A short story inspired by this prompt (also written by me, for my local writers’ group) – “You’re browsing through the books at your local library or bookstore. A title catches your eye, and you take it from the shelf – as soon as you open the cover, a sealed envelope falls out. What is in the envelope and how did it end up inside the book?”
A Real Keeper
“I don’t ask for much, Mac, you know? I just want my kid to stop being such a brat, and let me back in her life, so Lizzie will finally quit her bitching. Is that too much?”
I put my bottle down and Mac replaced it before the condensation had a chance to collect on the bar.
“I mean, yes, I’m the adult, blah, blah, blah, but come on. Judy’s old enough to know how to use a phone, and with how much I pay for it each month, there’s no reason she couldn’t call or text me now and again. I tell ya, the kid is getting spoiled, and copping an attitude, all thanks to my lovely ex.”
“You want some advice?”
I laughed, and motioned to the “seen better days” décor of the place. I hadn’t been coming here long. I’d only lived in town for a few months, since the divorce and the house sale were finalized. Lizzie offered to let me stay until I found a new place, and her duplex was walking distance from the club. Mac was a good guy to bounce things off, and was way cheaper than a therapist. “I’m sure as hell not here for the ambiance, compadre. Please, enlighten me.”
“You should pay a visit to the DT.”
“The DT? You mean, as in the Dudley Tucker?”
“That’s the one.”
This time, I laughed so hard I started choking on a swig of beer. When I recovered, I looked Mac square in the eye, and asked, “Are you seriously suggesting that I go the Dudley Tucker Library to solve my issues with women? That’s priceless, even for you.”
“Hear me out.”
“Oh, I can’t wait.” I settled back on the stool, crossed my arms, and said, “Go ahead. This is gonna be great.”
“Lizzie is after you to make amends with Judy, right? She can’t have kids, so she wants to live vicariously through your twelve year old daughter, true?”
“So far, so good, but I’m the one that told you all that.”
“Yes, but a little bit of bartender wisdom. You can’t control the actions of other people, you can only control your actions.”
“So, you can’t get Judy to listen to you, but you can make it look like you’re trying to. Best, most obvious way to do it for an intellectual guy like yourself is to go to the local library, grab a bunch of books about the great communication gap between fathers and daughters, and leave them around the house for Lizzie to find.”
I started to see the brilliance of his plan. “I like it! Easy to do, no heavy lifting, and ultimately it’s not my fault if even Doctor what’s-his-name’s suggestions won’t get my pig-headed girl to listen to reason. You’re a genius, Mac! I’m heading there tomorrow after work. Hopefully I’ll be back later in the week to report back on my success. Here’s to the women in my life behaving for a change!”
I tipped my beer at him, emptied it, then tossed a twenty on the bar. I told him to keep the change. Granted, there wouldn’t be much, but I only had twenties and I wasn’t about to leave one as a tip.
Next day, I found myself browsing the self-help section of the library. One title, “Real Men and the Women Who Try to Control Them” jumped out at me, and I pulled it off the shelf. As soon as I opened it, a plain white envelop fell out, and landed square on my right Vans.
I picked it up, turned it over a few times, then figured it I might as well open it. There was obviously a piece of paper inside, and I couldn’t return it to its rightful owner without more information to go on. I tore the side, slid the page out, unfolded it, and the world got a bit blurry for a second.
“Stop being an ass. Judy needs you. Help her.”
“What the absolute f… Mac, this isn’t cool. We’ll just see about this.” I stormed over to the front desk, scaring the remarkably gorgeous woman sitting there. Pretty or not, I slapped the paper down on the counter, and said, “You better tell Mac not to pull a stunt like this again, or there’s gonna be hell to pay.”
After a short pause, she said in a quiet voice, “Who is Mac, and what seems to be the trouble, sir?”
“Mac is the guy who snuck in here and left this note for me. Not at all cool.” I pointed down at the page, tapping for emphasis as I growled, “Look what he said to me.”
The librarian looked down, then back at me and said, “I don’t see anything, sir.”
“Then flip it over!” I grabbed the page, flipped it, and then flipped it again. No matter how many times I did, both sides remained stubbornly pristine white.
“That’s not possible.” My brain tried to process the situation, but gave up and sat quietly in the corner while I tried to remember how to form words.
“What did you think the paper said?”
I mumbled something vaguely coherent while an image floated up from my memory. Judy, about three years old, bike helmet askew, sitting on the ground with a quivering lip and tears brimming in her eyes. Her knee was full of gravel. The blood and the tears welled up at about the same time. All she said, in a quiet, brave voice, was, “Help me, Daddy.”
“You don’t look well, sir. Would you care to sit down for a moment?”
“I think that’s a good idea.” She led me to a chair near the stacks, and I sat for what seemed to be hours, trying to figure out how those words appeared. I finally came to the conclusion that until I solved the mystery, maybe heading home and calling my daughter would be a good start. Maybe a family therapist wouldn’t be a bad idea either.
Mel got to the library early, and made a beeline for the staff office. She opened the door and heard a little shriek.
“Sorry, Elizabeth. I didn’t know you were here already.”
“That’s okay. Yes, I got here about a half hour ago. I had some projects I wanted to get started on.”
“Projects like what?”
“Oh, nothing special.” Elizabeth said as she quietly slid the bottle of Acme Disappearing/Reappearing Ink into her purse.
“Must be special if you’d leave that gorgeous boyfriend of yours to get here early. Mac is one of the good ones. He’s a real keeper.”
Elizabeth laughed. “Yes, yes he is. Always trying to help a damsel in distress.”