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.”

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.

 

Broken – a short story

The coffee mug slipped out of my hand. I watched it, seemingly in slow motion, as it fell to the floor. I wondered if this might be my lucky day, and it wouldn’t break. That was a vain thought, and I knew better. When it hit the hard Saltillo tile floor, it exploded and sent shards of pottery across the kitchen. “Oh well,” I thought, “at least it didn’t have coffee in it!” By the time that I’d swept up the pieces the muffins were ready. I took them out of the oven and placed them and the fresh coffee on the kitchen counter. I hoped that the aroma would draw out my visiting daughter and son-in-law. It seemed to have my desired effect, and they emerged smiling

It was an inviting Houston spring morning. We took our muffins and coffee outside and sat around the patio table. The dogs greeted us thrusting their soft expectant noses in our laps. Their tails waged in happy greeting. The garden, always its best during the spring, was bursting with growth, and our roses bloomed in a magnificent profusion of color. The setting was peacefully idyllic. For a while, we chatted about the garden, and then my daughter turned to me and casually asked, 

“Mum, what did you break this morning?”

I had already forgotten my mishap, and so I replied, “Oh, nothing, just a coffee mug. Why do you ask?

She smiled and looked at her husband, “This morning David remarked that he hadn’t heard anything being broken this visit. I was just chiding him when we heard the crash echoing down the hall. We had to laugh because he is so right!

I nodded in accord. Sometimes I wonder why I break so many things. Is it because I move too fast, or is it my eyesight or perhaps eye/hand coordination, or merely a case of pathological clumsiness? It has always been a problem. Nowadays, I am thankful for Replacements Inc which I have bookmarked in my computer. My casual one item accidents are so commonplace that they don’t upset the household. Sitting there sipping coffee and enjoying the spring air, I let my daughter’s question prompt my recollection of a more dramatic calamity during my early teens. Looking back, I wondered whether it was the natural precursor or jinx which set me on my clumsy path

It happened when I was growing up in Durham in the north of England. From time to time, my parents gave dinner parties. My mother was a superb cook, and my father had an excellent wine cellar, and so these parties were elaborate affairs. Guests were first ushered into our formal ‘drawing room’ with its full-length pale blue curtains, and robin’s-egg-blue upholstered chairs. Here they were served my father’s signature ‘gin and it” cocktail. After an appropriate time, the party would adjoin to the adjacent dining room where a magnificent table awaited them. Against the backdrop of full-length golden- -yellow damask draped windows stood a long mahogany table polished to such a high gloss that you could see your reflection in its surface. Each place setting was immaculate, fine China, antique three-pronged Georgian silver, crystal glasses, brilliant linen and sparkling candles in silver candelabra

My mother didn’t have kitchen help so first course was generally already set out on the table. My father usually poured a light white wine to accompany this delicacy. When it was finished my parents would hurry the dirty dishes out of the room. The kitchen was remote from the dining room, and so they stacked the dirties on our large breakfast table in our breakfast room adjoining the kitchen. With a flourish, my mother would then present her main dish, and my father would pour an accompanying wine. So, the meal progressed, the dirties were again whisked into the breakfast room, and desert was served together with a sweet white wine. When they had finished eating they would go back to the drawing room to drink coffee and nibble on After Eight chocolates. I imagine that my father served after dinner drinks, brandy and scotch, although I don’t remember. Conversation would wax loud, and they sat and talked until late

While the dinner was in progress on my sister, and I were banished to our room. My parents didn’t have a dish-washer and so after the guests left they would clear the table and slowly work their way through the accumulation of dirty dishes stacked upon the breakfast room table. On the occasion of my recollection, my sister and I decided that we would creep downstairs and do the washing-up as a surprise for our parents

The design and layout of our kitchen was a mess. Looking back, I am amazed that my mother managed to produce her trade-mark culinary marvels in such poor surroundings. It was a large room but, unlike modern American kitchens, it didn’t have lengths of built-in cabinets or continuous counters or an island. Along the side with a window was a large double sink with draining boards on either side and beyond these on either side were full height built-in cabinets in which china and glass were stored. My mother had two trestle tables which she placed in front of these built-ins to serve as staging areas / work surfaces when the ‘good’ china and glass were not in use. On the occasion of a dinner party, they were pulled out into the room to give access to the cabinets. Along an adjacent side was the oven, cook-top, another small table, and tiny under-counter style refrigerator. The other sides were mostly taken up by doors, larder door (it is cold enough in the north of England for the larder to serve like a refrigerator), an outside door, and the breakfast room door leading into the rest of the house. My sister and I adopted the two trestle tables as staging areas and began with the glass.

We took turns being washer-up and drier. Sixty glasses got washed and successfully put away. Then we began on the plates, bread plates, appetizer plates, and dessert plates all without mishap. The next step was the dinner plates which we stacked on one of the trestle tables ready to wash. That was when I noticed that the heavy Waterford crystal water jug was also on the trestle table. I decided that it could be emptied and put away without washing and took it off the table.  To my horror the table tilted and deposited all twelve crown-something dinner plates on the floor. They all shattered

At this point, I showed tremendous presence of mind and had to comment that at least they were still dirty! Looking back, I can only speculate that sometimes nervous laughter is the best way to relieve tension. We shoveled up the mess, and disposed of the broken pieces in the trash. We swept and washed the floor and finished our self-imposed task by washing and polished the antique silver flat-ware. By now the enormity if the breakage had begun to sink in and knowing how wild my mother could be I decided that I’d rather not face her initial outburst and that the better part of valor was to retire to my bedroom

The dinner party broke up soon after I went upstairs. When my parents returned to the breakfast room and kitchen to begin their clean-up my mother’s first comment was

“It’s immaculate – so clean!” Then she looked around and asked, “But, where’s Jane?” I’m sure that my absence was odd and that she wished to thank us together.

My sister, with her honed sense of drama, responded. “Oh, Jane ……, – she’s upstairs committing suicide!

The Locked Room – short story

Philip stood next to his parents and stared at the locked door. It was obviously a bedroom door except the hardware, unlike the other bedroom door privacy knob-sets in this luxurious ski rental property was a deadbolt lock. An elegant gold-tone plaque was attached to the door; on it, in black letters, was the word “Ursula.” Philip looked quizzically at his dad.

Sensing his son’s question, his father returned his glance and remarked: “Yep, I agree. A dead-bolt locked bedroom in a rental property doesn’t make sense. I can’t imagine why an owner would want to turn a four-bedroom, sleeps-eight, into a three-bedroom, sleeps-six. I can only assume that it has been converted to some kind of store room.”

“Okay. Dad,” responded his eighteen-year-old son, “but why the second-best bedroom on this upper floor, why not one of the lower level bedrooms like the one I am to sleep in?”

His mother looked at the two and chimed in, “I agree with you, Philip. What’s more there are almost a dozen lockers in the mud room and a couple of locked closets in the other bedrooms all with names on them. Surely there couldn’t have been a need for an additional store room. In my book, it is very odd!”

Philip’s father disliked conundrums and so, he waved his hand dismissively and turned away from the offending door. “I say, whatever the reason, we should be happy as it got us this lovely extra-large home with the three bedrooms that we need together with all the amenities of a larger home, Jacuzzi, sauna, large dining and living room, the list goes on!”

At that moment the two teen-age girls of the family pounded upstairs accompanied by shriek’s and giggles. “Come on, you slow pokes, we only have a few days, why are you staring at a locked door? It is gorgeous outside, let’s get some skiing in before dark!”

They descended to the main level. As they passed through the living area they paused to admire a magnificent view of Steamboat Springs and the ski slopes. The afternoon sun made the snow sparkle white on the west facing slopes. They could see the skiers in their multi-colored clothing weaving down the slope making fantastic blurs of color.  Philip and his dad exchanged a high-five as they hurried after the girls. This was the first year that the family had taken their annual ski holiday here, and they liked what they saw.

Hours later, they returned tired and happy. They entered through the ‘back’ mud-room door next to a bear-mauled trash room door. Philip took out his phone and snapped a picture of the bear’s strange claw marks. He wondered whether they were merely an attempt to break down the door or a more significant marking of territory. While his parents and siblings played cards upstairs he surfed for bear information and posted the image on Facebook. He found time to re-read Michael Rosen & Helen Oxenbury’s children’s book “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” which was displayed in a helpful collection of children’s books in his allotted bedroom. He ruminated on the possibility that even when the object of a quest is known the final denouement may defy that initial preconception.

The next evening, the family took a hot steamy sauna upon their return from skiing. The sauna with its glass door was adjacent to the locked door affording Philip time to stare and wonder. He still couldn’t rationalize the concept that the room had been converted into a mere extra store room. Did it house a piece of forbidden equipment or maybe crime-scene evidence? Later he returned to try to look through the keyhole without success; he even attempted to pick the lock. Lock picking looks easy in movies but, to his chagrin, he discovered that in this case it wasn’t. He listened intently and thought that he heard grunt-like sounds inside the room. He also noticed a faint shadow of a stain in the tan-colored Berber carpet immediately outside the door. He mentioned his observations to his dad who dismissively stated that the house was part of a duplex, and the sounds were undoubtedly coming from the adjacent tenants muffled by the wall insulation. As for the stain, well people often spill things on carpets.

The following morning, Philip went and stood outside the door to ruminate on its mystery. As he stared he had a break-through thought. The room was a bedroom, surely it had windows! He quickly slipped down to the main level and outside to investigate. He was right; the room did have windows. He identified two, which overlooked the main entry porch roof. There was a planter on the porch and, over it, a hole through the roof to allow natural irrigation. Philip saw that he could easily climb up on the planter and haul himself onto the roof. Then it would be easy, he thought, to navigate the roof and look in through the windows. He decided to return from the slopes early so that he could put his plan into execution unhindered by parental scrutiny.

The climb onto the roof was easier than he expected, however the crawl across ten feet of snow covered roof was more challenging. The snow was not thick. He brushed it off with his gloved hands and found footholds on the anti-slip roof hooks. To his amazement he found that both windows were open. He peered in and saw what looked like a normal bedroom; queen-sized bed with attractive cream and red comforter, bedside tables with lamps, a dresser with TV on top, and a closet. Hard as he tried he could detect nothing unusual. He pushed his anti-glare ski goggles onto    his head and looked closer. He observed that the closet door was ajar enabling him to see its contents strewn on the floor. They consisted of a grey blanket and an enormous stuffed animal. It was the sort, he thought that one wins at carnivals; except this one wasn’t pink, it was black. He noticed that a couple of small teddy bears like the one he had as a child were also mixed in the pile. He was disappointed and wondered whether he should give up or climb into the room for further investigation.

He was still considering options when one of the teddy bears moved its snout and made a small grunt. Philip shuddered and griped the cold window sill. Was he hallucinating? No, this was no delusion for the movement triggered a chain reaction. The large furry object also grunted and gently rolled; then it shoved the small teddy bear towards it’s stomach. Philip’s feet slipped, the snow-covered roof was slick and he almost fell off as the realization came that these were not toys but a live black bear and her cubs taking their annual winter torpor.

Some notes about Black Bears
The black bear’s torpor is a winter sleep in which breathing and heart rates slow down, and body temperatures are slightly depressed. Hibernation refers to a sleep in which the sleeper’s body temperature is drastically reduced. A bear in torpor does not drink, eat, urinate or defecate but can respond to danger signals and moves occasionally. Although Colorado Black Bears generally weigh between 100 – 450 lbs. they are not aggressive toward humans. The most dangerous animal in Colorado is the moose who is fearless and will charge at random. In the fall the bears, who are intelligent with good memories and a very acute sense of smell (ten times better than a dog) will raid dumpsters and anywhere that they can smell food (even in unlocked cars which they know how to open.) Their fall hyperphagia, or voracious eating, is to get fat enough to support their winter torpor when they will lose about 27% of their body weight. Black bears copulate in June after which the fertilized embryos go into stasis and, if the mother gets fat enough in the fall, they implant and grow. A litter of one to three 1 lb. cubs are born in January. From then until spring the cubs nurse on their sleeping mother. Bears have been known to make a basement of an occupied human residence into a winter den. The upper bedroom at the house, featured in my story, was visited by a bear in the fall. The animal got in the same way as Philip. I speculate, that the bear visitor may have been looking for a convenient winter den.