Waiting for the sun to come home

IMG_0942I’m fine, but I feel sorry for the cat. That’s what I tell myself. It’s a lie, although I do feel bad for the cat. He misses the Dude, too. It’s okay, I tell him, as if he could understand me. It’s only college, he’ll be back in November.

The cat leaps onto the kitchen table each morning when he hears the bus, ready to watch the boy make his way to the bus stop. He waits, still and silent until the bus pulls away. Old habits are hard to break. When he doesn’t hear thunder from upstairs he gives up and dashes off like he has somewhere to go. I do the same.

The cat knows something has changed. The door to the boy’s room has been open for days. The room is clean. The bed is empty. The scene stops me every time I pass his doorway on the way to my own. I’m not used to seeing the floor.

He whiles the hours, my furry sundial, tracing the patch of sunlight across the living room floor, waiting for the arrival of the brightest light of them all. At the end of his travels, however, he finds my feet. I’m waiting as well. Old habits are hard to break.

He perks to hear the bus again, ears tipped forward to catch the sound of his sneakers. Surely today the boy, his boy will burst through the door and drop his backpack to the floor. He ducks behind my legs, waiting until the shoes fly across the room to run to his side, when the boy would hoist him into the air, just like the Lion King. I know the cat hates the gesture, and misses it at the same time, just like I miss having my son tuck me under his chin to show me how tall he is.

I pat my lap, and the cat takes his time getting there, making a circle from the arm of the sofa, around the back, to my side and finally settles in. I give his head a rub and he purrs.

I share all the advice I’ve gotten, just in case it’s useful. “Travel. Explore,” I tell him. “The house has sunny spots you haven’t even seen yet, and hidey holes for days. Just come out for meals, okay?” He gives me a slow blink. “Work on your relationship with the other cat.” I’m not sure how that will work, since they alternate between curling up, yin/yang style and depositing tufts of angry fur on my newly vacuumed carpet.

Or perhaps we’ll stay here and chase the sun across the map until it comes back home again. November isn’t that far away.

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The tree, the ficus and the journey towards an ampersand

xmastreeThey were exchanging gifts before they had exchanged the words, which made choosing difficult. To give too much, or too little might ruin everything. If they got it just right, it might cement an ampersand between his name and hers.

Him&her, her&him. Us.

She’d wrapped the Ficus in blinking lights, thinking it festive, but it shed leaves in protest. Fending off the cat was indignity enough. To prove its point, the tree chucked a bauble at her feet.

He bent down and picked up the ornament, his face reflected in the surface, smile broad and open. “I don’t think the plant is feeling it.”

“I knew I should have decorated the palm instead.” She played with the bow on the box. She wasn’t the careful sort, more inclined to rip through the wrapping like a toddler than worry the tape as not to tear the paper. The moment, however, hovered in the space between before and after, and she didn’t want to rush to conclusions.

I hope he likes it.

I hope she likes it.

“You need a real tree,” he said, and she agreed.

They walked into the velvet evening. The city hushed as if it had stopped to watch the snow fall. The lot wasn’t far, only a block or two, and they followed the floodlight like the homing star. She breathed in cold and pine and hope as they wove between the trees, looking for their future hidden among the branches.

“This one.” They’d pointed at the same tree.

It’s a sign.

Definitely a sign.

They carried the tree back to her apartment, each holding one end of the trunk. Snowflakes settled on her hair, melting into tiny gems, her face bright and rosy as she turned back and smiled at him.

He matched his pace to hers, not wanting to push too hard, or hold her back, asking her from time to time if the burden was too heavy.

“I’m stronger than you can imagine,” she said.

“I don’t doubt it.” His imagination was infinite.

He let her choose which end to carry, so she opted for the end with the branches. He would try to carry most of the weight, it seemed his way, but she could bear the scratching needles. Ever prepared, she’d worn gloves. The bag holding the stand dangled from the trunk, the contents jostling with every step. She could almost hear sleigh bells.

They crowded into the elevator, the three of them, then pushed their way out, down the hall and through the apartment door. He stood the tree while she set the Ficus free. It shivered with pleasure, shedding a few last leaves to remind her to never, ever impose in that manner again. It sneered at the prickly new neighbor. Sucker.

The pine wouldn’t dignify the Ficus with a response as it received the lights and ornaments with open arms.

When they had finished, they lay under the tree and gazed up through the branches. Unwrapping boxes could wait. They had ampersands to exchange first.

Photograph : Christmas 2013 by Ed Suominen © 2013 Creative Commons/Flickr

College Admission Bingo

bingoWe’ve taken the Dude to see four of the Big Ten universities. We are now at number five. We have our bingo cards ready, and I’ve got my good-luck Trolls lined up. This time, I’m sure the jackpot will be mine. Let the calling begin.

Next to me is a former alum. The sweatshirt is a dead giveaway. It’s 95 degrees out. Everyone in the family is wearing one. That’s what I can dedication.  I shake my Troll to summon the mojo.

The woman on my other side has a set of bingo stamps in fluorescent colors. This is not her first trip to the rodeo. I should have gotten more cards.

Unfortunately, in college admission bingo there is no “free” space, but the center spot on my card has DIVERSITY, which bodes well for me. Every college touts the breadth of its student population. In other words, there’s room for you! Maybe.

The perky woman from admissions quiets the soundtrack of the marching band intermingled with the male A Capella group and welcomes us all to campus. She’ll be talking for roughly 45 minutes. It’s always 45 minutes.  She asks if there are alumni in the room.  Hermione in the sweatshirt’s hand shoots upwards.  Her sweaty daughter slouches further into her chair.

The admissions director talks about the school’s population. Every county in the state? Check. Every state in the Union? Check? Every continent except for Antarctica? Check. Diversity? Check. She asks if anyone in the audience is from Montana. Apparently they need a replacement for a graduating senior or next year they’ll have to change their slide. Maybe we should consider moving.

It’s a big school–somewhere around 40,000 students. That, however, is a good thing. “You can make a big school small, but can’t make a small school big.” Yes! Another square. I shake the pink troll.  Despite their size, only ten percent of their classes have over 100 students. Damn. I have six percent. A couple in front of me give each other a high five. As a bonus, they have the smallest large classroom of all universities with the letter “M” in their name. Check the box for “obscure statistic.” Go me.

I hear the woman next to me chant to herself. “Study abroad. Study abroad. Come on study abroad.” That’s a gimme. Such an amateur. When the admissions advisor mentions 180 countries the rest of us barely blink.

All I need is an obscure club and a random Harry Potter reference. The last two schools had underwater hockey and squirrel watching.

Winning at bingo, of course, will not get my son into school. To do that, he needs to have a 4.2 GPA, start his own charity and get two references to say they’ve never met a finer human being. We both hope no one in admissions reads my blog.

If they have a quidditch team, do I get to count that as both a club and a Harry Potter reference? Before I can reach a conclusion, the admissions officer mentions that the rec center has a climbing wall and someone in the back yells “Bingo!” The rest of us grumble.

This isn’t the end, however. We still have seven schools left, as we all know the Big Ten actually has twelve members, and the dude is only a junior. I have time to get another troll.

Words by  J. B. Everett

Photograph “Bingo Markers and Charms” by Bradley Stemke © 2007 Creative Commons

 

Flash Fiction – Moving Day

moving dayThe moving crew loaded the last box onto the truck, along with the vacuum. At least she’d swept earlier in the day, Lynn thought. The apartment which seemed too small suddenly felt so big.

She looked for the bag of garbage they needed to take to the dumpster before they handed over the key, but it was nowhere to be found. It was probably in the last box that went out the door. The packers, who were so careful in the beginning, became rather random as the day wore on and their belongings multiplied exponentially.

Todd checked the closets and drawers for orphans. They’d held out a empty suitcase as a precaution. Phillip was still tottering around the periphery of the room, can of compressed gas in his hand, blowing the dust from the baseboards.

Lynne cooed at Amy her bouncy, telling her that she’d have her own room soon, with walls the color of roses, instead of the corner of their bedroom crammed between the dresser and the desk. It was hard to say goodbye, all the same. She could see the imprints of the furniture on the carpet. There–the sofa where Phillip was conceived. And there — where they kept the series of ficus plants they bought and subsequently killed with overwatering or neglect.

She pulled a piece of tape from the wall where they’d hung streamers for Phillip’s second birthday, and the remnants of the red wine she dropped last New Year’s Eve. Even the chandelier she hated so, left by the previous owner and too expensive to replace, felt dear to her as it hung lonely where the table used to be. Todd had bumped his head on it twice already.

“It’s time.” Todd said, picking up the baby, who started to fuss, so he handed her over to Lynne.

“They packed the garbage.” She held out her arms and drew Amy in, her soft hair tickling her nose.

Todd laughed. “I shudder to think what was in there. Please tell me no diapers.”

Lynne cringed. She couldn’t say for sure.

“It will make the new place feel just like home,” he assured her. She could only hope.

“Come on bud.” Todd held out his hand.

Phillip toddled over, like a little Frankenstein and held out the can. “All gone.”

Lynne hugged Todd as they closed the door for the last time. All gone. But always with her.

 

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph “Moving Day” by Heather Weaver © 2008 Creative Commons

 

The Baseball Game

bleachersTop of the fourth. The score is 5-3. Maybe. No one in the stands is exactly sure except for the woman in the third row. It’s 4-3. Top of the fifth.

“We have more runs than that. I know we do.”

“I really think Dustin looked that guy back. He didn’t score.”

“It is the fourth isn’t it? Or is it the fifth?”

A cell phone rings and seven people reach for their pockets and purses. The six people without a ringing phone look disappointed. The seventh talks, oblivious to the setting.

“That was definitely a strike.”

“The ump is being generous.”

“How are Aunt Helen’s hemorrhoids?”

The batter sends a fly into shallow right field.

“Call it! Call it!”

They may be in high school, but they won’t call it, thinks the woman in the third row.

“Did you try giving her prunes?”

Three players stand in a circle and watch the ball drop. The crowd groans.

“Fundamentals Bobby,” a woman shouts. “You’ve got to remember fundamentals!” Bobby’s middle finger twitches.

“Mom! I’m hungry,” whines a teenager.

Her father sighs and pulls out his phone. “Siri, where is the nearest Chipotle?”

Another phone rings. Five people reach into their pockets and purses. The lucky winner answers. It’s a call from the office.

“Well you tell Lorton he’s full of shit if he thinks I’ll settle for that!”

“You can’t leave Aunt Helen in the bathroom alone.”

“And two cokes with that please.”

“Does anyone know what the score is?”

“5-2. Top of the fifth.”

“8-4. Top of the sixth.”

It’s still 5-3, top of the fifth, thinks the woman in the third row.

A man nudges his wife. “I don’t see Calvin. Are you sure this is the right game?”

She rolls her eyes. “He’s the tall blond kid.” That phrase describes half of the team.

“Cover the base, Bobby!”

A small child runs back and forth in front of the crowd. His mother tries to wrangle him in.

“If you don’t stop, we’re going to the car.”

“And some guacamole too.”

“Lorton can kiss my ass.”

The toddler’s mother shoots the man a disapproving look. He shrugs an apology. The little boy continues to run in front of the bleachers.

“Kiss my ass, kiss my ass, kiss my ass.”

We need a toddler whisperer, thinks the woman in the third row.

“Alright Calvin!” the Dad yells.

“That’s not Calvin, that’s Riley.” She rolls her eyes.

“Bobby, are you sleeping out there?”

Bobby yells from first base. “Mom, will you please shut up?”

“Don’t talk to me that way!”

Please shut up, thinks the woman in the third row.

“No biting. If you bite me again, we’re going back to the car.”

“She has one of those blow up doughnut thingees? Why doesn’t she use that?”

“What is the score?”

“11-1”

“8-4.”

“If you bite me one more time we’re going back to the car,” says the toddler’s mother. Again.

Please, please bite her, thinks the woman in the third row.

The teenager returns, Chipotle bags in hand. She knocks her coke over onto Bobby’s mother.

“Try epsom salts.”

“Fax it to my home office.”

“Kiss my ass. Kiss my ass.”

The boy at the plate hits a screaming line drive.

“Way to go, dude. Run! Run! Oh yeah!” The woman in the third row stands and pumps her fist. “Who’s your Daddy?!”

The crowd is silent.

The woman in the third row sits down.

“For the record, I know who his father is.”

Bobby’s mother turns to Aunt Martha’s niece. “Some people just don’t know how to behave at the ballpark.”

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph “Fall Bleachers” by Nick Weiler © 2008 Creative Commons