By Robert Stanhope
It had been a long time since anyone had visited the attic. There was an exterminator that Dad hired from Craigslist to remove a rat and her babies. If memory serves me correctly, his name was “Vermin Vernon”. I’m not sure what odor was worse, his body or the rat’s afterbirth. He wasn’t a clean man, but he was efficient at removing rodents. Plus, he was affordable. Mom offered him fresh meatballs and he accepted, refusing cash for his services. I remember him carrying a closed cardboard box of rats in one hand and a Ziploc bag of meatballs in the other as he walked across the front lawn, his ass crack showing as his pants slipped without a free hand to pull them up.
Dad passed a couple of years ago and Mom’s mind isn’t too sharp these days. Now it’s my responsibility to rid the attic of a rodent. I’ll see if “Vermin” is still on Craigslist. I’ll search “pest control” under the services section. Only three results. “Got a rat? Let’s Chat!” is the first post. “Have a Rodent Problem? We have a Potent Solution.” is the second result. Do these guys go to poetry school? Ah, this one must be “Vermin Vernon”, “A Man Has to Eat, I’ll Remove Your Critters.” Click. Sure enough, a short description of service and a phone number to call Vernon.
“Go for Vernon!” said a raspy voice on the line.
“Hi Vernon, I’m Valerie Moses. I don’t know if you remember me, but you removed some rats from my parent’s attic a few years ago.”
“Sure do, Ms. Moses. Your Mom makes a mean meatball. Sure am sorry to hear about your Dad passin’.”
“Thanks, Vernon. We sure do miss him. Mom isn’t cooking these days. The reason I’m calling is because a neighbor saw a raccoon crawling into the attic. We hear him scratching and making a ruckus. Can you remove it for us?”
“A raccoon, huh?” asked a hesitant sounding Vernon.
“Yes,” I replied and asked, “Is that beyond your services?”
“You mentioned your Mom isn’t cooking these days. How are your meatballs?”
“Vernon, I’d be happy to pay you cash.”
A disappointed Vernon replied, “I think I’ll refer you to “Rascal Rick” for this one.”
“I saw his ad on Craiglist. Is he a good man?” I asked.
“He’ll get the job done and treat ya fair.”
“Okay. Thank you for the referral, Vernon. I need to tend to my apple pie in the oven now. Take care.”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa! Did you say apple pie?” exclaimed Vernon.
“Sure did,” I replied.
“I’ll be right over to take care of your raccoon problem, Ms. Moses.”
Doug the bug needed a hug. He lost his friend June in a horrific accident. June crawled under a rug and was squished by the foot of a man drinking hot coffee from a mug. Doug was traumatized by the negligent homicide. He needed a hug from another bug. He buzzed from room to room, nearly swatted by a woman wielding a broom.
In the kitchen, he landed on a dish. He took a deep breath before he heard, “Hi, my name is Trish.” Startled, Doug buzzed in a circle around Trish before landing back on the dish. Staring into Trish’s big round eyes, Doug replied, “Hi, I’m Doug.”
“You are sad. What’s wrong?” asked Trish.
“My friend June was killed by a human and I could use a hug,” whimpered Doug.
Trish spread her wings and hugged Doug. “I’m sorry for your loss.”
“Thank you,” sighed Doug.
Lotan Brown, aka Ian Gough, on Twitter offers up the #7daytale. The writing challenge is to write a story using 7 tweets, one per day, for a week. I decided to give it a go. I'm a pantser. I didn't outline the story or write ahead. What you'll read is what came to mind each day that I sat down to add to the story. I have not edited the story. Each day below is a direct copy from my daily tweets. I titled the story at the end. Writer or not, give it a try.
Not What It Seems
By Robert Stanhope
From a safe distance, I observed something I never thought I'd see. It happened quickly. A young blonde girl riding a bike down the street. A gray van pulled along side her. A side door opened. Two men hurried out, grabbed the girl and the bike, and pulled them inside.
The van raced away and I followed. After turning onto Main Street, the van slowed to the speed limit. I kept my distance a few car lengths back. After a right onto Elm, the van stopped in front of a warehouse. Three men in black, and the girl, got out. I called 9-1-1.
The police dispatcher heard my report & kept me on the line. The police were en route. "They are coming out!" I shouted as four people, dressed as clowns, exited the warehouse & climbed into the van. "I know the small one is the girl." "Okay, sir. We'll be there soon."
A fifth clown rolled bicycles to the van. They drove off. I was conflicted. Follow the van? Wait for the police? I followed. "The van is moving & I'm following them," I told the dispatcher. A stern, calm voice replied, "Step down, sir. We'll track them down." "Sorry."
"Sir? Sir!" The dispatcher called out. I ended the call. I thumbed through my apps. I wanted to go live on Facebook. I placed the phone in its holder and started streaming. Why are they pulling into the elementary school parking lot? Another van pulled alongside them.
A police van? How did the police know where they were going? A half dozen officers got out of their van & walked around the gray van. No guns drawn. No urgency in motion. They slid open the door on the gray van. The clowns exited and hugged the officers. I was shocked.
An officer walked in my direction. He was carrying what looked like a suitcase, but larger. He stopped at the street corner, opened the case and stood it up. A sign. "POLICE DEPARTMENT CIRCUS - TONIGHT - 6:00 PM" A circus! I turned down a side street and drove away.
I went to my favorite doctor today, you know, the dentist. The staff is quite friendly, all smiles. The dentist then greets me with a needle and a, "Good morning!" As the treatment progressed and my entire face numbed, I thought I was quite special when he paused and said, "Excuse me for a moment, I need to get a diamond. Of course, that spoils the surprise. And honestly, being a taken man, I wouldn't accept his proposal. Being crowned is quite enough and what I was expecting. But, I had no choice in the matter. Before I knew it, the diamond was in my mouth. Wait! What? Diamond and gold? "We need to smooth things out before we can place the temporary crown," says the dentist.
I guess my royalty is in question. I get a trial run to see if I'm worthy of a permanent crown? His assistant then leaves me with these parting instructions, "Nothing sticky, chewy, or crunchy." They must be optimistic. They want me to look good when I get my permanent crown. Though, I didn't know there'd be such pomp and circumstance. I hope my insurance provider is covering the cost of such celebration. I wonder if it's proper to invite guests.
They were on a collision course, neither aware of their surroundings, only the distraction in their hands. He was peddling feverishly on his bike, down a narrow street, talking on his phone. She was juggling books in her arms while trying to read emails on her smartphone. As they approached the intersection, a four-way stop for vehicles, only the screeching of tires and blaring of horns caught their attention before colliding.
They both lied motionless in the middle of the street, books scattered about and gawkers taking photos of the scene with phones. Traffic came to a standstill as drivers of two of the vehicles went to aid each of them. Miraculously, they were both stunned, yet uninjured in the collision.
He rose to his feet and said, “What the hell happened?”
“I’ll tell you what happened,” she roared as she brushed herself off and started at him with a raised hand.
“You weren’t paying attention and almost killed me!”
He was speechless with a smile, ear to ear.
“Are you laughing at me?” she snared.
“I, I, I’m sorry,” he stuttered out. “No, I’m not laughing.”
She continued with her rant, “What’s with the smile? Do you think this is funny?”
Still smiling, he gently whispered, “You’re so beautiful.”
Shocked, she poked his chest and said, “You better get your head checked!”
He started to apologize, “I’m sorry that I ran into you and I’ll replace any of your books that might be damaged, but I’m not sorry that you’re the most beautiful woman that I’ve ever seen.”
She was speechless. Her anger began to subside and her face became flush as a smile appeared.
They were distracted momentarily as a police officer demanded they gather up the books and bike and move their conversation to the sidewalk.
He refused to allow her to gather her books and suggested she have a seat on a bench while he collected things. After giving her the books, he asked if he could get her a cup of coffee while she checked for damage. She stated that she was on her way to the coffee shop when they collided.
As they began to walk, he asked, “What’s your name?”
“Julie. And, yours?”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you Julie. I’m Jeff.”
Jeff purchased two coffees while Julie inspected her books for damage.
“As I said, I’ll replace anything that’s damaged.”
“They’re fine. Don’t worry about it,” smiling at Jeff.
They continued to chat when the conversation led back to the accident.
Julie asked, “How did we happen to meet this way?”
“Well let’s see. I was riding down Duval, talking to my buddy.”
“I’ll admit it. I was on my phone too,” said Julie.
Then they both paused, distracted as they felt their pockets.
“Our phones!” they shouted as they darted to the intersection that brought them together.
Prancing through the streets, each step in the dirt, the mud, the puddles, and the grime, track to the next. Treasure found in the trash at a seafood restaurant, a sweet confection at a bakery, and sour milk licked up at a fudge shop.
This lifestyle isn’t easy. The weather is extreme. The hurricanes, the lightning, the afternoon downpours, all dampen the day with heavy humidity to wear into the night. Heat intensifies the weight of a coat, missing in patches, yet still sturdy enough to shield against a chilly breeze from a rare cold front.
There are few to trust on these streets littered with vagrants. The homeless, the pimps, the dealers, and the tourists seek survival, a trick, a deal, and a thrill. Screams in the night prevent a pleasant rest. Life has no value on the streets.
A glance inside windows of a home filled with smiles provides hope. A fresh meal, conversation, a warm bath, and an embrace from a loved one, provide the stories shared with few friends. A litter bound by dreams and experiences, often nine lives is too much to consider when the challenges of each day seem a lifetime. If only a door would open, an opportunity present itself, a spotlight shining to share. Only then would a return to the stage be possible.
A cat’s eye view in the darkness is not a trait shared with a broken down, homeless ballerina shadowed in the alleys of a tropical oasis of broken hearts. The dance continues until the day the dream is no longer a flutter in the heart, a sparkle in the eyes, and while feet sing a silent tune of graceful flow. The dance continues until the last curtain call.
Once upon a time, in the small village of Hopedale, in the land of Worcester, there lived a talented lady who loved to spread the joy of flowers to all that stepped upon the footing below where she hung her shingle. She was a pleasant soul with friends and family, near and far. She was a good neighbor, a pillar of the community, a supporter of the arts and recreational events. She loved gatherings on the Town Common, and opportunities to socialize and share in the cheer of the seasons.
But, one winter, a grumpy old man approached her with a blustery tone and a fierce disposition. He hated flowers and the happiness they brought to people. He carried a monstrous dark cloud over his very being. He was extremely cold to all the people of Hopedale. But, he was especially harsh to the florist.
Then one day, the florist noticed that the old man hadn’t been seen in a while. The townspeople all seemed to be happier in his absence, but the florist’s caring nature had her a bit concerned for the old man. Another day passed, and still, there was no old man.
Very worried, the florist bundled together some flowers and went to where she knew the man lived. It was a rickety old mansion that hadn’t seen a fresh coat of paint in decades. The windows were half frosted over and the chimney showed the faintest stream of smoke. The darkest cloud in the sky hovered directly above.
The florist stepped onto the porch, nearly falling through a couple of freshly broken planks. She reached for the lion-head door knocker and gave it a couple of taps. There was no response, so she knocked the lion-head even harder. Then she heard a faint grumbling. She yelled into the house to see if the man was alright.
“Dear sir, may I come in to see you?” she asked.
There was no answer, just silence except for the howling of the frigid wind. She turned the knob on the front door to see if it was unlocked. It was. As she slowly opened the door, a loud creaking noise was heard. Then, much to her surprise, she saw the old man sprawled out on the floor, shivering and a tear in his pant leg. She set the flowers on a nearby table and quickly tended to his needs.
Weak, he still tried to resist any assistance, but the florist insisted. It didn’t take long for him to accept the gracious gesture as she found a first aid kit in the bathroom and started to wrap the gash on his leg. Once he was stable and comfortable in a recliner, she grabbed him a glass of water and another for the flowers she brought. As he sipped down the refreshing water, she placed the flowers in the other glass and placed them on the living room table in front of his recliner.
“Sir, are you comfortable?” she asked. He nodded positively, but without saying a word.
Then she tended to his fireplace which was faintly smoldering. There was kindling and a few small pieces of wood that would help get it back up to a roar and bring heat back to the frigid home. As she walked back towards the old man, she saw a blanket on the couch which she grabbed and placed over him.
“Do you have anyone that can help you while your leg heals?” she asked.
“I don’t need any help!” he barked.
“I refuse to accept that.” she said in a gentle reply. “I’m going to help you.”
The old man grumbled, but didn’t say a word.
Every day for the next week, the florist stopped by in the morning and made the man breakfast and made sure the fire was maintained. After she closed her business for the day, she’d stop by to make him dinner, tended to the fire, and added another small batch of flowers. She also made sure he got on his feet and walked around the inside of the house to strengthen his healing leg. Their conversations were always brief.
Then something amazing happened. The florist was about to have lunch in her shop when the bell rang at the entrance indicating a customer had entered. As the florist went to greet this individual, she noticed that it was the old man. He had managed to shave, shower, and put on a clean navy blue suit with tie.
“Good afternoon, madam,” he said.
“Good afternoon, sir,” she replied. “You look quite dapper,” she continued.
“Thank you,” he replied with just of a smile appearing on his face under his rosy cheeks.
“I’m glad to see you up and about,” said the florist.
“Well, I’m here on business,” he said.
“Oh, really!” she said in shock.
“Yes, madam, I need to order flowers for a kind friend of mine,” he continued.
With a very puzzled look on her face, as she didn’t think the old man had a friend in the world, she said – “Let’s see what we can do to help.”
“I’m not very good with these things, perhaps you can create an arrangement like one of those you put in my house,” he said.
“Okay,” the florist replied.
She worked her magic and arranged a gorgeous array of flowers in a wicker hand basket.
“That is quite stunning, I think she’ll love them!” said the man.
He paid her for the flowers, grabbed the basket, and started to walk toward the door. She walked along side him. With his hands full with flowers, the florist went to grab the door for him. That’s when he turned to her and said, “These are for you, madam.”
“What do you m…” she tried to speak, but he stopped her.
“Madam, you have treated me - a tired, cranky and cold man with warmth and kindness. You helped me even though I never had a kind word for you. You always smiled at me even when I was mean to you. I want you to enjoy these flowers the way others enjoy flowers when you send them along. The flowers you placed in my home lifted my spirits and allowed me to remember the good times when my loving wife was still alive. Thank you for bringing a beacon of happiness to my life and to those in this community.”
The florist was absolutely shocked by what the man had to say. She was so taken by his gesture and his words that tears of joy ran down her cheeks.
“You’re a happy soul and everyone can see that you do what you love,” he said. “Oh, and my name is William.”
“William, my name is Elsie. Thank you for the flowers. Nobody has ever given me flowers.”
After this very special day, William stopped by to say hello to Elsie at least once a week and a great friendship grew. The townspeople recognized that William was a much happier man and was warmly acknowledged at community events that he never missed after that day he walked into the flower shop.
The spirit of Hopedale was bright again and everyone lived happily ever after.
“I can’t take another step,” said José.
“You can do it!” exclaimed Rosita.
“I can’t!” proclaimed José.
“The rest of your life is before your eyes in America. Now get up and brush yourself off because the land of plenty is just ahead,” Rosita said with enthusiasm.
José and Rosita haven’t had a drink of water in two days. There has been no food. They have walked for miles through the desert heat and slept under the stars with fears of snake and scorpion bites. They have the dream of America driving them to the border. They know if they can just get there, that their entire life will be better. This is the dream of America being sold around the world.
“FREEZE!” shouted a man in a uniform, holding an automatic weapon.
Startled, yet exhausted, José collapses. He’s unconscious. His best friend Rosita drops to her knees to try and wake José.
“Help me, please,” pleads Rosita. “Please!”
The soldier wants to help the two children that have reached the American border with no family or other adults for support, but he is torn between duty and humanity.
Along the border, there is a battle to protect a line in the sand. Cross that line and you may be shot! American militias have taken arms to protect their land, their nation, and their sovereignty. Their representatives in Washington have failed them.
“I’ll get you some water,” says the soldier.
“Is he going to be okay,” Rosita asks without a response.
The soldier hands Rosita two bottles of water and she tries to get José cooled off with one bottle and unselfishly reserves the second bottle if he awakes, not tending to her own dehydration.
“I think he’s dying,” screams Rosita.
“We have two more kids that have made it,” said the soldier into a handheld radio.
“When will this ever end?” was the response on the radio.
“What should I do?” the soldier replied.
A bus appears in a cloud of dust. It’s full of unbathed, crying children. Their parents told them that this would be the beginning of their new life in America.
“José, can you see!” Rosita said to José when she saw the bus.
“We are in America!” Rosita shouted unable to shed a tear of joy.
The driver steps off the bus, wipes his head with a sweat-soaked rag, and calls to Rosita to get on the bus. Refusing to leave José, she grasps his hand even tighter.
“José, wake up!” she whispers in his ear.
There is no response.
“Please José!” Rosita cries as she tries to get water in his mouth from the second bottle of water.
There is still no response.
The border soldier walks to the two children, choking back his emotions as not to be seen by the bus driver.
“Please get on the bus,” the soldier says to Rosita.
“I can’t leave José,” she continued to cry dry tears.
“I will take care of him,” says the solider. “Please get on the bus.”
Hesitantly, Rosita rises from José’s side and released her grip from her friend’s hand. Just a few more barefooted steps to the bus and she could rest her bloodied and blistered feet. Her pain was in her heart and not in her feet as she looked back to where José lay lifeless.
“Come on kid,” said the soldier to José. “Wake up.”
There was no response.
“I need to keep moving,” said the bus driver.
“I’ll take care of him,” replied the soldier.
As the driver settled into his seat and closed the door, Rosita called out – “What about José?”
The driver put the bus into gear and started to pull away when Rosita got her last view of José, as the soldier placed his ball cap over his face. José was gone.
There is a dilemma at the border, in Washington, and in our hearts. We need to protect our nation, but we need a human spirit that can rise above the politics. We were humans before there were borders.
Writer and photographer.