Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Great Hites 69

This week we have stories by:


Norval Joe
Marla J. Mercer <--------- This week's WinnerWinner
Jeff Hite

Life in a duplex
By: Philip "Norval Joe" Carroll

The car rattled to a stop in front of their duplex apartment. He knew that Jodi would be standing at the front door, by the time he got there. He could never sneak up on her, not with the car needing a new muffler. He had exciting news for her, and could hardly control his broad grin.
He got out of the car and slammed the door three times to get the lock to catch and hold. He all but ran to the door.
She opened the door as he reached for the knob. He watched his hand grab uselessly in the open air for the door knob that was no longer there, then looked up to see her smiling face reflecting the happiness he felt. Her brown eyes almost sparkled above her freckled nose. She was nearly twenty one, and in the two years they had been married, the freckles had barely faded, and he hoped they never would. They gave her face the youthful appearance he adored.
He stepped through the doorway, kissed and hugged her, and then stepped back to look at her and asked, "What are you smiling so big about?"
"I could ask you the same thing, you've been grinning like a jack o lantern since you got out of the car. But, if you must know. I have a secret." She giggled.
"I know how you are about keeping secrets, so I might never know what it is. Fortunately, I have a secret too, and if you want to hear what it is, you'll have to tell me yours," he said, closed the door and followed her to the small table by the window in the kitchen.
"Sit down Jeff, I made your favorite dinner. Chicken, mashed potatoes, and steamed baby carrots." The meal was already in covered dishes on the table.
"Wow, honey, you've been busy since you got home from work. Are you trying to butter me up for something?" He was feeling suspicious. "I think you had better tell me your secret first."
"Ok," she said. "Let's eat. You can choose first. Breast, leg or thigh. I only cooked half the box. If you want more, we can cook the rest later," she said.
He took the thigh. He always did, but not just because it was his favorite piece. He knew that she really wanted the white meat, and that was ok with him. "I don't know if I will be able to wait until the end of dinner to hear what you are keeping secret. My stomach is all in knots just thinking about the possibilities. It can't be too bad, because you seem happy about it, but I still can't figure out why you are plying me with chicken and potatoes."
Jeff was chewing a mouth full of chicken and potatoes when Jodi declared, "OK. I'll tell you. I'm pregnant. We're going to have a baby."
The food in Jeff's mouth turned to lead. He couldn't swallow it, there was another lump of lead in his stomach as well. He couldn't talk with the food in his mouth, so he just sat dumbly and stared at his wife, who still smiled, but more weakly, now.
Finally, he swallowed and said, "Um, How, no, when, no, never mind." He shook his head, and felt guilty that we wasn't sharing Jodi's enthusiasm.
"I'm sorry." He reached out and took her hand, and she squeezed his back. "That is absolutely not what I expected to hear. I got a pay raise today, and I was hoping to surprise you with the idea of getting a better car. We could have made payments with the extra money I'll be getting. But, this changes that plan."
He put down his fork, frowned and said, "I thought we had talked about waiting a while, maybe moving into a house, before we started a family. I don't know if we're, or rather, I'm ready for this. It sounds like you got ready on your own."
He recognized an unexpected bitterness in his voice. Jodi obviously noticed it as well. She put her own fork down and said, "Well, yes, we talked about it, but you obviously didn't listen. I have been telling you for months that I feel ready to make this change in our lives. You wouldn't discuss it with me, you just made lists, and timelines, and decisions, but none of them included what I wanted, only what you determined would be best for us."
"But the future, we need to plan," he began.
She cut him off. "No. You don't need to plan or prepare fro anything. You'll just have to deal with it."
She stood. Her composure, maintained until that point, appeared on the verge of breaking. She set her jaw.
"No," she said again. "I'll deal with this baby, with or without you."
She turned and left the kitchen. He heard the door to the bedroom close and the knob rattled for a time while she set the lock.
Jeff sat, stunned, and stared sullenly at the chicken cooling on his plate. In the two years of their marriage they had never argued like this, with such anger. What was more; Jeff had never been locked out of the bedroom and was at a complete loss of what to do. Should he stand at the bedroom door and beg for forgiveness, or demand that she let him in so that he can set her straight.
Ultimately he decided it would be best to leave her alone for a while.
He sat in the car and pumped the gas pedal several times before turning the key. It cranked a dozen times before the engine finally turned over. "Now, where do I go at 7:00 on a Thursday night, by myself?"
Jeff considered going to a movie, but he would want Jodi to watch it with him. He didn't have many single friends anymore, and most of their married friends wouldn't really want him showing up unannounced, this time of night.
He ended up at the bookstore, down the street from the movie theater. The store had a coffee shop with its ubiquitous compliment of college students, musicians and pseudo intellectuals. He wandered up and down the aisles half heartedly scanning the titles for something that might distract him for a few minutes, or an hour. Reflexively, he looked up, expecting to see Jodi, each time a stranger approached in his peripheral vision.
"Seven thirty," he said when he looked at his watch, again. "That's way too early to get a good nights sleep on the couch."
He took a book of humorous observations by a second rate comedian, and sat in one of the oversized lounge chairs, arranged, living room-like, in the center of the store.
Instead of reading, he glared morosely at everyone that walked past.
A child with a high squeaky voice was chasing after her mother, holding a book, her arm outstretched to the woman passing Jeff on her way to the cashier. "Mommy, here it is. Mommy, Elmo book."
As she ran after her mother she dropped the book directly in front of him. When she retrieved it, she looked at Jeff. There was a look of such joy and excitement on her little face that he couldn't help smiling as well. Startled, he felt a chill, like ice water poured down his back. He recognized her.
Her short cropped hair, the sparkling brown eyes, and the wash of freckles across her cheeks and button nose were an exact replica, in miniature, of Jodi.
Fear of being considered a child molester was the only thing that kept him from picking the little girl up and hugging her tightly.
He growled and cursed the car as he pumped the gas pedal and turned the ignition key. Jeff had to get home, he didn't want to waste another minute.
The old, beat up car, shook and rattled, as the engine chugged and coughed, even after he removed the key. He slammed the door once and raced to the house, unconcerned that the door creaked back open.
He tapped on the bedroom door and waited for a response. When there was none, he tapped again, and asked, "Jodi? Are you there?"
Finally, faintly, Jeff heard, "What do you want?"
"I'm ready," he said. "I'm ready for our baby."

Marla J. Mercer

“They say it came in with a shipment of bananas,” said Rae-Anne, “and that Donita is keeping it in a mayo jar and charging fifty cents a look.”

“I bet the only thing Donita Monelli has in that mayo jar is a big old wolf spider,” I scoffed.

“Well, you’re wrong,” said Rae-Anne. “It’s a real live tarantula.”

“No way.” I shook my head. “It’s a wolf spider.”

Rae-Anne and I were sitting in the back seat of our clubhouse. We’d been spending most every Saturday afternoon there for the past month, ever since someone left an old beat up car in the alley behind where my dad works. On the outside, our clubhouse looks like any other junker. On the inside, however, we’ve fixed up the car real nice, with newspaper-curtains on all the windows and bed sheets to cover the ripped upholstery. There are no visitors allowed in our clubhouse. Not even my dad, who is forever coming outside to check on us. The clubhouse is for members only, and that would be Rae-Anne and I.

“It is, too, a tarantula,” insisted Rae-Anne. “My brother says he knows three guys who’ve already seen it, and it’s about six inches long.”

“You’re brother is always making up stories to scare you.”

Rae-Anne and I are best friends. We even look alike, both of us with brown hair and ponytails, but in some ways, we are very different. To name one, I am a tomboy, and she is not. For another, Rae-Anne not only spreads gossip, but she believes everything she hears. I don’t. For instance, last spring, when we were still in fourth grade, a rumor went around our class that there was a dead body in the city water tower and that bits of blood and hair were coming out of people’s faucets. Rae-Anne was so afraid that she wouldn’t even take a drink of Kool-Aid when she came over to play. I had to fill our bathtub ten times to convince her that the story wasn’t true.

“Well, if you’re so sure it’s just a wolf spider,” said Rae-Anne, “then why don’t you go have a look for yourself. The back entrance to Monelli’s Market is right down the alley. That’s where she keeps it: in the storeroom. That’s what my brother says.”

“Maybe I will go down there.” I said defiantly. “I have my allowance money in my pocket.”

Rae-Anne looked suddenly worried. “Oh, Katie, don’t even think about it. I was just kidding. I wouldn’t ask my worst enemy to meet up with Donita Monelli.”

I jutted out my chin. “I’m not afraid of her for a minute.” I was lying, of course. Every kid in town under the age of twelve was terrified of Donita, even though most of us, including myself, had never actually seen her.

“You should be afraid of her,” said Rae-Anne. “You know what they say about her. If even half of it’s true, it’s not safe to go anywhere near her. My brother says that ever since she dropped out of school, she never leaves her dad’s grocery store, except at night, and then she creeps around looking in people’s windows while they’re sleeping.” Rae-Anne paused. “You know what I think? I think she might start bringing the tarantula with her and letting it loose in the bedrooms of people she doesn’t like. One bite from its fangs and her enemies would be dead just like that.” Rae-Anne snapped her fingers.

“Baloney,” I replied. I reached for the door handle. “I’m going to find out the truth about that spider.”

“Katie, no! Don’t do it.”

“I’ll be fine. You just stay here in the clubhouse. If I’m not back in ten minutes, go tell my Dad I where I went.” I opened the back door and stepped into the alley.

“Please don’t go,” begged Rae-Anne.

“Ten minutes,” I repeated, as I shut the car door.

A cool autumn wind was blowing off the river east of town. Scraps of paper and dead leaves swirled around my feet. I flipped up my jacket collar, stuck my hands deep into the pockets of my slacks, and started walking down the wide alleyway. On either side, pressed up against the buildings were dumpsters, wood pallets, and bundles of flattened cardboard boxes.

There were two doors at the back of Monelli’s Market. The first was a big garage-type door that had a metal sign on it that read Ring bell for deliveries. To the right of it, was a regular sized door. It, too, had a sign, but this one was taped on and was made from a piece of brown grocery bag. The message written on it was in thick black ink:

Genuine Deadly Mexican Tarantula
50¢ a look
Enter Here

I cast a quick glance at the clubhouse and saw that Rae-Anne had crawled into the front seat of the car. She had lifted up the newspaper curtains and was looking out the front windshield. I nodded to her and gave a little wave.

Trying to appear brave, I opened the door, and looked inside the storeroom. It was cool and dark, and the air stank sweetly of too-ripe fruit. As my eyes adjusted, I could see boxes of vegetables lined up along the cement floor, and crates of lettuce stacked six high. Dangling from hooks on the ceiling were huge bunches of green bananas that looked liked strange upside down Christmas trees.

“You here to see the spider?” It was the voice of an older girl.

It took me a moment to gather my nerve. “Yes,”

“Well, get in here and close the door.” It was an order not a request.

For a brief second, I hesitated. Then I stepped inside all the way. The heavy door slammed shut behind me.

“I’m around the corner by the pumpkins,” barked the girl. “Hurry up. I ain’t got all day.”

Squinting in the dim light, I saw a mound of pumpkins piled on the floor. Heart pounding, I made my way to them, walked around a partition, and found myself standing in a little alcove. About six feet in front of me was a very overweight teenage girl seated on a folding chair. She had a big bloated face that was red and pitted with acne. Her hair was black and stringy. Her skin was a sickly white color. Even though it was mid way through October and starting to turn cold, she was dressed in a Hawaiian muumuu. She filled it to the seams. At her feet was a bushel basket of red apples. A bare light bulb hung suspended from the ceiling, bathing her in a harsh yellow halo. She was sorting through the apples, tossing the bad ones into a cardboard box to the left of her chair.

She glanced at me. “Who else you got with you?” She had low scratchy voice that sounded angry and mean.

“No one,” I replied. My mouth had grown very dry. It was hard to talk.

“You sure there ain’t no boys hiding in the storeroom? You’d better not be lying. I don’t want nobody sneaking up and trying to get a free look. It’s fifty cents per person.”

“It’s just me,” I said. “Honest.”

“Who are you?” she demanded. “What’s your name?”

“Kathleen,” I managed.

“Kathleen what?”


“McKegan?” the girl echoed. She kept staring at me. “Your daddy the one that sells insurance on the next block over?”

“That’s him.”

The girl picked up an apple and examined it. “I suppose you know who I am?” she asked, not looking at me.

“I think so. Are you Donita Monelli?”

She gave a little nod and tossed the apple into the cardboard box. “I wasn’t expecting no little girl to come see a deadly tarantula,” said Donita. She spoke in a mocking way that made me feel bad. “How old are you anyway?”

“Ten and a half . . . next month.”

“Is that all you are?” scoffed Donita. She put the apple back in the basket. “I bet if I showed it to you, you’d start bawling like a baby.”

“I would not!” I declared. “Spiders don’t scare me.”

Donita cocked her head to one side, as if surprised by the way I had spoken to her. “Well, we’ll just see about that, little miss I-ain’t-afraid-of-no-spiders,” she said. “That’ll be fifty cents in advance.” She held out her open palm. It was as white and puffy as bread dough.

I quickly took out my allowance and dropped two quarters into Donita’s outstretched hand. She examined the coins and then slipped them into a pocket of her muumuu. She had a little smile on her face, but it wasn’t the least bit friendly. Reaching behind her chair she brought out a large mayonnaise jar. There was a piece of cheese cloth on the top, secured with a rubber band.

When she held the jar up to the light, my eyes nearly popped from my head. What I was looking at was only the biggest, hairiest, most amazing spider I had ever seen in my entire life. The thing was mostly brown, but it had bands of red, and orange, and yellow on its legs and around its head. I moved in for a closer look. As big as a mouse, Donita`s tarantula stood there on tippy-toes taking up the whole bottom of the jar. I couldn’t stop staring. For what seemed like a good half-minute, I just stood there like I’d been hypnotized.

“Time’s up.” Donita put the jar her behind her back. With her free hand, she gestured for me to leave. “Now, get out of here.”

I couldn’t seem to bring myself to move.

“What does it eat?” I asked. “Flys?”

“None of your business,” she snarled. “I told you to leave.”

I was still glued to the spot. There was something I wanted to say to her, even though I knew it would probably make Donita mad at me, and then I’d be in real trouble. I could almost see her opening my bedroom window while I slept and letting her tarantula inside to bite me. And yet, I just couldn’t leave without telling her what I thought.

Finally I blurted it out in a loud voice. “Donita, your tarantula is about the best thing I ever saw outside of a zoo. You could charge a dollar a look, if you wanted. But you shouldn’t be keeping it in that little jar. It’s not right. It’s a needs a bigger place to move around. Otherwise it won’t live very long, and it’d be awful if it died. It’s too special.”

Donita made a grunting noise. “Who asked you, you little runt? Get lost.” She picked up an apple and hefted it a few times, as if deciding whether to throw it at me.

I quickly turned and hurried into the storeroom. I was halfway to the back door when she called to me.

“Hey, you! Kid! Come back here.”

I stopped walking.

“I got something to show you,” said Donita. “It won’t cost you nothing.”

I was unsure what to do. I knew what Rae-Anne would say. Rae-Anne would say, “Run! Run for you life!” And I probably would have, except there had been something different about Donita’s voice this time. She hadn’t sounded so mean and angry.

“Come on back,” she called. “It’s a surprise. You’ll like it.”

I don’t know where I found the courage, but I turned around and headed for the alcove. When I peeked around the partition, I saw Donita on her chair, holding the mayo jar in plain view. She smiled at me, and this time it was a real smile.

“Watch this,” said Donita. She slipped the cheesecloth from the top of the jar and gently tilted the glass on its side. The tarantula crawled onto Donita’s big belly. It started walking all over her. She never even flinched.

“He ain’t nothing like he looks on the outside,” said Donita. She was speaking in a hushed whisper, as if we were in church. “The truth is, he’s tame as a kitten. I call him Pretty Boy. I looked him up in a book. He’s a Mexican Redknee tarantula.” Donita placed her chubby hand along side the spider. Pretty Boy stepped daintily onto her arm and crawled toward her shoulder. “He likes to be held. I think it’s the warmth he craves.” She looked at him lovingly.

I couldn’t speak a word. I just kept staring at the both of them.

“I keep him in a big box most of the time,” Donita continued, “but I want to make a nice home for him like the one I saw in the book. That’s why I’m charging to see him. I’m saving up for an aquarium.” As Donita talked, Pretty Boy climbed into her hair. “He eats roaches, great big roaches. He jumps on ‘em. I’m going to teach him some tricks, too. He’s real smart.”

And then—just like that—her whole mood changed. Donita was suddenly glaring at me, her thick eyebrows bushing together into a fearsome scowl. “If you ever breathe one word of this to anybody, I’ll kill you. I swear I will. You understand? People got to stay real scared, or I won’t get no business at all. It’d take me forever to buy Pretty Boy a home.”

My knees started shaking. “I won’t tell anyone, Donita, not ever in a million years, not even my best friend Rae-Anne.” I rattled off the words as fast as I could. “I promise.” I kissed my pinky finger, crossed my heart, locked my lips, and tossed the imaginary key into the basket of apples.

“Well, don’t you ever forget,” warned Donita. By this time, Pretty Boy had worked his way to the top of her head and sat perched there like a little hat. “You go on home now,” she said. “I got work to do!”

This time I didn’t linger. I gave a little parting nod and then ran out of the alcove and all the way to the back door. As I grabbed hold of the doorknob, I paused. “Thank you, Donita,” I called over my shoulder. “I’ll never tell. Take good care of him.”

Before she could say anything, I stepped outside and closed the door. Blinking from the sudden brightness, I looked down the alley towards the clubhouse. Rae-Anne was still sitting in the front seat. She waved frantically at me, and I gave her the thumbs-up signal. As I started walking towards that old beat up car, I couldn’t help wondering how long it would be until it got towed away to a junkyard. The workers there would take one look at it, and all they’d see is an old rust bucket with a blown-out engine and a dented hood.

It made me sad to think about it. But at least I know the truth, and so does Rae-Anne. I suppose you have to be a member of the club to understand.

Creative Commons License
The Inside Story by Marla J. Mercer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

The Car
By: Jeffrey Hite

The Citroen duck looks a little like a VW Beetle, but without some of the nicer features of the VW. For example the Duck has less horse power and if possible less room inside. But that is what I drive, and it has been since I started this job nearly ten years ago. The car, such that it is, was supposed to be part of my compensation for this job, and was one of the reasons that I was willing to take a low paying job. In the end I was stuck with very little money and an old beat up Citron duck, that I have lovingly named Donald.
This was not the first time Donald had left me stranded. It was not even the first time he had done so while I was on a date, which means quite a bit when you consider that most women walked away from me laughing when they saw him for the first time. However, this was the first time he had stranded me with someone I loved.
To be fair, Marie was my first real love. I had fallen in love with her the first moment I saw her, and I had honestly avoided showing her Donald for a long time. Whenever we went anywhere we took public transit, or if it was close enough we walked. So maybe he knew, maybe he was just getting his revenge, for all the times I had ignored him.
Despite all of that Donald could not have picked a nicer spot to have stalled and died. I had been furious at first, but avoided pounding my fists into the steering wheel in rage because I knew Marie was watching. Instead I counted to one hundred in slowly in my head and tried the engine again. When it would not start I got out of the car and asked Marie to move to the drivers seat while I pushed Donald to the side of the road. I have to add at this point, that one advantage of having such a small car is that it is not too difficult to move it out of traffic when it stalls. Once Donald had been moved safely to the side of the road, I pulled out my mobile and called a towing service and a taxi, Both said they would be there in a bout 40 minutes.
It was only after this that I took a look around us for the first time. We had been traveling along the Rhine river Valley and had made it about 50 kilometers from the university where I taught, but I don't know that I had ever really seen this little town before. Like most areas in this region the valley walls were covered by vineyards. There was a tower for collecting taxes on and island in the middle of the river and a small castle on the crest of the hill, on the other side of the river.
Together Marie and I walked a little way down the road, and got as close as we could the to the mighty river as we did we could hear the voice of the Lorelei. Marie tucked her arm through mine and pulled me close. I loved the way that felt.
As we stood listening to the voice of the Siren, still sounding young and beautiful as the day her father the river had put her there, I knew what I had to do, and I hoped that it was not the song that was drawing me to the rocks of my own life. I knelt down in from of Marie and asked her to marry me.
So in a way it was Donald that led to you. If he had not stranded your mother and I that night I would have never had the courage to have ask your mother to marry me. That it why even though he has not run in many years I still keep in the garage.