Mighty oaks from little acorns

Not a very cheery offering for the latest 800 word effort from author Eden Baylee in Canada and me in Scotland but the prompts are randomly chosen so there’s nothing deliberate about any of it – except, of course, to entertain. So don’t hesitate to let us know what you think – of both the stories and the overall enterprise.

This month’s prompt:  On Tuesday, Margaret told me she liked the little oranges with the seeds better than the ones I bought. I hated her for that.

Parts 1 and 3 were from Eden and 2 and 4 were mine.

 

 

 

Mighty oaks from little acorns

I know this sounds weird but sharing a flat with Margaret has almost certainly made me decide not to get married. We’re not a couple or anything but it’s just bloody annoying having to incorporate someone else’s preferences into the choices one makes.

OK, we’re totally different personalities, always have been, but we always got on well together at school. We were good friends even though we wanted different things, had different priorities. There was no competitiveness, no real disagreements. But now it seems that going to university and deciding to share a flat to keep costs down has made helluva difference. Not in any of the basics: I still hand in essays on time, read the set texts, keep the flat clean and the fridge stocked, and Margaret’s still switching boyfriends every week or so, skipping tutorials, spending more time in clubs than in the library. But it’s always been like that, and it didn’t matter before. But lately…

Well, for example, I do all the cooking, cleaning, shopping. That’s fine. I enjoy it. Then, on Tuesday, Margaret told me she liked the little oranges with the seeds better than the ones I bought. I hated her for that.

+++

I marvel at how tolerant I can be of all our differences over the years, and then one little thing like orange seeds sets me off. And I mean really sets me off. You can say it’s what broke the camel’s back of our relationship, perhaps one that had always been tenuous at best. Why else would a seemingly innocent comment from Margaret cause such rage in me?

“From now on, do your own fucking shopping and cooking, bitch. And that goes for cleaning your room too!” And just like that, we were no longer friends. She tried to apologize, made some excuse for her poor choice of words. For over a week, she begged my forgiveness, only I wasn’t interested. I was pissed, and no amount of grovelling from her was going to change that. In fact, I quite enjoyed seeing her misery as she tried to domesticate herself.

My life became easier. I didn’t have to accommodate her needs anymore. I bought the oranges without the seeds, the ones liked, and I ate them with glee in front of her. She’s lucky there were no seeds; I would have spat them at her if there were.

+++

But it was the silence that got to me in the end. I usually enjoy it. Whether it’s cooking, cleaning, housework, my mind’s always going – usually thinking over my studies, trying to make sense of the harder bits, basically just reducing all sorts of complicated ideas to things I can understand. I need peace for that. But after that row, whenever we were sitting down to eat or to watch TV, more and more I became sort of aware of her as a presence. Strangely, I wanted – maybe even needed – to talk with her. Needed her to be… well, a person.

But she never showed any inclination to want the same. So we sat, ate, watched, or just got up and went to our rooms. We didn’t even say “goodnight” any more. In the end it was awful. Before, I used to know the names of her boyfriends, where she’d been with them, what they’d done, but now she was just… well, an object, something that came into, then went out of my space, with no more significance than a chair or a coffee pot or… for that matter, a bowlful of oranges – big or little, with or without seeds.

+++

It was hailing the first day of winter. I left the flat before sunrise and drove to the library. High winds almost blew me off the road.

For two months, Margaret and I had barely spoken. I learned she was moving out when she stuck a note to my bedroom door.

It read: Dec 21st will be my last day.

In a subsequent text, she provided names of three potential roommates to replace her. I contemplated sending a message to patch things up, but too much time had already passed. I’d even forgotten why we weren’t talking anymore.

I should have twigged to the fact that Margaret was leaving. She’d stockpiled cardboard boxes in her room for weeks, and although I was curious, I chose not to say anything about it.

The sticky note she wrote me turned out to be prophetic. On the morning of her move in the middle of a blinding snowstorm, an eighteen-wheeler truck collided with her cube van, ending in a multi-vehicle pileup on the highway—ending Margaret’s life.

I never said good-bye to her, never even wished her good luck, too afraid to appear awkward after our long period of silence.

 

Getting Away with Nonsense?

Eden Baylee and I have not (so far) discussed writing any of our 800 word stories in a specific genre. Thanks to the prompt, however, this one seemed destined to be just that… But it didn’t (necessarily) turn out that way.

The prompt: “I like hats.” That’s what Donald said the day before he killed Sally.

Parts 1 and 3 were from Eden and 2 and 4 were mine.

 

Getting Away with Nonsense?

I gave a statement at the station a week after it happened.

“What did he say again?” The officer flipped through his notepad.

“‘I like hats.’ That’s what Donald said the day before he killed Sally. Strange thing to say, don’t you think?”

Last Sunday morning, a police cruiser roared up my street and three more stopped in front of the house. I heard banging, shouting, and then nothing. By the time I jumped out of bed to press my face to the window, the cops had made their way inside Sally’s bungalow across the street. There was no forced entry, so she must have let them in, I thought.

Not more than fifteen minutes later, Donald came out—in handcuffs, flanked by two police officers. He looked dishevelled, even more so than usual. I didn’t like Sally’s good-for-nothing son. He was divorced, a deadbeat dad, and he moved back in with his mother a year ago. Sally was a widow, already retired from nursing—the quintessential sweet, little old lady. Neighbours loved her, but now she was dead, and it appeared Donald killed her.

Only thing was, nobody could figure out why he did it.

+++

Then again, figuring out Donald had been something of a pastime for most folk around here over the years. He was never one of those kids who were cute just because they were little and kids. He left school early, didn’t bother to get a job, was into drugs, did jail time for causing bodily harm to some of his contemporaries – male and female. Basically, he’s an anti-social, very unpleasant individual. Had very few friends because local parents warned their own offspring to steer clear of him. Anyway, his temper alienated even the toughest of those who joined in some of his escapades. So, in nearly all respects – despite the fact that sweet, caring Sally was his mother and deserved better from life – the outrage, sorrow, and hand-wringing over her murder was muted.

Being such a close neighbour, I’d either seen or heard about – and deplored – most of his misdemeanours but I’d also had a few chats with him. He actually seemed to put up with me. Perhaps it was my age. I wasn’t a threat or anything. In his eyes, I was probably just a harmless old git. The chat we had the day before it happened was typical.

+++

I was at my son Jonathan’s for dinner. He and his wife wanted the scoop on my neighbour.

“He said what?” Martha topped up my glass of wine.

“I like hats—didn’t specify anything else. Not sure if he meant baseball caps, cowboy hats, fedoras, or what?”

“And you told this to the police?”

“Of course, thought it might be a clue for why he killed his mother. Donald always said strange things. One time he told me cats will rule the world.”

Jonathan chuckled. “They might! So he’s an eccentric, but why get rid of the one person who cared about him?”

Both he and Martha looked at me like I had some special insight. I didn’t. “Doesn’t make sense, but who else could’ve done it? It was just the two of them in the house.”

“Why hasn’t he been charged then?”

“Martha’s right, Dad,” Jonathan handed his plate to his wife for a second helping of roast beef. “The papers say it was Donald who called 911, and there was no sign of trauma on his mother’s body.”

I leaned back in my chair, satiated from dinner but more confused than ever about what happened to poor Sally.

+++

The confusion lasted through the days that followed. The police were trying to gather evidence but finding none. Day after day we saw the same ones, but privately, they confessed that this was a tricky one. They said Donald spent almost all of the time in his cell crying for Sally.

Losing her was devastating and the officer who’d taken my statement told me that the prisoner was as angry about her dying as the rest of us.

‘That’s a bloody joke,’ I said. ‘Who else could have done it?’

‘Maybe, but we’re not getting much sense out of him,’ said the officer. ‘I just hope it’ll come out at the trial.’

‘The slimy bugger…’ I said.

‘Hang on a minute,’ he said. ‘Remember, he was the one who rang for us.’

‘So?’

‘Well, it’s a strange thing for a killer to do. Especially with just the two of them there.’

‘He’s a nutter,’ I said.

After a pause, he asked, ‘That hats business. What was it really about, d’you reckon?’

‘No idea. I never really listened to him properly. He was always talking crap. I never trusted him. Waste of space.’

‘Guilty then?’ asked the officer.

‘Definitely,’ I said.

 

GROWING UP

The 22nd story in the short story sequence co-authored by Eden Baylee and myself.

Prompt: Charlotte ate green peppers all day long.

Parts 1 &3 Bill
Parts 2 & 4 Eden

GROWING UP

Charlotte definitely wasn’t stupid but her tendency to be in a hurry to get things done could sometimes have unforeseen and unfortunate consequences. While she was a toddler, her difference from others her age was pretty obvious although not always easy to interpret or understand. She’d have complicated conversations with uncomplaining teddy bears, who’d be dumped in a chair and lectured to about their lack of manners or appalling diets, she sometimes decided that the picture of one of the characters in her books couldn’t really ‘look like that’ and so the book was discarded – not just set aside, but placed firmly, face down, on the landing outside her nursery door.

Her parents were charmed by it all, even though she often made it clear that something they’d said or done was reprehensible and refused to respond to anything they said for several hours afterwards. That was just … well, how she was.

At first, when she went to primary school, her teachers showed less patience and, naturally enough, suspected she was of the troublemaker variety, which served only to lead her to test them with ever more devious strategies.

But then came puberty.

+++

At a time when girls were shedding their shyness and becoming more confident, Charlotte did a one-eighty; she withdrew. It was as if she’d exhausted all her energy leading up to that point. After several weeks of her sombre moods, her mother made an appointment with the family doctor. To her, Charlotte was not behaving like her usual herself.

“I’m not going,” Charlotte said. “There’s nothing wrong with me!”

“You are going, young lady. You need a check-up. And besides, you like Dr. Kennedy. She’s treated you since you were an infant.”

“Fine,” said Charlotte. “But you can’t come in the examination room with me. I’m twelve now, and I want to see the doctor alone.”

After much discussion, they struck a compromise. Her mum would take her and not go inside, but she’d talk to the doctor immediately afterward.

“Whatever!” Charlotte waved a dismissive hand in the air.

Her father patted her on the back. “That sounds more like the defiant daughter I know.”

“Sweetheart, it might just be hormones. Have you had your period yet?”

“Mum! I can’t believe you’re asking me that. I don’t want to talk about it!” Charlotte stomped out of the room.

+++

Dr Kennedy had indeed got to know Charlotte very well over the years. Like most of her colleagues, she treated all her patients with care and understanding.

In her office, she simply sat and listened as Charlotte unloaded her apparent problems.

“There’s nothing wrong with me,” said Charlotte. “It’s just that Mum’s such a worrier… I know it’s because she cares and wants the best for me, but honestly…” Charlotte just sat, shaking her head.

“How about your Dad?” prompted the doctor.

Charlotte gave a ‘Where to begin?’ toss of her head. “He’s just embarrassing.”

Dr Kennedy smiled and took a letter from a file on her desk. “I think I know what you mean,” she said. “You remember that time I prescribed the health food diet for you?”

Charlotte gave a slight nod.

“Well, he soon let me know what he thought of it.” She looked at the page she was holding and read, “Since you got her eating rabbit food, there has been a distinctly unhealthy change in her. Last week, Charlotte ate green peppers all day long.”

Charlotte looked up. “See?” she said, “Any wonder I’m…” she signalled air quotes with her fingers and added “…disturbed?”

+++

Dr. Kennedy raised an eyebrow. “Are you saying your father lied about the peppers?”

Charlotte didn’t answer right away. Instead, she bowed her head as if in deep thought. When she looked up, her eyes narrowed toward the woman in front of her. “I’m saying he exaggerated about them, as he does about many things… And why are you snitching on him?”

“I’m not. I don’t mean to suggest anything about your father.” The doctor leaned forward and folded her hands on the desk. “I was just trying to—”

“Be my friend?” Charlotte’s voice dripped with sarcasm. “Don’t bother, it won’t work.”

“Your parents want what’s best for you, and your sudden change in mood worries them, Charlotte. If you won’t talk to me, I’ll have to refer you to someone else.”

“A shrink.”

Dr. Kennedy nodded. “A psychiatrist. Are you open to that?”

“Do I have a choice?”

“It’s up to your parents.”

Charlotte rose from her seat. “Well, when you talk to them, ask them about their upcoming divorce which they’ve been hiding from me. Mum’s leaving Dad for her tennis coach cuz Dad had a fling in Vegas … Remind me again why I need a shrink?”