Short Story Sunday: Magnolia

Nobody takes notice of frumpy middle-aged women walking old dogs. Magnolia walked down the path through the trees. She thought of the Hawthorne story Young Goodman Brown imagining when he walked down the path to find his innocent young wife dancing with the Devil. That was an odd thought for an Easter morning.

It had been years since she’d been to church. She hated to be a holiday Christian. She hated going to church, always had. Yet, she loved the old music and certain songs.

Christ has risen.

He has risen indeed.

Someone called her name. She turned around to find her neighbors. They were on their way down to the lake for a sunrise service.

“Come with us,” they said.

She hesitated then decided to join them. Down at the edge of the water they sang traditional hymns she’d known as a child. It was a gathering of joy and love with words of hope. Old people, youngsters, babies and dogs were all there. Even the geese and ducks had come to the gathering by the edge of the lake.

After saying goodbye to a few friends and neighbors she made her way back up the trail towards home. All the dusty file drawers in her mind opened up letting the memories and thoughts flow. She thought of the Easter dresses her mother would sew when she was small. She wondered why people were so fascinated with the sexist patriarchy Duggar family and the freakish sleazy Kardashians. The idea of all of them disgusted her. She thought about how she should have gone to a different college.

She wondered if anything she’d ever done had mattered. What she was doing now mattered, sort of, at least to her kids, but she wondered about the past. Did any of her old boyfriends ever think of her? Could she have ever been the CEO of a creative empire? Could she have won an Oscar? What if she’d gone to Nepal with Mac Andrews or moved to Santa Barbara with Bill Van Pelt? Why had she come back to her parents after she’d backpacked alone across England? Would the kids like a raspberry coffee cake or blueberry muffins today? She’d send the extras home with her brother because she didn’t want them around the house to tempt her later. He said he was going to bring a green salad but she was afraid he’d bring potato salad. At least they’d have wine.

She wondered if life would have been different if she’d had a different name. She was always Magnolia, never Maggie or Nola.

Stopping at the top of the bluff she looked across the lake to the next town over. She was invisible. Women like her always were. A short, overweight, frumpy woman of no consequence. People were always telling her “if I had your talent I’d rule the world” or do something wonderful. That was if THEY had her talent. Her passion had been beaten out of her. She was always up for more rejection and in turn, more discovery, but… maybe she’d take a Zumba class at the gym. Zumba sounded like a lot of fun and if she took it easy she wouldn’t hurt her knee again.

At the end of the trail she saw a man. She smiled. What if he really was a Vampire and offered to take her away, or at least offered her a new life. Would she take it? No, it would be too much work. What if the woods were haunted? Did ghosts of Victorian lovers and Jazz singers dance through the night together. She passed the man, a young man in his 20’s with a large brown dog of unknown breed. Her large white dog of unknown breed sniffed it, everyone exchanged greetings and went on their way.

At home her family was just getting up. The kids gave her sleepy kisses. Her husband had started coffee and was making smoothies for the kids. So much for coffee cake but smoothies were always a good thing. He always put too much honey in them but she never said anything to him about it.

“Did you have a good walk?” Her husband gave her a hug as he asked her.

“It was nice. A lot of birds were out.” She didn’t say anything else. Magnolia was so used to not being heard that it was easier just to be the invisible woman.

Pouring a cup of coffee and went out on her deck. Her husband came out and said, “you’re quiet. What are you thinking about?”

“Nothing really. Nothing that matters.”

 

~end~

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First posted in 2015

~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman

 

 

Old St. Rick

I completely forgot about Star Wars or the Democratic Debate. I’ve been on the verge of a panic attack (really, no kidding, no snarky remarks about me not understanding whatever…I understand more than you’ll ever know) and everything in my small corner of the world seeming to be like the proverbial Vampire in the mirror, while all the while everyone around me is telling me otherwise.

A day or two ago I was pondering what I’m going to do next. Not like who I’m going to bite, but what I’m going to DO. You know DO like work or meaningful activity or creative genius stuff. Then as a brilliant idea or two came into my mind my computer died. I kind of spiraled for a few days, but it was nice to take a break from the machine until the new hard drive was put in.

With the computer fixed I sat at home, with the computer closed, on my red couch, pondering a lot of things when a knock came on the door.

It was my friend Richard. Oh my goodness it had been a while since I’d seen him.

Women found him irresistible. Men found him intriguing. Children adored him.

I opened the door, gave him a hug and let him in.

Rickard looked at his blurry refection in the entry way mirror then caught himself in the eyes. The mirror cleared and he found himself looking into his own hazel eyes. He looked good after four centuries. Almost too good. The right description would be devastatingly handsome.

I took his Ferragamo overcoat and noticed the beautiful silk Hermes tie, that complimented his black Armani suit. He always was a sharp dresser.

“You look as gorgeous as ever,” I told him.

He kissed my cheek, “And you’re as beautiful as ever Juliette. Do you mind making some coffee? I’m absolutely beat, but I have to tell you what just happened to me.”

He followed me to the kitchen as I made coffee.

He flashed me a million watt smile. “I made my list and checked everything twice except the weather report. Yes, I was caught in the snow, but I had the most interesting night. It was pretty amazing.

I’d turned off the highway on a clear road. It wasn’t like I was in the middle of nowhere, and even if I was that shouldn’t have bothered me. Anyway, I was driving along with only one other car on the road. I was at a safe distance behind a midsize sedan. No problem. I’m singing along to the radio to that new song Cold Cold Man, and suddenly BAM. We were both, the car in front of me and I were both hit by a truck. The truck kept going. I went into a ditch and rolled. The other car spun and went off the side of the road into the snow.

A woman was in the other car. I could tell by her voice as she called to me. The snow started to fall as she helped me from my car. I was trapped. This small woman rocked the car until I could push the door open. It was amazing. She led me about a half mile down the road, through the snow to a cabin. There was no cell coverage and it was starting to get dark.

She was middle aged. You know just an average woman. Brown hair, a little overweight, pretty enough face, nose red from the cold. She got a fire going and lit an oil lamp, then started a kettle for tea. I just stood there like an idiot watching.

The more I watched the more I thought I recognized her but I couldn’t wrap my mind around her.

She told me to sit. She told me to take off my wet jacket and shoes. She wrapped a soft blanket around my shoulders and gave me tea. It wasn’t one of those nasty scratchy disgusting blankets people tend to have in cabins but a nice one.

She looked at me and said: This is my place. My escape. I was here for a few days trying to rewind. Looks like it might be a few more. I can’t get a phone connection right now but I left a note on my car. Somebody ought to be by tomorrow, if not tonight. You look familiar. Like a guy I used to know a long time ago.

I asked her who she thought I looked like. She said something about someone she knew a long time ago. Then she said she was old enough to be my mother and so we’d never met.

She said she was fifty-seven. I told her that I was four hundred and thirty one. And she just stared at me. She didn’t call me a smart ass or get weird. She just looked at me.

Then she said You’re THAT Rick. Oh my God. Fuck.

I’m a Vampire. I just blurted it out. I NEVER do that. I never tell anyone what I am unless they figure it out on their own.

I should have figured that, she said.

Thirty years before we’d had a one night stand. Then another one night stand. Then one more. She was beautiful but not in a conventional way and sexy as can be. And there she was.

Why didn’t you ever call me? I asked.

Really? She said. I could tell, like you, she had teens in her house.

Really. Why didn’t you call? I asked again.

You know why. I would have just made a fool of myself. How old are you? She asked.

Four hundred and thirty one. I said.

I could see the wheels in her brain turning as she looked at me.

You’re lovely. I said. Yes, I read her thoughts. Society is so cruel to middle aged women. She thinks she is horrible looking and invisible. You’re beautiful.

She leaned against the back of the couch and closed her eyes. I kissed her.

Your lips are cold. Just like back then. She said. So are you going to drain my blood? I’m diabetic so you might get a mouth full of drugs and a bad after taste.

No, but hey, I could turn you into a Vampire if you want. You’d look the way you looked thirty years ago. You’d…

Stop. She said. I have kids in high school.

You could be young and live for…for a long long time.

She shook her head and gave me a sad smile. Oh Rick. Sweetie. I have to get my kids into college. Then maybe I’ll have time to sit on the beach and write poetry.  I have a husband too. Twenty five years ago, thirty years ago the answer would have been yes, but now not so much. Boy, this is weird. I knew you were different but this is weird. And I’m not beautiful. I look like a troll.

Don’t say that, I told her. You don’t look like a troll. You’re beautiful.

So to make a short story longer we talked for two days straight. She was worried about her family worrying about her but I told her it would be ok. The phone service wasn’t dead, it had come back on right after we settled in the first night. I just made it seem like that. I called her family when she dozed off. I also set up a college fund for her kids. Whatever they need they’ll have.

Oh it was grand those two days. She made me laugh harder than I’d laughed in years. She made me feel more alive than I have felt, well, since I was alive. You know, like warm again. And she didn’t judge. She wasn’t afraid of me. She was curious. She didn’t treat me like a freak. I hardly find a human who treats me like I’m normal and just a little different.

Before her husband made it up to pick us up I gave her something personal, just for her. I gave her my ruby ring. You know the pinkie ring I always called my Vampire ring. It fit on her middle finger. I guess that is fitting considering how I acted thirty years ago. She actually cried. I made someone cry tears of joy. God, she was beautiful back then. She still is, she just doesn’t believe it. I want her to believe. I’ll keep working on it.”

v_swirl

I looked at my friend Richard and suddenly realized that there was more to the centuries old party boy than I had imagined. He’d given his three day lover a ring that was worth at least fifty thousand dollars and made sure her kids would get through college.

“Hey Juliette, let’s go for a hunt tonight, just like old times. We can bring Teddy along,” he said.

“Nothing like a little holiday blood lust.”

“Exactly. And hey, the reason I stopped by was to ask you a favor. I know a guy who wants to be one of us. He is ready and will make a good addition to our community. Will you help me. You’re the best. I don’t know anyone I’d rather help me with … and what’s wrong?”

I stopped to compose myself. “You’re so sweet.”

He kissed my forehead. “Merry Christmas Juliette.”

“Merry Christmas Richard.”

I wish you all a Merry Christmas and happy holiday season with friends, old and new.

 

~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman

 

Yes, I know, all of my posts sound the same. That is life… Merry Christmas. Go have some egg nog and take your dog for a walk.

J.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Short Story Sunday: Magnolia

Nobody takes notice of frumpy middle-aged women walking old dogs. Magnolia walked down the path through the trees. She thought of the Hawthorne story Young Goodman Brown imagining when he walked down the path to find his innocent young wife dancing with the Devil. That was an odd thought for an Easter morning.

It had been years since she’d been to church. She hated to be a holiday Christian. She hated going to church, always had. Yet, she loved the old music and certain songs.

Christ has risen.

He has risen indeed.

Someone called her name. She turned around to find her neighbors. They were on their way down to the lake for a sunrise service.

“Come with us,” they said.

She hesitated then decided to join them. Down at the edge of the water they sang traditional hymns she’d known as a child. It was a gathering of joy and love with words of hope. Old people, youngsters, babies and dogs were all there. Even the geese and ducks had come to the gathering by the edge of the lake.

After saying goodbye to a few friends and neighbors she made her way back up the trail towards home. All the dusty file drawers in her mind opened up letting the memories and thoughts flow. She thought of the Easter dresses her mother would sew when she was small. She wondered why people were so fascinated with the sexist patriarchy Duggar family and the freakish sleazy Kardashians. The idea of all of them disgusted her. She thought about how she should have gone to a different college.

She wondered if anything she’d ever done had mattered. What she was doing now mattered, sort of, at least to her kids, but she wondered about the past. Did any of her old boyfriends ever think of her? Could she have ever been the CEO of a creative empire? Could she have won an Oscar? What if she’d gone to Nepal with Mac Andrews or moved to Santa Barbara with Bill Van Pelt? Why had she come back to her parents after she’d backpacked alone across England? Would the kids like a raspberry coffee cake or blueberry muffins today? She’d send the extras home with her brother because she didn’t want them around the house to tempt her later. He said he was going to bring a green salad but she was afraid he’d bring potato salad. At least they’d have wine.

She wondered if life would have been different if she’d had a different name. She was always Magnolia, never Maggie or Nola.

Stopping at the top of the bluff she looked across the lake to the next town over. She was invisible. Women like her always were. A short, overweight, frumpy woman of no consequence. People were always telling her “if I had your talent I’d rule the world” or do something wonderful. That was if THEY had her talent. Her passion had been beaten out of her. She was always up for more rejection and in turn, more discovery, but… maybe she’d take a Zumba class at the gym. Zumba sounded like a lot of fun and if she took it easy she wouldn’t hurt her knee again.

At the end of the trail she saw a man. She smiled. What if he really was a Vampire and offered to take her away, or at least offered her a new life. Would she take it? No, it would be too much work. What if the woods were haunted? Did ghosts of Victorian lovers and Jazz singers dance through the night together. She passed the man, a young man in his 20’s with a large brown dog of unknown breed. Her large white dog of unknown breed sniffed it, everyone exchanged greetings and went on their way.

At home her family was just getting up. The kids gave her sleepy kisses. Her husband had started coffee and was making smoothies for the kids. So much for coffee cake but smoothies were always a good thing. He always put too much honey in them but she never said anything to him about it.

“Did you have a good walk?” Her husband gave her a hug as he asked her.

“It was nice. A lot of birds were out.” She didn’t say anything else. Magnolia was so used to not being heard that it was easier just to be the invisible woman.

Pouring a cup of coffee and went out on her deck. Her husband came out and said, “you’re quiet. What are you thinking about?”

“Nothing really. Nothing that matters.”

 

~end~

 

 

Short Story: The Interview

Sometimes life takes you in places you don’t want to be and when you think you’re done it spits you out to where you’ve always wanted to be. Maybe.

When you drive through Marin County you can’t help but think it is a beautiful place, especially this time of year when everything is green. Then you hit the tunnel toward San Francisco and find yourself almost breathless crossing the most beautiful bridge in the world.

I was on the Golden Gate Bridge, both excited and a little queasy thinking about what was to come last Friday morning. I had an interview for a job.

About a month ago, after fifteen years at my job, after almost thirty years of no unemployment, I was laid off from my job. It was called a firing but that is what it felt like. There were ten other as well – all good people – all loyal workers. I left without tears or harsh words. There was nothing I could do about it. For the first forty eight hours I thought I could take on the world. Then I found all of the creative cells in my brain drying up. I lost confidence as I thought about all of the times I’d been slapped down for trying to be creative and innovative. One can get bitter being an art director in a position full of people who exude negativity out of each and every cell of their bodies. You learn not to care when everyone has an uneducated opinion about your work and about you. I got tired of all of the unkept promises and carrots held out to me to follow like the stupid ass I was. But, that was behind me. I wasn’t sure what to do with myself.

Every job posting I saw was painful to read. I didn’t want to do that anymore. I tried to get my brain around it all. I couldn’t get my brain or my heart around anything. I was the woman who had it all, career, family, marriage, and that other life that was my creative soul. I had my wonderful family and my wonderful marriage. I was struggling to bring out my creative soul which had become timid. I hadn’t lived up to my potential and I knew it more than anyone. That was painful – even physically painful.

Over the past month I spent a lot of time at the gym and bird watching to get my mind clear. I spent more time with the dog than I ever had. The world was wide open and I froze.

The fog was lifting over the bridge and the sun started to come through. There is nothing more beautiful than a sunny day in San Francisco. Now my only thoughts were on the voice on the GPS telling me where to go. I’d switched it to the British man, who isn’t as bitchy and rude sounding as the American woman GPS voice.

Turn left in two miles miles…

On Wednesday as I was planting a nectarine tree in my front yard (for no reason other than something to do) my phone rang. I put down the pick ax and grabbed the phone with a dirty hand. I didn’t recognize the number or the area code but I answered it anyway.

The voice on the other end was a happy male voice, like a radio announcer or trained stage actor. He introduced himself then said, “A friend of a friend of a friend gave me your number. He said you’re a talented designer. He said you could draw with pencil and ink. He showed me your work. I might have a job for you.”

I wondered how he had seen my work or what it was. It had been years since I’d done the type of illustrations he’d spoken of. None were done for my regular employers. All were in private collections. He said I could work from my home and come into San Francisco once or twice a month. We could trade ideas over the phone and I could send him pdf file. He was working on a series of books and posters about opera and art and history. Could I see him.

Of course I was excited. Then it seemed odd with all of the young talent near him that he’d call on an unknown middle-aged women who lived a hundred miles away. He didn’t give me many details and I didn’t ask. I should have, but I didn’t.

I parked in front of a beautiful home in a residential neighborhood. It wasn’t one of the famous Victorians, but a large home built in the 1930’s. I checked my make-up in the mirror and noticed how old I looked. Before I’d left home my wearing a gray skirt and matching cashmere sweater set with well-chosen vintage jewelry and black heels. I looked good with a little bit of edge. Now I wondered if I’d worn the right thing. I had peep toes pumps. Should I have worn closed toed shoes? Should I have worn a suit? I didn’t realize this would be at a private home – so had I over dressed?

A large lilac point Siamese cat trotted up to the front door to greet me. He immediately started to talk, the was Siamese cats do. I reached down to scratch his ears, something he seemed to greatly appreciate. Just as I was about the ring the doorbell, the door opened.

“I seem James has come to greet you. He lives next door.” James the cat ran inside. “Come in, please, come in.”

A cool hand took mine and led me through the threshold. Before me was a man who could have been in his late twenties or in his forties. I couldn’t tell. The first thing I noticed was that same mesmerizing voice, then it was the hair and eyes. The hazel eyes and chestnut colored hair was the exact same as mine. Even his hair was like mine, almost at least. He wore it just above his shoulders, with a slight wave. I was sure his color was real. My hair color, was once like his but now it came out of a bottle. In fact I’d colored it again the day I first talked to him so there would be no gray roots.

We passed through a large main living room with a grand piano and a wall of windows overlooking a yard full of flowers. Everything about the house was calm and elegant, mixing modern and old elements in a way I hadn’t quite managed at my old house (I’m working on it.) We settled into an office with the same calm feeling and sense of beauty and refinement.

He wore black slacks, a white shirt and a patterned vest, plus a black tie that was a little loose. We sat at a table where I spread my portfolio out.

As I spoke he asked a few questions, more about my philosophy on art and science and the emotions that visual arts elicit. I spoke at first reserved, then with passion. I didn’t care at this point about what he thought or how corporate I sounded. He wanted to create find publications and blog about art and music. I wanted to create. I knew printing, I knew blogging, I knew passion for my work and for what he wanted to do…

Then he help up his hand, as if telling me to stop. Then he leaned forward in his chair and smiled. “I want to hire you.”

At that point I thought my heart was going to stop. I know I smiled. He produced a folder containing a contract and paperwork for benefits and taxes and all of those items one must sign when taking on a new job. My name was already on them.

“Who told you about me?” I had to ask.

He gave me a slight smile then said, “Nobody important.” Before I could say anything he took out a leather folder. “Take a look. This is the book. Everything is on a flash drive.”

As I sat looking over his manuscript and notes he left the room. I could hear piano music and his soft singing. I stopped and listened then after a few minutes went to the doorway to watch.

He looked up. “Come sit next to me.”

I thought to myself, I need to go.

My new employer motioned to me. “Come sit down. You can call your husband in a bit. He won’t mind picking up your children.”

Of course my husband wouldn’t mind picking up the kids. How did he know I had a husband or kids or was it that obvious? I sat next to him on the piano bench.

“Are you warm enough,” he asked.

“Yes.” It was cold but I was fine.

“I know this is all weird to you but this is what you’ve always wanted. Listen, I picked you because I knew you’d have both the expertise and the passion for the project. I knew I could work with you. I knew… I know you are more accepting of those who are different. By different I don’t mean like you, because you know you’re different. You are different, not just because you’re an artistic. You’ve always been different. But I’m really different.”

I didn’t even know what to say.

“I know about you,” he said.

“What do you know?” I was almost afraid for the answer.

He laughed. “It isn’t bad. Everyone says good things about you. People know who you are. And I know you want this more than anyone else I could have interviewed for the job.”

Putting his hands on the keys he started to play then said, “I’m different in ways you can’t even imagine, but in a lot of ways we’re just alike. You have darkness in your eyes.”

“My eyes are the same color as yours.”

“I mean depth.” Then he laughed.

That could have been enough to freak anyone out and make them leave, but the way he said it. Then again I wanted to spend the rest of my life working with this guy.

We went to lunch at a local vegetarian place and talked about the project and my past work for about two hours. He had he kind of depth and the kind of peace of mind that one usually doesn’t find in late GenXers and early Millennials. Actually that could include all Baby Boomers too and … just about everyone I’d ever worked with.

As we arrived back to his house smiled and said, “you seem so ageless.”

Against my better judgment I told him, “I’m old enough to be your mother.” It was just one of those silly jokes we tell ourselves when no matter how fashionable and unique and insanely talented we are – we suddenly realize that we’re no longer young or hip or valued.

“You just haven’t worked with the right people. Let me tell you a secret. I was born in 1851, not 1951 but 1851. I know what old is. It has nothing to do with age. I know that is easy for me to say, but you’re far better than you know. Far better than stupid people know. Far better than… You know, I can’t wait to work with you.”

I must have looked at him like he was crazy. I did look at him like he was crazy. Then he just smiled again and took my hands in his.

“We both have secrets. I’m a Vampire. You’re the person I want to illustrate my story. You and only you.”

“Really?” I had to ask him. “You’re a real Vampire?” You know, I thought back on my week. A thousand dollars in vet bills from both the dog and the cat, I didn’t have a job, three deaths including two that were close, and I think something is wrong with the transmission in my car. Now I have a job offer with a hefty paycheck doing what I love for someone who seemed want to hire me. “So,” I asked him, “are you going to drink my blood or anything like that?”

“Absolutely not. I need you for my books.”

I left around 10:00 that night after he’d told me his story and I’d told him mine. There were surprises for both of us. It took me about two hours to get home. There wasn’t much traffic by the time I left his big city to go to my medium-sized city.

HA! I guess this was a different kind of interview with a Vampire.

Sometimes life gets weird, but sometimes it gets wonderful. Sometimes it gets interesting. Sometimes it gets just the way it should be. I can’t believe how excited I am.

 

 

 

 

 

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Note: I know I’ve been lack on Short Story Sunday. For more (and better) stories CLICK HERE or HERE. 

 

~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman