We played Scrabble a while ago and I noted the words created with the idea that I’d make a story out of them as a challenge (not that I need writing challenges. Writing at all is its own challenge, but I whine). Here are the words:
leap, den, peon, dog, zen, dewy
rye, rune, nag, glad, don, don
atones, toil, leaf, if, broils, quit
exit, chic, ark, three, is, now, yurt
pit, ice, tinge, bath, sap, cane
ebony, lax, is, jar, tomes, strum
One morning early, a man took his dog for a walk. They cut across the street, still damp from the overnight rain. They went a long a manicured lawn, smelling the fresh smell of dewy cut grass mixed with the salty scent of the ocean. They descended the wooden stairs to the sand. Few people were on the beach at this hour, just one other dog walker and a dedicated health enthusiast out jogging. The seagulls were not even up yet, but rested, heads tucked under wings, along the cliff. The man reflected that he had once been a jogger, but had quit three years ago due to his new job. Now his fitness regimen had become lax and the only exercise he got was walking old Buffy.
They walked along firm sand along the edge of the tide. The man checked his watch, noting he had twenty minutes before he had to get ready for work and the hour and ten minute commute to the office. He considered his job. A peon, he thought, that’s all I am. I toil away crunching numbers for making useless widgets when I could be perusing dusty tomes in Marrakesh and living like Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Buffy pulled on her leash, and the man looked around. No one was in sight, so he freed his dog to run into the surf. She found a floating leaf and plunged into the water after it. Then she retreated to his side, wagging her tail and spattering him with water. She watched the surf, barking at it as it started to crawl up the sand toward him. A woman in a chic jogging suit blew past them and Buffy raced after.
“Buffy, no!” He ran after his dog, who glanced back and saw him running and, with a mischievous doggy grin, continued ran on after the woman. The woman appeared oblivious to the dog chasing after her until Buffy caught up and with a flying leap, took her to the ground, where she proceeded to lick the woman’s face with enthusiasm.
“Oh my god, oh god, I’m so sorry,” the man said, panting. He pulled the big Labrador off her and clipping the leash back on. “Are you okay?”
To his surprise, the woman laughed, and continued to laugh until tears ran from her eyes. “That was awesome,” she said, climbing to her feet and dusting the sand off. “What a ferocious hunter you are,” she said to the dog. Buffy barked agreement. “That’ll teach me to take a bath in ‘forest scent,'” she said, and looked at the man. “I’m Ashira.”
She offered her hand. He introduced himself and shook her soft hand, noting her stunning golden eyes and long lashes. Her ebony skin had a tinge of gold on it and he couldn’t help but notice that she did smell very earthy. He also noted that she checked him out in return.
“This is Buffy. Buffy, sit. Buffy, shake.” His dog performed those commands readily. He dug a dog treat out of his pocket and thought, I’m glad I didn’t don my ratty workout shorts. Ashira shook hands with Buffy.
“When I pulled my daily rune this morning, I had no idea that it’d be so literal.”
“Rune?” he asked, keeping his excitement for having found a fellow fantasist hidden.
“I select a daily rune as inspiration and as part of my search for zen,” she explained and started to walk. He and the dog walked with her.
“Isn’t Zen a different culture?”
She shrugged. “It’s my zen, if you know what I mean. I’m trying to live in the now.”
“Of course. I have to remind myself of that frequently.”
They walked for a moment longer and then his conscience began to nag. “I don’t mean to interrupt your run.”
“Oh, it’s okay. I needed a break anyway. I’ve been stuck in my den for too long. It’s good to feel the sunshine.” Saying so, she turned her face to the sun like sunflower, closed her eyes, and basked.
“What would you do, Don, if you had all the money you needed and didn’t have to work?”
“Right now.” Her golden eyes met his.
“I’d be here.” As he said it, he didn’t know if he was half joking or half serious.
“Really. Normally I’d say that I’d live in a yurt on the edge of the Siberian ice fields, living off of tree sap and peeing in a frozen pit, but no. I think right now, if I had all the money in the world and didn’t have to work, I’d be right here. With you, and Buffy, in the sun on the beach in Southern California.”
She laughed, “Does the sap come in a jar or do you have to get it directly from the tree?”
“Oh, from a jar. I’m civilized you know.”
“Is that so?” Her teasing tone made him smile.
“Where would you be, Ashira, if you didn’t have to work and had all the money you needed?”
She laughed again. He decided he liked the sound. “I’d be living in a yurt on the edge of the Siberian ice fields, living off of tree sap and peeing in a frozen pit.”
It was his turn to laugh. Then he thought a moment, and said, “What? Really?”
“I’d have to atone for my sins somehow.” The look she gave him made put is libido on broil.
He almost said three or four things related to sin and sinning, which his top brain thought might be too forward and misconstrued but which his bottom brain thought would be perfect. And in giving into being a polite man, he waited too long to answer. She raised her eyebrows and shook her head.
“So, ah,” he said, feeling lame, “wanna have some coffee?”
“No, thanks. It was nice meeting you, Don and Buffy.” With a little wave, she made her exit. The man felt the urge to cane himself for being something – too polite, too afraid to offend, too geeky to live?
“Buffy, why am I such a loser?” As he asked that, his alarm for work went off. Buffy whined, tugging at her leash in the direction that Ashira gone. “No, honey, we need to get you home so that you’re in time to hang out with Mrs. Sanchez and her gazillion chihuahuas. And I have to go be a drone.”
They made it home. The man changed into his hot monkey suit and forced his mind into widget mode. He choked down some rye toast and feed the Buffster some kibble, then he took her off to the neighbor and her yappy friends. He watched Mrs. Sanchez welcome his dog and all the runt dogs swirl around his yellow friend. She seemed so relaxed and happy, as did his dog. Maybe being a dog sitter paid well enough to live, he thought. Maybe I’d be better off as a dog. He wondered what Ashira’s runes would tell him. He told himself to stop thinking about missed chances and go process some numbers.
Halfway to work, someone had an accident on the freeway. Traffic snarled up, reduced to sit and creep and sit and creep. He could see an exit up ahead. He took a chance and glanced at his phone to see if that road would take him somewhere closer to work. It seemed like it might, if he wanted to chance it. Lots of surface streets there. The exit creeped closer and the minutes passed by. As a dutiful employee, he called the hag at the front desk, to tell his employer about his delay.
“That is the third time this quarter, Mr. Mooney,” the hag reminded him. “You may want to consider leaving a little early or moving closer to work.” He thanked her for her suggestion and hung up. Move? he thought, only if its to the ice fields with Ashira.
The exit arrived. A moment of wild hope had him flipping on his turn signal and forcing his way over to the exit. He sped up the ramp, feeling a great sense of relief. The right turn, which would eventually take him to his work, was closed for construction, so he went left. I’ll just take the next right and the one after that to get going in the right direction.
That next right took him on some road that wound around a ritzy looking neighborhood and deposited him at the coast again. He almost took it as a sign to go home, pick up that dog, find that jogger, and see where the right response would have taken him.
“I don’t believe in signs,” he muttered.
He took the next available right, anything to get him inland, and that took him over the jam-packed freeway and into a poor neighborhood. One where many of its residents hung out on their ramshackle stoops and eyed his moderately priced car as if it would be worth taking. He sped up a little bit. The road took him inland for several miles but then dead ended with only a right turn option.
That turn took him to a toll road, which he took with reluctance. It took him south and then curved again and the next available exit took him back to the coast.
The clock on his Kia told him that he had passed from late into the territory of absent.
He found himself in a restaurant district with a smattering of small businesses, such as coffee shops, dress shops, and a book store. He passed a man, dressed as a troubadour, complete with floppy, befeathered hat and lute, strolling along the sidewalk. That’s a job, his mind told him. He rolled down the window to hear the man strum his instrument.
Then he spotted it, Ashira Holistic Healing. He slowed and peered at the shop’s window display, advertising Yoga, Tai Chi, Acupuncture, Massage, and Chiropractic services. As he looked for a place to park, his phone beeped, indicating an incoming call. He fussed with the Bluetooth and finally got the call just as the caller was about to hang up.
“Mooney. Where are you?” The gravely voice of his boss barked out at him through his car speakers.
“Stuck in traffic, Mr. Chan.”
“Well, Felicia tells me this is your third time being late. You were told, weren’t you, that three is the limit?”
“Three is the limit. Don’t bother coming in. Felicia will send your final check and all that. Goodbye.” The phone went dead. He stared in stunned stillness out the windshield at the back of the Audi in front of him. An annoyed honk made him blink and pull into the nearest parking spot.
Fired. I’ve been fired. He wasn’t sure what he felt. Panic? Fear? Relief?
A knock on the window made him jerk. Ashira looked in at him. “Don?”
He rolled down the window.
“What are you doing here?”
Words escaped him. He held out his hands and said, “Fired.”
“Just now. Just like that.”
“Why don’t you come in. I’ll get you a tea and you can tell me about it.” When he didn’t answer, she walked around and opened his door and helped him out of the car. She reached in and turned it off, and then escorted him into her business.
“What am I going to do?”
He absently noted the cozy waiting room with plants and couches and soft music playing. She gestured to a seat and he sank into the cushions with a sigh.
“Have some tea. “
“Yes, with me. Isn’t that what you asked me this morning?”
“No, sorry. Just tea. You’ll like it.” She returned a moment later with a sweet smelling cup of something warm. She settled into the seat next to him. He took a sip, expecting something weak, but this drink opened his eyes. His brain caught up with where and what he was doing. He thanked her and said, “And here I am interrupting your day again. I hope you don’t think I’m some sort of stalker.”
“Did you follow me after we parted on the beach?”
“And you’ve never been here before?”
“Then it is providence, just as my rune this morning indicated. As I seek to live in the moment I also seek to accept what comes my way. Perhaps the fates sent you to me so that I can help you with that also.”
He’d lost track of what she meant, as he had been enjoying the sound of her voice and the bounce of her dark curls. “Huh?”
“Drink your tea, Don.” Her smile reminded him of the light reflected off ice. He smiled back and took the first breath of the rest of his life.