A Spouse Never Forgets

Love will draw an elephant through a key-hole.” –Samuel Richardson

**********

“Em, I’m home. Time to hide all your boyfriends.”

“Oh, but they brought me flowers and everything”, came the response from the dining room.

Tyler Cohn kicked his shoes off and rolled his eyes. He found the mail by the door and thumbed through it carelessly. Not seeing anything in the stack of bills and donation requests to catch his eye, he let the stack fall from his hands, most of it landing back on the table. He shrugged at the mess, tossed his keys in the general direction of the mail, and walked towards the living room.

Tyler had not been the most attractive person in high school. His odd skin tone made him stand out in a crowd, but his unruly hair had singled him out even more. It was not until college that he discovered the real him was only a few buzzes away. Coupled with a roommate who introduced Tyler to the joy of working out, and a new version was born. Tyler found that the quick, aggressive, thrilling move of hefting weights was an adrenaline rush that he loved. His muscular physique, olive skin, and shiny dome now all complimented each other. He had lost his childhood nervousness and now approached life with what his wife could only describe as swagger.

“For the record, I saw you first”, he countered as he doffed his jacket and let it land on the living room couch. In front of him was the large gray mass. He avoided looking at it, as always, and turned into the dining room. “Where are you?”

“I’m on the other side of it”, Emily called back.

An alarmingly loud trumpeting sound blared three times from the living room. Tyler and Emily both hurried to cover their ears, and by the time the noise had stopped, Tyler was almost in the dining room.

“I swear, The Moustache is going to drive me crazy”, Tyler said as he looked to his wallet and pulled out the receipts that he had collected over the day. “He keeps telling me that his business is going to get sued. I swear, that man thinks his workers are just there to collect on disability. I respond to all his e-mails but he won’t believe that we have his risks all covered. If he gets anymore up my butt, that facial monstrosity of his is going to start tickling my stomach. I wish I could get him out of my haiiiiiiiiir.”

Tyler had looked to Emily for the first time and was shocked at what he saw.

“Hey”, Emily said with a smile as she went towards him.   With her typical elegance and grace, she made every small step look like it had been planned out for months. Her composure had been the first thing that attracted Tyler to her. However, much to his delight, he found that when she went to hug him, her perfectly straight spine curved into him. Her hips ever so slightly leaned into his waist, her shoulders softened, and her long neck listed to the left, finding his nape and taking up residence there. With her normal ballerina-like stance, Emily stood a solid two inches taller than her spouse. But when they were having their quiet moments, he ended up being a bit higher up. She didn’t really care. Many of their best talks had been shared in this position, starting with when her father died. Tyler didn’t worry about being the tallest when they went out and Emily wore high heels, and Emily didn’t worry about her poise when she was alone with Tyler.

However on this night, Tyler found the embrace a little awkward. Normally he would feel her long, wavy chestnut hair against and under his chin. This was not the case tonight.   Instead Tyler felt a soft cushion of hair, then short bristliness, then another tuft of long hair. Had her entire head fit, Tyler would have felt another shaved section. And, to his great horror, sections of the hair were dyed orange and blue.

Is this what it feels like for her to kiss me when I haven’t shaved?

The only long hairs that felt familiar were the ones attached to the tail from the gray mass as it swished and brushed against Tyler’s leg from the living room.

“I got a text from Tess and Burt.”

“Are we supposed to be having them over for dinner? I don’t have enough cooked to feed us and my greedy siblings.”

“Greedy, or filled with a hunger for victory?”

“Greedy, Tyler. Definitely greedy. You play tennis with them, but you never had to share LEGOs with those two. Susan was the worst though. Leave it to the middle child to always cause the problems.”

“Em, there are four of you”, Tyler said as he tried to decide whether he should pull away from this painful dome or if it was best to keep her hair as out of sight as possible. “That makes you a middle child too.”

“Yes, but she was the first middle child”, she replied, pulling slowly out of the embrace. “You only children don’t know what we had to go through.” She kissed him, showing more passion than usual, and went back to the spaghetti on the stove.

“Regardless, your siblings want to know if we would play tennis tonight.”

“Tonight? Tyler, it’s seven p.m.”

“Right. Still daylight out there.”

“Honey, we have dinner to finish. And eat. Then, if we change into gym clothes, play several matches—“

“Then we can still be home by ten. C’mon, it’ll be fun.” Plus, knowing those two, they’ll bring up the haircut so I don’t have to.

Now out of their embrace, Tyler had the full effect. The left quarter of Emily’s hair was shaved off, except for a tiny, bristly layer of what used to be beautiful hair. That prior hair was hinted at by the next fourth, which was neon-orange and flopped around with four inches of length. The third section was the same shaved style as the first. And to finish off the monstrosity of it all was a section of long hair, looking just as it had before, only now filled with blue streaks in abhorrent strands.  

“Tyler, I know you. When we drive to the gym, under the auspices of playing tennis with my siblings, you’ll want to lift. This, as we both know, will require a change of clothes. And you’ll want me to lift with you. Honey, I just don’t have the strength.”

“You can always go swimming while we lift. The pool should be pretty empty. Maybe you’d have it all to yourself?” Maybe your new hairstyle will act like a fin that will help you steer in the water. Like a graffiti-obsessed dolphin. Or The Rocketeer on his worst day.

“Why don’t you just come out and admit that you want to see me walking around in a bathing suit?”

“Naturally”, Tyler said as he retrieved a mammoth bag of peanuts from under the kitchen counter. He took one, broke it, and nibbled on the nut while he tossed a handful into the next room. “I will always admit to wanting to see my wife in her element. You are a sexy woman and I appreciate that about you.”

“Uh huh”, she said with a look of disbelief behind her eyes. “I should never have taken you to that first swim meet of mine in college. It set a bad trend. Speaking of which, don’t go filling up on peanuts. Dinner is almost ready.”

“You don’t want me stocked up on protein before the gym? Besides”, he said as he threw another heaping handful into the living room, “how many do you think I’ll get the chance to eat?”

“We both know I’m going to be the one to clean those shells up, one way or the other. Go easy.”

“I will if you go to the gym with us. Please?”

“Fine”, she said with a feigned sigh. “But we are getting home no later than eleven. Got that? I’m still trying to get the payroll system up and running. Also, some of us don’t get to set our own hours. Twerp.”

“What can I say”, Tyler said with a shrug as he stirred the sauce, “it is truly challenging being a highly sought-after risk assessor.”

“Emphasis on ass-essor.”

“You’ll stop making that joke one day.”

“Plates please, Monsieur. And I’ll stop making that joke when it ceases to be funny.”

“Oh, I don’t know, I think you’re already cutting it too close.”

“What?” Em pulled the noodles off the strainer and carried them to the table.

Stupid, Tyler. Stupid, stupid choice of words. “Nothing. I’m only trying to defend myself against your rapier wit. You do love to cut me to the quick.” Again?!?! What is wrong with you? Dig yourself out before you get into a close shave. Tyler had to stop from slapping himself in the face. What is wrong with you? Freak.

They sat down at the table as munching noises became audible from the living room. The two often talked about eating by candlelight, but they knew that the constant threat of methane from the gray mass made that unwise. The whole situation lacked the romance that they yearned for. One day they would seek out a solution, but their everyday lives demanded their attention.

“So are we going to talk about it or what?”

“Talk about what?” Tyler filled his mouth with a forkful of spaghetti so that he would not be expected to respond anytime soon. Unfortunately, he had made the sauce hotter than he realized and was forced to take a swig of water and add it to his already full mouth.

“The hair, you twit. You don’t like it, do you?”

Tyler made a show of chewing and swallowing, trying to think of the proper response.

“All those sitcoms from my childhood and I still don’t know how to handle this”, he half-joked.

“So you hate it”, Emily replied as she set down her fork with purpose. “That’s great. You couldn’t come out and say that?”

“Risk assessor, remember? Not risk creator.”

“Don’t do that again. I’m being serious here.”

“Look, I didn’t lie to you. I just didn’t say anything.”

“Because you don’t like it.”

“Honey, it’s three different lengths and three different colors. Maybe when we were in school, but in our 30’s? I’m amazed you think people will take a human resources person seriously like that.”

As if to accentuate the finality of his argument, a large tooting noise came from the living room.

Emily turned her nose up at the new smell but was not done talking. “That, well that is a load of crap.”

“Cute.”

“Don’t cute me, it’s true. Work didn’t factor into your thoughts. You wanted someone else to tell me it was ugly.”

“Emily, that haircut isn’t you. Why would you do that?”

“Because it isn’t me.”

Tyler leaned away from the table. “Okay, well now you’ve lost me.”

“You don’t think I see how people treat you? You’re the cool one. You’re the one that travels around putting out fires. You work in crises. You get to watch cars get smashed and houses collapse. You think I don’t noticed that my siblings, my own family, they text you more than me. And why wouldn’t they? I sit behind a desk and deal with coworkers that can’t play nice with each other or decide they want to play nice in the bedroom, and then they come to me when it’s over and, guess what, they can’t play nice. You’re exciting, I’m dependable. Why wouldn’t I want a change?”

From across the table, Tyler could see Emily’s eyes tearing up. She picked up her napkin and dabbed her eyes with it. Tyler backed his chair away from the table, stood up, and slowly made his way to the other chair. He knelt down in front of his wife and put his arms on her legs.

“Because you are perfect.”

Another tooting sound came from the living room. No no, you’re timing’s perfect. Please, keep it up.

“More crap”, Emily replied sadly.

“What I’m saying is not crap. Do you know that half of the time I’m talking to Tess and Burt, I’m bragging about you? They’re the only ones who get it. They’re the ones who love you as much as I do and can’t stop being blown away.

“You? You spend forty-plus hours a week taking care of people, making sure that they get paid. In addition to all you do for me. On top of that, you make time for your church committees. It’s all I can do to get to church each week. Yet you somehow find the patience and the energy to tend to others. That is amazing to me. Why are you trying to be more like me when I’m trying to be more like you?”

“If you’re just saying this to get yourself out of the doghouse…”

“I’m not. You have this inner peace about you. I try to find little doses, little spurts of that in me. For you, it just happens. You define grace for me. I see all these people that have lost things, all these homes that have been wrecked, and while I’m trying to comfort them my brain is screaming that I should get back home to you right that second. Learning in the field is great; being away from you is not.”

“But people still like you more”, Emily said through small sniffles.

“I don’t think that’s true. They certainly love you more. Not a Sunday goes by when someone doesn’t pull me aside and sing your accolades. Even strangers, visitors to church; they talk to you for brief moments and then they meet me and tell me how blessed I am to be with you. They like both of us, sure, but they’re in awe of you.”

“Really? ‘cause this is stuff you could be telling me.”

“And I probably should. I’m sorry.”

“While we’re at it”, Emily said as the color in her cheeks, if not her hair, returned to normal. “You could also hang up your jacket when you come home instead of lazily throwing it on the couch.”

“People have been commenting on the straw odor.”

“It would also make your wife happier”, she said with a smile.

“What if I offered to shave your head? Would that help this situation or should I leave you be?”

“You know, that was what I was tempted to do”, Emily replied. “But the hairstylist said this would be less extreme.”

“I’m sorry… what?”

“She thought I might want to ease my want into this.”

“That’s ridiculous. Shaving your head is much less traumatic. I mean, you’re already halfway there, for corn sakes.”

“I said that, but she got so worked up about it”, Emily said.

“Okay, let’s try this. Do you like it? Not me, not the hairdresser; you.”

“Maybe if they had used hair dye colors that were found in nature. But as is? Notsomuch.”

“Will you let me shave it then?”

“You think you have enough expertise? I’d need someone who was used to having their hair short.”

“I think I can manage to figure it out”, Tyler said with a grin.

“All right, let’s do it. The sooner it’s over, the sooner my hair will grow back.”

“You know, I’ve never seen you with short hair. That could be cute.”

“Well, you’re going to find out. And we’re skipping the tennis and gym tonight. Now I really am too tired. And you have to help me.”

“Yes ma’am. I’ll send them a note after we finish dinner. Then you’ll get your head all shorn.”

“Where do you think we should do it, over the sink?”

“I was actually thinking the shower”, Tyler said as his smile grew. “That way, you know, we wouldn’t make such a mess.”

“I should probably take my blouse off too. It will keep the hair from getting everywhere.”

“That is an excellent point. Less clothes, less mess. And I know how you hate messes.”

“First thing’s first”, Emily said with a look in her eye. “You have some business to take care of.”

“Oh”, Tyler said as he adopted his “come-hither” voice. “Do I?”

“Yeah”, she said plainly. “Dumbo over there. He needs to be tidied up.”

“Yes ma’am”, he said with a chuckle.

“Trust me”, Emily said as she brushed her long strand away from her right eye and winced at the blue dye. “Things will all be better after we’ve dealt with the elephant in the room.”

The Chair Not Taken

After all these years, he’s nothing to me but an empty seat.” –Spider-Man 2

**********

Audrey looked up from her plate.  She glanced at the chair at the other end of the table, knowing full well that she wouldn’t like what she saw.  Sure enough, the chair sat unattended.

Back in her high school days Audrey had been quite the stage performer.  Her roles were the envy of all in the drama department.  It didn’t matter if she was cast as the librarian in The Music Man or if she used her uncanny grasp of Shakespeare to wow the crowd with her portrayal of Juliet.  The shows that featured her as a lead were sure to sell out.  But to this day, Audrey still remembered the night when her mom had forgotten the play and worked late.  Audrey had had hundreds of lines to recite, there were dozens of other actors around her, and the spotlights shone on her with blinding ferocity the entire time.  Yet all she had seen was that one empty seat staring back at her.  It fought to command her attention throughout the show.

Audrey knew that her husband had reasons for being away, just as her mother had.  Theirs was a happy enough existence when they were around each other.  However, as with all things, there was a catch.

Darren was an excellent salesman.  He knew the ins and outs of each product he was asked about.  Unbelievably, he wouldn’t try to sell an item if he didn’t think the customer needed it.  At first this caused some strife with his bosses when they found out.  The accolades and praise-filled letters about Darren that flooded their mailboxes soon changed their mind.

Darren was sent out to all four corners of the world and returned successfully each time.   He was such an expert at having a genuine approach and being entirely likable that his employer had him visit different markets and coach the other salesman.  That meant easy times around the Bruckner house, but only in the financial sense.  Audrey tried to be supportive, but she wanted her husband in the dining room chair, not sitting in some cramped airplane seat.

Pic from WP Clip Art

She looked across to the blue chair.  Audrey had never really like the furniture piece in the first place.  It had been Darren’s call to buy it.  He thought it seemed tremendously comfy and rather unique.  Audrey could only nod along, especially to the latter part of his reasoning.  She told herself that if it made him so happy, she could live with an ugly chair.

Now she sat and mulled over how great that piece would look if only Darren were sitting in it.  Four days had passed since she had last seen her husband.  Even then, he had only been home for two days to do his laundry after an eight-day trip.

The desolate chair spoke of the history it shared with its on-again/off-again resident.  There was the nacho cheese stain on the right armrest.  The back of the chair had a thin layer of fabric that was starting to fray from the many times her husband had turned and brushed the back against the table’s edge.  Audrey wanted the chair to feel complete so that she could say the same.  The longer the chair went unused, the harder it was to sleep at night.

What if Darren doesn’t really need me?  What if he’s staying away because it’s so much easier to be on the road than be home?  Concerns refused to leave Audrey’s head.  She had heard her friends complain before about not being able to have time with their spouses, but she never considered that it was more than just a sob story.  She had never thought to listen to their laments and log them away as precautionary tales.  Now all she pondered were plausible signs that she worried she’d missed the first time around.

Suddenly, a light shone on the blue seat.  A white beam came through the living room window and lit up the chair before moving sideways along the wall and disappearing.  Audrey turned at the familiar sound.  She recognized the path that the headlights had taken and she knew the putter of that car engine.

Before she could react, the door burst open and Darren appeared in the doorway.  His normally chubby features were heightened by a grin that showed all of his teeth, even the molars with gold crowns on them.  The king of the castle hid his richly decorated pearly whites as he ran to his wife and kissed her on the head.

“Hey, guess what?”

“You’re… you’re home early”, Audrey managed to stutter.

“Yep.  The conference was cancelled.  I put forth a proposal and my bosses loved it.  Video-conferencing.”

“What?”

“Yeah, they’ll save thousands of dollars shipping me around.  I might even be able to do it from home.”

“What about your sales calls?”

“Oh, I told them I wanted to stick with our local clients.  Sort of, reinforce our commitment to those folks.  They bought it”, Darren said as he leaned over and put his head on her shoulder.  “But the truth is, I just couldn’t stay away any longer.”

Audrey beamed.  She tried to keep her excitement tucked away quietly, but knew that she was failing miserably.  “Maybe you just wanted a piece of this chocolate cake.”

“Well, that certainly is one more incentive to come home”, he said as he sat across from her.

Seeing her husband sitting at home, where he belonged, Audrey felt a peace she hadn’t known in far too long.  Without her having to say anything, Darren had made it all better.  There was hope for the happy couple once again.  The chair suited Darren well.  Audrey could almost see the seat cushion’s corners bend up in a contented smile.

Winter Precautions

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told.  Some will be fun, some will not.  Some will be great, some will be less so.  Some stories are true, some are merely possible.  This is one of them.

Winter Precautions

When you’re safe at home, you wish that you were having an adventure; when you’re having an adventure, you wish that you were safe at home.” –Thornton Wilder

“Hank McRoph knew that the odds of his surviving unscathed were slim.  There were many dangers in front of him, many trials that he needed to overcome.  Truly, the first thing that he needed to do was look the challenge in front of him square in the face and guffaw in utter braveness.

“Others had laughed when he said he could cross the arctic on bare feet.  But Hank would show the unbelieving fools.  They were the same ones that claimed he couldn’t swim the Amazon or mingle amongst koalas.  As always, Henry had proven them wrong.

“So here we find the mighty Henry, about to climb the tallest peak on the cruelest continent that this earth has to offer.  The temperatures have negative signs to go with their triple digits.  The wind blows harsh and bites all it comes into contact with.  Only the manliest of all men would even look at pictures of this unforgiving realm, let alone attempt to conquer it.”

“Henry?”

“Hank McRoph remains steadfast and undeterred.  Hank looked at the odds, tossed his head back, and laughed at the danger that was in front of him!  He laughed, I tell you!  Like a careless maverick with nary a care in the world!”

“Henry!”

Henry heard his wife’s voice and was brought to reality.  He ceased his activity, pulled his head free, and turned to his wife.  “Yes, dear?”

“Henry, what are you doing?  Why is your head in the freezer?”

“I think the better question is; what are my hands and head doing in the freezer?”  Henry made a point to wiggle his glove-covered digits as he smiled.

“Henry”, Laurel said as she rolled her eyes.

“I feel that it’s pretty obvious”, Henry answered.  “I’m preparing for ski season.”

“By putting your head in the freezer?”

“Of course.  How else am I going to be ready for the great wilderness?”

“By going outside”, Laurel replied.  “You get ready for ski season by actually going skiing.  It’s still two weeks away.”

“Some of us like to take extra steps so that we’re prepared”, Henry defended.

“And the voice?”

Henry paused and then answered with a hint of hesitation in his tone.  “I was narrating.”

“Of course you were”, Laurel said with a sigh.  “Hand me that slab of beef would you?”

“Here ya go.”

“Thank you.  Now try to wrap it up somewhat soon, would you?  I’d rather not have a husband with freezer burn.”

The Scene Change

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

The Scene Change

Compromise, if not the spice of life, is its solidity. It is what makes nations great and marriages happy.” -Phyllis McGinley

“Do we really need to have this fight now?”

“Well if we don’t talk now, then when?  You’re going to crash and I have to get up for work long before you get up.”

“Okay, but I’m tired, you’re tired; can’t we just go to bed?”  Denise had gone through this conversation with Joel before.  She could tell that if they picked up the discussion tonight it would probably turn into a squabble.

“Never let the sun set on an argument”, Joel quoted.

“All right”, Denise said as she tried to adopt a cooperative attitude.  She kicked off her shoes and walked towards a specific chair in the kitchen.  Instead of immediately sitting down, she waited.  Over the years Denise and Joel had gone through their share of “discussions”.  They thought it was a good idea to start their talks sitting close to each other so they could remember that they both wanted a happy ending for the both of them.

Per their custom, Joel sat down on the chair and put his hand on the small of Denise’s back, which she took as her cue to sit on his lap in a more or less sideways position.  She laid her head on his shoulder and he leaned his head on hers.  Denise breathed in the familiar smell of her husband and realized that she was probably getting her stage makeup on him.  Joel was used to waking up with brown smudges on his face and clothing by now.

Denise was happy like this.  She wanted to simply rest in her husband’s arms and drift off to sleep.  If there was anything that Denise appreciated about Joel, it was how comfortable she made him feel.  The same man who had a hard time sharing her excitement was also the one who took deep and slow inhalations.  Joel was almost always calm, even when he was upset with Denise.

Knowing that Joel was letting her rest and recuperate, Denise lifted her head.  She looked at her husband’s face and saw the light creases that had recently increased around the edges of his eyes.  They matched the prematurely gray eyebrows that he had acquired in the last few years rather nicely.  Denise had to admit that she had plucked a few hairs herself this year.  There were still people that commented on how she looked like she was in her early twenties and not her thirties, but those remarks were coming less and less frequently.  She was still young enough to have her pick of roles, so that contented her for now.  Also Joel was constantly telling her how beautiful she was; inside and out.  The world appreciated her beauty, her friends liked her for her spirit, but it was Joel who loved every part of her, body and soul.

“Hi”, she said with a quiet smile as she leaned in and kissed Joel.  It was a slow kiss, and a light one, but their method of kissing was better than any that she shared on stage.

“Hey”, Joel replied soothingly.

“Do you know how much I love you?”

“I think so”, Joel said as the creases near his eyes deepened with happiness.  “And I hope you know how incredible I think you are.”

“I do”, she said as she put her hand on his chest.

“Good”, Joel said as he let his hand trace the line of her chin.

“But?”

“But”, Joel replied.  His voice changed from reassuring to serious. He didn’t change his affectionate demeanor, though he was clearly ready to get down to business.

“What’s going on?”

“I miss you”, he said.

“I miss you too”, she replied.  “But you know how musicals are.  There’re the lines, the choreography, and I’ve told you how hard the singing is.  And honey, I’m the supporting female lead.  I need to be at my best.”

“I know all of that”, Joel said.  “I still would like to see you once in a while.”

“I was home all Monday”, Denise offered.

“I had to work”, Joel countered.  “And when I came home at six you were already fast asleep.”

“I was tired.  Do you know how exhausting it is to be on sixteen hours a day, six days a week?”

“Denise”, he said with a pause that meant he was considering how best to present his case.  “I’m not upset at you for being dedicated.  I appreciate how much work it takes to be as good as you are, even with all your talent.  I also want you around the house.  That’s all I’m saying.”

“What do you want me to do, quit?”  Denise was done sitting down and behaving calmly.  “This is my career.  I have an entire cast depending on me.  Do you think the rest of them don’t want to clock off at six and go home to their families?”

“I don’t care about them.  I only care about you.”  Denise didn’t know how to react to that, so she brought in their go-to source of discord.

“Is this about the bikini again?”

Joel blinked.  Then he blinked again.  In his understated way of expressing himself, it was as if the man were screaming.  “We’re going to back to that?  I thought we agreed to let it stay in the past.”

“Well, the past informs the present”, Denise replied.  She was already regretting bringing up that play.  Joel had been a good sport for their entire dating relationship and the first two years of their marriage.  However one single play almost sent him packing.

Denise was a very attractive woman and Joel’s friends had no qualms about reminding him of that fact.  “If you want to sleep well at night, don’t have an attractive wife”, his friends would joke.  Joel often felt other men checking out Denise when they were out in public, but the gym was the worst.  Denise was friendly and she had a matching set of long legs and a nice chest.  Many men found that to be grounds for familiarity.  Joel had tried his best to let it roll of the shoulders, but then that one play had come along and pushed him too far.

The play itself wasn’t the problem; it was the on-stage scene change.  Denise was a debutante at a luxury getaway.  She was playing a woman who was talking with her best friend about how much fun they were having and how she never wanted to sleep again.  Then she proceeded to change, with very strategic scenery blocking her, from a sexy evening gown to a barely-there bikini.  Joel had gone to opening night, as he always did.  Denise had told him about the on-stage display and he thought he understood what it entailed.  What he hadn’t considered before he had sat in his theatre seat was the commotion all the men around him would make.  To this day, that was the only time Denise had ever seen Joel truly yell.  She had promised to try to avoid roles that might make him feel disrespected.  If she were to tell the whole truth, her age meant that Denise was offered those roles less often each year.

“That play is a sore spot for me”, Joel replied after a long pause.  “It probably always will be.  But that’s not what’s upsetting me.   I’m only stating how much I would like to see you and how I hope that we can make time for each other soon.”

“Okay”, Denise said as she tried to regain her calm.  “But what about the pre-party?”

“The what?”  Joel was caught off guard.

“Right after I was cast, there was that big gathering.  Remember, I told you how the appetizers were stale and Jeremy balanced that plate on his nose like a seal?”

“I guess.”

“That was the pre-party.  I wanted to show you off to my friends and my new cast mates.  Instead, you went on a fishing trip with your pals.”

“Oh”, Joel said as he hung his head an almost imperceptible amount.  “That party.”  The quiet in the air remained.  Joel finally stood up and walked to the other side of the kitchen.  “You know those things really aren’t for me.”

“I know”, Denise said.  “That’s why I don’t ask you to come very often.  I don’t even go that much anymore.  When I do go, though, I would like you there with me.  I like having you with me.  It’s important to me.  So I feel upset that you’re saying I should make time for you when you’d rather spend three days outside than with me.”

Denise could see the Joel’s jaw clench and the few muscles that Joel had in his arms tense as he pulled at the countertop.  Her husband was going into defense-mode.  Denise had learned long ago that all she could do was wait this phase out.  Anything she might try to do to diffuse his anger would only bring it out faster.

A minute passed without speaking.  Then two.  Denise was beginning to become uncomfortable with the silence.  She wanted Joel to say something, but he didn’t like to be rushed.  He was clearly formulating thoughts, processing his reasoning.  Then he looked up at her.  He walked across the room and stood in front of Denise.

“You’re right”, he admitted.  “That was somewhat unfair, and I apologize.  I do miss you, though.”

Denise took Joel’s left hand between both of hers and rubbed her thumb against his wedding ring like a worry-stone.

“I miss you two.  And I’m sorry for bringing up that play again.  We need to make more time for each other, obviously.  Can you wait a month or two?  I mean, we can get a day here or there to ourselves, but things will quiet down after this show.  You know they will.”

“You still have Mondays off, right?  I think I’ll take some off those off from work and be here with you.”

“I’d like that”, she said as her smile reappeared.  “We need to come to an agreement about our scheduling, though.  Why don’t you spend your weekends outdoors when I’m having my busy show weekends?”
“That’s probably a sound idea”, Joel agreed.

“More than that, let’s make it a rule”, Denise challenged.  “No leaving town without me.  Be outdoors when I’m busy.  But when we can both be free, we should be with each other.  It’s too easy to grow apart if we’re not a priority in the other’s schedule.”

“True”, Joel said.

“’True’ as in, you agree?  Or ‘True’ as in, let me think about it?  I’m really hoping it’s the first one”, Denise said.

“The first one”, Joel said with a grin.  He took a step forward and closed the small gap that had been between the two of them.  “You are always my first priority.  I don’t care if you’re a star or not, so long as I get to be around you.”

“Well thank you”, she said as she hugged him and put her head on his shoulder.  She pulled away just enough to look Joel in the eyes.  “Now can we be around each other in bed?  I’m freakin’ exhausted.”

Parallel Loves

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

Parallel Loves

“The holes in our soul may never heal, but we would not have souls in the first place if we did not love.” –Geoff Johns

Paul looked at the park and couldn’t believe how similar things were.  There were differences, to be sure, but there were also more things that he recognized than he would have thought possible.  The swing sets were different and the logos on the baseball field’s walls were not what he thought they should be.  Still, their tree was exactly as he had left it back home.  The same branch jutted out at the same quirky angle with the strength to hold two people securely.  If there were this many similarities visible already, then surely there would be a Lynn who was like the one he had lost back home.

Rain slowly started to fall from the sky.  It wasn’t an oppressive, torrential rain; more of a light sprinkling.  Paul ignored the few drops that spattered about his head and he walked to where he thought there was a phone booth.  He couldn’t remember the last time that he had used a payphone, but now it seemed to hold the answers that he was looking for.  Sure enough, right by the fire hydrant that was red and should have been white, Paul found the phone and its directory.

With a slow precision that betrayed a degree of hesitance, Paul let the pages turn quietly in his hands.  The J’s passed by, then the L’s.  He soon came to the M’s.  He turned the pages one by one, hoping that the entry he was looking for would be there.  Finally, he found the entry right where it should be.  Paul and Lynn Monroe resided at an address not more than a mile away.

As he walked to the home, the memory of house shopping came into his brain.  Lynn had been the excited one while Paul just wanted to find a darn house.  He would be happy in any home, so long as Lynn liked it.  He would content himself with whatever choice she made, but Lynn had always been particular.  “Don’t you want to find the perfect home for us to live a life in?”  That was the mantra which she kept repeating to Paul.  Each and every time, Paul would respond, “I already found the perfect wife; the home is only a detail.”  She liked that response, but her determination was never softened by it.

In the end, she had found two houses that she liked.  In  Paul’s version, Lynn had settled for the one with the bigger fireplace because she had wanted to spend winters together, huddled around reading stories to each other and one day their kids.  Apparently this world’s Lynn had opted for the home that was closer to the park so that they could go for walks and take their kids out to fly kites and chase each other in circles.  If they were going to live near a park, Paul knew that it had to be this park.

There were other parks in the city, many of them nicer and most all of them were bigger.  However this park had their tree.  The big tree with the odd tree branch had been a touchstone for the couple.  It was on their first date that they had gone for a walk and ended up in that park.  It had been that tree branch that he watched her ascend with childlike enthusiasm.  They both had made comments about wanting to climb the tree, but Lynn in her skirt and blouse had made note of the impracticality of her scrambling up.  Somehow Paul knew that she really wanted to climb the tree, but didn’t feel like she should.  He cajoled and harangued her until she had caved.  He had helped her up, putting his hands underneath her foot and giving her a boost.  Then he had jumped for the branch and pulled himself up beside her.  That became their tree.

They didn’t go by the tree on every date, but it was certainly a place of interest for them.  If nothing else, the little hollow spot where the branch met the trunk would always be remembered fondly for the way it had held her engagement ring.  Paul had been a bit nervous not only because he wasn’t absolutely positive that Lynn would say yes, but also because he was afraid some kid or a squirrel would come across the ring and carry it away.  Yet, after the tradition of helping Lynn up had been completed, he brushed the leaves and twigs aside and the ring was still there.   Paul hadn’t been able to kneel on the narrow tree branch, but he managed to ask the question without tripping over his words.  Lynn had cried and lunged to hug him, which had almost sent the two of them falling out of the tree.  If the tree hadn’t been in that park, Paul would have seen it as a sign to go home.  Instead, he was encouraged.  Seeing that landmark there in all its perfection helped Paul to believe that it was all going to work out.

 Suddenly a thought entered into Paul’s mind.  He hated to make a detour, but he knew that it was the wisest course to take.  Walking two miles out of the way, Paul was relieved to find that the drugstore was right where it should have been.  Commerce was not one to be swayed by such trivial things as parallel earths.  He walked in and found a pair of cheap binoculars.  The cashier gave him an odd look when he tried to pay with cash.  Rather than explain that his payment was indeed valid, he offered his credit card which the man with the apron took and swiped.  Paul left as rapidly as he could, leaving his receipt and plastic bag behind.

Paul headed back towards his, or rather “their” home.  He felt like a creep holding a pair of binoculars in his hand as he came closer to the residence.  He had to keep telling himself that spying on Paul & Lynn was like looking in the mirror.  It wasn’t perverted, it was just curiosity.  The Lynn he knew always appreciated how intently he had looked at her.  Over the years, he had found more and more things on her face to be fascinated with.  Before she got sick, Paul had known there was something wrong.  Her hair had gotten thinner and her complexion had gone paler.  Paul guessed at the illness before Lynn had even gone to the doctor.

Shaking himself from his grief-filled past, Paul found himself standing in front of the home that the two of them had almost bought.  There was that pink flamingo that Lynn thought was so wonderfully gaudy planted in the front yard.  Even from his safe distance away, Paul recognized the couch that sat happily in the living room with its picture window.

Paul found a tree stump to sit on behind a group of bushes and sat down.  He put the binoculars to his face, feeling like he stood out more than he liked.  The park was empty, and his only goal was to get a quick look at this version of the two of them, so he put his thumb to the focus wheel.  That was when she appeared.

Walking into the living room, a bowl of popcorn in her hand, Lynn came into view.  There was no sign of sickness about her.  Paul felt himself gasp when he saw how young she looked.  He had forgotten how youthful she had once been.  Her complexion was tan like it used to be each summer when they would spend every weekend hiking.  Her hair was its full self, no bare or bald patches like he remembered.  Paul looked at this version of Lynn and felt an enormous lump develop in his throat.

She behaved much like he remembered.  She still sat cross legged on the couch, insisting that her bare feet were happier on a cushion than on the floor.  She still shoveled massive amounts of popcorn into her face in a comical display of messiness.  And she still called Sir Sheds-Too-Much to her and placed him on the back of the couch.  Paul put down the binoculars to wipe his eyes.  When he brought them back up, he got the first good look at himself, or rather at this version of himself.

Paul walked into the room carrying a stack of DVDs.  Paul didn’t have to read lips to realize that they were having their typical discussion.  Sometimes it took half an hour for the two to decide what they were in the mood for.  The whole ordeal seemed silly for the number of times that one of them dozed off during the movie, but it was simply how they worked.

This Paul clearly had fewer problems on his plate.  He looked healthier and was only starting to develop the first few wrinkles that the onlooker-Paul had developed years ago.  There were no gray hairs in his temples.  His laugh, the absence of slumped shoulders; the Paul that lived here was a man with no apparent worries.

Paul felt himself glaring through the binoculars.  He wanted to hate this world’s Paul.  The happy-go-lucky Paul didn’t have to suffer through what Paul had.  This younger looking Paul hadn’t spent months living in hospital rooms and years watching his wife deteriorate.  This Paul who had a view of the park didn’t have to call up Lynn’s sister and ask her to pick out his wife’s coffin because he just couldn’t bring himself to do it.  This Paul was living out the happiness that should be his.

Without even realizing it, Paul was standing up and walking towards the house.  His eyes never left the living room and the two people inside.  He wanted to scream to this other Paul that he wasn’t the one who should be happy.  Paul had already suffered.  Why should that Paul get everything when he had nothing?

Out of nowhere, it happened.  There had been no leading up to it, no grand gesture.  The two had simply smiled at each other, put the popcorn aside and sat close to one another.  The Paul in the house had leaned in, put his hand on Lynn’s thigh, and happily kissed her.  That brought Paul back to his senses and he stopped in his tracks.  He remembered why he had come here and he dropped the binoculars.

As he fished for the remote control, Paul gave the blissful couple one last look.  He captured the moment in his memory and turned away.  He had stopped himself from banging on the door and telling Paul just how lucky he was.  The truth was, Paul could see it on the man’s face.  This version of himself, this man that hadn’t tried to fight his wife’s illness and lost; he knew what he had.  Paul could tell by the way they held each other and they looked at the other that they knew how blessed they really were.

The rain had developed into a full-on downpour.  Paul fumbled with the wet remote in his hand and walked back to the wide open field in the park.  All he had wanted was to see that some version of him was happy.  He wanted to know that some parallel version of Paul and Lynn had gotten the cheery life that he had been denied.  He pressed a button which activated the portal back to his earth.  Paul went home knowing that for all the agony and pain he had gone through, there was another version of himself where his dreams had come true.  Witnessing that, finding out that things worked out even if it wasn’t for him, was enough for Paul.

Old Fashioned Romantics

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

Old Fashioned Romantics

Be careless in your dress if you must, but keep a tidy soul.” –Mark Twain

From the very beginning it seemed that Charles and Caroline would make the perfect couple.  They met at Lord Dirkshirke’s annual ball.  Lady Dirkshire, who always considered herself the ideal matchmaker, despite what others said when she was not about, had taken it upon herself to make introductions.

Charles was a businessman whose success was already being murmured across the countryside.  He had stakes in several townships and owned the third largest home in the town.  His was a life that of guaranteed servitude, success, and security.

Caroline’s reputation was entirely acceptable, if not quite less extraordinary than Charles’.  Her father was the lead exporter of cattle, though he of course was never required to actually handle any of the filthy animals himself.  He was in the process of acquiring areas of land, but was finding few members of the community will to part with their lots.  However the people took notice of his efforts and applauded him.  Whoever was charmed by Caroline was sure to be allowed a sizeable dowry, especially with her being the only daughter amongst her family.

So it was that Caroline and Charles met.  Caroline was immediately taken with his friendly demeanor; approachable and charming, but never overstepping his bounds.  Secretly, she was also quite taken by his very handsome feature, especially his facial hair that looked handsome as it stopped right before his chin.  Charles found Caroline and her raven hair to be fascinating.  She had been renowned as a terrific entertainer, both singing and playing the piano to the appreciation of each party she attended.  However no one had mentioned her wit to Charles before.  She was clever to the point of being brash.  For any topic that Charles hit upon as they danced about the room, Caroline paused for only a moment before returning with some statement in reply.  Her quips were well thought-out and at the same time, heart-felt.  Charles did his utmost to occupy all of his time with Caroline that night.

Thus the courtship began.  Two days later Charles had been called away on business.  But he had sent a letter of intent to Caroline.  He apologized for not making such a declaration in person, but he wanted it known that he fervently desired Caroline’s company and would be honored if she would accept his admiration and return it in kind.  Caroline felt the blood rush to her cheeks.  She asked the servant to wait while she made a reply.  As fast as her quill would allow, Caroline wrote that she held Charles in only the highest esteem and should be delighted to further make his acquaintance.  She felt sure that her parents would be entirely agreeable to his paying a visit when it was convenient to him.

Their walks became frequent and lengthy.  Charles returned from his work and set himself to the task of learning more about Caroline.  They walked all the paths of Caroline’s estate and beyond.  Charles was kind enough to loan his jacket when the rain began to pour down.  He apologized that he could do nothing about her feet, but Caroline only laughed at the mud that that splashed up to meet her.  Even with the turn in weather, the two were reluctant to end their stroll.  It was only the threat of the rapidly approaching night that caused the two to cease their adventure.

When Charles returned Caroline to her doorstep, he soon asked permission to call on her again.  As he removed his jacket from Caroline’s shoulders he saw her smile invitingly as she encouraged him to visit often.  He did just that, returning not five days later.  Within weeks, it seemed a guarantee that there would be a wedding coming to the countryside; though the townsfolk knew not when.  In the meantime, there were still social functions to attend.  To the approval of all, Caroline soon found herself linking arms with Charles at each of these.  If these engagements had all been held in a central location, the couple would never have found themselves in the midst of a scandal.  Though, it seems that every romance has a degree of gossip that it must undergo and Charles and Caroline’s relationship was no different.

ImageBlame for the ordeal that followed might be laid at the feet of Duke Kelling.  He had retired from the public life and spent many months in his quiet country home.  However his position and the boredom of his wife required him to host a gala once a year.  The marble dance floor, the high chandeliers; all had been put into their home with the assumption that glorious gatherings were to occur in this residence.  Duke Kelling did not seek out extravagant parties himself, but it kept his wife content and assured his place in the community, so he acquiesced.  This year, Charles and Caroline decided to attend as all assumed they would.  However the estate was located in the middle of their two homes.  Caroline’s family was invited, and Charles would be coming from working, so they agreed to meet at The Duke’s.

Caroline’s driver was a reckless sort.  He always got the family to their destination, but it was not uncommon to find that he had overindulged in spirits.  When Caroline went to visit the fowl of her home, she often found Stuart sleeping in the barn.  He seemed to have no regard for his reputation and only went about his tasks after being roused from his slumber.  Caroline’s father had kept him on despite his wife’s disapproval of the lout.  Caroline’s father maintained that Stuart’s family had been with his home for years and he would not chop down an entire family tree only to spite one decaying branch.  He continued to hope that Stuart would wake up to the state he was putting himself in and better his manners and attitude.

Stuart drove the carriage with the three family members bouncing about on the dirt road.  Normally, even with Stuart’s haphazard skills at controlling the horses, the ride was pleasant enough.  The week’s weather had been unseasonably wet, and the roads were much the worse for the five days of rain that had beaten upon them.  Driving the horses too fast around a sharp turn in the road, Stuart soon lost control.  Caroline and her parents screamed as they felt their carriage turn over and they were tossed about inside.  They found themselves in a ditch on the side of the road.  The four of them all had scratches and bruises.  Caroline went to check on the horses only to step in the byproduct of one animal’s terror.  She was glad that her two favorite horses were not injured, but she knew that the putrid scent on her shoes, along with her now muddy and torn dress; would render her quite inappropriate for the formal affair.

A discussion of returning home was quickly been dismissed.  The rear axle of the carriage had snapped in half and the Duke’s manor was considerably closer than their own home.  Stuart stayed with the horses while the family trudged their way the last two miles to the Duke’s home.  They were met with horror and shock at the front door.  Lady Kelling quickly pulled the ladies aside while the Duke took care of Caroline’s father.  Caroline’s mother was easy enough to fit with new attire.  She and Lady Kelling were of roughly the same size, so with some tidying up, a quick wash, and a borrowed gown, Caroline’s mother was ready to make merry once again.  Caroline, however, was not suited for such an inconspicuous return.

Caroline’s physique tended more towards her father than her mother.  Consequently, she was a good deal taller than her mother and Lady Kelling.  The woman did her best to furnish Caroline with a suitable dress, but she was simply too short to be of any help.  Caroline found a dress that she thought would do, cleaned her shoes as best as she could, and attired herself with what she hoped would be suitable clothes.  She hoped Charles would not be too upset by her appearance.

As soon as she stepped into the ballroom, the room took notice.  Caroline could feel attention being focused on her, but not due to her musical talents or her conversational skills.  The hushed tones all turned audibly towards the same conversation topic; Caroline’s ankles.  When she had rushed to put her shoes back on, she had forgotten to find some sort of legging or stocking to cover her feet.  With the dress being far too high to cover the last six inches of her legs, Caroline’s ankles were scandalously naked for all the room to see.  The onlookers gasped and chittered to each other.  “How could Caroline think this sort of fashion was allowable?”

Caroline was mortified.  She had not meant to cause a scene and debated her options.  Her own dress was quite suitable in length, but was currently quite hideous in every other way.  It might recover some of its former grace when cleaned.  However that would take some time.  She considered searching out Lady Kelling for some assistance, but could not find her in the crowd.  Caroline started to believe that it was too late.  The damage to her reputation had already been done.

At the main entry, a servant announced Charles’ arrival.  He shook a few hands with agreeable companions, took in the room, and smiled when he saw Caroline.  Excusing himself, Charles made a straight line to the one he adored.  Charles approached, placed a kiss upon her hand, and bowed to her.  Caroline was too embarrassed by her attired to reply.  Charles looked at the redness on her face and knew something was wrong.  He looked to his intended and noticed what she was wearing.  Then the voices around him began to register in his mind.  Caroline felt tears welling up in her eyes as she saw a dark scowl take over Charles’ face.  She began to fear that she had lost his favor due to her appearance.

The Earl of Pudd came up to Charles and launched into one of his famously obnoxious observations.  “I see, Charles; that you are as mortified by this heinous situation as I am.”  The Earl shook his head in disapproval and the chins on his neck all swayed back and forth to punctuate his gesture.

“Indeed I am”, Charles replied.

“Surely you think this situation should be remedied?”

“Are you asking me to take the matter into my own hands?”

“If you do not, then I certainly will.  Why, a woman looking like this…”

“Very well then”, Charles replied.  He turned, addressing not only the Earl but all in the room.  “I find no fault with the woman’s attire.”  The attendees gasped.  “I am quite positive that I find her the most wonderful lady in this entire room.  Should certain parts of her be visible, then I see no cause for concern.  For this woman is a creature of magnificent grace.  These are the legs that allow her to move and float about with a loveliness and polish that have no equal.  I believe they should be complimented, not scorned.  I happen to be quite in love with this woman’s ankles”, Charles paused, and turned back to Caroline smiling, “along with everything else that makes this beauty who she is.”

The crowd continued to chatter, but Charles paid them no heed.  Whether or not his speech was scandalous, possibly even lewd; he was still one of the wealthiest men in the town.  None wished to incur his wrath on the matter, certainly not when there were so many to bear witness.  Charles led Caroline underneath the giant chandelier and held her hands.  She smiled at him, he did the same.  The gossiping and whispering were soon drowned out by the orchestra.  The musicians played a waltz which the happy couple serenely danced to.

The Send Off

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

The Send Off

Glancing towards the two bundles by the door, Maggie felt a wave of sadness fight for her attention.  She knew only too well what it would mean when the entryway would be clear of the rucksack and the smaller bag.  Her eyes started to moisten.  She stopped, stood a little taller, and took a deep breath.  Her determination renewed, she walked back to the living room.

There sat Shamus, his eyes looking out over the green expanse that was normally a calming sight.  He turned his attention to his wife and gave a weary smile of appreciation and affection.  Maggie had aged a bit with the birthing of four children.  The daily chores of cooking, cleaning, and chasing around the excitable youngsters had given her little lines in her eyes and more than a few white hairs that gathered into a braided ponytail.  To Shamus though, she was a stunning figure.  When he had met her in Belfast, she had been a teenager; her spirit and dancing feet as lively as her green eyes and red hair.  He even appreciated that she was a good two inches taller than her.  The fire still remained in her eyes.  He had seen it when Patrick had gotten lost for half a day and when he and the children had surprised her with a special birthday meal last year.  There was no lack of affection for his wife.

Maggie felt the same way.  She wished she was a few pounds lighter.  She thought it odd that she should outweigh her husband by a good thirty pounds, but there were a seemingly infinite number of things that took greater precedence.  Looking at Shamus, his shoulders still ready to bear the upcoming challenge, she realized just how much she was going to miss him.  He was always so calm.  When the two of them met she spent half the night wondering if he was having a good time.  Here was this man, yes he was a little on the short side, but he had this strength about him.  His arms had been strengthened through countless hours working in the fields.  It was Maggie’s experience that men who looked like him were brusque and only too happy to talk about themselves.  Shamus was different.  He had spent their first evening together asking questions about her; he took in every new piece of information.  His calm demeanor had caused a bit of concern on her part.  She had wondered if he was having a good time.  That worry had been laid to rest when they started dancing.  His face betrayed his stoic nature.  He hadn’t shown it, but internally he had been having the time of his life.

Shamus’ internal processing of thoughts and emotion were working in high gear.  Maggie was rather sure by the way he was sitting and the quiet way he stood as she walked closer that he was trying to find another solution to not only their problem, but the country’s.  As she slowly stepped into his arms and the two hugged in front of the window, they leaned their heads’ against the others’ and looked out at the world. 

There was nothing “great” about the famine except for the catastrophic effect it had had on everyone.  Maggie’s father, a rich man, had not been wealthy enough to fight off the fever that had killed him.  Their crops had survived the disease better than most, but that still left them with only a third of their crop to work.  They had managed to grow enough food to feed themselves and many of their neighbors.  The family was thankful for that because it meant that they could avoid the groups in the city.  Maggie hadn’t quite subscribed to his explanation, but Shamus had felt that large crowds of sick people in condensed areas would do them in faster than hunger would.  Still, they both knew that no one was safe in this time of tragedy.  Her father’s death had certainly shown them that.

They had tried their best to come up with a solution.  Their most desperate plan was the one that seemed to hold the greatest hope for them.  Shamus had a distant cousin working on the docks of Philadelphia and he had promised he could find work for him.  The pay wasn’t enough to support a family, but it was a start.  Maggie would stay and help her mother who hadn’t been the same since the death of Maggie’s father.  This would give her time to try and sell what was left of their farm and keep the children out of too much mischief.  Shamus would find a job, start saving, and work on finding them a place to live.  They agreed it was their best opportunity.  It also meant spending years apart.

Maggie watched the sun setting over the field and wondered how her husband could stand to leave this place that they loved so much.  She couldn’t imagine living anywhere was, but that was what they were planning to do.  She wondered if there would be vast stretches of green there.  She hoped there would be.  To her, life without grass growing a rustling in the wind and leaving its hue on her clothes and feet was a dreary existence.  She craved the outdoors.  How was she to survive in the city?  Then again, if she stayed where she was her family might not survive at all.  The family was healthy enough for the time being, but her children were still young.  Her protective side was much stronger than her loyalty to her homeland.

ImageThe last rays of sun were dimming to black as Maggie unconsciously started singing a tune she had heard.  It had made its way over from England, one of the few good things to come from that country as far as Maggie and Shamus were concerned.  She had taken an instant liking to Amazing Grace and had been singing it quite often.  She quietly sang her hymn, praying that the small children in the next two rooms would stay asleep. 

As she finished, she felt Shamus hug her tighter.

“Sing that song for me, will you?”  He looked to Maggie with a pleading that was unspoken, but clear as day on his face.

“Everyday”, she softly replied.

***

(If you’ve never heard the Celtic Woman perform, Send Me a Song, I suggest you check it out.  I think it makes a better song than a video, but decide for yourself.  Regardless, this story owes a pretty large debt to it.  Also, thanks to PDPhoto.org for the picture.)

Blind Love

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told.  Some will be fun, some will not.  Some will be great, some will be less so.  Some stories are true, some are merely possible.  This is one of them.

Blind Love

Ted wanted to punch the face in front of him.  For months this face had been promising him things, smiling, and then either being caught in a lie or changing his mind.  Politics, Ted thought as he angrily crumpled up the front page and threw it on the ground.  In front of him was a bowl of oatmeal that seemed determined to frustrate him.  He hadn’t added enough water to his instant breakfast and so a congealed pile of flavored goo sat on the table.  He could have attempted adding more from the faucet.  Past experience, though, had taught him that doing so would only turn this paste-like substance into a watery marsh.  Ted grumbled and attacked the oatmeal by jabbing his spoon into it.

This day was not going to go well for Ted.  He had decided that already.  Bumping his noggin on the showerhead seemed to have been the catalyst.  Slipping with his razor while he was trimming his moustache had certainly not contributed to his morning.  Ted had been left with to follicle options; trim the other side to look like some character from the nineteen-twenties, or just shave the whole thing off.  Ted rubbed his finger against his naked upper lip and dreaded his day at work.  If there was one thing Ted loathed at work, it was being evaluated.

Things would be different if Ted’s bosses had only appreciated him and all that he did.  He fixed his boss’s errors before big presentations.  That never stopped his superior from taking full credit.  He stayed after hours to finish up unreasonable piles of work.  His boss told him that he needed to work faster.  On a normal day, Ted liked his job well enough.  He found the task of getting rows and cells of numbers all lined up and inputted to be rather calming.  Unfortunately his boss was anything but calming and would often run through the office with whatever crisis he had created.  Then there were the “revolutionary new ways of doing things” that he was so thrilled to share with his underlings.  Ted shook his head at all of these.  How many different ways are there to type numbers into columns?  It is what it is, let it be.  This man, who was only paying dues until he got promoted to some other higher-up job, was the one who would be picking Ted apart and deciding how little of a raise Ted would get.  The oatmeal bore the brunt of Ted’s frustration.

At that moment, Ted felt a pair of arms slip around his neck.  If he were anywhere else, he would have responded with panic and terror.  However this was a morning ritual.  He glanced at the long fingers that slid past his neck, down his chest, and then wrapped around him.  Locks of hair; light brown, slightly wavy, and still tangled from sleep, brushed softly against his chin.  A familiar voice spoke quietly in his ear.

“So I said to him, ‘That’s not my tire, that’s my mother-in-law!’”

Ted said nothing to his wife.  He only sat forward in his chair and avoided their routine of making up punch lines to non-existent jokes.  Taylor released him from her grip and poured herself a cup from what remained in the coffee cup.  She sat across from her husband and sipped quietly.  Taylor was the morning person, Ted was not.  She knew by now that some mornings he needed to be a grump.

“So… really looking forward to that evaluation, huh?”

The look Ted gave her cooled the temperature of the oatmeal considerably.

“Got it.  Well, just think.  After this one is all said and done it will be another three hundred and sixty-four days until you have to hold your hat out to ‘the man’.”  Taylor took her hands from the blue porcelain coffee cup and put them together in a bowl.  “Please suh”, she said in a bad English accent, “may I ‘ave some mor’?”

Ted felt a smile break out on the corners of his mouth, but he quickly subdued it.  He was irked.  He was going to stay irked.  He would not let his wife roust him from his irked state.

“Nothing, huh?”  Taylor went back to sipping her coffee.  Her voice had quieted down as she realized her husband was in no mood for jokes.

“I don’t think you understand how good you have it”, Ted commented.  “Your boss can’t really assign you work to take home.”

“True”, she replied as she put the cup down and stirred her black coffee.

“And how often do you have to work mornings?  I know, I know, you have the breakfast event here or there.  Still, there are plenty of days when being a caterer is synonymous with sleeping in.”

“Yes, because I work my fair share of nights.”

“I know”, Ted said with a hint of resignation in his voice.  “You have to work around people, but you don’t have to keep coming back to the same dolt asking you for progress reports.”

“Nope”, she answered.  “I just have a different guy every day asking me what a nice gal like me is doing serving a sad salmon like that.”  Taylor shrugged.  “We all have the parts of work that we don’t like, honey.”

“I just, aah; I don’t feel appreciated.  All the work I do and he thinks I’m this lazy slob.  I work, I earn my paycheck.  I keep waiting for morons like him to go away.  And they do.  They get promoted and they hire another moron just like them to take their place.”

Taylor sat unmoving.  To any other person her lack of gestures would have been a sign that she had no opinion on the matter.  To Ted, the body language spoke volumes.

“What?”

“You know what I think”, she said as she lifted the cup as if to punctuate her statement.

“You think that I should quit.”

“I think that if you’re going to devote forty hours a week to something it should be fulfilling.”

“The work is fine.  The people; you know.”

“Really?  All the people?  The ones’ we’ve had over here seem quite pleasant.  How many times have we gone out with Barry and Lois?”

“Okay, so it’s just the boss.”

“And you can’t see past him?  You can’t get over him and focus on the rest?”

“I could if he would realize how much work I do.  He doesn’t appreciate me.”  Ted was thinking he should go back to sulking in quiet.  The morning was ticking away.  He was that much closer to entering the pit of doom where his boss and his ego would enter and only one would leave victorious.  He looked across to Taylor and watched her sitting there with her fingers intertwined.

Taylor’s left finger started to rub gently over her right.  It was the smallest of movements.  Any person walking by would not have noticed.  For Ted, that one gesture started a wave of realization.

Perhaps it makes perfect sense that Taylor’s hands were what shook him from his depression; they were the reason he had worked up the courage to meet her.   Ted and his friend Mac had been walking through the mall.  Mac had bought some backpack from an outdoors store and Ted had been trying to decide whether or not he should take the plunge and buy a kayak.  On their way out of the mall, they had passed by a piano that was sitting unattended.  A little placard placed on the grand said that the pianist was on break and that he would return within half an hour.  Yet, there was a woman sitting at the piano playing the keys like Ted had never heard before.

Mac and Ted had approached, each of them for their own reasons.  Mac kept pointing at Taylor and elbowing his friend, while Ted couldn’t stop listening to the music.  Before he knew it, he found himself standing behind her and looking down as her long fingers danced and flitted over the instrument.  As she finished the song, she looked at Ted who was clearly inside her personal area.

“Help you with something?”  Taylor had a hint of annoyance in her voice, but it was not a cruel tone.

“Oh, I’m sorry”, he had muttered as he back away to a more reasonable distance.  “I couldn’t help but notice your fingers.”

“My fingers”, she said questioning him.  “I haven’t heard that one before.”

“No, I didn’t mean that.  I wasn’t trying to hit on you.  I, I mean, you have great hands.”

“Thanks”, she said starting to get up.

“How long have you been playing here in the mall?”

“What, that?  That was me having fun.  I don’t know where the musician is”, she said.

“You’re not even a professional?”  Ted couldn’t believe it.  “You do that for fun?”

“Sure.  Is there a better reason to play?”

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Sunset Stroll On The Beach by Andrew Schmidt

With that, Ted had been smitten.  It had taken a few dates and a bouquet or two of flowers, but Taylor had fallen as well.  Ted’s initial theory had proven correct; hands like those belonged to a woman with a quiet grace and a peaceful way about her.  He remembered something that he all too often forgot.

“Is that what I do to you?”  Ted pushed aside his oatmeal bowl and leaned across the table.

“Huh?”

“Do I take you for granted?  Do I forget to see how much you do for me and how amazing you are?  I probably do.  You take care of the house; you work.  Yet here you sit and listen to me wallow.”

“You’ve had your finer moments”, she said softly.  “You’re not so bad, most of the time.”

“Thank you, but c’mon.  I don’t always see you, do I?  I look right through you some mornings, don’t I?”

“It’s okay”, Taylor replied.  She slowly and unintentionally swallowed the lump in her throat.  “We’ve been married for eight years.  We take each other for granted.  We aren’t the youthful, mysterious people that we once were all twitter-pated for.”

“Yeah”, Ted replied.  “Still, at the end of the day, I don’t tell you how much I love you.”

“I still know”, she answered.  “And I love you too.”

“Nope”, Ted said as he stood up and the chair fell backwards.  “I owe you.  What if I asked you out tonight?  What would you say?  You probably get tired of this house, right?  We should go out, dress up or something.”

“Ted, you don’t have to.”

“I know I don’t have to.  Do you want to?  Please?  Let me spend some time with you?”

“You aren’t tired of seeing me every day?”

Ted stood up, walked to the other side of the table, and kneeled in front of her.  He took Taylor’s hands in his and looked her in the eye.  “No.  Not even close.”

Taylor’s eyes started to water and she pulled her hands away so she could wipe her face.  Ted had obviously clued into a sore spot with her.  It was time to make good.

“Okay.  So I’m going to go to work.  I’m not going to worry about this evaluation because it doesn’t really matter.  You do.  We do.  And when I get home we’re going to get all dressed up, go out, and eat in a fancy Indian restaurant.”

“Ted”, Taylor warned, “you hate Indian food.”

“It’s not my favorite”, Ted admitted.  “However I happen to know that it’s yours.  That’s enough.”

“Really?”

“Really”, he reassured.  “You matter; you.  Not work, not politics; you.  So I should spend time reminding you of that.  Come on, when was the last time we dressed up for no reason?  I haven’t brought you flowers in I don’t know how long.  You deserve it.”

“Can I make fun of your mother?”

“If you don’t, I will”, he said.

“Then hurry up and go to work”, she said as she got up from her chair.  “You’re a good husband, do I tell you that enough?”  Ted watched as she lightly put her fingers under his chin and let her thumbs rub across his upper lip.  “Plus, I like you without the mustache.”

Ted’s day was not going to be a great one.  He was already trying to fast forward through his office routine.  Tonight though, Ted pondered.  Tonight held the potential to be pretty amazing.

The Colorful Couple

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

The Colorful Couple

Say there’s a couple named Sven & Stella
(In case you’re confused, Sven is the fella)
Sven was a guy with a pretty loud mouth
Stella quietly grew up in the south.

She worked in an office, he was a cop,
The two met while waiting at a bus stop.
She liked the way he made random folks smile,
Sven had to admit that he liked her style.

So Sven and Stella went on their first date
Neither wanted to part when it turned late.
He kept grinning; she laughed all the night through.
They couldn’t help but have date number two.

Sven and Stella felt happy together,
No matter what the place or the weather.
Stella was a jewel amongst the rabble,
And Sven could play a mean game of Scrabble.

They didn’t feel like they should have to hide.
The two enjoyed going walking outside.
But that was when the trouble entered in,
People whispered about their mismatched skin.

They couldn’t understand why the big fuss
Or why some folks would look their way and cuss.
They were happy at the end of the night,
Even if her skin was dark and his, light.

Oh, but not everyone saw it that way.
They still hear mumbles on a random day.
People whisper that they’re causing a scene
Because they don’t share the same color gene.

Sven and Stella know some folks can be weird
They do their best to ignore those who’ve sneered.
The couple tries to be understanding
When strangers begin their reprimanding.

They know that God thinks that their match is fine
And those that disagree can get in line.
They hope one day we’ll be better than this
‘til then they get by on a hug and kiss.

 

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