In with the Old

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In honor of the new year (which is less new by now in some parts of the world, and not quite here yet in others), I’m posting a short story from my collection Better Living Through GRAVY and Other Odditieswhich, incidentally, is available for free. Happy New Year! I hope 2015 is an amazing, fruitful and exciting year for everyone.

In with the Old

“It’s nothing personal,” she said as kindly as she could muster, “it’s just time.”

“But I’m not nearly as used up as they said I would be,” the other one said, “not nearly at all. I’m not wrinkly, or old – I’m kind of in prime time.” She gave herself an once-over, careful not to break her bond with the contraption behind her.

“Unfortunately, we really need the machine.” She sighed and tapped her pen on her clipboard. “We only have a few more hours.”

“We?” said the woman in the machine. “We only have a few more hours? You’re going to install that thing,” she gestured with her head toward the giggling baby making faces at the man in the white coat at the other end of the room, “and go on with your routine. You think I don’t have it down by now? Daily dial turnings, just one click. Then you, with that pretend-serious look, yanking that lever. You think I didn’t notice you enjoy those lever pulls? Well I did. And you do.”

“Now come on, Wanda, there’s no need to be this way. You can go out with dignity.” She shot a look across the room to her coworker. He was too enthralled with the baby to get her message for a little help.

“What am I supposed to do now? I was huge, I was everything.”

“You’re sounding like a bad movie.”

“They don’t tell you what you’re supposed to do when it’s over.” She relaxed her grip on the copper handles inside her chamber, her visible gears going slightly slack down her arm toward her shoulder, the teeth just a bit looser. The worker took that as a good sign. She quickly tamped down her encouragement, in case Wanda saw.

“There are always retrospectives,” the woman said. “You know, ‘Best ofs.’ And there’s still plenty to do in the first few months, while people are getting adjusted. You know, rent checks, 18-month calendars, that kind of thing.”

“And then what?” said Wanda. “Then what happens? Where do I go? What do I do?”

“I’m so glad you asked,” the woman said, finally able to return to her script. “You see, we have this lovely facility, all of you go there, you know, when you’re finished. Here,” she slid a glossy folded paper from beneath the clip of her board and held it toward Wanda. “There’s even a brochure.”

The pictures were bright and multicolored, with others sitting and laughing, eating, strolling by the water, the patina of their clockwork innards glinting warmly in the setting sun. It didn’t look too bad. She nearly let go of the handle to take the brochure, to open it, to see what kind of crafts there were, as promised on the cover, when she remembered.

“No,” she said.

“Wanda,” said the woman, her tone sharpening, gaining hardness around the edges, “I’m afraid you haven’t got a choice. It’s time.”

She shook her head as much as the chamber allowed, which wasn’t much. “I’m not going.”

“But what are we supposed to do with him?” She pointed her pen at the baby, who turned, stared at them and burst into a full beam, his tiny gears engaging as he reached his arms toward Wanda. “It’s his turn now. Don’t you want to give him his turn?”

Wanda closed her eyes. It wasn’t fair, she thought. It went by so quickly, her lifetime of usefulness, her purpose, and now she was supposed to retire off with the rest of them, with some anonymous body of water and a dining hall and crafts. Though crafts are nice. But still, this was her machine, it was hers.

The worker had moved away, but she could hear her talking softly, her sentences interspersed with the cluck of her two-way handheld.

“No, no, I’m telling you it didn’t work.” Something unintelligible garbled through from the other side. “No. Clamped on, completely. Like a vice.” Again, soft electronic murmuring. “It’s like Oh-Three all over again.” More garble. “What? She can’t hear me. I’m away from the chamber.” Indistinct chatter. “Fine, fine, Trinity. Like Trinity all over again.” She waited for the response. “That would probably be best.” After a long interlude of murmur, the handheld fell silent.

“Umm, Wanda?” said the worker several minutes later, the ice in her voice retreating. “I’d like you to meet someone.”

“Not interested,” she said, her eyes still closed. She knew the truth, the worker had practically said so herself, with the conversation she thought Wanda couldn’t hear. She was only a number to those people. Oh-Three indeed. “What do you call me when you’re out of the lab?” she said, her eyes still completely shut. “When you’re talking to your buddy over there at lunch or wherever it is you go?”

“Wanda,” the woman said, her discomfort obvious even to Wanda and her closed eyes.

“What do you call me? One-One?”

“Wanda, really, there’s someone here you should meet-”

“Or Eleven? Do you call me Eleven? A number to you, that’s what I am after all this time.”

“I thought she couldn’t hear,” she said to someone, though Wanda wasn’t going to bother to open her eyes to see who it was. “I swear, I wouldn’t have used the technical–”

“Technical?” said another voice, a new voice, a male voice. “Technical? Really? Is that how you’re describing it?”

“Well-”

“Her name is Wanda, you know,” he said, his tone both relaxed and oddly engaging despite the rebuke. Wanda couldn’t help herself, she opened her eyes a crack.

“I’m Oden,” he said with a half-smile. “I’d shake your hand, but I understand your position. Obviously,” he said. His gears were slightly rainbowed with a healthy dose of age. Wanda thought they made him look distinguished.

“Oden,” she said. “So I?”

“Replaced me, yes.” He took a step toward the chamber, careful to keep a distance. “Flip of the switch and it was me in there. And you over there,” he said, and smiled at the baby, a real smile, not a put-on one.

“What did you do?”

“I went,” he said. “It was time. It’s how it works, you know.”

“I know,” she said, looking at her feet, so comfortable in the only spot they’d ever known. She glanced up and met his gaze. “I know,” she said again.

“The place really looks like the brochure,” he said, offering her his hand to help her to step out. She considered it, but didn’t lessen her grip on the handle.

“What about the crafts?”

He took the hand he’d been holding out and dug into his pocket, his gears gliding smoothly along. He pulled out a wallet. “I made this,” he said. “Stitched it myself.” She took in the uneven stitches and frowned. “I’m not a very good crafter,” he added quickly, “but they are fun to try.”

“Hmm,” said Wanda. She glanced at the worker who looked at the clock on the wall and back at Wanda, her face full of cautious hope. Oden set out his hand again.

“The sunsets are every bit as pretty,” he said, “and the best part is there are no more dials, no more levers. No more chamber.”

“But I like the chamber,” she said, scooting back to be further back within it.

“You like the chamber,” he said, “because all you know is the chamber. Take a leap.”

“No, no,” said the worker, “that’s him.” She pointed at the baby.

“You understand you’re not helping the situation?” Oden asked her.

“I do, yes, realize that now.”

“So what do you say, Wanda?”

She gave her chamber and the lab a final look over. She could probably make a better wallet. She could certainly make a better wallet. Maybe they’ll have pottery. Slowly, she released first her right hand and then her left, and placed it in Oden’s outstretched palm. The machine beeped behind her while the worker anxiously watched the clock, the man with the baby leaning, ready to place him.

She stepped out of the machine.

The woman grasped a crank on the side of the box and turned it furiously so that the chamber got smaller and smaller and the arms shorter and shorter. The man, watching the clock rather than her or the baby, placed the baby where she had been moments before but where she would never fit now. The baby giggled.

Without looking back, Wanda took Oden’s arm, and together, they headed toward the door. They reached it and disappeared into the flash of sudden white light.

The worker leaned against the machine, her hands shaking. “Happy New Year, everyone,” she said weakly.

Last Chance to Get Aunty Ida for FREE!

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What funny and weird and totally free? Aunty Ida! And today, December 27, is your last chance to pick up a copy of Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only) for FREE! Get one now, you know you want to. Or, to be more accurate, Aunty Ida knows you want to.

Ida1What do you mean, “How does she know?” She knows. She knows everything. Well, almost everything.

 

Reminder, Aunty Ida is FREE Today and Tomorrow!

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If you haven’t gotten your copy of Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only), what are you waiting for? It’s free through tomorrow, December 27. Get it while it’s still loony. Or before you’re loony. One of those two things.

Though it’s also convenient if you’re already loony. Oh well, it doesn’t matter, just get reading!

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I hope you enjoy it, and your long weekend, if you have one.

 

 

Get Aunty Ida FREE Today through Saturday!

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In honor of her upcoming sequel, Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended), Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only) is FREE, starting today, and running through Saturday, all around the world. So grab yourself a copy, and enjoy. Just make sure you read it while wearing a helmet. You wouldn’t want Aunty Ida to see you thinking.

Click away to grab your free copy:

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Have a great Christmas if you celebrate Christmas, a great day if you don’t celebrate Christmas, and an early Happy New Year to all 🙂

Author Interview with Isa-Lee Wolf

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Jon over at SloopJonB1960 was kind enough to interview me! Here it is for anyone who hasn’t ventured over there. Hope you enjoy it, he asked great questions, and it was really fun to do.

The Aunty Ida Sequel Cover Reveal and Announcement

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I’ve talked about it. I’ve blogged about it. And here it finally, finally is, available for pre-order (this time, please cue your imaginary orchestra to a loud, horn-heavy fanfare:)

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Yes! In the tradition of really long and ridiculous titles, the second book in the An Aunty Ida Comedy Invention series is called Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended).  And it has yet another beautiful cover from Ralf Jürgen Kraft, with original artwork he made specifically for this book. You can see why, after he spruced up the layout for me, I had him take on the original Aunty Ida cover. I think they look really good together.
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The book will be available on January 7, 2015, and you can pre-order it any time before then. Then you can just regular-order it.

It’s been a long time since Aunty Ida roamed about freely, so make sure you keep you mind as closed as possible, at least physically speaking. Hopefully everyone will have a good time. Well, except for Brian, the main character of Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation. He’s probably not in for a good time at all.

 

12 Days of Christmas or Bob and Jane’s Last Stand

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What better way to celebrate the holidays than to take a cheerful seasonal song and process it through a warped imagination? Well, one better way is to process it through two warped imaginations. So, in a prestigious new international co-production, A Bit to Read teamed up with SloopJonB to give our interpretation of the Twelve Days of Christmas. (Yes, we know it’s been done before. And no, we don’t care because we did it our way…no wait, that’s another song entirely).

Watch out for more such joint ventures in the new year, but for now, please enjoy our version of The Twelve Days of Christmas:

Day 1

 

My darling Jane,

I’ve tried to explain in words how sorry I am for our little misunderstanding, but I haven’t been good at getting you to understand the remorse I feel and my real sadness now that you refuse to take my calls.

I’m sending you a small gift, which I don’t expect to erase the hurt, but I hope will remind you of happier times. Remember that incredible day, the picnic blanket, the tall grass, the pheasants trying to steal our sunflower seeds, and that perfect, glorious, pear we shared?

I wish that I could give you a thousand pears. Maybe this is a start.

With all my love,

Bob

 

Of all the strange stunts you’ve pulled, Robert Crossley, this is one of the strangest.  And I do still remember the lasagne incident.

What made you send me a whole tree with a game bird – a live game bird – tied to one of the branches? If it was supposed to remind me of that picnic can I point out that according to Google what I have here is a partridge, Bob, not a pheasant. There’s a difference.

And while it was a little surprising of you to remember it was a pear we ate, pear trees do not fruit in December, so this could be a juniper bush for all the difference it makes. Oh, yeah, I remember that picnic. I suppose I ought to be grateful you didn’t send me the ants, too.

This isn’t helping, Bob.

Jane

P.S.      It took Mother and me half an hour to untie that poor partridge, and now it won’t go away. It just hangs around the back door, making croaking noises. If you must send birds, at least send attractive ones.

 

 

Day 2

 

Sunshine of my Days Jane,

It wasn’t my first choice to tie the bird to the branch, but he wouldn’t stay put. He walked right off of the sticky tape, and I didn’t want him lost in transit, because the guy warned me the forms would be a huge pain.

I hoped a reminder of our good times might soften your heart a little, and I’m so sorry to see that it didn’t. Please just forget it as a clumsy gesture from a man tortured by his regrets, a man overcome by love for the most wonderful, understanding and forgiving woman on the planet.

But I listen. See? I’m listening, and what I’m hearing is you’re not totally fond of partridges. I get it. Maybe this gift will show you that, like this loving, very attractive pair of doves, we can coo to one another again. Remember how we used to coo? Ooo ooo?

Yours forever,

Bob

P.S. There’s Bird Chow in the box with the cage.

 

You always were a cheapskate, Bob. Don’t think I don’t know pigeons when I see them. Putting a bit of flour on them to make them look white wouldn’t fool a baby. Where did you get them from, the park?

There’s was Bird Chow in the cage, all right, and that wasn’t all. These pigeons were not good travelers, Bob, do y’know what I mean? It stank in there. So I let them go, and now they’re perching in a tree cooing, and dropping flour all over the place. I hope it’s flour. And that damn partridge is still hanging around, too.

I don’t want you to coo, Bob. I want you to man up and admit your mistakes, and maybe grow up a little. Perhaps it was the red-haired floozy from the typing pool you did the cooing with, I don’t know, I don’t remember any. I remember you snoring a lot.

Jane

P.S.  Mother says that you could perhaps try sending useful birds.

 

Day 3

 

Oh Janie, Janie Janie,

The guy at Percival Pets & Tackle assured me that the doves were of the best quality. If they’re not, I’m pretty sure I kept the receipt somewhere.

I’d stay away from whatever they’re dropping, though. They were shipped with some kind of new delousing powder which isn’t so good for human skin. Tiny, the delivery man, promised me the birds wouldn’t mind.

I’m thinking I may have missed the mark a teeny bit with the first two gifts. I was going for romantic, but maybe romantic isn’t the right way to let you know that you are the only one for me. There is no one but you Jane, there never was, and if you ask, I respond. This time you’ll see practical.

As for the redhead, her name is Lila, and she’s actually a very nice person if you’ll give her a chance. I tried to tell you we were only having a really good conversation in the supply closet about the best size paper clip when you walked in. I swear it was nothing more than that.

Was I stupid to go into a supply closet with another woman? Of course I was, Jane, I admit it. And I should have locked the door, you know, for security purposes.

But maybe with this gift, you will see that my love is healthful, reliable and can be had for chicken feed.

My heart yearns for you,

Bob

 

Well, Bob, you finally did it, after nearly twenty years.  You did something Mother likes. She has been clucking and fussing over those three hens since the minute they arrived. They are now living in state in the back yard, in the old doghouse, and have run the partridge off. She says they are genuine purebred Bresse Gauloise, but they look like a bunch of broilers to me. I can’t say I’m thrilled with them myself. They go bawk, bawk, buk buk buk all the damn time, like a party of gossipy old women, and it’s beginning to grate on me.

Lila, huh? That figures. I heard she’d lie down with pretty much anybody. What part of stationery talk does taking her top off come under, exactly? And if she’d only asked, I could have told her the size of your paperclip, all right.

Wise up, Bob, this isn’t getting you anywhere, although if those chickens don’t shut up soon it might get me a roast dinner.

Jane

P.S. – Tiny? He told me his name was Ellery. He’s quite cute. For a big guy.

 

Day 4

 

Dearest Jane,

He specifically told me to call him Tiny, while the two other guys at the loading dock stood there as though they were waiting for something. I’m not sure what. I guess they’ve got a lot of deliveries this time of year.

Genuine what? The guy at Harold’s Hens’n’Such didn’t say anything about genuine, he just told me he’d bill me later. Maybe I should check that out, not that you aren’t worth it, light of my sky, Jane.

See how things get completely twisted around? Her sweater caught on the paperclips, and she had to take it off so that we could get her loose. If you had stayed around a minute longer, we could have explained, but you pretty much ran away. I just don’t understand why you don’t trust me, Janie-pie.

I am so glad to hear that your mother appreciates the hens, I told you she and I have common ground, and if we can get along, couldn’t you start to thaw out a little?

I hope that maybe this gift – two pairs of birds this time to show you how my love for you only doubles – will get you to take my number off of the blocked list. Let their sweet song remind you of all the love ballads I used to sing to you, Janie.

I can’t love you enough,

Bob

P.S. One of the birds might have an itty bitty problem with words you may think are kind of salty, but that should get better the longer he’s around.

P.P.S. Please keep the hens in tiptop shape in case they have to go back for some reason.

 

Goddammit, Bob, what the hell do you think I’m doing here, opening an aviary? Where do you get all these weird birds from, anyway? These four black things are the worst of the lot. One says nothing but ‘poot!’, one whistles Dixie, out of tune, one says nothing at all and the last one … my God, Bob, who owned him before? The first thing he said, as soon as we took the cover off the cage, was ‘Hey, Mamma, you’re smokin’!’ in a Brooklyn accent. And then he wolf-whistled.

I tell you, Bob, I have never before been leered at by a bird. And that was just the start. He’s been calling me all sorts of names, some of which I had to look up in my Funk & Wagnalls. I’ve been insulted before, mostly by you, but that bird is obscene, and should not be heard. And what business is it of some damn bird if I – well, never mind that. These bizarre gifts are getting me worried about you, Bob, and not in the usual way. Ellery says he thinks you’re overcompensating for something. I think you’re going nuts.

Trust? The only kind of trust you ever wanted from me was the trust fund Daddy left me. Good job that never got into the joint checking account. If Daddy could only see me now. He’d have a heart attack. Again.

And since when does Bat Out of Hell count as a love ballad?

OK, that bird just said something so horrible I can’t bear to repeat it. Excuse me while I go wring its neck.

Jane

P.S.      Two hens might have to do, one kind of … died. It was delicious.

 

Day 5

 

The Most Beautiful Jane,

I’m not sure who owned the bird before, but I think the one you’re talking about is Lefty. I was told that if you say “The Big Boss is coming for you,” he’ll simmer down. Percival insisted that it was much better and more economical to give used birds a new home, instead of getting new ones.

If I’m crazy at all, dear Janie, it’s only for you. Won’t you please forgive me already? And what’s Tiny/Ellery got to do with anything?

In fact to prove my commitment to you, I am sending you not one, not two, not three, not four but five symbols of my devotion. Colleen at Ring Around the Rosé (there’s a wine bar in the middle of the jewelry store, it’s very clever) told me that you’d appreciate them more the more I bought, and after a couple or five glasses, it sounded about right.

And I’m hurt, hurt, I tell you that you would think that I had any interest at all in your money, Jane. I love you for you, and all your glorious you-ness. How could you think that I’d possibly be interested in that small fortune your father left you? I kept that spreadsheet of interests and gains for you, Jane. For your convenience.

I’m hoping something shiny might bring you around.

With more love than there are stars in the sky,

Bob

P.S. Colleen said all sales were final, that or all sails are fatal, I’m not sure, I was about seven glasses in at that point, so here’s hoping you like this gift in case it was the first one.

 

Wow. I mean, wow. Five gold rings? That’s got to be better than a lot of scrawny birds. I dunno, Bob, maybe I was wrong about you. These are beautiful, and must have cost you a packet. I’m thinking of having them made into a necklace. Wearing them all at once would be just too tacky. Thank-you so much.

Edit:  Scratch that, because I just did. Scratch one, that is. And underneath that very thin layer of shiny gold was a ring of pure brass, just like your weasely lying heart. You cheap bastard. I know, you’ll claim this Colleen woman ripped you off (and anyone who sells jewelry to drunks probably would rip you off), but I know you. You’ve told me so many lies that one more is no surprise. Well, Daddy warned me. I’m glad now that he tied up that trust fund so tight you couldn’t get your greasy little hands on it. You expect me to believe for one second you aren’t interested in my money? Hah!

It makes me wonder what other lies you’ve told me over the years … you know, I never did get to see your family home, and now I’m beginning to wonder if that mansion in Connecticut is even real. I put your father and his behavior at the wedding down to him being a bit of a rough diamond, but maybe he was just rough. And maybe I know now who stole all the silver off the dinner table, too.

And Ellery, for your information, is a very sweet and considerate guy, who is only working as a Christmas delivery helper to pay his way through Yale, where he is studying philosophy. Whatever that is. I’m sure it’s cleverer than anything you ever studied, which was mostly the bottom of glasses and girls’ behinds.

One thing, though. These brass rings make a perfect set of knuckledusters. If you come round here I might just use them, too.

Jane

P.S. – I looked up at the sky last night, and there were no stars in it. It was cloudy.

P.P.S. – I dunno if this Lefty bird was actually owned by a mobster. I’m sure I’ve heard him say some dialog from The Sopranos.

 

Day 6

 

Most Magnificent Jane,

Lie? Lie? I have never lied to you, my precious, my love. I wouldn’t. I couldn’t. In fact, the only thing lying are these geese. Wait, I think that’s laying, but you get the idea. I’m always confused between lie and lay.

The geese are definitely not scrawny. Not at all. With what happened in the jewelry store, I figured I should go back to a place where they didn’t sell so much alcohol and the sales person wasn’t as persuasive in all the right places as Colleen. They were in the “n’Such” section of Harold’s Hens’n’Such. Kenneth was so happy about the sale of the chickens, he let me open an account.

It makes me sad that you would think to resort to violence, dear Jane, when our love was so true. How can you doubt my history? I’ve shown you the photos of my swanky Connecticut house, but it wasn’t my fault we couldn’t visit it. I told you that we needed the trust fund account numbers for security purposes or they wouldn’t let us onto the grounds, it’s all very high brow, but it was your choice not to give me them. Your choice, Jane.

And I have to tell you that I don’t like the sound of this Ellery at all. Not even a little. I’m going to ask Colleen what she thinks about it when we meet for drinks later to discuss the return policy.

My love for you cannot be contained,

Bob

P.S. Don’t look the geese in the eye. They run faster than they look like they can.

 

The reason why you get the words confused, Bob, is because you always tell lies to try and get laid.

Which brings us to the geese. I suppose you meant these geese to be laying eggs, but what they are actually laying is each other. Repeatedly. It’s a goose orgy out there. And not only is this gross, it is dangerous, as these are mean, mean geese, that rear up and hiss and peck at you if you go within ten yards of them. Poor Bonzo has been pecked so hard he won’t come out from under the kitchen table. It was bad enough he got turfed out of the doghouse because of the hens, but now the poor pooch can’t even go into the yard for fear of getting goosed by a gander. I think he’s off birds for life, and I’m not far behind him.

For all I know you cut those photos of the house from Harpers & Queen. And I never believed those stories of needing account numbers to get in for a New York second. How dumb do you think I am, Bob?

And Ellery is a very nice person. A very nice person indeed. He asked a lot of very clever questions about Daddy’s portfolio, and told me all about the oil business he’s going to inherit just as soon as he graduates. Apparently his parents wanted him to go to Cornell, and when he chose Yale they refused to fund him, can you believe that? This is why he’s driving a truck for Deliverex, to pay his way through college. I admire a man who can stand on his own feet, and I told him so right after I bought him dinner at Delpiero’s. (The tagliatelle is to die for).

I’d tell Colleen to look after her purse, but if she’s your usual type she probably doesn’t deserve to keep it. Don’t let her drink you under the table, your suit gets all over fluff down there.

My love for you can be held in a very small container, Bob. Practically invisible.

Jane

P.S. – one of the geese has actually laid some eggs, but nobody is brave enough to try and get them.

 

Day 7

 

Dear Jane, Star of My Night,

That wasn’t exactly how I thought the geese would go. I guess I got them confused, Kenneth promises me, with swans. Because I’ve been such a good customer, he even threw in the Genuine Imitation Imitation Stone Pond free with purchase. May their grace as they glide on the pond remind you of the grace of our love, back in the days when you could remember why you walked down the aisle at the Quickie Chapel and Auto Supply.

As for this Tiny Ellery, I’ll have you know that Yale is in Connecticut, Jane. I looked it up. So how can he go to school while working deliveries for the Associates Delivery Company? (Not Deliverex, no matter what he tells you. Do you think I’d pay Deliverex prices?). You live in Schaumburg, Jane. Schaumburg. It’s a long way from Yale.

You never could spot a conman.

He’s after your money, Janie. I should know. Because I love you so much, I mean, I don’t want you to get the wrong idea.

Anyway, I hope you like the swans and their Lake in a Box.

My heart beats only for you,

Bob

P.S. Colleen said there is no way they’re taking the rings back, but she said she could exchange them for a very nice Silveresque brooch.

 

Swans! Seven of them, all swimming about in a tiny little pool! Did you inspect the goods before this shyster of a bird dealer sold you them, Bob? Have you any idea a) how big swans are and b) how small the pool is? Grace was not an issue, Bob. They were wedged in like sardines in a can. It took a lot of effort and some personal risk to un-wedge the poor creatures, who were so grateful they at once started a huge fight with the geese. Here’s a pro tip: in any fight between a goose and a swan, back the goose. The swans had the weight advantage, but the geese were more ornery.

I’m beginning to wonder if this isn’t some kind of plot to drive me mad, so you can have me declared insane and lay your claws on my trust fund. Well, it won’t work, Bob. I’m sane. I’ve been tested. Doctor Montraps signed the sanity certificate herself.

Oh, and if your friend Kenneth has any advice on guano removal, me and Mother would be most awful grateful. It’s getting kind of slippy out there.

Well, Bob, if I was as ignorant as you, I’d keep quiet about it. It’s Christmas, Bob, and that means that Yale (or was it Harvard? All those fancy schmancy schools are the same to me) is on vacation. So of course Ellery isn’t in Connecticut, he’s here in Illinois, doing honest work, a thing you don’t know nothing about. And don’t you let Mother hear you say this house is in Schaumburg. It’s Arlington Heights. Borders of Arlington Heights. Nearly.

And wherever it is, it’s a whole time zone away from you, which suits me fine. You haven’t got a heart, Bob, just some kind of clockwork ticker. That goes cuckoo every so often.

Jane

P.S. – Have you maybe got a picture of this brooch?

Day 8

 

Dear Jane, Whose Beauty Rivals that of a Really Beautiful Painting,

Drive you mad? The only mad I want to drive you is mad for me, my love. I’ve been so miserable without you, and I think that this is the gift that’ll finally show you.

I decided to not go with Kenneth this time, I was a little unsure of the eight vultures he promised me would be just the thing to take care of the geese, and chose milk, a symbol of your flawless(ish) complexion.

I used Farmyard Entertainment instead, if you buy the cows you get the milk for free! They insisted that the act was really what would sell this one, though I thought maids were supposed to clean house, not cows. Still, it was clear that my gestures just haven’t been quite big enough to show you how serious and how sorry I am.

I did ask Kenneth about the guano, and he said not to worry about it, that it makes a real good fertilizer. Also, ask the maids, I think that’s what they’re there for.

I’m telling you, Janie, I don’t have a good feeling about this Tiny Ellery guy, or his “honest work.” You know, he was actually taking apart a car when I showed up to have him deliver your first gift, and I don’t think it was on the up and up, if you know what I mean, given the “confidentiality agreement,” I had to sign, and by that, I mean the two guys at the loading dock with him told me in detail what would happen if I said anything about what I saw. So I’d be careful if I were you, you don’t have my street smarts, Janie.

I think I finally got it this time with this gift.

I love you like the moon loves the sun,

Bob

P.S. I’m enclosing the picture of the Silveresque brooch. You like clowns, don’t you?

 

 

I have two cows.

Why in the name of all that is holy I have two cows is beyond me. But there it is, I married a lunatic, and now I’m suffering for it. So, I have two cows. I can cope with that.

Eight milkmaids, however, is something else. Until today I hadn’t known that synchronized milking was even a thing, but apparently it’s very big in Wisconsin. And now it’s kind of big in our yard, as besides the two cows we now have the Green Bay Lactoes Milking Team in residence. I must say, they’re very good, at four to a cow they can have those heifers drained of milk in record time, but unless I go into the cheese-making business this is a tad more milk than I need right now. By about sixteen gallons a session. Their uniforms are nice, gold and green with a clover motif, I could maybe use that color scheme for a dress – you know, like that purple one you said made me look like a hippo.

And they made it very clear, the Lactoes, that they are strictly milk maids and not any other kind of maid. The head Lacto, Eunice, said they were forever getting requests to clean places or pose for weird pictures, so now they have a firm cattle activities only policy. Guano is right out. And apparently so is anything else that might be produced by cows. Next time, send shovels.

And it’s no good you saying about fertilizer. What with all the birds, and the pond, and the cows and now these maids there isn’t much garden left. I’ve been looking at property, I’ll need a place of my own, and the way things are round here I might have to buy the whole farm.

You’re just jealous that Ellery is a good mechanic. Why, when Mother left her car keys inside the Corolla he had that door open in a jiffy, using no more than a piece of bent wire. Useful guy to have around. And great biceps. (He has a tattoo on one, he says it’s of some famous painting or another, Washington crossing the Tupperware, or whatever, but it kinda looks like a Patriots football logo to me).

And if the moon loves the sun so much how come it only comes out at night, huh?

Jane

P.S. – It’s a clown? I thought it was supposed to be Heath Ledger as the Joker. Has she got a Spiderman one?

 

Day 9

 

Dearest Jane, Whose Voice is Sweeter than the Music in an Elevator,

We’ve always dreamed of a nice house in the country, haven’t we? A quiet place with lots of land for Bonzo, where we can plant the pear tree, let the partridge have the run of the place, have doves nest and coo at us, build a real coop for the chickens, get the obscene bird and his pals a cage away from the house. You can make that piece of jewelry you wanted out of the rings, or get the brooch instead, and the geese could scatter themselves and their droppings. We’d set up the Lake in a Box, or, I don’t know, dig a new one for the swans. And we wouldn’t have to milk the cows, the Lactoes could do it for us.

Doesn’t that sound just perfect?

In fact, I’m so happy thinking of our nice life together, it makes me want to dance. I went back to Farmyard Entertainment, they recommended I try the House of Dance! Dance! Dance! and even called them for me. I heard him say something about a real live fish and a hook, I’m not sure what, but I think that’s one of the routines. Anyway, I hope you enjoy the all-women troupe, there are supposed to be nine of them.

Tupperware isn’t a river, Jane. What you’re thinking of is Washington riding over the state of Delaware. Read a book once in a while, for gosh sake. This is why I worry about you. And make sure your mother’s Corolla is still there, Jane, because I think it might now be in seven states across the Northeast.

I only want what’s best for you Janie. And biceps ain’t it.

With love that cannot be written in words because I don’t have the words to say how much I love you,

Bob

P.S. They do have Spiderman, but it’s on back order. Apparently he’s quite popular. Do you want to wait? Colleen said she might throw in some Silveresque web earrings if you do.

 

Bob, you idiot.

I really am thinking of buying a farm. Ellery says it would be an investment, and I think Mother is going to do something drastic if I don’t get all the livestock out of here soon. But what would a city jerk like you do on a farm? The last time we went into the country you wouldn’t go into a field because you were scared of a bull, and it was actually a sheep. You think they grow apples on trees, for gosh sakes, when anybody knows you dig them up out of the ground, that’s why they call them pommes de terre in Italian.

Meanwhile, back here at Crazyland,  the Lactoes have run off back to Green Bay, partly on account of they weren’t getting paid, but mostly because they got their noses put out of joint by the latest arrivals.

I like dancing, you know I do, but I’m strictly a ballroom girl, so imagine my surprise when I found the Polska Folk Troupe performing outside. Nine hefty Polish broads all hopping and slapping and kicking their clogs about. Real vigorous, and kinda pretty for about five minutes, but after the third dance or so the constant shouting of  ‘Hup!’ and crazy Polish words got a bit old. I tried to get them to stop, but they didn’t have much English and my Polish is kinda rusty.  Luckily one of the Lactoes was called some name with a lot of zees in it, and she could translate.

Unluckily, she then got into an argument with the lead dancer, who turned out to be no lady, because she kicked her in the shin. Then all the other Lactoes piled in, and it was the geese and the swans all over again, only bitchier. So the upshot was the milkmaids went off in a huff. They left the cows behind, though. I think the Polish girls are milking them now, although they seem to drink vodka, mostly.

And I have so too read a book, Bob Crossley.  It had a mocking bird in it, but I think somebody killed it. Anyway, the point is, Mother’s Corolla is fine, in fact since Ellery tinkered with the engine it does eighty-five on the Parkway.

And he has triceps, too, which is more than you ever did. He offered to show me his deltoids, but I’m not sure we know we each other that well yet.

Jane

P.S. – Yeah, why not. Web earrings sound kinda classy.

 

Day 10

 

Dear Jane, Whose Eyes Sparkle Like Really Clean Faucet Handles,

Seriously, Jane, enough with that Tiny Ellery. I’ve had it, and this time, I’m sending ten guys to show him what for, I hear they do some kind of martial arts in the air, and he’d better watch his back. And his front. They’re supposed to be from royalty or something.

And I don’t know what you’re talking about, I could definitely do that thing you do to hay, or drive a whatchamacallit, or whatever it is that people do on a farm. I could do it because I’d have you, oh Janie. You’re an angel, and I think on a farm you could crank up the karaoke machine without a single police complaint. I mean, how much would you love that?

I’m kind of surprised that the Lactoes took off, but we don’t need them. I mean, how hard could it be to milk a cow, for gosh sakes? The dancing ladies sound like a fun time, I think we’ll all get along great. See what I mean? I can change, Jane. You think that I can’t but I really, really can.

What do these dancing ladies look like?

Say goodbye to Ellery, I think these guys will let him know what’s what.

I love you enough to save you from a guy who isn’t in it for you, Jane,

Bob

P.S. I told her. You just have to send the rings back to her, plus shipping and handling for the earrings and brooch. I checked out the web earrings. They are real classy.

 

Bob, you never cleaned a faucet in your life. And I’ve done it, like, at least three times.

So, these ten guys show up. I have to say, Bob, if they were meant to frighten anybody it kind of didn’t work. They were all dressed in little crowns, what they told me were coronets, and robes with fur round the edge, which is apparently ermine. And the youngest of them is about seventy-five. They are an act called the Leaping Lords, and Morrie – he’s the top guy – tells me that back in the day they were very big in the Catskills, they used to do an acrobat act, very spectacular. Nowadays all they can do is bob up and down a little. But they do it like aristocrats. (I asked Morrie if any of them actually were lords, and he said what did I expect, and was Duke Ellington a real duke? Well, I dunno if he was or not, but I reckon he must have been to beat that Nelson guy in a battle).

So Ellery is still here, and just as nice a guy as he ever was. He’s been giving me investment advice, he says I should put some money into horses, at some place called Belmont. He says he has inside knowledge. I think it might be nice to have horses on a farm.

Milking a cow turns out to be harder than you might think. The hard part is getting the milk in the bucket, and not in your eye. Fortunately the Polish dancing ladies are very good at it. Speaking of, I don’t think these are your kind of gals, Bob. I don’t know if you ever remember seeing those Russian shot putter women in the Olympics, but if you take a line through them and go a bit butcher you about have them down.

But I am glad you reminded me about the karaoke machine. I got it out and gave my famous take on I Will Survive, full blast, with the ladies dancing, the lords leaping up and down in rhythm, and Bonzo howling. It was a triumph, and Sergeant Kowalski says the fine shouldn’t be more than a hundred bucks.

Jane

P.S. – OK, put me down for a set, in the large size. Does she do any others with a movie theme?

 

Day 11

 

Dearest Jane, Who I Couldn’t Miss More,

I know that, Janie, it was a compliment to your very careful and excellent housekeeping. I could really use your attention to detail around this place right now, I can tell you.

Listen, Jane, I’m sorry to break this to you, but Tiny Ellery’s boss is going to break something else if he doesn’t get back to headquarters, and pronto. Someone told him that Tiny Ellery was giving out inside horsie information, and that did not go down too well. I hear. I wasn’t there or anything. It sounds like Tiny Ellery might be getting a farm of his own.

Well, those leapy guys do not sound at all like what I ordered. I have to admit, Jane, I am running out of ideas to try to win you back and get your forgiveness. I think if I go a little bigger, and a little louder, given your sing-along fun, maybe you will get that there is music in my heart every time I think of you.

So I contacted the Pipers Union, and they’re sending over 11 of their best to let you know how I feel. They came highly recommended by Tiny Ellery’s boss, when I went to see him for a reason that had nothing to do with Tiny Ellery.

Is any of this wooing stuff working at all? I gotta tell you, it’s starting to get a little expensive, and I don’t know if it’s worth the investment, if you know what I’m saying. I thought you would have come back somewhere around the geese.

Anyways, I hope you enjoy the pipers.

Love, and love, and etc.,

Bob.

P.S. Colleen says they have Batman, X-Men, and Pretty Woman lines. She says the Pretty Woman one is the fanciest.

P.P.S. Thanks for the warning on the dancers. I may have to bring my weight belt.

 

 

Sheesh, Bob, have you gotten the waste disposal unit mixed up with the dishwasher again? The dishwasher is the white one. Well, it was the white one. It might not be, now.

Have you ever heard the bagpipes being played, Bob? Just one piper is enough to wake the dead. Eleven … eleven Scotsmen blowing away sounds like I’m living on the runway at O’Hare airport. The ringing in my ears might go away before next Christmas, but I doubt it.

But I always was the kind of girl who could take advantage of anything – remember your golfing trousers? And the punch at the wedding? – so, I organised things. And it turns out that Pipe Major MacDonald is the sweetest old thing, I had him eating out of my hand in no time. (We’ve run out of plates, with all these people). And he is so clever! I can’t understand a thing he says, because obviously they don’t speak English in Scotland, but he got what I wanted all right, and arranged ‘Oops I Did It Again’ for his pipers. Who needs a karaoke machine?

It was awesome! I sang, of course, Sergeant Kowalski played the ocarina … he came because of some complaint or another, but it turned out he’s real nifty on the ocarina, so I got him to stay … the Polish ladies danced, and Morrie and the boys leapt in time. Forget the farm, Bob, I’m taking this act onto America’s Got Talent! Although it maybe still needs something, I might see if I can get the Lactoes back, they could perhaps milk with the rhythm, and we need something louder than an ocarina to keep time, but details, details. I was thinking of ‘I Will Always Love You’ for an encore, you remember how I can really hit the high notes in that one. (Who knew glass was that expensive?).

I don’t know what you’ve been saying about Ellery, but he told me this morning he might have to go away for a bit. I said, how long, and he said, could be a few weeks, could be five to ten years. It all depends on how quickly he can get to Canada.

I just had a thought, Bob. And not a good one. Where in tarnation are you getting all the money to pay for these birds and ladies and lords and pipers from? You haven’t done anything stupid, have you? Wait, what am I saying. I mean, you haven’t done anything stupid to get the money? Because, I have to say, so far this is not one of your better investments. Yes, even worse than the Irish diamond mine. I’m no nearer coming back than I was eleven days ago, although I admit the last couple of days have been kind of fun. Now excuse me, we got to go rehearse. The timing still isn’t quite right in the second verse. And, if Daddy’s watching, those lessons at the Sheboygan Conservatory of Music weren’t wasted, after all.

Jane

P.S. – Pretty Woman sounds good. People say I have the look of Julia Roberts, around the lips.

P.P.S. – I sold the doves to a cousin of one of the dancers, she has an act, goes by the name of Honeybun Bazoom, she’s always looking for doves, it seems. (I think she’s a comedian – that’s what burlesque is, right?).

Day 12

 

Dear Jane,

This is it. I can’t do this anymore. In fact, if you really thought it was over, I wish would have told me like nine gifts ago. But just in case there’s a chance, I’m riding it out with this one last gift. I figured it would go with the rest of them.

It’s twelve guys with drums. There. That’s what it is. Like it, don’t like it, I’m not sure it matters anymore. As for paying for all this stuff, I figured we’d be back together already, and, you know, we’d just take care of it. So no, I haven’t done anything stupid, but I’m probably going to have to now. Although Tiny Ellery’s boss said he has a new opening, so I’ve got my fingers crossed.

What you have here, Jane, is a broken man. I’ve given you everything I could think of to make it right, and you seem to be enjoying the gifts, but no dice. I even didn’t take my relationship with Colleen any further than the jewelry, and she made suggestions. All for you, but a lot of good that did.

Fine.

Well, it’s good that Tiny Ellery’s hightailed it out of here, because it’s my understanding that the guys bringing these drummers also have some orders from high up to keep an eye out for him. He better not be in eyesight, if you know what I mean.

So I guess this goodbye. So long, Jane. Don’t let the leaping guys challenge you to a drinking contest, I hear they’ve got a ringer.

I never thought it would end this way,

Bob

P.S. Buy your own Pretty Woman jewelry, unless you’ve reconsidered and are taking me back.

P.P.S. Could you float me about $576,000? Just until this job thing with Tiny’s boss happens. Thanks, Jane, you’re a peach.

 

 

Bob, this is possibly the best present you have sent me yet. The act (which I’m thinking of calling The Twelve Days Band, even though none of the birds are in it) absolutely needed a rhythm section, and these twelve drummers are loud. Especially the dude with the big bass drum, he rocks. I tell you, the pipe major had a really good idea, we have three numbers now, besides I Will Survive and Oops I Did It Again (you should see my Britney schoolgirl costume, I look great, if a little widescreen), we do an instrumental break in the middle and wow ’em with the 1812 Overture by some Russian guy. Do you know where I might pick up some cannon? Besides Fort Knox, that is. (I asked, and they were all out).

And I’m grateful to you, Bob, I truly am, your gifts have shown me my true path in life. This band is going to be big, we’re going to take America by storm, and when we play Yankee Stadium you can come and see what you helped create, and be proud of it.

But this is my life now. I’ve been captured by show business, and I can’t go back to Teaneck. You can go your own way, Bob. I’m setting you free. Maybe you’ll find your one true way, too. Maybe with this Colleen girl, I don’t know.

But there is just one thing, Bob. If you think for one minute that me divorcing you might get your hands on half my money, and pay off some of this debt you’ve run up, think again.

Because while you have given me twelve drummers drumming, eleven pipers piping, ten lords leaping, nine ladies dancing, eight maids milking, seven swans swimming, six geese laying, five (almost) gold rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree … I have a present for you.

One lawyer, lawyering.

Have a good life, Bob.

Jane

P.S. – Ellery has vanished. I think he maybe did have to go to Canada suddenly. I hope he gets back to Yale all right. Or if not, that other place he said he’d been to … Leavenworth, or some name like that. I won’t miss him. He didn’t contribute much to the act.

P.P.S. – I’m serious with the divorce lawyer. Don’t try and weasel your way round her. She’s a pit bull in a skirt.

P.P.P.S. – I don’t know what you mean about the leaping lords, none of them could keep up with me. The Polish girls, now, they’re a different story. And the lead girl can flex all her muscles in time to the music, it’s amazing.

P.P.P.P.S – Merry Christmas!

 

Want more humor? Check out  Her Cousin Much Removed,  The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management and Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only). 

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