THERE WHEN YOU NEED THEM • by Harley Crowley

I wasn’t expecting company. When the doorbell rang the place was its usual chaos, or maybe worse than usual–the books and mail advertisements and newspapers and apple cores, the cereal bowls with Grape-nuts welded to their surface in a shimmer of congealed milk, the clean clothes in a tangled, wrinkled pile on the couch waiting since last week to be folded and put away. I thought about pretending I wasn’t home, but the TV was blaring the laughter of the audience on “Ellen”, giving me away.

I peered through the peephole, and there was Uncle Elmer’s nose, huge from the fish-eye lens in the door. Aunt Emily, smaller than real life, stood on the porch step behind him, her large black pocketbook under one arm and a bright patriotic package, blue paper with stars and a red bow, in her hand. Well, I can’t resist presents, and Elmer and Emily are old and half blind anyway, so I opened the door and greeted them with the usual apologies for the mess, even though the extent of this one deserved a ramped-up apology. What could I say? “How was the tornado at your house?”

And this was all my own mess, no one else to blame since the ex moved out. I haven’t had much motivation since he left, his griping being the main reason I did any housework at all. He set my agenda for so long it’s a wonder that I get up in the morning on my own. If I didn’t have to pee I probably wouldn’t start my day until noon or so. Sort of scary, really. What if I can never get my own initiative back? Aren’t people supposed to be able to see for themselves what needs doing and then just do it because it’s there in front of them? I always did it because I’d get in trouble if I didn’t.

But I was telling you about the visit from Elmer and Emily. I stood back to let them into the house. When Emily saw my living room she said, “Oh my!” involuntarily and clapped her hand over her mouth to stop any other words that might embarrass me. That’s how kind she is. She’s much sweeter than her sister, my mother. Mother would have started right in trying to whip me into shape just like the jerk always did. Actually, I think she trained me for life with him.

Uncle Elmer was a little more direct but still kind. “Looks like you had a little whirlwind here, Sweetheart.” Which is exactly what I’d been considering telling them, like I said before. But there wasn’t any judging in it, just an unbiased articulation of the facts before his eyes.

“We heard about the J-E-R-K taking off, and we thought you might be lonesome,” he said. Aunt Emily held out the package and I’m afraid I snatched it. It had been so long since I’d had a present.

I tore off the paper and ripped open the box. Inside a sterile cellophane wrapper was a pink plastic object. It could have been a Mr. Cucumber except for the color, and the little switch on the side. Loose in the box was a pair of AA batteries.

Uncle Elmer was busy studying my laundry. I looked up at Aunt Emily for confirmation.

“Well, Honey,” she said, “We thought it might cheer you up.”

Harley Crowley has eliminated most of the distractions in her life and is now enjoying writing short fiction. She lives in the Northwest US with her husband, her one remaining distraction, in an enviable spot near the water right between a great independent bookstore and an old Carnegie Grant library.

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Every Day Fiction