Harold and Caroline: Part Two

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Part One

“Alright, and that’s the Shipping List, the last of the reports. Once you see all three documents you know you’ve got them all.” Harold picked the still-warm papers off of the fax machine and walked with Caroline over to the computer.

“Shipping List, Sales Timecard, Employee Report,” Caroline recited. “I mean Sales Report, Employee Timecard! Sorry!”

“It doesn’t really matter if you know their names,” Harold sighed. “Just make sure you get all three. Then you’ll come over to the computer. I’ve already created a guest account for you to login under. The username is ‘caroline’ in all lower-case. And the password is ‘enilorac’ which is just your name backwards, see?”

“Oh let me write that down.”

“Sure…Now as you can see there’s hardly anything here on the desktop. Just the shortcut for the web browser. And when you open that it should automatically load the two tabs you’re going to need. Just in case you ever open it and they aren’t already open you should probably write down these URLs.”

Caroline scribbled furiously.

“This first one is where you enter the information. See I choose the date first, then I get a form. Each field has a corresponding one on the paper, you just copy the values over. It’s very simple. Then this other one is the email. Here you’ll just need to send me an email with a few of the values from the faxes. The ones that I’m highlighting right now.” He pulled out a marker and began to run it across the pages. “Any questions?”

Caroline shook her head.

“Alright, then why don’t you go ahead and try it? I’ll watch and see that you do it right.”

“Oh…me? Already? Don’t you think I should watch how you do it first?”

“I don’t think that’s necessary Caroline, this is literally just transcribing from one form into another.”

“Oh, of course…Well I’m sure you have some other work you want be doing. How about you take care of that while I work on this, and then you can come back to check it afterwards.”

“Caroline…” Harold said testily.

“Of course…sorry.” Caroline pulled the keyboard over to her and began tapping away. She could feel Harold’s unflinching gaze on her, and she scrunched her shoulders as close to her body as possible. “Okay…so I guess I’ll do the Shipping List first…since it was the first that came through?”

“It doesn’t matter which one you– sorry, I mean go ahead. That’s fine.”

“Okay,” she said softly. “So this first field is the ‘Identification Number.’ Oh, but I don’t see that in the webform, just this one labelled ‘ID Number’ here. That’s probably the one I want…right?”

Harold sighed heavily. “Maybe I will go stretch my legs. Be back in a few.”


“Enjoy your break, boss!” Janet beamed from the receptionist’s desk as Harold left his office on the eve of his six-week vacation.

“Thank you. I’m sure it will be…an experience. Now I won’t be available at all these first couple days, but go ahead and email me about anything urgent even if I’m not responding. I’ll get around to things as I can.”

“Of course, sir. Oh, and Caroline is here.” Janet pointed over to the chair against the opposite wall.

“Oh good. Caroline, I just wanted to check one last time if you had any questions before I head out.”

“Um, no sir. I think I’m all ready.”

“Alright, well if anything goes wrong just send me an email right away. I’ll be sure to get things sorted out. HR already knows to expect your timecard changes, so they won’t give you any trouble about the extra hours. And thank you for volunteering to take care of this. I’ve–gathered–that your family is going through a trying time right now. You have my–best wishes.” Harold’s voice was uncharacteristically stiff and awkward, like he didn’t know how to talk about such things.

“Thank you, I’m sure we appreciate that.”

“I’m sure that you do,” Harold rolled his eyes, shifting back to his normal state of exasperation. “Alright then, have a good night Janet.”

“You too, Harold.”

Harold made his way to the elevator. As soon as its doors clanged shut behind him Janet rounded on Caroline with narrow eyes. “If anything does go wrong, you will not email him. You will let me know straight away and we will take care of it. You understand? Not that it’s any of your business, but this ‘vacation’ of his is nothing that we want to disturb.”

“Of course, Janet. Whatever you say. I’m sure I’ll manage alright, though. I’m certain of it.”

Janet’s frown seemed to suggest that she was less certain.


It was the second day of Harold’s six week vacation. He was in a hospital bed, listening to the doctor lecturing him as to what he could expect in recovery.

“…and certainly no heavy lifting for the duration,” the woman said, finishing her mental checklist.

“And the recipient?” Harold asked. “Things are…going well?”

“We make a point to not say anything definitive at this stage. It may be a matter of weeks before we know if his body is going to accept the kidney or not.”

“Of course, I understand.”

“But as far as the actual operation was concerned, everything went well and he is recovering just fine.”


“Actually…I wanted to ask you about something on your registration form. You said you were open to the possibility of meeting the recipient if they expressed a similar interest? Now I know its been a while since you filled this out and here in the moment you might feel differently–”

“No, no,” Harold said quickly. “I’m still happy to if they are.”

“They are. The boy is obviously not up to visiting just yet, but I could go and check on whether the family wanted to come over now.”

“I’d like that.”

“Give me a few.”

The doctor left him and Harold gingerly adjusted the pillows behind his back, careful not to disturb his tender side. He grabbed his book off of the nightstand, but soon discovered that his mind wasn’t in the mood for reading and he put it back. Instead he just breathed deeply and waited. The seconds slid into minutes, and the minutes into a half hour. He was just starting to think that his doctor must have gotten sidetracked when a soft knock came at his door.

“Come in,” he said.

The doctor swung the door inwards with a bright smile. “Alright Harold, I’ve brought you some very grateful visitors!”

She stepped into the room and off to the side, clearing the way for the family to come in. Two little sisters, about four and seven, a balding father with a large belly, and a mother who was…



That brings us to the close of Harold and Caroline. I mentioned a week ago that I tried to use a more meandering approach in how I crafted each of these scenes. I feel like this looser method made the story feel more organic, but it also resulted in a few sequences that distracted from the overall narrative.

One such sequence was at the very end when Harold was waiting in his hospital room to meet the family of his kidney recipient. I wanted this to be a quiet moment, which meant that Harold was going to be alone in that room. But that detail made me ask myself, “well why aren’t there any family or friends here with him?” As I reflected on that I started to see the character of Harold becoming better defined. He was a man who was alone in life, prickly and off-putting, but nonetheless trying to do something good in private.

I liked that idea, and I added a few lines about how he was thinking of the young boy that had received his kidney. He considered how that boy was supported by a grateful family, which brought on a wave of loneliness and Harold began to gently cry. Then he realized what a fool he would look if the doctor came back now, and quickly composed himself.

It was a nice, sentimental scene, but suddenly it was raising new threads and questions when I was actively trying to close them! Though I feel it made Harold’s character better, it frayed the overall story. So, as I recommended in my last post, I decided to remove that segment. If this were a larger piece that I was continuing to work on I might try to find a way to reintroduce those concepts elsewhere in the tale.

But…there’s something else about this piece I want to talk about: it didn’t measure up to my expectations. There are elements of it that I do like, and I do think it was a useful exercise, but I think it could have been better. The ending, in particular, just didn’t resonate in the way that I had hoped.

Any critic that only says “I just don’t like it” is wasting everyone’s time, though. If something is flawed there are reasons why. I know the reasons for why Harold and Caroline let me down, and on Monday I’ll explain them. I’ll also take some time to talk about why it’s okay to sometimes dislike your own work, and how to move forward when you do. Come back then for a healthy dose of unfiltered honesty!

Gifts from Daniel Bronn…and Jerry: Part Two

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Jerry’s mind was still caught up with these feelings of not deserving the praise being heaped on him and of scheming a way to get out of his job when an opportunity seemed to present itself to him. Two weeks into delivering Daniel Bronn’s charity parcels, Jerry had returned for the next package and had instead been asked to take a seat.

“Jerry Blakeney,” Daniel Bronn smiled at him, as though his very soul was warmed simply by seeing Jerry. “I’m so glad you’ve been helping us out with our business here. I must say you are very efficient. It seems each of your deliveries takes less time than the one before.”

Jerry nodded. “I try to not loiter about.”

Daniel shrugged. “Well I wouldn’t want you to overwork yourself, of course.”

Jerry merely grunted. Sitting in a cab all day wasn’t exactly his idea of overworking himself.

“But it’s not enough for me to be pleased with your work, Jerry,” Daniel continued, suddenly looking very serious.

Here it is, Jerry thought to himself, his heart skipping with excitement. He’s received a complaint and he’ll finally give me the boot. Now I’ll get to see him shout! I wonder what he looks like when he shouts.

But Daniel did not shout. “More important is the question of whether you are pleased with your work here. Are you?”

Jerry stared blankly, struggling to find words to express the conflicted feelings he had held of late. “Does it make any difference?” he finally asked, and a flash of concern wrinkled Daniel’s brow. “I’m a delivery man. If I didn’t like it you could replace me in an instant. Anyone could do this job.”

“Hmmm,” Daniel’s brow furrowed even deeper and he shook his head ponderously. “I don’t think so, Jerry. I could send anyone to just deliver a package, it is true. But I’m not sending just anyone. I’m sending Jerry Blakeney.” Jerry wasn’t sure why Daniel Bronn was saying his name like it meant something. “I send you because it is Jerry Blakeney I want to send, not just the package. Do you understand?”

“Well…that’s very kind of you. But I don’t know that anyone else cares to receive Jerry Blakeney. I think they just want the package.”

“Perhaps they haven’t been receiving the real Jerry Blakeney, then.”

Jerry wasn’t sure why, but a weight pressed on his heart at that. “Maybe,” he said slowly, “maybe I’m not cut out for this work.”

“Your work here doesn’t make you happy?”

Jerry shrugged. “I know it should, I suppose. It’s regular and dependable.”

“But is that happy?”

“Maybe it’s as close as anything can be.”

Daniel cocked his head inquisitively, inviting further clarification.

“It makes my life comfortable,” Jerry proceeded. “There’s three things that make me uncomfortable. My landlord coming for rent, my ex-wife coming for alimony, and the grim reaper coming for my life. Each of them is either appeased or delayed by money, though. You pay me well for this work, frankly more than you probably should. So whatever my feelings of the work itself, it does at least make the rest of my life more comfortable.”

Daniel put his fingertips together and then rested his lips against them, his brow furrowed in deep thought. “A man must survive first of all, I suppose.”

Jerry nodded. “I’d agree with that.” It was probably the first time he had agreed with Daniel Bronn on anything.

Daniel continued thinking deeply, going so far as to close his eyes and shut out Jerry and his office entirely. He remained so for such a long while that Jerry leaned forward, checking whether any snoring was coming from his employer. Just then Daniel’s eyes snapped open and startled Jerry so badly that he fell out of his seat and into the one next to it. Daniel pretended not to notice.

“Jerry, I want to make you an offer,” Daniel Bronn said with a gleam in his eyes. “You say the wages here are enough to keep you comfortable, though maybe not all the way to happy. Fair enough. Well I’m going to add this on top of your regular wages for today,” reaching into his waistcoat Daniel fished out a number of bills and from withdrew from their midst a crisp ten dollars. “But this comes with an injunction. You cannot spend it on anything that makes you more comfortable, only on something that makes you truly happy.”

Jerry’s eyes narrowed. He really didn’t see what this had to do with his not wanting to deliver packages anymore.

Daniel Bronn continued. “You find what truly makes you happy and I think you’ll also find out that you really are the right man to make my deliveries. Say we give it a week? If at the end of that week you would still rather not work for me, then I’ll write a glowing letter of recommendation to any employment opportunity you’d prefer.”

Jerry still didn’t seem to see the connection that Daniel Bronn envisioned, but he decided not to quibble over it. At the very least he had his path out of the company, and it had been far more painless than he had imagined. So he nodded, thanked his boss for his understanding, and took the ten dollar bill.

A few minutes later Jerry emerged from Daniel Bronn’s office with his hands full. In one he carried yet another package, and in the other he still clasped the ten dollars. He was staring so intently at it that he didn’t realize he had stopped in front of the receptionist’s desk. When at last he did glance up he found her staring at him inquisitively, a slight smile of amusement on her lips.

He merely shook his head in confusion. “I just don’t understand it, Miss–” for the first time he surveyed her name plate. “Miss Greensborough.”

“Most people struggle to understand our employer’s generosity.”

“Hmmm. Do you ever wonder if it’s a cover-up?”

“A what?”

“A front. A way to deflect suspicion while he embezzles money and makes deals with the mob.”

Miss Greensborough laughed. “Certainly not! Daniel Bronn is the only true philanthropist I’ve ever known. His only objective with his charity, is charity.”

Jerry sniffed. “Charity? I’d almost prefer embezzlement.”

“You don’t hold with the notion?”

Jerry looked thoroughly sour and shook his head. “Charity, by definition, means people getting things that they don’t deserve.”

“Oh!” Miss Greensborough exclaimed as if offended.

“I don’t expect you to see it my way. But I grew up in a gutter without anyone showing me any ‘charity.’ Everything I am I earned by grit, and I have no time for anyone who isn’t willing to do the same.” He glanced down at the bill in his hand. “And I have no time to be shown it, either.” He felt duty-bound to hold onto the bill until his employment was officially terminated with Daniel Bronn, but then he wouldn’t lose any time in tossing it into that same, cold gutter.


The next few days weighed on Jerry Blakeney in a way he didn’t understand. He tried to convince himself that he was thrilled to be changing jobs. Daniel Bronn’s recommendation would carry real weight and he wouldn’t have any trouble getting a job at somewhere he truly belonged. And yet, at the thought of finding some more menial labor he couldn’t help sensing that he was giving up on an important opportunity. What that opportunity was, exactly, he couldn’t say. But he was sure it had nothing to do with the excellent pay and comfort of his current station.

He even went so far as to wonder whether there was anything to Daniel Bronn’s challenge. Could he spend the ten dollars on something that would bring him actual happiness? He could enjoy a week of the finest dinners the city had to offer, he could buy a mattress fit for a king, he could get himself a nice suit for special occasions. But no, each of these would still be a gift he didn’t deserve. He would hate them even as he enjoyed them. Beyond that he had an idea that Daniel Bronn would be disappointed in such a use of the money, though he wasn’t sure why that particularly mattered to him.

Added to all of these complications was the fact that this last week of charitable deliveries was the most difficult yet for Jerry. He had started being recognized as Daniel Bronn’s personal emissary, which meant even when walking down the street he was barraged by all manner of friendly salutations and hopeful smiles. No one seemed upset when he passed them by on his way to someone else, if anything they might even follow him to share in the happiness of whomever fortune had smiled upon today.

It was not right for him to be the bearer of such goodwill in the world. He had done nothing to earn that role. It was simply another one of those charities Daniel Bronn was trying to inflict on him.

And so it was that Jerry finally came to the last day of his deliveries. Daniel Bronn did not mention the significance of the day when Jerry came into his office for the first morning package. He merely smiled at him as ever, beckoned him close, and withdrew the parcel from his drawer.

“It is going to a Miss Rose Dally right on the Southern border. She does laundry for a friend of mine, and that friend is worried about her. Thought she could use some positivity.”

Jerry nodded, took the package in hand, and stowed it in an inner pocket of his coat. By now he had a well-established routine for his deliveries, and he soon found himself in the back of his favorite cab, on his way to 344 Sycamore Lane.

Now, in the privacy of the rear bench Jerry allowed himself to palm his forehead and massage his brow. He did not care to return to the Southern border of the city. It was the region he had been raised in, and he did not care much for the memories he had from there. The ride to that portion of town started with streets steeped in poverty and only went down from there. No one chose to live on the Southern border, no one stayed here that had an opportunity to leave.

As the cab continued he felt the familiar shift from paved roads to gravelly paths, he saw streets through which the shadow of his child self still seemed to linger. The place was unchanging, what buildings had been erected here were left here until they collapsed or burned down. Old factories were repurposed into housing units, grocery stores into community markets.

It was in front of one of these repurposed buildings, an office space turned into an apartment complex, that the cab finally reached its destination. Most of the windows were shattered and boarded up and the wood was splintering underneath the peeling paint.

With a sigh Jerry stepped out onto the curb and considered the package he was to deliver. He noticed he was smelling a fragrance from it, so he raised it to his nose and inhaled deeply. Bath salts. When Daniel Bronn knew the recipient well enough he always tried to send personalized and meaningful gifts, otherwise he might just send them generic luxuries that could be sold for essentials.

As Jerry made his way into the building interior he spied an old lady seated at a makeshift counter near the off-balance staircase. She would be the landlord.

“Looking for a Miss Rose Dally?” he gruffed.

She sniffed unpleasantly. “Well she don’t live here no more. Couldn’t keep up with rent.”

His brow furrowed as he stared around at the walls of peeling wallpaper. The place was incredibly dark, due to the lack of any electric lights or oil lamps, in combination with the boarded windows.

“Is rent here much, then?” he asked.

“Only $4.50 a week.”

He did not try to hide the incredulity on his face at the exorbitant rate, which elicited a scowl from the old woman.

“If that was all you needed…” she said testily.

“Does she have a husband?”

“Died in the war. Has two children.”

“Do you know where she went?”

“No. I do not.”

He sighed after a moment of reflection. “I do.” There was a catholic mission nearby that accepted women and children. Surely that was where she would have gone.

Jerry stepped back out onto the street and began walking in the way of the mission. The cab that had brought him was only a block down, and the driver stuck his head out the window to see if Jerry needed another ride. Jerry merely waved him off, somehow the walk felt more appropriate.

It wasn’t far to the mission, and soon he was ringing its bell. The door cracked open and an old nun peered up at him.

“Yes?” she asked.

“Is Miss Rose Dally here?” he asked. “I have this parcel for her.”

The nun squinted at the package, decided it seemed harmless, and promised to go and fetch the woman. The door was closed and Jerry looked back at the package somberly. Bath salts…

A minute later the door cracked open again, and he met the face of a woman artificially aged. She couldn’t have been more than thirty-three, and yet stress and sleepless nights etched lines across her face, giving it a desperate look. He had seen that same look on his own mother.

“Miss Dally?” he said.


“Sorry, Missus. I was sent to give these to you.” He handed over his offerings. She took the parcel, sniffed it, and tucked it under her arm somewhat bewildered. The crisp ten dollar bill, though, she held in grateful shock, pools of tears welling in her eyes.

“It’s none of my business, Missus,” Jerry said softly, “but in the middle of Patterson’s Street there’s an old lady by the name of Martha Hulce. She puts up women and children at a fraction of the cost what you were paying for rent. It’s better maintained, too, and a safer part of town.”

The door opened wider and the poor mother wrapped her arms around Jerry’s neck. She sobbed deeply. Tears that had needed to come out for some time now and finally felt that they could. This time he did not try to run from the tenderness, but instead patted her back soothingly until her breathing returned to normal. She stepped back and there was an awkward moment as each tried to think of what to say to the other, but no words came to either. So after a moment they both just smiled and nodded, then Jerry turned and began walking down the street, looking for a cab to take him back.

For the first time in years Jerry was smiling. It was small, it was subtle, but it seemed to let a warmth into him he had long been without. He was happy. “Well,” he sighed with an amused shake of the head. “I guess I’ll stay on with Daniel, then.”


In my Core Needs post I discussed character motivations, and how they are driven by their subconscious needs. Clearly Jerry succeeded in finding his core need, a need to be charitable himself. He felt conflicted for all these blessings he had not earned, but in the end he found a way to deserve them. More than being able to receive kindness, he needed to be able to give it.

Also, on Monday I wrote about contrasts in stories. In this half of the story we are able to see how the contrasts between Daniel and Jerry were able to shift from opposition to complementing one another. Daniel’s wealth and lofty background allow him to provide the vehicle for charity, but it is Jerry’s poverty and humble background that better facilitate the empathy and understanding.

Some of my favorite stories have been Christmas tales such as It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol, tales of goodwill and reclamation. This was my own little effort to write such a tale, and I hope it finds you filled with a spirit of kindness and peace, no matter what your religious or cultural affiliation.

This will conclude our series, and next Monday we’ll start on something entirely new. I look forward to that post and to the entire coming year! I’ll see you then.

Just a Little Diametric Opposition


Lately I’ve discovered a new favorite food condiment. It’s pepper jam. The combination of sweet and spicy, two flavors that usually stand in contrast to one another, is a very arresting experience. Each side of this pairing has to be kept in just the right balance, though, otherwise one side overwhelms the other and ruins the effect.

And just what is that effect? What is it about contrasting tastes that captivates our fascination and pleasure? To answer this I consider the wisdom of our friend Ishmael, in Moby Dick. “To enjoy bodily warmth, some small part of you must be cold, for there is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrast. Nothing exists in itself. If you flatter yourself that you are all over comfortable, and have been so a long time, then you cannot be said to be comfortable any more.”

If ever I eat something sweet, and nothing but sweet, soon enough the sweetness of it will be lost on me and the food becomes disinteresting. But when I eat something with contrast, let’s say a salted caramel, then I am constantly experiencing both the salt and the sweet at the same moment. I cannot become over-saturated with either because the other keeps it fresh and novel. By entertaining two tastes at once I am able to longer appreciate the depths of each.

This same principle holds true for writing as well. If we present our themes and characters to the audience and they are all very similar to one another, the reader will quickly become over-saturated and the work will feel flat. But by allowing multiple contrasting elements to occupy the same page the story will become textured and interesting. Over the last month I’ve been trying to do just that, writing stories that walked two lines at once, and with each story I tried to capture a different facet of contrast in writing.

To begin with I posted The Last Grasshopper, which dealt heavily with themes of birth and death, old and new. However the piece was meant to challenge the idea that these elements are actually the opposites we initially think them to be. These themes were presented against a backdrop of seasons changing continuously from one to another and then back again, suggesting that birth and death are not dichotomous from one another, but may actually be two points along a continuous spectrum. A spectrum that, in fact, cycles back on itself, meaning that neither of these two states is able to exist without the other.

In this way I was trying to echo an idea from one of my favorite stories of all time: L’homme qui Plantait des Arbres (The Man Who Planted Trees). In this tale we meet an old man who has spent his entire life planting seeds in a stark and barren wasteland. Over the course of years and then decades, an entire half century in all, this man sees his life work accumulate in massive and lush forests, an entire transformation of the surrounding climate, and a joy of life restored to the locals who live in that region. The situation at the beginning of the tale and at the end seem to belong to completely opposite worlds, and yet they occupy the same geographic space. The tale suggests that barrenness and lushness exist on the same continuum as one another, in fact they define the continuum, and traversal along it would not be possible without the presence of both. And that traversal is negotiated simply by the amount of steady, continual cultivation we are willing to commit to.

That challenge of continual good effort was examined more closely in my next story. Cursed presented a father and a son who both loved one another, and yet had a terrible rift due to their contrasting priorities. The father was trying to relieve the son of a moral burden, but prematurely, before the son was able to naturally overcome his own failings. The result was necessary conflict. They cannot avoid one another, they are father and son, but they cannot see eye-to-eye and so there is opposition. I meant for this to be a reflection of life experience, where we strive for good, but by necessity live a world with constant opposition to that good. We cannot simply divorce ourselves from all the evil, we just have to try to wrest something good out of an eternal battle.

I find a very similar sort of message in the John Steinbeck novella Of Mice and Men. Here we have men who hope. Though they have been beaten down before in life yet they must still hope because that is human nature. However there is no reason to assume that their hopes will be realized, and in the face of increasing opposition we start to feel that their “hopes” are actually only “wishes,” ones for which there will be no granting. The story ends tragically, a somber end that does not rest in the greener fields that were hoped for. Or does it? At the very end the story hints that the contrast of evil and good may find their roots both in the world around us and the world that awaits after death. Perhaps here wishes get crushed, only to be granted afterwards.

That idea of solutions that come outside of the box was something I wanted to explore in my third story. In A Minute at a Time we again meet a father and son at odds with one another. It seems, again, that neither can find relief except for at the expense of the other. But then they relinquish their goals for a moment of honest vulnerability. They commiserate together and realize that at their core all they really need is one another. I meant to suggest that opposites can be resolved, and perhaps that resolution comes at a cost of letting them go.

Of course overcoming opposition at a cost is a very common theme to stories. Perhaps the evil of the world can be defeated, but what sacrifices are you willing to pay to accomplish that feat? The video game Alan Wake provided a meta commentary on this. In that story the titular character finds a dark story manifesting itself into the real world, establishing a plot of wanton destruction. As a writer, he is trying to redirect the arc of that story, a feat that was previously attempted unsuccessfully by a poet, Thomas Zane. As Alan Wake explains, Thomas Zane failed because he tried to rewrite the ending of the story to be bright and cheerful at no cost. As Alan says: “There’s light, and there’s darkness. Cause and effect. There’s guilt and there’s atonement. But the scales always need to balance. Everything has a price. That’s where Zane had gone wrong. There’s a long journey through the night back into the light.” He writes a new ending, one where his objective is obtained, but only at great cost, the loss of himself. The story accepts this offering, and thus ends things on a bittersweet note.

At this point I felt that things had gotten quite heavy. What’s more I didn’t want to suggest that this war of opposition had to always be so grim and unpleasant. The fact is most of us actively enjoy doing sacrificing for another’s happiness. And we often find that we have guidance and help in our long journeys of self improvement. Gifts from Daniel Bronn…and Jerry was meant to capture that more cheerful side of contrasts. Daniel is happy and kind, Jerry is jaded and reserved. Now in the first half of the story these two sides have been shown as being in opposition to one another. In fact that first half ends with Jerry planning to terminate his own employment to get away from the friction he is feeling.

Next week I’ll be completing that story, and in that second half we will see that like salt and caramel, the Daniel and Jerry can combine for something greater. Daniel, with his wealth and compassion, will provide the means for the charitable contributions. Jerry, with his experience on the rougher side of life, will be able to deliver the gifts with a needed dose of empathy and understanding. They’ll still be two very different men at the end, but that won’t be putting them in opposition any more. This is actually a theme I’ve explored before on this blog, in one of my very first stories: Scars and Soothing.

Hopefully this series of stories has sufficiently illustrated the infinite possibilities of mixing and matching flavors in your story-telling. Keep your stories interesting by putting them at odds with themselves. Give them tensions by establishing fundamental opposition. Give them nuance by suggesting those contrasts may not actually be so opposed to one another as originally believed.

I’ll see you next Thursday with the end of Gifts From Daniel Bronn…and Jerry. After that we’ll be finished with this bittersweet series, and on to something entirely new. I’m excited to see with you what the new year will bring!

Gifts from Daniel Bronn…and Jerry: Part One

brown cinnamon
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“He’ll see you now.”

Jerry stood up and tried to readjust his tie. A lump in his throat was in the way, though, so he swallowed that down first, then finished with the correction. He dropped his hands to his side, flexing them as he exhaled deeply, bracing himself to march into the office before him with confidence and composure. Not just any office. The office of Daniel Bronn, who was one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in the entire city. And Jerry’s new boss.

Jerry could feel the receptionist’s eyes watching him, but the moment of action he’d been summoning his nerve for collapsed. He instead looked downwards, shuffled across the carpet, and knocked timidly at the door.

“Come in,” a bright voice called from within.

Jerry swung the door inwards, feeling strangely glued to its motion so that he presented Daniel Bronn with his left shoulder rather than his front. Looking downwards he saw that his sleeve had caught on the doorknob and he shook it loose and righted himself, now entirely red in the face.

Daniel Bronn pretended not to notice, and only beamed at Jerry while waving him forward with his hand.

“Yes, sir. Sorry, sir.” Jerry muttered as he continued his shuffle up towards the great man’s desk. “Jerry, sir.” He extended his hand, then questioned whether he had the right to, and started to retract it. Daniel lunged forward though, caught the retreating appendage and shook it vigorously.

“Yes, of course, Jerry Blakeney!” Daniel boomed, as if recognizing an old friend.

“Yes, sir. Sorry, sir.”

“Don’t be sorry, Jerry. Have a seat instead.”

Jerry nodded appreciatively and backed into the seat awkwardly, not daring to take his eyes off of the man. Daniel was probably about the same age as Jerry, in his mid-sixties, but his eyes twinkled with a boyish fire and the corners of his mouth were crinkled in constant smiles. He had a run of baldness scurrying down the middle of his head, but it only served to make his broad, pleasant face all the broader and pleasanter. The man was not obese, but he had a jolly girth that quivered with his every laugh.

“Jerry, I’m glad to have you on my team,” Daniel said, still smiling but now with a tone that indicated he intended to get down to business. “It was Mister Ray that offered you the position, wasn’t it? Yes, well, he told me he had high expectations of your capabilities.” Jerry gulped. “Yes, he very much liked you. And now that I’ve seen you…. Well, I like you, too.” Jerry gulped again, wishing Daniel wasn’t so taken with him.

“Well I will certainly do my best, sir. Really I’d like to get going on it right away.”

“Aha, a man of action! All the better, especially given the importance of the work you’ll be doing here. Our very image to the world!”

Jerry started at that. “Oh… when Mister Ray explained the position to me it sounded like I was just going to be delivering some packages.”

“I suppose that is the technical description. But don’t you see that that makes you a representative? Most of the people I distribute to will only ever interact with a single member of my business. And it won’t be me, and it won’t be Mister Ray. It will be you. You are my extension!”

Jerry nodded blandly. He had had employers like this before, ones who felt it was necessary to excite the rabble with how significant their position was. Jerry wasn’t fooled. He knew that he was the detritus of any company he worked for, a body filling a space that could be replaced at any moment. He was okay with that fact, for he had made peace with his role in the world long ago. Admittedly the wages Mister Ray had promised him was more than double what he ought to be being paid, but no doubt that would change once the company got wise to their competitors rates.

“When can I start?” he said simply.

“Right now, if you’d please,” and so saying Daniel Bronn pulled open a drawer in his desk and extracted a medium-sized, brown package, bound both ways with a healthy length of twine.

Jerry rose to his feet and took the package in hand. It was heavy. “Just the one?”

“But of course,” Daniel Bronn tutted. “Each package is important and deserves its own moment. A cart full of deliveries would make it an overly-large assembly line.” He pulled a sour face at the idea of that.

“I’ll deliver it and be back for the next then. The mail-room is in the basement I suppose?”

Daniel Bronn shook his head. “Each package is important,” he reiterated. “You will receive each directly from me.”

It don’t sound like a particularly prudent use of Daniel Bronn’s time, but if that was how he wanted things to be, so be it. It made no difference to Jerry. So he gave a curt nod, and then turned and made his way out of the office, the floor, and the building.

Jerry caught the first cab he could and for the first time read the address on the package as he recited it to the driver. As the car lurched into motion Jerry frowned. The address was in one of the poorest districts of the city, not too far away from where he lived himself. Perhaps there was a factory in the middle that made use of all the cheap labor? But then there was the matter of the name on the package as well. It was not a company name, it was an actual person’s name “Gladys Monroe,” with no following qualifiers like ‘PhD’ or ‘CEO.’

He shrugged. It didn’t really matter he supposed. Instead he leaned back against the moth-eaten upholstery, lowered his hat over his eyes, and allowed himself a little nap. Somehow he sensed when the car had slowed up against the curb of their destination, and he slid his hat back up, paid the driver, and stepped out onto the street.

If he had been confused about the address before he was thoroughly baffled now. There was no factory, no offices, no buildings of importance at all. Instead he was facing a row of the homeliest homes he had ever seen. Each of them seemed to be leaning slightly off center, the gaping holes in their walls were patched with corrugated zinc sheets, and their yards were completely bare patches of dirt.

Jerry spun around to examine the other side of the street but it was all the same. He read and reread the address on the package but it seemed to match his destination exactly. He saw a rusted mailbox in front of the house and he wiped away enough grime to make out the name on its side. “Gladys Monroe.” He decided that he would have to go back to Daniel Bronn and explain the mistake, and spun around to see if his cab was still near enough to be hailed.

“Hello?” a voice called from behind.

He spun back around and now saw the front door of the house opened, a weathered little woman emerging tentatively towards him.

“Ahem,” he said, “I don’t suppose you know a Daniel Bronn, do you?”

“Daniel Bronn?” she repeated slowly, shaking her head. “Who’s he?”

He smiled, pleased with her confirmation that this wasn’t where he was meant to be. “No matter. Clearly there has been some mistake, I’ll just be on my way.”

“Is he by any chance a nice, rich gentleman?” she said suddenly. “Balding, a little large, and with the nicest smile you can imagine? Like it would light a room even in the dead of night?”

Jerry paused, and licked his dry lips slowly.

“I only ask because I saw the package. Such a man gave me a ride home in his limousine the other day and said he’d send something to me, too.” She looked down as if embarrassed. “I told him he oughtn’t bother.”

Her eyes shifted sideways to the package in Jerry’s hand, and Jerry found himself instinctively pulling the parcel back. It wasn’t that he disbelieved her, necessarily, just that he didn’t want her to have it. Somehow it seemed…wrong.

“And your name was…?” he prodded, grasping at any chance that this still might not be the intended recipient.

“Gladys. Gladys Monroe.”

He sighed in defeat and extended the package back out. “I guess this is for you, then.”

She seemed not to notice his reluctance, and instead happily received the parcel and began to open it right away. In spite of himself, Jerry’s curiosity kept him rooted to the spot, anxious to see what the great and mighty Daniel Bronn might have sent to such a woman. The heavy brown paper came off and Gladys drew out glass jars filled with all manner of expensive spices, enriched flour, and high quality lard. Jerry couldn’t resist a slight smirk. No doubt this woman could hardly afford her daily biscuits, and he had sent her seasonings fit for a king.

Gladys, however, didn’t seem to find the gift strange at all. Instead her whole face broke in a wide grin and she chuckled pleasantly. “What a thoughtful gift!” she proclaimed, then looked up to Jerry with tears shining in her eyes. “You see he met me when I was out with my cart of food. Bought some of everything I had. Said he liked it, but a man of distinction like him must have a refined palate. My food isn’t fit for such folk. Not that I’m a bad chef, if I do say so myself, but, well, there’s only so much one can do with the ingredients I have to work with. Now though…!” and she shook her hands enthusiastically, jars of spices clutched between the fingers.

Gladys took a step towards Jerry and in a moment of horror he realized she was opening her arms to give him a hug. He clapped his hand to his head and quickly backed away. He muttered something like “Well, got to be off then. So long!” and then sprinted away to find the nearest cab.

There was no nap for Jerry on the way back to the Bronn Institution. He was quite shaken up by his first delivery experience and he wasn’t sure why. So what if a wealthy man was wasting his riches giving spices to a nearly-homeless woman? So the man was a fool, all the better for Jerry. The more foolish Daniel Bronn was, the longer it would take him to get wise to the fact that Jerry’s position could be replaced by the postal system at a fraction of the cost.

Was that it then? That this setup was too good to be true? Jerry didn’t deserve so cushy a job, and so it seemed only a matter of time before it would be taken from him. He shrugged his shoulders. So one day he’d be back looking for a new job. So what? May as well enjoy a break when it came.

But no, that still wasn’t it. It was something about the way Gladys had looked at him with such tearful thankfulness. As if she had mistaken him for someone else, someone better. It unnerved him.

Jerry was still lost in his thoughts when the cab pulled up to the Bronn Institution. He paid the driver and got out in a daze before shaking himself and making his way back in. Hopefully Daniel Bronn would have a more sensible assignment for him now. Something like giving an eviction notice to a tenant, or disposing of evidence of corporate malfeasance, or shooting a stray dog that had annoyed Daniel.

No such luck. After asking Jerry to recount his experience delivering the package to Gladys Monroe, Daniel Bronn had plopped an even larger package on the desk and sent Jerry out to deliver that as well. It had smelled of beef, and the address took Jerry to a poor butcher. Next was a small package with no address, only a description of a homeless man that frequented Bowery Street. Next came a tall parcel filled with quilts that went to the orphanage.

That was the end of the first day at the Bronn Institution, and the following ones only saw more of the same. Every day was delivery after delivery, all to people that were poor and had only the most tenuous of connections to Daniel Bronn. In fact, some of them had no connection whatsoever! One time, when returning to Daniel Bronn for his next assignment he had found the man thumbing through the city registry, looking for a random home to send his next package to. It was maddening!

Every delivery seemed to splinter Jerry’s conscience like ice cracking in a thaw. As he considered why he felt this way, he came to realize it mostly had to do with the profuse thanks most recipients tried to bestow on him. It made him feel like he was an impostor, like he had somehow duped them into thinking he was more than what he knew himself to be. It made him feel guilty, and he became progressively grumpier and gruffer with each passing day.

Strange as it sounded, Jerry found himself hoping his surly demeanor might get him fired! Fat chance of that. He was pretty sure Daniel Bronn had never fired a person in his life. Even if he did fire Jerry, Daniel Bronn would probably feel so sorry about it that he would start sending him gifts too, and that would be even worse!

No, sooner or later Jerry would have to out-and-out quit. He didn’t know exactly how to approach such things, he had never before been employed long enough to even consider quitting. But he would figure it out, no doubt of that, because he simply could not continue like this for much longer.


I feel like a lot of my stories lately have been quite serious, and it’s been a lot of fun to write something a little more humorous and lighthearted. That’s not to say that a lighthearted story cannot also be serious, and indeed I am trying to grasp at real issues I see in the world today.

As I promised on Monday, our main character Jerry is a confused individual, one with surface needs and core needs. On the surface he needs a job and he needs to be comfortable. He’s obtained one, but not the other, and so he feels divided about what to do next. Deeper, though, he core needs that are based off of a sense of self-doubt and unworthiness. He has his pauper’s pride and is therefore offended at the charity he is seeing such rampant display of. That’s something he needs to work out, and how he does so will be elaborated in the second half of this story. That piece will not only conclude this story, but also the entire series we’ve been doing, which has included The Last Grasshopper, Cursed, and A Minute at a Time.

There’s been a common theme across all of these stories. Actually more than one I would say, but there’s a particular one that I wish to focus on with my next post on Monday. That theme is one of a pairing of opposites. These have been stories about old and new, good and evil, bitter and sweet. Any culinary artist will tell you that opposite flavorings paired together is fascinating to us humans, and on Monday we’ll consider why that might be. Come back then to read about that, and then come on Thursday to get the conclusion of Gifts From Daniel Bronn…and Jerry.