Category Archives: short story

History

Mrs. Tyler was old. Everyone knew that. They figured it was pretty safe to assume that there has been a Mr. Tyler at some point, although no one could actually remember him. She only had two cats, which no one really considered eccentric, although she’d named them Quincy and Tippecanoe. She was just weird enough to be interesting without being spooky. So when Jennasis Walker had to interview someone for her Oral History Project, the fifteen-year-old girl thought of Mrs. Tyler right away.

Jennasis wasn’t the type of girl to walk straight up to Mrs. Tyler’s door and request permission for an interview. For one thing, Jennasis didn’t have a reporter’s innate ability to intrude on someone’s life while believing they had a right to do so. It didn’t help that Jenn wasn’t quite welcomed with open arms in Milton. She had lots of friends, sure. But many people considered her very birth a sin against their beliefs about interracial relationships. Somehow it was even worse to them that Jenn was “legitimate,” that her parents were married for three months before she was even conceived.

Luck was on Jenn’s side, though. She took her own cat, Napoleon, to the vet for shots the same Saturday morning that Mrs. Tyler took Tippecanoe.

The vet’s waiting room had none of the charm of a dentist’s office. There were no magazines for the cats, bird, dogs, rabbit, snake, guinea pig, and people to read. Of course, magazines were unnecessary. Jenn only had Napoleon on a cat harness. Napoleon thought Jenn brought him to an all-you-can-eat place, and couldn’t understand why she kept holding him back.

Mrs. Tyler had Tip in a cardboard carrier that he was shredding urgently, howling to Napoleon that he had first dibs on the guinea pig. Mrs. Hanrahan and Arthur, her Standard Poodle, sat as if they were at a dog show held at a common kennel. Grant Hayes waited with Ginger, his Seeing Eye dog. Douglas Chin, unfortunately, had his mongrel Gandolph there for his distemper shot. Gandolph struggled to sniff at the two other dogs, the two cats, the bird (Luciano), the guinea pig (Buffy), the snake (Susan), and the rabbit (Elmer Fudd). Nothing in a magazine could top the entertainment in the waiting room.

Dr. Cohen took Kelly and her snake Susan first. Although they were the calmest and best-behaved pair in the room, everyone breathed a sigh of relief when they left. Then the waiting room erupted in laughter at the irony. That broke the ice, and people actually began speaking to each other.

As “cat people,” Jennasis and Mrs. Tyler sat on the same bench. Jenn peeked at the orange tabby in the cardboard carrier. “Is Tippecanoe sick?” The girl scored points right away with Mrs. Tyler for being able to tell Tip and Quincy apart.

“No, he’s just here for shots. Napoleon’s looking spunky.” Mrs. Tyler scored a point for herself by knowing the name of Jenn’s pride and joy.

“Yeah, he needs his shots, too.” The conversation halted, and the awkward silence regained control of the room. Then Mrs. Tyler asked Grownup Question Number Two.

“So how’s school going?”

That afternoon, Jenn shifted the backpack on her left shoulder and rang Mrs. Tyler’s doorbell. “Come on in, Jenn. What kind of soda do you want?”

“Root beer, if you have it. Otherwise water’s fine.”

“Root beer it is. So tell me about this project of yours.” As they walked through the living room, Jenn noticed how immaculate and how orderly it was. For a moment she wondered if the books on the shelves were in alphabetical order. The kitchen was the same way. At home, nothing matched, and with four kids, “orderly” meant that things were actually in the room they belonged in. Mrs. Tyler’s potholders matched the dish towels. Jenn was sure it was just decoration, that those potholders had never touched a pot. In a large stoneware cup next to the faucet was a plastic thing with dish soap in it and a little sponge on the end. Not only were there no dirty dishes, but there was no dish drainer either. Jenn sat at the kitchen table, afraid to put her ordinary backpack down for fear it would make the room dirty.

Mrs. Tyler put a coaster in front of Jenn on the bare kitchen table and put the glass of root bear with ice on the coaster. She made herself a glass of ice water with a slice of lemon, and placed it on her own coaster. “What do you want to know about me?”

“Well, everything. We need to know what a person’s life is like now, and how it used to be. Like, we need to know what people and experiences changed your life. That’s supposed to teach us about history. I guess. Mr. Qureshi is into making everything meaningful. That means you don’t understand anything, but you have fun doing it.”

“What will you do with the information I give you? Remember, it’s my life we’re talking about here. I don’t think I want to see it on 60 Minutes.

“Don’t worry. We’re gonna put an edited version together for the class history book. Mr. Qureshi is gonna meet with us individually and read our full reports, and then give them back to us. Then I’ll give you yours back. You won’t have to worry about anything. Why? Do you have something to worry about?” Jenn tried not to sound interested and excited.

“Maybe you should just ask me your questions, and we’ll see if I’m interesting or not, OK? Shoot.”

Jennasis opened her backpack and got out her supplies. She had one of her mother’s legal pads and her father’s best pen, as well as a tape recorder. She wanted to look professional. She asked permission to tape the conversation, and then began her questioning.

Mrs. Tyler didn’t turn out to be very interesting on Saturday afternoon. Her husband’s name had been Joseph, and they met each other working at the hospital together. They’d known each other for a long time before they got married. They never had any children, and Mr. Tyler died before their second anniversary. Mrs. Tyler tried to date a few times, but gave it up. She just wasn’t interested in anyone else.

Jenn took the information she’d gotten to class on Monday. As the students shared the rudimentary information they had so far, Mr. Qureshi helped them brainstorm more probing questions.

“What do we want to know in the end?” he asked. “What questions will give us that information?” After the students came up with ideas, they broke up into groups. Each group member wrote down specific questions for the others to ask the person they were interviewing.

“I see you have more questions written on your legal pad,” Mrs. Tyler noted as she poured Jenn a glass of root beer. Jenn explained the process the class went through today.

“I have to ask you more questions. Mr. Qureshi says we don’t have enough details. He says we know a lot of surface stuff, but not a lot of human stuff. He says that History is about humans.”

“Oh. What kind of human stuff do you want to know?”

“Well, I need to ask stuff like how you met your husband. And you said that you knew him a long time. Did it take you forever to fall in love? Or just to get married? Why did you wait so long? Where did you work together? What were your jobs? Stuff like that.”

“I see.” Mrs. Tyler used her cloth napkin to wipe the moisture off her ice water glass, studying the glass carefully. “Joe and I worked together in a hospital in Tucson.”

“Oh, so you were a nurse and Mr. Tyler was a doctor.” Jennasis watched a lot of television.

“No, not exactly. Yes, I was a nurse. I still am.”

“And Mr. Tyler wasn’t a doctor? Did he do x-rays or something?” Jenn wasn’t sure what a man would do in a hospital besides be a doctor.

“No. Joe was a chaplain.”

“What’s that?”

“Well, a chaplain helps people heal their minds and souls while the doctors and nurses are healing their bodies.” Mrs. Tyler could see that Jenn was lost. “Mr. Tyler prayed with people, the ones who were sick and their families.”

“Oh.” Jenn thought about this for a moment. “Like a minister.”

“Yes, like a minister.”

Mrs. Tyler returned to wiping her glass while Jenn concentrated on this information. The student looked up. “But he wasn’t a minister?” This was a lot to put together: a man who worked in the hospital but wasn’t a doctor, and a man who prayed with people but wasn’t a minister. “Well, but then …” She stopped. “Was Mr. Tyler a priest?” Jenn held her breath.

“Yes.” Mrs. Tyler looked at Jenn, and waited.

“So, like, you were a nun?”

“Yes.”

“But you and Mr. Tyler got married.”

“Yes.”

“Well, is that OK? I mean, don’t they get mad about that kind of stuff?”

Mrs. Tyler took the church calendar off its nail on the wall. “What’s today?”

Jenn looked at her with that teenager look. “Monday, March 22, 1999.”

“And what was the date 600 years ago?”

“March 22, 1399?”

“And 300 years from now?”

“I’m not that good at math. Maybe they’ll have a different calendar then. Why?”

“Because 600 years ago, it was OK for priests to get married. Lots of priests had wives and children. Lots of priests had children without wives. Many do today.”

“Have children without wives? Or wives and children?”

“Both. See, people used to donate things to the Church, just like they do today. But the laws years ago said that if a man dies, everything he owns goes to his oldest son.”

“Yeah, we already learned that in history.”

“Well, if you donate a piece of land to a priest who has a wife and children, and the priest dies, what happens to that piece of land?”

“His family gets it. That’s only fair. They still have to live and support themselves!”

“Right. But suppose you donate a piece of land to a priest, and he has no family, and he dies. What happens to it?”

“The church gets it?”

“Right.”

“But that’s dumb! You can’t tell people to not fall in love and get married because of stuff, because of land. I thought there was something holy involved.”

“Those rules were made a long time ago. It was a different world, a different culture. They had no concept of people having any rights or needs back then.”

“But don’t you have to follow the rules until they change them?”

“Yes, you’re supposed to. And we did try. I tried to get transferred to a different mission. That means I asked my religious community to let me work someplace else. But they told me to keep working at the hospital. Joe couldn’t get the bishop to transfer him either. There was a lot going on, and they needed him there.”

“So why didn’t you just avoid each other?”

“Is there anyone at your school whom you could totally avoid if you wanted to? Are there any teachers that you can stay away from completely if you don’t like them?”

“Well, no.”

“Then imagine how much harder it is to avoid someone you’re in love with.”

Jenn took her own cloth napkin and wiped the moisture off her root beer glass. “This is so stupid. Why do we have to do this dumb old assignment, anyway!”

“Because your teacher, Mr. Qureshi? He wants you to see that this is what history is all about. Real people.”

“But you broke the rules. Doesn’t that matter? Is that why you moved here?”

“So did your parents. Where they lived, the rules were very clear that a white man and a black woman aren’t allowed to date, let alone get married. They are a part of history, too. They broke a rule that was unfair, and they moved here. If they followed the rules, you and your sister and brothers would never have been born. Is that OK with you?”

Jenn gave Mrs. Tyler the teenager look again. Then she felt something against her leg. She looked down and saw Tippecanoe rubbing against her. Jenn patted her thigh wordlessly, and the orange tabby jumped onto her lap. Of course Quincy, the other cat, became jealous. He hissed at Tip as he walked past him, and jumped into Mrs. Tyler’s lap. The woman and the girl petted the cats in silence.

Finally, Jenn spoke. “So who makes these dumb rules, anyway?”

“I should cheat and tell you to ask Mr. Qureshi that. Really, though, people make the rules. Sometimes the rules have a very good reason, sometimes just an OK one, and sometimes rules were meant to hurt people on purpose. Your job is to obey the first set and fight the last set.”

“What about the middle rules?”

“You can’t just go around breaking rules because they aren’t convenient. If you break a rule, you’d better have a very good reason for it. Very.”

Tip started purring in Jenn’s lap, so Quincy had to purr louder. “What else are you taking?”

“Well, I’m taking poetry. Dumb stuff. Dumb rhyming stuff written by dead people. History’s about dead people, too.”

Mrs. Tyler laughed. “I’ll bet I can make poetry interesting.”

“How? You’re a nurse?”

“Oh, like nurses can’t read? Really. I wanted to be an English Major, but my community made me become a nurse. They didn’t want any teachers in my group. The next year’s group was teachers. Mine was nurses.” Jennasis stared, a little mind-boggled. “Let me take your glass. I’ll get you some more root beer.” Quincy stole Mrs. Tyler’s warm chair as soon as she stood up. Jenn decided that this was more interesting than going home and fighting with her little sister. She and Tip got more comfortable in the chair.

Entry for Hone Your Skills Blogfest: Esperanza

No one believed her name was Esperanza, but honestly, none of us cared enough to try to ferret out the truth either. Since Esperanza means “hope,” a lot of people called her Hopeless behind her back. Although her hair was always brushed, it never actually seemed to be clean, and she never did anything with it. Her clothes were clean enough, but we weren’t sure her mother had an iron.

Laurie had to share a locker with her, since their last names were so close together alphabetically. Poor Laurie. She said everything Hopeless had – her furry navy blue winter coat, her school books – all smelled like cigarette smoke. Rhonda said it could be worse; she wasn’t sure Hopeless bathed all that often and the cigarettes probably covered up worse smells.

Don’t think for a minute though that Hopeless smoked. We thought smoking was sort of cool, and so of course we ruled out right away that it was her own cigarettes that we were smelling.

Mr. Norris hated her. He was our English teacher. Everyone knew that he taught high school English so that he could stare at cute teenage girls. His coffee cup would have a half-dressed girl when the coffee was hot. Unbuttoning the top couple buttons of your blouse, wearing short skirts or low cut tops, these are the things that brought your grade up in his class. She wasn’t even a little cute and didn’t even try. Worse, she thought he was a dork.

Naturally, everything she turned into him was slashed to bits by his red pen. The thing he killed the worst was her poem. It was nearly Christmas, and she wrote this:

Holly –
Cheerful
Decorative
Beautiful
But ultimately
Poisonous

Of course I remember every word of that short poem, because it was a dig at me. Not that I was all that crazy about my name, but it wasn’t hers to mess with. So anyway, when she wrote the poem, I knew that I was on her radar. That might sound a little weird, but really, until then she mostly pretended none of us existed. Now I knew that she was perfectly aware of us, or at least of me. It wasn’t that great of a feeling, to be honest. So I wrote my own poem. An acrostic.

Hopeless
Obsolete
Pathetic
Expired
Lowly
Exact
Stinky
Sayonara

OK, so it wasn’t exactly a Shakespearean sonnet. I wrote exact in there because she had this weird meticulous thing she did. Things had to be on her desk and in her locker just right. But not everything. Like, her books were always stacked largest to smallest, and always smack up against the right side of the locker, but at the same time her papers would be just shoved in next to them. Everything on her desk was perfectly aligned, but it looked like her purse hadn’t been emptied in years. That’s probably why no one knew how long she was carrying the gun.

So anyway, one day Mr. Norris asks her to stay after school. It’s nearly Christmas, so it’s stinking cold out and it gets dark early. She has her dark blue furry coat that stunk like cigarette smoke, and she’s mad at Mr. Norris because he destroyed her Holly poem. He’s mad at her because she said something against me, and she stunk, and she wasn’t pretty, and she didn’t care. And she thought he was a dork. I don’t know if she didn’t have the sense to have a friend go with her to his class after school, or if she just didn’t have a friend, or if she asked someone and they said no.

Mr. Norris said that she was distraught over her poem. He said that he got shot trying to take the gun away from her, but she’d already shot herself once. Luckily for him, he only had a minor wound. Before she died, she said that she’d shot him trying to protect herself, that he attacked her. Pushed himself on her. You know what I mean. Of course, no one believed her. I’m sure if she had a funeral, only her mother went. Her mother, smoking the whole time, no doubt. Stinking.

I didn’t think about her after that. It was almost Christmas vacation. When we got back to school, Laurie got a new locker partner, some girl named Evalyne. She was more normal, and life went on. We had a lot to do, like get ready for finals. Time just sort of passes, you know? And then it’s another semester, although I didn’t have Mr. Norris this time, and then it’s finally summer vacation.

I ran into Mr. Norris over the summer. End of July, early August. That time when you’re bored of summer vacation but don’t want to admit it. So one of my babysitting jobs turned out to be in the same apartment complex as Mr. Norris. The money was decent, but the kids were pretty awful. Mr. Norris said I could come over and have a beer when I was done. He said I looked like I really needed one.

So it turned out that Hopeless was telling the truth. Esperanza. But I didn’t tell anyone. Not then. Neither had Rhonda, second semester. Nor Laurie. When school started again, though, Laurie guessed. She gave me a piece of paper that had been in her locker.

Holly –
Cheerful
Decorative
Beautiful
But ultimately
Poisonous

Neither of us said a word. But I managed to add a little something to Mr. Norris’s coffee cup a few days later – think of it as a little bit of hope for the girls who came after us.

Race to 200 Contest Entry: Kitten Karma

Yes, there were definitely kittens on my back patio and yes, the mother cat was definitely no longer around. My job? Find them a home before either of them, if they were female, went into heat. However, the kittens each had a piece of yarn around their neck as notice that they technically belonged to the maniac in the corner apartment — the one who threw the pregnant mother cat outside and refused to feed it, telling his kids that the cat was capable of finding her own food in this apartment complex. He was eventually right — I fed her, and her babies. But now what?

As I fervently hoped they would move away and abandon the kittens so that I could morally claim ownership and find them new homes, I also explored my options. How hard would it be to get rid of adorable kittens? Everyone wants an adorable kitten, right? Since I already had two cats of my own in my apartment, I couldn’t keep them. I did let them in on hot days and cold nights, though, and named them Fred and George.

I put an add in Freecycle. Two kittens. They could go alone or together. They could be indoor or outdoor. They just had to go. Time was of the essence. Fluffier words about how adorable and flexible they were, but you get the idea.

After a few repeated postings, someone finally expressed interest. Of course, this meant that a total stranger would be entering my house. That seemed better than being evicted for having four cats in my house, though, and they had to go before one of them turned out to be a girl in heat.

The visitor came by, with a friend of hers and a cat carrier. Clearly, this was a great plan. Even if she took only one, that would be one less kitten in the house, and karma would decide that if one found a home, the other would as well. However, karma was out having tea in a marketplace in Istanbul. The kittens, as well as my own cats, hid from these women who smelled like dogs. When they were finally able to be in contact with the kittens, the woman who answered the ad declared that she “just didn’t feel it” and left kittenless. Seriously? A kitten is a kitten. You take it home and fall in love once it’s in your house, not in my living room!

I asked people at work. I shamelessly asked my students to ask their parents. I asked people at workshops. No one wanted kittens, and time was passing. Finally, I was at a workshop with a woman whose kids were participating in something at the local Humane Society. She would come over. Obviously, I was saved. Obviously, karma was now out trying on clothes at the Mall of the Americas.

As far as my cats were concerned, the difference between this woman and the dogs she smelled like was negligible. She didn’t “feel it” either. She wanted a kitten that would bond with her immediately, as if that were likely to happen when she lived with dogs.

Perhaps I was trying too hard. Perhaps if I let the cosmos work properly and stayed out of the way, the right person would just appear. Seriously? That’s a plan of action? Doing nothing?

Try not to look too shocked when I tell you that soon “George” went into heat. And as a responsible person I of course took the newly renamed “Jasmine” to the vet to get this taken care of, right? Um, of course. Not. I did what I apparently had done the last time I had this experience, in 1986 — I threw her outside when the howling was too much and I couldn’t sleep. And so, when the time came, Jasmine’s kittens were born under my bed.

I eventually found homes for Jasmine, Fred, and most of the kittens. I kept one, and she was fixed the day that she was medically old enough to do so. I noticed karma sitting in the vet’s office with me, reading a magazine. Worthless thing.

Mandy

Mandy was named after a Barry Manilow song.  It didn’t do a thing for her love life.  Somehow, Barry Manilow’s name didn’t seem to evoke the same images as, say, the Rolling Stones.  It didn’t help that “Mandy” was a song about rejection.

It wasn’t that guys didn’t like Mandy.  She was very popular with men.  They all confided in her, shared their joys and sorrows with her, and told her all their tales of unrequited love.  They just didn’t think of Mandy in that way.  She was a very good friend, practically a sister, to a whole lot of men.  They just weren’t sexually attracted to her.

There was the other bunch, of course, who thought that telling you their first name counted as foreplay.  Mandy had already been on a few too many of those dates.  She got better and better at trusting her own instincts, which also meant she had fewer and fewer dates.  By the time Glenn and Patti introduced her to Eugene, Mandy was just about ready to join a convent.

Eugene came as a nice surprise.  He also came with his own collection of Barry Manilow tapes.  Already Mandy knew that this would not be the usual sleep-and-run kind of date.  Eugene had to be a decent guy.  He also didn’t even try to kiss her on the first date!  Of course, it’s hard to work up a lot of passion after a round of miniature golfing at King Putt’s, but still.

Their second date, to Strikes & Suds bowling alley, was rather pleasant.  Eugene wasn’t unduly competitive, and seemed genuinely interested in whether or not Mandy was having a good time.  Dating Eugene was a lot like going out with her brother, but Mandy knew that it took a while to build up a relationship.  Perhaps the sparks would come, and even if they didn’t, she could still have fun in the meantime.

Eugene took Mandy to see her beloved Cubs play in a Spring Training game, and bought her a Cubs hat (although she already had one) and a Cubs baseball.  Although the hat was overdoing it a little bit, Mandy enjoyed the attention.  Here they were on their third date, and Eugene was only now holding her hand.

Mandy and Eugene did something together every week.  Mandy worked second shift at the nursing home, but her days off rotated.  One of them was always spent with Eugene.  He didn’t call her at work so that she wouldn’t get in trouble.  Instead, they made their plans before the end of each date.  Mandy hardly had time to think in between dates.  At least she was dating someone, even though it was really hard to think of Eugene as a boyfriend.

One night they went to dinner at Glenn and Patti’s house.  Mandy knew that the couple considered setting up Mandy and Eugene as one of their success stories.  Eugene continued to be polite and considerate.  Tonight, though, it didn’t quite feel considerate.  Eugene wanted to take Mandy home before she was ready to go.  He didn’t claim that he himself wanted to leave, but rather that he knew Mandy had a long day tomorrow and that he wanted to get her home.  He was insistent — to Glenn and Patti — that it was time to go, not addressing Mandy on the matter at all.  Although she was displeased about the situation, she told herself that Eugene was the first man she had dated in a long time to care about her needs instead of his own, and she just wasn’t used to it. Mandy agreed on the details of their next date, scheduled for her next day off.

The next date was somewhere between pleasant and boring, but Mandy’s concerns about Eugene were forgotten.  The following week, though, Mandy just didn’t want to see Eugene.  It wasn’t that she particularly disliked him.  After seeing him every week for eight weeks, she just needed a break.  Being with Eugene felt more like going steady in high school, with your own brother, than dating.  On top of that, Mandy just needed time alone.  She liked being alone; that’s why she had her own apartment.  She couldn’t call Eugene and feign an illness to cancel the date; that would by lying.  So Mandy did the next best thing:  she turned off the lights and pretended she wasn’t home.

Eugene didn’t take this well.  After pounding on the door a couple times, he left.  Mandy tried to breathe a sigh of relief, but thought better of it.  This might not be over.  She left the lights off, just in case.  It wasn’t long before Eugene was back with reinforcements.  Mandy heard Patti pass her bedroom window saying, “She probably just fell asleep.  You know how hard she’s been working at the nursing home.  I’m sure she’s quite all right.”  Mandy knew that this was being said as much for her own benefit as Eugene’s.  So with suitable pillow wrinkles on her face, Mandy answered the door.

Patti gave Mandy a sympathetic look and abandoned her.  Eugene gushed about how worried he was — he was all set to call 911.  Mandy pretty much repeated what Patti said outside her window.  Happy that all was well, Eugene suggested that of course they should still go on the date.  When the date was over, he gave Mandy a very chaste peck on the lips — their first kiss.

By now, Mandy was really pretty tired of Eugene.  It wasn’t that he wasn’t basically a nice guy; he was.  He was always a perfect gentleman, which was such a refreshing change — really.  She couldn’t even imagine him as a sexual being.  He did seem to have her best interests at heart, even when he went a little overboard.  Aside from being vaguely bored, there was nothing concrete that Mandy could put her finger on.  She just didn’t want to go out with Eugene any more.  Now she just had to figure out a way to end the dating.

It wasn’t going to be easy.  Eugene wanted to go out with Mandy.  He saw no reason to stop, and Mandy had a hard time coming up with one that sounded polite.  After all, Eugene wasn’t really a creep; he couldn’t just be callously dumped.  Nor was it likely that he would immediately move on to his next conquest.

Mandy started with the semi-direct approach.  She told Eugene that she couldn’t see him next week.  She waffled, though, when Eugene asked her why not; she made up a story.  Naturally, then, they had plans for the following week instead.  At least Mandy would have her first real free time in a while.  But Mandy’s joy was tempered with the knowledge that it was temporary; she and Eugene still had plans for a date, even if it wasn’t right away.

She started thinking that maybe she could survive an every-other-week thing.  But that would be dumb.  Why force yourself to date someone you don’t want to?  Mandy had never taken an assertiveness training class, though.  She could be aggressive when her self-preservation was at stake.  But she had no clue how to get rid of a “nice guy” — well, a nice guy who was a little too nice and actually gave her the creeps sometimes.

At the end of their date, Mandy tried to avoid planning another date.  Eugene asked if there was someone else she was seeing.  No, of course not!  Mandy felt like she and Eugene were moving too fast, even though they were actually going nowhere.  They’d not yet even French-kissed, and Eugene’d never touched anything but Mandy’s hands and shoulders.  Still, it seemed to Mandy that Eugene was way more attached to her than she was to him, and than she’d ever be to him.  There were just no sparks for her at all.  Eugene was nice to do things with, but they really had nothing in common to talk about.  Although Mandy had always considered herself overly romantic and nostalgic, she couldn’t imagine celebrating an anniversary of their first date, or telling her children about this period in the life of “mommy and daddy.”   In fact, as much as she wanted children, she just couldn’t fathom having them with Eugene.

Mandy didn’t know how to tell him any of this.  She figured guys could probably take rejection easier if there’s another man than if they were being rejected and there’s no one else on the horizon.  Guys were such fragile little things.  Since creating an imaginary boyfriend was beyond her, Mandy told Eugene that she needed a break.  She wanted some time alone to think about stuff.  Eugene wanted to know what she had to think about, and why it excluded seeing him.  This was not going to be easy.

Mandy didn’t have any real answers, and she knew it, and Eugene knew it.  Eugene very nicely and politely demanded a reason why they should stop seeing each other.  Mandy was too polite to tell Eugene that he gave her the creeps sometimes and wouldn’t take no for an answer.  And since she was right — Eugene wouldn’t take no for an answer — they dated some more.

Eugene remained respectful on their dates, and continued to show interest in Mandy’s enjoyment.  He talked about the things she wanted to talk about, let her choose what they did together, and never tried to do anything that Mandy didn’t want done–except continue dating.  When Mandy tried again to end it, she could tell that she’d genuinely hurt Eugene’s feelings, after all he’d done for her.  He looked like he was going to cry right on the spot.  And they continued dating.

Finally, Mandy called Eugene’s answering machine at a time when she knew he wouldn’t be home, and left a message canceling their date.  Breaking up one date at a time was the best she could think of.  Mandy received a call at work that night from Eugene asking why she canceled the date.  The telephone call only surprised Mandy because she was sure that by now Eugene knew that she wanted to dump him.  But she stuck to her guns; she couldn’t go out with him on Tuesday.

Monday, Eugene actually came to where Mandy worked to see her.  He somehow managed to combine polite, pathetic, and perturbed in his quest to change Mandy’s mind, but she was firm.  She couldn’t go out tomorrow.  He tried to convince her to go out her next day off instead — the following Monday.  Mandy refused to make a commitment to date him next week.  She wasn’t going to see him this week; right now, that’s all that mattered.  He finally left, with no date for tomorrow and no date for the following week.  Mandy’s stomach felt queasy instead of relieved.  She tried to ignore the feeling and enjoy her day off.  Right.

When Mandy returned to work Wednesday, Eugene had sent her flowers at work.  Everyone told her how lucky she was to find such a guy in this day and age; no one ever sent them flowers.  Truthfully, no one had sent Mandy flowers before either.  Under any other circumstances, it would’ve been a sweet gesture.  Instead, Mandy felt awful about not liking the flowers and not trusting Eugene.  Why couldn’t she just be appreciative, she asked herself.  No wonder she never had dates.  Look at the kind of person she was!  She was lucky that Eugene had stuck with her.  Mandy really didn’t feel very lucky, though.

The following day, Eugene showed up at Mandy’s work again, where everyone commented about the lovely flowers and how lucky Mandy was to have him.  Mandy wanted to puke.  Eugene again asked if she wanted to go out the following Monday to see the latest Star Wars movie.  She turned him down, even though she thought it made her look ungrateful and undeserving, not to mention stupid.

Clear out of left field, Eugene asked her if she was seeing Hugh again.  Hugh was a loser whom Mandy had mentioned in passing during one of their first dates.  She was surprised that Eugene would remember him.  She was even more surprised that Eugene would think she’d ever want to see Hugh again in this lifetime.  There was no reason to mention Hugh’s name.

Mandy’s denial only served to plant Hugh’s name in her co-workers’ brains, next to the image of the ever-so-nice, clean-cut Eugene who sent Mandy flowers.  Some of them had even heard stories of this chapter in Mandy’s unwritten Dates From Hell anthology.  The next night at work, Eugene brought Mandy take-out sweet & sour pork, her favorite.  She was overjoyed that he didn’t mention seeing each other again at all.  He didn’t actually have to, though; now Mandy and Eugene were seeing each other every night — where Mandy worked.

Eugene was never at the nursing home for too long, just long enough to make a good impression on Mandy’s co-workers.  They were happy to see that finally Mandy was in a decent relationship.  Finally a guy was interested in Mandy for herself.  What a lucky girl!  He brought her flowers and her favorite dinner, took her out every week instead of expecting to watch television at her house between her cooking dinner and breakfast.

Sunday night, the night before her day off, Eugene again mentioned wanting to see her the next night.  Mandy again declined.  She had no “good reason” to give Eugene.  She just didn’t want to spend Monday with him.  Eugene slipped Hugh’s name into the conversation again.  “You know I’m not seeing anyone else,” Mandy responded with a hint of anger.  The damage was done, though.

Tuesday, after Mandy’s day off, Eugene again showed up at the nursing home with extra crispy chicken.  Mandy wasn’t there.  Eugene was quite convincing in his display of concern–after all, they’d all heard stories of what a loser Hugh was.  Maybe he really did go to see Mandy, and, well, Eugene decided he should go to Mandy’s apartment to check on her.  Of course he had to break into the apartment, to see if Mandy was all right.  Naturally, his fingerprints would be in the apartment; he and Mandy were dating.

When the police later questioned Mandy’s co-workers, they attested to Eugene’s good character, and mentioned this loser Hugh whom Mandy had dated in the past and who might have planned on seeing on her day off.  It goes without saying that Eugene sent a wonderful flower arrangement to the funeral home.  For a while, he even made sure that there were always flowers in the vase on Mandy’s grave.  Eugene was such a nice guy.

Prince Rupert III

Once upon a time, there was a prince named Prince Rupert the Third.  His father was Prince Rupert the Second, and his grandfather was Prince Rupert the First.  It was a family thing.  In those days, it was the custom for evil witches to cast spells on princes and turn them into frogs.  Then some princess would come along, kiss the frog, and turn him back into a prince.  That’s just how things were done.

One day, Prince Rupert the Third was out for a stroll, since it was a nice day and all.  He knew it was risky, that he might run into an evil witch, but he wanted to have a life and not spend all his time hiding in the castle.  So he was outside on sunny day, when whom should he meet but Dorice.

Dorice, of course, was a witch.  Now, if you actually spent some time with Dorice, you’d know she wasn’t very evil at all.  She always returned her library books on time, helped collect food for the local food pantry, and ran errands for a neighbor who was homebound.  But still, she was a witch.  Witch culture at that time said that if you meet a prince, you turn him into a frog, period.  And so she did.

This should have been a terrible thing for Prince Rupert the Third, who was now just plain old Rupert in his new frog community.  All his life he was told about how terrible it would be to be turned into a frog, and now it had happened.  But you know what?  Rupert didn’t think being a frog was all that awful.

Rupert did miss some things, like butter pecan ice cream and coloring books, but on the whole, being a frog was kind of cool.  For one thing, frogs got to go swimming whenever they wanted to.  They didn’t have to wait an hour after eating, or worry about finding a bathing suit that fit.  If they wanted a dip in the pond, then SPLASH there they were!  And once you got used to them, flies and bugs didn’t taste so bad.

As a frog, Rupert noticed a lot of things that he never saw as a prince.  He noticed how pretty a sunset is when it’s seen through the cattails in the pond.  Rupert saw how his pond was really like a city, with so many different kinds of life in it.  He noticed how different each lily pad is from the other lily pads, and each blade of grass from the other blades of grass, and each frog from the other frogs.  As a prince, he only noticed how things were the same; now he was excited to discover how they were different.

Frogs don’t wear tiny watches or hang little calendars on the reeds in their ponds, because they don’t need them.  Frogs don’t make a lot of appointments.  Still, time does pass, and Rupert was a frog for quite a while in froggy time.  He had frog buddies who showed him what to eat and when to hide.  He sang at night, just because it was so great to be a frog.

Then one day, they heard a noise – a big noise.  Rupert and his friends stopped singing and looked up.  There she was, the most beautiful princess any of the frogs had ever seen.  She had beautiful dark, curly hair and beautiful dark eyes.  Rupert smiled a big froggy smile, but then he frowned.  He knew what would happen next.  The princess (he would later learn her name was Rabecca the Fourth) would lean down and kiss him, since that was usually the princess’s only job in these stories, and the kiss would turn him back into a prince, and they’d live happily ever after.

There was only one problem:  Rupert didn’t want to go back to being a prince.  He liked the pond and his friends.  He liked looking up at all the stars at night, and seeing the sunset through the cattails, and hopping from lily pad to lily pad and over logs and stuff.

Rabecca, of course, spotted Rupert right away among all the other frogs.  Even as a frog, he was very handsome.  She reached down and gently lifted him up.  But before you could say “ribbit’ three times fast, Rupert hopped out of Rabecca’s hand and kissed her on the cheek—a nice big froggy kiss.  Right then and there, Rabecca turned into a frog.

Rupert showed Rabecca all the wonders he’d discovered in the pond, and she made many frog friends herself.  After they spent time getting to know each other better, they decided they liked being each other’s best friend, and they lived happily ever after.

OK, The Truth

You know, I get so tired of talking about it.  The cops ask me questions, and then people ask me what the cops asked me, and the newspaper and TV people – everyone wants to talk about it.  Of course the worst part, though, is that no one believes me.  In fact, the newspaper people made up their own version of what happened.

OK, my husband’s family, his uncle, we used to live together.  You know how crowded that can get, two families together, and all their stuff.  To tell you the truth, I was never that crazy about his uncle anyway, but don’t tell anyone I said that.  The guy kept making stuff up, you know, hearing voices and stuff.  Finally we just moved.  Even my husband couldn’t take it any more.  Well, we had the girls to worry about too, you know!

So we move to this nice little town.  Well, it was sort of nice.  I mean, it wasn’t a dump or anything.  The women were real nice, welcoming me and the girls.  We did all that usual stuff together that women do together.  They never once treated us like outsiders, the women, and someone should put THAT into the record.  But no, no one thinks THAT part is interesting.  They just want to talk about the bad stuff.

OK, so there we were, living in this town, not having a bad life at all.  If my husband had problems, he didn’t mention them.  You know how men are.  They keep everything to themselves.  Then they say dumb stuff like “you know why I’m mad.”  Right.  Or they sulk.  There’s nothing worse than a sulking man.  OK– nothing except a man who’s just a little bit sick, although try telling THEM that!  One sneeze is the end of the world!

But my husband, he had a decent job in this town, my daughters and I did well, the girls grew up into young ladies any mother would be proud of.  It wasn’t long before they had suitors, young men who wanted to marry them and treat them well.  Such nice boys.  Both girls were engaged at the same time, I’m proud to say.  Both were going to be fine wives, just as I taught them.

Then THOSE men came.  My husband brought them home, said they needed a place to stay.  OK, we had guests before.  Hospitality is important to us.  Gotta be nice to people.  Well, the other men in the town, they didn’t like the guests.  That’s the truth.  The guests dressed kind of funny, all fancy colors on their clothes and stuff.  You know how small towns can get.  They just don’t like outsiders, especially if they look so, well, different.

So I make my husband’s favorite meal for his guests.  They start in on the wine – we all drink wine with our meals, mostly because the water’s so terrible.  Anyway, we’re eating and drinking and there’s this loud noise outside, and not a very nice-sounding noise.  Next thing you know, there’s pounding on the door.

Now I gotta tell you, this is where the newspapers start making stuff up.  The neighbors, the men who were banging on the door, they just wanted the strange men who were our guests to come outside.  They wanted to know who these strangers were who dressed so fancy.  OK, the men from the town were a little drunk; they’d already had their own suppers I guess.  You know how a little too much wine makes men, well, less than nice.  But the town men never planned to DO anything to our guests.  Well, not anything major anyway.  But instead, the newspapers made up all this horrid stuff about what the men wanted to do to our guests.  And THEN, like that’s not enough, the papers said that my husband offered to send our daughters out instead.  Can you believe that?  My husband would NEVER do such a thing!

Well, I can understand my husband wanting to be nice to our guests.  That’s the right thing to do.  We still had some wine left over from supper, and so my husband offered the men outside the wine.  I know what you’re thinking:  Why give wine to a bunch of rowdies who are already drunk?  But I gotta tell you, it worked!  He gave them the wine, and they passed around to each other and then passed out.

Personally, I think that should have been the end of it, but the guests thought there were gonna be more problems once the men woke up, so they told us to get the heck out of there.  My daughters – their fiancés didn’t want to go, and we ended up leaving without them.  Just took off out of town like the Devil Himself was after us.  Men panic over the smallest things!

Well, I’d say “the rest is history,” but the press has messed that up too.  My family and I, we were never apart during the whole ordeal.  When we finally found another nice, quiet town, there I was with my husband and daughters.  It wasn’t at all like that lame story the newspapers made up.

Lot, he says not to worry about it.  He says no one really believes what they read anymore.  He’s such a good husband.

Fairy Tale

Taryn Baxter was lucky.  Well, at least that’s how it looked.  Ethan was her childhood sweetheart, and even the Grand Canyon couldn’t contain the depths of their love for each other.  Marrying each other was as natural and expected as learning to run once you learned to walk.

The wedding was beautiful, of course.  Taryn wore white, and was probably one of the few girls left in town who could.  Her sister Samantha wore a shimmery lavender dress.  Sam was engaged to the best man.  The mothers cried for the beauty of the whole thing, and the fathers cleared their throats a lot.  As the newlyweds left the church, Taryn’s kindergartners formed a color guard on the sidewalk, tossing politically correct birdseed.  Lots of photographs were taken, even though this wedding was beautiful enough to be unforgettable.  The whole thing was like a fairy tale, and you just knew they’d live happily ever after and have the right number of kids and write cheery newsletters every Christmas about the family’s major accomplishments of the year.

It really was supposed to be that way.  Taryn did everything right.  She saved herself for her wedding night and surprisingly enough, so did Ethan.  They went to the pre-Cana wedding classes to meet with the priest and learn about themselves and each other.  They went on an Engaged Encounter weekend with other couples from St. Eva’s.  They were devoted to each other without being disgusting or clingy.  They loved each other enough to enjoy each other’s company; they loved each other enough to spend time apart.

Taryn and Ethan didn’t fight much.  Ethan had lived alone long enough to handle Taryn’s allergy to ironing boards.  Taryn had enough brothers to get over Ethan’s inability to put the seat back down.  When the honeymoon was over, they discovered that they genuinely liked each other.  All the same, one night a week, Ethan hung out with the guys, playing cards or bowling or doing whatever guys do, and Taryn spent that same night with the girls, or her sister and mother, mostly talking, and usually talking about guys in general and their own in particular.

It goes without saying that it wasn’t long before Taryn was pregnant.  The guys razzed Ethan that now he was going to smell of peanut butter instead of Aqua Velva, and that he’d know more about the Berenstein Bears than the Chicago Bears.  The girls teased Taryn that instead of having one husband and one baby, she’d really have two babies.  And of course everyone mentioned what leaky things babies are, and how Ethan and Taryn would never again sleep through the night.  They laughed and bought cute baby stuff whenever they had the chance.  Boy clothes, girl clothes – they bought both.  Better to be ready for anything than to just have a bunch of generic stuff lying about the house.

They were on their way to the Lamaze class at the hospital when Ethan went back into the apartment building to get the coupon book; they always went out to eat after class.  It was a way of reminding themselves to be a couple in addition to being parents.  That was one of the things they’d learned in the many parenting books they’d read.

When Ethan went back into the building—that’s when Taryn stopped being lucky.  So did Ethan.  As much as Ethan loved Taryn, apparently that’s how much Vince Sassenberry hated his own wife, Grace.  Unfortunately for Ethan, the first shot Vince fired at Grace missed, and went through the hollow door.  The second shot fired at Grace made it a double homicide.  That was no consolation for Taryn.

Taryn moved back into her parents’ house right before the baby was born.  That was their idea, really.  Taryn was so withdrawn that they feared for their grandchild’s well-being.  Shortly after Julianna was born, Taryn went back to teaching kindergarten, but her spark was gone.  She was lost without Ethan, and she was mad.  She’d done everything right, everything the way she’d been taught.  For what?

Slowly, slowly, Taryn began to recover.  Julianna was a delightful child, with a sense of humor and an innate charm that she probably wouldn’t outgrow once she was too old to be “cute.”  Taryn made sure that Julianna got to spend time with Ethan’s family.  At first she merely dropped the baby off, but after a while she stopped in to tell them the latest cute thing Julianna did.  By the time Julianna was talking, Taryn stayed for the whole visit.  It was no coincidence that the visits happened more often than not when Ethan’s brother Ted was home.

Somehow, spending time with Ted wasn’t the same as being disloyal to Ethan, since the two men were so much alike.  Ted had that same half-smile that Ethan had when he wasn’t sure about something.  They even sounded alike on the phone.  Since Julianna liked everybody, she was naturally pleased to see her Uncle Ted.  Sometimes, seeing the man and toddler together, Taryn would imagine that they were really father and daughter rather than uncle and niece.

Even though Taryn started to become attached to Ted, he made sure that the relationship didn’t progress in the direction that Taryn was starting to aim for.  Well, they did have sex one night, but Ted was really, really drunk, and Taryn wasn’t any more sober than he was, and afterward they were never quite sure whether or not it had actually happened.  After that, though, Ted spent less and less time with his family, at least when Taryn and Julianna were there.  By the time she noticed Ted and some bearded guy at the mall one day, Taryn had already begun to wake up and start looking at Mr. Tighe, the fifth grade teacher.

Julianna was four when she was her mother’s bridesmaid.  This wedding was much more subdued.  A few photographs were taken, a small notice was placed in the newspaper, but Julianna was the only one in white.  Taryn’s dress was eggshell, which very much fit the mood of the event.

Mr. Tighe and Julianna never quite became attached to each other.  Then again, apparently Mr. Tighe and Taryn didn’t either.  After two children were born to the couple, the marriage died.  It was a fairly painless death; neither Taryn nor her husband had enough passion for each other to even fight.  Mr. Tighe brought in the divorce papers, Taryn signed them, and he left.  She could have been signing a field trip permission slip for Julianna.

It was a while before Taryn noticed that she was actually in love again.  By now she’d given up on the whole thing, actually.  All she actually wanted was a friend, someone she could talk to.  Well, really, she wanted someone to cry at the end of West Side Story with, and someone to talk her into going on the scary rides at the fair.  Jasmine turned out to be a little bit more than that.  By the time Taryn and Jasmine became lovers, it seemed as natural to Taryn as loving Ethan had been.

When they moved in together, Jasmine brought her son Caleb to the family mix, making them a nice couple with four perfect children who were, conveniently enough, two boys and two girls.  There was no pre-Cana or Engaged Encounter this time.  However, the commitment ceremony at the Unitarian Universalist Church was actually just as beautiful as Taryn’s wedding to Ethan had been.  Of course, this time the crying and throat-clearing of parents had a different meaning, but at least the parents came.  Although the newly wedded couple couldn’t legally register as domestic partners, Jasmine’s company was enlightened enough to consider them a family and carry Taryn and her children on Jasmine’s insurance.

It would be really nice to be able to say that Jasmine and Taryn and the children all lived happily ever after.  Unfortunately, Mr. Tighe had a cow when he found out and there was a huge custody battle over the two children he had fathered biologically, although not emotionally.  Eventually Taryn won, but it was a nasty situation for a while.  Jasmine’s ex-husband stayed out of the whole thing.  He was OK with Caleb living with his mother; that was better to him than having everyone find out that his ex-wife was a lesbian.

Taryn and Jasmine were devoted to each other without being disgusting or clingy.  They weren’t militant about being lesbians or married to each other.  They were a family, not a political statement.  They went out to eat twice a month without the kids, and Tuesday nights they had breakfast for supper.  They argued about whose turn it was to take out the trash, and whether or not the kids should be playing with Barbie dolls and guns.  The women did eventually agree that there was no correlation between a life of crime and whether or not a child put the lid back on the toothpaste, and saved their parenting battles for important things, like whose turn it was to do the dishes. They wrote cheery newsletters every Christmas about the family’s major accomplishments of the year.  And although they didn’t live happily ever after, they came pretty darn close.