This photo was recently taken at my father’s 80th Birthday party. We happily traveled to NJ to attend and enjoyed showing our children NYC during the holidays. The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree and ice-skaters are wonderful (and for me….the city is all about the shopping and pretzels). My present to my dad was the story I wrote, “The Wise Words of a Feline Friend.” I hope you enjoy it as much as he did.
December 13, 2010
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Riley Wickham was a man at odds with his life. Instead of looking forward, he looked back. Rather than feel excitement for what could be, he was sad about what no longer was. Riley didn’t enjoy the present and preferred to dwell on the past. He stopped planning for the future, no longer had hopes, or remembered to dream.
Riley lived alone in a small cabin, which overlooked a quiet lake. There was a time when he’d take long walks in the woods, fish in the water, and grow fresh vegetables in the garden. From his fruit trees, he’d make delicious pies which he’d drive into town to sell at the local market. Riley would call his children every day, send the occasional email, and brush his two cats, Oscar and Orion, with much enthusiasm. Now the garden was overgrown and the fruit trees diseased. His kitchen was as dusty as the flour he’d once used for his pies and his fishing gear was put away. His computer sat covered in the corner and his answering message was full of un-played messages. Oscar and Orion were still brushed but Riley’s strokes were listless and their fur lost its shine. Mostly Riley would sit on the front porch for hours, just looking out at the trees and listening to the sounds of the forest. Evenings, he’d heat canned soup and read history books by candlelight.
Riley was not an old man. He’d worked hard and fast and earned an early fortune which brought security for his family. He’d amicably parted from his last wife, sold his company, and retired to this cabin with a few good decades of living ahead of him. Riley should have been happy and grateful but, for whatever reason, he wasn’t. He’d lost his appreciation for life and was letting time waste away.
One particular night, following yet another day on the porch, Riley was heating broth when he heard a knock on the door. At first he ignored it but the knocking became insistent. Annoyed, he switched off the burner and opened the door. Standing in the doorway stood a woman with a very unusual appearance. She was disturbingly thin with pale, almost transparent skin. Her eyes burned black and her hair was a mantle of flaming red. A long gray cloak covered her which draped to the floor.
“What can I do for you?” Riley asked the strange woman.
“May I please come in?” she asked in a low voice, “There’s been an accident and I’d like to use your phone.”
Riley paused for a moment. For whatever reason, he felt strongly that he didn’t want to let her into the house.
“Please?” She asked. “I just want to call for help.”
He sighed and opened the door wider. “I suppose if there was an accident, then it’s all right.”
As she glided into the house, Riley was disturbed to notice how incredibly tall she was – probably the tallest person he’d ever seen.
“Was anyone hurt?” Riley inquired.
The woman stopped and looked at him.
“In the accident…was someone hurt?” He asked again.
She hesitated a moment before slowly replying. “Yes. I rather think they were, but I think they’ll be all right.”
Riley gestured to the phone and went back into the kitchen to put his soup back on. Stirring the broth, he felt uneasy. When he didn’t hear her talking he went back into the living room to see what she was doing. The woman was standing in the center of the room, staring at a candle he’d lit earlier. She looked up at him and, once more, he felt uncomfortable – almost…afraid.
“Did you make your calls? Were you able to get some help?” He asked.
“I love candles” she said, turning her black eyes toward him. They were like pools of ink poured into the hollows of her face.
“I know you like them too Riley.” She said.
Riley took a step backwards, towards the kitchen. “I didn’t tell you my name.” He said slowly, “How do you know who I am?”
The woman smiled. “It’s not important how I know you. What matters is why I’m here and what I’m going to do to you.” she said.
“Look, accident or not, I’d really like you to leave” Riley responded, walking to open the door, “Now.”
“Oh I’m not going anywhere Riley,” she replied, “In fact, from what I’ve learned about you, I rather think I’ll be here awhile.”
She reached into her cloak and took out a twisted stick. Carved into it were words and strange symbols that Riley couldn’t make out. She pointed the stick at him with one hand and Riley was startled to see her put her other hand directly into the flame of the candle.
“And now, it’s your turn to call for help” she said.
Before Riley could react to her words, a stream of light came from the stick and hit him straight in the chest. He felt a horrible burning sensation and cried out in pain. His body felt as if it was on fire and he was blinded by the brightness which consumed him. Before he lost consciousness, he felt as if his body was folding into itself, almost…melting
When Riley regained awareness, he was horribly hot and his limbs felt bound to his body. He no longer had eyes to open but somehow still had sight. He saw things through a bright, flickering light – candlelight, he realized with shock. Horrified, Riley realized he no longer had a body but was somehow part of the candle. Trapped in a wax prison, he burned.
He heard laughter and the woman came into focus, although now she looked different. She wore simple clothing and her wild red hair was tucked neatly into a bun. “Well Riley,” she said, “I hope you’re comfortable.”
She went into his kitchen and he heard the sounds of soup being prepared. Riley couldn’t speak and slowly lost consciousness again.
When Riley woke again, his candle was out and the cabin was cool and quiet. From the sunlight coming through the window, he could tell it was early morning. He heard a humming outside and movement in the garden. This continued for some time and eventually, there was a step on the porch and the front door opened. The woman entered and was carrying his gardening tools. Dirt was smeared on her forehead and she was perspiring, as if she’d been hard at work.
“You should really be ashamed of yourself Riley,” She reprimanded him. “That garden will take me weeks to bring back.”
She shook her head, “And all that beautiful basil gone to seed.”
She put down her tools and went into the utility room, where he heard the sound of running water. Later that day, she swept the porch clean and brushed Oscar and Orion until they gleamed. When the cats were snapping in a spot of sun, she took out flour and apples and began to make a pie.
“Riley, you have seriously neglected those fruit trees. I’ve done what I could do save them and for now, bought a bushel of apples in town to make a few treats.” She continued talking to him as she made pies, turnovers, and strudel. As the sun set, she tossed aside his history books and uncovered his laptop.
“Time to get reconnected with the world,” she said, “I’m going to poke around on this machine for awhile but first, want to make the room cozy.” Striking a match, she leaned over him. While it didn’t hurt this time, Riley was sickened by the sensation of part of him dripping away.
In the days that followed, the woman fished in his lake and brought her baked goods into town for sale.
“I made some good friends there Riley,” she said, “I explained you’d gone away somewhere warm and I was staying in at your place until you got back.”
She laughed and leaned forward to smell his candle. “Not bad. Although truthfully Riley, I prefer a scent that’s a bit more vanilla.”
For the next few weeks, things continued much the same way. The woman took over his cabin and his world, doing all the things which he should have done. During the day she baked pies, tended the garden, cared for his cats, and made friends in town. While each night, she burned a little more of him away.
Riley was trapped and helpless. He could do nothing but watch the woman and lament his loss. Anxiously he’d wait for the setting sun, knowing that in the evenings, he’d melt down, smaller and smaller.
When all that was left of Riley was a blackened wick in a small pool of wax the woman drew close and looked at him.
“Well Riley, it looks like this is it for you,” She said, “You’re really going to go out in a blaze, but I wouldn’t say there’s much glory.”
“Although when you think about it Riley,” She continued, “These last few weeks weren’t that much different than before my visit. You were still letting your life waste away but this time, I did it for you.”
She sighed, “It would all be such a shame,” she continued, “Unless, of course, you’ve learned something from this.”
With one hand she took out the twisted stick and with the other, touched the match to him. What once had been Riley Wickham, the candle, faded away in a final flame.
When Riley next opened his eyes he was back in his body! The cabin was empty, the sun shining bright, and the woman was gone. Indeed there was no sign that she’d ever been there at all.
In the days and years that followed, Riley approached his life with vigor. Gone were empty days and he valued every minute that he had. Riley went back to work as a part-time consultant for his former company. He also became a professional fisherman, who traveled the world with his fluffy companions, Oscar and Orion. Back at the cabin, he cultivated an apple orchard of fruit-trees which yielded crops that people would come to pick in season. During his visits, he’d bake pies that he’d bring to the town’s farmer’s market, along with baskets of fresh-grown vegetables. In the evenings, Riley would make himself a hearty dinner – never soup, and wrote down plans of all the places he wanted to go and things to do. Riley’s ambitions took him far and wide; however he always came back to his small cabin in the woods, on shores of the peaceful lake. He appreciated the lesson he learned from the woman and going back served as a reminder to live the rest of his days to the fullest. When asked, he’d tell people “Being here lit a fire in me. One which I hope never goes out.”
Copyright Cathy Predmore, 2010. All rights reserved.
December 13, 2010
Joseph Lazzara had lived 79 good years. He was a retired mathematics professor who was happily married to his wife and loved by his children and grandchildren. However, on the eve of his 80th birthday he was unhappy with his age and what he thought it represented. Rather than feeling excitement for what could be, he thought about what no longer was. Instead of planning for the future, he preferred to dwell on the past. Joseph still had hopes and happiness but he didn’t often remember to dream.
Joseph’s faithful companion was his cat, a big gray and white tabby named Morris. Morris stayed by his side, keeping him company throughout the day, and was a source of great contentment.
One morning after brushing Morris, he looked at him and said, “I’m an old man now Morris and I don’t like it one bit. I have a big birthday coming up – eighty.” He paused for a moment and exclaimed, “Shit, I don’t even like the sound of it.” Joseph sighed and said, “What I wouldn’t do to have 9 lives like you, my friend.”
Morris turned to look at him and, to Joseph’s shock, he replied.
“Joe, I would rather trade 8 of my lives, to have just one like yours.”
Joseph quickly dropped the brush and stood up. “My god,” he exclaimed, “I must be losing my mind.” Frightened, he started towards the door to call for his wife.
“Wait Joe!” Morris continued, “Nothing is wrong with you. Think for a minute, you’ve always known cats are better than people. Well, you were right! We are.”
Joseph paused for a moment and said, “Assuming that’s true, and I’m not going crazy, why talk to me now? Why wait for all these years?”
Morris replied, “Honestly Joe, I haven’t needed to speak to you before now. You’ve always taken wonderful care of me. You’ve given me special food, kept my water-bowl full, and brushed me just the way I like it. You even make the trip to the litter box every day. I can’t stay silent,” he continued, “Because I really hate to see you depressed, especially for all the wrong reasons.”
“What do you know about my reasons Morris?” Joseph asked, sitting back down next to his friend.
Morris answered, “You are letting your age get you down and think you don’t have much time ahead of you. With all due respect Joe, I know you’re smart (I sit there when you do all those math problems) but you really have no idea. Nobody ever knows how long they have in their life- not even you.”
Joseph thought for a moment and conceded, “I know you’re right Morris. I just don’t like the feeling of being old. It’s not very…pleasant.”
“Look Joe,” Morris said, “You are in better shape than owners I’ve had who were decades younger than you. I’ve lived with men in their 50’s and 60’s who can’t jog like you do, are three times your size, and in poor health. Heck, even I’m pretty overweight (not that I want you to cut down on my food).”
“I’m fortunate to be in good health,” Joseph replied. “But I still can’t count on a life beyond this one.”
Morris said, “Look, I’ve had it easy with you and I really hope my other lives will be the same. However, in some I could be a stray and then I won’t be very happy and certainly won’t reach eighty! More importantly, I won’t do anything of real value and will be loved by just a few. While you on the other hand,” Morris explained, “Have done very important things in this one life of yours and been loved by many people.”
He went on, “Both your parents adored you, while I never even knew my father and my mother only stayed with me a short time. I was really just abandoned in an alley before someone finally took me to the shelter where your wife found me. Even after all these years, I’ve never fully gotten over it.”
“I always said you had a hard start Morris,” Joseph said, “But that’s the way it is for cats sometimes and unfortunately life isn’t always fair.”
“True,” acknowledged Morris, “But the great thing about any bad situation is that it can always get better. Who would’ve thought a scared kitten from an alley could end up on this comfortable couch talking to you? ”
He went on, “Unlike me, as a human you’ve had great friends; however, if I see another cat the last thing I want is to befriend it. You’ve even had one friendship which has lasted over sixty years!”
“That’d be Anthony,” conceded Joseph, “Did I ever tell you how we met? I heard him playing the piano back when we were boys in Brooklyn and we became friends right away.” Joseph smiled at the memory.
“You’ve been a soldier Joe, who served his country and traveled the world!” said Morris, “My only journey has been from couch, to food bowl, and back again. And we both know that’s hardly a trip I’ll be saluted for taking,” Morris said.
“Being in the army changed me in so many ways Morris,” Joseph said, “It was good for me and taught me things I never would have learned staying in Brooklyn with my parents.”
Joseph laughed and said, “That reminds me Morris, sometime I’ll have to tell you about my French girlfriend.”
“That’s something else you have over me Joe,” Morris replied, “I’ve never had a girlfriend and, not that I hold this against you, but don’t even want one thanks to that little operation you gave me awhile back.
“You’ve also been a terrific teacher who influenced the lives of many thousands of students during your career, “Morris pointed out, “Now that’s an amazing accomplishment!”
“Well I enjoyed the subject matter Morris,” Joseph explained, “And was happy to share it with others.”
“Speaking of the subject Joe,” Morris said, “Mathematics has interested you for your whole life, while I get tired of chasing a toy mouse after only a few minutes. I wish I had something I enjoyed like that and so do many humans.”
“Now that I know you can talk Morris, maybe I can try showing you some simple math,” Joseph offered.
“Thanks, but I’d rather sit on your paper or knock a pen onto the floor. I may talk but am still a cat” Morris replied, “And did you forget you are a musician? You’ve played the piano since you were a child. In fact, anytime I hear Rhapsody in Blue – in this life or next, I’ll think of you. The only music I make is by meowing, which most people don’t think isn’t very musical.”
“My wife would probably agree with that Morris.” Joseph admitted.
“And where you’re really fortunate is in your family Joe. You’ve been married for over forty years, while I’m a lone cat. You have two grown children who love you as their parent and like you even more as their friend,” Morris said, “I’ve never had kittens and, even if I do in another life, it won’t be in my nature to know them.”
“In that I couldn’t agree with you more Morris,” Joseph said, “I’ve always said a man without a family doesn’t have much of anything.”
“And don’t forget your grandchildren Joe,” Morris said, “You have five who are crazy about their grandpa.”
“I do love them,” Joseph said with a smile, “One of my grand-daughters is even a cat-lover like me Morris.”
He paused and said, “Look, I know I’ve been very lucky. I’m grateful for my family and they give me a lot of happiness. But Morris, it’s thinking of what’s ahead that gets to me,” Joseph explained, “Or worse…what might not be ahead.”
Morris replied, “Joe, we’ve been friends for a long time and hopefully will be together for many more years. However, it’s not likely I’ll speak to you again so think carefully about what I’m saying now. You know you’re fortunate to have lived such a wonderful life. But you need to believe that you still have many possibilities for the future. Approach each day with enthusiasm and look forward – not backwards. Nobody ever knows how much time they have so make the most of yours! What will be at the end is a great mystery; however, it may very well be a new beginning. It may turn out that you do have another 8 lives or even more….only time will tell.”
Joseph sat quietly for awhile thinking about what had happened. Then he got up, brushed himself off and said, “Morris, on a day when cats can talk, I have to believe that anything really is possible.” Then he smiled and said with resolve, “I might as well listen to you.”
Morris jumped down from the couch and Joseph said, “Morris wait! Promise me one last thing.”
“What’s that Joe?” Morris asked, looking back over his shoulder.
“Before my 90th birthday, I think we’re going to have to talk again.”
Morris gave a meow of agreement and walked out the door.
Copyright Cathy Predmore, 2010. All rights reserved.
December 17, 2009
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I hope everyone had a wonderful and very happy Thanksgiving! We spent it surrounded by family with lots of laughter, turkey, and stuffing. I’ve been busy with professional obligations but have a new idea for a short fiction story that I hope to develop soon. Check my blog in spring of 2010 and I should have it ready for readers. Take care and HAPPY HOLIDAYS!!!
November 12, 2009
Dylan Predmore loves art. He started drawing as a little boy and now, at the age of seven, he was learning how to paint. His dad was also an artist and often giving him pointers. He’d explain about not getting the brush too wet and to always pay attention to the details. While Dylan liked to learn from him, he still wanted to do things his way. When Dylan created something, he’d use his imagination which was his very favorite thing to do. Then one special day, Dylan fell into his own painting and experienced the real creative journey.
Dylan was sitting at the kitchen table, working on painting a pirate ship in the middle of the ocean. He dipped his brush in the water, swirled it in the blue and white paint, and pressed it into the paper. While Dylan worked he thought about pirates. At first, he didn’t notice that he was getting wet. A soft, salty spray was hitting his face but he brushed it off and kept painting. When he made more brush strokes, even more water splattered at him. By the time that he felt wind it was too late. The painting was growing larger in front of him, stretching out in all directions, while he felt himself growing smaller and moving towards the picture. He was pulled forward, tumbling through the air until he landed with a splash into the ocean he’d just painted a pretty shade of turquoise.
Dylan splashed in the water in a panic. Right next to him was the pirate ship but instead of being empty, there were angry pirates on deck looking right at him! He started to swim as fast as he could away from the ship, towards an island ahead. When he made it to the beach, he collapsed and caught his breath. The ship wasn’t coming after him so he looked around the island and liked what he saw. There was a white sand beach, tall palm trees, and not a scrap of homework anywhere. He decided to relax and stay for a while. Dylan made a hut on the beach from branches and palm leaves. He ate juicy pineapple, drank sweet coconut milk, and swam with dolphins. At night he’d lie on the warm sand and gaze up at the stars.
After awhile, Dylan felt ready to go home. He missed his parents, his little sister Autumn, and their cat Simba. The problem was that he didn’t know how to get home. He built a signal fire on the beach but no planes came by. He thought about building a raft but he had no idea which direction to go. There wasn’t even a bottle that he could put a message in. Then it occurred to him…if a picture brought him there, maybe another one could take him back. At low tide, Dylan took a stick and drew in the damp sand. He made a picture of his house and family. As he was making the last marks on the roof, he felt a pull. He kept at the drawing, adding more details, and by the time he finished the front door he saw it start to move. The door was getting bigger and growing wider and Dylan felt himself becoming smaller and lighter. The sand door opened up and into it, he disappeared.
When Dylan looked around next, he was back in his own kitchen. “Wow,” he thought, “That was amazing!”
His mom came in and said, “Dylan, it’s time to clean up. We’re going to eat dinner soon.”
“Mom, aren’t you mad at me?” He asked. “Mad?” She replied, “Why would I be? Didn’t you do your homework?” “I did,” he answered, “But…I kind of went away for a while.” “You did? She said, “Well it couldn’t have been for very long because you were sitting right there a few minutes ago.”
Then she looked over his shoulder at his painting. “That’s a really great painting Dylan,” she said, “It looks so real!”
“You know mom,” Dylan said thoughtfully, “I feel exactly the same way.”
Later that night he was lying in bed and thought about what had happened. He’d had a wonderful time on his island adventure and, when he got back, it was like no time had passed. He couldn’t wait to make another picture to see if it would happen again.
The next day after school, Dylan sat down and started to make a picture…of dinosaurs! He’d always wanted to see the land of the lost in person. He drew a big, wide sky over a huge, grass-covered valley. He added tall trees and a volcano in the background. He had finished a Brachiosaurus and was starting to paint a Triceratops when he felt the first tug of the picture. He kept painting and by the time he finished coloring the third horn, the pulling sensation happened again. Excited and inspired, he painted faster and faster. He was adding a Pterodactyl flying through the air when the power from the painting pulled Dylan forward with a lurch. He saw the volcano rising up towards him and started to panic, knocking over his water. Dylan tried to move back but the force was too strong. He closed his eyes as the ancient world grew and rose in front of him. Back in the kitchen, the water spilled over the table and on the picture but, by then, Dylan was already gone.
Dylan opened his eyes to the green valley he’d painted and caught his breath. Right there next to him was the massive Brachiosaurus! He had seen their skeletons in the museum but was still surprised by its incredible size. He watched it eat leaves on treetops for a while but then it stopped and looked up. It didn’t see Dylan but seemed to sense something else. The giant dinosaur was backing up, making the ground tremble. Dylan lost his footing for a moment and fell into the tall grass. While he was down he heard the roar. He put his hands over his ears to block the horrible sound and tried to press himself deeper into the grass. The ground shook even more and the air was filled with the roaring, snarling of a large, angry Tyrannosaurus! The massive meat-eater came into the clearing with Dylan and the Brachiosaurus and the T-Rex started to fight. Dylan turned and ran as fast as he could in the other direction, keeping low to the shaking ground. He ran until his legs felt like falling off but could still hear the bellowing of the Brachiosaurus as the T-Rex took it down and began to eat its meal.
Dylan collapsed against a tree and tried to figure out what happened. “I didn’t draw a T-Rex,” he thought, “The only meat-eater I made was just a flying….” As Dylan was finishing his thought a large shadow passed over him, from above. He realized he’d better get out of there quickly because he’d look like a tasty treat to a Pterodactyl! He picked up a sharp rock and started to scratch a picture of his home into the bark of the tree. It was hard work and the shadow passed over his head again. “Come on!” Dylan thought, “Details, details.” Dylan was putting in figures of his family when he heard the screech of the flying reptile as it spotted him. Dylan carved deeper into the tree and finally finished his front door. The Pterodactyl was swooping down just as the door started to move on the bark. “Yes!” Dylan thought. It was definitely getting bigger. The carved door grew and stretched, until it was as large as Dylan. As he was pulled into the door, he heard the massive beak snap behind him.
Dylan opened his eyes and let out a deep breath when he was back in his kitchen.
His sister Autumn came into the room and said, “Look at this mess Dylan. You better clean it up before mom sees.” Dylan looked down and saw the spilled water in a puddle under the table.
“Oh no!” Autumn cried, “Your dinosaur picture is ruined!” The water had spilled into the picture and all the colors had run together.
“That’s ok,” He said, “I didn’t really like this one anyway.” He started to mop up the mess.
It was a few days before Dylan got up the courage to make another picture. He missed painting but could still hear the roar of the T-Rex when trying to go to sleep at night. After a while, he decided the safest thing to do was paint a picture of somewhere there wasn’t anything scary like…. outer-space! He had dreamed about being an astronaut and seeing the stars. Encouraged by his new idea, Dylan sat down in front of the blank paper. After making his sketch, he started to paint. He dipped his brush into the yellow and painted the bright shining sun. He used white for the twinkling stars and bright colors when adding as many planets as he could remember. Dylan rinsed his brush after he painted the earth and remembered a rocket ship. He started to outline it when he heard his mom and dad coming. He didn’t want to stop to do homework and really wanted to visit space. So Dylan forgot about the ship, dipped the brush in black, and quickly filled in the rest of painting. Soon he felt himself getting lighter and floating out of his chair – no gravity! The dark quiet of space spilled over onto Dylan as he drifted into the painting.
When he looked around, he saw he was wearing a spacesuit. Dylan was floating in space and it was beautiful. He spun around laughing, amazed at all the celestial sights. He saw the bright glow of the sun, the moon, and sparkling stars. Best of all was the soft green and blue of Earth. Dylan knew he’d never forget seeing his home planet from outer space. He drifted for a while, happy to be in the marvelous Milky Way.
Dylan felt he’d seen enough and wanted to go home and tell his family about his special adventures. What he’d seen was so incredible that he wanted to share it with them (although he might leave out the part about the Pterodactyl when telling his mom). Dylan reached for a pencil, a rock, or even a stick but didn’t have anything. He ran his fingers over his space suit but there weren’t any pockets. Worried, he tried to draw an outline of his house but it didn’t work. He realized he was all alone, floating in outer space with no way of getting home. Dylan twisted and turned and tried to push himself towards Earth but instead he floated in the opposite direction, headed towards deep, dark space. Tears filled his eyes as he watched the planet growing smaller in front of him and his family becoming further and further away.
Suddenly, warm arms were around him, holding him tight. It was his dad in a space suit! His father was attached to a line connected to the rocket he’d started to draw. “It’s ok Dylan, I’ve got you” his dad said.
“Dad!” Dylan cried, hugging him tight, “I was so scared! How did you find me?”
“It was easy,” he said, “I finished your picture. Remember, I told you details were important – like that rocket ship.” His dad held up a paper and pen and smiled, “Now let’s go home!”
After that, when Dylan made a painting he was sure to include everything. Through his pictures he journeyed to far away places, visited the past and the future, and sometimes went to worlds that existed only to him. However, Dylan made sure to keep a pencil in his hand and the love of his family in his heart so he always came back home.
Copyright of this story Cathy Predmore, 2009. All rights reserved.