short shorts and flip-flops –
not that warm yet
short shorts and flip-flops –
not that warm yet
Beth roused as something landed softly on the end of her bed.
Just the cat, she thought, and began to sink back into sleep. Her eyes snapped open as she remembered she hadn’t had a cat for three years.
Her hand darted for the lamp on the night stand and her head snapped up and around to look for the mysterious object.
A man stood on the bed. An old man. A tiny old man, perhaps a foot and a half tall. He wore a red jacket and trousers and a brown cocked hat. He touched his hand to his hat politely.
“Sorry to be wakin’ ye like this, but it’s not easy taking a break from making shoes. Always must be industrious, we leprechauns believe. My name is Conor.”
Beth stared blankly at Conor for a moment. Then she relaxed. “I’m dreaming.” She turned off the lamp and settled herself in once more.
Conor stepped across the queen-size bed and prodded Beth’s posterior with his shillelagh.
“I’ve come rather a lengthy distance to speak to you on a matter of importance. I’d appreciate your turning on the light and being civil.”
Beth complied with half of Conor’s request.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing? Even if this is a dream, I don’t need to be poked with a crooked chopstick.”
“This is not a dream. If it were a dream, you would see me all in green and prancing around to keep you from catching me. All your stereotypes in place.”
“What, you don’t have a pot of gold?”
“Just a small one, for daily needs. Most of my money is in bonds. Catching me would do you no good.”
“I don’t believe this,” Beth said.
“Ah, and now we’re getting nearer the point of my visit. What is it you don’t believe? That a leprechaun stands on your bed? Or that he invests in bonds?”
“Either. Both. This … this is crazy.”
“Look at me. Touch me, even — discreetly, of course. Satisfy yourself that I’m real.”
Beth sat up and stared at Conor. She reached out tentatively and patted his arm.
“There’s no such thing as a leprechaun,” she protested quietly.
“Despite the evidence of your senses, you do not believe?”
“How can I?”
“What about this, then?” Conor gestured to the full-length mirror across the room. Beth saw a dark-haired girl approach, followed by a unicorn. They stepped through the mirror and into the bedroom.
“Hello, Miss,” the girl said as she curtseyed. The unicorn nodded at Beth, giving her a good look at the sharp point of its horn.
Conor looked at the girl and gestured to something she held.
“Oh! These are for you, Miss.” The girl held out a bouquet of wildflowers, which Beth took mechanically.
“You see the girl and the unicorn,” Conor prompted, “and you have flowers in your hand. Do you believe now that we’re all here?”
“I … I don’t know what to believe. This is all impossible. I have to be dreaming. Or I’ve gone insane. No. This has to be a dream.”
“Mmmm. I had hoped we’d gotten beyond that.” Conor nodded at the girl and the unicorn, and they left Beth’s bedroom as they had come. “Let’s try some mundane things. This is your bedroom, right?”
“Look at your clock. For what time is the alarm set?”
“It’s not set. It’s Saturday.”
“And you know it’s Saturday and that you didn’t set the alarm because of that.”
“Look at the clock as it counts the seconds. It’s doing it in a nice, even way, isn’t it? No awkward jumps in time. The clock isn’t changing into a different kind of timepiece. It’s just your clock.”
“And everything in your bedroom is just as it should be, with the exception that I’m here and a little girl leading a unicorn has come and gone.”
“If you were dreaming, things would be rather more fluid, wouldn’t they? Would details hold such a permanence?”
Beth pondered the point. “No. When I dream, scenes shift pretty quickly. Details change.”
“So you’re awake and holding flowers and talking with a leprechaun.”
“But this isn’t possible! Leprechauns don’t exist. Girls and unicorns don’t emerge from mirrors.”
“Not ordinarily, I’ll agree. Not in your world, which — if you’ll pardon my saying so — is all the more mundane for that. But will you go so far as to admit that you aren’t sleeping? That you’re in your apartment with your things all in place?”
Beth hesitated. “Yes.”
“Then what I said must be true: ‘You’re awake and holding flowers and talking with a leprechaun.’”
“But it’s just not possible.”
“You deny the evidence of your senses?”
“I …” She stopped and looked down at the flowers. “Why are you here?”
“You’re a skeptical girl,” the leprechaun accused. “I came to see whether evidence could overcome your skepticism. I’m not convinced — not at all convinced — that it can.”
“What of it?”
“Merely this.” He stepped closer and gently raised her chin so she was looking at him. “If you don’t believe in the things you see, in the things you can touch and smell, how can you believe in the things you can’t see but which are just as real?” Conor walked to the end of the bed. He looked back and smiled sadly at Beth. “Good night, Miss.”
He jumped off the bed, and Beth did not hear him land on the floor.
It was almost two hours before simple exhaustion finally returned Beth to her sleep.
She awoke again in the middle of the morning. The bouquet was resting by her night stand. She sighed and got up, taking the flowers with her. When she had found a vase, she added an aspirin to the water and took one herself.
“It couldn’t have happened,” she told the bouquet sternly. This mattered not at all to the flowers, and Beth waved her hands in front of her face. “I’ve got to get out of here.”
She left her apartment and walked a couple of blocks to a coffee shop. Most of life’s answers were to be found in a really good cup of coffee, she liked to say. The better the coffee, the better the answers. Today, Beth needed some extra-good coffee.
The aroma of freshly ground Arabica beans soothed her. She waited in line and then spent the equivalent of a fast-food dinner for six on a cup of rich, dark coffee.
She walked over to a booth for two and, ignoring the napkins left on the other side of the little table, sat down. She cradled the cup in her hands, closed her eyes and slowly inhaled the coffee’s essence; then she exhaled slowly. She did this twice more before opening her eyes.
She saw a man sitting across the table from her.
He smiled at her, and she pigeonholed him as being handsome. And probably kind. And sweet. And intelligent. And fond of the same movies as she was.
“Um … I was sitting here. I just went to get a refill.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.”
“No! No, that’s … fine. Please stay. Um, I’m Chris.”
“Hi, I’m Beth.”
They looked at each other for a moment.
“Here’s a weird question,” Chris said. “Do you believe in love at first sight?”
Half a dozen scathing responses came to Beth’s mind. Some were straight answers to the question itself, and others were focused on the question as a hackneyed pick-up line. Before she could speak, though, she remembered the bouquet of wildflowers a little girl had given her in the night. She remembered the leprechaun’s question. She remembered her instant, nonskeptical assessment of Chris.
“I … think it’s possible, yes.” And she returned Chris’ smile.
Mixed in with the espresso machine’s steam wand, Beth thought she heard a leprechaun sigh with relief.
Mrs. Whitcomb set her teacup down and went to answer the door. A smiling young girl stood there. She wore a school T-shirt and held a clipboard.
“Hello, dear,” the older woman said.
“Hello. I’m Jana, and I’m in Ms. Weber’s third-grade class at Harding Elementary School. We’re raising money for playground equipment.”
“What are you selling?” Mrs. Whitcomb asked politely.
“We’re giving away these coupon cards, worth $200 at local restaurants and shops. It’s proofer …” She thought for a couple of seconds and took another run at it. “Proof of purchase. What we’re really selling is insurance.”
“Yeah. Insurance against bad things happening to your house or your car or any pets you might have.”
Mrs. Whitcomb’s mouth dropped open. “Excuse me, young lady?”
“In addition to the coupon card, for a mere $20 a month for the school year, you’ll be insured against ars … arson, or broken windows or slashed tires or anything nasty happening to your pets.”
Mrs. Whitcomb put a hand on the doorpost to steady herself.
“Little girl, I can scarcely believe you understand what you’re saying. But I’m going to call your school – and the police.”
Jana stopped smiling. “That would be worse than not buying any insurance. It would be like neg … neg-a-tive insurance.” She became quite somber. “It would be very bad luck. I wouldn’t want to have to write your address on the page with the black border.” And Jana flipped to the last sheet of paper on her clipboard. It was blank except for some lines and a heavy black border.
Mrs. Whitcomb decided that whether or not the little shakedown artist grasped the meaning of her sales pitch, whoever had taught it to her was quite serious.
“I’ll buy the insurance.”
Jana brightened. “Oh, good! If you pay for the entire school year now, you can get $5 off the total. Or you can spread it out a month at a time.”
“I’ll write a check for the full amount.”
“Make it out to Harding Elementary School, and just write ‘fund-raiser’ on the … the memo line.” Jana became serious again. “Don’t write anything else.”
“No, no, I won’t. Let me just get my purse.”
While she waited, Jana admired the flowerbox next to the door. She didn’t know what kind of flowers were in it, but they were pretty.
Mrs. Whitcomb returned and handed Jana a check.
“There it is, just like you said.”
Jana gave the check a once-over. “Great!” She clipped the check on her clipboard with several others. Then she reached into a pocket. “Here’s your coupon card. And thank you for helping our school. Bye!”
Mrs. Whitcomb closed and locked the door. She sat in her chair and took up her teacup. The tea had cooled, but she didn’t notice.
across the yard
little girl watches
father fly the kite
A stray piece of paper is more likely to be picked up if it’s light pink with cute artwork of a kitten and some handwriting on it.
That was the stray piece of paper Denise saw on the grocery store floor, near the customer service desk and picked up. Next to the kitten, at the top of the page, was printed: “Things CONNIE Needs To Do Today.” It was from the sort of notepad advertised in junk mail, and Connie had ordered some. There was, indeed a list of things to do:
1. Call Mom
2. Deposit check
3. Pay rent
4. Take movies back
5. Get haircut – Fran
6. Wash car
7. Go to work
8. Get CheezPuffers, Bloody Mary mix, rat poison
9. Meet Terry at hotel
10. Put rat poison in Terry’s drink
11. Go home, wash clothes & clean out fridge!
Continue reading →