Everything began and ended with green. Not that I was clear then, on what green looked like, but based on what I’d read - green being the colour of freshness, promise, new life - it had been my favourite colour far back as I could remember. I especially liked the idea of green meaning new life.
Until the tornado.
Afterwards, if I’d never seen anything green again that would have suited me just fine.
Red? Yeah, well, considering it was red that got me home again, I guess it has potential. But, knowing what I know now, it would have been better if things had stayed plain old black and white.
Adventures are all very well, but I’d prefer not to have them if what awaits you at the end is only disillusionment. By then, green had come to mean…well, just that – meanness, lies and simple down-right evil. The kind of evil that deserves to have houses plummet out of the sky and smack you in the head.
If you like fairy tales, don’t read any further. Trust me on this. But, if you’re partial to reality, forget the stories and any sappy songs you may have heard. It wasn’t like that at all.
Was there any truth to the story? Not much. Yes, there was a tornado, I went on a journey, I got home again. I had, still have, a dog called Toto. There were some weirdos and a creepy old man behind a green curtain. Yes. People died. But, there were no bluebirds, rainbows or flying monkeys.
Oddly enough, I still love the passion and drama of Weather! Tornadoes, thunder and lightning storms all deserve to be called ‘Weather!’; as opposed to drizzle and the odd patch of mist, which, due to their complete lack of enthusiasm, warrant no more than the basic ‘weather’. As long as you’re hunkered down in the storm cellar, preferably with a mug of hot chocolate and a faithful mutt at your side, Weather! is the best thing ever!
Tornadoes, obviously, are dangerous. You can die. A lot. This one, a gigantic, heavy, mile-wide, dark green monster had smacked into us before the radio guys in Haysville could fire up the generator and send out the warnings. One minute I was in the kitchen getting the fixings for morning pancakes out the cupboard, the next I was lying, bruised and battered in a field empty of anything except flattened grass and a long, yellow dirt road, with a frightened Toto licking my face and whining.
A word of advice, no matter how dire your circumstances, never go anywhere with three strange guys who say they know a guy who can help. At first, they seemed like nice folk. It didn’t take long before I discovered they were heartless, stupid and spineless. You think a clever kid could’ve been able to outwit them and escape before things got ugly, right? Believe me, once the penny dropped, I tried. But then, I was only fourteen. I was a girl. They had a gun and said they’d shoot Toto.
I’m not going to tell you gory details about what really happened, don’t worry. I have no desire to relive it. Let’s just say that Toto seldom let anyone he didn’t know near me again. Not that I wanted anyone that close for a very long time.
The story I told everyone when I got home will have to suffice, rainbows and all. But anyone who believes that must be stupid. My aunt and uncle…well, I sometimes doubt if I’m actually related to them. The Sheriff from Haysville, he knew exactly what had happened. I could tell by the look in his eyes. They often saw too much. Other times, he looked at me as if to say he knew in the end it would be alright. And, most importantly, if I needed him, he was there.
He was then the youngest Sheriff Haysville had ever had, being only twenty-two at the time. He’d worked at getting an education, not like other farm boys who barely combed the straw out of their hair. He was tall, soft-spoken and clean, with always neatly pressed clothes. He didn’t treat me like a child, but gave me room.
When he came back three weeks later, to tell me the one I’d nicknamed Tin-Man, and Oz - the old man behind the curtain, were dead and the other two were in jail, it was the look in his eyes which had given me the courage to leave the house again. I didn’t go far though for quite a while.
The trial was an ordeal. Sometimes, it felt worse than−
Kansas had the death penalty then. The Sheriff came ‘round when it was all over. I was sitting on the corral at the end of the yard, looking out over the endless fields of ploughed, empty, muddy, red-brown earth. Toto barked. He liked the Sheriff. So did I.
The Sheriff leaned against the fence, pushed his hat back a little. He was happy with silence. I liked that about him.
After a while, he said, “Be spring soon. Good time of year. Everything starts broken in the dark, pushes through, sprouts a little green, gets another lick of pretty colour, finally becomes what it was supposed to be. Funny thing is, never looks anything like its beginning. Bit like life, really.” His emerald eyes squinted at me in the sun, glimmering with a smile, kindness playing ‘round his lips, giving me permission to take what he’d said anyway I liked, which was good. He pushed himself upright. “Well, Miss Dorothy, I’ll be seeing you. Take care. Toto.” He patted Toto’s curly, walnut brown head, tugged the brim of his hat and walked away.
He stopped by occasionally to check on me, see if I was doing okay. He was a good man. He didn’t dwell on stuff, always said you could start fresh. So, six years later, I married him.
I’ve been called a Grammar Nazi in the past. I must say, it’s a title I wore well, with pride in fact. Not being able to spell 'to', 'too' or 'two' correctly in any given circumstance has been a deal breaker for me in past relationships. “It’s not 'to', it’s 'too' and while I’m on the subject, it’s not me, it’s you. Have a nice life.” A quick, easy way to end what would have become a distressing relationship, fraught with small minor tensions that would have driven us, alright – me, insane.
I have a simple philosophy - if you’re careless with words, what else would you be careless with? Me? Best you leave now – and buy a ‘Grammar for Idiots’, for heaven’s sake. And, while you’re at it, a dictionary.
Words, language and grammar are all important. Just think how they drive every aspect of our lives. Try ordering a cup of coffee, a meal, without them, describing symptoms to your doctor, stains to your dry cleaner, telling your kid a bedtime story, your spouse that he forgot to pick up the dog food again and that even though you love him, you are going to kill him! Or at least make him sleep on the couch. Use your words, yes. But please, for the sake of all that is holy – use them correctly!
That’s what I liked about Paul. I met him at the library – a match made in heaven. What better place to meet the love of your life than between ‘Romance’ and ‘History’? To my eternal delight, this tall, broad-shouldered, ruggedly handsome man with a close beard and knee-weakening, toffee-coloured eyes wandered around the end of the book case. He was wearing one of those geeky T-shirts that said, ‘My favourite dinosaur is a Thesaurus’. Then he smiled and asked if I knew where he could find the Jane Austen section. Everything, plus the Irish lilt in his voice, almost made me swoon. I thought I’d died and been buried in dark chocolate.
We clicked immediately. Paul fulfilled all my dreams, both physically and literary. After endless cups of bottomless coffee at the Bookends Café, a trip to the museum’s Rare Editions Display and copious, long and intricate discussions on almost every subject under the sun, or should I say the moon, while sitting on the climbing-rose-covered balcony of the Waterfront’s Jules Verne Restaurant, I was in love. Okay, so I’m an easy date if you’ve read a few books…
and not all in the same genre, by the same author,
and can actually talk about them intelligently.
What can I say? For some women, I’m embarrassed to confess, the most interesting thing about a potential spouse is his status and bank balance. Sad, but true. For me, it’s language and the ability to use it extremely well. These things are imperative. No, inviolable. Most importantly; ‘Hamlet’. If you know your ‘Hamlet’, you’re a keeper as far as I’m concerned. And Paul not only knew who Hamlet was, but also Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. He had a great argument about the ethics of what Hamlet had done to them. The fact that he had both read and enjoyed ‘Jane Eyre’ was sublime.
But it wasn’t just talk, talk, talk all the time. Let’s just say that Paul can be eloquent with both words and silence. He’s pretty good with his hands as well.
My mother wasn’t completely convinced Paul was as perfect for me as I proclaimed. Well, declaimed would be closer to the truth. That was before she smelled the coffee and saw his high-ceilinged loft apartment in the publishing district. Every wall was floor to ceiling bookcases. Windows were only allowed space to save on electricity, and give Henry, the bloodhound and James, the cat a few warm, sunny spots in which to drape themselves over each other. Circular, open-sided book shelves framed the spiral staircase in the middle of the room. I was never sure if the bookcase was built to surround the stairs, or if the stairs had been built simply to reach the tomes on the higher shelves. Finding a good book to read and a comfortable place in which to devour it was never a problem. Big wide sofas littered the place. Even the bed was a thick, comfortable-beyond-belief mattress on a bespoke base, housing what he called his ‘Favourites Collection’.
So, you think that with all those books to read, there wouldn’t be time for conversation? Pfft!
Shows what you know about people who read a lot. Books don’t stifle conversation, they inspire it, open it up, enrich discussions. People who don’t read, I find, don’t really have much to talk about except who’s-sleeping-with-who-and-how-could-he-have-said-that-and-did-you-hear-what-that-idiot-did-yesterday. Blah, blah, blah.
One of the nice things about being married to Paul is that my inner Grammar Nazi, having nothing to do, soon got bored and finally packed its bags and left. Life has been so much easier now that the only people I correct are the twenty English Language students I teach, a delight for which I’m paid.
I was trying to explain the difference between past, present and future tenses to my class of college students - who seemed to have been dropped on their heads as infants - when the Headmaster strode into my class, followed by the elderly Mr White.
“Mrs Collins, please come with me. There’s a call for you in my office. Mr White will take over.” Language is important, but tone, well, sometimes tone can say even more. That unspoken, yet implied, impending doom. I wasn’t the only one who’d heard it, judging by the looks on the students’ faces.
Paul had collapsed. He’d been running a bit of a temperature that morning, but to be honest, neither of us had thought it was serious.
He spent ten weeks in ICU. Ten weeks where the only conversations I had were with the doctor and the nurses. Friends and family came en masse at first, but as the weeks dragged on, their numbers dwindled. Even if your soul mate is fighting for his life in a small, pale blue hospital room and the only reading material is his medical chart, life moves on for everybody else.
They say people in a coma can hear you talking. I talked to him as much as possible, telling him I loved him, keeping him updated on little things I knew would interest him. How Bookends had decided to go with blueberry muffins today instead of carrot. How the students kept asking how he was. How the folks sent their love. How Henry and James had taken to sleeping on the bed with me in his absence. How I’d tried to read Atlas Shrugged, but couldn’t get past page five without dying of boredom.
Please don’t die, Paul. Please. Come home.
He did, eventually. Much thinner and paler than before. The doctor had warned us it could be a difficult adjustment, but if we had the right attitude we should, hopefully, be able to live as normal a life as possible.
Now, we both have to learn a new way of communicating, a new way to have all those life-giving conversations, a new language.
So, there it is. The list. Short, only one item, but it’s comprehensive. For better or worse, it will, if I follow it to the letter, change my life. Of course, there will be other lists, necessary to help me achieve this one.
Is it really a list if it only has one item on it? Yes. Because if you don’t write it down you won’t do it. Good advice my aunt gave me when I was a child, and I’ve stuck by it ever since.
For me, lists keep the world sane, spinning on its axis in an orderly, predictable way. They help one make sense of an often too loud, too noisy, too angry, too hurtful, too in-one’s-face world. They remind one, so one doesn’t forget. They encourage one, so one doesn’t give up. Most importantly, they ensure one doesn’t make mistakes.
‘To Do’ Lists are especially wonderful. Often, I’ll put things on those lists just so I can tick them as done. It’s an almost euphoric feeling, seeing things ticked off on a list. It gives one such a sense of accomplishment. Especially if it’s something one doesn’t normally do. Like buy a
Men seem to think that a grocery shopping list will stop a woman from buying things she doesn’t really need. Whereas women intuitively know a grocery list is merely one with suggestions, which happens to include essentials. Once inside a store, the list is merely a way of sparking ideas, desires, that the soul, or the flesh, only realises they need when they get there. It’s an unconscious reminder of something lurking on the fringes of one’s mind, whose acquisition is more than just essential. Like
Some people have lists of their lists. I may end up doing that this time as I have to be sure I cover everything. That I leave no stone unturned. Or rather, no stone put back when I’m finished. There’s one thing I will have on every list, even though now I’m not quite sure how to accomplish it. But every list has to be completed and then utterly destroyed.
This list isn’t one of those flippant ones written on the back of an envelope as one is rushing out the door. You know the type. Oh, I’m off to the hairdresser so I’ll pop into the library and get some milk on my way home. Before you know it, you’re getting bread as well. I mean, who doesn’t always write bread before or after writing milk? Then there’s ‘something for dinner’ which could be an entire basketful of food stuffs. And, even though every time one makes a meal, one realises one needs new kitchen equipment - it never makes it onto the list. Things like a
I remember the very first list I ever wrote. It was a book list. My aunt had finally decided it was time for me to become a member of the library. I must have been about four. Although I’d been reading on my own since I was three, penmanship hadn’t quite caught up with one’s reading skills. Naturally, my list was only legible to me. The green crayon scribbles were more a description of emotions I wanted to discover than actual book titles. After all, all the books I knew about were already in my small, white bookcase, decorated with faded paintings of twisted, purple wisteria. I was so excited the night my aunt told me, I couldn’t sleep. Not that my aunt would have given them to me, but it would have been a good night for some
Most people write very few lists. Groceries, Christmas presents that kind of thing. And they‘re surprised, and annoyed, with themselves, and each other, when things are forgotten. Like tape. It’s almost impossible to wrap presents if there’s no tape, yet you’ll hardly ever find it on a Christmas present list. That’s why I’m making sure this list has as many accompanying ones as necessary. Clearly and carefully numbered so that I know how many there are.
I’ve been writing lists all my life. They help one think. They inspire, yes, that’s the right word, they inspire one. They become, I was going to say my conscience, but that’s definitely the wrong word. They become one’s muse? Perhaps. Although that’s not right either. As I’m writing my lists I discover things I hadn’t thought of. Essential things. Putting them on the list sparks new ones around that item alone. I mean, if one simply put ‘car’ on the list that wouldn’t really tell one everything, would it? Without a detailed list regarding the car one might find one’s self running out of petrol at a very inconvenient time. Which is why I must remember to
Put gas in the car on Thursday
If one is going to do something out of the ordinary, lists help establish a memorable routine in one’s life. I remember my grandfather’s immovable habit of winding the clocks every day. Without fail, when the long clock struck six, he would take out his ancient pocket watch, adjust it and wind it up, staring at it until the chimes had stopped.
“Right,” he would say, snapping shut the watch’s cover. Starting with the black grandfather clock in the hall, he would methodically work his way round the entire house, winding each and every clock, dusting them and checking their delicate working parts as he did so. There were never healthier clocks in the world than ours. He would finish with the dining room clock, pushing it back into place just as dinner was announced.
It was a ritual that served him well. Between the hour of six and seven in the evening, everyone always knew where Grandfather was.
There are other ways of doing that nowadays and there’s one engagement, between the hour of six and seven in the evening, on Thursday, that I have to keep. It’s something we’ve done for a year now. It’s a habit. An enjoyable one and no one forgets. Even the waiters know us each by name. Obviously, I chose Grandfather’s favourite time of day as it’s easy for me to remember. It’s ingrained into my psyche. It’s the one thing I don’t have to put on the list. I will though, just to be on the safe side. After all, one doesn’t want to go to all this trouble and not
Meet Sarah and Jake for dinner, Thursday, 6pm, The Grill.
If I hadn’t begun this list at the beginning I may not have planned carefully enough. Lists help one start a project and finish it. Finish well, as they say. Which is why the second list included learning to sail and scuba dive. They were hobbies I took up at least two years’ ago. Dan doesn’t like sailing as much as I do, but the occasional mid-week, overnight jaunt suits us both.
We take the long drive out on Thursday evening, after work and dinner with Sarah and Jake, mess about on the lake for a bit and then anchor and let the water flow by as we sip chilled wine and eat potted shrimp and salad. We make our way back in the morning while the ducks are just waking and the mist is still quietly curling gently up leaving the lake’s surface tranquil and undisturbed.
The grizzled, old man we hire the boat from, Frank Macklin, is sweet. We always have to sign in and out in order to hire the boat, and we inevitably have a little chat with him. He’s a drunk and utterly predictable. Perfect, in fact. Which is why this time, I must remember to
Tell Frank, Dan is meeting me there, and later, that he hadn’t arrived.
Which reminds me – see how inspirational lists are – that I must remember to
Program my mobile
It’s essential Sarah and Jake see, and hear, Dan calling me and telling me, “I’m working late and will meet you at the lake tonight.”
I find, when confronted with a list someone else has compiled, one will often choose items at random. Probably not the most logical or the most efficient way of doing things, but one has an innate objection to being told what to do. My aunt has often commented on this. Cutting one’s nose off to spite one’s face she calls it. Perhaps, but at least I have the satisfaction of knowing that whatever I do, I do because I choose to, not because I’m merely following orders.
Things on the list may not be strictly in order of importance. Lists are often like that. There are though, some items on this one that will be followed meticulously. This list is the only one that really matters, the one I mentioned earlier. The short one. The first one. When everything’s in place, the timing’s perfect and nothing has been left to chance, that's when I’ll
Kill my husband.
WRITER'S WRITE have issued a challenge: 12 Short Stories in 12 Months. Each story must conform to the prompt, word count and deadline given. It began in February 2017. I've accepted the challenge. Originally, once my story had been on the challenge's Facebook page for a day or so, I'd post them here. No though I am putting them into an anthology which I hope to self-publish early in 2019.