So pleased — Melange Books also said yes to “A Living Specimen”! Woo-hoo! Maybe I should treat the kids to a nice dinner out, to celebrate?
My short story on childbirth has been accepted by Melange Books for the anthology, Having My Baby. I’ve improved the title: from “The Complications of Birth” to “Tabitha’s Solution”.
And you know what? I’m finally feeling like an honest-to-goodness writer!
Trisha donned the white cotton gloves Bill passed her, and held up each item as he described it. She walked around the room, gritting her teeth when first one person, then another gave her a knowing smile.
Never be late for meetings.
“This jar of holy water has the seal of the Pope himself,” Bill continued. His baritone filled the room. Myrtle leaned forward as Trisha passed. Pausing to allow the little old lady to have a good long look, Trisha glanced back at Mitch. He waggled his fingers at her.
Rolling her eyes, Trisha moved on.
“Each item has its own resting place in the chest, which is lined with silk.” Bill was clearly very proud of his latest acquisition. “The stake, made of ash, has a leather-bound hilt for a firm grip, and was cut by hand.”
Now Trisha reversed direction, the stake laid across her palms. She resisted the urge to brandish it at Mitch, who grinned at her with a mouthful of brownie.
“Excuse me, Bill?”
A hand popped up at the back of the room. Bill acknowledged the speaker.
Trisha managed to control her expression this time. As much as Jasmine Mehta got on her nerves, it wouldn’t do to reveal that fact. It was okay to bitch about the petite East Indian when Trisha was alone with Mitch, but woe betide anyone who publicly complained about the woman.
As Trisha circulated back toward the fireplace, she wondered what it was that irked her so much about her peer.
Was it her beauty? Trisha herself felt reasonably attractive most days, but Jasmine was exotic. Her perfectly shaped eyebrows, big brown eyes and long black lashes, clear skin, white teeth and lush lips were complimented by a spill of silky black hair. Trisha couldn’t ever remember seeing Jasmine’s hair styled the same way twice. Her clothing was as posh and impeccable as her makeup.
Plus, Mitch had once been Jasmine’s boyfriend. Trisha didn’t even like to think about the implications there.
Maybe it was knowing that Jasmine was smarter than Trisha. It hurt to admit that her intelligence was not the highest in this room, unlike some of her college classes. Jasmine clearly had more expertise and experience in her little finger than Trisha had in her whole brain, and yet she was only two years older. Mitch had reassured her on more than one occasion that Jasmine did make mistakes and wasn’t always right, but it didn’t seem that way to Trisha.
For example, Jasmine used words like “economy” and “conservation”, tossing them off like they were nothing. Trisha could barely follow her comments much of the time. Her vocabulary was off the charts, as was her understanding of politics and money.
“Therefore, in light of our budgetary concerns, the treasure department must caution against further spending of this nature.” Jasmine’s voice was as delicate as her looks. Trisha wished that her nemesis at least had an accent, a guilty thought that belied her unconscious prejudices. It simply wasn’t right how inferior Trisha felt when Jasmine was around.
Bill nodded as Jasmine sat back down. “You’re quite correct, we don’t have the room in our finances for a purchase like this. I would like to supplement the cost out of my own pocket, though my wife will probably kill me.”
A few of the senior members laughed appreciatively at the back of the room. Jasmine appeared mollified.
“But this kit is complete — it’s extremely rare. And it was never used, also rare. You can understand the historical importance of the find, and how it will add to our educational services.” Bill accepted the stake from Trisha, placing it reverently back in the case. “You may sit down, now, Trisha.”
Smiling stiffly, Trisha turned away, hoping she wouldn’t trip over her own feet. She made it back to the couch, turning aside as the unknown tech guy brought up a folding screen for the next part of the meeting. Mitch patted the seat next to him, and with a grateful sigh, Trisha plopped down.
A horrible stink reminiscent of dead and rotting flesh immediately rose from the cushion beneath her.
“Geez, no wonder you’re sitting here alone,” she whispered to Mitch, her erstwhile brownie completely forgotten as her eyes watered. She tried to take shallow breaths, not wanting to attract anymore attention. “What did you do, take your shoes off?”
“Hey, my feet aren’t that bad anymore.” He put an arm around her shoulders and squeezed. “The thing was stinky when I sat down, too.”
“So why did you stay here?” Trisha leaned away from his chocolate-breath, which was not helping her lurching stomach.
“Everywhere else was taken.”
“Sh!” The lights had dimmed.
It was the monthly report on investigations and hunts. Bill explained each data chart as it appeared on the screen. “Spectral apparitions are down in number, but the intensity of each report is increasing. Rachel, you may want to look into the astronomical factor — maybe a conjunction of planets is providing strength.
“You got it.” Trisha craned her neck for a glimpse of the curvaceous blonde.
“We had five encounters with zombies, all successfully contained and put down. Possible relation to government testing facilities. Mitch, that’s your department — see what you can find out about the latest germ warfare experiments, would you?”
“Will do.” Mitch, caught in the disrespectful act of trying to nibble Trisha’s ear in the semi-dark, held up a thumb.
“There were twenty-six UFO sightings called in, of which nine were explainable, four were first-kind, seven were second-kind, and six were abductions.”
Trisha tried to hold her attention on Bill; he was a decent man, and the information was important. Her job was data analysis and vampire hunting. She felt that there might be a link between the phases of the moon and vampire attacks, and wanted to do more research — besides that of her interminable master’s thesis.
Unfortunately, sitting on a horrible smell while her good-looking boyfriend tried to creep his hand up her skirt did little for her focus.
“…vampire hits are down, and I think we’ve done a good job on that.” Bill nodded in Trisha’s direction; Mitch’s hand vanished like air from her thigh. “Thanks to Trisha’s skills, that is.”
Trisha realized that people were applauding her. Taken a little by surprise, she nodded in appreciation.
“Just try to remember, we would like an undead specimen at some point,” someone called out. “We can’t learn a whole lot from those little piles of ash you keep bringing back.”
“I can’t help it if that’s what they do,” Trisha retorted, smiling sheepishly. “You want a live specimen, come out with me some time and bring a net! Made of titanium!”
Laughter roared out of the darkness. Trisha could feel herself blush.
She had done something right.
By time the meeting was over, Trisha had nearly gotten used to the smell. She stood up and stretched, feeling Mitch’s eyes on her long legs.
“My god, what is that incredible stench?” Jasmine had come up to the fireplace to warm her hands. Trisha saw her nose wrinkle and quickly pointed down at the couch.
Mitch saw the look Trisha passed him. “Yeah, I noticed it before, but I didn’t have time to do anything about it.”
He got up and tilted the couch back. “No leftover food.”
“I should say not!” Myrtle had materialized suddenly at Trisha’s side. “This room may be old, cold, and ugly, but it’s clean. I check it myself, every night.” She pushed her round spectacles further up on her nose to glare at Mitch.
“You’re right, Miss Gray, I’m just trying to find the source of the smell.” Trisha loved how his tone went automatically to fear and respect whenever the little woman came around. Mitch let the couch back down and crouched to lift the faded yellow cushions. “And I think I just uncovered our bad boy.”
He flipped the cushion up. Trisha shrieked and jumped back.
Jasmine snorted in disgust. “You kill vampires as a hobby, and a little dead mouse freaks you out?”
Trisha became conscious that she was using Myrtle as a human shield. She let go of the older woman’s shoulders and stepped away. “That’s entirely different. Vampires are a threat, and once you kill them, they’re just ash. That is — it’s just — I mean, look at it! I was sitting on that!”
A crowd was gathering.
Bill poked his head in between Mitch and Jasmine to examine the tiny corpse stuck to the underside of the cushion. “Looks to me like it got squished to death,” he remarked.
Trisha felt her bile rise.
“Maybe within the last twenty-four hours or so.” Bill had taken a fireplace match and was poking at the remains of the mouse, still firmly attached to the couch fabric. “It would have to take a pretty heavy person to do that kind of damage. Or two people. Who knows, it could have been any of us.”
Oh no. Trisha stared at Mitch. They had snuck into the library the night before. The formerly sexy memory of falling onto the couch in his arms, the weight of his body pressing onto hers, turned to mulch in her brain. She went to him and clutched his arm, eyes frantic. “Mitch! Do you think that we — I think I might be sick.”
He kissed the top of her head and patted her hand. “Well, it’s a helluva way to go.”
Trisha decided it might be time to break up with him.
“We’ll never get the smell out,” Myrtle stated. She surveyed the room. “Any volunteers to find us something new? Preferably cheap?” She nodded to Jasmine, who had already produced an accounting book.
Trisha’s hand shot up.
“If you go to Sally Ann’s New and Used,” Jasmine told her, holding out a card, “they’ll probably have something halfway decent. Try not to spend more than fifty, if you can.”
The adhesive tape pulled out a few more of the tiny hairs on Trisha’s arm. She hissed in reaction, making the woman in the lab coat jump slightly.
“It’s all right, she’s just changing your dressing.” Bill soothed her. He was sitting now, on the opposite end of the table. The lights had been lowered out of deference for Trisha’s raging migraine. “For some reason, it won’t stop bleeding.”
“I know.” Trisha watched as the medic — or doctor, did the Society actually have a certified doctor on staff? — pulled away the last of the gauze. For such a little scratch, it hadn’t stopped oozing since…it happened. The dark red on white made Trisha feel sick again. She felt sweat break out on her forehead, even though she was still cold. “Do you have any aspirin? Or maybe a tea? I think I’m coming down with something.” Her voice sounded so pathetic, even in the small room.
Bill gestured at the wall behind him. For the first time, Trisha noticed the dark mirror set into the drywall.
“So that was where you went, then? Sally Ann’s?”
Trisha stood on the sidewalk for a moment, looking at the window display. An old, chipped mannequin in a tie-dyed shirt and a red feather fascinator posed coquettishly next to a formica table with two matching chairs. The table was covered in cheap romance novels, old National Geographic magazines, cookie jars, and a cake stand dripping with junk jewelry. Everything, including the mannequin, had a hand-numbered price tag.
She fully expected the store to smell like cat pee.
To Trisha’s pleasant surprise, it was only a little musty, and a bit like lilacs. As she had become accustomed to doing, she scanned the corners of the room for threats. Instead, she noted that the store owner had perched a number of reedy fragrance defusers on the shelves bordering the walls.
The store owner — Sally? — was sitting behind the counter, immersed in a battered Reader’s Digest. She was wearing a sweater with a cat printed on the front. Her black hair showed a fine line of white along the part.
Trisha walked slowly throughout the displays. It was a paradise for collectors. Figurines of shepherdesses and elves sat next to cookbooks and cake decorating supplies. She brushed by a rack of old clothes, shuddering at the thought of spiders lurking within. Jasmine was right; for a vampire hunter, Trisha was unusually squeamish.
The furniture was at the far end. An old dining room set crowded next to a glass-front cabinet from the eighties. Three couches nestled so close together that it was nearly impossible for Trisha to edge her way in between them.
She clenched her fists. “No spiders, no mice,” she intoned, before taking a breath and sitting on the first, a lovely plaid.
It smelled distinctively of cats.
Rising quickly, Trisha moved to the next one. It was puke green pleather. The price tag showed a cost higher than her budget, but Trisha was confident in her bargaining skills.
Unfortunately, as soon as she sat on it, her butt sank to the bottom of the frame. Staring at her knees, Trisha shook her head in disapproval. “Way overpriced, Sally,” she muttered.
Hoisting herself up, Trisha shuffled along to the last couch. Yellow brocade resembled the sofa that she knew Mitch was probably delivering to the town dump at this moment, his best friend Skyler in tow as extra muscle.
She lowered herself onto the corner using extreme caution.
She allowed her full weight to settle down.
The springs held.
Trisha leaned over and gingerly sniffed the fabric. Mothballs and dust. She sat back up, satisfied that there would be minimal insect or rodent invasion with that kind of protection. Just to be sure, she rose and lifted each of the cushions.
Still a bit high on the price, she noted, but given the options…
Trisha shuffled back out of the couch corner and went to try her hand at haggling.
It took all of her meagre budget, and a phone call to Mitch and Skyler to make sure the pick up would happen, but Trisha whistled as she left the shop. Take that, Jasmine Mehta! On the money, virtually the same colour as the last to match the decor of the Queen Anne library / meeting room, comfortable and mouse-free — Trisha allowed herself a few childish skips as she headed back for a workout in the Society’s makeshift gym.
No-one else was using the equipment in the bright former ball room. The grand old mansion boasted a few treats like this; Trisha stretched her legs out, and imagined once again what parties might have been like in the building’s heyday. Tall windows stretched from the polished floor along the length of the room; the floor was now scarred but still gleaming, and while some of the windows were boarded up, there was one pane which remained pristine and whole. Tarnished candle sconces and gas lamps lined the other three walls, between mirrors as tall and ill-used by time as the windows.
It was too bad that there was no money in this business. Trisha stepped onto the programmable treadmill and keyed in her workout. The things she could do with Queen Anne architecture. The gardens alone deserved to be brought back to their full glory. S.H.I.P. operated out of donations and gifts, with the occasional bequest. Everyone was truly volunteering their time, after careers and family obligations. Trisha sensed that there was muscle not being used in the organization. Why not show the government what they did? Wasn’t it possible to get a grant of some kind, to increase the facility’s profile and get them decent headquarters where every room had modern heating?
At least the old ballroom had some solar gain, even in winter. Under her baggy t-shirt and exercise leggings, Trisha’s goosebumps had vanished by the time the treadmill began its tilt for the running portion of her program. The puddle of sunlight she was enjoying would probably move before she was finished her run, but at the moment, she was basking in it.
The door behind her opened and closed softly.
“Oh. I thought I’d be alone.” Jasmine padded softly past, a towel thrown over one brown, sculpted shoulder. She was unashamedly clad in black clinging short-shorts and matching sports bra. Her hair swung freely from a high ponytail.
“Damn,” Trisha panted to herself. “If I were a lesbian, she’d totally be my type.”
“Thank you,” Jasmine replied. She settled onto her back to do some presses.
“It wasn’t my intention for you to hear that.” Trisha gritted her teeth. She didn’t know what was worse — the burn of embarrassment or the burn in her calves.
“My hearing is exceptionally good,” Jasmine remarked. Her voice echoed clearly throughout the space. “I’m not bothered. But I’m not gay, thanks anyway.”
“I’m not gay, either.”
“You could be bisexual. What is it they say now, that sexuality is on a spectrum?”
Trisha raised her eyes to the ceiling. “Everyone experiments. I’m all about boys.” She glanced back to Jasmine’s sculpted abdominal muscles. “You’re incredibly hot, and you know it.”
Eight days earlier, Tabitha had been absolutely positive that the baby was on her way. Her entire pregnancy had been incident-free: no morning sickness, no swollen ankles, no varicose veins. A few stretch marks now crossed her abdomen, but otherwise it had been text-book perfect.
“I’m so excited, I just know it’s going to go smoothly, Mom.” Tabitha grinned as she cradled the phone between her chin and shoulder. The soft pastel green receiving blanket she was folding crackled with static electricity in her hands as she shook out the fold. “Plus, if we do have the baby tomorrow — no, when we have the baby tomorrow, I’m going to think positively — I’ll win that brand-new nursery at the mall!”
“But you already have a crib, and a stroller.”
“I couldn’t resist entering that contest, I just had a really good feeling about it.” Tabitha added the tidy square of fabric to the linen shelf beside the crib, and picked up a cotton one printed with yellow duckies. “It includes a bassinet with a lacy lining, so Victorian and adorable, plus a changing table. I don’t have a changing table.”
“Do you really have room for all of that?” Her mother cautioned. “We talked about that. Until you move, you’re pretty crowded as it is. That’s why I got you that rail-riding changing thingy.”
Tabitha suppressed a sigh. “I’d make it work, Mom. I’m creative. I play Tetris, I like rearranging things.” She refused to look around again at the small bedroom holding the old double-bed, one long dresser, a side table with a lamp, and for the baby, the linen shelf she had converted from an old plant stand, and the crib squeezed into the only space left, nearly blocking the bedroom door.
“I wish I could be down there with you, dear,” her mother sighed.
“I know. I do too.” Tabitha hoped she sounded sincere. On the one hand, having her mother present during her labour would be a comfort. On the other, she wasn’t entirely comfortable with the idea. It was going to be hard enough being exposed to the midwives again! Tabitha never even let women in a change room see her naked, always putting on her swimsuit in the bathroom.
Still, she had imagined her mom waiting just outside the delivery room, and being one of the first to hold her new grandchild. That would have been wonderful.
“Did your washer and dryer ever come?” Her mom was asking.
“Yes, just yesterday.” With great relish, Tabitha described her new appliances as though they were toys. “They’re really shiny, Mom. So much better than going to the laundromat. I can’t believe we lucked out on an apartment with a laundry room, let alone that we were able to buy the set on sale. It’s going to make using cloth diapers much easier.”
Tabitha didn’t care that her mother was probably was rolling her eyes; this was a debate she had often gotten into with her. No, she did care. “I know you think it’s silly, but it’s really better for the environment.”
“All you’re doing is using more electricity,” her mother argued. “Why else did they invent disposables? God knows, if they had had disposables when you and your brother were babies…”
“There are mothers in India who never put their babies in diapers,” Tabitha pointed out. “Babies have survived being put in cloth diapers for thousands of years. It’ll help him to toilet train faster, if he feels the wet.”
“Tabitha. This is a baby. You’re looking at a year before that is even close to happening.”
“Yeah, well… I want to try it, anyway.” A lump pushed at her hand, to the left of her navel. It was most likely a foot. She prodded it back, and the foot abruptly struck her lower rib. “Ow. Besides, it’s a lot easier than it used to be, with the velcro Kushies instead of pins.”
She’d never be able to convince her mom, Tabitha knew.
“When will Dad be back from his business trip?”
“Oh, in about a week.” The tone of her mother’s voice changed from wistful to bemused. “He’s been trying to get me to fly out and join him in Vancouver, but I’d rather be closer to you. Maybe I should take the train down, what do you think about that?”
“Mom, you’d have to sleep on our couch. It’s just not practical.” Not to mention the single bathroom they’d have to share! “I’ll be fine. I can take care of a baby.”
“Really, it’s going to be great!”
“I mean, Alex is going to take a few days off, and the midwives will be doing two home visits, so I won’t be completely alone. I can take care of the baby.”
“What about the rabbit?”
Tabitha glanced down at the black-and-white German bunny sniffing around her feet. “I can take care of Beatrice too; she can run around while I’m feeding the baby. She won’t be a problem. We finally got her litter-trained, so cleaning the cage is easier, too.”
“Well, if you need me to take her, let me know.”
“It’s fine, Mom.” Tabitha cringed; she didn’t want to sound like a whiny teenager. “Listen, I have to go to the bathroom. I just got kicked in the bladder again. I’ll call you first thing tomorrow, and as soon as my labour starts, all right?”
“I love you, Tabby-cat.”
“Love you, too.”
Tabitha rubbed her belly as she set the phone back in its cradle. “Your grandmama is going to love you soooo much, little one,” she reflected aloud. “We just have to be patient a little while longer. It would be nice for her to be here, but we just don’t have the space! And I read all the books, I know how to take care of you. How hard can it be? You’re just one little baby!”
Her bump shifted abruptly, as though in response.
“Yes, yes, I get it. My poor bladder is crowding you. Well, let’s take care of that.” Quickly folding the last three blankets and setting them on the shelf, Tabitha grabbed her battered copy of What To Expect When You’re Expecting, and headed to the bathroom.
And emerged, a short time later, feeling slightly disgruntled.
Where were all the signs of imminent labour? Her muscles had been scrunching and relaxing inconsistently for a week, a strange but not unpleasant sensation, but there had been no pain to suggest that it was time. Sherry, her primary caregiver, had said that she was experiencing pre-labour, and that it was a good thing. But nothing else had happened.
No bloody show. She wasn’t quite sure what that would be like, in spite of the book’s description.
No sudden gushes of fluid, or flare-ups of back pain, not that she really wanted to experience these things. Tabitha just wanted to have her baby, as quickly as possible. And if it was at all possible, it would be ideal if needles were not involved. It wouldn’t be comfortable, but unless medical intervention was absolutely necessary, no needles would come anywhere near her skin.
Admittedly, all the battle stories she’d heard from her prenatal classes, and read in her books, about the potential side effects of drugs on a baby’s brain — or on the mother, so she couldn’t remember giving birth — had strengthened her prejudice against modern medicine. Plus, the fact that even watching someone getting a needle made her nauseous made getting an epidermal completely out of the question. Absolutely nobody was getting near her spine with a sharp object unless she was knocked out, first.
Punctured spinal column. Tabitha shuddered at the thought.
Alex was completely on her side. He attended as many appointments with her as he could, and understood her fears. “I won’t let anyone touch you, unless there’s a problem,” he promised her, over and over.
She was relying on that.
Her mother had reminisced often enough about Tabitha’s own introduction to the world. In the late 1970s, she had had to shave, and have an enema at the start of the labour. Ick. Thank goodness hospitals no longer did any of that — Tabitha did not relish the picture her mother had painted of a woman who had just given birth running to the toilet. Sherry had laid those fears to rest in one of her early appointments.
“Enemas? No, no, that’s not done anymore,” she shook her head, smiling. “And you’ll only need a catheter if you go in for a c-section. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. If there is a problem, we’ll refer you right away to the obstetrician-gynocologist.”
“How quickly could the OB-GYN get there, if the baby’s in distress?” Alex knew all the terminology, from his years as a volunteer with the St. John Ambulance. He smiled at Tabitha, squeezing her hand as tightly as she held his own.
“He’ll be either in the hospital, or on-call, depending on how you are at the beginning of your labour.” Sherry consulted a schedule hanging on the wall. Her light brown curly hair reminded Tabitha of her mother. “In fact, the doctor has a couple of scheduled inductions and a caesarean booked around your due date. I don’t think you’ll need to worry, unless the baby is breech or something else is going on.”
So many things could go wrong, but Tabitha tried not to think about that. For over eight months, ever since she had confirmed that she was pregnant, she was only ever optimistic that her first birth would be perfect. Traditional, in the modern sense. She would breathe through the pains, using her meditation and yoga training. She would visualize, to help her body relax. She would have her favourite soft-rock or new age music playing, and a scented candle. They would be in the hospital, just in case, but Alex would be by her side through the whole experience and make sure that it was just like she wanted.
Twenty-four more hours, and she would be a mother. Alex would be a dad. All of this discomfort and concern would be behind them.
Thirty-six hours later, Tabitha had to stop herself from grinding her teeth with impatience.
“Honey, what are you doing with that shovel?”
Tabitha huffed and puffed, her breath coming in little clouds of condensation. “What does it look like I’m doing? I’m shoveling.”
Alex approached her with the caution of a bomb defuser approaching an unknown container. “I can see that. But sweetheart, you’re nine months pregnant. Why don’t you let me do that?”
She glared at him over her muffler, without breaking her rhythm. “I’m fine. It’s just a couple of inches of snow.”
“Last night I read our anthology and i especially loved Pike and Charlotte. My absolute favorite story is one in which the main characters fight a villain together and the only question is whether they will live rather than whether they will love. Wonderful story.” (Olivia Ritch)
“Hey…I just finished Midnight and Mist…I LOVED it… Loved that you used your Moms name as her boss… Loved that Talbot was like Cobalt… I love Pike and Charlotte…two very strong characters…I wanna read more!!! Great writing…I felt like I was there… Kudos girl!!” (Crystal P)
“I absolutely loved “Mist and Midnight”; the descriptions and suspense were beautifully written, the heroine Charlotte was strong and intriguing, and Pike in one word was “Yum!”:) I look forward to reading more of your work.”
“You’re such a good girl.”
He used to think that it was funny, in a bitter-sweet kind of way. I was sixteen, or it was my birthday, and I had never been kissed. Never had a boyfriend. I didn’t wear makeup, and my usual outfit consisted of a baggy sweatshirt and torn blue jeans.
I was sixteen, and I had a newspaper route.
That was how I met him.
He would come out of his garage to see me, the old man, or from the side door of his brick bungalow. I would pull up to the house on my bike, open the painted door to the old milk box, painted pale yellow to match the trim around the doors and window, and inevitably, he would come out. Sometimes, I saw him watching for me from the kitchen window.
“If you ever have a fight with your parents and you need a place to stay…”
I had decided on the newspaper route two years earlier. It seemed like an easy way to make some spending money, while getting exercise. The only downside was meeting the deadline every day, and delivering admail every second Friday. Otherwise, it was an easy gig. Aside from the odd grumpy dog, or the embarrassment of seeing someone my age who clearly wondered what the hell I was doing delivering newspapers when I should be shoveling burgers or peddling clothing like others in their teens, I liked it.
It was my half hour, or more, of peace after school each day. Time to daydream, as I walked down the four block route. I had a residential road with many retirees, like him, who had beautiful gardens and well-kept homes. The better ones were on the east side, facing the lake. They often had docks, and maybe one or two had beaches. I would imagine owning one of them, but I could never decide whether it would be better to back onto water, or onto the bike trail that ran along the old railway to the west. The bushes were high enough that those backyards had privacy, but I knew there were pools back there.
“Why don’t you bring your friends over for a pool party? I’m not going to try anything, you know. You probably think I’m some kind of dirty old man. But I’m not.”
He was lonely. I could see it in his eyes. The stoop of his shoulders under the brown cardigan, or the grey. He had a sense of the dramatic, too, which I enjoyed, in a way. The way he would stand in his garage, perfectly still, as the wide metal door slowly levered open in one big piece. Or, how he would slowly open the door as I popped the newspaper in the mailbox. His back would straighten as he smiled at me. I didn’t feel entirely comfortable, but neither did I feel threatened. We’d chat. His eyes would light up as he asked about my day. And I would move on after an appropriate interval. I had made a lonely old man feel better.
“What are you doing biking in the rain? Put your bike in here, I’ll drive you.”
I knew my boundaries. The first few times he offered to drive me down the block, I politely declined. But there came a day, one early spring, when the clear sky turned to sleet, and with freezing hands and damp hair I accepted the ride. After that, when the weather was bad, allowing the old man to chauffeur me became a relief. Not often, but enough. My parents thought it was sweet.
“I really like talking to you. You make me feel young again.”
I no longer remember our exact conversations, but I remember his house. There was a billiard table in the basement. The kitchen had yellow cupboards, and the living room was tastefully decorated, very clean, and there were doilies. He was married. His wife, he’d told me, had not been affectionate toward him in years. I knew, somehow, that this was not something an old man should be sharing with a young girl.
But, being polite, I said nothing.
“I’m going to miss you, you know.”
Tall, gangly, my body often felt more boyish than feminine. I’m not sure when I allowed him to give me a hug. It might have been as simple as a squeeze on my shoulder when he gave me my bi-weekly newspaper money. Certainly, when I got my driver’s license. But when I made my last delivery before a week’s break, while I went on a field trip to the States, he hugged me tightly. I knew I had a place in his lonely world and that I made him happy.
I shouldn’t have accepted his next offer.
I knew I shouldn’t have, that my parents would not have approved and would still be shocked that I did.
Sixteen years old, never been kissed. I was greedy for the world.
One of my customers on that route had been an Olympic boxer; he’d shown me his gold medal, in pride of place on a glass shelf in his professionally appointed basement exercise room.
One of my customers caught me talking to myself as I daydreamed aloud, but aside from a raised eyebrow, never bothered me about this curious habit.
One of my customers offered me five hundred dollars to take on my field trip.
Five hundred dollars.
The old man drove me to his bank, my bicycle left safely in his garage, and as I stood by his side, withdrew the money in the form of traveller’s cheques. So I could have a comfortable, enjoyable trip. I didn’t need it. It was a gift.
“I can’t keep this.”
Wary of neighbours, not wanting anyone to think the wrong thing, the old man had never closed the door while we were inside. How could I take this money? I knew it was not the right thing to do, but still, I kept it.
In truth, having the extra money, which I had not earned and did not deserve, made my trip much easier. I didn’t have to worry about keeping enough aside for each meal. I was able to buy souvenirs. I bought him a small hanging ornament made of painted clay, and a hook to display it. It was a little thank you to him.
He laughed when I gave it to him.
He had tears in his eyes when he gave it back, some time later.
Was it weeks?
“I can’t keep this,” he told me, softly. His hands trembled as he gently placed the ornament I had bought for him, using the money he’d given me, into my palm and closed my fingers over it. “I look at it, and it makes me…want you.”
I didn’t know what to say. So I let him talk.
…and that’s okay. Now, I don’t have to worry about it! And at least I finished something, which I can finish revising and perhaps submit to an anthology about teenagers.
I also completed a short story about childbirth this weekend. My next project is a short story about a vampire hunter. Still working on revising my novel, “Wind and Shadow”; also, I’m kind of spinning my wheels on “Blood and Fire”, the second book in the trilogy. It was nice having time to write this weekend. The extra day helped, but it’s going to be hard going back to work tomorrow. I dislike having my routine interrupted, as it is so difficult for me to get back into it. I do not do well with transitions.
Off I go, to mark paragraphs and then begin my short story about the vampire hunter. For fun, I’m attaching the picture which has inspired this one — I hope you’ll shudder as much as I did when you see it.