Hidden Under Irony

“I’ve lost my sense of humor and all reason to live.”

Sylvia closed her eyes and sighed. Lord in Heaven, if it is possible, let this cup pass… The shattering sound of crockery shocked her eyes open. She made a one-eighty and stared at a splintered flowerpot, spilled dirt, and a pathetic Dahlia sprawled like a wounded soldier on the floor. She glanced at her assistant dressed in a long flowered skirt, a light blue blouse, and lacy sandals, wincing at what she knew she would see.

Yep. Karen had one hand over her wavering lips as she blinked back tears. What a mess. Sylvia stepped forward with a raised hand. “You get the broom; I’ll save the bloom.”

Karen’s expression hardened, her eyes drying like a swimsuit under a hot desert sun. “You think that’s funny or something?”

Sylvia swallowed back a retort with a cleansing breath. “I had no intention of being funny, or even alluding to an alliteration…” Oops. What the heck? “I’m not trying to speak in rhymes today…” She paused, perched her hands on her hips, and stared at the woman fifteen years her junior. “Look, I know it’s been hard. Breaking up with your fiancé, the loss of your grandmother, the move to a new city…you’ve had a lot on your plate. Life is challenging. But you can’t let things get you down. You just gotta face the day and be strong—”

“I’m not an infant. I’m a grown woman.”

Keeping her face impassive, Sylvia nodded. “Yep. Got me there.”

A cat padded near and sniffed the dirt.

Scuttling forward, Sylvia shooed it away. “Don’t you dare track this mess all over my clean store.” She glanced up. “Get that broom, would you? I’ll repot the flower and put it in the south window. That way you won’t have to knock anything over when you water it.”

Karen retreated, taking her personal storm cloud with her.

With a shake of her head, Sylvia carried the limp plant to the back room, passing the classics section, the romance nook, and finally, the kids’ corner. Books of all shapes and sizes perched on shelves, sat on end tables, cluttered corners, sagged comfortable couches, tottered in towers, and even hugged the walls in uneven stacks.

She pulled a tall clay pot off a shelf and, with dexterous fingers, dug through the soft potting soil and laid the afflicted plant in its new home.

A familiar thrill swelled in her chest as she glanced around. Her crowning glory, this beautiful bookstore, thriving despite economic downturns and all the nay-sayers’ dire predictions. She hadn’t closed within a year…or even ten years.

After pouring a comforting stream of water over the buried roots, she cradled the pot in her arms and retraced her steps, quickly arriving at the south end of the store. Like a mother showing off her prodigy, she set the plant just so in the window seat between a first edition Harry Potter and the framed picture of Tolkien’s Middle-earth.

Next Monday, she would celebrate ten years as proprietor of the most successful bookstore in the city. Perhaps in the whole country. Any why? Because she—

“Excuse me?”

Sylvia peered down. There, standing before her, had to be the tiniest woman she had ever set eyes on. Considering her own Amazonian stature, this was something of a novelty. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Karen wiping the floor with a damp towel. She certainly had cleaned up the mess—gotta give the girl that.

“Are you busy?”

Sylvia shook herself. “No, of course, what can I do for you?”

“Well…” The tiny, well-dressed matron jutted her chin toward the old-fashioned teapot sitting on top of an antique dresser with an ornate mirror reflecting the glory of happy book buyers.

A round table dressed in lace and surrounded by plush chairs announced a comfortable corner for any book lover just needing a place to cozy up with his or her newest acquisition and a spot of tea. To the left, a no-nonsense black coffee maker stood at attention on a low table with a carafe of creamer, a dish stuffed with a variety of sweeteners, and a jar of luscious cookies, available at the reasonable donation of seventy-nine cents. The jar was stuffed full of one dollar bills. It was so much easier to drop in a bill than to dig through one’s wallet for the needed four pennies.

After settling the elderly matron in a chair with a warm cup of tea and a cookie, Sylvia waited. She clasped her hands on her knees, one eye following Karen, though she couldn’t help but be curious about this commanding little personage. Of course, old women were notoriously lonely, and they frequently begged a cup of tea and a moment’s “rest,” which often involved relating all sorts of stories about relatives that Sylvia didn’t honestly care a fig about. Still…

“So are you from around here? I don’t think I’ve seen you in the store before.”

“No…you haven’t. Not, at least, if I could help it. I mean; I’ve been here…a few times. Checking up, so to speak. I came first, years ago, before you even bought the store.”

Prickles raced over Sylvia’s arms. “Oh?” She sat up and tried to keep her heart from galloping through her chest.

“Yes. You see; I wanted to know if you were the kind of person who could make a go of such a thing.”

Sylvia wondered if an earthquake actually rocked the room or if it was merely her imagination. “What do you mean, exactly?”

After wiping her fingertips free of cookie crumbs, the woman stretched out her hand. “I’m your birth mother. Matilda Scott. I gave you up for adoption when you were just a wee thing…but I never lost track of you. I’ve followed your progress through babyhood, high school, college and right into this business here. In fact, I was the anonymous donor who helped to pay for your tuition, and I also spearheaded the citywide revitalization project, which is what gave you the support you needed to do—” She waved her hand at the posh space. “All this.”

The expression, “You could’ve knocked me over with a feather,” suddenly embodied Sylvia’s very existence. She stared hard at the old lady, wondering if the person before her was a psycotic illusion. “You must be—”

“Oh, don’t say mad. That wouldn’t be very nice.” She pulled her little black purse onto her lap. “I have all the proof I need, right here. A copy of your birth certificate, the adoption papers…even clippings from every—”

“Oh, God!” Sylvia shot to her feet and wondered if she would make to the back room before she threw up. Her whole body trembled as her self-image tottered on the edge of an abyss.

Matilda reached out and, with surprising strength, gripped her arm. “Take a deep breath, and calm your self. I know this comes as a shock, but it’s not exactly the end of the world.”

Sylvia could not open her eyes any wider. She blinked to return the world to some sense of normalcy. “Are you sure?”

Her eyes twinkling, Matilda chuckled. “See! That’s why I knew you could do this. Your humor and your tenacity are a rare combination. It comes from your dad…and me, I suppose. We were a rare combination too. Until he died. I knew that I could never take care of you. Unwed…and all that. But I knew you had our blood flowing in your veins. Our spark in your soul. So…I’ve always believed in you.”

A sob rose and burst the dam of Sylvia’s self-control. “Oh, Lord in heaven. I knew I was adopted…but I never knew…not a thing about you…or my father.” She plopped down on the chair. “My biological parents, I mean. My real parents were—”

“Yes, I know. And I’ve stayed out of the picture all these years to give you space to live…to…how shall I say…to discover your own identity.”

“But why—? Why tell me at all?”

“Through the years, I ‘d stop in now and again. Look and listen. See how you’re getting on. Discover what kind of woman you’re turning into.” Matilda glanced aside at the dropping figure behind the counter. “I overheard your comment today. How your young friend shouldn’t let things get her down. She hasn’t been so lucky as you. She’s lost a great deal in a short time.”

Sylvia swallowed a lump in her throat.

“You see, you’ve been watched over and cared for in ways you’ve never known. But that girl there…maybe she hasn’t been so lucky. Maybe life is impossible for her. Maybe she has lost her sense of humor…for good reason. And perhaps, she might wonder why she’s alive.”

“But doubt and despair won’t help. No matter what the situation, I did the hard work…no matter what. And like you said, it was my spark…my humor and tenacity—”

“Yes, but also my love and your parents’ compassion. Your words were right…but your attitude is wrong.” Matilda laid the stack of yellowed papers on the end table by the cookie jar. “I’ll leave these for you to look over when you have time.” She glanced at the old fashioned clock on the wall. “I should go now. But don’t worry, I’ll be back, and we can chat again.” Her gaze peered into Sylvia’s eyes. “If you want me.”

Sylvia nodded. Her voice lost in a whisper. “Yes. Please.”

Matilda toddled to the door, smiling at Karen as she passed.

Sylvia scurried ahead and tugged open the ornate glass door. She stepped aside.

Matilda patted her daughter’s arm and grinned. “It’s been lovely to meet you…after all these years. I’ve dreamed about this moment…and it has not been a disappointment.” She waved to the tea table. “Oh, but a word of advice…make the donation offering a dollar.”

Sylvia’s world swirled again. “Why?”

“Because, my child, it’s what you really mean.” She turned and stepped into the summer sunshine.

As the door shut, Sylvia turned and met Karen’s gaze.

Karen pursed her lips into a twisted smile. “I think I just found my sense of humor.”

Sylvia sighed. “I bet you have. Hidden under irony, I’m sure.”

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

Last of Her Kind  http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Historical Fiction

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Historical Fiction & Science Fiction Blend

OldEarth ARAM Encounter  https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00

Live Honestly and Follow Your Passion

“I could be prosecuted for imitating a seamstress.” Kim held up a slanted swimming suit skirt with an unfortunate black zigzag running down one side and blew a strand of hair out of her eyes.

Her mother, Janice, swept a spool of thread and needle into a desk drawer. “Megan is obsessed with swimming, not the suit. She won’t care if—”

“You’re making my point.” Kim rolled the suit into a ball and tossed it on a dusty wooden dresser. “She should care. I should care.” She winced. “The world will care.”

Janice strolled over and plucked the outfit off the dresser and shook it out. She eyed it critically. “Good thing you never became a surgeon.” With a shrug, she let it dangle in one hand. “I’ll buy her a new one. After all, she tore it while playing with the dog at my house.”

Kim snatched the suit back and hugged it to her chest. “No. I can’t afford to buy another suit, and you can’t afford to indulge her. She wasn’t supposed to be wearing it in the woods, much less racing with your volatile terrier. This might teach her a lesson about actions and consequences.”

Janice pursed her lips and strode from the room, talking over her shoulder. “You’re just being stubborn. There’s no reason in the world the child should wear a ragged outfit when I can afford to buy another without the least discomfort. I’d be happy to.”

Trailing after her mother, Kim stepped into the kitchen, swept around the island, and dashed to the refrigerator. “You want some ice tea?”

Janice glanced from the dishes in the sink to a dried ketchup splotch on the floor. “You really need to get someone who can help you clean up around here.”

Yanking the refrigerator door open, Kim grimaced. “Even if I could, I wouldn’t. Dave and I live simply. The kids study and play. Dave works and does his thing—” Her gaze flashed to the window and the half-finished swing set in the backward, over to the garage overflowing with bicycle parts. She swung the ice tea container to the table and slid it to the center.

Janice rose and daintily lifted two glasses off the drying rack. “You sell anything lately?”

Hefting a large ceramic cookie jar shaped like a gorilla to the table, Kim shrugged. “A portrait last week.” Her eyes brightened. “But one guy wrote up a really nice editorial about my work in the paper.” Setting the gorilla’s head aside, Kim shoved the jar next to the pitcher of ice tea.

The grandfather clock in the living room chimed three times. Kim glanced at the stovetop. A large metal pot with crusted tomato smudges on the side sat next to a cooling loaf of homemade wheat bread.

Janice followed her daughter’s gaze. “Chili? Again?”

Kim poured two glasses of tea and handed one to her mother. “Okay. I don’t sell much. Yet. I probably don’t even cover the cost of my paints, but we’re living within our means, and Dave and I believe in—”

“’Living honestly and following your passion’ Yes. I’ve heard it before.” Janice shoved her glass under the ice dispenser. It spat a few splinters of ice and stopped.

Kim rubbed the back of her sweaty neck. “We’re going to get that fixed in October.” She pointed to a bulletin board with a series of charts, graphs, and lists. “We have it all planned out. We’re getting the washer repaired at the end of the week because I’m not Amish enough to survive otherwise. We’ll get new tires for the car in September and deal with the icemaker in October.”

Janice sipped her tea. “You do realize that you won’t need ice in October.”

A large yellow bus squeaked to a halt on the street in front of the house.

Kim plopped a stack of paper napkins on the table and arrayed metal cups with handles around the pitcher of tea. She grabbed a gallon of milk out of the fridge and set it by the pitcher.

Four children pounded into the room, each one talking and no one listening.

Kim cracked a grin. Janice smiled.

The kids stopped, glanced from Kim to Janice, shut their mouths, opened their mouths, and ran to their grandmother. They chatted away as Janice patted their heads and pretended she could understand what they were saying.

~~~

Kim strolled down the dark driveway with her mother at her side. Muted sounds of a battle between daddy-monster and warrior-kids erupted in screams and occasional yelps from the house.

Janice pulled out her key and pressed the unlock button.

The car flashed its lights.

Kim strolled around to the driver’s side, opened the door, and stepped aside. “Thanks for coming, Mom. It’s always fun to have you visit.”

Janice leaned over the car door and caressed daughter’s face. “You’re a remarkable young woman, Kim.” Her eyes glimmered. “You’ve done better than I did.”

Kim’s jaw tightened. She swallowed. “It wasn’t your fault. Dad and—”

Janice waved her comment away. “It hardly matters now.” She rested her arms on the car door. “I always fixed everything. Tried to make life easy. I wanted the best for you too.”

Kim blinked back tears. “Comfort was never my God.”

Janice smirked. “No, you and Dave have chosen a less comfortable road.” She shrugged. “But I respect your choice.”

“Really? Or are you just trying to make me feel better?”

Janice ducked into the car and scooted into her seat. She glanced up as Kim came near. “I believe in you.” She smiled. “To prove it, I won’t buy Megan a new swimsuit. I’ll leave it to you.”

Kim grinned. “Good. I was planning on getting her one for Christmas.”

Janice laughed. “I don’t doubt it.” She closed the door, started the engine, backed out of the driveway, and sped away.

Kim stood on the sidewalk and peered into the dark night. Children’s laughter mixed with a man’s gruff monster voice brought a smile to her lips.

Novels by A. K. Frailey

Science Fiction

Last of Her Kind  http://amzn.to/2y1HJvg

Newearth: Justine Awakens http://amzn.to/2pq0vWN

Historical Fiction

Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r

Historical Fiction & Science fiction Blend

OldEarth ARAM Encounter https://amzn.to/2KLhlsN

OldEarth Ishtar Encounter https://amzn.to/2OAkDQF

OldEarth Neb Encounter (In production)

OldEarth Georgios Encounter (In production)

Children’s Book

The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5

Inspirational Non-Fiction

The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00