AN ADMIRER

 

 

Margaret was startled when a sudden breeze from an open window flitted a sheet of white paper across the floor to where she stood at the sink rinsing a tea cup and saucer

“Whatever can that be!” she exclaimed as she bent to pick it up. She prided herself on her neatness and it was unusual to see paper blowing around on the floor. The note paper was not at all familiar. She turned it over and her mouth fell open in amazement as she read the message, scrawled in bold, masculine strokes.

My beloved Margaret, she read. Words cannot express what I feel for you in my heart. I dream of telling you of my love but I am afraid you would only laugh at me. Seeing you every day isn’t enough. It only makes me want to hold you in my arms all the more. When you smile at me, my world lights up. If I only knew that you would return my love, my happiness would be complete. Then I would dare to hope!

It was unsigned.

“Nonsense,” Margaret said to herself. “No one would write a letter like this to me. Still, it has my name on it. If it wasn’t meant for me, how did it get in my apartment?”

She went to the window, opened it, and checked the screen. It was secure so the note couldn’t have blown in. She looked around and thought for a moment. It could only have been slipped in under the door.

She read it again. “My Beloved Margaret—” What a lovely sound! She went into the bedroom and looked at her reflection in the mirror. Could someone really think she was attractive? She studied herself critically. It had been a long time since she had particularly cared how she looked. She had been considered quite pretty once, but after teaching high school French for twenty-five years, she now looked a little tired—and a little old.

Even so, her complexion was still quite good, and her eyes were clear and bright. She wondered if she might not wear her hair a little too severe. She took out the pins and let it fall about her shoulders. She’d never noticed before, but she did look years younger.

Still, a fifty-year-old woman couldn’t let her hair hang down around her shoulders.

How would I look with a new short cut and perhaps a permanent wave? she wondered.

“Nonsense!” she told herself, but she caught herself humming happily as she dressed for bed.

She slept with the letter under her pillow and dreamed wild, romantic dreams. The next morning, she read it again before she left for school. Then she folded it carefully, put it in the corner of her purse, and tucked the purse firmly under her arm.

Perhaps today, I’ll find out who wrote it, she thought, humming as she waited for the elevator. I hope it’s someone I like.

She felt younger, for some reason and even almost pretty. She’d worn her brightest and most becoming dress and had experimented with her hair until the style looked softer. As a final touch, she had applied her lipstick carefully and added a little pencil to her brows.

She smiled at the man who opened the elevator door for her, hoping the note wasn’t from him because he was so dull. She would be nice to him. After all, if he did write the note, she wouldn’t want to hurt his feelings.

She studied each of the men at school, hoping secretly for a move or a glance—anything that would give her a hint. One by one, she crossed them from her list. It couldn’t have been M. Volmer, the principal. He was married. Or Mr. Nelson or Mr. Woods. They were too young. That left Mr. Jones and Mr. Garfield. She couldn’t imagine Mr. Jones, the staid, somber biology teacher writing such a note, but Mr. Garfield was a possibility. She was exceptionally nice to him that day,

She left school as soon as her last class was over and went straight to the beauty shop down the street.

“I want a new hair-do,” she announced. It had been a long time since her hair had been short. She even let them talk her into one of the new rinses. When the beauty operator handed her the mirror, she was amazed. Could the attractive woman she saw there really be her?

The next morning, everyone told her how wonderful she looked, and that afternoon, she bought a new dress and experimented with lipsticks.

For the first time in years, Margaret was enjoying herself. She was happy. Her smile was brighter than anyone had ever seen it and everyone with whom she came in contact was happy with her. Though they must have wondered at the reason for the change in her, they were discreet enough not to mention it to Margaret. The answer was simple—she had an admirer.

Even her French pupils showed more interest in their work as she began telling them stories about the France she had seen and enjoyed on her visits there.

Mr. Garfield now stopped by her room often—mostly to talk; although he sometimes asked her advice about a difficult student.

In the meantime, Mr. Volmer invited her to his home for dinner. She went to the theater with the other teachers, flirted with the desk clerk, the elevator man and Mr. Garfield, and admitted to herself that she was, as her pupils would say, “having a ball.”

Then, exactly six weeks after she had found the note, her bubble burst.

She had just gotten home from school and was struggling with an armload of books and her key, trying to unlock her apartment door, when a young man in a delivery uniform, carrying a long florist’s box, walked slowly down the hall and timidly approached her.

When she saw the box, her heart fluttered expectantly.

“Pardon me, ma’am,” he said. “Is this the apartment Margaret Brown lives in?”

“Why no,” she told him. “She lives in the one directly below—in 705.”

As he disappeared into the elevator, she stood staring after him, stunned by the realization that had dawned on her. She went into her room, put down her books, and dropped into a chair without even removing her hat.

She sat there for a long, long time.

It had grown dark when she finally rose, turned on the lights and flung her hat onto the bed.

She turned to her reflection in the mirror.

“You ought to be ashamed of yourself; acting like a stupid school girl!” she said.

Then a strange thing happened. As she looked, it seemed almost as if her new self had come face to face with the old.

Can one really change so much in six short weeks?” she wondered.

If she had acted like a fool before, wasn’t she acting like a worse one now? Why, she’d had more fun these past few weeks than she’d had in years!

She made her decision and to emphasize it, she picked up her lipstick and retraced her lips bold and bright.

The next day she met Mr. Sheldon.

Kansas City Star Magazine: 1979

Sunshine Magazine              1964

Woman’s World                    2003

 


A KITTY KAT STORY

 

            Kitty Kat leaped onto her favorite tree stump and sat down facing the path, her paws folded.  It would be interesting to see who—or what—might pass her way today.

            She had, long ago, formed the habit of passing her mornings here.  Regardless of the season, it was the most pleasant spot she knew.  The sun filtered through the trees just right to warm her in the winter months and provide a cooling shade in summer.

            From her vantage point on the stump, she saw many interesting things—very interesting, indeed.

            The black and gold and white of her calico coat blended into the surroundings so that it wasn’t often that anyone, animal or human, noticed her resting there.

            If she should attract a visitor, she could either stay and talk, or slip quietly off the stump and disappear into the underbrush.  Or, in the event of extreme danger, scamper up the tree which grew aside the pedestal which had so graciously been provided for her.

            She was seldom seen and when this happened it was most often by someone who had a worrisome problem.

            In this case, she was always happy to help—if she could.

            On this particular morning, Kitty Kat was engrossed in watching three leprechauns rushing about a tree just beyond the path, obviously adding to their store of treasure, when her sharp ears detected the unmistakable sound of a human walking up the path.

            The leprechauns disappeared and Kitty Kat became very, very still.

            Soon, a tall man stepped into view.  He was absolutely the tallest man Kitty Kat had ever seen, but he had a very sad look on his face.

            He was exactly opposite Kitty Kat when he stopped suddenly and looked her way.

            “Well, hello Kat,” he said.

            She calmly returned his gaze but didn’t reply.  She preferred to look her visitors over before becoming too friendly.

            He leaned against a tree beside the path.

            “I wish everything was as peaceful in my world as it apparently is in yours,” he sighed.

            “M r r r r r r ow,” she sympathized.

            “Thank you,” he said.  “Do you mind if I tell you about it?  I really need someone to talk to, you know.”

            She sat up her eyes fixed steadily on him—her best listening pose.

“I didn’t go to the office this morning,” he said.  “I saw this path so I stopped back there on the road and decided to take a walk—to sort things out, so to speak.  You see I have a little girl—”

He stopped talking and swallowed hard.

“What the heck,” he said, a choking sound in his voice.  “This is stupid!  What good can it possibly do to talk to a cat?”

“Why don’t you try and see?” Kitty Kat replied.

He looked surprised.

“You can talk?” he said.

“Cats can do a lot of things humans don’t know about,” she said.  “Like talk and listen and understand.”

“That’s what I need,” he sighed.  “Someone to listen and understand.  My little girl—Angie is her name—is very, very ill.  The doctors told us only yesterday that she will never get well.”

Kitty Kat felt so sorry for him; for once she could think of nothing to say.

“You see, my wife and I have been married for a long, long time and we  prayed and prayed for a baby—and then Angie was born.

She had golden curls and blue eyes and looked for the world like a little angel so we named her Angela.  We worshipped her; she was our life.  But for some reason, though she is almost two years old, she didn’t grow like other babies.  She never learned to walk or talk or to do anything normal babies do.  The doctors were never able to find anything wrong—until yesterday.”

He sobbed.

“They told us she wouldn’t live much longer.”

“You shouldn’t be crying over her yet,” Kitty Kat soothed.  “After all, she is still with you.”

“But she won’t be for long!”

“It must be very difficult for you and your wife,” Kitty Kat said.  “But God did answer your prayer.  He sent you an angel and you’ve had her for two years.  It seems to me that God must have something else—very special—for her to do to be calling her back so soon.”

The man looked thoughtful.

“I suppose you’re right,” he said, a note of acceptance in his voice.  “I hadn’t thought of it that way.  Still, it will be hard to let her go.”

“You and your wife still have each other.  And there are many children, alone in the world, who have a great need to be loved.”

“We must remember that—when Angie is gone.”

“I think you will.”

“Thank you, Kat.  I feel much better—I think I’ll go to the office now.”

He turned to go, then stopped.

“You are a very wise cat,” he said.  “Tell me; is it true that humans are like Gods to cats?”

 “No,” Kitty Kat said, shaking her head.  “We have our own divinity.  Humans, actually, are more like servants.  We do only those things that befit a cat.  If you’ve noticed, our humans do everything for us.”

“How did you come to be so wise?”

“One learns a lot when one lives among humans,” Kitty Kat replied.

 


SUSAN AND GRANVILLE

 

 

Susan and Grandville hadn’t experienced such a storm since they moved to Paradise Village. The snow began before dawn on Christmas Eve and by mid-afternoon iced over roads, topped with a layer of snow, prevented all but the most daring—or the most desperate—from braving the steep hills and winding curves of Paradise Village.

Peace and quiet reigned on Woodland Circle. No one ventured out and the heavy snow muffled the sound of the occasional car passing on Vista Road.

To Susan and Granville Marsh, Paradise Village provided the perfect climate for year-round living. Though much further south than their former home in Indiana, it still afforded a sampling of all four seasons.

“A frolic in the snow was quite a lark when I was a child,” said Susan, watching two gray squirrels scampering through the snow-covered branches of the white birch outside the balcony window.

The polished glass of the sliding doors reflected the twinkling, multicolored lights on the Christmas tree and Granville, in his favorite chair near the fireplace, reading the morning newspaper.

“Values do change,” he said, looking up. “As we grow older, life and limb take precedence over snowy adventures.”

One of the squirrels paused on a limb so near that, had the doors been open, Susan could almost have touched it. She was tempted to step out onto the balcony but if she opened the door, they would flee. They seemed to know they were safe as long as the doors were closed.

When they purchased a hillside lot, early on, they had been so taken by the scenery they hadn’t considered the building problems that might ensue. When completed, the front of the house faced street level while the steep downward slope of the lot placed the back on a level with the treetops. Susan considered her lofty balcony a delightful plus factor. It provided an ideal position from which to observe the wild life which was abundant in the heavily wooded area.

From this vantage point it was as though she were looking into another world. She loved to watch the antics of the squirrels and birds and when the branches were bare, she could see rabbits scampering about and an occasional deer browsing in the ravine below.

“I’m thankful we’re having a white Christmas this year,” she sighed.

“The happiest days of my youth were those on which it rained or snowed,” Granville mused.

“You never told me that before, Granville,” Susan said, turning from the window.

“It’s true,” he nodded. “As a matter of fact, I still feel an excitement—an inner joy—every time it rains or snows.”

“How strange.”

“It would seem so. However, as you recall Susan, I grew up on a farm. Moisture—whether from rain or snow—was important to survival. Sufficient moisture meant we would have good crops and an abundance of fresh peas, beans and corn from the garden to eat, and to can for the months ahead. A good rain during the summer months provided relief from the heat and from the task of watering lawns, gardens and flowerbeds.”

“It must have been unpleasant—having to work outside in all kinds of weather.”

“Ah-h-h!” he exclaimed. “The best part of it was that once the chores were done, I could spend rest of the day inside. Only during inclement weather was I free to do what I really loved to do. I spent hours reading, writing poetry, or experimenting with a story or an essay. I never left my room until someone came to remind me that dinner was ready, or it was time to do the evening chores.”

Susan sat down on the ottoman and patted his hand.

“No question about it Suzy, that is the reason I always feel peaceful and contented on days like this.”

He sat, looking into the fire for a moment, then added, “The other boys were always bored—looking for excuses to get out of the house—but not I. I remember sitting alone in the room I shared with my brother, a book in my hand, looking out the window at the falling snow and thinking: Now this is the life!”

He paused.

“Mother was the only one in the family who understood,” he continued. “She encouraged me to write and did her best to see that I had as much privacy as possible. I always think of her on days like this— Of course, we had to work harder afterward. But it was worth it. The earth was replenished—and so was I.”

“I suppose your aversion to gardening goes back to those early years,” Susan mused.

“I spent too many precious hours tending to growing things when I wanted to be reading or writing—which is why I now prefer leaving gardening to those who enjoy the task.”

“To a city girl like me, grubbing in the soil is pure heaven,” Susan said, smiling.

“Then we’re perfectly matched,” he laughed.

Susan went back to her chair and picked up her needlepoint.

“You and I have been truly blessed, Granville,” she mused. “Our life has been near perfect. I can’t think of many couples our age who are as happy as you and I.”

“We’ve built our lives on solid ground, Suzy. That’s why. You have been all a wife should be; I feel very fortunate to have had you at my side.”

Susan concentrated on her needlepoint.

“There is one thing—” she said at last.

Granville peered at her over his glasses.

“We’ve never had children.”

“That’s always bothered you, hasn’t it?”

“I sometimes wonder if we missed something important,” she admitted.

“I don’t know about you Sue, but I couldn’t be more satisfied with my life.”

She smiled and turned back to her needlepoint. Granville went back to his book. The silence was pleasant—almost as good as the talk.

“Granville, why are so many of the couples here in Paradise Village unhappy?” Susan asked a few minutes later.

Granville looked up from his book.

“It puzzles me that we have so few really contented friends,” she continued. “Some are not just unhappy, they are downright miserable.”

“Perhaps it’s because they’ve spent their entire lives working and have never taken the time to learn how to be happy,” Granville said thoughtfully. “Most of them were so involved with earning a living they postponed happiness for the future—for when they retired. And now they don’t know what to do with themselves. They prepared for retirement financially, but not emotionally.”

“I’d never thought of it like that.”

“Most of them worked at jobs they didn’t like, and when they weren’t working, they were entertained electronically. They seldom communicated with each other, much less their inner self. Then, after they retired, they suddenly have all this leisure time. For the first time in their lives they are thrown together continuously—day in and day out—and many of them discover that they have nothing in common. In fact, some of them act as if they don’t even like each other.”

“That certainly seems to fit Joan and George to a tee,” Susan admitted.

“So I’ve noticed,” Granville nodded.

“Lois and Ralph seem to care for one another—but they’re not happy,” Susan continued. “That also applies to Carol and Bob.”

“Ralph and Bob are having trouble adjusting. They’ll be all right once they find themselves.”

“The Reese’s seem to be well adjusted—and the Fielding’s. It seems as though the ones who have found interests outside the home adjust more rapidly.”

Nodding thoughtfully, Granville turned back to his book.

“Granville, I’m concerned about Marcia,” Susan said a few minutes later.

“Marcia?”

“Yes.  I’m sure you’ve noticed how cheerful she always is—always smiling, always laughing; somehow, it doesn’t seem natural. She’s young, and we expect her to be light-hearted, but I sometimes feel as though she’s putting on an act. I can’t explain why, but I feel uneasy about her.”

“Perhaps she had a disappointing love affair. That might explain why she left New York to live among us old fogies.”

“I wish I knew—”

Granville switched on the lamp beside his chair. Susan smiled. She adored the picture of him—sitting there with his book, his snow-white hair glowing in the lamplight.

“Speaking of singles—” she said.

Granville looked up and raised an eyebrow.

“We were?”

Susan laughed.

“Julia has been much too preoccupied of late. It isn’t like her. I wish I could do something to cheer her up. When she and Margaret stopped in for tea yesterday, she hardly said a word all the time she was here.”

“Margaret seems happy enough.”

“Surprisingly so. For one so much younger than the rest of us, she seems amazingly well adjusted—and contented.

“We all age differently,” Granville said, then added, “Speaking of happy, well adjusted singles, Carl Harmon appears decidedly so.”

“As long as he has a woman on his arm,” Susan laughed. “People make fun of Carl, but I think he’s just sowing the wild oats he should have sown when he was younger. He would probably be miserable if he ever stayed at home for any length of time. Despite that beaming smile of his, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn he’s a very lonely man.”

“You’re very insightful, Suzy. I imagine he’ll catch himself a wife one of these days. He doesn’t intend to be alone for the rest of his life.”

“He’s been courting Patricia but I’m afraid that was doomed for failure from the start. Carl isn’t her type.”

“What is her type?”

“I don’t know, but it isn’t Carl.”

“You’re certainly gossipy today,” Granville teased. “I believe we started out discussing why many older people aren’t happy—have we missed anyone? What about Audrey and Donna?”

“Audrey and Donna are fine. They enjoy each others’ company; I doubt either of them would even consider re-marrying.”

“Well,” Granville said, “since we’ve examined the lives of everyone on The Circle, do you suppose a nice cup of tea might be in order? Or do you want to cover the rest of the village while we’re at it?”

“Sarcasm doesn’t become you, Granville,” Susan laughed. “I’ll put the pot on as soon as I finish this stitch.”

She was pouring hot water into the teapot when the shrill wail of a siren pierced the stillness.

“What can that be?” she exclaimed hurrying to the living room to look out onto the street.

“An accident, perhaps,” Granville said. These hills are treacherous today.”

“It was an ambulance,” she said, returning to the den. “It turned onto Woodland Circle, but I couldn’t tell where it stopped.”

Her brow puckered in a worried frown. A moment later, the ambulance sped past with lights flashing, siren blaring.

“Oh dear, what could have happened?” she said. Returning to the kitchen to pour the tea, she mentally listed those who might have suffered a heart attack.

As slippery as the streets and walks are, someone could have taken a fall, she consoled herself.

“After we’ve had our tea, I’ll call Lois,” she said, pouring cream into Granville’s cup. “She’ll know.”



THE SILENT PHONE 

Peter had promised to call at two o’clock.

Although he always called on Sunday when he was out of town, this day was especially important; they had met a year ago today. and Peter had proposed on this date six months ago.

But Pam was looking forward to his call for still another reason.  She wanted to tell him she was sorry.

Remembering their fight, she cringed.  It was the first real fight they’d ever had.

It all started innocently enough.

“Why don’t we get married now Peter?” she’d asked.  “We don’t have to buy a house right away.  My apartment is roomy enough for the two of us; we can manage!”

“Pam, we agreed to wait until my promotion comes through,” he replied.  “I know it’s taking longer than I expected, but I still think we should wait.”

“But Peter—”

”Don’t you see, Darling?” he pleaded.  “Once I’m sales manager, I won’t be spending as much time out of town and, with my salary increase, we’ll qualify for a loan; we can buy the house.”

They already had it picked out.

She had known better than to argue with him.  If she had learned anything about Peter this past year, it was that he always did everything possible to avoid an argument.  If one started, he usually managed to end it quickly.  But Wednesday night, she’d refused to let up and they’d both wound up saying things they didn’t mean.

“I’m beginning to think you don’t want to get married!” she’d accused him angrily.

That was a silly thing to say.  She knew Peter loved her.  He showed it in a thousand ways.

They made up before he left but a strained feeling had lingered in the air, and she was ashamed that she’d been so unreasonable.

Peter is such a dear; I’m so lucky to have him, she thought as she settled down on the divan with her manicure kit.

The phone would ring any time now and she would tell him she was sorry, then he would apologize for the things he’d said and tell her he loved her and everything would be wonderful again.

As she buffed her nails, she thought back over the past year—the happiest of her life—and of the years ahead.  Although she would rather they get married right away, she would be patient—for Peter’s sake.  He only wanted their marriage to be perfect in every way.  She respected that.

As he said, the promotion should come through at any time.

She looked at her watch and a tiny worry line creased her forehead.  It was half-past two; he should have called by now.

He was probably detained in a business meeting, she consoled herself.

As the hands on her watch crept toward three, she impatiently shoved the manicure kit aside.  Rising from the divan, she stood for a bit, staring out the window, then began wandering aimlessly about the room, fluffing pillows, straightening the magazines on the coffee table and gathering up papers strewn carelessly about.  Picking up the jacket which she had flung over the back of a chair, she hung it in the hall closet, then took her empty tea cup to the kitchen.

Returning to the living room, she sat down on the divan but immediately rose again and began pacing the floor.  It was three-fifteen.

“Why doesn’t he call?” she asked her reflection in the mirror over the table in the foyer.

Picking up a comb, she ran it angrily through her hair.

I’ll bet he’s doing this to teach me a lesson! she thought.

She was instantly contrite.  Peter wasn’t like that.  Still, she couldn’t help feeling a little defensive.  Maybe she had said some harsh words, but so had Peter.  Even when he wasn’t angry, he could be quite blunt.  What made it hurtful was that what he’d said Wednesday night was true.

“You’ll have to be less extravagant,” he’d said.

They were discussing the expenses involved in owning a home.

Perhaps she did spend frivolously at times, but she had lived on a budget most of her life; now that she was earning a good salary, she saw no reason she shouldn’t enjoy it.

“You may think me extravagant,” she’d retorted.  “But I’ve got by for a long time and, if need be, I can get by for a lot longer!”

She wished she hadn’t said that.

“Is that what you want?” Peter exploded.

After their fight, suppose he’d decided they shouldn’t get married!  Suppose that was why he hadn’t called?

At three-thirty, she went to the kitchen, put the kettle to boil. and made herself another cup of tea.

“I do have my share of faults,” she admitted, looking at the clutter about her.

Peter had laughingly told her he loved her in spite of her faults.

I should clean up this mess, she thought while searching vainly for a clean spoon.

Opening the dishwasher, she began loading it with the dirty dishes stacked in the sink.  That done, she set the timer, then tied the garbage bag and placed it by the kitchen door.

“We won’t be able to afford a maid once we’re married,” Peter had once teased, referring to her habit of calling in a maid service when things got out of hand.

She’d laughed it off at the time.

“I guess I do let things get a bit sloppy,” she told herself now, thinking of Peter’s immaculate apartment.  “It isn’t as though I don’t have the time to keep it up; it’s just easier to let someone else do it.”

She’d also been taken aback Wednesday when he accused her of being a flirt.  It was true, but she didn’t mean anything by it and it had never occurred to her that it might offend Peter.

It’s just a silly habit, she thought.

All the same, she decided, it was a habit she needed to break.

As marriage material, maybe I’m not such a bargain after all, she thought wryly.

Suppose Peter was thinking the same thing?

Back in the living room, she glared at the silent phone, willing it to ring.

It was four-fifteen.  She took a sip of tea but it was cold.  As she stared out the window at the crocuses bursting into bloom, tears flowed down her cheeks.  She might as well face it; Peter wasn’t going to call.

Then a horrifying thought crossed her mind.  What if there was an accident!  What if he was lying, broken and bleeding, in a hospital somewhere?  What if he had been killed!

At the thought, her knees grew weak and she sank down on the divan.  She switched on the TV.  No news.  Turning to the radio, she dialed until she found a news program.  The announcer was in the middle of the sports report so she turned it off.

She didn’t even know where Peter had gone this week.  He could be a thousand miles away!

She started when the sound of the doorbell shrilled throughout the quiet apartment.

“Peter!” she cried, running to the door and flinging it open.

But it wasn’t Peter; it was a uniformed policeman.

She felt the blood drain from her face as she slumped against the door for support.

“Oh God!  Something has happened to Peter?” she said.

“Not that I know of,” the man smiled.  “I’m his friend, Bill.  He just called and asked if I would deliver a message.”

Holding out a folded piece of paper, he winked mischievously then disappeared down the hall.

Pam’s hand was shaking so she could hardly unfold the message.

It contained four short words: “Hang up the phone.”

Her eyes moved to the telephone resting securely in its cradle.  Then she remembered.

Rushing into the bedroom, she found the receiver to her bed-side phone lying on the bed where she’d left it this morning to go to the living room for an address a friend had requested.  She’d continued the conversation at her desk, completely forgetting the disconnected phone.

The telephone rang the minute she placed the receiver back in its cradle.

“Peter!”

At the sound of his voice, she caught her breath.

“I know Darling,” she said.  “That was so stupid of me and you can’t imagine all the horrible thoughts that have been going through my mind.”

A sob caught at her throat as she listened to his endearing words.

“I love you too, Peter!”

Sinking back on the pink sheets, she giggled inwardly.  So what if she was still “a work in progress?”  Peter loved her; that was really all that mattered.



WHEN I WAS FIVE 

I watched Grandma replace the lid and adjust the damper on the wood-burning range, then move the huge kettle of chicken and dumplings to the front of the stove.  The kitchen was warm and cozy and smelled heavenly from the goodies she and Mama had prepared earlier.It was Christmas Eve—the most exciting day of the year for this 5-year-old!

  And, for the first time, I was allowed to help; I’d been assigned the task of arranging silverware on each side of the plates Grandma had placed around the long dining table.

The dining room looked very festive.  Candles on the buffet were lit, evergreen branches hung on the walls and a bowl of apples and oranges graced the center of the snow-white tablecloth.

We always spent Christmas with Grandma and Grandpa—it was something we looked forward to all year long.

We could play anywhere we liked except the parlor; but how our excitement grew—each time we spied an adult slipping through the parlor doors with a secretive smile.

Then dinner was over.  At last, the parlor doors swung wide.  I approached hesitantly, Grandma’s hand on my back propelling me along.  Then I gasped, catching my breath at what was surely the most magnificent Christmas tree in the world!

A shining silver star at the top almost brushed the ceiling and brightly-wrapped packages were tucked among the branches and heaped underneath.  But best of all, perched high in the tree was a doll with golden curls and a ruffled pink dress I just knew was meant for me.  It was the most beautiful doll I’d ever seen.

I was so enchanted by it all that I jumped at a sudden clatter outside and turned to see—Santa at the window!

A moment later, he entered the room, dressed in a red suit, jingling his sleigh bells, passing out bags of candy to each child and shouting, “Ho, ho, ho!”

Trembling with excitement, I managed to say “thank you” for my bag of candy before Santa patted me on the head, gave his sleigh bells a mighty shake and danced out the door, leaving a roomful of children speechless.

Minutes later, Grandpa, who’d gone to check on the livestock, returned and we crowded around to tell him he had just missed seeing Santa Claus!

“But I did see him,” Grandpa exclaimed, as excited as we were.  “He was just getting into his sleigh as I came out of the barn—why, he even waved to me!  Come along now and let’s see what he left under the tree.”

I remember that Christmas as the happiest of my life.

A few months later, I was sent to stay with my grandparents for a while which was fine with me because I liked nothing better than spending time with them.

One spring evening, I was helping Grandma feed the chickens.  “You get the feed while I gather the eggs,” she said, heading for the henhouse.

In the feed shed, gunnysacks of cracked corn and bran vied for space with garden tools and storage boxes.  Saddles, bridles and harnesses crowded the walls.

Picking up the feed pan, I was reaching for a scoop on a nearby shelf when I brushed against something hanging on the wall and heard a familiar jingle.

My heart stopped as I stared at the object transfixed.  It looked—and sounded—exactly like Santa’s sleigh bells.  What could it mean?

And then I knew!“Grandma,” I shouted, running to the henhouse, the feed totally forgotten.  “Grandma!  I know who Santa Claus is!”


MR. AND MRS. SANTA CLAUS

 

“Welcome aboard Mrs. Clause!” Santa said, taking my hand between two white fluffy mitts as I climbed into the sleigh.

As I settled in, I stole a side wise glance wondering what he looked like without the steel-rimmed glasses, the white beard and the Santa Claus suit.  All I could tell was that he was tall and had sparkling blue eyes.

My costume—complete with the glasses, a white wig and a fur-trimmed, long red velvet gown and cap—matched his.

Creating a lot of noise and excitement, Santa’s elves climbed aboard the flat-bed and gathered around the sleigh and the six papier-mache reindeer.  The Christmas Parade was about to begin.

Every year, the Chamber of Commerce in our town chooses a man and a woman who have contributed something special to the community to represent Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus.  I was chosen because, back in July when a child almost drowned at the swimming pool, I’d dived in, pulled her out and administered C.P.R. while someone called 911.

Santa had been chosen because his firm provided college grants for needy high school graduates.  We’d never met, but I knew his name was Kevin Goodwin.

All along the parade route, from one end of Main to the other, people lined both sides of the street shouting “Merry Christmas!” and “Look!  There’s Mr. and Mrs. Santa!”

While the elves tossed candy to the children, Santa and I smiled and waved.  He must have been having as much fun as I was because he laughed a lot and once, he actually hugged me.

When the parade ended at noon, Santa disappeared into the crowd and I rushed home to change out of my costume, grab a protein bar and head for Duborne’s, where I had a job wrapping gifts during Christmas break.  With only a week to go and Christmas shopping at its peak, I’d been let off only for the duration of the parade.

The following week was hectic.  The department was short-handed, I’d already put in a lot of overtime and, at five o’clock Christmas Eve, my counter was stacked with packages yet to be wrapped, more were arriving every minute, customers were waiting impatiently and everybody was irritable, including me.

“So what?  Who’s to notice?” I muttered when I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror behind the spools of ribbon.  My brown, curly hair was sticking out all over, my lipstick was gone and there was a smear of mascara above my right eye.

Right then, I’d have given anything for a cold drink.

“I’m sorry I’m so late with these,” said a familiar voice behind me.

I whirled and my eyes met his.  They were even bluer than I’d remembered.

“Why you’re—“ I exclaimed.

“Kevin Goodwin.”

“—Santa!”

He was tall—as I remembered—but his shoulders were broad and he’d lost the round belly with the Santa suit.  He had blond, wavy hair and a nice tan that indicated he had recently been on vacation.

“No!” he said.  You can’t be Mrs. Santa!  Why you’re not over—"

”Twenty-one?” I laughed.

“Hi.  I’m Sherri Clark.”

We shook hands then my eyes followed his, first to the packages stacked on my table, then back to his own.

“Last minute shopping for the wife and kids?” I asked, getting things out in the open.

“Hardly; I’m not married,” he laughed, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

“These are for my brother’s family,” he said.  “Is it possible—"

”Sure!” I said, writing out a receipt.  “Although it’ll be a while.”

“No problem.  I’ll just go and grab a bite at the cafeteria.    “Can I bring you something?” he added.

“A Pepsi would taste great,” I replied.

Five minutes later, he was back with my drink.

“I’ll try to have your gifts wrapped by seven,” I said.

“Take your time,” he replied.  “The store doesn’t close until nine; I’ll come back then.”

He returned at ten till nine.

“How long will it take to finish those?” he asked, indicating the stack of gifts still to be wrapped.

“Only thirty minutes or so—now that the store has closed.”

“Have you eaten?”

“No—”

”Can I take you out to supper?”

I hesitated; I looked a mess.

“Please?” he said.  “I—I’d like to get to know you better.”

He was smiling, but his eyes were sincere and my heart skipped a beat.

“Sounds wonderful,” I replied.

I no longer felt weary and my heart soared as I wrapped the packages, combed my hair and repaired my makeup.  Kevin was waiting when I exited the mall at nine forty-five.

He came around and opened the car door for me; when he got back in, he took a small, gold-wrapped box from the dash board.

“This is for you,” he said.  “Merry Christmas.”

Inside the box was a pair of ear rings.  One was Santa Claus; the other, Mrs. Santa.

“Oh!” I gasped.  “How clever!”

“Just a little memento of how we met.”

“Very becoming,” he said, after I put them on.  “They go well with your red sweater.”

At Crandall’s Coffee Shop, Kevin toyed with his food and watched as I wolfed down one of their famous hamburgers and a large plate of french fries, then ordered a slice of apple pie.

“How do you eat like that and stay so slim?” he asked, an amused look in his eye.

“Healthy metabolism?” I replied.

“So—what do you do when you’re not wrapping gifts or rescuing children?” Kevin asked after the waitress had taken our plates and brought more coffee.

“I’m a full-time student—or will be until I get my degree in June,” I replied.

“We met only a week ago and I feel that I’ve known you forever,” Kevin said an hour later as he helped me on with my coat.

We walked outside into a magical wonderland of white.  Fluffy snow flakes filled the air and covered the ground.

“Looks like we’ll have a white Christmas after all,” Kevin said.  “Merry Christmas Mrs. Claus!”

“Merry Christmas Mr. Claus,” I responded.

“I’m awfully glad we were chosen to be Mr. and Mrs. Santa,” I added.

“Maybe we should make it a tradition!”

He said it lightly, but my heart turned flip-flops when his eyes looked into mine.

 


THE CHRISTMAS DEER



The deer first appeared the night Papa turned on the Christmas tree lights.

They always decorated the big pine on the front lawn 10 days before Christmas. It was a big job so everyone pitched in including the twins, Gerry and Gerridean.

When evening came and Papa threw the light switch, they all oh-ed and ah-ed as the tree was magically transformed into a dazzling phenomenon of red, blue and yellow lights.

Once lit, the lights were left burning day and night—to welcome the Christ Child, Papa said. Gerry and Gerridean always tried to be especially good in hopes the Christ Child would appear in person on Christmas. He hadn’t yet, but it was something they both wished for with all their might.

Will the Christ Child come this year, Papa?” Gerridean asked as they gazed at the tree.

“Perhaps,” Papa replied. “Perhaps not. But if He doesn’t, He will be in our hearts as real as if He were here in the flesh.”

Before the twins went to bed, they opened the drapes to their bedroom window wide so they could see the Christmas tree on the front lawn. It shone so brilliantly it lit up the whole front of the house as well as the lawn, clear to the edge of the woods.

Gerry was so excited he couldn’t go to sleep. Finally he got out of bed and sat on the window seat for a long time gazing at the star on the top of the tree. He had just started to climb down and go back to bed when his eyes were drawn to something just outside the circle of light. There stood a deer! Silhouetted against the forest, his eyes seemed to be fixed on the Christmas tree.

Gerry watched for a long time but the deer never moved. When, finally, his eyes grew heavy and he climbed back into bed, the deer was still standing in the same spot, staring at the tree.

He dreamed a wonderful dream in which he and Gerridean, the deer and Santa’s elves danced around the tree while angels hovered overhead and God looked down from Heaven and said: “These are my beloved children with whom I am well pleased.”

The next morning, Gerry jumped out of bed and ran to the window but the deer was nowhere in sight.

It must have been a dream, he thought.

After breakfast, however, when he and Gerridean donned their coats and mittens and went outside to play, the deer was there, standing among the trees at the edge of the woods.

“Look, Gerridean,” Gerry whispered. “The deer. It was here last night beneath the Christmas tree.”

“Oh! It’s beautiful! Gerridean exclaimed. “I wonder if he’ll let us come close?”

Hand in hand, they tiptoed toward the deer but, as they approached, the deer faded slowly, like a phantom, into the trees. When they returned to the house, he reappeared just as mysteriously as he had disappeared.

The days passed and every night the deer kept his silent vigil beneath the Christmas tree. During the daylight hours, he retreated to the edge of the woods, sometimes grazing, sometimes just watching.

As word spread about the Christmas deer, people came from miles around to see it. They brought Christmas goodies to share and while the adults visited, the children played together around the tree. Everyone was happy and excited. They all commented on how fortunate they were to have such a marvelous deer keeping watch over the Christmas tree.

“This has been the best Christmas ever!” Gerry said at breakfast on Christmas Eve.

“And the most exciting!” exclaimed Gerridean. Mama and Papa smiled and nodded.

Christmas morning, Grandma and Grandpa Dell drove down from the city. By noon, all the aunts, uncles and cousins had arrived. Everyone took turns at the window to make sure the deer was still at his post.

It was a very exciting day and that night, after everyone had gone home, Gerry was so tired he fell asleep on the window seat where he’d sat down to watch the deer. He dreamed that the deer allowed him and Gerridean to come close and rub his nose.

The next morning when Gerry awoke, Papa had pulled the plug extinguishing the lights on the tree. Gerry looked frantically toward the woods. The deer was gone.

Dressing quickly, he ran down the stairs and looked out the living room window.

“Papa!” he cried. “Papa! Turn the lights back on!”

“Bur Christmas is over, son,” Papa replied.

“I know, but the deer is gone. Please, Papa. I don’t want him to go.”

“But we can’t burn the lights all year just so the deer will stay,” Papa said, taking Gerry’s hand and leading him toward the kitchen where Gerridean was helping Mama prepare breakfast.

“Perhaps it will return next Christmas,” he said. But Gerry wasn’t consoled.

“I only wish the Christ Child could have seen the Christmas deer,” Gerridean said as they ate.

“How do you know he didn’t?” Papa asked.

Mama smiled as Gerry and Gerridean looked at Papa, a puzzled look on their faces.

“The Christ Child symbolizes love, and love can appear in many forms,” Papa said. “What brought us the most pleasure during the Christmas holiday?”

“The Christmas deer,” they replied in unison.

“Since He can’t be everywhere at Christmas, don’t you think it’s possible the Christ Child might send His love through one of his creatures? Perhaps the little deer that stood watch over the Christmas tree?”

“Then it’s almost as if the Christ Child Himself was here after all!” Gerridean exclaimed.

Papa nodded.

Although we’ll probably never know why the little deer was so fascinated by the tree,” he said, “we will always remember the happiness we shared with others because of him.”

“And even though we can’t see him, we know he’s still out there,” Gerry said solemnly.

“Just like the Christ Child!” Gerridean exclaimed.

Published:

Grit Magazine

And 2 others

AS LONG AS IT TAKES

 

What’s going on here?” I exclaimed when I opened the door and a white ball of fur dashed by me and disappeared under the kitchen table.

Peering under the table, I saw a fluffy white cat with blue eyes backed firmly into the corner.  I went back to the door and looked out just in time to see a huge tiger cat slinking into the bushes.

“Aha, man trouble!” I said, kneeling so as to be on the same eye level.

I reached to pick her up but she cringed tightly against the wall.

“I guess you’ll be all right while I go to the mall and pick up a couple of Christmas gifts and some groceries,” I said.  “Your friend should be gone by the time I get back.”

“Mew,” she whimpered.

When I returned, she was curled up on a chair.

Opening a can of tuna, I put half in a saucer for her and stirred the rest into my salad.  After we ate, I went to the door.

“Come on Cat,” I said.  “Tiger’s not around; you can go home now.”

“Meow!” she said, licking her whiskers.  Ignoring the open door, she switched her tail, marched determinedly to the bedroom in the far corner of the house, leaped up on the sewing machine and began washing her face.

“OK,” I said.  “So you plan to stay a while!”

“What’s your name?” I said when she refused to leave again at dinner time.

My question was met by a silent stare.

“Well, I’ve got to call you something.  How about ‘W.C.’ for White Cat?”

“Meow!” she replied, reaching one white paw toward the can of sardines I’d just opened.

Figuring she’d probably come from one of the houses on the next street over, I placed an ad in the newspaper the next day:  “Found: White cat.  Blue eyes.  Owner call 555-6212.

While I was out, I bought a tiny Santa’s hat and a red bow.  W.C. was such a ham, I might as well take some pictures.

As a free-lance photographer, that’s what I do—take pictures which I hope will be accepted by the magazines and newspapers I work with.  With Christmas coming up, pictures of a white cat in a Santa hat should appeal to someone.

W.C. cooperated beautifully and we were having a marvelous time taking pictures the next afternoon when the telephone rang.

“Hello, I’m Brian Williams,” said a pleasant male voice.  “I understand you found a white cat—”

”Why yes,” I said.  “She’s right here; would you like to speak with her?”

“What?” he exclaimed.

Not everyone appreciates my sense of humor.

“Just kidding,” I laughed.  “When would you like to come for her?”

“I leave work at five; is five-thirty all right?”

“That’ll be fine,” I replied.  “We’ll see you then.

“We only have a couple of hours so let’s get busy,” I told W.C.  “If these sell, you’ll at least have earned your keep.”

Promptly at five-thirty, the doorbell rang.

In my mind’s eye, I’d pictured the owner of a dainty white cat as a small, immaculately groomed man, probably wearing glasses.

Not so.

The man I opened the door to was tall, ruggedly handsome and was wearing slightly soiled jeans and a T-shirt.  His eyes were warm and brown, the kind of eyes a girl could get lost in.

I must have been staring for he smiled and said: “I’m Brian Williams.  I’m here about the cat.”

“Vicki Morris,” I said.  “Won’t you come in?”

When we shook hands, a spark shot up my arm and settled somewhere on the left side of my chest.  Then I led the way to the back bedroom where W.C. was curled up on the sewing machine in front of the window.

“She likes to watch the birds and the squirrels,” I said by way of explanation.

“Come on Princess; let’s go home.” Brian said.

Reaching to pick her up, he jumped back when she humped her back, spat at him and snarled.

“What’s got into her?” he said.  “She’s always been so gentle.”

I had a sudden inspiration.

“Do you happen to know a tiger cat?” I asked.

“I have a cat named ‘Tiger’.

”She probably smells him on you,” I said.

“They had words,” I added.

“I knew they weren’t getting along very well but—

“What do I do now?” he asked, bewildered.

“Why don’t we have a cup of coffee.  Maybe she’ll settle down after she thinks it over.”

“She’s actually my sister’s cat,” he explained when we were seated at the kitchen table.  “Joan got married recently and it turns out her husband is allergic to cats.  So I inherited Princess.”

“She probably feels betrayed,” I said.  “By Joan for sending her away, and by you for allowing Tiger—who naturally has to protect his territory—to mistreat her.”

“I never thought of that,” he said.  “I guess I thought their both being cats, they should get along.

“Cats can be jealous—just like people,” I said.

When we went back to the bedroom, W.C.—or Princess—still refused to let Brian near her.

“Let’s try this,” I said.

Picking her up, I smoothed her fur, telling her what a nice cat she was, then slowly transferred her to Brian’s arms.

However, W.C.—or Princess—wasn’t having that either.  She did a sommersault, clawing and scratching, winding up back on the sewing machine.

“I guess that won’t work either,” Brian said, nursing a gash on the back of his hand.

“Why don’t you leave her for another day or two; maybe she’ll settle down,” I said when we were back at the kitchen table and I was cleaning and applying a band air to the wound on his hand.

“You’re sure it’s not too much trouble?”

“Actually, we’ve been enjoying each other,” I said.

Also, if she stays on, I’ll be seeing him again, I thought.

Brian Williams called again the next afternoon.

“Is it all right if we give it another try this evening?” he said.

“She’ll be looking forward to seeing you,” I said.  “At least, we can hope—”

”Is six o’clock OK?” he laughed.  “That’ll give me time to shower and change and get rid of Tiger’s odor.”

I could have cared less if W.C.—or Princess—never went home, but I was looking forward to seeing Brian Williams again.

For the occasion, I put on a dress and pantyhose and carefully applied my makeup.

The doorbell rang promptly at six.  When I opened the door, my heart did a flip-floop.  His hair, still damp, fell in a wave across his forehead and he looked dreamy in dress slacks and a matching shirt opened at the throat.

“Ready to go home now Princess?” he said when we found her at her usual spot.

Apparently not.  She made it clear that she wanted nothing to do with him.

“Looks like it’s going to take another day or two,” he sighed, although he didn’t seem too disappointed.

“Since we can’t budge the cat, can I take you to dinner?” he said then.

I was hoping he’d ask.

“What kind of work do you do?” I asked when we were seated at the barbecue restaurant down the street.

“Construction work,” he replied.  “I just started my own company.

“What about you?” he said then.

“I’m a free-lance photographer.  As a matter of fact, I took a batch of pictures of W.C.—I mean Princess.  I hope you don’t mind.”

“Why should I?  Can I see them?”

“Sure!” I said.

“Why do you call her W.C.” he asked.

“It’s short for White Cat,” I replied, adding: “I’m not very good at thinking up clever names.”

“Now we’ll just have to figure out how to get her back home,” he said.

I noticed that he did say “we.”

“I could take Tiger down to the office,” he mused.  It’s small, but we could get by—”

”There’s no hurry,” I said.  “It’s OK if W.C.—Princess—stays with me for as long as it takes.”

“It would give me an excuse to see you again!” he grinned.

As if he needed an excuse!

“I’m having a Christmas party at the office for my employees Friday night,” he said then.  “Will you come?”

“I’d love to,” I replied.

We made a date to try again the next evening to get Princess re-settled and if that failed, we’d take in a movie.

“It might take a while for Brian and I to resolve the differences between you and Tiger,” I told W.C. after Brian dropped me off at home.

“Meow!” she said.

“My thoughts exactly,” I replied.  “As a matter of fact, I couldn’t have said it better!”



SATURDAY NIGHT KILLER

 

            Regina washed her face, brushed her teeth and tied her hair on top of her head.  Then she got into her flannel nightgown and climbed wearily into bed.

            Her job, in a downtown department store, wasn’t exactly an easy one.  Saturdays were always more hectic than any other day, and today had been exceptionally busy because of the annual sale.  Tonight, she had worked three hours overtime and it seemed that every bone in her body ached.

She gave a long sigh as she leaned back against the pillow and picked up the evening newspaper, which she’d purchased at a news stand on the way home from work.

She scanned the headlines then her eyes came to rest on an item, printed in bold face type, in the center of the page.

“Warning!  All women!” it read.

Following was a brief notice urging all women to lock their doors securely and to avoid going out on the streets alone tonight.  It was vitally important they not do so, the article continued because “The Saturday Night Killer” was expected to strike again.

Regina gazed at the notice thoughtfully, then turned to the accompanying news story which recapped the events of the past weeks.

Because of six identical murders in as many weeks, “The Saturday Night Killer” had become a regular feature in the local newspaper, which prided itself on a flair for the dramatic.  Like everyone else in the city, Regina had followed the story closely.  The terror began at 30 minutes past midnight on Saturday, November 14, when the murderer began his methodical elimination of some of the city’s most beautiful women.

He had struck shortly after midnight every Saturday since, first strangling his victims from behind, then slashing their faces repeatedly with what appeared to be a sharp kitchen knife.

The news reports described the brutal murders in graphic detail.  Photographs of the victims—both dead and alive—were published with each story.

The crimes gave rise to a great deal of public speculation.  Comparisons to other serial murders and possible motives were widely discussed.  Some tried to guess possible undisclosed secrets in each woman’s back-grounds, which might have led to her murder.

Three of the victims were struck down on the streets in various parts of the city.  Two were accosted in their homes, and one in an east-side motel.  There was no evidence of forced entry; robbery was not a motive, and the victims had not been sexually molested.

The only thing the victims had in common was a beautiful face and figure and, of course, the manner and time of death.  Other than that, there was no clue that linked the murdered women together.

Although there had been no leads as to the identity of the killer, investigators were convinced that one man was responsible for all the crimes.

“Because of the nature of the mutilation, it would appear that the killer is deranged,” stated the mental-health commissioner.

Police detectives were working on the theory that the murders were committed by a man with a mad compulsion to kill all women whose beauty reminded him of a wife or sweetheart who had wronged him.

Even though the streets had been heavily patrolled last Saturday night—and the week before that—the killer had not missed a Saturday night murder in six weeks.  According to the pattern, he most likely would strike again tonight.

Like an icy fog creeping in from the bay, a clammy fear held all women in the city its grip.  Many refused to leave their homes—day or night.  Additional locks were installed on doors and windows, and both the animal rescue service and the pound reported hundreds of requests for dogs.  Women by the hundreds were calling the police department for instructions on how to increase security, or to report prowlers, imaginary and otherwise.

The public had never been so aroused and, as the terror spread, the question on everyone’s mind was “Where will the killer strike tonight?”

 “This killer has to be caught,” the mayor said. “And soon.”

After six weeks of investigation, however, the leads were diminishing and the police were no closer to a solution than when they started.

There was one remaining tangible clue and, although it was faint, it was being closely checked.  In the vicinity of two of the murders, witnesses had reported seeing a man whom they described as being of medium height and slender build, wearing gray trousers, a dark brown jacket, and a gray cap pulled low on his forehead.

Tonight all police officers, regardless of regular assignments, had been ordered to patrol the streets.  The dragnet of over 200 policemen and detectives, the greatest concentration of law enforcement in the history of the city police department, had been alerted to be on the lookout for this man.

“We’re quite sure,” the mayor said, “that he is the killer.  Our greatest concern is that this madman be captured—tonight—before he can strike again.”

“Because of heavily patrolled streets, and the wide newspaper, radio and TV coverage, it is possible that the killer will miss tonight,” the newspaper quoted the mayor as saying.  “But one way or another, we are going to put an end to this mad rampage, once and for all.”

Regina was so absorbed in the story that she started when a strong blast of wind rustled the curtains at her window.  The weather had been unreasonably warm for this time of year, so when she got home she had opened the window a crack to let in some fresh air.  Although there had been no geographical pattern to the murders, the latest crime had been committed only a few blocks away and the window faced onto a dark back alley.  It would be easy for the killer to enter through it while she slept, she thought, shuddering.

Throwing back the covers, she sat up and swung her feet onto the cold bare floor.  As she bent to close the window, she caught a glimpse of her reflection in the pane.  Leaving the window open, she laughed aloud.

There’s not much chance that a murderer, whose victims are beautiful women, would go out of his way to murder me, she thought.

Not even the dark shadows in the pane could conceal the fact that hers was a face that could hardly be called beautiful.  Blue eyes too pale and small.  Jaw too wide.  A mouth too wide and narrow lipped. This, combined with her limp, mousy hair and her tall, angular figure, resulted in an appearance that could never be considered beautiful.

When she was much younger, she had experimented with cosmetics to improve her appearance, but her efforts had been sadly lacking in effect.  However, she often found herself watching other women, trying to analyze their beauty secrets.

As a matter of fact, the woman who was killed last Saturday had used an artfully arranged hairdo to correct a too high forehead.  And today, she had watched a woman on the bus apply rouge and lipstick.  The effect had been amazing.  The makeup was so skillfully applied that her mouth instantly appeared larger, her thin face fuller.

But Regina had given up trying to be beautiful long ago.  She wore a simple hair style and applied a touch of lipstick in deference to her job—but she certainly did not look pretty.  As a small child, she would avoid people to escape what she interpreted as pitying glances.  She could not remember when she had not been lonely and, as she sat back on the edge of her bed, she thought grimly of the many times her mother had sent her to visit relatives so she wouldn’t have to show her “ugly duckling” to important guests at her Saturday night parties.

Regina smiled bitterly, remembering her mother’s apologetic remark when, by chance, her friends saw the child: “Oh, Regina looks just like her father—but, of course, she has his character too.”

She’d been devastated when her parents were killed in an automobile accident a year ago.  Discovering they had left her penniless, she’d had to come out of her shell to find a means of supporting herself.  Since she had no skills, she took the only job offered her.

Deep in thought, Regina jumped as her grandmother’s clock began to strike twelve.  She listened intently.  Midnight!  Was there something she was supposed to remember? She rubbed her hand across her forehead.  It was beginning again—that awful headache.  It felt as if a band –or a vice—was slowly being drawn tightly around her head.  She seemed to be having them more frequently of late.

She rose from the bed, crossed to the dresser, and gazed at her reflection in the mirror.  A now familiar dizziness engulfed her, and out of the blackness, the face of the pretty woman on the bus seemed to smile over her shoulder, as if to taunt her.

A thoughtful frown crossed Regina’s brow.  She looked again toward the window.  Then, turning away from the mirror, she moved slowly, as in a daze, to her closet.

Again she paused, looking at the window as if trying to remember what she had been about to do.

Suddenly, her face broke into a smile.  Opening the closet door, she donned a pair of gray trousers, a brown jacket, and pulled a man’s gray cap over her hair.

Then she climbed silently out the window and disappeared into the darkness.

Published:  Kansas City Star Magazine

                                                                             GRIT Magazine

Spokane Woman Magazine

 


BY THE SEA WALL


The stone wall extended outward from the shore, creating a quiet haven for the small fishing boats in times of rough seas.

It also provided a haven for David Louiston, hunched up against the wall, feet close to his body, his forearms resting on his knees.

As he gazed out to sea, his artist’s mind contemplated the water, now calm, now foaming, breaking into rough waves out of the shelter of the wall.

He had discovered long ago that it is usually the unharnessed mind which yields up interesting plots, diversions and bits of business so vital to his work.  He came here often and let his mind wander, allowing the muse to traverse the twisting passages, drawing forth elusive resolutions to knotty situations.

A small craft, nearing the shore, captured his attention.  It docked gently and a young woman stepped out and walked toward him.

From a distance, she seemed wraith-like, but as she approached, she became very real.

Tall, she was, for a woman.  And sturdy.  Like good seaman’s stock.  The breeze blew her brown hair back from her face.  As she drew near, she smiled.  Then the eyes, which seemed to reflect the azure blue of the seas, became serious.

“I must talk to you, David,” she said.

“Then sit here beside me.”

He reached for her hand.

She stepped back.

“No!”

She hesitated.

“Yes?” he prompted.

“I’ve come to tell you I’m going away.”

He looked down at the sand.  This was a turn he hadn’t expected.

“Must you?”

She walked a few steps toward the sea and turned.

“You have your work, David.  That’s enough for you.  But I—”

“I need you!”

“Only when you’re not writing.  That isn’t enough, David.  Not anymore.  I spend my days just waiting—waiting for the few crumbs of time you are willing to share with me.

“It’s so lonely here, David.  My life seems to slowly be ebbing away—like this—”

She bent and gathered a handful of sand, letting it slowly seep from her hand a few grains at a time.

He was silent.

“I’m going to the city, David.  To bright lights—and music and dancing—and life!”

“Will you return?”

“No—”  She hesitated.  “A woman is no longer a mere extension of a man, David.  I am a person.  I need someone who will give back to me.  I love you, David.  And I have no doubt that you love me—in your way—”

“Perhaps we could spend more time together.”

She shook her head.

“No.  You are consumed by your work.  Without it, you would die—just as I am dying now from loneliness.”

As his mind dwelt on her words, she turned and walked away.

“Goodbye, David.”

He started at the raucous sound of seagulls quarreling directly over his head.

Rising, he shoved his hands deep in his pockets and hurried up the beach toward his cottage.

He must get to his typewriter while the next chapter of his novel was fresh in his mind. 

Published Byline Literary Magazine   


A LONG WAY TO POCATELLO

 

The train was late getting out of Penn Station and, as we crept slowly westward, I stared wistfully out the window watching the lights of New York City slowly vanish into the night.

I was exhausted from the packing, the preparation, followed by the rush to get to the station and the long wait before we were allowed to board. I leaned back in my seat and closed my eyes, but I couldn’t sleep. My mind refused to stop ticking. I felt melancholy and a little sad. It was hard to let go of a life-long dream.

After a while, the clickity-clack, clickity-clack of the wheels soothed my nerves and I began to relax.

Pocatello really isn’t so bad, I thought, and it will be nice to see Mom and Dad, and my friends.

I dozed off thinking about the scene from my bedroom window—the sunrise over snow-capped mountains; the lights, sparkling like a million jewels in the valley below at night—

I’d fantasized about living in New York City ever since I was a kid. Growing up in Pocatello, Idaho, New York seemed like an inaccessible dream. However, after I finished college and got my first job, I began to put back part of my paycheck each week until, finally, I’d saved enough to go. That was two years ago.

“I guess you’ll never be satisfied until you check it out,” Mom sighed.

I found a job right off, and an apartment to share. New York was as exciting as I’d imagined—as different from Pocatello as night to day. I loved my job, the bright lights, the luxurious stores, the theaters—

It would have been perfect had I met the man of my dreams. It didn’t happen but everything else was going marvelously—until the economy began to worsen and I lost my job. After three months, I gave up finding another and bought an Amtrak ticket for home.

“Why Amtrak?” asked Rebecca, my roommate. Why don’t you fly? It’s a lot faster.”

“I’m in no hurry,” I replied. “And I love trains. It’s always been my dream to ride on the Orient Express.”

“I envy you,” Rebecca had sighed when I told her I was leaving. “As a city girl, I’ve always dreamed of living out west.”

“When I get settled, perhaps you can come for a visit,” I said.

I woke later than I intended and when I went for breakfast, a line had formed in the dining car. As I waited for a table, others crowded in behind me.

“We’re together,” a voice said over my shoulder when it was my turn to be seated.

Startled, I looked up—straight into a pair of mischievous green eyes. One of them winked and I laughed, then followed the attendant to a table halfway down the car.

It wasn’t until I turned to sit down that I had a full view of my breakfast companion. What I saw was a handsome, red-headed man in an Army uniform slowly maneuvering a pair of crutches down the narrow aisle.

“A little souvenir from Iraq,” he grinned in answer to my unasked question. “Nothing serious, just inconvenient—especially on a swaying Amtrak car.” He leaned the crutches against the window and lowered his tall frame into the chair.

“I hope you didn’t mind my claiming you,” he said. “The moment I saw you, I thought our having breakfast together would be a nice way to start the day.”

“I’m glad you did,” I replied. “I’d much prefer eating with you than with strangers.

“Except that you are a stranger—”I corrected myself.

He laughed and held out his hand. “Brad Dayton; at your service, ma-am.”

“Gwen Emerson,” I said, and when we shook hands an electric spark seemed to shoot through my body and I felt my face turn red.

Thank God, the waiter arrived and I managed to hide my face behind the menu.

After we ordered, I felt Brad’s eyes on me as I nervously unfolded my napkin and re-arranged the silverware.

“So you’re just returning from Iraq?” I said.

“Not exactly,” he replied. “I spent two weeks in a hospital in Washington, DC.”

“You were shot?”

“Nothing life-threatening. My leg and hip, mostly.”

“Are you going to Afghanistan next?”

“No, thank God. My tour of duty is over. I’m going home.”

“Home?”

“Idaho Falls, Idaho.”

My heart skipped a beat.

“I’m from Pocatello,” I said.

“What a lucky coincidence,” Brad smiled.

“This is crazy,” I told myself. “You traveled over two thousand miles hoping to find romance. What if it turns out the man of my dreams has been living practically next door all my life.

“Don’t be so smug,” my alternate self retorted. “Anyone this gorgeous is bound to have a girl friend back home.”

While I was having this private conversation with myself, I felt Brad’s eyes studying me and later, back in the car, he moved to the seat next to mine.

“You know pretty much all there is about me,” he said after we were settled in. “Tell me about you.”

So I told him how I’d gone to New York because I’d always thought it would be exciting to live there, then how I’d lost my job and decided to go back home.”

“Do you believe in fate?” he asked when I finished.

“Why—”

“That’s OK,” he said, “I do. And I’ve got a feeling you and I am going to be seeing a lot of each other.”

I felt myself blushing again.

“W-Why?”I stammered. “We hardly know each other!”

“We’ve got miles and miles to remedy that,” he smiled. “It’s a long way to Pocatello.”