SHORT STORIES

 

I recently published a book of my favorite short stories reflecting Real and Imagined glimpses of life that I hope you will enjoy.

AVAILABLE ON AMAZON, print or kindle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are a few of my favorite short stories to "wet your whistle" for the book. I would love to know your reactions which you can email to granthampress@gmail.com

Thanks!

 

 

 

 

Story #1

 

The Reunion

 

Three months ago, I received an email from a woman in Florida., who had been a high school classmate of mine fifty years ago. Her name was Judy, Judy Green, and we had dated in junior high school in that goofy awkward way that seventh graders did most everything. 

Her email said she had found me on Facebook and checked out my business website. You look as cute as ever, she wrote, and I have never really forgotten you. She went on to relate various aspects of her life; two kids, now grown, with four Grand-children living near her, a messy divorce a few years ago from our school's football captain, an improving golf game and a yen to see me at our fiftieth reunion that was to take place in early October.

I thought that I had left New Jersey and Millburn High well behind me when I moved to the west coast thirty years ago with my first wife, Annie, and our three little boys, now grown with five Grandkids. Periodic east coast visits on holiday and business had not changed my attitude regarding my roots; they had shriveled up and expired quietly over the years. Divorced for several years, I had even fewer motives for eastern excursions.

But this email caught my attention as it would any red-blooded American boy.  I found myself remembering the wonder of women at that tender time in life. Instead of knowing thirty kids from one grade school, I was suddenly immersed in the excitement of meeting and hanging out with over three hundred students of all shapes, sizes, nationalities and economic backgrounds.

 

My view of the world, which had been shaped by a fairly conservative Protestant experience up to that point, was suddenly challenged and twisted as I found myself in a homeroom with lots of people who did not look like me or anyone I had known. And I was abundantly aware of all the girls, again, of all shapes, sizes, and other facets that were dominating my consciousness.

Judy was one of the first girls to actually say “Hi” back to me, and her dancing blue eyes peeking out from a treasure of dark hair, seemed to laugh and mock me and my tan Kakis and blue button-down preppy appearance.

 

“How did you get into seventh grade?” she said. “You’re not even as tall as me, and I’m short!”

Stepping up to the same step as she, I was several inches taller. I will never forget the look in those eyes as she seemed to shift into the most provocative pose I have ever experienced. 

“Oh, my goodness, you’re tall!”, clasping her small hands in front of her bountiful chest.

I have never felt so powerful and attractive since.

Remembering that moment, these many years later, I smiled at her advanced maturity evidenced by her clever behavior, realizing that young man never had a chance.

We dated for two years, and then she moved away to the Midwest. We wrote for awhile, but the miles and the local girls, sports and my easily distracted nature eased her from my mind.

Five years later, I walked through the front door of the high school as only seniors could, to find her standing there, laughing with Bob Lee, the football captain. I was shocked to see her as the emotions of earlier times surged through me. She was gorgeous, slim yet full-figured, fresh and more beautiful than I could imagine.

Mute, I walked past them, unsure of just how to approach her. She had matured beyond measure and seemed so sophisticated and elusive. As I turned the corner towards my first class, I heard her laugh and saw in the reflection of a door, her turning to glance my way. Her blues eyes bored into my imagination, leaving me in a cold sweat, forgetting my destination and perhaps my own name.

That was one of the rare moments of being in her presence. Her classes and mine never intersected, her parties and mine were in different homes, her friends and mine following divergent activities and destinations.

We graduated and went our separate ways.

I sat there staring at the email. Why had she written me? Had she forgotten moving away for years and then basically ignoring me during our senior year?  Surprised at the level of pain and yearning for answers to questions that had been dormant for so many years, I saved her email and returned to my work.

But it was only minutes later that I was again reading her email. 

Against my better judgment, I hit “reply” and wrote; What a surprise. It’s great hearing from you. Frankly, I had not planned to attend the reunion now that I am a steadfast left-coaster, but it was very nice to hear from you and please say hello to folks for me.

Two days later, she wrote again. "I really want you to come. For some reason, I really need to see you. If you can do it, please try. It’s on October 12-14. The Friday event is at the Anderson Hotel Dining Room. Hoping to see you! Fondly, Judy."

You can probably guess that I immediately booked a flight and two weeks later, found myself driving in a light rain through the leafy environs of northern New Jersey in one of Hertz’ finest.

Finding a parking place at the hotel, which had not changed a bit, I entered the stately building through the large oaken doors that had been so difficult to open as a youth attending dancing class there.

“Hi, I’m looking for the Class of 1962 Reunion.” I said to the receptionist, who looked like she was in seventh grade.

“Oh, yes, please follow me, watch your step, sir” she said, causing me to wonder if I was stumbling or in some way appearing to warrant such a warning. “Right over there, sir, in the corner,” she pointed.

Glancing around the room for a crowd of people, then following her gesture indicating the far corner of the dimly lit dining room, I was suddenly convinced that I was in the wrong place, having somehow misunderstood Judy’s fairly specific information regarding the reunion logistics.

“Are you sure?” I muttered uncertainly. “This is supposed to be a reunion!”

“Yes, sir.  I am told that there is,” the young woman asserted, smiling slightly.  “And they are all there.  Have a nice evening.” She turned to return to her station.

Moving through the large room, passing tables of diners engaged in lively conversation, I could see only a single person at the corner table. A woman, a very attractive woman.  Aged, but beautifully so, with a sweep of silver hair framing dancing blue eyes.

Approaching the table, my mind devoid of direction or sense, I could only utter, “Is this it, The reunion, Class of '62?”

“Yes, Robert. It is. The real one was last week. But, the important reunion is this week.  Now. The reunion that really counts, I hope, for us."

Trembling and no longer trusting my legs, I sat down next to her on the rich leather banquet. 

“And you’re still tall,” she laughed, smiling at me as time lost all meaning except for its ability to play pleasant tricks on us.

“And you are still gorgeous.”

 

And she was.

 

Story #2

One Bay Evening

Sitting at the bar sipping his margarita, he watched the ferry banging gently into its dock. Should he board?

His decision was suddenly clear as he watched a beautiful blond woman with strikingly long legs encased in crisp black slacks walk quickly onto the aging dock and board the bright blue and white boat.  She certainly knows where she is going, he thought.  

His selfish stupor of moments ago quickly shed, Ted Shansby, left more money than was called for by the diluted Mexican cocktail, grabbed another chip and hurried onto the ferry, just before the gangway was pulled away.  Glancing around in the fading evening light, he saw the woman moving towards the bow, still moving rapidly with an attractive air of confidence.  

I wonder who she is.  No one like that has been on this old scow in months or maybe years, he mused, idly following her as she climbed the stairs to the second deck.  There she was, seated by herself against a railing, unfazed by the cool, brisk westerly breeze that caused others to remain below.  Moving past her, Ted eased into a deck chair amid ship so as to be able see her classic profile more easily.  A true Grace Kelly look-alike, and God knows those are few and way too far between. 

 

She glanced around at him once, smiled with bright teeth and opened a large black bag that he only then noticed gathered at her feet.  Reaching into the bag, the woman pulled out a small camera and began to take photos of Angel Island as the ship eased its way for the millionth time into the predictable channel leading to the San Francisco Financial District docks.

Feeling embarrassed by his scrutiny, Ted pulled out his Wall Street Journal, removed the irritating plastic wrapper which never fully protected the contents, and opened immediately to the editorial page which always lowered his respect for Wall Street and Washington.  It seemed to him that this newspaper was the last defense of the "American Way" to which he still found himself clinging desperately, despite the demonic march of liberal ways and secular strides to dismantle it.  Not again, he thought, reading about the latest failure of misguided American diplomacy in Korea and the Near East.  

"Damn it!" he explained, realizing that he had given voice to his feelings on an otherwise beautiful Bay evening.  Glancing again at the woman, he waved weakly to her surprised glance and then comprehending smile.

"You shouldn't read that paper,"  She urged.  "Bad news no matter who you are and what you think or how much you're worth."   With that, she returned to taking pictures of almost everything he thought as he watched her pointing her camera first at some seagulls, then at the receding Marin coast, then towards the city lights that were beginning to illuminate the bright buildings of San Francisco towards which they moved with firm yet slow progress.

"Sorry,"  he said, lamely.  "You're right.  I keep promising myself not to read it, and even waited all day the last few days to do so.  But, it's like a drug.  I just have to read about everything we are doing to wreak what used to be a great country.  But, I sound like my Dad....."

"No worries, I know the feeling.  I stopped reading things that bothered me months ago.  I keep thinking it worked, but I don't know, I just don't know."  Again she smiled that Susie Chapstick smile and returned to almost feverishly taking photos.

Glancing away, Ted wondered about this beauty.  Why was she on the boat alone?  Who was she and where was she going?  Should he try to get to know her or leave her alone?  And what was she so concerned about that she had stopped reading anything to stay in touch with the world?  As he thought about her, his cell phone rang.  Pulling it from his pocket, he glanced at the caller id and realized that he wouldn't answer it.  He just did not want to speak to Andrea now, or perhaps ever.  

Replacing the phone in his pocket, Ted looked over at the woman again, wondering how he could make a polite but effective approach to perhaps have a drink or dinner.  She had apparently finished taking pictures and was looking at Alcatraz Island as it passed to their left, shrouded in a small pocket of evening fog, the searchlight glowing through the mist.

Suddenly, the woman glanced his way with what he later could only describe as a look of utter and total despair, stood up and raised the large bag to her chest.  Noticing the effort it took to raise the bag, Ted was surprised to see her then wrap the thick leather handles around her slim, aristocratic neck with a firm resolve in her brilliant blue eyes.

"Sorry you had to witness this.  I really tried.  I did.  It's just too much and I really didn't mean to have it all happen,"  she explained with cool dispatch.  "Try to have faith.  I couldn't, but you look stronger.  Goodbye".

She twisted suddenly, and with her arms wrapped tightly around the heavily-weighted bag, dove over the railing before Ted could absorb what was happening.

Rushing to the railing, only a few feet from where she had so recently sat, he saw her impact the water and immediately vanish into the green-gray depths.  Turning in terror, he hoped to attract help, but everyone was below decks.  He looked again for her, hoping she would surface and everything would be alright, normal, back to the good old days, back to normalcy.

Something caused him to realize that as quickly as the woman had entered his life, she had left it.  On her terms.  With no influence from him.  With no appeal for help, no request for assistance. 

My God, he thought, sitting dumbly in the seat that was almost warm from her recent presence.  What just happened?  How could I have not seen it coming?  Who the fuck am I not to see things more clearly?  What the fuck, Commander, show me to the brig!  Realizing that she had not reappeared and was beyond help, he limped to the front of the boat, eased his way down the stairs and found one of the deck officers to explain what had happened.

 After the police had questioned and released him, he walked to his apartment near Levis Plaza, took off his clothes, made a gimlet and sat by the window looking out at Alcatraz Island.

Then, he called Andrea.

Story #3

Mustang

 

 

December 15, 1962, a cold, cloudy Friday.  I am nineteen, it’s my first Christmas home from college and my summertime girlfriend, Angie, has invited me to meet her in New York City where she is working in fashion, her dream job, and attending Parsons School of Design. 

Angie!!!  New York City???

How am I going to find my way into the Big City when the only times I’ve been there were on high school field trips and a couple of risky forays by train to Times Square to buy girlie mags with my friends years before.

The Mustang, gleaming blue with a white convertible top, the hottest car of the mid-sixties, sits ready to carry me into my nervous maturity.  Wire wheels, slim white-walls, dual exhausts, it is an invincible steed upon which to broach the Gates of Gotham.  My Father watches from the front window as I depart.  I briefly wonder at his thoughts which are most likely focused on concern for the welfare of the Mustang.

Cruising in the wintry gloom of Route 17 into the Lincoln Tunnel, the radio braces me with oldies from DJ, Scott Munie.  “Sixteen Candles” and “Johnny Angel” urge me towards the eastern glow of my destination.  I feel like I’m on a space ship, leaving planet earth and my hands nervously grip the steering wheel.  Deep breath.  My first drive into New York and I’m doing it at night. 

With my heart in my throat, I carefully point my trusty horse across Forty-Second Street, past glowing marquees touting “Hot Sex” and “Raging Women Wanting Men”. I turn up Madison Avenue, carefully following Angie’s specific directions. I am warmed by a couple of thumbs up from guys walking quickly against the cold breeze from the East River.

Angie!!!?!  New York City!!!??

She was my dream girl for two years.  A counselor at the nearby girls’ camp.  I was the boys’ camp aquatic head, having replaced a six-foot, five-inch Greek God who had captivated the girls’ hearts for three years.  Me, his skinny replacement, almost six-feet with a buzz cut, did not cut the same bold profile. I drove the ski boat, taught sailing and was just beginning to mature.  Angie was Italian.  Clearly from a well-protected home.  She was elusive, always full of fun and laughter, but always a frustrating arm’s length away.  The ultimate tease, she had laughed at my awkward efforts to lure her down to the shadows of the dock after the weekly Saturday evening dances with hopes of a quick kiss. 

 

The other guys had girls who met them in the woods at night during the week.  Me?  I had just the ever-present ache of hoping things would change.  But, secretly, I also found solace and a sort of reassuring power knowing that we really loved each other in a way that was special...a way that did not need sweaty late-evening meetings like the others.  We were pure, like the clear blue lake waters.  Above whatever drove the rest of the group.  Lust, yes.  Sure, we felt that. But, really, it was a sense of mutual purity that guided us without our ever quite realizing it.

So, the summers went.  On a pedestal was where I first placed her, and where she remained.

I find a tight parking spot on East 73rd Street, just east of Park Avenue.  Angie had said to meet her at Maxi’s where she was subbing as a waitress.  I lock the car door, glance around to ensure things seem safe to leave the car which shines like a beacon in the grit of the city street.  I look up to see three large smoke stacks adorning a Con Edison power plant, spewing the ugly by-products of electrical power into the night sky.

I walk two blocks south and one east and find Maxi’s Saloon, lit up in red neon.  People are coming and going as I approach the front door, their breath etched in the crisp air.  I move slowly through the noisy throng and random scents of beer, perfume and adrenaline.

A slim hand waves over the crowd, and I spy Angie’s dark hair and laughing face.  I am suddenly alarmed rather than excited.  What will she think when she sees me?  What will I think?  This is not the innocent realm of Lake George.  This is the real thing. 

A New York bar!

I reach her and we hug, she more confidently than me.  At five foot, two inches, she is almost lost in the crowd.  Only her bright blue eyes and the new bright blond streak in her dark, curly hair, standout in the smoky, half-lit room. 

“You look great…it’s so nice of you to come all the way into the City, just for me!” she teases, holding my arm tightly while balancing a drink tray with her other hand.

“What can I get you, a gin-fizz?”

“Uh, yeah, sure.  That’s great.  You look great.  Wow, your hair!” I mumble, glancing around at the numerous people, most still in heavy overcoats, smiling like idiots and scanning the room like prowling tigers..

“Let me make room for you at the bar. Come with me.” She exclaims.

The gin fizz tickles my nose but soon has me feeling very happy and somehow cocky.  Here I am, meeting the hot waitress that the guys keep glancing at.  Somehow, Angie had matured in just a few months into something out of Playboy.  My teen-age nookie magazine forays have come true, right here.

An hour later, following frequent brief conversations with Angie, and more drinks, as she hustles orders in a very professional manner, she grabs my arm and we leave Maxi’s.

“Let me take you on a quick tour of my neighborhood.  It’s got lots of cool places.”

“Sure, I’m yours for the evening.”

“Hah, we’ll see about “evening,” she laughs, grinning up at me with dancing eyes.

Nodding my ignorance of the import of her remark, we continue.

“The next place is called ‘Paulie’s.  You’ll love it…very avante guard.”

Paulie’s is even more crowded.  It takes me several minutes to realize that Angie is one of the few women in the place.  But, everyone recognizes Angie, giving her quick hugs.

“These are my friends.  A lot of them attend Parsons with me,” she says, referring to the design school she attends on a full scholarship.  I am suddenly very proud to be with her until she laughs and whispers into my ear.

“You don’t get it, do you?” she says.  “These guys are all queer.  But, I love them.  They have no boundaries and are totally zany to be around.  They also buy all the drinks and I don’t have to date them.  Perfect!”

“Gay,” I utter, almost too loudly.  “Yikes. I guess Bucknell has a couple, but this is my first gay bar.”

Before I know it, a Stinger is thrust into my hand by a leather-shrouded guy three inches taller than me.  He hugs me tightly, and claims any friend of Angie’s is a friend of his, especially one so cutely attired.

“Cutely?” 

I control my blush just in time to see Angie watching me closely, a half-smile on her full lips.

To reduce my nervousness, I chug the Stinger, suddenly wishing I hadn’t.   The room moves slightly and Angie puts a steadying arm around my waist.  Boy, does that feel nice!

Minutes later, we are out of Paulie’s.  She is now hugging me with both arms as we walk unsteadily through the frigid air.  She breaks away, spinning with her face up to catch the small flakes of snow that are soundlessly falling.  Her exuberant prancing is heart-warming and I rein her in with my arms, to which she succumbs with more laughter.

Two bars later, it’s almost midnight.  I begin to wonder about the Mustang and its safety. I also begin to wonder about my ability to operate it or find my way out of the Bad City.

We round yet another corner, and Angie presses me into an apartment building entrance.  Suddenly, we are kissing, her small hands firmly pulling me down to meet her softness.

I have this sudden ridiculous feeling of being in a movie, a musical, and laugh into her mouth.

“What, what’s so funny?” she demands, hands on her hips in the saucy pose I so loved in the summers when she was upset with me for trying to get fast with her.

“Oh, nothing.  Honest.  I’m just a little light-headed from all the drinking.  Boy, you really know how to entertain a guy.  And when did you start drinking.  Your parents would kill you.”

“My parents don’t know anything about their little darling.  And why should they?  This is my world, my city and my life.  Now, come on in.  This is my building.”

I am not really clear as to where we are relative to my car now after the circuitous route Angie had led through the dark, chill streets.  But, it’s been a fun with her, in spite of her sudden sophistication and big city girl act.  I put the Mustang out of my mind, which is easy to do in my current fuzzy state.

Up an ancient elevator to the fourth floor, a drunken, arm-in-arm shamble down the long, poorly-lit hallway, laughing at things that seem very funny, a quick twist of a key and we are in.

She shrugs off her furry coat and beckons me into the combination living room and dinette, all of thirty square feet. 

“Two bedrooms.  Privacy. One for me and one for Janet, who you’ll get to meet sometime,” she grins wickedly.  “Privacy, it’s the most sought after commodity in the City for a woman….or man.  Hah!  Sit down. No, get us a couple of beers and I’ll be right back,” she cries happily, stumbling into one of the bedrooms.

I dutifully find and open two Buds.  Angie never drank, at least in my presence.  And here she is, fridge full of beer and assorted TV dinners and veggies, all looking a little brownish and haggard.

I push a small cat out of the way and sit down heavily, taking a slug of the beer, realizing that I am beyond my limit.  Setting it down next to hers on the cat-scratched coffee table, I lean back and almost fall asleep.

“Hey, wake up. Night’s still young!”

I look up and she is standing just outside her bedroom, wearing not much beyond a white nightgown or something, through which her rich little body is clearly outlined.  Sure, I’ve seen a few naked ladies, mostly in Playboy, but this is one terrific naked lady.

But, it’s Angie!  Clearly having forsaken her pedestal of old, she turns in place, the gown flying above her knees, almost revealing her lower torso for a breathless moment.  I try to stand and cannot.  Seeing my predicament, she swiftly joins me on the couch, kissing me full on the mouth.  I return the kiss with more than a little excitement mixed with some level of terror.  My God, I’m really, finally making out with Angie.  But, she’s practically naked and I still have my coat on.  Attempting to rectify that, Angie is pulling at the coat, laughing at my slow reaction to what has been offered so openly and provocatively.

“Angie, what the, wow, you are amazing.  Where’s that sweet little girls’ camp counselor with all her lofty mores? How do you…”

She plants another kiss on my mouth, while pulling one of the jacket sleeves off me. 

“Shut up and help me get you more comfortable.  Janet’s gone for the night and you have me all to yourself, Pete.  Finally, we can grow up in style, New York City style. Come here, get this stuff off!” she orders, eyes blazing.

Getting up as quickly as four hours of heavy drinking allow me, I stumble towards the apartment door.  Angie spins on the couch, eyes now shifting from gaiety and lust to sudden confusion, then brewing anger.

“Pete, you finally have me where you want me.  Pete, it’s me, Angie.  The woman you lusted for over two summers.  What’s with you?  Come back here, I want you….and you want me!”

Pulling my coat back on, I almost fall down as I reach the door.  Leaning against it, I brush the hair out of my face, realizing that I have lost some feeling in my fingers.  Wow, how much have we drunk?

“Angie, Angie.  I can’t…..not right now, not right away.  You’ve changed….it’s great, but, well, I haven’t as much…as much, I think.  Listen, I’m too drunk to even know what I’m saying.  I’ll drive home and call you tomorrow. Yeah, then come back in on Sunday and we can have lunch and take things from there.  Ok? Is that ok?”

“No, it’s not ok.  You’re crazy.  I waited for weeks for this, now that we’re out of our houses, no more rules or Sunday School classes to restrict us.  No more camp owners watching our every move. I thought you’d be all over me….most guys are.  You have the chance of a lifetime, right now.  Come here, sit down, let me kiss you. It’s all I’ve been thinking about,” she moans, leaning forward, clutching her naked knees, her full breasts luring me to her side and her promise.

“No, uh, no.  Got to go.  I think I may be sick and I don’t want to mess up your gorgeous home.  I’ll call, really.  Tomorrow.”

Unable to even go back to kiss her good night, I pull the door open and lurch out.

I hear Angie yell something, and there is the thunk of a shoe or ashtray against the closed door.

Miracle of miracles, I find my car just two blocks away. A light snow has fallen sometime earlier.  As I thankfully approach the car standing alone, lit by a nearby streetlight, I turn suddenly and throw up.  Wow, that feels better.  And then, again.  Oh, not so much better. 

Turning again towards the Mustang, I suddenly realize that it has changed color.  What had been a bright blue body and white convertible top is now a nasty, grim mixture of gray soot and dirty white snow.  Con Edison has dumped its worst on my beautiful baby, my baby.

I get in and turn the ignition key.  The twin pipes signal a noisy departure.

West is all I know and west is all I need to know as I ease my way back across the frozen tundra of Forty-Second Street, barely noticing how virginal and pure the white-tressed city streets and sidewalks look.  Stoplights are now blinking amber, so I continue my retreat, unimpeded by anything but my weary drunkenness and sodden confusion.

I hope you enjoyed these stories!

Grantham Press

©2014 by Peter G. Engler, Grantham Press