THE GIFT HORSE

Newly married financier Alexander Eaton and his wife Margaret had recently moved into their lavish estate in the Beacon Hill section of Boston. As was the Eaton family tradition, Alexander’s father Samuel presented the young couple with what had become a treasured family heirloom – an impressive painting of the ship The Mayflower. The painting had been in the family for generations and had been authenticated as an original oil on canvas created in 1630 by Sarah Eaton, Samuel’s ancestor and a passenger aboard The Mayflower. The painting itself was magnificent but it was the impressive ebony frame with 24 carat gold stenciled details that was the pièce de résistance.

Alexander and Margaret proudly displayed the painting above the marble fireplace in the grand ballroom of their mansion. It was the focal point of every soirée held at Eaton Manor, especially during the festive Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons and at the debutante ball of Alexander and Margaret’s only child Constance. Alexander imagined hosting a grand fete when Constance graduated from Harvard – another Eaton Family tradition – but that was still a few years away.

Alexander was furious when Constance chose to attend Boston College over Harvard. While there she caught the eye of Tom Stewart, a nice guy from a middle class family but Tom kept his distance thinking Constance was a spoiled rich girl. Constance proved Tom wrong when she asked him out for coffee and surprised him when she said he should call her Connie instead of “that pretentious-sounding Constance”.

Tom and Connie fell in love, became teachers and got married. The idealistic young couple were determined to make it on their own and refused any money from her parents. Connie’s father angrily renounced her but her mother insisted The Mayflower tradition be continued and passed the painting on to the couple. Tom and Connie reluctantly accepted and chose to hang it on the rear wall of the den where it wasn’t quite so obvious. Connie knew they really didn’t need the extravagant painting and all it was worth; she had been secretly saving money every month for whatever unforeseen circumstance might come their way. Their rebellious eighteen year old daughter Ivy disapproved of the ostentatious painting “and all it represented”. She preferred to hide herself away in her room listening to The Concert for Bangladesh. 

Ivy was working as a barista at Starbucks when she met Will Connors, an aspiring musician. They started dating and one night at dinner she announced to her parents that she wasn’t interested in going to college and planned to move in with Will. Tom asked how she intended to survive on a barista’s salary. Ivy shrugged and replied “we’ll manage”. Tom and Connie knew trying to dissuade Ivy would only make matters worse so they begrudgingly gave their blessing.

The following month Ivy moved into Will’s tiny studio apartment and Connie happily presented them with The Mayflower. Ivy was furious but Connie pleaded with her to accept it as a housewarming gift. “Change the frame to a plain one but please take it” Connie said. Ivy put the painting in a closet where it stayed for a few months. Finally she decided it was hers to do with as she wished and tossed it in a garbage dumpster.

Little did Ivy know that Connie had removed the rear panel of the frame and meticulously replaced it after taping an envelope to the back of the painting containing all the money she had saved – one hundred crisp $100 bills – meant to help the struggling couple. Maybe Ivy should have changed the frame after all.  

NAR © 2019

THE BIG “C”

“Papers! Not one, not two but three papers all due on Monday!” exclaimed Hannah in exasperation. “One on the assassination of JFK, another on the Scopes Trial and…..”  

“Let me guess” interrupted Hannah’s brother Eric. “A 1,000 word book report on ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.” 

“How could you possibly know that?!” questioned a puzzled Hanna. “You must be psychic!”  

Eric laughed. “Hardly! Mr. Cavanaugh hasn’t changed his assignments in years. I bet he still says the same thing.”  

Brother and sister looked at each other trying not to laugh as they simultaneously did their best Mr. Cavanaugh impersonations – “Remember class, the quantity of your work is second only to the quality!”   

Eric and Hannah cracked up laughing. 

“Well, kiddo, good thing our folks are at the cabin by themselves this weekend and I’m going to ‘Ozzfest’ with Kyle. You’ll have plenty of peace and quiet to get all your work done. Good luck, sis!” Kyle laughed as he waved Hannah goodbye. 

“I’m gonna need it!” she groaned. “My grades haven’t been very good lately.”

Hannah went to the den where she and Eric always did their homework. First she read her emails, then went on Facebook, YouTube and TikTok. Bored, Hannah got up to stretch her legs, perusing the multitude of books in the den. Her mother saved everything from when she and Eric were babies – albums of photos, drawings, assignments, awards and diplomas. 

On one bookcase there were neat rows of black binders from her birth to present day as a Junior in high school. On another bookcase were tidy rows of grey binders from Eric’s birth to his current class – a Freshman in college. Running her fingers along Eric’s binders Hannah stopped abruptly at a section labeled ‘ERIC’S HIGH SCHOOL ESSAYS’.  

“Hmm … I wonder?” Hannah asked herself. She looked for the binders from Eric’s Junior class and found the tab that read ‘MR. CAVANAUGH’

OMG!” Hannah gasped. “Let’s see what we have here.” 

With anticipation she ran her finger down the list of Eric’s essays, her eyes almost bugging out of her head when she spotted  ‘JFK Assassination’. Further down the list she found ‘The Scopes Trial’.

“This is too good to be true!” Hannah exclaimed. “Two out of the three essays I need are here! I’m sure Eric’s book reports are here, too … fingers crossed.” 

Sure enough Hannah found another binder labeled ‘ERIC’S BOOK REPORTS’. Opening the binder she located Eric’s Junior year section and poured over the titles. “Bingo!” she shouted gleefully. “There you are! ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’. Three for three!” Thank goodness her mother saved everything!

Taking all three of Eric’s assignments, Hannah sat at the computer station where she scanned and forwarded all the papers to herself. She then changed the dates, margins and fonts so her work wouldn’t look identical to Eric’s. Finally, changing his name to hers, she printed out the papers, returned the originals to the binders and put everything back on the shelves. 

Done!” she crowed,  feeling quite pleased with herself. “And I didn’t have to do any work. Now that’s what I call being one smart cookie!

Hannah spent the rest of the weekend hanging out with her friends at the mall and watching movies on Netflix. On Monday she confidently turned in her assignments. On Friday Mr. Cavanaugh handed Hannah a large folder. To her shock inside were her reports as well as Eric’s reports. All Eric’s papers were marked with a big red ‘F’; hers were marked ‘FC’

“Obviously you had no idea that I save all my students work. You also did not know that Eric failed his assignments” Mr. Cavanaugh reprimanded Hannah. “By copying his work you not only failed, you cheated. Therefore, young lady, I’ve given you the grade of ‘FC’ – ‘F’ for ‘Fail’ and ‘C’ for ‘Cheating’. Your parents have already been informed of this. I hope you have learned your lesson.” 

Hanna felt sick to her stomach; she never saw this coming. Her parents were going to be furious.  Would they ever be able to trust her again? 

Looks like this smart cookie’s plan completely crumbled” Hannah thought regretfully. 

NAR © 2019

ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS

Papers and leaves were snatched by the gusty autumn wind and scattered about the street like so many pieces of flotsam and jetsam.  It was getting dark and Frederick knew he had to find his wife Helene before something bad happened, before she hurt herself – or worse. Helene had been terribly distraught this morning – more so than usual – and judging by the quantity of bourbon missing from the bottle, she was also probably quite drunk. Another horrible fight with his mother, Frederick assumed. 

Shoving his hands into his coat pockets, Frederick hunched his shoulders against the cold harsh wind. As he searched the streets for Helene his mind began to wander back to a time years ago when things were better, back to when Helene was whole. How happy they had been, just the two of them so in love. They bought a cute brownstone soon after getting married, living there blissfully by themselves, making plans for the future. 

When Helene learned she was pregnant they were ecstatic; she even began knitting a baby blanket. Then the miscarriage happened, followed by three more. Four babies lost and a multitude of dreams crumbled and forgotten. Helene had to have a hysterectomy and fell into a depression. No babies ever for the young couple – only the two of them alone in a sad empty house. Frederick urged Helene to consider adoption, but she refused and her depression deepened. How could one woman bear a sorrow so heavy?  

A few months later Frederick’s father committed suicide, due in no small part to his mother’s constant badgering and belittling. Not wanting his mother to be alone and despite Helene’s protests, Frederick moved his mother in with them. He thought Helene and his mother might provide some companionship for each other but the two women soon began arguing. Helene could do nothing right in Frederick’s mother’s eyes. She even went so far as to flaunt Helene’s inability to have a baby, goading her on by calling her a dried up empty vessel, a disappointing failure. 

As Frederick walked rapidly through the streets, he tried to figure out what had happened earlier. He had arrived home from work to find the door wide open and the house in disarray. Dishes were shattered on the kitchen floor. The phonograph had been knocked over, his mother’s favorite record in smithereens. Frederick had called out but no one answered. He’d frantically raced through the house, stopping at the entrance to his mother’s room; her door was slightly open and he could see she was asleep, curled up in her bed. Helene’s coat and purse were hanging on a rack by the front door but she was nowhere in sight. 

Suddenly Frederick snapped back to the present as he spied Helene at the train station; she was standing perilously close to the edge of the platform. Cautiously he walked toward her and whispered her name. Helene whirled around and Frederick was shocked to see the crazed look in her eyes and the cuts on her face. Helene tried to run but Frederick caught her. He cradled her in his arms as they walked home. 

When they reached the house, Helene began giggling like a little girl and told Frederick she had a surprise for him. Bewildered, he followed her up the stairs to his mother’s room. Helene motioned for Frederick to be quiet as she tip-toed to the bed. She threw back the covers, revealing his mother’s bloody body, knitting needles deeply embedded in her neck. Frederick recoiled in horror. Helene grabbed her knitting needles and lunged at him, stabbing him repeatedly while screaming maniacally “This is your fault! You brought her here! This is all your fault! ALL YOUR FAULT!!” 

Frederick collapsed to the floor in a bloody heap. The last thing he saw was Helene plunging out the bedroom window.

NAR © 2019