May 272011
 

A little boy threw something out the window of his school bus. The driver saw him and gave him a note to take home to be signed. This little guy is bright, full of life, and his eyes shine with hope, joy, and irrepressible potential. Why had he done this and what is to be done?

Coming in the door, our intrepid miscreant meets his waiting grandmother. I can imagine his apprehension and hesitation. He already knows he’s in some kind of trouble. Worse yet, Grandma is a retired elementary school teacher. Grasshopper stands nervously in front of Master. She sees instantly that something is amiss. Still, she doesn’t hesitate to reward his homecoming with her biggest smile and warmest hug.

“Can I go out and play with Bobby?”

“What are you holding?”

“A note.”

“Well, then I had better read it.”

The usual suspect reluctantly surrenders the charges against him to the officer of the court and examination begins.

“What did you throw out the window?”

“I don’t remember.”

“Uh huh. What did you throw out the window?”

“A piece of paper.”

“Why?”

“A boy told me too.”

“Why?”

“I don’t remember.”

“What did the bus driver say?”

“I don’t remember.”

Grandma is no fool. “Well then, I need you to sit on this chair and try to remember while I finish cooking supper.”

For our little boy, time passes like he were crossing a turbid stream. He cannot see his feet nor the uneven bottom of the stream bed where he must place them. Surging water constantly threatens his balance. He is alone; with no one to hold his hand. The far bank is in sight, but his immediate future is clearly at risk.

Granny loves him enough to let him suffer for a while. Eventually—no, actually at a thoughtfully chosen interval—Granny turns from her work and, offering a reassuring smile, resumes the interrogation. “What did the bus driver say?”

“He said, ‘That was stupid.'”

Granny’s diaphragm spasms and she barely suppresses the impulse to cackle hysterically. “Well, do you think it was stupid?”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“You know you shouldn’t litter.” Grandma has made a misstep, but she doesn’t realize it yet. She had him on the defensive but has just appealed to the knowledge and rationality of a prepubescent child.

Seizing the opportunity to object, he asserts himself. “But I wasn’t littering.”

“You threw paper out the window.”

“But, littering is when you throw a can out the window.” A cunning twitch of satisfaction caresses his lips. But now he has made a misstep; forgetting that he is arguing against prosecutor, judge, and jury.

“Littering is when you throw anything on the ground.” Objection denied. There is no further response from the accused; he has no recourse but to throw himself upon the mercy of the court. The verdict is in and It is all over except for the defendant’s statement and the reading of the sentence.

“How do you feel about your littering?”

“It was wrong.”

“Should you do things just because another boy tells you to?”

His pupils dilate momentarily as he considers the potential loophole of being told to do something by a girl. Sanity returns. “No.”

“What should you have said to the boy that told you to do it?”

“I should have said, ‘I’m not stupid.'”

“Do you promise to not litter like that again?” “Like that,” she said. Grandma has deliberately given him some discretionary wiggle room. He understands that he just got a suspended sentence with probation. This will be a test of his character.

“Yes, I promise.” No hesitation. No caveats. Just so. Well done. She signs his note and hands it back. The trial is over and the jury is dismissed.

“Okay, then I guess you have about fifteen minutes to play with Bobby before coming in for supper.” He glances at his wristwatch. Granny knows that he will be back soonish. She bends down to give him a hug and kiss before he dashes off.

Hesitating, he looks back briefly and says “I love you.” They both know that his record has already been expunged.

Copyright 2011, David Satterlee

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0), which essentially says that you are free to share the work under the conditions that you attribute it fully, do not use it for commercial purposes, and do not alter it.

[amz-related-products search_index=’Books’ keywords=’short stories grandma’ unit=’grid’]

Oct 012010
 

Starting a New Career

by David Satterlee

Fergus and his wife Dorothy are middle-aged. Actually, they are just past middle-aged in that wonderland of freedom and possibility that exists while there is still ambition and the potential for growth but, at the same time, incipient mortality is a boil on the ass that prevents one from sitting idle. Dorothy is retiring early as a social worker and Fergus is disabled. Hard lives are threatening to get harder, but they have plans to do creative work together.

Fergus wakes with a mild surge of adrenaline, which, even when mild, is disturbing. Suddenly awake, he mentally reconnects with his ears, takes an inventory of the little noises around him, scans the dimly lit ceiling for a few moments and finally, beginning to relax, he glances at the clock. It is 3:38 am and he needs to pee. Raising his feet to a near fetal position to avoid disturbing the cat curled head-to-ass in a perfect yin/yang circle at his shins, he slides gently out of the bed. He is also especially careful to not disturb his gently snoring wife who is snuggled up to his rump. Everything is going well. He swings to the side and slides deftly to his feet with practiced precision, stands, checks his balance with the knuckles of his left hand, which deliberately brush the wall for orientation and stability. So far, so good.

Treading gently past the antique Chinese secretary’s desk, its close-hung doors squeak an alarm nonetheless. Busted. Dorothy jerks suddenly, sending the cat leaping into the void beyond the bed, raises up on her elbow, and mumbles with urgent concern, “Is everything okay?” “Yes,” Fergus assures her, “I just need to go to the bathroom.” “So do I,” she replies, “but you go first.”

Dorothy is a treasure. Fergus would do anything for her, even going first without posturing to be gallant and insisting that she precede him. Flooded with affection, he sits back down on the mattress edge and caresses her newly-emerged foot. He starts the game: “Have I told you yet today that I love you?” She responds in character and replies with a pout:”No, not yet.” The small episode concludes with the obligatory speech: “Darling, you are the light of my life, my joy, and everything that is precious to me. I cherish you beyond reason and would slay the fiercest beast to set a kindly path before your feet. I rejoice in the labors of our love: the work that we have shared, the children that we have raised, the friends we have comforted, and the future we will face step by step and hand in hand. I love you.” As always, the affirmation is sealed with a gentle kiss to her cheek.

“I was having a dream, Fergus explains.” He should know better; she will ask for details. Dorothy asks for details. “I had finally found some work I could do and a place that would have me. A University research department hired me to keep things up around one of their labs. First, they discovered that I not only knew my way around computers, but could make them roll over and tell jokes. Then, I revealed that I had experience maintaining analytical systems like their chromatographs and dielectrophoretic separators. After just a few days there, the director decided to redirect research into the properties of materials at ultra-cold temperatures. When he found out that I already knew how to operate high vacuum systems and handle the liquid nitrogen needed by mass spectrophotometers, he asked me to also be responsible for commissioning and overseeing the proper care of the new equipment. It was like going to heaven; I got three promotions in two weeks.” Dorothy smiles with patient tolerance and reminds him, “I love you too, but you’d better get to it soon or I’m going to wet the bed.” His response is certain and reassuring: “As you wish, my bride.” Centering his breath and remembering to live in mindful awareness, he gets up and leaves the still-darkened room to go do his business.

Flipping the wall switch by the bathroom door, Fergus is momentarily blinded and feels a disorienting wave of vertigo. His knuckles seek the reassurance of the door frame, while he squints and feels as if flowing into infinite brightness. A diffuse figure before him smiles gently in greeting, urges him to be unafraid and at peace, and pointedly inquires about what he has learned and how he has loved in life.

Copyright 2009, David Satterlee

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License, which essentially says that you are free to share the work under the conditions that you attribute it fully, do not use it for commercial purposes, and do not alter it.