Dawn Pisturino's Blog

My Writing Journey

Children’s Story: “Caitlin II”

(Photo by Vitolda Klein, Unsplash)

The next part of the assignment for my children’s literature writing class was to write a children’s story based on the child I had observed. (See previous post.)

Children’s Story: “Caitlin II”

by Dawn Pisturino

I wasn’t surprised when Jenny told me that her parents are getting a divorce. It seems like every kid I know comes from a broken home. Jenny’s parents fight a lot, and I’ve seen her break down and cry in the girls’ restroom because of it. Don’t parents understand how unhappy they make their kids?

She hopes they’ll make it up and stay together, and I hope they do, too. Jenny is a nice girl with a bright future, and I hate to see her so unhappy.

Why do families have to split up? Why can’t they just love each other and stay together?

My Aunt Lucy and Uncle Tommy got a divorce. I never see Uncle Tommy anymore. He moved to the East Coast and got a new job. Aunt Lucy cried a lot, and my cousin Jeremy got into trouble for stealing money from the neighbor next door. After his father left, he was angry for a long time. I haven’t seen him since last Christmas, but Mom told me that he ran away from home one night and got beat up by a local gang. I’m afraid that someday something really bad will happen to him, and I’ll never see him again.

I love my father, and if he ever left, I think I would die. Just the thought makes me want to cry.

It scared me when my little brother got real sick. His face was red, and his skin was hot, and he slept a lot. Mom rushed him to the emergency room, and he had to stay in the hospital until he got better. I didn’t see Mom for a few days because she stayed in the hospital with him.

Dad and I took care of each other, though. We made dinner together every night, and one night, we went out for pizza. I told him all about my classes in school, the new girl who moved in down the street, and the cute boy I met at the library. I was embarrassed to talk about the cute boy, but Dad just laughed and didn’t tease me at all. I really loved him for that.

~

Sunday, May 8, 2022, is Mother’s Day. HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!

Dawn Pisturino

July 8, 2008; May 6, 2022

Copyright 2008-2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

18 Comments »

Jennifer’s Jar – A Short Story

(Photo from The Cary Company, http://www.thecarycompany.com)

Jennifer’s Jar

by Dawn Pisturino

On the morning of her tenth birthday, Jennifer received the strangest gift she had ever seen – a large glass jar.

It looks like a mayonnaise jar, Jennifer thought. But why did someone – or something – send it to her?

When she unscrewed the lid and peered inside, she saw nothing at all. Sniffing it produced no odor. The inside of the jar was perfectly dry. She shook it, rolled it, and turned it upside-down. Nothing happened.

All in all, it was an ordinary glass jar with no label on the front or printing on the lid. So, she decided to use it.

“I’ll fill it with water and add blue food coloring,” Jennifer said. “Some plastic fish would look nice. I’ll make an aquarium!”

But when she tried to pour water into the jar, the water wouldn’t go in! It spilled all over the countertop. She used a whole roll of paper towels cleaning it up. And the jar was still empty.

“I’ll fill it with marbles,” Jennifer decided.

She found her brother’s big bag of marbles and tried to pour them into the jar. But the marbles wouldn’t go in! They scattered all over the kitchen floor. It took twenty minutes to find all those marbles and refill the marble bag. And the jar was still empty.

“Oh, well,” Jennifer sighed. “Bobby would probably be mad anyway.”

Sand! How about sand?

For Christmas, Jennifer had received a craft kit filled with different types of colored sand. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to use it.

Using one of her mother’s kitchen funnels, she tried to pour pink sand into the jar. But the sand wouldn’t go in! It spilled, like pink sugar, all over the countertop. She cleaned it up with a wet dishcloth. And the jar was still empty.

Frustrated, Jennifer threw the dishcloth into the sink. “What am I going to do with an empty glass jar that won’t fill? I may as well throw it away.”

She tossed it into the trashcan, but lo and behold, here it came, bouncing out of the trashcan and into her hands again!

Terrified, Jennifer threw the jar onto the floor, smashing it into a million pieces.

A loud belching noise filled the air, and a small cloud of stinky black smoke rose up from the pieces of glass. “Ugh! Smells like a big fart!” Jennifer cried, pinching her nose. “Smells like Sissy’s poopy diapers! No wonder the jar wouldn’t fill!” As the cloud rose, it grew larger and larger until it was nearly as big as Jennifer herself.

“I’m out of here!” Jennifer yelled as she ran for the front door. But the big, stinky, black cloud followed her. She raced into the front yard, where a gust of wind caught the big, black cloud and spirited it away.

Relieved, Jennifer returned to the kitchen just in time to hear her mother say, “Jennifer, you’re in big trouble this time!”

Dawn Pisturino

2012; May 4, 2022

Copyright 2012-2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

28 Comments »

Brother Bear’s Baby-Sitting Adventure

(Photo by Nathan Dumlao, Unsplash)

Brother Bear’s Baby-Sitting Adventure

by Dawn Pisturino

Brother Bear groaned. “I don’t wanna baby-sit! Sister Bear always gets me into trouble!”

“Now, now,” said Mama Bear. “I have to take Baby Bear to the doctor. I’m counting on you to take care of Sister Bear.”

“Can we make chocolate chip cookies when you get home?” Brother Bear asked.

Mother Bear laughed. “We’ll see,” she said.

After Mother Bear left with Baby Bear, Brother Bear turned on the TV so Sister Bear could watch her favorite cartoons.

“I’m hungry,” Sister Bear said. “Can I please have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?”

Brother Bear made a face. “Okay – since you said please.”

“You’re the best big brother in the world!” Sister Bear said.

Brother Bear went to the kitchen. He made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and put it on a green plate. He poured a big glass of milk. He carried the green plate and the glass of milk into the living-room for Sister Bear. Sister Bear was gone!

“Sister Bear!” Brother Bear called. But nobody answered.

Brother Bear put the green plate and glass of milk on a table. He ran down the hallway to look for Sister Bear.

First, he looked in Sister Bear’s room. There were lots of dolls on Sister Bear’s pink bed – but no Sister Bear.

Then, he looked in Baby Bear’s room. There were lots of stuffed animals in Baby Bear’s white crib – but no Sister Bear.

Brother Bear knocked on the bathroom door. “Sister Bear, are you in there?”

He heard water running.

Sister Bear squealed with delight. “Wheeeee! I love bubbles! Lots and lots of bubbles!”

Brother Bear groaned. What was he going to do? Mama Bear would be home soon. Brother Bear tried to open the bathroom door. But it was locked.

“Sister Bear, open the door!” Brother Bear yelled.

“I’m taking a bubble bath all by myself,” Sister Bear said. “Wheeeee!”

Brother Bear heard Sister Bear splashing in the water. He heard the water running in the bathtub.

I have to get in there and turn off the water, Brother Bear thought. But how?

The window. Could he climb through the bathroom window? He decided to try.

Brother Bear ran outside and found the bathroom window. It was open. But Brother Bear was not tall enough to climb through the window.

He found an old wooden chair. He placed it under the bathroom window. He stood on top of the chair. Now, he was tall enough to climb through the window.

Sister Bear laughed when she saw Brother Bear climb through the window. She blew bubbles at him with her bubble wand.

The water in the bathtub was beginning to run on the floor. Bubbles floated everywhere!

Brother Bear turned off the water in the bathtub. He was mad.

“Look at the mess you made!” Brother Bear shouted. “Mama Bear’s gonna be mad!”

Sister Bear began to cry.

Brother Bear opened the bathroom door. He heard a noise in the kitchen. Mama Bear was home.

What should he do?

Brother Bear grabbed some towels from the linen closet and threw them on the bathroom floor. He cleaned up all the water with the towels. Then he pulled the plug in the bathtub.

Sister Bear laughed as the water went gurgle-gurgle down the drain. She climbed out of the bathtub. Brother Bear dried her with a towel. He helped her to get dressed.

Brother Bear took Sister Bear to the living-room and put her in a chair.

“Here’s your peanut butter and jelly sandwich,” Brother Bear said.

Mama Bear came into the living-room. “How did it go?” she asked.

Sister Bear became excited. “Brother Bear let me take a bubble bath all by myself. And he made the best peanut butter and jelly sandwich in the world. I love Brother Bear!”

Mama Bear looked happy. “You did a good job, Brother Bear. Let’s go make chocolate chip cookies.”

Dawn Pisturino

May 2008; March 31, 2022

Copyright 2008-2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

20 Comments »

Remarkable Mr. Tibbs

(Photo from Pixabay)

Caitlin finished hosing down the empty dog kennel before turning off the water and removing her grimy work gloves. Her black sneakers felt damp, mud streaked her brand-new jeans, and long strands of corn silk hair had come loose from her ponytail. She was tired and hungry and ready to go home. “I’m finished, Grandma,” she called.

Dr. Rosemary Grant poked her curly gray head out the back door of the animal hospital and smiled. “You’re a good helper, Caitlin. I’ll take you home now.”

As they approached Caitlin’s house, a streak of yellow raced into the street. Her grandma slammed on the brakes, but they both felt the sickening thud.

“Mr. Tibbs!” Caitlin cried, jumping out of the car. She knelt on the asphalt where a yellow mass of fur smeared with blood lay sprawled. The eyes were closed. The chest barely moved.

Caitlin’s grandma knelt to examine the still form. “Get that old blanket from the back of the car,” she instructed without looking up.

Caitlin grabbed the blanket and handed it to her grandmother. “Will he be okay?”

“I don’t know,” she said gravely. “He’s seriously injured. We might have to put him down.”

“No!”

“He’s suffering, Caitlin. Do you want him to suffer?”

“No,” Caitlin sobbed, “but you’re a doctor. You’re supposed to try and save him!”

Very gently, as if wrapping a delicate Christmas ornament in tissue paper, Dr. Grant wrapped the injured cat in the woolen blanket and laid him in Caitlin’s arms. “We’ll take him to the clinic, and I’ll see what I can do. But don’t get your hopes up.”

* * *

Mr. Tibbs lay listlessly in a padded basket, his green eyes glazed over. “Grandma gave him some pain medicine,” Caitlin explained to her parents. She gingerly lifted the wounded yellow cat out of the basket and cradled him in her arms. His left front leg was missing. In its place was a small stump with tiny black stitches. His right front leg was limp, twisted, and useless.

“He’s crippled,” her mother said, wringing her hands. “What are we going to do with him?”

“He’ll never live a normal life again,” her father said. His steel gray eyes appeared grim. “Maybe this wasn’t a good idea. If he can’t adjust to his disabilities, we’ll have to put him down.”

* * *

Mr. Tibbs sniffed eagerly at the catnip toy in Caitlin’s hand, his green eyes glowing with expectation when she tossed it several inches in front of him on the tile floor. He eyed the toy warily, his tail flicking back and forth. Then, with one big push of his hind legs, he thrust himself forward onto his chin and chest, knocking into the toy and pushing it away. He rested a moment, breathing heavily, and tried again. Now the toy was encircled by his limp front leg. He opened his jaws and picked it up.

Caitlin scratched his furry yellow head. “Good boy, Mr. Tibbs. You did it.” She took the catnip toy from his mouth and offered him a treat, but he turned his head away and closed his eyes.

* * *

“He’s not improving,” Caitlin complained to her grandmother on the phone. “He just lays there. He won’t even try to get up unless I coax him.”

“Give him time, honey. He’s been through a terrible experience, and now his independence is gone. He has to learn how to survive all over again.”

“But if he doesn’t get better soon, Dad will have him put down.”

“It might be better in the long run,” her grandmother said.

Discouraged, Caitlin hung up the phone. Despite all of her best efforts, Mr. Tibbs was barely able to scoot a few feet across the floor. He refused to eat, and he was still unable to use the litter box. “Thank goodness we have tile floors,” her mother kept harping. “I don’t know what we would do if we had carpeting.”

Maybe Dad is right. Maybe it’s better to put him down.

She searched for him in the kitchen and laundry room. Where is he, she thought. But as she walked through the living-room door, she witnessed a remarkable sight: Mr. Tibbs was sitting up on his back haunches like a dog, his useless foreleg hanging limp and twisted in front of him, biting at the air with his powerful jaws and trying to catch a pesky fly that buzzed around his head. The fly flew away, but Mr. Tibbs remained sitting upright on his haunches. Then, with one great effort, he propelled himself onto the sofa with his strong back legs.

Caitlin flew across the room, scooped up the startled cat, and covered his furry head with kisses. “You are the most remarkable cat in the world!”

Later, when Caitlin climbed the stairs to bed, she was surprised to hear a thumping sound behind her on the stairs. She stopped and turned around. Mr. Tibbs was using his muscular back legs to clumsily propel himself up the stairs. “Come on, boy, you can do it,” she said. Slowly, he pushed himself step-by-step up the stairs until he lay exhausted at her feet.

“Dad, come here,” she called excitedly.

The first time he used the litter box, Caitlin beamed with pride. She offered him some bits of tuna fish which he eagerly ate from her hand.

One Saturday afternoon, Caitlin’s father answered the front door. A young man with sandy hair and freckles stood on the front porch with a small notebook in his hand and a camera slung over his shoulder. “Does Mr. Tibbs live here?” he said. “My name is Josh White, reporter with The Somerville Daily Bugle.”

Caitlin’s father chuckled. “Come in, Mr. White.”

Mr. Tibbs sat on his haunches in the middle of the living-room snapping his jaws at a piece of green yarn that Caitlin was dangling over his head.

“Hold that pose,” Mr. White said, flashing his camera.

The photo appeared the next day on the front page of The Somerville Daily Bugle above the story about a remarkable cat that was rescued from a terrible accident by a skilled veterinarian and saved from a life of helplessness by a dedicated twelve-year-old girl. Caitlin kept the newspaper clipping in her special drawer and read it every night before going to sleep.

Purring loudly, Mr. Tibbs stretched out his long body on the bed and yawned, one tired and contented cat.

* * *

Incredibly, Remarkable Mr. Tibbs is based on a true story. British naturalist Philip Brown owned a cat named Uncle Whiskers that survived a terrible car accident. Just like Mr. Tibbs, his left front leg was amputated and his right front leg was paralyzed. This amazing cat adapted so well to his disabilities, he was able to catch moths, rats, and even rabbits. Mr. Brown was so astounded, he wrote a book entitled Uncle Whiskers which is still avidly read by cat lovers today.

Want to read more stories about disabled pets? Visit http://www.petswithdisabilities.org.

Works Cited

Brown, Philip. Uncle Whiskers. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1974.

“Pets With Disabilities”. http://www.petswithdisabilities.org. Accessed 9/16/2008.

Dawn Pisturino

October 2008; March 30, 2022

Copyright 2008-2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

8 Comments »

Rite of Passage

(Photo by Gil Ribeiro, Unsplash)

I wrote this for the Binnacle 2008 Ultra-Short Writing Challenge, which asked for a 150-word story:

As the train pulled away from the station, Carrie looked through the window at her father standing lost and forlorn on the wooden platform. “I’ll be back,” she had said, hugging him tightly and kissing him warmly on the cheek. But as the train chugged slowly down the track, she knew in her heart that she would never come back. With tears in her eyes, she waved at him one last time, painfully aware of the worried expression in his tired blue eyes, the stooped shoulders, the crumpled old sweater. Who will take care of him now, she wondered. But as the train moved faster down the track, so did her thoughts, leaping ahead to the eager young man waiting anxiously for her at the end of the line and the new life they would begin together. She closed her eyes, remembering his gentle words of love, and cried. (149 words)

Dawn Pisturino

January 2008; March 29, 2022

Copyright 2008-2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

23 Comments »

Flash Fiction: The Girl who Hated the Sun

Photo by Jake Weirick on Unsplash

The Girl who Hated the Sun

by Dawn Pisturino

she hated the sun

how it filled up heaven

with energy and light

too hot and bright . . .

The poem popped into Katie’s head as she stood on the front porch, eyes closed, arms wide open, daring the Sun to kill her. Kill me, she urged, like you spoiled our farm, drove away my father, and wasted my mother. Go ahead. Do it!

The Sun swallowed her whole, dissolving her in his fiery belly.

Now that she was part of the Sun, Katie could ride through the heavens and visualize everything that happened down below.

She saw the grim black hearse pull up to the farm, and wept, as two men in plain black suits carried her mother away on a gurney. She sailed freely over the dusty brown fields that no longer yielded crops. She mourned the beds of sunflowers whose heads sagged, like dying children, out by the barn. And she said good-bye to the rusty old truck that sat, without tires, in a patch of yellow weeds.

Soon, the Pacific Ocean sparkled down below. Dolphins leaped among the waves. Throngs of people crowded the streets of Beijing, scurrying around like busy mice. Katie soared above the icy peaks of the Himalayas and swooped down to burn the white sands of Arabia. She waved at the Statue of Liberty, rejoicing that she finally got to see it.

And then she was home again, viewing the crumbling barn in pinkish light that gradually turned to yellow. She counted the shingles missing from the roof of the old house and peeked through the windows of her shabby bedroom.

And the journey repeated itself as the earth slowly turned, like a giant spit — repeated itself, day after day, until Katie cried with weariness and pain.

Now, she hovered over the old farm, shining brightly against a piece of broken glass lying in the withered grass, until one small yellow flame burst forth, catching the grass on fire. A passing breeze nudged the fire toward the house. The splintered wood burned brightly, throwing sparks into the sky. The old barn caught the sparks and exploded, fueled by old cans of paint. Showers of burning wood and straw ignited the patch of weeds. The ripped out upholstery in the old truck burst into flame. The oil pan smoldered, sending black smoke into the sky. And finally, with one burst of energy, the fuel tank exploded.

With grim satisfaction Katie cried, “I’ve killed it! I’ve killed my past life!” She snuggled up to the Sun, melting deeper into his fiery depths . . . while down below, a tiny piece of the world disappeared forever.

Dawn Pisturino

November 14, 2012

Copyright 2012-2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

16 Comments »

God is Great – a Short Story

Pixabay/WEBSI

(NOTE: Fear and misunderstanding occur any time two cultures come together and clash. I tried to show that in this short story. No offense was intended to any culture or religion.)

~

The sand was blowing so hard against the windshield, he could barely see where he was going. Catching a glimpse of white at the side of the road, he cautiously turned the SUV onto the rough, sand-blown driveway of a small combination gas station and convenience store. He parked in front of the store, uncomfortably aware of the bright neon beer signs in the window. Turning off the engine, he leaned back in the seat, listening to the howling wind as the vehicle rocked gently back and forth.

“Well, that’s it,” he said quietly, looking anxiously at his wife. “We’ll have to wait out the storm. Insh’allah – God willing – it will pass quickly.” He reached over and squeezed her hand reassuringly.

She gave him a forced smile, her beautiful dark eyes marred with worry. The baby stirred in the infant seat behind her and began to cry.

“He’s hungry,” she said, unbuckled her seat belt, and turned around to check on the fussy infant. “He needs to be changed.”

The other child in the back seat, a boy of five with sleepy black eyes and a mop of thick black hair, leaned dully against the window, thumb in mouth, unmindful of the blowing hot sand. The woman placed a hand on his forehead.

“He’s still hot,” she said to her husband.

“He needs medicine,” he answered, looking at his watch. “Let’s go inside. We’ll take care of the children in there. It’s already 1:00. We can spread our prayer rugs on the floor and give thanks to Allah for guiding us to this place.”

His wife nodded obediently and pulled her black dupatta closer around her face.

* * *

“Hey, Roy, look at that!”

Blanche Carter suddenly perked up behind the cash register and nodded her permed gray head in the direction of the front door. The beer-belly cowboy leaning lazily against the counter lifted the brim of his black cowboy hat and turned to look.

“What the heck!” he exclaimed, rising to his full six feet.

“Roy,” the cashier said in a low voice. “Do you still have that gun on ya?”

He peeled back the left side of his black leather vest to show her a stiff leather gun holster nestled under his armpit. With his right hand, he unsnapped the top, giving him free access to the small handgun, if the need arose.

“Don’t worry, Blanche,” he grinned. “You’e safe with me.”

“Thank God,” she said gratefully.

They watched intently as a little man with dark skin and hair wrestled with the heavy glass door, making the cowbells hanging from the handle clang furiously. Behind him, the wind tore fiercely at a small woman draped head-to-toe in black. The man held the door open against the wind, and the woman stumbled inside, her black robes flapping, her face nearly invisible in the black folds. A loud wailing competed with the howling wind, and the woman threw back her complicated drapery to reveal an infant carrier heavily swathed with blankets, a blue diaper bag slung over one shoulder, and a small boy clinging desperately to her skirts.

Blanche narrowed her eyes at the spectacle, clenching her jaw and fists. Resisting the urge to spit on the floor, she glared at the woman angrily, feeling a thick wall of resistance rise between them.

As the dark little man cautiously approached the counter, she saw that he carried what looked like a bundle of rugs under one arm and a wicker picnic basket under the other.

“Good day, ma’am . . . sir . . .” he said politely, bowing his head, fear betrayed in his large dark eyes. “If you please, I need some liquid medicine for my son.”

Blanche waited silently for Roy to respond. She was aware that he shifted his weight slightly to create a solid barrier between her and the timid little man. A large American flag was embroidered on the back of his vest, the familiar image giving her hope and comfort. Roy was a proud American, even if he did whore around and drink too much, and he would handle the situation the way he saw fit.

“Over there,” Roy said gruffly, waving his hand to the right.

“Thank you, sir,” the little man said. “I am most grateful. Alhamdu lillah – praise be to God – for your kindness.”

Roy said nothing. But Blanche saw his body stiffen and the whiteness of his big, flabby hands as they curled tightly into fists.

Blanche wanted to scream, Get your stuff and get out! But she was afraid they would complain to the owner of the store, and she would lose her job. It was the only job available for miles around, and she couldn’t afford to lose it. Most of the desert rats around there who bothered to work a steady job commuted to Phoenix. But Blanche was too old and tired to make that long, hot journey every day. She bit her lip and glared, feeling hostile and afraid.

But it don’t make it right, she fumed bitterly. These furriners come to this here country takin’ good jobs away from law-abidin’ Americans — and we jes’ have to put up with it! The government don’t do nothin’. The country’s goin’ down the tubes anyway. That money-grubbin’ TV evangelist, Graham Robertson, is right — the end times are here, and Jesus is comin’! Won’t that be a blast! He’ll give these heathens a run fer their money. Praise be to God! Ain’t He great?

A picture of global disaster — vividly described in the Book of Revelations — filled her limited imagination. She clearly saw the destruction of the world, the cries of the damned, the end of Israel and the Middle East. But what did she care? She attended services every Sunday at Reverend Boyd’s home (there wasn’t enough money in the collection plate to build a church), fervently believed in Jesus as the true Savior of the world, and diligently read her Bible every day. She was one of The Saved!

When the Rapture comes, she thought with satisfaction, I’ll be carried up to Heaven on the wings of a dove with all the rest of The Elect. I won’t even be here when Armageddon comes! Lord Jesus, do your stuff!

She cackled suddenly with glee. “Hey, Roy, lighten up a little and show the man where the medicine is.”

Roy turned and glared at her. What the heck? his eyes said.

Blanche smiled and shrugged her shoulders. “It’s good customer service.”

  • * * *

Ayesha looked at the big fat man with the black cowboy hat, faded blue jeans, and pointed cowboy boots and trembled with fear. This man is dangerous, she thought. Please, Allah, protect us from harm!

She felt the intense hostility emanating like a deadly radiation from the wrinkled up, gray-haired old woman behind the cash register, but she had felt that before from similar women in other parts of Arizona. She knew it originated from fear, and she expected it.

But the man was something different. He looked at her husband with hard, dark eyes — pig eyes, she thought — and he was so big! He dwarfed her husband, making Mahmood appear small and helpless. A terrible sense of foreboding seized her. They were so alone and vulnerable in this desolate pig-sty of a town. Was there even a town? Or was this all?

She wished they had never come on this trip. They could’ve spent the weekend at home, safe, sound, and secure. But Mahmood was feeling restless after being on call all week at the hospital and wanted to get away for the weekend. Let’s do something fun, he had pleaded, convincing her with boyish black eyes lit up with excitement. He worked so hard and was such a good provider, she couldn’t turn him down. So they had booked a room at a fancy hotel and spa in Phoenix and started out early in the morning.

The wind was blowing even then, but not like now! The last few miles had been torture, Mahmood driving at a snail’s pace, trying desperately to follow the broken yellow lines in the center of the road and the solid white line at the edge. They had stopped several times along the way and waited for the hot, sandy wind to abate. But it only seemed to grow worse.

Ayesha was afraid, but she kept her feelings to herself. The baby had slept most of the way, and five-year-old Akbar, who was usually so energetic, seemed to droop in the back seat. She finally realized that he was sick. He looked at her with glazed eyes, oblivious to the fearful wind, and finally fell asleep with his chin hanging down on his chest. When she touched his forehead with her hand, it felt hot and damp. The poor boy was sweating despite the air conditioning inside the SUV. Ayesha was worried.

The big fat cowboy moved now, scowling as he showed Mahmood the display of cold medicines, allergy tablets, boxes of generic headache pills, and bottles of liquid medicine. Mahmood chose the appropriate bottle, thanked the big fat man, and headed for the counter.

Ayesha relaxed a little when the old woman smiled at Mahmood and cheerfully rang up the purchase. She spied the restroom sign on the wall and carried the infant into the women’s bathroom, her older son trailing close behind.

  • * * *

Roy stroked the rough stubble on his chin and shook his head in disbelief. What the heck has gotten into Blanche? He knew she resented these foreign intruders as much as he did. But suddenly, she had decided to be POLITE and SERVE them! Was she just afraid? Hadn’t he reassured her that he would handle any trouble that came up? Obviously, she didn’t believe him. Did she think he was just another ordinary American kow-towing to these vermin who were infesting his beloved country while the government stood by and did nothing? He would show her, alright! He might be the last of a dying breed, but he would go down fighting — just like his brother did in Desert Storm.

He had been mighty proud of his brother Eddie for joining the Army and going off to the Gulf to kick Saddam Hussein’s rotten behind. He had even been proud when his brother came home in a body bag. After all, he had died bravely in battle and would receive a Purple Heart. Roy’s heart had nearly bust wide open in his chest, he was so proud. But when President Bush Senior had pulled back the troops and ended the war before finishing their God-given job to destroy that monster Saddam Hussein, he had raged with fury, going so far as to beat his wife Gladys black and blue. She had left him not long after that, fearing for her life, and he had raged even more, going on a drunken spree that lasted two weeks.

When he woke up finally in a detox unit in Phoenix, he had vowed not only to straighten himself out, temporarily, but to hate the American government that had betrayed his brother and all the other soldiers who had given their lives in the Gulf War.

After his release from the detox unit, Roy contacted all his neighbors and formed The People’s Militia. They erected a rustic shooting range in the isolated wash way back in the hills, where they met every Saturday morning for target practice. Beneath the floorboards of an abandoned barn, they constructed an underground bunker, where they were slowly gathering quite a stockpile of water, food, explosives, firearms, and ammunition. He had learned how to do this from some Mormons down in Showlow, who were preparing for the end of the world. But Roy and his gang had already agreed to begin their own reign of terror if the government didn’t get its act together. They would call themselves the Warriors of Allah and blame their crimes on the large Arab population in Phoenix. The whole idea had belonged to Jed Turlock. Now who would have thought that a grizzly old man like Jed could come up with such a brilliant idea?

  • * * *

Mahmood spread the small woolen prayer rugs, bearing woven images of the Ka’ba in Mecca, onto the hard linoleum floor in front of the cooler containing gallon jugs of milk, quart bottles of orange juice, boxes of butter, and packages of cheese. He hurried to the men’s restroom to perform the ritual ablutions, which involved purifying various parts of the body with water, then returned to wait for his wife to finish breast-feeding the baby and toileting the eldest boy, Akbar. He removed his shoes and knelt down on a prayer rug to give thanks to God.

His wife Ayesha presently returned with the children. The baby was quiet now, and she placed the infant carrier on the floor in front of a prayer rug, where she could keep a watchful eye. She measured out a dose of liquid medicine into the small plastic cup attached to the top of the medicine bottle, managed to get it into the elder boy, removed his shoes, and encouraged him to lie down on one of the rugs to take a nap. Then she removed her own simple shoes and stood quietly, waiting for her husband to begin the prayers.

He stood up and cupped both hands behind his ears, crying, “Allahu Akbar!” (God is Great!) Then, crossing his arms across his chest, he proceeded to chant, the sacred Arabic words rolling with melodic harmony out of his mouth. His wife mimicked his motions but remained silent.

Bismillah-i-Rahman-ir-Raheem.” (In the name of God, the Benevolent, the Merciful.)

Alhamdu-lillah-i-Rabbil’aalameen-ar-Rahman-ir-Rahim . . .” (Praise be to God, Lord of the Universe, the Benevolent, the Merciful . . .)

  • * * *

Blanche couldn’t believe her ears. Horrified by the sounds of heathens performing pagan prayers on Christian territory, she motioned to Roy to sneak around to the back of the store and stand guard at the end of the aisle. Fascinated by this strange turn of events, she adjusted the security camera so that it pointed directly down on the devout couple. She wanted to act as witness against their treacherous performance and capture them on tape.

Qul hu-Allahu Ahad, Allahu-Samad . . .” (Say: He is Allah, the One — Allah, the eternal . . .) The dark little man chanted loudly and earnestly with poetic rhythm, pouring his heart out to heaven.

Blanche was about to spew out her indignation when the musical chanting seemed to capture her soul, calming her turbulent spirits. She kept her eyes glued to the video monitor, listening intently, not understanding the ancient Arabic words, but responding to their holy sound, mesmerized by the rhythmic chant.

  • * * *

What kind of voodoo is this, Roy muttered silently to himself as he followed Blanche’s prompting and strode quietly to the rear of the store. He mentally stuffed his ears with cotton, refusing to listen to the foreign mumbo jumbo. After all, who knew what hexes and curses these people could place on him and Blanche? Everybody knew they had spread their religion across Asia and parts of Europe with the sword. Maybe now, with Saddam Hussein dead and Osama bin Laden on the run, they were resorting to witchcraft. Anything was possible, right?

He planted himself in the center of the aisle and watched from behind as the man and woman bent forward at the waist, placing their hands on their knees.

Subhana Rabbiyal-Azeem!” (How glorious is God, the Great!)

Roy sucked in his breath as reverently, deliberately, the man and woman continued their prayers, then fell humbly to their knees and prostrated themselves across their prayer rugs, their heads touching the ground.

Subhana Rabbiyal-a’la.” (All glory be to God, the Most High.)

Roy’s muscles tensed, and his stomach twisted, making him want to puke. He felt the waves of bitter anger rise up into his throat. He covered his ears with his hands, squeezed his eyes shut, and silently pleaded, Please, God, make it stop!

Then he turned to Blanche and hissed, “Make them stop, Blanche, make them stop!” But she only ignored him, spellbound, her eyes glued to the video monitor, her face shining, her eyes serene and far away.

They’ve got Blanche, he thought frantically. He took a step forward and shouted, “Stop!” But they only ignored him and began the sequence of prayer all over again.

Allahu Akbar!

Once more, Roy covered his ears with his hands, the fear and anxiety growing steadily inside him, making his heart race and his head pound. He saw his brother’s face in his mind, heard his voice in his ears, remembered the casket draped with an American flag lowered into the ground.

He died for his country, his mother said softly, wiping away the tears from her eyes. He was so brave!

He died for nothing! Roy shouted inside. Here’s the proof!

Qul a’oothoo bi rabbin nas . . .” (Say: I seek refuge in the Sustainer of Mankind . . .)

Roy thought of his brother rotting in the grave, a formless mass of flesh and bones, gone forever — and the family he had left behind. His beautiful, faithful wife, who had cried on Roy’s shoulder at the funeral. The pretty little girl with blonde pigtails who had grown up bitter and destroyed herself with drugs. The baby boy raised without a father who had run off to San Francisco at the age of sixteen, declaring himself gay.

Allahu Akbar!

More bowing at the waist. Roy slipped his right hand inside his vest and fingered the smooth end of the handgun under his arm. This is my country, he silently declared. And my God is the only god.

The man and his wife were kneeling again, ready to fall forward on the ground. Slowly, ever so slowly, Roy drew the shiny handgun from its holster and pointed it at the dark-skinned little man lying prostrate on the ground. As the man raised himself again to a kneeling position, Roy aimed the pistol at the back of the little man’s head.

Allahu Akbar!”

With a steady hand, Roy concentrated hard and slowly began to squeeze the trigger. But suddenly, clang! The cowbells hanging on the front door began to loudly ring as the heavy glass door burst open and the local sheriff came through the door.

“Thank God that wind has stopped,” he exclaimed, brushing the sand from his uniform. “Blanche! Where the heck are you?”

Assalamu ‘alaikum wa rahmatu’ allah.” (The peace and mercy of Allah be upon you.)

Startled, Roy lowered the gun and shoved it quickly back into its holster. He saw Blanche shake her head, wake up from her reverie, and tear herself away from the video monitor.

“Did you say the storm was over?” she asked blankly.

“See for yourself,” the sheriff said. “How about filling up my thermos with hot coffee?”

“Right away.”

Roy headed for the men’s restroom, his hands shaking, his legs weak and wobbly. My God, he thought in horror, nearly wetting his pants. My God, my God, what was I about to do?

  • * * *

Insh’allah, the storm is over,” Mahmood said with relief, rolling up his prayer rug.

“I’m so happy!” Ayesha said, giving him a big grin. She roused the older boy from his nap and felt his forehead. It was cool and dry. “Everything will be okay now. Allahu Akbar!

Dawn Pisturino

October 31, 2007

Copyright 2007-2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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The List – A Short Story

“If I could get away with it, I’d fire you. But there’s nobody to take your place.”

Henry looks at his boss in dull silence then gives a short laugh.

“Don’t laugh, Henry, I’m dead serious. Johnson over there is the only one who does any real work around here.”

Henry stares at Johnson, who is busy directing the arrangement of blackjack tables in the Pit. A small flame of resentment ignites in his gut.

So all my work is for nothing.

Henry recalls all the extra hours he has worked over the last two weeks, even sacrificing his days off, to take care of all the little details involved in setting up a blackjack tournament. He has barely slept at night because all the annoying little details keep tap dancing around in his head. As a result, his migraines have returned with a vengeance, and his wife nags him for not taking a day off.

“There’s nobody else on day shift who can do it,” Henry wearily explains.

The phone rings early in the morning, waking Henry from a troubled sleep. The phone rings late at night, preventing him from getting to bed. Johnson, the evening Pit Boss, and Girard, the graveyard Pit Boss, are always calling him for advice or direction. Henry takes his job as day shift Pit Boss seriously and gives them good, solid answers.

As he watches Johnson waving his arms and barking orders, Henry feels himself slowly deflating like a worn out tire. He sinks down into his chair. The awful words cling to him like plastic wrap, suffocating him into silence. He has a wife and five children to support. He needs the medical insurance.

When his boss leaves, Henry’s wife Lottie gets an earful over the telephone.

“Why do you let him do this to you? Why don’t you stick up for yourself?” Her words are an accusation fired through the phone line.

“What good would it do,” Henry says. “He would probably just fire me.”

“At least, if the bastard fires you, he has to give you severance pay and unemployment. Why are you such a wimp, Henry? I feel like calling up that little twerp and giving him a piece of my mind.”

“Don’t do that,” Henry pleads. “It would just make things worse.”

“Then grow a backbone, for Christ’s sake! Why I ever married you, I just don’t know.”

I wonder, Henry thinks to himself. But he says out loud: “What I really wanna do is look that jerk right in the eye and say, ‘I quit! You can find someone else to run your stupid old tournament!'”

“You can’t do that!” Lottie sputters. “You have a wife and five children to support! We need the medical insurance.”

But Henry wonders: could I really do it?

* * *

On Monday morning, the Big Honcho arrives from Las Vegas.

“We need to cut back on personnel,” he orders. “I want nine dealers fired from the Pit. And don’t worry about the legalities. We have a team of lawyers who will handle all of that.”

Henry is upset. He knows that the corporation made a healthy profit last year. He sees no reason to fire anybody. The dealers on his shift have been loyal employees. He does not want to choose which innocents will be sacrificed on the altar of corporate greed. He demurs. But the Big Honcho, pounding the desk for emphasis, pressures him to choose four day shift dealers to fire.

“I don’t know what to do,” Henry complains to his wife. “There’s nobody on my shift who deserves to be fired.”

“You can’t just fire somebody without a good reason. You need documentation to back it up. Did you talk to someone in Human Resources?”

“He specifically told us not to go to Human Resources. He says they have lawyers who will handle everything.”

“Sounds fishy to me. They’re trying to pull a fast one, Henry.”

“I know that! But if I don’t do what he says, he’ll fire me. He’ll get me for insubordination.”

“Well then, do what he says. Don’t you have any employees who are always calling in sick or punching in late? Don’t you have any new people on probation?”

“What he really wants,” Henry confides, “is to get rid of all the old people and the ugly women. He wants to hire skinny young girls with big breasts like they have in Las Vegas.”

“But that’s discrimination! He can’t do that!”

“He thinks he can. He doesn’t like anybody over the age of thirty. He only wants pretty young girls who won’t object to wearing skimpy outfits and working long hours for low pay.”

“Where’s he going to find that around here? Good workers are hard to find. This isn’t Las Vegas.”

“I know that, and you know that, but he doesn’t understand.”

“Go through your list of personnel and choose the ones with the most points against them.”

“I have, but none of them really have any points currently against them. I have good people on my shift, and most of them have been here for years. There’s no reason to fire them.”

“Explore your options. Is business slow right now? Can you cut back on hours? That would help cut labor costs without having to fire anybody. The people who can’t afford it will look for another job.”

Henry considers the idea. “You know, I think that might work. I’ll take another look at the schedule.”

***

“What’s going on, Henry? Are some of us gonna be laid off?” Margie Benson looks at him with a Big Question Mark in her heavily-shadowed dark eyes. Henry forces himself to smile. He has been instructed by his boss to say nothing about future lay-offs.

“Everything’s okay,” Henry says. “Don’t worry.” But Henry is aware that Margie is a single  mother with two young children and plenty to worry about. He has just added her name to his list of potential lay-offs because a customer filed a written complaint against her five years ago. It was all he could find in her personnel file.

“If you say it,” Margie says, “I’ll believe it. You wouldn’t lie.”

I would if the stakes were high enough.

“Margie, just try to be flexible and plan ahead, just in case things change in the future, okay?” Henry looks at her long and hard, and he knows that she understands the hidden message behind his words.

“Thanks, Henry,” she says quietly. “You’re a good man.”

Henry turns away, feeling sick to his stomach. For the rest of the day, he is haunted by the look on Margie’s face.

***

The Big Honcho calls from Las Vegas.

“This list is no good,” he shouts into the phone. “You’re being too soft on these people. Our lawyers say there are at least twenty people on that personnel list who can be fired!”

“Where are they?” Henry says, feeling his hackles rise. “I’ve gone over that list again and again. I’ve researched the personnel files. Those four people are the only ones who even remotely qualify.”

“Go over that list again! If our lawyers can spot them, so can you!”

“I’m not a lawyer,” Henry shouts back. “I’ve never had to do this before.”

“You’re supposed to do what I want!” the Big Honcho screams.

“Fuck,” Henry says under his breath.

“What did you say to me? Did you say what I think you said?”

“Yeah, I said exactly what you think I said,” Henry says proudly.

“You haven’t heard the last of this,” the Big Honcho says. “Get me that list!” And hangs up the phone.

Henry’s heart is pounding in his chest, and his hands are clammy and cold. He wipes the sweat from his forehead with an old wad of tissue he finds in his pocket. He picks up the personnel list lying on his desk and tears it in two. Then he tosses the pieces into the waste basket.

***

Henry has submitted five versions of the personnel hit list to the Big Honcho in Las Vegas. The Big Honcho has found reasons to reject all five. Henry calls him with version number six.

“Thank you,” the Big Honcho says gruffly. “And Henry — I haven’t forgotten what you said to me.”

Henry does not respond. He hangs up the phone, struggling to keep his composure.

Late in the afternoon, the Big Honcho calls back. “This list is no good. We don’t have enough documentation to fire these people.”

Henry explodes. “You said not to worry about that! You said you had a team of lawyers who would take care of the legalities!”

“Stop shouting at me.”

“I’m going to shout at you! I told you we didn’t have enough documentation to fire these people! I told you it couldn’t be done!”

“As a matter of fact, we’ve decided to put the whole thing on hold until after the blackjack tournament.”

“Good!” Henry shouts. “That’s the smartest thing you’ve said to me yet!” He slams down the receiver, not caring anymore what the Big Honcho thinks.

***

“We had considered you for the position, Henry, but your attitude just doesn’t fit in with our corporate goals.”

Henry’s boss frowns, shaking his head disapprovingly. “We’ve appointed Johnson Top Dog, and everybody — including you — will now answer to him. Johnson, in turn, will answer to the Big Honcho in Las Vegas. I hope you’re happy, Henry. If it were up to me, I’d fire your sorry ass.”

In his mind, Henry hears his wife yelling at him. “What do you mean, you didn’t get the promotion! Don’t you care about your family? Henry, we need that extra money!”

He begins to laugh.

“Don’t laugh, Henry, I’m dead serious.”

“I know you are. And you know what? I — don’t — care!”

The look of shock on his boss’ thin, colorless face turns to horror as Henry pulls a small pistol from his pocket and points it squarely at the spot between his boss’ terrified eyes.

“Now, now, Henry, no need to go postal on me.”

Henry continues to laugh as he swings the gun around and points it at his own throbbing temple. His head disappears in a cloud of smoke.

***

When Henry’s boss calls the Big Honcho in Las Vegas to deliver the news, he hears a satisfied grunt on the other end of the telephone.

“Good! Henry Jenkins was at the top of my list.”

Dawn Pisturino

January 12, 2022

Copyright 2011-2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

16 Comments »

Reprise: The Best Gift

After nine years of marriage, Mary knew that the holidays were not a good time to ask her husband for a favor. Money was tight. The children were out of school. Her husband’s large, extended family had decided – at the last minute, of course – to honor them with their considerable presence at Christmas dinner. Christmas Day was only a week away, and Mary felt frazzled, overwhelmed, and out of sorts. She lay down on the small double bed in the master bedroom to take a nap.

It was Sunday afternoon. Betsy, 6, and Lauren, 8, were busy decorating sugar cookies in the kitchen. Their childish laughter rang through the house, a happy reminder of Christmas. Mary’s 12-year-old nephew, Jordan, lay on the carpeted living room floor playing video games. An occasional triumphant shout blended with the sound of video gunfire. Earlier in the day, he had announced his decision not to participate in any of his cousins’ childish activities. He was too old to decorate Christmas cookies, he declared; although Mary noted with a smile that he was not too old to consume half a dozen with a tall glass of milk. But he was a good boy, and Mary was happy to have the extra baby-sitting money. She had agreed to take him for the entire week while her sister was in the hospital having gallbladder surgery.

Mary wasn’t quite sure where her husband Todd had gone. He had left early in the morning before everyone was awake, leaving a note on the kitchen counter that he would be back later. She figured he was doing last minute Christmas shopping at the mall and would come home soon laden with packages. The children would greet him at the door, demanding to feel, prod, shake, rattle, and listen to each gaily wrapped gift. Then they would carefully lay them under the decorated artificial pine tree in the living room and continue to feel, prod, shake, rattle, and listen to them every day until Christmas.

Mary prayed as hard as she could that he would not go overboard spending their hard-earned money on Christmas gifts. They simply could not afford it, especially when they were expecting their third child in a couple of months.

Mary ran her hands over her swollen belly and sighed. She was not prepared to face another round of baby bottles and diapers — even if this one was a boy. She was tired and disappointed with her life. The constant pressure to pay bills, the ever-present fear of Todd being laid off, the nagging worry over providing an adequate future for the girls — the stress was tearing her apart and wearing her down. And soon there would be one more responsibility to face. She just didn’t feel up to it.

When Todd came home, she would beg him for this one favor: one of them needed to get sterilized. She didn’t care which one, but somehow, they had to come to some agreement. She didn’t want more children. They couldn’t afford anymore. She wanted to provide for the ones they had already.

Outside, the wind began to howl, and the softly falling snow grew thicker. She could no longer see the trees through the bedroom window. She shivered and drew the blanket tighter around her swollen body. Please drive carefully, she silently prayed.

* * *

“Mommy, mommy, we’re hungry!” cried the girls, jumping onto the bed.

Mary groaned and rolled over. The bedroom was dark. She glanced at the neon orange face of the alarm clock on the nightstand. Six o’clock. Todd should have come home by now.

Reluctantly, she got up and followed the girls into the kitchen. She grabbed a box of macaroni and cheese and a can of green peas out of the cupboard and began to prepare dinner. While she waited for the water in the pan to boil, she grabbed her cell phone and called Todd. She heard a few distant rings, then nothing. She tried again with the same result. Damn this snow, she cursed under her breath. She reached for the portable phone on the kitchen counter. No dial tone. Damn! She slammed down the receiver. There was no way to get hold of her husband.

“Mommy, when’s daddy coming home?” whined six-year-old Betsy, clinging to her shirt.

“I don’t know, sweetheart. We just have to be patient. Go into the living room with Lauren and Jordan. Dinner will be ready soon.” But inside, Mary did not want to be patient. She wanted to scream, Where is he? A feeling of dread came over her. Todd would have called if something was wrong — if he was able to call. And that’s what was worrying her. He had no way to communicate with her.

She poured the dry macaroni into boiling water, then placed the peas into a bowl and set it in the microwave. She set the dial for three minutes and waited. In the living room, she heard the familiar voice of Burl Ives singing cheery Christmas songs on TV. If only Todd were here . . .

When dinner was ready, she poked her head through the living room door to call the children to the table. The room was dark, and one of them – Jordan, probably – had plugged in the Christmas tree lights. Their soft glow filled the room with radiant colors. Mary smiled, allowing the gentle peace of Christmas to fill her heart. A small delay, that’s all. He’ll be here soon.

“Dinner, everyone! Put the video on pause and come to the table.”

The two girls ran to the table and scrambled into their chairs. Jordan pushed the pause button, then walked slowly into the kitchen and sat down. “When’s Uncle Todd coming home,” he asked glumly. “I want to play video games with him!”

“Any time now,” Mary responded cheerfully, dishing up a plateful of macaroni and cheese. “So, Jordan, it sounded like you were winning this afternoon!”

He took the plate from her hands. “Aw, I do okay.”

Outside the wind howled, and Mary thought she heard a faint knocking sound. Could it be . . .

“Hey! Somebody’s at the front door!” Jordan shouted. “Maybe it’s Uncle Todd!” And he was off and running before Mary could stop him.

“I wanna go see!” shouted Lauren.

“Me, too!”chimed in Betsy; and both girls raced into the living room.

“Wait!” Mary cried. “It could be a stranger!”

She hurried after the children. Jordan flipped on the outside light and opened the front door. In the doorway stood a State Trooper wearing a heavy jacket, thick boots, and gloves dusted with snow.

“Mrs. Abbott?” he inquired gravely.

Mary’s heart sank. “I’m Mrs. Abbott.”

“Ma’am, I’m sorry to bother you like this, but I’ve got some bad news for you.”

Tears welled up in Mary’s eyes, but she held her voice steady. “Won’t you come in, officer?”

“Thank you, ma’am. It’s mighty cold out here.” He stomped the snow off his boots and entered the foyer.

“Ma’am, I’m awfully sorry to tell you this –“

“The children, officer –“

“Yes, ma’am. Maybe we can send them into another room for a few minutes.”

“Children, you heard the officer. Go back into the kitchen and eat your supper.”

“Aw, I want to stay here!” Jordan grumbled.

“No, I need you to go into the kitchen. Now!”

Jordan mumbled something under his breath but turned and walked away. The girls reluctantly followed.

“As I was saying, ma’am, I have some awfully bad news for you. Your husband, Todd Abbott, was killed in a car crash an hour ago. He missed the turn down on Miles Creek Road and slammed right into that old oak tree in the bend. He died instantly from the looks of it. An ambulance took him to Mercy Hospital. He’s laying in the morgue there. You’ll need to come identify the body as soon as you can.”

Mary stared at him in horror. “No! It can’t be!” she cried. “It can’t be . . .”

* * *

In the days that followed, Mary stopped living. She refused to get out of bed. Taking the sedative prescribed by Dr. Lawrence, she kept herself sedated, locked in her room, lost to the world, oblivious to her own existence. All she wanted was to sleep – long, deep, and hard – until all the agonizing pain and suffering deep inside had shriveled up and disappeared. She wanted to blot out all the memories of her life, every thought and feeling, and to never think or feel again.

* * *

“He’s dead,” Jordan said quietly, bursting into tears. “I’m never going to see him again.” The two girls, not fully understanding, began to wail.

“I want my daddy! I want my daddy!” they screamed in unison. “Mommy! Mommy!”

“Shhh . . . Hush now, my darlings. Grandma’s here.” With a heavy heart, she drew the little ones close to her breast and held them tight. They sobbed hysterically, wetting her sweater, until sleep overcame them and offered a temporary shelter from their grief.

* * *

After three days, Mary emerged from the darkness of her bedroom. Stumbling down the hallway in her old flannel bathrobe, she made her way to the kitchen and poured herself a cup of black coffee. Her hands shook slightly, and her mother stared at her in shock.

“Mary, you look terrible! Come sit down. Do you want some eggs?”

“No, I’m not hungry.”

“Then come sit down and talk.”

“I don’t think I can do that yet.”

She stood over the kitchen sink and stared out the window. The day was crystal clear with a cloudless, vivid blue sky. Bright sunshine made the clean white snow sparkle with millions of tiny diamonds. It was a perfect winter day, just right for making snowmen and snow angels and drinking hot chocolate; sledding down Jackson Hill; ice skating on Fisher’s pond; building snow forts and throwing snowballs.

“He’s gone, mother, and I don’t know what to do. How can I go on? He was my whole life. And the kids — good Lord, what kind of god takes a wonderful daddy like Todd away from his children? I don’t understand it. It’s too cruel. Those kids are never going to be the same again.”

“They’ll get through it, Mary — and so will you. You’ll do it because you have to — for the sake of those little girls — and the new one that’s coming.”

Mary turned around angrily. “I don’t even want this child! Do you know what I wanted to do? I wanted one of us to get sterilized. I don’t want anymore children! I can’t even provide for the ones I have. How am I going to support three children working part-time at the video store? Todd’s life insurance will help, but there’s the house payment, and now we need another car, and the utilities, and food — and how am I going to pay for medical insurance? I don’t even know if Todd’s medical insurance is going to cover the delivery, now that he’s gone!”

“Careful, Mary, or that baby will grow up knowing you resent it. It’s not fair to blame the child for what’s happened.”

“I’m sorry, mother, but I do resent it! I didn’t want it in the first place — and now, with all this — I just can’t handle it!”

“It’s still Todd’s baby, Mary. Doesn’t that mean anything to you?”

* * *

The small bronze box on display at the front of the memorial chapel was engraved with these words: “Together Forever.” Two hearts intertwined, and Todd’s name, birth date, and date of death were engraved inside one of them. Mary gazed tearfully at the 8 x 10 color photo of her husband displayed next to the urn and fingered the thin gold wedding band hanging on a gold chain around her neck. Someday, she promised, my ashes will be added to yours, and we will be together forever.

She lit a small votive candle and placed it before the framed photograph. Then silently, reverently, she reached out and touched the smooth glass inside the frame, mentally stroking the familiar features of her husband’s face. Together forever . . .

She hugged her swollen belly and felt the child inside her move. If it’s a boy, I’ll name him after you. Todd Douglas Abbott. He might even look like you! I hope he looks like you, she prayed. She closed her eyes and wept.

She remembered the day when the doctor called to tell her the good news. Congratulations, Mrs. Abbott, you’re pregnant! She had been angry at the doctor and angry at Todd. The doctor tried to reassure her that everything would be okay, but she refused to listen and hung up the phone. She crawled into bed and stayed there all afternoon, crying about her condition. When Todd came home from work, she lashed into him with angry words, blaming him, and calling him names. Instead of fighting back, he merely looked at her with a deep sympathy and understanding that calmed her down, then took her in his arms and reassured her, like the doctor, that everything would be okay. He promised her that everything would be okay . . . and now he was dead. How could she ever forgive him for lying to her? Most importantly, how could she ever forgive herself for despising him and hating this child?

Somebody touched her gently on the shoulder. “I’m so sorry, Mary.”

She turned around and looked into the deeply lined, tear-stained face of Todd’s mother. “It’s all so horrible,” Mary sobbed, throwing her arms around her.

“Yes, it is.” Todd’s mother hugged her warmly. “He was my baby, Mary. I couldn’t have anymore children after he was born. It made him more special, somehow. Just like your little one. He’s Todd’s last gift to you — the best gift! Love him, Mary; really love him. Just like you loved Todd. Because there’ll never be anymore of him in this world.” Her voice broke, and she wiped the tears from her eyes with a handkerchief.

The best gift. The words echoed in Mary’s heart. Suddenly, she understood. Looking down at her swollen belly, the agonizing pain and anger melted away, and a deep love filled her: love for her husband, her family, and this beautiful child who would carry on Todd’s legacy. A bright spark of hope lifted her up, releasing her from her fears. She grabbed her mother-in-law’s hands and placed them over her belly, tears streaming down her face.

“We’ll love him together,” she said softly.

Dawn Pisturino

Copyright 2007-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

The first line of this story was provided by The First Line as a writing prompt.

7 Comments »

Reprise: Sammy’s Sleigh Ride

by Dawn Pisturino

One winter night, Sammy Mouse ran away from home. He wanted to go to the North Pole and see Santa Claus. So he put his clothes in a suitcase, bundled up in his heavy winter coat, left a note for his parents, and sneaked out of the house.

Sammy peered into the darkness, shivering with cold. Up above, millions of stars looked down at him. Sammy trudged through the snow, guided by the light of the full moon.

Sammy thought about all the wonderful things he would do for Santa Claus: help the elves make toys, feed the reindeer, and pack Santa’s sleigh.

When Santa Claus was ready to leave, Sammy would jump into the sleigh and sit beside him on the seat. Santa would laugh, “ho-ho-ho,” and Sammy would laugh, too. Then, up in the air they would go. Sammy would look down at all the little houses below.

When Santa’s reindeer landed on a snowy rooftop, Sammy would help Santa climb out of the sleigh. He would help Santa lift his big bag of toys and watch him slide down the chimney. Then, off they would go again!

Sammy walked a long time through the snow. When the sun began to shine, Sammy could walk no more. He curled up under a log and fell asleep.

When he woke up, Sammy’s stomach growled with hunger. He nibbled on a piece of cheese and hurried on his way. He wanted to get to Santa’s house before nightfall. Tonight was Christmas Eve.

But the longer he walked, the more tired Sammy felt. Everywhere he looked, he saw trees and snow. Where was Santa’s house? Where was the North Pole?

As night fell, Sammy began to get scared. Christmas was almost here, and he had not yet reached Santa’s house or the elves’ workshop or even the North Pole!

Sammy sat down in the snow and cried. He was wet and cold and hungry. He was tired, and his feet hurt. Worst of all, Sammy was lost!

Overhead, the stars seemed to be laughing at him. The man in the moon wore a big, shiny grin. Suddenly, Sammy heard bells jingling. Up in the sky, he saw Santa’s sleigh and eight reindeer flying past the moon. Sammy’s heart sank. Now, he would miss Christmas.

But wait, here was Santa’s sleigh coming right toward him! Sammy could hardly believe his eyes when the sleigh landed in the snow.

“Jump in, Sammy,” Santa said, smiling brightly.

Sammy jumped eagerly into the sleigh next to Santa. “Where are we going?” he asked.

“We’re going to take you home,” Santa answered.

The reindeer began to run across the snow faster and faster until suddenly, they were flying up into the sky!

Up, up, up they went. Sammy looked down. The trees in the forest looked like frosty toothpicks. The moon and stars grew bigger and brighter.

“Ho-ho-ho!” Santa laughed, his belly shaking.

“Ho-ho-ho!” Sammy laughed.

Before he knew it, Sammy was home. He helped Santa fill the stockings and put special gifts under the Christmas tree. He made sure he didn’t see what Santa had brought him.

When Santa was ready to slide up the chimney, Sammy said, “Oh, thank you, Santa!”

Santa laughed and shook Sammy’s paw. “You’re welcome, my little friend. Merry Christmas!”

In a flash, Santa was gone. But Sammy could hear reindeer hooves on the roof, and he never forgot the sound of the bells jingling on Santa’s sleigh.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Dawn Pisturino

Copyright 2014-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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