Richard’s Pyjamas

Every year, without fail, Richard’s parents gave him pyjamas for his birthday. Nothing else. Just pyjamas.

Every year, without fail, Richard stormed up to his bedroom and slammed the door. The first year, he had wanted a G.I. Joe. The second year, a Nintendo. The third year, a Ninja Turtle action figure. The fourth year, the same Ninja Turtle action figure. The fifth year, he had wanted a Super Nintendo.

And yet, every year, Richard’s parents gave him a single pair of pyjamas.

Eventually he stopped asking for any presents. He stopped hoping for anything. He resigned himself to waking up, walking downstairs, and seeing the thin, flat wrapping paper that would bend toward the floor when he picked it up, drawn by gravity until he tore the paper off to reveal another set of pyjamas. Sometimes they were a solid colour, sometimes plaid. One year, they were flannel with a print of Super Mario on them; this was the year he had requested the Super Nintendo.

Richard learned a valuable lesson, saving his allowance for weeks, months, and in some cases, years, in order to purchase the gifts he didn’t receive.

The year after Richard’s parents died, he bought himself a new set of pyjamas for his birthday; nothing else. Just pyjamas. He wore them every night for one year, and bought a new set for the next birthday. In this way, he remembered them; every night, he would remember buying the pyjamas, and only the pyjamas, for his birthday, and for the first month, he shed a tear. As the immediacy of the pain faded, though, he was glad to still have this daily reminder.

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The Neighbour’s Kids

“Micah! Deedee! Come!” Jennifer stood on the back patio of her suburban home, hands on her hips. She was met with silence, and she looked to either side to see if the little legs were running from around the corner. Nothing.

“Micah! Deedee! Dinner! Treats!” Even these enticements didn’t bring the little dachshunds running. Next door, a rustle of the curtain indicated old Mrs. Woodward was up to her usual busybodying.

Jennifer took a step into the yard, careful not to tread on the crusty old turds the she and Eric still argued about who should clean up. She moved carefully through the minefield, every other step bringing a different degree of fossilization, until she reached the fence. The small hole Micah and Deedee were constantly digging under the fence was freshly unearthed.

Peeking over it, she looked in Mrs. Woodward’s backyard. She didn’t see any signs of her little weiner dogs over there, so began her slow return to the safe haven of the patio steps. The dogs were probably just playing a game somewhere, she thought to herself. They’ll be back when they get hungry.

Next door, Mrs. Woodward set two plates of steak and potatoes on the floor. Micah and Deedee pounced on these, quickly licking the plates clean. When they started scratching at the door to be let out, though, Mrs. Woodward said, “No, my little kiddies, this is your new home, away from that mean old hag who leaves you out all day.”

It was some weeks later that Jennifer, whether drawn by the smell of Mrs. Woodward or the crazed barking emanating from her house, knocked on the door and finally found her prized little fur-babies, She escorted them home, and the next day social services removed the elderly woman from her heavily soiled house.

Bystanders

Hank, Joyce, and Larry sat on a bench, watching the park. They did not talk, nor did they interact with anything around (other than the bench). They just sat, and watched.

A young family walked towards them, the father of Asian descent, the mother Caucasian. Their two children ran in circles around the walking couple. The family slowed as they neared the bench, uncertain of these three spectators. Hank, Joyce, and Larry continued to sit and to watch, making no comment, nor any move in a friendly or threatening way. The parents hustled their children on.

A teenage couple walked past, the boy wearing a flat-brimmed cap, his hand holding the back of his girlfriend’s neck while she, in jeans and a t-shirt, looked uncomfortable. The boy made a fake lunge at the three bystanders, who remained unblinking. He hurried his girlfriend forward, though she seemed inclined to stay.

An older man walked past, supporting himself with a cane. As he neared the trio, he started flexing his left arm. After a moment, he fell, a hand on his chest. Two joggers stopped. One pulled out a phone and called 911 while the other began CPR. The three onlookers watched as they kept the old man’s heart pulsing until an ambulance arrived.

At the end of the day, Hank, Joyce, and Larry stood, nodded to each other, and dispersed until the next morning.

Mouthful of Marshmallow

Nobody knew why Catherine became famous, least of all her.

She starred in a low-budget short film, wherein the protagonist was involved in a marshmallow-eating contest. Catherine herself was not particularly skilled at eating marshmallows, having lost many a “Fluffy Bunny” in her day. She was, however, meant to play the winner of such a contest.

Perhaps it was her own difficulties with the part that led her to shine, or perhaps it was a shift in the zeitgeist toward marshmallows. Soon, however, she was appearing on late night talk shows and receiving roles in big-budget blockbusters.

With a mouthful of marshmallows, though, Catherine became a star, and she never looked back.

Just Desserts

Cooking was her greatest passion, dessert her dearest love. She was renowned, in fact, for what she could do with sugar; not just chocolates or fruits, but sugar, pure and simple, or mixed with the most eclectic ingredients, to make creations of gustatory genius.

And, like all chefs, she was the first to test her newest creations.

So it was with the greatest of woe that she received her diagnosis of diabetes.

The restaurant was shuttered for two weeks. Her regular patrons were dismayed when they arrived to consistently see the “Closed” sign. Inside, she alternated between tears of woe, and experiments with aspartame and other sweeteners, only to be met with failure.

Of course, the diagnosis didn’t need to be a death knell for her work. She still had a vast supply of previously created delights to draw from. But it was the creativity of the work she loved, the experimentation, the love of new things, that made her want to continue as a chef.

It was early on a Tuesday morning that she woke up inspired. Sugar had been her medium before, but like an artist abandoning oil for acrylic, she had a new thought: nut butter.

Not the sugar-laden stuff on many shelves, but the pure, peanut- or almond- or cashew-only stuff you find hidden away, a few shelves down. She bought several dozen jars and began her experiments.

A week later, she flipped the sign to the restaurant to “Open”. A few customers came in and left sated, discussing the delicious, yet somehow healthy dessert. Her first experiments a success, so expanded in all directions: tofus, lentils, and nuts became her new media, and her restaurant a mecca for the insulin-challenged. Her business expanded threefold, and though she still enjoyed the occasional sweet, her disease proved a boon for all.

The Bread-Breaker

When Annabelle wrote a letter, it was always about something very serious.

It helped that she hadn’t finished elementary school. Her parents had both died when she was young, and rather than go to a state home, about which rumours had always swirled, she struck out on her own to survive. It had been difficult those first few years; laws made child workers illegal, at least when documented. But she managed, and it became much easier when she reached sixteen.

Now, in her old age, she had a small pension to live off of and a wealth of opinions to express, but only enough education to do so with great effort. When the news showed a story on poor conditions in orphanages, she was annoyed, but enough to express it. The various sexual appetites of the leading politicians were similarly banal to her mind.

The rising cost of bread, however, was worth a series of stern letters to local, regional, and national authorities, from the media to the government, about the need to keep things affordable for those who, like her, had been met only with difficult and had struggled to overcome it. She hand-wrote each letter, a computer being beyond her means, and sent them, by the dozen, to anyone who listen, and many who would not.

She began by fighting the rising prices set by the only bread-maker left, which had bought out all others. Failing this, she encouraged others to do the same. When that failed, and she heard nothing from those she thought should care for their constituents, she started writing out a simple bread recipe that anyone could follow, and mailing it to every address possible. Where she acquired the stamps, no one knew. But the still-diversified flour producers saw a spike in sales as people everywhere, strapped for cash, took up baking. The bread-maker’s profits slumped. The business was sectioned off, sold to various others, and it became a mere husk of what it once was.

It was thus that Annabelle, through sheer force of will, managed to stem the tide of the bread monopoly.

The Sweater

John loved his sweater. He loved it more than any other piece of clothing. He loved it like some people love their sports teams, and like other love their knitting.

John’s sweater was grey, made of a cotton and polyester blend. It fit him snugly, and was just thick enough to be warm without making him look pudgy.

He wore his sweater almost every day. People came to know John by his trademark grey sweater, and the days he wasn’t wearing it, the days it was in the wash, were days when they asked him if he was okay, if his sweater, long since pilled and ragged beyond proper wearing, had finally bit the dust. But the next day, they same him in it again, happily tugging on the sleeves or sticking his hands in the small pocket in front.

He was an old man and still wearing that sweater every day, until the fateful newly-hired nurse in the nursing home, finding a ratty old rag in the sleeping man’s chair, discarded it. When John awoke, he searched high and low, but it wasn’t to be found. He wept for a day, and died the next; life without his favourite sweater just wasn’t worth living.

The nursing home had him buried with a new grey sweater, in hopes of undoing some of the spiritual damage, but mostly to avoid blame.

Last Piece of Pie

He would not give her the last piece of pie. Why should he? It was, after all, his pie. He had purchased all the ingredients, had mixed them up, formed the shell, put in the blueberries and sugar, made the cross-hatched top (a rather difficult process in it’s own right, for a novice pie-maker), and baked it. And in the end, she hadn’t even said she liked it. She shrugged her shoulders, told him it wasn’t great, and kept playing on her computer.

So when she asked for the last piece, of his pie, that she hadn’t even liked, not only was he enraged, but he felt bitter and spiteful, and replied simply, “No, you can’t have it,” before grabbing the slice and shoveling it into his mouth as fast as possible. And granted, it wasn’t the best pie in the world, and he had some practice to do, but dammit, it was his pie, which he worked hard to make. A little kindness and encouragement wouldn’t have killed her.

Dating and Marriage

His offer hung in her mind like a pendulum, swinging back and forth, coming ever closer to forcing her decision. Her thoughts whirled. It was 20 years ago that her husband had died, and it still seemed like he had just stepped out.

The man looked at her, expecting an answer.

If I do, it will be cheating, she thought to herself. Nonsense, her rational mind replied. Your husband is gone, and has been for years. He told you to move on, at the end. But before that, she replied, he said he’d see me in the next life…what if I arrive with someone else? And he was always so jealous. What if he left her in heaven? But how would that be heaven? No, he said move on, find someone else, be happy. That’s what I’ll do.

But what if this man is just after my money? Granted, I don’t have much, but still, it’s mine, and I’m leaving it to the kids. They shouldn’t have to worry about it. But that’s ridiculous, it’s not like we’re getting married, it’s just a date.

Oh god, a date. I haven’t dated in 20 years. More, I haven’t dated since I was married, that was 30 years ago. What if I don’t remember how? What if I mess up, or can’t do it right? What if he expects sex on the first date? I don’t know if I can deal with that, not now, not in a month…maybe never. What if I can’t have sex? Will he still want to date me?

What if he doesn’t like me? I mean he does now, but maybe dating me is entirely different from regular me? What if I can’t date normally? Will I be expected to pay? It’s so different, the dating world now. How do I know what to do? What if other people look at us, and think less of me? He’s a bit younger, and he’s never been married…oh, marriage, I’m still wearing my wedding ring. Should I take it off?

She held the ring with her thumb and forefinger, ready but not ready to take it off. He waited, looking at her, and the silence drew on.

Tuna Smell

“I love him, but he smells rather odd.”

“Really? Odd like how?”

“Like…tuna fish.”

“Wait, do you mean-”

“Yup. His fingers, his forearm. The whole length from nail to shoulder. tuna.”

“Dude. That’s a sign of some kind of sickness. He needs to get that treated.”

“I know it. You know it. I’ve told him. But nothing. He doesn’t do anything. He says he loves the smell of tuna. It’s gross.”

“Very.”