The red shoes

Yves Saint Laurent platform sandalsThe moment that Candice saw them, displayed in Nordstrom’s shoe department, she knew that she had to have them. She stood and stared. It was early Saturday afternoon. Someone played the Moonlight Sonata on a piano tucked under the escalator, and the air was cool, laden with a faint smell of perfume from the in-store perfumery. People moved around her for it was the busiest corner where the route from the main Nordstrom exterior entrance intersected with the route to the Nordstrom mall entrance. Candice was oblivious to her surroundings; she murmured her promise – one day you will be mine.

The color was what initially caught Candice’s eye. It was a rich, vibrant, alluring red. If asked, she would have described the shoes being “lipstick red”; for even though there are many shades of lipstick, lipstick red is the most intense red available. If pressed further she might have added that the red was artist Cadmium Red; the reddest, purest red in a rainbow. Candice hesitantly touched one of the shoes. She picked it up. The leather was soft and supple. She ran her finger over the smooth, shiny, outer finish. She turned it over. The label read: “Yves Saint Laurent, tribute platform sandals, $795.” Candice coughed, $795 for a pair of shoes! A young man, obviously a shoe salesman as advertised by his elegant suit, materialized and approached Candice,

“Would you like to try them on?” he asked.

Candice blushed, “Well, yes and no, $795 is an awful lot.” she confessed. He nodded and waved his hand, “Actually, it is a very good price.” He waved a hand toward the rest of the shoe display. “Most of our named designer shoes, such as Prada, go for a lot more, and I mean, a lot!” He gently took the shoe from Candice and carefully set it back on its pedestal.

Candice sighed, “Maybe another time!” she said, for she already knew that she was destined to own a pair of these shoes. When she got home she searched the internet for resale designer shoes and eventually found a site which carried two pairs of Yves Saint Laurent tribute platform sandals listed at $435 pair. One was in her size. Candice thought this to still be a stiff price, but she also decided that the fact that one pair was her size was surely fate. She rationalized that if she wore these shoes to their upcoming design presentation at the office, her elegance would so impress her colleague, Luke, that he would ask her out.

Candice worshiped Luke, and although some rumored that his unattached status was because he was probably gay, she believed otherwise. His athletic body, healthy bronzed skin, fair hair, and elegant dress sense, coupled with his design skills, clouded her perception. She was thankful for every moment that they worked together even though, she admitted to herself that, she was the one doing most of the work. The upcoming design presentation was to present their SD (Schematic Design) for their client’s proposed new corporate offices located on a campus in north Austin. If their client approved their design, the team would be authorized to proceed into DD (Design Development). Candice had prepared most of the drawings and managed their team of student architectural interns who had made a site model. Normal office attire was casual but for design presentations the team generally dressed up; the men in suits and ties and the women in skirts and heels. Candice bought the shoes. She planned to wear them, topped by a short charcoal grey skirt and black blouse with a red and grey pattern on it.

On the day of the presentation Candice arrived at the office early. She cleared the conference room of drawings and residue from a previous in-house work session, pinned up the SD drawings, placed the model on the table, and set up a projector and PC for Luke’s Power Point presentation. She met the office receptionist who set up a side table laden with breakfast snacks. Freshly brewed coffee would arrive just before the client.

With everything in readiness Candice slipped off to her corner of the office to put on her new shoes. They imparted a unique sense of her own worth. Her recently manicured toe nails shone a matching red. She knew that she looked good and felt as though she walked on air although, in actuality, the shoes hurt her feet and obliged her to move more slowly than was her custom. At the last moment Luke appeared. He approached her with deference which she took as a response to her looks. He seemed a little irked by her display of drawings as he said that his PowerPoint presentation included copies of all the drawings and covered all bases.

Paul, the client representative, turned out to be an intense young man of about the same age as Luke. Candice, with her new shoe-induced self-confidence, looked him over while Luke made his presentation. Tall and slender, his dark suit accentuated his short curly hair, but where Luke’s good looks appeared somewhat contrived, this young man was obviously self-confident and at ease with himself. His handshake was firm and his smile unaffected lighting up his face and making his deep brown eyes twinkle under thick lashes.

When they paused for a coffee break Luke approached Paul and it seemed to Candice that he was attempting to flirt with him. She instantly wondered whether her ideal man, Luke, wasn’t so perfect, and might indeed be gay, perhaps explaining why he showed no interest in dating any of the available unattached women in the office. When they resumed their presentation, Paul launched into a series of questions about the design. Luke, normally fully in control, became flustered and flicked through PowerPoint attempting to find the appropriate drawing. Candice stood up, her red shoe induced self-confidence gave her impetus. She knew that she looked good as she walked to the drawing on the wall and answered Paul’s question with ease. Paul suggested a design variation. In no time they had the drawing on the conference room table, and covering it with tracing paper, began sketching. Lunch came and went; Candice and Paul worked on. Mid afternoon Paul declared that he was pleased with their work; SD, with the design revisions of that day was approved. He continued to address Candice and inquired whether she could deliver an updated set of plans as the “official’ approved SD to his office on Friday afternoon the following week. Candice, still feeling beautiful and confident, nodded in acceptance.

At the appointed time, at week later, Candice stood in Paul’s reception area waiting for him to emerge. She wore a navy suit, red camisole and, of course, her confidence-inspiring red shoes. Paul came out to greet her, gave her his signature firm hand-shake, and escorted her to a conference room where he gave the SD plans a quick overview.

“You included all the revisions which we discussed. It looks good.” He reached out his hand and shook Candice’s “Full steam ahead into DD!” Candice felt a surge of emotion run through her body. She looked into Paul’s face.

“Thank you!” she said starting to withdraw her hand, but Paul brought up his second hand and warmly clasped hers,

“How about we go out and celebrate?”

Candice nodded, “I’d like that!”

Their dinner was a success. They discussed architecture and other mutual interests. Over the next few weeks they had several more enjoyable dates. Each time Candice wore her red shoes and an outfit selected to complement them. She told herself that Paul had fallen for her because of the way she looked with them on. Then, over dinner Paul reached across the table took her hand and asked,

“Candice, will you consent to be my official girlfriend, and accompany me to meet my parents?”

“I’d like that!” came her happy response, although inwardly she wondered how he would respond to her on the inevitable occasion that she wore different shoes.

“There is something which you need to know.” he said. Candice held her breath, hoping against hope that it wouldn’t be something relating to the shoes.

“I trust that this doesn’t change anything,” he went on, “but I want you to know that I am color blind. It runs in our family. If all goes well and we advance our relationship, I am told that there is a high probability that any male children would, likewise, be color blind.”

Time – a poem by LEMS

The other day I was  going through some of my father’s old papers and came across this poem which my mother, LEMS (Lucy Edith Mary Stansfeld, wrote. It was dedicated to him. It appears to have been written in 1968 shortly before she died. I  find it beautiful and moving, worth of being shared. I regret that I didn’t know that she was writing at that time so that I could have discussed it with her.

My purse is nearly empty – this my pain,
to eek the few base coins that still remain.
How prodigal the shining gold I spent
thoughtless, thriftless, and incontinent
And there is none on whom to blame my loss,
this was no crock-of-gold to turn to dross,
But amply and sufficient from my birth
what I have wasted could supply this dearth.
TIME is the currency, DEATH the empty purse
few had more coin, and few have used it worse.
Tip in my hand my last poor pence, weigh my finds,
open my palm to look again – the brightness blinds!
All that was scant and dirty, base and old,
the alchemy of love has turned to gold!

Francesca

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They expected to be met by a single business like, efficient custodian to usher them around, take their deposit, and give a receipt. They expected their holiday Tuscan villa to be a rental residence swept clean of unnecessary clutter. They expected an elegant place, sporting bare essentials, decorated with a few nondescript pictures of the sort which adorn the walls of most hotel rooms. Instead, the family of eight were met by a mottled triumvirate of three made, up of a middle-aged gentleman in nondescript clothing, a sleek young man who retired behind his companions and a stocky black man who spoke broken English. The three seemed to fit well into the miscellanea of objects festooned around the villa. As far as the visitors could determine the middle-aged gentleman owned the place while the black man was custodian. They were unable to determine the status, or role, of the young man. He seemed as out-of place as many of the ornaments and objects strewn around the villa.

Our group of eight settled in quickly although familiarity only served to further their curiosity. Why was the villa so cluttered? What did this collection of objects have in common? Why were there so many pots, pans, and cooking utensils? Why were there so many sets of glasses and China? Who was the beautiful lady whose portrait dominated the two main living rooms? Was the boy whose picture lurked in a side corner the middle-aged gentleman who appeared to be the owner? Why was the door which they were required to use as a front door quite obviously not the front door? Why were certain areas closed off by curtains? At dinner, they discussed these conundrums.

The mystery of the doors was quickly solved. The ancient villa had an associated support building which must, at one time, have been the carriage house and servant’s quarters. The original ‘grand’ entrance was under a portico which connected the two structures and provided an upper-level bridge between the two. The support building was now inhabited by the custodian. The curtains and screened off areas of the villa were an attempt to disguise and shut off the custodian’s activities. Since the clutter in the main, villa did not include anything, such as toys or other furnishings associated with children, the visitors assumed that children, if any, must have been raised, Victorian style, in the associated building. They speculated that placement of the tiny painting of a small boy confirmed the notion that children were not welcomed in the main villa.

Among the magazines festooning the coffee and side tables the visitors found an April 1992 issue of “Villa Giardini” (numero 269) in which they found an article headed “Casa Nelson Verde.” It described the 1962 renovation of the 1770 villa under the guidance of architect Alberto Bartalini. The photographs showed sparingly furnished elegant spaces. They recognized the furnishings which still occupied the rooms together with the accumulated clutter of objects and pictures, which now covered every wall and surface. They deduced that the additional objects must have been gathered during the 56 years after the 1962 renovation. They wondered why it had taken thirty years for a 1962 renovation to make it into the magazine.

The visitors spent their evenings under the gaze of a portrait of a blond-haired lady in blue evening dress and long black gloves. She stared down with a lurking mischievous smile. Surely, they thought, this dominating lady with impish personality, was responsible for the clutter of objects in the villa. They were tempted to name her Anna Maria Luisa after the last Medici heiress who donated her family’s art collection to the city of Florence to become the much-visited Uffizi museum. However, Anna Maria Luisa is too much of a mouthful and didn’t fit the lady of the portrait so her name became Francesca. They noticed that the villa’s collections appeared to have several biases. One such bias covered horses even including a riding trophy. These, the visitors decided, must have been Francesca’s. Another bias covered ships and sailing which they assumed must have belonged to Francesca’s husband. They named him Tito. Then there was the collection of over 100 hand-painted botanical images –perhaps the work of Francesca herself? Intermingled and suffocating these pictures and items was an accumulation of eclectic paintings squeezed onto every wall space; with an equal accumulation of art books crammed into the book shelves. Where these Francesca’s or her and her husband’s or a later man’s, perhaps the artist to whom she gave her whimsical smile as, he painted?

Since the villa offered its clues in Italian and our visitors only spoke English, they finally created their own story, which follows:

In the early 1962s when they got married Francesca gave up riding and Tito gave up ships and sailing, for they wished to forge a life together unsullied by outside interests to which only one of them espoused. Everyone who knew them declared that the marriage was bound to fail. Those who felt kindly toward Francesca suggested that she had fallen for his intellect, and that it was to be a union of soul mates. Those who were less empathetic gossiped behind the couple’s backs and postulated that Francesca, a beautiful young woman of thirty, only married Tito, thirty years her senior, for his money, in the expectation that he would pre-decease her leaving her a rich widow. Everyone agreed that Tito, had fallen for Francesca for her beauty and a chance for he, himself, to have children and to cheat the onset of old age. In actuality, Tito’s wealth was an illusion reduced, at the time of their wedding to one Tuscan villa surrounded by producing vineyards. He didn’t regret his itinerant past but was now happy to give up ships and the seas, along with their associated costs, in favor of a quiet family life. Francesca, on her side, knew that her damaged right knee meant that she had to give up riding. She hoped to parlay her new status into one of gracious hostess. Most weekends she invited house parties to the villa. They ate lavishly with elegant settings of china and glassware. Francesca felt it only proper that they should have a variety of table settings. Whenever her cook produced a dish which displeased Francesca, she blamed her tools, and Francesca responded by buying new ones for her – hence the large accumulation.

Francesca and Tito’s age difference did not affect their fertility, so, by the time that they returned from their prolonged honeymoon, Francesca was pregnant. She found the prospect of motherhood in a remote Tuscan villa repugnant. To cheer her up, and to lure her into a full commitment to their proposed home, Tito agreed to an extensive renovation. Francesca took up the task of renovation with gusto. She added expansive exterior terraces overlooking the associated vineyard and a large swimming pool. She added a surreptitious back elevator for her to use when her knee acted up. Tito enjoyed watching Francesca working with her architect, but his main focus was on her pregnancy. He categorically refused permission for the renovation to be published, and urged Francesca to focus on her advancing motherhood for he couldn’t understand why she appeared so ambivalent. After the baby was born, they retained a Swiss nanny who took care of raising their son.

Tito arranged for Francesca to sit for a portrait for him to hang in his library along with his nautical memorabilia. The artist turned out to be an attractive young man of Francesca’s age, what he lacked in talent he made up for in wits and amusing banter. Francesca enjoyed her sitting sessions and was tempted to engage in more intimate relations with him. She decided to restrain herself as Tito’s age was already beginning to slow him down. She pretended to disregard the Tito’s signals of aging, and kept up an active social life intertwined with extensive travel. Tito worried as he watched the final remnants of his estate dwindle away. Before it was all gone, as so many had predicted, his body collapsed. One afternoon, on the road between Pisa and the villa, Tito had a massive fatal heart attack. The nay-do-tellers nodded their heads. Francesca had what she wanted; wealth and position, or did she, for she soon discovered that she had little wealth, only a villa which was rapidly disintegrating under her.

At this point, Francesca made two decisions; she immediately contacted the magazine to publish the story of the villa renovation and she called the artist who had painted her first portrait and to invite him to return for another sitting. One result was the picture which dominates the main living room and watched over the renting family. The other result was that the artist moved in with Francesca. He brought his household possessions to mingle with hers; his kitchen paraphernalia, collection of nick-necks, eclectic paintings and books about art. They quickly sold off most of the villa’s estate to create capital to live on. They never got married, but, co-existed in their clutter of possessions compulsively adding as they felt moved. They died within a year of each other leaving the middle-aged gentleman whom the family met on their first day as their sole inheritor for he confirmed, through his custodian interpreter, that,

“Yes, the lady in the portraits is my mother.”

Oh, to speak Italian and learn the true story!

The Hidden Treasure

When his father died of a sudden heart attack, twenty-one-year-old Kent joined his mother in a search for what they regarded as his father’s hidden treasure. The mystery began during the last six months of his father’s life when the old man developed a paranoia founded on his belief that the entire US financial system was about to collapse. Both Kent and his mother had watched him systematically liquidate his assets. He talked incessantly about his mission. However, just as he shared his fears for the future and his active response, he never told them what he did with his accumulated cache of money. They both knew that he neither gambled nor used drugs and were sure that he had hidden the money somewhere.

After a short period of mourning Kent and his mother sat and discussed the missing funds which they estimated to be in the order of a hundred thousand dollars. Together they went through his papers but found nothing. They searched for hidden cash, under, and in, his mattress. They turned the house upside down; they made inquiries about a possible deposit box at his favorite bank; and they talked to his lawyer and his handful of friends. They found nothing.

Each year afterwards Kent and his mother dreamed about the missing hoard and speculated what they would do if they ever found it. As time passed they both recalculated and dreamed letting their estimate of the value of the hoard grow. It held a spell over them tighter than the spell of the lottery. Kent’s mother stayed in her small house while Kent moved into a one-bedroom apartment, both dreaming of a time when they would suddenly become affluent.  By the time, a few years later, that Kent’s mother died of diabetic complications they both believed that finding the lost treasure would make them millionaires.

Now that his mother had passed away Kent resumed his search in conjunction with his duty, as sole heir, of disposing of her possessions. He was assisted by his mother’s cat Mack who came with the rest of her tiny estate. Each day he spent his spare time in her small house cleaning out her cupboards and shelves. Mack always joined him and would settle down in a comfortable location close to where Kent was sorting and watch him with glass-like yellow-green eyes.

When he began on the bedroom Kent realized that his mother had never disposed of her husband’s clothing.  He felt a moment of excitement. Although they had both been through his things Kent speculated that the clue to his father’s missing fortune could be concealed amongst his old garments. He abandoned his mother’s side of the closet and began to systematically go through his father’s side. He patted every seam and went through every pocket prior to neatly folding each garment. He stowed the searched items into bags to take to charity. On the second day of his work he became so immersed in his task that he lost track of time, suddenly he glanced at his watch.

“Oh no, it is two-thirty already!” he exclaimed, “I’ve only got another thirty minutes before I need to be at work, and still nothing.”

He glanced at Mack, angry at himself for talking to a cat, who, on this occasion, sat on the bed and watching him with unblinking eyes. Mack returned Kent’s stare and continued to purr gently, apparently oblivious to both Kent’s comment and his change in ownership. Kent accepted Mack’s feline disinterest and continued,

“Go on, you ugly ball of fur, tell me what he did with it.”

Mack remained silent.

“You know don’t you, you mean creature. How could a man of sixty-two, cash in all his assets and then die leaving no clue where they went?”

Mack blinked at Kent and slowly got up and approached him with a look which said that Kent’s insults didn’t affect him. He arched his back and rubbed himself against Kent’s left arm. He purred, letting his coat brush against Kent’s watch to send stray hair strands into the air. Kent sneezed.

“All right, out!” Kent pointed to the door.

Mack stalked out his tail waving gently to register his annoyance at his dismissal. Kent glanced at his watch again and continued with his task.

The next day Kent was back again sorting clothes. Out of the entire closet of clothes and shoes all he found was a key lodged deep in a Christmas waistcoat pocket. He set the key on the bed-side table. Mack left his spot on the bed to amble over and sniff it. He opened his mouth to use his vomeronasal, (Jacobson’s), organ. Kent watched.

“Leave that alone.” Kent moved quickly to the table and snatched up the cat. He held him up high and looked him in the eyes, “Go on, you, insufferable creature, tell me what he did with it!” Mack began to lick Kent’s watch. Kent dropped him resulting in a snarl. Mack left the room.

Kent took the key to the locksmith in Home Depot. The man examined it and announced that it was not a key to a bank vault box or a door into a storage facility; rather it was a cheap key to a small home lock-box, the type sold in Walmart. The next day a crew from the Salvation Army arrived to take away furniture which Kent was donating to charity. A small lock box fell off the top of the TV wardrobe. Kent pounced on it with a cat-like leap. He could scarcely contain his excitement but managed to wait until the movers left. Then he set the box on the kitchen counter and tried the key. It opened. Inside, wrapped in tissue paper, were a pair of gold cuff links and tie pin and a scrap of paper on which was written;

Sam’s Estate and Jewelry, 615 South Lamar

Kent went to 615 South Lamar but there was no Sam’s Estate and Jewelry instead a store with a huge neon sign announced “Pete’s Pawn Shop” and “We pay top dollars for gold.” Kent went inside. He asked the man behind the counter whether he knew what had happened to Sam’s Estate and Jewelry. He was told that Sam had died and his children had closed the store. Disappointed, Kent was about to leave when he remembered the gold cuff links and pin which he carried in his pocket. He drew them out and placed them on the counter and asked the man what he could give for them. The man took the articles and examined them with his jeweler’s monocle.

“Gold.” He announced, “I need to weigh them in the back then I’ll give you an offer.” He returned a few minutes later.

“They are quite nice, cost about $150 new, I can give you $75 for them.”

Kent gasped, “I was hoping for more.”

The man shook his head,

“I’m sorry that’s the best I can do.

Kent sighed and against his better judgement said, “OK, it’s disappointing, but I need the cash so I’ll take the $75!”

As the man counted out $75 he went on talking, “If you need cash, what about that watch which you are wearing. I can see that it is a nice one. I could probably give you a couple of hundred for it.”

Kent clutched his wrist, stared at his watch and then looked at the man. He felt a surge of pride for his watch and thrust his arm across the counter for the man to have a better look. He explained,

“It was my Dad’s. It is all I have to remember him by. He bought it shortly before he died. He really loved this watch.” Kent paused and gently rubbed the face of the watch with his right hand. He looked up at the man, “Ma wanted to bury him in it but when I saw it on his wrist in the coffin I broke down. I knew that it would be the best reminder of him that I could ever possess. I’m sure that he would have wanted me to wear it. It gets lots of complements, every time I look at it I think of him!”

The man nodded, “Suit yourself,” he said, “But if you ever want to sell I’ll give you top dollar for it, on second thoughts I’ll up my offer to $500.”

The offer intrigued Kent but the man seemed too willing to buy, and so he left, determined to research the true value of his watch. He went to a reputable jeweler in town and they inspected it, called in experts and eventually confirmed it to be a rare antique Omega 1980’s (reference 345.0802) Speedmaster Professional in 18 carat gold as worn by James Cooney.  They declared it to be in in pristine condition, and told Kent that they could give him $100,000 for it.

Kent wasn’t sure whether he was pleased with this information or not. He hurried home determined to give Mack more respect and to ponder his options

Nick’s Indecision – a short story

Nick awakes to bird song. He stealthily wiggles out of his warm sleeping bag careful not to wake Alice who sleeps on. He takes time to gaze at her. He thinks to himself how pleasant it is to see this vibrant demanding, nay ofttimes, domineering woman, at peace. Her face is relaxed into the semblance of a smile, a Mona Lisa smile, thinks Nick. He knows that if he lingers too long he will be tempted to stroke her luxurious hair, and then kiss her lips. Past experience warns him that if he woke her up she would probably be annoyed and the morning would erupt into a cacophony of human activity. Right now Nick needs time to think. He peeps out of his tent.

Their camp site looks orderly. It is located on a flat swale at the head of an inlet of Horsetooth Reservoir. A few feet away are the tents of his future parents-in-law and his future brother-in-law and his wife; closer is a park picnic table and residue of last night’s camp fire. The lake waters lap gently at his future in-law’s boat partially beached among the reeds; while behind stand their three vehicles with their orderly stow of supplies.

Nick stands and inhales to absorb the magnificence of the dawn. The reservoir is nestled into the foot-hills of the Rockies. Each of the surrounding hills is capped by a fold of red Dakota sandstone. From Nick’s vantage point, next to the water, the land looks as though it is covered by a giant’s petrified folded red cloth. Under the folds the land, covered with green scrub, stretches down to the water’s edge. The rising sun silhouettes the folds of sandstone and highlights isolated shoreline trees. The lake waters shimmer. The calm before the storm, thinks Nick, for soon an assortment of pleasure craft be on the water making headway for the further reaches of the reservoir where speeding and surf-boarding is permitted.

Nick wonders why he feels so uneasy. Six months ago when Alice invited him to move in with her he’d been happy enough to comply. He tells himself that it has been a good six months even though he, at times, felt trapped. He remembers his mother giving him her engagement ring for him to give to his future wife and how he had carried it in his pocket for weeks. When Alice proposed he had drawn it out and given it to her. He remembers her happiness which momentarily eclipsed his feeling of betrayal, or was it entrapment? He thinks back to admit to himself that his whole life had been that way. Didn’t he always comply with the suggestions of others, and let himself be subjected to their whims? He never asserting himself. He questions whether this makes him less than a man even though, he concedes, that most often he doesn’t know what he wants or what he’d do if he did assert himself. He thinks of himself as being on an unstoppable roller coaster.  Tomorrow they are going to Steamboat Springs to meet up with Nick’s parents and a few friends for the celebration of his and Alice’s ‘destination’ style wedding to be held at the bottom of Fish Creek Falls. It is a place only accessible by foot.

A couple of hours later the campsite is a hive of activity. Everyone is awake and have feasted on freshly cooked bacon and eggs and drunk copious amounts of coffee. Now they clean up in preparation for a boat ride. Nick prefers gentle coasting with the boat moving smoothly through the water making as little impact on its surface as possible, his idea of a quiet communion with nature. His future in-laws, however, love speed and as soon as they are beyond the ‘no wake’ zone his future father-in-law revs up the engine to a roar and they speed throwing up a white plume of water behind them. The boat is tilted with her bow raised as she slices through the water. Other boats are doing the same thing and so they jump each wake wave which meets them. The reservoir is now nosier than a busy traffic intersection at rush hour. Nick’s future father-in-law, although tall, perches uncomfortably on the top of the back of the driver’s seat to be able to see out over the speed induced tilt of the boat.

Then the engine is cut and Nick sighs inwardly. They are going to wake-board. His future brother-in-law goes first. He is expert, he jumps the wake and performs acrobatic leaps and somersaults.  When he tires, Alice has her turn and is equally spectacular. His future brother-in-law’s wife takes a spin. She is hesitant and, although able to stay upright, does not perform maneuvers.  Nick, unable to say no, takes to the water. He vows to himself that he will be safe and content himself with keeping upright but as he sails along his confidence builds and soon he is weaving back and forth across the wake. He is exhilarated. When they cross the wake of another boat Nick flounders and falls. They turn and pick him up. He groans as he is dragged on board his ankle hurts, he wonders if he has broken something.

Back on shore Nick’s future brother-in-law, who is a doctor, examines his ankle and declares that it is a bad sprain but not broken. He bandages it up and recommends that Nick keep it elevated. Nick accepts this counsel and is happy to skip their planned afternoon boating activities. Alice, although solicitous, asks Nick if he faking it to mess up their nuptials of the morrow.  He spends the afternoon in solitude reading and daydreaming. Is this, he wonders, his opportunity to call off the wedding? He evaluates his options, for yes, although his ankle hurts it is not as bad as he is trying to imply.  He now has his own choice to make. He can ‘miraculously’ recover sufficiently to walk to his wedding location at the foot of Fish Creek Falls or he can claim himself unable to walk and call off this marriage. He is not sure that he likes this feeling of power but knows that this time, whatever he does, he will make sure that it is his decision and his alone.

Murder Mistake

On the Sunday of Sally’s sixtieth birthday she awoke to find herself in an empty bed. Since her husband, Will, had retired she was always the first to rise to go to work; now the vacant spot next to her struck her as odd. A number of explanations flitted through her mind. She glanced toward their bathroom; the dawn sun streamed in through its east window but she heard no movement, no Will. Could he have already gone downstairs, or perhaps taken their dog, Opie, for a walk. How he loved that dog! You would think that after forty-two years of marriage and four children that he wouldn’t need a dog to shower with affection. Sally, with a tinge of jealousy, often speculated that he loved the dog more than he loved her, perhaps because, they had been together for so long. 

She got up and walked to the head of the stairs. From that vantage point she could see Opie’s leash hanging on its hook beside the front door, she concluded that Will had not taken Opie for a morning stroll. Silence reigned. She wondered if Will had chosen this occasion to leave her. After last night’s fight, when so much had been said in anger it could be possible. But, if he had, surely, he would have taken Opie and his leash with him, or no, perhaps, in his haste, he had forgotten the leash or intended to use the one that they kept in the car. 

She had had her suspicions for some time. The coffee cup with orange lipstick on it, a color that she never wore, his frequent walks with their dog Opie, his growing remoteness. Once or twice she had made a point of going home early to see what he was doing. He was usually in front of his enhanced view computer, the characters so big on the screen that it made her eyes dance.  Once their neighbor, Janet, was in the living room with him. She looked at Will sheepishly as though they shared a secret. Will explained that Janet had helpfully driven him to his ophthalmologist appointment. To Sally’s eyes Janet seemed nervous as she made a quick exit. After Janet’s’ departure Sally gathered up their coffee mugs; recognizing the lipstick color and vowing that one day she would take Janet aside and demand what she thought she was doing with some-one else’s husband. 

When Sally heard Will stumble out of the kitchen she hurried back to bed. She listened to his slow footsteps as he navigated the stairs. The sound reminded her how he could once glide upstairs as noiselessly as a cat burglar. Now every footstep was audible; old age does that to you she thought. She heard him walk slowly across the landing and come into their bedroom

“Happy birthday, dear!” he said and placed a breakfast tray on the dresser. Sally stared in wonder. After all her suspicions, here he was, giving her breakfast in bed. She reached out her hand to draw him in for a kiss. He didn’t seem to notice. He stood awkwardly beside the bed. 

“I made you toast and scrambled eggs.

Sally sat up and allowed the tray to be placed on her knees. She was especially touched to see a pink Mal Maison rose in a bud vase on the tray. She paused to smell the rose, inhaling its sweet perfume.  

“This is simply wonderful,’ she murmured, “thank-you, my darling husband!

The eggs were good, she ate fast. She looked at Will with love in her eyes, their quarrel of the previous night forgotten. There was more scrambled egg than she could eat. Will took the plate and gave the leftovers to Opie who wagged his skimpy tail and wolfed it down as only a dog can do. 

Half an hour later Sally was in agony. She vomited as though her whole intestine was disgorging. She called Will upstairs,

“I need a doctor. Call 911. I am very sick. What did you put into those eggs?  I know it, you are trying to kill me so that you and Janet can cohabit.” 

Will, shook his head and was about to respond to her accusation when Opie began to retch. Sally was still in pain and dry heaving but the sight of the poor dog disgorging his breakfast gave her comfort. Will might poison her to get rid of her, and after last night’s words he might desire to do so; but Opie? No, she knew that Will loved Opie. She knew that he would never do anything to hurt that dog

Sally looked at Will and asked, “What did you put in those eggs?” 

“Just eggs, seasoning and some fried onion.

“Fried onion, but we don’t have any onions.” 

“Yes, we do, I found them in the bottom drawer. They were smaller than usual: must be gourmet onions.

“Oh no,” Sally gasped as she clutched her stomach, “those weren’t onions, those were the tulip bulbs which I as saving for re-planting next spring.” Then it hit Sally, Will’s deteriorating eyesight was more advanced than he had let on. Perhaps he was merely associating with Janet to hitch rides to his doctor appointments. 

When the ER doctor called back he assured Sally that her symptoms, though painful, didn’t appear to be life threatening and that she should let nature take its course, going to the emergency room only if her condition worsened.

 

Honduran Travel by Fishing Boat

This one  isn’t one of my fiction stories but instead an account of an interesting travel experience.                                                             

It is late December when the Honduran November 2017 election fiasco forces us to make drastic modifications to our travel plans. Travel out in early December was thwart by inclement weather and random road blocks but our journey is rewarded by the joys of welcoming a new grandson into the world. But now it is time to go back home to the US. We decide to circumvent the road blocks by taking a fishing boat up the coast. Our son-in-law delivers us to the beach and, after a short wait, leaves to get to a telephone so that he can find out where our boat is.

The beach, if I could call it a beach, consists of a small stretch of sand flanked by disintegrating trees and vegetation extending into the ocean. The shore is strewn with trash as are so many places in poor countries, but, if I raise my glaze up to the bay, I can forget the trash and let myself be transported into the awesome wonder of our planet. Standing there I know that I am at the center of the universe. This is something that, deep down, I knew all along, but am now content to witness in confirmation. The beach is located in the center of a huge magnificent bay. On either extremity the land, with its prolific vegetation, stretches out into the water. I take in the essence of the land’s loving embrace. The sea ripples in the morning light and the rising sun highlights the clouds on the horizon where they float over the barely visible islands of Kios Cochinos. I wonder what these magical islands, ranked by some as one of the most beautiful places on earth, are really like. Right now, they wink and beckon to me, much in the way that Bali Hai called in the 1958 Rogers and Hammerstein movie, ‘South Pacifi

I raise my arms in symbolic prayer to absorb the beauty, and then turn to look inland. My luggage, a small carry-on suitcase, stands next to me amongst the trash. Beyond it I take in the short dirt drive leading to the Honduran shore-line pot-holed dirt road which connects Belfate to La Ceiba. It is 6:30 in the morning and here I am, accompanied by my husband and our bags, standing, marooned, in what now seems like the middle of no-where. I wonder if we are crazy to be here, unable to speak or understand Spanish, in the midst of this Honduran election fiasco. I know that the roads are periodically blocked and there is no telephone reception. If the small fishing boat which was scheduled to pick us up doesn’t come I don’t know what our next action will be. We need to get to the Roatan airport so that we can catch our flight back to Austin tomorrow, and they only fly once a week. I rationalize to myself that someone warned us that the Honduran fishermen are notoriously late. I urge my husband to join me in staying calm by consciously concentrating on absorbing the natural beauty before us. Of course, both of us are also letting our eyes constantly scan the bay for signs of a boat, anything human.

Time passes. I hear a vehicle on the road behind me; it is an ancient bus. I take this as a good omen, perhaps there will be others, perhaps there may yet be a way out. It is almost 7:30 when I notice something red in the ocean bobbing towards us. It seems to have materialized out of nothing for I didn’t see it enter the bay by rounding the distant point. As it approaches I realize several things. First that, surely, it must be our scheduled fishing boat, and second that it is very small. I also quickly deduce that the only way that we are going to be able to board is by wading in the water. I console myself with the reminder that I came for adventure and reach down and take off my shoes and socks and roll up my jeans. I am thankful that Honduras is tropical and that it is warm, even now, in December

There are two men on the boat. I wonder if they are friendly. One jumps out into the water. He gives me a warm smile exposing a set of stained teeth, I notice that one of the front ones is missing. He is shoeless and wears a torn t-shirt and baggy pants. He asks if there are others, we confirm that we are alone. We climb on board and over a pile of suspect-looking grimy life vests to seat ourselves on the bench seat in the middle of the boat. I am happy that we are not told to put on one of those vests. We watch our suitcases being whisked on board and stowed and tucked in under a large blue tarpaulin in the prow of the boat. I ask whether we will get wet. The toothy one shakes his head “no.”

The out-board motor springs into action with a deafening roar and we surge forward. Again, I raise my arms in symbolic thankful joy at the wonder of this enchanted place. The sea which looked so calm from our beach turns out to have a three-foot swell. At times we hit a wave just right and it throws up spray. I resign myself to the inevitable fact that we will get wet for I am too frightened by the boat’s bounce to stand up and put on my rain poncho which accompanies my shoes, socks, money and travel documents in my “purse” under my feet.

I do my best to take in the natural beauty and wonder of this view of the Honduran coast. There is a narrow line of yellow where water meets land and beyond it a flat zone of intense dark green tropical vegetation. Beyond this is the first range of mountains clad in the same tropical vegetation. Behind this range I see a second and in some locations a third range of mountains. These distant peaks look ethereal and blend magically into the sky overhead.

The swell increases and I grip my wood seat with both hands, one behind and one in front. I speculate that if I fell overboard it would be the end, for my water-logged clothing would inhibit swimming. I entertain a frightening thought that we are at the mercy of the two fishermen crewing this boat. If they chose they could pitch my husband and I overboard and make off with our possessions. I tell myself that no-one would ever find our bodies. I am concerned that I never even looked our skipper in the face. I turn to look at him. He is standing close behind me in the stern of the boat with the tiller in his hand. Since we are heading west the rising morning sun casts a silver path stretching from the receding beach where we embarked to silhouette this man. I cannot make out his features although his stance outlined in silver strikes me as being saintly. Partially reassured I return my gaze to the west.

A sole bird swoops into view flying close to the water I watch him as he passes out of view. A fish jumps out of the water. Can it be mocking the bird? We pass several tiny home-made one-man fishing boats with black triangular sails which look like converted garbage bags. By the time that we round our final peninsular and see the La Ceiba harbor wall the swell is up to four to five feet and I can taste salt on my lips.

The water is calm in the harbor which is very small. There is an ancient barge on one side, which        I speculate be abandoned due to its dilapidated state, and two or three other fishing boats not much larger than the one we are on. We approach the harbor wall closest to the ferry dock. For a split second I am transported back to a moment of terror when I was an eight-year-old. Together with my parents we were taking a Spring trip to the Farne Island bird sanctuary. We embarked from Seahouses, at what must have been low tide, for we had to climb down a ladder slung over the wall to get down to the boat. In my recollection that wall was at least twenty feet and the climb down so frightening that I still carry the memory of it with me. The climb up this wall is only a few feet. A man reaches out his hand and then another and I am soon pulled up and onto dry land, our bags follow.

My husband settles up with our fishermen. $275 covers our almost two-hour voyage. It seems reasonable to us, in our American affluence, although I speculate that it is a small fortune to these Hondurans. My comparison is the going rate of $1 US an hour that my daughter pays her gardener, maid and nanny all of whom work part-time for her meaning that they probably only make about $25-$30  a week.