Contact the Author: PaulaJudithJohnson@gmail.com
As I picked blackberries, a low humming was the only sound in the quiet woods on this warm, late summer afternoon. The house-high brambles, growing in a scalloped pattern, extended prickly arms on either side, as if to embrace me. I felt securely alone in the world but knew the man in my life was on the other side of the dense briar bush, also picking the plump black fruit. The wine we intended to ferment would be a deep, luscious, rich, ruby red.
With my picking bucket almost full, the sun’s heat caressed my bare shoulders, lending me a lassitude that hummed right along with the deep, droning buzz that permeated my solitude.
“Honey, run!” my husband hollered. “Yellow jackets are swarming!”
Turning, I was horrified to see a cloud of deadly insects swarming at knee height between me and freedom. I had unknowingly crushed their ground hive beneath the heel of my boot as I entered the horseshoe area created by the enclosing blackberry vines.
Trapped, I had no choice. To stay was to die. With a ragged breath, I dashed through the mass. Grabbing my beloved’s hand, we ran for our lives.
The berries in our buckets bounced out as we raced down the hill to the safety of our car. Jumping inside, we quickly rolled up the windows and locked the doors to keep the raging devils from lethally punishing us for my crime.
“Ow!” I screamed, batting at my tortured thigh. “One stung me!”
My husband yelped, too, swatting at another of the little beasts.
Four in all had invaded our sanctuary. We flailed in the confined space, slapping and smacking and whacking about us until all the furious attackers were dead.
Panting from our exertions and sweating in the stifling heat of our airless battlefield, our heads tipped back to rest on the top of the car seat.
“Somehow, I don’t feel victorious,” I wheezed, massaging the ache on the outer side of my injured thigh.
The love of my life chuckled humorlessly as his hand pressed against his own wound—on the tender inside of his upper thigh. Then he said, “We may have won the battle but I think we lost the war.”
“Why is that?” I asked.
He pointed to the empty picking buckets. “They not only robbed us of the all the blackberries, they made sure there’s not a chance in hell of us ever coming back.”
Standing on the banks of the Columbia River is invigorating on this early spring day with the sky a soft, gentle blue. A chilling breeze flows down from the gorge causing small whitecaps to shiver across the water as the waxing tide runs swiftly out to sea.
Fifty feet from shore two large sea lions frolic. Repeatedly, their sleek, black bodies briefly break the surface, one after the other, before disappearing as they dive into the deep waters.
Suddenly, a thrashing disturbance draws the eye. A sea lion, with a sizable silver salmon clamped vice-like in its jaws, shakes it violently. The struggling fish flies free and swims beneath the surface. Smoothly, the sea lion follows.
Again the water erupts. The salmon is ravaged in the sea lion’s vicious mouth. A tinge of pink colors the fish as it is tossed aside.
Quickly, the sea lion submerges, and then surfaces a third time with its hungry maw locked on the ill-fated fish. With a savage swing of its head the sea lion rips away the last tasty morsel of its meal. Clearly visible to the naked eye is the red of the gaping wound in the salmon’s underbelly that is no more.
The carcass of the salmon sinks into the cold blue of the Columbia. Shivering whitecaps ripple across the water. The sleek, black bodies of two sea lions gracefully break the surface before disappearing, one after the other, into the depths to continue their hunt in the ever flowing river.
Copyright – 2015 Teresa Brown writing as Paula Judith Johnson
“Heads, we get married; tails, we break up.”
His companion tapped the deck of cards that sat on the table between them. “If you really want to gamble, why not make it interesting? One card decides. Jack or better and you win the bet.”
“What are the odds?”
“Not as good as your heads or tails.”
He poured another shot and tossed it back. “That’s a harder bet to win. Can we make it the best two out of three?”
Her throaty laugh was as smoky as her cigarette. She took a long, hot drag. “That lengthens the odds. Do you want to win or lose?”
Leaning forward, he breathed in her scent. Stale perfume, cheap whiskey, burnt tobacco. “Does it matter?”
She shrugged. “Not particularly.”
“That’s what I thought,” he grumbled. “Has anything ever made a difference to you?”
The lines in her face softened as her silvery blue eyes turned dreamy. “It did once,” she murmured with a wistful sigh. The glowing coal on the stub of her unfiltered cigarette scorched the scarred flesh between her yellowed fingers. Hissing, she viciously mashed it out, picked up the whiskey bottle, and drained the last thimbleful into her glass. “But that was long ago,” she declared gratingly. “In another life.”
He stood, wobbled a bit, and made his way to the cupboard where he found another bottle and cracked it open. “Doesn’t sound like you have anything to lose.”
With a hiccup, she laughed. “Nothing I haven’t lost already.”
“So, which will it be? The coin or the cards?”
“Heads, it’s the cards. Tails, it’s the coin.”
The fresh bottle of whiskey landed on the table with a thunk as he fell into his chair. Doubting his understanding, he asked, “You want to flip a coin to decide whether we flip a coin or cut the cards?”
She lit another cigarette. “Sure, it’s as good a way as any to decide.”
Nodding, he poured two new shots. “Makes as much sense as any of it. You have a quarter?”
“I doubt it.” She picked her jeans up from the floor and rummaged through the pockets. “I never win at strip poker. Or anything else, for that matter.”
“I never win bets, either,” he said, leaning down to retrieve his pants. Methodically, he checked one pocket after another but came up empty. “There must be a quarter around here somewhere.”
“I found a dime,” she crowed and tossed her jeans back on the floor.
“I can’t flip a dime,” he complained. “My hands are too big. I’m clumsy with something that small.”
“Never fear, my fine friend. I have the dainty, little fingers of an aristocrat. I’ll flip. You call it.”
“Hell, I’ll never win this bet.”
“Call it,” she repeated.
“Tails,” he muttered as the coin sailed across the room. It bounced on the counter before rolling into the sink.
She staggered over, braced herself on the counter, and peered closely at the coin. “And heads it is.”
“Figures. I never win a bet.” He gulped more whiskey.
“Me neither. But we’re not done yet.” She flopped into her chair. “You still need to cut the cards.”
“To see if you get a Jack or better.”
“Oh, yeah,” he said, nodding as he poured another round. “Another bet.”
Reaching across the table, she pulled the cards in close. “Not that I don’t trust you, mister, but I don’t know you. I want to shuffle before you draw.”
“Shuffle to your heart’s content.”
“You keep that up; you’re going to wear the spots off.”
“Just making sure.” She riffled the cards one last time and slapped the deck on the table. “Only one draw. Winner takes all.”
“Winner takes all,” he agreed and rubbed his hands together. Interlacing his fingers, he pressed outward with his arms and cracked his knuckles. “Since I never win bets, here goes nothing.”
With trembling hand, he reached out, fumbled a few cards off the top and, before she objected, divided the deck. Turning his hand over, he displayed the King of Hearts.
“You won!” she shouted enthusiastically. “You won the bet!”
A pumpkin grin lighted his bloated face. “I won the bet,” he whispered in disbelief. “I can’t believe I won.”
His blurry eyes beamed joyfully into hers. “What was the bet?”
Copyright – 2013 – Teresa Brown writing as Paula Judith Johnson
Snow swirled outside the bare window of the small log cabin, the fat flakes whipped by a wind both cold and cruel. Noelle mourned the circumstances that had sent her husband on a reckless trek into the unforgiving elements but the need had been great.
Trembling, she nestled the last knot of wood into the dying embers of the yuletide fire. Its fading warmth no longer a source of gladness and cheer.
The howling gale gusted smoke, thick and black, back down the chimney to choke her lungs and sting her eyes.
"Oh, Lord," she whispered in despair. "Please bring my beloved husband home."
Suddenly, as if in answer to her fervent prayer, silence descended upon the night, and through a break in the clouds, a guiding star shone brightly. In the distance, the faint tinkle of sleigh bells sang sweet and clear. Soon the joyful jingle drew near.
Noelle heard the stamping of hooves in the snow and her husband's merry laugh. She threw open the door and raced into his warm embrace. "Oh, Nicolas, you're home."
"Home and happy," he said, giving her a resounding kiss. "Let me take care of the horses and I'll be right inside."
"But what of Mary?"
"Your Mrs. Josephson was safely delivered of a healthy baby boy."
Noelle sagged against him in relief. "And a name," she asked looking into his rosy face. "Has she named him, yet?"
Grinning, he announced, "Oh, yes. She named him Christopher Christian Josephson."
Copyright 2013—Teresa Brown writing as Paula Judith Johnson
I hate moving. Especially to an unfamiliar city. Such as the time in 1972 when, at the age of 19, I moved into a large apartment complex in Fullerton, California.
It is Sunday night—late. Exhausted, I feel ready to sleep for 18 hours but my new job starts bright and early tomorrow. That’s when I realize my alarm clock is packed in one of the numerous unlabeled boxes scattered around the living room.
So, as I said, I hate moving. Especially when one of those same unlabeled boxes hide all of the toiletries and cosmetics I’ll need in the morning to help me look bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for my first day at work.
Yes, I hate moving. Especially when, late at night, my bed frame is unassembled, my mattresses are propped against a wall in the living room, and my sleeping bag is laid out on the bedroom’s hardwood floor, unmercifully waiting for me.
Oh, yes, I most definitely hate moving. Especially to an unfamiliar city, when it is an unspecified time late at night and I have to get up early in the morning, and I’m so exhausted that I’m willing to lie down on an unforgiving hardwood floor to sleep.
I’m just sliding into my first dream when a rustling noise in the living room awakens me. Unmoving, I listen with every fiber of my being but all I hear is the whoosh of street traffic.
Thoughts race through my now hyper-alert mind. Had the apartment manager re-keyed the locks after the last tenant moved? Does an intruder lurk outside my closed bedroom door? Should I silently crawl into the closet encased in fear to await the dawn? Or, dare I venture out, unarmed, to confront the unidentified terror?
Haltingly, agonizingly, I draw courage about me like a suit of armor. Holding my fear in check, I slowly, soundlessly, rise to my knees then to my feet, and creep across the room. Bursting through the door, I stand defensively, fisted hands raised to strike. Quickly, my gaze sweeps around the room—only to find a poster I’d taped to the wall had fallen to the floor and rolled itself up.
Adrenalin pumping through my veins like fire, I huff a hot breath of relief.
Gawd, I hate moving.