Near 500 words: To Shop Or Not To Shop

Matthew hated shopping. He put it off as long as he could, then he went out and shopped till he dropped. At least, that was how he put the whole thing. Mel loved to shop and couldn’t contain herself when she did. Any day was a shopping day for her. Matthew was on one of his excursions when he accidentally bumped into Mel. They were standing in line at a cashier’s station.

“Ouch,” she said and turned to Matthew behind her.

“Oh, sorry,” Matthew came back with.

Over the years, she had said ouch and he had said sorry for what must have been hundreds of times. He always ended up bumping into others. She always ended up being bumped into. This time it was different. They saw something in each other that they had never seen in another human being.

Matthew made the first move. “I really am sorry.”

“And I really did feel an ouch.” She laughed. Mel laughed often but there was something about this laugh. It filled up her face and went all the way to her toes. Mel wasn’t sure what was going on but she liked it. She like it so much she said, “Would you like to get a cup of coffee?”

Matthew hesitated. He had so much shopping to do. He had put it off for a long time.

“With me, I mean,” Mel added.

Her “with me I mean” made up his mind. “Yes, I’d like that.”

They paid for their items, then went over to the nearby food court. Saw a Starbucks. Ordered. Then found a table.

Matthew wasn’t sure where to begin.

“Why don’t you begin at the beginning,” she answered his unspoken query.

He took a sip of his coffee. It was hot. Burned his tongue a bit. “I’m Matthew.”

“And I’m Mel.”

It was a beginning. What next? Where were they going to go to now? They both looked at the other and neither could come up with a thing to say.

Matthew studied her face. She had a nice face. Not beautiful. The word “comely” came to him. Hazel eyes, a middle-sized nose, small mouth that became large when she laughed. Auburn hair that fell pleasingly onto her shoulder. And she smelled like cherries. Matthew loved cherries. How they smelled. How they felt in your mouth. How they tasted.

Matthew did not have the best of faces. It looked like it had some wear and tear. Mel concluded that came with experience. He was starting to lose his hair. In a few years, he would be bald like her dad.

As they sat there, they weren’t able to come up with small talk. Mel could small talk her friends to death. Especially about shopping. But not here with Matthew. Matthew had never been much for small talk. It just wasn’t in him.

After fifteen minutes, Matthew asked, “Would you like to go to dinner? With me, that is?”

Mel wasn’t sure why she answered the way she did but she gave him a yes.

Neither moved from where they were. Something kept them there. It was like they had known each other for a very long time. In a previous life perhaps.

Then Matthew said, “You know I hate shopping.”

“I love shopping.”

Matthew’s face showed that he had an idea. “Would you help me with my shopping?” the words stumbled out.

Mel reached over and squeezed his hand. “I would love to go shopping with you.”

Matthew and Mel then left the table, holding hands.

From another table, two men watched the whole episode with Matthew and Mel. The taller of the two said, “Finally we’ve gotten them together. Contact Command and let them know we’ve accomplished our mission.”

“You think they’ll be okay?”

“They have to be. Our planet depends on it.”

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The New Mayor

The new mayor walked through the front door of the City Hall. “Mr. Mayor,” his predecessor said as he put his hand out. Kevin reached out and shook his hand.

“Mr. Mayor,” Kevin said.

“Follow me,” Drew said. He led Kevin down the hall toward the elevator. As the two of them walked, Drew explained what each office was and who worked in it. Drew introduced Kevin to each person in that office. Kevin was surprised that Drew knew everybody’s name.

Just as they came to the elevator, Drew stopped and introduced Kevin to one of the janitors.

“This is Hector. He is here from Puerto Rico. He and his family moved here ten years ago.” Then he turned to Hector and said something in Spanish.

After a few words with Hector, the two stepped into the elevator. As the elevator lifted toward the third floor, Kevin asked, “What were you saying to Hector?”

“I was asking him about his daughter, Maria. She has cancer.”

“How do you keep track of everybody?” Kevin asked, amazed at the previous mayor.

“I take the time,” Drew said. “And I get out of the office. At least, half of my day. It’s my job.”

“I thought your job was getting things done.”

“There’s only so much you can do. You get a lot more done if you get to know the people you’re doing the things for. Do you really want what they want?”

“But—”

“Oh, I see. You think staying in the office? Studying budgets? Meeting with bigwigs? That’s my job? No, no, no. My job is serving the people, not the bureaucracy and the money. That’s why you beat me. Because I forgot that.”

Acting Job

“To brush or not to brush, that is the question,” the actor recited his lines for the commercial. The actor stopped. His face said, “What is my motivation?” But he was afraid of the director.  He had heard that many an actor had been fired because he spoke up.

“Cut,” the director screamed. “You are not a method actor. Just say the lines.”

The actor came back, “But— “

“No ifs, ands or buts. You’re not Pacino or Brando. You’re just a half awake guy who has no purpose in his life but brushing his teeth. Get it.”

“I guess.” Disappointment was in the actor’s voice. He wanted this to be a great work of art, his part in this commercial.

Here this director was demanding him to be a robot. He was not a robot. He had ambition. He was going to be the next Jack Nicholson or Dustin Hoffman. This commercial was beneath him but his agent told him to take it. Because his career was going nowhere. If he blew this commercial, the agent threatened to quit him. So here he stood on the set of the commercial with a tube of toothpaste and a brush.

He took a deep breath and waited.

The director said, “Action.”

The actor looked into the lens of the camera. He stared at the brush, then at the toothpaste. Then he said, “To brush or not to brush. That is the question.” The words came out as Donald Duck-speak.

The director yelled, “Cut.”

He stood up and walked over to the actor. He put his arm around the actor and said, “That’s more like it.”

Home

Kaisa was an ice skater. She was good at it too. But she had to work at being good. When she decided to do a thing, she threw herself into it.

Her parents had first noticed that when Kaisa decided to walk. While her brother and sister took their own sweet times, Kaisa didn’t. She went at it wholeheartedly

She was two when she first walked out onto the ice. She didn’t want to get off. It wasn’t the skating that took up her time. It was the routines. On top of being a good skater, she was a perfectionist. Any screw-up in a routine and she beat herself up.

When she first went to the training camp, she realized she had found her place in the world. There were others like her. They were not just competitors. They were friends. When one did well, they all did well. That was their way.

Helsinki is a large city, the largest in Finland. Before any time, everybody in the city knew about her. She was their darling. With her small body, her blonde hair, her blue eyes, she was their darling. And she loved the applause.

Finally, she went into competitions. Initially she did well. Winning a medal or two, but she went after more. That is when she fell. And she fell hard. She broke her arm.

The doctor put a cast onto it and she went back on the ice. The ice was her home.

Once her arm was out of the cast, she began exercises that would build up her muscles. She learned how to fall without breaking anything. Sure, she might have a bruise or two but she would be able to get up and skate. That was the point.

Thirteen and she found herself Olympic bound. “You have four years to train,” her coach told her, “and you must train hard.”

While other girls went out on dates with blonde haired blue eyed boys, Kaisa skated. And she skated and skated. Until she was ready. Everybody said she was ready. And so she was.

She stepped out onto the ice at the European Championships and she went into her routine. Not a mistake. Not an error. She had chosen a James Brown song to dance to and she gave the music the bump and grind that it deserved. When she walked out off the ice, the applause and cheers were deafening. She was the hottest thing they’d seen on the ice in years. The medal went to her.

Again and again she fired up the ice. Soon she would be on the Olympic stage and would give the Americans a run for their money. Then she fell in love. And she didn’t just fall in love with anyone. She fell in love with a first class jerk.

As she had matured as a skater, she had remained innocent to the ways of love and sex and dating. She didn’t know how to take her feelings. So she did the only thing she knew. She went on the ice. But the ice was melting from the sun of her love. She fell and this time she didn’t fall well. She broke a leg.

Her coach and her doctor told her the news. “You’re going to be okay but we’re afraid the Olympics is out.”

That night she cried out, “To hell with love. I will be a champion.”

The cast came off and she went out on the ice. Within minutes, she fell. She had an ear infection that was affecting her balance.

They treated the ear, then she went back out on the ice. She fell again. The Olympics were a year away and she would not be ready.

Her mother came to her. “We know how bad you want this. But something is telling you that this is not for you.”

They cried together and held each other.

“You’ve got to let it go,” her mother said. “This is not your journey. You’ve done your bit. Now lay down the skates and go find your journey.”

Seventeen years old and one of the best skaters in the world, she dried her tears. She took her time to heal, then she went off to the mountains to be alone. In the cabin where she was staying, she got plenty of sleep for the first time in a long time. Each morning she woke up early and watched the sun rise over the mountains. Each day she took long walks in the forest and thought about her life. Without skating, she had no compass.

One night by the fire, she looked through the books on the shelf. There weren’t many. One was a diary. She began to read it. The next day she finished with tears in her eyes. She closed the diary. She went outside and said good morning to the world. She knew what she would do. She would be a nurse like her mother and she would go to Africa to help at the refugee camps she had read about.

She was a new woman and her skating life was over. But that was okay. She had learned what she needed to learn.

She caught the train back to Helsinki a week later. Sitting and reading a magazine across from her was a man. He looked up from his article. She was smiling. He smiled back.

“I’m Kaisa,” she said.

“I’m Jussi,” he said.

She went to say something but she couldn’t think of anything to say. But he found the words for the two of them.

“What are you doing with your life, Kaisa?”

“I’m going to be a nurse,” she told him. Her smile was bigger than it was when she first smiled at him.

“A nurse, eh. I’m going to be a doctor. I want to go to Africa and work in the refugee camps.”

“That’s what I want too.”

They didn’t talk for the rest of the journey. They just sat and looked at each other and occasionally they laughed.

For the first time in her life, Kaisa was truly happy.

Near 500 words: Ancestors

The woman in the door of the wooden hut stood before Rufus. Her dark hair and her brown eyes were full of life though her life was hard.

Her focus reminded Rufus of the last time he saw his father. It was late at night and the old man sat at his desk, studying a photograph of his father who had been gone some thirty years. There was a light in the old man’s eyes. It wasn’t the light from the table lamp. It was another kind of light. It was the light of memory.

Or was it more? Was it the light of someone who has experienced some piece of the divine in his life? Rufus’ father never spoke of his father.

“Can I have some water?” Rufus asked the woman in the doorway.

The woman smiled. Instead of water, she invited him inside her one-room house. A house that was spotlessly clean. In the corner was an altar to some god or other. He didn’t ask since he knew it would be as rude as asking his father about his grandfather. She brought him a cup of tea and offered him a seat on one of the three wooden chairs.

Rufus took out his camera and pointed to it. “Can I take your photograph?”

The woman blushed, then shook her head yes.

Rufus pointed and snapped several pictures. Then he finished his tea. He thanked her for her hospitality.

It was a brief encounter but not as brief as the night he saw his father studying the photograph of his father.

As he walked up the path away from the woman’s house, he missed his father and his grandfather. Perhaps in another life. Perhaps.