Fifth Tuesday stories
January 31, 2017
Writing challenge: Write the very best short story, essay or poem you can with this as your writing prompt: The clock struck 11:59 p.m. on December 31st. So-and-so turned, tipped his or her glass to you (or to a fictional character) and said thoughtfully, “You know, I’ve been meaning to tell you this all year . . .” Max length: 500 words
The Ball at Mawley
Miss Maria Welles was gratified that the drawing room door muffled the sounds of the quadrille, creating an environment much more conducive to engaging in the conversation she very much hoped was forthcoming.
Lieutenant Ashton tipped his glass to her and said thoughtfully, “I’ve been meaning to tell you this all year…”
He tapped his forefinger against the bowl of his snifter. Maria gave a small inward sigh. He was too timid by half. A girl of sixteen might have time for such reticence, but not a woman of six-and-twenty.
Waiting with bated breath, Maria smoothed the folds of the embroidered charmeuse gown that was especially made for the occasion. The faint pink hue was a boon to her complexion, and it was cut and draped in a way that showed her figure to its best advantage. The considerable investment would be for naught, however, if he didn’t–oh, there, he was about to speak.
Mawley Hall suddenly rumbled like a snoring mastiff. The chandelier above them rattled, causing candle wax to rain down on the Axminster carpet beneath their feet, and, Maria regretted, onto the dress for which she had paid thirteen pounds six. Perhaps more regrettable still was that a burst of light coming in through the window broke Lieutenant Ashton’s concentration completely. He crossed the room, and, after a glance outside, stared down at the dregs of brandy in his glass for a moment before peering out once more.
“Never mind the fireworks,” said Maria. “I believe you were about to say–”
“Forgive me, Miss Welles, but a–a ship seems to have landed in the garden.”
“A ship? Really, Lieutenant. We are in Shropshire.”
“Yes, well.” He coughed. “I don’t quite know how to explain it.”
She joined him at the window, for a fleeting moment enjoying the warm feeling generated by the close proximity of the Lieutenant, but those flames were doused when she saw what had him so utterly transfixed.
It was as large as a seagoing ship, but it had no mast or sails. The oviform hull was not dull wood, but shone like her mother’s best silver teapot. Perhaps it was a vessel after all, for diminutive figures began to disembark through gangways that revealed an interior pulsing with a blue-green light.
The wizened old butler trotted across the lawn, shouting in dismay at the destruction of the roses. One of the tiny fellows raised pistol, and from its muzzle emanated a bolt of lightning that struck poor Barrymore in the chest. He tottered for a moment, then fell.
Maria took Lieutenant Ashton’s hand. “It seems as though Mawley is to be invaded by strange little men with violent tendencies. Before they do, I should like to know one thing. Do you wish me to be your wife?”
A smile. “Oh, yes, Miss Welles.”
“Then you had best draw your sabre and drive off these vagabonds, lest the opportunity be lost forever.”
Poor Man on the Edge
“Happy New Year, Dad. I hope this is cheap wine. I know you can’t afford even the boxed stuff.”
“Well, let’s toast to a better year. I’ve actually got some news for you.”
Father and daughter raised their glasses and clicked them. “Happy New Year, Ellie,”
“And a more prosperous one for you.” Ellie glanced at the depression-era wood stove and the thrift-store furniture. She missed her mom, who had passed away two years ago. Doctors’ and hospital bills had piled up, unpaid. Dad had been laid off from his sportswriter job when the weekly newspaper drew its last breath, leaving him uninsured and unemployed.
“Dad, Dan and I are hanging in. Grade school teachers are just a step above poverty now, with the town and county going downhill. But we can still make room for you.”
“Ellie, you are more than kind, but you know my answer. It would be accepting charity that you can ill afford. I’ve been lucky to be getting meals on wheels, but the senior center may close.”
Ellie’s heart sprang into her throat, strangling her for a moment.
“Maybe it won’t happen.” She tried to sound hopeful.
“Well, my news just might help.”
Did Dad’s mouth turn up ever so slightly?
Was that a faint grin?
Ellie swallowed. “What’s up, Dad?”
“Well, you always knew that you were adopted at birth. You were born, as you know, to a young girl, and the records were sealed by the nuns who ran the unwed mothers’ home.”
“I’ve always known that. What’s news about that?”
“Well, I’ve been contacted by a big-town lawyer who claims to be working for your biological father. He says your dad came home from Viet Nam, never knowing he had fathered a child.”
“What?” Ellie’s eyes shot wide and she jerked up in shock. “How did he know about me?”
“It seems he was hunted down by a now-deceased cousin who also knew your birth mother.”
“I can’t believe this. Wow, what a shocker!” Ellie’s heart thundered again.
“Well, the real news is that your dad started a small convenience store after Viet Nam. It was in a little town in Texas, and it grew to be huge. It was finally franchised, making your dad a millionaire.”
“Didn’t he ever get married?” Ellie’s head felt as if were floating.
“He never married. His business became his whole life. Now he’s dying of cancer.”
“Will I ever get to meet him?”
“That’s the real news. His lawyer will be here tomorrow. His fortune is being left to you.”
For the first time in a zillion years, Ellie’s senses soared.
“Happy New Year to all of us, Dad. Next year, we’ll be sipping champagne.”
The clock struck 11:59 PM on December 31st. He turned to me tipped his glass and said thoughtfully, “You know, I’ve been meaning to tell you this all year. I suffer from depression.”
“But Eeyore, how can that be? You seem so normal to me. Everyone around says you’re life of every party. Did you talk to Pooh, and Rabbit, and Owl, and Kanga, and Roo, and Tigger?” I said, getting more agitated as I spoke until I was literally jumping up and down. As I did, I knocked over Eeyore’s drink. I apologized and sat down.
“Don’t worry about it, Piglet. It was only half full,” Eeyore said.
“How do you know you’re depressed?” I asked in my high-pitched squeaky voice.
“Christopher Robin told me last New Year’s Day that he was reading one of his father’s medical books, and that, according to what he read, I have something called a Psychosis. There are all kinds, and mine is the depression kind,” Eeyore said as the waitress wiped up the spilled milk, a tear in her eye.
“I went to Owl because he’s the smartest one in the hundred-acre wood. He said that I should eat more fruits and vegetables because he had read that too much protein and not enough vitamins causes poor circulation which causes the brain to suffer from hypoxia which causes depression. He read it in a book, Piglet.”
My friend hung his head and looked at me soulfully with his big eyes. To me, he never looked happier.
“I talked to Kanga, and she told me I’d grow out of it, and then she hopped off to take Roo to the swing set. I talked to Rabbit, and he got impatient and said I was wasting his time with such nonsense. I talked to Pooh, and he was cleaning out his cupboard, looking for his honey jar. So I don’t think he really heard me.”
I am a very small pig with a very small brain. So I sat up straight and listened to my friend even though I had forgotten what poor Eeyore was talking about.
“Finally, I went to Tigger. I told him I was depressed, and he said I have to bounce it away. Just bounce like me. And he started to bounce. He bounced all over. He broke my dishes and teacups. He even broke a lamp. And then, after he had bounced on everything else, he bounced on me. He laughed and bounced, and he bounced and laughed. I asked him to stop, but he wouldn’t. I finally got out of there. That was before Thanksgiving.”
I remembered the birthday party last summer when we all played pin the tail on the donkey. Even Eeyore played. I thought we all had fun. I did. Everyone had a great time. We even had balloons. I now began to question everything I had thought was true. In an existential moment I said, “Sucks to be you, pal.”
Jenny sagged against the still-vibrating bedroom door. She stared at the glass of champagne as it trembled in her hand.
Was it shock?
All three seemed a good place to start.
Through her wooden shield, she heard the rising excitement of jolly party-goers preparing for the midnight countdown. She closed her eyes and pictured Crappy Old Year crawling towards the front door to answer New Year’s knock.
Jenny opened her eyes and gazed at the moon reflecting in the bedroom mirror. “Please, someone, let New Year in.” As she raised her glass, the prickle of bubbles brushed her lips.
“You know, I’ve been meaning to tell you this all year …”
Jenny’s whole body jolted, sloshing champagne on the carpet. Blood pounded in her ears and little stars burst like fireworks behind her eyes, so sure had she been she was alone.
She faced the guest who was not recognizable as friend or foe.
The hollow eyes reflected no light, no heat. The guest stood, holding her drink in both hands. A silky strap fell from her shoulder.
Jenny took a deep breath. “Well, the night can’t get worse. Is it truth you plan to share?”
The guest gave a condescending flip of her hair. “Oh, it’s truth alright.” Both women drank, fixing the other with unblinking stares.
“Then go ahead.” Jenny took a step towards the guest, observing the appearance of resolve as it replaced numbness in glassy eyes.
The guest straightened her spine and restored the fallen strap to its correct position. “I’ve watched you fake it all year. I’ve wanted to slap you. To shake you silly and hope something like rationality broke free. You must have known this was how things would turn out.”
“You sound just like my mother,” Jenny said. “Like I need another mother.”
“You need someone to tell you.”
Jenny’s eyes narrowed. “Do I? With the evidence fawning all over my husband downstairs? In front of everyone? You think I need telling?”
“You ignore it all year, but on New Year’s Eve you choose to acknowledge it?”
“Why not? New Year, New Me.” Jenny drained her glass.
“Alright. I guess you’ll handle it from here.” The guest waited.
“I will,” Jenny said, watching dawn spread across facial features that had seen night for too long.
The guest turned to leave.
Jenny recognized her. “No. Stay. Please.”
Her reflection nodded back.
Truth had been an infrequent guest for too long. Time to give Truth a key and clear a drawer out for her. Time to welcome Truth into the family. Or lack thereof.
Together, Jenny and Truth marched downstairs. As the clock struck midnight, Truth dragged a woman from the kitchen and kicked both her and Crappy Old Year out onto the porch.
Jenny threw a set of car keys at her husband.
As she watched him drive away, Truth’s hand on her shoulder, Jenny high-fived New Year on the doorstep.
Gustave stood at parade rest and watched the room fill with guests.
“This is ridiculous.”
Gustave frowned and spared the fellow next to him a passing glance. “You didn’t have to come.”
“It’s not even New Year’s, anymore.”
A rustle of silk.
“Shut up, here she comes.”
“Boys, I’m so glad you could make it!”
“Wouldn’t have missed it, Aunt Esme,” Gustave said and bent down to have his cheek bussed by the warm, soft lips of his great aunt.
“Glad to be here,” George said.
Aunt Esme’s smile broadened at George before his cheek was treated in the same fleeting manner. She turned and swooped up two glasses of champagne from a side table.
Gustave started. “I don’t—”
“Tonight, you do,” Esme said.
“Thanks,” said George, tossing back the bubbly.
Aunt Esme’s lips curled up at the corners before she floated away in an artful swirl of skirts.
“Good thing there’s more of these,” George said, waving his empty glass.
“How are we related again?” Gustave asked.
“Our mothers were cousins, you twat,” George said.
“It was rhetorical.” He turned his back on George and followed Aunt Esme. In her champagne flute-filled wake, Gustave saw a house full of friends and family come together for the purpose of celebrating New Year’s a week late. The date was significant to Aunt Esme only, but because the holidays were over, everyone usually made it a point to attend.
His mother had been Aunt Esme’s favorite niece. When she died, he appeared to inherit her interest. He missed his mother. She’d had a number of interesting things to tell him before she passed and he wanted to make good on at least one of them.
Gustave set his drink aside and continued to seek the party’s hostess. His enigmatic aunt did this every year; made the rounds and greeted everyone before disappearing and letting her guests carry on without her. The party would go until the wee hours of the morning before the car service his Aunt hired would see everyone home.
He searched everywhere, but couldn’t find her. He had all but given up when he saw one of the French doors leading outside was ajar. Had someone cracked it to let in some fresh air? He stepped outside. Tucked into the corner, Esme snuggled into a full-length fur coat sipping from a tumbler of amber-colored liquid.
Gustave frowned. “Is that mink?”
Esme giggled, her cheeks flushed. “Of course not. Thousands of tiny polyesters gave their lives for this coat. I won’t let you cheapen their sacrifice.”
“You have your mother’s eyes, you know.”
“I know.” Gustave turned up the collar of his jacket. Inside, the clock began to chime midnight. “You know, I’ve been meaning to tell you—”
“Happy New Year?”
Esme closed her eyes, a brief pained expression crossing her face. “Sometimes it hurts to be alive.” She raised her glass, a sad smile lifting her mouth. “To absent friends, nephew.”
As the clock struck midnight, Gary raised his glass of wine—a sweet pear wine that Bob had bottled the summer before—and said, “Bobby, old pal, there’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you for, oh, a year now, I guess. Yeah, it’s been a year, hasn’t it?”
Bob’s stomach lurched. A year tonight.
Gary regarded him almost sleepily, reminding Bob of an old tomcat watching a wounded mouse; amused, waiting, patient and calculating. He knew the mouse wasn’t going anywhere.
“This is some mighty fine wine you made here, Bob. You have a gift. Pear wine, you say?”
“That’s right.” They’d already finished a bottle of wild plum and another of cherry. “I made some blackberry brandy I was thinking of breaking out. So long as we’re not driving anywhere,” he added, and mustered a weak smile. Gary grinned back. “He knows where bodies are buried.” There were rumors that Gary had his fingers in a lot of pies, some of them not so savory.
Last year, New Year’s Eve had been a drunken blur while Bob drove them along backroads from village to village, bar to bar. Gary had friends everywhere they stopped. Bob showed off to Gary how his Torino handled, how the big V-8 could pull them down the road. It was a fine evening right up until that woman was standing there in his lane in the middle of nowhere. Bob’s foot wasn’t on the brake yet when he smashed into her. Then they were fishtailing down the dark road, screaming to a stop on the centerline a lifetime later.
Gary was cool and unfazed, as if he did this every day. He talked through Bob’s drunken sobs while they both pulled the broken bag of bones and meat off the hood and into the trunk. “I’ll clean it up,” he said, and dropped into the driver’s seat. “Let’s go.”
Gary drove the Torino to his body shop that night. He had it looking new inside of a week. He waved off Bob’s desperate thanks and never asked for a dime. “You’d do the same for me, I know.”
Bob didn’t ask what he did with the body. He listened for news of anyone missing, and had nightmares every night.
“An anonymous meth head,” declared Gary, clapping Bob on the back. “You did the county a favor!”
Now tonight Bob was buzzing from the wine. “So, what have you been thinking about for a year, Gary?” There was that smile again.
“Well, old buddy, the thing is, I meant to tell you that maybe one of these days down the road I might need a favor is all. A favor from my old drinking buddy, you know? And it might be soon.”
The flutter in Bob’s stomach grew until it beat against his heart, then was still. “Happy New Year.” He raised his own glass.
“Sure, Gary. We’re pals. Anything you want. Anything at all.”
11:58pm. Jules was glad to be almost rid of 2016. She hated the bitterness that occupied a dank corner of her heart.
She swirled the dregs of her Manhattan. Fuck it. Toast with a fresh one. You deserve that.
Her mom had her three little ones—all under four—for the night. Eddie had emergently deployed to Afghanistan. 367 days and counting.
She had been a slim, proud wife of a Navy seal.
Now she was a chubby mom, stretched too thin, who never went out anymore. Her mom pestered her to accept Bill Breckenridge’s New Year’s soiree invitation.
Almost one year to the date, Bill had won the Powerball.
Five hundred million. Balls dropped. Lives changed.
Jules thought Bill, a former neighbor, was an ill-mannered piece of trailer trash.
But here she was—shoved into a clearance rack dress—hair tossed into a messy twist.
If she squinted her eyes just so, it wasn’t terrible. Not good either.
The boning in the bodice poked her well-insulated ribs as she slid off the stool. She headed across the marble foyer of Bill’s newly built mansion.
“Happy New Year, hot stuff!” Bill’s overdone hair irritated her soul. Nothing like her quietly handsome Eddie. Ick.
“Don’t call me that,” Jules snarled. When did I get so mean? He’s just being friendly.
She changed her tune. “Bill, lovely to see you.”
“You haven’t congratulated me on my lucky streak.”
She clenched her teeth. Play along.
“You’re right.” She forced a plastic smile. “I’m super happy for you, Bill. Congratulations.”
“Remember last year, how I wanted to take the wife somewhere classy? I snagged that Rick Steve’s Italy book from ya.”
News to me. Jules had bawled over the loss. Eddie bought the book as a promise. Planning shortened the distance between their hearts.
“You stole it?”
“Borrowed it to me. . .”
“Just keep it.” Jules wove towards the bar.
Droves of partygoers assembled as the Times Square ball drop blared on huge projection screens anchored between garish chandeliers.
“Wait a hot second!” Bill grabbed her arm.
Jules yanked from his grasp.
“There’s somethin’ I’ve been meaning to tell ya—”
“—all year.” Bill turned crimson as he extended the pilfered travel guide.
“Why come clean now?” Jules slammed the book into Bill’s thick chest. “Thief.”
“Not so fast. I marked a special page.”
God, would he get off it already? “Back off, Bill. I’m not in the mood.”
“Well, get in the mood.” Storm clouds settled over his face. “Page 500.”
Julie thumbed to the page.
A Powerball ticket, dated December 2016, waved from the binding.
“The winning ticket. Your hubby musta stuffed it in there.”
Jules brain froze.
“I’m sorry. I shudda told ya sooner.”
“Your ticket. Your millions.”
The ball dropped. Lives changed.
“Nice lil’ bit o’ news for the hubster?” Bill roared. “Happy New Year, hot stuff!”
New Year’s Eve
She angled her way across the crowded room toward her boss sitting alone at the bar. From the dance floor, someone shouted, “Hey Maggie! Happy New Year!” She smiled and waved. The new interns appeared to be enjoying themselves, but, this being their first company New Year’s Eve party, there wasn’t much to compare it to.
They’d been hired by the new boss, Richard Scrumholdt, to replace Maggie’s co-workers who had left since his arrival. Some left with pink slips in their hands, and others because, under the new leadership, they no longer recognized the company they had helped to build. The interns put in twice the hours for half the pay and achieved a quarter of their predecessor’s productivity.
“Hey there, Caldwell,” her boss said as she approached. He raised his glass. “Almost midnight. Here’s to a profitable new year.”
Here’s to surviving last year, she thought.
“It’s Maggie,” she said. “Why is it you always refer to me by my last name?”
“Don’t get defensive, Caldwell. I call all my subordinates by their last name.”
Subordinates. Her previous boss had referred to them as associates.
“And yet you insist that we call you Richard.”
“Yeah. The head of HR at my last job told me it would make me sound more approachable.”
She looked at him and said thoughtfully, “You know, Dick, there’s something I’ve wanted to tell you all year.”
“It’s Richard. And get real, Caldwell. If you had something you wanted to say, you would have said it by now. We both know that one of the things you lack is a filter. If a thought runs through that head of yours, it’s bound to leave your mouth without any attempt to stop it. I don’t know why you’re still here.”
“I thought it was because you used up all your pink stationary.”
The truth was, it was a good question. She didn’t know why she was still here either. Did she really think she could save the company in spite of Scrumholdt’s incompetence?
“Maybe you’re just here for the insurance. I hear it can be hard to get coverage for pre-existing conditions.”
“You’ve been into my classified personnel file? You do know that’s illegal, don’t you?”
He shrugged. “You can get stuff when you’re the boss. The poor girl that provided the information was under the false impression it would save her job.” He must have been sitting at the bar for quite a while. His words were indiscriminately sliding together.
“You’re an asshole,” she said.
“That’s it? Can’t believe you haven’t had the guts to say that to me before now.”
“That’s not it. I have been saying that a hundred times a day in a thousand different ways with my professional objections to your ridiculous ideas, but professionalism is something you are incapable of recognizing. No, Dick. What I wanted to say for a year is this.”
She stood and poured her drink into his lap.
The clock struck 11:59 p.m. on December 31st as I stood alone in a corner.
“Enjoying?” A known voice rippled through my thoughts.
“Yes,” I said, taking refuge in a sip of whiskey.
“You know, we are the only two that no one has noticed. It is because…?”
I wanted to be alone and was about to leave when Alex turned around. He tipped his glass and said thoughtfully, “You know, I’ve been meaning to tell you this all year, but first I need to ask you. . .”
I waived my hand in annoyance. “I know, I know!”
A puzzled look came over his face, and he tipped his glass even further. Even through his glass was full, nothing spilled out.
I smiled and emptied my glass in a single gulp. “Come. I need a refill.”
“How did Luke survive?” Alex asked, as we went over to the bar.
I filled my glass, and he handed me his. I filled that, too.
“You know,” Alex said with a wry smile, “we can drink as much as we want now.”
“Yes, but let me tell you I tried to save us all –” Before I could finish, Luke came over.
“Hey, guys,” he said, trying to fix his belt buckle that had come loose.
I nodded, and Alex flashed a mischievous smile.
Luke wrestled with the buckle. “Darn thing. Anyway, where have you two been?”
We ignored the question. Instead, Alex asked Luke if he would like a drink.
“Just water. Quit the alcohol after the last New Year’s party.”
Alex laughed and handed Luke a glass spiked with vodka.
“What’s so funny?” Luke asked as he raised his glass to drink. But the glass slipped from his hand. It landed on the plush carpet and sunk in it without spilling its contents.
I picked the glass up and dumped the drink in the bar’s sink.
“Everything’s funny,” Alex said, still laughing. He aimed his glass at me. “Why don’t you tell him?”
“Ignore him,” I said to Luke. Before he could reply, I added, “Kate over there wants you.”
He turned toward her with a broad smile and left.
I put my hand on Alex’s shoulder. “How did Luke survive? That was the question I was going to ask you. I was thinking when we ran into that truck head on –” I didn’t finish. Instead, I gulped down my drink, then said, “Anyway, I don’t care now.”
Alex ran a finger around the rim of his glass. “I don’t care, either, but why did we care in the first place?”
“Don’t know. Everything is a mystery now.”
“As if it weren’t before.”
I stared into my empty glass. “He’s with Kate now, and they seem so happy.”
“Maybe it’s our guilt.”
“Or maybe we care for the living even after our death.”
Alex raised his glass. “Yes, that’s it.”
I clicked my empty against his. “Till next year.”
“Yes, till next year.”
The Cold Truth
You know, I’ve been meaning to tell you this all year. You were . . . .”
I eased up from sitting on the frigid stone, shifting my weight from one frozen cheek to the other. “You remember awhile ago, we had that talk. The discussion about my character flaws. If I remember right, we disagreed.”
I raised both hands and turned my head. “Yes, it was me who did the disagreeing, but in all fairness, you were the one who prepared the list without proper consultation.”
“‘Stubborn,’ you said. ‘Unwilling to admit when you’re wrong.’ I thought about those.” My head was nodding in agreement, trying to generate some empathy. Feeling none, I pushed the collar of my coat up to stop the chill draft. “Remember, before the night was over, I agreed with you. I even gave you a thumbs–up on the title of bull-headed and sometimes inappropriately affectionate.” I patted the seat next to me, but still no response. “And I know I did promise to consider your last complaint. Promised to work on that for our next anniversary.
“So here we is. One year later. Ain’t many folks that get to celebrate their seventeenth on the eve of 2017.” I removed my glove to twirl the band of gold. “All of us romantics that thought it would be cool to get married on the last day of the century. I grant you there were some guys who picked the day just so’s they could remember their anniversary.
“Me? No way. That was not why we got married then. I just . . . I just . . . .” I stood in frustration, stomped through shin-deep snow before returning to sit. “Okay, so it’s been a bad year. Far and away worst of them all. But things are looking up.” I smile. “Turns out my character flaw will serve us well.”
My right hand dropped down to slide across the smooth surface of granite, breaking free several flakes of crusted lichen. “With all that’s happened, I put off checking out that stuff you told me I should talk to the doctor about.” My finger caught the cold etching. I traced the number two and the zero, all the while staring up into the glittering bank of ten thousand stars. Slow as the crawl of a caterpillar, my finger followed the number one and trembled to a halt, unable to trace the six. “Good news. I’ll be seeing you soon.” My palm pressed against the name on the gravestone before lifting to skin-melt the column of frozen teardrops.
In the distance, midnight bells started to chime. “Looks like I best hurry to honor my promise. Get this done before the year ends. Like I was trying to say in the first place, you were right. I’ll be a procrastinator until the day I die.”
New Year’s Eve and the clock struck 11:59. The Fish turned. He tipped half of his Miller Lite into his dog’s water dish and said thoughtfully, “Pooch, you gotta go easy here. This is the third bottle yer workin’ on.”
Hector, a black dachshund, lapped away. After some moments, he turned his blood-shot eyes up to The Fish, his master and senior partner in Wallerstein & Crooke Discrete Investigations. Hector burped.
The Fish rubbed him behind an ear. “Fella, I’ve been meaning to tell you this all year, but you’re one heckuva dog. No, dat’s a lie. As a watch dog, buddy, yer worthless.”
The dog struggled to clamber up into The Fish’s lap, but with those stubby legs . . .
The Fish scooped him up. “I know, you watch, but dat’s all you do. Dat one afternoon you watched dat angry nit – what was his name? – bust into the office and pound nobs on my head for takin’ pictures for dat divorce case, pictures of him an’ his girlfriend gettin’ it on in a hot tub. Didn’t bark once, didja? Didn’t bite him, either.”
The dog, beer slobber dribbling from the corner of his mouth, laid his chin on The Fish’s knee.
The Fish sucked down a slug of his Miller’s. “Heck, dat gang of rowdies – remember dem? – the ones dat jacked up my Edsel. I love dat old beast of a car, big an’ comfortable. Anyway, dey stole the wheels off it – all four of ’em – an’ you watched ’em do it. You was outside, in the front yard. You could have alerted me, ya know dat?”
The Fish thumbed the top of his bottle. “When it comes to pursuit, yer pretty rotten dere, too. Yah, I know you got dem short legs, but still you could get yerself in front of somebody an’ let ’em trip over you. Dat stakeout of this bar an’ dese two robbers come runnin’out, remember dat? We bail outta the Edsel to go after dem, an’ all you did was climb back into the car.”
The Fish threw back the last of his beer. He shook the bottle. Hearing nothing, he turned it upside down over Hector’s dish and watched the final drops drip out. “Heck, at least ya don’t mess wid my radio. Ya leave it on NPR, an’ we get to listen to opera together. An’, boy, do you sing when dem sopranos come on. OWOOOOO!”
The Fish chortled to himself. He lifted the dog’s ear only to hear him snore and placed the ear back over the dog’s closed eye. “No, the more I think about it, you aren’t so bad. No, not at all. Happy New Year, pooch.”