Near 500 words: TW and the Scholar

Episode 22 of The Writer.

Dr. Christine Baxter looked up from her text, showing a face that did not like to be interrupted. “Yes?”

TW (aka The Writer) felt intimidated. Who was he to interrupt a scholar at her very important work? Then he remembered. He was someone who needed help with a puzzle. The puzzle being the ancient text on Sylvia’s postcards.

He introduced himself and apologized for missing his appointment that morning.

Dr. Baxter sighed a sigh that said, “If I have to be interrupted, I might as well give the interruption my attention. Otherwise I won’t be able to get back to the text.”

“Well, have a seat.” Her blue eyes seemed to say, “This had better be good.”

TW followed her instruction.

“Now,” Dr. Baxter said. “Tell me. What is it I can do for you?”

TW explained about the postcards he had received for some thirty years from Sylvia. He didn’t mention Sylvia walking from inside one postcard to the next when they were in order. “Below Sylvia’s signature is a strange text. I’ve looked through the library’s books but I can’t find anything like it. Other than Sanskrit. And it’s not Sanskrit. At first, I thought it was ancient Hebrew because the words move from right to left. But there are differentials.”

“Let me see the postcards.”

“I only have the one. The other twenty-nine were stolen.”

“Stolen? Why would anybody want to steal postcards?”

“I don’t know.” He pulled the most recent postcard out of his suit jacket. “But this is the latest.” He passed the card over to Dr. Baxter. As she took it, he noticed she had long fingers. His eyes glanced over at the bookshelf next to the desk. On the top of it was a photograph of a young woman at the piano. “Do you play the piano?”

She looked up from the card and smiled. “Not so much anymore. I used to. And some say I was quite good. But not good enough to pursue a career. I didn’t have the passion for it.” Her eyes returned to the postcard. “Are you trying to pull my leg? If you are, you might as well leave my office.”

“I’m sorry,” TW said, apologizing for what he wasn’t sure.

“There’s no ancient text on this card.” She passed the card back to TW. “Why don’t you just leave.”

She stood up and walked to the door and opened it and gestured. “Please. I don’t have time for nonsense. I get enough of that from my students. Now go.”

TW hesitantly stood up. “B-b-b-but.”

“Please,” she insisted.

He looked at the card. There was Sylvia’s latest message, ““The end of the rainbow. Shangri-la at last. Sylvia.” But the ancient script was gone. The script was gone. How could that be? He turned the card over. Sylvia was no longer in the picture. Only the older woman dressed in red.

“Wait,” TW pleaded. “You have to help me.”

Dr. Baxter went to her phone and picked up. “I’m calling security.”

“The script may have disappeared. But I can remember enough of it to write it out. If you’ll let me.”

“Security, can you come to Dr. Christine Baxter’s office? I have an intruder.” She gave the building and room number. Then she hung up the phone.

 

Zeus’ Dilemma

Last Wednesday Zeus decided to come down from his mountain. Olympus had gotten boring lately what with this god and that one trying to out party each other. He wanted to take a looksee around the earth. It had been a bit of days since his last walk around. On top of that, he and Hera had a fight and he just had to get out of the house.

He stepped down onto the earth. The grass was wet and green. It had been awhile since his toesies felt grass. Not since Agamemnon and his bunch whomped up on them Trojans. That’s what Priam and his gang got for putting Poseidon on the pedestal over him. After all, he was the Big Guy. He had the thunderbolts.

It was nice to know that Demeter was doing her job now that Persephone was home for a visit. He took in a long breath of the spring air. Then it hit him. The carbon monoxide. He coughed several times, then cleared his throat.

“Geez, what’s that,” he said to no one in particular. The air was worse than breathing in that stuff he’d breathed when he went down to visit Hades once upon a time.

Poseidon stepped out of the ocean. “Well, it’s about time you came out of your ivory tower and noticed the crap we’re putting up with down here.”

“What is that smell?” Zeus wanted to know.

“It’s those darn chariots the humans have come up with.”

Zeus turned to his brother. “What happened to your nice green color? Man, you look awful.”

Posey was streaked with yellows and blues and purples and all sorts of colors. And they didn’t look pretty. He could have been an abstract painting if he hadn’t been such a mess.

“Junk,” Posey said, displeasure in his voice. “I’d say our brother, Hades, has been up to no good. But even he can’t make a mess like we’ve got down here these days. You seriously have to do something about this place. Remember the lovely wine Bacchus used to make. It’s turned to grape juice these days.”

“Yeah, that Prometheus sure did a number on us,” Demeter said behind Zeus. “He gave the humans fire. What’d they do? They took it and ran with it and now we’ve got a mess.”

“The waters, my kingdom,” Posey protested, “is filled with crap. The fish can’t get a break. The dolphins and the whales constantly protest. I tell them to get in touch with you and give you the old what-for. But you’re never there. What’s with you anyway?”

Zeus had a one-word answer, “Hera.”

“Oh, come now,” Demi said. “Don’t blame on her.”

“I’m telling you,” Zeus said. “After that Hercules, there was no settling her down.”

“Well,” Posey said, “he was your kid.”

“It took me a millennium to get her to let me out of my room. It’s only been recently that she let me out of the house.”

“So,” Demi said, “you just thought you could let things go down here.”

Zeus nodded. “Kinda.”

Then Demi hit him with the news. “You do know what that Thor’s been up to?”

“What?” Zeus said, worried-like.

“He’s been making appearances all over the place. Comic books. Movies. He’s even doing commercials.”

“I knew it,” Zeus said. “I knew it. When Athena suggested we let that Odin go off and have his own kingdom, it was a bad idea. But everybody said she was smarter than the average goddess.”

“Now, now, Dad,” Athena joined the group. “I thought it would be a good idea. It gets cold up there in the north. Nobody wanted to go up there and take care of the Ice Kingdoms. When Odin volunteered, we all agreed. It was for the best. And I wasn’t the one who suggested Thor get his own hammer. You-know-who did that.”

“Hephaestus,” Demi said.

“Hephaestus,” Athena said.

“Hephaestus,” Posey joined the chorus.

Then Athena reminded Zeus, “It wasn’t me who came up with the idea of sending Hephy to the basement where he could play with all his toys.”

“We had to do something,” Zeus said. “It’s all that Aphrodite and her nighty business. She wanted to run out and play with Ares. Little did I know that he was as adept at playing kissy face as he was at war.”

“Apollo didn’t tell you either,” Athena laughed. “Just like him. What good is that gift for prophecy he has if he can’t help his colleagues out.”

Suddenly Apollo appeared. His face filled the sky with sunlight. “Somebody mention my name?”

“Why didn’t you let us know?” Athena asked. “Hephy gave Thor that hammer and now he’s become more popular than the Khardasians? You should have told us.”

Apollo smirked. “What, and spoil all the fun?”

It was then that Ares, the god of war, put in an appearance. He had one heck of a frustrated look on his face. “She’s got a headache. It’s the seventh one this week.”

“Who?” Zeus wanted to know.

“Aphrodite, of course,” Ares let the crowd know.

“Well, that’s what you get for messing around,” Zeus said.

“I was just taking after you, Dad.”

That night Zeus walked into the throne room on Mount Olympus. Hera was waiting. When she saw the look on the Big Guy’s face, she gave him one of her extra-special hugs. They always cheered him up. But not this time.

Zeus plopped his big bottom down on the throne. “It’s all turned out badly.”

“What?” Hera said.

“Everything.”

“Well, that’s what happens when you have kids. You can put everything into raising them and they still turn out the way they’re going to turn out.”

Then Zeus had a brilliant idea. “I’ll turn everything back over to Pater.”

At that, Rhea, his mother, appeared. “Oh no, you’re not. Cronus isn’t having anything to do with the mess you’ve created. We’ve been on a nice long retirement and we’re not bailing you out. And you’re not turning things over to Odin. One Ice Age was enough.”

Hera said, “I know what will help. I’ll give you one of those extra-special massages you love.”

Zeus looked up at his wife. He had a pathetic look on his face. “Not tonight. I have a headache.”

Karma

I woke up at eight exactly. Not a minute earlier nor a minute later. I dashed into the kitchen for my cup of joe, kissed my wife, Pam, on the cheek the way I always do.

“How do you want your eggs,” she asked in the usual way.

I gave her the same answer I do every Saturday morning. “Scrambled with a bit of pepper and don’t forget the cheese.”

I poured the coffee and headed out into the morning for a good breath before the day heated up. It was spring in Florida and the day always heats up, except when it doesn’t.

Standing on the back porch, I took a good gander at the lawn. Yep, I decided. The lawn needed a-mowing. And I was ready for the challenge. Nothing like mowing the lawn to make a man feel like a man.

Pam stuck her head out the door. “Breakfast is ready.”

“Yummy,” I said without thinking and made my way to a table set for a king. OJ just the way I like my O J, good and cold and with lots of pulp. And the eggs laid out just so on the plate with a couple of slices of bacon.

Pam and I sat and enjoyed our leisurely breakfasts the way we had for the last thirty years. We talked politics and religion and just about disagreed on both but that was what kept our marriage interesting.

I got up and went to the bedroom and changed into my work clothes. Right then and there I fell over. No pain. No nothing. One minute I stood in my bedroom, the next I was spread-out on the floor. A door knob couldn’t have been deader than I was.

Next thing I know I am standing up, looking down on the me that once was. “What happened?” I asked no body in particular, and nobody in particular answered. Then it hit me. I would say like a ton of bricks but there were no bricks around to be hit by. I was dead.

Since I had never been dead before, how did I know. I could have been having one of those out of body experiences people talk about all the time. But I was pretty darned sure Big D had made a house call and that was it.

Then a second thought hit me. I had not paid the mortgage. And it was due on Monday. I had meant to. I just hadn’t gotten around to it. And, oh yeah, there was another thing. I had forgotten to pay for the life insurance. What the heck had I been thinking? Didn’t I realize that I wasn’t going to live forever. And here I was proving that point.

Poor Pam. She was going to find herself out of a house and with no money unless I could contact her and let her know where I left the checks. They were already written and I had been too darn lazy to get them sent. Now they would have to be delivered. And Pam didn’t know.

I headed off into the kitchen. She was at the sink, washing the dishing and humming “The Sound of Music” the way she always did.

I had to do something to get her attention. So I made an effort to grab her arm and stop her. My hand went through her arm. Oh, no. I’m dead for sure. What am I going to do?

“Why don’t you whistle?” A man stood next to me. He was dressed in a black suit with a bright red tie. His head was covered with a bowler.

“I don’t think that will do any good.”

“You’re probably right.” He reached over and shook my hand. “My name is Mr. D.”

“Mr. D?”

“Yes, I am the one who made the house call. I had some free time, so I thought I would check back and see how you’re doing. You haven’t been to orientation yet, have you?”

“Orientation? Oh, no.”

“So what are you waiting for?” he asked, getting a little pushy.

“Unfinished business.”

“There is no unfinished business here.”

“I need to contact my wife. It’s urgent.”

“No can do. Well, you can do but you’re going to have to wait till tonight when she goes to sleep. You’ll have to appear to her in a dream. What was the unfinished business anyway?”

“It’s a secret.”

Mr. D laughed. “There are no secrets here. You can tell me. I might be able to help.”

“Well, okay. I wrote a check for the life insurance and for the mortgage. I put them away and forgot about them until just a little while ago. I don’t know what’s got into me lately. I’ve been kind of out of it.”

“Where she going?” I wanted to know.

“Oh, she’s going to find your body.”

“It will be quite a shock.”

“I’m afraid not. Let’s follow her.”

Pam had already left the kitchen. As she went through the living room, she picked up a few magazines and straightened up. She seemed to be in no particular hurry. Finally, she opened the bedroom door. Did she scream? No.

I turned to Mr. D. “What’s gotten into her?”

“You don’t know?”

“I don’t know.”

“Poison,” he said, that sly grin on his face.

“Poison?” I asked as I watched her kick my body.

She was kicking it hard. “I told you not to vote for that…that…person for President.”

 

We’re working things out

A pickin’ and grinnin’ lyric.

Off to Philadelphia, P A
They drove for twenty-four hours a day.
They hoped hard times had stayed their stay
But the hard times followed them anyway.
I’m still with Tommy, she says to me
We’re working things out.
Sure, he can’t hold a job, she says to me.
We’re still working things out.

He had seven jobs in seven days
And he has an eighth on the way.
He needs to get his act ready for play.
Just give him some time. It’ll be any day.
I’m still with Tommy, she says to me
We’re working things out.
Sure, he can’t hold a job, she says to me.
We’re still working things out.

It’s not that he’s lazy or that he drinks.
He’s in need of a little leeway.
It’s taking some time to work out the kinks.
He keeps hoping things will work out okay.
I’m still with Tommy, she says to me
We’re working things out.
Sure, he can’t hold a job, she says to me.
We’re still working things out.

Short Story Wednesday: Just Passing Through

Short Story Prompt: “Shiloh” by Bobbie Ann Mason.

Max is hungry. The diner waitress brings him a breakfast that will satisfy his appetite. He takes a whiff of the eggs and grits and bacon and toast. It smells good, good enough to eat. “Now, that’s a breakfast,” he says to himself.

He starts with the bacon. It’s crunchy and greasy but good. He dips his fork into the grits, all buttered just the way he likes his grits. A story comes to mind that a friend, Sam, once told him. Sam and his wife, Irene, were driving south, moving from Pennsylvania to Florida. They stopped in a mom-and-pop restaurant in North Carolina. Having heard of grits for years, she decided that was what she would have. “I’ll take a grit please,” she ordered. The waitress and Sam bowled over with laughter, Then the waitress showed Irene what one grit would look like. Max smiled.

Max watches one of the waitresses follow a man to a booth, asking, “What are you doing off, Charlie?” He’d like to tell her what he was doing off but she didn’t ask him. He takes another bite of the bacon. Tries the toast. It’s good too. So’s the coffee, and the orange juice.

A large Indian, long black ponytail swinging down his back, stops, sits down across from him. He wears a suit and a tie. The tie is painted with a white Crazy Horse riding a mustang toward Max against a black background. “Know what I did last night?”

Max doesn’t know, doesn’t care. He wishes the Indian would move along, let him listen to his thoughts, make up his mind about things.

“I kicked some butt,” the Indian says, sees Max is only interested in his breakfast. Gets up. Towering over him, the Indian continues, “Well, if you aren’t interested.” Then he strolls over to the counter, like he’s stalking prey. Maybe he is. Maybe one of the waitresses is his prey.

Max stares down at his empty plate, pushes it aside, then takes a sip of his coffee.

“More coffee,” his waitress asks. He nods and she pours. “Don’t mind Dave.”

“Dave?”

“The Indian,” she says. “He does that to everybody.” She smiles. Her smile reminds him of his ex-wife when they first met, the one that took him for all he had. “Haven’t seen you in these parts before.”

“I haven’t been in these parts before,” he concedes. Then relaxes, “I’m just passing through.”

She invites herself into the booth and sits down across from him. “Where you going?”

Max notices that she is Indian too. At least part Indian. She has the darkest eyes he has ever seen. He returns her open smile with a smile. “I only wish I knew.”

She leans forward and halfway whispers, “There ain’t much here to see, that’s for sure.”

Max takes a chance and offers, “There’s you.”

The waitress starts to laugh, then realizes that Max is serious. She says, “I’d rather be on my way out of here.”

“Why don’t you? Leave, that is?”

“Got a kid. Joe’s his name. Cutest little five year old you ever wanted to see. Want to see his picture.” She pulls a photograph out of her pocket.

Max takes the photograph and looks at it for a minute or two, then hands it back to her. “That’s some kid.”

She takes the photograph, looks at it, smiles and puts it back in her pocket. “He wants to play baseball when he grows up.”

“Where’s his dad?” he asks, then thinks better of things. “Sorry, didn’t mean to pry.”

“The son of a bitch ran off to God-knows-where. I sure don’t. Left me knocked up in this God-forsaken place.” Her face says everything about disappointment. “I had a ticket out of here.” Then pride comes to this same face. “Had a scholarship and all.” She stands up. “I’ve got to get back to work. My name is Lyla. If you need anything, let me know.”

He watches her leave. He lifts the coffee cup and takes a sip. The coffee is hot, but not so hot as to burn his mouth. Just right hot, he thinks. For the first time since, he walked out of the divorce court and got in his car and drove away from that life a thousand miles ago, a life that just about destroyed him; for the first time since, he sees some hope on the horizon. Maybe there is a Lyla where he is going.

Max finishes his coffee, then pulls himself out of the booth and drops a five on the table for a tip. He goes over to the cash register. It’s not Lyla that rings him up. She’s taking food over to the Indian. Max takes his change and walks out of the restaurant and into the morning. The desert sun fills everything with its brightness, washing out the world around him with its light.

He heads over to the old green Chevy. Just about on its last legs but with still enough life in it to get him where he’s going, He backs the car out of the parking lot and onto the highway and heads west. He starts going over in his head the phone conversation he had with his son, Jake.

“C’mon out here,” Jake had said. “You can get a new start with me and Ash.”

“But I’d be a bother. The two of you have your life.”

“You’ll be no bother. You have to get away from that place. After what Mom put you through, you deserve to get away.”

Max pulls the car over to the side of the road. Stops it. Then decides. He turns the car back toward the town he just left. He parks in the half-empty parking lot of the diner and gets out of the car and makes for the restaurant door, hurrying before he loses his courage. The door jangles as he opens it. Lyla is at the cash register, ringing up a customer.

She finishes and looks over at him. “Did you forget something?”

“I did.” He hesitates, then finishes. “I forgot you.”

“What?” she whispers.

“And your son. You want to go to California.”

“What?”

“To California? You want to go?”

Lyla isn’t sure what to say.

Max says, “You’ve got one minute to decide.”

Lyla still hesitates, then her body says to hell with it. She unties her apron and throws it on the counter and goes over to him and says, “Let’s go.”

He takes her hand. They laugh as they make for the car. Then they are off to pick up Joe and on to California.