Of Stones & Storms

When her cousin said she had a job for her in the states, this was not what she had expected. She wasn’t in a place in her life that allowed her to be picky, though. And after everything that had happened, there wasn’t time to argue. So here she was, ringing up items one by one, each costing only one American dollar.

She started memorizing the totals for certain numbers of items. For example, two items would always come out to $2.16. It was a silly game she played during the more boring hours of work, seeing how long she could go without having to actually look at the register to announce the sale total.

It was also a good way to keep her mind clear and at peace. Unoccupied, her mind would wander to places she’d rather not be and so she kept busy. If it wasn’t number games it was memories of her family or her small hometown in France.

“Earth to Elise, come in Elise!”

She shook her head as the vision of her life left behind was shattered by her cousin’s abrasive voice.

“Hey Alice. Why must you be so loud? You know I am not a night owl like you.”

“Don’t go falling asleep behind the register, love. I just got you this job. Besides, it’s only 10 o’clock.”

Alice was an indiscreet woman; she was loud, fierce, and deathly afraid of finally turning thirty. As Elise’s only friend and contact in America, Elise clung to her, trying desperately to assimilate herself like Alice had.

“Is it that late already?” Elise asked as she closed her register.

“Time flies,” Alice teased. Elise didn’t acknowledge that anything Alice said was funny. She was still getting used to the odd things her cousin said in English.

Alice drove her home and asked if she needed to come in to keep her company tonight. Elise shook her head. “I’m fine,” she said and waved as Alice took off down the old country road.

She was renting a room from a friendly family of four; they called it the “mother-in-law apartment.” Elise had smiled but wasn’t sure why the man of the house found it so funny.

She would have stayed with Alice but her cousin’s extra bedroom was now occupied by her daughter, Gabby. Elise didn’t mind, she valued her alone time. At this point, curling into bed and watching television until she fell asleep sounded heavenly.

American TV had a lot to offer, and even after seeing so much of it back home it surprised her with its willingness to resort to the grotesque. Lately, she was enthralled by a reality show involving a beauty pageant of cross-dressing men. It felt like an intimate view of human life, and she loved it.

As her head nodded and her eyelids grew heavy, her focus shifted from the television above her dresser to the small night light plugged into the wall. It looked old and frail, as if it had travelled a long distance in its lifetime.

Her eyes fluttered once more, and she fell quickly into sleep.

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Good Intentions

When they first met, and he had told her he did stand up regularly, she had smiled and touched his arm, “Just don’t use me for material okay?”

They laughed and he nodded, holding up his beer. “You have my word,” he toasted. They had both been so drunk that night.
It had been two years since then. They fell in love, argued, met each other’s families, and moved in together. All the normal stuff. Sal was in deep but for the first time in his life he wasn’t running away when things got complicated. He never imagined that he’d find a woman as perfect as Eloise; she was so supportive of his stand up. Even the dirty jokes.
Sal was performing in much nicer venues now. He even had a manager now, which he was hesitant about at first. Things were looking great.

One morning Eloise was making breakfast for him after a late night. There had been an after party to celebrate his hundredth show and Sal’s head was killing him. He watched Eloise as she cooked. She always seemed to be dancing; or perhaps her movement was just too musical to call it anything but dancing. He watched her big hips sway side to side, the apron swishing this way and that.

“Babe, I’m trying to write new material. Stop being so sexy,” he teased.
She winked at him, “I can’t change who I am, Sal,” she replied.
“Hey, let me try out a new one on you, hun,” he asked as she continued to cook breakfast.
“Okay, shoot,” she replied.
As he told the joke, he watched her expression travel from slight amusement, to realization, to contempt. As he finished, he hesitated so she could process the genius of his joke. But her silence was all he received.
“What, you don’t like it?”
It was clear that she was choosing her next words carefully, “I would like it if you never told that joke again,” she said quietly.
He was stunned. “Okay…I promise, I won’t.”
She nodded silently and went back to flipping pancakes.
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By Definition

Every Tuesday for what felt like years (but was actually only a few months), they had met at the little café across from the university. They always talked, passionately, about one thing or another. It didn’t matter what, there was no agenda. Just a desire to have an intellectual conversation about anything outside of politics and the war. Every Tuesday, it was as if the war didn’t exist, like it was put on hold for these two. Maybe that’s what drove them to come back every week.

It was unlike Audrey to be late. She was always so punctual, so professional. Thom smirked as he lifted the chipped coffee mug to his lips; for once, he had gotten there first. He grumbled under his breath at being stuck at the smallest table in the café, and he felt even larger than usual. Thom was a man built for physical labor: broad, muscular shoulders, huge calloused hands, and a bright orange beard. Now, as he waited for his friend at a table smaller than it ought to be, he fanned a newspaper out to catch up on the news.

Audrey burst in, looking rather flustered, carrying yet another pile of papers to grade. Thom sat up a little straighter in his seat, smug and ready to tease Audrey about her tardiness. Her old, spectacled eyes scanned the room until she found him, comically crammed behind a tiny table.

In her late fifties, Audrey was a mother of two and a professor over at the university. She moved with grace and a swiftness not common for a woman her age, making her way through the crowded coffee shop. Her greying black hair was falling out of her usually neat bun and her cardigan was inside out. Thom slumped back into his seat- maybe now was not the time for gloating.

“Rough day?” he asked her, genuinely concerned. He folded his newspaper back up but not before seeing her glimpse at the front headlines.

Audrey’s grey eyes practically sparkled as she flashed him a grin, “I’m fine darlin’. How was work?” She set the stack of papers down with a thud and fussed with hair.

Unconvinced, Thom leaned in, “Miss Audrey, ya know ya can’t lie to ol’ Thom. I know people,” he raised a forefinger to his temple and smiled. “I can read ‘em like a book and you look tense.”

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Lost and Found

When Theodore lost something it was eventually found and he would have peace of mind at last. His favorite book? Under the sofa. His rain jacket? Still in the back of the car. His silver wrist watch? In the back pocket of his trousers; he had taken is off during the art lesson at school the other day. The watch was his father’s and Theodore did not wish to ruin it.

When his best friend Olivia went missing, however, that was much different. This was a moment when even the adults were a lost cause and Theodore, therefore, had nothing sturdy to hold onto to keep him from completely breaking into pieces. It didn’t happen all at once, his inevitable meltdown. Indeed, if there was anything that he was sure of, in the beginning, it was that he would see Olivia again and everything would go back to how it was meant to be.

“Teddy, let’s pray for dear Olivia and for her parents,” his mother suggested, tucking him into bed. Theodore rolled his eyes in the dimly lit room for more than one reason, but put his hands together and closed his eyes, for his mother’s sake.

At this point Olivia had been missing for a week. Theodore thought about his false prayer for his friend, and felt a pang of guilt. Maybe he should have been more sincere? It wasn’t an issue of what Theodore believed but rather a lack of things that convinced him of the truth.

He waited until his mother left to cry. Theodore didn’t cry often but it was the only thing that made any sense, it was the only way to express this growing hole in his chest.

Tomorrow, surely. Yes, that is when they will find Olivia, he told himself.

“I will see her tomorrow,” he said aloud, in the darkness, when just thinking it did nothing to ease the pain.

The following morning, Theodore awoke early, crept out to the kitchen, and climbed onto one of the high-backed barstools. He had poured himself a bowl of cereal and was attempting, poorly, not to spill on today’s newspaper. Theodore’s parents had a peculiar distrust of the media in general; without access to a telly, this was the best he could do to entertain himself.

Tall letters described a tragic tube accident, along with a full-color image below that was mostly police tape. Theodore’s brow furrowed. Shouldn’t there be a story about finding Olivia? Surely, that was important enough to include.

“Hey Teddy! You’re up early!” his father walked in, yawning. He was about to start the French press when he realized what Theodore was reading.

“Hey Ted, buddy, give me that. There’s nothing fun in there. Let me find you the funny pages…” his father took the paper swiftly from Theodore’s little hands.

“I was reading that!” Theodore protested.

His father chuckled half-heartedly, “Such a strange kid,” he said to himself, just loud enough for Theodore to hear. “Go grab me a tie, will you?”

Theodore grumbled and stumbled out of the tall chair. His father ruffled the boy’s black hair playfully on the way out. Theodore turned back momentarily, feeling eyes on the back of his head. In black and white, little Olivia stared up at him like she always did, hiding under the big, bold words: “LOCAL GIRL KIDNAPPED, PARENTS OFFER REWARD FOR INFO.

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