Tag Archives: fiction

Two Couples

As the Maitre ‘D walked the two couples to their table, Jack took a quick glance around the restaurant, admiring the fancy marble decor and the classic red and white plaid tablecloths common in so many Italian restaurants. The place was packed full on this Saturday evening, alive with big laughter and big city life and Jack felt way too young to be in here.

“God damn, Jack Diamond, it’s so great to see you again” Eddie exclaimed as the four of them settled into their chairs. The table was small but was near the street and had a nice view as hundreds of people strolled by enjoying the warm summer evening, as hurried drivers honked their horns at the endless street traffic and as digital fare meters ticked away dollar after dollar inside the bright yellow cabs carrying passengers from somewhere to somewhere else.

“What’s it been, nine or ten years since we saw each other last?” Eddie asked. “Jack, you haven’t changed a bit, well, other than being a lot bigger and taller than I remember!”

“Well it was the summer after I finished third grade and you both finished fourth, that my family moved to Indiana” Jack answered. “So however many years that is. I’ve never been that great at math. I’ll tell you though, I’ll never forget the night my Dad pulled us all aside and told us he was being relocated.”

“I’ll never forget the day on the playground that you told me you were moving” Eddie added.

Jack turned and looked over at Eddie’s beautiful wife Brenda. He could still remember how all the boys were madly in love with her back in elementary school, at least as much as adolescent boys knew what being in love meant. It was Eddie who eventually scored the big fish.

“Damn girl, you still look as good as you did in third grade!” Jack said with a smirk.

“Oh, you always were a charmer” Brenda answered in her thick New York accent. “You were shy, but definitely a charmer. So tell us about this beautiful girl you have with you.”

Jack turned and smiled at Diane.

“Well, this is Diane” he began. “She and I met, literally the first day in our new neighborhood. She lived two houses down from our new house and the first day we were there, while unpacking the truck, she came over and introduced herself to me. I’d never have had the nerve to talk to a girl when I was that age. But she made it happen, and as they say, I guess the rest is history!”

The conversation was interrupted as a tall, handsome waiter dressed in traditional black and white approached the table. He spoke with a thick Italian accent.

“Ciao, Mr. and Mrs. Pasquale, it’s nice to see you again. Ms. Brenda, you’re looking as stunning tonight as always.”

He turned to the two new guests at the table and introduced himself.

“Ciao, my friends, welcome to Fontana di Trevi Restaurant, my name is Antonio and I’ll be taking care of your table tonight. You must have good taste in friends if you come in with the Pasquale’s.

Eddie chimed in.

“Antonio, this is Jack Diamond and his good friend Diane Jones. Jack used to live in the neighborhood, but his family moved to Indiana many years ago. We were best buddies way back then, but we haven’t seen each other in years. Jack and Diane are going to school at Rutgers this fall. Jack’s gonna be a big football star there!”

“Well, welcome to Fontana di Trevi” Antonio said with a warm, bright smile.

He turned to Brenda.

“Can I start you with a bottle of wine, Mrs. Pasquale? Red or white tonight? Or perhaps a bottle of Rosé instead?”

Without reviewing the wine list or taking any suggestions from the other guests Brenda ordered from memory a mid-priced bottle of Cabernet and a second, more costly bottle of Chardonnay, both from California.

“Kind of expensive choices don’t you think?” Eddie mumbled.

“This is a special night, we need to treat our friends to some upscale city life tonight” she said, defending her choices.

“Anyway, you were saying?” Eddie continued, changing the subject and encouraging Jack to continue his story.

“Yeah, so we were really just friends for a few years” he began again. “But then, what was it about seventh grade that we started dating?” he asked Diane.

“Yeah, it was seventh grade” she answered. “I had to ask HIM out THEN too” she said with a smirk. “But we’ve been best friends ever since, just two American kids growing up in the heartland.”

“And so, Jack, you’re gonna be playing football at Rutgers, huh?” Brenda asked. “Well hopefully now that you’re closer we’ll be able to see you more often.”

“Yeah, they gave me a nice scholarship” Jack replied. “I took a year at the community college, pretty much had just given up on football. That’s what people do there in small town Indiana, graduate from High School, maybe get an Associate’s degree, then go work at a factory or one of the seed processing plants. But then one day the coach at Indiana University called me and asked if I might reconsider playing Division One football. So I started to think about it again and I was getting ready to commit to going to IU. You know, it would have been close to home, but I guess Rutgers wanted me because they called a couple of months later and had their check book wide open. So I chose Rutgers and somehow I talked Diane into following me here to the east coast. I honestly wasn’t sure if she’d ever left Indiana!”

“That’s not true!” Diane argued, laughing at herself and her small town upbringing.

“So, enough about us”, Jack said, changing the topic. “How are you guys doing, fresh from declaring your vows, what was it two, maybe three weeks ago? By the way sorry I missed it, I’ve been buried with football training, plus Diane and I getting moved into our new apartment. It’s been a pretty hectic couple months.”

“It’s alright, it was mostly just our close families” Eddie replied. “It was quick and we didn’t give people a whole lot of notice. But we’re doing okay. It’s expensive, but we’ve got a nice little place in the neighborhood and I’ve been working at the local machine shop since I graduated. We’re just trying to make it work. You know, money’s been a little bit tight but we’ll be fine.”

We’re survivors right?” Eddie continued, glancing at Brenda with an unconvincing smile.

A brief moment of uncomfortable silence was thankfully interrupted as Antonio approached the table with the two bottles of wine. He skillfully and delicately cranked the corkscrew into the corks, then used the lever to extract each and set the bottles on the table.

“No need to taste” Brenda offered. “I know these are perfect choices as we celebrate reconnecting with old friends tonight. Go ahead and fill us up.”

Antonio glanced towards Diane.

“Red or white Ms. Jones?”

“White please” Diane answered.

“And for you Mr. Diamond?” Antonio asked while filling Diane’s glass.

“Red please” Jack replied.

“This place sure is nicer than the Tastee Freeze that Diane and I used to eat at back home” Jack joked. “Six pack of cheap beer and a couple Chili dogs is typically our meal of choice.”

“Sounds delicious” Eddie exclaimed, “kind of like Brenda and my old High School days at the Parkway Diner.”

Eddie spoke to Antonio who was waiting for the conversation to wane. “The usual red for Brenda and white for me please.”

Antonio filled the last two glasses and excused himself. “I’ll be back in a few minutes to take your order.”

“Is the Parkway Diner still open?” Jack asked.

“Yeah, it’s still open” Brenda answered. “This old neighborhood hasn’t changed a bit since you left, same families, same businesses, and same old problems. You’re born here, you die here, I guess.”

“Sounds like our little Indiana town” Diane spoke up. “Nothing ever changes. Everyone says they want to get out but no one ever does. Had Jack not gotten that scholarship we’d still be there too.”

“Guess small town rural America isn’t much different from urban America” Eddie added. “Whether it’s tall buildings or cornfields, it’s all just the backdrop to regular people trying their hardest to get by. But hey, you know what? Life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone.”

“Let’s order some food, the pasta here is delicious” Brenda spoke up, trying to lighten up a conversation that seemed to be heading in a solemn direction.

She glanced towards Antonio who briskly approached the table.

“Ready to order Mrs. Pasquale?” he asked.

“We are” she answered. “Guest’s first please.” She motioned towards Jack and Diane.

Antonio went around the table taking each of the four orders. Unlike the clerks at the Tastee Freeze who wrote everything down on little pads of green and white paper, he used nothing but his memory to note the details.

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The Intruder

This is a recycled story, published some time ago, that some of you have seen, but I thought it should be updated for the season and for the slew of new readers that have joined the fun since then. Enjoy!

 

“Steve, I think I hear someone downstairs” my wife said to me as she shook me and woke me up from a deep slumber.

“What… what’s going on?” I murmured still half asleep.

“Shhhh” she said. “I think I hear someone downstairs!”

Now I was wide awake. It was the middle of the night and there was an intruder in our house. I wondered why our dog, a 200 lb. St. Bernard, hadn’t woken up and barked. I quickly remembered though, all the times I had come home from work, walked into the house and not awakened him.

“Great watchdog” I thought to myself.

“Should we call the police?” my wife asked.

“Whoa there, hold on. Let me sneak down there and see what’s going on.”

“Okay, but what if someone’s down there?”

“I’ll be fine.” I crawled out of bed, adrenaline spiraling through my body, threw on some sweatpants and started heading towards the bedroom door.

“Be careful”, she said as I left the room.

I took a quick glance at the kid’s bedroom doors and both were closed. I had been hoping it was just one of them awake and downstairs getting a snack or something to drink. Two closed doors meant both kids were still asleep in their rooms. I continued to the stairs.

The stairs in our 120 year old house are terribly creaky. I’ve always thought that would be beneficial someday when the kids were coming home late at night. But not now! Not as I was risking my life to find out who was walking around our house in the middle of the night. I desperately tried to remember which steps made the loudest noise so I could avoid them, but other than the bottom three, which I knew were loose, my mind was drawing a blank. I gently took each stair, trying to be as silent as possible.

First step… okay.

Second step… okay.

Third step… CREAK!

“UGH,” I groaned quietly jumping down one more step to try to minimize the noise. I stood there quietly trying to catch my breath and get my heart rate down a little bit. In the deadly stillness of the night, I heard some rustling noises downstairs that sounded like it was coming from the family room. “This is absolutely nuts” I thought. “What are you thinking?”

But something drew me on, so I continued down the creaky steps, one at a time and thankfully, mostly quietly. Those last few steps could be a problem, but maybe a few loud creaks would scare off the intruder. I moved quickly… CREAK… CREAK… CREAK… and I was in the dining room, heart beating out of my chest, but still alive, and having not yet come face to face with anyone.

The rustling noise was still coming from the family room which was the room next door to where I was standing. I guess my plan hadn’t worked! With my back against the wall, like one of those cops you see in a Hollywood blockbuster movie, patrolling a house full of armed thugs, I peered around the corner. That’s when I saw him, this intruder that was invading the privacy of our house. His back was to me and he was working fast moving about the room with a bag packed full of stuff.

I stepped back behind the wall to reassess the situation. My heart was beating uncontrollably and I noticed that my hands were now shaking. “I’ve seen him before” I thought. “What is he doing here?” In just that brief glance I had recognized his grayish white hair and his clothes. I stealthily peered around the wall once again and he was still there, back towards me, but moving fast… so incredibly fast… doing his business rapidly so he could get to the next house, to the next job.

For a moment I just watched in stunned amazement, afraid to startle him, afraid to interrupt him. Finally I couldn’t help myself. “Pssst” I said, trying to gently announce my presence. He didn’t hear me. “Pssst” I said again, a little louder. This time he whipped around rapidly, surprised at being seen, his eyes wide open and his white beard and his traditional red suit now clearly visible.

“Oh, it’s just you” he said with a relieved tone. “For a second I thought it might be a kid.”

“No, I checked and they’re still sound asleep” I reassured him. “But what the hell are you doing here?” I scolded. “You scared the crap out of me. My kids don’t believe in you anymore. I thought someone had broken into the house.”

He smiled that familiar, big grin and laughed that familiar, jolly old laugh and tossed me a big chocolate snowman wrapped in silver and red foil. “Eat this and go back to bed” he said as the snowman flew across the room towards me. “Lots of kids say they don’t believe anymore. Most of ‘em still want to believe but there’s just too much peer pressure from their friends. I’m not ready to give up on yours just yet!”

“Yeah, I guess that makes sense” I replied.

“Here, put this in one of the kid’s stockings, I don’t need it. I ate a bunch of candy before I turned in tonight.” I tossed the snowman back to him. “Guess I better get back to bed.” “See you next year, maybe?” I asked as I started to turn around to head back upstairs.

“We’ll see, that’s a long way off, let me get through this year first.”

“Yeah, okay… alright good night” I said and I turned back towards the creaky stairs. For a brief second I wondered if I was sleep walking and I stopped and glanced back. No, I was definitely awake, but our guest was gone, the dog was asleep on the floor gently snoring, and the rest of the house seemed deathly quiet. I grabbed a glass of water and poured it down my parched throat as I pondered this late night encounter.

A few moments later, up the stairs I went, back into the bedroom. My wife was asleep as if nothing had happened, but as I climbed into bed, the jostling of the mattress woke her up.

“You okay?” she mumbled, her now half asleep.

“Yeah, I’m fine” I said. “I just needed a glass of water… I haven’t been sleeping real well tonight. Must be all that chocolate I ate.”

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Trick-or-Treat

Last year on Halloween night I was home with the flu. Because we live out in the country, we typically spend Halloween evening at the home of some close friends whose kids are similar ages to our kids. They live in a small neighborhood nearby and the kids can trick-or-treat to their heart’s delight while the adults sit back and share a pizza and a few drinks. That’s the one thing I don’t like about where we live, that we don’t get to experience kids coming to our door, dressed as ghosts or witches or hobos or athletes or all the other myriad costumes. Halloween is one of my favorite holidays and I’ve always felt our home would make the perfect spooky haunted house.

I just didn’t feel up to being out, though, with an aggressive fever and the toggling of sweats and chills. So I sent my wife and the kids off for the evening and plopped myself down on the couch to watch some of the usual Halloween fare on the TV.  Flipping through channels of zombie and werewolf and vampire movies and the yearly Halloween series marathons, I eventually settled on the classic Boris Karloff version of Frankenstein, knowing I’d probably fall asleep in a few minutes anyhow… which I surely did. It was about 8:30 p.m. when I was awakened by someone knocking on our front door.

Who in the hell would be here on Halloween night, I wondered, especially at our front door, which no one ever uses. Shaking the sleep from my head, I hoisted myself off the coach and walked into the kitchen where I could vaguely see someone standing on the front porch.

“Jesus Christ, should I answer it?” I mumbled under my breath as I inched a little closer to try to get a better view of this person who was intruding on my sick-rest.

Soon I was close enough to the front window where I could see outside to the porch and in the faint light cast by the moon I saw a young boy, probably about my son’s age, dressed in tattered overalls and a heavy flannel shirt, all of which appeared to be soaked and muddy, dirt streaks on his face and tousled, sandy-brown hair. Perhaps he was a trick-or-treater, I thought, dressed in the traditional hobo costume that kids have been wearing since trick-or-treating became a mainstream activity… but here, at my house, in the middle of nowhere?

Still questioning my decision to answer, I walked to the door, unlocked the various bolts and slowly opened it to this guest.  The door creaked loudly as the old, rusted metal hinges were forced back to life after many years of sitting still. There in front of me stood this boy who reminded me of the classic Huck Finn character from the Mark Twain books.

“Hi there” I said “can I help you? Are you trick-or-treating?”

The boy looked panicked.

“I was… he paused… with my friend Ollie Evans” he replied. “But I can’t find him. We were playing around in the swamp behind your house and I lost track of him. I need you to help me find him!”

“Ollie Evans… from down at the end of the Brown Road?” I questioned him. “Buddy, what are you talking about?  Mr. Evans died just the other day, had a heart attack.”

His eyes bounced back and forth from me to the blackness outside. “No, we were just trick-or-treating, but then we decided to play in the swamp and I can’t find him now. I need you to help me find him!”

“Son, are you okay?” I asked, now quite alarmed.  “Where do you live? Are you lost? Can I call your parents?”

“I’m not lost. I live just down at the end of Brown Road, just around the corner a little bit. So you haven’t seen Ollie, he didn’t stop by?”

“Buddy, are you talking about Mr. Evans?” I inquired again. “He just died a few days ago, had a heart attack, he was in his eighties. Why don’t you come inside and get dried off and we’ll figure out what’s going on.”

“No, I have to go look for him. Can you please call the sheriff?” he asked, as he quickly turned around, stepped off the porch and ran into the night.

Stunned, I stood there at the door for a few moments, staring out into the darkness of the Halloween night as the faint moonlight cast shadows over our oak trees. I grabbed my phone and considered calling the police before dialing Mrs. Evans’ phone number.

“Hello” she answered in her creaky eighty-something voice.

“Hey, Evelyn, it’s Mr. Warner, how are you doing tonight?”

“I’m doing fine” she said. “Just trying not to think about Ollie too much.”

“Yeah, I understand, he was a good guy” I said. “But hey, he’s the reason I am calling, something strange just happened. A kid came knocking on my door and when I answered it, he was soaking wet, covered in mud and wearing overalls with a heavy flannel shirt underneath. I asked if he was trick-or-treating and he said he had been, but then he said he was looking for Ollie.”

A deep chill crept through my body and the hair on my neck and arms was suddenly at full attention. “I spoke to him for a minute, tried to get him to come into the house and then he abruptly ran off.”

“That sounds like Jimmy” she said faintly.

“Who is Jimmy?”

There was silence on the line for what seemed like an eternity but was likely only a brief moment.

“Are you still there?” I asked, breaking the silence.

She began to speak. “Jimmy was my older brother, just a year older than me. You see, he and Ollie were best friends when we were kids, they did everything together, just two country boys, always outside and roaming around in the woods all day. We all went to school together at the old school-house that used to be across from the cemetery down the street from you.”

“Anyway, back in the thirties when we were all just about your son’s age, the two of them would trick-or-treat on Halloween nights around here.  Of course, just like now, there weren’t any other trick-or-treaters around, you know, all the houses are too far away from each other.  But everybody knew that Ollie and Jimmy would stop by on Halloween night so the neighbors all knew to keep a few treats on hand. They’d walk for miles to the six or eight houses that they could reach. Then they’d call it a night.”

“So you’re saying this kid is your brother?” I interrupted.

She continued. “I’ll never forget the year, nineteen thirty-three.  I was at home, when the sheriffs came to the door and told us what had happened. I remember my Mother collapsing on the floor. You see, on that fateful Halloween night as the boys were making their way back home, they decided to go play around in the swamp behind your house. It was dark and they didn’t have any lights with them… you know how dark it gets around here at night. They were chasing each other around and they got separated and then Ollie got caught up in some weeds in a deep part of the swamp.  He was calling for Jimmy to help but they had gotten too far away from each other for Jimmy to figure out where he was.  Jimmy ran to your house that night and knocked on the door for help. The Browns were living in your house back then. Mr. Brown went to phone the sheriff and Jimmy ran back to the swamp to try to find Ollie. When the sheriffs finally showed up, they were able to pull Ollie safely out of the water…”

She paused again for a long time, before continuing on.

“… but Jimmy drowned in the swamp that night trying to find his friend.”

“Oh my god, I’m so, so sorry” I offered, feeling like I wasn’t doing much to help.

“It’s okay Steve, it was a long, long time ago. We buried him in the old cemetery and although my parents were devastated, we did our best to move on. But for many years afterwards, people claimed to see Jimmy’s ghost wandering around the swamp and around your place on Halloween night. I guess he was still looking.”

“Of course many years later, she added, Ollie and I ended up getting married and one of those years Ollie decided to walk to the cemetery and talk to Jimmy at his grave site, tell him he was okay and that he didn’t need to look for him in the swamp anymore.  He continued to do that every Halloween night for almost seventy years… it seemed to work, no one has seen Jimmy’s ghost since… well, until tonight. With Ollie passing just the other day he didn’t show up at the cemetery. Jimmy must be looking for him.”

Chills roared through my body and in complete disbelief, I said goodbye and hung up the phone.

With a wobble in my knees, I walked back to the couch and sat down quickly as the fever and the shock of what had just happened hit me like a ton of bricks. Still reeling, I grabbed the bottle of Advil and glass of water from the nearby end table and threw back a couple of pills, emptying the glass of its contents.

Boris Karloff was still gracing the screen and I grabbed the remote and abruptly shut the TV off. Although the family was still out I decided to head up to bed to try to get a decent night’s sleep so I could possibly go to work the next day. I slept right through the noise of them coming home and the kids dumping their bags of candy on the kitchen table to sort out their hard-earned loot.

The next morning started at 6:00 a.m. with my alarm blaring in my ears and I crawled out of bed and walked downstairs to find my wife sitting at the kitchen table sipping from her favorite coffee mug.  Still dazed from the night’s activities and wondering if the effects of a fever were playing tricks on me, I sat down at the table and asked about their evening of trick-or-treating.

“Pretty typical Halloween night” she said, “lots of adorable little goblins and ghosts around. The kids had fun though. How about here, she asked, was it creepy being alone on Halloween night in this creaky old house?”

“I was fine” I lied. “I went to bed early. Pretty quiet night, though I’m still not feeling great, I didn’t sleep well last night, had some pretty fucked-up dreams. I think I’m going to stay home from work today. I could probably make it, but they’ll be okay without me for a day.”

“Good idea” she said. “You need the rest. It’s supposed to be a nice day, if you start to feel better this afternoon and you feel like getting some fresh air, the front porch could use a hosing off…”

“… looks like the kids have tracked mud all over it.”

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Goats That Eat Their Own Legs

I try not to dwell on the search terms that bring people to my blog.  Apparently some of the words and phrases I have used sporadically throughout my posts have a tendency to attract some sordid characters of less than stellar moral virtue.  I won’t go into details as I don’t want you to throw up in your mouth.

Yesterday, however, while checking my stats page (have I ever mentioned that I like to check my stats page?) I glanced down to the search terms and discovered this:

borders.com goat that ate its own legs book

WHAT?!?!?!

Have I ever mentioned that I have goats?

Well, I do… I have two of them… and so far neither one has eaten its own legs.  Just as importantly, neither has attempted to eat the other goats legs. I will tell you they do eat all kinds of other stuff, including plastic and paper… but so far no body parts.  Is that even a possibility that my goats could eat their own legs?  Rubbish… I’ve never heard of such a thing!

I really like my goats and have become quite attached to them.  Well, not literally attached, but you know what I mean. They’re like dogs with horns, except only one of them still has his horns. I’ll tell you, we get along smashingly well!  Except for the time I was bending over to pick something up and one of them head butted me so hard that I thought I was going to pass out… but I’m over that now.  Now we get along fabulously! Except for that time that one of them was licking my arm and then bit me, but I don’t hold grudges. Oh, and there was that time just recently that we were putting up fence to protect our garden… you know, from the goats… and one of them kept rubbing on the fence and knocking it over… but we’ve worked that out.  Of course, there was that time that one of them chewed the wires on my lawnmower… and on our bikes.  But, hey, these things happen and we’ve kissed and made up.  Well, not literally kissed, but you know what I mean.

Anyhow, as I said, we get along well.  We hang out in the yard.  We take walks together.  I even let one of them take a sip from my wine glass the other night.  He really liked it and so then I understood why we get along so well.  It’s a special relationship, that between man and goat.  Hey, get your mind out of the damn gutter…

Anyhow, I was perplexed that our goats had not come with any kind of warning that there was the possibility of them eating their own legs.  I was deeply concerned because a goat with no legs would not be nearly as fun to be around as one with legs.  I’d have to put them on a leash and then drag them down the road, and who needs that? So I googled this search expression and found that there is actually a book titled My Goat Ate Its Own Legs: Tales for Adults.  Well thank goodness it’s for adults! It certainly doesn’t sound like an appropriate topic for a children’s book.

I don’t know what the book is about but it is fictional so that gave me a sliver of relief.  Although I am immensely curious, I think I will choose NOT to read it, however.  I don’t want my relationship with my goats to become tainted.

In case you'd like to read it. Just don't tell me what it's about!

 

 

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