Short and Sweet (30 Stories – 14)

Yeah, so another absence.  To be explained later (eventually?).   And now I’m jumping into NaNoWriMo, which will surely make finishing these 30 stories even less likely.  Still …

I’ve begun working with my writing mentee, now that she’s back from summer break and our program is up and running again.  One of her goals for the year is to work on writing short stories.  Perfect, yes?  In our last meeting, we talked about building complex sentences, about starting from the very basic and just adding words.  So I wrote a one-sentence story as an example to share with her today.  The rules: start with a two-word sentence, add no more than three words with each revision.  Not sure I love the result, but we’ll be working on it this morning!

_____

He walked.

He walked quickly.

He walked to his car quickly.

He looked around then walked to his car quickly.

Before leaving, he looked around then walked to his car quickly.

Before leaving his hiding place, he looked around then walked to his car quickly.

That night, before leaving his hiding place, he looked around then walked to his car quickly.

That night, before leaving his hiding place, he watched Ella, looked around, then walked to his car quickly.

That night, before leaving his hiding place, he watched Ella count the money, looked around, then walked to his car quickly.

Earlier that night, before leaving his hiding place, he had watched Ella count the money, looked around and then walked to his car quickly.

Earlier that night, before leaving his hiding place after he had watched Ella count the money, he’d looked around and then walked to his car quickly.

Earlier that night, before pressing “start” and leaving his hiding place — after he had watched Ella count the money — he’d looked around and then walked to his car quickly.

Earlier that night, before pressing “start” and leaving his hiding place — after he had watched Ella count the money — he’d looked around and then walked to his car quickly, gripping his keys.

Earlier that night, before pressing “start” and leaving his hiding place — after he had watched Ella count the money — he’d looked around and then walked to his car quickly, gripping his cold, sharp keys tightly.

Earlier that night, before pressing “start” and leaving his hiding place — after he had watched Ella count the money — he’d looked around and then walked to his car quickly, gripping his cold, sharp keys tightly, certain of nothing.

Earlier that night, before pressing “start” on the timer and leaving his hiding place — after he had watched Ella count the money — he’d looked around and then walked to his car quickly, gripping his cold, sharp keys tightly, certain of nothing.

Earlier that night, before pressing “start” on the timer and leaving his hiding place — after he had watched Ella count the money — he’d looked around and then walked to his car quickly, gripping his cold, sharp keys tightly, certain of nothing he’d done.

Earlier that night, long before pressing “start” on the timer and leaving his hiding place — after he had watched Ella count the money — he’d looked around and then walked to his car quickly, gripping his cold, sharp keys tightly, certain of nothing but what he’d done.

Earlier that night, long before pressing “start” on the timer and leaving his hiding place — after he had watched Ella count the money — he’d looked around and then walked to his car quickly, gripping his cold, sharp keys tightly, certain of nothing but what he’d done, certain.

Earlier that night, long before pressing “start” on the timer and leaving his hiding place — after he had watched Ella count the money — he’d looked around and then walked to his car quickly, gripping his cold, sharp keys tightly, certain of nothing but what he’d done, certain only of time.

Earlier that night, long before pressing “start” on the timer and leaving his hiding place — after he had watched Ella count the money — he’d looked around and then walked to his car quickly, gripping his cold, sharp keys tightly, certain of nothing but what he’d done, certain only of the time.

Earlier that night, long before pressing “start” on the timer and leaving his hiding place — after he had watched Ella count the money — he’d looked around and then walked to his car quickly, gripping his cold, sharp keys tightly, certain of nothing but what he’d done, certain only of the time he’d chosen.

Earlier that night, long before pressing “start” on the timer and leaving his hiding place — after he had watched Ella count the money — he’d looked around and then walked to his car quickly, gripping his cold, sharp keys tightly, certain of nothing but what he’d done, certain only of the time he’d chosen for the detonation.

Earlier that night, long before pressing “start” on the timer and leaving his hiding place — after he had watched Ella count the money — he’d looked around and then walked to his car quickly, gripping his cold, sharp keys tightly, certain of nothing but what he’d done, certain only of the time he’d chosen for the detonation, still unsure.

Earlier that night, long before pressing “start” on the timer and leaving his hiding place — after he had watched Ella count the money — he’d looked around and then walked to his car quickly, gripping his cold, sharp keys tightly, certain of nothing but what he’d done, certain only of the time he’d chosen for the detonation, still unsure if he would act.

Earlier that night, long before pressing “start” on the timer and leaving his hiding place — after he had watched Ella count the money — he’d looked around and then walked to his car quickly, gripping his cold, sharp keys tightly, certain of nothing but what he’d done, certain only of the time he’d chosen for the detonation, still unsure if he would act, if he could.

Earlier that night, long before wishing, before pressing “start” on the timer and leaving his hiding place — after he had watched Ella count the money — he’d looked around and then walked to his car quickly, gripping his cold, sharp keys tightly, certain of nothing but what he’d done, certain only of the time he’d chosen for the detonation, still unsure if he would act, if he could.

Earlier that night, long before wishing (praying) for options, before pressing “start” on the timer and leaving his hiding place — after he had watched Ella count the money — he’d looked around and then walked to his car quickly, gripping his cold, sharp keys tightly, certain of nothing but what he’d done, certain only of the time he’d chosen for the detonation, still unsure if he would act, if he could.

_____

Hmm … I was surprised by how difficult this was to do.  Curious what my mentee will think of it.

Options (30 Stories — 13)

Options

Wind-blown rain tore at Anthony’s jacket, finding the gap left by his missing button, secreting through his shirt and settling uneasily against his skin.  He increased his pace and ducked his head against the rain, curling as far inward as possible.  When he reached the office building, he took a minute to shake himself out, calm his shivering.  There was nothing he could do about his wet head, his sodden clothes, but could see he wasn’t the only one in the waiting area who’d been surprised by the storm.

“Bad day for running around,” the receptionist said, her voice sleepy and thick.  “Even an umbrella wouldn’t help out there.”

Anthony tried to smile, but could feel his face only able to shape a grimace. A girl with a voice like that deserved better.  Not just a smile, but a smile from a man who wasn’t angry and desperate, or smile from a man who could back up a come-on with an offer of dinner and a movie.

He shook his head.  There was no time for any of that, no reason to even think of it.  Besides, she reached for a clipboard and the ring on her third left finger told him any come-on from him would be wasted and unwelcome.

“Fill these out,” she clipped papers onto the board, “and then you’ll go to the second floor and meet with a job specialist.”  She smiled.  “Shake out your jacket, try to warm up.”

He smiled something more like a real smile.  The board held standard forms — his most recent jobs, his skills, what he was looking for.  He shook out his jacket, went to the men’s room and used the hand dryer on his hair, his shirt.  At least from the waist up he wouldn’t look his worst.  He appreciated the receptionist’s suggestions, that she had extended herself in even that small way.

He sat in a small room packed with sullen-faced, damp people waiting his turn.  Everyone was closed off, focused on their struggles, looking up hopefully when counselors appeared in the doorway, dropping their eyes when the name called wasn’t theirs.

The group was mostly men, almost 50-50 black and white, one Asian woman, one Latino man.  The counselors were all black and Latino.  Anthony wondered if they judged him, pitied him, wondered what was wrong with him?  Projecting, he thought, hearing his mother’s voice.  He was projecting.  He judged himself, wondered how he hadn’t been able to avoid being in that room.

“Good afternoon, beautiful people.”

Anthony looked up, to see a small, older black woman smiling in the doorway, leafing through papers.

“I do apologize for the rain,” she said.  “The least we could do when you come in is arrange for better weather, right?”

Mentally, Anthony crossed his fingers, then smiled when she called his name.

“I hope you’ve had a minute to dry out,” the counselor said, leading him to a cubicle.

“I didn’t expect there to be so many people waiting,” he said.  “I know the economy’s bad, but –”

“But there’s always work for assassins?” she asked, smiling.  “That’s been my experience, but something’s shifting.  Everyone’s noticed.  Your last job was in the spring?”

“May,” he said, nodding.

“Yes, that’s when it started.”  She looked over his forms, made notes.  “You have great experience don’t you?  You shouldn’t be out of work.”

“I’m all for world peace, but isn’t there always work for a good killer?”  He tried to sound flippant.

She frowned.  “It really makes no sense.  We’ve had peace before, but this –” she shook her head.  “There’s definitely something going on, something upsetting the normal balance.”

“Five months is my longest dry spell,” he said.  It didn’t explain his pathetic state of affairs, however.  He could have saved money, could have lived less lavishly.  But he was talented, popular.  There’s been no reason to expect it to end.

And then, in a bar, complaining to a mercenary he was friendly with, he’d found out about the office, that he could file for unemployment.

“You’re joking,” he’d said.  “Our work isn’t exactly … above board.”

“Neither are the folks in that office!”

Anthony looked at the counselor.  She had the placid, kindly face of a grandmother, but she hadn’t blinked an eye at his profession, had talked easily about his work.

She handed him a slim folder.  “I wish you’d come sooner,” she said.  “I’ll process your paperwork today, but I can only make benefits retroactive by one month.” She pointed to the folder.  “That’s all the info about your options.  We have a lovely range of services.”  She turned to face him and put her hands in her lap.  He half expected her to tell him a story.  “Now.  I don’t have any jobs in your field at this time, but maybe you’d like to enter a training program?”

“Training? Like learning to type 40 words a minute?”

The counselor laughed, a warm, comforting sound that made Anthony smile.  “My, that would be funny,” she said.  “But 40 words wouldn’t get you very far in any case.”  She laughed again.  “No,” she said after a moment.  “I wouldn’t suggest you for the steno pool.”

She fished a pamphlet from a file beside her desk.  “This,” she said, passing it to him, “is our cross-training program.  I have to say torture is surely the best bet.  I’ve seen no drop-off in the need for coercive intelligence gathering.”

Anthony scanned the glossy, tri-fold brochure, wondering when the work had become so ordered, so open, and how he’d missed the transition.  Maybe it really was time for a career change.

“Coercive Intelligence,” he said, noting that the trainees were called the CIG Corps.  “Let’s talk about that one.”

A Deluxe Apartment in the Sky … (30 Stories – 12)

So this past weekend was the second round of the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge.  When I first mentioned this challenge a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t say that this is a multi-part challenge.  The first two rounds, everyone is in the ring, and everyone’s story is read by the judges and the top 15 stories are awarded points.  Your points for the first two rounds are combined, and you have to score in the top five of your section to make it into the third round.  I got my score last week for my story “Serum” … and I got second place!  So I have 14 points to carry into this new round.  I’m very happy with my second place finish.

And I was even happier with those points when I saw the prompt for round two: Science Fiction – A luxury hotel – Caviar.  So somehow I managed to write action/adventure for round one … and it was kind of sci-fi-ish, and I was pretty sure I’d used up all my sci-fi skill on that story.  But I spent Saturday and Sunday trying hard to make something happen.  It was looking iffy, but I finally got my act together and got my story submitted.  I’m thinking I’m going to need every one of the 14 points I earned in round one if I have any hope of making it to round three!

Okay, okay.  Without further hemming and hawing, here’s my sci-fi entry:

_____

Master Suites

Grace was staying at Master Suites South West, the colony closest to her grandmother’s house.  Her suite was high enough that she could see past Buttermilk Channel, past the bays, all the way to the sea.  It was a spectacular view over the tip of the island, but it seemed to subdue her grandmother with its opulence, and Grace thought she should have taken a more modest suite.  How many more visits would she have with Maman, how long before Forrest Cities banned surface trips, banned surface people from the Suites.

Maman, tiny in the window seat, stared at the city.  “You should  stay with me ,” she said.  “That is our family home.”

“I know, Maman.”  Grace brought a tray to the table by the window, poured her grandmother a flute of champagne.  “It’s my fault.  I was late requesting an overnight surface stay.”

Maman scoffed.  “Still convinced Forrest Cities is improving our lives?” she asked.  She turned from the window and looked at Grace.  “And still won’t consider living with me?”

Grace selected a toast point, buttered it slowly.  This was their constant battle.  Grace wanted her grandmother to give up the surface, move into a hotel tower, any hotel tower.  Maman had no interest in the hotels — called them luxury slave pens.  She wanted Grace with her on land.

“You know I can’t,” Grace said.  “My work schedule is difficult enough.”  She deftly loaded the toast with shiny black beads of Hackleback, her grandmother’s favorite caviar.  She passed the treat to Maman, who popped it into her mouth, frowning.

“You know how I feel,” she said.  “Forrest Cities is wrong.  I know your towers upstate are smaller than these, but they are still wrong.”  She waved at the chrome and white room.  “This is a lovely room, of course —”

“And every possible amenity, Maman,” Grace interrupted.  “You wouldn’t even have to cook if you lived here.  Room service is included in the fee.”

“I like  to cook,” Maman said.  She reached for the mother-of-pearl spoon and another toast point.  “I’m well aware of the hotel amenities.”  She ate the caviar, shaking her head.  “God, I used to love  caviar.  Real  caviar, not this made-in-the-lab confection from room service.”  She held up a hand against Grace’s protest.  “Yes, dear, it’s delicious.  Of course.  Everything Master Suites provides is perfect.”  She ate another toast point.  “But perfect isn’t always best.”

It was in her voice, Grace realized.  Something had changed, something Maman couldn’t fix.

“What is it, Maman?  What’s happened.”

Her grandmother smiled.  “I do  like that in you,” she said.  “You can always tell.”  She looked back out at the city.  “Master Suites,” she said.  “We should have known they didn’t just want this city, that they wanted all  cities, that they wanted all of us.”

Grace couldn’t deny what seemed, even to her, to be true in that.  No one had understood the implications when Forrest Cities was granted rights to the Hudson and East Rivers.  Then the Master Suites plans were unveiled — archipelagos of gleaming towers, one colony for each city quadrant, built to hover 100 feet above the water, each archipelago a colony of twenty 150-story towers.  Pampered, luxury living for over a million people.

Grace had lived in the city then.  She’d put her name on the waiting list immediately.  She’d almost chosen North West for its views of the Palisades.  When Forrest Cities announced plans for a new colony above the Mohawk River, the timing had matched perfectly a job transfer Grace had been coveting, and she’d moved to Master Suites Mohawk Basin.

“I’m leaving,” Maman said.

“You just arrived!  I  just arrived.”  Grace joined her grandmother in the window seat.  “We don’t have to talk about whatever’s bothering you, Maman.  But don’t leave yet.”

Maman smiled.  “No, dear.  I meant leaving the city.”

“To come to Mohawk Basin?  To live with me?”

Maman shook her head.  “There’s a group of us, leaving for the mountains in Guatemala.  Forrest Cities’ tentacles haven’t reached those smaller communities.”

“You’re talking about running away with a bunch of crazy, paranoid people —”

“Not crazy, Grace.” Maman took her hand, squeezed.  “Your friends Tre and Zilla have already left.  They’re settling a place for me.”

Grace shook her head.  “Impossible.  I saw Zilla this morning.”

“Synthdroid,” Maman said.  “People leave them in the Suites to keep an eye out, buy themselves some freedom.”

“Synth—?”  Grace shook her head again, harder.  “Maman, I can’t let you run off to some mountain hovel.”

Her grandmother sat up, raised her head.  “You don’t make decisions for me, child.  I live where I choose.  Fifty years ago, I could have stopped Forrest Cities.  I didn’t see it then, and I’ve spent too long angry over old choices.  Now it’s time to look after myself.  Color of loam, darling.  Color of loam.”

Grace looked into Maman’s beautiful, dark-as-earth face with its filigree of wrinkles.  It was what she always said.  “Color of loam.  Grown from the soil, and that’s right where I’ll stay.”

“Tre and Zilla?”

“Forrest Cities hasn’t approved Zilla’s request to see her mother in over a year.  From Guatemala, she can tap surface communication networks, find out what’s happened to her mother.”

“And just like that, she’s in Guatemala.”

“And just like that, I’m joining her.  I’ve only been waiting for you.”  She squeezed Grace’s hand again.  “Leave the towers before Forrest Cities’ real plan for the Suites is unveiled,” she said.  “Come with me.”

Credit (30 Stories – 11)

Credit

On his way up the escalator at the mall, he slipped his press pass out of his back pack and looped the lanyard around his neck.  He thought for about the ten-millionth time, how happy his mother would be that he wrote for a living.  He wasn’t entirely sure how happy he was about it any longer — when was he going to sit down and work on the novel that had been teasing the back of his brain for years? — but he knew she would be pleased.  And proud.  Thinking of her made him realize that, once again, he’d been humming ‘If I Were a Carpenter,” without noticing it.

He loved that song.  His mother used to sing it when she was working around the house or concentrating on writing a poem, sang more to herself than anything, her sweet voice drifting through the house.  Since her death, he found himself humming it at the oddest times, and always when he was writing.

“The papers have already been here,” the store manager told him as he walked into the shop.

‘We spoke earlier, Miss Gilchrist. I’m from the online news magazine.”  He extended his hand.  “Tom Banks.”

“Oh, right.”  She shook his hand, gave a small smile.

Her store had been robbed, and the young man who worked for her had been killed.  And that was news, but it was a story because it was the third store in a week with an identical scenario.

Tom hated this kind of story, what other reporters called “real news” — organized crime, political scandals, voting rights violations. His heart was the human interest stories, the fluff pieces: the celebration of the county’s oldest operating pub, the crowning of the homecoming queen who was a sixth-generation queen, the crazy farmer with the Virgin Mary in a potato. Real news as other people would have defined it was important, but there were always people eager to cover it.  He loved the small humanness of the stories that could easily be passed over and left behind.  The homecoming queen had been sweet and humble, proud of her family’s long history in the community, excited for him to see how much she looked like her great-grandmother and wasn’t that just amazing?  It was.  To him.  It was the kind of story his mother would have liked, the kind she would have clipped from the paper and tacked to the board over her writing desk.

He was aware that he was writing for her, writing pieces she would have wanted to read.  He hoped she was enjoying them.

The beat reporter had pneumonia, so Tom had been pulled off of the flower festival and sent to the mall to talk to Rose Gilchrist, who owned the jewelry store, who greeted him with a crumpled ribbon of police tape in one hand.

“How are you doing, ma’am?”

She looked surprised.  “What?”

“You must be so shaken up.  Is there anyone here to help you?  Would you like to sit down?  Or can I get you a coffee?”

She smiled.  “Well, you’re different,” she said.  “I think it’s better to be brisk and efficient.”  She shook her head. “But I am tired.  I’ve been brisk and efficient all morning, and I still want to curl up and cry.  Jimmy Wells was only 18.  He was supposed to go to Johns Hopkins in the fall.”

They walked around the store talking about Jimmy, what kind of worker he’d been, what kind of kid.

She stopped when they’d circled back to the front of the store.  “I know this is wrong to say, but he was the kind of person that my father would have described as a credit to his race.”  She frowned.  “That’s not okay to say anymore, is it?”

“No, ma’am.  It really isn’t.”

She smiled again. “I didn’t think so.  Even as a girl, I didn’t think so.  It sounds like it should be a compliment, but you know how I knew?  I never heard it said about anyone white.”  She shook her head.  “That’s an ugly way to compliment someone.”

“But you didn’t mean it that way.”

“No.  I didn’t.  And I’m sorry, but I was thinking it about you, too.  What do they call that?  Full disclosure?”

Tom laughed and nodded.  “I appreciate your candor.”

“What story are you going to write now?”

“Something that gives my editor what she wants.  But I’ll also write a longer, deeper piece about Jimmy Wells.  Show people the young man you just introduced me to.”

“That’s the one I’ll read,” she said.

 

The song was back in his head as he worked on Jimmy’s story.  He always thought of his mother when he wrote, the way she could disappear into a poem for hours at a time, spend weeks on just a line.  And it never seemed to frustrate her. In the hospital, after the doctors had said there was no more room for optimism, Tom had asked if she needed anything, if there was anything he could do or give her to make her more comfortable.  She’d asked for a steno pad and a pen. “I’ve got at least another short piece in me,” she’d said.  He’d run down to the gift shop to get her tools.  When he’d returned, she’d smiled, told him to write for her, but instead of dictating, she’d turned to look out the window and started singing.

He’d asked why that song, and she’d said she liked that it was about love and hard, honest work.

“I wish it had more verses,” she’d told him.  “Three trades people is nice, but what about the writers and teachers, the librarians and social workers?”  She laughed.  “I guess the social workers wouldn’t make for good lyrics.”

He always remembered that she named the writers first, that she saw writing as a trade, a craft to be done with your hands.

The Summer Wind (30 Stories – 10)

The Summer Wind

She would have liked more time, Iliana thought, standing over Stan’s hard, almost ceramic-looking face at the funeral.  A few weeks, months.  But there was no time.  At least not for Stan.  He looked calm nestled in the cream satin, his perpetually red face dulled to a grey peach.  Someone had strung a small crucifix around his thick sausage of a neck, rested the cross carefully at the center of his tie.  Stan would have ripped it off .

She stepped back and walked away, self-conscious about how much time she’d spent at the casket, holding up the line.  She threw a quick glance at his wife and daughters in the front row.  Relieved that no one was paying her any attention, she walked out to the lobby of the funeral parlor and leaned against a wall.

“You’re not family.”

A young man sat on one of the overstuffed couches in the hall.  His big, dark-suited body incongruous against the pink and yellow cottage roses of the upholstery.  She’d seen him inside, at the head of the line of mourners waiting their turn with Stan.

“Not family.  I worked with Stan.”

He nodded and looked at her intently, making her uncomfortable.

“Forgive my bad manners,” he said after a long minute.  “You just don’t look like a construction worker.”

“Accountant,” she said.  “I do — used to do — Stan’s books.”

The young man nodded.  “Professional.”  He nodded again.  “You look it.  Professional, I mean.  You definitely don’t look like an accountant.”

She exhaled slowly.  “What do accountants look like?”

“Shrunken old men, right?  Usually Jewish.  Glasses.  Maybe a cardigan.”

She smiled slightly, glad he’d said “Jewish” and not “a Jew.”  She wondered if he had any idea that it would make a difference.

“No,” she said.  “In that case, I don’t look like an accountant.”

“You done here?  You heading out?”

“I think I am, yes.”

He stood, and she was surprised by his height and by the easy graceful way he moved.

“Come on,” he said.  “I’ll drive you.  Wherever.”

“Oh, no.  That’s not necessary.”

“No, it’s not.  I’m offering, though.”

“Really — ”

“The evening’s cooled off, and your little jacket won’t cut it.”  He gestured toward the door with a tilt of his head.  “I’m right out front.”

She didn’t move.  “You must see why this would be awkward or uncomfortable for me.”

He shrugged.  “We’re strangers.  Sure.  But it’s still cold, and I’m safe.  Safe as houses, as my grandmother would have said.”  He cocked his head to the other side. “I never understood that saying.  Are houses really all that safe?”

She smiled, felt tension run out of her.  “You’re not family, either,” she said, straightening from the wall and walking with him.

“But I am, actually.  Nephew.”  He leaned close, dropped his voice.  “From the unpopular branch of the family.”

Iliana didn’t know how to hear that, hadn’t known Stan well enough to know about any of the branches of his family.  She’d only recognized his wife and children from the photos he’d kept in his office.

“That sounds ominous.”

They stepped into the chill air, and she wrapped her arms tightly around herself.

“Well, only if we’re related,” he said.  “Otherwise — ”

“Safe as houses?”

“Exactly.”  He steered her to a dark SUV.  “You hungry?  There’s a nice Greek kitchen not far.  A fried cheese like you really can’t imagine.”

She nodded, let him hand her into the plush car.  She had a frisson of apprehension at the feel of his hand on hers, wondered about the mistake she was making, but shook it off.  And shook it off again when he opened his own door and ducked down to peek at her before climbing in.

She drew herself in.  She would not bring Stan’s mysterious, “unpopular” nephew home.  Would not make love to him with the stereo blasting Frank Sinatra, Stan’s favorite singer.  Would not.

She said it once, and then again.

“Second thoughts?” he asked, pulling into traffic.  “Worried about walking off with a stranger?”

“Just thinking.  About Stan.  Heart attacks are so sudden.”

“They are that.”  He parked in front of a tiny restaurant.  “You must have other clients,” he said.  “Stan couldn’t have been your whole business.”

“I work for a firm.  There are lots of accounts.”

He nodded.  “So Stan’s death won’t hit you hard.”

She turned to stare at him, but couldn’t see him clearly in the dimly lit car.

“Sorry. That wasn’t supposed to sound so insensitive.  I meant this loss won’t hurt your job.”

She nodded.  It was true.  There were plenty of businesses that needed her to straighten out their accounts, file their taxes.

The fried cheese was better than she imagined.  So good, she wished she’d had a serving bowl full instead of the small appetizer.

The nephew watched her eat, sipping seltzer and eating olives.  He talked about his mother, Stan’s sister, and her decision to marry a man the family couldn’t accept, and how they’d turned her away.  “But not Uncle Stan,” he said.  “He never let her go. All these years.  He even paid for my college.”

She would, of course, take him home.  He wouldn’t fill the empty space left by Stan, not even close.  But at least Stan hadn’t died in her apartment, had never been to her place.  There would be no ghosts to cleanse from her rooms.

“You ever meet his wife?  His daughters?” the nephew asked.

She shook her head.  She hadn’t loved Stan, but she almost had, had just decided that she might.  After all those lunch meetings in his office, after the whispered phone calls late at night because he couldn’t stop thinking about her.  After the first time she noticed that he put his family’s photos in his desk as she walked into the room.  Maybe she could have loved him.

And she’d wanted to tell him.  But what could he say?  She didn’t want him to leave his wife. Why should she make Eleanor pay for her curiosity?

But then Stan had looked at her funny as they’d put their clothes back in order.  And then he’d slumped in his chair, called her name and passed out.  And then there was this nephew, some small piece of Stan offered up.

She would turn on the stereo and play “The Summer Wind” on repeat until he asked her to change it.  There would be no second chances, not for her.  But she’d reach out and take what was sitting in front of her.