Here is a story that I wrote for the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge 2019. I came in 3rd in my heat, so I’m moving on to the 2nd round. The assignment for the first round was to write a drama that involved a pet sitter and a fiance. The word limit was 2500 words.
The two dogs were barking and jumping at the door when Fiona, the owner (and lone employee) of Fiona’s Critter Sitting Service let herself into the dark house. She switched on the hall light and made her way straight back to the kitchen, where the two pups anxiously awaited their liberation. She quickly unlocked the door to the backyard and the dogs bounded off the creaky porch.
Fiona filled the food and water bowls before sitting at the oak table to read the lengthy note from Mr. Hart. His notes, written in loopy cursive letters on a yellow legal pad, got longer and longer with each visit. Fiona didn’t mind, however–the notes were filled with not only details about his travels, but also with little glimpses into his love story with Violet. He was completely smitten by this woman. He explained to Fiona that their love story was a most improbable love–not forbidden- just improbable, since he was considerably older than Violet, and society didn’t always look favorably on such love. Their story was, nevertheless, inspiring to Fiona, who was beginning to wonder if she would ever meet her own soul mate.
Fiona had been to the house many times, as Mr. Hart was gone for varying durations throughout the year. She felt like she knew Mr. Hart quite well now between his pre-travel phone calls and his handwritten notes. He was an expressive, passionate man who loved to travel and was deeply in love with Violet. Last month, he had called Fiona to explain a new treatment she would need to give one of his pups. At one point in the conversation he asked Fiona to hold for a moment. She imagined that he muffled the phone with his hand, because she barely heard him say, “I’ll be there in just a minute, my darling.”
When he returned to the phone, he spoke in a more hushed tone. “Fiona. You cannot know the joy that is in me as I prepare for our trip to St. Lucia. I have arranged so many surprises for my Violet. We will be dining privately on the sand one night–enjoying the most sumptuous seafood and island drinks together. Oh, and another day we will behold the beauty of the island by helicopter. We will see the island’s lush rainforests and coral reefs, and even the Soufriere Volcano! She will never forget this trip! How wonderful life is, Fiona!”
Fiona often wondered if Violet appreciated Mr. Hart. She wondered how old Violet was. He said she was younger than him, but by how much? Ten years? Twenty? She never met Violet in the times she’d met with Mr. Hart, but she imagined that she was beautiful and probably intelligent, too. After all, Mr. Hart was a very smart man. Fiona knew this not just from the detailed notes he scribed, but she had often noted the hundreds of books he kept on the antique shelves in his sitting room. She had read through numerous spines and seen some of the most impressive penames: Shakespeare, Keats, Updike, Austin, Dickens, and Hemingway, just to name a few.
During her last visit, she had spent time looking at the photos on the mantle– there was one of Mr. Hart in front of the Westminster Abbey, one of him covering his white hair with a straw hat on a dark-sand beach, and one of him holding up a lobster at an outdoor restaurant next to a dock. When he called her to set up this visit she asked him why Violet wasn’t in any of the photographs. He replied, “Why, she takes the photos, my dear!”
When Mr. Hart interviewed Fiona, over a year ago, she recalled him being slightly agitated and nervous about having someone coming in and out of his house. She had assured him that she was a professional, and that she was bonded and insured. They talked about her experience, her hobbies, her family, and her schooling. Mr. Hart seemed pleased with their hour-long interview and he hired her. She found herself completely taken with Mr. Hart and his caring soul. He was the most romantic man she’d ever met, and she began to eagerly anticipate the adventures that Mr. Hart described.
Fiona kicked off her sandals and began to read the yellow note on the table.
Thank you for caring for my beloved pups. Violet and I will return late Sunday evening. Please be sure that you come early Sunday evening in case we get in too late. Remember to give the girls their chondroitin each night; their joints seem to be less achy when they take it. I left pig ears for you to give them in the morning. They love those. As always, also make sure they have plenty of water.
As I told you, Violet and I are staying in Paris this week with my sister. She lives just a few blocks from the Tuileries Gardens, in that magical city where I met my beloved Violet. I plan to take Violet to all the places that we went to when we first met.
I think that I’ve told you that it was love at first sight with us. I saw her sitting in a little cafe up in Montmartre. She was sipping wine and eating bread, watching the local artists paint the Paris skyline. I sat down two tables over and just watched her- completely awed by her beauty. Twice she caught me looking at her and I looked away. The third time, it became a game to see who would look away first. Finally, I got up and walked to her.
“Are you waiting on someone?” I asked her.
“No, cherie,” she answered. “Would you care to join me?”
I sat down with her and we talked until the chairs were stacked all around us and the wine had long been dry in our glasses.
“May I have your number, Violet?” I asked her.
She wrote it down on the bottom of an old receipt. I remember caressing the paper as though it was her cheek. She had touched it and now I was touching it. There was a kinetic energy that ran through every cell in my body.
I called her the next day, and found that she was free. We spent the entire day together, and I knew there was no turning back for me. We ended that day on a wooden park bench, eating crêpes “avec le sucre et beurre”.
“Could you consider loving me, Violet?” I asked bravely. “You are young and beautiful and I am an old man.”
Instead of answering me, on that radiant day, she leaned over and kissed me. Her eyes were closed and when our lips touched, I began to shake uncontrollably. She pulled away and smiled. “Consider it? I demand it!” she said, with a smile that positively ruined me.
I hope that you enjoy your week. I will miss my pups, but they know how much I need this special time with Violet.
Fiona left that night feeling wistful. She yearned for the kind of connection that Mr. Hart and Violet seemed to have–the stuff of fairy tales and fireworks and passion. Their story had reignited Fiona’s belief that such a love did exist. It was rare, but it was still possible.
Two weeks later, on a Monday evening, Fiona pulled in to Mr. Hart’s driveway for her scheduled pet sit. Oddly, there was a car in the driveway that she had never seen before. She went to the front door and unlocked it with the key Mr. Hart had given her. The light in the hall was on, and she heard a voice yell from the kitchen, “Hello? Who is it?”
“It’s Fiona,” She responded, as she walked toward the voice, “from Fiona’s Critter Sitting Service. I’m here to take care of the pups!”
An elderly woman sat at the oak table, going through a box of old papers. Her hair was white, and she had a striking resemblance to Mr. Hart. “Well, you won’t need to come here anymore,” she said, looking up from her list. “My brother’s dead. Thank you for your services, my brother trusted you.”
Fiona felt her cheeks burn and chills spread down her arms all the way to her fingertips. “Oh, no!” she gasped. “And you’ve come all the way from Paris! How terrible! What happened?”
“Paris?” the woman asked incredulously. “What would give you that idea? I’ve lived here in this town for over seventy years! My brother died of a reaction to a new psychotic medication he was given last week. His heart just couldn’t take it. Nothing has worked for him all these years, and the doctors thought this might. Such a shame that no one could help him.”
“B..but… I don’t understand!” Fiona said, bewildered. “What about Violet? Does she know?”
“Violet?” asked the woman. “Who is Violet?”
Fiona looked at the woman as she fought the realization that was slowly permeating her brain. “Oh, no. This is so tragic,” Fiona said in a whisper. “Violet was the love of his life. He told me all about their love story. It was…truly… breathtaking.”
“There was no Violet, my dear,” the woman said more matter-of-factly. “My brother suffered from a diseased mind. He did have an active imagination at times.”
The woman realized that Fiona was deeply hurt by this news. She reached into the box and pulled a yellowed newspaper out and held it up for Fiona to see. “Here’s an editorial the local paper published when they first heard my brother was let out. The doctors found him responding well enough to the drugs to leave the ward. He was able to live on his own for several weeks at a time, as long as he took his medication. But oh, my brother hated the side effects of the medication. He spent his life making frequent plans to stop taking it. He knew, after years of treatment, that he would lose all sense of reality after a day or two, so he would plan to leave his pups taken care of before he ventured out. We’d always find him down by the old bridge and bring him back to the ward to get himself readjusted and back on track.”
“But the pictures on the mantle?” Fiona asked softly.
“My brother lived alone with nothing but his books, and, in recent years, his computer. He became a master with photoshop. They do look impressively real,” she answered with a wishful smile.
“Oh, I see,” said Fiona, heartbroken. She held the article in her hands and read the headline. “No One Deserves a Psychopath Living Next Door”. She couldn’t bring herself to read the article. It was all too much for her to take in. She thanked the woman for letting her know and told her, once again, how sorry she was.
Fiona sat in her car, staring at Mr. Hart’s house for the last time. Tears rolled down her cheeks. His sister claimed he died of a reaction to a new drug. She couldn’t help but wonder, however, if it wasn’t a reaction to a moment of clarity- realizing that Violet would never be his fiancee.
“I hope you find her now,” Fiona whispered as she pulled out of the driveway.
p.s. In round 2, which is due tonight by midnight, I have to write a comedy involving a security guard and a test of strength. Not sure how this will go, but I’m busy at work now!