Thursday, June 21, 2012

Maintenance Required

This is the one that I sent in to my instructor today. Yet another memoir turned sort of short story.

Maintenance Required

As they rounded the corner to their street, the red “Maintenance Required” sign flashed on the dash readout of the van.

 “Oh, dear,” Peggy remarked, “guess I know where I’ll be going this week. Just hope I can get over this pesky vertigo so that I can drive.”

They had been to visit their son, Jeff, in Nashville, where he had recently moved his band, Velvet Melon, to be in the agent friendly area of Music City, USA.  A lunch date with one of the agents brought assurance to the band members that they would soon be on their way to copious gigs in the South. The guys were on their way to stardom!

When vertigo struck Peggy in the middle of the night, on June 30, it caused her and Tom to cancel their camping trip to the Great Smoky Mountains and head home for the Fourth of July weekend. As they rode, the couple had talked about good things coming from bad—at least now, they’d be able to go to Velvet Melon’s gig on Independence Day, something to really look forward to.

Peggy always worried when she knew that the guys were on the road, so she was relieved to see the band’s motor home in the driveway. Thank you, Lord, for another safe trip!

Soon Tom had all the camping gear unloaded, and Peggy had taken the food and clothes inside. Thank goodness that’s over. The only bad thing about camping is unloading, she thought as she put the last of the food away.

After having driven all day to get home, neither Peggy nor Tom felt much like cooking in the hot kitchen, so Peggy called Pizza Hut, ordered a pizza, and went upstairs to get ready to go to pick it up.

As she walked up the stairs, her mind wandered . . . What fun seeing our boy in action on the stage! But it surely is good to get back home. Just no place like it!  Nate, the band’s drummer, passed her going down to the bathroom.

“Hi, Mom,” he said drowsily.

“Where’s Jeff?”

“He’s asleep. Been sick all day,” was all that Nate said.

Kids! When will they ever learn not to burn the candle at both ends? she thought as she shook her head and smiled that mother’s smile, not really understanding but not condemning. I guess they’ll grow up someday and take better care of themselves.

Not too long ago, she had chastised Jeff, “You should get more sleep. I know musicians keep late hours, but I know you, son. You need more rest.”

Jeff had shrugged off his mom’s warning with, “Oh, Mom, don’t worry about me. I’ll get plenty of rest when I get to Heaven!” Then he’d given her that hug that only he knew how to give, lifted her off her feet, and swung her around, causing her to squeal, laugh, and forget why she was fussing at him. That boy! He had his mom wrapped around his little finger.

Peggy brushed her teeth, put on a little lipstick so that she’s be socially acceptable, and decided a quick trip to the potty room was in order before leaving.

“Jeff!” she screamed. There lay her boy, lodged between the toilet and the wall, obviously unconscious.

Tom ran in, saw his son, and commanded Peggy to call 911, as he was yelling for Nate, who was just going back to his room.

Neither Peggy nor Tom knew artificial respiration, but Nate did. He immediately began mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on his friend while the 911 operator stayed on the phone with Peggy until the paramedics arrived. For Peggy, their arrival was an eternity when, in actuality, it was only about ten minutes.

Tom waved Peggy away when she tried to go in to watch what they were doing to try to revive Jeff. She immediately began to pray, Lord, please don’t let him die. Please. Please.”

Her prayer changed, though, when she heard clearly, “Are you sure that you want him to live, no matter what? “

I want Your will, Lord, but I don’t know how I’ll make it if my boy dies.

When she heard the next words, she also felt His strong arms around her. “I’ll get you through. I’ll be right here by your side.”

Peggy knew that the paramedics had given up hope for Jeff when, as two men carried him toward the helicopter which had set down in their neighbor’s yard, the one trailing behind had answered her question about whether or not Jeff would be okay, “He hasn’t breathed on his own, ma’am.” With that enigmatic answer, he left to accompany Jeff on a ride he had always wanted to make, one, though, that he had no cognizance of.

From that moment on, there would be “maintenance required,” but not for a van.


And here's my second attempt at Flash Fiction. This one isn't based at all on anything that happened in my life.


She had had the idea for quite some time now, but it had taken her until now to get up the nerve to execute her plan. The February morning had dawned crisp and sunny. Maybe it was the lovely weather that inspired her to carry out her decision.

Instead of riding down nine stories in the elevator, Maggie had walked down, probably to postpone the inevitable. Not even winded from the descent because she walked so slowly, she meandered across the lobby of her apartment building, stopping to talk to neighbors who were having their morning coffee and to check the headlines at the news stand.

Pushing leisurely through the revolving doors, she paused to talk to the doorman before hailing a taxi. One stopped immediately when she signaled.  Dang! Wouldn’t you know it? On any other day, I’d stand here for fifteen minutes before a cabbie notices me! Now I can’t turn back.

As she scooted into the back seat and gave the address to the cabbie, the memories flooded back, memories that she had kept submerged for too many years. The time had come for them to surface and to be acted upon. She pondered as the driver wound through the traffic.

The year was 1958; the place, Ole Miss. They had become friends immediately, having been placed together as roommates by some strange luck.

Luck? she thought. What kind of luck would put two people together, one of whom would become an ememy before their freshman year was over?

Maggie and Norma had lived together, taken classes together, studied together. They were best friends. They even did research together. And, in January, immediately after the professor had given them their term topic in their education class, they headed to the library to get started.

After weeks of practically living in the library, sometimes sharing references, always doing their own writing, never showing each other their work just to keep themselves honest, they both reached the point of typing. On some of those research days, Maggie had had to practically drag Norma to the library because she wasn’t the student that Maggie was.

Maggie was the first to finish the project, and she placed her completed paper in her desk drawer, away from prying eyes of other girls who might visit her and Norma’s room. She had never finished anything this far ahead of time, and she was proud of herself, now having time to get caught up on other assignments that she had neglected for far too long and just maybe to relax a bit.

Having finished her research with Maggie, Norma became the slacker that she usually was, putting off the final typing until the day before the project was due. How would she ever finish on time?

On Sunday night, the evening before the assignment was due, Maggie had the urge to look at her finished product one more time, not that anything could be done to make it better at this late date. As she pulled open the desk drawer, her heart sank. The paper wasn’t there.  In a Silas Marner-type of frenzy, she searched everywhere—the desk drawer, her chest of drawers, under the bed.

What could I have done with it? Could I have moved it and just don’t remember? Could someone have come in while Norma and I were sleeping? No, that’s not possible. While we were at the cafeteria? What will I do?

Through tears, she began to reconstruct her work. She prayed, Dear Lord, please help me get this done, as she frantically tried to piece her notes together into something resembling what she had so painstakingly written before.

Norma had gone home that weekend and didn’t return until early Monday morning. As she entered their room, she saw Maggie feverishly typing, trying to get done before class at 10:00 that morning. She told Norma what had happened and was surprised to find that her roommate had turned in her paper early.

The next week, when the professor returned the papers, Maggie was not at all surprised at her grade of C-; however, when she read the comment on the last page, she couldn’t believe her eyes.

Miss Jones—To say that I am disappointed in you is surely an understatement. I know that you and Miss Fairchild are roommates and that you work together often. I never thought I’d see the day, though, when you, one of my star students, would stoop so low as to plagiarize another student’s work. Especially not your best friend’s. It’s obvious to me that she worked very hard and that you pilfered from her. For some strange reason, I gave you this grade instead of the F that you deserve.

Maggie was devastated but couldn’t bring herself to confront Norma. And Norma never mentioned her treachery to Maggie. To say that the air in Room 301, Gunnerson Hall, was icy for the remaining month in the school year is also an understatement. At the end of the semester, the roommates packed their freshman belongings, knowing that the two of them would never have a positive relationship again.

But today, Valentine’s Day, Maggie was in a taxi, headed to Norma’s apartment on the far side of the city. Through the years since Norma’s betrayal, Maggie had learned the meaning of forgiveness and how important it is for healing. She needed to tell Norma that she forgave her a long time ago and that it was time for Norma to know of the forgiveness. Maggie prayed that she would accept it. This was the perfect day to reignite that special love that roommates should have for each other.

She's Inside with Mama

I'm taking an online course in Flash Fiction, just another name for short short stories. The truth is that I'm not doing very well. Memoir is really my genre, but I thought I'd try fiction just to see if I could do it. So . . . I'm posting my stories in case anyone ever wants to read them. Here's my first one.

You can tell that I hadn't gotten the hang of needing to change the names "to protect the innocent" yet. I love my instructor, and she gave me lots of good advice about improvements. I'm not a good student because I didn't revise.

She’s Inside with Mama

A funny thing happened in the church at the funeral.  To be truthful, it was embarrassing to the max, but after the beet blush disappeared, it’s a moment good for a laugh.

My daughter, Wendy, and I had been out of town for the weekend, and when we returned, a neighbor told me that Old Mrs. Webb, whom we fondly called Grandma, had died. How sad, I thought.  I had been meaning to walk across the street to see her,but I am prone to let busy-ness get in the way of ought to do

As Wendy and I walked across the church grounds next door to our house that Tuesday afternoon, we spied a group of men standing around talking, as men are wont to do before a church service of any kind. I spied Howard, Grandma’s son, in the group.

What? There’s Howard. What’s he doing outside? How strange for him to be standing around talking when his mother is lying dead in the church!

I went over to him. “Oh, Howard, I was so sorry to hear about Grandma. I’d been meaning to go over to visit. I’m just so sorry.”

Howard looked at me quizzically and simply said, “That’s all right,” in his  Southern- gentleman drawl.

“Where’s Margie?” (That’s John’s wife.)

“She’s inside with Mama.”

How sweet. He just thinks of her as inside sitting with Grandma, keeping her company. Such a close family.

Wendy and I walked into the little Methodist church and signed the guestbook. Since this was my daughter’s first funeral, I knew I needed to fill her in on what we’d be doing. “Sweetie, now we need to go down to look at Grandma.”

“What? Do we have to? I can’t do that!”

“Oh, yes, you can . . . that’s what they do in these little country churches. It’ll be okay.”

We slowly made our way to the front of the church, Wendy lagging just a little behind me.  She caught up with me at the casket, and by that time, I was the one with the quizzical look.

“Oh, Wendy! She must have been really sick. She doesn’t even look like herself.”

By this time, Wendy had looked at Grandma and had agreed with me. As we were standing there, marveling at how much Grandma had changed because of her illness, a sweet, tiny voice came to us from the front row of the church.

“Why, Wendy and Sandy, thank you so much for coming.”

We couldn’t believe our ears . . . it was Grandma! As we turned in the direction of the birdlike voice, we saw Grandma, and sure enough, Margie was sitting with her, just as Howard said she’d be.

I rushed to her, hugged her, and assured her that we’d be over soon to visit. Of course, Grandma was happy to hear my promise, but she wasn’t nearly so happy  to hear it as I was to make it.

As we began to walk toward the back of the church, Wendy stage whispered, “Mom! Can we leave? You know what we’ve done!”

“Of course, we can’t leave. How would that look?”

Wendy just rolled her eyes and plopped down next to me in the pew, slumping down, trying to make herself invisible as only a sixteen-year-old can do.

I sat down and tried to look properly funereal. I don’t know what voice inside my head told me what to do next, but I very primly turned to the lady next to me and said, “Whose funeral is this?”

(Melanie – What do I do now? Do I stop here, or do I say something about the lady and her thoughts about the crazy lady sitting next to her? Do I say anything about who the lady in the casket was? Obviously, this a true story, a family story that I’m always encouraged to tell when folks are sitting around swapping stories and trying to one-up each other. I’ll try not to rely on autobiographical material next time. By the way, I left out lots of details that I always include when telling the story orally.)