Never Look Back

This is my response to fellow blogger Kristian’s “Tell the Story” Challenge. Here’s the picture he’s given about which to write my story:

IMG_3163

Never Look Down: A Lesson in Corporate Ladders

“Never look down,” I whispered to myself. “Never, never, never look down.” I forced myself to focus on the floor above and took another step on the winding staircase.

So what quirk of nature is at play in the human brain — or is it something more sinister perhaps, some evil force at work? How can it be that, when you so much don’t want to do a thing…

I couldn’t stop myself. I leaned over the railing and looked at the landing below. Before I could grab them, my glasses slid off my face and went sailing down the staircase and crashed on the floor. I shook my head and hurried back down to grab my shattered glasses, then started up again.

I’d been so delighted when, after several years on the working in Accounts Receivable on the ground floor at the Apex Complex, I was able to get the position of Personal Assistant to Ms DeVerre, one of the company executives three floors up. I didn’t realize when I started in my new position that there’d be days when the elevator was out-of-order or otherwise tied up, and I’d have to take the stairs.

I was hunched over my desk trying to read the daily planner when Ms DeVerre walked in. I looked up at the sound of her greeting and she stopped to take a good look at me.

“Lost another pair of glasses down the staircase,” she asked. “Isn’t that the third pair this month? This must be getting expensive for you.”

I quickly pulled my spare pair out of my desk drawer. “I can’t seem to resist looking down. I think it’s some kind of compulsion. Maybe I should apply for a job as chambermaid at the local Holiday Inn. At least if my glasses fall off there, they’ll land on a soft bed.”

She didn’t laugh at my joke. “Surely contact lenses would be a better solution, Miss Shattner. You should look into that.”

“I’ve never liked the thought of wearing contacts, but you’re right, of course.”

She gave me an odd look before she went into her office, almost like she was wondering about my intelligence.

I sighed. Something told me I wasn’t going to get much higher on this corporate ladder.

Possibilities

I haven’t written a short story for awhile, so I’ll go with the prompt from Word of the Day: POSSIBILITIES

Dark Door

My spirits are as bright as the sky above as I hurry down the street of the small Italian village. I’m so thrilled to think of what Gabriel is doing for me. It’s beyond wonderful! A few more blocks — maybe fifteen minutes — and I may be meeting my great Aunt Vittoria. Oh, I hope I’ve really found her!

Just before the Second World War my grandparents, Arturo and Bianca Santini, emigrated to Toronto from this little town in the north of Italy. Still teenagers, and just married, they left most of their family behind, promising to send for the others once they’d made their fortune in the land where money grew on trees.

Talk about delusion! Life as an immigrant in Toronto turned out to be decades of hard scrabble. Yes, they’re comfortable in their old age, but never have had the cash to support other family members. Still, it’s been their intention to someday come back, revisit their childhood home and renew family ties. Grandfather’s heart problems have prevented them from making the trip now, but I determined that I would visit this village and do what I could to restore the lost family connections on their behalf.

I started working as a physiotherapist and saving my money; now, with a little help from folks and grandpas, I had enough cash to make this two-week trip. April 8, 1996 was the big day! My parents and grandparents drove me to the airport in Toronto and I was off and the adventure of a lifetime. Before I boarded Mom waved a finger at me: “Don’t let any handsome young Italian turn your head. We don’t want you staying there!”

I landed in Firenze, I rented a car and headed for Pisa — the Leaning Tower being one of the first tourist stops on my list. I visited several more spots, then headed north toward the Alps where I finally found the little village I’ve heard so much about from Grandpa and Grandma.

For the first couple of days I just wandered around, getting a feel of the place and practicing my poor Italian on the natives. If they shake their heads, I pull out my Italian phrases book and show them what I’m trying to say. They laugh, shake their heads again, and pronounce it properly, delighted when, after half a dozen tries at copying, I finally get it right.

I visited the cemetery and found the great-grandparent’s graves. I visited the town records office, where I learned that my grandfathers’ siblings all scattered after the war. There are no Santinis left here, sorry. Maybe in the next village? Grandma’s sisters likely remarried and changed their names. I should check the church records.

Those first few mornings I’ve been enjoying real Italian espressos at a little bistro that caters to tourists like me. I was there yesterday when a very handsome young man approached me. Thankfully he does okay in English and I didn’t need my little book of phrases. He introduced himself as Gabriel Venturi and excused himself for being so bold, but said I look so much like his Auntie Ginevra did when she was young. He asked where I’m from and if I have family here in the village?

Grasping at the possibility of a connection, I spilled out the story of my grandparents who left before the war. He studied me closely until I turned very pink, then he apologized for being rude and asked, “Was your Grandma a Ricci before she married?”

Hope flared like fireworks. “Yes! And her two sisters stayed here, Maria and Vittoria. Grandpa’s parents had died in an accident but three of his brothers and a sister were here when he left. All communication stopped after the war, though.”

He looked rather grave for a moment. “A lot of young men died in the war, out in the battlefields. Or in the ocean. And others emigrated, hoping for a more peaceful life elsewhere. Your grandparents did well to leave when they did. But I think I maybe can help you. Vittoria Lorenzo, my Auntie Ginevra’s mother is still alive, though she’s very old and not able to get out much. She was a Ricci before she married and I think she did have a sister who went to Canada. Of course these are very common names and perhaps no relation. Still, I’ll talk to my auntie. Meet me here tomorrow morning and I’ll see if I can arrange for you to meet them.”

My heart skipped a beat. Could this old lady really be Grandma’s sister?

Gabriel smiled. “If you would like to walk around the town with me, I’ll show you where the Ricci family lived when those girls were growing up.”

I’ll confess, my heart did flutter a bit as we walked along. This man could be a tour guide. I wondered for a moment just what he did for a living, but the chance never came up. He seems like a great person to talk to about any subject under the sun.

Not only did he show me around the town, but also bought us a delicious dinner at the hotel. I did wonder for a moment when the young waiter gave him a sly wink. They must be friends. Or maybe he thought I was Gabriel’s new girlfriend. I didn’t see any wedding ring, but I still made a point of asking him if he had a wife or sweetheart. He shook his head, looking — or trying hard to look— very dejected, then asked about my work in Toronto. Again I wanted to ask what he did for a living, but somehow we never got to that topic.

This morning he met me at the café as promised and told me he’d arranged for me to meet my possible Great-Aunt Vittoria. He said he’d go a few minutes early and explain things to her again — she’s old and very forgetful. I should wait five minutes and then walk straight uphill from the bistro, cross five streets, and turn right at Giordano. Half a block up I’d see #16. Vittoria’s daughter lives downstairs and keep a box of pink flowers in the window and there’s a birdhouse hanging by the door. He’d be sure to leave the door ajar for me; I should go up the stairs to the first floor and knock at the second door. He’ll be waiting in the apartment with Vittoria and Aunt Ginevra.

So I’m following instructions, hurrying along with high hopes my search will be rewarded. Won’t Grandma Bianca be thrilled to know her sister still lives here in the village! If it’s her…

Suddenly some other possibilities sweep through my mind. Suspicions. I’ve always had a suspicious nature and now it’s rearing its ugly head, growling like the Troll of Terror. “Is Gabriel really the helpful fellow he’s pretending to be? What if, instead of meeting a sweet old lady, I’ll be meeting a couple of thugs? How can I know?” My feet start to drag.

I turn the corner at Giordano Street and see an old man sitting on a bench. I greet him politely and ask about Vittoria… Oh, what was her married name? I ask about Ginevra. He nods and points to the house down the street. Number 16. He holds up fingers to show me, just in case I don’t get it. I wince, knowing how poor my Italian really is. He says something else and I catch it that Vittoria is very old, very old.

Somewhat reassured, I approach the door, standing ajar just as Gabriel said it would be, and see the dark stairway inside.

“I’ll gladly hand over my cash, if that’s what they want. Wait! I’m being foolish.” I take the first few steps up the shadowy staircase and heave a sigh. “At least my passport and ID are hidden at the Inn. If this is a robbery, they won’t get that.” I scold myself for being such a fraidy cat and walk up the rest of the stairs. Gabriel is too kind and friendly to be a crook. “He surely wouldn’t let anyone murder me.”

Now I’m facing the door. I give it a couple quick knocks and hold my breath. Such possibilities!

Gabriel opens the door and waves his hand, inviting me in with a flourish. I take a step forward and my eyes pop open. The little old lady sitting in a soft chair and smiling up at me is a perfect copy of Grandma Santini.

A Light, Enjoyable Series

Over the Christmas holidays I discovered a new series and have been reading through them one after the other. This is the Markham Sisters series by Diana Xarissa, who also does the Aunt Bessie (An Isle of Man Cozy Mystery) series.

The Markham sisters are two retired teachers who spend their little inheritance windfall on a bed & breakfast in what they think will be a calm little English village. Which it is, for the most part; the locals do their best to make the sisters welcome. The constable drops in often just to check on them—and is easily persuaded to stay for a bite to eat, seeing what a great cook Joan is.

Owning a bed & breakfast has been Joan’s dream since she was young, and since she’s the older, she’s persuaded younger sister Janet to go along with the plan. But running a business and dealing with customers sometimes proves intriguing. Joan has a stronger sense of propriety — which means “no snooping.” It’s Janet who gets quite curious about people who are acting suspiciously or whose stories don’t add up. Joan tells her to mind her own business, but Janet can’t resist doing some investigating.

This series is quite tame, more along the lines of Nancy Drew mysteries. Just what I like: no dead bodies discovered, but smaller crimes like art fraud, an odd shortage of narcotics at the drug store, counterfeit money being passed, and people who aren’t who they claim to be. The novel “cases” are named alphabetically and each book is a short, easy read.

There are ordinary day-to-day details some might find rather boring, but I enjoy the setting and characters. I’d take away one star, though, for the way the sisters interact sometimes. They are in their 60s but Joan is still bossing Janet like a teen older sister — at times this seems overplayed. And Janet, when she’s miffed, still sticks her tongue out behind Joan’s back. I’d think if they’ve lived together all their lives they’d have developed more of a respect for each other, show more of an accepting, “live-and-let-live” attitude. (Mind you, I’ve never lived with a sister for years, so I can’t say what roles they might fall into.)

There is a certain “ghost” angle written into these tales that, for my part, could have been left out. In the stories I’ve read so far it’s only been references to sounds Janet hears and occasionally a strange wind slamming a door.

Anyway, I’d give this series four stars. I read each book separately, but I see the author has published collections now, available free to those of you who have Kindle Unlimited. Here are first four cases:

A Markham Sisters Collection - ABCD by [Xarissa, Diana]

 

Birds, Books and Verses

Hello Everyone!

I’ve been dropping in here and there on other people’s blogs this month, but haven’t posted much of anything myself. It feels like “too long” but my time has been devoted to going over and polishing an acquaintance’s book.

Some great writer once said, “A book is never finished; it’s finally just abandoned.” Well, coming to the end of my fifth edit, I’m ready to abandon this book to the marketplace. I still have to set it up on Amazon and insert the images, but I can see light at the end of the tunnel.

Hari & Rudi in the Land of Fruit is a Christian allegory along the lines of Pilgrim’s Progress. The main characters are two young teens who find themselves on an intriguing journey through a strange land. Here they meet creatures who represent the fruit of the Holy Spirit: Joy, Peace, Love, Goodness, Patience, etc.

Doing this work has given me a good idea of that final drive necessary to get a book “out there” in a short time. (I’ve written a few of my own that are just waiting for that kind of commitment. 😉 )

To get some idea of teen fiction, I’ve been reading some very interesting books for teens, like the first book in Gordon Korman’s Kidnapped series. He’s a very good writer and this book is WELL done!

Last night, for something different — and because I enjoy reading haiku — I downloaded a book through Kindle Unlimited. The title is Redbird tree: one thousand haiku, and it’s written by James Dildine. I really like his introduction, about how the great haiku poet, Basho, didn’t limit himself to a rigid form, but wanted each verse to share a mini- experience with his readers. Then the author shares his own verses, not fussing about exact number of syllables and such. Which is fine, but…

What I’ve learned from this book so far is how important it is to get the formatting right — and if you can’t, then hire someone who can. Poetry is as much visual as sound, so when verses look like this…

86.) Afternoon rain The afternoon

rain
was cool and very welcome
spirits damp, not wet 87.) Neighbors

leaving

Storms came after noon,
with antlers high
they both left,thun-
der followed them

…it makes your eyes cross!
Note: This writer numbers and titles each haiku, and about half of his verses come out normally.

I took a break from editing Thursday and we went into the city to meet some writer friends for coffee and do some shopping. This afternoon and tomorrow dinner I’m cooking at the Villa, the seniors’ residence where I work on a casual basis. While in the city I saw this neat little car, so of course had to write a verse about it:

Mercedes
cherry red
executive class

Another treat we had yesterday: around 5 pm I looked out the back bedroom window and saw the Grand duke himself — our resident great-horned owl — sitting on a branch behind our property. He sat there awhile, so we got quite a clear look at him, all puffed up for the -20̊C evening.

We’ve actually had a very mild winter this time around, but right now the temp has dipped low. Supposed to be much milder next week. And a SUPER-moon + lunar eclipse tomorrow, I hear!

Thinking of birds all puffed up from the cold reminds me of the magpies we’re seeing hanging around our feeder. Which led me to write this verse last night and post it on Tree Top Haiku:

Winter Magpies

winter magpies
fat from feasting at the feeder
parade past the cats
🙂

And one more bird I’ll leave with you as a smile this morning. Apparently this is an aracani +/or tucano. The “thought” is mine. 😉
unique aricari

New Words Learned

Over the Christmas holidays I dug out my dictionary and learned a few new words. The first was Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day a couple of weeks ago. The second is the word I’d have used.

Coruscate

1 : to give off or reflect light in bright beams or flashes : sparkle
2 : to be brilliant or showy in technique or style

Scintillate

1 : to emit sparks : spark
2 : to emit quick flashes; sparkle (stars scintillate in the sky)
3. to throw off, as a spark or as sparkling flashes (scintillate witticisms)

Here’s tale I wrote to use my new word:

Lacey stood by the entry to the restaurant and smiled as her new friend walked through the door.

“Hope you haven’t been waiting long?”

“No, just got here.” Lacey turned as the hostess came toward them. “We’re ready to be seated now.”

She and the other single working girl had seen each other different times at this downtown café, each one dining alone. One day when the two of them arrived at the same time, Lacey asked the other girl if she’d like to share a table. It was a savvy move on her part; the two hit it off well.

She learned that the young woman’s name was Sarina and she worked at an office building down the block from Lacey. They were almost the same age, both came from small towns to find a job in the city. Each of them enjoyed reading historical mysteries, so were soon comparing notes about their favourite authors and suggestion books for the other. When they parted they agreed to meet every Monday for lunch; today was their third time.

They followed their hostess and she seated them at table right next to a large group. Their orders were quickly taken and they had a scintillating conversation about office politics as they waited for their food.

At first the clank of cutlery and murmurs of conversation were all they heard from the next table, but after those dinners were done and their plates were cleared away, they started making witty remarks that made Lacey and Sarina grin. They caught on that it was one fellow’s thirtieth birthday and he proved himself good at repartee as the various remarks were fired at him.

His friends were teasing him about “soon needing a cane, having dentures fitted, buying a toupee” and such. When he noticed Lacey and Sarina chuckling over one comment, he winked at them and told everyone his eyesight hadn’t dimmed yet. He could still appreciate beauty when he saw it.

Someone suggested they’d seen the one beauty before. A few details were exchanged and Lacey was excited to learn that this group of people worked for an insurance company three floors above her office and one of the women rode the same bus to work.

A few minutes later two waiters came with dessert plates and a third followed, carrying a huge piece of cake with a sparkler coruscating on the top. At a signal everyone began to sing “Happy Birthday.” Lacey and Sarina joined in, happy to enjoy a moment of camaraderie with the unknown group.

Before they left, Lacey invited her fellow bus rider to join them for lunch next Monday. Sarina seconded the offer after she noticed a paperback poking out of the other woman’s purse. Another historical mysteries reader.

Books: Rescuing Finley

I have great news for readers who like an inspiring contemporary fiction story. Dan Walsh is one of my favorite writers and the first book in his Forever Home Novels, Rescuing Finley, is FREE today on Amazon. NOTE: Last Day of giveaway.

Rescuing Finley CoverMy Book Review:

Two people in desperate situations, one abandoned dog.

Amy Wallace was a recovering meth addict, who lost her job and needed friends. Sad to say, two “friends” had in mind some shoplifting: they wanted to steal an expensive ring from a department store’s jewellery section. And they had in mind Amy should be the one to pocket the goods. Which meant Amy was the one who got caught and sent to prison.

Ever since he finished high school Chaz wanted to sign up with the Marine Corps. His mother protested angrily when he told her, “I signed up today. It’s for two years — but they’ll go fast.” She needed him to help her survive. And what about his dog, Finley? Did Chaz expect her to look after him?

Chaz was Finley’s whole world, the one human who loved him. Chaz’s mother barely tolerated Finley in her small apartment. We understand through his eyes how abandoned and confused he was when Chaz left — and never returned. Finley couldn’t know his master’s life ended on a battlefield, but he knew something was very wrong. Lost in her own grief Chaz’s mother couldn’t deal with a dog — especially a huge one like Finley. Feeling guilty but desperate, she dropped him off at an animal shelter.

Chris Seger’s life as he knew it also ended while on a mission in Afghanistan, when he stepped on a land mine. A permanent ticket home — minus one leg. Stateside, after months of therapy, he found work with an understanding and flexible employer, but he wrestled constantly with PTSD, depression and the nightmares. Then a pal suggested he look into this new program: service dogs for the disabled.

Dan Walsh does an excellent job of taking us through Chris, Finley, and Amy’s lives as they struggle to start again. Then he brings them together in a winning story of forgiveness and healing. At the same time he walks readers through a great program where prisoners work with dogs, training them as companions for veterans with PTSD.

I found this a terrific, heart-touching book and shed quite a few tears as I watched the story unfold. Five stars from me.