Stories and Essays

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“Jack’s Plan”

By
Heather Haven

At five-thirty on a Friday afternoon, Jack Lawrence Sullivan was on the horns of a dilemma. For the past six-months he had worked hard to prove himself worthy of becoming the new Assistant Office Manager. Finally the job was his, set to begin on Monday. Having a steady income, health insurance and an opportunity to make something of his life held another possible bonus: Sheila’s father might see him as a stable, working man, a man fit to marry ‘Daddy’s Little Girl.’ Then Sheila, his much younger, rich and demanding ladylove, decided they had to leave Sunday night for the Sundance film Festival on daddy’s private jet. From the git-go Jack knew you did what Sheila wanted or you took a hike.

Pushing thirty-six, blue-eyed, dark haired and handsome, no one knew better than Jack that he was losing the resilience of youth. What he did now mattered. He wanted this job. He would finally be using some of that potential his grandfather always said he had.
Deep in thought, he found himself wandering into the neighborhood park. He was pleased to see the woman with the Irish Setter was there. She often ran with her dog in the games they played, her long hair blowing like cords of black silk in the breeze. She looked to be of East Indian or Pakistani descent, something like that; he couldn’t tell. Whatever, she was gorgeous.

From a distance, Jack heard to her call to the dog. The two left with an older man, probably her father. Jack crossed to the other side of the park, where the man had been sitting. His foot struck something that slid across the sidewalk with a whooshing sound. He glanced down and picked up a wallet without breaking stride. In the safety of his small rented room, he opened the bulging billfold and counted five hundred and sixty-seven dollars.

His first thought was the windfall. Then thoughts of the woman, the man and the dog flashed through his mind. With a sense of resignation, Jack read the address on the driver’s license and walked to the small store he passed nearly every day. He opened the door and stood face to face with the man, who was on the telephone. The man put out his hand with one finger extended, as if asking for a moment of time. He said with a soft accent,

“Yes, police department? I want to report a missing wallet.”

Jack removed the wallet from his pocket and held it in the man’s line of vision.
“What is this? Vishnu provides! My wallet, it is returned to me. I will hang up now,” he said to the phone and did so. He took the wallet from Jack’s extended hand, marveling at his good fortune.

“I found it in the park and I’m returning it to you. Your address was inside.”

The man quickly opened the wallet to check the contents.

“Everything’s there,” Jack said.

The older man grabbed Jack’s hand and shook it with all his might.

“Savita!” he hollered to someone in the back room. “Come quickly! Here is the young man who found my wallet and he returns it to me! Please, let me introduce myself to you. I am Jitender Kumar. This is my daughter Savita. And this, Savita, this is my new, good friend.” He beamed from one young person to the other.

She was wearing a flowing, dark red caftan. A hint of lavender perfumed the air. Her face looked fresh scrubbed, as if she’d just stepped out of the shower. Jack felt his breath quicken.

“We can’t thank you enough for what you’ve done, Mister…” she said.

“Jack Sullivan,” he stuttered and saw a slight smile come across her face.

“I’ve seen you in the park, haven’t I?” Savita asked in a voice rich and resonant. “When I’m there with my dog, Pax. In fact, I’ve seen you so often sitting on a bench, I feel as if I almost know you.”

“I know what you mean. I—”

Mr. Kumar interrupted, too full of happiness to stay silent. “I will go and tell your mother, Savita. She was as upset as I was to think I would have to cancel all the credit cards, not to mention, to lose the money!” He started for the backroom, but stopped. “Your mother, she is awake? Will I be disturbing her?”

“No, Father, not at all. I just gave her some tea. She’s resting.”

“That is good, to rest. Has she taken the new medicine?”

“She doesn’t take it until tonight, Father, remember? Those were the instructions.”

Listening to this exchange, Jack’s attention was riveted on the beautiful woman, probably a few years younger than him. Her expression was kind and loving, dark brown eyes liquid with concern. Jack wondered what it would be like to allow himself to fall into her large and luminous eyes and was astonished that he would have such a notion.

“You, young man.” Mr. Kumar pointed a finger at Jack, jerking him back from his thoughts. “Do not leave until I return. I will be right back. Thank you.” He vanished inside the room.

“No, sir, I’ll stay right here,” Jack said and then turned to the woman with a raised eyebrow.

Savita answered the unspoken question. “My mother has been ill for awhile.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Jack said. “Will she…be all right?”

“We think so; it looks promising.”

They smiled and were silent, each fidgeting a little.

“I should water these plants,” Savita said suddenly. “They’re my mother’s and I keep forgetting.” She picked up a watering can and went to the window.

Jack followed. “Tell me about yourself. Are you married? Do you have any kids?”

“No, although some time ago my parents tried an arranged marriage for me, as is the tradition. At the last minute the groom decided to marry a Chinese American girl and backed out leaving me at the proverbial altar.”

“You got dumped? That’s hard to believe.”

“Why?” She turned to face him, wrinkling her nose.

“Well, you’ve got that great dog, for one thing.”

She laughed, setting down the watering can. “It was a relief. I didn’t know him very well but what I did know I didn’t like. I’ll probably never marry.”

“Sure you will.” He smiled and cleared his throat.

She returned his smile. “What makes you say that? I tend to speak my mind. Most men don’t like that.”

“Some do.”

Before Jack could say more, Mr. Kumar returned, his arms opened wide.

“So now, my friend, Jack Sullivan, how can I repay you?”

“There’s no need—” Jack began.

“I will make you something,” Mr. Kumar interrupted. “Or take something, anything from the store. Look around you,” he said expansively. “What do you want?”

For the first time, Jack looked around and saw the store was devoted to different types of men’s shirts. The ringing of Jack’s cell phone pierced the still air. He removed the phone from his pocket and looked at the number. Sheila. The thought of Get Sheila’s Millions resurfaced. “I have to go.”

“We will see you again?” Mr. Kumar asked.

“Yes, please come again,” said Savita.

He looked at the phone in his hand and then back at the woman. “Thank you but I don’t know what my plans are. I’m pretty busy these days.”

“I see,” she said.

“I should be going.”

“Yes.”

“Then goodbye, my friend,” put in Mr. Kumar. “And thank you.”

On the other side of the shop door Jack stood and studied Sheila’s number on his cell phone. Every woman he’d known had been exactly like her, long on demands, short on giving, easy to forget. But this one, he instinctively knew, a man could get lost in a woman like this and never find himself again, even if he wanted to.

Grinning broadly, he turned and pushed the door open with such verve, the bell overhead pealed wildly in protest. Father and daughter turned to face him, with surprised looks on their faces.

“Forgive me, Mr. Kumar, but I’ve got a job starting Monday and I think it would make a good impression if I had a new shirt for my first day at work, so if I could take you up on that offer…”

His voice reverberated throughout an otherwise silent room. Jack stared at them. They stared back. His smile began to fade.

“And with a new tie!” Mr. Kumar boomed. “A new shirt with a new tie will be very impressive, indeed. We have beautiful ties, do we not, Savita?”

Savita nodded, looking directly at Jack. “Yes, we do, Father, and I am an expert at finding the right tie for the right occasion.”

“I’ll bet you are. I’ll just bet you are,” Jack said, gazing into her eyes. He felt himself not falling but leaping into them.

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 “SOCKS”

 

winner of the Long Short Stories Contest

Mr. Lipschitz slammed his sock drawer closed.  The resulting bang caused him to examine the antique silver and onyx inlay dresser in dismay.  Once again he’d become cross with one of his treasures, something that happened in the past only with the recently vanished Mrs. Lipschitz.  He’d denied his wife money and now she was gone.

“Apologies, old friend, for losing my temper,” said the middle-aged man, bowing stiffly. He reopened the dresser drawer, counted seven missing socks and slipped a nitroglycerin tablet between yellowing teeth to quell an erratic heart.

“This will not do,” Mr. Lipschitz muttered, scurrying into the laundry room.  He stood in front of the washing machine.  “No, it’s not you,” he decided, stroking the top of the washer before turning to the dryer.  “You are the troublemaker.  What have you done with my socks?”  He kicked the dryer squarely in the center of the door.  “Well?  What have you done with them?”

“I ate them,” the dryer boomed back.

“Who said that?” Mr. Lipschitz recoiled, looking around.

“I did, Prissy Pants.  You asked and I told you.  Now go away.”

Mr. Lipschitz stared at the dryer.  “What…What did you say?”

“I said go away!  What are you, deaf?  Get lost!  And send in more socks.”

“Who’s there?’ the man demanded.   “Show yourself.”

“You’re such a loser,” chortled the dryer.

“All right, that’s enough,” Mr. Lipschitz said with a bravado he was not feeling.  “Whoever you are, come out from behind the clothes dryer.  This isn’t funny.”

“You think someone is hiding in the six inches between me and the wall?  What an asshole.”

“How dare you talk to me like that?  You’re just a dryer.  Shut up.”

“Up yours, buddy.  By the way, the best tasting socks are blue,” it said, making a smacking sound.  “Yummy!”

“Why, you miserable piece of tin…” Mr. Lipschitz said, looking inside the dryer.

“Want a ride, Dickhead?  It’ll cost you your jockey shorts.”

Mr. Lipschitz joggled the appliance, shouting, “Shut up, shut up, shut up!”

“Oooooo!  You’re scaring me now,” the dryer taunted, as Mr. Lipschitz began to wobble it back and forth.  “Forget it, jackass.  You don’t have the balls.”

“Oh, no?” answered the red-faced man, muscles strained and quivering.  The rocking increased until the machine shuddered off its frame with a harsh, metallic sound.  But Mr. Lipschitz was beyond hearing it.  He was too busy feeling the searing pain in his chest right before the dryer fell on top of him.

The next morning a short, squat woman unlocked the back door and touched the stiff hand protruding from beneath the dryer.  Stowing the hidden microphone, speakers and wires inside a bag, she tottered on platform heels to a window and signaled her young and randy lover in a waiting car.  He sped away.

She removed a raw onion, hanky, and cell phone from her handbag, sat down and dialed 911.  As she waited, Mrs. Lipschitz looked around her and thought, “Ka-ching, Ka-ching.”
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“How to Potty Train Your Cat”

 

By Heather Haven

 

Potty training your cat is done all over the world.  It just takes patience, firmness and steel-reinforced leather gloves.  Why should you suffer the waste of space given over to a litter pan?  Why should you endure the smell of soiled kitty litter?  No, I say!  Have that poop go right down the john and out to the Bay where it belongs.  Your cat may initially balk but will come around to your way of thinking, I promise.  Remember, it is essential to take the upper hand when laying down the law to your spouse or child and, in particular, your cat.  Despite the fact that cats do seem to become hard of hearing or recalcitrant when issued an order, do not be put off.  You can achieve your goal if your commands are clear and concise.  You will be rewarded by an animal who loves you even more for your discipline.  Below are some steps that I’ve employed in the training of T-Bone, a large, orange stray that adopted us thirteen years ago:

1 – Discuss overall goal with family.  Everyone must be in agreement on objective and how to achieve it.  Keep cat out of room during this discussion.  There is no sense in alerting cat ahead of time.  They have their ways.

2 – Relay overall goal to cat moments before you begin training process.  You will find that sitting the cat down in a quiet place, void of distractions, and outlining the problem is a good way to go.  They will usually pay rapt attention to you, especially if you are waving catnip about at the time.  They may not remember all that you’ve said but it is a bonding experience.  A martini, on your part, goes a long way toward this bonding.

3 – Using the aforementioned gloves, when you see cat doing its business in litter pan, carefully lift animal out of pan and carry to the toilet.  Be sure lid is up.  Firmly but gently, place back legs of said animal on either side of seat, smiling and chatting casually.  Casualness is essential for success.

4 – Apply Neosporin to scratches on upper arms and face and clean up urine and fecal droppings that landed on new rug while carrying cat from laundry room to bathroom.

5 – Transfer litter pan from laundry room to bathroom, so it will be closer to ultimate goal and then go find cat.

6 – Using ladder, get wet cat off neighbor’s garage roof and towel dry.  Put more Neosporin on new bites and scratches, bearing in mind that you have to break an egg to make an omelet, although, at this moment, you have no time to cook.

7 – Introduce cat to new location of litter pan while enduring family’s protests over smell in the one and only bathroom of the house.

8 – Clean up mess in laundry room done by a now confused cat that went behind the dryer on your new, washable silk blouse that fell there earlier in the day and you forgot to retrieve.  Rewash blouse, hoping claw marks will not show.

9 – Return to bathroom and take child’s rubber ducky and bottle of Obsession perfume that fell into litter pan out and wash them thoroughly.

10 – Stand guard over litter pan waiting for opportunity to catch cat using it again, so you can continue training process.  Sleep in bathtub over night.

11 – Wash foot that stepped into litter pan as you were trying to get out of tub when your husband turned on shower to get ready for work, without looking to see if you were still in tub behind the shower curtain.  Curse all men.  Curse all cats.  Bandage big toe that got stuck in the faucet during the night, while you’re at it.

12 – Hobbling, track down cat with meat cleaver and spy it curled up in bed next to your three-year old, both sound asleep and looking like the innocents that you know they’re not but you love them, anyway.

13 – Stagger back to bathroom and remove litter pan.  Return to laundry room, praying cat will forget entire 24-hour experience and resume its usage.  While you’re at it, pray that husband will not continue to stare at you with same wide-eyed look of horror when he returns from work.

14 – On your knees, scrub down bathroom and use seventy-five dollar an ounce perfume to help mask odor of litter pan.  Take shower to remove excess litter from hair and body.  Put hydrochloride ointment on chaffed knees, rebandage toe and reapply Neosporin to bites and scratches.

15 – Crawl into bed next to sleeping cat and kid and thank God they have short memories.  Your husband does not and you will never live this down.

Read more short stories by Heather Haven with the Corliss and Other Award-Winning Stories collection.

award-winning suspense stories by Heather Haven and Baird Nuckolls

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