Lost and Found (part 5)

(This is the final part of Lost and Found, a short story posted in five parts over five days. You can find Parts 1, 2, 3 and 4 by clicking on the Short Stories and Poems tab in the menu bar.)

—–

The next morning, Eleanor attached the dog’s leash to his collar and grabbed her tote bag, mask, some tape, and the flyers she had made the night before. Originally, she planned to drive over to the housing tract but decided at the last minute to walk. “The exercise and fresh air will do us good, huh, boy?” Judging from his delighted yelps and dance around her legs, he agreed.

Eleanor knew there were just two ways in and out of the neighborhood. She planned to enter on the road nearest to her, follow the streets as they looped around through the neighborhood, and finish at the other end. She would post the flyers wherever she could and ask anyone she ran into if they knew who owned the dog.

After about a half hour of walking the neighborhood, Eleanor was almost done. She had managed to post most of her flyers and talk to several of the residents, none of whom recognized the dog. Approaching the final block, she saw a group of boys walking her way (all wearing masks, she was relieved to see). Before she could ask them if they knew the dog, they enthusiastically gathered around him and showered him with nuzzles and hugs, which he just as enthusiastically returned. Eleanor was sure this was it; they knew the dog and his owner and Eleanor would have to give him up. “Do you know the dog?” she asked quietly, already feeling an almost unbearable sense of loss.

“No, ma’am,” said one of the boys. “We see your dog sometimes when we play in the field, but we didn’t know who he belongs to. I’m glad to know that he has an owner and a home.”

Eleanor felt giddy with relief. She assured the boys that he had a good home and was well-loved. As she walked away, one of the boys called out to her, “I like how it looks like he’s wearing a mask like the rest of us. What is his name?”

“Ranger; like the Lone Ranger,” she replied over her shoulder. Then, she looked down at the little dog happily walking beside her and said, “Except you aren’t so lone, are you? You have me, and I have you.”  

A week later, just before the scheduled Zoom meeting with her son, Eleanor prepared herself and Ranger for the call. They had taken walks in the woods just about every day and, yesterday, she gathered more flowers. The vases competed with her books for table space. Her hair was loose and fluffed up like she had been wearing it lately, and Ranger was newly brushed after having had a bath that morning. She wanted everything to be perfect. “You are going to meet my son today,” she murmured as she held Ranger’s face between her palms and nuzzled her nose against his. “I’m sure he’ll love you as much as I do.”

Douglas Jr. had also been looking forward to the call. He had some news that he was anxious to share with his mother.

“Hi, Mom!” As upbeat as he tried to sound, Douglas Jr. couldn’t help feeling worried as he took in what he saw on his screen. Her living room still looked unorganized, her hair and clothes were much too casual, and her general demeanor was, well, a little erratic. “I have some good news for you!”

“Me too!” she exclaimed. “But why don’t you go first.”

Douglas Jr. took a deep breath. “My company is letting me work from home. Now that Max isn’t in school and Wendy is home full-time, we have all agreed that you should come to stay with us.” Not getting the reaction he expected, Douglas Jr. continued a bit more cautiously, “You must be getting pretty lonely in the big house all by yourself. It’s probably hard to keep up with the housework and cooking for just yourself must be boring. You won’t need to shop for your groceries and Wendy could also help you with your clothes and hair. She’s good at that type of thing.”

Rather than the enthusiastic response he hoped his announcement would receive, Douglas Jr. saw that his mother’s earlier smile had faded. “Before you tell me what you think, why don’t you share your news?”

Eleanor hesitated, taking a breath deep into her lungs and blowing it out slowly. She knew what she was going to say would surprise and, probably, disappoint her son, but she had to say it.

“I want you to meet someone special,” she began. “His name is Ranger. I was lost, and he helped to find me.”

The End

Copyright © 2020 retirementallychallenged.com – All rights reserved.

Lost and Found (part 4)

(This is part 4 of Lost and Found, a short story that will be posted in five parts over five days. You can find Parts 1, 2 and 3 by clicking on the Short Stories and Poems tab in the menu bar.)

—–

After a fitful night’s sleep, Eleanor woke up tired, but with a plan: she’d go back to where she saw the dog the day before and see if it was still there. If it was, she’d bring it home and give it food and water, then take it to the local vet to see if it was chipped. If no chip was found, then she’d have to figure out what to do next.

She rummaged around the garage for a length of rope and an old blanket to cover her back seat. As much as she wanted the dog to be from a loving home, she couldn’t help hoping that the little pup was still where she left it. “The last thing you need is to worry about a dog that doesn’t even belong to you,” she admonished herself (or was that her husband’s voice?) as she got in her car.

When Eleanor reached the spot, she slowed down and scanned the fields on both sides of the road. Seeing nothing, she parked her car and got out. “Here, doggie,” she called tentatively. “Are you out there?” she asked a little louder. She was ready to give up when she heard a slight rustle and saw the tall grass on her left move a little. Thinking the dog could be scared or shy, she decided to sit down and wait to see if it came to her. “Come here, honey,” she cooed softly, “I won’t hurt you.” The small brown dog slowly emerged from the grass and, standing a few feet away, cautiously looked at Eleanor. “It’s ok. I won’t hurt you,” she tried reassuring the pup. Then she tried flattery: “Aren’t you a handsome fellow?” Finally, a bribe, “I have lots of food and water at home just for you.” That seemed to do the trick; the dog crept close enough to sniff Eleanor’s outstretched hand.

After a few moments of hand sniffing and having his ears scratched, the dog suddenly gave Eleanor a very wet swipe of its tongue across her face. She pulled back instinctively but then quickly reconsidered and reached forward to gather the dog into her arms for more enthusiastic kisses.

When Eleanor finally got up and walked over to her car, the dog followed right along. There was no need for the rope at all. She opened the back door and the dog jumped in liked it belonged there.

Back home, Eleanor spooned some of the leftover chicken curry into one bowl and filled another with water. Moments after putting them on the floor, the bowls were eagerly emptied. Another serving of leftovers and water disappeared almost as quickly. It was obvious that the dog hadn’t eaten for a while.

On her way to the vet’s office, Eleanor made a quick stop at the pet store to pick up a collar, leash, and a couple of cans of dog food. “Just in case he is with me for a few days,” she told herself. As she made her purchases, the clerk looked back and forth at Eleanor then the dog. “Your dog has a mask just like yours,” she laughed. Eleanor looked at the dog’s face and realized that the clerk was right. The white mark that started just under his eyes and extended partway down his throat did kind of look like a mask.

At the vet, she explained the situation to the receptionist who assured her that she’d be able to get right in. “We are always happy to help reunite lost pets with their families,” she smiled. Eleanor didn’t find the words comforting, but she knew that she was doing the right thing. The vet echoed the same assurances as she began to run the scanner over the dog’s shoulder blades.

A few moments later, the vet put down her scanner and gave Eleanor a look of disappointment. “Sorry, I wasn’t able to find anything,” she sighed. “If you don’t mind keeping him for a few days, you could put up some signs in the area where you found him. Although he is a bit thin and scruffy, someone could be missing him. Look at his cute little face; did you notice that his white fur around his nose and mouth looks a little like a mask?”

Back home, Eleanor didn’t quite know what to do. Although she realized that she had to look for the dog’s owner, she was becoming attached and knew that she’d be heartbroken to give him up. Before she could talk herself out of it, she put together a simple “Found Dog” flier with a slightly out of focus picture and her contact information and printed out multiple copies. “We’ll go out tomorrow and find your home,” she assured the dog, who didn’t appear to be the least bit concerned. In fact, he was comfortably stretched out on the sofa, looking as if he was already at home.

Dinner that evening—ramen noodle stir fry for her and Purina chicken and rice for him—was the most enjoyable meal Eleanor had eaten for years. Not only was the food delicious, she also discovered that the dog was a delightful dinner companion. He seemed to listen to her every word, and his occasional yips, snorts, and hand licks gave her the impression he understood what she was saying. It was ridiculous, of course, but his rapt attention made her feel special and interesting. She couldn’t remember the last time she had felt that way.

—–

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Copyright © 2020 retirementallychallenged.com – All rights reserved.

Lost and Found (part 3)

(This is part 3 of Lost and Found, a short story that will be posted in five parts over five days. You can find Parts 1 and 2 by clicking on the Short Stories and Poems tab in the menu bar.)

—-

As Eleanor entered the grocery store, she could feel her anticipation grow. She had shopped in the store hundreds of times, but she never looked forward to the experience. The items she bought were always the same and the meals they made were bland and predictable. This time, although her mask hid her smile, her eyes sparkled with excitement.

Her shopping trip took much longer than usual because she had to search out many of the items on her list. For the first time she could remember, she found herself in the International Foods aisle, picking up several cans and packages. Standing in front of the shelves, she made notes of the many exotic ingredients she had never heard of, vowing to learn more about them.

As she was checking out, Eleanor was surprised when the clerk recognized her despite her mask. Even though she had shopped there for years, she had never really taken the time to remember employees’ faces or learn anyone’s name. She had always focused on getting in and out as quickly as possible. No time for small talk. This time, though, the clerk’s eyes smiled at her above his mask. “Wow, you really have some different items this time. Not your usual at all,” he exclaimed.

Eleanor didn’t know whether to be irritated or pleased. Apparently, her former shopping habits had attracted attention and, now that she was exploring other recipes and ingredients, he had noticed.

“Young man,” Eleanor began to scold, but then she stopped and reconsidered. Smiling behind her mask, she simply replied, “I’m very excited to try some new recipes.”

Back in her car and anxious to get home and start cooking, Eleanor applied a little extra pressure on her gas pedal. She was almost home when she saw a spot of brown out of the corner of her eye. Quickly stepping on her breaks, she prayed that she hadn’t hit whatever it was.

Eleanor got out of her car and looked around. While she was relieved that she hadn’t hit anything, she wondered what it was she saw. “Hello? Is anyone out there?” Eleanor tentatively asked. She was answered with a rustle in the tall grass alongside the road. “Hello?” Eleanor asked again. This time, she heard a little whimper. After some more rustling, a small, scruffy, brown and white dog emerged.

“Oh, hello,” Eleanor said. “Aren’t you sweet?” The dog reminded her of a pet she had when she was young. Maybe a bit of terrier, some shepherd, and a whole lot of who knows. Sadie had been a joyful part of her childhood. Her mother had complained about the dog hair everywhere, and her father was always cleaning the dirt and mud Sadie traipsed in, but they all loved her and were heartbroken when she died. Early in her marriage, Eleanor had suggested they get a dog, but her husband had vetoed the idea. “Too much work and mess,” he stated, ending all hope of a discussion.

After Eleanor assured herself that the dog was ok and, seeing children playing behind the tract of homes just beyond the field, she got back in her car, confident that the dog belonged to a family who lived in the neighborhood. “Bye, little one,” she said as she pulled into the lane and started to drive—a little slower now—back home.

Eleanor was eager to try her first new recipe, Coconut Chicken Curry. Although she knew the flavors would be quite different from what she usually ate, the directions seemed straight-forward. As soon as she got home, she removed her mask, put her groceries away, washed her hands, and got busy. The chicken needed to marinate in a sauce for an hour, which would give her just enough time for her scheduled Zoom catch-up with her son.

**

“Hi, Mom. How are you getting along?” Douglas Jr. asked cautiously. He tried not to show his growing alarm at the untidy appearance of both her living room and her hair. In the background, he could see that books were scattered here and there, and vases stuffed with flowers filled every flat surface. Even more worrying were her clothes and hair. As long as he could remember, his mother wore simple housedresses and always had her hair pinned neatly in back. He couldn’t be sure, but was his mother wearing jeans? And her hair was starting to look as disheveled as her house. Wiry waves of gray-blond cascaded around her face and fell to her shoulders. His once sensible and restrained mother was turning into a hippie right before his eyes.

“I’m making a pot of coconut chicken curry for dinner tonight,” Eleanor answered, her eyes dancing with excitement. “The chicken is marinating in a sauce that smells heavenly. I’ll simmer it later in a mixture of coconut milk and more curry. I can’t wait to try it”.

Douglas Jr. was now convinced that something was wrong with his mom. He couldn’t recall a time growing up that his mother cooked with curry, let alone coconut milk. His mother and father were sensible people who ate sensible food, just as they all liked it.

When the call ended, Douglas Jr. had an uneasy feeling. His mother seemed almost joyful (a word, he realized with a start, that he wouldn’t normally use to describe her), and she appeared healthy and engaged, so he wasn’t worried about her safety. It was just that the woman he had spent 20 minutes talking to bore little resemblance to the mother who raised him.

**

Eleanor, on the other hand, thought the call went great. She wanted her son to see that she was doing well—terrific, in fact—and that he had no reason to worry about her. Her happiness with the call carried her through the rest of her meal preparation and into devouring one of the best meals she ever had. Who knew that curry, cilantro, and coconut milk (all ingredients she had never cooked with before) could make chicken taste so amazing?

As Eleanor washed her dishes at the sink, her thoughts drifted to the little dog she saw earlier that day. Other than the bit of white on its face, it had looked so much like her beloved Sadie. What if the pup didn’t belong to one of the children she saw playing? Perhaps it was all alone and needed help. Maybe she should have taken it home with her.

—-

(Thanks for reading! Comments have been disabled until the last part has been posted.)

Copyright © 2020 retirementallychallenged.com – All rights reserved.

Lost and Found (part 1)

(My short story, Lost and Found, is being posted in five parts over five days. This is part 1)

Eleanor was a rule follower. She kept both her house and herself neat as a pin; everything in its proper place. Her late husband preferred a quiet and ordered home, so she did too. After Douglas passed away three years ago, Eleanor found that her day to day life hadn’t change very much. Sure, she missed him, but her routines remained the same and she was satisfied with her own company. One day was pretty much like the other. Quiet and ordered; just as she liked it.

Soon after the funeral, Douglas Jr. suggested that Eleanor might be happier moving in with his family. He worried that she would become lonely and that the house would be a burden. Over the following three years, his suggestion had turned into prodding, and, lately, into pressure. Eleanor didn’t want to leave her home but had started to think that maybe he was right. She wanted to feel useful again so perhaps moving in and helping her son and daughter-in-law take care of her grandson, Max, was the right thing to do.

Eleanor had finally decided to tell her son that she would move in when, suddenly, the country went into lockdown. Although she prided herself on following through once she made up her mind, she found herself secretly relieved. Despite the coronavirus pandemic turning the world topsy-turvy, her life could go on as it was. Douglas Jr.’s position with his company was deemed “essential,” but his wife, Wendy, was able to stay home with little Max. Given Eleanor’s age, they decided that she’d be safer sheltering in her home.

Because Douglas Jr. wasn’t sure how long his mom would be on her own, he made sure she was well-stocked with groceries and gave her a lesson on using Zoom so he could check in and see how she was doing. Eleanor thought this was completely unnecessary since she was perfectly capable of shopping for her own food and had no need to be checked in on. In fact, during the first several Zoom sessions they had, Eleanor found herself quite irritated. Not only did Douglas, Jr. keep asking how she was doing (perfectly fine, thank you very much), but she found herself losing the thread of the conversation because she was distracted by her image on the screen. Did her face really look that tired and wrinkly? Was her hair, usually well-coiffed and tidy, beginning to unravel? As Douglas Jr. prattled on about how she needed to remain safe in her home, she started to calculate how long she could go before getting her hair cut and styled.

After obediently remaining at home for three weeks, Eleanor noticed that she was starting to run low on groceries. She knew that Douglas Jr. would shop for her if asked, but she didn’t want to impose. Her list had all the usual items on it, so it would be easy for her to get in and out quickly. Her late husband hadn’t appreciated spicy foods, “foreign” ingredients, or complicated recipes. He preferred a simple weekly menu (chicken on Mondays, beef on Tuesdays, pasta on Wednesdays, etc.), and she didn’t see a need to change it now that he was gone. Uncomplicated and familiar; Her grocery list would almost write itself.

Before she could venture out, though, she needed to make a mask, so she set up her sewing machine, found some unused fabric and elastic, and got to work. After a few attempts, she managed to stitch one up and tried it on.

“Humph,” she thought, “if not for the purple and pink flowers on the fabric, I’d look like a bandit. No one will recognize me, and that’s just fine.”

Eleanor wasn’t sure what the rules were for mask-wearing. Was she supposed to wear it in the car, or just when she entered the store? Since she didn’t want to get into trouble, she decided to put it on before leaving the house. If—God forbid—she got into an accident, she didn’t want to risk being cited for not wearing a mask at the scene. Best to be careful.

With her shopping list in her purse and her new mask on her face, Eleanor started to drive the four miles to the nearest grocery store. Her husband had always driven during their marriage and, even after three years on her own, Eleanor still wasn’t completely comfortable behind the wheel. She carefully checked, and double-checked her rearview mirrors, and paid strict attention to the posted speed limit. She didn’t care if another car tailgated her or tried to get around; her biggest concern was driving in a safe and lawful manner.

(Thanks for reading! Comments have been disabled until the last part has been posted.)

Copyright © 2020 retirementallychallenged.com – All rights reserved.

Gulp Fiction

WordPress tells me that I have written well over 300 posts since I started my blog seven years ago (on September 5, 2013, to be exact). Over my working career, I must have written thousands of marketing briefs, business plans, status reports, press releases, and many, many other business-related documents. What I haven’t written a lot of—or really any since graduating from college—is fiction. 

I enjoy reading fiction and have always admired those who can rummage around in their imagination and find a story. I know several writers of fiction who say their heads are full of characters and plots and they are only limited by the time they have to write it all down. As much as I would have liked, my brain never worked that way, so I figured I’d stick to non-fiction.

Then, late one night, when I should have been sleeping, an idea for a story came to me. It started as just a foggy outline of a character, but I couldn’t get her out of my head. Realizing that she wouldn’t leave me in peace, I powered up my iPad and started to write.

Over the next several weeks, I worked on my story; flushing it out, noodling every word, trying to bring my main character—someone who I was becoming quite fond of—to life.

Almost 4,500 words later my short story is complete, and I thought it would be fun (and a bit unnerving, hence the “gulp”) to share it on my blog. Because my posts rarely exceed 500 – 600 words each, I will break it up into several chunks: five parts posted over the next five days. After posting, each part will be archived in my new Short Stories and Poems tab on my menu bar (yes, I’m expecting more creative inspiration as time goes on). If you’d rather not read a post from me five—actually six, counting this one—days in a row, you can wait until Saturday to read them all together.

I look forward to introducing you to my good friend, Eleanor, and her story, Lost and Found.