Sunday, April 26, 2020

Short Stories—“The Souvenir”

Once there was a couple Tom and Jane who wanted so desperately to conceive a child, but no matter how much love they made or how hard they made it morning, noon and night, trying every position imaginable, leveraging the force of gravity through the science of sex, they couldn’t conceive. They turned to the best doctors. They tried modern procedures and medicine. They even sought out the help of sex therapists, but still they just couldn’t seem to conceive a child. 
So, they decided to go on a vacation to the Caribbean to forget about their problem for a while, but once they had gotten to the Caribbean, it turned out to be a vacation they would never forget.  

Tom and Jane were on the island of St. Matthew.  Because Jane had preferred tourist traps, looking through gift shops, and Tom, alone, preferred just walking about, trying to look too much like a regular tourist. 
In the distance Tom heard a light, bouncy, soothing sound.  He looked in its direction and saw an indigenous man playing a steel drum. The man had a slender built, dressed in classic beige cargo shorts, a bright clean and colorful Hawaiian shirt, sandals, and his long black hair was arranged in dread locks. His name was Javel, and his body bounced from his knees up to the sound he had made with rubber-tip drum sticks against the face of the shiny chrome drum. Behind him were boxes of steel drums for sale.

Tom went up to Javel.
“Easy sound, isn’t it?” Javel said. “Puts you in a happy place.”             
“Yes, but I sure wish it could take my wife and I to a happy place,” Tom answered.
“First time on this island? On your honeymoon?” Javel asked.
“Ugh, no, I’ve be married now for a couple of years,” Tom answered, “but my wife and I can’t seem to conceive a child.”
“Oh, that’s too bad,” Javel said. “Perhaps a steel drum could help; you could play it for her.”
“But I’d have to learn,” Tom said. “How much are they?”
“This one…” Javel pointed down with his sticks toward the drum he was playing, “…fifteen hundred dollars.”
“That’s too much for me,” Tom said.
“Awe, that’s too bad, sir,” the Javel said.
Tom nodded sadly then walked away, but before he had gotten too far away, the Javel spoke, “I tell you what, sir.  I’ll give you this one.”
Tom stopped and turned around toward Javel.
Next to Javel, a drum sat face down in the sand. it did not look like much of a drum, showing years of age with its many dents, its dust and rust. Javel had been using it as a drum that tourists could drop currency into.
“I can’t promise you the drum will sound very good, but I’ll give it to you for nothing.”
“I don’t want to sound too ungrateful…” he looked toward Javel.
“—Javel,” Javel said, “the name is Javel.”
“I don’t want to sound so ungrateful, Javel, but why would you give me a drum that is in such bad shape as this one is? I mean I don’t even know how to play it—I’m sure I’d sound pretty awful—and you’re starting me off with this one.”
“Ah, sir,” Javel said, “but this drum isn’t your average drum. It is a magic drum, and it could solve all of your problems. All you have to do is take it home, shine it up a bit, and you’ll see.”
Tom looked down toward the old beat up drum. He remembered seeing the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, when Indiana Jones had to choose a chalice to drink from the Fountain of Youth from. He remembered that of all the chalices Indiana Jones had to choose from—and there were quite a few chalices fit for a king in shiny silver and gold—it was the less attractive chalice—the ugly duckling of chalices—that he had chosen, and he had chosen wisely.
Tom didn’t know whether Javel pulled the wool over him or not, but he thought it would best if he didn’t question Javel any further before Javel could reconsider.
“You know what? Fair enough,” Tom said. “Thank you.”
“My pleasure, sir,” Javel said. “You and your wife enjoy your stay here.”
As Tom walked away with the drum, Javel continued to play the steel drum.

It was not long before Jane met up with Tom on the beach, she saw the drum in his arms, and with surprise she asked, “What on earth is that?”
“It’s a steel drum,” Tom said proudly.  “It’s a musical instrument.”
“I know what it is,” Jane noted, “but where did you find it? look at it. I bet if dropped a bucket it would sound better than that.”
“Well, I was told it has magical—well, I was told that it could bring us good luck, for example, in the baby-making department,” he said.
“Good luck, huh?” she commented. “Let’s see if you can get it on the plane first.”

Tom managed to get the steel drum through airport security with minimum inconvenience. The drum had been handled with care—especially through airports in the Caribbean—and hadn’t sustained any real additional damaged even through  a couple of heavy downpours, which Tom had expected. The worst part of it was dealing with Jane when she rolled her eyes.

Tom was home, alone. Jane had been out running errands. After he had googled “how to set up and play a steel drum” he went out into the garage with the drum. He had set the drum on a pair of wooden horses—that was the best he could do to suspend the drum from wire.
He picked up the pair of drumsticks he had made out of wooden dial rods and topped off with rubber Arrowhead erasers. He tapped on the surface of the drum lightly with the sticks. The drum sounded terribly flat, making Tom grimace, as all he seemed to have done was lift the grains of rust on it into the air.
“Yeah,” he said, “maybe I should clean it up first.”
He found a sponge of sandpaper, but as he began to sand the surface of the steel drum, from all the dust he had created arose a genie.
            Tom just stood there, astonished.
“Greetings!” the genie said, floating above the drum, sitting Indian-style, his arms folded across his chest, “I am the genie of the drum.  I will grant you, uh, now what was it….”

“Ah, three wishes,” Tom reminded him.
“Yes, that’s it. Three wishes. Thank you,” the genie said.  “You’ll have to excuse me.  I’m a bit absent-minded in my old age, but if you make three wishes, I will do the very best I can to see that they are granted.”
Just then, Tom had heard Jane pull up in the sport utility vehicle in the driveway.
“Wait right there a minute,” Tom said to the genie. “Let me get my wife. She’s never going to believe this. Just wait, right there.”
The genie nodded.
Tom exited the garage, meeting Jane as she exited the car. “Would you please help me with the bags?” she asked.
“Sure,” Tom answered, “but before I do, I want you to come into the garage with me; there’s something I’ve got to show you.”
“What? Did you clean it up?” she asked.
“No,” he replied, “but please, just come with me into the garage.”
She rolled her eyes. “Alright.”
Jane saw the genie in the same position floating over the steel drum.
“Alright, alright,” Jane said, “I have to admit it.”
“Admit what?” Tom asked.
“Come on, Tom,” she said, “It’s a special effect. It’s almost convincing.”
“Jane,” he explained, “it’s not a special effect. It’s a real genie.”
“Really?” Jane asked.
“Really,” Tom reinforced.
He looked toward the genie. “Genie….”
The genie spoke, “Greetings. I am the genie in the drum, and I am here to grant you, uh, what was it again?—”
“Three wishes. Three wishes,” Tom reminded him.
“Wait,” Jane said. “You have to remind him that? You have to remind him that he supposed to grant us three wishes?”
Tom turned to Jane. “He’s-he’s an absent-minded one.”
“Should we even try?” Jane asked Tom.
“Anything,” the genie interrupted. “Your wish is my command.
Jane challenged the genie, feeling that she had nothing to lose. “Alright,” he said, glancing over to Tom.  “We’ll wish for a baby.”
The genie nodded. “Very well. I’ll try to remember.”

That night just before Tom and Jane had gotten into bed, Jane asked Tom, “Do you think I should remind the genie about our wish?”
Tom shrugged.  “It wouldn’t hurt.”
“So, what do I do?” Jane asked. “Rub the drum?”
“No, actually, you have to take the sponge and sand the surface of the drum to get his attention.”
“Oh, okay, easy enough.”
She left the room.

Jane was in the garage. She picked up the sponge of sandpaper lying next to the drum, and said, “Well, here it goes….”
            She sanded the surface of the drum, and a second later, out of all the dust, the genie had arisen, floating over the drum, his legs crossed Indian-style, his arms folded across his chest.
            “Greetings,” the genie said. “I am the—”
            “Yeah, yeah, I get it,” Jane said. “You’re the genie in the drum. I just came out here to remind you that you have a wish to fulfill for us.”
            “Oh, yeah, the wish,” he said. “What was it?” he asked.
            Jane rolled her eyes. “A baby, a brand-new baby?”
            He thought for a moment. “Oh, yes, that’s right. I’m on it.”
            “Great,” Jane said. “Good night.”

The next morning when Jane woke with Tom they felt like children on Christmas Morning, but the house, they soon discovered, was quiet. They looked in every room—or at least every room they had made love in, but in each room there was no sign of an infant anywhere.

They stood in the foyer, in front of the staircase, a place they had first made love just after Tom had carried Jane across the threshold, when suddenly the doorbell rang. 
They paused, turning toward each other, then rushed to answer the front door, only to find their neighbor, Scott, from next door. 
“Oh, Scott,” Tom said. Then he looked out into the neighborhood. There was no one outside but Scott. “What can I do for you?”
“Well…” Scott said proudly as if getting ready to salute Tom and Jane, “…I have an announcement to make.”
“What?” Tom said. “You’re returning some of my tools.”
“Ah, yes, I know I have to return them, “but that’s not what I’m here for.”
“Then what are you here for?” Tom asked.
“Well, I’m here to tell you that Elizabeth is pregnant—I mean we still have to go confirm it with the doctor—but Elizabeth did one of those pregnancy tests, and it turned blue. Blue!
“Hah!” Scott continued. “We’re going to have a baby! Can you believe it?”
Jane found it difficult to stand there. She glanced up with a forced, polite smile toward Scott then excused herself.
“Well,” Tom said, “I guess a congratulations is in order, so…congratulations.”
Scott nodded. “Thank you!”
“Well, good-bye,” Tom said.
“Good-bye,” Scott replied. He turned to exit the stoop. As he walked across the lawn toward his house, he glanced back toward Tom. “—And I’ll get those tools back to!”
Tom closed the front door then went into the kitchen where he found Jane there, standing with her arms outstretched, her hands on the edge of the island, her body hunched over it.
“Jane,” Tom asked, “are you alright?”
“You know, Tom, for a moment there I really wanted to believe it. I really thought there was a baby on the other side of that front door, you know?”
“I know,” Tom said. “I know.”
Jane did not move for a moment then she sprung from the edge of the island. “—I’m going to go have a word with that genie.”
Jane went out into the garage. She grabbed the sponge of sandpaper then scratched the surface of the drum with it, and moments later the genie appeared, floating over the drum, his legs crossed Indian-style, his arms folded across his chest.
“Greetings!” the genie answered. “I’m an the genie of the—”
“Yeah-yeah,” Jane said, “I got that much. I want to know where our wish is, you know, the one about the baby?”
The genie thought hard for a moment then spoke, “Oh, I’m so sorry. I forgot who the wish was for, so I just guessed it was for a couple in this neighborhood.”
“I see that,” Jane said. “I ought to just throw you out with the garbage.”
“Oh, no-no, I beg you! Please don’t do that!” the genie, with his arms up, his hands pressed together as if in prayer, pleaded her. “Give me another chance!”
Jane held up her hand. She could not look toward him anymore. “Alright, alright! I’ll give you another chance!”
“And that wish is…” the genie asked humbly.
Jane rolled her eyes. “You’ve got to be kidding me. you’ve got to be kidding me!”
She turned to the genie point blank. “A baby! A baby!”
“Very well, very well. I’ll do my best to grant you your second wish,” the genie replied.
“You’re best? You’ll have to do better than that!
The sponge still in her hand, she wound up and threw the sponge toward the genie, but although it was a direct hit, the sponge went right through him since the genie was a spirit.
“Ugh!!” Jane said. She stomped out of the garage and back into the house.

That night, just before Tom and Jane got into bed, Tom asked Jane, “Do you think you should go out to the garage and  reminded the genie about our second wish?”
            “No,” Jane replied, “you know what? I think I lit him up enough. I’m going to bed.”

The next morning when Tom woke with Jane, they did not feel like children on Christmas morning. they did not rip their covers off. They did not spring out of bed; instead, they just lay there.
Jane turned to Tom. “Should we even look?
He took her hand and said, “Come on.”
Jane put on her house robe, tying it tightly and with her arms folded across her chest, she looked in the rooms throughout the house with Tom.
Again, they searched throughout the house and came into the foyer, but there was no infant to be found.
Jane sighed then plopped down on a step of the staircase.
“You know, Tom?” she said.
“What, honey?” he answered.
“You know how we Christened every room?” she asked him.
“Yeah,” he answered.
“Well, I’m beginning to think we cursed them, because, you know, we weren’t married yet.”
“No, honey,” he said tenderly, “I don’t believe that’s it at all.”
Then suddenly the doorbell rang.
Jane turned to Tom. “Do you think we should even answer it?”
“You know what?” he said. “How about if you just stay here, and I answer it?”
She shrugged.
Tom answered the front door and found his neighbor Tim standing there.
Tom asked, “Ugh, what can I do for you, Tim? If you want to borrow any tools, I lent them to Scott; you can ask him.”
“No-no,” Tim replied, “I didn’t come here for tools. I came here to make an announcement.”
“And what’s that?” Tom asked.
Tim, too, stood tall then proudly announced, “Well, Tom, Janet and I just found out this morning that she’s pregnant—with twins. Twins, Tom! Can you believe it?”
“Wow, twins,” Tom said.
“Yep,” Tim repeated, “twins.”
With his fist, Tim tapped Tom against his chest then exited the stoop.
Tom closed the front door, but when he turned around toward the steps.
“Jane?” he asked. “Jane?” he asked louder.
“I’m in the garage,” she answered.
Tom went into the garage where he found Jane frantically searching the garage.
“Honey,” he asked, “Are you alright? What are you doing?”
“I’m searching for that damn piece of sandpaper,” she answered. “I threw it at the genie, and now I can’t find it.”
Tom looked on the floor behind the drum and spotted the sponge.
He picked it up. He went over to Jane who was on all fours on the floor.
“Honey,” he said.
“What?” she asked, her back toward him.
“I found it,” he said.
She stopped and turned around.
She saw the sponge in his hands and snatched it from his hands. “Thank you.”
She got up and went over to the drum. She scratched its surface hard and fast, and moments later the genie appears in the cloud of dust.
“Greetings,” the genie said in his usual greetings position, “I am the—”
“Shut up. Shut up, you damn fool! Jane scolded the genie. “Where is my wish? It didn’t come true!”
Protecting himself with his arms, the genie replied, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry, but may I ask you what you wished for?”
“What I wished for?”  Jane asked. “A child! A damn child! You gave Scott and Elizabeth’s theirs! You gave Tim and Janet theirs—twins, for Christ’s sake—but where’s mine? Where’s my child?”
She aimed the sponge at the genie as he put his arms up, protecting himself.
“Don’t throw it! Don’t throw it!” he begged. “I’m sorry! I’m so sorry! I couldn’t exactly remember what your names were. Tim and Janet sounded close, so I granted them your wish!”
“Damn it!” Jane yelled out. “We’re not Tim and Janet! We’re Tom and Jane! Tom and Jane!”
She was about to hurl the sponge at the genie, but he fell to his knees on the drum.
“Please!” he pleaded with Jane.  “Please give me one more chance! One more chance! I wish you would grant me one more chance!”
Jane glanced over to Tom. “Would you believe him? Would you believe him? I’m supposed to grant him one more chance?
“You know what?” Jane said. She took a moment to collect herself then in as nice a manner as she could, she said, “No, I’m sorry but that’s it.  I’ve had enough.
“Please, Tom,” Jane continued, turning to exit the garage, “get rid of that damn drum, will you?”
The genie collapsed in complete failure.

That night Tom collected the drum. He took it outside and tossed it out onto the curb along with all the other garbage.  When the drum landed, the impact from the ground banged it up even more.
            Tom rubbed his hands together, ridding them of the rust from the drum then turned to return inside the house.

Early the next morning a sound awoke the Tom and Jane, and the couple turned to each other in complete surprise. 
It wasn’t the sound of the loud garbage truck—they would have only ignored it, turning over and having gone back to sleep. 
But this particular morning, what Tom heard with Jane was the sound of a crying baby.  The baby seemed to be just outside their front door!

They exploded with excitement from the bed and ran to the front door, but when they got there they hesitated for a moment.  Tom turned to Jane who gave him a nod.
With their eyes closed, Tom opened the front door. he did not see anything until he looked down, and his eyes opened wide.
“Jane, honey,” he said, “I think you’d better come here.”
He reached behind him for Jane.
Jane, who was sitting on the bottom step of the staircase, opened her eyes and reached up for his hand, got up and joined Tom at the front door where she looked down and beamed.
There on the stoop doormat lay the steel drum with all its dents, dust and rust, but inside the drum, lying on its playing surface, bundled in a beach blanket lay the most beautiful baby they had ever seen.

~ The End ~

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Short Stories—“The Souvenir”

Once there was a couple Tom and Jane who wanted so desperately to conceive a child, but no matter how much love they made or how hard they...