Honey/Sheahanna/Chicory, a three-perspectives short story

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Honey

Early fall sunshine streamed through the window. I sat tucked in my favorite niche, a window seat built into a dormer in a spare bedroom turned library. My feet were heavy blocks of ice despite the unseasonably warm day and thick wool socks. I angled myself so I could I sit cross-legged and wrapped a fleece throw around my legs.

The house had settled into a comfortable silence with Jim away for a weekend work-retreat. He’d offered to take me, almost winning me over with his, “C’mon Honey, the leaves will be at their peak color,” not to mention his bedroom eyes, but I’d declined. The thought of walking around the resort and the shops alone left a chilly, hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach. I much preferred to be alone and by myself instead of alone and surrounded by strangers.

My cat, Mocha, appeared at the open door and looked in at me, her eyes a piercing green against her dark, mottled tortie coat. She started and trilled a meow as if surprised she didn’t have the entire house to herself. I patted my lap and kissed the air, but she turned away with an aloof twitch of her tail and continued on her rounds.

What am I, chopped liver? I chuckled at my joke. Apparently not. If I were, maybe I’d get a bit of affection from my own cat. I sighed, somewhere between a disgruntled huff and wistful exhale, and resigned myself to whiling away the afternoon with the triple-threat combo of romance novel, chocolate and red wine.

My phone chirped, startling me. I looked at the screen. I took a sip of wine, closed my eyes and drew a centering breath.

“Hi Mom.”

“Hi Honey,” she said, drawing out the E. Her voice sounded upbeat, as if surprised that I answered my phone, like getting an unexpected check in the mail.  “How are you?”

“Oh, just fine,” I said, keeping my tone bright. I opened my eyes and turned my gaze out the window. There was a soft breeze shifting through the tree branches that created dancing patterns of shadow and sunlight across the yard.

“How’s Jim?” Mom asked.

“He’s good. Busy with work. It’s nice though. I get to have some quiet, alone-time.” I cast a longing glance at my novel splayed open across my knee and the squares of chocolate, wondering if I could unwrap a piece without dropping the phone. I picked one and fumbled at the foil with only my left hand. “How’s Dad?”

“Oh, fine,” her voice trailed off. “He’ll be retiring this year.”

“That’s great! I’m sure he’s looking forward to it.”

“How’s your kitty? What’s her name again?”

“Mocha’s doing fine too, as anti-social as ever. It’s all right though, it keeps me from bringing home another furry friend. It would be nice to have her lie in my lap once. I’ve never had a cat that didn’t like being held before.”

“That’s weird. I can’t keep my animals off me.”

Mocha peeked into the room again and meowed loudly, demanding my attention. I patted my lap again, but she just stood in the doorway staring me down.

“She’s a strange one for sure.” I bit the corner of the chocolate square I had managed to unwrap and set the remainder back in its foil nest. “She seems to like me though. She gives me presents.”

“Oh, like what?”

Mocha meowed again, verging on a yawl. I rolled my eyes and heaved myself out of the window seat. “Mostly voles. But there was a bird, a salamander, and lots and lots of parts. It makes me nostalgic for Biology class.”

“Yuck.”

“Definitely. It was probably my fault.” Mocha led the way down the stairs and to the kitchen. Obedient owner that I was, I followed. “When she left me the first one, I loved on her because I knew it was her way of providing for me.”  Mocha looked at her food dish then up at me. She had plenty, so I fingered the dry nuggets in her dish. She sniffed at her food, then made for the front door. Again I followed, suppressing a sigh. I made a mental note that the next home improvement project would be a cat door. “You know, like some remnant of her wild cat heritage where lionesses hunt for the lion and give him the first bite. I thought she was telling me I was the head of her pride. Now I can’t turn it off. I don’t want to punish her for being a cat.”

I began to open the door, Mocha’s nose pressed up to the opening.

“So, I have some news,” Mom said. I froze. My stomach reacted to the cautious tone by churning the wine and chocolate already digesting there into an acidic froth. Mocha wedged her head into the widening threshold, I released my grip on the doorknob and she slipped out.

“Oh?” I prompted. I reeled through all the possibilities: Mom was dying, Dad was dying, Granny had died, Mom and Dad were divorcing, they were bankrupt and needed to move in with me, I was bankrupt and needed to move in with them. “What news?”

“Your cousin Jessica had her baby!” Mom’s voice sounded happy but reserved. I closed the door and turned, leaning my back against it.

“Oh!” I said, relieved no one was dead or dying or bankrupt. Honestly, I’d completely forgotten she was expecting. “I’m happy for her. Boy or girl? Has she picked out a name yet?”

Mom rattled off that it was a girl, her weight and roughly the time she was born, yesterday afternoon sometime. Harley Rose was her name. The family would be getting together next weekend. I felt the unspoken expectation that I be there so I could meet and fawn over my new cousin. And, that’s when it became real.

Suddenly, my throat thickened and my eyes burned with unshed tears. I swallowed a sob like a chunk of grizzled meat. I was happy for Jess, really. But, an oppressive sense of regret welled up inside me like an icy stream trying to break the surface. It wasn’t so much that I had tried to have a baby and failed. It was that I hadn’t tried at all. And now, the opportunity had passed me by. An only child, with no children. The end of the line.

I swallowed against the stickiness in my throat, tasting acid and chocolate and salt. I mourned less for the child I’d never had and more for the experience of being a grandma that my mother would never have. My heart squeezed at the thought that the baby Mom would rock in her arms would not be mine.

She said something, snapping me back to the present and I gasped a breath I hadn’t realized I’d been holding.

“What? Oh, no. Next weekend is bad. Jim and I have travel plans,” I lied, hoping I sounded sincere and not too grateful for the fact that I hadn’t told Mom Jim was out of town this weekend. “I’ll send Jess a card. She’s registered at Target, I think, so I’ll tuck a gift card in there too.”

“Do you have her address?” Mom asked, all motherly business now.

“Yes, I’ve got it.”

“Okay then,” she started to say more but a riot of barking cut her off. “Someone just pulled up.”

“No worries, I hear the dog alarm. Go do what you gotta do.”

“Okay, Honey,” Mom sounded rushed. “Call me sometime.”

“Yeah, I’ll talk to you later, give my love to Dad.”

“Okay. Love you.”

“Love you too, bye.” I ended the call and fought the urge to sink to the floor. I stood there for countless moments, my dark thoughts circling like scavenger birds around the festering corpse of the long-ago dream of having children.

I heard Mocha meowing at the door and I sighed. I opened the door and looked down to see her stepping over her fresh kill before slipping inside. I turned to see her walk into the kitchen, the curl of her dark tail the last part of her to disappear.

“Dammit,” I muttered. It was a chipmunk, intact thankfully, laid out like a supplicant on a sisal altar. I set my phone on the entry table and slipped into a pair of Jim’s work boots. I bent down, picking up my welcome mat and its guest as I rose.

I carried the mat to the back yard and stood before the drainage ditch the briefest of moments before flicking the mat and sending the carcass tumbling down. My chin trembled as hot tears rolled down my cheeks. I sucked in deep shaking breaths, forcing emotional composure. I would have to battle those demons at some point, I couldn’t avoid Jess’s baby forever, but I had bought some time to construct my armor. So, for now I would return to my window and smother my sorrows with chocolate and wine.

Sheahanna

Finally outside her den, it took a while for Sheahanna to regain control of her energy. Scratching on a tree trunk helped. With her claws still in the bark of the tree, she pulled a long stretch, easing the last of her tension. It was a relief, especially after a frustrating episode telling the Master to make the opening. The Ground Dweller’s noises had stirred in the depth of her being, waking the instincts of her predatory ancestry which dozed just behind her consciousness.

Sheahanna slipped quietly around the perimeter of her territory, making fresh marks along the way. Members of her former pride had tracked her here and she wanted to make sure they knew this was her region.

Soon, she was within sight of the Ground Dwellers’ habitat. She found a suitable vantage point hidden beneath the branches of a shrub. It would not be long now. The Ground Dwellers and Tree Dwellers were busy this time of year when the trees shed their leaves and fruit.

Watching the stone wall, she saw her target emerge, pausing a moment at the entrance of its burrow. Her sharp eyes tracked the Ground Dweller as it darted to the top of the wall and ran along its rim. She followed, creeping slowly, staying low to the ground, careful not to disturb the thick blanket of fallen leaves. Watching her prey forage, Sheahanna’s body stiffened, masking her racing heartbeat and breath. Her muscles coiled and uncoiled. She alternated shifting and planting her feet, preparing for the inevitable chase.

When the Ground Dweller called out its chirping song, she charged. Her instincts took over and her focus sharpened to the fine point of her quarry. She countered every twist, turn and dart. Through a lucky pounce her claws struck home. She seized the opportunity, sinking her teeth deep into its throat and with a sharp twist, snapped its neck.

Sheahanna waited for the last beat of the Ground Dweller’s heart before releasing her death grip. She licked the blood from her lips and preened herself, basking in the glory of her kill. Collecting her trophy, she carried it back to her den. She placed it prominently at the opening and called to the Master, excited to share her most recent prize.

Chicory

It is dark and warm in the borough. Chicory removes the food from his cheek pouches, tucking the morsels beneath the soft nesting. Leaving the nest chamber, he follows the long corridor out to the burrow entrance.

The afternoon sun is bright. He cleans his paws and whiskers while his eyes adjust to the light. It is a happy day. Food is plentiful. It is the time for gathering.

Chicory hears the songs of his clan and answers with his own call. He follows his trail back to his last mark, resuming his search. He sings a territorial song when he locates a new piece of food.

He hears the predator warning song from his winged brothers in the trees, but it is too late. He must evade.

Run! Turn! Dart! Twist! Jump! Spin! Run!

Fear fuels his flight but it also blinds and confuses him.

Pain burns through his hindquarters. Struggling for freedom, he screams.

The jaws of the predator clamp around his throat. The futility of resisting settles in and Chicory surrenders.

In that moment, he is released from his physical body and blends with the consciousness of Earth. From this new perspective, he understands his purpose, though brief, is an important instrument in the symphony of existence. The complex interplay of the flora and fauna – the movement of the land, water, and air on the surface – the rotation of the sphere on its axis – the orbit of the planet around its sun – the movement of the sun around its galaxy’s bright center. From this place of knowing he sees that although his physical life was small and finite, his consciousness is massive and endless. He chooses to live the small life again.

Instantaneously, he is in a warm dark place surrounded by the fluttering of several heartbeats, a seed in a fertile garden, growing, expanding, and waiting patiently to push forth into the light.

***

This short story is based on the prompt to write the same story from three different perspectives. I submitted this to my writers group in December 2010. I revised it and resubmitted to my group again March 2017. What I’ve submitted for this post is culminated from all the feedback I’ve received. If you have any thoughts or comments, I’d love to hear them.

May you face your fears and open your heart for all the world to see. It’s only when we open our hearts that others can be welcomed in.

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Breathing Underwater, a short story

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Nicole parked her car in her parent’s drive and killed the engine. Mid-morning sunshine filtered through the trees promising a bright, spring day. There were no other cars and the house was dark, all according to plan. Barring any surprises, she’d have the whole day to herself.

She breathed a sigh of relief. Not that visiting her parents was awful or anything, she just didn’t want to have to explain why she was there. Most of all, she wanted to avoid the barrage of concerned questions, the offer of money they didn’t have, the I-knew-that-art-degree-was-a-mistake lecture, and worst of all the suggestion that she could move back home if she needed to. If her fine art career were really over, she’d wait tables before she’d let that happen. She refused to be the cliché thirty-something that ran home whenever life became too real.

She retrieved her phone and thumbed to the eBook she’d been obsessing over. It guaranteed revitalized creativity if she followed a few simple steps. That’s all she needed, a glint, a flicker of inspiration that she could flame into a new collection to bring to the galleries and get things moving again.

Unfortunately, Nicole’s introverted sensibilities balked at all the ideas so far. Wearing disguises in public and singing Karaoke (no matter how many glasses of Pinot she drank) were too far out of her comfort zone. She didn’t think her creativity could be frightened out of its hibernation. One should coax the sleeping bear out of its den with the promise of honey, not startle it awake with firecrackers.

But, Nicole could and would revisit the places she played as a child. She’d had a powerful imagination growing up, and rekindling that potent force would go a long way to get the paint flowing again.

She packed her notebook, pencils and a bottle of water into her tote bag and stepped out of her car. She locked the car out of habit, tossed her keys into the tote and slung it over her shoulder. Inspiration, here I come.

Thirty minutes or so later, she began to feel the cloying fingers of disappointment brush against her heart. Decades can do a lot to erase the footprints of childhood memories. The tire swing had long ago been taken down from the oak tree in the back yard. Nicole was partly glad, she would’ve been afraid the old rope too rotten to support her weight. The tree-house, or rather the haphazard platform, she’d built within the branches of a grove of crab-apple trees was also gone. She stood there a few moments trying to recapture a glimmer of her childhood adventures.

The sunlight filtering through the leaves cast dancing shadows at her feet. She remembered scraped knees and fingers stained magenta from poke-berries, the bitter taste of crab-apples and the velvet of iris petals. But, the images that swam through her mind were shadows of inspiration, cold and empty.

There was one last place, one last chance to find the spark. She took a swig of water and headed toward the path through the woods she had explored so often in her childhood. Even though her boots had a sturdy heel, Nicole picked her way carefully to avoid the marshy spots in the soil. She had her phone in hand, ready to snap pictures as soon as something worth photographing revealed itself.

Finally, standing by the water’s edge, she surveyed the pond where she’d played as a child. Her shoulders slumped and she slipped her phone back into her bag. It seems so small now.

She hugged her arms around herself. Memories of chasing tadpoles in mud-caked pants floated through her mind. She took in her surroundings. This place where her imagination had played so freely was almost unrecognizable to her now.

What once had been steep slopes to small feet and short legs, were now eroded to gentle rises. Where the woods had been thick and the pond secluded, a nearby housing development could be seen through the trees. The pond itself with all the childhood magic stripped away was nothing more than a square watering hole about the size of a two-car garage.

Bird-song drifted from nearby branches and the sun warmed her face and shoulders. Nicole half sat and half leaned on a large boulder set close to the pond’s edge, and remembered again how enchanting this had been when she was eight. It had been a sheer cliff face by the sea when her dolls joined her on her adventures. To her younger self, they turned to mermaids when she submerged their bodies, their hair flowing in soft clouds with each gentle caress of the water.

She shifted on the boulder and leaned over the water to gaze at her reflection, half expecting to see a mop of tawny, disheveled waves atop a dirt-streaked face. Instead, she saw her adult self, looking older and more haggard than she wished.

Or maybe, coming here to remember her childhood only brought feelings of mourning for the lost joys of her youth. Simple pleasures delivered satisfaction easily, before beliefs in fairies and unicorns were replaced with knowing that the world is difficult and complicated – that magic isn’t real.

Her chest tightened and she gulped down a sob. Nicole wished she could be that little girl again. She wanted the magic back, to lose herself in a world of her creation. Her likeness gazed back at her, darkened eyes and down-turned mouth. This was a waste of time.

She toed small stones into the water and watched the concentric circles spread outward. Her reflection distorted, revealing the shadow of another face behind hers — like a double-exposed photograph, strange yet compelling.

Nicole reached a hand toward the water and the phantom reflection did the same. At the moment her fingers touched the surface, she found herself beneath the water. Sunlight danced on the wavy surface, adding sparks of light to the warped images of treetops, sky and clouds above her. The bottom of the pond below her was hidden in darkness, seeming impossibly deep.

A dragonfly trapped in amber, she hung suspended, holding her breath. When her lungs began to burn, Nicole clawed at the water, frantic to reach the surface. And then, he was in front of her, pulling her to him, holding her still. When her struggling subsided, she realized she could breathe. Underwater.

Logic faded as she marveled at the beautiful creature before her: eyes a sunlit summer sky, skin a polished bronze, and hair that floated about his face in wavy, black locks that glinted in iridescent shades of violet and green. A stranger, but also oddly familiar.

Ribbons of sunlight danced across the striking planes of his face and broad chest. Nicole’s gaze followed the twisting lights down his torso and wondered at his smooth bronze flesh, blending seamlessly into a muscular tail that gleamed in shades of cobalt blue. His tail wasn’t the scaly skin of a fish, but more akin to the sleek flesh of a dolphin. She wanted to touch him, but held back.

She felt clumsy and awkward beside his graceful, streamlined form. Her jeans and shirt clung to her body, wrinkled and bunched from the water pressing in around her.

Nicole felt a pull on her hands and looked up into his face. His kind eyes and warm smile reassured her. She opened her mouth to ask his name but underwater she couldn’t make a sound. She tried to return the warmth of his smile and wondered if he could tell she was blushing.

His expression changed, questioning. Do you trust me? He seemed to ask. She nodded and squeezed his hand in response.

He pulled her close, angling her body against his side. Keeping one of her hands in his, he wrapped his free arm around her middle. She rested her arm along his and clasped the strong hand-held out slightly in front of them. And then they were swimming. Or at least he was swimming and she a parcel carried beside him. Leading her this way, she thought they might look like a pair of ballroom dancers gliding across a polished floor.

The sunlight faded away as they dove into the darkness. Nicole noticed a warm light ahead, as if a fire burned in a faraway hearth, glowing warmer and brighter as they approached. Nearing, she could see that the light emanated from the opening of a cave.

They entered, plunging Nicole into a new world of light, filled with colors so vibrant her eyes widened in awe. A vast expanse of rolling hills stretched out before her, covered with moss-like grasses that flowed like languid ocean waves in hues ranging from yellow-green to teal. Thick clusters of slender trees reminiscent of van Gogh’s cypresses fringed the meadow, undulating like belly dancers -– at some moments appearing blue and green and at others violet.

Contrasting against the vegetation, the cavern walls were swirls of robust garnet at the base, through orange, to gold in the heights before blending into the warm glow of light streaming in from some inexplicable source.

So much color… What is this place? Nicole thought, her gaze slowly wandering back to her host.

Looking into her eyes, he placed their still joined hands over his heart. Home, he replied.

Her surprise at this unspoken communication lasted only a moment. She surrendered to the magic of this man and allowed the beauty of this place to envelop her.

Nicole suddenly recognized her surroundings as if she’d never left. She remembered swimming through the fields, the mossy fronds tickling her face and arms, playing hide-and-seek among the dancing trees — with him. He had been much younger then, of course, matching her age every time she visited. And, she had come to this place often.

Nicole flung her arms around her long-lost friend. He returned the hug and as they pulled away he reached behind her head and pulled away the clip that secured her hair. Curling tendrils floated around her face and shoulders, shimmering in shades of gold.

Nicole spun away from him, feeling light and graceful as she twirled suspended, weightless. She swam to the meadow, touching the silky fronds and wondering at their iridescence. He swam up beside her, and taking her hand they swan over the meadow. Together they barrel-rolled and flipped and circled the wavy trees.

Breathless, they floated over the meadow grasses once again. Nicole looked around at this magical cave, her mind hungry to memorize all the colors and the shapes of every leaf and swirl. She turned her attention to the man resting beside her, gazing into his sky-blue eyes.

Thank you.

He brushed her cheek with the backs of his fingers. Instinctively, she tipped her face toward his caress. He cupped the back of her head as he captured her mouth with his. Heat from his body washed over her, curling her toes.

Nicole wanted to lose herself in his warmth. She didn’t want this adventure to end. She didn’t want to leave this man, this beautiful creature she had long ago decided couldn’t exist. He was here, she could feel him. He was real. Her feelings were real. Magic was real again.

He gathered her close to him, kissing her, caressing her. It filled her with longing to the point she thought she might catch fire. He held her tighter, the kiss deepened. She tangled her fingers into the locks of his hair. They twisted, spiraling weightless.

Their embrace continued a slow spiral, and she could feel they were rising. Nicole sensed through her eyelids the space around her brightening. They rose faster, the light above them becoming stronger, harsher. She squeezed her eyes tight against the intensity.

Their ascent slowed and their kisses became gentler, their embrace softened and relaxed into a loose hug. Lastly, their mouths separated and Nicole opened her eyes, squinting against the light.

She looked at her beautiful merman, sorrow casting a grey cloud across his sky-blue eyes, a bittersweet smile curving his lips. She felt the pull of her world like gravity and she gave him one last kiss as she floated up as he drifted down. Her fingertips brushed along the contours of his arms as they slid from around her. His lips brushed the back of her hand just before she slipped entirely from his grasp.

Fighting to reach him, she clawed at the water and churned with her feet. She made no progress and could only watch as he faded into the darkness below. When he vanished completely, she surrendered and the light consumed her.

Nicole blinked away the glare from the sunlight dancing on the water. The world had returned to dreary normalcy. Even though the sun shone warm on her shoulders, the world felt cold and harsh. The hard boulder beneath her made her bottom ache.

A gentle breeze played through her loose hair and a wavy tendril caught her eye. She reached up and let the curl play through her fingers. Nicole looked out over the glistening pond. She brushed fingertips across her lips and could still feel the lingering heat of his kiss.

When she closed her eyes, the memories of the cave burst in her mind like technicolor fireworks. She scrambled to rummage through her tote for her pad and pencils while the memories were still fresh.

Behind her, a man cleared his throat. Startled, Nicole stood and turned, almost losing her balance.

“Pardon me, ma’am,” he said, a slight twang coloring his words. “This is private property.”

“Oh,” she gasped, placing a hand over her thumping heart. “I’m sorry, I was just visiting. I’ll go now.”

Recognition flickered across his face and a corner of his mouth quirked. “Nikki?” he asked. “Nicole Sinclair?”

“Yes?” Nicole searched his face and the smirk became a crooked smile that glinted mischievous sparks in his eyes. Then, she knew him.

“Ricky Ryan.” The name came out with an accusatory tone she hadn’t intended. She crossed her arms and huffed, slightly embarrassed.

“It’s Rick nowadays. I’m all grown up, now.”

Yes. Nicole looked him over. He was a far cry from the scrawny boy who’d played with her around this pond. She’d enjoyed his company until he’d found more pleasure in pulling her hair, chasing after her with twigs he claimed were poison ivy and tossing her dolls into the center of the pond.

Now, Rick, tall and strong, stood before her in dark jeans that were tight enough to show he had muscled legs and lean hips, but loose enough to keep other details a mystery. His work boots were worn but not ragged and he wore an untucked plaid shirt over a clean white t-shirt.

“It’s been ages,” he said. He scrubbed a hand through his dark hair leaving it sticking up at crazy angles. “How would it be if we got together later to catch up?”

Nicole hesitated. She looked around at her small pond, her hands twitched at the thought of sketching out her ideas. She turned back to meet his gaze, determined to turn him down. But, when she looked into his eyes her breath caught. They were the bright, clear blue of a sunlit summer sky.

“Coffee at Hale’s?” he asked, stuffing his hands into his jeans pockets.

“I don’t know,” she said, drawing out her hesitation. “You used to pull my hair.”

“I’ll throw in peach cobbler,” he offered, taking a cautious step forward.

She stood and met his gaze without flinching. “You used to call me ‘Nikki, Nikki. Stinky, sticky.’ and then, tried to dunk me in this very pond.” She pouted her lower lip.

“With ice cream,” Rick said, his lips curving up. He took another step closer.

“Okay,” she said, in a reluctant tone. “But, you still owe me.”

“Do you have a lay-a-way plan?” He asked, closing the last of the distance between them.

“Maybe,” Nicole said. “How’s your credit?”

“Unlimited.”

He held out his hand to her and she took it. Electricity tingled up her spine.
***This is a short story based on a poem I created in high school that is forever lost. I rewrote the idea as a short story and submitted it to my writers group in February 2013. I revised it and resubmitted to my group again February 2017. What I’ve submitted for this post is culminated from all the feedback I’ve received. If you have any thoughts or comments, I’d love to hear them.

May you reconnect with the imagination of your youth and enjoy the journey to your heart’s desire!

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Schrodinger’s Pocket, a short story

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Schrodinger’s Pocket, a short story

“If you can guess what I have in my pocket, you can have it.”

I looked up to see a man regarding me with warm brown eyes, the quirk of a smile playing on his lips. Sitting alone in my favorite coffee shop nested in my usual corner with latte, cinnamon roll and my nose in a book, I was virtually invisible. Or so I’d thought.

The low hum of conversation buzzed around us punctuated by the violent hissing of the milk steamer as the barista prepared someone’s drink. The comforting scents of coffee and vanilla saturated the air.

“Excuse me?” I asked, hoping I’d misheard him.

“Guess what I’ve got in my pocket and you can have it,” he repeated.

I suppressed a groan. Really? Just who was this guy interrupting my solitude? This was not a bar. This was a coffee shop for crying out loud, a safe haven for introverts the world over. Furthermore, I needed sugar and caffeine solace for the week I’d had. Cranky customers and demanding bosses can take a toll on a person, and I needed desperately not to have to please anyone but myself.

I had my hair in a messy bun. I wore my comfiest sweater that sported a hole at the elbow and sweatpants tucked into cozy boots. I had skipped make-up figuring my cats-eye reading glasses acted as a “do not disturb” sign for my face. Everything about me should have whisper-shouted, leave me alone. But there he was, waiting expectantly for some witty response on my part.

My expression must have implied righteous indignation because he shifted his weight a bit. I wanted to be rude, to tell him to take his phony pocket pickup line somewhere else. But, he gave me a small, hopeful smile and the twinkle in his eyes promised…something. But what?

I concentrated on relaxing the annoyed crease between my eyebrows and forced my slack mouth into a polite half-smile. It wasn’t that difficult, actually — he was easy to smile at.

His build was tall and lean, his chestnut hair fell in tousled locks and his weekend beard almost hid the kiss of a dimple on his chin. He wore a graphic tee under a tweed jacket. And, even though his khakis were comfortably rumpled, his casual but put-together aesthetic put my coffee-zombie look to shame. For the first time this morning, I wished I’d made more of an effort.

He might be older than me, but not by much. Anything more than that was hard to guess. What did he do? Where was he from? I decided it didn’t matter. There was a sense of warmth to him that enticed me. He lifted his coffee to take a sip and at the bending of his elbow I noticed his jacket’s suede patches. They made me think of Indiana Jones as a professor at Oxford, an intellectual concealing a secret life filled with adventure.

He arched an eyebrow at me as if to say, Well?

At the unspoken prompt, my gaze traveled down to his waist. His jacket pockets looked flat and empty. No lumps hinting at treasure hidden behind a layer of fabric.

He cleared his throat softly. Not the obvious “ahem,” and I realized I might have been staring at him below the waist a bit too long. My cheeks grew uncomfortably warm and I tore my attention back to his face. His lips curved into a sly caught-you-looking smile.

I squirmed in my seat and focused on the riddle at hand to regain my composure. So, what could he have in his pocket?

It could be nothing, lint, a paper clip, a penny. That thought irritated me. He was a time-waster, a cad, a prankster hoping to make a fool of me and walk away. But…

It could be something, a hundred-dollars, diamond earrings, the key to a mansion. He could be a gentleman, a philanthropist, a hunky, fairy god-father coming to me when I needed a break and helping me in an unexpected way. Or…

It could be everything, all the nothings and the somethings and the infinity that fills the in-between. Disappointment and sorrow and regret. Hope and happiness and adventure. The probabilities were vastly different and endless.

As I looked at him the shop door opened and closed, sending a flash of reflected sunlight that sparked amber highlights in his eyes and hair.

Potential. That’s what he offered me, in a Schrodinger’s Cat sort of way. Whatever I sought from him was what I could find. Nothing, if I turned him away. Something, if I decided to guess. It was entirely up to me. In this moment the cat, our prospective relationship, was both dead and alive. And, I got to choose which it would be when I opened the proverbial box by guessing at the contents of his pocket.

I smiled at him. He smiled at me. He knew that I knew.

I yearned to keep the box closed tightly, preserving our relationship-cat in suspended animation. I wanted to stay in this moment forever. This moment when anything and everything was conceivable, perfectly balanced on the fulcrum of creation.

“So,” he said. “Care to guess?”

“Oh,” I took a sip of my latte. “Hmm,” I tapped my chin in a play of feigned concentration. “I’d have to say…endless possibilities.”

He pulled out the chair opposite me and sat down, setting his coffee cup next to mine. I closed my book. He proffered his hand to me and I slipped my hand into his. It felt warm and his heat travelled through me, turning my bones to honey.

I had opened the box after all, and the cat was very much alive.

***

This short story was based on the Writer’s Digest writing prompt: Write a short story, of 750 words or fewer, that begins with the following line of dialogue: “If you can guess what I have in my pocket, you can have it.”

I exceeded the word count a bit, but then this is a prompt from 2013 so there was no chance of my entering it into the WD competition for publication. This story was submitted to my writing group in January 2017. What I’ve submitted for this post is result after the feedback I received. If you have any thoughts or comments, I’d love to hear them.

Keep your mind and heart open to the endless possibilities!

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Potato Dreams, a short story

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Potato Dreams, a short story

A lowly potato has few aspirations. Herbert knew his purpose maturing in the soil. He had been created for sustenance and he did not fear his destiny. When his skin hardened and his starches formed, he knew the time had come. Throughout his harvesting experience, he set forth his intention to be enjoyed.

To be prepared with love and devoured with pleasure was the highest hope he or any of his fellow tubers could conceive. Holding onto his dream, he waited in the market and celebrated when he was purchased and transported to a residence. Stored in a bushel basket with several more of his kind, he waited patiently in the cool dark pantry.

His whole world changed when he saw her.

She gleamed like a star from the wire shelving above him, so Herbert decided to call her Celeste. He wondered if she would be offended by this, having a name already. Did a soda can have thoughts like he did? If so, would she communicate with him? Perhaps the thought of conversing with a sod-speckled spud was distasteful. Or, maybe she was choosing not to reach out to him because her sisters so closely chained to her might disapprove. He decided none of that mattered. Her precisely machined shape and bright colors intrigued him, so he gazed lovingly at her with as many of his eyes as he could.

Celeste’s body seemed to attract and magnify the light that crept in from between the slats in the pantry door. She shimmered even more brilliantly when the door opened. Herbert watched as human hands took items from the pantry, but it wasn’t until he saw those hands grasp the cylinder of one of Celeste’s sisters that he wanted to be a human.

Only a human could truly experience Celeste, holding and feeling her with sensitive fingers — fingers that could trace the smoothness of her body and the sharpness of her edges. He yearned for ears to discern any sounds she could make. He wished for a tongue to taste her and a nose to smell her. The intimate details of her essence were lost to him. He cursed his limitations.

With each opening of the pantry door he wished for another day to bask in the glory of his Celeste. As her sisters and his fellow potatoes were taken, his wishes became desperate pleas. If there were a potato deity, Herbert was throwing himself at its mercy.

Too soon, it seemed, Herbert was lifted from his bushel basket. He watched Celeste fall away beneath him and disappear. His pleas for more time went unanswered.

Herbert’s skin was scrubbed, pierced and oiled. Wrapped tightly in aluminum foil, he was placed in a hot oven to bake. He felt his starches break down into sugars from the heat. His original dream was coming to fruition. He was going to be consumed. But Herbert was in love, he had transcended his small potato aspirations.

Losing his perception of time, he struggled to focus, to remember Celeste before there was nothing left of him. Then in the next moment it seemed, he was on a plate and the foil was peeled away. A knife sliced through his crisp, brittle skin and his now soft innards were pushed up. He was seasoned. The salt, pepper and butter sent new sparks of sensation through his consciousness.

He could feel rather than see the great salt mines, and the excavation and iodization. He sensed the growth of the peppercorns in the field. Their harvesting was not unlike his, but the impression of being dried and crushed felt peculiar. The butter told a longer story of life as a bovine grazing in a pasture. The sensation of the milk extraction, the separation of the cream and the churning gave Herbert a new appreciation of his simplicity. The salt, pepper and butter merged with him in his new cooked state and added to the whole of his experience.

Reveling in this new awareness, he barely noticed the transition to a new space. As the shock of the merging subsided, Herbert became mindful of the small table his plate now rested on. His awareness stretched out to the other items on the table with him. Two cylinders, one tall, clear and open at the top with clear cubes at odd angles filling its interior space. The other, to his delight, was his Celeste!

Herbert’s newfound joy subsided when he felt a portion of himself being lifted away and placed into a warm, moist cave. Agitation and dissolution, then another sense of expansion as he became aware of what had ingested him. Immediately, his awareness became focused in a totally new way.

Through this being, he could sense an entirely new dimension of physical depth. And, with the sensation came human understanding. The taste of himself, the potato, with butter, salt, and pepper were closely connected to the smell. He could feel his substance being chewed and swallowed and he knew he was dinner. He saw himself on the plate, he saw Celeste, and beside her, a glass with ice. He saw the markings on Celeste’s container and understood their meaning, she was a soda, a Sierra Mist. It was overwhelming to simultaneously be aware of himself and to see himself from an outside perspective.

Another bite taken and Herbert gained even more insight. There was a sense of identity: the human was a fruit-bearer, a female. She had a name, Nicole. Permeating this were feelings of being separate from everyone and everything else. And, with that came loneliness and an attitude of resentment for having to present herself in a certain way to be accepted by others. Learning did not happen from an internal feeling of rightness, but from external stimulus. Those others, parents and teachers, instructed and trained, monitored and judged.

Even more foreign to Herbert was a constant string of language and images, the concepts coming through in fragments.

Quick, quack, fix the crack
Broom, broom, vacuum
Painting in the hall, trip to the mall
Trash goes out by the back door

Trick, track, carpet tack
Drive, drive, nine two five
Sheets on the bed, mower in the shed
Lather and shave with a razor

Slick, smack, pain in the back
Lather, rinse, repeat
Loads of debt, no outlet
Want to leave it all but got to have more

Herbert couldn’t believe he had once envied these humans. These new physical sensations were a small reward compared to the constant noise and feelings of separation. How did these beings function with their attention diverted away from the essence of life?

His wandering awareness regained focus when he felt the soda can in Nicole’s hand. He watched her fingers lever the tab up and back, snapping open Celeste’s mouth. The liquid inside fizzed and popped, spritzing effervescence out of the opening. Nicole’s hand lifted Celeste and poured her contents into the glass. The clear liquid foamed, a white rush of excitement, then subsided but continued bubbling softly.

Nicole’s hand moved to the glass, lifting it. Herbert’s anticipation heightened by this new shared awareness. Nicole expected the cool refreshment, the sweet taste, the feel of carbonation on her tongue and throat. Herbert was eager to merge with Celeste.

The liquid passed easily and with another bite of Herbert’s substance he could feel his connection to Celeste. Her story was dramatically different from his. She had very few roots in biology. Her existence in nature was brief. All of her natural components were modified chemically. Herbert felt the sterile laboratory, processing factory and packaging plant. The creation of her container was a distant and separate thing and perhaps slightly more natural that her contents. He had faint impressions of the aluminum ore and the bonding with additional materials to form an alloy. He could sense the sheets of metal being stamped, pressed and formed into the cylinder that had sparked his fascination.

Bite after bite and sip after sip, their consciousnesses merged. Herbert and Celeste were blending into Nicole. Soon their individual essences would give way and their existence as they knew it would be changed forever.

Herbert was grateful for his life as a potato. He was even more appreciative of his experiences. He felt beyond what had been his material self and knew that his purpose, although simple, was never truly complete. Aware of his physical starches breaking down into glucose as his smallest particles were carried through Nicole’s bloodstream to fuel her cells, he knew he could never cease to be. His second wish had indeed been fulfilled. He had become a human.

This new adventure was just another beginning.

**This short story was my response to the prompt: Take the following list of six words and use them in a story, between 1000 and 1500 words: potato, carpet tack, shed, razor, outlet, soda can. Use them in any order, as nouns or verbs (as appropriate), in dialog or exposition, but use them creatively.
This story was originally submitted to my writing group in November 2010. I revisited it with my group again for our December 2016 meeting. What I’ve submitted for this post is culminated from all the feedback I’ve received. If you have any thoughts or comments, I’d love to hear them.
Happy eating and may all your potato dreams come true!**

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