“Modern Art” by Holly Sheidenberger
Brent was my new boyfriend, an artist. Mysterious and kind of sullen, but probably a genius.
He cooked octopus for dinner at his loft.
Halfway through my second tentacle, he picked up a bucket of ice water that he had hidden under the table. He dumped the whole thing on my head.
Shocked breathless, and drenched from head to toe, I jumped up. Eyes wide, gasping for air, I stared at Brent. He didn’t flinch.
I soggily flagged my own cab to get home.
I still went to his art show on Friday.
The only thing in the gallery was a huge screen. It was playing a video – of me. Ten feet high, black and white, in slow motion, dripping wet, rubbery half-chewed octopus tentacle in my open, gasping mouth.
I hate modern art.
But I love Brent. He’s a genius.
“Carousel Pony” by Holly Sheidenberger
That park had an old-fashioned carousel in it.
Carl would never be caught dead on one of those prissy, fancied-up, flowered white carousel ponies.
But this carousel had a dolphin on it.
He had to ride that dolphin.
When the gate opened, he speed-sauntered over to it.
A little child reached the dolphin first, and he panicked.
Carl lunged, grabbed the pole, and yelled out, “Dibs!!”
The child’s lip quivered, then a rasping inhale and a wailing cry filled the air.
Carl looked to see that the child was clutching a dolphin toy and soaking it with tears.
He looked down at his maniac hands clenching the dolphin’s reins.
He sighed, loosened his grip, and handed them over. “Here you go, kid. Sorry.”
He guessed it was a fancy pony sort of day after all.
“Three Rows Back” by Holly Sheidenberger
There he was, three rows back, wearing a t-shirt and blazer, and the beaded necklace with the secret meaning.
He was alone.
The love I’d buried like a seed deep in my soul suddenly blossomed into life.
But he didn’t want me, I reminded myself.
Tears of longing fell as I felt his presence burning into me from three rows back.
I turned and he was gone, his seat as empty as my hope.
Then a rustling in my row, a faint “excuse me,” and a tight squeeze. His body was close enough to touch mine.
He tenderly stroked my cheek and said, “Come.” I gratefully obeyed.
He’s laying in bed with me now, shirtless, wearing the beaded necklace and the wedding ring that matches mine.
That was ten years ago, and I love him even more now than I did then.
“Crazy Old Farmer” by Holly Sheidenberger
All the kids say there is a crazy old farmer who lives in the woods.
They say he’ll shoot you with salt pellets if you trespass, but I didn’t believe them.
So I started walking through the woods every day after school just to prove I was right.
Until last Tuesday.
Halfway through the wood, somebody violently pummeled me with salt pellets, bruising every part of my body.
I ducked and ran, covering my head with my jacket.
I looked back, and there I saw him.
A Sasquatch, hurling pebbles at me to get me to leave.
I scrambled out of those woods as fast as I could.
Now I tell all the kids not to go in the woods because there is a crazy old farmer who will shoot you with salt pellets if you trespass.
“Colt 45” by Holly Sheidenberger
I am buying a coffee for my morning commute. He is buying a 40-ounce Colt 45 malt liquor. It’s 7:15 a.m.
Shattering the monotony, he whips out a gun and points it at the cashier. Everyone in the gas station screams.
I hate pansies who cower in front of guns on TV. So, I man up and grab the muzzle and twist it out of his hand.
It’s a .45 Colt. Ironic.
The guy drops his liquor in surprise. It explodes all over the floor.
He lunges for the gun, slips on the wet tile floor, and cracks his head on the ground. Blood seeps out everywhere, mingling with the alcohol.
He gurgles for a minute and then stops. I think he’s dead.
Twenty minutes later I’m at the office. Bob fake smiles, “Good morning. How are you?”
I fake smile back. “Fine, how are you?” and head to my cubicle to start my day.
“Could Have Been” by Holly Sheidenberger
The danger between us is palpable.
He’s aged. His eyes crinkle and he’s grown a beard. But the connection between us is still perilously strong.
He takes my hand in both of his, and a thrill explodes inside me. The years have only made him more magnetic.
“I came to see you,” he says. “I need you to know . . . I loved you.”
My breath catches, my heart nearly stops. I knew already, but it still means so much. To finally hear him say it.
“You’re too late,” I hear myself say. “I’m sorry,” he whispers, tracing my jawline with his thumb.
His electric touch weakens my resolve; I turn away.
We walk, side by side but not hand in hand. I am racked with unappeasable hunger for him.
The silence between us is thick with the life that could have been.
“The Secret of Bliss” by Holly Sheidenberger
Barb was mean.
Her husband left her long ago, and her children couldn’t wait to move out.
She cut her hair short and moved to the country with her Chihuahua.
Last March she treated herself to a visit to the City. She had been away too long.
She caught a peculiar sight: a woman pushing a dog in a baby stroller.
Enthralled, Barb followed the woman to a café.
The woman and her dog got a table, so Barb got a table too.
The woman cooed at the dog like a baby. She shared her food with it and let it lick her face. They both looked so happy.
Barb knew she had found the secret of bliss.
Now she dresses her Chihuahua in baby clothes and kisses it on the mouth.
Unfortunately, she is still mean.
“The Dream” by Holly Sheidenberger
Bolt upright in bed he sat, sweating and panting. Looking left, he sighed gratefully when he saw that she was still next to him.
Remembering the cold look, the papers, the walk away, and the end. Divorce. It was a terrible dream.
He vowed, there in the dark, next to his sleeping wife, to change.
She still raged and cried, for mysterious reasons. But this time, he held her silently.
She still told stories about her day, but this time he listened and tried to care. They weren’t as boring as he had thought.
One day the ice melted and she smiled at him, just like she used to.
A week passed, a month, and a year. They liked each other again.
One morning on the table she left an envelope, with a sticker that said “Please Shred.”
Inside: Divorce papers dated one year ago. The day before The Dream.
“Treasure” by Holly Sheidenberger
Always wondered if there really was a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Decided to go find out.
Wasn’t that hard. Surprised more folks don’t give it a try.
Found an iron cauldron full of gold coins.
Didn’t know what to do with the things. Thought about melting ’em down.
Found out a blacksmith’s forge would be just the thing, so I built one.
Melted the things down and got rich off the gold. But what was I gonna do with that forge?
Got to looking at that iron cauldron… Decided to make a wrought iron chandelier. Turned out pretty good.
Some rich lady loved the thing. Sold it to her even though I didn’t need the money.
Did need the work, though. Spend all my time with that forge now, making chandeliers. Never been so happy in my life.
Turns out the real treasure wasn’t the gold after all.
“Homesick” by Holly Sheidenberger
Something smells foul. My sense of dread grows as the noxious odor fills my nostrils.
Suddenly a rock smacks into my shoulder. I stagger backwards, clutching at the hot, searing pain.
That’s when I see the Beast.
Our eyes lock. I’m paralyzed, frightened by his disturbingly human-like gaze.
His huge hairy hands grab my throbbing shoulders and drop me into a deep, dark hole.
I am captive.
He brings me raw meat each morning and sleeps next to me at night.
He is not cruel, but he smells.
Finally, I escape. I run, desperate for the sanctuary of home.
But my story is received with taunts, jeers, ridicule, and suspicion. They whisper that I am stupid and crazy.
I am shamed, a fool. I want to hide.
I am homesick for that deep, dark hole. I think I miss the Beast.