Abandoned (Fiction)

Image contains: Abbie, smiling.

As she trudged down the alley, Vanessa glimpsed what looked like a small blanket. The night was dark, and no moon lit her way. She was tempted to walk past, but a whimpering from within the blanket stopped her.

She knelt, and bit by bit, she pulled back the cover to reveal first a head, then a torso, then arms and legs. The body was naked from head to toe. Exposed to the elements, the baby cried in earnest.

“Oh my God,” she said, re-wrapping, then scooping the infant into her arms. “Where’s your mommy? Who could have just dumped you out here like this?”

In the eerie silence, she wished now she hadn’t taken this shortcut home. She’d been in a hurry. Unable to afford a baby-sitter, she’d left her two children, ages eight and ten, home alone. She’d told them to do their homework, then go to bed at nine o’clock if she wasn’t back. She’d only planned to be gone until then, but now, it was nearly ten. Her writing group meeting had run later than usual.

Feeling a sense of impending doom, she decided to retrace her steps and take the long way home. Once in the safety of her apartment, she would call the police about the baby. She hoped someone from the department of family services could pick up the child right away. She couldn’t feed another hungry mouth.

The baby continued to wail. “Shhhh,” said Vanessa, as she turned in the direction from which she’d come. A dark figure appeared ahead of her. Vanessa froze. “It’s okay. Everything’s going to be all right,” she said, more to calm herself than the baby.

A woman’s voice said, “Hey, bitch, what are you doing with my baby?”

Another figure appeared, and a second woman’s voice said, “Bobbi, this is the pick-up I told you about. They’re going to pay us a lot of money, and they’ll find her a good home, a better home than we can give her. Remember? The woman on the phone said to leave the baby in the alley behind the building, and she would pick her up. That’s her.”

“But that’s my baby. You can’t take her away. She’s my flesh and blood. Please…” She burst into tears.

Vanessa ran, leaving Bobbi to grieve and the other woman to comfort her. What sort of adoption agency required a person to abandon a baby in an alley, she wondered, as she reached the street. She remembered there was a police station on the next corner. She would leave the baby there, tell her story, and be done with it. As she ran toward the next intersection though, reassured by the distant whoosh of traffic, she heard running footsteps behind her.

The baby kept crying. As Vanessa ran, the darkened buildings and deserted street dissolved into the darkness of her squalid bedroom. The baby crying in the basinet next to the bed was her own. She reached for her daughter and held her close, wondering why she’d dreamed she had two children.

“Oh Danielle, it’s okay.” The crying ceased, as hungry lips found a full breast.

The next afternoon, as Vanessa was walking through the park with the baby in a cheap stroller she’d recently purchased at a thrift store, a woman approached her and said, “Oh, what a beautiful baby.”

Vanessa almost gasped. The voice was similar to that of the woman in her dream of the night before, the one who’d pleaded with her not to take her baby. It couldn’t be, she realized.

“I’m sorry,” the other woman said. “I didn’t mean to startle you. It’s just that… Well… I gave a baby up for adoption several years ago, so whenever I see a baby, I always feel this twinge… I mean… You’re so lucky to have this baby.”

Vanesa smiled. Then after gazing into the woman’s face that registered only compassion, she found herself saying, “Yeah, I feel lucky, and I wouldn’t give her up for anything in the world, but it’s not easy. I’m trying to make it as a writer, and I’m learning the hard way that writing isn’t always that lucrative. I need a job, but in order for me to work, I need day care for my daughter, and I can’t afford that.”

The woman gave Vanesa a knowing smile. “I understand. My parents convinced me to give up my baby for those same reasons.”

Vanessa remembered the scene from her dream, Bobbi, begging her not to take her baby, and the other woman, maybe her mother or sister, reminding her about the promised cash they would receive in exchange for the baby. Surely this woman hadn’t been forced to give her baby up in this way.

As if reading her mind, the other woman said, “It was a private adoption. My parents arranged it. What about your folks?”

“Actually, mine have been supportive so far. They love having a granddaughter, even if she is out of wedlock. They send me an allowance every month, but I can’t depend on them forever. They think I should go back to school and major in journalism or something like that, but I don’t know.”

“What do you write?”

“Oh, a little bit of this and a little bit of that,” Vanessa answered. “I’ve sent some poems and short stories to some journals, but I’ve only gotten rejections.”

“Well, I might be able to help, at least with the writing.”

She fished a card out of her purse and handed it to Vanessa, who stared in amazement at its bold black lettering. “Bobbi Douglas, Author.” As she scanned the contact information below the name, she realized the woman didn’t live too far from her run-down apartment building. She put the card in her pocket and asked, “What kind of books do you write?”

“I just self-published a fantasy novel called The Shadow of Darkness, and I’m working on another. I also do some writing for Medford Media.”

“Oh yeah, I like that rock station you guys own.”

“Well, I actually write human interest and history pieces for the talk station, AM 950.”

In the stroller, Danielle stirred and whimpered. Vanessa glanced at her daughter, then turned to Bobbi with an apologetic smile. “She doesn’t like to be still very long. She always wants to keep moving, so she can see how things change around her.”

Bobbi gave Vanessa a reassuring smile. “I understand.”

On impulse, Vanessa asked, “Would you like to hold her?”

Bobbi’s eyes lit up. “I’d like that.”

Vanessa bent, lifted the baby, and handed her to Bobbi. “I named her after Danielle Steel, one of my favorites.” Her face grew hot, as it occurred to her that Bobbi probably didn’t care for Danielle steel, an author who didn’t write fantasy novels.

The other woman surprised her by saying, “Oh, I like Daniele Steel. I often read her books for pleasure.”

Bobbi then smiled at the infant in her arms. “Oh, look at you. Aren’t you a pretty one? I’m so sorry I’ve kept your mommy talking so long. You’ll get going here in a minute, I promise.” Danielle cooed and smiled back.

“She likes you,” said Vanessa, as Bobbi placed the baby back in the stroller and turned to her.

Do you have any of your writing that you could show me?” Bobbi asked.

Flabbergasted, Vanessa said, “Um, not with me, but I could print something up at home and bring it to you. You don’t live too far away from me.”

“Actually, I was thinking I could meet you and Danielle tomorrow afternoon at Starbucks on Grant Avenue, and I could buy you a cup of coffee or something. Would four o’clock work for you?”

“Sure,” answered Vanessa. Self-conscious, she added, “I don’t really have anything that you’d call a fantasy novel, but I’ll check out your website tonight, and maybe I’ll get inspired.”

Bobbi laughed. “It doesn’t matter if it’s fantasy or not. I just want to read something you’ve written. Then maybe I can give you some direction.”

“That would be great. Thanks so much. Will see you tomorrow.”

The next afternoon, as Vanessa pushed Danielle’s stroller through the coffee shop’s entrance, she felt a sense of hope. She found Bobbi in a corner booth. After parking the stroller next to the table, Vanessa sat down across from her new friend and said, “You know, I had the craziest dream about you the other night, and so I wrote this short story about it.”

***

Note: the above story is my entry in blogger
Stevie Turner’s April short story contest. It was published last year in Magnets and Ladders and can also be read on my website.

 

My Books

 

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

How to Build a better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

We Shall Overcome

My Other Links

Visit my website.

Like me on Facebook.

Silent Night, Fiction

Image contains: Abbie, smiling.The following short story was published in the fall/ winter 2018-19 issue of Magnets and Ladders. I can think of no better way to commemorate Christmas Day and the 200th anniversary of the creation of “Silent Night” than to include this story along with a recording of me playing and singing the song. Merry Christmas, everyone.

SILENT NIGHT

The day before Christmas, my seven-year-old daughter Hannah was rushed to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy. I opted to spend CHRISTMAS Day with her. My parents, as they’d done every year since the divorce, had invited Hannah and me to their house for Christmas dinner, but I couldn’t leave my little girl alone in the hospital.

Hannah wasn’t on solid food yet, but a nurse offered to bring me a tray, perhaps realizing it would be difficult for me to navigate to the cafeteria with my limited vision. While Hannah slept, I sat by her bed and enjoyed a delicious turkey dinner complete with stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, and pumpkin pie. The food was surprisingly good for a hospital.

I said as much to the nurse when she came to collect my tray. “We have a chef now,” she said. “Of course many of our patients are too sick to appreciate it, but it’s certainly better than the fare we used to serve.”

The little girl in the other bed moaned and then started crying in earnest. I looked over and couldn’t see anyone sitting with her. “Oh, that’s Jessica,” said the nurse in a conspiratorial tone. “Poor kid, she fell out of her neighbor’s treehouse yesterday and broke her leg in three places. She’s in a body cast from her chest to her right foot.”

Hannah must have awakened for she said, “Ou, I guess I won’t complain about my tummy anymore. I’m glad I don’t have a treehouse, and I hope Santa didn’t leave me one.”

I marveled at how sensitive my daughter was. As the nurse went to Jessica and tried to comfort her, I said, “How are you feeling, sweetie?”

“I’m okay, but my tummy still hurts.”

“I thought you weren’t gonna complain about your tummy anymore,” I said, as I ruffled her hair.

Hannah giggled, then winced. “Out, Mommy, it hurts more when I laugh.”

“It sounds like you could use some pain medication too,” said the nurse, as she started to leave the room.

“No, it only really hurts when I laugh,” said Hannah.

“Well, in that case, laughter’s the best medicine,” said the nurse. “I’ll be back soon.”

“How old is Jessica?” asked Hannah.

“Oh, I think she’s about your age,” answered the nurse. “I’ll be back in a bit with some medicine for her, and that’ll make her feel better.” With that, she was gone.

Jessica was still sniffling, but it wasn’t as loud as before. “Mommy, you should go sing her a song,” said Hannah. “like you did for me last night when I was really hurting. I’m not hurting as much now, and I think she’s hurting more.”

Years earlier, I’d worked as a registered music therapist. That was before Hannah was born, before I’d started losing my vision, before my world changed. My husband hadn’t wanted a child but was resigned to the idea once he learned I was pregnant. The vision loss after Hannah’s birth was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Fortunately, he paid plenty of child support. That, along with my disability payments, allowed me to be a stay-at-home mom, and once I learned to use a computer with screen reading and magnification software, I brought in a little income from freelance writing.

Now, I looked over at the little girl in the other bed. My specialty as a music therapist had been with elderly nursing home residents, not hospitalized children. I hadn’t even done a clinical practicum with that population. I remembered bed-ridden residents who smiled and relaxed when I sat by their beds, held their hands, and sang. I even performed at some of their funerals. The fact that my singing in the emergency room the night before had calmed Hannah made me think that perhaps I hadn’t lost my touch. I rose and pulled my chair next to the other bed, where I sat and took the child’s hand that lay on top of the white sheet covering her.

“Hi Jessica,” I said. “I’m Joan. My little girl Hannah is in the other bed. What’s wrong?”

“My leg really hurts,” she answered. “I’ll never play in that stupid treehouse again.”

“That’s too bad,” I said, stroking her hair. “Would you like to sing a song with me?”

“Will that make the pain go away?” she asked.

“It’ll take your mind off of it. What’s your favorite Christmas song?”

She was quiet for a minute, then said, “I like Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.”

“All right, let’s sing it together, shall we?”

I started, and soon, she joined in, followed by Hannah. When we finished that song, Jessica suggested “Jingle Bells,” then “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” The nurse appeared and said, “What lovely singing. Jessica, I have some medicine that will make you feel better. I’m going to put it in your IV now.”

As she started to do this, I said, “Why don’t we sing one more song?”

“I want to hear you sing something by yourself,” said Jessica. “You have a pretty voice, and so did my mommy. She used to sing to me at night before I went to sleep.” A wistful look crossed her face.

“Why doesn’t she sing to you anymore?” I asked.

“She was killed in a car accident a few months ago,” she answered. A tear rolled down her cheek.

“Oh honey, I’m sorry,” I said, as I stroked her hair. Tears welled in my own eyes.

Holding them back, I said, “What song did your mom like to sing to you this time of year?”

“‘Silent Night,'” she answered.

“Yeah, sing that one, Mom,” said Hannah.

I took a deep breath and began. To my surprise, the nurse joined in, singing alto. Our two voices blending together in harmony was almost too much, but I managed to continue.

As we started the second verse, I sensed a presence at my side and turned to see a man standing there. “Daddy!” Jessica said, her eyes wide with delight.

“Hey princess,” he said, reaching over me and ruffling her hair. Then he said, “oh, don’t stop singing on my account. It’s beautiful.”

His voice broke, and it was all I could do to keep from losing it. We started the song where we’d left off and finished the second verse. To break the spell, I turned to the nurse and said, “You and I need to talk. I sing in a women’s group that could use an extra voice.”

“Wow, that sounds interesting,” she said. “You also have a nice voice. I need to see to other patients, but I’ll come back later after my shift, and you can tell me more about it.” She turned and started to leave the room.

Jessica’s father put a hand on my shoulder and said, “You and I also need to talk. It’s only been two months since I lost my wife, and I never dreamed I’d say this to another woman, but could I buy you a cup of coffee, maybe in the cafeteria?”

From the doorway, the nurse said, “Our coffee here isn’t as good as the food. Why don’t you two go across the street to Starbuck’s?”

We hesitated. “Your kids will be fine,” she said. “They’re both out of the woods. I have your cell numbers in their charts. If anything drastic happens, I’ll call you. Joan, you’ve been here all day. You need a break. Go!” With that, she was gone.

I looked at this stranger, not knowing what to think. Finally, I said, “I’ve been divorced for about six years. I’m losing my vision, and I never imagined another man would ask me out for coffee.”

I expected him to back away, but instead, he said, “Any man not interested in you is a fool. You’re a beautiful woman. You’re good with kids, and you have a lovely voice.”

Flabbergasted, I said, “You just got here. Don’t you want to spend some time with Jessica?”

Jessica said, “I’m okay. My leg doesn’t hurt so much now that the nurse gave me some medicine in my IV. Daddy, Joan could make you happy like Mommy did.”

“Yeah,” said Hannah. “Mom, I think this guy could make you happy like Daddy did.”

Jessica’s father laughed and said, “I think these two, along with that nurse, are trying to play matchmaker.” He extended his hand. “By the way, I’m Don Gray.”

“Joan Clark,” I said, taking his hand and shaking it.

Still uncertain, I turned to Hannah and said, “Honey, don’t you remember what I’ve told you about not going off with a stranger?”

“Yeah, but he’s not a stranger. He’s Jessica’s dad.”

“She’s got a point,” said Don.

“My dad told me not to go off with a stranger too,” said Jessica. “but he’s okay. He’s been really sad since Mom died.”

I could feel my heart melting as more tears threatened. “Jessica and I could sing another song,” said Hannah. “How about 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall?”

“Yeah,” said Jessica. She started the song, and Hannah joined in. Laughing, we both made our way out the door.

“Do you need to take my arm?” Don asked.

“Yes, please,” I answered, realizing I’d left my cane in the room. As I grasped his muscular arm and walked with him down the hall, I had a good feeling about this.

 

My Books

 

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

How to Build a better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

We Shall Overcome

My Other Links

Visit my website.

Like me on Facebook.

The Poor Blessed Virgin (Poetry)

Image contains: Abbie, smiling.The following poem was published in the fall/winter 2018-19 issue of Magnets and Ladders. you can click the play button below the poem to hear me read it and sing the song that inspired it, accompanying myself on piano.

 

THE POOR BLESSED VIRGIN

 

She stands, alone, cold, weary
after traveling many days and nights.
Why was she chosen to bear this Holy Child?
Must she do it alone?
Will Heaven help her?

My Books

 

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

How to Build a better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

We Shall Overcome

My Other Links

Visit my website.

Like me on Facebook.

Re-blog: Voices of Life–A Review

Like Lynda, I’m proud to be associated with Behind Our Eyes, a group of writers with disabilities, and to be on the editorial staff of Magnets and Ladders, the online magazine we produce. I’m also flattered that Lynda mentions me in this post. If you or someone you know is a writer with a disability, I suggest reading what Lynda has written about Behind Our Eyes and Magnets and Ladders.

Voices of Life–A Review

***

Abbie Johnson Taylor
We Shall Overcome
How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems
My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds
Like Me on Facebook.

***

Leaving (Fiction)

Sally felt a strange tension at the breakfast table one sunny April morning. Her husband Jack appeared nervous. He usually seemed confident and in control, but today, it was as if he were waiting for the right moment to tell her something, something she didn’t want to hear. Just as she took a bite of her bagel, he looked her in the eye and said, “I’m sorry, honey, but I’m leaving you for another woman.”

She choked on her bagel and wondered why she was bothering to try and remove the obstacle. Maybe it would be for the best if I went right here and now.

Jack, a prominent heart surgeon at a Denver hospital, knew the Heimlich maneuver. In a flash, he was behind her, his arms wrapped around her middle, his fingers on her chest pressing inward and upward. After a few thrusts, the piece of bagel flew out of her mouth and landed on her plate with a soft plop.

“Here honey, drink some orange juice.”

Obedient as usual, she took the glass in her trembling hand and sipped from it. “April Fools, right?” she said.

“No, it’s no joke.”

Sally stared at him, trying to comprehend. “Is it that bitch you recently hired as your receptionist?”

“That’s not a nice thing to say about Martha. She’s been a big help in the office, and I was lucky to find her after Darleen quit at the last minute.”

“And she’s a good looker,” said Sally, her body stiffening. “Don’t think I didn’t notice her that day last week when you forgot your lunch, and I dropped it off on my way to the DAR meeting. I saw her skirt cut just above the knees, her see-through blouse that showed way too much cleavage. She would have been a good catch for any man. Why did it have to be you?” She fought back tears.

Jack knelt by her side and took her hand. “Honey, I don’t know how it happened. I guess I was captivated by the long blonde hair falling down her back.”

Sally ran her free hand through her short dark curls. “I thought you liked my hair,” she said, as tears cascaded down her cheeks.

“I did like your hair before you had it cut short and got that permanent and coloring.”

“I’m fifty-five years old. My hair is turning gray. I wanted to look good for you.”

Jack stroked the top of her head with his free hand. “Honey, you were beautiful the way you were.”

Sally brightened. “Okay, I’ll grow my hair long. I won’t have Rachel at Clips and More curl it, and I’ll ask her if she can restore it to its natural color. Will you stay with me if I do that?”

Jack sighed. “Honey, I’m afraid it’s too late for that. Martha’s pregnant.”

“Pregnant!” Sally jerked her hand away and shoved her chair back from the table. “You’re the same age I am. How could you be so stupid? She must be at least twenty years younger.”

“I don’t know,” said Jack with a sigh, as he hung his head. “but I have to do the right thing.”

“She could get rid of the baby like I had to do with Shirley.”

“That’s not funny. You know as well as I do that our daughter would have been mentally retarded. She wouldn’t have had a happy life. As far as we know, Martha’s baby is healthy. I see no reason why she should have an abortion.”

“You bastard!” said Sally. It was all she could do to keep from striking him. “Do you love Martha?”

“I guess I do.”

“More than you love me,” said Sally, wiping her nose with the sleeve of her bathrobe. Jack sighed again.

“I should have known something like this was going on. You seemed to be spending too much time away from home. I know how dedicated you are to your work, and you don’t like to leave your patients until they’re out of the woods, so I shrugged off my suspicions. Then last week when I saw Martha, I wondered if you two were having an affair. I had no reason to think so.”

She rested her head in her hands. “Last night when Maria Gonzales was rejecting her heart transplant, and you needed to stay with her, I tried to reach you on your cell a couple of hours later, and you didn’t answer. I called the hospital, and the operator said you left an hour earlier.”

Fresh tears fell, and Sally removed a Kleenex from her pocket and wiped her eyes. “I told myself Maria had died, and you and your colleagues were drowning your sorrows at My Buddy’s Place like you do sometimes after you lose a patient. You didn’t come home until two in the morning, but when I smelled booze on your breath, I was reassured. Now, before I can offer my condolences, you drop this… this… bomb.” She blew her nose.

“I called the hospital a little while ago. Maria is doing much better. The anti-rejection medication we gave her last night seems to be working.”

“I sacrificed a lot. It was bad enough I had to give up my job at the flower shop when I married you and be a stay-at-home wife and mother.”

“I thought you wanted to…”

“I loved you, damn it, and I wanted to make you happy, and look where that got me.”

“You had Judy. You were involved in the Garden Club, the DAR, and the Civic Theater Guild. Wasn’t that enough?”

“It was until I had to give up Shirley. You don’t know what it’s like to kill your own baby, a child of your own flesh and blood. You don’t know the emptiness I felt all these years. She was just an embryo to you, but to me, she’s still a human being, and I miss her.” Huge, racking sobs shook her, as she buried her head in her hands a second time.

“Now you’re being dramatic,” said Jack, rising to his feet. “Save it for your next play, why don’t you?”

“Then I had to have my tubes tied,” said Sally through her tears.

Jack paced the floor. “You and I both know that there was a good chance you could have carried another disabled child. We were lucky Judy was normal.”

A car horn sounded outside. “Who the hell’s that?” asked Sally, jerking upright.

“That’s Martha. Since my car’s still in the shop, she offered to give me a ride.” He picked up his coat from a nearby chair and put it on.

“That’s it. You’re going to walk out, just like that.”

“I’ll come back this afternoon and pick up some of my stuff while you’re at your Garden Club meeting,” he said, jingling the car keys in his pocket. “My car ought to be ready by lunchtime.”

Sally felt a sense of desperation, as he turned toward the door. “What about me? What am I going to tell Judy if she ever calls and asks to talk to you? Just like you, she works too hard and can’t get away. She hardly ever calls or e-mails. She didn’t even come home for your fiftieth birthday party.”

“I’ll call Judy tonight when I get settled at Martha’s. You’ll be hearing from our lawyer soon. You can have the house and your car, and I’ll pay you a generous alimony each month.”

He turned back to her, and his face softened. “Maybe you and your friends should think about opening that flower shop. I’m sorry I discouraged you from doing that last year. You’ve always been interested in flowers, and I shouldn’t have insisted you quit your job and be a stay-at-home wife and mother.”

“And you shouldn’t have made me have an abortion and then get my tubes tied. Just get the hell out of my sight!” Sally rose to her feet.

The horn sounded a second time. Jack turned and hurried out the door. Sally stood and gazed out the kitchen’s bay window at Martha’s red BMW, as it idled in the driveway. She watched Jack climb into the passenger seat and the car pull away.

She grabbed several trash bags before heading upstairs. In the master bedroom, she emptied Jack’s closet, shoving his pants, shirts, jackets, and shoes into the bags. She cleared his dresser drawers of briefs, socks, and ties. His toiletries on the dresser and in the adjoining bathroom and books and CDs in the study downstairs met the same fate. She even disposed of his medical school diploma, home insurance records, and other important papers in the bottom drawer of his desk.

She would have taken a hatchet to the computer, stereo, and other items, but that would have been too much work. Besides, the sanitation truck would be there any minute, and she had better things to do.

She needed to make several trips to the dumpster in the alley behind the house. As she was stuffing the last bag into the bin, the truck pulled up. Self-conscious about being seen in her bathrobe, she waved to the crew before hurrying indoors.

She retrieved a notepad and pen from the top drawer of Jack’s desk in the study and went upstairs. The note she left on Jack’s dresser read, “You fucking son of a bitch, you are trash, and so is all your stuff.”

In the bathroom, she ran hot water in the tub. In the bedroom, she removed her bathrobe and hung it on the closet door. She placed her slippers on the floor at her side of the bed. She took off her nightgown, folded it, and placed it in its usual drawer.

In the bathroom, she stepped into the tub. Leaving the water running, she sat back, let the warmth surround her, and thought of Shirley. She hoped she and her daughter could make up for lost time.

With her right hand, she picked up the razor that lay on the side of the tub and held it poised over her left wrist. She hesitated for a moment, then cut deep, ignoring the pain. As the bath water gradually turned red, she closed her eyes.

***

The above story appears in the fall/winter issue of Magnets and Ladders, an online magazine featuring work by authors with disabilities. It also won second place in a contest sponsored by the National Federation of the Blind.

***

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

***

Amber’s Alert, (Fiction)

The following story appears in the spring/summer issue of Magnets and Ladders, which you can read at http://www.magnetsandladders.com. It started as something I hoped to enter into one of NPR’s 3-minute fiction contests, but as you’ll notice, it takes longer than that to read this.

***

Amber’s Alert

 

My stomach growled, and my mouth watered, as I looked in the cafe window. It had been a long time since I’d eaten anything but breakfast cereal, instant noodles, crackers with peanut butter, and canned soup. I wished I’d looked in Mom’s purse to see if there was any cash before I left the house.

On a nearby table was a newspaper. I couldn’t read the print because the paper lay upside down, but I recognized my school picture. I walked into the cafe and to the table and picked up the newspaper. The headline jumped out. “$50,000 Reward Offered for Return of Missing Girl” That was me.

I sat at the table and read the article. It was all about how I’d been kidnapped by my mother a month ago. Dad was out of town, and Mrs. Miller, the housekeeper, thought I was spending the night with my best friend and didn’t report me missing until the next day when I didn’t come home.

When Mom left last year, she didn’t even say goodbye to me or Dad. She just took off in the night, leaving a note on the refrigerator for Mrs. Miller to find the next morning. Mom was an artist, and she told me she was forced to marry Dad because he got her pregnant with me.

I spent a lot of time in her studio, watching her paint. For my twelfth birthday, Mom gave me an easel and paints and a few lessons. After that, we worked side by side at our own easels. The day I turned thirteen, Mom was gone.

I kept painting. It made me feel closer to Mom, being in her studio. She didn’t take much when she left, so I had a feeling that someday, she would come back, and everything would be okay.

Dad was away most of the time. He worked in a bank just like the father in Mary Poppins. A few weeks after Mom left, he said she was probably dead and gave all her clothes to charity and sold her jewelry. I begged him to leave the studio alone. He did, but when I asked if we could sell Mom’s paintings, he said, “That rubbish isn’t worth the canvas it’s painted on.”

I didn’t dare offer to show him my paintings, and he didn’t ask to see them. I signed up for an art class at school, and my paintings were displayed on the classroom walls during open house. Dad never went to open house.

A year later, Mom showed up at school in a maroon Cadillac. She wore a pink linen suit and a lot of make-up. Her hair was dyed a dark brown. “Amber darling, there you are,” she said, as if it were the end of another ordinary school day.

“Mom, is that really you?”

“Of course, it is, silly. Who else would it be? Come on. Get in the car. Let’s go.”

I thought this was weird but told my best friend Susan I couldn’t spend the night and got in the car. “Mom, I’m glad you’re back,” I said, as she drove away. “I’ve missed you so much.”

“I know, honey. I’ve missed you, too. You were the best thing that ever happened to me. Now, we’ll always be together.”

“Where are we going?” I asked a few minutes later when it didn’t look like we were driving home.

“We’re going to take a little trip,” said Mom, patting my knee. This was strange, but I would have gone anywhere with her, even to the moon.

She pulled into a McDonald’s outside of town, and my mouth watered at the thought of some fries or a shake, but instead of going to the drive-through window, she drove to the front door. A man in blue jeans, a white tee-shirt, and a black blazer came out. He didn’t look happy and climbed into the back passenger seat saying, “You sure took your sweet time, didn’t you?”

“Chuck, this is my daughter Amber,” said Mom. “Amber, this is Chuck. Are we ready?” Chuck grunted.

This wasn’t right, I thought, as we drove out of the McDonald’s parking lot, but what could I say? We drove for miles and miles and miles. Chuck said nothing while Mom and I talked. When I asked Mom why she left and where she went, she ruffled my hair and said, “Don’t worry your pretty head about that, sweetie. The important thing is we’re together, and I won’t leave you again.”

I told her about the art class I signed up for at school, about how the teacher put some of my paintings on the classroom wall for all the parents to see during open house. “Someday, you’ll have to show me those paintings,” she said. I wondered what she meant by “someday.” Weren’t we ever going home? It didn’t look like it.

When we finally stopped to eat at some sleazy diner, Chuck kept giving me weird looks across the table. He also kept putting his arm around Mom’s shoulders. I didn’t like this. If anybody should have been doing that, it was Dad. Mom didn’t seem to mind. In fact, I think she liked it.

When we got back in the car, Mom told me to sit in the back seat so Chuck could drive, and she could sit up front with him. I didn’t like the look of his back, either. He kept taking one hand off the wheel and putting an arm around Mom’s shoulders. It made me want to throw up. I finally fell asleep and woke up hours later in front of a run-down house in a strange town.

“This is our new home,” said Mom. I got out of the car and walked with her to the house. Chuck drove off before we even got in the door, which was fine with me.

The house had a small kitchen dining area combination, a large living room, and two small bedrooms: one for Mom and one for me. Mom’s easel was in the living room next to a window. There was no other furniture in the room.

Mom had several outfits of clothing for me. They weren’t as nice as the clothes I usually wore, but she said, “Someday when I have more money, I’ll buy you better clothes, and we can move to a bigger house in a better neighborhood where I can have a studio.”

When I asked about school, she said, “I didn’t get past the eighth grade, and look where it got me.” She pointed at one of her paintings on the living room wall. “Besides, it’s April. The term’s nearly over. Maybe by next fall, I’ll have enough money to send you to an art school.” I was relieved not to have to start school right away in a strange town where I didn’t know anyone.

Mom told me not to leave the house, even during the day. “There are creeps in this neighborhood. Don’t open the door to anyone. If someone comes to the door, go to your room and stay there until you’re sure they’re gone. You just never know what could happen to you, honey,” she said, hugging me.

We never went out to eat. There was no telephone, computer, television, not even a radio. Unlike Dad, Mom never read newspapers. She promised we could have this stuff when her ship came in, but when that would be, she didn’t say.

Chuck helped her put an old bookshelf containing used books in my room, and they were even able to squeeze in a beat-up old armchair and lamp. Mom painted in the living room. She said she didn’t want me to watch her anymore because it distracted her. In fact, she wouldn’t let me come out into the living room until after dark when the blinds were pulled.

I liked to read. Although the chair was uncomfortable, I didn’t mind sitting there for hours reading the Judy Bloom books Mom gave me. I missed Susan and my other friends and even Dad, although he was away a lot and didn’t talk to me very much when he was home. I also missed painting and wondered why Mom didn’t get my easel and paints before we left home.

The only person who came to the door was Chuck, and I was glad to stay in my room while he was there. I didn’t like the way he kept looking at me. Luckily, my bedroom door had a lock that worked. Mom and Chuck drank. He often spent the night, and I heard sounds that I never heard from my folks’ bedroom at home. I buried my face in the torn covers of the old bed and tried to tune them out.

One sunny day in May, I couldn’t stand being in the house any longer. While Mom was in her room with a hangover, I quietly closed the front door and started walking. Now here I was, sitting in a cafe downtown, reading a newspaper article about me.

I felt a tap on my shoulder and looked up to see a waitress smiling and holding a menu. She looked old enough to be my grandmother. I smiled and pointed at my picture and said, “How would you like fifty thousand dollars?”

The waitress stared at the photo, then at me, and her mouth opened wide. The cafe door opened, and in walked, of all people, Chuck. I shrank in my seat, hoping he didn’t see me, but he rushed to the table. “Amber, what the hell are you doing here?”

The waitress turned to the old man behind the counter grilling burgers. “Mel, call 911. That gal who went missing with the fifty thousand dollar reward is here, and the guy who kidnapped her is about to grab her again. Hurry!”

Chuck took off, as others sitting at nearby tables and the counter turned and stared. I felt weak. The waitress put her arm around me and said, “Don’t worry, honey. We won’t let him get you again. You’re safe now.”

Mel hollered from the grill. “Sally, tell that gal to order anything she wants. It’s on the house, and if that jerk comes back, I’ll butcher him, fry him extra crispy, and serve him with coleslaw.” He held up a knife. Other people laughed, and I couldn’t help giggling.

I didn’t even look at the menu. I ordered a hamburger, fries, and a shake. It was the best meal I had in a long time. When it was all gone, Sally talked me into eating a piece of chocolate pie.

Other customers went to the counter and offered to pay for my meal, but Mel waved them away with his knife. I could tell they knew him, and he knew them, so it was okay.

When the cops showed up, I told them what Chuck’s car looked like and how to get to Mom’s house. They found Mom right away and soon caught up with Chuck who was heading out of town. Mom and Chuck were wanted for other crimes, so they ended up doing a lot of jail time.

I flew home and was surprised when Dad, instead of Mrs. Miller, picked me up at the airport. He hugged me hard and said, “Oh Amber, you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. I didn’t think I’d ever see you again, princess.” He hadn’t called me princess or anything else in a long time.

When we got home, I found out he’d taken everything out of Mom’s studio. Even my easel and paints were gone, but frankly, I didn’t care. “This is your studio now, honey,” he said.

I picked out new wallpaper and carpeting, and he hired professionals to put it in. He bought me a couch, an entertainment center with a television and stereo and big speakers, a corner desk, and a computer with everything I needed. He even got me my own phone with a private line plus a cell phone. My friends said I was lucky to have the best dad in the world, and they were right.

Dad was usually home by supper time, and I ate with him in the dining room instead of in the kitchen with Mrs. Miller. On weekends, he took me out to fancy restaurants. When the weather was warm, he often played golf at the club, and I went with him and swam in the pool and hung out with my friends. Before school started, he took me to an expensive clothing store and asked a sales lady to pick outfits she thought were appropriate.

Six months later, I was looking at this story I wrote for a creative writing class I elected to take instead of art, wondering how it could end. I thought of Mel and Sally at the cafe. Mel would have gotten the reward since he was the one who called the cops. Of course he would have split it with Sally. They were probably already married. They could have done a lot with fifty thousand dollars.

***

Now it’s your turn. Here’s the original prompt from NPR’s 3-minute fiction contest. You’re looking in a window, and you see a newspaper lying upside down on a table. What happens after that?

Please feel free to share your story in the comments field or post it on your blog and link to it here. If you prefer, you can just tell me what you think of my story. In any case, I look forward to hearing from you.

 

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

My Late Husband in Summer (Poetry)

Summer arrived sometime last week, so here’s a poem that appears in the current issue of Magnets and Ladders. You can click the title to hear me read it. Enjoy and stay cool.

 

MY LATE HUSBAND IN SUMMER

 

He sits outside in the sun

at the picnic table in his wheelchair.

Sometimes he wears a hat—

often he does not.

 

With headphones, he listens

either to a recorded book or ball game.

His favorite books are westerns, mysteries.

The more blood and guts the better,

as far as he’s concerned.

 

His favorite baseball team, the Colorado Rockies,

don’t often play well.

Nevertheless, he’s ever faithful to the end.

 

He asks me to bring watermelon in a bowl,

already sliced, the seeds gone,

so all he has to do is enjoy their taste.

Like a little boy with a sweet tooth,

he asks for cookies, candy

with Pepsi, Mountain Dew, or Propel.

 

In late afternoon or early evening,

picnic table shaded, I join him,

check email on my lap top,

listen to an audiobook of my own.

With the two of us side by side,

I feel a sense of peace

despite the work involved

in getting us here.

 

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.