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.


Wednesday, December 27, 2006


"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


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


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


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..."


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


"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


"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


"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.


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.


"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


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


"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


"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


"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."


"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


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


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


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


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.