I am a whiz at manicuring fingernails.  All the manicurists say so.
Even Doris. Especially Doris who works half days at the same salon as I do, and half days at a massage place. She likes my manicures so much, she was paying me for two manicures by giving me one massage. Her only request was that I bring my own lotion.
“It avoids you getting allergic reactions,” she explained.
“I can do that,” I said. I don’t know what an allergic reaction is but I do know Claire always has lotion at home.
That afternoon Doris phoned me at the nail shop to tell me she had a cancellation at the massage place in one hour, if I wanted it. 
“There are three of us here with nothing to do but our own nails, and Nance who has a real customer,” I said. “They won’t miss me.”
I did a dash home, ran into the house and almost bumped into Claire, my housemate, who was on her way out.
“I need to get some lotion for Doris to use when she gives me a massage,” I told her. “She’s trading me a massage for two manicures.”
“Hey, that’s great! Listen, Alakar, there’s a grocery sack  on the kitchen counter. I put away the perishable stuff and left the rest. There’s a large bottle of lotion in it. You know where I keep those little plastic bottles in the kitchen? Instead of carrying that big bottle, fill one of those little bottles to take with you. And now I’ve gotta run. Oh, do you need a ride to the massage place? I can get the car out and drive you.”
Claire’s like that, always rushing between jobs and errands. She has a morning job downtown and in the afternoon she works at the neighborhood center where she teaches math. When I left my terrible husband, I had no family except my cousin Tarvik, and so he took me to his home in Seattle, which is a long way away from where we grew up, and gave me a home with himself and his girlfriend Claire, and his other cousin, Nance. I must admit, they all have been very good to me.
I assured Claire it was no distance for me to walk. She waved goodbye and I went into the kitchen and found a large full bottle in the grocery bag.  The little soft plastic bottles were in the drawer under the counter. I filled one, put it in my purse, and walked to my appointment.
This was another new adventure for me. Although I knew from Doris’s direction where the massage place is, I had no idea it would be so large inside. There were a few nice chairs in the entry and a desk with a woman behind it. The woman glanced at my hands. “Ah ha! You must be Doris’s friend. She should be done with her last client in a few minutes. Have a seat. Lucky Doris.” She came around the desk and stared at my hands. “You really are good.”
Even Nance says so, and then says things like, “You learned so fast how to do great manicures, Alakar. Howcome you can’t learn to read?”
“I can read labels on the nail polish bottles and I can read numbers on price tags.”
“And you can read your own name.”
I don’t know why she had laughed when she said that. Of course I can read my name. And write it, too. How else could I use my credit card? But then, I often do not understand everything Nance says.
We both grew up in another place where there were no schools. Now we go to the neighborhood center every morning where kind volunteers teach us reading for an hour or so, and then we go to our jobs at the nail shop. It has been a real lesson for me to meet so many kind and friendly people. My parents were very strict and my husband’s family never spoke to me. Until I moved to Seattle, I thought everyone was like that.
Now I have friends like Doris. She came out to the lobby and took me into a massage room. I gave her the lotion and when I was settled on the massage table under a sheet, she poured lotion into her hands and began rubbing my shoulders. And talking. She does that at the manicure shop, too, talks steadily to her customers while she works on their nails.
“You live with Tarvik and Claire and Nance, right? Are you all related?”
“Nance is Tarvik’s cousin from his mother’s side and I am his cousin from his father’s side.”
“Oh! I thought Nance was your kid sister.”
 “Nance and I are not related but we might as well be. Everyone thinks we are sisters.”
“Did the three of you grow up in the same town? Do you still have relatives there? Do you go home for holidays?”
I don’t talk about my family. The more I say, the more people ask, and I ran away to forget them. “They are all dead except Tarvik and Nance,” I said.
“Oh dear. I shouldn’t have asked.”
That’s what everyone says. But I knew how to change the conversation. All I had to do was ask Doris, “Where do you go for holidays?” and she told me the complete story of her life, which included long descriptions of all her relatives and where they live and how many children they have and on and on.
I drifted into a light sleep face down on the massage table, soothed by her hands rubbing my back, until she said, “This lotion seems a bit sticky. Is it what you always buy?”
“Claire buys the lotion when she’s at the grocery store. I don’t use lotion much. Is there something wrong with it?”
“Not really, Just a bit sticky. Must be a brand I’ve never used. You have a tight muscle here. I’ll try to loosen it up but if I press too hard, you be sure to tell me. Oh, did I tell you what my sister’s boy did last week? He is the funniest kid! Can you believe it? Only nine years old and already…”
I must have fallen asleep again. The next thing I knew she was tapping my shoulder and telling me we were finished with the massage.
It was a warm day, lovely for walking. When I reached home, Nance and Tarvik were rolling out a pizza crust. They are both wonderful cooks. And Claire was fixing a salad.
“How was the massage, Alakar?”
“Lovely. But I seem to itch all over. The heat, maybe.”
Claire said, “Oh, it’s probably the lotion. They use so much for a massage. You might want to take a shower. Supper won’t be ready for at least a half hour.”
That sounded perfect. I went into the bathroom, tossed my clothes in the laundry basket, and stepped into the shower. The combination of massaged muscles and warm water felt marvelous. I closed my eyes and felt so relaxed, I was afraid I might fall asleep again. I opened my eyes to locate the bar of soap in the soap holder and as I reached out to pick it up, I saw my hands were already covered with soap bubbles.
And so were my arms. And my body. And my legs. Soap bubbles slid  down me and dripped from all over me, even from the end of my nose and from my fingertips, landing in a soapy pool around my feet.
I tried to brush them off. I stood under the shower and rubbed away and the more I rubbed, the more bubbles there were.
Worse than that, some got in my eyes. I closed my eyes too late.
I must have shrieked. I didn’t know I had until Nance pounded on the door and shouted, “Are you all right in there?”
When I opened my mouth to answer, bubbles slid into it. Between coughing and gasping and spitting out bubbles, I did manage a loud, “No!”
I heard the door open. “Alakar, I’m coming in. Are you crying? What’s wrong?”
Of course I was crying. That’s what happens when I get soap in my eyes. I started to tell her and got more bubbles in my mouth.
I heard the curtain slide open and heard Nance gasp. “What on earth? Alakar, you are covered with bubbles! Oh! I guess you know that. Here, let me get them out of your eyes.”
I heard water running in the sink. Next I felt a cold washcloth pressed across my face and I clapped my hands over Nance’s hand to keep that soothing cold against my eyelids.
Was Nance laughing? I share a room with her and she helps me with so many problems, I cannot ever be angry with her, although I sometimes wish she wouldn’t laugh at me so often.
I heard Claire shout, “It’s okay, Tar, but I need to help Nance. You stay in the kitchen and finish fixing supper,” and then I heard the bathroom door close and Claire mutter, “and put a full wine bottle at my place.”
Somehow Claire and Nance got me out of the shower and wrapped in a towel, used a stack of washcloths to clear my face of bubbles, and then worked their way around me and down me.
When I could open my eyes and rinse out my mouth and stop sobbing, I asked, “Why is the shower water full of bubbles?”
“It isn’t,” Nance said. “You are. You are covered in something. I can feel it. It’s sticky.”
“That’s what Doris said when she was massaging me. She said the lotion felt sticky."
“What lotion?”
“The lotion she was using. I gave her a little plastic bottle of Claire’s lotion to use.”
“My lotion? No, when I came home and emptied the grocery bag I noticed the lotion bottle was still sealed. Alakar! Oh my gosh,” Claire said, “There was also a large bottle of shampoo in that bag.”
Nance sniffed my shoulder. “Yup, you’re right, Claire, that’s what it is. Your lotion smells like roses. Alakar smells like shampoo.”
“She filled the little plastic bottle for Doris with shampoo?”
“She couldn’t read the bottle label and she handed Doris a container without a label. I bet Doris did a great job of rubbing every last drop into Alakar’s skin.”
And then they both did that rude laughing thing again. And I could not even be angry because while they laughed, they did manage to get all of the bubbles off of me.
Although I do not enjoy reading, perhaps there are good reasons to learn to read.
Copyright © Phoebe Matthews

The cover photo at the top of the page is for the fifth novel in the Mudflat Magic series, Goldilocks Hits Town, and features the beautiful Alakar on a day of much more serious problems than bubbles.

Bubbles is my newest short story, finished in August and here for you now. It is based on a day my nearsighted niece misplaced her glasses.



August 2018 story: Guard Dog?

Mudflat magic is inherited, and with each generation the magic weakens. Or sometimes the magic remains powerful but the brain that controls it is weaker.
Phoebe Matthews

Seattle is a city of back alleys in the old neighborhoods. As I am usually traveling on foot, running to a bus stop, they are my freeways, shortcuts uncluttered with car traffic. This alley was in a small commercial district, behind office buildings, the short type that have realtors and hair dressers on the first floor and accountants and dentists on the second.
 As this was Sunday, the alley was empty of people. Just the usual dumpsters. A couple of old cars pulled up tight against the concrete block walls. Flowering weeds pushing out of the cracks in the blacktop.
 At the far exit, a BMW stood at the curb. It was parked, all right, and not actually moving, but somehow a BMW never quite looks stopped or parked. It always looks like a criminal about to make a dash for it. Or is my opinion of a BMW distorted because I know who owns one?
 Between tinted windows and normal light glare, I couldn't see who was in it, although I could see the shadow shape of a head. I knew Darryl Decko’s car way too well. If he was sitting at the curb, I didn’t want to go running past. For me, the Decko brothers are bad news.
 Darryl is the one with money, always in some hotshot job somewhere. Rock is the one with the magic, not a lot, but enough to get himself in trouble. The deal is this. Like me, the Deckos grew up in Mudflat, a neighborhood in Seattle where old magic lives, trailing its way through the Mudflat families like a hopscotch game, making one kid a witch, another a ghost-talker, and then it would skip a generation and a grandchild would suddenly turn out to be a spellcaster. The magic keeps trailing, getting a little weaker as it drifts down through the families’ gene pools.
 I inherited a bit, not much, just enough to make me a painfully accurate fortuneteller, which also makes me a target for Darryl Decko who would like me to forecast stuff he can make bets on. That’s forbidden for a whole lot of  reasons, none of which matter here, except that you’ll understand now why I avoid him. Larceny is his hobby.
 What keeps either of the Decko boys out of jail is a puzzle.
 I slowed, then came to a standstill, waiting for that BMW to pull away. That’s when I noticed the open back door in a two-story cement block building.  Okay, I noticed it because it wasn’t simply open, it was shredded, hanging sideways on broken hinges,
 The younger Decko, Rock, is a smash wizard, the only one in the city because smash wizards are territorial and competitors disappear. His skill is limited. Rock isn't the brightest bulb, but he has that smash thing down pat, all except the self-control part. He can hit a board with the side of his hand and the board doesn’t just break in two, the way some athletes do it, it actually disintegrates into a million pieces.
 If he hits a door too hard, it ends up looking like the door in front of me.
 Decko car in the alley, Decko damage to a building, gee, I didn’t need to be a fortuneteller to figure out that the two were connected. As Rock wasn’t the brother who scared me, I went to the broken door and took a step inside to a short, dark hallway that faced two more doors, one intact, the other not.
 Something exploded, not fire cracker size. Major. It sounded like somebody’d been lugging a refrigerator up a staircase and it got away from them and went crashing. If the building were twenty stories taller, the crash could even be a broken elevator cable.
  “Rock?” I called softly. When I didn’t get an answer, I shouted. “Rock? Hey, Rock, you in here?”
 Have I mentioned that seven years ago, when I was sixteen, I dated Rock Decko?
 No, I did not know that he had an older brother who was involved in a lot of illegal stuff, and I wouldn't have cared. Rock in black leather and chains was, uh, hot. And I was sixteen. Which I hope explains why I thought he was hot.
 He was a couple years older than me. That made him a big man, plus he was into motorcycles, and really, really, really wanted to be a bad boy but had no special skills. Magic has its late bloomers, and at that time, neither Rock nor anyone else knew that in a year or two he would be a smash wizard.
 He can smash, all right, but even now, years later, he hasn’t learned  to control his strength. Be just like him to break a door by accident and then stamp in frustration and blow a hole right through the floor. That would explain the explosion noise.
 It also might explain why he wasn’t answering. Was he lying under a pile of rubble in the basement? Not wanting to join him in a crash to the center of the earth, I didn’t go dashing in, but I did walk in slowly, looking all around for weakened floor boards before putting a foot down.
 “Rock? You in here?”
 Dead silence. I glanced around  the room I’d entered. At one end was a large desk. The rest of the space was filled up with file cabinets. Nothing on the walls. Some sort of office but there weren’t diplomas on the walls or anything like that, so I couldn’t figure it out. And that’s when I noticed several little red lights flashing on a metal panel about the size of a circuit breaker box by the door.
 “Uh, Rock?” I’d seen those things in enough TV shows to suspect I recognized them. “Hey, Rock?”
 “Doll?” He poked his head around a doorway on the other side of  the room.  “You shouldn’t be here.”
 “Neither should you,” I said, because I had this sinking feeling that things were not going well. “You’ve set off a burglar alarm.”
 When he came into the room, he had a canvas bag in his hand, the kind used for bank deposits. Rock has dark hair and olive skin, an arched nose and eyes the color of copper pennies. Those eyes were tracking from side to side. Something had him in a sweat. I guess I don't have to say that he was wearing black jeans and shirt, because that's all Rock ever wears.
 “I don’t hear anything.”
 “That’s because it’s not going off here. It’s going off in some security company’s office or maybe at the police station.”
 About that time the phone on the desk rang and Rock nearly went straight up through the ceiling.
 “Are you expecting a call?” I asked.
 Okay, I was playing him. Sometimes I can’t resist. From the look on his face, I knew that deposit bag in his hand wasn’t his. What I didn’t know was the how or why. Oh right, the why was simple. The guy’s a thief.
 “You think I should answer?”
 “Only if you know the password,” I told him.
 “What password?”
 “Rock, there’s an alarm going off. And a phone ringing. That means the alarm is hooked to a security company and somebody in an office across town is calling to ask for a password. If you don’t know the password, they send out the cops.”
 “What happens if we don’t answer?”
 “Same thing that happens if you don’t know the password. I think I’ll be gone when they get here.”
 And that’s what I did, turned around and left with Rock right on my heels.
 “Hey, doll, I’ve got my brother’s car. Come on, I’ll give you a ride.”
 “You mean you’ve got your brother,” I said as we hurried out the back door to the alley.
 It was hard to imagine sleek and slippery Darryl Decko playing getaway driver. Didn’t care. He wasn’t someone I wanted to run into. I started to turn back toward the other end of the alley figuring I’d circle the block and wait for the bus.
 “No, I don’t. Darryl isn’t with me.”
 “Well, there’s somebody in the car,” I said.
 He gave me a funny grin and caught my elbow. “Yeah, there is. Come on. You’ll like her.”
 Her? Okay, I didn’t hear any sirens. It would take a few minutes from the time of that security company phone call to the arrival of the police. If Rock had a new girlfriend, I wanted to see her because, gotta admit I am incurably curious.
 When we reached the car, instead of opening the door, he pointed through the side window.
 “That’s Skippy,” he said.
 Weird name for a girlfriend. And then I leaned toward the window and she pressed her nose on the other side and I must say, and did say, “Oh, she’s so cute!”
 A large scruffy dog with floppy ears started bouncing up and down and slobbering all over the window, and then she did a regular doggie dance, circling, jumping over the console to the driver’s seat, jumping back, jumping over.
 “When did you get a dog?”
 “Yesterday. I decided I need a watch dog and she’s a big one.”
 A watch dog to protect a thief’s house? Maybe he had better stuff in his house than I did. Living on my miniscule salary, gotta tell ya, I don’t own anything anyone would want to steal.
 While I watched and laughed at Skippy’s antics, the car let out a BEEP! and a HONK, HONK! followed by a whole lot of those other horrible car alarm noises.
 “What’s going on?”
 “Oh, damn, she jumped on my key tag.”
 Key tag? Right, those automatic buttons people have on their key chains for locking and unlocking cars from a distance and for turning the alarm on and off.
 “How could she do that?”
 “I left the keys on the seat.”
 It took me a second but I got there. If he’d left the keys in the ignition and then tried to exit or enter the car, it would make all sorts of noise. And if a noisy burglar alarm had gone off when he’d smashed the back door, he didn’t want to have to dig in his pocket for his keys. Instead, he planned on being able to cancel the break-in and make a fast getaway, with the keys on the seat where he could scoop them up and be off.
 While I tapped the window and grinned back at the grinning dog, Rock went dashing out in the street and yanked on the door handle.
 Well, you know how that went, don’t you?
 Skippy not only managed to hit the car alarm, she’d also stepped on the button that locked the car up tight.
 Rock howled.
 “You can smash the window,” I suggested helpfully.
 He glared at me over the car roof. “Are you insane! This is Darryl’s car! He’d kill me!”
 As I couldn’t think of any reason to stand around being insulted, especially as I could hear sirens approaching, I turned and headed back toward the alley. As I turned, my toe hit something and I looked down. It was the bank deposit bag. If I left it on the sidewalk next to the car, it could be a few decades before Mudflat got its smash wizard back. I wouldn’t miss him but probably someone would.
 Besides, if he got tossed in jail, what would happen to Skippy?
 In one swoop, I picked up the bag and walked quickly away. About the time I was adjacent to the broken door, the siren drowned out the noise of the car alarm, and as carrying stolen stuff seemed a good way to get in trouble, I ducked through the door and into the office and across to the far door and holy gee! It opened to a closet that was mostly filled with a humongous metal safe with its humongous metal door shattered into a mountain of metal bits.
 I tossed the deposit bag into the yawning cavern of the doorless safe. And then I walked calmly to the broken outer door, stuck out my head, saw the back end of the police car angled on the other side of Darryl’s car, and heard a whole lot of voices, one of them shouting something about, “Stupid dog!”
 Seconds later I was out of the alley and walking calmly down the next cross street. Rock wasn’t my responsibility, but if he got tossed in jail, I might offer to adopt Skippy.
Copyright © Phoebe Matthews

Claire Carmody is the protagonist in the Mudflat Magic series. That's Claire on the cover of books 1 and 4. If you haven't read any of the books, the first one is FREE on Amazon and most other sites.
Click here.

An urban fantasy short story will be posted here each month for Phoebe's Newsletter readers. If you are not receiving the Newsletter, with its news about new books and promotional offers of urban fantasy material, email phoebe@phoebematthews.com and we will be delighted to add you to the group.

Mudflat Magic series, urbanfantasylite