June 28, 2023

A month ago we were asked to write a short story about a perfect Sunday afternoon following these directions:

    • 1200 to 1500 words
    • Must have a protagonist and an antagonist
    • Must have an identifiable conflict
    • Describe the setting (time and place)
    • Incorporate all senses (taste, touch, smell, hearing and sight)
    • Have a surprise ending
    • TOPIC: Your (or you protagonist’s or antagonist’s) idea of a perfect Sunday afternoon.
      • Can be any genre
        • Drama
        • Romance
        • Science fiction
        • Horror
        • Poetry
        • Anything else
      • Can be any POV
        • Third person limited (narrator knows only one character’s thoughts)
        • Third person omniscient (narrator knows all characters’ thoughts)
        • Second person (protagonist or another character becomes “you”)
        • First person (Protagonist or another character becomes “I”) 

To be honest, I’m unsure where my characters came from. Maybe from an old movie.  All I know is they were suddenly there and pretty much doing their own thing! I hope you enjoy reading this dramatic short story.

A Day of Extremes

It was a gorgeous morning in May as we returned home after church on Sunday. I dug out my keys as Frank parked in our driveway. I leaned over to kiss his cheek and whispered in his ear. “I know we promised the boys and I hate to break my promise, but I must check on Dad.”

My husband grimaced, sighed, then nodded. We would probably argue about this when I got back. Junior scowled at me as I hugged him. Mike held onto my waist. “Please don’t go Mom. You promised.”

I tousled his sandy hair. “I know kiddo, but I’ve got to see if your grandpa is okay.” I turned toward my beater so he wouldn’t see my tears. I had always told them promises should never be broken.

Frank waited outside while I attempted to get my heap started. At last, the car chugged and emitted a cloud of blue vapor. He waved as I slowly backed down the driveway.

Dreading what I might find and silently berating my dad, I drove six blocks to his home. I parked at the curb so I could check his mailbox. It was full. It looked like he hadn’t been out to get the mail all week.

Stale, smoky air greeted me as I stepped inside the unlocked front door. I called, “Dad are you okay? You really shouldn’t leave this unlocked. Never know who might wander in.”

His house was dark, but his TV cast a dim light from the living room. Gunshots from a western was the only sound.

Hand on the wall, I inched my way through the foyer then peered around the archway. Dad was reclined in his chair and emitted a snort. After entering the room, I opened the drapes and windows then took stock of his mess. Beer bottles and an overflowing ashtray littered the end table nearest him.

In the next room, I found dirty dishes filled the kitchen sink. Every burner held a pot with a congealed mass of something now inedible. Empty pork-and-bean cans covered the surface of his entire kitchen counter. After flipping on the stove’s fan hoping to remove some of the putrid stink, I gagged several times as I cleaned up. I searched the pantry for large trash bags then finished making the kitchen spotless like Mom had always kept it.

Dad woke as I tossed his empties into a sack. “What are you doing here? I didn’t invite you to come.”

He had always been cantankerous but, since Mom’s death eight weeks ago, he had become much worse.

“You weren’t at church again this morning. I came to make sure you were all right.”

He lit a cigarette and coughed. “No need to attend that bullshit. There is no God.”

“Reverend Murphy asked about you.”

He coughed and spluttered. “That sumbitch should mind his own business. He did nothing good for Mary.”

I held back a sigh. “You know he gave Mom hope.”

He hacked a gob of something yellowish green into his hankie. “Fat lot of good it did her!”

“Dad, you cannot go on like this. A constant diet of pork and beans isn’t healthy.”

He raised a fist. “Don’t need you nosing around. You better get out of here before I’m tempted to smack you.”

Shaking my head, I said, “I’ll go as soon as I finish cleaning this mess and taking out your trash.”

Dad’s body visibly shook with anger. “I’m quite capable of doing it.” He spluttered. “I’m not a baby who needs mollycoddling.” The chair’s footrest slammed down as he stood up. “Get out now!”

Sobbing, I grabbed my purse then ran out to my car. Through my tears, I fumbled to find my cell.

My oldest brother answered on the third ring. “What’s up?”

“I’m worried about Dad.”


I choked back another sob. “I think he needs counseling.”

Bob emitted an exasperated sigh. “What do you want from me?”

“You should come back and see him.”

“No way.”

“Bobby, please…”

Silence on the now dead line. I immediately wished I were using the home phone so I could slam the receiver onto its cradle. This would have been childish, but oh so satisfying. Instead, I controlled my breathing as I counted to ten, then searched my purse for a clean tissue to wipe my eyes.

I scrolled through my contacts and called Sam. When he didn’t answer, I left a voicemail asking him to phone even though I doubted he would do so. He had become self-centered after moving to LA. And now he was even more like Dad than Bob was. Until Mom’s funeral, we hadn’t spoken in almost a decade.

Jeff’s husband answered my next call. “Hello Ronnie. He’s out back with the mutts. Hang on a sec.”

A few moments of muffled sounds and yips, then I overheard my youngest brother say, “Charlie, please keep them out here while I talk to her.”

I heard the patio door click shut as he came inside. “What’s wrong sis?”

I explained my concerns to him.

He said, “I still need to turn in final grades. I can’t get away until next weekend, but…yes, I’ll come. I’ll call you later with trip details, and we’ll chat more then.”

“Thank you for understanding. Love you.”

I stashed the cell in my purse, then turned the ignition key. Click, click, click. The engine didn’t turn over. I slammed my hand on the steering wheel then tried again. I allowed my tears to stream down my cheeks as I searched for my phone.

I hiccupped as he answered. “Frank, Nellie won’t start. No, she isn’t flooded. It’s probably the alternator. Please come get me. No, don’t bother Gordon today. It can wait until tomorrow.”

After glimpsing myself in the visor mirror, I dug out my mascara and compact. I removed the dark streaks from under my eyes with a damp tissue then reapplied makeup. I had also freshened my lipstick before he pulled his Accord next to my hatchback. After grabbing my keys, I slid into his passenger seat.

Frank put his car in gear. “I had a great idea while driving over here, so please hear me out.” He glanced at me. “I know how much you love your ‘91 Corsica, but it’s time for you to let it go.”

When I started to object, he said, “Ronnie, please listen. Instead of taking an expensive trip that our boys probably wouldn’t enjoy, I think we should get a new vehicle. Maybe an SUV. I think we should give your hatchback to Junior to fix up. It would be perfect for when he goes to college in two years.”

He parked in our driveway then turned to me. “Just think about this. Now go in and take a hot bubble bath. I’ll take care of making the food.”

As I soaked in soapy foam, Frank knocked then entered with a filled goblet. “Here. Take your time.” He sat on the tub’s edge. “By the way, I filmed the game so you can watch it later. Junior had three RBI’s and even stole second base. Guess I should get back to the ribs.”

I reached my wet hand up and stroked his cheek. “Thank you.” Taking a sip, the sharp, earthy tang of Cabernet exploded against my tongue. Sighing, I eased deeper into the water.

Dressed in comfortable cotton shorts and top, I joined Frank on our patio. He smiled as he flipped over the meat. My stomach rumbled at the delicious barbeque aroma. My boys’ shouts echoed from next door where they played catch with the neighbor kids.

I refilled my goblet then sat at our table. “What’s in the foil?”

Frank smiled. “The boys wanted your cheesy fries, so I made them peel the potatoes. The other has asparagus. I also fixed stuffed portobello mushrooms.” He raised his voice. “Junior, Mike, come set the table!”

When we finished eating, he said, “Boys, go do the dishes.” He came close and kissed me. A hint of garlic lasted on his lips. “Feeling any better?”

“Yes now. Thanks to you.” I smiled. “After I watch the video, how about going to DQ? It would be the perfect end to a pleasant afternoon.”

June 14, 2023

Our writing club met last night at the Sierra Vista Public Library. We are continuing to work on our Potpourri Project which we plan to publish as an anthology. Members read their short stories and poems that they have submitted or will soon submit. I wrote this memoir about an event which occurred when I was teenager and recently edited it for our project.

A Mystical Disaster

Disaster struck a week before summer vacation in 1969. I’m unsure whose bright idea it was to send us home. Maybe the authority figures were afraid we might be in danger. The voice on the PA system had only announced school was closing early. No one told us why. As I got books from my locker at 1:30, nearby students asked if anyone knew what was happening.

Exiting high school, I turned west. When I reached the stoplight at the third block, this street was barricaded. When I tried to walk around it, a patrolman said, “Stop! You can’t go through here.”

“But home is that way.”

He scowled and raised his voice. “I said you cannot go this way.”

“Why not?”

Exasperated, he said, “Because there are houses exploding.”

I turned south and planned to head west a block later. No dice! Another squad car blocked this pathway. I didn’t bother talking to the officer. I went another block south and encountered more police and barricades. Standing at the corner, I contemplated what to do. This was the edge of the city limits. A farm lay on the southwest corner. If I continued south, it’d be a mile before I could go west, and I wouldn’t be able to head back north for more than another mile. Forget that! If I backtracked, there would be an additional two blocks down a steep hill before reaching a street that went west. I bet they have it barricaded too. I can’t get home. Where do I go? Did our house explode? Where’s my family? Is everyone okay?

A clear thought finally crystalized, and I turned east. Mom should be at work. I could walk a mile and a half to reach her at the grocery store.

It was a typical June day in Northwest Indiana, sweltering like the nearby steel mill blast furnaces. The sidewalk I now traveled lacked shade. Thirsty, I thought about getting something to drink at Uncle Jimmy’s and Aunt Mary Neal’s place. Their home was another four blocks east from where I was, then almost two blocks south.

I looked through the screen as I knocked but didn’t see anyone. “Hello, it’s Diane. May I come in?”

In answer, my younger brother Larry raced through the living room and unlatched the screen door. Bawling, he hugged me. “Thank God you’re safe!”

“What are you doing here? Where’s Martha?”

Aunt Mary Neal entered from the kitchen. “I’m so glad to see you! Your mom called and asked me if there was any way I could get the little ones from St. Mark’s school. My neighbor drove me, and I spotted Larry walking home. He told me your sister had gone home with her friend Cathy.”

“Did my mom call from work?”

“I’m not sure. Why not try calling there? Would you like a drink?”

I nodded then used their kitchen wall phone to call the grocery store. “Hello, may I please speak to Mary Lou?”

The woman said, “I’m sorry she’s not here. She was called home.”

“Really? Thank you.” I put my finger on the hook, then dialed our number. No answer.

Aunt Mary Neal handed me a glass of grape Kool-aid. “What did you find out?”

“The woman said she went home, but I just called, and no one answered. I let it ring ten times. If she’s there, why didn’t she pick up the line?” Frustrated, I wanted to cry, but I didn’t. Larry had calmed down and was watching cartoons with our cousins. At least I knew he and my younger sister were safe.

“Wait a bit then try again. Shouldn’t your father be home from work soon?”

I’m shocked when I glance at the clock because it’s 3:30. Normally, I’d already be home.

Seeing my distress, my aunt wrapped her arms around me and held me for a few moments. “If there’s still no answer when Jimmy gets here from the mill, I’ll have him take you both home.”

She didn’t have a driver’s license, so they only had one car. While we waited for my uncle to come, I kept phoning home. Every five minutes, I dialed, let it ring ten times, then hung up. I kept an eye on their television, but the program ran without an interruption for Chicago breaking news.

When he arrived, she explained that my mom had been called home, but no one was answering our phone. Uncle Jimmy said, “The radio reported it was natural gas explosions and that the danger appears to be over.”

As he drove us home, we listened to local radio but nothing new was broadcast. A patrolman waved us away when Jimmy tried to continue going west, so he turned north. He got out of his car when we reached the stoplight. I’m unsure what my uncle said, but this time the policeman moved the barricade and let us through. We didn’t see any damage while driving along the five blocks west before we reached my street.

My parents’ cars were parked at the curb. Everything appeared normal. My youngest brother Russ was across the street playing with the Lara kids. Mom and Dad sat on our front porch talking with a stranger. I later learned this was a newspaper reporter. Larry rushed into Mom’s arms and hugged her. Over his head, she smiled at me.

I bit my lip. “Is everything all right? Why didn’t you answer the phone?”

Because they were outside, my parents hadn’t heard it ring. From them, I learned that nine houses had indeed exploded—one with the same address as ours—but it was one block west. The house on the southwest corner of our block had been blasted apart. Several houses had caught fire. One of those was ours.

Mom said, “Go inside and see for yourself.”

An acrid smell overwhelmed me when I stepped into the foyer. Damage was apparent everywhere I looked. Gray streaks from water and smoke covered the living room walls. In the kitchen, gas flames from our counter-top stove had soared upwards and caused a subsequent minor explosion. The exhaust fan, which had been mounted to an upper kitchen cabinet, lay in the middle of the room. Scorch marks from the blast marred the kitchen and hallway ceilings. The wall phone receiver had melted and doubled in size. Amazingly, it still worked, but the sound was a slight tinkling noise. Of course, no one could answer calls with it. Thankfully, we had another phone in the basement. From our kitchen sink window, I viewed the blasted remnants of a house.

Back outside, Chicago television crews had arrived on the scene. I watched as the newscaster reported that our neighborhood looked like a war zone. A power and gas company employee had flipped a valve the wrong way causing natural gas explosions to occur within a six-block area.

Sitting on our stoop because of the malodorous reek indoors, I learned more about the day. Mom said, “Russ woke up with a sore throat. I called Mrs. Lara to let her know that he wouldn’t be walking to kindergarten with them. Connie reminded me there was a party today. She convinced me to let him go, instead of getting your grandmother to babysit.”

Mom lit a cigarette and took a puff. “Early this afternoon, Connie was outside watching the kids play. She spotted the smoke and was the first one to call the fire station. Then, she phoned me, and I called your father.” She smiled. “By the way, he’s a hero. I’ll let him tell you.”

Dad inhaled a deep puff then said, “While parking my car, I spotted Mr. Peltry walking toward his house. I yelled at him to stop, but the old man is getting so deaf that he didn’t hear me. I ran to catch up and managed to grab him from behind as he opened his door. His house exploded as I pulled him back. Luckily, he only suffered minor injuries.”

I grinned. “Way to go Dad! No wonder they interviewed you.”

“All in all, we were lucky.” He stubbed out his cigarette butt. “I’m thankful that I installed two air vents in the attic in May. Those kept our house from exploding because they allowed the heated air and smoke to escape.”

Mom said, “Vern, your mother would’ve had a heart attack if she’d been here. Thank God no one was home!”

Reflecting upon the chain of events, I found a mystical aspect to this disastrous day. Maybe divine intervention. Miraculously, no one had died. Though our home was damaged, it could have been so much worse for my family, especially if my 83-year-old grandmother had been babysitting.