Saturday, June 26, 2010

With Hairy Legs and Un-brushed Teeth


Pete and Natalie, a young, childless couple, have just gotten up on a Saturday morning. Pete is looking for his tooth brush to complete his daily ablutions. Natalie has just stepped out of the shower. As they jostle for position at the vanity, this is their conversation:
“I don’t know what to tell you, Pete. I haven’t seen your toothbrush.”
“Are you sure?”
“Only fools are sure, Pete.”
“So you have seen it.”
“No! I have not. “
“Then what was that about fools?”
“It was a quip.”
“A what?”
“Never mind. Look, just use my tooth brush for now and I’ll pick up some new ones when I go to town later.”
“I’m not using your tooth brush, Natalie. That’s gross.”
“It isn’t any grosser than you sticking your tongue in my mouth when we kiss.”
“That’s different.”
“How?”
“I don’t scrape plaque off your teeth with my tongue.”
“Ah.”
“What does that mean?”
“I believe it means I see.”
“I know it means I see, Natalie. What I meant was what do you see?”
“I see your point.”
“And I believe that it means I won the argument.”
“We weren’t arguing.”
“Yea, but I was right.”
“Yep, Hon, you were right.”
“I can’t believe you’re conceding so easily.”
“There’s nothing to concede. I’m just agreeing with you.”
“I won. I won. I won.”
“Don’t be so puerile.”
“Speak English.”
“Have you seen my razor?”
“No. Use mine.”
“Yours is dull.”
“It better not be.”
“Well, it is. I used it yesterday.”
“You used my razor?”
“Is that a problem?”
“Tell me you didn’t shave your pits with it.”
“Just my legs.”
“Good, ‘cause I don’t want you shaving your pits with my razor.”
“It’s not like I’m scraping plaque off my teeth with it.”
“I should hope not.”
“Okay, where’s your razor?”
“In my shaving kit.”
“No, it’s not.”
“That’s where it’s supposed to be.”
“Well, it isn’t in there. Your toothbrush, however, is.”
“What’s my tooth brush doing in my shaving kit?”
“How should I know? You put it there.”
“I did not.”
“Well, who did?’
“That should be obvious.”
“I didn’t put your tooth brush in your shaving kit. Why would I do that?”
“I don’t know. Maybe you’re puerile, too.”
“Oh, brother!”
“Nat?”
“Yes?”
“Let’s go back to bed.”
“With hairy legs and un-brushed teeth?”
“Sure.”
“Okay.”

Friday, June 18, 2010

A Subtle Knife


It’s not like he had never seen a dead body before. He’d seen lots of them. But they were always laid out in fancy coffins, wearing their Sunday best and made up to look like they were sleeping. At least that’s what everybody always said, “Looks like he’s just gone for a nap, doesn’t it, Vinny?” Looked more like they dropped dead on a stage somewhere with all that makeup troweled on their faces. But Vince always nodded solemnly, the way he was supposed to, and then went in search of the cookie table. There was always a cookie table at a proper funeral.


This body, though, was not in a coffin, not wearing its Sunday best and definitely not made up to look like it was sleeping. This body was sprawled behind a dumpster with a look of shock on its face and blood all over its shirt. It stared blankly up at the sky with its mouth open and a knife sticking out of its neck. Before it was an it, while it was still a he, it must have made a feeble attempt to remove the offending knife, for its hand lay with curled fingers underneath the blood-soaked handle.


Vince staggered back and groped for his cell phone. He had spotted the body’s legs sticking out from behind the dumpster when he went into the alley to throw out a bag of garbage from Martinelli’s, his current place of employment. It took three attempts at dialing before a nasal voice informed him that he had reached 911 and asked how he could be helped. Before he could say he would like to report a murder, his lunch decided to vacate his stomach and he hurled the Martinelli’s special all over the body’s feet. The nasal voice waited for him to finish and repeated the offer of assistance.


Wiping his chin with his sleeve, Vince stammered, “There’s a dead body in the alley behind Martinelli’s. I think it was murdered.”


“Please stay on the line, sir,” the nasal voice directed calm as a cucumber.


An eternity passed. Then the nasal voice began asking rapid fire questions, most of which Vince answered correctly. The body was that of a male. No he didn’t feel for a pulse. Yes, he was sure the guy was dead. No, he didn’t know the victim. No, he didn’t think he’d seen him before. No, he didn’t see anybody else in the alley. He was there to throw out some garbage from the restaurant. He just arrived. No, he didn’t touch anything – he wasn’t sure if vomiting on the body counted, so he left that part out.


The sound of sirens filled the air and suddenly Vince found himself surrounded by cop cars and cops. The nasal voice wished him a good day and disconnected.


“You the guy that called it in?”


Vince spun around to face a large man with a grey crew cut, grey eyes, grey suit and brown shoes standing in the alley. Several uniformed officers were bustling about, erecting barriers to the alley and stringing crime-scene tape like streamers at a wedding. A short man in khaki pants and a blue polo shirt started snapping photos of everything but the body, including Vince.


“Yes,” Vince said.


“You know the guy?” the large man asked.


“No,” Vince said.


A balding man in a white lab coat, carrying an enormous metal case, sauntered up from behind the large man and passed Vince on his way to the body. The photographer greeted him with a smile and a click of the shutter. “Emergency tracheotomy gone real bad,” he said. The bald man was not amused. He muttered something that rhymed with duck and doff and proceeded to shout orders to the uniforms to move the damned dumpster so he could get to work.


The large man motioned Vince to follow him. His grey eyes never rested on anything for more than a second, but Vince had no doubt that he had been thoroughly examined and every detail had been neatly filed away in some memory bank for later total recall. He followed the man away from the body and the cursing bald man, who was now demanding to know who had wasted a perfectly good lunch special all over his crime scene. Vince blushed, but did not confess. He decided he felt safer with the large man in the mix-matched wardrobe.


“Name,” the large man grunted.


“Vince Hemmingway,” Vince grunted back.


“Tell me everything,” the large man said.


Vince described in as much detail as he could how he had come out to the alley to throw a bag of garbage away, how he noticed the legs sticking out from behind the dumpster, how he thought it might have been a homeless guy passed out and was going to tell him to move along and how he was shocked to see that it wasn’t a homeless guy and how he wasn’t going to move along anywhere of his own accord. He told the large man that the body had not been there two hours ago. He would have noticed it on his way in to work. He always entered the restaurant from the alley. Martinelli didn’t like his employees using the customer’s entrance. He didn’t mention the lunch special’s reappearance.


Speaking of Martinelli, it was at that point that he emerged on the scene, ripping mad and screaming at Vince to get his ass back inside and quit doing terrible things to dogs. What was he paying Vince for anyway? Obviously it wasn’t doing dishes!


The large man approached the irate restaurant owner and, steering him back toward the door, spoke a few quiet words to him. When the large man returned, he assured Vince that Martinelli was okay with Vince taking as much time as he needed. No problem.


“Now what time did you get to work?” The large man asked.


“Ten o’clock.”


“And you came in the alley from which way?”


Vince pointed east toward 33 Avenue. “That way.”


“Is that the way you always come?”


Vince nodded. “I live on Denver. It’s the shortest route.”


“Of course. And did you see anyone? Anyone at all?”


“No, sir,” Vince said. “The alley was empty.”


“You’re sure, now?”


“Yes, sir. There was no one here. I got here at ten o’clock like I said and the alley was deserted.”


“Very good, Vince. I think that will do for now. We’ll be in touch if we need anything else.” He large man patted Vince on the shoulder, turned and walked out of the alley.

Vince watched him go. That’s odd, he thought.

Just as he was about to enter Martinelli’s Restaurant and get back to work, he was stopped by a stocky man in a battered fedora and a tall woman of Amazonian proportions wearing a stark and ill-fitting business suit. They, too, both wore brown shoes.

“I’m Detective O’Donnell,” the man said, “and this is Detective Warshanski. Are you the young man who called this in?”

Needless to say, Vince quit his job, moved out of his apartment on Denver and failed conveniently to leave a forwarding address.

Friday, June 11, 2010

A Crossword Routine


“What are you looking for?” Duncan snapped from behind his morning paper.

“I need a pencil.” Hillary said as she rummaged through drawers and shifted papers around the phone on the kitchen counter.

“There’s a pen right beside the phone,” Duncan pointed out.

“I need a pencil. I’m doing the crossword in the paper and a pen won’t do.” Hillary continued to rummage.

“It would if you had any idea what the clues meant,” Duncan mumbled behind his paper.

“What did you say?” Hillary asked absentmindedly as she opened the silverware drawer for some unknown reason. “Aha! Found one.”

Duncan peeked out from behind his newspaper and frowned. Only Hillary could find a pencil among the spoons, he thought to himself. “Before you lose yourself in your puzzle, would you mind pouring me another cup of coffee?”

Hillary didn’t respond. She already had the paper in her hand folded to expose the blank crossword puzzle and was tapping the bent eraser band against her teeth. She put the pencil in her mouth as she poured Duncan’s coffee. “Utt’s a or-le’er urd or ha’y?” she said around the battered writing utensil.

Duncan sighed. He hated it when Hillary did the Sunday crossword. More accurately, he hated having to do it for her. “I can’t understand you with that thing in your mouth,” he admonished.

Hillary returned the coffee pot to its stand and removed the pencil. “I only have two hands,” she defended herself.

“Well I have no idea what you just said, so I can’t very well respond properly to you,” Duncan said.

“What’s a four-letter word for happy?” Hillary repeated her question.

“Glad.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

“As are you.”

“For what?”

“For the coffee.”

“Oh, er, yes. Thank you, my dear.” Duncan raised his newspaper hoping it would be a strong enough barrier between him and Hillary and her crossword puzzle.

Several minutes passed in silence. Duncan could hear Hillary’s pencil scratching against the newsprint. He tried to concentrate on the golf scores in the sports section, but kept bracing himself for Hillary’s next request for assistance. He read the same score over and over, unable to concentrate.

After a while he peeked out again to find Hillary hunched over the crossword, tongue sticking out of the corner of her mouth and brows furrowed in deep absorption. Must be an extra, extra easy crossword this week, he thought, and, relieved to see his wife of thirty-six years finally able to do a simple puzzle on her own, returned to his sports scores. But as the time passed on without Hillary asking for help, Duncan grew increasingly irritated. He folded his own paper and plunked it down on the table.

“So, how’s it going?” he asked.

“Hmmm?” Hillary did not look up from her furious scribbling.

“The puzzle. How’s it going?”

“Oh, almost done,” Hillary said with such confidence that Duncan was stunned.

“Really?” he asked.

“Yep. Just need one more word.”

Duncan leaned forward in his chair, waiting for Hillary to tell him the clue, but she just tapped the eraser band of the pencil against her teeth a few times until at last the answer presented itself and she wrote it down.

“There,” Hillary said with satisfaction. “I love the Sunday crossword.” With that she pushed the paper aside, got up and left the room.

Duncan couldn’t help himself. He reached across the table and pulled the abandoned paper towards himself. Amazingly the crossword was indeed complete. There were a few eraser marks, but it was done. And it was right.

“By golly,” Duncan said aloud. “I think the old girl’s finally getting it.” He smiled and pushed the paper back to the spot where Hillary had left it. When he finished his now cool coffee, he decided to go out to the garage to putter for a while.

The following Sunday, Duncan and Hillary sat as usual at their kitchen table. As Duncan settled into the sports scores, Hillary started searching for a pencil. A few minutes passed before her rummaging annoyed him enough to ask what she was looking for.

“A pencil for the crossword puzzle.”

“There’s a pen right next to the phone. Use that.”

“I can’t do the crossword with a pen. You know that.” This time she opened the cereal cupboard.

“Aha!”

“Did you just find a pencil in the cereal cupboard?” Duncan asked, incredulous.

“Yeah. Weird, huh?” Hillary returned to the table and read the first clue. “What’s a three-letter word for mischievous child?”

Duncan sighed. “Imp.” He shook his head.

Just like the previous week, Hillary filled in answers without asking for help and Duncan read the same scores over and over, waiting to be interrupted. Whenever he peeked around his paper, Hillary was either writing or tapping her teeth while she reasoned out an answer. After fifteen minutes, Duncan couldn’t stand it any more. He put down his paper and was just about to ask Hillary how she was making out with the puzzle when the phone rang. Hillary jumped up to answer it and was instantly lost in a deep conversation with the neighbour over another neighbour’s dog.

Duncan reached across the table and pulled the crossword closer so he could check her answers. The puzzle was a little more than half done and two of her answers were incorrect, leaving a couple of blank spots where her mistakes made the next answer impossible. Duncan retrieved the pencil, erased the errors and inserted the right answers. He didn’t mean to keep working on the puzzle, but before he knew it, all the answers had been filled in. Except 108 across. And Duncan had no idea what the answer was.

He was tapping the eraser band against his teeth when Hillary swept back into the room. “You didn’t finish my puzzle did you?” she asked, a little alarmed.

“Uh, well... Not quite.” Duncan put the pencil down and picked up the sports section again as Hillary approached the table.

“Duncan! How could you?”

“I didn’t do it all! I didn’t get one-oh-eight across; a six-letter word for a monarch who’s coronation took place in 1937.”

Hillary sighed. “George,” she said.

“Hmph,” Duncan said, training his eyes on the golf scores. “Before you sit down, could you please pour me another cup of coffee?”

Thursday, June 3, 2010

An Effigy of Taste


“So, show me what you got for your birthday,” Joyce demanded as she swept into my kitchen in a flurry of pink cashmere and silver spandex. Her newly dyed and viciously back-combed do was as stiff as her freshly botoxed smile. She wore more make-up than I bought in a year and her stiletto heels were leaving little dimples in my linoleum. “Well, come on. I’m dying to see this precious antique Sam’s been going on about.”


I beckoned her to follow me through to the front hallway. As we entered the foyer, I stepped aside and gestured with a flourish at a raised plinth next to the door. Joyce gasped.


“What the hell is that?” she wheezed through lips so augmented they could be used as floatation devices.


“That,” I said, “is the precious antique.”


Joyce, frowned as much as her botulinum brows would allow. “It looks like the head from an ancient Greek version of a blow-up doll. What are you thinking displaying it here where everyone can see it?”

Her perma-pout looked like it was about to burst. I had to get her away from the granite bust that my beloved husband, Sam, had bought at an auction for three thousand dollars. I wasn’t sure I could stand nursing her through another recovery if her face cracked. And if her jaw dropped any further, it certainly would.
I grabbed her arm and dragged her back to the kitchen. “I tried to convince him it would look good out back on the far side of the pond, but he insisted that it had to go where – as you say – everyone can see it.” I poured us each a cup of coffee and served Joyce’s with a straw.


“Danielle, honey,” Joyce said in deep sympathy, “what are you going to do?”


Joyce was my best friend and had been since grade school. She had married money. Lots of money. Three times. And her taste was both expensive and flamboyant. Sam was, sadly, jealous of her and did things – like buy hideous antique busts at auctions – in a vain attempt to keep up with the Jones’s. Or the Joyce’s as the case may be.


“This is all your fault,” I said.


“My fault? How is this my fault?” Joyce was incredulous.
The one thing that Sam failed to realize was that Joyce’s grandiosity had nothing to do with hubris. She simply had tons of money and loved to spend it. Her only concession to pride was the myriad plastic surgeries she had undergone in order to achieve her goal of becoming Sophia Loren’s doppelganger.


“He’s jealous of your money. And he thinks I am too, so he buys this stuff to impress you. To make you think that he’s as rich as you are.”

Joyce laughed. I could tell because a distinct ha-ha-ha sound emanated from between her the thickened appendages (they could only be called appendages) of her lips. “That’s ridiculous.”


“But it’s true.” I sipped my coffee the normal adult way.

“But that thing out there is... is... God, Danielle! What are you going to do?”


“I’m going to give it to you.” I smiled, because I still could.


Joyce nearly choked on her coffee. “Jeeze, Danielle. Couldn’t you just accidentally knock it off the pedestal and be done with it. What am I supposed to do with it?”


“You are going to donate it to charity.”


“I am?”


“Absolutely.”


“Why would I do that? When I donate to charities I tend to give nice things. Like cash.” Joyce sipped a bit of the hair of the dog to clear her throat of the lingering tickle from her recent brush with death.


“I know. But Sam thinks that bust is beautiful. And valuable. If I tell him that you all but did back flip when you saw it, he’ll think that he was right about it and giving it to charity would put him in the same league as you as a philanthropist. He’ll be thrilled. And everyone won’t have to see it in my foyer.”


Joyce’s eyebrows moved the entire fraction of an inch that they were able. I sensed more than saw the look of surprise she endeavoured to project. “But, Danielle, wouldn’t it be kinder to just tell him the truth? Wouldn’t this plan of yours just cater to his fantasy?”

“Mmm. I suppose, but I just can’t break his heart like that. He really does mean well.” I tried to look contrite, but my lips just couldn’t pout with the same enthusiasm as my friend’s.


“You’ve given this a lot of thought,” Joyce said. I could see the wheels spinning behind her wrinkle-free features.

“I have,” I agreed. “And it’s the best solution. It really is.”


“Well....”


I waited.


“Okay. But I’m doing this under protest. I don’t like manipulating Sam that way. It’s not right.”


Sam bought the story, hook, line and sinker. He was so excited about the idea of donating something valuable to charity that Joyce approved of that he could hardly contain himself. He insisted that he be the one to make the donation and even delivered the bust to the hall where the auction was to take place.


“They were ecstatic when I gave it to them.” Sam was vibrating as he spoke. “They even said that Joyce herself had only donated a thousand dollars. After the auction, they’ll send me a tax receipt for the amount it sells for. Isn’t it great to be able to give such a valuable item to charity?”


“It truly is,” I concurred.


Two weeks after the charity auction, a letter arrived addressed to Sam. He tore it open and looked at the enclosed receipt. He mouth dropped open and he staggered, having to support himself with a hand on the counter.


“What is it?” I asked.


Sam passed me the receipt and I took it with some trepidation. Then my own mouth dropped open and I had to brace myself against the counter to keep my own knees from buckling.


The receipt was made out for one hundred thousand dollars.

Friday, May 28, 2010

A matter of perspective


Sarah limped into the house and hobbled to her bedroom. She could not believe how much pain she was in. Her feet were, she thought, literally killing her and she couldn’t get the source of the torment off fast enough. One after the other two suede sling-backs were flung into the far reaches of Sarah’s closet, hopefully, to be forgotten forever. This whole bra, make-up, hair and high-heels things was not all it was cracked up to be.

Sarah often wondered why she had been so eager for any of it. It was all just a great big pain in the...

“Sarah, don’t forget to hang up your dress. I don’t want to find it in a heap on your floor in the morning.” Sarah’s mother called out from down the hall.

She retrieved the dress that had followed the shoes to the bottom of the closet and dutifully hung it up. That was another thing! Dresses! Particularly pink frilly ones with itchy crinoline, or whatever her mother had called the stupid stuff. And then there was the panty hose. What woman-hating person came up with those? Sarah balled the pair that she had been wearing and tossed them, runs and all, into the trash can next to her computer desk.

She pulled on a comfy pair of jeans and a blissfully baggy t-shirt. She wanted to lose the bra too, but her mother would probably notice and embarrass the crap out of her in front of her dad or something. A walk passed the mirror on her wall stopped Sarah short. She touched the up-do she had been forced to suffer for two and a half hours at the hair dressers that morning to achieve and decided that if she never washed her hair again, she would also never have to wear a bike or hockey helmet again either. She wondered if simple shampoo and water was going to be enough to get all that gunk out. Oh, and the war paint, as her dad so aptly called it, had to go too. Next stop – bathroom.

Fifteen minutes later, cheeks scrubbed clean and pink and hair freed from the super glue that had held it in place, Sarah sat down at her desk and booted up her computer. In seconds the screen lit up, she opened her browser and clicked on the link to Facebook in her favourites list.

Hmmm... not many people on line, she noticed. Ah, well, some quality time in Farmville would take the edge off. Sarah found a stray kitten in the hay loft and posted it for adoption. She cleaned up and rearranged and added and rearranged...

Suddenly, a chat box opened up. Sarah looked at it and her mouth dropped open. It was Jeff Cooper.

Jeff "freakin’ gorgeous" Cooper was saying Hi to her on Facebook.

Oh, my God! Oh, my God!

And Amy wasn’t even on line to tell.

With sweaty hands, Sarah typed a casual Hi back and held her breath. Several long, long seconds passed while Sarah stared at the chat box waiting for a reply. Finally, the little icon by Jeff’s name became animated, indicating that he was writing a reply.

“How RU”

“OK U”

“OK”

Now what? Sarah’s panic doubled as she tried to think of something to write. Then a new message popped up: “U looked nice 2day”

Sarah froze. How did he know? When did he see her? She had been at her sister’s wedding all day, dressed in a gross pink bride’s maid’s dress and feet-killing high heels with her hair all done up and her face rouged and lip-sticked... How could he even have recognizer her?

“Thx”

“Wanna hang 2morrow?”

Was she dreaming? Hang with Jeff Cooper?

“Sure”

“I’ll call U”

Then he was gone.

Farmville forgotten, Sarah dashed across her room to her closet and dove in head-first, looking for the feet-killing shoes. With a wince, she jammed her aching appendages into the unforgiving sling-backs and limped out of her room and back into the bathroom. An hour later she emerged with her hair swept up and held in place with a clip. Her eyes were lined and her lashes lengthened. Her smile was a glossy, pale pink.

“Wow,” said her mother meeting her in the hall way. “I thought you couldn’t wait to get all that stuff off.”

“I changed my mind,” Sarah said, stepping gingerly around her mom and returning to her room. First order of business was to call Amy. They had a lot to talk about!


Friday, May 21, 2010

A Fishy Little Tale


“Mom, what did you do with Charlie?” The question drifted into the kitchen from the far corners of the universe, namely the playroom in the basement.

I paused from chopping the vegetables for supper to think about what I was being asked. While it seemed like a straight forward query, I had to consider the source. Tyler, who was the one who had asked the question, is my son. At the time he was four years old and had taken to naming all of his toys. The problem was that the names were often plucked out of thin air in the moment and could change from hour to hour. I didn’t even try to keep up anymore, having been chastised on several occasions for calling George Kevin and Martin Rudy and Thomas Sydney. But I took a leap of faith and, because it had featured prominently in Tyler’s play that day, assumed that Charlie was a teddy bear.

“I haven’t seen him,” I called back. “Did you look in your bedroom?” Chop, chop, chop. I dropped the carrots into a pot.

No further reply seemed to be forthcoming, so I continued chopping vegetables and preparing biscuits for the evening repast. While the biscuits baked and the veggies simmered in the soup pot, I settled down at the kitchen table to read my book. I could hear Tyler in the play room no doubt saving the world from some vicious monster and set my Mom antennae to monitor in the background. As long as he was neither too quiet nor too loud, I felt relatively safe leaving him and his imagination to conquer whatever villain they were, at present, busy vanquishing.

The soup bubbled aromatically on the stove and the biscuits plumped to perfection in the oven while the characters in my book cleverly escaped some wild, page-turning peril and extracted a confession from the least-obvious suspect. I was just about to get up and stir the soup, when Tyler popped around the corner brandishing a sword made out of an old tennis racket.

“You,” he said, pointing his makeshift weapon at me, “are under arrest!”

I raised my hands in surrender and asked what the charges were.

“You kidnapped Charlie!” Tyler accused. He stood with his feet apart and his free hand on his hip. His lips were pursed and his eyes squinted menacingly at me.

“I’m innocent,” I said. “I haven’t seen Charlie since this morning.” Didn’t I pick up the teddy bear from the bathroom floor and put it back on Tyler’s bed right after breakfast?

“I’m taking you to headquarters and you’re gonna tell me what you did with him.” He pointed in the general direction of the basement.

Just then the timer rang to let me know that the biscuits were done. Tyler graciously gave me time to get them out of the oven before completing my arrest. I gave the soup a stir while I had the chance, and then I went peacefully to headquarters to face the charges before me.

In the playroom, I was greeted by what appeared to be the aftermath of an explosion. Toys were strewn from one end of the room to the other. The only neat and tidy places were the empty toy box and shelves. I suppressed a sigh. It never ceased to amaze me how messy saving the world was.

Tyler began his interrogation by offering me an animal cracker from a container he had obviously helped himself to at some point when I wasn’t paying enough attention. He did it unapologetically, oblivious to the look of consternation that I was giving him. Apparently, it was a ‘good cop’ day and I decided to get in the spirit of the game and not make a big deal out of the breach of rules. After all the stolen crackers came from another universe and I couldn’t be at all sure what effect bringing it up might have on the space/time continuum. I took the proffered treat and thanked my captor for his kindness.

“So, where is he?” Tyler asked after chewing and swallowing a lion.

“I swear I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t have him.”

“I have a witness that says you do!” he said.

“Who?” I asked.

Tyler looked around the room and zoned in on a headless action figure a few feet away from where we sat amid the shambolic array of toys. He retrieved it and held it up in front of his own mouth. In a high-pitched voice he spoke for the witness, “She’s fibbing! I saw her put Charlie in her pocket.”

Ah! A light was beginning to dawn. Tyler wasn’t looking for a missing teddy bear at all.

I reached into my pants pocket and pulled out what I now knew Charlie to be; a small, carved, wooden fish from a set of eight that my father had made for Tyler for his birthday. I had found it under a sofa cushion that morning while cleaning and had stuck it in my pocket. I had intended to put it in Tyler’s room with the others, but had forgotten all about it. Tyler must have seen me pick it up and created this game. I handed him the toy fish, Charlie.

“Thanks, Mom!” Tyler said, pulling a matching fish out of his own pocket and spinning off into another new world.

“Oh, Charlie,” said the other fish in a squeaky voice, “I’m so glad you’re safe.”

“Me too, Roger,” said Charlie in a deeper, more growly tone. “Now let’s get back to the ranch before Mr. Baddo attacks again.”

Charlie, Roger and Tyler galloped off on wild ponies bent on thwarting Mr. Baddo’s evil plan.

I looked at the toys littering the play room floor and thought very briefly about cleaning it up. Then I realized that I didn’t want to risk getting arrested again and left it all right where it was.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Legend of Brendan Ward


It was Jesus Week, the first week of summer vacation when Brendan Ward came to town to perform his street magic. We called it Jesus Week because on the last night in town, Brendan performed an illusion where he walked on water. It never failed, even after eleven straight years, to wow the audience. We just never got tired of seeing him tread barefoot across the pond in Angel Park. It might not have been so spectacular if he’d brought his own body of water and set it up. This was just plain old Angel Pond in Angel Park in downtown Angel Falls.

My friends and I worshiped Brendan. We’d literally grown up with him kicking off each and every summer since grade one. And we were all in love with him. Even in our senior year at high school with boyfriends draping their hopeful arms around our shoulders, we all secretly hoped that Brendan felt some measure of reciprocation for our adolescent devotion and we’d made sure that we were where he was all week long. Our boyfriends were so jealous by the end of the week, what with all the Brendan this’s and Brendan thats, that they were either clinging to us or openly eyeballing our competition. We weren’t all that worried, though. We all knew we’d be making it up to them after Brendan left town.

As usual just about the whole town came out to see Brendan walk on water. The park was packed with expectant towns folk jostling for position and speculating on how it was done. The only cloud was... Well, a huge black cloud gathering in the eastern sky that threatened to break open and spill its cold, wet contents on the party of the year! The speculation started to include whether or not Brendan would even be able to do the trick at all and as the evening inched forward in a race between the storm and the magic, the crowd began to get restless.

But Brendan would not be hurried. He would appear out of nowhere at precisely eight o’clock and walk through the crowd toward the pond. Along the way he would shake hands and sign autographs and pull coins from out of toddler’s ears. Everyone would “Ooh” and “Ahh” and either hope he’d stop and do a trick for them, or pray he wouldn’t. It was difficult to decide where to stand because no one ever knew for sure where he’d suddenly appear. “The real trick,” my father always said, “was to be in the right place at the right time.”

The clock ticked slowly toward the appointed hour. The people kept a close watch on the gathering storm and bobbed up on down on tip-toes scanning for any sign of the magician they were braving the weather to see. A cold wind blew up, whipping hair and skirts around and driving couples into the shelter of each other’s arms. Parents wrapped babies and toddlers tighter in blankets and coats, but no one was giving up. There was a fair bit of threatening to do so, though.

Finally someone on the far side of the pond yelled out, “He’s here,” and heads began to turn in the direction of the original shout, which was echoed back and out until all eyes were on the giant cottonwood tree on the north side of the pond. A puff of smoke and a blur of bright red cloth and Brendan Ward was at last among us. A cheer rose up from the crowd just as a distant rumble of thunder rolled over us. It was going to be close. Very, very close.

Brendan made his way toward the edge of the pond. He didn’t stop to shake hands or sign autographs or pull coins from anyone’s ears. He knew that the audience was in a bit of a hurry and he didn’t want to disappoint. My friends and I were close to the pond at nine o’clock to Brendan’s entrance. We had a perfect view and, in spite of the protection our boyfriends were giving us from the wind, we all stepped forward to get as close as we could to the action. My eyes were locked on Brendan’s handsome face and I swear that for just a second, right before he reached the edge of the pond, he looked right at me and smiled. I couldn’t help myself; I swooned.

With my back to the storm, I sensed rather than saw its final approach, but my attention was glued to Brendan as he slipped off his sneakers and put one tentative toe in the water. Little white caps had formed on the surface and the pond looked like the ocean in miniature during a hurricane. I gasped when Brendan took his first hesitant step onto that choppy little tarn, waiting to see if the waves would hold him. They did and he put one beautiful foot carefully in front of the other, teetering slightly as if the wind was about to knock him off balance. The crowd was silent. Only the howl of the wind could be heard as we watched the magician feel his way toward the center of the pond.
The first drops of rain hit just as Brendan reached the halfway point. He stopped. He looked up and our eyes met. There was something wrong. I could see the fear in his eyes and I screamed. But my scream went unheard. A bolt of lightning cracked across the sky and a deafening peal of thunder shook the earth and Brendan fell straight down into the pond. I watched in horror as the frothy water closed over his head.

Minutes passed and Brendan didn’t surface. At first people were too shocked to move. There seemed to be a collective internal debate going on between taking shelter and rescuing Brendan. It felt like forever, but I’m sure it was only a few seconds, before someone took action. That someone was my father, who stripped off his coat and shoes and dove into the pond. Another eternity passed before he came back up for air and dove again. The pond, murky at the best of times, was a turbulent soup of mud. Visibility was zero. Three more men joined my dad in the fruitless search for the missing magician.

By the time they were forced to give up, most of the crowd had left the park. Half of the women were crying. A few of the men were too, safe to do so in the driving rain that disguised their bitter feelings of loss. My boyfriend tried to make me leave, and when I refused, he simply left without me. I wasn’t going to give up. I wasn’t going to leave until Brendan was found – dead or alive.

It was late when my father finally made me return home, cold and drenched and grief stricken, while he rallied a search team together to meet at the fire hall. I made my way into the living room where my mother was busy dusting the contents of a curio cabinet. She did this sort of thing whenever she was upset. I wasn’t surprised to find her polishing her precious antique plates in the middle of the night. The loss of Brendan was met with no less sorrow than the loss of any close friend or relative would be. Never mind that he didn’t know us from Adam. He was a part of us, a part of our community and he would be missed.

I was just about to wrap my soggy arms around her when she screamed and dropped the plate she was polishing with a soft cloth. The plate, an expensive antique, shattered on the hardwood floor. For a minute I thought I had knocked it out of her hand, but when I looked at her, my mother was pointing at the door behind me. I turned and there stood Brendan Ward. Bone dry and smiling.

“That,” I said, forgetting my grief, my adoration and just about everything else that I had ever felt for the man, “was a priceless Chinese willow pattern porcelain plate from the sixteenth century. It’s irreplaceable.”

Now I loved Brendan Ward. But I loved my mother more and I think it was that precise moment when I realized just how much she meant to me. Her antique plates had always been a source of pride for her and an equal source of consternation for the rest of us. Seeing one in shards on the floor, though, there was no contest between this crazy traveling street magician and my dear old Mom. Of course, the fact that he was seeing me dripping wet with mascara smudged all over my face and my hair plastered to my skull in snaky tendrils while he looked like a million bucks didn’t exactly help his case.

“My plate,” my mother cried out after the shock of seeing Brendan materialize had worn off. “Look at my plate! It’s ruined.”

Ruined? This wasn’t an evening gown. It was a rare antique. Destroyed was the more appropriate adjective, I thought.

“I can fix that,” Brendan said. He walked into our house like he was a welcome guest and knelt down next to the smashed porcelain pieces. “I’ll need a broom and dust pan, a paper bag, some glue and a table cloth – preferably black or red.”

My mother, like an obedient child, went in search of the items Brendan had asked for. I stood with arms crossed and heart crosser glaring at his insolence.

“You can’t fix it,” I said. “This isn’t one of your tricks. What are you doing here anyway? And do you have any idea how worried people are about you? What the hell happened out there?”

Brendan stood up. He took a knitted afghan off the back of the couch and wrapped it around my shoulders. “You’re shivering,” he said as he led me to the piano bench to sit down. He may not have been concerned about giving the whole town a fright, but he certainly didn’t want me dripping on the sofa.

“Of course, I’m shivering,” I shouted. “I just spent the last three hours in the pouring rain trying to find your dead body.” This wasn’t how I fantasized our first real meeting would be like.

“And I’m sorry about that. I really am,” he said gently. “I didn’t mean for things to turn out the way they did. I shouldn’t have done what I did.”

“No you shouldn’t have.” I refused to look at him. “But I think you should leave. Mom’s been through enough for one night.”

“I had to see you,” he said.

I remained aloof.

“Do you remember when you were eight and you gave me that card that you made?”

Oh, dear God! He remembered that? Could this day get any worse?

I was in grade three and on the last day of school my teacher asked us all to make a card for someone just to tell them how special they were. She had hinted strongly that she might be a good candidate for recipient and many of the kids, hoping, perhaps, for better grades, obliged her. But my card was for Brendan. It was a picture of him walking on water surrounded by hearts and it said: Dear Brendan, you are a miracle. You make it summer. I love you.

Still not looking at him, I nodded.

“Well, I still have that card. I carry it everywhere I go.” He reached into his coat pocket and extracted the tattered remnants of the card. “And since I’m retiring – Angel Falls is my last street performance – I wanted to tell you how much that card meant to me.”

“I don’t understand,” I said, looking up finally. “You’re retiring?”

“Yeah,” he laughed. “Didn’t quite plan on going out with such a splash, though.”

“But why?” Just as suddenly as my anger had risen, my great love for this guy, who was way too old for me anyway, returned. I couldn’t imagine not starting summer without Jesus Week.
“It’s time,” was all he said.

Just then my mother returned. “I’m afraid I don’t have a red or black table cloth. This is the best I could do.” She handed Brendan a broom, a dust pan, a paper bag a bottle of white glue and a green plaid table cloth.

“It will work fine,” he said and began sweeping the broken pieces of the plate into the dust pan.

When he had swept up every last bit of plate, he dumped it into the paper bag, poured in a bunch of glue and then neatly folded the top over three times. He shook the bag vigorously before placing it on the coffee table and then, with a flourish only magicians can manage, flipped the table cloth into the air and let it settle covering the bag. Mom and I watched, mesmerized and expectant, hopeful and wary at the same time as he busied himself tucking the table cloth under the bag. He walked around the table twice, frowning down at the lump under the cloth as if he wasn’t quite sure which magic words to utter. Then he suddenly spun around, clapping his hands and stamping his feet and did a cartwheel right over the coffee table. As he landed on the other side, he grabbed a corner of the cloth and whipped it into the air. Where the bag of broken bits had been, there sat my mom’s plate. Intact. Whole. Unmarred. Unbroken.

Mom squealed like a little girl who had just got a pony for her birthday. I just sat there too stunned to even shiver.

“Thank you!” Mom cried. “Thank you so, so much. You’re so amazing. Can I get you a cup of cocoa?” She bustled off into the kitchen without waiting for an answer.

Cocoa? Seriously?

“How...” I pointed at the plate.

“I can’t tell you how it’s done.” Brendan reached down and touched the plate with his finger.

It crossed my mind that he really couldn’t tell me how he did it; such was the look of amazement on his own face.

“I have to go,” he said and headed to the door.

“But, you can’t just leave. There are people who are looking for you. Right now they are organizing a proper search of the pond for as soon as the rain stops. You can’t just leave. I think they deserve an explanation at least.”

“Tell them I screwed up tonight. Tell them I’m sorry I frightened them. Tell them good-bye.” Then he walked out of the house and into the night.

By the time I reached the door behind him he was nowhere in sight. I called out his name, but only the sound of the rain falling hard against the roof tops and pavement answered me. I never saw Brendan Ward again.

His last performance became the stuff of legend and some people firmly believe that he died in Angel Pond in Angel Park in Angel Falls and it was his ghost that came to our home and fixed the willow pattern plate that still sits in Mom’s curio cabinet. But I know that no ghost would carry around a silly card made by an eight year old fan.

Or would it?


Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Eye and I


An ear-splitting scream bore through the thick veil of sleep and my eyes opened to see the ballerina wallpaper that still adorned the walls of my childhood bedroom. Ugh!

I scrambled for my bath robe and staggered into the hall, barely avoiding a head-on collision with my step-father, Roger. We mumbled apologies to each other and then charged down the hall toward the source of the scream that had jarred us out of our beds. At the front entrance to the house Roger and I found my mother, pale and shaking, pointing at the object of her horror. I rolled my eyes and bent down to scoop it up.

That’s when my mother dropped to the floor in a dead faint. Roger and I looked at her crumpled body, then at each other. I held out the object. “It’s glass,” I said. And that’s when Roger dropped to the floor in a dead faint right next to my mother. “Tory!” I yelled, stepping over the inert bodies of my parents and marched back up the hall to the room next to mine where my eleven-year-old daughter lay blissfully sleeping and oblivious to the havoc she had just caused.

An overwhelming urge to strangle my little angel coursed through me, but I decided to let her sleep. The longer she slept, the less trauma she could instigate. I closed the door, leaving her to her dreams. I looked down at the reason my parents were in a heap in the foyer and the urge to kill my baby was replaced by a huge grin.

I tucked the offending object, a glass eyeball, into the pocket in my robe and returned to the foyer to find Mom and Roger stirring back to life. I assisted them both to their feet and herded them into the kitchen where I poured them each a cup of coffee. They were both very pale and even swallowing the strong liquid took some effort.

“That child of yours is a ghoul,” my mother said.

I removed the eyeball from my pocket and set it down on the table. I have to admit that I took some little pleasure at watching my mother blanch to an even whiter shade of pale. “It’s glass,” I repeated my earlier elucidation. Roger reached out a tentative finger and poked the thing to confirm the truth of it. Mother squealed, but managed not to pass out a second time.

“Put it away!” she cried. “For God’s sake, Aileen, put it away.”

“Oh for the love of Pete,” I said. “It’s just a glass eye. It can’t hurt you.” I sipped my own soothing java.

“Why do you let her have things like that?” Mother spat. “It’s disgusting.”

“It’s just a chunk of glass.” I said slowly, as if speaking to an errant child.

“It’s not just a chunk of glass. It’s an eyeball. And I want it out of my house.

Do you hear me, Aileen? I want it out.” Mother’s hysteria was escalating. Tears were actually rolling down her cheeks.

I took a deep breath. “Fine,” I said. “Me and the ghoul will get out too.” I picked up the eyeball and stomped out of the kitchen.

My mother and I had never seen eye-to-eye, so to speak. Particularly since Tory was born out of wedlock eleven years earlier. Mother saw her granddaughter as an embarrassment rather than the amazing, beautiful child that she was. For a baby-boomer, Mother was hyper conservative. She considered wearing navy and green living on the edge.

While I was throwing my stuff back into my suitcase, I heard Tory rousing in the next room. I flipped the suitcase closed and went to head her off before she crossed paths with her grandmother. “Tory,” I whispered just as she was entering the bathroom across from her bedroom. She turned and looked at me with her sparkling green eyes. “When you’re done in there, come straight to my room. Okay?”

Tory nodded and closed the bathroom door. I returned to my packing.

A sudden sadness overcame me. I had worked hard to nurture Tory’s curiosity and creativity; something that had always been stifled in me when I was growing up. I wished my mother could accept the wonder and joy with which my daughter experienced life.

I pulled on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt and was just twisting my hair into a loose pony when Tory opened the door. “Morning Mom,” she said in her cheerful voice that always reminded me of laughing cherubs.

“Morning, Sweetpea,” I said and gave her a big hug. “Come sit down with me for a minute.”

“Am I in trouble?” Tory was nothing if not perceptive.

“No. Well, maybe just a little.” I tweaked her nose to let her know that I was not angry with her.

“What did I do, Mom?” she asked. It always amazed me how she could take responsibility.

I took the glass eyeball out of my robe pocket and held it out. “Your grandmother found this under your jacket. Which you left on the floor by the front door by the way.”

“Oh, yeah,” Tory said. She took the eyeball from my hand. “I guess I forgot.”

“Hmmm. Well, Grandma nearly had a heart attack.”

“I’m sorry, Mom.”

“It’s not me you have to apologize to, Tory. Grandma is... well she’s...”

“Uptight?” Tory suggested. Sometimes precocious isn’t all that cute!

“Something like that,” I agreed. “She was quite upset when she found the eye. She even fainted.”

“Really?” Somehow there was far too much delight in those two syllables.

“Tory,” I admonished.

“Mom, why doesn’t Grandma like me?”

The sound of a heart breaking is as loud as thunder and as silent as the grave at the same time. My eleven year old daughter was acutely aware that she was not accepted by her own flesh and blood. It hurt both of us more than either of us could possibly deserve. “I don’t know,” I said. “You are the most likeable kid that ever walked the earth.”

Tory rolled her eyes. (She was going to make a great teenager.) Then she hugged me. At least my little girl still did that.

“Tell you what,” I said. “We’re going to go to a hotel for the rest of the weekend. How does that sound?”

“Sounds like Grandma kicked us out.”

“Actually, she just kicked the eyeball out.” We both laughed.

Tory went back to her room, got dressed and packed her things. We met in the hall and, hand in hand, dragged our matching, rolling purple suitcases across the shiny click-lock flooring to the front door. The sound of the wheels brought my mother and step-father out of the kitchen.

“Where are you going?” my mother asked.

“The ghoul and I are going to a hotel for the rest of the weekend. We’ll find our own way to Jason’s wedding.” Jason is my brother and his wedding was the reason we were there.

“Nonsense,” my mother retorted. “There’s no reason for all this drama. Take your things back to your rooms.”

“Ghoul?” Tory said.

“Good-bye, Mother.” I turned to open the door and leave.

“Ghoul?” Tory asked again.

“Tory, don’t interrupt,” Mother scolded.

“You called me a ghoul?” Tory stepped closer to my mother, who, in turn, backed away.

“I didn’t mean it,” Mother stammered. “I was just taken by surprise and I... Well, I over-reacted just a little.”

“I’m very sorry that I forgot to hang up my jacket, Grandma. And I’m very, very sorry that you were scared by my eyeball. But I’m not sorry that Mom and me are going to stay at a hotel. I don’t know why you don’t like me, but it doesn’t matter. I still love you, even if you do think I’m a ghoul.” With that, my darling little girl turned on her heel and marched out the door.

I wiggled my fingers at Mother and Roger and followed her out to the car. Tory flung her suitcase into the trunk and slid into the passenger seat. I slid into the driver`s seat, started the car and backed down the driveway. Tory was holding the glass eyeball, turning it over and over between her fingers.

“Mom,” Tory said, “would it be mean to leave this in the mailbox for Grandma to find again later?”

“A little.” I accelerated so she wouldn’t jump out and run back to the mailbox.

“That’s what I thought.”

“Grandma doesn’t mean to be like that,” I said. It’s weird how easy it is to defend the woman.

“I know.”

We drove on in silence, found a hotel with a decent room and checked in. I agreed to Mickey D’s for breakfast and then treated my baby girl to some shopping before we had to get ready for the wedding. I made a mental note to call Jason and warn him about the ice age that was going to move through the reception later. I was relatively sure he would not be all that surprised. He’d probably want to know where Tory got the cool glass eyeball.

I was on the dance floor, trying to get through the Chicken Dance without being groped by some crazy old dude that had been stalking me since dinner when an ear-splitting scream pierced the celebratory din and brought the entire reception to a grinding halt. What now? I wondered as I made my way to the front of the hall.

There was my brother’s bride, in a heap of white taffeta out cold on the floor next to the wedding cake.

And there was a glass eyeball embedded into the frosting between the top and middle tiers.

“Tory!”

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Great Minds on Fools' Errands

Greg sat at his desk staring at the package that had just arrived. There was no return address and he was not expecting anything from anyone – that he could think of. It wasn’t his birthday and it was too early for Christmas. The neat printing on the plain brown paper was not familiar. Normally, he would have torn it open immediately, surprise packages being one of his favourite things. But this parcel was mysterious. In a strange and foreboding way.

The parcel was small, about six inches square. It was heavy for its demure size and it didn’t rattle. What came to mind when Greg shook it was a rock, for whatever was inside slid back and forth just a little bit, hitting the box it was enclosed in with a dull thud. Who would send me a rock? Greg wondered.

He studied the post mark, but it was blurred and he could not make out the city it was mailed from. The date, though, indicated that it had been sent exactly a week previously. A parcel could travel a long way in a week, he knew. Then again it sometimes took a week for a simple letter to cross town. There were no other clues to the parcel’s origin or who might have sent it.

Greg’s business partner, Edward walked into the office just as Greg was placing the parcel on his blotter for further contemplation. Noticing the paper-wrapped cube, Edward couldn’t help but ask about it. His first instinct was that it was the magnets they had been waiting for, magnets they needed for their latest secret invention. An invention they were under the gun to finish before their closest competition. But Greg pointed to another package on the drafting table next to the door. The one with the metal ruler stuck firmly to its side.

While Edward busied himself removing the ruler and extracting the powerful magnets from their box, Greg sat quietly trying to will the mystery of the package on his desk to reveal itself. He could neither fathom what it could be nor why he felt such dread. It’s just a parcel, he told himself. Just open it.

Edward was nattering over by the drafting table, but Greg didn’t pay any attention. After eighteen years of friendship and six years in business with the man, he knew that Edward was as likely to be thinking out loud as to be directing his current monologue at Greg. If it was important, Edward would repeat himself, so Greg just stared at the package on his desk, rejecting every scenario that sprung up out of his vivid imagination.

“I said I think these will work,” Edward said with an exasperated tone.

Jolted from his reverie, Greg looked up. “Sorry,” he mumbled. “I was thinking about something else.”

“Such as?” Edward prompted.

“Nothing important. Why don’t we take those magnets down to the workshop and see what they can do?” Greg stood up and walked over to the drafting table where he picked up a handful of paperclips and sprinkled them over the magnets.

“You’re picking all of those off,” Edward said and pushed the box of magnets into his partner’s hand.

Greg and Edward spent the rest of the day testing the magnets in their secret invention and bickering over technical and design issues. Anyone listening in would have thought the pair was close to murdering each other, but this was how they worked. At the end of the day, they would shake hands, buy each other a beer at the pub just up the street from their little shop and settle their differences just like the best of friends they really were. Ninety percent of what they accomplished was done after hours over a bottle – or two or three – of beer. The next morning they would go back to the shop do what they agreed upon at the pub and then start arguing about the next step in whatever project they were involved with. Somehow it worked.

That day, Greg and Edward argued until after seven o’clock. It was Edward’s rumbling stomach that ended the fight and sent them both back to their offices to chill out for a few minutes before they collected their coats and met in the parking lot to drive together to the pub. An unbreakable rule was that they always drove to and from the shop together, usually in Greg’s car, since Edward’s was so often in the shop for one thing or another. He could afford a better, more reliable vehicle, but he stubbornly hung on to his now vintage Trans Am. Greg called it a relic, but to Edward it was his dream car. Another unbreakable rule was that they didn’t talk about it.

When Greg got back to his office, the enigmatic parcel was sitting exactly where he left it on his desk. Maybe it was a bomb sent from a jealous competitor. Or maybe it was his missing cat’s head sent by his nasty neighbour who Greg was certain had poisoned the poor thing. Or maybe it was that hideous award that he had been nominated for, but did not attend the banquet to find out if he’d won. Or maybe it was some radioactive chuck of... something.

“Or maybe it’s a thousand thousand dollar bills you inherited from a long lost uncle,” Edward, who had just popped in to find out what was keeping Greg, said. “Why don’t you just open it and find out instead of wasting that genius you’re so famous for on such preposterous speculation?”

Greg’s face reddened at the realization that he had been thinking out loud – and been caught!

“It’s something sinister,” Greg said. “I just know it.”

“Sinister? What makes you think it’s sinister?” Edward knew that Greg would not move until he made a decision about the parcel.

“A, there’s no return address. B, it’s not my birthday or any other special occasion. C, I’m not expecting anything. And D, it’s... it’s just sinister.”

“Hmmmm... Sounds like you’ve given this a lot of thought.” Edward approached the desk and gestured toward the package, an unspoken request to inspect it. Greg nodded his acquiescence.
Edward grabbed the parcel and without ceremony, ripped the wrapper open to reveal a blue cardboard gift box. As he pulled the lid off, Greg threw his hands up as if to stop the bomb blast that did not come.

“Your imagination is out of control, Buddy. I think you’re losing it.” Edward placed the opened box back down on the desk. “Or you need a vacation.”

Greg leaned over the box and gasped.

“What? It’s just a paper weight!” Edward was confused and growing increasingly cranky due to low blood sugar.

“It’s not just a paper weight,” Greg said. He reached out and carefully lifted a clear glass globe out of the Styrofoam nest it had been resting in. “It’s the paper weight.”

Edward sighed. “The paper weight?” He looked at the orb of flawless glass that enveloped a seascape of orange coral and a single angel fish. “Oh, you mean The Paper Weight?”

“Well, you know what this means?” said Greg, inching away from the glass orb.

“Yep. Joe and Tyler finished ahead of us and Kor-Tech made an offer.”

“How did this happen, Ed?”

“Well, you challenged them to a race to finish the product and present it to Kor-Tech. I believe you said that the best they could come up with would be no more useful than a paper weight. I think they call it throwing down the gauntlet. I also think that you underestimated them, Buddy.”

Greg slumped into his chair. Disgusted and feeling beaten, he reached down and opened his bottom desk drawer. “You want to know the lousiest part, Ed?”

“What could be lousier than losing a contract with Kor-Tech to Joe and Tyler?”

“The lousiest part, my friend,” he drew a blue gift box out of the drawer and put it on the desk, “is that I bought the exact same paper weight to send to them when we won the contract.” He pulled the lid off the box to reveal an exact replica of the paper weight that had just ruined his professional life.
“And you can’t admit that great minds think alike.”

“It’s only slightly better than having to accept that fools never differ.”

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Lesson of the Walking Stick


“So, what can you tell me about the man that owns this walking stick?” asked Sir Arthur.

I took the proffered stick and made a show of examining it thoroughly. Sir Arthur, with his templed fingers pretended not to be observing me, but I knew that he was taking in my every move. I also knew that this was a test. He was testing my powers of deduction and, as his apprentice, I was expected to fail. Sir Arthur was only allowing me to tag along on his investigations because he had a bet going with Sir George. Sir George believed that I was at least as clever as Sir Arthur and Sir Arthur was convinced that he, and he alone, possessed the intelligence for which he was renowned and had made him England’s greatest detective.


I hefted the walking stick and tested its balance by twirling it between my fingers. I held it up and looked down its length. I examined the silver handle and scrutinized the worn tip.

“He’s a pompous ass,” I said and laid the walking stick down on the table that separated me from my mentor.


Sir Arthur’s hands dropped to the arms of the chair, but he only glanced sideways at me. His aspect was one of disciplined emotional control. After a long minute of silence, he finally said, “That’s a rather terse assessment. On what do you base it?”


“It’s quite simple, really. Anyone who would use such a pretentious thing as a silver-tipped walking stick in this day and age could only be a pompous ass.” I paused. “He also owns a dog.”


Sir Arthur’s looked at me then. If he’d taught me anything in the nine months since this ridiculous bet had been made, it was the art of maintaining disciplined emotional control. My face was devoid of any expression. I noticed his eyes narrow ever so slightly and I knew that the real game had just begun.


“I’ll not give you any points for the dog. The teeth marks near the bottom of the shaft are a dead giveaway. Any idiot could see them and tell there is a dog involved. You’ll have to do better than that,” he snapped. He gestured with his left hand for me to continue. He was yet to be impressed.

“Very well. He’s a pompous ass...”


“Never mind that part. You’ve made your point quite adequately.” Sir Arthur resumed his focused posture with his fingers templed under his chin.


“He shops at Mackey’s,” I said.


“Mackey’s? What makes you say that?”


“There is a Mackey’s insignia etched into the wood just below the handle.”


“Indeed?” Sir Arthur picked up the walking stick and pretended to search for the Mackey’s crest.


“That’s no better than the dog. Carry on.”


“He’s six feet tall, wears a size eleven shoe and limps. He’s clean shaven, but wears his hair just a bit longer than is currently fashionable. He takes enormous pride in his appearance. He carries a pocket watch and shuns modern technology. He thinks the walking stick is both debonair and intimidating. He hates salads and he’s well read; has an extensive and enviable library. His nose was broken once in a fight when he was learning to box in college and he’s left handed. He’s single – no woman in her right mind would ever marry him and...”


“All right! That’s quite enough.” Sir Arthur stood up and walked to the other side of the room where he poured himself a brandy from a crystal decanter. He sipped the amber liquid either thoughtfully or in great consternation. I was not entirely sure as I could not see his face. He was looking out the window.


“You think you’re very clever, don’t you William?” Sir Arthur spoke quietly, keeping his back turned toward me.


“Don’t you?” I challenged.


“Not really. You saw the walking stick in the closet at some point. You simply remembered it that’s all. But insulting me... Well, that’s not clever, William. It’s shear insolence.”

“You asked. I merely answered. If you did not want me to tell you the truth, you should not have asked.” I joined him next to the brandy decanter and helped myself to a finger or two. Sir Arthur snorted at my audacious display of self esteem. I took a sip of the vile liquor and managed to keep my distaste from showing. A swig of beer would have hit the spot just then, but brandy was all he had.


“So, after all I’ve done for you, that is what you truly think of me? A pompous ass? An undesirable man?”


“And a lousy boxer. Don’t forget the lousy boxer part,” I said.


“Get out. Get out of my house, you ungrateful little wanker!”


I put the brandy snifter on the table and looked at Sir Arthur. “Good-bye, Sir Arthur,” I said.


I took my leave of the man who would win a thousand pounds because I had to call it the way I saw it. And I was okay with that. What I was not okay with was having to face Sir George when I got home. I was not looking forward to looking him in the eye and telling him that I called his best friend a pompous ass.


I had grown up listening to Sir George talk endlessly about Sir Arthur. Sir Arthur this and Sir Arthur that. I had followed all of Sir Arthur’s cases and when I decided to become a police officer, Sir George insisted that I train with him. Sir Arthur, though, had no interest in me until I solved a particularly vexing case involving the serial murders of thirteen old ladies and their dogs. (The groomer did it!)


Sir George had been boasting about me to Sir Arthur, who wagered that I had not solved the case as much as it had been conveniently solved for me with an anonymous tip that paid off. Sir George wagered that I was just as good as Sir Arthur and, with one thousand pounds on the line I managed to become Sir Arthur’s Pygmalion, so to speak. I don’t know why I agreed to it, but there was a certain allure about studying under the tutelage of the great detective. It didn’t hurt with my superiors, who worshiped the man, either. They had visions of getting Sir Arthur to become a police consultant instead of a private investigator. With him in their pockets, they were sure that crime would all but cease. That is the level of awe they held him at.


The truth was that Sir Arthur was good at what he did. That he harboured the not-so-secret belief that he was some real-life version of Sherlock Holmes – only better – was a clear indication of how out of control he potentially was. His ego was the size of the British Empire (when it still covered most of the known world).


I arrived home to find Sir George sitting by the fire in the great room of his familial manor house, a pipe dangling from between his clamped lips and the evening edition of the London Times gripped in his perfectly manicured hands. I helped myself to a beer from the kitchen and joined him, ready to take my lumps.


“A pompous ass, eh?” he said around the pipe and paper.


“He called you?” I asked, somewhat surprised. I half expected Sir Arthur to call, but I did not expect him to give the details so forthrightly.


“A lousy boxer? No woman in her right mind would have him?” Sir George put down the paper and withdrew the pipe. “I dare say William that was the easiest thousand pounds I ever made!” He threw his head back and laughed until tears rolled down his cheeks and his ample belly ached.

I sipped my beer from the bottle, thinking that that Sir Arthur had been right about me all along. It was clear that I had missed something rather fundamental to the case.


“My dear boy,” said Sir George when he finally composed himself enough to speak, “you have no idea how happy you’ve made me.”

“I don’t understand,” I said. “I thought that you wanted me to prove that I was as good as Sir Arthur.”


“And you did. You did, my boy. In fact you proved that you are better than him.”


“Just how did I do that?”


“Don’t you see? Sir Arthur expected you to give him some tripe about the walking stick’s owner. He was desperate to make a fool out of you and win the bet.”


“Didn’t he win the bet?”


“As I recall, the bet was that if you did not master his techniques within a year, I would pay him a thousand pounds.”


“Yes, and?”

"And you bested him at his own game. He’s really quite impressed with you, William.”


I was confused. “So he asked me to tell him about the man who owned the walking stick with the intention that I would assume it was a clue in some case and rattle off some nonsense about it belonging to some wealthy aristocrat with excellent taste and a love of the opera?”


“Something like that, yes. He expected you to be entrapped by the stereo type associated with that sort of thing.”


“So he really had no idea that I knew that the walking stick was his?”


“None whatsoever.”

“I guess I should apologise to him.”


“Whatever for?”


“For... Well for calling him a pompous ass, for starters.”


Sir George laughed again. “Nonsense. He knows he’s a pompous ass. He found it quite refreshing that you had the stones to say it to his face. I’ve been saying it for thirty-eighty years, but my opinion doesn’t count for much with him. I’d have to solve more than the Sunday crossword before he’d take anything I have to say seriously.”


“So why’d he call me an ungrateful wanker and kick me out?”


“Oh, that! Well, when he went over to pour his brandy, he saw his neighbour disrobing in her bedroom window. She only does that when she wants him to,” Sir George cleared his throat, “uh visit.”


My eyebrows meshed with my hair line. “I see. Well, then. I suppose that I should at least apologize for saying no woman would have him.” I drained my bottle of beer.


“Who said she was in her right mind?” Sir George and I both laughed, then retired to our beds for the night.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

It's Time to Go


Jacob pulled his watch out of his pocket and looked at it in dismay. It had stopped again. The darn thing just could not seem to keep time properly anymore. What was worse, though, was the fact that he had no idea what time it was and the closest guess he could make was ‘late.’ Again. He doubted very much that Bethany would forgive him this time. She had been very specific about that last time.


Oh, well, Jacob thought to himself. Might as well go take my lumps and be done with it.

When he arrived at Bethany’s house, the party was already in full swing. Several dozen people, none of whom Jacob knew, were milling about in the living room and dining room. The smokers had been banished to the patio and Jacob decided to join them. Maybe he could convince Bethany that he had not been late, but delayed by some chatty smoker on his way in. It was at least plausible.


After making sure that Bethany was nowhere in sight, Jacob joined a small group of puffing guests in the midst of a deep debate. The trio, two men and a woman, made room for him, widening their circle without missing a beat in the conversation.


“Personally, I think she’s quite mad,” said the woman.

“Well, she’s always been a bit eccentric, but I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say she’s crazy,” said the taller of the two men.


“She isn’t eccentric at all. She just has a penchant for falling for the wrong kind of guy.” The shorter, more diplomatic man sipped a rum and coke.


“Wrong kind of guy, indeed.” The woman gulped her own drink – a martini – and fingered a string of pearls that was draped across her ample bosom. “She’s a bloody nut bar, if you ask me.”


“You’re just jealous,” said the short man.


“Of what? Her imaginary boyfriend? I prefer my men to have flesh and blood, thank you very much.” The woman tossed back the last of her drink, abandoning the olive in the bottom of the glass.


“What makes you think he isn’t real?” the tall man asked.


“Do you see him anywhere?” countered the woman. She looked around as if seeking this unknown, unseen man of whom they were talking. “Well, do you?”


The others looked around as well, the tall man, the short man and Jacob, though it was clear than none of them even knew who they were looking for. It seemed to Jacob to be a wasted effort, but he looked nonetheless.


“How do you know he’s not here?” asked the short man, standing on tiptoes to get a better look. His eyes fell on Jacob. “I mean, this fellow here might be him.” He pointed at Jacob.


“Are you?” the woman and the tall man asked in unison.

Jacob was taken aback for a moment. “It’s hard to say,” Jacob said. “I don’t know who you’re looking for.”


“Neither do we,” said the tall man.


“I see,” said Jacob. There seemed little else to say in the circumstances.


“We’re looking for Bethany’s imaginary boyfriend,” the woman explained. “He’s supposed to be some sort of musician, but no one’s ever seen him. Apparently, he doesn’t even have a cell phone.”

“Doesn’t believe in technology,” said the short man. “According to Bethany, he carries one of them silly pocket watches that went out of style about the time the dinosaurs died off.”

“Doesn’t own a computer. Doesn’t even drive!” the tall man said. “Bethany says that he lives off the grid.”


“Whatever that means,” said the woman, shivering in revulsion. She lifted her empty glass and teased the olive into thinking it was going to be consumed, then changed her mind and let it fall back to the bottom of the glass again.


“Well, if I see him anywhere, I’ll tell him you want to meet him,” Jacob said and backed away from the group.


Through the patio doors, Jacob saw Bethany working the crowd inside. He stepped into the shadows under the eave next to an open window. He could hear Bethany talking.


“I’m going to kill him,” she said. “I told him to be here by nine and it’s after nine-thirty.”


“Why don’t you call him?” Someone suggested.


“I would if I could,” said Bethany, “but he doesn’t have a phone.”


“He doesn’t have a phone?”


“Doesn’t believe in them.”


“How can anyone not believe in phones?”


“Well, he has a phone, but it’s only for emergencies.”


“Serious? How do you get in touch with him?”

“We make arrangements when we’re together.”


“That doesn’t sound very efficient.”


“It’s not. It’s a bloody pain. I don’t know how many times he’s said he’d be somewhere and not shown up.”


“Well, honey, I’d dump the clod if I were you.”


“You think? This is the last straw. Next time I see him, I’m going to tell him that either he gets a phone so I can get hold of him or he gets lost.”


“Good for you. Who needs a deadbeat like that anyway?”


Jacob, having heard enough, moved away from the window and crossed the patio. He had to pass the trio who were still debating Bethany’s sanity.


“Hey, bud,” the tall man called out to him, “Do you know what time it is?”


Jacob stopped. “Sure,” he said, pulling his watch out of his pocket and holding it up so they could see it clearly. “It’s time to go.”


They all stared open-mouthed at Jacob as he and his watch disappeared into the night.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Good Cosmetician


Pam was thrilled. It was her first shift at the cosmetic counter at Max-Well's Pharmacy. She had just completed a ten-month program in cosmetology at the local college, graduating at the top of her class. Max-Well’s had been known to recruit from the program, and Pam was their first pick. She didn’t even have to apply; they called on her! Now here she was, in her pale pink smock, ready to make every woman in Cedar City beautiful. Her goal was to be made head of the department. From there... Well, the sky was the limit. For Pam, the future looked very bright, indeed.

Even though she knew the Max-Well’s cosmetic department inside and out – she’d spent more time there than anywhere since she was old enough to wear make-up – Pam dutifully followed Courtney, her ‘shift sister’ through the mandatory orientation.

Courtney, bored and unimpressed with Pam’s high grade, made it clear that Pam was the new kid on the block and that she wouldn’t be getting any special treatment. In fact, when the orientation ended, Courtney made Pam dust all the shelves and polish all the mirrors. It was tedious work, not an ounce of the glamour that she had anticipated. Just dust and window cleaner fumes for a full eight hours.

The cleaning seemed endless. Every day Pam showed up for work and every day Courtney found something else for her to clean. In the first week, Pam broke four fingernails. She should have been applying them to the hands of her new clients, not having her own ripped off. But the cosmetic counter sparkled in a way that Pam, at least, could be very proud of.
On her fifth day, Pam noticed a new lipstick display in the back room. Deciding to take initiative and hope to win some points with Courtney, she set it up while Courtney was on her lunch. It seemed fairly straightforward. The clear plastic display case was ready to go. All she had to do was enter the stock into the inventory control program on the computer, label the testers and load the stock into the display. There were only a dozen each of nine colours, it wouldn’t take long. By the time Courtney returned from lunch, not only would the cosmetic counter shine, it would sport the attractive new display case.

Pam used the procedure manual to guide her through the process of entering the stock into the computer. Just to be sure that she was on the right track, she scanned a few samples of the product into the point of sale terminal and was pleased to see that she had done it right. Surely this would prove to Courtney that she was capable of more than keeping the glass counters streak free. She finished five minutes before Courtney was due back. And Courtney never returned early from her breaks.

Just as Pam had put the last lipstick into the display, a woman approached the counter. “Good afternoon,” Pam greeted the woman. “Can I help you find anything?”

“I’m just browsing,” the woman said. She moved away from Pam, but paused at the new lipstick display. Pam smiled at her, then got out the glass cleaner and started looking busy so Courtney would have nothing to complain about. The woman hovered around the display until Courtney came in, then quickly moved away toward the toy section.

“Hi, Courtney.” Pam chirped. “Did you have a nice lunch?”

“Yeah, great. You better get going. You only have forty-five minutes left on your lunch.” Courtney walked behind the counter and disappeared into the back room to put away her purse.

Pam, deflated and disappointed, retrieved her own purse from the back and walked quickly down the mall to the food court where she grabbed a ready-made sandwich and a can of diet cola. She sat on a bench to eat and people watch. Half-way through her stale and uninteresting lunch, Pam saw the woman from the cosmetic counter leaving Max-Well’s wearing a new pair of sun glasses. Her large purse appeared to be bulging. Pam didn’t think that it was that full at the cosmetic counter, but a good-looking guy walking by distracted her from pursuing that thought.
She finished her cola and checked her watch. There was just enough time to run over to the shoe store and pay for the mules she’d had her eye on for the last week. She felt she deserved a treat for surviving her first week with Courtney. But she’d have to hustle. She didn’t think that Courtney would be too forgiving if she was late, in spite of the fact that Courtney had tacked fifteen minutes of it onto her own lunch.

When Pam returned to Max-Well’s Pharmacy, Courtney was waiting for her. And she didn’t look very happy.

“So,” Courtney sneered, “what did you do while I was having lunch?”

Pam couldn’t help but look over at the lipstick display. “I thought you might have noticed,” she said. “I put that new lipstick display out for you.” She tried to sound upbeat, but the look that Courtney was giving her had her blood running cold.

“Oh, I noticed, all right. I also noticed that seven of the lipsticks are missing. I don’t suppose you sold them, too.” Courtney’s tone was accusing.

Pam went over to the display. There were several gaping holes where product was supposed to be. Where product had been only three quarters of an hour ago.

“Um, no, Courtney. I didn’t sell any. There was a lady looking at them, though.” Pam gulped. She couldn’t believe that the woman had stolen seven lipsticks right out from under her nose. She felt terrible.

“You let some shoplifter steal them. Weren’t you watching?” Courtney spat.

“I... I was cleaning the counter. She just looked at them for a few seconds. I didn’t see her touch the display at all. I’m so sorry, Courtney. I really didn’t see her take anything.” Pam was trying not to cry, but it was a losing battle. She knew she was in trouble and she could see her dream dying before it even got off the ground.

“It’s your job to prevent theft,” Courtney hissed. “You’re fired.”

Fired?

Could Courtney even do that? Pam just stood there, crying and apologising.

Just then, Pete Jackson, the pharmacist and store owner came up to the cosmetic counter. He stopped next to Pam and put a gentle hand on her arm. “Pam, what’s wrong? Are you okay?”

Pam sniffed loudly and confessed her sin. “I’m so sorry, Mr. Jackson. I’m afraid that some lady stole a bunch of lipstick while I was manning the counter. I didn’t see her take it, but she must have. She was the only one anywhere near the display. I’m so, so sorry. I’ll turn in my smock and leave.”

“Hmmm...” said Pete thoughtfully. “What did this lady look like?”

“Um, well, she was blond. Quite pretty. And she had a huge, green handbag. That’s all I can remember.”

“I see,” Pete said. “And you’re sure she took the lipstick?”

“Courtney said she did. I had only just finished the display right before Courtney got back from her lunch.” Then she added, “at ten after one.” Courtney glared at her.
Pete looked at the senior cosmetician with a raised eyebrow, who looked quickly away. “Well, I doubt very much that the blond lady with the green purse was the one who stole the lipstick.”
“Of course, she did,” Courtney snapped. “Who else could have taken them? Pam said she was the only one around.”

“She wasn’t the only one,” Pete said. “You two come with me.”

“I have to look after the cosmetic counter,” Courtney said by way of excuse.

“Don’t worry about it, Courtney,” Pete said. “Jenny will take over for a few minutes.” He gestured for Pam and Courtney to precede him to his office.

Courtney seemed to panic. “Really, Mr. Jackson, I think I should stay here and see if Pam let anything else get stolen.”

“I’m sure Jenny can take care of that. Now, please, come into my office.”
Jenny arrived at the counter. She patted Pam’s shoulder, but gave the agitated Courtney a cold shoulder. Courtney watched her closely, then dashed into the back room. “I have to get my purse,” she said.

Pete waited patiently next to the sniffling Pam.

When at last they arrived in the office, their boss asked Pam and Courtney to take a seat. He then sat down behind his desk and looked at the two cosmeticians. One had mascara streaked down her face. The other was chewing on the inside of her cheek. Both of them were staring at the floor.

“So, Pam, why don’t you tell me what happened,” Pete prompted. He handed the distraught young woman a box of tissue that was gratefully accepted and utilized.

When Pam could finally speak, she told him about doing nothing but clean the cosmetic department since she started and not even being allowed to serve any customers, except when Courtney was on lunch or break. She explained about wanting to impress Courtney and show her that she was capable of something more than dusting and polishing. Then she told him about coming back from lunch and being fired by Courtney for letting the lady with the green purse steal the lipstick. Pete listened without interruption. Every now and then he shot Courtney a serious look.

“I see,” said Pete, when Pam finished her story. “Is that about right, Courtney?” he asked.

“No one asked her to put out the lipstick, Mr. Jackson. That’s my job. She shouldn’t have touched it. She doesn’t even know how to enter the inventory. She probably screwed that up too.” Still she made no eye contact.

“Well, let’s just see,” Pete said. He punched a few keys on his computer and brought up the inventory list. It took several seconds scrolling through the vast list before he found what he was looking for. Turning the monitor so Courtney could see it, he asked if it looked okay to her. Courtney barely glanced at it. She merely nodded and hugged her purse close to her chest.

Pete leaned forward and clasped his hands in front of himself on the desk. “That lady with the green purse is my wife, Pam. She didn’t steal the lipstick.”

“Your wife? Oh, Mr. Jackson, I’m so sorry for accusing her. I didn’t know who she was.” Pam’s tears started all over again.

“There’s no reason why you would know who she was, Pam. And you didn’t accuse her. Courtney did.” Pete let the silence bloom between them for a few minutes. “This isn’t the first time that product has been stolen from the cosmetic counter. Lately quite a lot of stuff has gone missing. Just yesterday – while you were on your lunch, by the way – four bottles of expensive bath salts were taken.”

Courtney’s head snapped up. “What are you talking about? Nothing was stolen yesterday.” She almost shrieked.

Pete ignored her. “And the day before that a number of eye shadows and mascaras were taken.”

“Mr. Jackson,” Pam said, horrified at the implication, “I assure you I didn’t take them.”
“Oh, I know you didn’t,” Pete said. He punched some more keys on the computer and turned the monitor so that both employees had a clear view.

A grainy, black and white picture of the cosmetic counter was visible. For a few seconds nothing happened. Then a figure appeared. A female figure. A female figure in a Max-Well’s cosmetic counter smock. The figure looked around and then snatched four bottles of bath salts off a shelf and stuffed them into a large purse.

Pam was shocked at what she was seeing. She looked at her ‘shift sister’ with a mixture of horror and disbelief.

Courtney was escorted out of the store by mall security after they had found the seven lipsticks in her purse. (Along with a bottle of perfume and a tube of moisturizer.) Pete Jackson decided not to press charges, but he banned her from ever entering his store again. Her photo was circulated among the other businesses in the mall and her humiliation was complete.

And Pam did become the head of the Max-Well’s Pharmacy cosmetic department. Eventually.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Curse of the Hand-painted Egg


It stood on the mantle in Grandma’s drawing room for as long as I can remember and for many years before that. The precious egg with its brass stand and hand-painted scene of a person of indeterminate sex trying to catch a phoenix in flight was strictly off limits to us kids. We were under pain of death if it even crossed our minds to touch it, so we would stand on the hearth with our hands clasped firmly behind our backs and stare at it.


My sister, Lindsay, thought it was beautiful. But she thought everything was beautiful. “Look at the beautiful spider,” she would say. Then she’d cry when I stomped on it. It was not beautiful to me. It was the stuff of nightmares and stomping on it kept the bad dreams at bay. Lindsay didn’t understand that any more than I understood how she thought an eight-legged creature could possibly be beautiful.


The egg wasn’t beautiful either. The figure chasing the phoenix was creepy and the A-frame cabin in the back ground reminded me of the witch’s cabin in Hansel and Gretel. I was sure that the egg was cursed and the reason we were not allowed to touch it was because it was cursed. I was sure that the figure was some other poor kid that got sucked into the scene when he/she touched it and was forever stuck trying to catch the phoenix, because that was the only way he/she would ever get out of the egg. My hands were more firmly clamped behind my back than Lindsay’s ever were and I secretly kept hoping that she would touch it and get sucked into it like the other kid.


“When I grow up,” Lindsay would say to me, “I’m going to have that egg on my mantle.”


“You can’t,” I would say. “It’s Grandma’s egg.”


“Grandma isn’t going to live forever,” Lindsay would tell me. And that made me cry.


I never knew how she was going to get the egg onto her mantle when it was cursed and we were not allowed to touch it. I never asked either. There were some things that I just didn’t want to know when I was six years old.


Time passed and so, eventually, did Grandma. I got the call the night before my English Lit. final in my senior year at college. It had been years since I thought about the egg, but when my tearful mother broke the news to me over the phone that Grandma was dead, the egg was all I could think about. Twenty-two years of fear came flooding back over me and I knew that I had to destroy the egg before Lindsay touched it and got sucked into it.


It was silly, I know. I was not a kid anymore and I knew that the egg was harmless. But I couldn’t shake the notion that I had to get rid of the egg to save my sister who thought everything was beautiful.


I managed to get through my final exam and earn my degree in English Literature. The moment I put my pen down, I bolted out of the room and sped to Grandma’s house. I had no plan. I just thought that when the moment presented itself, I would ‘accidentally’ knock the egg off the mantle. All the way there my rational brain kept telling me not to be stupid, but my six-year-old brain kept insisting that the egg had to go.


When I arrived at Grandma’s house there were relatives everywhere. Uncles, aunts and cousins milled about in the drawing room, the hall and even up the staircase. I squeezed my way inside, looking for Mother and Lindsay, and dodging hugs and handshakes.


Mother was in the kitchen cooking, of course. Her way of dealing with Grandma’s death appeared to be an urgent exercise in ensuring that every recipe she ever learned from the old lady was remembered and prepared exactly the way Grandma had taught her. Grandma wasn’t dead as long as her strudel was alive. I hugged my mother.


“Oh, John,” she said with a rueful smile. “I’m so glad you’re here. Help me get this turkey out of the oven. You can do the honours and carve it for me.”


Carving the family dinner turkey or roast was indeed an honour in my mother’s eyes. It was traditional that the man of the house do the carving. I wasn’t sure why Uncle Joe wasn’t doing it, since he was the oldest surviving male in the family. It might have had something to do with the fact that he was half-blind and probably would have carved himself instead of the turkey, which was enormous, by the way.


Before I made a show out of honing the carving knife, an ancient piece of cutlery that, I’m sure, was forged in a smithy sometime in the dark ages - probably about the same time that the egg was being cursed by some wretched hag - I needed to take off me coat.


“Um, sure, Mother. I’ll just put my coat in the closet and I’ll get right to it. Where’s Lindsay?”


“She hasn’t arrived yet. She’ll be here tomorrow with the kids. Ted had to take care of some things at the office before they could get away.” Ted was Lindsay’s husband; another curse I had tried to save her from, but that’s just me being petty, as Mother would always say.


Plenty of time to break the egg, I thought as I manoeuvred back through the throng of relatives to hang up my coat. I noted that none of them were helping with the food. Mother probably wouldn’t have let them anyway. But still...


I detoured into the drawing room. I needed to check on the egg, to see if it was still on the mantle. The obsession with the egg was getting ridiculous, but for some reason I could not suppress the need to smash the damned thing. I was hoping that it would be gone already, snatched up by one of the milling relatives who thought it was worth a small fortune. Alas, it was still there, standing as it always had on its brass stand. And standing before it were two young cousins with their hands firmly clamped behind their backs.


“Isn’t it beautiful?” asked the eight-year-old Julia.


“It’s scary,” said the six-year-old Tristan.


“No, it’s not,” said Julia. “One day it’s going to be on my mantle.”


“But Mommy said that Aunty Carla was going to take it home with her.” Tristan sounded relieved to know that it was going to be far, far away from him and his big sister soon. Tristan and Julia lived two hundred miles away and they understood from the drive in that morning that was a long way from Grandma’s house.


“Well, I’m going to ask Aunty Carla to give it to me.”


“You can’t,” cried Tristan.


“Why not?” asked Julia.


“Because it’s cursed. If you touch it, you’ll get sucked into it like that guy.” Tristan pointed up at the figure on the egg chasing the phoenix. In an effort to stop her younger brother from touching the egg, Julia tried to pull his hand back. Somehow, in the process, they managed to knock it off the mantle.


In slow motion I saw the egg leap into the air. It seemed to hang for a long moment before it began its descent toward the stone hearth. Without thinking, I jumped forward, reached out and caught the egg before it smashed. A collective gasp rose from the throats of all the gathered relatives. Little Tristan vaulted off the mantle, giving me and the cursed egg plenty of room. “Oh, no!” he shouted. “Don’t touch it!”


I looked at the egg in my hand. Not a crack.


I looked up at young Tristan. His eyes were closed tight behind his hands. He trembled with fear.


I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. The poor little thing thought I was going to be sucked into the cursed egg.


“It’s okay, Tristan. Look,” I said as I pried his hands away from his terrified face. “It’s just an egg. It can’t hurt anyone.”


Tristan peeked out at me, opening one blue eye. Seeing that I was safe – even with the egg in my hand – he sighed in relief.

“It’s not cursed?” he asked.

“No, it’s not. It’s perfectly safe.” I placed the delicate ornament in his small hands.


“It’s still not beautiful,” he said and handed it back.


There was a twinge of disappointment in his voice. I returned the egg to the mantle and it occurred to me that I was a little disappointed, too. Thankful, but disappointed nonetheless.


As it turned out, I was something of a hero that night. The egg, it seemed was a bit of a legend in the family, it’s ‘curse’ going back at least two generations to Uncle Joe who believed that the reason no one could touch it was because it would suck you into the scene and trap you there when he was six.


“Nonsense!” Mother admonished. “It’s just an egg. If you touch it, it will break.”

Mother hadn’t witnessed the near miss and no one felt compelled to tell her about it.

I no longer have the urge to break the egg. I think that its curse is going to be keeping little hands from touching it for a long while yet. Maybe even after it does end up on Lindsay’s mantle one day.