WILE E COYOTE

Lucy joined Alex and Alice. The three stood at their front room window watching Mr. Roadrunner, who stood on a short garden wall a few feet from the window. They admired his size and his cinnamon, blackish and white freckled feathers. He flexed his long tail and seemed to look at the three in the window. It was clear that he didn’t see through the glass. Presently, they saw a streak crossing the road and Mrs. Roadrunner joined him.

“They are magnificent,” commented Alice. “How fast they run! Monogamous, mates for life; rather like us.” She turned and looked at her husband. Then she went on, “do you remember the old Wile E Coyote / Roadrunner cartoons? I enjoyed watching those trailers. It’s a pity that they are no longer shown.”

“Beep. Beep.” replied Alex. They turned and gave each other a high five.

Lucy stood motionless between them, still fixated on the pair of birds.

“I heard the coyotes last night,” said Alice. “Their commotion upsets Lucy. I’m glad to see that she is calmer now. I wonder if she knows something we don’t; like what they are communicating. Is it a noise when they make a kill, or are they calling for reinforcements as they hunt?”

“Perhaps they are opening an order from Acme. One of those fateful contraptions that Wile E Coyote ordered to assist him in catching Roadrunner!”

Alice giggled “The roadrunner can go fifteen miles an hour; no wonder Wile never caught him!”

“They are doing quite well here for they have caught everything else- – all the domestic cats and wild rabbits. I think that even the dog population is diminished.”

“Surely, they don’t hunt dogs. They are the same species, aren’t they? However, talking about coyote prey, I’d love it if they could also work on the squirrels.”

By now, the Roadrunners had left; and Lucy wandered away. Alex and Alice went about their various household activities.

That evening the coyote calls were close. Lucy was very agitated and roused Alex and Alice. Again, the three stood at a window. This time it was their backyard window where they could see beyond into the greenbelt where the coyotes called. Alex slid the back door open and stepped outside. The night was balmy, and the cloudless sky twinkled with stars. Alice joined him. Together they stood breathing fragrant night air.

The coyotes called again; this time Lucy responded. She ran out between Alex and Alice’s legs, and made for a hole in the fence. She was gone before they realized what was going on. They wondered what an Australian Sheepdog, like Lucy, would do with a pack of coyotes and suspected that she would return. They were wrong Lucy had heard and responded to The Call of The Wild. She was gone. The next neighborhood newsletter described the coyotes, who were continuing to kill outdoor domestic pets and had morphed into a ferocious pack led by a large alpha who looked strangely like a dog.

THE CAMPING TRIP

This one is under 300 words, and  so I classify it as  flash fiction.

Amanda listened, wide-eyed, to her elder brother’s report about his Boy Scout’s camping trip. He spoke of s’mores, ghost stories, flickering flames, camp-fire cooking, the aroma of wood smoke and the beauty of the stars. His discourse gave Amanda and her younger sister images of a cozy home-from-home, little wonder that Amanda begged her parents to give her a tent for her tenth birthday. 

When the tent arrived, Amanda requested a camping trip. Her parents weren’t excited by the thought of an out-of-town excursion, and hit on the idea of a camping trip in their premises. The weather forecast was good, no rain predicted.

Their father arrived home on the day of their camp to find that his daughters had already managed to erect their tent. They were blissfully playing house with an assortment of dolls and stuffed animals. He and their brother set up an adjacent tent. They cooked hot dogs on a portable BBQ and roasted marshmallows before a chimaera.

When it was time to sleep their mother kissed the children and told them that she was going inside to her very own comfortable bed. She invited anyone who wished to follow her indoors. An hour later, her son joined her. He explained that night sounds of coyotes, and distant traffic was eclipsed by his loud snoring father.

“Two fifths,” said his mother “Three to go.”

At midnight, the girls woke up with a shock for it was raining and wet inside their tent. They gathered up their wet toys and ran into the house.

“Four fifths,’ said their mother, “One to go.”

Before joining the family inside, their father, woken by the kafuffle, ran to the garage to turn off the irrigation system for the girls had pitched their tent on top of a lawn sprinkler.

 

THE THIRD DAUGHTER

Dr. Lawrence Medford was forty-nine when his wife of twenty-five years died. It had taken six months from diagnosis to that fateful day when he stood with their daughters silently watching her simple coffin roll behind the undertaker’s doors leading to a cremation chamber. He showed no emotion, but his two college-age daughters didn’t share his stoicism and openly wept. The red-carpeted funeral home room was cold, and all three shivered even as they considered the heat of a furnace behind the unforgiving doors which had closed on their last link to their wife and mother. One of her dying requests was that they should not have an official memorial service, and so her death passed without fanfare and left them bereft of a sense of closure. Lawrence gathered up the solitary bouquet of flowers, a gorgeous arrangement of white roses, and carried it out to his car. His girls followed. If they hadn’t been so unhappy, they might have enjoyed the sweet aroma of roses as they drove home.

A few days later, their Dad stood on the platform at Durham’s train station, escorting his daughters off to London so that they could pick up their lives as apprentice architect and lawyer. He was pleased, but mildly surprised at their professional successes and even momentarily wondered whether he had been right to steer both away from his calling as a pediatrician. His argument was that medicine needs its practitioners to be fully up-to-date, something, he believed, to be impossible if a woman is also a mother.

After they had gone Dr. Lawrence Medford went home to embrace his loneliness by investing his time in medicine and gardening. He kept his large five bed room home and hired a live-in housekeeper to cook his meals and keep the home running. He was a slender, quiet-spoken, good-looking bachelor and several women, including his housekeeper, tried to capture his attention. He hardly noticed and didn’t respond for he was wrapped in his isolation and in his fond memories of his former life raising his family and communing with his late wife. He wasn’t one to engage in self-pity, although there were times when he questioned the way that his daughters had moved so far away in a semblance of abandonment. He wrote of his loneliness in his private journal but was too self-effacing to open up his feelings to anyone including his daughters.

A year later, this lonely man stood in Durham railway station waiting to meet his new resident, pediatrician-in-training, who was to arrive on the three-o-clock London train. When it swept into the station, he eagerly scanned the descending passengers for his contact, but all he saw was an elderly gentleman and three young women. As was his custom, he showed no emotion while inwardly debating that this didn’t make sense. Here he was waiting to pick up his new pediatrics resident, and the young man didn’t appear to have arrived; this was not a good start. The sun shone on the platform, so he held a hand to shield his eyes, thinking that perhaps the brilliant light had interfered with his vision. A whistle sounded, a flag waved, and the train left the station. Now he saw that the smallest of the three young women was approaching him with her hand outstretched.

“Dr. Lawrence Medford, I presume,” she paused, while she momentarily sensed his momentary hesitation.

“I’m Dr. Aytana Gupta, how-do-you-do.”

He held himself together while his mind whirled. A woman, how could this be? He expected, even welcomed, an Indian with a strong work ethic, good grades and sound references; however, a woman, and so young. His world, already miserably upside down seemed to be heading for another upset. He concealed his concern smiled, and said,

“Welcome Dr Gupta, come this way.”

Fortunately, Dr. Lawrence Medford had an open mind for, within a few weeks, he realized the error of his conception about women in medicine. He had misjudged Aytana. She might be small in stature and look young with her long flowing black hair, but she had a mind of a titan equipped with excellent medical knowledge. Her only problem was her shyness and lack of poise. He worked diligently to build up her self-confidence and helped her adjust into the mores and peculiarities of medical practice in a hospital in the north of England. They spent so much time together, two superb professionals with a common goal, that they developed a mutual attraction. Fortunately, their roles as teacher and student, coupled with his high moral and ethical standards melded their personal relationship into one similar to that between father and daughter.

At the conclusion of her residency, to Aytana’s delight, Dr. Lawrence Medford managed to persuade the Hospital Board to retain her as a full-time associated pediatrician. Before engaging in her new position, she took a long vacation in India. She returned with a husband in tow and laden with gifts, including an antique Indian painting of a tiger hunt as a special gift for her mentor. The gift overwhelmed him. In his entire life no-one including his parents, late wife, and daughters, ever gave him such a treasured gift. His eyes teared and his hands shook as he accepted it with a rare glimpse of his inner feelings..

He had influence with the Hospital Board and found a residency position for Aytana’s husband, Raj, whose medical training was two years behind that of his wife, He observed the young couple as they got to know each-other and to adjust to married life. He stepped in to gently counsel Aytana not to be overly critical or interfering with her husband’s residency. He urged her to let him form his own relationships.

Aytana’s content saw her gradually growing in stature both professionally and physically while she wore her hair shorter and shorter. When she was hospitalized with a bad case of German Measles her most frequent visitor was Al. He came with snowdrops, books, candy, love, and news from the wards. A year later, she was hospitalized again after a difficult delivery which ended with a cesarean. Al quickly realized that Aytana was heading into post-partum depression, he spoke to Raj and suggested that he take his wife out to dinner. This was accomplished with great secrecy. Raj arrived in Aytana’s room with red roses and a coat. She slipped into the coat. He escorted her to the best restaurant in the city where they dined in luxury. Although urged by the restaurant staff to take off her coat Aytana wisely kept it on. The episode with its element of subterfuge and love served to snap Aytana into herself again.

Doctors should never attempt to treat their own families because familiarity clouds perception, and so it was with Aytana and Raj. By the time that their daughter was seven months old they began to suspect that something was wrong. Aytana who shared everything with her mentor mentioned this to Al. A short time later, he invited the young family to afternoon tea. He served it English style in his drawing room. During the course of the occasion he periodically got up to play with the baby offering her various toys, and generally treating her with the empathy with which he served all his patients. When Aytana arrived at work the following morning, she found a carefully written diagnosis accompanied with letters of introduction to the country’s two top specialists who treated children with right-sided hemiplegia. (Hemiplegia is an irreversible one-sided, stroke-like brain injury, generally occurring in the womb or associated with a very difficult delivery. It is manifested by paralysis to one side of the body and can be partially mitigated by therapy, especially if administered at an early age). Aytana then realized that his attention to her daughter had been so that he could evaluate her and make a diagnosis.

When Aytana and Raj bought their first house, they invited Al to dinner. He came laden with the best wine. He admired their new accommodations but himself an avid gardener, looked woefully at their small garden, which was no garden merely a daunting plot rampant with weeds. The following Saturday he arrived with a mechanical digger in the trunk of his car and proceeded to spend the entire day digging up the weeds and preparing the ground. His investment stimulated Aytana and Raj to make another giant step into their assimilation into English culture, thereafter enjoying their garden as much as any English couple.

When Al retired, he urged the Hospital Board to appoint Aytana as his successor. Regrettably, they still espoused to his former belief that medicine is not a good profession for a woman and couldn’t see their pediatrics’ department led by one. She stayed on in her old role as second in command and she and Raj kept in close contact with Al.

A decade later, Al had a massive stroke and died. Dr Aytana Gupta wrote a long four letter of condolence to his daughters citing the many manifestations of his person which she treasured. She concluded with the words:

“Your father was a loving and giving person who asked for nothing. I wish more than anything that we had given him more than nothing.
“We are consumed with grief at this loss and will remember him as mentor, guide, father, grandfather, brother and loving friend – all that we had nothing of once – in this lovely and handsome person.
“We are proud to have known him and to have gained, so undeservedly, the affection of a beautiful and unique person.
“You must know that we shall not forget him.”

When Dr Lawrence Medford’s coffin rolled into the cremation chamber, his daughters stood weeping and watching. They thought about him and their self-imposed distance, and let Aytana’s words flow over their sadness and regrets. Her words described a closeness and love surpassing their relationship with their father, for she was, indeed his third daughter.

Ruby – a short story

Over December I was embroiled with the pleasurable visit of my Honduran missionary doctor daughter and her family. We had three energetic children, 6,4 and 1, daily demonstrating their endless supply of energy. There was no time for blogging, reading or writing. I am now back with a story stemming from my other daughter’s daughter. I hope that I still have some faithful followers and am able to visit some of my favorite blogs again.! 

Today, we had a little ceremony as my husband, grand-daughter Sophie, and I wept and wrapped him in a shroud. We then solemnly buried him under the pecan tree in our back-yard. For you to understand our sadness, I’ll explain by starting at the beginning.

We celebrated my last birthday at a restaurant where my oldest grand-daughter, Sophie, gave me a poem.  On second reading I realized that Sophie’s poem told me that she intended to give me a living thing to keep on my desk. I panicked as I have been through the cat and dog routine and didn’t relish the thought of doing it again. Sophie sensed my panic and assured me that this living thing would be no trouble. My mind jumped to African violets as I have quite a collection. I inquired whether the living thing, to which she referred, would be a bright color and she assured me that it would. I worried no more.

At her next visit I was presented with a Betta fish. He was a brilliant red and came in a small sealed cup which held less than a pint of water. I wondered what I’d do with him. Sophie rescued me. She said that the Betta is a marsh fish which survives in ditches and rice paddies in water with little oxygenation. She waxed technical and told me that Bettas are anabantoids, who can breathe atmospheric air using a unique organ called the labyrinth; as a result a pump and constant aeration is unnecessary. While Sophie talked, I watched my birthday gift fish twirl his almost two inches of bright red body and delicate fins and tail. Yes, I thought, he is rather lovely and will make a decorative addition to my desk. We placed him in the largest of my cut-glass vases which gave him about 48 ounces of water. We added some decorative stones and water weeds from my outside pond. Sophie liked the set-up and commented that a happy Betta will blow bubbles on the surface of the water. I named him Ruby.

According to directions, I fed Ruby twice a day and changed his water on Sundays. He blew bubbles on the surface and grew. I looked him up on line and found that a Betta can grow to five inches and needs a gallon of water per inch of fish. I knew that Ruby needed bigger accommodations, so I moved him into a giant two-gallon mason jar which I previously used for serving iced tea and punch. It had a convenient faucet at the bottom so that I could use it to change the water. Everything was going well. Ruby began to recognize me when I fed him, and his bubble nest grew. He was mesmerizingly attractive when he swam with his fluttering red fins moving back and forth at speed, He was so captivating that I had to agree that Sophie had had a good idea. I would have loved to give him a companion but read that the Betta is very aggressive towards other males. Obviously, a female was out of the question for the last thing I wanted was a tank full of baby Bettas fighting for survival, or worse providing fodder for their father, Ruby. 

Instead, I cared for Ruby, who continued to demonstrate more and more affection for me. Sometimes he poked his head out of the water for a minute or so. He thrived and grew. When he was almost five inches long, I invested in a wide mouthed five-gallon wine-making carboy. By now, he would keep his head out of the water, for as long as I stood beside the tank. I hoped that he wouldn’t grow any more. He became selective over his food. When I fed him little pink betta fish pellets, he would take them in his mouth and then spit them out. Tiny dried blood worms were a different story he twirled in the water with glee and ate them fast. It was during one of these ecstatic feedings that I noticed that Beta’s body seemed to be changing. I best describe the changes by drawing an analogy to those of a tadpole. It seemed to me that daily, as he grew, his beautiful flowing, red side fins filled out and appeared to be morphing into arms, while his tail section became increasingly leg-like. These changes obliged him to adapt his swimming technique from graceful water glide to the square breast stroke of a small frog. He took to clinging to a surface branch of water weed. 

Soon Ruby grew to ten inches which is much larger than any statistic that I could find on line. When Sophie visited me, we discussed our conundrum and decided to move him into an old bath tub which I had in my garage. We set it up with some large stones in the middle. Ruby took to basking on the stones. I sent e-mail pictures to Sophie and we hypothesized that we were witnessing the unique birth of a primordial fish into a land animal. We were right for Ruby developed the ability to flip himself out of the tub and flop around the garage. His land propulsion, improved and he was soon walking.  A month later he was so proficient that he was able to accompany me on my daily constitutional walk. He enjoyed his walks, and looked, and behaved increasingly like a small dog. When neighbors, who I met along the way, inquired about his species. I gave vague muffled replies about strange mixed breeds. I was becoming too fond of him to risk the truth as I didn’t want to lose him to science. Finally, he abandoned the garage tub and took up residence in our den where he liked to sit on my knee or next to my husband on the couch. Thankfully he stopped growing. 

That winter we had torrential rains, which filled the creeks and dry water beds with gurgling clear water. On our walks, Ruby liked to stand on the bank and drink. That’s when the accident happened. He tripped and fell in. The current gently swept his floundering flailing body down-stream for he had clearly forgotten how to swim. By the time that I caught up with him all I could do was pull his inert body out of the water. He had drowned!

Uninvited

This piece, at almost 500 words doesn’t classify as a 300 word ‘flash’ fiction but I don’t want to cut 40% so I’m calling it a short, short story.

The front door bell rang when Silvia was in the bathroom. She ignored it. She was alone while her husband was out buying groceries, and they were not expecting visitors. She rationalized that it was probably a delivery which she could retrieve on her own time. When the bell rang a second time accompanied by knocking Silvia was annoyed. She told herself that there was no way that she was going to answer the summons for she now deduced that the person or persons on her porch were sales-people or worse Jehovah Witnesses. The radio in the den was playing Mozart. She listened to the music and hummed along with the Clarinet Concerto letting the familiarity of the music help to soothe her annoyance. How she loved the Clarinet! She smiled as she thought of her husband’s reference to his high-school band playing days when the brass derogatorily referred to the clarinet as a “liquorish stick”. She moussed her hair and began to blow it dry

She was about to go into the den when she thought that she heard hushed voices inside the house, Mozart was still playing so she knew that it wasn’t a radio announcer. She shivered. Hadn’t she just read the neighborhood newsletter in which they reported a spate of daylight robberies with instructions to residents to call 911 to report any suspicious activities. The article had gone on to warn residents not to approach the thieves who were described as “armed and dangerous”. Silvia’s earlier annoyance morphed into fear.

She thought that she might be able to hide in the closet to mask her voice so that she could make a 911 call, or better silently text her alarm, but then she realized that her mobile phone was in the den. She strained and heard the voices coming closer. In no time they would be in her bedroom and she had nowhere to hide.

On the spur of the moment Silvia decided that the only weapon she had was an element of surprise. She walked slowly to her bedroom door, took a deep breath, and opened it. She saw her two uninvited intruders standing in front of the television. They both carried bags. The morning sun streamed in through the den windows casting bright patches of light across the room. Silvia stood with the sun behind her. She hoped that the shadow would disguise the fear on her face. She waved her arms dismissively,

“Gentlemen,” she said, “you found the key, that’s good; but we weren’t expecting you today. You’ve got the wrong day! We agreed on Wednesday, that’s tomorrow. You have to leave now, and come back tomorrow!”

Nose

At a cocktail party, a middle-aged gentleman told his fishing story. It was about a snake; not about the colossus that got away. He said that the incident had happened years ago but was one of those life moments, which haunts forever. Apparently, he was doing some deep-water wading when he felt a long slimy body slither between his legs. He instinctively knew that this was not a fish. Then, his eyes agog, he told of his subsequent horror when a six-foot-long water snake reared out of the water to stare at him with cold unblinking eyes. Its head was a few inches from his nose. Thoughts flashed through his mind, “If it bites me on the nose, and I survive will I have a deformed face with no nose?” and “What should I do to survive even if I do lose my nose?”

The man paused to take a sip, and I looked at him skeptically. His nose was intact. I wondered whether he was exaggerating the size of the snake, for most do in an attempt to validate fear. A snake enthusiast in our group commented this was probably a benign water snake; easily distinguished, he said, because the poisonous Cottonmouths are aggressive and have fatter bodies. The gentleman looked at us, gauging our disbelief and went on to tell how he managed to keep his cool demeanor and slowly raise his hand to cover his vulnerable nose while he gently blew in the snake’s face. To his relief, the snake took his suggestion. It backed off and swam away almost as though it were as scared as he. As for the type, he said that he was too frightened to be able to distinguish what kind of snake it was. I don’t blame him.

Jane Stansfeld 296 words

MANGO MEMORIES

Although they found the community zip line broken the children and their grandparents chatted happily and waved sticks during their pedestrian descent. The path meandered down a mountainside overlooking a dark Honduran tropical jungle ravine. They were content for the hot mid-day sun diminished jungle terrors of large predator snakes, raucous bird song, and howling monkeys. At a turn, they came upon a wild mango tree. They gathered ripe fruit. At home the grandmother prepared it, and they ate.

The following day they were back shaking branches to gather more fruit. The mango aroma mingled pleasantly with the musty dampness of the jungle. This was Eden. Occupants in an overlooking residence came outside and stood in a gawking row, as though they considered gathering mangoes a forbidden activity. The fresh crop was taken home, peeled, prepared and consumed. All was well.

Three days later, the grandmother began to scratch an annoying, supposed, insect bite on her jaw. A couple of days later, it was swollen and spread across her face. It progressively proliferated; neck, chest, arms, legs, a veritable itchy red mess. She analyzed the last week in an attempt to identify something unusual, – a cause of this allergic reaction. Then she hit upon it – the mango.

Dr Google helped. Yes, mangoes contain Urushiol in their skins. This is the same allergen found in poison ivy, poison oak, and sumac as well as traces in pistachios and cashews. Grandmother’s problem was a prolonged exposure, including residues lurking on clothing and jewelry. We conclude this story with a praise for steroids and time, which work their combined magic in dispelling itchy eruptions. We add grandmother’s suspicion of a minor biblical error for the tropical Eden forbidden fruit is, surely, the mango not the apple.