There are only a few short stories, but I really enjoyed writing them. I wrote them to enter into contests. Some writers look down their noses at contests, but they can be very motivating.
They’re on this page in no particular order.
The first one I wrote is The Bus Trip.
Momus Interruptus won Honorable Mention, and Smoking Loopholes was the hardest to write. It had to be in dialogue only. Nothing else.
My favorite is A Difficult Matter. It was supposed to be written in the I is Another category.
THE TOPIC OF THIS CONTEST WAS:
The sweat vanished from her skin as she sank down into the cool, blue swimming hole. The radio spread a festive mood to the commune members, who were picnicking, sunbathing, and laughing while dropping from the rope swing into the water a few feet away. Everybody got silent, however, when the music was replaced by an automated emergency broadcast network message. Thinking it was just a test, the festivities resumed until the annoying tone switched to a panicked broadcaster’s voice…
(Stories need only touch on this topic in some way to qualify.)
Momus Interruptus: A Bather’s Tale of Woe
I’d driven an hour to my favorite summer spot. Leafy green trees hung lazily over me while I floated on my little inflatable raft, trailing my hands through the cool water. Every now and then, I’d close my eyes and roll over the side of the raft into the clear depths of the swimming hole. From under the water, I could hear the muffled sounds of other people who’d come here to escape the city heat for a day.
The Swimming Hole, an unoriginal, but affectionate name, was more than just a hole. It was a small sparkling blue lake nestling in the depths of the Michigan woods like a sapphire jewel rests in the soft curves of a woman’s breasts, surrounded by trees on three sides, a wall of stacked rocks on the other. The rocks were made for barefoot children to scramble over and up to the pinnacle to jump, relishing that free falling feeling for an instant, before splash down.
Today was a special day. I was mildly agog at my good fortune. My husband, Alex, had been working on a big assignment, and had been an absent father for two weeks. Our two kids, Jeremiah and Natalie, both under the age of sanity and self-control, had been cooped up with me while I fought a summer cold. That battle ended with a victory for my side, but the three of us, or four of us if you count the cold weather, were heartily sick of each other.
We’d gone through every coloring book, every box of pasta and tube of glue for messy art projects, every bag of flour and every old newspaper for papier mache sculptures. The inevitable result was soggy papers, but no strangely fashioned cat at the end. Little pieces of pasta hid cagily on the linoleum, and would crunch under our shoes for months to come.
To be accurate, the kids did all these things while I mediated arguments from my spot on the sun-splashed sofa in the family room. To wit, I was exhausted and emotionally depleted. I longed for adult conversation with a friend about important topics. Like shoes.
Alex, finally home on a weekend, told me to call a girl friend and get lost for a day of relaxation while he spent time with the kids. He’d planned a trip to a pizza parlor, a round of miniature golf, and a few rides on the racing carts. A friend and I had agreed on The Swimming Hole, but at the last minute, she’d canceled. It was just me, my raft, the water, and about a thousand people with their kids, enjoying a day of putative peace and quiet.
Someone had brought a radio. Actually, many people had brought a radio, but I heard only one above the din of hilarity. It was set to a classic rock station, and I was enjoying the beat of the Beach Boys goin’ on a Surfin’ Safari, when I heard the unmistakable crackle of the Emergency Alert System breaking into the surfing at Laguna and Dohini beaches.
No one paid attention to the distinctive crackle. The weather person had informed us that we could expect clear, hot, sunny skies. The Russians weren’t expected to land in Michigan, the Cold War being long over, and terrorists seemed interested in bigger fish in bigger cities. Blowing up our swimming hole would be a waste of their energies. We left the earthquakes to California and the Beach Boys, and we’d never had a blizzard in Michigan in July.
It was possible climate change had finally caught up to us, swathing our state in unseasonable snow drifts, but I didn’t care. Hell and Michigan could literally freeze over, but I wasn’t leaving my raft until twilight, another four hours. The other bathers didn’t seem to care either; I could barely hear the announcement over their high decibel disregard.
The announcer’s voice, the dulcet tones of a soft spoken man who’d honed his vocal skills for the express purpose of soothing the excitable masses, hitched a little in the middle of his broadcast. Safely submerged, I was surprised to hear what I thought was my name.
‘I’m imagining things’, I thought. ‘There’s no way there’s an emergency involving me, or my little raft. Get a grip, Darcy. You’ve been guzzling too much Nyquil.’
My head popped up, water streaming into my eyes and ears, but Nyquil-imbibing and water notwithstanding, I noticed the place had become deafeningly quiet. All festive exuberance had ceased. The normally soothing voice of the announcer was becoming panicky, the words rising to the altitude of Mt. Everest, into a range of sound only dogs can hear.
In the background, from a radio station located in downtown Grand Rapids, a collection of screeches, squawks, crashes, and other noises rose above his voice, suggesting that the Dawning of the Planet of the Apes was at hand. The noises weren’t just suggesting it; these apes were dead serious about their mission to overthrow civilization, and were about to snatch the mic from the announcer’s sweaty palm and tell us so.
‘Darcy!’ the broadcaster’s familiar voice shouted from the radio. ‘Come home if you can hear this! I can’t handle these buggers! I got called into work today and had to bring the kids along! They’re tearing up the place!’
The seats of the truck are still wet, and I’m trying to come up with a reasonable explanation for traffic court, to fight charges of speeding in the commuter lane on the interstate, with an inflatable raft, a lipsticked drawn face on it, resting in the passenger seat.
I even had to buy it a Coke and a burger.
This story, entered into Bartleby Snopes contest, had to be in the format of dialogue only, with not even ‘He said, she said.’ It’s kind of a fun way to write a story, and not as easy as you’d think.
‘Psst! I ‘m going outside for a smoke! Wheel me out there, will ya’?’
‘No! You know you can’t do that. You signed a form, remember?’
‘I remember. So what? They make you sign it, or you can’t have surgery.’
‘Well, I’m not gonna get in trouble just because you won’t follow rules and can’t live without a smoke.’
‘Don’t be ridiculous. You can’t get in trouble. What are they gonna do? Force you to have surgery? Ha. That’d teach you to break the rules.’
‘Me? You’re the one. And, if you go outside for a smoke, they’ll give your room away, and you can’t come back. Is that what you want?’
‘Oh, please. I want to leave anyway. I can’t get any sleep around here. I’m ready to go home.’
‘Too bad. You have to stay until they say you can go.’
‘Duh. If I go outside to have a smoke, I lose my room, right?’
‘Well, if I lose my room, I have to go home. Voila. I get what I want, plus a smoke.’
‘Oh, geez. You should have been a politician.’
‘Serves them right. I signed that advanced medical directive thing, and then changed my mind.’
‘Well, no one paid attention. I tried to tell the doctor I’d changed my mind, but he was already walking out the door while I was talking. If I was in better shape, I’d have tackled him, sat on him, and made him listen. Makes me wonder how he stands still long enough to perform surgery.’
‘Well, they’re busy.’
‘What, and we’re not?’
‘You’re busy bitching about not being able to smoke.’
‘Shut up. Let’s get out of this room. We can say we’re going to the cafeteria. I could use a cup of coffee.’
‘God, a cup of coffee sounds good. It’s a little chilly. Coffee sounds about right.’
‘Yeah, coffee and a cigarette.’
‘Oh, for crying out loud. You’re not going to have a smoke. You’re in a hospital, remember?’
‘Alright, alright. Remember the good old days when doctors used to smoke? They must have sold their stock in the tobacco companies. Now, they have the lung power to nag us. Let’s just get out of here for a while. Push me down this hall, and onto the elevator. Then, turn right.’
‘Hey! How’d we end up outside? ‘
‘I’m very tricky. Now, throw your jacket up over that glass dome thing, and light me up.’
‘I will not. We’re going back in.’
‘I was just kidding. I did want some fresh air, though.’
‘Yeah, smokers are always wanting ‘fresh air’, and then fouling it up for the rest of us. I might as well join you.’
‘Are you kidding? You don’t smoke.’
‘May as well join ‘em as fight ‘em. Like you said, they can’t do anything to me.’
‘Ha! I’m not sure why, but that reminds me of something my son always used to say.’
‘What did he always say?’
‘Oh. Every time I’d come back from jogging, or hiking, and had a blister or was sore, he’d say, “Nothing good ever came from exercise or broccoli.” ’
‘He’s very wise. Let’s go back in. Ten to one nobody even knows we’ve been gone. Let’s get that coffee.’
‘Oh, God. I don’t think I can take another night in this place. I thought it would be noisy, since people are on duty all night, but instead it’s too quiet. Not even a radio or television in the room. You’d think for the money they make on surgeries, they’d put a TV in the room. Maybe they got it mixed up with IV on a request form. Sony was scratching its head over that one.’
‘I’ll stay with you. We’ll play cards or something if you can’t sleep.’
‘Great idea. Got any cards?’
‘No, but I’ll find some.’
‘Oh, look. Here comes a nurse. Probably to tell me I’ve lost my bed and have to go in through the emergency room. Now we’ll have to listen to the emergency people who are always so ‘busy’ with emergencies. They’re so self-righteous. They’ll either let me come back in or not. If they don’t we’ll go home. I’ll take the IV stand with me. Turn it into a planter. It’ll look nice next to the sofa.’
‘Don’t make eye contact with her. Okay, she went into another room.’
‘That’s why they wear masks in hospitals, y’know.’
‘So they can steal your stuff, and so you won’t know who’s following you to see if you’re sneaking outside for a smoke. Notice there’s always plenty of masks and gloves around.’
‘Ha, ha. Why’d you change your mind about the advanced medical directive? You know, in case something happens to you?’
‘I don’t know. I decided I want to be kept on life support, even if they have to stow me on a basement cot for the next thirty years. In case they figure out a way to wake me up. I’m surprised they haven’t figured out how to wake people up already. They wake you up in the middle of the night to ask if you need something to help you sleep. “Yeah, I need people to not wake me up. That’d help me sleep, dweeb.” ’
‘Why are you so afraid of dying? Dying’s easy.’
‘Oh, yeah? Have you ever done it?’
‘No, but I’d be more afraid of waking up paralyzed after an operation.’
‘Thanks so much for an idea I hadn’t thought of before.’
‘You’re welcome. Besides, everything will be fine.’
‘I’d like to be kept alive and conscious enough to hear my family’s arguments over my bed, as they hiss into each other’s faces: “She doesn’t want to be kept on life support! She told me so! She wants to join Maw Maw and Goompa on the other side and she wants me to have her diamond earrings and beachfront condo. She told me so just as they wheeled her out for the operation!” What a hoot.’
‘You are such a bitch about them. I’m sure they love you.’
‘Yeah, like a dose of the clap. I wasn’t able to tell anyone, namely my doctor, that I’d changed my mind, so I figured I’d have fun with it, if I move on to ‘my final reward’. If I tell the doctor I changed my mind, then he’s the only one who has final say whether to pull the plug or not, most likely ‘cause he’s not a beneficiary. I should make him my sole heir. That’d ruffle a few feathers.’
‘What would you do? What kind of fun would you have?’
‘Like, I’d go find my friend who’s a flight attendant, and land on the wing of her plane, executing a perfect entrechat deux. Like Mercury wearing winged Keds. I’d peer in the window and tap when I saw her. Ask for a cup of coffee and a bag of peanuts. Yodel to her: “Come on out and play!” She got freaked when I told her that. It was funny.’
‘Yeah, you’re a laugh riot. Geez, it’s cold in here. I wish we had blankets, instead of just sheets.’
‘Hey, Artie! These two have been here for months. Can we get ‘em out of here? Has anyone claimed them yet?
‘No, but I’ll do it tomorrow. I’ve got a party to go to. A friend of mine just inherited a condo at the beach and she’s having a housewarming party. You smell smoke?’
The Bus Trip
The house was still and silent. Everyone was asleep. Natty slipped out of her room, backpack in place, and crept downstairs, out the front door, and down the driveway to the street. There was lingering warmth in the air from Indian summer, but a chill from the coming winter could be felt, making Natty grateful for the sweater jacket she was wearing.
Thirty minutes later, she walked into the bus station on the edge of the little town she’d lived in all her life. The scattered passengers looked pale and rumpled under the fluorescent lights. A few appeared to be dozing in the old wooden seats, worn smooth and concave from years of passengers coming and going.
Some were reading; one old man was gazing off into the distance. He looked at Natty, rheumy eyes indifferent, and then looked away. A small group of young people were looking at their iPads or Smartphones, busy with whatever they saw on their electronic devices. On the far side of the room sat a middle aged woman, busy with something in her lap. She glanced up and smiled at Natty.
Natty settled herself in a wooden seat to wait for the bus. She’d timed her departure to wait the minimum time in the station, reducing the risk of being discovered and taken back home. The bus rolled in ten minutes later, belching a cloud of gray smoke, and braking with an ear-piercing shriek.
The sleepy passengers gathered their belongings and formed a straggling line in front of the bus. While the driver loaded bags, everyone climbed the steps and found their own space, bivouacs of privacy in the dark and quiet.
The young people went to the back, laughing and talking; the old man found a window seat halfway down the aisle, leaned his head against the window, and went to sleep. Natty found a window seat toward the front of the bus. The middle aged woman, fluffy brown hair streaked with gray, framing a sweet face, stood by Natty’s row of seats.
‘Do you mind if I sit here on the aisle? I don’t like to sit alone,’ she said.
‘Sure, I don’t mind’, said Natty. In truth, she felt a little relieved that this comfortable looking older woman would be sitting near her.
The bus pulled out with another belch of smoke, and a squeal of brakes, and everyone settled in to enjoy the ride. Natty leaned her head against the window, gazing out into the darkness past her reflection. She and her companion rode for an hour in silence. The seat light over the woman’s head made a pool of yellow as she sat knitting, leaving the rest of the bus and passengers to fade away into the darkness.
‘Where are you off to?’ asked the woman, breaking into Natty’s thoughts.
‘New York’, said Natty. ‘I’m going to find a job, audition in the theaters; have some fun.’
‘That sounds wonderful,’ said her companion, nodding.
‘What are you making?’ asked Natty.
‘A scarf, the kind you can wind around your neck to help keep the wind out. Do you know how to knit?’
‘My mom taught me a little last summer. I knitted a scarf like that, too. I lost it somewhere, though. It was pink and blue. It was made of that real fluffy yarn. The kind that looks like it’s got a cloud around it.’
Natty smiled, remembering the trouble she’d had negotiating that yarn, but how addicting knitting had been. If her mom hadn’t stopped her in time, that scarf would have been ten feet long.
‘You’re very young to be all alone. Do your parents know you’re here?’ asked her companion.
‘Yes,’ said Natty. ‘They bought me the ticket. They know I can take care of myself.’ The lie was necessary; Natty was a mature 15, but looked 18, and she didn’t want anyone to stop her, or try to call her parents.
‘I traveled by myself once, when I was your age. So long ago.’ The woman sighed, and smiled. ‘I went to New York, too. I’ll never forget it. Those kinds of things can make you grow up in a hurry, but I was bound and determined to do what I wanted.’ She shook her head.
‘What happened?’ asked Natty. ‘Did you find a job?’
‘Yes,’ said the woman. ‘I worked as a waitress for many years, tried to keep up with my dance and acting lessons, rent, utilities, going to shows, and running to auditions, every chance I got.’
‘You wanted to dance and act, too?’ asked Natty. This middle aged, comfortably girthed woman seemed so far removed from the glamour associated with Broadway.
‘Yes, I did. I was good, too,’ said the woman.
‘What happened?’ asked Natty again. ‘What happened’ was a favorite refrain, one she’d been asking of everyone, all her life.
‘A lot of things. I couldn’t keep up with all my expenses, and I guess I wasn’t as good as I thought I was. I’d been taking dance lessons for many years, and even had a chance for a dance scholarship for college, but left home before I even finished high school. I’d do it differently now, if I had the chance.’
‘Were you in any shows at all?’ asked Natty.
‘Yes, I was hired for the chorus many times, and it was more fun than anything I’d ever done. But, you get older, and the shows want fresh young dancers, and without more education, I couldn’t find a better job. I met my husband there, though, so I can’t complain.’
‘Was he a dancer, too?’ Natty asked.
‘No, he was a stage hand, who’d come to New York on a lark. He was planning to go back home and finish college after a year or two, but he wanted to have a little adventure before he settled down. We moved back to his home town, got married, had three kids, and now he’s retired. We’re enjoying doing what we want to do, visiting the grandkids, traveling a little, knitting.’ The woman chuckled.
‘That sounds nice,’ said Natty, although in truth, she thought it sounded like the most boring thing she’d ever heard. It sounded exactly like her mother and father.
They lapsed once more into silence. Natty gazed out the window at the passing towns, lying in the darkness. A few lights shone here and there, perhaps signifying a wakeful person, gazing at the ceiling, thinking of their younger selves, and wondering about what might have been?
Natty’s flights of fancy were cut off when the driver announced over the PA that the next stop would be coming up in ten minutes. The woman began to gather up her knitting.
‘That’s my stop,’ she said. ‘I know it’s atrociously early, but I hope Jim is there waiting for me. It’s nice visiting the folks, but better coming back home.’ She smiled at Natty. ‘You take care of yourself, dear,’ she said. ‘And have fun.’
‘Thank you,’ said Natty.
‘Here,’ said the woman. ‘You take this. It’ll be cold before you know it, in New York.’ She handed Natty the scarf she’d been knitting.
‘Thank you,’ said Natty again. ‘That’s very nice of you.’
The bus pulled into another small station, barely large enough to hold twenty people, and the woman made her way to the front to disembark. She turned at the door, and waved at Natty.
‘Good bye, Natty’, she said softly, but loud enough for Natty to hear.
How’d she know my name, Natty wondered. She’d been determined to use another name, but hadn’t decided which one sounded glamorous enough, of the few she’d chosen.
The woman stepped off the bus and Natty watched her walk down the platform, appearing and then disappearing into the pools of darkness between the lights. She disappeared one final time, and Natty turned back around. She switched on the little seat light overhead, and looked down at the scarf the woman had given her, fingering the soft wool.
The scarf was soft and fluffy, the pink and blue yarn forming a nimbus around it. It was the sort of scarf that was sure to keep the wind out of your collar.
A Difficult Matter
I woke up, stretched, and yawned. It was another chilly, wet day. I hunched my shoulders against the damp and stood. Sleeping on the ground was beginning to tell on me; each day and night on the street made me feel older than Methuselah, and twice as wise. I hoped I found something to eat before my stomach contracted and never went back to normal. I was warm enough for now, but didn’t like getting wet. It was hard to get dry and warm again on days like this.
Maybe today I’d stumble on a house with an open window or doors left ajar, and slip inside while the owners were at work; make myself comfortable. Raid the fridge; sleep on a bed or sofa for a few hours. This was risky business; I’d have to keep an ear open, so to speak, for the residents arriving home, or dogs wandering about.
Last time, I was almost caught when a dog appeared at the door of the living room and set up a ruckus loud enough to wake the dead. I effected an exit, jumping out a window just in front of his snapping teeth. Life on the street requires developing a sixth sense for dangers. Sometimes, there was a person still at home, keeping real quiet.
My hearing was good; when I’d gotten into in a house, I’d wait for five minutes, crouched by a window, or behind a door, listening, listening. When a house is empty, breathing is audible; the scritch-scratch of canine claws loud on linoleum and hardwood. That last time, Dog Breath got the drop on me because of the carpeting.
I sat down in the shelter of the awning of a little bookshop, scrunching myself in the corner. The eaves were dripping, but I kept dry, while I planned the day’s itinerary. The proprietor of the shop would be arriving shortly, and sometimes he’d share his breakfast. I tried to look as pathetic as possible; not a difficult feat on a day like this, and considering I lived outside, inclement weather notwithstanding.
I’d had a home once, but circumstances conspired against me having one all my life. My family had dwindled over the years, and soon it was just me and my mother, living in a house on the outskirts of town. She got older, became sick. I tried to take care of her, keep her cheerful and happy, but she died, and I was left on my own. I was older too, and found myself on the street within a matter of months.
Most people overlooked me when they passed me on the street. I made them uncomfortable. It would have been easy to help me; pass me a muffin or sandwich from their lunch. I didn’t blame them; it’s hard to help everybody, and there are many in need. Besides, I wasn’t exactly a thing of beauty. I was scraggly, skinny, and dirty. A bath hadn’t been on my list of priorities for a long while. Maybe I could clean up today when I found that ‘open’ house.
The owner of the shop walked up, smiled at me, and took off his hat, shaking it until raindrops flew like pinwheels. He was one of my favorite patrons; round, solidly plump, unfailingly cheerful; his twinkling brown eyes the color of good chocolate, his cheeks like ripe apples. He was filled to the brim, a brim marked by a bushy white mustache, with an abundance of bonhomie and love for all living things.
I was in luck, breakfast-wise. He said hello, rooted around in the oil stained bag he carried, and passed me one of those wonderful biscuits at which so many foolish people turn up their nose.
Not me, I wasn’t particular one whit; the flaky biscuit had melted cheese on top of slices of ham and sausage. I gobbled it up, feeling better immediately. That petit dejeuner, as a French acquaintance once said, would keep me warm for several hours. In my next life, I hoped to do something for this man. He was a lifesaver.
He unlocked his shop door, told me to stay as long as I liked, and went inside. I stood and walked on down the street. His customers didn’t want to see me on his doorstep. My friend, Mindy, was up ahead, and I caught up with her.
She was struttin’ along, looking pretty fine for this time of the morning. I wondered if she had a ‘regular’ who took care of her. She and I went way back, and had been through some tough times together. She was lithe and petite, green eyes peering from a piquant little face, regarding the world with an irresistible insouciance.
I wanted to get together with her, but time and again, she shunned me, sometimes with extreme prejudice. Said I wasn’t ‘relationship material’ whatever the hell that meant. Just ‘cause I saw other ladies now and then. Mindy claimed my moods changed all the time; sometimes I’d pay attention to her, and then bam!, turn around, walk off, and ignore her. I probably had something else on my mind, but try telling her that. I often had things on my mind, depending on the day and time.
I walked up beside her, and bumped her on the rear. She glanced around at me, and grinned. We didn’t speak, just walked on together in companionable silence. I could tell she’d already had breakfast; she was relaxed and casual. Pretty soon, she walked off into a maze of abandoned buildings, and disappeared.
I kept walking, wanting to find that warm, dry house to spend the day; preferably with a big, soft sofa under a bay window, in case the sun came out later. There was nothing like napping in the sun. It did my bones good, aching and stiff as they were from sleeping on the damp ground.
I sauntered three blocks over to a street lined with trees, bare now in winter, brooding over little houses sporting wide porches filled with potted plants and rocking chairs. The backyards had wooden fences, with gaps big enough to squeeze through. I picked one I’d been in before; a yellow bungalow, its sloping roof giving it a coy look of welcome.
Shrubbery under the windows, and a tree in the front yard, were both excellent for concealing my presence, and convenient in gaining access to the paradise within.
I crept closer, keeping a wary eye on the house. The windows had diamond panes, breaking the interior into multiple scenes of domestic nirvana. There was no dog in residence, and only one person lived there, a youngish woman, with soft, swinging brown hair. Her face was sweet and kind, and I was sure if she ever caught me, she wouldn’t be upset.
She’d be leaving for work soon. I tiptoed nearer, hoping she’d forgotten to close a window, when her garage door rumbled open. A few moments later, her car pulled out, and she sped off. My luck held again, because I saw a side window open, just a bit. With a little effort I could get in.
I jumped to reach the windowsill, wiggled under it, pushed up until it opened more, and slid inside. I dropped to the floor, landing in a crouch. I waited a moment, just in case the house wasn’t empty. The bed was rumpled, clothes strewn about, but messes didn’t bother me. In my former life, I’d been clean and neat, but didn’t judge others by my standards. The room looked cozy, and the house was warm. That’s all I cared about.
I found the kitchen, and looked for food. There was bread, and a plate with some scrambled eggs on the counter, and I ate my fill. I spent my days and nights hungry more often than not, and there was always room for ‘more’.
Maybe I could take some bread with me when I left. I didn’t like to leave traces of my presence in a house, but after eight or nine hours, I figure people don’t remember what their house looked like when they left, especially if they left in a hurry.
I cleaned up after my impromptu lunch, and wandered into the tiny living room. There was the sofa I’d been lusting for, under the bay window, reclining there in a sleepy attitude of seductive repose, like an artist’s model in a Renaissance painting; robe slipping off dusky shoulders, languidly wiggling plump cushions at me, the invitation clear; come sink into its depths.
I sat down, pushed an afghan into a bundle, wiggled until I found the right spot, and stretched out with a sigh. I hummed deep in my throat, a reassuring melody I remembered from childhood. This was the life, alright. In less time than it takes to wink, I was asleep.
The sun crept out of hiding while I slept, and through my dreams the warmth invaded and comforted me. I dozed on, not noticing the sun climbing to its zenith, and sinking again to the west. I woke with a start when the front door opened, and the young woman walked in, laden with grocery bags, smelling like spring.
‘What are you doing here?’ she demanded. ‘How did you get in?’
I made no reply, but sat up, feeling, and no doubt, looking, cornered and frightened. Her expression softened, and she said more gently, ‘Are you hungry, poor thing?’
She walked to the kitchen, depositing the bags on the counter. She reached in one and pulled out a carton. ‘Would you like some milk?’
She poured some, gesturing for me to come to the kitchen, and I obliged. Cold milk sounded wonderful.
‘I’ve seen you around here before, haven’t I? You’re in trouble and you should stay here with me. We’ll keep each other company, and send loneliness right back where it came from. I’ll get you cleaned up, fattened, and healthy. What do you say?’
She stroked my head gently, waiting for my answer.
I sat down, regarding her placidly, but with affection, and wiped my mouth clean of milk. She waited for my answer.
‘Meow,’ I said.