#ThreeWordWednesday, 3/5/2014 (fiction)

Credible, Decrepit, Pensive.

It had been more than 30 years since I left my hometown.

Frankly, I never expected to return. My folks had died when I was still in my 20s, my sister left the state, and it was just me. There was little to call me back, even though I was still about an hour away from home.  Somehow, the adventure gene was one I hadn’t gotten.

Then a group of my friends found me on Facebook. I don’t even know why I signed up. Curiosity, I guess. I reconnected without any desire to come home, or do the reunion thing.  In the span of time, 30 years isn’t much, but somehow time had attenuated my memories and the feelings attached to them.  So I did a credible job of responding to the “remember whens” and “whatever happened tos” and kept my emotional distance.

Then, about 2 weeks ago, someone posted that the houses on the street where I grew up were about to be demolished.  Some developer thought the small town needed a big-box strip mall and they’d chosen that area for it.

So here I was; I sat in the driveway, pensive, with no interest in going further.  No one had bothered me – the houses were already empty – and the place I had called home for 22 years was decrepit. The owners who’d had it after my folks died hadn’t taken very good care of it, I thought.

You’re going to call me weird, but I’ve always thought that an abandoned house was one of the saddest things imaginable. When I was a little girl, my grandparents’ house in the country was a target for people who’d decided to dump their unwanted pets. More times than I can count, I remembered a bewildered pet sitting by the side of the road, waiting for a loved person who would never return.

These houses felt the same way to me – as though they wondered what they had done wrong, why their families had left, feeling cold and lonely as the days passed.

I started my car and put it in gear, backing down the driveway and pulling out onto the deserted highway.  On an impulse, I tooted the horn as I drove away; I remember, thanks for the memories. So long.

An afternoon with mon papa – #FridayFlash – 3/23/2012, Lisa and Philippe #4

[Author’s Note: This is a revisit to my “Cherries” universe, a follow up to this Flash piece.]

Lisa tiptoed toward the door.  Philippe looked up and smiled. “Don’t forget the milk, chérie!  Be careful driving.”

She waved her hands, and, too late, Philippe winced. “Sorry,” he mouthed.

Maman!” Her shoulders drooped.  Gaston came toddling around the corner at as full a speed as a eighteen-month-old could manage, and latched himself onto her legs.

Non, mon p’tit,” said a repentant Philippe as he scooped his son high in the air. “Maman allez.”

Non, papa.  Maman rester.”

“Don’t you love Papa?”

The little boy studied him solemnly for a moment and turned back to Lisa, arms outstretched. “Gaston allez!”

“Non, chéri.” She brushed his cheek, kissed his nose. “Have fun with Papa.” She exited as quickly as she could manage.

Gaston’s face puckered into a pout. He began sniffling, and it wasn’t long before he was crying.  Philippe futilely tried distracting his son.

Half an hour and nearly a whole box of toys later, Gaston was standing silently at the window, clutching the curtains and watching for Lisa’s car.  Philippe was stretched out on the floor trying not to fall asleep.  He propped himself on his elbows and watched the little boy compassionately.

He crawled over to the window and cuddled Gaston. “I miss Maman, too, when she goes.” His well-meant sympathy brought tears to the little one’s eyes, which ramped back up to full-fledged crying again.

Hé, p’tit. Maybe a song?”  He thought for a minute and began. “C’est la poulette grise qui pond dans l’église…” Gaston only got louder and Philippe stopped. “Ok, not a song.” He tilted his head to one side. “Although I must say I don’t think my voice is that bad.”

He rocked the little boy and thought. A book, of course! Forty-five minutes later, he had gone through Bonsoir Lune, half a dozen Golden Books and a toy catalog that had come in the mail that day. The little boy subsided into noisy sobs and Philippe felt like joining him.

“How about something to eat?” Gaston refused all offers, looking wistfully at the door where Lisa had disappeared.

Philippe walked the floor with his son, back and forth, and tried with no success to come up with a story of his own. Finally, he sat down on the couch and turned on the Habs, playing a rare afternoon game against Vancouver.  “Regardez, Gaston! Hockey!”  At that moment, Max Pacioretty finessed a shot past Schneider, who was spelling Luongo between the pipes, and the goal horn set Gaston off again.

Philippe slumped back in the sofa.  “Je me rends. I am a horrible father.” He gave Gaston a long, sad look, and the little boy quieted to hiccups.

***

Lisa sighed as she unlocked the door.  She loved her husband and adored her son, but sometimes she just had to get away for a bit.

As she closed the door behind her, Lisa froze in shock.  The room was a shambles, with toys and books scattered across the floor, the orange juice out on the counter, along with a banana, half a sandwich and a small pile of cookies.  The hockey game had given way to L’antichambre, and the sound was off.

“Philippe?” Lisa called quietly.

A small head popped up over the back of the couch. Gaston tried putting one finger to his lips and said, “Chut, Maman.” His little voice dropped to a whisper. “Papa dort.”

She came around the couch cautiously. Philippe was indeed asleep, Gaston’s favorite blanket partially covering his chest and the boy’s small pillow gently placed over his father’s face.

“Gaston aime Papa.” The little boy patted his father’s hand, crawled between Philippe and the back of the couch and carefully laid down next to him. Philippe stirred in his sleep and laid a gentle hand on his son’s head.

Lisa and Philippe #3, Three Word Wednesday, 9/28/2011

Cherish, Guarantee, Nausea – Thought I’d have some fun following up Cherries and this story

Lisa clenched her teeth tightly as the wave of nausea passed over her.  She glanced at the timer set on the bathroom sink and closed her eyes. Just five more minutes… Not that there’s any real doubt, is there?

Philippe peeked around the corner of the door, wary. Lisa’s temper had been a byword for the last week, and he didn’t want to set her off.

She smiled wanly. “It’s okay. I won’t snap your head off.”

He entered, sat down beside her on the side of the bathtub and handed her a mug of steaming hot licorice tea.

“Are you sure this will work?”

“Yes.” He gave her a sideways glance. “I guarantee it. I remember… Maman… Stephane.  It’ll help.”

She sipped slowly and he put his arm around her to pull her close.

“I love you, Philippe.”

“I know, ma belle. And I cherish you.”

The timer chimed. They both started, and then exchanged a long look.

“You look,” she said. “I can’t.”

Philippe stretched out one long arm and picked up the stick. “If there’s a line, yes?”

“Yes.”

A smile slowly spread across his face, like the sun dawning in the bathroom’s small window. He pulled her to him more tightly and kissed her on top of her head.  “So, what shall we name him?”

“Him?”

Best of Friends (9/2/2011)

My Journal, 3/1/2011

Today the weight loss contest started here at work.  I know what I weigh (and I don’t like it), but I’m going to lose.  Absolutely.  I decided I need some motivation, so I’ve hung up a picture of Jim from Facebook on my cubicle wall, along with a picture of myself as I am now.  It’s a reminder that I hope I’ll get to St. Louis by the end of the year and meet Jim face to face, but not looking like that. I expect it’ll help.  I hope so, anyway …

My Journal, 4/10/2011

Having trouble getting my eating under control. No surprise. But I’ve been working out so I know that will help. Still, every time I feel like eating something that’s really wrong, I look at the picture of Jim.  Since he owns a Gold’s Gym franchise, I know he understands the process of getting in shape and I can imagine him encouraging me not to give in to temptation. He even “liked” the status I posted the other day about having lost weight. What a great friend …

My Journal, 6/1/2011

Today was the weigh-in for the first half of the contest.  I was really disappointed to only have lost about 7 pounds.  In three months, I should have done better.  When I came back from the locker room where the weigh-in was, I was too ashamed to meet Jim’s eyes. How am I ever going to get to meet him, looking like this? He hasn’t been posting on FB either, lately.  I’ll bet he’d be so disgusted if he could see me right now …

My Journal, 7/14/2011

Here I am at the midpoint of the second half. I’ve hardly lost a thing. I can just see the sneer on Jim’s face, the contempt. “I see people all the time who are getting fit.  Why aren’t you?” I can just hear him now. Probably that blonde he friended the other day was one of them. I just know that’s his type, not someone like me. Not a frumpy, fat person like me …

My Journal, 8/31/2011

Final weigh-in. I lost a whole 15 pounds this summer.  Nothing I did was right. When I got back to my desk, I tore down the picture of him and threw it away.  I could hear him laughing at me, probably the way he laughs at me when he’s with all his hotshot gym buddies. I really thought he liked me, but he fooled me.  Well, no more.  I’ve had all I’m going to take …

St. Louis Dispatch
September 5, 2011

LOCAL GYM OWNER MURDERED

In what is surely a cautionary tale about befriending strangers on the Internet, James Sawyer, 37, the owner of a local gym, was shot down at his place of business by Berta Ingles, 42, of Harton, Ohio, a small town outside of Youngstown.  Sawyer had previously friended Ms. Ingles on Facebook.  “I think he did it out of kindness,” said Al Forman, Sawyer’s grieving business and life partner. “He wasn’t that into Facebook anyway — he used it mostly for business purposes. She apparently saw things differently, because she came in shouting that she wasn’t going to put up with him laughing at her any more. I have no idea what she was talking about. Jim wasn’t the kind of guy who laughed at anyone.” Ms. Ingles is presently being held in MPC for psychiatric evaluation…

The Locket

“Where do you want this, Grandpa?”

Bill turned around and rubbed one work-roughened hand over his forehead, wiping away the sweat. “Put it over there, Jeremy.” He waved generally over to a blank spot on the far side of the small apartment. “Just anywhere.”

“Ok.” The teenager dodged around the stacks of boxes with the innate grace of the young and stood by Bill, concerned. “You okay?”

Bill mustered a smile. “Sure, Jeremy. Fine.  Just tired.” He dropped onto the sofa and closed his eyes for a moment, then sighed and looked around the room.  Whoever thought that 35 years could be packed up into a dozen or so boxes?

“Dad? Jeremy?” He heard his son on the stairs, puffing as he brought the last box up and dumped it on the stack.

“Over here, David.” His son joined them, hands on hips. My son, the desk jockey. Dave worked out and played tennis, and was in pretty good shape, but somehow he seemed soft to his father. Bill couldn’t help it – he loved his son, but he had a former factory worker’s innate distrust of people who earned money by sitting behind a desk using their brains instead of their hands.

Dave looked around at all the boxes, and said again, “Dad, you’ve got a lot of work ahead of you. Sure you don’t want some help?”

Bill laughed. “Son, I’ve got nothing but time. And now I’ve got something to do.” I would have driven your mother crazy, if… There was a tiny tremor around Bill’s mouth, just a little one that neither of the others noticed. “So don’t worry about me.”

For the next week, the apartment resembled a badly-run thrift store. Bill had meant to have a system about unpacking the boxes; after all, he and Jeremy had labeled them so they’d go in certain rooms and even done a brief list of the contents. Though he started out with the best of intentions, it hadn’t quite worked out the way he intended.

Eventually he managed to get almost everything put away and was down to the last couple of boxes. They held things he’d cleared out of his wife Evelyn’s desk, barely even looking at the items as he packed them away.

Most of what was in there was office supplies, and notes on things she’d been working on but never finished. He put the stapler, tape and other things aside, thinking he could donate them somewhere. He sifted slowly through the notes. Bill overruled the part of him that was ridiculing his impulse to keep the notes as an early sign of turning into a packrat and stored them away.

At the bottom of the box, there was a small brown envelop.  He didn’t recognize it until he turned it over and saw the mailing label. For several moments, he simply stared at it. Slowly, he reached back in and took it out, opening it and shaking the contents into one shaking hand.

He lifted the locket into the light by the delicate chain and watched the engraving sparkle as it swung softly back and forth. Eventually, he opened it and looked at the pictures inside.

For their 25th anniversary, he’d found the photos her dad had taken of them as they got ready to go to their prom, had them reproduced and put into the locket. Evelyn had loved it and wore it all the time, right up until she’d had to go into the hospital. Then there were so many other things to think about – treatments and paperwork and being able to stay with her as much as he could – and he didn’t know what she’d done with it.  When he finally had time to ask, it was too late, and she’d slipped away from him without another word. I wanted to put it in your hand in the casket, Bill thought. I wanted …

He shuddered for a moment, then picked up the envelope, put the locket back inside and replaced the envelope on the desk.

Bill caught an unfamiliar odor and sniffed the air. What is that? Is something burning? He realized he’d left the soup he was heating up for lunch on the stove. He hurried into the little kitchen and grabbed at the pan without thinking.

The handle was hot and it seared his hand. He jerked back and knocked the pan on the floor and soup went everywhere.

Suddenly, all the pain that he’d buried behind his stoic façade, behind the rule his father had pressed on him from the time he was old enough to understand – “Men don’t cry” – broke free. He lowered his head, hot tears streaking his  face, dripping onto the worn work clothes that he’d put on that morning without thinking, as if it were just another work day and he could come home, and she would be there.

“Ah, hell, Evelyn. Why? Why did you leave me? Oh, honey, what am I supposed to do without you? What am I supposed to do?”

Three Word Wednesday, 6/1/2011 – “Cherries”, Lisa & Philippe #1

Erratic, Luminous, Omen

Lisa loved the atmosphere of the charming, erratic street, populated with non-matching little stores, many of them in the same family for generations.  She passed the fromagerie and smiled at the elderly man who was placing cheeses in the window. As she approached the boulangerie/pâtisserie, she sighed.  Philippe, the owner of the shop, and a respected master baker and pâtissier, was leaning against the doorjamb, arms crossed, with a smile on his face.

“Bonjour, Lisa.” His luminous eyes sparkled with mischief.

Bonjour, Philippe.” She bit back a smile of her own and braced herself for the newest onslaught. “What is it today?”

“Just a little thing – a very little thing.” Philippe walked out to stand beside her on the sidewalk. He put an arm around her and pointed at the display.

Lisa peered at the assembled sweets. Sure enough, he’d paid attention to her slip of the tongue the week before. I just had to tell him I liked cherries. This week’s temptation was a cute, tiny cheesecake, covered with miniature cherries he had to have charmed out of one of the vendors at the marché.

She bent closer– it was a piece of artistry to look at, regardless of what it tasted like – and sighed again. “Philippe, you know how hard I worked to lose weight. I can’t give in and eat sweets again or I’ll get fat.” She puffed her cheeks out and held her arms away from her side for emphasis.

“Fat! One little tiny cheesecake is not going to make you fat.”  He shot her a sideways glance.

Lisa pondered for a moment. Just then, a man walked by wearing an HNIC t-shirt with a picture of Don Cherry on it.

Philippe saw her notice and leaned in. “That’s an omen, you know,” he said, sotto voce.

She smiled, and then chuckled and the two of them burst into laughter at the same time.

“I might have put “Don Cherry” and “omen” in the same sentence, but not that way.” They shared another laugh, and finally, she reached out to touch him gently on the arm. “Merci, Philippe, for thinking of me. I’ll take it.”

He led her back into the shop and carefully took the little delicacy from the window, placing it in a small box.

She took it from him. “Now I’ll have to do an extra workout, you know,” she said, teasing.

“No, you won’t.” He brushed a stray lock of hair from her forehead. “You’re perfect just the way you are.”

In Flanders Field … (Part I)

This is part of my “Guardian Angel” universe … for more explanation, see my Combat! story website at http://tec4.co.cc. It is set, as you might imagine from the title, during WW I. Part I of however many it takes me to write the story.  Exception: The April 1 blogswap between myself and another participant, who will be writing stories from a prompt by Tony Noland and publishing them in each others’ blogs.  Trust me, it will all make sense on the day. 🙂 <> is for dialog that would be in French if I didn’t want to confuse the non-French speakers.

“Deux semaines, quatre jours …” Marcel sighed and shifted back and forth, easing his boots out of the mud at the bottom of the trench and splashing the man next to him in the process.

Lieutenant Pierre LeMay looked away from the periscope rifle he was using and sighed. “Marcel, what in t’ell are you doing?”

“Sorry, Pie – Lieutenant. I just hate being stuck in t’is mess.”

Pierre chuckled. “Marcel, how is it any different from tromping around home?”

“Home was never t’is cold! And at least we could go inside and get warm and dry!”

“You should have taken Thierry up on his offer to join him in the Quartermaster’s office.” He went back to reviewing what he could see of the enemy’s position.

Marcel looked at his oldest friend, hurt. “I didn’t want to. We agreed to fight together, you and me.”

Pierre grinned. “Well, you can’t have it both ways, mon ami. Either you’re here and cold and wet, or in an office somewhere warm and dry.”

His friend muttered something under his breath in French that Pierre couldn’t quite make out, but which he could guess the general tenor of, and his grin widened. He put the periscope down again when a soldier splashed down the trench and came to a halt, saluting.

“Lieutenant LeMay, sir?”

“Yes, Private?” He returned the salute.

“Here are orders from Captain James, sir.”

“Thank you, Private.”

The young man stood at attention, pale and shivering.

“At ease, Private.” Pierre stopped in the act of opening the orders and looked at the runner. “Have you eaten today?”

“No, sir.” The young man wrapped his arms around himself in a futile attempt to keep warm.

“I think we can spare something,” he continued, scanning the orders. “Sergeant Dubois?”

“Yes, sir.”

“See to this man. Get him something to eat and let him warm up”, he continued, “inasmuch as that’s possible.”

“Yes, SIR!” Marcel herded the young man toward Stores. The two of them saluted an inattentive Lieutenant LeMay.

Bon Dieu, Pierre thought, do the people who write up these orders have any idea of what conditions are like here in the field? The terrain in front of him was torn by shells and as marshy as a Louisiana bayou from the continuous rain that had fallen for the last week. I’m going to lose half my men if we are supposed to go over the top into this mess. Why did I ever let them promote me?

The German positions in front of him were well dug in. The reconnaissance patrols he’d sent out assured him of that. They were entrenched behind earthen walls topped with barbed wire and wood and reinforced by machine guns on either flank.

It’s a good thing the Germans ignored us for so long. The initial placement of American troops had been south of the Allied positions, away from the German offensives. We’re under strength, too. They have promised me replacements every week for the last two months and we’ve received three men, where I need ten – or more. And those men were as green as the first leaves on a bald cypress tree. He folded the orders and replaced them in the envelope.

The first replacement, Koblentz, forgot everything he learned about his gas mask and had died in a surprise attack. Pierre had tried to reach the young man after getting his own mask on, but Koblentz had panicked and run, apparently thinking he could get away from the yellow-green cloud. The lieutenant watched, sick at heart, as the replacement floundered, tearing at his throat in agony until he finally died, contorted, in the mud.

Marcel cornered him afterwards, away from the others, and told him there was nothing he could have done and that he shouldn’t blame himself so for things that were out of his control. Rarely, Pierre lost his temper and told Marcel in Cajun patois that it was his fault, that from the moment he landed at St. Naizaire and received a commission, his job was to protect and guide his men. < T’ere’s not enough training, Marcel. I can’t train men and use t’em to fight at t’e same time. I’m ready to resign my commission and go back to fighting as an ordinary soldier. >

His friend let Pierre rant until he was done and then told him that he couldn’t quit. < They’ll put some green as grass lieutenant who has hardly picked up a gun up here and t’en all the men you’ve saved will get killed bien sûr. If your conscience is gettin’ t’e better of you, I t’ink t’at would bother you more t’an anything else. >

Pierre glared at Marcel and told him in the strongest language he knew that it was no time for him, Marcel, to make sense and if he couldn’t be any more help than this… He stopped and the two of them shared a rueful smile and a chuckle.

“T’at was some good swearin’. Denis couldn’t have done better.”

The lieutenant snorted and shook his head. He was still disappointed – when he had time to think about it – that his elder brother hadn’t been able to get past the physical.

“So do you feel better?”

Pierre sobered. “No. But it’ll have to do for now.”

(To be continued …)