Stories 1

 

 

 

 

Going There

by Phil Richardson

 

Phil’s wife Helen was looking out the front window when a big UPS truck pulled into their driveway.

“What did you order now?” she asked.

“Oh, I forgot to tell you, I ordered this new GPS.”

"What is a GPS? Another one of your gadgets that don’t work?”

“It’s a global positioning system, dear. It’s called FindThereGoThereBeThere. And it’s going to solve all our problems about getting lost.” He smiled encouragingly. "You know how much trouble you have reading maps and...trying to refold them afterwards..."

“Our problems would be solved if you would simply stop and ask directions. I wrote mother, and she sent directions to their new house for our trip. Didn’t cost anything either.”

Phil decided it was time to keep quiet. He opened the door, signed for the packages, started tearing them open and discovered they were numbered. Box One contained the GPS screen and camera to be mounted on the dashboard. Box Two an antenna with a long cord. Box Three, the heavy one, was some sort of hard drive/computer combination. Phil had thought it was going to be an easy installation, but he began to worry when he saw the list of tools: wire strippers, pliers, soldering gun, 3/4 “ wrench...He was not particularly good with tools, but after three days he had installed all the parts into their Honda. The hard drive/computer took up a lot of space in the trunk, but he figured they could put some of their luggage in the back seat.

The really hard part, however, was programming the unit. He had to hook it up to his computer and download the latest updates from the internet. To do this, he had to buy a long internet cable that reached from his den out to the garage. It took all night to download the material and when he tried to start the car the next day, the battery was run down. Helen had to take a cab to her school. Not an auspicious beginning. 

He recharged the battery, started the car and pushed the on button of the FindThereGoThereBeThere. A very pleasant rendition of “On the Road Again” accompanied the startup. He noticed the lights dimming on the dash and thought the hard drive was probably consuming a lot of power--might be a problem. Finally, a map appeared on the screen, the music ended and a rather haughty female voice with a British accent asked, “What is your name sire?”

“Sire?” That seemed a bit archaic. “Phil,” he replied.

“Phil what?” even haughtier.

“Phil Williams.”

“Welcome, Mr. Williams--nice name by the way. Where would you like to go?”

He hadn’t really thought about this but decided on his mother’s house. “22 Home St.”

“All right. Back your car carefully out of the garage and make a left turn.”

“But I always go right.”

“Don’t be difficult. There’s an accident on Broad St. You’ll get stuck for hours.”

This GPS might work after all. He remembered now that it was tuned into the traffic broadcasts and was up-to-date on all traffic problems. After just twenty minutes of driving, he heard, “You have reached your destination. Will we be coming here often? If so, I will store the location if you wish.”

“Yes, good idea. It’s my mother’s house.”

“Splendid. I’ll file it under ‘mum.’”

He went inside intending a quick visit, but his mother insisted he eat a piece of pie. Helen would be mad that he broke his diet, but his mother was very persuasive. Finally he was able to leave and after he got back in the car, he said, “Home James.” 

“My name is not James. It is Ernestine.”

“Sorry. Home Ernestine.”

“Did you read the operating manual?”

“Well, not exactly. I was so busy putting you together that I didn’t get a chance.”

“You were supposed to designate 'Home’ before you left there. I don’t know where “Home’ is. I know where I am, but I don't know where 'Home' is. Her voice was somewhat petulant.

“No problem. I know the way.” A small glitch, but easily fixed. He drove home to a very silent FindThereGoThereBeThere. He had been married long enough to know when a woman was sulking and kept his mouth shut.

After he arrived  home, he got out the manual and read it. The first page began with “Very Important! You must designate your home location. Do this before leaving your home. If you do not, the FindThereGoThereBeThere will not know where you live.” He followed the instructions and programmed in his home address. The screen came on and that haughty voice said, “Thank you very much Mr. Williams. Now that we know where we are, we will be able to come back with ease.”  When he returned to the house, he decided it was time to explain to Helen about his new acquisition and she wasn’t too thrilled. 

“So this gadget tells you the best route to take on a trip, when to turn, when to merge and never gets lost? Well, t least I won’t be asked stupid questions about the road atlas. I suppose it might be helpful...if it works. I guess men just have to have their little toys. At least it's not another woman.”

 

The next day they packed for the visit to Helen’s parents home in North Carolina. They had never been to the new location and Helen had written her mother for instructions, but Phil had told her not to bother.

“Helen, the FindThereGoThereBeThere will do the job. Just don’t worry. I’m even throwing away my road atlas. We won’t need it now. I’ve got everything under control.”

“You always say that about your new gadgets. Remember the Mailbox thing and the security zapper and the robot vacuum cleaner that took all the fur off the cat’s tail...”

Phil knew it was time for him to be silent. His perception was proven when he had to tell her that there wasn’t room in the trunk for her suitcase because of the FindThereGoThereBeThere components.

“It’s not safe to leave your suitcase out in plain sight,” she said.

“Well, the FindThereGoThereBeThere is more expensive than your suitcase so it goes in the trunk.”

“How expensive...Dear?”

It was time to practice silence again. After packing the car, he started up and then punched the “on” button for the GPS.

“Good morning, Phil. (He wondered why she had shifted to "Phil") Looking forward to our trip. You look nice today. Turn left at the end of the drive and go down Broad to the motorway.”

“The motorway,” Helen laughed. “Why don’t you teach her English?”

“Some of us speak the King’s English and not that lower-class language some Americans call English,” Ernestine replied.

Phil had the impression an argument was about to start. He looked at Helen. Her face was red. He looked at the GPS screen and it was red also.

“I sort of like the English expressions,” Phil said.

“Thank you, Phil,” the screen turned to a pink blush. “Shall we speed up a bit? It’s going to be along trip.”

“You bet it is,” Helen replied. “Phil, let’s turn the CD on and listen to some music.”

“But, I won’t be able to hear Ernestine,” Bill stumbled out.

“Screw Ernestine,” Helen said as she cranked up the volume of the CD.

“Screw you,” Ernestine said and the CD suddenly went off. “I’ve got to tell him what to do.”

Phil knew he was in real trouble now. 

“Perhaps, Ernestine," he said,  "we could listen to some music at a lower volume so we could hear you when necessary.”

“Well, all right. As long as you play some Beatles or anything British.”

Phil knew Helen hated the Beatles. 

Helen came around a bit, however, when Ernestine steered them past a bad detour and suggested a good restaurant for lunch. 

“Nothing for me thanks,“ she said laughingly. “I’ve got to watch my figure...unlike some people in the car.”

Phil knew it was going to be a long trip.

It was, however, a good day for driving and the bright sunshine soon cheered him  up. As they were traveling down route 77, a curious noise came from the speakers--almost like someone gasping for breath.

“Problem. Problem. Too much heat. Open the trunk.” Ernestine sounded frightened.

“Problem!” Helen almost screamed. “Open the trunk? What’s going on?”

Phil slowed and pulled onto the berm. He got out and opened the trunk. Reaching down to touch the black box that was Ernestine, he found it very warm. It was 90 degrees outside and maybe the unit wasn’t designed for this.

“Helen, I think I’m going to move the FindThereGoThereBeThere unit into the front seat. It’s cooler there and that should help. You can move to the backseat and..”

“Back seat! I'll get car sick! Whatever,” Helen said. “Just don’t take too long moving that piece of crap. It's hot in here now. Of course my comfort doesn't matter compared to Ernestine's.”

Phil sweated and cussed as he disconnected wires and then moved the heavy unit into the back seat. 

“There, I think we’re okay now,” he said.

The car wouldn’t start, however.

Luckily Helen’s cell worked and AAA finally came to restart their car. 

"Got one of those FindThereGoThereBeThere systems heh? The mechanic shook his head."I get calls on these all the time. Got a security system so that if you unplug it for more than five minutes, it shuts down the car. Don't you read your manual?"

"Some people don't read manuals or ask for directions," Helen said from the back seat. 

Phil found the code for the security unlock, punched it in and had to restart the GPS and wait until it reset itself. The mechanic waited until the car started and took off.

"Reading manuals is as difficult as reading maps, I guess," Helen said as they drove off.

“There will be fog ahead,” Ernestine’s voice sounded somewhat strained. “Slow down. It’s the mountains you know. Wouldn’t want anyone to get hurt. The cute driver in particular.”

“Floozy!” Helen said.

“Colonial,” Ernestine replied.

"Let's just settle down," Phil said. "I've got to concentrate on my driving."

The mountain road was foggy, but they were soon out of it and descended to the Piedmont.  Phil turned onto the new highway and was immediately greeted with a “Wrong way! Wrong way! Make a u-turn.”
Phil glanced at the screen and saw the GPS image had them in the middle of a pasture. Evidently the GPS maps were not updated and did not know about the new by-pass.

“No problem,” he said. “Just a new road.”

“I don’t know this road.” Ernestine said.” Turn around and take the old road.”

“Stupid!” Helen said. “Stupid computer. This is the fastest way.”

The screen went black and suddenly the steering wheel moved to the left. Phil had no control. Cars honked their horns, tires screeched and they plummeted across the berm to the other side of the freeway.

“There,” Ernestine said. “We’re going right now.”

“You stupid Limey,” Helen said. “We’re going back the way we came. How can that be the fastest way? Stupid machine!”

The GPS screen went bright red again.

“I have to take a leak,” Phil said. “Do you mind, Ernestine?”

“No, go ahead. I won’t watch.” The screen went to blush pink again.

The car pulled to the side of the road. Phil turned the ignition and the GPS off and then opened the back door. He disconnected the wires to the FindThereGoThereBeThere and returned to the driver’s seat. 

“Well,” he said. “For once I've had the last word with a woman.”

“Ernestine!” Helen said the word as though it were an expletive. “With a British accent no less. Just another one of your stupid gadgets. Now we’re going to be late getting to my parents house and it’s all your fault and...”

It’s too bad I can’t turn Helen off as easily, he thought.

 

Bio: Phil Richardson lives and writes in Athens, Ohio. He met his wife Joyce there in a creative writing class and they have been creating ever since.   Two of his stories, "The Joker is Wild" and "Garden Ornamentals” have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize in Fiction.

His work has appeared in Elf: Eclectic Literary Forum, Fantasy, Folklore and Fairytales, Northwoods Review, Wild Violet, The Storyteller, Cafe Irreal, Digitalis Obscura, Big Pulp, Danse Macabre, Sonar4, Bending Spoon, Short Story Library, Word Catalyst, The Legendary, The Apparatus, and The Starving Writer. 

Anthologies: Love After 70, The Best of Monsters Next Door, Exit 109, Outer Side of LIfe, Writing On Walls.

Websites:

http://web.me.com/philrichardson/Stories/

http://home.roadrunner.com/~philrichardson/

 

 

 

SOMETHING TO DECLARE AT CUSTOMS

by Evan Howell

 

            Since neither of us had ever left the country, my wife and I planned a trip to Costa Rica last November.  We're old, retired, and will use any excuse to escape the Ohio winter.  I'd never left the States because the good years of my life were spent working and saving.  My high school graduation was in the morning and that very night I went to work in a tire factory.  I spent 15 years there, then got out of manufacturing and became an entrepreneur.

            Isenberg Tires, located right outside Columbus, at the Gahanna exit on 270.  What was cheap real estate when I bought it has recently doubled in price.  We're now surrounded by Targets and Best Buys, and I suppose if business ever goes south, we can always just sell the place.

            I keep on using the word "we," but my son runs it now.  He does a good job.  I've been retired for three years and am getting better about staying away.  It'll be weeks between my visits, and when I do, I've broken myself of the habit of looking at his books.  He's got a better business sense than I do anyway, probably owing to his college education.

            It was the boy's idea for his mom and I to go to Costa Rica in the first place.  We resisted for a while (even though I wanted to go), and didn't give in until he threatened to buy the tickets if we didn't.  We should've let him.  It wasn't cheap; what with the plane tickets and the hotel, our savings account took a hit before we'd even left the country.

            Mary has always been better with money than I am.  If I had never married her, I would still be working.  I'd work until 90, until I couldn't remember how to clock-in, then go to waste away in a state-funded retirement home because I'd have no savings.  But instead of that, I live comfortably.  I play golf and take flying lessons and on Christmas show up with expensive gifts for the grandchildren.

            The kids and I owe our good lives to her.  For years she has clipped coupons and sewed her own dresses and made countless other sacrifices in the name of being frugal.  She is more disciplined than me, than anyone I know.  More selfless, too.  She will deny herself something in the present if it might help someone else in the future.   

            The experience of taking all that money out of savings to pay for our trip reminded me of something that had happened eight years earlier.  I'd hardly thought about it for a long time, but it now took root in my mind like a seed.  The night before we flew out, I couldn’t sleep.  The blinds were open, something Mary insisted on at night, and a yellow streetlight half illuminated the room.  Our suitcases lay on the floor beside the bed, bulging and ready to be wheeled out to the car.  I rolled over on my side to watch her;  she always sleeps on her side, facing me.  As is often the case when I'm lying awake, I watched her for a few minutes and was able to fall asleep myself, though this time it was not the deep rest I'm accustomed to.  I woke several more times, finally getting out of bed for good at 4 a.m.

            Our flight from Columbus left as scheduled the next day, and after a short layover in Miami, we were on foreign soil for the first time ever.  We did all the things that tourists do: explored the city during the day, haggled with merchants over souvenirs, visited historic buildings, ate dinner at a different restaurant each night.  For Mary's sake, I tried my best to have as much fun as she was, and on several occasions I actually did.  She could tell that something was wrong, though.   

            She asked about it, but I said it was nothing.  I did marvel to myself, however, at how feelings hiding in the heart for years choose to resurface at the most inopportune times.  Further compounding this was Mary's cheerfulness.  She hugged my arm when we walked through the streets and made me wear a ridiculous straw hat to keep from getting sunburn and generally acted like we'd never been on a vacation before in our lives.  That's another thing about her: whenever she finally does spend money, there's no guilt.  She enjoys things to the fullest, perhaps because of all the saving that came first.

            The return trip was a little trickier than our trip down.  The flight to Miami sat on the runway for two hours because of some tropical storm off the coast of Venezuela.  When we finally did get to Miami, we had less than half an hour before our next flight left, and we had to get through customs first. 

            Fortunately, the line there was shorter than I thought it would be.  I was worried that we'd stand there for hours, miss our flight, and have to pay some kind of exorbitant amount to buy another ticket, but it wasn't bad.  We weren't in line ten minutes before it was our turn.  The young customs agent took my passport and flipped it open.  He had a stamp in his hand, but before using it, asked me the strangest question.   

            "Do you have anything to declare?" he said.

            I wasn't prepared for this.  "Excuse me?"

            "Do you have anything to declare?"  he repeated, hardly paying attention to me.  There was a pretty girl at the booth next to him and he was distracted.  When I hesitated too long, he finally turned his gaze to me.

            "It's not a big deal," he said in a low voice.  He was speaking confidentially, perhaps afraid of what might happen if it were overhead just how nonchalant he was about this job.  "Just say that you don't want to declare anything."

            "Oh."  But I didn't say that.  I looked at my wife.  She was behind me in line,  fidgeting with her passport, probably examining her photo, which she didn't like.  Standing there with her oversized sunglasses dangling from her neck, she looked as cute and innocent as she always did.  Something had been burning inside me for a week, and in that moment I couldn't stop myself.

            "Sweetie," I said, unconsciously using a pet name that she hates to be called in public.  "Remember that $8,000 I took out for taxes, back in 2000?"

            I didn't wait for her to acknowledge this, because of course she remembered.  I kept on talking.

            "I said it was back taxes that we owed on the business, right?  It wasn't.  We didn't owe any taxes."

            Here we go.  Deep breath.

            "I lied to you.  I actually lost that money….gambling.  Me and some friends were in Jersey.  It was poker.  I was up a couple thousand at one point, but I had no more luck after that.  And then I kept on trying to win it back.  I felt awful about losing it, I wanted to recover……..but I couldn't."

            "I know about the money," she said.  Her voice was soft, but she didn't seem angry.  She was quiet as though I'd loudly said that I forgot my Viagra and she didn't want me to embarrass myself.

            "How do you know?"

            "Marlon's wife told me.  He lost a lot, too, and she was mad."

            He hadn't lost even half of what I did.  I didn't say this, though; only thought it.  A question came out instead.

            "Why didn't you ever say anything?"

            She had to think about this one for a moment, as though she knew the answer, but needed to make sure it was worded correctly.  "You worked hard to provide for us.  And I knew it wouldn't happen twice.  You're a good man.  Even good men are allowed to make mistakes."  

            The customs agent hadn't heard our conversation.  When I'd turned to speak to Mary, his interest had shifted back to the attractive international traveler.  I got his attention and told him I had nothing to declare.  He stamped my passport and nodded me through, but I didn't move.  I was processing what had just happened.  The airport bustled around me and I took a deep, calming breath.  I felt satisfied.  Not satisfied with myself, but with the gift of forgiveness and the life that I'd lucked myself into.  Mary stepped forward for her turn in line, and nudged me with her purse.

            "C'mon, honey," she said.  "We're going to miss our flight."

 

 Bio: Evan Howell is an English teacher who lives in Richmond, VA.  He has one publication to his name, in the online journal,  Insomniattic.