Category Archives: Short Stories by Linda Claire Groshans

The invitation…a short story by Linda Claire Groshans

Linda Claire as story character

“When in doubt…wear red lipstick”

Mary Lou was getting ready to go to the party. The invitation was right there on the vanity counter next to her in the bathroom. As she inspected that invitation for the 100th time, she felt nervous all over again. The extra pounds and years she wore on her body were not helping her self confidence. “Come on,” she said out loud to herself as she started to try to gather some calm.

On her bathroom wall, was a word-art sign that she had purchased years ago. She read it with a half smile, “When in doubt, wear red lipstick.”

“Oh, what the heck!” she thought as she grabbed the tube of red lipstick and applied it to her lips and then inspected herself again in the mirror. It had worked, the red lipstick reminded her that she still had some womanly charms. If fact, she thought, her new pink shimmery blouse was going to be a hit too. But then, inspecting the blouse more closely she noticed that there was a bit of a gap between the buttons at her cleavage. “Drat!” She was nervous again, and then spent the next 10 minutes wondering if she should go. She paced.

Mary Lou calmed herself by running her fingers through her blonde hair and as she did that, she remembered how it felt to have his hands soothing her head.

So long ago. It was all so darn long ago. And yet, there were still so many memories. But, why had she received a formal invitation after all these years of not seeing or being in communication with him. “What are you up to?” she pondered as she returned to viewing herself in the bathroom mirror.

“Oh, you goose,” she said out loud. “Everyone gets older…he probably looks ancient by now.” And then she actually laughed out loud as she tried to picture him as an old man. She imagined his waistline was no prize now either. She added a couple of age spots to his face as her imagination continued to gather the reality of time spent apart. She continued to fantasize about his aged physique because it was an entertaining thought for her and helped her anxiousness.

Mary Lou now performed her signature “ego value thinking” as she tried to reclaim her feeling of being “worth it.”

Well, actually, Mary Lou felt good enough about herself that she started to dismiss her anxiety. “Who cares what that old coot thinks of me!” She thought with some indignation.

“In fact,” Mary Lou thought “The time he spends with me today will probably be the best time he has spent in the last 20 years!” She smiled at herself. And that smile was an absolute. An ABSOLUTE (in all capital letters) , smile of a fully confidant woman. There she was! “Mary Lou you are completely WORTH IT.” she said to herself.

She grabbed the invitation and stuffed it into her party purse. It fit in by the compact mirror, the pink blush, the tube of red lipstick and a little comb.

The roads are quiet. She arrived at his home at the exact time she had planned. The home looked stately, almost Romanesque. A powerful house for a powerful man. “A powerful OLD man,” Mary Lou corrected her thoughts.

Mary Lou looked in her rear view mirror before she opened the car door. The lipstick was still good. She looked down at her chest to make sure the blouse button had not popped open. Then, she threw open the car door and made her way to the door. And as she walked, she gathered her self esteem and thought to herself that she would probably actually hypnotize him with her charm.

But, what greeted her when the door opened was a surprise she never could have imagined.

Part 2:

There he was standing in the entryway to greet her. His outfit and appearance were impeccable, but he had clearly aged.  In his hands, he held a large poster board sign with words handwritten in black marker, it said, “I can explain.” His face and body suggested a nervous pose as he studied her for a reaction. Then, he tried to reach out to her with his open arms for a hug, but his attention was not returned. Mary Lou was looking past him into the hallway.

The hallway had 7 original, large, and distinctive framed artwork pieces. And the artist for each of those pieces had been Mary Lou. It appeared that these pieces of artwork which Mary Lou had sold over these last 20 years since she had left him through the local art gallery, were now in the possession of her old love interest, Roger. She was too stunned to have an immediate reaction, but she could hear her own small voice saying simply, “What have you done? Why? What have you done?”

Then,Mary Lou looked at him with disgust.

“Mary Lou, it isn’t what you think.”, his reply was hideously lame. “Please, let me explain.” he continued.

While she walked the hallway with growing agitation, she examined her own work.

He quietly said, “Please, I beg you, let me explain.Will you believe me when I tell you that I did this all as your truest friend?”

“No.” she glared at him. “This is unforgivable.”

“Please listen.” Roger implored her while he was wringing his hands and looking at her with fear and trepidation in his face.

They were both silent for a long time before she said, “You know what Roger, you do owe me an explanation. In fact, I can’t wait to see how you are going to rationalize this theft of my very creative nature.I want you to try to muddle your way through this story. And, after I listen to your lame apology, I want you to package each of the paintings and have them delivered to my house.”

Mary Lou took careful pleasure in walking with her head held high to the easy chairs in the lounge. Roger sat facing her in an arm chair. Mary Lou looked at him with loathing. Roger stared back in a fearful gaze. He started his explanation:

“It started out in innocence,” he began.

Mary Lou scoffed, but Roger continued…”I found one of your paintings at the gallery and I realized right away  that the subject matter had a deeper meaning. I could see that you had not randomly selected  just any good painting subject.”  Roger leaned forward with a hopeful look on his face. “I could tell you were recording history in a very novel way. I could see what you were trying to communicate.”

“What a line,” Mary Lou spat out, but she was also now the one to be a bit nervous. Had Roger really figured out her motives?  “Well, please continue your pathetic nonsense,” she said in an effort to cover her own growing suspicions.

“He knew? He had figured it out? The secret of the paintings was now no secret at all?” Mary Lou thought to herself. She was becoming uneasy and shifted in her chair trying to hide her growing anxiety.  His knowing changed everything.

As Roger stared at her, Mary Lou looked down at her blouse to make sure that the wide gap between the top buttons was not the object of his stare. She also wanted to check her lipstick again but only because she wanted to feel in control again…but it was all slipping away. Roger knew that the paintings were a code.

“My God,” Mary Lou shrieked inside her own mind. “He knows, so now what?”

 

 

Sharing a work cubicle (a short story) by L. Claire Groshans

Sharing a Work Cubicle

She arrived at their shared cubicle before him. It was often a relief for her to come to work. Home was complicated. Linda sat in her swivel office chair so she could take off her walking shoes and replace them with the low heels that were “business professional”. On her tidy desk, there was a photo of her with her husband. They had been happy the day that photo had been taken, but that was no longer the case. She kept her marital problems a secret while at work. She was not ready to tell anyone that her personal life was crumbling in spite of her daily efforts to think of any way possible to make her depressed husband happy and engaged again.

“Top o’ the Morning” her boss announced before even making the turn into their cubicle. Linda looked up just in time to see her boss’ broad boyish smile. He was wearing a tailored overcoat. As he took his coat off, he also set his quality leather brief case on top of his desk.

Each morning as he entered the front office doors, Neil carried that briefcase with obvious intention so the statisticians, writers and managers would see him looking very professional, important and hard at work. But, the brief case contained a secret. He had shared that secret with Linda nearly 6 months ago when she had started as his assistant. The secret was that the briefcase contained only a Tupperware container of trail mix. “Top Secret” he had told her when he first showed her these contents. She laughed out loud. And after that one loud office laughter episode, Neil had Linda practice with him to learn a “silent” laugh. Because their cubicle was so closely situated and sandwiched between the more serious work-a-day co-workers, they pledged to do their best to laugh without drawing attention to the fact that they were having fun.

“Do you remember what we are doing today?” he asked as he sat down at his desk. They were facing each other now, but when the work day officially began they would swivel their office chairs towards their desks, so their backs would then be towards one another.

“I remember” she said and then continued, “but first I have to tell you that the custodian is going to rat you out. He left a note.”

“Cripes” he looked at her in a mock horror. “Don’t tell me I spilled some pumpkin seeds out of my trail mix.”

“Living dangerously” she replied and then did the quiet “laugh thing” they had nearly perfected.

“Well, should we get on with it?” he asked. Today was her first employee review with the firm. The Human Resource Department had a deadline and she was actually hoping for a nice raise. Her work was good. Neil was the editor of the business professional periodical they worked on. Linda’s clever use of vocabulary and her artistic eye helped with layouts for the magazine.

“Yes” Linda said.

“Great” he replied. “Grab a legal pad and a pen.”

“Why?” she asked?

He waited while she retrieved a yellow legal pad and a pen. They now faced each other and he made an attempt to look quite seriously at her. “Let’s have fun and play a game.” he said.

“Another game?” she asked. Linda knew her review had already been prepared and was ready for submission to H.R. After all, she had proof-read it herself before typing it up. She liked the games though that he suggested almost daily. She had fun and that was something that was happening at home less and less.

“OK” he said. ” I have been wondering how many phrases we can come up with that describe being inebriated.”

“What the heck?” she said. This was odd, but Neil was odd . “OK,” she replied “Games on.” And at that moment they both twisted their chairs back to face their desks and they began the assignment. Neil set a timer to give them a full 3 minutes each.

The timer made a small ding. “OK, he said, time to read our results and whoever thought of the most original phrases will be the clear champion of the day.”

“Stink faced” she said. He did the quiet laugh while making a face that caused her to laugh too.

“Three sheets to the wind” he retorted quickly while trying to look extremely serious about the assignment.

“Snockered” she said.

“Tipsy” he said using a dainty voice.

“Blotto” she was proud of that one. What a funny word.

“Drunk” he said.

“You can’t use that. That is too basic.”

“OK, how about this one. “Cheers”

Then, he used his hands to make a halt sign and to stop her from continuing the game. “Well, that was what I wanted to tell you. I wanted to tell you Cheers and good work. I am so glad I have such an efficient admin working for me. You make me look good Linda, so Cheers, and thanks!”

She smiled. “Speaking of looking good, should we do some actual work today?”

“Not yet. Let’s go to the lake first.”

The Lake was in fact their name for another office game they had created. Some time ago, Neil’s wife had picked out an oil painting of a lake that he had hung on the back empty wall of their cubicle. The game that Linda and Neil had concocted was to “go to the lake” by facing both of their chairs side by side looking out at the never changing view of the painting. Neil had told her that when they played the game, they should imagine themselves years into the future as old folk, sitting on the front porch of the retirement home. “You have to always pretend to be old” he said. “That part is important.”

“Nice day” Linda said with a little feeble voice while staring out over the serene painting.

“Yep” he said. “But these days, the lake is starting to look the same to me every day.”

“Well, that’s because you missed the flock of geese that just went by.”

“Did they honk?” he asked.

Then they both started the silent laugh,

Neil turned ever so slightly in Linda’s direction. She could tell he was serious now. Then quietly he said, “I’m glad I get to see the lake with you. Maybe we can see a real lake together when we are old and in the same retirement home. What do you think?”

“Maybe” she said. But her heart thought, “I hope so.” Then they were both quiet for several minutes before turning back to their desks.