No One Understands Me Like You Do

It was a typical night. Carlita was crocheting a shawl while Davy was idly flipping through an old magazine. The Pat Metheny Group played on the stereo and half a bottle of the good red was gone. Pretending to read a news magazine, Davy shifted over and over again in his favorite chair. A half smile flirted across Carlita’s lips as her hands moved rhythmically. Davy’s phone beeped. Fumbling his magazine into his lap, Davy lurched for his cell phone. His face brighten as he scrolled through his messages.

ElizaDoNothing: No one understands me like you
DavyNotDavie: Ive never felt this way. Im like a schoolboy and we haven’t even met in person or spoken on the phone
ElizaDoNothing: You are my shining star Davy
DavyNotDavie: Are you sure we can’t meet this weekend for coffee or something?
ElizaDoNothing: Im so sorry my mother is sick you know real sick so many medical bills
DavyNotDavie: Oh no Im so sorry baby is there anything I can do
ElizaDoNothing: You too goodYou are good enough to eat

Behind his hand, Davy chuckled. A cloud of emotion stormed over his wife’s face. Suddenly, Davy looked up and his face pinked. Carlita glanced up.

“Something came up at work, hon,” Davy said. “I’m going to get things sorted out in my study. It shouldn’t take more than an hour.”
“No worries, sweetie. I’m going to finish this row and catch up on some reading.”

Carlita continued crocheting as Davy scurried out of the living room. She picked up Davy’s discarded magazine and looked at the cover headline, Love Bytes: How RomanceBots, Love Scams, Predators are Changing the Face of Dating Apps. Carlita tossed the magazine back on the sofa. She gave a harsh laugh and poured herself the rest of the good red.

The Other Jack

“Sir do you know why we are stopping you?” PC Oberon asked by the side of the road.
“I’ve done nothing wrong, Officer. I don’t know why I’m being detained. I wasn’t speeding.” Grinning broadly, Jack drummed his fingers on his steering wheel to the beat of the music playing on the radio. Wiry and young, the driver had a mop of inky black hair topped with a cap at a rakish angle.
“Can I see your license, registration, and proof of insurance?” The cop kept his tone neutral but his eyes sharp. He took in the cluttered car complete with empty food wrappers and opened cans of chili. The driver rooted through a gym bag and pulled out a few cards.
“Here you go officer. May I ask what’s the hold up? I have to see a guy about a horse.”
“Sir, it says here your name is Tom,” the cop spoke carefully.
“Sure sure you can call me Thomas, you can call me Tommy, but just don’t call me late to dinner.” Forced laughter blared from the station wagon.
Oberon walked around the vehicle.
“Step out of the vehicle, sir.”
The driver spluttered.
“Sir this license says you are a 47 year old ginger and 6 inches tall.”
“I grew.”
PC Oberon sighed heavily. “Also we have been getting reports all night about someone matching your description prowling around around the Fairy Hill district.”
“Prowling me, I spent the whole night with my best mates, Spratt and Be Nimble, eating buffalo wings and watching the big game. Honest to God, Officer.”
“Dispatch also got a call regarding a breakin at the FeeFiFoFums’ house. Something about golden eggs, and a big golden egg laying goose. A goose very similar to the bird you have duck-taped in that gym bag.”
“Won’t that be goose taped?” the driver chortled. “That gander came with the car, hand to heart.”
“I can also see a beanstalk stained axe on your backseat that appears to be related to the cut marks on the giants’ beanstalk.” PC Oberon made notes in his book.
“Well who are you going to believe me or your lying eyes,” The driver said.
“That was the worst assassination attempt I’ve seen. Have you ever even cut down a giant magical beanstalk? You have use a magic chainsaw. Eveyone know that.”
The driver shrugged. The goose wiggled out of the gym bag and hopped on to the passenger seat. She laid a golden egg.
“Step out the vehicle, sir.”

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Don’t Feed The Animals

The leaves had just begun to blaze gold and vermilion. A crisp breeze nipped. Snuggling in her warm shawl, Bjorn sniffed the air. She took a hearty gulp of her honey sweet tea. That’s when she noticed the odd foot prints. She scanned the trees and then left her porch to investigate. She bent down, peering.
“What is it Momma?” Armel shouted inches from his ear. Bjorn jumped and spillt her tea. She chased him around their yard, swatting at his bottom laughing.
That night, her partner and her son, rough housed in front of the fireplace while Bjorn finished dinner.
“Anything exciting today?” Humbert asked as he carried Armel upside down to the dining room table.
“Yes, Papa, yes,” Armel squealed.
Bjorn coughed and gave her son a meaningful look.
“So what’s today’s adventure?” Humbert asked.
“Momma dropped Grammy’s handmade mug and then she couldn’t catch me even though she tried.” Armel shook his head in mock sadness.
“Well she is pretty, pretty old,” Humbert said, “Gave her a break.”
The trio roared with laughter.
The next day there were more tracks and weird spoor. Next, the trash had been gone through. Bjorn cleaned up the mess and searched the woods. Nothing. That night, she left a few carrots, apples, and a chunk of honeycomb. In the morning, the food was gone and in its place her mother’s mug filled with wildflowers. Bjorn’s heart was warmed.
The days grew cooler. To the bundles of food, Bjorn added thick blankets and Armel’s old sleeping bag. Each day she walked the forest edge. She knew you were not to feed nuisance animals. It encourages them to populated areas. They could carry disease. They were dangerous. She knew she should report this strange unseen creature to the Council. She knew they would set up traps, cruel metal mouths. When she had been young, Bjorn remembered the screams of a captured creature deep in the woods. Bjorn shook the nightmare from her memory and returned home.
The woods were under a shimmering blanket of snow. Armel was up with the sun. He bounded out the house to see if the lake had frozen over. With a boisterous whoop, Humbert ran after him. Bjorn put breakfast to simmer on the stove and headed to the lakeside with an armful of towels and hot lemon balm tea. A half hour later the three were walking back home. The lake was not frozen solid. Swaddled in towels, Humbert and Armel drank their tea and laughed over who was to blame for cracking the ice. Bjorn was heart heavy, thinking of her wild animal, hoping it has found shelter.
The three stopped dead. Their front door was wide open. They approached slowly. Who would dare to enter their home uninvited? Raising a warning arm, Humbert went in first. Big and silent, he explored. Bjorn heard him gasp in Armel’s bedroom.
There it was. Curled into a ball at the foot of their son’s bed, the wild creature slept. With a big head and skinny arms and legs, it was clearly a youngster of some sort. Dirty and hairless, except for matted locs of yellow fur on its head, the thing was barely bigger than Humbert’s two paws.
“It sure is ugly.” Humbert was eyeing the creature, bemused.
“You knew.”
“Like I’m not going to notice a steady stream of my food going out the back door,” Humbert said rubbing his snort with hers, “besides Armel is a terrible confidant.”
“Yeah Momma I’m rubbish at keeping secrets. Can we keep it? I promise to take care of it. I can make a soft bed with hay in a box. I’ll walk it everyday I promise. Pretty, pretty, please.”
The trio watched the wild animal turn in its sleep and then opened its weary big eyes. The three bears held their breath waiting. The creature stretched, yawned, and recurred into sleep. Humbert covered the poor thing with the bed’s comforter. Armel tucked his favorite dolly under its arm.
“I will get the porridge.”

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Watchers

Their house was asleep. Amanda was snoring quietly. Peaches was snoring not so quietly. The whole block was probably asleep except for Alex. Alex never slept at least that was what Amanda joked. He’d tried melatonin and NyQuil and even acupuncture. Alex found only one thing that worked, peeping. Each night he went to bed curled against Amanda’s warmness. He would breathe in her baby powder and lavender scent and listen to her breath deepen. Once his wife was fast asleep, Alex was alive. On cat’s feet he got a double single malt Scotch, a sleeve of Ritz, and his binoculars. Peaches, a plump ginger, surveyed Alex’s movements each night before taking his place in their bed.
Alex watched. Their house was a faded three-storied Victorian. Tucked under the dormers, Alex had the perfect perch. He watched the late night dog walkers and the stray cats. Once he saw the Watkins girl shimmy down her trellis to slip away into her boyfriend’s waiting car. For a while he watched the Martins, a lot of the Martins, until they bought curtains. Mostly Alex watched everything and nothing. When they lived in Center City the night was a carnival. In the ‘burbs, the night was a warm bath. He would watch until his lids grew heavy and his bed called him to sleep.
Lately Alex focused on the Mosely Bees. Amanda liked to give all their neighbors nicknames. The amorous Martins were called the Bunnies, Old Man Gibbs was named Grubinger for his trash can treasure hunting, the McClouds who snipped at each other were known as the McBickersons. The Bees had the monstrosity on the corner lot. In a town of stately painted ladies, the Mosely Bees lived in a simple A frame/shack. Mr. Mosely Bee was a junkman, a junkman who bought a lot of junk home. Bits and bobs, washers and sewing machines, the Mosely Bees’ yard was a hodgepodge of appliances. Quick to smile and quick to anger, the junkman never liked to let anything go. Amanda called them the Hot Messy Bees.
Tonight it was 3:33. That’s the witching hour, Alex thought with a yawn. He looked at Peaches, tucked into a C of sleep. Her gold rimmed eyes flicked open. A crisp crunch sound, the sound of a shovel cutting into soil floated up to Alex’s ears. Alex returned to his binoculars.
Mr. Hot Messy Bee was digging by lantern light. He was digging a hole, deep and body-sized. Alex watched. Guilt trickled under his bedroom and sluiced around his ankles. Alex flipped through his memories of the nights before. The night was his chessboard and knew every piece’s movements. Quiet as a church mouse, Mrs. Hot Messy Bee rarely left the hobbit hole of a house and always with the Mister. Alex could picture her fragile face in the passenger side of the husband’s truck. He remembered when she left a mason jar of wildly beautiful wildflowers on their porch in the middle of the night when his mother passed. He remembered her waving from the slit in her front window each morning as he drove to work. Behind a thin lace curtain, she watched the street during the day. With a flush of gooseflesh Alex remembered he had not seen Mrs. Mosely Bee in over a week. He saw the junkman drag what looked like a mannequin into his hole.
Alex dialed 911.
“What’s going on?” Amanda asked sleep confused.
“Everything, Mandy, everything.”

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I Don’t Like Mr. Boule

I don’t like Mr. Boule. I’m in the minority here. Everybody adores the new English teacher. He took over Old Lady Lictenstein’s AP English and immediately started a zine with the AP nerds and the Business English ‘tards. He started a monthly poetry slam. Thet is always on my ass to join Boule’s graphic novel club. I mean it does sound kind of mad fire but I just don’t like Mr Boule.
I think Mr. Boule is weird. He’s one of those old guys who works out. That’s just weird. He’s shrimps but totally jacked. He’s so shredded Mr. Boule is practically as wide as he is tall. With the muscles, Mr. Boule is chill with the jocks, hanging out early to pump iron. Then when the lead weirdo got the ‘vid, Mr. Boule stepped in and saved the day by singing the Music Man. Natch.
I just don’t trust Mr. Boule. I don’t trust people who are good at lots of stuff. People who walk in and take over and shit. Nobody should get to just come in and just be liked. Nobody gets to be everything to everyone.
I was drawing a pic of Mr. Boule being mushed by a statue instead of watching The Red Badge of Courage. Suddenly Mr. Boule is breathing coffee breath over my shoulder.
“ That’s really good, bud. Am I fighting an alien?” Mr. Boule whispered cheerful and encouraging.
I rolled my eyes. I knew I was better than good, hyper realistic, expressive line work, my drawing was bet. “Naw, it’s the Bean.”
“The what now?”
“You know the Bean.”
Gears churning, Mr. Boule looked at me blankly.
“The Bean, you know Cloud Gate, that big shiny bean sculpture in Chicago,” I said wearily.
“Right, right, Shytown I was just testing you,” the teacher said clapping my back extra hard.
I kept drawing. I had been to Chicago with my dad because he liked to do big things to make up for all the everyday crap he’s terrible at. Half listening to the dead boring movie, I finished my drawing of Millennial Park. Then I remembered Mr. Boule said he lived in Chicago. “How could he not remember his hometown.
I glanced to the front of the room. Mr. Boule was animated and excited talking about something I didn’t care about. His face cracked side to side. Mr. Boule’s mouth was all smiley but his eyes were murder. His eyes were murder and they were looking straight at me. Mr. Boyle is a fake, as hollow as a shell. He has a secret. It must be a big one to hide yourself in this one house town. And he would hurt to me to keep his secret.
The bell rang. We locked eyes as I gathered my stuff. I saw myself tearing Mr. Boule down from his wall.
“See you tomorrow.” We said to each other.

Did You Hear?

“Dearest, that hat does nothing for you. Don’t make a face I’m only trying to help you look better. Speaking of needing help, have you heard about the Perraults? Where have you been under a bridge? I heard from my girl who heard from the butcher’s that the Perrault girl eloped with a nobleman’s son. You know the one? No not Maelle, she makes men run away. No the other one with the face, never wore a decent frock. No, silly, not Hughette she needs more of of a tent than a frock. No the pretty one, Andre’s daughter not Odile’s pair, that one sold Odile’s silver, bought finery, and convinced a wealthy boy she was a damsel in distress. The little scamp has the big house and the servants and everyone wrapped around her finger. I heard Odile is living on pride. She wears paste jewelry, poor dear. No, Odile won’t say a word out of fear. All she can hope for is the jezebel’s kindness and to marry off her girls with no dowrys. No Andre Perrault didn’t have a sou. He lived off his first wife’s inheritance until he snared Odile. Dear, try this one with the lavender ribbon. Every tradesmen knew Andre was lead painted gold. If Odile had used her head instead of her heart she wouldn’t have fallen to the dogs. What’s her name? No not Ella, or Cinda. Anyways I heard Odile is hoping the little hussy throws her a few coins. That Perrault girl is no better than she ought to be, you’re so right. Some people are just not kind. That hat is worse than the first.”

My Snow Flower

I had to kill her. I never thought I could think such a thing. She was a piece of me as much as if she was my flesh. Hans married me for my face, another ornament for his pretty collection. Without a dowry and over 21, I was no bargain according to my eldest brother. Still I left my books and my little garden with a heavy heart. Such is the way for gentlewoman without means, governess or second wife.
Our honeymoon was brief and uneventful. Hans didn’t mention his daughter until the carriage pulled up to the manor. I suspect the toddler slipped his mind. I can still picture her bone china face with hair black as a raven’s wing peeking from behind the skirts of one of the upstairs maids.
“Rosenrot, this is Edelweiss,” Hans said. “It takes after its mother more the pity.” My bridegroom sniffed and turned away.
I bowed to the wee babe and asked to enter her home. She looked at me shyly before throwing her porcelain arms wide.
We were one. After losing three babies, I opened my near dead heart and found life with this motherless babe.
I grew to understand Hans, the old fool, despised the child almost to the point of horror. Up until he suddenly died Hans tried to turn me against his little girl. There was nothing I wouldn’t do for her. No bad word I could hear against her, my snow flower.
Oh my girl was lovely and brilliant. Of course she could be imperious and vain and yes a touch cruel. When I was cross with her, Edelweiss would hug me tight and all was forgiven. Yet the vicious whispers bloomed as my girl blossomed. I ignored the superstitious villagers. Ignoring my own brain, I trusted my heart. Once I saw her transformation on the full moon, once I saw her drinking from a young peasant, once I saw her red red lips stained with blood, the scales fell from my eyes. We fought. My crucifix caught the moonlight and she fled into the night.
Now I sit in my boudoir before my looking glass ugly from the blood of her victims because I sheltered a monster. I hired a huntsman to track the creature, the daughter of my heart. I hold the proof of her death in a box in my hands. I can’t bear to see it. I was a stepmother and now I am the evil. I protected the world from this abomination yet I feel her still in the room with me right behind me and though it is wrong I would give my life for one more embrace in her snow white arms.

A Good Day

Dear Diary,
I promised myself a good day. I promised. I woke up happy at least happy enough. I took deep breaths on the hill by the split oak. I gathered mulberries for my porridge. I tended my garden and collected chamomile, ginger, wild lavender, and armfuls of mint to barter in the market. Maybe some smoked pheasant I just wanted a nice supper.
At the market people stared. The air grew thick charged with anger. I kept my head lifted. I know what I am.
I am the savior when a child has a bone that needs setting, or when a granny has the chilblains, or a baby wants to be born. But the crops were poorly this year too little rain then too much. The town wanted a door to lay the blame on.
It is the same story, always the same. No one remembered when they needed me needed my knowledge of the herbs needed my knowledge of all the old old ways. I schooled my face. I promised to have a good day. I smiled at Dagmar with my basket of greenery. The butcher woman turned away to tend to others.
“The nerve.”
“Shameful.”
I spun to face those who whispered and I tripped over the Gottlieb boy I fell hard. His little sister laughed and tossed an apple core at me. The town square cracked into laughter. With a hot face I ran through the woods to my home as those two children chased after me laughing and throwing stones. I wanted a good day. Maybe good days are not for me. But I know Hansel and Gretel would be sorry. I promise.

The Field Trip

“Good morning, Miss Dalrymple. I’m sorry to have to bring you in today,” Vice Principal Greenleaf said in his most solemn voice.
“Morning, sir. Don’t be sorry. My old auntie Daisy always said any day you wake up is a good day.”
The young teacher’s cheerful disposition radiated in the shaded administrative office. Greenleaf adjusted his tie with nervous fingers.
“So would you like to explain your side of the events from Friday’s field trip?” Greenleaf tented his hands, the picture of solemnity.
Folding her arms, Dalrymple smiled sweetly. “No not really.”
“What! You! what,” the vice principal spluttered. “I’ve been flooded with complaints from upset parents this morning. Don’t you want to defend yourself.”
Dalrymple smiled more sweetly. “No, sir, not really.”
They stared across Greenleaf’s nicely polished black walnut desktop. Greenleaf raked his hair then smoothed it.
“Okay okay Miss Dalrymple, what happened at the gallery on Friday.”
“I took my fifth grade class to the children’s book illustration exhibit at the Honeycutt Museum. Lovely exhibit and my kids will be making their own books this week. I want them to tell their own stories, sir. The installation was in the John William Wilcox room in the Norton wing and of course I explained how Wilcox was this county’s sheriff was known for letting Boss Man Norton get away with literal murder and these families both made money exploiting sharecroppers. And that money brought respectability and prestige.” The teacher continued smiling with serious cool eyes.
“Now Miss Dalrymple can I call you Dahlia? Dahlia don’t you think that went too far? We don’t want to stir up bad feelings or make people uncomfortable.”
“Well Nathan I wasn’t stirring. I was teaching local history. It’s important to know where we are by understanding where we come from. I’ve got 24 kids and they went home excited to write, excited to ask their families about their histories. Maybe one of my kids will be a writer or a historian maybe we will hear stories from people whose stories we never hear. I had over twenty positive emails this weekend so no stirring, just teaching Nathan.”
Mouth agape, vice principal Greenleaf slumped back.
“I better run along now. I have to prepare the paperwork for our next trip. We’re going to the library, the Robert E. Lee Memorial library. Morning Nathan.”

The Night Breeze

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A small white butterfly fluttered around Clara and a clump of buttercups. The girls had been making daisy chains from wildflowers in the garden near Clara’s house.
“I have to go.” Jadzia turned her face to the sun and appeared to study the cloudless sky.
“Wait it’s too early. Don’t go,” Clara pleaded. “You said you would stay. You said.”
“I thought I could but I can’t.” Jadzia shrugged to say I’m sorry. Quickly before she began to cry, Jadzia turned from her friend towards the forest.
“Wait, you said this morning that we would play all day. We could play all day, you said,” Clara shouted, stamping her tiny feet in the green green grass. “You said.”
“I know what I said.” The other girl shrugged as if to say what do you want me to do. Jadzia began to walk away. Clara ran behind her friend shrieking. Jadzia made a beeline for the forest’s edge.
“You can’t follow. Mommy is waiting.” Jadzia walked quickly on her long pale legs.
Stubbornly, Clara tagged behind. Jadzia walked deeper and deeper disappearing into the thin shadows of the saplings. Clara tripped hard over something and scrawled hard on the forest floor. Tears burned in her eyes, Clara fluttered her lashes to stop from crying. She clutched at her scraped knee.
“Did you ever mean it?” Clara asked the treetops. “That you would stay with me, that I would never be lonely.”
A breeze teased the branches and the trees shrugged as if to say “Once, yes. But only once.”
Clara waited a long time in the woods until her legs were cold and stiff. Clara walked home, ate dinner quietly, and cried herself to sleep under her blanket. As her mother washed the dinner plates, she wondered if it would rain overnight and why her little girl was so strange and solitary, and if the good bread would be back in the market tomorrow. Clara’s dad read the newspaper cover to cover and wondered about nothing in particular. Outside the night breeze through the saplings sounded like sobbing.