Short Fiction: Empty Nest

Note:  I wrote this short-short story in 2009 given the prompt “black and white.” 

Empty Nest

Amanda Barnes always said she would buy a white carpet when her youngest left home.  A white carpet, a cream colored couch, and a glass coffee table.

For 15 years she rarely complained as she reared her five children alone—a widow at much too young an age. When the chaos of the household threatened to challenge her sanity, one of her kids would be bound to say, “Mom, what will you ever do without us?”  And she’d reply, “I’ll buy me a white carpet, a cream colored couch, and a glass coffee table. Then I’ll sit back and enjoy the peace and quiet!”

“I’m never leaving,” Aaron, the youngest, would announce.  “We can’t lose Old Faithful.”  He was referring to the threadbare, slip covered couch that was older than all four of his brothers and sisters. “Think of all the memories!  Remember the time I jumped so high on it that I shattered the ceiling light?”

“A new couch is fine, but I think the carpet should be orange, to match ground-in Doritos crumbs,” said Calla.

“Purple,” Karl chimed in, bouncing a basket ball off the wall. “To match grape juice.”

Amanda Barnes always said she would buy a white carpet when her youngest left home.  A white carpet, a cream colored couch, and a glass coffee table.  Two weeks after Aaron left for college, the truck from the home store arrived and installed a new chapter in Amanda’s life.

“How’s it going?” Amanda’s best friend Lucy asked several months later.

“Lonely,” Amanda said honestly.  She was always honest with her best friend, although she hedged a bit with her children. She was known to write that everything was “lovely” instead of “lonely” in her letters and pretend it was just a typo.

“I thought so,” Lucy replied reaching into her bag.  “I got you an empty- nest –warming- present.”  She held up a crystal sun catcher with a friendship poem on it.

The next day the sun catcher was scattering rainbows over the cream colored couch and the white carpet as Amanda hurried down the hall to answer the front door.  The Cub Scouts on the doorstep were selling popcorn, and their adult chaperone was standing discreetly to one side.

Suddenly, before anyone could stop him, a mischievous black and white border collie shoved past the scouts and bounded into the living room snapping at the dancing rainbows.  Order forms went flying as the boys raced after him, yelling, “Stop Spot! Bad dog!” The spots multiplied as Spot’s dusty paw prints mapped out his journey back and forth across the white carpet and over the cream colored couch.  He bounded lightly over the glass coffee table before the grown up chaperone grabbed his collar and hauled him out the door.

“I’m so sorry!” he gasped. “I don’t know how he got loose. Please let me stay and clean up this mess.”

Amanda looked at the man’s sheepish face more closely and noticed it looked familiar.  “I know you. You’re James Wright, aren’t you?  We went to school together many years ago.  Didn’t I see you at the Downtown Festival selling hamburgers and cokes?”

James looked at Amanda with sudden recognition.  “Amanda!  Of course, it’s been a while.  Our church’s singles group runs the hamburger stand every year to raise money for the Food Bank.”  He looked again at the dark splotches marring the bright room. “I don’t know how I’ll ever get this cleaned up for you, but after I get my grandsons home I can come back and…”

“Thanks, but don’t worry about it!” Amanda cut him off. “Put Spot in the backyard and you and the boys come in for a snack or something cold to drink.  I still haven’t made my popcorn order.”

“But the carpet—“

“That?” Amanda scoffed.  “Give me five minutes with a vacuum and it’ll be good as new.  I bought the best stain resistant fabrics I could buy. I’m expecting grandchildren of my own, too, you know.”  Amanda smiled.

James smiled back.

Amanda Barnes always said she would buy a white carpet when her youngest left home.  A white carpet, a cream colored couch, and a glass coffee table.  But she never expected it to stay that way for long.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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