The Iron Writer
2013 Winter Solstice Open
Margaret Atwood Bracket
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The livestock smell gave way to the odor of fried everything as Julia and Henry entered the demonstration building lugging large plastic totes. They immediately spotted a banner that read “Lefse Competition,” and pushed through the mob toward their destination.
In booth 1B, Julia strategically placed a round griddle, a ten-pound sack of flour, and two rolling pins—one was a backup—on her work surface. “Henry! My stick?” Her husband, a man of no unnecessary words, laid a yard-long, flat, thin, wooden stick beside the griddle.
A man with a clipboard, closely followed by a woman whose voice Julia instantly recognized from the radio, entered the competition space and stopped just feet from 1B. The radio host sounded flustered. “My producer said I would be judging pie, but the pie people sent me here. I don’t know what lefse is, much less how to judge it. Can I switch?”
“We wanted our celebrity judge at the most popular contest—lefse! It’s essentially, a potato tortilla. Judge on texture, flavor, and presentation. Traditional fillings are butter and/or sugar. The liberal contestants use curry, venison, sardines, etc.”
“It sounds,” she sighed, “awful.”
“The judges’ table is there. The Bertram County Fair is excited to have you!” he called as he jogged away. The radio woman sat across the aisle from Julia, whose face burned with nervousness.
In the neighboring booth, 1A shot Julia a sideways smirk. “You know what they say about not being able to take the heat?” She was small and stout and, like Julia, around seventy years old. She wore a galaxy-print apron and wielded a flat stick that had been painted to look like a light saber. To punctuate her barb, she used the stick to transfer a twelve-inch circle of white dough from her table to the hot griddle.
Julia sneered. “You’re the one who should get out of the kitchen, Potato Flakes.”
“Waste your time peeling potatoes. If our grandmothers had had potato flakes, they would have used them.”
“It’s a liberal interpretation of ingredients, if you ask me,” Julia growled. “Hardly the same thing.”
They cooked silently during the next fifteen minutes. More contestants arrived. Spectators filled the seats. The smell of burning flour hung over the arena.
“Let me guess—butter and sugar?” asked 1A.
“There’s nothing wrong with a perfectly executed conservative recipe. What’s your filling? Stewed raccoon?”
“I’ve had enough of you,” 1A growled, jabbing her rolling pin in Julia’s direction.
Julia straightened from her hunched dough-rolling pose. “And I, you. And your dumb apron,” she hissed, leaning over the table between them and causing it to wobble slightly. Julia’s extra rolling pin rolled off the table and landed handle-first onto Henry’s sneaker-clad foot. Tears filled his eyes but he swallowed the string of profanity that almost escaped his mouth. “Suck it up, Henry,” Julia snapped. “Be ready to help me carry my winnings to the car.”
“We’ll see about that,” 1A scoffed, brushing a smudge of flour from her apron.
The radio host smirked as she scribbled notes onto the back of a judging form. The competition was heating up.
Dean awoke in darkness, but it was artificial. He had something on over his eyes. He went to feel for what, but his arms were lashed down. His heart began to race. He jerked upward with his arms to no avail. Panicked, he tried to break free and his head flung back and knocked into something hard.
A pained moan came from directly behind him, only inches away from his aching head.
Someone else was there with him. He tried to turn but couldn’t and realized he was tied in a chair of some sort.
“Ungh, what hit… Oh shit, I cain’t see nuthin’. Oh sweet Jesus, I’m bound up, oh help me Lawd,”came a woman’s panicking voice.
“Sorry about that,” Dean said. “My name is Dean. I am tied up behind you. I freaked out too. I think I may have head-butted you.”
The woman groaned. Dean felt his bindings cinch slightly as she wrestled with hers. She stopped. Her breathing steadied.
“Shantice,” she offered. “Where we at?”
“I don’t know,” said Dean. “I am blindfolded. I am guessing you are too.”
“You got dat right,”she agreed.
“How’d we get here anyway mister.”
Dean thought it about for a minute. He honestly couldn’t say. The last thing he remembered was sitting in his Jetta in the drive thru lane at Dunkin Donuts.
“I can’t say for certain. I was on the southside–”
“Shoo, I was just leaving the Neiman Marcus store.”
Dean’s face screwed up. That was on the opposite side of town.
Shantice sounded like a young woman, probably still in her twenties. Dean was in his fifties. He was white and he was fairly sure she was African-American. What possible connection could they have?
“What kind of work do you–,” Dean began, when a metal door in the room grated open on rusty hinges.
Clacking footsteps drew close.
The stranger in the room circled the pair, stopping in front of each for a few moments before continuing around. Shantice felt a hand brush her cheek. She recoiled. The stranger tsked at her.
“Let us go,”Shantice demanded.
“First, a question,” said the stranger.
“Like what?” Dean asked.
“Like, whatever I want, Mr. Allen.
“Did you vote for Obama, Ms. Dupree?”asked the stranger.
“Hell nah. What you think cause I’m black I voted for his dumb ass?”
“And you, Mr. Allen?”
“Yes, he supported my right to marry.”
There came a long silence. Dean was about to speak when he felt a cold sensation on his neck and heard a whisking sound. Intense pain and sickening heat came next as blood spilled from his neck down his chest.
“You have been found guilty of treason Mr. Allen,”said the stranger as Dean bled out, his protests coming out only as a raspy gurgling.
Shantice screamed and thrashed in her seat.
The stranger spoke, “You are the victim Ms. Dupree. Your kind have been brainwashed by the Democratic party for so long that black republicans are outcast among–”
“You didn’t hafta kill him.”
The stranger sighed.
“Ms. Dupree, I disagree, it was my civic duty.”
Shantice began to weep.
“Ringing in the New Year always brings to mind the possibility of what is to come,” said Randall Watson, a well-known conservative activist in the Tea Party. “We hold the future in our hands.”
“That’s right,” said Judge Marcus White. “But the future is sometimes put into motion for us by the actions of another.”
“It’s an amazing world in which we live,” said Sandra Wellington, Liberal tree-hugger. “The birds, the animals, nature in general–a spectacular place! But why are we not doing more to protect it?”
“Why, you ask? Why? Because no one cares! Look at us—the four of us have been fast friends for most of our lives, yet we have all gone in different directions. If it hadn’t been for that one event on graduation night, who knows where we would be today,” said Rebekah Shew. “I’ll never forget that evening. It ruined my life and changed the course of all our paths.”
No one commented. The four friends sat around playing dominoes on New Year’s Eve. After growing up in the same neighborhood, attending the same high school and graduating together, they all left a party together and the rest is history. In those days, no one was “exclusive” with one another and each of them considered the others their best friends. The girls were together most of the time, as were the two boys. But it was not unusual for any of them to spend time with one, two or all three. They would each give a kidney for any of the others. And their friendship had endured the test of time.
“Can you believe it is 2014?” Randall asked. “Two-thousand and fourteen! This will be the year the politics in this country turn around! It’s time for America to wake up and see the trees are filled with crooks!”
“Really Randall? That’s a bad illustration! The trees have no way of selecting who is hiding in them,” Sandra laughed.
Rebekah sulked as she had no play on the game board. “I don’t know,” she said. “The world doesn’t seem to be getting better. We found no justice. What makes you think that anything will ever change?”
“Well, in all honesty, what could the outcome be? I mean, really, we are all fine. You are a successful writer, Marcus is the most respected judge in town, Randall has his career, and I am happy just being….me! Surrounded by the Wellington Nature Preserve that my parents started in my name!”
“You are so cute! You always have had a way of looking at things from a different perspective,” Marcus said. “Maybe we did get the short stick in the draw, but it was our destiny. Would you really change anything that happened?”
Three hands went up in around the domino table.
“I would!” said Sandra.
“Me too,” said Randall.
“As would I,” said Rebekah. “Heck yes, I would change things!
It’s 2014. Change your World.
I had a dream last night.
All my friends were dying.
When one of them would have a problem, he’d go to court to get help, and never come back. I got curious about this, so I went to the courtroom to see what was going on.
The courtroom gallery was packed with people of every kind, from everyplace; men, women, young, old, some spoke English, others spoke different languages, and they were dressed in all kinds of attire. I saw a baseball player, an engineer, sanitation worker, doctor, housewife, gang member, polo player, drug addict, and the list goes on. They all seemed anxious and talked among themselves with fervency. I walked on past them and made my way up to the front where there was quite a commotion going on.
There was a judge sitting behind the bench. He wore a blindfold and sat with both arms out to each side and each hand was full of money. People dressed in black wearing felt slippers would walk up to each side and place money in his hands and then quietly walk back. Every now and then that judge would stand up and leave, and another one took his place; then he would do exactly as the previous judge did.
Then there were two men who walked around and around in front of the bench speaking big words with much emotion and force. One of them was blue, and the other one was red. They disagreed on everything the other one said, and their arguing got to be so intense, I thought for sure it would come to blows.
Then I saw one of my friends standing to the side. It was Jack, a past co-worker who had lost his job. The red man and the blue man were arguing about what to do about Jack not having a job. They argued so long that Jack starved to death, and fell over dead right there in the courtroom.
A couple of bailiffs dragged Jack’s body away, and threw it on a pile out back, and the judge called, “Next case!”
Then I saw my friend, Betty, standing where Jack had been. She was pregnant, and didn’t want to be. Those two men did the same thing. They argued back and forth, and back and forth for so long about how to help her that she delivered, but with a complication, and she and the baby died, right there. Well, they hauled their bodies out to the pile as well, and the judge called the next case.
Then my friend, Bob was in her place. He was afraid of terrorists. So, those two guys began arguing about that until a bullet flew in through the window and killed Bob. They threw him on the pile, and called the next case.
Then I looked and discovered I was now standing in the same place as Jack, and Betty, and Bob had stood. Fear gripped me, and that’s when I woke up.