The ways I’ve embarrassed myself.
The doorbell’s melodic ding-dong breaks the silence. You get it Lily I say as a joke. I get the silent treatment from the cremation urn upon the mantelpiece. She was the people person. Phone calls, answering the door, dealing with tradesmen and neighbourly chitchat. She switched intuitively between friend, customer, observer, or gossip, and soaked up useful trivia about relatives, acquaintances or celebrities like a sponge.
You’ll have it easier than I would have Lily said, on being first to die. Our marital furrows were ploughed early. She never cleaned gutters, loaded the dishwasher, took out the trash, or sorted the plumbing. Wrong for once weren’t you dear? I say to her, getting up. I’ve mastered cooking, cleaning, and laundry, but after three months dealing with people has been an embarrassing failure. An incident list to discuss with Caroline, heir to her mom’s geniality, is kept on the fridge:
1) Chat with Mrs Compton (from No.4): do I need anything, meals for the freezer, a casserole perhaps? I say no. She says she must get going, wash and style her hair for Ted’s appointment with the cancer doctor in a couple of hours. I say do you think you’ll sort it in time? She looks at me like I’ve suggested skinning a baby with a spoon.
2) Telephone call: a young lady introduces herself, from some law company, asks if I’ve had a car accident lately. I interrupt, say no and hang up. She rings back to tell me I’m rude.
3) Halloween: kids ring the bell. Trick or treat? I don’t know which to pick. I’ve no candy, never thought to buy any. Little faces crumple at my panicked goldfish impression. Mortified, I shut the door without speaking.
4) Callers at the door: scruffy couple selling Golden Tickets to Heaven. Obviously a scam. They claim the tickets, just wood spray-painted gold, reserve buyers a spot in heaven, but I buy one anyway ($99.99). They are obviously desperate. Maybe it’s a sign: Lily always said God moved in mysterious ways. The young teacher next door overhears everything, admonishes me, rings the police. They’re arrested two blocks away.
I open the door to Benjamin from two doors down and daughter Miranda. She’s maybe eight? They say hey Mr Kaplan. I say hey. You ok he asks, do you need help with any chores? I say no, I’m good. Miranda tugs her dad’s sleeve. Could we look in your garden for our new cat, he asks, we keep losing them. Them? Oh, he says, we think racoons are getting the cats, so we go to the rescue centre each time don’t we Miranda, and get a new cat, but they keep disappearing. Anyway can we? I say it sounds like you’ve trained the racoons and you’re simply feeding rescue cats to them. Miranda bursts into tears and Benjamin looks daggers at me and they leave. I add it to the list.
Daniel Shooter’s short fiction has been published in Spadina Literary Review (Canada), and in forthcoming issues of Dream Catcher (UK), Reality Break (USA), and The Fiction Pool (UK). Daniel has been writing seriously for about three years and divides his time between teaching Music part-time at a local school and being a stay-at-home dad.