Red Bird, Part I

Red Bird Part I

“Red Bird” was my father’s last attempt at writing a short story to submit for publication. He started it sometime shortly after he retired and worked on it for a number of years afterwards, but did not end up with a final draft. His family knew he intended to submit Red Bird for publication consideration, but respected the fact that he ultimately abandoned the effort.

I have been working on an adaption for the simple pleasure of being inspired by his original story. My adaption appears in parts as I complete the work on both my adaption and the transcript of his original (which, I apologize to say, is only available to members of my father’s family, per their request).

1 | Red Bird

Red Bird was strikingly handsome. He was the color of true crimson, set off by glossy jet-black wings and a rakish black mask, through which his eyes glistened like tiny obsidian jewels. He’d never come across another like himself.

But, what really made Red Bird stand out was his inquisitiveness. He had an insatiable curiosity about the world around him.

On any given day Red Bird would sit on a perch and watch. He was fascinated by things and why they were the way they were, for example, why they moved, or slept, or went from one place to another, or changed appearance, or ceased being, or started being, or came together, or, for that matter, stood apart.

Red Bird would stand and stare for hours on end, but then, out of the corner of his eye, he’d spot a swarm of bugs. The discovery of food was always a happy distraction. He would swoop down, grab himself a bite or two (or three, possibly four) and then find another perch from which he could digest his meal. And then, he’d continue to observe the world around him.

His whole life he lived in the Mexican city of San Miguel de Allende. Set against a steep hillside overlooking the Río Laja, and dominated by red rooftops, white walls and domed churches, San Miguel was a perfect place to live, that is, if you were a curious bird. He could sit on many a perch on many a long, sunny day, happily taking in all he could observe.

While his was a good life, it was nevertheless a lonely one. Being set apart from the other birds by simple virtue of the fact he was unusual in looks and temperament, put Red Bird in an untenable situation in regards to friendship.

Chief among his efforts to befriend others was seeking the company of humans. Unlike the animals, people seemed to have a wide variety of activities, and being one who also liked to keep things varied, he thought he and humans were the most alike. But as he only shared the ability to converse with other birds, his efforts to befriend people were usually met with a sweep of a broom and a request to “shoo!”

So, Red Bird sought to bond with the Wrens, Finches and Sparrows, after a while he grew weary of their tiresome chatter, idle gossip and in absurd bravado battles over food, females, males, cats, other birds and nesting spots. And, when not engaged in these ridiculous things, they shamelessly scrounged for crumbs under the tables of the patio cafés, side by side with that boorish bunch of pigeons. Red Bird could not see the game in scavenging for what was tossed off when there are so many delectable beetles and bugs to be found. All you had to do was observe a bug or nest of beetles for a day or two; watch how they move, discover where they hide, observe how they put up defenses, etc., before one learned exactly how to swoop down, scoop a beetle up in one bite and swallow it in two more bites, three at most.

Bored with that lot, Red Bird decided to try the company of other types of birds, but they proved equally dull. He enjoyed the humming birds, but they rarely hung around long enough to chat. Drawn in by their genteel manner, he sought out the egrets, but their focus turned out to be purely narcissistic. Standing in ornamental poses, or listlessly floating on the air, the only conversation they were interested in was of themselves. The doves were far too melancholy and at a loss for any discussion beyond the torch they carried for their mate. And, of course, everyone knew to stay away from the hawks, owls and eagles. The people clearly revered them, but what people didn’t seem to appreciate is that they were cold, ruthless killers. In any event, you couldn’t keep up with them if you tried, and if you did try, you could end up as dead as one of their victims.

The birds Red Bird felt he had something in common with were the crows. The crows were smart and had seen many things. The crows had the kind of adventures Red Bird imagined having himself. He sat and listened to their stories and it created in him a longing to tag along on one of their adventures. Once, when he was barely out of the nest, he shyly tried to join a small murder, accurately named by the people as it turns out, because his attempt ended in near disaster and absolute humiliation. It is such a pity that crows, for as smart and brave as they are, are such a hostile bunch of gangsters.

Other animals and creatures, other than cats, of course, fascinated him, but they weren’t much in the way of company. Cows and burros were among his favorites, for they didn’t seem to mind if he sat awhile on their backs while they went about their business. Plus, it wasn’t a bad way to get around if you were feeling a bit worn out after a day exploring the city.

But, by far, it was the people that really grabbed his attention. He could sit and watch them for long periods of time. But time had taught him that it was best if he perched a good distance away while doing so.

Not too long ago, Red Bird was in a tree above the courtyard of what appeared to be an empty nest of people. He rarely saw anyone there It became one of his favorite quiet spots for contemplation. The courtyard below was a beautiful array of flowers, carefully attended to by a single person who came by from time to time, and a fountain, unused by others, which made it perfect for bathing without disruption. Several spots on the wall offered a panoramic view of the city, the plains just past that, the fields that followed, and the mountains far beyond.

Sitting on these walls were wonderful respites from long days flying all over the city. He could sometimes sit there for hours, and on occasion, entire mornings or afternoons. He like this spot very, very much. Eventually, he was resigned to stay there for large parts of the entire day. You see, Red Bird’s daily jaunts from one end of the city to the other and back again had started to feel routine to him.

One day, sitting quietly in his favorite spot above the courtyard, he realized he felt a bit bored. It had rained earlier that afternoon, so even a short quest for nearby water was unnecessary and therefore provided no welcome distraction. As he watched a lizard make its way up the side of a building, the people walking on the street below, and the last of the rain clouds roll by—all the while pretending to ignore the cat across the street—he realized his boredom had taken a strong hold of him. The questions he typically posed to himself about the world around him during these times of rest and observation had become vacant echoes, like the once-hourly gong of the church bells: constant, but unchanging, and more to the point, unanswered.

As Red Bird gazed out at the panorama, his yearning to venture farther out, beyond the city, began to grow large, like that unsettling feeling he’d get when he knew a predator was watching him. He puffed and ruffled his feathers to shake it off. But the thought persisted.

Why not just leave and go somewhere else?, he thought.  I’m as intelligent as the crows, so why not go on my own adventure? I don’t need to be part of a flock. I spend all my time alone every day as it is, and frankly, have done very well fending for myself. So, why not just go someplace new all on my own? Go off and learn about a new city, or valley, somewhere out there, toward the mountains, maybe?

He sat for a moment longer, letting this exhilarating new idea whirl around in his head a bit longer. Then Red Bird stood up, fluttered and puffed again, and with what might be considered a pounce, spread his wings as wide as he could and soared straight up into the sky.

2 | Hiram Rhodes

Hiram Rhodes had the appearance of someone put together by some kind of actuary committee: average height, neither lean or soft, neither ugly nor handsome, medium grey hair, brown-ish eyes and a flat face that was oddly accentuated by the fact that, for a man of his age, had no discernible lines whatsoever. Regardless, he looked old.

Hiram was a proper sort; orderly and predictable. He had achieved what he thought was a serene maturity, neither by design or accident, but because it was simply the way things had worked out.

From the age of about four, Hiram was raised by his mother and various members of her family after his parents divorced. As a young child, he was told his mother would have to be, “away for a while,” which was fairly often, and usually meant she’d be gone at least a week, possibly two. She was employed as a buyer in the home décor section in one of the department stores in the city, and therefore had to make frequent business trips to meet manufacturers and distributors. At least, that was what he was told by his aunts and uncles. His grandmother usually frowned when they told him this, so Hiram guessed his mother was away for another reason, but he never learned what that reason was. Hiram was a Junior in high school when his mother’s frequent trips suddenly stopped, even though she continued working as a buyer for the department store until her retirement.

It should not come as a surprise that for thirty-eight years Hiram was an accountant at a firm in the suburb in which he was born, and that he had lived his entire life in the same neighborhood in which he was raised. These were solid, stable qualities he considered their own testament to the constancy of his life. So, he assumed it was these qualities that put him in a position of the unexpected honor of an offer to purchase the accounting firm when Jeff Murray announced he was, “selling out and movin’ to So Cal, baby!”

Jeff Murray, a young man in his late 30s, was the son and grandson of the men who founded the firm; Hiram’s former bosses. Jeff inherited the business from his grandfather. Jeff’s father, Ricky (Fredrick, as Hiram always called him, for that was the man’s name), dropped dead from a massive heart attack years ago while attending a regional accounting conference (according to the coroner and a woman nobody knew very well, but who seemed to know Ricky quite well). Jeff was still in high school, so Old-man Murray came out of retirement to run the firm again. When Old-man Murray passed away a few years later, Jeff inherited the business.

Unlike his father and grandfather, Jeff was an absentee owner, hiring senior accountants away from other agencies to manage the place. Hiram saw Jeff only once a year at the firm’s Christmas banquet at the hotel conference center in town, and then only briefly over a handshake. “How da hell’s it goin’, Rhodes, huh?” to which Hiram would reply, “Perfectly fine.” And that would be that.

So, when Jeff Murray stopped by the firm to ask Hiram to join him for a drink after work, Hiram was surprised.

The bar Jeff selected was loud and crowded. It was strangely dark, given the bright warm day from which they walked in. Televisions hung from every wall, each with their own sports event playing, but no one seemed to be watching. Jeff found a relatively quiet spot in the back and ordered a martini with a long name and with a particular kind of gin Hiram had never heard of from an inappropriately dressed waitress who looked not of legal age. Hiram ordered a Budweiser but didn’t understand why the waitress asked if he wanted it in a glass.

“Bottle’l be fine,” Jeff told the waitress.

Jeff repeated to Hiram he was getting out of the accounting business, moving to southern California with his second wife and her kids to go to work for a college buddy in the beverage distribution industry (and by that, Jeff winked, he meant booze), and then, without taking a breath, said he thought Hiram was “his man” to buy the firm. He went on regarding his other reasons for selecting Hiram, but it was so loud in the bar it was impossible for Hiram to hear what Jeff was saying.

Hiram was not certain what, beyond his annual salary, Jeff knew of his financial circumstances that made him “his man,” as it put it, to buy the firm. Hiram knew he was a stable and reliable person, and had done a commendable job assisting Old-man Murray running the place during those years after Richard died, but that couldn’t be the entire reason Jeff had singled Hiram out to buy the firm. As an accountant, Hiram learned a bit about investing from his clients, and he had the required nest egg in place. And, there was that settlement money Maude inherited when her father died. He had some money. But, Jeff couldn’t know about all that.

“So, you’ll think about it?” Jeff finally concluded.

Not knowing what else so say, Hiram simply stated, “Of course.”

The next morning at the office, Hiram told Jeff Murray over the phone he thought about it as promised, but after discussing the matter with his wife (the extent of which was a statement by Hiram to his wife that Jeff had made the offer, to which his wife replied, “Oh really?”) but, in consideration of his approaching 66th birthday, decided it prudent instead to retire in the next year as planned. Jeff gave him a, “Well then, dammit, I guess that’s that,” and promised to throw him a, “helluva retirement part-tay.” Hiram thanked him, but privately could not think of anything more dreadful than a helluva-whatever Jeff was talking about, and hoped he moved to California sooner than later.

3 | Maude Rhodes

Maude Rhodes was a common-sense person of orderly habit much like her husband, however decidedly more “go with the flow” sort of person, as their children liked to say. She was a reasonably good-looking woman with sad blue eyes and a plump hour-glass figure that had become more exaggerated as the years went by. She was as tall as Hiram, so it annoyed him when she wore heals, but she ignored his protests. Maude liked to dress and preferred to look somewhat done-up, unlike so many of her peers, who, by middle-age, resorted to frumpy sweaters or saggy knit shirts with embroidered appliques, elastic-waist pants, and dull black orthopedic flats.

Maude had not anticipated one bit that Hiram’s retirement would affect in any way the even tempo of her daily routine. The household would always need seeing to, the church would always hold its bi-annual fundraiser for which she would always be expected to sell tickets, the grammar school for which she had volunteered as a teacher’s aide for the past 30 years would always need reading and math tutors, and her friends would always have their Bunko nights and Bridge luncheons (She preferred Bunko nights. Less to have to think about). And their children, David and Julie, and their grandchildren would always want to come for dinner on either a Wednesday or a Sunday, whichever was the most convenient that particular week. Also, the dinner parties with David’s in-laws and shopping trips with her friends were not going to come to an abrupt end. No, wives don’t retire just because their husband’s do.

After all those years of having the house to herself during the day, Maude was irritated with Hiram always underfoot. At least she managed to get him out of her hair when she was in the yard by being so scolding he felt dejected enough to go back inside. But, even when he was in the TV room and she was in her sewing room in the attic, Maude would become irritated. She was unaccustomed to hearing the television on in the afternoon and it made it hard to concentrate. Then, there was that time he just sat at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee while she was busy preparing for one of their dinner parties. It was almost her undoing.

Maude assumed Hiram would pick up some sort of hobby, the kind men seem to pick up once they retire. Since he turned down Jeff Murray’s offer to buy the firm, she assumed he had a plan. Like, fishing, or woodworking, or home improvement projects. None of these things Hiram had ever showed interest in before, but that wasn’t the point. She assumed he would just become interested, now that he had time to do so.

As the days turned into weeks, and the weeks were turning into months, Hiram remained listless. He watched TV and read magazines. That was it.

Maude tried to keep calm and summon up whatever patience she remembered having to call upon when the kids were small. Something would eventually have to tickle Hiram’s fancy, and with David and Julie’s regular help to encourage him to find something to do as well, she was sure somehow, something would finally pop up. Preferably something that would take him out of the house on a regular basis, but she knew beggars couldn’t be choosers.

4 | To Do, or Not To Do

Hiram was at a complete loss as to how to go about developing an interest, of any sort, let alone a hobby. He wondered if he’d been unwise in not taking Jeff Murray up on his offer.

Until now, Hiram never understood that retirement was not an activity, like a job. Hiram discovered that retirement was more of a pastime in which you performed an activity that may or may not render produce an outcome. Whatever those pastimes may be, which he assumed were the hobbies Maude had been harping on him to “pick up,” he simply was not interested in discovering them.

He wasn’t so sure, for that matter, that he had ever been that interested in his job as an accountant. His accounting career was just something that started as a result of his job at Wallingford’s Drug Store, where he had worked since high school. The store was going out of business, and Mr. Wallingford, being the good man he was, wanted to make sure all his employees had a new employment. Mr. Wallingford was happy to recommend Hiram to the store’s accounting firm, knowing they were looking to hire young, bright people to help them grow. He thought Hiram was one of the very best clerks he had on staff in recent years. Hiram, a young married man at the time, and Maude six months pregnant with David, accepted the referral, unconcerned as to whether he would like to be an accountant or not. He knew Maude wanted a proper house, since she announced that they were to have a large family; at least three, but probably more children. A house full of children cost much more than he could earn as a cashier or clerk, so Hiram dutifully went to the appointment set by his soon-to-be former employer and became an accountant.

He did well, attending the community college to obtain his C.P.A., and in just a couple of years was able to buy a house in his old neighborhood. Julie was born shortly thereafter. However, after Julie arrived, Maude re-evaluated her notion of having a lot of children. No matter. It was good sense to own a sizable house, if only for the resale value.

But there wasn’t a Mr. Wallingford now to point Hiram to his next occupation. The onus was completely on him, and pulling something out of thin air to occupy each day was absolutely as baffling a concept as any could be.

Initially he looked to Maude to see exactly how she spent her days at the house. Spending the day alongside Maude seemed to irritate her. Gathering that she’d rather be left alone, he resorted to spending most days just sitting about the house watching TV. The people and characters on these programs, especially the daytime shows, reminded him of his clients, which only added to his growing anxiety that he didn’t know how to do anything but to be an accountant.

When the daytime shows ended for the day, and he’d watch the top of the news on the local broadcast just up through the weather forecast. Hiram would then pick up whatever book or magazine he could find in the house, or the weekly community newspaper Maude occasionally picked up on her errands. Since most of the reading material in the house was more suited to Maude—articles about motherhood, housekeeping, sewing and those mystery novels she liked—he took to occasionally accompanying Maude to the grocery store so he could peruse the book and magazine rack for something to read. He had observed other men about his age doing this on a previous trip to the store with Maude, so he thought he would give it a try.

The first time he looked over the rack, the books looked like more of the same Maude had at the house. And since he wasn’t interested—again, this annoying issue regarding “an interest”—in bodybuilding, hunting, fishing, fixing or building, he ended up selecting a Newsweek and a People Magazine. These publications proved no more engaging than Maude’s magazines. To make matters worse, it was soon clear to him that the people who write these magazines expect you to take an “interest,” as well. He honestly did not care one way or the other about the future of the economy in Belarus, wherever in the hell that was, or the continuing plight of a young woman that some movie star, whom he’d never heard of, played in an apparently well-known film, which he never heard of either.

Nevertheless, he continued to accompany Maude to the store in hopes of finding something. A couple of times he selected a National Geographic, remembering as a child how much he enjoyed looking at the pictures (though not the “pornographic” issues, something he had no idea even existed until that time he was sharing the memory of his fondness for the pictures in National Geographic with David, then age ten, who excitedly asked if his father meant the “porno pictures.” Hiram wasn’t sure what was more confusing about his son’s question: the fact that he knew the word, or that he knew its meaning. He himself didn’t know the word until he was at least a teenager. It was this encounter which he would always remember as the moment he understood why others remarked on how difficult it was to parent a child).

On a recent shopping trip, Hiram selected two National Geographic magazines featuring the Chinese province of Szechwan and Colonial Mexico. If memory served, those questionable pictures were in issues about Africa, so he assumed it would be OK to bring these particular issues home.

5 | Wherein David, Julie and A Friend Help Maude Make Plans for Hiram

The weeks of Hiram having nothing to do except tag along with Maude on her errands, when she let him, or perform the few chores he actually could do, turned into months. One family friend had taken to calling on Hiram from time to time and would occasionally invite him out for coffee with a group of men he met at a nearby diner. And, Hiram seemed to like helping set up the monthly spaghetti dinners at their church, often volunteering to stay later to clean (Maude would get a ride home on those nights. She gave enough of her time to that place as it was. She wasn’t going to also stay to clean up as well) but other than that, nothing much else took.

After one of their regular Wednesday night dinners at his folks’, David Rhodes sat with his father in the TV room. David’s wife was helping his mother with dishes in the kitchen and his kids were quietly squabbling in the living room. His folks always watched Jeopardy! after dinner, though David couldn’t think why. When he and his sister were kids, they never played Trivial Pursuit, no matter how many times they would beg their parents. “Oh, honey, daddy and I just don’t know the answers to any of those questions, so what’s the point?” And, since neither of his parents paid much attention to anything about the world around them, he wasn’t sure what it was about Jeopardy! that made them so insistent every night about not missing.

“What is, ‘The Man of La Mancha,’” the contestant answered.

“Close…” host Alex Trebec replied. “Jennifer?”

“What is Don Quixote.”

“Yes, Jennifer,” the audience applauded, and contestant Jennifer smiled. “ ‘The Man of La Mancha’ was the Broadway musical theater adaption of the classic novel, ‘The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha,’ by 17th century Spanish author, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. Sorry Brad, that’ll cost you, dropping you to third place.” Contestant Brad bobbed his head in exaggerated embarrassment, while smug Contestant Jennifer moved onto “House Guests and Fish” for $1000.

About half way through the broadcast, David ventured into a conversation with his father. He hated to keep pestering his father, as much as he hated hearing his mother repeatedly complain about his father’s “lazing about.” He and Julie agreed with their mother that their dad needed to get busy doing something.

“So Dad …How’s it goin’ so far? Anything new?”

Hiram drew in a breath, and with a quick glace over to his son, simply stated, “Fine. Nothing new.”

“Thought anymore about your retirement? I mean, what you are going to do now?”

“Nope, not really.”

The two men sat in silence during a commercial for lawn fertilizer that promised to make the neighbors green with envy. The fertilizer ad gave David an idea.

“You could help Mom in the yard, ya know, with the gardening. I bet she’d like that.”

“She asked me to leave her alone when she’s in the yard.”

A promotion for a feature film showed movie stars looking stern in the midst of people running away from something apparently very scary and very big. A massive fireball lit up the otherwise dark TV room, followed by cars careening at high speeds through city streets, and then cut to a scene with a man and woman passionately kissing. David couldn’t think of anything else to say.

David’s wife called out from the kitchen and their two children came running into the TV room. David and Hiram stood as the children rushed their grandfather and gave him haphazard hugs around the legs.

“Tell Grandpa goodnight and we’ll see him next week,” David instructed.

As David started out of the room behind them, Hiram suddenly asked, “Maybe you can help me build those shelves your mother wants in the laundry room.”

“Sure,” David said, a bit surprised. “You bet! Uh, how about this weekend?”

Hiram smiled. Maybe he’d finally hit on something. “Saturday?”

“Saturday. Sure! Um, gotta take Jake to Kung Fu in the morning, but yeah. After that. I’ll get Ann to pick him up or maybe he can go home with a friend. Anyway, I’ll be over ‘bout 10:30, 11?”

“10:30 or 11,” Hiram confirmed.

As David gave his mother a hug goodbye at the front door, she anxiously whispered if there had been any progress.

“We’ll see. He asked me to help him build you those shelves.”

Maude looked confused, “He’s never built a thing in his life.”

“Well Mom, it’s something, a start, OK? And, I’ll be here to help.”

“You’ve never built a thing in your life!”

“Mom! What’dya want, ‘k? It’s something, OK?” David put a reassuring hand on her shoulder.

She nodded and kissed him goodnight.

Two days later Maude called David to tell him she decided it was best to hire a handyman to build the shelves.

“Your father came home from the hardware store with everything and decided to get started. And, well, after an afternoon of listening to all that hammering and drilling, and his cursing,” she paused.

“What happened?” David could imagine the horrible scene.

“Well, he’s sulking in the TV room and the laundry room’s in a state of disaster. I can’t even get in there. Oh, Davey, it’s such a mess and now there are all these large holes in the walls…”

“Damn, Mom, I’m sorry. Why didn’t he wait for when I’d be over there to help him?”

“Well, I think he was feeling like there’s no time like the present, or something, darling. I think he was glad to have something to do. We’ve all been so hard on him about it.”

The shelf-building fiasco put a damper on further attempts to get Hiram busy with some sort of activity. Maude resigned herself to the fact that her husband would spend his days in front of the TV or occasionally flip through National Geographics.

“Why don’t you two go on a trip, or something,” a friend of Maude’s suggested one day. “Go see some place like New York City or St. Louis, or take a cruise, like to the Bahamas or something?”

The thought of taking a trip had never occurred to Maude. Sitting in the kitchen after dinner that night, she called Julie, excited with the idea.

“I never suggested it,” Julie said flatly, “because I can’t imagine you guys on a trip. Dad would hate it.”

Maude was put off by her daughter’s remark. “We love going to the lake with you and Aaron’s parents!”

“A week at the lake is not the same thing, Mom.”

“How is it so different?!”

Julie sighed, “It just is, I mean, you have to fly, for starters, and stay in a hotel and figuring out where to eat all your meals, I mean, you are both so weird about what you will or won’t eat. Honestly, I just don’t see either of you going to a place you’ve never been before and, I don’t know, exploring it, or whatever.”

Maude was silent. Julie continued, “Dad hates shopping and it’s not like you guys are going to sign up for wind-surfing lessons, or whatever.”

“People drive, Julie, to visit places,” Maude said defensively, not sure what shopping and wind-surfing had to do with one another. “And honestly honey, it’s not as though we’ve never been on a plane or stayed in a motel before. When you were kids we took those trips to see your grandparents when they moved to Colorado, you must remember that?”

“Mom, it’s not like those marathon road trips to see Granny and Grandpa. I mean, what are you going to do when you get there?”

“We’ll see the sights, of course!”

Julie sighed again. “Dad’ll hate it.”

“Your father is no longer is in a position to have a vote.”

“OK. Whatever. Where are you thinking of going anyway?”

“I don’t know. Suzanne Keller suggested New York City or St. Louis.”

“Really, Mom, New York or St Louis?!” she laughed. “I mean, you might as well book an African safari.”

“Don’t be flip,” Maude scolded.

But Julie was right. The idea of taking a trip to a place they’d never been was a little overwhelming, primarily because Maude knew she would have to do all the planning, and planning anything of magnitude usually fell to Hiram. Hiram most certainly was never going to plan a trip.

Maude finished the dishes and then poured herself a cup of coffee. She sat at the kitchen table to collect her thoughts. A blue-ish light from the TV room flickered across the dark living room. The rumbling audio from the TV had become almost a perpetual sound in the house and it irritated Maude that she had become used to it. They had such strict rules about the TV when the kids were growing up, but that apparently didn’t matter anymore. Maude felt her shoulders drop a bit with a moment’s discouragement.

Slumped in her chair as she was, the idea of going to see a place they’d never seen before was nevertheless a kind-of exciting notion.  She turned these thoughts over in her head as she finished her coffee, and later, as she got into bed, her mind was still spinning with possibility. She was unable to fall to sleep for a long while. Maude was determined: She wanted to take Hiram on trip.

She had spent the better part of the next day trying to figure out how to bring up the subject with Hiram without seeming as if she was once again nagging him. On the morning of the second day during breakfast she attempted to broach the subject.

“I talked to Julie the other night.”
“We were talking about the lake.”
“When do Aaron’s parents want to go this year?” Hiram suddenly asked, breaking Maude’s concentration.
“What? Oh, um. She didn’t say.”
Hiram stopped eating and asked, “What if we don’t go this year?”
Maude was not expecting this. “You don’t want to go?”
Hiram shrugged. “They always want to go the end of August and it’s too damn hot.”
“Hiram, it’s practically the only time we see our granddaughters!”
“No, hon, it’s not. Anyway, I’d rather not go this year, if it’s just the same.”

Hiram got up and cleared his place and headed back to the TV room. Maude’s was suddenly at a loss. Not only was she now faced with having to argue about going to the lake, as they always do in August, but she had to devise another way to bring up going on a trip.


She poured their after-dinner coffees and joined Hiram in the TV room for the nightly ritual of watching Jeopardy!

“States of the Union for $700, Alex,” the contestant requested.

“These thirty-one United States also have two coastlines, which include the Yucatan and Baja California.”

“What is Mexico?”

The question suddenly brought to Maude’s mind one of Hiram’s National Geographics was all about Mexico. Maude had seen him flipping through the pages of that magazine on several occasions. People take trips to Mexico all the time! She suddenly was excited.

“Did you know that?” Maude ventured.

“Know what?” Hiram replied.

“About Mexico. Did you know it has thirty-one states?”

“No. Why would I know that?”

“From your National Geographic about Mexico. I thought maybe you read that.”

Hiram quickly glanced at his wife. She wanted something. He knew her indirect approach.

“I don’t really read them. I mostly look at the pictures. Loved to do that since I was a kid.”

“I bet it would be great to visit those places.”

Ah, thought Hiram. There it is. The thing she was after. He turned to her and smiled a triumphant smile.

“Hon, please, can we just watch the rest of the show?” and gave her a little pat on the knee.

Maude went to bed frustrated and a bit angry. She woke up the next morning in the same bad mood. Hiram tried saying something to her a couple of times over breakfast, but she ignored him. She called her daughter.

“Do you want to meet me at the mall for lunch? I need to get out for a bit.”

“Sure Mom, but let’s make it early. The girls are coming home right after school today.”

As Maude browsed the stores with Julie, the edge of the previous evening started to fade. Over lunch Julie asked her mother if she brought up the idea of a trip with her father.

“Oh, I tried, but not only did he see right through me, he says he doesn’t even want to go to the lake this year.”

“Mom, don’t give up. I’m sorry about giving you a bad time about it, but I think it actually is a good idea.”

Maude shrugged.

“Come on. Where would you want to go? Forget about Dad, he doesn’t want to go anywhere. Where do you want to go?”

“Well, for one, I don’t want to miss going to the lake this year!”

“OK, but don’t worry about that. He’ll go. Just like he’s going to go on a trip.”

“Honey, I can’t plan this all alone.”

“Of course not, so I’m going to help you! Oh, you know what?” Julie was grinning from ear to ear. “We should make it a surprise!”

“Oh, Jules, for Godsakes. This is tough enough.”

“Mom, seriously! This’ll be fun. Look, I’ve gotta get home, but you think about where you want to go and tomorrow let’s go to that travel agent on Main and book you a trip. And, seriously, don’t worry about the lake. I’ll whine a little bit about him not wanting to go and he’ll change his tune.” Julie gave her mother a conspiratorial grin.

Julie’s excitement was infectious and restored Maude’s confidence. Maude’s mind started to whirl again. As they were making their way to the parking lot, Maude suddenly stopped.

“Oh! I can’t pay for a trip! I don’t have that kind of balance on my credit card!”

“Right, of course. Well,” Julie thought a moment, “Ya know, I’ll talk to Aaron about lending you the money. He’ll love the idea of pulling a surprise on Dad.”

“Mexico,” Maude declared to the travel agent the next day. “It looks lovely.”

“Anywhere in particular?” the agent asked.

“Well,” Maude glanced over at her daughter, “I was looking at my husband’s National Geographics and there was this one about Colonial Mexico that looked so nice.”

The agent’s face brightened. “And I know just the spot in that area. It’s a popular place for retirees, like your husband! Many have second homes there and we represent a few.”

And, just like that, Maude Rhodes booked ten days in San Miguel de Allende in a vacation home of one of the travel agencies clients.


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