Showing posts with label Creative Writing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Creative Writing. Show all posts

Monday, November 14, 2016

I open at the close

image source

I open at the closet. 

Allison pulled her phone out of her pocket and looked at the text, then looked again. It was from her husband, Brandon, and it lined up perfectly with the morning she was having: it didn’t make sense, and it kind of pissed her off. 

She stared at the tiny pulsating dots at the bottom of the screen, and hoped that the forthcoming explanation would be something funny. Brandon was nothing if not funny, and at one point he made her life interesting, not that she needed any more interesting at the moment. 

Hahaha, I’m sorry. 

•••

I was trying to type Allison, I love you. I am so thankful for you. You have made my life completely different from what it was just a few years ago. You are beautiful, smart, and I always hoped that you’d be the mother of my children. If I don’t see you again, just know that you were the best thing to ever happen to me. I love you. 

Panic raced through Allison’s heart as she read word after word, then read it again. She called up the keyboard and began inputting text at a blistering rate, not caring about the typos this time, he surely wouldn’t care about them this time. 

•••

Before she could hit send, the three little dots popped up again, moving silently left to right, and for just a moment she was able to hear the ellipsis, boom boom boom, boom boom boom, boom boom boom, but then realized she was hearing her own heart, frenetically trying to leap out of her chest. 

Allison whoah, don’t worry abou that I’m fin
•••
I’m fine 
•••
I’m trying to set up an automated message on my phone, I was trying to say Allison, I love you. I am so thankful for you. You have made my life completely different from what it was just a few years ago. You are beautiful, smart, and I always hoped that you’d be the mother of my children. If I don’t see you again, just know that you were the best thing to ever happen to me. I love you.
•••
Ugh! I’m trying to text I open at the close but the freaking thing won’t send before it changes. 
•••

Allison’s anxiety faded, but her heartbeat didn’t quiet. When fear stopped pumping adrenaline through her system, chilling anger took its place, and it did a more than thorough job in fueling her outgoing text. 

Why, Brandon? Why would you send me something like that? I thought you were dead or dying somewhere, why wouldn’t you just call? And what does I open at the close mean? 

•••

Allison, I’m SO sorry. I had no idea I’d saved it, and was just testing it to see if it worked. 

If WHAT worked, you idiot? 

•••

I set up a text replacement in my phone and the key phrase was “I 0pen at the close.” You know the line from Harry Potter? The one on the Golden Snitch that Harry looks at before he faces Voldemort? I just had to put a zero in ‘open’ so it wouldn't send again.

•••

I thought it would be cool to use that as something I could text, then it would be replaced with all that other text, if, you know, if something happened to me on this trip or ever. You know? Just in case? 

Allison’s reply was sharp, and she hammered the rectangular screen as though each letter she typed was a hot coal she pressed against Brandon’s skin, and she envisioned him flinching as he read every word. She knew how important words were to him. 

To be honest, the Harry Potter thing is getting a little weird. I don’t feel good, the commute was hell, and the last thing I need is my supposedly grown husband sending me texts telling me he’s dying and then telling me he’s preparing for the worst by referencing a teenager’s film series. 

There were no more dots. 


Brandon sat back in his office chair, defeated. He knew Allison was going through a difficult time, and since she was going through a difficult time, so was he. He tried to lighten the mood as much as he could with humor, but that only worked so well before he became annoying. It wasn’t always that way; there was a time when Allison laughed at everything he said. He had felt like Dave Chapelle in the good years, before he got all preachy and walked away from television shows. 

But the years passed quickly, and one dream after another had escaped her. College failed. The dream job failed. And finally, what she considered to be the biggest failure of all: she couldn’t get pregnant. Of course Brandon never saw that as a failure, not once, and in fact, he wasn’t even sure if he wanted kids. But Allison did. 

At her insistence, they had tried for eight years to no avail. They had tried everything short of in-vitro fertilization, which was out of the realm of possibility because of the astronomical costs associated, and the risks of needing multiple treatments were too high. Adoption was out of the question because she wanted a biological child…lately it was all she wanted. 

He was leaving today, heading to Washington D.C. for a work conference. Brandon was an information technologist for a mid-level security firm that did occasional work for the Department of Homeland Security, and part of his job included these trips to D.C. once a year for security briefings, which honestly would have been better disseminated in a five-paragraph email. But hey, it gave him a chance to drink a few Yuenglings, and that alone was almost worth the trip. 

As for the Harry Potter obsession, he’d only recently acquired it. He was never allowed to read the series at home; his parents were convinced he’d try to put a spell on his younger brother. The movies were out of the question also, and as he got older and left the house, he never got around to either the books or the movies. That changed on his twenty-ninth birthday, when he picked up Sorcerer’s Stone. Less than two weeks had passed by the time he turned the final page of Deathly Hallows, and he was a fan for life. 

Brandon was fascinated with two particular facets of the series, Harry’s loss of his parents at such an early age and his “Green Mile” moment in the final book. There were times, he admitted, when he felt like his life would have been easier with parents who were less strict, and he was certain the Dursleys were less strict than his own parents. 

As Harry walked to his certain death in Deathly Hallows, Brandon couldn’t help but see the allusion to Christ walking to the cross in the final moments of His life. He also knew this was the kind of thing he could never say to his parents, or they would make his life—even his life away from home—seem like it was being orchestrated by Dolores Umbridge. 

In Hallows, when he read the line “I’m ready to die,” he marveled. Here was a young boy who knew he was going to die, and he willingly walked into it in order to save the lives of his friends and extended family. In the moment, his fear of death was overshadowed by the concern he had for the well-being of those he held dearest. He’d thought about it over and over in the weeks that followed.  

His phone buzzed. He looked down. It was Allison. 

Babe, I’m sorry. I’m frustrated, and I took it out on you. You said a lot of nice things about me there, and even though they were meant to be your last words, it was still comforting to know that you felt that way about me, especially with all that’s been going on. And I really do want to be the mother of your children.

Brandon smiled. Maybe they were turning a corner.


Allison stared at the dots, both wondering if her apology would be accepted, and knowing the last line was a lie. Just in front of her, the television they kept tuned to CNN burbled quietly. She moved to set the phone down on her desk when it vibrated. 

Hahaha, it’s okay, babe. I’m sorry for getting you worked up. It’s just something I wanted to try. I love you, too. And all that stuff is still true, btw. 

His forgiveness did nothing to lighten Allison’s spirits. To be honest, she had been hoping for a fight to help her justify the recent decision she’d made, to give her a target for her anger and frustration. She needed to lash out at Brandon because he was part of the problem right now. Not directly, of course, but he had certainly helped create the problem. 

Allison was pregnant. She had found out a week ago, after a missed period that she could normally set her watch by. Fourteen years she’d had that thing, and for fourteen years it showed up at exactly the same time. When it didn’t happen last week she knew something was up, and immediately thought it was cancer. A routine blood test—“There’s no way I’m pregnant, doc, it’s cancer”—had given her even more surprising news: after eight years, she was, in fact, pregnant. And now the problem was figuring out how to tell Brandon, because two days before she’d gotten the “big” news, she had decided to leave him. 

Figuring out the date of conception wasn’t difficult, Brandon’s birthday had been a few weeks ago, and sex was the only thing he wanted, according to his hilariously inappropriate reply to her emailed question about potential gifts. That had been the last time—the only time—in the past six months that it had happened. It wasn’t that the sex was bad, really. It just felt like a wasted effort to her now. The end result should be pregnancy, and that hadn’t happened, so why couldn’t they both just watch television until one of them either died or got the nerve to file for divorce? 

She once was of the mind that pregnancy would fix all their problems. A baby, she thought, would be the solution to the crumbling marriage, the lost love, and the constant bickering. But when she got the news, her first thought was “How am I going to raise a kid alone?” instead of, “Oh my god we’ll be so happy now.” That had only solidified her thoughts that the marriage wasn’t going to last, kid or no kid.

Brandon of course was as clueless as ever. An eternal optimist. Not that there was anyone else, Allison was a faithful spouse, and she wasn’t interested in other guys any way. There had been a few at the office she could have had if she wanted, and perhaps they thought they had a chance, until they experienced her brusque rejections to even the most innocuous flirting. 

In fact, now that she knew she had a baby on the way, she had begun to think she wouldn’t need anyone else for a long time. She had always been a bit of a loner; someone who preferred the company of herself to others. She thought it might be fun to raise a daughter—or a son, but it would be a daughter, a mother knew—by herself. Sort of a them against the world, sitcom-type of thing. Allison smiled at the thought. 

The phone buzzed again. 

Alright babe, I’m pulling up to the airport. I’ll be leaving soon, I love you, and when I get back we can talk more about what I can do to stop annoying you with some of my habits, hahaha. My flight number is 298, Bismarck straight through to D.C., I’ll let you know when I land.

Allison shook her head, snapped back into reality by text. Oh well, she’d keep him in the dark until he got back.  

I love you too. Be safe, and maybe just forget you’ve ever read Harry Potter, that would be a start. ;-)

The message received indicator changed from Delivered to Read, but there were no dots. Well, at least he wouldn’t bother her for a couple of hours. She shook her head again, then remembered the tiny life—all the websites said she (or he) was the size of a peanut—growing inside her. 

“Don’t worry,” she said under her breath, “I’ll make sure you never meet Harry Freaking Potter.” 


The plane engines hiccuped once, twice, then roared back to their normal pitch. Brandon glanced up from The Goblet of Fire. He’d experienced turbulence before. This wasn’t turbulence. The in-flight map on the headrest in front of him said they were just over Michigan, getting ready to hit the final leg of the flight over Lake Erie. His view of the screen was suddenly obstructed, and it took a moment for him to recognize the object. It was the oxygen mask. He grabbed his phone from his pocket. He looked around and saw he wasn't the only one with the thought.

“To hell with airplane mode,” he said. 


Allison glanced up from her work to gaze absently outside at the storm gathering dark clouds in the distance. It wouldn’t be awful, just another North Dakota spring shower. Maybe some lightning, maybe a few thunderclaps to make everyone here in the ten-story office building jump and give them something interesting to talk about as they passed each other coming in and out of the lavatory. 

Her eyes caught her reflection in the glass—time for a haircut—then she focused on the background and a reversed image of CNN. “eirE ekaL revo nwod seog 892 thgilF :gnikaerB” is what the ticker said, and pieces of metal littered a dark blue background. Her curiosity piqued, she turned around. 

“Breaking: Flight 298 goes down over Lake Erie.” It took a moment for the correctly ordered words to register. When they did, her heart jumped. She knocked over a stack of papers on her desk trying to find her phone, as an urgent knock sounded on her door and all of the lights representing different lines on her office phone lit up at once. She glanced up, still searching for her phone, and saw her boss enter the room, panic and pity etched into her face. 

She felt the phone, finally. Looking down, she saw a notification. 

Messages
BunnyHunch (1)

She hadn’t called Brandon that in years. Why was he still saved under that name? She pressed her shaking thumb nervously against the Home Button, hitting it twice on accident. Her Visa card came up, asking to be passed over the machine that would process her payment. 

Allison cursed loudly, and pounded the button with her thumb, finally clearing her screen. She heard her boss say something, but her attention was now on the Messages icon, and the tiny red number “1” in the corner of it. She opened her messages. 

It was a single line, something so simple, yet so complex, and something that perfectly encapsulated the entire marriage she was now not so sure she wanted out of. 

I open at the closet. 


I open at the close

image source

I open at the closet. 

Allison pulled her phone out of her pocket and looked at the text, then looked again. It was from her husband, Brandon, and it lined up perfectly with the morning she was having: it didn’t make sense, and it kind of pissed her off. 

She stared at the tiny pulsating dots at the bottom of the screen, and hoped that the forthcoming explanation would be something funny. Brandon was nothing if not funny, and at one point he made her life interesting, not that she needed any more interesting at the moment. 

Hahaha, I’m sorry. 

•••

I was trying to type Allison, I love you. I am so thankful for you. You have made my life completely different from what it was just a few years ago. You are beautiful, smart, and I always hoped that you’d be the mother of my children. If I don’t see you again, just know that you were the best thing to ever happen to me. I love you. 

Panic raced through Allison’s heart as she read word after word, then read it again. She called up the keyboard and began inputting text at a blistering rate, not caring about the typos this time, he surely wouldn’t care about them this time. 

•••

Before she could hit send, the three little dots popped up again, moving silently left to right, and for just a moment she was able to hear the ellipsis, boom boom boom, boom boom boom, boom boom boom, but then realized she was hearing her own heart, frenetically trying to leap out of her chest. 

Allison whoah, don’t worry abou that I’m fin
•••
I’m fine 
•••
I’m trying to set up an automated message on my phone, I was trying to say Allison, I love you. I am so thankful for you. You have made my life completely different from what it was just a few years ago. You are beautiful, smart, and I always hoped that you’d be the mother of my children. If I don’t see you again, just know that you were the best thing to ever happen to me. I love you.
•••
Ugh! I’m trying to text I open at the close but the freaking thing won’t send before it changes. 
•••

Allison’s anxiety faded, but her heartbeat didn’t quiet. When fear stopped pumping adrenaline through her system, chilling anger took its place, and it did a more than thorough job in fueling her outgoing text. 

Why, Brandon? Why would you send me something like that? I thought you were dead or dying somewhere, why wouldn’t you just call? And what does I open at the close mean? 

•••

Allison, I’m SO sorry. I had no idea I’d saved it, and was just testing it to see if it worked. 

If WHAT worked, you idiot? 

•••

I set up a text replacement in my phone and the key phrase was “I 0pen at the close.” You know the line from Harry Potter? The one on the Golden Snitch that Harry looks at before he faces Voldemort? I just had to put a zero in ‘open’ so it wouldn't send again.

•••

I thought it would be cool to use that as something I could text, then it would be replaced with all that other text, if, you know, if something happened to me on this trip or ever. You know? Just in case? 

Allison’s reply was sharp, and she hammered the rectangular screen as though each letter she typed was a hot coal she pressed against Brandon’s skin, and she envisioned him flinching as he read every word. She knew how important words were to him. 

To be honest, the Harry Potter thing is getting a little weird. I don’t feel good, the commute was hell, and the last thing I need is my supposedly grown husband sending me texts telling me he’s dying and then telling me he’s preparing for the worst by referencing a teenager’s film series. 

There were no more dots. 


Brandon sat back in his office chair, defeated. He knew Allison was going through a difficult time, and since she was going through a difficult time, so was he. He tried to lighten the mood as much as he could with humor, but that only worked so well before he became annoying. It wasn’t always that way; there was a time when Allison laughed at everything he said. He had felt like Dave Chapelle in the good years, before he got all preachy and walked away from television shows. 

But the years passed quickly, and one dream after another had escaped her. College failed. The dream job failed. And finally, what she considered to be the biggest failure of all: she couldn’t get pregnant. Of course Brandon never saw that as a failure, not once, and in fact, he wasn’t even sure if he wanted kids. But Allison did. 

At her insistence, they had tried for eight years to no avail. They had tried everything short of in-vitro fertilization, which was out of the realm of possibility because of the astronomical costs associated, and the risks of needing multiple treatments were too high. Adoption was out of the question because she wanted a biological child…lately it was all she wanted. 

He was leaving today, heading to Washington D.C. for a work conference. Brandon was an information technologist for a mid-level security firm that did occasional work for the Department of Homeland Security, and part of his job included these trips to D.C. once a year for security briefings, which honestly would have been better disseminated in a five-paragraph email. But hey, it gave him a chance to drink a few Yuenglings, and that alone was almost worth the trip. 

As for the Harry Potter obsession, he’d only recently acquired it. He was never allowed to read the series at home; his parents were convinced he’d try to put a spell on his younger brother. The movies were out of the question also, and as he got older and left the house, he never got around to either the books or the movies. That changed on his twenty-ninth birthday, when he picked up Sorcerer’s Stone. Less than two weeks had passed by the time he turned the final page of Deathly Hallows, and he was a fan for life. 

Brandon was fascinated with two particular facets of the series, Harry’s loss of his parents at such an early age and his “Green Mile” moment in the final book. There were times, he admitted, when he felt like his life would have been easier with parents who were less strict, and he was certain the Dursleys were less strict than his own parents. 

As Harry walked to his certain death in Deathly Hallows, Brandon couldn’t help but see the allusion to Christ walking to the cross in the final moments of His life. He also knew this was the kind of thing he could never say to his parents, or they would make his life—even his life away from home—seem like it was being orchestrated by Dolores Umbridge. 

In Hallows, when he read the line “I’m ready to die,” he marveled. Here was a young boy who knew he was going to die, and he willingly walked into it in order to save the lives of his friends and extended family. In the moment, his fear of death was overshadowed by the concern he had for the well-being of those he held dearest. He’d thought about it over and over in the weeks that followed.  

His phone buzzed. He looked down. It was Allison. 

Babe, I’m sorry. I’m frustrated, and I took it out on you. You said a lot of nice things about me there, and even though they were meant to be your last words, it was still comforting to know that you felt that way about me, especially with all that’s been going on. And I really do want to be the mother of your children.

Brandon smiled. Maybe they were turning a corner.


Allison stared at the dots, both wondering if her apology would be accepted, and knowing the last line was a lie. Just in front of her, the television they kept tuned to CNN burbled quietly. She moved to set the phone down on her desk when it vibrated. 

Hahaha, it’s okay, babe. I’m sorry for getting you worked up. It’s just something I wanted to try. I love you, too. And all that stuff is still true, btw. 

His forgiveness did nothing to lighten Allison’s spirits. To be honest, she had been hoping for a fight to help her justify the recent decision she’d made, to give her a target for her anger and frustration. She needed to lash out at Brandon because he was part of the problem right now. Not directly, of course, but he had certainly helped create the problem. 

Allison was pregnant. She had found out a week ago, after a missed period that she could normally set her watch by. Fourteen years she’d had that thing, and for fourteen years it showed up at exactly the same time. When it didn’t happen last week she knew something was up, and immediately thought it was cancer. A routine blood test—“There’s no way I’m pregnant, doc, it’s cancer”—had given her even more surprising news: after eight years, she was, in fact, pregnant. And now the problem was figuring out how to tell Brandon, because two days before she’d gotten the “big” news, she had decided to leave him. 

Figuring out the date of conception wasn’t difficult, Brandon’s birthday had been a few weeks ago, and sex was the only thing he wanted, according to his hilariously inappropriate reply to her emailed question about potential gifts. That had been the last time—the only time—in the past six months that it had happened. It wasn’t that the sex was bad, really. It just felt like a wasted effort to her now. The end result should be pregnancy, and that hadn’t happened, so why couldn’t they both just watch television until one of them either died or got the nerve to file for divorce? 

She once was of the mind that pregnancy would fix all their problems. A baby, she thought, would be the solution to the crumbling marriage, the lost love, and the constant bickering. But when she got the news, her first thought was “How am I going to raise a kid alone?” instead of, “Oh my god we’ll be so happy now.” That had only solidified her thoughts that the marriage wasn’t going to last, kid or no kid.

Brandon of course was as clueless as ever. An eternal optimist. Not that there was anyone else, Allison was a faithful spouse, and she wasn’t interested in other guys any way. There had been a few at the office she could have had if she wanted, and perhaps they thought they had a chance, until they experienced her brusque rejections to even the most innocuous flirting. 

In fact, now that she knew she had a baby on the way, she had begun to think she wouldn’t need anyone else for a long time. She had always been a bit of a loner; someone who preferred the company of herself to others. She thought it might be fun to raise a daughter—or a son, but it would be a daughter, a mother knew—by herself. Sort of a them against the world, sitcom-type of thing. Allison smiled at the thought. 

The phone buzzed again. 

Alright babe, I’m pulling up to the airport. I’ll be leaving soon, I love you, and when I get back we can talk more about what I can do to stop annoying you with some of my habits, hahaha. My flight number is 298, Bismarck straight through to D.C., I’ll let you know when I land.

Allison shook her head, snapped back into reality by text. Oh well, she’d keep him in the dark until he got back.  

I love you too. Be safe, and maybe just forget you’ve ever read Harry Potter, that would be a start. ;-)

The message received indicator changed from Delivered to Read, but there were no dots. Well, at least he wouldn’t bother her for a couple of hours. She shook her head again, then remembered the tiny life—all the websites said she (or he) was the size of a peanut—growing inside her. 

“Don’t worry,” she said under her breath, “I’ll make sure you never meet Harry Freaking Potter.” 


The plane engines hiccuped once, twice, then roared back to their normal pitch. Brandon glanced up from The Goblet of Fire. He’d experienced turbulence before. This wasn’t turbulence. The in-flight map on the headrest in front of him said they were just over Michigan, getting ready to hit the final leg of the flight over Lake Erie. His view of the screen was suddenly obstructed, and it took a moment for him to recognize the object. It was the oxygen mask. He grabbed his phone from his pocket. He looked around and saw he wasn't the only one with the thought.

“To hell with airplane mode,” he said. 


Allison glanced up from her work to gaze absently outside at the storm gathering dark clouds in the distance. It wouldn’t be awful, just another North Dakota spring shower. Maybe some lightning, maybe a few thunderclaps to make everyone here in the ten-story office building jump and give them something interesting to talk about as they passed each other coming in and out of the lavatory. 

Her eyes caught her reflection in the glass—time for a haircut—then she focused on the background and a reversed image of CNN. “eirE ekaL revo nwod seog 892 thgilF :gnikaerB” is what the ticker said, and pieces of metal littered a dark blue background. Her curiosity piqued, she turned around. 

“Breaking: Flight 298 goes down over Lake Erie.” It took a moment for the correctly ordered words to register. When they did, her heart jumped. She knocked over a stack of papers on her desk trying to find her phone, as an urgent knock sounded on her door and all of the lights representing different lines on her office phone lit up at once. She glanced up, still searching for her phone, and saw her boss enter the room, panic and pity etched into her face. 

She felt the phone, finally. Looking down, she saw a notification. 

Messages
BunnyHunch (1)

She hadn’t called Brandon that in years. Why was he still saved under that name? She pressed her shaking thumb nervously against the Home Button, hitting it twice on accident. Her Visa card came up, asking to be passed over the machine that would process her payment. 

Allison cursed loudly, and pounded the button with her thumb, finally clearing her screen. She heard her boss say something, but her attention was now on the Messages icon, and the tiny red number “1” in the corner of it. She opened her messages. 

It was a single line, something so simple, yet so complex, and something that perfectly encapsulated the entire marriage she was now not so sure she wanted out of. 

I open at the closet. 


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Wristwatch

I gave my Creative Writing class an assignment this morning that involved taking the following three elements and blending them into a story. 

A broken wristwatch
Peppermints
A hug that goes too far

They had 20 minutes to complete a story, and I promised them that on my planning period, I'd have a go at it as well. This is my story. 

***

"Crap," thought Ezekiel, as the clasp on his watch opened yet again. 

His arm was on the downswing of a pretty brisk walk in the New York morning pedestrian traffic, and his watch was slung not just off his wrist, but far into the crowd, bouncing off legs and being kicked around. 

Ezekiel panicked. 

"Excuse me, excuse me," he muttered as he struggled up the flow of traffic like an elderly motorist convinced they're the only person driving the right way on a one-way street. 

If it was any normal watch, he wouldn't have bothered, but this was his father's watch. Not that he'd been much of a father, the guy left his family when Ezekiel was three, but the watch was the only memory he had of the transient progenitor. 

It was a Mont Blanc watch, well over 100 years old, and had been handed down inside the family for generations. If the original purchaser of the watch could see it now, lying perilously close to a New York gutter, he would have shaken his head and shamed the present owner for his carelessness. 

Ezekiel found the watch just as someone else did. The woman picked it up and looked around, as though checking for the owner before pocketing her newfound treasure. 

"Hey! Wait! That's mine!" Ezekiel yelled, but he couldn't be sure the woman heard him. Her head twitched almost imperceptibly at the sound, but she couldn't identify the source. 

Desperate now, Ezekiel shoved the last remaining man in front of him away, and sprinted to the woman holding his heirloom. His shove caught the man by surprise, and he exhaled almost explosively into Ezekiel's face. 

"Peppermints," thought Ezekiel. 

Ezekiel reached the woman, and reached for the watch as well. 

"That's mine," he said. 

"How do I know that?" asked the woman. 

"It has my surname engraved on it," Ezekiel replied. 

"Oh yeah? And that is?" the stranger asked. 

"Twitty." 

The woman flipped the watch over and confirmed this. 

"Okay, but it's broken," she said. 

Ezekiel looked at the broken crystal and swore. He didn't have the money to repair the watch, and being late to work after the interruption wasn't going to help his already tenuous grip on the job he hated. 

Seeing the panic in the man's eyes, the woman said, "I can fix it. All I ask for is a hug in return." 

Wary, Ezekiel replied, "A hug? Why a hug?" 

"I don't know," she said, gesturing to the streets. "I like human contact, and I don't get very much of it out here." 

Ezekiel, being pressed for time and without the funds to repair the watch, agreed. 

"Hug first," said the woman. 

"Okay." 

The two embraced, and as they did, Ezekiel felt something strange happening. This closeness, the smell of her hair, the softness of her touch, it made him realize something in his life was missing. Her hands slid lower on his back, and that brought Ezekiel out of his trance, and he realized the hug went a little too far. As they broke contact, the woman handed the watch back. 

"Here you go," she said. 

Ezekiel looked down. The watch looked brand new. 

"Thanks," he said awkwardly, and walked on to work. 

It wasn't until lunch that Ezekiel looked at the watch again, really looked at it, then flipping it over looking for his name, and realized the woman had slipped him a fake. He'd lost his priceless family heirloom to a common street hustler, who was at that very moment getting a fine price for it at a local pawn shop. 

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Tapeworm.

Part one

Of course, when the cops came, they'd never seen anything like it. They sat at the crime scene for a while, discussing the worst things they'd ever seen on the job and off, in that joking way that cops sometimes use to keep the gruesome mortality of their duties from affecting them too much.

"Did you see the way their necks were bent?" asked one of them.
"Yeah, that was a 90 degree angle," replied another. "Like that street light after Roberts hit it with his patrol car last week."
Another, presumably Roberts, jumped in to defend himself. "The perp's in jail isn't he? Besides that light was wonky. It didn't work half the time."
"Doesn't work at all now."

They all laughed and started heading for their cars. There wasn't anything they could do now, this was a job for the guys who showed up in fancy black suits driving fancy black Suburbans with no identification on them whatsoever. The kind of guys who you didn't argue with if you wanted to keep your job.

Even though, after tonight, most of them were wondering why they'd even want to keep their jobs.

***

Stephen "Bear" Williams was a tough man. Not only was he as physically grizzled as his nickname suggested, he also had the temperament of a bear who'd just woken up from a long hibernation only to find his normal hunting spot had been turned into a Burger King with a sign that specifically said "No Bears." 

Stephen approached all of life with a bad attitude. He hated his job, he hated his wife, and he hated his kids. He had a reputation for being an abusive husband and father, although "abusive" didn't exactly cover what he could be in a bar on any given night, be it Tuesday or Saturday. No one knew exactly what Stephen's problem was; his wife Marie was beautiful and had a passive demeanor that would have to be possessed by anyone who loved Bear, and his children were well-behaved and mild-mannered. 

Only Stephen knew the reasons for his behavior, and Stephen wasn't exactly the type to tell you all about it over a beer or on a psychologist's couch. Stephen was the type to explain his anger with two large, ham-shaped fists thrown any direction he could see a face.

In fact, the only redeeming qualities Stephen possessed were not actually qualities at all. They were people, and they were his brothers, Jeff, who was older; and Wallace, who was younger. Each of them could do what no one else could; they could calm Stephen down when he was at his worst. Every bar and tavern owner in the town had their numbers saved in their phones, and local policemen didn't hesitate to pick either of them up from work to go diffuse a situation that would normally take a truncheon and a taser to get a handle on.

In spite of their onerous father, the Williams family thrived. The oldest, Sarah, was eight years old and at the top of her class in school, and Brandon, who was six, was athletic and charming, sometimes a little too much of both. Neither displayed the typical character traits of an overbearing father, and both loved their daddy with the pure and unequivocal love that only young children and Jesus are capable of.

The only real problem the family had of late was Brandon's lack of interest around mealtimes. No matter what Marie fixed, Brandon would get a couple of bites in and refuse to eat anymore. This often prompted angry outbursts from Stephen, demanding "You got a tapeworm boy?" Without fail, Brandon would always ask, "What's a tapeworm?" and dinner would be completely derailed by Stephen pounding his fists on the table and sending Brandon to his room where he would "deal with him later."

The Williams were active in church, inasmuch as "active" meant that they attended semi-regularly and didn't mind helping out once in a while as volunteers were needed. Stephen's reputation followed him like his shadow, but many church members were content to let that ride as long as his temper never flared inside the doors of the church and as long as he was kept away from children and the sacramental wine used for communion.

So when it happened, no one was really surprised. The talk of the town was that they all knew it would happen one day, and someone really should have called protective services when there was still a chance, and how each was really too busy to make the call themselves, because that's how people will deal with passing blame in the face of tragedy. But, just like in any other small town or city, a lot of people can talk, but only a few know the details.

And the devil was certainly in these details.

Part two

Friday, February 8, 2013

The Blanket.


The blanket was pink and purple, and looked like it might feature the face of a Disney character. It was impossible to tell, however, because it was wadded up and stuffed in the bottom of an animal carrier. Sitting atop the blanket was a very nervous cat, hunched against the back wall, completely silent, the smells of the office too unfamiliar and intimidating.

To the man observing, it looked like a blanket his seven year old daughter might have stored somewhere, the kind that are a dime a dozen during the holiday season or at a specialty store. It was a bit dirty, but it seemed well-intentioned and well-used.

The man slowly lifted his eyes to the individual carrying the crate. She had arrived in a cab, which was still a little rare in this city. She was around thirty years old, plainly dressed, and appeared to be every bit as nervous as the cat huddling on the blanket.

Our observationist was just there to pick up his dog, who had been the recipient of a very humiliating surgery the day before. The reader is surely familiar with this surgery, and will pity the dog accordingly. The man was waiting patiently to be helped, and was next in line when the young woman with the blanket walked in the door.

She didn't express any regard for the rules of society when she walked around the man and struck up a conversation with the still busy assistant, but after hearing her speak it was plain to see why. Her voice carried an indicator of a mental handicap of some sorts, unknown to the author, but placing the taxi and her assumed rudeness into immediate context. Forgiveness, tinged with a pity he struggled to tamp down, rose in his heart.

The assistant asked her if she'd fed the cat in the last twelve hours, and the young woman responded with a firm no. Then, a moment after, she leaned forward and confidentially informed the lady trying to take the crate that the cat had a "few pieces" of food that morning.

She was reluctant to let go of the crate. But as she let her hand fall away, she looked at the assistant and said, "Will you please put his blanket with him after he's done to make him feel better?"

The man—who is notorious for having a tender heart, especially in the vet's office—steeled himself, for he felt the tears coming. Hot pin pricks of empathy stung the corners of his eyes, and he knew he couldn't break down. Not here again. Not now.

He knew then the blanket had to be special. He realized how important the blanket must have been to her, if it was so important to the cat.

And then a memory was triggered.

He'd had a recent experience with blankets. A terrible experience. He had hated a pair of blankets not long ago, and the memory of them was chiseled into his mind, bored into his subconscious, and caused him to obsess over the objects of security (and terrible things) for an unhealthy amount of time. He had repeatedly wanted to burn that pair of blankets, and burn the things they represented out of the lives of the people he loved the most.

Of course it was never really about the blankets, was it?

Then the young woman asked another question.

"How much will it cost?"

The assistant told her, and then told her it would cost extra if she left him there additional nights to heal. The young lady frowned, agreed, and headed out to the taxi, still waiting in the parking lot.

***

There are times in our lives where the basic good will scream at us to do something. If one is not careful, they can over sensationalize it, call it the hand of God or whatever other religious sense they choose. They can say they heard a voice, a prompt, a calling...whatever suits their affiliation. And I would not argue long with those people, because I know God sometimes uses a person, disregarding their spiritual insignificance, to minister to those in need. 

But sometimes it has to be humanity. Not pity, not false philanthropy, and not an overblown ego. 

Just humanity. Wanting to be good to someone else. 

***

God/humanity/the basic good called to the man. Still fighting back tears, he walked out to his car. He retrieved his wallet and brought it back inside. The assistant brought his dog around, who was happy to see the man, but a restrained sort of happy, and understandably so.

"Sir, you've already paid. You don't owe anything else. Just keep him still for a few days."

"Ma'am, if you knew this dog, you'd know that's going to be almost impossible..."

Then his voice cracked and betrayed him.

"...and it's nothing of mine I want to pay for."