The tour guide pointed at two shadows in the river. One slowly submerged, leaving only a trail of bubbles.

“You are witnessing hippos mating,” the guide explained. “The male holds the female underwater while he performs his marital duties. Often, she’ll be submerged up to five minutes.

“At least she gets five minutes from him,” Naomi muttered, just loudly enough for Roger to hear.

“At least he gets five minutes of peace once in a while,” Roger muttered back.

The safari vehicle drove slowly off just as the female’s nostrils became visible once again, but neither Naomi or Roger noticed.


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Sarah Putts Out

Sarah lined up her putter on the 16th green. There were only about four feet between her ball and the cup, almost a sure thing. But it might have been four miles. She really needed to concentrate.

Sarah’s golf outing with Austin was growing increasingly tense as the day progressed. They’d only dated casually over the previous month but had enjoyed talking about their mutual love for golf. Austin had called her late yesterday suggesting she join him for a round this morning – one of his regular crowd had canceled at the last minute. The opportunity to play the best course in town had been too tempting for Sarah to turn down, and she’d accepted enthusiastically.

Now, Sarah wished she’d thought it over a little more. The two other players in their foursome weren’t even in the game, really, and had faded into the background by the fifth hole. But Sarah and Austin matched each other stroke for stroke during the entire front nine. Then, on the back nine, Sarah had gained a few strokes on Austin. If she made this putt it would be nearly impossible for Austin to overtake her without it being obvious she’d let him.

Sarah liked golf and liked to win. However, she also liked Austin and hoped their relationship would advance to the next level – to more than some casual dates. He’d gotten very tense and tight-lipped, but she didn’t know him well enough to determine whether that indicated frustration or just concentration.

On one hand, Sarah didn’t want to sabotage things too early if it turned out Austin might be turned off by her winning – Sarah knew she tended to gloat when she won, and it sometimes came through even though she tried hard to suppress it. On the other hand, Sarah didn’t like the idea of catering to any guy’s ego. That wasn’t a healthy way to begin things, and she wouldn’t really want a relationship with someone who needed that, anyway.

Sarah sighed and putted.


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Turning Points

Elizabeth was engaged to another man when she first met John. Elizabeth and John had started out as friends, without the pressures of dating, sex and drama. They talked often, sharing intimate details about their lives and feelings. They quickly became best friends. Elizabeth had never met a man, or even another woman, with whom she felt so comfortable. He seemed to know what she thought before she thought it.

The first turning point in Elizabeth and John’s relationship came a month or so before Elizabeth’s planned wedding day. The church had been reserved, the dress purchased and the photographer scheduled. The wedding cake had already been paid for in advance, as had the flowers.

Elizabeth and her fiancé had a heated argument about the wedding arrangements. Previously, he’d expressed only passing interest in things – listening intently when she talked with him about the guest list or other details, but willing to defer to her on pretty much everything. The perfect groom.

But her fiancé had noticed the growing intimacy between Elizabeth and John. Now, he didn’t want John to attend their wedding, or even the reception.

Elizabeth felt blindsided. She’d been open about her friendship with John. There was nothing romantic about it, not in the least. She’d been faithful to her fiancé. Her only fault was in having a best friend who happened to be a man. She wasn’t willing to give that up. And she wouldn’t insult her best friend by excluding him from the most important day of her life. But her fiancé dug in his heels and wouldn’t compromise.

So, Elizabeth’s wedding was canceled. For several months afterward, Elizabeth and John remained best friends. Nothing really changed. Until it did.

John was at Elizabeth’s apartment for their weekly Tuesday movie night. He often spent the night on her couch on movie nights, so he didn’t have to worry about drinking too much and driving home. Elizabeth’s couch was large and comfortable. John would get up early without disturbing her and slip back to his own apartment to get ready for work. At least, that’s what had always happened before.

One morning, Elizabeth woke up first and was drinking coffee on the balcony when John’s watch pinged his wakeup alarm. They started talking and ended up going out for breakfast. Both called in sick and spent the day together. Doing nothing notable, but neither wanted the time together to end. When John kissed her later that afternoon it seemed like the most natural thing in the world. Their emotional intimacy became physical that day. That was the second turning point.

The third turning point in their relationship happened when Elizabeth realized John was smothering her. They’d been married about six months, having eloped just a few weeks after that first day of intimacy. At first, it felt right. They knew each other so well – first as friends, then as lovers and now as life partners.

But Elizabeth started noticing John’s growing discomfort about her earlier engagement. She’d made a clean break with her former fiancé. She and John were now married. But there were many things needing to be dealt with regarding the canceled wedding and various other life details involving her former fiancé that couldn’t be avoided. Finally, John convinced Elizabeth of how important it was to their marriage for her to cut off all further contact with her former fiancé. John would take care of any necessary interactions for her.

By itself, this was perhaps understandable. But, eventually, John’s discomfort started to include other people who’d been part of Elizabeth’s life during her engagement. Bridesmaids. Ushers. Any friends who were mutual between Elizabeth and her former fiancé, which included pretty much ALL Elizabeth’s friends. To spare John’s feelings, Elizabeth started to distance herself from these old friends, too.

Elizabeth had never been especially close to her own family. She loved them, but didn’t see them regularly. This irregularity became even more pronounced as John started to steer Elizabeth away from them. Elizabeth had shared with him many stories about her family’s shortcomings. Surely, she didn’t want to keep in contact with such flawed people. People who weren’t supportive of Elizabeth the way John was. People who’d failed her often in the past. And John had a large family that all loved Elizabeth. His family would always be there for her.

Everything John said about her family and friends sounded logical. Her family HAD let her down many times. Her old friends DID remind her of her past engagement. She couldn’t argue anything different. And John never argued anyway. He never yelled. He was always kind to her. His requests always sounded reasonable. He never threatened Elizabeth physically. He was just always THERE. Good naturedly checking into who she’d seen and how she’d spent her day. Details she’d loved sharing with him back when they were best friends. But now it was too much.

For his part, John didn’t understand why Elizabeth didn’t always appreciate his attentions. He knew her so well, better than she knew herself, really. He knew far better than she did what she needed. He knew what would be best for her. That was all John wanted – what was best for Elizabeth.

The next turning point happened around their fifth wedding anniversary, when Elizabeth just stopped caring. She surrendered to John. She quit going out alone, because it meant explaining to John where she’d been, what she’d been doing. She stopped trying to reason with him about things because he was so logical it was impossible for her to come up with counter arguments. She smiled when he wanted her to. She let him schedule her day. She let him pick her clothes. She let him arrange all their social engagements. She let him run her life. Completely and without exception.

And that had been Elizabeth’s life ever since. The outside world saw a couple together thirty years. Very much in love. Always together. Always in agreement. Always smiling. Everyone commented about how great they were together. Just the way John wanted.

The guests at their 30th anniversary party were envious. Such a secure and comfortable relationship was rare. John and Elizabeth smiled lovingly for the photos. The restaurant John had selected for the party, knowing Elizabeth loved watching the sunset from their back terrace, was packed with well-wishers. John and Elizabeth’s coworkers. Their three beautiful grown children. John’s family. Friends from church. Neighbors. Many people John had invited that Elizabeth didn’t know. But nobody Elizabeth had invited on her own. Nobody John didn’t know. Not a single person.

The valet attendant pulled up in the Lexus John had surprised Elizabeth with last Christmas. He’d known she’d like it. It was green, her favorite color. Elizabeth was the designated driver. She’d limited herself to two glasses of wine for the evening, just as John always suggested was wise. It was white wine – John knew that would be best in the event she spilled any on the white dress he’d picked out for her to wear that evening. Yes, black was more fashionable, but she looked so beautiful in white. And the evening was to commemorate their wedding, so why not wear white? And she found everyone’s automatic deferral to black evening clothes annoying, hadn’t Elizabeth told John that many years ago, before they were married?

John tipped the valet, saving Elizabeth the trouble of having to talk to the handsome young man. Elizabeth started the car and headed out Route 258 to their suburban home. The home John had picked out because he knew Elizabeth would love the schools and parks. It was a little far outside the city to make it practical for Elizabeth to go anywhere other than the immediate neighborhood, but John knew how much she loved just spending her days at home. Elizabeth had told him so before they were married. And wasn’t it great that Elizabeth could walk to her job at the middle school down the block that John had pulled some strings to get for her? He knew all the other people who worked there. They were all great people – he’d just known Elizabeth would like them, too.

The final turning point came as Elizabeth was driving home, thinking about the last thirty years with John. She thought about recent advances in medical technology – they could well have yet another thirty years together ahead of them. Elizabeth pushed down the accelerator as the car moved into a curve. John suggested she slow down a bit. She pushed the accelerator harder. Elizabeth lost control of the car and it sailed into the canyon 500 feet below.

As they died, together as always, Elizabeth’s last thought was that she might finally enjoy a bit of solitary peace away from John for the first time in thirty years. John’s last thought was regret that he wouldn’t be around to make the arrangements for Elizabeth’s memorial. He knew exactly what she would’ve liked.

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Last Respects

Patrick grimaced as his mother wiped his face with a washcloth in the bathroom. At four years old, a washcloth wasn’t one of Patrick’s favorite things. She wiped his hands too, and wet down his hair before combing it.

Patrick didn’t understand why he was being subjected to this torture. Being washed and dressed in his best clothes weren’t his idea of a fun day. Although the term “best clothes” was wishful thinking when it came to Patrick. Pretty much all Patrick’s clothes were either stained or torn the first time they were worn.

Patrick’s mother held his shoulders and made him look her in the eyes before they went into the bedroom, where he knew they would find his great-grandmother enthroned in her giant four-poster bed. His mother explained to him, once again, that Granny Hall was 93 years old and didn’t see or hear well. He should stand close to the bed, so she could see him. He’d need to speak loudly for her to hear. Granny might ask him questions, and he should answer politely. She might want to hold his hand, and that would also be polite. This would probably be the last time he would see Granny Hall.

After that, Patrick’s mother hugged him tightly for a long time. She held his hand when they went into Granny Hall’s room. Patrick could see tears on his mother’s face. That made him want to cry, too, but he held it back.

Patrick stood next to Granny Hall’s giant bed. He spoke to her loudly. He did his best to answer her questions. He let Granny hold his hand and even squeezed it back. Then his mother led him out into the hallway and asked Patrick to wait there for her. She went back into the bedroom and closed the door.

Patrick’s mother sat on the edge of the bed and looked into Granny Hall’s nearly sightless eyes.

“How much more time does he have?” Granny Hall asked quietly.

“Only a few months, according to the last tests the doctors did.” Patrick’s mother cried, and Granny Hall held her hand.

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