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”


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?


“Wanna hang 2morrow?”

Was she dreaming? Hang with Jeff Cooper?


“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.


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.”