Red

I knew a girl once. She had blonde hair and hazel eyes much like mine. She dressed in green most of the time while I dressed in brown. She wanted to go travelling. Said it was in her blood. Her name was Red. Don’t how she got that name but that was her name.

The morning she left to go on the road, she gave me one of her sweet kisses. Asked if I would remember her.

Of course, I will, I returned. It would not be fair if I didn’t. She had given me so much.

She gave me courage. She taught me love. She helped me listen. To her and the universe. At night, we sat under the sky and counted the stars. Sometimes we counted an odd number, sometimes an even. Every night was different. She taught me how to read the sky like a book.

Then she threw her backpack on and took her first steps toward the morrow. Down the way a bit, she looked back at me. “Wish me luck,” she said.

“Luck,” I called out to her. Then I whispered, “Luck.”

Soon she was gone off on her adventures and I was alone again.

That was years ago. A distant memory of a girl named Red.

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This cat of mine

She is a curious thing, this cat of mine:
looking, seeing, chasing

She is a curious thing, this cat of mine:
running, jumping, playing

She is a curious thing, this cat of mine:
climbing, digging, dashing

She is a curious thing, this cat of mine:
wandering, exploring, adventuring

She is a curious thing, this cat of mine:
sneaking, disappearing, hiding

She is a curious thing, this cat of mine:
meowing, cajoling, crying

She is a curious thing, this cat of mine:
scratching, rubbing, sunning

She is a curious thing, this cat of mine:
bathing, eating, sleeping

She is a curious thing, this cat of mine.
And when she purrs, it is a fine fine thing.

Near 500 words: Happiness, and then some

Clara had such a smile it could wake up the world with its beauty. Especially when she told him, “I love you, Dan.”

Dan had dated a lot of girls. Clara was the first he thought he might want to spend the rest of his life with. Clara and Dan started dating on a blind date. Dan had told his friend, Jill, “Blind dates are the worst.”

Jill insisted.

To show Jill how wrong she was, he gave in. He saw Clara, then his heart went wow. Jill had been right.

Jill had dated a lot of guys. Most of them were duds. She too resisted Jill’s offer of a blind date. Then she saw Dan. The smile appeared on her face.

Dan wasn’t the handsome sort. Kinda skinny with a small nose and the curly hair. He wasn’t what Clara would have thought as Mr. Wonderful.

Clara’s face wasn’t that of a raving beauty. It was kind of plain. But then there were those dimples that came with the smile. And, oh, she warmed Dan’s heart.

That first night they gave each other their life stories and threw in some ancestral heritage to stir the pot. First they did dinner, then walked and walked and walked the city streets, then it started to rain. There under a bridge, Dan kissed Clara and Clara kissed Dan.

Clara was the first to speak. “I never.”

“I never either,” Dan said, just as surprised as Clara. “Could this be?”

“I believe so.”

Of all the nights in his life, this was to be the one Dan remembered the most. The same for Clara.

“What will we tell Jill?” Clara asked, smiling that smile, cradled in Dan’s arms.

Dan’s hand stroked Clara’s hair. “She’ll never let us forget how right she was.”

They laughed. Then they kissed one of those long slow kisses that make time stop. When the kiss was over, Dan asked, “What do you want to do with the rest of your life?”

“Spend it with you,” Clara said.

It wasn’t a big wedding. Quite small with a few friends. Jill got to be the Best Man. That was only right.

Dan and Clara went off on their honeymoon. They went to Spain. As they listened to the gypsies play the flamenco, Dan asked his beloved, “Let’s not go back home?”

“Let’s not.”

Dan wrote an article for National Geographic. Clara drew the pictures. They dropped them into the post and off the package went to the magazine’s offices. A week later, as they left their room in the hotel, a hotel employee hurried up to them. “You have a phone call,” he said.

It was the editor of National Geographic with an offer they could not refuse. She wanted to buy their story, and she wanted more. The magazine would pay them to roam the world, tell their stories, and draw them. It was perfect for Clara and Dan.

Their dream life. They hadn’t talked about it but they thought about it.

Dan called his brother. “Sell the house. Sell everything,” he said.

Then they hit the road. To Toledo, then to Barcelona, then on to Nice. It was in Nice that Clara found out she was pregnant.

“We’ll take a break,” Dan said. “We’ll be Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda.”

“Oh, no. Not those two. We’re not going to drown our joy in booze.”

Then all the happiness came tumbling down on them. Clara had a miscarriage. Clara cried for a week, and so did Dan. Suddenly their smiles disappeared. Finally, Dan asked, “What are we going to do?”

“We’re going to go on,” Clara said, not sure what she meant but knowing that was the only answer there was.

Holding hands, they looked out from the balcony at the sea. They both knew that the paradise was over. It was time to pay the piper. They also knew that, no matter what, they would pay the big fellow together. It did not bring back the smiles but, at least, it gave them hope as they watched the sunrise over the sea.

Sand Castles

Elsie never knew her father. When Elsie turned five, Terese, her mother, took with a case of wondering fever. She left her daughter with Elsie’s Uncle Peter and Aunt Sophie to live on their farm. Elsie loved the farm.

Elsie loved waking up early in the morning and milking the cows. She loved slopping the hogs, and she loved the sounds they made as they ate. She loved the sleigh rides across the countryside. She loved planting the seeds and watching them grow into food. She loved the coloring of the leaves each autumn. This would have been heaven if her mother had been with her.

Each year on her birthday came a letter from her mother. It wasn’t a letter so much as a journal. Each journal began with “Dear Elsie, my love. I miss you so much.” And each year Elsie became more sure those words were not true. Then the journal shared her mother’s adventures. By her fifteenth birthday, Elsie no longer read the journal when it came.

The journal told of her mother’s sand castle collecting, for Terese called herself a sand castle collector. Not that she made a sand castle and then slipped it into a case. That would have been impossible. She made the sand castle on some faraway beach. Each time she went to the beach, gathered sand, buckets of it, and carried thm to a point the high tide wouldn’t reach. As she built the castle, she filmed it, then, like a Tibetan Buddhist monk, destroyed it.

For Terese, it was the pleasure of the process of building what she called her “sand castles”. At Brighton Beach, it was Buckingham Palace. On the Makena Beach, it was the house of King Kamehameha. On the Rhine, it was Bavarian King Ludwig’s castle. At Sochi, it was the Tsar’s Winter Palace. On the beach at Sanya, she made a copy of the Forbidden City. She’d even gone to the sand dunes of the Sahara. There she built a great pyramid ten feet high. The winds had wiped it out.

But it was her latest that was her masterpiece. At Valras-Plage, she built a miniature Versailles. Pictures of it were in all the French papers. When she destroyed it, there were several thousand people on the beach watching. Television cameras broadcast it all over France. So sad was it for the French the President of France declared a national day of mourning. That was three days before Elsie’s sixteenth birthday.

On her sixteenth birthday, a journal did not arrive for Elsie. The mailman did not bring it. It did not come by FedEx. It did not come by UPS.

Shortly after the evening meal, a car drove up to the farmhouse. A tall, thin woman got out of the taxi. The driver set her two suitcases on the ground. She paid the driver, and he went away.

Aunt Sophie opened the front door to welcome her sister. She called to Elsie, “Your mother has come. Your mother has come.”

For all those years, Elsie had dreamed of this day. Until now. The disappointment weighed down on her, and she was in no mood for her missing mother. She walked upstairs, closed her bedroom door, and went to her bed.

For three days, Elsie lay in bed, only allowing her aunt to enter her bedroom. She developed a fever. The doctor came. He shook his head and told Terese, Peter and Sophie the bad news. “She is dying.”

“Is there nothing we can do?”

“I’m afraid not.”

After the doctor left, Terese looked at her sister and said, “What have I done?”

Peter said, “You’ve done what you’ve done.” There was no malice in his voice, just tears. “Now you must do what you must do.”

“And what is that?” Sophie asked.

“God knows but I sure do not.”

Terese stood up. “I have to go up there and save my child.” Then she marched slowly up the stairs.

She knocked at the bedroom door. “Elsie, this is your mother. I am coming in.”
From inside the room came a weak voice. “Go ‘way.”

Terese opened the door. Her daughter lay in bed, her hair spread out on her pillow, her face pale as death.

Terese turned and left the room and went down to the kitchen. She made her mother’s chicken soup. Like her mother, she put in a little of this and a little of that and a little of the other. But the key ingredient was her love.

Several hours later, she walked a bowl of the soup up to her daughter’s bedroom. She sat down beside her daughter and forced the first spoonful of soup into her mouth. Elsie resisted, then swallowed. Terese gave her a second spoonful, and she sang a lullaby to her daughter. Then a third and she told her daughter of the beaches where she had built sand castles. As she told her stories, Elsie felt a little better.

Several days later, Elsie was almost recovered. Terese and Elsie sat out on the back lawn of the farmhouse.

“Why did you destroy those sand castles?” Elsie asked.

“They weren’t you,” Terese answered.

Elsie gave her a curious look. “They weren’t me?”

“You see,” Terese said, “I had to build those sand castles. I had no choice. Something inside me told me they were not enough. You were the real castle I had given birth to.

And you were so permanent.”

“So why did you not come back?”

“I couldn’t. I didn’t deserve you. When you were born, I knew that. When I left you with your aunt and uncle, I knew that. Building those castles was my way of coming to understand that a mother doesn’t earn a child. A child is a gift. Versailles taught me that.”

Elsie reached over from her chair and squeezed her mother’s hand.

“And you know what? I would sit on the beach, looking out at the sea. As I watched the sun set over the sandcastle, the colors were unbelievable. And the wonder of it all was your face written in those colors. The wonder of it all.”

Neither snow nor rain nor heat

“But it looks like a storm,” Hank says to his wife.

“You need new clothes,” she says.

“There’s a storm coming.”

“I know how you hate shopping.”

“We can’t go out in that.”

“Let’s see. You need a new blazer, a parka, a sweatshirt, and a sweater. While we’re at it, we might as well get you some pajamas, undershirts, and socks. Some briefs too. And I need shorts. One of my old pair is beginning to look like boxers. I hate that.”

“It’s going to storm.”

“You’re such a wuss. Now get my purse and let’s go.”

Resigned to his fate, Hank gets her purse and follows her out. All the while, he gets in the last word, “But it’s going to storm.”