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.)

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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.

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(Thanks for reading! Comments have been disabled until the last part has been posted.) Click here to read Part 4.

Copyright © 2020 retirementallychallenged.com – All rights reserved.

Lost and Found (part 2)

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

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Once she reached the supermarket, Eleanor parked, retrieved her reusable bags from her trunk, and entered the store. Looking around, she noticed that everyone, including the checkers, were wearing masks. She didn’t recognize anyone, and she was confident no one would know who she was either. Perfect. Quick in, quick out, with no idle chit-chat.

She was pleasantly surprised to find the market to be relatively well-stocked, and she found what she needed in short order. She was also surprised at how much she enjoyed shopping wearing a mask. Not usually one to have a vivid imagination, Eleanor couldn’t help but pretend she was working undercover; that she was incognito and kind of daring. Even though she had everything on her list, she decided to stay a little longer and enjoy her fantasy. She surreptitiously watched what others were putting in their baskets and tried to imagine what meals they were planning. Was the young man who picked up a bottle of chutney making an Indian dish? Why did that woman possibly need three jars of hot sauce? In the produce section, Eleanor watched in wonderment as shoppers reached for fennel, bok choy, and something exotic-looking called dragon fruit.

Back in her car, Eleanor was exhilarated. As she looked around, she noticed other shoppers removing their masks before they drove away, but she decided to keep hers on. She didn’t want to lose the sense of freedom her face covering gave her.

Exiting the parking lot, she noticed that the usually busy street was almost deserted. “There must be a lot of people working from home, or not at all,” she thought. After looking to the right and left, then checking her rearview mirror for any sign of a police car, Eleanor put a little extra pressure on her gas pedal. As she accelerated five, then ten, then fifteen miles per hour over the speed limit, a smile started to spread under Eleanor’s mask. “This is why people love to go fast,” she thought.

Back home—in record time, she noticed—and her groceries cleaned and put away, Eleanor sat in her favorite chair and looked around her living room. The room that she had always been proud of because it was clean and ordered, suddenly looked lifeless and boring. There wasn’t a spot of dust on the shelves or a book out of place. Everything was neat and tidy. And dull. The daring, new Eleanor she discovered earlier that day felt oddly out of place among old Eleanor’s neutral decor.

Eager to recapture that energy, Eleanor changed out of her housedress, put on the jeans and top she normally wore gardening, slipped on her mask, and walked out her front door. Although she didn’t have an exact plan, she immediately headed for the wooded area just behind her house. She was confident that whatever she was looking for was there; she just had to open her eyes and look for it.

After about an hour of foraging, Eleanor’s arms were full of treasures. Her hands clutched bunches of wildflowers and she carried as many fallen twigs and pieces of moss as she could manage to hold in her arms. She even tucked bits of fern into the elastic on both sides of her mask.

When she returned home, Eleanor spread out her bounty on the kitchen counter. She retrieved vases from her cabinets, filled them with water, and distributed the wildflowers among them. Placing the vases around her living room, she added bits and pieces of the branches and moss to create little vignettes. When finished, she looked around with great satisfaction. The once dull and lifeless room now was filled with bright colors and interesting shapes. It also was a bit whimsical; just as she was starting to like it.

During the Zoom session the following week, Douglas Jr. noticed that his mom’s living room looked different. Almost messy. He also noticed that her hair was a bit disheveled. Always neat and tied back in a low chignon, it was starting to look unkempt. Because he knew that his mother was sensitive about her home and her appearance, he decided not to say anything. He did make a mental note, though, that he might need to arrange for a housekeeper and an in-home haircut appointment.

Eleanor had noticed her hair too. After the Zoom session, she went into her bathroom and looked at herself in the mirror. Reaching around to the back of her neck, she pulled out the elastic tie and, giving her hair a shake, she let it fall free. Gray roots were beginning to mix with her blond, and her straightened hair was starting to regain its wave. A look that once would have sent her running to her hairdresser was now a better fit for the new Eleanor beginning to emerge.

The following week, Eleanor sat down to make out her shopping list. Almost by rote, she started to write down her usual items:

chicken breasts

ground beef

iceberg lettuce

… then she remembered seeing the groceries that other shoppers had been buying the previous week.  Curious, she entered “hot sauce,” then “chutney,” then “bok choy” into Google and lost herself in delicious-sounding recipes and intriguing cooking methods. An hour later, she crossed out her original grocery list and started over.

—–

(Thanks for reading! Comments have been disabled until the last part has been posted.) Click here to read Part 3.

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.) Click here to read Part 2.

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.