Category Archives: Short Story

Mr. Darcy Meets Elizabeth Bennet

Although I have never read Pride and Prejudice, long ago I discovered the importance of knowing something about Jane Austen and her novels.  I enjoy conversations with intelligent women, and I know that there is no better way to a lady’s mind than through Jane Austen.  That lovely lady that a man wishes to know may have little, if any, interest in her admirer.  But he need only mention Jane Austen or one of the characters in one of her novels, especially Mr. Darcy, and immediately she is interested.

Consider this hypothetical scene: 

A very attractive, young, professional lady is sitting alone at a curbside table in front of a coffee shop.  She is sipping a latté and reading a paperback book.

A young man, also professional looking, exits the coffee shop, cup in hand.  He sees the young lady and is immediately interested in meeting her.  He walks over to her table.

 “Excuse me.  Do you mind if I share your table?”

The young lady of interest glances up.

“No.  I don’t mind.”  She goes back to reading as if he wasn’t there.

The young man sits down.  He looks this way and that, and then bends his head to see what she is reading.  She looks over the top of her glasses at him.  The look in her eyes tells him that she is irritated, but also interested, or maybe only puzzled.

 “I’m very sorry.  I did not mean to be rude.  I enjoy reading and … ” he pauses long enough to notice that she was smiling.  He smiles and continues.  “My name is Darcy, Fitzwilliam Darcy.”

The young lady laughs.

“And I am Elizabeth Bennet, I presume?”

He smiles, a smile of cautious triumph, then continues.  “I was curious about what you were reading.  It was rude of me.  Please accept my apology.”

Without saying anything, she slowly places the book on the table, cover down. 

Smiling, she looks at him and says, “Guess!”

Recognizing that he has hit the ball and made it to first base, he decides to try for second.

Pride and Prejudice?” he asks with a grin.

Still with her hand on the book, its cover still hidden from view, she asks:  “Do you use this line often?”

“Line?” he asks.

“Yes.”

“Ahh, well.”  He appears to be searching for the right answer, something that will keep the door open.”

She comes to his rescue, perhaps not wanting to scare him off. 

“Poor dear,” she says in a sympathetic, yet sweet tone, “you are trying to decide if you should continue with the Jane Austen approach, believing that every female is wandering around in a romantic make believe world created by Jane Austen, just waiting for the handsome and charming Mr. Darcy to rescue her, or if you should try a different approach.”

He is unable to speak.  He is confused.   He struggles to assess his situation.  Has he tripped on his way to second base, or has he passed second and on his way to third?

Smiling she continues, “Shall I help you?”

“Please do,” he answers in a somewhat pleading tone.  “I fear that I have forgotten my lines and am in danger of being ushered off the stage.”

“On the contrary, Mr. Darcy, I have not been so amused since, well, I don’t know when.”

Feeling confident that he has just made it to third base, he decides to try for home.  “Shall we continue our discussion over dinner?”

“Dinner?” she asked as if shocked by his boldness, but obviously not.  “Why sir, we have not been properly introduced.”

She rises, picks up the book without letting him see the cover, and begins to walk off.

He is left sitting, wondering what is happening.  Then she stops, turns and says with a smile, “I have coffee here every afternoon at this time, Mr. Darcy.”

His eyes continue to follow her until she disappears.  He takes a sip of coffee, smiles to himself and says, “Until tomorrow, Elizabeth.”

Until next time, be good, do good, and always live under the mercy. 

 

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Stories My Mother Would Tell “Uncle Roy and Aunt Ruby”

“She sold her soul to the Devil for a Cadillac.”

“Who sold her soul to the Devil?” I asked.

“Aunt Ruby.”

When she was in her mid-nineties, my mother and I would spend time together at the kitchen table having coffee and cookies.  Mother would often reminisce about her past life, and her recollections could be both humorous and informative, especially when she was telling stories about her long-departed relatives.  As long as the coffee and cookies lasted, she would relate stories about who was who, or who did what, or who was said to have done whatever it was that she remembered from that particular chapter of her family’s history. 

Aunt Ruby was one of mother’s aunts. 

“Did I ever meet Aunt Ruby?” I asked.

“Oh, yes.  She came to your sister Rosemary’s wedding, when she married Bernnie.”

“Yes, I think I remember her.  She must have been the one who looked like a saloon woman out of one of those old black and white westerns.  She was kind of, well, different.”

Mother leaned back in her chair and laughed.  “Different?  I’ll say she was different.”

She dipped a cookie in her coffee, took a bite, and continued.

“Everyone said that she married Uncle Roy for his money, but I don’t know.  I think maybe she did love him.”

“Did Uncle Roy have a lot of money?” I asked.

“Oh, yes, but not as much as everyone liked to think.”

I heard about Uncle Roy many times while growing up, but never met him.  Like many of my mother’s family, he was a character. 

“How did he make his money?” I asked.

Mother took another sip of coffee and set the cup down on the table.  She paused for a few moments, then got a serious look on her face, like she was about to say something very important.

“Roy would hypnotize people who were going to have a long operation.  He was paid well for that, but that isn’t where he made most of his money.”

I had heard many stories about Uncle Roy, but I did not mind hearing them told again.  There was always the chance that I would learn something new.  Even if I didn’t, a good story is always a good story.

“I heard that he was a fortune teller, and that’s where he made his money.” 

Mother laughed the sort of laugh that said she considered fortune telling a bunch of nonsense, and those who fell for such nonsense, just plain “goofy.”

 “Uncle Roy,” she continued, “was run out of Detroit by the police.”

“Really?” I asked.  “Why?”

“He was a crook,” she replied in a tone that said I was asking a dumb question.  Her assessment of Uncle Roy was based upon common sense logic.  All fortune tellers are crooks.  Uncle Roy was a fortune teller.  Therefore, Uncle Roy was a crook. 

“Wasn’t he more than just a hypnotist and fortune teller?”

I asked the question because I knew from stories other members of mother’s family told that there was a lot more to Uncle Roy, and some of it was downright scary. 

She sipped a little more coffee. “Uncle Roy worshipped the devil.”

“I heard that he was a spiritualist,” I said. 

She continued:  “I don’t know whether he was a spiritualist, whatever that is, but I do know that everyone was nervous around him.  They said that Roy could read minds.  He knew what you were thinking.  You had to be careful of what you were thinking if he was in the room.”

Like I said, I had heard all of this before, and not just from my mother.

One evening, right after I graduated from college, I attended a family gathering at the home of Uncle Joe and Aunt June.  “Aunt Junie” was one of Mother’s two sisters.

As I remember, we were all seated in the living room eating ice cream. Uncle Joe finished his, and then set the bowl on the floor for his dog to lick clean.

Someone mentioned Uncle Roy and immediately the conversation took a new and much more interesting direction.  Uncle Joe began to tell of a night he spent with Roy.

“I was never so scared in all of my life,” he began.  “Roy just sat at the dining room table, staring into a plate full of blood. “

“Blood?” someone asked. 

“That’s right, blood.”

“But why blood?”

“I don’t know.  I guess he was meditating.  Or maybe he was calling up demons, or something worse.”

No one had to ask what he meant by “worse.”  We all conjured up images of a séance complete with spooky sounds and ghostlike voices.

“He could make the window shades go up and down and the doors open and shut.  There were all sorts of weird sounds all over the house.”

Uncle Joe had our undivided attention.  Everyone just sat there starring at him, anxious for more.  It was so quiet you could hear a pin drop.

“I’m not easily frightened,” he said, “but I don’t mind admitting I was scared shitless.  I didn’t know if I would make it to morning, or if maybe a demon or the Devil himself would get me.”

Uncle Roy and Aunt Ruby both passed on many years ago.  Whether they caught a ride in a chariot to higher ground or on a subway to deeper realms is anyone’s guess. 

Uncle Joe did survive, and his story of that night alone with Uncle Roy became part of family history.

Uncle Roy and Aunt Ruby were not the only members of mother’s extended family about whom many stories are told.  There was also Uncle Ed and Aunt Lola.  I always wondered why that other man we called Uncle Chuck lived with them.  Then one day while we were having coffee and cookies, I asked mother.

Until next time, be good to all God’s creatures, and always live under the mercy.

Copyright 2013

Sherlock Holmes and the Mysterious Parcel

English: Sherlock Holmes (r) and Dr. John B. W...

Sherlock Holmes and the Mysterious Parcel

By

Dr. John Watson*

Sherlock Holmes’ reputation as the greatest sleuth of our time was such that there was never a lack of those who sought his help.  The variety of cases brought to him was as varied as crime itself.  It was more the challenge a particular case presented than the case itself that compelled his interest.

Not every case that Holmes took on during my years sharing lodgings with him at 221B Baker Street involved crime.  Indeed, many of the more memorable cases which I witnessed, and dare I say, to which I contributed my own expertise, had nothing at all to do with a criminal act.  One example was what I call “the case of the mysterious parcel.”

It was the evening of the 20th of April, 1890.  I arrived back from Greatham, where I visited Lord and Lady Marshall.  His Lordship and I served together in India.  My visit provided an opportunity to recall shared adventures in one of the most enchanting corners of our empire.  We shared a bottle of sherry and filled the air with the sweet aroma of some of the finest Cavendish that ever filled the bowl of a pipe.

The return trip to London was uneventful.  I arrived at Paddington Station just before 6:00 p.m., and immediately took a hansom cab to Baker Street.  

Mrs. Hudson greeted me as I entered.

“I am most delighted to see you’ve returned, Dr. Watson.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Hudson.  As they say, ‘there is no place like home.’”

Mrs. Hudson appeared to be somewhat upset.  She was rubbing her hands together, and there was a definite look of concern, if not worry, in her face.

“Is something bothering you, Mrs. Hudson,” I inquired out of genuine concern.

“It’s Mr. Holmes, Dr. Watson.  He’s been up there all afternoon playing the violin,” she paused, then continued, “ever since the package arrived.”

“What package?” I asked.

“I am sorry, Doctor,” she replied.  “I must explain, of course.” 

Mrs. Hudson was obviously concerned about Holmes.  She moved about wringing her hands together.  She stopped, looked at me and began to explain what was troubling her.

“It was midday.  I was about to take tea up to Mr. Holmes, just as I always do, when I heard someone knock on the door.  When I opened the door, a very distinguished young gentleman was standing there with a package.  He tipped his hat, bowed his head, and asked if I was Mrs. Hudson.”

“Yes,” I replied.

“He then held out the package and asked that I deliver it to Mr. Holmes.  I said that I would.  The gentleman thanked me, and once again tipped his hat, bowed his head, smiled, and then turned and climbed into a waiting cab.”

“And that was unusual?” I asked.

“Well, not at first,” she replied, and then continued.

“I felt right off that there was something different, strange even, about the package.”

“Strange you say?”

“Yes.  You see, Dr. Watson, it appeared to be wrapped very carefully in plain brown wrapping paper and tied with a string; I mean a kind of twine, a tan twine.”

“Are not most packages wrapped in brown paper and tied with string, or as you say about this package, tan twine?”

I admit that I was having some difficulty understanding why Mrs. Hudson seemed to be so troubled by this particular package. 

I continued:  “There must have been something odd about the package, or the gentleman who delivered it, that has caused you such concern.  Please, tell me more.”

“I’m not sure there was anything really unusual.  Like you say, Dr. Watson, packages do arrive from time to time for Mr. Holmes, or yourself.”  She paused, as if trying to reconstruct the whole episode from memory.  She looked straight at me and continued in a low voice as if wanting to be sure that she would not be overheard by someone other than me.

“Perhaps it was Mr. Holmes’ reaction, when I took the package up to him with the afternoon tea.”

“His reaction?” I asked, “What sort of reaction?”

“Like I said earlier, Mr. Holmes was playing the violin when I reached the top of the stairs and knocked on the door.  He answered that I should enter, and I did.”

“Continue.”

“I placed the tray with the tea and the package on the side table next to his favorite chair.  It was a small package, you see, so it fit easily on the tray with the tea.  I told him that there was a package for him.  As I turned to leave, he began to . . .  Well, you know how Mr. Holmes can be at times, rather peculiar I say?”

“Yes, of course,” I replied.  “He no doubt told you in great detail not only how the young messenger was dressed, but also described the cab and cabbie.”

“Oh, yes sir.  It is rather uncanny at times how Mr. Holmes can see so much more than the rest of us.  Do you suppose it is, as he likes to say, mere logic, or,” she smiled, “something more, some sixth sense?’

“Humph,” I replied.  “I think it more likely that Mr. Holmes was looking out of the front window when the cab with the gentleman and package arrived.  Logic?  Yes, but nothing more.”

“I’m not so sure,” replied Mrs. Hudson.

“I grant you that Mr. Holmes can be rather awe-inspiring with his, as he calls them, deductions, but you must remember Mrs. Hudson,” and I smiled and winked, “Holmes is not that different than you or I.”

After bidding Mrs. Hudson good night, I ascended the stairs to our rooms.

When I entered, I immediately observed Holmes sitting in his chair, staring straight ahead as if deep in thought.  The mysterious package was sitting on the end table beside the chair just where Mrs. Hudson placed it, still unopened.

“Mrs. Hudson filled you in, I assume?”

“Filled me in?  Filled me in about what?” I asked.

“The events of the afternoon,” Holmes answered. 

“Yes, she did mention something to that effect.”

“Something?” Holmes replied.  “I am quite sure Mrs. Hudson recounted all that she remembered, and then some.”

“I notice you haven’t opened the package.”  Of course, I was merely stating an obvious fact, but I did so in a tone that would elicit a response.

“It isn’t necessary, Watson.  Opening the package would confirm what can be deduced from a careful examination of the package, itself.”

I had no doubt that Holmes was able to do just that, but I knew also that to say nothing, was not what he expected.  We were playing a game, one which began when I entered the room.  Holmes made the first move when he commented on Mrs. Hudson’s habit of keeping me informed about his every move when I was absent. 

We both understood that Mrs. Hudson was not prying.  That was something beneath a woman of her character.  No.  She did so in the hope that my response might shed a little light on what she liked to refer to as “the most peculiar and interesting gentleman I have ever let rooms to.”

I said no more and neither did Holmes. 

Only moments later, there was a knock on the door.  Mrs. Hudson appeared, carrying a much appreciated tray with tea and biscuits.  She never failed to bring refreshments when either of us returned from a long journey.

Holmes did not acknowledge her presence.  That was not in itself unusual.  He could be the very model of a gentleman towards Mrs. Hudson.  At other times, when he was preoccupied, it seemed that not even an earthquake would disturb his train of thought.

Mrs. Hudson said nothing.  She paused, looked at Holmes, and then gave me the usual look that said she understood.

I poured myself a cup of tea, and then sat down to read the evening paper.  The minutes ticked by.  Finally, I could stand the stress no longer.  I quickly folded the newspaper in my lap. 

“Holmes!”  I said, in an obviously frustrated voice.

“Watson.”  He replied, “Something must be troubling you.”

“You know exactly what is bothering me,” I answered.  “Would you please open the package?”

Holmes rose from his chair and slowly walked across the room.  He picked up the package from the end table.  He turned the package in his hands as if examining it, as I became more anxious.  It was his move, and he was relishing every moment.

“The ordinary individual would look at this package and see only a very ordinary package.  He would deduce nothing.”

Holmes did not mean to belittle me.  I was well aware of his respect for my own ability to deduce a conclusion from careful observation of the problem put before me.

“As a medical doctor trained to diagnose an illness from a set of often baffling symptoms, I would expect nothing less than a keen sense of observation from you,” he often said to me.  It was his indirect way of complimenting me without having to display any human emotion.

“I, on the other hand,” he continued, “see a great deal.”

He sat down in the chair opposite me and in his usual manner began to explain.

“First consider the wrapping paper.  It is no ordinary brown wrapping paper.  It is too thin and too crisp.  And look closer, Watson.  Notice the tiny hair-like fibers in the paper.  No.  This not the sort of paper one might purchase in the local stationary shop to wrap packages in.  If we were to hold it up to the light, I am sure we would see a water mark in the paper.”

Holmes continued.  “You and Mrs. Hudson are both correct in identifying the twine in which the package is wrapped.  It is made of hemp, very fine hemp, twisted to form a very high quality of twine.  And look carefully at the ink.  Again, it is not the ordinary black ink used for such a utilitarian purpose.  No.  This is a fine black India ink.”

Holmes sat silently staring at the package.  After what must have been a couple of minutes, he handed the package to me.

“Go ahead, Watson.  Open it.”

I began slowly to remove the wrapping.  Once the package was unwrapped, I glanced up at my friend.  Holmes was staring at what was now only a small box.  There was no sign of emotion or anticipation on his face, only a blank stare.

I opened the box and looked in.  The only contents, other than tissue paper, were a postcard and a folded note.  The postcard was of an inn with white capped mountains in the background.  Judging from the architecture of the inn and the snowcapped mountains, I felt safe in concluding that the location was either in Switzerland or Austria.

I handed the folded note to Holmes.  He read it, then carefully folded it and laid it on the end table.  Without saying anything, he crossed room, picked up his violin and began playing a soft tune, as if remembering a special moment in the past.

I picked up the note and read it.  Written in a very beautiful cursive by a feminine hand was the simple message:  “Happy anniversary.  Irene.”

*a.k.a., Paul R. Waibel

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night

“It was a dark and stormy night.”

I typed that line at the top of the page. Then I leaned back in my chair and just stared, stared at the sheet of white paper peeking out from the top of the typewriter, mocking me.

“’It was a dark and stormy night.’ Is that all you can think of? How about a flash of lightning followed by a slow roll of thunder across the dark sky, wind blowing through the trees, the rattle of windows, the sound of rain hitting the roof, yes, lots and lots of rain?”

I tore the page from the typewriter in frustration and anger, crushed it into a ball and tossed it in the direction of the waste basket. It hit the wall and bounced off, missing its target to join the many other wads of paper scattered about. I reached for a clean sheet of paper and fed it into the typewriter.

I turned the roller until a small portion of the virgin paper emerged above the keys. I sat up straight, took a deep breath, and prepared to type.

The keys sang out: click, click, clickity-click, click . . .

I was composing a short story, a great piece of literature, perhaps a great novel in its infancy.

I paused and looked at what I had written: “It was a dark and stormy night.”

“Hemingway could do better.”

“Hemingway does not impress me,” I replied. “If your intent is to mock me, you really must do better than Hemingway.”

“Hemingway won the Nobel Prize, or have you forgotten?”

My frustration with my own lack of creativity was increasing.

“I am sure that even Hemingway had dry moments from time to time.”

“Dry?” I answered with a note of contempt in my voice. “He drank more than that big fish the old man in the boat claimed to have caught. Need I warn you,” I continued, “you can be replaced?”

“With what, a computer?”

“And why not?” I asked. “Technology is everywhere today. Why even books are digitized.”

“No great writer ever used a computer,” my antagonist continued. “And may I add, no lover of books would ever read one on a screen.”

I folded my arms and stared down at the typewriter.

“Now, put some mood music on the phonograph, pour yourself a drink, and get to work.”

I ripped the paper from the typewriter, crumpled it, and tossed it on the floor with the others, and placing a new sheet in the typewriter, I began to type.

“It was a dark and stormy night.”

Until next time, be good to all God’s creation and always walk under the mercy.

Return to Brighton Manor

 She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally decided to walk through the door.  Finding the book in an old trunk led Kate back to Brighton Manor.  She stayed at the Manor in 1940, during the London Blitz.  Being only seventeen years old, she felt safer in the country. 

Brighton Manor was the residence of Lord and Lady Hamilton, distant relations on her mother’s side.  Kate felt welcomed, but her relationship with her hosts remained polite and proper.  She was a guest of the Hamiltons, and only “for the duration,” as she reminded herself.

It was different with their son, Andrew.  He was three years older than Kate.  She forgot about the Blitz when he was present.  She enjoyed listening to him.  He made her laugh. 

One afternoon, they were together in the garden discussing English literature.  The rhododendrons were in full bloom, and the air was full of their fragrance.   Andrew was listening to every word she said.  That he listened and seemed to enjoy her company was one of the things she liked about him. 

When she finished speaking, she paused to hear what he had to say about the topic.  He looked into her eyes, smiled, and said:  “Do you know that when you are talking very seriously, the tip of your nose bobs up and down?”  She stared at him in disbelief for a moment, and then burst out laughing.

“Have you ever read anything by Jane Austen?” he asked. 

Kate was surprised by the question.  Jane Austen was not an author one expected a man to enjoy reading.  She smiled and moved closer to him.

Kate and Andrew soon were spending a great deal of time together.  They talked and laughed.  They began to make plans for the future, “when the war is over,” they told each other.

During their last time together before Andrew left to serve “king and country,” he presented her with a beautifully bound copy of Sense and Sensibility.  “So you wouldn’t forget me,” he said.

“I won’t,” she promised.  They kissed and stood for a long time embracing each other.  It was the last time they were together.

Andrew did not return from the war.  He died in North Africa, a fallen hero.

The Hamiltons sold Brighton Manor during the lean years after the war.  The new owners converted it into a kind of bed and breakfast.  Kate often thought of returning someday, but she kept putting it off.

Then she discovered the copy of Sense and Sensibility, and she knew that she had to go back.  Now, years after the war ended, she was back at Brighton Manor, sitting alone on a bench in the garden.  Soon she was smiling.  In her mind’s eye she saw herself walking with Andrew among the rhododendrons and neatly groomed bushes.

“Do you really enjoy reading Jane Austen?” she asked.

copyright 2012 by Paul R. Waibel

Mr. Hopper (Part 2): A Short Story by Paul R. Waibel

Monday was a particularly beautiful fall day.  The sky was clear, and the air had that wonderful cool crispness that made one feel alive and fresh.  “A perfect day for a walk in the park,” Alex thought.

The park was large and hilly, with numerous trees.  Benches designed for comfort and aesthetic appeal were strategically placed throughout.  In the center of the park was a lake, the habitat of an assortment of ducks and Canada geese.  Around the lake and meandering among the trees was a wide paved path connected to The Pines by a short, narrow path, much like the access to an interstate highway.

The whole scene reminded him of an Impressionist painting, perhaps a Monet or Renoir.  As he walked from The Pines to his favorite bench in the park, he imagined himself stepping into such a painting, becoming a part of the peace and tranquility so beautifully captured on the canvas by the artist.

He liked to sit on a bench—“his bench”–located under an old oak tree on a hill overlooking the lake.  During the summer, the tree’s foliage provided shade from the sun.  In the winter, the absence of leaves permitted the warmth of the sun’s rays to reach the bench.

He especially liked the spring.  As the days lengthened, the grass turned green and tiny buds appeared on the branches of the trees.  Slowly at first, and then like the burst of cannon fire in Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, or the “Hallelujah” chorus in Handel’s Messiah, the whole park seemed to awaken
from a long sleep.  The air filled with the sound of birds singing, children playing, and the aroma of blooming flowers.  Spring was Mary’s favorite time
of year, too.

Today, as he walked slowly to his bench, he thought of how fall was so different, and yet so much like spring.  The grass was no longer as green and fresh; the leaves on the trees were turning color and beginning to fall.  He imagined an artist standing before a canvas with his pallet of colors in one hand and his brush in the other.  Would he include the figure of a short, elderly man with rounded shoulders, a tweed cap, and a cane in his right hand walking through the park? Would the artist be able to communicate in paints on the canvas the emotions Alex felt?  In the future, when people looked at the painting hanging on a wall, would their attention be drawn to the figure in the painting?  Would they wonder who he was?  What was he thinking?  Where was he going?  Was he just walking, walking and thinking?

When Alex arrived, he brushed the fallen leaves off the bench and sat down.  He placed his cane firmly between his feet and placed his hands, one on top of the other, on its curved handle.  He sat there looking straight ahead.  Now and then a leaf would break free from the branch that had held it in place through the summer, and gently float down until it came to rest on the bench beside him. One landed on his cap, another on his lap, but he paid no attention; he
continued looking straight ahead.

A pageantry of memories flowed through his mind, memories of past joys and sorrows, images, sounds and smells, a montage of a lifetime.  “And what was the purpose of it all,” he wondered, “to find oneself alone on a park bench, waiting for the last act of life’s drama?”

For the residents of The Pines, much of the time was spent in memories of the
past.  And since the past could never be relived, such memories were always bitter-sweet and accompanied by a longing for the inevitable transition from the present to the future.

He noticed that the play of the afternoon sun on the lake created an illusion that was almost hypnotic.  As the water moved ever so slightly, the reflection of the sun on its surface appeared to sparkle, much like it did on a field of fresh-fallen snow in winter.

Alex stared absent-mindedly at the horizon across the lake, where the top of a faded green hill touched the light blue sky.  He saw a figure emerging above the horizon across the lake.  At first he saw only the stranger’s head, then a little more, until he stood fully erect, silhouetted against the sky.

The stranger stood still for a moment, looking across the lake in the direction of where Alex was sitting.  After a brief pause he began walking down the hill towards the lake. He did not walk as if in a hurry to make an appointment.  Nor did he appear as if he were merely strolling through the park with no particular destination in mind.  Rather, he walked at a steady pace, neither
glancing to the right nor the left, as if following a predetermined path to a
specific destination.

Alex watched the figure as he walked down the hill to the lake, and then proceeded around the lake.  After rounding the lake, he turned and began ascending the hill to where Alex sat.  All the time, Alex remained seated, his head still facing the lake, and his hands folded one on top the other on his cane, rooted firmly between his feet.

When he arrived at his goal, the stranger did not speak, or otherwise acknowledge the presence of the elderly man on the bench. He quietly sat down on the bench, staring straight ahead as if looking into the same time tunnel as Alex.

After a few long moments—or perhaps just a minute, Alex spoke.

“I’ve been expecting you.”

Neither one looked at the other, but continued looking straight ahead.

“You might have come sooner,” Alex continued, as if asking a question rather than making a comment.  The tone of his voice had a note of disappointment in it, or perhaps even sadness.

“Everything occurs according to its purpose, its meaning,” the stranger replied.

Alex had a lifetime of questions, and now it seemed was the time to ask them.  Would he be given answers, or would his questions be met with silence?

“Purpose?  Meaning?” asked Alex.  “Are you implying that there is a purpose to everything that happens in a person’s life, that life itself has some meaning beyond the moment?”

“Yes,” the stranger said, “nothing exists without purpose, without meaning.”

“Was there meaning in Willy’s death in a pointless war? Was there meaning in Mary’s death, leaving me here to wait all alone for my own death?  Does life have any meaning?”

“The individual life is the most meaningful of all that is,” replied the stranger,
not so much as if answering a question as stating a fact.  Then he continued.  “All wars are meaningless distractions, but no one’s death is in vain.”

“Do you mean to preach to me?” asked Alex.  “If so, . . . .”  He did not finish his
sentence.  He expected the stranger to interrupt him, but he did not.

Neither spoke.  They sat side by side in silence.  Then Alex continued, “I have
seen much, too much, of death in my lifetime. I have seen mothers bent over the bodies of their children, their hands clasped together, their faces turned up to the sky, eyes filled with tears and asking over and over, ‘Why?’  ‘Why?’  ‘Why?’”

Alex sat, nodding his head as if deep in thought.

“Silence,” he said softly, “only Silence.”

Then the stranger spoke, “All the suffering and death would be meaningless, if as you suppose, there was no one there to hear, no one to see the tears or feel the anguish of abandonment, if in the end there was only a cold, dark silence.  But it is not so, for death was conquered by death, and where death once reigned, hope now reigns.

“You speak of God.”

“Yes.”

Alex turned his head and looked at the figure sitting next to him on the bench.  The stranger turned and looked into Alex’s eyes.

“It’s only at the end of life’s journey that one fully understands the path taken.  Only then do the answers to the questions of why and what for become clear.  Until then, the pilgrim can only see in part.” Then he added:  “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.”

They sat there looking into each other’s face as if communicating by thoughts only.

After a few moments, the stranger stood up.  He turned and faced Alex.

 “Is it time?” asked Alex.

“Yes!”

Alex stood up, and the two companions walked off together, retracing the path by which the visitor came.  When they reached the crest of the hill on the opposite side of the lake, they paused.  Alex turned and looked back across the lake.  He saw the figure of an old man sitting alone on a bench.  His hands were folded, one on top the other, on a cane.  His head was resting on his chest, as if he were sleeping.  He then turned back, and the two slowly disappeared over the horizon.  In the distance Alex could hear the faint sound of music and voices, as if ahead they were celebrating a wedding.

(Copyright 2011 by Paul R. Waibel)

Until next time, be good to all God’s creation, and always live under the mercy.

A Short Story

This is my first ever attempt at writing fiction. I wrote it more as a challenge to myself, than for any other reason. Whether or not it is any good, I will leave up to you, the readers of my blog, to decide.

I will post the first part today and the second part tomorrow. Why two parts? I thought you might be more likely to read it, if I did not dump the whole thing on you at one time. Also, if you are bored by the first part, you need not bother with reading the second part.

So, get yourself a fresh cup of coffee and couple biscotti, relax, and peak into a day in the life of “Mr. Hopper.”

Mr. Hopper
A short story by Paul R. Waibel*

Monday began like any other day for Mr. Hopper, except for the brief encounter on his way to the dining hall.

As he walked slowly down the hall, he heard someone say, “Good morning, Mr. Hopper.”

“Mornin,” he replied, instinctively, and continued on his way.

Such casual greetings were not at all unusual. People often greet each other, even if they are total strangers. No one expects an honest answer, much less a conversation, only an acknowledgement.

Perhaps it was only a moment’s curiosity, but Mr. Hopper paused. Steadying himself on his cane, he turned his head to see who it was, but he caught only a glimpse of the gentleman’s back. “No matter,” he thought, “just another unfortunate soul.”

For the past five years Alexis “Alex” Hopper had been a resident of The Pines, a retirement home for those fortunate enough to have more than just Social Security.

The accommodations were not luxurious, but neither were they uncomfortable. A small bedroom, a private bath with shower and tub combination, and a living room made up what he liked to refer to as his apartment. It was located on a long hallway. Along the hallway on either side was a succession of doors, each one opening to a similar arrangement of rooms.

Meals were taken in a dining hall. Most of the tables were round, some able to seat up to six individuals, others only four. Along the outer wall that was mostly glass were a number of small square tables, suitable for one or two guests. There were also some small tables along the inner walls or next to pillars, placed in such a way as to provide a measure of privacy for those who wished to eat alone.

The tables were covered with table cloths–usually white, but occasionally some pastel color such as light blue or green. In the center of each table sat a small vase filled with fresh-cut flowers. Around each table were straight back chairs, upholstered with a fabric that reminded one of a tapestry.

Each morning at breakfast, Mr. Hopper ate alone. He liked to sit at one of the small tables along an inner wall, somewhat isolated from the rest. Everyone seemed to understand.

He was, like so many of the residents of The Pines, an individual of habit. Every morning he ate the same breakfast—two eggs, scrambled well-done; two sausage patties or links, also cooked well-done; a small portion of fried potatoes or grits; two slices of toast with butter and jelly, preferably strawberry or blueberry; and hot coffee–medium roast, breakfast blend, and brewed just a bit strong.

Often, he would add a small bowl of fruit. He did not particularly like fruit in the morning, but Mary always said: “Alex, dear, eat some fruit. It’s good for you.” He would always smile, just as he did now, as if she were sitting across from him.

Breakfast was usually followed by spending the morning hours in his apartment. He was allowed a certain amount of what the staff called “personal things.” Space, after all, was limited.

In addition to the bed, more comfortable than he expected, there were a chest of drawers and a set of bookshelves attached to the wall. Beneath the bookshelves was a small writing desk on which stood a brass lamp. A comfortable recliner that could both rock and swivel completed the inventory of furniture.

On the desk in a simple frame was a photograph of Mary with their son, William, or “Willy,” as he liked to be called. Alex took the photo one summer while they were on vacation in Washington, DC visiting the Marine Corps War Memorial. There, frozen in time, were the brave Marines forever raising the American flag over Iwo Jima. The combined experience of visiting the memorial and walking between the rows upon rows of white crosses in Arlington National Cemetery seemed to have had a powerful effect on young Willy. As they walked back to their car, he announced: “I’m going to be a Marine.”

In a drawer in the dresser, among other mementos of his many years, was a letter from a Marine officer who commanded Willy’s platoon in Vietnam. He used words like “brave,” “honorable,” “proud,” “tough,” and, the highest accolade of respect, the simple words, “a Marine.”

Alex wondered if the officer who wrote the letter actually knew his son. Perhaps he was merely writing a letter that he wrote to the parents of all the young men in his platoon who lost their innocence as well as their lives in the rice paddies and jungles of Vietnam. He once overheard a retired Marine officer say that during the Tet Offensive the new recruits were dying so fast he never had a chance to learn their names.

Lunch was different from breakfast. Then, he was accustomed to joining a small group of friends. “Friends, you need friends,” Mary was always telling him. “Without friends, life has no meaning, no purpose.”

“Friends?” Yes, he agreed with her that everyone needed acquaintances, perhaps, but friends? It seemed to him that there was a difference between a friend and an acquaintance.

A friend was someone close, someone with whom you could be open and transparent. That is what Mary had been–a friend, the only friend he ever had.

An acquaintance was different. An acquaintance was one with whom you chatted over a cup of coffee. You might discuss the weather, sports, politics, or even conspire to solve the world’s problems. You might exchange jokes or stories of past experiences. But you would not, could not, share personal thoughts and emotions with mere acquaintances. They must always be kept at a safe distance. There was a part of oneself, he insisted, that could only be shared with a friend. For him only one person could ever fit that description. That was Mary.

Among the residents were certain individuals who were, as he would say, “interesting.” He liked to have lunch with them. They met regularly at the same table. If one was late arriving or failed to show up, the immediate conversation was centered on the question “why?”

“Is he ill?”

“Has anyone seen her this morning?”

“Do you suppose something is wrong?”

Edna Taylor was a very proper person. She reminded him of Maggie Smith or, more accurately, “Elsa,” the character played by Maggie Smith in the movie “Tea with Mussolini.” She always sat with her back very straight, her napkin neatly placed on her lap. Her manners were impeccable. She always used the “right” piece of silverware in the “right” manner, and occasionally paused to touch her napkin to the corners of her mouth.

“Lady Taylor,” as Alex liked to think of her, often reminisced nostalgically about the many years she spent married to Henry Taylor. She prefaced her comments with, “I remember when Henry and I . . .” or “Henry would always say . . .” or “My late husband . . .” or sometimes simply “Mr. Taylor . . . .”

Alex remembered one incident when Edna was recalling a particular New Year’s celebration. It was the first New Year after the end of the war. She and her husband were living abroad in Paris. She described the evening as if it were recent, perhaps this past New Year’s Eve. When she finished, she was silent, her eyes watering, staring into space, as if back in another time and place.

No one spoke. They all understood.

Sandra Fleming was something of a mystery. She spent much of her life on the stage. She told tales of an exciting, fast-paced life among theatrical people. Unlike Lady Taylor, Ms. Fleming never spoke of her husband, if she ever had one. Instead, she recalled numerous romantic encounters with a host of men from San Francisco to New York to London.

Alex was not certain that everything Ms. Fleming recalled did, in fact, happen. One could never be sure if she was giving a performance or really recalling what must have been an exciting life. It didn’t really matter, he thought; she made her companions laugh, and that was always welcome.

Colonel Wilfred Cooper completed the foursome. The others always addressed him as “Colonel Cooper,” or simply “Colonel,” an honor he seemed to appreciate, even relished.

Colonel Cooper was not really a commissioned officer, although he was a veteran of the second Great War. The title “Colonel” before his name was purely honorary, one of those honorary commissions in the state militia handed out by Southern governors. As with Ms. Fleming, the Colonel was a storyteller. And, as with Ms. Fleming, one could not be sure that every incident he recalled necessarily happened as described. But, once again, the truth wasn’t as important as the story.

The Colonel spiced up his tales with a colorful vocabulary. He might, for example, refer to a character in one of his narratives as a “bloody fool,” or in the passion of the moment forget where he was and use the descriptive, “a bloody bastard.” When he did so, he added an apology for the benefit of the two ladies.

If the four companions were in a particularly festive mood, Colonel Cooper would relate one of supposedly many colorful encounters with a lovely young lady. When doing so, he was apt to dwell upon the physical qualities of the young lady.

Lady Taylor would feign righteous shock: “Really, Colonel!”

Ms. Fleming would laugh, and then looking directly at the Colonel across the table from her, she would say, “If only we had met, when we were both much younger.”

Colonel Cooper would straighten up in his chair, his chest expanded with pride: “It would have been my pleasure, Ms. Fleming,” he might say, the smile on his face enhanced by a wink in Ms Fleming’s direction.

With lunch over, the foursome departed to their regular afternoon routines.

After returning to his rooms for a brief rest, Alex normally spent the afternoon in the park that bordered The Pines, although it was not part of the property. It was a public park, very neat and proper, much like an English butler.

* * *
(Copyright 2011 by Paul R. Waibel)

Stay tuned tomorrow for the second and last installment. What will Mr. Hopper discover in the park?