Bake Sale

bake sale

A handwritten sign thoughtfully taped next to the elevators pointed down the hallway with the promise of cookies, candies and cake for just $1.  In smaller print, the sign declared, For a Good Cause, which was followed by a smiley face; two dots and an upwards curved line, a simple but efficient mark of authentic intentions.

As a sucker with a mean sweet tooth, June grabbed a few dollars from her purse and followed the directions to a door covered in cobwebs, strategically placed black plastic spiders, and a mess of orange and black streamers.

Inside of the room, there were four long tables displaying bags of caramel popcorn, frosted ghost cookies, and pumpkin spice cupcakes.  There were goblin shaped brownies, pretzels dipped in chocolate, peanut butter fudge and peanut brittle, and an unreasonable amount of chocolate chip based goods.  On the table against the far wall, there were three crock pots with a handwritten sign advertising two different varieties of chili, also fairly priced at $1.  Volunteers in red shirts stood behind the tables with fresh faces and ready hands, excited to sell baked goods.

By this time, June’s coworkers, Lindy and Sandy, followed their noses or the same sign and found the same treasure trove of snacks.

“Thanks for saving some for us, Juney,” Sandy said with a nudge in her ribs.

There was the a hint of aggression; Lindy and Sandy liked to do things as a group with June, including lunch outings and bake sale shopping.  This uncoordinated encounter by June outside of the office was not appreciated.

Ignoring her jab, June asked, “Did you see the chili table?”

A woman from behind the table with a tight perm, huge glasses and a red sweater with a cross-stitched cat on the front and center of her chest took this as her opening.

“Hey ya’ll,” she started with a heavy accent. “We’ve got this here chili for a dollar, best chili in the whole Midwest.”

Admittedly, she only had two selling points; the price and the rhyming effect of having something that was the best in the Midwest, but they were good enough for June and her crew.

“Scoop me up a cup.  White chili, please,” Sandy asked. “Lindy, are you in?”

“Mmm, I don’t know.  I only planned to buy a cookie,” Lindy mused as she compared two bags of puppy chow.  She decided on the slightly more filled bag and gave a distracted nod at Sandy.

“Honey, remember, it’s for a good cause, and what’s another dollar, after all?” the woman behind the table gave a knowing look at Lindy over the rim of her massive glasses, pulling grandma-style leverage.

She’s a better salesperson than I thought, June noted as she waited her turn in line.

“Ok, ok,” Lindy said, holding her free hand up as though to ward off the pressure of the saleswoman. “I’ll get a cup of chili, too.”

“Make that one more,” Sandy indicated to the woman across the table.

“Sure thing.”

The edges of the woman’s mouth tugged upwards into a warm, toothy smile that contradicted the cold steel of her grey eyes, magnified behind thick lenses.  She nodded and dipped a ladle into the crockpot in the middle and filled two Styrofoam cups to the brim with steaming hot beans.

“I added a few extra beans in there for you, on the house,” she winked as she handed the cups over to Sandy.

June stood in line behind Sandy while Lindy still gathered cookies and candies from the tables.

“I didn’t know you would be selling chili today, the sign just mentioned sweet things.  One chili, please,” June said as she tugged her money out of her side pocket.

“Oh, this was a bit of a surprise for everyone.  I wanted to make something special, extra special, in fact.  I even added my secret ingredient to the chili,” she gave wicked laugh, winked at June and added, “for the cause”.

The woman scooped up a ladle full of chili from the crockpot on the right and placed it on the table in front of June.  June raised an eyebrow, the cause was still undefined.  Yet, she persisted in handing the woman money for the chili and a cupcake.  There was something familiar about the woman’s face, obscured by the glasses.  June needed to remember about the woman, a loose end that waved back and forth in the space of memory.

Shrugging it off, June followed Lindy and Sandy out of the bake sale and back to their office.

They made quick work of the chili and divided the sweets amongst themselves.

Lindy said, “There was a spice in the chili that I can’t quite place, something familiar.”

“I know, I tasted the same thing and still can’t figure out what was in there,” Sandy agreed.

June didn’t weigh in, she felt irritated.  It was that old woman’s secret ingredient, probably a piece of dark chocolate or a jalapeño pepper.  Lindy and Sandy had something to say about everything.  Her chili tasted how chili should taste.  It was finished and now she needed to get back to work.  She checked her voicemails and when she turned around to ask about an upcoming meeting, Sandy and Lindy were gone.

Together somewhere, June thought, in further irritation.

Suddenly, the contents of June’s stomach started to move and churn like water at the base of a waterfall, violent and relentless.  She quickly walked from the room, down the hallway and the bathroom was occupied.  She ran to the next bathroom and screamed as she painfully found it also occupied.

Her options were limited and she was desperate as she sprinted for the men’s restroom and prayed to the God of the Bathroom for it to be vacant.  She pushed through the unlocked door and sent out a heartfelt hallelujah towards heaven and locked the door behind her in the nick of time.

Her condition did not improve once situated on her cool, porcelain seat and finding herself unable to leave the bathroom, she carefully reflected over the day.  She found a paperclip in her pocket and straightened it out.  With the end, she scratched a smiley face into the door of the stall and gave a sardonic laugh.

“The things we do for a good cause.”

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Double Take

witch

A tall man with a hooked beak for a nose and heavy eyebrows stared over the wooden slats of the fence.  He wore grey sweat pants pulled up over his hips and a thin long sleeve t-shirt that outlined sharp shoulder blades and bony shoulders. Thin wrists and long, pale hands stuck out from the ends of the sleeves.  He was like a scarecrow hanging onto the fence, scaring off the birds and small rodents.

“Mike, what are you doing?” a woman asked from behind him, suddenly arriving, and seemingly appearing from out of thin air.   She had shiny, black hair and wore a pair of neon green tennis shoes and a matching athletic top.  

He gasped and tried to step back.  He stumbled, finding he was already against the fence without any additional room for his long legs to stretch.  Then he realized several things; it was just Lani and she must have walked over, she therefore did not appear from out of thin air and in conclusion, he decided that witchcraft was likely not involved.  He felt relieved and relaxed back into his original watch over the fence.  

“Hey…” he gave a sheepish greeting at his exaggerated reaction.

Lani narrowed her eyes as she tried to understand what he was doing staring over the fence.  It was not lost on her that his neighbor, Shelly, was young, single, and often sunbathed in a very itty, bitty polka dot bikini.  Lani’s heart rate increased as she felt an anger rise from her gut into her chest as she watched him continue to peer over the fence without shame or remorse.

The sound of a wail, presumably Shelly, broke her chain of thoughts. 

“Princess,” she cried out.

Mike waved her forward and motioned with his heavy eyebrows to look over the fence. 

Lani crept up to the fence and saw that Shelly was not the target of the man’s attention.  Rather, it was a lump of fur that lay on its side in the grass. 

“Something’s wrong with Princess,” Mike whispered in an astute observation.

“Help!” Shelly called, perhaps sensing a nearby audience, “someone help me with Princess.”

Shelly knelt down next to the dog as Mike and Lani made their way around the fence, leaving one yard to enter another. 

“She just got back from the groomer and I let her out and the next thing I know she’s on her side breathing like that.”

The dog was on the smallish size but not so small to fit in a purse.  Its fur was longish but not long enough to get knotted, and it wore a bedazzled pink collar, not bedazzled enough for Dolly Parton, but bedazzled enough to suit a dog named Princess.

Princess lay on her side, she drew in ragged gasps of air.  Her side rose and fell as she stared straight ahead with unseeing, dull brown eyes.  

“This is not good,” Lani surmised as she knelt next to Shelly and the animal.

“What happened? What’s wrong, Princess?” Shelly asked, not believing the scene as it unfolded in front of her. 

The dog slowly breathed in and out and then gave one last puff of air.  Its side did not rise again as Shelly and Lani kneeled next to the animal and Mike towered above the gathering.

“Princess, princess, can you hear me? Hang in there with me.  Princess?” Shelly ran her hand along the dog’s side and held her head in her hand.  

“She needs CPR. Chest compressions.  Step back, Shelly.”

Lani crossed her index and middle fingers on the dog’s chest and pumped to the beat of “Stayin’ Alive” by the BeeGees, just like she learned for an infant in Beginner’s CPR.

“This isn’t working, I have to get her to the vet,” Shelly whimpered. “I’m going to get the car. Will you bring her out to the drive way?”  

Lani exchanged glances with Mike.

A vet was not going to help Princess, there was nothing shy of a water-into-wine, roll away the stone type of a miracle that would bring that dog back to life.  It wouldn’t be long before she started to stiffen up with rigor mortis, hopefully, the vet could break the news about the miracle shortage before that happened. 

After the car peeled out with the dead dog stowed away into the backseat, Lani turned to Mike.

“What happened back there, really?”

“Princess was barking and I was picking up twigs in the yard.  She barked and barked and barked and wouldn’t stop and I stood up and looked at her.  That’s all I did, I swear, and she just sort of stopped and fell over onto her side,” he raised one hand and placed the other over his heart in a solemn oath of truth.

“You killed Princess?” Lani asked.

Her tone changed and she narrowed her eyes for the second time and started walking backwards towards the road, away from this yard and this man and this clear case of evil intent.  She repeated herself but this time, there was no question about it.  It was a fact and a statement, “You killed Princess.”

 

Tribal Women

I am part of an indigenous tribe of women. We have sheltered in place for many years, wisely watching the rise and fall of regimes. We carry the collective memories of being both abused and revered, conversely held in high regard and held down depending on the leadership at the time. We hold this history in our hunched shoulders and in our faces wrinkled from the harsh weather of the environment.

Watching, waiting and holding our ground, we cling together for strength and protection. There is safety in numbers.

We are surrounded by an aggressive group that would like nothing more than to see us disappear but will settle for our constant discomfort. They are The Haves and we are the have-nots, in all lower-case letters.

They have carpet and a regular cleaning service, their desks were ordered new with matching chair and they complain when the software on their laptops has to be upgraded.

Meanwhile, we are lucky if our keyboards have most of the keys. We take out our own trash and sanitize with supplies brought from home.

As the leader of the Have’s explained, “It’s not in the budget for every office to be sparkling clean.”

We nod in acceptance with crystal clear understanding. The meaning is unmistakable. If we could be left alone to do our work and govern ourselves, this arrangement would be agreeable. Not ideal, but agreeable.

There was a relocation one year ago when The Have’s made peace with a warring faction and our office was given up as a sacrificial gift. The masterkey was turned over without so much as a hey-wait-a-minute-there-are-people-in-there type of hesitation.

So, we moved without much of a fight into an office off the main strip, with harsh lighting and scarred tile floors; carrying our folders, office supplies, and wilted plants we shuffled in a single file line down the stairs and through the hallway.

Now we face another potential move. It started a few days ago when a group of prospectors came to the area like locusts on a field intent on greedy destruction. Click clacking down the dim hallway with their high heel and smart phones out, they snapped selfies as they travelled.

Golden sunlight streamed into our office, warming the room. We grew quiet, hearing the footsteps slow as they approached. The click clacking stopped outside of our office and the sleezy introductions ensued. The women alleged they were touring through the area, getting familiar with who was on the floor.

Unsuspectingly, a tribeswoman proudly showed the visitors through the office.

“Oh, these windows,” they gushed.

“Look at this adorable space,” another said in breathy agreement.

A tribeswoman with short hair and orthopedically responsible shoes said, “It’s so far out of the way, I wouldn’t love it so much if it wasn’t for the bathroom.”

The visiting women gasped in unison.

“You have your own bathroom down here?” the woman with the highest heels asked for confirmation as though it was too good to be true.

“Yee-haw, ladies,” she hollered and took off an imaginary hat.

“Looks like we struck gold.”

And suddenly I knew what had to be done.  Our time of watching and waiting was over. It was time to fight. We will not be relocated again. Not for The Have’s. Not for the prospectors. Not for nobody.

How Fish Breathe

fingertip-pulse-oximeter

Leo was an imposing man, over six feet tall with a sharp intellect that cut with amazing speed and accuracy.  A gold link bracelet hung from his wrist.  He wore khakis and a soft, green sweater that clung to his round belly and skinny shoulders.  His clothes were simple, but good quality, meant to last with care.

He leaned against the wall just inside of the restaurant.  The room was bright with garish yellows and oranges; it was decorated with sequined sombreros, pictures of dark eyed women and ponchos with intricately threaded designs. 

After making his way through the door from the parking lot, he needed to rest.  Just for a second.  He surveyed his family as they milled about in front of him, laughing and talking, unaware of the struggle occurring behind them.  Good, he thought. 

He blew his breath out through slightly blue, pursed lips as he tried to force his body to cooperate.  It was a technique from his respiratory therapist that he would never admit to using, especially after the way he ended their work together. 

Patting his pocket, he slid his hand inside and held his pulse oximeter; a small device the fit over his finger and flashed out a percentage.  He resisted the urge to get a reading, but knowing that he could pull it out at any moment gave him a sense of control.  There was power in the label and an understanding in the scientific.  He felt an ironic reassurance as though it contained the magic needed to open his lungs and carry oxygen when it needed to go.  While still in his pocket, he gently turned it over several times between his long, white fingers, a lifelong fidgetier.

Yet, it held no magic, no healing, or even a preference for life over death.  The pulse oximeter was not to be swayed by his position or intimidated by his size or smarts.  It could only tell the truth that he was not getting enough oxygen and then finish each statement with an honest beep before shutting itself off. 

What to do when air becomes the enemy for a man used to walking on top of it?

 

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