The Airing Of Grievances

The large conference room was filled with angry faces. Several tables were configured in a semi-circle around the accused and her comrades, who happened to be the management.  The workers were on the edge of turning savage; they snarled and breathed heavily as they prepared for the meeting.

It was an airing of grievances, of which there were many.

Icily the accused stared out at the workers, refusing to look away. She sat with her straight back in perfect composure.  There was no reason for her to answer to these swine.  In front of her, she had neatly folded her hands one over the other, which would have been non-confrontational, if she hadn’t been wearing a pair of tight, black leather gloves.

Everything else about her was normal; light pink blouse, pleated slacks, modest, black heels and a dainty gold chain that lay softly over her collarbone and around her neck. She wore just a hint of makeup and kept her intricately braided hair pulled back with a clip.

Everything but those damned black leather gloves said she was willing to make peace.

Almost certainly, it was the gloves that tipped the workers over the fine line of decency. The gloves proved that she had something to hide, a reason to veil her dishonest hands and a lack of shame that anyone else was implicated.

The first stone was thrown, followed by another and then another. Her comrades stepped away, unwilling to risk being struck as well.  Out of respect, they lowered their eyes, unwilling to participate in the violence but unable to stop it.  Small pebbles grew into rocks with the workers’ confidence until finally a boulder was pushed over onto the accused.  She held her hands up to shield the blow; the gloves did nothing to save her but they did send her out in criminal style.

gloves-2

 

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A pig is a pig is a pig

tcp

On craigslist, there are an abundance of sugar gliders, pit bulls, exotic birds and other worn-out novelty pets looking for their fur-ever homes. Forever or fur-ever, makes no difference.  It all means the same thing, a peaceful transition from one home, overrun with unwanted people and pets, reeking of urine and hopping fleas to your home, calm and clean, for now.

Papers of authentication, be damned.

After my normal daily review, I was all set on the adoption of a grizzled, one-eyed tom cat, appropriately named “Winks” when a new posting caught my attention for a teacup pig. I almost wrote that the post caught my eye, but it didn’t feel right after introducing and abandoning Winks so quickly.

There was a picture of a creature peeking out of blanket-nest with a pink nose and a pair of tiny, squinting eyes. The photographer caught the piglet at just the right angle and lighting to appear perfectly charming.  It was no bigger than a kitten, fuzzy and pink, certainly no swine.

My heart was won. Sorry Winks, but I’m about to be a teacup pig owner, I thought to myself.  This little guy has all the right stuff.  It is smart, potty trained, likes to cuddle and loves cats.  Could this be too good to be true?

Then, sure enough, I noticed at the bottom of the post a few simple words of warning, “Do your research. While small now, this teacup pig does have the potential to grow larger than a teacup.”

Ah, how the truth set me free.

Teacup pigs are actually baby pot belly pigs.  They can keep growing until they are four years old and can get to be 100 to 120 pounds.  These so-called teacup pigs can live up to 18 years old and cost several thousand dollars a year for food, vet bills, and proper space.  Maybe more than I bargained for?

On a second look at the photo, the piglet was already bigger than a teacup, approaching the size of a mug and soon to be bigger than a gallon of milk.

The writing was on the wall; the pig would outgrow our small house and likely sit on at least one of the cats. It would break down the flooring and furniture, disrupt the peace, and eat up all of our leftovers and snacks in addition to its own pig-food.  It would have been a gross oversight on my part to ignore the line of caution and pursue the adoption of Teeky, the teacup-for-now, but soon-to-be-regular-sized-sow.

A pig is a pig is a pig.

With such a clear warning, why would anyone ever bring one into their home and expect something different?

pg
Oversight

The Mystery of the Thermostat

therm

Maintenance-man Mark plodded into the office, his heavy boots leaving a trail of dried mud in their wake.

“Too damn hot in here,” he growled. “Who’s been messing with the thermostat?”

Sweet Sally stammered, “I don’t even know where the thermostat is to mess with it.”

She actually felt quite comfortable without her customary heavy sweater and scarf, a little warm maybe, but it beat the alternative of freezing. She thought and said these things with no small amount of resentment that her warm, little office mecca of 85 degrees was about to be adjusted in the wrong direction.

“Don’t be messing with it,” he barked at Sally.

Innocently, Sally looked at him thick glasses and magnified eyes and appeared very much like a concerned insect.  At that moment, Sally’s coworker, Murph walked in and casually strolled to his desk, returning from an extended and unexcused break from which he hoped that Sally did not notice.

Nothing got past those big, buggy eyes, especially not extended and unexcused breaks.

In that moment, Maintenance-man Mark became judge and jury, he found the guilty party.

“You’ve been messing with the thermostat,” he declared sizing Murph up in his baggy khakis and wrinkled sweater.

Murph nonchalantly replied, “No way, man.”

Mark had his culprit, now for the confession.

“I wouldn’t touch that thing,” Murph continued unconvincingly.

“Yeah, well it was set for 87 degrees and it didn’t adjust itself. So one of you two did it.”

Mark stared and Murph, neither willing to concede.

“Well its back to 68 degrees, right where our building owner wants it. It better be that way when I come back.”

The next day, Sally walked into the office and sighed. She took off her coat and left her heavy sweater and scarf on. Too cold for comfort, like usual.  However, by midmorning she took off her scarf as the office warmed and by lunch, her sweater was hanging over the back of her chair.

Murph was missing, like usual, while the temperature climbed one degree at a time. Sally didn’t notice as the room became hotter and hotter, like a frog placed in warm water slowly turned up to a boil, she didn’t think to jump out until she was cooked to a sacrificial fritter.

Chronic Time Squeezer/Deep Sleeper

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Heavy pounding on the door rattled the already chipping paint from the walls and ceiling. Flakes of paint danced in the air and fell to the ground, an early snow in late October.  Yet, it did not rouse the occupant of the unit.  Like a bear in hibernation, the man slumbered on, completely unconcerned with the outside world.

“It’s a gift,” he always explained when asked how he was able to sleep uninterrupted by storms and sirens, bright lights and bedbug bites.

“What if there is a fire?” his mother asked out of concern one day when she discovered that her grown son had slept through two alarm clocks and missed a job interview.

“Ma, that’s part of the gift. See, I didn’t want that job anyways and the gift made sure I didn’t have to worry about turning them down.   Don’t worry though, if there was a fire, the gift would wake me up.  It would never let me burn.”

This logic and misplaced confidence did not convince Ma that her boy possessed any special ability or skills other than extraordinary laziness. If Ma only knew of the curls of the smoke slowing filling her son’s room while he slept, she could have confirmed her suspicions that the gift would indeed one day allow him to go up in flames.

The pounding continued at the door and Kane slowly returned to reality, he felt himself involuntarily and cruelly pulled from the dark, safety of sleep. Before opening his eyes, he scratched at his chest and yawned, resistant to entering into the light of day.  He knew why there was a man impatiently standing on the other side of the door with sore, red knuckles with a ring of keys in other hand.  He also assumed that the man with sore knuckles and keys was standing next to a police officer.

Still, Kane wasn’t about to leave the warmth of his bed. Instead of answering the door, Kane pulled the blanket up around his chicken-neck, snuggled down deeper and closed his eyes, grateful for his gift.
Rearrange

Twoferone

Original

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“Are you sure you want just one?”

The kindly old woman wore a traditional frontier woman’s garb: bonnet, wire-rimmed glasses, a home-made dress of rough material, ankle boots and all. She stood on her tiptoes to reach the top of a clear glass jar filled with purple liquid.  As she plunged a wooden ladle down into its depths, displaced purple pickling juice rose in the jar.  Liquid threatened to spill over the sides just before the woman withdrew the ladle and produced a perfect purple-tinged pickled egg.

“One is hardly enough.”

On bringing the dripping orb into the light of day, the old woman grinned with more pride than that of the egg’s original hen-mother.

“All I have is this much,” the dirty-faced girl said as she laid down a wrinkled $1 bill on the counter. She wore faded jeans and scuffed tennis shoes with loosely tied laces that were unraveled at the ends.  Her thin hair was pulled back into a greasy pony tail.  After relinquishing the money, the girl stuffed her hands into her pockets and looked longingly at the jar.

Saliva filled the urchin’s mouth as the old woman patted the excess liquid from the egg.  After a second of hesitation, the woman scooped out another dripping purple-tinged egg and dropped it next to the first egg.

With a wink, she whispered, “It looks like you could use it.”

“Thank you,” the girl whispered back to the woman, taken back by her generosity.

Finished with the business of egg-buying, the girl carefully took the eggs in both hands and stepped out of the line. She looked back half-expecting the woman to demand the second egg be returned, but no such thing happened.  Instead, a man took her place and ordered lemonade and a pickle on a stick.

“No, make that an iced tea. Is it already sweetened?”

The man badgered the kindly old woman with questions about the sweetener and if he could have a drink of half lemonade and half tea. Patiently, ever so patiently, the woman listened and answered his questions, while trying to keep an eye on her last customer whom she had aptly named, the hungry urchin.

As the girl stepped out of line, it became clear that she was not alone. A little boy stepped out with her, following in her shadow.  The boy wore a grungy grey sweatshirt with his thumbs sticking through the holes at the wrist of the sleeve.  He was a head shorter than the girl but had an equally grimy face and messy hair.  The girl handed him the second egg.

“Here,” she said. “It’s just like Granny used to make.”

The pair walked off, down the dirt path, past the other booths and vendors. Each slowly ate their delicacy, one nibble at a time, savoring the acquired taste of pickled egg and wondering what they would eat next.

Stay up

ash
Frail
“Hang on, I’m coming.”

Five minutes later, the door opened a crack and an eyeball peered out.

“Oh, it’s just you.”

Disappointment seeped out like smoke from a burning house when Old Tom opened the door the rest of the way. He tottered back inside, taking each step with care.

“I thought my daughter was coming,” he croaked.

I stepped inside behind Old Tom leaving behind the hallway of peeling paint and dingy black carpet. The equally dingy carpet in his apartment captured the imprint of many shoes and showed a well-worn path leading from the solitary bedroom to the door where I stood.  It was as if Hansel and Gretel left a trail of crumbs and muddy footprints to remember how to return but decided against it once they reached fresh air and green grass.

Of course, there wasn’t much to which Hansel and Gretel might return to between the cigarette burns in the sofa, the legion of bedbugs hiding in the corners and cracks, the peeling laminate flooring or the empty cupboards. Hansel and Gretel got away, even the roaches moved on in search of better pickin’s, only old Tom wasn’t so lucky.

Old Tom worked his way directly towards a raggedy recliner chair next to folding card table with a pack of cigarettes and an overflowing ashtray on top. An inhaler, pack of matches and two batteries were also haphazardly situated on the table.

He gradually lowered himself down, one brittle and creaky bone at a time, until he finally rested his weight squarely on the hemorrhoid cushion on the chair with a sigh.

We shared a mutual relief that he had managed not to fall, picking him up off of the floor would be close to impossible. Summoning emergency responders would almost definitely result in an arrest of his neighbors for whatever illegal activity was taking place in the parking lot, front waiting area or around the side of the building. It would not help to build warm feelings between Old Tom and the residents of units 1,2, 4, and 6.  There was no 3.

Almost reading my mind, he said, “You know, I just can’t seem to get myself up once I hit the floor.”

He laughed; the thought of being trapped on the ground without help like a baby bird that had fallen from its mother’s nest was somehow funny to him. The same man who was once a straight-up gangster with gold chains, girls, and endless dope was now a shriveled and sad little man in a grey sweat suit.  Incontinent and overly trusting, he was getting played by the one thing he never counted on, time.

 

Abuse of Power

Nightmare
mice

Earlier in the day, a call was placed that concluded with a general agreement on the need for traps with better bait and bigger snaps. We had an ongoing pest problem that strangely existed in one unit, in spite of our best pest control and extermination efforts.

It could only be assumed that the biggest and brightest of the mice had formed a gang and randomly set up headquarters. While the gang prepared for an all-out war/building take-over, they had to first increase their numbers and somehow co-exist with the original tenant.

“Lars, we know about the mice in your apartment. We aren’t mad, although, I’m not sure why you didn’t tell us there were so many.  Not to worry, we will take care of it for you.  The maintenance man will be setting traps tonight.”

Lars did not respond; he clutched the sides of his chair with both hands. His heart fell from his chest and splashed into his stomach.  Bile rose into his throat, displaced by his heart crashing into the sea of his organs.  He swallowed hard, forcing the acidic juices back to their original reservoirs.

“Are you ok?” I asked.

It appeared that Lars was a second away from throwing up or passing out; he swayed back and forth in his chair, pale and still silent.

“Why are you doing this?”

Lars pleaded with dark eyes to forget about the mouse droppings on the table, countertops and stove. Ignore the Tupperware dishes on his bed with a half-eaten hotdog left behind, with very tiny nibble bites taken from both ends.

“The mice are going to take-over if we don’t intervene. Did you know they have figured out those sticky traps and the “special snacks” we set out in your unit?  I don’t know how, but I think they are actually getting bigger.”

He proudly nodded his head in agreement, “Yes, they are getting bigger.”

“Right… and that’s the problem so we are going to use bigger traps and better bait, starting tonight.”

He thoughtfully considered this for a minute and counter-offered, as though this was a business deal on the table with negotiable fees and contingencies.

“I need a week to make arrangements.”

“For what?”

As soon as the words left my mouth, and I knew it was for the mice.   Clearly, he was their accomplice and advocate.  How else would they be able to not only outsmart the traps, avoid the poison but also to grow, be fruitful and multiply?

“Lars, they cannot be pets. They are pests.”

I hoped that he was not harboring these fugitives but knew that he was doing more than just allowing them to take up residency with him. I imagined the late night dinner parties with Lars surrounded by at least 57 very fat and happy mice eating ice cream and potato chips. I envisioned him sleeping with a mouse on either side of his pillow and a few around his feet.  I could see them watching tv, lined up on the couch, shaking their heads at the evening news.

He shook his head, these terms were unacceptable. He tried to explain that the mice were his friends and so on and such forth.

“Just another week and I will have them taken care of,” he begged for time, practically on his knees.

“No deal. The traps are going out tonight.”

Done

Fork

Dark clouds are forming overhead and the wind is picking up.

The weather is threatening to ruin our little cookout.

No matter, the rain cannot spoil the day.

Hotdogs, coleslaw, chips and cookies. We even have condiments and cheese.

What else could possibly be missing?

Ah yes, it’s the people we need to eat the forty fresh and ready hotdogs that are sizzling on the grill.

I see the people, plain as day. They are smoking up against the building, tentatively looking in our direction.

Take the bait, come and sample our delicious dogs. I try to lure them with my mind powers.

It’s all to no avail. They throw down their cigs, white flags of surrender in the grass.

Still no takers and a pile of hotdogs to disperse.

Go ahead. Stick a fork in me.  I’m done for the day.

Monday, we’ll try again.

 

 

Man to man

Ralph had been missing for two days. He had not come in for bus passes, canned goods, or dish soap.  There were no requests for leftovers from lunch or burned DVDs.  Not once had he stopped by the office for a cup of coffee and a separate cup of sugar and creamer filled to the brim.

Something was definitely wrong.

After reviewing the facts of the situation, or lack thereof, I left the office to further investigate the situation. I envisioned a car accident or beating, he was likely hurt and holed up in his apartment, too weak and injured to come out for help.  It was time to check-in.

I jogged up the creaky stairs and down the hallway, dodging dust bunnies as they rolled across the dusty hardwood floor. Worry and dread propelled me towards Ralph’s apartment door more quickly than my usual leisurely stroll.

I tapped at his door and waited. Hearing no noise from within, I tapped a little louder.  Shave and a haircut, two bits.  I put extra emphasis on the two bits.  Still no response.

“Ralph,” I softly called. “Are you in there?”

Suddenly, the sound of footsteps started up the stairs. My co-worker, Mr. Jay emerged from the stairwell and proceeded towards me and the unanswered door.

“Still not answering?”

I shook my head. He pounded on the plain, white door.  Bang, Bang, Bang, Bang, Bang.   The sound reverberated down the hallway, triggering a sprinkle of plaster chips to fall from the ceiling.  There was no mistaking that someone was at the door.  One might even think it was the police from the aggressive knocking.

knocking

A chair scraped across the floor and someone limped towards the door. My suspicious were about to be confirmed, I grimaced and braced myself for the worst.

“He’s in there all right,” Mr. Jay said with a knowing nod and left to return to the office.

The door knob turned and the door opened a crack. A dark eye peered out, recognizing his visitor, the door opened a little wider.  A sliver of face appeared through the crack.

“I’m sick,” Ralph whispered.

Long fingers wrapped around the edge of the door and a bare shoulder appeared; it was the same smooth brown as his face.

“Are you hurt?” I asked.

“It’s just an old injury,” he said, evasively. “I haven’t been able to walk for the past few days.  Sorry I haven’t been into see you,” he apologized.

“How did this happen? I asked.

He looked off and away, “It’s just an old injury. I’ll be better in a few days.”

“Did someone do this to you? Tell me who did this to you. “

I demanded names. He naturally refused with a sad giggle.

“Could you send Mr. Jay back up here? I need to talk to him about something.”

“Of course,” I agreed, “I will send him right up.”

I left, certain of a break-through in this mysterious case. We would get justice for Ralph.  Whatever crimes had been committed again him would not go unpunished.

“Mr. Jay, Ralph wants to talk to you, man-to-man. I think its something important.”

Mr. Jay stood with a stoic face, already understanding the importance of this request, “I’m on my way.”

He returned no more than eight minutes later. It was enough time to go up the stairs and down the hallway, knock and wait for Ralph to answer the door to reveal a terrible secret and to return.

I met him just inside of the door in the office.

“Well, everything ok?”

There was a lot of buildup to this moment, I felt anxious and excited, ready to spring into action. Some things can only be shared man to man. I respected that space and stepped back to let the mutual sharing take place.

“He asked if we have any extra pizzas,” Mr. Jay said in an irritated voice. “He just wanted pizza.”

And so it goes.

Thanks Vonnegut for providing the only possible phrase to end this short story.

von

Who brought the cake?

cake

The woman felt self-conscious as she took a bite of the cake. Her co-worker kept coming into her office each time she tried to eat it. It was weird, like he was trying to catch her in the act of eating cake on the clock.

I’m on salary, damn it. If I want to eat cake on the clock, I can eat cake on the clock.

Her co-worker waited outside of her door, listening for the crinkling sound of aluminum foil.

Ah-ha! She is eating it, at last!

The man peered into the office where the woman sat with a Styrofoam plate in her lap. She sensed his silent, peering presence as he waited for her to eat the cake.

Aluminum foil was peeled back from around the white plate to reveal a generous slice of moist and rich chocolate cake.

“You brought the cake, so stop trying to catch me eating it.”

The woman glanced at the man and laughed. A dark cloud crossed over her face; it passed as quickly as it arrived. Something was definitely weird.  This was his third cake-related time in her office today, starting with the delivery of “Just a little treat for later” first thing in the morning.

Its no stranger than his usual day-to-day weirdness, she reasoned. I am sure its just a kick he’s on and its kind of nice. He must know how much I love cake.

“I wanted to make sure you liked it,” the man explained, feigning an air of innocence that the woman found hard to believe.

Earlier, the man stood in her doorway, triggered by the crinkle-crunkling of aluminum foil. He saw the plate in the woman’s hand, it was half way unwrapped.

Butterflies released from his stomach, the woman was about to eat the cake. He could hardly stand his excitement and then the phone rang.  His heart fell into his orthopeadic shoes. The woman placed the plate on a stack of papers on the side of the desk and answered the call.

The man crept further into the office, “Just checking for a fax for someone down the hall,” he said with his eyes downcast.

The woman remained on the phone, covered the mouthpiece with one manicured hand and whispered, “I’ll let you know if something comes though.”

He left, heavy and weighed down with disappointment.  Perhaps, she will never eat the cake, he wondered. I must have faith, he reminded himself in an effort to steady his nerves, jangled from the phone call.

Now the time was the right. The man felt relief watching the woman dig into the cake. She forked a massive glob of cake into her mouth and smiled.  Her teeth were brown from the chocolate frosting.

“This is really good, thanks so much for thinking of me especially after I called you a creep.”

The man did not feel bad about what was about to happen. In fact, he felt nothing at all other than an incredible lightness. He took a deep breath and filled his lungs.

“Agree to disagree,” the man said without any expression. His eyes sparkled as he clung to the door frame watching the woman swallow bite after bite.

“We simply have to agree to disagree,” he repeated.  He looked at his wrist watch and noted the time.

Now he just had to wait.

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