Robin

I’m not sure that I’m ever going to do anything with this, but I’ve had this character floating around my mind for over a year now, so I finally decided to write a little introduction to her life.

At the age of twenty-four, the thing Robin loved most in the world was her house.

It was tiny, painted blue with white framework on the doors and windows. There were flowers in the three windows that faced the street, and a garden leading from the front door right down to the small white gate. There was even a lone tree in the yard, one that had grown enough to give a little shade during the long, hot summer days.

The house was on a small residential street in Studio City in Los Angeles, which was another thing that Robin loved about it. She loved being so near a happening area and yet snug in her own little space, the picture of suburbia. She had a Mr. Horns to her left in a small yellow house, with a rather large yellow Labrador named Puck, while the house to her right was empty, a big “FOR RENT” sign the only inhabitant of the fading lawn.

Robin had acquired this house in a strange set of circumstances. It had, belonged to her great-aunt Lucinda, an eccentric woman who had lived in a nursing home for the last twenty years of her life. The family was under the impression that she’d sold it years ago, but, as she wrote in her will, she’d left it empty, freshly painted and clean, ready for her great-niece, who had only just been born, to grow up and receive it. When Robin turned twenty, Lucinda passed away and the house was discovered in the will.

Robin couldn’t believe her luck. As a university student, she longed to leave the dorms behind her and live in a space all her own. She had no desire to return to the poisonous environment that was her parents’ house. She’d suffered enough hardship over the years, and having finally escaped by earning a full scholarship, she had no intention of ever going back.

Halfway through her Junior year, she moved out of the school dorms and into her new home. It had needed much airing out after twenty years of standing empty, and furniture, too. She’d scoured both the flea markets and the Internet for cheap, secondhand stuff, and she  sanded, repainted and lacquered some of the wooden pieces she’d found. In fact, she’d spent her entire winter break on making her new home as perfect as could be. This was another reason why she loved it so.

Another reason was that she was hardly ever in it. The commute to school on two buses, the time she spent in classes and in the library studying, as well as her job at one of the administrative offices kept her so busy that she would normally arrive back at her house at ten and leave the next morning at around seven. Out of those nine hours, some six were spent sleeping, and one was spent in a morning haze of coffee, toast, shower and make-up.

The two hours she had to herself every night before she fell exhausted into bed were her treasures. She didn’t allow herself to study, review material or read anything that had something to do with her major – which was history – or her minor – which was philosophy. She spent the time reading comics online, watching films or taking a long, hot bath.

It was a perfect life, really, and she often felt ridiculously lucky.

But everything changed when her brother got out of prison a week before graduation.

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Spam [Part II]

Part I

Ladonna had walked down several blocks at a very brisk pace before she stopped, shook herself both mentally and physically, and tried to pull herself together. It was weird, true. It was even extremely strange and unlikely. However, there was no reason to panic. In fact, quite the opposite: perhaps her lottery ticket would really be worth something.

Still, she was spooked. As she slowly made her way home, she shook another cigarette out of her pack and lit it. The smell and taste of smoke calmed her nerves, but only out of habit. She considered smoking as a sort of meditation. That argument had never worked on her friends who told her to quit smoking, but it sounded good anyway.

It was still early in the day, and Ladonna had the day off for her birthday. In the evening, she’d have a few friends over. They were all taking the train down to throw her a little bash. She was appreciative – she knew train tickets weren’t all that cheap and that the two hour train ride was a hassle for them. She comforted herself with the knowledge that she’d be taking the train over to them soon enough as well, and so she shouldn’t feel guilty. It was her birthday, after all. She was allowed to be indulged, at least a little.

Thinking of the evening, Ladonna’s mood improved as she walked along the streets back towards her apartment. She meant to cook up a good meal for her friends, and even bake a cake, and she wanted to get an early start on things. There would be alcohol, of course, and plenty of it. Her friends were planning on staying the whole night and get raucously drunk (though not really, because there were neighbors who wouldn’t appreciate that). Ladonna smiled to herself rather grimly as she envisioned the hangover that would follow and the too-familiar feeling of that odd and illogical peace that would settle in the house as she and her friends would drink cup after cup of coffee at her table and try to sober up. They had spent many nights and mornings together in this fashion.

Well, they’d all be nursing headaches and queasy stomachs together, at least. Oh, oops, Ladonna realized. All of us but one. Kate was pregnant, and wouldn’t be drinking. Damn, Ladonna thought, that means none of us will get as much drinking as we’d like done either because we’ll all feel she shouldn’t have to suffer us extremely drunk. She felt guilty immediately afterwards, and slammed the heel of her shoe down on her dwindling cigarette. She had reached her apartment.

As she was climbing the stairs, a man exited a door on the next landing. He had a dog with him, an obedient golden Labrador who sat quietly as he fumbled with his keys one handed. He seemed to be having difficulty getting the key into the lock. Ladonna then realized the type of leash he was holding – not a leash at all, but a harness. The dog was a seeing-eye dog, and the man must be blind. She stepped sideways on the staircase to allow him and the golden Lab to pass her, but the stairway was just too narrow and the man bumped into her just as his Lab sensed the danger of it and sat down to warn him to stop.

“Sorry, sorry!” the man hurriedly apologized. “My mind was elsewhere, didn’t hear there was anyone else here, I’m so sorry.” He gazed at her unseeing and smiled slightly, trying, she felt, to gauge her mood somehow.

“No, it’s no problem at all!” she mumbled shyly back, trying to edge around him. She hadn’t meant to distress him, and he seemed so worried.

“Say,” he began again. “Your voice is a new one. Are you new here or something?” Ladonna felt ashamed of herself again. Here was a new neighbor, a person that would be tromping up and down the stairs here just like her, and she was acting like a complete ninny, just trying to get away from him because she was nervous!

“Yeah, I am, actually.” She decided to do the thing properly, put a smile in her voice and kept on bravely. “My name’s Ladonna Trent, I just moved into the apartment right above you, sir, and I’m glad to make the acquaintance of a neighbor.” She then took his hand and firmly shook it.

He smiled widely. Ladonna noticed how sweet, open and friendly that smile was. This big man, wearing a white t-shirt, blue jeans, and black tennis shoes looked simply boyish, despite being very much over fifty years of age.

“Well then! Welcome to the building, Ladonna! My name’s Steve, Steve Solomon. This good girl here,” he gestured to the Lab, who was sitting quietly beside her master with her tongue hanging out, “she’s Anibal. Anibal Solomon, really, since you could say she’s like a daughter, helping her dad around and all.” He grinned widely again. “We’re going out to the corner store. Need any milk or anything?”

“N-no, thank you, sir.”

“Steve’s fine, Steve’s fine – we’re neighbors, after all! If you ever need a cup of sugar or something, just knock on my door. Anibal here will get me if I’ve got my headphones on. She’s good about noticing the door. Come on, girl!” With his command, the Lab started to walk slowly and carefully, her harness gripped firmly by Steve, and led him down the stairs and out into the street.

Ladonna stared after them until they had left the dimly lit interior of the building. When they were out of sight, she ran the rest of the way up until she reached her apartment. It took her three tries to get the key in the lock, and she felt a pang of sympathy for Steve, needing to fumble like this all the time. Finally she managed it, and wrenched the door open. Without bothering to take the keys out of the lock or close the door, she rushed to her computer.

The screen was writhing with strange snake-like pipes that were moving and growing and then collapsing on themselves. Impatiently, Ladonna jerked the mouse aside, stopping the screensaver from it’s endless patterns of pointless animation. She stared at the spam folder in her email. There were still five emails there, from five different supposed senders.

Ladonna Trent was her name, of course.

Ronda B. Clements had been her waitress.

Ricky Charles had been the sole survivor of a freak tractor accident that she had happened to catch in a convenience store on the shortest, silliest news report of the day.

And now, Anibal Solomon had just happened to be her downstairs neighbor’s seeing-eye golden Labrador.

This was turning out to be the strangest birthday Ladonna Trent had ever had, and that included the one where her older brothers had tried, and succeeded for a few hours, to convince her that aliens were attacking the earth because she had turned eight.

Spam [Part I]

Ladonna Trent sat staring at her computer screen, which was displaying the spam folder of her email account. There were five emails there. Four were advertising something called Rx Meds [At Your Fingertips Today!] and the other one was advertising fake watches. The emails were from a variety of names: Anibal Solomon, Rubin J. Keith, Ronda B. Clements and Ricky Charles.

The rather odd thing was that the last sender of one of the emails advertising Rx Meds seemed to be from herself. The name Ladonna Trent was neatly listed next to the subject of the email. Ladonna stared at the email a while longer, wondering what the odds of THAT happening were. She decided the odds were some big number to one. How odd that it should also happen today, of all days, her birthday.

Ladonna abruptly abandoned her computer, grabbed her coat, keys and cigarettes and dashed out the door, only remembering when she got to the end of the hallway that she should probably lock the door, especially as she actually remembered her keys this time. The door made a satisfying click when she locked it and Ladonna wondered how just a small, round, metal bar could lock a door so thoroughly. As she walked down the stairs of the building, for the elevator was broken yet again, she continued to marvel at the incident of the spam email. Why would a woman with her exact name be sending out advertisements? Actually, the advertisements probably weren’t sent by actual people, but just by some company’s computer, and the names were probably just generated randomly. Still, it was strange to see your own name advertising something like illegal medications.

As she stepped into the late morning sunlight outside her building, Ladonna wondered what she should do now that she was out. It was her birthday, after all, and she wanted to have a nice day in this city of strangers. She had just moved to the city a week before. She worked for a large company who did big and important things, though Ladonna didn’t quite care what those things were. She only cared about what she was supposed to care about – whatever her boss needed. She was one of the CEO’s secretary, which meant that she made him coffee, took his phone calls and made appointments. She never really cared what those phone calls or appointments were about. The Boss had moved here to run one of the local offices, and as she had nothing much tying her down in her old city, she came along.

The Boss had met his mistress at a café near her house, Ladonna knew, for she had made the appointment with the mistress herself, so she decided to head there for a cup of coffee and a smoke. The café was a pleasant place with little white tables out on the sidewalk for those lowlifes of the American society who still needed to puff smoke into their lungs. Ladonna didn’t really mind being one of them. She sat down at one of the tables and waited to be noticed by one of the laughing waitresses inside. Eventually one of those fresh faced young women came out, still smiling from whatever joke had been shared by her and her friends.

“Hi, would you like a menu or do you just want coffee?” She asked, her smile changing to a long practiced polite little uplifting of the corners of her lips.

“Just a coffee, thanks. And an ashtray, if you could be so kind,” replied Ladonna, imitating without realizing it the empty little smile. The waitress came back within minutes with the frothy cappuccino and a small ashtray. Ladonna thanked her with the fake smile again, and sighed with delight as she took a sip of the coffee. It was good, better than the ones she made herself at home. She took her cigarettes out of her coat pocket, shook one out of the soft pack, and lit it with the lighter that inhabited her jeans pocket perpetually. She took drags in between sips of coffee and enjoyed a moment of quiet in a public place, something she had not enjoyed for a long time. It was nice to go to a café on your own – she had always thought this, but she hadn’t gotten around to doing it in a long time. She watched the traffic flow by lazily, with the occasional halfhearted honk, for who could be rushing on a lovely sunlit morning like this? A homeless man across the street pushed his cart in a seemingly chipper way, though he was probably just rushing to the nearest soup kitchen before it closed. A woman with three blubbering children walked by, trying to wipe the nose of one, pull the other from the curb and stop the third from spitting out his food at the same time. Ladonna smiled indulgently on it all, knowing that it looked lovely to her only because she was in a good mood and thinking how nice it would be if good moods really affected the world in some way.

Her coffee and cigarette finished, she waved the waitress over, and asked for the bill. As the waitress was bringing over the bill, Ladonna noticed her name tag. It said RONDA on it. The name tickled her memory so much that when the waitress came back to take the money and her tip, Ladonna decided to ask her what her name was.

“Ronda,” She smiled and pointed at the name-tag.

“Yes, yes, but I meant what’s your full name?” Ladonna caught the look of confusion on Ronda’s face and added quickly “It’s just that you seem familiar and I was wondering if you were related to someone I know.”

“Oh, then my full name is Ronda Bantam-Clements. I got both my mom’s and my dad’s last name. Could you be related to one of them? I know my mom’s got a bunch of family she doesn’t speak to.” Ronda nattered on about her family history for a while before Ladonna cut her off, saying that she must have been mistaken and she didn’t know her after all.

Ronda Bantam Clements. Ronda B. Clements. How odd. Another of the spam emails that morning had that name listed as the sender. What a strange day this is, Ladonna thought to herself.

The discovery of Ronda B. Clements made up Ladonna’s mind. She would go and buy a lottery ticket. Who knows, she thought to herself, perhaps a coincidental day is all that’s needed to get lucky. Ladonna found a convenience store, and asked the large man behind the counter for a lottery ticket for tonight’s drawing. He looked at her strangely, as if it was a very odd request, before tearing off a ticket with numbers to be filled in and handed her a pen.

“Here, love.” The man said, revealing his strong English accent and his penchant for calling total strangers by pet names. Ladonna filled out the lottery ticket, thanked the man and was about to leave when she heard the tune of the beginning of the noon newscast come on the television across the counter. She hadn’t even opened her newspaper that morning, so she paused and looked at the off-color screen to listen to the five minute news edition.

“It’s twelve o’clock, and I’m John Irving with the news. Three people died and a fourth was severely injured last night in an accident involving a tractor. The details of the incident haven’t yet been released, but Ricky Charles, the sole survivor, exclusively told our reporters that the incident revolved around a drug induced cult act. More details will be released later.

In other news, ‘Cereals are in danger’ says specialist…”

Ladonna didn’t want to hear any more. She walked briskly away from the shop, shaking her head and trying to understand what was happening to make today so strange. Ricky Charles, the sole survivor of whatever freak accident happened with that tractor, was another of the names on Ladonna’s spam emails that morning, and Ladonna was getting uncomfortably aware that something strange was going on today. Something she could not explain, something she did not even know how to describe. After all, it might just be a very odd coincidence. But what are the odds of finding your own name on a spam email, finding another spam-sender serving you coffee and discovering a third as a name on the news? Something about today is definitely off, Ladonna decided.