by Sherry Penoyer
A small sob threatened to escape the almost six year old throat of the girl who bravely sucked it back in and burrowed her face into what she thought felt like her own jacket in the dark cloakroom. The corduroy smelled of her mother's perfume left from this morning's hug before the little girl had joyfully set off to her third day as a first grader. On the other side of the locked door she could hear her teacher, Mrs. Hope, instructing the class on the proper formation of yet another letter of the alphabet...
Read the complete short story April 14th.
by Sherry Penoyer
I'm not supposed to be here. I'm supposed to be home dozing in fits and starts between movements of my husband's concerto in snore major.
I hadn’t been happy with the refrigerator's midnight snack offerings and figured he'd never be the wiser if I ran out for a hot fudge sundae -- with extra hot fudge. It had been that kind of day, chocolate was needed and Joe had finished off the last of my chocolate stash before I returned home from work. He'd left the chocolate chips wrapper prominently on the top of the kitchen trash can.
I’d left the house for a quick choco-run and had only travelled a few blocks when the flashing blue light in my rear view mirror caught my attention. It was obviously meant for me. There were no other cars in my immediate vicinity at this late hour. The only activity in the area was the obvious party going on at the Hepple house. I knew the Hepples and they were out of town for the weekend visiting Carla’s sister. They’d left their 19 year old son in charge for the weekend and he’d obviously decided it was a good reason for a party. I laughed to myself and decided not to mention it to Carla unless there was a problem. Turning my attention back to the flashing blue lights I sighed and hoped if someone from the party saw what was happening out the front window they’d also decide to keep it to themselves. I had begun to question the wisdom of this little midnight ride and my dash out the door in pajamas, robe, and slippers. If Joe found out, I'd never hear the end of it. I was going have to find a better hiding place for my stash -- and restock, of course.
So here I am, sitting in my car, which I‘ve dutifully pulled over. While I wait for the policeman’s approach I examine the possibilities for the stop. I’m relatively certain I’d not been speeding. My seat belt is firmly fastened about me. My cell phone is still on the kitchen counter and I hadn’t run into, or over, anything since leaving the house. After some consideration I figure I’m either about to receive a good driver award, or my husband has reported his wife and car missing. No, must be the good driver award because Joe would have remembered the barren chocolate stash and easily figured I’d head to Mickey D’s for a midnight sundae – after 28 years of marriage he knows my needs and desires very well.
Which is why I’d been so surprised to find he’d finished off the chocolate. After all, he’d been the one to give me the “Hand over the chocolate and no-one gets hurt” t-shirt. I’d even worn it to work that day to catch up on the usual tax-time crunch of the C.P.A. He had quite a talent for always finding the most delightfully appropriate gift for any occasion. He hasn’t missed a single opportunity since the day we met. The shirt had come last year. The year before that had been what now adorns my feet: Maxine’s slippers of Shoebox greeting card fame. I love that woman, not only because we share the same name, but because her wise-cracks are always good for a laugh. I glance down at my feet and can only hope I won’t be asked to “exit the vehicle, ma’am.”
A tap on my window brings me back to my present predicament. Backup had arrived while I’d been ruminating. There were now three patrol cars, one in front of me, one pulled over to the other side of the street, and the original still behind me. I roll the window down, and hand over the requested driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance. With a smile up at the good-looking young officer, I ask him, “What’s the problem, sir?” Bending closer to me through the open window with his eyebrows lowering, he proceeds to point out the problem with opening my mouth to speak.
“Have you been drinking, ma’am?”
I now wish I hadn’t finished that half a beer Joe had left in the fridge. But it had looked so abandoned sitting there and a bit of good dark stout would hold me over till my lips closed around some hot-fudge. It was obviously still on my breath, its aroma enticing the officer closer than I preferred. With a sinking feeling I know what is coming.
“Exit the vehicle, ma’am.”
Closing the car door behind me, I shivered in the cold spring night, my robe and pajamas not meant for outdoor activities. My choice of apparel was providing some comic relief to the officers who had left the warmth of their vehicles to provide any needed support to their fellow officer. One was even so rude as to let loose a loud guffaw while another was heard to comment, “The wife is never gonna believe this!”
The officer who stopped me handed my documents to his partner who returned to the patrol car to run them through the online database. I was asked to close my eyes and touch my nose. I did so with alacrity but when I opened my eyes it was to see the Hepple’s son staring from his front porch where a few party-goers had gathered to see what all the commotion was about. Inwardly I groaned, not sure how I could keep tonight’s adventure from Joe’s, or anyone else’s ears. But the officer was asking for my attention. When instructed, I walked a straight line, very straight I might add, to the back of my car. Upon arriving there, the officer smiled and told me there would be no need for a breathalyzer test. Then he pointed to the cause for detaining me: a broken tail-light. No good driver award for me tonight. He returned to his patrol car to talk to his partner. I assumed he would bring my papers and license right back, issue a ticket and I could be on my way – pronto! I was getting very cold out here, but didn’t want to get back in the car before allowed. One never knows what might be termed “uncooperative” these days.
Thankfully, the partiers had gone back inside when the officer had returned to the patrol car. Maybe they wouldn’t say anything to anyone as they were having, I was sure, an unsanctioned party. I distracted myself by wondering how to tell Joe about my midnight ride. In the end I decided I’d just pay the ticket on the q.t. and “discover” the broken tail-light as I walked around the car prior to getting in to go to Easter services in the morning.
Sometimes a smack to one’s own head is the only appropriate action. I did so as I realized there had been no need for this little adventure. Tomorrow would be Easter and, as always, I’d put together a basket of goodies for Joe and hidden it away in the guest room closet. Amongst his preferred peeps and jelly beans there were chocolate eggs. I hung my head in chagrin and the sight of the floppy bunny ears sprouting from my feet made me giggle with the absurdity of the situation.
The officer finally returned and handed back my things, then took out his ticket book and, with relief on my part, issued a warning. This evening was only going to cost me a bit of pride.
I couldn’t get home fast enough, but within the speed limit, and happily closed my front door on the night’s adventure. Retrieving hubby’s Easter basket from the closet, I set it on the kitchen table, eating only a couple of dark chocolate eggs before crawling into my warm, inviting bed. I fell asleep easily as Joe had finished with the last movement of the concerto while I’d been away.
The sun arrived too soon for me, but I dragged myself out of bed and, grimacing at the taste of old gym-locker socks in my mouth, made straight for the coffeepot. Hubby was at the breakfast table pawing through his basket.
“Morning, Joe. Thanks for making coffee.”
“My pleasure. Have a good night?”
Was there a note of interrogation in his tone? I dismissed the idea as very unlike him, but there was something in his eyes that gave me pause. Probably my guilty conscience as scenes of last night’s aborted attempt for hot fudge flipped through my mind. Maybe I should tell him. I considered it while I set about sweetening my coffee, but when I sat down to the table I was distracted by the overflowing basket of my favorite treats. He’d obviously gone to Enchanted Florist, which stocks the finest chocolates to be had in Everett. I was delighted! And there, nestled amongst them, was a small wrapped package. I couldn’t help it. I squealed.
“Maxi,” said the love of my life, “I’m sorry I finished off your chocolate stash yesterday, but I knew I was refilling it this morning. I didn’t think one night without would cause you any grief.”
If only he knew.
“Ah, Joe,” I told him truthfully “I’d rather do without chocolate than you.”
I caught a snicker from him as I quickly ripped the wrapping from my present and opened the box to find an exquisite little pendant of a Hershey’s kiss, complete with the tag stamped “I love you.” I made it around the table in record time to plant a kiss upon his lips in thank you. As I did so, my eyes caught sight of the newspaper and a pair of scissors, a neat hole cut out from the front page. The headline above read: Holiday Hopper Halted by Tail. His snicker became a full-out chuckle as I scrambled back to my side of the table.
“Tell ya’ what,” said my mirthful husband as I smoothed out the newsprint wrapping paper. “I solemnly swear to leave your stash alone if you promise to leave the bunnies at home.”
He was having a difficult time keeping a straight face.
In dawning horror, I looked down at the full color picture of the back end of a small white SUV. It looked as if it was a telephoto shot from the Hepple’s. Prominently featured beside the ”Something wonderful is about to happen” bumper sticker and the broken tail-light was a pair of pajama clad legs ending in my namesake’s signature bunny slippers. Thank God the Hepple boy had left my face out of the photo.
“Busted!” cried Joe, in glee.
Laughing so hard there were tears in his eyes, Joe sauntered around the table to scoop me up in his arms.
“Where’d you stash the sundae cup?”
He knows me too well.
“I decided I didn’t need it.”
“We’ll pick one up on the way home from church.”
With eyes wide and an “oh!” escaping my throat I looked up at him in dawning realization of how much my little adventure was truly going to cost my pride. Joe stopped laughing long enough to commiserate over the ribbing I would take from my friends and neighbors after services. It wasn’t long and his delightful antics and impressions of our friend’s mock horror upon learning I wore bunny slippers soon had me giggling like a schoolgirl. Joe made it easy to laugh about almost anything.
I followed him into the bedroom to get ready for church, grateful once again to have married this man who could snore a concerto, laugh over his wife’s fifteen minutes of infamy, and solemnly swear to stay out of my stash. He’s a kind and loving man and, there’s only one thing left to do after I finish dressing and before slipping on my shoes in readiness for the morning’s services. I happily park my bunnies next to his.