Christmas in Paris Eiffel tower

SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED – A Christmas story

This short story was published in the Spring 2014 Edition of Analekta Anthology, by BOHO Books and is available on Amazon & B&N.

“Ouch, dammit, I can’t get this out.”   Chester sucked on his torn thumb.

Valerie leaned over and took the plastic piece from him.  “Here … let me try,” she said.  “Why are you taking this section apart?  You just put it together.”

“Because I was supposed to put this door-jamb in first.  I should have sent it back as soon as I saw ‘some assembly required’ written on the box.  Look at these instructions.  Can you read them?  They were probably written in Hindi and translated by a Croatian.   Oh, dammit, now I’m getting blood all over them.”  Chester sighed.  “I wish Grampa were here … he’d know how to put this thing together, and besides he’d have a bandaide in his wallet.”

Chester Morgan sat cross-legged on the living room carpet, sucking his wounded thumb, surrounded by more than half of the original 482 pieces of the doll house that would be the highlight of Kellie’s Christmas, even if this year Grampa wouldn’t be there when she came running downstairs on Christmas morning.

He picked up a piece of the doll house’s living room wall, turning it over and over trying to figure out where it went in.  “Hey, Val, look how that silly tree gives all these pieces these weird colors.”  Across the room the tree – a cunningly crafted seven foot faux noble fir with a prominent ‘made in China’ label – glowed with a purple aura and undercoated everything in mauvie tones.   Kellie and Valerie had opted for pink and lavender – there were only two colors on Kellie’s three year old palette – and their trip to Michaels in the mall had produced $85 worth of pink plastic ornaments, lavender tree lights, and pink and lavender plaid ribbon.  Chester had pantomimed ‘gag me with a spoon’ when he first walked in and saw the display, while Kellie bounced up and down in self-satisfied glee.

“I miss him too, Honey.”  Valerie knelt behind Chester and wrapped her arms around his chest.  “Christmas just won’t be the same this year without Grampa.   Can I get you a bandage for that?”

He pulled his thumb out of his mouth just long enough to look at the cut.  “Yeah, I guess I should put something on it … it won’t quit bleeding.”  It was beginning to throb and he couldn’t concentrate on the instructions.

“I can’t believe he’s not here.  He’s always been here and it never occurred to me that he wouldn’t always be.”

He looked up.  “Oh, listen, Val, that’s Grampa’s favorite.”  Valerie’s mix of holiday songs had been shuffling all evening, and now Eartha Kitt’s ‘Santa Baby’ came smoldering out of the I-Pod sitting on top of the unemployed piano in the far corner.  “Grampa always said that Eartha Kitt could get him into bed with that song.  He brought such enthusiasm to Christmas … his favorite time of the year.”  Chester shrugged and rummaged around in the pieces on the carpet.  “Have you seen the tiny little curtain rod that goes over the living room window?”

“Here it is.”  Valerie leaned over, handed him the piece, and kissed him on the cheek.  “You know what I can’t understand … with his contempt for religion, how come the big deal over Christmas?”

“Oh, that’s easy.  It’s the winter solstice.  He’d’ve sacrificed a goat to Odin if the Humane Society wouldn’t have objected, and if people want to brighten up the season with a 2000 year-old fairy tale as an excuse to go shopping, that’d be OK with him too.   He loved the decorations, the music, the excitement in the air … but you know what turned him on the most?  …. shopping for Christmas presents for all his grandchildren.”  Chester paused and glanced towards the top of the stairs.   “And now, a great-granddaughter.”

Chester sighed and looked at all the lovingly wrapped packages under the pink tree.  “You know, Val,  he never admitted it, but I think he was just a little disappointed when we all grew up and really wanted money or gift certificates instead of those dopey toys he used to order on-line.  His favorite website opened with ‘Hello, Grampa Richard, what can we put in your basket today?’  and he especially loved the ‘educational’ toys….”  Chester held up his fingers in the quotation mark sign   “… that would turn us all into little geniuses.”

Valerie stretched, swiveling at the hips with her back arched and her hands up in the air.  “Yeah, I wish I had known him then. He bought this doll house for Kellie last summer, knowing full well that he wouldn’t be here to put it together; and he was so excited when he called to tell me that he had found it on the internet and that FedEx would have it here in about a week.”

“Oops, look out!”  Doll house pieces scattered in all directions as Kellie’s new calico pounced on the round pink plastic ball she had stripped from a bottom branch and had dribbled across the living room rug.  Valerie laughed as she scooped up the kitten with one hand and the surprisingly intact ornament with the other.  “Hey, these plastic ornaments are great.  Gramma’s glass ones would have been in a million pieces with this cat on the loose.”

Chester used a forefinger to nudge the doll-sized queen bed in the master bedroom to the right a quarter inch to make room for a bedside table, knocking over a miniature lamp in the process.  “Damn … I’m such a fumble-fingers.”  He turned to Valerie.  “Do you think Kellie will be OK with Grampa not here when she gets up in the morning?”

“Oh, I hope so,” sighed Valerie, spreading a postage stamp-sized hooked rug on the den floor.  “She’s pretty solid, but she’s so darned deep.  Sometimes I don’t have the faintest idea what’s going on in that little mind of hers.  I guess we’ll just have to …..”.

The phone rang.  They looked at each other and Chester looked at the clock over Valerie’s shoulder.  1:34 AM.   He jumped up on the second ring, realized that the phone was nowhere in sight by the third ring, and found it on the couch under a pile of red and green wrapping paper by the fourth.

“Hello.”

“Hi, Kiddo, how’s it going.”

“Grampa … where are you?”

”We just cleared customs at Orly,  and I’m trying to find us a cab to take us downtown.  I can’t wait to see the Eiffel Tower all lit up for Christmas.”

“How was your flight?”

“Great … uneventful … the best kind.  Gramma wanted to turn around and come right back home because she misses you all so much, but I’m going to love every minute of Christmas in Paris.  It sure will be different.  Did you get the doll house put together OK without me?”

Chester didn’t quite know how best to answer this, but before he could come up with an answer, Grampa Richard came back on.   “Oh, oh …here comes a cab.  Give Valerie and Kellie big hugs for us, and do me a favor? … call everyone and let them know we got here safely?”

“OK, Grampa, we’ll do that.  You have a wonderful time, and Kellie’s gonna love the doll house.  We love you and we miss you, and oh, happy winter solstice.”

Chester punched the off button on the telephone, leaned over to Valerie and kissed her lightly on the lips.  “Well, I guess we’re on our own.  Now, where did I put that little coffee table I had a moment ago?”

Rekindle two matches two old lovers

REKINDLE – A love story

Rekindle:  v.  To reignite, to rearouse, to reinspire.

I don’t know why I was surprised she looked older – after all, it had been 15 years and I supposed I looked older too.  She had put on a few pounds, perhaps one dress size – she had been an eight – and there were a few more grey hairs mixed with the blond and the tinted highlights.   But the biggest change was in her eyes.  Those glorious cobalt blue eyes that had once adored me – they were icy now.

I stood when I saw her, trying desperately to catch the breath that I had lost as she walked into the coffee shop.  I knew then that I still loved her.  The hug that she permitted was perfunctory, not at all what I had hoped for, and I began –  lamely.  “How are you?”

“How are you?”  Her voice was icy, too.  “You fly half-way across the Pacific and the best you can do is ‘how are you’?  That’s pathetic.  What do you want, Richard?”

“I want to talk to you, to apologize to you, to try to put it right.”

“You could have done all that fifteen years ago, when you walked away from me. What could you possibly say now that you couldn’t have said then?”

Definitely not what I had hoped for when I sent her an e-mail three days before: ‘My life has uncomplicated. Would you consider sharing it with me?’  and she had e-mailed back, two days later:   ‘Maybe.’   I took that as a ‘yes’ and caught the first flight to Maui.   That gave me just under six hours to write, rewrite, edit and rehearse, over and over, the speech that I had been composing in my head for the last six months.  Now I wasn’t sure if it would be welcome.

“I want to tell you what happened … and why I walked away … and I’m hoping that you’ll forgive me.  Please, Miriam, I’ve got to tell you.”

“So tell me … but let me warn you.  I don’t want to hear any ‘get-it-off-your-chest’ confession that leaves you feeling so much better and dumps the guilt on me.  I spent too many miserable nights crying to start all over again.  How did you find me, by the way?”

“I’ve been Googling you … your work at the University is pretty impressive.   I think about you a lot; hardly a day goes by that I don’t fantasize over what our lives would have been if I had left Janet and gone with you fifteen years ago.”

“Give me a break.”  She rolled her eyes, but I thought I saw the first sheen of a thaw.  Maybe it was just pandoric hope – wishful thinking in the original Greek.

I pressed my palms down on the table that separated us, trying to keep from fidgeting.  She hated my fidgeting.  “OK, Miriam … here it is.  Fifteen years ago I did a terrible thing, and I betrayed three people in the process.  I betrayed myself … my own personal code; something that up to then I had always thought was pretty inviolable.   I betrayed Janet when I cheated and lied to her.  And I betrayed you … I seduced you with a promise that I couldn’t, or wouldn’t keep, and I excused it by saying that my life was ‘complicated’ … and for that I will be eternally sorry.”

“Well, at least you never tried to hide that you were married.”  Was the sarcasm a little less pronounced?

I took a sip of the coffee that had by now gone cold and just slightly bitter, and a deep breath, and it suddenly struck me how noisy this place was.  I hadn’t heard a thing since she had walked in except my own lame words and her chilly responses, and now, all of a sudden, the surroundings came roaring back.  The pressure of that sound squeezed my next words out of some deep place where they had been waiting for years.

“But while we were seeing each other, I fell in love three times.  I fell in love with you, of course.  I never told you that, but I did, and I still do.   And then I fell back in love with myself.  Before I met you I had lost respect for myself … I had become convinced that I was a lousy husband, and a lousy lover, and an insensitive jerk, and I couldn’t get it back.  And then I met you and you loved me.  You loved me so completely and unconditionally … even though I was married and with all my other baggage … that you renovated me, you restored my faith in myself.   And somehow that gave me the courage to open up to Janet about the issues that were driving us apart … and she responded … and we began to remember why we loved each other in the first place … and in the end I fell in love with her all over again.”

I searched her body language for clues – the way I would have watched a jury to see if I was being persuasive, to assess which of my arguments, if any, were resonating.  But there was nothing, so I went on.   “Even then … I still loved you, and I wanted to keep on loving you, but if I was going to be able to respect myself again, I had to respect the vows and the commitment I had made with Janet.    And that’s why I had to let us go.”

For the longest time she just sat there rigid, unmoving, looking at me and through me and around me.  Her gaze seemed to split when it reached my face, and it bent around my head the way light from a distant star bends around the gravity well of the sun.  I reached for her hand across the table, but she pulled it back just out of reach.

“Why now?  What’s become ‘uncomplicated’ in your life?”

“Janet died – it’s been a little over a year ago now.”  I waited.  No sympathy.  “And for the last six months I’ve let myself think about us … you and me.  But I agonized over whether or not to try to contact you … I was so afraid that you despised me and I was so afraid that I’d hurt you again.  Then, two days ago, I had to do it.  Miriam, if you’ll give me a chance … I know I can make you happy with me again.”

It may have been the light – the sun was just behind a palm tree in the parking lot and sunlight flashed across her face as the breezes stirred the fronds – but I could swear I could see the battle going on behind those eyes.  They shaded from ice-blue to a softer baby-blue to an anger-tinged violet to – to what?  I was still trying to read her when she abruptly and obviously came to a decision.

She unlocked the rigidity, leaned forward and slapped me.  Hard.  “That’s for walking out on me fifteen years ago.”  Then she hit me again.  Even harder.  “And that’s for not calling me a year ago.”

Fire Bomb erotic thriller short story

IT’S OVER – A short story

The first faint creak at the top of the stairs froze me to my chair, even though I was half expecting it.  This is it. This will be the end of it, one way or the other.   I knew she would be here — there was an aura about the house that invariably gave away her presence, and it had made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up when I had first walked in.

The second footstep on the next step down focused me. She had been getting worse for a long time now, and I had finally gotten some witnesses to one of her maniacal rages. That gave me the ammunition to persuade a judge to issue a commitment order; and for the first time in a long time, I could quit walking on eggs. I had begun to think I could have a life.

Then the third step.  It prompted me to breathe. This is where it would end. In this house. My house. The house where I had been born and had grown up.  The only thing that had ever been mine.  This was the one indulgence she allowed me.  She condescended to live with me here although she yearned for — and could have afforded — something much grander.

The fourth step squeaked — the landing.  They hadn’t mentioned her name when the radio announced there had been an explosion in the boiler room of the state mental hospital, and that one inmate — a schizophrenic woman with homicidal tendencies — was unaccounted for.  But I knew it was her. It had to be.  And she would come here. Was here.

The sixth step was the loudest.  It always had been.  It  told me why I had to end it here.  I couldn’t live like this anymore, but a divorce would leave me with nothing but this house and a pile of debts — the pre-nup her daddy had insisted on would make sure of that.

The seventh step didn’t come at the cadence of the first six, and that unfroze me.  I stood, careful not to make any noise, walked over to my desk and slowly, carefully, opened the center drawer.  The gun was gone.  I picked up the letter opener and tried to think about what was happening, but a midlevel panic was making it hard to concentrate. As I straightened, the gun barrel pressed against the back of my neck.

“Hello, lover.  Welcome home.”  Despite everything, that voice still had the power to excite me.

“Is it done?”  I asked as I turned.

“Yeah.  Her body’s upstairs and we’ll make it look like you had to kill her in self defense when she came here to murder you.”

“Any trouble getting her out of the loony bin?”

“None.  I timed it so I was close to her room when the bomb went off in the basement, and I snuck her out in the confusion.  I had to tell her that you had sent me to rescue her.”  A wry smile.  “She asked me to thank you.”

“Then it’s over.”  I put down my letter opener, and he put down his gun, and we kissed.