Category Archives: Short Stories

The Last Christmas Gift

Elsie looked around the room. There was carnage everywhere. A tornado passing through would have left less damage. Bodies were strewn throughout the mayhem. She chuckled. Just another Christmas morning with children.

One of the bodies stirred. A little fist came up from beneath the wrapping paper it had been curled up under. A pile of boxes sneezed. Another child was stirring. Elsie thought perhaps there were a few more to come. But she knew the fresh smell of coffee would probably wake all the adults up. Sure enough, the love of her life wandered into the room, his hands wrapped around a hot steamy mug. With no hesitation he handed it to Elsie and returned from whence he came to get another.

A few more adults showed up with coffee at hand and a tray of hot chocolate for the children. It was Christmas morning. It was after the frenzy of opening gifts. After breakfast. Everyone had been up so early for the main event that the naps became inevitable. The children slept curled around their newfound bounty while the adults found more comfortable settings. Elsie didn’t need a nap. She wanted to watch her charges. There is nothing more spiritual then the breath of a sleeping child, safe and secure in their surroundings.

There was a different feeling in the room as everyone gathered once again. They all knew what was coming. Except for one. Malcolm was new to the group, to the family. He was still getting used to the Western dynamic. He had been born into soul crushing poverty in another country. His family had been killed in a local war that no one understood.  He was alone. But he had been found by people who cared and so began his journey to this moment.

“Malcolm,” send Elsie, “There is one more Christmas gift for the family. That includes you. But you don’t know the history so I’m going to tell you how this all started.”

Malcolm set up straighter, he was interested to know how things worked here and he was curious about his new family. So, he listened very carefully.

Elsie continued: “When my Great, Great, Great Grandfather came to this country he was very poor. But his parents believed they could find a better life, a better future in the New World. They risked everything. The first few years were hard but they were a hard-working family. That first Christmas looked like it was going to be pretty bleak. There was barely enough money for food let alone presents. But there was a wise patriarch and he refused to be sad. He said the goose had wandered across the street and died. His beloved wife said nothing as she picked the buck shot out of the breast of their Christmas goose.

They said grace and gave thanks for their bounty. The light was dim and the curtains were thin but they knew that others were worse off so they gave thanks. And that’s when my ancestor brought out the Last Christmas Gift.”

Elsie sat back in her chair and smiled.  She looked at the faces around her beaming with anticipation. She loved this part of Christmas.

“Ever since then we have honoured the tradition that was started so many years ago.”

As if by magic a small beautifully wrapped package appeared in her lap. There were many ooohs and aaaahs from her audience. And not just the children!

With studied patience Elsie peeled back the wrapping paper. And then with a flick of her wrist a small wooden carving appeared in the palm of her hand. It was a little drummer boy.

Elsie smiled. “Would anyone like to tell me what gift this is?”

Malcolm looked confused. He didn’t know the story of the Little Drummer Boy. And then something miraculous happened. A little tow-hair girl stood up and walked to Malcolm. She wrapped her little arms around him and said:

“His gift is to us all. He was a little drummer boy who had no presents to give the newborn King, Jesus Christ so he played his drum. He gave all he had in his heart and it was the most precious gift of all. That’s what we all need to do. And it will be precious.”

The Christmas Gift

Jeremy was bereft. His feet were cold and he felt the sniffles coming on. And yet here he was on the evening of December 24 standing in a freezing parking lot looking at dying trees.  Why? Because his family insisted. He desperately wanted to tell the world to piss off and just go and get drunk in some dive bar.

He hadn’t always been like this. He used to love Christmas. But 11 months and 13 days ago everything changed. The woman who completed him, who made him laugh and more importantly who laughed at his jokes, died. Mattie loved Christmas.  She loved life. She loved him. Until some two bit gangsta’ wanna-be thought it would be fun to drag race on a snow-covered icy street. They said she died instantly. But he didn’t. Jeremy wanted to die or to kill, but instead he lived. He felt the tiny box in his pocket. He had planned to ask her that night. That’s why she was out. They were going to meet.

It had been a horrible few months but everyone seemed to have moved on. Except for Jeremy. Here he was standing in the cold with instructions to buy a lovely full tree for Christmas.  He shook his head, was about to turn around and leave when he heard an odd sound.

He looked around the parking lot but he didn’t see anyone. The sound was low, almost frantic. It was a scratching noise with a hiccup and a sigh. It intrigued him. He wanted to know what was making that sound. Jeremy took a step forward and the sound changed. It was a whine now and a huffing noise. It didn’t sound human and yet it didn’t sound animal either.

A back-firing car startled him.  He felt silly. It was probably just the wind stirring up some garbage. Jeremy shrugged his shoulders; he knew he needed to get on with his life. He could never forget her but maybe he should put her where she needed to be:  deep in his heart where she could be protected, her memory safe.  He would start by taking an active roll in this evening’s activities.

In that moment something else happened.  Jeremy seemed to swim up from the abyss of grief he had been living in for almost a year.  His eyes truly opened. He almost smiled. He was looking for a tree. Now there were tall ones and fat ones and ones that looked a little sad. But he couldn’t seem to find one that he thought needed a home with his family. And then something fell on his foot. It wasn’t very heavy, it was very small and it coughed.

Jeremy peered down at his feet trying to see what this thing was.  There wasn’t a great deal of light but he was pretty sure that he saw it move. Without thinking he reached down and scooped up the small ball of something.

The next thing that happened was unexpected. But perhaps given the day, appropriate.  With the small black bundle at eye level Jeremy poked it. It poked back! And then it opened its mouth and emitted a rather large meow. It was a kitten. It was a small, black, cold, abandoned kitten. It curled itself into a ball and started to purr. Jeremy smiled for the first time in almost a year. He tucked the sleeping bundle into his pocket and bought the tree it had been hiding under.

He got his tree. He didn’t haggle the price, he just paid it and chuckled. He was taking home more than a tree.  He had found the Spirit of Christmas hiding in the small body of a kitten under a tree.

 

 

The True Spirit

Mary was angry. Here it was two days before Christmas, she was in a town she didn’t know, a new job she didn’t like, she had no friends and no family close by, and some dirty bum had his hand out looking for money.  And on top of all that, he had the unmitigated gall to be smiling as if he was happy.

Mary wasn’t smiling.  In fact, she was absolutely miserable.  Christmas was just another day on the calendar, it had no real meaning.  People went into stores and spent a ridiculous amount of money on gifts for other people that the other people really didn’t want.  Christmas wasn’t even for the children. It was just another way to teach them about how money makes the world go ‘round.  If you had money, it was a good life.  If you did not then you starved and were miserable, and you should look like you were miserable.

Mary approached the man that she called a bum.  She was frustrated, she was angry, and she needed this person to explain to her how he could be so damn happy! Maybe he was on drugs or maybe he was crazy, but Mary didn’t think so.  Of course, she did drop a twenty-dollar bill into his tin can before she posed her question.

“Are you alright? You are sitting here on a cold sidewalk asking for money.  All around you is obscene wealth.  How can you sit there and smile when you have nothing and so many people around you are spending money like it is water and on frivolous things? You look like you need food and these people are buying toys for people who really don’t want them.  How can you sit there and smile? I’ve seen you everyday for the last week and you smile everyday, you wish people a Merry Christmas, or Happy Hanukkah, or Happy Kwanza and I don’t understand how you can actually be happy.”

At this point Mary was almost in tears.  She felt so alone and so unloved that she felt jealous of this destitute individual.  She wanted to shake him to make him see what an awful place the world was but she didn’t. What she did do was pause for a breath and what she saw then took that breath away.

Just a moment before she had been looking at a dirty bum and now, he had taken on a dignity that belied her original perception.  He sat up straighter and his smile became wider.  Even his eyes seemed to twinkle with a secret knowledge. There was a beauty to his face that she had not noticed before. His voice, when he spoke, was strong and melodic.  The words he spoke were the truth.

“But I have everything.  Someone gave me a coat to keep me warm.  He gave me the gift of warmth. People stop and give me their spare change, a cup of coffee, or a sandwich. A small child gave me a penny.  A penny to a small child is like a million dollars to a billionaire. A beautiful woman gave me her scarf to warm my neck.  An old man gave me a warm pair of gloves.  All I have to offer them in return is my smile and my best wishes.  Some people are embarrassed and hurry on but others take it in the spirit in which it is given. Some people give of themselves, and that is what makes me the wealthiest of people.”

Mary thought about what this person had just said to her.  It was starting to make sense.  The importance of the season was not the gift; it was not the thought of the gift. That was all meaningless.  What was important was the giving of one’s self willingly.

The next day Mary went into work.  She felt a little lighter, a little happier.  She looked around her with a new perspective: people were giving of them selves; the gifts they were giving were simply an extension of their spirit.  Sometimes the gifts were expensive, sometimes the gifts cost only pennies and sometimes it was only a word and a hug.  But these people were giving, Mary saw that now.  And Mary started giving as well.

It was Christmas Eve now and Mary wanted to share with the homeless man what she had learned.  She stopped at the bank and took out one hundred dollars.  She placed the money in an envelope and tucked that into the pocket of her coat.  With a smile on her face, she went looking for the homeless man.

But he wasn’t there. Mary walked up and down the street looking for him.  She asked shop keepers if they had seen him but everyone was too busy and said they didn’t remember.  So, Mary continued on her walk home.  She was sad now that she couldn’t share with the man who had taught her so much.  She wondered where he had gone and what he was doing for Christmas.

Just two blocks before Mary reached her apartment building was a small church.  Mary had seen the structure before but had never ventured in.  Today her feet took her over the threshold and into the church.  She sat quietly in one of the back pews and looked up into the beautiful stained-glass windows.  She felt at peace.  As her eyes wandered over the beautiful paintings, a figure seemed to stand out:   it was of man who was seated on the ground and his hand was outstretched as if beckoning.  Her eyes widened in recognition and then she shook her head, it was not possible.

As Mary turned over in bed that night, she replayed in her head what she had learned and she smiled.  She had left the envelope with the money in the church; she knew it was the right thing to do. Never again would she forget just how valuable it is to interact with other people.  Giving of one’s self is as simple as smiling.  He had taught her that.

 

 

 

 

Santa Claus is Dead?

On Sundays I usually have a post about anything and everything. But this is December and it is a month that I treat a little differently. Each Sunday I will post a different Christmas story. My regular followers, those that have been with me for a few years, may recognize these tales.

I apologize if you remember them, I’ll work on that for next year. I’d like to wish everyone the blessing of this Holiday Season, however you celebrate.

This is a time of love, of peace and of understanding. May we all indulge too much.

‘Santa Claus is dead.’

When Sebastian Phillips finished writing that phrase on his bulletin board, he turned around to see what the reaction had been on his students. He was not disappointed.    Because this was a first-year philosophy course he expected them to be a little green when it came to abstract ideas.  After all they were just kids.  Truth be told, Professor N. Sebastian Phillips wasn’t all that much older than his students.

When he looked around the room Sebastian saw surprise, humour and perhaps disbelief, it was also very quiet.  Here he was, a college professor talking about a white haired, fat man in a red suit as if he were real.  Well, real and dead.

“When you signed up for this course, I am quite sure you were not expecting to talk about a symbol for a religious holiday that has come to mean the excesses of commercialism that are rampant in our society.”

Sebastian looked out at his students.  They seemed relieved; this was more like it.

“Santa Claus does exist.”

Now Sebastian heard a few giggles and was that a grunt?

“Professor, those two statements cannot both be correct. There either is a Santa Claus or there isn’t? I mean really! ”

Sebastian grinned, “Actually they can Adam. A thing can only be dead if it first existed. “

“Come on Professor there is no Santa Claus!  That is only a marketing gimmick to get parents to buy more for their kids. Commercialism at it’s best:  vulgar!” These words were spoken by a young woman with an earring in her nose and one in her belly button which flashed every time she turned around.

“Well Cindy, yes and no.”

At this point the room erupted in confusion. A great many of the students were arguing about the wisdom of using symbols, some about the evils of commercialism in general and the western world’s corruption of money in particular.  Sebastian noted which students seemed to think he was demented and which students were curious.  Curious minds are open minds.

Very quietly Professor Phillips spoke.  “Amanda did you believe in Santa Claus as a child?”

The room was suddenly quiet. Everyone turned and looked at Amanda, eager to learn her answer. The professor had chosen to ask the one person in the room who appeared normal.  She was conservatively dressed with no strange piercings throughout her body.  She also preferred to observe any heated discussions without actually joining in.

“Amanda . . .” her professor coached.

“Yes.” Was the quiet response.

“And how did you feel when you learned that the jolly man in a red suit was just a marketing ploy.”

The answer was a few minutes in coming and it was not the answer everyone was expecting.  “I still believe in Santa Claus and I do not believe he is dead professor.”

For the second time that morning there was complete silence in the room, a stunned silence.

And then there was pandemonium.  Only snippets of conversations could be heard.  “I always knew that woman was nuts!”  Geez I wish I had taken a mathematics course, that would of made sense.” “It is going to be a very long day.”  “Do you want to go to the pub afterwards I think I could use a drink?”  “I don’t know who is more insane: that Amanda chick or that Professor?”

Professor Phillips let the arguments roll about the room for several minutes. During this time Amanda just sat and looked at her hands as if she was too timid to become involved in a conversation she had helped to create.

“Okay everybody pipe down, you have had your little discussions and each one of them has some sort of validity.  Problem is you’re not listening.  Does Santa Claus exist?  Yes.  Does he exist as a fat, old man in a red suit?  Yes.  That guy in the red suit is on every corner in the Western world ringing a bell and selling products. Something can exist in more than one embodiment.  We see the jolly, old fella and we equate him with shopping at Christmas.  Do you know where the idea for Santa Claus came from?  Amanda might.  Because she alone seems to understand what Santa Claus represents, and who he is.  Let me tell you a little story.”

“In a coastal town called Patra, in what is now Turkey, in the year 260AD a child was born.  His name was Nicholas.  His parents were taken from him when he was a child and yet he still grew up with a generosity of spirit and a love of children. He was a rich young man who tried to use his money to give other people happiness.  He did ‘good’ in secret. Eventually he became known as St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra and his generosity continued.”

“Over the centuries St. Nicholas has become beloved by many religions.  Our Western tradition of Santa Claus and Father Christmas originated with St. Nicholas.  His faith and his actions make remembering him more important even in our day and age. He is our Santa Claus and people need to remember him.  In essence it is his spirit of giving that is behind our traditions at Christmas.  The spirit of Santa Claus is alive and well.”

“A beautiful character is more powerful and more memorable to more people than any marketing ploy or religious dogma.  Santa Claus, even if he comes in the guise of a human being is still the loving spirit of the good Nicholas. Santa Claus does exist, and should continue to exist for as long as we remember what he stands for.”

There was total silence in the room.  Not a single student had a humorous quip, or disparaging remark to make.  In fact, when Sebastian looked around the room he saw only understanding and awe. Finally, these supposedly well-educated young adults had picked up on something that all children knew from a very young age: if you believe, it will endure.

“Class dismissed.”

Sebastian smiled to himself and started to gather up his books and notes. The class had gone well, better than he’d expected.  But the year was getting on and there are places he needed to be so he was going to have to tender his resignation and move on.  But at that point Sebastian realized that not every student had left the room. He looked up.

“Amanda, how can I help you?”

“Professor Phillips you haven’t been completely honest with us, have you?  I know that Santa Claus exists and not as the jolly, red suited man, but rather as St. Nicholas/St. Nick.  You see my family can trace its roots back to that same town in which St. Nicholas was born.  As a matter of fact, we’ve kept a very close watch throughout the years on the descendents of that family.  It has always been the responsibility of my family to ensure that yours is protected.  I’m surprised you didn’t know that.  What’s your first name Professor Phillips?”

“Yes, I thought perhaps you did know,” Sebastian’s grin was even more pronounced. You know I won’t be here next week.  I have a lot of preparing to do and Christmas is not far away. And yes, I am Nicholas/St. Nick. ”

 

The end

 

 

The Witch’s Brew

Eddy stepped back from the sign that she had just hung up outside the open door and thought about what had brought her to this point.  Edwina Roxanne Dupuis was a woman of exquisite taste.  Even if she was the only one who thought so. She had conjured up the idea of a neighbourhood coffee and tea house almost 3 years ago and it was only now getting its finishing touches.  It seemed appropriate that opening day was actually Halloween.  It was Edwina’s favourite holiday. She also felt that the name Edwina didn’t fit her character on any day so she always went by Eddy.

“Eddy do you want to use orange tablecloths or burnt umber.  And what in heaven’s name is the difference?  They both look the same to me.”

The voice that had just interrupted her reverie belonged to her not so silent partner Joshua.  They had met and become friends while both were attending university.  Years went by while they pursued their individual careers.  Unfortunately, neither was satisfied and when they met up again in a coffee shop, they were each looking for something new.  From that coincidental meeting came the idea for The Witch’s Brew.

“Burnt umber Joshua.  If you can’t see the difference then you are colour blind.”

Joshua stood for a moment looking at the two tablecloths, one in each hand.  His head went back and forth trying to discern a difference.  Instead he just shook his head.  Fortunately, each had a label so he was actually able to tell which was which.

“There is no difference,” he whispered quietly to himself.  They might be partners but she was still the boss.

A little louder he said, “The place looks fabulous!  You’ve done a great job Eddy.”

The woman in question came in to the coffee shop proper and she was smiling. “We did a great job Joshua.  I may have been the driving force but you provided the money and the moral support.  I’ll never forget that.

Joshua smiled.  Maybe she’d start to look at him a little differently.  There was more to him than friendly support and a buck or two.  He had been nursing a crush on Eddy since the day they met more than 10 years ago.  Unfortunately, circumstances did not allow them to explore a relationship.  Maybe now it would.  She just had to see him as more than a business partner.

“I’m curious, why did you choose Halloween as the opening day?”

“It’s my favourite holiday.  It’s nice when people are able to let go of convention, and be something they are not.  Or perhaps it’s when their real characters are allowed to shine.  We have no idea who and what people really are unless they tell us.”

As she spoke Eddy moved behind the coffee bar and started to polish an already gleaming counter.  She didn’t look at Joshua as she talked and he wondered if the words she used were meant for him specifically.

“Okay boss lady, what do we still need to do before tomorrow’s grand opening?  Geez, do I have to wear a costume?”

Eddy stopped fussing and looked at Joshua. “Of course you have to wear a costume!  It’s Halloween! And all that’s left to do is put out some flowers and put on a couple of pots of coffee.”

Joshua looked slightly alarmed. “I can handle the coffee, but a costume?”

“Oh and everything is going to be free tomorrow morning, just up until

12 o’clock.  I can’t think of a better way to get people to come into our shop.  It’ll cost a few dollars but I think it will be worth it in the end when people realize what a great place it is.  Are you okay with that money man?”

“Sure Eddy what ever you want.” He seemed somewhat distracted, “I could go as a pirate. They’re macho.  What are you going as?”

“Well as a witch of course.” Eddy’s laughter brightened the room immensely. “Don’t worry Joshua I promise not to turn you into a toad, unless of course you use orange tablecloths instead of the burnt umber!”

The two friends shared a good-natured chuckle.  There was only one problem: the two people in the room were not exactly what they appeared to be.  Each one had a secret they were hiding from the other.

*******************

The day was finally over and with a satisfying click the front door was closed and locked.  One individual was already sprawled over a couch, his shoulders sagging with relief.  The other was slowly patrolling the room picking up the odd cup and saucer.

“We did it Joshua.  And I think it was a huge success.  Now I am so tired I could cheerfully sell this place for a dollar.” With that Eddy sat down in the nearest chair, her chin slowly sliding towards her chest.

The figure on the couch stirred for a moment, his hand raised and a very small voice uttered only one word: “Sold!”

After a moment the two laughed quietly.  Several more minutes went by before Eddy forced her head to rise up and survey the newest hip spot on the street.  The Witch’s Brew was a success!

“Wake-up Joshua, there is still a ton of work to do.  We have to tidy this place up and get it ready for tomorrow morning.  And we have got to hire some staff. . . .”  Eddy’s voice continued on.  She was outlining the necessary steps for the successful run of their joint venture.  While she straightened up, she continued to talk.  She assumed that Joshua was listening.  But he was not.

Some movement had caught his eye.  From his comfortable perch on the couch he could just make out a piece of black wool that seemed to be undulating from behind a coffee bag.  He was mesmerized. For the life of him he could not understand why someone would have draped a piece of wool on the shelf.  Maybe he was still sleeping.  But that piece of wool seemed to be beckoning him.

With a quick glance to be sure that Eddy was otherwise occupied, Joshua slowly approached the wayward wool.  He was pretty sure he was over tired and hallucinating which is why he didn’t want to let Eddy know what he was doing.  After only half a dozen steps he could actually reach out towards his vision.  A fraction of an inch away from the piece of wool he stopped, inhaled deeply and thrust his hand forward.

“Ahhhhhhh! Oh my….!!!!  Call 911! It has eyes!” In his hurry to get away from the apparition, Joshua backed into a chair and sat down, hard.  The chair tilted back and he was on the floor with his legs in the air.  His mouth opened and closed repeatedly as he tried to speak.  All that came out was a guttural “Ahhhhhhhhhh!!!!!”

Eddy raced to his side and knelt down, concerned.  Her eyes followed the direction of his finger that was pointing in desperation at the path from which he had just fled. A small black figure raised its head and stared pointedly at the two people in the middle of the floor.  The demon in question then opened its mouth and uttered one syllable “Meow!”

With no regard for her fallen partner’s about to be bruised ego, Eddy burst out laughing hysterically.  She patted Joshua on the shoulder and then move towards the shelf.

“So that’s where you’ve been hiding Sebastian.  I wondered where you’d been.”

The aptly named Sebastian was cleaning his whiskers when he was unceremoniously picked up.  Eddy cuddled the tiny black kitten with the big-name and turned to face poor Joshua.

“Did I forget to tell you that The Witch’s Brew has a mascot?  Sebastian this is Joshua.  Joshua meet Sebastian.”

Joshua could do nothing more than stare at what he thought was a demon.  It is doubtful that the small kitten weighed more than a pound or two.  He was completely black except for those mesmerizing green eyes and a very tiny pink tongue.

Eddy was nuzzling the furball and her voice was muffled.  “I know you love me Joshua, and I love you too but you have to love my cat as well.”

Stunned, Joshua stood up. “I do, you know, love you.  I always have.  I didn’t know you knew.” He approached Eddy and put his arm around her and the small kitten. “Yes, your little demon is lovely and what a wonderful idea for the shop.  I guess every Witch needs her familiar.” The two chuckled, comfortable with themselves and with each other.

“Well, I guess we have a lot of work to do and we had better get at it.” Joshua left the two after a few moments and continued on with tidying the café while Eddy continued to cuddle Sebastian. It was almost as if the two were in deep conversation.

“I think it’s going to work.  But no magic Sebastian, you have to remain a cat.  And I have to make sure he never finds out that I am a real witch.”

 

The end

At Peace?

She slowly made her way through the brush and the trailing  vines. She knew where she needed to be, she felt drawn to one spot and one spot only. She felt that she had been doing this for an eternity: every night the desperate need to be here.

Eventually she made it to the one place where she could sit and breathe. She desperately wished that she could remember. So much of her life was blank, unknown. She heaved a sigh and looked out at the heavenly vista displayed out in front of her. From this vantage point she could see the ocean with the waves crashing on the shore.  Dolphins frolicked in the surf. Large sea birds dived beneath the waves, returning seconds later with a fish squirming in their beaks.  She could see the forest and the deep restful green of its leaves. She was at peace here.

”Hello.”

For a moment she was startled, she’d never heard a voice here before. She started to stand up and turned towards the voice.

” You have nothing to worry about, I mean you no harm.  Please sit, I would like to talk to you.”

She did as she was instructed. She felt no fear, no anxiety. She felt….. calm.

The voice in question materialized into a young man, a young handsome man. He strode with purpose towards her and still she felt no concern.  He sat near her, crossed his legs and smiled. It was a lovely smile.

”I know why you come here every night. I know where you go everyday. I know your name.”

The woman who moments ago had been comfortable, even accepting of the things that she could not remember now came alive with the thought of knowing.

“Who am I?”

With these three little words her entire world changed. She was about to know the answer to things that she had not thought to question.

“Stacy Ann. Wife, mother, mother-in-law, grandmother, friend. All you ever wanted to be was Stacy, a woman. You were drawn in so many different directions. People needed you and you answered their call. You did everything for anyone and never took time for yourself. People loved the person you were at the moment. But they never knew who you really were.”

The woman now known as Stacy Ann looked sad. She glanced at her hands resting in her lap and with the small voice asked:

“Why?”

“It was the time.  It is what was expected of women at that time and you were the best of them. You knew the role you were expected play and you did exactly what was expected of you.”

Stacy looked up. There was a smile just lurking at the corners of her mouth.

“Something has changed. I’m not that woman anymore. I feel free. I feel blessed.”

The nameless gentlemen stood and offered his hand to Stacy Ann. Together they stood and faced the seat she had been sitting on for all this time.

“You’ve been given the time to notice the beauty that is everywhere around you. You were too busy before. Perhaps you have been enjoying the peace for the first time.  But now it is time to come home.

Stacy Ann look at what she thought was a bench that she had been sitting on and suddenly everything made sense. She was at peace.

Stacy Ann Cooper

Beloved Wife and Mother

Grandmother and Friend

You will be missed!

Born 1817

Died 1898

 

 

 

 

“Asleep at the Wheel”

 

Hector heaved a very big sigh and squirmed a little.  Well, he had asked for it.  He had wanted to go to this conference and now he understood why there hadn’t been much opposition. Three days in close proximity to 200 people who only wanted to talk about their product, their complaints, their . . .   He had thought that these things were to exchange ideas and commiserate with individuals who had been through the same obstacles, the same hurdles that he had.  Instead, it was just a long weekend to bitch, drink too much, eat too much and complain about everything.

Well, it was over, over and done with.  It would definitely be the last time Hector Alonso Salvatan ever volunteered for that kind of duty.  He had heard that conferences were fun, informative.  Of course, he had heard that from colleagues who were mysteriously unable to attend this particular conference.

He smiled.  It had been a learning experience and now he was safely ensconced in his car and headed home.  Home to Maria, Emily and the little name-sake, the heir apparent: Hector junior.  Hector senior smiled.  He was proud of his little family.  His little angel of 6 going on 26.  She was so caught up in fashion it was creepy.  What on earth could be fashionable about being 6 years old?

Hmmmm. Comfortable, that’s what I am, thought Hector, comfortable. So very comfortable.  He smiled again and slowly his comfort eased his eyelids closer and closer together, until only a small slit remained to tell his weary body how to drive.

Whoa! Shit! Okay, okay! I’m okay! Damn!  With a jolt Hector roused himself from the stupor that had threatened to careen his weary body into the ditch.  That was not good, that was really stupid.  Okay, how would that have looked? Christ! Salesman of the Year Falls Asleep At The Wheel.  Great headline.  Sleeping on the job.  Okay that is not going to happen again.

When his heart rate returned to a more reasonable rhythm, Hector tried to rationalize what had just happened.  He knew he shouldn’t have tried to drive home tonight.  It was past midnight and he had not had much sleep in the last three nights.  First, he had worried about his presentation at the conference and then there was just too much noise to actually sleep. He wanted to go home.  Sheesh thought Hector, I sound like a child.

With the return of calmness also came the return of complacency.  Once again, the comfortable car seat and the hypnotic thrump, thrump, thrump of the tires on the road worked their magic.  His eyelids became heavier, and heavier, his chin slowly arched towards his chest and his breathing became evenly spaced and quiet.  This time differed from the first in the distance the car was able to travel in a straight line.  The road didn’t curve for several hundred yards and as a result Hector’s car gave no outward sign that anything was wrong, at least not for several seconds.

**********************

When he awoke Hector was confused.  It was dark; his headlights didn’t seem to be working.  He was also uncomfortable, he felt like he was sitting on an angle and he was wet.  Why was he sitting in the water on an angle? He couldn’t remember, he couldn’t think.  His world was closing in on him and his mind desperately wanted to panic.

Hector squeezed his hands together forcing his fingernails into the palms of his hands and began to recite Santa’s reindeer: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, . . . . Prancer, damn it . . . ,Vixen, Comet and Cupid and Bashful and Sneezy.  With that he started to chuckle. An almost hysterical laughter threatened to erupt, but he forced it back down.  “I will NOT PANIC . . . I will NOT panic . . . I WILL not panic. . . I will not panic.  As he said the words out loud Hector began to regain his composure.

As his mind cleared, he started to understand with horrific clarity just what had happened.  He had fallen asleep at the wheel of his car and as a result he had driven off the road.  It was a secondary road and not well traveled. He had believed that it would take at least an hour off his six-hour drive home.  Now it looked as if that decision was going to cost him a whole lot more than an hour.

He needed to take stock of the situation.  He didn’t know how long he had been unconscious but the darkness was becoming a little less intense.  He could almost make out shapes.  It appeared that his car was covered with shrubbery, small trees perhaps that had broken off as he plunged down an embankment?

Once again Hector paused and tried to understand what was happening. He was alive, that was important.  He didn’t appear to be too badly injured, that was equally important. His body did ache in unusual places but that was to be expected in a car crash.  The car . . . it did seem to be in one piece, but Hector now discovered that he couldn’t swivel around to see out the back window.  In fact, his body didn’t seem to want to do anything he asked of it. His arms worked, a little, and there was no pain.  Actually, there was little feeling, at all.

Just beneath the surface of this otherwise intelligent man bubbled feelings and emotions that threatened to overcome him. He knew that panic killed more people than actual injuries did, he would not be one of those statistics.  He would not.  Maria, he would concentrate on her face, and Emily and Little Hector.  He wanted to see them graduate and get married and . . . .  Hector gave his head a shake.  Think positively and you will get out of this situation.  You always do.

**************************

With a jolt our hero realized that he had been asleep, again.  His eyes felt gritty and there was a nasty taste in his mouth. He tried to wipe the sleep from his eyes and only succeeded in slapping his nose.  Confused Hector looked down.  The light was filtering into the car and he could now make out more images and understand what he was seeing. He was wet.  Now he understood why and why he felt little pain.  Just about where Hector thought his pelvic bone resided there was a tree branch sticking out, or maybe it was an actual tree.  It had leaves and rough bark.  He could even see a few ants furiously traipsing back and forth.  He idly wondered why he did not itch and then smiled.  Little Hector would think this was so cool.

In the sporadic light he could also make out a pool of water that seemed to cover most of the front seats and the floor. With growing horror Hector realized that while it was indeed wet it was not water, it was blood.  Just at that moment the demons that lurk deep inside every one of us broke loose of their bonds and overwhelmed this mild-mannered salesman. If any person had been nearby, they would have been terrified to hear the blood curdling screams that seemed to split the air. Birds took to the sky in panicked flocks,  and deer quickly left to seek other feeding grounds.  Hector was alone, truly alone.

For each of us time passes in the details of our lives.  We get out of bed; we go to work.  We have tasks that we perform each day, some personal and intimate, others dictated by the requests of another.  But the one thing we all have in common is that we do things.

Hector did nothing.  He slept, he cried, he ranted, he screamed and he thought. He thought about himself, his family, his co-workers and he talked.  He talked to himself and he talked to God.  He didn’t try to blame anyone else for his predicament, it was his fault alone, he knew that.  He wondered how he would be remembered. Would it be as the idiot that got himself killed or the unlucky man with the misfortune to die alone.  He didn’t want to be forgotten. That’s what he wanted out of this life: to be remembered.  If it had to end this way then he wanted someone to benefit from this lesson that he had learned too late.

The sun slowly succumbed to the growing darkness.  As the moon rose in its gentle arc the creatures of the night ventured forth to feed and to investigate the strange metal beast that had intruded into their world. Some were able to touch the beast and taste its hard, cold flesh only to be frightened away by the strange noises from within.  Over time the noises became weaker until the cold beast no longer spoke. And over time the creatures from the night and those who walk by day, no longer cared about the stranger.  They had their own lives to live and to die as time inexorably lumbered on.

***********

“Hey Hector, wake up man, you gonna let them get away with that!”

Slowly Hector once again struggled towards a conscious state and was startled by what he found there: he was in a chair in the lobby of the hotel and a rather drunk, dishevelled behemoth was excitedly spewing spittle in his face.

It was a dream!  He was alive!  He hadn’t left for home as planned. He laughed out loud and threatened to kiss the surprised behemoth. “I’m ALIVE.”   He didn’t stop to explain his actions as he bolted for his room and a phone.  He was going to call Maria and tell her how much he loved her and the kids and then he was going to get at least 8 hours sleep before he drove home on the very busy main roads.

****************

“A Boy Scout troupe today found the body of Edward Hayes, 54, who had been missing for 5 months.  The search for Mr. Hayes had been concentrated on the main roads it was believed he would have travelled between his home and a conference he had been attending.  Unfortunately, it now appears that Mr. Hayes had been travelling a little used secondary highway.  It is believed he fell asleep at the wheel and drove off the road into a deep ravine.  No foul play is suspected. Due to the steep embankment and the abundant underbrush the car was virtually invisible from the road.”

“In other news . . . .”

Dream Walker

Have you ever awoken from a deep sleep with your lips pulsating as if from a lover’s kiss?  Have you ever been alone in the middle of the night and yet awoken gasping and wet as if from an intimate embrace? Dreams. In the middle of the night our defences are at their weakest.  We cannot protect ourselves from the dreams that enter our minds when we are asleep.  The experts say that we dream constantly, that our minds are solving complex problems that we cannot contend with when conscious. That would explain many dreams but not all of them.  Some people do not remember their dreams. Some awaken feeling as if something wonderful has happened but they have no recollection of what. Others awaken with the dream intact.

Dreams are not reality. Or are they? What if they are manifestations of a different reality?  What if dreams are engineered by a person or persons with more powerful minds than the average dreamer?  What if . . . . .

***************

Jeremy laid his head on the pillow.  He sighed.  It had been an exhausting day and he needed his sleep desperately.  Preferably eight blissfully uninterrupted hours of unconsciousness.  Then he could start this nonsense all over again.  His eyes closed, his body relaxed.

There was a gentle breeze wafting through the glen.  That seemed to keep the temperature comfortable although he couldn’t actually feel it.  He knew it was there by watching the long grasses moving as if to a gentle love ballad. Jeremy didn’t know where he was.  He did know that he was at peace here; the rest of the world was far away and unimportant.  And then he saw her.

A tall slender figure slowly materialized out of the dense forest.  They say that beauty is quantifiable, that there are certain effects that are the difference between beautiful and merely attractive.  They say that our visual understanding is predicated on our past experiences and that our interpretation of what we see is primal.  Jeremy had no words to speak or even to think of as she walked towards him.  His body betrayed him; he leaned forward as if to embrace her and she stopped.  Even the words she spoke touched his heart as if a gentle kiss brushed his lips.  He waited.  His breath came quicker as he watched her.  He wanted her.  He wanted to embrace her.  He wanted to rest his head on her lap like a child and feel safe.  He did feel safe.  He felt as if this is where he was meant to be.

***************

Anna didn’t want to fall asleep, yet she felt the strong pull of her bed.  She had been up too long, working too hard on too many projects. She needed the relief of nothingness, the mindless abandonment of sleep.  She turned out the lights and rolled into a more comfortable position.  Anna sighed.

The elevator doors opened quickly, she darted inside.  She had to be in time, she had to catch him.  With a slight jolt the elevator began it’s decent.  Ninety floors, it would take too long, she had to stop him.  Anna glanced at the floor indicator, it was moving as if in a free fall.  Bullet Elevator.  She remembered.  It was the new Bullet Elevator that moved three times faster than the fastest elevator in use.  She was going to make it.  Before she had finished her next thought, the elevator doors opened on the ground floor and Anna began looking for him, the man she cared for.  She knew he was headed for the parking lot and it was a bit of a walk.  There were two routes he could take: underground via a shopping concourse or outside across a courtyard and a street.  There was a turnstile ahead and a tall, slender woman taking tickets.  Tickets!  Anna didn’t have a ticket.  She looked down at her hand and at the necessary ticket.  The slender woman smiled as she accepted the ticket.  Anna moved quickly, she would catch John and everything would be all right.

***************

Car fumes, she could smell car fumes.  Madelaine tried to turn over.  She was lying on her side and she was painfully aware of the very hard surface beneath her. What the hell was she doing in a parking garage?  That’s where she was, an underground parking garage.  Sue.  She was here with Sue.  They were practicing with the sword.  Why?  Sue had purchased a very old sword of some obscure parentage and she wanted to practice with it.  Her apartment held too many breakables to risk swinging a potentially deadly weapon so the garage it was.  Kidnapped!  She remembered; Sue has been kidnapped!  She had to reach a phone, call the police, but there was still one of the kidnappers in the garage.  A woman, a tall, slender woman and she had a gun.  Madelaine was the target; she had tried to protect Sue and now she was in trouble. She was hiding beneath a car, she was frightened, confused.  There were footsteps coming towards her, they stopped.  Madelaine held her breath.

5:00 am came much too early in the morning to suit Madelaine but it was what her job required.  It hadn’t been a restful night.  She had a nagging head ache behind her eyes and she was exhausted.  Madeline sighed, someone had to be at the office first and she had been nominated. Oh well, it paid the bills.

***************

Do you ever awakened from a dream and wonder about the people you have just met? You swear you have never seen them before and yet they are familiar to you.  Does the same person show up in many of your dreams, sort of a recurring figure and yet you don’t know them, or do you? Is it a tall slender woman with a warm smile or perhaps a solid, stocky man with a glint in his eye?  Maybe both.  What actually happens in our dreams? It is almost like entertainment.  Entertainment for whom?  Is it for our benefit or for someone else’s, someone with the ability to insert themselves into our minds and follow or perhaps control our dreams?  Interesting thought.  Oh, and pleasant dreams.  Maybe I’ll see you there.

 

 

 

After the End   

         It was over, the end.  It was the end of shopping malls and ice cream cones.  It was the end of School Prom Nights and High School football games.  It was the end of late-night television and microwave popcorn.  It was also the end of high-speed car chases and that singing purple dinosaur on children’s TV.  It was the end of TV.

         No one knows what happened.  No one knows how it started. Everyone knows when it ended and when a new beginning began.  It was last night and today.  Today is the first day of the rest of my life.  Let’s hope it isn’t the last as well.

         My name is Ana Elizabeth Evans and I am . . . well I am here.  I know  what I was yesterday.  Yesterday I was a secretary, a good one.  Today . . . well today I am alive and I don’t think that is all that common. I don’t even know if I can explain what happened.  When I went to bed everything was fine.  This morning everything is not.  Something happened in the night that changed everything.  The world as we know it, ended.  There was a horrible explosion, the earth literally moved.  I thought it was an earthquake but I have never felt one before and I don’t live where they happen.  Power is out so I can’t check the news on the radio or the TV.  I haven’t seen anyone since I woke up.  The sky is a funny colour, sort of like putty, old cracked putty.  And there is a smell about, not offensive, just odd.  Like hand cream, sort of.  I can’t place it but it seems familiar.  And the quiet.  I have never heard such quiet.  There are no birds, no insects, no cars.  Creepy.  I have to wonder if perhaps it is not the world that has gone strange but maybe it’s me.  I have read stories where people are hit by cars and are in a coma and they actually live a whole life in their heads while their body rots in some hospital bed.  I’m not sure I like that thought.  Fiction.  Either way I am alone.  All alone.  I should be panicking, screaming, going crazy.  But I’m not.  I am calmly writing in my journal as if it’s just another day.  I am also hungry.  And there is nothing in my cupboard.

There used to be a variety store a couple of blocks down the street.  I wonder if it’s still there?  I wonder if they have anything to sell?  I wonder if I will need any money?

         Well, the store was there, the people were not.  I picked up a few things to eat and a paper, yesterdays.  Everything is so quiet.  And that sky, so odd.  There is no electricity so I can’t cook anything.  Cereal, that doesn’t have to be cooked.  No milk.  Bread and peanut butter.  Bread won’t last forever, so I had better eat it now.  I’ll feel better once I’ve eaten.

         I don’t feel a lot better.  I just don’t feel hungry. The paper didn’t enlighten me.  Just more of the same, politicians angry because  someone said something nasty, it was probably true, people stealing and killing and invading, and, and, and. . .  We live in a very nasty world.  Did live in a very nasty world.  I have to find other people.  There must be someone else around, I can’t be the only one left.

* * * * * * *

         Ok so I am not the greatest walker.  I doubt if I have walked two miles.  But this is, was, a very busy town, there should be people around.  There doesn’t seem to be any damage to the buildings.  An earthquake would damage buildings, wouldn’t it?  There should be some kind of sign to explain what has happened.  The stores aren’t locked.  At least the ones I’ve gone into.  I read once that there are bombs that will kill the people and leave all the buildings intact. What about bodies?  Why wasn’t I affected? I’m hungry again.  There is a deli just down here somewhere . . .

         Ok I’m not hungry anymore.  This really can’t continue, food is going to spoil and then I’ll get sick if I eat contaminated stuff.  I should pick up some non-perishables.  Of course, if no one is around and the stores are open . . .

         In some ways this is way too much fun.  I can shop without anyone nagging me or looking over my shoulder.  I don’t have to stand in line.  I don’t have to pay! The downside is I don’t have anyone I can tell about it either.  Funny, I don’t really remember other people.  I mean my boss, my co-workers, friends.  That’s silly.  Isn’t it?  My boss was Mr . . . Ms . . .  I must have a concussion.  That would explain a lot. I must have fallen out of bed when the earthquake, or whatever it was, happened and that’s why I can’t remember things.  Whew, good explanation.  Life is easier when it makes sense.  Or at least enough sense that I can understand it.  I wonder if I could change my apartment? If no one is around, who is going to complain? Definitely ground floor, no elevator.  I guess air conditioning is not going to be an option, or heat.  That could be a problem. The temperature is pretty comfortable.  Not too hot, not too cold. Weird, there isn’t even a breeze.  I feel very . . .safe? I wonder what happened?

* * * * * * *

         It has been a couple of days since I wrote in my journal.  I guess I should try and write everything down so I can attempt to understand what is happening to me.  I found a nice apartment on the ground floor and moved.  It’s near the harbour so I can look out on the water. No boats of course, or rather lots of boats, no one in them.  This place is strange, there are no pictures or clothes, no personal items at all.  It’s almost as if it was just sitting here waiting for me to come looking for it.  It’s exactly what I would have wished for; lots of windows, big kitchen, big bedroom.  There are no lights of course.  I guess nothing is going to work until someone figures out what happened and fixes it. I know I am not alone, there just isn’t anyone near me.

         I had a funny dream last night.  Not ha ha funny. but odd funny.  Someone was looking over me, perhaps trying to help? I was in a lot of pain and then the pain stopped, just stopped.  Dreams are supposed to mean something.  As if your subconscious is trying to sort things out.  If that is the case then maybe it was God looking down at me wanting to help.  The pain could be the confusion I feel at not being able to find anyone or explain what has happened.  The pain went away which could mean I will find someone to explain everything to me.  There is an easy answer to all of this.  I will find a library and get a book on dreams.  Books still exist outside of computers.  See, now if we relied solely on computers our world would cease to exist.  No electricity, no computers.  Score one for low tech.

         I found a supermarket and brought back lots of bottled water and crackers and stuff that won’t rot.  Naturally that means mostly junk food.  I will eat the fresh stuff as long as it lasts and then I’ll have to think of something else.  People survived quite well before refrigeration and microwaves.  I’ll look for a book on early settlers while I’m in the library.  I should start making a list of all of the stuff I need.  Eventually I’ll need blankets, but not yet.  I have to find a hardware store, a camping store – a propane stove, then I can have hot stuff.

         When you think about it, it’s not so bad.  I have food, not high class, but edible.  I have water, I have a roof over my head, I can walk around naked if I want to.  Okay maybe not naked.  I can read for as long as I want to, I don’t have to share the bathroom.  Interesting device still flushes, just uses lots of water.  I don’t really miss television, or subways, or morning rush hour, or . . . I miss people.

 * * * * * * *

         I am going to get myself into shape.  I have decided that I have to have something to do that does not involve pampering myself.  Pampering is only nice for a few days.  I am going to do this.  I will walk for two hours each day, I will do fifty sit-ups, I will . . . Who do I think I’m kidding?  I am lazy by nature.  The only walking I’m going to do is to the store and back.

         I wonder why I never tried to get my car to run.  Silly.  That concussion must have knocked too many marbles loose.  One doesn’t need electricity to run a car.  But you can’t gas one up at the pumps without electricity.  There are lots of cars around, I can siphon gas from them to put into mine.  I need to find a book that tells me how to siphon gas.  I am going to need a cart to carry all these books back to my apartment.  Maybe I’ll just read them there and make notes on what information I need.  So now I need some pens and some paper.  This list is getting long.

         People are funny.  When they are around you day in and day out all you want is to be left alone.  What is it they say ‘be careful what you wish for, you may get it’?  Well, I got it.  I am alone.  I have the necessities of life, but I have no life.  I am alive but I am not living.  It has been long enough now that I am sure there is no one else left.  I look out on this beautiful world and I am ashamed.  We take so much for granted.  We abuse what we have and then cry foul when it is taken from us.  Maybe we don’t deserve this paradise we were given.  Maybe our time here is over.

It would be interesting to know how future scientists will explain what happened to Homo sapiens.  They won’t be able to use the meteor theory.  I hope people are remembered for the beauty that does exist, did exist.  The paintings, the sculptures.  If the buildings survive, then we as a people will survive in our literature, our galleries, and our homes.  Our stay here was over too quickly but maybe we didn’t mature as fast as our technology.  That was the mistake.  We became slaves to the very things we invented to make our lives easier.  But we were good.  I hope who ever occupies this world next will learn from our mistakes and remember us for what we were at the core.  As a people we were fallible but essentially good.

         I’m tired now.  I have written for too long, and thought too much. Yes, I will go to sleep now. Maybe the pain will go away again tonight.

* * * * * * *

         “The explosion that occurred last week in a downtown apartment building is believed to have been caused by a faulty furnace.  The final victim died this evening.  She was a secretary with Ellerton and Fitch, a prominent investment firm.  One of the partners, Mr. Robert Ellerton stated that Ms. Evans was the best secretary he had ever worked with and that she will be missed.  Ms. Evans died at 8:07.  In other news . . .”

         The nurse gently pulled a sheet over Ana Elizabeth’s head.  Perhaps now she was in a better place.

The End

Sweet Valentine

Madeline stood across the street for a moment thinking about what she was about to do.  She had always considered herself an intelligent woman; she had a good career and a lovely new home.  She believed that she was mildly attractive.  And yet, she was lonely.  Her divorce had come through a few weeks ago, just before a job offer here, in what for her was a new town.  She had no family and no friends nearby.  Essentially, she was starting her life over. Alright, she thought.  Change is in the air.  Let’s do it! She squared her shoulders and crossed the street to the Pet Adoption Agency.

When Madeline entered, a young woman behind the desk immediately looked up and smiled.  A huge, tabby, feline-like creature also looked up, yawned and promptly went back to sleep.  Upon closer inspection, it was indeed just a very large cat.  He sat, or more correctly sprawled across the top of the desk.  It seemed to be a generous desktop, but underneath this huge feline it almost looked small.

“Hello,” said Madeline, “I’m looking to adopt a cat.”

The young woman’s smile became even more pronounced.

“Well, we can certainly help you with that.  Are you looking for any particular breed, sex, or colour?”

As the two women spoke, the huge cat raised its head, yawned once again and stretched out a paw to Madeline. Almost without thinking she scratched behind his ears, and smiled for the first time in days.

“He likes you, and he’s available for adoption.”

“What exactly is he?  He’s so big. It’s a he, isn’t it?”

The young woman behind the desk chuckled.  “Yes, he’s a cat.  He’s a Maine Coon; they’re an extremely large breed. But they’re very gentle, curious and they like people a lot.  He would make a great companion.”

Madeline thought about it for a moment. “Why is he here? He certainly seems well fed and content. Is there something wrong with him?” She wanted someone to share her new life with, but she wasn’t sure she was ready to take on any complications.

For the first time since Madeline had walked in the door the young woman lost her smile.

“It’s sad. He was abandoned, left alone in an empty apartment.  Someone just packed up their belongings and left. It’s awful that anyone would do that to such a beautiful creature.”

The anger on this young woman’s face was obvious. Madeline shared it. Cruelty to animals was one of her pet peeves.

“Does he have a name?”

“He was found with a name tag: Valentine.”

Madeline’s heart missed a beat. Maybe she was too much of a romantic. Valentine’s Day was just a few weeks away, maybe it was a sign that she should take this abandoned cat into her heart.  At least he wouldn’t steal her blankets in the middle of the night like her ex-husband used to, well, hopefully.

Several hours later, after filling out the paperwork and the cat having one final check-up, Madeline took her new roommate home. It wasn’t a long drive and Valentine was surprisingly calm throughout. She was curious to see what his first reaction would be to his new lodgings.

The condominium Madeline had recently purchased was quite comfortable but not overly large.  She didn’t think a cat would take up that much room.  Of course, that was before she met Valentine.

When she set the pet traveling case down on the floor,   Valentine refused to venture out. She peered inside but he didn’t look afraid, he was quite comfortably curled up at the back of the carrier.  With a little coaxing he did amble out and for the next hour he investigated every corner, every nook and cranny in the apartment.  Madeline made herself comfortable on the couch and watched.  Of course, there were a few times she had to get up to go and open a door or cupboard because Valentine could be quite insistent. His meowing was surprisingly loud.  He wanted to see it all. Fortunately, in his wanderings he had found his water dish, his food dish and his kitty litter.  Everything had, apparently, been deemed acceptable.

Eventually Valentine returned to where Madeline was sitting, jumped up onto her lap, turned around twice, curled up into a sizeable a ball and went to sleep.  Madeline smiled and figured there was going to be a substantial part of her life that would now be spent not moving so as not to disturb her beautiful tabby roommate.

Valentine continued to explore over the next several days.  He had to get used to his new home, and both of them had to get used to a new routine. When Madeline looked into the eyes of her newly-acquired companion, she saw intelligence and perhaps a little mischief.  His eyes were liquid gold with flecks of amber.  White and black whiskers stood out at a sharp angle from his all-white mouth.  Evidently a trait of the Maine Coon cat was a long and full coat. Valentine had that in abundance. Curling up with him on a cold winter’s night was going to be like cuddling up with a warm blanket, one that purred.

It seemed that Valentine had behaviours more in common with a dog than with a cat. He liked to be a part of whatever Madeline was doing.  He found it necessary to go through her clothes and the drawers they were in.  He wanted access to all the cupboards and he was not shy about telling her so, loudly.  He also liked to be fed at particular times.  Madeline felt that she should have a sign made:  “Humans Trained Here”.  Valentine was a great coach.

There was something else that Valentine insisted on: physical contact. He would sit on her desk as she worked, just within reach.  If Madeline didn’t pet him, then he would reach out a paw and touch her, repeatedly. He was by no means an aloof cat; he liked attention. And when he got it, he purred like a small outboard motor.

Valentine became her salvation.  He needed her. She came home from work every night tired, and every night he was waiting for her at the door. He greeted her with bright eyes and a welcoming purr.

Over the next several weeks things went well for Madeline and Valentine. Then, early one evening, the phone rang and everything changed.

A deep, strong voice identified himself as Martin Gordon.  “A mistake has been made and I believe you have my cat.”

Suddenly, Madeline’s world turned upside down.  Valentine was a part of her now, an important part.  She could not imagine having to give him up.  He was her Sweet Valentine.  She also knew that she had to listen to this man, to hear what he had to say.  The Pet Adoption Agency would never have given him her number had he been a flake.

When Madeline opened the door an hour later, she was presented with a well-dressed gentleman, tall, and extremely attractive. His hair curled up just behind his ears like a little boy’s. His shoulders were wide.  He obviously took care of himself.  It was almost funny but he did have his hat in his hands.  He also had a story to tell.

Madeline invited Martin in and he began to speak as he moved towards the couch and sat down.

“My mother is widowed and lives alone in England. I received a call stating that she was gravely ill. She wasn’t expected to live.  I was the only one who could take care of her affairs, her estate.”

He paused for a breath and continued.

“I immediately made arrangements with my next-door neighbour to take care of Valentine while I was away.  I thought I was only going to be gone for a few weeks.  And while I didn’t know her well, I believed Valentine would be safe with her.”

Martin went on to explain how his mother had miraculously survived her illness. She didn’t want to come and live with him so he was forced to make arrangements for a live-in companion. He couldn’t leave her until he was certain she would be well cared for.  As a result, he was out of the country for more than three months.

Madeline sat pensive and sombre on a chair across from Martin, waiting for him to continue.

“I made the mistake of trusting the wrong person.”

Madeline could see the pain on his face.

“She was a young woman and I had only known her for a few months but Valentine seemed to like her.  While I was in England, final arrangements were made for a house I had recently purchased and since Valentine was going to be living in my neighbour’s apartment, I felt it was a perfect opportunity for the movers to come in and pack up my apartment. Unfortunately, the woman I trusted with Valentine proved to be irresponsible.  She moved.  She didn’t want to take Valentine so she just left him. She didn’t even try to contact me. According to a neighbour, the superintendent found a cat in her empty apartment and called animal control.  I never thought an indoor cat needed an identity chip.  Obviously, I was very wrong.  Now I regret that decision.”

It was starting to rain outside, Madeline noticed.  Perhaps it was appropriate for the mood she was beginning to feel.

“I was devastated,” said Martin.

When he returned from overseas, Martin was in a state of panic.  The young woman had not returned any of his calls for several weeks and he had imagined the worst. The superintendent didn’t know about his cat. Another neighbour told him about her move and about animal control picking up a cat.  He spent the next few weeks trying to find Valentine.  Unfortunately, there is no central database for animals and he was forced to go to each individual agency, veterinarian’s office, and pet store in his search. What he discovered was that animals were not kept for long.  They are sometimes given to other agencies in the hopes of adoption and sometimes euthanized.  It was several weeks before he happened on the right agency.  They remembered Valentine.

Martin looked around the apartment.  His eyes grew large.  Valentine wasn’t here.

“Please tell me you actually have Valentine,” he said, a desperate tone in his voice.

“I have him.”  Madeline’s voice was low.  She had to accept that Valentine belonged to this man.  But she didn’t want to believe it.  She had grown to love her Sweet Valentine.  The thought of giving him up brought tears to her eyes.   But as she looked at this man, she could see that he also felt as she did.  They both loved the same cat.

Madeline stood.  A second later, so did Martin.

“I gave Valentine to a neighbour,” whispered Madeleine.  , “I needed to be sure, I needed… I’m sorry.  I’ll get… I’ll get Valentine.” With that she left the apartment.

Martin continued to stand, waiting, unsure what to do.

A moment later Madeline returned hugging the large cat tightly in her arms.  When Valentine caught sight of the visitor he jumped down, raced across the room and leapt into Martin’s arms.

Madeline could only watch as the two companions became reacquainted.  Martin had tears in his eyes. She could hear Valentine’s purr from across the room.  They belonged together.

After a moment, Martin raised his head.  “Thank you,” he whispered, but the message was loud and clear: she had lost Valentine. Unable to watch the two any longer, Madeline set about gathering Valentine’s belongings.

“I have… I have some food… and toys… and… and…”

She was trying very hard to maintain her dignity.  She would not cry in front of this stranger.  But he was taking her Sweet Valentine!

“Please, Ms. Bellamy—”

“My name is Madeline.”

“Please, Madeline, please sit for a moment.”  Madeleine sat as requested, but she couldn’t look Martin in the eye.

The moment she was seated, Valentine left Martin’s embrace and jumped into her lap.  He now wanted her attention.  And his purr was as loud as it had been for Martin.

“It seems we have a dilemma.”  She could hear the smile in Martin’s voice before she looked up to confirm it.

“We both love Valentine.  And he obviously loves both of us.  I think we need to have joint custody.”

Madeline could not believe her ears.  She wasn’t going to lose her Sweet Valentine!

“As I mentioned, I have bought a house,” continued Martin.  “It’s only two blocks from here. I’m often away on business and I am sure Valentine would love to spend any time he doesn’t spend with me, with you. We’re going to be neighbours; we could also be friends.”

Madeline hugged Valentine even closer.  She didn’t want Martin to see her tears falling.  Her Sweet Valentine was not leaving.  She could share him, especially with this very attractive gentleman standing in her parlour.

“Thank you.  I do love my Sweet Valentine and I’d love to share him with you.”

“It’s going to take me a few weeks to get settled in my new home.  Would you be willing to keep Valentine here and let me visit him every day?”

Madeline didn’t trust herself to speak again; she just smiled and nodded.

On her lap the object of their mutual affection looked from Madeline to Martin and purred.

Ah yes, thought Valentine, washing his immaculate whiskers with his paw, humans are so easily manipulated.