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.”

 

Traffic Trolling

time

Cruising home as the last light leaves the sky, I fiddle with the radio punching through the five preset stations.  The number on each button is starting to fade from frequent use.  I am searching for a song with feeling and words that I know in hopes of singing along.  As a musical simpleton, new songs are a little frightening unless sandwiched between tried and true billboard hits, lending credibility to a newcomer’s radio worthiness.  Nothing catches my attention and I continue in my possibly fruitless search for a suitable jam.  I roll to a stop at a traffic light and take my turn waiting for green.

It is completely dark now.  The street in front of me is illuminated by the headlights from my car and a dim light inside of a covered bus station.  I am alone with my thoughts and a whining voice coming through the radio.  Next.  I hit another preset button not tried in the last thirty seconds.  A commercial comes on with two sisters trying to sell used cars for “just pennies down.”  Next.  A radio dj reads the news, it’s all bad.  Next.  

I used to be so good at waiting, I waited for letters to come in the mail, I waited for the internet to dial up, I waited for my turn in our single bathroom, I waited to get older.  Now, I can’t even wait the minute at a traffic light without feeling impatient or the ability to remain present. 

I remember a pack of gum in the center console, unwrap a piece of hard Juicy Fruit and peek at the light.  Its still red.  Red as Dorothy’s slippers and I am uncomfortably bored, alone and back to changing the radio station.  Boredom is a killer.  It drives a need for distraction from reality and in between that wasted space, the minutes turn into days into months and years and suddenly there is a lifetime of waste and perhaps an awareness of how life could have been different. 

Then I am not alone or bored. Someone is tapping at my window and I shriek. 

A short, squat woman is tapping at my window.  The dim light from the bus stop is enough to outline her face, covered in sweat, with a broad nose and wideset eyes that are so dark they look black.  She is intensely focused inside of the vehicle which was previously no more exciting than an empty cardboard box.    

“Roll down the window,” she yells and makes a rolling motion with her arm.  

I shake my head.

“What do you want?”

She points at her wrist, “Time.”

“Me too,” I smile and give her a thumbs-up. 

Or maybe not, I sure have wasted enough of it to make a person wonder. 

She throws her hands up and yells something encouraging as I drive off.  I don’t look back, green means gun it and go.  There’s no time to waste.

Disobey

Everything but…

Four missed calls turned into five, then six.  The joy of being on-call was overshadowed by the joy of being on-call with an absent supervisor.  However, I was a dutiful worker and answered the seventh missed call that came shortly after the sixth.  It was still early in the day; the sky was already filled with light and waiting for the sun to break through the morning clouds.

“Puney, we have a real emergency,” a man exclaimed.

Finally, I thought, a real emergency.  Not just that someone left their window open and a swarm of bees moved in or that smoke was filtering up through the floorboards from the boiler room.  It was a real live emergency, possibly something to make this on-call business worth-while.

“What’s going on?” I asked skeptical of his claim.

“We caught the big one last night,” the man rushed on excitedly.  “He been in there since about one this morning, he fought real hard at first.  We all heard him shaking the cage and hissing and slamming around trying to get out. Then it rained and now he’s just shivering.  You got to call the pest guy to pick him up, he’s really shaking.”

This did qualify as an emergency, Mr. Big was finally in captivity. We were to meet face to snout, at last.  I grabbed my bag, slipped into a pair of boots and headed out on a rescue/removal mission. 

Imagining the creature cold and wet all night, frantically trying to escape from his wire prison filled me with an irrational guilt.  We were at war, I shouldn’t have any feelings for the enemy.  Mr. Big knocked over the trash cans and dragged litter across the lawn almost every night, he taunted the neighbor’s cat and most recently had jumped out of a trashcan at a child.  Although provoked, Mr. Big scared the parents enough to get the neighborhood riled up and on the hunt for a raccoon of monstrous proportions and a luxurious coat.  He was at the wrong place at the wrong time but that didn’t matter, his fate was decided by the fear mongering crowd that day.  

Parking outside of the building, I ran around the back to the dumpster where half of a trap stuck out from underneath of a sheet of plywood.  A motionless, wet lump of dark fur was curled up in the back of the cage, like a pile of old grease rags.

“He’s dead,” I declared with no small amount of sadness and disappointment.  We had been at odds for so long, dealing with his mayhem was a part of the job.  For it to come to this cruel end, I felt responsible and regretted my part in hiring Gary, the self proclaimed answer to all pest problems. 

One shiny black eye was open but unblinking and there was no sign of breathing.  I pulled up my sleeves, pushed the fear of rabies out of mind, and prepared to start CPR.  You’re not going to die on my watch, Mr. Big.  Not after all this time.

Then the eye blinked, saving me from the life saving measures I was prepared to undergo to bring the creature back into the world.  The pile of fur began to inhale and exhale as it righted itself and shuffled to the end of the cage to greet its prison warden with a friendly wave.

To my shock, the animal was surprisingly small with thin fur, more of a miss than a mister, and almost certainly an imposter!

We caught the wrong one.  Mr. Big outsmarted the world that conspired against him, yet again.  I gave a little cheer under my breath, forever a fan of the underdog.  

In the words of Paul Harvey, “and now you know the rest of the story.”

mr big 

Simple Witness

The man slowly slouches into the room; he is distracted and distraught. His jeans are thin and faded with a rip across his left thigh.  He wears yellowed tennis shoes, each with a cracking sole that threatens to separate from the rest of the shoe.  I want to give him a tube of superglue, help him to put things back together.  It’s clear what is going to happen, sooner or later.

Then I remember, they aren’t my shoes and it isn’t my walk. This isn’t what he wants.

He begins to speak and I am a thousand miles away, considering the distance between us. We are the same age, babies of the 80’s.  Yet, we are so different.

At his hip, he carries a Bowie knife. I carry a tube of chapstick.

At night, he dreams about a noose made out of razor blades. I dream about an early retirement.

Tears well and begin to slide down his face. His voice cracks as he tries to explain what is inside of his head. He is haunted and I am a simple witness to his suffering, helpless to ease his pain.

Simply a witness.

Simple

My Treat

Two grey haired women sat across from each other. They arrived to the café just a minute earlier and were shown with their many bags and layers of clothing items to a quiet table in the corner with a vase of plastic flowers in the center.

“And now I hear you have worms. How delightful,” the first woman said to the second.

The waiter arrived with a notepad in hand. He pulled a pencil from behind his ear.

“Can I offer you a cup of tea or something to snack on?”

“The worms can wait,” the second woman replied and pulled out a pair of bright red reading glasses from one of her many pockets.

The waiter pretended not to hear their private conversation, while the women stared at their menus, intently studying the options.

“So many delicious things to try,” the woman mused over the list. “I do believe I’ll have a cup of stink bug tea,” the first woman said.

The second woman commented, “Excellent choice, I’ve heard it helps with worm-anxiety and improves sleep.”

“I’m a simple woman with simple tastes, unlike some people.” She gestured with her eyes to the woman sitting across from her at the table.

“Just water and a piece of burned toast for me, unbuttered, please.”

“Ladies, I am sorry to disappoint you but those things are not on the menu. Maybe you would like a fresh cup of coffee and a croissant?”

They both looked up at the man and narrowed their eyes at him and his obvious lie.

“Not interested,” the first woman said.

The second woman chimed in, “Try again.”

“Actually, we might have what you are looking for,” the waiter said after a thoughtful pause.

The women looked over the table at each other with crooked half smiles.

“Hot water, two mugs,” the first woman called out after the waiter. “That’s all we want.”

She pulled out a small plastic container with holes poked in the top and said, “My treat.”

The container was filled with live stink bugs, crawling and clamoring over one another, equally as eager to leave and live as the woman was to make her special tea.

stink-bug

Air

Transformation
“I don’t think you really believe that, I think you are just saying a bunch of words,” the man flatly stated.

He filled the chair across from me with huge arms and legs and a puzzled expression. A huge silver cross hung from a chain around his neck.   It was possibly removed from a church altar but looked like a normal sized piece of jewelry on his chest.

Confusion and frustration triggered a tic, his left check twitched and his left eye blinked. He clenched his jaw and ground his teeth back and forth.  I almost reminded him of what his dentist recommended after his last visit but decided against it.  The timing just wasn’t right.

I was about to explain that the maintenance man was not leaving spiders in his bathroom, again, when Lazy Man rushed through the door.

“Puney,” he gasped, out of breath from the short shuffle to the office. His eyes were bleary behind thick lenses.  He wore house slippers and a white t-shirt with a hole in the center of his chest.

“My wallet has been stolen. I’ve torn my place up and it’s gone.  It’s nowhere.  I think I know who took it, too.”

He sighed, “She needs help but I need my wallet.”

Lazy Man sighed again and again.

If Lazy Man was a balloon, he would be almost completely deflated by this time, a shriveled piece of rubber begging for air.

The next day, Lazy Man returned.

He shuffled in wearing tennis shoes and jeans with a clean t-shirt. His eyes were clear and there wasn’t a single sigh on the horizon.

“I just wanted to let you know, I found my wallet. It was in my coat pocket in the closet. I hid it too well from myself.”

He laughed and shuffled back out.   A red balloon escaped from a bundle for a birthday and floated up to the sky, a bright spot of color against the sky of blue.

red

Judas

Embarrassing
The investigator barged into my office with the force of a tropical storm. She had a bad haircut and wore a masculine outfit of pleated pants, a button-up shirt and ugly, scuffed leather shoes.  If I had a proper warning, I would have boarded up the windows and left town.

“I’ve been calling and I rang the doorbell. Why didn’t you answer?”

My mouth opened to say that I had not received any calls in the past hour, the doorbell never sounded, and lastly, who the hell are you? Clearly, if I had notice, I would not be there waiting.

The woman continued in an almost apologetic tone, “It doesn’t matter. My name is Debra Dedmaus and I am here to investigate a claim of neglect.”

I snickered in spite of the uncomfortable tension.

“Is something funny?” she asked. “Because there is nothing funny about child neglect. Now, if you will take me to Alison F. Orgets apartment.  I will handle things from there.”

This was not a request. It was a demand.

I led the terrible Deadmouse woman down the hallway past the numbered doors.

One, Two, Three.

We stopped in front of Four. I knocked, with several light tippity-tap-tap-taps.  Deadmouse waited a second and commenced to pounding on the door.  Plaster crumbled from the ceiling overhead and landed on her dark hair.  Ha! I thought, serves her right.

The door opened a crack, a woman in a bathrobe stood behind it. She saw me and opened it the rest of the way.

“Hi Puney, what’s going on?”

Deadmouse stepped in front of me, wielding her official badge from her agency.

“I’m here to investigate a report of neglect,” she repeated the same line from earlier.

She glanced down at her clipboard and went on to add, “It came from a P. Bones. I assume you know each other,” she smirked.

Ali looked at me in disbelief. I used my mind powers to open a hole in the ground into which I hoped to fall until I hit the Earth’s core.  Again, my powers failed me and I remained standing. I didn’t feel so much embarrassed as I felt small and ashamed.  I set into motion an unstoppable chain of events which would prove to be as cataclysmic as the original sin.

I was Judas and had just delivered the kiss of death.

ju

The Fall

Dream

rosie

Falling makes you feel some kind of way, as my friend Mika would say.  It’s a feeling of disconnecting with the ground, going from upright to stretched out flat, and then wondering what happened and if your hip is broken that lingers long after you stand up again.  Falling is unnatural, uncomfortable, and overall, a brutal reminder of our mortality.

Someday, its ashes, ashes, we all fall down.

After a festival this year, my hubby and I walked behind another couple, we were equally overserved and unbalanced.  We laughed and sang and danced and gasped when Ann fell to the ground.  Her body tipped forward and she moved unrestrained through the air and reconnected with the ground in slow motion.

“Noooooooooo,” we yelled from behind her and grabbed the air, interrupted by a lack in depth perception and delayed response time.

Ann hit the ground with a force, and fortunately, her chin slowed the momentum of the rest of her body.  The woman came to a complete stop and lay motionless on her side; red beads of blood started to form on her face and shoulder.  She stared up at her partner, Mark, in disbelief.  He stood over her, wide eyed and open mouthed.

We followed his eyes further down to his clumsy feet, one of which stood firmly on a black flip-flop.  It was obvious, the fall was the flip-flop’s fault, clearly.

Tears blurred Ann’s eyes and she blinked hard, hoping the fat drops of salt water would disappear, reabsorb, and retract back into the depths from which they managed to escape.  The sharp pain in her skinned palms and the red blood gathering on her face and the crushing disappointment in her head assured her that this was not a dream.

“You were supposed to catch me,” Ann said as she looked up at her fiancé.  Her voice accused and questioned at the same as she came to terms with his lack of action.  She was establishing was what real from the ground up.

She was no longer certain that this was the man she wanted to marry.  The fall shook her sense of security in her uprightness and confidence in her destiny.  The world felt a little less safe, less predictable; it was something she might learn to accept someday.

Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.

Exposed

Pensive
A woman wearing a soft red beret on a mess of grey hair clutched her plastic bag of precious things to her chest. She leaned against the window as the bus rolled away from the stop.  Beads of sweat popped out on her forehead and trailed down her face.  The windowglass cooled her feverish cheek and temporarily grounded her thoughts which were racing high above public transportation.  Her heart skipped two beats and returned to its normal rhythm.

Good, it still works, she thought about her old ticker, grateful for the reminder. It was the answer to a pending question that the woman forgot to ask.  She felt a strange relief in the occasional proof of her vitality. She wanted to get home but still had two more transfers to go.

A young mother with a crooked wig sat across the aisle from her, distractedly holding a fussy baby. The overwhelming smell of a soiled diaper permeated the air.  It was impossible to ignore for the other patrons of the bus, yet, the woman stared out the window with blank eyes, nodding in and out of consciousness.  Every once in a while, she remembered the weight in her arms and gave it a jiggle before her head fell backwards or forwards, overcome again with sleep.

Another child stood on the seat next to the young mother and hopped back and forth from one foot to the other. He wore shorts and a dirty Superman t-shirt stretched tight over his round belly.  He looked at the woman next to him and licked the back of the seat in front of him.  He looked at her again and he licked the window.  He looked closely at the woman as she dozed with the infant in her arms and still saw no reaction; he grabbed hold of the seatbelt strap and started licking the metal attachment.

The woman with the soft red beret watched from across the aisle as the boy explored his world by taste and begged for attention. She stopped herself from yelling at the young mother, “Wake up! Your boy is going to fall or catch a terrible disease.”

Maybe the licking is a part of a terrible disease that he already has, she wondered, probably caught from licking the window on a previous ride.  She pursed her lips and bit her tongue; it wasn’t her place to say something.  You don’t tell other people how to take care of their kids, she reasoned.  Guilt made knots in her stomach as she nervously watched and hoped her next transfer would come before disaster struck.

The boy continued to lick the seatbelt, perhaps absorbing some necessary minerals otherwise missing from his diet. He was a little deer at a salt lick in need of mineral nutrients or in this case, bus goobers.  Then the baby began to move about.  She reached up with a pudgy arm and grabbed at her mother’s blouse; her chubby fingers surprisingly strong.  She pulled the edge of the shirt lower and lower, and exposed a single sagging breast, indecent even by the standard of bus culture.

And still the bus rolled on.

bus

 

 

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