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.

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:
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!