Stories [Text]

Here you will find the written stories to accompany the videos, if you are the sort that likes to read along, or just rather read than listen. Enjoy!

#1 GARDENING

By Kathleen Queen

A coarse feline tongue scraped against Lenore’s forehead, dragging her into awareness. Fred, the orange tabby cat, was licking her temple. Her mind was fuzzy and she felt queasy, as if she was drunk, but she didn’t drink, not since college. She tried to remember last night, but drew a blank. Her brain was not ready to wake up, so she let herself doze off again. She drifted into a pleasant dream about John when he was young. He was smiling and he was so handsome when he smiled. His picture-perfect grin was what had captured her heart when she first met him. She floated off, dreaming of the past.

A while later the same discomfort on her forehead woke her again. The rasping of Fred’s tongue on her raw skin was the only sound she could hear. John must have gone to work, she thought, because no sports show was blaring in the den. It must be a weekday. She tried to guess the time, listening for the shower or John’s snoring. Heat from the sun blazing through the bedroom window onto her face was making her sweat. It must be afternoon, then, she realized.

Her thoughts swirled, difficult to focus, her head felt “full of stuffing,” like when you have the flu. She tried to open her eyes but the sunlight was just too bright. She lay there wanting to surrender back into sleep but a nagging anxiety had started at the edge of her thoughts, in spite of the fog in her head. She had to get up or John would be angry. She couldn’t smell coffee or tobacco, so Lenore assumed that he had already left; maybe it was all right to sleep a bit more. Maybe he was golfing, it could be the weekend, but, even on the weekend, he liked her to have his breakfast ready. She felt uneasy but hoped that if he hadn’t roused her, maybe he had gone for breakfast with the guys before golf, he did that sometimes. Sometimes, if they had had a disagreement the day before, he let her sleep in. Maybe that’s what happened, or maybe he somehow knew she had the flu. She relaxed a little, and then dozed off again.

Lenore dreamed of floating through white clouds, and pleasant music, too far away to hear the words. It was John’s voice, singing cheerfully. How strange. Then the dream turned dark, and she was falling and the air turned frosty cold. She was falling and she tried to wake up but she couldn’t, John’s voice was still singing and she was falling very fast, she was going to crash to Earth and die. She jolted awake, the dream ending just before she hit the ground. Her heart was pounding and she thought she must have a fever because she was drenched in sweat.

Oddly, even though she supposed she was awake, she still heard John singing, but that couldn’t be right. She strained to hear over the sound of the persistent licking of the cat. It was coming from outside, at the back of the house, faint but definitely John’s voice, she was sure. It didn’t make any sense, John didn’t sing. It must be coming from a neighbour’s yard, she decided, a man singing who sounded like John. He was singing a tune she suddenly recognized. Something about not worrying and being happy, that was it. They played that song all the time for years, everyone knew the words. She used to hum it but not when John was around because he hated it. Even if John was singing, which would be strange enough, he would not be singing that song. Lenore decided that she must still be dreaming and relaxed her confused mind back under the cloak of sleep once more.

Again, the cat woke Lenore, licking the same place, hurting her now. He was licking her hair, too, pulling it, above her temple. Why was he doing that? She knew she should get up, flu or no flu, and she needed to pee. Her eyes didn’t want to open, but she put some effort into it and slowly, light began to seep in between her stubborn lids. She looked around the room. It looked strange, not quite right, but she figured it was probably the fever making her vision unreliable.

Lenore moved her left arm to push the cat away because she had had enough of his washing spree. Her arm didn’t respond. Weird. It must be asleep, I must have slept on it, she thought. She tried to get her bearings. She was lying on her right side, so it made no sense that her left arm wouldn’t move.

Alarmed, Lenore opened her eyes all the way and stared into Fred’s orange face, an inch away from hers. She tried again to move her left arm, then after no response, her right arm. Her arms would not move. She was frightened now, because she knew she was awake and this was no dream. She shook her head to get the cat away, and he relented, staring at her reproachfully.

“Get lost, Fred.” She tried to say, but it came out “Guh loff, fehd.” Lenore felt panic rising in her chest because shaking her head seemed to be the only movement of which she was capable. Had she had a stroke? What was wrong with her? She tried moving her legs, but she couldn’t feel them either. The only thing she could move was her head and face but her speech was messed up. Adrenalin surged through her as she comprehended she was paralyzed. Her heart pounded and sweat ran freely across her face, stinging her eyes.

Lenore tried to think. She was more awake now, but her thoughts were still slow and indistinct. She knew she was in her bedroom because she saw a familiar picture of a waterfall on the wall, but the angle was wrong. She saw Fred in front of her but he was on the floor and she realized that she was on the floor, too. What the hell was she doing on the floor? Had she fallen out of bed? She made a massive effort to move her limbs again, and this time she felt her fingers on her left hand tingling and moving slightly. At least that was something. She could still hear someone singing that stupid song, someone who sounded exactly like her husband, was she hallucinating?

Fred had left her field of vision and had commenced meowing for his missed breakfast in the hallway leading to the kitchen. Why hadn’t John awakened her to make his breakfast, if he was home, and not golfing, and not at work? Panic made her breath come in panting gulps, so she forced herself to calm her breathing. Slow down, you will figure this out, just think, she told herself.

As she concentrated on breathing deeply and trying to compose herself, Lenore became aware of another sound between the cat’s meowing and the sound of a man singing. It was a distinct chopping noise. John must be out there doing yard work, she thought with relief, thinking that as soon as he came back in the house she could yell for help and her puzzling situation would be resolved. She thought he was probably chopping weeds and trimming the trees along the fence where they always seemed to grow like crazy, a chore she had always done. John did not like yard work, so it was odd for him to be doing it, and doubly odd for him to be so merry as to sing about it, but she could worry about that later. It was possible that someone had said something to John about the yard and he was trying to appear to be a responsible home owner, showing off to some neighbour, he was inclined to do things like that. He was a very proud man. She would probably get trouble from him later for the yard not being perfect, blaming her for embarrassing him, making him angry. She was used to that. Everything was always her fault.

Lenore lay on the floor, trying to keep calm while the chopping went on and John continued singing that song. Fred had given up calling to be fed and likely was taking a nap somewhere. Lenore’s need to pee was getting worse and she worried how much longer she could hold it. This was not the flu or some bizarre half dream, she must have had a stroke or an aneurysm, people had those all the time, even young people, or maybe a heart attack. She had had some kind of medical emergency and was now going to lie here and pee herself, which seemed like the worst thing of all. She felt tears slip out and over her nose, trickling down the right side of her face onto the floor. Crying made her head hurt more. A hot wave of pain rolled through her head and she passed out again.

When Lenore woke up, her head throbbed and her eyes burned from tears. She had been crying in her sleep. She had to pee badly now, but no attempt at moving her arms or legs succeeded. She thrashed her head around but that was all she could do. She turned her head toward the floor and a sticky something smeared across her cheek, with the distinct odour of blood. When she realized it was her blood, Fred’s incessant licking suddenly made sense; so far, it was the only thing that did, the little guy had been trying to help her because she was wounded. Her next thought was that John was going to be upset at the mess on the floor. He hated mess. Her distress grew as she understood that her head was bleeding and that explained why she was so muddled and kept passing out, but how did it happen? Her memory was a blank page.

She began to cry again, but only for a minute. That isn’t going to help, she scolded herself. Stop it and get your ass up off this floor and figure out how you got here. She took a big sniffling breath and tried again to move something, anything. Her right arm was stuck under her. Her feet moved a little, the toes wriggled, but that wasn’t much help. Her legs would not move. She tried moving her arms again, but nothing.

Lenore’s mind cleared in tiny increments, a little more each minute. She focused on what she knew. The sun in the window meant it was afternoon, and John was not at work. It must be a weekend, but his behaviour was incomprehensible. Her head was injured, she couldn’t move and she must have been lying here for several hours, based on how badly she had to pee. So, breakfast and lunch had passed with John not at work and not getting his meals made, but also not yelling about it, instead, outside singing and doing yard work. Was he drunk? He often did irrational things when drunk, but this was a new one, gardening and singing. 

Lenore felt cold all over as she understood that it was possible John was aware of her situation. He usually became good-humoured after one of their “disagreements,” (his polite word for beating the living shit out of her), as if everything was better than ever as she walked around the house covered in bruises. The last time had been so bad she’d told him afterward that if it happened again, she would leave. She would get a divorce and he’d have to make his own meals and lose his personal slave and punching bag. She hadn’t actually said all of that out loud, but she did threaten to leave. He had been very cheery about it and had laughed in her face, but it had been quite a while since he had “corrected” her with one of their “little disagreements.” She had hoped her threat would change things, but she didn’t really believe it would. She still hated him, had for years. She was just too afraid to actually leave, fearing that he would kill her for trying.

Lenore squeezed her eyes shut and tried to force her mind to remember yesterday, especially last night. Okay, she told herself, what’s the last thing you remember? Start there. What day was it? What did you make for dinner? John liked the same dinner on the same day every week. She focused on the kitchen. It came to her at once. It was chicken pie. Therefore, it was Tuesday. She remembered making the crust and getting upset because she had spilled flour on the floor. What then? She struggled to picture the rest of the dinner and got nothing. She had lost almost twenty-four hours of her life before waking up to being paralyzed, on the floor, with a bleeding head. She forced herself to calm down and think, try harder. She had made chicken pie and it was Tuesday. Her head hurt worse now that she was trying so hard to make it work. Tuesday, chicken pie, then what? The evening was a blank grey fog.

The sound of chopping and singing from the back yard stopped. She felt hope for a moment, and then dread. She didn’t know why she didn’t want John to know she was awake, but her gut told her to play dead, at least until she could figure out what was going on. She shut her eyes and relaxed her face to fake sleep. She concentrated on breathing slow, sleep breaths. She hoped that if he believed she was still unconscious, he would leave her alone. She wanted time to think.

The back screen door slammed. Lenore heard John’s shoes tromp into the house and down the hall, making her heart hammer against her ribs. Don’t come in here, please don’t come in here, she pleaded mentally, unconsciously holding her breath. He went into the bathroom instead, and realizing that holding her breath was making her head hurt like hell, she forced herself to breathe again. There was the sound of John urinating, flushing and coming out of the bathroom. He went to the kitchen and opened the fridge, popped a beer can and slurped it noisily. He must be thirsty from all that unaccustomed gardening, she thought crazily, and held back a hysterical laugh that threatened to escape her lips. He continued guzzling from the can as he tromped into the living room and fell into his recliner causing a complaining yelp from the chair.

John always put his phone on speaker, so Lenore could hear what he was doing. There were two messages from his boss, the first one asking if he was feeling all right and to get well soon, and the second one reminding him about a meeting next week. So, John had called in sick to work, that explained his presence here on a weekday. Had he stayed home to look after her? That didn’t explain her lying on the floor with a bleeding head. Why hadn’t he come to check on her or complain about missing his meals?

She heard John tromp through the house again, then the back door slamming. He was in the backyard again, singing and chopping. Lenore thought he must have been grooming the yard for hours, based on all the times she had woken up and heard him out there. It was so out of character for him, she struggled to make sense of it. Was he trying to impress someone? It’s the only reason she could think of that would make him work so hard on a chore he never did before. Maybe there was a new pretty female in the neighbourhood? She knew John cheated, did not care, in fact she was glad when he had less interest in her; it let her off the hook for a chore she would rather avoid completely.

Lenore wondered if she was losing her mind, grasping at reasons for things that were beyond reason, but she had never been more awake in her life than she was now, struggling to move. Her mind flooded with dread, her thoughts echoed madly round and round, bashing into her skull, refusing to make sense. Stranded and hot with panic, laying there helpless and listening to John incomprehensibly gardening and singing that song, every minute ticking by like an hour, she lay there desperate for any sort of relief. That chopping noise was driving her insane.

But, it wasn’t chopping. Lenore abruptly seized upon the certainty, her bladder letting go with the realization. That noise John was making in the back yard, while singing that maddening song. It wasn’t chopping.

It was digging.

Copyright April 2020 All Rights Reserved

#2 CROW POLITICS

by Kathleen Queen

Copyright 2020 All rights reserved

A shiny black crow sat on a low branch of a tree overlooking a cottage in the forest as he expounded upon the virtues of the human in question to his wife, who sat beside him.

 “She has been good to the trees and flowers, the other animals, and to us. She has given us a wealth of delightful vegetable scraps, rice with many exotic flavours and tidbits mixed into it, several types of bread I had previously not even known existed, and fruits I have never tasted before but fervently wish I would be able to taste again. Not to mention that extraordinary substance she calls kibbles that the greedy cats, foxes and squirrels try to gobble down before we can even get to it. We have never gone short of food since she moved into that giant square nest with the false water pools on the sides. As for those, I have personally whacked into them a time or two and let me tell you, it is painful as well as humiliating, but we can’t blame her for that.”

“Yes, husband, I know that. She is a good forest human. Better than any I have ever seen. She has never hurt any of us or damaged anything in our territory. She presents us with the best food I have ever tasted. But we do have our priorities.” His wife replied, and then began pecking at some small black beetles trundling along the branch. She was partial to beetles.

“Well, we should at least ask the others what they think.” He replied, as she went about her afternoon snacking. “We can’t just go around doing whatever we want. What if they get angry? I am getting too old to fight those young crows, they are rude and aggressive, and I just don’t want the hassle.” She went on pecking, ignoring him. He knew she would ignore him until he agreed with her, and he was used to this tactic. Still, he hesitated, worried about the politics of the thing.

His wife settled back on the branch beside him, looking down at the yard. “Remember that time she put that fantastic stew on the grass, with ten different vegetables, spices and rice, and there was so much of it. I thought I would burst that time. She really is a great cook. I’ll give her that,” she said. They sat there together, the wife reminiscing, the husband fretting.

“Why don’t I go and ask the leader what he thinks? I’ll come right back.” He ventured.

His wife looked at him scornfully with her beady black eyes, shaking her glossy head at him. “You know what will happen if you do that, everyone will try to hog our treasure and get in on our good luck. I have been very careful not to blab around to anyone about this yard, for that very reason. You tell one crow, the whole damn flock will want a piece of the action.” She fluttered her wings crossly. “Especially that fat bitch, Gloria, she’ll try to fly here so fast, she’ll probably hit a tree. And forget about sharing, she will just go nuts and try to have it all. I wish a cat would get her, I really do.”

“I know what you mean, my dear, but there are protocols about this sort of thing, and when there is enough for everyone, we are supposed to notify the leader, not try to monopolize it for ourselves. You know that, look what happened to Edmund that time he found the huge pile of apples and didn’t share the information, he got caught and then it was all drama. Nobody would talk to him for months. This cottage woman really is the best human I’ve ever seen. I hate to disrespect her by acting like a criminal about the whole thing.” He nibbled a few of the branch beetles to console himself. He hated fighting with the wife, but sometimes it was necessary to remind her of certain things.

“Husband, I love you, I really do, but there are ways to do things that you just don’t think of, sometimes, and I wish you would trust me to handle it. We won’t get in trouble if they find out, later, we will just enjoy some of the best stuff, and then tell them afterwards, as if we just discovered it, all innocent-like. Nobody will know, we’ll play dumb and act so excited to share the feast with them. We’ll be heroes. Besides, once they get eating, they won’t care. And yes, I, too, am full of gratitude and respect for the cottage woman, but she won’t mind, she never does.” She nuzzled him on the neck with her beak, just the way she knew he liked it.

He pondered her concepts. “It could work, and I do trust you, dear, but I am just such a chicken in my old age. I don’t want to get banished like Leroy after he broke a serious rule, that’s all. Crow leaders can be so harsh about the rulebook. And, I’m thinking of you, too, my love. Who would you marry if I got the boot? Kevin? You hate Kevin. Nobody would love you as I do. And, what if they kicked you out, too? Winters are nasty in these woodlands and we need the flock to survive. We are too old to go it alone.” He nuzzled her neck right back, hoping to soften her up.

He adored her and they both knew he would cave in eventually, but he knew that she expected him to be the voice of reason. It was part of their matrimonial ballet. She was the bad girl, he was the good guy. It had worked well for them for years. In spite of his protests, he would do anything for her, and she knew it. They sat on the branch for a while, affectionately grooming each other and snacking on bugs.

Finally, wife looked husband right in the eye and said “Honey, let’s just do it. This is our yard, we found it, and we should get the bounty. We don’t owe the others a thing. Do you think they always tell us when they find good food? No, they do not. They would all do exactly the same thing if they had the chance. Let’s enjoy our good luck and just do it, then tell them we just found it when we go to collection time by the beach tonight. Do it for me.”He sighed, looked at his beautiful shiny black wife, nodded, and hopped down to the grass. She hopped down beside him, giggling with glee. He started on one of the staring eyes of the dead woman on the lawn, and she dove into the other, with relish. They truly appreciated the forest woman; she was delicious.

The End

CRUNCH

By Kathleen Queen

Copyright April 2020 All Rights Reserved

Karen’s heavy winter boots crunched on the snow in a soothing rhythm as she marched across the frozen lake. Moonlight illuminated the area with a shadowy efficiency. She stepped cautiously because the ice under the snow was slippery, and she was still a bit shaky. She wore a long, down-filled coat with the hood pulled up and a thick scarf wrapped twice around her face revealing only her eyes. Underneath she wore thick jeans over leggings, two big sweaters, heavy socks and heavy padded gloves, but the wind-chill was minus forty three Celsius tonight, so it still felt like she was wearing practically nothing and the wind chilled her to the bone. She shivered hard and cursed her arthritis, worsened by the cold. A lanyard hung around her neck ending in a bunch of keys, which bounced against her puffy coat, jingling in time with her crunching footsteps. She worried about the noise but reminded herself that after midnight there were no people outside in this area, not in mid-January.

Karen hiked straight out from the beach toward the center of the lake, which was dotted with hundreds of ice fishing shacks, all empty at this hour. She needed a large one over deep water, so she ignored the ones closer to shore. After about ten minutes of walking she found a decent sized shack, a combination of boards and canvas thrown together. She tried the door and it was unlocked, as most of them were, because people took their equipment with them when they went home. She took her flashlight out of her coat pocket and shone it into the little hut. There was a small axe on a TV table and a lovely fresh hole in the ice, exactly what she needed. She allowed herself to smile a little. Maybe the night wouldn’t turn out so terrible after all. It had begun with cautious optimism but then twisted so far onto a nightmarish path that her mind was still reeling with the shock of it. She took a deep, icy breath, feeling slightly calmer. You can do this, she reassured herself, and started walking home. The almost full moon lit up the landscape and she could see perfectly as she returned to shore. She looked back several times to memorize the position of the carefully chosen shack so she could find it again later and then looked up at the clear sky, hoping it would stay that way for a little while longer.

The only other light came from a couple of porch lights on neighbours’ homes barely visible through the trees along the shore, but all the houses were dark. It was summer cottage country, so most of the houses were empty from October to May. The few people who lived here year round were retired folk, like Karen, who had moved out here for the peace and quiet to work on her writing. Only one of the occupied homes was near Karen’s but the retired couple were probably fast asleep hours ago, and due to heavy bush between the houses and along the road to the lake, she was in little danger of tonight’s nocturnal activities being observed.

Nevertheless, Karen couldn’t stop herself from searching for movement in the shadowy depths of the trees as she approached the shore. The massive pine trees whispering in the freezing wind sounded like human voices, a sound she usually enjoyed, but not tonight. Every sound made her afraid of being discovered. She rarely ventured outside at night except to her car because wolves and bears roamed around the forest, but she had never worried about people observing her before tonight. Crime was almost nonexistent out here. She was an unlikely target of thieves because her car was twenty years old and her cottage was mediocre, at best. The only crime she was aware of was four years ago, a break-in at one of the unoccupied big fancy summerhouses. She had felt safe in her forest home, and she kept thinking about that mistake as she marched home from the fishing shack, listening to her boots crunch on the snow and the keys jangling in rhythm.

Halfway up the road leading from the lake to her house, two white tailed deer burst out of the bush a few feet ahead of Karen and raced up the road with astonishing speed, springing and sprinting to escape the dreaded human. Accustomed to having the night forest to themselves, her crunching footsteps must have alarmed them. Karen was momentarily startled, but then smiled at their white tails disappearing into the dark, always delighted to see the graceful beasts. It saddened her deeply that the usual sightings of deer she had had were when they were struck by vehicles on the highway and dragged to the side of the road, broken and still. Deer were innocent, unlike the dead man lying in the snow in her back yard, he deserved to get smacked by a big old semi-truck and left in the ditch to suffer and die, she thought after the deer were gone. Anger had begun gradually replacing the terror she had experienced earlier, warming her face with the accompanying indignation as she remembered. She crunched on toward home and noticed the cold a lot less on the way back. Anger generated heat, apparently.

When Karen got home, she went around to the back yard, laboriously struggling through the two-foot deep snow that blanketed the property surrounding her house. There were no pathsways, as she had never had a reason to go back there all winter, until tonight. The snow crust was hard and could sucker her into trying to walk on top of it, but it would collapse without warning, letting her plunge in up to her knees and jarring her back, so she took it slow. The motion sensor spotlight over the garage door flashed on, lighting up the yard like a hockey rink, alarming her for a moment, but she reminded herself thatanimals constantly set it off, so no one would notice. She went to the garage and got a large tarp, three lengths of yellow rope and a small garden spade. She put the spade and ropes on the tarp and dragged it across the yard toward the body. Karen had learned to be self-sufficient from living alone in the country for the last few years, so it didn’t occur to her to ask anyone for help, and besides, this was a special chore that she needed to do alone, and fast.

Tonight, Karen had learned a vital new life lesson. The dead man had mistakenly assumed that he could get away with misbehaving in this isolated location. He probably wouldn’t have pulled the same shenanigans where she used to live, in a busy suburb surrounded by people and city lights. Karen had common sense and thought she had been quite safety conscious up until now, always insisting on a busy public place when meeting men from internet dating sites, which she had done on occasion, when life got too boring. She hadn’t changed this practice when she moved out here to the middle of nowhere. There was a twenty-four hour casino and hotel on the main highway about ten miles back toward the city from her place. It had a busy lounge and restaurant and was perfect for meeting a stranger for a date. She had done it a couple of times since moving out here and it had worked out fine. The casino had security guards and cameras, the kind of place where you were supposed to meet strangers for first dates, so she did that, to be safe. A false sense of safety, as it turned out.

Howard McDonald, the man Karen had met a few hours earlier, was tall and had a clean-shaven, nice face. He wasn’t slim but he wasn’t much overweight, just a slight paunch. He had short blond hair and pale grey eyes and he looked younger than his stated age of fifty-five. He wore nice clothes, a black winter coat, a black suit with a blue shirt, and expensive looking shoes with ornate silver buckles. All that was missing was a tie, but that would have been overkill, she thought. His nails were manicured, he smelled of good cologne and had excellent manners. They both made polite conversation as they chatted over a light dinner. Everything seemed fine, at first.

During dinner, Karen became increasingly aware that Howard didn’t ask anything about her, just seemed content to reply to her comments with nothing more than simple responses. As time passed it continued, puzzling her. She began to wonder, Why would he drive all the way up here to meet me if he isn’t interested in getting to know me? It began to make her uneasy, but she thought maybe he was just shy. Later, she had to admit to herself that this odd behaviour gave her a bad vibe, but she had ignored it. She had known something was off, almost from the beginning, but kept attempting to make conversation anyway. How many times do women do that and regret it later? she wondered while preparing to get rid of Howard’s body.

After dinner, Karen suggested they move into the lounge to have drinks and continue talking, and he agreed. He continued to converse just enough to keep the date going, as if he were totally uninterested in her and just being polite. If that were the case, she wondered why he didn’t just leave? It was one of the oddest dates she had had in a while, and she had had plenty of odd ones. After another hour of this and a couple of drinks each, she still felt like she was auditioning, unsuccessfully, for something, as he stared at her intently without speaking most of the time and she struggled to think of things to say to get him to open up. She flirted a little, laughed at her own jokes and got nowhere. She no longer thought of him as potential dating material but she was stubbornly trying to, at least, make the evening enjoyable. It was crystal-clear, in hindsight, Howard’s modus operandi. He had been studying his prey.

Later, Karen was particularly thankful that she had only had two drinks. Heavy sleeping on her part would have resulted in a completely different ending to the evening, for both of them. As she finished the ice in her second drink, she grew weary of holding up the conversation on her own and gave up. She said she was tired and should go home. He showed neither relief nor displeasure at her decision, just quietly stood up and put on his coat, and then walked her to her car. They told each other that they had had a nice time while they offered phony smiles. He walked away and she got into her car and drove off, not paying attention where or what his car was. She would never make the same mistake again. She listened to music driving home, brooding on what a waste of time the date had been, and so odd. She would turn him down if he asked her out again. Something wasn’t quite right about Howard McDonald.

Karen wasn’t entirely sure of the ultimate intention of the dead man lying in the snow in her back yard, but any plans he may have had that involved sneaking into her house after she had turned off the lights and gone to bed pretty much obliterated any motive that might in any way be misconstrued by an objective observer as noble. Her clever safety measures to prevent strange men knowing where she lived were all pointless. All Howard had had to do was follow her brake lights with his headlights off, staying a suitable distance behind her. He had been smart and careful, and she had not. Life lesson learned.

Karen hauled the articles from the garage over to Howard and looked contemptuously down at his rapidly freezing face. She thought she should feel guilt or regret, but all she felt was anger. He had chatted online with her for weeks and misled her into thinking he was a nice person and look at him now.

“You deserved it, and you know it.” She said aloud, resisting the urge to spit on him, glaring at him. She laid the tarp out on the snow beside him, with the ropes under it. She was strong but it still took some effort to roll him over twice until he was centered on the tarp. Then she folded it over him and tied the ropes tightly, one around his waist and arms, and the other around his ankles. She made bows so she could untie them easily. She put the third rope through a couple of rings on the tarp edge by his feet and tied it into a loop. She pulled it and the tarp became a sled. She put the shovel on top of Howard and stepped into the loop, pulling it up to her waist like a harness. I’m a sleigh pony, she thought gaily, realizing that gaiety was not appropriate and not giving a damn. She turned around and began to pull the dead man across the snow.

She looked around nervously when leaving the privacy of her yard but she scolded herself, stop worrying and just keep moving. She had a vague plan about explaining what she was doing if anyone popped up and started asking questions. She would say that she hit a deer with her car, which was ridiculous for so many reasons, but it made her feel better to pretend it might work. For one thing, she was obviously dragging a large human; his shoes were sticking out of the tarp for all the world to see. For another, if she had hit a deer in this area it must have already been dead because the speed limit on the roads around her house was 30 km/hr and no self-respecting deer would get hit at that crawl, not even a baby. Then there would be the problem of explaining why she was dragging a dead deer towards the lake in the middle of the night by herself instead of waiting until the next day and getting help. She knew it was ridiculous but it was all she had, it calmed the panic which kept trying to rise up and paralyze her, and she had important things to do. She was able to walk quickly, thanks to the slippery tarp, pulling the two hundred pound man behind her with little effort. He bumped along, his head occasionally bouncing off chunks of ice and snow which she made no effort to avoid, and he didn’t complain. Her boots crunched, keeping time with her jingling keys and now the added sound of tarp, slithering. The noises created a symphony that would remain clear in her memory for many years. When she thought back on that night, which was rarely, she remembered that symphony on that icy cold night, the crunch, crunch, crunch, the jingling keys and the slithering tarp, more than anything else.

It was a ten-minute walk to her destination. Karen followed her disappearing footprints on the lake from half an hour ago. The wind had died down temporarily but it would be back, and her prints would be gone by morning, all sign of her mission erased. When she got to the selected fishing shack, she took a wary look around before going in. The moonlit countryside was completely still. She put the shovel on the ice, opened the door and pulled the tarp in as far as she could. Howard was so tall that his head was still sticking out the door. She had liked it that he was tall, before. Well, she thought, now I wish you were short, asshole.

Karen looked into the ice hole. A thin layer of new ice had formed across the bottom of the hole since the last sportsman had used it, but breaking through to the water below would be easy, it looked fresh. She used the axe she found earlier, mentally thanking the owner that she did not have to drag more junk out here from her garage. She chopped through the new ice and then hacked at the sides to make the hole wider. Soon, she was satisfied that it was big enough. It’s a far bigger hole than a Manitoba fisherman needs, unless he’s going for a giant tuna, she giggled out loud at the thought, but it’s perfect for a trespasser that just trespassed on the wrong woman. She composed herself, proud of her effort, and went back to work.

She untied the ropes, took them off and unfolded the tarp. She slid Howard’s upper body further inside the shack, pulling his legs until his head was inside so she could shut the door. She took the tarp out with her and pushed on the door until it stayed shut. She put the shovel on the tarp and pulled it all the way back to the beach. She listened to ten more minutes of the symphony of crunching, jangling and slithering plastic. She searched the top of the beach where it met a steep slope to the cliff above, for the biggest rocks she thought she could handle. The slope, exposed by the wind coming off the lake, was composed mainly of rocks imbedded in sandy dirt. She hacked at the frozen dirt with the shovel, got some good-sized rocks out and rolled them down onto the tarp. When she had four nice big ones with ragged edges suitable for securing ropes, she dropped the shovel on the tarp with the rocks and dragged it back to the shack. She slid and rolled the rocks into the shack, pushing them with the shovel on the ice. Then she put the shovel on the tarp outside the door in case the wind picked up again. She did not want to be chasing a tarp that had Howard’s blood and brains on it across a frozen lake at three o’clock in the morning. She was in no mood for shenanigans. There had been enough shenanigans for one night. She entered the shack, propped the flashlight on the crate and aimed it towards Howard.

Karen removed Howard’s shoes, worrying that they might float, and tossed them out onto the tarp. She figured the fish and other lake critters would take care of the rest of his clothes eventually, but she removed his outer coat to facilitate the process, and tossed it out onto the tarp as well. She had considered removing all his clothes and maybe burning them to remove any possible DNA if they happened to be found near his body, but she did not have any interest in seeing Howard naked, she was freaked out enough already. She searched all of his pockets from his coat to his jacket and pants and found a wallet, cell phone, ring of keys, a little plastic case full of lock picks, and a Swiss Army knife. Well, what have we here and just what exactly were you going to do with that, you rat bastard? She felt the rage returning, threatening to overwhelm her, but she fought it down. When the anger passed, a wave of nausea took its place and she stood there gulping down excess saliva quickly, refusing to vomit. The nausea abated, leaving her feeling absolutely exhausted.

Now Karen knew how Howard had entered her house so easily. She had assumed that he had jimmied one of the windows in the study where she might not have heard it from her bedroom on the other side of the house, but no, Howard had come prepared to their date. She stood over him and fought the impulse to kick him with her heavy boots. She was shocked at his preparation and conning her for hours the night before, sitting there staring at her and planning his monstrous plans while she had struggled to make conversation and be patient with him because she thought he was shy. The urge to release her anger with a satisfying kick was almost overpowering, but she reminded herself that only one person in the shack was a psycho and he was dead, she would not let wild emotions take over. A voice in her head urged, Get rid of him and forget he ever existed. Hurry up! The night’s not getting any younger! She breathed deeply of the frosty air and focused on her mission.

Karen put all of Howard’s items into her pockets and then slid him toward the hole. Get ready, fishies, she thought cheerily, here comes dinner! She then dragged each of the four big jagged rocks into position close to him, and with the nylon ropes, secured the rocks tightly to Howard. He would not be floating anywhere anytime soon. By spring, even if someone did find parts of him, they would need DNA to identify him. He would disappear for at least several months and hopefully forever.

When she got him to the hole, she realized that she would have to lift him slightly to angle him into the hole because it was not big enough to simply roll him in. She used one of the fisherman’s folding chairs to prop the body at an angle while guiding his head into the hole with her big black boot. He bent at the waist obligingly and glided right in up to the waist. Then she raised his legs and Howard descended rapidly into the lake, rocks and all. She quickly grabbed the flashlight, aimed it into the hole and watched with satisfaction as he sunk out of sight, hopefully to the bottom of the lake. In seconds, he was gone. She hoped it was more than a hundred feet deep here, maybe double that. She would google it tomorrow. He wouldn’t drift far with those rocks on him and would never wash up on shore, not in one piece, anyway. She had a moment of panic that it was not deep enough, that the fisherman whose shack she had used tonight might get a hook-full of expensive pants material tomorrow, but then dismissed it because there was going to be only circumstantial evidence connecting her to Howard anyway, after she got rid of the rest of his things.

Over the last hour Karen had been thinking up a story for authorities if they made the connection between her and Howard, which could result from his emails or cell phone records. If she was somehow identified as his date at the casino before he disappeared, she would simply say that she’d had no contact with him after she left. The security cameras inside and in the parking lot would prove that she had left alone in her own car. She would insist that whatever he did afterward had nothing to do with her and she just had to stick to that story. She would act confused and surprised if questioned. She hoped that would be enough. And it would be the truth, the first part; she would just omit the part that happened later. All she had to do was make sure that all traces of Howard disappeared.

Karen put the shovel on the tarp with the shoes and coat and went into the shack for the last time. She used her flashlight to check around to make sure she hadn’t dropped anything or left any trace of her activity. She replaced the axe and chair she had used exactly as she had found them. The hole was already beginning to freeze over and it would be thick ice again in a few hours, long before the fisherman came back. They might notice that the hole was bigger, but maybe not. For once, she was grateful for the severe cold. She peered into the hole with the flashlight and saw nothing but black water. Good. Now she had one last chore out here.

She closed the door, left the tarp with the shoes and shovel on it, picked up the winter coat and walked for five minutes further out on the lake. She had to try a few fishing shacks before she found one that was open. She found a crowbar, which she used to smash a small hole through the fresh layer of ice. She shoved Howard’s winter coat into the hole first, holding it while it absorbed water and then sank out of site. Taking off her gloves, she dropped the lock picks into the hole, one at a time, then smashed the case with the crowbar and threw the plastic pieces down the hole. She made sure nothing stuck to the sides, and everything actually hit the water. Her fingers were painfully cold after just a few minutes in the open, so she hastily put her gloves back on. Last, but not least, was Howard’s impressive knife which she tossed into the hole. She used her flashlight around the floor of the shack to check for wayward bits and was satisfied that it had all disappeared into Lake Winnipeg. The lake currents would scatter everything she’d dumped or they’d sink into the sand and mud beneath for future archeologists to ponder over. About to place the crowbar back where she found it, she stopped and her eyes grew wide. She thought, sorry dude, to the owner and tossed it down the hole. It had her prints all over it from when she smashed the lock pick case and her gloves had been off. After a while in the water it would rust away to nothing. She left and shut the door, then went back to the first shack.

Karen had used all three ropes to tie rocks to Howard so she just pulled the tarp by two corners. All it had was the shovel and Howard’s shoes so it was almost weightless. She headed home. The wind was whipping up again, erasing her boot prints almost immediately, more good luck. It took twenty minutes to slog back home, her weary legs aching, hands inflamed and sore. Karen listened to the trees speaking louder as she approached the shore and the symphony she made, crunch, jangle, slither. She couldn’t remember being so tired and cold. She had one more thing to do outside. There was blood on the snow where Howard’s body had lain, so she grabbed a large plastic snow shovel and scooped up the bloody snow, tossed it into the bush at the back of the yard, scattering it as widely as she could. It only took three scoops. She also wiped the bloody side of the tarp against the snow with her boot and then tossed that snow into the bush too. Tomorrow morning she would wash the tarp with bleach, but she was too tired for that now. She put the tarp and shovels away in the garage and locked it. She had another fortunate moment when snow was began to fall. Excellent, she thought. By morning, the yard would be all white and fresh again.

As she entered the back door carrying Howard’s shoes, Karen realized where and how Howard had broken in. All three of the house entryways had an outer screen door, which she kept locked. It had not occurred to her to look at the door earlier while dragging Howard out to the yard. She had been in shock having to deal with the surprise visitor, the attack and the mess afterward. She saw now that there was a slit in the screen where he must have slipped his hand through to unlock it, and then used the picks on the main door. Won’t be so devious again any time soon, will ya, Howard? She thought. He already had used that fancy knife; it was a multipurpose tool, after all. She wondered again, as she would many times over the next few days until she blocked most of that night from her mind,  What else would Howard have done with that knife if Ghost hadn’t woken me up? That would remain a mystery forever, now, but at least she knew how he got in. She would get a new screen next summer.

When Karen had confronted Howard in her kitchen a few hours ago, he had been a lot more shocked than she was. He was hoping to find her fast asleep in bed. She had turned out the lights around one in the morning and been asleep shortly afterward. She would have been completely helpless and unprepared for whatever he had planned, and obviously, men that you’ve only met once, who enter a woman’s house uninvited in the middle of the night, are not there to bring flowers.

Unbeknownst to Howard, however, all the doors had wind chimes hanging on them. Opening or closing the doors, even slowly, produced noise. She had come up with the idea decades ago when living alone with two kids and worried about a crazy stalker-ex boyfriend. Luckily, in the present, Karen had three cats which were particularly excitable; especially Ghost, a high strung, pure white, six year old male. So, one or all of the cats must have heard the chimes when Howard first opened the back door. Cats have fantastic hearing even while sleeping, and they would have heard the faintest sound, even on the other side of the house, even if Howard didn’t think he was making any, and it would get them curious. Maybe they heard a creak in the floor or the door as Howard closed it. Whatever the sound had been, Ghost heard it and began to cry in the kitchen in his shrill baby voice. The cat’s meowing pulled Karen out of dream world just in time for her to hear the sound of the sliding door in its track, which led from the study to the kitchen. If only Howard had slid that door a little more slowly, she may have gone back to sleep, but she heard it loud and clear. Howard must have been impatient, stupid man.

Karen had snapped awake to that sound and realized someone was in the house, leaned over and grabbed the thick oak axe handle she kept beside her bed, scrambled across the bed and into the living room, all in about four seconds. She didn’t make any noise so whoever was in her house had lost the advantage because it was dark and she knew the layout but they didn’t. From the kitchen window, the moon shone in on a shadowy figure in the middle of her dim kitchen. She looked down as a glint of moonlight on metal caught her eye and she recognized the buckles on the expensive shoes that she had admired a few hours ago.

Karen flicked a light switch on the living room wall, ready for the glare and adrenalin pumping. Howard stood there, not ready for the glare, with his eyes wide and his mouth hanging open like a clown mask of fake astonishment. She was pretty sure he hadn’t expected to see her upright, wide awake and holding a big club, never mind staring at him from ten feet away with an expression of rage.  He looked like he was about to say something, but Karen didn’t wait to find out what it was going to be. She ran at him, screaming like a banshee, and swung the axe handle at the side of his face with all her strength. He put his arm up, so she switched direction at the last second and hit him from the other side connecting with his jaw. After the first blow stunned him, he sank to the floor pretty quick. It also stopped him from talking. She saw his hand going for his coat pocket. She didn’t wait to see what that was going to be either and she later knew he was reaching for that fancy Swiss army knife, which now resided on the floor of Lake Winnipeg. She smashed the club against the hand before it could get to the pocket and he pulled it back, howling. She figured she broke a few of those hand bones, the ones with lots of nerves, so it must have really hurt. The next couple of whacks to his head made him drop to the ground and his arms were waving around trying to protect his head. Karen had good aim though, so she just swung over or under his arms and kept whacking him, using all her strength and aim to hit his skull. He stopped waving his arms after the fifth or sixth hit, but she gave him a few more crunching blows just to make sure he would not be getting up. Ever. Okay, maybe more than a few. She hit him a lot of times. The cats sat in the living room and watched quietly, their meowing forgotten. This was interesting. When the blows to his skull stopped making a crunch sound and began to make wetter thuds, she felt safe to stop. She thought later that it took about twenty hits. She wasn’t sure.

Once Karen had ascertained that Howard would not be getting up, she stood there panting for a moment, trying to catch her breath. She held onto the axe handle tightly in both hands, but let the business end rest on the floor beside Howard’s pulpy head, blood running off the wood and puddling on the floor. What a fucking mess, was the first coherent thought she had. She was hot and sweating and her arthritic hands were on fire from the unaccustomed brutal jarring of clubbing a man to death. She thought about what she should do next as she waited for her breath to calm and the rage to clear from her mind. She did not want to call anyone. She did not want to deal with the police and questions and all the mess that would come of this. She had just been getting comfortable in her new home and did not want to ruin the peacefulness of it by having to explain to a million people this stupid man’s crime. And what about her crime, if it was a crime to kill a man in your kitchen who broke in in the middle of the night; she might get blamed for those extra hits. She didn’t think it was a crime, but she wasn’t sure. So, she decided then and there that there would be no police, no explanations and no mess, at least after she cleaned up all the blood. She would take care of this herself, in her fiercely independent way and then forget all about it.

She put a green garbage bag over Howard’s messy head and tied the ends around his neck. She wiped the blood off him with paper towels as best she could so as not to smear it around more as she moved him. Then she took his feet and dragged him back through the sliding door from whence he came, the door that saved her life, and into the study. Making sure he wasn’t leaking on anything, she left him there for a while. An hour and a full jug of bleach later, the kitchen floor was clean and the paper towels she used to clean it up were in another garbage bag. She would burn them later. The cats avoided the kitchen for several hours until the smell of bleach lessened, but she had rinsed it well so by their breakfast time it had mostly gone and they could eat in there. Karen was feeling pretty grateful to those damn cats right about then. The wooden axe handle would have to be burned, which was too bad because she was kind of sentimental about it after keeping it by her bed for decades, but it had served its purpose. She would find another bedside weapon later.

Once she had checked again that he wasn’t leaking, she dragged him by his ankles through the study and into the back yard. At this point she knew there was no turning back because she had seriously tampered with the crime scene. She hadn’t taken his pulse or anything, but the lumpy flat way his head looked pretty much said it all. Even so, she still wanted him outside so he would also freeze to death, just in case, while she figured out what to do next. She couldn’t stomach a situation where he might miraculously wake up, like in the movies. Oh, hell no, buddy, I’m taking zero chances with you, she thought as she pulled him out into the icy night. Her back yard was completely surrounded by the garage, some sheds and forest on all sides, so witnesses were not a problem.

When she had cleaned up the yard after dumping Howard in the lake, she put the shoes inside the door of the house, locked it and went back outside. She got into her car and began driving up and down the dirt roads around her house, looking for Howard’s car. It didn’t take her long to find it two roads away, parked far into the bush along the side of a road with no houses. Very careful, was our Howard. She parked her car and went to Howard’s, fishing the keys out of her pocket. She started the car, admiring how nice it was, a new BMW, and smiled as she thought of Howard’s upset if he could see her driving it right now. She drove out onto #59 highway and turned south towards the casino. She was not going to walk ten miles to get home, so she just drove for a couple of minutes, then pulled over to the side, turning the car off. She took the cell phone out of her pocket and turned it on, googling for a minute, then finding his email and scrolling up and down for a minute or two. She checked his contacts and found CAA, called it, and then when a woman answered, Karen hung up. She set the phone to play music so the battery would die, and then placed it in the console compartment between the seats. She had worn gloves while touching everything, so far so good. She popped the hood and pulled a few wires loose in the engine, nothing too obvious, and slammed it shut, then locked the car. She walked a few steps into the bush at the side of the road and threw the car keys as hard as she could, then she walked home. It took half an hour to get back, and by the time she could see her house, her leg muscles were barely functioning and she dragged her heavy boots like a very old woman. Crunch, crunch. Nevertheless, she made it.

Back home after sinking Howard in the lake and ditching his car, she poured herself a weak vodka and lemonade, sat down in front of the woodstove, laid a fire and lit it. Once it reached six hundred degrees according to the gauge on the chimney, she tossed in the contents of his wallet one piece at a time, then the wallet. After cutting the buckles off, she burned the fancy shoes, which really stunk because they must have had rubber soles. She burned all the paper towels with Howard’s blood on them. Then she added a few more logs for good measure so it would burn for hours. Nothing would be left in the morning. Fire was an awesome forensic evidence remover. She would wait until another late night sometime soon and take the shoe buckles out to an ice fishing hole and send them to visit their daddy, along with the garbage bags with his blood.

Karen had another drink before turning for the second time tonight and watched the fire, relaxing on the loveseat facing the blazing woodstove. Two cats lounged on the rug, basking in the heat of the fire. She would go outside and check in daylight tomorrow, see if the asshole had done anything to the other doors of the house, or her car. The anger gradually dissipated, and in time, so did all clarity of the events of  the night until they seemed like only a distant memory of a long ago dream. She would remember clearly only the crunch of the snow under her boots as she walked on the lake that night, how loud it had seemed and how the rhythm of it had soothed her in a strange way, crunch, crunch, crunch. The crunching sounds were her last memory of that night. The sound of the bat hitting Howard’s head, crunch, crunch, crunch. Karen smiled and stroked Ghost, purring on the couch beside her.

THE END

MEMORY LAPSE

By Kathleen Queen

Copyright April 2020 All Rights Reserved

Candy ran to her car and got in, snapped her seat belt on and started up the engine. Checking traffic, she pulled out and accelerated as fast as she dared. She had only twenty minutes to get to her last client of the day, who was not usually in a good mood at the best of times, so she didn’t want to be late. Mrs. Porter, the client, was a retired teacher and huge on punctuality.

Candy loved her job as a Health Care Worker because helping people was rewarding, but today was one of those days that she wished she could just retire. Due to budget cuts, there were not enough workers for the caseload and it was almost impossible to see all her patients in the allotted time every week. She usually ended up working overtime, the pay was not really worth it and she got home exhausted every day.

Candy drove carefully but lane-hopped as much as she could get away with until she turned off the main drag onto the side street where Mrs. Porter lived. She parked half a block down from Mrs. Porter’s house, cursing the sign that said “1 hour parking” and turned off the car. Mrs. Porter often needed more than an hour of her time and Candy did not want a ticket. She grabbed her kit, file binder and purse. She didn’t bother locking the car because she figured if anyone wanted a twenty-year-old Saturn that badly, they could just smash the window and take it. She rushed up the steps and rang Mrs. Porter’s bell.

The elderly woman took a while to come to the door and when she did, she gave Candy an icy stare to let her know that she was not impressed with tardiness. Candy checked her watch and saw that she was, in fact, three minutes late, a crime worthy of the death penalty, apparently. She came in, closed the door and removed her shoes. Mrs. Porter had gone into the living room, where Candy found her waiting on the couch with an expression of impatient contempt on her face.

“You’re late again.”

“I’m so sorry; my last patient had a bunch of new meds that I had to go over and make sure they knew the doses and side effects. Please forgive me?” Candy smiled hopefully.

“Okay, fine, let’s get this over with; I have important things to do.” Mrs. Porter said.

“Let’s start with how you’re feeling today? Are you sleeping and eating okay?” Candy asked.

“I sleep and eat just fine, as always, and I don’t know why you ask me that every single time. And, my bowel movements are fine. My medications are fine. I get memory lapses but only for a minute and not every day. I have a wonderful life and everything is just peachy.” This was the same thing she said at every visit, but Candy smiled, knowing what came next.

“Do you have any concerns, any problems or questions that I can answer for you?”

“Sure, I want to know who elected Donald Trump and why hasn’t he been assassinated yet, and how to kill my neighbour’s yappy dog without getting caught, can you answer me that?” she challenged Candy.

“Well, I wish I could answer those questions, but you know I can only help you with health issues. As for Trump, I agree with you there. As for the dog, does the neighbour let it bark after eleven at night, or before eight in the morning? Because we have bylaws for that; you can call the police and they will go there and speak to them, and if they don’t comply, they will be fined the next time. That usually works on negligent pet owners. I can help you look up the number to call, if you like.” Candy said.

“They leave that stupid mutt outside all the time, in horrible weather and at all hours, and it wakes me up sometimes at six in the morning, yapping and yapping and yapping. Sometimes it goes on for hours, without stopping. It’s probably hungry, stupid owners. They should not be allowed to have a dog. When I don’t get my sleep I get memory lapses, as you well know.” Mrs. Porter growled.

Candy offered, “Do you want me to make a call for you? I can make the complaint but the police will want to come here and ask you questions before they caution the owners. Also, if the dog is being mistreated, I can call the Humane Society.” Candy wanted to help Mrs. Porter because the old woman was always so miserable, even with Candy’s efforts to cheer her up. Candy was a very kind person and she often took extra pains for clients that were not part of her duties, but Mrs. Porter was a challenge.

“I don’t want any stupid police coming here, they’re useless and rude and they kill black people, and I like black people. I used to love Harry Belafonte. No, no police. Never mind, don’t call anyone. I will just have to put up with it. People shouldn’t have pets if they aren’t going to look after them; the thing is always outside. It’s neglected. The cops will probably take it away and have it put down. That might be a blessing.” She grumbled.

Candy realized that in spite of Mrs. Porter’s set jaw, the old woman was more upset for the dog than about the noise.

“Do you have ear plugs? I could get you some; many people use them for healthier sleep. I know you find your memory lapses very distressing and you’ve said you have them more when you have a bad sleep. Are they getting worse, or more often?” Candy asked.

Mrs. Porter looked thoughtful and then said “No, it would irritate me to have things in my ears when I’m sleeping. I’ll figure something out, don’t worry about it. My memory isn’t getting worse; it’s only occasionally, I forget things. I just need my damn sleep.” She looked down at the floor, pouting.

Candy felt that maybe a change of topic was in order, so she tried, “You enjoy music? Do you still listen to Harry Belafonte?”

The old woman’s face relaxed a bit. “I used to have a stereo console with a turntable and a radio in it, but it broke and I never got a new one. I still have my records in the basement. Why?” she looked suspiciously at Candy.

Finding something positive to focus on, Candy jumped on it, “Well, that’s great! Would you like to enjoy your old music? It can be very relaxing for your nerves, and maybe even drown out the barking dog?”

The old woman’s face fell again. “I can’t afford to buy a new stereo, my husband never left me a penny and I can barely buy food and pay my bills, on my pension.”

Candy made a quick decision. “I can get you a record player, would you like that?”

The old woman’s face lit up. “How much do you think it would cost?” Mrs. Porter’s voice sounded younger.

“I got one for a hundred bucks, but I bet I could find one cheaper than that if I tried, and you can pay me back whatever you can afford when I come to visit you, like installments.” Candy said.

“Oh! That would be wonderful! Could you, really? I haven’t been able to listen to my records for over twenty years. I could play them all day and night and I wouldn’t care about that dog, or anything.” Mrs. Porter looked radiant.

 Candy grinned, “It will do you good, so we’ll call it music therapy, how about that?”

“Oh, I will get my records out of the basement and be ready when you bring it. Oh, I am so excited, thank you!” The old woman had tears in her eyes.

Candy felt her eyes moisten a little, too. “Okay, and if you change your mind about the dog, you just tell me and I’ll make the call for you. It’s not fair for you to put up with that noise all the time.” Mrs. Porter nodded, and then they went over her meds, diet and doctor appointments for the next half hour. The old teacher was in such a compliant mood that they finished in record time.

 “I’ll see you next week, okay?” Candy said.

“Yes. Will you call me as soon as you find one and maybe, come before next week? I’ll give you lunch if you have time to come sooner, or dinner or breakfast, any time. I’m almost always home.”

“I’ll do my best, I promise. You have a good night and I’ll talk to you soon.” Candy picked up her purse and other stuff. The old woman fairly bounded up off the couch and walked her to the door.

“Thank you, Candy.” She said.

“No problem, Mrs. Porter.” Candy said.

“Goodbye.” The old woman looked at her with such gratitude that Candy felt tears welling in her eyes again. The door closed gently and she went to her car. There was no ticket, so she whispered hallelujah, and drove home singing to the radio.

The next day was Candy’s day off. She went to an electronics store and bought a turntable and some small speakers. When she got home, she called Mrs. Porter and told her that she would bring it by that evening, after dinner. Mrs. Porter invited her for dinner, but Candy had a few more errands to run, so she said she’d come later. She did her own shopping, took it home and put it away. She did some laundry, ate a small salad for supper and then headed out to Mrs. Porter’s. On the way there, she stopped at a liquor store and bought a bottle of wine. She knew Mrs. Porter’s medical history and medications would not disallow this treat, and she thought the occasion warranted some celebrating. If Mrs. Porter didn’t want it, Candy could just take it home.

When she tried to turn onto Mrs. Porter’s street, road barriers blocked her way and there were groups of people standing outside, up and down the block. She pulled over, parked on the main road and got out, carrying Mrs. Porter’s items and her purse. She asked a woman in one of the groups on the boulevard what was going on. The woman looked grim and told Candy there had been a bad fire on the next street but it was over now, a house burned to the ground.

Two adults had died, but no kids. Candy thanked the woman and walked around the groups of gossipers on her way to Mrs. Porter’s house.

When the old woman answered the door, she greeted Candy with enthusiasm. Together, they quickly opened the boxes with the turntable and speakers and Candy helped her set it up on the dining room table. There were several boxes of record albums lined up along the wall in the living room. Mrs. Porter was ready for action.

The dining room windows were open, as it was a warm summer evening, and the stench of smoke was unmistakable, but neither woman mentioned it until they were sitting on the couch in the living room, enjoying Harry Belafonte’s Banana Song. Then Candy remembered the fire and asked, “Did you know there was a fire on the next block?”

“Oh, yes, I forgot to mention that. I have memory lapses sometimes, as you know. I think the fire’s out now, so nothing to worry about. My neighbour Mr. Anderson dropped over and told me about it. The smell should go away soon.” said Mrs. Porter, bobbing her head along to the music.

Candy didn’t want to dampen the mood by mentioning the two deaths that the woman outside had told her about. Halfway through the second LP, which was Diana Ross and the Supremes, Mrs. Porter got up and began shimmying and twirling around the living room to “You Can’t Hurry Love”, her face a picture of joy, laughing out loud. Candy was gratified that her small favour could make such a wretched person so happy. She could watch that old woman dance forever. It was like a whole different person had taken over the old grouchy one.

Candy stayed for a couple of hours and listened to records with Mrs. Porter enjoying each one more than the last. After the first record, Candy had poured wine for each of them into crystal goblets and the two women sipped and sang along with the music as if they were teenagers. It was a peculiar but lovely evening. The smell of smoke from the open windows dissipated as the evening wore on. Candy forgot about the fire.

Around ten o’clock, Mrs. Porter went into the kitchen. Elvis had just finished singing Love Me Tender, and Candy was getting tired and considering going home soon. In the silence, Candy heard the fridge open and close, a cupboard door thump and then the sound of cutting on a chopping board.

Candy called out “I don’t need anything to eat; the wine makes me feel full.” She should really go home; she had to work tomorrow.

“It’s not for you, I’ll be right back. I just forgot something. You know I have memory lapses.” Mrs. Porter answered.

Curious, Candy walked into the kitchen. Mrs. Porter was cutting up raw chicken on a cutting board and putting it into a bowl. Then she cut a few slices of cheese and added it to the chicken. What an odd combination. Is she going to microwave that? Candy thought, perplexed.

Smiling sweetly, Mrs. Porter took the bowl and went to the basement door, opened it and started down the stairs, closing the door after her. Candy could hear Mrs. Porter going down the stairs, singing cheerfully, “You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog.”

Candy was sure Mrs. Porter didn’t have any pets. She stood in the kitchen wondering if the two glasses of wine she had had had made her stupid, or if Mrs. Porter was so drunk she’d gone crazy? The old woman hadn’t had more than a couple of glasses, maybe three, but surely she couldn’t be that impaired.

As Candy stood there wondering what was going on, her eyes wandered around the kitchen, and then rested on a little red plastic gas can just inside the back door. Mrs. Porter must have forgotten to put that away.

THE END

DANI’S CURE

By Kathleen Queen

Copyright 2020 All Rights Reserved

Danielle sat at the dining room table eating a large bowl of chocolate ice cream. She had taken so much that she was having trouble finishing it all, but it was so good, she was determined to try. Daddy would never let her have this much. The ice cream container sat on the kitchen counter, the lid beside it, the contents starting to melt.

Danielle, or Dani, as her Daddy called her, finished the last spoonful of ice cream but her tummy was starting to hurt. She left the dishes on the table and went into the living room. She plopped down on the couch, picked up the remote and aimed it at the television. She surfed until she found a scary movie, her favourite kind, and watched it to the end. Her tummy still hurt, but not as much as before, so she went into the kitchen and pushed a chair in front of the counter, climbed it and reached to the top shelf of the cupboard for the bag of chocolate chip cookies and carefully climbed down. She took the bag into the living room and watched some more television, eating cookie after cookie until she felt like she was going to barf. She fell asleep on the couch around ten o’clock and slept there all night.

The next morning Dani woke up feeling sick, and her mouth tasted bad. She got a glass of water from the kitchen and then used the bathroom. It was Saturday so there was no school. She decided to go to her friend Barbie’s house to see if she could play. She looked at the kitchen clock and saw that it was only seven a.m., so she decided to wait a while. She watched TV and ate more cookies for breakfast, even though her tummy was still feeling weird. She drank some water, and then she knew she was going to be sick, so she ran to the bathroom and threw up. After that, she brushed her teeth to get the horrible taste out of her mouth. She didn’t like brushing her teeth, but Daddy always made her do it anyway. This time, she did it without being told, so she felt pretty grown up about it. Now there was barf on her shirt, and she didn’t want Barbie to make fun of her for that, so she went to her room and changed clothes, throwing the dirty ones on the floor. She put on her bright pink matching top and shorts because Barbie liked those. She watched Saturday morning cartoons until it seemed like a good time to call on her friend.

Around ten o’clock Dani put her shoes on and went over to Barbie’s house, three yards down from hers, and rang the doorbell. Barbie’s Mom came to the door and when she saw it was Dani, she made a weird face. Dani could tell that Barbie’s Mom didn’t like Barbie playing with her, Dani didn’t know why. But, this morning she let Dani in to stand on the rug inside the door and went to get her daughter. Dani heard some conversation but she couldn’t hear what they were saying. In a minute Barbie came to see Dani. Barbie was still in her pajamas, and Dani was going to laugh at her but the Mom was standing in the hall, watching them, so she didn’t laugh. Barbie had blonde curly hair and was taller and skinnier than Dani. Dani thought Barbie was like a model compared to her own chubby short self. Kids at school told Barbie that she was pretty, but no one ever said that to Dani, kids made fun of Dani’s messy hair. Daddy did not know how to do hair right on girls.

“Hi Dani, what’s new?” the little blonde girl said.

“Can you play outside?” Dani asked.

“My Mom says I have to clean my room and do chores first, but maybe after lunch or something.” The mother was in the hall behind Barbie, staring at Dani, disapproving.

“Okay, do you want me to come back or do you want to meet me outside?” Dani did not want to bear the dirty look of the mother again.

“I’ll come outside after lunch, we can go on the swings, maybe.” Barbie gave her a weak smile, but it didn’t look real. Dani flapped a little wave and left, closing the front door a little too hard. She went back home.

The paperboy had thrown the Saturday paper into the bushes beside the front step, so Dani fished it out and went in the house. She took the paper apart and found the comics, read the ones she liked and then went to watch more television. She felt tired and still a little nauseated, so she lay down on the couch and fell asleep. When she woke up, the sun was shining brightly in the living room window. Dani went into the kitchen to see the time. It was four o’clock in the afternoon already. Barbie hadn’t come to the door or Dani would have heard her, the doorbell was really loud. Dani was too tired to go outside and look for her friend, so she sat and watched television for the rest of the day.

As the sun began to go down, Dani’s stomach gurgled and growled, so she ate a few more cookies, but she didn’t really enjoy them as much as yesterday, especially after she had barfed this morning. She went into the kitchen, found some cheese slices in the fridge and poured herself some orange juice in a plastic cup. She sat at the dining room table and ate, the dishes still there from the previous day’s ice cream, now dried and entertaining a couple of flies. Dani ignored them. After Dani finished the cheese and juice, she decided she was tired of watching TV so she went to her room and looked for a book to read. She lay on her bed and read Goosebumps and then fell asleep. When she woke up next, it was dark outside and no lights were on so she was scared. She jumped out of bed and turned on her bedside lamp and the ceiling light. Seeing no monsters, she went through the house turning on lights until she got to the living room. She watched TV for a few hours until she fell asleep again.

On Sunday, Dani woke up hungry and thirsty and her mouth tasted bad again. She ate cookies, drank water and then found a bag of chips in a kitchen cupboard. She watched TV and ate chips until her stomach hurt again. She wanted more ice cream but it was all melted on the counter and had flies in it now. Around noon Dani walked restlessly around the house. She was lonely. She wanted someone to talk to. She didn’t want to go to Barbie’s again, and she didn’t have any other friends. She found her Daddy’s cell phone and called her Mom’s number. It went to voicemail, so Dani hung up. She didn’t like her mother very much, so she didn’t want to leave her a message. Her Daddy said her Mom was a selfish bitch and a rotten mother and that’s why Dani lived with him. She hadn’t seen her Mom since her last birthday, and even then, she had only come for a few minutes, given Dani a stupid doll that Dani didn’t even like, and then left. She hoped her mother wouldn’t call back when she saw the number, and she probably wouldn’t anyway because she never did. Dani put the cell phone on the dining room table beside the dirty dishes. She watched some more TV

As the sun went down on Sunday evening, Dani got up from the couch and went to the bathroom. After using the toilet, she noticed the empty pill bottle on the counter beside the sink and pushed it and its lid into the garbage can. Stupid pills didn’t work anyway, she thought. Daddy must have lied about that. She was mad at him, but she didn’t hate him like she hated Mom. Adults lie all the time, she knew, but she was starting to miss Daddy a little now. She went back to the kitchen and searched the fridge for something to eat. Finding some bread, she made a cheese sandwich but it was dry without butter or anything. She ate it anyway. She watched more TV and fell asleep on the couch again.

Monday morning she woke up on the couch and sat there for a while, deciding whether she was going to school. She felt sick and itchy, and maybe she was getting the flu. She lay back down and watched TV for several hours, letting inertia make her decision for her. In the afternoon, the phone rang and the call display showed the name of her school, so she didn’t answer it. She hoped she wasn’t going to get into trouble for skipping out. She ate another dry sandwich and some cookies. She watched TV for the rest of the day and slept on and off. For supper she finished off the rest of the cookies and drank some water. More TV, then into her room to read and she fell asleep on her bed this time. She made sure all the lights were on.

On Tuesday morning, everything was the same as Monday and more TV and sleeping on the couch. In the afternoon, the doorbell rang. Dani hurried to the frosted window beside the door where she saw Barbie’s mother. She quietly snuck back to the living room and waited. The bell rang a few more times. Finally, the doorbell stopped and the woman went away. Dani ate the last of the cheese and bread, drank some water, and watched TV again. That evening around eight o’clock, which was usually Dani’s bedtime, the phone rang. The call display showed Barbie’s last name, so Dani answered eagerly. Much to Dani’s disappointment, it was Barbie’s mother.

“Hello?”

“Hi, Dani, this is Barbie’s mom, how are you feeling? Barbie said you missed school for two days, are you sick?”

“Yes, I’m sick, I have the flu.”

“Did your Daddy take you to the doctor?”

“No, I’m only a little sick, not that sick.”

“Well, I saw all the lights on at your house the last couple of nights and I wondered if everything was all right.”

“Yes, everything is all right, we just like the lights on sometimes. I have to go.”

“Okay, well, tell your Dad if you need any medicine or anything, I have lots, okay?”

“Okay.”

“Bye now, I hope you feel better.”

“Bye.”

Dani wondered why that woman was being so nice all of a sudden. Daddy said Barbie’s Mom was really nosy and that’s probably why she came and rang the bell and then called, just trying to find out stuff. She put the phone on the coffee table in the living room in case it rang again, so she could see the call display easier.

She went into the kitchen and hunted for something to eat. There were some mini frozen pizzas in the freezer, so she took one out and put it in the microwave for twenty minutes. She went to lie down on her bed. She had a headache and felt really thirsty. She probably did have the flu, that wasn’t even a lie. After a while she smelled something funny and went to take out the pizza. Smoke was coming out of the microwave and when she opened it, a blast of hot steam hit her in the face and the pizza was black and weird looking, so she left it in there. She found some crackers in the cupboard and ate them instead.

Sitting on the couch watching TV later, she thought about Daddy. She wasn’t mad at him anymore. She thought about his pills. She didn’t believe his stupid pills did any good anyway or why wasn’t he better by now? Daddy said they were very important and she must never touch them unless he asked for one when he was having chest pains. When she put the pills in a glass of orange juice, it was supposed to cure his stupid boring heart problems that he was always complaining about, but they didn’t work, because he never got better. He was always reminding her as if she was stupid, that if he asked for his pills, to get one really fast. Nitro, nitro, get my nitro. Well, Dani had poured the whole bottle of nitro pills into a glass of juice, stirred it quickly with a spoon to melt them all, and gave it to him as fast as she could. Did it cure him? No, it did not.

She walked down the hall to her room to read a book when she first noticed the bad smell coming from Daddy’s room. In the end, Dani had actually cured Daddy of his heart problems.

THE END