The End

Here’s the third post  to end my term AND this guest fiction challenge. Thank you, Everyone.  Thank you!

Pt 1. – The Beginning 
Pt 2. – The Middle
Pt 3. – The End (this one)

 

Hahn /Spokane/ Insurance

A fire you had to put out this week? Relationship issues

Where do you go for peace? My apartment

Favorite relative? Twin sister

Best gift or surprise you’ve given? Valentine’s care package to a long distance boyfriend

A food you won’t eat? Octopus. Too slimy

A city you’re curious about?Athens

As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? Doctor

Something you have that’s broken? Communication with my boss

Describe your favorite boss.Worked at JC Penney’s in college.  The store manager could get us riled up and eager to do well.  He made little competitions and made us want to do well.

Describe your least favorite teacher. Unapproachable.  Didn’t have compassion for students who didn’t grasp or enjoy his instruction

How will this character resolve things? It should definitely work out.  I like stories that work out.  She’ll struggle at first, then realize that what she wants she’s always had it inside her or around her.

 

 

Corinne spun around on her heels, the key to her car still aimed for its lock. She heard the grunt before she could make sense of the surge of adrenaline pulsing in her ears and the man’s blazer doubled over in front of her.

“Shane, you scared the shit out of me,” she said, taking a step back to rest against her car as her heart beat steadied.

Shane slowly stood to his full six feet.  His hand was pressing against a phantom wound in his side.  “You stabbed me!”

He made animated faces and exaggerated pains. Corinne let a smile unwind in the corners of her mouth.

“You stepped into my weapon, pal,” she said.  “Where’s your coat? What are you doing creeping up on me in the dark?”

“I was trying to catch you before you flew out of here,” he said, relaxing his face and rubbing the spot where Corinne’s car key had jabbed him.  “I wanted to ask you to meet us at Treetop tonight.”

Corinne folded her hands under her elbows, tightening her arms around her.  Treetop?  Her?

“Who’s ‘us?’” she asked.

Shane chuckled. His crooked eye teeth pushing past his smile. Corinne hadn’t noticed his dimples before.  They’d worked in neighboring stores for nearly five years now.  She’d never understood how anyone could be devoted to selling mattresses, but she guessed people might say the same of the quiet jewelry shop.

“The ‘us’ who’ve been your retail neighbors for almost a decade,” he said.

“You’ve only been here five years, Shane,” Corinne said.

“Ahh, so you have noticed me lumbering around here,” he said.

Corinne blushed.

“I’ve seen you once or twice,” she said.

Shane smiled his crooked, dimpled smile. “You should make it one more time,” he said. “Around eight o’clock.”

Corinne raised herself from the car and moved toward her store again.  She’d forgotten her cell phone inside.  “You should have on a coat,” she said.

“Yes ma’am, I should,” he said, not moving from watching her.

He kept his eyes pinned to her when they shared a basket of nachos two hours later at the Treetop. Corinne had arrived to the bar and grill to find that the only “us” Shane had planned for was the two of them.

“You didn’t leave me any choice,” he’d said.  “I’ve been trying to get your attention for two years, but you weren’t very –uh- approachable until recently.”

Corinne looked down to her beer glass. She thought about how her fists unclenching and her heart unzipping while hiking through the mountains of Buenos Aires.  She’d spent three weeks roaming the countryside, drinking at festivals, reading graphic novels on the beach.  She’d tried to take an online Spanish course, but the instructor seemed offended that she wanted to collect a few quick phrases and had no compassion for her abbreviated learning needs. Even without a functional grasp of the language, Corinne felt instantly connected to the people she met there.  They were warm and inviting and especially friendly once she told them her father was native.  As always, Aunt Vanda had been right.  Seeing her homeland was powerful, in spite of her storied and painful disappointment with “homes” and family.  She’d come back to the states feeling whole.

“Was I mean to you?” she asked, raising her beer to her lips.  He was handsome, in a boyish farmhand kind of way.

“Naw, not mean,” Shane said.  “You weren’t standoffish, either.  You seemed, I dunno, oblivious.”

Corinne raised her eyebrows. “That’s an interesting choice of words.”

Shane smiled.  “I know even bigger words than that,” he said, waving away her protests about what she didn’t mean.  “I sent you a care package for Valentine’s Day because I figured you’d be swamped in there.  You sent a thank you card from the store.”

Corinne lowered her beer and blinked at him, remembering the box with exotic candies which included jellied squares of octopus.  “I didn’t realize it was from you to me,” she said.  “I assumed it was from your store to my store.  To all the stores, actually.”

“Why would I–”

“I mean, I just thought you were playing retail block captain,” Corinne cut in quickly.  “I didn’t know.  Thank you, for then and for now.”

She learned that Shane had a twin sister who lived in Nashville.  That he’d wanted to be a doctor until his parents needed one and he came home from school to help care for them.

“My father has since passed, but my mother is doing okay,” he said.

“How are you?” Corinne asked, searching for sadness in his face.

“Pretty good most days,” he said.  “I spend a lot of time at her house, but I’m able to regenerate and regroup at my apartment.  I’ve come to thoroughly enjoy my quiet time.”

“When you’re not studying the dictionary, what are you doing?” Corinne teased.

“Collecting bottle caps and bird watching,” Shane said with his boyish grin. He seemed pleased to hear her laugh.

“What are you doing when you’re not guarding the diamonds?” he asked.

“I’m finally going to try and figure that out,” she said.

“I’d like to help you out, if you’re looking for a tour guide, or something,” Shane said. Keep you riled up about your new man and your new options.”

Corinne liked the way Shane talked to her, certain and soothing. She liked how the dark clouds that had begun lifting away from her since making her trip coming home had not been a figment of her storytelling.

“New man? I’d ruin this peace of mind with relationship issues?”

“Absolutely not,” Shane said. “I plan to help you keep the peace.”

Corinne shook her head.  “Not with those jokes,” she said.

“Those are my best assets, baby.”

Corinne liked the feeling of a smile stretching across her face. She allowed herself the flutter in her stomach as Shane looked at her and imagined them exploring his family’s legacy in Athens,  hand in hand.

The Middle

This is the second of three posts where unsuspecting guests help to build a short story.

Pt 1. – The Beginning 
Pt 2. – The Middle (this one)
Pt 3. – The End

Michael /South Carolina/ Retired Medical Researcher

A fire you had to put out this week? Let’s see… a lot had to be done before we left … trying to remember … routine things … had to squeeze in a visit to my parents, make arrangements for the animals, store the tools and machinery…

Where do you go for peace? Anyplace I can be alone.  I like to walk in the woods, but you can be alone in the city, too, if you can get away from your distractions

Favorite relative? That’s not fair. I feel differently about them all. Both parents were only children. I do miss my grandparents.

Best gift or surprise you’ve given? I’m a horrible gift buyer. Not for lack of trying, but for trying too hard. I’m very self analytical.  You want to give a really good gift, but everything you look at doesn’t measure up.  Paralyzed by wanting the gift to be perfect. Agonize for weeks, until it’s the last minute and you’re at the drug store buying something awful.

A food you won’t eat? Tripe, headcheese, entrails, chitlins

A city you’re curious about? Berlin or cities in Argentina

As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? Game warden

Something you have that’s broken? My house has been broken forever.  It’s consumed our lives for 30 years.  It’s a 100-year-old wooden Victorian.

Describe your favorite boss/mentor. One of my high school teachers. Our friendship continued until he died. He was the first person to make me realize that the world was bigger than where you live.  Things can be provincial in a small town. He talked in thoughts and concepts, so I was able to grow up thinking beyond the limits of my peers, my town, and even myself. He made things accessible.  Music, for instance, was not reserved for those refined people.  He also showed me how not to take things too seriously.

What is preventing this character from having peace of mind? She wants history; she wants to know where she comes from.  People who don’t know their history don’t know who they are. Even a difficult history is a history.  A map has so much detail, but if you don’t know where you are on that map, it means nothing.

 

Okay! Here’s the middle:

 

Corinne turned on to Wicker Street but nothing happened.  All four pick-up trucks were at rest in front of the Crane’s house on the corner and the football game blinked through their curtain sheers with silhouettes of the Crane men, all brothers and sons.  Next door, the lopsided head on the Parkers’ snowman was sure to slide to the ground any day now. Windows of the first duplex were lit upstairs and dark downstairs.  The second duplex had its windows lit in the reverse way. Corinne lived at the end of the block. Usually a sense of calm eased over her when she drove this short block, but nothing stirred in her tonight.

She rented the attic loft of a 100-year-old Victorian, freshly painted in a palette of rose and teal.  It reminded her of a dollhouse now. The owners, Paulette and Doug were its congenial life-size doll owners. They’d owned the house for nearly eight years before finally fixing up the attic for a renter. Everything in the house was broken when they’d bought, they’d told her, and they constantly patching and replacing things. “This house will consume us for the next 30 years,” Doug had said.  Paulette had laughed, nodding beside him.  Doug taught composition at the local junior college, turning down opportunities to teach at the university and Paulette was a DNR permits manager who’d wanted to be a game warden when she grew up.  They were in their early forties, energetic, eclectic, the type of people who talked in concepts and ideas, defying the typical provincial limits of small town living and thinking. After nearly an hour sipping tea with them in their electric doll house anchoring the end of a dead end street, Corinne had canceled her viewing for a swank studio apartment on the east end of town.  She’d fallen head over heels for this rickety house its warm and lively owners.

Outside, there was usually a tarp or a ladder or a contractor.  Inside, there were towers of paint cans, swatches of fabric, power tools, bottles of wine, hand spun candy, homemade hog headcheese, every beat of music and laughter. There was always plenty of laughter in this old house that refused to crumble away.

Doug was grading papers in the dining room and Paulette was folded laundry in the next room, screaming at the football players on TV. Doug chuckled to himself, shaking his head at his wife’s antics.  When he noticed Corinne, he gave her a warm smile.

“How’d it go?” he asked, laying down his ink pen.

“Talking to Aunt Vanda is a like going to the oracle,” she said.  “I feel good, almost.”

Doug raised his eyebrows. “Almost?”

Corinne unbuttoned her coat and leaned against a chair back. “You know how some advice can sound great until you realize how hard it’s going to be?”

Doug smiled, leaning back in his seat.  “That’s how you know it’s good advice. What did she say?”

Corinne sat down, bunching her coat into her lap. She’d replayed Vanda’s words in her head for the entire drive from the Inn. She liked the sound of it every time, but it thickened a knot of terror inside her.

“She said I should go to Argentina.”

Doug snapped his head like he’d been smacked on both cheeks. “Argentina? What’s that about?”

“That’s the only thing I know about my birth parents,” Corinne said. “My birth certificate lists my father’s name as Unknown, but that he’s from Argentina.”

Over the course of many meals at this table, Corinne had shared her entire life history with Paulette and Doug.  Corinne rarely shared her tragic tale, that her mother’s family had driven two counties to deliver Corinne and then abandon her at the hospital, that her youth was filled with neglect anxiety and abuse as a foster child, that she was no longer able to ignore her history of anguish and pretend that only the future mattered. Her packaged answer had always been to say that her parents had been only children, and when they passed on she was all she had left. The spirit of this old house, however, insisted on her truth.

“So, you’re going to Argentina to find your father?” Doug asked.

“Oh, God, no,” Corinne said, pulling slim fingers through her short red curls.  “I could care less about him. My mother either.  Aunt Vanda’s idea was to just to go and explore.  Feel what it’s like.  See where I come from.”

Doug gave a slow nod and a slow smile.  “I kinda like that idea,” he said.  “I get the ‘great but scary’ part, too.  Are you thinking about it?”

“Well, I’ve never been anywhere,” Corinne said. “Why not go big and go international?”

They laughed and fell into an awkward silence.

“But?” Doug asked, spinning his ink pen atop a stack of ungraded papers.

“But,” Corinne said with a sigh.  “I don’t know if a South American adventure will make me feel less alone.  I’ve survived 27 years, and now all of a sudden I want roots? I don’t understand why it’s consuming so much of me.  I tried walking in the woods to clear the distracting thought, but nothing works! I’d hate to blow my savings just to come home with a bag of crappy souvenirs and no more peace of mind.”

“Peace of mind is a process, girlie,” sang Paulette as she passed the dining room with the laundry basket.

Doug held up his hands, gesturing toward Paulette and her passing wisdom.

“As usual, my better half has said it best,” he said.  “No, you probably won’t come back with all of your questions answered and all your heartaches cured. But you’ll get to see, first hand, the culture and land that made the generations of people who made you.  That’s still going to be powerful.”

Corinne had her legs outstretched, absently knocking her feet together while she listened to Doug describe a memorable trip his family took  to Berlin in high school. He came home swelled with an unexpected pride for a heritage he’d never paid much attention to.

“I didn’t know you were German,” Corinne said.

Doug smiled.  “But I know that I am,” he said with a wink.

“Get one of the natives to help you buy our gifts,” Paulette said, her voice floating past them again on her way back to the football game on TV. “You know how you get paralyzed by trying to find something perfect. I don’t want crappy South American souvenirs, as you put it.  Ask for directions and help with your shopping!”

Corinne folded herself with laughter. She loved that she could add the chime of her voice to the merriment of this house.  She loved that Aunt Vanda’s idea had taken root. Corinne would have a lot to do before she could leave.  But, for sure now, she would leave.

 

 

Read Parts 1 & 3 here:

Pt 1. – The Beginning 
Pt 2. – The Middle (this one)
Pt 3. – The End

The Beginning

This is the first of three posts where I wrangle an unsuspecting Pfister guest into a short story project.

Pt 1. – The Beginning (this one)
Pt 2. – The Middle
Pt 3. – The End

Today, I asked for random details to shape the beginning of a story.

Jeff / Milwaukee/ Writer & Producer

  1. A fire you had to put out this week? Deciding on whether to spend a lot of money on a rug.
  2. Where do you go for peace? Lynden Sculpture Garden
  3. Favorite relative? My Aunt Vanda. She reminds me of my mother, who’s no longer with us. She’s wise, not book smart.  And she’s curious. I think that’s important.
  4. Best gift or surprise you’ve given? I teach.  I think passing along information and knowledge is like giving a gift.
  5. A food you won’t eat? Onions, because I’m allergic.
  6. A city you’re curious about? Istanbul
  7. As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? Lawyer
  8. Something you have that’s broken? I can’t think of anything that’s bugging me. I usually fix everything.
  9. Describe your favorite boss. In college, I waited tables.  This boss was not like most other restaurant owners.  She was actually kind to her employees and took interest in us.  We were part of her family.
  10. Describe your least favorite teacher. My gym coach.  He was… well… we just didn’t mesh well.
  11. What does this character want? Peace of Mind

Okay! Here we go…

 

Corinne shrugged the coat from her shoulders and stood on the ribbed floor mat to stamp the snow from her boots.  She would still have to remove the boots before entering the kitchen.  Aunt Vanda had often scolded that “mud room” didn’t mean “make as much mud as possible.”

Corinne pushed open the door, the familiar chimes tinkling above her head. Aunt Vanda stood at the stove, swallowed by a cloud of steam.  The windows, usually framing a view of wildflowers or snow sculptures, were opaque and sweating.  Aunt Vanda peered into an enormous, grumbling pot.  As she stirred, her signature swag of silver bangs was pinned back with a glittery barrette.  Corinne remembered when the edgy auburn bob had boasted only one thick streak of grey. They all loved this full head of platinum and smoke.

Aunt Vanda greeted Corinne without looking up from her pot. Corinne walked to the cabinets and pulled down a coffee mug.  She never had to ask if there was coffee made. Aunt Vanda always had coffee.

She sat at  the tall wooden table in the center of the kitchen, sipped her coffee and watched Vanda at the stove.  Corinne hadn’t met many people who also appreciated silence.  She and Aunt Vanda had shared powerful moments that hadn’t included a single spoken word.  The best was when Aunt Vanda had introduced her to the Lynden Sculpture Garden and they’d strolling the grounds in exquisite and soothing quiet.  Corinne was grateful to find someone that finally understood her non-language.

After a few more minutes of tantric stirring, Aunt Vanda lifted the long-handled spoon to drain a dark strip of fabric.

“Is that the teal?” Corinne asked.

“No, this’ll be more of a smoky blue once it dries,” Aunt Vanda said. “I think she’s making a dress with this one.” Corinne watched  Vanda transfer the dripping fabric into a bowl of cool water.  Whether it was cooking or creating, they could often push open the kitchen door to find Aunt Vanda floating about her vast kitchen, peeking into cabinets, lifting lids from multiple large pots, kicking closed the oven door, grinning to herself.

The first time Corinne entered this space, she was arrested with thick aromas of cumin, mint, figs and lamb.  Aunt Vanda was fascinated with Istanbul at the time, and her menus reflected that passionate curiosity.  She’d even splurged on an expensive Turkish floor rug, once she’d learned that their artistry rivaled that of Persia and Egypt. Morocco was Vanda’s next fantastic study.  Later,Vienna .Singapore. New Orleans.  Aunt Vanda couldn’t treat herself to much travel in those days, but she gifted herself with knowledge, as she put it, learning everything she could about the culture or city of the moment.  Anyone who spoke with her would’ve thought that Aunt Vanda had lived in locales around the world when, actually, she’d never traveled further than 100 miles beyond this farmhouse in her entire life.

As a child, Vanda watched her family’s farm waste away after her father died and her mother had taken to the drink. Vanda protected her six siblings from most of their mother’s violent tirades, but not all of them.  They each carried a constellation of scars and dark memories.  Vanda’s siblings fled the farm and the small town, one by one, and never came back.  Not even after their mother died and Vanda was alone on the farm.  Vonda didn’t fault them. She had simply learned to live with the ghosts howling in the shadows.

Then she met her truth.  Jim showed up on her doorstep like an angel dispatched from the clouds.  He was passing through town and decided he might stay for a while. He asked if he could earn a few dollars by helping repair things around the property. Vanda had thanked him, but told him that she usually fixed everything herself.  Whenever Vanda retold the story, her eyes always twinkled at the part where Jim had asked her if she planned to spend her life always doing what she’d always done.

They were wed in seven months.  The marriage had, indeed, been tumultuous but Aunt Vanda said she would always think back to their first date when Jim had ordered for her and instructed the waiter not to include onions. She hadn’t even remembered telling him about her allergy, but he’d obviously remembered some passing mention of it.  If he could care for these small parts of her, she decided, they could manage the big parts together.

In fact, Jim was integral in opening the World Café & Inn.  He converted the old barn into a restaurant, scavenging the entire region for scrap parts and used equipment.  The farmhouse rooms were even converted into a boarding house.  Jim loved her fiercely and completely until his passing.  That’s when Vanda had the idea to change the inn from a boarding house for adults to a transitional home for teens.

When Corinne came to the Inn, she’d been braced for another tooth-and-nail, survival-of-the-fittest foster home.  She was aging out of the system and was relieved learned to be placed in a group home where she would work at a restaurant in exchange for room and board.  Most foster kids found themselves homeless once they turned 18 and were released from the state’s care. Corinne had barely survived her foster homes; she wasn’t cut out to make a life on the street. Her social worker had been a childhood friend of Vanda’s and said  she only placed her most promising kids at the World Café.  Corinne had listened to the warm endorsement but couldn’t help rolling her eyes at the words “treats you like her family.” The social workers always said that. They’d always been wrong.

It had been seven years since Corinne lived at the Inn, and she was one of several “World Kids” whose heart never moved away.  Vanda had become their family, which is why they called her Aunt Vanda.  There were nearly three dozen of them breathing out there in the real world.  A handful had perished, but most of them had been refortified after lifetimes of abuse, neglect, rage and fear.  They’d become musicians, gym teachers, lawyers, mothers, soldiers, sous chefs. They’d become whole.  Corinne worked at a jewelry store.  She liked dressing up and being surrounded by beautiful things and loved the serenity.

She lived in the city now, but found her way back to visit Aunt Vanda at least once a month.  She liked observing the new Kids as they stocked the silverware trays or carried fresh greens to the barn.  They were doing more of the cooking now, since the nearby culinary school had taken an interest in the Café and its mission.  Vanda still set the menu (apparently, she was all about Serbia these days) but she filled her cooking time with creating hand-dyed fabrics for a designer in the city.

Corinne stood to refill her coffee mug.  She could feel Aunt Vanda’s eyes on her this time. She knew.  Vanda always knew.

“So,” Vanda said wiping her hands on a rag and taking a seat at the high wooden table. “What’s eluding you, kiddo?”

Corinne let the warm coffee rest on her lip while she thought.  “Peace of mind,” she answered.  “I can’t seem to get any peace of mind.”

 

Read parts 2 & 3 here:

Pt 1. – The Beginning (this one)
Pt 2. – The Middle
Pt 3. – The End