Unexpected Visitor


This story is both humorous and true. Life is full of opportunities to laugh and love. Thanks to my hubby for providing both.

Unexpected Visitor

 

The cushion of the dining room chair has a permanent imprint of my derriere on it from many hours pecking away at my laptop. The large bay window in my living room, clearly visible from where I sit, offers enough room for imaginary acquaintances (also known to some writers as characters) to visit me as I sip a steamy cup of java and contemplate my next chapter. Unlike the coffee table that collects newspapers, magazines and soon-to-be discarded mail, the nook must be clear of distractions for my visionary friends.

There’s one item that owns the right hand corner of the nook, but normally I’m able to ignore its presence. My husband negotiated a place for his weather alert radio, the one that only chooses to blast its warnings while I’m writing an intense scene or when I’m sound asleep in the middle of the night. It purpose is important, but its timing leaves much to be desired.

One gloomy afternoon, tired of winter’s thievery, I gazed through the nearly translucent sheers to the barren yard across the street and imagined the towering maple tree budding out with hints of spring. Bright yellow tulips appeared and the succulent smell of honeysuckle filled my senses. I was nearly in the zone when a foreign object interrupted my view.

I furrowed my brow as I focused in on the intrusive disruption, my mind struggling to accept the unexpected sight. I closed my eyes and opened them again. It was still there. Perhaps it was my husband’s idea of a sick joke, I thought. Regardless, it had to go. I pushed back my chair, taking caution to not make a sound, my eyes locked on the stationary object as I stood in place. The reddish-brown, furry creature looked me straight in the eye and then dashed under the nearby couch.

A squirrel! How could a squirrel be sitting in the alcove of my living room window? I did what came naturally. I yelled for my husband. “Honey! There’s a squirrel!”

“What?” his faded response came from the bedroom.

“A squirrel!” I squealed as I retreated from my visitor.

“Where?” he asked as he dragged himself away from the television.

“In the living room.” My voice elevated to a scream as my knight-in-shining-armor made his way to my side.

“What’s he doing in here?” he asked as he searched the room and saw nothing.

I shot him a glare in response to his silly question. “How would I know?” I pointed to the corner of the room where the anxious animal sought refuge. “He’s under the couch.”

“I’ll be darned. We’ll have to let him out through the French doors,” he said as he moved toward the dining room.

“Great thought, but remember?” I tried to keep from doing an eye roll as I pointed to the doors that lead to our deck. Last month when air was coming in around the door frame, I’d asked him to fix it. His answer to nearly every household problem involved a large roll of duct tape.

He avoided making eye contact with me. Instead, he searched the room and found a plastic gate we use to keep our black, sixty pound grand-dog, Hammie, from exploring the lower level of the house when visiting. The energetic dog is deathly afraid of it and won’t get near it.

“What are you going to do with that?” I questioned.

“You’re going to keep the squirrel from going into the other rooms,” he said as he handed the expandable object to me.

I stifled a laugh as I looked at the wide gaps between the diagonals. “I don’t think this is going to do it.” As silly as the idea was, I held onto it as if somehow it would frighten the squirrel like it does the cautious dog.

Meanwhile, the intruder dashed back to the window seat, trying desperately to escape the maddening conversation, I’m sure. I listened as my husband pulled the tape from the door frame, and I tried to decide what to do if the animal scurried my way, knowing I’d drop the gate and run the other way screaming like a little girl. The noise from the tape being ripped away sent the squirrel dashing back and forth from the window seat to underneath the couch.

A blast of cold winter air greeted me as the patio door opened. My husband returned to the living room and tried to lure the errant critter out from his hiding place. I offered him a broom from the kitchen, still gripping the useless gate. He poked the handle under the sofa sending the critter into the middle of the room. Fortunately, it saw the opportunity to flee and made a direct path out the door onto the deck.

“Should’ve got a picture,” my husband suggested as he watched the animal leap off the deck and out of sight.

“Can you imagine if Hammie had been here?” The vision of the dog charging around the room brought roars of laughter as we went room to room looking for the port of entry. There were no holes in the ceiling or walls. The glass fireplace doors were closed. Nothing appeared disturbed. We surmised that it must have slipped in through a door left ajar briefly earlier in the day when my husband filled the bird feeder.

I shook my head in frustration as hubby resealed the door with more gray tape, resolving he’d be responsible for removing the gummy residue come spring, which couldn’t come soon enough for me.

As I sat back down at my computer, I worried the vision of the squirrel would distract me from reconnecting with my characters. I tried to recreate a mental picture of yellow tulips and green leaves budding from the tree, instead a furry fictional friend introduced himself. “The name’s Zippy. Better get typing.”

 

Anxious that the squirrel might find his way back into the house, my husband decided removal of its nest in the tree would reduce the chance of another visit. Perhaps it would encourage the animal to relocate to a neighbor’s yard, he thought. Using a long pole, he poked the sturdy structure. The squirrel lunged from a nearby branch and charged down the pole to within inches of my husband’s face. He tossed the pole to the ground, barely escaping the attack.

 “Maybe it’s protecting babies,” he surmised. A few weeks later, when there was no sign of activity, he tried again. This time he succeeded, but not without paying a price. As spring made its appearance, the irate squirrel began its revenge. Empty nut shells were deposited all over the freshly stained deck. The roots of nearly every potted plant my husband sat outside were bitten off. When tomato seedlings, carefully nurtured for months in preparation of spring, were planted in the garden, it dug them up. Twine, stored in a box on the deck, was strung across the floor, down the steps and out into the yard. Every day the struggle continued between man and beast.

As spring turned to summer, the battle intensified, sending my husband over the edge. In anticipation of the next attack by the enemy, hubby placed two large, flat rocks on the corner posts of the deck, ready to chase the enemy away at the first sighting. The next morning, both rocks were gone, the heavy objects pushed off the posts into the garden, damaging some plants when they landed. A record number of curse words were used and included a threat to get a pellet gun.

Nothing prepared either of us for the final blow. My amateur horticulturist spouse grows Plumeria plants and had the joy of having a seed pod develop on one of the plants. The unique event entitles the owner to name any successful growth of a new plant from one of the seeds. The process is tedious and often unsuccessful. The crazed animal gnawed the roots off the three remaining six inch stems that had survived months of nurturing. It was official. The squirrel won.

As fall faded to winter and skies turned grey, I needed inspiration for my next story. With new cushions on my dining room chairs and a full pot of coffee brewed, I settled down in front of my laptop and gazed out the bay window hoping to reconnect with my imaginary friends. A disturbing object next to the weather alert radio caught my attention. My eyes locked in on it as I pushed back my chair. It did not move, nor did I scream, but the laughter it brought was loud enough to be heard throughout the house. My daughter, who was blessed with a sense of humor too, left us a gift while we were out. The life-size squirrel statue looks just like Zippy.

 

This was another honorable mention contest winner

Saturday Writers Elements in Writing Anthology #9

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An Invitation


Summer’s winding down, but the memories made will linger. Come with me and revisit your favorite  island getaway, if only in your mind.

An Invitation

Come walk with me on sifted sands

Along my island shores

Come find the peace within yourself

That leaves you wanting more

The gentle swells, the rolling waves

Will mesmerize your heart

The azure skies, the silent breeze

You’ll never want to part

The moon will rise to greet you there

To cleanse your weary soul

The lofty palms will wave to you

And whisper ‘please don’t go’

by Diane M How

Where is your favorite beach? I’d love to hear from you. 

This poem received an honorable mention in a 2014 contest. An Invitation and two short stories, Love Revealed and Autumn’s Predicament, are published in Writing Sense-Ably is Saturday Writer’s 2016 Anthology 

 

 

 

Autumn’s Predicament


The writing prompt for this story was “Fear the Challenge.”

As the summer winds down and temperatures cool, perhaps you’ll relate my tempered love of fall. Enjoy and drop me a line if you have time.

Autumn’s Predicament

Ah, how I love fall.  It’s a nearly perfect season when hillsides are filled with splashes of vibrant crimson and gold.  A time when nature’s chilling breeze orchestrates a blissful dance of leaves drifting to the ground.  Apple orchards celebrate the season with mounds of pumpkins stacked on bales of hay.  Children dash in and out of corn mazes, squealing with delight.  Large barreled pots compete for attention with boastful yellow, rusty maroon and faded purple mums spilling to the ground.  The taste of sweet, mellow cider lingers on my lips.  I envision long, leisurely walks in thick woods and mesmerizing evenings spent snuggled near crackling bonfires.

It’s nearly perfect, this autumnal equinox.  Yet, anticipation of what follows disturbs my pleasures of October and November and causes my emotions to rise and fall like the swells of the sea.  The joy of the season is tempered by the impending void that is left when the page turns into winter.

In the silence of the night, roof tops are christened with a fine layer of glistening white.  It is a signal to dress in layers before taking my morning walk.  I round the corner of my three mile hike with my spouse and notice the chill has disappeared into delightful warmth that urges me to shed my windbreaker.  Enjoy the moment, I repeat to myself like a mantra needed to survive the inevitable.

We return home and I am drawn to the bay window for another glimpse of the masterful day.  Even after a lifetime in the area, the contrast of Missouri’s unpredictable weather still amazes me.  Yesterday’s gray clouds brought gale-force winds that stripped many trees of their treasures.  I pause to admire the inch of muted foliage that camouflage the fading green earth.  A beautiful carpet left by nature.  The sun glistens through the nearly bare branches and my heart wants to stay suspended in this place until spring arrives.

Then poof!  The spell is broken with the sound of our electric garage door opening.  With it comes a familiar knot in my stomach that begins to tighten in anticipation of the task ahead.  Mentally, I prepare to enter the war zone.

The childhood joy of diving into large piles of raked leaves evaporated many years ago.  In its place is a yearly battle between nature and man.  I hear the grinding pull of the cord and the mulching mower is cranked up.  The battle has begun.  I watch my husband take off with a vengeance.  No leaf is safe from his quest to reclaim the well-manicure yard he spent nearly two decades perfecting.

My partner of forty-plus years views the arrival of the unwanted visitors as an intrusion on his space.  His constant wrath toward the harmless innate objects begins with the first leaf that glides to the ground, daring to lay claim to his sacred ground.  Each year, his passion swells to obsession and it pushes me to dark places where angry words linger behind pursed lips.  We dangle at opposite ends of the spectrum as I struggle to understand the need to alter the natural occurrence of fall.

I force the worn leaf rake to serve as my accomplice in the vengeful attack on the helpless victims entangled in the chain-link fence.  My unwilling weapon rebels by tightening its spokes around the metal structure.  I choke back expletive phrases that threaten to escape my clenched jaw just as the hum of the motor stops.  It is my cue to come help hold the large body bag.  I pretend to ignore the signal, but guilt forces me to give up the battle with the fence and toss the rake to the ground in order to fulfill my obligation as a cohort in this crime.

With my place by the commander’s side, I steady the flimsy container as the dusty remains are deposited.  My body is positioned to avoid eye contact with the enemy for surely my fellow warrior will realize I am a traitor.  The internal struggle rises in my throat and urges me to speak my mind, but I have done so before to no avail, so I hold my tongue.  The warfare will end soon enough.

I return to the hillside to search for my weapon which has become one with the muted masses that soon will face a dismal fate.  I pry its fingers from the tight hold on the fence and continue my disheartened efforts.  My mind drifts to poetic words I think that I shall never see, a poem as lovely as a tree.  The sweat on my brow slowly dissolves the anger in my heart.

With the emerald land temporarily restored to its fiscal owner, the weapons are cleaned and stored away.  We retreat to the safety of our shelter, dusty and worn.  My gray-haired, weary warrior advances toward the bay window and nods as he admires the recapture of his territory.  I am moved by the moment and step closer to him.

“Good job babe.”

He grins, pleased with his victory, and bends down to plant a pleasurable reward on my lips.

“Thanks.”

His comforting embrace warms me and I try to savor the moment.  Tears dampen my cheeks as I watch autumn slip silently into winter.  How many more battles await us?  I fear the answer.

Love Revealed


Dear Blog,

I’m ashamed. It wasn’t my intent to neglect you. Really.

I was charmed by short stories contests and I needed all those ideas in hopes of getting published. I know, it was hurtful to ignore you for so long, but there is good news. I did get published and now I can share my winning entries with you. See, good things come from change. And now that I’m back, I’ll be sharing more often. I hope they make you smile.

Sincerely, Diane M. How

This short story was published in the 2014 Saturday Writer’s AnthologyUNDER THE SURFACE, Anthology #8.

Love revealed

I noted my morning appointment on the calendar.  The fine print underneath my scribble caught my attention.  Valentine’s Day.  It probably would have slipped by unnoticed had I not checked my schedule.

Amorous fantasies of this holiday had faded into reality sometime during our 40-plus years of marriage. Perhaps its complacency or indifference, whatever, but a simple exchange of a box of candy or a purchased card usually marks the occasion.

But, romanticism is incurable.  While the sea appears calm, under currents are never still.  Dreams, as translucent as they are, swirl just below the surface, waiting to be resurrected.  My romantic dream involves a scripted poem or a passionately profound thought, penned on linen paper, left on my pillow or tucked somewhere unexpected.

With my empty coffee cup placed in the already cluttered sink, I grabbed my coat and looked for my husband to say goodbye.

“I’ll wash those when I get back,” I nodded toward the kitchen.

“Ok.  Be safe.”  He gives me a quick peck before trailing off into the computer room.

Guess he didn’t remember either, I reason.  A deep sigh escaped my lips while I buckled the seat belt and pondered the dispassionate parting.  Even our kisses had faded to a mere brush of our lips.  I tried to remember the last time we’d hugged.

The thought dissipated when Willie Nelson’s voice echoed through the radio speakers. You Were Always on My Mind.  The song always makes me cry, so I pushed the scan button and searched for a distraction.

I pulled into the driveway of the couple I’ve come to visit and opened the car door.  The wicked, cold wind blew the notepaper from my hand, but I quickly caught it before it got away.  I grumbled under my breath while I fought to untangle the graying strands that whipped across my face as I walked to the entrance of the brick bungalow.

“Good morning, Mr. Smith.” I said to the slightly built fellow when he opened the aging red door.  “Just wanted to drop by for a short visit to see how you’re doing.”

“Please, please, come in out of the cold.”  The elderly man ushered me in and closed the door. I followed him as he shuffled past the antiquated brown couch into the tidy family room where his wife rested in a medical reclining chair.

“Look who came to see us.  It’s the hospice volunteer that called earlier.”  He grinned at the woman he had spent 67 years adoring.  I couldn’t help but notice the difference in their size.  Mrs. Smith outweighed her husband by at least 30 pounds.  How did he manage to get her into the chair, I wondered?

“Good morning Mrs. Smith.  Happy Valentine’s Day.”

The woman’s eyes darted in my direction then quickly returned to study the loose thread that dangled from the soft purple quilt wrapped around her legs.

“Oh, my.”  Mr. Smith clasped his wrinkled forehead.  “I completely forgot.  I’m not very good at remembering those things.  I should’ve bought her some flowers.”  The man berated himself as he leaned over and kissed the woman’s cheek.  “I’m sorry honey,” his voice barely audible.

“Habada, habada, habada, habada, habada.”  The robust woman smiled as she loudly proclaimed her repetitive gibberish reply.  She might be unintelligible but she’s seldom silent, I thought.

“Can you understand her?”  The 93-year-old’s voice paled in comparison to the volume coming from his wife.  His eyes pleaded with me to explain what she said.

Mr. Smith stroked his wife’s hand gently while he waited on my reply.

“Not really, but I think she forgives you.  Look at that beautiful smile.”

The man took a deep breath, patted his wife’s shoulder and wandered toward the kitchen.

“Sometimes, she seems happy, like today.  Other times, she fusses like she’s angry and her chant is more like an argument with herself, or maybe the disease.”  The old man’s voice quivered with emotion as he spoke.

“It must be difficult not knowing what she’s trying to say.”

I looked up at the framed certificate on the wall, recognition from a prominent senator for Mrs. Smith’s efforts as chairwoman of his campaign.  Next to it hung a plaque engraved with stellar remarks for her accomplishments as an instructor of English as a second language.

Every room was adorned with paintings created by Mrs. Smith.  On either side of the cherry wood china cabinet were two exquisitely detailed landscapes she painted while in Germany.  A portrait of a Japanese emperor was suspended over the piano.

Pleasant reminders of yesteryears, of happy times before Alzheimer’s disease invaded her brain and slowly stole away her ability to function independently.  It was an eleven year battle nearing the end.

“Can I help you?”  I asked as I watched Mr. Smith begin the daily routine.

“No.  I can manage,” he insisted.

The frail man picked up a plastic medicine bottle and studied it carefully before removing the cap.  He placed a pill in a ceramic bowl and then repeated the effort three more times.  Next, he prepared some instant oatmeal for the microwave.

“At least let me fix her scrambled egg.”  I suggested.

“No.  I know just how she likes it.  I have to stick to my routine or I’ll forget something.”

His eyes lingered on the microwave oven as if he was trying to decide which buttons to push.  I worried about the inevitable.  How much longer could he care for her in the home without more assistance?

I looked at the large metal contraption that consumed most of the dining room floor.  It looked like an oversize sling shot.  It was another sign that the disease was progressing rapidly.  “I see the medical lift arrived.  Will you be able to learn how to use it?”

“The nurse told me not to touch it.  She said it’ll help the staff when they give her a shower or move her from the bedroom to the chair.”  He muttered in a defeated voice.

“But if you can’t use it yourself, how are you going to get her up every day and then back to bed in the evening?  You’re going to need to make other arrangements soon.”  It was a subject I hated approaching as much as the man hated hearing.

“I’ll find a way.”  The proud man pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and lifted his glasses to dab his eyes.

The despondent look made me decide to table the discussion.

Mr. Smith wheeled his wife into the kitchen and secured her chair next to the table.  He picked up the bowl with the pills in it and using a pestle, he pulverized the contents into a white powder.  He then mixed all of it into some applesauce.

His wife continued to jabber as the proud man fed her each spoonful until every drop was scraped from the bowl.  Next, he tested the oatmeal with his lips to be sure it was the right temperature and consistency.  I felt like an intruder watching their intimate ritual.

I search for a new subject to discuss.  I decide my romantic curiosity needed to hear their love story again.

“How did you meet your wife?”

“We both grew up in small towns in southwest Missouri, not too far from each other.  I was home on leave from the Army and my buddy told me about this diner, so I decided to try it out. The misses strolled over to my booth, chewing gum and holding a pencil in one hand and a note pad in the other.  She had on a white pinafore apron and her curly red hair was tucked behind her ear.”  His eyes glistened as he spoke.  He paused to gently wipe a napkin across the woman’s lips.

“When I ordered toast and eggs, she scowled at me and told me I needed to gain some weight.”  He chuckled as he told the story.  “Those emerald green eyes hooked me and she pretty much ran the show ever since.”  He brushed his hand across her cheek.

I pointed to the collage of pictures hanging on the wall.

“You were an officer in the Army?”

“I was an airplane pilot During World War II.  She spent a lot of lonely days and nights worrying about being a widow.  But she never complained.  When the Korean War began, I flew a helicopter.  She wrote to me every day.  That’s what got me through each week.”

He nodded his head and glanced back toward his wife.  “We had some good times too.  She loved Germany and Japan.  She even learned to speak German and a little Japanese.  I think sometimes she speaks German when she’s talking.  She loved being an officer’s wife.  It wasn’t always easy, but she stayed by me through it all.”

“I can see how much you love her.  It shows in the way you fix her meals and give her the meds, even in the way you touch her so tenderly.”

“She took care of me for more than 50 years.  She kept me on schedule and made sure I remembered people’s names.  I couldn’t have done it without her.”  He gazed into her eyes as he spoke.

“I never told her how much I appreciated it.  I often forgot her birthday.  I seldom sent her flowers, never had a romantic bone in my body.  But I love her and hope she knows it.  Now, it’s my turn to take care of her,” he said as he brushed her thinning silver hair.  “I just hope I’m doing it half as well as she did.”

His soft spoken words made the tears spill from my eyes.  There it was.  Love in its most powerful form.  Tested and true.  Unwritten.  Unspoken.  Unconditional love.

I cleared my throat and wiped my eyes.  “Actions speak louder than words.  You’re doing just fine.”  I reassured the gentleman as I prepared to leave.  He walked me to the door and I gave his hand a gentle squeeze.

The morning replayed in my mind as I drove home.  No flowers, no candy, no card.  Yet, the profound love I had just witnessed left an imprint on my heart and inspired me to make a detour before going home.

A short time later, I pulled into the garage and gathered the grocery bags out of the back seat.  As I climbed the stairs of our split level house, I heard my husband get up from the couch and meet me at the top of the stairs.

“You went shopping?” he asked.

“Thought I’d fix us some steaks and potatoes for dinner tonight.”  I replied as I put the items away.

“Sorry, I forgot to wish you a Happy Valentine’s Day before you left,” he said.

The sun reflected on the shiny, clean counter top.  I glanced toward the sink and noticed the dishes had disappeared and the floor had been mopped.  I smiled to myself.

I drew him close and the unexpected passionate kiss I planted on his lips brought a smile to his face.  “I was going to say thanks, but actions speak louder than words,” I said as I took his hand and led him into the bedroom.

Writers Encouraging Writers


Saturday Writers, a chapter of the Missouri Writers Guild, recently published its 8th anthology, Under the Surface. Saturday Writers's photo.

The stories, poems, essays and memoirs represent the winners of the monthly contests sponsored by Saturday Writers.  The contests are open to writers across the nation.  More information can be found at http://www.saturdaywriters.org

“Writers Encouraging Writers”  is the motto of Saturday Writers and they certainly deliver that to their members.  With their support and encouragement, I dared to submit four entries this past year. Three of my submissions are in the book.

So to all my fellow writers, I share words of encouragement.  Write from your heart, dare to be heard and give thanks for the gift. You never know what you can do until you try.