This is my latest book, just out and hot off the presses.
It’s a little different than any book I’ve written so far.
It’s an anthology of clean, contemporary women’s stories, all told from a Christian viewpoint though they don’t’ actually fit the ‘Christian’ genre.
I truly enjoyed writing this book because it took me back to my short-story roots. I started writing short stories for women’s magazines many, many years ago. The kind of stories that could be true, even though, of course, they are made-up.
They all take place in fly-over country. You know where I mean. That place in the middle of the USA that people from the coasts fly over when going from one coast to the other. The part of our country they don’t notice because they are napping or reading or talking with their seatmates.
Do they even know we exist?
We do and we love our prairies and cities and small towns and wilderness. Our lakes and rivers and farms and a pace of life that varies from slow-as-a-Missouri-mule to frantic.
The women in these stories – the women of the Midwest — are true-to-life and proud and the situations they find themselves in are the kind that can and do happen any and every day here in fly-over country.
Ask anyone from the Midwest. They’ll tell you.
So check out these stories of Fly-Over Country.
They are about Midwestern women and the men in their lives. And the dogs and cats and horses that are also in their lives. (Here in the Midwest our lives are truly full of all kinds of things, including animals!) And the things that happen to them day in and day out and just occasionally. The things they cry about and the things they celebrate.
Get your copy and read it cover to cover. One story at a time.
I stared hard at the nurse behind the desk at the hospital, hoping to intimidate her enough to make her forget health care privacy laws. “Is the basket maker okay?”
“Are you family?”
“No, but – “
“Then I’m afraid I can’t release any information.” She smiled brightly and waited for me to leave because she knew the law and refused to be intimidated.
I leaned farther over the desk and stared harder in a bid to be even more intimidating. Maybe even threatening. Maybe it would work. “His name is Carl.” Hoping that would convince her my question should be answered because even though I wasn’t family, I knew him.
Actually I didn’t know him but the vendors at the Tuesday market had been talking about him and they’d mentioned his name. I hadn’t known it until then. But I knew it now and used that information. “Carl. He’s a friend.” Little white lies are acceptable in emergencies and this kind of qualified.
The smile turned into an expression of sympathy. “I’m sorry, I truly am, but the law is the law.” She turned away from me and began speaking with a couple who’d come to visit a relative. The nurse directed them to a room and then turned back to me, waiting pointedly for me to leave.
So I levered myself off the desk and turned to go, trying to figure how to find out about the basket maker at the Tuesday market while wondering in some corner of my mind why his health was so important to me that I’d break the law to find out about it. Why he was important.
I didn’t know him. Didn’t know anything about him. I hadn’t even known his name until I showed up that morning to watch him make baskets – as usual – and he wasn’t there and I asked why he was missing.
“You mean Carl? He’s in the hospital.” I’d sucked in my breath. “Been there a few days or so I heard.”
He was a fixture. Nothing could happen to the basket maker. I’d been watching him make beautiful baskets for weeks already. Every Tuesday. I’d admired how his elderly hands worked quickly and with skill. He’d never missed. Until today. “What happened?”
“Don’t know. Just that he’s not going to be here for a long time to come.” The speaker called to another vendor. “Hey, you heard anything about Carl?”
The other speaker shook his head. “Haven’t heard. Sorry.” A few more questions elicited the information that neither vendor knew exactly what was wrong with Carl or how long he’d be hospitalized.
That was when I decided to visit the hospital myself and see what I could find out about the elderly man with sun-browned skin and gnarled hands and the patience of a saint who made baskets every Tuesday and had buyers lined up for each and every one because they were that good. That beautiful.
Now, as I stomped away from the nurse’s desk, I realized that the specialness of both the man and his baskets was why I wanted to know about Carl. Unfortunately, this hospital knew about privacy laws and had a militant nurse guarding them so I couldn’t even find out what was wrong with him.
I hated the thought of leaving. Carl was nearby and I hadn’t got the information I sought. So instead of heading for the door I wandered over to the vending machines and stared at the selections, trying to decide what to eat while planning my next move.
I was so lost in my thoughts that I almost didn’t notice a man a few years my senior coming from the rooms I’d been denied access to. A familiar man, though I couldn’t place where I recognized him from.
Work? I was new in town, intentionally so after a miserable break-up and the decision never to fall in love again. Besides, I didn’t truly know anyone from work because I worked from home. If you don’t meet people because you don’t work with them, then you can’t fall in love and be jilted. So a work acquaintance was out.
Besides, he was wearing casual clothes and I knew he’d been wearing similar clothes each time I saw him. So not from work. Where was he from, then? And what was he doing in the hospital? Did he have a sick relative?
He approached the vending machines with the same intent as me. Something to eat or drink. Our eyes met. A line appeared on his forehead and I knew he was wondering the same thing about me that I’d been wondering about him. Where he knew me from. Because we knew each other somehow.
Then his eyes widened and I saw remembrance in them. “You’re the woman who watches my grandfather make baskets. You’re at the farmers’ market every Tuesday. You sit on the bench beneath the tree near his booth.” He looked around. “Do you have someone in the hospital too?”
“I came about your grandfather. I heard he was here.” I looked daggers at the nurse who’d forgotten I existed. “But they won’t tell me anything.” I felt tears starting at the thought of that nice elderly man lying in a hospital bed. “Is he okay? I’ve been so worried. Please say he’s okay.”
The man sagged a bit the way people do when they’ve pushed themselves as hard as possible. The way they do when they’ve reached their limit. “He’s doing well considering the stroke.”
“Is that what happened?” I could hardly breathe. “He had a stroke?”
“It wasn’t major. In fact the doctors said it wasn’t bad as such things go. But no stroke is good.” He looked away. “Especially if you use your hands and they were affected.”
He blinked away tears and looked like he needed to sit before he collapsed. “Come,” I said impulsively. “I saw a coffee shop in the hospital. Let’s get some. My treat.” Because he looked like he needed something good to happen. Anything good. Even coffee.
He followed me meekly into the coffee shop and we found a table for two in a quiet corner. I hoped that would be what he needed as I checked out what I guessed were new lines creasing his forehead. He sank into a chair and leaned back as if no longer able to sit straight and I knew my instincts were right.
“I will neither talk nor ask questions.” Though I wanted to know all about his grandfather this man desperately needed peace. “You look like you need quiet.”
He shook his head violently. “I want to talk. I need to.” He stopped, embarrassed at taking comfort from me, a stranger, then shrugged. “I need to get it out. To think out loud.”
“Okay, then.” I touched his hand on the table gently. “I’m a good listener and I promise not to interrupt.”
Our hands intertwined momentarily in his need for human touch. Then we separated and he told me how his grandfather had gone to the market the previous Tuesday as usual, gone home, taken out the ingredients for dinner, and then instead of turning on the stove had called 911. “He knew what was happening. That call made all the difference. The paramedics were there in minutes.” He shuddered and I understood. Minutes can be life or death.
Since I’d promised not to speak, I reached for both of his hands and held them in mine. They were warm and callused, the hands of a man who knew what work was like. How like his grandfather’s hands his must be.
He talked more, rambling sentences, a disjointed but loving patchwork of the life of the grandfather who’d raised him and even though the many portraits of his and his grandfather’s life weren’t smoothly connected, they formed a complete picture. Until he described the last week. The stroke and everything that followed. Those sentences were jumbled and confused and filled with pain. I listened intently and learned a lot about both the man across the table and the grandfather who’d taught him to make baskets.
When his sentences ended and silence reigned, I decided it was safe to speak. “I thought there was something special about him the first time I saw him make baskets. Now I know there is.”
“He’s special to me.”
“He’s special to anyone who appreciates beauty. His baskets are works of art.” I leaned over the table to be closer to this man I’d seen before but not known until today. “Did you say that you make baskets too?”
“Not as good as his. But yes, I make baskets because he taught me when I was a kid and I’ve never forgotten.”
An idea sprang full-blown in my mind. “Will you take his place at the Tuesday market while he recovers?”
His eyes widened as he caught my train of thought. “I don’t know. I haven’t thought about the market.” He turned the idea over in his mind. “Perhaps I should. He enjoys the market. The people. The weather. The baskets and the people who watch him make them. Someone should continue his work until he can return.”
“You should do it.” The more I considered the implications the more I knew it would be good for both him and his grandfather. “You should keep his place for him.”
“It would be a huge commitment.” He shook his head uncertainly. “There will be therapy for a long time. A longer time before he can make baskets again. If ever. The doctors don’t know how long the therapy will last.”
“I suspect if you make baskets and he can eventually get well enough to watch that he’ll be there as soon as he’s able. He’ll watch you like you’ve watched him in the past because he’s your grandfather. He won’t be able to stay away.”
“But I’m not good with people. I won’t know what to say when they ask questions and they always do. I’ll ruin everything.”
I waved aside his protest. “People are easy.” Then I knew what I should do. “Let me come too. I’ll do the talking. You make baskets.”
He smiled then, a tiny, brief lifting of his lips. “Maybe it would work.”
“It will work. I promise.” I held out my hand and once again our hands connected on that table top. He held my hand as if his life depended on it.
I rose because he was exhausted and needed a good night’s sleep. Or a week’s. “See you Tuesday. Be on time with everything necessary to make baskets.”
He rose too, his every movement showing his physical and emotional state but I thought there was also a glimmer of hope in the way he stood, straighter than when we first met. “Tell you what. Id you will truly deal with the public then I’ll repay you by teaching you how to make baskets.” His eyes glowed with good memories. “Exactly as my grandfather taught me.”
“I look forward to learning.” I meant it and I found myself eager for the coming Tuesday as I wondered how quickly my life had changed from the familiar routine of home and work to something unexpected. Different. I couldn’t see the shape of this changed routine but it felt good and I knew that the coming days would be good for both of us and, eventually, for his grandfather too.
We left the hospital together. Before separating, we introduced ourselves. I was Rhonda and he was Deon. Then we went our separate ways and didn’t see each other again until Tuesday rolled around and the sun rose and turned dew on a grassy field into millions of rainbows and vendors arrived and started setting up their booths and the Tuesday market came slowly into existence.
What I learned most that day was that I’m not a born basket maker. In fact, at the end of the day I looked sadly at my first attempt and knew I’d not even give it away to my worst enemy. Making baskets is an art and I was clearly not an artist.
Deon’s baskets, on the other hand, were art and there were almost as many people vying for a chance to buy them as had wanted his grandfather’s baskets. I slumped in weariness as Deon started putting things away and preparing to leave. “I’ll never learn.”
“Yes you will.” He stopped his work long enough to stoop beside me. “I thought the same thing the first time I tried making a basket. But I learned and you will too. Unless you’ve changed your mind.”
I sat up straight. “Never! I want to learn. Truly.” Then I looked at my pathetic basket and started to laugh. “I’m going to put this basket in the middle of my dining room table and it’s going to stay there in a place of honor until I can replace it with something better.” I turned it one way and another. “Anything better.” I looked at the last basket he’d worked on, one that was not quite finished and so hadn’t been sold. “Maybe that one.”
He dropped to the ground and without a word set about finishing the basket. When it was complete, he handed it to me. “It’s yours.” He reached for my basket. “And I want this one.” He examined it from several angles. “I like it. It speaks to me.”
I laughed harder. “Don’t even try to tell me what it says because I probably don’t want to know.”
He laughed too and we finished packing up in what had suddenly become an even more beautiful day. Laughter has that effect and I wondered if that was the first time since his grandfather’s stroke that he’d laughed.
Three weeks later my baskets were almost recognizable as things that could hold something. As we packed up that day I requested additional lessons. “In the evenings, maybe? If you have the time?”
Which was foolish of someone who didn’t want to be involved with people ever again in order to not suffer a bad breakup ever again. But I asked anyway. Because some day I wanted to make a beautiful basket.
He had the time and so started lessons at the house he shared with his grandfather and so I got to meet the man who’d piqued my interest in baskets. The man I thought of as ‘the great Carl.’ He turned out to be a nice man who was as talkative as his grandson was quiet.
“Nice to have someone to talk with,” he said, giving Deon meaningful looks. But Deon ignored him and I guessed this was a conversation they had often. One talked, the other was quiet. “Glad you’re at the market to talk with people. This guy would chase them away.”
As he spoke, he moved his hands expressively and I wondered how the physical therapy was going. He could wave his hands. “Can you make baskets yet?”
He snorted. “That therapist has me trying.” Another snort was followed by, “She says my baskets are wonderful.” A third snort of derision. “Which shows how much she knows about baskets because the ones I’m making now – trying to make — suck big time.”
“Come to the market next Tuesday. Help us make baskets.”
He glared at me. “Didn’t you hear what I said? My baskets aren’t fit for human eyes.”
“Neither are mine but I’m learning and getting better all the time, thanks to your grandson’s tutelage.” I glared right back at him. “You can be another student.”
He opened his mouth for a suitably sarcastic reply. Then he shut it again and thought long and hard. Then he said, simply, “Okay, I’ll be there and if I ruin the day it’ll be your responsibility because this whole ridiculous thing was your idea.” But his eyes were shining with the thought of once again making baskets at the Tuesday market.
That Tuesday was amazing. No, Carl didn’t suddenly regain his basket-making expertise. He worked slowly and painstakingly and at the end of the day had managed to get a start on one basket while Deon made two and I made a mess of the one I’d started the previous week because I was too busy watching them both to pay attention to what I was doing.
One thing I didn’t have to do was talk to people because Carl loved people and loved to talk and never gave me a chance to get a word in edgewise and I realized that part of his appeal had always been his penchant for sociability. Everyone wanted to hear the story of his stroke and he told it over and over again. They wanted to know if he’d continue making baskets and he said they should watch and see.
So they did. They watched. They asked questions. They talked with Carl and they to Deon teaching me. Since Deon wasn’t comfortable speaking to people, Carl told them what his grandson was doing. How he was doing it. Step by step. The history of basket making and the techniques he’d passed on to Deon that Deon was now passing on to me.
Those people were interested. Fascinated. They said Carl was an artist and knew how to make baskets and if he’d share his knowledge while Deon did the actual physical work, then they would remember and later they could make their own.
And so a basket-making class was born, unexpectedly, at the Tuesday market. Deon taught the class, I demonstrated everything and was very good because I was just as inexperienced and clumsy as the watchers so they could connect with me. Carl explained what was going on and why and told stories that held everyone in thrall. The man was a genius with more than baskets. He was also a people person of extraordinary talent.
Deon and Carl went home after each session and so did I, each to our own homes and we didn’t see one another until the next Tuesday. Then, as the weeks passed, the grass turned brown, the leaves turned yellow and red, the pumpkins turned into jack-o-lanterns. and the Tuesday market closed for the year.
The owners asked Deon and Carl and I to repeat our lessons the following summer. They begged. They said our basket-making had brought more people to the market than they’d ever seen before. We agreed, of course. We were a well-oiled machine by then and enjoyed our time together. I felt a lump in my throat at the thought of the sessions ending. What would I do with all that empty time during the winter?
I soon learned. As we packed everything away for the last time, Deon cleared his throat and asked, “Want to continue the lessons?”
“The market is closing.”
“At our place. Once a week? During the winter.”
Carl added, “Maybe by next summer you’ll actually be able to make a basket someone will want to buy.” He rolled his eyes. “If you work really hard.”
Behind him, Deon silently added his own request and I knew that he was thinking what I was. That Carl would improve faster if there was a reason for him to use his muscles and that would be most likely if there was someone to teach as he’d taught Deon all those years ago.
“I’d love to have you teach me.” I cleared my own throat and tried to sound innocent. “The finer points because I’ve learned a lot over the summer but my baskets leave a lot to be desired.”
Carl hooted and slapped his knees – and the fact that he was able to do so showed how far he’d come since his stroke – and then said that by the following summer if I wasn’t an expert he’d retire from the basket business.
So we shook hands on the deal and set up a schedule for me to come to their house two evenings a week instead of just one. I said I’d bring pizza and they said pizza two nights a week was too much so I only had to bring it once a week and they’d feed me the other time.
The sessions started with me doing my usual terrible job of making baskets and Carl struggling to come even close to his former skill level and Deon making great baskets and teaching me at the same time. Carl and I admired Deon’s ability to multi-task while bemoaning our ability to do even one thing well.
But as the weeks passed and the sessions continued, things changed. Not for me. I still created baskets I’d not consider giving to my worst enemy. But Carl’s baskets grew better and better as the days grew shorter and winter approached and then longer as spring came creeping quietly. Not only did they grow better, the time it took to make them grew less and less as his muscles remembered their former skill and he reacquired the art he’d known for most of his life.
My Christmas gift from them was a basket. Of course. They never said which of them made the basket and I couldn’t tell by looking at it because they both made similar baskets and their skill levels at that time was equal. They insisted it was a joint effort. Maybe it was.
But something else happened that began shortly after Christmas dinner. It wasn’t late, but Carl suddenly stood up, stretched, yawned, and said he was tired and thought he’d go to bed. We were surprised but said our good-nights and watched him head for his bedroom. Soon silence told us that he was asleep. Probably.
The same thing happened the next time I came for a class. And the next. And so on until his going to bed early became a routine thing. Deon was mystified. “He doesn’t go to bed early other nights. Just when you’re here.”
“Am I wearing him out?”
Deon shook his head. “I’m sure that’s not it. He likes you. He’s started telling me it’s time I settled down and he only says it on the nights when you’re coming over.”
We stared at one another. I said, “He’s match-making.”
“Yep.” Deon slumped. “The old coot.” His eyes rolled. “He’s told me many times that I should marry and have a kid while he’s still able to teach basketmaking.”
We stared at each other again. I knew my face was turning red and though the light wasn’t bright I thought Deon’s was too. Then we shook our heads and went on making baskets. Except it wasn’t the same.
We avoided touching each other and studiously avoided talking except about baskets. We watched the time and I was very careful never to stay too long lest he take it the wrong way and I was sure he breathed a sigh of relief when he could close the door after me.
Until I did stay longer and we didn’t avoid touching each other and we didn’t watch the time. And Carl noticed every little change and gloated each and every time. He started going to be even earlier. Way earlier than was normal. We told each other that when he was alone he probably rubbed his hands in glee and counted great-grandchildren. Then we laughed and agreed that we weren’t the right couple to grant him that particular wish.
We asserted strongly that we didn’t feel ‘that’ way about each other even though we were developing a fairly decent friendship and I was actually learning how to make baskets that were almost recognizable as baskets instead of piles of reeds thrown together in no particular order. For that amazing accomplishment I wasn’t sure whether to credit Deon or his grandfather. Both were excellent teachers though in different ways. And as time passed, Carl did more and more of the teaching because, as his muscle memory returned, so did his people skills.
But it was a long winter and gradually something changed between Deon and me. We noticed each other. We bumped into each other and pulled away too quickly and then avoided looking at each other for a long time afterwards.
Once I stumbled and he caught me. Just a small thing but as his arms wrapped around me and kept me from falling, I wished I could stay that way forever. And I did stay that way longer than was strictly necessary.
Another time I simply couldn’t weave the reeds correctly, couldn’t hold them right and the result was a loose weave when it should have been tight. Water-tight, his grandfather would say, or don’t bother making a basket. That time Deon came behind me and put his arms around me and then used his hands to guide mine. I could hardly breathe and was thankful that my hands didn’t shake because the way I felt at that moment, they should have.
And so the lessons continued until the day came that I stared at myself in the mirror before heading for their house and another lesson and admitted that I did feel ‘that’ way about Deon. I also told myself that though he liked me he’d given no indication of feeling anything more so I’d just better forget how I felt and get over it as quickly as possible. Remember, I told myself sternly, you’ve been through this before and look how it turned out. Awful.
But telling and believing weren’t the same thing. I found myself falling for Deon big time. I’d have stopped the lessons as a way of saving myself from future grief except for Carl. I wanted to watch him make baskets and I wanted to learn from a master. It was that simple. He was an artist and I was hooked on his art.
I was pretty sure he knew how I felt about his grandson but he never said anything. He just disappeared a little earlier each evening. Judging by the light beneath his bedroom door, he wasn’t sleeping. Probably stashed a good book under his pillow during the day to read behind that closed door. Or maybe he did the exercises his physical therapist recommended.
He did want to get back to his usual self so he exercised regularly. At first the exercises were exhausting and he was frustrated to the extent that it hurt to watch his struggles. But as time passed and his hands remembered how to make baskets, he mastered those first exercises and the therapist had to come up with harder ones. Until he mastered those too.
Then she came less often because he didn’t need as much help. “He’s coming along quite well,” she said as she dropped still another day with Carl from her schedule and informed him that he could come to the therapy center now instead of having at-home visits. I figured that was at the hospital I still hated but I reluctantly admitted that it had done good things for him so maybe I should reassess my feelings.
The long winter finally came to an end. Spring arrived, snow melted into dirty piles and early wildflowers peeked out of the mud. The trek to the basket-making lessons became a trek through not-quite-winter and then through early spring and then mid-spring and then later spring until it was time for the Tuesday market to open once more and this time both Deon and his grandfather would be there in Carl’s usual spot.
“Can I come too?”
“Of course,” Carl said. “You’re essential. I make baskets, Deon teaches, and you talk to people.” He waved a fist through the air, something he’d not been able to do after his stroke. “We’re a three-person team.”
He was once again making baskets. Plural. More than one. Maybe slower than previously and his every move was carefully thought through but his baskets were as impressive as ever.
I felt myself tearing every time he finished a basket and didn’t know whether it was because he’d had a stroke or because he was overcoming it. Once I caught Deon’s eye when we were both watching his grandfather work and he nodded imperceptibly that he understood.
I pondered that look of Deon’s. We three were attuned to each other, Deon and I and his grandfather. Every night when I went home I wished Deon and I were attuned to each other in the way his grandfather wanted us to be. But we weren’t.
The first day at the market was a preview of what the summer would be like and it wasn’t at all what either Deon or I expected though his grandfather knew exactly what it would be like because he planned the whole thing.
He stood up, stretched, and left.
“I think I’ll go see what’s going on.” With that statement, he simply strolled out of the booth. “Haven’t seen anyone, hardly, since last year. Lots to catch up on and lots to talk about.” And he disappeared in the crowd of early shoppers, leaving Deon and me staring blankly after him.
“What just happened?” I tried to wrap my mind around Carl leaving his booth.
Deon muttered darkly, “Great-grandkids. He thinks this will help.” And he shook his head and rolled his eyes because what else could you do with a schemer like Carl who deliberately threw his grandson at a possible wife every chance he got?
“He’s not going to give up,” I said because I couldn’t think of any other reply. “So maybe you should start dating.”
The thought startled him. His eyes went wide and he spoke without thinking. “Why?”
“So you can find someone to fall in love with and give your grandfather those great-grandkids and he’ll leave you alone.”
He blinked. When he opened his eyes again, thoughts were floating through his mind. I could see him thinking but couldn’t know what those thoughts were about. “You have a point,” He shrugged. “But I’m too lazy to go looking.”
“You won’t find anyone if you spend all your time sitting on your behind and making baskets.”
He blinked again. This time when he opened his eyes he smiled, a slow thing that started in the backs of his eyes and grew until it enveloped his entire face. Then his entire being. And still it grew until it seemed like the whole market was enveloped in the glow. “I will indeed find someone while sitting here making baskets.”
I looked around but we were at the far end of the market and it took forever for the first shoppers to reach us. They had to stop at all the other booths first and admire their wares, especially this early in the season when everything was new and interesting. So no one was there yet. “How? Who? Where?”
“Here.” His face flushed slightly and he bent over the basket he was working on, weaving the reeds in the time-honored way he’d learned all those years ago. “Right here.” Then he looked at me. Straight at me and I realized that I wasn’t the only one with feelings that were way beyond the ‘friend’ stage. “Right now.”
“Oh.” The one word was all I could manage as I peeked out of a corner of my eye to see if anyone was coming while hoping they weren’t because this was shaping up to be a pivotal moment in my life and I truly didn’t want any interruptions. But the coast was clear. So I said it again. “Oh.”
“Is that all you can manage? One word?” He put the basket down and came to sit beside me, exasperated. “I was hoping for something a little more emotional.”
“You first,” I said, putting down my own basket, not nearly as nice as his and not as far along either. But it was at least recognizable as a basket, thanks to months of lessons.
He looked around too, a couple times, and saw that no one was around. “What say we go for a walk and keep walking until we find a private place where we can talk?” He rose in one motion.
“Good idea,” I said, rising to meet his outstretched hand.
On our way towards a tiny grove of birch trees in one corner of the market where people had picnic lunches and went to be cool on hot days, we passed his grandfather. Deon called out, “Hey, Gramps, can you take over?”
His grandfather looked us over. Clapped his hands a couple times while his eyes danced so brightly that we could see the sparkle from where we stood. He hurried to our booth as fast as his elderly legs could carry him. “Glad to help out. Take all the time you want. All the time in the world.”
We reached the privacy of the birches before we came together in what turned out to be a very long kiss. Followed by another one that lasted even longer. After that there didn’t seem much need for words but we talked anyway.
“I always knew you were the one.”
“You never said anything.”
“I wasn’t sure how you felt.”
“Me? Couldn’t you see? Every time I came for a lesson, I had to make myself stop shaking.”
“Really?” He stood a bit taller after that and was a bit more smiley A lot more smiley. But so was I now that we knew how things were between us.
To make a long story short, we were there a long time – hours — and when we returned we didn’t have to tell Carl anything because he knew by the expressions on our faces what the future held. He merely winked as he handed one of his signature baskets to a woman who just knew she’d come into possession of a work of art.
We watched her carry it carefully as befits a thing of true beauty and knew she appreciated what she had. Then we slipped into the basket maker’s booth and finished the baskets we were working on.
They were lovely though mine took longer to finish than it should have because I was busy watching the elderly basket maker begin another work of art, his gnarled fingers working more slowly than the first time I saw one of his baskets come into existence but just as knowledgeable, just as patient, and just as good as ever.
My Mustang purred smoothly, the engine not even noticing the hills as it crested them and zoomed around curves.
Until it died.
A cough from beneath the hood was the first indication of trouble and of course it couldn’t happen in a worse place. Miles from the last town and probably more miles from the next one. Civilization, such as it was in that remote area, wasn’t much anyway, towns consisting of a handful of buildings, half of which were empty. The other half were all too often closed.
That first ominous car cough was followed by a couple more that were louder until a last one was followed by silence. Dead, complete silence. My beautiful Mustang, a gift from my parents, was dead.
The sudden, unexpected death of my Mustang reminded me of how I’d got here, and the memory had me fighting tears as I stared at a sparkling lake surrounded by evergreens that was so close to the road I was on that I could be in the water in a few steps.
But I didn’t see those things. Instead I saw every single detail of my recent life as the reason that led to my being here came roaring back.
I remembered the death of my parents in a plane accident, followed by the numbing news that their business – the one that had given me a good education, a lovely life, an expensive sports car, and everything that goes with all of those things – that business was broke. Totally, completely insolvent. I’d inherited no money at all and nothing of value beyond the Mustang.
“There’s enough to pay the bills if we sell everything they owned,” their lawyer said from across his desk. “And I’ll find enough to keep you going briefly.”
“Are you sure?” How could they not be rich? We’d lived as if we were rich, and I’d always thought we were.
“I talked about it with your parents. The money thing. That they should put something aside for a rainy day. But they said they wanted to give their child – you – every advantage so they said the rainy day would just have to wait.”
He reached across that desk and took one of my hands in both of his. “Then the rainy day arrived and it was all they could do to keep afloat.” He shrugged eloquently. “They were poised to come out of it okay. To get back to where they’d been. Except the accident happened. And now I’m afraid you are broke.”
So I sold the house and everything else they’d owned, paid every single bill to keep their memory unsullied, gave most of my personal things to Good Will, stuffed the rest of my things into the trunk of the Mustang and what wouldn’t fit there I dumped into the back seat of my beautiful classic car in a cloud of depression and grief.
Then I took off for parts unknown. Pedal to the metal with no concern for what people I’d once considered my friends might think of my unseemly exit because they weren’t my friends once they learned I wasn’t rich after all. Never mind, I’d thought. I’d make new friends. Somewhere. Somehow.
And here I was. Definitely somewhere unknown, totally alone and on my own, without friends and with a car that had just died without warning, just like my parents had died also without warning, with both deaths leaving me very suddenly in a very bad place.
I couldn’t help what happened next. It was all I could do to let the car drift to the shoulder of the road until it stopped moving. When it was completely stopped, I put on the parking brake, dropped my head to the steering wheel, and cried.
I sobbed. Absolutely wailed. I cried loudly and I didn’t care how loud because I was all alone in the wilderness. No one for a hundred miles at least. No one to listen and judge me. I simply clutched the steering wheel and let the tears fall fast and furious.
“Are you okay, Miss?”
I looked up, stunned. Someone was beyond the open car window, standing close but not too close. A man, tallish and that was all I could tell through the blur of tears. I gulped and tried to stop crying. I finally succeeded as he waited patiently, staying a discreet distance away while I got control of myself.
“Yes, I’m okay.” Except I was in the middle of nowhere surrounded by trees and a lake instead of in a town where my car could be fixed. So I changed my statement. “No I’m not okay.” I wiped my eyes with the sleeve of my blouse. “My car died.” No reason to tell him more. Let him think the car was my only cause for tears.
“I thought as much,” he said slowly, moving inches closer but doing so warily, ready to step back instantly if my tears started again. “Want me to take a look?”
“You know about cars?” I hiccupped and hoped I was done crying because he seemed like a nice person and I didn’t want to scare him away. I looked longingly at the lake with water that would nicely wash my face clean of tears if I got a towel from the back seat and ventured out of the Mustang. Which I wouldn’t do because I felt like a fool and being in the Mustang helped me hide that fact.
“I do know about cars.” After another wary look at me, he moved to the front of the car and soon was inspecting my Mustang’s engine. “Nice car.” An admiring tone of voice. “A classic.”
“Can you fix it?”
“Don’t know yet.” He jiggled something. I listened hopefully but there was no answering roar of an engine starting and no request from this stranger for me to do something. Press a button. Wiggle the steering wheel. Turn the key. “There are a couple things I can check.”
“Will it take long?”
He scratched his head. “Possibly.” He looked around, still cautious but not as wary as at first. Had he decided I was done crying? “The lake is nice. There’s a log near the shore that’s comfortable for sitting.”
“How do you know there’s a log?” This was the middle of nowhere, after all.
“I come here a lot and sit on it.” He straightened and took in the lake and the trees. “It’s pretty. A good place for thinking.”
Which was just what I needed – time to think, to adjust – except I’d expected to experience those things in solitude instead of with a man nearby working on my broken car. But I knew somewhere in the back of my mind that I’d had I’d a place like this in mind when I set out on my trip to nowhere. A place to sit and think.
It was why I’d headed for nowhere. Because nowhere sounded like what I needed. Peaceful and accepting. With a lake and trees. I’d figured that when I found that place – that nowhere — I’d face what had happened and deal with it. And when that was accomplished, I’d plan for my future. Well, that nowhere was a few peaceful yards away and waiting for me.
“Okay,” I said with only the slightest hiccup as I exited as smoothly as possible under the circumstances and opened the back door and pawed through the piles of things in the back seat for a towel or washcloth. I’d clean up in that lake. After I looked normal, maybe I’d be normal. I’d be done with tears and when the Mustang was fixed I’d be on my way.
Didn’t happen. The lake was perfect, the water cool and clean and soon all trace of tears was wiped away except for my wet blouse and after a while the sun dried that. The log was actually comfortable considering it was a log. So things were good as far as my reason for being there. The Mustang, however, was another matter entirely.
“Sorry,” the stranger said, coming up from the depths of the engine. “You need a part. You’re not going anywhere until it’s replaced.”
“Is it expensive?” I had some money thanks to that considerate lawyer, but not much.
He scratched his head. “Not really. But remember that you have a classic Mustang. Not many places around here carry parts for classic cars because they don’t come along all that often.” He looked over the car again and smiled again because it was a lovely car. “Not even me.”
“You have car parts?”
“I’m a mechanic and I have a car repair business. So, yes, I have a lot of car parts. But there aren’t many classic cars of any kind around here, let alone Mustangs.”
“Oh.” I sagged as the true import of my situation hit. “How long will it take to get a part?”
“Can’t say.” We stared at one another for a long time. “When I get home I can make some calls and find out.”
I looked around. The Mustang was the only vehicle in sight. “How far is that? How’d you get here, anyway?”
“I walked. I do that sometimes. I like to walk.”
“A few miles. Six to be exact.” Then he added, “Come with me and you can listen while I make those calls.”
The log, comfortable as logs go, wouldn’t be comfortable much longer. So I considered my sandals. Lovely and expensive but not made for walking miles on gravel roads.
He followed my look and for some reason that made me finally notice him as a person. A man.
Tallish, blonde and muscular with large hands and feet and a nice, honest and somewhat homely face with eyes that matched the blue sky. But his nicest feature was that he was there and helping when I needed help.
And suddenly, for no reason at all other than that he was a human being, I wanted to walk beside this gangly man to wherever he was going. “I’ll come with you.”
He stared thoughtfully at the sandals I’d just examined. “Are you sure?”
“I have other shoes. Walking shoes. If you can wait while I find them.” I flushed. “They are somewhere in my luggage.”
He nodded and as I pulled one suitcase after another from the trunk and went through them until I found the very expensive hiking shoes I’d bought for a trip along the Appalachian Trail that I never got around to taking, he spoke. “Are you moving? I’m asking because it looks like you have an entire wardrobe there.”
“Yes I am moving.”
“I hope this delay won’t cause problems with your move. Your new home. A new job, perhaps?”
“No new job. No plans. No place in particular.” His brow furrowed because he didn’t know how to reply to that. “I’m running away.” Realizing how that sounded I added, “Not from a person. From bad memories.”
After a long silence, he figured out what to say as I changed my sandals for sneakers that would carry me as many miles as necessary. Then I stood straight and ready to start walking as he said, “If it was me, I’d not run away from something. I’d run to something.”
“Like what? And where”
He shrugged. “This is a nice place.” He took in the scenery with a gesture. “You can make new memories while we walk to replace the old, bad ones.” His expression was tentative because he wasn’t sure he’d said the right thing and I was pretty sure he didn’t want to see me crying again.
“I should make good memories? Here?” I looked about as I grabbed my purse because it had my check book and credit card and one or the other would be needed when he ordered that part. “This is the wilderness.”
“Exactly.” He smiled. “The perfect feel-good place.” Then, as we set off at a modest pace, he added, “But there is a town a couple of miles past my place and it’s nice too.”
“A town?” Another hamlet. “What’s it called?” If it had a name.
The name was so unexpected that it jarred me. Stopped me for a moment and I had to jog to catch up. Because, though I’d not known it until he said the word, tranquility was what I was looking for. What I needed. What I would do anything to find. I wanted tranquility instead of nowhere. “I’d like to see the town.”
“They have a diner.”
I held my rumbling stomach. “Can you tell I’m hungry?”
“I guessed as much.” He turned away so I wouldn’t see him trying not to laugh. “When we reach my place and I’ve made a few calls to see what’s up with a part for the Mustang, what say we head into Tranquility and have lunch?”
He’d laughed. How long had it been since I’d even thought about laughter? But I thought about it now as a hard knot I’d thought was permanent eased somewhat because of that unexpected laugh and then I also considered the fact that I hadn’t had breakfast. Hadn’t thought about it. I’d just stumbled out of the motel after a night of no sleep and climbed into the Mustang and roared out of their parking lot as if the devil was after me. “How long will it take us to reach your place and make those calls?”
My stomach rumbled again and he heard. “Never mind the calls. We’ll eat first. I can make calls any time but I think you need food.” He sent me a concerned look. “You aren’t about to faint from hunger or anything like that are you?”
I laughed. “Nope.” And was amazed that in the space of minutes this man had laughed and then I’d laughed also. Was it the scenery? The situation? Or the man?
The man. It was definitely the man. Because he’d laughed.
I smiled once more but this time it was because I know my Bible. The Biblical Noah dealt with a lot of water and saved his family. I’d met this particular Noah beside water and he was saving me.
I let that smile grow and was amazed that the world looked a little better than before the Mustang died and I knew that it wasn’t the lake that had changed my world, though it was a lovely lake. Nor was it the situation I’d found myself in. It was Noah.
And the town, of course. The town I’d never seen but knew by name. Tranquility. Noah said it was just a few miles ahead. All I had to do was take a rather long walk with him and I’d get there. I’d find tranquility.
So I walked faster. Noah did too.
As we walked, I thought about the town we were heading towards. Even though I’d never seen Tranquility and would most likely be disappointed when I did see it, I realized that I wanted to stay there. I wanted it to be the end of the journey I’d started so precipitously, never mind that the wanting made no sense at all.
I didn’t say so out loud, of course, because I didn’t want Noah to think I was any crazier than he already did and I accepted that he probably did think that because he was keeping a careful distance from me and checking on me every so often with quick, furtive glances. I figured he was afraid I’d come apart again and he’d have to deal with whatever happened.
We walked six miles to his house and place of business. It was clearly an auto repair shop with a neat, white house separated from the shop by a deep green yard that looked inviting after our trek. My feet longed for that cool, soft grass.
“Wait here. I’ll get the truck and we can head into Tranquility for lunch.”
I did as instructed, slipping out of my hiking shoes and stepping onto that grass and it was as wonderful as it looked. Then I climbed into the huge truck that roared out of the repair shop and held my breath all the way to Tranquility because I didn’t know what it would be like.
It was as I’d expected. As I’d feared. Kind of disappointing. As we roared onto the main street, it resembled every other tiny hamlet I’d zoomed through since reaching the wilderness. Maybe a little larger because there were more buildings and all of them were open for business, including the café with a parking lot full of both old and new cars and trucks. Another wilderness town.
On a more thorough examination, I realized there was a picturesque church and a school complete with a bell tower. Plus, of course, the café Noah was taking us to. I examined it as we approached. At least Tranquility had a cafe. Most of the tiny towns I’d passed through didn’t. I was hungry. It looked wonderful. “It looks busy. Will we have to wait long for a table?”
“Angie will make room for us. She’s nice that way.”
Angie. He knew the person behind the Tranquil Diner. Of course he did. He probably knew everyone within a fifty mile radius of Tranquility and they knew him because that’s the way tiny towns work and that thought made me even more sure that this was where I wanted to be even if the houses didn’t all have white picket fences and apple trees with tire swings.
Because, even if it wasn’t perfect I wanted to live in Tranquility because during that long walk between trees I’d decided that this town was where I would become my future self. Whoever that self would be. Someone different than if tragedy hadn’t happened.
Which might be a good thing. The world has enough rich people.
As we headed into the café I decided that perhaps what I needed was to appreciate the value of work because with limited funds work was definitely in my future. Which was why the small hand-written ‘help wanted’ sign taped to the window caught my eye.
A middle-aged woman with a short haircut and a no-nonsense air about her approached us. “Noah.” She tipped her head towards me. “And friend.” She looked around and when she saw that all the tables were full, she frowned. Momentarily. Then she moved. “I’ll get a table. There are just two of you so it’ll be easy.” Then she was gone.
She reappeared a few moments later with a table just large enough for two that she plonked against the wall, after which she unearthed two chairs. And we were seated. Noah’s look said ‘I told you so.’
“What can I get you two?” She kept her face as expressionless as possible but I was sure that a stranger appearing in a small town made it a difficult feat.
I cleared my throat. Might as well get it over with. “Have you hired help yet?” I pointed to the window. “I saw your sign.”
“Nope.” Her eyes rolled. “Not many people looking for work around here.”
“I am. I’d like to apply. If you have a form, I‘ll fill it out now.”
Her eyes went wide as saucers and so did Noah’s. Then they narrowed as she took in my salon haircut, designer clothes and obvious city everything. “You been a waitress before?”
I wilted. Then I stiffened and sat up straight. “No bit I’m eager to learn.”
“Ever worked before?” Another inspection of my entire being. “At anything at all?”
“I sold clothes in a boutique.” Not exactly the right prerequisite for waitressing in a small town.
She was quiet a moment as Noah listened without speaking. “Waitressing will be harder on your body than selling upscale dresses. Hours on your feet. Are you up to that?”
Noah spoke. “She just walked six miles and is fresh as a daisy and if you need someone to vouch for her, I will.”
Angie’s glance went from Noah to my expensive hiking shoes and she thought long and hard. “Okay. Maybe I’m crazy but I need the help and maybe it’ll work.” Then she added, “On the other hand, maybe it won’t so you’ll be on trial for a while.”
I had a job. My new life was beginning. “On trial will be fine.” Then I remembered. “But I need a place to live.” I flushed. “I’m new in town.”
“So I noticed,” Angie replied dryly before saying, “Try across the street. Len has a room he rents out now and then. It’s empty. You might talk to him.”
After lunch, I learned that Len would be happy to rent me a room. “How much?” I asked.
“Depends on what you get paid.” When he saw my expression, he added, “Don’t want to charge so much that you can’t afford it.” He tipped his head back a bit to see me better through his bifocals. “You look like a nice lady. Good addition to Tranquility. I’ll do my part to keep you here.”
Oddly enough, it worked out. Angie hired me, I learned how to waitress and was glad for my walking shoes, Len rented me his room, and Noah got the Mustang operational.
Of course not everything went smoothly. The Mustang part arrived a full month after my beautiful car died. By then, of course, I’d been waitressing long enough that everyone in Tranquility knew my story and I knew everyone in the area. Waitressing at the only café in a fifty mile radius was the equivalent of working for a newspaper.
Most people were sympathetic and I found myself surrounded by the new friends I’d hoped to find but hadn’t actually expected to have. A few people simply sniffed at my story and told each other privately that it must be nice to have gone to private schools and drive a sports car. I knew what they said because, like everyone else in Tranquility, I soon knew everything about everyone.
When the part for the Mustang finally arrived, Noah got it running ASAP. “I knew parts would be hard to get but I didn’t expect them to be this rare,” he explained ruefully as we sat beside the pretty lake where the Mustang had died because we’d made a celebratory run back to the place where everything started.
We sat on the very log he’d pointed out on that fateful day. After the required contemplation of the always awesome scenery and comments on how fortunate I was that the Mustang broke down where it did just as he happened along, a smile appeared on his face that was as wide as the Mississippi River and just as mysterious. “But can’t say I’m sorry it took as long as it did.”
“What are you saying? I had no car for a month.” I stuck out one foot and examined what was still an expensive pair of walking shoes that didn’t look so special after a month of being worn daily. And used hard because, as Angie said, waitressing is physical. “You’re smiling about the delay.”
“Yep.” He leaned back on his hands and smiled some more. A self-satisfied smile. “Because your non-functional car is what kept you in Tranquility.”
I slumped, unsure whether to punch him or laugh along with him. After a moment’s thought I did both and he curled protectively against my fist and continued to laugh because, as I’d figured out during our time together, laughter was a Noah thing.
“So you wanted me to stick around?” I asked as I punched him again because by then we were the kind of friends who get together every evening that we aren’t otherwise occupied and just kind of hang out and enjoy each other’s company. “You wanted me to stay in Tranquility? You actually wanted me here?”
He uncurled and stared straight into my eyes, sticking out his lower lip before answering in what instantly became a totally serious, non-laughing voice, “Yep.” He took a deep breath and continued. “Think about it, Emily. Not many people around here, especially if you’re looking ahead to getting married sometime in the future.” He pulled his hat low over his forehead. “The pickings were pretty slim until you came to town.”
I stopped breathing. This was new, this man-woman thing. Different than friends. Disquieting, scary, and life-affirming, all at the same time. But I made myself breathe as if it was nothing special as I asked, “Just what are you trying to say?”
He rose, pulling me up until we stood together, so close a piece of paper couldn’t fit between us. Then he pulled me to the newly renovated Mustang and deposited me in the passenger seat while he climbed into the driver’s seat. Turned the key and listened in satisfaction as the Mustang revved to its full potential. “You own this Mustang. If you leave town, the Mustang goes with you and when will I have another chance to drive a classic like this beauty?”
So not a man-woman thing. A man-car thing. I felt deflated. “So the Mustang is the attraction?” And I wasn’t.
He turned off the engine once more and the silence was deafening. And beautiful. And tranquil as was everything about the place. “It was partly the Mustang. Also the Mustang’s owner. Maybe mostly the owner.”
He looked embarrassed, the first time that had happened since we’d met a month earlier. “I’m hoping it’s a package deal.” But he managed to look me in the eye and there was something new in the depths of his eyes that was deep and unreadable that turned me warm inside and made me want to explore. But as I looked into those eyes I decided that I wanted to learn about Noah on Tranquility time. No stress, no hurry, with tons of positive emotion beneath the placid surface.
He wiggled a bit. Actually wiggled! “Is that okay with you? Car and car’s owner? A two-fer?”
My response was instant. “Yes.”
I thought about teasing him, telling him how much I appreciated his excellent mechanic’s skills. But I knew he’d understand my answer just as I understood his questions.
He did. He reached over and took one of my hands in one of his. Then he dropped my hand, started the Mustang, listened to it roar, smiled appreciatively, and we headed home. To Tranquility.
And at that moment I knew that my decision to stay in this small town had been the right one. Right for many reasons though only time would tell wither the man beside me would turn out to be the most important reason of all.
The October free short story — Escape To Tranquility — will be published here and on my Facebook author’s page in a week or so. Just letting you know.
It’ll be a romance but, as you know if you know me, there won’t be any heavy breathing or explicit anything because I have a hard time writing when I’m laughing. And, yes, writing sex scenes does that to me. Makes me laugh. Or at least giggle.
Maybe it’s an age thing.
Anyway, haven’t you ever wanted to escape to tranquility?
Well, in this particular story, my heroine does exactly that.
If this is YOU, inclined to binge read stories that make you go bump in the night–that’s bumping around turning pages–do I have a deal for you!
15 #THRILLERS for .99 cents!
Yes, your tired eyes are working just fine. But hurry, because October 12th is closer than you think. No imaginary stalker. Calendars have always made me cringe. But it’s all good.
Today’s most popular #MYSTERY& #SUSPENSE authors have teamed up. All women. All dead set on delivering YOU the thrills, chills, and dangerous choices you can make from the safety of toasty bed covers. Or that steaming bubble bath we too often deny ourselves. (But these little lovelies can be squeezed in while waiting for the kiddos in the pick-up line at school. Those days have flown for me, but I remember them well. The need for #metime is real…
Okay, guys. Here it is. The September free story. A non-romance unless you consider a love of life to be a romance of a kind. Which I do, and I enjoyed writing this story that was inspired by every school kid’s September writing assignment of telling the story of what they did during summer vacation. I wondered what an adult would write if given that same assignment and here’s what I came up with. Hope you enjoy it.
HOW I SPENT MY SUMMER VACATION
The cruise was supposed to be fun. You know, dances with great-looking guys, never-ending platters of gourmet food served by great-looking guys, live shows every night featuring great-looking guys and day in and day out tons of great-looking guys hanging over the railings looking for someone to talk with. Someone like me.
Didn’t work out that way. Not for me, anyway, and even though I knew the complete failure of what I labeled ‘cruise happiness’ was because of a bad attitude – mine – that didn’t change the fact that I felt cheated.
I suppose I shouldn’t have blamed the cruise line. I should have put the blame squarely where it belonged, on my newly ex-husband and his equally new wife, aka his former assistant, who was half his age and half my size. I wanted to squish her between my thumb and forefinger and could have done so without breaking a sweat if I’d tried.
But I was nice so I simply smiled as I took my half of our accumulated net worth and laughed all the way to the bank while my ex tried to figure how to support his new wife on half of what he’d expected from the divorce. She loves expensive shoes, purses, and just about everything else that costs big bucks and he’d thought he could afford her and he could have if he’d gotten everything. But I had a great lawyer, which was actually more important than guys on cruises who look great. But I’d hoped to have both.
When my great lawyer handed me that beautiful check, I went straight to the bank and then to the travel agency and booked a cruise. After looking through brochures I decided to sail across the Caribbean and soak in the sun and run along sandy beaches and swim in the boat’s pool and enjoy myself if it killed me. I figured the great-looking guys the travel agency hinted at would help.
I expected to come back from the cruise a new woman and get on with my life and laugh at my ex’s failure to satisfy his very young and very expensive wife. Actually I wouldn’t laugh because I’d be too busy being a new, gloriously happy me to even remember who he was.
That was the plan. The reality was a tad different, mainly because of the total lack of great-looking guys who weren’t afraid of me. My angry – no, make that furious! — expression that was in danger of becoming permanent may have been part of the problem. Might have been what chased them away from me and into the arms of all the other middle-aged women looking for fun who’d also booked the cruise and were happy and looked it.
But there was one bright spot to the cruise and I looked forward to it eagerly. I’d booked that particular ship with its particular itinerary because it would stop at a small tropical island owned by the cruise company that was used for a stop-over complete with a beach party beneath the stars. Other than when the ship stopped to have a party, the island was deserted. Completely. No towns. No people. Just another tropical island covered with trees and rife with exotic wildlife.
I’d never been on a tropical island and the concept enchanted me. I didn’t care if great-looking guys were included because it would be more than enough just to experience an unspoiled tropical paradise. I could hardly wait and when our ship docked at that private island it didn’t disappoint. It was gorgeous. Right out of a movie.
I was the first person off the boat. Ship. Whatever it was called. I doffed my sandals and dug my toes into hot, white sand and knew I’d remember this cruise forever as a wonderful experience because of the white sand beach and the lovely island. Nothing could be better.
Of course, the beach party was nice too. After hours of walking on carefully marked trails during the day I was both hungry and thirsty and glad for the bonfires blazing every few yards along the beach so there were enough for everyone to enjoy without crowding. It was the start of a perfect night.
The thing was, there was alcohol available. Free alcohol. Now I’m not a drinker. A glass of wine now and then if the occasion warrants or maybe a cocktail that I never finish because… just because.
But this was different. An occasion. The completion of my separation from a man I now wondered how I’d ever been in love with. That made it a life changing event and such events often involve alcohol, don’t they? Well, I’d just had such an event and that meant the night definitely qualified. So I decided it wouldn’t hurt to drink just a tiny bit more than usual. To celebrate. So I did.
As the night wore on and the drinks kept coming complete with tiny umbrellas and fruit slices on the sides, I decided I was done with people and wanted solitude and that this island was the place to find it. Lots of trees to hide behind, lots of stars to gaze at, lots of everything tropical islands excel at and if I left the hoards of noisy people behind I could pretend the island was deserted and believe that I was the only person on Earth and a competent, single woman who would get on with her life pronto. A nice thought.
So I sought darkness and solitude and found it, following the beach until the bonfires were no longer visible and the night crept into my soul and I found everything I’d been seeking for longer than I realized. Since the day my marriage started to crumble and now that I was alone and being honest I admitted that day was farther in the past than when my now former husband had hired a young assistant.
I found a tree to lean against and sat and contemplated the sky, the stars, the ocean’s bright waves, and life in general until I heard the very loud and very persistent klaxon call of the cruise ship’s horn telling everyone that it was time to return so we could continue our travels.
I planned to do just that after a few more moments of contemplation of moonbeams on the water and listening to night songbirds. Just a couple moments more.
Another bad decision.
The next thing I knew, the sun was shining brightly on the water that moments earlier had reflected the light of stars and the moon and how’d that happen, anyway? And why did my head hurt?
More important, I decided, I’d better find the boat – ship – and get on board because that horn had said it was time to leave. The horn had blasted the silence of the night to smithereens and now that I thought about it and checked the bright sunshine, I decided it might have been more than a few minutes since I heard it so I’d better hurry.
Except when I reached the beach after ignoring a head that throbbed with each step, the boat – ship — was nowhere to be seen and how could it have disappeared in the few minutes that I’d spent contemplating life? How had it made all the passengers disappear, the ones that had been on the beach a short time earlier?
As I stared at the empty dock, I realized that it couldn’t. Making that many people disappear instantly was totally impossible. So I was missing something, I just didn’t know what.
I paced the beach and checked the dock again and the metal fire rings nicely spaced along the beach that had once held blazing bonfires and now contained cold, black ashes and I realized something. Something awful.
It was the next day and I’d missed the boat.
I was alone and stranded on a deserted topical island.
Still – as I walked among the cold fire pits, I didn’t feel like someone who’s just become a castaway. In fact, I felt kind of good. It wouldn’t last, I told myself as I considered the trees swaying in the tropical breeze and the lapping of blue and white frothed waves breaking across the white beach. No, Paradise wouldn’t last because it never does but while it had hold of my body and mind, it was wonderful.
I turned. A woman about my age was emerging from those swaying trees. So I wasn’t alone after all. “Hey, you!” she shouted again.
Okay the island had a caretaker and she didn’t like left-over people making tracks on her beach that had already lost the tracks of the many people from the previous night and looked like it had never been trod upon, except for me. Waves do that, I decided in some corner of my mind. Waves and water and wind. All lovely things and maybe it was nice that there was someone else on my island after all because she’d know what to do about missed connections.
“Are you talking to me?” I waited for her to come to me because she didn’t look happy and the first rule of warfare is to hold your ground against the enemy. She looked kind of like the enemy.
Which meant she looked kind of like me. The me since my late husband walked out. Antagonistic. Angry. Not to be fooled with. Dangerous, even. So I folded my arms in a deceptively innocent way and asked again, “Are you speaking to me?” I would have tapped my foot except tapping on sand isn’t effective.
She reached me. “Where’d the boat go?” She stared at me. Hard.
“How should I know?” I stared back. Harder than she stared at me.
She kept staring. “Because you’re the only person left on this island, that’s why you should know. Caretakers know things like that and I’d like you to call the boat back so I can continue with my cruise.”
My mouth dropped. “Me? You’re insane. I’m not a caretaker.” I poked a finger at her. Another warfare tactic. “You’re the caretaker and I was about to ask you to call the boat back so I could continue with my cruise.”
We stared at one another until she said, “You’re not the caretaker?”
And I asked, “You’re not either?”
A pause after which we spoke in unison. “We both missed the boat.”
We sat down then. On the sand. Hard. And said nothing for the longest time. Then I ventured with, “What do we do now?”
“How should I know? I’ve never been shipwrecked before.” I could have reminded her that we weren’t shipwrecked because the ship was fine, wherever it was. We were the ones with problems.
“Cell service?” She pulled out her cell and tried to get it to work, then she put it back in her pocket. “Nope.”
We stared at the beautiful blue-green ocean and multi-colored birds flying against the brilliantly summer blue sky. We stared for a long time. Until she said, “My name is Emily and I’m hungry.”
“Jan and me too.” I shaded my eyes with a hand and examined the trees. “Coconuts, maybe?”
She followed my look. “They are pretty tall. And scratchy looking. I’d prefer something easier.”
I thought a moment. “Maybe they keep supplies on the island. For beach parties.” It seemed like a reasonable thing to do. “Let’s look around. We might find something.”
“Like a two-way radio.”
So we looked and, yes, we found a shed and it wasn’t even locked because there was no need for locks on deserted islands. And, yes, there were a few industrial sized cans of peaches and boxes upon boxes of tiny umbrellas. Then we found sealed cans of crackers and cheese and we sat down right then and there and ate our fill of crackers and cheese and peaches but we ignored the little umbrellas. We’d had enough of little umbrellas the previous night.
“Time slipped away from me,” Emily said, finally picking up an umbrella and holding it at arm’s length. “Too many of these little things and too many lovely, fruity drinks.”
“Me too. They were very good drinks.”
“I was celebrating,” she said defensively. “I don’t normally drink that much.”
“Me too – celebrating — and neither do I normally drink that much, but I did last night and I’m not sorry. Except for the being stranded on a deserted island part. I’m kind of sorry about that.”
“What were you celebrating?”
“My recent divorce.” There. I said it. Out loud. Just tossed the words out as if it wasn’t important.
“Really?” She turned towards me and our eyes met. Two middle-aged women who were neither thin nor cute. “Me too and though I thought I’d die when it happened, I’m now happy to be free of the rat-fink.”
“That makes two of us,” I replied and realized that was exactly how I felt. Happy to be rid of my former husband. Free even though I was temporarily in a difficult situation.
We sat there on the sand with tiny umbrellas in our hands without the alcohol that went with them. And without knowing quite what triggered it, we started to laugh and before we knew what was happening, we were rolling on the sand with laughter and telling each other our life stories and they were so alike that we laughed even louder and decided we were sisters in every way but blood.
Then our mouths became sort of parched from laughter and the sand that was quite gritty and we decided that survival was more important than sisterhood so we searched further because peaches didn’t have enough liquid in them to keep our thirst quenched, especially since we’d also been eating salty crackers.
And that was how we came upon the tiny creek that trickled among the trees and the other sheds that had been erected in such a way as to not be noticeable to tourists who were looking for a deserted island but were handy for the people who kept those tourists happy.
One was stocked with tables and tablecloths and napkins and candles and elegant plates and cups and everything needed for a banquet. “We didn’t get a banquet.” Emily sniffed as she examined the exquisite napkins.
“We got bonfires. Maybe other cruises get banquets.” It also had plastic glasses like the ones we’d drunk from the night before and we used a couple to scoop out cold water from the creek and drank until we were sated. Never mind that we might die from who knew what disease that water held, we felt great.
And happy. We smiled and laughed and danced on the sand and set one of those tables for a banquet for two and while we did those things everything that had been wanting to come out of me for a long, long time came out and danced with me and Emily said the same thing was true of her.
“So now what?” she finally said, when our euphoria had subsided and we had to once again face our situation. “When is the next cruise ship scheduled to stop here?”
“Surely there will be other ships passing by before then. We can signal them.”
She gave me a long look. “With what? And what if it’s an airplane instead of a ship? How will we signal it?”
“We can write in the beach sand.”
“The water washes everything away almost instantly.”
So we thought further. “Let’s look more. We never did find that short wave radio.”
So we looked. And we looked some more. And then we looked still more. We never did find a short wave radio but we did find a whole bunch of things that we thought were rather unique. We found flares.
Emily – ‘Em’ by then because being stranded on a deserted island speeds up the friendship process a lot – said her father had worked for the railroad and she knew about flares. “You snap off the cap and rub it against the flare and it lights up. No matches needed.”
There were lots of flares. Dozens. So she showed me and soon we were both brandishing flares much as we’d done sparklers on the Fourth of July when we were kids. Except the flares were more colorful and way bigger. It was fun. Real, idiotic fun.
“Now all we need is someone passing by to see a flare.”
“They’ll come,” Em said with what I thought was a slightly diminished degree of the self-confidence that had lifted both of us to an emotional high since finding each other and discovering we shared similar backgrounds. And similar ex-husbands.
I couldn’t help what happened next. I started drooping a bit, too. “It could be a teeny tiny while.”
We stared at one another and then at the small, well-hidden shacks that contained all we had in the way of survival equipment. “No clothes,” she said forlornly, all pretense of swagger gone.
“We have clothes. We’re wearing them.”
“Do islands get cold at night?” We didn’t know. During the one night we’d already spent on the island we hadn’t been in any condition to take note of our surroundings or gauge the temperature. “I hope not.”
At which moment, we heard a sound. Not the birds or the ever-present tropical wind or the trees swaying in that wind. Something else. Some other kind of sound.
“A ship!” Em ran to the beach and I followed. “It’s a ship.” She turned and ran back to the shed we’d just left. “Flares! We need flares. Lots of them.”
“They’ll see us. They will.” I added ‘I hope’ and ‘please’ but I added them silently because I didn’t want to seem like a kill-joy as we grabbed arms-full of flares and ran back to the beach, where we snapped the caps off two flares, rubbed them as Em instructed, and to our delight watched as they burst into flame.
“We’re saved. We get to go home.”
“Home.” We both wondered what home would be like. Different than before was all we knew. Worse? Better?
We looked at the ship, then held our flares high as we waded into the ocean and waved them wildly, and then we looked at each other standing in the ocean and waving a bunch of flares like a couple of idiots. And we started laughing once more, our optimism renewed and our lives looking better and better with each passing second.
Because with the arrival of that ship, we suddenly knew that we had a future. Maybe we didn’t know what it would be like but we did know it waited for us with open arms.
As the ship drew closer we also knew – we felt in our bones – we internalized the knowledge — that that waiting future, like the approaching ship, would be wonderful. Absolutely awesome.
The flares turned out to be unnecessary. The ship was our ship – the cruise ship – that had realized two passengers had been left behind and returned to pick us up.
We walked onto that ship with all the grace and dignity we could manage, strolling slowly as if this was an every-day occurrence for world travelers like us. As if the whole thing was a lark. As if we’d known all along that we’d be rescued and it was only what special people like us deserved. When we reached my stateroom, which happened to be the closest one, we collapsed on the bed.
“Did you see the dirty looks we got?” Passengers had been lined up all along the side of the ship as we boarded and every eye had been on us.
“I’m guessing the ship had to skip some excursions because of the time it took to come back for us.”
Em shrugged elaborately. “Not that I care.” But her lower lip trembled and we both knew that joining the rest of the passengers for social events was going to be hard. Very hard.
Those great-looking guys would look at us and shake their heads and we’d not know if it was because we were so angry that we scared the crap out of them – which had been the case before we were stranded — or because we were a couple of dumb, middle-aged women who didn’t have the sense to return to the ship when the klaxon went off.
Em held her head high. “Who cares what anyone thinks? We had an adventure. A real adventure.”
“Yes we did and it was wonderful.” Which, in retrospect, it had been. Absolutely awesome.
We looked at one another and burst into laughter. Again. I held my middle but couldn’t stop the laughs. “Laughing is getting to be routine.”
“It’s good for us.” She tossed her head back and let the laughter roll out of her. “So what if we are two addle-brained women who got stranded on a deserted island?” She thought a moment, then said, “Two very addle-brained middle-aged women.”
My next words came out unbidden. “And isn’t that great? Wonderful? Fabulous?”
We stopped laughing. We stared at one another. And we found ourselves nodding. “What happened was all of those things,” Em said quietly. “Wonderful. Fabulous. Amazing.”
The laughter dissipated and we knew, somehow, that it wouldn’t return because it wouldn’t be needed. Because we’d got beyond needing it. “And some day we will look back on this cruise as the best thing that ever happened to us.”
“We did. We are survivors.”
“We are also now two truly happy women.”
I stood up, straightened as tall as possible, strode across the stateroom and opened the door to the outside and all those people who would be looking down their noses at us. “It’s a beautiful day. Let’s enjoy ourselves.”
And we did. We danced to the ship’s band with each other and alone and both ways were fun and we didn’t notice or care whether those great-looking guys were checking us out or not because they were no longer important.
We ate unhealthy food until our stomachs rebelled and we had to go outside and stare over the railings at the sun-streaked sky long enough for our stomachs to settle and the sky to turn to night with stars and shining waves becoming part of us.
As the days passed, we met other people and talked with them and discovered that some were out of sorts because we’d changed their itinerary but others thought we’d had the most exciting adventure they could imagine and they were jealous and wanted to hear the details over and over again.
When the cruise ended, we exchanged contact information. Because we’re going on another cruise next summer. Together. One with a stop at a tropical island.
It’ll be fun and hopefully we won’t end up stranded once again. The brochure said there’d be a gourmet feast on their own private island and we both truly do like islands. But not being stranded on them. I mean, we’ve done that and don’t need a repeat.
Episodes 1 and 2 are online in Kindle Vella, Amazon’s newest way to read stories, one episode at a time. Since the first 3 episodes are always free, you can start reading CONVERGENCE for zero cents to see if it’s your kind of story.
Here’s what it’s about:
New planet. New home. New life. Pray things go right because calls for help trillions of miles from Earth don’t get answered.
There’s the pollen. Pollen is harmless. Isn’t it? And there are the whisperers who followed the colonists to this new place. Are they from Earth? They must be. Unless they aren’t.
But these colonists traveled between stars to start a new civilization on this particular world and they don’t intend to let anything stop them. They’ll fight for their new home. Problem is, winning is never guaranteed.
And here’s an excerpt:
The first team to the planet’s surface wasn’t expected to survive so no cameras were allowed. Without a record of whatever disaster befell them, it could be hushed up. The powers that be could come up with a logical explanation for dead or missing team members, a tragic fall, perhaps, or some other story. But that wouldn’t work if there were pictures.
They planned that if that happened – and they were pretty sure it would – they’d suitably mourn those lost, wait a while, and then send down a second team. If that team suffered a similar fate, they’d send a third. And, if necessary, a fourth. And so on.
Because this was the place they’d been heading towards for generations. This particular, specific planet. Not the next planet or the one after that. This planet and no other. They would stay here. They would colonize it no matter what. Danger and death be damned.
I’m looking to create a street team for my stories on Amazon’s Kindle Vella.
If you don’t know what Kindle Vella is, you’re not alone. Amazon did little to nothing in the way of promotion. I suspect their reasoning was to give authors free reign to do whatever they choose and Amazon will then follow by doing those things that are most successful. In the meantime, every author is on their own.
So I’m thinking of creating a street team and together we’ll strategize how to publicize something new. The kicker is that you can’t even read Kindle Vella on your Kindle. Not yet anyway and don’t know if they’ll ever do it. Instead you read it on your phone, computer, etc. Just like social media, in short episodes of 600 to 5,000 words each.
Mine normally are between 1,000 and 2,000 words each and the first 3 episodes are free, which is nice, and you can purchase ‘tokens’ to read the rest at greatly discounted costs, and every new subscriber is given 200 tokens free. So the cost is nothing or minimal if you keep reading.
Anyway, if you are interested in helping me publicize my stories and figuring out how to publicize a new story medium, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org (the email I use for writing, not my personal email address) and we’ll go from there.
And just to have a picture to show with this post, here’s the cover for my second Kindle Vella story, titled CONVERGENCE. I chose a warrior woman because I remembered that faces are the best covers of all and I liked her expression. That’s one tough woman who is also feminine. My kind of cover.
“These are beyond their prime,” Lola said with a frown. Lola being my boss at Flowers4U, the best flower shop in the city according to the customers who kept us in business. “Do what you want with them but do not use them in anything that is for sale.”
I examined the flowers, red and white and still pretty, though, as Lola had said, past their prime. “I’ll bring them home with me.” Which she knew I’d say because it was what I always said when she decided flowers were past their prime. “They’ve still got some life in them and my apartment could use a bit of cheering up.”
“Humph,” Lola said in the faux grumpy voice she uses sometimes. “That place could use a few windows is what it could use.” Referring to my two rooms and a bath on the second floor of an ancient apartment building overlooking a tiny yard featuring grass with flowers around the edge. But the only way I could see that lovely piece of nature was to stand on my tiptoes and stare out my single, tiny, living room window. So flowers in vases scattered throughout my apartment, even those past their best days, were a welcome addition to my at-home life. I brought home all the blooms from Flowers4U that would otherwise be tossed.
I kept them alive as long as possible in vases and jars filled with water and all the best nutrients Flowers4U had on their shelves, complements of Lola who loved flowers and wanted to know they’d lived as long as possible. I’d care for the flowers and remember my grandfather’s farm and the flowers he grew for my grandma. Red flowers were her favorite. Red like the ones I was looking at now.
When there was no life left in the drooping petals that were past their prime, I’d toss them into the can for composting that was beside the dumpster that was beside the gate that led from that tiny spot of natural beauty to the great beyond, otherwise known as the bustling center of our small city.
I loved the city. I’d moved there from that beloved farm so I could visit museums and art galleries and restaurants featuring food from everywhere on Earth. I couldn’t do that in the country. So I chose the city and missed the flower garden and my grandparents but they were happy for me as long as I visited occasionally.
So now in my city apartment, I considered those red flowers that would eventually be so far gone that even I would have to say goodbye to them. But I never knew what happened to them after they were tossed and had never been curious until now. I presumed they went to the landfill along with the rest of the apartment building trash. Of course they did. Where else could they go? Where else could any trash go?
Of course, before that happened, I played my flower game. In fact, even before finding the perfect vase from among my many garage sale finds and filling it with water and nutrients that would revive the aging blooms, I held the flowers in one hand and counted the petals with one finger of the other hand.
“Love me, love me not,” I’d say as I touched each petal and when I reached the last petal on that particular blossom, I’d know whether or not I was loved. Of course the fact that I had no current boyfriend made the game irrelevant and the additional fact that I had an armful of blossoms and so ended up with about the same number of ‘love me’ and ‘love me not’ petals didn’t make the game any less fun.
Lola says I’m an introvert and that’s why I play the flower game. I see myself as a quiet person who didn’t happen to know any more people since moving to the city than I’d known before living there. I had a total of one friend. Lola.
So my game with flowers was an exercise in imagination that brought that ‘harrump’ from her every time she caught me at it, saying I should count men instead of petals and why hadn’t I found the right one yet? Lola was big on me finding the right man. She said it was major life event. I wasn’t in any hurry and was happy with my flowers.
Until they died and I threw them away.
Except that one time, when the red and white petals grew limp and I knew the time had come to say goodbye to them, for some unknown reason, curiosity caught at me and I wanted to know exactly what happened to them next. When did the trash guys come and bring my lovely flowers to their final resting place? Did they bury them in the earth as I deemed proper or were they thrown carelessly on top of other peoples’ left-over dinner?
I decided to find out. I had a lot of time on my hands and two days off when they finally reached the end of their lives. So I took them to that trash can and dropped them in and went back upstairs and found a book to read and a tall chair with a lot of pillows on it to sit on so I could be high enough to see through that tiny window because I didn’t know when the trash was picked up but I hoped it would be while I was watching so I could run down to the yard before they left and ask them what they did with old flowers.
I never found out, mainly because my dead flowers didn’t stay with the kitchen trash very long. In fact, it was afternoon of the morning I’d tossed them into the trash can that a movement caught my attention. You know how it happens. You’re reading a book and are in the middle of the most exciting scene of the whole book when there’s a flutter in the corner of your eye. Something that can’t be ignored no matter how much you try to pretend it’s not happening. Then you remind yourself that the reason you’re sitting where you are – on a really tall stool stolen from your kitchen so you can actually see out the tiny window – is because you wanted to know when the trash was picked up.
Which was happening at that exact moment. Except there was no trash truck. No noisy behemoth chugging down the alley. No workers shouting orders and gossip to each other as they turned a dirty piece of city into a clean piece.
Nope, there was just one person – a man – and he was only interested in the can full of kitchen waste and my dead flowers. I left my stool and pressed my nose against the window to see better as he carefully inspected the contents of the can and carefully, almost reverently, pulled my dead flowers out, along with a few other things that might have been green and growing at one time, and dropped them to the ground beside the trash can as he rummaged further to see if there was more to be salvaged. To be saved.
Why save dead flowers and other dead green stuff? I had to know so I dropped my book to the floor after carefully marking my place so I could later find out how the author resolved the unresolvable crisis in the book, and then I ran down to the ground level two stairs at a time.
And found a nice-looking guy walking across the lawn carrying green stuff and my flowers in his arms. And smiling happily.
“Why are you smiling about dead flowers and even deader green stuff?” I stood in front of him with my hands on my hips and my feet apart in what anyone would recognize as a confrontational gesture.
Startled, he stopped. His mouth dropped open. He considered my confrontational stance, head to toe and back again. And then he smiled. Again. “Because they are wonderful.”
“Dead flowers are wonderful?” I stuck my head towards him and knitted my brows in my most threatening expression.
“Absolutely and they are exactly what I need.”
“You need dead green stuff and dead flowers?”
“Yep.” Then he just stood there and let me try to figure out what he was talking about, knowing I couldn’t and enjoying my confusion. Until he possibly felt sorry for me and explained. “As compost.”
“Compost? Really? In the city? I doubt it.” I worked at a florist so I knew about cities and green growing things and flowers and stuff like that.
He took a few steps around me and continued on to a corner of the yard where he dropped his armload of dead stuff on a pile. Then he picked up a pitchfork just like the one my grandfather still uses on his farm a few hundred miles beyond the city and turned the pile until my lovely dead flowers and all that other dead green stuff disappeared in a pile of rich, black, beautiful dirt.
Rich, black, beautiful dirt. Just like the dirt on my grandfather’s farm that was made from organic waste. Except my grandfather’s waste was country waste. This was city waste. Flowers from a florist. But it did the same thing. Served the same purpose. Turned dead stuff into dirt to feed and sustain new living, greenery and as many lovely, beautiful flowers as any gardener could wish for.
“I apologize,” I said in a very small voice as I came beside him and examined the lovely, beautiful black dirt he was in the process of making.
“No apology needed,” he grunted as he stopped long enough to point in the direction of a second pitchfork. “But help would be appreciated.” He wiped his forehead because it was a hot day and he was working. Like on a farm but in the middle of the city. “Not necessary, of course, but if you’re in the mood for exercise and don’t mind getting dirty, there’s a lot of dirt that needs to be turned.”
Was I in the mood? Was I ever! Pictures of my grandfather floated through my mind as I actually ran to that pitchfork and grabbed it and found a place on the other side of the dirt and proceeded to do what I’d done as a kid and loved doing it. That day, too, I loved every second that I worked, every splotch of dirt on my arms and expensive jeans, and every ray of sunshine that warmed me both inside and out, and every smile that I found myself sharing with the stranger who made his own dirt just like my grandfather.
“I’m Peter and you’ve done this before.” As I tossed still another pitchfork of dirt exactly the right way to aerate it.
“Yep, lots of times on the farm and I’m Carin.”
“Hi, Carin, and it’s nice to meet another city farmer.”
“I always thought farms were for the country.”
“There are lots of farms in cities. You just have to look in the right places.”
I examined the tiny yard behind our apartment building that I’d always admired and never paid much attention to because it was, after all, the city and, therefore, not worthy of the notice of a real farmer. “Guess I’ve been a snob. Sorry about that.”
“No apology needed. Just strong arms and a willing body.”
I giggled and soon learned that there were lots of city people who took off their work clothes when they got home evenings and put on farmer duds and went to work digging in dirt that they’d pretty much created themselves out of old flowers and weeds and kitchen trash that they then turned into tiny gardens and mini-farms stuck between tall buildings and on rooftops and around playgrounds and everywhere they could dump some of that dirt and plant seeds and then get to work.
I decided they were faux farmers and called them that — but not out loud. Peter didn’t label them at all but he philosophized about them. “Some people like the earth. And dirt. And flowers. So if they prefer being surrounded by dirt after work, that’s okay.” He grinned the grin I’d come to know well because it blossomed so easily when he was working out of doors. “People like me.”
We just stood there and stared at each other like idiots. I’d never thought about what kind of person I was before but suddenly I did as the sun beat down hot and heavy and the scent of flowers hung on the air in that tiny garden between two apartment buildings with the rich scent of black dirt adding a pungency to the day.
And I thought of Peter and how alike we were. City people with dirt beneath our fingernails. We were wet with sweat and covered with home-made dirt and it was glorious and beautiful and exactly what I wanted. A farm in the city and a friend who felt the same. A real friend. My second city friend after Lola.
What could be better? Nothing.
What could happen to ruin it? Nothing.
Except rain. Too much rain. More rain than tiny yards with grass and flowers need, more than they want, more than they can absorb. Unfortunately, that’s what we got. And that rain turned that pile of beautiful black dirt into mud and the dirt that had already been made into a garden into more mud and then still more mud.
Eventually the flower garden that enclosed the tiny green yard I’d come to love disappeared in a carpet of black, gooey mud and Peter and I had to face facts like all farmers do now and then when the weather doesn’t cooperate. We were out of the farming business.
I wondered if I’d also lose a friend because he was a farm type friend and we no longer had a farm. I hoped not but didn’t know for sure.
Lola noticed my glum face at Flowers4U. “Are you intentionally trying to chase customers away or do you just prefer looking like yesterday’s roses?”
“My farm died.”
“Your farm?” Her eyebrows shot up. “You mean your grandfather’s farm?”
“What? Grandpa? No, his farm is fine. It’s my farm that died.”
“You live in the city. Farms are country things.”
“Not this one. Not the one that my apartment overlooks.”
“Your pathetic apartment with no windows? That apartment? It has a farm?”
“Yep. There’s a yard with a flower garden.” I remembered and used the proper tense. “Was a flower garden until the rain came. That kind of a farm. A sort of one.”
“Hmmmm.” She thought for a long time. “So you actually do have a garden. A real not pretend flower garden. Did have one.” I nodded sadly and explained about flowers and compost and Peter all in one long sentence without stopping for breath and she listened intently. “You had flowers. And a garden. And a friend named Peter. Three wonderful things.”
Then, with that harrumph that she’s famous for, she said, “It’s about time you found a friend. We’ve got to do something about this friend before he disappears.” Then she added, “And the flowers too, of course.”
The next day, Monday, when Flowers4U was closed because even florists need time for a personal life, I slept in because there was no garden work to be done and I didn’t feel like wading through mud and Peter was somewhere doing whatever Peter does when he’s not being a city farmer. So why wake up? No reason.
Except there was a knock on my door that couldn’t be ignored no matter how hard I tried. So I staggered to the door, opened it, and ushered Lola into my apartment. “Get up,” she said as she swished through the two rooms to that single high window to look out and see my former garden for herself. “We’ve got work to do.” Stared at the mud. “Lots of work from the look of things.” Then, “That’s a lot of mud out there.”
“It used to be dirt. Before it was mud. Dirt with flowers growing in it. Beautiful flowers.” I pointed a finger at her. “Do you know what dirt is made of? What it is if it isn’t mud? Do you know that you are staring at the pathetic remains of your former flowers?”
She snapped her head in the affirmative. “And that’s why we must do whatever we can to bring that mud back to what it should be – dirt — so it can bring still more flowers to life and so this yard can once again be beautiful.”
I’d revived enough to realize what she’d said, so I asked, “How?”
“With fans that I borrowed from a lot of people I know and with the help of most of those people.”
“Why my customers, of course.” She gave me a look that said I had a lot to learn about life. “The people we’ve gotten to know over the years who we provided with lovely flowers for all that time and, therefore, made friends with.” She sniffed. “Those people. Those wonderful people.”
She was right. Before I knew what was happening, that tiny yard was full of people in rubber boots with shovels and rakes and pitchforks that they must have borrowed from country farmers because there’s no such thing as city pitchforks and a few huge fans that blew that mud that they were tossing every which way until it was dry. Until it was dirt. Black dirt. Beautiful dirt. Former flowers dirt.
Peter was in awe of all those people and of Lola. “You have some pretty powerful friends.” He rubbed some newly dry, black dirt between his fingers and I could just see him planning a brand new flower garden.
But Lola wasn’t done. She then talked with Peter about flowers and gardens and other stuff they had in common and when they finally ran out of things to talk about she provided him with seeds and bulbs for a flower garden beautiful enough to make the entire city bloom. And all the nutrients that were needed for those flowers.
Given enough time for all those seeds and bulbs to become flowers, that small part of the city did bloom and I had to stop counting petals because I didn’t have the time any more. I was busy. With Peter. We are now partners in a tiny garden in the middle of our small city that becomes more lovely every year.
Because we work at it. Like we work at getting to know one another better. Lola says both are rewarding enterprises though I suspect she prefers the getting-to-know each other work because, like I said earlier, she worries about my single state.
Which won’t bother her much longer. Peter and I are planning next spring’s garden to be extra special because it’s where we’re holding our wedding.