Foul Play

It is Nanowrimo, and my goal has been one story a day. After a slow start. Leep and Cash and many others of the gang have been having all kinds of (Nano) adventures. Below is the very short tale I wrote today.


Isabella_and_the_Pot_of_Basil_by_Joseph_Severn

Leep knew there were regulations about how much cash money you could deposit to a bank account before the bank had to report you. So he put five thousand into the credit union, and another five thousand into the account that he and Cash had set up for the dining chair business. 

He immediately transferred the dining chair cash to his regular account, and a week later the five thousand from the credit union. The bank did not have to report it though of course they could, if they thought it suspicious.

But Leep was pretty sure there was nothing suspicious about a transfer from a business to a personal account. And the other was routine, too. Wasn’t it?

So now he had ten thousand dollars to play with, and a lot more, a lot, hidden under the floorboards in his bedroom closet, where his gun was.

He wondered whether he should quit his job at the mill. He felt he didn’t have quite enough to retire on, and anyway, what would he do with his time? It’s true, he thought of moving down to Playa, but he’d have to go check it out first, find out what the long term expenses might be, how long he could last and what his options were if his money ran out.

Wait. If he invested it, maybe it would never run out. Did investment companies have to report large cash deposits? He would have to google it. 

Meanwhile he went to the garden centre, now all indoors for fall, and found a big bushy basil plant to take to Beth. 

On the drive to Beth’s (Lizzie in his head) he heard an update on the radio about the body found in the pond at the golf course. A woman, a doctor, slight build, dark hair. Discovered three days after Leep’s windfall, and two days after she was reported missing by her husband. There was no mention of a stolen jeep.

The report said there were signs of foul play. What did that mean? Had she been assaulted? Beaten? Sexually assaulted? 

Leep felt queasy. He’d had bacon and eggs for breakfast and now they weren’t agreeing with him. He thought of the dark haired woman in the hospital parking lot and how she screamed and waved her arms as he drove away in her jeep. 

Beth’s car was in the driveway. The basil plant felt light. He would make sure Lizzie watered it right away.

Shine on Me

Theresa’s car wouldn’t start, her cell phone had just died, so she ran all the way home.

He was already drunk when she got there, sitting in a chair placed in front of her small aquarium and singing a made-up song to a made-up tune.

Fishy fishy you’re too small to eat
Do you have a fat sister?
I bet she’d be sweet
Covered in butter
A juicy treat
Oh fishy fishy

Or at least that’s what Theresa thought she heard. The lyrics were slurred and slowly devolved into gibberish.

“And you call yourself a poet,” she said with disgust, as she picked up two empty bottles of Jagermeister and took them to the garbage. 

“That wasn’t my best work,” her father roused himself enough to say. His eyelids were heavy; he blinked slowly. “It’s hard to write erotic poetry about fish.” He looked around. “Refill?”

Theresa wasn’t going to lecture him again. In fact she vowed to never again mention the fact that he was killing himself quickly, since it did no good at all and he was determined to either die or to do nothing to stop it. It didn’t seem to matter to him that his daughter might find it disturbing to watch her father destroy himself. She found a blanket and wrapped it around him, as he’d soon tip over like a poorly weighted statue and grow cold.

She’d tried to get medical help, withheld his pension cheques, dragged him to a counsellor, begged, pleaded, laid out a chart with graphs and pictures in the face of his indifference and resentment. Her one-bedroom apartment had become a hospice— the place her father had come to die.

When he was finally comfortable on the carpet she went into the hallway and tapped on her neighbour’s door. “Thanks Mrs. Kaling,” she said when the door opened to the full extension of the chain lock. 

“God bless,” said Mrs. Kaling, whom Theresa had never met.

Well if he was going to do it, he wasn’t going to do it with her blessing. She would not lecture, but nor would she enable, aid or abet, and if she could physically stop him she damn well would. It was her home. Her roof. Her rules. 

There was one thing she still had to tell him. When he got sick she would take him to the hospital. She would see him checked in and made comfortable. She would then leave and allow him to live his final days in a ward with other sick and dying. She was certain it would make no difference to him.

Fishy fishy, swim my way
While your fat sister and I pray
Flap your fins and tail
Shine on me, dead eyes
Small and pink and pale
Swim and shine and pray
Until you can swim no further
Shine on me, dead eye
s.

Ungrateful

Green wet pears hanging on the tree branch

Old Anthony was happy about the corona virus. It kept that girl and that Leep out of his room and his life, and meant even more minimal contact with his caregivers at Sunny Shores, which was neither sunny nor near any recognizable body of water.

By chance, his room overlooked a sparse patch of lawn and a tree, all of it (and Sunny Shores) enclosed by a tall chain link fence. This fence was meant to prevent the folks from Floor 6 from escaping, should they manage to wander out of their locked ward, but mostly it made Anthony feel as if he too was a prisoner.

It was a pear tree. He had a memory of his uncle’s farm in the country where he and his sister and parents took brief summer vacations, as his uncle tolerated them for a week or two without charge. Uncle Frank’s orchards included a few rows of pear trees, and Anthony remembered the teardrop shape of the canopies, the warm, luminous leaves and the plump clusters of fruit, never quite ready for picking when the family visited. They feasted on late cherries and peaches, but those who came after enjoyed the pears.

The tree outside his window was solitary, old, and neglected, but home to a hive of honeybees, which Anthony observed with interest, as he had nothing else to do. Especially now, with the lockdown.

All Sunny Shores residents were banned from the dining room and other common rooms, about which Anthony cared not a whit; but it made it more difficult to connect with Presley. It was not impossible, however, because staff had been cut back, ostensibly because patient isolation made a full complement of caregivers unnecessary. But Anthony knew the proprietors of Sunny Shores were most interested in saving a few bucks. They were a business, after all, and he remembered when they switched to powdered milk in the hopes no one would notice, and the declining number of chips in the chocolate chip cookies, and the fewer and smaller proteins on his plate… a shrivelled thigh instead of a plump breast with his rice and peas did not go unnoticed.

He couldn’t tell if the person who dropped off his lunch and dinner tray was the red-headed one with the big teeth or the brunette with the permanent lip blister, since they now wore caps and masks. The masks didn’t look like the ones he saw medical people wear on television: They looked like the kind you bought at Home Hardware to protect your face from sawdust. Whatever.

He wasn’t sure what precisely was in those bottles Presley sold him, or where she got them, but they did the trick. The sharp, clear, bitter liquid came in mason jars with screw top lids and blank labels on them, presumably so Presley’s customers could disguise their hooch however they desired. Anthony labelled his “CPAP” and figured the redhead and the brunette would likely not notice or care, even though he didn’t use a CPAP machine. They tended to be incurious.

If the girl or Leep ever noticed the jar on the dresser, they said nothing, perhaps because of misplaced trust in a man’s right to privacy, even an old, homeless drunk.

Sometimes the Wiry Guy came in with his meds, also masked for do-it-yourself projects. He liked to chat but thankfully his voice was muffled and Anthony had never been good at understanding accented English.

He could enjoy his CPAP liquid in peace, enjoy the warm oblivion it brought, without thought of who the girl really was and why Leep wanted to see him. Arranging and following through with the meet-ups with Presley were enough to occupy his mind between watching CIS: Las Vegas and Ironside reruns and staring out the window at the bees.

They were as busy and industrious as the cliché, but they also possessed the kind of grace and indifference that Anthony had long admired and so rarely seen in life: Tawny, hovering creatures who had no idea how the sunlight filtered through their wings and illuminated them like fireflies, who filled their days with routines never challenged, who never mourned losses, and who lived and worked in splendidly oblivious isolation.

One day he recognized Wiry Guy as the man cutting the lawn around the pear tree. Anthony wondered if he was a grass cutter who dispensed medications or a nurse who mowed lawns. Neither option made sense, until Anthony took his CPAP jar from the dresser top and poured himself a few small shots.

Wiry Guy was likely a nurse, since he seemed unskilled at cutting the lawn, leaving ragged patches like badly cut hair and accidentally ramming his mower into the pear tree. The latter action resulted in Wiry Guy getting stung by the usually benign bees, evidenced by a waving of arms and some screaming and a rush to get back inside, leaving the mower forlornly abandoned under the shade of the tree.

That’s why, in the end, Anthony was expelled from Sunny Shores. His memory of it was not as sharp as his memories of his uncle’s farm, but sure, he became irate when Wiry Guy reemerged on the lawn with a hose fitted with a power nozzle, and emboldened by CPAP elixir, Anthony summoned enough wherewithal to tie his dressing gown closed and stumble out of his room, past the empty desk at the reception and out the doors into a day that was warmer than it looked.

He stopped Wiry Guy’s destruction of the hive by pushing the mower into the back of his legs, then grabbing the hose and turning it steadily onto the nurse, who, so he was told, almost drowned. Who ever heard of a man drowning from a garden hose?

It got fuzzier after that, but when Anthony’s head cleared, he’d discovered he too had been stung twice, both on the upper calf of his left leg. Ungrateful bees.

The girl had appeared in his room and was packing a duffle bag with his meager belongings, and talking.

“Drunk, too?” she said. She didn’t sound angry, exactly; in fact, he wasn’t even sure she was talking to him. But he quickly understood that this scenario meant that he had to leave the facility and go to live with this girl, his daughter. He hated Sunny Shores, but they mostly left him alone there, and now he would have to live in quarantine with this girl interfering in his life and what few pleasures he had left.

He wasn’t so happy about the corona virus now.

In Search Of

Prompt: Word of the Day*

grape scissors

Envy, in the junk shop looking for grape scissors, spotted the oddly exotic wooden candelabra and asked Chester what it was.

“It’s for Kwanzaa,” Chester told her. “You know, celebration time if you don’t do Christmas.” Chester had not yet taken down the shop holiday decorations: the flashing red and green fairy lights above the cashier, the tree decorated with white and blue baubles, and the sinister mechanical Santa that posed menacingly on the counter top.

She felt drawn to the kinara, but she’d felt drawn to inanimate objects with mysterious pasts for some time now, and with her frequent visits to his shop she and Chester had become ineluctably friendly. She knew he lived with his mother and that their relationship was amiable, he was allergic to cats, he loved modern classical music, and had an aversion to barbers.

He however, knew very little about Envy, except that she was a plain little thing, wore an engagement ring, paid full price for items he was fully willing to be bargained down on, and was constantly in search of something. She didn’t seem like the “I’ll know it when I see it” type. She was too precise, too serious. He’d seen the facade drop only once and noted that it was as fragile as the antique glass balls on his artificial Christmas tree— in danger of shattering into a million irreparable pieces with only a slight jog. In Envy’s case, when Chester told her the old joke about Santa’s reindeer when she came in just at closing on Christmas Eve. She’d laughed like a delighted toddler.

There was a strange cathexis about her, for sure. Her deportment was hesitant but eager, reserved but outward-looking, shy but not cowed. He was half-tempted to pursue his relationship with her, even as friends, but his epiphanic discovery that he cared more about objects than people steered him clear of following that irresponsible instinct.

In any case any desire to spend more time with her shattered like the aforementioned glass ball when her fiancé entered the shop.

“Envy!” Was she deaf? “I’ve been looking all over for you. It’s on, our party is on, I got the Midsomer Room and they have Chilean sea bass!”

She looked like a Chilean sea bass, caught in a net. “They have it?”

“Well, they can order it. But we have to confirm by tomorrow.” He grinned. “C’mere!” and before she could move closer he had picked her up in his broad embrace and pulled her off the floor. “Can’t wait, babe!”

Envy’s scowl dissipated somewhat as she was mercilessly adored, but the wariness around her eyes remained.

“Chester,” she said when she was released. “This is Bob.”

“I’d inferred that,” said Chester pleasantly. “So Envy, did you find what you were looking for?”

She sighed inaudibly. “No, not yet,” she said. “Keep an eye out for me, will you?”

“I surely will,” said Chester. “Nice to meet you, Bob.”

“You too,” said Bob. He suddenly pulled out a business card and scribbled something on its back. “By the way, here’s the number of my barber— a great guy! and reasonable too.”

“Thank you,” said Chester, taking the card and dropping it into the wastebasket behind the counter, out of sight of Bob and Envy.

As they opened the door and let a gust of cold wind rattle the interior of the shop, Chester could hear Envy whispering, “Yes, it’s better, but still…!”


*courtesy of a Word of the Day calendar gift that I just opened.

Paint-by-Number

doberman hydrangea-Edit

“That looks like a paint-by-number my grandmother did,” said a man in a hat. He wore a grey raincoat and could be cast as a subway flasher, Envy thought, as he seemed the tiniest bit shifty.

“I can see how you might get that impression,” she said. She looked around for the server with the tray of white wine. Exhibit openings always attracted fresh new art aficionados, or at least those who could tolerate modern art and who liked free wine, which was ok with Envy as long as she got her fair share.

“This one is $670 though,” said the man, not taking his eyes off the small painting, which was a representation of two doberman pinschers in front of a blue hydrangea shrub.

“Framed,” said Envy.

“Does the frame cost $665?” asked the man.

Envy wondered where the featured artist, Francesco Brown, had wandered off to. He was a thoughtful and precise man, and could likely engage the man in the hat in a startling and enlightening conversation.

The pianist had started playing ragtime, which Envy detested at that particular moment as it clashed with her mood and, she felt, with the paintings on display. She signalled to Meghan, her assistant, who didn’t notice, as she was swiping at a blob of cream cheese which had dropped from a canapé onto her blouse.

“Francesco Brown,” said Envy to the man, who had turned his head to stare at her when she hadn’t responded, “paints in a somewhat primitive, two-dimensional style as a way of connecting with past sensibilities and in response to the current trend of what he calls multi-media ‘meddling’.”

“He does, does he?” said the man. He took his hands out of his pockets and Envy, in momentary panic, feared he would suddenly expose himself.

“He can explain his aesthetic better than I can. Why don’t I find him for you?” She looked around again for the tray of wine.

“Not necessary,” the man said quickly. “I’ll take it.”

“Take it?”

“I’ll buy it. This one. The dogs. It reminds me of my grandmother. She was the only one who never asked me why I collected sticks. Plus, it has a nice frame.”

Envy insisted the man in the hat meet the artist, who was charming and drew out from the man that his name was Edward, he lived in the neighbourhood, he had a dog named Cleo, he didn’t drink, and he preferred to pay by cash rather than a credit card, which made it awkward for Envy, who didn’t want to put the “sold” sticker on the picture until the money was safely in hand.

Edward didn’t seem to notice, or care, that there was no “sold” sticker on the painting of the Dobermans with Hydrangea. He said he would drop by the next morning with the cash and seemed confident the picture would be wrapped and ready to go.

But he did insist on a cup of coffee at the Starbucks next door after the event ended at nine pm. Envy agreed, and a coffee with a client was a good excuse to duck out and leave the closing up to Meghan, who hadn’t been much help at the exhibit otherwise.

They chatted briefly about the obvious topics: the exhibit (well-received), the artist (not as flaky as expected), the attendance (solid, including at least one arts writer from a small local paper), and the sales (satisfactory).

Then Edward said, sipping on his black coffee, “You are dying for a glass of wine.”

“Not drinking makes you an expert?” said Envy, a touch prickly.

“In a way, I guess so,” said Edward. “I always liked a drink after any kind of exhausting activity.”

“What kind of exhausting activity?”

“You know, like the end of a project, a speech, a big sale, lovemaking, anything emotional.”

“To be honest, I could murder one,” Envy admitted.

“I won’t keep you,” said Edward. “You just seemed interesting. Not like the women I usually meet.”

Envy stifled a yawn. That old line. She possibly got it more than most women, since she was, by any objective standard, not particularly attractive. She instinctively looked at her watch, then blushed at the inadvertent impoliteness.

“Sorry,” said Edward.

“No, I’m sorry,” said Envy. “I’m not bored, honest.” Not yet.

“Is that an engagement ring?” Edward asked, indicating the glittering tri-ruby ring on her left ring finger.

“It is,” said Envy with a sigh. “Though I don’t know if I am really engaged.”

“What’s the confusion?”

“I have the ring, but not sure if I want the marriage,” she said. “I don’t know why I’m telling you this.”

“Because I’m safe, anonymous? I have a kind, trusting face?” suggested Edward.

For a flasher, thought Envy. But she found herself continuing, “We love each other, we do, we should get married.”

“But?”

“He thinks I’m not over my first marriage.”

“Oh. Are you?”

“Definitely, but not over the man,” Envy said. Yes, that was it. The worst combination of feelings for an engaged person ever: cynical about the institution of marriage and still clinging to the connection with the ex. Shit.

“Selfishly, I can’t help but think that puts me in third place at the very least.”

“Amazing, isn’t it, how someone who looks like me could have an interesting love life?” Envy said, much more harshly than she intended.

Edward gently set his coffee cup down and stood to his feet. “It’s been fun, Envy, but Cleo can’t walk herself, so I should run.”

Envy rigorously decided against being embarrassed or regretful, and held out her hand. “Thanks for the coffee, and see you tomorrow.”

“Right,” said Edward.

Whether he would show up at the gallery to pay for Dobermans with Hydrangea or hop the subway in his raincoat was anyone’s guess.