Until Further Notice: Story Sunday

Until Further Notice

Katie arrived early at the office, as usual. She liked the quiet time at her desk before all the others came in. Everyone else also liked this arrangement, as they knew how irritable Katie was first thing in the morning. It hadn’t taken long at all for people to call her Cranky Katie, sometimes even to her face.

She hadn’t convinced herself that she had an attitude problem, but she did notice feeling let down after the holiday season. She was all smiles from Halloween through Valentine’s and then – POOF! Smiling Katie disappeared and Cranky Katie took her place.

“Morning, Katie,” Joe ventured a tentative greeting as he came into the office.

“Sure,” Katie replied, not looking up from her notebook.

Joe lingered at her cubicle opening, standing there quietly.

“Yes?” she asked, somewhat curtly.

He extended his arm, offering her a small, white bag. “I brought you some breakfast tacos.”

She turned to look at him. “Thanks. What’s the occasion?” Taking the bag, she could feel that the tacos were still warm.

Joe sat down in the one extra chair crammed into the cubicle corner. “Nothing particularly special. But really,” he said, opening up his own bag, “do we need to wait for some specific square on a calendar to appreciate what we already have?”

“Oh, so now you’re a philosopher?” Katie opened the foil on her taco, adding some salsa.

“Not exactly. I’m just following some advice my grandmother Celeste gave me a long time ago.”

Katie paused, wondering what a little grey-haired old lady could have said to a young man so many years ago that led to him bringing in breakfast tacos today. She looked at Joe, waiting.

“She said, ‘Until further notice, celebrate everything.’ “

“Hmm,” Katie responded as she finished off the first taco. “Interesting concept. And you’ve gone along with that ever since?”

“Not as often as I’d like, but as often as I can.”

Smiling, Katie reached for another taco, deciding to give Cranky Katie the day off.

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Background: A few years ago, I was making plans to visit my friend Celeste in North Carolina when she died unexpectedly. A short time before her death, she mailed a card to me and it said, “Until further notice, celebrate everything.” Like Joe in the story, I don’t do that as often as I’d like, but I try to do it as often as I can.

And breakfast tacos are a culinary staple in the southwest (and possibly other areas, as well).

Dreams and Traditions: Story Sunday

This week’s prompt from StoryADay is to write a story using these words: die, ago, seat, time, imagining, even, making, league, sacrifices, rose. Here’s my version.
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Dreams and Traditions

Sammy was in the on-deck circle, swinging his bat to warm up. His batting helmet was a little too big and it continued to swing around even after Sammy brought the bat back to his shoulder. He looked over at his father in the stands.

Logan gave his son the thumbs-up sign, then brought his finger up to his own eye. It was a signal for Sammy to keep his eye on the ball.

Stewart was in the batter’s box. His father, Ben, was sitting next to Logan. There was no mistaking his communication method.

Ben yelled, “Don’t strike out! Don’t lean too far forward! Don’t forget to shift your weight when you swing!” He rose out of his seat with each exclamation point, as if to command his instructions to penetrate the batting helmet, settling inside Stewart’s skull just in time for the next pitch.

Stewart struck out. “Stewart, why didn’t you listen!” Ben held back none of his disappointment. Hunched over, Stewart made his way back to the dugout, sitting at the farthest point of the bench.

Logan leaned over, “Stewart is making progress. With practice, he’ll figure it out over time. It’s just Little League.”

Ben glared at Logan. “That may be good enough for your son, but not for mine. If Stewart doesn’t learn to listen, he’ll never amount to anything. I’m not having my son think he can get away with failure.”

Logan turned his attention back to the field as Sammy stepped into the batter’s box. Sammy let the first pitch go by.

“Strike One!”

Sammy adjusted his stance, held the bat up over his right shoulder. The pitcher leaned forward and hurled the baseball over home plate.

“Strike Two!”

“Atta boy, Sammy! Focus!” Logan hoped he wasn’t distracting his son. Logan clapped for support, along with Sammy’s teammates and the other parents.

Sammy swung at the next pitch, just managing to nick it, sending it up and over the catcher’s and umpire’s heads.

“Ball One!”

The umpire called time and brushed off the dirt from home plate. Sammy returned to the batter’s box, imagining the bat meeting the ball, hoping for a successful run to first base. The next pitch was just a blur to Sammy.

“Strike Three!”

And the game was over, with Sammy being the last out. Logan waited for Sammy at the dugout opening.

“Dad, I struck out twice. Let’s just go home.”

Logan looked at his son. He knew he couldn’t let his son’s dreams die here on a Little League baseball field.

“Yes, you did. But did you see how high that foul ball went? I mean, the Jolly Green Giant couldn’t have caught that one. You struck out today, but you kept your eye on the ball and I’m so proud of you!”

“Really?” Sammy looked up, hearing the positive note in his father’s voice. “This week I’ll practice really hard and in the next game, maybe I won’t strike out at all!”

“Sounds like a plan! Now, how about some ice cream. After all, a good baseball player follows his traditions, right?”

“Right!” Sammy smiled. Logan tossed the car keys up into the air and Sammy caught them in his glove. Sammy ran to the car ahead of his dad, opening up the trunk to put in his gear. Another one of their small traditions.

Logan noticed Ben and Stewart walking towards their car. He couldn’t make out exactly what Ben was saying, but from the tone of his voice and Ben’s hunched shoulders, he knew it wasn’t pleasant. It wouldn’t be hard to guess why Stewart’s outlook might be bleak, Logan thought.

Logan decided he’d call Ben in a few days to volunteer to pick up Stewart for practice. They lived in a different neighborhood, but Logan thought he could make a few small sacrifices in time and effort to give Stewart a break from Ben always breathing down his back.

“C’mon, Dad! Let’s go!” Sammy was in the car, his seat belt already on.

“You got it, slugger.” Logan slid into the driver’s seat. “So, what’s the ice cream flavor of the day today?”

“Chocolate with sprinkles. Or maybe butterscotch.”

Logan smiled. He wondered where the time had gone, how his chubby little baby boy had grown up enough to be sitting next to him, all decked out in a baseball uniform, dirt clods stuck in his cleats. It wasn’t that long ago that Sammy was just learning how to walk. At least that’s how it seemed to Logan.

“Dad, when will I be eligible for the draft?”

“Well, let me think. If you study hard and graduate from high school, that would make it in 2028. But it would be better if you went to college before starting a professional baseball career.”

“2028?! I can’t even imagine that. It’ll take forever to get here.”

Logan started the car. Let’s hope so, he prayed silently, knowing full well that no matter how long it seemed to Sammy, it would arrive before Logan was ready.

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The Cruelest Month: Story Sunday

This writing prompt, The Cruelest Month, is courtesy of Julie at Story a Day.
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The Cruelest Month

Eugene loved the new year. It was a time of reflection, a time of planning. The cold January weather kept people in a bit more, including him. He used his quiet time to gather his thoughts as to how his life was going. He presented his own State of the Union Address to himself and made changes accordingly. He focused on things he could control and acknowledged those he could not control.

It was a good start, he thought.

A lot of what happened at work fell into the “what he could not control” arena. Nevertheless, Eugene always started off the year with a bright outlook. Things started to settle down at the office after people finished their holiday travels and their kids went back to school. Meetings filled up their calendars; emails demanded attention; deadlines loomed.

Monday mornings rolled around, oblivious to the emotional state of the humans arriving, some still in a foggy haze of an emotional and financial holiday hangover.

“Good morning,” Eugene greeted his boss as she passed his cubicle.

“Grrrrr,” was all she managed as she shut the door to her office.

Eugene decided to stay out of her way for as long as possible. He had plenty to do to prepare for the morning’s first meeting.

“Happy New Year,” Eugene said to Larry as they passed each other in the hall.

“I don’t have to take that from you,” Larry said, glaring back.

Eugene picked up his pace to put a bit more distance between Larry and him.

Bleary-eyed, with coffee cups in hand, people filed into the meeting room, one by one. Some of them looked as if they hadn’t slept in quite some time. Eugene decided to help ease them back into the work world.

“So, Nancy, what did you get for Christmas?”

“The flu. First one kid got it, then the other. I was next on the hit list. The entire holiday was one big pajama party because we didn’t have the energy to get dressed. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner consisted of mostly peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Ah-choo!” Nancy sat down with a big box of Kleenex, pulling her sweater closed. She sat there hunched over, shivering.

Next in the door was Andy. “Andy!” Eugene was happy for someone else to talk to. “What did Santa bring you this year?”

Andy sat down and sighed. “Broken water pipes. Those couple of nights with temperatures in the teens just about did me in. Do you know what it’s like not to have running water? I couldn’t get a plumber to come out for a week. I even thought about calling a port-a-potty company and having one set out in the front yard and to hell with the home owner’s association. If time travel is invented anytime soon, I will not – I repeat not – being going back to a time before the invention of modern conveniences. It’s a wonder the human race survived without them. I know I couldn’t.”

Eugene didn’t know what to say to that, so he said nothing. He studied the papers in his folder until the next attendee arrived.

He just knew that the holidays couldn’t have been all bad for everyone, so he kept at it. “Amy, anything new with you?”

As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Eugene wished he could take them back. He hadn’t seen the cast on her right arm. He sort of knew what was coming.

“What’s new? I’ll tell you what’s new, in case you have vision issues. A broken arm is what’s new. New, painful, and expensive. Let’s go out west for a holiday vacation my husband said. The weather will be so much nicer. Do you know where we went? A dude ranch. A dude ranch in Arizona! Let’s go on a trail ride, he said. It’ll be fun.”

Amy sat down, wincing. “Well, my husband got one thing right. The weather was nicer. Still warm some days. Warm enough, in fact, for rattlesnakes to be active. And guess what?” Eugene wanted to look away, but thought Amy might construe that as unfriendly. He sat there like the proverbial deer in headlights.

He whispered, “What?”

“There are 365 days of the year, 24 hours in a day, and 113,998 square miles in Arizona and in all that time and space my horse and a rattlesnake crossed paths on that day at that time on that trail. The rattlesnake didn’t like that; my horse didn’t like that. The snake coiled to strike and my horse reared up. Do I look like a bronc rider to you? Do I?”

Amy paused for effect, tapping the cast on her arm. “Well, let me tell you something: I am not a bronc rider. I fell off the horse and broke my arm. In the middle of the Arizona nowhere, thank you very much. I had to ride double on a horse to return to the dude ranch. It took hours to drive to the nearest medical facility. And to top it off, they weren’t in my insurance network. I was lucky, they said, that it wasn’t any worse. Lucky, you call this lucky? Next Christmas, I’m not going anywhere. If my husband wants to go to a dude ranch, he can go by himself. In fact, I’d prefer that he did.”

Everyone in the room was praying for a distraction from Amy’s misery. Their prayers were answered as Marvin rushed in, just a little late.

“Hey look, everyone,” he said, holding up a bag, “the Valentine’s candy is already on the store shelves. Isn’t it great?”

At the end of the table, Tom covered his face with his hands, sobbing. It was an open secret that his wife had filed for divorce. The had married on Valentine’s Day.

Eugene didn’t know what had happened to T.S. Eliot for him to pronounce April as the cruelest month, but it seemed that it it were put to a vote by the people in the room, April could lose that title.

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