A Short Story Sampling

HeadlinesImage

When she came to visit, she brought the fleas and lice with her. It’s not like she is some kind of medieval mammal infested with the Black Plague, but she might as well be. It would be a more honorable death that way.

I should have known when the doorbell rang unexpectedly, late one April evening, in our new home, in a master planned community, that it would be her. A slow- moving storm had just covered the sidewalks and cars with a light bubbling of water which ran off the freshly waxed cars into the gutters, that did not lead into the sea.

The rain had hit hard on the neighbor’s new tin roof before the rain catchers slowly released it to the native planted garden below. Curtains were pulled back to watch the lightening illuminate the foliage which had been carefully planted along the sidewalks, and the generically placed old fashioned lamp posts which gave the false sense of community.

“Can I come in?” I glanced behind her, looking for a man, dog, bags, lit cigarette, crutches or boxes.

All things she had brought with her before. She had nothing. It was just her, soaking wet, stringy hair in her face, dirty fingernails, and a worn look on her face.

“Hold on.” I closed and locked the door behind me. I rested my back against it and thought of all the other times she had shown up at my door. No matter where we moved, she always seemed to find us, like a candle in the darkness.

The last time she found us, we were living in a historic home in downtown near the river. She just washed up one day, as though the lapping of the river deposited her, like silt, on our doorstep.

She was going to change her life. She was going to be a grandmother to my son, a mother in law and for once in her life a good mother to her only daughter. She cleaned the house while we were at work and had dinner, on platters, waiting for us. She served us, washed the dishes and gave my son his bath all while my husband and I watched TV or drank a few beers.

At night, I began to hear noises; creaking stairs, windows opening, bathwater running and scurrying across the floor. I figured it was about time for her to leave. She never stayed too long anyway but when I would creep silently to her room, she was always in bed. The afternoon when I realized she was gone, her blankets had been crumpled into a ball in the corner of the room by the window and her pillow had been stuffed into the window sill. That night, the noises continued and we moved.

Opening the door would bring submission, an unspoken admission which would shout, “I believe you again. “ Keeping it closed would just leave her sitting on my porch for all the neighbors to see.
“Go get a shower or something.” I held the door open for her. “The bathroom is over there.” I pointed to the hall.

I stopped at the linen closet which was full of Superman towels for my son and Egyptian cotton for us. I dug way into the back to find a yellow, Wal-Mart towel with a minor bleach stain and frayed edges. I last used it to clean up syrup from the kitchen floor. I rummaged in my room to find clothes I didn’t care for. I left her a pile of ugly, “fat” clothes, and a free comb my son got from picture day. I didn’t want her to get too comfortable.

When she came out of the bathroom, my clothes were wrapped around her, barely staying on, only her boney shoulders held them up. I pretended not to notice. She most likely wouldn’t stay long anyway. I showed her to her room, for the week or month, however long she decided to stick around.

I cleared some papers that had been brought home from my husband’s work. I was about to place them on the desk but changed my mind when I remembered they had social security numbers on them. I took a mental inventory of the room. The computer password must be changed, the expensive dress would be moved, the collectible snow globe would go into my closet and my picture would be hidden under my mattress.

When we lived with one of her boyfriends, Tim, in a little concrete block house with an orange tree in the backyard, she showed me a spell with a picture of Tim’s ex-girlfriend, a dirty sock, some herbs, and a few things I didn’t recognize. I dug a small hole under the tree while she chanted.
To justify her actions, she explained to me that his girlfriend had threatened to throw her into jail and what would I do if she were in jail? My mom did what any loving, concerned mother would do, cast a spell. Her spell was going to confuse his ex when she testified in court. It would only cause her mild pain, but if we needed to, we would roll out the big spells. My mom never went to jail or court for that matter.

“Why don’t you get some sleep? You look like hell.” I closed the door behind me, scratching my head, hoping she would stay hidden.
She did.
“When were you going to tell me your mom was here?” My husband glared at me from behind the bathroom door.
“Before or after I was half naked trying to log onto the computer?” He shut the door softly behind him.
“She got in late last night. I didn’t know what to do. It was raining and I don’t know. I guess I couldn’t turn her away.”
“I swear she times this shit.” He turned on the water in the sink.
“You know she won’t be here long.” I slowly pushed open the door.
I saw him by the sink, in a towel, watching himself brush his teeth in the mirror. His hair was still wet and the bathroom was humid from his early morning shower.
“I know.” He rinsed his mouth out. After he dried his face, he gave me a hug, and held me.
“I couldn’t get on the damn computer.”
“I changed the password.”
“That’s what your mom said.”

Her bedroom door opened around 9:30 after my husband had left for work. The coffee had been made and my son was at school. I was reading the newspaper by the window, where the light trickled in from the blinds. I had my coffee and spoon resting on a green placemat which my grandma had given us when we moved into this house. There were a few dirty dishes in the sink from the night before and a full garbage can. I stood up to start the dishwasher when she walked in.

“I got it.” She took the dish washing liquid and pointed at the table for me to sit down and keep reading.

The obituaries were always the first thing I read but I immediately stopped when the reason I usually read them was about to run my dishwasher for me. There were all sorts of headlines I imagined which would accompany her photo:
Woman, robs store, shot by police
Local robber nabbed by police, killed in shoot out
Prostitute runs from police, found dead
Drug dealer arrested, turns in girlfriend who shoots self
Local woman arrested in Colorado drug ring found hanging in cell
Body found, believed to be missing inmate
Somehow she escaped all these headlines and got instead: Dumb ass daughter takes in dead beat mom, AGAIN.
I scratched my leg and tried to look at her over the top of the paper without her noticing. Maybe it was her mom senses or her witch intuition but she looked right at me from over her shoulder.

“Make sure you don’t put the heated dry on.” I covered.
“You act like I’ve never had a dishwasher or mouths to feed.” She washed her hands in the sink and dried them on the dish towel hanging from the oven. I cringed. My grandma always told me not to wash or dry your dirty hands in the kitchen.
“Are you just like her, too?” She leaned her elbows on the counter and looked over the top at me.
“What?” I didn’t want to face her. I didn’t want to have to look into her eyes.
“Your grandma. She didn’t like washing hands in the sink. You made a face.”
“No.” I wouldn’t make eye contact. “Just a story I read in the paper.”
“Oh. What was it about?” She was calling my bluff.
I hesitated.
“Some guy stole another guy’s dog and shot it and left it on their porch.”
“Man, some people are just fucking crazy. Just fucking crazy.”

Dinner was a dry roast beef she made. My son asked for cereal instead. When I poured sugar on his Rice Krispies she asked if anyone wanted seconds. My husband offered to take a little more and I’m sure it was to soften the blow of the cereal. Out of the corner of her eye she shot a glance at me and at my son and then served my husband a heaping pile of seconds.

Lying in bed later that night, my husband whispered that his stomach hurt.
“You’ll be fine.” I rolled my eyes in the dark.
“She probably tried to poison us. “
“Oh, shut up!” I jokingly punched his shoulder.
“Shhh! She might cast a spell on us if she hears us making fun of her.”
“Jason…” I scratched my arm. “She wouldn’t.”
“How do you know?” He laid flat on his back and I imagined he was staring at the ceiling.
“I don’t. I guess I really don’t know anything about her.” I rolled over on my side, unable to sleep.

I wasn’t ready for the onslaught of glances and the expected introductions which would come with picking my son up from school with her. Introducing her was a waste of time. After everyone got to know her, they loved her, wanted to have her over for dinner, she was so charming. Where had I been hiding her? Then when she disappeared I was left with the aftermath and the long explanations.

“I guess I need to meet your friends since I’m back now.” She looked into the windows of houses as we passed by while scratching her arms.
“I don’t talk to a lot of people.”
“I find that hard to believe.” She pointed to a house on the corner that had a white picket fence with yellow roses growing against it.
“Your grandma would love that.”
She was just getting geared up. She was preparing her interview personality. Ms. Charming, life of the party.

When my husband and I lived near the farmer’s market, closer to town, she showed up on the doorstep, like a delivery. There were two knocks and then she rang the doorbell, impatiently. When I answered she had a box in her hand and asked me to sign a paper which she walked out to an unmarked police car.

We were having a party the next day and inviting neighborhood and work friends. It was supposed to be an intimate gathering, a way to show off my cooking and hostess skills. We were newly married and I had read in a magazine how to have a casual dinner party with acquaintances.

“Don’t worry. I used to work for a caterer.”
The sun wasn’t even up yet and I went to the kitchen to make bread and a dessert. A light was on and she was already sitting at the table.

“I was up with the roosters.” She smiled and pointed to the oven, where the bread was already baking.
Once the guests starting arriving, I felt like a teenager whose mom wouldn’t let me walk around the mall with her friends alone.
“Daisy was such a mess this morning. Poor thing was up so early, but I got it pulled together for her.” She smiled, pulling out seats for them.
When she realized I was standing there, she bowed her head, “Oops. I guess it’s time for the hired help to leave.”
“Oh no, don’t leave. Join us!”

She entertained them all night. Telling funny stories which I’m sure she made up and listening to theirs as if she had never heard such things. Occasionally she would tell a joke which was close to crossing the line but it was just a riot when she did it. As they filtered out, they asked to see her again. They must have lunch with her one day and hear more about her. They told her where they lived and when they worked so she could come by whenever.

Later that night, after the dishes were clean, a couple of homes were burglarized. The intruder was able to lift a window, find the spare key or go through the back door, undetected.
My mom was gone the next day, leaving her fingerprints behind. The dinner guests, none the wiser, were heartbroken. We moved before they had time to figure it out.

“She loves roses.”
“You didn’t tell her I was here, did you?” She stopped walking.
“Hell no.” I coughed. I didn’t mean to word it so strongly.
“Can I meet Taylor’s teacher?” She had started walking again.
“No.” I looked ahead and saw all the parents waiting, waiting for me to make a fool out of myself again.

One of the worst things about having her around was her pity stares. Announcing you were going somewhere without her was like kicking an orphan child’s puppy. No matter what reasons you gave, her shoulders would slump; her eyes would dart to the floor, she would tuck her hair behind her ears, and sigh.
Jason, Taylor and I were going to the beach, alone, even if I had to kick her out, or come back to an empty house. I looked over my shoulder as we left and then threw up a hand and smiled.
“That was sweet.” Jason adjusted the air conditioning because Taylor was already hot and wiggling in his seat.
“I was mentally preparing myself for what would be missing by time we got back.”
“Why’d you wave then?”
“So maybe she wouldn’t steal anything.” I laughed.
“This is the longest she’s been here. Do you think she really is going to change?” Jason looked out the windshield, deep in thought.
“You never know with her. She might be gone by time we get back.” I leaned back against the head rest.
“Wishful thinking, Daisy, wishful thinking.”

The house we rented near the city park, by the ocean, was one of my favorites. It had a nice lawn with actual green grass which wasn’t burnt brown by the sun and red hibiscus bushes which rubbed lightly against the front windows when the ocean breeze floated down on our seaside street.
Saturday mornings, my husband plopped my son into the stroller and together we walked to the park, stopping for bagels on the way. The morning mist coated our arms and the sun warmed our eyes to another day. It was usually fairly empty in the morning hours except for a few surfers or beachcombers. The sand was still on the ground and there wasn’t a crying child to hear.
One morning, we were running a little behind and didn’t grab our bagel. Instead we ate granola bars and brought water. Our pace was faster than usual and the sun wasn’t out. The traffic was heavy when we tried to cross over to the beach and I had forgotten Taylor’s towel. We were off.

As Taylor slid down the bumpy slide, I heard my name and it all made sense. She was standing behind me, smile on her face and blocking the little bit of sun which was barely making its way out from behind the clouds. I felt instantly sick to my stomach. I wasn’t ready to do this all over again.

“Hey sweetie.” She held open her arms for a hug and I stared at the marks up and down her arms.
“Wha tha?” Taylor asked and pointed at my mom.
“I’m grandma.” I could see the excitement in her face as she translated him.

Jason left with Taylor and I was alone with her. I listened to her pathetic stories of plight, disorientation, set ups and bad decisions. Most of it wasn’t her fault though and she was ready to change. She was here now. She could babysit Taylor for me so I could enjoy time with my husband and she could help keep the house clean. She would be here.

After a day, she invited her boyfriend to join her at my home. He was sneaking out in the mornings and coming back while we were at work. I had noticed a few things missing here and there, nothing major. The house was always clean and she was always home.

Early one morning, Taylor had been sick, and I went to her room, which was really the Florida room, to ask her to watch him while I cleaned up his mess. I found her and the love of her life she later claimed, snorting coke. They were kicked out immediately.
A few weeks later, my house was robbed, everything of value was taken, a TV, computer, Taylor’s change jar, a few necklaces and even the washer and dryer. We were forced to move, again.

Every time I returned home, even if it was just to pick up Taylor, I expected to find the house empty, but each time, she was still there, usually at the kitchen table, reading, scratching her head. I don’t know if I had wanted her to leave or just to live up to her reputation. I didn’t want to forge a relationship with her. I really didn’t want her around but it was nice to have someone to talk to, even if she did lie.

“It’s supposed to rain tomorrow. Make sure you pack Taylor an umbrella.” She didn’t look up from the newspaper.
“I will.” I emptied out Taylor’s lunchbox and turned around to face her.
“When are you leaving?”
“I’m not.” She still didn’t look up.
“Come on. I’ve had enough of this charade. We both know you will, so why don’t you save us the trouble and tell us so we can plan our move.” I slammed my hands on the counter.
She wasn’t fazed.
“I said I’m not.”
And just like a teenager, with out of control hormones, pimples to pop, short shorts to wear and friends to impress, I yelled.
“I’m tired of this shit. I’m tired of the game. I’m tired of your ass showing up and wrecking what I have!”
She glanced over the paper at me, “I’m sorry, “and returned to reading.
I turned my back on her and in my mind it felt symbolic, like she would understand the gesture and leave.
“You want me to leave?”
“Yes.”

Two weeks later, she was still there, flipping pancakes for Taylor’s breakfast.
“Here ya go, buddy,” She placed a pancake with chocolate chips in front of him and then handed him a glass of milk. He rubbed his legs with his shoes and smiled up at her.
“Thanks.” He hesitated not sure what to call her.
“Good morning, Daisy.” She continued cooking.
“Good Morning.” I opened the fridge to make a bowl of cereal for myself.
“I made enough for everyone.” She turned half-way around with the spatula in her hand.
“I know.”

After dropping Taylor off, I walked around the neighborhood, trying not to peek into windows, while I thought about what my life would be like now that she was here. Ants were scurrying into the tiny crevices which separated the sections of sidewalk and lizards were dashing into the manicured bushes which kept the elements off of the porches decorated with white rocking chairs and handmade welcome signs.

Few people were out, jogging in high end exercise clothing with their iPods strapped to their arms. A younger woman, maybe twenty, had heavy steps. Each step landed a little bit harder than the one before. Her face was strained under her trendy sunglasses and wisps of hair slipped out from behind the colorful elastic which held her ponytail.

I imagined her life. Her husband was often away on business, leaving her to care for their mini-mansion on the outskirts of the community, near the wild woods. Very Puritan-like she desired the woods but felt compelled to remain in her ornate home, her safe ornate home. Her steps reminded her of the pain he caused when his wondering eyes found another’s, when his phone calls were less frequent, and when he left more often. I imagined she would make her footsteps so heavy it would be impossible for her to run away into the woods.

My walk had led me back to my own home. It wasn’t a mini-mansion but it was cute with its yellow shutters and wrought-iron bench on the porch. I could envision my mom sitting on the bench, coffee in hand, newspaper to the side, age in her eyes, waiting for me every day to come home from my walk. She would ask me how it was and what I saw. She would fain interest in order to keep the wool over my eyes of her real plans. It was time for her to go.

The house felt cool after the heat of the sun, the dishwasher was running and the dryer beeped that it was done. I took a deep breath and walked towards the kitchen when I realized she was no longer at the table reading the paper. There was a newspaper clipping, with a note written on it, left on the bed and the pillow was left neatly on top of the freshly laundered blanket.

“Is this the article you were talking about?” She scribbled over the heading.
Man Shoots Dog Because of Rabies Outbreak

The article wasn’t even remotely related to what I had lied to her about. Thus, her point was made. On the back there was a note from her. I turned it over, scratching my leg with my other leg. It was written in between the horoscopes and hints for Bridge.
Daisy,
I won’t be back. Live your life.
-“Mom”

I re-read it a hundred times, trying to find more meaning in her words while my legs kept itching. It bothered me enough to finally look down and find them covered in fleas. My legs, ankles, and even clothes had fleas on them. I looked around the bed, more fleas, the pillow, lice. The house was infested with her. I ran to the bathroom and knocked them into the toilet and checked my head in the mirror. They were everywhere.

I inspected the rest of the house and she had left a bit of herself in every room. I would have to tell my husband and scrub my child, bomb the house, wash everything in hot water, scrub the floors, throw her bedding away and never rest until every last bit of her was gone, again.

Justin got home late, after I had treated the home and Taylor’s head. Taylor fell asleep on the couch watching cartoons while I swept up all the dead fleas and lice from the bathroom floor.

“Justin, we have lice and fleas. She had them.”
He scratched his head, “What? Are you kidding?”
“But she’s gone.” I glanced over his shoulder half expecting her to walk through the door.
“I guess we have to move again.” He wrapped his arms loosely around me.
“She won’t be back this time.” I sighed and thought about a new headline for her.

Black Plaque is Back, Homeless Woman Found Dead

Advertisements

Flash Fiction Fun

Image

When I died I was asked if I wanted to come back. There were stipulations of course, where and when I could be seen and by whom. I accepted the deal. I was only allowed to be seen by my children and husband and I could only be seen in the current apartment in which we lived. This would be the arrangement until my last family member was gone, then my fate was to be determined.

At first it was scary for my little children to see me float above their beds at night, checking their breathing and covering their little feet which peeked out from under the covers. More than once my son sat straight up in bed, chest heaving, “You scared me, mom!” His hair plastered to his forehead, held by a cold sweat.

“I’m sorry baby. Get some rest.”

My daughter seemed to like my presence the most, requesting me to sleep next to her, “all night and don’t leave.” This was a request I was more than happy to fulfill since my husband went to bed so early. In the mornings we would sing as we would pick out her clothes and I would help her smooth her curly hair. Sometimes, when in a rush I would help her tie her shoes.

During the day I curled up with my fourteen year old cat. When he first saw me after I came back his black and white fur stood up and he hid in a corner. Once I called his name he never left my side. We spent more time together than we had before and it was a pleasure to lay with him and listen to him purr.

Time would creep by when my children were in school and for awhile I was contemplating homeschooling them because daytime TV was a bore when you couldn’t leave your house to try out all the new trends. Talk show hosts came and went, trendy couches were sat on and tossed, hairstyles were brushed and re-brushed, dreams changed and love left.

“Mom, I really don’t need you to brush my hair. It’s kinda weird.” My daughter looked at her reflection in the mirror. “I’m probably the only kid in America who has a ghost mom.”

“Probably, but I’m here for you. How many other moms can say that?”

“The ones that are alive.” She rolled her eyes and still gave me a hug as she left.

Sometimes at night I could hear my husband talk on the phone about things they had done while I was stuck in the house. They tried new restaurants, went to baseball games, enjoyed the sunsets on the beach, played at the park, saw new releases, and came home talking excitedly.

I understood the need to go places. At first I encouraged them to leave. Before long they were gone every weekend. The more they went the shorter their stories became. Then I was asked to hide when friends came over, then I was asked to hide when another woman came over.

“I’m lonely. You ignore me and I just sit here.”I sat next to my husband on our bed.

“Maybe you need another pet, maybe some more cable channels?” He smoothed the wrinkles on the comforter.

“Maybe I just need you.”

“You can’t expect us to sit around here all day with you. We feel bad making you hide when people come over, plus it’s creepy. It’s been like a prison.”

He seemed almost instantly embarrassed and looked at his shoe.

I heard a door close in one of the kid’s rooms and a distant cough. It was true. They all felt that way. “Oh.” I sat up and disappeared into the walls, although I wasn’t fully gone because I couldn’t be.

I avoided them for weeks. I wouldn’t let them see me, although they knew I was there. They would whisper about me and what to do. I heard them talking about other houses and maybe renting this one out. A couple of times they speculated that maybe I had finally died.

After a month, my husband called out to me, “Honey, come out. This is silly. We need to talk.”

I watched him from our bedroom, with my back crouched over, fiddling with our comforter, following the outlines of the flowers with my fingers.

“Honey, please. I have something important to tell you.” He looked around. He glanced at the ceiling, in the kitchen, my daughter’s room, the bathroom.

“We’re moving. The kids are leaving for college soon, and well, I’m moving in with Brenda.” He paused and took a deep breath.

“We aren’t going to sell this, and we’re going to visit, a lot.”

He wiped the kitchen counter with his hands and took a deep breath.

“I’m keeping the cable and everything on for you. It’ll be like your own place. “
I stared at the comforter instead of protesting.

“Did she hear you? Is she okay with it?” My son asked timidly when he walked in the living room.

“I don’t know. Maybe she isn’t here anymore.” He rubbed his arms up and down while glancing around the room.

On their last day, they looked around quietly, at the pieces of paper balled up on the carpet in the corners, dents in the wall from moving furniture, one curtain on the bedroom window and an empty fridge. All that was left was the TV, bed and comforter.

“Do you think she will need anything? “ My daughter looked almost directly at me.

I whispered to myself, “Just to sleep next to me all night, and don’t leave.”

They took one more sweeping glance and closed the door, then silence. I lay on the bed and stared at the ceiling. I remembered the day my son was born, breach, and early. When I held him in my arms he was crying, so I rubbed noses with him and kissed his forehead; my husband smiling proudly as he cut the umbilical cord.

I thought about when my daughter walked across the stage in a white robe with her cap bobby pinned to her long hair so it would stay straight for her kindergarten graduation. She smiled and waved to me, in the front row, and then winked.

Right after the accident I played hour-long games of Monopoly with my son. We argued over properties and laughed when one of us went bankrupt. Sometimes we stayed up so late he would get a special day off of school to sleep in. We would then play again.

My daughter and I talked fashion and watched romantic movies together, cried when there was a break up and snuggled under the blankets when someone died. We spent hours talking about boys and why her hair wasn’t straight, which bras to buy, how to fix holes in pantyhose and the best lipstick for her skin color.

My husband was distant. He never quite attached to me again. He would watch me play with the children but never joined in. A magazine or book was almost always a barrier between us and he didn’t care to stay up late and reminiscence about our dating years. He got angry when I saw him naked and refused to sleep in the same bed as me.

I wasn’t sure if they were ever going to come back. I tried not to keep track of time because it went by slow enough. I had to content myself with listening through the walls when the power was shut off. Luckily one neighbor was elderly and listened to her TV loudly and I could hear the shows, usually The Price is Right or Good Morning America. When she moved I had to try and listen to the people above me but all I could hear was furniture moving.

It became so quiet that when I heard the door open, I almost screamed.

“So, yeah, this was my old house.” I heard a voice like my son’s.

I jumped up and raced towards him but stopped just as quickly when I heard one I didn’t know.

“Wow. How long has this been sitting here?” A female voice echoed through the apartment.

“Gosh, I don’t know, maybe three or four years.” They started to head towards the bedroom so I hid.

I watched him as he led her on a tour, telling a story at nearly every stop, none of which included me. She held his hand and listened with a smile, flicking her hair occasionally with her other hand. He smiled, proud to show her his old home.
“I think I can sell it for a good price and we can then put down on a house of our own. “ He looked at her, waiting for approval.
He led her to the door and turned around. He walked to a piece of paper on the kitchen counter, it seemed out of place, and opened it. There was a drawing, not by a child, of a family with a person hovering over them. He held it in his hands, close to his chest for a long time.

“I’m going to step outside; it’s a little hot in here.” His female companion opened the door.

“I’ll be right there.”

I began to run towards him, as quickly as I could, hoping for that embrace. Gosh, he was handsome. I couldn’t wait to hear all about his life, all about all of them. As soon as I reached the living room the front door closed. I was too late. The paper was left on the counter, crumbled, the way it had been, left behind. I looked around the apartment as I slowly melted into the walls and hoped to disappear.