Round One: The Cookie by Lynn Nicholas

Susan surveyed the wreckage. The ceramic floor tile shone from the patina of spilled sugar crystals. Nearly empty tubes of frosting oozed colored gel, staining the festive paper tablecloths. Susan grasped a cloth at one corner, expertly enfolding decorating paraphernalia and gooey mess all in one deft movement. The crumbled bundle landed neatly in the trash bin. The rest could wait until morning. She was bone-aching tired but deeply satisfied with the evening.

Closing her eyes to the shambles, Susan inhaled the lingering aroma of baked cookies. The holiday cookie-decorating party had been a great idea—current disarray aside. Her friends even asked her to host another one next year. They were all so lighthearted this eveningz; rolling out dough and sharing favorite cookie cutters, joking as they passed bowls of colorful Royal Icing between tables. The finished cookies were gorgeous. Everyone filled tins to take home.

Even Paul’s grown-up daughters had shown up. Notorious holiday cynics, their enthusiastic participation surprised Susan. Their enjoyment in decorating the cookies seemed to be genuine. Heads almost touching, Julie’s blond hair entangled with Anna’s dark, they carefully shielded their handiwork from copycats. The artistic detail on their finished cookies was impressive. Her stepdaughters actually hugged her before they left. Susan smiled to herself. Finally, their coolness towards her was melting. She even heard them giggling as they got into their car. She stretched happily, contentment filling every pore.

Susan kicked her off her shoes and happy-danced towards the bedroom. It had been the perfect party. She had to admit to herself that she’d been eager for her stepdaughters to see her through her friends’ eyes, as someone generous and kind and warm. She was loved by her friends, adored by Paul, and wanted her stepdaughters to, at least, like her. Including them tonight with her friends was a public declaration that they were a family. She took the girls’ participation as their unspoken accord.

Loosening an earring one-handed, Susan reached towards her jewelry box. She froze, eyes widening with bewildered disbelief. The earring bounced off the carpet as her hands rose involuntarily to her mouth. She gasped for breath: gut-punched and nauseous. Embarrassment at her own naivety and stupid optimism flooded her face with hot color. Tears of humiliation blurred her vision. If this was the girls’ idea of a joke, it was cruel and cowardly. She envisioned them sniggering spitefully all the way home, imagining her reaction.

It was a cookie, hand-decorated especially for her and artfully placed where only she would find it, on top of the leather jewelry case. They must have used the Mrs. Claus cookie cutter. No attention to detail had been spared, from the softly curled hairdo and the naked breasts adorned with raisin nipples, down to the vulgar chocolate-frosting mat of pubic hair, enhanced with silver sugar crystals. This was more than a cynical mockery of her holiday celebration; it was a judgment.

Susan took a deep, shaking breath and sank into the bedroom chair. She leaned forward, her right arm protectively hugging her middle; her chin supported on the back of her left hand. She glanced pensively at her husband’s slumbering form. He was everything to her.

Newly resolute, Susan stood up and squared her shoulders. Okay. Now she understood the rules of the game, and she had the home court advantage. The girls were about to learn that she would not crumble as easily as this Christmas cookie. Neither was she as sweet. They had only won Round One.

© Copyright 2010 Lynn Nicholas. All rights reserved.

Lynn Nicholas, a LiveJournal blogger, is also active on as “allinmyhead,”where she posts work for critique and reviews other writers’ submissions. She is the author of “Jumping the Tracks,” which appeared on this blog in June 2009. An experienced technical editor, she is now enjoying honing her writing skills, specializing in humorous commentary. Lynn’s fiction and poetry are inspired by real-life experience. Motto: when life throws you curves, find a way to use it in your writing. She lives in Tucson, AZ.

Central Park by Margaret Finnegan

“Did you throw this at me?”

“Excuse me?,” said Sheila.

“Did you throw this bagel at me?” The woman shoved the hunk of bread in Sheila’s face. Sheila could see now that the woman was much buffer than she’d looked from the sidewalk. From there, she’d seemed like one of those toothpick mamas that you barely notice when they turn sideways because they’re all Lycracized chests and asses. But up close, it was clear that the woman was maybe thirty percent biceps, maybe forty.

“Throw a bagel at you? Why would I do that?”

“I don’t know,” said the woman as she slammed the aluminum bar along the edge of her baby stroller into Sheila’s knees. “But you’re the only one around here with a Noah’s bag.”

The baby whimpered and then began to wail. “And now you woke up the baby, you freak. Thanks a lot.” Hurling the bagel at Sheila, the woman snarled, grabbed her stroller and jogged away.

Sheila watched the woman disappear into the crowd heading for lunch over in Old Town. Over by the play equipment she saw an old man with a poodle squinting at her. He took a few steps, then stopped and squinted some more.

Sheila felt her face redden. She twisted her head this way and that as if to say, “What horrible person in this park would throw a bagel at a woman and her baby? What horrible person would do such a sick thing? Where? Where could that that horrible, sick person be?

Pretty soon she got tired of that. Plus, it was making her neck sore and who cared what some old man thought. She exhaled a warm, flat sigh and reviewed her situation.

The truth was, she’d made her bed. Now she was pretty well lying in it. She’d cast her die. She’d done her deed. And she’d gotten what she wanted. That was the ironic part. After a lifetime of strategic planning and perseverance, she’d landed exactly where she wanted.

What a fucking mess.

A cloud passed over the sun, casting the whole park in cold shadow. The baby in the Bugaboo next to her squirmed and the whole more-expensive-than-the-fricking-wedding contraption began to shake. Sheila stood up, shoved the bag into the stroller basket and headed home.

© Copyright 2010 Margaret Finnegan. All rights reserved.

Margaret Finnegan is a frequent contributor to The Rose City Sisters. Her story, “Sweet Revenge,” was voted the 2009 Story of the Year by fellow contributors to this blog. She blogs at Finnegan Begin Again. To read an excerpt of her novel, “The Goddess Lounge,” visit her website.

Ad Hominem by Kelly I. Hitchcock

Alex Wilson placed her hands on the heart rate sensors of the treadmill. Two miles down, two miles to go. This was her thrice weekly training routine for the upcoming Pasadena Marathon. It was her first, so she didn’t really know how to train, but she figured as long as she kept running, she wouldn’t fall apart too badly. She began to give herself the internal encouragement speech she gave herself every time she ran, to keep from quitting early or thinking about a juicy cheeseburger.

All right, you’re halfway there. You did one half; you know you can do two. Doin’ great and feelin’ good.

She adjusted the volume in her earbuds, attached to the TV mechanism of the treadmill. Sometimes, she came to the gym just to watch TV. At home, she got eight channels. At the gym, she got 150. Friends asked her why she didn’t get cable, but between her job at legal aid, where most of her cases involved helping illegal aliens seeking asylum, and her law school student loans, it just wasn’t in the cards. Alex didn’t mind much, though. There wasn’t a whole lot on TV she wanted to see anyway. Except C-SPAN, which she was tuned to now. Alex didn’t care that other people considered C-SPAN the golf of the news world; to her, it was like porn. She couldn’t get enough of it, and it kept her going through those extra miles. It was keeping her going right now.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Coughing Dude approaching. She called him Coughing Dude because she didn’t know his real name (and didn’t care to), and because he coughed and cleared his throat constantly while working out. Alex had considered choosing a different treadmill, since Coughing Dude liked to pick the one next to her, but she liked this one, and thought that because he was the annoying one, he was the one who should pick a different machine. She adjusted the volume in her earbuds higher to have a plausible excuse to not talk to Coughing Dude, but the House floor was in the middle of voting, so there was a lot of intermittent silence.

“Hey, it’s C-SPAN girl,” Coughing Dude said in Alex’s general direction, throwing a gym towel over his shoulder. She briefly considered by saying Hey, it’s Coughing Dude, but instead pretended to not hear him and placed her hands on the heart rate sensors to indicate how focused she was on her workout.

The gym was Alex’s fourth least favorite place to be hit on, behind the ultra-cheap grocery store, her office, and the laundromat. She kept her eyes locked on the tiny TV screen and tried to avoid watching her un-California white legs in the giant mirror facing the entire cardio room.

“So,” Coughing Dude yelled from his treadmill, his pace a brisk walk. “Whaddaya think of the healthcare bill?”

Alex half-considered pretending she didn’t hear him again, but knew he wouldn’t fall for it. Her thoughts on the legislation in question were many, and complicated, but she just wanted to placate him and get back to her run. She removed her right earbud only long enough to answer.

“There are things I like about it and things I don’t.”

He sped up his pace to a jog. “Think it’s a step in the right direction.”

Alex smiled, nodded, and fixed her eyes on the screen again. One and a half more miles to go. The floor was taking a fifteen minute recess. She thought about changing the channel, but then thought Coughing Dude might just ask more questions.

“Ya think Obama’s gonna reverse all the actions in the Patriot Act? I sure hope so.” He coughed, then cleared his throat.

Alex didn’t bother removing her earbuds or looking at him. “Me too.”
As soon as the red digits under Distance ticked over to 3.25, Alex turned up the pace. She hoped she could do the last three-fourths of a mile in enough time to avoid any more questions from Coughing Dude. Five minutes passed before his treadmill slowed to a stop and the next question came.

“So didja hear ‘bout Jackson buildin’ 3,000 more square miles of razor fence at the border? Right thing to do I hope.”

Alex looked up from the TV and caught her face reddening in the mirror. She hoped Coughing Dude didn’t see it. She thought of all the immigrants she saw in her run-down, musty office, day in and day out. She thought of the young women who spent every penny they had to come to Hollywood, where they were promised an acting or modeling job that didn’t exist. She thought of the young men who washed dishes in diners that couldn’t pass health inspections so they could send money back home to pay for a parent’s medical operation. She thought of the children who smuggled drugs in for the Mexican cartels only to end up living on the streets. She thought of all these things as she told Coughing Dude what she thought of the additional fence at the border, running hard, her face flushing brightly.

Coughing Dude nodded. “Makes a lotta sense.” He wiped his face with the towel on his shoulder then exited the treadmill.

“Y’should really run fer office,” he said, walking past her.

Funny, Alex thought of saying. I didn’t know watching C-SPAN and having an opinion qualified you for public office. Instead, she shot him an incredulous half-laugh to signal what a joke that’d be. He waved as he rounded the corner out of the cardio room.

Alex was no fool. She knew how Pasadena politics were. Her family didn’t live in an estate overlooking the Arroyo or have ties to the Hollywood elite like other Pasadena politicians, and she didn’t play well with the State attorneys who wanted to get tough on immigration.

Still, Alex thought to herself, there’s a lot of good I could do.
© Copyright 2010 Kelly I. Hitchcock. All rights reserved.

Kelly I. Hitchcock is a novelist, poet, and blogger from a poor stretch of the Ozarks in Southwest Missouri. A graduate of the creative writing program at Missouri State University, Kelly’s poems have been featured in Clackamas Literary Review and Foliate Oak Literary Journal. She lives in Kansas City and is an avid volunteer and fundraiser for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Learn more about the author and her work by visiting her website and following her on Twitter.

Bertina’s Playlist

Bertina’s Playlist
by Windi Padia

Bertina was a large German woman who sat hunched in her office most days. I dreaded asking her for a deadline extension on the paperwork. She looked either insulted or angry when I asked for anything outside of normal routine.

Her office was in the basement, sandwiched between the custodian’s closet and the men’s restroom. She wasn’t behind her desk, so I decided to wait. I sat in a rickety plastic chair shoved into the corner. It was the first real chance I’d had to study her work space. Usually our conversations were short verbal missives fired at each other while I was half-turned to go and her eyes were glued on her computer.

Haphazard cords fell from the back of her computer, which faced the doorway. There were no plants—no way they’d survive the windowless basement. One glaring ceiling light buzzed above; a dust-covered bookcase housed cracked plastic binders. Bertina had one picture on the wall: a yellow cat with distended claws stuck in window curtains, and a caption that read “Hang in there!”

I shifted—the plastic chair scraped the linoleum floor—and glanced back towards the doorway, wondering if I should come back another time. That’s when I saw the diploma hanging above the door. A Ph.D. in Social Sciences with a concentration in economics from Caltech, 1995. Bertina was slightly above a secretary and far below a mid-level manager. She had worked at our company for fifteen years. It struck me that she was probably smarter than her boss and his boss put together.

I heard squeaking shoes and Bertina walked in—I stood up—she saw me and moved sideways. “What do you want?” she asked.

“I’ll be turning in the StaffCo contract paperwork about a week late,” I said. “We have some more negotiations to do.”

Bertina was in a blue and green flower-print dress, long-sleeved. There was a ring of dust around the bottom of her dress where the fabric had slid through the muck of the linoleum. Greasy hair framed her red-splotched face. This giant German thought to dress herself in flowers from the early nineties. I choked down a panicked laugh.

“Any changes mean more work for me,” Bertina said, and sat down behind her desk. She looked at her computer screen. “I’m sure you can appreciate that I don’t have time to waive deadlines for every contract. The answer is no.” She motioned me out of her office.

Ugly, big, mean white lady. No imagination. No flexibility. Out of her office and up the stairs to my corner office with bright windows and plush carpet. Bertina had no decision-making authority. We both knew I would take as long as I needed to with the negotiations, and she would “forget” to process my paperwork until I had to come to her squat dirty office again to check its status. A game, an office power play. I was tired of it.

So I made her a mixtape. Bon Jovi, Bee Gees, Madonna, P!nk. Joan Jett. A little Slip-Slidin’ Away by Paul Simon. A little Michael Jackson. Some Elvis Presley. I kept it light, dance-ready, upbeat. Some Queen seasoned with a little Hall & Oates. I grew up in the eighties, so I still call them mixtapes. What I really did was create a playlist called “For Bertina;” then I burned it onto a CD. Since she had no way to play CDs in her office, I bought the cheapest CD player I could find: a Hello Kitty pink boombox for $9.99.

I figured at some point in the past fifteen years, she had been confident, maybe even well-regarded. The big bosses must have asked for her ideas. Little by little, she had been ignored. Her promise as a highly educated member of the workforce was forgotten; she was given menial tasks that required no brain power. She could either fight back, challenge her bosses to give her more meaningful work, or become bitter and protect the small responsibilities dumped on her in the basement. I figured she had chosen the latter.

I waited one night until she went home, and then placed her gifts on her desk. No “To… From…” note, just the CD and the pink boombox.

I waited a week, then two; continued my negotiations with StaffCo. I forgot about Bertina. StaffCo and I finally came to an agreement, and a month later I made the long walk down the basement stairs. I found her office…empty. Dust patterns showed where the computer had been, the phone, the diploma above the door. The only things left were the scuffed plastic chair and the cat poster.

I walked back upstairs and went to my boss. “Did you finally fire Bertina?” I asked.

“No,” he said. “We promoted her. You need her for the StaffCo paperwork?”

“Yeah…,” I said.

“Give it to Sandy for now.”

I started to walk out of his office, and then turned and asked, “What’s Bertina’s new job title?”

“Senior VP of Marketing,” he said. “She’s a couple rungs up the chain from you now.”

Senior VPs had offices on the sixth floor. I got on the elevator and rode up. I told the receptionist I had been summoned upstairs and got a suspicious look, but was allowed past anyway.

Bertina was pin-striped and well-groomed, not a hair out of place. Her skin was clear and smooth. She regarded me with a steady gaze, and smiled.

“Congratulations on your promotion.” I hovered in the doorway and looked past her to the view of the city. Green plants in a tasteful arrangement on the windowsill framed the skyline.

“I’m just livin’ on a prayer,” she said.

I caught a flash of pink: the Hello Kitty CD player was nestled under her diploma on a gleaming mahogany side table. “You’re halfway there,” I said, and smiled back.
© Copyright 2010 Windi Padia. All rights reserved.

Windi Padia grew up wanting to be a biologist and is now in the Human Resources section of a state wildlife agency, where humans make much more fascinating subjects. She is currently writing human-interest articles for Colorado Outdoors Magazine and learning all she can through the creative writing certificate program at the University of Denver. Her blog, Crazy Coppertop, is the diary of a crazy redhead.

All Bob Griese’s Fault

All Bob Griese’s Fault
by Kathryn Wilkens

I unlocked the car, slung my canvas bag of ungraded papers onto the front seat and climbed into my kiln on wheels. Burning my hands on the plastic steering wheel, I rolled down the window, cranked the engine and switched on the radio, my only solace. Appropriately, “Light My Fire” played as I followed Francisquito to the San Berdoo Freeway and merged with westbound traffic. I squinted into the sunlight glaring off the pavement and other cars. Mine stood out—a boxy 1964 Comet bearing Indiana plates and a McCarthy for President bumper sticker.

I lamented the Comet’s lack of air conditioning as the wind stung my eyes, bringing tears. I’d had a wretched day at school, trying to teach Spanish to seventh graders. What was I doing here? I hated California and it was all Bob Griese’s fault.

If he hadn’t, as quarterback, led Purdue to a winning season the previous year, if the Boilermakers hadn’t been invited to the Rose Bowl, and if my roommate Donna hadn’t visited Pasadena and fallen in love with it, then she wouldn’t have suggested that she, Christie and I move out here after graduation. All three of us had found teaching jobs at a junior high in La Puente, and at the end of August left the Midwest with clothes, records, books and a few things cadged from our mothers’ kitchens.

In our first hectic days we had found a furnished two-bedroom apartment on Rosemead Boulevard, arranged for utilities and bought pots and pans at White Front. We applied for California drivers’ licenses, opened bank accounts and enrolled in night classes at Cal State LA. After signing loyalty oaths to the Constitution, getting fingerprinted at the police station and writing lesson plans, we were ready to teach.

Now, “Light My Fire” gave way to “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay.” I remembered how Donna had returned from California gushing about palm trees, blue skies and balmy temperatures. So far I’d only seen a few scraggly palms. The sky was whitish-yellow overhead and brown in the distance. And what she called balmy I called hot. The California I saw was an agglomeration of concrete, gas stations, billboards, stucco architecture—and walls and fences around every property.

The only good thing was that it never rained. At least that’s what The Mamas and the Papas said.

I missed my family, but I couldn’t go back to Indiana. I wasn’t about to break my contract and crawl home. There I would always be the “baby” of the family. How could a baby attain the authority to become a good teacher? I’d have to stick it out. Besides, as I downshifted for the Rosemead exit, I doubted my Comet would make the return trip.

Donna, Christie and I settled into a routine of school and night classes. Unless Donna cooked, dinner was a bag of tacos. On Fridays we TGIF-ed at a seedy bar called Goldy’s Living Room. Christie flirted with the coaches and Donna soon hooked up with a science teacher, Steve. One time Steve brought along a buddy, Sam, who worked for Edison. Sam was divorced with two sons. He’d be a good friend, I thought, but he had different plans for us. He asked me out to dinner the next night. We found plenty to talk and laugh about, so I had a good time. When he took me home, though, the goodnight kiss he gave me was a disappointing brotherly smooch.

Two weeks later Sam stopped by my apartment after work. As we were sitting on the sofa listening to music, it started to rain. He charged out on the balcony and stood there for a long time watching water fall from the sky. Every time there was a lightning flash, he said “Wow!” and cocked his head, waiting for thunder. “I’m grooving on this storm.”

“I thought it never rained here!” I said. “What are you so excited about? I moved out here to get away from rain!”

He just grinned at me. “Wait until you’ve lived here a while,” he said. “You’ll see.”

I shook my head. He was a little weird, but he was starting to grow on me.

It stopped raining the next day. I had a class after school, so it was dark by the time I downshifted onto the Rosemead off ramp. Looking north, I saw strange lights glimmering in the sky. Not up high, but about halfway up my windshield. They were too large to be stars or planets. They could be low-flying aircraft except they weren’t moving. Helicopters? UFOs?

The phone rang as soon as I got inside and peeled off my pantyhose. Christie answered and handed me the receiver. It was Sam. I mentioned the impossible lights.

“You were seeing the towers on Mt. Wilson,” he said.

I was silent for a minute. “Wait—there are mountains here?”

He laughed. “Yeah, it’s been smoggy—you probably haven’t seen them yet. If you’re not busy I’ll come over and show you.” Of course I was busy. I had papers to grade, parents to call, lessons to plan.

“Sure,” I said.

We drove through towns—I couldn’t tell where one ended and the next one began—and then on a road that wound uphill. He pulled into a turnout and parked. We got out and leaned against the car. I looked at the lights of the cities—a blanket of twinkling dots that stretched miles to the south, east and west. “If it were daylight you’d be able to see the ocean and Catalina Island,” he said.

He came close and wrapped himself around me. He was a big guy, tall and warm. He smelled good. I had to stand on my tiptoes when he kissed me—not a brotherly smooch this time. “I’m glad you came to California,” he said.

I turned and looked again at the enchanted landscape below us. “You can thank Bob Griese,” I said.
© Copyright 2010 Kathryn Wilkens. All rights reserved.

Kathryn Wilkens began writing for publication in 2000 and has placed several travel articles in The Los Angeles Times. She has also written essays and articles for Writers’ Journal, Personal Journaling, Verbatim and The Christian Science Monitor. Four of her essays have appeared in anthologies, most recently “Sea of Blue Ink” in Writers and Their Notebooks (University of South Carolina Press, 2010).

Red Bob Gets an Offer

Red Bob Gets an Offer
by Laura L Mays Hoopes

“Hey, Hank. Want some coffee?” Hank nodded, so Red Bob poured coffee into the cup without losing a drop, then sat across from Hank in the booth.

“Did I hear right, Glorietta’s getting government money now?” Hank mopped up the last syrup from his plate with a piece of pancake.

“Ah, yes. Glorietta’s a spunky one. I wouldn’t go into that den of government thieves down at Social Security, but she did, so now we get a check every month. She’s right, it’s really her money that they stole out of her paycheck all these years.”

Red Bob got up to meander around the Cleghorn Diner with the coffee. After a while, he slid back in across from Hank.

“You get Social Security too?” Hank asked.

Red Bob scratched behind his left ear. “She wants me to. I dunno, going to that place gives me the willies. We could use the money. If I never ask for it, the politicians will keep it and be all pleased with themselves.”

“I don’t vote, myself. Don’t want to take responsibility for their tom-fool behavior,” Hank said. “Got more coffee?”

Red Bob topped up his cup neatly, then said, “They always spend more than they got. ‘Borrow and spend’ say the Republicans, ‘tax and spend’ say the Democrats. It’s all our money.”

Hank said, “What’re you going to do with the Cleghorn Diner when you two retire? Do you want to sell it?”

Red Bob’s eyes popped open. “Maybe. Or get a manager. Why, you interested in buying?”

“Yes, but I didn’t talk with Susan yet. I’m just 53. I’m bored sitting around the house all day. Too much TV. Don’t think I mentioned it before, but I retired three years ago from being a custodian down below, at John Muir High School in Pasadena. Sue retired from teaching there at the same time. We love it up here in the High Desert. The air is so clean, and it’s got weather. I can see spending some years doing what you do.”

“Wow. Never knew you were interested. I’d have to talk to Glorietta.”

“Might make you an offer later this week, buddy.” Hank wadded up his napkin, threw it into the empty plate, swung his legs into the aisle.

Red Bob said, “See you soon.” He sauntered towards the kitchen, his mind racing. Would Glorietta go for it? She had talked about getting a manager if Red Bob retired. Did she need to own the place? Back in the Haight commune, she used to make fun of property owners. He mopped his forehead with the bandanna from his shirt pocket. Calm down, now, she might like the idea.

Glorietta hovered over six pancakes and two fried eggs on the griddle. She looked up and smiled. Red Bob patted his wife on the butt and she giggled. He winked, then said, “Glor, can you take a break soon? Got something we need to talk about.”

“Sure, Nicole can tell people it’ll be a while.” Glorietta slipped the eggs over gently and stacked the pancakes on two plates. She added the eggs to one plate, set the orders on the shelf outside the window, then rang a bell to get Nicole’s attention.

Nicole was a fortyish, well-groomed blond, a little plump, with a ready smile. She hurried from the back of the café. “Hey y’all. Good, Buzzy and Dave were gettin’ antsy for these ’cakes!”

“Nicole, we’re going out for a break for about ten minutes, okay?”

“No problem. See y’all.” Nicole picked up the plates and walked back towards the booths. Glorietta and Red Bob went outside.

“Whassup, hon?” Glorietta said.

Red Bob said, “Glor, Hank surprised me. If Sue agrees, he wants make an offer to buy the Cleghorn Diner. I told him I needed to check with you.”

Glorietta sank down onto a big rock beside the parking area. After she said, “Oh,” she was quiet for a while.

Red Bob took a deep breath. He put his hands in his pockets, then took them out again. “Do you think we need to keep it? You talked about getting a manager.”

Glorietta looked at the ground. “I don’t know. I never thought about selling. I suppose we’d have to move; our trailer is on the café property.”

Red Bob looked at their old house trailer. “Well, I don’t know. Hank and Sue have a house. Of course, maybe they’d have to sell that to get the down payment.” Red Bob pulled up his jeans and cleared his throat. “We could travel, maybe.”

Glorietta frowned, then her face relaxed. “We could visit Mimi.”

Red Bob felt his throat tighten at the name of their twenty-four year old daughter, who had gone off to Las Vegas three months before. “Yeah, it’d be a good way to keep in touch. An’ we could go lots of other places. Like back up to San Fran, to the Grand Canyon, which I never saw before, whatever. We might decide just to live in an Airstream. Or we could get a small place here in Victor Valley, and use it as a base.”

“That sounds good. Need somewhere to send my Social Security checks. I used to think roots sucked, but we got friends here. We shouldn’t disconnect, right?”

“Yeah. Are you thinking yes, then?”

“You talked me into it. Traveling would be fun. We’ve been nowhere to speak of.” Glorietta looked out over the flat desert with a few Joshua trees sticking up and a distant rim of blue mountains.

Red Bob said, “Okay. Don’t know if Sue’ll want to. Just wanted you to think it over.”

Glorietta got up, shook out her skirt. “Now I think I’ll be disappointed if they decide no.”

Red Bob put his arm around her and they walked slowly across the blacktop and went inside their diner.
© Copyright 2010 Laura L Mays Hoopes. All rights reserved

Laura L Mays Hoopes is a biology professor turned creative writer. In 2009 she completed the Creative Writing Certificate at UCLA Extension. She lives in the Inland Empire with her husband and terrier, Sabby. Her two kids are grown; one in Chicago and one in Santa Cruz.She has published in North Carolina Literary Review, Christian Science Monitor, The Writer’s Eye, and other publications. She is working on a biography and two novels. In addition, she maintains the West Coast Writers blog. If you like Red Bob and Glorietta, read her prequel here.

Congratulations Margaret Finnegan!

The Rose City Sisters 2009 “Story of the Year” is “Sweet Revenge” by Margaret Finnegan. Her story is a darkly comic cautionary tale about a man who eats the last piece of cake.

More than two dozen contributors were eligible to vote for their favorite of the seven finalist stories. The votes were tallied on Monday, January 25.

Margaret will get a certificate (suitable for posting on the refrigerator where slices of cake are sometimes stored) and a rose quartz-and-pearl necklace and earrings designed by Jill Pearson for Wasabi, a Pasadena-based jewelry company.

To learn more about Margaret, visit her website or read her blog, Finnegan Begin Again.

Congratulations to all the finalists:

Belinda’s Birthday by Petrea Burchard

Downsized by Janet Aird

Get Gone by Cindie Geddes

Glorietta and Red Bob Come to Terms by Laura L Mays Hoopes

A Losing Game by Bonnie Schroeder

Quicky by Desireé Zamorano

(Okay, fun’s over. Please submit more stories.)

Closing Costs

Closing Costs
by Jacqueline Vick


The answer did not surprise us, as the homeowner had by now developed a reputation. Jock Anderson had refused to assist us with the closing costs and had declined our request to repair the rotted picket fence that lined the sidewalk in front of the faded home. Each counter offer we presented met with the same flat response—take it or leave it.

We were disappointed anyway.

Our real estate agent sniffed and shrugged. She was an unpleasant woman with Coke-bottle glasses and the personality of a schoolmarm. Every time our offer came back, we felt as if we’d failed a test, but she handled our questions efficiently. That was all that concerned us.

She was not sure how long she could continue the volley of offers and reminded us that there were other buyers. Serious buyers, she seemed to say. With a twinge of guilt, we told her we would think about it. She gave us twenty-four hours.

This was the only Victorian home currently on the market in all of Pasadena. It wasn’t the Bissell House by any means, but we saw potential charm and beauty and hoped for the chance to make this our first residence in California.

My husband and I, fans of the late eighteenth century, couldn’t think of a lovelier example of Victorian architecture. Flowing cornices edged the roof, though sections of rot exposed the timber underneath. The side bay windows would provide a spectacular view of the pond, once cleaned. After years of neglect, the bright yellow paint had chipped and faded, giving the once stately structure the appearance of a homeless person, huddled under a ragged blanket.

We had already searched for and found a matching shade at the local hardware store.

My husband had to get back to work, and on a whim, I drove to High Street alone to take another look at the property. I hoped my current anger would help me see the place objectively. Was it worth the trouble?

I was peering through the living room window when a soft voice made me jump.

“It’s a beautiful home.” Behind me stood a soft, plump woman with teased hair and a ready smile.

“I’m Bunny,” she said. She nodded at the ranch home next door.

With her pink slacks and paisley print shirt, she did resemble an Easter Bunny, and after Jock Anderson, it was a relief to find someone friendly in the neighborhood.

“How can you stand living near this guy?” I asked.

“Have you met him?”

“No,” I had to admit, “but from my experience, he can’t be a nice man.”

“Jock is quite the character,” she agreed. “Are you interested in buying?”

I explained our difficulties and she listened with sympathy. “He’s having trouble letting go, I expect,” she said. “When you get older, dear, you’ll understand. Jock raised a family in this home. He’s been here for forty years. That’s a lot of memories.”

Her description was of a lonely old man, and I felt guilty for playing him up as a ghoul. I changed the subject.

“Your roses are gorgeous.” I moved to her front yard and reached out to touch one particularly plump specimen clinging to a wooden trellis.

“Don’t touch,” she said, panicked. When I stepped back in surprise, she pointed to the front window where a pinched face peered out at us. “My sister is sensitive about her babies.” She rolled her eyes to show she disagreed. I waved to the face which promptly disappeared behind lace curtains.

“Are you in the mood for coffee?”

A welcome offer. We decided to go to Andy’s Coffee Shop rather than intrude on Bunny’s sister. Over lattes, she described a neighborhood ambiance that surpassed my hopes. The property now had another advantage. How many people have the luck to move into a new place with a friend already installed next door? I returned home determined to make Jock Anderson an offer he couldn’t refuse.

We would have to make sacrifices. Late that night we crunched the numbers. Did we need cable? Could we live without a phone? How much food did we really consume in a month? In the end, our agent told us our offer was accepted.

We met Mr. Anderson at the inspection. His stooped shoulders and wide belly drooped along with his personality. He remained in the kitchen and left us to wait on the threadbare couch in the living room. We passed the time imagining how a fresh coat of white paint would turn the dingy brick fireplace into the room’s centerpiece.

After inking the last of many signatures, the house was ours. We decided to celebrate at the Arroyo Chop House, a final splurge before we jumped into a more frugal diet.

Bunny’s appearance in the foyer surprised me at first. She passed through the crowded restaurant to the far corner of the room where an older-looking man with a wide belly waited for her. The succulent beef soured in my mouth as I watched her lean over and kiss Jock Anderson on the cheek, rub his stooped shoulders, and join him in a private celebration.

I had never bothered to get her last name.
© Copyright 2010 Jacqueline Vick. All rights reserved.

Jacqueline Vick is a freelance writer. Her mystery novel “Family Matters” was a semifinalist (top 100 out of 10,000) in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Competition. Some of her short fiction can be found in Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine, Orchard Press Mysteries, and Cantaraville II, and her short story “The Membership Drive” will appear in the Everyday Fiction Anthology.

A Buck-Sixty-Eight Worth

A Buck-Sixty-Eight Worth
by Mark Barkawitz

It was another hot and smoggy afternoon. There was nothing much to do, so I walked with my old dog Atom to the Bob’s Big Boy Restaurant on Colorado Boulevard near Pasadena City College. They had a take-out window on the patio, where I ordered a Big Boy Combo with a Coke and a chocolate brownie. The young, uniformed waitress—customary, little stovepipe cap hair-pinned to her tightly-wrapped coif—rang it up. She slid back my change—a buck-sixty-eight—and a receipt.

“It’ll be a little while.” She pulled closed the sliding glass window, meant to keep out the bugs.

I sat at a patio table. Atom lay near my feet. He was nearly ten now, with a graying muzzle and arthritic back legs. I reached down and petted him. He yawned and put his head down between his front paws.

“Nice dawg.”

We looked up. A scruffy, bent-over, old man who’d just strolled onto the patio approached our table. He leaned his wrinkled, stubbled, sun-soaked face next to mine. His breath smelled of wine and he’d obviously slept in his clothes.

“Hello,” I said.

“Does he bite?”

“Not usually.”

He reached down a knuckly hand and patted Atom’s head. Then the old wino bent low and looked Atom in the eyes. “Ya’ know, this here dawg a’ yours is the spittin’ image of a German Shepherd dawg that once saved my life.”

His bones seemed to creak as he sat across from me. His hand continued to scratch behind Atom’s ear. “It was in the Big One. WWII, that is. Back in them days, I was a young, buck private in the U.S. Infantry, stationed near the German lines. My platoon was sent in to mop up after this big battle. We was ‘sposed to pick up any stray Krauts we found hidin’ in these woods. Well, our smarty-ass first lieutenant got the brilliant idea a’ splittin’ us up to cover more ground. Right off, I knowed it weren’t much of a’ idea, but you can’t change a officer’s mind once it’s set. I’ll be damned if officers ain’t the most stubborn animals on this earth, ‘cept for maybe a mule.”

“That so?”

“Sure is.” For emphasis, he spit in the nearby bushes. “So I went out a huntin’ Krauts. But I got lost. So I started to playin’ my mouth harp, which I always carried with me in them days, an’ outta nowheres, along comes this German shepherd dawg. An’ he was a naturally friendly dawg, jest like this here dawg a’ yours. He liked to howl while I played my mouth harp. An’ then I started to throwin’ a stick an’ he started to fetchin’ it, an’ we was havin’ a good ol’ time. Then we laid down to rest. An’ ‘fore I knowed it, I was sawin’ logs.”

“‘Sawing logs?’” I asked.

“Sleepin’, boy.” His glazed smile turned to a serious glaze. “When I got to wakin’, it was night. Pitch. Black. Night. An’ we was both kinda’ sceared. Me ‘cause my orders was to be back ‘fore nightfall, an’ the dawg, ‘cause he could tell I was sceared. So we trampled through the black ‘til we got close to my lines. Then, outta nowheres, jumps all these soldiers. An’ I was jest ‘bout to let ‘em have it. But they turned out to be Americans. So I didn’t. But the dang dawg run off an’ the fools captured me instead. Seems that smarty-ass first lieutenant sent ‘em after me purposely. Said I was a deserter.”

“A deserter, huh?”

“Yup. Said I left my post in a time a’ war. Well, I started to explainin’ how I captured this German shepherd dawg, but with the dawg gone, I didn’t have no dawg-gone evidence. So they took me to my C. O., who wouldn’t b’lieve me no how.”

“Him neither?”

“Nope. So they court martialled me an’ I was naturally found guilty a’ desertin’, since I didn’t have no evidence. Sentenced me to stand ‘fore a firin’ squad. An’ there I was, standin’ ‘fore the firin’ squad, when my C.O. comes up to me an’ says, ‘Private, ya’ got any last requests?’”

“I’ll bet you did.”

“A’ course! Ya’ think I was hurryin’ to get myself shot? So I says, ‘Yes, Sir. I’d like to play my mouth harp one las’ time.’ So they cut my hands loose an’ I took my trusty harp outta my back pocket an’ started blowin’ the blues. An’ ‘fore long, outta nowheres, here comes that German shepherd dawg again, a waggin’ his tail and a slobberin up to me jest like we was best buddies.”

He patted Atom, as if they were best buddies now. “An’ so then my C.O. knowed I was tellin’ the truth, so they didn’t shoot me. An’ to this day, whene’er I see a dawg, like this here one a’ yours, I thank him for my very life.”

“Sir. Oh, sir,” called the waitress from the take-out window. “Your order’s ready.” She spotted our soldier buddy. “You back again?”

Instead of answering, he continued to scratch Atom’s ears.

“All right.” I got up.

“Say, friend, ‘fore ya’ go . . .”

But I was already reaching into my pocket for the buck-sixty-eight cents change. “Good story. Buy yourself a cup of coffee.”

He took the money. “Yes, Sir,” he said, as though still a buck private.

I got my order from the waitress, who pulled down the take-out window again, and Atom and I started for home. While were stopped at the red light at the adjoining corner, I looked back. On the patio, another man in shorts and running shoes sat at the table, waiting for his order. Our soldier buddy sat beside him, talking:

“Mighty nice pair a’ shoes ya’ got there, friend. Reminds me a’ the time I ran the marathon in the ‘32 Olympics…”

The light changed. Dawg and I headed home.

© Copyright 2010 Mark Barkawitz. All rights reserved.

Mark Barkawitz has earned local and national awards for his fiction, poetry, essay, and screenwriting. His work has appeared in newspapers, magazines, literary journals & anthologies, underground ‘zines, and is posted on numerous websites. He wrote the screenplay for the feature film, “Turn of the Blade” (NorthStar Ent., ’95) and has taught creative writing classes at the community college level. He coaches a championship track team of student/athletes and ran the 2001 L.A. Marathon in 3:44:42. He lives with his wife, has two kids, and breeds golden retrievers (Woof Goldens) in his backyard in Pasadena, CA.

Announcing the 2009 Story of the Year finalists

When I announced the competition in early December, Rose City Sisters contributors leaped into action and started sending readers to their their stories. Nearly 700 new visitors stopped by for a flash fiction fix in the last 30 days. Wow.

Today I used Goggle Analytics to determine the most popular seven stories of 2009. In the next few weeks, all 2009 contributors will have the chance to vote for the story of the year.

This combination of marketing and merit reflects a real-world scenario facing writers today. Writing isn’t enough—you need to promote your work as well.

The winner will receive a hand-knotted pearl and rose quartz necklace (with matching earrings) from Wasabi by Jill Pearson, a fine jewelry company based in Pasadena. The donation from Wasabi is much appreciated and far prettier than the certificate I had planned!

In alphabetical order, the finalists are:

Belinda’s Birthday by Petrea Burchard

Downsized by Janet Aird

Get Gone by Cindie Geddes

Glorietta and Red Bob Come to Terms by Laura L Mays Hoopes

A Losing Game by Bonnie Schroeder

Quicky by Desireé Zamorano

Sweet Revenge by Margaret Finnegan

The first story of 2010 will be posted on Friday, January 8. Please subscribe to the blog or become a follower to make sure you don’t miss any of the stories.

Help select finalists for “Story of the Year”

Thanks to the hundreds of people who stopped by to read stories and help determine the Rose City Sisters “Story of the Year” finalists.

The most popular seven stories (as determined by a Goggle Analytics tally of “unique pageviews”) will be placed on a ballot and voted on by the 2009 contributors. The list of finalists will be posted later this afternoon.

The winning writer will receive a lovely pearl and rose quartz necklace (and earrings) from Wasabi by Jill Pearson, a contemporary jewelry company based in (naturally) Pasadena. If a man wins, let’s hope he has a style-conscious wife, mom or sister.

If you’re a writer, I invite you to review our submission guidelines and send in a story for 2010.

Finally, a big thanks and happy new year to the 2009 writers.

Dear Santa

Dear Santa
by Margaret Finnegan

Dear Santa:

How are you? I am fine. For Christmas I would like the pink Transformer, an iTouch, some video games, a skateboard, a Ping-Pong table, a TV for my room, a cell phone, and a puppy.


Dear Kyle:

Thank you for your letter. My Holiday Miracles Team really wants to hear from you, but all the elves are busy right now. Please wait patiently. When we have read your letter, we will get back to you—and remember, for faster service please put your Child Identification Number on all correspondence.

Wishing you a very merry Christmas,
Santa Claus

Dear Santa:

How are you? I am fine. My CIN is 005934562. I would like all of the things listed on my last letter, which you will know is mine because it is signed Kyle. I will wait patiently.


¡Hola Kyle!

Usted ha sido un niño muy bueno este año. ¡Esta Navidad, obtendrá todo lo que quieras!

Con amor,
Santa Claus

Dear Santa:

How are you? I (005934562) am fine. For Christmas I would like the pink Transformer, an iTouch, some video games, a skateboard, a Ping-Pong table, a TV for my room, a cell phone, and a puppy.


Dear Kyle:

Our records indicate that you have not been a good boy. Please revise your list accordingly.

Wishing you a very merry Christmas,
Santa Claus

Dear Mr. Claus:

Per your letter 6 December 2009. As the mother of Kyle (CIN 005934562), I can assure you that Kyle has indeed been a very good boy this year. Kyle has consistently done his chores, which include taking out the trash and setting the table, and he has gotten very good grades.

As many Gifted and Talented children, however, Kyle is easily bored. As we have explained to the school, this can hardly be blamed on Kyle. Had he been given the challenging curriculum that he deserves, we are certain that the unfortunate “glued computer incident” would never have occurred.

As it is, Kyle’s teacher has moved on. Is it naughty to ask that you do the same? Or perhaps you simply have our Kyle mixed up with another Kyle.

Karen Thompson

Dear Ms. Thompson:

Three words: Fred the cat.

Wishing you a very merry Christmas,
Santa Claus

Dear Mr. Claus:

As it was clearly an accident, it seems hardly fair to bring up the Fred affair. Besides, the Murphys, who, to be brutally honest, are rather irresponsible people, didn’t even notice that their cat had been missing until Kyle thoughtfully decided to show them the little movie he made at Raging Waters. If you had seen the video, I think you would have to agree that Fred truly enjoys water sports.

Karen Thompson

Dear Kyle:

We wonder about your willingness to let your mother fight all your battles for you. Do you really think that will help you in the long run?

Wishing you a very merry Christmas,
Santa Claus

Dear Mr. Claus:

There is no need to take this out on Kyle (CIN 005934562), who has been a very good boy this year and who deserves the rights and privileges accruing thereof, as stated in Santa Statute 15.342. If denied these rights, you may expect swift legal reprisal.

Karen Thompson, JD
Wong & Warburton

Attorneys at Large

5151 Jehosphat Drive

Pasadena, CA 91106

Dear Kyle:

Our records show that you have behaved adequately this year. Children in the adequate range can expect to receive select sports equipment (no Ping-Pong tables), board games, stuffed animals and clothing. Please adjust your list accordingly.

Wishing you a very merry Christmas,
Santa Claus

Dear Santa:

What about the puppy?

CIN 005934562

Dear Kyle:

Karen Thompson, aka your overbearing mother, has previously declared your home a pet-free zone. If she wishes to amend this gift-giving category, please ask her to visit our Facebook page and click “like” on “yes to pets.”

Wishing you a very merry Christmas.
Santa Claus

My dear old friend Santa:

I’m sensing some tension between the Thompsons and your Holiday Miracles Team. It breaks my heart—really—and I think it must break your heart too.

Isn’t this the season of giving and forgiving? Remember Christmas 1977? That was the year you gave me Logan’s Run action figures when I really wanted Star Wars action figures. I forgave you, and we went on like nothing had happened. Remember? Can’t we go back again? I thought so. You’re still the best!

By the way, please ignore changes to our “yes to pets” Facebook Status. We are still very much NO to pets, despite the cheeky hacking of a certain adorable young boy. ;o)

Troy Thompson
Father of Kyle/CIN 005934562

Dear Kyle:

Our records indicate that you have not been a good boy this year. Please enjoy these complimentary Christmas socks.

Wishing you a very merry Christmas,
Santa Claus

© Copyright 2009 Margaret Finnegan. All rights reserved.

Margaret Finnegan is a regular contributor to Rose City Sisters. Her work has been featured in numerous publications and on her blog, Finnegan Begin Again. This Christmas she is hoping for family harmony and a self-cleaning house, but she’ll settle for gloves.

Alma Paramo by Désirée Zamorano

I will tell you the only ghost story I know.

It’s the only one that has happened to me.

Most stories that I have read happen in the dark, at night, when the poor victim is stumbling along dark, unfamiliar passageways. Mine does not.

It starts on an autumn morning, those mornings here in Pasadena where the day starts cool, and then burns hot. When the leaves in the trees begin to rustle, when the leaves of the liquid amber maples have their first hint of changing color, drying veins, and inkling of their own mortality.

Then, I liked to plant in the cool mornings of the fall. I liked to buy flats of violently colored pansies, snapdragons, violets, and work them gently into the borders of my front yard, hiding the dormant calla lilies, cyclamen, the fading Mexican evening primrose, avoiding the bulbs of narcissus I planted years ago. Vibrant colors to pull the viewer’s eyes away from the lawn of fading St. Augustine grass.

That morning I had my old cloth gloves on, stained with mud, to keep the dirt from shoving its way deep under my nails. I wasn’t wearing my hat, because it felt good to be under the warm sun in the cool air. I squeezed six blazing yellow pansy plants from their container, pried off the dead roots so the younger roots would be able to better absorb the water, the plant food, then I stabbed at the ground with my small trowel.

That was when the bones at the base of my neck grew cold.

My neighborhood is nearly silent in the morning. There was not the sound of a passing car, a jogger, or of a squirrel scuttering around the trunk of an oak. But now the hair on my arms stood straight up, and I turned around.

The sun pierced at my eyes.

Nothing. In the shade the ficus vines clung coolly to the façade of my home; a brittle baby elm leaf fluttered down.

I looked up to the second floor, to my room. I had closed my curtains to pull on these jeans, this sweatshirt, both grey from age and use. Apparently I had left the curtains closed. Normally I prefer the sun streaming in, the view of the trees arching above my room; but I realized now I must have left them closed. Until a curtain moved, and that movement registered with ice at the base of my spine.

Someone was in my house.

A car rushed by, and I spun around to stare at it as it passed. I could have crossed the street, or walked next door, but instead I picked up the shovel I had used to turn the soil and walked towards my front door.

How did he get in? My door was locked; I had to lay the shovel down in order to get my fingers to insert the key properly, then grasp the door latch, pulling upwards and pushing inwards. With the whoosh of the opening door, I bent over, retrieved my shovel, and headed up the stairs.

My stairs.

I paused halfway up, stopping my creaking on the steps, glanced out the picture window, and saw my flats of flowers, the upturned soil, the six splayed yellow pansies, waiting for their place in the soil.

I walked up the stairs. My bedroom door was closed. How odd.

“What do you want?” I shouted, the sound of my own voice, the effort startling me.

Nothing. No response.

Again, I could have walked down the stairs, or picked up the phone, or walked to a neighbor’s home, but instead I clutched the shovel more tightly in my left hand, opened the door with my right, and walked in.

No one. Nothing.

The curtains had been drawn open. Now sun streamed into my room, as I preferred, the liquid amber and the deodar framed my view with their limbs and leaves and needles.

I shook my head. I relaxed my grip on the shovel. “Alma,” I told myself, “you’re deluded.” That was all. Not unreasonable for a woman with too little on her mind, too much time on her hands, and suspicion at her heart. But before I stepped back downstairs to return to my planting, I stepped around my bed and stood at the window to admire my plans.

There, a woman kneeled, and started to plant one of my six yellow pansies. Except the roots of the plants were fat worms, the soil she upturned was strewn with what looked like chicken bones. I pounded on my window and shouted, “Get away!”

She turned, startled. I stepped back with a shock. That woman, that woman who turned, stood, squinted, then gaped upwards at me, was me.

In a moment I heard my key in the door, I heard my feet tread the stairs, then pause. Then her voice, my voice, then the whoosh of the bedroom door—

I remember nothing else. Except that now I am here, dirt crammed into my mouth, my nose, pressing against my open eyes, pressing against me on all sides. I can sense the slow moving tendril of the Chinese deodar as it reaches it towards me; the roots of the oak and the maple have already crossed through me.

Although I am here, I can tell by the crease on your forehead, the look on your face, that I am also, now, within you.
© Copyright 2009 Désirée Zamorano. All rights reserved.

Désirée Zamorano has a far too vivid inner life, which she exorcises via the computer screen. Her writing accomplishments and work in children’s literacy was featured in the Latino literary blog La Bloga. Désirée’s short fiction has appeared online and in print, in the LA Times and literary journals. Her novel “The Amado Women” is currently under consideration at a major house. This is her second story for the Rose City Sisters.

Condolence Calling

Condolence Calling
by Susan T. Lindau

Dressing for these occasions is important. Appearances convey as much about the sincerity of sympathy as actual words can. Do I have the Mapquest directions and the condolence note written with sincerity on that nice paper from the Huntington Library? And don’t forget to leave time for getting lost.

Getting lost, missing the turn, forgetting to make a telephone call or to get gas—there’s always something. I’m so busy some things just don’t make it onto the must-do list. But when I read the e-mail from the synagogue saying Deborah’s husband had died I knew I had to make this visit.

Now driving to Pasadena I’m thinking about how to avoid getting lost. There are too many streets named Prospect – Drive, Circle, and Way and all those others. Don’t think about Stan’s heart. Must have given out taking care of such a large guy. He was really sweet. Even sang in the High Holy Days choir and he had a good sense of humor—a much-valued trait in these days of constant dark news.

The directions look easy. Not all one-way streets with parking only on one side. The house numbers? Of course they’re all the way down there on the curb. Should I walk in the street to look for the number, or on the sidewalk? Maybe one of the houses has numbers.

These people look like they’ve just left the widow’s house. The man in the black suit, putting away his cell phone, looks at me and, pointing to the driveway at the next house, says, “Deborah’s all the way in the back.”

There are other people leaving the house at which he pointed. The men are wearing somber suits and each of the women is dressed in a tasteful form of black attire. They are on cell phones or thumbing their BlackBerrys to learn what they missed while paying their respects. One of the women shows her own personal version of sober apparel. She is clothed in an outfit that falls into the “gypsy” category: a big, crinkle skirt with a flowered top. And each piece is black.

The back yard is busy with quietly chatting friends gathered around the widow. That must be Deborah. I thought she had more meat on her bones. Other members of the congregation are surveying and making selections from the food tables. Funeral meats are always an excellent reward for performing grievance duties. These meats are actually vegetarian. The clustered mourners hold conversations about subjects that are pointedly unrelated to the deceased, his life or his widow.

I stand listening as Deborah describes in full detail the last hours with her beloved husband. They had spent the day planning where their sons would spend the summer. “With your mom in Massachusetts?” and “What about a few weeks at Camp Ramah?” they pondered.

She describes how he got up to go to the bathroom off their bedroom. When he returns to bed, she arranges the pillows the way he likes them. He tells her he’s ready to sleep. She kisses him and turns out the light. She leaves him and goes to the next room to watch an old movie.

It’s about midnight when she returns to their bedroom. She’s relieved to hear him breathing softly. About 7 the next morning she awakes. She sees he has not moved. She checks his pulse. It has happened. After the diagnosis, the deterioration and the loss of mobility, after the months of weakening, losing weight and growing old, he is gone. She is relieved. “It was a good death.”

None of this sounds like the man for whom I had come to pay my respects. I am looking for at least one person I know who would also be at this condolence visit.

“I’m so sorry,” I tell Deborah. “He was a lovely person. And such a nice voice.”

She looks confused. “He didn’t sing.”

“But didn’t he…”

I look up. There, across the yard, is Stan. Not dead. How can it be that I paid a condolence call to the wrong widow named Deborah? Stan’s alive. Who died? Fortunately, I don’t say these words aloud.

I really must get to know the people at my synagogue.
© Copyright 2009 Susan T. Lindau. All rights reserved.

Susan T. Lindau is a licensed therapist who practices in Los Angeles and has taken assignments at military bases to work with soldiers and their families. Her blog is called “The Therapist of Last Resort.”

State of California vs Big Bad Wolf by Janet Aird

Excerpt from State of California vs Big Bad Wolf; closing statement of defense attorney for Mr. Wolf

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, you’ve heard the evidence from the witnesses, and you’ve heard the closing statement by the prosecution that my client, Mr. Big Bad Wolf, did willfully and recklessly murder Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother. Without a doubt, my client is not guilty of this heinous crime.

On the day in question, my client witnessed little Miss Hood walking in the Deep Dark Forest all alone. As a longtime resident of these woods, he is aware that many dangerous creatures live there. Wolves never allow their cubs to go out into the woods by themselves. My client assumed that the little girl had wandered away from her home and was lost.

Desiring to take her back home, Mr. Wolf stopped her. Imagine his shock when little Miss Hood told him that her mother had sent her there. And when the little girl added that she was on an errand to take a basket of goodies to her sick grandmother, who lives in a cabin in the Arroyo on the other side of the woods, my client couldn’t believe his ears, as large as they are.

What kind of woman sends her little daughter on such a dangerous errand? And leaves her sick old mother to live all by herself on the far side of the woods? Did Mrs. Hood at least send medicine and soup to the old lady? No! She sent a basket of double double chocolate muffins. No wonder the old lady is sick, if that’s all she’s been eating.

My client watched Miss Hood go on her way, playing and picking flowers as she went. If he had wanted to eat the little girl, he could have done so easily then. Instead, he went to the grandmother’s cabin to check up on her. Knowing the woods as well as he does, he arrived long before little Miss Hood did. He knocked at the door, but to his horror, when the grandmother answered it, she took one look at my client and keeled over dead.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, my client is a civilized wolf. He would never harm a hair on a little old lady’s head. But he is a wolf. And when a potential meal drops dead in front of him, his instinct will not let it go to waste. So he ate her. But he did not murder her.

Now, (ahem) we come to the delicate part. My client was hoping this wouldn’t become public knowledge, since he considers it a private matter. But a large portion of the prosecution’s case depends on the fact that when little Miss Hood arrived at the cabin, my client was in her grandmother’s bed, wearing her nightie. (Ahem) Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the fact is, my client happens to enjoy wearing women’s clothing occasionally. This may not be common wolf behavior, but it is not illegal, and it is certainly not an indication of his guilt.

Almost immediately, my client was overcome with exhaustion, and fell asleep on the old lady’s bed.

He was in a deep sleep when little Miss Hood woke him up and began asking him rude questions, like why his eyes and his ears were so big, and why he was wearing her grandmother’s nightie. It’s not surprising that he became irritated and started chasing her around the cabin. That was when the woodsman arrived and jumped to entirely the wrong conclusion. He called 911 and my client has been in jail awaiting trial ever since.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, Mr. Wolf has been thoroughly traumatized by these events. The charge against him is clearly without foundation. It’s outrageous that he has been accused of such a vicious crime, when he was motivated only by concern for the little girl and her grandmother.

If anyone is responsible for this tragedy, we need look no further than Mrs. Hood, Little Red Riding Hood’s mother. First, she sent her young daughter into the woods all alone. Second, she didn’t even care enough to look after her own sick mother.

But ladies and gentlemen of the jury, if the truth be told, we are all responsible.

Wolves have lived in the Deep Dark Forest since time immemorial. Our woodsmen have clear-cut their trees. We have encased their streams in concrete and built housing tracts on their land. We expect them to obey our laws, in spite of the fact they have lived in accordance with nature’s for centuries.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I urge you to search your hearts. My client, Mr. Wolf, is a victim, not a criminal. It is your duty to find him not guilty and let him return to the woods where he belongs.

I rest my case.

© Copyright 2009 Janet Aird. All rights reserved.

Janet Aird writes technical and business articles about the environment for landscapers, arborists, farmers and professional water managers, but her true love is writing about relationships between people. Her articles, essays and short stories have been published in magazines and newspapers in the United States, Canada and England. Her story  “Downsized” appeared on this blog in May 2009.