10/14/10: Way to shame me into updating again by commenting, people who comment! (Seriously, though, hi, welcome, and pull up one of the splintery old orange crates that we use for seating 'round these parts seein' as we can't afford no fancy chairs.)

The rules from
here still apply.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Time Spent


An hour later, Nikki was still staring at the wall. Her arms weren't crossed anymore, but she was still frowning, and probably still quite prepared to keep being stubborn.

Lucy hovered in the doorway to her daughter's room for a moment, considering what to say next. Nikki was thirteen, with all the volatility that implied; the stubborn streak, though, was an older trait, going back at least to the girl's toddler days.

She cleared her throat. "Nik?"

No response from Nikki.

"Nik, I..." Lucy sighed. She entered the room and sat down on the bed next to her daughter, although not too close just yet. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have snapped at you like that, and I certainly shouldn't've taken away your video game." Nikki's eyes flickered, and Lucy added, "If I thought that your schoolwork was suffering, I would be right to restrict your free time. But you always have been a good student, so."

Finally Nikki looked over at her. "I've already got all my homework done tonight, and tomorrow's homework for English class too. Otherwise I wouldn't have been playing yet. But I had to spend a whole hour doing nothing anyway." Her tone was reproachful, but only mildly so; Lucy could tell that her apology was being considered. "It's not fair," the girl added matter-of-factly.

"Well, your game is back on the shelf now," Lucy said, smiling. "And next time I'll be better about not telling you what to do with your spare time. Although," and here she hesitated, "You know, I didn't say you couldn't do anything for the last hour. You could have read a book, or written in your diary, or done something besides sit there."

Nikki raised her head slightly, a little glint coming into her eye. "None of that was what I wanted to do," she replied. "So I just did nothing at all."

Lucy sighed a little, and shook her head. "Well, it's your time, dear. I guess you spent it the way you thought best."

Friday, December 29, 2006

High Gas Prices


The Pilot was a few exits up the highway, but Jake figured he'd make it. Even though the needle was pointing to E, he should still have at least a dozen miles before the car stalled; even then, he wouldn't have to worry much. Markson Consulting had the ol' triple-A for all their company vehicles. Let them do the towing. It was a fine spring day, perfect for sitting on the hood of the car and smoking a cigarette. You'd have to be some kind of moron to be stuck driving two hundred miles on a day like this, though not as much of a moron as the "professionals" on site who couldn't figure out a simple database installation. Idiots.

Jake caught himself reaching for his smokes, and returned his hand to the steering wheel. Not in the company car; not after his buddy Harry had gotten chewed out for lighting up while on the road. Apparently the smell was hell to get out of the upholstery. Oh, well. He could get out at the Pilot, stretch his legs, take care of a few personal needs. There was the sign on the right. Gas, food, and a handful of crummy stores, next exit.

He followed the route to the gas station almost subconsciously; this was at least the sixth time this client had needed a tech to come out and help them, and he had been the one tapped to go five of those times. It would have been infuriating if it were his own car going through all this wear and tear, but as things stood it was mainly boring. Two hundred miles of midwest terrain got old after a half-dozen repetitions. By this point he was more or less making the trip without thinking about it, right down to the refueling at the Pilot.

He couldn't help smirking as he pulled up to the pump. He always made sure to get premium gas on these trips, and he usually made sure to avoid the cheaper gas stations, too. Oh, sure, it added up to rather a lot more that way. And, of course, all his travel costs were always reimbursed by the client, as per company policy. But then, that was why he'd started doing it this way, along about the third time he had to come out there.

Jake figured they deserved the extra touch.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

By Just Looking


After a few moments' thought, Rachel selected the ragged black blouse hanging towards the back of her closet. A bit of rummaging produced the appropriate gloves, and here was the skirt. Last of all came the huge square-toed boots on her feet and the half-hour or so of careful makeup work on her face.

Eventually she stepped out into the morning sunlight, shading her eyes with one hand as she locked her door with the other. She set out towards the coffee shop at an easy lope. It was far enough that she sometimes drove, but today she was looking forward to the walk.

She naturally drew some attention from passing motorists, and from the other pedestrians on the street. Certainly that was the whole point of her attire. Her hair, dyed black with dark red streaks, framed a naturally pale face that had been powdered to a near-deathly white. Dark makeup described her eyes and lips. Long black fishnet gloves stretched from her hands, up her arms, and disappeared beneath the sleeves of her top, which appeared to have been made of tattered scraps of black and maroon silk. A long, flowing black skirt nearly completed the ensemble; all that was left to consider were the massive black boots, laced with wire, that she had shod herself in.

She gave a bright smile to everyone she passed, and occasionally added in a wave. By the time she reached the coffee shop, it was nine o'clock, the place was just opening, and she had succeeded in confusing any number of people.

The owner looked up as she came in. "Hi, Rachel! The usual?"

"Hey, Mike," she replied cheerfully, hopping onto a stool at the counter. "Yes, please! Only make it extra spooky," she added in a deep voice, wiggling her fingers for emphasis.

Mike laughed as he readied her drink. "I noticed you decided to be a goth today," he said over his shoulder. "Bored of being an indie kid?"

"I think people were starting to get used to it." She grabbed a straw from the counter, unwrapped it, and then peered through it at her surroundings. "There's no point in wearing a costume if everyone's used to it."

"Ah, of course." He set the drink down in front of her. "I noticed you walked here, too. Gave people plenty of chance to notice you?"

Rachel nodded enthusiastically. "Oh yes," she answered. "There are now several absolute strangers who think they know everything about me, by just looking at me dressed like this." She took a sip of her drink and then grinned. "And they don't even care about whether they're right or not."

"Those fools," Mike deadpanned.

"Yep!"

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Grandchildren


"Well, what's wrong with that?" Ivan replied, a trifle defensively. "They're good kids, and they like spending time with me."

Deborah sat back down at the table and propped her head on one hand. "Oh, I know. I just wish they didn't hate spending time with me."

"Oh, honey." Ivan sat down beside her. "You know that's not true... little Ellie gets so excited whenever you come to visit, after all..."

Deborah shook her head emphatically. "It is true. Oh, sure, Ellie still likes me well enough, but that'll change soon enough." She sighed, looking vaguely off into the distance. "Do you remember when they were all younger, and Pete would show me his drawings, and Sandy would call me 'Nana Deb'? But as they got older, they both started distancing themselves from me, because they realized they weren't actually my grandchildren."

Ivan clasped her hands in his. "Of course they're your grandchildren, Debbie -- "

"No, they're not. I'm not really their grandma. I'm just some woman their grandpa married." She drew back, then rose from the table and busied herself with the teakettle. "Ellie will realize that soon enough. Or her mother will make it clear to her. Either way." Then, as Ivan began to respond, "And don't tell me that she wouldn't, because we both know she would. She's your daughter, and you know her well enough to see that. She's never forgiven me for marrying you."

Ivan looked at her for a moment, and then merely nodded. "No," he replied quietly. "You're right. She never has."

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Tire


We lived in an apartment for a while, when I was around seven or eight; it had a little playground in the middle, with swings and climbing bars and things like that. Over to one side of the normal swings there was a tire swing. I never liked it very much.

Part of it might've been the way it was mounted; the stereotypical tire swing is just a tire hung over a tree limb with a rope, swinging freely and hopefully not in the direction of the trunk. (Splat.)

This tire swing, though, was hung UFO-style, with four chains spaced around the top all connected to a central point. Up to four kids could sit on the tire, knees bumping against each other in the center hole, or backs to each other and legs swinging free around the tire's outer edge. The chains were hooked up to a thing that spun both clockwise and counter-. And that, basically, was the tire swing. It could swing back and forth a little, but the chains didn't have much give. Mainly kids would sit on it and get someone to set it spinning.

Say what you will about ways to have fun, but I find that spinning rapidly in circles while inhaling the tarry smell of an old tire gets unfun fast.

This is not to say that I didn't play on the tire swing sometimes. Kids have short attention spans, and no doubt at times everything else in the playground seemed so boring that self-imposed dizziness presented a viable alternative. Still, as much as the stereotypical idyllic childhood involves long summers spent swinging under the branch of the ol' apple tree, I'm afraid I seem to have missed out.

At least I graduated from regular playground usage early enough to mostly avoid those modern hamster-tubing monstrosities they make by recycling tires. If I want to feel like a small rodent, I'll chew on some sunflower seeds.



Yeah, so this one is autobiographical, not fiction. I'm allowed.

Monday, December 25, 2006

From Above


"Um," Will remarked. He and Gordon both stared for a moment at the legs currently issuing from their apartment ceiling.

A muffled voice floated down from somewhere past the legs. "I don't suppose I'm right above a nice soft bed?" it asked. "A couch would also work."

After a pause, it added, "I seriously can feel this board about to tear loose, so if you could arrange something to break my fall, I'd appreciate it. Otherwise someone's going to need to dial 911."

Gordon moved first, grabbing one end of their couch. "Gimme a hand, Will!" Together they slid the overstuffed monstrosity across the room, more or less centering it under their unexpected guest.

"Er, it's safe now," Will called. "I think."

"You thi -- " There was a loud crack, and abruptly the legs in the ceiling grew a body and plummeted downward. "Gah!"

Will stared at the young woman who was now sprawled unceremoniously across the couch. She looked surprised but unhurt, and as she stood up it became apparent that she had survived the fall without breaking anything of note.

"Geez, lady, are you okay?" Gordon asked. "I knew this place was a dump, but I didn't think it was bad enough for people to start falling through ceilings..." He and Will both glanced down at their own floor, which, come to think of it, had been creaking rather a lot lately...

The woman looked down at the wreckage around the couch, then gave the men a slightly shellshocked grin. "Oh, yeah, these apartments are deathtraps," she answered. "Nice high ceilings, though."

Saturday, December 23, 2006

December


Gina settled herself between the covers, let out a deep breath, and turned out the light.

The room did not noticeably dim.

With an annoyed grunt, she rolled over to face away from the window. That didn't help much, though; the opposite wall just bounced the light back at her, red and blue and green and yellow blinking and twinkling in crazed randomness. Closing the window blinds didn't seem to do anything besides diffuse the colored patterns.

For a few moments Gina lay in bed, eyes tightly closed, trying to convince herself that she couldn't still see the lights anyway. Finally she sat up again. A small growl of irritation issued from her throat.

"Goddamn neighbors..." she muttered, rising and stalking across the room to the window. Lifting a slat on the blinds, she glared out at the lightshow currently decorating the house next door. She had a feeling she knew why she had gotten the house so cheap last January, and why the last residents had themselves not stayed long. How could anyone possibly need that many Christmas decorations?

With a sigh she turned from the window. It was easy enough to be furious about it now, and to promise herself that she'd do something about it tomorrow. But then tomorrow it would again seem not that important, especially given that the offending gentleman next door was good friends with the local police, and she would no doubt not bother yet again. That was, after all, why tonight was the fourth night in a row she'd be spending on the couch. And counting.

Gina indulged herself enough to shake a fist in the direction of the window, then lugged her pillow and blanket from the room.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Joystick


Darren clambered up onto the back of the recliner; Shelly crouched on the seat as a counterbalance. They both giggled as he carefully worked his way up to what would be the top once the chair was back in an upright position.

Shelly grabbed the lever and grinned at her brother. "Ready to go to the moon, Captain Amazing?"

"Ready, Control!" Darren attempted a salute, and nearly overbalanced them both onto the floor. They giggled again.

"Preparing to launch the space-a-mo-bile, captain!"

"Begin the launch countdown!"

"Ten... nine... eight... six..."

"You forgot seven," Darren interrupted.

"Oh, whoops. Se...ven... six..." Shelly tightened her grip on the recliner's lever. "Five... four... three... two... one..."

"LAUNCH!"

Shelly pulled back on the lever, and Darren gave a loud whoop. Then, as the back of the recliner came up, he fell forward and down, landing on the floor in front of the chair. For a moment he and Shelly goggled at each other, and then he flung his arms up into the air.

"I'm on the MOON, Control! And there are space monsters everywhere!" He formed his hands into guns, aiming them at his sister. "Zzzap-zzzap-zzzap! Die, monsters!"

Shelly jumped to her feet and began bouncing up and down on the recliner. "I'm gonna eat your head, Captain Amazing! That'll teach you to come to the moo -- "

"Darren! SHELLY!"

They both turned towards the doorway, Darren still with his hands in the air, Shelly coasting gently to a stop on the seat of the chair.

"To your rooms! Both of you! Now!" Their mother glared at them as they both shuffled off. "For the last time, that recliner is not a toy!"

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Film


"I don't actually care, ma'am," Zoe wanted to say.

"Your grandchildren, surprisingly enough, do not interest me in the slightest," Zoe longed to add.

"For the love of God, woman, shut up," Zoe wished to emphatically state, before turning on her heel and walking away.

Instead she continued leaning on the counter, nodding and smiling at the right places in the old woman's monologue, and silently praying for the ceiling to fall in and put them both out of her misery. Eventually the woman finished up and went away, which was almost as good.

Zoe turned back to the bins of developed photos, pretending to be busy straightening them. Every damn day she finished up her shift determined to quit, and yet every morning she was still here, bright and early and "with a team attitude." It wasn't that it was a bad job, so much as it was a stupid one. Especially when people came along and decided that she needed their life stories to go along with their badly-shot photos of ugly children and boring tourist traps.

A hand rose suddenly from the other side of the window that led into the back room. It wasn't a photo lab, exactly -- they weren't even trusted to develop the pictures here, that was for the "experts" at the Zionsville store -- but it was good for storage, sorting space, and unscheduled breaks. Ralph was in there now, and it appeared that he had found something of interest, since clutched in his hand was an envelope containing someone's developed photos.

"Need help in there, Ralphie?" Zoe asked, all innocence. That old woman could learn a thing or three from Ralph, she reflected, supressing a grin. He seemed to have a real knack for finding the more... unique photos taken by their customers. And he, too, loved to share them.

She supposed she might quit today. First, though, it was just about time for her to go on break.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Bionic


"So you could call me the Six Million Dollar Woman," Lena quipped airily. The group erupted into cool laughter, and then drifted to the next topic of discussion. After a few more minutes, Lena excused herself -- some comment on how she really must see how everyone else was getting on, which was accepted easily enough -- and made her way back to the kitchen, exchanging insincere pleasantries with a few people as she went.

She let out a deep breath as soon as the kitchen door had closed behind her; none of the guests had seen fit to come in here, not when the caterers had such a nice spread out in the dining room. Of course, her aunt hadn't even looked at the catered food, and was currently cooking up a pot of something for her own lunch. Sudden wealth could change just about anyone in the world, probably, but it certainly could not change Aunt Margaret.

The older woman eyed Lena over the top of her glasses. "Tired of your new friends already, then?" Her voice was not unkind, but still her disapproval was evident.

Lena sighed. It was not the money that Aunt Margaret had a problem with, exactly. It was more the way that the money had led to this new house -- mansion, really, once the room count hit the double digits with no sign of stopping then it was time to upgrade the terminology -- this new mansion, and how it had seemingly come with a host of new "friends" already in place, like easily-bored furniture with a wicked taste for gossip. Lena had worked a bottom-of-the-totem-pole job with a major fashion magazine for years, and gotten nowhere with it. Since the settlement for her accident, though, it suddenly seemed that well-dressed people were coming from miles around just to drop by and hear her expert opinion on just what phrase was going to be the new "the new black".

None of them actually cared about her in the slightest, of course. But it was nice to pretend, at least for a few minutes before all the artificial smiles started getting to her.

"No," she said finally, answering her aunt's question. "Just tired in general." She sat heavily in one of the kitchen chairs, wincing as she did so. "It's hard to feel like the Six Million Dollar Woman when all my valuable bionic joints are so damned stiff."

Aunt Margaret turned back to her cooking. "Well, don't tell those bloodsucking corporate laywers that," she answered briskly. "They'd probably say that if you don't consider it enough compensation, then you might as well not have it at all."

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

"Downloading" (or, Another Way To Steal Music)


Sounds of effort echoed down the alley, along with a muffled curse or two. There was a peculiar melodic thunk, followed by a hiss of "Watch it!" and a few more thumping noises. Then headlights flared in the darkness.

The truck all but jumped out of the alley, tires screeching briefly as the driver hooked a quick left onto the street, and was heading south on the highway in under a minute.

The man in the passenger seat remembered to breathe again.

"Christ, Louie, what are we thinking?! I mean, stealing from the job is one thing when it's just a couple of small things here or there, but this..."

Louie continued driving, calm now that the distance was unrolling between them and the scene of the crime. "We spent two weeks fixing that damn piano. Tuned it up nice and everything -- it'll play better now than it ever did new. Now, if it turns out the customer can't actually pay for all our hard work, are we supposed to just give it back? We worked hard. We deserve some compensation." He idly leaned an arm out the open window. "Walt is a great friend, but he makes a lousy business owner. He'd just give the thing back, not charge anything, and tell us 'tough luck, boys, guess you won't be making commission on this one.' And I don't know about you, Danny-me-boy, but I've got bills to pay."

"Even if this guy you say you know does give us a good price, though, what's to stop him from goin' to the cops afterwards?" Danny glanced nervously at the dark shape in the bed of the truck, then looked back at his companion. "Maybe he's a whaddayacallem, a plant, or something."

Louie snorted. "Don't you worry about a thing. In another hour, my man will have this here bee-yootiful piano, and you and I will each be several hundred dollars richer. And Walt can explain to the deadbeat why it's smart not to try to cheat your servicepeople." He grinned over at Danny. "Trust me, Danno. We will suffer no ill effects from this little venture what-so-ever."

Monday, December 18, 2006

Leftovers


"Oog," Greg remarked.

Brian shook his head in disbelief. "Do you have any idea how long some of that stuff was in there?!" he exclaimed.

With some difficulty, Greg raised his head to look at his roommate. "Naw, man, I mean... I recognized most of it from the last week or two, except for the salad..."

Brian blinked. "Salad?"

"...and I figured hey, it's just lettuce and whatever, sure it looks a little funny but it's probably still good..."

"Um." Brian rubbed absently at the back of his head. "Dude, there wasn't any salad in there. Do you mean that green stuff way at the back? That used to be macaroni and cheese."

Greg groaned and hid his face in one of the couch cushions.

"No wonder you're sick, man, you probably ate three new species and a thriving civilization. Hell, I bet we could've found some biology grad students to pay us for what we had growing in there."

"Dude..." Greg said from behind the cushion.

Brian rolled his eyes. "Fine, I'll lay off until you're not sick anymore," he replied. "But next time... I'll clean the damn fridge, okay? At least I know better than to eat everything that's in there."

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Patriotic Colors


I'm hiding this one from the mainpage, because it contains a fairly nasty ethnic slur. Click here if you want to go to the post page and read it anyway.[WARNING: FAIRLY NASTY ETHNIC SLUR BELOW. SKIP ON BY IF YOU DON'T WANT TO READ IT.]

It wasn't so much that David minded people doing this sort of thing to him. Or rather, he reflected as he ducked back into the house, it wasn't quite so bad when it was just directed at him. Sometimes, going to work or out on errands, he'd catch a dirty look or a cruel remark; one time when he was pumping gas, he'd actually been approached by a belligerent drunk who'd threatened to deck him if he didn't go back to his own country.

Funny, David thought as he pulled a bucket out from under the kitchen sink. He'd been born and raised in Los Angeles, not an hour's drive from where he now lived. Same with his wife, for that matter. But try telling that to the redneck at the gas station.

"Dave?"

He winced, then turned to his wife. "G'morning, Sora. Didn't mean to wake you."

She rubbed at her eyes, voice still muzzy as she asked, "What are you doing? It's not even six yet, and you're going to clean something?"

"It's nothing, sweetie, go back to bed." He hefted the bucket, now full of soapy water, and grabbed the sponge from by the sink. "I was just out getting the paper, and I decided the, um. The steps could use a wash."

Sora looked at him, dismay flooding into her face and replacing the sleepiness. "Oh, David. It happened again, didn't it."

He nodded. "On the wall by the front door," he answered quietly. "I was hoping to get it cleaned up before you or the kids could see."

She moved slowly toward the door, and after a moment he followed. Together they walked out to the front porch and looked at the graffiti someone had left in the night.

SAND NIGGERS GET OUT, it read.

"We'll need my scrubber brush," Sora said finally, her voice oddly small. "And we'll have to work fast. There's only an hour or so till the girls get up."

Friday, December 15, 2006

Memory


Tara put down the phone and sighed. "Good lord, I thought we'd never get that straightened out." She crossed something off the list in front of her, then looked up at the ceiling. "Let's see, I have to go down to Morgan County on Wednesday, and Sue needs me to take her to get groceries Thursday..."

Bernie glanced up at his wife from the shoe he was repairing. "Weren't you just in Morgan County yesterday?"

"Well, I had to take Grandma Lewis some things, and then there was the meat to pick up from ValueStop for mom. Only now, apparently Aaron has gotten himself in trouble -- something to do with some girl," she added, rolling her eyes, "and so Bob and Penny need someone to watch their other kids, and mom agreed to do it which means someone has to go with dad to the auction." She picked up her pen and made a brief note. "I also need to get my roaster back from Penny."

Bernie grunted. "Well, keep in mind, I've got to get up to my mom's to mow the grass sometime this week. I didn't get to it last weekend, and this weekend we've got that thing at my sister's church in Spencerville -- "

"Oh, shoot!" Tara snatched up the phone again. "That's right, I told Jason I could let him have the van this weekend, only we'll need it in Spencerville." As she began to dial, she sighed. "Honestly, the amount of things I have to remember with this family, I'm surprised my head hasn't just fallen right off."

"That's why I say we should just move to Florida," Bernie deadpanned as he returned to his work. "Let everyone else sort themselves out."

"Now, where would they be without me around to run their lives for them?" Tara replied.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Compliment


"What the hell?" Danny scowled as he rejoined the others behind the fry cookers. "Was that supposed to be some kind of a joke?"

"Never knew Mr. Carter was French," drawled Joe from where he sat sprawled in front of the freezer door. "Wouldn't know it ta lookit 'im."

"Seriously, what does that even mean? Gar-kon? Is that some French insult?"

Shane, currently sitting on a crate of cheese slices that was supposed to be going into the freezer, snorted. "Carter's not French. He's lived here since forever."

"Dammit, what did he say to me?" Danny slammed one fist into his other palm. "Damn Frenchy thinks he can insult me, he'll have another thing coming when I catch up to him in the parking lot and kick his ass -- "

"And get fired from Wendy's for fightin', just like with the last three jobs you worked." Shane idly reached into a hole in the crate of cheese, pulled out a stack of slices, and began munching on them. "He thinks he's bein' all socially responsible or whatever by noticin' burger flippers. Did it to me too the other day, when I was workin' the register."

Danny glared at nothing in particular. "Still could've been an insult," he said sulkily. "I don' even know what it means."

Shane started to answer, then paused. "Just get high and forget about it," he replied finally, tossing the rest of his cheese at the trashcan. "'s practically 4:20 anyway."

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Recliner


"Dinner's ready, Arthur!" Hannah carried the last dish to the table, then removed her oven mitt before going back to make sure the stove was off. "Arthur?" She rolled her eyes, but at the same time she was smiling; she'd been married to the man nearly forty years now, long enough to know that when he got wrapped up in something, it practically took a tank to pry him loose.

She wiped her hands idly on her apron as she walked into the living room. He had fallen asleep in front of the television again, it looked like; third time this week, as a matter of fact. Hannah chuckled a bit as she approached his recliner.

"Seems to me you're enjoying retirement an awful lot for a man who swore he wouldn't slow down in his old age, Artie," she chided gently, leaning on his chair. "Come to dinner, and then you can nap all evening. How's that sound?" When he didn't stir, she put a hand on his shoulder. "Artie?" A pause. "Arthur?"

Hannah moved around to the front of his chair, and leaned down slightly. From here she could see the way his head was slumped foward; his face was slack, his eyes open just the tiniest bit. She took a deep, shuddering breath. "Arthur."

"Huh?" Arthur jerked awake, eyes flying open and then focusing on her. "Holy... I dozed off again, didn't I?"

With a strangled little sound in her throat, Hannah straightened up quickly and headed back towards the kitchen. "That you did," she answered, and if her voice was not entirely even then he seemed not to notice. "Now come on, dear, dinner's ready."

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Once A Month


That was the rent taken care of, then, another month before Evan would have to worry about that. The utilities were awfully high this month, what with having to run the heater so much, and that leak in the sink; fortunately his cousin Jerry had finally paid back that $100 loan from a while back, and that would more or less take care of it. More or less.

Of course, that still left the doctor's bill. Evan stared glumly at the cast on his left arm, then at the paperwork from the hospital visit. Even with the insurance, he still owed a good two week's wages, payable immediately. Quiet inquiries around town had landed him a few odd jobs. But a man with only one good arm couldn't do much, and anyway nobody else really had money to spare right now either. Which left Evan still broke, and still with an unpaid bill staring him in the face.

He sighed and rested his head in his hands, or at least in his hand. Every month it seemed he had an impossible task to fulfill when bill-paying time came around, and every month he managed to muddle through somehow. This time, though, his resources were more or less tapped. Slowly his eyes moved to the corner of the dining room.

The pot dresser was huge, and dark, and terribly old -- nearly two hundred years, according to his mother, who had kept it faithfully dusted and went over it with lemon oil once a week. Evan hadn't taken quite as much care with it since it came into his possession, and it had taken on a small bit of fire damage. All the same, he knew it was still quite a valuable piece.

It was also the only thing he had left of his parents, after the fire that had taken their lives and most of their house.

Evan's gaze moved back and forth between the pot dresser and the bills on the table. He made no other movement for some time.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Good News


Rachel glanced out the window at the gathering forming on the neighbors' porch. Women, mostly, the various aunts and mothers and sisters that made up the Ogden clan. At the center of the roiling little storm was Chelsea Ogden, the lady of the house, holding in her arms the actual reason for all this hubbub.

With a sigh, Rachel turned back to the table. "You'd think they'd never seen a baby before," she said wryly. "Certainly they didn't all come over when Chelsea's husband got that novel published, and that seems rather more of an accomplishment than just reproducing."

Lucy raised an eyebrow over the rim of her coffee mug. "Mmm. Well, to a certain sort, havin' a baby is about the highest calling one could ever hope to answer to."

"And it's not even like it's something new," Rachel grumbled, sitting back down again and drawing her own mug closer. "Congratulations! You know how to do something that billions of people have figured out before you! Now we will shower you with gifts and give you the best parking spaces at the grocery store." She took a sip of coffee, then continued. "Honestly! Some guy gets his legs blown off in Iraq, he comes home and wants to go to the grocery store, he has to park farther away than the slut who couldn't figure out birth control!"

Lucy grinned slyly. "The thing to keep in mind about that is, you don't have to have a special license plate to say you're expectin'." She coughed. "If you know what I mean."

"Don't let any of the Ogdens hear you talking that way. You'd never make it out alive."

"Oh, it's not me that has to watch what she says," Lucy replied, eyes sparkling with malicious glee. "If Chelsea ever catches up to me and asks me to coo over her little wormbaby, I may just throw them both out a window."

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Cologne


"Dad!" Kari started to greet him with a hug, then pulled back suddenly, nose wrinkling. "Ugh, are you still using that same cologne? It makes you smell like a chemistry set!"

Ben shook his head in mock sorrow. "My only child and she couldn't even inherit my good taste..." Then, as they started making their way across the airport to the baggage claim, "And I still have four bottles of it left anyway. I tell you, twenty years ago my friends thought I was crazy for buying three cases at once, but I guess I'll have the last laugh, eh?"

"If only because everyone else has fled the stench," Kari replied, grinning. "Doesn't that stuff ever expire?"

"Don't think so." Ben waved her ahead of him onto the escalator, then stepped onto it behind her. "And even if it does, so what? I'm wearing it, not eating it."

Kari grinned again. "Worst-case scenario, when you've finally poisoned yourself to death, you'll already be embalmed."

"Oh!" Ben clutched his chest theatrically, eyes pointed skyward. "Thankless child, how you wound me so!" As they reached the baggage claim, he winked at her. "Just for that, you can take care of my suitcase for me."

Friday, December 08, 2006

Loud And Clear


They smiled at each other, and then Nora returned to her book and Frank to watching the television. As a commercial gave way to the 7 o'clock news, Frank picked up the remote and carefully turned the volume up to the maximum.

Nora looked at him again. "You really should consider getting a hearing aid, dear."

"What?"

"You really should get a hearing aid."

Frowning, Frank muted the television. "Why bother? My hearing's not that bad yet, and it's an expense we don't need."

"It wouldn't -- " Nora smiled ruefully. "It wouldn't be an expense for anyone but the health insurance, you know that."

Frank crossed his arms and said nothing; after a moment she patted him on the shoulder. "And your hearing is that bad yet. You know you have the TV all the way up, yes?"

"It's made to play that loud, or else I wouldn't be able to turn it up that way, now would I?" Frank hit the mute button again, then looked at her apologetically. "I'll make an appointment with the doctor tomorrow, if you really think I need to," he shouted over the television's blare.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Younger Days


"Better'n what Jake wound up with," Red answered, in the deliberate tone of one who is all too aware of what a hilarious comment he is in the process of making. Certainly it set the others to laughing and slyly pounding Jake on the back.

Jake himself was laughing too, but somewhat more reluctantly. "Don' remin' me," he slurred, and had another swig of his beer. "I'm tryin'a forget that tonight."

Dennis hoisted his own can high. "To Jake," he grinned, "because while we've all gotten drunk enough to wind up in bed with strange women, he is the only one of us who's managed to get drunk enough to wind up married to one!" The others cheered and drank enthusiastically.

"I said don' remind me, man," Jake scowled. "Her an' her bein' 'born again'. If I hafta hear her go on 'bout how my drinkin' makes the baby Jesus cry one more time..." He drained his beer, threw the empty over his shoulder, then reached into the cooler for a new one. "Why'd I ever hafta marry her anyway?" he added morosely.

Red snorted. "I think the answer t'that is right there in your hand," he quipped, setting the others off again.

Jake glared at him in the act of opening his beer, but said nothing, and after a few more witticisms at his expense, the conversation moved on to other topics.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Beeper


After a while the beeping noises from the kitchen got through to Stella, who looked up from her book with an expression of annoyance. "Vincent! Patty! What are you doing?!"

A fit of giggling was her answer, then the voice of her daughter. "Nothing, mom!"

"Doesn't sound like nothing," Stella snapped. She marked her place with the old receipt she was using as a bookmark, then rose and stormed into the kitchen. "It sounds like someone is playing with my new microwa -- "

As she rounded the corner into the kitchen, the scene that came into view stopped both her feet and her mouth. For a moment she only stared, gaping, at the pinkish goop spattered randomly over walls, counters, floors, children, and microwave. It appeared that the inside of this last was even messier than its outside. Patty and Vincent stared at her round-eyed from the center of the storm.

Stella blinked a few more times, then, as evenly as she could manage, enquired as to what, exactly, was going on around here.

"It was supposed to be a surprise," Vincent replied earnestly, wiping at one of the pink smears on his face. "Because dad bought you the microwave for a present he said, and if there's presents there should be cake, and so we were trying to make the cake ourselves..." He pointed at his sister. "It was her idea," he added.

"Is that true?" Stella managed. Patty nodded. "Why on earth would you try to bake a cake in the microwave?"

Patty looked confused. "Because we're not allowed to use the stove," she replied.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Quick Fix


Despite his wife's insistence, Theo elected not to call the police. Sure, this was practically becoming an epidemic in the neighborhood, but really, there was nothing much could be done now; and anyway, whoever the father of the perpetrator was, it was his job to take care of the disciplinary end of things. Perhaps aided by the use of a good strong belt.

All Theo did was head over to the hardware store the next day and pick up a new mailbox. He knew he ought to do what several of his neighbors had done: hire Steve Edwards or one of the Gantner boys or someone with bricklaying experience to build a good sturdy mailbox housing, something that would stand up to whatever little thug had been going around lately with a baseball bat. Thing was, that felt like giving in. This was supposed to be a nice town, full of decent people. Having to worry about barring and bricking everything up was supposed to be for city folk.

When he returned home, his wife came out to meet him by the smashed remains of the old mailbox. She watched in critical silence as he took the new box and slid it carefully inside.

"And what the neighbors will think of us for having such a tacky thing on our lawn, I certainly don't know," she sniffed, before stalking back up the driveway and into the house.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Dunking


The diner was mostly empty at this hour, which was the normal state of things. Even at its busiest it seldom had more than a half-dozen customers at a time, most of them sitting alone and nursing cups of coffee or slices of Edie's homemade pie; now, though, it was just old Wallace in the back corner, Herbie up at the front, and Edie herself behind the counter. Herb looked up as her shadow fell across the newspaper he had spread out in front of him.

She gestured with the coffee pot. "Top you off, hon?"

"Uh, no, I'm good," he replied. "How's your day so far?"

Edie shrugged. "Not bad, not bad. Mainly waiting on Joe to show up." She checked her watch, then went on, "Third time this week he's been late with the morning deliveries. He's a good kid, and I know his family's on hard times lately, but if he keeps this up I'm going to have to fire him. I can't run a business like this."

"I was wondering what happened to my morning dunking exercise," Herbie chuckled.

"See, that's just what I'm talking about! Louis was already here today before going over to the plant, I guess he has to be there early to make sure the parking lot's plowed, and since Joe's not brought the things from the bakery..." Edie tsked. "I really don't want to have to fire him, not with his mama in the hospital. But I can't be running a restaurant this way."

"No, I guess not," Herbie agreed. He pulled out his wallet and deposited two dollars on the table. "Looks like I'll have to pass on the donut for today, Edie. You have a good day, though, y'hear?"

She nodded, but her eyes were focused on some distant point past the diner wall. "You too, hon. Don't work too hard."

Herbie grinned. "Never have yet." He took one last sip of his coffee, then exited.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Golf


There was a pause in the conversation, and Barry could picture his mother struggling to come up with an answer. Finally she settled on "You were what?"

Barry grinned ruefully, though she could hardly see it over the phone. "Well, yeah, ma, it's for my degree. I'll be playing golf basically every Monday afternoon for the whole semester."

A loud sigh. "Barry. Your father and I have not paid all this expensive tuition money just so you can skip class to go golfing -- "

"I'm not skipping class!" he protested. "It's part of the business program here! Honest!" Sensing her disbelief, he went on, "They've just started doing it this year, everyone majoring in business has to learn how to play golf. Because people are always cutting deals on the golf course, or something."

His mother sighed again, but not quite so loudly this time. "Well, I suppose that's so. Still, it seems awfully strange a thing to learn for a college degree, but if that's how they're doing things these days..." Her tone of voice suggested that most things done these days did not meet with her approval.

Barry nodded. "I'll keep up with all my classes, ma, really. You and dad don't have to worry about me wasting your money, okay?"

"Well, just don't get too good at playing golf," she said pragmatically. "Nobody likes people who win all the time."

Friday, December 01, 2006

Time


King lifted his head, then carefully got up from the floor by the fireplace and barked. Jonah could remember a time when the old Labrador would have been positively dancing around the room at the prospect of going for a ride... but then, of course, that was some time ago now. And, really, why he was doing this in the first place.

"Come on, then, old boy," he said heartily, scratching King behind the ears. "Let's have us some fun, eh?" He opened the front door, allowing the dog to pad out carefully onto the front step, then locked up behind them. They walked together to the truck, and he tried not to notice how much King was limping.

"All right, here we go." Jonah opened the passenger door to his truck. He stood there a moment, watching as King tried and failed to climb onto the seat a few times, occasionally whimpering; then, somewhat hurriedly, he reached out and helped the old dog scramble up. "There, now you've got it," he said gruffly, and perhaps a bit more loudly than usual. "In you go, no problem at all, right?" He stopped to give another affectionate scratch of the shaggy head before gently shutting the door. "Let's have some fun," he added with a brief smile, and King seemed to grin in response.

Jonah took his time running his errands, taking the long way to the post office and hitting both of the town's hardware stores. Throughout the process King sat sprawled on the truck's passenger seat, seeming to enjoy the process, though every once in a while he would give a little whine of pain. Jonah brought him a small treat from Quincy's hardware store, which the dog licked his hand gratefully for before consuming. Eventually all the day's errands were done, except the one Jonah had been dreading most.

He pulled up outside of the long brick building, then sat quietly behind the wheel for a few moments. Beside him King sat calmly, looking sleepy again already from the day's adventure. Finally Jonah sighed, turned off the engine, and exited the truck. His steps were heavy as he came around to the passenger side, and it was only very slowly that he opened the door and carefully helped the dog down to the ground. King whined and shivered, and Jonah passed a hand over his eyes.

"I know, boy, I know," he said quietly. "It's not so easy gettin' around anymore. But just one more thing to do, and then that's all for the day, huh? Then you can..." He swallowed, eyes glistening. "Then you can rest." He knelt down beside King and hugged him gently. "You've been my best friend for all these years... I think you deserve a rest, old boy."

King licked Jonah's face and barked softly. Then Jonah rose and led the slowly limping dog up the steps and into the vet's office.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Entertainment


The room was quiet but for the ticking of the clock on the bookcase, the humming of the furnace, and the rustling of Paul's newspaper. Outside the picture window, snow fell in lazy drifts, piling up around the bushes that lined the porch. Paul made a mental note to call the Jensen boy down the street -- the front walk would need shoveling again, and little Charlie was always eager to make an easy five dollars after a snowfall.

Paul chuckled to himself as he turned the page. Not so little anymore, that boy. Charlie had to be... what, thirteen, fourteen by now? Before him, it had been his brother Matt who had kept Paul's walk shoveled in the winters, but now Matt was away at college. Studying something with computers. He was a bright boy; hard worker, too. Paul figured Charlie would follow in his footsteps soon enough, going off to college to get some fancy degree. There were no more boys in the Jensen family, but Paul supposed he would worry about that when the time came.

The clock chimed softly, rousing him from his thoughts. Ten o'clock. Time for bed, that was. Paul folded up his newspaper, set it on the table by his chair, and stood up slowly. He walked over to the window, twitching aside the curtain to look out at the snow for a moment; then he turned around and left the room, switching off the lamp as he went.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Pre-Wash


Zack sighed as the last of his guests went hastily out the door. He walked into the dining room, and stared thoughtfully at the still-laden table before moving to extinguish the candles at its center. For all that he had had a reputation of throwing a classy dinner party, those candles probably weren't going to see use again any time soon.

Generally Zack prided himself on his social aplomb. He had only been working at his current place of employment six months, but already he had made a number of good friends there; and he still kept close with any number of companions from previous jobs, previous residences, even a few buddies from college. Just about every weekend he would put on a dinner party, and these affairs were always well-attended. People generally seemed to like Zack, or at least the face he presented in public. He liked being liked. He had always been an extrovert.

He picked up two of the plates from the table, carried them into the kitchen, and set them down on the floor. Then he went to the door of the laundry room. "You know, Rex," he called through it with a wry grin, "you could've waited until the party was over and everyone had gone home to start your dishwasher duties." He opened the door, and a good-sized mutt came bounding out, glad to be free again after its sudden imprisonment. Zack scratched its shaggy head, then laughed. "All right, boy, have at it," he said. The dog ran to the plates of food and enthusiastically began to root through them. Zack smiled, shrugged, and got to work cleaning up from the failed party.


Seriously, eww. Does anyone really let their dogs lick their dishes? That's both unsanitary and unhealthy for the dog.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Stamps


Marissa sat behind the wheel of her car, idling in a parking space outside the post office. She nodded to old Mrs. Foster as the latter was walking towards the building's front door; then she bolted up in her seat as the front door flew open and a small form barrelled down the sidewalk, nearly plowing into the woman. Pete stopped just long enough to apologize before speeding up again. He was breathless and giggling by the time he had gotten into the passenger seat of Marissa's car.

"Peter," she said sternly, "What have I told you about being more careful? You could have hurt Mrs. Foster badly!"

Pete squirmed a bit, looking down at his dirty sneakers. "Sorry mom," he mumbled.

"Now, did you get the stamps? Let me have them." She held out her hand, then raised an eyebrow as her son giggled again. "...Pete..."

"Um," Pete said, and grinned. His right hand had been in his jacket pocket the whole time; now he removed it, revealing a fistful of something, which he gave her. "Here you go!" he added brightly, and then continued laughing.

Marissa stared bemusedly at the mass of stamps in her hand. She had given him three dollar bills, and asked him to buy as many stamps as he could out of the machine; apparently it would have been helpful to specify what kind she actually wanted.

Then she would not have wound up with three hundred one-cent stamps, all crumpled together in a vague coil by a giggling eight-year-old.

"That was fun," Pete exclaimed. "I wanna buy stamps again sometime!"



Um, hey, Brookins and/or Boggess. They still sell those. I've got a small pile of lickable one-centers on the shelf by my desk right now, purchased maybe a month ago from a vending machine at the post office. They have lampshades on them.

Just because a way of doing something is old does not mean that it is not still in use, even in today's crazy modern world.

Monday, November 27, 2006

15 Minutes


"I'm going to be late," Jerry moaned, plopping down on the curb and burying his head in his hands.

"Once every five years or so won't get you fired," his brother Bill replied philosophically, leaning against the side of Jerry's pickup. "Specially since you're only barely going to be late anyway."

Jerry looked up. "My pay'll be docked, though," he said morosely. "Fifty bucks, plus the repair bill, and me with Loretta at home wantin' to put in a new kitchen." He assumed his earlier position. "Knew I should've gotten the truck serviced."

"Look," reasoned Bill, "Ernie said he'd have the tow truck out in fifteen minutes, right? Now you're damned lucky to have broken down close enough to the shop that he can grab you so quick, so at least look at the bright side, huh? And fifty bucks isn't so much anyway."

With a heavy sigh, Jerry rose and kicked idly at one of the tires. "He said fifteen minutes when you called?"

"Yep."

"And how long's it been now?"

Bill looked down at his watch. "Six minutes."

Jerry slumped down on the curb again. "Loretta'll have my hide," he mumbled to himself.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Polo


"Mooooooom!" screeched Nathan from the backyard. "Stevie's not playing right!"

"How do you know anyway, huh?" Stevie yelled back. "You don't even know how to play this game!" He took a swing at his younger brother with the mallet, then looked up as a sudden shadow fell over him.

Kat held out her hand. "Give it here, Steven," she commanded, anger snapping from her eyes. Meekly her son handed over the polo mallet, then glared at Nathan. "And Nathan," she added, turning to the other boy, "if you want to play a game, you have to agree on the rules before you start. Otherwise I'll just have to take it away from you."

Nathan dropped his own mallet and swiped sullenly at his nose. "Stevie just said we should play with the polo sticks an' then he started saying I couldn't do things with 'em," he grumbled.

"Well, that's why you have to have all the rules before you start," Kat answered more calmly, kneeling down between her sons. "I don't know the rules to polo either; I just found the set in the garage and thought we might want to play sometime. Your dad might know, so maybe we should wait until he gets home and then we can ask him, okay?"

"But we wanna play now!" Stevie interrupted, and then lowered his head as his mother cast a stern look in his direction.

Kat gently took Nathan's mallet from him. "I think we'll wait to play this until later, okay? I shouldn't have put it out here yet, I think." She set the mallets down and wrapped both boys in a hug. "Find something else to play for now, okay? Then maybe we'll all four play together when dad gets home. If not, we'll do something else fun. Deal?"

Nathan nodded. She turned to Stevie and smiled encouragingly. Finally he shrugged. "We can play tag for now, I guess," he said grudgingly.

"You're it!" Nathan yelled, and scampered away. Stevie was immediately off after him, and Kat gathered up the mallets and balls as the sound of their laughter filled the backyard around her.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Quarter Horse


Leigh tugged at her mother's hand. "Look, mama, they put in a horsey ride," she exclaimed, pointing. "Can I ride it? Can I, mama?"

Judy sighed. The horse had been added to the row of coin-operated rideable sculptures next to the grocery store entrance, on the end by the battered old Dino the Dinosaur. Leigh had never expressed any interest in the old ones, which had been fine by her mother. The fewer frivolous expenses, the more of their meager funds were left for necessities. Still, maybe this one would be only a penny a ride, like the plastic tiger on the other side of Dino. Something like that would be easy enough to let Leigh have a turn on every time they went shopping.

She looked down at her daughter and smiled. "Let's see, then, shall we, love?"

Together they walked over to the horse, a garish pink-and-tan monstrosity that Judy was honestly surprised the girl didn't find terrifying. There, printed on the coinbox, was the legend "1 RIDE -- 50 CENTS". Judy sighed again, and squeezed her daughter's hand. "I suppose you can have a ride, dear, if you want. But only one, okay? We've still got groceries to buy, yet."

For a moment Leigh gazed longingly at the horse, then looked back up at Judy. "I promise, mama, just once. And then I'll never ask again!"

Judy closed her eyes. "Oh, love, I'm sure that won't be necessary. There will be other times you can ride it, okay? We can spare the money now and then." She smiled at the girl then, but the smile was brief, and trembled slightly.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Blessings


I'm currently (04/14/2010) looking for the image to this one -- unfortunately I no longer have the slightest idea what the original comic was about. Judging from the tags I put on the post, grandparenting was involved... blah blah blah grandparents know how to count their blessings, given that those blessings are grandchildren? Bah. No clue.

Stay tuned for possible future pictoral update!

Brian waved energetically from the porch as the car eased down the driveway and headed off. "Bye, Grandma, bye, Grandpa!," he hollered. "See you next year! Love you! Byebye!"

"Okay, champ, I think that's enough," Tony chuckled, ruffling his son's hair. "They can't hear you anymore, but I sure bet all the neighbors can. Come on back inside, huh?"

"K," the boy replied cheerfully. He ran back inside, and Tony followed, carefully closing the door behind him. He could hear Brian chattering happily to Sue in the kitchen.

" -- and then Grandpa pulled a quarter out of my ear -- this one, right here, see -- " Brian held up the coin excitedly, though Sue gave it only a brief glance before going back to scrubbing a pan in the kitchen sink. "And he said it was magic, and that maybe he'd teach me how to do it sometime -- " He broke off as Tony came into the room, then headed off on another train of five-year-old thought with just as much gusto. "Daddy, how come we only see Grandma and Grandpa once a year? They're so nice, we should see them all the time!"

Sue paused briefly in her scrubbing, then set to it again. "Yes, dear, that's a good question," she said in a voice starting to fray around the edges. "Why is it, again, that we're only graced with your mother's presence once a year?"

Tony addressed his reply to Brian. "Maybe it's just to give you something to look forward to, kiddo," he said, then nudged the boy gently towards Sue. "How 'bout we help your mom with those dishes, huh? I'll wash, you dry, sound good?"

"Okay!" Brian chirped, pocketing his quarter again.

Tony tossed the boy a dish towel, then winked at his gratefully smiling wife. "And if you really want to be talking mother-in-law woes, then maybe I have a few stories to tell you, eh?" he joked, before taking up the dishcloth and going to work.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Neighbors


I'm currently (04/14/2010) looking for the image to this one -- it was something about how neighbors bake extra bread to give to each other or whatever. I don't remember anymore. Stay tuned for possible future pictoral update!

"Well, she is a bit off, isn't she?" Tammy said casually, leaning against the fence.

"I guess." Diane looked vaguely uncomfortable. "I mean, you're her neighbor, not me, so maybe you'd know better; only she seems an all right sort to me. A little quiet, maybe."

Tammy held up one finger. "And it's always the quiet ones," she said meaningfully.

"Er. That do what?"

"Don't know." Tammy shrugged. "That's the problem, you don't know until it's too late. If you even notice the warning signs at all."

"Oh." Diane nodded, hoping she would appear to know more about their conversation than she actually did.

"You know, she brought over bread yesterday?"

"Ah."

Tammy's eyes narrowed, and she nodded, more firmly than Diane had. "Said she'd baked three loaves of it fresh, and wanted to share with the neighbors. She probably took a loaf over to Jim and Mary too, over on the other side of her property."

"Erm. Who would have thought, eh?"

"Exactly!" Tammy smiled widely. "I knew you'd understand."

"I mean, bread and all," Diane added helpfully.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Marketing


Bah, way to wreck one of the semi-autobiographical fics by skipping a week of archives, gocomics.com...

I'm currently (04/14/2010) looking for the image to this one. It was something about, like, there are a lot of commercials for denture cream and life insurance and stuff during the daytime soaps and gameshows and what have you. Thus, marketing. Plugger marketing, I suppose, since I tagged the post with comic.plugger tech.

Stay tuned for possible future pictoral update!

"Oh, dear, don't you remember?", Mother replied. "Today they're airing Marie's episode of The Price Is Right! You weren't going to the store just now, were you?"

Emma shifted the phone to her other hand. "No, I didn't remember that." She walked into the living room, grabbed the television remote and sat down on the couch. "I can wait until it's over to go."

"Well I should hope so!" Mother sounded so matter-of-fact that Emma had to smile. "Marie's only been wanting to meet Bob Barker for ages, and then when she finally got her ticket she was so excited -- "

"Did she actually meet him?" Emma answered distractedly as she flipped through the channels. "I mean, I don't think they do unless they actually get to go up and all."

"Well, no. But she said it was a thrill all the same. Are you watching it yet?"

"Mmm. Yes. I always know I've got the right channel when the commercials for scooters and Centrum Silver come up."

On the other end of the phone, her mother chuckled. "It's all about knowing your audience, dear. The only people who watch this show are children home sick and old women like Marie and me."

"Hey! Where does that leave me, then?" Emma replied, and they both laughed at that. Then a commercial for denture cream ended, to be replaced by one touting life insurance. Emma's laughter cut off quickly, and there was a pause for a few moments.

Finally Mother spoke up. "I know you still miss him, dear. Death is never easy to deal with, and when it's so unexpected it's even worse. But eventually the memories will stop hurting so much. You believe that, don't you?"

Emma closed her eyes. "I've certainly been told it by enough people," she answered quietly. "But I don't know what I believe anymore."

Silence then but for the rattle of cheerful game-show music; loudly, from Emma's own television set; and, more quietly, floating down the line, echoing as though from a very great distance.



Meh. Fairly obvious bit of fictionalized self-insertion here. Well, "write what you know" and such, I guess.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Premiums


I'm currently (04/14/2010) looking for the image to this one -- it was something about how plugger health care premiums don't go up because for "plugger health care" you should actually read "band-aids and a kiss from mommy on your scraped knee", or something like that. Stay tuned for possible future pictoral update!

Helen looked over the paperwork and sighed. "The co-pays have gone up again, too."

"Cripes." Dan pulled out another of the kitchen chairs and sat down heavily. "How much?" Wordlessly she handed him the page, pointing at the relevant section. He winced. "Bloodsuckers. They just keep wanting more, don't they?" Then he set down the paper and sighed. "How's Joey doing?"

"Not too bad today," Helen answered quietly, eyes cast downward. "But you know, his prescription is coming up for refill again soon."

He nodded. "I know."

She looked up at him. "He's doing so much better with this medicine, Dan. Most days he says he hardly feels any pain at all."

"I know," Dan said again. Then he sighed. "I'll talk to my boss. Maybe he'll let me pick up some more hours. I mean, he said he couldn't before, but..."

"Explain it to him," Helen pleaded. "He'll understand, won't he?"

All Dan could do was shrug. "I hope so," he replied, and then was silent.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Price of Gas


"Gas is at two-thirteen at the Speedway," she commented as they drove past.

"Huh. Not bad. We'll have to fill up on the way back." He grinned a bit. "I remember when two bucks was a bad price for gas."

"I remember when one dollar a gallon was too much. At least for my mom. There was this one place in town where it was like 89 cents, and she'd only fill up there." She nodded mock-gravely. "It was an Arco."

"Good to know."

"Yep, very important fact there." Idly she rolled her window down a bit. "Of course, then at some point the price started going up -- I don't remember when, sometime in the middleish 90s -- and I think the one cheap Arco went out of business or something, and then mom just basically gassed up wherever looked cheap at the moment. Dad freaked out about the raised prices, though."

He glanced at her. "Your dad was kind of prone to freakouts, wasn't he."

"You could say that. I remember about when it was at $2.75ish -- the first time, if you will, since it isn't like that's such an extraordinary price anymore -- he started going around saying that it would hit five bucks a gallon soon." Her mood dimmed slightly. "He got really angry at mom when she disagreed. They wound up having another one of their fights." Then she shook her head. "I don't even know why I still remember that. It isn't like it matters anymore."

"Well, yeah. You won't have to worry about dealing with him anymore; you're halfway across the country from him now."

"True." She grinned crookedly. "And it wasn't even a bad fight, really. He didn't throw his gun through the window that time, or anything!"

Friday, November 17, 2006

Success


The foreman coughed politely. "Need some help there, Murray?"

Murray felt his face go red, but he remained as he was, facing the door, head down so he could get a better look at his keys. "Nosir, Mr. Talbot. I know I've got the right key here; I'll find it any second now -- aha!" From the massive keyring he triumphantly held one key aloft, a huge silver-colored affair, worn and greasy with the use of years. "Sorry about that, sir, there's just so many keys to sort through that it... hrm."

Talbot frowned. "Problem?"

"Wrong key." Shamefacedly, he held the keyring even closer to his face, nervously aware of the seconds ticking by even as the key he sought continued to elude him. "There's just so many of them I need to have on me, you see, and so many of them look alike, and -- "

"Murray, your boss and I have been somewhat... concerned, lately," Talbot interrupted smoothly. "You've worked here for, what, fifteen, twenty years?"

Murray felt his throat tighten, but he answered as calmly as he could. "Twenty-three."

"Twenty-three. That's a long time to have kept up your janitorial duties, and you've generally performed admirably." Talbot paused slightly, then continued. "However, we have noticed lately that you appear to be having... difficulties."

Murray turned to the foreman in alarm. "Sir, if this is about that door I left unlocked last week -- "

Talbot shook his head. "No, no, it isn't just one thing; it's more a series of incidents, minor ones, certainly, but... they do add up." He coughed, then pointed to Murray's belt. "Is the key you need on your other keyring, perhaps?"

"Oh." Murray went red again. "I think it is, actually."

Talbot's hand came down on his shoulder, heavy, insistent. "As I said, your boss and I have been talking about your performance lately, and... I'm afraid we're going to have to let you go."

"Oh," Murray said again.

"Perhaps there's something else on your mind lately, and that's what's got you distracted," Talbot went on, not letting go of Murray's shoulder. "We would certainly be willing to consider rehiring you in a year or so, if that is the case. And we've no hard feelings, you understand."

"Yes," Murray agreed.

"We just have to look out for the success of the company, you see?" Talbot gave him a brief, meaningless smile. "That's all."

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Math Homework


Gerald smiled at Toby. "Got it now, kiddo? You borrow from the tens column, then subtract from the ones."

"Thanks, grandpa!" Toby took back his paper and pencil, then ran back to the kitchen. Gerald watched, still smiling, as the boy clambered carefully back up onto the tall chair, bending once more to the book spread open on the table. Smart lad. Not the smartest, certainly, but he took instruction well, if you exercised a little patience with him.

He had been sitting in one of the armchairs in the living room, reading the newspaper, when Toby had asked for help with his homework. Mina was sitting in the other chair with a small pile of mending; she was quiet, but they had been married long enough for Gerald to know that something was on her mind. "Nickel for your thoughts, dear?"

Mina glanced up at him, smiling slightly. "A whole nickel?"

"Inflation."

"Mmm." She looked back down at the shirt she was mending. "Just thinking about Toby. He's almost eight, did you realize that?"

Gerald looked through the kitchen doorway at their grandson again. "Time does fly. I still remember when he was learning to walk." He grinned. "Remember the bowl of fruit he pulled down almost on his head, with the grapes -- "

Mina groaned, then laughed. "Yes, and I also remember finding grapes beneath the furniture for weeks afterwards!" Then she grew serious again. "He's growing up, Ger. But at the same time, we're growing old." She looked down at the shirt again. It was one of Toby's, bright red with a dinosaur emblazoned on the front. "He needs his father. Not us."

"Marcus has made it quite clear that he doesn't want to be a father," Gerald replied quietly, glancing towards Toby, who was still absorbed by his homework. "I talked to him again not too long ago. He says he still isn't ready." A pause. "That he still can't look at Toby without seeing Toby's mother."

They were both silent for a moment, and then Mina sighed. "I don't want to be rid of him; I love having him here. I love him, just as much as I loved Marcus when he was a boy."

"I know."

She folded Toby's shirt, gently smoothing the red cloth. "But all the love in the world won't give him what he needs. No matter how much we wish it could."

"I know," Gerald said again, morosely; and then, a third time, as if to himself. "I know."

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Belt


She was silent on the drive home, not even saying anything when he let go with an earth-shattering belch at the stoplight. "Damn good steak there," he added as commentary, but still she said nothing.

They pulled up in the driveway and got out of the car, and walked into the house, and he plopped down on the couch while still she said nothing; she only hung up their coats in the front closet.

Finally he seemed to notice her silence, and as she sat down primly on the other end of the couch, he gave a loud harrumph. "Somethin' wrong, dear?"

She did not look at him, but merely stared straight ahead. "Nothing much," she replied in a voice that was carefully measured, but still obviously strained. "Only that you positively mortified me in front of everyone in the restaurant tonight."

"What'd I do now?" he growled irritably; she flinched a bit, but went on:

"That shameful display of loosening your belt... in front of Reverend Shoney, even! You know his wife will be telling everyone about our family's 'poor manners' now!"

He nodded slowly. "Well, ayup, I reckon my belt couldn't hold out too well against that steak." Then his voice dropped. "But there is something else a belt is good for. You understand?"

She lowered her eyes quickly to the floor, and said nothing else. After a moment he nodded again. "You let me worry about my behavior, dear," he told her. "You just keep an eye on yours."

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Glasses


Sometimes I like to watch the TV without my glasses on. I know I shouldn't do it; certainly all the nurses say so, and Doctor Paul when he comes by. They say it's bad for my eyes, and maybe it is.

Only I've discovered the real reason they don't want me watching the TV that way. And it isn't my eyes at all, not really.

It's what I see.

Everyone here at the Home watching like normal, they see whatever the TV people want them to see -- the soaps, or some movie, or the commercial where the little talking lizard tells people to buy car insurance.

They see what's on the surface.

But I, I know to take off my glasses -- I'm very nearsighted, you see, so everything becomes all blurry -- and I know to take them off, and then to watch the TV. And I see such things. Such amazing things.

The first time I tried it, it was because I had managed to bend one side of my glasses, and they didn't sit on my face right. It was giving me a headache, so I tried watching with them off. And at first it was just like normal, "Mary Poppins" playing on the screen just like before, only all blurry since I couldn't see.

Only then I realized that it wasn't just blurs, that I was looking at a face, that there was a face on the screen, and the face was speaking, only I couldn't hear because the sound was still "Mary Poppins" plus Geraldine has these fits sometimes and she was having one then. But I could still tell that the face on the TV wanted to tell me something.

Something important.

Something just for me.

The more I watch the face -- when the nurses aren't around to tell me to put my glasses back on, because they don't want me to know about this -- but the more I watch it, the more I think I can almost understand what it's telling me. What it's telling me to do.

I think if I can just get everything else quiet, I'll be able to hear what the face is saying. I just have to get to the TV when no one else in the Home is watching it, and turn it down down down almost all the way, and listen carefully when everything else is silent.

It's hard to get everyone to be silent, because there's so many of us in here and some of us yell a lot and some of us don't really know what's going on anymore anyway, but I think I can make them be quiet. If I just make them, they'll be quiet. As quiet as I want them be, for a very long time.

I think that's what the face wants, for me to listen. For me to hear it.

For me to hear what it has to tell me.

The nurses still try to stop me, and Doctor Paul; "put your glasses back on, Emma," they say, "you'll ruin your eyes."

But I know what they're really up to. They want to keep me from seeing. And listening. Not that they can stop me.

Soon enough I'll finally hear what the face in the screen has to tell me. And no one will stop me.

No one at all.


Meta: I guess it was only a matter of time until I gave in and wrote something that aspires to be from the diary of a lunatic. It's either that, or read about poverty and desperation day after day, then saunter off to slit my wrists and draw animal-men on the bathroom walls in my own blood -- and I never was too good at drawing animal-men.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Bachelor


Marcus knew that it was ridiculous to get so flustered over his mother's coming to visit. It wasn't like he was still a teenager, living in her house and subject to utter embarrassment every time she came into his room while he had friends over. He was a perfectly respectable 32-year-old middle-manager, with his own apartment and a dependable late-model sedan. Still, the thought of having mom over for dinner brought him back to his childhood all too well. Didn't help that he wasn't used to it; usually, he came to visit her.

He did one last check of the bedroom, picking up a stray dirty sock that had managed to miss the laundry hamper. As he turned his attention to the living room, he decided that it would have helped if his apartment wasn't so sparse. He didn't have much, really: a bed, a desk, and a bookcase in the bedroom; a small couch and a single upright lamp in the living room; a smattering of dishes in the kitchen cabinets. A few random other items. Not a lot; certainly not enough to really make the place feel lived-in. He'd had mom over once not long after he moved in, and she had hinted strongly that the place could use the much-vaunted "woman's touch". Well, all that would have been nice, presumably, but in the interim he'd had to deal with what was rather than what he would have liked to be.

In the kitchen Marcus noticed the remains of his lunch by the sink. He threw away the empty box of "Mac'n Cheez" quickly, almost guiltily, and dumped the saucepan into the dishwasher without dealing with its congealed contents. Thing was heavy-duty; might as well put it through its paces. He surveyed the kitchen again, then nodded to himself. He might be unused to entertaining, but he could still put on a respectable enough showing. Maybe he'd even avoid being asked again when he was going to meet "some nice girl". Certainly he had already spent more than enough time asking it of himself.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Winterize


"Charlie, look!" Meg exclaimed. "The neighbor is moving our sprinkler to his side of the property line, again!"

Charlie grunted a noncommittal answer, not looking up from the television. After a moment the screen went dark, and he turned around in time to see his wife put the remote back on the end table.

"Didn't you talk to him about this?" she asked impatiently. "He can pay for his own water if he wants. We shouldn't have to put up with him stealing ours."

"Winter weather's just about set in," Charlie replied mildly; "in another week or two, there won't be any point in watering the lawn anymore, and then you won't have to worry."

Meg grimaced. "That's not the point, and you know it. Next spring he'll just be back to the same old trick, won't he -- not that you even care, apparently -- "

"Meg." Charlie's voice was still gentle, but firmer now. "The man's had a rough life, and it's ten bucks worth of water. We can afford it even if he can't." He moved to the other end of the couch, grabbed the remote, and turned the TV back on, more or less ending the conversation.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Blowin' In The Wind


Before Stu opened the door, he took a moment to smooth down his hair a little. Everyone knew perfectly well he was balding, of course; he had never been foolish enough to try to hide it, or God forbid, sport a comb-over. Still, what hair he had left was a bit on the long side right now, and with today as windy as it was, he had to be careful or else he'd wind up looking simply ridiculous.

He entered the building quietly, smiled and nodded at the receptionist behind her massive desk as he made his way to the elevators. Marshall was there already, and his square face cracked into a grin as Stu approached. "Heyyy, Stuart! I know that look... that's convertible hair! Finally gave in and had yourself a midlife crisis, huh?"

"If I did have a midlife crisis, I'd skip the convertible for a speedboat," Stu replied dryly. "I just took a walk around the building before work, is all, and it's windy."

Marshall chuckled. "Honestly, I don't know how you do it." The elevator doors opened, and he continued as they both stepped inside and Stu pressed 4. "You don't drink, you don't smoke, you don't partake in other substances -- not that anyone knows, at least," he added with a sly grin, "and you're still more well-balanced than anyone else I know."

"Maybe all that clean living is good for you after all, eh?"

"But boring," Marshall replied, shaking his head, "so very, very boring."

The doors opened on 4, and they both stepped out, just as Clyde from Accounts Payable was approaching. "Good morning, Marsh," he said amiably, "and Stuart, hey -- decided to commute with the top down today?" Marshall burst out into laughter, and Clyde blinked. "What'd I say?"

"Nothing," Stu grumbled in response, stalking off toward his desk. "Which is a damned good idea, so keep it up."


Meta: here is an approximate transcription of my thought processes regarding this post's title.

"I will
not make the obvious reference, I will not make the obvious reference, I will not make the OH DAMMIT FINE I GIVE IN"

And now you know.

Also, since the Houston Chron is a big mean jerk and doesn't have this day's comic up for some reason, I have had to fall back on the official Pluggers site. Ahh, grayscale lineart images presented as jpgs... where would the World Wide Tubes be without you?



Meta, as an update on 04/14/2010: the Houston Chron is a super-big mean jerk and doesn't have old Pluggers anymore, so the above is obsolete! I just figured I'd mention that as I slowly trawled through putting in images culled from gocomics.com.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Change


"Hey, dad, what's with this penny?" Mark held up one of the coins from Anthony's wallet. "It's got these weird things on it. None of the other ones look like that."

Anthony took the penny from his son and looked at it. "Oh, it's one of these," he exclaimed. "They made pennies that looked like this, for a while. It's called a wheat penny; see, those things are stalks of wheat."

"Huh. Why'd they change it?"

Anthony exhaled sharply, shrugging. "Now, that I don't know, sport. I was never into collecting coins. My guess is that people just got tired of the old one."

Mark tilted his head. "Did they make them when you were a kid?"

"Well, no, I'm not quite that old," Anthony laughed. "Wheat pennies are from... I don't know, the 1940s, somewhere around there -- "

"This one says nineteen forty-seven," Mark interrupted.

"Well, there you go; that's long before I was even born. There were probably still a lot of them floating around in people's wallets, but really, when I was your age, money was for buying things with, not looking at."

"Joey at school showed me this penny once," Mark said with widened eyes, "and there was this Indian on it, with the, you know, the feathers in his hair and everything, even though Missus Frank the afternoon teacher says that they're not 'Indians', they're 'Native Mericans', and that they don't go around with feathers and teepees and all that stuff." He crossed his arms. "Joey says his penny's not a fake, but I think it is."

Anthony ruffled his son's hair playfully. "Actually, Joey's probably right, kiddo. Your great-grandpa had a couple of those in a box, and he showed me them once. With the feathers and everything." He smiled a little. "Granddad -- your great-grandpa -- he did like collecting coins. I think he wanted me to feel the same way, but I never did, any more than my dad did."

"They're kind of neat," Mark ventured.

"Yeah, they kind of are," Anthony agreed. He began putting the coins back in his wallet, then, though he made sure to hand the wheat penny back to Mark first.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

What Goes Around


Ben smiled briefly at the counter girl as she handed the coffee to him, but her attention had already turned to the next customer. Well, that's all right, he thought to himself, they are awfully busy this morning. It seemed like she had plenty of time to smile at the next guy as he ordered his fancy frappu-cappu-whatever, but what of it?

He grabbed a couple napkins and a coffee stirrer, then paused in the act of reaching for the sugar tray. He usually took his joe black with plenty of sugar... quite the sweet tooth had old Ben, as he would freely admit... but maybe he ought to give the sugar a miss this time. Or at least cut down on it a little. After a moment, though, he went ahead and dumped in his usual four packets, stirring thoroughly before putting the lid back on his coffee. He'd start cutting down tomorrow, maybe.

His usual morning routine was to buy a paper at the newsstand next door, grab his coffee here, and then sit at a table by the coffeehouse window, drinking and reading, before heading on to work. He had his paper and his coffee, but abruptly he turned and headed outside anyway. He knew everyone in the room couldn't really be giving him funny looks, and certainly nobody but him knew that he'd had to put a new hole in his damn belt just to be able to wear it today. Still. The pretty people could have his usual seat by the window this morning. Hell, maybe they deserved it more anyway.

Ben sipped at his coffee as he walked slowly back to his car. Maybe he'd quit the coffeehouse runs entirely, put that forty-five minutes every morning to better use. Start taking walks around the neighborhood. Take up gardening. Something like that. Anything to combat this nagging feeling that he was, in some way, not good enough; that he would have to atone in some obscure way in order to be worthy of a position in society. The feeling that he refused to admit, and that he pushed away even now, taking a long pull at his coffee and forcing his mind to more pleasant matters.