***The story contains occasional coarse language.***
"Dear Miss Adelaide,
"The confidence and perseverance you've displayed over the years is quite remarkable, yet your short stories keep failing to impress us. In all honesty, our editors would rather eat the paper your story is typed on, including the envelope and the stamp, than read and critique it.
We do appreciate your weekly support, but we humbly suggest you save the $5 submission fee and buy yourself a nice pair of shoes, or a dress instead. Your complexion surely could benefit from a nice stroll in the park this lovely spring, could it not? You might even stumble upon a charming fellow.
If that happens, we'd rather not hear about it. It would make an incredible story for your grandkids, though, should you get so fortunate.
Good bye, Miss Adelaide.
And good luck in your future endeavors.
Fred Longhand, Editor-in-Chief
“Chicken Scratch Gazette”
Blood flooded her cheeks and neck and she felt hair had caught on fire. She unbuttoned the top of her blouse with shaking fingers.
“…our editors would rather eat the paper your story is typed on, including the envelop and the stamp, than read and critique it…”
She clenched her jaws and drew a deep breath in. She has gotten used to the frosty tone of the rejection letters over the years. The author of this letter – this new editor-in-chief - though, was mocking her. Hiding behind his computer screen and the position of authority he now held at the Chicken Scratch Gazette.
She could easily imagine this Fred Longhand chap hunched over the keyboard, hitting the keys with his two middle fingers, thumbing through a dog-eared synonym dictionary with one hand, scratching his bollocks with the other. He snorts, chocking on the phlegm is his throat, picturing the crimson, shame-stricken face of the recipient of his critique. She then sees him sign the letter with elaborate curlicues stretched across half of a page. The sight of his signature gives him a feeble erection, the only occasion his cock rises from its hairy nest. Next, he slaps the desk with immense satisfaction, drops the letter in his secretary’s lap and grabs the next story submission from the pile. Oh, the formidable editor-in-chief of the Chicken Scratch Gazette is just getting started.
Miss Adelaide folded the letter and stuffed it back in the envelope. She got up and added it to the other rejection letters in the shoe box. With her slipper, she pushed it under the bed, to join the army of dust bunnies that have managed to escape her cleaning lady’s broom for the last 8 years.
She sat down in front of the computer and stared at the blank page.
“I’d like to get my hands on this Longhand fellow. He’d be one hand short after I was done with him,” she typed in bold Times New Roman. She then grinned at her little pun and the prospect of facing the miscreant. “He’d look rather handsome with a pirate’s hook as a hand, would he not? Proper payback for his actions, if you ask me. Difficult to rub your dick and pleasure yourself with it, though, I bet.” She grinned as she typed.
“I wouldn’t waste my time with the man,” she typed in italics next. “He’s just one wretched man who takes out his misery on strangers at his mercy. Having to live with himself day and night must be punishment enough.”
“Men like him have no self-awareness, sis. No regard for others’ feelings. He’s a monster with a pen as a weapon. He needs to be put in his place. Once and for all.”
“I’d stay away from the man, Adelaide. You’re in enough trouble as it is. We don’t want that doctor poking her nose around, do we?”
“Do not tell me what to do, Em. Just because you’re 20 minutes older doesn’t make you wiser. Mind your own business. Quite a bit on your own plate, is there not?”
A pitiful meow pierced the air of the room. A grey fat cat waddled to Adelaide’s chair and stared up with her yellow eyes.
“What is it, Dante? Don’t tell me you’re hungry already.”
The cat uttered a short meow and turned his head towards the window, a worried look on his whiskered face.
“I know, it’s windy outside. It might rain later today. Mommy’s going to close all the windows before leaving, don’t worry.”
Dante gave out a startled meow and sat down on his hind legs in protest, fixing his mistress with a frown.
“Mommy has to run an errand, sweetheart, but Madeleine will be here anytime. You like Madeleine, don’t you? I know, I know. She’s not the most thorough cleaner, and talks too much, but who brings the boy lots of treats? What? Dog treats, you said? Hmmm. I didn’t realize that. Well, beggars can’t be choosers, can they?”
Adelaide picked Dante up and kissed his head. She cleared the sofa of dirty socks and underpants. “No sulking now, “she said and laid him down on a soft pillow. “Watch the house while I’m gone and don’t let Madeleine watch too much television. I am going to straighten her out this week. This house is a complete pigsty.”
She closed the windows, grabbed her purse and an umbrella and locked the door.
“Any submissions today, Pauline?” Mr. Longhand asked.
“Not even one, boss,” she said. “Strange. Maybe we should change the theme?” she offered in a hopeful tone.
“I don’t think it’s the theme.” Mr. Longhand replied, the line between his eyebrows deepening. She hasn’t seen him smile since he got the promotion.
“Maybe increase the reward?” she pressed further, in a mild, casual tone.
“The budget doesn’t allow it, Pauline. We might have to cancel it altogether if the submissions keep dropping. We might not have a column if this trends continue, in fact,” he said.
He refused to say it, but Pauline knew what he really meant, “We might not have a job if things don’t turn around, quickly.”
“Hey, boss, you received this gorgeous bouquet of lilacs, ” the secretary changed the subject swiftly. She grabbed the vase on her desk. She inhaled the heady scent of the pink blossoms. “There’s a thank you card here:
‘Dear Mr. Longhand,
Thank you for your kind advice. A stroll in the park benefited not only my complexion, but my nerves and sleep at night, too. I was able to even skip my medication entirely last week.
Now that I’m rested and clear-headed, I’ve got these wondrous ideas for my stories. I can’t wait to share them with you when I’m done.
In the meantime, these lovely scented lilac blossoms would improve your disposition and your readers’ as well.
Adelaide St. Claire.’”
“One of your admirers, Mr. Longhand?” the secretary teased her boss, batting her long eyelashes.
“Adelaide St. Claire,” he read. He ran a hand through his dark hair and frowned.
“Nope. Doesn’t ring a bell. I would remember a name like that. Quite distinguished.”
“I wonder what medication is she talking about, though,” she grinned and touched her temple, significantly.
“I don’t care to know. Keep the flowers, if you like them,” he said.
“Oh, thank you, Mr. Longhand,” she blushed and watched her handsome boss cross the room and close the office door behind him.
Adelaide was sitting at the desk typing furiously when the doorbell rang. She scoffed and kept typing.
“I know you’re in there, Miss Saddle. I’m not going away until I get the rent,” she heard the landlady’s voice. She pictured Miss Morris rolling her eyes and peeking through the peephole. Get on her fours, even, huffing and puffing, straining her eyes to catch a glimpse of her sneaky tenant. She was one exasperating busybody.
“This is the last reminder, Miss Saddle,” she threatened when Adelaide eventually opened the door. “Goodness, is that a cockroach?” She gasped in horror and pointed to the fat brown bug scurrying away on the linoleum in the entryway.
“Oh, not at all, Adelaide laughed, a bit too strident. “Just a grasshopper. I left the door to the backyard open for some fresh air.” She squashed the insect and pushed its wet carcass with her slipper under the small round table.
The landlady was too aghast to dispute the difference in appearance between a nasty cockroach and a lovely grasshopper. The sight of the hallway and living room, littered with old newspapers, books, baskets with dirty laundry made her eyes widen.
“Madeleine, my cleaning lady is on vacation,” Adelaide explained with an embarrassed grimace. “Not much of a cleaner, obviously. I might have to let her go.”
“You can afford a cleaning lady, vacation and all, but not pay the rent on time?” she asked, stepping around carefully to avoid suspicious stains and little puddles on the linoleum.
“Sorry. My cat, Dante. He is incontinent, poor old thing.”
“You have this week, Miss Saddle, to pay the rent. Next Monday, you’ll find an eviction order on this door.” She threatened, shoving a purple fingernail in the tenant's face. “And clean this place, for God’s sake.”
Back at her desk, Adelaide resumed her typing.
“You’ll have to start pulling your weight, sister. We have $167 left in the account. Barely any food in the pantry.”
“What about Aunt Martha? Is she out of the country?”
“Our trust fund must be depleted, I suppose. I’ll give her a call, see what the hell is going on. In the meantime, we need to figure things out on our own. Get real jobs, for example.”
“I’ll try the French restaurant by the book store.”
“Oh God, Emily. Don’t flatter yourself. You don’t know a lemon from a cucumber. Who’d hire you?”
“You better come up with a story that sells, then. And get rid of Madeleine, for one. She’s useless.”
“Yep. We’ll have to start cleaning the place ourselves. That woman is coming back, with a fumigator.”
“What’s for dinner” Mr. Longhand asked and sat down with a groan.
“It’s Friday, so I’ve made your favorite,” the older woman said and filled his plate with steamy beef roast, potatoes and carrots, smothered in a murky wine sauce. “How was your day? Any good stories today? I do not envy you for having to read the ramblings of strangers fancying themselves writers.”
“There were a few decent stories this week. One was excellent in fact. But the submissions have dropped significantly since I took over the column.”
“Oh, sweetheart, don’t worry. Give it time. Things will improve soon.”
Fred Longhand sighed and chewed the overcooked meat.
His eyes fell on the vase of flowers on the table by the window. He dropped the fork that landed loudly on the edge of the plate.
“How did those flowers get here?” he asked.
“Oh, right. Your secretary dropped them off earlier. She said you forgot to take them when you left.”
“Pauline, you mean? Tall, brunette, in a grey suit?
“No, dear. Blonde, petite, in a red dress. Let’s see. Adele. Or Adeline, maybe? “
“Adelaide?” Mr. Longhand exclaimed.
“That’s it! Adelaide. I think there is a note attached to the flowers — “
“Dear Mr. Longhand,
I followed your advice and bought myself a pretty red dress earlier today and wanted to hear your opinion on that. I treasure your advice. I stopped by your office, but Pauline told me you’d gone home earlier, with a headache.
So, I decided to drop off your lilac bouquet with Katherine, your charming mother. My goodness, we talked for three hours. She even showed me your library. I’m into Russian literature as well. What are the odds of that?
Do place the blossoms in your bedroom, Mr. Longhand. It will make your headache disappear in no time. It will do wonders for your “delicate” issues as well.
You’ll thank me later.
Adelaide St. Claire”
“Funny, isn’t she?” The older woman chuckled.
“Mother, I have no idea who this woman is. She sends me these flowers at the office, thanking me for some advice I’d never given her. Then she brings them here and you show her my library? Without calling me?”
“Fred Alistair Longhand! This is MY house and I invite in whoever I want to.”
“She could be a con artist, mother. Or a murderer.”
“That darling girl, with the face of an angel?”
“I don’t care what she looks like. Based on her notes, though, she sounds unstable. Dangerous even.”
“Well, I’ve met the girl in person. And I think I’m a good judge of character. No wonder you’re a bachelor at almost thirty years old, dear. Buried in your books all day long."
“May I help you?” the landlady asked in a sugary voice. “Are you looking for Marian Saddle?”
“Yes, but she is not home, it seems,” the visitor said and kept knocking on the door.
“Her sister might be, though,” Miss Morris said, excited for any piece of gossip to brighten her day.
“Her sister?” the older lady asked seemed confused.
“Emily, I think her name is. I’ve never seen her in the eight years they’ve lived here, though. But one of the tenants complained about Marian the other week. They forgot – Marian and Emily, that is - to take their laundry out of the dryer and Marian got so angry when the neighbor took Emily’s clothes out and put his in—“
“Emily, you said?” the older lady asked, alarm in her voice.
‘I’m Miss Morris, the landlady, by the way.. Would you like to come in and wait for Marian? I live in no. 5,” she offered, thrilled to learn juicy details about the strange young woman in no. 3."
“As I’ve said, I’ve never seen Emily. I always thought she’s bedridden or something. I’m not one to poke my nose in my tenants’ business,” she assured the visitor, pouring tea in mismatched mugs.
“I am their aunt. Marian’s aunt, rather. Emily died in a car accident eight years ago, Miss Morris. Sorry to drop this on you like that. She was Marian’s twin sister. Their parents and also died in the crash. Madeleine, their housekeeper, too. She was very close to the girls. Marian was the only survivor.”
Miss Morris’s was speechless, for once. Her eyes were wide, assimilating the juicy new revelations.
The visitor continued. “My husband is the administrator of Marian’s trust fund. I stopped by to check on her, see how she’s doing. I’ve been to Europe, for a funeral. I’ll write a check for the rent, Miss Morris. I apologize for the delay.”
“Oh, no rush, dear,” the landlady found her voice all of a sudden. “What a tragedy. Poor dear girl. All alone in the that apartment. Well, she and her cat.”
“Cat? What cat? Marian is allergic to cats. She had always wanted a cat growing up, but she couldn’t get near one, of course.”
Pauline stormed in the office and slapped a stack of papers on Mr. Longhand’s desk.
“I figured it out!” she exclaimed. “I know why the submissions suddenly dropped since your promotion.”
Mr. Longhand took off his glasses and waited patiently.
“I knew something was fishy, Fred. Uhm, Mr. Longhand,” she corrected herself quickly. “Last week I heard James and Terry over there snickering and making fun of the stories they were critiquing. They were doubled down laughing. I had to go check it out. I overheard your name also, but they went all hush-hush when I walked by. When they left on lunch, though, I grabbed their critiques. They had gone through twenty-seven of them in record time.”
“Guess what those letters have in common?” she continued in an triumphant tone. “They all have your name and signature, Mr. Longhand. Forged, of course. And this outrageous paragraph:
“… our editors would rather eat the paper your story is written on, including the envelope and the stamp, than read and critique it…”
“Is this seat taken?”
The young woman looked up from her notebook and smiled at the young man. “Mr. Longhand.”
“Pleased to stumble upon you this lovely afternoon, Miss St. Claire,” he said and sat down on the bench. “Are you enjoying the lilacs? I’ve grown to cherish this scent myself. Very soothing for the nerves, and other ‘delicate’ afflictions, a very wise young lady once told me.”
Adelaide laughed. “Can’t blame me, Mr. Longhand, for being mad at you.”
“Nope. You had me quite worried, however. I thought I was dealing with a stalker. A psychopath.”
“Oh, I was planning to thoroughly humiliate you, Mr. Longhand. Thankfully, Pauline saved you from my wrath. And certain ruin, I’ve heard.”
“She saved the column, that’s for sure.”
“How do you like my new shoes? I do appreciate your expert advice. Do they go with my dress I’ve bought for my promenade? At "your" advice?
Mr. Longhand smiled and took in the red floral dress, the slender ankles, the red pumps. “Despite what you’ve heard – or read - fashion is not my expertise, but I’d say that you look enchanting, Miss Adelaide.”
“Thank you. You are nothing like the Mr. Longhand I’d imagined. And I have quite an imagination, I've been told."
“Neither are you, thank God. What were you reading there?”
“Oh, just a new story I’m working on. Not great, I’m afraid.”
“That happens to be my area of expertise,” he said and grabbed the notebook from her “Let me be the judge of that."