Eradicating Edna

Eradicating Edna is an unfinished novel dedicated to all whose “inner critic” is a bitch.

 

Prologue

Just so no one mistakes the Book Description for the book itself! The chapters are waaaaaay down there. I seriously thought about quitting. Then I recaptured the true spirit of NaNoWriMo. I remembered what it was all about: to write a truly hideous novel of 50,000 words in 30 days.

“Nobody said nothin’ about ‘publishable.’ Nobody ever suggested that a 30-day novel should be ‘great lit-rah-chure’ (Gesundheit!)” my Muse snickered. “What was I thinking, to put such expectations on myself at a time like this, when all the world’s gone mad around me?” I cried, throwing a forearm dramatically over my forehead and letting out a piteous wail.

“That’s the spirit.” My Inner Editor foamed at the mouth. Only, the foam came out the bitch’s nose, since my Muse had had the foresight to bind up her mouth with duct tape.

“Look, you’re an overachiever, but you’re a burnt-out overachiever seriously in danger of looking like she’s got a bug up her ass. So write this one just for fun. And if you must compete, consider it your entry into the Bulwer-Lytton fiction contest next year.” The Muse shrugged.

“That’s just supposed to be one sentence,” I said. I was pouting. I had my heart set on writing great lit-rah-chure.

“So write a novel that gives you nothing but hard choices as to which sentence you should enter.”

“There are multiple categories,” I said, warming to the idea. “I could have ’em all covered, by the time I’m done.”

“There you go. Enter in every category. Just be sure to win a ‘Dishonorable Mention’ for me.”

“I’ll do it!” I sprang to my feet, energized. It took less than a NaNoSecond for reality to sink in. “Oh, God, I’m so far behind. All I have so far is three death scenes and an aborted suicide.” You can imagine the withering look my Muse gave me.

“I know that, Dear. It’s pretty fucking pathetic, if you ask me.” She picked up my daughter’s TI-83 calculator and pushed some buttons at random. “Don’t think of it as ‘behind.’ Think of it as an adjustment, from 1667 words a day to 2800 words a day. You can do that, can’t you? I mean…if you’re enjoying yourself.”

“Can I use this conversation?” I asked. I was reluctant to admit it; it seemed so…puerile. But I was beginning to enjoy myself. Guilty pleasures are always the best kind.

“No.”

“Will you take that thing away?” I asked, pointing at the Inner Editor. The IE growled and struggled against the ropes that bound her to her ergonomicallycorrect office chair. Gleefully, I smacked her over the head with an ergonomic keyboard, breaking the device in two. I dumped it into her lap.

“Absolutely.” My Muse poured two glasses of cheap cream sherry and we raised them in a toast. “To fingering Bulwer-Lytton’s proboscis in April!”

“Here, here.”

“Isn’t that ‘hear, hear’?” squeaked the Inner Editor, who had managed to bite through the duct tape with her jagged fangs.

“Good God. Does ‘anal-retentive’ have a hyphen?” sneered my Muse. Grabbing She-Who-Inspires-Writers-to-Write-Heinous-Scenes-of-Gruesome-Torture by the neck, my Muse saluted me and disappeared. The Evil One vanished, too, and I could breathe again.

 

Chapter 1: Novel Ideas

Rayne twirled her shoulder-length, honey-blonde hair around her little finger. It was a bad habit she acquired in third grade, like picking her nose. At 32, Rayne owned her own company, and was adept at multitasking. She could twirl hair with her pinkie and pick her nose with the index finger of the same hand. But Rayne, ever the overachiever, was depressed. No one, not even the Vice President in Charge of Spurious and Covert Operations, also known as her husband, gave a crap that she wore a lemon silk blouse with freshwater pearl buttons and a soft, form-fitting cashmere skirt in blue, green, and yellow plaid. The plumbing in the men’s room was stopped up again, and Bob hadn’t even paused to appreciate the glassy sheen and utter absence of flyaways in Rayne’s Sun-Kissed Topaz hair. She wasn’t sure he’d even noticed the fact that it was no longer Honey-Roasted Blonde. Instead, he inspected the plunger for cracks and barged into the lavatory like a crusading knight. “Rayne, where are the urinal cakes?” Rayne looked up from the counter, startled. “The what?” Bob poked his head out of the men’s room. “The urinal cakes. Loo lozenges. The blue things you said looked like hockey pucks?”

“Oh. I put them with the sticks.”

“The sticks?”

“The hockey sticks.”

“The—”

“You know, in the garage, with the kids’ hockey sticks.”

“Rayne.”

“I’m kidding. They’re on the shelf in the utility closet.” Rayne sighed. “Stinky things.” Rayne looked down at her skirt and plucked a bit of lint from it.

It didn’t look anything like an authentic Scottish kilt. In a nod to passing fashion trends that should be allowed to pass in silence, it had one of those oversized safety-pins borrowed from vintage diapers. The likeness made Rayne a little wistful as she listened to her biological clock going “tick tick tick tick tick” – not the steady, rhythmic ticking of her grandmother’s wall clock, but the rapid, frenetic ticking of the Lorus quartz Micky Mouse watch she wore on her wrist. Rayne and Bob had no children; that was Bob’s tip-off that his wife was teasing him about the pisser pucks being stored next to the kids’ hockey sticks. The subtle jab wasn’t entirely lost on him. He would have liked a son, or a daughter, for that matter, with whom he could play a game of street hockey. Rayne wasn’t the sort of woman a man could take into the street with a stick and suggest they knock a puck around. He made short work of the clogged toilet and mopped up the cracked tile floor. Rayne was right about the urinal cakes; Bob wasn’t sure which was stinkier: the cakes or the scent they were supposed to mask. But he dutifully left one in each urinal and hoped they’d do the job. Rayne was out front, making coffee. It was nearly 6:30 AM and time to open the shop. “Herbie’s late,” complained Rayne. “He’ll be here. He always is.” And, as if on cue, Herbie pulled the white Breemer’s Bakery delivery van to the curb with a screech. He dove into the back and came out loaded with boxes of hot, fresh cinnamon buns. Bob held the front door open for him while he hustled his wares into the Novel Ideas Coffee Shoppe. Rayne had hated the name and found the spelling of “shoppe” particularly annoying. But she had liked the quaint little coffee shop and assumed that changing the name would be no problem. She went out on a limb and signed the loan papers, then the contract, putting the café in her name. But when she found out what it would cost to change the signage, she began to hyperventilate. “Shoppe” it was, and “Shoppe” it would remain until the mortgage was paid off.

“Thanks, Herbie. Mmmm, these smell wonderful!” Rayne poured herself a cup of freshly-brewed coffee, then reached into the top box and pulled out a cinnamon bun. “Eating up all your profits again, Rayne?” asked Bob. He reached into the box and got his hand slapped. “Testing the batch to be sure it’s good enough for our customers, dearest.” Rayne tore her bun in two and gave half to her husband. Herbie grinned. “Is there anything else I can get for you, ma’am?”

“No, I think that’ll do it, Herbie. Thanks.”

“Thank you, ma’am.” Herbie didn’t budge. Rayne savored the taste of cinnamon and strong coffee. A little too strong, perhaps. Rayne added some cream and looked around for the coffee stirrers. All she could find was a plastic spork, so she swizzled the cream around with that. “Ma’am?”

“Yes, Herbie?” Bob stepped around to the back of the counter and opened the cash register drawer. “I think he wants to be paid, sweetness.” Rayne blushed. “Ooops. Of course. I’m sorry, Herbie. The vanilla and cinnamon must have gone to my head. What was I thinking?”

“How much?” asked Bob. “Sixty-two fifty,” said Herbie. “Here you go.”

“Thanks. See you tomorrow!” Herbie left in a hurry, eager to make his remaining deliveries while the goods were still hot. Just then, Rayne screamed. “What?” cried Bob, startled. Rayne pointed at the floor, near the bakery case. There stood a tiny brown and white field mouse, quivering in fear at the hysterical woman. Bob tried hard not to laugh, and managed to stifle himself until the mouse sneezed. At that, he could hold it no longer, and let loose with a cross between a snort and a guffaw. “You scream like a girl,” he said, laughing. “It’s not funny!” Rayne stared in horror at the frightened rodent. Bob grabbed a small plastic cannister and quickly clapped it over the mouse. “What are you planning to do with it, now?” Rayne cringed. “I thought I’d keep it as a pet. Maybe make it the store mascot. Put it in the window, on display—”

“You’re fired!”

“You can’t fire your own husband,” said Bob, smirking. “Oh, the hell I can’t!” Rayne burst into tears. “Honey, it’s just a mouse.”

“No, it’s not just a mouse. It’s everything—” Rayne’s tears turned to sobs. The mouse was forgotten as Bob slipped his strong arm around her heaving shoulders. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. It’s just—”

“It’s just your first week as owner of this café. Give yourself time.”

“But we haven’t had one customer, Bob. Not one. We’re losing money faster than Imelda Marcos buys shoes—”

“Isn’t Imelda dead?” Rayne sobbed louder. “I’m kidding! She’s not dead, and her shoes are just fine. You worry too much, sweetie. About everything.”

“And you don’t worry enough! How are we going to survive if we don’t start bringing in some business?” Rayne looked around frantically, the panic making her eyes shine. “Okay. You mind the store while I run out and drum up some business. But there’s a catch,” Bob added.

“A catch?”

“Absolutely.”

“You want sex for every ten customers you bring in?”

“Of course, but that’s beside the point. I want a new title: Vice President of Marketing. And I want benefits.”

“So you want to be V.P. of Marketing and you want sex for every ten customers you bring in?”

“Every five.” Rayne’s jaw dropped. “Every–”

“It’s non-negotiable.”

“Fine.” Bob went to the back room and made up a sign. An old-fashioned sandwich board, really. On one side, he drew a steaming mug of coffee, a book, and a pen and wrote Caffeine for the Creative Genius in You. On the other side, he wrote Got Cinnamon Buns? To this, he added curved lines suggestive of a naughty play on words. He attached the boards with towing strap and slipped the straps over his shoulders. “Twenty customers by noon, and you get to clean the men’s room tomorrow.” Bob winked at Rayne and went outside to pace up and down Grantler Avenue. Bob was not a tall man; he stood just barely five feet, six inches tall. He wore size thirteen shoes, extra wide. It gave him a clownish appearance, despite his serious gray eyes and sensual mouth. Women were attracted to him, probably because of the racy myths surrounding men with large feet, and he enjoyed the attention. They loved to run their fingers through his blue-black hair. But he had not ever considered being unfaithful to Rayne. Until right at this moment. As Bob paced the street in front of the Novel Ideas Coffee Shoppe, a young woman wearing skin-tight leather jeans and a loose-fitting pirate shirt approached. She had short-cropped auburn hair, the color of a dull copper penny minted in 1929. She bit her lip as if uncertain whether to ask him the question that weighed heavily on her mind. “Why in the hell would a grown man wear a sandwich board?” To keep himself out of trouble, thought Bob. The ache in his groin subsided as quickly as it came. “It’s my wife’s shop. I’m helping out,” he explained pointlessly. The girl rolled her eyes and walked towards the university on State Street. Bob watched her gently swaying derriere as it receded into the distance, then snapped his fingers. “That’s it!” he said, pleased with himself for remembering. “The university!” Bob pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and called his wife. “I’m heading over to State Street,” he said. “Oh, is that where the hookers hang out?”

“Yes, but they’re surly this morning. I thought I’d go after some unsuspecting undergrads and convince them your coffee’s even better than sex.”

“Good plan. Maybe they’ll drag their professors along while they try to kiss up.”

“Then I suggest pushing the cinnamon buns. Hard.” Bob hung up. He stood in front of his alma mater wearing a black muscle shirt, denim jeans, and a sandwich board, and tried to push back the mortified humiliation that threatened to engulf him. “Bob Slackard, is that you?” An elderly, pasty-faced man with a beer gut peered skeptically over black plastic frames that held his Coke-bottle lenses up in front of his presbyopic eyes. Bob whirled to face the man head on. “Oh, Christ,” he mumbled. His stomach clenched. It wasn’t because of the jalapeno pizza he and Rayne had shared the night before. That particular pain in the gut had already passed. “Professor Pearson, how nice to see you again,” he said, feigning genuine affection for the old geezer. Pearson had made his senior year at Flayemall University a living hell, and he would gladly have dropped a live mouse down the front of the man’s trousers right now.

The thought made him giggle. “Slackard, are you on drugs?” asked Pearson. “What? Oh, no,” Bob assured the professor, choking back the laughter. “Just had a funny thought.” He grinned. “I see. What’s this you have here?” asked Pearson, poking a bony finger at the sign Bob wore on his chest. “It’s my wife’s coffee shop,” Bob explained, pleased to note that the words came out with some small measure of pride. He did admire his wife’s gumption in opening a business, even if it virtually sealed their fate and guaranteed they’d be working until the day they died to pay off the debts. He hoped that it did not turn out to be one of those expensive but essentially useless hobbies some wives took up, like having acrylic nails applied twice a week. If Rayne took up having her nails done like that, Bob would suspect she was having an affair. She surely knew, after ten years of marriage, that he never noticed things like fingernails on a woman. A man could only take in so much, and his eyes naturally gravitated towards boobs and butts. It was that simple, really. Rayne should know that. And so, Rayne had opened a coffee shop, instead. Bob was proud of his wife. And glad she wasn’t having an affair. “So, Slackard, you’ve become a human billboard?” Professor Pearson chuckled mirthlessly. “I should’ve expected as much. I knew when you took my course on Rhetoric you’d never amount to much.” Bob bristled at the slight, but smiled gamely. Little did Pearson know that Bob was working on a novel in his spare time. And Bob had an epiphany, standing there on the sidewalk, exchanging unpleasantries with the man: Pearson’s voice sounded just like Bob’s inner critic. Bob’s smile turned wicked as he imagined writing Pearson into the novel, only to kill him off in imaginatively gruesome ways. Yes, ways – plural. He wondered if he could work a zombie into the story, just to have the opportunity to do him in more than once.

“Do you like coffee, Professor?” Laced with arsenic, Bob silently added. “The shop’s just around the corner.” Pearson looked at his watch. “I suppose I do have time for a cup,” he conceded reluctantly. The man was obviously a pathetic charity case, but Pearson did like coffee and a few dollars wouldn’t make much of a dent in his wallet. He was tenured, after all. When they arrived at Novel Ideas, Bob saw that Rayne had been making the place eclectically cozy again, propping a plastic yard penguin outside the door to welcome guests, much the way an old General Store used a wooden Indian. It was meant to be charming and whimsical, but Bob felt his cheeks redden as he imagined what the Professor was thinking. “Dressed a bit formally for this joint, aren’t you, old chap?” Pearson chuckled at his own jest and strode into the café, leaving Bob to follow, open-mouthed, in his wake. Rayne was chatting with a duck. A six-foot tall duck. “Aflac,” quacked the duck. “You want it black?” asked Rayne, handing the duck a cup of coffee. “Aflac!”

“Damned insurance salesmen!” cried Pearson. He grabbed the duck by the wing and ushered it unceremoniously through the door and knocked it flat on its tailfeathers to the pavement outside. “That was a customer, for God’s sake!” yelled Rayne. “Who do you think you are?”

“Madam, I am a customer,” said Pearson. “Forgive me if I was being rude, but I didn’t realize you served duck in this establishment.”

“I’ll serve anyone who can pay,” said Rayne, her hands firmly planted on her hips. Pearson pulled a ten out of his wallet and ordered a cinnamon bun and a large coffee. “Perhaps it will sweeten my disposition, and make me more palatable to my students,” he remarked with a wink.

Rayne rolled her eyes at Bob. The Aflac duck was still sitting on the sidewalk, trying to catch its breath. A couple of college students walked in. Bob heard the tinkling of a bell, and turned to see a red-ribboned Feng Shui bell suspended over the door. Rayne was getting superstitious in her old age. “Can I get a Chai tea latte?” asked a diminutive girl with an oversized attitude wearing a fake nosering. “And a zucchini-melon scone,” added her companion, an androgynous beauty wearing futuristic, paramilitary garb and carrying a toy light saber clipped to her belt. She had smoky, almond-shaped eyes and a green-and-silver tattoo that looked like printed circuit board above her left eyebrow. “Sorry, this isn’t that place,” sighed Rayne. “All we’ve got, at the moment, is Sumatra or Columbian and freshly-baked cinnamon rolls.”

“Oh, dear,” moaned the first girl. “I simply cannot eat cinnamon. Do you realize it’s harvested in third world countries by girls as young as five, making as little as three cents a day? How anyone could eat cinnamon is beyond me.”

“C’mon, Sylvie, let’s go,” said Space Girl. Pearson smirked as he doctored his coffee. “You see what I have to work with? Day in, day out. All cut from the same cloth.”

“How do you stand it?” asked Rayne, smoothing her skirt demurely. “Oh, my dear, I have tenure. And I’m only two years from retirement. I can stand damned near anything, except the likes of him.” Pearson pointed at Bob. “Excuse me?” Rayne bristled. “That’s my husband you’re pointing to.”

“Rayne—” Bob was uncomfortable with the conversation shifting in his direction. He was not eager to hear the Professor’s explanation. “Oh, yes. You see, he’s got potential. These children are simply arrogant, pretentious, lazy, ignorant poseurs. Your husband could’ve made something of himself, had he chosen a respectable career in writing. Something solid and staid, like technical writing. His grasp of the English language is flawless, my dear.”

Bob was stunned. Though he made it sound like an insult, this was the closest Pearson had ever come to offering him a compliment. It wasn’t much, but Bob’s breath caught in his throat at the magnitude of what he was hearing. The Professor held up a finger to shush him, and turned back to Rayne. “Unfortunately, your man is given to flights of fancy. Fancies himself a novelist, that is. Wants to write Literature. Wants to use his imagination.” Pearson spat out the word imagination as if it were spoiled fish. “What the hell is wrong with that?” Bob demanded to know. “You were teaching Creative Writing, for Christ’s sake. Weren’t we supposed to exercise our imaginations?”

“Oh, surely you jest, man. You want to end up like me, teaching Creative Writing to a bunch of babbling idiots who don’t know their colons from their own bowels?” Pearson gulped his coffee, forgetting how hot it still was. He burned his tongue and it made his temper even more fiery. “You were a fool, Slackard. A damned dreaming fool. You could’ve made a good living, writing, but no— No, not you. You didn’t want to ‘sell out’ to the corporation!”

“What the hell are you going on about, man? You convinced me I had no talent! I switched majors. Went into Accounting, for God’s sake. Worked in a corporation for fifteen years! I loathe Accounting, but you – you -”

“Oh, don’t have a stroke, Slackard. I was just disappointed, that’s all. You could have been great. You could have written something like Programming the DRM V in Your Sleep, but no! You wanted to write a novel. The guy who came up with the ‘—in Your Sleep’ series? He’s a multimillionaire!” Pearson looked as if he were the one about to suffer apoplexy. “Don’t you have a class to tortur–I mean, teach?” Bob regarded his former teacher with a mixture of contempt and rage. Even so, he felt the block loosening. His fingers itched to get back to the writing. “I coulda been a contendah!” quipped Bob, the minute Pearson left the shop. He shook his head and smiled sadly at Rayne. “It bothers you, doesn’t it?”

“What?”

“That you’re not published.”

“Hell no. It bothers me that I can’t write anything I’d want to buy if it were published.” Bob looked around the little coffee shop with an appraising eye. “You know, we should expand this place.”

“Are you mad?”

“About what?”

“About what? No, I mean, are you crazy? Have you lost your mind? We’ve only been open a week. We’ve had four customers–no, scratch that, we’ve had one customer–”

“Are you trying to get out of our deal?”

“No, but it doesn’t count when one’s thrown out on his tail-feathers and two leave because we don’t serve goat’s milk and veggie croissants.”

“Chai tea lattes and zucchini-melon muffins.”

“Whatever.” Rayne slumped in her chair behind the counter. “Don’t you have some advertising to do, or something?”

“I hate it when you’re petulant.”

“I’m not petulant,” said Rayne with a sigh. “I’m pouty.” She stuck out her lower lip, cocked her head to the side, and tucked her chin down. “Well, that’s altogether different. You’re kind of cute when you pout.” Bob slipped behind the counter and kissed Rayne. His lips were warm and comforting. “That’s nice.”

“I brought in a customer.” Bob winked at his wife. “Bring in four more.”

“You’re a hard task-master, lady.” Bob realized he was still wearing his sandwich board. No wonder his attempts at seduction were falling flat. Dejected but determined, he headed back out towards State Street. The university was a bustling place; all Bob had to do was point the students in the right direction, and Rayne would have all the business she could handle. Bob found himself thinking ahead to a time when she would have to hire help. He wondered if she’d hire some gorgeous college athlete. They’d work sideby-side, day in, day out. Would Rayne begin to compare him unfavorably to the younger man? Bob shook off the anxiety and laughed at his own foolishness. But the image stayed in his mind longer than he would have liked. “Hey, pops, what you sellin’?” asked a kid carrying a backpack so large it looked suitable for an expedition to Tibet. “Great coffee. Cinnamon rolls that’ll knock your socks off.” Bob looked down. The lad wasn’t wearing socks. “Oh,” he said. “I see you’ve already tried them.” The boy laughed. “Sounds good, but I have to get to class. Maybe later, okay?”

“Okay.” Bob continued to stroll down the street in front of the campus. A campus cop pulled over to the curb and motioned that he’d like a little chat. “Hey, buddy, they don’t allow soliciting here in front of the school.”

“I thought this was a public sidewalk.”

“Just move along,” said the cop. “Hey, Officer,” said Bob, “how about stopping by for coffee and a cinnamon bun later?”

“Uh, sure. That’d be okay, I suppose.”

“Bring your buddies.”

“I’ll see what I can do. New business?”

“Open a week.” Bob leaned over and said softly, “We could really use your help. We’ve only had one customer, so far.”

“Your old lady’s runnin’ the place, isn’t she?” Bob looked at the cop, stunned. “How’d you know that?”

“Why else would a man be out here walking the streets wearing that?” The cop laughed and gave a low whistle. “I’ll bet she promised you sex if you brought in enough business.”

“What do you–er, no–I mean, how do you–” Bob stammered and felt his face grow hot under the cop’s laughing eye. “Yeah,” he finally admitted. “What’s your name?” asked the cop. Bob worried that trading sexual favors for business might be a crime, even if the other party was your wife. “Jake,” he lied. “What’s it gonna take to make your night, Jake?” Bob considered. “You have ten friends?” he asked, his voice full of hope. “I have a whole police force.”

Chapter 2: Not a Muse-d

Bob smiled as he slipped out of the sandwich board. “Never did like this vest much, anyway.”

“Good man. Shift’s over at two.”

“I’m counting on you, Officer.”

“We’ll be there.” Bob walked back to the coffee shop. It felt almost like cheating, but he whistled as he walked. There was a spring in his step that hadn’t been there earlier. “Any luck?” Rayne called out, as the door swung open with a peal of tiny bells. “Naaah. Cops told me to move along. No soliciting.”

“That’s not right! It’s a free country!” Rayne was indignant. “Had any customers since I left?”

“Nope, not a one.”

“You sure?”

“Loverboy, much as I’d love to come from behind this counter and jump your bones, it wouldn’t be right. I’ve just been sitting here listening to the cinnamon buns.”

“Listening to the–”

“They’re getting stale. They’re whining ‘eat me—eat me.”

“Be strong. You never give in to me when I whine.” Rayne threw a crumpled napkin at her husband. “Why don’t you work on that novel of yours?”

“Because I don’t have any characters whining ‘eat me—eat me!”

“They might, if you started paying more attention to them.” Rayne winked. “Go on. I think I can handle the customers.” Rayne looked down at her fingernails and considered giving herself a manicure to pass the time. Bob grabbed his laptop from the back room, and plugged it in. He settled into a comfy armchair and began to cogitate. The harder he thought, the fewer ideas occurred to him. “Hey.”

“Hey.” Bob looked up from the laptop. “Hey! Your hair’s on fire!” He started to jump up from his chair, but she pushed him back into it. “Lady, your hair is on fire!”

“It’s always like this, Bob.” She laughed. Bob looked around frantically. Some crazy woman had set her hair on fire. With a little bad luck, she’d take Rayne’s shop with her – probably burning Rayne and Bob in the process. And yet, she was alarmingly calm about her flaming hair. Where the hell was Rayne? “Relax, Bob. She can’t see or hear me. Only you can.” The woman was insane. Either that, or Bob was insane. Had to be one or the other, he mused. Had to be. And that’s when he noticed that the hot-headed, almond-eyed stranger was a cross between Angelina Jolie and Pele, Goddess of Fire, dressed in a sleek black, skin-tight, flame-retardant bodysuit. Bob couldn’t help but lick his lips. She was the woman of his adolescent fantasies. She laughed. Bob concluded that he was the one losing his marbles. The woman didn’t exist. “Damn,” he muttered. “Who are you?”

“You know who I am!” said the woman, laughing. “I’m your so-called Muse. I’ve been looking over your shoulder since you were fourteen.”

“You’ve been what?” Bob looked up in horror. When he was fourteen, he’d figured out an easy way to forestall the urges that threatened to overcome him each time he laid eyes on a girl. It was a solitary pleasure, one he knew better than to do where others could watch. The thought of this creature looking over his shoulder—” He shuddered.

“Oh, Christ, Bob. I’m talking about your writing, idiot.” She ruffled his hair. Bob groaned. She may not have watched over his shoulder constantly, but she could read his mind. That was just as bad. “You created me, remember?” Her voice sounded smooth as silk and burned like whiskey. Bob felt dizzy. Bob vaguely remembered doodling sketches of this woman – his supposed Muse on his History spiral back in high school. Implausibly large boobs, curvaceous hips, a dancer’s legs, stiletto heels but he couldn’t, for the life of him, remember flames for hair. Took some getting used to, but the warmth her tresses gave off was helping to dispel the tremors in his hands. “Bob, you’re shaking like you’ve got the DTs.”

“I’m, um, wow. Yeah. Yeah,” Bob looked stupidly at his hands. The tremors spread up his shoulders and down his spine. He was ice-cold, and yet his skin burned. “Bob, get a grip.” Bob did just that. He gripped the armrests of the chair in which he was sitting. He gripped the faux hide of nauga until his knuckles turned a ghastly shade of white. “Could you – not – do that?” he asked, prying one hand loose long enough to point at the Muse’s hair. “Whatever floats your boat, Bob.” Suddenly, an auburn-haired Angelina Jolie sat in the chair opposite Bob, and looked far less threatening than the incandescent goddess who’d stood before him a moment earlier. “Is this better?” Bob nodded. “What’s your name?” It felt bizarre, having a conversation with what had to be a hallucination, albeit a gorgeous one. “Fred.”

“Fred?”

“You named me Fred, Bob. It’s not my job to explain why you named me Fred.” Given the thoughts Bob was having about the illusory Fred, this was disconcerting news, to say the least. He scratched his head, trying to remember why in the name of God he would have named this woman “Fred.”

“Frederica?” he asked, voice full of hope. “No, Bob. Fred. Just plain Fred.”

“Sorry. You don’t look like a Fred.”

“Never did, Bob.” Bob cringed. “And I was fourteen, you say?”

“That’s right, Bob. Fourteen.” Fred shook her head and looked down at her well-endowed chest. “Gads, I wish you’d learned to write when you were ten, or waited until you were twenty-something.”

“Why?”

“Isn’t that obvious?” Fred hefted her breasts with both hands. “Only a fourteen year-old boy would endow his Muse with such gifts.” Fred’s hair burst into flame, sending Bob burrowing deeper into his armchair. “I’m sorry?”

“No, I can see that you’re not,” said Fred, her hair still smoldering. “So let’s cut the crap, Bob. You have a novel to write.”

“I do?”

“You see the problem with being a Muse created by a fourteen-year-old boy? It’s distracting, Bob. It’s keeping me from being all I’m meant to be.” Fred looked mildly annoyed, but at least her hair didn’t burst into flames. Bob was relieved. “I see.”

“No, you don’t see. You’re just all fascinated because you can actually see me, and I look like some prepubescent fantasy doll!”

“No, no – I understand how that could be a hindrance. I’m sorry. I – I think I’ve matured since then.”

“No you haven’t.”

“Have to!” Bob was not about to sit here and be insulted by his own Muse. “Why, I–”

“Bob, get real. That deal you made with the cops, earlier? That was real mature.” Fred rolled her eyes. “Oh, Rayne’s a good sport, she’ll–”

“Bob, do you have any idea how many guys are on the force? Rayne won’t be able to walk for a week if she makes good on her end of the deal.” Bob snickered. Fred’s hair began to crackle and spark. He quickly tried to look contrite. “Sir? Sir!” Bob woke with a start. A little old lady was leaning over him, smelling of lavender and potato chips. “Wha–?”

“Your laptop’s about to slip off your lap. I think you dozed off. Didn’t want it to fall on the floor, you know.” Bob grabbed his laptop computer just in time to save it sliding off his thighs and onto the ceramic tile floor, where it would surely have broken into tiny bits. Although that might have saved Bob considerable trouble, it was an expensive toy he could hardly afford to replace, given his and Rayne’s recently precarious financial position. “Thank you,” he murmured. “Very kind of you.” He blinked a few times and rubbed the sleep sand from his eyes with his knuckles. “No problem, son. No problem at all. Say, I couldn’t help but wonder what you were working on that put you so soundly to sleep. I suffer insomnia, you see. I’d love to learn your secret.” The old biddy chuckled. Bob yawned. With his hands firmly grasping his prized possession, Bob was unable to stifle himself. His mouth opened wide. The only difference between Bob and a yawning cat was the cat’s needle-sharp fangs. And claws. And tail. But the yawn was similar, and from the look on the old lady’s face, she was a cat fancier. “Sorry. I was working on my, er, book. I’m a writer. Sort of a writer. I’m working on a novel. In my spare time, you know.”

“Ahhh. Yes, a writer. How nice for you, dear. And what do you do with the rest of your time?”

“I, uh, my wife and I, we run this shop.”

“Looks to me like she’s doing all the running. I’m Edna, by the way. And you would be—?”

“Bob. Very nice to meet you, Edna.”

“Really? That’s a first. Most people aren’t pleased. Not pleased at all.” Edna sat down in the chair across from Bob, a chair warmed, just moments before, by the enigmatic Fred. “I can’t imagine that, Edna. You seem like such a kind soul.”

“Not at all, Bob,” said Edna. Her expression hardened as she pulled out her knitting. Her fingers moved deftly as the needles clicked and clacked. Knit and perl, perl and knit—Edna seemed hell-bent to burn her name into the Guinness Book of World Records by knitting what appeared to be a dingy gray and red woolen scarf in under three point two seconds. “Why’s that, Edna?”

“Don’t you recognize me?”

“Should I?” Bob squinted to get a better look at Edna. Five foot two, maybe one hundred thirty pounds, Edna looked like somebody’s grandmother. A third grade teacher, perhaps, with her tightly-curled indigo hair. Bob had never understood why elderly schoolmarms insisted on dying perfectly good white or gray hair a hideous shade of blue that never would have occurred to Mother Nature to create from scratch. That’s it! Third grade teacher— Of course! Edna must have been one of Bob’s teachers. “Oh, worse than that, Bob,” said Edna, as if reading his mind. “Your third grade teacher was a dear, sweet old woman. She didn’t have the heart to give you the D you deserved on that science report, so she gave you a C and package of crayons to soften the blow.” Bob swallowed hard. “Who are you?”

“Edna Jacobi Pringleheimer-Smith. I’m your worst nightmare,” hissed Edna. Her eyes were dark and beady, but they smoldered with hate. “I’m your inner critic, Bob. I am a part of you.” Bob suddenly had an urge to hum, but he felt his blood run cold. “Can Rayne see you?”

“Only if I want her to, Bob. You wouldn’t like that, would you? You’d like for her to think that you were a capable, talented man—”

“I suppose,” said Bob, trying to stifle another yawn. “What the hell is that?” Bob reached for the woolen scarf that was growing, in faster, tighter rows. “It’s an afghan, Bob.”

“It looks like–oh, Good Christ, woman! That’s my third-grade report card.”

“Tsk, tsk. Says here you got a big fat F in English. Bob, English is your native language. You’d have to be dumb as a rock to flunk English.”

“Mrs. Denhameyer didn’t like me.”

“Didn’t like you? Didn’t like you? What sort of asinine excuse is that, Bob? Ranks right up there with ‘my mother beat me and my father drank,’ in my opinion. Cut the crap.”

“It’s true! She hated me.”

“No one hates a third grader, Bob. You’re delusional, to boot. But never mind that. Why aren’t you working on that stupid novel of yours? I mean, it’s not like you’re helping your wife out, there.”

Chapter 3: May the Force be with You

“Bob?” Bob jumped at the sound of Rayne’s voice. He looked over at Edna, but all he saw was an empty chair, a crumpled package of Marlboros, and a red pen. He could still hear her mirthless laughter crackling in his eardrums. Instinctively, he stuck his pinky in his ear and jiggled it around, as if to dislodge something unpleasant. “Yes, dear?”

“Do you think maybe you could lend me a hand, here?” Novel Ideas was bustling with customers wearing dark blue uniforms. Bob put his laptop on the floor, tucking it out of sight beneath the chair, so it wouldn’t get stolen. He burst out laughing as he looked around the room. It looked like the entire police force had turned out for the grand opening of Rayne’s coffee shop, making it highly unlikely that anyone would attempt to boost a laptop. “Jake!” One of the officers strode over and clapped Bob on the shoulder. It took Bob a minute to adjust to being called Jake; he had forgotten this morning’s fib. “Hey there, Officer–er,” Bob looked down at the officer’s nameplate. “Al.” He smiled. “Good to see you here!”

“Well, you’re a reasonable sort, Jake. Most guys would’ve given me a load o’ crap about their First Amendment rights, free country, capitalism, God, and apple pie. You?” Officer Al leaned over and whispered conspiratorially in Bob’s ear, “You just wanted to get laid. Couldn’t stand to turn my back on a fellow in need.”

“Bob? Are you coming?” Rayne was swamped with orders and having a hard time keeping them straight. She couldn’t pull three double-shot lattes out of the espresso machine, four cups of “regular joe,” two mocha javas, dish up sixteen cinnamon rolls, and work the cash register simultaneously. She was good at multitasking, but it would’ve taken conjoined twins with nine tentacles to keep up. “Bob?” Officer Al repeated quizzically. “Did she just call you Bob?”

“Pet name,” explained Bob, rolling his eyes. “Ahhh, gotcha.” Officer Al nodded in understanding and grinned knowingly. “Coming, sweetie poo.” To Officer Al, he said, “Are you married?”

“Yep. Nine years, three days, twenty–” The cop looked at his watch. “–three hours, six minutes, fifty-seven seconds.”

“Wow, that’s amazing.”

“She never lets me forget.” Officer Bob smiled. “Which reminds me, Jake, I have to run – I promised her I’d bring at least three bad guys to justice before the day was out. I’m still down by one.” Bob laughed. “Want me to run out and commit a crime so you can collar me?” Officer Al thought it over for a long, uncomfortable moment. Bob began to wish he hadn’t said it, and wondered if lying about one’s name to a police officer could be considered a “crime.”

“No,” said Officer Al. “Thanks anyway. I’d better be going. Coffee’s great!” He waved at Rayne, who was doing her level best to juggle orders. Sotto voce, he added, “Have a good night, Bob.”

“Thanks. Er–” Officer Al laughed and pushed his way through the door, out of the warm light of the café and into the blackness of the night. He straightened his back and steeled his nerves; he was off to fight bad guys. The rest of the force was still squabbling over the last of the cinnamon rolls. Apparently, there weren’t enough to go around. Bob rounded the counter and got to work. With Rayne on the espresso machine, Bob could handle both the cash register and the cinnamon rolls. Not well, of course – the cash register keys were getting really sticky. Now and then, two numbers would stick together, resulting in prices like $12.50 instead of $1.25. But the room was so full of boisterous bonhomie that nobody seemed to notice. Sticky-Fingers Bob (as he would later be called) raked in about $235 in undocumented profits that would never be reported to the IRS, and he did it right under the noses – and straight out of the pockets – of Amitydale’s finest.

Chapter 4: Out of the Doghouse and Into the Fire

“Ready to call it a night, Tiger?”

“Rowwwwr.” Rayne slipped her arm around Bob’s middle-aged middle and laid her head on his shoulder. “I’m pooped, Loverboy. Who’d have expected the entire police force to show up at my café, and all on the same night? Did you put out flyers, or something?”

“Or something.”

“Hmm. And how the hell did they know about our dog?” asked Rayne. She finished wiping down the counters and washing the espresso maker. “Our dog?” Bob inquired, flipping off the light in the back room. He was eager to get home and collect his winnings. “Yep. Jake. Several of the Officers were asking about him. For some reason, they seemed to think he had a lady friend.”

“A lady friend?” asked Bob. The warning bells were going off in his head, but not nearly loud enough. He was still a little foggy after his encounters with Fred and Edna. “What are you talking about?”

“They seemed to think Jake was going to get lucky tonight.” Bob hopped into the car. Rayne drove. She loved to drive. Would have made a hell of a NASCAR driver, too. “Oh, they did, did they?”

“Funniest thing, Bob. One of them–what was his name? Al. Al told me Jake sent him here. Why would Jake do that, Bob?” Rayne pressed harder on the gas. “Whoa! Slow down! He told you–I mean, he must be mistaken. Must be some other Jake.”

“I don’t think so, Bob. I’m going to have to have a talk with that dog when we get home.” Rayne smiled as she took a turn at forty-two miles an hour. In one perfectly-timed maneuver, Rayne rolled up the driveway, opened the garage door, and pulled the car inside, gliding to a stop just short of the tennis ball hanging from the ceiling by a length of twine. “Perhaps you should speak with him, Bob. I’m a little too‑”

“Pissed off?”

“No, Bob. Humiliated.”

“Should I take a sleeping bag and make him scoot over?” asked Bob, dejected and contrite. “Oh, hell no. You owe me one passion-filled night of ecstasy after all that. When I get done with you, you’ll be walking with a limp.” Rayne grabbed her husband’s tie and tugged him toward her. “But if you ever pull a stunt like that again—”

“Never.” Rayne liked to work out her frustrations, anger, and irritations in bed. She was an energetic and enthusiastic lover who eventually mellowed and softened as the physical exertion left her warm and spent. Bob wondered, if he ever really pissed her off, would he have to install a trapeze? As they lay together after their lovemaking, basking in the radiant heat that rose from their slightly damp skin, Bob ran a hand along Rayne’s long, luscious body. Her muscles rippled like the flanks of a high-strung mare after a good run. “I love you, wife.”

“I love you, too.” Rayne rolled over. Within minutes, her breathing was regular and deep. Her gentle, rhythmic snorts were too quiet and quirky to be anything but amusing, and Bob couldn’t help chuckling to himself. He pulled a pair of earplugs from the nightstand drawer and shoved them into his ears with a smile. Bob was awakened by an insistent tugging on the blankets. “C’mon, sleepyhead!”

“Again? So soon? I thought you were–oh, holy shit!” Fred was standing over the bed, tongues of flame leaping from her head. Panic-stricken, but quite sure he was not yet fully awake, Bob swatted tiny, glowing embers as they fell onto the blanket. “Would you stop that?”

“Why are you sleeping? It’s only eleven.”

“Don’t you know smoking’s bad for you?”

“Where there’s smoke–”

“–there’s fire. Yeah. Tell me about it. You really ought to do something about that, Fred.” Fred merely shrugged. Apparently, her head was made of asbestos, too. Bob wondered if a figment of his imagination could be really dangerous. “You don’t want to find that out the hard way,” Fred warned him. “I wish you wouldn’t read my mind.”

“What good would I be as your Muse, if I couldn’t read your mind?”

“I thought you were supposed to inspire me.”

“How can I do that, if I don’t know what floats your boat?”

“How should I know? Why don’t you just go away and let me sleep?” asked Bob. He was tired. Fred was getting on his nerves. He wasn’t so much frightened, anymore, as annoyed. “Get up out of that bed and write.”

“About what?”

“You’ll know.”

“No, I won’t.” Bob laid down and rolled over, pulling the pillow over his head. Maybe Fred was the result of one too many cinnamon rolls, or too much caffeine. He made a mental note not to eat up the profits at Novel Ideas. The pillow was forcefully yanked from his clenched fists. Fred was furious. It occurred to Bob that if she could tug on the blanket and yank the pillow from his hands, she could burn down the house in her ire. He sat up, reluctantly, and gave her his full attention. “Okay, fine. But just for an hour.”

“Fine.” Bob got out of bed carefully, so as not to wake Rayne. He let Fred lead the way to his office, her hair illuminating the darkness. Bob sat down in his recliner and fired up the laptop. He sighed. “You’re a hard taskmaster.”

Fred sat at Bob’s desk and fiddled with the pencils in his pencil cup. She opened his desk drawers and rifled through them. “Packrat,” she muttered. “Find anything ‘inspirational’ in there?”

“Not really. What’s this?” Fred held up a slide rule. Bob patiently explained how to use it. Fred looked bored. “What happened to you, Bob? You used to be a doodler, a dreamer, a writer. Now you’re what? An accountant?”

“Business manager.”

“OH, right. Helping the wife get her little coffee shop off the ground. My God, Bob, you’ve become a cliché. Not just a writer who hangs out in cafés, but part owner of one.”

“It’s nice, don’t you think?”

“Bob. You were supposed to write. Instead, you let–that creature turn you to the dark side.”

“Creature? Are you talking about my wife? Because if you are–” Bob felt his face flush, anger causing the bile to rise in his throat. His fists clenched over the keyboard. “No, Bob, not Rayne. There’s nothing wrong with the little woman. In fact, she can be downright inspirational.” Fred winked. Bob wondered if she’d been watching. “Then what are you going on about?”

“That bitch, Edna.” Fred played with a mechanical pencil, clicking the lead out bit by bit until it fell to the floor. She peered through the clear barrel and shook it to see how many leads remained. She tossed it onto Bob’s desk. “Oh, right. I met her today.”

“You met her in third grade. And fifth. And your Freshman year in high school. Do you remember Mrs. Needlemeier?” Bob snickered. He began to mimic the prim and prissy Needlemeier, his Freshman Comp teacher. “Insert a comma where you would naturally pause to take a breath. Not you, Slackard – that tip doesn’t work for asthmatics! You have to learn the rules of grammar the hard way. You’ll never be a writer. But take heart, society will always need more trash collectors.”

“She did not say that!”

“Street sweepers.”

“No!”

“Accountants.” Bob could see where this was going. “And you just rolled over and followed orders. I cannot believe the boy who blew spit wads at Needlemeier would grow up to take her awful advice! Why, Bob?” Bob shrugged. “Because he knew, deep in his heart, that I was right.” Bob groaned and rubbed his burning eyes. “Oh, for fuck’s sake. Ladies, I need sleep. I’m going to leave you to discuss me in my absence.” He shut off the laptop, bowed deeply, and left Fred and Edna glaring at each other. Bob massaged his temples as he felt his way along the wall and back to bed. He would have to see a psychiatrist, and soon. As Bob pulled the covers over his body, he heard a lamp crash to the floor. Edna let loose a “Well, I never!” while Fred retorted “And you never will, either, you old hag!” Bob fell asleep with a small upward curl of his lips. They were fighting. Over him.

Chapter 5: Need a Vacation

“Rayne?” It was five o’clock in the morning. Rayne flopped over at the sound of Bob’s voice and opened one eye. It was an expressive eye. It was a “why the hell are you waking me up at this ungodly hour of the morning?” eye. “What?”

“I’ve been thinking.”

“No. You?” The eye rolled up towards the headboard and squinched tight. “Okay, I’ll bite, what have you been thinking?”

“I need a vacation.”

“You need a–what?” Bob had her full attention now. Rayne’s eyes popped open and her mouth, already open, stayed that way. “Don’t joke. You know we can’t go anywhere right now, not with the store open less than a month.”

“I didn’t say ‘we.’” Bob scooted towards his edge of the bed, instinctively. Rayne did not look happy to hear his thoughts. “Oh, so you need a vacation, and you’re just going to pack up and go, leaving me to run the store alone?”

“Business is picking up. You could hire some help.” Rayne nodded. “I could. But that still doesn’t make it right.” She stuck out her lower lip. “Why now? Why do you need to get away? Is it me?”

“Oh, God, no. No, Rayne. It’s me. I–I need to write. And to do that, I need to get away from here for a little while.” What Bob didn’t mention to Rayne was that, the morning after the feud between Fred and Edna, he had awakened to find a solitary, round-trip plane ticket on his desk. To Istanbul. Courtesy of Fred. He had studied the ticket for a long time, certain it was a yet another sign of growing madness. Then, just to be sure, he had shown it to a woman at the bank where he made the deposits for Novel Ideas. Instead of telling him that the emperor had no clothes, as he’d expected her to do, she expressed her delight and wished him a wonderful trip. The ticket, it seemed, was real enough. “Where do you plan to go?” asked Rayne. Bob told her about the ticket, but claimed that he had bought it himself. “Bob, that’s more than we’ve taken in all month, even with brisk business.”

“I thought I was supposed to worry about the finances.”

“You’re not doing your job, then.”

“So fire me.”

“Is that what this is about, Bob? It was your idea to put the store in my name—”

“Rayne, I am still–and always will be–your adoring love slave and business manager. Right now, though, I need to do this.” He surprised himself with his own resolve. He would not back down or give in to allay her disappointment. “I’m sorry, Sweetheart. I can see you’re not keen on the idea, but I really need to get away, to write this book. To see if I can–to prove to myself that I can do it.”

“You wrote a book.”

“Oh, yes— Basic Accounting Principles for Complete Morons. That was big.”

“Stop it. It was a high school textbook, and as I recall, it was very well received.”

“By the teachers, sure. They welcome anything that acts as a sedative on their students. Much less trouble that way.”

“Bob.”

“What?”

“Go to Istanbul. But stop putting yourself down. I can’t stand that.” Rayne rolled over and slid out of bed, naked. Everything about the way she walked to the bathroom was suggestive; Rayne wanted to be sure Bob knew what he’d be missing in Istanbul.

Chapter 6: Now Hiring

Rayne sat at the back of the café with her sister, Storme. Storme had pale skin and a talent for sitting still as death. It amused her to no end that she was often mistaken for a department store mannequin. She managed it, not through the use of arsenic wafers (those were hard to come by, nowadays), but by slathering on SPF 45 sunblock and going to excessive lengths to avoid the sun’s harmful rays. Short-cropped, blue-black tresses and too-heavy eye makeup provided a startling contrast to accentuate the pallor. Storme wore a colorful skirt, pieced together from vintage t-shirts; it was so short it made Rayne blush to look at it. A skin-tight black tank top and denim jacket completed the outfit. “Can I take the night shift?” she asked. “That might not be such a good idea, Storme. Don’t you have schoolwork to do?”

“I’m off for the summer.” Rayne studied her sister closely for a moment as she spoke. “Oh, man—”

“What?”

“Is that a tongue stud?”

“This?” Storme stuck out her tongue. It was studded with a bright, neon-green ball. Rayne turned her head to the side and closed her eyes. “Ow, ow, ow!” Storme just laughed. “What? It didn’t hurt.”

“What’d mom say?”

“She doesn’t know.”

“How could she not know? Can’t she see it when you talk?”

“She never pays any attention to me when I talk. You should know that.”

“Can you take it out?”

“I can, but why would I want to?”

“If you’re going to work here–”

“Oh, not you, too.” Storm leaned back and frowned at her sister. “Look, I thought you needed the help. But if you can’t deal with who I am— if you’re just out to change me—”

“No, honey, it’s not that. It might, you know, bother some of the customers.”

“Rayne, get real. We’re next door to the university. Who’s it going to bother? The faculty have their own lounge. They get all the free coffee they can handle, even if it is swill. They’re cheap. Your customers are going to be students. Compared to most of them, this is nothing.” As if to prove her point, Storme stuck out her bejewelled tongue and waggled it around with glee.

Chapter 7: An Interesting Mix

Rayne rolled her eyes. Storme had a point. The students wouldn’t care; if anything, it might convince them that Novel Ideas was a young, hip sort of place where they, and all their youthful eccentricities were welcome. The cops wouldn’t care, and they were a fun, loyal bunch of customers by now. Their presence made the older patrons feel safe. It’s all good, thought Rayne, borrowing an expression from her little sister. “Okay, the job’s yours if you want it.” Storme grinned. “When do I start?”

“Right now.” Rayne pushed her chair back from the little round table and nodded towards the counter. “I’ll show you the ropes.” Storme was, thankfully, a quick learner. She’d never done well in school, but that was due largely to boredom. She read incessantly, devouring Dostoyevsky, Chekhov, de Maupassant, and Aristotle with ease. She could count change as quickly as the automatic register could calculate it. One wouldn’t know it to look at her, but Storme was an energetic worker. When there was nothing to do, she affected a bored and sullen expression, but she had a real affinity for the customers and they appreciated her attention. She remembered names and faces and orders with 99.9% accuracy, a skill Rayne envied.

***

Bob threw some things into his suitcase, willy nilly. He had never been much of a traveler, and he suddenly realized that Rayne usually did all the packing for the few vacations they’d taken together. A man should know how to pack his own things, he thought. He turned the suitcase over onto the bed and started over. “Need help with that?” asked Rayne. If there was any hint of resentment in her voice, she hid it well. Now that Storme had started working in the café, she seemed content to let Bob go off and “find himself,” as she put it. Consciously or unconsciously, everything she did seemed calculated to prove that she could get along just fine without him. Bob knew his wife well enough to know, intellectually, that it was her way of alleviating the guilt she knew nagged at him. But he also knew she wouldn’t object to knowing he felt a little hurt that she could get along so well without him for a few weeks. Rayne picked up one of Bob’s shirts and began to fold it. He watched carefully, then took it from her silently and laid it in the suitcase. “If you really don’t want me to go–”

“Don’t be silly. You said you needed to do this, and I’m not about to stand in your way.” Rayne began to fold Bob’s underwear, to roll and tuck his socks. He took them from her and threw them into the suitcase. “Stop.”

“What?”

“I think I need to do this, too.” He nodded at the clothes strewn across the bed and waved a hand over the half-empty suitcase. “Fine.” Rayne tossed the last sock-roll onto the bed and stood up, clearly stung by her husband’s lack of need. “Rayne?” Bob stood up and encircled his wife’s waist with his arms. “I love you. I always have, and I always will. I love it that you want to take care of me. You do it so well, I’ve come to depend on it. But when a man realizes he no longer remembers how to pack his own things for a trip, he–” Rayne nodded. There were tears in her eyes, but she leaned in and kissed her husband. Slowly. Deeply. Her tongue teased his, inviting it to dance, then darting away coyly. He pulled her body tight against his and held her there, inhaling the shower-moist, energizing, citrusy scent of her. “I get it,” she said, pulling away. “And I’m sure they sell toothpaste in Istanbul, if you forget yours.” Rayne winked at Bob and went off to dry her hair and get ready to open the store. A few hours later, Bob arrived at President Whackenbush International Airport and Sundries. He wondered what sundries were. Something to do with Homeland Security, perhaps. Tearing things asunder. He had forgotten most of his seventh grade Latin, but convinced himself that sund was a common root word. The thought of it made him a little nervous.

His taxi driver was a tiny, dark man from Bangalore named Sanjay, according to the airport license dangling from the car’s air conditioning knob. Sanjay, who was hardly as big as Bob’s suitcase, struggled to carry the bags to the curbside check-in counter. Bob tipped him generously; unsure whether ten or thirty percent was customary, he split the difference. He suspected that he had over-tipped when the little man clasped the bills between his palms, as if in prayer, then bowed deeply, thanking him in several languages and calling him Sahib. Check-in went smoothly. Bob produced his passport at the baggage counter, twice at the security screening, and once to a lady who was cleaning the restrooms. She spoke no English, but she gave Bob a suspicious look that made him wonder if she, too, worked for Homeland Security. He convinced himself that the urinal cakes were bugged and rigged with tiny, waterproof cameras. That notion also made him somewhat self-conscious, but he desperately had to relieve himself and decided that nervousness might be mistaken for terroristic intent, so gamely he stood and did his business. By the time he reached the gate, Bob was flashing his ID at anyone who looked willing to take a peek. He found an empty chair in the waiting room and occupied it. According to his watch, which was not as nice as a Rolex but had served him quite well for the last ten years, it was one hour, twenty-two minutes, and fifteen seconds before take-off. A woman wearing sharply-creased khakis, hiking boots, and a photo-safari jacket over a lime-green silk turtleneck sweater caught his eye. A large, padded bag camera bag hung over her shoulder. She had the most stunning auburn hair. It was radiant. It looked as if it might burst into flame at the touch of the sun’s rays— “Oh, shit.” Bob turned away and pretended to be fascinated by the planes taxiing in and out of the nearby gates. No luck; she spotted him and miraculously found an open seat beside him. “You didn’t think I’d abandoned you, I hope?”

“Abandoned me?” he hissed. “I wish you’d–”

“Dear me, you shouldn’t have come.” The elderly lady on the other side of Bob was having some difficulty arranging her bags. Bob turned to help her, and found himself staring straight into the mocking gray eyes of Edna Jacobi Pringleheimer Smith. He sighed. “I don’t think I can take the both of you on this trip.”

“Edna,” growled Fred, “you’re the one who’s not supposed to be here. And if you don’t shut your trap, you hateful old biddy, I’m going to chuck you into the Bosporus myself!”

“That’s no way to talk to an old woman,” said Bob, trying to keep the two from going at it in public. Suddenly, he realized that the only one of the three of them visible in public was him. Talking to himself. Any minute, those nice young men in their clean white coats would show up with handcuffs and a strait jacket to haul him away to Amitydale Serene Sanitarium, more commonly referred to as the ASS Hole. The trip to Istanbul would be off, but so would the next several months – if not years – of his life. Considering how they treated drug addicts and alcoholics, taking away their toys, he shuddered to think what they would do to a crazy writer. They’d break his laptop, chew on his pencils, maybe even amputate his fingers. He closed his mouth and bit his tongue. “Bob,” said Edna, waggling a bony finger right under his nose, “you have an overactive imagination. They don’t do things like that, these days. They’d just give you some mind-numbing concoction of chemicals and send you home to your lovely wife, where you belong. Within forty-eight hours, you’ll be good as new and ready to tackle the ledgers you’ve been so shamefully neglecting.” Edna pulled some knitting from her bag and settled back to wait for the flight to begin boarding.

She can read my mind, too?” asked Bob. He shrank back in his chair and looked around the waiting area. No one seemed to be paying undue attention to him, for which he was inordinately grateful.

HollyJahangiri

Holly Jahangiri is the author of Trockle; A Puppy, Not a Guppy; Innocents & Demons; and A New Leaf for Lyle. You can find her books on Amazon at http://amazon.com/author/hollyjahangiri. For more information on her children's books, please visit http://jahangiri.us/books.

Latest posts by HollyJahangiri (see all)

Please share this post!

9 thoughts on “Eradicating Edna”

  1. Uh, remember “if” you should want to submit to a publisher, many won’t accept something that’s been published elsewhere, even if online.

    I keep waiting for you to come up with something else.

    1. Thank you, Mitch! I appreciate that. I had so much fun writing this; maybe too much fun, and at some point it just fizzled out. Maybe it’s like that blog contest period of my life – I’ll get back to it, eventually, and finish what I started. 🙂 I am a bit sad to note that this version is missing a chapter, and I have no idea where it’s gone. But there WAS a chapter where Edna gets flushed out the airplane lavatory and later shows up icy, wet, spitting mad, with hair just a little bluer than before.
      HollyJahangiri recently posted…The Writing Journey: Where to Begin?My Profile

Leave a Reply to Vivian Zabel Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge