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A Collection of My Original Short Fiction

Original short literary fiction, including satire, remains one of the writing genres I keep in my literary toolkit.

Nightmare

Nightmare

Krystal's Dark Nights

My short story, "Krystal’s Dark Nights," is based on my original poem, "A Terrible Fish":

A Terrible Fish

"In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman
Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish."

—Sylvia Plath's "Mirror"

The nightmare repeats itself:

A daughter clamped tight to each foot
Pulling her down under
The brute waters of the dark, deep lake —
She gasps — imagines she's drowning

While her husband watching on the levy
Wrings his hands, faints in the heavy fog.
A terrible fish looms under her nose;
She smells blood dripping

From a dozen hooks dangling
From his mouth.
His eyeballs slide out easy
As the drawer of a cash register.

Each eye-socket a window
To her own soul — $ bills
With little jackpots on them
Jump up and dance like clowns

Poking out their tongues,
Flapping campaign signs
With hammers, sickles, swastikas —
She believes - ¡Sí se puede!

Morning shivers her awake again,
Stumbling to the bathroom
Where the mirror flashes
In her face that same terrible fish

That has been catching her dreams
And throwing them back
As she chases each $,
Never quite able to grasp enough.

Krystal's Dark Nights

The nightmares had started attacking Krystal Dickson again, robbing her of sleep, rendering her so listless, so scatter-brained that she had mislaid the files for the divorce proceedings of an important client.

"We are the ones we've been waiting for." — Barack Hussein Obama

The nightmares had started attacking Krystal Dickson again, robbing her of sleep, rendering her so listless, so scatter-brained that she had mislaid the files for the divorce proceedings of an important client. Now she had to call that client and ask her to reschedule an appointment to recapture the information. Her associates in the firm of Stegall, Porter, Marsch, Rictoff, and Davis, the most prominent law firm in Richmond, Indiana, were like family to Krystal so they once again cut the blundering legal eagle some slack, as she so often seemed distracted. Everyone surmised that Krystal was out her element as a lawyer, but they felt sorry for her, and once in a blue moon Krystal actually pulled her weight for a few months, and more importantly Krystal provided the face of diversity. Krystal couldn’t count the times she feared she would lose her job, yet every pay check seemed to evaporate before she could register that she actually was paid.

Krystal’s husband, Dr. Jamal Kreedmont, had nightmares of his own. His own heart was failing, but he somehow managed to keep his practice a float. Kreedmont had given up on his family business, The Wilderness Trail Campground, just south of town in favor of doctoring; although he still lived on the land in the sprawling old ranch-style house he grew up in, kept his five ponds well manicured and stocked with walleyed pike, his loss of income from the campground caused Krystal to fret over losing those dollars. And Krystal made sure Jamal knew how she felt about losing dollars. Many times Krystal and her sister Bethany would gang up on the good doctor, castigating him for not making the most of his property. But Jamal would remind Bethany that perhaps if she had stayed in Indiana instead of traipsing off to Florida with Jamal’s brother Florence, they could have kept the business running. Jamal would trust only family to run his business, and since both of his brothers and three sisters had left the state, he closed it instead of trying to manage employees. Jamal never worried about money; Krystal was the center of his life, and it did pang him that she was so insecure about their financial situation. He promised her repeatedly that he would always take care of her, and she would never have to suffer.

Shasta and Keishlan, the couple’s two daughters, dropped out of high school to pursue a career in early retirement, fleshed out with adventures in crime. Despite their job hopping, the girls were perennially broke and ended up living in a make-shift, loft apartment above the barn, a cornfield away from their parents' house. They were bleeding the parents dry in daily hundred $ increments. Jamal and Krystal had enjoyed stellar reputations in town until Shasta and Keishlan started their reign of terror: shop-lifting, brawling in restaurants, bullying fire fighters, wrecking a car they had stolen for a joy ride and then assaulting the police officers who rescued them from the burning vehicle; then one night they were caught sexually gratifying each other in a restroom in Glen Miller Park. At ages 28 and 30, the Dickson girls—they both were assigned their mother’s last name—had trashed their own reputations and nearly ruined that of their parents.

As Ye Sow . . .

Lucky for the lawyer and doctor, most people were aware that sometimes kids just don’t reflect the values of their parents and would sympathize when someone would say to Krystal, “I overheard your daughters the other day, trying to open a saving account at the Second National Bank; they said they were from Canada and apparently had some Canadian IDs.” To which Krystal would apologize profusely, explain a bit about her plight, thus gaining the empathy and sympathy of another Richmondite. Continually, the behavior of those girls caused a lot of grief for Krystal and Jamal. Krystal experienced nightmares, and Jamal developed a heart condition. But things hummed along for a few years, and then Shasta and Keishlan started hatching a plan: they reasoned that if they could get that 350 acres of land on which the former Wilderness Trail Campground once flourished, they could sell it and live big time. They knew that the property would go to their mom if their dad died first. They also knew that it was likely he would die first, being twenty years older and suffering a heart condition. They also knew that they could manipulate Krystal and ultimately get anything they wanted from her. So the first part of the plan: Dad has to go.

The Dickson girls knew that their dad was crazy about their mom, so they reasoned the best way to kill off Dad is to stick it to Mom somehow. They put their heads together and came up with love letters written to Mom from one of her associates at the law firm. They told Dad that they had something to talk to him about, and they showed him the letters. He read them and knew immediately that the girls had written them. He said to them, “You two must be the sickest, dumbest creatures to ever live,” then turned and walked away. "Goddam him!" they screeched and proceeded to plan B. They would hire Ziggy, a druggy friend who would do anything for a brick or two of crack, to break into the house, hold Mom at gunpoint and then pistol whip Dad. Dad’s bum ticker would do the rest. So the plan went down, but Pop didn’t. Krystal and Jamal huddled closer than ever, started revealing old secrets to each other in order to cleanse their souls, so they could fuse even closer. They realized while staring down the barrel of Ziggy’s gun and his crack-crazed buddy Toody, that life is precarious, better cling to the good and true while you can.

Then Krystal admitted that she had been “seeing" Mel Frenchman, a lawyer who practiced in Washington, D. C. She would “see" him only two or three times a year when she had a conference in the capital to learn about all the new regulations affecting law firms. Jamal stood opened mouthed for a long moment; his blood began to boil, he remembered the “love letters” he accused his daughters of writing—no, he still knew they had written them; they weren’t intelligent enough to have suspected Krystal’s real “affair.” In an instant, all the closeness, all the love Jamal had nourished in his heart for Krystal turned to a bitter bile of hatred. He grabbed his 15 pound bowling trophy, raised it high and came down hard on Krystal’s head; she fell dead—her back had been turned to Jamal; thus she did not know what hit her.

Stuttering, jabbering, wildly flinging his arms about, Jamal finally calmed enough to ask himself, what do I do now? Well, the only thing possible: bury the body. He dragged the corpse out beyond his vegetable garden into the middle of his big cornfield, retrieved a shovel from the shed and dug as deep as he could. After shoving Krystal’s lifeless form into the hole, he began to refill it. Now all is good, he kept thinking: yes, he had fixed it. He would simply tell whoever might ask that Krystal had run away. Sure, she couldn’t take living with those two black holes of daughters, so she just ran away. But on his way back to the shed carrying the shovel, Jamal keeled over and died.

Now lest gentle reader think those black holes had finally triumphed, not so fast. When Dr. Kreedmont didn’t show up for work, his office assistant sent the authorities out to his estate. Of course, they figured out in record time what had gone down. And after proper funerals, the Dickson girls seemed to be in the catbird seat, until the wills were read. With Krystal preceding him in death, Jamal’s property went to a large recreational corporation that promptly evicted the Dickson girls. After several failed attempts to sue, they gave up. Last anyone around Richmond ever saw of them, they were hitchhiking to San Francisco. But a newspaper report in Wyoming might have offered the last bit of information on the whereabouts of the girls: the headline read, "Two Nude Female Bodies Found Near Jackson Hole." The report read in part: "Gunshot wounds to the back of each head seem to suggest an execution style killing. Thus far the bodies remain unidentified.” Maybe it was Shasta and Keishlan, or maybe not. As some wise philosopher has said, karma is a bitch. So whatever they deserve . . . .

Slippery Slope

Slippery Slope

The Thin Woman

Lenore’s most dreaded chore was picking up pop bottles. She had to tote a heavy pop crate while collecting the pop bottles from around the ponds. She trembled in fear while negotiating the sloping side of the ponds because she could not swim . . .

Lenore's Dreaded Chore

Lenore Ellen Thompson spent her childhood at end of a long dirt road, where her family owned and operated pay fishing lakes—Thompson’s Ponds, later renamed Heavenly Lakes. The fellows who came fishing would get mighty thirsty, so the Thompson's sold soda pop and other snacks in their concession stand that they nicknamed "The Shanty." Back then in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the pop was sold in 12 ounce returnable bottles, but the fishers would not bring back their bottles to "The Shanty," instead they simply threw them on the ground around the ponds, and Lenore would have to go out and gather them up, so they could return them to the Pop Man, who came every Saturday to deliver fresh bottles of pop from his big pop truck.

To gather up the pop bottles, Lenore would carry a pop crate that held about 20 or so bottles. She was always fearful when negotiating the sloping side of the ponds because she could not swim, and her inability to swim accounted for the reason that she feared picking up bottles on the sloping sides of the lakes. Sometimes she would pick them up around the level sides and just not bother with the sloping side, but when she did that, her father would tell her she was lazy for not finishing her task, so to avoid being upbraided by her father, she determined to finish her task regardless of her safety.

After a weekend of fairly heavy business, the Monday, June 17, 1957, at approximately 9 a.m., Lenore was hauling the pop crate along the sloping side of the Big Pond, as the family referred to the bigger pond back then; the other one was the Little Pond, naturally. It had rained the night before and the ground was slippery with mud. There was only one person fishing in the lake, a very thin woman who was casting her line out and reeling in and casting out and reeling in, more as if she were practicing than fishing.

As Lenore stepped down and reached out to retrieve a bottle from near the edge of the water, she slipped and went tumbling into the water. The pop crate tumbled in after her hitting her on the leg. She panicked, she could not feel the bottom of the lake under her feet, so she panicked some more. Suddenly, her lungs felt as though they were going to burst. All at once, she realized that she was breathing under water, and she was shocked! She wondered how she would tell her mom and dad that she could breath under water.

A Bizarre Thing Happened

But then a most bizarre thing happened. She lunged up out of the water, hovered over it, and then looked around for what to do next. She saw the woman, who was sitting in an odd position, cross-legged, on the hard ground, not moving, just staring off into space. It seemed that Lenore saw the woman open her brain and ask Lenore to enter it. She did what the thin woman requested, and then after what must have been only seconds, Lenore realized that she no longer had the body of an eleven-year-old, but that of a woman who must have been in her thirties.

Lenore got up and walked into a clump of trees up the sloping side of the pond. She sat down to decide what to do. She closed her eyes and began to pray. Although she had never really prayed before, she couldn’t think of anything else to do, so she prayed for God or Someone or Something to tell her what to do. She knew she could not live as this woman—Lenore was still eleven-year-old. What could she do?

Lenore was guided to think hard about what she used to look like, and so she did that thinking for several minutes as hard as she could. Slowly, she could feel her body changing. She looked down at the hands; they were her hands. The legs were her legs, and the arms her arms. She wondered if the face was her face, so she went down to the water's edge and looked in and saw that, indeed, it was the face of eleven-year-old Lenore Ellen Thompson. And she saw something that stunned her more than she had ever been stunned before: she saw her former body in the water. She was starting to panic again—this time not because of not being able to swim, because she knew that if she fell into the water now, she would be able to swim.

What if They Find the Body?

Lenore tried to figure what she would do when people find that body. Everybody knows that she is not twins. She searched for a long tree branch and shoved the body deeper into the water. Luckily, it finally disappeared so no one could see it from the bank, and she reasoned that because she was very much alive, no one would ever bother to look.

Lenore sat for a few moments trying to calm herself and figure what to do next. She had been gone for what seemed a long time, and she knew her mother would begin to worry if she didn't get back to the house soon. Then it hit her that she had that woman's clothes on. They were so tight that she could barely breathe. The woman, whose body she now inhabited, had been a very thin woman, and Lenore was a rather chubby girl. And she realized that her mother would know that those clothes were not Lenore's shorts and top. She had to get into the house without her mother seeing her and get some of her own clothes.

So she sneaked up the hillside and waited until her mother came outside. Fortunately, her mother came out and went to the garden to pull weeds. Lenore ran as fast as she could, bounded into the house, changed her clothes, bundled up the thin woman's clothes and then started to panic again. What could she do with those clothes? Her mother would know that these were not hers. She looked out the window and saw that her mother had moved to the very far end of the garden, and thus could not see Lenore if she went outside. Lenore thought at first that she could burn the clothes in a trash barrel drum that they were using to burn trash. But then she would have to account to for the fire.

The trash barrel was just a few yards away from their outdoor john, (they still had no indoor plumbing back then), and she got the idea to just toss them in the john, and that's what she did. It didn't occur to her that anyone would look down into the excrement hard enough to recognize a pair of shorts and a blouse. But later that night, her father started complaining about the fishermen using their private toilet. He said somebody had put some clothes down in it. That's all though. He and Lenore's mother just thought that some fisherman had tossed those clothes down there. Luck was on Lenore's side again.

Who Was That Woman?

Things settled down for Lenore Ellen Thompson over the next few days, months, years—at times, she wondered if that body would ever be discovered. But what bothered her most was, who was that woman who gave up her body for Lenore? Every time Lenore would hear of a woman missing, she wondered if it were that thin woman until she'd find out some fact that made it impossible; for example, a woman in Eaton, Ohio, went missing, but they found her body later in Dayton in a hotel room, where she had committed suicide. Over the years, this fear finally faded.

After earning her culinary certificate in Cooking Arts at the Culinary Institute in Rhode Island, Lenore married the chef Christopher Evanston, and they worked together in vegetarian restaurants in Chicago, Miami, and finally Encinitas, where they settled down to raise their two sons, Eliot and William.

In her early thirties, Lenore encountered the teachings of Vedanta from which she learned some astounding concepts which gave her great comfort—like reincarnation and karma and how each human being is responsible for his/her own salvation. According to those teachings, if we have led a life that has caused us great pain, we can change it, and follow a pathway that leads us to happiness in the future, and the heart of these teaching is meditation, which calms the body and mind, allowing the soul to find itself.

Discovering that each human body has a soul was a defining moment in the life of Lenore Ellen Thompson because she could now understand that it was her soul that left that body that day and entered the body of the thin woman. Who was the thin woman? Lenore still did not know, but she thought that the woman was just an astral being used by the Divine Creator to allow Lenore to continue to live out her life and to give her an experience base that would allow her to identify with the teachings of Vedanta—no one else in her family ever had such an experience base. No one ever turned up missing who fit the thin woman's description. And no one had bought a ticket to fish that morning that Lenore drowned while picking up pop bottles. No one saw the thin woman except Lenore.

Strange Teachings

Vedanta explains that vagrant souls exist and try to enter bodies of people who allow their minds to remain blank. At some point during Lenore's death state, she became something like a vagrant soul, and the thin woman was waiting for her to take over her body. Lenore comforted herself knowing that the thin woman invited her to do that; Lenore did not merely abscond with the woman's physical encasement. Lenore didn't even know how she did it. It was as if forces were moving her and connecting her without much of her awareness. Lenore was guided to place her attention between her eyes and let the forces do the rest.

Vedanta also explains that intense prayer can change the physical body. And at the time of her death and entry into that woman's body, Lenore prayed with an intensity that she had never before or after experienced.

The Thin Woman Revisits

Despite her bizarre drowning death and rebirth, Lenore lived a fairly ordinary life. She was content in her marriage, motherhood, and loved working with her husband cooking in vegetarian restaurants. Both sons entered monastic life in the ashrams of Paramahansa Yogananda, and Lenore whole-heartedly approved of her sons' life choices.

Lenore's soul left its body with finality June 17, 2057, at 9:00 a.m.—exactly one hundred years after the bizarre drowning. Both sons were at her side as she slipped out of her physical encasement. Her belovèd husband had passed only days before.

As she was entering the astral realm, Lenore was permitted a brief visitation with her belovèd husband and with several friends from her meditation group. Then she saw a brilliant light that slowly formed itself into the image of the thin woman, who had offered Lenore her body that day by the Big Pond. The thin woman then welcomed Lenore's soul to the astral world, where she continues on her journey back to the Infinite.

Moving Through Dark Hall Ways

What will happen to Sharm? Is she doomed? Where is she going, walking these dark hall ways?

Introduction

In this bizarre tale, Sharm Wilson takes you on a bizarre journey, a slice of her life. She speaks her mind but seems to be trying to tell it like it is. Her off the wall language about her off the wall experience begs the questions: What will happen to Sharm? Is she doomed? Where is she going, walking these dark hall ways?

The story, like most pieces of fiction that writers write, stems from an incident in my own life, but it is greatly—and I emphasize "greatly"—embellished. And I am eternally grateful for that. Now just read the story and see what I mean!

Sharm Wilson Goes, "Moving Through Dark Hall Ways"

Sharm was sleepwalking again. Oh, forget about it, I’m Sharm, and I’m not going to pretend again. I’m going to tell this story as myself. So if you don’t like it, that’s ok by me. Just don’t read it. But ask yourself this, would a fakity fake bother to write all those words without some meaning. Hecky darn, don’t we all yearn for meaning? I just want to tell a little story here: so read or don’t. It’s totally up to you. I’ll try to keep it as clean as possible.

I never intended for this to happen, but it did, and I wish so much that I could go back and make all the bad stuff go away, but then who don’t? Right?

At the Y

I was walking to my room at the Y, down the dark hall way. I shoved my key into the lock, opened the door, and went inside. I was so tired after a full day’s work at the salmon factory. (Oh please don’t expect me to tell you which salmon factory. If they knew that someone like me had been working there, they would probably arrest me.)

Anyway, I sat down on my bed and began to think about what I should do the rest of the evening. I decided to light up a joint to me all relaxed. I knew pot was not allowed in the fine establishment, so I also lit an incense and a tobacco ciggy and went on with my tokes. Just as I was getting a good buzz, a knock comes at the door.

I moved the incense closer to the door, picked up my tobacco ciggy, tried to look as straight—meaning non-stoned—as I could, and then opened the door.

“Hello, Ms Wilson,” a matronly looking gal addressed me. “How are you this evening?”

“I'm ok,” I managed to spout out and then she laid it on me. "There have been complaints from other residents. Are you smoking marijuana in your room?" Feeling a little strained, I took a big puff off the ciggy and then announced, "Oh, no! I’m just smoking my regular Marlboros. I burn incense when I smoke because I like the smell of sandalwood better than tobacco. Is that a problem, ma’am?”

“Oh, no! You're allow to smoke in your room, for now. After September, I’m afraid even smoking cigarettes will not be allowed. So you might want to find a new residence, if you continue to smoke after September,” she explained, all the while seeming to buy that I was only smoking tobacco and not wacky tobacky.

“Well, thanks for letting me know. You know, I’ve been meaning to quit anyway. So maybe this is just another reason to do that.” She gave me a knowing look, an understanding look, and left.

It wasn’t five minutes later that another knock came at my door, and it was the cops, who pushed their way inside, found the four pounds of pot, and arrested me for drug dealing.

Tarnation, I had never dealt in drugs. Sometimes I had a lot of pot for personal use. They could never prove that I was a dealer so they had to let me go. But by that time, I had no job, no place to live, and so here I was walking down another dark hallway to another room in a dump called the Cozy Inn.

But I considered myself lucky. I had my freedom. I had the opportunity to look for work. And so when I found a job at the Cozy Dinner, I decided to turn over a new leaf, keep on the straight and narrow (I know that’s a cliché), and keep out of trouble.

Along Came Bruce

Then Bruce came along. He was kind of cute, seemed to have lots of dough, and he started telling me stories about Vietnam. One time he and couple of buddies were captured and taken to a place where they were interrogated. He thought they were going to become POWs, but that night he and the other two guys decided to break out of the little hut they are held in. They succeeded, made it back to their unit, and lived happily every after—they lived to be discharged from the Army with all their body parts in tact.

One night Bruce and I had just made out in the back seat of his station wagon down on River Road. He was great lover—oh the stories I could make up, I mean tell, about his loving making! But then as we were getting our clothes back on, a big bang came down hard on the top of the car.

“Get out of there! You creeps! Step out of the vehicle,” we could see the shape of a very large man, banging on the top of the vehicle, while he seemed to be encircling it, running fast.

Bruce opened the back hatch and yelled, “What the hell do you want? Who are you?”

The man suddenly was upon Bruce beating him with a huge flashlight. He kept beating and beating until Bruce lay a crumbled mass of flesh and bone, unrecognizable. Then the man spotted me. He grabbed like I was a sack of flour and headed for his own vehicle, where he dumped me inside on the passenger side and then entered the driver’s side.

I was so scared. I knew this was it. The day I would leave this world. The day I would be killed like an insect. I was shaking but suddenly I became very calm because I knew nothing mattered anymore. I was dead. And nothing mattered anymore. What happened next is nothing short of bizarre, miraculous, out of this world,—oh crap, you decide!

Along Came Gerrod

“My name is Gerrod Slater,” Bruce’s killer started telling me about himself. “I’ve been looking for that son of bitch for thirteen years. He killed my mother and sister while my father was serving in Vietnam. His name is not Bruce Slater; his name is Anton Norman. He would have killed you too, I’m damned sure of it.”

“How do you know all this?” I asked this new acquaintance.

“Like I said, I’ve been on his trail for 13 long, goddamned years. I need to thank you for slowing him down. When he started making the moves on you, he kind of slipped. He stayed in the town a little too long. And I was able to follow him, check out his history, and then when I saw him on you pretty regular, I was able to catch him.”

Gerrod started his car and peeled out, leaving Bruce/Anton, leaving the night behind. The last night I would spend with Bruce. My mind was a chaos of images: but maybe I won’t die, but what do I do next?

Gerrod drove for several miles and then asked me, “Where do you want to go?”

“Oh, I’m staying at the Cozy Inn, next to the Cozy Dinner, where I work,” I said.

“Yeah, I knew where you worked, wasn’t sure where you stayed, though, but I know Anton lives in Darrtown with his wife and three kids. Wait, did I say, lives — I mean lived,” chuckled Gerrod.

“What are you going to do? How do you plan to get away with murdering Bruce?” I asked Gerrod.

“Well, you know, I hadn’t planned that far,” he said, “My only plan for the past 13 years has been to catch him and kill him. I guess all that planning took up my mind and I have no clue what to do next.”

“Won't the cops be coming for you?” I asked. “If they come for me, what do you want me to tell them?”

“Look,” he said, giving a look that scared the crap out of me, “I don’t care what you tell anybody. I don’t care if the cops come for me. That’s just another story, another day. You get it. I reached a goal tonight that nobody can ever take away. Look, I’m free. You see, I could kill you too, and by all rights, I should, you are the only person on the planet who can put me at the scene of that scumbag's death.”

I Ain't No Rat

“Oh, yes, I see your point,” I said, as I started to exist the car. “I see I’ve asked too many questions. I hope you have a good life, whatever happens. Glad I could help you catch Bruce. Good-bye,” I said as I started to leave.

“Hey, wait!” Oh, God, he’s finally come to his senses, he’s going to kill me too.

“What?” I asked.

“Look, you seem like a nice young lady. Don’t go messing with the likes of Anton Norman again. You got your whole life ahead of you. Make something out of yourself,” advice from a guy who just slaughtered a fellow human being; still it made of lot of sense.

That all happened five or so years ago. What have I done since? I’ve made up my mind to do as little as possible. All I really want is to live a life that doesn’t have my heart in my throat from time to time. Can you dig it?

I didn’t rat Gerrod out. Why should I? Just more crap that I’d have to suffer. I want to be as far away from law enforcement as possible, unless I’m being assaulted, robbed, or something. But then that’s why I keep a very low profile now. Haven’t found the perfect answer though, and if you have a suggestion, I’d like to hear it.

Betty Sue’s Boutique

Betty Sue Martin and Martha Westland were friends all during high school, after they met as freshman enrolled in the Commercial Curriculum Track at Centerville High School. Betty resided on Main Street above the Medix Drug Store; her mother Sally worked as a waitress at the Big Boy drive-in restaurant about half-way between Centerville and Richmond.

Betty Sue's dad had vanished from Sally’s life when Betty Sue was only five. Sally's time was taken up mostly with her work, with bowling, and bars rounding out her days.

Martha was fascinated by Sally, who would lean back, laugh, and retort, "You girls better make sure you get yourselves a goddamned fine education, so you don't have to settle for waiting on sick dicks in cars. But still, Marti, don’t I bitch a lot, but I got me three B's to take care of, don’t I? My sweet Betty Sue, my kickass bowling, and those smoky, fun-ass bars. I've had a damn good whale of a time for a dumb bitch that let her man scurry off. Damn Sam, I'm still partying hearty, ain't I?" And she'd light up her long Salem, lean back, and exhale the smoke as if she were on top of her game.

Martha was enthralled by Betty Sue's life with such a colorful, off-the-charts mother. Martha grew up on a farm just outside the city limits; her mother Harriet always maintained a perfect house, created perfect pies for her equally perfect husband Christopher and their four hard-working sons, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Martha, when saying her brothers names always reported, "Matt and John, Luke and Mark"; she used that ploy since the time her third grade class bursted out on laughter after she announced the usual Biblical order.

Strangely enough, Martha’s folks did not attend church regularly, nor were they especially religious, even though their names appeared among membership is the First Christian Church of Abington. Also they had burial plots bought in the cemetery next to the church, with special instructions for the pastor of that church.

Chris and Harriet had no interest in having a "good time"; they focused on the belief that life is filled with work and duty. When the Centerville High School administration adopted a new curriculum plan for the school, including six new courses of study, Chris and Harriet made sure that their sons would be enrolled in the Agriculture Track while their daughter would study in the Commercial Track. Boys and girls must be educated for their future roles in life, after all.

Harriet had learned some typing, shorthand, and bookkeeping at her high school in Hazard, Kentucky, and she always felt blessed that she had been advised to take those courses. They had proved so useful in her quest to serve as a proper wife to their county's most crucial farmer. Big agribusiness was waxing while the small farm was waning, and the Westlands were there to guide and take advantage of this state of affairs.

After acquiring her driver’s license and luckily after her best aunt gave her a car for her seventeenth birthday, Martha remained at home on the farm as little as she could. Nonetheless, she suffered the disapproval of Dad and Mom and the four gospels, but every time they scolded her about her obligation to the farm, she would just continue to remain out later and later.

Martha passed most of those late nights with Betty Sue because Betty Sue talked so vehemently about realizing a dream, and Martha was curious about how that dream would be realized.

Martha also had a vague dream. She just was not quite sure what it was. So she figured she would watch Betty Sue to see what would transpire. Here is what transpired:

Minnie's Boutique

Minnie Hazelaker was the proprietor of a little clothing store called "Minnie's Boutique." The top clique at Centerville High shopped there, and Betty Sue craved to be a part of that in-crowd. But on her slim funds, Betty Sue could not buy anything at Minnie’s Boutique. Minnie had been noticing how Betty Sue was coming and browsing a lot but never buying anything.

Then the C-ville Spring Sock Hop was fast approaching, and Betty Sue had had the good fortune to be invited to the dance by John Bluefield, a member of the male in-crowd. She could not believe how lucky she was. She kept whining to Martha that she had nothing decent to wear on such a momentous occasion.

She insisted that she had to acquire that light sea foam chiffon that dressed the mannequin in Minnie's display window. She had begged her mom to cough up a few bucks against her allowance, but Sally could let loose only a measly four dollars, meaning Betty Sue's total equally an inadequate 15 dollars. The dress sold for a whopping forty-seven ninety-nine!

Looking around at the shop about two weeks prior to the dance, Betty Sue stumbled upon a different dress that cost sixty-seven dollars. She took it off the rack, with the thought that this one might work better, even though it did not please as much as the one on the mannequin. Still it would undeniably be easier!

Betty Sue observes Minnie who is working at the cash register, two or three customers are looking at handkerchiefs and belts; and of course, someone is asking Minnie about some item.

Minnie is so well occupied that she will not notice that Betty Sue has dashed with the dress into the dressing room, put on the dress, tucked it into her pants, and made her getaway. Or that is what Betty Sue had thought would be the case. However, as her feet hit the sidewalk, she senses a rushing up to her from behind:

"Excuse me, miss, excuse me, dear, would you please step back into my shop with me a moment. I have an item that I believe is yours," Minnie explained.

"Oh, no, I didn’t leave anything in your store. I know I didn’t . . . I know I didn’t! " Betty Sue’s nerves were showing. She felt like running. But she had no reason to believe Minnie suspected her of anything.

Then she thought: "Maybe I’m wrong, maybe I did leave something; better to cooperate and not look suspicious." She then follows Minnie back into the shop. Inside the store, Minnie had Betty Sue wait for her by the cash register, on a stool right behind the counter.

Minnie walks over to the remaining browsing customers and asks them to leave. After the last one had departed the store, Minnie locks the door and pulls down the shades, and before she could think, Betty Sue finds that little old Minnie Hazelaker is unbuttoning her blouse and her pants, leaving the purloined dress exposed. Minnie takes a step back and peers at Betty Sue and speaks:

"Now, now, my dear. What is this? What can we do to make this situation right?"

That was twenty-seven years ago. Betty Sue made the situation right by serving as Minnie’s employee. Betty Sue promised Minnie that she would work an entire year for free, if Minnie would not press charges against Betty Sue or reveal the theft to Sally.

Minnie had Betty Sue sign a contractual agreement stipulating that if Betty Sue skipped even a day’s work without a good cause, Minnie would both tell Sally and press charges. Betty Sue turned into such a fine employee that Minnie recorded it into her last will and testament that Betty Sue would become sole proprietor of the boutique after Minnie’s death.

After she had inherited the shop, Betty Sue revealed to her mother all the information about her shop-lifting attempt. Martha happened to be present as Betty Sue confessed her crime to her mother:

“Mom, you’ll never know how sorry I am for what I tried to do. I now know how wrong it was, but at that time it seemed like a good idea.” Sally reclined against the back of her blue easy chair, blew out smoke from her long Salem as if she was at the top of the world, and in her relaxed, rustic philosophy, expounded, “Well, who says crime doesn’t pay?”

So how did Martha pass those last twenty-seven years? Right after graduating from C-ville High, Martha became a cop. Since it was only after becoming the proud owner of Minnie’s Boutique that Betty Sue finally confessed her crime to her mom and to Martha, the statute of limitations had long expired on the petty theft. But all in all, Betty Sue had more than redeemed herself in the eyes of Martha, her cop friend, and Sally, her colorful mother.

Dalmatian

Dalmatian

Dedalus

They had kids. Their kids were their dogs. Their kids may be strange; they had never asked for a dog.

"To live, to err, to fall, to triumph, to recreate life out of life!" —James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

At 4 a.m.

Lane Rushington rolled out of bed at four a.m. as usual, heated her new favorite morning drink, orange juice, sewed a patch on her fast-becoming-threadbare jeans, before she began writing. She heated her juice, because she had quit coffee but still craved something hot before breakfast. She could have drunk herbal beverages, as Jane Ralston had recommended, but she didn't like those beverages, so she stayed with what she liked—orange juice, and it was working out quite nicely. It kept her from bouncing back into the caffeine habit. It had worked for a year. So what if the heat destroyed the vitamin C—what did caffeine ever do for her but make her nervous and forgetful and cause her heart to beat funny? At least, she always blamed the caffeine for making her heart beat funny—sort of skip a beat and flutter once in a while. So what? As long as it helped her stay off coffee.

About 6:15 a.m.

About six fifteen right as she was popping bread into the toaster, the phone rang. It was Jane. She was the best friend Lane had in the English department, a college instructor like Lane, who wanted to write great novels that would become best-sellers. Of course, they always complained that great novels do not become best-sellers, but they could hope, couldn't they? They had published short stories in literary journals. Jane had even sold one to Redbook, but that was ten years before Lane met her. They both blamed teaching for their slow progress in their writing careers. They had that complaint in common, but actually little else. It's the little else that caused Lane to feel not quite the camaraderie with Jane that she might have liked. And except for their riming names, they found little else to joke about.

Lane thought that Jane acted like a victim of a great conspiracy. Jane insisted that her writing was a great calling that would profit mankind—womankind, she always said, that is, if it were ever recognized for its true worth. She disparaged anything new—including the one new thing that could aid her the most in her writing career, the computer. When Lane got her computer, she didn't tell Jane for three months. They weren't close on a personal basis. They never visited each other's homes. Lane had a husband. Jane had a husband. But they had never met each other's husband.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

Jane's Surprise

So that morning, when Jane called, Lane was surprised.

"Hi, where have you been? I haven't seen you yet this semester. How's everything?" Lane tried to sound friendly despite the surprise.

"Lane, dear, I need to ask you a big favor and I'm somewhat overcome by, oh, a bit of shyness. I don't want to take advantage of our quiet friendship," Jane prefaced her request.

"Oh, well, gee, what is it? I'll do whatever I can," she tried to sound willing but not too committed so that she could back out if the favor was too distasteful.

"Jason has to go to Hawaii for a literary convention—a Joyce symposium, and I'm going with him," Jane explained, sounding somewhat humble at first. "Hawaii, can you imagine what that will do for my repertoire of place names? I've longed to cross the Pacific, but the opportunity has thus far eluded me. And Jason is ecstatic that his paper on Joyce was accepted. There are so few opportunities to present the work—the seminal work—Jason is doing on Joyce. We both feel that this trip is much more than the ordinary tourist on holiday. We both feel that this is the opportunity to grow and contribute."

"Sure, you're right, what a great chance," Lane said.

One Concern

"There is one concern, and that's why I'm calling you. We have a dog, a Dalmatian named Dedalus, and he's in great need of some loving care while we are gone. We just don't have the heart to board him. I remember your telling me about a Dalmatian you had when you were growing up, and I recalled the love in your voice as you spoke of him. And when this concern over Dedi arose I thought of you immediately and hoped so much that you could keep him for us. Oh, I do hope you do this, and we will pay you more than the boarding kennel charges. We are just so concerned that our baby gets the best of care. We know that he will miss us terribly."

"Oh, well, gosh, I haven't had a dog since Duke—he was a great dog, and I've always thought that if I ever had another dog, it would be a Dalmatian like Duke."

Lane was stalling, unsure about this venture. Keeping a dog. What would Rob think? They'd never thought about having a dog. Of course not. They had kids. Their kids were their dogs. Their kids may be strange; they had never asked for a dog. They only wanted turtles and mice. Why did their kids never ask for a dog? All kids want dogs. But their kids were twenty-three and twenty-five now. Come to think of it, they both had dogs now. Maybe they should have a dog—she and Rob. Well, if she kept Jane's dog, they could get a taste of dog ownership. Who knows, maybe it would be an opportunity for them to grow and contribute.

"Well, I just might do it, but I'd better check with Rob first to make sure he doesn't mind or have some plans that would make it impossible. How soon do you need us as dog-sitters?"

Leaving Next Week

"We leave early next week, let's see, the 3rd of October and we'll arrive back the 13th. We'd like to bring him over perhaps the 1st—just in case it doesn't work out, and we have to make other arrangements."

"Well, I'll talk to Rob about it and let you know tonight. I get home around 5:30, and I could call you then, if that's OK," replied Lane.

"That will be superb, I'll be expecting your call around 5:30.”

Later that morning, before Rob left for the hospital, Lane brought up the topic of dog-sitting. After explaining who Jane was, and what she and her husband would be doing in Hawaii, she emphasized their reason for asking her to be in charge of their dog. He thought for a moment and said he had been thinking about getting a dog. And that it was OK with him. But he added that he thought she would get attached to the animal and not want to give him up, and that she would probably be hoping they never came back. She told him that was just silly, and besides they could get their own dog if they really liked having one around.

No Survivors

Lane called Jane and told her that they would be glad to keep Dedalus. Jane was relieved and couldn't thank her enough.

Jane and Jason brought Dedalus to Lane's house as planned on the first of October. Dedalus and Lane fell immediately in love. He followed her everywhere around the house that evening. He ate blackberries from her hand, and Jane and Jason were amazed; they claimed that he ate only the finest cuts of prime steak from Lamphen's Butcher Shop. But the dog would became a vegetarian in Lane's house. Of course, she did not tell Jane and Jason that only vegetarian meals would be served to their dog. Surely, they would have reconsidered letting the animal stay with Lane. But they soon departed, and Dedalus did not grieve or act as if he much cared that they were gone.

On the last day that they were to enjoy each other's company, Lane got up that morning, as usual, heated her juice, shared some with her charge—she had been calling him Duke, feeling a little guilty, that maybe she and Duke/Dedi had grown too close—and just as she was sitting down to brush him, the phone rang. It was Martha Cruelling, chairman of the English department; Jason and Jane had left careful emergency instructions for contacting everyone who had anything to do with their trip, and Professor Cruelling was calling to tell Lane that the plane carrying Jason and Jane back to the mainland had crashed near Maui, leaving no survivors.

Van Gogh's "Autumn Landscape"

Van Gogh's "Autumn Landscape"

Gloria's Glee and Free

Gloria said bye-bye to summer and welcomed the fall season. Her pumpkin patch spilled out onto the yard, and while cups of hot chocolate were brewed up in her tiny kitchen, Esther was long gone. Esther is a different story, so don't expect much about her here. This is pretty much all Gloria! But a fly had just flown into the ointment: her big fat cousin Mabel was coming soon for a visit.

Getting Ready for Mabel

Too soon that visit. Gloria could not seem to get ready for Mabel. And she could not get Esther to come help her out. Her cousin—the big fat Mabel—raised mice for pet shops; Gloria has some real issues with that vocation, but hey, she didn't see Mabel often and so Gloria never ever broached the topic of raising mice to be gobbled up by snakes.

Running to town was hard for her now that she walked with a cane and her spectacles were drooping down her nose. Her ears had collapsed or something, and for some reason those glasses kept drooping. Gloria baked up a can of vanilla brownies but her pony Desmond bolted into the house and gobbled them up. And then dog Alfa ate the spinach casserole she planned to have for supper—or three suppers, now none.

Messy Life

Gloria's messy life was an example of complete order compared to her co-horts, that is, family and friends, but hey don't let me get ahead of myself here. This is about Gloria! Mabel though—what to do to get ready for her? Make up the bean bag chair and let her know she was welcome to sleep on it. Either that or get her a dump of a room at the flea bag hotel in town.

Gloria did not care. But she did care about her privacy, and she was sure Mabel would be nosing into her business. What business? Gloria had no business, Gloria kept telling herself. She didn't even bother with make-up anymore. Her bank account was so small that she was advised by the local bankers—all three of them—to close it before it ate up what little she had in monthly service charges. Gloria was relieved not to have a bank account, but she still had to cash her government checks. One local banker finally took pity on her and let her cash her pittance without a charge. She loved that banker for his indulgence and talked him up whenever she could.

Gloria basked in the private life. Esther did finally write, and she might be coming back because living with her twin in Arkansas wasn't really working out. Let the wise keep their stuff. Gloria just wanted to be left alone. A little garden in summer. Raking some leaves in fall. Shoveling some snow in winter, and watching the rain spring. That was paradise to Gloria.

The Visit

But that day finally arrived and so did Mabel. She hauled in her big rear and her big suitcase and started pelting Gloria with questions:

where's that Persian rug I gave you? don't you ever look in a mirror? do you still have that glutenous horse? what kind of dog would eat a whole casserole of spinach? why the hell do you plant so many peppers? dang, bell peppers, cayenne peppers, this pepper and that pepper? your tongue must be burned out raw by now? where's your picture of mom and dad you kept on the mantle? don't you have any Ding Dongs? don't you keep any Snickers Bars on hand? why don't you just admit it, you're too old to know the difference between good and bad candy? Halloween must be a real hoot around here, don't the kids mock you for giving them homemade cookies?

That's the gist of that went on for the whole three days Mabel was on the scene. Gloria's eyes would just glaze over with each question, snide remark, or innuendo.

A Question for Mabel

Then on the day Mabel was to leave, Gloria had a question for Mabel. Gloria waited until her cousin was standing on the porch ready to depart, waiting for somebody to pick her up to haul her to the bus station. Gloria had given her question a lot of thought; she had thought it to death in her head, imagining all the things that Mabel might say or do when she popped the question at her. But she had no idea what to expect, and so she finally decided she might just like being surprised by whatever Mabel did or said.

The ride was standing out by the mailbox. Mabel grabbed her suitcase and started her trudge out to the car; then she turned awkwardly to wave good-bye to Gloria, and then Gloria popped the question: "Hey, Mabel, did mama ever tell you that she thought you'd be a beauty queen by the age of 18?"

Mabel stopped, dropped, her suitcase, and yelled for her ride to "WAIT!"

Close by Gloria's face, Mabel goes: "What the hell did you say?"

Gloria goes: "I said, did you ever buy popcorn from a drugstore?"

Mabel goes: "No, that's not what you said. You said something about a drag queen. Now what was it again exactly?"

Gloria goes: "Do you need a hearing aid? I said no such crap. I asked you about Flancy your poodle. Does she still get worms in summertime?"

Mabel goes: "What the hell kind of question is that?"

Gloria goes: "Just wondering."

Mabel's ride is getting impatient, honks the horn. Mabel picks up her suitcase, makes a move toward her ride. Mumbles something Gloria couldn't quite make out. Gloria is fit to be tied. She's overcome with a glee that she hadn't felt since the time finally understood she would no long be having periods. Gloria couldn't leave well enough alone, so she yells: "I know about you and Filburt Hawkson, Mabe. You didn't fool anyone by saying he died in Vietnam. See ya next year, Mabe!"

Glee and Free

Mabel again drops her suitcase, dashes back into Gloria's face, and goes: "Okay, you old bitch. I've come here the last time. Flinging that Filbert Hawkson in my face. You can just forget about any more visits from me, and when I tell your brother what you said, I think you can expect some butt-kickin trouble."

Gloria goes: "Okay. Bye." Turns back into her house. It was so much easier than she thought it would be. She didn't worry about her brother any more, since he lost his other leg to diabetes. Gloria did wonder if Esther would be back soon. She'd have to start thinking up some questions for her. She was pretty sure she could think up some doozies.

Ernest Lawson's "Ice in the River"

Ernest Lawson's "Ice in the River"

Ice Chunks in the River

I watched the ice chunks flowing
Under Elsrod Bridge. I thought
About how cold they must be,
And then I suddenly swirled around,
And life was standing there
With a startled expression on its face. —Linda Sue Grimes

"I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again." —Oscar Wilde

Sometimes the arc of life bends a little too starkly. Take Helen Merton. That's me. Yes, I am going to tell you a fantastic tale. I warn you: it is not very interesting, but it is serious, a bit craggy, and rather wistful in its wondering.

When I was seventeen, I wanted like all blazes to be a poet. I admired the likes of E. E. Cummings, W. H. Auden, and W. B. Yeats. As a famous poet, I would be H. W. Merton—Helen Willamina Merton.

My First Poem

I began my career by writing a poem about my sister's boy friend—Reginald Jermwater. I will not bore you with the actual poem. Suffice if to say, my sister could not detect Reginald in the poem at all. I tried and tried to show her that image after image was, in fact, the very essence of Reginald. She bought none of it.

I think that was the beginning of the end of my relationship with my sister, Elbricklee, who after that ignored me, and I have to admit, I actually welcomed that ignorance. Heretofore, she had offered me a bit too much solicitation, and without that sisterly chuminess, I was vastly relieved.

The Couple

My next poem featured a couple I had met in college: Maribeth Donner and Slater Kinny. Maribeth was from a town not twenty kilometers from my own, and Slater was from my own hometown. I had seen Slater on occasion but never spoken with him, as we attended different schools.

Upon entering freshman class at Bollbraker College, a fashionable little liberal arts campus, Maribeth, Slater, and I connected and attended freshman gatherings together. We were all quite scared. All afraid of what it meant to be "college students." Maribeth was also afraid that Slater might be too interested in me.

Maribeth would whine to me, "Helen, do you have to stand so near Slater? He's so sensitive, and I'm so afraid he might be falling for your charms? Times are changing and boys seem to be falling fast for the notion of multiple couplings."

I had no rejoinder to that. So I stopped joining them for the parties. I stopped seeing them altogether. For about two weeks, I remained unmolested by either Maribeth or Slater. Then Algernon Whittley rang me up.

"Hello, Helen!'

"Yes, who is this?"

"It's Algernon, Algernon Whittley, We are in Ancient Greek Poetry together, with Professor Burfle?"

"Oh, yes. You sit right behind me. Yes, I remember you."

"I am calling to invite to the theatre production of A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Merle House Theater, just off campus, Saturday Night. I'd love it if you could accompany me."

"I might be able to," I stammered. "I'll have to let you know."

After the call, I was stunned. You see, I had never "dated." Never, ever been asked to attend anything with a boy. I know, other girls would have answered immediately, but not one who was so unused to being asked out. So I faltered. I faltered and faltered, until Algernon finally asked someone else to accompany him.

I did not care so much though. He meant nothing to me. The only thing in my life was the poetry of E.E. Cummings, W. H. Auden, and W. B Yeats, which I continued to read, devour, try to understand and emulate.

"You need a love life," said my mother, as I was home for holiday.

"What do you mean? You always said I could not go out with boys. Now you say I need a love life!! What are you talking about?"

"You wanted to go out with boys when you are 14! I merely wanted you to wait until you were at least 17!" My mother was now correcting herself. She had never indicated to me that that is what she meant when she bellowed to me, "If you start going with boys, it will kill me, kill me, do you hear me, do you hear me?"

Those words rang in my ears for all my teen years—I would have none of anything what would kill my mum.

Anyway, I am now a college student, age 18, fast by 19, and still getting use to being away from home, doing my own laundry, getting my own meals, negotiating classes, fellow classmates, left adrift—one might say.

As I was walking to my World History Gen-Ed class, Slater Kinny appeared before me. He looked at me as I walked past him, and then he grabbed my arm.

"Helen, where have you been? It's been weeks since we've seen you."

"Well, Maribeth indicated to me that I was no long welcome to join you two in your outings, so I have tried to respect her wishes."

"What? She keeps saying that she wonders where you are, what you are doing. She doesn't seem to understand what has happened. How do you explain that?"

"I don't have to explain anything! She said she thought you were too interested in me. So I let it go. I have to get to class."

I went to class. And then that evening Maribeth came to my dorm room for a visit.

I opened my door and there she stood with a pinched look on her face. I reluctantly asked her to come in.

"Helen, Slater said he talked to you today."

"Yes, so?"

"We were hoping you would join us for the skating party on Saturday, at the Waldorff-Sigler Rink," said Maribeth.

"I'm sorry, I'm going home this weekend," I answered.

"Oh, please, please, change your mind. Slater has threatened to break up with me, it you don't join us. I'm desperate, Helen. I love him so much. But he thinks I was unkind to you, and he won't abide unkindness to his friends. He considers you a friend, and so do I. I never meant to alienate you. Oh, please say you will come with use!"

Such obnoxious begging left me totally cold. I swore to myself then and there I would never again become involved in such torrid relationships.

After graduating from Bollbraker College with honors, might I shamefully add, I took a teaching position at another small college, Witherton Liberal Arts Academy. I followed my dream of poetry and although never achieving the level of my idols, I did publish several books, which received a bit of critical acknowledgement.

What happened to Maribeth and Slater? I could not care less. Or maybe I just could care less. However, one might interpret that expression.

The Second Poem

By the way, that second poem ran thus:

Two, or three, in the hook of spate and desire—
Where do you live, with angry wood nymphs?
Why do you spill your blood
Over the rocks of horror?
I will accompany your children,
Until they displease me:
Then you can swallow them again.

This piece has always stricken me as, well, apropos.

Lady Susanne of Frawling Manor

Lady Susanne took her tea after Oliver had swept off the veranda. While sitting in her favorite old Victorian chair, sipping delicately from her favorite old Victorian tea cup . . .

"Let my soul smile through my heart and my heart smile through my eyes, that I may scatter rich smiles in sad hearts." —Paramahansa Yogananda

Oliver stood by the zinnias holding an umbrella, hoping the rain did not begin before he had completed his pruning off all browned blooms. Mrs. Bronsly stepped out of the house, spied Oliver and went back inside to fetch a broom.

"Oliver, here, sweep off the veranda! Lady Susanne will be taking her tea our there momentarily," said Maggie.

"I thought Callie had already broomed off the veranda and the kitchen pantries as well," retorted Oliver.

"No, she has not! Now skip to it. Time is getting short!" Mrs. Bronsly, the head house matron, was never shy in shouting orders to her whopping team of three: Oliver, butler and footman, Callie, kitchen maid, and Mrs. Donwell, lady's maid to Lady Susanne.

On a Shoestring

The little household was held together on a shoestring. But Lady Susanne, last living member of the Frawling earldom, was determined to finish out her days as her ancestors has done. When offered three times more than what her 1500 measly acres were worth, she literally spit and cried, "I'll never sell my inheritance for a pittance." Thus, she pushed on with a pension that somehow still managed to support her acreage and small house staff, if only barely.

After being ceremoniously dressed in her finest tea frock by Mrs. Donwell, Lady Susanne took her tea after Oliver had swept off the veranda. While sitting in her favorite old Victorian chair, sipping delicately from her favorite old Victorian tea cup, she spied off into the distance a motorcar crossing the bridge onto her estate. Startled at first, she searched her memory: "Was I expecting guests today? I do not seem to recall arranging for visitors on this fine afternoon. Who, on earth, could that be? Likely another relative! Ha, relative, indeed!"

Mrs. Bronsly also had seen the motorcar and immediately called for Oliver. It had been foreordained that Oliver would greet any visitor to the estate. Being the only man on the premises, the other women deemed it right that Oliver should be the first to inspect whoever might be accosting the serenity of Frawling Manor.

Oliver in Charge

Oliver stepped out of the front door and approached the vehicle. Out from the vehicle alighted a very young woman, and it appeared that no one else was accompanying her.

"Hello there!" said the young woman. "You must be the butler. I'm Estelle Frawling, and I've come for a visit with my Aunt Susanne."

"Oh, really? I was not aware that anyone had arranged a visit with Lady Susanne for today," replied Oliver.

"Well, I didn't arrange anything. I'm here from America, and I did an ancestry search and discovered that I am related to the Frawlings of Devonshire. That's this place, right?'

"Yes, ma'am, this is Frawling Manor of Devonshire, but . . . " replied Oliver.

"Oh, I'm so sorry if I've made a faux pas," said Estelle. "I don't know anything about the ways of the British, and I was just flabbergasted to learn I was related to them. But, dude, here I am, warts and all. And I'd really like to see my aunt. Can you take me to her?"

"I'll see what I can do, miss! Please wait here!" As usual, Oliver went into a lather about this development. So he sped off to find out what happens next. He had encountered such inquiries before but they all seemed to end differently, from a call to the local magistrate to actually planning a ball to entertain the latest claim to relationship.

Only Lady Susanne could get to the bottom of things, and Oliver suspected she would do so again promptly.

"Mrs. Bronsly, there is a young lady outside who claims that she is Lady Susanne's cousin or something. What am I to do with her?" a flustered Oliver sputtered.

The Usual Relative from America

"A relative of Lady Susanne? Oh, well, let her in. We'll see how this goes. As usual, I suppose," responded Mrs. Bronsly.

"Yes, ma'am, right away, ma'am!" said Oliver, speeding off the fetch the new arrival.

Oliver bounded outside to fetch Estelle, only to find her picking daisies from the front garden. He was unsure how to approach, but he decided to let drop the impropriety of such a move.

"Miss Estelle, please do come inside," said Oliver.

"Thank you! Thank you so much!" responded Estelle.

Once inside, Mrs. Bronsly welcomed Estelle and asked her to wait in the library while she went to inform Lady Susanne of the guest's arrival. Estelle entered the library, which was very small, she thought, having been influenced by the libraries she had seen in British films and the TV series Downton Abbey.

Interestingly Eclectic Library

Nevertheless, the library was interestingly eclectic, with titles such as Jiggery-Jee's Eden Valley Stories and Turtle Woman and Other Poems, both American independently published tomes, standing along side such classics as Autobiography of a Yogi and the Complete Works of William Shakespeare, and Sonnets from the Portuguese.

Estelle had never read such works, but she knew American published works and recognized that paperbacks were an oddity in these British libraries.

"My dear, may I welcome you to Frawling Estate Manor," Lady Susanne announced, making her grand entrance into the library.

"Oh, hello, Aunt Susanne, I am Estelle Frawling," said Estelle. "It is so good to meet you. I've come from America. I've been researching my ancestry which has led me to you. I do hope I am not intruding."

Tea and Biscuits for the Guest

"Sit, sit with me a spell, and we shall see how intrusive you have been," said Lady Susanne, who rang for Mrs. Bronsly and requested Callie prepare tea and biscuits for the guest.

"So, now tell me all about it. Why you believe us be related?" Lady Susanne cut to the quick.

"Well, I did a search on my ancestry and that's what I found. My mother's father's brother had twelve children. One of those children is you. That makes you my aunt,—actually grandaunt."

"Oh, I see. But there we have slight problem. I have only one sibling, who died in infancy. I am not one of thirteen. How would you explain that?" queried Lady Susanne.

"Easily! My father's brother had a number of illegitimate children. You are the only one who is legitimate. That's why you don't know about the others, but an ancestry search will reveal all that," returned Estelle.

"The only difficulty with that is that my father also was an only child. He had no brother!" responded Lady Susanne.

Illegitimacy Galore

"Again, your father was the only legitimate child of his father. The brother was illegitimate, that is legally. I'm not interested in legal shit, I'm interested only in blood! You are my blood. Don't you see that?" responded Estelle.

"What I see before me, young lady, is what the Americans call a 'gold digger'. You think you can come in here and convinced me of a relationship that does not exist in order to acquire some of what you think you might inherit. Miss Estelle Frawling, if that is your name, I entertain guests like you in abundance. And I have yet to find one who is even minimally credible. I know my own ancestry like the back of my hand. We British estate owners learned very early on the necessity of such knowledge."

"But surely you can see that we could be related?" offered Estelle.

"Sorry, Miss Estelle, I have my entire family tree on file at the Records Office in Devonshire. And that is the only legal, official record for purposes of inheritance. If you'd care to travel there to inspect it, I'd be happy to accompany you," responded Lady Susanne.

"Oh, I see! Well, I wonder if I can get my money back from the ancestry research company!" said Estelle, stabbing at one last chance.

"That you will have to find out for yourself, Miss Estelle," said Lady Susanne.

Lady Susanne continued to receive such guests, claiming relationship with her. She decided that Americans, Albanians, the French, the Italian, and even the Zimbabweans would continue to try to feed off the British Empire, though that Empire had long ceased to exist.

Lady Susanne did finally sell her estate and to an American, who planned to build a Disney World. Her life closed with her still wondering what a Disney World was, never condescending to visit one—or even ask about it.

© 2018 Linda Sue Grimes

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