AN AUNT’S LAMENT

Our picture challenge – what do you see when you look at this photo.
This one was very difficult and painful for me to write.

Oh, my precious niece. Welcome to the family! I’ve waited so long to meet you and now you’re here.

I’ve longed to hold a little girl in my arms, to breath in that sweet baby smell.

You have two little cousins – my boys. They’re a bit older than you and they’ll protect you always, just as they would have protected their own sisters.

Yes, little one, I almost had baby girls, three in fact; it just wasn’t meant to be. The daughters I desperately wanted but never had. My body just couldn’t hold on to them.

They’re safe in heaven so don’t cry, my love; I cried enough to last a lifetime.

Now it’s time to say good night. Have no fear, sweet girl. I’ll always hold on to you.

NAR © 2022

Written for Sadje’s What Do You See prompt. Photo credit: Kelly Sikkema @ Unsplash.

CANDLE IN THE WINDOW

One of the first things I noticed about the house across the street was the candle in an upstairs window.

It was December 1980 – two weeks before Christmas – and we had just moved into our new home. My mom quickly located the boxes marked ‘CHRISTMAS LIGHTS’ and put my dad to work decorating outside. When he was done every house on the street was aglow except for the one with the solitary candle.

I was fascinated by that candle; it was lit twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. When I told my dad I was afraid the house would burn down, he assured me that the candle was either electric or battery-operated; the ‘flame’ didn’t flicker and the candle never melted. That made me feel a lot better.

About a week later there was a knock on our front door. Mom answered and I scurried along behind her, anxious to see who was visiting us for the first time. Standing on the front porch was a chubby little old lady with silver hair, twinkling eyes and rosy cheeks and I couldn’t resist blurting out “Are you Mrs. Claus?” She chuckled a bit saying no, she was Mrs. Granger from across the street and had come to bring us an angel food cake as a welcoming gift. Mom introduced herself and invited Mrs. Granger inside but she declined saying “perhaps another time”. Before she left I told her my name was Eleanor and I had just turned ten on December 1. She smiled slightly at us but there was sadness in her eyes.

Mrs. Granger’s angel food cake sat on one of her beautiful Spode Christmas plates. Mom said we should return the plate on Christmas Day brimming with sugar cookies, which is exactly what we did. We rang the bell and mom apologized for showing up unannounced, adding that she hoped we weren’t interrupting her Christmas festivities.

No, dear. Not at all. I was just preparing myself one of those frozen TV dinners – turkey, for a special treat.” Mom made polite small talk while I glanced around the living room. There wasn’t a single Christmas decoration in sight, not even a card. A fading ember in the fireplace made me think that Mrs. Granger was probably very lonely.

I suddenly found myself asking the question: “Mrs. Granger, why is there a candle in the window upstairs?”

Mom gave me a withering look as Mrs. Granger slowly walked to the sofa and slumped down. I felt awful when she started crying, dabbing her eyes with a lacy handkerchief. Mom sat next to her and held her hand, not speaking.

In hushed tones Mrs. Granger told us her story: she married late in life and was blessed with a son, Edward. Her husband died in an accident when Edward was three years old and she raised the boy by herself. When the U.S. entered the Vietnam War, Edward enlisted; he was declared MIA on December 1, 1970 and she hadn’t heard a word in the ten years since then. The candle in the window was her way of holding vigil for Edward, steadfastly waiting for any news. We sat together for a few minutes, then Mrs. Granger politely said she wanted to be alone. Silently we left. It was then that I understood why she looked so sad when I told her my birthday – the dreadful day her son went missing.

Two days later mom returned to Mrs. Granger’s. She apologized for the intrusion on Christmas Day and said we hoped she would join us for New Year’s Day dinner. Mrs. Granger said gently “No, dear. I haven’t celebrated a new year since Edward disappeared.”

All week I thought about Mrs. Granger. Our New Year’s Day table was set for three, sparkling with mom’s best dishes, silverware and crystal glasses. I sat in the bay window watching the lightly falling snow; then I noticed the candle in the window of Mrs. Granger’s house was not lit.

Mom!” I gasped. “The candle is out.”

Mom, dad and I walked across the street on leaden feet. Mom rapped softly on the door; we could see a dim glow coming from the fireplace. One more knock and the door opened slightly; Mrs. Granger appeared, her face wet with tears.

Are you alright, Mrs. Granger?” mom inquired with obvious concern in her voice.

Oh, my dear! My mind has been preoccupied all day” she replied, her voice trembling. “You see, I received some news today.”

Mrs. Granger turned and walked back inside, leaving the door ajar; apprehensively we followed her. By the fireplace stood a smiling soldier; her long-lost son Edward had finally returned home.

Mrs. Granger

NAR © 2021

SEPTEMBER SONG

When I was younger I remember my grandparents dancing in the living room to some of their favorite ballads: “I’ll Be With You In Apple Blossom Time”, “As Time Goes By”, “I’ll Be Seeing You”, “You Belong To Me”. They would drink a glass or two of sherry and talk about “the good old days” and how quickly the years pass. There was one song in particular that always made them somewhat melancholy. They’d sit side by side near the fireplace just listening to the words and holding each other close:

When the autumn weather turns the leaves to flame
One hasn’t got time for the waiting game”

I was just a kid and I couldn’t understand why a song about weather and time made them sad. That’s the way it is with kids; time means nothing. If someone is 25-years-old, that’s practically ancient! We’d watch shows like “Father Knows Best” and “The Donna Reed Show”; the actors were probably 40-years-old, if that, but they looked decrepit to us. The concept of aging was nonexistent.

You just blink your eyes once and you’re suddenly in high school. Then before you know it you’re married with kids of your own. Wait a gosh darn minute! When did that happen? Funny how time has a way of creeping up on you. One day you’re sledding down a giant snow-covered hill and the next you’re taking your own kids sledding down that same hill.

Your little Katie with a head-full of golden curls is now a teenager and you hear yourself saying the exact same things your parents said to you. And now your parents are the ones sitting by the fireplace listening to “September Song”.

Then one morning you wake up and it’s Katie’s wedding day. You catch a glimpse of your reflection in the mirror and your wife says how dashing you look, still so handsome in your tuxedo and you tell her she’s radiant in her gown, always the prettiest girl in the room. And in each other’s eyes it’s the truth; you haven’t changed a bit since your own wedding day.

You think about your grandparents, gone for a long time now, and you remember the call you got from your mother last week:

“Oh, dear, we’re just heartbroken over this
but your dad and I aren’t going to be able to make the trip
up to Vermont for Katie’s wedding.
Lord knows, we hate to miss it but we’ll be there in spirit.
Please give sweet Katie-Girl all our love.

You understand; they’re 80-something and need to take it easy. It’s a long trip from Florida to Vermont and they can’t handle the cold weather. Still you feel very sad knowing they’ll miss their granddaughter’s special day.

What a beautiful bride Katie was! Doesn’t her wedding photo look lovely on the mantle next to yours and your parents and your grandparents? Now it’s just the two of you in that old, empty house. Once upon a time, when you and your brothers and sisters were kids, the house was filled with your laughter. But wait – it’s suddenly not so empty and quiet anymore. Where’s all that noise coming from? And you take a peek around the corner; there are your grand kids in the living room near the Christmas tree. There’s some rock and roll song on the record player, the 12-year-old twins are playing “Yahtzee” and your 15-year-old granddaughter is furtively sharing a sweet kiss with her boyfriend under the mistletoe.

C’mon, kids!” Katie calls out from the front hallway. “Your dad’s got the car all packed up and it’s time to go. Say goodbye to Grams and Gramps.” And she gives you both a kiss on the cheek promising to call soon.

It seems like just yesterday but you realize eight years have gone by since you left Vermont and retired to Florida. You think about playing golf but your rotator cuff has been hurting a lot lately and your wife isn’t quite ready to hit the links so soon after her hip replacement. Well, let’s not think about that now. There will be plenty of days for golf. So you pour yourself another cup of coffee and work on a crossword puzzle while your wife knits a blanket for Katie’s grand-baby – your very first great-grandchild.

Now in the evenings you sip sherry in the living room. “There’s nothing good on tv these days. How about we listen to some music? Well, look what I found!” and you blow the dust off an old forgotten record laying on the shelf.

What memories that song brings back!” And you sit holding hands, gazing at faded family wedding photos on the mantle, listening to Sinatra sing:

“Oh, it’s a long, long while from May to December
But the days grow short when you reach September”

And you give your wife a hug and a gentle kiss on the forehead.


NAR © 2020

ANDIAMO

I was jogging down the marina boardwalk one day last week, my two loyal yellow labs, Daisy and Molly, right by my side. It had been quite a while since we were out together like this and the warm sun felt great on my face. I had locked myself away in my apartment after the death of my beloved black lab, Duke, only taking the girls out when necessary. 

But that day I looked at them and realized how my melancholy had affected them. They had become as listless and lost as I. Well, this wasn’t fair to anyone – staying cooped up inside mourning – so off we went on that beautiful day in May. At first it felt like forced fun, just not right being at our favorite place without our buddy, Duke. We started out slowly, three sad sacks just moseying down by the sea, but soon the smell of saltwater and the spray of the ocean began to invigorate us and we picked up our pace. 

“Yeah, we needed this, girls. It’s good to be back outside, isn’t it?” and Daisy and Molly looked up at me, their big brown eyes happy again. 

We rounded a curve in the boardwalk and off in the distance I noticed a big Cadillac with tinted windows parked outside one of the warehouses. We drew closer and I saw the chauffeur leaning against the car, working on his tan. As we jogged by, the guy yelled out “Yo, pal! Looks like you lost your dog.” 

Caught off guard by his statement, I stopped abruptly, nearly tumbling over the girls. With a quizzical expression on my face, I looked at the guy. Without saying a word, he pointed to the leash I had tied around my waist … Duke’s leash … for old time’s sake. 

“Oh, this” I said somewhat sheepishly, and before I realized what was happening, I told this total stranger my sad story about Duke. 

To my utter disbelief this hulking goon of a guy broke down like a baby, telling me about his dog that died when he was a kid. Just then the door to the warehouse flew open and a couple of very large, intimidating men came out followed by a short squatty guy chomping on a cigar and sporting the most ridiculous toupee I’ve ever seen. 

This little guy was obviously the boss. He walked around the back of the car and stood there shaking his head. “Mama mia, Bruno, it’s been thirty years since Spot died. I get it. I’m a dog lover myself but enough’s enough. This happens every friggin time. Now say bye bye to the nice doggies and get in the car.” 

Wiping his nose on his sleeve, Bruno did as instructed. It was only when the car door opened that I spotted the lustrous black lab in the front seat and my heart stopped for a second. 

“Papa’s here, Leonardo” said the man with the toupee. “Andiamo, Bruno! Let’s go home.” 

NAR © 2019

FAMILIAR STRANGERS

Invisible. That’s the first word I thought of when I saw my mother glance over at me. Her eyes were blank, her expression impassive. I was just a face in a crowd; I might as well have been invisible. 

She sat in the middle of the music room of the nursing home, fellow residents all around her as they sang old standards from the 1940’s, members of the blissfully unaware chorus. Noticing an empty chair, I sat down beside my mother and began to sing along to those beloved ancestral tunes carved in her now addled brain. My mother turned to look at me, totally unaware of who I was. She smiled and I smiled back, feeling a pang of guilt for I was simply there doing my duty, fulfilling an obligation … just as she had done all her life. 

In the 58 years since my birth, we were never close … just one of those sadly unfulfilled relationships between mother and daughter. If she ever loved me, she didn’t show it. And I did not love her. Yet here I was. Why?  Was I driven by misplaced guilt … compelled to visit … seeking approval? 

So we sat side by side singing Sentimental Journey and when the song was over my mother turned to me and said “You have a lovely voice. Would you like to see my room?” and I surprised myself by cheerfully answering “Yes!”

Prior to moving into the facility, mother lived in a small house next to my sister. If nothing else, it was convenient. I lived far enough away to avoid any interaction but my sister was burdened for quite a few years caring for our mother – a regiment of one following orders. She tended to her until it became unbearable. Sis decorated our mother’s room in the nursing home with many of her personal effects and furnishings and I felt like Alice falling down the rabbit hole when I entered her room. I remembered her curtains and matching bedspread, the mirrored perfume tray on her dresser, her tortoise shell hairbrush and comb set and numerous photographs in gilded frames. I looked around as if seeing everything for the first time. Perhaps there was more truth in that than I realized. 

“Come, I want to show you something” my mother beckoned, and she led me to a wall on which hung two identical color portraits –  high school graduation paintings of my sister and me. Mother pointed to my portrait and said “That’s my beautiful daughter, Nancy”. Then she pointed to my sister’s portrait and said “I have no idea who that is”, and she walked away unfazed. 

Why did she recognize my portrait – the prodigal daughter who stood right beside her? How could she not remember my sister? Those questions remain unanswered. My mother passed away shortly after our visit. 

Now that I’m older and infinitely wiser, I believe my mother truly tried her best. And in the end isn’t that all we can ask of anyone? 

NAR © 2019

CHRISTMAS MUNCHKINS

It had been a busy night at my bar and I was cleaning up after the last guest left. It was Christmas Eve and most people headed out a little early to get home or do last-minute shopping. I locked up, turned off the lights and went upstairs to the apartment I shared with my wife Nicole and our little girl Mariah. 

It was quiet in our apartment but I could see a dim light coming from Mariah’s room. I peeked in to see my girls saying their evening prayers. My daughter’s sweet voice was hushed but I heard her say “And God, please tell Santa the only thing I really want for Christmas is a kitty”. 

I sat in the living room staring at the Christmas tree. Nicole came in and sat beside me. “You heard?” I nodded and said “You know, Nic, she’s such a good girl, never asks us for anything. I have to see if I can find her a kitten.” 

“At this hour? Where are you going to go?” 

“Honestly, I have no idea – but I have to try.” 

Every place I tried was either closed or sold out of kittens and puppies. Even the humane society and animal shelters had no kittens. I drove up to Westchester and down to Brooklyn with no luck. Time was running out and I was getting more and more depressed with every passing minute. I just wanted to make Mariah happy and disappointing her on Christmas was not an option. 

As I was heading back home, Nicole called. “Kevin, did you have any luck?” 

“No luck, Nic. I’m tired, I’m frustrated and I’m really bummed out. I’m gonna stop for a quick cup of coffee and I’ll be home in a few. Love ya.” 

I pulled into a 24-hour Dunkin Donuts and ordered a coffee while the store owner’s cat rubbed up against my leg. “Adding insult to injury” I thought to myself. I asked to use their restroom and as I walked to the back of the shop, I noticed a box in the corner. Normally a box wouldn’t interest me but this box was whimperingI gently lifted the blanket and to my amazement saw four kittens in the box. Forgetting my need to use the restroom, I raced back out front, startling the owner. 

“Sir, I’ve been driving all night looking to buy a kitten for my daughter for Christmas. Please, I’m begging you! Can I possibly buy one of your kittens?” 

The owner looked at me and said “Aw, no man. They’re not for sale … but I’ll gladly give you one for your kid.” 

Christmas morning Mariah excitedly ran into the kitchen and saw the mugs of hot cocoa and the Dunkin Donuts Munchkins box on the table. “Yay, Christmas Munchkins!” she squealed as she reached for the box, her big brown eyes opening wide when she saw the tiny kitty staring back at her. 

Yeah … this is the best Christmas ever.

NAR © 2018

AND SO THIS IS CHRISTMAS

Graphic by Mckenna Richy

Yay! Daddy’s bringing down the boxes of Christmas decorations from the attic! There’s a bunch of plastic tubs with a million trillion ornaments in them and a ginormous box with the tree. Daddy’s saying bad words ‘cause the box is heavy and Mommy keeps slapping his arm and telling him to be quiet. Mommy said it’s Christmas Eve and we gotta put up the tree and cook all this stinky fish for dinner. Yuck! I wanna have pizza but she said no ‘cause fish is the Italian trabition, whatever that is. 

Oh no! The tree is broken!  Why can’t we have a real tree like my friend Susie? Her family cuts a tree down and I think it smells just like the forest. Daddy says it’s ok. The tree isn’t broken. It comes in pieces and we gotta put it together. I’m gonna go watch cartoons now. I don’t wanna put the tree together. It boring. I just wanna hang ornaments. Daddy always lifts me way up high to put the angel on the tippy top of the tree. 

Daddy’s calling me. Wow! The tree is covered with lights and it’s time to hang the ornaments! Mommy has a box that nobody’s allowed to touch ‘cause it’s got all her special ornaments. I don’t know what’s so special about them. I’ve got a fluffy unicorn. Now THAT’S special! I gotta use the step stool to reach the higher branches. Mommy says I better not fall in the tree like I did last year. Boy, did she get mad! Finally it’s time for the angel and Daddy lifts me way up high to reach the top. She’s the most beautiful angel I’ve ever seen and I just wanna stare at her all night. 

Ding! Dong! Yay! Grammy and Poppy are here! Poppy says the fish smells delicious. Pee yoo! I’m not gonna eat it. I’m just gonna have some pisgetti. After dinner Mommy says we gotta get dressed for church. I don’t wanna go but Grammy says we gotta go. 

Oh man! There’s no place to park and Daddy’s saying more bad words. Mommy’s slapping his arm again. FINALLY we park and go inside. Whoa! It’s so pretty! So many candles and twinkly lights. And there must be a zillion people! Poppy says they’re all a bunch of phonies. Boy, Grammy gave him a really big swat! We squeeze onto a bench and I snuggle into Mommy’s fur coat. It’s so soft and warm. I just wanna go to sleep. Maybe I can nap for just a little while ‘cause Santa’s coming tonight and I’m gonna stay up all night and wait for him. 

Woohoo! I did it! I stayed up all ni….. 

Wait a minute. How’d I get in my jammies? And I’m in bed! It’s Christmas morning and I missed Santa! I run down the stairs and Mommy’s making bacon and pancakes. Yay!! Santa came! Santa came! Look at all the presents! Mommy says breakfast first, then we can open the presents.

I never ate so fast in my whole life!! 

NAR © 2018

NO ONE WILL BE WATCHING US

We were driving down iconic  Route 66 in our convertible Volkswagen Jetta on our way from Chicago to Santa Monica, California, everything we owned being towed in a small U-Haul. On the floor behind us, sleeping in his carrying case, was our bulldog puppy, Ringo. 

We’d been on the same stretch of road for what seemed like an eternity without seeing another soul – nothing but miles of tall corn fields swaying in the breeze. We talked about everything, especially opening our new veterinary practice – a big step but one we were excited about. We even had the name picked out – “Carlyle Planned Pethood”. 

Rummaging through the glove box, I came across the White Album. “Hey, look what I found” I said to Doc, my nickname for my husband, showing him the CD. 

Excellent! Put it on, Babe.”

Opening the case, I discovered a forgotten joint, crushed but still viable. “Whoa! Check it out. This CD has a bonus track!”  

We lit up, getting higher and louder with each song. Putting on our thickest country twang, we laughed as we sang ‘Don’t Pass Me By’. And then there they were … those unmistakable opening funky get-down notes of ‘Why Don’t We Do It In The Road’. We were grooving in our seats, thumping on the car doors, digging the hell out of that song.

Suddenly Doc pulled the car over and turned up the volume of the CD. He looked over at me, sunglasses lowered on his nose and started singing “No one will be watching us … why don’t we do it in the road?”  

“Have you lost your mind? What are you .. some horny teenager?” 

“Well, I’m no teenager, I’ll give ya that. But here we sit .. a hot banging Beatles song, my incredibly sexy wife in a miniskirt and plenty of road. Listen .. Paul’s practically begging us to get out of this car and do it … IN THE ROAD!”

Slowly stretching my legs on the dashboard, I suggested doing it in the car. 

Doc laughed and leaned over to kiss me, whispering “we’ve done it in the car … a lot. C’mon, Becca!  Let’s get down(*kiss*) and dirty (*kiss*) and do it in the road (*long hot kiss*). 

Doc has this delicious way of making me melt like ice cream on a hot summer’s day. Pushing the ‘REPEAT’ button on the CD player, he grabbed a blanket from the back seat and we ran to the rear of the car. Laughing, Doc slipped off my panties and I wrapped my legs around his waist as we slid to the ground. 

Just as Paul reached the high note, we heard ”Pardon me, folks. Officer Matthew Jackson, Kansas State Police. As soon as you’re finished checking that tow hitch, you best be on your way.” And he walked back to his car singing “Why don’t we do it in the road”. 

We sheepishly got back into our car and drove off. Nine months later we named our first son Matthew Jackson Carlyle. 

NAR © 2018

PLAY BALL!

Ever since he was a small boy growing up in Fairfax, Missouri, Will Horton was obsessed with baseball. Every chance he had he’d play ball with his friends and when no one was around, he’d put on his mitt and spend hours bouncing a ball off the old shed behind the house.  

In 5th grade Will was one of the starting pitchers for his Little League Team, the Badgers. They practiced three or four days a week after school and played a game every Saturday against the rival team, the Coyotes. By the time Will entered 7th grade, he qualified for the traveling team playing both home and away games.

Will lived on a dairy farm with his mother, June, and his dad, Tom. They tended cows, sheep and goats from dawn till dusk which was rough and demanding work. It was a hard life but the Horton’s were sturdy stock and enjoyed the farming life. 

Most nights during baseball season Will and his dad would enjoy watching the local Major League baseball team, the Kansas City Royals. Will dreamed of one day playing with the Royals in Big K Stadium. He longed to go to a game but tickets weren’t cheap and Kansas City was 100+ miles from Fairfax. “Some day” Will would whisper to himself and fall asleep every night looking through his collection of baseball cards. 

On his 13th birthday Tom totally blew Will away with two tickets to the Royals game that Sunday afternoon. Will was so happy, his whooping and hollering got all the cattle skittish. “Sunday is three whole days off! I don’t think I’m gonna sleep a wink till then!” Will said excitedly. 

After what seemed like an eternity, Sunday morning dawned with clear blue skies and bright sunshine. After their morning chores were done, Tom and Will ate breakfast, then jumped in the truck for the drive to Kansas City. Will chatted all the way, going on and on quoting all the Royals stats. As they approached the city, they were in awe of its size. Driving into the Big K parking lot, Will swore it was the biggest building in all Missouri. Finding their way through the maze of gates and entrances, an attendant showed them to their seats. 

Will was speechless. The smell of peanuts, hot dogs and beer filled the air and the crowd was anxious for the game to start. Finally the Royals ran onto the field to the roar of cheers. They played a great game and won with a staggering score of 12 to 2. All the way home Will and Tom talked about the game. That night at bedtime he promised himself again he would one day be starting pitcher for the Royals. 

Time went on, Will graduated high school and was recruited by the University of Miami as pitcher for the Miami Hurricanes. After school he delivered pizza, saving what money he could. He was living the dream. One night that dream abruptly turned into a nightmare when Will’s delivery car was sideswiped by a truck and slammed hard into the side of a building. Will lost consciousness and woke up in the hospital .. his pitching arm amputated just above the elbow. He was vaguely aware of people in his room, hearing snippets of conversations – “Freak accident” .. “tried to save the arm” .. “tragic loss”  .. “baseball career over.” 

Will was devastated; his baseball days were over. He transferred to a college in Cincinnati, which was located across from the Cincinnati Reds ballpark. On game nights he’d go up to the school’s rooftop, wistfully watching the games. One dismal night Will pushed himself up and stood precariously on the ledge. A soft voice behind him said “You don’t really want to do that, do you?”

Turning his head slightly, Will saw a cute little brunette wearing a baseball cap. ‘What’s it to you? You don’t even know me.

“That’s true” the girl replied “but if you jump who’s gonna go to tomorrow’s game with me?

Will found himself smiling a little despite his depressed mood. This girl was cute and spunky. Offering her left hand, Will reached out and climbed off the ledge. “Hey, I’m Kate. Nice to meet you.” 

Kate meant what she said and the next day they went to the game together. Entering the stadium, Will felt alive again as all the sights, sounds and smells filled his head. The roar of the crowd was exhilarating. He was home! Natural as can be, Kate tossed Will a mitt just in case a ball came flying right at them. She was a firecracker and he fell in love that day. They went to games in Cleveland and Pittsburgh and at their fifth game, Will proposed. Kate jumped into his lap, gave him a big kiss and said “YES .. under one condition, mister. We honeymoon in New York. I’ve always wanted to go to a Yankees game!” 

Will couldn’t decide which event thrilled him the most: his wedding day or actually stepping into the immortal Yankee Stadium. The experience was more than he ever dreamed and the game was perfect from start to finish .. even though his beloved Royals lost to the ‘Bronx Bombers’. They bought Yankee caps and jerseys and on the way back to their hotel he excitedly said to Kate “Let’s make a new tradition .. to visit as many ballparks as we can in our lifetime.’ Kate nodded happily in agreement. 

A couple of years later Will and Kate became the parents of twin boys. They loved playing ball in their backyard and Will even learned how to pitch lefty. They started playing Pee Wee Baseball and on their 4th birthday, Will made a big deal of presenting them with their gift. “This is a custom your mom and I started before you guys were even born. Now it’s time for you to join us in the ‘Horton Family Ballpark Adventure’!” 

Will beamed with happiness as his kids excitedly tore into the gift box to find two Royals baseball caps, official mitts and four tickets to the next Royals game. Will gazed at his family and suddenly realized THIS was his destiny all along. Winking at Kate, they grabbed a baseball, bats and mitts as Will shouted “PLAY BALL!”  

NAR © 2018

THREE OF A KIND

Head cocked to the right, Jake waited impatiently as I read the article he had slipped in front of me. Having been born with microtia, Jake’s right ear was very small and malformed with significantly decreased hearing…..just like his idol Paul Stanley from KISS….so tilting his head to one side for better hearing was second nature. 

“Mom, can we go….PLEASE?” he pleaded. “The article says 100 dogs and cats will be euthanized next week unless they’re adopted. Please, Mom! I’ve wanted a dog forever!” 

“Jake, I’ll tell you what. Today’s Wednesday. If you finish that book report and clean your room by Saturday, then we have a deal.” 

“Really?? I swear I will, Mom!” Jake threw his arms around my neck. “I can’t wait until Saturday!” I couldn’t help laughing at his unbridled excitement. 

Saturday finally arrived and Jake was true to his word. His report was done and his room was clean. He even found an old frame in the basement for his precious KISS poster! 

So I was true to MY word, too. We got to the shelter early and looked around, stopping at all the cages. After a while, I lost sight of Jake and finally spotted him in the corner, bending down staring into a cage. There weren’t any other people hanging around that section and I wondered what type of dog caught Jake’s eye. I was surprised to see it wasn’t a dog but two tiny grey kittens. 

“Hey, buddy, what’s up? I thought you wanted to get a dog. Did you change your mind?” 

Jake looked up at me, his big brown eyes brimming with tears. “Mom,” he whispered. “Come look. These are special cats!” Bending down to take a look, I thought to myself “what could be so special about a cat.” My question was answered when I looked in the cage and I gasped slightly. 

“Ah, I see an introduction is necessary” said one of the shelter volunteers. ”These are our  Scottish Folds. No one wants these little guys because of their folded ears. Everyone thinks there’s something wrong with them but that’s just the way God made them.” 

“Mom, they’re just like me! I love them. Can we take them home, please?” 

“We sure can, buddy” I managed to choke out. “What are you going to name them?” 

“That’s easy.” Jake smiled up at me. “Paul and Stanley.” 

NAR © 2017

#9 DREAM

Head resting gently on his shoulder, her ever-so-slightly parted lips barely grazing his neck, he inhaled the intoxicating aroma of gardenias in her hair and traced her perfect ear with his mouth. Her arms caressed his upper back while his hands slid down hers and he pulled her closer. They swayed across the dance floor to the smooth rhythm of John Lennon’s “#9 Dream” – their first dance together as husband and wife. 

Twenty seven years ago their mothers were best friends – army wives and neighbors, sharing morning coffee, exchanging recipes and sometimes a handkerchief to wipe away tears. Their babies napped  in the same playpen…..he a dark-haired, brown-eyed, sweet-faced charmer and she a fair-skinned  blonde little goddess with eyes as green as dewy grass. 

When they were four she surprised him with a worm and he plucked a dandelion for her that made her giggle. As time went on and days turned into years, they remained  inseparable – climbing trees to see if they could touch the clouds, catching lightning bugs and making a wish before setting them free, sitting in her room sharing their dreams, listening to their parents Beatles CDs while stretched out in his dad’s station wagon, kissing for the first time and a second and a hundredth. 

They “went steady” in high school and became lovers in college. They found an apartment above a shuttered café in Brooklyn. They talked about taking a chance on the old place and bringing it back to life. They worked together and finally celebrated the grand opening of “The Glass Onion Café”. 

It poured like cats and dogs on their wedding day – the old adage of a long and happy marriage.  Could this be reality, their happily-ever-after? Dreams shared in a teenage girl’s bedroom come true? 

Something old: her grandmother’s pearl necklace. Something new: the minuscule miracle of life growing inside her. Something borrowed: her mother’s “army wife handkerchief”. Something blue: her sapphire engagement ring. 

The Master of Ceremonies made the introduction of the new Mr. & Mrs. to the guests and invited everyone to join them on the dance floor. The photographer snapped shot after shot of the stunning couple – she in her exquisite gown of Scottish lace and he in a fitted, perfectly tailored tuxedo. 

It was the magical night everyone intrinsically knew was meant to be; their #9 dream come true. 

NAR © 2017

#9 Dream serigraph by John Lennon

THE LAST VIOLIN

It wasn’t often that we received a package from Sicily, so when one arrived that Thursday afternoon, Christmas Eve in 1964, we were all very excited. 

The family sat around the kitchen table as my mother painstakingly opened the package, being careful not to tear the stamps which my father would glue into an album. Finally the outer wrapping was removed, revealing a plain white box. My mother opened the box to find a card sitting atop tissue paper. Prolonging the excitement, she read the card silently to herself, then aloud, translating into English: 

“Dearest Concetta. We know you admired this while you were here on vacation. You left without buying it so here it is as a memento of your time spent with us. We hope you enjoy it as much now as you did then. With love – Cousins Paolo and Enza.” 

Slowly, carefully, mom removed the tissue paper to reveal the most beautiful music box I had ever seen. It was a miniature violin, made of highly lacquered ebony with mother of pearl inlay. We all sat in wonder as my mother gently wound the music box, then placed it on the table as an ancient Sicilian folk song began to play. It was wondrous and I immediately fell in love. 

Cradling it tenderly in her hands, my mother moved the violin into the living room and placed it on the marble coffee table where it became the glistening centerpiece of the room. 

Several times each day I would wind up the music box to listen to the hauntingly beautiful tune. I never tired of the glorious melody and treated the violin like a treasure, always careful to never over-wind it. I listened, mesmerized, until the final note was played. It was my delight for many years and I longed for the time when it would one day be mine. 

Decades later when my mom passed away, a few of her cherished items were placed in her coffin and buried with her….a small tin of pink sand from Bermuda where she and dad honeymooned, a toy which belonged to her precious firstborn who passed away at the age of two and…..unbeknown to me…. the magical violin music box. 

I grieved the passing of my beloved mother. I mourned the loss of that treasured music box……the first, last and only violin I would ever have. 

NAR © 2017

JUST THIS ONE

“Impressive collection you have here” said Jackson to the owner of the record store.

“Feel free to look around” came a voice from somewhere behind a stack of boxes.

Jackson browsed the tiny cubby of a store, appropriately named “The Inner Sleeve”, looking for nothing in particular. 

“Psst. Down here,” whispered a battered box stashed in the corner. Jackson crouched down to wipe the dust off a yellowed label.

SIDNEY BECHET” 

Feeling a jolt shoot straight to his heart, fingers racing through musty LPs, suddenly there it was- “Les Annees Bechet”, #1: “Petite Fleur”.

“I’ll be damned”, whispered Jackson. No longer was he in “The Inner Sleeve”. It was Paris, 1982 in that enchanting café … what was the name?

Café de la Paix. Yes, that was it!” he recalled. And then, in a barely perceptible hush, “Lisette”.

Slumping back against the wall, Jackson clasped the precious vinyl against his chest, caressed it lovingly with the same fingers that raced through the box just seconds before. The same fingers that released Lisette’s raven hair from its ‘pince à cheveax’ and showered it across her porcelain shoulders. The same fingers that traced her face as gently as butterfly wings – ‘ailes de papillons’ – from her widows peak to her crystal blue eyes, her nose, her blushed lips. “Just this one time” thought Jackson. Just once before returning to his insanely mundane existence in Stamford, Connecticut. Oh, for just one more taste of Lisette.

Slowly Jackson stood, a sadness like none other enveloping him. He suddenly realized he had been crying. He wound his way through the maze of boxes overflowing with records that were meaningless to him. He had found what he didn’t know he was looking for.

“All done, sir?” the clerk asked. 

“Yes, thanks”, Jackson replied. “Just this. Just this one.”

NAR © 2017