Short Stories

And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
– William Shakespeare (from A Midsummer Night’s Dream)

 

The Necklace

Madeline, didn’t care for silence.  In fact, she despised it.   She always liked some form of noise around her.  It reminded her of all the excitement in the world.  Even when she slept she would turn on her Sleep Machine that would play various soothing sounds while she drifted off to sleep. Noise showed her that she was alive.

Madeline was on her usual stroll through downtown to her favorite lunch spot,  Sal’s Deli.  It was a hole in the wall but it had the best sandwiches in Brooklyn.  Madeline ate there almost every single day.  It was right in the middle of where she worked and where she lived so it was the perfect spot.  She almost always ordered the Tuna Melt, hold the onions. She usually got her order to go and ate it outside on one of the benches.

Madeline loved watching people as they passed by.  It was fun for her to try to figure out where they were coming from and where they were going to.  She absolutely loved people.  She loved going to parties, coffee shops, anywhere that lots of different people would populate. Each person she talked to had an interesting life that she enjoyed learning about.

For about five months now, Madeline had been seeing a handsome man named Alan.  Alan worked for a prestigious law firm.  They had met at a bar called “The Deep End.”  Madeline had been singing Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats” at the top of her lungs when Alan noticed her.  Once her song was over, he bought her a drink and began chatting her up. He was the ultimate gentleman.  Madeline feel for him almost immediately.  They began dating right away.

Madeline was probably the happiest she had ever been in her entire life.  She had a fantastic boyfriend, she loved her job, and it was almost Christmas, her favorite holiday.  In her book, it couldn’t get much better than that.

That evening, she and Alan had a date.  They were going to a small dance club Alan had found.  It wasn’t your typical club.  Instead of Hip Hop or Pop music, this club focused on Ballroom Dancing. Everyone dressed formally and they had all kinds of fancy food and champagne.  Alan had described it to her earlier and it sounded absolutely magical. She was counting down the minutes until it was time for him to pick her up.

As she was sitting on the bench enjoying her lunch, she began to put together her outfit for the evening in her head.  She had a beautiful red dress she wore to one of her friend’s weddings that would be perfect.  Shoes were a bit harder to choose from.  She wanted something that looked nice but she could also move in.  She decided on a simple but elegant pair of black high heels.  She began to daydream about the rest of her outfit and the fantastic evening to come.

Madeline finished her sandwich and made her way back to work.  She worked at the perfume counter at a local department store.  It wasn’t very big but it still managed to have a respectable amount of customers.  Madeline was a terrific salesperson. She easily charmed men into buying expensive perfumes for their wives and girlfriends or cologne for themselves. With women, she was able to find a way to boost their confidence and help make them feel better about themselves.  That was one of her gifts.  She could always see the best in people.

The rest of the day moved at a glacial pace.  Thankfully today the store was very busy so that helped to pass the time.  Towards the end of her shift a delivery man came into the store with a small package.  He walked up to Madeline’s manager Stacey, and they spoke for a moment and then she pointed to Madeline.  He walked over Madeline and told her the package was for her and had her sign for it.  How exciting!  She thought.  She had never got a package at work before.   She quickly tore it open.  Inside was a long slender black box with hinges.  She opened it up slowly and almost dropped it out of shock.  It was a beautiful pearl necklace!  As she stared at the necklace she noticed a small note attached to the top of the box.  She took it out and read it.  “For my one and only love, Madeline. Love, Alan.”

Madeline burst into tears.  It was the most wonderful gift she had ever received.  Stacy noticed Madeline crying and she rushed over to see what was wrong.  “Honey, are you alright?” Stacy asked.  “Oh yes,” she laughed, “I’m just overcome with joy!  Look at what Alan gave me!”  She passed the box over to Stacy.  “Holy shit!  Are those real?”  “I think so.” said Madeline.  “Is he in the dog house or something?” Stacy asked.  “No.  He’s just wonderful.”  Madeline replied.  “Huh, he must be.  The only time a man ever sent me an expense gift was when he had screwed up. Well, let’s see what it looks like on you!”  Madeline went to pick up the necklace but before she could touch it two customers walked in so she put the lid back on the box and carefully set it in her purse.

Five o’clock finally arrived and Madeline quickly grabbed her purse, said goodbye to Stacy as she was locking up, and skipped out the door.  It was only about a fifteen minute walk to her apartment.  It was a beautiful, cool day.  She smiled at every person she passed by.  Most returned her smile, several looked away, and a few people just stared back at her.  When she arrived at her apartment, she took out her keys, unlocked the door, and immediately turned on the radio.  This helped to cancel the silence in the room.

Madeline made her way to her bathroom and turned on the faucet.  She watched as the tub filled with warm water.  The steam rising up was soothing.  She added some of her favorite Eucalyptus bath oil and took off her clothes and got into the tub.

While she was soaking she listened to what was on the radio.  They were no longer playing music.  It had switched over to a program in which people who were worried that their significant other was cheating on them would call into the radio station and express their concerns and then the host would then call their significant other and tell them that they had won a beautiful, fancy dinner for two.  They would then ask them who they wanted to join them on their date.  If they said their significant other’s name they were in the clear.  If not, it got quite interesting.  Unfortunately for Jim, the man they were calling, he said the wrong name.  This lead to a myriad of colorful insults hurled at his way by girlfriend Alexa.  It wasn’t exactly Shakespeare, but it was interesting nevertheless.

Madeline got out of the tub, wrapped herself in a towel and went into her bedroom.  She went to her closet and pulled out the red dress and her black high heels.  She proceeded to get dressed.  Madeline glanced at the clock.  7:00.  “Perfect” she thought.  Alan was picking her up at 8.  Once she was dressed, she went back into the bathroom and began to put on her makeup.

The radio station had switched back to its regular programing.  “Top Forty Hits.”  Madeline danced along to the music as she put on her makeup.  Before she knew it, there was a knock on her apartment door.  Butterflies immediately flooded her stomach.  She could hardly contain her excitement.  She quickly walked to the door and opened it.  Alan was on the other side, dressed in a well cut white suit with a black dress shirt and bow tie.  “You look amazing.” said Alan. “You don’t look half bad yourself.” she said as she winked at Alan.  “Come in.  I’m almost ready.  Just make yourself at home.”  Alan walked over to the Madeleine’s couch and had a seat.  She had a copy of “Good Housekeeping” on her coffee table that he thumbed through while he waited on her.

Once Madeline was finished, she walked out into the living room.  “Ready?”  Alan asked.  “Absolutely.” she replied.  Madeline and Alan walked arm in arm downstairs and then out into the cold night.  Alan led Madeline to his car, a lavish BMW.  He opened her door for her and then got into the car himself.  He started the car and pulled out into the street.  “Beautiful night isn’t it?” Alan asked.  “Yes wonderful!  I love this time of year.”

They arrived at the club a few moments later.  Alan got out of the car and held the door open for Madeline. He then took her by the arm and lead her to the club’s ornate entrance.  Such a gentleman. Madeline thought.  He opened the door and Madeline immediately felt as though she was transported back in time.  The lights were very low.  In fact, most of the lighting came from candles on each table staggered around the room.  The tables were covered with immaculate white tablecloths.  Each spot on the table had a place setting and a bucket with champagne.  On stage, there were five musicians dressed to the nines and playing an uptempo Jazz piece.   In the middle of the tables was a large dance floor.  Very few couples were seated at the tables. Most were out dancing.

“I can’t believe it! I feel like I’m in a dream.”  Madeline said as she gazed around the room.  “I know.” replied Alan. “Let’s grab a table.”  Alan led Madeline to an open table and they sat down.  A waiter quickly arrived and gave them menus and took their drink order.   “I can literally feel the happiness radiating in this room.” said Madeline.  And it was true.  Everyone had a smile on their face.  No one had a care in the world.  The waiter came back a few moments later and brought them their drinks.  He then took their order.  “I’ll have the filet minion.” declared Alan.  “And for you madame?” asked the waiter.  “Hmm.  That sounds delicious.  I’ll have that as well.”  she replied.  Excellent choice.” said the waiter and he took their menus and hurried to the kitchen.  Alan turned to Madeline.  “Care to dance?” Alan asked.  “Absolutely.” said Madeline.

Alan took Madeleine by the arm and walked her out to the dance floor.  The band was just starting a new song.  It had a fun, swing beat.  Alan was incredibly light on his feet.  He led Madeline with grace and elegance around the room.  She was in Heaven.

They danced to several songs more, some slow, some fast, until Alan saw the waiter bring their food out.  They finished their dance and walked, hand in hand, over to the table.

The food was absolutely amazing!  Their steaks were cooked perfectly.  The ate until they were stuffed and had wonderful conversation all the while.  When they finished their meal, Alan picked up the champagne bottle on the table and with one gracefully movement, he popped the cork and poured them each a glass.  He held up his glass and said “A toast to a perfect evening!”  The clinked glasses.  “Absolutely perfect.” Madeline agreed.

They sipped their champagne and watched the other couples dancing.  “Madeline, I know we have only been dating for a few months, but I have to say, I’m madly in love with you.  You are everything to me.”  Madeline was somewhat taken aback.  She felt this way about Alan but she thought that there was no way he could possibly reciprocate those feelings.  “Oh Alan,” she began,  “You don’t know how happy that makes me.  I love you so very much.”  “Madeline.” he paused. “Let’s run away together.  Let’s leave all this behind.  We can move out of this city.  Find a nice, small, quiet town.  It will be wonderful.”  “Alan, I’ll go anywhere as long as you are there too.”  Alan pulled her into the most passionate kiss she had ever experienced.  When he finally let go she began to cry.  Not tears of sadness, but tears of pure joy.

Madeline went to get a tissue out of her purse.  When she opened it up she saw the box that the necklace was in that Alan had sent her.  Oh no!  I completely forgot to put this on!  He probably thinks I didn’t like it!  She thought for a moment and then said “Alan, I’m going to run to the restroom.  I’ll be right back.”  “Ok.” replied Alan.  She hurried to the bathroom and quickly pulled out the necklace and put it on.  Madeline gazed into the mirror.  It was truly beautiful.  Easily one of the nicest pieces of jewelry she had ever worn.  She took a deep breath and gained her composure.  It was an honest mistake.  Alan will understand.  She smiled in the mirror and made her way back out to Alan.

Madeline returned to the table and sat down.  She looked at Alan and very seductively gestured to her necklace.  “Quite lovely isn’t it?”  she said playfully.  “Very much so!  Is it new?” Alan asked.  “Just got it today.” she replied, playing along.  “From someone very special.” Alan paused.  “Someone special?” he asked genuinely concerned.  “Who?”  Madeline dropped the act.  It was clear that Alan didn’t know what she was talking about.  “From you silly! I’m sorry I didn’t wear it sooner.  I was so excited for tonight that I forgot to put it on this evening.”  Alan waited. Then slowly he said “Madeline, I didn’t send that to you.”  “Are you joking? The note that came with it said it was from you.”  “Maybe someone sent it to you as a joke?”  replied Alan.  “Who sends a necklace as a joke?”  Just then, Madeline felt a horrible burning sensation around her neck.  The necklace felt like it was on fire.  She let out a scream.  “What’s wrong?” cried Alan.  “The necklace!”  Madeline screamed.  Alan leapt up from his seat.  Madeline tore at the necklace and ripped it from her throat.  Pearls scattered around the room.  Madeline fell to the ground.  She lay there, gasping for breath, in complete confusion.  Alan took her into his arms.  Madeline looked up at him “I…I…I love…” She drew in her last breath.

Everyone looked at Madeline’s lifeless corpse, completely stunned.  The DJ quickly shut the music off.  It was eerily quiet. No one moved.  No one talked.  Silence.

 

 

Epilogue

 

What Madeline didn’t know was that Alan was married.  Not only was he married, but he also had three children.  Alan’s wife, Veronica, had long suspected Alan was cheating on her.  She had hired a private detective to follow him and get to the bottom of it.  Sure enough, after a  little searching, she found out about Madeline.  Consumed with rage, she began to think about how she would handle the situation.  The more she thought about the other woman, the more she hated her.  As her hatred grew for Madeline, so did it for Alan.  That son of bitch!  How dare he ruin our family?

Veronica decided that the only solution to her problem was to kill Madeline.  She knew she couldn’t commit the murder herself so she began to devise a plan.  She needed a way to not only kill Madeline but to frame Alan as well in the process.  Poison was the weapon of choice when it came to revenge in all of her favorite TV shows and books.  But how can I poison her?  A light bulb went off in her mind.  She ran upstairs and looked in her jewelry box.  Alan loved buying her jewelry as an attempt to put a value on his love for her.  She found an old pearl necklace Alan had given her several years ago.  Veronica could easily ship it right to Madeline without raising any suspicion.  As for the poison, several internet searches told her all she needed to know to make a deadly, fast acting poison from a few household chemicals.  After a quick trip to the grocery store, she made her concoction and carefully put the necklace in and let it sit overnight.   She then took the necklace out of the mixture and let it dry.  Once dried, she put it in a box, along with a note and sent it to its unlucky victim.

 

Press One For English

“Dammit!”  Eric exclaimed as his television service went out just as the big game was about to come on. He had been waiting all week for this game.  In fact, football was one of the few things that kept him going anymore.  Eric lived a somewhat hermetic life.  He had no close friends and rarely saw his family.  He worked at the photo center of the local Walmart.  He spent most of his days helping old ladies decipher the various menus on their touch screen picture kiosk.

His favorite part of his job however, was developing pictures.  Each new memory card that came in was a tiny window into a person’s life.  What had they taken pictures of?  Why did they do it?  What was so important about this moment that it had to be preserved digitally for all of time?  

Eric looked at the pictures longingly.  There were photos of big family vacations, fun nights out with friends, a child’s birthday, a romantic evening.  He had no friends.  His parents lived a 1000 miles away in Kansas, and even if they were closer, he would have no desire to see them.  He had a brother, Alexander, whom he rarely saw.  Alexander had moved to London after he had met his beautiful wife Lydia there on his senior study abroad trip when he was in college. They had twin daughters who would be almost seven now.  They last time he saw them was when they had flown him to London for their 1st birthday.  If it was up to Eric he wouldn’t have gone.  He wasn’t much for flying but his brother insisted that he be there, so much so that he bought Eric’s ticket in order to entice him to stay.

It was a very nice trip.  Eric had never been out of the country before.  He didn’t really care for his brother.  He found him to be a bit of a showboat, always talking about his accomplishments.  However, Lydia was very kind and grounded. Their daughters, Mary and Isabella, were beautiful, happy, healthy babies.  Eric so desperately wanted to have a family of his own, but seeing as he was in his mid thirties, he knew that window was quickly closing.

The TV static hiss blared in his ears.  He was pulled out of his thoughts and returned to the problem at hand.  He jingled a few wires around and hit his cable box for good measure, but nothing worked.  Eric realized he must do the thing he dreaded doing.  Calling the cable company and start the long, arduous process of getting his television fixed.  He picked up his cell phone and searched for the number.  He found it and dialed the number.  A robotic voice answered on the other line.  “Hello, please press one for English, two for Spanish.”  Eric pressed one.  He proceed to press his way through the various automated responses until he finally reached “Please wait while we transfer your call to one of our representatives.”

“Level 1 complete,” joked Eric. “Only 10 more to go…”  The hold music began to play in the background.  Eric swayed to the soft Jazz music.  Then the music cut off and a pleasant voice said “Hello, how may I help you today?”   “Uh, yeah, my cable is out” stumbled Eric.  He was slightly taken aback by the calm, relaxed voice on the other end of the phone.  “Well, let’s see what we can do about that” replied the woman.  She began to ask Eric a series of standard questions about his television and cable box.  During their conversation, Eric began to lose himself in this woman’s voice.  It was so alluring and mysterious.  How she made “Is your HDMI cord plugged in?” sound sexy he wasn’t sure.

Visions of a new life began to appear in his head.  The life he always wanted.  The big house, the kids, a wife. He wasn’t sure how it was going to happen but he knew this woman was who he was destined to be with.  Her voice gave him all kinds of signals.  It was like a sign from above.

After a few more questions and some button pressing, Eric’s cable was in perfect working order.  “Is there anything else I can help you with today?” the woman asked.  “No, I think that takes care of everything.  Thank you again.”  Eric replied.  “No problem sir.  If you would, please take this short survey at the end of this phone call I would be very appreciative!”  “I will!  Thank you again for your help today.  May I have your name…for the survey! I’d like to give you a good recommendation.”  said Eric.  “Sure.  It’s Miranda.  Have a nice day sir.”  said Miranda. “You too!” replied Eric.  The phone beeped a few times and Eric proceeded to take the survey.

“Miranda” he said after finishing the survey.  Eric unmuted his TV and started watching the game.  They were only a little into the 2nd quarter but Eric found himself unable to focus on the TV.  His thoughts drifted to Miranda.  Is it possible to fall in love with someone whom you have never met?  “I’m not in love with Miranda.  I don’t even know her.” he told himself.  He pushed her out of his mind and forced himself to focus on the game.

The game came to a close and his team lost horrifically.  Eric turned off the TV and began preparing for bed.  He finished brushing his teeth and climbed into his bed.  He turned off the lights and tried to fall asleep. Suddenly thoughts of Miranda began to creep into his head.  Her silky voice tantalized Eric’s imagination. He began to picture what she looked like in his mind.  She had long brown hair he thought and beautiful hazel eyes.  She wore glasses and dressed like a stylish Librarian.   She couldn’t be more than in her late twenties.  She enjoyed reading and playing the piano.  She had a beautiful singing voice but rarely sang in front of people because she could be quite shy.  Did she have any pets? May a cat or… “No! Stop”  Eric blurted out. “This is insane.”  He pulled his covers up and tried desperately to fall asleep.

He only half slept that night.  Miranda continued to haunt his dreams.

Over the next few weeks, Eric began to grow more and more obsessive over his thoughts of Miranda.  He woke up thinking about her and throughout the day and found himself wondering what she was doing at that exact moment.  Was she getting coffee too? Did she like coffee?  Was she more of a tea person?

As his thoughts became more intrusive, his job began to suffer.  He was less attentive and quite careless.  He barely listened as customers tried to ask him questions.  At home he couldn’t focus on anything either.  He had completely lost all his interest in Football.  He would spend his evening pacing throughout his small apartment thinking of Miranda.  As he lay in his bed, tossing and turning he had an idea.  What if I call the cable company and try to talk to her?  Would that be too weird?  No, I’ll just tell her that I very much enjoyed our conversation and perhaps I’ll ask her to get dinner with me?  One step at a time.  Content, for the first time in weeks, Eric fell into a deep sleep.

Eric woke the next morning feeling extremely well rested.  He made himself a cup of coffee and sat down on his couch and began to map out what he wanted to say to Miranda.  Since Eric had the day off today, he didn’t have to rush his thoughts.  He could take his time and carefully craft his conversation with Miranda.

After about an hour of thought, he picked up his cell phone, and easily found the phone number in his saved calls since he hadn’t made another call since first speaking with Miranda.  He dialed.  The same robotic voice greeted him.  “Hello, please press one for English, two for Spanish.”  Eric pressed one and continued to press buttons as the made his way to “Please wait while we transfer your call to one of our representatives.”

The hold music only played for a few moments and then a deep voice spoke. “Hello, how may I help you today?”   “Yes, I was just on a call with one of your colleagues and my cell phone dropped the call.  I was wondering if you could possibly reconnect us?” Eric lied.  “Oh, I’m very sorry about that sir.  I’ll see what I can do for you.  What was the name of the representative you were speaking to?” the deep voice asked. “I believe she said her name was Miranda.” Eric said, trying his best to sound casual.  Eric’s parents had sent him to a drama camp one summer and he hopped this performance was much better than his role as “Third Spear Holder from the Left” in the camp’s production of “Julius Caesar.”  “Hmmm…Ah yes. I see her in the system.  One moment while I transfer your call.  Have a nice day sir.” said the deep voice.  “Thank you. You too.” replied Eric.

The hold music began to play.  It was a soft Jazz piece.  He imagined himself dancing with Miranda after a candle lit dinner.  They swayed effortlessly to the music.  Eric dipped Miranda and then pulled her close to him.  Their eyes locked.  They leaned in.  Her lips looked so beautiful. They would inch closer and closer together and then “Hello, how may I help you today?” said Miranda.  Eric was quickly pulled out of his fantasy.  “Um,” he stumbled “Yes, my cable is out.”  “Oh, I’m very sorry to hear that” her angelic voice replied.”  “Let’s see if we can find out exactly what the problem is.

She began to ask Eric the standard set of questions.  When he gave her his account number there was a slight pause.  “Oh, I believe we spoke the other day Mr. Lee.  Are you have the same problem as last time?” Miranda asked.  Eric took a deep breath and summoned all his courage. “Well Miranda, in the interest of full disclosure, my cable is actually working just fine.  I called because I wanted to speak to you.” said Eric.  “I’m sorry Mr. Lee.” said Miranda “I must admit that I’m a bit confused.”  “Miranda.  I believe I may be in love with you.”  There was silence on the other end of the phone.  Eric continued “I know it sounds completely crazy.  But there was something about our last conversation.  I know you don’t know me but I think if we could just meet up with each other sometime for dinner maybe we would really hit it off!”

Miranda tried to process at that was happening.  “Mr. Lee, I don’t feel comfortable with this conversation.  I’m not sure what I could have possibly said that would have made you think you were attracted to me but I assure you both of these calls are strictly professional.  Eric had planned for this as a possible reaction.  “I know I sound like a total creep.  This is weird.  All of it.  I can’t explain it.  I don’t mean you any harm.  I just want to meet you.”

“I’m sorry Mr. Lee,” said Miranda trying to stay professional. “But I’m afraid that’s just not possible. Have a nice day.”

The line beeped and then went dead.

It was over.  He couldn’t believe it.  Everything he had planned had just been flushed down the drain.  Why didn’t she just give me a chance.  I know she would like me!  I just know it. Eric stared at his television for what seemed like hours.

He finally roused himself to eat something.  He spent the rest of the moped about the house, unsure what to do.  Eric turned the television on and found an old football game.  When it was time for bed he made his way upstairs, brushed his teeth, and climbed into bed.  Sleep did not come.

Eric walked into to work the next day feeling as though he had a void in his life.  He had spent so much time obsessing over Miranda that he didn’t know what to do without her in his life.  He slowly made his way to the photo counter and saw that his coworker Kyle was standing at the photo printer.  “Hey Eric, I just put this order into the printer but it’s time for me to clock out. Can you finish it up for me?” asked Kyle.  “Sure.” replied Eric. “No problem.”  “Thanks man!”  I’ll see ya later!” Kyle said as he quickly walked away.

Eric moved over to the printer.  Kyle had already made the label and put in on the envelope so all Eric had to do was put the pictures in once they had finished printing and seal the envelope.  He began to clean some on the display cameras while he waited for the order to finish.  The printer beeped, signaling that the order was ready.  Eric scooped up the pictures.  He looked at the photo on the top of the stack.  It was a beautiful woman.  She looked like a movie star.  She had one of those effortless smiles.  The kind that makes everyone else smile in the room too.

He looked through several more of the pictures.  She must have just gotten back from a vacation with some of her girlfriends.  There were pictures of her on the Vegas strip, at the Hoover Dam, and at the Grand Canyon.   Eric wished he had friends he could go on trips with.  He stared at the pictures enviously.  Eric stuffed the pictures into the envelope and glanced at the name. “Williams”. He set the envelope down and went back to cleaning.

A few moments later a woman appeared at the counter.  Eric immediately recognized the woman from her pictures.  She was even more beautiful than she was in her photos.  He looked at her “Ms. Williams?”  The woman nodded.  Eric picked up the envelope and scanned the label.  “If that’s everything, it’ll be $4.50.”  The woman paid with a debit card.  Eric pulled out the receipt and said “Please sign this copy and then the bottom copy is yours.”  The woman signed the receipt and handed it back to Eric.  “Have a nice day.” said Eric.  “You too.” said the woman as she walked away.

Eric went to pick up the receipt but he stopped midway.  He looked at the woman’s first name. “Miranda.”