Tag Archives: storytelling

The Dream

I have a lot of dreams.
This is mostly because I have Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep disorder. Put simply, I stay in the dream stage and never go into the deepest level of recuperative sleep. Sorry to bore you with my medical history, but it’s plot exposition, and I thought it best to get it out of the way up front.
One recent night I had this vision of a young boy in a tee shirt and blue jeans. He had a long angular face—soulful, sad. He seemed to be sitting on an L-shaped shadow. Then he spoke.
“Mom is worried about you.”
The pronouncement was so shocking I bolted awake and immediately tried to figure it out. My first thought was it was my interpretation of my son’s concern for my health. Before he leaves for work he reminds me where his work number is written down and tells me to be sure to call if I start to feel ill.
But how would he know if his mom was worried about me too? She died three years ago. And why would I see him as a child in my dream? He’s 45 years old. And he didn’t look anything like the dream boy when he was that age.
Then I remembered the framed photographs hanging in my childhood home. My picture was there, as well as my two brothers. The fourth photo was of the oldest brother who died six years before I was born. He was about seven years old. He wore a white shirt and bib overalls. As I thought more about it, his long face in the photograph did look very forlorn.
That meant when he said, “Mom is worried about you,” he was talking about our mother who died when I was fourteen years old.
The pieces were coming together for me. For traditional dream interpretation I am the one who is worried about myself, and I chose family members who had already passed to express my subconscious concerns.
For one who has an active imagination, however, I wonder if it weren’t a dream at all. Maybe it was an actual message from the other side saying I’ve got dead folks who are worried about me. It’s nice to know somebody up there cares.

Remember Chapter Seven

Previously: Retired college teacher Lucinda remembers her favorite student Vernon. Reality interrupts when another boarder Nancy scolds her for talking to her daughter Shirley. Later she remembers how she tried to teach Vernon how to appreciate his father.
Breaking Lucinda’s thoughts, Cassie came in with a couple of cardboard fruit boxes. “I found them boxes you wanted, Miz Cambridge.”

“Hmm?” She fluttered her eyes.

“The boxes for your books.”

“Oh, thank you, dear. How kind.”

“Where do you want them?”

Lucinda stood to go to the other boxes, bending down to turn them on their sides, but found she was too weak to move them. “Here. Would you help me turn them on their sides? Like shelves.”

“Sure, Miz Cambridge.

Lucinda and Cassie knelt by the books and boxes, arranging them as library shelving. As much as she tried, she couldn’t shake the memory of Vernon. “Cassie? Do you remember Vernon Singleberry?”

“Vernon? Why sure.” Cassie continued to put the boxes on their sides. “He was always kinda funny actin’, wasn’t he?”

“Not really. I—“

“Wasn’t that somethin’, what happened to ‘im? That reminds me. Nancy and her little girl are goin’ to be here for lunch today.”

Lucinda decided Cassie was not the right person with which to share her thoughts at this moment. “Yes, I know.”

“Shirley is so cute.” She giggled.

“Yes, she is.”

“Ain’t it a shame?” Cassie clucked her tongue and sighed, “Love child.”

“Mrs. Cambridge!”

Vernon’s voice caused her to jump and look up. She was back in her classroom. She couldn’t help but smile as Vernon, wearing an ironed short sleeved shirt, jumped around the room.

“I can’t believe it! I got a date for the spring dance!”

At first Lucinda studied Cassie’s face. It was obvious she didn’t hear what the old teacher was hearing. Lucinda stood, leaving Cassie to her task, which evidently engrossed her very much.

“So it’s spring now,” Lucinda whispered.

“This is a really great day for you to remember!”

“Of course, it’s spring, Miz Cambridge.” Cassie it seemed, was not as oblivious to the situation as Lucinda thought. “Didn’t you know that?”

Lucinda turned back to Cassie and smiled. “What, dear?”

“I got all these books stacked up the way you wanted.” Cassie stood with a grunt.

“Thank you, Cassie. That’s very sweet of you.”

Vernon was still jumping around the room like a puppy dog expressing its joy that its owner had finally arrived home. “And I’ve got a girl!”

“Are you all right, Miz Cambridge?”

Lucinda looked back at Cassie whose face was scrunched up with concern. “Yes, dear. Thank you, dear.”

“You already thanked me.”

“I did?”

“You better take a nap before lunch,” Cassie advised her.

“That might be a good idea.”

Cassie went to the door, turned back and smiled. “Remember, we’re havin’ chicken and stars!”

After Cassie disappeared down the hall, Lucinda was very pleased to give Vernon her complete attention. She never knew anyone who could be so overjoyed by something as simple as a date to a school dance.

“I can’t believe I finally got a girlfriend — well, one date, but at least it’s my first date,
and she’s wonder—“

“Slow down, Vernon, you’re running your sentences together.” She slipped into her rocking chair. Suddenly she was back in her classroom, sitting at her desk trying to act prim and proper. She inhaled. Yes, she could even smell the freshly mopped floors. “And be careful. The janitor mopped the floors before classes began this morning. I don’t want you to slip and fall.”

He froze in mid-whirl, focused on Lucinda and nodded. “Yes, ma’am. I’ll be careful.”

“That’s better.”

Vernon inhaled intensely before resuming his ballet of joy. “I mean, I asked her out, of course, but she was really hinting for me to ask her by asking if I was going to the dance and saying—“

“Slow, slow.”

He nodded again and sat in the chair closest to Lucinda’s desk. A look came over him as though he were trying to recall a Shakespearean soliloquy to deliver. “She said she didn’t know who she was going with. Billy Bob had hinted he might ask her. But she said she didn’t really want to go with him.” In fact, he spoke so slowly and with deliberate conviction, Vernon’s Texas drawl almost faded away.

“I don’t blame her. Billy Bob Longabaugh is a cretin.” Her mouth tightened with disapproval.

“Now I don’t know if Billy Bob was really going to ask her or not — you know what I think?” He cocked his head as though looking for approval for his theory of social interaction among aboriginal peoples.

Lucinda smiled, becoming caught up in Vernon’s exuberance. Her mind thought of her days as a young woman, wishing she had been able to whip up such emotion in young men. Quickly she chastised herself for being so imprudent and returned to her function of educator. “No, what do you think?”

“I think she said that so I wouldn’t think she was desperate to go out with just anybody, that she really wanted to go to the dance with me.” He stated his conclusion impassively, but could not contain himself, leaping from the chair and exploding around the room. “With me! With me!”

“Close your mouth and count to ten before you start hyperventilating.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Vernon stopped and frowned, trying to remember his numbers. “One, two . . . .”

“I’m really very pleased you finally asked a nice young girl to a school dance.”

“. . . three, four . . . .”

“You know I’ve been after you all school year to expand socially as well as academically.”

“. . . five, six . . . .”

“I know it’s hard for a shy person. I was terribly shy and had a hard time getting dates for proms and the such . . . .”

“. . . seven, eight, nine, ten. I don’t care if I do hyperventilate! I can’t believe a girl as pretty as Nancy Meyers would be interested in me. I . . . .” His voice trailed off when he noticed the change in expression on Lucinda’s face. “You don’t look very happy for me, Mrs. Cambridge.”

“I am, Vernon,” she replied in her soft tone reserved for reciting poetry.

“That didn’t sound very enthusiastic.”

A wry smile crossed Lucinda’s wrinkled face. “I’m an old woman, Vernon. If I get as enthusiastic as you do, I’d have a heart attack.”

“Oh.” He ducked his head. “Then maybe I shouldn’t ask what I was going to ask.”

“Go ahead.

“Well, there’s one problem to all this business about taking Nancy to the spring dance. I don’t know how to dance.”

“And you want me to teach you.” With all of the will she had developed in decades of teaching, she kept her face expressionless.

“Yes.”

She stood to walk towards him. “I suppose I can’t neglect that part of your education.”

“Great!”

Lucinda and Vernon stood opposite each other. Her heartbeat quickened as she became aware of his height, broad shoulders and large, rough hands. She could not help but tense her body.

“Anything wrong, Mrs. Cambridge?”

“Oh. Um. No. I was just trying to decide how to start,” she lied. After a pause, she continued, “All right. Let’s start with a waltz. Now, put your left hand at my waist and extend your right hand out and I’ll take it.”

“Like this?” Vernon put his left arm around her. Lucinda gently pulled away.

“I said at my waist, not around my waist,” she whispered.

“I’m sorry.”

Placing a bright smile on her lips, Lucinda tried to recover her propriety. “That’s quite all right. Now put your left hand on my hip.”

Vernon followed her instruction circumspectly.

“That’s right,” she said with encouragement. “Now extend your right arm.” Lucinda took Vernon’s right hand.

“Am I doing it right so far?”

“Yes, you are. Now take one step forward with your right foot, then a step back and behind your right with your right foot and a step back and behind your right with your left and repeat. One, two, three, one, two, three . . . .”

“Now you’re running your sentences together.” He grinned impishly.

“It’s really quite simple.” She chose to ignore his comment. “We’ll go slowly. Now right foot forward.”

They began to move slowly, awkwardly.

“Here we go,” he said in the same manner he would say it if he had been on a rollercoaster as it pulled out of the station.

“Then left foot forward — but not on my foot.”

“Gosh, I’m sorry.”

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.

Remember Chapter Six

Previously: Retired college teacher Lucinda remembers her favorite student Vernon. Reality interrupts when another boarder Nancy scolds her for talking to her daughter Shirley.
“I’m sorry, Vernon, but I’m confused.” As she stared at him he came into sharper focus. She noticed his fair-skinned cheeks were rosy from the cold. And the prettiest eyes she had ever seen on a man.

“Of all the days of my life you had to remember, why did you have to pick this one?” Vernon kicked the desk knocking his books to the floor, scattering them everywhere.
“Please! Compose yourself!” Lucinda’s hand went to her mouth. She rubbed her left arm. “You’re making me very nervous.”

Vernon paused, looked at her and breathed deeply. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Cambridge. It was very rude of me to break into your conference period like this. I’ll gather my books and leave.”

“No, you don’t have to leave. Just calm down and tell me what’s the matter.”

“Oh, it’s daddy again,” he replied as he picked up the last book and plopped into a chair.

“What did your father do?”

“It’s what he didn’t do.” Vernon held his head in his hands. “My grades from the first semester came in the mail, and I showed them to him. I made an A in algebra.”

“And all he noticed was the C in English composition,” she said, trying to anticipate his story.

“No. He didn’t notice nothin’.”

“He didn’t notice anything.” Lucinda had a bad problem with correcting the grammar of people trying to communicate with her. Since she did not see this characteristic a problem, she would probably never change it.

“No.” Vernon looked at her. “You wouldn’t notice anything. He didn’t notice nothin’.”

She could not help but smile. “I should have given you a B.”

“Oh, it wouldn’t have made any difference. Good grief, he just doesn’t care about anything but the farm.”

“Exactly what did he say or do?”

“He looked at the grades for a moment, put the paper down and said I needed to mend the fence out back of the barn before the goats got out.”

She clasped her slender fingers in front of her face. “From what you’ve told me, that seems to be his way, isn’t it?”

“But it doesn’t make it right. It doesn’t make me feel like he appreciates what I’m doing. I mean, I put in a lot of work on the farm and pull a full load at school. Okay, I only had one A and a bunch of Cs but I didn’t flunk anything.

“I think I’m going to give you today’s assignment early, so you can start thinking about it.” She went to her blackboard and picked up a piece of chalk.

“What?” The comment caught Vernon off guard. “I thought we were talking about daddy.”

“I want you to write an essay on the person you most admire.” She wrote Most Admired at the top of the board.

“That’ll be easy. I’ll write about you.” He smiled broadly without a hint of the overly complimentary nature of his reply.

“Oh. Well, thank you.” On a line below the title she wrote My Father

Vernon slumped in the chair. “Aww, you gotta be kiddin’.”

“Please, don’t lose your diction along with your composure.” She looked over her shoulder to smile.

“Very well. You must be kidding.” His mouth twitched with aggravation.

“No, I’m not. Get out a piece of paper and pen.” Lucinda turned and leaned against her desk.

“Right now?”

“Yes. I want you to take notes.” She had set aside all her reservations and fears about remembering her time with Vernon, and she was enjoying it immensely.

“I know what you’re doing. You’re using the assignment as an excuse to lecture me about daddy,” he grumbled.

“Nonsense. Now list all your father’s good qualities.” She turned back to the board and wrote the numeral one. “Put a number one and a period. At least it will be a start.”

Vernon wrote that, then looked up. “Now what?”

“Surely you can think of something admirable about your father.”

“No.” It was a flat statement, devoid of emotion.

“Try.”

“He hasn’t done much for me.” He put the pen down.

She went to his side to look over his shoulder at the paper. “You’re always talking about how strong you are.” Lucinda patted his back but quickly pulled her hand away. “You got your strength because he had you work on the farm with him. He helped you there. And how many sons get the opportunity to work side by side with their fathers?”

“Guys get muscles working on a chain gang too, but that’s no reason to thank the warden.” He looked up at her, dead serious.

“Oh Vernon, you’re so negative.” She walked back to the board and began her own list. “Your father is dependable. He has always been there for you and always will. He is steady, sturdy, a sound foundation on which you have built a pretty wonderful person.”

“In other words, he’s like a rock.”

“Yes!” She swung around and smiled. “Solid as a rock. Never crumbling. The rock of ages.”

“But a rock has no feelings. It’s cold. You can’t hug a rock. A rock can’t say I love you.”

Feeling defeated, she sat at her desk. “You learned metaphors too well.”

“Thank you.” His deadpan response was softly delivered.

“But,” she paused to reorganize her thoughts, “your father is not a stone. He indeed has a heart and a soul and feelings for you whether you can see it or not.”

“You don’t know him.” He nodded perceptively. “You’ve never even met him.”

“But I knew a man like that.”

“Who?”

“My late husband couldn’t express emotion. When I’d get home from a night class late he’d burst into a worst tirade. But I knew he was worried about me. He — he may not have hugged and kissed me much, but I knew he loved me.” In the back of her mind Lucinda wondered if she were trying to convince him or herself.

“My father doesn’t care if I come home late. As long as I milk the cows he doesn’t care.”

“Well then, that proves your father trusts your judgment.” She gestured to him, pleased she had finally made a cogent argument.

“Then your husband didn’t trust you?”

She shook her head. “You’re confusing me.”

“I guess I better go now.” He gathered his books.

“Yes, I think you should,” she sighed in defeat.

“Good bye.” He stood and walked to the door.

“Vernon?”

“Yes, ma’am?” He turned to look at her, his face now clear of the darkness that covered it just moments ago.

“If you can write a paper that fools me into believing you admire your father, I’ll give you an A.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Vernon replied with a smile before melting away into her subconscious.

“As I recall, he got an F on that paper,” she said to herself. “I suppose it was a tribute to his inherent honesty and integrity he couldn’t write anything he didn’t believe.”

Sex Education

There was no sex education in Texas schools in the 1950s, but we didn’t need it. We had animals, and we had eyes.
People didn’t neuter dogs and cats. And you know dogs have no shame. When they get in the mood they don’t care if it’s high noon in the front yard. They go ahead and do it. And they don’t care who’s looking. Can you imagine what parents back in the good old days were forced to come up with some sort of explanation when the kids asked, “Mommy, Daddy! What are the dogs doing?”
Cats, on the other hand, are more civilized when it comes to such matters of the feline heart. They have the good manners to go somewhere private. Now when it comes to the actual blessed event when the kittens tumble out into the world, the mother cat does it in the kitchen, under the porch, in front of God and country. After seeing kittens born a few times I was glad humans had the decency to go to hospitals.
By the time the freewheeling 1960s rolled around the schools felt obliged to have some sort of sex education presented in the Phys. Ed. classes, which were segregated by sexes. I remember the year we were marched into the school auditorium where the coach turned the presentation over to the school nurse, a gaunt old woman who you thought would not have any practical knowledge on the subject. She was able to turn something very fascinating into something as boring as dishwater.
Even the class smart aleck wasn’t able to faze her.
“What would happen if a dog and a cat did it?” he asked.
“Nothing,” she replied with a straight face. “Wrong genetics. Any other questions?”
Most people get upset about sex education in school because they’re afraid the teachers are going to talk about technique. Wouldn’t that be the most embarrassing six weeks ever in Phys. Ed.? And you know they’d have it in Phys. Ed. Biology class makes too much sense.
It makes me shudder to imagine a coach standing over us screaming, “No! No! Raise your elbow!”
And think of the other students standing around and watching. I got laughed at enough when I struck out in baseball.
My wife and I thought we’d come up with a good solution to sex education for our kids when we stumbled across this little book in a Barnes & Noble one time. It was written on a second or third grade level with simple illustrations. It started with chickens and ended with humans. When we gave it to our son he seemed to catch on pretty fast. Of course, he was 35 years old when we gave it to him. Not really. He was 25. No, honest, I think he was seven or eight.
Now our daughter definitely was more precocious. She took it to school the next day for show and tell. We had to transfer her to a private school and instructed her to leave her book at home. This created a new problem at the private church school because the students were even more naïve than the ones in public school. At recess the other little girls would tell our daughter that their parents ordered them out of the Sears catalog. With a straight face our child replied, “My parents had sex.”
So when it comes down to sex education I’ve decided it’s much better to have our children learn about the birds and bees from the gaunt old-maid school nurse than from other more worldly children—like my daughter. After all, better to have them think sex is not something exciting and forbidden but rather think it’s just another dry, boring subject taught at school.

David, Wallis and the Mercenary Chapter Sixty-Five

Previously: Mercenary Leon fails on a mission because of David, better known as Edward the Prince of Wales. Socialite Wallis Spencer, also a spy, has an affair with German Joachim Von Ribbentrop and marries Ernest. David becomes king. Wallis divorces, David abdicates and they marry. They fail to kill Hitler. They plan a gay Christmas on the Riviera.
The woman in dark clothes stood in the woods just beyond the tracks and watched the Blue Train disappear in the night. She hoped Wallis would soon be drinking the poisoned champagne and thereafter die. But she had to be sure. First, she had to be at the Antibes station in the morning as they made the sad announcement the Duchess of Windsor was dead. First she had to walk by the tracks to the next station, hoping to catch the last train to the coast. The cold night air didn’t bother her. She was used to winter weather and walking long distances in the frigid air if necessary. Unpleasantness could disappear if she only made her mind blank, one of the few talents the Maker had endowed her with.
As the woman saw a train pull away. She could tell it was not the legendary Blue Train. She prayed it was not the last train of the night. Hurrying to the ticket window, she asked for a ticket to the next train to Antibes.
“Antibes? Mais non, mademoiselle,” the ticket agent replied with graciousness. He told her the next train to Antibes would not leave until noon the next day.
Scheitze,” she muttered in her native tongue.
The clerk looked surprised and then smiled. He raised an open palm up to his shoulder. “Heil, Hitler.”
“Heil, Hitler.” She returned the Nazi salute.
He allowed her inside his office, offered her a seat and listened patiently to her story. She had to be in Antibes station in time to greet the Blue Train, though she failed to explain why. He nodded knowingly and offered to drive her there with no questions. By nine o’clock Christmas Eve morning she was milling with the crowd at the depot awaiting the arrival of the Blue Train.
Most of the conversation among the excited women centered on seeing the Duchess of Windsor and wondering what expensive traveling suit she would be wearing. The men mostly talked about how fortunate the community was to have such a wealthy couple own the La Croe estate. For their Christmas celebration, the Windsors had to hire several local servants to accommodate the long list of British celebrities arriving for the holiday, and all of them equally wealthy. What a boon to the local economy.
The woman in dark clothes smiled to herself, sure she easily blended in with the mass of fellow, faceless domestics scurrying about to serve their masters. She looked up when she heard the train whistle. When the Blue Train came to a stop at the boarding platform, she strained her neck to see who would exit first.
Already on the platform was a contingent from the local government, the mayor, councilmen and other dignitaries, who fairly hopped around with anticipation. The first to exit was Edward, Duke of Wales. He did not look happy, a good sign for the woman in dark clothes. The poison must have worked. The Duchess must be dead. Her hopes were quickly dashed as the Duchess stepped out on the platform wearing a fashionable gray suit with fur collar. She carried two docile, obedient cairn terriers.
Sighing, the woman turned and began her walk to La Croe on the Mediterranean coast.
***
After gracefully dismissing the official greeting contingency, David, Wallis and the two terriers disappeared in their limousine and began the ride to their seaside estate. Wallis leaned back.
“On the first day of Christmas, an assassin gave to me a poisoned bottle of very good champagne.” Her singing was nasal and tinny which detracted from the grim cleverness of her lyric.
David lit a cigarette. “You know he will try again.”
“The bastard. Trying to kill me on my very favorite holiday.”
Monsieur Valat telegrammed me in Versailles he had to take on several additional servants. Due to time restraints he was unable to check out all their resumes and character references. He truly groveled in print, which one would expect from an excellent concierge.”
“Well, I’m not going to let the bastard ruin my good time. I spent too much time buying presents for all the servants and wrapping them to not enjoy playing Mere Noel. I even bought extras for last-minute hirelings. I picked out the tree and ornaments which were shipped to La Croe yesterday.”
The line of servants waiting to greet the duke and duchess stretched halfway down the driveway at La Croe, every one of them, dressed in black, waved and wore hearty smiles. Once they disembarked their limousine, Wallis began to shake hands with as many servants as possible. David sought out the concierge Monsieur Valat to inform him of the situation concerning the duchess’s safety. Valat confirmed several servants had been added even as late as this morning
David looked away in thought, when he noticed the concierge’s son milling around in the crowd. He had a soft spot for the boy who reminded David of his youngest brother John who had epilepsy and died at age fourteen. David carried a deep guilt within himself. When he was a young man, he had no patience with John, at times calling him an animal. As David matured and saw more of the world he began to see his deceased brother as a hero and a person of great character and courage. Additionally, David felt John had this other-worldliness about him as he wandered around in his own world yet keenly aware of details about the people around him. Valat’s son was actually eighteen or so but deemed unemployable. When the concierge informed David his son’s name was Jean the duke’s heart was stolen. He created a job of official clock winder at a more than generous salary.
Waving Jean over, David asked the young man to watch the newly hired servants for any unusual behaviors that might indicate ulterior motives to harm anyone, particularly harm the duchess. Jean’s large brown eyes widened.
Oui, monsieur.”
“But don’t tell anyone about it, except your father and me. It will be our special secret, won’t it, Jean?”
Oui, monsieur.”
By late afternoon, their guests began to arrive. Most of them were British who remained friends with the Windsors during the abdication crisis, although David didn’t understand why anyone would truly like him unless there was something in it for themselves, a bad trait which lingered on from childhood. There were Lord and Lady Brownlow and their children, Caroline and Edward, Sir Charles and Lady Mendl and John McMullin. And, of course not to forget, the guest Wallis most anticipated, her Aunt Bessie. She had not seen her substitute mother and traveling companion for two years. Bessie’s limousine arrived last.
Aunt Bessie had trouble getting out of the car. Normally Wallis would wait until the attendants had helped the guest, but without thought she went to the old woman’s side putting her arm around Bessie’s waist. She finally got her aunt to her feet and guided her to the front door.
“It’s rather warm for Easter, isn’t it?” Bessie asked.
“It’s Christmas, dear,” Wallis whispered.
“Christmas? You must be kidding me! There’s no snow on the ground.”
“We’re in the south of France, darling. They do things differently here.”
Christmas Eve had always been Wallis’ favorite part of the holiday, which puzzled David. When he was growing up, the servants put up the Christmas tree and decorated it. Then the family, decked out in regal finery, posed in front of the tree, unsmiling, as the royal photographer took a dozen pictures all looking the same. He could not think of anything more boring.
Wallis, on the other hand, spent days in Paris picking the absolutely perfect tree for the parlor at La Croe. She coordinated the creation of the ornaments, all of them white and silver, with interior designer John McMullin, who made sure each decoration was placed in the exact right place. And at great expense both the tree and the decorations were shipped by train to their Mediterranean villa to allow the guests the pleasure of decorating it themselves Christmas Eve night.
David noticed Wallis spent most of her time supervising Aunt Bessie.
“I thought you said this was Christmas?” her aunt asked.
“It is, darling,” Wallis purred.
“But Christmas trees are supposed to red and green balls,” Bessie protested.
“I thought it would be fun to have something different.”
“Why does everything have to be different?” her aunt replied.
Wallis wrapped her arms around Bessie. “Why, Aunt Bessie, you’re the one who taught me how much fun it was to be different.”
David sat back in one of the more comfortable parlor chairs and puffed on a cigarette.
Wallis must be breaking up on the inside. Though she would never let anyone know. I envy her. I’ve watched many family members grow old and senile and never felt any sorrow for them.
He felt uncomfortable. Putting out his cigarette, David stood, went to the Brownlow children Caroline and Edward and offered to lift them so they could place a silver bauble at the top of the tree. They giggled.
More than grief for Bessie, I know Wallis sees in her aunt what will happen to her one day, and the thought terrified her.
After he returned Caroline and Edward to their parents, David walked to Wallis and patted her shoulder.
But why in hell should I care about the feelings of a fellow MI6 agent? How many times had I lectured the old agent about becoming too personal? And now I was doing the same with Wallis.

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.”

Remember Chapter Five

Previously: Retired college teacher Lucinda suddenly starts having memories of her favorite student Vernon. He needs help on his first college essay.
“Oh Vernon.” Lucinda sighed. “What a delightful young man.”

Shirley sneaked through the bedroom door, closing it carefully behind her. “Shh!”

“Shirley, your mother made it very clear she doesn’t want you to visit.” Lucinda was in no mood any further outbursts.

“Yeah right.” Shirley had a biting sarcasm unusual for a child of ten. “And she wants me to tell people Warren Beatty is my father.”

“Maybe you should be playing outside.” She smiled bravely. “It’s such a beautiful spring day.”

Shirley walked to the bed and sat on it. “That’s what mama said.” Making a face, she added, “I don’t want to play with those snotty girls.”

“Why?”

She fell back on the bed and stared at the ceiling. “They laugh at mama’s story. They laugh at my name.”

“Shirley is a lovely name.” Lucinda tried to sound encouraging.

“Shirley is an old lady’s name.” She sat up and rolled her eyes. “It’s Warren Beatty’s sister’s name. I feel silly.”

“What name would you like?”

“I don’t know.” She stood and went to Lucinda’s stack of books, picking up the yearbook she held earlier. “Maybe there’s a name in here I’d like.”

“Maybe.” Lucinda’s heart fluttered a bit.

“Who’s that person you wanted me to see?” She flipped through the pages, looking at everything yet nothing in particular.

“Your mother wouldn’t approve.” Her hand slowly went to her chest and moved in a circular fashion.

“Let’s be honest. I love mama, but I don’t think she’s all there — up here.” Shirley pointed to her head. “You know, like Cassie.”

“Please don’t be cruel to your mother and Cassie.” Lucinda sensed a moment of Deja vu. Then she recalled saying the same thing to Vernon just a few moments ago.

“But, really, who’d believe a big movie star like Warren Beatty would have sex with my mama?” Her eyes were wide with a worldly innocence.

“Shirley!”

“There she was, an extra in Bonnie and Clyde, one of a whole lot of girls, and Warren Beatty picks her?” She shook her head. “It doesn’t make sense.”

“I agree. It doesn’t make sense. But she’s still your mother.” Lucinda’s second calling could have been a ma’arm at a finishing school.

“So I have to live a lie just because it makes mama happy?” the little girl cocked her head in a perplexing yet respectful manner.

“Well, no but . . . .” Lucinda’s voice trailed off as she realized she had no good answer for the child.

“Shirley! Shirley!” Nancy’s voice boomed from down the hall.

“Uh oh.” The yearbook slipped from her hands, landing at her feet. Shirley stooped to pick it up when her mother stormed through the door.”

“I told you to go outside and play!”

Shirley slowly straightened. “I was on my out when—“

“The hell you were!” Nancy glanced down and picked up the yearbook. “What the hell is this?”

“Well, I—“

“Damn it! I told you not to look at that!” Nancy threw down the book and whacked her daughter on the bottom.

Lucinda rose from her rocking chair. “There’s no reason to strike the poor child!”

“Stay out of this!” She shoved Shirley toward the door. “Get out of here!”

The little girl scampered down the hall to the bed she shared with her mother, entered and slammed the door shut.

“I know it’s none of my business—“

“You got that damn right.”

“. . . but Shirley deserves to know the truth,” Lucinda persisted.

“Don’t you dare preach at me—“

“I’ve been remembering a very special young man today, Vernon Singleberry,” she said as softly and gently as she could.

Nancy took a menacing step toward the old teacher. “If you ever mention that name in front of Shirley I’ll knock the crap out of you. I don’t care how old you are!” She turned and stormed out of the room, practically knocking over Bertha Godwin, Mrs. Lawrence’s sister.

“Miz Cambridge, may I come in?” Bertha held her hands as her fingers twitched.

“Of course, Mrs. Godwin.” Lucinda sank into her rocking chair.

Bertha entered as though she were approaching a judge’s bench.

“I’m so glad. I know we ain’t talked much, but I’ve always thought you was one of the smartest people I ever met so—“

“Have you ever met anyone who was like a breath of fresh air?” Lucinda had almost retreated back to her classroom, hoping to see Vernon pass through the hall.

“Well, no.” Bertha’s forehead wrinkled. “What I really need is help in makin’ a decision.”

The spell was broken. Bertha had brought her back to the present, and Lucinda decided she must make the best of it. “Of course. What is it?” she asked with a smile.

Bertha looked at the bed. “Do you mind if I take a seat?” Without waiting for a reply Bertha sat and leaned forward to whisper, “The fire marshal came by and told Emma to make some changes.”

Lucinda feared Bertha wanted to place her in the middle of another family argument, and she knew her heart could not stand it. Closing her eyes, she forced herself back ten years to her classroom. She sensed the cold. It was now winter. What encounter would her memory bring forth? Vernon, wearing a heavy winter coat, tromped into the room and dropped his books on a school desk, which caused Lucinda to jump.

“Anything wrong, Miz Cambridge?” Bertha asked.

“That old man! I wish I could kill him!” Vernon growled.

Lucinda looked back and forth between the two and finally focused on Bertha. “Nothing, dear. Go on.

“Well, you’re just about the most perfect person I’ve ever met,” Bertha gushed.

“Daddy did it again! Boy, he thinks I’m so stupid!” Vernon continued his tirade.

“No, Mrs. Godwin, I’m not perfect. Nobody’s perfect. Sometimes — sometimes people like to think they’re perfect, but then things happen to let them know they’re not perfect.” A weight pressed down on her frail shoulders.

“What?” Bertha shook her head.

“Bertha! I told you to clean all the commodes!” Emma screamed from down the hall.

“Oh no. It’s Emma.” She stood and headed for the door.

“If you’re gonna stay under my roof, you’re gonna earn your keep!” Emma’s voice sounded even louder and angrier.

“Oh dear, Mrs. Lawrence is upset,” Lucinda said with apprehension.

“Bertha!” Emma bellowed again.

“I’ve got to go.” When Bertha was at the door she turned back and smiled. “I’ll talk to you later.”

“Of course.”

“Bertha!” The last call sounded the scariest.

“Comin’, Emma!”

Lucinda focused her attention back to Vernon and the cold classroom from ten years ago.

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.”