Relief – part 1


“Do you have to breathe like that?” she asked sharply. Her voice had that edge to it the way it always did when she was about to pick a fight. Her eyes narrowed now and he imagined that if she were a tiger, she would jump over the table between them and then possibly maul him to death.

“Like what?”

She opened her mouth and rounded her lips into a circle and breathed noisily; like a runner gasping for air at the end of a long run. She glared at him as she mimicked his breathing.

“I don’t sound like that. I’m not that loud. Besides, this is the way I’ve always breathed. Why should I change now?”

“You should change it because it’s really annoying and I can’t concentrate on anything when I hear it. Can’t you breathe through your nose like regular people do?”

He didn’t say anything. He simply looked down at his plate and stabbed a slice of cucumber with his fork. He brought it to his mouth and crunched it noisily. She was still looking at him.

“Hello! I’m right here. Are you going to answer my question? Can you breathe through your nose like a regular person?”
He ignored her and stabbed a cherry tomato instead. The little red ball was juicy and it squirted him directly on the chin. Sarah laughed loudly.

“Even the tomatoes don’t like hearing you breathe,” she said triumphantly.

He stood up, pushed the chair back, walked to the door and slipped his feet into some shoes. He didn’t bother to tie them as he stepped out into the hallway. He could hear her laughing still as she called after him.

“Oh come on, Alex, don’t be so mad,” he heard her voice drifting toward him as he slammed the door shut behind him. He was standing on the backs of his shoes since he hadn’t bothered to put them on properly. He walked awkwardly over to the elevator and pushed the down button. He knelt down to put on the shoes as he waited for the elevator. The door slid open after a moment and Alex got on and pushed the button for the lobby.

It was chilly outside as he stepped out of the apartment building and into the fall night. It reminded him of that night in China years ago. He called me and asked me to meet him for coffee. He usually called me when he wanted to get something off his chest. I agreed to meet him in a few minutes.

The coffee shop always played jazz. Tonight, Duke Ellington gently floated through the small shop as I walked through the door.

When we had both sat down in the chairs at the back corner of the coffee shop with our cups, I asked him what the problem was. Instead of answering right away, he looked down at the black liquid in his cup for a moment.

“Bear with me for a minute ok? I just want to tell you a story,” he said. His eyes pleaded with me.
“Not a problem. I’d love to hear a story,” I replied with a smile. He nodded and began.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________

“I moved to China after I graduated from college. I went with a buddy of mine, Ray. We shared an apartment and taught English to freshmen at a technical college there. Neither of us spoke much Chinese at all beyond a few words like ‘hello,’ ‘goodbye,’ and ‘I don’t speak Chinese.’ So we had to rely on one of the Chinese teachers who lived in the same apartment building to take us to places that we wanted to go. The guy’s name was…” Alex tapped his chin with his forefinger as he tried to remember. “Kenneth!” He snapped his fingers and set his cup down on the table.

It was already past eight o clock and there were only a couple of other customers in the coffee shop. They looked like students. One flipped through a pile of note cards while the other tapped at his lap top computer. The girl behind the cash register wiped the back of the pastry display case.

“Kenneth used to get a little annoyed that we asked him to take us everywhere. He’d say ‘I’m not your translator.’ But we’d still be able to convince him to take us to places. So anyway, one night, Ray decided he needed a haircut. We’d seen plenty of barber shops around town but since we’d only been in China for a few weeks at that point, neither of us was confident enough in our Chinese to get a haircut. We were afraid that if the hair cutter didn’t know what we were saying, we might end up with Mohawks or perms or something. So we dragged Kenneth along with us one night after work.”

I nodded to show I was still listening and set my cup down on the table too.

“Up until then, we’d seen plenty of hair cutting places around but they were all very different from barber shops back home. There was usually one of those electric striped barber poles in front of the place and there would be a girl at the front whose only job seemed to be opening the door for customers and saying ‘welcome’ to them. Also, most of the barber shops have people who wash your hair and can do quick massages. And then, the barbers themselves weren’t at all like what they look like here in the States.”

“What do you mean?” I asked. I tried to picture a Chinese barber and an image of Bruce Lee holding a pair of scissors popped into my mind.

“I mean, the barbers there are these young guys who dress as cutting edge and fashionable as possible. Well, I mean, we’re talking about Chinese cutting edge fashion. So their hair will be dyed all sorts of colors. Their clothes are very trendy; like leather pants and medallions hanging around their necks.”

I chuckled at the thought of a blue haired rocker type cutting my hair.

Alex shook his head. “I tell you,” he said. “It doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence or hope when a guy who insists he’s not your translator, tells another guy with spiked orange hair and tight leather pants how to cut your hair in Chinese. I was betting that Ray would need to shave his head after the hair cut.”

“So anyway, we drag Kenneth with us to the closest hair cutting place to our apartment. It was some place with the striped barber pole spinning next to the glass doors. We didn’t see any customers but we went in anyway.”
Alex stopped to take a quick sip of coffee and then continued his story.

When Alex, Ray, and Kenneth stepped into the barber shop, they noticed that not only were there no customers, there were also no hair cutters. When Kenneth asked the manager at the front how much they charged for haircuts, the manager replied that they did not have anyone to cut hair at the moment. They did, however, he quickly added, have very reasonable priced massages available.

The man pointed behind them at a group of about twelve girls seated on a circular couch. The girls were all watching a television show but seemed a little bored. Kenneth repeated this to Ray and Alex in English.

“No thanks, man. I just need to get my hair cut,” Ray responded. He tugged at his bangs which did indeed look to be much too long for his round face.

“The manager says the massages are very cheap because there aren’t too many customers now,” Kenneth informed us.

“How much are they?” Alex asked. “Not because I need one, but just out of curiosity.”

Kenneth turned and asked the man.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________

At this point, Alex’s cell phone began ringing on the table in the coffee shop. He looked down at it.
“I’m not going to pick it up right now. I don’t feel like talking to Sarah,” he told me calmly.

“So, you guys had a fight?” I asked, setting my coffee cup down across from his. The girl behind the cash register checked her watch and then rearranged the napkins on the counter.

“Well, yes, but it’s something I don’t really feel all that eager to talk about. I’d much rather just tell you this story about China. Is it boring you?”

“No, not at all. I was really getting into it, but just thought you might want to, you know, get this stuff off your chest.”
He waved his hand dismissively.

“Later. Do you have time though?”

“Yes, definitely. Don’t worry about me,” I responded.
He continued.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________

“So, the manager told us the massages would be about thirty eight yuan or something like that,” Alex said. “I did some quick calculation and realized that it was less than five dollars US at the time. Ray said that at a price that cheap, we definitely needed to get a massage. So we asked Kenneth, who agreed, and the manager pointed again at the group of girls seated on the couch.”

– to be continued –

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The Crying Button


When I was a kid, my brothers and I had a tree fort. It was built high above the ground between three oak trees. When I think about it now, I realize that the fort was not particularly safe for children since we built it with our dad, who believed that duct tape could fix anything short of a broken marriage. In some cases, it might even have been able fix them too. We built the fort out of old lumber. The railings consisted of a single two by four on each side placed at about hip height for us. There was also a rope, which had a pulley, connecting the fort to another oak tree about forty feet away. This was our escape and the idea was that someone could slide from the fort to the ground by hanging onto a rope handle connected to the pulley. I remember the rope snapping on a couple of occasions when my brother and then a friend of ours tried to use the pulley-rope escape. Each of them fell to the ground and would have cried had the wind not been knocked out of them. Luckily, neither of them was seriously injured. This is the kind of fort we had.

Often, when guests with annoying children came over, my brothers and I would climb into the tree fort away from the little brats. Of course, when these kids saw that they were not allowed in the fort, they only wanted to enter it more. This is why my brothers and I had a bucket of acorns stored in the tree fort as ammunition against would be intruders.

One particular weekend, a family with two boys came over to visit. The younger of the two was named Jeffery. He was still afflicted by baby-speak although he was about five or maybe even six years old.  Jeffery could not pronounce the letter “R.” His r’s sounded like w’s. Consequently, Jeffery, when asked to introduce himself, would call himself “Jeff-we.”

After my younger brother, who was the same age as “Jeff-we,” and I scrambled up to our tree fort to escape these two boys, they ran after us and tried to approach the fort.

“Acorn time, David,” I said to my brother. We waited until the boys were in firing range and then unleashed a hailstorm of acorns at them from our perch. In about twenty seconds, the battle was over due to “Jeff-we” bawling like a baby.

“Something hit me on the head,” he screamed. “It felt like a wock.”

His crying sounded like a fire engine’s siren and I knew that my brother and I would be in trouble with Mom soon.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________

I have a hard time remembering the last time I cried. I recall choking up on several occasions. I believe my eyes have even started to water once or twice. But I simply do not remember the last time I actually sobbed and just let myself go.  I do not know why this is.

People always say that it is good to cry. In this day and age, even men are invited to “cry it out” as a sign that they are confident enough in their masculinity to release their sadness, frustration, etc.

I know all this.

I remember when my grandmother died. I must have been about eight years old. My family sat and wailed on our living room couch together when we got the news. We all hugged each other and sat for what must have been twenty minutes. When we were done, I remember feeling better. The release felt as though we had flushed away a lot of bad feelings. It was like having a stomach ache and going to the bathroom. When you are done, you flush the toilet, stand up and say, “ahhhh, I feel so much better.” (Maybe you don’t say that, but I do. I make it a point to say this in public bathrooms especially.)

I know I must have cried at some point after that, but I honestly cannot remember when. The next related incident that sticks in my mind was during my eighth grade year at my school in Indonesia. It was between classes and I was so angry at my classmate, Thomas, that I threw a small pink eraser at his back as hard as I could.

“Ow!” he yelled. “Don’t you know that really hurts?!”

I was so upset that I ran out of the classroom to avoid crying in front of him and his friends. If I did, he would have won our fight because winners do not cry unless they are winning an Olympic medal. Yet, this incident sticks out in my mind not because I was crying, but because I did not. I ran to the bathroom, stared at myself in the mirror and willed myself not to let the feeling overwhelm me.

Don’t even think about crying. Babies and girls cry. You don’t.  I thought to myself.

Since then, I do not believe I’ve cried. I have wanted to. Believe me, I have definitely wanted to.

I wanted to cry when I moved away to college for the first time. I think most kids are excited to go to college, but if your college was the one I went to, you would understand. I had never lived away from my family for an extended period of time and when I brought my luggage into the dorm room. I realized that I was no longer just a kid. From then on, I would virtually be an adult. I would not be able to expect my parents to be my final authority. I would not be able to go home after the end of a school day. I would not be able to sleep in my own bed. Most importantly, the college was run like a conservative, Christian, military school. This alone, should have reduced me to a bucket of tears. But, it did not. I slapped myself on the side of my face as hard as I could and held back the emotions.

I wanted to give in once more when I graduated from college and my parents could not be there because my dad had just suffered a debilitating stroke. Instead, I smiled and hugged my brothers and friends.

I wanted to cry at my grandfather’s funeral when literally my whole family was gathered around the casket saying their final farewells to him and not one of them had dry eyes. A lump the size of a basketball gathered in my throat but my eyes stayed dry.

Cry, damn it! I thought. I was sad enough to fill a swimming pool with tears that would not come. My body refused to cooperate with my emotions.

Someday, I would like to be able to cry on demand. I will press the little, red, round button located on my wrist. Immediately, tears will gather in my eyes and my knees will buckle. My breathing will become shuddering sobs and my body will begin shaking as the tears flow down my cheeks.

Instead, the rock inside me grows a little bigger each time I want to but cannot. Soon, I am afraid it will take up the whole interior of my body. Soon, if no tears come, I will become hard and dry. If I trip, I will shatter into gray, rocky chunks all over the sidewalk.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________

One winter night, we received two inches of snow at our house. Although there was not much, it was enough to topple one of the trees holding up our tree fort. I was upset at the time since the falling tree took our fort with it. We would now have to launch acorns at other kids from the ground.

I suppose, in retrospect, that this was a good thing. If a mere two inches of snow could bring down the oak tree, I imagine it could have fallen over at any time while one of us was up in the fort.

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What is your favorite Fight and Fish story?


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The Recovery


The doctors said there was a small chance he would fully regain his motor skills after his stroke.

“Maybe not one hundred percent. But he should recover much of his speech and at least sixty percent of the movement on his right side,” one of them told my family.

Expecting the results was more difficult than just realizing that the estimates were far too optimistic. After a while, we came to accept the facts. There would be no complete recovery.

————————————————————————————————————————————————————-

“He got into an accident last year and was in the hospital for quite some time,” she stopped to sip her beer.

“But he’s okay now, right?” I asked.

“I think so. I mean, it was the last time I saw him,” she said. “He broke his collar bone, a couple of ribs, and his leg. But he was supposedly on his way toward getting,” she paused. “What’s the word I’m looking for?”

“Fully recovered?” I offered.

“No. Less broken. That’s what I meant to say.” She laughed. “My English is sounding more Chinese and my Chinese isn’t getting better.”

We were sitting at a small bar in down town. The sky had been threatening to let loose with a rain storm all afternoon. But so far, the ground was still dry. If you asked her to describe the weather, she would have said the clouds were pregnant with rain and about to give birth. That was just her way of speaking. I could never tell if she talked like that to seem more interesting, or whether that was really how she thought of things.

It had been at least two years since I had seen her last and she had aged noticeably. She looked more tired now and skinnier.  We had both been in China after college and had become close friends when we were teaching English at the same private college in Southern China near Guangzhou. When our teaching contracts were up with the school, I came back to live in the States. She’d decided to remain in China with her new boyfriend.

“So anyway, after the accident, I went to visit him in the hospital every day after I finished teaching. He was really out of it at first because of all of the pain killers they had to give him. I would talk to him and it was like he could hear me but he was having a fever or something. You know how you’re not really sure whether you’re sleeping or whether you’re awake when you have a bad fever?”

I nodded.

“It was like that’s what he was going through. It made me feel so bad for him when I saw him like that. I just wanted to stay with him and hold him all the time.” She paused and turned to look out the window. She spoke slowly and deliberately. It was as though she thought about each word before it left her mouth. It could be a maddening experience if you were used to stories that got straight to the point.

“So anyway, I went to visit him pretty much every day for about a week after the accident,” she continued after a moment. “Then one night I got a call from my mom. She told me my grandfather just died and I should come home because the funeral was going to be in a few days. I was pretty shocked and couldn’t sleep at all that night. I just kept walking around the apartment feeling bad that I hadn’t been there. The next morning I told the school what happened and that I’d be gone for a while and then I booked a ticket out of Hong Kong back home to California. I didn’t have time to go to the hospital to see Kevin, my boyfriend, but I called and told one of the nurses what had happened and asked them to let him know.”

I could see the tears welling up in her eyes. I played with my glass a little bit and then took a swallow from it to avoid staring at her. I am not very good at dealing with crying. It took her another minute before she continued.

“So, you know that high speed ferry from the city near our old school in Gui Cheng that goes to Hong Kong?”

“Oh I loved riding that ferry. It feels like you’re flying over the water when you ride it,” I said. The ferry had always been one of my favorite means of travel in China. It was much faster and more comfortable than riding a bus or a train.

“Well I got a ticket for it and had a bunch of trouble with the ticketing agent. I think she just didn’t like me. But anyway, I digress. I left that afternoon, got to Hong Kong in the evening, stayed the night in a hotel, and then the next morning, I left on the plane back to California. I ended up staying in California longer than I planned because there was a lot that needed to be done with my grandfather’s house and things like that and I felt bad leaving my parents and my family to go back to China. Especially since I really only see them all once a year. So I stayed at home for a little over two weeks. I think it was fifteen days, to be exact.”

“Was everything okay with your family? I mean was your grandfather’s death very sudden?” I asked.

“Well, he’d been kind of sick here and there but seemed to be in pretty good health. So we really didn’t expect him to pass away that quickly. I think that’s why there was so much to take care of. If we’d been kind of prepared for him to die like that, things probably would have been done earlier.”

I nodded. A few more people wandered into the bar. It was almost five o clock and a couple of men greeted the bar tender by name. They were obviously regulars. She continued.

“After that, I flew back to China and got back to my apartment. It was already late in the evening when I got there so I couldn’t go to the hospital. It didn’t really occur to me that he might have already left. I just assumed he was still in the hospital, although now when I think of it, I realize that it would have been a very long stay if he was still there. The next day I had to report back to the school and let them know I could teach the following day. Then, right after that I went to the hospital and gave them Kevin’s Chinese name and asked to go see him in his room. The nurse looked his name up and told me he’d left the hospital the previous week.”

“Well that makes sense,” I offered.

“Yes, I agree. It did. Then I called his phone but it was off. So I decided to go to his apartment since he was probably just resting. I took a taxi there. But when I got there, I knocked on his door and there was no answer. I called his phone again and it was still off. As I was standing there, one of his neighbors walked by and I asked if she knew where Kevin was. The lady said she thought he’d moved away because she saw someone taking furniture out of the apartment the week before. I was so confused. I mean, where would he have gone?”

“I assume you asked around, right?” I said.

“Of course, I asked everyone I thought might be able to help. But I didn’t know many of his friends since he usually hung out with me and my friends and not the other way around. I asked another neighbor of his. I asked two of the people who knew both of us. Those were really the only people I could think of. But no one had any idea where he’d gone.”

“That’s so strange. How could he just disappear without leaving a note or anything?” I said.

“I don’t know. I’m still worried about him. That was almost a year ago. At first I was panicking and even tried going to the police. They patronized me because I’m an American. But they didn’t do anything.”

“Julie, I’m so sorry. That’s terrible,” I put my hand on her shoulder. It looked like she was going to cry again.  I tried to think of something comforting to say but could not think of anything. The bar was starting to fill up now and I could tell that the happy hour specials were starting to affect the customers. Their conversations were getting louder.

“I think I’m losing my mind,” she said.

“No you aren’t. Don’t say that.”

“No, really I am. Or at least I’m losing my memory. Sometimes I’ll be standing in the shower, I’ll pick up the conditioner bottle, and I won’t be able to remember if I already washed my hair and conditioned it, or if I’m picking up the bottle for the first time. Then I won’t be able to remember if I already washed off my body with soap.” She shook her head. “This is really going to kill me or drive me to the crazy house. How am I going to live the rest of my life never knowing what happened to Kevin? I mean, I see him in the hospital, I go to California, and then when I get back to China, he’s just vanished. It’s like he never existed.”

I had no answer for her. No one did.

I glanced outside. The clouds were darker and were going into labor now and I wished I’d brought an umbrella.

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What Are Your Thoughts?


I’d love to see your thoughts about these blog posts. Please post comments! They’ll really help me as I try to be more consistent with my posts. Not so much because they’ll necessarily change what I write, but because I’ll be able to see how people connect (or not) with these stories. I’m shooting for one new story/essay per week.

Thanks for reading!

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The Library Book – Summer 1989


I’m nine years old. It is summer and the weather alternates between scorching hot and almost bearably hot. It never rains here in the summer. It only bakes. Dad makes us mow the grass on our two and a half acres with either the push mower, for the front yards, or the riding lawn mower, for the fields.  The front lawns must always be kept short but the grass in the fields is allowed to grow a little longer before we cut it down.

The evergreens lining the fence between our field and our neighbor’s field are tall; maybe thirty feet, maybe a thousand feet. The lower branches of them offer the perfect hiding place when the grass grows tall. It is like a pocket between the bottoms of the branches with the tall, thick, grass becoming a wall against the outside world when you sit here in the cool shade.

It is perfect for hiding from chores, mom, annoying kids whose parents have come over to visit my family, and all the troubles that plague a nine year old; like figuring out whether I love or hate the girl with the blonde hair from church.

I have a bamboo floor mat that I put under the branches. I sit on it in the shade and read books that my mom lets me borrow from the library whenever I can. Sometimes, I bring a snack out while I read, a few slices of turkey bacon, some crackers, dry cereal, just something to munch on that is small enough to fit into a plastic sandwich bag.

There is a little breeze today and it feels good as I lay on my stomach on the mat and read a new book that I just borrowed yesterday. I feel a little guilty because it is a kids’ book with stories about witches and goblins. Mom and Dad would both not approve but didn’t see it when I borrowed a stack of books. I am not normally interested in books like this but somehow couldn’t resist getting it when I saw the cover. The pictures on it are both scary and charming and I can’t wait to see what is inside.

The first story is about a witch that chops up a family and eats them. The little boy is the last to be caught by the witch and when he screams in the story, I swear I can hear his voice clearly as though he were being killed next door. The witch cuts off and throws his arms into the pot she uses for cooking. I cringe and lose my appetite. I set the plastic bag of cheerios on the ground. I’m afraid and hurry through the rest of the story.

I move on to the next story which has a picture of a strange looking, black star inside a circle at the top of the first page. It is about a brother and sister who wander through a door they were not supposed to open. When they step through the door and close it behind them, the door disappears and they are inside a forest which is dark and dead, as though a fire made its way through this place not long ago. The boy loses his sister and can hear her calling for him, though her voice changes into something that sounds like his sister and an old man at the same time. He yells for her and runs around looking for traces of his sister. Her voice echoes and sounds farther away now. It slowly turns into a chuckle which grows louder and louder until it’s all he can hear in his head and then it screams. It is a long, piercing scream and it is inside his head and he will never get out of this place and he is alone. All alone. There is no one else.

I feel the breeze turn a little colder as I keep reading. A cloud moves in front of the sun and although it is a summer afternoon, I feel a little chill on the back of my neck. I glance up quickly from my book and see the tall grass waving in the wind. But, it isn’t the cheerful scene that it was earlier in the day. It looks a little lonelier now. I do not see my brothers or hear my mom calling for me. I wonder if they too walked through a door to nowhere.

I flip the page and hope that the next story will not be as scary as the first two. It’s got to be a happier one or at least one that kids are supposed to read.

A man drives his truck slowly down the road. It is the type of truck you see in small towns. It is a brown Chevy with a white camper shell covering the truck bed. As it rolls down the road, a small cloud of dust follows it, rising from the ground and the truck tires. Children playing in their yards stop to stare at him. He smiles at them. His black hair is slicked back and he wears dark sun glasses and a black scarf around his neck. He stops once in a while in front of houses and talks with them. They always walk right up to his truck when he calls them over. Sometimes he points at one or two of them and they climb obediently into the truck bed, closing the camper shell door behind them.

I am at the bottom of the first page of the story of the man in the brown truck and I do not want to turn the page. I’m afraid for the children. There are two lines of writing in pencil at the bottom of the page and I cannot read it. It looks like a foreign language except that there are symbols mixed in with the letters. Somehow, the symbols and letters grow blacker as though instead of a pencil, a permanent marker was used to write these strange lines. My hands are gripping the book tightly and I have to tell myself to let go of it so I can wipe the sweat off of my forehead. The cloud that blocked out the sun earlier has been joined by other gray clouds. This is unusual, crazy, because it was hot outside and now it is cool and this is Redding, California, and summers are never cool here. I think I hear something behind me but I do not turn around. Instead, I pick up the book again and turn the page.

The truck drives away from the neighborhood. It drives up a narrow, dirt road many miles from the place where the children live. The children are in the back of the truck. They are huddled together and frightened but do not say anything. They must obey the man or he will hurt them and then hurt their families. The brown Chevy with the white camper shell stops in front of a small house which looks as though no one lives there. The man opens the camper shell and wiggles his finger at the children. One by one, they climb down and stand in the dirt, looking at him. He looks each of them up and down, one by one and smiles. He says nothing but they know he wants them to go into the house and they do not want to go. It will hurt. They will hurt. They do not look at each other. He leads the way and opens the door. It creaks and they feel something on their backs, gently them pushing into the dark house.

After the last child has entered the house, the man stands at the door, moves his head to look around the yard, and takes off his sun glasses before turning to go in. His eyes are not there. His eye sockets are empty.

As I look at the page in the book, I hear rustling behind me and a whisper. It’s grown harder to read because the sky has grown darker. I have barely noticed because I have been in the story. I hear the whisper again and I am afraid to move; afraid to put the book down. I am frozen in place.

A shadow falls next to me and I am up. I feel something grab the back of my t-shirt but I jump and run faster than I have ever run. I run across the field and vaguely hear thunder. The wind has picked up but I barely notice it. I vault the fence between our field and the front yards. No nine year old has ever run like I am running. A rain drop hits my face and bursts. I barely feel it because I am almost at the door of our house. I open the door and slam it behind me. My mom yells at me from the kitchen to close the door quietly and I feel relief. It’s raining now and the book is outside. It is under the branches of the hiding place that I will hardly ever use again. It is raining and that is crazy because this is Redding, California and it is always hot in the summer here and it never rains.

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Breaking Sherry – Part 2


“Alcohol has ruined too many lives for us to be drinking it for fun,” her father had said before.

“Besides, it doesn’t even taste good,” her mother had added, wrinkling her nose at the thought.

Sherry begged to differ. For some reason, she’d always thought it was an interesting taste. Perhaps it was the movies. It seemed like such a grown up thing to drink. But she could never tell her parents that. She couldn’t bear to see the disappointment on their faces. And yet, she couldn’t resist the excitement of getting caught and the little buzz a few sips gave her.

She walked over to the cupboard and reached for a glass. The door whined as she opened it. Sherry stopped and looked around to make sure she was still alone. Everyone was still upstairs and the house was silent. She pulled the glass off of the shelf and set it down on the counter. The plastic brown cap untwisted from the bottle of rum and she poured a little in her glass. She carefully screwed the cap back on and placed the bottle in exactly the same place she had found it.

The two liter bottle of cola in the refrigerator was a little bit flat but she didn’t mind. She poured some into the glass and used a spoon to stir the drink. The liquid bubbled up a little as she finished stirring it and she lifted the glass to her mouth. The hint of vanilla and the slight burn of the alcohol was just right and she gulped it down.

And now for a little more to bring back upstairs so I can drink it in bed, Sherry thought. She opened the bottle of sherry and lifted it to her glass. She tilted the bottle and tried to pour the sherry into the glass. Nothing came out. She tilted the bottle even more and until she was holding it upside down. It was impossible that the bottle was empty! She looked at it in horror as she set it back down on the counter. It had been nearly full just a few weeks ago and she couldn’t remember seeing her mother use it to cook for months. Besides, tonight, she’d only had one little drink from it; or had it been three drinks?

The realization of what she’d done felt like a slap as Sherry’s face turned pale. Drinking the whole bottle of sherry was a big mistake. There would be no way to explain the empty bottle to her parents. They would know what had happened. She did not want to picture their faces as they looked at her when they found out.

Think, Sherry, think, she screamed at herself silently. There must be some way to hide the empty bottle from her parents, but how? If she simply hid the bottle, they would know she must have taken it. If she left the bottle in the nook, they would find out it was empty. The sinking feeling grew worse as she knew there would be no way to hide the bottle. She might as well go back to bed and wait for them to find out.

She began to put away the bottle when the thought hit her. Of course! It was brilliant and so simple. Kids were clumsy sometimes, weren’t they? The plan would work. She quickly gathered more of the glass bottles on the same shelf including the bottle of rum, the soy sauce bottle, and the olive oil along with other breakable jars.

She gathered all of them in her arms and threw them down on the hard kitchen floor. The sound was tremendous as multiple glass bottles and jars broke at once. Sherry couldn’t help smiling a little. The plan was perfect. Her parents would never know much alcohol had been inside the bottles since the liquids and the glass were now all over the floor. She was home free.

Immediately, she heard a loud thud from upstairs as her father jumped out of bed. A light streamed down the stairs followed by the rush of two sets of feet.

“Sherry! Are you alright?” her father yelled as he thudded quickly down the stairs.

“What’s going on? Are you ok?” that was her mother.

Sherry did her best to contain her smile and look remorseful.

“I’m sorry, I was just trying to get a glass of water and must have tripped and kicked these bottles while I was falling,” she was going to say. It sounded perfect in her mind. She opened her mouth to say it.

“Oh man, oh man, I’m just,” Sherry paused. The words weren’t coming out right. “I’m ok. But I was getting water and then there was the, the, umm.” This was strange, Sherry thought. The speech she’d rehearsed wasn’t coming out.

“I was going to get water and then.” Sherry threw her hands in the air and made the sound of an explosion with her mouth.  “Kaboom!” she shouted. That was it. The situation was just too funny. Sherry erupted in a fit of laughter as her parents stared. Their daughter stood in the middle of the kitchen making noises and laughing, surrounded by broken jars; and was that part of the sherry bottle on the floor? Her parents looked at each other, and then back at her.

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