Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Hay Season

 In this dimly lit room, she can see that very little about the hospital has changed in 15 years.  Sterile white plaster walls.  Brown linoleum floors.  Scents of antiseptic and soap.  The memory she draws upon is from the last time she was here.  A happier occasion.  The birth of her son.  This time, though, she is here to be with him while he dies. The doctor has confirmed her worst fear.  There is nothing more to be done.

This son of hers, Jack, lays motionless on a narrow bed.  In an attempt to make his few remaining hours more comfortable, he has been covered with a blanket, a damp cloth placed on his forehead.  Traces of blood at the corners of his mouth are the only visible sign of the accident, almost letting her believe that her son is not so terribly broken after all.  She remembers the night he was born.  A perfect little boy.  But still, a mixed blessing.  Sons in this family grow up to be farmers, and if there is one certainty in farming, it is that nothing is ever certain.


The boy’s father is not at the hospital, as one would expect.  The cut hay is ready to be baled, and rain is forecasted.  Hanging in the balance is the livelihood that one thousand acres of sweet timothy will provide.  But as he hurries to bale row after row, anguish consumes him.  Farming is a gamble. Rain. Insects. Fire.  Drought.  The risk of serious injury.  Still, he should have realized that his boy was too inexperienced to drive a tractor so close to the irrigation ditch.  So close that a wheel happened to catch the edge of the slope, and the tractor rolled, crushing his son beneath its iron bulk.


Around two a.m. she loses her fight with exhaustion and nods off, but is roused a few hours  later by an insistent Wake up Elsie! She is alert in an instant, heart pounding.  Her eyes, full of questions, seek answers from the owner of the voice.  Her husband.  Tears are streaming down his face.


Her tone is shrill.  His words spill out, cracked with emotion. 

It’s ok , Elsie!  Look!  Jack’s conscious! The doc thinks he’s going to make it!

It takes a moment for her disbelief to turn to relief, and then, utter joy, and she rushes to cradle her son, her boy, her baby, in her arms.

For now, Henry decides, the news about the rain can wait.

On the Subject of Romance

 Her room, second floor, third door on the left, was directly across the corridor from his.  She taught English, and he, Mathematics.

Though introduced by name and subject at the orientation given for new teachers in late August, the pair had yet to engage in actual conversation.  They had not, however, failed to notice each other, and the attraction had been instant.

Throughout each school day, both found any number of reasons to stroll casually past their respective classroom doorways, stealing glances across the corridor, hoping to catch glimpses of the other. 

He chanced, one Tuesday afternoon,  to see her reach up to erase a list of spelling words from the blackboard and in doing so her dress rose an inch or two, revealing a considerable expanse of her well turned ankle.  I say! He thought to himself, swallowing hard. She is certainly one nicely balanced equation!

Likewise, one Friday morning, as he lectured his students eloquently on the finer points of Algebra, she observed him remove, in the heat of his explanation, his jacket, exposing his masculine  shoulders.  Oh my!  She quivered.   He is as nicely put together as a perfectly written term paper!

Their mutual admiration might have remained undeclared for the entire school year, if not for a timely fire drill, carried out on the last Wednesday in September.  As she started to descend the flight of stairs and make her way to the exit on the first floor,  she was knocked off balance by a herd of unruly youth.  Just as she lurched forward, he rushed towards her and caught her in a rough embrace.

With his strong arms about her, and his cheek fitted firmly against hers, there was little doubt, at that moment, as to which subject they both wished to study further.


Dishes for Two

The first time she saw him, she was doing her dishes. Washing up her plate and glass.  Her knife, fork, and spoon.  Washing away the evidence of a dinner for one.

It was love at first sight, though she could not tell you why. He was simply walking down the sidewalk, one hand in the pocket of his suspendered trousers, the other hand holding a book about four inches from his spectacled face. She was finishing up her silverware, and when she’d looked up for a few seconds to escape the steam from the sink of hot, soapy water, she noticed him out her window.

And here she is again.  In her kitchen, preparing to wash her dishes.  She is waiting, too.  Waiting for a glimpse of a man with a book.  A man she loves but has never met. Feeling as though one more evening of her life is slipping away.  Tears slide down her cheeks, though they could just as well be beads of sweat from the steamy water that is slowly filling the sink.  A squirt of liquid dish soap erupts into an explosion of suds. Sends a cloud of rainbow colored bubbles high into the air.  She reaches for her dirty glass, plunges it into the waiting water, and starts to scrub it clean.

With a sudden surge of courage, she shakes the water from her hands, grabs the book she’d previously set out on her gray Formica counter, and sets in motion the plan she has been rehearsing for weeks.  She is tired of waiting for her destiny to come to her.  Today she is meeting it head on.  Walking in his direction while pretending to be engrossed in her own novel-and bracing herself for the carefully orchestrated collision that will change the course of her life.  Books will fly. Glasses will be knocked askew.  And a heart will be won.

The last rainbow colored orb of soap breaks, and she wonders how long she has been staring at her motionless hands, still immersed in the soapy water, clutching the glass.

Tomorrow, she reassures herself.  There will be more dirty dishes tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Scout’s Honor

Early on, it was apparent that she was a child who needed to be governed by a set of strictly enforced rules.  Without them, her exasperated parents had little hope of saving her from herself, and at the same time, saving themselves.  When either her mother or father began to waver over the severe boundaries imposed on their daughter, simply recalling the incident of the living room cookout sufficed to serve as a stern reminder that they were not being unreasonable.  She was eleven at the time, and left home alone because it was felt she was old enough to be trusted.  But for a hungry preteen girl with a keen imagination, hot dogs and a book of matches had proved to be too tempting. After that, the Girl Scout Handbook had been taken away.

There were other, earlier misadventures as well, and when recounted beginning to end, played much like a Laurel and Hardy film.  A game of barber shop involving the dog (the sedative prescribed by the vet had helped tremendously.) Pretending that the bath tub was a shark infested pool (the living room ceiling was not a total loss.)  By the time her high school years were completed, and she had been pulled over for driving with her feet, her parents were worn out.


A handful of years later, she was home for a visit. It was early in the evening and she was alone, her mother and father attending an engagement they could not get out of. She smiled again at the lively conversation that had taken place at dinner-reminiscing about what a handful she had been. As her parents prepared to leave, her father had teased her, “Now honey, please stay out of trouble while we are gone!”

For the first half hour she was good. She flipped though a magazine and made herself a cup of cocoa. But then she wandered up to her old room and started to peruse the volumes on her little oak book shelf.

And, she found it.

Her forgotten Girl Scout Handbook…


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Where the Heart Belongs

Water water everywhere, and not a drop to drink.

Tipping her head back, she drained the last bit of  Coca-Cola from the slim green bottle she held in her right hand.  She could picture her mother’s face, grimacing at the sight.  It wasn’t lady like, her mother would chastise her.  That’s what the straw is for, Nora!  But the paper always stuck to her lip.  Wiggling  her toes deeper  into the sand, she took pleasure in the cooler grains buried a few inches beneath the hotter, top layer.  This is the life, she mused.  Stretched out  in the sun on a comfortable barkcloth clad chaise lounge, and dressed daringly in her new strapless orange one piece, she’d spent the last two hours mostly dozing and dreaming, while palm trees and blue waves swayed and danced behind her closed eyes.

Her heart sank.  A breeze was picking up, though trying to be playful.  Kissing her cheeks, and lifting her bangs impishly off of her forehead. Shuffling the pages of the book she’d only half heartedly been reading.   And the sun, as though suddenly gripped by a fit of regret over its own daring attire, was covering itself up with clouds.  She shivered and reached for her polka dotted beach towel, draping its warmth around her shoulders as the first drop of rain splashed off the end of her nose.

Reluctantly vacating the soft cushions of her chair, she stood and gathered her book and empty bottle, and slipped into her sandals.  Facing reality from the roof of her apartment building, she was reminded once again that palm trees and blue waves were a long, long ways away.

Water water everywhere, and not a drop to drink.

Just not here.

She pushed the dishpan, full of sand, under the chaise lounge.

Naughty Gertrude

When Gertrude purchased the grass skirt and coconut shell top in the tiny tourist shop on Waikiki, she imagined herself swaying gracefully like the dancers she had watched at the Moana Hotel’s complimentary luau and hula show. What Gertrude did not count on was trying so hard to master the technique that she would throw her back out. 

Later, after she had returned home to Hackensack, she immensely enjoyed the shocked expressions on the faces of her friends when she saucily answered their queries as to whether she’d had a good time in Hawaii.

I spent almost the entire week in bed!

With a wink, no less.

Let them think what they want, she mused.  It might be thrilling, for once, to have a reputation.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Blue Sky and Asphalt

I don’t know who came up with the idea first, Dutch Decker or me, but it was only a matter of time before the corridors of our dormitory were buzzing with two words. Road Trip.

An afternoon as fine as this was not to be wasted on as trivial a pursuit as studying.  Blue sky and asphalt.  They were calling.

We knew of only one kid who had a car.  Bud Franklin.  And we were in luck.  We located him, lounging in his room, unable to decide how to spend the remainder of the day.  So we decided for him.

While Bud went to fetch his  ‘47  Plymouth, the rest of us ran around like mad, assembling any and all manner of provisions we thought we might need to pack along.  Several  plaid wool blankets, a dozen or so bottles of Coca Cola , Dutch’s portable record player and a stack of 45’s,  two footballs, and plenty of food.  At some point, someone remembered to invite the girls.

Piling into the car, jackets and  cares left  behind, we were off-our destination  still unknown.  That we had taken to the open road, bound for anywhere, was enough.  Then, about a half a mile out of town, Bud tried unsuccessfully to drive over a rather large rock that lay directly in his path.

And that was the end of our road trip.


This little story from my fiction archives was inspired by a spur of the moment road trip back in my college days that a friend and I decided to embark on.  I can still see the rock in the road, and my friend’s split second decision to drive over it-instead of around it-and the resulting consequence.   Alas, it was the end of our road trip too.

Thursday, June 7, 2012


This had been the easy part, he realized, taking his receipt.  The finding, the coveting, and the acquiring.

The next part would be the challenge.  Perhaps even a bit of a battle.

Fitting the object of his desire, a vintage 1932 Philco console radio, into the passenger side of his tiny light blue Nash-Healey convertible wasn’t too bad.  He’d had help.  And besides, it scarcely weighed much more than say, a Saint Bernard.

But when he pulled up outside his apartment building, the situation became distinctly less rosy.  Standing beside his car, he stared at the metaphorical Saint Bernard  hoping to look perplexed, and thereby enlist someone to aid in the next leg of the Philco’s  journey.  No such luck.

With a series of grunts and groans, all the while using his body as a sort of  pry bar, he managed to roll the Philco out of the Nash-Healey and onto the sidewalk.  He’d ice his smashed fingers later, he thought wryly, when he was relaxing in front of the beast with a good stiff drink, listening to music.

In a series of push and pull dance steps, he arrived at the bottom of the stairs that led up two flights to his front door.  Formidable stairs,  he thought to himself, and so blasted many of them.  One at a time though.  The old “where there’s a will there’s a way” philosophy.

Lifting, tipping, straining, one vertical increment at a time, it seemed to take hours just to reach the second floor landing.

He paused.  Where was everyone?  Surely some benevolent soul should have come along by now to offer assistance.

And come to think of it, where was the Philco going to go once it was in his apartment?  He was beginning to question the wisdom of stopping by that estate sale,  just to  “have a look.”

About halfway up the second flight, when he thought his back would surely break in two, disaster almost struck.  In his exhausted and overexerted state, the toe of his brown wingtip caught on the edge of a step.  He teetered wildly for a second before grasping the handrail, and preventing his would be assailant from knocking him back down the stairs and landing on top of him.  Heart racing, he blistered the air with a few choice words.

At last, he stood on his welcome mat, and leaning on the Philco for support, he felt a mixture of pride and relief that he was within a Jack and Ginger’s  reach of having his new possession installed in his home. 

Hey buddy!  A boisterous voice registering, close by.  You gettin’ rid of that thing?  My wife’s been after me for months to get her one.  Would you take twenty-five bucks for it?  And while your at it, would you give me a hand gettin’  it down the stairs to my place?

Wincing from the pain, but having no regret for his impulsive, yet well placed right jab, he was actually amused.  Well I was  going to have to ice my fingers anyway…

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

In the Rough

Whatever had possessed her?

She pushed aside the plaid cotton curtain that concealed the empty space underneath her kitchen sink.  The light was dim, and the space offered little more than elbow room in which to work. She’d expected that.  But it was filthy too. Since moving in, she had yet to sweep here. Still, judging from the thick layer of powdery dirt, years, possibly decades had passed since the old linoleum had felt the touch of a broom.

She took a careful breath, sized up her task, and picked up her new pipe wrench.  It felt heavy and awkward in her hand.  Balancing a small black flashlight atop a box of saltine crackers, she hunched over to make her five foot nine inch frame as compact as possible, and guided by the narrow beam of light, leaned forward to fit the loosened  jaw of the wrench around the pipe, and gave a tug.

Crumbling, more than yielding, the pipe fell to pieces, disgorging  a  mix of water and sludge down her arm.  And once again, second thoughts made her second guess the wisdom of her decision-taking on this fixer upper of an ancient, ungracefully aging house.

Yes, whatever had possessed her?

She straightened her back, smoothed a stray wisp of hair with her clean hand, and  looked again at the wreckage of pipe and water, dust and sludge.

And then she saw the diamond ring.

Friday, May 25, 2012


Never again, she told herself, as she wheeled her bicycle away from the rack where she had parked it for the day and started to pedal for home. She had no business being here. Factories like this, she now saw clearly, were the domain of men, not women.  She’d made the decision to get this  job because she wanted to do her bit for the war effort.  Commendable, but foolish.

Even after her orientation this morning, and several hours on the job, she still could not remember the difference between a crescent wrench and a spanner, and she doubted she would ever learn.  And even if she could, her arms were much too small and weak to possibly perform tasks like holding a rivet gun for any length of time, or hoisting a several hundred pound airplane engine into place.  At the end of her first day, suffering smashed fingers, muscles worked beyond their capacity, and a few demeaning pats on the bottom, she wanted nothing more to do with any of it.  What she did want was to be home, where she belonged.  Where she understood who she was.

And just who was she? 

Possibly a wife or a mother, a daughter or a sister.  With the majority of men gone from the workplace by the summer of 1942, over six million women took up the slack filling factory and farm jobs.  Actual experience, women were told, was not necessary.  If you can run an electric mixer, you can learn to operate a drill press!  Additionally, more than three million women volunteered with the Red Cross and more than 200,000 served in the military.

She did, despite her initial misgivings , return to the factory the next day.  (It was surprising what a hot bath and a good night’s sleep could do to improve a girl’s disposition.)  She still held fast to the belief that it was her patriotic duty to work, but also, for the first time in her life, she was actually earning money for her work.  And that was no small thing.  In fact, it was motivation enough to overcome any hardships she faced during the course of her working day.  By war’s end, she not only learned to do her job, but she learned to do it well, and she was proud to have something to show for it.

When the war was over, willingly or not, she would leave her job and return to the life she had led before the war. Her wartime service would become just another chapter in her life.  It never entered her mind that anyone in future years would admire her, be inspired by her or even remember what she  had done.

She was wrong.

Friday, May 11, 2012

After Hours

Two men appeared out of nowhere, a few yards apart in the narrow, moonlit lane.  Stiffly nodded acknowledgements were traded, and the yards between them became feet and then inches.  Soon, side by side, the pair, in matching stilted side to side strides, were headed towards Main Street, and the collection of shops and restaurants.

The first of the duet, Roger-a ginger headed youthful fellow with a badly scarred face  (he was terribly self conscious, though the ladies did not seem to mind one bit) and hand on hip-spoke first.

Well look at you!  That is rather a natty sporting jacket, and most appropriate for tonight!  I’m afraid I look rather dull in these work coveralls…though they are new and clean at least.  You are meeting Dolores, I assume?

I am.  At the Coffee Cup cafe.  Say, could you come around to my other side?  I seem to be having a hard time turning my head.

And indeed, Morris-a raven haired specimen with  fine facial topography-seemed to be permanently gazing off to the left, even though his companion strode to his right.  In a laborious pas de deux, the two traded places.

How about you?  Are you meeting Dot?

No.  She wasn’t up to going out-said she didn’t have a thing to wear.

Too bad.  You can join us, if you like…

An invitation.  But not really.

Thanks all the same.  But I think I’ll just walk.  Maybe next time?

The companions arrived at the Coffee Cup, and prepared to part ways.

Well, here’s my stop.  I think I see Dolores-looks like she’s met up with a friend.  Are you sure you won’t join us?

No.  I need the walk.  You have a nice time, you hear?  And I’ll see you back at the salt mines tomorrow.  Say hello to Dolores for me.

I will.  So long.

The door of the cafe, propped open to allow the cool evening air to refresh the diners, seemed to swallow Morris as he entered.  His gaze remained to the left, as if he was more intent on watching his friend depart, instead of searching for his date inside.

Somewhere, a clock chimed the hour of seven o’clock. Such a pleasant night for a walk, mused Roger.   The breeze was light, and the half moon that hung in the sky illuminated the sidewalk just enough.  After about an hour or so, and the final turn on his round trip route, Roger stopped, hand still on his hip, as Pinnacle came into view.  The Pinnacle mannequin factory and showroom.

And he was back. Where he belonged.

Friday, May 4, 2012

A Difference of Opinion

His crossed arms answered her question before he spoke.  Already she knew that whatever his verdict, once rendered, it would be as inflexible as hardened cement.

She’d posed the question to him a whole five minutes earlier.  It had to be asked.  The wedding was less than a month away.

Shall we call the whole thing off?

He frowned.  Deep creases formed above his brow, and when he answered her, his demeanor suggested a teacher on the brink of patience exhausted, trying to educate a less than capable student.

Unless you are willing to see the light and come around to my way of thinking,  I do not foresee any other course to take.

It was clear to her that he would not compromise.  She appraised his appearance.  The crisp crease in his wool gabardine trousers that lined up perfectly with the chalk stripes of the fabric.  The precisely folded square of silk in his breast pocket.  His flawlessly shined shoes.  A stark contrast to her own wrinkled rayon frock, and haphazardly upswept hair that threatened to escape from its pins.

His arms were still crossed.  A barricade to any future they might have shared.  She noted his cuff links, barely peeking out from the edge of his jacket sleeve.  Not the simple monogrammed brass cuff links she had given to him, but fine gold and mother of pearl.  Ones he’d purchased for himself. 

There was nothing sentimental about cement.

She stamped her foot.  A single stray brown sugar strand came loose from the nest atop her head, and it was as though her entire being became unpinned.

Now Gloria. Don’t get excited.


There was conviction in her voice.

She turned to leave the room-to leave him.


It’s A Brand New (Hair) Day!

 All she’d wanted to do was cover up a few gray hairs.  “Brazen Brunette” was her choice-she liked the color and she loved the name.  “Change your hair and change your life!” was the promise on the box.  

Did she  have any idea of what was in store for her after the final rinsing- and those few silver strands were magically gone?  Evidently not.  Feeling strangely empowered the next day as she went to work, she told herself she should have colored her hair months ago.

Granted, she knew her job at the A to Z  Alphabet Soup Company  was only temporary, but still,  there was no reason to have to put up with her boss-slapping her hard on the back every time he told one of his humorless jokes-all the while laughing himself silly.  Had it been a day like any other, she would have kept quiet.  It was not a day like any other though-today she was a “ Brazen Brunette!”  Just a simple “Stop hitting me!”  should have gotten her message across, but instead she slugged him hard enough to send him to the floor.  Keeping her job hadn’t been an option after that.  Luckily, she had a small amount saved for a rainy day. 

Maybe it was the shock of what had just happened that made her do it, or perhaps it was this new sense of boldness she felt- she waltzed right into Nordstrom's.  Never in her life had she spent more than 50 bucks on a dress- and now she found herself standing at the cash register with a gown that set her back two thousand dollars.

On her way home, she chided herself about her extravagance, but she was pleased too-it WAS a really great dress.  Paying off her credit card would happen some day, and she simply wasn’t going to worry about it right now.  Quite by accident, as she was letting herself off the financial hook she was on, she noticed a fancy new restaurant that had recently opened.  Reservations not required.  So it was settled.  Tonight she was going to celebrate the end of her dreadful job and awful boss, and the start of the new life that was waiting for her!

Unusually giddy, she made another daring decision.  Venturing into her hopelessly cluttered closet- armed with nothing but optimism- she found them, and put them on  for the first time in years…

Wearing her long lost  5” stiletto heels, bought for a Halloween  party she’d gone to once, and her new $2000  dress,  she was  full of self adoration that evening-and  failed to notice a flight of stairs just off to her right.  X-rays, taken an hour later in the emergency room, showed that no bones were broken.

Yes, she reflected, as she eased her bruised body into bed that night,  her first  day as a “ Brazen Brunette”  had pretty much been a bust.


Zig zagging down the beauty aisle of the local drug store the next morning in search of a solution, she had to smile at the irony of  it all  ( how she wished she could slap someone hard on the back right at this moment while she shrieked with laughter) – being a “Brazen Brunette”- for just one day- had given her more gray hairs than she’d started with.

True Confessions, True Love

I’m glad my secret is out.

I can’t begin to tell you how long I lived in my self imposed prison.  Why I dreaded going to social engagements of any kind.   Wedding receptions.  Graduation celebrations.  Birthday bashes. Any occasion where  small talk  could possibly turn to  food.  Because I was terrified the subject would come up-and  people might find out the truth about me.

I succumb once again to the object of my  desire.  I hold the rectangular blue can in my hands for a moment or two, before peeling back the top. Yet  I’ve never dared to read what is written below the word ‘ingredients.”   I guess I'm no better than any one else who jokes about this mystery meat.  Or perhaps I just don’t care.  All I know is that I like it.  A lot.

Then came that party-the one that changed my life.   “What’s your favorite dish?”  queried our hostess.   Responses flew around the room-“Steak!”  “ Lobster!” “ Spaghetti with meatballs!”  And then some wise guy just had to say it.   “How about SPAM?”  There was no missing the smirk on his face.

It takes a bit of doing to free the block of meat from the confines of its can -but then good things are worth the effort.  I slice the SPAM thinly this morning-and fry it up with some  eggs.  Bliss.

The laughter that erupted in the room was so predictable.  “What is SPAM?” someone snickered.  “Does anyone really know?”  What does S-P-A-M stand for anyway?  And then the million dollar question.   Does anyone even like SPAM?

I  look at the can again while the SPAM is cooking, and I think to myself- “Go on… read the ingredients. ”   My eyes scan the list…chopped pork shoulder and ham, salt, water, modified potato starch, sodium nitrate.    I might not know what each ingredient is exactly-but at least they are all familiar to me.  So there.  None of the rumors I’ve heard about what goes into SPAM are true.

“I like SPAM,”  someone bravely states, but it isn’t me who has spoken the words.    I locate the man behind the voice and my heart skips a beat.   “Where have you been all my life?” I whisper to myself.

Yes, thin  slices this morning-it makes a can of SPAM go further –more than enough for two. Paul Anka comes on the radio, and as I  get ready  to tell my new husband that breakfast is ready, I find myself singing along…

“Put your head on my pork shoulder.  Hold me in your arms, baby…”

Thursday, May 3, 2012

One Tough Coconut

He knew Muriel Davenport was guilty.  The  evidence against her was overwhelming-but all circumstantial, unfortunately.    What Detective Martin Whitfield Dunmore was after was a full confession.

He had used everything on her, trying to get her to crack.  The bright lights in her face.  The trick questions. Even a little of the “rough stuff.”  But Muriel would not crack.  She was one tough coconut.

Detective Dunmore was tired.  He wanted to go home.  He could practically taste the dry martini he planned to make for himself.   “All right Mrs. Davenport.   You leave me no choice.  Sergeant Graff -go get the book of elephant jokes.”

Muriel let out a terrified gasp.  This was a turn of events she hadn’t anticipated.  “No!   Please no.  Not elephant jokes!”

Dunmore smiled, and with a feeling of renewed optimism, told the first one.

Why are elephants wrinkled?
The are too difficult to iron.

Muriel felt a fit of giggles coming on.  She bit down hard on her lip.  She was going to be strong.

Why is an elephant big and gray?
If it were small and white it would be an aspirin tablet.

Unable to control herself, Muriel started to laugh.

What’s the difference between a piece of paper and an elephant? 
You can’t make an airplane out of an elephant.

Detective Dunmore showed no mercy.

What does Tarzan say when he sees a herd of elephants in the distance? 
“Look!  A herd of elephants in the distance.”

What is the difference between a herd of elephants and a plum?
An elephant is gray.

What does Jane say when she sees a herd of elephants in the distance? 
“Look!  A herd of plums in the distance.”  (Jane is colorblind.)

“Stop!”   Muriel screamed.  Her sides ached from so much laughing.  Her temples throbbed.

“So are you ready to talk now Mrs. D.?   I know you iced your husband.  Where’d you hide the body?  Make things easy on yourself and come clean.”

Muriel took a good hard look down the road into her future, and knew that life behind bars was not on her list of places she wanted to see. She planned to be a free woman, in more ways than one, for a long, long time.

“I didn’t do it!”  Muriel shot back at the tired detective.  I DID NOT DO IT!   She would break him down.

Putting his head in his hands, the vision of his dry martini fading -Detective Martin Whitfield Dunmore started to cry very quietly, but he continued-with the longest and fiercest volley yet.

How do you put an elephant in the ice box? 
Open the door and put him in.

How do you put a giraffe in the ice box? 
Open the door and take  the elephant out, and put the giraffe in.

The lion decided to have a party.  He invited every animal in the jungle, but one didn’t come.  Which one? 
The giraffe.  It was stuck in the ice box.

Two explorers try to cross a crocodile infested stream.  How do they get across?
Simple.  They wade across.  All of the crocodiles are at the lion’s party.

But Muriel would not crack.  She was one tough coconut.

Long Ago and Far Away

I could never have imagined in my younger days that I would think my brother was cute.  I’m his older sister, and younger brothers generally represent nothing more than pests to older sisters.  All through school he seemed about as appealing as an over ripe banana, and I remember spending most of my time  either ignoring him, or yelling at him.   But we were older now.  Not kids.

Smiling in this recent snapshot though, in his dress blues, he was definitely cute.  There would be no shortage of pen pals for him. 

But he looked so young, too. 

It was winter in our part of the world-and winter in the truest sense of the word.  Twenty-five degrees.  Snow on the ground.   My brother was far away, in a strange and exotic place we’d only read about before.  Honolulu, Hawaii. Palm trees and sandy beaches.  Weather warm enough you could go swimming every day of the year, if you were so inclined.

I worried about my little brother  And not just because he was away from home for the first time.  I’d heard about those other things in Honolulu - street girls, and rum drinks.  I was afraid he might take up smoking.  I looked at his photo again, and sternly suggested he keep his nose clean.  He just smiled back at me.

He was homesick, his letter said-but really looking forward to this great adventure that lay before him. He was already in love with Hawaii, though this first Christmas away might be  rough.  Could we send a little fir tree?                        

Lost in my thoughts, it took me a minute to realize that the music on the radio had stopped.

“We interrupt this broadcast to bring you the following breaking news!   “The Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor!  We repeat, “The Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor!”

Then the whole world shifted.

New Day

She did not want this feeling to ever leave her.  This feeling of possibility and hope.  This feeling of being alive. 

Carefully placing the hat on her head-slightly off to one side as she imagined the fashionable ladies in New York City might do, she looked at herself in the mirror.  Her poor face.  She had not had any face cream for a couple years now.  Her skin was so dry and chaffed from the endless dusty wind.  But she smiled anyway, and carefully applied, with a  shaking and out of practice hand, some of the lipstick.

Her husband would be home soon, and there was supper to cook.  Given the empty state of her larder, she could only wish for  divine intervention.  Still, she must come up with something.  Standing in the small bedroom, she admired her reflection one last time before taking the hat off and wiping her mouth with the back of her hand.   She opened her bottom bureau drawer, and carefully hid her hat and the tube of lipstick, at the very back.

She changed out of the one nice dress she owned,  purchased on the occasion of her wedding  eight years ago, and put on a simple frock, made from  feed sacking.  It did not escape her notice, that bit by bit she was reverting back to her old self.  And as she descended the stairs to her living room, she felt herself descending back into the pit of despair that defined her life.

As she looked around her modestly furnished parlor, she was amazed once again at how good conversation and laughter and the presence of pleasant company could change the atmosphere of a room.  For a few hours today, her whole house had seemed bright, and cheerful, and welcoming.

Once again, she blessed those dear sweet eggs- the need for which had necessitated her trip down town on Monday- the day they'd met.  And she blessed the fates for deciding that she round the corner of First and Maple at precisely the same moment as Loretta, and there had been a collision of woolen overcoats and packages,..and eggs.  The two women had laughed like school girls when they gazed upon those eggs- broken and scrambled all over the sidewalk.  Yes it was a shame, but still, it struck them both as incredibly funny.  Ida hadn’t laughed that hard in years.

Loretta, with her carefully made up face and smart tweed suit  had taken Ida out for coffee and a slice of pie to make up for the loss of the eggs.  Eggs that Loretta had insisted on replacing, but  Ida had declined.  Ida  lamented her own  shabby appearance, but her new friend had simply tossed back that for someone as pretty as Ida, clothes only came along for the ride.  Flattering words- said with sincerity.  Even if  Ida didn’t think they were true. 

As compatible as two peas in a pod, Loretta and Ida lingered at the pleasant little diner for more than an hour before Ida had to go.  Not quite knowing what made her do it, save for the fact that she really enjoyed Loretta’s company, Ida invited Loretta over to her house.

“I have a friend!”  she’d giddily told herself as she walked home.   She didn’t go out much, and she was lonely.   Her husband offered very little in the way of companionship.  After working hard each day, earning less than the price of a loaf of bread, he had nothing left to give Ida when he got home.  And so she had hungered for the kinship of a friend, more so than enough money to put adequate food on the table.

Later that week, on Friday afternoon, Loretta came for a visit, and Ida shyly invited her new friend inside.   Seated on the threadbare velvet sofa,  Loretta produced several gifts to show Ida that she too was smitten with this new friendship.  Eggs-one whole dozen!  And a hat.  A silly, impractical, wonderfully, beautiful hat.  There was lipstick too-in the softest rose color.  Not knowing what  to say, Ida simply whispered  “Thank you.”  But a new light shone in her eyes.

Still standing in her parlor, lost in the memories of the lovely afternoon, Ida smiled at her little secret, tucked safely in the back of her bureau drawer. 

The Sword Fight


Miscellaneous items:

Pair of socks-men’s large, green and black argyle   (practically never worn)

Cork  bottle stopper

Zipper-red, 9” (new)

Big black 2” coat button

Peanut butter jar with lid  (I washed it)


In the summer of 1952, newly weds Fred and Lottie Wilcox took a honeymoon trip to Florida.  It was a state neither husband nor wife had ever been to, but both had dreamed of visiting.

Truly the trip of a lifetime, Fred and Lottie quickly accumulated several shoe boxes worth of memories. Lottie also found a pair of coral pink palm tree print pedal pushers, and 12 yards of  barkcloth-a tropical design in green, chartreuse, aqua, fuchsia and black.  (She had in mind drapes for the den in their  newly purchased ranch-style  house.)

Fred found a swordfish. 

He’d spied it- as their 1950 Buick Roadmaster tooled  along the streets of Tampa-propped up against a table of  yard sale knick knacks.  His mind was on the den too-but not on drapes.  He was picturing how good the swordfish would look hanging over the bookcase that housed their brand new set of encyclopedias.

Letting Fred have his way concerning the swordfish was easy.  How could Lottie say no.  After all, Fred had agreed to the barkcloth ($37.50, no less) without excess moaning and groaning.  And so, with the swordfish strapped to the top of the Buick,  Lottie and Fred Wilcox pointed the compass needle for home.

It is inevitable, that when you motor the highways and back roads that crisscross this great land of ours,  with a swordfish strapped to the top of your car- you will attract some attention. This is a fact, and Fred and Lottie Wilcox were no exception.  What is not inevitable though, is that you will start telling lies.

Somewhere between the yard sale, and the Wilcox home at 65 Buttercup Drive, Chicago,  Fred started to tell his fish story.   Any curious person with a few minutes to spare was enough of an audience for Fred.   And with each telling, the tale grew bigger, and more fantastic than the previous version.  (One can only imagine how fantastic it had become by the last pit stop before home.)   Lottie simply could not believe her husband.

With a sigh of relief from Lottie that she would suffer no more embarrassment at the hands of her husband’s imagination-the Wilcox’s arrived back at their nest.   Within the hour, the swordfish was installed in the den, hanging as Fred had pictured it, over the encyclopedias. (Ironically, the tip of it’s sword pointed towards the “L” volume-- for liar, perhaps?)

Even though the Wilcox’s were still tired from their trip, they  agreed to host the weekly neighborhood Canasta party, held the following weekend.  And Lottie, dreaming of the compliments she would receive from her friends, rallied and sewed her new barkcloth drapes. 

Wanting her  husband to be a social success,  Lottie could not help but be pleased with the admiration being  heaped on the swordfish.  Fred was simply beaming with pride.  Lottie even sensed that Fred was actually starting to believe his own story.

But when Fred said to Lottie “Go get me a cold one, little lady. I’m busy.  These people want to hear how I landed this bad boy,”  Lottie’s last straw broke, and as you can imagine, that was the end of Fred’s fish story.  It was hard to say who was more entertaining- Lottie or Fred.  Funny how people can get so worked up over a swordfish.


I am selling these things because my wife has a big mouth.  Her mouth is so big that everything listed here, combined, would not be enough to shut her up.  Zip it, button it, put a sock (or two!)  in it, well, you get the idea. So you see,  these things are useless to me.  Her mouth is just too darn big!  Oh, and no reasonable offer refused.


“That ought to show her!”  Fred thought as he put his pencil down, and reached for the phone to place the ad…


In the summer of  1953, Fred and Lottie Wilcox celebrated their 1st  anniversary.  It had been a memorable  year, in many ways.  Looking back on the past 12 months of  their life together, Lottie secretly scolded herself for the regrettable things she had done, while Fred silently gave thanks for the regrettable things he had not done.

As Lottie and Fred perused the menu at the restaurant they had chosen for the occasion,  Fred let out a small gasp.   “Look Lottie- swordfish!” 

What a sweet young couple, the other diners thought-as Fred and Lottie laughed, and then cried… and then proceeded to order the steak.

Water and Life

She frowns as she pulls back one side of the ruffled kitchen curtains that frame the window in front of her kitchen sink.   It’s pouring out, she can tell, by the huge drops of rain that are reflected in the glow of the back door light.  As she stacks the last plate carefully into the cupboard, still slightly wet from being washed and left on the drain board to dry, she is feeling  a bit melancholy.

Don’t misunderstand her-she is very happy.  She has a darling little cracker box house with a built in bookcase, a telephone nook, and a corner kitchen shelf- complete with a variegated ivy plant in a red McCoy flowerpot. 

Poking around the foliage, into the dirt, she realizes her ivy could use a little drink -just as she needs a cup of hot tea and a good soak in the tub before starting dinner.  (Her husband is working late tonight.  He hopes to make junior partner by the end of the year.)  She’s not cooking anything fancy-just a hot dog and bean casserole, baked in her turquoise snowflake casserole dish-the divided one.  His side- with onions-hers without.  She loves her snowflake baking set, but as she takes pleasure in the thought of it,  she feels slightly at odds with herself.    Is she silly for being proud of her dishes?

Magazines.  Television.  Gossip at the beauty parlor.  Everywhere she turns lately-the same topic keeps cropping up - that women should  look beyond their homes for satisfaction and do more with their lives than take care of their  husbands. Being “ liberated”,  she thinks it’s called.

She has no complaints.  She loves her husband.  He’s a good man who is good to her.  In return, she works hard trying to live up to her own ideal of what makes a  perfect wife.

Back in college, she spent hours practicing her watercolor painting.  She was actually quite talented-but she gave it up when she got married.  He didn’t ask her to, but it seemed like the sensible thing to do.

Forgetting her  ivy plant,  her tea,  her bath-forgetting her self imposed ideals and sensibilities-she heads for the basement and finds the box that contains her trays of paint.

They are all dried up now.   And she is probably a bit rusty.

But she knows that all she needs to do to get started again, is just add water.

Dear John

Dear Mr.  Pleasant                      


Miss Smith


October 7, 1943

“Oh Johnnie.  He’s such a swell kid!” 

If my memory serves me correctly, that’s exactly how my friend Marlene described her boyfriend’s army buddy, John.  A real sweet guy. Shy too.  And very lonely.  Would I like to write to him so that he would get some mail when mail call rolled around,  have a little serving of “ home”, and pretend a nice girl was waiting for him when this darn war was over?

Call me a romantic fool, but yes, I said I’d write to him.  My first letter, written the day Marlene asked me to be PFC John W.  Pleasant’s pen pal, was cheerful and interesting. I wrote a little about myself, and I asked him some questions about himself too.  Just a nice, friendly letter.


November 19, 1943

His response was cordial enough.  For the first sentence or two.  And then, holy smokes!  He’d obviously been listening to too many Betty Hutton songs.   It took me a minute to realize what he was saying, and then I blushed.  My ears felt like they were on fire, and the back of my neck was hot enough to boil water.    Thank goodness my mother didn’t see me!  She’d have sent me straight to bed thinking I had suddenly come down with a grade A case of Scarlett fever.

The nerve!  Why I barely know this boy.  And  I certainly will not be sending him a picture of my “gams,” or any other part of me.  Except that I guess I did send him a piece of my mind. Told him to jump in that lake.  Hopefully it will cool him off.

What a wolf! I’m still blushing!

He’ll just have to find himself another pen pal/pin up.  Because it sure isn’t going to be me.


January 29, 1944

All is forgiven.  John got my letter, and got the message, and he is truly sorry.  He explained that he could tell from my beautiful handwriting that I must be a very pretty girl, and he forgot his manners.


February 1, 1944

I wrote John another friendly letter and inquired after his health, asked him if army food is any good, wondered if he’d like me to send some cookies…


March 14, 1944

I can’t believe it!  Talk about fresh.  John’s dunking in the metaphorical  lake seems to have had no effect on him at all.  He said “Send YOURSELF, cookie!” And then he  signed  his letter  Wink, wink, woof, woof, woof!”  That’s it.  I have really had enough of him this time.  I’m not some “Victory girl” chasing after every serviceman I meet.   In fact,  I’m not even going to respond.


May 3, 1944

Another letter from John today, and I barely cared enough to read it-but I opened it anyway.  It was a nice letter this time.  He apologized for his previous behavior, and for the first time I could sense  fear in his writing.  There has been a lot of talk about the upcoming invasion, and John will be in the thick of the fighting when it happens.  He also told a funny joke he’d heard from a fellow soldier. (What does a German pilot eat for breakfast?  Luftwaffles)   But then back to business as usual when he signed off with “Send me some sugar, Sugar!”  It didn’t bother me so much this time.


June 21, 1944

D-day was two weeks ago.  I haven’t heard anything from John.

So I sent him this letter.   I had to do something.

“Hey good lookin’, what’s cookin’?  (Corny, I know)  I am going crazy here-yes for you.  Please write and tell me you are ok.  My legs, and I, miss you!


(My mother would have had heart failure!)


September 10, 1944

Finally, a letter.

My darling Vera,

Home in a few days.  I have lots to tell you.

Will you jump in that lake with me?  I hear the water is fine…

Love, Johnnie


After the war ended in 1945, John and Vera got married.  They recently celebrated their  66th wedding anniversary.  He’s still waiting for that picture of her legs though.




(Sung by Betty Hutton in 1943 for Armed Forces Radio)

Finally found a fella
Almost completely divine
But his vocabulary
Is killing this romance of mine
We get into an intimate situation
And then begins this character's conversation
He says, murder, he says
Every time we kiss
He says, murder, he says
At a time like this
He says, murder, he says
Is that the language of love?
He says, solid, he says
Takes me in his arms
And says, solid, he says
Meaning all my charms
He says, solid, he says
Is that the language of love?
He says, chick chick
You torture me
Zoom, are we livin?
I'm thinkin of leaving him flat
He says, dig dig the jumps
The old ticker is giving
He can talk plainer than that
He says, murder, he says
Every time we kiss
He says, murder, he says
Keep it up like this
He says, murder, he says
In that impossible tone
We'll bring on nobody's murder
But his own
He says, jackson, he says
And my name's marie
He says, jackson, he says
Shoot the snoot for me
He says, jackson, he says
Is that the language of love?
He says, mmmhmm
When he likes my hat
He says, tsk tsk tsk
What the heck is that?
He says, woo hoo! he says
Is that the language of love?
He says hep hep with helium
Now babe, we're cookin
Another expression's too ill
He says, we're in the groove
And the groove is good lookin
Sounds like his uppers don't fit!
He says, murder, he says
Every time we kiss
He says, murder, he says
Keep it up like this
In that, murder, he says
In that impossible tone
We'll bring on nobody's murder
But his own

Writer’s Block

 She sits at her typewriter, tears offering to come more readily than words.

Her scattered thoughts, her random ideas, are at the moment,  adding up to nothing.

It’s not as if she could walk away though.  Writing, she understands, is as much a part of her as her own name.  But right now, her belief that she is a writer, with something meaningful to say, is laughing at her behind her back. 

She sighs, and makes a wish.

Carefully, she removes the blank, white, mocking sheet  from her typewriter, and fetching a pair of scissors cuts the paper into a  square.  Folding it first one way, and then another, she finds that  this task, at least, comes easily.

She sets the first perfect crane in front of herself, and reaches for another piece of paper.


An ancient Japanese legend promises that anyone who folds one thousand paper cranes will be granted their wish by a crane.

Sentimental Value

 Margaret married Edward in the summer of 1916.

They had no money for a proper wedding and reception.  So she, in a borrowed blue dress, and he, in his uniform, exchanged vows down by the river, under the lazy branches of a weeping willow tree.    Her  flowers,  picked from the banks of the same river, were put in canning  jars and placed on an old wooden table  next to the cake, which had been baked by her mother.  Her wedding ring was a simple gold band engraved with a moon and stars.  “You are my universe,” he told her.

When Edward had proposed, along with an apology he had made Margaret a promise. “Some day, when my ship comes in, I will buy you the prettiest ring you have ever seen.”  And his ship had come in.  On their 25th wedding anniversary, he gave her a diamond.   She put the moon and star ring away, in her top dresser drawer, for safe keeping.  She could never tell her husband, but she loved her simple gold band better.  Margaret was very sentimental.

The day of their wedding was a beautiful day.  Margaret and Edward could not have asked for a better one on which to be married.  They were man and wife for 57 years.

Edward died in 1973.  After his funeral, Margaret returned home, briefly put on her gold band, and then returned it to her drawer, burying it under some lace handkerchiefs.


Two years later,  upon returning home from a trip to the grocery store, Margaret was surprised to see her back door propped open. Fear rising within her, she had no idea of what she was about to discover inside.  Her dear little house had been ransacked from the first room to the last.  Some of her obvious valuables, such as her camera, chest of silver, and microwave-were carelessly stacked on her dining room table.  Her television set was already gone. She had obviously caught the thieves between loads.

She hurried to her bedroom to get her reading glasses, so that she could see well enough to quickly dial the number of the police station.   It was then that she noticed the top drawer of her dresser was gone.  Her ring!

Afraid the intruders would return, Margaret had gone next door.  From the safety of  her neighbor’s living room, the police took her statement, but they had little to offer in the way of encouragement.  In crimes such as this, it was hard to find enough of a lead to follow, let alone recover any stolen property.

Angrily, Margaret said that if the thieves were ever caught, their punishment should be having to scrub her street from one end to the other- with a toothbrush.   The officers  rolled their eyes at each other over her head, patted her hand, and left.

So that was it then.  The ring was gone.


The next spring, as Margaret worked the soil in the garden plot that bordered  the walkway that led to her back door, she could hardly believe what she saw.  A glint of gold, right there among her Forget-Me-Not's.   A twist of fate.  A coincidence.  A miracle.

Her ring.


Someone has stolen something from you (or your character). Something of tremendous value. What will you do to get it back? Or will you give up?
Write a post - fiction or non - and tell us about it. Word limit is 600.


This piece is fiction, but is also based on actual events.  My Grandma Helen was robbed in the same way as Margaret, and it was her idea of punishment to make those responsible scrub her street-which was a really, really long street, with a toothbrush.  She lost my grandfather’s ring in the robbery, but for her the biggest crime was the fact that she had to buy a new dresser because the thieves took the drawer from hers. (She was much more practical than sentimental.)  The thieves were never caught, her stolen items never recovered.

I was working in my own garden 4 years ago and found a wedding ring-a plain gold band.  I patterned the gold band in my story after my own father’s wedding band which I have always loved for it’s moon and star design.

I had the idea to combine all of these actual events to come up with a story that had a happy ending.

Flash Fiction: Cloak and Dagger

Fanny never answered her telephone at night.  In her book, late night calls were synonymous with bad news.  Still, there was nothing she could do to avoid the panic that flooded her senses as the ringing of her phone startled her awake at 3 o’clock in the morning.  After the 9th ring, it was clear the caller was not going to give up. Leaving the warmth of her bed, she stumbled in the darkness to silence her telephone by taking it off the hook.  But as she lifted the receiver, she heard a distant, pleading voice. A voice from her past.

“Fanny!  Fanny!  Can you hear me?  Fanny!”

Her heart still pounding, Fanny scrambled to position the receiver next to her ear.  “Hello?  Pauline?  Is that you?  Where are…"

“Yes, it’s me.”  The familiar voice, closer now, cut Fanny off mid sentence.   “Look Fanny, I haven’t much time. Don’t ask me to explain, but I need you to listen to something. ”  Fanny struggled to shake off the muddled state of her head, brought on by the interruption of her slumber, and compounded by confusion.  She sensed the urgency, the need to pay attention, as Pauline sang, using a series of dees and dums instead of words, a simple tune, repeating  it a second time.

“It’s absolutely vital that you remember this tune exactly the way I sing it,”  Pauline admonished.    “I can’t stress that enough.  Now listen once again, and then sing it back to me.”

Fanny’s voice was certainly not its best at this hour, or  any hour for that matter.   But still, obediently, she sang.  Pauline seemed satisfied.

“I’ve got to go now-but DON’T FORGET THAT TUNE!”


The connection was terminated.

“Pauline!  Pauline!  Wait!  Don’t hang up!” 

But Pauline was gone.

Several days later, shortly before Fanny boarded the train that took her to her job as a file clerk at the OSS, (Office of Strategic Services), near Washington DC, she bought her daily copy of the Washington Star.  Having the newspaper to read helped pass the time during the 30 minute ride.   As Fanny’s eyes scanned the front page for an interesting article, she was stunned by a small headline in the bottom left hand corner.

Dead Woman Identified as Area Resident

In cooperation with local authorities, the body of a woman found murdered in Paris, France has been identified as that of Pauline Ethel Wilson…

They’d first met at Wellesley two years earlier, in 1942.    Taking an instant liking to each other, they’d happily agreed to being roommates.  Initially, Pauline seemed to be a nice girl and a dedicated scholar.   But then her habit of keeping odd hours began-staying out late at night, and disappearing for entire weekends.  Fanny worried about Pauline, but worried more about the problems Pauline’s curious behavior might create between them. When Pauline refused to offer any explanation, Fanny had been forced to make a decision.   The parting was  painful, and after finding a new roommate, Fanny had no longer been in touch with Pauline.   Until the night of the phone call.  And now Pauline was dead.

“It’s all so strange,”  Fanny remarked later that same day to her supervisor, Mr. Bentley, as she brought up the subject of  the newspaper article.  “I knew this girl.   In fact she telephoned me the other night and told me to remember some tune she sang over the phone.  I didn’t quite know what to make of it.”
This revelation evidently came as a shock.   Mr. Bentley turned as white as plaster.  “This tune you are talking about, could you sing it for me?”

Fanny searched her memory for a few minutes.  Then, in spite of feeling rather self conscious about her voice, sang what she could recall, trying her best to duplicate the correct placement of the dees and dums.  “I don’t remember the tune precisely, but I think that was a fair approximation of it.”  Mr. Bentley managed to smile.  “Good work, Fanny.  Now sing it once more, if you would.”   Mr. Bentley closed his eyes in concentration.   It was evident he was trying to memorize the tune himself.  Rather abruptly, he hurried to his office and shut the door.

Fanny stared after him, and shook her head. 

After Pauline's funeral, Fanny reviewed the events of the past week, hoping to glean even the tiniest grain of insight into her friend’s life.  Pauline had been a spy-that seemed like a reasonable assumption.  Perhaps she had been recruited at Wellesley, attending, on those late nights and  long weekends, some sort of spy training.  But why, that night, did Pauline choose to call Fanny, and not someone else?  Was Fanny herself unwittingly a part of some spy plot?  Or was Pauline simply aware that Fanny also worked for the OSS and would be sure to tell someone like Mr. Bentley about the telephone call, and the tune?  And what about that tune?  Obviously some sort of a message.   Morse Code perhaps?

There were so many questions left unanswered, but of one thing, Fanny was dead certain.  Secrecy was tantamount in the OSS.  More so than friendship.  More so than truth.  It had to be, or there were disturbing consequences.  Fanny shivered.
Pauline was proof of that.

This piece is fiction, but based upon factual events.
I am in awe of the courage shown by the men and women whose espionage activities in World War II inspired this piece.
In real life, Fanny would not have been able to learn the truth about Pauline until decades later, when much of this information was finally declassified.  Before that time, the individuals who worked for the OSS were sworn to secrecy, and violating that oath was punishable by death.  At the same time, those agents working under cover faced the same fate when their true identities were discovered by the enemy.
( Fanny’s assumptions though, all turned out to be correct.)
Shortly after WW2, the OSS became the CIA.

On Being Held Accountable

I could never have imagined they would take it quite so hard.  After all, aren’t we entitled to certain allowances in our reckless youth?

What I really wanted to imagine-however delusional, mind you-was that they wouldn’t find out.  At least not until the whole affair was ancient history.  Folly!

And why, I’ll never understand, do one’s parents insist on visiting on a Sunday morning?  There ought to be a law.

I can still hear their words, and a harsher tone I hope I never have to hear again. “ We are VERY, VERY disappointed in you!”  And then a haze of more words…most of them rather unkind. Please don’t ask me to repeat them.

It’s not my fault the whole gang decided to gather at the club on Saturday night.  By the time I arrived, the merriment was well under way.  What was I supposed to do?  I joined them, of course.  I don’t have a rude bone in my body.

But “if only.”   I have a few of those.

If only there hadn’t been quite so much merriment-and  a particular song hadn’t been played.   A song that always turns me into a beast.

If only I hadn’t kicked a policeman on the shin.  (And insulted his mustache.)

If only I had been able to outdistance him. Even limping, he covered  the pavement with alarming speed.

( At least the judge let me off with a warning-this time.)

If only I’d had the foresight to destroy the evidence after reading about myself in the paper this morning.

If only, if only, if only…

But I left the offending newspaper, dissected into various sections, scattered about my apartment-the front page on the sofa.

And that front page-with its incriminating headline- practically shouted hello as my parents took a seat.

If only.

A Matter of Circumstance

I was always so jealous of her.  She was everything that defined my idea of “ideal.”  Everything I wanted to be, but wasn’t.  She had an older brother.  So much older, in fact, that he had already left home several years ago to join the navy while she was still in high school.  Handsome in his uniform, and far off in some exotic place fighting in the war, he made her the envy of her friends.  Myself included.  Imagine, having a brother like that!

How was I supposed to know…

Just a few weeks ago she had written him a letter, and she had gushed on so, in her letter, about nothing in particular.  The letter she now held in her hands,  returned and marked “undeliverable”- mocking  her with it’s happiness, and hope, and optimism.

Her returned letter was to be followed, a month later by a telegram.  Answering some questions, but leaving others in it’s wake.  Questions that had no answers within her reach.  Questions that threatened to break her heart, with eventual answers that would break her heart.

How could I tell…

Her initial pain had subsided after a while, along with the shock, but it had been replaced by a dull ache that seemed to saturate her body.  And then-a new emotion.  One she had not counted on, and was with her constantly.

Jealousy.  What small and fragile spark of joy the news of her brother’s death had left in her,  jealousy threatened to extinguish.  It wasn’t fair, she told herself, that there were other brothers, in other families, who had returned home from the war, and were now resuming their normal  lives with their loved ones.    A luxury her own brother was to be denied.

So unbearable was this unfairness, and so consuming was her jealousy, that she avoided everyone.   She avoided me.

Because, as perfect and enviable as I may have thought she was-and as much as I wanted to be like her,  I had something she didn’t have. 

My brother.

How was I to ever to believe…

That she could be jealous of me.

More than Enough

She is full.  She feels like she will burst if she eats even one more bite, but still.  Her plate is not clean yet.

“It’s hardly worth dirtying a leftover container,” she tells herself by way of an excuse, but really, out of a sense of necessity, she forces the last few bites of food down her throat.

It wasn’t always this way.  More than once, she felt the gnawing ache of hunger in her stomach.  More than once she went without food so that her children could eat, and even then sometimes, they’d gone without eating too. And burning with humiliation, even all these years later, she remembers that more than once she had to rely on the generosity of others to feed her family.  She laughs.  Generosity indeed.  Often she had to take handouts that were practically garbage, and act grateful about it too.  

These days, she has plenty of food.  She always makes sure that her cupboards are full, and she hides packages of cookies, or bags of candy here and there, just to be safe.

No one who visits her can ever accuse her of sending a person away hungry.  She keeps three tins in her kitchen- perpetually full of baked goods.  And when you sit down for a meal at her table, you are guaranteed to be well fed.  This “light” cooking and eating trend  is for the birds, in her opinion.

Always on the lookout for new menu ideas, she often peruses her large collection of cookbooks, and she cuts out interesting recipes from her women's’ magazines.  Her favorite topic of conversation is food-and she is eager to hear about the dishes her friends have prepared, anxious to try them herself. 

70 some years may be a long time in the past, but her memories of those leaner days are still as fresh in her mind as the loaf of bread she has just baked.  Even now, living a life of plenty, the specter of starvation she faced during the Depression is always with her.

Don’t waste!” it admonishes her.

The day could come again when you will have only potatoes to eat!”  it reminds her.

You just never know!”

A clean plate.  Not an empty plate.  She can appreciate the difference.

The Right One

A fifty dollar car was a fifty dollar car.  She didn’t expect anything more.  She paid the salesman with several well worn bills and slid into the driver’s seat of the sorely neglected 1948 Chevrolet Fleetline.  “Piece of junk.” she muttered.  “Just get me where I need to go.” And she yawned, as if the whole car buying experience was one big bore.  Taking her gum out of her mouth, she stuck it under the dash and put the key in the ignition.

The salesman had referred to the car as lazy.  “It doesn’t seem to have much get up and go.”  But it made no difference to her.  Once she reached California, she planned to stop at the first junk yard she saw.

Putting her hand in her pocket, she pulled out a Snicker’s bar, and throwing the wrapper on the floor, stuffed the entire bar in her mouth in two bites.  Her fingers sticky with chocolate, she clutched the steering wheel and eased out of the parking lot.

About three blocks into the drive, light rain began to fall and she switched on the windshield wipers.  After one lethargic pass over the glass-they stopped working.  Coupled with the radio, which seemed to fade every time she found a station playing the easy listening music she favored, she was beginning to understand why the salesman had referred to the car as lazy.

Gliding through a red light four blocks from the starting point- Ajax Budget Auto, the ancient heap backfired twice and died. 

Needless to say, before the day was over, the Fleetline sat, once again, in the used car lot.


A week later,  just when the salesman was about to call a tow truck to take the Fleetline away, a young girl appeared.  As she gazed over the assortment of cars for sale, her eyes fell on the old Chevrolet and you could see it was love at first sight.

“How much?” she asked, nodding in the direction of the aging car.  Her heart was racing, hoping the 100 dollars in her pocket was enough for her first car-the car of her dreams. 

“50 bucks.   But trust me.  You don’t want that old clunker.  It’s lazy.”

“But she’s the most beautiful car I’ve ever seen in my life.”  said the girl.  “They don’t make them like that any more.  Besides, I’m in the auto shop program over at Grant High.  I’ll fix her right up.”  And walking over to the Fleetline, the girl pulled a bandana from her pocket, and lovingly started to polish the chrome.

“Tell you what.  You can have it for $25.  Call it my contribution to the future mechanics of America.”

As the girl climbed in and started her new car up, it roared to life- the windshield wipers working  furiously back and forth while the radio blared Ella Fitzgerald’s  “My Happiness.”

The look of surprise on the salesman’s face was matched only by the look of  utter bliss on the girl’s as she drove away.

Lazy?  Not at all.  The Fleetline had only been napping- waiting for her princess to come.

Henry’s Girl

Henry Miller, in his bedroom, had almost finished  packing.  Almost.  If it hadn’t been for first his sister, sidling up and giving him a picture of herself, and extracting a promise from him to mention her to his new army friends at Camp Shelby, followed next by Henry’s mother, sniffling in noisily, with a family photo to give to Henry,  so that he would feel less homesick once he had left, and finally Henry’s father, clearing his throat as he entered Henry’s room and reminding  his son to send a picture home-when Henry was all dressed up in his uniform-Henry would be packed and ready to leave.

The Greyhound bus that would take Henry part of the way from Albany, Oregon to Camp Shelby, Mississippi left at noon.  It seemed like only yesterday that he’d gotten his draft notice, informing him of the day he was to report for basic training.  And now that day had nearly arrived.  Henry placed the two photos inside his wallet and shoved it  into the front pocket of his dungarees.  The front pocket, his mother had insisted, where it would be safe from all of the potential muggers and pickpockets he might encounter along the way-especially in big cities like Kansas City.

Henry  loved his family.  Henry was proud of his family.  That went without saying.  But as he boarded the bus in a flurry of hugs, promises to write and tears that could no longer be held back, he had a secret desire.  It wasn’t a picture of his sister, or even his family that he wished to keep safely in his wallet, ready to show off.  It was a picture of a real live girl.

The first hour of the trip was uneventful.  Henry read The Blitz Grinders comic book he’d brought along, and ate two of the six sandwiches his mother had packed for him.  He dozed for the next hour, the motion of the bus lulling him to sleep  like a rocking chair.   When the Greyhound pulled into the terminal at Boise for a 30 minute leg stretcher, Henry left his seat and with stiff legs climbed down the 3 steps of the bus and followed the travelers ahead of him inside the terminal cafe, choosing to sit on one of the  stools near the counter.  A cheerful voice interrupted his study of the menu.  “Is this seat taken?”  Henry looked up into a pair of questioning brown eyes.  “No.  But it looks like it is now.”  Trying to sound relaxed, Henry’s heart was racing as fast as Seabiscuit rounding the final turn at Santa Anita. 

Her name was Mary Pennington and she was from Long Beach, Washington.  She was on her way to the Naval Air Station in Olathe, Kansas for training with the Navy WAVES.  Henry and Mary made amiable small talk over their coffee for the next 20 minutes until the “All Aboard!” call was sounded.  Mounting the bus steps ahead of Henry, Mary turned and asked shyly  “May I sit with you?  I don’t know anyone else.”  I bet you can guess what Henry's reply was.

For the rest of the trip, as Mary and Henry became better acquainted, an idea was brewing in Henry’s mind, if only he could work up the courage to voice it.  “May I take your picture?”  The question was out before Henry had time to reconsider.  “You see, I don’t have a girl, but I wish I did, and if I had your picture I could pretend and show it off to the other guys, and well, you know…”  His voice trailed off as though both his idea, and his courage had run out of steam.  “Of course.  I’d be flattered!”  Mary replied almost too quickly.  “And I will write to you if you like.  I don’t have a fella, and it would be nice to pretend that I do, you know.  Something to talk about with the other girls.” Henry hardly knew what to say, but he was starting to think quite a lot of Mary.  Digging  into his suitcase, he fished out his camera.  Mary smiled, and Henry took her picture. “Perfect!”   Henry exclaimed happily.  And then  reaching into the front pocket of his dungarees, he pulled out his wallet. 

“Now, would you like to see some pictures of my family?”

The Dragonfly

Ida found the rain soaked dragonfly in the middle of the road one late summer morning, after a night of drenching showers.  She carried him carefully home to the refuge of her garden, placing his fragile, water soaked body among the leaves and  flowers of her petunia plants.  By all outward appearances, he seemed to be dead, but Ida held out hope anyway.

She had been walking to town that morning on an errand to purchase the few groceries she could afford, when she had spotted the dragonfly.  Struck by his beauty, and aware of his utter helplessness, Ida was, for a brief moment,  torn over what to do.  She needed to buy  food, yet she was unable to leave the poor creature where he lay.

Ida had figured correctly.  Her husband was more than a little displeased when she returned home empty handed, and he made no attempt to hide his contempt for her decision.  More pressing matters were at stake, he felt compelled to remind her, than rescuing half drowned insects.  As though she needed reminding.   There was never enough food.  There were never enough clothes that were decent enough to wear.  Never enough work to be found, and never enough money.  Ida silently added another  “never" of her own to the list:  Never enough words of comfort on her part to buoy the spirits of a man who seemed so determined to be miserable.  Heaven knew she had tried.

As desperate as Ida was to escape from under the layers of despair that blanketed  her life and start fresh, she knew such a prospect was slim.  So instead, she pinned all of her hopes for a second chance on the dragonfly, who with his iridescent wings and blue green body added color to a world where color, for Ida had drained away.    

All through the remainder of the morning, and into the afternoon and evening, Ida anxiously visited the dragonfly, who continued to rest as his wings dried.   “He looks like he is smiling, the dear little thing.”  Ida thought to herself.  “I hope he is having the most wonderful dream about flying.”

The following morning found the sun rising warmly after a night of clear skies, and Ida ventured outside to check on the dragonfly.  Feeling more of a sense of dread than hope, she tentatively searched among the leaves and blossoms of the petunias, half expecting to find him where she had left him slumbering the night before, only now certainly dead. 

Her heart began to beat wildly as the realization of what she was seeing became clear.

He was gone.

Outward Appearance

The stares.  The whispers.  The pointing, and the comments.   “Freak,”  “weird,” or even “ugly.”  She was used to it.   Her sideshow act,  The Tattooed Lady, toured the country with a  traveling circus.  People came from miles around,  paying good money to gawk at her colorful skin, inked with an array of designs  in a rainbow of colors. 


She had been an exceptionally beautiful baby.    As she grew into childhood, and then adolescence, her beauty increased, although it hardly seemed possible given that her face was simply stunning to begin with.  Word of  her attractiveness spread, and her parents quickly realized she possessed a face that could be their fortune.   Always dressed  in fine clothes, she was paraded around her town for people to admire, and her looks often stopped the passing traffic of horses and buggies, and occasionally one of the new “horseless carriages.”  Never allowed to play outside, or inside for that matter, she was simply told to sit quietly throughout the day so as not to muss her appearance when curious visitors dropped by to look at her.

When she reached the age where girls begin to dream about their weddings, her parents seized the great opportunity that lay before them- to see to it that their daughter, with her gorgeous face, might win the affections of a rich and socially powerful young man, and marry into his family.  At many parties and dances, she was presented to a myriad of eligible bachelors.   Indeed, the right men were drawn to her because of her great beauty, and it did not take long for her to realize that her beauty brought out the very worst qualities in her would be suitors.  Qualities like jealousy, possessiveness, and distrust.

At the age of 20, she simply packed her small suitcase one early morning and slipped away unseen.  She was headed for San Francisco.  (That very evening, her parents were to announce her engagement at a lavish dinner party, having found an ideal match for her.)   Walking along a seedy street down by the waterfront her first day in town, she found herself standing in front of a tattoo parlor.  Her curiosity winning out over her apprehension, she went in.


In all the times, over the years, that she appeared as the Tattooed Lady, not once, as far as she could tell, did anyone seem to notice her face.

Sudden Death

Her whole life, ahead of her.

When she was 17.

Ron.  Produce clerk at Albertson’s grocery.   Dreamboat.  Looks to die for.  Love of her life, or he could be, if only he would see past her shyly offered smile and hello, and really notice her.  Once or twice a week she would stop by his department, trying to catch his eye.  She was in luck.  He suggested lunch,  just as she struggled to slip a large cantaloupe inside one of the small paper bags set out for customer convenience.

He picked her up the following day at 12 o’clock, on the dot, and drove her to the malt shop, about a mile from the market.  He was courteous to a fault.  Almost stiff.  She chalked it up to nerves.  She was certainly nervous herself.

She ordered the bacon cheeseburger.  He, a bowl of the  “soup of the day,” chicken noodle.  And when their food was delivered to the red enameled table that stretched between them, her burger was 3 miles high on the plate, or so it seemed.   Feverishly, her mind worked, puzzling over how to wrap her mouth around the burger for a bite-and do so elegantly at the same time.

She seized her opportunity-the instant when Ron took a spoonful of soup, eyes down, focused on his bowl.    She dove into the impossible stack of bread and meat, cheese and condiments, only to surface with a pickle slice, torn loose from it’s moorings deep within the burger, and now hanging  from her lips and down past her chin like a giant green tongue. 

He looked up at her, from his own perfectly executed sip.  Embarrassment burned on his face, matching the crimson of her own.

Her life was over.

When she was 17.