I’ve been writing short stories again. Well, not always so short — the title of this post was taken from a 15,000-word story, for instance. However, these are becoming some of my favorites. The original working title of the collection was Dark City Stories but it is changing. Rather than the central theme being urban tales, they are evolving to be a collection of emotional pieces. Some will be heartbreaking, some joyous, and some, like this one, both.
I’ve spent a great deal of time evaluating what I think I’m good at and what people respond to. I keep coming up with the same answer: people respond to heart stories. I don’t have a new name of the collection; I suppose that will come in time. I’ll probably stop to start work on Jeanne Dark, the book I’ve been postponing for over a year. Maybe.
In the meantime, here’s a bit of my favorite story so far, “Holy Mother of Selina Sky.” It is the tale of a lonely, heartbroken and dejected man who finds himself thrust in the position of caretaker of a very unusual 3-year-old girl when her mother abandons her to him in a park. In this excerpt, our hero, Rembrandt Vincent Anderson, who has avoided kids his whole life, is trying to deal with getting the curious child ready for a trip to Child Services where he means to drop her off.
Good luck with that, Remmie.
I took Selina home and managed to get her situated for the night in one of the guest rooms. She was a cooperative child, if a bit rambunctious. Poor Mr. Dudley (my tabby) was indifferent at best toward our guest. Fortunately for all concerned, her horror of a mother remembered to pack a few toys, including a cherished stuff dog Selina called “Stinks.” When I probed as to the origin of the name, Selina looked at me with grand seriousness and said, “He stinks.” I let that be the final word of the night.
The following morning was more of an adventure. First of all, it turned out the child was a vegetarian or vegan of some sort. She refused eggs. She turned her nose up at bacon, and the idea of sausages sent her screaming from the kitchen. I found her under the bed, cowering and holding my bewildered cat. It took me a frightfully long time to coax her out, until I realized she thought I kept Mr. Dudley as a future food source. Once I was able to persuade her he was a friend and not food, she came out, but was even more teary-eyed than when her mother abandoned her.
Apparently, one cannot expect a three-year-old girl to bathe and dress herself. As I was neither legal guardian nor a blood relative, I thought it inappropriate to be in the bathroom with an unclothed child. After all, I had no way of knowing whether she’d been abused in the past, or what sort of tales she might wield were she questioned later by the authorities.
“Did Mr. Anderson see you naked?” they would ask.
“Uh-huh,” she’d nod, in feigned innocence.
“Did … he touch you?”
“Uh-huh,” she would repeat. At that point, I would be labeled a sex offender and damned for life. Pleas that my touching her was required to bathe her would fall on deaf ears, and I would die in prison, surrounded by the most horrid sort of deviants. In all fairness, I was emotionally ill-equipped to be a child’s guardian, so my suddenly boisterous imagination should be forgiven.
Despite my fears, I was forced to concede when I returned to the bath and found all the water on the floor instead of the child. She was sitting in the tub, grinning at me, naked as a jaybird and as dirty as ever. I marveled at her ability to sit in a foot of water and splash it all on the floor, seemingly without getting wet. I refilled the tub and found a loofa that my ex had purchased but had never used. Selina seemed to be amused by the giant fluffy hand, and I could honestly tell the authorities that I’d never touched her. By the end, she was clean, I was soaked, and we were both laughing hysterically.
There was something infectiously likeable about the child.
Author’s note: (Now, if you know my work at all, you should be wondering how, precisely, the water got out of the tub.)