Posts Tagged ‘12 days’

Chuck and the Four Calling Birds

December 17, 2009

by

Jack Roth

            Chuck loved hot showers.  Beyond hot.  So hot that his skin would actually burn, maybe almost sizzle.  The bathroom would fill up with a think cloud of steam and Chuck never, ever turned on the overheat vent.

            Hot showers washed things away.  An aching muscle could be soothed and relaxed.  A bad day could be easily erased by putting his head under the water for a few minutes.  Then of course there was dirt, the whole point of showers.  And once in a while, only once in a while, some blood.

            “Number four,” Chuck said wiping the mirror with his yellow towel.  Yellow was his favorite color.  Some of his towels though had orange spots on them where colors mixed.

            As Chuck was plucking a few nose hairs, panic set in. 

            “The damn sheets!” he yelled and threw the tweezers into the sink.

            He stormed out of the bathroom, down the short hall to the laundry room, and ripped open the doors.  He dug through the one shelf to find he had three sheets on it.

            “Blue, green, white,” he said.  “White?  I hate white.  White doesn’t absorb.”

            Chuck left the laundry room and went into his room.  Suzie was on the bed, peacefully resting.  Chuck quietly snuck to the computer desk and found pen and paper.

            More sheets.  No white.

            He clicked the pen shut and shuffled his feet over to Suzie.

            “You asleep?” he said slapping her foot.  “Ah, come on, don’t be so quiet.  You couldn’t shut up ten minutes ago.”

            Suzie lay on a dark green sheet, Chuck’s favorite.  It showed nothing but wet spots.  And the untrained eye wouldn’t realize those wet spots were blood.

            Suzie lay with her head titled to the left, mouth open, eyes shut.  Chuck could still hear her talking. . .

            “There’s something wrong with you.  I touch the closet door and you scream like that?  You think I’m going to stand for that kind of treatment?”

            Chuck had no choice at that point in time.  She had touched the closet door AND had talked back.  In Chuck’s baseball game there were only two strikes . . . then death.

            The funny thing about blood is that it doesn’t take much to stain things.  Chuck knew he had to move Suzie because if she bled through the sheet, she’d hit the bed set and then things would get bad.  Chuck didn’t have a spare bed set . . . he pointed at Suzie:  “Don’t move,” he said smiling.  He walked back to the desk and wrote bed set – dark green – maybe – not so dark.

            “Suzie, oh Suzie,” Chuck said lying down next to her.  “What could have been for us.”

            He moved the bloody hair from her face behind her ear.  He kissed her forehead and then licked his lips.  The rough taste of iron tasted so good.

            “Well, no use crying over spilled milk here,” Chuck said rolling over and looking in the mirror. 

            He stood up straight and turned sideways.  He slapped his “half-kegger” belly as he lovingly called it.  It shook.  It was never this big.  Time was winning.  From the smells from the closet to the fat hanging off his stomach, time was definitely winning.

            “Okay Suzie, let’s go,” Chuck said grabbing a shirt.

            He wrapped Suzie up in the sheet and picked her up.  He felt his hands and forearms getting moist.  He smiled – another hot, super hot shower would be needed.

            “You know what Suzie?  I thought of a great name for you.”

            Suzie didn’t respond, she just bounced with each step Chuck took towards the closet.

            “Eh, hold on,” Chuck whispered as he reached out for the door knob.

            He twisted it slowly and the closet door opened.

            The light from the room was enough to cast a shadow on the other three bodies in the closet.

            “I’m going to call you the four calling birds!” he yelled. 

            With a soft grunt, Chuck threw Suzie on top of the other bodies. 

            “The four calling birds because none of you would stop talking . . . unless I did something about it.”

            The door bell rang.

            Chuck looked at the clock. 

            “Fifteen minutes early,” he said shutting the closet door.  “Not a good way to start a new relationship.”

            Chuck rubbed his arms and hands on his dark pants and grabbed the knife that was next to the pen and paper.  He took a deep breath and began to walk down the steps as the doorbell rang again.

            “When will I ever find the right one?” he said with the knife behind his back and his hand on the door handle.

BIO:  Jack Roth lives in Shelby, Nebraska.  With his dog, Boomer.  He reads and writes.

Heirloom Birds

December 17, 2009

by

Laura Eno

Jim adjusted the calling birds on the tree – again. They wouldn’t hang right. What was the point of spreading all this work out over twelve days anyway? Why not just hang all of the ornaments at one time, like normal people?

He sighed. Marcie had begged him to follow her family’s tradition of hanging each set during the Twelve Days. She even presented him with the traditional ornaments handed down through her family.

This was to be their first Christmas together as a married couple and Jim wanted to please her. Maybe next year she’d let him go back to the tried and true way.

Another bird fell to the floor. Grumbling, Jim picked it up, examining the hook. He felt eyes watching him through the front window.

Turning to catch whomever had the temerity to spy on him, Jim found the front lawn empty. The world outside held nothing but graceful, snow-covered trees and a white lawn, while one desperate bird scratched for a meal.

He wondered if he’d filled the birdfeeder recently, then went back to his onerous chore. Who would have thought that four lousy birds would give him so much trouble?

Marcie had mentioned something about hanging them with reverence, or some such nonsense. She’d even taught him a silly little poem to say as he adorned the tree each day.

The first three days he’d recited it, feeling silly each time he did so. This morning Jim decided to forego the rubbish, refusing to utter the words lest he become as batty as her relatives were by the twelfth day.

A second calling bird fell off while he’d been gazing out the window. What was with these damn birds? He looked at the partridge gracing the top, the two turtledoves nesting side-by-side, the three French hens. They were just as he’d left them.

While contemplating whether he should just step on the fallen ornament, Jim felt the eyes again. Spinning back to the window, he found no one. A second bird had joined the first, calmly pecking in the snow and paying him no mind.

A clatter behind him caught his attention. Bird number three lay on the floor, its little claw feet pointing skywards, much as if it were dead.

Jim felt the blood of anger pounding at his temples. He was going to have a vicious headache by the time he was done. Stooping to grasp the wretched bird, he felt the prying eyes pull at him.

Looking at the window from between his legs, all Jim saw were three scrawny birds, hopelessly digging for a frozen worm. Straightening, he stomped over to the window.

“See if I ever fill your feeder again.”

Clank. Jim knew without turning that the fourth bird now lay on the floor. Fine. They could stay there for all he cared.

As he continued to watch the miserable birds outside, a fourth flew down to join the others. As one, they turned to look in the window, fixing their beady little eyes on him.

Jim was so mesmerized by the birds outside, he never knew what hit him when the attack came from behind.

BIO:  Laura Eno (http://lauraeno.blogspot.com) has written two YA fantasy novels and a paranormal romance.  Her flash fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Twisted Dreams, The Monsters Next Door, Flashes in the Dark, 10Flash, House of Horror, The New Flesh, Everyday Weirdness and MicroHorror.

Three French Hens and a Shot of Brandy

December 16, 2009

by

Kathleen Gilbert

Jacqueline Brouillard cursed under her breath as she trudged through the snow that led to the front door of the Three French Hen’s Consignment Shop.  The cold wind stung her skin, and the healthy shot of brandy she’d added to the large cup of coffee in her hand wasn’t kicking in fast enough. “Why do I have to get up early and open the damn store? It’s not even my turn.” She gulped down the warm liquid savoring its smoothness.

She gripped the keys between cashmere gloves, refusing to take them off, and clumsily struggled with the lock.  Finally the key turned, and Jacqueline kicked the door open with her boot.  A large clump of snow plopped down on her shoulders, set loose by the impact of her forceful entry.  “Oh shit.” She dusted the snow off her fur coat with her free hand.

Once inside, Jacqueline’s mood improved.  She smiled, admiring the opulent antiques that were set around the shop. Clothes, jewelry, and furniture were among the items that filled the ample space.  Jacqueline, and her two sisters, Michelle, and Renee had purchased the store together, and had been running it for almost 2 years now. Their mother had come up with the name– Three French Hens.  She joked saying her three French daughters whispered and gossiped among themselves like hens. The girls disagreed with her opinion wholeheartedly and told each other so behind her back.  But they secretly loved the name and had agreed upon it instantly.

“I brought donuts,” Renee held out the box as she entered the store.   She removed her scarf and shook the snow out of her curly brunette hair.  She set the donuts down on a small table, turned on the Christmas music, and plugged in the lights. “Wow. We did a great job with the decorations this year.  Everything looks beautiful.”

The store sparkled with white lights that wrapped around evergreen boughs all tied together with red velvet bows.  Christmas trees with jewel colored ornaments were placed in each room, and poinsettias set on freshly polished mahogany floors added elegance to the display.

            “Michelle called me this morning and asked me to open the shop.  She said she wasn’t feeling well and would be a little late.  I hope everything’s all right.” Jacqueline said.  She took a nip of brandy from her purse and added a splash to her fresh cup of coffee.

“Isn’t it a little early to be drinking?” Renee looked at her watch.

“I’m not drinking.  I’m just keeping warm.” Jacqueline took a sip, and then grinned at her sister.

Michelle waltzed into the shop looking impeccable as always. She wore a grey suede coat and matching boots.  Her blonde hair was cut short and her makeup was flawless. “Good morning ladies.  It’s nice and cozy in here.  It’s freeze-your-ass-off cold outside.”

“You don’t look sick,” Renee said, observing her well-put together younger sibling.

            “I’ve been having dreams.  That’s all.  I woke up in a cold sweat this morning.  I’m fine now.” Michelle lit a cigarette. Her fingernails were well manicured — painted pink. The large sapphire ring on her finger flashed deep blue under the interior lights.

“Do you have to smoke in here?” Renee stared at her sister’s hand.  “Where did you get that ring?  It’s amazing.”

“Some guy brought it in to sell last Saturday.  I’m just wearing it for a while.”

“How many times have we told you that you can’t just wear things people bring in on consignment?” Jacqueline’s words were beginning to sound slurred.

Michelle closed her eyes attempting to block out her sister’s incessant nagging.  The image of a young woman with long dark hair popped into her mind.  The same woman had appeared to her in her dreams the night before, and she couldn’t get her out of her thoughts.  Her long silver gown swirled at her feet as she danced with a tall man, on a stucco terrace, by the light of a pale moon.

“Snap out of it,” Jacqueline said to Michelle.  “And give me that ring.” She held out her hand, impatiently tapping her foot.

Michelle tried to remove the ring but it wouldn’t come off.  She twisted it back and forth, finally pulling it hard over her knuckle.  “My fingers must be swollen.” She reluctantly handed the ring to her sister.  “I don’t see why I can’t wear it for a little while longer.”

“We’re not going to sell it if it’s on your hand.  That’s why.”

__

The store opened for business at 9 o’clock.  The streets had finally been plowed and shoppers were out looking for Christmas bargains.  An older woman with faded red hair tugged on Michelle’s sleeve.  “My granddaughter wants a gold chain this year.  Would you mind showing me some jewelry?

“I’d love to.”  Michelle walked over to the display case and removed the black velvet tray that held a variety of gold chains.  As she placed it on the counter, something caught her eye.  The sapphire ring; it was right there in the next tray.  She quickly removed it and slid it onto her finger. It slipped on easily; in fact it was rather loose.  “The swelling in my fingers must have gone down,” Michelle thought, looking around to ensure no one had seen her take it. Both her sisters were busy helping customers.  She was pretty sure Jacqueline wouldn’t notice that it was missing for a while.  Not until the effects of the brandy wore off anyway. 

The woman finally selected a short gold chain.  Michelle walked her to the register.  Renee rang her up and gift wrapped the necklace for her.

Michelle’s head began to throb.  She sank into a comfortable chair in the middle of the store, closed her eyes and rested her head against soft cushions.  The dream was intense as it entered her mind. It tore through her brain like a tornado and she couldn’t stop it. 

__

The woman danced with the man in the moonlight. He jerked her close to him and whispered something into her ear.  She struggled trying to break free from his grasp. He plunged the knife deep into her chest. Blood seeped from her body, slowly saturating her dress.  She staggered down the steps of the terrace, and then tumbled down the steep embankment that led to the beach below. Her body lay in a heap–like a rag doll–sprawled out on the cool sand.  The man stood over her smiling.  He spoke to her as if she weren’t already dead. “I loved you but you deserved to die. I showered you with gifts and then you forced me to take them away from you–one at a time.  You never treated me the way Mother did.  She made me the center of her world but not you. You needed to do things for yourself.  Like taking that stupid college course; some good college is gonna do you now.”  He bent down and took her hand.  Her fingers were long and slender.  The sapphire ring looked exquisite against her soft skin.  He pulled the ring off her finger and put it in his pocket. 

__

Michelle’s eyes snapped open.  She knew who’d killed the woman.  She’d seen his face in her dreams. She ran to the front of the store to find her sisters. She saw someone talking to Jacqueline, but his back was towards her so she couldn’t see his face.  The same man who’d brought in the sapphire placed a ruby brooch into her sister’s hand.

Michelle went into another room to find Renee.  She had to warn them about the murderer.

Jacqueline was captivated by the magnificent ruby. The man explained to her how his new bride had decided to go visit her parents in Florida for the weekend, and how he didn’t think it was a good idea.  Anyway, she wouldn’t be needing the ruby any longer and he wanted to sell it. He left the ruby with Jacqueline and walked out of the store.

Even though it was against the rules, Jacqueline pinned the brooch to her blouse. It was the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen. She couldn’t resist its charm.

            Michelle couldn’t wait any longer. She needed to tell her sisters what she’d seen. She went back to the front of the store and spoke to Jacqueline. Her voice cracked as she uttered the words. “I know who  …” Jacqueline interrupted her.  “Tell me later.  I’m not feeling well.  I need to sit down and close my eyes for a minute.”

Bio:  Kathleen Gilbert lives in Rhode Island with her husband and two children.  She has been published at Microhorror, Six Sentences, The New Flesh and Postcard Shorts.

Three French Hens

December 16, 2009

by

Karen Collum

As she stumbled across the street, her tears traced their journey down her rouge-enhanced cheeks, but no-one noticed. Too burdened with parcels and presents, umbrellas and underwear, shopping and champagne, they hurried down the street, dodging the rain as they made their way to their cars. The Christmas rush was at its peak as even the most Scrooge-ish person attempted (albeit half-heartedly) to have something under the tree for tomorrow, no matter how tacky or inappropriate.

She watched the crowd and tried to remember, through the fog of disbelief that inhabited her head, when she had someone to buy for. Or when someone bought presents for her. It was such a long time ago now. And things had changed.

When she was young, she embraced change. Her favourite times of the year were when Autumn slipped coolly into Winter; when Winter melted into Spring; when Spring evaporated into Summer. Change brought wonderful surprises, like the first daffodil of the season, a leaf of crimson red or a snowflake so perfect it froze her breath inside her lungs. But not all change was good. She realised that some time ago. Too little, too late.

This Christmas, like the one before and the one before that – but definitely not the one after this, thank God – she was alone. A-lone. It sounded like a job description. What are you? I’m a lawyer. I’m a consultant. I’m a lone.

The busyness of people scurrying that way and this was comforting though. She had once trotted along the same well-worn path. Now, however, she meandered to the right or to the left, whenever it took her fancy.

When her parents were alive, Christmas had been a somewhat painful but still satisfying event. She played along with the carolling and the cooking and, much to her amazement, did find herself enjoying the season of jolliness. But after one the other, they succumbed to the tentacles of old age that warped their faces into saggy caricatures of the parents in her mind, and riddled their bones with aches and pains. And then they were gone.

She had planned her life well. It was just a shame no-one seemed to care about her plans. From high school to University, from University to overseas travel, from overseas to post-graduate studies to her ideal job, it went to plan. But as friends paired off and began the great journey that is The Relationship, she was busy with other things. She couldn’t exactly remember what those ‘things’ were but they had been intensely important at the time.

Sometimes, when she lay in bed at night, she wondered if she’d missed him. Had he been there? In that bar in Italy the night of the World Cup? Or perhaps the consultant seconded by her company for the big project a few years ago? The thought drove her insane. What if he had been there? She’d knocked plenty back. Not that she was fussy, but she wasn’t desperate. She was waiting for her equal, the yang for her ying. But she never found him.

And then it was too late.

Mum. That was a word she’d always thought she’d hear from a little babbling mouth one day. There was no rush, no urgency, no panic. At least at first. There would be lovely cuddles with a friend’s newborn, but relief when she handed him back, red-faced and squalling. A bemused interest at the park as a child was comforted by her mother after a scraped knee, but frustration at the child’s melodrama. Even a thankfulness when a pierced, tattooed, black-haired teenager abused his mother in the carpark. But that was before. It was different now.

It hadn’t been an easy decision. She’d considered adoption, but the process was long and drawn out and hideously expensive. She thought about foster care but wasn’t sure she could hand a child back once she had held him or her in her arms. She was then left with two options, both of which, had problems. Both of which, due to her age, were unlikely but not impossible.

The first one was untenable to her. She couldn’t use a man. It was that simple. Sure, she’d had a one night stand or two in her time, but never with any concealed agenda. Being caught up in the moment, whilst not ideal, wasn’t manipulative. No, it had to be the second option.

There had been raised eyebrows, particularly the grey, bushy ones that belonged to her father, as he struggled to accept her decision. There were a few tut-tuts from the periphery (funnily enough from those people who happened to be married with children) but mostly, the reaction she got was silence.

The silence spoke the multitude of questions that she herself had asked. Was it selfish? What would she tell the child about their father? What about medical history? Was it really fair to bring a child into the world without a father to guide them?  How do you explain ‘donor sperm’ to a little one?

In the end, she found answers for herself although she knew the answers were not enough for some. Her journey – like most things in her life, it seemed – was done alone. There was no-one to hold her hand, speak soothing words to calm her nerves or share her soul wrenching disappointment.

Until today.

Today, everything changed. As the Christmas carols rang through the tinny speakers of the shopfronts, she caught herself smiling through her tears. “The Twelve Days of Christmas”, with its list of gifts from a true love, had always puzzled her. Who would want a partridge in a pear tree? But this time, it was different.

She wrapped her arms around her slim waist, the hiding place of her trio of Christmas gifts, and held the ultrasound pictures close. Of course she wouldn’t really name them that. She didn’t even know if they were boys or girls yet. But for now, she had Three French Hens of her very own, just like in the song of old.

Faith.

Hope.

Love.

She clutched another tiny parcel under her arm as she ran through the rain. There would be three tiny presents under her tree tonight. Three little matching outfits (in gender-neutral yellow and green and lavender, of course) for three little miracles. Mum. Someone – in fact, three someones – were going to call her Mum.

 “Merry Christmas, my little French hens.”

BIO:  Karen Collum is an Australian children’s author and mother to her own Three French Hens (although her boys are 19-month-old twins with a 4-year-old brother, not triplets). She has three picture books coming out in 2010: Samuel’s Kisses, Fish Don’t Need Snorkels and When I Look at You.  Karen squeezes in time to write when her boys are in bed and is severely sleep deprived, but happy. You can find out more about Karen and her writing at http://karencollum.wordpress.com .

Peace on Earth is at War

December 15, 2009

by

Jodi MacArthur

When you’ve got a politician knocking down zombies with stones from his backyard, someone’s bound to get politically correct all over his booty. And that’s exactly what the press is doing. Dozens gather in protest, but what is a guy to do when his yard backs a cemetery and them dead people won’t stop gnashing their choppers at ya? Yes, sir. Mr. Politician has a problem. His plight for peace goes on.

Zombies are cold, says one sign. Zombies shiver too, says another. Death is cold and Life is warm and it doesn’t take more than a simple mind putting two plus two together to figure that out. All them dead ones want is a cup of hot cocoa and a sweater. Another sign says, Give ‘em what they want and they’ll go away!

Farmer Eb’s not so sure about that. He’s got himself one of those butcherin’ yards, and hotdog on Sam’s Hill, them dern zombie cows keep arising like Lazarus on repeat.  He just sits there on the strong wooden fence his grand pappy built back in 1929, and he’s popping those stones out – aim, shoot, and fire- hard and fast like he’s one of them Yankee pitchers.

Zombie cows is a mooing, and it doesn’t sound so good. They is a mooing like they’re mad, like their rabid, like they just might have a couple’a fangs, and them fangs just might want something to plunge into. Farmer Eb is thinking they may want something more than hot chocolate and a sweater, but he keeps his mouth shut and minds his own business, just like a good farmer should.

If you don’t mind taking a crow’s fly a mile down the main road, we’ll make a quick drop into Mrs. Miller’s Drop & Shop Grocery & Gas. Only two weeks before Christmas and zombies are only half the cause of Mrs. Miller’s worries. The milkman ain’t brought no eggnog deliveries on account of them zombie people, zombie cows, and whatever zombie dead things be a’lurkin. Eggnog is cold, and so is death, and the zombies seem to have a thing against the cold stuff.

So Mrs. Miller cusses at the little TV screen, every time a scadoodling Missus Or Mister pops in to grab a quart of moo nog. Mrs. Miller was sick and tired of bein’ forced to be the Scrooge of Christmas, and that is enough to make anyone bah, humbug. And here’s the local schoolteacher for Shenanigan Elementary now.

“Good afternoon, Mrs. Miller, I don’t suppose you have a quart of eggnog, Tommy and Sue are just achin’ to get a taste of Christmas and Henry is just too sick for me to leave’im for the big city grocery.” The schoolteacher says this with such hope, such longin’.

Mrs. Miller does one of her practiced sighs, grits her teeth for what’s to come, and says, “I’m sorry, we just plum ain’t got none due to the dead up and walkin’ and all.” Mrs. Miller braces for the axe to fall, she’s bracing for it, and then chop! Jim Dandy ain’t got nothin’ on what the schoolteacher is about to pull.

“Mrs. Miller, my youngest is sick and I can’t make it to the big town. You’s the only store we’ve got around here and if one can’t expect a body to keep in stock one of the most important items that define Christmas, then by all the power that is within me, I’ll go down to the corner and start my own shop.” The schoolteacher fixes her hat, glances Mrs. Miller up and down, and leaves with a Hurumph!

Mrs. Miller cusses at the little TV in the corner. The louder she cusses, the more she sounds like a ticking time bomb.

Tick.

Tick.

Tick.

Boom!

By George, Mrs. Miller decides to chase that schoolteacher down and give it back at her. It was Christmas. Christmas. What right did a schoolteacher have comin’ in and unloadin’ her undesirables on her?

She grabs the shotgun under the counter, rounds the corner of the cash register, runs to the door, and shoves it open. “What do you think you’re doin’ struttin in here and demanding Christmas moo nog as if I could just pluck it off the shelf? Ain’t you notice there’s dead things walkin’ around? Ain’t ya notice we’ve got our very lives to protect? Ain’t ya noticed I have a gun and you do-” Well, Mrs. Miller herself notices the schoolteacher isn’t payin’ her any mind. She is just standing there lookin’ up at the sky.

Mrs. Miller figures she’ll look at the sky too, and what she sees… What she sees floating out of the clouds and landing soft and easy like snowflakes would make you plum faint, out like a light, just like Mrs. Miller does on the dirty floor of Drop & Shop Grocery & Gas.

Peace On Earth is at war and that’s no lie. What makes Mrs. Miller faint, and the schoolteacher stare at the sky, is the same reason Farm Eb halts from his stone.

Peace comes a floating on wings of a feather, and amphibians the color of green beans. Yes, sir, they be turtles. “Turtlin’ doves,” whispers Farmer Eb.

Farmer Eb hears a soft hiss as the first turtling dove lands on a zombie cow awaking freshly from the dead. A snap, crunch, and a munch later there isn’t more than snout left of that ol’ cow.

And so it goes, there is more and more of them turtles with wings filling the sky, and them zombie cows start rising faster and quicker. And before you know it peace is taking a big bite out of the freshly dead.

If we can just jump over to that rascally politician getting ready to be politically corrected-ly abused, we’ll see reporters not only snap shooting them flying green beans with wings, but also snapping Mr. Politician laying down his last stone and watching in amazement as the turtling doves eat in droves.

Them critters are bringing peace in a swoop of peanut butter that ain’t never tasted so real before. They just sort of clean up the place, like Uncle Mo scarfing down leftovers of Christmas dinner!

Mr. Politian squats down to look one of the critters in the eye, and just as he squats on down there, one lands on his behind. Boy howdy! Did the crowd have something to laugh at!  Which means, they didn’t have anything to gripe.

Mrs. Miller awoke to being shaken by that nasty schoolteacher we left standing to watch the green earlier. They both shake hands, and it just so happens that the milkman comes by within the hour, delivering several cases of Eggnog.

You see, the moral of this story, boys and girls, is sometimes the greatest things happen when you least expect them. You could keep a pile of stones handy, or sweaters and hot cocoa, dependin’ on which side of the fence you be fallin’, but I say it’s better to believe. Believe in the impossible, believe in Christmas, and turtling doves will deliver.

BIO:  Jodi MacArthur serves imagination raw on an open flame.
Bring your fork to www.jodimacarthur.blogspot.com
Published online and in print, she is working on her first novel, Devil’s Eye.

The Turtle Dove

December 15, 2009

by

P.J. Kaiser

 

Martin mustered his strength and leaned against the sliding glass door with his entire weight.  The door needed some grease.  It opened just far enough for Martin to slip through.  Even though the air conditioning was on inside, he just pulled the screen closed.  Martin didn’t want to risk being stuck out on the deck in case his son John wasn’t able to come for his visit that afternoon.  He could use the outside pager for such emergencies, but he would have felt foolish if he had to use it. 

Martin had felt somewhat lightheaded and short-of-breath all day and the walk out to the deck exhausted him.  Martin’s small frame collapsed into the wooden deck chair.  Martin enjoyed the luxuries of his elder care facility including the privacy and his lovely, albeit tiny, back deck, but a comfortable deck chair was unfortunately not included in the hefty price tag.

Martin rested his left arm on the table.  The North Carolina summer super-heated the air but the pergola above him cut the sun.  The steamy breeze blew through the trees and ruffled Martin’s gray hair.    He waited and listened.  He heard the chitter-chatter of birds – high-pitched tweets that ricocheted off the back of his apartment and the partitions separating his deck from the ones on either side.  He watched the birds flitting from branch to branch.  The sprawling tree branches from the forest came to the edge of the deck.  He saw a squirrel tumbling through the branches and heard the mini crashes as he landed on each branch, shaking the leaves.  He enjoyed this proximity to nature but he listened for one particular sound.

Finally, he heard it.  Coo COO coo – pause – coo coo.  The throaty sound, almost like a lady’s voice, reached his ears and his eyes darted around to see the source of the birdcall.  The turtle dove swooped through the trees and took up a position on the perch of the bird feeder that Martin had erected on the wooden railing of the deck.  The dove surveyed the bits of birdseed that other birds had knocked loose from the feeder.  Apparently she deemed them worthy because she started nibbling them.

“I’m so glad you came back, my dear,” Martin said in a soft voice.  “I was afraid I might have scared you off after our conversation yesterday.  The way you just flew off when I told you that John was getting a divorce made me wonder.  I hope I didn’t shock you too much.  I know that you were always fond of Sarah, but honestly she’s changed a lot since you’ve been gone.  She … well, she started drinking.  And not just a little bit, but a lot.”

The dove cooed and moved her head around looking for more bits of food. 

“I know.  And the children had started to realize what was going on.  It really wasn’t a healthy environment at all for them.  It was very sad the way it all happened.  John’s completely broken up about it, of course.  He tried to get her to enter a rehab program, but she wouldn’t admit that she has a problem.  So after months of arguing about it and things deteriorating further, he finally filed for divorce.  John will of course have the children.  Sarah isn’t even contesting that.  I don’t know what will become of her.  I feel so badly for the children.  But John is looking out for them, of course.  It’s really too bad that you aren’t still around and that we’re not younger because we could help him care for the children.  He’s planning to get a nanny to be there when the children get home from school.”

The dove turned away from Martin and looked off into the trees and cooed several times.  Then she turned back to Martin as if waiting for him to continue.

Martin furrowed his brow.  “Do you really think your birdie friends can help John find a nanny?  Well, I guess it never hurts to ask.  I’m glad you found your way here, by the way, when John arranged for me to live here.  I was really worried that you wouldn’t be able to find it and that you’d just stay at the house and keep looking for me, thinking I had died and somehow tried to avoid you.  I mean, I know you know lots of things that I don’t know, but I’m still happy that you found your way here. I don’t know what I would’ve done here without you to keep me company.”

The doorbell rang out from the inside of the apartment and Martin looked over his shoulder through the opening in the glass door, “Come on in, I’m on the deck!”  Martin shifted his weight trying to find a comfortable spot in the deck chair.

The key scraped in the doorknob and John came in and stopped for a moment by the kitchen counter to survey Martin’s lunch tray and pill container.  It always made Martin feel like a child when John checked to make sure he was eating enough and taking his pills, but at the same time, Martin knew that John was only looking after him.  Nodding in approval, John walked through the living room, pushed the screen aside, and came out to the deck. 

John asked, “Would you like something to drink, Dad?”

“Yes, an iced tea would be nice, thanks.”  John went back to the kitchen, fixed two iced teas and brought them out to the table.  Kissing his father on the cheek, John sat down in the deck chair on the opposite side of the table.  “How are you feeling?”

“Oh, I’m doing fine.” Martin glanced at the dove, still sitting on the perch and searching for food.  “I’ve felt a bit lightheaded today, though, and I thought the breeze would do me good.”

John leaned back in his chair and crossed one ankle over the opposite knee, glancing at the dove.  “Yeah, it’s always nice to be outside.  But the heat doesn’t bother you?”

“No, not really.  Hearing the birds sing makes up for enduring the heat.  How are the kids?” Martin took a sip from his iced tea.

“Oh, they’re doing OK.  They’re still upset about Sarah moving out, but, you know.  We’re starting to get into a routine.  I will be going back to work in two weeks, so I have to find a nanny before that.  I’ve been making some phone calls, but I haven’t found anybody yet.  The few that I have found are too expensive.  There was this one named Mildred who was outstanding, but she was asking too much.”

“Don’t worry about the cost, John.  I can help you out with that.  If Mildred is the one, then you should just hire her.”

“Thanks, Dad, but I can’t let you do that.  I appreciate the offer, though.”  Martin didn’t think John would accept his help, but he wanted to offer, at least. 

“I have asked around as well to help you find a nanny,” Martin smiled at the dove.  “If I get any leads, I will let you know.”

The dove walked back and forth across the railing and cooed while the two men sipped their iced tea.  Martin asked, “Will you bring the kids over on Saturday?”

“Yes, of course.  Which game would you like for us to bring?”

“Whatever the children want to play is fine with me.  Cards, Chinese checkers, whatever.  You know I just enjoy spending time with them.”

Martin and John chatted for an hour or so and then John said he had to leave to pick up the children from school.  “Can I get you anything before I go?  You said you were feeling lightheaded, are you feeling better now?”

“Yes, a bit.  Don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine.”

“OK, Dad.”  John leaned over and kissed his father on the cheek and took his glass into the kitchen.  He walked back to the screen door, “Just give me a call if you need anything.  We’ll see you on Saturday!  I love you.” 

“I love you, too, John.”

John crossed the room and left through the front door, locking the door from outside.  Martin sat on the deck for a while finishing his iced tea and continuing his conversation with the dove.  When the mosquitoes started to make their presence known, he decided it was time to go in and get ready for the arrival of his dinner.

“Goodbye, my little turtle dove.  Will I see you again soon?”

The dove cocked her head towards Martin and cooed softly.  In one smooth motion, she flapped her wings and disappeared into the trees.

Martin slid the screen open and went back inside.  He leaned against the sliding glass door and when it was nearly closed, Martin fell away from the door and slumped onto the floor.

*****

“Is this Mr. John Brooks?” said the voice on the phone.

John asked, “Yes, who’s calling?”

“Mr. Brooks, this is Sam Sidwell from the Crestwood Care Facility.  I’m sorry to tell you that your father, Martin, suffered a heart attack this afternoon and he has passed away.”

“Oh, my God!  When did it happen?”

“We think it was in the late afternoon today.  The orderly who delivered your father’s dinner found him on the floor in the living room.”

John’s voice caught as he said, “I can’t believe it … I just saw him this afternoon.  I’m so glad that I went by today.  I almost didn’t go – I was going to wait for the weekend.”

“My condolences, Mr. Brooks.  You can stop by any time this week to collect his things.  If you’d like, I’d be happy to accompany you.”

“No, that’s not necessary.  I’ll go over tomorrow.  I can do it by myself.  He didn’t really have that many personal things in his apartment.  Most of his things are here at my house.”

“Very well.  We’d be happy to help you with funeral arrangements.  Just give me a call back when you’re ready to discuss it.  Again, I’m very sorry.  Your father was a very special man.”

“Yes, thank you.”  John hung up the phone. 

He managed to get the children in bed.  He wasn’t prepared to tell them what had happened that evening – he wanted to wait until the following day when they came home from school and he had already collected his father’s things.

After putting the children to bed, he fixed himself a gin and tonic and a sandwich and went out to the lounge chairs in the back yard.  A few bushes ran along the wooden fence separating him from his neighbors, but there were no trees.  The muggy air stuck to his skin.  He sat without moving and let the sounds of the night descend upon him.  He closed his eyes and tears began welling and slid down his cheeks.

He heard a turtle dove coo in the distance.  Coo COO coo – pause – coo coo.  John opened his eyes and gazed at the twinkling stars filling the sky.  He heard wings flapping and two small, brownish turtledoves landed a few feet from his chair.  He watched the doves poking their beaks into the grass looking for something to eat.  One of the doves glanced up at him. 

John said, “I’m sorry.  I don’t have a birdfeeder yet.  I didn’t know you’d be coming so soon.  I’ll go buy one tomorrow.”  John tore off a piece of bread from his sandwich and tossed it to the doves.  “Will this hold you over?”  The doves both walked to the bread and nibbled on it.  “I guess so.”  More tears slid down his cheeks and his voice caught as he said, “Well, looking on the bright side, at least I’ll be able to afford to hire Mildred after all.”

BIO:  P.J. lives in Hoboken, New Jersey and has been happily married for fourteen years.  She and her husband have two young children.  Since growing up in Ohio, she has reached New Jersey by way of Columbus, OH, Chicago, IL, and Mexico City (yes, the one in Mexico). She is a stay-at-home mom and has enjoyed a variety of previous careers – the most lucrative of which was working in information technology. Others which were more fun (but less lucrative) include teaching piano, working as a volunteer coordinator at an orphanage, doing grant writing for a university, and serving on the board of a small foundation.  P.J. is a writer of nonfiction about parenting and education on her blog “Double Latte Mama’s Blog” (http://www.doublelattemama.com), a contributor writing about local kid-friendly activities to “NY Metropolista” (http://www.nymetropolista) and a writer of fiction at Inspired By Real Life (http://www.inspiredbyreallife.com).  Most of her fiction to-date has been in short form and she is working on her first novel.  She won NaNoWriMo in November, 2009.  P.J. can be found on Twitter @doublelattemama.

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