Tag Archives: Short Story

He Didn’t Want To Know

The keys made a metallic ‘clink’ when they settled into the bottom of the copper colored dish by the door, the one with the zodiac signs around the edge. He smiled. God how she hated that thing when he first brought it home. He was proud because it had only cost him 25¢ at a neighbor’s yard sale, but she sneered “You overpaid!” and threw it into the brown storage bin by the water heater in the basement. She knew he was pissed and quietly returned it to the shelf later that day with an apology and a promise of homemade lasagna for dinner.

He passed the painting in the hallway, the one with the kittens, the one that had caused a huge blowup. “I’m not putting a painting of fu**ing kittens in my hallway!” he’d shouted as he tossed the hideous thing into the back of the coat closet. The next day when he returned from golf, she wasn’t around. Normally she’d come out and say hello to his buddies. He assumed she was out for the afternoon with her friend. After the guys left, he went upstairs to change and found her curled up in a ball on the bed hugging the painting, eyes red from crying. Although he put the painting back up ‘in our house’ that same afternoon, she didn’t speak civilly to him for the rest of that weekend.

Sometimes their relationship was unbelievably light and fun. The bike rides down to Benson’s Pond, lunches at the little bistro over on 18th St, the water fight at the fountain by the swing set in the park, fall trips to her cousin’s house on the lake… those had all been amazing times. Lots of evenings spent laughing together at shitty reality TV, Sunday mornings sharing a quiet breakfast on the porch…. hundreds of times just like those.

There were also long dark days of not speaking. Little red hot verbal jabs meant to leave a mark. Sleeping in the same bed but feeling a million miles apart. Trying to share their lives under a wet blanket of past hurts and abuse that made starting out together with a clean slate next to impossible.

For the past few years, his mind shift would shift one way (it’s worth it) then the other (this sucks). Like Lady Justice trying to balance her scales on the deck of a rolling ship. What to do, what to think? Was he expecting too much or not enough? He’d never discuss something like this with anyone. His personal life was no one else’s business and besides – he would never throw her under the bus like that. For better or worse is what he’d said and he meant to honor that promise.

Some days the dilemma would weigh heavy, but other days he wouldn’t think about it at all. This had gone on in his head for years – his own mental tennis match. Back and forth. Back and forth. Not long ago, after a couple glasses of wine on a quiet Friday evening they had a very frank discussion, one of the deepest talks they’d ever had. He admitted to her his feelings of loneliness, emptiness, uncertainty. She confessed to boredom, admitted to a lack of enthusiasm for their relationship. She also mentioned casual lunches with a work colleague that were becoming longer and more frequent than they probably should.

Oddly there had been no anger in either of their voices, no crying, no screaming. Just truth in all its raw essence. They had agreed to use the following week to think more, put thoughts on paper and decide which way this was heading. Could it be fixed? Was it over? They both agreed that they just didn’t know, but they promised to write each other a letter.

——-

He lit a fire, poured a bourbon and pulled his recliner close to the fireplace. For the 452nd time, he pulled her envelope from his pocket. For him, dinnertime had become something other people do. Work – drink – sleep – repeat. This was his life now. A life filled with reflection, sadness, guilt…. and most sickeningly of all…. relief.

It was a Monday morning when she’d handed him her envelope. With a Mona Lisa smile, she accepted his. After a quick peck on the cheek and a longer than usual hug, they were both out the door. The craziest of days at work had prevented him from having even one second of free time that day. Now he slumped in the recliner and turned the unopened envelope back and forth, over and around just as he’d done every night for the past three weeks. What if he’d just stopped for coffee that morning and read the damn letter? Would anything be different?

The contents inside were still a mystery to him. A separate but equally haunting question hammered his brain. Had she read what he’d written?

The accident report stated she was just starting to move when the other driver blew through the light, swerved to miss a school bus and hit her head on. The officers tried to comfort him by saying that her end came instantly. The explosion was simply the aftermath of a horrible event.

He finished his third bourbon, leaned forward and threw the envelope into the fireplace.

He didn’t want to know.

© Doug Fish, 2014

Now You Eat!

My Grandma ‘Nana’ was never one to simply put a plate of food on the table. Part of her joy came from explaining the food – what it was, where it came from, how it was prepared. She felt one should always appreciate the ‘provenance’ of a dish. With a tempting little plate of heaven mere inches from my face, Nana would remind me “Not yet!”

During family dinners, we were never allowed to “dig in”. I have vivid memories of mouth watering dishes releasing their aromas to taunt me as Nana would point out the color of the fresh tomatoes and the method for sauteing the onions that comprised the sauce we were about to enjoy.

Cheese Manicotti by RickAt the time, it could be pure torture. (After hours out in the sun on the school playground next to Nana’s house, I was starving!) But as I grew older, I began to appreciate her love for food and her passion for sharing that knowledge. Once she was satisfied that we recognized the beauty and wonder of the food she had put before us, Nana would deliver her signature phrase…

“Now You Eat!”

——–

Nana was an Italian teenager who fled Europe with a handsome young French baker (my Grandpa, or ‘Papa’ as we called him) two weeks before Hitler invaded Poland in 1939. The young couple arrived in St. Louis and stayed (in separate rooms, of course) with a shirt-tail cousin of my Papa until they married at City Hall in April, 1940.

The newlyweds moved into a rented apartment near Tower Grove Park with their one (and only) wedding gift from Papa’s cousin – a brand new stainless steel colander. Nana could not pronounce the word and always referred to it as her “macaroni stay – water go away bowl”

70 years later, I still have that colander. I use it regularly too.

Amused by the couple’s mixed heritage, neighbors called her “Bello Nana”, Italian for beautiful and French for girl. Being newcomers in a strange land, they connected with others and scratched out a living the only way they knew – through food.

My Papa “Frenchy” was an enterprising sort who landed a job at a nearby saloon soon after arriving in St. Louis. The owner was a frugal Scotsman who paid Papa a slave’s wage to clean, scrub and polish from 1am until 10am. Since Papa worked alone, he decided to put the fireplace in the saloon to good use – he baked while he cleaned.

At 7am every morning, Papa would open the back door and put an empty beer crate at the side of the steps. This was the signal for Nana (who walked their dog at 7am) to come and pick up what he had baked during the night.

My Nana would carry the baked goods home and create the beautiful baskets she would sell that day. By 9am, she was out the door, visiting neighborhood restaurants. She would pull a little red wagon filled with baskets of fresh bread, croissants, pastries, and bottles of her famous “basement Chianti”. Being unfamiliar with the language, she would communicate in ways that didn’t require words.

Fresh Baked Bread by Pen Waggener

She would knock politely on a restaurant’s door and say “Boss please”. The boss would return to see a beautiful dark haired Italian girl with a bright smile and a basket of aromatic treats. She would point to the nearest table and make a motion to suggest that the owner take a seat. Quickly she would lay out a cloth and display a small sample of the day’s baked goods. Inevitably the owner would reach for a taste, but Nana would quickly intercept, gently moving his hand away while saying sweetly “Not Yet!”

With a flourish she would pour a small sample of her ‘basement Chianti” and recite the pitch Papa’s cousin had taught her….

“My husband make the BEST bread and I make the BEST wine. Your customers will like very much. I sell you basket of bread, bottle of wine for $3. You sell for much more – everybody happy!” She would smile and wink. “Now you eat!”

My Nana was a master of the ‘close’. She would stand quietly with her hands crossed behind her back until every morsel was gone. She would never speak first. Without fail, the owner would make a positive comment about what he had just tasted. Only then would Nana would seal the deal…

“You a smart, honest man with good taste! I leave basket and wine – you pay me tomorrow!”

At that, Nana would gather her things and leave, knowing full well she would return the next day to collect her money (plus a tip!) and make another sale.

© Doug Fish, 2013

I Do…. Again!

A year or so after we met, the man who many thought would remain a bachelor forever (yours truly) got down on one knee and asked D.O.D. to be his wife. Amazingly, she agreed! We weren’t much for the traditional white church wedding scene, so we went to Sanibel Island and got married on the beach.

IMG_0252We booked an entire ‘resort’ for our family and friends – six 1950’s style bungalows on a quiet street that dead ends at the beach. We’d play in the sun and swim in the ocean all day. In the evening, we’d all gather to toast the sunset from a little wooden deck that overlooked the ocean.

The property owners couldn’t have been nicer. They decorated the wooden deck, arranged for a local minister to perform a sunset wedding ceremony, and prepared a huge wedding feast for us. We had a grand time! We still stay in touch with the owners and have visited several times since. We consider them our friends… and that leads to the story of the surprise letter.

When we saw the postmark, we knew it was from our Sanibel friends. We anticipated one of their usual “How ya doin’, here’s what’s up with us, when you comin’ down again?” letters, but when D.O.D. opened the letter she shrieked. “You have GOT to be freakin’ kidding me!!!”

Long story short – the minister who performed our ceremony on Sanibel was a phony! He bilked dozens of people out of thousands of dollars through various fraudulent schemes during his eight months on the island. Among other things, it was discovered that all the marriages he performed during that time weren’t legal. The marriage certificates looked authentic enough, but it turns out he printed them on his home computer and pocketed the marriage license fees. So… according to the letter (and the State of Florida) D.O.D. and I weren’t legally married!

Augustus by tiffa130Our Sanibel friends were devastated. They insisted on paying for another wedding and were so completely embarrassed they could hardly stand it. D.O.D. and me? We though it was hysterical.

In order to put the minds of our friends at ease, we made them a deal. They had been talking for years about visiting Las Vegas, so that Fall the four of us flew out, checked into Caesar’s Palace and we said our “I Do’s”…. again. Out friends served as the Maid of Honor and Best Man and we had an incredibly fun weekend. They wanted to pay for the ceremony and the marriage license, but D.O.D. insisted on taking care of the details herself. She said she wasn’t leaving anything to chance the second time around!

© Doug Fish, 2008

Why They Call Me Captain Dan

I got the nickname “Captain Dan” from my Uncle J.T. He served 25 years in the Navy then retired to a second career as a charter captain at Fishtail Marina in Ft. Myers, FL. He was the kind of guy every kid loves – bigger than life with a laugh like a foghorn, 6’2″, almost 230lbs, bald headed with a big white beard.

He had only three fingers on his left hand. When he was a boy, he and his brother were chopping wood. Uncle J.T. sat down to rest and his brother told him to get back to work. Uncle J.T. refused. His brother said “You better get back to work or I’m gonna chop your damn hand off.” Uncle J.T refused again, so his brother swung the ax. Got the last two fingers. Uncle J.T. would always say “He had my whole hand to swing at and only got two fingers – what a sissy!”

Some of his friends at the marina called him “Lucky”.Fish Tail Marina

Every year on the day after Christmas when I was a kid, my parents would pack our big maroon van and we’d head to Florida. We’d get settled in our rented condo at the beach and then head over to the marina to see Uncle J.T.

The reason I liked Uncle J.T. so much was because he treated me like an adult. He listened to my stories and didn’t tell me what to do. He let me learn from my mistakes. I’ve still got a scar from where I burned my hand on his boat motor. Rather than TELL me not to touch it, he let me learn for myself.

One thing Uncle J.T. would NOT let me do was drive his boat. He made it very clear driving the boat was off limits until I turned 13 – no exceptions. He taught me the rules of the water, how to care for the boat, and how to read the weather, but driving would have to wait.

Things changed when I turned 12….

———-

The Christmas I was 12, I could tell something was not quite right with Uncle J.T. When we got to Florida that year, he was thinner and seemed tired. He and Mom & Dad had several hushed conversations when I was supposed to be asleep. I couldn’t make out exactly what was being said, but I remember hearing Mom talking about good doctors in St. Louis and Dad telling J.T. that he could stay with us.

On the day before we were to head back to St. Louis, Uncle J.T. told me to be ready to go with him at 5:30am. Instead of the pickup truck, he rode over to pick me up on his Harley. Normally my Mom wouldn’t allow me on his motorcycle, but she was still asleep. So… we got away with one that day!

It was a glorious early Florida morning – beautiful sunshine, calm seas, squawking seagulls, and crisp ocean air. I figured we would be going for our normal spin around Estero bay, maybe do a little fishing.

We parked the Harley and headed for the docks. As we rounded the corner, I stopped dead in my tracks. There on the deck of the marina’s restaurant were all of Uncle J.T.’s buddies lined up neatly in a row. They were holding big box with a bow and a lighted birthday cake. The started to sing happy birthday to….. Danny?

Me??? My 13th birthday wasn’t until April.

Uncle J.T. leaned down to me “I know it’s not April kid – just go with it, okay?” I took Uncle J.T.’s advice and went with the flow. I didn’t have to fake being surprised. Just seeing his buddies awake and sober at 6am on a Sunday morning was surprise enough. I hadn’t expected any of it, that’s for sure.

Pete the cook put down his cigarette and handed me the box. “Here you go, kid. Happy Birthday!” Everyone applauded and watched as I opened the box. Inside was a genuine Fishtail Marina Captain’s shirt with my name “Captain Dan” embroidered on the left breast pocket.

I put on the shirt. They handed me a plate of birthday cake and took my picture. Some of the waitresses commented how handsome I looked. We finished our little party and I thanked them all, moving from person to person, looking them in the eye and shaking each hand firmly just like Uncle J.T. had taught me. I noticed the glimmer of a tear in a few eyes. All I could figure is that they were getting sentimental because I was growing up.

———-

“Let’s go kid!” my Uncle bellowed. We grabbed a bag of ice and headed for the boat. Normally, Uncle J.T. would lead the way down the ramp to the dock. This was his unwritten rule – he believed it was a sign of respect to allow the Captain to board the vessel first.

That day, Uncle J.T. stopped at the step to the ramp. “Open your shirt pocket, kid”. I reached down, unzipped the new shirt’s pocket, and found a key to Uncle J.T.’s boat. “You’re driving today, kid”. He stepped aside and waved his hand with a grand flourish, inviting me to take my first walk down to the dock as the Captain!

Before I could even stammer out all the questions swirling in my brain, Uncle J.T. spoke. “Kid, I know you’re not 13 until April, but I want you to drive the boat today. I’m probably going on a long trip in April and I’d hate to miss this moment.” The significance of his words were lost on me – I was simply thrilled to be able to drive the boat!

Mantanzas We had a magnificent day. First he let me navigate under the Matanzas Pass Bridge & around Bowditch Park. We cruised south for awhile, following the beach toward Lover’s Key. When we stopped for a picnic lunch, Uncle J.T. spotted a group of three college girls in bikinis. He walked right up and introduced me as his attorney. That made them laugh, so he invited them to join us for lunch. “Always make ’em laugh kid – that way you’ll never be lonely”.

We had a leisurely lunch with the girls and then took them on a boat ride to see the dolphins – with ME at the wheel! We said our goodbyes and one of the girls gave me a kiss on the cheek! My first kiss from a 20 year old woman and my first time to drive the boat – ALL ON THE SAME DAY!

That afternoon, we fished near the Big Carlos Pass and then headed back to Bowditch Park where we anchored to watch the sun set.

With his feet kicked up on the bow rail and his hands behind his head, Uncle J.T. said “It don’t get much better than this, huh kid?”

“No sir – it’s been a great day”. It truly had been a great day.

“Remember kid – don’t ever let the bastards get you down. You can always end your day like this and just forget about the bullshit”. The sunset over Sanibel Island was beautiful that evening.

It was also the last time I ever saw Uncle J.T.

————–

Even though it’s been almost 30 years, I still remember the day vividly – Wednesday, March 22, 1978. I was excited to come home and tell my parents about the two doubles and a bunt single I had on the first day of junior high baseball. I knew something was up when they met me at the door.

“Danny, your Uncle J.T. passed away yesterday”

Their words hit me like a line drive in the temple. Why? How? NO!!!!

They explained his tiredness, his not feeling well, the tests, the diagnosis.

“He sent this for you, Danny” They handed me a thick manilla envelope.

————

I poured the contents of the envelope on the desk in my room. The letter read….

March 8, 1978

“Dear Captain Dan,

Well, it looks like the sun is getting ready to set on my life. I knew back in December this cancer thing was gonna kick my ass, and that’s why you got to drive the boat a few months early. We had a day didn’t we? And how’s about those bikini gals? Whoa!

Danny, I want you to know how proud I am of you. You’re a good kid and you never gave your parents no troubles. Keep it that way! I always looked forward to your visits. I hope you enjoyed them as much as I did.

I know my time is runnin’ out and I ain’t much for doctors and hospitals and all that mess. I always wanted to see The Baths, so’s I’m leaving in a few days with Pete and taking the boat to Virgin Gorda. I figure we’ll drink a few Mojitos and I’ll call it a day. Hopefully Pete won’t be too damn drunk to get the boat back safe!

Before I go, I wanted to write you this letter and leave you a few things.

* Here’s the keys to the Harley. It’s waiting in Pete’s garage. You can’t have it until you’re 21 as your mother would kill me. But I’ll be gone way before then anyways, so’s it won’t matter! (Ha ha ha!)

* Here’s my collection of 1964 Cardinals baseball cards. That was the greatest Cardinal team ever and I don’t give a damn what Pete says.

* My journal. Some of it’s true and some of it’s bullshit, but it’ll make for a good way to pass a few minutes when you ain’t got much else to do.

* Finally, here is your genuine Coast Guard 6 Pack Captain’s license. I know you didn’t take the test, but I figure I taught you everything you need to know. I had a friend in high places who owed me a favor, so’s we “bent” the rules a little.

There it is Captain Dan – the final entry into the last chapter of a life well lived. I’m goin’ out happy Danny boy and they can’t NEVER take that away from me!!

Best wishes and always remember

1. Make ’em laugh so’s you’ll never be lonely
2. Don’t ever let the bastards get you down.
3. End your day with a stiff drink at sunset to forget about the bullshit.

Cheers!

With love, Uncle J.T.”

———–

Sunset Two weeks after Uncle J.T. wrote that letter, he passed away. They were anchored in Virgin Gorda and had spent the previous two days at The Baths. Pete said they got back to the boat and spent the evening cooking black beans, rice and fresh fish, drinking Mojitos, and watching an incredible orange sunset. Pete said when he turned in about 9pm, Uncle J.T. was sitting on the deck with his feet on the bow rail humming an old Grateful Dead tune. When he woke up the next morning, Uncle J.T.’s body was in the same place with a half full Mojito in his hand and a peaceful smile on his face.

“Helluva good way to go” Pete said.

Can’t say that I disagree.

———–

I’ve still got the box around here somewhere with the letter, the journal, the key, the baseball cards, the Coast Guard license, and my Fishtail Marina Captain’s outfit. Never did get to ride the Harley – Pete sold it when he needed “rent” money.

Every now & then when I’m feeling down I’ll open Uncle J.T.’s journal and read a few entries. I have no way to know if it’s fact or fiction, but it really doesn’t matter. It’s the story of a life well lived and the story of a man who died happy. How many people are lucky enough to be able to say that?

I suppose I call myself “Captain Dan” as a way to honor my Uncle J.T. He was rough around the edges, but he was a good man. He treated me well. Most of all, I admire the way he lived his life.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go mix a Mojito and watch the sun set.

© Doug Fish, 2007

Don’t Just Do Something… Sit There!

“Oh my – look at that blue sky. Today’s gonna be a GOOD day! Drink coffee do ya?”

“Uh… yeah. That would be great. Thanks.”

I had just sat down to try out the Adirondack Chair in front of a woodworking shop by the Missouri River when a wiry man in his 80’s came around the corner with a steaming mug in each hand.

Autumn Perspective by Randy OHC

He handed me one of the mugs and stuck out his right hand. “The name’s Roy. I own this place. Your timing’s good today – I always take my morning coffee about now. Always nice to have a visitor.” He was dressed in traditional brown carpenter overalls. When he shook my hand, I was struck by the strength of his grip. “So what brings ya down to this bend in the river?”

I explained I had taken a long weekend to relax and enjoy the Fall colors. I was strolling along the river when I noticed the chair in front of his shop and decided to have a look.

He smiled. “That’s good. Seems nowadays people your age don’t take enough time to just enjoy bein’ alive. Everybody wants the fancy cars and the big houses, but life passes ’em by while they’re earnin’ that big pile of dough. Nice to see somebody smellin’ the roses!”

We chatted for a time and then sat quietly for awhile, sipping the hot coffee and enjoying the view. A slight breeze shook the gold and orange leaves that still hung in the branches above his workshop. Off in the distance a train whistle blew.

“Hear that whistle? That’s the Kansas City Mule. Runs everyday between St. Louis and Kansas City. Gets here ’bout 10:30 every mornin’. ‘Bout an hour from now, my buddy Jones will stop by and we’ll head to lunch. Yessir it’s gonna be GOOD day because I believe it’s his turn to buy!”

He chuckled to himself, took a final sip of coffee and stood up. “Stay there for a minute young fella – I got somethin’ to give ya.”

I relaxed in the chair. Roy’s dog came out to investigate so I scratched him behind the ears. I noticed the mouthwatering aromas coming from the diner up the hill so I made a mental note to stop there for lunch. Roy returned with a piece of paper in his hand.

“This here sheet tells ya everything ya need to know about that chair you’re sittin’ in – size, type of wood, price… everything. I even box ’em up and ship ’em if that’s what somebody wants. Understand now… I’m not trying to hard sell ya. God willing I’ll be here again tomorrow whether you buy a chair or not.”

Roy turned the sheet over and pointed with a crooked and callused finger. “Here’s what I really want ya to see. Most people don’t get it but I believe you will. Got that feelin’ about ya. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’d best get back to work. I’m havin’ a GOOD day in the shop and I wanna keep it rollin’!” Roy shook my hand, patted my shoulder, wished me well… and off he went with a purposeful stride.

Here’s what was written on the back of the sheet…

“This chair was built with love by an old carpenter named Roy. I’ve seen a lot of things in my time, visited a lot of amazing places and met a lot of nice people. I may be old, but I’ve learned a few important things along the way…

  • If you can’t appreciate what you have, why do you need more?
  • Enjoy the journey just in case the destination changes.
  • Every day above ground is a good day!

Most of all, as the owner of this beautiful new chair, take my advice…

Don’t just do something – Sit There!

Enjoy!

Sincerely, Roy the Carpenter

© Doug Fish, 2009