Category Archives: short stories

The Sweet Thanksgiving.

 

The brisk breezes would stir the “whisker” tree’s fist sized tumbleweeds, scattering them between our feet as we scrambled up the steps and took the path between the rock gardens to the front porch at Mammy’s house. In summer we’d take the lazier, flat wide stone walkway from the drive, parallel the porch, the potted geraniums and succulents snuggled side by side along its railing under the broad, royal blue canvas awning flapping in the wind. From that side path, we could almost look Mammy in the eye, cushioned into her steel porch rocker in the far corner awaiting our appearance, smile alight.

But, come fall, we’d hasten past the battened down and molting toward the warm yellow light framed by the front door, halfway up the porch already hearing Aunt Martha’s belly and Pappy’s booming laugh, rising out of the maelstrom of chattering chaos already testing the outer walls of the entire house. Grasping the round, brass doorknob, and leaning into the glass paneled hardwood, we’d push and burst through, hardly noticed by the throng until one face turned and then Pappy, arms above his head, hands curled from hard work, roared out his raging welcome and everyone except the aunts who never stopped talking turning then to gather yet another of us into their arms.

Kicking the snow from our overshoes onto the multilayered hooked rugs, we’d stack them and take the short diagonal between the twin bookcases past the round oak dining room table and the African violets in the east window through to the kitchen, passing the ceramic cookie jar setting our paperbagged salad fixings carefully on the kitchen-turned- server table next to the apple, mincemeat, pumpkin, and rhubarb pies, where Mammy stood over the stove in her rick rack trimmed cotton apron, stirring a pot of gravy with a wooden spoon, the pressure cooker’s indicator bobbling and sputtering over the back burner like a steam train waiting in the station. All the aunts took their wide hipped turns in the kitchen, two of them diligent about the food and the other two appearing to inspect and taste test, the youngest with a wink toward a niece or nephew as she licked her finger.

Pappy was loud, and three of his four son in laws quiet, each quick with a joke or a witty comeback, Uncle Frank sitting with a closed eyed smile, Dad who was called Uncle Tony with his hands in his belt, napping already in the only scene where he would not command the center of attention, Uncle Bud standing tall near a corner already giggling through a long, spun yarn for the home movie camera, and Uncle George, egging Pappy on with his bright, Irish bell tenor.

We grandchildren were fifteen in all, the firstborn Alan, a brilliant artist and pianist, rarely able to come home anymore being married in Michigan, his four other siblings Philip, Lydia, Lois and Frannie often present, living only two doors down, the elder girls wearing their engagement rings dressed in wool sweaters and straight skirts and pointed pumps, Frannie in keeping with her other, younger counterparts in winter wear warm enough for playing outside if there were enough snow later. Then, cousin Bonnie and half brothers Butch and David from Lawrence Park because Uncle Bud worked at GE, and me and my two brothers, Nathan and Paul, having walked from around the corner and across the street and, finally, our four cousins from Ohio, Becky, Beth, Timmy and Kathy, the latter two with flaming red hair. Being either the first or last to arrive, once all were in house the card table would come out, and the floral painted linens, we among the smallest cousins relegated to the workroom where the rugs were braided and the clothes sewn and the toybox waited and, while the piano took turns being played and songs chosen for singing, the family like a choir from an old country church, Pappy the only tone deaf voice among them, the potatoes were mashed, the boiled bacon drippings poured over the salad, the parsnips and rutabaga and peas and Lima beans and corn ladeled into their divided serving dishes, the silver plated forks knives and spoons set on each soft, embossed linen napkin, tomato juice poured into the slender tulip glasses and set at the center of each China plate, head lettuce leaves placed on each smaller one for salad, fruit filled Jello squares lifted onto each leaf, one half teaspoon of Hellmann’s to dot each center, the gravy poured into the boat, the butter set in its silver dish, the roast carved and, finally, the Parker House rolls, ready and hot, in the round, linen lined bowl basket to table.

Pappy could be heard from any room in the house, but usually Aunt Dora Mae or Aunt Betty would call all to the dinner table. Aunt Dora Mae was hands down the better cook among them, Mammy’s eldest, but Mum’s voice was the most penetrating on account of her hearing loss and Aunt Frances was likely in earnest discussion with another of equal intellectual bent and Aunt Martha busy, laughing in a far corner, her nephews gathered around her ready audience testing their latest comedic mettle.

But, the food drew us all, to the oak table round circled by both Dora Mae and Betty as they’d labored the delivery of their firstborn, to the card table in the living room where Risk, Monopoly, Probe, and Life were won and lost, to the child’s table and chairs that Pappy made in the workroom just beyond the pantry and we, the Sweet family, sat our chaos down to the warmth of hot, family style Thanksgiving dinner and bowed our heads while Pappy thanked the God who brought him all the way across the Commonwealth to build cranes at BuCyrus-Erie, to the street corners to preach, to the City Mission and the Gospel Assembly Hall to settle his family in the east side neighborhood at 923 East 29th.

Then, everyone filled their faces, still all talking at once, Mammy finally sitting down at the kitchen end of the table, laughing with her mouth full, Pappy hunched over his plate, gumming his food with his teeth out, the aunts and uncles and cousins all tasting the same food with their own unique manifestations of the family DNA, all together, the whisker trees’ tumbleweeds flying about outside the east windows, as remnants of the feast wafted throughout the house to leave behind its everlasting aroma in the wallpaper, the white silken window curtains, the ceiling plaster, the floor underfoot, and the dark wood framing each room in the house, the collective spirit of nourishment sustaining life on one small, thankful speck of the planet as the world spun around once more.

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© 11/27/19    Ruth Ann Scanzillo     All rights those of the author, whose story it is and whose name appears above this line.

From the heart of Sweet gratitude: Happy Thanksgiving! from littlebarefeetblog.com

 

 

 

Gather Ye Red Flags.

 

Gather ye red flags while ye may, lest they smother ye at once.

The girl was some blonde.

Looking at him, smirking, thinking the whole scene too amusing.

The fact that he’d called the blonde his “cousin”?  Two bright red flags, a-whipping in the wind.

But, she had not set face into the wind.

Gather ye red flags while ye may, lest they smother ye at once.

Next came the ones who, calling out his name in greeting, emerging from the restroom at Target or while walking up the street to the arena, she and he a date. Who does that, to somebody’s date?  Two, at once, seemed everywhere.

Always the point, a back story, from him. Tale of yet another he had seen for just a “couple months.” Red flag, number three.

Gather ye red flags while ye may, lest they smother ye at once.

Then, the burner phones, near the kitchen tray, some excuse about retrieving dog pix.

The dishes for two, stacking in the sink.

His wandering eyes, the ones that twinkled.

Six flags. Amusement park of fair warning.

Gather ye red flags while ye may, lest they smother ye at once.

Then the foghorn, in the bathroom drawer. Set for 6:20 a.m., alarming on his one day off. She’d never seen a clock in that drawer, and she’d seen everything in that drawer. She’d seen the sleeve of false eyelashes appear in that drawer. But, the clock, never in that drawer, not before that morning.

Gather ye red flags while ye may, lest they smother ye at once.

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© 10/9/19    Ruth Ann Scanzillo.   All rights those of the author, the stooge, the beard. Steal at your own risk. He’s everywhere.

littlebarefeetblog.com

 

 

 

 

 

The Sonata.

 

Introduction.

He was familiar.

In the wake of fake widowers, oil magnates, and satellite engineers, he was just the guy who’d cut her hair. Her father had also cut her hair; he’d cut hair, every day, for a living. They were both barbers.

And, like her father, he was Italian.

In a sea of fluid sexuality, snakes, and white supremacists, he shared the blood of her heritage. Like most of the rest of the traditional Italian American men, he liked women, and he remembered her.

She thought being remembered, after two haircuts and a perm, was meaningful. He recognized her. And, he didn’t forget.

Thirty years had passed, but he remembered.

And, she remembered him.

From this one, momentary flash of commonality she took her first step.

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1st Mvt:  Andante  “Courtship.”

It was his face.

Appearing online, with a short greeting, his photo.

She’d always recalled a certain boyish beauty, but this was an expression. She wanted to call it apologetic, yet resigned; he seemed to be telling the camera to take or leave him.

They began by writing to each other.

Though he only lived twenty three minutes south, she had a major performance two weeks from the day he surfaced and knew, in her gut, that if they met up her focus would significantly shift. So, they messaged each other.

Long paragraphs. Outpourings. Every day, for two weeks, earnest exchanges between them. The face she’d seen in the mirror, as he stood behind the barber chair emanating it’s subdued chatter now replaced by the poetic revelations of a philosopher. The man had depth. This she had managed to miss, entirely, during that first impression.

And now, he promised to wait for her.

Thirty years had passed between that first meeting and this encounter, yet he was still able to wait for her.

Though this aspect had a tremendous effect on her attraction to him she would not, ultimately, learn to appreciate it.

She invited him to her recital.

The date of the performance came. Looking out into the dark of the hall, she was able to spy the outline of a man’s head which looked like his. Whenever there was a break in the program’s music, she fixed on that man. Surely, he had made the drive over the state line to hear her performance.

When the concert ended, and applause rose, the lights came up as well and she was finally able to see the man upon whom her gaze had settled.

That man walked forward.

It was her old friend Steve, a college classmate – and, his praise came freely. But, she was already in her head; the morning wouldn’t come soon enough, their planned meet up to take his dogs for a peninsula walk kicking her heart rate.

Perhaps she should have taken the sign.

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2nd Mvt: Largo “Coupling.”

The dogs appeared on the landing, first. They were so big. She loved how they wriggled, and pressed in. She laughed, out loud.

It was his face.

He looked ten years older than his photo. Of course, this is because he was, at least, maybe more.

But, beyond that, he seemed tired, maybe dehydrated. And, then, something in her said: “Forgive; accept.” And, she rubbed the top of his head, over his thinning hair.

The rest wrote history.

They talked and walked the dogs, embraced, then reconvened that evening at her house. She played her cello for him; he stood, a bit tense, unmoved. She played the piano. When the song ended, he kissed her. He was quietly eager. He made overtures. He persuaded more.

Now, it was difficult to go back to the beginning. Images of him, arriving at the back door; a gift of food, or a small vase from home. Earnest kisses. And, the attic loft.

She wasn’t completely clear when the first doubts crept.

He worked long hours, at the hospital. The claim was that he had to get home and feed the dogs. She would not know the extent of that which impelled him; she knew only that he had to be encouraged to spend more than a couple hours at a time with her.

Dinners out. Plays; shows. The attic loft. And, stories. Stories, of his ex wife of so many decades ago. Then, stories of the woman who had died the winter before, about whom he’d spoken in his letters. He had so much to reveal, explaining the demise of all his previous entanglements, and she heard him. She remembered being made to feel transcendent in his company, silently pre-eminent in the wake of the remarkably ungrateful women who had preceded her. In her heart, she began to promise him love and acceptance.

Weeks passed. The pattern was set. Then, one day, he arrived with photos of his house and gardens, and an urgent disclosure.

He’d had a deeper past.

Seated across from her on the living room sofa, he began this new story. Tears rolled from his eyes. Decades earlier, he’d committed a felony, and had been incarcerated for five years.

He was utterly contrite. He looked like a sad boy, sitting with his wet face. Her heart surged in her. Commitment to loving him gelled. He had her.

Two weeks of numbness, the euphoric effect of shock.

Then, a visit to the reference library. He’d provided the year, the month, the day. She found the local newspaper microfiche, and scrolled to the bottom of page one.

A New Year’s Eve drama unfolded. This was the kind of story nobody alive at the time could forget. Her eyes stopped blinking.

Silently, she removed the film from the manual device, rolled it up, set it back in its box, placed it into the small drawer and pushed the drawer back into the cabinet.

Life went on.

Death began.

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3rd Mvt: Scherzo “Land of Diminishing Returns.”

It took two years, but she would call them little slips.

What became notable was how deftly he retrieved the ones she managed to catch.

Early on, the short blonde following them back to the green room, curiously smiling at her then him, called his “cousin” when queried. Except that he had no known relatives.

The fleeting reference, to a woman by name, a call he needed to make. Not mutually known. The gaslight: hadn’t she just talked of someone named the same?

The casual recall of their having recently been together. Except that, fact be told, they hadn’t. Some vague excuse about his relative time frame for remembering.

Sidelong eye contact, with his coworker who preceded her into the room, an arresting control. Cool dismissal of the girl upon query as a student shadow, without even the value of a first name. And, no formal introduction.

Eye contact, with women passing in the grocery and department store aisles. Their startled recognition. His reference to them knowing he needed/abrupt modulation to the recipe books at the check out.

Eye contact, with young women in restaurants, out on dates, in doctor’s offices. Their blank stares of deliberate anonymity.

Eye contact, twinkling, with the B&B hostess. Curious attention paid to the sliding lock on the adjoining door, calling to mind a time he’d gone out in the night visiting Italy while his woman companion deeply slept. A jarring juxtaposition.

Dirty dishes, in the sink. Two plates, two bowls, two spoons. One meal. One lone chicken leg, left in the skillet. A bottle of new wine, and a single wine glass never before seen.

The consistently odd nights of spaghetti and fried chicken, from an otherwise experienced self taught gourmet.

The presence of cash, on her bureau, when he stayed over. Not placed there by her. His never having cash, otherwise.

Her toiletry bottle, alone on his kitchen counter. Her toothbrush, always precisely replaced, once on a different cabinet shelf and again out, on the bathroom sink. Then, a new brand of toothpaste, appearing on the sink, the old one still in use.

An alarm clock, going off at an odd hour, found in a drawer, never before seen.

And, always, always, the sudden flame of anger at mentions made, escalating to verbal derision, then shut down.

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4th Mvt:  Funerale/Coda.

She’d given up all honor, including that to love by example he who had never been. By the end, denial was not an option. The music had stopped. The story was over.

Familiarity had inbred with contempt; miscarried, still born. She had forsaken her soul for one who had long since lost his own.

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Sonata (/səˈnɑːtə/Italian[soˈnaːta], pl. sonate; from Latin and Italian: sonare [archaic] in music, literally means:  “a piece played.”

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© 9/18/19    Ruth Ann Scanzillo.  All rights solely those of the author, whose story it is, and whose name appears above this line. No copying, in part/whole/jot/or, tittle permitted, for any reason at any time.  Thank you for respecting original material.

littlebarefeetblog.com