Archive for the ‘Short Stories’ Category

A Place of His Own

Monday, January 1st, 2007

He left his house. Actually it was his mother’s house. Actually it was his mother’s apartment, a wee, three room apartment including the bathroom. He didn’t have a room unless you counted the sleeper sofa in the living room/kitchenette. His mother had the tiny bedroom with the Lilliputian bath.

Julian was forty. He had turned forty seven months ago and had resolved to make his break before he turned forty-one. The first thing he needed was a place to call his own. He checked himself in the front window of the building and tried to look bigger and meaner than his one hundred and twenty-nine pounds could suggest. His balding head and weak jaw didn’t help the overall picture but he smiled and sighed the sigh of the self-confident as he walked on, the little Napoleon commanding his imaginary life before him.

His backpack was filled with books, a writing tablet, several pens, aspirin, cough drops, nasal spray, tissues and a new, digital, pocket recorder. It also held a spare set of glasses which were his old prescription, scratched and, of course, taped together at the temple.

He had to hurry. The library would open in ten minutes and he wanted to be, as was his custom, the first through the door. It was, after all, his branch library. Much to his dismay, three people were standing around the front entrance to the library and the security guard was approaching the door from the inside. It meant he had to jog the last ten yards to beat the others to the door. He did so, actually putting on a little speed to squeeze by the person closest to the door. Timing was everything; the door opened as he reached it.

Ignoring everyone, he hurried to his corner of the library: a table and chair stuck away behind the reference stacks. He had haunted the same library for years, yet didn’t know a single person by name. If he saw them on the street, he turned away, unwilling to acknowledge their existence outside of his world, his library. With great care he laid out his supplies, arranged them and stepped back for an overview. Two books were opened and placed slightly askew. The tablet, opened to a pre-scribbled page, and pens scattered in what appeared to be a haphazard fashion gave an overall intense, studied look. The nose spray was too close to the tissues so he moved it a quarter of an inch to the left. Satisfied with his desk, he walked jauntily over to the new arrival stacks and chose a book at random.

Just as he eased back into his chair, a young woman came bustling through the door of the library, headed straight to the reference section and scanned the books with what appeared to be desperation. Julian studied her and prepared to adopt his intensely busy look when she turned in his direction. She never did. Deep down he knew that one day some lovely woman would walk into his library, take one look at his assiduous form and fall madly in love with him. The hair stood up on the back of his neck, anticipating her first words of adoration. She pulled two books down from the stacks and walked over to Julian’s desk. No words, no nod or any other indication that she even saw him there. His blood boiled. Her proximity made him flinch. She put one of the books down, actually moving his books about an inch to do so. She looked through the index, found the page she wanted then she did the same with the second book.

Julian couldn’t stand it. He rose from his chair and began to pace. She pulled another chair up to the table and sat down! The outrage! He wanted to yell and scream at her but it just wasn’t his way. He went to the bathroom instead.

Being a small branch, the library had but one men’s toilet with a urinal and a single stall. He locked the stall door behind him and sat on the toilet, chin on his hands, thoroughly disgusted by what had just occurred. His eyes focused on the space around him. The library had recently undergone complete renovation. The remodeling, in his opinion, had nearly ended his thirty-some-odd year relationship with the library system. For nine months he had bussed to another library! Although he had started many letters to the mayor, the head librarian and the newspapers, none of them were ever mailed. Many plots to revenge his loss were conjured up and abandoned. The redone bathroom had always been a reminder of that injustice but today, for the first time, he looked at the glistening, new fixtures and tile with awe and inspiration. It was spacious! There was a shelf on the wall, plenty of room and, of course, a built in toilet/seat. The drinking fountain was just outside the door. What could be better? He worried about the intrusions of others who wanted to use the toilet but he reasoned that they would leave when it was evident that someone with bowel troubles was in the grip, as it were. Speaking of bowel troubles his own began their low song of impending need but he sprang from his seat, a daring plan thought up, debated, and decided.

At the table, the woman was still studying the books before her. Julian huffily gathered his belongings and strode with great honor, bearing the indignity bravely, stopping only once at the bathroom door to see if anyone was watching. No one was.

He re-entered the lavatory with all of his possessions and laid them out on the shelf provided within the stall. It caused him a few minutes of consternation while he positioned and re-positioned his stuff until it was right. Then he turned to use the toilet the way it was meant to be used. He turned on the pocket recorder and then proceeded to make as much noise, verbal and otherwise, as he could, remembering to turn off the recorder before he flushed. Finished, he cleaned up and sat back down sideways on the toilet so that he could lean comfortably against the cool tile, opened the book du jour and started his journey toward a new horizon.

Soon enough, an interloper entered the bathroom. As Julian sat in uncertain apprehension, the intruder finished at the urinal, washed his hands and left. Before the morning was out, however, another entered. This one, he could tell by the discouraged noises coming from the other side of the partition, was waiting for his turn in the stall. Without changing positions, Julian played the tape and heard the man leave in a disgruntled rush.

Not long after that, another entered, although it could have been the same man. He knocked on the stall door and Julian played the tape again but, fretting that the man would recognize it as a recording, added some impromptu vocalizations. The man walked to the end of the room but Julian did not hear him leave. Julian sat there holding his breath, wondering what was going on. Maybe the man had left and he just hadn’t heard the door.

He stood, placed his book carefully on the shelf and tried to see through the slit in the stall. A shadow near the door could have been caused by someone standing nearby but he wasn’t certain. Down on all fours, he peered under the stall and saw a rather large, angry-looking, young man shifting his weight impatiently from one foot to the other. Julian’s glasses fell from his face. The young man stared at him in disbelief. Julian retrieved his glasses, stood, unfastened his pants and resituated himself on the toilet. He heard a grunt of disgust from the young man and the satisfying sound of the door opening. Julian turned his recording back on and sang tunelessly in contented accompaniment. He had found a place of his own.

Apple Pies

Monday, January 1st, 2007

“Apple pies! Apple pies!” she repeated to herself. “That man and his apple pies will be the death of me.” Tears came unbidden and she dropped the wooden spoon into the apple filling, her eyes swelling with the frustration of life.

Elizabeth was dying. She knew she had very little time left. It had become clear to her when Tom, her husband, had been institutionalized for Alzheimer’s. For the first time she could remember, she had paid attention to her own body and it told her she was dying. The doctors merely confirmed it.

The decision of the family, including her, to put him in a place where he could get constant care was the hardest decision of her life. Very simply, nothing else compared. She looked around the kitchen and saw all the protective measures, measures used to protect toddlers from themselves that she had installed to protect her husband from himself, from the world around him. The years had shown how much he needed and how little was left in her.

She thought back to the first apple pie she had made for him, back to the beginning of their marriage some fifty years prior. Once a week, every week for those fifty years except when she gave birth to their children, Tom, Jr., Sarah, Elise and Joe, she would bake him a fruit pie. Four little ones hanging on her, sickness, anger, it didn’t matter and she always had done what she could to make sure that Tom was taken care of.

Their life had been one of hard work and harmony. “Even when the singin’ ain’t so good, the harmony’s there.” Tom used to say. She thought of him and the tears would not stop. Children of the depression, Tom and Elizabeth worked hard and saved everything they could. As a result, they found themselves with enough money to give their children good educations and a kind hand when the children’s plans needed some help. But now, all the money in the world, all the planning, all the hard work couldn’t bring her Tom back to her.

“Du meine selle, du meine hertz.” She started to sing to herself, her voice clouded with emotion and years. “You are my soul, you are my heart.” Tom would sing that to her when the world overwhelmed her. He seemed to know exactly the right time to croon the Schumann in his dusky baritone. He cooed to her over and over that they were inseparable. Even though a part of her felt abandoned by him as he gradually lost all sense of her and then himself, she believed him. They were inseparable; even death couldn’t tear them apart.

She wiped her eyes with her apron and sat numbly at the kitchen table. She had prepared nine pies and wanted to make another six. She wanted to freeze them unbaked for the time when she was too sick to prepare fresh ones for him. She wanted to have something her children could take to him each week so that at least that physical link between the two of them wouldn’t break. She wanted life, she wanted death. She wanted time, she wanted peace. She wanted her Tom.