Throwing Horseshoes

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He wanted to tell him how much he loved him but his father was gone now. Not gone meaning dead, just gone driven down the road, dust rising in the air. His father was more distant these recent days and he wasn’t sure why. He knew there were issues with his dad’s third wife, because she liked to air her dirty laundry on Facebook and was always badmouthing his dad on there. He didn’t look most days.

He’d invited his dad over for a barbecue and some horseshoes in the pit in the backyard. His dad played in less tournaments these days but he still liked to throw. They’d played together for awhile as the burgers cooked and then sat down on the patio to eat, with some store-bought potato salad and the burgers. They ate together amiably, both going back for seconds. He wanted to tell his dad about some problems he was having with a fellow employee at work but he held back. No point bringing down what was feeling like a nice day, a good Father’s day get-together. He felt he owed his dad that.

He looked across the old metal table at his dad and smiled at a bit of ketchup caught on his dad’s chin. His dad had aged well, he thought, so glad for those good genes.

“Did you see that atrocity on Gene’s lawn?” his dad said.

“You mean that fake wishing well?” he said.

“That and a whole lot more. His wife is watching too many home improvement shows, if you ask me. God knows why he puts up with it.”

He didn’t respond right away. His father certainly put up with a lot too…marrying a younger woman the third time around, who was never happy with the way things were. She nagged on his father something fierce, he thought. We seem to be most critical in others what we don’t like about ourselves he’d read somewhere. That was his father in a nutshell.

“Well at least Gene keeps his lawn mowed,” he said. “My neighbor kitty corner over there wouldn’t know a lawn mower if it reached out and bit him. And the weeds are sowing their seeds upon the rest of us…thanks to him.”

“You should sneak mow it for him,” his dad said. “Do it on a day when he’s gone for the day. You must know his schedule enough to figure it out.”

“Why would I do that?”

“Because you don’t know what’s going on with him,” his dad said. “Could be something’s wrong, in his family or with him. We don’t know these things. Worst case scenario, he’s gong through something. Best case, you did a good deed. And just maybe shamed him into doing it himself next time. But my guess is that there’s something off. Something wrong.”

“He’s lost some weight lately,” he said. “I never really thought about it that way. We don’t really talk.”

“He might not even tell you even if you did talk, so I wouldn’t worry about it. Just mow it. You’ll be glad that you did.”

“You’re right, dad,” he said. “I’ll mow it on Tuesday when he’s always gone all day.”

His father looked at him. “That’s my boy,” he said.

His father left soon after that. He hugged him and his dad patted him on the back. Now he wished that he had said I love you. But his father knew. He knew that he knew. Next time, he would just say it.

Happy Father’s day Dad. I love you.

 

 

(for my dad-who knows I love him)

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The Telling

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He waited until her husband was out of the room, then he threw his empty plastic cup at her head. She ducked and it clattered on the wall behind her, a few drops of beer landing on her dress.

“I thought you were going to tell him!” he hissed.

“Knock it off!” she hissed back, her face furious.

“You are making this much harder than it needs to be!” he whispered fiercely.

Her husband’s voice boomed from the hallway. “Darling, where did I put that book I was talking about? It’s not where I thought I left it.”

“It’s on the dresser in the bedroom, love,” she called to him.

She turned to her brother. “You are being an ass. Stop it. Stop it now.”

“Margo ya gotta tell him. He’s going to find out and just explode.”

She shrugged. “And if he does? Nick, just stay out of it.”

“Stay out of it?” he snarled. “It’s my life too. It’s my money too. It’s a lot of money. A lot.”

“She gave the money to both of us,” Margo said. “It’s our inheritance. And he won’t understand.”

“Understand what?” her husband said, standing in the doorway. “What are the two of you whispering about in here?”

Nick stood. “Your WIFE has something to tell you.” He opened the sliding glass door and went out to the deck.

Margo looked at her husband levelly. “He’s talking nonsense,” she said. “He’s just trying to stir things up.”

He moved into the room and sat down opposite her.

“I don’t think you are quite telling me the truth,” he said. “I know you too well, Margo.”

She threw up her hands. “FINE!”, she said. “But you need to hear me out, before responding.”

“Fair enough.”

“Nick and I have always had a dream, since we were kids. We talked and talked and talked about it. We drew it out. We made stories about it. It became part of our childhood mythology. We were quite rabid about it. Even as we got older, teens. It was always there. I have mentioned it lightly to you…but I never really  expressed what it meant to us. Always did, still does.”

Her husband was silent, his head tilted to one side, looking at her. She saw the truth settle in on his face. He began to laugh.

“Is this about the Amusement ride store? Is that what this is all about?”

Yes,” she said. “We’ve taken our inheritance and bought property to make it a reality. Nick’s finishing up the designs on it now. He’s worked out all the mechanical kinks.”

“I don’t believe this,” her husband said. “Why would you do this without talking to me?”

“Because you have always laughed. You’ve said how silly it was. You’ve mocked it.”

“Oh come on,” he said. “A store that’s half amusement ride and half shopping experience. It’s not remotely practical.”

“It’s even more practical now. Look at how much shopping has moved online. People want a fast easy experience. OR they want fun. People are spending money on all kinds of extraordinary adventures. We’d give them both. If we do this right, and we will, people will come from all over the country. Maybe even all over the world to shop with us. We can charge a bit more for the shopping end too. We’d have an amazing brand. Sell tshirts and souvenirs. It’s going to be unlike anything ever seen before.”

“I don’t know what to say,” her husband said. Nick came inside from the deck.

“Good,” he said. “She’s finally told you. I can tell from the look on your face.”

“Tell him what you designed,” Margo said.

“The design of the store will be both sleek and sophisticated,” Nick said, “But also with a shade of old-fashioned dime-store appeal. A wink from the past. I figured out how the dynamics of the shopping cars will work. They’ll

have a bumper car feel, but with storage for the purchase items, and perhaps a rocket ship feel to the front. There’s some change in gradient so it feels like a soft roller coaster. The aisles will be curved, so they’ll feel more motion. They’ll be able to choose slower or faster. I’ve figured out how they can reach everything from sitting. They can choose scary ride, if they want, or just gentle motion. I’ve built in all kinds of variables. Surprises. They’ll see new things each time. They’ll want to keep riding.”

“And what is your role in all this,” her husband asked her.

“I’m on the merchandising and marketing end. I’m designing the color palette, the theme, all the items for sale. The uniforms, the bags, the signage, the music, everything.”

Her husband sighed heavily, and ran his hand through his hair. She looked at Nick and frowned.  “I just have one thing to ask,” he finally said.

“What is it?”

“Can I at least help pick out the name?”

Nick and Margo laughed.

“What did you have in mind?” Nick said. “Because we kinda have a name picked out.”

“Tell me your name first.”

“We were leaning towards Kool Kart. Or maybe Shopping Kart. Kinda ironic feel.”

“Those are too generic,” her husband said. “You need a name that reflects how unique you are.”

“Agreed,” Margo said. She leaned forward. “Do tell, darling husband of mine.”

“I think you should focus on the riding part,” he said. “Call it THE ZIP. A take on the classic Zipper roller coaster. And your tagline can be simple. RIDE. SHOP.”

“I love it,” Nick said. Margo nodded and stuck out her hand.

“Shake,” she said. “Partners always.” The three shook hands.

 

 

 

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Sunburn Summer

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The house wasn’t the same to her any more after the neighbors painted it a rather loud shade of blue.  It had been a quiet shade of gray throughout her childhood years so it was rather a shock to pull her car in front of her parents house and see the house across the street painted so boldly. Mr McGarish had held on for a few years after his wife died, but he finally went too and the house was sold to a young couple with three little kids. They painted the house tropical blue, set up a swing set in the side yard, and toys were scattered across the front frazzled lawn.

She gave a half hearted wave to a toddler on a tricycle on the driveway across the street and went in the front door, pulling off her coat.

“Ma, I’m here,” she called.

“We’re in the living room, Jana,” her mother called back. “We have a surprise for you.”

This should be interesting, she thought. Her mom’s surprises were legendary, part of family folklore discussed over the turkey every Thanksgiving. One summer she’d announced that she was going to wear the same color from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Red, she’d said…it’s a festive summer color.  And she had, from red shorts to red sundresses. Every single day. The family called it The Sunburn Summer. Another time she decided to surprise the family with a trip to the local undertaker, where she showed them the casket she had picked out for herself. It was a rather awkward excursion, with her younger brother Roger, who was only 7 at the time, bawling in the station wagon all the way home.  But the surprise that was the BIG surprise, the one they always brought up, with plenty of giggles, was the time their mother decided to surprise the whole family with a new pet. A very peculiar pet. A pet skunk. To give her credit, it had been de-scented, so there wasn’t a chance of being sprayed, but neighbors and family members gave their house a wide berth until the pet skunk had been donated to the local zoo. Roger cried about that too, as he’d gotten very attached to the skunk in the few weeks it had lived in their house.

Her mom and the neighbor lady from across the street were sitting in the living room together, with piles of small boxes around them.

“You remember Trina, don’t you honey?” her mom said. Trina waved hello.

“Why yes, of course,” she said. “How are you Trina?”

“Just snazzy,” Trina said, and both Trina and her mom laughed. Her mom seemed to be in a very good mood. She was wearing cheerful clothing and as she looked closer, she could see that her mom was wearing quite a bit of makeup, with swoops of color above her eyes and flirty blush.

“I’ve asked Trina to give you a makeup master workshop,” her mom said. “She gave me one and it’s done me a world of good! It makes me smile to look in the mirror!”

“oh…I don’t know….” Jana said. Her face felt flushed. Why was this necessary? She wore little makeup and liked it that way. It went well with her classic understated wardrobe.

Trina picked up two of the small boxes and motioned her to sit on an empty chair next to her.

“You’ll like this, I promise,” Trina said, and giggled. “Trust me. It’s going to be fun.”

It was pointless to fight against her mother’s glee. She knew this by now. She sat in the chair and attempted a grin.

“Do your damage,” she said.

Trina flinched slightly. “I don’t think damage is the right word….we’re just going to enhance your already beautiful face.”

Trina opened up several of the makeup boxes and with a flurry of brushes, and much cooing under her breath, she went to work. It was enjoyable feeling the feathery touch of the brushes here and there, and Jana smiled, her eyes shut.

She could hear her mother’s words of encouragement as she sat there with her eyes shut, but they seemed so far away. She was floating, light as a breeze, the brushes caressing her skin, the world seemed so bright and warm.

“All done,” Trina crowed. “You are going to be thrilled!  You are stunning!”

Jana opened her eyes and looked at her mom, beaming at her. She looked into the hand mirror Trina held out to her. Her face had dramatic streaks across the eyelids and a swish of bold pink up each cheekbone. She didn’t know what to say. She looked like a clown, she thought. She didn’t want to hurt their feelings. She didn’t know what to do.

She closed her eyes.

“Honey?” her mom said, her voice quivering.

She made a choice. She opened her eyes and looked into the mirror again. She saw a beautiful woman look back at her, eyes gleaming.

“So lovely,” she said. “Thank you Trina.”

Trina sat back in her chair with a thump. “Ooof, you scared me there for a moment.”

Her mom clapped her hands together. “I knew you would like it! I just knew!”

Jana laughed. The three of them settled into an afternoon of coffee, homemade cookies and friendly chat. Jana went into the kitchen to refill her coffee mug and glanced out the window at the house across the street.

What a gorgeous color, she thought.

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Chicken Soup

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“He had a well-bred face,” her mother said, stirring a pot on the stove. “Or as my mama would say, a horsey face. He would have made a handsome horse in fact. Teeth that were a bit over-sized and looked real chompy, and a smile that showed too much of those clopper teeth. You know what I mean?”

Cassie nodded and pulled more of the old quilt about her shoulders.  She was sitting in the low-slung cozy armchair in the corner of the kitchen.  It was her favorite seat in the house.

“He looked cultured and a bit skittish, like a loud noise would make him bolt for the stables. I kept waiting for him to blow air through his nostrils, like a horse would do.”

Cassie laughed, and then coughed a bit.  The phlegm in her lungs was getting worse.

“Hang in there, pudding,” her mother said. “Chicken soup will be coming your way soon.”

“Thanks, Ma.”

“It was the spring after Casper died and I was still looking for the glimpse of white out in the pasture. It took awhile for that to go away. I missed him something fierce. It was too quiet without his silly whinny antics. The other horses weren’t doing much, just being regular horses. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but oh that Casper.”

Her mother sighed. “It’s back when your dad was doing real poorly, with the cancer and all that. We weren’t sure if he was going to make it. He’s a tough onion and he pulled through but it was touch and go for a while there, and Peter was still in diapers. You came along pretty quick after he got better, but back then it was rough times.”

“I can only imagine,” Cassie said.

“So this Ricky started coming around, with his well-bred face and gentry manners. He lived in town and he’d heard about your dad and I think he had the notion that he’d be first in line with the new widow, if he hung around enough. It was appalling behavior through and through and your dad and I knew what he was doing. We hadn’t lost our sense of humor though, so we starting thinking up chores for Ricky to do while he was here secretly courting me. He’d ask if he could help and we gave him the worst things we could think of, like cleaning up after one of the horses had the runs, things like that. Oh, we were evil,” her mother said, laughing.

“In fact, I got into the habit of stopping into the downstairs bedroom where your dad was bed staying and I’d tell him the latest Ricky sweet talk and what horrible chore I made him do. Complete with doing a Ricky horse face, which made your dad laugh and laugh. It wasn’t nice, but what Ricky was doing wasn’t nice either, and I was beyond nice at that point. If I could make your father laugh, it was a good day. And we needed good days every chance we could get. We didn’t know how many good days we had left.”

Her mother ladled soup into two bowls and handed one to Cassie, with a spoon. She settled down at the kitchen table with the other.

“In the meantime, I’d hired a girl from town to come out and help with some of the household chores like laundry, so I could do some of the work your father would normally do, or oversee it at least. Her name was Nancee and she was a flirty little thing with an annoying giggle and she wore lipstick even while doing chores, which I couldn’t believe. I am sure the cows appreciated the lipstick when she milked them, but I didn’t ask the cows, so I don’t know for sure.”

“This is getting better and better,” Cassie said.

“I am sure you can imagine what happened. They started flirting with each other, thinking I wouldn’t notice, but of course I did. Then one day I sent him out to muck out the stables and I sent her to gather some early summer vegetables from the garden for our dinner, and they came back in together, which was stupid, first, and here’s where it gets good.  She had tried, bless her heart, but she had made a poor job of hiding the damage. Her lipstick was smeared and her apron was twisted to one side, and best of all, she smelled like horse manure. He had a smear of lipstick under one ear and that big horsey grin, and I saw my chance.”

“How dare you! I said to him, and here I thought you were going to be my next husband!  And YOU, I said to her. How dare you fool around with my new beau!”

Cassie sprayed out chicken soup in a huge laugh. “MA! Don’t make me laugh when I’m eating! Oh my GOSH!”

“Oh it’s just another thing in the laundry dear,” her mother said. “But here’s the best part. Your dad could hear some of the commotion from the bedroom and I told him the rest after I made them leave. He got out of bed, standing upright for the first time in days, still laughing, and said, “I can’t go off and die now. I have to see what you do next. You are a peach.” And he got a little better every day after that, until he was well again. So God bless Ricky. He’ll never know what a gift his silly antics were for us. Gifts come from all directions, Cassie. Never forget that.”

“I won’t, Ma,” Cassie said, and handed her mother the empty bowl. “More please.”

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Swim

 

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She felt for the lock in the dark locker room.  She knew the combination by feel, the tumblers clicking in their familiar pattern. She dare not turn on the light in case the security guard saw. At this time of night he was usually snoring on the boldly patterned couch in the teacher’s lounge, but she didn’t want to chance it. The lock clicked open and she opened the locker door. She had oiled the hinges months ago so it made no noise.

She silently slipped off her clothing and reached for the silky one-piece swimsuit. It was so lightweight it felt like wearing gossamer wings. Cut high on the thighs and straps criss-crossing her back.  It was built for speed, it was built to fly, and flying was what she intended to do. She put her clothing into the locker and shut the door, crossing the room to enter the room where her kingdom waited for her.

She’d swam in many pools, but this one was special. There were large skylights across the enormous ceiling, which showcased the weather, day and night. The pool floors and walls were painted metallic gold, so it was like swimming in a giant gold tea-cup. Pinpoint lights had been installed in the upper walls that curved into the ceiling so the water glimmered with tiny sparks here and there. The pool was a bequest by a wealthy parent, and while there were mutters about the gaudiness of it all, at night, with the main lights off, it was magical.

She sat on the edge of the pool and then quietly slipped into the water. Her arms began the familiar breast stroke, her legs frog kicking behind her. It was her favorite stroke, because it was relatively quiet, and more importantly, she could look about the room and up into the sky as she swam. The sky was clear tonight and the half full moon cast a pearl shine on her forearms as she swam. No sounds except the water as she pushed it in firm strokes, moving down the length of the pool. She closed her eyes for a moment, just feeling the water caress her skin. She reached the end of the pool and turned to swim back, and then paused.  There was a figure standing at the other end. It was too dark to see who it was. She pretended not to notice and began to swim back.

As she drew close she could see it was her husband Jonathan. She reached the edge and looked up at him.

“You’ve found me out,” she said.

“So this is where you slip off to……..so late at night,” he said evenly. “You’re so lovely when you swim, Katherine. You always have been.”

“Lovely was not the intention,” she said.

“But lovely all the same.”

“Don’t you want to know my intention?”

“Oh, I think I can guess,” he said. “It’s your rabbit hole, your hidey-place. Where you leave all your cares behind.”

“Yes.”  How well he knew her.

“I wish I had one myself.”

She reached out of the water and placed her hand on his foot.

“I can share. I can share my refuge with you. I didn’t think you needed one. You are always so stalwart. So strong-shouldered.”

He was smiling. “Would you share with me, Kat?”

“Oh, yes.”

“Aren’t you worried about getting caught?”

“What’s the worst that can happen?  We get caught, there’s a tiny scandal, and we find another refuge. Come join me, my love.”

He took off his clothes slowly, shyly. “What a spell you cast on me, Katherine,” he said and joined her in the pool. They kissed extravagantly, and then sweetly, and then together, they began to swim down the length of the pool.

 

 

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Mischka and the Tree

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There was something not quite right about the window. He looked at it again. What was wrong?  Ah, he thought. Mischka has pushed one of the window slats out of line. He reached over his desk and pushed the slat back in line with the others. He glanced out of the second story window and saw his neighbor Greg mowing the lawn in the back yard next door. He pulled back abruptly. No, no, no, he thought. I didn’t want to see Greg. I don’t want to think about Greg. What if that’s the last time I see Greg? That would be unbearable. His left hand wrenched the skin on his right arm…stop thinking about Greg.

He went downstairs. There were light shades on all the windows so he didn’t have to see outside, except for the window overlooking the part of the backyard where there weren’t any neighbors. He checked his front porch by looking through the eye hole quickly. Nobody was in sight. He opened the door and carried all his mail and packages inside, hurrying so Mischka wouldn’t be tempted to go outside and explore the front yard. Fortunately, she wasn’t a very curious cat, but he was always cautious all the same.

He’d always had issues with obsession-compulsion tendencies but they kicked into overdrive after his mother died and he was alone in the house. It had been so hard to accept the fact that he’d never see her again, and he began to feel the same way about everyone he saw. When he went to the grocery store, it was difficult to say goodbye to the check-out clerk, because, what if he never saw her again? He’d never see her smile or learn more about her. And that child in the next aisle over, how was he supposed to live without finding out what he liked to eat for lunch or what his favorite toys were? It was unbearable not to know. The child would leave with his mother and he’d never see him again and it was ridiculous but he had tears in his eyes. He was coherent enough not to say anything, but once he got into his car he wept.

Driving home he tried not to look inside other cars but he glanced at one coming the other way and saw an older woman with a serene smile on her face and he thought, I want to know why she is smiling. Her car drove past him and he felt a pull to do a u-turn and follow her so he could keep her in his life somehow, but there wasn’t a safe place to turn and then her car was gone and the pain of losing her wrenched his stomach.

He stopped opening the door to delivery men and they soon all learned to leave his groceries and other packages on the porch. He had a data entry job he could do from home and he left his house less and less. He had his work and he had Mischka and he had books to read and that was enough for him.

It was Summer which was his least favorite time of the year. Lots of kids playing up and down the street and neighbors out and people strolling out for a pleasant walk in the early evenings. He had to put his garbage can out for collection well after midnight, to make sure he didn’t see anyone. He saw a few of the neighborhood dogs running around but he didn’t feel the same way about dogs, so they were safe. Occasionally he’d hear the crackle and pop of firecrackers as it got closer to the Fourth of July.

The day before the holiday he opened his front door to get his packages, just as a loud bottle rocket went off just one house over. Mischka scooted out the front door. He’d never seen her run so fast.

“Mischka!” he yelled.  “Come back!”

He quickly went across the porch and down the front steps after her, as she raced across the yard to the big Elm on the right corner of the lawn. She scurried up the tree and out of sight. It was his worst nightmare. He stood at the base of the tree, calling up to her.

“Mischka, sweetie, it’s okay. Daddy’s here. Come on Sweetie. Come down from there.”

A couple of kids riding their bikes screeched to a stop on the sidewalk, close to the tree.

“Is your cat up in the tree Mister?” one said.

“Yes,” he said, trying not to turn to look at them. “She got scared by a firecracker noise.”

“My dad can help,” the other said. “You want me to get my dad?”

There was nothing for it but to say yes.

“Please,” he said. “and hurry. She’s awfully scared I bet.”

They raced off on their bikes and shortly after he heard sirens.

“What is going on?” he thought, just as a fire truck came down the street and stopped next to him. The kid jumped out, as well as several firemen. Several neighbors came out of their houses to watch.

“Here’s my dad,” the kid said. One of the firemen shook his hand briskly, and shielded his eyes to look up into the tree. “I think one of the basic ladders,” he said to the other firemen. “She’s not real high up, at least not yet.”

They braced the ladder against the tree and in short order he was up the ladder and down again with Mischka cradled under one arm.

“Good as new,” the fireman said, and handed the cat to him. He held her tightly and looked around at the crowd that had gathered. “Thank you,” he said. “I don’t have the words.”

“It’s so good to see you Sam,” his neighbor Amanda across the street said. There was a murmur of agreement from the crowd, and one after the other began to come up and pat him on the back or shake his hand. A few of the women gave him brief hugs and they all mentioned how much they had missed him.

He stood there, as they came up and the knot in his chest loosened with each touch. He nodded and said something back to each one and then as they started going back to their houses he went inside his.

He murmured to Mischka as he walked through the front door.

” I should be so mad at you for scaring me, but I am just so glad you are okay.”

He glanced at the front hall mirror and then looked again. There was something in the mirror he hadn’t seen for some time. There was a huge smile on his face.

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Sea Dance

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She was a stranger in a very strange land and yet everything felt so familiar, like it can in the most impossible of dreams. She wasn’t dreaming, but it felt like she was, as she moved among the different sculptures in the new art exhibit. The walls in the large gallery were painted in wavy patterns of swimmy blues and murky greens and the effect was like being in an underwater cavern and the statues and sculptures seemed to sway in a current unfelt by human skin.

She’d worn a modest bathing suit, as instructed by the art gallery owner and she shivered a little as she walked among the statues. They were almost familiar too, like child drawings of sea creatures. There was a mermaid with a forked tail so it was like she had large fins, instead of legs, and silvery hair sweeping down her scaly back. A porpoise with whiskers drooping on each side of its snout. A very large lobster, with tentacles instead of claws. She gasped, as one of the statues opened its eyes and turned towards her. It was a man, dressed in a coat that looked like intricately woven seaweed.

“Do you like my creatures?” he asked.

“Oh, yes!” she said. “They feel like I know them from a dream. I mean, they seem so unreal and yet so familiar.”

He patted the back of a sea turtle that had rows of centipede legs on each side of its shell.

“You very well may be dreaming,” he said, and smiled an impish grin at her.

“I most certainly am NOT dreaming,” she said. “but I may as well be.”  He was quite handsome, she thought, with his goatee and boyish red curls. She had sworn off dating artists but now she couldn’t remember why.

He moved closer to her. “Do you know how to swim?” he asked.

“I do, but not well. I don’t get the opportunity very often. Why do you ask?”

“It’s part of my show. But you have to trust me. You need to not be afraid of water.”

“I would never be afraid,” she said. “There may be things that scare me, but water is not one of them.”

“I knew that when I saw you,” he said, and raised his hand to blow three sharp notes on a small pipe whistle.

Water started pouring out of the base of each statue, quickly filling the floor of the gallery and starting to rise. Soon it was a foot deep, and then two, and as it began to reach the creatures they began to move languidly, stretching and tossing their heads back and forth. At three feet deep some were able to rise off their bases and they began to swim around the gallery, diving and weaving among each other. The porpoise nudged her leg and the whiskers tickled.

“Shall we?” he said, and taking her by the elbow, he guided her to climb on the back of the porpoise. The water rose higher and he swam with strong strokes beside her as the porpoise moved here and there around the other creatures in the room. The water kept rising and soon it was just a few feet from the ceiling. There was a bell hanging from one of the chandeliers and he swam to it and rang it, once. The creatures began to dive, one after another and he swam to her, pulling her off the porpoise into his arms.

There was a loud rushing sound and the water began to lower, and as it lowered he held her tight and swung her into a tumble. They tumbled and rolled together as the water lever kept dropping and the creatures settled back onto their bases. One last tumble and they felt the floor of the gallery beneath them. She had starting laughing in sheer joy as they tumbled and as they pulled apart she laughed again.

“I have made quite a mess of your seaweed coat,” she said.

“Ah, well, that’s the beauty of seaweed, you see,” he said. “There’s plenty of it.”

“I still think I might be dreaming,” she said.

“That’s for you to decide,” he said. “Would you rather this be a dream? Or real?”

“Real,”  she said. “I’d rather my real life be this intoxicating. Given the choice, I’d rather have more fun awake, than asleep.”

“Good choice,” he said. “Real, it is, then.”

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