Short Story Wednesday: Orchids

Short Story Prompt: “Chrysanthemums” by John Steinbeck.

Wendy dropped her boy off at the airport on a Friday morning. He had an early flight out to Fort Benning and basic training. She went home and did not cry. She attended his orchids instead.

Ten weeks later, her boy came home a man, handsome in his uniform, quieter, more serious in his manner. There were hugs and a cup of coffee, then he was off to his orchids in the greenhouse he had built three years earlier. At the end of his two-week leave, Roy gave her some new instructions for the orchids. He gave her a hug and that big grin of his. Then he was off for Fort Hood and his unit.

There he phoned or emailed about once a week. The emails usually contained several snaps, Roy and friends, Roy with a new girl he had met in the town, Roy driving a jeep. Always he had that grin of his. He went on about this new buddy or that one, and always he asked how are the orchids doing. “They’re fine,” she would say, holding back her tears. The news was that his unit would be going to Iraq. He wasn’t sure when. After each call or email, she went out and tended his orchids.

Two weeks went by with only a couple of emails, then he skyped her. He was in Fallujah, he said. “Fallujah?” Fear was in her voice. “That’s in Iraq,” he said. “And I’m fine. I’m with my buds. We watch out for each other. How’s my orchids?” “They’re good,” she returned, holding her fears inside. Each time he would call the flowers by their names. She could never remember the names. All she knew was that the orchids were fine.

Her son’s body arrived at the funeral home on Tuesday. From Tuesday till Saturday, she could not stop her crying. She would stop for fifteen minutes, then tears were back like water breaking through a levee. The funeral was Saturday. The rifles for the salute to her son gave her a headache. Then the words the soldier spoke to her she’d couldn’t remember, and the flag laid in her arms, instead of the son she had once held.

Wendy walked back to the car between her married daughter and her ex-husband. Ed had flown in from Los Angeles. He seemed to be holding himself together, but she knew how hard he was taking his son’s death. When they got home, there was food and people. She wasn’t ready for all that. “Mom, why don’t you go upstairs and get some rest?” her daughter suggested.

“I’m going out to the greenhouse,” Wendy said. Alice shook her head, understanding.

She opened the greenhouse, turned the fogger on,, then slipped on her gloves. In her mind, she went through the names he had given her for the orchids. Somehow she had remembered what she had forgotten before. Then through the mist, she heard Roy’s voice. “I’m okay, Mom,” it said. “I love you. And thank you for taking care of my orchids.” Then it was gone. She picked up one of the orchids, cut the flower off at the stem, and tenderly set it in the basket. When she finished the cuttings, she would have enough orchids for her daughter, her ex and Roy’s closest friends.

Next Wednesday’s Short Story Prompt: “A Clean Well-Lighted Place” by Ernest Hemingway.

Change, But Not Really a Change

Beginning next Sunday, I will be changing my post dates to two days a week, Sunday and Wednesday. Sundays will be the kind of entertaining, free-ranging pieces, with a few surprises from time to time, that you have come to expect from Uncle Bardie’s Stories & Such. The Friday short story prompt will move to a Wednesday post. Tomorrow will be the next short story prompt.

The other day I was talking to someone who had been following a blog. She enjoyed the blog until recently when the blogger had gone to daily posting. The follower just couldn’t keep up with that many posts. This got me thinking. Am I overloading my readers? Am I choosing to give them quantity over quality?

Since my first post on Sunday, August 11, 2013, I have posted 89 times. I put a lot of thought into each post. Is this post something I think my readers will enjoy? Am I repeating things said better in a previous post?

In an effort to offer quality material to my readers, I go through, at least, three drafts. The first draft gets the idea or story down on paper. The second draft organizes the material. The third polishes the post and dresses it up in its Sunday best. Even then, I still miss things.

Another question that arises: Am I going to run out of the enjoyment of creating a post, and the energy? With all this in mind, I am thinking that two posts a week would be an ideal. I can always go back to three. And from time to time I can do an extra post for occasions such as St. Patrick’s Day.

This gives me time to work on other writing projects. This includes a novel and several longer pieces that currently need editing, each too long for a post on this blog. Also I work at a forty-hour-a-week job. And from time to time there is a need to refill the tank with new ideas and new insights. This can only be gained from reading, from watching movies, from listening to new music, and from the simple act of living.

When I began this blog, I thought three posts a week would be something I could maintain and offer quality. So far that has worked for me. But due to the reasons I have related above, I have come to realize that maybe three is a little too much. Two would be better.

I am so thankful that I now have over 100 of you followers. Each reader of this blog means a lot to me. I try never to take any of you, dear readers, for granted. And I love your comments and your likes. This lets me know if I have hit a bull’s eye or not.

So, as someone once said, it’s onward and upward.

Sleeping Beauty, the Real Story

We all know the story of Sleeping Beauty. A prince kissed her to wake her up from a one-hundred-year long nap. Kind of makes Rip Van Winkle look like an amateur. There was such a sexual attraction between the two that they immediately did the deed. She did not fake her orgasm. When you’ve gone without for one hundred years, any prince will do. If not a prince, a carpenter or a woodsman, even a kitchen knave. Then came the marriage and they lived happily ever after.

That’s the story anyway. The one that the prince’s press agent put out for public consumption. When you’re a prince, you’ve got to keep up your image. But the story wasn’t true. Just look at Prince Charles. As soon as the public heard about the scrap he had with Diana, his poll numbers went down, not just in onesies and twosies but in decades.

A prince couldn’t afford to have his image tarnished like that. Especially in the olden days. Pretty soon there’d be a ruckus in the kingdom, the common folk in an uproar, and the prince hightailing it for God-knows-where. Don’t believe me? Just look at King John. In 1215, he had a Magna Carta shoved up his rump.

It is true how Beauty ended up in bed for that one hundred years. Her Mommy and her Dads gave a humungous eighteenth birthday gala for the Princess, the apple of their eye, the darling of the kingdom’s town crier society. When everybody’s back was turned, the Wicked Witch of the West, yes that witch, spiked Beauty’s chalice of Kickapoo Joy Juice with a mickey.

Why she did it, no one seems to know. Speculation is the Land of Oz had gotten boring and she had way too much time on her hands. What better way to bring excitement to her lackadaisical life than to show up in another fairy tale and mess things up royally for the fairy princess. Otherwise she had to go and tangle with Dorothy, and Dorothy was more than a handful.

Even though Beauty hated the taste of the Kick, she had manners up the wazoo. Etiquette said that a princess didn’t refuse a drink at her own birthday bash. So she sipped, then she was out like a light. Folks at the party thought she was dead. The royal doc advised the king and queen she was only asleep.

Wicked Witch didn’t want to kill the sweet young thang. She wasn’t a murderer. She just wanted to create some mischief. The potion would make Beauty sleep until a prince came along and kissed her ruby reds. I’m not talking shoes here. I’m talking lips.

Mommy and Dads Royal laid their precious child in a glass coffin for all to see and put her on an IV for nourishment. Then they sent for princes. Few showed. The few who showed weren’t about to kiss a princess in a coma no matter how lovely she was. They were afraid they would catch whatever she caught.

Time passed as it was bound to. Mommy and Dads died. The kingdom was taken over by a Regent. Regent wasn’t about to surrender his regency. He moved the coffin way out of sight. His thoughts on the matter: “Out of sight, out of mind.” An adviser suggested he do her in, but he wasn’t about to commit regicide. Regicides have consequences.

Pretty soon a hundred years passed. All that time Beauty dreamed. Being a beautiful princess, there wasn’t a nightmare among the bunch.

In her dreams, there were wonders her waking life never suspected. Paris in the springtime and walks by the Seine. Old Kyoto with its temples and cherry blossoms. Strolls by the fountains of Rome. Pyramids, the Sphinx and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. And oh, the food she ate. Sushi in Tokyo. Pizza in Rome. Koushari in Cairo. Paella in Barcelona. Not once did she gain a pound. It was heaven.

One particular dream put a huge smile on her face. There was this kingdom that needed a princess. It had snow ice caps and meadows with the loveliest of flowers. The people were all dressed in their traditional garb. No suits and ties for the guys or no formal dresses for the gals like it had been in her Daddy’s kingdom. It was love at first sight when Beauty saw the place. She volunteered to be their princess.

“Now that we have a princess,” the king, with his gentle eyes, kind smile and long white beard, said, “we need a prince.”

“But, Sire, we do have a prince,” his adviser said. “Remember he was turned into a frog by that Wicked Witch of the West. If our little princess kisses him on the lips, he will snap back to his princely self. And we can have a wedding.”

“Well, where is he?”

“Last we saw him he was down at the pond with all the other frogs. We’re not exactly sure which one he is.”

“You know what that means?” the king said.

“It means the princess is going to have to kiss a lot of frogs,” the adviser said, then turned to Beauty. “You willing to do that?”

She smiled and agreed. “Sacrifices must be made.”

The local frog-caller did his thing. Pretty soon a line of frogs waited for a smooch. And smooching there was. Beauty must have kissed a thousand frogs. The final frog, a rather handsome fellow, if a frog can be considered handsome. This frog approached Beauty, bowed politely and jumped up on her lap. She leaned down to kiss him, then—

She woke up. This old guy stood over her, slobbering all over her mouth. “Son of a bitch, why the whatever did you want to do that for?” she screamed and sat up.

“I’m your Prince Charming.” The old guy was shocked. After that incident with Cindy Rella and the shoes, he had spent fifty years searching for Miss Right. Here she was and she was not happy. He’d done the right thing. He’d chanced getting whatever she had and falling into a stupor. Now she too was rejecting him. What was a Prince Charming to do?

She pushed PC away.”You’re not my prince. No wonder I woke up. What with your b.o. and halitosis. You need to see a doctor for that stuff. And have you taken a look at your face lately? Warts.”

What happened next? It’s a sad tale. Prince Charming returned home to his castle. There he lived until he was one hundred and seventy-five. He died of a broken heart.

And the fate of Princess Beauty? She went in search for that one-in-a-million frog. Every time she came across a frog she picked the creature up and kissed it. Some say she is still searching. So, if you see a lovely young lady in your part of town kissing frogs, leave her alone. It’s just Beauty trying to find her Beastie.

Short Story Friday: “Nighthawks”

Short Story Prompt: “Cathedral” by Raymond Carver

Andy entered the large cavern that was The Bookstore. It was his favorite place of all his favorite places. A world of treasures, and there was always a new treasure to find. Stacks and stacks of books, new and used, and five floors of them. He hurried passed the cashiers. There were three of them, and always ringing up this or that customer.

He bounded up the stairs to the third floor after his favorite book. Someone borrowed his copy. Not just someone. His girlfriend, Tallis. She returned his book of Edward Hopper paintings with a third of the pages missing. She didn’t even apologize. “Here is that damned fool of a book you’re always bugging me about,” her lips said. He was deaf. “I don’t like it, and I don’t like you.”

He came to the shelf where the American artists were found. Where he first found the book of Hopper’s paintings. There were Andrew Wyeths, Grant Woods, Jackson Pollocks, Georgia O’Keefes. “No Hoppers. I can’t believe it. They’ve sold out. No ‘Nighthawks’.” There was a truckload of disappointment in his voice. He tried several other shelves to make sure he had the right shelf for the Hoppers. They were all gone.

Andy made his way back down the poorly lit, narrow alleyway of an aisle and toward the main thoroughfare where he knew there would be a clerk to help him. “May I help you, Mr. Harris?” The young female clerk recognized him from his many visits. He choked back his frustration and got out the word, “Hopper?”

“We’re sold out. There is a big conference on Hopper at the University and all the bookstores are sold out. We can order a copy for you if you like.” Her lips moved slowly so that he would get the words.

He shook his head no, then was back down the stairs and crashing out into the light of the midday sun. The light hurt his eyes. He blinked, then put on his sunglasses. He went to his left and toward the university. He had to see the painting, “Nighthawks”, one last time. One last time before his eyes gave out. One last time before he was blind.

Andy remembered the very first time he saw it. It was the day his hearing disappeared. His mother handed him a book on Hopper, her favorite artist, and he opened it right to the two-page spread of the painting. Until that moment, he had been frightened. He was going deaf. “Nighthawks” settled him into the courage to accept his fate. He was pulled into the painting and his isolation, his loneliness was their isolation, their loneliness. Many times since he had gone in search of that diner or a diner like it and never found it. Now he was searching for the painting for one last look.

Things were beginning to blur as he walked through the gates of the University and toward the conference. Would he make it in time? His walk changed into a run. He stopped several times to catch his breath and to ask where the conference was. Finally he found the auditorium.

The auditorium was filled with conference attendees. At the front and on the stage was “Nighthawks”. Andy could barely see it, his eyesight back to normal. But he could see enough of it to know that it was his painting. Each step toward the stage was lightened by his excitement. It might be the last thing he saw but he was going to see it. The audience watched, entranced, frozen, staring at the gray-haired man. The speaker stopped his talk.

Andy touched the steps to the stage, then he was on the stage, one thing on his mind. “Nighthawks.” Then he was in front of the painting. The canvas was large enough to give his eyes their fill of the pleasure he felt. There were the three people having their coffee. His friends, his parents who always made him feel loved. Loved. Tears blurred his eyes. Everything went dark. Everything fell into the darkest night.

But then he saw it. “Nighthawks” on the dark canvas of his blindness. And he knew he would never be alone again.

Next Friday’s Short Story Prompt: “The Chrysanthemums” by John Steinbeck

Hire the Bozo

On the occasion of the fifteenth anniversary of the Global News Network, Stanley Lloyd Spenser III, third generation owner and CEO of GNN, sat at the head of the solid mahogany table in the corporate boardroom. He fumbled for the right words to say, words he knew would change the direction of the network, broadcast journalism, and most likely, the entire world.

“Hire The Bozo,” he said to his underling Kirk Kirfartagain, sitting across the table from him.

“But, sir, The Bozo hasn’t been seen for six months. The last he was seen was in Zwackystan.”

“You’re going to have to dun your duds, dude, and go find him.”

“But, sir, I’m allergic to traveling.”

His boss, The Third, picked up the phone next to him and buzzed his Administrative Assistant. “Miss Pinkhouse, come in here please.”

The door to the boardroom opened and Melicia Pinkhouse, Administrative Assistant to The Big Cheese, Stanley Lloyd 3, came into the room.

“Yes, sir,” Mel came back with.

“Take K. K. with you to the Banana Republic, get him some duds, and go with him to Zwackystan. You have to find The Bozo.”

“But, sir…” she said.

“And get going today. I want to see El Boz by the end of the week. We need him to save The Network. And possibly the whole world.”

“But, sir…” she said again.

“Don’t ‘but, Sir’ me. After all, I am the Commander-in-Chief of this here Network. And what I say goes.”

“But, sir…. she said again some more.

“Look, Britannia rules the waves. So salute the flag and get the hell to Zwacky before you loose your corporate head to someone who is the adventuresome type.”

“But I’m no Morton Stanley,” K. K. said.

“Neither am I,” The Third came back with. “That was my great-great-grandpappy.”

“But, sir…” Miss Pinkhouse interrupted.

“Look, Pinky…” The Third said.

And before you can count one-two-three, she jumped in with, “The Bozo is in my office, sir.”

The Third breathed a sigh of relief.

Three weeks later, The Bozo was the new Anchorman. The Third finally sold the network to TNP, which stands for Take-No-Prisoners, for an undisclosed few billion bucks. Then he retired and went to live on his ranch in Hawaii, called the Big Pineapple. He moved with his actress wife, Playne Rhonda, who had won three Academy Awards for portraying actresses in distress. In her youth, she had protested the War in Grenada, then converted and become a Born-Again Born-Againer. She also had a new line of pregnant wear called Pregs for Pregs, and had a new series of highly successful exercise videos called “Out of body, out of mind.”

Stan and Playne lived happily ever after. That is, until The Third was asked to take over TNP and make it as successful as GNN had been. And he did that too. After he got his divorce.