If Found Do Not Open

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I found it lying next to the park bench among the fallen leaves, its worn black leather cover barely visible under autumn’s orange and yellow carpet.  I might not have noticed it at all if I hadn’t dropped my keys.  A very nondescript book showing years of use.  Unassuming except for the white words painted on the cover:  If Found Do Not Open.

I glanced around me wondering if anyone had seen me pick up the book.  Was it a test?  Was someone watching to see if I followed directions?    Maybe I was being filmed for one of those “What Would You Do?” shows.  Or maybe it is just what it seems: a lost book.

I thumbed the pages and contemplated the cover.

What might be found in those pages?  A diary of tantalizing bits about love affairs, petty crime, or family secrets?  Or maybe just a pouring out of one’s heart:  of past pains or dreams for the future?  Maybe it’s a useful book of grocery lists, contact numbers, recipes, and personal reminders? Perhaps it’s filled with artist sketches?  Or the musings of a poet?  Or maybe it’s the book version of Pandora’s box?  Opening it seems like a small thing, an innocent action, but what of the consequences?

I watched the afternoon sun dip below the trees as I walked toward home, only glancing back once to see the book where I left it on the bench.  Unopened.

Alphabet Advice

 

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Ask questions.

Be kind.

Create.  A poem, a garden, a quilt: create what makes you happy.

Doodle often and let your mind wander.

Explore the world around you.

Find happiness.

Go for a run.

Hug your kid often.

Inspire others to be their best.

Jump life’s puddles.

Keep it real.

Love well.

Make a joyful noise.

Never say never.

Open your eyes.

Pick your friends carefully.

Quit whining.

Read a book.  Read MANY books!

Slow down.  Breathe.  Create calm.

Think before you speak.

Use a napkin.

Vanquish negativity.

Write letters – the real kind.  Use a stamp!

X-marks the spot.  Find a place that makes you happy.

Yield when necessary.

Zigzag.  Take time to wander off the path.

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Writing. . . sort of.

 

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Photo taken from: http://centrum..org/programs/writing/

 

Many times in my life I have wished that I had the creativity and skills to write a book.  Specifically a children’s book.  Or a fun book.  That’s never happened.  I’m a “science person” so writing a text book would probably actually be much easier for me.  I write reflectively somewhat regularly, but never any “creative writing” aside from random poetry that pops into my head, usually when I am driving, and never ever makes it onto paper.  A few weeks ago, I began receiving a daily writing prompt email.  Most I ignore. But one sort of sparked my imagination.   What would betrayal taste like?   Hmmmm. Think about that.  Would it be bitter?  Or might it taste like something totally unexpected? I did my first “creative writing”  since I probably had to write a short story in high school.  (Does 778 words even count as a short story?) And putting it out here for anyone to read is – well a lot of things – scary being the biggest.

The Taste of Betrayal

Claire missed the signs.  They were all there in plain sight.  Well mostly, if she had only taken the time to see them.  She just missed the elevator as she headed home for the day, its door closing silently while its occupants avoided eye contact.  Deciding to splurge on a cab in honor of the occasion, she made a beeline towards the curb only to have her cab snatched away by a hurried man in a suit just as she approached.  Another car sped past creating a drenching spray of rainwater and city grime.  Claire found herself in a “Bridget Jones” moment.  Resigned, Claire popped up her umbrella and began the thirteen block walk to her apartment, her mind on the evening ahead.

Claire met Alex over a tray of appetizers at a party eighteen months ago, their attraction immediate and mutual.  The last year and a half had flown by as they got to know each other.  They spent quiet nights at home, long weekends out of town, Sunday walks through the park, lazy mornings in bed with coffee and the newspaper.  It didn’t matter what they did, they enjoyed doing it together.  Theirs was a relationship that made their friends green with envy.

Shaking the water off her umbrella, Claire stepped into her small apartment.  The gloomy fall afternoon light cast shadows over her small living room.  Snapping on the vintage lamp on her end table, a great thrift store find from one of her adventures with Alex, she rifled through the mail stopping at the pink envelope.  Real mail!  Not email.  Not a text message.  Not a rushed voicemail.  It was an honest, old-fashioned bit of correspondence, a birthday card from her favorite aunt.   “Claire, Do something fabulous on your birthday!  Much love, Aunt Martha.”

Today is Claire’s 30th birthday.  A milestone in life where, according to most people, she should have found herself in a house in the suburbs, married with a fabulous career, and 2.5 children.   Instead she lived in a small third-story walk up in the lower east side and worked as a receptionist for a small magazine.  But she had Alex.  She truly loved her job.  She had possibilities.

The last month had been challenging.  Alex’s corporate job often took him out of town for a few days at a time, but lately there had been even more travel, leaving a little Claire adrift.   But tonight Alex would be home and things could get back to normal.   Claire busied herself and changed into her favorite  black dress, a fitted illusion-sleeve bodice covered with whimsical dots and a gathered-at-the-waist flared skirt.  Beautiful, flirty, and classic all in one dress.  At the time, it was a big Nordstrom purchase on her small, overly-stretched budget.  But tonight, it seemed to perfect for the occasion:  a quiet dinner with Alex at one of her favorite restaurants.   Claire made a last minute check of her hair and makeup, grabbed her purse, and headed out to hail a taxi.

Arriving at the quaint bistro ahead of schedule, Claire was surprised to find Alex already there and seated at their favorite table. A bottle of untouched wine waited on the table while Alex checked messages on his phone.  Catching a glimpse of Claire, Alex rose and brushed her cheek with a kiss as she settled herself into her chair. These plans made two months ago, she’d been looking forward to this all day.  They chatted casually through dinner, the conversation of two people comfortable with each other:  work things, crazy wet fall weather, catch-up about friends.

But it was the mention of one particular friend over desert that caused the atmosphere to shift from comfortable and casual to something else entirely.  For a moment, Claire’s world shifted, a small tilt on its axis that caused her to stop, pause, and assess that tiny flip in her gut and those red flags starting to wave.  Alex avoided eye contact, was clearly nervous and fidgeted with his napkin.  The silence at the table uncomfortable as Alex shrugged off the waiter’s attention.  Finally, after several long moments, Alex spoke and attempted to explain himself, his words coming out in a rush, Claire only catching bits of the jumble.

“I never meant for it to happen.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“Please understand. . . “

And the worst words of all,  “I’m in love with her.”

Claire gathered her belongings and calmly walked to the door, only rushing when she was sure he couldn’t see her.  In the taxi on the way home, as tears silently rolled down her cheeks, Claire realized that, forever after, betrayal would taste like lemon cake.