Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Train

Keith squirmed in his best clothes, the collar buttoned tight, a clip-on bow tie slightly askew. His new shoes were squeaky and mirror-finished - still too stiff to be comfortable. His hair was freshly cut and slicked down. This would be his first time traveling alone, and his first train ride. He shifted his weight from foot to foot, dancing with excitement tempered by apprehension. “Is the train coming yet, Mr. Simmons?" he asked the well-dressed man who was standing beside him, gripping his hand. "When will it get here?”

Soon, kid,” Simmons replied, stealing a glance at his Rolex. “Soon, I hope. It should have pulled in ten minutes ago.”

How will I know where to sit on the train?” Keith asked anxiously, his hand twisting in Simmons’ grip. “How will I know when to get offWill the train stop long enough for me?

The conductor will take care of you, kid. Now stop squirming. You’re getting your new clothes mussed up. Don’t you want to look your best for your mother?

Keith looked up at Simmons who, at 6’3”, towered over the lad. The man stood seemingly unmoved by Keith’s concerns, by the lateness of the train, or by the bustle and shuffle of porters and passengers. He wore his air of deliberate detachment like a well-tailored suit. He was simply making a delivery, Simmons told himself. Usually, he delivered legal briefs. Today, he was delivering a boy.

Brandon Simmons didn’t like to remember his own experience as an eight-year old boy, trundled back and forth between his divorced parents like the shuttle of a loom as it passes from side to side through a perfectly defined path of threads. Now, he found himself an accomplice in the same tug-of-war that had ripped his childish soul to pieces.

It wasn’t by chance that Simmons steered his legal career far away from the shoals of divorce courts. But today he was doing a favor for the boy’s father - an old chum from law school - whose appointment calendar could not be superseded by the Amtrak schedule. And he was hating it. Even now, the scars left by his own broken family were still raw - the memories still too fresh.

Simmons looked down at the tow-headed boy standing beside him and squeezed his hand gently in sympathetic understanding. He was rewarded with a smile from Keith. “Thanks for waiting with me, Mr. Simmons," the boy said, "I'm alright now.”

©2013 Phyllis Entis. All rights reserved.

A Note of Explanation: The "prompt" for this piece was a boy and a man waiting for a train.

Sunday, April 21, 2013


Josie stopped by the tree and fished a plastic bag out of her pocket. As she bent down to collect Puggles’ deposit, she felt the leash go taut. A low pitched growl vibrated up the stretched leash to her hand.

She looked up just as the dog started bouncing and barking, his strident ‘woofs’ echoing off the high rise walls of the urban canyon. “What are you barking at? Quiet!” she commanded. “Get over here!” But Puggles was focused on something in the shadows across the street. By now, he was so worked up that Josie had to hang onto the tree trunk to avoid being pulled into the road. “What are you barking at?” she asked again, as she tried to identify the source of the dog’s excitement. “Is it a cat?

On hearing the magic word, the dog’s barks redoubled and rose an octave, piercing the air like spikes issuing from a nail gun. He pulled left, then right, then leaped straight into the air, all four paws off the ground. As he landed, Puggles lunged forward once more, yanking the leash from Josie’s hand.

The dog, realizing that he was free, ran into the road, then stopped abruptly when Josie shrieked and called out. A car was rounding the corner, heading directly at her precious pup. She ran into the street to scoop him up, just as the driver swerved to avoid the dog. Behind her, Josie heard the sound of brakes and the sickening thud of metal on wood.

She ran towards the car and looked inside. “Are you alright?” she asked. “Is either of you hurt?”  As she stood talking to the driver, a patrol car stopped beside the wreck. Two officers sprang from car, ordered the driver and passenger of the wrecked car onto the sidewalk, and cuffed them. One of the officers then turned to Josie.

Thanks lady,” he said, tossing her a casual half-salute. “You and your dog just helped us break up a ring of car thieves.

©2013 Phyllis Entis. All rights reserved.

A Note of Explanation: The prompt for this exercise was, "A car passes you at normal speed, rounds the corner and crashes into a tree." I chose to focus on what caused the car to crash.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Battleground Boston

They came to do battle,
The runners in thousands,
Against one another,
Against the terrain.
Each of them striving towards a personal goal.

They came to do homage,
The joyous spectators,
To the athletes,
To the city,
Each of them cheering the runners along.

He came to do carnage,
With bombs filled with shrapnel,
To maim and to kill,
To punish the living.
Each of them blind to the danger nearby.

They came to do service,
The first responders, the doctors, the nurses,
To succor the wounded,
To rescue those trapped.
Each one determined to help others cheat death.

I honor the heroes who succored the wounded,
Who ran towards the danger to rescue those trapped.
I honor their courage and their dedication.

We oft hear the mantra "Guns don't kill people; people kill people."
Today I'm reminded:
People save people.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Phone Call

The house is on fire! There was a break-in! Who’s dead?

Better get out of here. Don’t panic. Where are my car keys?

Somehow, I make it home intact. I walk in the front door - all is calm. Hubby looks up as the dog greets me. “What are you doing home so early?” he asks. “I thought your writing class ended at 1:00.

I catch my breath and pull out my cellphone - a new one, which I just started carrying with me. I check the “last call” memory box. Damn! I erased it in my mad panic. Who could have called me with that urgent message? Couldn’t have been Mom - she would have called my sister in an emergency. Or would she have? Maybe she hit the wrong speed dial button?

Heart thumping, I quickly dial her number and get her answering machine. Uh oh! Better call Sis at work and make sure everything is alright. I dial her office. “Please leave a message…” is what I hear.

Oh my God. Something is wrong! Who else can I call? I don’t have Sis’s cellphone number; maybe Harvey is home? Another message machine. Damn! Why can’t I reach anyone? Better try Mom again - just in case. This time, the phone picks up and I hear my sister's voice. “What are you doing there on a weekday?” I exclaim. “What’s wrong with Mom?

Wrong?” she asks. “What makes you think something is wrong? We’re all here celebrating. Mom just won the lottery!

Oh,” I manage to squeak feebly, “that’s nice.”

As I hang up the phone, Hubby looks up at me again. “What was all that about?” he asks. “And what are you doing home so early?

Just a wrong number,” I reply, as I sit down beside him and pat the dog. “By the way,” I add, “my mother won the lottery.

That’s nice. How did you find out?”

I shrug in reply. “The family grapevine, of course.

©2013 Phyllis Entis. All rights reserved.

A Note of Explanation: The prompt was to build a story around an urgent phone message from an unknown number.

Monday, April 8, 2013


Portia swore as she lowered her 300-lb body carefully onto her hands and knees and started to crawl gingerly around on the kitchen floor. She had warned herself that stopping in the middle of making croissants to remove her contact lens was NOT a good idea. But the speck of flour that insinuated itself between the contact and her cornea was unbearably irritating. Her left eye had teared so badly that the croissant she was trying to shape became soggy.

Sighing, she carefully slid her hands over the tiled floor, once more cursing her decision during last year’s remodel to use small, textured ceramic tiles instead of the 12” smooth travertine she had originally planned on installing. So much for decisions based solely on price. “Stupid woman,” she berated herself. “Stupid, stupid woman!

There it was! At least, it looked like her stray contact. It was in the corner under the edge of the cabinet, nestled comfortably on a large dust bunny next to a piece of kibble. “Guess I didn’t find all of the dog food that I spilled this morning,” she muttered. “Oh, well.”

Portia crawled towards the errant lens just as Percy, her 10-year old Corgi, bounded into the kitchen. This looked like a fun game. Portia didn’t get down on the floor to play with him very often. “Go away, Percy!” she exclaimed, shoving the excited pooch aside. Oh, this was a really fun game! Percy came bouncing back for the next round. “Bad dog! Go away!” Portia shouted, as she reached for the contact lens. Percy looked toward the target of Portia’s outstretched hand. “Kibble!” As if by magic, the floor was licked clean. No more kibble. No more dust bunny. No more contact lens! 

Portia looked at Percy. Percy looked at Portia. Now what? Portia was in tears; this was her last pair of contacts. She had a half-finished batch of croissants on the kitchen counter and no way to see what she was doing. She stood and stared at the wreckage of her day, just as her phone rang.

Hello, Portia, this is Cindy from the Vet Center,” she heard. “I’m calling to remind you that Percy is overdue for his check-up.

Can I bring him in today?” Portia asked. “He’s just swallowed a contact lens and I need to retrieve it, pronto.”

Let me put you on hold a minute,” Cindy replied, “while I check with the doc.” As Portia stood, phone in hand, she heard a gurgle and splat behind her. She turned, to see Percy standing beside a moist wad of dust and dog hair floating in a pool of yellowish liquid.

Never mind, Cindy,” she sighed. “I just found the lens.

©2013 Phyllis Entis. All rights reserved.

A Note of Explanation: The "prompt" for this piece was to combine an everyday disaster with a phone call from someone who has been out of touch for a long time and who offers assistance.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Dinner Party - Part 2

Tom, true to his word, returned home promptly at six; his parents arrived with equal punctuality at exactly six-thirty. "Daphne, Reginald," Gina greeted them, doing her best to suppress an attack of nerves. "Welcome. Tom and I are so happy you could come."

"What a beautiful cake," Reginald - the patissier - had eyes for pastry above all else. "Daphne and I were just talking about the misguided souls who use margarine or vegetable shortening to decorate cakes, and try to pass off their concoctions as butter cream. All looks and no taste." His eyes rolled, and he produced a theatrical shudder.

Gina colored slightly. "Tom, why don't you give your parents a tour of the apartment while I see to the vegetables," she suggested before fleeing into the kitchen. She checked the meat thermometer; the roast was just approaching 'rare' on the dial. Then she placed a couple of cans of creamed corn on the oven rack beside the roasting pan. One less pot to wash, she told herself.

Having regained her composure, Gina returned to Tom and his parents, who were now sitting and chatting in the living room. "Dinner will be ready in 20 minutes," she announced. "Tom, have you offered your parents a drink?"

"Thanks, Gina," Daphne replied, "but we'll wait and have wine with our dinner." Gina glanced inquiringly at Tom. He had never mentioned wine with dinner. "My folks brought us a Washington State Pinot Noir," he explained, as though she had any idea what that signified. "It'll be perfect with the roast." She nodded - sagely, she hoped.

After enduring another 10 minutes of stilted conversation, Gina glanced at her watch. "I'd better check on the roast," she said, happy to have an excuse to leave the room. Suddenly, a muffled "BANG" and residual clatter erupted from the kitchen. Gina raced to the source of the noise, with Tom, Daphne and Reginald close on her heels. All four stared into the kitchen, to find
the oven door hanging open at a crazy angle, one hinge completely torn away and the other twisted awry,
the roast beef lying on the kitchen floor, surrounded by sliced potatoes and wearing the roasting pan like a coolie hat,
two aluminum cans, their sides split wide open, lying at awkward angles on the oven rack, and
creamed corn dripping from the ceiling and drooling down the walls onto counters, cabinets, and the kitchen floor
Gina looked at Tom, her eyes filling with tears. "Don't worry, honey," he reassured her, "we'll go out for dinner and come back here for dessert. It's a good thing you put the cake in the dining room."

She took a deep breath. "Tom, about that cake...." 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Dinner Party - Part 1

"So long, honey. I'll be home by six," Tom smiled as he kissed his bride and headed out the door.

"Please don't be late, sweetie," Gina replied, matching his kiss with one of her own. "Remember, your parents are coming to dinner tonight. They should be here around six-thirty."

Gina held her smile, waving at Tom until the elevator doors swallowed him up. A heavy sigh escaped her lips as she closed the apartment door behind her. Tom's mother was a gourmet cook; his father a patissier. She couldn't hope to match their expertise, but she was determined that this dinner would be a success. So much to do! Where to start?

First, the cake. Chocolate, of course, as it was Tom's favorite. He liked raspberry jam between the layers, and a chocolate butter cream frosting. Gina pulled out her recipe file and donned her lucky apron - the one with all the indelible food stains. The kitchen soon was engulfed in a fine, white flour-y mist; canisters of sugar and salt sat on the counter top, their mouths agape. Eggshells littered the sink as egg white after egg white refused to separate cleanly from its yolk. At last, Gina was able to pour the cake batter into two cake pans, and place them into the preheated oven.

Flushed with success - and her exertions - Gina checked her watch. Already 11:30! Better clean up the kitchen. She reached for the canister lids, closing the flour, sugar and salt bins in their turn. Wait a moment; that didn't look right, Gina told herself. She was almost out of salt. Could she have mixed up the salt and sugar when measuring the ingredients? Nah, she decided. Not possible.

By noon, the kitchen was tidy and she was ready to tackle the roast. She seasoned the meat, placed it in the roasting pan, and surrounded it with sliced Russet potatoes. The tossed salad was next. She'd deal with the hot vegetable later. Gina checked her cake; it had risen perfectly. She removed the cake pans from the oven, placed them on racks to cool, and breathed a sigh of relief.

For the next couple of hours, the nervous newlywed tidied up the small apartment and set the dining room table for dinner - using the 'good' tableware given to the young couple by Tom's parents. She stood at the head of the table and surveyed the results of her efforts. Everything looked perfect. Now to remove the cake layers from their pans and assemble the finished product.

After a quarter-hour of wrestling, Gina surveyed the wreckage. Too late, she realized that she had forgotten to grease the pans. Her perfect cake layers were now scattered chunks of chocolate crumb. Oh well, she thought, I'll make extra frosting for camouflage. She assembled the bottom layer on her best pedestal cake plate, slathered it with raspberry jam, and pieced together a second layer on top. There were a few gaps and crevasses, which she filled as best she could with the remaining crumbs that she salvaged from the cake pans. She licked a few crumbs from her fingers. Salty! She had made a mistake in measuring the ingredients, after all. Well, she'd make the frosting extra-sweet to compensate. Maybe no one would notice.

Gina reached into the refrigerator for the butter. There was only half a stick left. The rest was in the cake. After a moment of panic, she checked the pantry. What could she use for the frosting? There! In the back corner - a large can of Crisco. All she had to do was add confectioner's sugar and cocoa powder, and it would make a picture-perfect frosting. She could even use sweetened Crisco dyed with food coloring to add a few decorative touches. Beautiful! Gina carried the finished cake to the dining room and positioned it in the place of honor on the sideboard.

To be continued...