Quite Short Story: His Mermaid

Steve shifted his toes as the wave took the sand beneath them. He knew he couldn’t do this much longer. He knew what the neighbours must think. But who were they to judge? Where were they that morning?

He remembered where he’d been, of course. Lingering under the summer duvet like a lazy bastard. She’d tried to get him to go with her; to join her daily ritual. But he’d groaned in response, throwing a t-shirt over his face to block out the dawn. She’d sighed and teased him about being a lazy bastard, and slipped out of the room. He’d mumbled a promise to make coffee, and promptly fell back asleep.

The pounding woke him. Like when his dad used to slam his fist on the wall to stop the noise. He rolled out of bed and went to the door, calling for Lexi along the way.

His neighbour Jill stood on the front porch, her face crumpling as her eyes met his, clothes dripping water in a circle around her. “I’m so sorry, Steve,” she whispered. “It’s…it’s Lexi. Sam is with her.”

“What?” he asked, confused.

“It’s Lexi…she’s…”

“Lexi!” Steve bellowed, pushing past Jill and scrambling down the steep path to the lake. He rubbed his eyes, trying to erase the scene before him.

Sam knelt beside Lexi, holding her hand. Steve let go of his breath, thinking she must be all right…it was okay…she was all right. He staggered across the beach to them, deafened by his own heartbeat.

“She must’ve slipped and hit her head on the dock,” Sam said, wiping away tears. “Do you know how long she was down here? How long she might’ve been in the water? Oh, Christ, Steve! I am so sorry!”

*****

Steve blew smoke into the damp November air, his feet now fully numb at the edge of the lake. When he stared long enough, he could see her skin sparking in the water, her smile merging with the waves. His mermaid.

Quite Short Story: Karen’s Little Secret

Karen stared at the wall in the examination room, its sickly-sweet paint scuffed grey along the baseboard. A jolly tap tap on the door jolted her, and she straightened in the chair.

“Hello!” said the nurse cheerily as she entered, dimples aglow. “What brings you to the clinic today?”

Karen swallowed hard, her tongue thick, almost gagging her. She stared at her hands.

“Any particular symptoms?” the nurse continued, fingers hovering patiently over the keyboard. Karen noticed the nurse’s fingernail polish matched the walls perfectly. Bubble-gum pink.

“Any particular symptoms?” the nurse asked again, offering Karen an encouraging smile.

“I…um, I think I think I might be pregnant,” Karen whispered.

The nurse handed her a miniature box of tissues. “It’s all right,” she said gently. “The doctor will be in shortly.”

Karen nodded and the nurse left, pulling the door closed behind her. Alone, she forced herself to take deep, measured breaths. Breathe in, breathe out…Breathe in, breathe out…

The doctor entered a short time later, long years weighing down the worn lapels of his labcoat. “So, Karen, the nurse tells me you think you’re pregnant.”

She nodded.

“When was your last menstrual cycle?”

“Seven weeks ago.”

“And you’re…42? Still regular?”

“Yes. And yes, still regular.”

“Have you taken a pregnancy test?”

“No.”

“Here,” he said, handing her a urine collection cup. “We’ll know in a minute.”

And she was, of course.

“Does your partner know?” he asked methodically.

“No. And he’s not my partner…not anymore.”

“I see,” he sighed. “Well, you have options.”

“I do want this baby,” she declared. “It’s just that I wanted it ten years ago. He’s the one who never wanted a baby.”

The doctor’s brow furrowed in confusion.

“My ex-husband,” Karen explained. “It’s his.”

“Your ex-husband?”

She felt the heat grow in her face. “Look,” she said defensively, “I found a box of his things in the attic and he came over to get them. We had some wine. A lot of wine. One thing led to another.”

“Perhaps you should tell him.”

“No. I can’t.”

“May I ask why?”

“Because he’s married to someone else! I’m going to say I went to a sperm bank. He’ll believe that. I threatened to do so many times!”

The doctor scribbled on his prescription pad. “Here’s one for a good prenatal vitamin. And I’ll arrange a referral to an obstetrician.”

“Thank you,” Karen said, sniffling with gratitude.

“You have support?” he asked. “Family and friends?”

“Some.”

“Well, you know where we are if you need us.”

“Yes, thank you,” she replied, quickly gathering her things. She held all evidence of a smile until she stepped outside.

Punctuation is not a crime

Why, suddenly, do people hate the comma? Did one force some clarity? Did an em dash add something cheeky? Did an apostrophe possess an unsuspecting subject?

Fear not, punctuation marks; I will defend you. You are full of character. You accentuate. You applaud! You provide context. Where would we be without you? ‎Lost, confused, disorganized, and in a bit of a muddle, I reckon. Let’s take a look, shall we?

“I like eating, the smell of summer rain, and my pets.”

Without the commas: “I like eating the smell of summer rain and my pets.”

I beg your pardon?

The semicolon need not perplex; rather, it gives pause. It aids contemplation. We don’t pause enough in our rapid world. Thank you, semicolon, for reminding us to breathe.

Colons create drama and suspense: they are the orchestra leaders of the English language. When you see one, you know something big is coming next, like a crescendo of fact or a list of reasons.

And there’s the em dash, that lively and vibrant storyteller, giving us hints and peeks, like an actor turning to the camera and winking. Some people dislike them—thinking them vain or disruptive, perhaps—but I think they’re dandy, like a conspiratorial sideways glance.

Exclamation marks have never been more popular, often used in an attempt to be heard over the din of voluminous content saturating our existence. But even they are losing their spark due to overuse. We might as well just go back to the period.

People. Like. To. Use. Periods. Like. This. For. Emphasis. Such a method works well on occasion, particularly for irony. Periods cut to the chase and draw conclusions. We need them. Full stop.

It’s the lowly comma, sadly, that appears to be most at risk of an untimely death. I, for one, still love what it can do.

Comparing apples

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” (Albert Einstein)

From the Fibonacci of phlox and forget-me-nots to the extraordinary resilience of a garden-variety dandelion, many lessons can be gleaned from nature. Strong as an oak. Red as a rose. Blue as the sky. Quiet as a mouse. Noisy as an oyster.

“A noisy oyster?” you ask. Everything is possible in a metaphor.

When contemplating the nature of transformational change, it helps to think about nature itself, comparing apples to, well, apples.

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Further reading on: leaders, leadership and change management.