Rings are easy to lose. Even though the human finger is quite long with two lumpy joints, a ring can come off by itself, or worse shed a stone undetected. Sometimes the wearer finds the ring restrictive or in danger and takes it off. At such a moment the ring is in peril as it is about to be placed in a supposedly temporarily “safe” place but not the box where it is normally kept.

We lived in our home on Riverview in Houston Texas for twenty-six years and never found the emerald ring that the seller’s wife told us she had lost somewhere in the house. Now, fifty years later I search my Austin, Texas home for a lost antique Persian cabochon turquoise stone which fell out of a ring that I gave my daughter. I assume that the stone will be slightly smaller than an M&M candy. I go to extremes; after looking under the cushions in all our easy chairs, and going under every piece of furniture, I transition into phase two search. I go through the dirt in the vacuum cleaner. We pull out the refrigerator, broken glass here, no precious stone. I search clothing and gloves.

Eventually I accept that the Persian turquoise stone is lost and take the ring to a repair shop in the Mall. The ring is part of a Victorian set which I inherited from my English mother. She inherited it from her mother who inherited it from my aristocratic great-grandmother. This lady is reputed to have served as a Lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria. I speculate that this jewelry was no doubt worn in the Queen’s presence. The set consists of three screw-on receptors, one on a gold ring, one on a gold and diamond broach, and one on a gold band bracelet. There are two screw-on pieces; one is a large pearl surrounded by mine-cut diamonds and the other was the Persian cabochon turquoise stone also surrounded by mine-cut diamonds. The repair shop will find a replacement turquoise stone and reset the pearl to ensure that it does not go the same way as the Persian stone.

When the jeweler calls to discuss a replacement. I learn that the Persian stone was an extremely hard turquoise stone only found in Iran. Because of its high quality and place of origin, the Persian turquoise of today is expensive. I agree that $1,000 is too much and we settle on a Rio Grande “Sleeping Beauty” turquoise stone as a replacement. When I see “Sleeping Beauty” I am astonished at how small she looks. I have been searching for something the size of an M&M but this stone looks more like half an M&M. I speculate that something this small could go down a drain. When we return home, I have my husband dismantle the sink P-traps – nothing.

I tell everyone of the loss even after we have picked up the reset ring from the jewelers – it looks fabulous. The diamond setting makes the “Sleeping Beauty” stone look as large and beautiful as the original Persian stone. Although I have replaced the missing stone, I continue to long to find the original.  It is still on my mind and I talk about it a lot in the hope for a revelation and that someone will have an idea. My friend Martha obliges and tells me her lost and found story.

One of Martha’s many aunts lived in New York and was quite a society lady. She had beautiful jewelry and frequently wore it to the opera, theater, and formal dinners. She had a closet full of formal dresses matched by a large collection of designer shoes all of which she stored in their original boxes. One of her favorite treasured pieces was a tri-colored S setting ring featuring diamonds, rubies and sapphires. It was custom made for her by her husband using stones which he bought loose during a business trip abroad. When this aunt died, she left a complex will in which she described each piece of jewelry and carefully designated to whom she wished to bequeath it.

Martha tells me that the named recipients got together after the wake before the funeral to sort out their inheritances. Everything went smoothly except, to everyone’s dismay, the tricolored diamond, ruby, sapphire ring was missing. They looked everywhere from dressing table to safe, under beds and bureau, a dozen cousins thoroughly turning everything topsy-turvey. During the following night, my friend Martha had a revelation. For some inexplicable reason she came to believe that the ring was in one of her Aunt’s designer shoe boxes. When she got together with her relatives after the funeral Martha spoke of her strong feeling. She was so sure that they went to the shoe closet. Here Martha took down a box and opened it. The shoes lay in a bed of tissue paper. There was no ring there. Martha examined the shoes and put her hand inside. In the very toe of the right shoe her hand encountered the missing ring.

934 words

February 3, 2021



On a glorious April morning, Elizabeth stands in a field of Bluebonnets in Austin, Texas. She accompanies her daughter’s family, and watches as her daughter and son-in-law attempt to arrange their three children into photographic poses. The bluebonnets are spectacular and stretch in a carpet of waving vibrant blue under a clear cloudless sky. Elizabeth can see other groups going through the same antics. Her family seem to be having the most trouble.  Their problem is that the toddler wants to toddle and pull the blue blossoms while his sisters want to dance and swirl in their pretty dresses Not one of the three can be induced to stay still with a smiling face long enough for a photograph. The girls giggle and squirm, their voices are loud and happy. They proclaim to the world that they are princesses.

Elizabeth lets her mind wander. She goes back in time and space to her youth in Durham City in the UK. To the time when she and her younger sister were the same age as her two dancing granddaughters. She remembers that they also, thought of themselves as princesses. They lived in a large imposing house named “Hillcrest.” It stood on the top of one of the hills surrounding the City. Hillcrest was their palace and its extensive garden their palace grounds cascading down the hillside into the valley below.

She recalls the time of the birth of their brother when their mother sent her and her sister on a special errand to buy eggs at the general store in May Street located at the bottom of their garden. She immerses herself in their willingness as they descend the zig/zagging garden terraces of Azaleas, herb gardens, a lawn and, towards the bottom, a beech tree woodland. It is the end of April, and the ground under the trees is covered in bluebells. The damp woodsy smell of the ground rises wrapped in the distinctive scent of bluebells. Streams of sunlight dapple the ground serving to enhance the impact of the bluebell carpet. Elizabeth’s eyes are now closed, and she is there as her youthful self, enchanted in a magical glen.

At the bottom of the bluebell woodland is a gate. The girls open the gate and emerge into another world. The world of May street is one of poverty and hard surfaces, the only green, an occasional weed, thrust through a crack in the sidewalk. Rows of identical red brick attached houses stand, each with a front door opening direct into the narrow sidewalk. The two-up two-down homes have tiny rear yards in which their out-houses are located. The aromatic air of the woodland behind the gate is replaced by the combined smell of smoke from the chimneys and the stench of human waste. Elizabeth’s memory does not take her to the store or the egg purchase, she only recalls their return to the gate.

Although Elizabeth’s youthful self was sure that they had fully closed the gate it now stands ajar. They hastily pass through and make sure that it is securely fastened. They are happy to leave the hard-unyielding poverty of May Street to reconnect with the enchanted bluebell woods. They are astonished to hear the cry of a baby and momentarily wonder whether their mother and their new-born sibling are about to appear. Elizabeth remembers the sickly whimper of their new-born. She instinctively knows that the cry that they now hear is not the same baby. She recalls her mother murmuring regretful words, Down’s syndrome, major heart defect, death. Young as she is she wonders whether the errand to get eggs from the May street general store was an excuse to occupy her and her sister while their parents tended to their dying baby.

The lusty cries of a healthy baby demand attention. Elizabeth and her sister morph from princess to pharaoh’s daughter. They look up the slope and see the bluebell ground as the River Nile. It cascades down the slope in waves of billowing blue. They see a baby basket placed close to their path. They scan all directions to see if there is someone accompanying the baby. There is no-one, no sound, only the wind rustling the treetops. They shout,

“Anyone there?”

There is no response. Elizabeth hands the eggs to her sister and picks up the baby and its basket They hurry up the path, run up the terraces and burst into their palatial home.

Some-one tugs at Elizabeth’s arm; it is her daughter. She reluctantly leaves her reminiscing and returns to the present.

“Mom, time to go. Were you day-dreaming?”

“Yes, dear, the bluebonnets reminded me of the bluebells at Hillcrest.”

“Oh, that’s our favorite story; were you remembering how you and Aunty found Uncle Moses?”

JUSTICE – a short story

This is a re-print of a story that I published 10/31/13 under the title “My Husband” It recently went through some new editing and so I decided to republish it. I apologize to any of my readers who remember reading it in 2013.

In nature it is delightfully calm after a storm, and so it was with us. Spousal abuse is always bad, but even while I suffered from my injuries, I savored those violence-free times of calm and tried to eke them out and make them last as long as possible. The period after The Event was especially sweet, that is because, this time, I effected a personal transformation and knew, from the onset, that it was to be the last time that I was hurt.

The Event had temporarily sobered him. Perhaps the shear impact of the violence and cleanup affected him; with the result that he spent more time than usual at home. He still jogged in the morning, and I loved to lie on the bed and watch him get up. He slept in the nude so that I could admire his beautiful body. When he arose and donned his jogging paraphernalia, I’d watch the ripple of every well-tuned muscle. During this period, after The Event, he would reach over and gently stroke my glossy hair before he left. While he was gone, I’d arise and prepare myself for the day so that when he came back, I could greet him at the door and give him a taste of my feigned love. For, yes, after The Event it was feigned, although sometimes I, with my newfound resolve, still got temporarily sucked into his charm. I made a rule for myself that, even though it disgusted me, I should greet him when he returned from his run. I would let myself rub against his wet skin to seal the illusion of my undying adoration.

We always ate breakfast together, he a bowl of cereal and milk, and I, milk. After he left for work I’d go for a walk, often a very long walk. Sometimes I’d be gone all day, involved in other activates, but I made sure that I was home, groomed and waiting at the door, when he returned in the evening. At first, after The Event, he would arrive home early so that we could sit together on the sofa and watch television. His taste didn’t match mine but I pretended to watch with him. Sometimes I even sat on his knee although I could tell that he didn’t like this much.

Soon, as I had suspected, he began to slip into his old habits. It began by his returning in the evening with alcohol on his breath. I suppose that he was dropping in on a bar to have a couple of drinks on the way home. On these occasions I continued to meet him at the door. I silently braved his off-time kicks, in my desire to maintain the illusion of my uncompromised love. It got even harder when he began to bring girls back with him. Before The Event he had never brought them to the house although I knew, knew only too well, that he was unfaithful to me. Now, I suppose, he thought that he could do anything, even flaunt these women before me. I pretended I didn’t care and greeted them with the same appearance of affection as I did him.

The moment after The Event, I knew what I had to do, although I hadn’t any idea how I would accomplish it. Over the weeks of the calm I had time to work out a strategy. It all hinged on his indulging in another drinking spree for only then would he be vulnerable enough for me to entice him into his basement. The trick was going to be how I could avoid getting hurt again during the encounter. The basement was quite small, more undercroft than a true basement with only one, very small, ventilation louver. During the calm I spent some time digging in the garden to make sure that the ventilation louver was completely covered in dirt. Initially he kept this lower level locked but he took to storing his alcohol down there and as time went on he became careless so that when he was out I could go down and inspect it.

It was as I expected, and smelt musty with a distinct odor of rotting which was not well disguised by the two by six rectangle of newly dug earth in the middle of the otherwise well packed earthen floor. It was that spot which had concluded the activities associated with The Event. He had a few bottles of water stored down there. I made sure that they were all broken and spilt. I even destroyed the whiskey bottle from which he had imbibed immediately after The Event. Sometimes I would sit on that two by six slightly mounded rectangle of dirt to gain strength and resolve from it. It took me several weeks to modify the support to the rustic wooden access stairs, but by the time he was bringing the women back to the house, they were so rickety that I knew that they would soon collapse. I half hoped that he would take one of his women down when he went for another bottle, thinking that their combined weight might cause a collapse.

I was patient, very patient and one day in late October I knew that my moment arrived. He came home much later than usual and was as inebriated as he was on the day of The Event. In the end I  didn’t have to do anything; he did it all himself. As he lumbered down the rickety stairs I heard them groan and collapse. He yelled as he fell and was then silent. I had him. I backed up against the basement door and heard it give a loud click. For several days I heard him moaning and complaining but the sound was muffled on the outside by my carefully placed dirt and on the inside it didn’t matter. After a week I was convinced that he was dead and that I needed to let someone know.

I slipped outside and sat upon the front doorstep and started to wail. The mailman noticed me but at first he did nothing. At the end of the second week the mail and newspapers had accumulated and even he began to look concerned. When the police arrived I rubbed up against them wailing miserably.

“Here Kitty Kitty, what’s the matter? Where are your master and mistress?”

I answered by arching against their shins and followed them into the house. I waited by the basement door but it was the last one that they opened. The smell that emerged was strong and even I had to draw back. A ladder was brought and they examined his body which lay on top of my grave. I didn’t stay to watch them dig up the mounded dirt of my makeshift resting place. I didn’t want to watch the exhumation of my murdered human body. I was now free. I quietly glided away to live the rest of my lives in peace.

Face-Time with Honduras

Every two or three days our medical missionary daughter calls from Honduras. She always calls in early evening as she sits on her north-facing front porch. She is enjoying a breeze which releases the heat of a humid tropical day without air conditioning. Initially she appears to be alone but as we talk the shouts of playing children are captured by the cell phone. Before her stretches a green swath of meadow shared with two other widely spaced homes. The site overlooks a steep slope down to the Caribbean Ocean. On clear days you can see the islands of Cayos Cichinos dim on the horizon. They are mystical, and reputed to be one of the most beautiful places on earth. They wink and beckon, just as Bali Hi beckoned in the Rogers & Hammerstein musical “South Pacific.” In the middle of the foreground, partially obstructing the view of the ocean, is a low growing spread-out knurled tropical fruit tree. A perfect climbing tree, it frequently sports several children in it branches. My daughter tells me that there have been times when the tree had a dozen children concealed in its twisted canopy. The children’s chatter is akin to that of a flock of birds gathered in preparation for migration. Occasionally one will drop out or hang head down momentarily visible, with legs hidden, wound around a low branch.

On three sides the site is flanked by steep tropical jungle ravines. Most often these steep narrow ravines with their dense vegetation appear as protective barriers of tree and undergrowth. Colorful tropical birds hop and squark among the leaves. If you stand on the edge and look down the ravine the bottom is dark; it is shaded into almost nocturnal gloom by the dense overhead canopy. Above this abyss Howler monkeys often visit as they rustle and leap from tree top to tree top. They eat the flowers, fruits and foliage. Sometimes this jungle threatens, epitomized when a male monkey begins to howl. He utters a noise reputed to be the loudest animal call on earth. It resounds over five miles. At other times a giant eight-foot-long Boa may slither into the sunlight. It comes to nab a free-range chicken kept, not so much for its egg laying capabilities, but rather to control the scorpion population. The ensuing battle is noisy and proves the end for both assailant and victim. After swallowing the chicken, the snake moves slowly and is target for a Honduran gardener who captures it with a noose around its head. The snake is proudly displayed and dragged off. The Honduran says that it goes home with him to become a rodent control guardian. I wonder if an alternative is that it will become someone’s dinner.

Our face time is periodically punctuated as my daughter hurls instructions to her children.

 “Josiah, don’t pick the watermelon. Leave it alone. It’s not ready!”

“Gideon, don’t’ do what I just told your brother not to do.”

“Madi, rescue the rabbit don’t let it get into the drainage conduit.”

I observe that my daughter looks tired. She confirms that she spent most of the night in the hospital, located on the other side of the ravine to her right. She was working to save a very sick baby which was born in a make-shift Honduran “taxi’ on the way to the hospital.  I can’t imagine how this was accomplished for the Honduran taxi is a glorified three-wheel motorcycle. My daughter goes on to add that during the first half of the night Isaac, her husband, joined a team administering to a lady who had been shot protecting her children and home. Apparently when her assailant arrived, she managed to lock the children in a backroom and then refused to give the thief money. She received four gun-shots.  The one to her head bounced off her skull, the one to her abdomen went through fat and missed organs, the one to her chest entered to the high right and went clean through diagonally to emerge without hitting an organ, the one to her arm also went right through. The medical team sewed her up and gave her blood from a matching donor on site.

My daughter sighs and goes on to tell me that the Corona virus has found them and that another Covid-19 patient managed to bypass their screening and arrive in the unprotected part of the hospital. By the time that this person was diagnosed much of the hospital staff had had contact. The horror continues as she tells me that their family has parasites which she is treating. I comment,

“Head lice – again?”

“No, not head lice, worms.”

“Yes, all children get pin worms from time to time.”

“No, not pinworms,” she sighs, “worms as big as this.” She holds up her pinkie. She goes on to mention a drug that she is administering to combat the worms.

“How does it work?” I ask innocently.

“They exit. When the intestinal environment is alien to them, they exit the anus. We found lots of them in the children’s shower.”

We end the call when my daughter hears the distant roar of Isaac’s motorcycle as he returns from the hospital. It is time for their dinner. Once I might have envied her for the beautiful place where she lives; a place where children play outside. But then I wince as I reorganize that this place is laced with many silent horrors. It is good that she and Isaac are dedicated to a healing higher cause.

25th Wedding Anniversary

Twenty five years ago, on June 24, 1995, my brother, Wyon, married his girl-friend, Janet. Due to today’s nasty pandemic they are unable to throw a celebration, so they invited their friends and family to send them memories to share. I sent a photograph of them siting on a wall back-to-back and this short poem. In the poem I attempt to recapture 6/24 1995.

To you Janet & Wyon
After twenty-five years
We offer congrats and best wishes
To you and your son
For love radiating and shared,
May it always remain
As strong as that day
When you did it your way

No stuffy receptions, instead
We recall early guests met
At a farm to pick strawberries
Nuptial banquet table food
Luscious, sun baked, red
Delicious for the day that you wed

No wedding hall
In a manner house setting
Wyon, you stand, counting time
Among wild flower decorations
Beckoning red strawberries
And expectant assembly.
You are handsome,
Wrist-watch anxious
You stand in your red jacket,
With white flower corsage.
We note your dark pants, curls, and beard
Your love worn with humility
We see the appointed time come and go
We become fidgety, in whispers debate
The meaning of this uneasy wait.

Hark then with joy,
Distant music wafts to anxious ears
Soothing trembling hearts.
Then we see you Janet,
A stunning, fairy princess
Clad in shapely red dress
Your flowing red hair
Crowned with white flower garland
You float across the fields,
Surrounded by dancing nymphs
Pipe and string melodies
An ethereal bride, face radiant, blushed
We, the audience, are now hushed.

Wyon and Janet, you stand eye to eye
You pledge eternal love
Support, honesty and faith
You exchange rings
You share universal words
Prayers of antiquity
To earth,
To air,
To fire,
To water
To love defeating all strife
To your union for life.

As the wedding day wanes
You lead satiated guests
To hold hands in wide circle
To let meadow grasses
Crushed by our feet
Offer up sweet aromas
We dance in rondos,
As ancient as the land
Luxuriating in this memorable way
To celebrate a wedding day

As time marches goes on
May you continue together strong
May your love always give
Strength to the days you live
We, friends and family join in wonder
Knowing that you two will never sunder

Jane Stansfeld 6/24/2020


One of SDWG challenged members to write a “Covid-19” format poem. He described the format as C or 100 words and 19 or nineteen lines. The following is my response to his challenge.

Go away Covid one nine
We thought ourselves fine
Now a global struggle for life
Unites all in common strife.
It’s a world burst asunder
We stop, to watch in wonder.

We enjoy astonishing side shows
Beauty through sealed windows.
We readjust our living pace
To quit a harrowing rat race.
No rush hour frustration
Never a route to salvation.
We know isolation is fine
For we can all meet online.

Covid, please go away
Leave us alone we say.
Won’t you vanish to nowhere
Gone we will stare and share.
Saying, Yes, I was there!

96 words)
©20200 Copyright, Jane Stansfeld

Two Dandelion poems

It is fall now, not spring.
dandelions have one last fling.

I offer two dandelion poems (accompanied by an apology to Jane Sturgeon to whom I have already quoted them).
The first poem is one, which I memorized in elementary school, and still comes to mind every time that I see a dandelion. It is written by Sir Edward Arthur Drummond Bliss.
The second poem was written by my daughter, Anne Catherine  Hofer, in 1999, when she was 16. It complements the former poem and may well be my daughter’s response to my frequent quoting of the Bliss poem.
My hope is that the pair make you smile.

dande 1

The Dandelion

The dandelion is brave and gay
And loves to sit beside the way;
A braver thing was never seen,
To praise the grass for growing green;
You never saw a gayer thing,
To sit and smile and praise the spring.

The children with their simple hearts,
The lazy men that come in carts,
The little dogs that lollop by,
They all have seen its shining eye,
Any every one of them would say
They never saw a thing so gay.

dande 2

Dandelion Puff

Hey you, yes you, come over here!
Come let me whisper in your ear.
I won’t sting you I promise, please?
(unless of course I’m filled with bees)
But really, look I’m only fluffy
There is no reason to be stuffy
Don’t you just feel the urge…
The desire… the NEED…to ..
pick me?
I don’t care a bit
I do declare, go ahead!

But that is not enough you know
Why don’t you go ahead and blow?
I am so frail, oh can’t you see?
A puff of wind would total me.
It will take place eventually,
So go ahead and hear my plea
Send me scattering through the air,
And please perform it with some – OH!
Why ….thank you.

You won’t regret it….
…next year…..
… I’ll bring……
…..a lot of friends!

The Boy

It had been one of those hot airless days on the South Dakota prairie when the air shimmered in hazy distance. The boy, stood staring across the land. He searched for evidence of the world beyond the place where he stood. There was nothing to see, for the land was flat and stretched in three directions swallowed by intermingled fields of six-foot-high corn and grain rippling like waves on the ocean. He gazed longest to the east for it represented his physical outlet to the fascinating world beyond. He shook his head as he remembered their neighbor’s ferocious dog who always attacked their car as they drove past. Distance on three sides and a dog on the fourth effectively isolated him from the outer world. Even at six-years-old this precocious child longed for the excitements that he believed to be waiting for him beyond the farm.

For some time, he held his position. He had watched his father return from the fields and hoped that he would soon emerge to take a trip to town. He thought that this might be possible for the previous night he had lain in his attic bed of their tiny homestead listening to his parent’s animated discussion. They spoke in a low German dialect which their ancestors had brought with them, first during a hundred-year sojourn in Russia courtesy of Catherine the Great, and subsequently in this their new home in America. He knew that his parents discussed their financial woes – the fact that they were always one payment away from losing their farm. Sometimes the discussion resulted in a drive to town to talk to the local banker. Even after his parents had gone to sleep the boy had remained awake worrying about their future and listening to the distant roar of trucks trundling down US16 somewhere to the north west and to an occasional train clanking into the distance.

Now, as he waited in the farmyard surrounded by geese, he thought about taking another dip in the farm’s stock pond where he could cool off and was teaching himself to swim. He did so by walking toward the earth dam until he became submerged and had to move his arms in an instinctive dog paddle. He was about to put his plan in action when his father came out of the house and strode toward his car. The boy ran up,

“Take me with you! Pleeeeeeeease.”

His father, a slender dark-haired man, was clean shaven except for a small pencil moustache. Like his son, he wore one-piece overalls. He always went to the bank wearing work clothes with a tasteful smatter of manure on one of the legs. He told his son that he did this as a message to their banker that he was a hard-working man. He turned to look at his pleading son letting his face crinkle into a gentle smile.

“All right, yes, hop in.”

The boy climbed into the passenger seat. As they drove, he put his hand out of the window to lie on the wind swooping up and down like an airplane. He withdrew it when they passed the dog’s house. The dog ran at them barking and attempting to nip the car’s tires. Once beyond the dog, the boy became increasingly animated, for he was now in the mysterious fascinating world outside the oasis of their farm. They stopped on Main Street; the boy knew the routine. His father visited the bank while he waited outside. Today was different for, parked in the center of Main Street, were two travel busses. The painted signs on their sides announced them to be housing a traveling display of wax statues of World War II leaders. A queue of people stood outside waiting their turn to walk through the display. The boy was smart enough not to ask his father about visiting the exhibition before the bank visit. He waited patiently until his father emerged. When he did, he looked happy and the boy took his callused hand,

“Dad, may we visit, Please.”

They walked slowly through the exhibits, and as they did so the boy’s father told him about each person. They began with their present President, Dwight D Eisenhower, and continued with the exhibit’s entourage of World War II leaders. The figures included: Adolf Hitler; Joseph Stalin; Winston Churchill; Benito Mussolini; Franklin D. Roosevelt; Harry S Truman; Hirohito, Douglas Mac Arthur; Hideki Tojo; and others. The visitors moved slowly past the display. The wax statues were so realistic that none of the visitors would have been surprised if one of them had stepped off their dais and joined them as they walked through. People lingered longest in front of Adolf Hitler’s figure. The boy’s father told him that Hitler had committed suicide when Berlin was taken and that his body was never found.

The boy studied Hitler with his pencil moustache and then looked at his father. When he saw them standing side by side in the subdued light of the bus, he discovered a startling resemblance. Could it be, he thought, that the outside world had already invaded the isolation of the farm? Could it be that the isolation is intentional? Could it be, he thought, that he was the only one who knew that his kindly, German-speaking father, with his distinctive pencil moustache, the man who had a hard time making the farm pay, was really Adolf Hitler in hiding?



The Waiting Room – a short story

In the clinic waiting room the air-conditioning hums creating enough background noise to mask individual clicks of cell phones. It is a large room about thirty by sixty. The ceiling height is emphasized by the absence of a suspended ceiling; instead, there are floating acoustical panels and light fixtures accentuated by a black painted abyss of ducts, structure and conduit. The entry wall has tall glass windows overlooking a parking lot. It is hot outside. The room’s occupants are thankful that the air conditioning is so efficient and are scattered along the teal and blue seats on the room’s perimeter and around an ellipse-shaped island of seats in the middle. Most are occupied by their illuminated screens shrouded in internet anonymity. In a state-run psychiatric clinic like this the unpaying patients hesitate to look at anyone else long enough to make eye contact.

An emaciated, tall, elderly, lady with scrawny hair sits awkwardly in her chair, she has her mouth open and stares vacantly ahead. Occasionally the young man three vacant chairs away from her shakes his dread locks and surreptitiously glances at her before returning to his phone. An overweight mother with a toddler sits opposite. The child is absorbed by his game, but she is nervous and twists her hands together; she scans the room with unseeing eyes. Along the opposite wall sits, a heavily tattooed youth sitting next to a woman with manicured nails who appears be her mother: both are engrossed in their phone displays. The staff sit behind protective sliding glass windows on the innermost wall. At regular intervals, the door to the clinics opens and a nurse emerges to either usher a patient out or to call another to their appointment. “John, Lisa, Sue’ the names sound familial and friendly.

A man enters. He is talking to himself or to anyone who cares to listen. His voice is loud, all glance up from their pacifiers. He strides to the reception and bellows at the receptionist. When he turns, he shouts,

“I need my pills; they’ve lost my appointment. They are incompetent!” He rambles on with something about this being the only country in the world where healthcare isn’t free. The occupants in the room all squirm each hoping that he won’t come near or address them individually.

He mounts a chair beside a lady in a black tee and jeans on one of the center seats. She looks at him giving the impression that she is interested. He sits on the arm of the chair and takes off his red baseball cap. His head is partially bald with a 2” mohawk-like plume down the middle. He runs his fingers through his hair. He tells everyone,

“I cut my own hair.”

As he replaces his cap, he scans the room and continues his monologue,

” I have insomnia. I didn’t sleep last night. Been up since three.”

He jumps off the seat and paces, holding forth in a tirade of incomprehensible words including a recognizable quote from Shakespeare. He goes to the window and regales the receptions who sits behind her unopened window. He hitches up his shorts, takes off his cap, waves it around, returns it to his head, and remounts the chair next to the lady in black. She says something to him and he calms a little to respond. Then he is up again and exits into the parking lot with the words,

“I’m just a crazy guy!”

The lady in black remarks,

“You are right about that!” other adds,

“Yes, indeed!”

The cone of silence in the room is smashed. The expectant patients test their individual responses to this dynamic. They become a friendly group and ask one another questions and talk to eachother. Someone asks the lady in black,

“Are you with him?” She responds,

“No, I talk to him to try to calm him. To be polite. I hoped to make him sit down.”

Then he is back storming around the room talking about what his dog likes to eat in the morning. The lady in black remarks,

“I also have a dog. He’s a Jack Russel.”

A nurse emerges and calls his name. He strides up to her with the announcement,

“I’m jumping the line, Any one care?”

“No, they nod in unison, go ahead!”

While he is gone the patients continue to talk to each other and the lady in black strikes up a discussion about dogs with the man opposite her. She moves to the chair adjacent to his and their conversation intensifies; apparently, he is also a dog owner. Just as the room begins to relax the man comes out of the treatment door. He appears calmer, waves his red cap and strides resolutely outside.

As he exits the first police car arrives, then a second. Each discharges a pair of officers in blue uniforms, bullet proof vests, and arrays of combat weaponry strapped around their ample waists. Another can be seen to have appeared behind the reception area glass talking to the receptionists. Fifteen minutes slip by but the man does not reappear. The police evaporate.

The waiting room rapidly resumes its earlier silence ruled by the hum of air conditioning and gentle taps on cell phones.


I’ve been on sabbatical writing essays unsuitable for this blog and so I offer this 500 word “flash fiction” to prove that I am still alive and well! I hope that you enjoy it.

Seven-year-old Mary walked reluctantly to the piano. When she got there, she averted her eyes, and she turned to catch a glimpse of the last of pair of her class mates holding hands and walking, crocodile style, off to recess. How she hated this part of the music lesson when Miss Grey attempted to address her musical ineptitude. She didn’t know what ‘tone deafness’ was but had overheard her teacher discussing this with her mother. She began to feel hot and put one hand up to her neck to twist a stray lock of hair. She dearly wanted to suck her thumb but knew that this was forbidden.

“Come closer dear,” said Miss Grey as she put her hand on Mary’s shoulder.

“I’m going to play two notes, and I want you to sing along cuc-koo’, ‘cuc-koo’.” Mary gave Miss Grey a distressed blank look, for in her embarrassment at being singled out again,, she didn’t understand what was wanted.

“Let’s try – cuc–koo, cuc–koo” urged Miss Grey accompanying the words with notes on the piano. She chose the octave above middle and gently tapped G followed by C to accompany her singing; G-C, G-C; cuc-koo, cuc-koo.

Mary panicked and said, “Cuckoo. Cuckoo,” in a monotone child’s voice.

“No dear,” urged her teacher, that’s what you did last week. ‘sing the notes, can’t you hear the difference?” ‘She demonstrated “Cuc-koo, cuc-koo.”

But Mary didn’t get it even though she could hear the tone change she was far too flustered and frightened to do anything more than murmur, “Cuckoo, cuckoo”. She knew that when someone was referred to as being cuckoo it meant that they were very silly. Did all this mean that she was silly, did Miss Grey want her to chime like a cuckoo clock to announce her stupidity? Again, she gave a monotone “cuckoo, cuckoo.”

After a few additional attempts, Miss Grey escorted Mary back to her school room to join the other children. Here she relaxed and happily joined in the mathematics lesson.

When school was out Mary overheard her teacher explaining her deficit to her mother. She feared a reprimand and, feigning ignorance, skipped ahead as they walked home. Their route passed up a steep lane overhung by chestnut trees laden with spring blooms standing candle-like erect. They both paused when they heard the distinct call of a common European Cuckoo. They looked up but couldn’t see the bird among the profuse chestnut leaves.

“Do you hear the cuckoo? said her mother “they are active this time of year looking for nests to put their eggs in. They are known as brood parasites because they are able to trick other birds smaller than themselves into raising their chicks.

When the Cuckoo called again Mary’s mother responded with a laugh as she mimicked the bird. “cuc-koo, cuc-koo”. “Do you think that the bird understands my voice?” she asked.

Mary paused and then, feeling joyfully uplifted, joined her mother and bird in perfect mimicry, “cuc-koo, cuc-koo”