THE DOWER BOX

“Course of action for today – tackle the basement!” announced my husband Ned. “Care to join me, Jan?” 

“Why not? I’ve got writer’s block anyway” I replied glumly.

“After you, madame” said Ned, bowing extravagantly.

Seven months ago we moved into our little beach house. It’s in good condition and Ned’s handy so employing a repairman wasn’t necessary. The former owners left a few things behind; it would be nice to find a treasure or two.  After sifting through mostly junk, we decided on a floor lamp, a wine rack and a hammock. 

“Jan, look at this old dower box. Want to store your blankets in it? If not, I can use it for something.” 

“I don’t think so, hon. Looks kinda beat up to me. It’s all yours. What are your plans?” 

“Ah … you’ll see” Ned answered inscrutably.

“Ok, mystery man. I’m heading back up. Have fun!” 

Still putting off writing, I tossed the ingredients for beef stew into the slow cooker for dinner this chilly December night. Glancing out the kitchen window I caught a glimpse of Mr. Sandman, the stray cat who hangs out in the beachgrass surrounding our house. After making a pot of tea I set off to the sunroom, my blank iPad mocking me. 

By the sounds of sawing, drilling and hammering coming from the basement, Ned was having a grand time working on that beat up dower box. A couple of hours later he wandered up, his nose appreciatively sniffing the aroma enveloping the kitchen. 

“Mmm – beef stew! How’s the writing, hon.” 

“Don’t ask. Hey, guess who I saw today. Mr. Sandman.” 

“You don’t say” Ned replied. “I was thinking about him just the other day.” 

I ladled the stew into bowls while Ned sliced the freshly baked bread and poured glasses of pinot noir. “So, when can I see what you’ve been working on?” I inquired. 

Right after dinner” Ned replied. “I think it’s damn good!” 

We finished up and Ned anxiously led me downstairs. “Well, there it is. Mr. Sandman’s house!”  

I was speechless. The dower box now had a front door with a curtain of clear hefty plastic. A carpet remnant covered the floor. A hinged door with a plastic-covered peephole and latch was on the back. There was even a small safety heater attached to the ‘ceiling’. Tilting in the old hopper window at the top of the basement wall, Ned secured it to a beam with a carabiner, then carefully inserted the box into the window opening. It fit perfectly! He anchored the box with a few short bungee ties, opened the back door, slid in a saucer of cat food and latched the door shut. 

“My soulful sensitive man!” I exclaimed, hugging Ned tightly. 

It snowed lightly that night and there were paw prints leading to the dower box. Ned and I exchanged looks of surprised glee, raced downstairs as quietly as possible and peeked into the peephole. A sleepy Mr. Sandman had found his way home. 

NAR © 2019

LA FAMIGLIA

“Course One: Escarole Soup. Course Two: Salad. Gina, what is this – Sunday dinner or an Italian wedding?” 

My girlfriend Gina showed me a copy of the menu her mother had planned for dinner. It was a seven course feast! “Do you eat like this every Sunday?” 

“No, silly – only when we have company. This week it’s my dad’s side of the family. There’s a lot a people and mom always says it’s better to have too much food than not enough.” 

“Wait a second. There’s going to be other people besides your parents? Like how many?”

Gina started counting on her fingers.  “About 18, maybe 20.” 

I’m going to meet 20 strangers and you didn’t think to warn me??” 

“Oh, don’t worry. They’re gonna love you.” 

“No. They’ll be employing Italian interrogations tactics. They’ll chew me up and spit me out. I’m Irish – I don’t stand a chance!” 

Gina laughed. “Oh stop exaggerating. We’re not the mob, ya know. Just mob!” 

And she was right. I couldn’t believe the number of people that descended on her house. They were loud, funny and very welcoming.

Gina’s mom set the table extravagantly, using the best plates, utensils and glasses. And the food was incredible. Besides the soup and salad there was an antipasto, homemade pasta, a huge platter of meatballs and sausages, two roasts, a bunch of vegetables I couldn’t pronounce, fennel, fruit, nuts, desserts and coffee. Gina’s uncles and male cousins ate like there was no tomorrow and no one stopped talking the entire time – except for Gina’s grandmother who didn’t utter a sound and stared at me with beady eyes the whole day. Honestly, that tiny woman dressed in black from head to toe scared me to death. 

As the coffee was being served, Gina’s dad got up, went to the cupboard and returned with a miniature dower chest made of highly polished wood with the finest Italian marble inlay. Placing the box on the table, he opened it to reveal an assortment of expensive imported cigarettes. All the men lit up and a bottle of anisette appeared out of nowhere.

Gina’s Uncle Vito produced a deck of cards from his vest pocket. “Ya know how to play Red Dog, Stan?” he asked me.

Um … it’s Dan, sir. And no, I’m not familiar with the game.” 

“Hey, no problem, Irish. We’re gonna teach ya. And don’t look so nervous. We may rob ya but we ain’t gonna kill ya. For some reason our Gina likes ya and if she likes ya, we all likes ya.” 

While we played cards, Gina’s cousins Louie and Frankie played their accordions and the women danced; it was the most surreal experience of my life. 

Suddenly grandma rose from her chair. Slowly she walked right over to me and looked me square in the eyes. She grinned and pinched my cheek till it was beet red. And la famiglia howled.

I swear 50 years later her mark of approval is still on my face. 

NAR © 2019

THE DIABOLICAL DOCTOR DIAMOND

It was Deirdre Diamond, Doctor of Pharmacology and loathed next door neighbor. I’m sure she’s the one who poisoned my koi pond. And I know why she did it, too. It’s because I mowed over her nasty thorn-encrusted wild rose bushes that constantly grow over onto my property. I had every right to do so and my physical body never trespassed onto her property – only my lawn mower–  yet she sought her revenge by killing my beautiful fish. And why would she do such a thing?  Because Deirdre Diamond is just plain nasty, hard-hearted, unsympathetic and more than a bit demented. 

We’ve had arguments for years now, mostly because she refuses to honor our property boundary lines. She loves to complain about my dog, Roscoe – a lazy old bloodhound who barely barks and never wanders off but Deirdre calls him a “vile nuisance”. If anyone on this earth is vile it’s her! She also grouses about my wife Judy sunbathing topless on our upper deck, telling other people she looks like a heifer. The truth is a peeping Tom would need binoculars to see Judy all the way up on the deck so Deirdre had to have gone out of her way to snoop on my wife, then blab about it. How typical of Dr. Evil! 

But this – the poisoning of my beloved koi fish – was senseless and I’m not going to let her get away with it! I don’t know if or how I’m going to be able to prove she did it but I’ll come up with something. She thinks she’s so slick, getting away with anything. Well, we’ll see about that, Deirdre! Yes we will! 

Later that week as I lay in bed during the wee hours I couldn’t help but stifle a giggle when I heard the long-anticipated sirens of the approaching fire trucks. Then that afternoon when I heard the news in town that Deirdre’s garage had all but burned down during the night, I feigned surprise and bit my tongue to keep from laughing out loud. Spontaneous combustion. Imagine that! Well, I guess old Deirdre’s got no choice now but to get rid of those gardening chemicals and what’s left of the badly damaged garage before something worse happens. One never knows, does one? 

The next morning I asked my wife “Judy, have you seen Roscoe?” as I stood in the kitchen holding his bowl of dog food. Judy replied that she had not but he might be snoozing under his favorite weeping willow tree. He does love his naps. I went out to look for Roscoe and did indeed find him under the tree, but he wasn’t sleeping; the poor old guy was dead. Not a single noticeable mark on his body. Probably meant to look like old age did him in. Never sick a day in his life and now he’s dead – or should I say murdered? And by that lunatic Deirdre, I’m sure of it. She hated Roscoe just like she hates everyone and everything. This has gone way too far and she’s got to be stopped. Dear Roscoe. How I wish he would have ripped out Deirdre’s throat but the sweet guy wouldn’t even hurt a fly. Why Deirdre ever became a doctor I can’t say for sure but it certainly wasn’t to help people or do no harm. 

Well, I may be naïve but I won’t let Deirdre intimidate me. However, it is a pity that someone accidentally left the gas on in her oven. It’s not like her to be so careless. She could have died of asphyxiation or imagine if the whole house had exploded, blowing her to kingdom come! What a hoot that would have been! If she knows what’s good for her, Deirdre will keep her threats to herself and stay off my property. She killed off all my pets. Now it’s just me and Judy and Deirdre’s presence is unwanted. Her very existence disgusts me. 

An unusually peaceful weekend went by and Judy convinced me to visit my brother in New York for a few days. I hadn’t seen him in quite a while and Judy was going to be tied up with preparations for the church yard sale so I agreed to go. I was only there for two days when the call came. Judy was dead! Apparently she never showed up to help with the yard sale – very untypical of her – and friends came to the house looking for her. I flew straight home and learned Judy was found in our bed, dead from an apparent heart attack. There was no trace of foul play, no apparent marks, no poison. But I knew better. Only a maniac like Deirdre could pull this off. She killed my wife and I’m going to get my revenge if it’s the last thing I do. 

Who says revenge isn’t sweet? I watched the whole thing unfold from behind my bedroom curtain, binoculars at the ready. Deirdre getting into her car, turning the key and then BAM! BAM!! BAM!!! Seeing little bits of Deirdre strewn about her driveway was spectacular! She had no idea I was a demolitions expert from my days in Vietnam. This was by far my greatest detonation dance of death! No one could prove it was me who did this, just like no one could prove Deirdre did what she did.  

This calls for a celebration – a toast to my deeply despised and not-so-dearly departed nemesis, the maniacal Doctor Deirdre  Diamond. I think that nine hundred dollar bottle of bourbon will fit the bill nicely. 

Ah, so sweet! So smooth and warm going down. Sweet as revenge. Finally I can relax.  

“Wait a second. What’s happening to me?” I wondered anxiously. “My throat and chest are on fire!” I clawed frantically at my shirt collar. “No! This is not possible … Deirdre poisoned my bourbon!!” I underestimated just how diabolical she could be.

Damn you, Deirdre Diamond! Damn you!”  

NAR © 2019

THE GIRL WITH KALEIDOSCOPE EYES

When I tap my hat with this magic wand and say the secret words you will instantly turn into a blackbird!” declared my brother, Derek. “Are you ready, Lucy?”

“Sure, David Blaine” I replied with about as much enthusiasm as a rock. 

Ok, here goes. Ob-La-Da!” TAP! And nothing happened. “Hey, what’s going on?” wailed Derek, truly stumped. 

“Oh, here’s a wild guess: maybe you got the words wrong” I said sarcastically. “Take a look at this and profit from my knowledge of all things Beatles”, and we Googled the White Album. “See, you got it wrong.” 

“Oh yeah! Ok, let’s try again. Ready?” Derek ceremoniously whirled his wand and said “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da!” TAP! 

And the next thing I knew I was soaring through the sky, flying across the universe. Here, there and everywhere I gazed in amazement at the clouds, the water, tree tops and strawberry fields. I spotted a row of houses below and gracefully swooped down, perching on a windowsill.  Hopping inside I landed right on top of a bathtub.

“Well, hello! What have we here! A little housebreaker?”  exclaimed a man behind me. 

“No, silly! I’m a blackbird. I came in through the bathroom window” I said and turned around to see — George Harrison!! 

Welcome, blackbird!” George said, not at all surprised to find a talking bird in his house. “You remind me of a little ditty John and Paul wrote. Would you like to come with me to visit the Lads.” 

“You mean John, Paul and Ringo?” I warbled with excitement. 

Well, actually just Paul and John. Ringo had a bit of an accident and went to see Doctor Robert. But do try to act naturally.” 

“Oh no! What happened to Ringo?” I asked in misery. 

 George whispered “Do you want to know a secret? Ringo was following the fool on the hill and he couldn’t slow down. He fell head first, he did, into an octopus’s garden and nearly drowned!” 

“Wasn’t there anyone to help.” I asked tearfully. 

Just the two of us!” exclaimed two voices in unison. We turned to see Paul and John grinning broadly. 

“You’ll be happy to know we got Ringo to the doctor straight away and he’ll be right as rain very soon. He’s getting better all the time” added Paul.

“So tell us, little blackbird. Do you have a name?” asked John

“Something tells me, Johnny, it’s ‘Mother Superior”. Am I right, little bird?” inquired Paul. 

“No, nothing quite as impressive as that. I’m just plain Lucy”. 

“Just plain Lucy!? Rubbish! Much more genteel than Sexy Sadie but every bit as pretty as Dear Prudence!” exclaimed John. 

George reached into his pocket and took out a teeny pair of pink glasses. He delicately balanced them on my little beak. “Perfect! Kaleidoscope Eyes! Let’s go show Ringo!” 

And off we went singing “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds”. 

Suddenly I was in my bed and I wasn’t a blackbird at all. And the Lads weren’t here either. It was all a wonderful dream.

But when I looked over at my nightstand I gasped; there sat a teeny pair of pink glasses. Imagine that!

NAR © 2019

THE LOSER

“Instantly Irresistible” read the label on the perfume bottle at a shop in Bangkok. I was, shall we say, drawn here after several misunderstandings with the Sydney Police Department. I called it “gaining a profit”; they called it “pickpocketing”.

Contrary to the Sydney Police, my parents and my friends, I’m not a complete loser – just a partial one. I worked in a book store back home but got canned when I ‘borrowed’ a few dollars from the register. The shop owner called the police on me, even though “he really liked me and hated doing it” . Then there was the ‘incident’ which brought me here. 

Now I’m washing dishes for a restaurant, just barely getting by. The waitresses, all sisters, live together downstairs in a shoebox of an apartment near the supply room. I sleep on a cot in the basement and use the grungy bathroom – better than nothing. There’s a basement window which I crawl through when I get home late and the restaurant is closed. Only the owner and the eldest sister have a key. 

Sometimes when the sisters are working I’ll go downstairs for supplies, take a small detour into that shoebox and help myself to their tip money. I’m wondering – can I be considered a ‘housebreaker’ if the door isn’t locked? 

I have a clandestine girlfriend, too. She’s a cleaner at the tailor shop nearby. I saw her through the shop window and she looked up and smiled. One dark night after work I waited for her outside the shop and asked if I could walk her home. She agreed but said only half way – her family would not approve. She lives with her parents and 11 siblings. All of what she earns goes to her family. She owns only a few clothes and a ragged cloth pouch. I surprised her with a bottle of perfume which I found in a moldy wood crate behind the shop. She smiled happily and slipped it into her pouch. Her name is “Piti” and she calls me “Sam” which isn’t even my name but that’s ok. No one knows I exist.  

After dark the next night I waited for Piti but she never showed. Disappointed, I skulked home. The same thing happened the next two nights and on the fourth day during my break I glanced in the tailor shop window only to see a different cleaning girl. “Where was Piti?” I wondered, becoming concerned. 

Several days later I overheard the sisters talking. Piti had become deathly sick – an apparent toxic reaction to old perfume from a bottle found in her pouch. She had been in quarantine, but died this morning. 

I was reeling. I did this to Piti. I killed her! She was a perfect angel, the sweetest part of my life. Everything I do hurts someone. In the course of three weeks I’ve gone from petty thief to murderer. Everyone is right. I’m a complete loser. I don’t know how I’m going to live with myself.       

NAR © 2019