Ode To My Dog

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You wiggled, grunted, and waddled into our lives,

With four big brown bear paws, and silky fur.

You, the newest addition, bounced along our floor.

We greeted you with enthusiastic delight,

With cheers, and hurrah!

We welcomed the baby, in our sight.

 

With your floppy ears,

You stole, and stole, and stole.

Socks, spoons, and a garbage bag or two.

And other things,

That shall not be named in this blog post.

For fear Momma, will blush the most.

 

There were expensive things; those eyeglasses placed on the ledge,

With one wagging finger at Daddy, he did pledge.

Enthusiastically, he said he would protect his stuff.

Because I warned him: puppies do not know the difference between diamonds, or fluff.

But did he heed my words?

Please, draw your own conclusions: teeth marks are in the lenses that resemble roads.

 

As the years passed we aged together,

Between us, more grey hairs than I care to count.

Then there were bumps here, and there,

And some of those lumps were removed.

A sigh of relief, spread across the room,

When we were told fear not, they are not a sign, of impending doom.

 

Long walks together were moments to bond,

Together, in wooded trails, just me and you.

Then we gathered with friends,

There was a buddy for me, and one for you too.

And we all walked together,

Two by two.

 

Winds brought change I did not ask for,

And when the phone rang it brought a message:

Time was up for a person I loved.

I sobbed, and wailed, threw my hands in the air!

There you stood between me and Daddy.

Gazing up, you snuggled close, but were not quite sure what else to do.

 

You were there for me,

With your twirling tail, and tightly tucked in ears,

Snuggling close, and forcing me to tend to you.

Your early wake-up calls never ceased,

And when I opened the door,

You seemed to smile, and say, “feed me!”

 

But you are not perfect, our manipulative beast.

As if you could snap your fingers, you command:

Open the door! Let me in! Let me out!

Feed me! Walk me!

I wish to go to Pet Value NOW!

“And please, pass the cheese,” you always demand.

 

You wake me early,

To my dismay.

Even on weekends,

You do not care.

For I am the servant,

To the dog, we love the most.

 

I complain as if I do not like your demanding ways.

Truth be told, I would not change a thing,

For you are the one, that brightens our days.

And without you in our life, we would have little left to say.

For you are funny, smart, cute, and cuddly.

And you will always be: Mommy and Daddy’s little buddy.

***

I know.

I’m no Poet.

Hey, we all have limitations. But for my fury friend, it felt like he deserved something special.

The Hand of Retaliation

He was chosen because he listened empathetically to what people said before giving advice. Too many people, too often, give advice to others based on their own personal beliefs and personal experiences, disregarding the feelings of the people they are trying to help. But in sympathizing with someone’s position before offering advice, you validate their emotions and they know you understand them. This leads the person to be more receptive to listening to what you have to say. Michael always did that with friends and family. That’s what Vega said.

Michael huffs, out of breath again as he takes a few steps backwards. Then, he takes off in a sprint, gains momentum, and leaps across the stars. When he reaches the surface of the closest moon, his boots skid across the dirt.

“I’m certain there is an easier way,” Michael mumbles as he heaves in air and feels his lungs expand with the sensation. He is thankful that he no longer feels as light-headed as he did a few seconds ago.

The darkness of the universe is dotted with white, pink, blue stars and as Michael exhales his breath turns into ice crystals that mix in with thousands of celestial dots.  For a second, it is difficult to tell the difference between the two; that is, until the crystals dissipate.

Michael scans the infinite universe. It is annoying to be left here alone with no idea what direction to go. But at the same time – this experience is exhilarating! The protective shield that Vega mentioned remained despite Vega’s disappearance; Michael is still able to breathe, is somewhat protected from the cold, and is not drifting about in space as Vega told him he would without it. Michael smiles, and to no one says, “I’m the first man in space.”

“Depends on what year you are in,” a voice echoes from behind him. “If it’s your time, then you’re the first man.  But if it’s after April 12th, 1961, it’s a Russian, named Yuri Gagarin.”

Michael turns around, smiling at the familiar face and voice saying, “Those are the first words from your lips? You left me alone out here for almost an hour.”

“Yes,” Vega answers. A sparkling crystal bridge forms under his feet as he swiftly strides towards Michael.

“What?” Michael asks bewildered. “All I had to do was take a few steps forward?”

“Yes, Michael.” Vega gives him a stern sideways glance. The “look” is the same that Michael’s father gives him when he has forgotten something that he should have already known.

Michael looks down for a moment and then suddenly remembers what Vega said before he disappeared: it’s a leap of faith. When his eyes meet Vega’s, Vega gives him a crooked smile.

Michael asks, “Russia is the first to make it to our moon?”

“No, the Russians are the first to go to space. The moon is different.”

“Are you going to tell me who gets there first?”

“Not tonight.” Vega answers seriously as he turns to face him. Vega’s clothing and demeanor are casual: leather jacket, dress pants, and boots with hands casually draped and folded together in front of him. But his words are earnest, “Michael, you remember your task this night? Millions of lives are depending on you. General Usia’s course must be corrected.”

“That’s right. Give me the most arduous task to start.” Michael answers louder than intended and with a crackle in his voice.

A few hours earlier, Vega explained to Michael that he was born from the stars. His role was to travel across time in search of a person who was empathetic to other people’s problems and who would offer neutral advice. Vega’s role would be to help the chosen person get to where they needed to be in time, explain the situation, how they must correct it, retrieve them, and guide them on their next mission.

Michael asked Vega why he couldn’t help General Usia to change her course. Vega simply answered: it’s not one of my strengths.  Vega, with god-like qualities, admitted he had limitations. Most humans are unable to admit their shortcomings. But Vega could. That’s the reason why Michael came.

“Michael, this will not be your most difficult task. There will be others, with much larger consequences.” Vega states this casually as if they were discussing how best to harvest apples.

Harvesting apples is what Michael should be doing tomorrow in Vernon, BC, with his father. He prays that he can complete his task in the next few hours, and return home in time to help.  His father needs him: his mother just passed, and while his father still works as hard as he does on the farm they own together, there are times Michael has had to hold his father up when he nearly collapsed on the fields. Grief has taken his father’s appetite, and in these early days, he will barely finish a meal. In combination with this, and the occasional spastic fit of weeping in losing his wife of over 30 years it has left what was a very strong man in a frail state.  The work is also terribly difficult and Michael is the only son.

Michael’s breathing becomes shallow as he thinks about the two problems he faces. He loves his father, but the one that weighs heavily on him is that he might not be able to help General Usia. If he had a second longer to consider his decision when Vega asked, he may have chosen differently.

Michael looks around wondering if the shield Vega provided to protect him is starting to fail; his skin is cold and clammy and small beads of sweat gather on his brow. The galaxy begins to spin around him causing the potatoes he had for dinner several hours earlier to be tasted again in his throat.

Vega watches Michael closely.

“I’m ready.” Michael says.

Vega nods and walks a few feet away from Michael. Then, he snaps his fingers.

Immediately, Michael is thrust forward into a vortex of stars and blackness. The uneasy feeling that he felt is amplified in intensity as he spins around in circles. It’s as if he is caught in a riptide. It stops only when Michael finally crashes to the ground on his knees.

***

Michael takes in a big breath of air as he assesses his surroundings.

Within the confines of the space, the room is cold and stale. The floor is steel and there is a grey, circular structure in front of him. On the circular structure, Michael notices thousands of buttons like what might have been on the bridge of the Titanic before it sank off the coast of Newfoundland last year. As his eyes drift across the knobs, he catches sight of something else: a woman with hair cut short like a man’s, wearing a black shirt, pants, and boots to match. On the woman’s jacket, Michael notices several stripes on her upper right arm etched into the fabric.

Her hands are steady as she points a silver, smooth object at Michael that looks like a weapon of some sort. It looks menacing. But the menacing part is really this: she’s pointed it directly at Michael’s head.

Michael shifts one leg from behind him as he slowly tries to move to a standing position while asking, “Do you know where I can find General Usia?”

“You’re looking at her!” She snaps. Before Michael can say anything else, she says, “Stay where you are!”

“Sorry,” Michael says with hands raised in the air. He hopes this is still the universally acknowledged surrender position. He abides with the order given as he slowly places his foot back behind him and resumes a kneeling position.

Michael looks closer at Usia: her eyes are reddened and slightly moist from perhaps rain, but possibly, also tears.

Michael steadies himself. With arms in the air he makes an assumption softly saying, “General Usia, I’m so sorry about your children.”

General Usia’s eyes narrow at the stranger. Hands tremble. A sharp pain is felt in her stomach as if someone punched a knuckled-fist into it. She says, “How do you know about them?” As her mind quickly pulls random facts together she barks, “DID YOU KILL THEM?”

“I had nothing to do with it, General.” Michael says his voice gentle, like the sound of fall leaves that swish together.

“Who the hell are you then?” General Usia asks with a growl.

“I am a friend, General.” Michael answers as he tries to formulate a plan.

“No friend of mine would wear those clothes,” she hisses. “You look like you just stepped off some 20th century farm. Fuck! Do I smell horse?” She asks as she swipes at her nose. A tickling nasal drip has commenced with the smell of horse and hay that lingers on Michael’s clothes.

“I’m an old-fashioned man,” Michael answers wryly. “General,” Michael says more boldly. Vega warned him the window to change the General’s mind was ephemeral. “I know your children were killed a short time ago.”

“Killed today,” she answers. Her voice is suddenly void of all emotion.

Michael pauses as he mentally questions Vega’s decision to deliver him so soon after the event. The General’s children: executed in the fields of their home by the other side were just seven and nine years old. Michael feels the blood drain from his face, stomach swirls again with nausea as he thinks, they were children? How could they? Their whole lives were in front of them and now they are turned to dust, carried away by wind, leaving behind a void of nothingness.   

Michael regroups, pushing onwards. “General Usia, I am truly sorry. But, I beg of you – as a General you must exercise restraint and keep your heart calm. You must not let hatred rule your troops and gunfire.”

“Have you ever been to war, Sir?”

Michael shakes his head from side to side while answering, “No.”

“Then, don’t tell me how to feel, or how to command my troops!”

Michael’s head throbs. Panic overwhelms him. The sound of a ticking clock pounds in his mind as he feels the window of time closing in on him.

Desperate, he takes a bold approach.

“General Usia, I’m not from your time. But I met a man that said if your military decisions are fueled by grief, a young woman will die that would bring an end to the war in a few short years. But with the young woman’s death, this war will linger on for more than one hundred years. Millions more will die that never should! As a mother you can be angry; but as a leader, you must exercise restraint.”

Usia looks at Michael saying, “as a mother and a General, I can do whatever I want!”

From behind Usia, the door swishes open interrupting their conversation. The General swivels around to face her second intruder.

“Sorry to interrupt,” Captain McKay says. He glances at the gun General Usia holds tightly in her grasp. “We just need the final order to release the 630TZ bomb.”

General Usia turns to face Michael.

But Michael has vanished.

“Where did he go?” She snaps at Captain McKay.

“Who?” Captain McKay asks perplexed.

“The man! The man! He was just here!” She barks as she circles the bridge.

“I didn’t see anyone.” Captain McKay’s face is lined like a geological map in confusion.

General Usia’s eyes dart around and with thundering words that are so loud they are heard several hundred meters down the hallway of the ship she asks, “Computer, how many people are in this room?”

“Two.” Computer answers. “Captain McKay, and yourself.”

“Computer, check again!” She roars.

“The result is the same, General Usia.”

“Computer,” General Usia says, “Has there been any unknown personnel on this ship?”

The Computer takes a few moments to review the data history of the ship, and then it responds, “None.”

“General Usia,” Captain McKay presses onwards unwilling to be diverted from his task. He never wanted to carry out this order but she insisted, and honestly, he can’t imagine how she feels. Both of her children – executed. The cruelty.

General Usia’s duty, like all of them, required her to leave her family behind – even if her husband had been killed in battle a few months earlier.  She left the children with her parents because the war had not extended that far. The General thought they would be safe with them. But then in a few short days, the war was on the city’s doorstep. General Usia wanted to move her family to another city but had to make arrangements on her own. And honestly, the General would never ask for help. She knew that many soldiers in the military have families that are under threat of being killed in the crossfire.

The only kindness given to the General was that her parents were left alive. But this is a doubtful kindness. One can only assume that her parents were left alive for the sole purpose to tell the General the details of her children’s deaths.

But even with everything that’s happened to General Usia, he knows obliterating a whole city in revenge to pay for the sins of a few is tantamount to murder. He’s conflicted as to whether he should follow this order. But, General Usia has always been a good, fair General. She must have other reasons for attacking the city that she has not shared. General Usia would not use her position for revenge, he’s certain. Captain McKay prods General Usia, “The bomb is prepped. We just need the final order.”

General Usia looks up at him. Then, she turns away from Captain McKay.  Was the man a creation of her mind? A guilty conscience? She knows killing millions of people, civilians, is considered a war crime.

But they were her children.

Her hands shake. Her mind fumbles. There is something that the man said. Something important. That as a mother she could be angry, but as a leader she must exercise restraint.

Choking on tears she hesitates. He was real, or he was a creation of her mind.  The computer found no trace of him. It seems more probable he was a ghost she fabricated, probably from all her historical reading of the early 1900’s.

She understands the implied meaning behind the words the spirit said: that she should lead as a leader would in battle, and minimize innocent casualties. Do only what needs to be done. General Usia’s face crumbles as she thinks of the deaths of her two children, but also because she nearly made the wrong decision.

She answers, “No, let’s wait.”

“Are you sure General?” Captain McKay asks with small droplets of relief peppered throughout his voice.

“Yes,” she answers. “Find witnesses. Get descriptions of the perpetrators. We’ll focus on the individuals responsible for killing the people in my city.”

“Very good General,” Captain McKay says as he feels his lower lip tremble gently. He bucks up though, before he loses control of his emotions. Then, he salutes her as a woman who lost so much, but also as a General who refuses to allow the savagery of war to change the leader she is.

***Originally published in the Scarlet Leaf Review***

https://www.scarletleafreview.com/short-stories7/category/penelope-s-hawtrey

 

Part II: If You Asked Me To…

“Hello, Beth,” a familiar voice says from behind me. After the last few days of many encounters, I know who it is, before I turn around.

“Hello,” I answer swiveling around confirming my suspicions.

“Did you have breakfast there?” He asks as his nose crinkles. His eyes squint together from either the sun or the sub-zero temperatures. I’m surprised he’s not wearing a hat and notice his ears are glowing red most likely stinging from the brisk wind.  Despite the arctic temperatures his arms are crossed in front of him, and his hands are clasped together in a relaxed manner as if he could stand there all day.

“Yes,” I answer facing Evan.  “It’s a nice place. The breakfast was wonderful. But I wasn’t adventurous enough to try anything really different, just the regular eggs benedict. A friend of mine suggested the place.” I can’t help myself as my lips curl upwards. I glance up to Evan who stands a good foot above me.

Briefly, his gaze shifts and he watches the rush of cars criss-cross the streets.  When he faces me again, there’s a gentle nod of his head and a knowing grin.

Evan’s wearing a long wool winter coat, leather gloves, and a plaid brown scarf that’s bundled around his neck to protect him from the unusual cold weather this time of year.  White wisps of air swirl around in front of him as he says in a gentle river of a voice, “I’m headed to the hotel.  Starting my shift.”

“Oh, I’m headed in that direction too,” I say dropping my eyes to the pavement.

Is that me leading him on? I don’t know. Should I have drawn a line by now?

I push the thought aside. Nice guy like him, I’m sure he has a girlfriend. I didn’t notice a ring. He’s probably being extra kind to me, pities me really, because I’m alone in this big beautiful city. I shouldn’t read too much into his words, mannerisms, and gestures. He probably acts the same way when he meets anyone.

“If you asked me to…”

My mouth opens and then closes. Lines shape my mouth to form the well-known friendly greeting of a smile.  This is our dance. Mine and Evan’s. I’ve been in this spinning, whirl of a city that holds a flood of shops, markets, and tickets for all the big Broadway shows, and through it all Evan disappears and reappears when I need him; and whenever we see each other he will find an opportunity to say at the beginning of the encounter, or at some point later, if you asked me to….

Evan said it when I stood blankly at the front entrance to the hotel swinging my head from right to left, while simultaneously spinning my phone in all directions, trying to figure out what street to take to get to Times Square. I figured it wouldn’t be that hard – look for the brightly lit neon sign! But oh, tall buildings are everywhere and conceal that which should be obvious! And the shadows from the skyscrapers hide everything else.

It was only when Evan appeared, glimpsed over my shoulder at my phone, and then pointed and said, over, yonder! – I had a clue in which direction I might find that amazing place I’d seen only on TV. Then he said with a wink, Dorothy, just follow the blue dotted trail….

Playing along I nodded, and while holding my phone in front of me, stepped one foot in front of the other and began skipping down the pavement as if I were Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.

Then a couple of days ago, I was returning to my hotel with feet and calves that burned.  I had spent the day exploring some of the boroughs of NY, and my body punished me for it. Prior to my trip, I spent most nights binge-watching Netflex while eating ice cream; and then asked the same body to run a marathon (of sorts) in Miu Miu boots with no training. That’s the reason I didn’t notice the man who lunged at me and reached for my handbag a few meters from the hotel. As I had the strap of the purse looped through my shoulder it escalated into a tug of war between me and the thief, with me refusing to let go of my Coach baby as if it were something precious and irreplaceable like a child. The man out of frustration raised his hand to me, and I was certain his intention was to hit me. But before he made contact, Evan appeared in front of me and with a left hook punched the thug to the ground. The assaulted thief quickly recovered, and sprang to his feet. Evan chased him until I yelled, Evan don’t! Leave it!

Once we were inside the hotel we called the police. Evan said, we have to tell them because the man may try it again. I used the opportunity to give Evan a scolding for risking his life for a handbag. Facing me he said, it wasn’t the handbag, it was the person. Then he said, if you asked me to, I wouldn’t mind getting you a coffee while we wait for the police to come. 

“I wouldn’t mind walking with you to the hotel. You can protect me, in case someone tries to steal my scarf.” He says with a thin smile while clapping his hands together again.

I nod and say, “I would like that.” I can’t face Evan. I enjoy this man’s quietness, his calmness, and his energy all rolled into one.  My eyes are fixed on the pavement as my hands grip the small wallet I carry tighter.  The wind clips my cheeks and forehead. It causes tears to gather in my eyes because of the brisk slap from Mother Earth.

Is it the cold that causes me to tear up? Or is it emotional pain? My lower lip begins to pull towards the pavement. If it is emotional pain, is it because of what happened over a month ago? Or is it guilt that’s sweeping across my body like a virus making me feel a little worse each day; I ignore the signs and push aside the dizziness, nausea, and headaches  and explain to others I’m sure it’s just because I’m tired. Until in a final moment of outrage by my body for not noticing the subtle signals, it burns up from the inside. A fever takes hold of me signalling a virus was plaguing me. It leaves me so weak I can’t even get out of bed to get a glass of water.

As we begin walking Evan says, “how many days do you have left here?”

“I leave tomorrow,” I announce while shrugging my shoulders. It shouldn’t matter to either of us. I’m an insignificant tourist who booked a room at the hotel that Evan just happens to work at in the heart of this bustling city. Millions of people travel here every year.

“Oh well…” his voice disappears and is carried off by the wind.

I tug at my red hat and pull it down a little further to block out the cold. Once that’s done, I place my hand over my scarf to protect my chest. The frigid air is punching me in the throat.  For a moment, I can’t breathe.

Gone is Evan’s smile. “If you asked me to, I wouldn’t mind taking you out for dinner?” He says with hurried words.

My husband loves to watch boxing. I think of the man who tried to steal my purse and wanted to strike me. With the question Evan asked me, I see myself hit. Blindsided and surprised, my arms and legs stretch out in all directions as I am tossed to the ground.

Small convulsions begin to erupt throughout me. My hands shake, eyes twitch, knees rattle together as I realize my mistake.  The only words I begin to mumble are, “shit, shit, shit…”

“It’s ok,” Evan says somewhat defensively. “I just thought we had a connection.”

“I’m married!” I blurt out as I begin to whimper.

“Oh!” Evan says. “Oh Christ! You must think I’m the worst kind of man? Asking out a married woman? Geez, I didn’t know.” He says touching my arm gently and at the same time backing away.

So many emotions. “I didn’t know you thought of me like that. It’s been so long. Even when I was younger, I never saw myself as attractive. And now, even less so.”

“What?” He asks as his mouth opens in awe. “You’re lovely.” He quickly releases my arm and says, “Oh no, sorry. Should I say that? Can I say that? What are the rules?”

I’m still crying, but then I begin giggling at the incredible level of awkwardness. Throwing my hands up in the air I say, “Don’t ask me, I don’t know!”

“Well,” Evan says, “if your husband doesn’t say it to you, someone else should. Just this once.”

“My husband’s a good guy. He tells me all the time, but I never believe him – ” I pause and add, “he paid for this trip for me. Spencer thought I needed a break from everything.”

“Oh,” is Evan’s first response. Then he asks, “did something bad happen?” As if to give me some space, he takes a step backwards.

My tummy tightens. It’s the barren spot, where no fetus will ever grow. “I can’t have children. We just found out.” I say adding, “after we found out, I wanted to go away and he wanted to come too, but Spencer couldn’t get the time off.  I opted to come by myself. Give me a chance to clear my head. He thought it was a good idea too. ”

“Well, that’s shitty.” Evan says.

I laugh so hard at his bluntness. And I can’t stop myself.  Tears flow from my eyes and I quickly brush them away. I stutter, “yu-up” while blowing bubbles of mucus at him.

Evan pulls out a handkerchief, hands it to me, and says, “I don’t expect anything from you. But would you have dinner with me? Just as friends. I don’t think there’s anything taboo about me buying you a Big Mac in Times Square on your last night here.”

“That would be nice. Or maybe a hot dog in Central Park,” I offer as a second option. “And maybe I could pay, for all your kindness.”

“Okay,” he says. “It’s a meal together at one of them high end places,” he says pulling his scarf tighter. He shivers and adds, “we should keep walking. I’m going to lose my ears soon.”

We turn and walk down the street together. I blow my nose one more time into the handkerchief. I glance up to him and say, “I’m sorry for leading you on.”

“You never lead me on,” he says. Then a few seconds later he adds, “you know what I just realized – I never saw you without your gloves.”

“Oh no!” I say throwing my hands up. I pull the gloves off revealing my diamond engagement ring and wedding band.

Evan laughs, gently touches my ungloved hand, and gives it one quick kiss and says, “Don’t be sorry. I never minded.”

Part I: If You Asked Me To

There’s something about him – his quietness, some insecurity, or maybe it’s not insecurity at all but the sign of a confident man.  Perhaps it was the way he placed his hands together, not in an arrogant way, but one of quiet reflection. I instantly liked him.

“If you asked me to…” his voice is rhythmic as if he’s humming a song. A few moments later, after I turn and face the man who spoke the words he continues, “… I wouldn’t mind helping you with your bags?”

Bashfully smiling, I glance down at my three bags and answer, “I would love that. Thank you.”

He effortlessly hoists the duffle bag over his shoulder, and wheels the two other bags forward. We take long strides towards what looks like a golden cart.

Casually, I add to the conversation we already had about my bags and say, “I’m not a light packer.” Throwing my black gloved-hands over my face with embarrassment, I provide more explanation saying, “I’m only here for the weekend.”

He chuckles at me, and nods his head as he places my bags on the yellow gleaming luggage trolley. In a quiet voice he whispers, “I’ll tell you a little secret.”

“Okay,” I answer matching his tone as if we were spies on a mission to save the world.

“Most people aren’t.”

My face flushes as I giggle.

“If you want to check-in, I can take these to your room,” he instructs me as blonde wispy hair bounces on the top of his head.

“Right!” I answer in agreement.  I don’t know why I didn’t head straight to the lobby desk of the hotel.  This isn’t my first trip travelling alone and for sure, I know what the standard protocol is. But it’s my first trip in some time, going solo.

I’ll blame the flight. A gusty north wind blowing up the Atlantic Ocean made for an erratic, bumpy, and all around turbulent flight.  In the last few seconds before we touched down, my table dropped in front of me as if our plane were asking me, one last meal?

At various times while airborne, all I saw were the backs of people’s heads that ricocheted right to left, and up and down.  Sudden surprised gasps punctured the cabin air as we were jostled. Finally our landing gear skidded along the runway. As a tribute to the dramatic flight we already had the pleasure to experience, we lurched forward in a final crescendo as if it were a last attempt by the pilot to stop the plane before we ran out of pavement!

Thinking about the whole ordeal again, my hands shake. I walk towards the counter in my Miu Miu suede boots, Calvin Klein winter jacket, and hang onto my Coach handbag. I leave my gloves on as they were a gift from someone I love immensely, were expensive, and given at a difficult time in my life last month. Also, I have a tendency to lose things. The joke between us was this: we should have strings attached to your jacket, so you don’t lose them.    

I laughed, nodded in agreement and said, I’m sure you’re right.

***

I’ve checked in, received my room key, and spin around to see the bellhop with the nametag that said “Evan” on it speaking to another guest.  As I approach him I notice his robust frame, and guess him to be a man in his 30’s. His head is slightly tilted as he speaks calmly to an elderly woman in a black fur coat and carrying a white miniature poodle. Her eyes twinkle at him and with a wave of her hand she says, “thank you,” as I arrive.

Evan turns around to me and says, “All set?”

“Yes,” I announce proudly holding my swipe card to my room. Flipping the envelope open as if I’m about to announce the winner of a prize I say, “I’m in 1104.”

“Ok,” he says. He glances down at my bags and scoops the duffle bag from the cart, and proceeds to wheel the other two bags behind him. Glancing back at me he says, “The elevators are this way.”

Once inside the elevator he asks, “What brings you to New York?”

“Oh,” I stall.

The whole story? Part of the story? No story?

I decide to keep it to the basics.  “A little escape, from the dreariness of life,” I answer.

“Ah,” he says. “I understand that. Do you have plans while in New York?”

“Not really. Maybe do some shopping.” I laugh throwing my head back. “Assuming I can get anything else in my suitcase.”

Evan smiles at me. I may have even heard a gurgle of laughter. It’s hard to tell though. He’s probably afraid to laugh. Friends told me that when they first met me, I made them feel uncomfortable. It was the way I dressed, and the way I carried myself. They believed I lacked a sense of humor because I seemed sooooo proper. After they got to know me though, they learned quickly, I wasn’t a serious person.

Ding! The elevator breaks into our conversation.

As we walk down the long corridor together Evan says, “You should see a show. I’ve head New York has a couple,” he says as his forehead scrunches together in mock amusement at his own joke, and with a small trace of a smile.

When we arrive at my front door, I tap the swipe card to the lock and watch as the light switches from red to green with a click. I glimpse up at him and say, “Perhaps I will.”

When I push the door open, we’re greeted with heat that is stifling!

From behind me I hear, “Holy Sh–! That’s hot!”

I lose control at the almost unfiltered comment and near-oops on his part-; and also the blatant honesty.

He catches my eye and says, “I said holy shoot, that’s hot.”

“Yup, that’s what I heard.” I bend forward in laughter.

He quickly heads towards the thermostat and says, “If you asked me to, I’d turn the thermostat down, and open a window so you can breathe in here?” I know it’s a rhetorical question, because he’s already taken care of the thermostat and is now pulling a window open.

My eyebrows are  squashed together. I can’t stop laughing. I wave at him and say, “Yes, please!”

With the window open a cool breeze rushes through the room. It calms my laughing.

I tilt my head at his lingering grin. My smile remains too.

In a burst of electronic energy my phone splashes through the moment and breaks the quietness between us.

Evan walks towards the door and waves a hand at me. I begin rummaging through my bag searching for my cell. My eyes flicker at my wallet.

TIP!!! TIP!!!

Shit!

I turn around and frantically wave at Evan trying to get him to stop while saying, “Hello?”

As I approach the door, my face is flush. I pull my wallet open. Evan touches my arm gently and whispers, “Next time.”

“Sorry, can you hold on?” I say to the familiar voice at the other end of the line.

“You were so helpful.” I stare at Evan’s green eyes.

With a calm smile, Evan shifts and says, “I never minded.”

“You made me laugh.” I stagger over my words.

He doesn’t know. Evan doesn’t know there’s only one other person who’s been able to make me laugh in the last month, and I have him on hold.

“Good.” He says as he disappears through the door.

With nothing left to say, and Evan gone, I close the door and say into my phone, “Hi, honey.”