Staying with a less than ordinary fruitcake

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“Come out to the family room. Gladys wants a word,”Olvie yells from the front room.

Now I’m creeped out that a mannequin wants to speak to me. What will I say? Oh for Christ’s sake!

I take my time opening the bedroom door and peek out before exiting. Olvie’s hovering over the plastic body so if Gladys is saying something, I can’t tell. Yep, I’m going nutso.

“Good. There you are.” Olvie says turns toward me and stands erect. “What do you think?”

“Why, oh, did you take her shopping?” I say, trying not to think about myself in a straight jacket.

“No, silly-billy. Gladys doesn’t like to go out. I had it mail-ordered from Sears and Roebuck.

Gladys is no longer flapping in the 1920’s. Her fringed dress and headband are gone. She’s caught up with our decade and, although too big for the thin mannequin, I can’t help being impressed. The moo-moo is light green with white daisies attached to darker green vines that run diagonally down the dress. Orange stitching accents in between.

“Well, what do you think?” Olvie, or maybe Gladys says.

“It’s perfect. She looks like a new person.”

Olvie smiles. “She wanted a change so she got one.”

“Everyone wants a change, don’t they, Olvie?”

“Not everyone,” she says, and stares out the front window.

I’m so excited about the change in Gladys, I remind myself I need a real friend. Someone who’s not crazy or made of plastic.

I make myself a bowl of Trix cereal and try to remember I’m not a kid like the floppy-eared rabbit tell us on TV.

 

Ordinary

A minimal meal

Cono Dennis - An Unlikely Hero in the Making
Cono Dennis, his sister Delma & Pooch – late 1930s

For a week, the whole house feels pain of one kind or another. Delma’s in one bed crying, Dad’s moaning and cussing in his. But the only sickness Mother and I feel is a mean rumbling in our bellies from lack of food. Since Dad’s been bedridden, we don’t have any gambling money to spend on groceries.

Mother walks over to the kitchen cabinets and looks inside. No salt, no pepper, not even a lousy piece of stale bread is sitting in there. No sir, there isn’t a dang thing to eat. She goes to the last cabinet. There, all by itself, sits a medium-sized onion. She takes it out, holds it in both her hands and stares at it like she’s thinking a roast was fixing to pop out of it. At least that’s what I’m thinking, when my mouth gets all watery.

She peels that onion real slow, like it’s a prized Hereford being slaughtered for steak. She slices it up just as slowly as she’d peeled it. She puts it in a skillet and adds a little water, looks at it and adds more water.

The onion soup doesn’t taste like onion or even warm water. It tastes like cold hunger seasoned with poverty and sprinkled with fear. And the stuff that settled on the bottom of the cup? That’s anger. I drink it anyway. I feel like a Devil’s Claw, stacked up and falling back down on my own self. It’s like being slapped without even having a hand laid on me. Maybe it’s because the slap I feel is on the inside instead of the outside, a slap like a burning face just as uninvited.

Excerpt from No Hill for a Stepper, a story about my father.

Minimal

Staying with a Fruitcake

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photo credit

Sitting on the leopard print living room couch next to Gladys, I know I’m living in an episode of The Twilight Zone. Not because Gladys sits in the exact same spot wearing the same flapper dress from when I got here three days ago. And not because Olvie hasn’t bothered to move her. I’m in The Twilight Zone because I have to spend the next few weeks living with a fruitcake.

I peek out the front window. Olvie’s at it again. Just a few minutes before, like she’s done every morning, she told me to “stay put” until she comes back inside with the newspaper. And like every morning, she won’t pick it up until she sees Elias Ford heading her way on his walk to work.

Olvie’s shuffling down her sidewalk towards the curb wearing her moo-moo and striped yellow and black socks. She bends down to pick up the newspaper. He must be getting close. Yep. I see him now. Mr. Ford has stepped into the danger zone, too close to The Property of Olvie P. Crazy.

Like always, Mr. Ford tips his shabby hat and attempts to hurry past.

Like always, Olvie steps in front of him with the familiar finger point and the poke, poke, poke to his chest.

I don’t get why she doesn’t like him. What’s the Controversy anyway?

Yesterday morning, Crazy Olvie had forgotten to close the front windows. I heard her ask Mr. Ford if she could spit on his shoes. “It won’t take long,” she’d said, almost politely.

I wonder what she’s quacking to him about this time. That his shoes need polishing? That his rusty lunch pail should be thrown off a cliff? That the only reason he still lives around the corner is because my daddy spent “too much time” repairing his house so the city wouldn’t tear it down? Mr. Ford lives in what some ignorant people call, The Black Pocket—a small thicketed area that folks like Dad fought to keep intact. Including the ten or so residents.

Mr. Ford shakes his head. I bet right now he’s wishing he’d moved after all. His expression reminds me of Tom Robinson in the movie To Kill a Mockingbird and the thought makes me sad.

I get in Gladys’ face. “Let me tell you. I’m not happy about being here either. So there.” She doesn’t respond, of course.

I must be catching her loony bug. Perhaps I won’t last a few weeks. Maybe not even day four. I ponder where to go and what to pack before I run away.

Excerpt from a work in progress.

Crazy Olvie

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photo credit

The rock crashes through the front window and glass shatters over Gladys. Crazy Olvie reaches for the telephone that sits in its cubby space in the short hallway. “Hurry up, now. Read me the name of the Sheriff’s Department.”

I know she meant to ask me to read the number instead of the name. But I can’t help it. I look at her telephone list of numbers taped to her fridge and say in my best deadpan voice, “Sheriff’s Department.”

“That’s what I said.” Her voice is louder now. “Read it to me!”

She’s clueless.

Her cheeks flush and her eyes look like they belong to one of Dracula’s brides.

“Glendale-4123.”

Mom had laughed when she told me that every time Olvie has to phone her doctor, she freaks out and curses all the zeros. She hates sticking her fingers in the seven-through-zero slots because she doesn’t like waiting for the dial to spin back around to home base.  Lucky for her, these numbers won’t take any time.

Excerpt from my Work in Progress, Olvie and Chicken Coop (working title)

 

That Fightin’ Instinct

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My Dad

I yelled, “fall out!” But, there’s one in every crowd. His name was “Johnson,” an ex-merchant marine with big old biceps who thought he could fight a circular saw and come out ahead. He pulled the cover over his head as if that was gonna protect him from someone who knew better.

Everyone was watching me, so I knew I had an impression to make. I walked over, and said, “Well, aren’t you smart?” Then I took that cot and flipped it right in the middle of him.

He stood up, towering over me like a big gorilla, stared down at me and drew back. Now, the thing about big ole boys like Johnson is that they might have a lot of muscle and power, but for a lightweight class like me, they move like molasses. So that’s the last he saw. When he drew his big arm back, my fist landed square on his chin before his pea brain could register what hit him. He dropped like a loose button, out cold as a cucumber.

When Johnson started to stir a bit, he looked at me with surprise and reached up to feel his mouth, like he was making sure all his teeth were still there.

“It’s okay,” I told him. “I know a couple of folks without any teeth and they can still eat almost anything.”

He sat there glaring at me and I kept talking.

“And if you keep puckerin’ like that, pretty soon you’re your face is gonna match your asshole. Now get up!”

Everybody laughed except for Johnson. I guess he didn’t think it was funny. But he did stand up and, so far, Johnson and the rest of the cooks barracks have been looking at me in a different light. I don’t count on Johnson looking down on me ever again. Besides, he couldn’t fight the gnats off his butt.

I suppose the fighting Instinct was born in me, like red is born into a beet. Maybe because I started fighting in first grade when I had to stick that pocketknife into the thigh of Tommy Burns so he wouldn’t take my marbles.

Excerpt from No Hill for a Stepper, my father’s story

 

 

 

When Dancing Doesn’t Help

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Photo credit

I don’t believe what Daddy told me an hour ago. He’s not checking on things at the dairy. He’s out trying to find Mama. I’m sure of it. Daddy knows I refuse to turn twelve without her.

My legs move so fast, I almost forget Mama ran away. But my feet remember what Mama and Betty Beauty Bedford, her used-to-be bestie, told them months back. “Right, left, right left, up back,” they’d chanted.

Beauty had inhaled a ciggy from its ruler-long holder. “Pivot your knees, Emma June. Knock them together then point them out. You too, Carla,” she told my used-to-be. “And for Pete’s sake, move your arms. Let everything flow! Dancing takes away all your worries.”

Now, the Charleston ends. Victor Victrola’s needle ch-ch, ch-ch, ch-ch’s searching for something that’s already been used up. Like my memory at the end of carnival night. And Beauty was wrong. Worries still thump my insides.

Big Chief Tablet glares at me from the kitchen table. I tell it to shut up, that homework can wait till I’m good and ready.

Extra careful when I plant the needle a different Recording, I turn the crank again. The green and yellow squares of our sitting room rug melt together as I spin, and my braid pings one shoulder then the next like two different suitors asking to be my dance partner. My skirt puffs up like a wild mushroom, and it’s swoosh seems to say, “Everything will be right again, Emma June.”

“How do you know that when I can’t even remember?” I yell. Then I jump up and down trying to stomp out my stupid.

Excerpt from The Moonshine Thicket by CD-W

NOTE: For those of you who have been reading excepts from this novel, thank you! This excerpt if the beginning of the novel. I hope you liked it!

 

 

 

Murmuration Agitation (with a little Bible recitation)

3ef024404abdee652d9a1635c923c75aOn my damn lawn, at least twenty people stood behind Mrs. Stoddard. Some chanted, some murmured. I took in a breath and let it out, trying to appear unruffled and bored. “And I won’t rest until Marcy’s true killer is found. Sadie didn’t do it, Mrs. Stoddard. But I assure you, Sheriff Tobin is doing everything he can to find the killer.”

“Tobin, huh!” Stoddard spat the words. “From what I’ve heard, the big sheriff is only protecting you for personal reasons. How’s he going to help if he’s playing nice with you under the covers?” She looked down as if shamed by her words.

Even so, I clenched the fabric of my dress to keep from smacking her clear across the street.

“We want justice,” the crowd chanted, louder each time.

“Now listen here,” I shouted, my patience waning. “We want justice too. We are all upset. Let’s work together and find the real killer. Now, as I said. Get. Off. My. Property.”

“Tells them to kiss your hiney and go to grass,” Reba whispered beside me, still hidden from view.

Reba’s version of “go to hell” gave me the idea. “Good Christian folk…” I forgot the passage, turned to Reba, and whispered out the side of my mouth. “What’s something good to quote from the Bible? Something about judgment.”

Reba put a hand on her chin and peered down at her feet. “You wants Saint John or Deuteronomy?”

“Whichever’s better.”

“Well, Saint John says—”

“Reba! Give me something.”

“Tell ’em, ‘Stop judging by mere appearances and make a right judgment.’”

Reba tugged at my elbow. “You gotta say it’s from John 7:24.”

“Stop judging by mere appearances and make a right judgment,” I repeated loudly. “John 7:24. Isn’t that what Jesus taught?” I knew I was pushing it. Over the years, only once or twice had I glanced at the Good Book. The Bible never spoke to me like it did for Reba. “You are judging an innocent woman because of her chosen profession. Shame on you. Shame on you all. Now leave before I have you arrested for trespassing.” I lifted Ratchet slower than necessary and heard the gasps of fear. I perched the shotgun over my shoulder like a marching soldier and closed the front door.

Reba and I waited and listened, our backs against the front door. The thrum of mumblings and chanting didn’t stop. “Now what?” I asked my best friend.

“Whiskey slam?”

Excerpt from The Last Bordello, a historical novel

Murmuration