This is my first attempt at the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge. The story had to be less than 1,000 words with the following conditions:
Genre – Drama
Location – Copy shop
Random Item – Bottle of maple syrup
Bess Sanderson put her full weight into opening the door leading into the copy shop and huffed her way inside. “Hello? Hello!” She trudged to the counter, the handles of her black vinyl purse draped over her forearm. In one hand she clutched a school photograph and with the other she reached out to ring a tarnished silver bell. When no employee appeared, she rang the bell again, and then six more times.
A disheveled-looking young man emerged from an office behind the counter, crumbs stuck to a spot of maple syrup soiling his slightly askew, narrow necktie. The fashion accessory leaned toward a name badge bearing the name Ian in capital letters.
“Hello there.” Ian smiled and slid the bell down the counter until it was just out of her reach.
“Young man, I need your help,” Bess blurted. “The police won’t help. I tried the post office but they sent me here.”
“It’s my son Elvin,” she continued. “He’s gone missing. I need something to put all over town.” Bess laid the photo face-up on the laminate countertop and used her fingertips to push it toward the young man.
“This is a recent photo?” Ian asked, studying the sepia-toned image.
Bess nodded. “Yes. He’s seventeen on his last birthday. He’s a few inches taller than his daddy. About five-seven. His daddy, that is. Not him. He’s taller.”
Ian dutifully took notes on a piece of scrap copy paper, “mhmm’ing” and “ahh’ing” where appropriate. Finally he lay the pen down. “I can design something and have the copies for you in about fifteen to twenty minutes, if you don’t mind waiting?”
“Hmph. Don’t have much choice do I?” Bess leaned on her cane and dragged her feet across the floor to one of two chairs against the opposite wall. Settling into the one closer to the window, she hugged her purse to her chest and sighed.
Ian ducked into the office and snapped up his mobile phone from the top of the desk, sending last week’s work orders to the floor in a flurry of pinks and yellows. He accessed the device’s contacts screen and scrolled through the names until he reached his sister’s. With more force than was necessary, he punched her profile picture with the tip of his index finger.
When the receptionist answered, he asked for Moira by name and wasn’t surprised at being placed on hold. The strains of a classic rock ballad, slowed down and played by a full orchestra, droned in his ear. He recognized the Simple Minds song from a 1980s movie about a group of teenage misfits spending a Saturday in detention together.
As he waited, Ian collected the rest of his breakfast into its original cardboard container and dropped it into the trash. The French toast sticks, even with the individual serving of butter-flavored maple syrup, was a far cry from his grandma’s recipe, but it wasn’t bad by fast food standards.
“Moira Davenport. Can I help you buy or sell a home today?”
“Hey, Moira. I need you to come down to the shop. She’s back.” Ian winced at his sister’s dramatic sigh. “Please, I’ve taken her back home the last three times. It’s your turn. I can’t keep closing the shop to do this.”
“No Ian,” his sister replied. “I told you, she’s your problem.”
“She’s our grandmother. Have a little compassion.” As Ian presented his argument to his sister, the words tumbled from his mouth, leaving behind an empty cavern of awkward silence.
Moira finally responded, her voice low and strained. “Look Ian, I can’t have compassion for someone who spent her whole life physically and verbally abusing her children. You saw how she treated dad the whole time he was fighting cancer. All that money she has, and she couldn’t give one dime to help get him into that clinical trial.”
“Moira, c’mon. She isn’t like that now. Since dad died she’s really gone downhill,” Ian reasoned.
“No. Just because she conveniently forgets to be a total bitch doesn’t mean I get to forget she was one, and you shouldn’t either. I’m not leaving work early. The kids have little league tonight and it’s my turn for snacks. I have responsibilities, and you do, too. Sign the damned papers so she can go live at Haven Care and we can move on with our lives. Everything’s ready. You just need to make the call.”
Tears sprang to Ian’s eyes. Even if Moira hadn’t ended the call, he couldn’t argue with the facts. Their grandmother’s dementia was taking over their lives, and they weren’t equipped to handle it. Because they had no other family to rely on, they were running out of options. With great reluctance he picked up the phone, dialed the senior living center and arranged for someone to collect his grandmother.
Ian fixed two cups of coffee and carried them into the front lobby. He took the empty seat and passed a cup to his grandmother. “Here you go Mrs. Sanderson. Your copies will be ready soon.”
“Why thank you.” His grandmother sipped the coffee and closed her eyes. When she opened them, she smiled. “Mmm, it’s perfect. My grandson makes me coffee just like this.”
“I’m glad you like it. Can I get you anything else?”
“No, no thank you.” Bess smiled, her expression vacant. She asked, “Do you have a grandmother?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Ian gulped, but the lump of guilt stayed lodged in his throat.
“She sure is lucky to have a grandson like you.” She patted his hand, politely ignoring the spot of maple syrup on his tie.
“Oh, I have your picture.” Eager to change the topic, Ian pulled his father’s photo from his shirt pocket and offered it to his grandmother.
Bess frowned. “I’m sorry. This isn’t mine. Perhaps you’ve confused me with someone else.”
Ian returned the image to his pocket. “Oh.” It was all he could think to say.