Short Stories

Elfreth’s Alley- E’s story

Red door, red windows, second floor. Red door, red windows, second floor.
Red door…
The cobblestone pavement was hurting Emily’s feet and her clothes were soaked up by the summer shower.
The sun was now shining as if five minutes ago it hadn’t been raining cats and dogs. Red door, red windows…
She kept balancing her suitcase and her purse with one hand and in the other, she had the largest bouquet of flowers she has found at the market. It has been fifteen years since she has seen her great uncle and she was more than happy to be reconnected with him. Former army colonel, uncle Maximum, or Max, as anyone knew him, was the living proof that no matter how many times life knocked you down, you still have it in you to get up and start fresh. He lost his wife when he came back from the war, he lost his small business and the family farm shortly afterwards, then had to take the weirdest jobs to support his younger sister, Emily’s mom, before he joined the army and made a career out if it, being deployed all over the world, in dangerous and conflictual zones, sending Emily post-cards with weird names and strange buildings and foreign people on them.
Now he was retired, owner of an old house on the historical alley in Philly, far far away from the old Texas ranch where he grew up galavanting on the dusty and wide roads.
Emily’s fascination with this fantastic relative grew with every post-card and with every letter, and when she finally met him and was able to put a face to that glorious name, she was thrilled. And now Emily was keen on writing a book about him. About him and his adventures, the life of his generation and, especially of the people’s Colonel, as he was known in his circles.
Red door, red windows, second floor.
Emily stopped dead in her tracks. There was more than one red door. And definitely many many more red windows. Did he say there were red windows also on the second floor? Did she have somewhere written down the full address?
Red door. She stopped. Put her bags down, the flowers on top and started rummaging through her purse for an envelope with an address.
-Excuse me, Miss, you cannot block the entrance!
-Excuse- she started, flustered, annoyed and panicked, turning around to face her accuser. What do you mean blocking the entrance? There is enough space for you to get in! I am looking for something…
-Yes, said the voice, a better angle for a selfie, probably… Or the best light? Or something as trivial as this.
Emily finally faced the man and gasped. He was tall. Okay, truth be told, comparing to her height, everyone was tall. But this guy had to be at least 6 feet. Tall, blond and dangerous. Or was that dark and dangerous. Anyhow, this blond one looked dangerous enough to give the dark ones a run for their money.
-First of all, Mister… I’m not looking for my phone to take a damn selfie! I will not get a selfie stick out of my purse and I’m definitely not going to search for the best angle, light combination or whatever!
She realised she kind of yelled at him… but only when the elderly couple passing by snickered at her remarks while continuing to take pictures at every corner they could find. Wow, she definitely put her foot in her mouth.
-You’re still blocking my entry, Miss, he said condescendingly.
Emily grabbed her bags, allowing the annoying man to pass.
-By all means, do help a girl out… she said when she put the heavy suitcase down straight on the cobblestone.
-Not my monkey, not my circus, said the man entering the house, leaving her beyond shocked on the alley.
Closing her eyes and gathering her bearings, she took three deep breaths, centring herself. She then realised her hands were closed in tight fists, he nails deep in flesh.
-Damn you, blondie! she whispered and resumed her search.
An elderly lady, all posh and class turned on the alley, carrying a tiny dog, one of the ugliest Emily had ever seen in her entire life. And that said something, as she had volunteered in her teens at a vet cabinet and she had seen all kinds of weird-looking, gremlin-like vermin-fury creatures that somehow passed as dogs. The lady took out a key with her perfectly manicured hands and smiled at her, and a cloud of sweet perfume lingered in the air for a while.
-Yes, yes, Coco, said the lady caressing the dog wiggling in her arms, we’re almost home now. We’re going to have a nice supper and then you’re going to take a nice bath…
-Excuse me, said Emily watching as the lady opened the doors of the house next to her. Green door, white windows. Do you think you could help me?
-Sure, child, said the woman putting down Fifi, or Coco, whatever the name of the creature was.
As if it would have felt Emily’s dislike, the dog came sniffing her feet, and then raised one leg, and… oh, my…
-GOD! cried Emily not believing her eyes.
-Oh, no, no, no, Coco! said the lady at the same time. I am, oh so sorry! Please, let me make it up to you, she said, raising a 20 dollar bill and handing it to her. Please take it! Get it cleaned properly!
A burst of laughter came behind her and the lady turned to a very flirtatious voice in a blink of an eye.
-Oh, Jackson… look at what my little Coco did to this poor young lady… I am flabbergasted!
-Perhaps Coco should receive a medal for best action against tourists leaving their luggage whenever, wherever. Time for them to understand that this is our home, not just a photo attraction.
Emily did not have the heart to turn, besides, it was not even necessary. She knew that voice. Oh, and she already hated that voice.
-Jackson, do not be mean to this poor child… Tell me, love, how may I be of assistance?
-Turn around and to your left, you’ll find a taxi station. For sure it can take you somewhere else, offered the so-called-Jackson,  as known as the bane of her existence.
Emily ignored his snide and answered the lady, who in the meantime, grabbed Coco by the leash and was holding it far from the leaky luggage with her foot.
-I am looking for my great-uncle, Colonel Maximus-
-You’re Max’ niece?! said the voice behind her in utter shock.
The lady clapped her hands and said:
-Oh, you must be little Emily! Oh, oh, please, you must come inside for a drink. Your uncle is not here.
-Little Emily? said Jackson and Emily wished he would leave already.
-What do you mean uncle Max is not here? Where is he? He was supposed to expect me…
The lady tilted her head to the side and whispered:
-He received a call yesterday. That is all we know. Right, Jackson? He gave us the keys and asked us to welcome you, well… he said little Emily, anyway… and help you get accommodated until he will be able to be in contact again.
-No… said Emily, all the sudden wanting to curl into a ball and cry.
-Jackson, you have the key, right? said the lady. Oh, and I am Miss Marianne, I live right next door from you and Jackson.
Emily turned pale. She felt the need to sit. She and that… man… would have to share a damn roof? Noooo… Oh, was it too late to book a hotel room on the other side of Philadelphia? Or perhaps fly back to London until her uncle would come back?
-Now, let’s get you inside, it looks like it’s getting ready for another reprise of rain. We had some weird weather lately, said Marianne, grabbing her by her elbow and motioning to Jackson to pick up her bags.
-Come on now, dear old Jacky boy, take the lady’s suitcase. And careful with those flowers, now!
She should have at least enjoyed the face the man had when he was forced to carry the leaky bags inside, but she was still upset by the lack of comfort she was expecting. She needed Uncle Max more than anything that day and she found an empty house, well, it would have been actually better if it would have been really empty…
-It’s on the second floor, said Marianne guiding her on the narrow stairs. Oh, it’s so good to have a man in the house, that’s what I say! I was spoiled having my husband with me for more than 40 years, and now, I’m with these two fine gentlemen, right next door on the alley, oh, a man is always such a help. Don’t you think?
When they reached the second floor, Marianne turned on her heel and yelped.
-Oh, sweet mama of… I forgot Coco! Love, Jackson will take good care of you, and after you settle in, come for a drink and a home-cooked meal. I am at home most of the day, except for mornings and late-afternoons when I am waking Coco. Cius!
Emily felt like she will burst into laughter when she watched the old lady running down the stairs her coat trailing behind her like a superhero cape, on the way to save her precious Coco. Then she met her neighbour’s gaze and lost her appetite for laughter.
-You can leave them down, I’ll manage from here. Thank you, she said bitterly. It was a hard thank-you for sure.
-I cannot leave it down. It is still leaking and the carpet is an original one, so we’ll need to get them to the bathroom and then I can put them down.
That was it. Seeing Jackson holding the suitcase so close to him, his coat drenched in Coco’s dejections, and the priceless look on his face, contorted in utter disgust, she gave in. Emily sat down on the stair and burst into laughter, tears falling down her cheeks, and gasping for air.
-Why-why are you laughing?
His question started another laughter fit and she got up, drying her cheeks with her hand and opened the door to let him in. After he dropped the suitcase on the marble floor, he turned around to leave.
Emily handed him the 20 bucks from Marianne and when he looked incredulous at her, she said, before closing the door in his face:
-To properly clean your coat.

 


Ten Sleeps Wyoming- R’s story

The floorboard creaked and he muttered under his breath. Stopped in his track and listened. No sound. No other sound but the soft breaths of the others still asleep. He took another step, carefully avoiding the sharp corner of a comforter and stepping on the same creaky old wood.
While grabbing his camera bag, he wished he had had the inspiration to charge it the night before. But he had been so engrossed in thoughts, he forgot. It was not the first time lately when he forgot to do things he should have.
It was pitch black outside, the crescent moon just looming over his head, not in the mood to make his escape easier. Some stars were creeping down between the clouds, winking at him.
Opened and closed the door with one swift move, knowing that if he would have opened it wide it would hit the chair behind it. The last thing he wanted was to wake them up and have to explain himself. He just wanted to creep out to his escape.
There was a chill in the air, and he revelled at the thought that soon it will be fall. However, until then, there would still be some scorching days to get through.
As he put his camera bag on the passenger’s seat, he took in a good breath, as if to test his lungs. And again, deeper this time, and third time to clear his head as well as his soul. Three was the magic number after all.
The road was empty in front of him and he enjoyed the drive, only seeing some shadows and hills on the side of the road. That moon was bent on not helping him. As he drove with the window down and in total silence, he started to feel more and more like himself, more than he has felt lately.
Being out on the road did that to him and he chastised himself once more for not doing it more often. It was as he had been somehow punishing himself for already being down. The human mind was a true abyss and trying to understand it and make sense of it was a real Sisyphus ’ job. Not to mention how exhausting was to always try to understand the whats, the whys and the hows.
He was getting closer to his spot. Well, not exactly his spot, but he has been there before and he had seen the beauty. That would reboot his mood and would make him crawl out of that depression hole he has dug for himself a while ago. Or so he hoped. Manoeuvred his car carefully off the road, on to the not so beaten path and after a while, he pulled to stop. The moment he killed the lights he found himself surrounded by darkness. But with every second his eyes grew more accustomed to the little light coming from above, throwing shadows all around him. He could make out the shapes of the rolling hills and even if he could not see them properly, he knew they were of many many shades of red soil and green trees and bushes were sprinkled here and there in a playful contrast.
As the morning began to broke he felt chills of excitement crawling under his skin, making him shiver.
When the first sun ray touched the ground the reds have exploded. Ocre, umber, burnt sienna, terra rossa as it was known from the Renaissance paintings.
Within a few moments he could actually see the horizon, still muddied, still sleepy, but there, at his fingertips. He took his camera out and took a photo. The sun rays rested on the hill in front of him, lightning it up as it was on fire. The valley beneath it held the village still asleep. Even the name of the village was somehow connected. Ten Sleeps Wyoming. Population 300. And while his mind went straight to the “How Ten Sleeps Got its name” post and that made him chuckle. Some things will never stop being funny. And people from the past really had a dry sense of humour well hidden in platitudes. Only children these days would count the time to an event by counting sleeps. And that was quite funny.
He could now see clearly the Signal Cliff and wondered what would have looked like back in the days when communication was not done through invasive technology that occupied 23.5 hours of your day but was only used for that… communicating important, vital, and meaningful information.
That place did not change for thousands and thousands of years. People have come and people have gone, from Sioux tribes to pioneers, to modern man… From people manoeuvring bows and arrows to people manoeuvring lassos and then smartphones and climbing gear. They were all little flies, living for a second, marvelling at the sight and disappearing the other. But what a sight!
Looked like a painting, the Ten Sleeps Canyon was a timeless beauty, and he was blessed to have seen it. Not just once in his life, but twice. And he was grateful for his eyes to see what he was seeing, for his legs to take him places, for his mind to make him want adventure, for his soul to crave adventure. He was grateful for the means to travel and to explore. For the stories, he had found all those years of his life and for all those that were on the way. He was humbled by the thought that he was undeserving, and yet so showered with beauty.
He felt himself being part of something bigger than him. Being part of the Sioux tribes and of the pioneers’ caravans, the cowboys’ journeys and the small villagers living the hardship of life, there, in the midst of it all. In the midst of eternity.
He took another deep breath in and when the sun finally fell on his face, he felt happy.

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