Uninvited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

Father’s Love – a short story

The father was a wiry slender man who was frugal, hard-working, and asked for few comforts in life. He was a staunch South Dakota Mennonite and, during World War II, resolutely supported their belief that the fifth commandment, ‘Thou shalt not kill”, means exactly what it says. He could not join a war effort whose goal was to defeat an enemy though violence and the destruction of human life. He had quietly suffered for this belief. During the long war years after Pearl Harbor he never complained but accepted menial home front tasks to which he was assigned. When the war was over he took a position teaching elementary school. Over the period of a few years he managed to save up enough to purchase a car and drove to town to date his sweetheart. After they were married they took a mortgage and set up to farm a quarter (one hundred sixty acres). Their tiny homestead consisted of two rooms on the main level topped by two small attic bedrooms accessed by ship’s ladder. There was a lean to add-on kitchen. They had a two hole outside toilet and no bathroom.

Over the years their union was blessed with three sons who arrived into the world in regular three year intervals. The boys ran the farmyard in bare feet and made dens in the hay bales in the barn. The South Dakota weather kept the little family one step away from destitution as each year the winds, lack of rain, or too much rain, tested the father’s farming skills and jeopardized his crops. He was constantly worrying and scribbling sums on scraps of paper as he attempted to allocate their meager funds and keep the little family solvent and fed. His wife, a motherly sort, prayed constantly and did all she could to help make her husband’s life easier.

One day their oldest son was sent home from school for fighting. The boy was generally obedient and well behaved, but, on this occasion, he came home pouting and belligerent. He appeared hurt and angry. Both his parents attempted to get him to tell them what worried him, but he remained taciturn. How could he explain the teasing at school when it related to his own father’s role in the war before he was even born? How could he justify fighting about the very thing for which his father had so bravely suffered? He was not a violent child, but there came a moment when he had to defend his father, and so he had lashed out. His punch had been unexpected and effective, and astonished the bullying boys. They had responded with equal violence, which might have resulted in more than a few bruises had not a teacher heard the commotion, and intervened by separating the boys. She sent them all home in disgrace.

Both parents could see that their son was distressed and did their best to try to coax the boy into telling them what prompted the fight. But, he remained uncommunicative. Eventually the quiet father sat down and drew his son towards him to stand him between his knees.

“Son, what was the problem? The note which the teacher sent says that you were fighting. Son, haven’t you learned anything. You know that we don’t fight? Isn’t there something which you need to tell us, something we could pray about?” He was gentle, calm, and loving.

The boy looked into his father’s kind grey eyes, felt his father’s strong thin fingers on his waist and experienced a surge of anger. There was something to talk about but he couldn’t explain his pain. He couldn’t explain the constant teasing which was a direct result of who his father was. At that moment he blamed his father for his passivism, he blamed his father for his quiet love, and he blamed him for the bullies at school. He drew back his arm, formed a fist and punched his father’s nose. The impact made a thud and blood began to flow. The father let go of the boy’s waist and cupped his hands. He quietly held them up to his face to catch the blood. The son drew back; his eyes were wide with terror. Had he done this? Had he killed his father? He ran to his mother in the lean-to kitchen.

“Mama, Mama, come quickly Daddy is bleeding.”

She came into the room, but the father did not speak he continued to sit, immobile, quietly letting the blood drip from his nose into his cupped hands. The son urged his mother.

“Do something Mama, do something.”

But the father was gently shaking his head. His wife understood him and did nothing. The dripping continued and gradually a small reservoir of blood accumulated in the father’s cupped hands. It seemed an eternity before the bleeding stopped, and the father got up. The mother drew water and poured it into a basin. The son silently watched him wash away the blood. He hoped that the cleansing washed away his guilt. A little blood goes a long way and, in this case, the watching boy saw more than he believed possible. Some of it had browned where it had begun to dry on the edges of the father’s hands but most of it was still bright red. The father scrubbed his hands clean and wiped the blood stains off his face. Then he took the basin and tossed the reddened water onto the plants outside their kitchen door. He didn’t say a word. His watching son never forgot that image of his father’s blood flowing, drip by painful drip, into his cupped hands.

© Copyright, Jane Stansfeld, April 2014