Thursday, March 25, 2021

"Flower Card" flowers for March

Last month for Valentine's Day, that cute boy I married got me a "flower card" from one of our local florists. It's an actual card that allows the bearer to take it into the shop once a month and get a free little bouquet of fresh flowers. It's such a treat and the very definition of The Gift That Keeps On Giving. 

So a few days ago, I went in to get my March flowers and came out with this: a sweet little bouquet of jonquils and baby's breath. I love it. The jonquils have a beautiful fragrance too. 

An original short story: Rome

I wrote this lighthearted tale a couple years ago. Hope you enjoy.

Rome by Patty Panni

“James Thomas Lee, if you don’t get your butt out here right now, you are gonna regret it!” I hollered through the screen door.

“Geez, mom, I’m coming.” My 13-year-old son huffed past me and jumped in my ancient pickup, where he had the nerve to look at me and tap an invisible watch on his wrist.

“Dear God, give me strength,” I muttered, locking the front door, “because if You don’t, I’m fixin’ to break Commandment Number 5, right here and now.”

With only two minutes to go, I dropped off my red-headed mini me at school with an admonition to “pay attention and learn something...and don’t sass the teacher!”

I stopped for coffee at the Dixie Gas-n-Go, before heading to my job as Administrator of the North Georgia Convalescent Center, a 52-bed nursing facility.

“Good morning, Jess,” called out one of the nurses as I came in.

“Mornin’, Sheila. Anything going on I should know about?”

“So far, so good. All quiet on the home front.”

I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. That girl does love her a clichĂ©. In my office, I surveyed the stack of files on my desk. It was my practice each morning to review all nursing notes from the previous night. I liked knowing how our patients were doing, and it kept the nurses on their toes. That done, I moved on to other work and didn’t look up again until I heard a familiar knock.

Graham Bartholomew appeared at my door. “Hey, Darlin’ – how ‘bout I take a pretty girl to lunch?”

“Sounds great. When you find one, let me know and I’ll come along too. I’m starving.” Ignoring my lame attempt at humor, Graham extended his arm and escorted me out to his car. He headed to Lulu’s CafĂ©, home of the best meat and three in town, and one of our favorite lunch spots.

Graham is a lawyer with an office right across the street from the courthouse. We’ve been keeping company, I guess you could say, for a couple years now. We actually grew up together, lost touch when I moved away, then reconnected when I moved back to care for my father in his last days. Graham is the one person I’ve trusted with my secret: I have applied for a hospital administrator position in Atlanta. It’s not easy keeping a secret in Rome, Georgia. Somebody’s mama always knows somebody else’s cousin…and things just have a way of getting out. People say Rome runs on gossip and sweet tea.

“Heard anything yet?” he asked as we settled into a booth at Lulu’s, waving off the offer of menus. We both know the menu by heart.

“No, and it’s been weeks. I might as well face it; I didn’t get the job. It was a stupid idea—"

“Now, hold on. You don’t know that yet. First, they’d be crazy to not want you. Second, these things take time. They have to go through all the candidates, check references…it’s a process.” How does that man always know the right words to make me feel better?

“Anyway, I still don’t understand why you want to go to Atlanta. It’s hot and crowded, and the traffic…Jess, I really wish you’d reconsider.”

“Graham, I’ve told you a hundred times, I’ve got to think about the future. In a few years James Thomas will be going to college and Lord knows he’s not gonna get much of a scholarship with his grades, and—” I stopped and looked around, suddenly aware of my voice, which can go from zero to sixty in a heartbeat when I get worked up. Luckily, everyone around us was tucking into their chicken and dumplings and didn’t appear to be paying me any mind.

“Anyway,” I continued in a quieter tone, “I need to do everything possible to give James Thomas the best future I can.”

Graham didn’t reply. He just looked at me for a beat, and then we both tucked into our own chicken and dumplings.

Late that afternoon I headed home, thinking about fast and easy dinner options. For a boy who ate like a grizzly bear heading into winter, James Thomas had some strong opinions about my cooking. Wondering if I could get away with fish sticks and mac & cheese a second night this week, I parked in front of the house.

James Thomas was in the den playing on (surprise, surprise) his phone. “Hey kiddo, how was school?”

“It was okay.” I kissed my son’s head on my way into the kitchen. And there, on the kitchen table, was a letter from the Atlanta hospital. My heart skipped a beat.

“Oh yeah, mom, Graham called. He’s coming over.”

“Umm, okay,” I said absentmindedly, sitting down in front of the letter. But no sooner had I put my hand on it, when there was a knock at the back door. I looked up to see Graham and motioned for him to come in.

“Hey Jess, I wanted to—” Graham began, but stopped when he saw my face. “Jess?”

I raised the letter so he could see it.

“Oh.” He looked at me and swallowed. I watched his Adam’s apple bob down and up. “What does it say?”

“I…I haven’t opened it yet.” I giggled, an obnoxious nervous habit I’ve had since childhood.

“Well, don’t. Don’t open it, Jess,” he said quickly.

“What? Why ever not?” I began, but Graham interrupted me.

“Jess, you’re a strong woman. You haven’t had it easy as a single mother, but you’ve always done whatever was necessary to make a good home for James Thomas. You’re a great mother.” He paused, and I looked at him, pleasantly surprised at his words.

“You’re also a headstrong, stubborn, aggravating woman—”

I felt my eyebrows lower.

“But…you’re a headstrong, stubborn, aggravating woman that I don’t want to live without – can’t live without.”

Eyebrows back up, way up.

“So, I want to ask you—" His chair scraped as he stood up, then knelt on one knee before me. “I want to ask you, Jessica Margaret Lee, if you would do me the honor of becoming my wife.” He fumbled in his pocket and took out a beautiful ring. “This was my mother’s. She gave it to me before she died and asked that I give it to my wife.”

For once in my life, I was completely speechless. And, even though I am not a crier, my eyes filled with tears.

“Jess, you have to know how much I love you and James Thomas,” Graham continued tenderly. “I would do anything for you. I really, really want y’all to stay in Rome, but if you decide Atlanta’s where you belong, then I’m willing to relocate my practice there. I just don’t want to lose you.”

Suddenly, the elusive future I’d been trying to envision was crystal clear and absolutely perfect. Without breaking my gaze from Graham, I picked up the envelope and tore it in two, completely dazzled by the look on his face, and smiling what felt like the biggest, goofiest smile ever.

“James Thomas,” I hollered. “Come here quick. Graham’s got a question for us.”

Saturday, March 13, 2021

An Original Short Story: From Darkness to Light

I submitted this story to a writing competition about three years ago. I didn't win, but I still love this story. Hope you enjoy.

From Darkness to Light

**Trigger warning: sexual assault**

~ Dedicated to all the women who have their own Me Too story

I remember so clearly how the air felt that evening. Clean and light…as if Nature had inhaled and was waiting for just the right time to release the chill to let us know summer was truly over. All these years later, I remember how the air felt that night.

I was 23 that year, full of the brash certainty that youth and naivety bring. Newly graduated, I wanted one last hurrah before settling down as a “career woman,” with all the drudgery I was sure that entailed. I was overjoyed when family friends asked if I was available to housesit and take care of their dog late that summer while they were out of the country. Needless to say, I jumped at the chance.

Their beach cottage was gray and weathered, with cedar shake shingles and a wall of windows across the back overlooking the sea. The furniture was worn and the shelves were overflowing with books. In a word, it was perfect. The dog, Fletcher, looked almost as old as the house. He was a sweet-natured soul and spent most of his time following the sun’s path, napping across the back room.

I fell into an easy routine of sleeping until Fletcher wanted to go outside. We took long, unhurried walks on the empty beach, listening to the plaintive calls of gulls and loons and scouting for shells and sand dollars. All the nearby houses had been closed for the season, and I enjoyed the solitude, with an occasional break to walk into town for coffee and a bit of human contact.

By the end of my stay, however, I’d concluded that solitude might be overrated. On my last day, I walked along the beach with Fletcher, made a sandwich for lunch, and took it out on the back deck with a good book. That evening I walked to town in search of fun and a friendly face. Ending up at a local dive, I ordered a beer and looked around the room. It was slim pickings. There was a middle-aged couple in a booth, and two older guys – fishermen by their looks – sitting at the bar. And that was it. So much for a big night out. I decided I’d finish my beer and head home to Fletcher.  

I was nearly home when a truck pulled up beside me. It was the fishermen from the bar. The guy on the passenger side asked me if I needed a ride. “No thanks, I’m good.”

“Y’hear that, Joe? She’s good.” I knew the man had definitely had a few, from the way he slurred his words. Ignoring him, I kept walking. But the truck kept pace with me. I suddenly realized I was on a deserted stretch of road and, for the first time, I felt a prickle of fear.

I walked faster, but the truck stayed even with me, windows rolled down and the men talking about me – and to me – in a way that increasingly frightened me. I decided to go on the offense. I used my loudest, angriest voice, “Leave. Me. Alone. You need to back off, now.”

“Now look what you done, Joe, you scared her. It’s all right, darlin’, we’re just being friendly.” In a flash, the man was out of the truck and looming over me, seizing my arm. I turned to run and he grabbed my hair, hurting me. I screamed, and he hit me in the face with his fist, hard.

“Listen bitch, this is how it’s gonna go,” the man said. “We’re gonna drive you to that little house of yours, and then we’re gonna have us a little party tonight.” He cackled and the other guy – Joe – laughed too. He forced me into the truck between them, and we were at the cottage in minutes. We had not passed a soul.

Forcing me inside first, the men entered the cottage. I’d never known fear like I felt in that moment. I stood, legs trembling, while they walked around the small house. Joe came back with a couple bottles of liquor he’d found in the kitchen. He opened one and took a big swig from it. The other man returned, pulling Fletcher by the collar. “Lookie what I found,” he said in a sing-song voice, “A little doggy.”

“Leave him alone! He won’t hurt you, please…don’t hurt him.”

He released Fletcher, who loped toward the kitchen and his dog bed. “I don’t care about the damn dog. Long as you play nice with us, I’ll leave him alone.” He shoved me into the window-lined room and I fell. I remember how hard the floor was. I remember looking out those windows at the big night sky, stars everywhere and the half-moon silhouetted against the blackness. I wondered what my family was doing at that moment and hoped they were looking at the same stars and moon.

And then, I don’t remember much. The men took turns, and it went on forever. I’d never had an out-of-body experience, but I did that night. I found myself floating above the horrible sounds and the pain. I was looking down on them – on us – and feeling the air, the light, cool air on my skin.

I woke only when the sun shined on my face the next morning. The men were gone. I was covered in bruises and abrasions, and I felt like an old, old woman as I cleaned myself up. Then I went to work on the house, straightening everything, washing the floor, throwing out the liquor bottles. I was on auto-pilot, making sure everything was in order for the owners’ return. I let Fletcher out and fed him. When the owners arrived, full of gratitude for my help, I brushed off their questions about my bruises by saying I had clumsily fallen off the deck. Still on auto-pilot. Truth be told, I was on auto-pilot for a very long time after that.

More than forty years have passed since that night. I eventually found a job I loved and married a kind and gentle man, who passed away last year. I never told him. I never told a soul. But, hearing all these brave women say “Me Too” has empowered me to look back. To remember. To feel anger at what those men stole from me. Even though it’s been painful to bring those memories to the surface, it’s been cathartic as well. I’m a different person than I was then. I can look back on that young girl with sympathy and love. She did the best she could. She survived. I survived.

An original short story: A Graceland Christmas

In a complete departure from what I usually write, this is a fun little romantic tale set at Christmastime right here in my hometown. I ho...