The Secret of Success [Repost]

Prompt: Viable

dog_puppy_box_75966_

Please think about your legacy, because you’re writing it every day.Gary Vaynerchuck

All the kids had lemonade stands that summer. It was like the hottest corporate trend among the under-sixes.

In keeping with Lord Samuel’s advice of Location, location, location, my neighbor Tally and her best friend Bo set up shop in the choicest spot, right where the cars turned off the highway, and they had a heavy, dark red cooler full of store-bought ice. They charged the most for their glass of lemonade: twenty-five cents. Many cars stopped and purchased Tally and Bo’s lemonade, because of course they didn’t realize there was cheaper, and in some cases, better lemonade further down the road. Also, once Tally and Bo netted a customer, the customer didn’t tend to bother with any other beverage enterprises, because Tally’s product was consistent and always served in a friendly and appreciative manner. They patronized Tally and Bo’s lemonade stand, exclusively and regularly, even if it did cost a quarter.

Virginia and her two sisters had the best lemonade, since it was hand-squeezed, with lots of sugar but not too much, and a tiny slice of fresh lemon floating on the top, which was what her marketing people (her eldest brother) had recommended. They had the manpower to make ice themselves before opening hours, and a place to warehouse the ice, so all the components of their lemonade were fresh and hand-made, which was quite a selling point, when you come to think of it. Their profits, despite the low margin, were impressive. It was just as Henry Ford once said, The man who will use his skill and constructive imagination to see how much he can give for a dollar, instead of how little he can give for a dollar, is bound to succeed, though their lemonade was twenty cents per glass, not a dollar.

Cody and I had set up shop at an intersection with a stop sign, and to be competitive we charged fifteen cents a glass for our lemonade, which was made from frozen cans to save on time and expenses. Unfortunately, we skimped on the ice, and I could tell by the disappointment in the eyes of some of our clients that the missing ice was an issue, even if the lemonade was “ice cold” as advertised on the signage. Cody always smiled and said “We ran out of ice!”, a lie if ever there was one, and not very effective if it was a repeat customer, who might think we lacked in the area inventory skills, as well as salesmanship. So Cody bit his tongue, for as Steve Jobs said, Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly and get on with improving your other innovations. We added cold Pepsi to our inventory, and just sold it by the can, thereby avoiding the necessity of stocking more paper cups.

Sales were relatively brisk at first, and aside from the ice, there were no registered complaints. But I could visualize where I wanted the business to go, and so far Cody and I were falling short.

To meet the challenge with the ice, we checked with our investors, but since I’d already got an advance on my allowance, no further loan was proffered, even though my request was backed by viable projections. I mean, once we had the ice solution, which involved finding a supplier, we would be huge: too big to fail. I found it rather short-sighted on my mother’s part, and Cody and I faced a disturbing dip in sales.

Then, a miracle happened.

The secret of success in life, said Benjamin Disraeli, is for a man to be ready for his opportunity when it comes.

When Molly had six puppies, Cody and I knew what to do.

We set up a small table with an umbrella and three chairs, which while a bit tatty from languishing in the garden shed, provided shade and a place for clients to sit and enjoy their beverages. As soon as the puppies were old enough, Cody and I put the box o’puppies in the shade of the umbrella.

There were cars lined up round the block, and people, tens or twenties of people, buying our cold but iceless lemonade, mingling and chatting, and, mostly, surrounding the puppies and waiting for their turn to cuddle one.

Tally and Bo came by, and so did Virginia, her three sisters, and her eldest brother, and while they all sniffed at the quality of our product, they appreciated our creativity, and just loved the puppies. I wasn’t bothered by their consternation, since Business is a combination of war and sport (Andre Maurois), after all.

Molly was Cody’s dog, so he supervised the puppy division, while I poured, took cash, and kept inventory. Which, needless to say, was usually depleted before our energy and ambition were, on any given day.

About a week later, my sister got a skateboard. No one else in the neigbourhood had one at that time. It was dark blue, with flames painted on the base. Cody and I closed the stand, since strategy meetings, customer service, and day-to-day operations were taking up so much of our time. We were also eager to reinvest our profits.

And as Walt Disney said, A man should never neglect his family for business.


  • Original Prompt: Legacy, March 10, 2016.
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Prompt: Reservation

blue tit art

Evangelica was such a beautiful name, even if she shortened it to “Eva”. Why, it was an even prettier name than Elizabeth, which Leep had always thought to be the prettiest name in the world.

They met for the first time at a cafe called “Benny’s Reubens and More” which they agreed to after a lengthy back-and-forth about restaurants ranging from Famous Chef to take-away. They met at 5:30 pm, and the place was virtually empty; a compact environment of hard surfaces, with a laminated tile floor and polished, country-style oakwood chairs.

So even though the picture in her profile on Plenty of Fish in the Sea was blurry and contained more than one woman, and did not specify which was Evangelina, Leep was able to spot her at a table near a tall plastic (“faux”) plant, cleaning her nails with a fork. To her credit, she stopped immediately when Leep arrived and introduced himself.

He had given himself plastic (“faux”) courage earlier by imbibing two bottles of chilled Gambrinus Plzen.

“My first husband called me ‘Angel’,” said Eva, then she directed her attention to the menu, which gave Leep the opportunity to examine her face.

The profile photo had given no clue that a cascade of dark freckles romped across her cheeks and nose, and in some places they joined together in a great flock, like migrating birds. Leep was enchanted.

Leep was sure their conversation sounded, to the server who lurked in the shadows, like alien beings trying to communicate, since Eva’s voice was in a high register, and his own was very low. Like a cow communicating with a blue tit. Eva did most of the talking. She’d said she was outgoing, which was convenient for Leep, since he was not.

All he could really think about was the end of the date, when he believed he had a strong chance of ending up in her bed and thus ending a very long drought which spanned from his first sexual experience at age 18 and a half, to the present. He had this opinion because Evangelica had indicated she was “open-minded” and “not old-fashioned” and “experienced”. Debbie told him that meant she was a bit of a slut, until her mother told her to shush. Her mother was right. “Slut” was a harsh word, the wrong word.

Don’t blow it, he told himself, over and over. It wasn’t so much that he was attracted to Eva in particular, despite her freckles, as much as he wanted some solid experience so he would not look like the inept noob that he felt he was at the moment, to a woman he truly did want to please.

During their dinner of warm bowls of borscht and slabs of white bread, she was duly attentive but clearly unimpressed at Leep’s claims that he was both a mill worker and an almost-published author. She talked a lot about her “collections”— her spoons, her vintage magazines, her knit baby clothes, her enamelled pill boxes. “Not Franklin Mint, either,” she assured Leep, who had no idea what Franklin Mint was. She mentioned her first husband frequently, but made no references to the second one. She owned her own house. Would Leep like to see it?

You bet he would. Though he did not say that out loud. He was ready. He’d exfoliated and clipped and snipped and gelled and moisturized and deodorized and did all the things an article the old edition of GQ at the barber shop had recommended.

He followed her car in his, and she parked in front of a green stuccoed-bungalow, squat and square, with light trapped behind thin curtains at the wide front window.

She was a collector, all right. “Pardon the mess,” she said with a giggle as she opened the front door and revealed the start of a passageway— a winding narrow path between columns of boxes, shopping bags, and newspapers stacked to the ceiling. This path led to the kitchen, which was similarly stuffed with boxes, garbage bags, empty plant pots, and one magazine tower that spilled onto the kitchen table. “Ice Fishers’ Digest,” said Eva. “My first husband was a subscriber.”

Leep suddenly noticed there was another human being in the claustrophobic, dimly-lit space. Seated at the formica kitchen table was a teenage girl, in striped flannel pyjamas, eating a bowl of cereal with milk. She didn’t raise her head or say hello— it was the crunching of the Fruit Loops that caught Leep’s attention.

“Oh!” said Eva. “This is my daughter, Paulette. Also from my first husband.” Paulette rose, put her empty bowl in the sink, which was crowded with dirty dishes, cutlery, and two plastic cutting boards, and padded silently out of the room.

“Teenagers,” said Eva with a sigh.

There were more issues of Ice Fisher’s Digest in the bedroom, and Leep noticed one was the recent Summer International Issue. So she continued the subscription? There were other magazines, too. And newspapers that went as far back as the last US presidential inauguration. Amazon.com boxes. Plastic bags full of mystery contents. There were even unopened Franklin Mint boxes— was Evangelica entirely honest with Leep? There was not a square inch of surface unoccupied, save for the path to the bed, the bed itself, and narrower path from the bed to the small, ensuite bathroom.

Their first attempt was about as clumsy and ineffectual and swift as Leep had expected and dreaded, but Evangelica seemed unperturbed. Later on, a second attempt had a more pleasant result, and as Eva cuddled up to Leep’s exfoliated and moisturized torso, she whispered, “I want to have your babies.”

This seemed sudden. Leep remembered he had an early morning appointment and got his clothes on and left, after awkwardly planting a kiss on her forehead as he’d seen Ryan Gosling (or was it John Hamm?) do in a movie.

He navigated through the passageways, noticing a powerful, dominant odour for the first time. Cat litter? Cheese? Buttermilk?

It didn’t matter. Leep got into his car and turned on the ignition. He sighed heavily, but with contentment. Leep had got laid.

Itsy Bitsy Spider [Repost]

Prompt: Proclivity

web with rain

Itsy Bitsy Spider: A Bad Fable

Janet was the littlest of all the spiders in the colony. At dinner, she never got the tasty thorax or juicy abdomen of the flies captured in the silver webs– no, not even the compound eye. She scrambled against the other little spiders for bits of antennae, tough foreleg, and wisps of dry, tasteless wings. Her mothers tried to fend off the ravenous older spiders at dinner time, but Janet found herself constantly hungry.

“You’ll have to mate,” mama Goldass told her with a sigh. “To help you build your own nets. What about Armand? He seems nice.”

“Ugh,” Janet said. “He’s so ugly and hairy, and he spits and he always wobbles his spinnerets in public.”

“Some people find that charming,” mama Goldass said. “I hear his silks are strong.”

“I overheard Tippy say they sagged,” Janet said.

Mama Goldass laughed. “And how would Tippy know?” Her abdomen jiggled as she chucked softly.

But Janet knew mama Goldass was right. Without a mate, she would starve. On the night before her mating with Armand, mama Queenbutt took Janet aside to wish her well, and found her in tears. “Don’t worry, little one,” said mama Queenbutt. “Think of all the tasty Cyclorrhaphae you will feast on!”

Mama Goldass had different advice. “Just lay back and think of the downspout,” she said.

And that’s what Janet did. She thought long and hard about the downspout, she thought of its cold, slippery surface, and the way the webs created a bridge to the wall, which was softer and had hundreds of caves to build nests and bear young. She thought about it every day, and wished for than a life different from her life with Armand and his spinnerets and the waterspout, and so blamed herself when the deluge came.

Armand’s silks were strong, the webs held, and though many, including Armand, perished, Janet’s tiny weight carried her on and above the flood; she surfed it like a butterfly and started anew.

Janet bore young in the spring. She mourned Armand as widows do, and found a new mate and had many bountiful harvests. She made her mothers proud.

If Janet the spider were here now, she would say to you, go ahead and settle when life compels you, but don’t give up your dreams. A deluge may happen to sweep your troubles away and show you a path to true happiness.

*Note: This is no way like an Aesop or other helpful fable. This is a bad fable.


Blessing

Prompt: Compass

pecans

Isabel didn’t like lesbians, but that didn’t stop her allowing them to join the Union. In fact, she had developed a degree of sympathy with their rejection of men; she longed to marry and have more children, but if given a chance, would happily strangle her ex-husband to death.

In any case, the lesbians buttressed up the Union, which now stood at forty-plus girls and recruitment was still and always a priority. Before long, they might control over half the prison population.

It was necessary for Isabel to make her way through her daily routine with an entourage, not just for personal protection but because there were always errands, persistent supplicants, spontaneous ideas that needed recording; and, of course, to maintain the aura of authority among Union members and potential recruits. In this crumbling castle with plaster walls the colour of ice-crusted leaves, where the shrillness of voices was amplified by wide empty hallways and panic, and where dullness and soul-destroying monotony were dutifully embraced, the sight of Isabel with her brightly dyed red hair and completely illegal red fingernails, surrounded by hand-picked and deferential subjects, all looking well-fed and alert and alive, was memorable and aweful.

The guards tolerated her with good grace and by the convenience of bribes, usually drugs or favours, but sometimes too because they were no more immune to spectacle and the mysticism of hierarchy than the girls were.

Isabel’s first feat of magic was the curtains she negotiated/ battled for in the main toilets, a victory she insisted was successful because of the support of certain fellow inmates, the girls whom she dubbed the Union. And as she continued to serve her time, she struck a secret deal with Armando, a senior guard, for the safe and consistent import of various narcotics, the most popular of which was not cocaine or heroin but Xanax, and the siphoning of profits to an external account. She set up an inmate-controlled medical emergency system, so her girls would not die of the drugs she smuggled. She petitioned small, independent operations with the prison walls to amalgamate with her Union, less by threat than by luxurious coercion.

You would almost, Miss Fisher said of her one day to her friend Wendy, believe that Isabel had been a powerful businessperson and negotiator in the real world. Perhaps her crimes had been of the corporate variety?

Oh no, Wendy had told her. Wendy was intimate with Tricia, who was one of Isabel’s closest aides and confidantes.

Isabel was the daughter of illegal immigrants who were deported, though not before they abandoned and entrusted their child to the care of a friend, who turned out to be a notorious madame, Wendy told Miss Fisher, who raised Isabel to be a pampered and prized virgin ready for auction, until Isabel was raped by her English teacher and subsequently booted from the brothel.

Homeless for years, Isabel fell in with a pleasant and shy man who imported cocaine from Colombia. They married and had two children before he turned federal witness, at which time they were banished to a small town in Minnesota, where he continued to import cocaine with a new set of suppliers until he was arrested again. Isabel and the children moved to Miami but as homelessness loomed and she was unable to otherwise support the children, she began a short-lived career as a drug mule.

Her husband divorced her while she was in prison; and after being released again, he took custody of the children and moved them to the American Virgin Islands, where he continued to live as a roofing/ drug importer.

“Fascinating,” said Miss Fisher. “It would make quite the story, if true.”

“Even if it isn’t,” said Wendy. “Anyway she’s always had to scrabble and scrub for a living. She had nothing yet lost everything. Hardly a corporate or any kind of power.”

“She wants my blessing,” Miss Fisher said. Wendy wasn’t sure if Miss Fisher was still talking to her. Sometimes her aging mind wandered, these days.

“Your blessing?”

“Oh yes, for her Union. She imagines I have some kind of influence,” said Miss Fisher.

“She wants you to join?”

“She does, indeed. And you too. And all my little friends.”

It was a Sunday afternoon early in November, but so sun-lit and warm that they’d removed their old woolen coats and scarves and basked in the unexpected glow. Their bench backed against the stuccoed utility building and faced a tall chain-link fence, beyond which was a sparse forest of spruce and fir; the closest to a view location that was available anywhere on the grounds.

“She could probably source some pecans for you,” Wendy said. She leaned back and closed her eyes, pretending for a moment she was enjoying a supple, warm day anywhere else.

“Do you think so?” asked Miss Fisher.

Wendy nodded, hoping Miss Fisher was watching. She felt deliciously drowsy, and probably could have dozed off, if she hadn’t felt the pierce of a frozen droplet on her forehead.

She sat up. The sun still shone, but the air had turned bitterly cold. Miss Fisher was pulling on her jacket again. All around her the air was filled with ice rain— tiny sharp pellets of ice that sparkled in the sunlight like shards of tinsel.

“Amazing, isn’t it,” said Miss Fisher. “How things can change in an instant.”

Running with Friends

Prompt: Age

leonardo_dicaprio-gt

 

Leep looked in the mirror. Now, he didn’t like looking in the mirror as a rule, except when he was shaving, and even then he merely concentrated on the contours of his cheek and the avoidance of a blood accident. But today was his birthday, a landmark birthday, and he needed to have the courage to look.

There were lines around his eyes. He could see them without even moving closer to the glass; and they couldn’t be laugh lines, since Leep didn’t laugh all that much. And there were deep lines around his mouth when he just relaxed the muscles in his face. Was his neck a bit saggy? Leep didn’t know. He was pretty sure, however, that Leonardo DiCaprio didn’t have a neck like his, bordering on saggy.

The problem was, Leep was no closer to marriage than he had been a year ago, or two years ago, or even three. He didn’t even have a girlfriend. He’d been pretending that those dinners and lunches with his publisher, Amanda, were dates. That’s what he told the guys at work, if they asked. But she wasn’t interested in Leep as a person, just as a potential children’s book author, which really, was fine with Leep.

As for Lizzie (known as Beth to everyone else), well, driving by her house once a week in a test driven automobile, or dropping off clippings about her murdered son-in-law as an excuse to see her, or hanging out with Franco the Butcher just because he happened to be at her house a lot, did not exactly constitute a romantic relationship.

He checked his Mark Nepo. “Stop recording the poetry of life,” he advised in his book, “and enter the poetry of life.”

That sounded like good advice.

But Leep didn’t know where the entrance was.

So he got out his notebook, and wrote:

Step 1: Date
Step 2: Girlfriend
Step 3: Wedding
Step 4: Children

It didn’t sound very poetic, but these were concrete steps towards entering life the way other people did.

This is why Leep found himself, on his landmark birthday, in front of his HP laptop at the dining room table, with a lukewarm bottle of Twin Sails Hefeweizen on a cardboard coaster beside the computer, trying to fill out the profile information on the website “Plenty of Fish in the Sea”.

He was a writer, this shouldn’t be so hard. Though he had to admit that composing a list of interests that would intrigue a young woman was far removed from recording the adventures of the Blue Rabbit. Or was it?

Favourite food: Carrots
Favourite leisure activitis: Running with friends; digging tunnels
Best feature: Ears

Yes, this could work! Leep smiled and rubbed his jaw, and suddenly realized he’d forgotten to shave that morning. He would go without this day. He’d had enough of the mirror.

Dead Bolts [Repost]

Prompt: Ghoulish

scary-ghosts

Suddenly the amusing, cocktail/dinner party story about the house being haunted wasn’t so funny. I don’t know why exactly, but I’d been uneasy all day— testy and irritable when the kids’ father came to pick them up for the a weekend away camping. They even took my canine soulmate, Champ, whom the children said needed a vacation too. From me? I growled and grumbled as I closed the door on them.

Two people had been brutally murdered in this refurbished farmhouse, once isolated in the country and now on the edge of a sprawling community. Two people, husband and wife, tied up, beaten, and stabbed to death, and the killer never found and brought to justice. Which is why, according to local legend, this poor ghostly couple stayed behind. Matthew and Thomasina were sad, angry ghosts, and you could hear them creep slowly across the floorboards, sometimes smell fresh-baked bread which was on the counter when the bodies were discovered, and hear their wails when the wind blew, or so the story went.

I didn’t find it charming anymore, as I lay in bed, awakened suddenly by… what? It seemed unusually dark and cold. There was no light from the night light in the bathroom down the hall. Only a bright moon behind hazy clouds cast a dim light in this darkness, or I would have been totally blinded. There was a wind, and the old house creaked and settled, as it usually did, but somehow, something was different. I could feel it. A rush of cool air, an unfamiliar smell, a pattern of creaks on the hardwood, someone walking, someone coming nearer.

I lay in bed, the quilt pulled up to my nose, staring at the bedroom door, frozen in fear. I saw a shadow across the wall, and then, yes! A man, a large man, blurred by darkness, looming in the doorway. I stifled a gasp, I squeezed my eyes shut, and when I opened them again he was gone. I was shivering with the cold now, paralyzed, listening for movement.

My body ached with tension, but I got up out of bed, wrapped the quilt around me, and crept to the doorway. The house was silent. The wind had picked up, I could hear it rattling the eaves and send echoes down the chimney.

I stepped as softly as I could but the floor betrayed me. Where had Matthew gone? Why had he come to me in the first place?

Why was it so cold?

Then I heard the front door abruptly swing open and crash against the wall in the foyer. The wind, I thought, Matthew and Thomasina making themselves known, demanding justice!

I was wrong. Three police constables with flashlights sending laser-like beams over the walls and floors, and finally into my face, strode right into the front hallway.

“Are you ok?” said a voice.

Did I not look ok? Had my hair turned white? “I, I…”

“You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” said a different voice, without irony. “Your power was out, lines were cut, and we got a mobile 911 call from this house.”

I just stared at him. A 911 call? At that moment the night light clicked on, and I could hear the furnace starting up as the power was restored, and there was a bright light from the kitchen. We found the refrigerator door wide open, contents on the table and floor— milk, eggs, cheese and oranges. The constable flicked on the kitchen light. “You make this mess?” he asked.

“No,” I said.

The back door was open. A car’s taillights could be seen disappearing into the distance. “He must have heard us arrive. Barb, see if you can track that vehicle down,” said an officer. Constable Barb disappeared.

Then the officer turned to me. “You don’t live in the 1950s, Mz Waters,” he said. “You need to lock your doors properly, with dead bolts. Both doors were easily compromised.”

It was hard to speak. I couldn’t seem to take a breath. I couldn’t move.

“Want us to call anyone for you?” said the officer as they prepared to leave. “Doesn’t feel right leaving you alone in this state.”

“No, it’s fine,” I said, finally finding my voice. “It’s ok. It’s fine.”

And I put the kettle on for tea.


Original Prompt: Eerie, October 31, 2016

Too Many Stops

Prompt: Fluff

garden Jenny Beck

Virginia couldn’t deny Cash access to his daughter, no matter what he’d been up to. She was still furious, yes, and couldn’t bear to face him and listen to his apologies and supplications, which would be sincere and heart-felt. And completely irrelevant.

Cash tended to focus on the latest of his transgressions, ignoring the string of mistakes and fuck-ups, some merely annoying, some damaging and humiliating, that led to this place of remorse and repentance. He was late picking up the babysitter— was that a sin worthy of packing up and leaving, taking his beloved daughter away too?

He would promise to be prompt, when that wasn’t the issue at all. And Virginia would have to explain, yet again, that it wasn’t one action it was many— the train they were riding on made too many stops, and so they would never, ever reach their destination.

Meanwhile, Virginia hated listening to herself rattle off the times he’d been late, had behaved like a besotted teenager with other women, forgotten planned events, disregarded legitimate concerns about their home and finances, refused to liaise with his parents and instead allowed them to intrude and interfere. It wasn’t like her to nag and complain; he was turning her into a shrew, and she didn’t like it. She was tired of it. She was tired of him.

So she had the child-minder, Devon, take Virginia’s car and deliver Echo with all her paraphernalia to Cash at the house, and arranged for Devon to pick her up again at the agreed time, six o’clock in the evening.

“There’s no one here,” Devon said.

Virginia held the phone close to her ear. “Say again?”

“There’s no one home, it’s twenty after six, no one’s around,” Devon said. Her voice sounded subdued and calm— if someone was to panic, it wouldn’t be her.

When Cash’s cellphone clicked into the answering service, Virginia called his parents, and when there was no reply, she called the police, who reluctantly told her there was nothing they could do at the moment— they were married, shared a house, he was the father, wasn’t he?

Devon drove Virginia’s BMW X3 the half-mile to Cash’s parents’ house— it was a beautiful, sprawling, white gabled home with an expanse of perfectly manicured lawn in the front, surrounded by azalea and rhododendrons which had been photographed one spring and published in a national home and garden magazine. Devon hadn’t seen the house before. It reminded her of the one she and her old friends had squatted in back in the 90’s.

She walked around most of the perimeter of the house, by the pool, the tennis courts, past the pond and the strange topiary (which Cash had told her gave him nightmares as a child), and what looked like stables, though there were no animals. Twilight was settling upon the estate, and lights, triggered electronically, started turning on automatically inside the house and around the grounds, bathing everything in a golden glow.

If Cash hadn’t brought his baby Echo to his parents, where had he taken her?

Something caught Devon’s eye… something bright and incongruous, a small, fluorescent orange object near the poolhouse. She approached and picked up a plump, fuzzy orange rabbit toy, as soft as the real thing, from the tile.

The door was ajar, and, bunny in hand, Devon pushed it open, and saw Echo’s care bag and toy bag dumped by the entrance to the showers. There was a kind of lounge further in, with a blue sofa, a small fridge, and a flat screen TV. The room was unlit— only the light from the string of bulbs surrounding the pool outside illuminated the room.

Cash was sprawled on the sofa, on his back, with Echo on top of him, her face nestled into his neck, both of them deep in sleep. Cash had his mouth open. A small trickle of vomit dried on Echo’s cheek.

His phone was on a table, vibrating. That would be Virginia.

Devon picked it up.