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.

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Leave well enough alone

Windmills. Don Quixote saw windmills. He fought windmills. He lost to windmills. What would it be like to live under a windmill? It wouldn’t be quiet. Every time the wind blows there would be a constant whirling. Yet Jasmine wanted a windmill.

Chris tried to talk her out of it. Nope. There was no talking her out of it.

“Why do you want a windmill?” he asked her.

“I had a dream when I was a kid.”

“There you go. You and your dreams.”

Time and time again she brought up her dreams. When they first met, she had dreamed she was going to marry an engineer. Chris was an engineer.

They bought cars based on her dreams. They went on vacations to places that appeared in her dreams. One time they even had sex based on a dream. It was a position she saw in the dream.

Now this. They were going to spend a fortune for a house underneath a windmill. And it wasn’t even that good of a windmill. There were parts of it falling down. One blade rested vertically in the ground. It was older than the house. An older house had been torn down and replaced by the current house.

That night Chris had a dream. And it scared the hell out of him. Initially he had chalked the dream up to worry. But it came back three, four times. As long as Jasmine wanted that house, he knew the nightmares would not go away.

He told her his dreams. She just laughed. “I’m the dreamer in this family,” she said.

“Well, I’ll buy the house. But I’m not living there.”

“You have to,” Jasmine insisted. When she insisted, she usually got her way.

So Chris bought the house. That first month, no dreams for Chris. Nothing happened in the house. Then Chris began work on the windmill while Jasmine worked on the house. Chris took six months off from his job to do the work. He hired an architect, a contractor and several men to do the work as he oversaw things.

The blade stuck deep in the dirt needed to be pulled out and remounted. Chris wasn’t sure how that the blade had ended a third deep into the ground. It must have been a strong force that plunged that blade into the earth.

The architect, the contractor and Chris sat over plans for several days, discussing ways of getting that blade out. They brought out a bulldozer and mounted a chain to the blade. The blade would not move.

Jasmine came out to where the men worked. She took one look at the chain and the bulldozer. She took Chris aside. “Don’t,” she said.

“Don’t what?”

“Leave the blade alone,”

“Leave the blade alone?”

“Yes,” Jasmine said.

“But it’s got to go. Without a new blade, the windmill will not rotate properly.”

“I don’t care,” she said.

Chris went back to the others. “Okay, guys. Leave the blade be.”

The work continued on the windmill for another month. But Chris was continued to be concerned about the blades.

One morning, over coffee, Jasmine said, “My mother’s sick.”

“Is it serious?”

“I have to go and see her. The doctor says she only has weeks to live.”

“Then you should go.”

Chris watched his wife drive away. Then he went back to the windmill. The stairs and the floor were almost done. For the next three days, the work went well. Chris worked from sun-up to sunset. Each night before he went to bed, he talked to Jasmime about  the windmill, telling her of the progress he was making.

The morning of the third day, he looked at the blade in the ground. He decided the blade had to come out. The next day the contractor brought in the bulldozer and a pulley. The first time they tried, the chain snapped. The second time, the blade moved, then a second chain snapped. Finally, the third chain held and the blade gradually pulled loose.

When Jasmine had not heard from Chris for three days, she began to worry. Her phone calls were not answered. Then it hit her. He had gone ahead and pulled the blade loose.

“Oh, no,” she said. “He let them out.”

Near 500 words: Frank’s Day

Frank was excited. His mother was taking him to the fair. He was seven years old and he had heard a lot about the fair from his friend Gina. His friend, Roger, too. Now it was his turn. His mother was excited for him as well.

The first thing Frank discovered about the fair. It was alive with noises, and they were happiness noises. Then there were the colors that filled his eyes with brightness and variety. And the smells of popcorn.

Gina told him about the horses and he just knew he wanted to ride them and there they were, on the carousel. And they made music. Frank loved the music.

He pulled at his mother’s dress. “Can I? Can I?”

“We have to buy a ticket,” his mother answered him.

He could hardly wait. He was so excited. It was like the times he needed to piss in his pants and thought he would die if he had to wait. Of course, he didn’t die, and he didn’t die waiting on the ticket.

His mother lifted him onto the white stallion and she got on the black mare beside him. Then the carousel took off. Up and down it went. And it went up and down some more. And the music played. Frank was in heaven. But like most things Frank loved, such as chocolate cake and hot cocoa, heaven came to an end.

It was such a short ride. Frank wanted to ride for a thousand miles like Genghis Khan and his mongol hordes he had read about. But his mother insisted they try something else.

She insisted, “You’re going to love cotton candy as much as I do.”

He did love cotton candy as soon as he had some. It was like eating a cloud.

“Now we’re going to ride the ducks,” his mother said, as she grabbed her son’s hand.

“You can ride ducks?” Frank asked. Then he saw it. Giant white ducks at the pier of a lake.

And then it was the biggest surprise of his birthday. Gina and Roger ran past him, yelling, “Frank, Frank.”

Frank joined his two best friends in one of the ducks. The moms of Gina and Roger joined Frank’s mother and got into the duck with their kids. The gondolier guided the duck away from the dock as his passengers jabbered away. Then he sang at the top of his lungs “The Quack Song”. Soon his passengers joined him with their singing.

Across the lake the duck and its gondolier carried the six. As they pulled up to the dock, a young man grabbed each of their hands and said, “Welcome to the Land of the Unicorns”.

The six stepped onto the dock. The kids were all excited. “Unicorns, unicorns,” they sang in unison. Into a large tent they went. On the sides of the tent, a movie projected. It was the Unicorn Story. Everybody went “ahhhh” when they saw the giant white creatures with their large orange horn running like the great steeds they were once upon a time.

When the day was done, Frank kneeled at the side of his bed. His dad kneeling on one side and his mom on the other. Frank prayed, “Thank you, God, for the best day ever.”

His parents tucked their son into bed and snapped off the light and said, “Good night, Son. We love you.”

That night Frank dreamed of friends and unicorns and horses and giant ducks with gondoliers singing “The Quack Song”.

One family

Inspired by the movie, “The Hours,” based on the Michael Cunningham novel.

Yalda was the painter in the family. She was the youngest of six sisters. The other five were dancers. Her mother encouraged her to dance. When her father saw her watching him paint, he thought she might be an artist. Gabriel wasn’t opposed to dancing. It was just that it would be nice if one of the girls took up his passion.

He showed her the ropes. How to hold a brush. How to make it fly across the canvas. How to mix colors to get the results she wanted.

Her sisters were not unhappy about Yalda. Five dancers in the family was enough they thought. It was different for their mother. She wanted all her daughters to follow in her footsteps. She would choreograph the dancers. The daughters would dance them. This disappointment festered with the mother.

“C’mon, Mom,” her oldest begged. “You’ve got us. Let Yalda do her own thing.” She was beginning to realize that her mother might not be the encourager she always thought.

“I’m trying,” her mother said and hugged her daughter. “But I can’t help it.”

“You’ve got us,” her second daughter said. She was always the quiet one. But it was important that she speak up now.

Her mother hated the way she felt. It was even causing a wedge in her marriage. Her husband had never objected to her encouraging the daughters to dance. But he had realized that her obsession was not healthy. He kept his mouth shut and let his daughters do the talking.

Then one day, Yeta, his fifth daughter, came to him. She was crying. “Mom is going crazy.”

Her father laid down his brush. He followed his daughter to Yalda’s room. Yalda was no where to be seen. But his wife was crashing her daughter’s canvases. She was splattering paint every where. The father stepped back into the hall, closed the door and said to Yeta, “Your mother has to work this out of her system.” But he knew this was not about working this out of her system. This was much more than that.

When she was finished, his wife left the room. She had paint splotched on her face, on her dress, even on her bare feet. Her hair was a mess. She did not speak to her husband. She did not speak to her daughter. She walked into her bedroom, put on a pair of shoes, gathered up a few things, including her purse. She left the house and got into her car and drove away.

When her sisters came home from the movies, Yeta told them what had happened. Their father was in the studio painting. The oldest, Ana, came to the studio and brought her father his favorite tea. There were tears in his eyes. He took the cup and drank it, then said, “It’s all my fault. It’s all my fault.”

The other sisters came into the studio and gathered around their father. Then they cried. All of them cried. It was Ana who finally said, “Let’s go clean Yalda’s room.”

That night the man and his daughters discussed what they were to do. “We’re not going to the police and report her missing. We will just tell everyone that your mother went on a long trip and we don’t know when she will be back.”

A week later a policeman knocked on the door. “We understand your wife is missing.”

He invited the officer inside. “She is missing.”

The officer sat down with the man and his girls. They explained what happened. Not the part about Yalda’s room. But the disappointment she had felt about Yalda not becoming a dancer.

“She left of her own free will,” Ana said. There was a bit of anger in her voice. But mostly sadness. She missed her mother.

“I see,” the officer said. Then he perused the neighborhood. Two of the neighbors had seen her leave. She didn’t look like someone harmed or in harm’s way. She looked the way she always looked, except for the paint splotches. They definitely mentioned the paint splotches.

A detective came to see the family. He asked about the splotches.

The father told him what happened.

“Why didn’t you have her hospitalized?”

“How would you feel if your wife went crazy one day and attacked your daughter’s room?”

“I see what you mean,” the detective said.

“We were all in such shock. We figured she was doing what she needed to do.”

The detective had his answers. He left the family in peace. But the family didn’t feel any peace. The girls and their father worried about the missing woman. And they missed her. They missed her laugh. They missed her cutting up. They missed the Sunday water fights and picnics. They missed her voice as they went about their work.

The five daughters continued to dance. They formed a dance troupe called The Sisters and went on tour. For a few moments before each performance they stood in a circle in silence, thinking of their mother, then they dedicated the performance to her.

Yalda went on painting. In the early mornings, she slipped out of the house. She went to the meadows nearby and worked at her canvas. After a few years, she began to win prizes for her work. When asked, she shared that her paintings were for her mother. When she went and sat in the meadow, she thought of her mother as she moved her brush. That was why her landscapes reminded the viewer of a dancer.

After five years, Gabriel, her husband, finished a large canvas of his wife. It was his best work. Unlike his other paintings which were expensive, he gave this one away to a museum. In his mind, it reminded him that he had to let go of his wife. But it was hard.

Over the next few years, The Sisters travelled around the world. Yalda stayed at home close to her father. She got married and had a daughter. And each of the other sisters did as well. When the family gathered on occasions, they were a large family. They laughed and enjoyed each other’s company.

Just before everyone left, things went quiet. Gabriel and his daughters stepped away from the large group. They walked in silence to the meadow where Yalda painted her canvases. There they each remembered the woman who had left. They remembered one special moment each had with her. Then they returned to the house.

As they left their father, each sister said him, “Soon.” Each had never given up on the belief that their mother would one day return to them.

Mr. Reynolds and the lighthouse

Nora loved the lighthouse some few miles away from the town. She loved to go down and share a picnic with the lighthouse keeper, Reynolds Reynolds. He had tended the lighthouse since before Nora was born. Her landlady knew him. Said he had come back from the war and taken over the lighthouse.

Now he was in want for an apprentice. No one was interested in the job. It was a lonely seven-day-a week job and there were no days off. Finally he asked Nora.

“What?” she asked. “A woman?”

“Why not?” Mr. Reynolds said. I”t’s been done before. Sandy Sarah was the lighthouse keeper off the cape back before you and I were even thought of. She is a legend. Once when the light went out, she stood out on the rocks and waved a lantern all night during a storm. She died on those rocks. But she saved the lives of a hundred men. She did what lighthousemen have always done. She served the ships.”

Nora gave the thing a think and decided she was up to the offer. The next time she came out to the lighthouse she told Mr. Reynolds. In her late twenties, she had not found the love of her life. So she concluded the solitary life was for her. And the lighthouse would be the first home she had ever had. She had grown up in an orphanage, then taken a room in the local boarding house and earned her living as a typist.

The next time she came out to the lighthouse Mr. Reynolds told her that the Lighthouse League had approved her appointment as an apprentice lightsman. The next day she moved into the extra room at the cottage. The day after that Mr. Reynolds began her schooling of the finer points of lightsmanship. Teaching her how to clean the lens and how often. How to order supplies for the lighthouse. Those kind of things.

In the morning he fixed their late breakfast. In the evenings she made their dinners. In the afternoon after the chores were done, they walked out on the beach.

As time went on, Nora began her love affair with the sea. More and more she thought of it as home. There was a comfort in that. Mr. Reynolds whom she took to calling Reynolds was the father she had never had. And she was the daughter he never had.

Occasionally a visitor would come out to admire the lighthouse or to deliver supplies. They saw these two walking along the shore, two companions who had somehow found each other because of the light.

Twenty years went by and the old man came to the time of his death. His last words to Norah, “I have had only two loves in my life. The light and the light that is you. Thank you for all the happiness you have given me.”

Tears formed in Nora’s eyes. “And I have had only two loves in my life. The light and the light that is you.”

There was peace on the old man’s face as he went off to be a lightsman in another world.

Mr. Reynolds body was cremated. Nora threw his ashes into the sea. Now she was alone. But there were times when visitors would see Nora walking the beach. At her side was an old man.