water.”

Andy was the youngest of the Gibb brothers, better known as the Bee Gees.

I don’t know what became of that poster of Andy Gibb, but for as long as I was in that room until I moved away for University, he had a place on the ceiling above my bed and in my heart.

Do you remember a celebrity death that affected you? Feel free to leave a comment or question.

Thank you so much for reading.

~eden

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GRANDFATHER KNOWS BEST ~ My story for @RBwood’s Word Count Podcast #Halloween

You can also hear me read this story on: Episode #51 (Halloween edition) of R.B. Wood’s “The Word Count” podcast.

The prompt asked that we write a ghost story.

*  *  *  *

Katy called me a week before Halloween and asked if she could come by to treat or treat in our neighborhood. She had not set foot in our home for over a year. She had also not spoken to her father in just as long. Their once happy daddy-daughter relationship ended that previous Halloween night. Her phone call surprised me and gave me hope that reconciliation might be possible. She must have heard the concern in my voice.

“You know your father will be here, Katy. I wish the two of you would—”

“Mom,” she said, “I don’t want to talk about Dad. I know he’ll be there, but I’m coming to see you. Jacob misses you.”

I sighed at the mention of our four-year-old grandson, whom Bill had not seen in over a year because Katy forbade it. She was angry with him, and I guess she had every right to be. I had visited our daughter but chose to keep it a secret from my husband. It would have only rubbed salt in the wound for him to know what he was missing. Unfortunately, a slip in the bathtub threw out my back. I hobbled around the house, unable to do much let alone drive the two hours to visit Katy and Jacob. Maybe that was why she wanted to make the trip.

After I hung up the phone, I wondered if I had made the right decision, but what could I do? My husband was tortured over what had happened, but I had to believe that a visit from his daughter and grandson would somehow heal the hurt. Because Katy initiated it, perhaps she was ready to forgive him.

~~~

When I told Bill about Katy coming over with Jacob, he did not say a word. I thought it meant he might make himself scarce during their visit or he would choose to leave the house altogether. I really did not know how he would react. I suppose I didn’t expect him to stay, but he did. The awkward reunion with him and our daughter was short-lived. Jacob broke the ice by running into Bill’s arms when he kneeled down to greet him.

“Grandpa!” he screamed.

Bill’s eyes welled with tears as he picked up the small boy and hugged him tightly. Jacob squirmed and giggled, brushed his small hands over his grandfather’s mess of silver hair. When Bill loosened his grip, Jacob stared into his eyes, “Grandpa, why are you crying?”

“I’m just so happy to see you.” Bill’s voice cracked. “You are such a big, handsome boy now.”

“And you have a white beard!” Jacob said, running his hands over Bill’s face.

Katy stepped forward and scooped her son out of his grandfather’s arms. “Now, now,” she said, “make sure you say hello to Grandma too.”

As I hugged and kissed Jacob, half my attention fell upon the other two people in the room. Father and daughter exchanged cool words, but the greeting was civil. Katy may not have been ready to forgive yet, but my heart beat quickly at the possibility that things could only get better. At least they were talking.

That afternoon, I made a special meal for Halloween before darkness set in, things I knew a little boy would love—severed finger hotdogs and bloodshot eyeball cookies. Jacob squealed at the sight of the chocolate Halloween brownies shaped like mice. I used strands of licorice for the tails and almond slivers for the ears. Red candy pieces made up the eyes. “I love these, Grandma!” He grabbed two mice, one in each hand.

“Jacob!” Katy said with feigned exasperation. “Take one at a time please. You can’t fit both of them in your mouth, sweetheart.”

Jacob offered a tiny smile. “They’re not both for me, Mama. One is for Tyler. I want him to have a chocolate mouse too.”

I gasped at the mention of Tyler, a name neither Bill nor I had spoken since he died a year ago—in our home. Though the accusation was never made, I knew Katy blamed her father for Tyler’s death. I suppose I did too. Tyler was born less than five minutes after Jacob; they were identical twins. The baby gate Bill had secured at the top of the basement stairs had somehow come undone. Tyler fell down the wooden flight of steps. Bill was the only one with them at the time. When he yelled Jacob’s name, Katy and I had rushed into the room. Jacob would surely have fallen down the stairs too if Bill had not grabbed him.

I saw my daughter’s eyes widen as she pulled her son close to her. “Jacob, what … what are you saying? Tyler is gone.”

“No, he’s not Mama.” Jacob’s high-pitched voice suddenly took on a deeper tone. “He’s here. He’s talking to me.”

I could tell Katy was trying to maintain calm even as she stuttered to find the right words. “Sweetheart …,” she said to her son, “Tyler is not here. It’s not possible—”

“Yes it is! Yes it is!” Jacob stomped his feet and threw his chocolate brownies on the floor. His angelic nature of minutes ago took a quick turn.

I looked to my daughter who stared back at me with her mouth open. She lifted her shoulders and turned up her palms in disbelief. No matter how much Katy tried to cajole her son, he kept talking to his little brother.

“Tyler. I’m sorry,” he said. “Come back, please come back …”

Katy shook her son by the shoulders. “Jacob … it’s okay, everything will be okay.”

But Jacob was not listening to her. “I’m sorry, Tyler,” he said, “I’m sorry I opened the gate and pushed you down the stairs … Come back … please come back.”

As Jacob sobbed, his words sucked the oxygen out of the air. I looked to my husband whose face turned white with an expression I had never seen. Was it dread, or was it relief that a secret he had kept to protect his grandson was now revealed by a ghost?

 

Thank you for reading.

Feel free to leave a comment or question. Feedback, whether good or bad is always welcome.

If you want to learn of upcoming releases and specials, please sign up for my newsletter.

~eden

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50 and SINGLE ~ My story for @RBwood’s 50th episode of the Word Count Podcast

50 and single

You can also hear me read this story on: Episode #50 of R.B. Wood’s “The Word Count” podcast.

This milestone episode asked that we use the word FIFTY in our story and provide a photo with FIFTY in the image. The above was mine … a tongue-in-cheek snapshot of being 50 and single.

Hope you enjoy the story! 

* * * *

The year I turned fifty saw me single again after I buried my husband. Thomas had been sick for some time. Still, when he died … I almost expected the heavens to open up or trumpets to play, but nothing happened. There was no fanfare. It was like any other day, only the world was now less one wealthy, abusive man.

I sat with a tissue in hand at my doctor’s office, my first visit since Thomas’s funeral.

“It’s natural to want to withdraw, Kadin,” Dr. Bill Wood said to me. “You were married for over ten years. That’s a long time to be with someone.”

I dabbed my cheeks while sniffling, took a breath. “Thomas was not in good health … still … sixty-five is too young to die.” Dr. Wood looked at me with sad eyes and a thin-lipped smile. He pitied me, but that was okay. I wanted him to pity me.

“It’s not going to be easy,” he said. “You may feel lost for the next little while, but please don’t let this set you back. You’ve come so far, Kadin.”

I nodded slowly, curled in my lips to stifle a whimper. The truth was I wasn’t lost, but my shrink didn’t need to know that. If anything, I was relieved. Dr. Wood was partially right though. Losing Thomas was like losing a limb, only not my limb. Thomas’s death had freed me from his hands around my neck—a fear that used to wake me up at nights gasping from a tightening in my throat. Now, I was able to breathe again.

At the insistence of my good friend, Cameron, I had started seeing Dr. Wood a year ago for my anxiety. It was the best thing I ever did. It gave me somewhere to go every Tuesday and Thursday morning. After only our second meeting, Dr. Wood wrote me a prescription for anti-depressants, which I promptly filled. Eventually, our twice-weekly routine helped put my life in perspective. It gave me a purpose.

Within six months of seeing the good doctor, I had a drawer full of pill bottles. He had changed the prescription several times at my urging, each time increasing the strength of the dose. He even combined a couple of different meds—Celexa, Prozac, Zoloft, Wellbutrin. I had them all, but I needed something else. I complained of side effects like nausea and loss of concentration. He tried hard to get me the right combination of meds, but remained perplexed that I wasn’t getting better. What clinched it was when I told him my husband did not like my decreasing sex drive from the drugs. That’s when he prescribed Sinequan.

“I’m very surprised you’re doing so well on this new medication, Kadin. I hardly ever prescribe Sinequan anymore,” he had said.

“Oh, why is that?” I had infused an innocent lilt into my voice, something I did often when I spoke to him.

“It’s one of the oldest anti-depressants,” he said in his usual professorial tone. “It has more side effects than the newer ones, but you seem to be faring well with it. No heart palpitations or dizziness?”

“None, whatsoever, doctor. I feel better than I have in a long time.”

That was three months ago when Thomas was still alive.

How time flies.

You see, I know a few things about drugs, but I never spoke about it to Dr. Wood. Sinequan, which he prescribed, is not recommended for someone with a heart problem. I didn’t have a heart problem, but I also never took it. Actually, I never took any of the drugs he prescribed, but I filled them because I wanted him to keep renewing my prescription.

In meeting Dr. Wood, I found the perfect solution to relieve the source of my anxiety.

Poor Thomas, born with a heart murmur, which in itself wasn’t dangerous, but he did have an underlying heart problem, which he neglected. Stress from his business, a bad diet, and lack of exercise made him a walking heart attack. Only … knowing how stubborn a man he was, he could’ve easily been walking another ten, maybe twenty years. I couldn’t wait for that, but I could wait for a year under the guise of needing therapy. I could wait for Thomas to ingest the pills I crushed and fed into his meals, and I definitely could wait when I saw the effects of the drugs working on him.

I was turning fifty. It was time for me to start the second half of my life, and I really didn’t want Thomas as my husband anymore.

Luckily for me, the drugs helped.

😉 If you have read my book, Stranger at Sunset with Dr. Kate Hampton, then the above story may have a twisted and familiar feel to it. 😉

As I work on A Fragile Truce, the next book with the good doctor, I’d recommend you take a moment and add your name to my mailing listI’ll be offering specials and freebies targeted to those on the list.

As always, my sincere thanks for reading, and comments and feedback are always welcome.

eden

xox

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DOWN ON LUCK ~ My story for @RBwood’s Word Count Podcast

You can also hear me read this story on: Episode #48 of R.B. Wood’s “The Word Count” podcast.

The prompt asked that we use THREE words in our stories: 

Train | Blink | Dark

*  *  *  *

I walked into the subway station en route to an Economics class. It was the final year of my undergraduate program, and I was barely scraping by in the course. With ticket in hand, I approached the subway booth. It was empty. I looked around, no one directly behind me. Without a further moment’s hesitation, I made a motion of dropping the ticket into the holder but held on to it, pushed through the turnstile, and quickened my pace. I half-expected someone to yell after me but heard only the pounding of my runners down the steps. It was such a silly thing. I got away without paying a measly fare. Things like that never happened to me, but for some reason, my mother’s voice echoed inside my head.

“Today’s your lucky day,” I heard her say.

I knew luck had nothing to do with it. The clerk had probably gone for a coffee or stepped out for a pee break. Despite it, my mother’s words bounced around in my head. Like most Chinese women of her generation, superstition often disguised itself as wise sayings, which then translated to proverbial truths. If my mother had her way, she’d be forcing me to buy a lottery ticket—as if getting away without paying should be rewarded with more money. The logic never made much sense to me.

While waiting for the train, a large, disheveled woman walked by me reeking of urine. She appeared disoriented and unsteady on her feet. I held a finger under my nose and stepped away from her. As she staggered away, I inched to the edge of the platform and peered into the dark tunnel. It was two in the afternoon, and I knew the subway was not running per its rush hour schedule. A tiny light inside hinted at a train about two stops away, but it wasn’t moving. I glanced at my watch and cursed under my breath. If I didn’t board that train soon, I’d be late for class—again.

As I was about to step back, a disturbance arose several feet beside me. I turned and saw a man in his twenties leap onto the track. Bystanders on the platform screamed in horror. I was shocked to think that someone so young might want to die this way, and then I quickly realized my mistake. The man had jumped in to help the smelly woman who had just passed me. She had fallen and appeared unconscious, sprawled face down on the tracks. Indeed, she was dead weight as the man tried to raise her. The commotion attracted more people. A group of teenage girls ran by me, filming the incident on their cell phones. Several people on the platform knelt to help the rescuer below. Others yelled suggestions to him for how to lift the woman, but no one else was jumping in. After several unsuccessful tries, the young man hoisted the woman to her feet until several passengers grabbed her. One man almost fell in trying to help. While the commuters struggled to pull her up, I heard the distant rumble of a train.

With the woman now out of harm’s way, the man in the tracks spun around toward the sound and the light in the tunnel.

The cell phone teenagers screamed the obvious, “The train’s coming!”

Squealing wheels pierced through the mayhem. I met the eyes of the Good Samaritan, dared not blink. In the next second, he flung himself toward the platform like an epileptic high jumper. Despite his ungraceful move, a burly man snatched him by the collar and one of his sleeves. Another grabbed his dangling legs and pulled him in. All three fell backward onto the platform as the train screeched to a halt just a few feet from where the man was seconds ago.

I stayed behind after the incident and stood near the young hero. He looked a bit shaken and scruffy, but overall, seemed fine. He smiled at commuters who patted him on the back or wanted to shake his hand. Two attendants from Emergency Medical Services came with a stretcher and carried the injured woman away. Someone in the crowd said they had seen her before, a homeless person who sometimes came into the subway begging for money. I imagined she had gotten in for free just like me, and she almost died because of it.

Later that evening, I spoke to my mother about the subway incident. We rarely got into intellectual debates, but somehow the experience touched me in a way I could not explain. How did a tiny piece of good luck for me end up being so bad?

“Not bad luck,” my mother said in her heavy Chinese accent. “It is all good luck.”

“How can you say that?” I asked. “It was horrible even though nobody died.”

“This is what I mean,” she said. “Both people are still alive. Both could have been electrocuted or run over by the train, but they were not. You brought them good luck by being there.”

I sighed heavily and let silence seal the conversation.

Feel free to leave a comment or question. Feedback, whether good or bad is always welcome.

My latest novella, A Snake in Paradise is available on Amazon.com only. If you are not in the USA, leave a comment below if you wish to read and review the book.

To make sure you don’t miss any new releases and specials, please sign up for my infrequent non-spammy newsletter.

Thank you so much for reading.

~eden

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Morning Ritual ~ My story for @RBwood’s Word Count Podcast

You can also hear me read this story on: Episode #47 of R.B. Wood’s “The Word Count” podcast.

The prompt asked that we use THREE words in our stories: 

Theater | Tourist | Savory

*  *  *  *

As a tourist, I love people watching because people represent the pulse of a city for me. Nowhere is this more evident than in a busy New York City coffee house. It’s like watching a play on stage while packed into a tiny theatre. The intimacy helps create stories in my head.

That’s how I feel about my discovery of a Parisian café in the middle of Manhattan, the only restaurant in the city that thrives on its stubborn cash-only policy. Everything from the red brick interior to the wooden counters and furniture harks back to another era. What the small room lacks in modern touches, it makes up for in old world charm.

I’m here to research a one-act play I’m producing as part of my thesis in Theatre History. Everyday, the setting is provided, but the cast is different, the script is different. My role as an unobtrusive onlooker is to capture the nuances.

For the morning hours when I come to write, few things remain the same from one day to the next. The staff must work shifts, as I never see the same servers more than twice. The customers range from harried businessmen to sweaty joggers to women with newborns strapped to their chests. Students en route to early morning classes order coffee and pastry to go. Others sit leisurely with a laptop at one of the small French-style tables. The carousel of patrons and the continuous ring of an old fashioned cash register keep the noise at a high but bearable level.

For almost a week, I record the subtle changes in this micro-environment. Everything changes, that is, except for him—the man at the corner table with a thinning head of silver hair. I observe him as I line up to put in my order. He is always there by the time I arrive at seven, as much a fixture of the café as the rickety wooden chairs and the Parisian pencil sketches on the walls. He sits alone staring out the window, yet he must be waiting for someone. Why else would he have two cups of coffee and two plates in front of him? On each plate rests a croissant. I have watched him tear into one and finish it, but the second cup of coffee and the other croissant always remain untouched during the time that I’m there.

I begin making up stories about him. He probably orders two pastries because he likes them. Maybe he takes one home if he can’t finish it. But why two cups of coffee? I never see anyone join him. And who would want to drink a cold cup of coffee anyway?

With six people in line ahead of me, the place feels busier today than usual. The tension rises behind the counter as one of the baristas yells in French that he needs more whipping cream. I look over my shoulder and count five people behind me. Several more come through the door. It’s not even seven thirty yet. The line moves quickly though, for which I’m thankful.

Today is my last chance to record my final impressions. I leave the city tonight. The first few days I soaked in my surroundings but didn’t pay too much attention to details. It’s always that way when I arrive somewhere new. Funny how time flies.

When I get to the front of the line, I order coffee with a brioche, a cake-like bread that is both savory and sweet. After paying for my order, I thread myself through the crowded room in search of a seat but find none. I stand in place and do a slow 360 to see if anyone is ready to leave; there is no sign of it. After someone jostles my coffee, I know I must step away from the aisle. There is only one empty chair in the café. I walk over to the corner table. The old man is staring out the window with his coffee cup in hand, a half eaten croissant in front of him, and the other cup of coffee cooling beside an untouched crescent-shaped pastry.

I bend forward at the waist, throwing my voice in the direction of the old man. I need to get his attention above the clang of the restaurant noise.

“Excuse me, sir.” I put on my friendliest smile when he turns to me. “May I sit here? This is the only seat available.”

He sets down his cup on the saucer, looks around the crowded room as if searching for someone or confirming that it is indeed full. In that stuttered moment, I expect him to say, “Sorry, the seat is taken.” I’m ready to blurt out that I’ve been observing him all week, that I know that no one is joining him. How dare he hog up two seats! I’m prepared for a confrontation if need be. Before my ire increases, the man moves the plates on the table and gestures to the empty chair.

“Please,” he says, “sit down.”

I breathe a big sigh and set down my coffee on the table, pull off my shoulder bag and drop it to the floor. There is no room for anything else on the table, so I slide into the chair with my brioche on my lap. “So busy here today,” I say, flushed with relief.

“Saturdays are always like this.” The man’s voice is calm despite the chaos and noise around him.

“Thanks for sharing your table. Hopefully someone leaves soon.”

“Not a problem,” he says.

I feel a bit awkward sitting with a stranger in silence. It compels me to make small talk. “I love New York. I wish I didn’t have to leave.”

“Oh?” He cocks his head. “Where are you from?”

I take a sip of my coffee. “Canada. Montreal to be exact.”

“I’ve been there, a very special city for me.” He picks up his croissant and takes a bite.

I nod, expect him to elaborate when he finishes chewing, but he doesn’t. If I have to guess, I would say he is a man in his eighties. A white shirt and tie peek out from under a light brown jacket. The morning sun casts a warm glow on his lined face, but he doesn’t appear bothered by the heat. Though his body language does not convey that he is unapproachable, there is nothing about it that says he welcomes conversation either. He’s old enough to be my grandfather, and I suddenly feel like I’m intruding on a morning ritual. I remain silent and finish my coffee. There is still a crowd inside the café, but two tables over, I see a student packing up his books in his knapsack. I make eye contact with him that I want his seat, and he acknowledges.

Before I get up, I ask the man in front of me, “May I buy you another cup of coffee? I’m sure your second one here is cold by now.”

He is silent for a moment, as if recalling a memory, and then his eyes glisten. “That’s very kind of you,” he says, “but I only drink one cup a day. That one is for my wife, and she doesn’t mind it cold.”

I force a smile. “Of course,” I manage to say, quick enough to cover up that I suspect there is no wife, not one I have seen, anyway. “Thank you for sharing your table with me.”

He nods as I get up to leave and slowly turns back to stare out the window.

* * *

A month after returning home from my trip, I’m reading an online version of the New York Times when a familiar face catches my attention. The headline reads: Property Mogul and Holocaust Survivor Dies at 92. My eyes widen at the picture of the old man from the coffee shop, and then tears blur my vision as I read the story.

Respected property owner, Jacob Klein, passed away peacefully in his home this past weekend. Many knew him as the proprietor of the hugely successful Café de Paris in Midtown Manhattan, opened in 1955.

Mr. Klein was liberated from Dachau, the concentration camp near Munich. He moved to the U.S. after first settling in Paris where he trained as a pastry chef. Upon arriving in New York, he met his wife, Michelle Dumas, a French Canadian from Montreal. They had five children.

Described by employees and friends as a quiet man of extreme humility, Mr. Klein was seen with his wife for years at Café de Paris sharing breakfast until she passed away in 2010.

His three sons and two daughters have taken over their father’s businesses. Says his oldest son, David: “Even after Mom died, Dad continued to have breakfast with her at the coffee shop. At first, we thought he had lost his mind, but he said it was the only thing that made it worth his while to get up in the morning, something he did every day until he died.”

Feel free to leave a comment or question. Feedback, whether good or bad is always welcome.

My latest novella, A Snake in Paradise is available on Amazon.com only. If you are not in the USA, leave a comment below if you wish to read and review the book.

To make sure you don’t miss any new releases and specials, please sign up for my infrequent non-spammy newsletter.

Thank you so much for reading.

~eden

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THE WRONG SHOES ~ A story written with Bill Kirton (@carver22) for @RBwood’s Word Count Podcast

I’ve always written a story on my own for RB Wood’s podcast, but this time, I collaborated with Scottish writer, Bill Kirton, also a Word Count podcast regular. Last year, Bill suggested we join forces for a story, and since I adore him and his writing, it wasn’t a question of whether we would do it or not, just a matter of when. 

We decided to team up for the first Word Count episode of 2015 and dedicate it to RB, who celebrated his milestone 50th birthday at the end of December. Happy Birthday, Richard, many many more! 

The story was written in four parts, with Bill and me each writing two sections. Bill penned a wonderful post about the process on his blog, so hop over and read it. It’s a great summary of what we did in case you want to collaborate on a project with another writer.

You can hear Bill and me read “The Wrong Shoes” on: Episode #45 of R.B. Wood’s “The Word Count” podcast.

The prompt for this podcast was to use these three words in the story: Frozen. Whisky. Time.

me and bill for wcpc

flourish

The playground of the elementary school, which Jackie crossed on her way to the bus stop, or to anywhere for that matter, had turned into an ice rink. Normally a carpet of grass, it quickly froze after the temperature dropped to minus twenty following a night of freezing rain. The grounds had become a dangerous place for unsuspecting pedestrians.

It was the weekend, and she was at her local until closing time. She’d had one too many, as was her habit most Saturday nights. Leaving the bar, she had to walk across the schoolyard to get to her apartment building. She’d done the trip a thousand times, even when drunk, and made it home without any problems, but that night … she fell. The advantage of having had too much to drink was she fell limp and boneless, like a rag doll. There was no resistance, which meant no broken bones anyway. She was lucky in that sense. Instead, she had stumbled and dropped face down on the frozen ground.

When she came to, she heard voices and an instinct warned her to keep quiet. She smelled cigarette smoke and soon murmurs formed hushed words. The voices were male, with at least three of them from what she could tell as the conversation ping-ponged above her.

“Darren, how about we take her to your place? No one will see us there.”

“Are you crazy? I may live in the basement, but my mom would kill me! She hears everything.”

“Steve, you still have access to that empty warehouse on Merton Street?”

Jackie’s entire body heated up beneath her goose-down coat. Even her face, painfully pressed against the ice, turned fire-poker hot.

She was in big trouble.

***

They say fear or trauma sobers you up quite quickly. They’re wrong. Her mind was still cloudy, slow. Even as she’d downed that last whisky, a double, she knew she was already way over any sensible limits. It wasn’t just her words she was slurring, it was her thoughts, too. So she lay there, trying to clear her head, trying to understand the plans being made by the voices.

“How the hell are we going to get her to Merton Street?”

“Carry her. Drag her. She’s pissed.”

“So what?”

“Well, Saturday night, innit? Everybody’s pissed, staggering about. We’ll just look like all the rest.”

The one called Steve wasn’t convinced.

“It’s too far. She might come round. Start screaming. How about the school? Maybe we could find a door open round the back, a window.”

Silence. Then “Yeah, Okay,” and other muffled sounds of agreement.

As two of them grabbed her arms and hoisted her to her feet, she knew she had to do something. In the school, even if they were stupid enough to let her scream, no-one would hear. Somehow, she had to stay where there might be others around, people who might hear her, save her. She shook her head and forced out a laugh.

“Aw thanks, guys,” she said. “I was bloody freezing down there.”

It silenced them, gave her a tiny advantage. She stammered on, her mind racing.

“I need to be in my bed. Cuddled up. Warm. Don’t suppose you could help me home, could you? It’s not far.”

She saw them looking at one another, uncertain. But smiles were creeping into two of the three faces. She nodded her head vaguely in the direction of her apartment building.

“Other side of the school,” she said. “Just there. Ground floor.”

The one on her right said “Anybody there to look after you?”

The cold was helping to clear her head.

“No,” she said. “Just me.”

“Bingo,” he said, and they set off through the darkness of the slippery playground.

***

Steve hated this. He didn’t want to be here. He had only suggested using the school with the hope they wouldn’t be able to get in, that the cold would eventually deter them, and they’d leave the girl alone. He wanted no part in what his friends had in mind. It turned his stomach to even hear them chat her up, trying to make her feel at ease, no doubt.

“Good thing we came along,” Darren said, his arm around her waist. His six-foot-two frame towered over her. “We’ll take care of you, honey, don’t you worry.”

“Oh yeah,” snorted Kenny, supporting her on the other side. “We’re your knights in shining armour!” He turned to look behind him. “Hey, Steve, keep up, will ya? We’re all gonna get nice and warm real soon.”

Steve bowed his head so he didn’t have to meet Kenny’s eyes. “Yeah … I’m coming …”

It was then he noticed the girl’s shoes. Even while propped up by Darren and Kenny, she teetered along like a child wearing ice skates for the first time. No wonder she fell. She wore the wrong type of shoes for this weather—the heel much too high, the material too thin. There was no support at all. His younger sister had the exact same pair. She had also fallen, fractured her wrist. For the past week, she’d cried with the pain, night after night. Kept Steve awake, hearing those sobs from her room. Made her sound so … lonely. And now here was another lonely, silly woman, out getting pissed all on her own, nobody waiting for her at home. He speeded up, overtook the others and turned to face them.

“Listen guys, we can’t.”

“What?” said Kenny.

“Her,” said Steve. “We can’t.”

“Why not? Look at the state of her.”

“That’s what I mean,” said Steve. “She’s pissed. It’d be like shagging a side of beef.”

“Cheeky bugger,” Jackie said. “You gay or something?”

Her voice was loud, penetrating, and coarse. Kenny hoisted her higher against him. The sudden pressure must have brought on a wave of nausea because she gagged and threw up on the path. Darren and Kenny let go of her and stepped away. She staggered but managed to stay upright.

“See?” said Steve. “D’you want to go home stinking of that? What d’you think your mom would say then, Darren?”

“Hey, gay boy, listen up,” said Jackie, sounding as if there might be more where that just came from. “Nothing wrong with me. I bet you’re talking about that HIV test. Am I right?”

Steve just looked at her.

“Am I right?” she said again, louder, almost aggressive. But, as she spoke, he saw something else in her eyes. Not aggression: a stare, fear, a plea for help.

“You are, aren’t you,” she said. “Bloody Angela’s been tweeting it. Well, she’s lying. It was negative. Right? The test. Negative.”

“What’s she on about?” said Darren, staying well clear of her.

She turned to him.

“Chlamydia, that’s all it was. Bloody Chlamydia.”

“See what I mean, guys,” said Steve. “We can’t.”

Darren and Kenny looked at each other, then back at Jackie. Darren spat on the ground.

“Slag,” he said, and started walking back the way they’d come. Kenny reached out a hand, grabbed her breast, squeezed hard then turned away to follow his friend.

Jackie watched Kenny and Darren disappear into the darkness. She pulled her jacket more tightly around her chest, wincing as her fingers touched against her breast. She turned back and looked at Steve. The fear was still there and tears were beginning to form.

“Thanks,” she said, her fingers gently probing her bruised flesh. “I … I don’t know what to say.”

Steve shook his head and said, “Buy some decent shoes.”

flourish

Thank you for reading and/or listening. Feel free to leave a comment or question. Feedback, whether good or bad is always welcome.

~eden

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Filed under Short Stories & Poetry, Writing Joint Ventures