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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Empty Nester/Retirement (from work) (09/10/09)

TITLE: Watch Out for the Quiet Ones


Tilman needed watching. And that’s what we were doing.

“This guy’s got it bad,” I said to Bob and Sam. We sat on my front porch in Adirondack chairs, beverages in hand. My house was the mid-point of our cul-de-sac—a superb lookout spot.

“How long you think he’s going to take mulching those flowerbeds?” asked Bob.

“If how long he took painting trim last week is any indication—he’ll be there a while,” I said.

Sam shook his bald head at me. “He was hanging laundry, too?

“Yup—yesterday. Whites. If Janice gets a whiff of this, my retirement days are over.”

Sam had the nerve to laugh. “Do you think you’ll have to resort to the Elephant Spiel?

“Hey, keep that on the down-low, would-ya? Too many people hear about it, it becomes cliché, loses its punch.” A scan of my property. No Janice. I tossed my can in a flowerpot with the rest of the empties. “Boys—it’s time.” We exchanged salutes and off I went.

I should have talked to Tilman when he first retired a month ago. He’s a good guy, a man’s man—burly, good sense of humor. I honestly hadn’t thought there’d be a problem. His wife, Louise, quiet, demure, never struck me as the controlling type.

“Hey there, Tilman!” I called when I reached his driveway.

He lifted his chin. “Hiya, Brad.” Another shovelful of dark rich woodchips from a shiny red wheelbarrow dropped near the roses. The man washed his wheelbarrow. He was worse off than I’d thought.

I walked right up to him. “You sure have been busy.”

“Things I’ve been meaning to tackle for ages. Louise likes a neat-looking place.”

“I’m sure she does.” Where was a good segue when you needed one?

I looked down, skimming the bottom of my Top-Siders along the grass. There it was. “This lawn’s looking a little under-fertilized.” That got his attention. He leaned his shovel against the Japanese maple he’d recently planted (Janice was now hot to get one, too). Down he kneeled, plucking a finger-full of deep-green grass. “You can tell by the edges.” I said. “They’re hard.”

“But I’ve weeded and feeded twice this month. With premium stuff.”

“Makes you feel like you’re spinning your wheels, doesn’t it?”

“Louise likes soft grass, but there’s nothing else I can do.” He sat down among the blades he now considered stiff.

“And that’s how it is with us men, Tilman. We get used to working. First it’s thirty years for The Man. We retire. Then it’s thirty years for the Wo-man. We’re like elephants.” I let him ponder that statement, while I rocked back on my heels.

He didn’t disappoint. “What does that mean: we’re like elephants?

“You know—majestic. And isn’t it interesting how circus trainers keep those great-big majestic pachyderms tethered with one miniscule spike? They certainly have the strength to break free, don’t you think?”

“Well, yeah.” Tilman removed his gloves and went to examining his calloused hands. “So—how do they do it—the trainers?” he finally asked.

Reeling them in should be harder than this.

“When the elephant’s young—real young—practically a baby, the trainer chains him to a tree trunk. When he tugs, he’s powerless—no match for the tree for sure. He learns he can only operate in circles within the confines of the chain. Once that lesson’s absorbed, the trainer can hold him with a spike and rope. The elephant’s been conditioned, broken.

There’s not a man I’ve told it to who didn’t react to that last statement.

“A travesty . . . a real injustice,” said Tilman, getting up, leaving his gloves in the grass. “Sorry, Brad, but I got some things to take care of.”

“No problem, Buddy.”

I was back in my Adirondack, the other guys long gone when I spotted Tilman coming out of his garage and heading toward the wheelbarrow. He stopped to put on his gloves. What? I jumped out of my chair, down my steps and jogged across the street.

“Hey, Buddy—what’s up?”

“Just finishing before it gets dark.”

“Didn’t you talk to Louise?”



“She said if I was a majestic elephant, then she was a guinea hen—and could fly the coop anytime she wanted.

“Oh,” I said.

“Though she allowed as how it was time for us to get away. She’s booking something—right after she calls your Jani—”


Oh, for women’s love of cruelty!

My jig was up.

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This article has been read 761 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Beth LaBuff 09/17/09
I laughed through the WHOLE thing!! Way to be subtle, using Louise. :) The whole elephant tethering thing was brilliant. What a manipulator Brad is! And that Tilman guy, I'd like to meet him, we have a few plants needing attention! :) What a riot! I LOVE it!
Seema Bagai 09/17/09
Loved this piece. Humorous, with just the right touch of wisdom thrown in. Good work.
Charla Diehl 09/18/09
What fun characters--Brad, the instigator got what he deserved in the end. I was truly entertained by this story.
Allen Stark09/18/09
Great laugh! However, I sensed it coming because I've been there. The only difference, I've been used to doing things such as housekeeping, etc. for nearly 25 years due to my wife's disabilities, and because that's how I spell love.
Loren T. Lowery09/18/09
Personally, I'm glad Brad was caught in his own web. I've never liked anyone who would take advantage of people they feel to be gullible. And it looks like Tilman had a much better and opened relationship with his wife that Brad could only have imagined. Brad reminds me of my own kids, who, at times, naively thought my wife and I never discussed things. The tongue-in-cheek, understated humor in this piece made it a fun, enjoyable read.
Ruth Brown09/18/09
You described the retired fellows in our neighborhood to a T. Very Funny In a manly sort of way!
Bryan Ridenour09/19/09
This is super. The elephant illustration was perfect. Great humor throughout. Fun read!
Chely Roach09/19/09
This was priceless! The way Brad tried to manipulate Tillman with the comment about the underfertilized grass totally had me snickering. What a hilarious (and ridiculous) elephant analogy...loved the wife's comeback. Loved the whole humorous story.:)
Sheri Gordon09/19/09
Oh, so very funny. I laughed and laughed from the beginning. Loved the elephant story. Loved the whole thing.
Deborah Engle 09/19/09
Great job! I love the twist, it made the story.
Diana Dart 09/21/09
Like a good episode of Home Improvement or the like - men being hilarious just being "manly" and a clever twist at the end that snags 'em tight. Perfect!
Catrina Bradley 09/21/09
So very clever! This story shows writing talent, pure and simple.
Jan Ackerson 09/21/09
Love the hook, and the crisp dialogue. Love the wife's comeback, too! Oh, so clever!
Mona Purvis09/21/09
Those men! I can just see them.
This is such a fun entry. I laughed out loud and Bill wanted to know what I was laughing at at midnight. I can't tell him about the elephant stake. He might catch on.
Terrific entry and a winner, for sure.

Sherrie Coronas09/21/09
Where do you come up with these fantastic story ideas? I, too, loved the crisp dialog. Very, very funny!
Leah Nichols 09/22/09
I can see this scene playing out....excellent "showing" vs telling. Nice work!
Betty Castleberry09/22/09
I was picturing an old black and white sit com as I read this, along the lines of Ozzie and Harriet, maybe.

A really fun read. Two thumbs up.
Verna Cole Mitchell 09/22/09
Your characterization is perfect--shown through dialogue, and the humor is perfect throughout. I love the elephant spiel; in fact, I love the whole story.
Joy Faire Stewart09/22/09
What a great story, could "see" the wonderful characters and the humor was fun. Loved it!
Pamela Kliewer09/22/09
This is funny! Great job of characterization.
Kimberly Russell09/22/09
Loved all the 'tongue in cheek' humor. Great writing!
Carol Slider 09/22/09
Fantastic humor, yet so true... you really made these guys come alive! I loved it from beginning to end. Very well done!
Marita Thelander 09/23/09
Thanks for the much needed smile today. Great humor and so glad Tilman didn't cave adn Lousie is still queen of her home. : )
Joanne Sher 09/23/09
Lisa, you are a MASTER - and not just at writing ;) LOVE IT!!!
Steve Uppendahl09/24/09
Now, THIS is humor :) Well done, Lisa. Great, fun story, with a message. Impressive.
Beth LaBuff 09/24/09
11th place... sooooo close... I wanted to push this one on in. I agree with the sitcom comment above. You could call it something original like, Brad and Janice and Tilman and Louise. Has a nice ring to it.