The Whole Nine Yards

whole nine yards

The deal was almost set—we’d move our fence six yards to the east and help fix up a barn in exchange for the tractor, giving the Perkins’ a little more land and securing the success of our harvest. The Perkins’ have been trying to slowly get our land for as long as anyone can remember, and we’ve needed a new tractor ever since Jake, our son, broke ours trying to drag a plastic pool filled with his friends across a shallow ravine. Don’t get me started on that boy—he’s full of bad ideas.

That’s beside the point, though. We needed a tractor, the Perkins’ had an extra one that they barely used, and all they wanted in exchange for it was a nine-yard increase along their property’s east side. We’d managed to negotiate it down to six-yards and a few hours of manual labor working to fix up their barn, which had a leaky roof and peeling paint. Six yards? Fine, let them have it.

Just as we were about to sign the deal, Grammy, the oldest member of the Perkins clan and, by extension, basically my own grandmother, pulled out her shotgun, holding it across her body like a guitar, and proudly displayed it for all to see.

“You wait just a minute, now,” she said, voicing her demands as if we were the hostage negotiators in the bank robbery of her dreams. Cocking the gun, she announced, “I said nine yard, not six. Plus help with the barn. I want all of it—the whole nine yards!”

As she showed the gun off and waved it around to further her point, I knew she’d never use it—not on me, at least—but it got my attention nonetheless. I thought to myself, who am I to say no to Grammy, the woman who practically raised me after my own mother passed away?

I stood there, speechless, feeling a strange mixture of fear and pride for Grammy’s newfound gusto. “Fine, you can have it. You can have the whole nine yards,” I said.

Smell A Rat

Tony had been working for the Rodent PD for almost 6 months, which is a long time for a youngster like Tony. He’d joined the IRA, the department of Internal Rodential Affairs about 2 months ago, and was recently transferred to the Undercover Rat Division, where he was assigned to case 231—Mouse Mafia Infiltration.

It was easy enough for Tony to make himself look like a mouse—he’d always been a rather small rat, and was often mistaken for a mouse from behind. He only needed to make a few small changes to his appearance and practice the mannerisms of the Mouse Mafia Members before he went undercover.

So he began making changes to his appearance, all the while imagining himself as the star of a movie montage set to classic 80s rock music. He filed down his teeth, wrapped his tail so it seemed smaller and slightly pinker, and dyed his hair from a dust-gray color to a sandy-looking brown. He even added some darker wet-sand colored streaks to give the impression of a mouse that has known tough times.
__________________________________________________________________________________

Two months later, an entry in his field notes revealed Tony’s cover was not quite as solid as he’d originally thought. The entry read: I believe I’m in danger—The Boss suspects there is a spy among us.

Not three days later, the mice of the Mouse Mafia sat around an improvised poker table made from scraps of wood and cloth, smoking cigarette stubs and waiting for The Boss to speak. Fear charged the smoke-filled room. Finally, The Boss broke the silence.

“Does something smell weird to you boys?” The Boss asked innocently enough. But the mice of the Mouse Mafia knew better than to answer such a seemingly simple question.

After a long moment in which only the faint sounds of cigarettes being smoked could be heard, The Boss spoke again—only this time, he singled out a few of the Mouse Mafia’s newest members.

“Can you smell that, Freddie? Al?”

“I don’t smell nothing, Boss,” Freddie answered as Al slowly shook his head from side to side.

“What about you, Tony? Can you smell that?” The Boss asked as he turned to face Tony. His voice had taken on an all-knowing tone that suggested, to Tony, that The Boss had identified the spy and was ready to take action against him.

“What’s that, Boss?” Tony replied, desperately willing his whiskers not to twitch.

“I said I smell something funny. You know what it is—I smell a rat,” The Boss said, staring directly into Tony’s beady little rat eyes.

Down In The Dumps

down in the dumps2

Sophie lost the locket her grandmother gave her a few months ago, before she died. They were really close. In fact, Sophie was closer to her grandmother than anyone else in the world. They always joked that they were soul mates, not in the romantic sense of the phrase, but more like soul sisters—in the way that their souls were as close as sisters, and as good of a fit together as mates. So this was no ordinary piece of jewelry in Sophie’s eyes. It meant the world to her. Now it was gone and she couldn’t find it and she was scared she never would. And that killed her.

She usually put it beside her bed on her nightstand, which is right next to the small garbage bin she kept in her room for the wrappers of her late-night snacks. It wasn’t impossible to think that the locket might’ve fallen into the garbage bin without Sophie noticing. And since she’d checked everywhere else in the entire house, there was only one place left to look—the garbage dump.

Sophie threw together what she referred to as her Sanitation Kit, which mainly consisted of hand sanitizer and rubber gloves, plus a bandana she had doused with perfume to use as a facemask. Kit in hand, she snuck out of the house without telling anyone where she was going. She knew that seeing her mother would cause her to burst into tears, and having to search through blurred vision was the last thing she needed.

After an unsuccessful day in the dumps, Sophie returned home feeling defeated and depressed. It was hard enough to wake up every day knowing that her grandmother was no longer alive, but now she couldn’t even comfort herself with the special locket she loved so much. Life just didn’t seem fair to her anymore. She didn’t even bother trying to hide her disappointment as she collapsed into a seat at the kitchen table.

“What’s wrong, honey?” Sophie’s mother asked upon both seeing and smelling her daughter.

Sophie gave no reply. She just continued to sit and stare off into space, her big brown eyes glazed over so that she appeared to be looking at something intently but at the same time seeming to actually see nothing at all. She kind of looked like a very life-like robot that had run out of batteries in the middle of sighing.

“Now, Sophie, I know something is wrong—I’m a mom, that’s our job. Why don’t you just tell me?” her mother asked, urging her daughter to give some sort of response.

Again, nothing from Sophie.

“You’ve been down in the dumps all week, sweetheart. Don’t try to deny that. Is this about your grandmother’s locket? Did you forget that we were getting the hinge repaired this week?” her mother asked.

Sophie immediately perked up at the news, her eyes filling with hot, happy tears. She couldn’t find any words to say, and even if she had, she couldn’t have spoken. Her throat was shut off, trying to prevent a long-stifled sob.

“Oh, that’s it, isn’t it? Oh, sweetie, it’s okay. I’m going to pick it up tomorrow—you have nothing to be sad about. Grandma wouldn’t want that. And I don’t, either. No more being down in the dumps, okay? Not emotionally, and certainly not physically. Can you promise me that, Soph?” her mother replied, gently rubbing Sophie’s back and lifting her spirits.down in the dumps

On Top Of The World

on top of the world

For reasons he couldn’t quite put into words, he decided to end his life. It wasn’t just one thing—it was everything. And he knew he didn’t have the strength to keep fighting for much longer. But there were a lot of things he’d never done, so he made a “Bucket List” of sorts. It would’ve more accurately been called a “Pre-suicide Checklist” or a “List of Things Every Person Should Try Once Before Dying” or something along those lines.

He figured he could keep going for another few months, and in that time he would complete as many of the checklist items as he could. He knew it didn’t really matter how many items he checked off, but he also knew that this would give him a reason to live for a little while longer. And he hoped that one of the items on the list might help him rediscover the passion for life he felt in his younger years, back when anything seemed possible and the world was at his fingertips. Now it seemed like the world was just past his fingertips, in sight but always just out of reach.

He headed out the next morning to begin working on the list, which he had ranked from easiest and most likely to complete to most difficult and unlikely. That way he could have a few easy wins in the beginning and hopefully that would make him feel a little bit of relief. Not that that would change much of anything in the long run, but maybe it would encourage him not to give up on the list too easily.

Item # 1: Eat a “Lumberjack Special” breakfast at The Diner on the Corner

Item # 9: Visit the Capital Building and see where the State Senators meet

Item # 17: Tell the librarian how much her services are appreciated

Item # 23: Drive. No set path, no destination. Just drive for the sake of driving (and maybe to see a little scenery, too)

Item # 29: Go to the bridge by the river (the one over on Canal Street), lean against the railing, strike a famous pose, and scream

It was item # 29 that changed his mind. As he stood there on the wall of the Canal Street Bridge, he struck the most famous pose he could think of for the moment. He stood with his arms outstretched and he leaned forward, allowing the railing to support his weight.

He took a deep breath, threw his head back and yelled, “I’m on top of the world!”

And for the first time in a long time, he believed it. He really did feel like he was on top of the world. For some reason, this made him feel like he no longer needed the list to make his life worth living. He tore it in half and watched as the pieces flew away in the wind, slowly making their way down towards the water below.

On The Fence

on the fence

“So, are you coming with me or staying with him?” Xander demanded.

I didn’t quite know what to say though, because Xander and Charlie are my two best friends in the world and it felt wrong to join one and abandon the other.

“Yeah, Tommy, you’ve gotta make up your mind soon,” Charlie added. “It’s getting dark and I can’t be late for dinner.”

“I, uhh, I don’t know yet. Gimme a second to think, would ya?” I was stalling. I didn’t really feel like going to Charlie’s house for dinner again, what with his mom’s awful cooking and his dad’s booze-induced speeches.

“I think I’m gonna go with Xander,” I said, mimicking the decisiveness I heard in Xander’s voice when he told us his top-secret plan to go spray paint the old train cars on the other side of town. It seemed like a dumb idea at first, but now that I’d agreed to it I was starting to see the plan’s true potential.

Xander climbed up the barbed-wire fence and hopped over, taking a few giant steps when he landed in order to avoid falling. I started up after him. But, seeing as I was wearing new jeans and they were a little stiff, my movements were a bit slower and significantly less certain.

About halfway up, it hit me—this was, in fact, a dumb idea. Why was I bothering to go along with it anyway? Because Xander said it would be cool? I should’ve gone to Charlie’s house for that stupid, insufferable dinner. At least I’d be safe and warm and given a full meal, even if it was terrible.

But by now I was straddling the fence, where I sat calmly contemplating my choices until I noticed my new jeans were caught in the barbed wire.

I was definitely losing my cool and collected manner, but I didn’t want to seem totally panicked, so I said, in as casual a voice as I could manage, “Uhh, guys? I don’t know about this. I’m on the fence—“

Before I could say anything about my pants being caught, the boys cut me off, screaming about my indecisiveness in the crude and cruel way that only 12-year-old boys can truly understand. It was weird having a friend on either side, each telling me what he thinks I should do and both suggesting total opposites. The whole thing gave me a weird angel-on-one-shoulder-devil-on-the-other sensation, which I thought was a funny image. It reminded me of all the cartoons I used to watch and laugh at with Xander and Charlie on Saturday mornings. The parts where a kid had to make a tough decision and he could hear the voice of fun from one side and the voice of reason from the other.

So I started laughing, a deep, belly chuckle but I quickly lost control and it turned into a high almost-cackle. I ended up sounding like a crazy person, which was admittedly not great, but it got them both to shut up and listen to what I was saying. It unintentionally worked to my advantage, and I told myself it was all a part of the plan so that I’d feel a little less unstable. Stability was the big thing right now.

“I’m really on the fence, you guys. Like, I’m literally stuck on the fence—my pants are,” I said in my most convincing sane-person voice.

“Don’t worry dude, we’ll get you down,” Charlie reassured me.

“Yeah,” Xander replied. “Well, which way do you want to come down? Towards Charlie or towards me?”

But I didn’t know how to answer. I was on the fence about the whole thing, and I couldn’t seem to pick a side.

Don’t Put All Your Eggs In One Basket

don't put all your eggs in one basket

Janie’s basket was pretty full, but she really didn’t want to make a second trip out to the chicken coop so she kept piling the eggs on top of each other until her basket could hold no more. She was so sick of living on a farm, but soon she wouldn’t have to worry about collecting eggs or feeding the birds or anything like that anymore. In the fall, Janie would be attending The University—well, assuming she got her acceptance letter in the mail sometime soon.

“Janie, come inside. You’ve got a letter here,” Janie’s mother yelled from the screen door in the kitchen.

Janie instinctively knew what it was—she never got mail. She sprinted inside, almost dropping the heavy basket of eggs twice on the way. Throwing open the screen door, Janie came to an abrupt stop just inside the kitchen. She tried not to seem too eager, although she knew the anxiousness was written all over her face. She’d been waiting to hear back from The University for several weeks and her mother had seen her rifling through the mail like a madman on more than one occasion. Playing it cool was not Janie’s strong suit.

After taking a moment to collect herself, Janie set the overflowing basket of eggs on the stool by the door and hurried over to her mother. What she wanted to do was snatch that letter out of her mother’s hands and rip it open like an impatient child opening a birthday present.

But instead, she took the letter with a smile and a small nod, thanking her mother. Janie turned around and faced the corner of the kitchen, creating her own private space as secluded as any other in their modest farmhouse. She stood holding the envelope, trying to breathe deeply for about 10 seconds before her mother spoke up.

“Well, go ahead. Open it,” Janie’s mother instructed.

Janie jumped and looked up from the letter in her hands with a panicked expression. She turned her head to face her mother briefly, surprised to remember she wasn’t alone in the room.

“Yeah, of course, sorry,” Janie said in a near-whisper, speaking as if there wasn’t enough air in her lungs or the room or the whole world to calm her down with deep breathing.

She turned her attention back to the envelope in her hands and opened it using a kitchen knife as a letter opener, careful not to slice into the letter itself. She slid it out of the envelope and unfolded it, and then began to read.

What little hope was left in her face slowly drained as she read the first sentence until her expression resembled the very definition of sorrow. Janie was not accepted to The University, and would not be attending school in the fall. She was devastated. The University was the only school she applied to—she’d been so sure she’d be accepted! It was too late to apply anywhere else, and now Janie would surely have to stay here on the farm for another year. She wanted to be alone, to have a little time to process the fact that her dreams were just crushed in a single sentence, but her mother wasn’t about to let that happen.

“Janie!” she yelled from the other side of the kitchen, over by the door. “You clumsy little girl, how many times have I told you not to put all your eggs in one basket? It’s too heavy and all of the eggs break. These are all cracked—they’re ruined! Looks like there will be no cake for your sister’s birthday today, and she’s got you to thank for that…”

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, Janie thought, temporarily tuning out the yelling. She finally understood what her mother had meant all these years—if only a little too late.

Kill Two Birds With One Stone

kill two birds with one stone

“And while we’re in town we can pick up some of the stuff you wanted from the corner store—pens, a notebook, some a those sore-throat candies,” Andy said with the uncertainty of a person who has never purchased pens, notebooks, or cough drops. “I can grab some jerky, too. Hell, we can get whatever we need while we’re there.”

Timothy gave a quiet, breathy laugh and said, “Yeah, that’s great. Kill two birds with one stone, right?”

“Well, uhh… I guess we could try that,” Andy said, shifting in his seat. “I mean, I’m not real sure how to go about that. There’s gotta be some real skill involved…”

Timothy furrowed his brows and cocked his head to the right in disbelief. Did Uncle Andy not hear me laugh? he thought. Does he not know that idiom? He has to know it—how could he not know the expression ‘kill two birds with one stone?’ Doesn’t everybody know that? I thought everybody’d at least heard it before…

It was pretty clear by Timothy’s expression that he and Uncle Andy were not on the same page, but Andy was too caught up in his own thoughts to notice the confused and disapproving stare coming from his nephew.

“You’ve gotta get a real big stone, I ‘spose. That or you use some sorta mathematical equation to calculate what angle and speed you’d need to throw the rock at to make it hit one bird, bounce off its skull and hit the other…” Andy continued, simultaneously horrifying and impressing his guest—impressing him in the way that a psychopath might impress a person with normal emotions, not exactly an admiration but dredging up some weird, momentary jealousy in the normal person.

But how could Timothy not be somewhat entertained by the determination in his uncle’s face? He’d never seen Uncle Andy work this hard at anything before, never in the entire 23 years they’d known each other. Not once.

Timothy wondered, is it possible that creative problem solving could be Uncle Andy’s passion? That all these years he’s been hiding some sort of intelligence, hiding well-honed critical thinking skills out here in the middle of the cornfields? Or maybe he’s just been harboring some sort of deep-seated hatred of birds, some weirdly strong resentment with origins unknown to me?

“You know, you might be better off using a slingshot. Don’t you think?” Andy continued. “I mean, to get a rock to bounce off a bird’s skull and hit another one hard enough to kill it? That rock’s gotta be movin’ pretty fast, if you ask me. Plus the slingshot would help with, like, accuracy and that stuff.”

Timothy, his full attention back on his uncle, realized that having a passion and voicing a fantasy about killing birds were two entirely different things. He hated himself for confusing the two, even if it was only for a moment. One moment of stupidity, but it felt more like the beginning of the end to Timothy. It wasn’t just the whole stupid conversation, but the whole stupid town—it was throwing him off his mental game already. After only three days, country life was getting to him. He wasn’t a country-man like his uncle Andy, he was a city-boy with a city-education and the sense of arrogance that is virtually nonexistent in the country.

Andy was still rambling on about how to kill two birds, but he had somehow escalated to thoughts of killing entire flocks of birds with a handful of rocks.

“I don’t know, Timmy. This whole damn thing seems a little silly, if you ask me. Why don’t we just head into town and grab a couple of beers with the guys and see what they think about it? You know they’ll have somethin’ to say,” Andy concluded, already grabbing the keys to his truck and heading towards the door.

Timothy, shaking his head, laughed quietly and muttered to himself, “You can do this, Timothy. Bond with Uncle Andy while you’re researching for your next story. Kill two birds with one stone.”