Hidden Treasures


Sometimes the thing we’re looking for is right where we are. Hope you enjoy this story.

Hidden Treasures

Julie Perkins’ crisp November morning started before sunrise, while nosy neighbors still slept and streets weren’t snarled in traffic. Other than a few boxes stacked near the door of her studio apartment, the room was bare. Julie sold the furniture and anything that didn’t have strings attached to her heart when she received the certified letter informing her of her father’s passing.

With a loud grunt, she hoisted a box of rejected screenplay manuscripts and spiral bound notebooks and carried them to the `65 Mustang that would take her back to Missouri, provided the tires didn’t go flat and the transmission held up. “Shit,” she moaned when she realized her car key was in her hip pocket. She tried to balance the overstuffed container on the bumper with one hand. The minute she popped the trunk, a gust of wind sent papers flying out into the street. “Crap,” she cursed and dropped the box into the trunk.

By the time everything was retrieved and the final boxes were loaded, sweat dripped down Julie’s neck. Now hot and exhausted, she rolled down the windows, put the car in gear and took off.  Screw this town. I wish I’d never come here. Tears stung with the acknowledgment.

As an only child, Julie swore Hollywood whispered her name in dreams. She envisioned walking on stage to receive an award for best screenplay. She wanted fame and fortune. She wanted to be somebody special. Growing up in the rural Ozark Mountains didn’t afford those opportunities. Julie’s mother, gone since she was twelve, would have understood. She took Julie to the matinee every time a new movie came out.

Her dad, on the other hand, fumed and cussed at Julie, calling her a fool for chasing an elusive dream. “Everything you need is right here,” he’d insisted. The more he talked, the more relentless she was to prove him wrong. Julie never forgot his hurtful words the morning she decided to go. ‘If you leave, don’t come crawling back.’ Too proud to admit defeat, she never returned. Spirit-broken and alone, the need to return to her childhood home tugged at her heart.

The man standing by the stoplight went unnoticed by Julie until he reached into the car and snatched her purse from the passenger seat. “Nooo!” she screamed. He took off down an alley with Julie following close behind in her car. “Stop!” The thief ducked between two buildings and disappeared. What the hell am I going to do now?

Julie circled back around determined to find her belongings. Surely the man would dispose of her purse quickly. A trash bin caught her eye and she threw the car in park, leaving it idle while she dug into the nasty metal container. “Got it.” Pleased with her find, she brushed off her jeans and straightened her blouse, just in time to see her car drive off. “Son of a bitch!”

The sun glared overhead as she stomped her way to the nearest police substation. In her furor, she hadn’t noticed the reporter standing within ear distance and armed with a camera. “Don’t you dare,” Julie protested in vain. The headlines would read, Free-Lance Writer Robbed Twice in One Day. The black mascara streaming down her tear-stained face was just the type of photo the sleazy magazine loved to print and not the kind of fame Julie imagined.

“Just doing my job, trying to make a dime. You know how it is.”

She plopped down on a park bench, distraught and homeless. On the following day, the police recovered Julie’s stolen car. Wanting no more delays, she dropped the charges against the teenage joyrider, withdrew the last of her money from the bank and with the warm California sun to her back, she headed east.

November winds had stripped the trees of their leaves, still the rolling Missouri hills brought nostalgia and a sense of peace that had escaped Julie for many years. She’d cherished the memories of picking fresh vegetables from the garden and the endless hours in the kitchen helping to snap the beans, shuck the corn and fry the chicken in preparation of the next meal.  When the sun went down, Dad would come in from tending the fields and give her a big hug.

As the Bloomsdale exit came into view, Julie noticed the addition of a large truck stop. Bet all the farmers love that. She wound her way through the back roads, past quaint little towns, and across low water bridges, in giddy anticipation of seeing the two-story home that held so many treasured memories. She hummed to the music on her radio as the miles clicked away.

The euphoric mood imploded when the house came into view. Abandoned for years, the deteriorating home mourned for attention. Not a window pane survived the solitude. The roof barely provided shelter for intrusive squirrels. Even the front door succumbed to the gravity of its unattended wounds.

“Oh my God,” Julie moaned as she shook her head in despair. The words echoed across the barren yard. Gone, the prized rose garden her mother tended to as if it were an innocent child. Gone, the field that once bore acres of corn, now overgrown with weeds. Gone, the man who protected it all. Puddles filled Julie’s eyes and she blinked to clear them. In the distance, an image appeared. Frozen in disbelief, she watched the man walk toward the house. “Dad?”

“Good, you’re finally home. Follow me.” His firm command, a faint whisper in the wind, wrapped around her and caused a shudder.

Still in command. That’s my dad. Julie smiled to herself. She reached out to touch him just as he disappeared and was met with the hard surface of the wood siding. “Dad?” Julie stepped toward the front of the house peeking through the collection of spider webs, brushing them aside as she stepped through the opening. Her father stood near the bedroom he’d shared with her mother.

“Should have given this to you sooner. Your mother wanted you to have it. I think it’s what you’ve been looking for.”

At the foot of the bed was a slat of wood, slightly ajar. She bent down and dusted off the area before removing the board. With both hands, she wiggled the old cigar box from the snug hiding place. “What is this, Dad?” She glanced up just as her father faded from view. “Dad! Don’t go!” Julie clutched the box close to her chest and hurried outside. Her father was gone. Julie collapsed to the ground sobbing.

***

Dr. James Howell escorted Julie to the front row of the theatre just as the lights flickered, indicating the play was about to begin. She glanced at her handsome date and smiled. Who would have thought I’d be here tonight? The journey had taken her thousands of mile and years of struggle, but the rewards exceeded her greatest expectations.

Her father had been right. The treasure she sought had been there all along. Had he shared it sooner, he might have celebrated with her. Inside the box had been a love story like none she had ever read. The handwritten journals provided Julie with the foundation for an award-winning screenplay and more. She’d never expected to find a family member.

The search to find her brother, placed for adoption years before Julie had been born, had taken longer than writing the screenplay but had been worth it.

Jimmy touched Julie’s hand and whispered, “I’m so glad you found me. We’re finally home.”

“Me too. Finally Home. I thought it was the perfect title for a play.”

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The Threads That Bind


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The Threads That Bind

My leisure retirement, often spent writing or accompanying my husband to a local casino, left a significant void in my life. I yearned for a sense of purpose. As I skimmed a list of volunteer opportunities in my local newspaper, my eyes settled on two words, Story Keeper. I paused to read more. Story Keepers capture the meaningful moments of a patient’s life. The simple description intrigued me as I’d always dreamed of writing life stories of other people.

As enticing as the opportunity sounded, the thought of volunteering with a hospice care organization weighed heavily on my mind. The pain of watching my mother die a slow, difficult death made me question my ability to keep my emotions under control. I wasn’t sure I was ready for a task involving the potential death of a loved one. I cut out the contact information and let the thought simmer.

The clipping remained visible near my laptop for the next two weeks, tugging at my heart and urging me to act. Finally, I picked up the phone and called the manager of volunteer services listed in the ad.

“I may be interested in the Story Keeper position. Can you tell me more about it?”

“We’re looking for someone to record the life story of a hospice patient for their family to keep as a legacy after the patient passes.”

“Oh,” I felt a hint of disappointment. “I’m not adept at electronic things, more pen to paper.”

“Why don’t you come in and talk further about it? It’s a new position. We can work through the details. And while it doesn’t involve writing, you never know where the journey will lead you. Maybe it was meant for you.”

The charismatic manager’s reassuring words urged me to make a leap of faith. I met with her to learn more. Within two weeks, I’d completed all the prerequisites: TB tests, study guides about working with hospice patients, and Hepatitis injections.

It wasn’t long before I was assigned my first visit. I studied the manual that came with the small, hand-held recorder. Since I was the first person to fill the position, training had been minimal. The anxiety and nervousness I anticipated never surfaced. Instead, an unexpected tranquility about the process made me excited to get started.

“The patient is hesitant to make the recording.” My manager warned me on the drive to his home. “The wife is urging him to make the recording. I thought you should know before we get there.”

The patient’s wife greeted us at the door and invited us in. The man, already seated in a recliner, extended his hand and nodded as he studied my face.

My manager made introductions and a brief explanation for our visit. The man frowned and grumbled, pursing his lips. Then it was my turn to speak. I wanted to help him relax and feel comfortable about the recording.

“We’re just going to talk today. I’d like to get to know you and your wife.”

“Ok.” The tense lines around the man’s eyes eased.

“Did you grow up in Florissant?” I smiled and tilted my head awaiting his response.

“Jennings. I went to Corpus Christi grade school.”

“I know that school. I attended St. Paul the Apostle. We were practically neighbors.”

“I went to St. Paul’s!” His wife announced with excitement. “Oh my goodness! You’re Diane Hootselle. I saw the resemblance to your mother when you first arrived, but couldn’t place who you were.”

My eyes welled with tears at the mention of my mother. I was unable to say anything for fear I’d start crying.

“I’m your grandmother’s niece. We’re cousins. I grew up two blocks from you.”

I realized that I knew her parents well, but because of our age difference, our paths had not crossed except briefly at funerals or weddings. The emotional journey over the next hour was overwhelming and rewarding. The wonderful stories about my mother, who was an only child, and her distant cousins with whom I had lost touch over the years, brought such joy to my heart, I left the visit feeling like I was given a gift, one that I would treasure for life and share with my siblings. I even learned that my grandfather saved my cousin from drowning in the Mississippi River when she was a teenager.

Over the next few visits, I recorded heartwarming and memorable stories told to me by the patient and his wife. From their heritage, to their marriage and their many life experiences, we worked together to create a treasured gift for their children, grandchildren and future generations. I completed the project and presented the audio recording to them on their 65th anniversary.

I’ve always believed that a common thread connects us all. That belief was again reinforced during my second recording, another male patient unsure about telling his story but encouraged by his daughter to do it. As he talked and became more comfortable with the idea, he shared stories of bar-hopping with a group of friends when he was much younger. The stories sounded familiar, much like some told by my first patient. It turned out that my cousin’s husband was one of this man’s best friends with whom he made the tavern rounds. They had lost touch over the years.

The validation that I was exactly where I was supposed to be filled me with joy and anticipation of where my journey would take me next. And then it happened. On my initial visit with another patient, the opportunity to achieve my dream presented itself. I remember it was a sunny Friday afternoon. A middle-aged woman invited me into the quaint, senior-living apartment. A bouquet of flowers scented the room. A young girl sat on the floor doing cross-stich.

“This is my daughter. She likes to sew. Her grandmother taught her.”

“Nice to meet you.”

“This is my mother.” The woman who let me in directed me to a robust woman who was busy rearranged a large stack of assorted papers and clippings.

I smiled and extended my hand. “It’s so nice to meet you. How are you feeling today?”

“Fine.” Her voice as firm as her handshake.

“Looks like you have some important papers there.”

“When can we get started?”

The abrupt response surprised me. “It sounds like you’re ready. I don’t usually start recording on the first visit. It helps if we prepare for it by getting to know each other a little first. That way I can be sure we meet your wishes and make the best recording we can. Would that be alright?”

“What I really want…” she hesitated before continuing with tears in her eyes. “I wanted to write my life story, but I don’t know where to start and I don’t have enough time.” Her eyes pleaded for understanding.

I felt the corners of my lips turn upward. I touched her hand in reassurance. “I love to write. I’ve always wanted to write someone’s life story or help them write it.” I drew in a breath while contemplating my offer. “Perhaps that’s why I’m here. God works in mysterious ways. Maybe I can help you.”

Her eyes beamed with excitement. “Really? Would you? I can’t do it by myself.”

“I’d be happy to. How exciting! I can’t wait to get started.”

“Will you take these with you and read them, if you have time?” She pushed the pile of papers in my direction.

“I’d be honored. How about 1:00 p.m. on Monday? Will that work for you?”

“Oh, yes. That would be fine.” She reached for my hand and squeezed it. “Thank you.”

“It’s my pleasure. I’ll see you Monday and we’ll jump right in.”

I spent Saturday, reading the scribbled notes and brief stories, trying to place them in chronological order. The woman’s parents had owned a 350 acre farm in South Dakota and in the menagerie of papers, I found an essay written by her mother. It described the challenges of feeding twenty-five farmhands during harvesting in the 1900’s. It was a piece of history that had been entrusted to me.

On Sunday, I received a call from the volunteer manager telling me that the woman had passed away. My heart ached knowing her wish went unfulfilled. I planned to return all the paperwork to the family, but before I could, I received another phone call from the hospice manager. “The family asked if you could help write the book for the patient. They want to meet with you to discuss it if you are interested.”

A couple of meetings and two months of emails between family members allowed me to piece together the information. Additional stories were shared and incorporated by her children and surviving sister. The woman’s wish had been fulfilled. I have no doubt that a greater force brought us together for that very reason.

The simple act of giving my time returned ten-fold, not in money, but something much more gratuitous. I admire the people who share their life stories to create the audio recordings. They allow families to continue to hear their voice after they’re gone and by filling a void in their lives, they’ve filled the void in mine.

How has volunteering blessed you?  I’d love to hear your stories.

Diane How

 

Silence Has A Voice


Blogs, email, text, twitter, FaceBook and occasionally, a phone call or face to face talk.  So many ways to connect to others. But how do we connect with friends and family who have dementia and are losing or have lost these lines of communication?  I wrote this poem during the final stages of my mother’s journey through Alzheimer’s. I think it’s what she would have said.

Silence Has a Voice

 

My memories of yesterday

Will become distorted over time

The written word will lose its strength

A verse will have no rhyme

 

The laughs we shared will pass me by

My words will make no sense

Such simple things we once enjoyed

Will often make me tense

 

Old photographs will fade away

Your face will lose its name

You’ll think I’ve traveled far away

But my heart will know you came

 

No need for words nor bouquets bright

No trinkets made of gold

No promise for tomorrow’s light

Just your hand for me to hold

 

Your love’s the only treasure

It will endure through all the pain

Just speak to me in silence

You’ll be my sunshine in the rain

 

DSCN0372

Black stained glass graces the tangerine wings that rest upon mossy green foliage while hints of dandelion yellow tickle about

Perhaps you have a loved one who just needs to hold your hand. Don’t miss the chance to visit with him or her. Words aren’t always necessary. Silence has a voice.

I Must Have Blinked


I remember a time when I enjoyed checking the mailbox for an unexpected card or letter from a friend. No one writes letters anymore. DSCN0788Cards are sent electronically through Facebook or email. The only things that appears in my mailbox are bills and store adds.

There was a time when you didn’t need to let the recorder pick up phone calls because every one of them was important. Now I’m forced to sign up for the  “No Call” list to avoid solicitors who interrupted every evening meal. While that helped for a while to reduce some unwanted calls, the intrusions returned, especially as I neared the blessed age of Medicare eligibility.

The changes to social media fill me with joy and sorrow. I miss the personal warmth of a hand-written letter or a phone call from a friend who just wants to chat. Still, the instant gratification of finding needed information with the click of my keyboard makes life easier, especially for a writer.

If you can relate to this short story, please hit the like button or leave me a message with your own thoughts. I’d love to hear from you.

 

 

I Must Have Blinked

 

Dark clouds and Monday blues. Just the excuse I need to avoid starting painting woodwork. Blue masking tape’s been in place for months, yet the paint’s lid remains sealed. Procrastinator? Yes.

The phone rings. I check the clock. Right on time. The recorder picks up. Same message. Karen Adams says she can help me, but I ignore her offer. Instead, I grab a dust cloth and move from curio cabinet to coffee table searching for a distraction. A photo album, covered in a fine layer of dust, calls to me and I settle down on the couch.

The miniscule date on the photo reveals May 1957. We’re at the zoo. One brother on each side, pudgy little girl in the middle holding a wicker picnic basket. I glance at the numerous snapshots with the scalloped edges and close my eyes. My grandmother’s holding the Brownie box camera and urging us to smile. The corners of my lips curve up. Happens every time.

The next page moves me forward a decade. Mom, dad, three brothers and a sister on the steps of my grandparent’s front porch. I’m wearing a black and white taffeta dress. Easter service, dressed in our best. Happy family, eager to hunt eggs and snitch a few jelly beans before chicken dinner. It must be 1964 because my little brother looks about 4 years old. He’s still alive, happy and full of life.

I flip the page to see more. It’s empty. Discolored photo sleeves void of any clue another brother and sister joined the family. No trips to the zoo, no graduation pictures, no proms, no hint that life continued after the death of a child. Cancer does ugly things to families.

The gloomy day needs no support, so I close the book and select another album. The phone interrupts my thoughts. I check the clock. Right on schedule. This time it’s Susan, her offer similar to Karen’s. “Call me back at 1-800-555-1234.” The calls are not welcomed. They’ve become irritating. “Mind your own business” I chastise to no one.

I refocus and am transported to another life, one with a husband and daughter. A snapshot of them fishing near a crystal clear lake. Happy family outings. Smiles without guilt for being alive. Pages filled with tree, flowers, mountains and rivers, family and friends. Years of happiness. I feel my mood elevating, just as the sun breaks through dark clouds.

I close the album and place it on top of the one from our twenty-fifth anniversary. Perhaps there will be a 50th someday. I walk past the recorder and hit the delete button. The huge, undisturbed mound of pamphlets awaits my attention. Medicare decisions must be made, but not today, I have a few more weeks before the 65. I shake my head and wonder how that day arrived so soon. I must have blinked.

 

Her Lifeline


Most of my posts are passionately lighthearted. Even the most humorous writers have a serious moment now and then. A tissue may be required.

Her Lifeline

 

It was a foolish dream, tucked in the corner of her heart for more than thirty years, still it had survived, even kept her moving forward during difficult times, until today.

Rose Ellen stared into the mirror and assessed the changes since she had last seen him. A little sagging, a few more greys, but not too bad she decided. Life had been good to her. No need for a walker, no hearing aids, no serious medical issues, her memory still intact. Yes, she had been blessed in so many ways, yet the longing for something more was always there.

Anticipation accompanied Rose on the walk to the beach. It was the good kind. The kind that made her feel like a young woman again. She took off her sandals and let the ocean splash over her feet as she strolled along the shore, lost in the memory of his warm embrace and passionate kiss. It brought unexpected flutters in her belly, just like the first time. The delicious scent of his woodsy aftershave lingered in the air and she wondered if it was her imagination or someone walking past.

She glanced around and found no one in sight. Her thoughts drifted again and she smiled to herself, picturing him standing on a beach in cargo shorts and t-shirt. His well-toned body and dimpled smile had drawn her attention, but she’d been enamored by his kindred spirit and passion for life. In between work discussions, he’d asked about her dreams and encouraged her, even showed her, how those dreams could be reached. `Dreams don’t just come true, you need a plan. And a plan B` he always said.

He never focused on his own accomplishments, which were significant, rather, he built her self-esteem by recognizing her knowledge and abilities. He urged her to return to school to finish her degree. Their friendship grew as the years passed. They shared childhood memories and family stories that brought laughter and tears. Often they discussed values and strong beliefs, as if testing each other. She never met a man so willing to help others, expecting nothing in return.

He was a man of character and she ached to tell him how deeply she loved him. She knew she’d never summon the courage to say the words that pressed on her lips with every encounter.

A small child squealed nearby and stirred Rose back to the present. The sun beat on her uncovered head and made her sway. She decided to rest for a little while on a bench under a towering palm tree. The glare from the water penetrated through her sunglasses and she closed her eyes, drifting off again.

The intense heat reminded her of the day that changed everything in her life. It started with such a simple conversation.

“I’m leaving early to mark the trail in Ste. Genevieve for my club’s next 10K walk.” Rose’s voice did not reflect her normal enthusiasm.

“What’s up? You seem bothered by something.”

“Oh, it’s nothing, really. My co-chair can’t make it, so I’m going alone. I’m just a little apprehensive about being in an unfamiliar rural area.”

“I’ll take you.”

“Don’t be silly. You don’t need to waste vacation time on me. I’ll be fine.”

“Consider it done. I’ll clear it with the boss and meet you by my car at noon.”

A smile formed on Rose’s face as she shook her head side to side. “You’re something else. Is there anything you wouldn’t do for someone?”

His dimple surfaced as a grin spread across his face. “For you, no.” He turned and walked into his boss’ office.

Rose tried not to read too much into his response, but excitement and nervous energy made the morning pass quickly. Rose felt her heart pound, like a smitten teenager, during the hour drive to the location. Each time their eyes met she looked away, afraid that he could read her mind. How foolish she’d feel if she blurted it out. She wanted to believe that he held similar feelings for her, but she buried the thought.

***

They finished marking the trail, ending in a park near a lake. The temperature neared 100 degrees as they stood and admired the tranquil waters.

“We could just jump in and cool off.” He laughed as he skipped a stone across the still lake.

“I love the water. It always make me feel at peace.” Rose wiped sweat from her brow with the sleeve of her blouse. “Guess we’d better be going. We’ll both be stuck in traffic if we wait much longer.” Rose tightened the cap on her bottle of water and turned to walk away.

He reached out and took her free hand, pulling her close. “I love you.”

Rose didn’t resist his embrace. She let the tears stream down her face without any effort to conceal them. His lips met hers with an urgent, passionate force. He offered a second, softer kiss that took her breath away.

“I love you too.” He kissed her again. She looked into his deep blue eyes and released a heavy sigh. “I thought those words would follow me to the grave, without ever telling you.”

Neither spoke much on the drive back to the office. He reached across the console and squeezed her hand, a mixture of joy and pain in his eyes. Their unspoken words hung in the air. Both knew that nothing more would come of the revelation. The price to their families would be too great. An occasional, discreet kiss in the parking lot, an especially long squeeze of the hand when no one was looking, silent gestures that only the two of them understood, would have to be enough. An affair of the heart, that’s what they had called it.

Before summer’s end, a job transfer took him overseas. They remained in touch, often corresponding by mail. Cautious to never reveal the depth of their love, each read between the lines. The distance between them probably saved their marriages. The temptation to be together would have been too much.

“That’s why God made oceans,” he once wrote her. It was then that their dream took form. A lifeline they shared. An unrealistic plan that neither controlled. Should both spouses pass before they did, they would meet in Maui on the beach. Many years had passed before they reconnected. Today they’d share another passionate kiss without the guilt of hurting someone else.

The scent of his aftershave, stronger, closer this time, stirred Rose from her nap. She cupped her hand over her eyes, blocking the sun. There he stood, looking just as she remembered. The sandy brown hair showed no hints of grey. His sturdy, toned body much too fit for someone his age. She closed her eyes again, unable to accept the reality of the vision before her.

“Rose.”

She forced herself to look again, then looked away, the pain too much to handle. “When?” The word choked from her dry throat.

“Last week. I’m so sorry.” The young man’s eyes grew moist as he stepped closer and placed an arm around her shoulder.

“You look just like your dad.”

“I hear that all the time. It’s a compliment.”

Rose nodded in agreement. “How did you know I’d be here?”

“He asked me to come, just before he passed.” The younger version of her true love held her as she wept. When she stilled, he continued talking. “Dad loved you very much. He told me after Mom died, but I knew that from the first time I saw you together. Remember the time we all went to the ballgame together?”

She nodded. “I remember.”

“I respected him for not cheating on my mother. And you too.”

The handsome man pulled something from the pocket of his shorts and handed it to Rose.

“He carried this with him wherever he traveled. He said it was his way of keeping you near.”

The gold, four-leaf clover still shined like the day she gave it to the love of her life.

“He said he’d see you on the other side.”

“Always have plan B.” Rose forced a smile and clutched the treasure to her chest.

 

This story won first place in the Saturday Writers July,  2016 “The Sense of Scents” contest.

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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