Tag Archives: short story

The Laugh

When the kids were young and mayhem reigned supreme in the house, I sometimes begged my wife to allow me to go camping by myself for a weekend for a little peace and quiet.
My favorite spot was out in the woods by the Withlacoochee River. My little pup tent took no time at all to set up and a quick trip among the trees provided enough wood and kindling for the fire. Sometimes I could hear other campers in the distance but most of the time I savored my solitude in the silence. It was about midnight several years ago that my contemplations were interrupted by several howls of laughter.
Looking about, I tried to determine where the noise was coming from. The laughter stopped, only to be followed by the crunching of leaves and twigs. I felt my heart in my throat. My mouth went dry. I cursed myself for not owning a gun even though I didn’t know how to use one. Maybe one of the larger logs in the fire would suffice as a weapon. I heard the laugh right behind me and jumped.
“What you all fidgety about, man?”
From the shadows ambled a bear of an old man with a long gray-streaked beard which I supposed had been dark amber when he was young. He had a limp which favored his left foot which looked like it had been mauled by something with sharp teeth. He plopped to the ground up across the fire from me and let out such a giggle-tinged grunt that I could no longer be afraid of him.
“Think there be skunk apes here about?” he asked more as a joke than a question.
“Well,” I replied, “I’ve never seen one.”
“Ever thunk they be ghosts of critters long gone? That’s how you folks can sometimes see them, but never catch one or see a track. Maybe they just love these old swamps and don’t want to go away.”
When he smiled, I noticed his teeth look like yellowed stalactites and stalagmites in a yawning cavern. His tongue darted out like a pink slime creature venturing from the abyss of his gullet.
“That’s an interesting theory.” I covered my mouth with my hand to keep him from seeing the flicker of a smile. “Have you ever seen a skunk ape?”
He let go with another cackling laugh. “You’d be surprised by what I’ve done and seen in these swamps.”
“Is that so?” I replied with my hand still across my lips. I began to think my kids weren’t so peculiar after all.
“You ain’t scared, are you, young fella? There ain’t no need to be.”
“That’s a relief.”
“I can tell you don’t believe in skunk apes, ghosts or nothin’ else that lurks about in the darkness.”
“I don’t mean any disrespect, sir, but, no, I don’t believe in skunk apes, ghosts or things that go bump in the night.”
“Then more fool you!” The old man threw back his head, howled in laughter for several moments before evaporating into the darkness.

Sorry

Everyone told me the best place to make out with your girlfriend was on Radio Hill Road.
“You got to see the lights of downtown from Radio Hill Road.” Use that line to persuade her. After about a minute and a half you slip your arm around her shoulder. This action should cause her to look from the lights and smile at you. Then go in for the kiss.
I knew the radio station was on Radio Hill Road but not much else; if you didn’t need to be on the radio, why bother to go out there? At 16-years-old, I had a high squeaky voice, and when I was nervous I tended to get loud. So, the night before my big date, I drove out there to familiarize myself with the best place to park. No lie, the view impressed me for a small town in Texas. I even practiced lowering my voice. That sounded creepy so I ditched the idea. Only a few second later, however, I saw a bright object in the sky, lingering over downtown. At first I dismissed it as an airplane, but this body had no extra blinking colored lights and seemed to linger before turning sharply and shooting directly over my car at a speed unattainable by any ordinary airliner.
Had I just encountered a space ship from another planet? Here I sat all alone on Radio Hill Road, and little green men knew it. I was ripe for the picking, just a laser beam away from being transported up for some exploratory surgery. Fumbling with my keys, I finally started my car and started down the hill when I passed a pair of headlights come in the opposite direction.
“Ahh!!” I screamed like a little girl. No. A little girl could not be that loud.
“What the hell’s wrong with you, kid?”
This teen-aged boy’s eyes widened, startled by my outburst. The girl sitting next to him began giggling. I felt bad that I had broken their mood. No necking for them tonight. Not only was I afraid of what I had seen in the sky, I also feared the story of my scream would be all over school on Monday morning. At the intersection of Radio Hill Road and the county highway heading back toward town, I stopped to gain my composure. I could never tell anyone about this. Everyone in school thought I was weird enough already without this new incident. Maybe the couple in the other car didn’t recognize me. After all, it was dark.
Tap, tap. A noise drew my attention to the car window. A little green man snapped his long skinny fingers which caused my window all by itself. I screamed again. This was it, I thought. I was the object of an alien’s next science experiment. Maybe it was all for the best. My social life at high school was over.
“Pardon me, young human.” A surprisingly deep voice came from a slit in the green head. “I didn’t mean to make you scream. Could you please direct me to the nearest United States of America Air Force Base? I’m meeting with your leader tomorrow morning, and I’m lost.”

The Hunt for Sam Bass’s Gold

Hogg Nubbins had been a cowpoke for most near all his life. He wasn’t much good for anything else. He couldn’t read or write, not that he was interested in reading anything that would give him ideas. If he could write he wouldn’t know what to put on the paper. Hogg had just one goal in life: to find Sam Bass’s gold.
Riding up and down the Chisholm Trail in Texas all he ever heard was the Ballad of Sam Bass. Other cowpokes said the song was written to lull the cows into walking the same direction and to keep the cowboys from falling asleep. It was quite a yarn, that Ballad of Sam Bass.
Sam had one hell of a life, yessiree. Born in Indiana, he came to Texas as a young man, filled with piss and vinegar, and set out to make himself some money. This was all in the song. The guys on the trail filled in facts left out because the songwriter ran out of notes. Sam and his buddies started robbing trains and banks all the way from Central Texas to the Dakotas and points in between. One time they robbed a train, beat a man to a pulp before the guy gave up and opened the safe.
“Sixty thousand dollars,” old Pete, the chuck wagon boss, said. Pete was a youngin’ when they finally shot Sam to death at Round Rock, Texas, so he should know. “All in mint twenty dollar gold coins. The biggest train robbery ever.”
The ballad said Sam was like some kind of Robin Hood, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, being loyal to his friends and all.
“The only poor people Sam ever gave money to was bartenders and whores,” Pete snorted.
“The whole sixty thousand dollars to bartenders and whores?” Hogg asked, his mouth falling open.
“Oh hell, there ain’t enough whores in Texas to spend sixty thousand dollars on,” Pete replied. He doused the campfire, and that was the end of the story.
The next morning on the trail the cowpokes around Hogg started singing the Ballad of Sam Bass again. He went back to thinking about that sixty thousand dollars. Damn, he thought, if he had that much money he might buy himself some of those fancy false teeth he heard talked about. Hogg didn’t have a tooth in his head. They had all rotted out by the time he was thirty.
That night as he gummed his chili and corn pone Hogg asked Pete, “Well, if Sam Bass didn’t spend all sixty thousand dollars on whores what do you think he done with it?”
“He hid it,” Burly piped up. Burly was almost as old as Pete, but he was still spry enough to ride a horse and herd cattle. “That’s what I always heard.”
“Where?” Hogg was getting excited now. If somebody can hide a bunch of gold coins then somebody else can find them.
“Sam’s last words were, ‘I bet those folks in Cooke County will be huntin’ a long time for that gold.’ So it must be in Cooke County,” Burly said.
“Where’s Cooke County?” Hogg asked.
“Aww, that’s bullshit,” Pete said as he spooned out the last of the chili. “Sam’s last words was ‘The world is bobbing around me.’ And I had fellers who was right there when he died tell me that.”
“It ain’t no bullshit at all,” Burly shot back. Pete and Burly hated each other for years. Some said they once fought over a woman. Others said they were just a couple of sonovabitches that couldn’t get along. “It didn’t have to be the absolute last thing Sam said. Hell, it took him a full day to die after they shot him. He probably said a lot of things before he actually died.”
“I still say bullshit.” Pete looked at the cowpokes around the fire. “Anybody want the last cornpone?”
“Now where is this Cooke County?” Hogg asked again. He figured he could spend the gold coins on whores just like Sam did.
“Everybody that got a lick of sense knows that Sam Bass hung out in Cooke County as much as he hung out anyplace else in Texas,” Burly continued in a loud defiant voice. “I know for a fact Sam and his gang hid out in Cove Holler. That’s in the southwest corner of Cooke County, and hardly nobody lives there.”
“Only a idiot would hide out in Cove Holler. It’s so thick with oak and walnut trees and vines and brush the sun can’t shine through at noon day,” Pete countered.
“Well, nobody said Sam was the brightest man around,” Burly replied sullenly. “And the holler is all riddled with limestone caves, just the place to hide a bundle of gold coins.”
“Where is this Cooke County?” Hogg asked for the third time. If anybody could find Sam Bass’s gold, Hogg knew he was the man to do it.
“Hogg, you must be the dumbest sonovabitch I ever done seen. Cooke County is three counties due west of here.” Pete doused the campfire, and the conversation ended right there.
When Hogg mounted up the next morning he kept looking due west toward Cooke County and then at the cattle. He had been herding cattle all these years, and what had it ever got him? A calloused ass and a wallet full of nothing. All he had to do is ride west and keep asking folks along the way where this Cooke County was.
“Hogg! Get movin’! We gotta get across the Red River by night fall!” Burly shouted.
Hogg looked west and then at the cattle one last time, and then he lit out full gallop heading west. The gallop eventually became a trot, and he started laying out his plan to find Sam Bass’s gold. He didn’t want to be none too eager to talk about it, Hogg told himself. When he stopped for the night he ought to be real casual about his conversations with folks. Didn’t want nobody to know what he was up to. That Cove Holler seemed to be the place to look, all right. After a couple of days he found himself in Gainesville, the Cooke County seat. He settled into a chair at the local boarding house dining room. Hogg tried to start up a conversation.
“Nice little town you got here.”
“Wouldn’t know. I’m just passin’ through.” The man had on a fine suit of clothes and had his hair slicked down with something that smelled mighty sweet.
“Then you wouldn’t know about Cove Holler.”
“Everyone in North Texas knows about Cove Hollow,” the man replied with a sniff. “The worst land in the whole territory. Not worth a dime.”
“That’s what I heard too,” Hogg said. “Lots of underbrush and limestone caves. Sounds like a place you wanna to keep away from. Just where is it so I can go in the opposite direction?” Hogg thought he was being very clever.
The fancy dude with the perfumed hair gave him perfect directions—southwest of Gainesville along a long ravine. The nearest ranch was miles away.
When he woke up the next day Hogg checked out of the boarding house and went southwest until he found the beginning of the ravine. When he couldn’t ride any further into the thick underbrush Hogg tied up his horse. The prickly bushes and vines surrounded by oak and walnut trees made walking slow going. He didn’t know exactly where he was or how he would find his way out. All he knew was that he was on the hunt for Sam Bass’s gold.
Soon the foliage thickened so the sun was completely blocked. Only mottled areas of dim light appeared here and there. Hogg squinted from side to side and saw hints of limestone caves in the distance. Suddenly his foot slipped and he fell straight down. At the bottom of the hole Hogg took a moment to regain his senses. He must have fallen into one of them limestone caves. There was so little light he had to wait until his eyes adjust a bit. Then he began to reach his hands out to touch something. Mostly limestone. Smooth, moist limestone. Then he felt something else. Leather. Hogg eagerly grabbed at it. A leather bag. No, two leather bags. No, more than that.
Hogg clumsily clawed at the belt tying one of the leather bags shut. Opening it he frantically stuck his fingers inside. He felt coins, lots of coins. Hogg pulled them out of the bag and peered at them. They were gold coins. Twenty dollar gold coins. And they still looked as new and sparkly as the day Sam Bass took them off the train.
Laughing loudly he quickly opened the other leather bags. They were all filled with gold coins. Enough gold coins to get him some good false teeth and all the whores he’d ever want.
“Glory hallelujah!” Hogg shouted. He looked up. “I found …” Hogg stopped as he stared at the steep slippery limestone shaft above him. He finished in a whimper, “…Sam Bass’s gold.”

Two Pennies

Two weeks ago Frank’s breakfast buddies suggested over their omelets that they all go to the opening of a ballroom dancing school. Anyone showing proof of being on Social Security got in free.
Before Frank could respond, a woman in a flamboyant caftan and large dangling earrings entered the restaurant and immediately stopped in front of Frank and pointed.
“Are you married?”
“No.” He unconsciously reached for the gold band on his left hand.
Without another word she walked away, disappearing in the crowd.
“That was weird,” Charley observed. “As I was saying, let’s have a guys’ night out where we get to touch some old broads without getting slapped. What do you say, Frank?”
“I don’t know,” he demurred. “I have two left feet, and Joan had two right feet so it seemed to work out okay. But me with a woman with two normal feet, well, that could prove embarrassing.”
“Look, you’ll probably never see any of these women again, so why do you care?” Charley asked.
“You guys are overlooking the main word in this conversation,” Ralph interjected. “Free. We can’t break the old fart’s creed. Never pass up anything free.”
So on the night of the opening Frank dressed, not really knowing what to think. He heard Charley honk. The time to think was over. It was time to go. The dance school was in an old car repair garage. Frank had gone there a few times until he realized there was a cheaper garage down the street. The parking lot was full. It was amazing how many people come out for something free.
Just as he stepped out of Charley’s car he looked down and saw a shiny penny on the ground. Legend had it when a person found a shiny penny someone who had died was letting them know everything was all right. His wife Joan wanted him to have a good time. Frank didn’t know if he believed in such things, but just for tonight he decided he wanted to, so he picked up the penny and put it in his pocket.
The old garage looked pretty good now. The grease on the floor had been cleaned up and replaced by wooden tiles. The whole place was painted black and mirrors covered every wall. A mirror ball twirled above, radiating twinkling lights everywhere, making everyone in attendance look twenty years younger.
Frank stopped in his tracks when he saw the woman in the middle of the room holding a microphone. She was slender and straight, wearing a white beaded jacket and black beaded short dress and looked just like Anne Bancroft. For the first time in years, Frank felt he was developing a crush on the woman who glittered like the Milky Way.
“I need a partner to show how easy dancing is,” she announced in a wonderful accent.
Frank couldn’t tell if she were Spanish or Italian. Either way, shivers went up and down his spine.
She pointed in his direction. “I choose you, the cute one. You know who you are.” Walking over to him, she took his hand and led him back to the center. “You handsome men, you always play hard to get.” She smiled. “Have you ever danced?”
“Not in a long time. I’m afraid I was never any good,” he whispered.
She patted his cheek. “And he’s shy too. Isn’t that adorable?”
Frank noticed her red fingernail polish matched her lipstick. Inhaling her perfume, he tried not to faint.
“Don’t be scared. We’ll start out easy. A waltz.”
Seemingly out of nowhere, the music began. Frank could hear the three-quarter time distinctly and moved his feet accordingly. The glittering woman melded into him and with her legs led him around the dance floor, creating the illusion that he knew what he was doing. He knew the tune well enough to know it was about over. He was relieved he had not embarrassed him, yet he had to admit he didn’t want to let her go.
“Dip me,” she whispered.
Now dipping was something Frank knew how to do. It was his favorite cheap trick and his wife Joan loved it. He moved his left hand up to support her head and the right went to the small of her back—which he noticed was, indeed, very small. Then he gently bent her backwards and smiled. What he wasn’t expecting was that she planted a kiss on his lips. They immediately came back up, and the crowd applauded with enthusiasm.
“Ladies, ladies,” the woman in sequins announced. “You must dance with this man! He is very strong!”
The next two hours were both pleasurable and frustrating. Frank ended up dancing with every old woman in the house, each one wanting to be dipped. On the other hand, Frank kept an eye on the dance instructor and try as he may, he was not able to get close to her for a return performance. His buddies patted him on the back.
“I didn’t know you had it in you,” Charley said.
“When she kissed you I thought you were going down for the count,” Ralph added.
The three of them had almost decided to put out the dough for a month’s lessons when the glittery woman took the microphone back to the center of the dance floor.
“Thank you all so much for attending the grand opening of my ballroom dance school. Enrollment forms are on the table by the door. But most of all, I want to thank my husband. After he retired he agreed to turn his auto repair shop into this beautiful ballroom. David, please come out and take a bow.”
A tall, bald fat man lumbered out wearing black slacks and an oversized black shirt. She practically jumped into his arms, landing a big, long kiss. How she found his lips through that bushy beard, Frank would never figure out.
“Tough luck, pal,” Charley muttered.
“Yeah, let’s get the hell out of here,” Ralph added.
Frank was about to climb into the backseat of Charley’s car when he looked down and saw another penny which he swore was in the same place of the penny he picked up going in. But this one was dirty and smudged. Joan was trying to tell him something. Maybe like even though the evening didn’t turn out the way he wanted, she’d always be with him. Or something like that.
Frank left the dirty penny on the ground.

The Future Me

When I awoke this morning I was confused. Looking down at me was my mother. She’s been dead for fifty years, but there she was, looking as young and beautiful as I remembered from my childhood.
“And how is Jerry this morning?” she asked.
I was so dumbfounded. I could not find the words to respond. This bald man came up, put his arm around my mother’s shoulder and smiled.
“Look, Daddy, Jerry is wide awake and ready for breakfast.”
Okay, this man was not my father. My father was not bald and he rarely if ever smiled. Mother picked me up and handed me to this man she called Daddy. How this guy could hold me I could not figure out. I was a two hundred pound old man. For that matter how could my mother pick me up? And when I was the size for my father to carry, he never did. At least I did not remember him carrying me. There was something terribly wrong about this situation. They were calling me Jerry and that was my name. The woman looked very much like my mother. And this man was a complete stranger.
“Bring Jerry in here, Anthony,” the woman called out from the kitchen.
Now I was really confused. My father’s name was Grady. And I never knew anyone named Anthony until my daughter started dating. My daughter, where was she? For that matter, where was my wife? And why was I peeing in my pants? I hadn’t peed in my pants in more than sixty years.
“I’ve got to change his diaper first, Heather,” this man trying to pass himself off as my father said. My real father never changed a diaper in his life.
I wrinkled my tiny brow. He called my mother Heather. My mother’s name was Florida. My daughter’s name was Heather. All this confusion made me very unhappy. The only thing I could think to do was cry.
“Why is the baby crying?” Heather called out from the kitchen.
“If your pants were wet you’d cry too,” this man who called himself Anthony said.
After he changed my diaper, I began to feel hungry. Bacon and eggs would taste good, I thought. Maybe not. I now could not rightly remember what bacon and eggs tasted like. I had bad dreams all the time. My wife could usually tell me what they meant, but at this moment I could not remember her name. I did remember how good that bottle of milk tasted. My father—whatever his actual name was—was pretty good slipping it between my little lips.
I decided he was not so bad. I looked at my mother and knew I had loved her a long time, way back in a past that was fading away and into a future that was brand new yet so familiar. Maybe even better.
Author’s note: This is, of course, sort of a fantasy. I already have a grandson named Liam.

The Southland Life

Luncheon meetings in the Southland Life dining room bored William Gatesworth Gordon III to distraction. Yet another corporation tried to convince Gordon and his fellow members of First Bank Corporation Board of Directors to invest millions in its latest project. The top floor of the tallest building in Dallas did not impress him one bit. After all, it was 1975, and everything impressive had already been built years ago.
This food was not going to impress him. The strawberries were not any plumper or fresher than the fruits served by his own kitchen staff at his estate on White Rock Lake in Highland Park, which at one time was considered the most exclusive neighborhood in Dallas. Then that peasant oilman H.L. Hunt built his gaudy replica of Mount Vernon and brought housing values down.
The giant shrimp cocktail was tough and not quite the right shade of pink.
Now, on top of everything else, he was seated next to this gawky young man with an ill-fitting suit coat that did not match his trousers. One could only hope he would have the good manners not to engage him in conversation. No such luck. Before he could take another bite Gordon found a pale scrawny hand stuck in his face.
“I’m filling in today for Al Altwig, business editor of the Dallas Morning News. He was called away at the last minute. He left me his coat to wear which, I’m afraid, is a bit too large for me.”
After a brief handshake which Gordon used as an excuse to push the young man’s arm out of his food, the banker returned his attention to his shrimp and strawberries.
“I’m afraid I’m not fully aware of the details of the Georgia Pacific proposal to First Bank. I was only told about the meeting about thirty minutes ago.”
“They want our money. That’s about the extent of it.” Gordon sipped his Bloody Mary and found it inadequate. He looked around for the waiter who was attending to another suited gentleman two tables away. “Excuse me. Could you get me a fresher stalk of celery?”
“All I know is that it’s for a project centered in a small town in northern Georgia,” the young man added nervously. “It would create a lot of jobs, which would be a good thing, don’t you think?”
Gordon grimaced as he took another sip of his cocktail, thinking a new stalk of celery would not help the taste of his drink. “I think people should be responsible for finding their own jobs. No one ever handed me a job. I had to work for it. Business administration master’s degree from Southern Methodist University. Internship at First Bank and then vice-president.”
“That’s very impressive. Your parents must be very proud.”
“Of course they are.”
“Their investment in your education paid off well.”
“Of course it did.”
“And they provided you with the best pediatric care as a child. You attended the best schools and were always assured that your best efforts would always be rewarded generously.”
Gordon slowly turned his head to stare at the impertinent young newsman. “And what exactly are your duties at the Dallas Morning News?”
“I open the mail addressed to the business news page, edit stories and write headlines.”
“And they allowed you to attend this very important function?” Gordon raised his left eyebrow.
“As I told you, it was an emergency.”
“Hmph, I didn’t realize the Dallas News was employing socialists now.”

The Split

After six miserable months living with his girlfriend Gail, Joe decided it was time to call it quits.
What had he been thinking? Sure, she was a gorgeous blonde. Smart as hell and could whip up the strongest cocktails this side of Manhattan, including a manhattan that could knock you on your ass. Joe knew what he was thinking. This was the hottest chick that had ever talked to him for more than two minutes. She had wandering hands and knew how to use them. While she was squeezing his ass she could list ten reasons why the American Revolution was going to succeed and by the time she listed ten reasons why the Articles of Confederation were doomed to fail Joe’s eyes were going back up into his head.
All the problems began when Gail brought her things over to the apartment to move in.
“What a pigsty. Don’t you ever clean this dump?”
Joe would have been insulted but her sharp tongue immediately went down his throat. A little housecleaning would not hurt anything. In fact, it was rather nice knowing exactly where the remote control was at any given time. Except that Gail had hounded him into cleaning. She cleaned up after herself but she regularly informed him she never accommodated slobs.
Next came the food.
“What is this eating out of cans? We’re not hobos.” Again she softened the edge of her criticism by sticking a finger in the pork and bean can, smearing it on Joe’s cheek and licking it off. “You taste better than the beans.”
Gail herself was an excellent cook but she swore it was her duty in life to bring Joe up to her culinary standards, not sink to his. Within a few weeks, he was chopping vegetables with speed and accuracy and mastered the technique of bringing the pot to a quick boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer, occasionally stirring.
The last straw, however, came as they lay in bed and she ran her long taut fingers across his stomach and chest.
“God, you call that a body? I gotta get your ass in shape.” Even though she immediately rolled on top of him and began a vigorous massage, Joe felt he had reached his limit.
No amount of erotic stimulus was worth the total transformation Joe was undergoing. He got a headache trying to figure out how she could be so sexually attracted to him while obviously repulsed by everything else about him. The relationship had to end. But when? How? He could not tell her in the apartment. She knew where every knife in the kitchen was, and he had seen her splay a chicken in twenty seconds.
Joe read the newspaper every day, and he had yet to come across a story of anyone being murdered in the aisles of Wal Mart. An old woman had pulled a gun on some guy who tried to steal her purse once, but she didn’t shoot. He, however, did soil his pants. At this point, Joe would endure a prominent brown stain on the seat of his pants rather to evolve into some perfect man which he did not want to be. The hard part would be to convince Gail to shop at Wal Mart.
“Wal Mart? That crap?” she said the next day in the car.
“The people in the office, we thought it would be a good idea to buy stuff for poor people. The last quarterly statement was too good. We don’t want the public to think we’re rich snobs, you know.”
“Good point. Wal Mart’s good enough for them.”
As he pushed a cart down an aisle, Joe began slowly, “Gail, you know I think you’re great and all—“
“Look at these amazing short shorts!”
Joe had to stop the buggy abruptly to keep from hitting two teen-aged girls who were examining a rack of shorts and tank tops.
“They don’t have a size big enough to cover that baby bump of yours,” Gail mumbled as she jerked the cart from around them.
“Gail,” Joe continued, “I think you’ve sacrificed too much for me.”
“Well, it’s been a shared sacrifice,” she replied with a smile.
“Occupy Wal Mart! Occupy Wal Mart!” A group of people of all ages carrying placards marched toward them.
Gail quickly turned the cart down another aisle.
“Blow back prices! Blow back prices!” the protesters chanted.
“Man, cave dwellers make me sick,” she whispered, looking back at the marchers in disgust.
“Actually, they may have a point,” Joe said softly.
“As a matter of fact, I’ve noticed that about you, Joe.” Gail looked at him, her eyes narrowed. “What’s normal to you isn’t necessarily normal for me.” She paused. “I think you need a new normal.”
Joe grinned impishly. “Isn’t that like telling your little dog to change?”
She shook her head. “I’m not a pet parent. I’m a girl friend.”
“Which brings me to my doubts about our future.”
“Don’t worry.” Gail patted his hand. “We can win the future.”
Just at that moment they entered another aisle intersection blocked by the protesters. One man was on a bull horn.
“They all said us poor people had to be patient and wait for the money to trickle down to us. Well, I, for one, am tired of waiting for that trickleration. It feels more than a trickeration to me!”
The crowd roared its approval. Gail grabbed the cart handle from Joe, lowered her head and slammed ahead through the protesters.
“Hey, lady, get your ginormous ass out of my way!”
Gail was busy putting canned beans in the cart by the time Joe caught up with her. He had taken a few minutes apologizing to the woman, saying her posterior was in a proper proportion to the rest of her body. Joe then had to explain to the security guards who were escorting the protesters out of the store that he wasn’t one of them. The woman with the big butt put in a good word for him, and Joe went on his way to find Gail.
“Where the hell have you been? If I have to stay in this store any longer I’m going to kill somebody!”
Joe closed his eyes. “I wish you wouldn’t put it that way.”
“What do you mean?”
“Listen, you’re the hottest girl I ever went to bed with. I could listen to you talk about history, philosophy and geology all day. But you’re driving me nuts! I like who I am. I don’t want to be cleaner. I want to eat out of a can. And I don’t want to do a hundred pushups every day!”
Gail slapped Joe and stormed away. His face was still stinging when a sixtyish year old man in a Wal Mart apron came up and smiled.
“Wal Mart thanks you in advance for leaving your cart in the designated area in the parking lot.”

I Get Lost Easily

(Author’s note: this story was written as an exercise in using wildly different phrases. They were the titles of the plays on the schedule at the local community theater: Oklahoma, Moonlight and Magnolias, I Love You You’re Perfect Now Change, and Born Yesterday. See if you can find them all.)
I have to confess. I get lost easily. Very easily.
My wife and I joked the best way to learn your way around in a new big city was to get lost on its streets for several hours. However, when our son was being born, getting lost was no laughing matter.
I had just started a new job at the Oklahoma City newspaper as a copyeditor on the night shift. My wife was due any moment; in fact, she was past due, and I was getting worried.
“Maybe I shouldn’t go to work tonight because you’re in extreme pain which comes and goes, but mostly coming.”
“Don’t fret,” she said. “I can always call a taxi and phone you from the hospital.”
The trouble with that was I hadn’t been to the Oklahoma City hospital yet, only the doctor’s office. So wouldn’t you know it, at about 10 p.m. I get a call from my wife saying she was in the emergency room, and the baby was due any second. I went to the old, balding man who was in charge of the copyediting desk that night. I told him I had to go. I was about to become a father.
He arched his eyebrow and rolled his stubby cigar around his lips. “I don’t understand. Are you the doctor?”
“No, I’m just the father. But my wife told me to get to the hospital as soon as possible.”
“Oh hell. I had five kids, and wasn’t there for any of their births, and they turned out okay. My ex-wife and them live in California now, and they get to go to Disneyland all the time.”
“I don’t know if I could concentrate on editing stories and writing headlines because I’m so worried about my wife.”
“Oh hell, get out of here. Nobody nowhere wants to work no more.” That was a triple negative which was why he was the boss. He got his journalism degree somewhere in Texas which explained a lot.
All I knew was the address. My wife told me it was at the corner of Moonlight and Magnolias. You couldn’t miss it, everyone in the doctor’s office assured her. Well, she might not miss it, but I was so sure about myself. I was almost late to my wedding because I couldn’t find the church. She married me anyway but informed me on our honeymoon she had high expectations.
“I love you,” she said. “You’re perfect. Now change.”
The changes had been painfully slow, but nevertheless they had been forthcoming. They were not forthcoming fast enough, however, the night my son was born. I couldn’t find Moonlight or Magnolias anywhere. I stopped at a couple of convenience stores. The man behind the counter at the first one said in broken English he only knew how to get from his mother’s house to the store where he worked. The woman at the other store put her hands on her hips when I told her my wife was about to have a baby and I didn’t know how to get to the hospital.
“What’s wrong with you? Everybody knows where the hospital is.” She paused to cock her head. “Are you a Yankee?”
I didn’t know what to say. Maybe being a Yankee would make me more sympathetic, or it might make her get out her gun and shoot me. That might work because someone would have to call an ambulance to take me to the hospital at Moonlight and Magnolias.
“”Yes?” I replied timidly.
“Oh hell. That explains everything.” She came around the counter, took me by the hand, walked out the front door and pointed down the street. She talked very slowly. “The hospital is only three blocks away. And be sure to go in the emergency room entrance.”

Within minutes I was at the information desk and explained to the clerk that my wife had arrived at the emergency room earlier in the evening and was about to have our baby. I told her I would have been there sooner but I got lost.
“I get lost easily,” I said.
She pointed to a big clock on the wall, and its hands pointed to 12 and 45. “I don’t know anything about your baby. The shift changed at midnight, and he was born yesterday.”

Butterfly

Sometimes sleeping late can cause a lot of trouble.
You see, my cocoon was just so comfy that I didn’t want to come out. I was having this wonderful dream of floating over a garden of roses, chrysanthemums and Mexican bluebells. The aroma made my head spin, and the nectar lured me into the caressing petals. The foliage surrounded me with Mother Nature’s love, and I wanted to stay there forever. As I dreamed of flying through the garden, I became aware that my wings bumped into stems which threw me off course. Before I knew it, I could hardly move at all without hitting something inflexible and rough.
Then I realized I wasn’t bouncing from plant to plant at all. It was dark. I was still in my cocoon, and my new wings couldn’t move in the cramped dark space. Instinct told me to kick and scratch as fiercely as I could. Finally, I broke through the cocoon wall and found myself in a beautiful garden, just like in my dream. After flitting from flower to flower, I sensed a distinct chill to the air. When I looked up I saw that the sky was clouding over, and the wind was blowing hard.
I’ve got to get out of this place. As beautiful as it was, I sensed it was going to become too cold very quickly. Looking around, I saw no other butterflies. This wasn’t right. Something was wrong. My instincts told me I was alone and in trouble. I wasn’t dreaming of this garden but another garden, far away where the temperatures were warm and the sun shone all day. But I didn’t know the way, and there was no other butterflies left to guide me.
Before I allowed myself to think the worse, a gentle hand swooped me up and placed me in a box with holes in the sides and several branches of leaves and flowers. I sensed I should have been scared but the flowers’ bouquet lulled me into a trance of serenity, almost like the dream I had while in the cocoon. I felt jostled about and cringed at the noise around me. A soft voice sang me to sleep and once again I was flying in the beautiful garden.
What seemed like a peaceful eternity passed. Coming out of a deep slumber I became aware of the lid of the box lifting, and I saw warm, welcoming skies above me. Without hesitation I flew up and out of the box to find yet another garden. This one was filled with other butterflies, all swooping and soaring around the flowers.
“Where have you been?” they asked. “How did you get here?”
“I overslept, and I don’t know how I got here. Do you believe in miracles?”

The Chihuahua Who Saved Noel Coward

Author’s note: This story uses stronger language than I usually use. However, it is in memory of my 18-year-old Chihuahua who crossed the rainbow bridge last week. It’s vulgar and sweet all at the same time.
He strolled through the Plaza Hotel lobby looking quite natty in his brown tweed suit, bowler cocked slightly on his balding head and swinging his cane. With a flourish he signed the register.
Nov. 17, 1958. Noel Coward. London, England. Penthouse Suite.
His plans were to spend the rest of the afternoon in his suite, attend the world premiere of Mrs. Stone!, his musical adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ play The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone. He would then host a cast party in the penthouse. The guests would beat a hasty retreat after reading dreadful reviews from all the major newspapers of New York. Noel Coward, one of the most successful writers of British comedy, then would go to the balcony, finish drinking the last of the champagne and step into the void of midnight.
“PeePee! PeePee! Come back here!”
Coward winced as he recognized the inimitable screech of his leading lady, Ethel Merman. He turned to see a Chihuahua scurrying across the marble floor followed by Ethel, her bosom flouncing and her bracelets clanging. Before he knew it, he felt scratching at his trousers.
Save me from that bitch! Please! Please! Please!
Coward was convinced; his extreme depression over the audacious failure of his play had pushed him over the brink. Why else would he consider suicide or think he heard a Chihuahua talking to him?
Pick me up, you idiot!
Resigning himself to madness, Coward picked up the dog which immediately starting licking him in the face.
Thank you! Thank you! I always knew you were a nice man!
“Noel! You caught that naughty little dog!” Ethel said as she walked up, her arms outstretched.
“Of course, Ethel, darling,” Coward said with a purr. “Anything for my star.”
Don’t hand me over to that bitch!
Ignoring the dog’s pleas he gently placed the Chihuahua into Ethel’s arms and bowed with grace.
Damn you! I hate you! No! No! I love you! Take me back! You’re the one I want! I hate you! I love you! I could love you if you give me a chance! Is any of this working on you?
Coward imagined everyone else in the lobby thought the dog’s pleading sounded like the typical yipping of a Chihuahua. It probably was, he told himself as he turned to the clerk and finished signing in.
I’ll get you for this, bitch! Yeah! I talking to you, bitch! No! No! I don’t mean it. You’re a wonderful humanitarian! Kind to old women, children, beggars and little dogs!
Soon Ethel and her Chihuahua were in the elevator, and Coward sighed in relief. A few moments later he took the same elevator to the penthouse suite and settled himself at the baby grand piano with the score of Mrs. Stone! in front of him. Most of the music was all right, passable, but the final song was no damn good. Mrs. Stone throws her room key down to the street where a shadowy young man picks it up and comes up to the apartment to do who knows what to her. Ethel, in a terrible blonde wig, blasted away every rehearsal trying to sell it. He knew she realized even she could not give that song away with free tea and crumpets.
He played the melody over and over again, trying to figure out what was wrong. It had to be sad but not maudlin. It had to express the emotions of an over-the-hill movie star who was never going to be loved again. And the lyrics. They were impossible. They were dripping with self-pity. Who wanted to listen to that?
A soft scratching at the door interrupted his thoughts. When he opened it, Coward saw Ethel Merman’s dog, staring up at him with his enormous Chihuahua eyes.
I forgive you. With that he pranced into the room. Nice digs.
“So pleased you approve,” Coward replied acidly as he shut the door and walked back to the piano. He sat down and returned to playing his music, hoping an idea would spring into his mind.
You know that song is really crappy?
He stopped abruptly and picked the dog up and stared him in the face. “Now see here,” he paused. “What the deuce is your name?”
PeePee. That’s because I’m the best hung Chihuahua on the eastern seaboard.
“Well, I hate to burst your bubble, but Ethel named you Pepe, a common Spanish name. In her infinite stupidity she mispronounces it.”
No way! Oh. Hmph. That sounds like something that stupid bitch would do. Damn. I feel like a fool.
Coward could not stand to see the little dog so disappointed. He hugged him close to his cheek and placed him on the piano bench. “But, it could mean the other thing. Actually, you do have rather impressive equipment for a dog of your breed.”
Thank you. PeePee licked his hand. You’re a very nice man.
“I really don’t understand why you don’t like Ethel,” Coward said. “She’s quite sweet. And she truly adores you, don’t you know.”
I know. She’s all right. But look at these honking ears I got on me. The way she jangles those bracelets. And that damn voice of hers! It’s enough to split my eardrums!
“Well, I have to give you that.” Coward returned to playing the piano. “So you think my song is crappy?”
You bet. It’s supposed to be about this old broad who ain’t getting laid, right?
“How perceptive.”
Okay, this old broad wants it bad enough to throw the key down to any guy on the street. The last thing she’s going to sing about is love. Poor me, nobody loves me.
“And your point is?”
She don’t want love. She wants to get laid. Sex, that’s what she wants!
“And what, pray tell, would you know about sex?”
Hey, I’m PeePee, the best hung Chihuahua on the eastern seaboard. What do I not know about sex? When the old broad takes me to Central Park and puts me on the ground, I have my choice of the bitches.
“Not all, I’m sure.”
Yeah, I mean all. Those Great Dane bitches can’t get enough of PeePee.
“Great Danes, oh, come now.”
Listen, you get a running start, jump, grab hold of the tail with both legs and, humpity, humpity, humpity, it’s showtime.
“Very well, since you’re the expert, what would you recommend?”
First off, get real with the words, man. She don’t want love. She wants sex. Hot sex. Sweaty body to body action.
“Very well.” Coward took a pen and started scribbling some new lyrics. He stopped and looked at them. “You know, this isn’t half bad.”
What do you expect? Hey, I’m PeePee. Now the music. Start out easy and soft, you know, like foreplay, then it gets faster and harder. Maybe ease off a little then. Make ‘em want it. Then slam bam thank ya ma’am. That’ll get butts out of the seats clapping.
Coward wrinkled his brow as his hands furiously pounded the keys. “I think you’re right.” After a few moments of passionate inspiration, Coward notated his new song on composition paper. Only a loud rapping at the door interrupted him.
“Noel! Is PeePee in there?”
Oh God, it’s the bitch.
“Just a minute, Ethel,” he called out as he finished his scribbling. “Come in, darling.
“PeePee! You bad little boy!” She marched to the piano and picked up the dog.
“Ethel, my dear, you must look at your new final number.”
“New song? On opening night? You must be crazy!”
He played it through a couple of times as she read the lyrics. Coward knew he had won her over when he saw tears forming in her eyes and she clutched the dog.
Watch it, bitch! You’re squeezing too tight!
“Oh Noel,” she gasped. “It’s a miracle. I haven’t sung anything this good since, I don’t know, when I was first on Broadway.”
“Don’t ruin the moment by comparing me to Cole Porter, darling.”
She put the dog down. “Go run and play, PeePee. Mommy and Daddy have got to practice this song.”
They rehearsed the rest of the afternoon until she was comfortable with every nuance and key change. Ethel gave Coward a big hug, picked up PeePee and left. He walked to the penthouse balcony and smiled. He might not have to jump after all.
That night, Coward watched from the wings. No one left at intermission. That was a good sign. The audience loved the choreography. They even laughed at the jokes. And the songs were, as he anticipated, bearable. The finale was upon them. Ethel, in her blonde wig, went to the window, threw down the key and turned to the audience. Then the music began. For once in her career, Ethel did not belt out a song. She barely croaked. Coward watched the audience members sit up and lean forward.
“Nobody loves me, so what?
Nobody wants a movie star that’s old, that’s what.
So I don’t care, I don’t want love.
I want sex!
I want to feel hot flesh next to mine!
I want sex!
I don’t want love!
I want to feel his sweat!
I want to feel his body pressing against me!
From now on this is the way it’s going to be!
Forget about love!
I want sex!”
For a moment the theater was quiet, and then it erupted in applause. Everyone was screaming and jumping up and down. The stage hand was about to bring down the curtain when Coward grabbed his arm.
“Don’t you dare.”
Ethel Merman, the queen of dramatic curtain calls, did not smile broadly and extend her arms to accept the audience’s adulation. She just stood there and cried. And cried. And cried for fifteen minutes. The crowd loved it. It loved her. Finally, someone screamed out, “Author! Author!”
Ethel rushed to the wings and dragged out Coward and planted a big kiss on his lips. Then she smiled and gestured to the old man of British comedy theater. Okay, he thought to himself, jumping from the balcony at midnight definitely was no longer on his schedule. Suddenly PeePee ran onto the stage barking. The audience even applauded him. Ethel bent down to pick him up, kissed him and handed him to Coward.
“He’s yours now,” she whispered. “After all, you gave me my career back. The least I can do is give you my dog.”
PeePee licked Coward’s face as he took him from Ethel.
“Thank you,” he said, nodding to her. Then he looked at PeePee. “And thank you.”
Don’t thank me, man. I had this planned all along.
“No, really. Thank you for saving my life.”
Hey, I’m PeePee, the best hung Chihuahua on the eastern seaboard. That’s what I do.
Coward held PeePee up with both hands toward the audience which screamed even louder. He then held the dog close to his cheek.
“Why?”
Why what?
“Why did you choose me?”
PeePee sniffed him.
You have the scent of a slight incontinence problem. I like that in a man.