It only took a blink for Toby to pour himself like liquid through the crack in the front door, run across the street and crash the neighbor’s backyard barbecue. I ran after him barefoot, imitating the hot coal dance as I crossed the asphalt and lolloped past my neighbors, grinning stupidly, as they enjoyed their burgers and brats. After two rotations around the house, I saw my chase was futile. Remembering some dog owner advice, I dropped prostrate into the grass. Neighbors lurched out of chairs, hovering over me. “Call 911!” Toby stopped, turned running, and I nabbed him.
This was written for the “unleashed” theme flash fiction challenge, using 99 words only, for the Carrot Ranch Literary Community. I did read that if your dog runs away from you like this, you should drop, and the dog, out of curiosity and concern, should come to you. A very similar scenario did happen to me with a little dog I was watching but without quite this level of drama and awkwardness. 🙂
This silly little story was told for The Carrot Ranch Literary Society‘s Flash Fiction Challenge, with a World Naked Gardening Day theme, in only 99 words. It was a challenge to tell my little story in such few words. 😛
Just some additional thoughts …
I do know some people who are attracted to the naturist lifestyle, so I had previously given the subject a lot of thought. My primary concern is with decency and modesty, but even in situations where that is not a concern, where a single person is alone or just with a spouse, I still have concerns about sanitation and protection from the elements. It just seems the body will be much more vulnerable to a number of things such as sun, harmful insects or harmful plants. I can see things going wrong in so many ways. I could have had quite a story with a few more words I think. 😛
I looked up World Naked Gardening Day on Wikipedia and read this quote, “Beyond body positivity, Corky Stanton of Clothes Free International, an organization that promotes nude recreation, has asserted that the event offers the ‘fringe benefits of bare, unabashed recreation: the satisfaction of exercising in the great outdoors; the attractiveness of an all-over tan; more Vitamin D on your whole body; the unbeatable experience of skinny-dipping if the naturist event involves a beach or a lake.'”
As an extremely fair-skinned person, an ‘overall tan’ was not my first thought. Instead, I’m imagining sunburn in places I would never had thought of.
I’ve read a number of true life accounts of both prisoners of war and political prisoners, and it seems that depriving a prisoner of clothing was often a punishment/torture. Many of you will remember a scene from Schindler’s List where the prisoners were made to exercise nude in the courtyard. Perhaps, humiliation of the prisoner is part of the motivation behind that, but I think it is also the removal of that protective covering from the cold, sun or other harm. In one account, I read about a POW captured in a tropical climate who was made to sleep nude in the jungle with no mosquito net, and you can just imagine what happened to him. My story may be silly, but I had these other more serious thoughts as well.
Monday, one week before the judging for the Annual Honeyville Community Garden Competition
“Seamus! Seamus, get out of my garden!” I took chase after my neighbor’s wheaten terrier who was now racing in circles around my bird and butterfly sanctuary. With each rotation, he chased away another goldfinch and another butterfly. It was a futile exercise, running in circles after a beast that was more agile than a ninja and faster than the Roadrunner escaping Wile E. Coyote. Suddenly, my foot slipped, and I did a full face plant in the grass, still wet from its recent watering.
This, of all things, made the dog stop. He not only stopped, he turned to me and began frantically licking my face, seemingly trying to go spelunking in my nostrils. I now felt sympathetic with Lucy Van Pelt and wanted to announce, “Ugh! I’ve been kissed by a dog!” Still, I kept my mouth shut, because, otherwise, I’d have a dog’s tongue in my mouth. I was sure of it.
“He likes you.” I looked up and saw my neighbor, Jackson Reardon, standing above me, his Stetson in his hand. “Need a hand?” he said, as he offered one.
I pulled myself up without his help. Now that I was standing, Seamus jumped up on me, placing his muddy paws on my chest, leaving prints on my pink plaid flannel. When he jumped down again, he sauntered right over to a coneflower and tried to take a bite.
“Seamus, haven’t you been naughty enough?” I asked.
“Sit, Seamus!” said Jackson.
In the first demonstration of obedience, the dog actually sat.
“Jackson,” I said. “Get a fence!”
“Deirdre,” said Jackson. “I have a fence. You know that, but, as you can see, that isn’t necessarily an obstacle.” He nodded to the side of my white picket fence and the hole the Houdini had dug beneath it to make entrance.
“He chased away my birds!” I protested. “He tried to eat my coneflower!” I walked to the fence to inspect Seamus’ excavation. “And he’s uprooted an entire family of fairies!” My fairy house structure was on its side and several miniature plants had been pulled up. Thankfully, my bonsai ficus was still intact.
Jackson smirked. “What! You don’t have fairy insurance?”
I took off my Croc and flung it at him hard. He flinched and the thing slid over his right shoulder, landing behind him.
“Please, control your dog,” I said. “I think you’re trying to sabotage my chances in the garden competition. I know you’re competitive, but really …”
“Look …” Jackson spread his hands.
I took off my other Croc.
“All right!” He flung up his arms. “We’re going!” He hooked a leash on Seamus and walked off. Good riddance.
I walked into the front yard. What had I become … an irritable Croc-throwing maniac? Of course, as far as I knew, no one had been seriously injured by a lightweight foam shoe. But maybe this is just where it started, and the next step was hurling gardening shears?
My dreams were disrupted by a handsome face peering over the fence. “Matt!” I held my hand to my heart. “You startled me.” Matt was an old school friend and, now, my handyman, who happened to look a bit like Jude Law.
“I’m sorry. I came about the trellis and … whatever other jobs you have for me.”
I suddenly remembered my appearance. My curls were wild, I was covered in mud and had muddy paw prints in an awkward location. “You’ll have to excuse my appearance.”
“No apology needed,” said Matt. “You’re like me. You’re not afraid to get your hands dirty … or other parts of you either.”
I was trying to decide whether he was being fresh or adorable.
He grinned. “And it would take more than a little mud to take away from your looks. You’re like one of your flowers. They’re surrounded by dirt, but it just makes their beauty stand out more.”
I was leaning more towards adorable. Still, I didn’t know how to respond. Was he flirting? Because I really didn’t know anymore. A guy had to be on one knee with a ring box in his hand before I understood he was interested.
“Oh … well, thanks. I’ll show you the trellis.” I began leading him to the back of the house. The arched trellis, covered in pink climbing roses, was the central feature in my formal English garden section in the rear right corner of the yard. I showed him several places where the wood had broken.
We turned and walked to my bird and butterfly garden. “The gazebo needs a little work too. It got damaged in a wind storm. A small tree fell and caused a chain reaction. The swing bench got damaged too,” I said. “It’s my favorite spot in the yard. I can sit here and see birds come feed, turn and see hummingbirds at my bee balm or butterflies on the coneflower.”
“No problem,” said Matt. “Leave it to me. By the time the judges come Saturday, everything will be perfect.”
I worked until evening, and then another surprise awaited. Sitting on the porch in a Mason jar was a bunch of white orchids. The mysterious giver left no note and no explanation. I brought them inside and set them on the kitchen table, wondering who had left them. Matt? He had been slightly flirtatious maybe, but they could be from anyone. Everyone knew I liked flowers.
I spent all of my spare time in the garden – watering, fertilizing, weeding and trimming. I repaired my fairy garden, filling in the hole that Seamus had dug and restoring my miniature ferns, colorful succulents and dainty polka dot plants. I fussed over the little pathway of twig rounds that led to my fairy house door. By judging day, Dad’s old electric train would be winding its way through all of these miniature wonders.
Matt busied himself with the structures on the landscape, the trellis and the gazebo. He passed behind me. “The fairies must be jealous.”
“Because you’re the fairest in the land.”
A sudden rush of heat prickled my cheeks. Matt was almost a little too much. What was into him lately? Was he the one that left flowers?
Just shortly after thinking about the mysterious flowers, I found new ones on the porch, a bunch of white roses in a Mason jar, again with no note. Matt again? If so, how did he do it? I’d seen him go back and forth to his van several times to get tools, but flowers? Did he pull them out of his sleeve like a magician? If someone else, how did they do it free of notice?
I woke to the melody of songbirds and then a clattering and then the screech of frightened, tortured birds. I sat bolt upright in bed. “Seamus!”
I jumped up out of bed, seized a bathrobe and wrapped it around me as I ran down the stairs and out the back door. The shaggy thing was racing after my birds again, scaring off a chickadee and cardinal. I didn’t chase him this time. I spun around, marched back into the kitchen and emerged again with a heaping spoonful of peanut butter. “Seamus!”
The beasty lolloped towards me, his tongue lolling out. I sat down in a patio chair and held the spoon out, allowing him to lick right off the spoon. I looked into his expressive brown eyes. “You’re kind of cute when you aren’t destroying things,” I said, “but don’t try and use that to your advantage.”
“Seamus!” Jackson sauntered into the yard.
I pulled the bathrobe tighter around me and felt the top of my head for the curls that were imitating Little Rascals’ Alfalfa. I tried to give my red hair a toss as I imagined Maureen O’Hara might in an old movie, but I’m sure I looked more like Shirley Temple after an unfortunate encounter with a fork and an electrical outlet.
I loped over to the fence to survey the damages to the fairy garden. It looked like Gulliver had trompled all over Lilliputia, upheaving miniature hideaways, uprooting the foliage and scattering tiny household things thither and yon. In a moment’s time, hours of fastidious labor was destroyed.
As a young girl, I learned the song, “I’m a Little Teapot.” It came to mind now, because the water was ready, and I was about to shout. I could feel the steam slowly rising through my middle and seeking to find a vent. “Jackson! How do you manage to sic your dog on my garden? Throw steaks over the fence?”
“I … I …” Jackson threw up an arm in the direction of my bird and butterfly sanctuary. “You have wildlife.”
I looked in the direction his arm was pointing, but I saw two empty bird feeders, one empty hummingbird feeder and an empty bird bath. When I turned around, Jackson was on his knees trying to right my fairy world, but his designing eye had different ideas than the plan I had worked so hard to create. His efforts set things up in jumbled order.
I tried to swallow down one last bit of steam, but it escaped. “You’re just making more work for me! Just go.”
Jackson stood up. “You’ve always been a very aggravating woman!” He threw his arms up, leashed Seamus and walked off.
After work at the florist shop, I filled the hole in the garden, set my fairy world aright and reinforced the gap under the fence with some scalloped stone edging. Matt returned and set to repair the swing bench for the gazebo. When he finished the repair, I brought him a glass of iced tea, and he asked me to test it out with him. We sat on opposite ends. He stretched out his legs, smiling rogueishly at me, “Nice. I could get used to this.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Nature.”
“I meant the company,” he said.
“Oh.” Not knowing what else to say, I just said, “Thanks” and continued gazing at nature.
The evening held a series of surprises for me. The first was a third bouquet left on the porch, bigger than the first two, filled with white tulips. The second surprise I discovered as I set them down in my kitchen. Some cash I’d left on the counter, about $60, was missing. The mystery of how it had disappeared continued to haunt and nag at me thereafter.
The third was a surprise visit from my childhood buddy, Eddie. “Eddie!” I said, as I answered the door.
“Mom’s recovering from surgery.”
“Yeah. I heard.”
“So, I’ll be here a few days taking care of Mom, and I thought I’d drop by. Sorry if it’s not a good time.”
“It’s fine,” I said. I pointed out an Adirondack chair. “Have a seat. I’ll bring some iced tea. Do you still like M&Ms?”
“Do I still like M&Ms?” he said in a way that made the answer obvious.
I brought the M&Ms with the tea, and we sat on the porch. He pointed out the oak tree in front of us. “Remember when we used to climb that tree?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Do you remember falling out of that tree?”
“Yeah. I ended up in the hospital with a broken arm, but then you came with your Peanut comics and books of Mad Libs and made everything better.”
I smiled. “How long have you been in the area?”
“I came here Monday. I would have dropped by sooner, but, you know … family.”
I wanted to tell him about the mysterious flowers but didn’t. What if they were from him? He’d had an attraction once. Instead, I told him about the garden competition and Seamus and the fairy garden and Dad’s old electric train. “Do you remember that old train?”
“I wish I had some little bridges for it to go under. I’d commission Matt to make them, but my budget only goes so far.”
“Yeah. I understand the budget issue.”
I changed the subject. “He’s fixing the rose trellis, and my formal English garden area will be perfect. Speaking of roses, I always loved your mother’s roses.”
“The yellow ones?”
“I think they’re called Julia Child.”
“Bon appetit,” I said in my best Julia Child impression.
“Hey, there’s something I’d like to tell you some time,” he said. But just then, his cell phone rang. “It’s Mom. I gotta go. Talk soon.” He left.
Thursday brought more mysterious flowers and more missing cash. This time, the Mason jar held a profusion of red carnations. The cash was missing, this time, from a pocket of a coat hanging in the mud room. Perhaps, I did leave cash in odd places, but I lived alone, and I didn’t expect anyone other than myself to see it or move it around. Was I suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s or was I a victim of theft? Could the mysterious flowers and the missing cash be connected? Was this a thing among thieves? Hey, thanks for the cash. Have some flowers.
In the evening, I got another visit from Eddie, and we sat on the porch and reminisced about the old days. Suddenly, I said, “Hey, thanks for the flowers.”
He smiled. “’Welcome. Thought you’d enjoy them.” He turned and continued to gaze lazily at the dogwood trees.
That was it? A week of suspense, and he answered in this casual way? Not even a mention of that thing he had to talk about with me some time? “It was sweet of you,” I said.
Friday, I came home from work, walked into the kitchen and found Eddie standing there. “Eddie! What are you doing in my kitchen?”
He hunched his shoulders, holding two hands out in front of him. “Your sister told me where your key is in the bunny statue. I can explain.”
“Don’t! You betrayed my trust! You entered my house without permission!”
He left, and I cried. The case of the mysterious flowers – solved. The case of the missing money – also solved? All of those flowers, invading my private property – weren’t these signs of a stalker? That didn’t sound like my Eddie, but we’d been apart so long. Did I even know the man anymore?
Saturday brought no more mysterious flowers to my porch. When the judges came to my yard, I noticed some new things, a stem with a yellow rose planted in my English formal garden and, in the fairy garden, little handmade wooden bridges carefully spaced over Dad’s old electric train track.
I still thought about the mystery of the flowers and, after the judges had seen the place, had the idea to look up the Victorian meanings of the flowers in a book I had. White orchids represented “I’m sorry.” White roses represented new beginnings. White tulips said “I’m sorry,” and red carnations stood for admiration. I pondered these things a while.
A neighbor called me and told me she’d seen a man messing around in the garden statuary and then entering the house. “Yes, I know,” I said. “I know a man got into my house that way. It was a friend. Thanks for telling me.”
My sister called some time later. “Did you hear the news about Eddie?” she asked.
I thought I was the one with news about Eddie. “No. What?”
“He’s getting married.”
My scalp tingled, and I was speechless a moment. “Did you know I found him in my kitchen? He said you told him where to find the key in my bunny statue?”
“I did. He wanted to help you in the competition and surprise you with that cutting from his mom’s bush and those little bridges for the train track. He called me and said he needed access to the house for some tools and such. You’re not mad?”
Afterward, I called my neighbor back. “Can you describe that man you saw enter my house?”
“Sure. He looked a little like a movie actor. I can’t remember …”
“That’s the one.”
Later, I went with neighbors to see my chief rival’s garden. I expected to see an amazing koi pond with waterfall surrounded by tropical foliage and a greenhouse full of rare orchids, but something else for me ended up being the top attraction.
I noticed a broken bit of fence along the edge of the property where two posts were tied sloppily with some rope. It must have been the site of Seamus’ Houdini action. It seemed so out of place and unlike Jackson to leave a sloppily mended fence for the judges to view. Hanging there on the fence was a plaque with a Robert Frost poem, “Mending Wall,” burned in wood.
I read a portion of it, “Before I built a wall, I’d ask to know what I was walling in or walling out, and to whom I was like to give offense. Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” Beneath the plaque was a milk can filled with white orchids, white tulips, red carnations and white roses.
It could be that Jackson’s message was that Seamus had the right to invade my property whenever he liked, but I thought he meant something quite different. Soon, Jackson was standing beside me.
“I agree,” I said.
“With the poet?”
“With you. I am the most aggravating woman.”
He laughed. “I know.” After a pause, he said, “Dinner Saturday night?”
I smiled. “Sure.”
To add to the sweetness of a new start, he and I tied for the winning ribbon.
I apologized profusely to Eddie and thanked him for all of his kindness. Six months later, Jackson and I attended Eddie’s wedding together.
As we got into the line at Starbucks, Bronwyn told me, “But I want a coffee drink.”
“You’re a little young for coffee, aren’t you?” Her parents would be thrilled at the way we were spoiling the kids, filling them with sugar and caffeine. “Don’t you want a Pokemon Go drink? It’s purple and pretty, and I’m pretty sure there’s fruit in there somewhere which means it may have a vitamin or two.”
“I want a caramel coffee frappuccino.” She looked up at me with twinkly eyes.
How could I say, “No?” “Have whatever you like.”
“Aren’t you cheating on your barista friend at the Salvador Deli by going to Starbucks?”
“I won’t tell her if you don’t,” I said.
Bronwyn traced a finger across her mouth. “My lips are sealed.”
We got to the front of the line. “I’ll have two caramel frappuccinos,” I told the cashier.
“I thought you took your coffee black,” said Bronwyn. “It’s that barista friend of yours. She’s getting you to try new things, isn’t she?”
“Yip.” It seemed, apparently, that I didn’t mind.
My butt vibrated. Let me rephrase that. The cell phone in my back pocket vibrated. Jack was calling. I picked up. “Hey Jack,” I said.
“Hey Andy. I’ve got Declan. He just finished up at Best Buy. We’ll meet you at the food court.”
“Great. Should we pick you up a couple of Cinnabons?”
“A couple of …? If we keep this up, we’re going to have Cinnabon buns, not to mention Pillsbury doughboy tummies. I am taking that krav maga class tomorrow. Pick us up one. We can share it.” I thought I heard muffled protests from Declan that he could handle his own. He was 14, had hit a growth spurt and could probably stand in for the host of Man v. Food with no problem. Jack sighed. “Make it two.”
“Okay. See you soon.”
Bronwyn and I headed next to the line at Cinnabon. “Let’s face it. We’re all going to be roly poly.” I looked down at my gut, at the little bit that hung out over my belt, and gave it a pat. I started to sing, “Watch it wiggle, watch it jiggle …”
Bronwyn stared at me strangely.
“Jell-O brand gelatin,” I finished. “Guess you’re too young for that.”
She shook her head at me. “Speak for yourself about getting roly poly. I’m going to way burn off all of these calories.” She swung out her right arm, showing off her pink Fitbit. “I take twirling on Mondays, gymnastics on Tuesdays and tae kwon do on Fridays. What you need, Uncle Andy …” Here, she gave me a side hug around the waist. “Is to hire me as your personal trainer.”
“Twirling. That’s a good manly sport for me to take up at my age. What muscles does that work?”
“Your arm, of course, and your core.”
“Core? What am I? An apple?”
Bronwyn smiled and then stuck out her tongue. I picked up four monstrous Cinnabons, then Bronwyn and I settled down at a table with our healthy snacks. I had the odd almost paranoid feeling of eyes at my back. I turned around. I whispered to Bronwyn, “Is he still there?”
Bronwyn answered back in the same whisper. “Who? The superfan?”
I nodded, and she looked over in the superfan’s general direction.
“Yeah. He’s kind of a creeper, isn’t he?”
I nodded again, although I couldn’t quite put my finger on what made him a “creeper.” Just then, I spotted Jack and Declan coming towards us, waved and motioned them towards us. They came over to our table.
Declan sank into a chair and took a Cinnabon. “Great! I’m starving.”
Jack took a chair beside him. “You just ate … an hour ago,” he said, “one of those Taco Bell box meals, the Bell Box or the Big Box or the Big Bucks … one of those things, plus some restaurant breadsticks you found in my coat pocket and a box of Raisinets you found in the car on the ride over.”
Restaurant breadsticks might seem like an oddity to carry in your coat pocket, but Jack’s trenchcoat pockets were full of oddities: plastic forks and toothpicks from restaurants, small toys and toy parts from creations he was working on, plus every other small gadget imaginable. I was surprised Declan didn’t find a four course meal in Jack’s pockets.
I turned to Declan. “A man after mine own heart,” I said. I held out a hand, and he slapped it low.
“What can I say?” Declan shrugged. “I’m a growing boy.”
“I wish I had that excuse,” I said, right before shoveling a mound of gooey bun into my mouth.
“You’re growing,” Bronwyn told me. “Just in a different direction, outwards instead of upwards.” She tapped herself on the chest. “Personal trainer.”
I was beginning to seriously consider taking her up on that offer, but, first, I had to digest. I turned to Declan. “So, did you find anything cool at Best Buy?”
“I found a model of drone I like, but I can’t afford it. I’m going to have to watch a lot more dogs and mow a lot more lawns before I can,” he said.
“You don’t need a drone from Best Buy,” said Bronwyn. “Uncle Jack can make you a drone from popsicle sticks, a bread twist tie and a paper clip.”
Her brother stared across the table at her. “That makes no sense, Bron. You didn’t list a single electronic part.”
“It’s called exaggeration,” she said and poked out her tongue.
I was on Bronwyn’s side. I’d seen Jack splice together such interesting gadgets that nothing would surprise me anymore. I turned to her, “Jack could build a car out of … “ I picked up my frappuccino straw wrapper. “This straw wrapper, a balloon and a couple of toothpicks.”
Declan shook his head at me. “You’re as bad as she is. Uncle Andy, you’re a bad influence.”
“Thank you,” I said.
Jack sat silently rubbing his chin. “Well,” he said. “I was going to wait until tonight or tomorrow, but I hate to see Declan disappointed. I have gifts for both of you, kids.”
“I knew it!” said Bronwyn, bringing down her fist and crooked elbow in a kind of “Chaching” motion. These kids had hit the jackpot in having a toy inventor for an uncle.
Jack began to reach into the interior pockets of his trenchcoat.
“Don’t tell me you have them in there?” I said.
What Jack pulled out first was not a toy but a Blaze comic book. “Well, I think you both know that when I created Blaze as an adventure hero and his niece and nephew, Angel and Hunter, as his helpers in adventure, that they were somewhat inspired by the three of us,” Jack said.
“A more adventure-y version of the three of us,” said Bronwyn.
She didn’t know her uncle very well if she didn’t understand yet that Jack could be pretty danged adventure-y.
“So now,” Jack said, “you not only have an adventure hero alter ego, your alter ego also has its own action figure.” Jack brought out the two action figures, and they did somewhat resemble the real life kids that inspired them. “Hunter,” he said, handing the figure to Declan, “And Angel,” he added, handing the other to Bronwyn.
Hunter had Declan’s dark brown hair, and Angel had Bronwyn’s strawberry blonde hair. Both were dressed like regular teen kids but were equipped with backpacks.
Bronwyn opened her figure’s backpack first. She pulled out the miniature items one by one and laid them on the table: a twirling baton, some rhythmic gymnastics clubs and a pair of nunchucks. “Cool,” she said.
Declan opened his figure’s backpack and pulled out miniatures of a camera, a GPS device and, last but not least, a drone.
“The drone really works too,” Jack explained.
“Really cool,” said Declan. “Thanks Uncle Jack. You’re the coolest uncle ever.”
Bronwyn popped out of her seat like a jack in the box and hugged Jack’s neck. Declan attacked Jack’s other side in a sort of wrestle-hug. While the three of them engaged in this cuddle fest, I turned around and looked for the superfan. He was still there. It might have been my imagination or it might not have been, but it seemed that he’d been looking at us too and had to look down just as I turned around.