Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Family Reunion

This story first appeared in Short-Story.me.

I’m going to a family reunion soon—kind of. You see, I’m dying. The doctor said six months. Right around my sixty-fifth birthday. Bad liver, just like my Pa. Same cause too. We’re both drunks, but I didn’t go around beating up on women and children.

In the meantime, I’m staying with my daughter, Cathy. The two grandkids are in college so there’s a bedroom available. I’m hoping to meet them before…well, you know. Cathy asked my doctor about a transplant. Doc said even if they found a donor match in time, my heart most likely couldn’t stand the stress.

I spend a lot of my time on her back porch. The smell of the woods is therapeutic according to Cathy. At this moment, two blue jays are having a tussle near the tire swing. The squawking and flapping remind me of my family, at least the way it was before I ran away.

I thought about going back a couple of times; but even after I’d sobered up, the drunk in my head convinced me it was a bad idea. No one would want me around after being gone for thirty-some years. Honestly, I probably wouldn’t be back now if I were strong enough to take care of myself.

Cathy is inside preparing me a cup of tea with something in it she found on the internet that will cure me. The odor and taste make me scrunch my nose. She’s always giving me some dang concoction that’s supposed to help. I gave up trying to tell her it wouldn’t. Now I just drink or eat whatever she says. Of course, that doesn’t include booze. I tried explaining it couldn’t make me any worse than it already has. She wouldn’t hear of it.

Her mother left me. Couldn’t take the drinking, even though I didn’t yell at her, or threaten her, or nothing like that. I miss Martha the most and can’t wait to tell her so.

After the diagnosis—and a period of denial when I drank myself numb every chance I got—I began making a list of people I’d meet in heaven and what I might say to them.

Besides Martha, there’s Ma, of course. I hated her for a long time, blaming her for not keeping Pa from hurting us. Blamed her for the booze, too. Sometimes she took my beating for me. Other times she was too weak, or sore or, on Pa’s really bad days, afraid to say anything. I told her many times we needed to leave. She said it wouldn’t matter. He’d find us. I suggested she call the police. She said that would only make things worse. Years later, I learned these are common reasons why woman stay in such relationships. I wish I’d known this back then. Maybe I could of thought of something to do.

At some point, Ma died on the inside, then her heart had had enough. Next Thursday is the twenty-fifth anniversary of her death. That would be a good day for me to join her. I want to hold her and tell her I love her and forgive her.

Uncle Billy made the list. He was Pa’s younger brother. He drank but wasn’t a drunk. I wish I’d inherited his genes instead of Pa’s. Uncle Billy took me in a few times and didn’t tell Pa where I was. He taught me two things: how to fix cars and how to swear like a disenfranchised Mormon. I never thanked Uncle Billy for helping me. I want to shake his hand and tell him how much I appreciated what he did.

Cousin Rachel was the closest I had to a sister. She was the first girl I kissed, and the first girl I saw mostly naked. We were ten. I never told her how pretty she was. I don’t know if she cared or not, but I want to tell her anyway.

There are others who probably should be on the list, maybe even a few who aren’t family. It’s funny how being sober—and dying—makes you more organized. So, I’ll make sure everyone gets on the list before I go.

Of course, the one person I don’t want to see is Pa. That shouldn’t be a problem. He should’ve gone straight to Hell.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

What Next?

The doctor’s visit. The tests. The results. Shelly couldn’t stop smiling, until she stepped off the trolley and saw the look on Derick’s face. The smile—that love-of-his-life look—missing. The meager hug. The embryo snuggled between them briefly. His clumsy apology for falling for someone else. (50 words)

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Revenge Is a Dish Best Served with a Bang

Karen stared at the three women sitting in the booth by the window as she sipped her unsweetened iced tea. They didn’t notice her, even though she should have stood out wearing torn jeans, a T-shirt, dark glasses and a baseball cap.

Janice, the one facing Karen, was the ring leader of the group—the group that teased and bullied Karen relentlessly as being “ugly,” and “shapeless,” and “dumber than dirt.” The other two—Donna and Valerie—laughed and sneered in support of Janice, but rarely spoke beyond an occasional “Yea,” or “That’s right, Janice,” while air-jabbing Karen with manicured fingers.

When the other two left, Karen removed the cap and glasses, picked up her tea, and walked over to Janice’s table.

“Mind if I join you?” Karen asked.

“I was just getting ready to leave,” Janice said, putting her wallet back in her handbag.

“This won’t take long,” Karen said, sliding into the booth and blocking Janice’s exit. “I have a proposition for you I think you’ll want to hear.”

“Okay. I’m listening.” Janice turned slightly toward the intruder.

“I paid a gentleman to do some research on you.”

“You what?” Janice said loud enough for everyone to hear.

“Let me finish. I promise you’ll be glad you did.”

Karen waited for the tension on Janice’s face to ease before continuing.

“Like I said. I had research done on you, and I know you’re hurting financially.”

“Let me out of here right now, you...you...”

“Bitch? Slut? Skank? Aren’t those the things you called me in high school? You and your besties?”

Janice stared at the woman. Her brain searched for a memory.

“Karen?” she said after a long pause. “I thought you died in that awful accident. How could anyone survive?”

“The doctors said I should have died. They’re not sure how I made it, but I did.”

“How come nobody said anything?”

“I was airlifted to the University of Nebraska Hospital for treatment. The doctors there performed a miracle.” Karen sipped her tea, took her time. “When I was healthy enough, my parents arranged for me to be flown to Mexico for experimental plastic surgery not approved in the U.S. They did a marvelous job, don’t you think?”

“I...I didn’t recognize you. Not even your voice.”

“Well, you only ever heard me say things like ‘Please stop,’ and ‘Leave me alone,’ and ‘What have I ever done to you?’ That sound familiar?”

“Yes,” Janice whispered. She turned toward the window, her shoulders limp.

“Anyway, back to my pitch. The payout from Philip’s insurance should have lasted, but you spent it frivolously and it’s nearly gone. Am I right?”

“How did you find this out?”

“I told you. I hired someone. Between the insurance payout for the accident and the settlement with the car manufacturer of the other car, I’m well off myself.”

“What happened to your parents?”

“Not that I believe you care, but they fell in love with the Mexican coast and decided to stay. I was able to provide for them also.”

“I do care.” Janice reached in her purse for a tissue and dabbed at her nose.

“So much that you went to extreme measures to find out what happened to me? How about attempting to be honest for once, Jan.” Janice hated being called that, but this time she didn’t flinch at the name. “Let’s get to the point. You moved back into your parents’ home after Philip’s heart attack. Right?”

Karen nodded.

“And then your parents decided to retire to Florida and leave you the home.”

Karen nodded again.

“And you sold off many pieces of art and furniture to pay for your extravagant lifestyle.”

This time Karen didn’t respond.

Karen waited until Janice made eye contact. “I’ve always admired your home. It’s very stately looking, sitting at the end of that long front yard. It must be a money drain to maintain.”

Karen sat frozen.

“Here’s my proposal. I’ll buy the house from you for market value. Then you can find a place you can afford.”

Karen finally spoke. “Maybe we could live there together. Be friends.”

“Now you want to be friends? After all those taunts when we were younger.”

“I’m different now. So are you.”

“Oh, you mean I’m not ugly anymore? Maybe I look even better than you? I seem more physically fit. Isn’t that why you wear those loose fitting clothes? Or are you just looking for someone else to mooch off of?” Karen held up a hand to keep Janice from replying. “I’m sorry. That was uncalled for. For a moment, I sounded just like you.” Karen grinned. Janice didn’t. “Tell you what. Let’s go take a look at the house. I’ve never been inside. I bet it’s beautiful.

Karen had insisted on going first. She pulled into the driveway and stopped, leaving enough room for Janice to follow. She got out of the car and waited for Janice to join her. “Boy, that yard must be longer than a football field.”

“I wouldn’t know,” Janice replied. “Aren’t you going to drive to the house?”

Karen put her left arm around Janice’s shoulders. “Just admiring the view,” she said.

She’d lied about never having been in the house. She’d broken a basement window yesterday, dressed as a utility worker, while Janice was having a spa day and placed a small bomb next to the gas furnace. Now, she slipped her free hand into her pocket and pushed the button. The look of horror on Janice’s face as the explosion and subsequent fire devoured the house brought a smile to Karen’s.

“Oh my,” Karen said, forcing the smile away. “I guess the deal’s off.” She turned to face Janice. “Whatever are you going to do for money now?”

Saturday, March 3, 2018

The YouthTube Experiment, as explained by Dr. J. Fitch

I told him it wasn't ready. That more experimentation was needed. That the procedure responded unreliably. He told me he didn't care. He'd put up ten million in front money and needed to be treated before he got any older and died. He said he had more to do. More money to make. His company would fail without him. I crossed my arms over my chest, unaffected by his desperation, and gave him a firm no. He handed me a check for five million dollars. I led him to the chamber and programmed the software per his wishes.

I watched in awe as the transformation took place. It was so much different than with mice and rabbits. As I knew could happen, the experiment went too far.

Here. Let me share a few of my notes with you so you can better understand how the experiment progressed.

###

July 15, 2144, 9:15 AM

The subject's vital signs are normal for an eighty-three year old man. After he dons a hospital gown, I place the subject in the YouthTube (Note: need a better, more scientific, name for it), seal him in the transparent chamber, and watch as the lime-green mist envelops him and puts him to sleep. From now until the end of the procedure, the subject will sense nothing but pleasure: the sound of waves caressing a beach, the smell of fresh mown grass, the touch of his newborn great grandson's tiny hand, the taste of his mother's lasagna, the sight of crowds storming stores to purchase his latest product.


July 15, 2144, 9:15 PM

The subject's skin has tightened, giving him a youthful appearance. His grey hair is now dark brown. His bald spot is gone. His body has shrunk approximately ten percent. His skin is pale, almost white. This worries me.

The process is going faster than expected. I try adjusting the settings to slow the change, but the originals are locked in. (Note: reprogram software to allow adjustments during procedure.)


July 16, 2144, 9:15 PM

I must admit I'm a bit panicky. The subject requested a reversal into his mid 30s. He looks to be in his teens. This is exciting, yet disturbing. The YouthTube is adjusting the subject's age; but I have no idea how far the change will go, especially since I have lost control of the process. On a positive side, his skin coloring is near normal.


July 18, 2144, 10:15 AM

The YouthTube stopped an hour ago. I couldn't add my findings at that time. I was shocked and confused. Still am. The subject reverted back to age two based on my observations and his vital statistics. This is unacceptable.


July 18, 2144, 9:15 PM

After much consideration, I decide to attempt reversing the aging process to advance the subject to his desired age. Since I'm unable to change settings during the process, my plan is to age him in five-year intervals, with breaks in between.


July 20, 2144 9:15 AM

The subject's condition is improving. He has the voice and thinking abilities of a typical male in his mid-thirties. Unfortunately, his body remains that of a toddler. His skin tone is normal.

It does make me smile to hear such coarse language coming from an adorable-looking child. I find that earplugs help.

I'm going to give the process one more try. If nothing else, perhaps I will be able to stop changing diapers.


July 21, 2144, 9:15 PM
The subject's body remains that of an infant. He is potty trained, thank God. His mental capacity has returned to where it was before he entered the chamber. So have many of his mannerisms. This morning he asked for a cigar.


August 30, 2144, 9:00 PM

After further tests, I have declared the experiment a failure. The YouthTube is not a viable solution at this time and will be disposed of in a manner so as not to be found.


###


What about the subject, you ask? I have a second cousin twice removed who lives on an outlying planet. He will take the subject, his name to remain unknown, and raise him for the rest of this life. It shouldn't be too many years. It's regrettable that his family will never learn what happened to him.

As for me, I plan to move elsewhere, also, and continue my quest for a machine to reverse the aging process. I, too, have much work left to do and cannot allow my life to expire without providing others with the chance to live an eternal life.

By the way, I have never published my findings, so no one will be able to verify anything you tell them. Neither is Fitch my real name, simply one to attach to this document. Don't bother attempting to discern my given name. It will be futile. I am an unknown, originally from another planet.

You may publish this discourse if you wish, including my full set of notes. Others may find them interesting and possibly helpful in their own work. Or my results may convince them that their efforts to date are as futile as mine.

That's it. I have nothing more for you and will not answer any questions. Thank you for your time. Let me show you to the door.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

It’s Never Too Late

I returned to my hometown to attend my 50th class reunion. It was my first visit since leaving for college. I know that sounds strange, but the reason is simple. Dad received a job offer to work at NASA in Alabama six months after I left for Purdue University to study engineering, like Dad. With my parents gone, there was no reason to come back to where I grew up. I wasn’t 100 percent certain why I had now.

I parked my car on a side street and walked from one end of town to the other. It took less than five minutes. I never understood why Dad preferred living in such a small place. The college where he worked was twenty miles away in a city not that much bigger. He said Mom felt safer here. At least traffic wasn’t an issue.

Not much had changed in fifty years. Most of the buildings wore the same tired outsides. A new bank sat across from what used to be a soda shop, now a restaurant and bar. The post office was no longer on its usual corner. The gas station/garage on the corner of Main and Church had doubled in sized. I’d noticed the new wing on the high school as I drove into town and decided to walk the three long blocks there to find out what else had changed.

I saw the statue as I neared the school and froze when I realized who it was. Ms. Fontaine started teaching English my senior year. I enjoyed reading, so I signed up for an Advanced Placement course. It was love at first sight—at least for me—when I walked in the room the first day of classes and saw the new teacher with her shoulder length auburn hair, red lipstick, and perfect teeth peeking through a perfect smile. She wore a gray sweater and maroon skirt, the school colors.

My cheeks warmed when she called my name while taking attendance. I spent that first class avoiding eye contact by writing in my notebook, or staring at the back of Jake Davis’ head.

The only time she spoke to me outside of the classroom was to congratulate me at my graduation ceremony and to tell me how much she enjoyed having me in her class. My cheeks warmed once again, as a thank you stumbled out of my mouth.

I never forgot Ms. Fontaine. I considered reconnecting with her after college. She was only four or five years older than I. I never did. Instead, I married Emmi Lou, and she and I raised three wonderful children. Emmi died eight months ago of pancreatic cancer. I miss her a lot.

I stopped at the memorial park where the statue of Ms. Fontaine now resided and read the plaque. According to the inscription, after twenty years of teaching, she became the school superintendent, and after retiring from that job was elected mayor, a job she retained until she passed away. No cause was given.

I returned to the old soda shop, sat on a stool with a cracked leather top, and ordered the turkey platter. Two men sat a couple of stools away. One of them looked kind of familiar. I waited for a break in their conversation before asking about the statue at the school. The one who looked familiar asked if I knew Ms. Fontaine. I said not really.

“Well, she was quite the woman. No one expected her to stay here for any length of time. She sure surprised us. And she was a wonderful human being to boot. Most of the town folk believe she’s still with us.” The man paused to sneeze into  a faded, flannel shirt sleeve. “Thomas here saw her walking around last Halloween watching out for the little ones.”

“That’s right,” Thomas said.

“Others have seen her at the football games. Some think she was responsible for us winning a state championship last fall by keeping everyone’s spirits high, even when we were behind.”

The familiar-looking man went on, about how much Ms. Fontaine meant to the town, while Thomas grunted approval. After finishing my dinner, I decided to return to the statue.

I sat on a metal bench and took in the marigolds surrounding the base. Emmi loved marigolds. Medium sized stones provided a border. School was out for the summer, so it was quiet. I found that relaxing. I closed my eyes and pictured Ms. Fontaine as she appeared that first day of class. I took a few deep breaths and felt my shoulders relax. They tightened again when I heard a familiar voice say my name.

“Royce, is that you?”

I opened my eyes and saw Ms. Fontaine standing next to her statue. She looked older but had retained that youthful smile. She wore a skirt and sweater, the color matching the statue, as did her skin and hair.

“Ms. . . . Ms. Fontaine?”

“Yes. I’m glad you finally returned home.” She sat on the bench, our legs nearly touching. “I missed you.”

“I missed you, too.” I looked around to see if anyone was watching.

“Don’t worry. No one can see me. Not really.” She reached for my hand. “Only you.”

I couldn’t believe it when my cheeks warmed once more. “Did you know. . .?”

“Know how you felt about me? Almost from the beginning.” She squeezed my hand. “By the end of the semester, I felt something for you, too.”

We sat silently and enjoyed each other’s company until darkness fell.

I rose to leave, and she stood with me.

“It’s time for me to go,” I said.

“I know,”she replied. “Would you like me to come with you?”

“Won’t the town folks miss you?”

“I’ll always be in their heads and hearts. That’s my legacy.”

“And a fine legacy it is,” I said, as I took her hand and we walked toward the horizon.