Elaine Faber

Mind Candy Mysteries

Posts Tagged ‘companionship’

A Man’s Choices – A Short Story

Saturday, September 30th, 2023

I’ve been sitting on this cement mall bench for hours, watching the people rush by. Old women carrying shopping bags, young women pushing strollers, and absentee fathers dragging weekend children to the theater. “Excuse me. Have you…?” I reached toward one after another. None glanced my way. Teens dashed back and forth, throwing popcorn at the mall-birds. They travel in packs: the teens…not the birds, thumbing cell phones. They seem unable to be separated from someone on the other end. No one looks my way. Could I be invisible?

I don’t have a cell phone, or for that matter, any friends I could call who would want to talk to me. Here I sit, alone in the midst of a bustling crowd, picking at the peeling paint on the bench. How did this happen? In another lifetime, I had things to do and places to go. In another lifetime, I breathed and ate and slept and played and did all sort of things. What happened?

Maybe I am dead. Is this what it’s like to be dead?

I remember folks saying that when you die, you go to Heaven. Heaven has streets of gold, angels glorying in God’s presence and animals. Lots of animals. There’s supposed to be music, art, nature, and love, all rolled into a package tied with a ribbon. Just pull off the ribbon, open the package, and there you are…Heaven.

If that’s all true and I’m dead, I must have missed the train to Heaven, because I’m sitting on a bench in the mall, alone, and  invisible.

My wife and I used to go to church, at least several times a year. That’s where I learned about Heaven. Yes, I used to have a wife and friends, and we even had a dog. A small spotted dog we called Spot. Go figure. My wife made a pot roast every Sunday night and Spot would dance on his back feet for a bite. Spot died a month after my wife passed away. I haven’t touched a bite of pot roast since then…

Wait. There’s a Marine in a uniform coming toward me. I’ll thank him for his service and maybe we’ll talk for a few minutes. But, what if I speak to him and he walks on by? It will just prove my suspicions that I’m really…dead. Why take the chance? Do I really want to know? He’s probably on his way somewhere important. He wouldn’t have the time for an old guy like me.

My wife always made us shake hands and thank any military person we met. Policemen and firefighters, too. It was important, she said, because they caught a lot of flak from people who took them for granted, or even verbally abused them. Couldn’t figure out why folks would do. They’re just here to help folks.

I said ‘hello’ to a teenage boy a few minutes ago, but he didn’t stop. Didn’t even turn his head. Probably too busy–probably has a girlfriend, maybe a job at McDonald’s, and for sure, a cell phone. It was in his ear. Literally, stuck to his ear, like a hearing aid. He was talking to someone. Or maybe not. Maybe he was talking to himself. I do that a lot lately, because if I speak to someone, they don’t hear a word I say. But why should they if I’m invisible…or dead.

Wife always wanted kids, but it never happened for us. Probably for the best. I never had much interest in sports, and teenage boys like sports. I wouldn’t have been a very good father to a boy. Or a girl, for that matter. What do I know about raising a girl? She probably would have run away and got into all sorts of trouble. Now, why would I think such a thing? I was married to a good woman. She would have made sure a girl child would turn out alright. Having kids would have been okay. It would be nice to think someone gave a rip if I died. If you don’t have kids, there’s nothing left on earth to  show you were ever here.

It’s nearly five o’clock. This bench is hard and cold. I’ve been here most of the afternoon. I should walk back to the bus and go home. I should go, but it’s a long way to the bus stop and my feet hurt. I walked too far this morning…all around the mall, past Macy’s, past the shoe store where I bought a pair of shoes once. Brown shoes.

My wife saw an ad in the newspaper and insisted we buy a pair. Wonder whatever happened to those shoes? Haven’t seen them for a while. Maybe they’re in the back of the closet where I used to store my golf clubs and fishing poles.

We used to take weekend trips in the motor home. I fished and usually managed to include a game of golf. But that was before my wife died. Before my world turned dark and hopeless. Before I gave away my golf clubs and fishing poles and sold my motor home. I guess that’s when I turned my back on everyone. When I stopped returning friend’s calls and stopped going to church, even several times year. I think that’s when it happened. I guess the truth is, it’s not that I’m really dead. I just chose to become invisible.

****

“What? What did you say?” There’s a man standing in front of me. He’s about my age. Has gray hair and a mustache. He nodded toward the chess tables nearby.

“I didn’t mean to startle you. I asked if you played chess. Would you like to play a game?”

I stared at my hands. “I…I used to play when I was younger. Haven’t played for years,” I mumbled. “Are you sure you want to play with me?”

“No mistake,” the man says. “I saw you were alone. But, if you’d rather not, I understand. I’ll ask someone else.” He started to turn away.

“No. No.…” I stumbled to my feet. Surprisingly, they didn’t hurt any more. “Thanks. I mean, yeah, I’d love to play.”

He reached out his hand. “Name’s Walter. What’s yours?”

We shook hands and my fingers tingled at his touch. I wouldn’t have felt that if I was dead, would I? “Mine’s Darwin. Nice to meet you.” We walked to the chess table.

He sat and opened his chessboard and dumped out the pieces. “You come here often, Darwin? My friend and I used to come every afternoon, but he moved to a nursing home across town. Sure do miss him. We spent a lot of afternoons here together.” Walter held out two chess pieces. “Black or white?”

“You choose,” I said. My heart was beating so fast, it was hard to catch my breath. The cement bench didn’t even feel cold or hard at all.

“I’ll take black,” Walter said. “How do you feel about meeting here a couple days a week?”

“That sounds nice. Maybe you’ll think I’m not as good a player as you,” I said.

Walter carefully set up the pieces. “Then, I’ll teach you. You’ll be fine. After a couple games, I like to go over to Denny’s and have a bite to eat. What do ya’ say?” He turned the chessboard so the white pieces faced me.

I felt a crushing sensation in my chest, almost painful, and wonderful, all at the same time. I’m not dead after all, and I must not be totally invisible. Maybe I just felt that way because I turned my back on all that was good in my life. Maybe when my wife died, I just gave up. I thought I had nothing more to live for. I was wrong. It’s all about the choices we make. We can choose to keep on living, or choose to become invisible.

“Your move, Darwin. Let’s see if you have game.” Walter grinned at me, like a friend.

The muscles in my jaw twitched. It was a smile. I remember that feeling, though I haven’t felt one for a long time.

MORNING MATCH – A short story by a visitor – Judy Vaughan

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2020

Today, I’m sharing a short story by my writer friend, Judy Vaughan.

Judy  grew up in Northern New Mexico surrounded by sacred mountains and engrossed in the lives of horses and other animals. She left the family ranch for boarding school in Colorado and then attended Carleton College and the University of New Mexico School of Medicine. She has composed stories since childhood, and began to hone the craft of writing after forty years practicing neurology.

Morning Match  

This morning, before I raise my eyelids, the cat’s paw-steps crinkle the surface of the comforter pulled to my chin. His indentations push down. They are somatosensory taps along my thigh. He might be walking in snow while I am the ground below.

A dream vanishes into the ringtone of the smart phone alarm, set today to prompt me to meet the washing machine repairman during a “window” from eight to one. “Ask him to come as early as possible,” I had told the receptionist yesterday though I have no other deadline short of their arbitrary “window.”

Awake now, I give Match his morning hug and cue him back to his sleep-spot on top of the fuzzy acrylic coverlet, folded at the end of the bed. He bypasses it, and jumps to the floor, his crepuscular self on the move at daybreak.

I don a tattered robe and hobble to the kitchen. I push the start button on my single service coffee maker.

Bangs and scuffles make me imagine the repairman at the door, sounds not unlike someone organizing their tools outside the home of a scheduled client. But it’s way too early; It’s just Match banging the door of the linen closet.

I think of all the poems that begin with the author at the breakfast nook, ceramic cup in hand, interrupting their writing to muse over the décor, the kettle or some bird outside the window. On a segue way to a solitary mood.

And there’s my bird through the sliding glass door. In the yard, an overgrown lavender shrub feeds the local hummingbirds through the damp spring. Last year’s nests stand out in the skeletons of my neighbor’s trees, and a green male Anna’s clicks as he explores the clustered back yards in my cul-de-sac. The click call, generated by a pop of air from his throat is as loud as a mobile phone notification.

I open the glass door.

The cat hears it. I let him slip through a narrow opening and crouch behind the locked screen. That’s his catio. He can’t see the bird clearly at his age, but he chirps his attention. I check the latch. Match wants to go out—the loamy smell and the swoop of the birds lure us both. Volunteer lettuce has sprouted in the wine barrel; I might broadcast a few more seeds later today.

He rattles the screen latch again and meows.

“I get it Match, but, no.” I close the sliding glass and distract him with fresh water. I push a cup of Sweet and Creamy coffee through the machine into a souvenir mug that uses three x-es to write “Relaxxx in Ireland.”

Match never wanted to be an indoor cat. As a kitten with a demanding meow, he appeared at my daughter’s home, black with white markings, the most prominent of which was a 5-millimeter spot on his forehead. A dot. Like Match.Com, the dating service that was easing me into grandmotherhood twelve years ago.

Adopted into my home, he was exhausting. His dog-like demand for my attention included biting and scratching to initiate communication. If I kept him busy, he was a lot of fun. As in tricks. He would retrieve small toy mice or bring me a toilet paper roll as a gift. I easily taught him to jump when cued around furniture or through a hoop. Escape was his favorite game, and one day he succeeded. He disappeared.

I sip the coffee and relive the grief I felt. How I let my neighbor convince me to take in an elderly stray and made her take him back the next day. How I told everyone about my “Labrador retriever cat.” For years. Tearing up every time.

Five years later, I got the call. “Did you lose a cat? ‘Match Dot Com’ on his microchip? He’s at the County Animal Shelter. He’s injured. Do you want him back?”

“I’ll be there in twenty minutes,” I said.

When I lifted his skeletal body from the shelter crate to my bosom, he snuggled and purred. He’d been found eleven miles from my house.

I move aside to let the repairman do his job. I get a rag and clean the grimy surfaces of the washer revealed during the repair. The technician, Gregor, is polite, but not as chatty as I’d want. I’ve only recently learned to restrain myself from asking about national origins. The price is as quoted, and the app on his smart phone processes my credit card. Match leaves his strangers-are-here hiding place seconds after Gregor’s van pulls away.

I reheat the last ounce of Sweet and Creamy, sit back down and open the Mac. Match jumps to the other chair then onto the kitchen table where he looks at me with an owl-like stare. His eyes, once pure green, are now checkered with iris atrophy. They look like the mosaic eyes of a Byzantine virgin. A scar has widened one tear duct. A larger one in his right axilla leaves a patch of skin devoid of hair and warm to the touch. It marks the site where an open wound almost sent him to euthanasia when he was brought in from his five years of feral life.

I must have half a dozen pictures of him on Facebook in this very pose, the owl stare hinting at a possible stealth attack, or maybe just a wise proof-read.

I suspect all those poets had a cat.

*******

Judy lives in Elk Grove, California, and writes with Elk Grove Writers and Artists. Works in progress include her New Mexico memoir, Strawberry Roan. Her stories have placed in short story contests and have been published in NCPA Anthologies.

She is a member of the California Writers Club, Northern California Publishers and Authors, and the New Mexico Book Association.

Contact her at jfbvaughan@comcast.net.

 

Does God Love Cats?

Tuesday, November 7th, 2017

This story was published in the Inspire Victory anthology, 2014. It is also a repeat blog post from February, 2015. I thought you would enjoy reading it again.

I love my cat, Truffie. She’s a gift of joy in my life. Every day, she makes me smile. She loves me unconditionally, even when I’m not wearing make-up or my hair is a mess. She loves me when I’m grumpy or had a bad day. She even loves me when I accidentally step on her tail.

I remember a day that Truffie stopped eating. She lost weight. We took her to the vet twice. Though we racked up $600 in medical bills, the vet’s diagnosis held no reassurance, “All the lab tests and x-rays are normal. I don’t know what’s wrong with her. Maybe we could−”

“No,” I said. “I can’t afford to spend any more money. Not if we don’t even know what’s wrong or how to fix it.”

Five days had passed since she became ill. If something didn’t change soon, there was no hope for her. I took her home. I forced eye droppers full or water down her throat every few hours. She still wouldn’t eat or drink on her own. She had a fever. None of the medicine the vet had prescribed seemed to help.

I began to wonder. Does God care that Truffie is sick?
Sure, we know He cares about our health and our finances and foreign affairs and protecting the troops fighting in far-away places. But does God really care if my cat is sick? Would He take time from His busy schedule of healing folks and finding work for the unemployed, and protecting our troops and trying to make the Washington swamp solve our problems, to heal a cat just because I asked? You see, I’ve prayed about all those things for a while now, but Truffie’s fever? Does He really care? Do I dare pray and expect God to heal her?

I asked my pastor, “Do you think God cares when our pets are sick? Would it help to pray for Truffie?” He told me that on a certain day, people bring their animals to the Catholic Church to be blessed, but he couldn’t think of a Bible verse that specifically says God heals pets, especially cats.

I searched the Bible in hopes I’d find something to prove God cared about the animals and would answer our prayers when they’re sick. Matthew reminds us…Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. (Matthew 10:20 NIV) Sparrows… Cats… Not quite the same, but if He cares about birds, it stands to reason that He cares about cats too.

We’re all familiar with God’s blessings and promises. We know He gives us everything we need. Our home… Our loved ones… A job–well, most of us have a job, or we had one, before they downsized the company, and now some of us have unemployment. But not many of us are going hungry or sleeping in the streets, so even in our adversity, God supplies our needs. But that didn’t answer my question. Would it help if I ask Him to heal my cat?

I searched the scriptures for more about prayer and faith. Ask and it will be given to you. (Matthew 7:7 NIV). Was that the key? It went on to say that faith the size of the mustard seed could even move mountains. For truly I say to you. If you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move and nothing will be impossible. (Matthew 17:20NIV) That sounded promising. And lastly…how much more will the Father in Heaven give good gifts to those (his children) who ask Him. (Matthew 7:11NIV)

Now, we were getting somewhere. The Bible teaches us that it’s a matter of having faith when we pray, not the specifics of what we pray about.

What did I have to lose? So I prayed for Truffie. “Lord, You know how much I love her. You know how much joy she gives me and You know how it would grieve me to lose her. I’m calling on Your promise, Ask and it will be given…. I place this little cat in Your loving hands, Lord, and ask You to heal her and raise her up again. I have faith that she will be healed because You’ve promised…”

Now, I’m not going to tell you that a bolt of lightning surrounded my head or that the Heavens opened and God’s voice rang out, “Truffie. Rise up and walk,” but the next day, Truffie started to eat. Her mood brightened! She purred! She was on her way. She would recover.

I know that God cares for our cats and dogs and rabbits and horses and all our pets. Not because there’s a specific verse in the Bible that says so, but because we love them and He loves us…enough to want our joy to be complete. He promises that if we ask and have faith, we can move mulberry trees into the sea, or move mountains from here to there, or maybe it’s all about teaching us to take all our cares to the Lord, no matter how big or small and knowing He will hear and answer.

Truffie was eight years old this spring and has never been sick another day in her life. Truffie is living proof. God answered my prayer, and yes, I’m convinced.

God loves cats.