Author Archives: Ted Atoka

About Ted Atoka

You’ve found Ted Atoka’s blog. I write in many genres; however, I prefer contemporary fictional humor. I have six works in progress and that includes a science fiction novel. Enough about me now, I’m depending on you to flip through my blog posts. And hope you’ll let me know when you find one that tickles your fancy.

Miguel Rueda, author

Miguel A R

MIGUEL RUEDA, author, is a member and administrator of Fiction Writers Group. He has captured the essence of what brings a short story to life. This is one of his  most recent pieces. Look him up, I predict you’ll be reading more of his work very soon.

Stolen Love

Luciana ‘Lulu,’ Migliaccio’s home resembled the aftermath of a small Midwestern town following a level-5 tornado crammed into a twenty by twenty studio apartment. But the objects on the table near the door were arranged in precise, matrix-like order.

Stale cookies—sugar and with various fillings—lined the front edge; dehydrated donuts—previously jelly or crème filled—occupied the next row; and several small display signs—one declaring a “2-for-1” sale, another a “Baker’s Dozen” special—were against the wall. The arrangement created a tiered effect around the table’s focal point, a framed newspaper clipping.

Picking up the picture, she gazed at the man standing in front of ‘DaVinci’s Italian Bakery.’ The article’s headline read, “Enzo DaVinci Carries on Family Tradition in Brother’s Memory.” She held the thin wooden frame with her fingertips so as not to dislodge any of the paint pulled from the wall when she had stolen it. The memento, along with everything else on the table, had been taken from DaVinci’s.

The smell of anise floated into her apartment. “Enzo must be making biscotti,” she muttered.

When baked, the extract produced a distinct aroma that comforted her. She loved to dunk the oblong biscuit in coffee and let the hard shell soften. She closed her eyes and imagined the texture of the dough melting against her tongue, the feel of the softened hazelnuts filling her mouth. She smiled at the thought. It was heaven.

She opened her eyes, kissed the glass, and placed the frame back on the table. She put on her bright-red overcoat and left her apartment. Which was one floor above the kitchen of DaVinci’s bakery.

Enzo was indeed making biscotti. He had just pulled out the long flat loaves to let them cool before slicing them into their familiar shapes and returning them to the oven. This process gave the twice-baked cookie its literal name.

DaVinci’s front half had tables and display cases with a one-way mirror separating it from the kitchen so that Enzo could see what was going on while he worked. The entire store took up a third of a block with the entrance to the apartments above the stores at the opposite end.

He inhaled deeply and let his mind return to the small town near Sicily where he grew up. His grandmother had lived in the tiny kitchen of the apartment on the second floor of his parents’ home. She gifted him his love of baking, especially bread and desserts.  Food made her happy, which made him happy. In his mind, the scent was the smell of home—of love—of eternity.

“Uncle Enzo.” The squeak and subsequent thud of the door separating the kitchen and retail spaces broke Enzo’s daydream. “She’s back.”

Even though he had lived in the United States for the last decade, Enzo spoke with a thick Italian accent. It added a poetic lilt to everything he said. “Who is back, Gio?”

“That woman who keeps shoplifting. The fat lady….”

Basta, Giovanni! Do not disrespect anyone. Your Nonna looks the same way, no?”

Gio nodded, “Yes uncle, you’re right.”

Enzo peered into the shop. She stood by the door like a mouse poking her head through a hole checking for a cat, ready to flee at the first sign of danger.

Enzo said, “That woman is the perfect woman, Gio. She is, eh, Rubenesque.”

Gio’s face skewed. “Ruben-who?”

“Rubenesque. Like the woman’s body painted by Rubens? You are not taught this in your fancy college?”

“Do you mean, Rubik’s, like a Rubik’s cube?”

Enzo glared at Gio. “Si’, nephew. I mean she is a Rubik’s Cube.” Shaking his head he looked back at her, “She is not a square. What person is square?”

Gio mumbled, “Well, you’re a bit of a square.”

Enzo threw a handful of flour at Gio. “Kids today, no respect. What with your, eh, Facepage and constant tweetering.” He pointed to Gio, “Go out there. Apologize to that pretty lady.”

“Um, no uncle. I’m not doing that. What would I even say? I’m sorry I think you need to lose a few pounds but my uncle thinks you’re cute?”

Enzo blushed, “No, no, no, do not mention me!” He thought for a moment. “Ah, tell her she won something. A, eh, free coffee for being our hundredth customer today. Go. And ask her name.”

Gio smirked, “You want me to ask her name? Why would I….” Realization came to him. “Oh, you do like her. That’s why you let her get away with taking stuff.”

“Gio, stop. That is absurd.”

“Oh really, unc? I’ve known you ever since my pop got sick and you came to help us keep the bakery. You weren’t married in Italy, and you’ve never dated here. You’re always in here, baking. You took care of us when my dad passed away, but we’re good now. I’ve seen the way you look at her. Go ask her out.”

Enzo looked at Gio, then back out the window, “Okay, nephew, I will do that.” He wiped his hands on his apron, then ran his fingers through his hair, adding in more flour than he wiped away. He took a deep breath and walked out.

When he opened the door, Lulu was trying to slide a plate of cellophane-wrapped cookies under her coat. The hinges’ squeal drew Lulu’s attention. When she saw Enzo looking at her, she dropped the cookies and ran out.

“Wait!” Enzo rushed after her.

He picked up the plate and followed her. He saw a flash of red as she ducked into the entrance for the apartments. Hurrying through after her, he found a second, locked door leading into the building.

He looked around and saw an intercom unit. A quarter-sized glass bubble sat atop a mesh grill covering the speaker. Four handwritten name tags sat beneath it: Sam Cohen, another with indecipherable Chinese lettering, a third that had several small bats and a skull sketched onto it, and finally, in perfect script, the name Lulu Migliaccio.

Guessing that it had to be her, he pushed, and believing it was necessary, held the button next to her name. The electronic ringing from the speaker stopped when a small lightbulb inside the button lit up.

He heard a woman’s voice, out of breath, quiet and sounding far away, “Hello, can I help you?”

Ciao. Eh, hello Signorina Migliaccio. This is Enzo DaVinci from the bakery. You dropped your struffoli.” He released the button.

She had heard him speak in the bakery, but he’d never said her name. When he pronounced, Migliaccio with a proper Italian accent, it sounded operatic. She stared at Enzo on the small monitor set into the wall above her shrine to him. His voice, deep and exotic, wrapped her in a warm blanket of love. Her mind drifted on the possibilities.

Enzo placed the cookies on the package shelf below the mailboxes and pushed the button. “Hello. Eh, Miss Lulu, are you still there?”

His voice pulled her back to the present.

“Yes, I’m here.”

“Your cookies are left by the door. Eh, if you are free, I would like you to join me at eight o’clock tonight for coffee and dessert.” He released the button. Then quickly, and unnecessarily, he pushed it again, “My, eh, treat.”

He stepped back and waited for her response.

Lulu watched him fidget. In the mirrored wall of the lobby, he noticed his hair was speckled with clumps of dough and streaks of flour. He licked his fingers and tried to brush it away, succeeding only in making it stick out at odd angles in some places and plastering against his scalp in others. She laughed at the short, chubby man on the screen who had no idea she could see him.

“Enzo, yes. I would be happy to.”

She saw him smile and reach for the button. He paused and, unaware she could hear, whispered, “Vincenzo DaVinci, you are going to marry this woman.”

He pushed the button, “Thank you. I will see you tonight.”

In the weeks before that evening, Enzo had watched her from behind his mirrored partition. Every morning as she walked past the store to the bus stop on the corner, she glanced in. If it were empty, she would open the door and grab anything close enough to steal without having to enter. Enzo began to leave items near the entrance, each day moving them a little farther inside. One day, she had made it halfway to the counter when someone walked in behind her. Startled, she turned and scurried out, only stopping long enough to grab a framed newspaper article off the wall.

Since that day, he had vowed to confront her. Not about the thefts, but about his feelings for her. Despite her size, he knew she was invisible to all those around her but him; he saw her as demure and fragile. They had to be alike: lonely, but too shy to do anything about it.

Enzo closed early that evening, returned home and showered; making sure that his hair was combed neatly and remiss of extraneous baking supplies. At eight o’clock, he walked to her apartment and pressed the intercom. It rang only once. “Hello, Enzo. I’ll be right down.”

“Si’, I will wait.” He released the button and waited a full fifteen minutes before reaching to press it again.

A familiar fragrance stopped him. He caught a whiff of Biagiotti Roma, the same perfume his grandmother wore. Lulu opened the door. The voluptuous beauty he had been searching for all of his adult life stood before him. Her eyes sparkled in the dim light. His voice barely audible, he said, “Buona sera.” He coughed to regain the power of speech. “Eh, good evening, Lulu.” He held out his arm for her to hold as they walked back to the bakery.

He had set a table up in the center of his kitchen; he always felt most secure surrounded by the equipment and tools he loved. They talked, nervously at first since they knew virtually nothing about each other. Neither could admit they had secretly been stalking the other.

He had made mini-cannolis overflowing with a vanilla-bean-infused ricotta filling. By the end of the evening, they had made plans to meet the next night.

Enzo walked her home and returned to his kitchen. He wasn’t surprised when he found that one of the espresso demitasses was missing. He looked up toward the apartment above him and blew a kiss.

“One day, all of this will belong to you. No matter if you take it piece by piece or all at once.”

They continued to meet every night at the same time. Enzo would make special versions of the desserts that made the bakery popular. Cannoncini filled with dark-chocolate mousse, linzer cookies with raspberry jam that had a perfect balance of sweet and tart, each tiny seed exploded with flavor. Enzo always served them in odd numbers so that Lulu could have the last one.

At end of their first week, Lulu stopped stealing from the bakery. That evening, she had snuck out with a half-filled silver creamer in her purse. She had been nervous, and secretly excited, as he walked her home. Inside her apartment, she looked at the table she had piled with everything she had pilfered and realized that she no longer needed that thrill to feel connected to him. She now had all of him.

She threw away everything with the exception of the framed newspaper. She had other plans for that.

On their one-month anniversary, Enzo set the table with a pure-white tablecloth, linen napkins, and two slender ivory candles in silver candlesticks. He replaced the usual porcelain plates with fine Italian china that he had shipped from his hometown. In the center of the table sat a plate of seven pignoli cookies. He baked the patterns of the small pine nuts into the cookies in pairs: two stars, two squares, and two circles. The seventh unique shape lay hidden beneath the others.

Lulu arrived, carrying a flat, rectangular box.

When she saw the special setting, she said, “Enzo, this is beautiful, I mean, bellissimo.” She had been studying Italian using a book that she had actually paid for. “Is this a special occasion?”

Si’ Lulu, it is.” He pointed to the package. “You have something special for me?”

“Oh, this? Yes. Perhaps we should sit.”

Enzo held the chair for her—just as he did every night—then sat and poured them both coffee.

“Enzo, before you open this, there is something you need to know.” She handed him the box. “I have a problem that I’m working on. I steal things. Little things, nothing big or expensive.”

Enzo chuckled. “Mio amore, eh, my love, I know. I have always known.”

He opened the box. He saw the picture she had taken from his wall.

She had reframed the clipping in an ornate gold frame she had purchased from an antique store.

“This is beautiful. Grazia.

“But Enzo, I…. “

“No.” Enzo reached across the table and placed his finger on her lips. “No more talk of the past. Tonight is about the future.”

Embarrassed to make eye contact with the man to whom she had just confessed her darkest secret, a secret he had accepted without question. Tears welled in her eyes. She tasted a cookie. The inner dough was soft and moist, the pignoli supple on her tongue. They reached the seventh, hidden cookie. Slightly larger than the others, the toasted nuts were set in the shape of a heart.

Enzo smiled and played the game he did every night. “I am full, Lulu. You take the last.”

She looked at the remaining cookie, the candlelight flickering off the glaze baked onto its surface. She knew that each pine-nut had been touched by Enzo’s loving hands. She began to cry.

Enzo’s smile fell, he started to stand, “Mio amore, what is wrong?”

Lulu stopped him, “Sit, I’m okay. It’s just so beautiful, everything. You’re just so lovely to me.”

She picked up the cookie and bit it in half.

She chewed once. Stopped. Looked at Enzo.

He rose and stepped around the table, kneeled and took her hand.

Signorina Luciana Migliaccio. Mi vuoi sposare? Lulu, my love, marry me.”

The musical poetry of his words, spoken with his beautiful accent, overwhelmed her. She began to shake. Between the excitement and emotion of the moment, she started coughing. Then she swallowed.

Enzo jumped up. “Lulu, did you…?”

Lulu grabbed her throat. She looked as though somehow she could find a way to jump back in time.

He took her hand. “Don’t worry, we will get help.” He led her to the door, stopping before opening it. “Lulu, I have to know.” He looked into her eyes, “Will you?”

No longer concerned about her predicament, she calmed. “Si’, Vincenzo DaVinci. Ti amo.”

An uncertain future

viet-namWillie and Fran liked to picnic on their favorite granite bluff. It overlooked the Atlantic Ocean. Warm summer updrafts carried the sound of waves up from below. The last time they visited what they called their “private place,” they made love.

No one noticed, not a soul; not even the birds. Their picnic wine sparkled in the sun. After lunch, they talked for a little while, and then went silent. Sounds that lovers make blended with a seagull chorus. The soft rumbling waves  below, became part of their  their ocean-side symphony. Spent/ they edged toward the rim of a granite outcrop. Looking out from their private place, the sandy shoreline below went on forever.

“Isn’t this beautiful?” Fran said. Willie propped his chin on one elbow, and drew in a deep breath.

“Yes, honey. It is. I’ve dreamed of this place. A sad dream. One I can’t shake free. I’m in our private peace and I look down from the bluff. A giant rolling whitecap crashes loud on the hard-packed sand. It sounds like a huge canvas of a painted flower being ripped apart along its petal length.”

Fran touched his cheek and thought, “How can I not love this man?”

And from that day forward, she wrote to him every Sunday. Willie came home from Viet Nam three years later. The loss of one his hands and a leg mattered not. They embraced tight for three full minutes. Tears of love and sweetest joy bathed each other’s shoulders.

The lovers never returned to their bluff overlooking the ocean. It wasn’t necessary. Their private place had become almost sacred in their hearts. And they kept the memory of it locked away forever.

 

Sunday dinner

Max's Roasted Chicken

 

David noted the crocheted cloth that covered the dinner table. And he didn’t miss the fact that Liz had a new hairstyle. The aroma from the serving platter caressed his salivary glands. And when he pulled up a chair, passion or serendipity sat down once more.
Grandma Doyle, “Nana” to the seven others at the table, was in her favorite place, next to David, “Okay everybody quiet down. Liz, go ahead and say Grace today, I’m too tuckered out.”
The dining room hushed. Nana closed her hands, propped up her head, and shut her eyes in prayer.
“Heavenly Father,” Liz said softly, “We thank You for your everlasting love. Stop that Timmy, you wait for the meal with all of us.”
Timmy, seven years old, had a black eye. He squirmed, and bowed his head.
“Thank you Lord for helping David. He passed his bar exams. We also thank you f…”
“Crack!” Nana’s lower denture eased from her bottom jaw. It landed, dead center, on her dish.
Timmy leaned toward the old woman, “Go Nana! Spit out the other one!”
Nana sat motionless; head cradled between her fists. Her remaining denture sprang from her mouth, followed the same route as the former, and landed on her dinner plate. A tooth separated from its mount and spun like a piece of candy corn.
Liz looked hard at Grandma. “Nana, are you okay? You’re awfully pale.”
David leaned close to Nana and then turned to Liz. “I don’t think she’s breathing.”
“Do something!” Liz shouted, “Nana, Nana, wake up!”
David grasped Nana’s forearm, “You okay Nana?”
The old lady moaned. Her chin slid from her fists, and her head fell to her plate.
Little Timmy beamed, “If Nana ain’t gonna eat her pie today, can I have her slice?”

Gawk

I love words. Gawk is one of my favorites and I try not to forget it. Some people stare, others gawk. I’m not quite sure how they differ.

I admit that I like to gawk. A good gawk, at least one a month, helps me to relax and rid myself of questions that over-populate my thoughts.

Another word that I like is “woo.” I’m sorry to see this word disappear into the mists of time. Not many of us can recall the intricacies involved in a good woo. And to keep the process from being forgotten I wrote about it… look here for a quick woo.

Sneakers, the kind that lace up and reach your ankles made my socks ripen in a single day. The inside of my sneakers smelled like week-old road kill. Everyone had the same problem with old-fashioned old high-tops.

Now they’re low-slung jobbies called tennis shoes, cross-trainers, or casual footwear. The long-associated foot odor of such atomic footwear still remains …some things never change.

Here are more words I hate to see go down the textual paths of time.

  • Agog
  • Swain
  • Hobnob
  • Lollygag
  • Moxie
  • Frump
  • Moth-eaten
  • Court (spend time with)
  • Swoon
  • The vapors

Do you have any favorites?

Gawk

 

A late gift

bb-pickles

A late gift:

Five days after Christmas, Harvey Hopper had a terrible head cold. He was proud of his attendance record at the pickle plant and showed up for his shift, even though he had a drippy nose.

He  was a production line checker. This was a key position in the pickle plant. It was his job to make sure the correct amount of seasoning bee bees dropped into the swirling brine in  each jar. Harvey had to  put on a special pair of magnifying goggles, bend forward, and examine the jars as they went by.  

Harvey never realized that on this day, he was adding a little extra something to each container. Every time he hovered over the jars, mucus from his tripping nose dropped into the pickle juice. It met up with the seasonings, and vanished into the swirling briny depths. 

Perhaps the salty liquid or the vinegar acted as a foil to  his nasal run off. Nobody knows for sure. Yet, quite a few people with pickle jars at home, and who had had their flue shots, wee treated for flu symptoms by their family physicians.

A man alone

stools

Ed Brinkman retired 14 years ago, and lost his wife two weeks later. Neighbors in his multi stored apartment building all called him “doc” because he held a PhD in sociology. Nobody gets lonelier than a man without children or family, especially during the Christmas holidays. He looked forward to the letter carrier coming by this time of year; many of his students still sent him holiday greeting cards.

Brinkman, like most folks in their early 70’s had to deal with a few health issues. He’d given up his daily ration of Maker’s Mark more than six years ago; except on special occasions when somebody came to visit. And that was very rare. In the cold light of reality, hardly anyone ever called in.

More than a few times lately, he’d press the button of his answering machine, just to hear a friendly vice. The message was always the same, “You have no messages.” Beep.

He wondered if his friend Harry was well enough yet to play cribbage at the senior center, two blocks down from his building. Harry had had what the docs termed a “minor” heart attack.

Ed looked at his laptop. He’d left it open on his kitchen table. He shook his head and thought, “Nah, too much crap going on. Nobody has anything nice to say anymore. And I’m sick of trying to sort through all the junk that’s tossed my way, from people who actually believe that what they say is correct.”

No, all he wanted was to hear some lively voices, have a chat with happy people, and quite possibly munch some snacky stuff and aw hell, celebrate the holiday with just one Maker’s Mark Manhattan.

He jumped an inch from his seat when his telephone rang, and he snatched up the receiver before the second ring finished,

“Hello?”

“Ed?”

“Yes. Is that you Harry?”

“Hell yes, who were you expecting to call, Santa Claus?”

“Ha.”

“Get you butt down to the center, Ed. I have two dollars that says I can take you in cribbage.”

***
Author’s note: I hope you liked this little snippet. It carries a moral for us all. Let’s take a minute and do something this festive time of year, for someone we know who is without friends or family. A brief chat and a happy smile, or even a quick phone call “just to check” will help dispel their loneliness, and put a little joy into their holiday season.

~And merry Christmas to all. (Ted)

It’s all in a name

pussy-aa

Wendell Beauchamps loved animals. He was very active in several animal rescue groups, and never missed a chance to attend one of the many monthly adoption events.

It was a nice in Griggs park today. Not too hot nor too chilly, and it was the time of the year he didn’t need to wear a jacket. He had only one animal in his adoption cage today, and he was determined to find it a new family and home.

 The cage was in the back of his PT Cruiser wagon, and he edged it out over the back bumper. Last night, he stayed up late and created a sign that he designed to fit above the cage for all to see. He had a good feeling about the hand-painted, wide, rectangular sign. “This is it!” He thought, this will get this animal a new home. Definitely.

 He waved to the young fella in a yellow vest, directing him to where he should park.

 His spot was in the shade of a tall oak tree, and there was plenty of room between his car and those abutting his space. Wendell opened the tailgate, adjusted the cage, and attached his big sign so it was easily viewable by all who passed by.

 Forty-five minutes later, the animal rescue coordinator came over to him and said, “Wendell, we need to talk.”

 “Sure Harry; what’s up?”

 “It’s your sign.”

 “Great sign huh? I stayed up late last night making it.”

 “You need to take it down.”

 “Can’t take it down yet, I haven’t sold the animal.”

 “Makes no difference; I’ve already had two complaints from two families with little kids. They don’t approve of it. You need to take it down.”

 “What’s wrong with it? It’s a good sign. I made it myself.”

 “Yes, you did a good job too. It’s just the way you worded it.”

 “What’s wrong with the words?”

 “Well, quite honestly Wendell, when people read ‘Get Pussy for only $25.00 right here,’ it kinda upsets some folks.”

 “That’s the cat’s name Harry, I didn’t name it. The homeless person I got her from named it when it was a kitten. The cat’s name is Pussy.”

 “C’mon Wendell, let me get you a cold drink, and we’ll discuss it further. Just lay the sign down for a while, would you?”