Short Stories by Rick Jankowski

Speculative and Sensitive Fiction

When I was a small boy, my sister’s fiancée, her soulmate, was killed in an auto accident days before their wedding. "Sometimes, On Mondays," is for my sister, Sandy - and for her fiancée, John.  May he rest in peace.

This story was published in The Cuivre River Anthology after winning First Honorable Mention in the 2005 Saturday Writers Short Story Contest. The Storyteller reprinted it and it won a Second Place People's Choice Award for non-fiction. 



 

 

 

Sometimes, on Mondays


Closing one eye and biting my lip, I slipped my hand into the damp trouser pocket. My fingers caressed the satin interior, explored the furthest recesses.

Nothing.

I flipped the pants over and checked the other pocket.

Nothing.

Thank Goodness.

Monday. Return day at Rinaldo’s Tuxedo Rental. One by one, after a weekend of weddings, proms, and concerts, the crumpled, the stained, and the soiled slithered in.

Salt and pepper hair peeked around a corner; a weary face raised two eyebrows.

"Ready or not, Ricky, here they come."

Arms filled to his chin, my boss, Vince, plopped the next group of returns onto the moist mound in front of me.

"Keep turnin’ those pockets out," he said. "Never know what you’re gonna find."

Oh, I knew all right - used handkerchiefs, wadded gum, half-chewed cigars, and sometimes – I shuddered - the remains of an evening of passion.

I slipped my hand into the next pair of pants. Oh, God - my fingers touched something. I blinked. It wasn’t sticky. I ran a finger around the edges of the object. Sharp and paper thin, like…

Vince plopped more laundry down, squinted.

"Remember," he said rubbing his hands together, "anything good goes from their pocket to my palm."

Yeah, right, I thought. I do the dirty work and you reap the reward.

Not this time.

I slipped my hand, minus the bill, out of the pocket and tossed the pants onto the checked pile - making sure a leg stuck out so I could retrieve it later. The guys were going out tonight and I could use an extra buck. College drained every cent.

###

From the back door, I watched the rusty Chevy pull out of the lot. I wrinkled my nose and fanned away the exhaust fumes. Time for Vince to put that beast out of its misery.

Back in the store, I picked up the phone, punched in a number. While it rang, I dug into the mound for my treasure, slipped my hand into the pocket.

"Hey, Greg," I said to the voice on the phone, "meet you in an hour."

"You got any cash," said Greg. "I’m tapped out."

I slipped a corner of the bill out of the pocket. A 1, followed by a 0.

"Yeah," I answered, smile rising. "First round’s on me."

I slipped the rest of the greenback out of the pocket. My smile flattened.

"Shoot," I said. "I’ll call you back."

I hung up.

There was another 0.

I crumpled the C-note and threw it against the wall. A George would’ve been no issue. A ten, with a stretch of the imagination, could’ve been a nice tip. A hundred would pay for books, would finance a great date…

Would have to go back.

Darn.

I checked the inventory number on the pants, then found the original order.

Jim Anderson. Two blocks from Greg’s.

I scooped up the wadded bill and shoved it into my pocket. Wouldn’t even get to sleep on it.

###

I hesitated before ringing the doorbell. Frame two-story, professionally landscaped, wrap-around porch – with a wooden swing. They didn’t need the money, wouldn’t miss it. My traitorous hand rang the bell anyway.

The door opened and I was nose to beautiful nose with someone who was definitely not Mr. Anderson. Emerald eyes, layered, blond hair, and the right amount of curves.

"Yes?" she said.

Palm up, I showed her the bill.

"Found this in Jim Anderson’s pants," I said.

She tilted her head and a light flared in her eyes.

"You must have awfully long arms," she countered. "He’s in Hawaii on his honeymoon." She smiled and her cheek creased.

It’s amazing what a dimple can do to your heart. I laughed and explained.

"I’m Jessie, his sister," she said. "Staying with him for awhile. He never would’ve missed it, you know. "

"My conscience would’a been flappin’ away," I said.

"Wow, an honest guy. You do dishes and read poetry too?"

My smile widened. "Sure – just not at the same time – might foam at the mouth."

She covered her mouth with her hand and shook her head.

"Gotta run," she said, "but, when can I catch you at the store?"

"Always on Mondays."

"Great. See you next week."

I floated to my car.

###

That week. I bought new clothes, made notes about clever things to say, counted the seconds.

Eternity passed. Monday arrived.

The bell above the front door chimed and she glided in. I couldn’t believe she had come. Couldn’t believe she was here to see me …

She smiled and brushed aside a stray, golden strand.

… Couldn’t believe I had missed the diamond on her left hand. I lost all feeling in my face.

"You’re getting married." I said, my voice flat.

"And I came to get a tuxedo from one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met," she answered.

I took a deep breath. Okay, okay, I thought, be cool. She’s still a doll. I forced my lips to turn upward.

"Frankly," I said, "You’d look much better in a wedding dress."

"You are so sweet," she said - there was that dimple again. My coolness melted. "It’s for my fiancée, silly. He’s away on business."

That’s what we did while my heart broke, discussed business. She chose a suit, a shirt and a tie for him. And I helped.

I finished writing her order. Getting married or not, I didn’t want her to go. I thought fast.

"What about your dad," I said. "He'll need a tux to give away the bride? It’ll be on the house."

She smiled. A sad smile. Some of the light faded from her eyes.

"He passed away last year."

"I’m sorry. I can tell you miss him."

"Especially at night. When I was little, he used to read to me until I fell asleep."

Her eyes got a far-away look and she spoke haltingly. "There was this one story. About a girl with pneumonia. It was fall and there was an Ivy vine on a wall across from her bedroom window. She knew that when all the leaves fell off, she would die… that’s how I feel when I think about my dad not being here for my wedding."

I knew this story – and it gave me an idea. I didn’t say anything. Instead, I lightly touched her hand. She cried a little. Then, we talked for an hour about nothing – and everything.

###

A week before the wedding, I stood on her porch. An autumn breeze stirred the swing. I hesitated, took a deep breath, and rang the bell. Seconds later, Jessie answered.

"Rick," she said. "What a nice surprise. Come in."

I stayed outside.

"Don’t want to disturb you," I said. "Just wanted to give you this."

I held out a golden, wrapped box.

One hand accepted the present; the other covered her mouth.

"Won’t be at the wedding," I said, "Wanted you to have this now."

She slid over to the porch swing, sat down. I sat next to her. A respectful distance away.

"Go ahead." I coaxed.

She opened the present. A book. Her lip trembled as she read the title:

Tales of O’Henry

"Page 37," I said.

The pages were crisp. I heard every one.

"Oh, Rick," she said, "The Last Leaf."

"It ends well," I said.

Her teeth left indentions in her lower lip. She shook her head. "Not for everyone." She moved close, handed me the book.

"Please," she said.

At first, I didn’t understand.

Green eyes met brown. She placed her hand gently on my arm.

"Please," she repeated.

I thumbed to the right page. With soft voice, I began:

"In a little district west of Washington Square …"

She closed her eyes – and for a moment, I believe, her dad was there.

###

The day of Jessie’s wedding arrived. I felt sick, nauseated, like the world was tilting at a crazy angle.

I went to work anyway.

At the close of the day, a solitary tuxedo sagged on the rack. I checked and double-checked the name on the tag.

Jay Nordeen - Jessie’s fiancée.

What could have happened? A smile skittered across my face. Maybe she had changed her mind, maybe she had called off the wedding, maybe …

I called her number. The phone rang and rang.

Quickly, I locked up and sped to her house. Completely dark.

What had happened?

###

Late Monday evening. The fumes from Vince’s car had long dissipated. All the returns were sorted and bagged for the laundry. I clicked off the light and headed for the front door. In the distance, I heard an ambulance siren. Fainter, fainter, gone.

My hand was on the door handle, when the phone rang. A jarring ring. Maybe…

I ran to the phone.

Not her.

Her brother. His tone was low and sad.

"There was an accident Friday night," he said.

The world tilted again. I scrambled to hold on.

"Jessie?" I asked. My voice seemed to come from far away.

"No, her fiancée - driving in for the wedding. Killed instantly. She’s devastated, but she asked me to call you - wanted you to know. Likes you a lot, you know."

He took a deep breath, let it out.

" Oh, yeah," he said, "thanks for returning my money."

I gently placed the phone in its cradle. I stood in the roaring silence for a long, long time.

###

I never heard from Jessie again. I understand why. I was a small part of a past too painful to visit.

But, sometimes, on Monday’s, when the returns are sorted and the night is quiet – I still see her dimple, feel her touch – and wonder if she thinks of me.




If you liked this story, you can find more of them in my short story collection, The Sound of Midnight Fire, available on Amazon.com.