August 23, 2023
I’m almost a week late in posting. Our writing group continues to work on short stories for our Potpourri Project. A few members read their current stories. Since it’s been over a month since I last posted anything, I looked back through my notebook for something. I hope you’ll find it humorous.
Last July, we used prompts from The Writer’s Toolbox to write a short story during a meeting. Here are the prompts that I received that made me immediately think about Miss Piggy:
- a completely inappropriate shade of pink
- the man in the striped pajamas
- of the way Herb defrosted the refrigerator
- ripped upholstery
Looking in a mirror, I see she has dressed me in a completely inappropriate shade of pink. Didn’t the dressing room know by now I wouldn’t wear this crap? It made my ears look huge! Kermie would laugh at me and that would be unbearable.
“Gilda, I refuse to wear this garbage. Here, take it away. Toss this in the trash! My gold lamé will have to do.”
“If you don’t take chances,” says the man in the striped pajamas, “you might as well not be alive.”
I whip my head around to glare at him. “Gilda! Why did you let him in here? I want nothing to do with that clown!”
I stamp my hoof. “Moe, you know better than to enter my dressing room. Get out! Go see if Larry is dressed. Last show, he streaked naked across the stage behind me.”
Gilda goes to get ice to calm me down. There isn’t any because of the way Herb defrosted the refrigerator. He had forgotten to plug in the appliance before he went home.
She sticks her head outside the door and screeches. “Curly, quick! Run to the commissary and get her a buck of ice.” She turns back. “Moe, get out of here. I’ve got to get her ready!”
My assistant collapses on the ripped upholstery of my couch. Tears stream and streak her mascara. She sobs. “I’m sorry, so sorry! I should have stayed home. My astrology for today told me it would be bad.”
I kick Moe’s butt as he finally heads to the door. Pulling her into my arms, I say, “Oh, didn’t mean to upset you. Not your fault.” I glance at my Rolex. “Oh dear. We’ll be late. Get my dress out.”
July 26, 2023
Our writing group continues to work on short stories for our Potpourri Project. The assignment for this meeting was to emulate Zane Gray’s descriptive style to create a short story of up to 3,000 words.
Doing genealogy, Margaret has always been a mystery. She is listed by herself under “Miscellaneous” in her family’s genealogy. The only known fact is that she married in Charlestown in 1658, then gave birth to her son a few months after her husband died the following year. Because I know so little about her, the following piece is purely historical fantasy. I may some day use it as an opening chapter of a new novel about this ancestor. I hope you enjoy my short story!
A blast of cold air wakes me. Cook struggles against the wind to close the door. Leaving my straw pallet, I rush across the kitchen to help her.
“Thank you, Miss. It do be terrible out there. Devil of a storm be a brewing.” She shakes raindrops from her dark gray cloak then pegs it on the hook by the door.
I pick up the iron and poke the remaining embers until they glow before adding logs to the fire. Finished, I fold my almost threadbare patchwork quilt then place it at the foot of my bed. I am re-braiding my red-gold hair when Cook says, “Miss, may be best to bring in more wood. This do be a nor’easter. Use my cloak. It’s heavier than yours.”
I don’t know why Cook always uses the Miss honorific when she speaks to me. I have often asked her, but she won’t explain. She only says, “When you do be old enough, I may tell you.” I know I am a simple scullion, so I cannot figure this out. I find this mysterious. I sometimes daydream of a better life.
Nodding, I tie my bonnet strings, then put on her wrap. Once I step outside, she helps shut the door behind me. Each step is a battle, more so when I reach the corner of the house. Here, the fierce wind whips open the cloak. I tug it closer to my body then brace it somewhat closed with logs. The wind pushes and almost unbalances me as I head back. I thump the door with one foot.
She raises her voice to be heard over the howling wind. “Just drop those here. Go get more.”
Because I can only carry four logs at a time, it takes several more trips to satisfy her. On my last venture outside, I can barely see Captain Hunt closing and latching the rear shutters though he’s just a few feet away. Dawn should be lighting the sky. Instead of its rosy glow, a sickly, dark greenish-black fills it. He shouts something at me, but I cannot understand him. I’m surprised to find him behind me as I turn back to close the door. He drops a bigger armload of wood on the floor then, without saying a word, goes back outside.
After we manage to shut the door, Cook takes the cloak from me, shakes it, then puts it on the peg. Everything below my waist is drenched. Shivering, I pick up the scattered logs and stack these beside the hearth.
Though it seems nigh on impossible, the room darkens even more as the captain latches the kitchen shutter. The candles in the wall scones gutter as the wind gusts inside when he enters a few minutes later with another armful of logs. As he dumps these on the floor, he says, “Not a fit day for man or beast out there.” He pushes hard then latches the door. “Goodwife Winslow, I’d like a cup of hot tea and breakfast in the dining room as soon as you can.” Turning to me, he says, “Margaret, I strung a rope so you can tend the chickens and cow.”
I stifle a sigh as he drips water plus muddy footprints across the floor and heads into the family area. I again put on Cook’s cloak though it is damp and won’t provide much protection. After picking up a wooden bucket and woven basket, I thread those over my arm. She helps shut the door, then I grope my way to the shelter.
The milk cow bellows her displeasure at being shut inside. I pat her neck until she grows calmer. This allows my eyes to adjust to the many shades of darkness within. At last, I can see the stool. I pull it closer then milk the cow. Leaving the filled bucket by the door, I search the wall for the quirt, take it from its rack, then slowly make my way over to the chickens.
From their squawking and fluttering, I know something is very wrong. None of them are nesting. More feathers than usual litter the ground. The rooster screeches and strikes its beak at an even darker area. I glimpse a tiny glimmer of white as the rat snake raises itself up to strike back. With every ounce of strength, I flail at the serpent. “Hyyah! Yah! Hyyee!”
The already frightened chickens scatter away from my yells and swinging quirt. It takes several seconds before I realize this dark shape no longer moves. I gasp, then take several deep breaths. Cringing, I pick up the reptile carcass, struggle with the door, then toss it outside. I peg the weapon back in its place. Inching my way back to the nests, I double check each one and find nothing but emptiness.
Straightening the cloak which has come askew, I sling the empty egg basket over my arm, then pick up the bucket. Outside, I have to set this on the ground as I struggle to latch the door. Trying not to spill any of its contents, I find it even more difficult to make my way back. Driving rain obscures my sight of the three-story clapboard house. With my hands filled with bucket and rope, I cannot even try to keep the cloak closed. The wind torments me pushing the hood then bonnet from atop my head. Its strings now strangle me, and I gasp for every breath.
A thunderous boom almost causes me to drop the bucket. A quarter of the milk sloshes out. Every hair on my body stands up as a blinding flash of lightning hits a nearby mighty oak and I scream. The ground shakes as a huge limb crashes to the earth. Dim light from the now open doorway guides my final trembling steps. Cook takes the bucket and basket from my shaking hands and sets those on the floor. “Help me get this closed.”
I add my weight to hers as we push and shove. When we finally get it latched, I slump against the door while I untie the strings from my sore neck.
“I do be worried bout you. That one hit so close I be scared it got you.” Cook takes the dripping cloak from my shoulders. She wrings it over an empty bucket before spreading it to dry over a rope which she has strung near the fire. “You be so bedraggled.” She points. “Set your shoes here on the hearth.” The rotund woman makes a clicking sound. “Miss, maybe you should don your Sunday clothes. These do need drying. The family and servants ate. No one should come while you do be dressing.”
Teeth chattering, I quickly do as she bid me. As I discard each article of clothing, she pegs it to the line. She doesn’t say another word, but I know she notices my budding breasts. Uncomfortable with my nakedness, I rush into my only other petticoat. Face reddening, I speak to break the awkward silence. “Sorry, but a rat snake got every single egg. That’s why the basket is empty.” I shudder as I slip on my dress. “I did manage to kill that nasty thing.”
Cook’s right eyebrow raises with her question. “How?”
“I beat it with the quirt.”
She nods then retrieves the comb from my apron pocket. The matronly woman pulls a chair closer to the fire then motions for me to sit. Unbraiding my hair, she says, “’Twill dry quicker if you leave it down.” She is combing out my tangles when the governess enters the kitchen.
Cook glances up at her but continues what she is doing.
The haughty young lady scowls. “Mrs. Hunt and I would like a cup of tea. You better make a fresh pot. Bring it to the drawing room.” With a swirl of skirts, she flounces out of the kitchen.
With an almost inaudible “tsk,” Cook hands me the comb. After retrieving the teapot from the hearth, she fills two mugs with the leftover tea and places one on the table near me. She rinses the dregs from the pot before filling it with boiling water. I take out the silver tray then place the sugar bowl, creamer, and two fine porcelain cups on top. Cook places a small colander filled with fresh leaves into the teapot. While it steeps, she adds a dollop of honey into our mugs. Removing the colander and setting this on the table, she motions toward my mug and says, “Do be better while hot.” She takes the tray into the family area.
I don’t remember being given this to drink before today. I take a small sip and savor it. After a burst of sweetness, an earthy nuttiness remains on my tongue. I find it delightful and want to gulp it down. Instead, I allow myself a deeper sip.
Cook returns and ladles porridge into two wooden bowls which she places on the table. She sighs as she sits down. Stirring her mug with a wooden spoon, she says, “Be no sense wasting this wonderful brew. I be going to enjoy this before we start fixing dinner.”
After eating breakfast, I mop the muddy mess from the floor before I wash and dry the dishes. When something crashes into the outside wall beside me, I scream and fumble a porcelain bowl, barely managing to shelve it. “Ooh! Thank goodness I caught it.”
“I be glad you did Miss. You do no deserve another switching.” Cook sighs. “’Tisn’t right.” She doesn’t explain why she thinks so. Instead, she points to the table where she has placed vegetables. “Those potatoes do need peeling. First, check if your clothing do be dry. Do no want your Sunday clothes stained.”
Everything is still damp. I flip each one over, so its other side faces the fire. After sitting down, I braid my hair and put on a bonnet before picking up the peeler. Cook finishes kneading and shaping sourdough into loaves, then uses a paddle to place these on the oven shelf at the rear of the fireplace. She sits across from me and chops yesterday’s roast venison into small chunks. When I finish peeling and dicing the potatoes, I prepare the other vegetables.
We don’t talk as we work, but the room is not quiet. Pellets of rain beat against the walls, a constant drumming sound. Roaring wind, booming thunder, and lightning blasts break the silence. Downed tree limbs sometimes thump onto the siding. I grow more frightened with each occurrence as the nor’easter continues to wreak havoc outside. I cannot hold back a small scream when the house shakes as a nearby tree falls to earth.
The kindly matron stands up then comes around the table. She wipes her hands on her apron then lays a hand on my shoulder and gives it a hearty squeeze. “We do be fine inside.”
When we finish chopping and dicing food, she says, “Do need this clothing out of our way.”
I remove each item from the rope and lay those on my pallet then return Cook’s cloak to the hook by the door. I am changing clothes when the captain’s eldest son comes into the kitchen. I squeak and turn my naked back to him. He slowly fills his arms with logs, and I can feel his stare. Finally, he leaves the room. I am finished dressing when he returns three minutes later and takes more. My cheeks heat when he glances at me on his way out.
Cook ignores my blush and says, “We do need to get this a going.” She pulls the huge iron cauldron next to the table then holds it up, so I can sweep the stew ingredients into this pot. After I ladle water to the top, she lifts it onto a hook then pushes it over the flames.
“The Missus told me she wanted custard.” Cook clicks her tongue. “But we do no have enough eggs.” She thinks for a moment. “Since there do be two left from yesterday, I’m thinking corn pudding be good.”
She reaches up and removes several husks from the rafters. While I use my fingers to de-kernel the corn, she beats the eggs, milk, and maple sugar together in a large wooden bowl, then adds some cornmeal to her mixture. She pours this into a large kettle then motions for me to add the kernels. As she stirs this, she says, “I do think a bit more milk be needed.”
I lift the bucket and slowly pour until she nods. After this I wipe down the table with a dishcloth then towel it dry.
Busy constantly stirring the pudding, Cook says, “Check the bread. It do look close to done.”
I use the paddle to pull one loaf out then place it on the table. Wearing an oven mitt, I flip it over and thump its bottom. It rings hollow, so I remove the other loaves from the oven and test each one. The stew is bubbling, so I hook the cauldron away from the flames. Using a long-handled wooden spoon, I stir the contents, making sure food isn’t stuck to the bottom. I push it back near, but not over, the fire.
Ten minutes later, Cook removes the pudding kettle to cool. I get out the trays, cutlery, and dishes for the family’s meal. She puts on fresh tea to steep, then slices the bread and puts this in a basket along with a small container of butter. She takes a tray filled with tea things into the family area. While she is gone, I ladle venison stew into one bowl then spoon pudding into another. Cook carries the first food tray to the dining room. By the time she returns, I have another one ready. From the look on her face, I can tell she is vexed. When she picks up the final tray, she says, “Miss, bring the breadbasket.”
I am startled because I’ve never been to the dining room. I follow close to her heels. The captain motions for it, so I hand him the basket. At the other end of the table, Mrs. Hunt shrieks. “What are you doing in here? You know you belong in the kitchen. Get out!”
Tears stream down my cheeks as I flee the room.
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
- Science fiction
- 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”)
- Can be any genre
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.”
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.”
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.
May 24, 2023
During our bimonthly meeting, writing club members read stories they have submitted for our Potpourri Project. Club secretary Teresa Pepper asked us to continue sending our work to be included in this anthology. Because I am focused on revising the fourth novel of my family saga, I looked for something I’d written that could be quickly modified and submitted. I hope you enjoy this humorous short story as I poke fun at myself.
I need to make a confession. I have always admitted that I am a “bookaholic.” Oh yes, I know the proper term is bibliophile. But, somehow, I think words with the -phile suffix have a sinister connotation. Maybe it’s because of the word pedophile. Or the fact that some people take their love to an extreme, like an ailurophile who has 30 cats. Anyway, it’s time for me to admit another long addiction. I’m addicted to clicks! Does that make me a clickophile?
My fixation began when I took a typing course in high school during the late 1960s. Like a drill sergeant our teacher conducted us. “Posture is everything. Back straight. Feet level on the floor. Roll a sheet of paper into the machine. Now, put your fingers on the home row. Keep your eyes on your textbook, not your fingers! Each stroke should be brisk and firm. Begin.”
Little did I realize the sound these ancient Underwood typewriters produced would become habitual. Each click was music to my ears. At first it wasn’t words which appeared on the paper. Instead, it was gibberish, such as “asdf” and “jkl semicolon,” repeated over and over. My typing staccato was very brief. Click clack, click clack, click clack. Then a ding! as I used the carriage return.
At first it was difficult to type with brisk and firm taps on the keys as she had directed. I sometimes pressed them too quickly. Click, cluck, crunch! The keys crashed together and stuck in mid-air. Snick, snick as I cleared the jam, then returned my fingers to the home row. Over time I built up strength in a muscle that I didn’t know my little fingers had. I spent weeks clickety-clacking nonsense before I typed my first word.
Our teacher placed a metronome on her desk to assist us with learning the cadence of this instrument. After several weeks of practice, I caught onto the tempo and became adept at typing, “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog”. This had a good beat; my fingers could dance to it!
I encountered an electric typewriter in my second year of typing class. Using a lighter touch allowed it to be played at accelerando speed. My typing skills increased to 80 words per minute as I mastered this piece. While it didn’t clack, each key stroke produced a comforting click as the “golf ball” whirled at break-neck speed.
Learning to run a 10-key adding machine even satisfied my click craving as its allegro joined my repertoire. I could run tapes that were six feet long without making a mistake that marred my tempo. Of course, this was back when this # symbol meant a number sign, not a hash tag.
Working at a water company, a mainframe computer was the next instrument on the scene. The 96-column card, keypunch machine had its own special composition. But I had to first master the numerical keypad. Its numbers were arranged like those on a push-button phone—backwards to an adding machine. At first it had a cacophonic sound as I learned a new rhythm. However, it wasn’t long before my fingers bebopped up and down the keyboard making a different kind of music. Clickety click, clickety clack, clickety click, clickety clack, clickety click. Then psst, tick, psst, tick, whizt, tunk as holes were punched into the card while it whizzed through the rollers and into a hopper.
With the advent of memory typewriters and word processors, the rhythm changed. Ctrl, Alt, and function keys were added to the ensemble. My fingers could still tap dance to a good beat and always return to the home row.
Personal computers of the 1980s brought discord to my harmony. Why did they say the mouse was “point and click”? This sound is too quiet to be called a click! It didn’t satisfy me. Instead, the need to move my right hand to use it annoyed me. But the pressed keys still made a clicking sound, and I learned to feel for the home row indicators as my hand moved back from using the mouse. Over the decades of my life, you could say, I became a maestro of clickety clacking.
As you have probably experienced yourself, it’s not long before a computer becomes outdated or even dies. The newer models do come with added features. Yet, over the years, these keyboards became made more of plastic and much less metal. These have also shrunk in size. For several decades now, I’ve used an old Compaq 386 keyboard with keys that click. It shows years of heavy usage, even though this console has been thoroughly cleaned numerous times. It is past time for it to be retired with honors. Do you think it would appreciate receiving a gold watch?
My recently purchased computer has a USB instead of a pin plug for the keyboard. Its keys are plastic and smushed together. I had to search to find the delete key when I first installed this device. In my opinion its design is flawed because I cannot conduct any musical score on this contraption. So, I splurged on a mechanical keyboard even though I’m not a gamer. Yes, I must confess, I gotta have my click!