SHOW ME, DON’T TELL ME

As Jim came downstairs on Christmas morning, he saw, once again, the wretched excess of way too much. The Christmas tree, a real tree he’d selected and mounted in the stand, was bedecked with all manner of ornaments and the large lights that were so much more appealing than the miniatures. Some lights were solid color, some translucent colors, and many blinked on and off randomly. Tinsel hung from the tips of every branch made the lights look more in number than they were, but there were plenty. And then he saw it…the stacks of brightly colored packages, many with his name on the tags. Jim had asked for nothing from Mary, and with all the things he’d been giving away, or selling if he could, Jim could have wondered the reason for so much. But he already knew.
 
Some people think that they’re showing love when they give you something…a gift. In their minds, the gift is love. Jim never saw it that way, but he knew it happens. So how do you speak to someone like that? Is it love? He didn’t know…maybe for some it is, but it never spoke to him. And how do you love them back, if someone sees it that way? Throw caution to the wind, go against the grain, and do the same? It didn’t feel right…or good in any way. Jim’s a bit of a dreamer, but also practical. How many shirts does one person need? And what do you say when there are two more added to the collection? He thought of shirts, but it also applied to ties, pants, underwear, tools…you see the pattern. It was endless. And so were the bills after Christmas. He didn’t look forward to the arguments with Mary when they came due.
 
So Jim looked at the stack of boxes, all in brightly colored Christmas wrap, all sporting ribbons and bows, and he again wondered why…why so much? Maybe someday, someone smarter than him will figure it out…do the research…write a best-seller. But an ordinary guy has to struggle to get by until then. And he’ll have to say thank you, even while he crams yet more shirts into the closet…and wait for the next charity that calls to ask for donations of “gently worn clothing”. He knew he’d have plenty to give them.
 

A SHORT HISTORY

Harley took off his reading glasses and glanced out the window at the fall sky. He’d needed a break from his task anyway. Writing an historical novel required a lot of reading obscure bits of history if he was to get the details right, but now he was suffering eye strain. He’d not slept well, waking way before his usual 8am alarm setting. He looked around the room, eyes passing by the shelves, overloaded with his reference, finally coming again to the window. Fall skies are unlike any other, presaging the arrival of Winter. Winter…a season that once delighted him…but that was when he was still a boy.

He thought about the past year, and the fall he’d taken…the fall that laid him up with severe pain for months. Recovery came slowly, but finally was complete. Now, the return of Winter and more ice and snow filled him with a new dread. All he could do was be careful. Until he fell, he’d thought he was careful enough. Nope. The cost was more than the pain of feeling like his leg was being ripped off. Nine months later, he was still unsure whether all the bills would be paid without having to resort to a lawsuit. What a pain that would be. He was as fond of lawyers as he was of dentists.

There’s no rest for the weary. Harley topped off his coffee mug and leaned back in his chair with a book about the reign of Richard Nixon, one of the worst U.S. Presidents, and the only one who had to resign in disgrace. A thought crossed his mind, that brought a smile. If only George W. Bush had been similarly compromised. History is strange enough the first time. Why do so many seem to want to repeat it…or make it worse the second time around?

 
© 2016 Robert Mihaly
 
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The prompt…

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IT DIDN’T HAPPEN

He knew it…he’d struck out once again. He’d fallen asleep thinking he’d really gotten lucky. Billy looked at the alarm clock, saw 5am, then saw that the dream from last night had split. Only later did he realize that she’d rifled his pants pockets and emptied his wallet of money and credit cards. That was how his day began. It was about to become more than a long weekend.

Billy’s a normal guy…maybe a little too normal…and not the player he brags about to his buddies. The fact is, last night was his first time out in a month. A blind date, Lola was a friend of a girl at work…or so he thought. A night of drinking, dining, and a night in bed was unusual for him. He now realized he’d been a dutiful sucker. Ginny was gonna hear about it when he got to work on Tuesday. But, for now, he had phone calls to make…to cancel his cards before Lola, if that was her name, could run up a huge credit card tally. Not even 8am, and he’d already called 3 companies. He’s lucky he had the latest charge statements handy…the cards gone, he’d never have been able to get the right 800 numbers. There goes the weekend, he groused. He hoped he hadn’t gotten a social disease…Billy actually prayed the worst was over.

Tuesday came. Ginny was there before him, but when he asked her about Lola, she looked puzzled. “I spent Friday night with Lola. That wasn’t Lola who robbed you.”

Billy knew he hadn’t dreamt what happened. The money and credit cards were gone. The other shoe was yet to drop…the debit card he’d forgotten to call to cancel. When he went to the bank before lunch, he had his checkbook, but the teller said he was overdrawn.  Billy protested, “There’s gotta be a mistake. I made sure there was $500 in checking on Friday.” A look at the bank records said otherwise. That $500 had been withdrawn early Saturday morning. There was nothing but chicken feed left. Billy wondered if there was more bad news to come. Even as upset as he was, he chuckled as he thought to himself…was he going to find out now that he was pregnant? He sure felt screwed. Whatever else he felt, he didn’t want to talk about it with his buddies. That night never happened. He decided that was his story…and he stuck to it.

 
© 2016 Robert Mihaly
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https://annieswritingchallenge.wordpress.com/2016/09/18/writing-outside-the-lines-prompt-2-6/

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FINDING OUR WAY

 

“I’m going to disappoint you. But you knew that already.”  Bennie flashed a sheepish smile, as he sat down. Sue wasn’t amused. She’d heard that line before, and it was his way of breaking bad news. She waited for both shoes to drop. It wouldn’t take him long to disappoint her.

“So what is it this time? You know I hate bad news. There’s been too much of it lately.” She stared at him, clearly irritated…again. “Can it just once be good news, Bennie? I don’t like to always be arguing about things. We’re doing it all the time.”

Bennie looked at her, trying to gauge how upset she was. He paused, to think about what to say next. He’d already realized he’d started a serious discussion by putting himself on the defensive, riling his wife. How dumb of me, he thought, shaking his head. Would he ever learn? He stared down self-consciously at his hands clasped together on the table.

“Spill the beans, Bennie,” shocked him to attention. “If it’s bad news, just get it over with.” Bennie felt her eyes boring through him. When he mumbled something about X-Ray vision, he heard, “What?” Bennie hesitated, knowing there was now probably no way to save himself…or an ounce of his pride.

“You know that job I bid on…to remodel the old Hermann place?” Sue was listening. He knew he had to somehow make himself out as less than a fool. Good luck with that, he now feared. “I put in what I thought was a good bid. And they accepted it.”

“And?” Sue was already putting things together in her mind. “You goofed! Didn’t you?” When he heard the truth so bluntly stated, he felt three inches tall. But there was no taking anything back.

Bennie swallowed hard. “When I bid, the cost of hardwood was down. And now it’s gone up…way up. I was cutting my profit thin, hoping I would get a shot when Hermann was ready to build more hardware stores. Now I won’t break even, unless I do a lot of the carpentry myself.” He let that all sink in.

“So how does that affect us, Ben?” Sue was less upset than he’d expected. He knew the other shoe would make a difference.

“For me to do all that carpentry, not hiring two guys, I may make a small profit.”

Sue was eying him, now suspiciously. “And?”

“The downside is that we can’t take that vacation this year. I’m sorry, Sue…but what can I do?” He sighed, waiting for the blowup he’d felt was coming. Sue was staring at him.

“You thought I was going to beat you up over this. Didn’t you?” He had. “Well, here’s the thing.” She paused, then went on. “I’ve been thinking about going back to teaching, now that the girls are old enough to take care of themselves. I’d need to take a couple courses this summer to get up to date. You just made my decision easier. The vacation can wait. I’ll be in school.”

It’s always a shock when a long-married couple doesn’t know more about each other, but it shouldn’t be. It’s way too typical. Bennie took her hand and squeezed, at the same time mouthing, “I love you.”

He was glad he had a wife who did a better job of reading him than he feared…or than he read her. He was also glad to know how lucky he’d been to be sharing a life with her. His thoughts drifted to thinking he’d dodged a bullet…no divorce court dead ahead. He smiled at that thought. Maybe it’s time to ditch the line that made him fear his wife’s response. A learning experience. Who says an old dog can’t learn?

© 2016 Robert Mihaly

(Entry in a Writer’s Digest short story contest)

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ACCEPTING THE CALL

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The phone rang. “Hello?” A lapse of time with no reply told me…a robocall. I heard a not-very-real voice say…”This is your future calling.” I was tempted to just hang up, but something told me this wasn’t your typical robocall. My reaction was understated, as I soon found out.
 
As curious as I was annoyed, having been awakened before I’d planned on getting up, I waited to hear the options. The computer proceeded. “If you want to hear the most likely way your day will go, press 1,” the digital voice said. That wasn’t such a big deal. I’d soon find out anyway. “To hear the date on which you’ll die, press 2.” Hell, I thought…what is this bullshit? I was about to hang up, until I heard, “If you want your greatest desire to come true, press 3.” Then, “I didn’t hear your reply. If you need your choices repeated, press 4.” Not knowing how else to respond, I hit 3 and waited.
 
Another voice came on the line. She said she had loved me for as long as she could remember, and that I was all she needed to make her life feel worthwhile. She said she wanted me, and that she was waiting, impatiently. I tried to reply, to find out who she was, but the line went dead. And then, I woke up. Damn! Why do things like that always happen to me? I soon fell back to sleep, hoping for a callback.
 

© 2016 Robert Mihaly

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American Babylon: A One Act Play

Setting: the Mall in the nation’s capitol. Hundreds of thousands of angry white men and women are gathered, all armed, all wearing shirts proclaiming “AMERICA IS GREAT AGAIN”. All others have been rushed away; non-Christians, people of color, the ethnic looking, those with the appearance of homosexuality, the lame, those who just don’t look angry enough, and those the President-elect just eyes with suspicion of being intelligent, all headed for an uncertain fate.

The President-elect stands before his crowd, hairpiece at attention in a stiff breeze. Air is rushing in from all corners, to replace that which he has sucked out of the Capitol. A singular vitriol has replaced obstruction, which had replaced any willingness to listen to opposing points of view.

The President-elect is ready to speak. He stands bare-assed naked before his people. They can’t see it.

The President-elect: Okay, people. You know why we’re here. Now shut up, so I can speak! I won’t have you talking over me. You said you wanted a guy who can get things done. That’s what I’ll do. Just hold onto your caps.

The world doesn’t like me. The world doesn’t like how you voted. The world can kiss my ass! The world is full of losers…just like my opponents. They can go to Hell! When I take power, those losers will be sent to Guantanamo. Those two Cubans will be right at home, and the others? Who gives a good Goddamn?  They’re politicians and losers. You elected me. So Congress better get onboard. They’re all expendable.

Now, here’s the deal, people.  And you know…I KNOW how to make a deal. So the deal we’ll make is this. I know how things get done. That wall? Done! Bombing ISIS? They’ll be so done. Israel? I don’t know why Christians are so worried about a Jewish country., but okay…I hear you. They’ll get onboard too. Those Muslims will know…you don’t mess with the Jews, or you’re messing with me. If they don’t get it, I can level Mecca as fast as you can snap your fingers.

Scene: The crowd has been cheering at every proclamation. But now the volume threatens to drown out the President-elect. His ire rises.

The President-elect, shouting: SHUT UP! I’M TALKNG, PEOPLE!

That’s better. Now remember. I won’t say it again. Now listen up, people. You gave me your votes. You believed in me. You know I’m the tough guy I said I was. My opponents know it now. They’ll get theirs. You believed in me. Now I’ll tell you the deal. This is MY country now. I won’t have anyone talking when I speak. You wanted a god…and I’m your god. Now get down on your knees! Kiss the ground we walk on. Kiss the ground I walk on. This is America, and now it’s mine. Show me your faith with the sign of the “T”.

Final scene: We see now the beginning of the end. The less intelligent faithful didn’t understand that they stood with a man who sought not to be President of the greatest nation on the face of the Earth, the United States of America. They had empowered a man who would be king. The Constitution, which some claimed to revere? It’s days are numbered. Congress, an ineffectual body of argumentative fools, had fooled itself, and will become a rubber stamp or be gone. And the highest Court in the land? The President-elect made clear that its days were numbered. When he took office, it would be irrelevant. The President-elect holds supreme power. Money won. Now money rules, absolutely. And if you don’t understand it now…you’re a loser.

© 2016 Robert Mihaly

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American Babylon: A One Act Play

He Dared Not Say

“We live in a world that’s rude, crude, lewd and screwed.” Would they put that on his tombstone, or was that too honest for the purpose? All he wanted was to tell the world to fuck off. He knew that wouldn’t fly, for sure. What’s a man to do when he’s weary of the world and its ways? All these questions, he thought. Keeping him from sleeping, night after night. He took a last drag from his Marlboro, and stubbed it out, wishing for deliverance. Sooner than he’d expected, if you’d been listening, you’d have heard him snoring. But he slept alone. Some nights he gets lucky, and sleep takes him. And some nights,  sleep evades him.

Manny had been married. Everybody seemed to see his flaws, but never hers. He kept his mouth shut, like he was told a gentleman does. Only now, as he tries to put back together the pieces of his shattered life, does he speak up in protest when he hears one of her lies coming from a mutual friend. Make no mistake. When a couple splits, it’s usually assumed that the man was a rat, a cheat, an abuser, or just a cheap sonovabitch. Manny was none of those…by choice. If chivalry is dead, he’ll happily be seen as a throwback.

From day one of their marriage, Manny and Sadie never totally connected. He never knew if Sadie talked about it with her friends. The ones he knew best had their own troubles. He guessed they talked. About him…if Sadie had her way…and he was pretty sure he didn’t come off well in her telling.

There was always the same stumbling block. How do you keep a marriage together when one person always gets his or her way and the final say? Manny wishes he’d spoken sooner and more forcefully. Maybe they could have worked some things out. And as soon as he hears that rattling around his brain, he wonders who’d be fooled by that. “Humph!” He grunts, as he sits alone in his usual booth at the Char Pit.

“So, what happened to you guys,” he hears, as he’s joined at the table. It’s Lucy…Lucy Pratt, a long-time friend. Lucy’s a slender blond, long hair trailing down her back. Manny once had a thing for her, but she was still in college…not ready for a commitment. Lucy was the only one of their mutual friends who now gave him the time of day. So Manny and she remained friends. “Sadie’s been saying that you didn’t want kids, Manny.”

“That’s her story.” Manny slides a Marlboro out of the pack, but remembering that there’s no smoking inside, he just nervously taps it on the base of his thumb and slides it back into the pack. He’s been meaning to quit anyway, he muses.

“I knew it wasn’t true, but the others seemed to buy it.” Lucy places her hand on his and looks him in the eyes. “I really hate how she trashes you.” An earnest look distorts her pretty face.

“I could always count on you to speak your mind, Lucy. We shoulda got married.”

He glances across the table and winks, a shy smile breaking the corners of his mouth. Lucy smiles knowingly. They’d had some good times before they decided they were just not at the same stage in their lives. She always appreciated Manny’s rugged handsome face. He reminded her of the man in the ads for his favorite cigarette brand. Those ads now only a memory, but she smiles that she can still think that. Yep, she muses…sitting across from her is the real thing.

“So, what are you gonna do, Manny? Are you gonna try to set the record straight?” Lucy’s smile was replaced by a frown. “I know why you split.”

He stares past her. “You do? How? I haven’t told anyone outside of my brother. And he swore not to tell anyone.”

“Women see things like that…at least some do. Maybe I’m empathic. Maybe I always wondered what you saw in Sadie.”

“Well, that would have put you in a group of one.” Manny’s really jonesing for a Marlboro. He tugs nervously at the one he’d put away, then remembers the law and leaves it in the pack. He’s not used to this much candor from a woman…one he long ago realized he still cared for. “As I hear it, everybody wondered what she saw in me.”

The waitress comes by with a pot. “Would you like me to freshen that, darlin’?” She nods toward his coffee cup, while he wonders why all southern women are so liberal with that word. He sure never felt like any meant it.

“Just a half, please, Ginger. I’m just getting off a long day of work. Need to catch some sleep and get at it again in the mornin.'” She leaves an extra cream and a smile. Manny’s a regular…and a good tipper.

“I know Ginger likes you.” Lucy smiles. “It’s all right, Manny. Like I said…women see things and understand.”

“Well,” Manny returns. “I’d be glad if you’d share a bit of your knowledge with me sometime, Lucy. But now I have to get some shuteye.”

He moves to get up, and Lucy follows suit. As he heads by her toward the door, she brushes her hand by his shoulder. Both may be having similar thoughts of something that may come on another day. Tonight, they’ll just exchange goodbyes.

© 2016 Robert Mihaly

 

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GIRL WITH A RED RIBBON

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She appeared unexpectedly, but just in time…for me. I was living the blues, so much so that I couldn’t bear to hear the songs. A long-time fan…but I could no longer listen. No Leadbelly, no John Lee Hooker, no Sonny and Brownie. What brought me to that point isn’t immaterial, but that’s a different and what not long ago seemed a never-ending story, now best kept in the past. 

What came into my life was a breath of fresh air…with the hope that the rest of my life would take a different course. Could love come in the late Autumn of life…or even in Winter? I wasn’t about to say no if it did.

I spied her looking my way. Perhaps it was she spying on me. It didn’t matter. She caught my eye. A vision wearing red and with a red ribbon tied around her neck. She was quite a woman, much to my liking. How could she like me? But she did. Kindness in the past had left me vulnerable to acts that were far from kind. But kindness won her heart.

No soul knows how long they have in this world. But she’s taken my hand. I’d be a fool not to follow. 

© 2016 Robert Mihaly

Posted also to:

https://annieswritingchallenge.wordpress.com/2016/01/03/writing-outside-the-lines-prompt-22/