The Whole Package (a short story)

Image: appliancesonline.com.au/academy/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/xmas_gift.png

Darryl handed Patricia a rectangularish box wrapped in the reddest foil that she had ever seen.  “Go ahead and open it.  This one’s from me.”  He was practically vibrating from excitement.

This was the first Christmas they had been together, so the idea of going to his parent’s house for the holiday seemed a bit much.  She preferred to keep things at arm’s length for longer, sort of to feel things out before getting too attached.  Still, he seemed so sweet on the idea that she decided to give in.

Patricia took the offering and tried to muster up a smile.  This container hurt her engineering soul.  She had gone to college for years studying the best way to package products.  She had won numerous awards for her ability to design the stuff that everything is put into.  She made it to be not only functional, but beautiful.  It was something she took immense pride in.

And yet the gift her boyfriend had given her was in a sorry state.  The top and one of the sides were bulging, ruining the angular pleasing aesthetic most boxes had.  He had undersized the box by at least two, two and a half centimeters on the long side.  Not only that, but she could feel that the cardboard selected was too thin for the amount of weight the poor reinforced paper had been asked to hold.  It practically buckled as she placed it on her lap.

Yeah, this wasn’t going well.  He probably had gone overboard, picking out something expensive to impress her.  People put too much emphasis on what was inside the box.  She knew what mattered was the thought that went into the product as a whole.  That’s why packaging was her passion.

Well, there was only one way to get this over with. 

Patricia deftly pealed back the cellophane tape.  She folded it upon itself and placed it on the side table next to her.  She could tell that Darryl wanted her to hurry up, but she wanted to honor the materials others carelessly discarded.  That is why she preferred to use bags to hold gifts.  They had a life, post present, with the probability of many regiftings in their future.  

If they had a future together she would have to train him better.

She unfolded the wrapping paper cocoon and laid it on top of the tape.  There was crafting supplies in its future if she could pawn it off on Darryl’s niece as long as Darryl’s sister didn’t notice till that crew was in the car on the ride home.  She would think of a way to entice the ten-year-old that origami roses were just a few folds away.

She contemplated the box.  Yes, that poor box was at death’s door.  There would be no upcycling this, at least without major reconstructive surgery.  Alas, you couldn’t save them all.

She looked into Darryl’s eager eyes as she opened the box.  He nodded, almost exploding with emotion.  She looked at what had been entombed just moments ago.  Inside there was a vast swath of Kelly green.  He at least had picked her favorite color.  She lifted the object out and shook loose sleaves.  She stared at a sweater unlike anything she had seen before.  There were occasional oblong holes, a few loops of yarn that didn’t attach to anything, and the left sleave was about a half inch longer than the right.  It was not what she had been expecting for sure.

She looked back at Darryl.

“I knitted it myself.  You said you always were getting cold at the apartment.  I thought it might be cool if I designed a package for you.”  He put air quotes around the word package.  “I love listening to you talk about that stuff, so you inspired me to do this.  You should have seen the three previous attempts.”

She took a closer look at the sweater and noticed how the stiches did get better the farther along they went.  He was really starting to get the hang of it by the end.  How much time did he put into this?  How many nights had he worked on this while they were on the phone?   He had sounded slightly distracted, but she put it up to him being annoyingly male.  Now she thought she knew why.  She stared at what was inside the package with a new appreciation for what was inside. 

 “Look, I know it’s not that good, but I ran out of time and…”

She collapsed the sweater to her chest as she interrupted him.  “It’s perfect.”  And in that moment, she knew he was a keeper.

Train (an acrostic poem)

Taking time to learn a new task

Repeating it over and over

As it becomes a part of one’s being

It meant that if you get on track

Nothing will stop your locomotion

 

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Flipped (an acrostic poem)

Frank thought the woman checking him out was kind of creepy

Looking the other way, he thought maybe that would distract her

Instead, when he looked back she licked her lips

Pushing past the other commuters, he moved to another part of the train

Persistently she followed him, never letting him get out of her sight

Eventually he stopped, resigned to awkwardness, but she brushed past him

Disbelief was followed by her hand grabbing his ass and him thinking why me

 

Image: upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f3/MeToo_hashtag_digital_text_on_RGB_screen_2017-12-09_version_10.jpg

Swing for Tomorrow

Marcus Coleman stepped into the batter box and looked at the Lev Anderson, the pitcher.  The Lev Train, as he was nicknamed, only had two pitches, a fast ball somewhere just short of light speed and a curve that broke so hard some said you could hear reality cracking as the pitch dove to the ground just as the ball got to the plate.  The catcher, Sanferd Fernandez, chuckled.  “Enjoy the view,” Sanferd said just loud enough for Marcus to think he almost imagined it.

It was the bottom of the ninth, Freddie and that other kid whom Marcus couldn’t remember were on second and third.  There were two outs and Luke Mathews was up next.  Luke was an RBI machine, so Marcus knew he was going to see good stuff.  There was no way they were allowing him to get on, much less walk him.  Marcus had had a good game so far going one for two with a double, but he had never faced the Lev Train in anything except simulation, and there he had sucked, striking out seven out of ten times.  The other three had been dribblers into the infield.  Still, now was his moment.  He could be the hero or the guy who should go back to the minors that he had just escaped from.  Marcus was sick of bus rides, so the minors were not a choice.

Marcus took a couple of practice swings as Sanferd and Lev began the ancient ritualistic communication of hand signs.  Lev shook off the first one before nodding yes.  Marcus steeled himself.  Fastball or curve?  Marcus guessed fastball and started his swing before Lev had even released the ball.  Marcus felt time slow down as the ball came closer and closer to the plate.  He adjusted the swing a bit to chop at the ball when the ball broke, bouncing off home plate.  Marcus couldn’t stop his swing, having to eat his own energy back as he followed through.

“Striiiiike un!” shouted the umpire from what seemed right behind the right ear of Marcus.  The home crowd groaned.  Marcus stepped out of the box and adjusted his gloves.  If he did get sent back to the minors, would he get another chance?  He was getting up there in age, a twenty-seven year old second baseman known more for his defense than his offense, and there might be no more tomorrow.

Marcus stepped back into the batter box and nodded at Lev.  Lev ignored him as Lev checked out the runners before launching another ball Marcus’ way.  Marcus moved to swing, but realized he was too late and barely took the bat off his shoulder.  The lightning bolt of a pitch smashed into the catcher’s glove with a “Striiike twooooo” filling in the role as thunder.

Marcus stepped back out of the batter’s box and shook his head.  The Lev Train was smiling and Marcus could see Spud, the pitching coach, call to the bullpen.  They must be thinking this was done and the game was going into extras.  Marcus thought about how his girlfriend was going to think about moving back to Albuquerque.  At least it was a dry heat, right?  It might help with that rash he had been fighting on his calf.

Marcus looked around the stadium.  He figured this would be the last time probably ever, so he basked in it for a moment.   Looking at the third base coach he had an idea.  Marcus quickly reverted to hand signs of his own, and the coach looked at him dumbfounded.  Slowly the coach shrugged and nodded.  Marcus smiled.  At least this should be memorable.

Marcus stepped into the box and smiled at Lev.  He dug in his left foot and squatted down low.  Marcus waited for Sanferd to say something, but the catcher must have decided to let him die in peace.  Marcus gripped the bat and lifted it lightly off his shoulder.  Lev nodded, accepting the duty of sending the death knell pitch.  Lev wound his body into a knot then unraveled, sending another bolt of lightning.

As Lev was releasing the ball, Marcus brought his bat level with his waist, facing slightly down the third base line.  At the same time Freddie broke for home at warp speed.  Marcus guessed right, and the ball never broke.  It hit his bat with a loud cracking noise.  Marcus took off out of the batter’s box in a hail of splinters as his bat exploded.  Marcus ran as fast as he could, ignoring everything else that was happening.  At least with his last moment on a major league field he would show he always hustled.

First base kept getting closer as Marcus’ blood oxygen content got smaller.  Marcus could feel every step ebb away more of his energy.  Every step focused his vision to a smaller and smaller point until he felt himself trip on the bag at first, and he fell forward into a cascading heap.  When he stopped rolling, he looked at third.  Freddie was still there.  Marcus looked at the first base coach and called time.  The coach came running over.  “What happened?” Marcus asked.

“Broken bat dribbler,” Coach said.  “They kept Freddie close, and you beat it out.  You got lucky, kid.”  Coach helped Marcus get up and back to first.  Marcus smiled.  No matter what happened now, he at least had a chance to stay here another day, and that beat Albuquerque any day of the week, even with the dry heat.

Blame It On the Train

The train called in the distance, and Thomas’ soul heard that cry.  Thomas wished he had brought his wooden train whistle, but he had left it at home since he was worried about how the cold would affect the reed inside the thing.  The cold was one of the reasons he waited in his idling car just past the tracks themselves.

Thomas’ palms began to get sweaty.  The train whistle grew louder.  The railway crossing gates closed down, their red lights flashing back and forth.  Thomas got out of his car and looked up the tracks.  There was the train.  Thomas readied his phone and looked back at the train.  It was now or never.  He took off at a dead run.  He weaved his way past the first gate and stopped dead center on the tracks.  The train whistle went off as well as the sound of the brakes being applied, but there was no way that train was going to stop in time.  Thomas lifted his right hand, smiled and pressed the button.  The flash blinded him.  The screeching brakes reminded him he had mere moments.  Thomas jumped out of the way as the concussive force of the air being pushed out of the way by the train buffeted him.  It caused him to land awkwardly and tumble to the ground.

Thomas quickly regained his feet and hobbled to his car.  He put the car in drive and squealed the tires as he raced off.  Looking at his phone, Thomas saw the picture of his selfie in front of the train and smiled.  There was a picture of him cheating death.  Thomas would mount it on his wall, proving to himself that he could do anything and survive, but first he wanted to post it on Instagram.  A couple of button presses later and bam, he smashed into the tree where he had wandered off the road.  At least the picture uploaded first.  Thomas’ friends had a great picture for the calling hours.

100 Word Post #6 Ten Minutes Before Noon

Mandelbrot looked at his watch and saw it was ten minutes before noon.  It was always ten minutes before noon.

A train whistle raised the hairs on the back of Mandelbrot’s neck snapping him awake.  Mandelbrot looked at the trusses beneath his feet.  He was halfway across the rail bridge.  Run back, not enough time.  Jump?  Won’t work, too shallow, so he ran.  Mandelbrot could almost hear the conductor yelling over the screeching whistle.  Ten feet to safety, nine feet to breaking the loop, eight feet till…

Mandelbrot looked at his watch and saw it was ten minutes before noon.