Monthly Archives: May 2014

It’s Complicated

Reposted from The Dreaming Tree: The Story of Audrey Moore

Darwin Cooper took a small roasting chicken out of the oven and wiggled the right drumstick. The juices ran clear and, just as his nose had predicted, it was ready. He set it on top of the stove and mashed the potatoes methodically with an ancient looking mashing tool. The mixed vegetables were steaming in a pot behind them with one of those stainless steel fanned out steamers inserted in the saucepan. He set the potatoes to one side and wrestled the chicken onto a carving plate before he began the gravy ritual with cornstarch, water and flour. Darwin had done this so many times he was running on autopilot. He looked pleased with himself nonetheless and set the table to serve and share the small farmer’s feast. He had grown and raised most everything in the meal. He settled in and his place and then looked between his daughter’s vacant chair and the clock with a small sigh. It was six o’clock. The food was perfect right now and she was late.

At six thirty the sound of his old truck roaring into the gravel driveway signalled her arrival home. She slammed the truck door and raced into the house. There was a scuffle of shoes being kicked off before the fast padding of bare feet to the small bathroom in the hall. She shouted to the kitchen and dining room as she washed up “Sorry Dad. My interview ran late.”

The sound of cutlery on a plate and a muffled “Mmhmm.” met her apology.

Samantha sunk into her chair with her soft strawberry blonde curls bouncing back down to her shoulders and smiled “Oh good chicken!”

Darwin took the lids off the potatoes and vegetables “Might be a bit cold. Did you get it?”

Samantha beamed and nodded as she scooped potatoes onto her plate “Yes. I start tomorrow at ten o’clock. Can I use the truck?”

Darwin laughed and nodded “Congratulations Tip Top waitress. Guess I can’t come in for a coffee if you’re driving in.”

Samantha looked apologetic “We’ll figure it out on days when you need to drive. Stacey wants to come stay for a bit. She has a car too. Maybe she can drive me when she’s here.”

Darwin frowned pensively and then gestured in the air with his fork as if trying to work something out mathematically in the air “So her parents and brother moved to the big city so she could live with them and go to college and she wants to come back here for the summer?”

Samantha looked exasperatedly at her father “It’s complicated. All our friends are here Dad. Of course she wants to come back. I mean we’ve met some people at school too but this is home.”

Darwin shrugged and took another bite. When he had chewed and swallowed he said “Speaking of friends, that boy of yours got himself in trouble with the law last week. Some kind of scuffle with out of towners at the Hartwell. The Stern kid was in it too.”

Samantha froze with her fork full of food in mid air and her eyes wide “What? Are they ok!?”

“I dunno. I think so. Are you and Dave…..?” Darwin trailed off in a careful tone.

Samantha looked like she was struggling with her reply “It’s complicated.”

Darwin dabbed at the side of his mouth with a napkin and then muttered “Yeah I read that on your Facebook too. Seems to be a lot of that going around with you kids.”

Samantha rolled her eyes “Dad!” She took out her phone and began scrolling.

Darwin stared her down from the head of the table “I still have a rule about that at meals Sam. I don’t care how old you are.”

Samantha looked pleadingly up from her phone “I need to know that Dave and Malcolm are OK!”

Darwin mumbled something inaudible as he cleared his own plate and put it in the sink. He poured himself a glass of water and returned to the table with it watching his daughter tapping away at her iPhone. He had never wrapped his head around one of those funny little screen devices. Samantha kept suggesting he get one so she could “text” him and the idea frankly horrified him. Darwin was in no way too old to adapt to the technology but his world has always been one of the outdoors.

Samantha let out a long breath of relief and made a point of setting the phone on the table screen side down “Sorry Dad. They’re not locked up or hurt beyond bruises. Dave was defending a guy who was getting really beat up though and Malcolm jumped in to help.”

Darwin nodded “Like I said, out of towners. We don’t see a lot of brawls in our local bars with local folks.”

Samantha poured a potato lake’s worth of gravy onto her plate and stirred it around “I wonder what the fight was about in the first place.”

“Probably people drinking and talking stupid. Isn’t that how it goes?”

She laughed “I guess so. Listen Dad, when you’re not too busy snooping into my love life on Facebook, are you meeting anyone yourself?”

Darwin shifted uncomfortably in his seat “Now why would I need to do that?”

Samantha smiled at her father “Eventually I’m going to finish this degree and get a job that’s not just waitressing part time and move out. I don’t want to leave you all alone. It’s time to get out there. It would probably help your chances with the ladies if you took off your wedding ring and put it in the dish with Mom’s. I know you still love her and that’s OK Dad. But you can love more than one person in your lifetime.”

Darwin protectively reached down to smooth his fingertips over the simple gold band on his left hand and said resignedly “Samantha, it’s complicated.”

 

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Pizza Wars

from The Further Adventures Of Danko Whitfield, Semi-Retired Time Traveller

Last October we had a big bash at The Evergreen Pub in Dankoville. We had a lot to celebrate. I had just take over ownership of the pub (it used to be the Town Tavern), Uncle Manuel was retiring, I was replacing him as the president of Whitfield Farms, The Evergreen had just signed a deal with The Pheasant’s Roost Tavern of Ireland to carry their beer and Jamie Wright of The Pheasant had come over to be Guest Bartender at The Evergreen. We threw a big pizza and beer party and had a great time. The place was packed!

I had no idea I had started a war.

“The Great Pizza War,” as Dave, one of my bartenders at The Evergreen, calls it.

It started innocently enough. The local paper ran a story about the event – mainly because it was the first public announcement of Uncle Manuel retiring. The article was mostly about Manuel and Whitfield Farms but they gave the pub a really nice mention too. The only problem was the quote of Rusty Piersen, a local farmer, who said we had the “best pizza in the Tri-County area.”

Problem being we’re just down the street from Mario’s Villa, the pizza restaurant. Their slogan? “Best Pizza in the Tri-County Area!!!!!” With five exclamation points.

About a week later, I was having lunch at The Evergreen, sitting at my usual table by the front window. As I gazed across the street at the park, a man suddenly appeared on the street side of the window. He pointed at me and smiled and walked the in through the door of the pub.

It was the owner of Mario’s Villa.

“Ah, Mr. Whitfield, Mario Barstardi. Sorry to interrupt your lunch. Might I have a word?” he said as he sat down across from me.

“Yes, certainly. Can I order you some lunch?”

“Oh no, thank you. I’ll just be a minute,” he said.

“What can I do for you, Mr. Bastardi?”

“You had a pizza party here last week,” he said.

“Yes, we did,” it was quite a success.”

“Mr. Whitfield, I’m glad your party was a success,” he said, “good for you. That is fine. But I know you are new here. I mean…Dankoville…you are and you aren’t,” he smiled. “The town is named after you but you’ve never really lived here. Summers as a boy, I believe. But you were here to stay with your relatives, this is not your hometown. Not even now, if I understand?” He smiled again.

“That’s true,” I acknowledged, nodding my head.

“And so, I don’t expect you to know the customs here, among the business community. We…cooperate rather than compete, you see?” He smiled.

“I’m all for cooperation among the local businesses,” I said.

“That is good to hear. Of course, I am not surprised, knowing your family here. Your Uncle Manuel – very good man, very good. Mushroom, pepper and onion. Of course now he takes the gluten free but back in the day…oh well. Twenty years ago, Manuel would have his pepper and onion but it would be sausage instead of mushroom. Oh yes. And your Uncle Chester, a crazy man yes but always very pleasant, anchovy, onion and extra cheese.” He smiled still again.

I smiled as I recognized my uncles’ taste buds. Mr. Bastardi knew his customers.

“Well, we obviously can’t compete with you in the pizza business, Mr. Bastardi,” I offered.

“There, you see!” he said. “But your pizza party, maybe you didn’t realize…that is direct competition for me now. The newspaper called your pizza the best in the Tri-County area.”

“They were quoting a customer –”

“Yes, I know. But THAT is MY slogan!” he shouted. The patrons at the other tables and at the bar looked over at us. Irv, the day bartender, looked over and pointed to Mr. Bastardi with a “Do you want me to throw him out?” look on his face. He seemed rather eager to do so. I shook my head no, trying to avoid Bastardi’s notice.

But he was too lost in what he was saying to notice. “That is DIRECT competition! THAT is what I am talking about,” he said with his voice still raised above normal level.

“Well yes, I understand,” I said quietly, “but there is nothing about our having pizza on the menu here that is an attack on your business. We do pub food here. Pizza is pub food.”

“Of course. But you are in the bar business. I am in the pizza business,” Bastardi replied. “I sell beer and wine but I don’t go out and say I have the best wine selection in town – even though I do – because that is not my business. Pizza is my business. I promote pizza. I make money on the beer and wine, sure but I don’t go out and compete with you who are in that business. I don’t market that. I market pizza. You sell beer, wine, the hard liquor and the rest. You market that. But you don’t market pizza. That is my area. That is how we do it here. You see?” He smiled again. I got the feeling Bastardi’s smiles do not necessarily denote happiness.

I hadn’t thought about anything like this at all when I bought the pub, so I was completely taken by surprise and really had to give this matter some thought before replying. So that’s what I told him. It wasn’t what he wanted to hear.

“What is there to consider? You market beer, I market pizza. Simple. You can sell pizza, I can sell beer. But we don’t market that. We don’t step on each other’s toes. You see?” He smiled. Of course.

It would have been nice to just say yes. But this was a business decision about my pub and Bastardi was right, I was new to this market. I didn’t want to ruffle any feathers but I wasn’t going to make a decision to not market a popular item just because another business wanted me to. I had to look into this.

“I will give it some thought and be in touch,” I said.

“You do that, Mr. Whitfield.”

He smiled. And got up and left.

If I knew then what I know now, I would have initiated a pre-emptive strike in The Great Pizza War. But I was new in town, I was naive about people.

And so I didn’t realize then that Mario Bastardi had just fired a warning shot.

Mario's Villa in Dankoville

Mario’s Villa in Dankoville

A Stern Word

Reposted from The Dreaming Tree: The Story of Audrey Moore

Nigel Stern yanked the round tab on the rolled down blind in his son’s room so that it snapped and recoiled loudly. The small room flooded with the mid day sunlight and Malcolm cried out and retreated farther under his covers like a vampire.

“It is eleven o’clock. Get up and do something productive.” Nigel barked. “Maybe you can tackle a few of those scholarship applications you keep missing the deadline on. God I’m getting too old for this shit.”

Malcolm was Nigel and his wife Valerie’s youngest. He had been a bit of an accidental afterthought in their child rearing plans. Their daughter Celia was 19 years older than her brother and worked as a physician in a small family practice in New Teasdale.

Malcolm’s reply was feeble and muffled “Dad, I had a late night. I don’t work today. Can a guy sleep in on his day off?”

Nigel exhaled loudly and then pulled back the covers. When he saw his son’s face he gasped and yelled “What the hell happened to your eye?!”

Malcolm sat up slowly and touched his obvious shiner with the tips of his fingers and then winced “I walked into a door….”

His father folded his arms and rooted his wide stance as he shook his head “Oh really? What’s the other door look like? Where was this?!”

“For fuck’s sakes Dad! Dave and I got pulled into a fight at the Hartwell.” Malcolm retorted.

Nigel threw up his hands and rolled his eyes “Dave, of course it was Dave. It’s always Dave!”

“It wasn’t our fault! Three guys were kicking another guy’s ass – a little guy too. One of them was ready to cut him.”

His father looked pained “Jesus Malcolm! You’re lucky they didn’t cut you then. Did anyone call the cops?”

Malcolm rolled his head side to side on his neck and rubbed the back of it where Nigel could see more bruising “I dunno. I don’t think so. It was fast and I was a bit drunk….”

“Did you drive home?” Nigel asked worriedly.

“Gimme a fuckin break! No I didn’t drive, Dave did. He didn’t even have time for a whole beer before it all happened. We went to watch the game, not fight anyone. They weren’t from around here.”

“Get dressed. I’m taking you to Celia before I go back to the office. I just came back home to grab a document I forgot this morning.”

Malcolm protested “I’m fine, just a few bumps….seriously.”

“You will go see your sister at the clinic with no more arguments.” Nigel left the room before there was time to even consider a rebuttal.

As he re-closed the small brass latch of his leather briefcase the doorbell rang. Nigel’s expression became grave as he opened the door.

A vaguely familiar officer from the Strange County Sheriff’s Office squared his shoulders and hitched his belt slightly as he made his request. He recognized Nigel from his firm’s presence in the town immediately “Mr. Stern could we have a word with your son Malcolm?”

Nigel’s briefcase fell to the floor with a soft thud. It was becoming a long day.

 

Freedom’s Just Another Word

Reposted from The Dreaming Tree: The Story of Audrey Moore

The mid morning sun streamed through the window of The Dreaming Tree used bookshop. Outside the still locked door a lanky auburn haired man politely knocked with a box of books balanced between him and the edge of the door frame. Audrey Moore was upstairs in her kitchen in the apartment above the shop making coffee and listening to Janis Joplin, oblivious to the knocking below. She was still in her pajamas and bare feet spinning around as before setting the cup on the counter to pour. She sang aloud enthusiastically and slightly off key.

“Nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah….. Bobby McGee…yeah….”

Startling, a voice that was neither her own nor the late goddess of rock shouted up towards the open window.

“Hello? Are you open today” The voice was male and slightly hoarse.

Audrey gulped and looked at the microwave clock display. Technically her shop was open at 11:00 am according to the sign on the door.  However, from Audrey’s perspective 11:23 was still in the earlier portion of the hour and therefore not entirely unreasonable. She crept to the window and peered out. A rusted old farm truck was on the street in front of the shop and its driver was turning resignedly to replace a box back into the open back.

Audrey called down “Sorry I’ll be right there!” He turned back towards the shop after a brief nod up to her location.

She frowned and then took a moment to fix her coffee with a splash of soy cream and a confectioner’s dose of sugar in the raw before dashing to the bedroom and bathroom to brush her teeth and jump into proper clothing.

Audrey met the man at the door and recognized him from the larger community. He was a farmer named Darwin Cooper who lived somewhere past the Whitfield place as far as she recalled. They had never spoken one on one but she remembered her father speaking to him in greeting and casual conversation with her in tow as a teenager from the time he was a young man.

“Mr. Cooper, my apologies.” She said with a hint of embarrassment as she quickly slid the key in the lock. “The time got away on me.”

Darwin smiled good naturedly and said softly “Janis’ll do that to a person.”

Audrey felt her face go a bit warm and cleared her throat as she held the door to let him go in with his book box.

She stepped behind the till and he set the box on the counter and pulled open the flaps.

“I dunno if you’ll want all of these. I just got sick of dusting them off every so often. There’s a set of encyclopaedias in the bottom my daughter says are worthless now that everyone uses the google.”

Audrey giggled as she dug through “Yes the google is a handy thing.”

She looked up to share the joke and was met with an unreadable expression on Darwin’s face.

Audrey smiled nervously and kept digging through, making piles of the books of the same category and then quickly jotting down prices to purchase. Darwin began roaming the store as she started to write.

When she looked up again he was holding a copy of The Life of Pi.

“Oh that’s quite good but you may have read it.” Audrey stated.

Darwin shook his head “I don’t read a lot of novels. Sounds peculiar.”

Audrey beamed “It’s wonderfully so! I think you should give it a chance.”

He chuckled and brought the book to the counter “Alright, why not?”

Audrey met him at the till with her list and a calculator. She tallied what she would offer for what he sold her and subtracted the novel.

“Twelve fifty Mr. Cooper.”

Darwin shook his head at her, his grey blue eyes twinkling with the hint of a smile that didn’t reach his lips “Please call me Darwin. My father was Mr. Cooper.”

Audrey smiled at him, giving him a longer look this time “I’m Audrey.”

Darwin nodded as the smile found its way down to his mouth “I remembered that.”

He was tall but not too tall, thankfully not remotely balding and the eyes she could just dive into if he let her. Darwin was dressed in a flannel red check shirt and jeans, both on the baggy side but the sleeves were rolled up and his forearms displayed a wiry but muscular enough build. She let her eyes drop to his hands and noticed the wedding ring. She sighed and chuckled to herself at the moment and took Darwin’s twenty to make change. It dawned on her that she probably wasn’t ready to be looking seriously so all of this was just as well.

“Thank you Darwin and have a good day.” She said in polite customer service – ese.

He put the novel under his arm and gave her a small wave “You too Audrey.”

The door creaked shut as Darwin left and Audrey picked up a pile of the encyclopaedias to start pricing. She snorted a bit as she laughed and muttered “The google.”

At the end of the work day she met her Aunt Sheila for a beer and relayed the story. Her aunt laughed at her and patted her on the hand.

“You just focus on keeping The Dreaming Tree back on it’s feet right now Sweetie. Opening the shop on time would help.”

Audrey shrank down a bit “I know. I’ll get an alarm clock. It’s funny this plan is part of my freedom from my old life but as the song says “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” She closed her eyes for a moment and felt Sheila give her hand a little squeeze.