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Important To Be Grateful

by John M. Carlson

“I’m making spaghetti for dinner, with an apple crisp for desert,” Mom said, as she puttered about the kitchen. “I’d thought of making something special, since it’s your first night home. But I just didn’t have the time.”

“Spaghetti sounds good to me!” Indeed, I liked spaghetti. For that matter, I liked everything Mom cooked. Well, everything except liver and onions.

“I hope you’ll eat a lot of spaghetti! You’ve lost weight. You won’t do well in school if you don’t eat properly!”

Not this topic again! We’d just covered it less than a month before. I said: “I’m no thinner than I was at Thanksgiving. As I told you then, I’m eating enough. I just don’t have a lot of stuff I have at home—like deserts—and I’m walking so much.” Time to change the topic. “Can I do something to help?”

“Well, you could open a bottle of wine for dinner.”

“Sure.” I went over to the cupboard where we stored wine. “Any particular wine?”

“A red wine. Beyond that, I don’t care. It’s all the same—good for the price.” Mom sighed. “‘Good for the price!’ I get so tired of always thinking of the price! I get so tired of thinking of money. I remember what it was like ten years ago, when we could completely fill the oil tank—and we kept the house warmer! Back then, I bought nice wine more often. And back then, ‘roast’ didn’t automatically mean ‘pot roast.’ Come to think of it, when was the last time we had a real roast?”

“No idea.” I thought. The last time I could remember was when I was in junior high. I wouldn’t tell Mom that—I didn’t want to depress her by reminding her it had been so many years since the last time she’d roasted a real roast that her teenage boy had become a man. “It’s been a while. But that’s OK. I like your pot roast.”

“Good. Guess what’s on the menu for Sunday?”

I opened a bottle of wine. I reached into the glass cupboard, and started pulling out a wine glass.

“Use the nice glasses,” Mom said.

“Are you sure?”

“Positive. Maybe we should use nice things more often. They are made to be used, after all. And I can trust you now. I remember when you were six, and somehow climbed up to grab one of those glasses. I nearly had heart failure.”

I poured a couple of glasses of wine, using the nice glasses.

We sat down at the dining room table a few minutes later. Mom had me say grace. Then, we began eating. The spaghetti was, as always, wonderful. The sauce was thick, rich, and full of flavor. We had garlic bread that had buttery-garlic goodness with every bite. And the wine might be cheap, but it was good. Really good.

“You probably don’t say grace when you’re at school,” Mom said, “since you eat in the cafeteria.”

“No, I don’t say grace,” I said. Indeed, I could imagine that if I did say grace, everyone around me would think I was crazy. Especially on those all too frequent nights when dinner was beyond horrible.

“I just hope you at least remember to be grateful for all your blessings,” Mom said. “I know it’s hard sometimes—I have trouble remembering to be grateful sometimes, too! But it’s important to be grateful.”

Mom was right. I had a lot to be grateful for. I had enough to eat, even if college meals could sometimes be beyond horrible. I had a chance to go to college, unlike either of my parents. I was doing well. I had good friends. I had my family.

She was also right that sometimes it’s all too easy to lose sight of one’s blessings. One bad event can completely ruin a day that was otherwise perfect.

“I am grateful,” I said. “I am very grateful.”


John M. Carlson lives in the Seattle area. His stories have appeared in a variety of online publications. More of his work can be seen on his website.

Last Sip of Champagne

by John M. Carlson

Julia wondered if it was a good idea having a glass of champagne that night. One of her medicines had been making her feel a bit clumsy as it was, and alcohol might make that problem even worse. She didn’t want to be clumsy tonight.

But champagne was a tradition. Every fall, Julia and Stuart, her husband, visited California. They traveled about, visiting family and friends. They always ended up at a quaint inn located by a scenic lake. On their last evening at the inn, they sat by the lake at dusk, and enjoyed a bottle of champagne. Their champagne tradition hadn’t changed in twenty years, except they now were able to afford real French champagne, instead of André.

She didn’t want to break the champagne tradition. Not this year. Not since it would be her last year staying at this inn. Her oncologist made it very clear that she wouldn’t live much longer.

That night, Julia and Stuart sat in silence. They sipped champagne, and looked at the lake as the sun slowly set.

This was always the best part of these vacations, she thought. Stuart’s sister was always nasty. Then, there was so much rush-rush-rush visiting other people and places. But there was peace here at the lake. The lake was also a small chunk of paradise on earth. Discovering this place was the best thing that had happened during their marriage. There were times when she even thought it was the only good thing that had happened during their marriage.

“It’s sad to think that this will be the last time I’ll ever be here,” she said.

“You don’t know that!” Stuart’s voice had fake cheer in it. “The doctor could be wrong!”

“He hasn’t been wrong about anything up till now.” Julia sighed. “I’d once dreamed of moving here when you retire.”

“That would never happen. It’s nice visiting this place. I like it. But retire here? With taxes like they are in California? No lake is scenic enough for that!”

“Anyway, I want to make something clear. This place is special. Very special. And I don’t want you bringing some other woman here after I’m gone.”

“I won’t. I promise.”

“So you say now. But I know you. I’ll die in a few months. After a suitable period, you’ll go out and find someone new. You’ll haul her down here to meet your crazy sister. And, on the way home, you’ll probably stop by here to show her the lovely inn you learned about during your first marriage.”

“Trust me, that won’t happen,” Stuart said. “I won’t be getting married again. I learn from my mistakes.”

“I’m not only thinking about a new wife. This also includes girlfriends.” She pulled her gun out of her large purse.

“Are you crazy?” Stuart yelped. “Bringing your gun to California? You don’t have a license here!”

“What will they do if they catch me? Put me in prison for life? That wouldn’t be a very long sentence in my case.”

She stood, feeling a bit unsteady on her feet, thanks to the champagne and the doctor’s wonder drug. She snapped the gun’s safety off, and pointed the gun at Stuart.

“I’m going to make sure you never bring another woman here! Ever!”

“Julia! I promised you! Isn’t my word good enough? Haven’t I stayed with you, honoring my marriage vows?”

“Oh, you did an absolutely wonderful job honoring those vows. You think I don’t know about Kimberly? Or Carrie? Or Nancy? Or Stacy? Or Consuela? Why don’t you be honest? The only reason you stayed with me was because I come from a good family, and that helped you professionally. Face it, Stuart, there is no reason to believe you won’t forget any promise you make now. Or you’ll laugh about your promise when you bring some 21-year-old bimbo here. So I’m going to make sure you never, ever bring another woman to my lake. Goodbye, Stuart. I’ll see you on the other side of the grave, if there is an other side.”

“No!”

He said “no” like he was saying “no” to a dog threatening to vomit in the middle of the living room. You’d think he’d beg for mercy, she thought. No matter.

She pulled the trigger.

She was a good shot. And she hit her target perfectly now. Stuart slumped in his seat, dead.

She sat back down. She picked up her glass, and finished her last sip of champagne. Her last sip ever.

She put the gun into her mouth. Then, while staring at the lake she loved, Julia pulled the trigger.


John M. Carlson lives in the Seattle area. His stories have appeared in a variety of online publications. More of his work can be seen on his website.

The Last Unexplored Frontier

by John M. Carlson

Dad sometimes joked about how messy our garage was. “Our garage is the last unexplored frontier! We’ll have to explore it someday!”

Meanwhile, Mom thought that exploring was nice, but cleaning the hopeless chaos would be much better.

Dad died of cancer the spring I was 19. I knew that Mom would decide to clean the garage sooner or later. Most of the mess was Dad’s, and there was no need to keep it now that he was gone. So I was hardly surprised one July morning when Mom told me we’d start cleaning the garage that day.

After breakfast, we headed out to the detached garage, and started studying Dad’s last unexplored frontier.

Dad was a thrifty pack rat. He collected all sorts of things “that might be useful someday!” All those things had pretty much taken the garage over. There was barely—barely—enough space left to park the car.

Mom and I stood, looking at all the odds and ends that Dad had saved. There was a china cabinet, which he’d planned to fix up for Mom, who’d wanted a china cabinet to hold her good dishes. There was a pile of parts for his old truck. (He really should have let the guy who’d bought the truck have the parts. The truck was so unreliable it would be needing those parts sooner rather than later.) There was a mountain of parts for the family car. There was a big pile of scrap lumber. There was an old wood stove that Dad could install in the house if heating oil prices became totally unaffordable. There was a big shelf full of various chemical concoctions, like furniture stripper.

Almost all of this stuff was junk as far as Mom and I were concerned. It would take a natural tinkerer like Dad to make use of most of this stuff.

I thought of all the work it would take to clean up this overwhelming mess. We’d spend endless hours in this hot, stuffy garage. We’d make countless dump runs to get rid of stuff. We’d probably spend weeks trying to find people to take the more usable stuff, like car parts. All in all, this project would be a nightmare.

I briefly fantasized about cleaning up this mess using a gallon of gas and a lit match.

Finally, Mom sighed. “I really want this garage clean. I’m so tired of fighting to cram the car in. But I can’t face doing this! Especially with all the other stuff we need to get done this summer.”

And with that, we escaped from the garage.

The last unexplored frontier would remain unexplored. It could remain unexplored forever, at least as far as I was concerned.


John M. Carlson is a writer living in the Seattle area. You can find more of his work on his website.