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.

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The Finishing Touch


This is one of my favorite fiction short stories I’ve written. It features our grand dog as a hero. I hope you enjoy it.

The Finishing Touch

LaptopComputer Finally, I’m going to finish my novel. The thought danced in my head as I packed the last few items in a suitcase. The tattered manuscript, with all its scribbled edges and sticky notes, was already stuffed in a padded pouch with my laptop. Food for a week, essential chocolate and wine stash included, were secured in the oversized cooler. The plan was simple. No television, no internet access, no interruptions. Just me and the computer. Oh, and one sixty-five pound grand dog, Hammie.

Convincing my husband that I could survive alone for a few days in our daughter’s summer home in Missouri at the Lake of the Ozarks required a plan of action. I memorized the exact procedure for turning on and off the water source and for operating the heating unit. Short of using flash cards, I demonstrated on paper that I could recognize and eliminate (or avoid) venomous snakes and spiders. Emergency phone numbers were entered into my speed dial and I promised to call him every evening reassuring him I hadn’t been murdered by a stranger lurking in the woods. At first I rejected his insistence that I take our daughter’s black lab with me. An unspoken sense of insecurity made me agree.hammyA

I appreciated his concerns and knew he would worry until I returned, but my desire to accomplish a task started years earlier pressed me forward. “Our forty-four years of marriage have been a blessing,” I reasoned with my spouse, “but a week of independence to complete my first novel is a necessity.” He didn’t share my passion for writing, but he respected it.
Splashes of crimson dappled the nearly bare hills, the result of nibbling cold fronts that visited the area the past few weeks. I made a brief pit stop in Kingdom City to stretch my legs and empty my bladder. Of course my four-legged friend needed to do the same. As he stopped and sniffed every few feet, I laughed, remembering my daughter’s warning that he’d want to check his “pee mail” too.

Back on the road, I sang along with Willie Nelson as he strummed his guitar to On The Road Again. Hammie stared out the window. I swear he shook his head as if to remind me I can’t carry a note. Too bad. My car, my rules. Soon, the billboards boasted the many venues near Bagnell Dam, my exit. The sparsely populated countryside reminded me of cherished excursions in my grandpa’s ‘57 Ford Fairlane. The blacktop road twisted and turned for the next twenty minutes. I slowed to a crawl at the last turn where the tree covered road narrowed to one lane. At the crest of a hill, I made a sharp left onto the graveled driveway where the red wood A-frame, greeted me.

DSCN0607

I turned off the engine and set the parking brake. Leaves blanketed the ground all the way down the steep hill to the water’s edge. No cars or neighbors were visible at the other few cabins that shared the remote cove. “Looks like we got the place to ourselves, Hammie.” His tail wagged approval as I attached his leash and helped him leap from the car. He tugged hard, ready to romp. “You can’t run free until I set up the wireless fence. Sorry buddy. With the door key in one hand and the lead in the other, I unlocked the door and entered my sanctuary.

First order of business was kicking up the heat. I pulled up the shades on the dozen windows that enclosed the Florida room to allow sun to filter in. “You’ll have to wait inside while I unpack the car.” Hammie whined and showed me his best pitiful look. “Save the guilt. It doesn’t work on me, remember?” As if he understood my announcement, he sauntered into the sun room.

Three trips to the car finished the task and I decided it was time for a break for both of us. I filled Hammie’s bowl with water and tucked a dog treat in my pocket, a bribe in case it was needed later to get him back inside. After flipping the switch on the wireless contraption, I picked up the second collar and slipped it in place. Long ago I resolved that I’d never fully understand how the machine knew how far a ninety-foot circumference was and how it could relate it to an animal. “Time to breathe in a little of this country air, buddy.” Hammie’s tail wag and pitiful moan as he nudged his nose on the door handle summed it up perfectly. I grabbed a bottle of water before heading to the deck.

The lake’s water near the dock was low and still, stirring only when an acorn dropped from a nearby tree where a squirrel packed away its final stash for the winter. Hints of late afternoon sun filtered through the towering oaks that still clenched some of their vegetation, perhaps as a cloak in anticipation of the deep cold inching closer by the hour. Leaves rustled beneath the elevated cabin as Hammie explored within his allotted space. I leaned on the railing and listened to the distinctive rat-tat-tat of a woodpecker interrupted, or perhaps accompanied by, the chirp of a cardinal warning others that company had arrived.

The temperature dipped quickly as the sun slowly disappeared. “Think it’s time to go in Ham.” A flash of the biscuit brought him running. Two crunches and the treat disappeared. “How about dinner? You getting hungry? Me too.”

After we ate, I closed all the shades and headed to the bedroom to read for a while. Hammie joined me, circling around and plopping down, then pressing his back into my side. I smiled and stroked his shiny coat. With the added warmth and enhanced sense of security, I sent a silent “thank you” to my husband.

###

We settled into a routine over the next few days with the majority of time devoted to my novel. Whenever Hammie wasn’t exploring the enticing animal scents in his designated circle, he curled up at my side with his backend toward me to show his true feelings. His deep sighs made me laugh. I guessed even dogs get bored with my writing.

So far, my plan had come together with only minor interruptions. The final chapter neared completion, yet I was distracted by something. I put the laptop in sleep mode and stood up. Perhaps the tedious attention required to complete the edits or maybe the isolation from human contact was taking its toll, but the continuous hammering by a visiting woodpecker wore on my nerves. I took my cell phone and Hammie onto the deck and searched near the roof for the enemy. I located his head pounding on the side of the cabin. A Pileated Woodpecker, one not often seen back home. My irritation turned to awe.

The sharp red crest and white underwing color of the crow-sized bird deserved to be captured, at least on my phone so I could show hubby upon my return. I needed to get the best angle. “What do you think Ham?” I swear he shook his head no. Ignoring his warning, I contemplated my move. Common sense stepped aside for the risk-taker I had become and I pushed the wooden lawn chair close to the edge of the deck. With the phone in my pocket, I worked my way higher, placing one foot on the top of the chair and the other on the hand railing, steadying myself by gripping the side of the cabin with both hands.
Perfect, I thought, as I focused in on the knocker. Unfortunately, I hadn’t planned on how to balance myself with both hands working the phone’s camera. I tapped the screen, pleased with the result for a nanosecond, until my foot slipped off the railing. My head crashed against the redwood railing, sending stars and instant pain. I plummeted down the fifteen foot drop to the ground, landing on my already injured skull. I screamed as unbearable pain split my skull and sent me into a blackened state.

###

“Honey. Honey, please wake up.”
The whisper of the faded plea stirred in a distant corner of my mind. The pain. Oh, the pain. Why so much pain? I struggled to raise my hand to message my temple, but something weighed my arm down.

“Babe, I’m here.”

I struggled to open my eyes, feeling caught between stages as if coming out of a dream. Where am I? Who’s calling me? As the fog in my brain dissipated, the stabbing leg pain intensified, then my arm joined forces with the excruciating headache. I twisted and how could turned trying to escape the torture.

“Honey, I’ll get the nurse. Hold on.”

The voice traveled closer then faded as I sensed the release of warmth from my hand. Something heavy warmed my left leg. Think, I urged myself. Flashes of memory interrupted the agonizing battle inside my body. Footsteps, rushing around the room, unfamiliar voices shouting commands to each other.
“I thought we’d lost you.” The voice that called me honey choked.

Think harder. People tugging on an arm, tape ripping, alarms. I hear alarms. I’ve heard those before, many times, but where? “Nooo!” This time I heard my own shout as the voices faded away, my futile attempts to stop the drugs from sending me back to the dark place.

###

Six weeks later, with my discharge papers signed, hubby wheeled me to the car. A metal contraption kept my neck in place while my left leg and right arm had progressed to temporary casts. My eyes grew moist as I neared the car. My daughter smiled from behind the wheel. Hammie anxiously bounced up and down in the back seat. An unexpected and welcomed sight.

My husband helped me make the painful transition from chair to car, and then settled into a back seat driver position. The dog wiggled and squirmed until he managed to gently place his nose on my shoulder, the rest of him pressed in the gap between the seats.

“I thought you might like a visit from your buddy. He visited you a few times while you were in the medically induced coma.”

“I felt his heavy body snug against mine, but I thought it was my imagination.” I stroked his furry head in appreciation. My recollection of the accident was limited to memories before the fall. Some things continued to puzzle me, like how my husband got the call after I fell. I glanced at him and started to ask again, but not wanting to test his already frayed patience. He read my thoughts and shook his head.

“Look, I’ve told you everything I know. You’re phone flew out of your hand when you fell and somehow it dialed me. I heard the screams and the continuous bark and knew something bad had happened, so I called the emergency number you left with me.”

Hammie’s eyes met mine and I studied his face for the answer and nodded. “You were right. I shouldn’t have tried it. But how did the phone dial itself?”

The black lab’s lip curled upward.

“That’s his “Elvis” smirk.” My daughter’s laughter filled the air.
“Guess it will be his little secret.” But silently I knew.

My husband’s hand extended toward me, a grin on his face as he handed me the phone. “Great picture of the woodpecker.”

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.