I’d Rather Stand

The brown, faded leather couch was soft and enveloping, absorbing Colleen with a distinct woosh of air when her weight hit it.  Her feet, formerly adorable in her new Mary Janes, now hung childlike in the air as she discovered the true depth of the enormous piece of furniture.  Did she look as ridiculous as she felt?  Who puts a couch like this in a waiting room?  All the chairs, the normal, waiting room kind, were occupied.  Even if someone got up, she probably wouldn’t be able to free herself in time to claim the vacant seat.

Looking out at the folks waiting for their own appointments, she noticed a middle-aged man in the front with a bandage bulging over his left eye.  His unencumbered right eye stared curiously at her.  Giving him a tight smile, the kind she reserved for strangers in passing, she tried to settle more comfortably.  The cushion beneath her rolled and billowed as if she were sitting on a giant, semi-inflated balloon.  Setting her purse on her thighs she braced herself with outstretched arms as she bobbed a bit.

Feeling hugely exposed by this awkwardness, she began inching forward.  If she could at least put her feet on the floor she would be able to stand up without too much of a struggle when her name was called.  The couch didn’t seem inclined to cooperate.  Each bit of forward movement made her abdominal muscles strain to bring her upper body over her knees while her backside sank deeper.  Halfway to her target position she paused, took a deep breath and fought the urge to just flop backwards and take a break.  Unable to stop herself, she looked out at the room.

The man with the eye patch was still watching her.  Frozen in partial movement, arms straining forward and her legs stretched in Barbie doll fashion, she found herself trapped in a one-eyed stare down.  For an absurd moment she weighed her odds of winning, her two eyes against his one.  She was nearly being eaten by the couch while he sat composed on a firm, stable chair with armrests.  Then her stomach gave in to the strain and she sank slowly backward, ending almost flat, but with her head coming to rest at just enough of an angle to let her see everyone else as they studied her.  Lying quite still, she closed her eyes and contemplated her next move.

From this position she would be forced to roll almost completely over in order to gain enough leverage to shove herself off the couch.  Obviously she would land on her knees and have to pick herself off the floor.  Of course there was always the question of the couch’s cooperation.  What if she managed to roll over but couldn’t find her leverage?  Based on the results of her previous attempt she didn’t think it a stretch to envision herself face down and suffocating.  

With a bracing gasp of air, she made her decision.  Clutching her purse safely against her stomach she opened her eyes and raised her free hand into the air, waving it slowly back and forth like a white flag.

“A little help?”

Polite People

Hoisting his pack higher onto his shoulders, Kremly shielded his eyes from the glare of the dropping sun and sighed deeply.  His feet hurt, his fifty-two year old knees ached, and the backpack made him tighten his neck and stretch forward like a turtle.  Leaning against a parking meter he crossed his arms over his chest and mentally sorted through the cash and loose change in his pockets.  His mind drew a clear picture of the total, some of it tucked into his dirty jeans and socks, the rest scattered through multiple locations inside his faded, blue jacket.  Nodding thoughtfully, he surveyed the length of the sidewalk, gauging the dwindling, evening pedestrians.

A gray, Honda Civic lurched to a halt beside the empty parking spot associated with his meter.  The driver, a thirty-something woman with a brown ponytail and a bright yellow tee shirt, began the painful process of sidling into the slot.  Turning around to watch, he openly judged the woman’s efforts.  Having never driven a day in his life, he had no clue about the finer points of parallel parking, however, he didn’t let that stop him from raising his eyebrows in question as the lady cranked her wheel and jammed her back tires roughly against the curb.  Seeing the way she tightened her mouth and didn’t look at him, he began motioning her forward with one hand, displaying the manly patience he knew would make her stomach begin to eat its own lining.  After a minute, she gave up and allowed him to wave her forward and back, guiding her small car perfectly into the spot.

“Thank you for the help.”  Shoving the door shut behind her she stepped hastily toward the meter.

“Oh, no problem.  Being in the right place at the right time is kind of a skill of mine.”  He smiled again, open to praise, while watching her make a production out of locking the Honda until it beeped.  She was a bare inch taller than him.

“Yeah, thanks again.”  Digging inside her stylish, brown handbag she pulled out her smartphone and started thumbing the screen.  “Thank goodness there’s an app for these meters now.  Who has time for this anymore?”

“I can surely appreciate that.”  He smoothed his voice into an amber stream.   “I work in sales and it seems like I’m always running out of time.”  He had moved away from the meter to help her park and now stood just behind it.  “Do you know about sales?”  He kept his voice casual, but what came next was never a surprise.

Shoving her phone back into her bag, she looked up and gave him a tense smile.

“Yeah, look, I need to get moving.  I’m a little late for a meeting and don’t want to get in trouble with my boss.  I’m sure you understand.”  Her eyes flicked nervously toward the building behind him, then skittered quickly away.

What she wasn’t looking at was a restaurant, a rather pricey one where the waiters brought skewers of dripping, sizzling meat right to your table and sliced it directly onto your plate.  He had never eaten there.  He watched her walking her eyes carefully over the other buildings, doing what he thought of as a Killdeer Tactic.  Killdeers were ground nesting birds who would fake an injury, dragging one wing along the ground and running in the opposite direction of its nest.

“You get good mileage with that hybrid?  What’s it get?  Thirty some miles to the gallon?”  He stared interestedly at the Honda, letting his eyes stroll over it.  “Seems like a lot of people are getting hybrids these days.  Save the planet and all that.”  Leaning slightly to one side he looked at her tires.  The little spines left over from being poured still stuck out on the front ones, indicating they were fairly new.

Surprise at being openly ignored froze her expression, and for a few seconds she didn’t respond.  He waited her out, knowing she wasn’t the type to just walk away.

“It gets around thirty-six in the city.”  Her voice was flat and uninspired.

“Yeah, I thought so.”  He pointed at the bus stop sign.  “I don’t drive.  I need to get home to my family.  Do you think you can spare five dollars?”

Taking a slow breath she stared him down, her expression hardening.  The urge to be polite was a strong and crippling one.  Polite people were his bread and butter, particularly the women.  He knew she had been expecting this, but clearly wasn’t sure how to escape.

“Anything really.”  He generously expanded the offer.  “I just need to get home.”

Twitching slightly, as if to reach into her purse, the woman started to deflate.  The look in her eyes changed from hard to resigned.

“Five is about all I’ve got.”

“I sure appreciate it, Miss.”  Kremly stepped closer.

“You know what?  I think I’ll just go.”  She backed away from him, her eyes turning cold.  “I’m sorry.  I can’t help you.”  Turning on her heel she walked directly toward the restaurant and went through the door.  The smell of perfectly cooked meat sailed out behind her.

Watching her go, Kremly silently cursed himself.  The sale had been made, damnit.  He knew better than to push the space issue, especially with women.  Let them come to him.  Never the other way around.  Still…

Looking thoughtfully at the restaurant he again counted the money in his hiding places.  A good meal was always a beautiful experience, especially if you had someone to share it with.  

Pushing his sore feet and knees into motion, he resettled the backpack and followed her through the door.

Snippet #13

“Sandy, you are a magician with that copy machine so I’m going to have you work on the flyers for the event.”

Flushing slightly at the double edged sword, Sandy stayed motionless for a moment, staring at Kylie.  Making flyers was a terrible job, one that Kyle would pick apart and ultimately do herself through the guise of suggested edits.  The job would keep her right under Kylie’s thumb for the next week.

Brown curls swung coyly around Kylie’s cheeks as she pushed papers around on her desk, straightening and sorting, not looking up.

“What are you waiting for?”  Picking up a pen, Kylie studied a single sheet as if she were going to write on it.

Catching herself before the scowl could get all the way out, Sandy allowed herself a slightly heavy exhale and turned to go, her brain burning with dislike.  The benefits that came with her job were hard to walk away from over a single person, especially one that was so covert with her manipulations.  Voicing her opinion of Kylie to a few of her co-workers had only made her appear as a curiosity.  Everyone seemed to adore the woman.  How was she the only one that saw what Kylie was?

Rogue

“Farming Control, this is Kathleen speaking.  How may I help you?”

“Yeah, hi… um, Kathleen.  I’m calling to report a rogue tractor in the field by my apartment.”

“Okay.  Can I get your name please and the location of the field?”

“Junior Clayton.  The field is right next to my building.  It’s got a lot electrical poles along it.  Isn’t that something that attracts them?  All those electrical poles?”

“Mr Clayton, what is the address of your home?”

“Oh, um… 1234 West Farthest Avenue.”

“Okay.  And the city?”

“Oh yeah, heh heh.  That would help, huh?”

“It’s okay, Mr Clayton, rogue tractor sightings tend to excite people.”

“I’m in This City.  Do you need the zip code?”

“That would be helpful.”

“55555.”

“Thank you.”

“So, those electrical poles.  Are they what could be attracting the tractor?  I hear about tractors in this field all the time, I just never saw one until today.”

“Electrical poles are a possibility.  Tractors have become something of an enigma when it comes to what attracts them.”

“An enigma?  Isn’t that like saying you just don’t know?”

“Well, the first documented rogue tractor was in 1901 in Iowa where the first tractor was invented.  At the time, people speculated that the machine didn’t have a taste for corn.”

“Really?  And what did that one eat?”

“All tractors eat gasoline Mr Clayton.  Rogue or domestic they all eat the same thing.”

“Oh, I guess that makes sense.  So what makes them go rogue?”

“That one in Iowa seemed to prefer mowing wild flowers as opposed to corn.  It was eventually caught and rehomed to Colorado in the National Forest.  Last I heard, it is still there but it only mows once or twice a year now.”

“I don’t think there are a lot of wild flowers in the field here.”

“It may not be a rogue tractor, sir.  I will need to check our resource files to be sure, but  it’s possible there are domestics being worked there.  Electrical poles are usually a sign that the field is marked for maintenance.  What time did you see the tractor?”

“Oh, it was around lunch time.  I was home walking my Daschund so, it had to have been between twelve-thirty and one o’clock.”

“That helps.  The domestics usually work in the morning, before the sun gets too hot.  They are trained to avoid mowing when the under-lying grasses would be exposed to excessive heat.”

“So the one I saw could really have been a rogue!”

“It’s possible.  I don’t want to get your hopes up before we have had a chance to investigate.”

“If it’s a rogue, how do your guys catch it?  Do you have tractor traps?”

“Traps are one way.  It’s expensive to repair the tires on a tractor once we use traps so they are reserved for extreme circumstances.  And the traps don’t always work.”

“They don’t?  How many times have they not worked?”

“Off the top of my head I can think of only four times when rogues were lost after the use of traps.  Three in Wisconsin and one in Illinois.”

“Well, that’s good to hear.  Does This State have anything notable about rogue tractors?”

“Not really.  This State is pretty low on the analysis list.  We don’t get a lot of calls from your area about rogues.”

“That makes me feel better.  How dangerous can a rogue tractor be?  Should I be worried about walking my dog?”

“There hasn’t been a case of a rogue tractor preferring to mow living beings since 1945.  That was only one tractor and it was successfully captured and dismantled.”

“Dismantled?  That sounds extreme.”

“Well, once a tractor gets a taste for blood it’s really better for everyone if it’s just dismantled.  Don’t you think?”

“I suppose.  It just seems so harsh.  I mean, we built them in the first place.  If it wasn’t for us even making them then they wouldn’t exist at all, right?”

“It’s a common political standoff Mr. Clayton.  Everyone has a side they like to stand on.”

“I guess.”

“Okay, I think we have all the information we need.  I’ll escalate your sighting up to the investigators and we’ll figure out what’s going on in your field.”

“Thank you.  I appreciate you taking this seriously.”

“We take all sightings seriously, Mr. Clayton.  Rogue tractors are nothing to be ignored.”

“How will I know if it was a rogue?”

“You probably won’t ever know for sure.  If it’s a rogue it will be captured and rehomed.  Unless you happen to be there when Farming Control collects it, you won’t know.”

“Oh.  You don’t send out a letter or something?  An email even?”

“No sir.”

“Okay then.  I guess that’s all.”

“Have I helped you with your issue, Mr. Clayton?”

“Yes.”

“Would you be willing to rate our encounter on a scale of one to ten as to your level of satisfaction?”

“Sure.  I will rate it as an eight for overall satisfaction.  You’ve been very helpful, Kathleen.  I just wish I could know if it was a rogue for sure.”

“I understand Mr. Clayton.  We get that a lot.  Thank you for your rating and you have nice day.”

Saturday Snippet #8

Trying to hold the truck straight while the rear wheels began to slide, Jake felt nervous perspiration break out on his forehead.  He had only had this vehicle for two months.  The search to find something in respectable condition with rear wheel drive had been challenging.  Most of the ones he found were old and exhausted, their bodies rusting, dented and fading.  This truck, his baby, had been a jewel of a find.

Winter in the northern Midwest was fickle.  The storm had been on the radar for a couple of days.  He had thought it might fizzle out before it reached Milwaukee.  It was a common occurrence.  The weather man screams for everyone to hunker down, then the snow turns from feet to inches and everyone is laughing except the school kids.  This one was real though.

A glossy BMW with deeply tinted windows skidded through the intersection directly ahead.  Jake downshifted to second gear, the elderly, automatic whining its disagreement.  Duly noted, he thought but stuck with his decision.  The truck slowed dramatically, its new tires digging for purchase in the six inches of chewed up slush that was quickly freezing into suspension jerking ruts.  The BMW caught itself and clawed its way forward.  He wanted to watch it go, study the way the driver handled it but, his own driving took most of his attention.  He wished strongly the weatherman had been less correct.

Saturday Snippet #1

Anna groped awkwardly at the myriad of small items spraying from of her purse.  She had been meaning to clear out some of the debris but just hadn’t gotten around to it.  The entire intestinal tract of her bag was now spilling across the bathroom floor like skittles, knocked from its perch on the counter by her elbow as she had turned to pull paper towel from the wall dispenser.  Surprised and dripping water she wiped her hands quickly down her pant legs, huffed a few dark, stray hairs from her face and bent to collect her things.  This day was feeling too long already and it was only just past the lunch hour.

Another Tender Tale

I sat staring into the Styrofoam box, horror and suspicion sweeping over me. Beside me, innocently shoveling boneless, barbecue wings down her smooth, slender throat as if nothing was wrong, sat my wife in all her selfish glory.  Her eyes were fixed on the television, one of three that we could see from our table, where the latest Packer game was being picked apart by sports aficionados past their prime.  I narrowed my eyes at her.  She hated football.  She was only watching now because she knew I was going to find out the truth.  Shoving my box of chicken away from me I turned to her in disgust.

“You broke up with the cashier, didn’t you?”  My voice was just a bit too loud for a public restaurant, even a wing joint.  The couple by the front window became suspiciously still, the husband turning to look while his wife stared down at their food.  I didn’t bother to make eye contact.  What would I do, smile and wave?

Popping the last bite of a wing into her guilty mouth she reached for another, barely turning her head to face me.

“What are you talking about?”

I pointed at the box of tenders then looked at her again with my eyebrows cranked all the way up my forehead, my expression as hugely exaggerated as her innocence.

“There’s only four tenders in there.”  I crossed my arms and waited for an explanation.

“How many did you order?”

“Four!”

Looking at me as if I was mentally dysfunctional she reached out to pat my arm, her face a portrait of sympathy.

“That’s what four means, honey.”

“No!  Four does not mean four and you know it!”  I always got an extra tender no matter what amount I ordered.  She knew it too. She couldn’t fool me. I knew she’d been cozying up to that cashier. I always got the extra tender as an effort to placate me while they made googly eyes at each other.  I glowered and leaned in close so my breath could repel her like kryptonite.  “Don’t play coy with me,” I hissed.  “Did you two have a falling out?”  I scrambled my brains to come up with something biting.  “A saucy argument, perhaps?”  I cringed just a bit at my own word choice there.  Maybe I should have left it at a falling out.

“Jesus honey, what did you eat before we came here?”  She fanned the air between us.  “Roadkill?”

I spared a thought for the cold, two day old, Chinese takeout I had gulped down while she was getting ready; chicken and garlic, with garlic and extra MSG.  Close enough, I thought, and gave her a nod.

“That doesn’t change your guilt.”  I felt my point was obvious.  “You need to make up with him.”

“Make up with who?”

She might be able to pull the wool over his eyes but, I was married to her.  I knew the truth!

“You know own exactly what I’m talking about.  You fix this and quick.”  I pointed with my chin at the box of tenders congealing in front of me.

“Oh for heaven’s sake!”  She turned away and picked up another wing.  “You have a seriously abnormal imagination, honey.”

“Don’t act like this is nothing,” I warned, dragging the box toward me again.  “This is something.”  I held up a single piece of chicken between my thumb and forefinger and shook it at her.  “This is small, overcooked and completely lacking in effort.”  My wife studied it for second, her green eyes sharpening to icy points.  Her smile became feral.

“You’re right, honey.  I’ll fix this.”  She turned back to her wings.  “Right after I give my phone number to the new cashier.”

I stared at her.

“What new cashier?”

“You didn’t see the guy who took our order?”

I shook my head like an idiot and tried to see past the soda machine, around the corner to the front counter.

“You gave him your number?”  I was astounded.

“Not yet but we haven’t finished eating.  There’s still time.”  She smiled.

“What happened to the other guy?”

My wife shrugged and kept chewing.  I watched the two little sticks she put into her hair to keep it rolled up and thought they looked a lot like chop sticks.

“Baby, be serious for a minute.  What happened to him?”

She paused between bites and stared into my box of untouched, lemon pepper tenders.

“Eat up honey, before he gets cold.”

 

(The original Tender Tale is here)