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.
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.”