Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Tough Nut To Crack

Yesterday's mail brought my 3rd (4th? 5th?) rejection from Women's World. (Sorry, it's so easy to lose track of submissions. Guess I could check my handy dandy spreadsheet, but who really cares anyway?)

For those not in the know, Women's World can be found at your local grocery store's checkout stand. It's a weekly magazine loaded with pieces on health, beauty, family...yada, yada, yada...and two items of fiction: an 800-word romance and a 500 (?)-word mystery. I don't know about the mysteries, but the pay for romance is $800. (Up until recently, they required 1,000 words for--yep!--$1,000. One thousand words translates to about 4 manuscript pages, so the moola is nothing at which to achoo.)

Anyway, so yeah. I've been trying my hand, but so far, no luck. Yesterday, for the first time, the form rejection included writer guidelines. (Ha. I'm thinking they said: "Geesh. Get a clue. Here, study up.") After reading them, the light bulb went on. Y'see, I've been writing these sweet little stories with nice 'ahas!' at the end, but...um...no 'relationship dilemma.' (Hm. Just re-read the story I posted below--it's not ENTIRELY devoid of relationship dilemma. Oh, well.)

What the hell...enjoy. (And excuse the funky formatting.)

My family meant well when they surprised me with a two-month old cocker spaniel for my birthday, but I had reservations. “Who’s gonna take care of this little guy all day?”

“You’ve got a safe backyard,” my mother pointed out, “and a nice park up the street where you can walk in him the evenings after work.” She patted my arm. “The exercise will do you good.”

I groaned, but the fluffy ball of fur with the lopsided ears enchanted me. Without warning, he jumped into my lap, his forlorn eyes begging for approval. Beside me, my sister Molly laughed. “See? A match made in heaven, Ellie.”

I knew what they were up to. Mom longed for another grandchild and Molly yearned to become an aunt. Since I’d squelched their schemes to find me a man, they’d resorted to man’s best friend. Peering into soft velvet puppy eyes, I could hardly fault their reasoning.

Two days later, Max made his official debut at the local doggie park. At first, I stood on the sidelines as a handful of fellow owners performed an assortment of tasks with their pets. One woman jogged around the track, her sleek black lab preceding her with a stately gait. In the center of the park, a teenage boy tossed a Frisbee while his black-and-white mutt repeatedly lunged after it.

Suddenly, Max growled.

“What is it, boy?”

From seemingly nowhere, a dog off its leash−and no owner in sight−bounded toward us, teeth bared. With my heart in my throat, I scrambled to grab Max.

“Brutus!” A man emerged from behind a hedge, cradling his own small dog. “Brutus, stay,” he warned.

“He’s yours?” I asked, my voice quivering.

“No, but I’m familiar with the way his owner flaunts the rules. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen his dog off-lead.”

The menacing animal sniffed at the air, then trotted away, presumably in search of more interesting prey. I breathed a sigh of relief. “Thanks for the rescue.”

“No problem. The name’s Michael, by the way. And this is Buster.”

“Hi. I’m Ellie, and this wriggly mass of fear is Max.”

He tousled Max’s right ear, chuckling. “Cocker spaniel?”

“Yes, and yours?”

“Same,” he said, beaming. “I see we have something in common.”

As we discovered over the next couple of weeks, Max and Buster’s breed wasn’t the only thing Michael and I shared in common. Foreign movies, popcorn with real butter, and roaring logs in the fireplace made the list as well. One day I suggested we get together for all three, but he instantly stiffened, yanking unnecessarily on Buster’s leash. “Maybe,” he said. “I’ll have to let you know.”

The vague response set off mental alarm bells. “Michael, are you married?”

His eyes widened. “No, of course not.” We continued walking in silence, then he paused. “I was married,” he said, his jaw twitching. “Sally and I divorced five years ago.”

Instinctively, I touched his sleeve. “I’m sorry. Any kids involved?”

“No. My ex didn’t want children.”

My heart ached for Michael. Especially since I could tell by the way he handled Buster, he’d make a fabulous father.
He smiled wistfully. “Sometimes you have to accept what Fate has in store for you. Becoming a parent wasn’t in the cards.”

“Nonsense. You’re young. You’ll fall in love again.”

The next afternoon, Michael and Buster didn’t show up for our daily walk. Sadly, Max and I trudged through our usual routine, but our hearts weren’t in it. “Sorry boy,” I told my canine companion, “guess I scared him off.”

An entire week passed, then suddenly there they were−waiting for us as though no time had elapsed. Michael wore a wide grin and even Buster seemed to harbor a secret. I didn’t hold back. “We missed you,” I said as the two dogs exchanged slurpy greetings.

“Same here,” Michael said. “A lot.”

I lifted my chin. “I guess you were busy?”

“Uh-huh. With obedience school. I should have told you but it slipped my mind.” A twinkle rose to his eye. “You’ll never guess who we ran into.”

Clueless, I shrugged.

“A dog breeder by the name of Bob Turner.”

“Sorry. I don’t think I know him.”

“No, but your mother does. When I mentioned you and Max, Bob remembered selling a puppy from Buster’s litter to a woman for her daughter’s birthday.”

I blinked. “You mean...?”

Michael nodded, his smile stretching from ear to ear. “Buster and Max are brothers. Which makes you Mom...”

“...and you Dad,” I finished, matching his grin. “We’re parents.”

“Must be Fate,” he said.

And a perfect beginning.

1 comment:

Pamela Tyner said...

I liked it!