It Was All Set

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The door swings open. Your roommate pumps his fist and plops on the bed. “Winter break, here I come. Hey, wanna go skiing.” He’s always after you to relax.

You want to go, but you count every penny since your dad went bust in real estate. “La Jolla’s warmer. Mom would love to meet you.”

He agrees. Mom agrees. Everything is set. You’ve registered for classes next term, it’s dead week and you’re confident about finals. Then you get e-mail from the bursar. The autopay from your bank failed. Calling Mom, you hope your Dad hasn’t hacked the account again.

Bittersweet

Her mother texted Aimee : “Your Grandfather left you everything.”

After mixing peanut butter into vanilla cookie dough, Aimee replied, “No way.”

She was stumped. He’d barely spoken to her the last time she visited. Aimee had hidden her resentment, watching how his care exhausted her mother, knowing her mother loved him.

Traveling to the funeral, she’d worked it out. Of his four children, only her mother had fulfilled his wishes, giving him a grandchild and care at life’s end. It fell into place. While Aimee stood in for her mother, her aunts would feel the sting of his venom one last time.

Corduroy Memories

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The chair, a lucky garage sale find, tucked itself under the desk after Anne’s husband died. She thought to never change it. Her sister thought otherwise and upholstered it in maroon brocade.

“Much better,” Marla said, deploying a tack to the seat’s bottom.

“Like Burgundy, his favorite wine.”

The new fabric smelled different. She sat in the chair, holding the original brown corduroy. After a year, she gathered her husband’s belongings: the chair, his books, his desk, etcetera and sold them from the driveway. Neighbors shared memories with Anne, bought remembrances. She stowed the proceeds in her brown corduroy purse.

Turkey

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At Grandma’s Thanksgiving, a mash-up of turkey, cranberries, second wave feminism, and Madman era misogyny collide. After a luscious dinner, you and your London chum play at Cockney rhyming slang in the library. Uncle Uncle fumbles, mumbles, tumbles, never suspecting that your friend, whose ass he pinches, is an expert kick boxer.

What did he expect? A docile blush? You show him a shot of his pained face on Snapchat. It’s captioned, “Stand back, the fourth wave is here.” He retreats to a corner, nursing his ‘Enry ‘Alls*, chugging highballs. Rules change. Change rules. You have exceeded his expectations.

* Rhyming slang for balls (rhymes with Halls.) See the entry from Wikipedia for Rhyming Slang. 

Off the Grid

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My parents sent me to this stupid camp. Wooden cabins, steel spring bunks. You can’t bring phones. No internet. Nothing happening here anyway.

That’s why they did it. I live my life online. They say I’m missing out. “Swim in a lake, hike, pick up rocks and learn to skip them along the shore,” they said. “Breathe fresh air.”

It did get fresh, I’ll admit that. There’s a boy’s camp close by. My friend and I snuck out one night. We played board games in the moonlight. Who knew the counselors did bed checks? What did my parents expect?

Key Deer

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Tent packed, sleeping bag in the car, Sophie set off for the Florida Keys where, at fifteen, she had ducked through mangrove channels, oars pacing past leaf littered roots and crowding branches. With the divorce final, Sophie needed a vacation. 

Drenched in sweat, she would breathe the soggy air, gathering the constituent parts of herself that had withered in a confining relationship with a man she still loved. She would smile at deer flashing their white tails as they sped away. 

Water sheeted the windscreen. Sophie pulled over, the car rocking, the wind howling. Wet noise covered her inevitable disappointment. 

Alone

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You back out of the driveway, past the “For Sale” sign, into the same roads you sped over in high school. Some blacktop. Some gravel. All deserted. No one caught on and you never got caught.

You know you can drive fast until you get to town. Then slow to a crawl. Wave at Mrs. Brown. Pull up to the undertaker’s where your honor student persona worked ages ago as a receptionist. A job where straight white teeth counted.

When you said good-bye, locked the door on that past life, you never intended to return. But now, alone, you’re back.

Birthday Wishes

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“He’s not old enough for live ammunition.” As if settling the issue she said, “He hasn’t even made his first communion.”

“He’s a good shot.” The boy’s father turned up the stairs. He wrapped the box of bullets in teddy bear paper and stuck a yellow bow on top. He never had been good with bows. But he knew she wouldn’t wrap it. Not after that tirade.

Timmy’s kindergarten buddies would come sit around the festive table. His father set the ammo carton near the cake, pride trumping judgement, fear overcoming reason.

She would pray for them both.

Alabama Justice

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A pregnant woman approached the battered wooden desk at her hometown police station. “Charge me with endangering my fetus.”

“You’re Buck’s wife.”

She nodded. “He’s the one endangering.”

“What you do to git him riled?”

It was always the same. They wouldn’t take a report.

“I read it in the paper today. He was mean when I married him. I’m ready to pay for my crime.”

“You got any marks?”

“Not yet. Just threats.”

“I’m sure he didn’t mean it, Mrs. Buck. Go on, now.”

A woman officer came in. She made the arrest.

Remind Him to Laugh

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Dash had slept with countless women. His old friend, Anne, called it trying to prove something. He became himself with Grayson. They’d been together forever.

Their big empty house had a “For Sale” sign in the front. Not for long. San Francisco real estate moves fast and Dash was motivated. Dash’s retirement party was tomorrow. Anne would call him “queen” at the airport. She was the only one left who could. She’d help him grieve, find another life. Sell the house, tie up loose ends, deliver him to the ashram to reinvent himself. Most important, she’d make him laugh.

……..

Find “The Vow” which features Dash, Anne and Grayson at https://www.paloaltoonline.com/short_story/short_story_33/adult2.php

The story took second place in the 2019 Palo Alto Weekly Short Story Contest.