Category Archives: Story

I Can Work With That

I love this phrase.

It belies humor, deprecation, affection, and in the right context, a bit of risque.

It’s going to be harder to use it so freely for a while.

You can use it exactly like “That’s what she said.” Or you can use it to circumspectly say something under the radar of the obvious conversation.

“I need five minutes.” Yes. “I can work with that.”

“I’m getting dressed.” Yes! “I can work with that.”

“I need someone to tell me it’s going to be okay.” Definitely. “I can work with that.”

Words and context continuously morph in life. Sometimes, they take on a tinge of remorse. Sometimes, happiness.

I need a minute.

I can work with that.

Love, X

The If Certainty (A Story)

He walked along the slippery path, the warm sun hitting his back. Around him, the blanket of snow melted lazily, and the tree limbs grew lighter as the burden of snow melted and clumped away. The air was cold and crisp, but no wind caressed him. He would have welcomed a cold wind to challenge the torrents eddying around in his head.

He learned a new lesson recently, but it was an intangible and elusive one, its tentacles tingling around the fringes of his thoughts. He couldn’t help but to indict and convict himself repeatedly.

Early in the morning, he noted her absence from his notifications. He watched as the 14,000 messages disappeared. He thought he was deleting just one because of his unfamiliarity with the app. He had saved several of the great stories written in tandem, and for that, he was thankful. It felt a little like he was emptying as he watched the unexpected progress bar work its way across his phone.

She opened up to him the shared experience of writing stories like an artful duet; it was one he hadn’t expected but also recognized immediately as innate. Even if their connection had remained at writing stories, it would have filled him. He was outmatched from the beginning. Of course, there was more than just writing, as sublime and fulfilling as that was. The ‘more’ was a welcome shock to him, full of firsts and laughter.

He wasn’t quite sure what he had done wrong, but he knew with certainty that she hadn’t been guilty of any misdeed. Which only left him accused and guilty.

Anyone who says that you can’t forge a connection over the expanse of geography is wrong. Without the obstacle of space between, they would not have misstepped as they danced. Proximity parts the clouds. In so many ways, interacting with ideas, laughter, and clarity is a much better way to get inside someone’s head. But nearness would have erased the divide that ultimately undid their overlap.

He learned that people who make such connections with warmth and laughter are rare. He had let one down. He found himself paying the price with empty moments. Instinctively, he looked at his phone again to see it blank.

He walked faster and faster, knowing he could not outpace the absence.

He continued to walk, his eyes watching his shadow lengthen. After thirty minutes, he stopped and waved, wondering whether his affirmation would travel through time and geography.

He whispered to himself as he started walking again, the sun on his back. Only the scattered pine cones beneath his feet heard him.

A New Life (A Story)

The apartment was mostly empty yet filled with echoes with her every movement. It would take time to fill it with the residue of life; that she would do so wasn’t in doubt. A mattress, a chair, and a couple of bar stools comprised the inventory of her life. It was more than enough for now. The truth is that although she had a life of accumulation until now, she was a woman of few necessities: family, affection, laughter, and learning. That she had one lightbulb for all her lamps amused her.

Her new life hadn’t started in the way that she had hoped. Instinctively, she knew that it never would. A violent and uncaring outburst propelled her out and away from her accumulated comforts. It was the culmination of years of neglect. Her optimism and loyalty held her there, static and suffocating. That same optimism pivoted her focus toward the years ahead. Each day, she resisted the tentacles of her previous life as they scurried along behind her, attempting to hold her in place. People want you to be the person you’ve always been, even if that person could soar in the clouds with the proper attention. Love wants you to morph and change with time. She knew that all the people in her new life would wish for her to spread her wings.

She meandered around the apartment, listening for the sounds of her new neighbors, hearing the clicks of the ice machine as it methodically dropped fresh ice cubes in the plastic bin in her smaller fridge. Her eyes moved along the living room floor, planning where her new furniture might be placed, what colors she might choose, and what things she might want. Whatever those things might be, she would select all of them with freedom and opportunity in mind. Each choice would be hers. She loved the way that settled in her mind.

After a few minutes, she sat in her chair in the corner of the living room, pulling a throw around her for warmth. Placing her phone on the charger nearby, she picked up her book and began reading. She picked up a pretzel or a tiny bit of chocolate and nibbled every few minutes. The minutes flowed around her and enveloped her. Her mind followed the book, and she forgot herself as she read.

A faint noise from a nearby apartment roused her from her reading and thoughts. She looked up and around the apartment. How empty it seemed. Yet, for the first time in a long time, she felt like her life was her own. The echoes of emptiness would be filled, her circle of like-minded people who appreciated her would grow, and her new normal would be the life she craved.

There was no hurry.

Her life had begun again.

Choice by choice, she would fill it.

A smile crept across her lips.
.

Red Snow Bothers No One

justice delayed is justice denied
victims remain, anxious prey,
each precious life adjourned

it was an accident, they intoned, shyly winking
he resisted and found himself restrained
cuffs on the cold bumper
he was an unrepentant menace
who found his home along the road

red snow bothers no one

the inevitable thaw comes
erasing all vestige of his faint echo

everyone sighs, alive and free

red snow bothers no one

A Very Busy Life (A Story)

A Very Busy Life (A Story)

The shadows were long across the living room floor, the early afternoon light approaching and creating diagonal tapestries across the wood. The to-do list went untouched since yesterday afternoon. None of their movies or shows in the queue had been noticed. They both put their books down simultaneously, looked at each other, and laughed.

“We should really do something today,” she said.

“Yes, there’s a lot to do,” he acknowledged.

They both shrugged and laughed again.

He stood up and placed his book on the cushion of the green sofa. She did the same.

He walked into the bedroom and pulled the comforter back and jumped into bed like an amateur gymnast. Without a word, she followed him and dived onto the bed next to him, her arms wrapping around him as she laid her head on his chest. He yanked the comforter over them both, creating a cocoon around them.

And they lay there for an hour, just letting the bed warm them and each other. Their arms adjusted as they cuddled.

For an hour, they accomplished nothing.

It was the perfect afternoon. Nothing done, yet everything they needed.

The Melody Of A Banjo (A Story)

They sat in Adirondack chairs away from the illumination of the back patio light, their faces covered in faint shadows. The firepit nearby threw orange glints of color across their faces as the breeze passed over them. They didn’t need to see one another to know that each of them had a half-revealed smile dancing across their lips.

For an hour they’d sat, bantering like every word needed to be uttered before the moon faded. He playfully strummed the banjo nestled across his knees, the notes elicited both discordant and comforting. Every once in a while, his fingers seemed to accidentally hit a lyrical chord. The banjo was a prank as well as a talisman for them, a joke that was taken so far that he had dared surprise her with one for her birthday.

They spoke simultaneously, the tumult of both extemporaneous and considered words tumbling from their respective lips. “You go first,” they said in unison, then laughed.

As their laughter faded, a young voice yelled from the confines of the house, “Geez, knock it off already! It’s time for bed.”

They looked at each other and snickered.

He picked up the banjo and pretended that he was going to play it.

She laughed.

And then his fingers melded with the banjo, his left hand structuring a chord.

“Surprise,” he whispered. “You have to make something new and surprising each day.”

As she watched in amazement, he played “Colour My World” by Chicago, a song she had not appreciated until that moment. He sang the few words contained in the song, his voice cracking with emotion. His voice was not trained, though his heart echoed in every enunciated syllable. Her mouth opened wide and in shock. Something broke inside her and the laughter transposed into warmth, an ocean of feeling. She closed her eyes and swayed, a smile playing across her face.

He let his fingers strum the melody one more time, a coda of promise, regret, and longing. He knew that the melody had somehow conveyed the optimism that filled him. The firepit cracked and spit sparks as the song faded.

He stood up and reached for her hand. Their fingers intertwined as they walked toward the house.

The world was indeed full of colors. And banjos.

P.S. I hope each of you has a metaphorical banjo, and someone who shares both laughter and their presence with you.

Love, X
.

Jasmine In A Sundress

The first time he saw her, she was walking quickly past him. She looked up briefly at him, her eyes glinting in the sun, her glasses perched precariously on her nose. And then she smiled. Josh almost tripped as he nervously returned her smile. He noted her black turquoise sundress billowing on her in the gentle breeze.

He wanted to turn and look as she passed him. He held his breath for three of four seconds before he turned to look. As he paused, she quickly turned in his direction and looked back at him. She smiled again. And then she waved, grabbed the edges of her sundress above her knees, and curtsied. Josh was frozen in place. He quickly gave her a quick wave and then walked away. A smile soon spread across his face.

Within seconds, he felt his lips go numb as he walked. She was pretty, of that there was no doubt. Probably eccentric. Her smile cycled through his head repeatedly. Forgetting his meeting in twenty minutes, he turned and ran back along the path. He didn’t consider catching up to her or what he might say.

As he turned the bend in the walking path along the business park, he didn’t have time to pretend he wasn’t running. She sat on one of the green and yellow park benches, leaning back nonchalantly, her left arm draped across the back of the bench. Josh slowed his run and kept walking toward her. The awkwardness almost overwhelmed him. Instinct took over. She wasn’t fleeing him.

As he neared her, he tried in vain to summon the right words.

She surprised him by speaking first. “Don’t you know you shouldn’t chase girls?” She smiled again. “Come sit here and introduce yourself.”

He numbly walked up to the bench and sat within two feet of her.

“Well,” she said, “Do you have a name?”

“Yes,” he answered. “Oh, it’s Josh.”

“Josh, I’m Jasmine. Pleasure to meet you.” She held out her right hand Josh took it. Her fingers curled around his and gently shook his hand.

She didn’t seem nervous or anxious about the moment of silence that fell between them.

“Why did you chase after me? This is your chance to do it right. I can guess, but I need to you say it.” She smiled and winked at him.

He’d never met anyone so confident or self-assured. Her black turquoise sundress lay against her legs. Her eyes sparkled behind her glasses.

“You smiled at me. It was like you saw me. You know what I mean. You’re a pretty lady. Pretty ladies don’t look at me.” Josh was stammering.

“They don’t? That’s too bad, Josh. You are an attractive man. Nervous, maybe, but we can work on that.” She waited for him to reply.

When no words came from Josh, Jasmine reached inside the small pocket of her sundress and pulled out a cellphone and little wallet holder. She extricated a business card and reached over to him.

He accepted it as if it were radioactive. He turned the card over. On the front, a silhouette of a woman and dark hair. Jasmine. Her phone number and email.

When he looked back up at her, she smiled again and said, “Call me. Don’t think about it. Just do it. I believe in this kind of capricious moment, Josh.”

Jasmine stood up and curtsied toward him again. She turned, her sundress twirling. Josh noted she wore white sneakers. He noted the gentle curve of her legs, too.

She walked away as if she had no care in the world.

Josh sat on the park bench, his eyes looking at the business card blindly. Suddenly, he realized he would be late for his meeting. He found himself running back in the opposite direction. When he arrived, he was panting and sat down at the conference table. Though the matter at hand required his attention, he discovered that he spent most of the meeting gazing out the window at the expanse of the park that ran parallel to the business park.

When the meeting concluded, Josh skipped the elevator and walked to the stairs, taking them two and three at a time. As he exited the building, he walked toward the small man-made creek next to the walking path. He took his phone from his pocket and nervously dialed Jasmine’s number before paralysis overtook him.

It rang three times. He decided she wouldn’t answer an unknown number. On the fourth ring, just as voicemail was about to engage, she answered.

Her voice sounded heavenly. “What took you so long, Josh?” She laughed.

“How did you know it was me?” he asked, a little confused.

“Fate told me you’d call.” She paused.

“I don’t get a lot of calls from fate,” he said.

She laughed.

“That’s a good start and a witty answer. We’re going to change that too.” He could hear the smile in her voice.

“Let’s talk about when we can meet and share some laughter. And whatever else percolates.” Her voice resonated with confidence.

“I’d like nothing better, Jasmine.”

They talked for twenty more minutes, their banter growing.

When he hung up, he stood by the creek, watching it flow.

Optimism gripped him for the first time in a long time.

Jasmine.
.
Love, X
.

The Pond: A Christmas Story

Janus and Rob sang along to the Christmas music as they drove through the rural roads. They both disliked holiday music – except when they were together. They then caroled each other constantly, to their friend’s horror. Neither sang well. Their howling dog Sir Barkalot consistently voted loudly with a wail when they sang for too long. In the confines of the small car on a cold winter December 24th, though, they created the perfect repository for their mutual enjoyment.

Neither dared think about their destination. It was enough to continue the tradition, now unbroken for thirteen years. They woke up on Christmas Eve morning, drank a gallon of coffee each, and then wrapped themselves in warm clothing and drove to the same cherished spot.

Because they’d done so for thirteen years, Rob already knew he had to stop about halfway there; otherwise, Janus would howl in mimicry of Sir Barkalot until he did. As they sang “Little Drummer Boy” in raucous unison, Rob noted the mile marker that indicated he would have to turn off the main road in a couple of minutes. Janus must have noted the same thing. As “The Little Drummer Boy” ended, she mashed the audio button to “Off” as they neared the turnoff.

In the back seat, there was a small lunchbox. Inside it: two rocks, one from each of them. Each year, the lunchbox changed to something similar to whatever was popular.

Rob navigated the turnoff and slowed. The gravel road was rough, and almost no one traveled it. Luckily, this year, there was no snow to worsen it.

He recalled spending weekends with his grandparents, who had lived nearby. He accidentally discovered a deep, surprisingly clear pond on his adventure excursions. It was there that he proposed to Janus years later. She screamed, “Yes!” much to the dismay of all the nearby birds.

Rob drove to the poorly-maintained gate and stopped, turning the ignition off. “Are you ready?” he asked Janus. She nodded.

They both exited the car. Rob opened the back door and removed the lunchbox. He looked a bit absurd, he knew.

Despite the cold, he held Janus’ right hand as they passed through the gap in the gate and fence. Within a couple of minutes, they reached the pond. It wasn’t frozen over.

Janus leaned to kiss Rob, who was already expecting it.

He held the lunchbox out and opened it. “Don’t look,” he reminded her. “How am I going to know which rock is mine, then?” she asked. It was their joke each year. She peeked in and removed her rock.

Rob put the lunchbox down on the brown grass and removed his rock.

They walked to the edge of the pond, staring at the water.

Janus looked at her rock to read the name written there. “Jacqueline,” she whispered.

Rob read the name written in marker on his rock: “Suzanne.”

Some years, the names were both boys’ names; never had both been feminine.

Janus threw her rock first. It was an awkward toss but sailed halfway across the vast pond. Rob launched his rock, and it landed within a couple of feet of the other bank.

Janus motioned for Rob to come closer. He stood next to her with his left arm around her waist. She tilted her head onto his shoulder as they both stared across the pond. Both of them were considering a life that almost was.

A few moments later, they both felt the moment pass. They turned to walk back to the waiting car.

“Do you think your mom and dad are tired of Astro yet?” Janice laughed as she asked Rob the same question she’d asked him last night and again this morning.

“Duh! An eight-year-old wants everything. They probably have him tied up on the front porch rocking chair at this point.” He paused. “You know what, though? We should stop for breakfast on the way.”

They both laughed, knowing that they would indeed stop.

By the time they turned around to leave the old gravel road, both were thinking of the beautiful Christmas awaiting them. And how much they had spoiled their adopted son Astro.

They counted themselves among the lucky few. Loss? Yes? But life and love also.

Janus hit the “On” button to resume the Christmas music. They both wanted to howl and sing as one should on such a day.

Merry Christmas!

Love, X

Tomorrowland

She set the timer for six hours, trusting that technology would rescue her from laziness the next morning.

Her entire life, she lived, expecting tomorrow to be better.

Today, as her head filled with hope and optimism, she had decided to ask the universe for a dual-citizenship: one homeland being her past, the other being her future.

If she jettisoned her past without appreciating the lessons, she knew she would never be happy.

A friend of hers had confessed that he woke up one morning to hear a bell in his head, one that revealed that he could succeed after twenty years of failure.

“Just like that?” she asked him.

He nodded. The way he nodded conveyed the truth of his acknowledgment.

For days, the idea of an awakening had plagued her. She silently begged the universe for such a revelation.

As she sat in traffic, waiting for the interminable light to change, she realized that her life was stuck in traffic. Though she didn’t hear a bell, the simplicity of the movement she needed became clear to her.

She came home and moved through the quotidian chores that fill people’s lives. The rituals needed to complete her evening passed without notice. She was on autopilot. For years.

Until she brushed her teeth. As she looked in the mirror, it hit her. She was the author of her own destiny.

Tomorrowland was hers.

She couldn’t wait to surprise the world with her revelation.

Amelia

I wrote this story with another imaginative soul…

*

^

He heard her laugh from a couple of aisles over. He was about to place his six simple items on the belt by the cashier. He pushed his cart to the side when she laughed again and abandoned it. Whoever owned that laugh was someone he had to see. The hair on the back of his neck felt like an unseen hand had artfully brushed against it.

He kept looking for the person that laugh belonged to but couldn’t seem to pinpoint it. Then, he glimpsed her standing next to the spices and glancing up at the cinnamon placed unnecessarily and rudely high on the shelf, with one earbud in. It had to be her; the only other women in the vicinity were already collecting their pensions.

She was nodding to nobody as a smile cracked across her face under her mask.

Then another laugh.

Though he would not usually approach anyone, he felt his feet glide toward her. Though he had no expectations as to what she might look like, he felt an unfamiliar sense of familiarity when he looked at her. Just as he was about to speak, she turned halfway toward him, her eyes sparkling, the fading laugh leaving her eyes. He opened his mouth to speak but felt his throat clamp. He just nodded in silence.

She pulled her mask down to reveal a smile. “Well, hello there, stranger.”
The ‘hello’ he warmly and hesitantly uttered crept its way across his lips as they moved, creasing the corners of his eyes.

“Could you help me get the cinnamon? I’m trying to make the family cookie recipe for the Christmas celebration. I was warned not to get the cheap stuff,” she said, rambling to herself. He watched her face move with the words as his feet shot roots into the ground beneath him to keep his heart from soaring out of his chest.

He kept staring until she looked from side to side behind him and then back in his face. “umm…Frankie? Can you get the cinnamon, please? I still have to bake tonight.” He kept staring. There she was. His heart was beating rapidly; there was sweat on his brow. The clerk announced BBQ and 4th of July deals over the loudspeaker. He blinked and inhaled hard, and then she was gone again.

Between heartbeats, time dilated. Frankie watched his arm reach up and pick out a lovely brand of cinnamon. When he handed it to her, her nimble fingers brushed his. The jolt awakened him. She smiled and asked, “Are you okay?” He nodded. “Wait,” he said, his voice almost disembodied. “Do I know you? I feel like I do.” She laughed at him as if he’d asked the most ridiculous and amusing question possible. “Not really, no. But I think we’re going to know each other very well, depending on whether you can answer one simple question.”

Frankie nodded and swallowed as Amelia grinned mischievously and pulled out her earbuds. This was a big test. He didn’t even know it yet. There was only one acceptable answer, but a close second would allow him to have an opportunity to prove himself further. “Which Star Trek captain is the best?” she asked as she slipped the cinnamon into a place of prestige in her shopping cart. “Thank you, by the way.”

Frankie didn’t even pause to answer: “Picard. He’s brilliant, ethical, and emotional, perfectly blended. But you know that. If I can make you laugh before you turn and walk away, will you let me talk to you again? Anywhere or anywhen you want.”

Amelia wrinkled her nose, made a noise like a buzzer, and made a thumbs-down signal. She then laughed again. Frankie’s spine shivered again. “That is not correct, so I’m not sure about any sort of prize here.” The room seemed to pulse and fade in and out of Frankie’s vision as the Christmas music faded to summer-time special promotions again. He stood there, alone, in the spice aisle in his Birkenstocks. “Oh God, not again,” he thought to himself and choked back the tears creeping dangerously close to slipping from his eyes in the middle of the spices.

He was lost somewhere in time again, the memories of lost love flooding him. He picked out a container of cinnamon and held it in his hand. Even though people passed him, no one noted the single tear that slid along his cheek and down to his hand holding the bottle. “Amelia,” he whispered.