Troops 123’s Annual Popcorn Fundraiser: A True Story

I’d like to thank Margaret Koger of the US for her true story submission “Troop 123’s Annual Popcorn Fundraiser”, a sentimental tale about the joys of grandparent duties.

Margaret is a retired school media specialist with a writing habit living in Boise, Idaho. She says she writes in hopes of adding small strands of connective tissue to our shared web of life. Most of her recent publications include poetry and short stories published locally and online. One of her favourites can be found at https://www.idahomagazine.com/contests/fiction-writing-winners/christmas-in-central-cove-2015-first-place-adult-division/.

Margaret tells us “My memoir recounts the days I spent helping my grandson earn money for his Boy Scout activities and for the troop he belonged to–actually Troop 123. Of all that I did for my grandson as he went through the teen years, this was the best. I stood in the background watching him walk door-to-door for his fundraiser–how he presented his invitation to buy and how people reacted. Truly a Grand Mum experience and an honor to write about.”

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Troop 123

Troop 123’s Annual Popcorn Fundraiser

When I arrive at my grandson’s home, Ramsey enters the living room dressed in his uniform: tan shirt, red tie, Boy Scouts of America (BSA) tie clasp, green khaki shorts, and a worn, billed cap with its official logo. ‘Ah’ I think ‘shorts’. It’s October, the poplar leaves are turning color and there is an abundance of crisp air circulating at ground level. Never mind, I have my coat, hat, and gloves and I’m ready to walk with him as he rings doorbells and makes his pitch, trying to raise enough money to pay for next summer’s scouting activities.

He positions himself in front of each door, his sales placard front, and center, his legs spread a bit as if the opening of the door could blow him away. “Hi, I’m Ramsey and I’m here for our annual Troop 123 fundraiser. This year we have our one pound white cheddar, our …

In the short ride to Cobbler’s Creek where we’ve sold popcorn for the last four years, I have a chance to talk with the eighth-grader. I tell him the stories of his infant times when I took care of him while his mother worked. He’s fifteen now,  six foot two, recumbent where he’s seated in my little Subaru like a willowy sapling bent down and ready to spring up when released. I turn the radio on and we discuss music, the “Okay” radio station because it plays everything. “Really I like 80’s and 90’s music.”

I’m sure I’ll recognize and enjoy some of the popular songs from these two “long ago” decades so I say, “Yes,” even though I’ve become a classical music fan, mostly listening to CDs from the late 19th and the early 20th Century.

“So much of the new rap is nothing but a joke.” he adds.

I think of one reason he loves music so much. Band is his favorite subject where he specializes in percussion: drums, xylophone, cymbals, and so on. His junior high music teacher leads an after school jazz band where he gets a couple of extra hours of rhythm twice a week. “Why you love music so much?” I ask. “Well, when you were a baby, I played a symphony for you every day. Every day the same symphony, written by a Scottish musician named Bantok, celebrating the Hebrides Islands off the northeast coast of Scotland. I’d hold you to my chest and we’d dance around the living room. It helps with brain development so I gave it a try.”


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A song by Sam Cook comes on the radio: “She was only sixteen, only sixteen/ I loved her so/ But she was too young to fall in love/ And I was too young to know.”

“I heard this song in Portugal last month,” I say. “You used to love it!”

“I still like it, it’s just not one of my favorites now,” he answers.

Other days we talk more about school, his friends, my activities, and his family—even about my teenage years—revealing how the angst of being a teenager continues with many of the same challenges in discovering one’s identity. After ten or fifteen minutes of driving, we arrive and park. It’s time.

With Ramsey, even selling popcorn is rhythmic. Beyond the ring of the doorbell, the wait, more waiting, the sometimes appearance of a person, managing the door, the screen door, the dog, and the all-important pitch. For a couple of hours in the evening, after the workers arrive home and settle in and even during dinnertime, people will answer the door and buy popcorn although we get plenty of unanswered doorbells and “not interested” responses.

Others don’t want popcorn, but they donate cash, anywhere from a couple of bucks to $10 or even $20. One evening as we looped back from a culdesac a woman came out of a house where no one answered the doorbell. In bare feet, she crossed the street to hand Ramsey a $20 bill. “We don’t want the sweets, but I wanted to help you guys out,” she said.

Older people like to draw Ramsey out. “How long have you been in scouts?” “What does the money you raise go for?” “My husband was in scouts and both my boys.” One remarkable young man says, “I see the order form hasn’t changed since I was selling!”

“You again!” one woman exclaims. Each year she’s reported on the health of her husband, a former Eagle Scout and WWII Medal of Honor winner. Last fall she thought they’d have to move because he couldn’t climb the stairs. Then, last summer he died—and she still doesn’t know how much she’ll receive in benefits—she’ll have to pass on buying this time. “You may have read about it in the paper. He was ninety-two,” she says. “It was time. I’m ready too, I’m eighty-eight, and I’m tired.”

“So sorry,” we reply. “So sorry.”

This year, for the first time, several people have insisted we both come inside, “You too,” they say as they wave for me to come in. For some, it’s a change that quiets the dog, for others, it’s about hospitality. “I won’t bite,” says the owner of Jana’s Haircutting Store. Another woman is watching Ken Burns Viet Nam program on public television. “It’s so awful,” she cries. “We didn’t know and those protesters did!”

“Did you say when the delivery will be?” an older buyer asks. “Just before Thanksgiving,” Ramsey assures her.

“That’s such a long time from now! We’ll forget we ordered the popcorn,” she exclaims.

“Well, we have to have a lot of time to sell,” Ramsey replies.

And I know he’s thinking of all the streets we walk, up and down, offering the caramel corn and yogurt pretzels that many people are wary of—giving up sugar, not eating corn, bad for our health—and how they often buy anyway. Who can resist a six-foot-two beanpole with short hair and a face reddened by the chill holding such luscious illustrations of popcorn?

“I’ll be using whatever I buy as gifts,” one buyer says and she orders large bags so she won’t be tempted to open them for her own use. It was as we left her house that Ramsey said, “Sell now, sneeze later. I just found out I’m allergic to cats!”

Since seventy-three percent of the sales apply to camping fees, troop activities, and funding for the national organization, each sale is really a donation. But I know the sugary temptations increase the buyer’s desire to help. Ramsey and his brother Riley have sold enough popcorn in the past to completely fund their camp excursions, as well as adding to troop funds, which earns them praise for being role models to younger scouts.

But I think the contact with people in their homes and the push of learning to talk with strangers has been the most invaluable part of the activity for the boys. As cute little guys, when they rang the doorbell, lots of people were charmed into buying. Now it often takes a man answering the door. He may have a hard time saying no to the gangly eighth-grader who prompts memories of his own youth when growing up was so hard to do.

Selling popcorn door to door wasn’t anything I ever expected to be a part of; however, as I stand on the sidewalk holding the order sheet and pen at the ready, I’m eager to smile and wave to whoever opens the door—yes, he has an adult with him and she’s glad to be here.


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A Mother’s Rites: A Short Story

I’m very honoured to present this short story, from a writer who has had many writings published in many reputable places. I’d like to thank Steve Carr for his submission “A Mother’s Rites”, a touching short story based on true events, about a Mother’s journey of love and remembrance. Originally published in Wagon Magazine in 2017.

Steve Carr, from Richmond, Virginia, has had over 400 short stories published internationally in print and in online magazines, literary journals, reviews and anthologies, since June, 2016. He has had seven collections of his short stories published, including Sand, Rain, Heat, The Tales of Talker Knock , 50 Short Stories: The Very Best of Steve Carr, LGBTQ: 33 Stories, and The Theory of Existence: 50 Short Stories.

His paranormal/horror novel Redbird was released in November, 2019. His plays have been produced in several states in the U.S. and last but definitely not least, he has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, twice. He has also written a guide book to getting your short stories published (see it at the end of this post).

His website is https://www.stevecarr960.com / or you can find him on Facebook or Twitter @carrsteven960



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A Mother's Rites

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A Mother’s Rites

Thursday before the last weekend in August, hot wind perfumed with the drying golden grass that covers most of the roadside mounds of heated earth, blows in through the open windows. The rush of wind fills the car’s interior. Harriet’s normal speed on this stretch of interstate headed east, and she knows it well, having traveled it often throughout the years. Dying quick deaths, bugs splatter on the windshield leaving blotches and streaks. His face stuck out of the back window, long ears dancing about his head, tongue extended lapping in the scents of summer decay, Lucky wags his tail, a satisfied partner to the viewing of the open countryside being passed at seventy miles per hour.

At the turnoff to Wasta the car is slowed and here Harriet turns and decreases the car’s speed to forty miles per hour and then decreases it even more as she enters the small town. Wasta has changed very little over the years. A few ramshackle buildings line what could be called the downtown area. At fifteen miles per hour she cruises through Wasta and continues out of this throwback to dreams that never happened of becoming a traveler’s stop, usurped by the clever marketing of ice water offered in nearby Wall.

Outside of Wasta a few houses stand along the road she takes, it being an unlikely and almost desolate environment in which to encourage homesteading. It leads to the dried muddy banks of the Cheyenne River where dead trees submerged each spring in the yearly floods remain rotting in place.

Here, she puts her foot on the brake pedal and the car comes to a stop alongside a rusty barbed wire fence, a boundary marker for some land owner protecting his wasteland from – what? Harriet gets out of the car and then lets Lucky out. The dog runs off toward the river, his barks muted by the silence that hangs over this place like a death shroud. Harriet steps over some fallen fence wire and treads across the gray cracked earth, headed toward the river.

No grass or weed or wildflower grows along the river bank, only varying hues of dried red mud provide color. The river is barely a stream that moves slowly on its way to wherever it is destined to end. The water is brackish and unappealing, only tempting to Lucky who bounces over it and through it with abundant energy. On the opposite bank a lone cow, head bent and moving slowly, makes its way upriver. Lucky seems unimpressed with it and continues his frolic to and fro across the Cheyenne.                         

Harriet’s son, Jeffrey, thought this place magical, the name Cheyenne bringing to mind the days when the Sioux Indians roamed these parts in search of the great herds of buffalo, a place where movies were made to recall the glorified struggles between land seeking settlers and the noble Indian. Here he had searched the ground for arrowheads, never finding one but always hopeful. Lucky was his companion, sticking near him awaiting a friendly pat on the head or encouragement to join him and run along the muddy river until both were coated with thick globs of wet soil.


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Inhaling, the air here was dense with the almost fetid odor of lifelessness, that and the drying cow pies that dotted the ground like drying black pimples. Harriet too is entranced by this place. She had happened on it quite by accident one summer when Jeffrey was very young and inspired by him being enamored with its other-worldly quality, they had returned every year at the same time, finding nothing changed, nothing new except an occasional fallen tree or the carcass of a dead cow. While all else seemed altered by time, this small stretch along the Cheyenne River never did.

Lucky responds to her whistle, rushing to her side, his fur matted with mud, his eyes bright and if it is possible for a dog, full of joy. She leads him back to the car and there she opens a large thermos of cold water and douses him with it and rubs the mud and grime off of him. He is cleaner but not entirely free of the evidence of the excursion. She opens the back door and he leaps onto the seat. She takes her place behind the wheel, starts the car and turns back toward Wasta and back to the interstate.

Fifteen minutes later she pulls into Wall, stops at the corner convenience store and fills her gas tank, refills the thermos from a faucet extending out from a wall outside the store, then heads into town. Cars line the main street, parked at angles on each side of a median strip. Storefronts on each side of the street, most built or remodeled to look like a nineteenth century western town, are crowded with tourists gaping in the windows at shelves upon shelves of western and frontier souvenirs.

Harriet pulls off on a side street, finds a shady spot to park the car, rolls down the window to give Lucky some air in the late afternoon heat, and fills his water dish and sits it on the floor in the back. He knows the routine and doesn’t complain other than to look longingly at Harriet as she closes the door and heads toward Wall Drug Store.

Glaringly commercial, overstocked with cheap trinkets, it is room upon room attached to make a good-sized mall of useless paraphernalia for a town of less than 900 people, and crowded it has come a long way since its inception as a simple place for people to stop and get a free glass of ice water. She knows her way to the cafeteria and without stopping to look at Indian headdresses or plastic colt 45s as Harriet might have done had Jeffrey been along, she goes straight to the counter and in quick fashion given the length of the line that was ahead of her, orders a buffalo burger and fries and a diet Coke. She takes her tray with her order number on a small placard placed on it and goes into the large dining room. Surrounded by dark paneled walls covered with original works of western art, she takes a seat at a long table in the center of the cafeteria, in between a hodgepodge of men, women and children noisily living up the experience of being in this amusement park that has no rides other than a horse that requires a quarter to make it buck for a minute or two while a child sits on it.

The food arrives quickly, delivered by one of the students from a nearby college hired for the summer to supplement the workforce that Wall and the surrounding area was lacking. Of three places in this journey, this was Jeffrey’s second favorite, owing to its stacks of useless junk and lack of shame in providing nothing authentic other than the paintings on the wall, which he had studied as carefully as possible, reveling in those that were of mountain men, stallions on their hind legs, Indians on snowy plains and ragged buffalo in raging stampedes. Harriet eats only half of the burger and few of the fries, wrapping them in a napkin to be carried to Lucky. She stops at the counter again and buys two of Wall’s cake donuts, considered by Jeffrey to be the best donuts in the world, bar none. She leaves the drugstore through a different door than the one she came in by and makes her way down the street to a very wagging-tailed dog pleased with his treat which he devours almost as soon as it is offered to him.

At the end of the street and before leaving Wall is the only local grocery store, a small mom and pop place with five aisles that provides the basics for the locals and anything that someone who intends to camp at the nearby Badlands National Park would need. Harriet buys coal for a grill, two bags of ice and a variety of smaller items and some Slim Jims for Lucky. She leaves the store carrying two bags, one with the ice, the other with the remaining items. At the car she opens the trunk and moves aside the folded up tent, a shovel, and a small cardboard box with the top neatly taped closed and lifted out the ice chest and places it on the ground. In goes the ice, several bottles of orange juice, a pack of hot dogs and a package of bologna. She repacks the trunk and sets off again, leaving Wall.

From Wall to the entrance of the Badlands National Park it is only a few miles, and the famous rock formations begin a few miles beyond the turnoff past the entrance, the right handed turnoff that Harriet takes after buying a pass to allow her to camp until Sunday. Small gray clouds of dirt and gravel kick up behind her as she drives slowly past a broad stretch of prairie on the right and a ridge overlooking a deep valley with rolling hills of rock and stretches of barren land and yellow prairie grass to the right. Even before arriving at it, the wooden signs with silver lettering directs her toward the prairie dog town straight ahead. Cars are parked on each side of the road, with people milling about
with cameras pointed at the prairie dogs who stand at alert on their hind legs atop their mounds a hundred feet from the edge of the road, or they dash in and out of the hundred or so holes that beneath constitute their habitats. Harriet drives by the parked cars and the prairie dogs very slowly, swallowing hard against the rush of emotion that is overtaking her. Beyond there she picks up speed and takes the turns and stretches of straight flat unfinished road all the way to the campgrounds barely noticing how little anything has changed, after all it had only been a year since the last time she and Jeffrey had been there.

An oval-shaped space the size of several football fields bordered on one side by a wall of rock and a stretch of land cut through by a dry creek bed on the other, the campground is busy but not crowded. Harriet pulls into the closest available spot nearest an old dead tree that Jeffrey had cut his initials into, and parks the car. Keeping Lucky in the back seat, barking to be set free at last, she unpacks the trunk, sets up the tent and lays out the sleeping bags as well as the ice chest inside it. When set up she hooks Lucky’s leash to his collar and lets him out of the car and walks toward the creek bed, stopping to let him survey the myriad of scents and to relieve himself. Harriet is tired now, and she sits on a ledge of rock and watches small birds, terns or swifts, she wasn’t sure which, circling overhead, occasionally dipping down to the creek bed and scooping up something much too small to be seen by her. In the distance she hears the one bird sound she knew at some deeper level, the call of a meadowlark, his short melodic warble echoing from some nearby stretch of grass and down the creek all the way to her heart.




Saturday morning, Lucky is curled in a ball by her side and breathing heavily, Harriet awakes and sees the moving shadow on the side of the tent. She undoes the zipper on the sleeping bag and crawls to the tent door and unzips it and sticks her head out. Five feet away a large, mangy buffalo is nibbling at a small tuft of grass as its dozen or so companions do the same not much further away. Lucky is now up, attempting to push his way past her. She quickly zips up the tent door and sits back down on the sleeping bag, quietly opening the ice chest and taking out a bottle of juice and twisting off the cap and relishing the coolness of it as she drinks. Buffalo are unpredictable and dangerous, so she makes as little noise as possible, opening a package of Slim Jims from their noisy plastic wrapping with great care then feeding it to Lucky. Exactly when she falls asleep again she later does not recall, but it was near noon when she awakes in the hot tent with Lucky jumping about eager to take care of business. The buffalo are gone.

Throughout the day she takes brief walks to the creek bed, mainly to give Lucky exercise, but mainly stays near the tent sitting on an Indian blanket she had purchased at a small store in Scenic years ago, and reading Willa Cather’s “Oh, Pioneer.” She snacks on bologna sandwiches and fig Newton’s. The campers around her are cordial without being intrusive and tend to their own activities without pressing her to join them, which is exactly how she wants it to be. As evening approaches with purple skies and silvery clouds fading away in the darkness, she builds a small fire in the grill that had been built by the park service, basically a pit dug in the ground surrounded by a small circular wall of iron and topped with a grill of metal bars blackened by the fires that had been built beneath it. When darkness sets in she places two hot dogs on the grill and listens to the grease crackle as it falls into the fire. She opens a can of Lucky’s favorite dog food for him and they eat together, seated next to one another on the Indian blanket. While others in the campground are still awake, she crawls into her tent with Lucky and pulling him to her, settles into the sleeping bag and falls sound asleep.

Harriet is awake even before the Sunday morning sun rises over the campground. She lies in the sleeping bag rubbing Lucky’s ear much to his apparent delight and listening to the distant sounds of a coyote, and the nearer sounds of birds in the nearby trees giving song to the beginning of day. As light begins to creep across the tent, she hooks Lucky to his leash and takes him down to the creek bed and unhooks it, letting him run about free for nearly an hour before calling him to her side and walking him back to the campsite. Other campers are preparing to leave, with tents being taken down and folded and stacked onto car tops or in car trunks. Some weekend holdouts like her are taking it slower, fixing a final breakfast of eggs and bacon prepared in cast iron skillets placed on the grill, or heading off for a final walk down the ravines or up to the hilltop hoping for one last sighting of buffalo.  “This is it,” she says to Lucky, realizing that she had barely spoken more than those three words all weekend.

She opens the trunk of the car and takes out the shovel, then goes to the tree that had Jeffrey’s initials and at its base she begins to dig a small hole. Once she makes her way down about two feet she stops digging and sits the shovel aside. Lucky is tied to the car and is whining and straining at his leash. She pets his head and then takes the small box out of the trunk of the car and carefully peels the tape from the two flaps at its top. She lifts out a bundle, and carefully removes the bubble wrap and cotton and throws the wrapping items into the trunk. In her hands she holds a bright blue earthen jar decorated with a variety of images; footballs, cowboys, spaceships, and one of Lucky. She retrieves the two donuts from the car, then walks over to the hole and removes the lid from the jar and pours ashes from the jar into the hole. Once the jar is emptied she places the donuts on top of the ashes then replaces the dirt in the hole and pats it down. She thinks that maybe she should say a few words, but none came to mind. This is not a time for words.



A Guidebook

With his list of accomplishments, Steve Carr is one of the most qualified people on the planet to give other writers practical advice on the ins and outs of getting a short story published. His guidebook ‘Getting Your Short Stories Published’ reveals his organizing system and his methodology for approaching publishers, and is full of top tips to get your work in print. It’s a must-have for any aspiring short story writer.

You can find in on Amazon or click the book cover below.

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Thanks

Thank you for reading this blog, if you’d like to submit a story for consideration to be published, please visit our submissions page.

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Accomplish more IN a fraction of the time

The pace and intensity of our lives, both at work and at home, leave many of us feeling like a person riding a frantically galloping horse. Our day-to-day incessant busyness — too much to do and not enough time.

With this ebook you will learn to approach your days in another way, reducing stress and getting results through prioritizing, leveraging and focus!

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Dreams & Wishes: A Short Story

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Here’s a story I wrote for a short story competition that had a ‘travel’ theme. I tried to be a little more creative than simply having my character ‘travel’ somewhere in the conventional way. It has a magical touch to it, but it’s primarily an adventure!

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Dreams and Wishes

Someone once told her that if dreams and wishes were dollars and cents, she’d be a very wealthy woman by now. Their words were intended as a reprimand, but she embraced the sentiment and endeavoured to turn her dreams and wishes into a reality, a reality that would in turn bring forth the metaphorical dollars and…

   Deanna ceased typing and peered curiously over the upper edge of her laptop screen, her fingers lingering over the silver buttons of the keyboard. Two bewildered brown eyes glared back at her. She didn’t even have to investigate the scene to know there was a pool of dark grey water heading rapidly toward her one piece of sanity in this world, Miss 3’s expression said it all.

With skilful speed, Deanna snatched her laptop up into the air, just in time to see the tiny tsunami rushing across the wooden surface of the family dining table and cascading over the edge onto her crisp white skirt. She sat with well-practiced patience as the cold liquid soaked through the thick cotton and dribbled down her thigh, through the back of her skirt and onto the wooden surface of the dining chair. She secretly congratulated herself on her wise foresight in buying child-resistant dining furniture but quietly chastised herself for wearing her one piece of new clothing anywhere near said child.

“oopsie.” Her little brunette progeny was also well-practiced, in the art of subtle manipulation, projecting innocence with her tone and evoking sympathy with a furrowing of her small adorable brow.

“Quick, go grab a rag to clean this up and please use your own table for painting next time Bree, this is exactly why I bought it.” Deanna carefully stood up, streams of paint-filled water running down her leg onto the laminate flooring, she rolled her eyes as she anticipated the half hour clean-up process that would steal precious writing time. As she shuffled over to the island bench to relocate her laptop she heard the hungry cries of the newest addition to the clan bellowing from the monitor on the bench. Frustration ensued as she rushed to get dried and changed before attending to the baby.

Writing had always been a passion of Deanna’s. As a young child, she would spend copious hours jotting down adventure stories in her notebook. She even won a short story writing competition in school and was encouraged by her teacher to dream big and chase a writing career. However, life had unexpectedly changed trajectory when she was hit with an unforeseen misfortune. Her parents, whilst on a short-term mission trip, were tragically killed when an earthquake hit Haiti 8 years previously. Deanna, just 19 years of age was left to care for her 13-year-old brother.

Raising a teenager with abandonment issues and trying to juggle the plethora of bills, including a mortgage, proved to be an overwhelming task. It became necessary to quit university, taking on a job as a receptionist at a local medical centre. A few years later, after her brother himself went off to university, she married her high school sweetheart and began the journey of family life. Now that she was on Maternity leave again, she decided that waiting for her family to be grown before pursuing her dreams was too depressing a goal to set. Balancing it with family life however was a mission fraught with perilous obstacles and hindrances that she was not confident would be surmountable.

Still, no victory could be had without the attempt. If only she could get a few hours of uninterrupted time to let the creative juices flow.

***

As Deanna clumsily flicked her long auburn hair off her shoulder and clipped the flap of her maternity bra back in place, she heard the front door open and a familiar voice echo down the hall. Deanna had a moment of panic as she scanned the room, her eyes thrusting daggers at the pile of unfolded laundry casually thrown on the couch. She chastised herself once again for misplacing the thought that Tyler would be bringing his mother home from the airport that afternoon and she hadn’t even attempted a tidy up.

Her mind seemed to be imitating a spaghetti strainer lately. Ever since she conceived children her organisation was constantly disappearing through the holes of her mum brain, leaving only the well-cooked remnants of musings about what different shades of poop were telling her about her babies digestion and which websites she could find quick and easy recipes for fussy toddlers on.  She rose from the armchair, placing her 3-month-old sleep-thief over her shoulder and vigorously rubbing his back to dispel the gas before the distraction their welcome visitor would bring. Little Thomas obliged with the cutest of belches.

“Kathie, how are you? Please excuse the mess.” Deanna embraced her mother in law, the heavenly, familiar smell of Jasmine was as strong as ever. Kathie raked a hand through her short blonde hair, revealing new speckles of grey.

“What mess?” she queried with a cheeky smile “you have a family, mess is normal.” She waved her hand as though dismissing the notion that she would even care. “Now where is my granddaughter?” She turned toward Brianna, sitting on the carpet with her notepad and crayons and threw open her arms, inviting Brianna in for a warm Nanna embrace. Brianna complied with a giggle and an extravagant squeeze.

After snuggles with Thomas, Kathie excitedly produced gifts for each of them, purchased on her latest adventure to India. Brianna curiously examined the wooden Kondapalli toy resembling a magnificent Indian elephant, but it was the traditional Indian sweets that got her shriek of approval. Tyler, having an unusual interest in music of the world, received a CD of Classical Indian flute and sitar instrumentals and some authentic saffron. Living with a chef certainly had its benefits, there was one less chore Deanna had to navigate during the ‘witching hour’.

Deanne was pleasantly surprised to receive a genuine Kashmir Pashmina in her favourite colour beige, the silky soft material felt luxurious to the touch. Deanna was not sure when she would find an occasion to wear such an extravagant item but received it with fervent gratitude.

“Last but not least.” Kathie reached into her bag and pulled out a pair of detailed handmade leather and cotton shoes in a matching beige. “These are called Mojari’s.” The look of delight on her face could only be matched by her tone. “I bought them at a market place in Punjab”. She handed them to Deanna who ran her fingers over the detailed stitching and shiny gold thread, the pearlized pastel coloured beads and sequins where expertly embroidered into floral patterns and a few tiny sequins sporadically placed, refracted the light as Deanna turned them to and fro. They were beautiful.

“The stall holder told me these shoes have the power to transport you to another world” Kathie grinned, and her green eyes sparkled with mischief.

Deanna chuckled at the older lady’s child-like wonder. Kathie was like a second mother to Deanna, they had grown close after the death of her parents and Deanna admired Kathie’s positive perspective on life and belief in the mysteries of foreign culture. Deanna had all but no conviction in such myths, but being the storyteller she was, found such tales and legends to be fascinating.

“How about…” Kathie leaned toward Deanna as though sharing some cryptic secret “tomorrow after breakfast, you go to a quiet little coffee shop with your laptop for a few hours? Wear your new shoes, maybe they will give you some inspiration.” She winked at Deanna for she knew her heart without her needing to say anything. She was also a mum after all and she knew both the joys and restrictions that motherhood created. Deanna could feel her smile lighting up her entire olive-skinned face, it had been a long time since she’d felt so considered.

***

Deanna slipped her feet into the hand-crafted Mojari’s. They were not surprisingly a perfect fit. It was a very convenient similarity Deanna shared with Kathie, their shoe size, which proved very helpful for gift buying. Hence the wardrobe shelf full of shoes from around the world. These would have to be Deanna’s absolute favourite so far. So pretty and feminine, their comfort being their most attractive quality.

After detailing the procedure for warming expressed breast-milk and showing Kathie the storage cupboard full to bursting with art and craft supplies, she kissed Breanna and Thomas goodbye and slipped out the door, her laptop bag suspended over her shoulder. She took a deep breath of fresh spring air and tried to empty her mind of all her undone tasks and numerous upcoming daily activities, vowing to give them her full attention once her story was complete.

She used the drive into town to brainstorm ideas, deciding upon arrival never to do that again, as she’d gotten herself lost and ended up circling the block 3 times, costing her 15 minutes of productivity. Once inside, she found a table by the window and stared at the passing traffic and pedestrians as she sipped on her latte`. She shifted tables to the far corner as the window proved to be a distraction.

Anxiety hijacked her peaceful resolve as 45 minutes had passed since she left the house and she’d typed not a single word. She tapped her feet on the hardwood floor of the shabby chic coffee shop, remembering Kathie’s words about the Mojari’s giving her inspiration. She stared at the few paragraphs she’d produced the day before, reading them over and over in the attempt to board her previous train of thought.

She sighed as the screensaver appeared on the monitor of her laptop, the scene before her boasting the outdoor seating area of an Italian café. Luscious green vines climbed the stone walls behind the wooden tables and chairs that sat atop the cobbled pavement. The seating area was edged with terracotta pots encasing lovely green shrubbery, and a sky blue vespa was parked out the front. The word ‘Caffe’ was embossed above the large rustic wood and glass doorway. It looked very inviting and Deanne closed her eyes and imagined sitting at one of the tables, looking out at the scene beyond the borders of the photograph.

She opened her eyes and her tranquil smile retreated, replaced with a bemused frown as she was confronted by visions of a small Italian village. Stone buildings lined the cobblestone street where small European cars and scooters were parked. Pedestrians were strolling along the sidewalks and crossing the road. She scanned the vicinity and realised she was sitting at one of the tables in front of the café portrayed in the photo she’d been looking at only moments before. How could this be? One moment she was inside a coffee shop in South Australia and the next she is half-way across the world in a foreign country. She looked down at the Mojari’s on her feet. Could the mysterious fable she perceived to be nothing more than a stall holders marketing ploy, in fact be true?

She anxiously surveyed the table in front of her. A glass of Affogato coffee was resting on the well-worn surface next to an informational pamphlet on The Leaning Tower of Pisa. Her curiosity and excitement won out against her sensibilities as she entertained the possibilities. Could she see more? Do more? There were so many places she wanted to go, so many things she wanted to see. Apart from her 12th grade overnight excursion to Canberra, the nation’s capital, she’d lived out her entire life in South Australia. She glanced at her watch, three hours remained before she’d promised to be home. There would be enough time to explore a few destinations that had always been of interest to her.

She picked up the brochure, an amalgam of anticipation and apprehension forcing adrenalin into her veins. She closed her eyes and envisaged The Leaning Tower of Pisa right in front of her. With great expectation she parted her eyelids but was met with disappointment as she found that she was still sitting in the same chair at the same table at the same Café. She wound her mind back to the moment she was transported from the chich coffee shop to the scene on her laptop and recalled her actions. She closed her eyes once more and started tapping her feet on the cobblestone pavement.

She opened her eyes one at a time and was thrilled to see the famous monument looming before her. Looking around at the hordes of tourists with their backpacks on and digital cameras and phones raised skyward, she realised none of them seemed to notice that she just appeared there, out of nowhere. The pressure on her rear-end informed her she was sitting on a cement boundary post a few hundred metres from the tower itself. Jumping to her feet, she stared at the historical building. It wasn’t quite what she expected. She had imagined it being in the centre of town, hemmed in by grandiose museums, halls and art centres with elaborate stone streets, edged with hand-crafted pots filled with native Italian fauna, the odd water fountain boasting a chiselled half-naked statue. What she saw was relatively ordinary.

The tower wasn’t as sizeable as she’d assumed, and a relatively new bitumen road filled up a great deal of space in front of the building where tourists converged to snap their own piece of history. Beyond was a small grassed area and a large hedge that separated the tower from other buildings. To the left there was a grand cathedral that appeared to be under construction. She turned her gaze behind her, observing a long row of market stalls against the red brick structures on the opposite side of the street. Perhaps there would be some postcards or pamphlets with more photographs of enticing destinations.

She began approaching the stalls, but each step she took closer became more and more arduous, as if she was walking through dense mud which was becoming thicker and thicker. Eventually she could go no further. She became painfully aware of her accelerated heart beat pounding against her rib cage as she deduced that her adventures were limited to the boundary of the photograph she’d used to transport there. This revelation induced an intense desire to go home, where things were normal.

Fear made her head spin as it suddenly occurred to her that she had no idea how to get home. She reversed back to the spot near the boundary post and tried to collect her thoughts. She reclaimed her perch on the short cement pillar, shut her eyes, tapped her feet on the bitumen and imagined the coffee shop where she’d been before her adventure began. Her heart sunk when she opened her eyes and she was still in the same place. She squeezed her eyes shut once more and thought of her home, again nothing changed.

Panic gripped her entire body and threatened to steal her consciousness as she began to hyperventilate. Then she did the only logical thing she could think of, she removed the Mojari’s from her feet, closed her eyes and thought of home again. Hesitantly she opened her eyes, only to be confronted with the tower once more. She felt as though she may throw up or faint but knew in her heart that if she let fear conquer her she would never get home.

She desperately required help but knew if she shared the incredible account of how she’d materialised there, no one would even talk to her let alone believe her. Eventually she decided to take a risk and attempt to find a friendly English-speaking ally.  “Excuse me” she implored a passing Japanese lady who walked right on past her. “Excuse me” she beseeched again, this time to an older gentleman who was perhaps English or European. He too walked by as though he heard nothing. She could no longer hold back her apprehension and began to yell “Can someone please help me”. Not a soul noticed her desperate cries, they all went about their business as though her existence was null.

She saw a young boy nearby flicking through a tourist catalogue. She ran to where he stood, peering over his shoulder. He was reading an article on Australia and there were glossy pictures of the Sydney opera house. It wasn’t home but at least it was the right country. She closed her eyes, tapped her feet and imagined the scene from the photograph. When she opened her eyes, she was staring at the white arches of one of her country’s greatest architectural accomplishments.

A small sense of relief washed over her as she felt a little closer to home, but gloom revisited her once again when she recognised that she was still confined to the boundaries of the photograph. All hope fleeted, and she sank to the ground. How was she going to get home? Was there even a way? Was she condemned to meander aimlessly from photograph to photograph forever, never able to return to reality?

Deanna supposed she would conclude the story there and let her readers decide on her protagonist’s fate. She typed the words ‘THE END’ at the bottom of the page and clicked on the save button. She closed her laptop with a satisfactory smile and swallowed down the remainder of her 3rd latte. She was pleased with the story she’d produced, it was a gloomy tale but much like reality, not every story had a happy ending. The important thing was, she felt accomplished for the first time in years. She glided back into the house and was greeted by a flurry of kisses from her darling daughter and a delighted squeal from Thomas as he realised his milk train was back in the station.

Deanna felt a deeper appreciation for her kids now that she’d had a chance to be productive. She smiled with cheerfulness and thanked Kathie for being so kind as to babysit. “You were right” she said “These Mojari’s were a great inspiration”.

THE END

 

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Now You See Me: A Short Story

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We’d like to thank Alison Drury of the UK for her short story submission entitled ‘Now You See Me…’. This story is based on true events and has been accepted for an anthology by the Open University Write Club, called ‘Generations” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>Generations’, copies of the anthology are available on ebook or in paperback through Generations” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>Amazon.

Alison is studying for a BA(Hons) degree in English Literature and Creative Writing with the Open University. She has lived in Kent’s Garden of England for more than forty years and knows that everything comes to those who want it badly enough. A daughter, Mother, professional plate-spinner and writer, she believes now is her time to dance.

Alison’s descriptive prose paints a relatable picture in this beautifully written, true-to-life story about the ravaging affects time can have on the mind of an ageing Mother.



Now You See Me…

‘Suddenly, as rare things will, it vanished.’
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Outside, here in the garden, the fresh air has blown away the cobwebs and the sunshine has fused her neural wiring. Pulling up the roots, teasing apart the strangled knots, picking up the windfalls and turning over and over the soil that clouds the water. I stand there, at the top of the path, watching. She hasn’t seen me yet. I don’t want to jinx this moment where, in this one place, her world makes sense. She’s tiny now, with the tenacity and strength of a little sparrow.

I’ve seen her doing this same activity, in this same garden, year after year and I’m reminded of when we first came here. They say your earliest memories tend to be few and traumatic – you rarely remember the more numerous happier times.

So then, why is my earliest memory of me sitting on my Father’s knee in the lounge of our brand-new house? It was so new there wasn’t even carpet on the floor. The earthy sweet scent of his pipe tobacco lingers, like dried hay, blended with the fresh sawdust left by the builders and the wooden tea chests stacked in the corner of every room. This smell, and the noise. We were one of the first families to move in and the estate was still a building site. Between eight in the morning and four in the afternoon the thunderous hammering and drilling was unrelenting – for months. But after a while it was only noticeable by the intense silence once the workmen had left for the day; the eerie, un-echoing sound like when everything is muffled by a blanket of snow or water or ash.

Time distorts memory.

It was unusual he was home before my bedtime; work or sport generally kept him out till late. I hung on, to him and his words. I devoured his stories as we snuggled in the high-backed winged armchair in front of the electric fire. His bristly whiskers tickled my cheek and my skinny spaghetti legs, in their knee-length white socks, draped over his lap. That’s all I can remember. There are photographs, of course, of other times, but they’re not memories – they have no lingering aroma nor give out any tingling pops of electricity. Nobody shared that moment except him and me. I was four years old, and a few months later he was gone – my Mother was a widow at thirty-two.

It wasn’t until I was thirty-two, also with a child of four, when the grief brought me up short, like I was trapped momentarily in a turnstile on the London underground. I remember it vividly. I tried to imagine how that situation had been for my Mother. One of those things that can never be prepared for, like losing a limb or a sense. My Mother had been amazingly pragmatic; no histrionics, or wallowing in self-pity. She just quietly shut that door and walked through the next one, and the next one and the next – throughout various episodes of her life.

Her ‘episodes’ read like a soap opera and are equally numerous, funny and tragic. Over eighty-three years she has had her appendix out, a baby out, her womb out, wisdom teeth out, nose, wrist, bladder and bowel repaired, and now sports a titanium knee. She has lost an eye, two husbands, two dogs, two guinea pigs, three cats and a rabbit. She has swum for Sheffield, travelled the world, para-glided in Florida and, water-skied in Corfu. Even now she swims, drives and dances and the garden remains a constant where she still digs her potatoes. It has grown and flourished, changing with the seasons; the Wendy House is now a hot house for her tomatoes, the swing has been replaced with a Victoria Plum, and the exotics have been composted and replanted with root vegetables and raspberry canes. I think back to the time I first noticed the brick path becoming disjointed and furred over with moss, and the pond-life increasingly trapped in algae-infested stagnation. The bugs were sneaking in, burrowing and eating away the goodness, stealing her words: there was the gentleman friend who, ‘poor thing’, was in hospital having a ‘hysterectomy’; she excitedly told us how she had packed all the ‘furniture’ into her suitcase for the Retirement Group charabanc to North Wales. Her confusion at the drop in visiting birds – probably due to the fish food in the bird feeder – and her muddled days as she found nobody at the Doctor’s surgery on a Sunday.

We had time.

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The tests called on her artistic skills but she was better at drawing water to feed the flowers, than five past five on a clock-face. She would curse at the bindweed, anchoring her peonies, but could only identify an anchor on the Doctor’s sheet as ‘that thing that stops a boat from floating away’. In another picture, she knew it was a musical instrument, miming how it should be played, like Lisa from The Simpsons. When asked, she thought it was Tuesday (‘or was it Thursday’), and recalled the Prime Minister’s name was David ‘something’ – he had the same name as her childhood sweetheart. The amber warnings of bleak times ahead led to sandbags and countermeasures at the ready. The boost from the medication was like the heater in the hot house or weed killer in the rain; the memories blossomed and the woolliness evaporated. The side-effects, however, were impatience and sheer bloody-mindedness. These would, of course, have been perfectly harmless if they’d helped in solving Sudoku, or deciphering the bus timetable. However, it’s a different story when they stimulate super powers to ascend into the loft to sort through the ‘keep list’, or climb out of the window to prune next door’s hedge, because the side gate was rusted shut.

It was early enough in the diagnosis that she understood the concept that things die eventually: branches fall from the old apple tree, and leaves become brittle and shatter. She accepted the fact that a certain amount of chemical fertiliser could help, but it couldn’t prevent the inevitable. She was driven to do anything that would enable her to remain in her house with her beloved garden; ‘the only place I can think straight because of my bloody brain.’

I quietly slip inside to put the kettle on and glance at the charging unit for her shiny new pendant blinking expectantly. I smile as I think back to the reason for inviting ‘Big Brother’ to be her chaperone; like the time she disappeared without leaving a ’flight plan’ having taken the scenic route across the fields to the church, the precariously rigged steps to facilitate the hedge-pruning incident when she could have been trapped in the passageway for days. This had been an exercise in patience; not for her, but for us. She had been more than willing to have it but couldn’t quite grasp that (a) she needed to wear it at-all-times, and (b) it needed to sit in its cradle occasionally to recharge the battery. Her trajectory of understanding is precariously heading for an escarpment but we are holding her hand every step of the way, encouraging her to seek new and easier paths through the increasingly befogged jungle. As I look around the house, our way-markers are everywhere; the sprinkling of pink and yellow Post-it Notes, like long-blooming perennials, written with instructions and diagrams on how to use the washing machine, how to switch from the radio to the record player, when to take her pills, and how to reinvigorate ‘Big Brother’.

We have time.

The house is clean and tidy and her slippers sit waiting to be exchanged on newspaper by the door. Her lunch is prepared on the side and her diary is full of appointments and social engagements.

I walk down the garden and surprise her with a cup of tea. We sit on the bench, her little legs swinging like a child’s in her red wellies, and admire the trench she has prepared for the potatoes.

‘I’ve been thinking Mum, if you want to go on the next trip, perhaps I’ll come with you.’

‘What trip pet?’

‘The next trip with your retirement group, the Turkey & Tinsel to the Isle of Wight in November.’

She wiped away the constant tear from her unseeing eye. ‘Oh darling, are you sure? That would be incurable, I’d love you to come.’ Leaning in conspiratorially, ‘Jane said she didn’t think I should sign up for it. I think I was an annoying whatsit in Wales and she got a bit stressed.’

‘I know, she told me.’

‘It wasn’t fair! My room was miles from anyone else’s and I kept getting lost. I couldn’t sleep, thought I’d miss breakfast.’

‘Shhhh! Also, you can’t just go wandering off without telling anyone.’

She flung her arms up in exasperation, spilling her tea, ‘I only went for a walk for heaven’s sake, I couldn’t bear being cooped up inside. And anyway, I couldn’t find anyone to tell.’

I stilled her hands and saved the tea, ‘Well, we can do our own thing, we can be rebels together, and they won’t have to worry.’

I want more time.

A mother-daughter relationship is like a cat’s cradle: the care threaded around our fingers, controlled by one, and then passed to the other in varying sequences. Like the convolvulus, strangling her herbaceous peonies, my Mother’s changing character needs liberating and befriending. Letting go of that other person is hard for both of us but, hands clasped, another door awaits and we step through it together.

~ Alison Drury


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TINY GREEN APPLES: A Micro Story

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We are super excited to bring you another micro story from the very talented Fiona Jones. We hope you enjoy it and if you’d like to submit a story of your own, please see our submission page for more info.

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TINY GREEN APPLES

SOS! What do you do with a large—a very large—bagful of wild apples, hard and green and sized like golf balls? Google doesn’t have a page for this.

Refusing the apples is not an option. Ten-year-old squidgelet took a shopping bag, put on jeans and wellies and fought his way through undergrowth and thorns to the back end of a desolate wasteland where someone must have thrown away an apple core decades ago. “It was difficult,” he says proudly, “and I got hurt and scratched.” He has provided for his family, like a cat bringing home what cats bring home, and my role is clear: to accept them, to cook them and to submit the results for his approval.

Did I bring this on myself? Ever since my children could walk I have taken them berry-picking, and as they’ve grown older we’ve discussed the advantages of wild-grown, pesticide-free, zero-carbon fruit. So here I stand with a load of wild-grown, pesticide-free, zero-carbon, rock-hard fruit, and I must make something edible of it if it costs me a week’s struggle.

I laboriously cut and peeled the largest of the hoard and made an apple crumble. I added a few more, cored but unpeeled, to homemade fruit smoothies—not too many, because of their acidity. A week or so passed as more bags of tiny apples piled up at the kitchen door. Finally I hit upon the idea I’ve used ever since: core the apples, boil them with sugar and put them through the food processor, skins and all. I use some of the puree for pies, combined with blackberries or plums, and I freeze the rest. It’s a year’s worth of apple crumbles and cinnamon-apple cakes.

Thank you, squidgelet. It was difficult, and it took some work on my part, but I’m building quite a reputation for the distinctive appley flavours in my home baking.

~ Fiona Jones



Fiona Jones is a part-time teacher, a parent and a spare-time writer, with work recently published by Folded Word, Buckshot Magazine and Silver Pen. You can follow Fiona on Twitter or Linkedin

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Thanks for reading this blog, if you’d like to read more of our short or micro stories,  click here & if you’d like to submit your own story for consideration, please see our submissions page for details.

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How To Accomplish More In A Fraction Of The Time eCOVER WHITE

The pace and intensity of our lives, both at work and at home, leave many of us feeling like a person riding a frantically galloping horse. Our day-to-day incessant busyness — too much to do and not enough time.

With this ebook you will learn to approach your days in another way, reducing stress and getting results through prioritizing, leveraging and focus!

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