Serving House: A Journal of Literary Arts
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Short Story
3600 words
SHJ Issue 9
Spring 2014

Lake Jewel

by Phyllis Green


I had showered at 1 a.m. to get to the grocery store by 2 to begin baking the muffins, doughnuts, cream puffs, pumpkin pies, and focaccia breads. The ovens were so hot, and in-between baking I ran around wiping counters, scrubbing floors, trying to keep everything clean, and then in the morning when customers started arriving, no one was there to help (Edie was late as usual!) and I had to decorate and package and label and by the time I left at 10 a.m. and dashed to my class I was like a misty gray cloud spewing sweat and my legs had as much spring as a limp clothes line. I walked into class and thought, what the F is going on?

Everyone was gathered around this woman at the front of the room who looked like an exotic cormorant, black eyebrows, wicked spiky black hair, stark red lips, green eyes that stared as if she’d seen a freak and it was me. She was about fifty, 5′10″ or so, slim as a flagpole, dressed in a red silk turtleneck tunic and black leotard, red boots to her knees. She was ready to walk the runway! In fact, the whole class was dressed up. And then it hit me. This was the famous surgeon, Dr. Something, who had written the book. Our text book. And I hadn’t even cracked the first page. Oh God, will there be a test? I thought.

All my classmates were sidling up to her and handing someone their cell phones and begging them to take their picture with Dr. Famous. Only I held back. I looked like shit. My dull brown hair was pulled back into a pony tail. I wore no makeup which meant I had no visible eyebrows or lips. I had on my grocery-store outfit, long-sleeved white shirt that was covered in pink icing and flour, black pants that were covered in white icing and flour, my old but comfy Adidas covered in...yes, blue icing and flour. I was dumpy looking as I had gained weight. Actually I gained it deliberately and I had gained a lot. Eighty pounds! I had been a notorious magnet for bad boys since I was thirteen and bad boys had done me wrong and I was tired of being used then dumped—mostly they glided like slugs over to my younger, prettier sister, Gretchen. She used to eat off my plate; she wore my outgrown clothes, and now that she’s grown she takes on my outworn lovers, but I’m devoted to her anyhow. I practically raised the little character because our parents were so tired from working two to three jobs. So anyhow, I now dress so as not to attract the bad boys. Damn, and here I was looking like crap for the visiting doctor.

But strangely enough with the whole class fawning over her, it was me she pointed at and she asked me to step up to speak with her.

“Me?” I whispered.

She nodded.

She was probably going to chastise me for not looking like a medical student. I inched my way to the front of the room.

The doctor put her hands on my shoulders and said, “You! I want to have your child.”

I stared at her, speechless. I turned to walk back to my seat as she said, “See me after class.”

I sat down. I chewed on my thumbnail. What on God’s earth did that mean? I thought. Do I look like a man? A man!


When class was over and the rest of the medical students had left, Rose, still befuddled, went up to see the visiting Dr. Ella H. who closed the classroom door, opened her satchel, and told Rose to sit up on the desk.

“Tell me about you,” Dr. Ella said.

“Like what?”

“Your interests. What would you do if you didn’t go to class?”

“Well, I’d shop for slutty shoes, ride roller coasters, swim with dolphins, and um...take flying lessons.” Rose paused. “That, or sleep,” she added.

Ella handed Rose a small yellow cloth. “Smell my new perfume,” she said.

Rose sniffed at the cloth. Then Dr. Ella took a shiny, flashing surgical instrument out of her satchel, slit Rose’s black slacks, and sliced open her abdomen.

Rose woke up in the university hospital with six doctors studying her wound.

“Great job,” they said. “Couldn’t be better. Artistic.”

“What?” Rose muttered.

“A real seamstress.”

They told Rose she had had an emergency appendectomy.


Dr. Ella H. lives at the cabin that overlooks Lake Jewel. She has the master bedroom now that her parents are deceased. It is large, 20x25, with a raised ceiling and cedar beams overhead, log walls. Her canopied log queen bed is covered in a thick ecru satin bedspread. Dr. Ella sits in a large wing chair, way too large for her tall but delicate frame; still, it appears protective of her as she cuddles in the velvet ocelot-like upholstery, holding in her lap the circular blue silk-covered hatbox where she keeps her photographs. Dr. Ella is recently showered, her hair still a bit damp, and she is wearing a pale pink chemise and matching gown tied loosely. Her long tapered legs are crossed at the ankles and one of her jaguar mules has dropped to the walnut floor.

She opens the hatbox, placing the lid on the mahogany antique side table. She fingers among the photos, finally choosing one. She stares at it.

“It was the year we ate only corn flakes. And milk. Mother would weigh us, examine our fingertips, take our blood pressure, test our iron stores, examine our urine output, our excrement, and then write it up so she could get in the academic journals,” she says.

She puts the photo back and grabs another. She studies it and sighs. “It was the year we ate tomatoes and pecans. Mother testing and writing.”

She bites her left thumb nail. She goes to the bottom of the hatbox and finds another photo. “It was the year we ate for four dollars a person. We were allowed to choose our own meals. One day I would have four dollars worth of Chips Ahoy, then the next day maybe candy cigarettes. Another day potato chips. Another, Maple nut fudge. It made Mother laugh. She always had balanced meals but she thought my choices were particularly jolly for her article. ‘What will Ella eat today?’ she would tease. Then she would giggle.”

The next picture she finds is grainy and she is not sure where it fit in her life so she puts that one back and picks up another. She knows what this one is. She sniffs the photograph. “It was the year we did not bathe. It was all for research and for Mother’s reputation.”

She looks up at the cedar beams overhead, purses her lips, and chooses another photo.

“It was the year we wore faux fur all summer, fall, spring, and winter. We had to see what it was like to be an animal. Mother said humans were part of the animal family and we were to prove it. We ate our food in bowls on the floor, dog or cat food, whichever we preferred, so we were like pampered pets rather than wild animals but we had to relieve ourselves outside no matter the time of day or night or what the weather was—Mother was very strict on this, even for herself. Herbie liked to wet on fire plugs. Daddy preferred to fertilize our flowers.”

She shakes her head and continues, finding a large photo of herself when she was ten. “It was the year we did not talk,” she whispers.

She begins to giggle when she sees a photo of two goats. “It was the year we ate our pets. The goats, Lilah and Hiram. Our dog, Beanie. My brother Herbie’s parrot, Gloria. Our pony, Geezer. My turtle, Sam. He was delicious,” she says. “I loved you, Sam.”

She tightens the tie on her robe as if chilled but then continues to look at the pictures. She finds one she seems to particularly like. “It was the year we got this cabin at Lake Jewel. We could not believe anything so beautiful could belong to us. Why did Mother allow it? We had been disadvantaged for so long. We never understood our luck. However, as wonderful as it was, our parents did not want our neighbors or friends to know and so even though it was accurately called Lake Jewel we were instructed to call it Lake Wretched and we told everyone how awful it was and how the lake was taken over by thick grasses and the cabin was built on a garbage dump and there were rats and wolves and other scary things and how we really hated it, even though the opposite was true. We never mentioned the tall pine trees, the sunsets, the sandy beach, our sailboat named Safe Harbor, the floats, the diving dock, the emerald/blue water. It was all a big secret. That was our family,” she says quietly.

She drops the photo in the hatbox and takes up another. She peers at the new photo. “It was the year we were bulimic. We had to make ourselves as thin as possible without expiring. Mother also participated, teaching us how to throw up, eating gobs of junk foods, and recording our weights and skin tones and feelings for her articles. It was the year our teeth corroded.”

Her left hand reaches up to check her implants and then she chooses another photo from the heap in the box. “It was the year I married H, Professor H, a man as old as my parents. He was their colleague. I could not figure out why I could not get pregnant so I went to a GYN and was told that my uterus was immature, the size of a stunted hazelnut, and useless for sustaining life.”

She throws the picture in the box and punches the lid closed. Then she changes her mind, opens the box with care and takes out another photo. “It was the year I took an ordinary kitchen knife and killed a woman in East Mountain Park and took her fetus only to realize it had one head and two bodies and I didn’t know what to do with it so I took it for a ride on the swing set and then tucked it back inside its mother. The crime remains unsolved,” she states with measured calm, “although they call me ‘The Butcher’ in the news.”

She closes the box again and without looking at any more photos she recites like she is giving an elocution reading, “It was the year, years, which I spent in a catatonic state at Bessemer. They tell me my mother came every day and took pictures of me to use in the article she was writing for academia. It was the year I was released and declared sane. It was the year I entered medical school. It was the year I became a surgeon. It was the year my book was published that is used around the world.”

Dr. Ella stands and puts the silk blue hatbox on top of the antique cherry tallboy, unties her robe and lets it fall to the floor, swallows a handful of pills, climbs into bed, and scratches at her neck with her long fuchsia fingernails until she draws four-inch lines of blood.

Six Years Later


I’m so glad I moved here. It’s only five hours from Gretchen and we fly back and forth. Gretchen is a receptionist for a vet and she and the vet have fallen in love and are living together. I’m in my second year of law school, doing well, and still a nighttime baker to pay for tuition. I found a sweet guy here. He loves to say, “How lucky am I to land a hot-looking chick with brains?” We have been living together for a year now and I’m pregnant! Yes! We are so happy. I’m eight months along! It’s a girl, Ta Dah! And we have a date tonight! I love when we can afford a date night. We are meeting at Montavido, our favorite Italian restaurant.


Time has not been good for Dr. Ella. Her black hair has turned white. She wears it long and cascading over her shoulders. Her cheeks have fallen into her chin. Her neck has a prominent gobbler and the skin on her arms is wrinkled and overlaps her elbow. Worse, her book is out of favor and out of print. The textbook now used in medical schools is all about laser surgery and laparoscopy with invasive surgery taking a secondary position. She has not had a speaking engagement in three years. She has lost her teaching position. She had to sell her beloved cabin at Lake Jewel. She spent two more years at Bessemer because of a relapse. She has now written a query for a memoir, disguised as a novel, about her childhood. She is in town to shop her manuscript to publishers. She wears simulated emerald earrings that dangle, a hunter-green bulky wool turtleneck, black slacks, and leopard flats. She drops her small brown suitcase off at the hotel and goes to the trattoria next door for a bite to eat.

Rose has arrived early and walks into the ladies room to freshen her face. She spritzes it with cool water and replenishes her lipstick. She combs her ravishing reddish-brown hair while whispering her gratitude to Clairol. It is cut with bangs and falls to the middle of her back. She has on a royal blue polyester blouse that shows cleavage because as she often says, “Roman love, love, loves my cleavage.” Acrylic gray plaid slacks and red five-inch heels finish off her style. She knows her back will regret the heels by 9 p.m.

In the mirror she notices an attractive, slim, white-haired woman staring at her. She turns. “Is there something you need?” Rose asks.

The woman stares at her full figure. “Yes,” she says, as she takes a pink-handled knife out of her purse and attacks Rose with it. Rose, who has had to knee many bad dates, knees the woman in the groin, and then pushes her to the floor.

“What the hell do you think you are doing?” Rose screams.

The woman, who is on her back, reaches out her left leg to try to trip Rose.

“You witch!” Rose screams.

The woman folds up and starts to cry. “Forgive me,” she begs. She rubs her forehead. “I must have been having a psychotic episode. I feel better now. I thought you were trying to rob me. Please forgive me. I’m just an old woman in a strange town. I’m scared and helpless, really. I’m okay now. Please help me up.”

Rose hesitates. “Throw the knife as far away as you can.”

The older woman complies and the knife slides behind the third toilet.

Rose gives her a hand so she can stand.

“I see you’re pregnant,” the woman chatters. “I had a child. It was born a monster though. Two bodies, one head.” She coughs. “It liked to ride on the swings. Yes, it did. I almost had another child but then I didn’t. If I’m rambling, just take no notice. I do that, people tell me. Just continue whatever you were doing. You’re very pretty.”

Rose resumes combing her hair but suspiciously watches the woman in the mirror. She doesn’t expect the woman to move so fast and to land a two-fisted blow to the back of her head. Rose now falls to the ladies room floor, hitting her forehead on the white tiles. A terrible cracking sound is heard.

The woman makes a gurgling noise and runs to the third toilet and scrambles for her knife. She grabs it, rushes back to Rose, kicks her in the butt, rolls her over, slices through her gray plaid slacks and pink thong, spreads them open, and then just stops.

She stares at the scar on Rose’s abdomen. She shudders. My scar, she thinks. Mine. Did I do this or was it an imitator, a student that I taught so successfully? I was a wonderful professor, an amazing surgeon. Don’t they realize that? And now I’m treated like NOTHING. I was FAMOUS, FAMOUS!

She feels unsteady so she makes her way to the handicapped stall, sits on the toilet, and stares at Rose. She holds the pink-handled knife in her right hand and makes circles in the air with it. This could be a sign, she thinks. A warning. She could be pregnant or she could just be fat. I could easily find out. I deserve a child. I’ve waited so long for this. I can cut her up. I know how to do it. I wrote the god-damned book!

She pulls herself up with the silver handicapped grab bar and lunges toward Rose, the knife pointed toward the famous scar.

Sixteen Years Later

Rose and her daughter, Claire, are sitting at the kitchen table. It is covered with dinosaur cutouts made from construction paper of red, green, blue, and yellow. The cutouts are pterodactyl, spinosaurus, triceratops, Tyrannosaurus rex, and diplodocus. Rose and Claire choose a cutout then add notepaper and staple them together.

“I wish we had studied dinosaurs in third grade,” Claire says. She is sixteen, wears no makeup, and looks like twelve in her yellow tee, frayed blue jean shorts, blue sneakers.

“And that’s not the best part,” Rose tells her. “The children are going to make a papier-mâché brontosaurus in the actual size! Can you picture it? It will fill my classroom from front to back.” Rose, who jogs every morning at 5 a.m., is now a size 10.

“Oh those luckies to have you,” Claire complains. She tosses her one brown braid over her shoulder. “We had the glamorous Miss Larkspur. All she did was smear on red lipstick and purple nail polish and smile into her compact mirror and tell us to read.”

“Oh my gosh,” Rose exclaims. “Look at the time. We have to go.”


Claire drives as if she expects to have an accident at every intersection. “Relax,” her mother says, “you’re a very good driver. I know. I taught you.”

“Ha ha,” Claire responds.


After the road test, Claire is furious. She leans into the passenger-side window and yells at her mother. “The cop failed me! He asked me to parallel park and you didn’t teach me how to do it! I’m going to call Dad to see if I can live with him. He’ll teach me to parallel park!”

“You could do that,” Rose says evenly, “or you could stay with me because...” Now she breaks down and a tear slides down the left side of her nose. “...Because I love you and I don’t want my heart broken and I will teach you how to parallel park as best I can and as if my life depends on it but mostly because I can’t bear for you to leave.”

“I hope you’re going to let me go away to college, Mom,” Claire says dryly.

“I’m working on it. I mean of course,” Rose sniffs.

“At least I was spared the murder-in-the-restroom story and how a waitress who had to pee walked in and saved our lives,” Claire says.

Rose smiles. “Yep. She was a crazy lady. They locked her away. She’ll never get out. Now, get in the car and drive us home. After dinner we will parallel park for hours and next week we’ll come back and you will pass!”


Three hundred miles away in the Woods & Vines Retirement home there is a bingo game in progress.

The caller says, “N 32.” She is elderly and her voice sounds like it is oiled with whiskey which it is every Saturday night during the retirement home social. Her hair is bleached blond and cut like Doris Day’s in the old movies that she loves to watch. All the other girls (Madelyn, Vivian, Lolly, and Annie) watch old movies too in the Woods & Vines Library on Tuesdays at 10 a.m. Lolly has adopted Ann Sheridan’s hairdo. Annie thinks she resembles Barbara Stanwyck. Madelyn’s hair is so thin she looks like Yul Brynner while Vivian’s wig is meant to suggest Marilyn Monroe.

“You’re going to have to talk louder, Ella,” Annie says. “Madelyn is stone deaf.”

“N 32,” Ella repeats.

“BINGO!” Vivian announces with a nasty grin at Lolly, who flings out her arm and knocks Vivian’s wig askew.

“Let’s have cake,” Madelyn says, tossing her bingo card on the gray rug.

The girls, clutching their walkers, gather around the carrot cake purchased from Costco.

“Let Ella cut it,” Annie suggests. “She does it best.”

“Thank you,” says Ella, who has more wrinkles than a shriveled potato. Her upper arms are dimpled; her hands shake and display hundreds of brown spots, and her eyelids have lowered to cover half of her vision. She grips the stainless steel Wal-Mart knife, holds it high over the table and with a flourish thrusts it into the white icing and cuts a mean and jagged swath through the cake.

She tilts her head into the cute position, her green eyes twinkling. “Who wants the first piece?” Ella asks her dear friends.


SHJ Issue 9
Spring 2014

Phyllis Green’s

stories have appeared in Epiphany, Bluestem, Prick of the Spindle, Poydras Review, The McNeese Review, The Chaffin Journal, Rougarou, Orion Headless, apt, ShatterColors, Paper Darts, The Cossack Review, The Milo Review, and other literary journals. She has stories forthcoming in Page & Spine, Edwin E Smith’s Quarterly, and Dark Matter.

She is a Pushcart Prize nominee, Micro Award nominee, and Best of Storyacious 2013 winner.

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury