Living the Dream

As a young girl, I always dreamed of becoming another Lucy Maud, devouring books sometimes three and four on the go at one time. Now, here I am, 50-something, and the dream keeps coming back to me. When Magpie Tales started publishing their prompts, I couldn't resist. My first few attempts were shared with a very select few - and it is thanks to their encouragement that I am emboldened to share with more of the world. Read, enjoy (I hope), critique, and tell me what you think.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Magpie #24

I’ve been away for a few weeks – writers block?  Not sure, but something has kept me away from writing.  This week, though, the prompt caught my eye and my imagination immediately, just took a few days to get to putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard).  So here’s my contribution in response to this picture:

 

 

All they had was this one little room in the attic.  Well, actually they didn’t have that, it was only rented, along with all of the furniture and necessities for living.  What they really owned was only their clothing and a few personal items.  But as long as Peter was in school, this was all they could afford – one room, used to be called a bed-sitter.  The furniture consisted of a sofa-bed on one wall, a chest of drawers with an old TV perched on top on the opposite wall, a table and two chairs tucked in one corner, and a cabinet under the window with sink, microwave, and hot-plate .  They could practically stand in the middle of the room and touch something, anything.  It was certainly cozy.

Most importantly, though, they had each other.  Neither of their parents had been pleased at their decision to get married, Sophie putting her education on hold so that Peter could finish first.  Because of the parents’ displeasure, they were truly on their own with Sophie’s wages from the diner paying the rent and putting food on the table.  There was nothing left over at the end of the month - except love, lots of love.

Sophie was proud of their little home, and kept it pristeen.  She made sure everything was tidy, nothing out of order, every surface dusted or wiped down, not a speck of dust in her house!And most importantly the bed must be made up every morning.  Heaven forbid that anybody should walk in and see the bed unmade – not that they had much company as Peter spent every spare minute studying while Sophie kept house.

They’d been married for four weeks and three days.

On this, their one-month anniversary, Sophie left the diner, stopping at the local deli for dinner fixings.  She was excited to be planning to surprise Peter with his favorite dinner – pork chops in mushroom gravy (just reheat and serve), mashed potatoes (from a box), and canned green beans.  Not exactly the way his mother would have made them, but the best she could do with two pots and a hot-plate.  For dessert – she splurged on two apple strudel pieces.   All day she had been planning how she’d have everything ready when Peter got home from his study group.  But something was niggling at the back of her mind, something that wasn’t quite right, something that made her think the evening may not go exactly as planned.

When she opened the door to their little home, she knew immediately.   The sofa-bed wasn’t made up!  There it sat, folded out as if they’d just gotten out of it, covers thrown back, pillows mussed, certainly not fit for company, or even for an evening of television or reading while Peter studied at the table.  Sophie remembered their disagreement in the morning over whose turn it was to make the bed, and she’d rushed out before their difference was settled, almost late for work, thinking surely Peter would just take care of it.  Obviously he hadn’t!

Well, neither would she!

Sophie turned on the television to the news, and proceeded to get dinner ready.  Just as everything was warmed up, Peter arrived home – perfect timing, Sophie felt proud of herself.  Peter looked at the sofa-bed, but didn’t say anything.  She greeted him with a kiss, and they sat down to dinner.  Conversation was a little stilted, the unmade bed and the disagreement of the morning hanging in the air between them like a cloud just waiting to burst.

In between bursts of small talk, the evening news filled the little room with sound.  When the sportscaster announced the soccer game between Manchester and Liverpool, showing right after the news, Sophie and Peter looked at each other and grinned.  As one, they picked up their plates from the table, piled them in the sink, undressed and crawled into the bed.

Who needs to make beds, do dishes, or study when they had a soccer game  to watch – and each other!

 

Visit Magpie Tales for more wonderful stories and poems based on the prompt Willow has posted.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Magpie # 20

I missed last week, because I was away on vacation, and just didn’t get time to think of a tale for the prompt.  This week’s prompt caught my imagination right away, and I’ve been mulling this over for 4 days already.  This tale is based on a story a friend told us once.

 

We sat around the campfire at our annual family trip, laughing, talking, vying for the best story. 

These trips had only begun after our parents were already gone, and our children mostly grown.   Eight of us, so scattered that it had at times been years between visits for some of us, as we all focused on making a living and raising our children.  But now, we wouldn’t miss this for anything.

We gathered for these few precious days each summer, Jimbo, Suz, Fritz, Lindy, Mack, Mo, Biff, and me, Kit, along with our spouses, and sometimes a few of our children, although they were mostly in the phase of busyness that comes with  raising families themselves and often weren’t able to make it.

Spouses and children endured the tales of chores and school teachers, piano lessons and baseball games, toboggan runs and the swimming hole, camping trips, town fairs, 4H, weddings and funerals.  This particular evening the reminiscing had somehow turned to various spats we’d had.

One common memory was Mom’s dish-cloth, that settled most arguments with just a flick of her wrist.  Oh, but she was good at that – getting a bare arm or leg just right with a sting that stopped angry, whiny words immediately.  She always said, ‘You kids get along now, someday you might not have each other around.’

Jimbo and Fritz recalled their fist-fight over a girl – Sandra or something like that, neither could remember her name, but they got into it in the barn, each apparently claiming she liked him best.

Lindy and I both claimed that it was the other one who would never turn out the light at night for wanting to read ‘just one more page’.

We all fought over who got to practice piano last – interesting that now most of us contributed to the music ministry in our churches.

Suz and Lindy both hated to dry dishes, and always managed to waste time trying to decide who should take on that dreaded task when it was their turn to clean up the kitchen.

Mack recalled the time Biff was mad at him – neither knew why any longer – and Biff picked up a handful of peas to ‘pass’ and threw them down the table.  The food fight that ensued was one of the best (Mom and Dad weren’t home that evening).

The laughter had just died down after that story, and we were all just gazing into the fire, when Mo’s voice broke into our thoughts.  Quiet, mousey, little Mo, twin to Mack, third youngest, most often found with her nose in a book, usually got kind of lost in the boisterous shuffle of our large family.  What she said really startled us, as much because she said it, as for what she said.

‘I don’t know why you all bothered to fight so much.  Whenever I was mad at one, or all, of you, I’d simply go to the bathroom and swish your toothbrush in the toilet.’

 

Go to Magpie Tales for more stories and poems.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Art takes on many forms

Willow at Magpie Tales has come up with another unique prompt:

Here’s my contribution – be sure to visit her site to see the many other wonderful stories and poems.

My sister agreed to model.  I gathered all my tools and bought a chunk of clay.  I booked the wheel at the community arts center.  There – all set to try my hand at sculpting.

I’d been taking pottery classes for a few months, and really enjoyed getting my hands dirty in the clay, molding and shaping bowls, cups, vases while the wheel spun around.  My work had been gradually improving until some of my pieces I’d decided could be nice enough for little Christmas gifts.

Last week, the instructor suggested I combine pottery wheel work with some artistic sculpting.  So today was the day.

With my sister relaxing in a chair, the light just right, clay on its platform, water bucket at my side, I put my foot on the pedal to start the wheel turning.  Gradually the clay took on the form of shoulders, neck, head.  When I thought it was the perfect oval ‘balloon’, I stopped the wheel, slid the spatula underneath the form and transferred it to the sculpting table – and began to whittle away.  Hair, eyes, ears, nose, cheeks, mouth, chin – my sister’s only request was that I omit the wrinkles.  Slowly her face took shape, and then it was time to put it in the kiln.  I was quite pleased with the end result, but refused to show it to my sister – I wanted her to see the final finished product.

We went out for coffee while waiting for the firing to finish.  We always have such good times together, giggling about past teenage escapades, laughing at the antics of our children, poking fun at husbands, often playing silly jokes on each other.  We’re alike in so many ways, with lots of interests in common, but where I like to make things – sewing, crafting, cooking – my sister is a doer and her artistic talent runs to dancing, singing, local theatre.  We completely support each other, with me attending her productions, and she’s always ready to taste my latest culinary efforts, or model for me like she did today.

When we got back to the arts center, the attendant said we were just in time, the kiln was cool enough to pull out my sculpture, and went to get it for us.  I knew what it looked like, so I watched my sister’s face, anticipating her beaming smile and nod of approval when she got her first glimpse of my masterpiece.

Her look of horror and dismay, eyes bulging and jaw dropped, caused me to whirl around to face the attendant holding the finished piece.  Several thoughts passed through my head all at once – explosion, sabotage, misfiring, meltdown, maybe I thought I was too good. 

But it was perfect, the sculpture really did look like her: elegant, timeless beauty that she is. 

‘Gotcha!!’   And my sister laughed all the way home.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Dancing Shoes

The prompt from Willow at Magpie Tales this week:

Visit the site for more wonderful stories and poems.

‘Get out your dancing shoes, babe, we’re going to have a night on the town.’

Jane found the shoes in the back of the closet while spring cleaning, and sat on the floor, her mind going back to that day seven years before.  She remembered Jock’s words, his cocky grin, the sparkle in his eyes.
They’d been dating for a few months, but this was a first.  Being poor students, their dates had been walks in the park, picnics, coffee houses, evenings studying together in the library, outings with the College and Career group from church, the occasional meal or coffee in the cafeteria when their schedules allowed.

And she didn’t own dancing shoes – duty shoes, sneakers, a pair or two of dress pumps to wear to church, yes, but nothing that would be suitable for dancing.

A shopping trip was in order, not just for shoes but for a suitable outfit as well.   Jane had agonized over exactly what to buy.  Whatever it was to be needed to be something that she’d be able to use again.  The soft turquoise shift, with a coordinating tie-dyed scarf seemed to be just the answer – but the shoes were much harder to find.  It took 10 stores before she saw them, the little silver sandals with just a tiny heel, dressy, not gaudy, comfortable enough for dancing.

The evening arrived, and Jane quivered with excitement and a little fear that she would be over- or under-dressed.  When Jock arrived in a blazer and tie, she relaxed some.  But he’d refused to tell her where they were going, and still teased her with ‘you’ll see’.

They walked out of the student nurses’ residence and turned left down the street.  Jock held her hand and made small talk about his day.  Without Jane realizing it, there were in front of his apartment building.  When she started to ask about his plans, Jock just put his index finger against her lips, and kissed her forehead.
They got into the elevator, and Jock pressed the button for the top floor, even more curious as he lived on the second floor and usually took the stairs.  Getting out of the elevator, Jock led the way to the fire exit – and went upstairs to the roof.

There, on the roof, was a table set for two – a white tablecloth, candle, flowers – and a picnic basket.   Jock had arranged for a local deli to prepare a wonderful cold meal of sliced meats, salads, and a bottle of sparkling juice.   He was full of apologies that he couldn’t take her to a fancy restaurant, but Jane was delighted with it all.  It was enchanting!  Jock pressed the start button on a tape deck, and soft music filled the air around them as they ate. 

After the main course, Jock suggested they dance before dessert, and changed the tape to dancing music.  As they swayed in each other’s arms, Jock whispered in her ear of his love and plans for their future.  Jane hardly noticed him fumbling in his pocket with one hand as he held her close with the other arm.   Then, stilling and drawing a little apart,  he closed her eyes with his fingers, and slipped a ring on her left ring finger.  Jane’s eyes flew open, and she held up her hand.

‘Will you marry me, my love?’ Jock asked.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Fishing Trip

Every week Willow posts a picture prompt over at Magpie Tales.  Many wonderful writers respond with their stories.  Visit her site to read their entries.
This weeks prompt:
Fish
And my story:

I was retired.  I didn’t want to be retired.  I didn’t want to putter around the yard, take up a hobby, get involved with my community.  Really, to be completely frank, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to spend all day every day, at the beck and call of Virginia. 

My wife of 45 years, Virginia had been an at-home mother to our only daughter, who had RUN to the city at her first possible opportunity.  That had been nearly 25 years ago.  Since then Virginia had tried nearly every hobby known to man, from quilting to pottery, gardening to line dancing, hiking to target shooting.  Nothing lasted more than a few months, and she was bored and ready to move on to the next activity.  She also had been involved in almost every volunteer program available – hospital auxiliary, community driving, youth groups, elderly visitation, library society.  When she discovered that she couldn’t make one group do things her way, she moved on to the next.   Now it appeared that she spent her days cleaning an already clean house, and rearranging whatever she could move.  I was never sure where to put my shoes and coat when I came home from work, or where I might find my pajamas when it was time to get ready for bed.

Virginia (never call her Ginny), of course, was thrilled at the prospect of my retirement.  She saw this as our time together, and had been making lists for months of various outings and hobbies for the two of us.  But I didn’t want to visit the Museum of Shoes Through the Ages, or learn to cook with herbs (which we’d naturally have to grow in our garden), or join a book club, or, heaven forbid, buy a small yacht and travel to uninhabited islands off the coast.  Not that we could afford a small yacht, now that I was retired.

So when I arrived home on that last day of work – sublime, beautiful job, orderly, never-changing, no surprises job that I’d come to actually enjoy – I stepped out of the car with trepidation.  What really lay in store for me now?  Not just the yawning future, but it was always possible that Virginia would have planned some sort of surprise.   It could be a retirement party, not that that would be a bad thing, I’d at least have an excuse to get blind drunk in ‘celebration’.  But then again she could have decided that I needed a jolt to get my retirement started right, and planned a skydiving trip.

Virginia wasn’t at the door, much to my surprise and, actually, fear.  But my neighbor Bob, retired several years earlier, was out in his yard.  He waved, and asked, ‘So are you ready for your new life?’

I just shrugged, and said that I’d have to see how things went.  Then Bob invited me to go fishing with him the next day – what a wonderful idea!  There was no chance that Virginia would put a worm on a hook, or gut a fish, or even get into a little dingy.  Maybe this was the ticket.  I told Bob I didn’t have any gear, and he said that was no problem as he had more than enough, and I could borrow anything I needed until I had a chance to get my own.  So the date was set – 6 o’clock in the morning and we’d head for Burnett Lake to see if the trout were biting.

My step was much lighter as I opened the front door, and called out, “Virginia, I’m home.’   Apparently the reason Bob was in his front yard was so that all the people in the house could hide before I walked in the door.  It was a surprise party, indeed, but I couldn’t get drunk, because I had to get up early to go fishing!  Actually I had a good time, chatting and laughing with family and friends, and the spread that Virginia prepared, well, she outdid herself.   Nobody went home early. 

When we finally said goodnight to the last guest, and turned to face the clean-up, I told Virginia about the fishing trip in the morning.  She said, ‘Well, then, you better get your sleep.  I’ll take care of this.’

The alarm jolted me out of bed at 5:30, and I stumbled into the bathroom.  Once I’d washed my face and brushed my teeth, I felt a little more human, and headed to the kitchen to get a cup of coffee.  Virginia was already there – dressed in blue jeans and duck boots, a waterproof jacket and brimmed hat at the ready.

‘Where are you going?’  I did my best to keep the alarm out of my voice.

“Why, I’m going fishing with you and Bob.  What a perfect way to start our retirement.’

‘But you won’t bait a hook, or gut a fish.  And that’s no yacht that Bob has.’

‘It’s okay, dear, you can take care of that messy stuff.  The boat – well, it’ll be alright for today, we’ll just have to look for something a little bigger for our future fishing trips.’

Bob was no less surprised than I felt when he saw Virginia in his driveway.  But he put a good face on it, and finished loading up the gear.  I asked about licenses, thinking maybe that would end the trip that day, and give me some time to figure out how I could go fishing without Virginia.  But Bob said we didn’t need licenses, because we were all over 65.  He got a reproving look from Virginia when he said that, because she’d never let on to anybody that she was the same age as me, but she couldn’t deny her age, or she wouldn’t be able to go fishing.

All the way to the lake, Virginia drove from the back seat – not that she knew how to drive, she’d never got a driver’s license for herself, but she was good at giving directions.  I could see Bob getting more and more tense, gritting his teeth and rolling his eyes.  Virginia even went so far as to tell Bob how to back the boat trailer down the ramp!

Once the boat was in the water, Virginia realized that she’d have to walk out to the boat, and wanted Bob to ‘drive it closer’.  Bob, of course, refused to do that, but suggested that Virginia walk over to the dock, and we’d come by and pick her up there.  With a ‘humph’, Virginia started toward the dock.  She didn't see the little gleam in Bob's eyes.

Bob drew up to the dock, grabbed hold of a post, and told Virginia to ‘come aboard’.  As Virginia’s left foot stepped into the boat, Bob release his hold on the post, and the boat floated away from the dock – just enough that Virginia was spread-eagled between boat and dock, weaving back and forth trying to keep her balance.  Bob took mercy on her, and maneuvered the boat closer, and after much wobbling and dramatics, Virginia was finally settled on a seat.  Bob made sure we were all in life vests, then set out for his favorite spot on the lake.

Pulling out the rods, Bob handed one to each of us, then held out the bucket of bait.  Virginia asked me to bait her hook for her, but Bob said, ‘No, every fisherman in my boat baits his own hook.’  Screwing up her face, and closing her eyes, Virginia managed to pick out a worm, and holding it daintily between her finger and thumb, plunged the hook into its body.  ‘Ewwww, that’s gross.’

It wasn’t 15 minutes later, and Virginia’s rod suddenly jerked.  She’d hooked one!  Wouldn’t you know, she’d get the first fish.  She stood up and began to try to reel it in and everything seemed to happen at once - Virginia waving the rod back and forth, churning away at the reel, Bob shouting, ‘Sit down, you fool’, the boat rocking so that I had to let go of my rod to hang onto both sides (it went floating away and I knew that I’d have to buy Bob a new rod), Bob standing to reach for a net and keeping a firm hold on the side of the boat, Virginia bobbing and weaving some more.  And the boat started to take on water.  That must have been some fish (we never did see it), because suddenly Virginia let out a screech, reared back against the pull on the rod, and fell backwards over the side of the boat, arms went flailing, and the rod went flying (another one I’d have to replace).

Virginia’s life vest kept her afloat, and Bob pulled in his rod, and got things settled, and then he assessed the damage – only a few inches of water in the bottom of the boat, enough to make our feet wet, but not enough to flounder us completely.  He started up the motor, and maneuvered closer to Virginia, then telling me to stay put, he carefully coached her as she grabbed onto the side and flung one leg up and over, then literally fell into the bottom of the boat.  She really did look like a drowned rat.  Bob headed for shore, and a very subdued Virginia climbed out onto the dock.

Bob found a blanket in the trunk of his car, and Virginia snuggled into it for the return trip home.  We heard not one word all the way.

At home, as I thanked Bob and helped him clean up his boat, I apologized for the lost rods and made arrangements to go shopping for replacements.  I didn’t dare suggest that we go fishing again, but Bob said that he’d help me pick out some gear for myself, ‘including a neoprene suit to keep you dry.’  I wasn’t sure that either of us would want to repeat the experience of the day, but decided not to say anything just then.

As I walked into the house, Virginia greeted me in her bathrobe.  ‘Well, that’s one retirement hobby that you’re just going to have to do without me!’

Woo hoo, retirement just might not be so bad after all!!!

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Gift

This week's prompt from Magpie Tales:



Jane hauled boxes up from the basement, and plunked them down in the living room.  It was time to start packing up this room, ready for the big move.  Well, actually a small move, short move, down-sizing move.  After more than 30 years in this big old house, she had bought a small home in a seniors’ strata complex, small kitchen, small living room, small yard, small garage, small storage space.  This meant, of course, sorting through everything and making the big decisions: keep for use/display, put into storage boxes for maybe someday passing on to children/grandchildren, send off to the local thrift store.  The boxes were already labeled accordingly.

The bookshelf was first – so many wonderful reading hours.  Some classics, some children’s books, some gifts, some textbooks, some favorites.  None went into the thrift-store box.  Books were just too precious to give up.  As Jane worked her way around the room, she was very aware that she was avoiding the mantle.
The blue plate sat on the mantel – pride of place since Jock had given it to her their first Christmas together as man and wife.   His pride in the gift shone in his eyes, as he said, ‘It’s a commemorative series, they make a new one every year.  Some day we’ll have a wall of blue plates, just like my mom’s.’  Jane could just barely suppress her shudder, as she thanked her new husband.  How could she tell him that her idea of art displayed on their walls was not a bunch of plates, particularly blue, her least favorite color?  More blue plates had never been forth-coming, and Jane often wondered if Jock had somehow sensed her lack of excitement – not that it wasn’t a pretty plate, just that she didn’t want 50 or 60 of them.  And at that point in their lives, they assumed they’d have decades of  life together.

After Jock’s death, the plate had remained in place – her mother-in-law often remarked at what a wonderful husband her son must have been to have chosen such a perfect gift, and Jane didn’t have the heart to put it out of sight.  But it was a reminder of Jock’s apparent inability to discern her tastes when he chose gifts for her – like the purple dress that she thought made her look like an eggplant, and the mix-master because she once said she’d like to make bread, and the plastic pink roses ‘so she could have her favorite flower in the house year-round’.  The list wasn’t long, simply because Jock had passed away at such a young age, and Jane often wondered if the gift selection would have changed as they grew older and he got to know her better.

Oh, well, that wasn’t meant to be,and most of the gifts had found their usefulness.  Jane had outgrown the purple dress just naturally, and it had gone to the thrift store.  The mix-master was actually very practical, Jane did eventually learn to make bread and sweet rolls, and over time it had worn out and been replaced.  The plastic roses – well, Mhairi had cut the heads off of the stems one day for an ‘art project’ which was now in a box marked  ‘Mhairi’s Memories’. 

There was only this blue plate left – and it was a precious memory of young love and a caring husband who tried very hard to please his bride.  But, was it to go on the mantel in the new house, or was it to find its way into a storage box for the children to decide its ultimate outcome some day in the future?

Gradually the room was emptied of all the small items – pictures, ornaments, crystal candy dish – and all that was left was the mantel.  The clock was put into the ‘new house’ box, the candle sticks were placed into the ‘thrift store’ box, the seashells from their trips to the coast were safely stored in a ‘storage’ box.  As Jane stood and stepped up to reach for the blue plate, her foot caught on the edge of the hearth, and she plunged forward, both hands coming up to stop her fall, her left hand knocking against the plate and down it came – landing in pieces on the stone hearth.

Well, it wasn’t going to be a visible memory any longer – but Jane was near tears as she placed the pieces very carefully in the ‘storage' box.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Life in a Fishbowl

Willow at Magpie Tales has come up with another prompt to inspire us.  Check out all the wonderful stories and poems written as a response to this:

I wrote a book!!  This surprised me as much as anybody.  Even though I’d always dreamed of being a famous published author, traveling to glamorous places, appearing at book signings and authors’ events all over the country, having paparazzi clamoring to get a glimpse so they could make up stories about me and my life.  Little did I know what a fishbowl life can be when one is in the public eye!

I didn’t really believe I had a book in me.  But then one day, I sat down and started putting thoughts to paper - well, computer actually, so much easier than using a pen and paper and having to make sure your thoughts were in order and you had spelling and grammar correct the first time you wrote it – and out came a mystery.

Eventually I found I had words put together in some semblance of order, and the story seemed, at least to me, to be a good one.  I found an agent, and she found a publisher, and here I am today, a real author.  Now, apparently, I have to ‘sell’ the book.  I need to go to libraries and book stores and chat with people and sign books and submit to interviews for newspapers, magazines, radio, and public television.  Who knew that writing a book didn’t leap one directly into a glamorous lifestyle?

Instead, I’m up at the crack of dawn to drive (not fly) to the next two-star motel and meeting place, spend hours either on my feet talking or sitting at a table getting writer’s cramp signing my name to intimate little messages for perfect strangers.  Then late evenings in a studio or motel lobby telling my life story to an interviewer.

But what really astounds me are the questions that I get asked, both by interviewers and by readers.

‘Is Felicia Goldstone your real name?’

‘Are you married?’

‘What do you do for a living?’

‘Where do you live?’

‘What does your husband do?’

‘Do you have children?’

‘How hard is it to write a book?’

‘Do you have pets?’

‘Do you have hobbies?’

What kind of books do you read?’

These are the easy ones – people are just curious.  Then there are the ones that come from the book.

‘How close is your life to your heroine’s?’

Do you live in the country, like your heroine?’

Do you have a large house like your heroine?’

Do you drive a pick-up truck?’

‘Do you like to ride horses?’

Do you have a large garden?’

Still not hard questions to answer, again I just assume that my readers want to know more about what kind of person I am.  But some people seem to think they should know every intimate detail of my life.

What do you like to eat for breakfast/lunch/supper?’  (Are they going to cook for me?)

What time to you get up in the morning/go to bed at night'?’  (Will they have my coffee ready, or do
they want to tuck me in?)

Where do you go to buy your groceries/clothing/medicines?’  (Are they hoping to meet me in the store?)

Do you have guns/knives/poison in your house?’  (Do they think that I practice murder in order to write a mystery?)

What size dress, shoes, bra do you wear?’  (All I can hope is that they want to buy me a gift!)

What do you sleep in – pj’s, nightie, or in the nude?’  (What difference could that possibly make to anybody besides me and my husband?)

The fish in the fishbowl may be ever in view – but he never has to answer anybody’s questions!

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Mystery of the Watch part 3

This story started last week, with the prompt of the watch.  The second installment was posted on Tuesday, after the deadline, so many of you may have missed it.  This weeks prompt is being used to finish up the story.  To see other great stories and poems in response to Willow's prompts, visit Magpie Tales.  For now, here’s my attempt to work two prompts into one story:
IMG_3567a

Over the next few weeks Jane found herself occasionally mulling over the discovery of the watch and the diary, and the letters AL.  It was true that she and Jock hadn’t been married long when he died, and she couldn’t have possibly known everything about him, but there were still those niggling little thoughts wondering why he hadn’t told her about the watch or the diary.  And still the question, ‘Who is, or was, AL?’  Not sure who she could, or should, confide in, she told nobody.

One afternoon, finding some free time, she retrieved the box from Mick’s room, and started looking through the old yearbooks.  Maybe there’d be a clue there somewhere.  She started with the most recent and worked her way backwards.  No female classmates with the initials AL in medical school.  The children arrived home from school before she got any further.

It took several weeks to look through all of the yearbooks, paging through them one at a time, sometimes only able to look at a few pages at one session.  And then, in Jock’s Grade 10 yearbook, there she was – Annabelle Lindstrom, marching band majorette.  Besides her appearance in the class picture, the only other image was of her leading the marching band, in her short skirt and boots, proudly hefting the large baton.  She was a pretty girl, with a haughty set to her face that seemed to say she thought she was the most important person in the world.  Inside the back cover, was an autograph signed ‘AL’ and wishing Jock the best summer memories ever.

‘Hmmm, maybe….I wonder if Jim knows anything?’  Jane determined to ask Jock’s best friend throughout high school, university and medical school at the next opportunity.

When Jim and Jane had a lunch break together at the office, and nobody else was around, Jane finally got her chance.  Trying to be as casual as possible, she asked, ‘Do you remember a girl named Annabelle Lindstrom from high school?’

‘Annabelle Lindstrom!  I haven’t though about her in years.  Sure I remember her, but not fondly.  She was the snootiest girl in the school.  They moved into town in about Grade 9 or  10, her father came to run the mine, was here for about a year or so and then he was transferred out I guess.  Anyway they were gone, never to be heard from again.  Why are you asking about her?’

‘Oh, I was just curious.  I ran across her picture in an old yearbook of Jock’s, and I wondered if they ever dated.’

‘Absolutely not!  Annabelle did have a major crush on Jock, but he didn’t want anything to do with her.  She thought the world revolved around her, and she walked into class that first day, took a look around the room and zeroed in on Jock right away.  She did everything she could think of to get him to pay attention to her – dropped books and pens, missed the bus home, hung around at basketball practice.  She even spread nasty rumors about any other girl that Jock even spoke to, and didn’t hesitate to muscle in on any group that Jock was part of.  She was a piece of work, and nobody really missed her when she moved away.’

‘Well, I just thought maybe she was part of his life somehow.  After all, she did autograph the book.'

‘What are you doing looking at those old things?  You didn’t go to school with us, so there wouldn’t be any memories there for you.’

‘Well, the kids were doing their genealogy project for school, and wanted to know more about their dad, and I dug out an old box of Jock’s things for them.’

‘Okay, but it would make more sense for the kids to be looking through the yearbooks.  And why did you pick out Annabelle Lindstrom, of all people, to ask me about?’

‘Oh, no reason, I just….’  Jane felt herself blushing, and stammering a little.

‘What’s going on, Jane?’

Just then one of the office assistants poked her head in the door, and announced the first afternoon patient had arrived.  Jane knew she was going to have to answer Jim soon, but for now she had some time to come up with plausible answers.

Except that there wasn’t much time during the busy afternoon to think through how she’d answer Jim, and at the end of the day he came into her office and, sitting opposite her desk, stretched out his legs and said,

‘Okay, now, give – what got you looking through yearbooks and asking about Annabelle?’

Jane took a deep breath, and decided she needed to get all of this off her chest, and told Jim everything – about the watch and its inscription, the answers her mother-in-law had given about the origins of the watch, the diary and the note about AL.

‘So when was the note about AL written?’

‘Just before I told Jock that we were expecting, and he wrote his last entry saying how excited he was that we were going to have a baby – we didn’t know yet about the twins.’

‘Huh, kind of a dark horse, keeping the diary a secret.  I didn’t even know he wrote one.’

‘Well, it’s not much of a diary, often weeks and months would go by without anything written.’

‘Still, you’d think I would know about it.  Oh, well.  Do you think I could read the note?’

Jane pondered that briefly – she wanted to honor Jock’s apparent need for privacy in this area, but after all he’d been gone for more than 10 years and she really did need to know who AL was.  ‘Okay,’ she said, ‘but just that note.’

Later that evening, Jim stopped in at the house on his way home from an emergency call.  Jane got out the diary from where she’d hidden it in a drawer, opened it to the page, and handed it to him.

Suddenly Jim burst out laughing.   ‘Oh, man, Jane.  This is just too much.  Jock really could have practiced his penmanship.  But then I guess he never thought that anybody else would be trying to decipher this.  I think you jumped to some very wrong conclusions.  Al was one of our med school classmates, but went to the university hospital for his internship, then got into one of the biggest practices in the city.  He wasn’t friends with anybody!  But Jock got a letter at the office one day, asking him to be godfather to Al’s baby.  Jock thought he was nuts, and just chucked the letter. I didn’t know he’d had another one.  ‘AL’ is probably in capitals just because of Jock’s frustration.  And his chicken scratches make ‘he’ look like ‘she’.  So this actually says ‘Got a note from Al today about the baby.  How I wish 'he’d leave me alone.  He probably just hadn’t got around to telling you before you dropped the bombshell about being pregnant.’

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Mystery of the Watch ... cont

Continuation of the story begun in response to Willow's prompt at Magpie Tales

Jane was still sitting at the kitchen table when she heard Mick and Mhairi coming home from school.  She quickly thrust the diary underneath a pile of towels in a drawer.  She wasn't sure why she wanted to keep that from them.

'What's this, Mom,' Mick was first to spot the box on the table.

'Well, I took out a box of your dad's old things, to help you with your papers on family history.'

'Ooh, fabulous,'  Mhairi didn't hesitate to start to pull out the trophies, jacket, and other mementoes.  Mitch grabbed the jacket and pushed his arms into the sleeves - they dangled a good six inches below his hands, but brought quick tears to Jane's eyes as she recalled Jock wearing his letter jacket so proudly even years after high school.  She cleared her throat, and turned away quickly so as not to upset the children, opening the fridge to get out some milk to go with their after-school snack.

As the three of them sat at the table, munching on cookies and looking through the box, the children were full of questions about how Jock had earned the jacket and the trophies, which teams he'd played on, which positions he'd played, what other activities he'd done, how he made the box and the bowl - many of which Jane couldn't answer because she'd only met Jock after medical school when he was doing his internship at the same hospital in which she'd trained.  She promised to ask Jock's mother to come for dinner in a day or two to see if she could answer any of their questions.

Then Mick pulled out a report card - grade one.  Uh,oh - Jane had forgotten about those.  Mick read the report card and silently handed it to Mhairi, then pulled out the next.  Each report was reviewed by both children with no comments for several minutes.  After the last one, Mhairi looked up and said, 'Dad was sure smart, wasn't he?'  While this was true (his grades had always been excellent), Jane was surprised that grades were the focus.

Mick said, 'Of course he was.  How do you think he got to be a doctor?  And we have to be just like him, right, Mom?'

'Well, your Dad's grades were good, and it would be a good thing if you wanted to have grades as good as his were.' 

'But his teachers say he asked questions, and was busy, and was a leader.  I want to be all of those things, and get good grades, and play sports, and be a doctor some day, just like Dad.'  So Mick hadn't missed the comments, but apparently wasn't ready yet to read between the lines and understand that 'active' and 'inquisitive' and 'leadership qualities' when paired with 'fun-loving' and 'innovative' probably meant that Jock had been somewhat disruptive in class, and led his classmates into activities best left unsaid in a written report card.  The frequent requests for parent-teacher meetings attested to that in Jane's mind.

'Just remember, you need to be your own person, and do your best at anything that you try, and then find out where your talents lie, and what you like to do the most.  That's what's most important, that you - both of you - are individual, not like anybody else, and are not expected to be exactly like any other person.'

Then Mhairi pulled out a year-book and began to look for pictures of Jock, and the discussion turned to which one looked more like their father.  Jane sat back and listened to them chatter, and wondered if the secret of 'AL' could be found in one of the annuals.

Later, when the children were settled with their homework, Jane discovered the watch in her pocket, and, looking at the inscription again, determined to discover the mystery of 'AL'.  She took the watch and the diary and moved them to the bottom of a drawer in her bedroom.

A few days later, Jock's mother joined the family for dinner, and the box of mementos was brought out.  Stories flowed, so many that Jane had never heard because Jock just hadn't had time to tell her everything of his school and university years. Laughter and cheers abounded as they heard about his sports victories, his attempts at woodwork (only the successes were kept apparently), his academic and citizenship awards.  Jane had warned her mother-in-law to keep mischief and errant behavior out of the conversation, so nothing was mentioned of any exploits that might encourage Mick to step farther outside the boundaries than he sometimes was wont to do.

After dinner, and the children headed for their rooms to their own activities, Jane and Liza chatted as they cleared the table.  Jane asked, 'Did Jock ever date somebody with the initials 'AL'?'

'Not that I recall.  Why do you ask?'

So Jane told Liza all about discovering the watch, and the inscription, but left out any mention of the cryptic note in the diary - actually didn't mention it at all, not sure if she was ready to share Jock's private musings with anybody else yet.

'A pocket watch?  Can I see it?'  Liza was very curious.

When Jane handed it to her, Liza said, 'So that's where it went!  I always wondered what happened to it.  Rob must have given it to Jock before he died, when he knew he wouldn't survive the cancer, so that Jock would be sure to have it when his first son was born.'

'But it says the watch was for 'JM' not 'RM'.'

'That's right dear.  It was given to Jock's great-great-grandfather, John McDougall, by Alannah Lynch on their wedding day.  John passed it on to his son, when his first son was born.  And so the tradition was begun - from father to son on the birth of that son's first son.  Rob must have wanted to make sure that Jock had the watch, even though you weren't even married yet.'

'But I wonder why Jock never mentioned it.'  Jane was puzzled - and still didn't know who the 'AL' was in the diary entry.

'I really don't know dear, maybe he just hurt so much when his dad died that he just put the watch away and forgot all about it.  I don't remember packing it up with everything else, so maybe your mother tucked it into that box.'

'Well, that's quite likely.  I'm glad to know that we have the heirloom, and I'll be sure to pass it on to Mick when the time is right.  I know that's what Jock would have wanted.  For now, I'll put it away somewhere safe.'

So the mystery of the watch was solved, but still no clues to who 'AL' might be.  Maybe Jane would never know, but she wouldn't stop wondering.

I'm not sure where this story is going (completely - there are some ideas rolling around), but for now I've satisfied the prompt.  Stay tuned - maybe the next prompt will bring the answer.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Mystery of the Watch

bright watch
Jane reached into the box for the last little item, tucked into the corner, almost missed in the dim basement light except for the hint of gold caught out of the corner of her eye.  A pocket watch – where had this come from?  She turned it over in her hands several times, admiring the bas-relief design of a man with a boy on his lap.  It looked like the man might be telling a story, or maybe giving the younger generation a lesson in living.
On the back was engraved ‘JM love AL’.  JM?  Jock McDougall?  Had this been Jock’s?  But who’s AL?  And why had this person given Jock the watch?  And when?  And why had Jane not known of it?  Jane’s mind was spinning, no thoughts forming clearly.  She didn’t think she and Jock had had any secrets, but this watch was something he’d evidently kept from her.  Almost five years of marriage before his death, and he hadn’t wanted her to know about a watch!  There must have been a reason, but now there was no way to know.  Jane put the watch in her pocket, thinking she’d ask Jock’s mother, or maybe his best friend Jim, if they knew anything about it.

For right now, Jane was determined to get through the sorting of these boxes.  After the accident, she hadn’t had the heart to touch any of Jock’s things, it had been just too hard to face living without him.  Eventually, though, she’d realized she needed to move on with life, not erasing Jock but not living in the past either.  It wouldn’t be healthy for the children to have a mother constantly pining for a father they didn’t know and who could not be part of their every-day.  But the best she could do at that time was to allow her mother and mother-in-law to pack Jock’s things into boxes and store them in the basement.

That had been 10 years ago.  Now, because of a genealogy project at school, the children were asking questions about their father.  Not that they hadn’t seen pictures, and been told stories, and knew that he’d loved them from the minute he knew they were expected; but they wanted to have some of this things.  So Jane was looking through the stored mementos and books to see if she could select items that would help to bring their father alive for them.

Here was his high school letter jacket, and his soccer captain’s armband, track and field medals,  report cards (some of the remarks from his teachers might not be a good thing for Mick to read just yet), his high school diploma, university and medical degrees, the box and bowl he made in shop class.  As Jane started to put them back into the box to take them upstairs, she noticed a notebook, beige cardboard cover, that had blended in with the bottom of the box.  Pulling it out, and flipping through the pages, Jane thought it looked like a diary.  Jock had never kept a diary!!  Setting the little notebook aside to have it on top, Jane repacked the box, and took everything upstairs.

Settling down with a cup of tea, Jane pulled the watch from her pocket, and spent some more time exploring it.  Interesting – here in a brighter light, she could see a little catch on the inside of the cover.  Pressing it, a second compartment opened like a locket, and a little piece of paper fell out.  When Jane retrieved the paper from the floor, she discovered it was folded and inside was a lock of hair, blond hair, baby hair.  Time to look at the diary, and see if there was any clues to the mystery of the watch.

Quickly scanning the entries in the notebook, Jane confirmed that it did look like Jock’s writing, as difficult to decipher as any physician’s.  The first entry was September of his grade 10 year, and a complaint about the English class assignment to journal.  For the balance of that school year, there were weekly entries, as short as possible: ‘Basketball practice started this week’; ‘Went camping with the gang’; ‘Dad gave me some work to earn money for Christmas’; ‘Track and field tryouts this week’; ‘Got my driver’s license’.  After the end of that school year, entries were only made every few months, obviously on occasions of import to a teenager, and no less cursory: ‘Took Lynn to the Christmas prom’; ‘Got a part-time job at the drug-store’; ‘Decided I want to be a doctor'.  Over the years of university and medical school, entries were even less frequent, and covered topics such as major accomplishments and milestones like graduation, acceptance into medical school, internship applications.

Then came this: ‘I met my future wife today, a real fire-ball, red hair and all!  Her first words to me and she told me off.  I don’t know her name yet, but she’s a student nurse and I’ll surely run into her again soon.  I wonder if our children will have red hair?’  Jane found herself almost blushing at the memory of their first meeting – how rude she had been – and then giggling at the thought that Jock had decided, despite her rudeness, that he wanted to marry her.  After that the writings increased in frequency, all about their courtship, engagement and wedding plans, with a few comments about internship and plans to open a medical practice with his best friend Jim. 

After their wedding, the entries almost stopped, but the last one was: ‘Today J told me we’re going to have a baby.  A baby!  Incredible!  A little life, made of our love, a person to care for, play with, teach, discipline..how I wish my Dad was here to show me how to be a Good Dad like he was.’   Jane teared at the memory of that day, and the short time they’d had together to plan for the addition to the family.  The worst was the reminder again that Jock had never known the children and they’d never known him.

After a few moments, Jane flipped back through the book, realizing there’d been no mention of a watch.  She found two pages stuck together, and gently pulled them apart.  It looked like Jock had had jam or honey on his fingers when he wrote on this page.  One entry, about a year before the last: ‘Got a note from AL today about the baby.  How I wish she’d leave me alone’.
to be continued
For more wonderful stories go to http://magpietales.blogspot.com/

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Beauty Is....

This week’s prompt from Magpie Tales:
IMG_3707a
Jane was beside herself with anticipation!!!  That’s the only way to describe her feelings.  She felt just like 2-year-old Mhairi and Mick, when they would run around in circles saying, ‘But we’re so ‘cited, Mommy,’ when she asked them to sit quietly.  She wanted to run in circles, dance, shout out to the world, ‘I get a big-girl night out tonight!’  She felt like a teenager going on her first date, like she had felt the night of her first date with Jock – nervous and scared and excited all at once. Humming and singing, Jane went about her routine housework and child-care duties – nothing the children said or did could faze her today.  After Jock’s death, Jane had not had any desire to go anywhere.  And then, with the birth of the twins a few months later, there had been few opportunities for outings that didn’t include them.  Certainly there had been no occasions like this one.                                          
Tonight, her cousin Patrick was being honored at a ceremony for achieving his doctorate in archeology, followed by a reception.  The invitation said, ‘Dress: formal’.  Prior to the ceremony close friends and family were gathering at The Towers restaurant in a private banquet room for a pre-celebration dinner.  Jane would be leaving the children with their grandmother, Jock’s mother, for the night, and staying at a hotel in the city after the reception.  The children were almost as excited as Jane, looking forward to their sleep-over. 
Jane’s new dress was laid out on her bed, a soft mint green with just a hint of a pearly sheen, matching shoes set on the floor beside it, the pearl necklace-earrings-bracelet set that was a gift from Jock on their 3rd anniversary in the box on her dressing table. 
The children went down for their nap, giving Jane enough time to have a leisurely bubble bath, do her hair, nails and make-up.  The plan was to take them to their grandmother when they woke, then return home and finish dressing, then drive out to meet everybody else at the restaurant.
Jane tuned in a favorite station on her bedroom radio when she went in to run her bath.  Singing with the radio, she lowered into the warm bubbly water, and just laid back with a sigh of deep satisfaction.  When the water started to get chilly, she got out and wrapped in a towel while she curled and sprayed her hair.  Then she got out her manicure set, shaped her nails and applied a soft pink polish.  She decided that a cup of tea would be nice while she waited for the polish to harden, before putting on make-up.
After her relaxing cup of tea, Jane proceeded back to her bedroom to get her make-up on – it wouldn’t be long and the children would be awake, and Mhairi for sure would want to ‘help’.  Foundation, eye-shadow, eye-liner, mascara, blush and lastly, lipstick to match the nail polish.  Jane picked up the new tube, pulled the top off, turned the base – but the  lipstick didn’t rise!  ‘This is impossible,’ Jane muttered to herself, ‘I guess I should have checked the tube to make sure it worked.’  Starting to dig through her make-up box to find a lipstick brush, thinking she could get enough out of the tube that way, she heard a clopping sound from the hallway.  Looking up into the mirror, she could see Mhairi coming into the bedroom in one of Jane’s dresses and a pair of Jane’s high-heel shoes.
’Hi Mommy, I’m ready to go, I even have make-up on!’
Indeed she did – Jane’s new pale pink lipstick was smeared all over Mhairi’s lips, cheeks, and eyes, no wonder the lipstick didn’t rise, the tube must be empty!.   What was a mother to do?  Jane just burst out laughing.
For more stories based on the prompt, visit Magpie Tales

Monday, April 5, 2010

Love is its Own Treasure

Willow at Magpie Tales has prompted us once again.  Check out the other stories and poems that have resulted from this picture:

IMG_3683b

I’m Pamela Elizabeth Julia Mariana Stokes-Wharton.  Quite a mouthful, isn’t it?  You’d think I was born of royalty, or at least a Fortune 500 family.  Actually I’m just a middle-aged spinster librarian, living in a two bedroom bungalow surrounded by a picket fence, in the small town where I grew up.

My nickname as a child was ‘Mouse’ and it suited me then and still suits me now – mousy hair, non-descript brown eyes, a sharp nose, slightly buck teeth.  My clothing style is somewhat mousey,  because I prefer to wear neutral colors like beige, grey, brown.  That way nobody will really notice me.

There’s nobody left that calls me Mouse any more.  My mother, a flamboyant women’s-libber long before her day, always surrounded herself with color and light and people.  She was the first to call me Mouse, saying I was just like my father.  Papa was a teacher, typically seen in an argyle vest and bow tie, glasses perched on the end of his nose which seemed to be always stuck behind a book.  A quiet man, he was the one who showed me the wonder of the world of books, a place to escape into a land of exotic travel, futuristic fantasy, and passionate love affairs.  My only sibling, Cassandra, known as ‘Princess’ at home, is much more like our mother, but we rarely see each other now even though we live in the same town.  When we do meet she’s always careful to call me Pamela.

 

Our little town is situated on the edge of a lake and is owned by the Goldberg family – well, not actually, but they do own most of the businesses – Goldberg Pharmacy, Goldberg Produce, Goldberg Mercantile, Goldberg Hardware, even the Goldberg Beauty Parlor although that’s actually called Penny’s because Penny Goldberg is the hairstylist that runs it.  Cassandra married a Goldberg, the current town mayor, and is always busy.  She belongs to the country club, presides over most of the boards in town, entertains flamboyantly, attends regularly at political social events with her sons (one holding a provincial seat, the other a federal seat), and travels extensively, which has included two around-the-world cruises.  Cassandra wouldn’t be caught dead wearing gray or beige, at least not without a splash of bright purple or electric green in a scarf or shell top.  We’re complete opposites in every way.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love my sister, have great respect for my brother-in-law, and adore their children.  There just isn’t much time in their lives for a little mouse like me.

 

Everybody else in town calls me Miss P.  That was started by the children at the Saturday morning story time at the library some 30 years ago.  And even my grown ‘children’ with children of their own still call me that.

On this Saturday morning, just a week before Easter, I gathered up my books and papers, and headed out to meet the children for their story time.  I was especially careful to make sure I had the pictures of my sister’s Faberge egg to show them.  Two weeks ago I had started to tell them the history of Easter eggs, and told the tale of the first Faberge egg created for Czar Alexander to give to his wife in 19th century Russia.   Last week, when I started a story about Easter eggs and Easter bunnies, little Jimmy Wilson said they all wanted to know more about those ‘fabercated’ eggs.  The other children agreed vehemently, so I promised them pictures this week.

My sister and her husband have a large house on an island in the middle of the lake, accessible only by boat, so I’d had to make special arrangements to get there to take the pictures.  Cassandra had bought the egg on one of her round-the-world cruises, and kept it in a locked glass cabinet with pride of place in her living room.  She’s always careful to make sure every visitor sees it, and as frequently as possible tells the story of her purchase in Russia.  I’ve always been in awe of her ability to even afford such a wonderful treasure, but found it difficult at best to hear the story one more time on this recent visit.

The children seemed extra excited this morning, and it took quite a while to get them settled to listen to the story.  But eventually they calmed, and I told them another Faberge-egg story I’d gleaned from the internet, then showed them the pictures.  They oohed and aahed, and gathered close around me to get a good look, many of them wanting to touch the picture.

I heard Sarah Larson come into the room to gather the children for their craft time, which followed story time each week, so without looking up I began to get the children back into their seats.  They were still a little more noisy than usual.  When at last I looked up, Sarah stood quietly at the back of the room with her hands behind her back.  I hardly had time to wonder what was happening when Jimmy Wilson yelled ‘Surprise’ – and all of the other children joined him in a jumble of Happy Easter wishes.  I still wasn’t sure what was happening, but then Jimmy went to her and she produced a package from behind her back.

Jimmy carried the package carefully to me, and said, ‘Miss P, we want you to have your own ‘fabercated’ eggs to put in a glass case in your house.  So we asked Miss Sarah to help us.  Here!’

I opened the package to find a basket of hand-painted eggs, each in a jumble of colors in the art styles of typical four- and five-year-olds.  Sarah said, ‘They told me they wanted you to have a Faberge egg – it took me a while to figure out exactly what they were talking about – so last week I had the paints and brushes and eggs ready for them.’  My eyes teared, I didn’t know what to say, and I had to gulp a few times before I could offer hugs and thank yous to each of the children.

When at last I looked up again, the doorway was crowded with people – older children, teenagers, young adults, some of the parents of the children.  All of them had been ‘my’ children, at least on Saturday morning at story time.  From the back of the crowd, Peter Bentley slowly moved forward.  I could hardly believe I was seeing him.

’Peter Bentley,’ I exclaimed, ‘what are you doing here?  I thought you’d settled in the city after you finished university.’

’You’re right, Miss P, I do live in the city, and there’s not often a chance to come back and visit since my parents retired and moved away.  But, when the call came two weeks ago, I just had to be part of the party.  You see, Jimmy and the other children told Sarah that you needed a Faberge egg of your own, and she called around to her friends and started a fan-out to everybody they could think of who had listened to your stories, or who had children who had been at your story times.  Sarah and the children made their own version of Faberge eggs, and the rest of us went on a search.  We hope that you’ll like our little token of appreciation, and enjoy it as much as we enjoyed your stories over the years.’

My eyes teared again, and I looked down at the lovely egg, almost afraid to touch it.  ‘You shouldn’t have,’ I managed to blubber out.

’Oh, yes, we should,’ Peter responded.  ‘Every one of us learned to love books and to have the world at our feet through the stories you told us as little children, and the perfect reading you always found for us as we grew up – novels to excite our dreams, texts to help us with our school assignments.  You’ve always been there for us, and we wanted to show you how much we appreciate your caring and sharing.’

’Well, thank you, thank you all.  I will treasure this gift for all of my life, knowing that it was a gift of the heart just like the first eggs made for Czar Alexander.’

After a chance to chat with all of my ‘children’ of all ages, gradually the room emptied out, and only Peter was left behind.

 

‘Peter, I can’t accept such a wonderful gift, you can’t possibly afford the thousands that this must cost…’

’Well, honestly Miss P, a real egg is actually worth up to millions, so you’re right, we couldn’t possibly have afforded it.  So I just called up your nephew to find out where his folks found theirs.’

’But my sister bought hers in Russia.’

’Not possible, Miss P – they’re just simply not for sale just anywhere.  Hers came from the same reproduction house where we got this.’

 

Little did Peter know what a wonderful gift he’d given me when I finally felt on the same footing as my sister, not that I’d ever let on to her that I knew our eggs were both just simple knock-offs.  I felt like going out and buying a bright orange scarf!!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Nightmare at Elm Lake

Once again Willow at Magpie Tales has challenged the writers in us to respond to her prompt.  Interestingly, this one was posted as an easier prompt, but I found it more challenging than the others. 

daffodil

The daffodil heads danced merrily in the slight breeze, nodding their goodbyes as Rosemary herded the children toward the car.  Everybody was laden with the last loads of necessities for the trip.

Piling everything into the back of the SUV, Rosemary mentally ticked off: suitcases with clothes – lots of clothes, sleeping bags, pillows, backpacks of toys, bags and coolers of food, boxes tucked away in the bottom with chocolate Easter eggs for the hunt and baskets for the Easter bunny to deliver on Sunday morning.  Okay, looks like everything’s here.

As she made sure all seatbelts were fastened, she mentally locked up the house, all taps off, stove turned off, lights turned off, alarm set.  Ready to go.  Off  to the annual Easter weekend family reunion.

It was Rosemary’s turn to plan and make all the arrangements this year, and she’d looked for a larger venue.  With the addition of several grand-children-in-laws to the family and a few great-grandchildren, they’d become crowded out at the traditional meeting place.  After months of web searching, Elm Lake Resort had been highly recommended by friends, only a 2-hour drive away.  Rosemary patted her purse on the seat beside her, with the reservation information and web-printed brochures in it, and mentally pictured the cabins, house, barbecue shelter, meeting rooms, hot tubs, canoes on the lake – and the field of daffodils – displayed on the web-site.  She looked forward to being once again with her grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, siblings, cousins for a full weekend of fun.

As they drove, the children amused themselves with ‘I Spy’ and singing ‘100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall’.  Bill would join them all later in the evening, after work, but Rosemary wanted to get there early to settle in and have a spread of welcome snacks for the rest of them as they arrived.  Some would have driven most of the day to get there and would be looking forward to relaxing for a while before plunging into their share of the cooking and clean-up that always came with such a large group together.

It seemed almost no time, and Rosemary turned down the road that headed toward the resort.  The sign at the corner was a little worse for wear, but after all it was the end of winter, and they probably hadn’t been able to get out and spruce it up for the season.  Just at the corner, there was the field of daffodils – a carpet of bright sunny yellow, first-sign-of-spring daffodils, welcoming them to a wonderful retreat.   Funny – she didn’t think the resort was quite this close to the corner, though.

It wasn’t – another half hour of driving before they reached the entrance, with its broken gate and rutted driveway.  Whew – lots of early-season work to be done here.  As Rosemary pulled up to the main house (‘six large bedrooms, country kitchen, dining/meeting space for 40-60’ according to the brochure), she looked around – at broken down machinery, out-buildings with broken windows and doors falling off their hinges, a lake surrounded by marsh, with no boating access in sight.  Where were the cute little chalet cabins?  Where was the playground area for the children?

With trepidation, Rosemary cautioned the children to wait in the car while she checked to see if the key was in its place.  She located the lock-box, punched in the code from the email message, and retrieved the main house key.  The message said the keys for the cabins would be on the kitchen counter.  Just then Jamie called out, ‘Mommy, I have to pee.’ 

‘Okay, kids, come on, let’s go inside and get things put away,’ said much more cheerfully than Rosemary was feeling at the moment.

The foyer was dimly lit by an old chandelier hanging from the ceiling on the next floor up, a double wide staircase led to the main level of the house.  The stairs creaked as the family walked up to the landing, so loudly Rosemary wondered if they would hold the weight.  Turning at the landing the banisters on either side looked down on the entry, with six inches between them and the wall.  They squeezed past the railing to the central hallway, ahead of them a large living room with windows overlooking the lake, if you could see through the grime and cobwebs, to the right appeared to be the kitchen, and down the hall to the left two doors, one on either side.

‘Let’s see if one of these gets us to the bathroom,’ and Rosemary took Jamie’s hand.  On the left side the door opened to a closet, with a toilet and sink, rust-stained and discolored with age.  Plunking Jamie on the seat, wishing she had some sani-wipes with her, Rosemary backed out of the room to see what was behind the door across the hall.  Same thing!  Oh my, what had she gotten them all into?

When Jamie had washed her hands, with only water because the soap dispenser was empty, and wiped them on her pants to dry, Rosemary ventured back down the hall to check out the rest of the house.  The fireplace in the living room was blackened with soot, the leatherette on the chairs and sofas was cracked and spilling out stuffing, the carpet showed the tracks of many, many dirty feet from probably years past.  Taking a deep breath, Rosemary headed into the kitchen. 

Well, it was clean, at least on the surface, but it hadn’t been updated since the house was built some 30 or 40 years ago.  The stove and fridge were apartment size – it was going to be tough to cook for everybody.  The small kitchen table would maybe accommodate six people, if there had been more than the four chairs around it.  Rosemary picked up the keys on the counter, and read the note underneath, ‘Keys for cabins 4, 5, 6, 7 – make sure everything is just as you find it when you leave.’  Not very welcoming.

Calling the children, Rosemary squeezed back past the banisters, and headed downstairs to check out the bedrooms.  Except there were none – a big meeting room, with several long tables end-to-end and about 40 chairs in various states of repair or disrepair stacked against one wall, filled the space to the left of the foyer.  On the right – another large room with cots folded and scattered about the space.  Rosemary just stood and stared, not sure what to think, not sure what to do.  Turning toward the window, she spied an older couple walking across the grounds.

She sped outside calling, ‘Hello – are you Mr. Norman?’

‘That’d be me, little lady,’ the man smirked at her.  ‘What can I do for you?’

‘What happened to the house?  Where are the bedrooms?  The kitchen is so small, we can hardly turn around in it!  And where are the little chalet cabins?  This isn’t what I expected from your brochures.’

‘Now, now, it’s okay.  We had to make some changes to make the house into a conference space and government regulations required widening the stairway, and making the rooms downstairs into large meeting rooms.   But there are cots you can set up for sleeping, and just bring your meals down to the other room.  The cabins are right here.’  His hand swept around indicating the broken-down out-buildings.  ‘And the out-houses are just over there,’ indicating two small sheds on the other side of the house.

‘But you mean those two small bathrooms in the house are the only ones with running water?  Oh, and what about showers?’

‘Well, there’s always the lake….’

Rosemary woke with a start, jumped out of bed and ran to the kitchen desk to check once again the brochures and descriptions of the resort she’d booked.  Maybe she should make sure everything was in order, before the reunion next weekend.  ‘Okay, kids, time to get up, we’re going for a drive!’

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Several weeks ago, six actually, my blog-friend QMM published a short story as a result of the prompt she found at Magpie Tales .  I found myself intrigued with the concept, partly because I'd always dreamed of writing, but had never really tried to write.  At first my thoughts ran along the line of 'not a chance - nobody would want to read what you have to write'.  But then three weeks ago, the prompt really got my imagination going, and I found myself dreaming a story, so decided to write it out, on a new blog, that I would only let my sister-the-writer read.  Well, she liked it, and with the next prompt came another story-line in my mind.  This time I added QMM to the reader list, to see what she thought.  Now, a third person has read my stories, and the feedback has been encouraging, so now I'm ready to see what other writers think of these.  This is prompt # 6 (# 3 for me) - and I'm going to take a leap of faith and link these stories to the Magpie Tales blog.

No titles have come to mind yet - anybody got any ideas?

When I first looked at this prompt, I thought ‘what could I possibly write that would relate to this?’  So now several days later, I find I’m back at my same characters, so maybe this writing exercise, at least for a while, is going to be a series instead of stand-alone short stories – I guess we’ll see.
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‘Bang, bang, bang,’    Jane started at the sound, wondering – but only for a second – what it was.  She knew, just hadn’t been expecting it.  Sixteen-year-old Mick was in the basement workshop, hammering out his frustrations just like…..
‘Bang, bang, bang.’   Jock was in his workshop, while Jane paced the kitchen floor, literally wringing her hands, wondering what to do now.  This hammering sound was a new one in their 4-month marriage, and the argument that had preceded it was their first.  Thoughts of the argument caused a complete 180 in Jane’s feelings – from despair and anxiety to disgust and anger.  How could anybody be so stubborn?  Well, if he could walk away from their discussion, she certainly wasn’t going to follow him and grovel.  Let him hammer!!
Jane headed upstairs into her sewing room.  Mom McDougall said quilting resolved a lot of problems, well now was the time to put it to the test.
As Jane settled in front of her sewing machine with the pieces for the quilt blocks ready to assemble stacked beside her, she picked up the first two, matched them right sides together, and fed them under the presser foot – then the next two, and the next.  The sewing machine was humming along nicely in short order.  At first Jane concentrated solely on the little pieces of fabric, making sure that edges were exactly together, that her seams were exactly 1/4 inch, that she didn’t miss a step in the instructions.  The hammering sounds from the basement occasionally pierced through, but they were much fainter being two stories away so were not nearly so bothersome.
Gradually Jane was lulled into a rhythm, and her thoughts went back to earlier hours, when she and Jock had been in the dining room looking at paint chips with plans to choose a color and buy the paint.  Then her thoughts went further back to the other reno projects they’d already tackled and conquered – without one hint of conflict.
When Jock’s father passed away suddenly just months before their marriage, and then Mom McDougall decided this old house was just too much for her, Jane and Jock were more than thrilled to take it on.  Jock was pleased at not having to leave his childhood home, and Jane was excited at the prospect of their own home into which they could infuse their own personalities.  So much nicer than having to rent, and live with somebody else’s ideas of color and decor.
Their plan had been to take one room at a time, starting with the ground floor (leaving the kitchen for the very end, though), then do the second floor, the attic, the basement, and in between tackling the outside during spring and summer months.  The house was structurally sound, having been well-maintained by Jock’s father and grandfather before him, and electrical and plumbing had been upgraded over the years as necessary to keep up with the demands of the times, so Jane and Jock’s job was mostly esthetics. 
The sunny, south-facing breakfast nook had been first – freshen the neutral paint color, put some new grout in the tile floor, hang a new light fixture, new valances on the windows and bamboo shades to roll down only when necessary to keep the room a little cooler in the hottest summer months, wicker furniture with bright cushions – easy, breezy.
The living room was a little more challenging – with no ceiling light fixture, lamps were needed throughout.  But Jane didn’t like the idea of needing to walk around turning on and off each lamp individually every time they used the room.  And they’d already had several gatherings, and knew that they enjoyed entertaining, and this room would be used frequently.  So, the answer had been to connect the lamp plugs to a wall-switch.  After that, again freshening the neutral color, refinishing the floor and woodwork, some new comfy furniture (over which Jane planned to ‘throw’ some quilt creations, and they had a gorgeous room that Jane was proud to usher friends and family into.
And then the dining room.  They started with stripping the wallpaper and were surprised to discover several layers, which took days to get off.  It was certainly interesting to see the design eras emerge as they worked their way down to the plaster.   This was the biggest surprise.  Apparently there had been some kind of water damage, and large portions of the wall had to be stripped out and replaced.  It was no wonder previous decorators had simply put paper over it, and then kept covering it up.  But Jock was game, and it had taken a few weeks to get the walls in shape for painting.  It was choosing this paint color that had started the argument.
‘But this room has always been blue.’  Jock refused to look at any other color chips.
‘Well, no not really, honey, remember the red paisley and the pink cabbage roses?’  Jane tried to reason.
‘Those were before my mother’s time – she always had blue.’
‘But blue in this north-facing room will just be depressing.  The room needs something lighter and brighter.  And I really don’t like blue.  We can paint your study blue, if that’s what you’d like.’
‘I’ll say it again, this room has always been blue.’  The discussion deteriorated from there – each determined to choose the color, until Jock wheeled around and left the room.  Jane started to follow, just to see him disappear down the basement steps – and then the hammering started.  It wasn’t like she’d not heard hammering from the workshop before, as Jock fixed little things around the house, but this was different.  It was so loud, and so continuous!
As Jane stood up from the sewing machine, gathering her block pieces to take to the ironing board, she became aware again of the sounds from the basement.  It wasn’t just hammering, there was some drilling and sawing happening down there now too.  ‘Hmm, wonder what he’s doing,’ Jane thought to herself.  But until he was ready to apologize….
Jane continued working on the quilt blocks, finding as her mother-in-law had promised, that other thoughts just simmered in the background, and eventually Jane got around to thinking about the color of the dining room.  She had wanted green tones in there – she thought a soft green would reflect the outdoors, and be a perfect foil for the mountains in the view through the bow window.  Besides, green was fairly neutral and would complement many other design elements.  Blue, on the other hand ………. Suddenly Jane had the answer – teal, very pale, not quite there, leaning a little more to the green, but still with blue undertones – yes, that could be it.  What a unique color, and would go well with any flowers or pictures.
Jane jumped up from her chair and practically ran down the stairs and into the kitchen.  As she reached for the basement door, it burst open and there was Jock.  ‘I’m sorry,’ they both said simultaneously.  And they were in each other’s arms, hugging and kissing and trying to talk all at once.  Eventually Jane told Jock her idea for a pale teal color, and Jock told Jane he thought a greeny-blue could work well.  And then they started to laugh as they realized that sewing quilts and hammering nails achieved the same thing – clearing their minds to be able to work through their feelings and begin to see each other’s perspectives.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


Jane plopped into the kitchen chair, blew her hair out of her face, and heaved a huge sigh.  She listened to Mick and Mhairi playing in the tub, a ploy that kept them from going to sleep just at supper time (and which would keep them awake until late in the evening).  Their happy voices, singing and giggling, made her smile - they knew that if they got quiet, she'd call to them 'I can't HEAR you!!'  Jane sipped her tea, while the chicken dinner sizzled on the stove, and reflected back on the day.  It had been incredibly busy.  Now she wondered how she had got through it all, and how she was going to stay awake until the twins were in bed for the night.

The morning had started as usual - awake at the crack of dawn, 30 minutes of ballet exercises so necessary to keep at some kind of fitness level, shower, dress, make the bed, head down to the kitchen to put the kettle on and start some breakfast.  The children generally woke themselves up - if one was out of bed first, the other followed very quickly and the race was on to see who could get to the table first.  This morning was no different and soon Mick and Mhairi were settled in front of their bowls of hot cereal and orange juice.  At three years old, they were independent enough to feed themselves with just a little supervision, and Jane could appreciate eating her breakfast too while it was still hot.  And the cup of tea after they skedaddled upstairs to get dressed was so welcome, and such a nice start to the day.

In short order, the little family was out the door.  It was Jane's day to work at the office, and the twins were used to accompanying her with a bag of toys, books, crayons and coloring books.  In the office door at 8:30 sharp, Jane got the twins settled into their corner, and proceeded to get computers up and running, lights on, make sure that all the medical supply jars in the examining rooms were filled with cotton balls, q-tips, and tongue depressors, supplies of gowns and blankets were topped up in each room, magazines were returned to the waiting room and all was tidied.  Then the patients' charts for the day needed to be pulled and organized, any new diagnostic results on the fax machine put into the correct chart (setting aside those not needed for the day to be filed later).  By the time the door was opened to the public, Jane was almost ready for another cup of tea.

But it was a steady run of patients, Jim arriving right behind the first one from his rounds at the hospital.  As much as they tried to keep on schedule, and avoid having patients waiting for their appointment time, they were behind by lunch-time.  This of course cut the lunch-hour short, and Jane had just a half-hour to take Mick and Mhairi to the park.  They'd wonderfully kept themselves occupied in her little corner office, getting their snacks when they were hungry, but were certainly ready to get out and about for at least a short while.  Plans to also pick up a few groceries had to be delayed until the end of the day.

Mid-afternoon, while doing a blood-draw on a patient, Jane heard a sudden cry from her office.  Finishing up as quickly as she could and bustling the chatty elderly lady out the door rather abruptly, she went to see what was happening.  It was unusual to hear much from the children, and they generally were happy enough with their own company, and she only had to poke her head in the office in between patients to reassure herself that all was well.  It was Mick - tears running down his cheeks, he was trying to be quiet as Mhairi admonished him to not 'deturve the patients'.  Jane sat in the desk chair and pulled him onto her lap asking, 'what's the matter, honey?   Does something hurt?' 

Mick nodded and snuffled, and held his right ear.  Oh dear, thought Jane - another ear infection.  Mick was prone to these, but Jane hadn't seen any signs that he was feeling unwell through the morning.  Maybe the cool air outdoors at noon had caused a coming infection to flare up a little more quickly.  She found a baby aspirin, which Mick was more than happy to take, enjoying the slightly sweet taste, and then when Jim was free she asked him to look into the ear.  Sure enough, an inner ear infection - well at least they were in a doctor's office with antibiotics handy, and they got Mick started right away.  The aspirin did its trick, and soon Mick was happily playing again.  Jane made a mental note to be sure to give him another one in a few hours.

This little interval disrupted the flow of the office, and the last-minute appointments didn't get finished up until quite late.  A stop at the grocery store, Jane added some snack bars to the cart to be able to stave off the twins' hunger until supper would be ready, and keep them from falling asleep on the trip home.  It worked, and now they were having their 'busy-bath' while supper was prepared. ....

Jane started awake.  Oh, no - how long had she been asleep?  Then she felt a splash on her cheek.  She looked up and held out her hand, already wondering why the twins were so quiet.  Another drip of water, from right beside the light fixture, landed in her outstretched palm.  Glancing at the clock, she saw it had only been a few minutes - but she knew already as she sprinted up the stairs, that the peace was over!!!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Living the Dream

Well, here I am trying to live out the dream of being a writer. I'm not going to share this with very many people, not until I can see if I can actually write anything. I'm using Magpie Tales as my inspiration, and we'll see where that goes. Here's today's picture:





Jane sat in the rocking chair, staring out the window, not moving, not seeing, not feeling.  The setting sun glistened on the fresh spring snow on the mountains to the south, the new green leaves budding on the dogwood tree spoke of the warmth of the spring days, daffodils and tulips poked out of the ground with polka dots of color, a fresh wind moved the curtains in the window.  None of this woke Jane's senses at this moment.

What she saw was in her mind's eye, a day more than 35 years ago.  The dogwood tree was much smaller, the daffodils and tulips first planted the previous fall were more sparse but giving that lift of the first colors of spring, the mountains guarding all below them as they had done for centuries.  The sun had been shining that day, too.  Jane stood in front of the window, breathing deeply of the fresh air, hand on her swollen belly, speaking soft words to the new life growing inside her, who would soon inhabit this room.  This room - the one that had been Jock's when he was a boy - decorated in soft yellows and greens, for boy or girl, whichever God brought into their lives.  One boy or one girl - one crib, one change table, one rocking chair, one of everything. 

But this morning, the doctor had listened very carefully to the baby's heart, moving the stethoscope to different positions and then said the words, 'Well, my dear, it sounds like twins!'  Jane's breath caught and she held it for several seconds as she tried to grasp exactly what she was being told, and then she smiled and cried and laughed and babbled about being two mothers and not having two names and....  As she stood at the window, waiting for Jock to come home, she grinned as she imagined Jock's reaction when she gave him the news.

She heard the front door, heard her beloved calling out, heard his footsteps climbing the stairs.  As he came in the bedroom saying, 'I knew you'd be here, it's become your favorite place in the house.  What did the doc have to say this morning?  Everything on schedule?'

Jane turned from the window, her grin almost splitting her face, and she started to laugh.  Jock had to ask three or four times what was so funny, but everytime she tried to speak she broke out in laughter and soon the tears flowed with her hilarity.  Finally she got out, 'Two babies, there's two of them in here!'

And Jock turned around and left the room.  Jane's laugh turned into a choke with the shock of his reaction - she didn't know what to do, what to think, whether to follow him, or wait to see if he would come back.  Mere minutes and Jock was back at the door, and he handed her the small carved elephant saying, 'I'll have to make another one, now'.

The next few hours, over dinner, the expectant parents talked about the coming babies - jumping around from subject to subject, names, another crib, more diapers, names, how to tell their families, names,  what about a nanny, a second baby room, names.  They laughed and hugged and cried and kissed - their excitement was boundless.  Then the phone rang, and Jock was called to Emergency, it was his turn for call.

They were used to this; as a doctor himself Jock had a busy practice and took his share of call nights, including calls to deliver babies.  This wasn't an imminent delivery, but somebody reporting with abdominal pains.  Jane cleared up the dinner dishes, and settled into the big armchair by the fireplace in the living room, with paper and pen to start writing out the tasks needed to be done now to prepare for a second baby - and to note a few more ideas for names, after all they might get two of the same sex.

She woke to the phone ringing, and stretched a bit before heading into the kitchen to answer.  As she crossed the hall, she glanced at her wristwatch, realizing that it was really quite late, and wondering what had delayed Jock, he should have been home hours ago.  But then, the life of a doctor, he probably had more patients for his group arrive while he was at the hospital.

'Hello?'  Jane spoke into the receiver.

'Mrs. MacDougall?' the voice on the other end didn't sound familiar.

'Yes.'

'Mrs. MacDougall, my name is Lieutenant Peterson, from the RCMP.  I'm sorry to have to tell you...'

Jane went numb, and just barely understood the words spoken.  Eventually she hung up the phone, but just stood at the counter, not completely understanding what she'd been told.  The doorbell rang then, and Jock's partner and his wife came in.  Not just partners in their medical practice, the two men had been best friends since their elementary school days, and the two women had developed a bond as well.  Jim had been called with the news by the staff at Emergency - Jock had been on his way home, when he was hit by a drunk driver, and delivered back to Emergency by the ambulance service where he was pronounced dead on arrival.

Moira quickly got tea going, and the two of them just sat holding Jane's hands.  They didn't know about the twins, nobody did, and Jane also forgot.  The next days were a blur of funeral arrangements and notifying families and other friends.  Then there was all the legal issues around the practice.  And Jane still had to get ready for the birth of the babies.

Mick and Mhairi arrived about two weeks before schedule, and somehow Jane was ready.  Her mother came for a few weeks, then Jock's mother took over for the next few until Jane felt like she had a kind of rhythm with the two babies.  The little carved elephant had been tucked away by some kind soul during those first days after Jock's death, and mysteriously had not been unearthed until today, as she was sorting through old boxes in preparation for moving into her new home.  When she came across the little carving in the box in the back of the closet, she'd felt as though the wind had been knocked out of her, and she dropped into the rocker, where she sat unmoving, unseeing - just remembering.