Friday, January 30, 2009

Car Jacker Picks Wrong Victim

Hero Mom

Brent Conner rushed home to pick up his pissed-off teenaged daughter. The events of the hectic day had been so super-ordinary and unbelievable, he felt numb. The original plan had been to pick Chelsea up directly from school, but his big meeting with the investors had run longer than anticipated. Consequently she’d had to walk home and let herself into the house with the key they kept hidden under the dog statue by the back door. He’d called Chelsea’s cell to tell her that he wouldn’t make it, and she’d screamed in his ear. Brent had a difficult time dealing with her hormonal mood swings and outbursts, and now he regretted coming off too cross with her over the phone that afternoon.

Marion, his incredibly patient wife, always did her best to cushion the often-troubled space between father and daughter. When Chelse was a girl they’d gotten on famously. The poor communication and lack of kindness started when she hit puberty, and their ability to speak to each other without lashing out in some negative manner had become nearly impossible. Number one, he was under a lot of pressure with the business, and number two, the little ones had come along, complicating life and adding more stress. Chelsea had discovered all his hot buttons and relished in pushing them simultaneously, just to get him going. It was if she enjoyed the back and forth, the friction. Marion had a way of foreseeing these spats and would run interference when possible.

Of late, he’d come to regret their decision to expand the family. After what had happened that morning, he felt enormous guilt. What kind of a lousy no-good father was he anyway?

As Brent’s BMW crept down Wildflower Lane he spotted numerous vehicles and a news van. A crowd had come together at the end of the cul-de-sac and several reporters were gathered in front of his house. Reluctantly jumping out of the vehicle and dashing past a throng of people, he anxiously reached the stoop and fumbled with the key at the front door while reporters shouted inane questions and pointed microphones at his back. Inside, Chelsea sat in the dark with the TV blaring. “Turn that thing down,” he called, flipping the switch and flooding the family room with light.

She blinked frantically and cried out, “Mom’s the most embarrassing person in the world! Some jerk in a nearby car caught her on tape this morning with his video camera. She’s on the news—look!”

Brent hurried over and gawked at the TV. Marion filled the screen, wearing nothing but her favorite flimsy white cotton nightgown, while somehow managing to keep hold of the back of the SUV as the carjacker raced and weaved through traffic down busy Beverly Boulevard. The male anchor spoke about numerous phone calls that were streaming into the station from sympathetic women that had also driven their children to school wearing nightclothes at one time or another. He played a quote from one such woman, her untrained, overly emotional voice trilled, “Marion Connor represents mothers everywhere. There’s nothing as fierce as a mother protecting her babies. We all draw strength from that video tonight. Look out you crooks and criminals, don’t mess with us Mama bears!”

Chelsea grimaced. “Oh brother, give me a break.” She turned away from the TV and addressed her father, saying, “I thought you’d never get here Dad. I had to unplug the phones to make them stop ringing. They keep playing that frickin video over and over on all the stations. They’re calling her Hero Mom! How can I show my face again at Griffin High? They’ll make fun of me! I’ll have to be home schooled now!”

Brent hightailed it for the fridge. Hero Mom? Man, he could use a soda. His doctor recommended that he lay off the stuff, diabetes ran in his family, but he still hadn’t cut down. Carefully making his way across a floor littered with toys he called to Chelsea, “Lower the volume!” She complied.

“Listen to me,” he said calmly, leaning on the counter for support. “Have a heart, your mother dropped you off this morning and then she realized the tank was virtually empty. She crawled into the Shell station on fumes, got out to pump just enough gas to make it home, and that guy jumped behind the wheel. Face it—she could have been injured or killed. God only knows what would have happened to your sister, or your baby brother, if your mother hadn’t held on for dear life. When people saw her they whipped out their cell phones and called the cops. I honestly can’t imagine where she found the strength to hold on! And you’re worried about being teased? I won’t have you belittling or berating your mother! Do you hear me?”

A small yelp emanated from Chelsea before she pitched the remote control, miraculously it landed atop one of the kids stuffed toys and not the slate floor. “Oh please, that carjacker’s only sixteen years old,” she said sarcastically. “On channel 7 a guest psychiatrist said he doubted he would have hurt them.”

Angered, Brent couldn’t seem to stop himself from yelling, “You don’t know what that guy was capable of. And either does that backseat quack psychiatrist! Now, you quit acting like a spoiled brat! It’s about time you grew up. This isn’t about you Chelse!”

Crying, “I hate you Dad!” she stomped off down the hallway. Her bedroom door slammed so hard the house shook, and predictably, loud music began to pulsate and beat through the walls.

Brent popped open his soda and parked his butt on the stool. He wondered if the people outside found it odd that they were playing such loud music at a time like this. Instead of going after his hysterical daughter, Brent decided to let her chill out first. He then picked up the receiver and hit number one, which automatically dialed up his in-laws, Burt and Debbie. They had decided earlier in the day that it would be best for Marion and the little ones to go to their house for safekeeping after they’d been given a clean bill of health at the hospital. When she answered the line Debbie asked if he understood the extent of the news coverage. Did he know that there was a video? Did he know that the carjacker had hidden a gun under the seat? Did he know that Katie Couric was talking about how brave Marion was? By the time his wife came to the phone his skull was pounding.

“Is Chelse okay?” How like Marion, to be worried about her daughter.

 Brent sighed. “Freaking out—what’s new?”

 “I just hate to think of her walking home alone, and having to let herself in.”

When Brent was a kid he’d always walked home alone, he’d been a latch key kid before there was a popular term for it. And he’d turned out okay—hadn’t he? Marion was over-protective at times. He had to smile. Of course she was. Thank God she was.

Marion said, “When Chelsea called she was in a panic. I had to tell her to unplug the phones so she wouldn’t have to listen to them ringing off the hook anymore. I told her to keep her cell phone at her side, to call me if she needed me. When she saw the reporters camped out on the sidewalk she lost it. The poor kid’s so emotional in the best of times. Add this to the mix, well…come on Brent...have a little patience.”

 He decided not to tell Marion about his little tiff with Chelsea. Why worry her? She’d been through enough. He wasn’t proud of his reactionary behavior either.

 “By the look of things on the news, you’ve got quite a crowd out there.”

 “Really?” He said, “The house is on the news right now? Still? Great.”

 “It’s insane. I don’t think my unfortunate encounter would have even made the news if that guy in the Mustang hadn’t of taped the whole thing. Do you?”

 “I haven’t had a lot of time to think about this,” he told her. “I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw you on TV.”

 “I couldn’t have worn a robe? Dear God how embarrassing. Mom nearly had a heart attack when she got a load of my exposed thighs. Well, I’ll think twice before I ever leave the house half dressed again,” she actually chuckled.

 “You’re amazing Marion, it’s good to hear you laugh.”

 “What am I gonna do? I already cried a bucket, now it’s time to see the humor in the situation. The kids are fine—that’s what counts.”

 “I’m so grateful. The world’s so dangerous. It’s mind-boggling how dangerous.”

 “Look, Mom and Dad have been waiting for you guys, she’ll whip up a batch of margaritas when you get here. Just what the doctor ordered. You two better get a move on, and be careful.”

 Brent wondered if reporters would try to follow him.

 “Bring pizza,” Marion told him. “Stop by Pepino’s. I keep coupons near the phone.”

 “You’re so calm. I hated to leaved that hospital, but I had to make that meeting.”

 “I know. Life goes on. I’m okay, really I am.”

 Brent began to sob into the phone.

 “Don’t cry Honey,” Marion said bravely. “We’re safe.”

 He certainly hoped so. He wasn’t so sure.

All Rights Reserved. © 2009 by Elizabeth Bradley.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009



I’m often asked where I find my ideas for stories and characterizations. This question affords me the opportunity to sound off about one of the benefits of growing older. I met so many diverse characters while growing up. And, as an adult working as a designer, being invited into people’s homes and various locales exposed me to a great number of unusual experiences. I found myself in far-fetched and wildly disparate locations. I worked with an assorted mix-match of wealthy, comfortable, and borderline poor clients. Some were savvy, and some were ignorant. Some were decent, and some were awful. Some were clean, and some were filthy. 

I’ve given birth to five children, (yes five.) And I’ve had a long-lasting relationship with my husband. I've had one father, one mother, and two stepmothers, eight uncles and nine aunts, too many cousins to number, one brother, one sister, a nephew, and four nieces. Plus my grandchildren. Yikes. That’s a lot of material to work with!

But, I’ve come to believe, it’s important that you have the mindset of a writer if you want to write anything worth reading.

I watch and I watch and I observe those around me.

I know how to shut up and listen.

Wait…being able to listen…that’s valuable. But it can also be painful. If you really listen, you hear the silent tears, you see the hidden pain, you feel others remorse and regrets, their rawness will be exposed, and it’s hard to look. To look at others uncovered is to see your own limitations bared. This becomes a tool and a sword, the pen and the paper. The story.

All Rights Reserved. © 2009 by Elizabeth Bradley.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Short story about a sister that encourages her brother to find love via a mail order website


My brother Al is a borderline genius and a total computer geek. Not bad looking, but certainly no prize. At thirty-eight years old the poor guy was still alone. I got this brilliant idea for him to send away for a mail order bride. He thought I’d lost it.

I pulled up a site, and pointed out the smiling but tense faces displayed by obtainable and available (albeit assumingly desperate) women. Al gave an over-the-top, I’m so shocked and dismayed performance. My big brother was appalled that I thought he needed to find some underprivileged, unsuspecting woman from a third world country in order to find true love. “What makes you think I even want a wife?” he asked. I couldn’t help but notice that he continued to peer over my shoulder in a most curious fashion, despite his protests.

I shook my head and replied, “Al, you’re approaching forty, it’s time. You’ve always wanted children. If you keep this up you’ll be a senior citizen by the time your offspring graduate high school.” 

He pulled a chair over and took a seat at my side. “She’s kinda pretty,” he said, pointing out a Russian beauty with pouty lips. “Probably not a good choice though. I can’t imagine trying to communicate with her. Besides, she’s too good-looking, probably has one of those Russian Mobster boyfriends. If I married her he’d eventually come to The States to whack me. The goon would move into my house and spend all the money I’ve saved.”

I nodded in agreement, and so clicked on another site in my previous search, one called Latin Lovelies. “Here you go,” I said, “and you speak Spanish.”

“I do like Selma Hayek,” he said. 

I grimaced. God—men! Why would a girl as talented and beautiful as Salma Hayek sign up to be a mail order bride? He wished.


I had long since forgotten about our wasted afternoon spent searching for Bolivian Beauties, Chilean Sweethearts, and Columbian Cuties. Months had passed by. I had gone back to selling real estate after my youngest child had entered elementary school, and I was so busy schlepping clients from one over-priced house to another that I didn’t have time to fret about my lonely big brother and his pathetic love life.

He called me up one day and announced,  “Hey Gina, I found her, my mail order bride.”

“Get out!” I cried.

“I’m serious,” he said. “I took your advice. Her name’s Pilar, and I’m flying down to Bolivia to meet her. If she likes me, I’ll meet her family.”

“That’s scary, Al. What if you get kidnapped and held for ransom?”

“Don’t be silly. I’m going through an agency, and it’s all on the up and up.”

“I don’t know,” I said. Visions of my handcuffed brother being stuffed into the truck of some jalopy down in South America danced through my mind.

“I’m leaving tonight,” Al declared. “Don’t be paranoid Gina. Don’t kill my buzz.”


And so Pilar came into our lives. Supposedly she was twenty-seven, but she looked so much younger. A pretty girl, except for a flawed smile due to crooked rotten teeth, she spoke no English at all, and had a habit of giggling uncontrollably when nervous.

Pilar had a propensity towards silliness in general. She played cartoons on the TV nonstop. Her favorite being Family Guy. Watching inane cartoons helped her learn English phrases like: Oh, that’s nasty, Giggity giggity, Freakin sweet, and Oh crap!

She was a dynamo when it came to keeping house. Al did get her in to see his over-booked dentist, Dr. Lamb. Dr. Lamb started the poor little thing off with a barrage of antibiotics to fight the extensive infection, and then went to town with the ensuing root canals. She would not take a pill, just couldn’t swallow them, and so endured the agony without painkillers. Pilar had a high tolerance for pain.

Perhaps the wackiest behavior my brother had to put up with was his new wife’s peculiar habit of hiding, then jumping out in front of him suddenly, which served to startle the shit out of him every single time she pulled this prank. Catching Al off guard amused Pilar beyond belief. As he struggled to regain his composure and regulate his rapid heartbeat, she would roll around like a little monkey, laughing hysterically, tears streaming down her cheeks, while clutching her stomach. You’d think Al would have grown accustomed to this disquieting practice, but after each incident he would come unglued all over again, and then he’d express his displeasure with her antics, and she would cease and desist for a time. His guard would come down—watch out mister—she’d pounce again.

A young couple rented the run-down house next door to Al’s tiny but well maintained plain Jane stucco in Alta Dena. The husband wasn’t around much because he worked nights and mostly slept during the day. His young wife Summer had a toddler and a baby, and she really hit it off with Pilar. Soon they were spending many hours together, watching TV, and hanging out over at the park with the kids. Pilar began to learn new phrases. Phrases like: bite me, kiss off, what the fuck, and blow it out your nose.

Al explained how rude it was to tell your husband to kiss off when all he asked was whether or not you had checked the mail. He begged Pilar not to take up smoking cigarettes, not to drink Budweiser all afternoon, and not to dress like a hip-hop queen. But her new American friend did all these things, and Pilar imitated Summer.

The husband, his name was Lenny, walked across the driveway to tell Al what a terrific influence Pilar had over his wife. Summer was actually changing the baby’s diapers. She used to wait for him to do diaper changes. There wasn’t enough Desitin in the world to deal with such intense diaper rash. Lenny had whispered this disclosure stealthily, into Al's ear. Summer was actually cleaning the house and fixing his lunch. The guy was ecstatic. Al didn’t have the heart to tell Lenny that his Summer was a bad influence on his Pilar.

Al wanted me to have a talk with my sister-in-law. A heart to heart.

“Who? Me?” I was not in the least bit eager to get involved. First of all, Pilar had never confided in me. I’d catch her, eyeing me warily, as if I presented some kind of threat. Sure, she got along just fine with my kids. There was something very childlike about Pilar. My seven-year-old son Jack adored her. They played video games together, devoured copious amounts of candy, and whooped it up whenever she came to visit. I almost told Al no, but thought better of it. “Okay, I’ll have a talk with her. I’ll pick her up and take her shopping,” I suggested. Summer had made inroads. Pilar was learning English. So who knew, maybe we could manage some sort of conversation. “But…” I warned him, “I’m not promising anything.”

Pilar needed new earrings, so I took her to one of those garish stores that the teenage girls like. The place was full of cheap jewelry and glittery shiny objects, tons of stickers, that kind of thing. And, since they were having a sale, she purchased several pairs. I swear, one gold pair of hoops shared a common circumference with a freaking Frisbee.

Then we stopped off at Hot Dog on a Stick, where Pilar downed three corn dogs and a gallon sized lemonade. At barely five-feet, and tiny as she was, I wondered where she put all that food. I envied her. If I so much as touched a French fry or a piece of chocolate cake my thighs grew.

I asked her if she’d be applying to go to school anytime soon.

Al had been doing his best to convince Pilar to enroll for night courses. Basically, from what I could tell, she had come to the conclusion that school was not the way to go, not for her anyway. She wanted to learn how to cut and dye hair. I was informed that hair-dos were beeg money. I had to really listen to the broken English in order to piece together her hopes and concerns. After Summer’s little ones were in daycare, the two BFF’s planned to open a salon together. Would I approach Al for her? Did I know of a school of cosmetology where they taught in Spanish? Could I look it up on my computer?

Al didn’t balk at the idea. If Pilar could find such an outlet, he firmly believed, if she could spend her days away from Summer, cosmetology school would definitely be a step in the right direction.

As it turned out, Pilar had a real knack for cutting hair. She rocked. And, as her self-esteem blossomed, she decided that it might just be in her own best interest to learn how to read and write in English. She did end up enrolling in night school after all.

The police were called to Lenny and Summer’s in the wee hours of the morning, seemed they’d gotten into a terrible fight. Lenny had blackened Summer’s eye. The next day she packed up her two little ones, climbed on a bus, and left town to go back to live with her parents in San Bernardino. Lenny moved out. And the Morales’s moved in.

Pilar had a new BFF. Vicki Morales was a divorcee, a feminist DMV worker, and mother of five. Vicki took an instant dislike to my brother when she discovered that Pilar was a mail order bride. Forget that my brother had paid thousands of dollars to have Pilar’s entire mouth reconstructed, that it was Al that had made that beautiful white smile possible. Forget that he paid her way through Contemporary Beauty Academy, that he had always treated her kindly, that he genuinely cared for her. Forget all that. Vicki made up her mind that he was a white man oppressing a Latina woman. Her influence reared its ugly head one night after Al asked Pilar if he had any clean work out clothes to wear to the gym. Pilar really laid into him. She informed Al that she was not his slave, that soon, she would have her license and they would be on equal footing.

My brother reacted by doing his own laundry and walking on eggshells around his newly touchy, often surly wife. Pilar spent more and more time over at Vicki’s. Instead of coming home to warm dinners he came home to a cold empty house.

I doled out advice as if I were Dear Abby. I told my big brother to play the same game. “Hang out at your friends all night,” I told him. “Get your butt out of the house Dude, play poker, go to sports games on the weekends. If Pilar can ignore you—you can ignore her! That’s what I’d do if my husband pulled that crap.” A moot point, my husband Donavan was the sweetest, coolest guy around. But…if he ever did desert me, to spend all his time with his moronic buddies I’d do the same, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. I’d heard my mother advocate that old time adage a million times.

And so, heeding my well-meaning counsel, Al began to hang out at a little bar inside the bowling alley, (the beer was cheap and he was thrifty). He developed an interest in baseball and joined a league. Once a week he’d meet me at the theatre and we’d take in a movie.

Vicki told Pilar that Al had to be fooling around. Pilar came to see me, claimed that she didn’t want to get a divorce, but didn’t know what she would do if she found out that Al was cheating, (or chitting, as she put it.) At this point the tears were flowing and I was doing my best to keep her in Kleenex. I explained that Al wasn’t fooling around with other women, but because she was hardly ever around, he had plenty of time to kill. Since she was rarely at home anymore, why should he hang around the house all by his lonesome?

I told her to stop listening to Vicki. I asked her if Vicki was the one that flew all the way to Bolivia in order to meet her, if Vicki had been the one to impress her father and mother, if Vicki had been the one to marry her, fix her teeth, or had made the investment to send her through school? Hello! Get real! I asked the girl point blank, what had Vicki really ever done for her? Nothing. Well, she had done something. She’d driven a wedge between them. Vicki was sabotaging Pilar and Al’s happiness, that’s what she was doing. “I bet that chick’s jealous,” I said. “You’ve got a husband, and don’t forget, she doesn’t”

Pilar began to sob uncontrollably.

“You used to be so happy,” I pointed out. “You used to laugh all the time.”


Pilar had no trouble landing a job. She was hired on at the salon next to Walgreen’s. Miss Louise was a southern belle, and she treated Pilar as if she were a daughter instead of employee. The name of Miss Louise’s shop was PEACH. The inside of the salon was painted, carpeted, and furnished in various shades of orange, ranging from persimmon, pumpkin, salmon, apricot, tangerine, right on down to pale grapefruit and champagne. And man, that beauty parlor was decked out to the max, a cross between an over-the-top bordello and Versailles. I switched salons and began to visit PEACH to get myself touched up and trimmed by my sister-in-law. Besides my loyalty to Pilar, I found the ladies at PEACH to be a lively bunch, and a further motivating influence to stop patronizing my former salon of choice.

Al changed companies, he left the aerospace industry to work for an automobile manufacturer, (I won’t name names here), and received a substantial raise in the process. I put their old house on the market, and sold Al and Pilar an authentic craftsman bungalow in Silver Lake. The house had a lovely wide front porch and big yard, complete with a swing set, for when they decided to start a family. I longed to become Auntie in the worse way.

Vicki and Pilar lost touch. Thank God.

Pilar doesn’t shoot out of closets, or out from behind furniture to surprise the shit out of Al anymore. But she knows how to keep herself amused. I haven’t seen her watch cartoons in ages. She still loves to laugh her ass off though, and all the girls get a kick out of her silly jokes and spirited high jinks down at the salon. One time she let out a gasp while she was clip, clip, clipping at my head with her pointy little scissors, and then spun my chair around. She pointed at the floor in a dramatic fashion. Piles of my blonde locks were just lying there, all my beautiful long locks, in a heap on the tangerine tiles! My hand flew to my mouth. I must have gasped. I’m sure I did. That’s when she started laughing uncontrollably, and Denise, (the stylist at the next station), informed me that the blonde mess belonged to a previously shorn client, and that Pilar had saved the hair so she could pretend that it was mine. One of her practical jokes. Very funny. You get the picture.

Anyway, if you have a brother like mine, one of those loner types, then you just might want to do what I did and take it upon yourself to suggest a mail order bride. You might luck out and get a good MOB.! I know we did.

Notice: Author has no association with, nor recommends Brides4U. No ownership of copyrights, or trademarks of Brides4U expressed or implied.

All Rights Reserved. © 2009 by Elizabeth Bradley.