Eddie’s Change in Routine
My latest story in Ragbag Magazine. Mysterious!by Meg O’Reilly Amandes
Eddie Ferrari was sitting in a gold Honda Civic from the late 1980’s, hardly the vehicle his surname implied. The only Ferrari that Eddie owned took the form of a small enamel pin adorning his left lapel. Yellow background with the silhouette of a rearing stallion. A joke gift, originally, but all of the men in Eddie’s family wore these pins shaped like the emblem of a vehicle they would never afford.
A notebook lay open in Eddie’s lap, a leaky black-inked pen had nestled into the crease between pages. His seat was reclined ever-so-slightly at a 108 degree angle, the driver’s side window was cracked open one and one quarter of an inch, and he was smoking the penultimate cigarette in the pack.
The clock on the dash - not the digital dashboard clock, of course, as that time-teller had gone all-eights years before, but rather a cheap drug store sportwatch taped above the radio dials - read 3:47. Eddie glanced into the rear view mirror, which was adjusted so as to frame, perfectly, the front steps and front door of 1543 W. Woolenhamer Way.
As always, at this time of day at this time of year, the late afternoon sunlight sloped across the door. The brass doorknob shone beacon-like from the sun’s reflection. That doorknob would not be touched for another hour and nineteen minutes, and by then the brass would be dulled as the sunset spread melon hues onto the horizon. The door would be in twilight shadow, but the porch light would flick on as the Resident of the building hit the third step. The porch light would spill its feeble glow onto the Resident’s hat, and the tiny white moths would be quick to flit into the porchlight’s allure.
Blinking, Eddie glanced at the notebook resting on his trousered thighs. The timetable of the Resident’s activities was laid out neatly in meticulous print. Eddie had her schedule down pat, mapped out, by heart, like the back of his hand:
6:45 ~ Upstairs front room [assumed bedroom] blinds opened.
7:03 ~ Front door opened approx. 8-10 inches from inside [assumed by R.]. Small ginger dog [assumed dachshund] exits.
7:04 ~ Downstairs front room [assumed living room or parlor] drapes opened and tied back. R. is visible if the light is on in front room, and the sun is not shining directly on front room windows.
7:10 ~ Ginger Dog reenters house.
7:15 ~ Sullen young girl [approx. nine years old; assumed Daughter of R.] exits front door, stomps down stairs, holding plastic bag. Girl cleans up after Dog, stomps back upstairs w/ now-filled plastic bag, reenters front door, closes it behind her.
… And so on, exactingly, went Eddie’s record of the morning routine of a woman he did not know, and that of her daughter.
Eddie had been watching this small family for the better part of eight months. It was, he admitted to himself, maddeningly boring. He had imagined great things for himself and his career when he became a private investigator. Great and adventurous things! And sometimes those things happened. He’d been a great help to the police in nabbing a wicked arsonist, for instance! But that was three years, five months, and twenty-three days ago. Work had slowed down. In order to keep on top of finances, Eddie had taken whatever scraps he could from whatever clients he could find. And that is how he ended up with this gig. Sitting in the Civic, chain-smoking, watching that damn dachshund bounce around an eight-foot-square patch of grass every morning.
My story for Ragbag Magazine’s “FIRE” issue…
by Meg O’Reilly Amandes
Norah met Johnny at a party. It was a surprise party for Marie’s boyfriend, Tom. The evening’s air was so pleasant; a brief respite of cool in the midst of a sticky August. Norah wore red, and brought a bottle of almond-flavored sparkling wine that had been on sale at Trader Joe’s. The party was smooth and dreamy, wind chimes tinkled on the porch. She took a drag of someone’s cigarette and attempted a smoke ring, but felt sick after the one drag and stopped. Norah flirted with a guy or two, but knew better than to do more with a friend of Marie-and-Tom’s. Marie would not let up on the gossip, she knew from previous experience. It was better to leave the Marie-and-Tom boy pool unswum in.
Hours into the night, there was soul music wrapping its warm arms around the dancers in the living room. Norah was sitting on the windowsill, half-heartedly running her fingers through a bowl of pistachios placed next to her, searching out the nuts among a majority of shells. Marie wove her way through the crowd, stood next to Norah and leaned in close.
“I need you in the kitchen,” Marie hissed, taking Norah’s hand and pulling her off the sill.
In the kitchen, Marie fumbled in a drawer for candles, and Norah in another for matches. They came up with an assortment of tea lights, three sparklers leftover from the previous month’s celebratory activities, a floating bath candle shaped like a seahorse, and an actual birthday candle in the shape of the number 40. Sticking this hodge-podge into a half-inch layer of chocolate frosting, Marie grinned at Norah over the cake.
“Tom’s friend Johnny’s here. You’d like him.”
Norah rolled her eyes and lit a match. “I’m not looking tonight, Marie. But thanks.”
They took the cake, bedecked and blazing, back out to the other room where the floor was trembling and baby-baby echoed.
Johnny was standing alone in a corner, adjusting a camera lens and snapping shots of the birthday cake. Norah watched for a moment, and saw how lovely the shot was. The candles lit Tom’s face, and the glow accentuated his joy. Marie leaned in and gave him a kiss on the cheek, and when they inhaled, about to blow out the mess of tiny lights together, her scarf fluttered over the candles.
The flames caught the gossamer material, and Tom acted quickly, grabbing the scarf and patting out the fire between his bare hands. Everyone in the room gasped and a few people let out a choked, startled yell. The air of excitement was palpable, made greatly more so by the near-disaster. Tom took his frightened girl into his arms, whispered in her ear and kissed her on the lips. People started laughing with relief, and Tom leaned over carefully and blew out all the candles in one breath, at the exact moment that the sparklers shot their last spark and fizzled out. There was applause.