The Iron Writer Challenge #199
2017 Summer Equinox Challenge #5
500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements
Vance Rowe, Elaine Johnson, Emma Crowley and Bethany Totten, Bertram Allan Mullin
(Authors names will be posted to their stories next Thursday, after the voting is concluded.)
Gov’t processed cheese.
She dipped into her banana split, tapped the spoon so the hot fudge wouldn’t drip, flicked the tiniest bit of dazzling white whipped cream over the nuts, and paused with the spoon mid-air. “Did you know that the government issued cheese for those in need?”
He sniffed the coffee beans, nodded, set the machine to fine, and started the noise. After a moment, he dumped the grounds into the coffee maker and got the thing started. “You mean now or back in the day?”
“I’m sure they do it now, but in 1954,” she was quoting her cell phone, “government cheese was issued in a brown wrapper.”
He sat back from the granite counter in their new McMansion and studied the pool reflecting just inside their backyard, right next to the cabana and hot tub. “Cheese is cheese, if you get hungry enough.”
She finished the last of the delicacy and settled the glass container in the sink. The party would start in an hour or so, so she added some Brie and Gouda and Provolone to the groaning platter of fruits and muffins, and stuck in back in the cooler. “Hard to argue with that. It stinks to be poor.“
The coffee maker was just about done. He pulled his favorite mug, the one that said, “Wealth Starts Here”, added just the right amount of hazelnut flavoring, and moved back to his office. She hardly saw him anymore, and after this contract was signed, he had two more clients waiting. She stared at the pristine granite counter, at the caterer scurrying around, and strolled through the place one more time to check that the decor matched the image she’d tried so hard to cultivate.
They went to that conference last year, the one that permeated all their plans. It was why they were in this house in this part of town. “You have to imagine your goals if you want to achieve them.” That was one motto from the first speaker. “If you think it, you can have it” was another. They needed to cultivate the Right Mindset, so the last speaker insisted. So here they were, in a magnificent house with vaulted ceilings, far from their friends and family, but in the right side of town, with just the right decor. Their first party would be a magnificent celebration of what they were; of where they were going. She’d eaten a minimal breakfast and lunch to splurge on that banana split so she’d be happy and sated during the party. She wasn’t sure who half the people were, but they certainly expected to eat well. She studied the groaning covered plates on the serving table. That website kept haunting her. Imagine eating government issued cheese. Imagine being that poor. She shook her head. What you think might come true. She needed to think prosperity and wealth. She studied the pristine golf course and smiled. Just think it to make it happen. Wealth was coming. She knew.
WARNING: THIS STORY HAS RACIAL SLURS AND OTHER “COLORFUL” LANGUAGE!
Monopoly in the Hood
“You ‘bout to be bankrupt Tariq,” Big T said to his friend with a laugh.
“She-e-e-e-t nigga, you talkin’ crazy. I’m gettin’ mines. I got dem houses on the BW, man.”
“Yeah but you fittin’ to lose that shit too though.”
“Big T, man, you smokin’ that rock? I’m ‘bout to get my wealth on. As soon as you niggas start landing on that shit, you all done. It will be back to eating dat gov’ment cheese for alla y’all. Yo Luke, roll the damn dice man. It’s your turn, nigga.”
Luke rolled. Landing on a Chance card spot, he picked it up and read it, “Advance token to…shit.”
“Yeah, bitch. I tol’ you. Put that shit right on thereon Boardwalk and gimme my fo’teen hunnit dollars.”
Luke counted out the money and handed it to Tariq and Tariq said, “Now Imma put a hotel on that bitch and alla y’all goin’ to pay me.”
“Tariq, dat’s about all da money you gots. You better not be blowing that cheddar so soon.”
“Yo Cheezy, tell your moms that and mind yo’ bidness. You goin’ to be turnin’ dat corner up there on your next roll and will be comin’ down here to pay me too. Only you will forking over 2 G’s when you do,” Tariq laughed and picked up the dice. He landed on the “Go to Jail” spot.
“Here are some words you will be getting’ used to, Tariq. Go to jail, bitch,” Big T said with a laugh.
“Yo T, you want me to say hi to your pops while I’m there?” Tariq laughed in reply.
The three boys laughed at Big T’s expense and he said, “Dat’s okay. You all goin’ to be bankrupt soon and will have to use dem old coffee grounds over and over.”
Big T’s grandmother called out to him and asked, “Tulane? Do you and your friends want some ice cream?”
The three other boys looked at each other and in unison asked, “Tulane?”
They laughed and T pointed at them with an angry look on his face. Then he shouted, “No Gramma. Nobody wants ice cream.”
“I want some ice cream,” Tariq said with a smile.
“Nigga shut up. We ain’t got no ice cream. Gramma’s a little crazy in her old age. And alla y’all keep on calling me T. If I hear my name being mentioned by any y’all, I will bust a cap in yo’ asses. You feel me? Now, someone roll the damn dice.”
“It’s your turn Tul…er…T,” Tariq said with a chuckle.
T growled a bit, picked up the dice and rolled them.
“Boardwalk, bitch. Pay me.” Tariq said with a laugh.
Angered by being picked on a little too much, Big T said, “Know what? Alla y’all niggas need to get up from my crib. Take ya narra asses home.”
T flipped the game board and stormed out of his room.
“Geez, what’s eatin’ him?” Luke asked.
“He’s mad because he lost his money and has to wait for the truck to deliver his gov’ment cheese now,” Tariq said.
The three boys laughed and left Big T’s house.
No one wanted to approach the barrel now. Instead they leave it alone in the center of the darkened bunker, watching with bated breath as a cloudy white liquid began to creep across the ground. My heart still pounds as I kneel next to Meecah. In the crowded room, he was the only one npt watching the barrel; instead he stared down at his shaking fingers.
He had been the only person brave enough to approach the barrel after the search team had brought it underground. We had been waiting eagerly; every so often they’d return with arms full of food, but today, they dragged in a metal barrel, something that they had proudly stolen from a rebel convoy. The rest of the underground colony did not see the barrel as a sign of wealth as the search team did; to us it was nothing more than another three days of eating only government processed cheese. Nothing more than a disappointment
Until they opened it, that is.
Few brave souls dared to approach it after the lid was removed; Meecah one of them. He traded his swagger for cautions steps as he neared the barrel, hand pressed over his mouth and nose.
“It’s filled with white stuff,” his shout echoed around the packed bunker. Slowly he reaches a hand out over the open barrel, drawing a collective gasp from the room.
“Don’t touch it Meecah! It’s not worth it!”
Voices filled the air as Meecah’s hand begins to shake over the barrel. I pushed my way to the front of the crowd, getting a glimpse of the fear in his face. He lowered his hand into the barrel.
He let out a blood curdling scream as soon as his skin touched the white substance inside. Meecah dropped to the ground before me, letting out a wail as he curled his body around his hand. Screams echoed in my ears as the room erupts into chaos.
I force Meecah’s hand open and squint down at his shaking fingers.
“It burned me,” he whimpers, “I just brushed against it, and it burned me!”
I turn his hand over. His fingers are pristine. There’s no sign of a bruise, a burn, anything–
“What is going on here?” The whole room turns as Janice, the bunker’s oldest survivor, wanders into the room.
“Nothing, Janice, just a strange find from the search team,” I reach up to grab the sleeve of her nightdress, but somehow she slips away, leaving only the bitter scent of coffee grounds behind her.
Twist around, I stare into the crowd. Why is nobody stopping her?
A shout startles me, but it’s not full of pain–
Janice is laughing.
“It’s ice cream! I haven’t felt anything this cold in decades!” She scoops it from the barrel onto her shaking fingers. “Hurry, before it melts!”
Soon it’s my turn to scoop from the barrel, the feeling is incredible. The strange liquid fills my body with the most delightful chills.
Janice laughs as she watches us eat..
“One would think you have never been cold before!”
I glance at Meecah; as children of the apocalypse, we hadn’t.
Two Differences from Japan and America
Before moving to Japan, I noticed a problem with wealth in America. Not to say everyone’s rich. There were poor snobs. This created a big problem in the service industry: employees believed because they got paid little they could say whatever they wanted and get away with their behavior because rich owners were afraid to fire and get sued.
I had lived with my dad, who was sick with diabetes. He needed someone around. I’d spend several hours at night working on my novels and helping him. Sometimes I spent days without sleep. Often this would take me to Starbucks.
Better than sugary ice cream.
Obviously sleep wasn’t an option during the daytime because I had good ideas to be written and deleted during edits. Plus, there was no point in sleeping throughout the day.
An afternoon like any other, I walked into Starbucks nearby. The smell of the coffee grounds alone were enough to give me a slight jolt. Yet, I was pretty much a zombie to the world.
The girl at the counter asked for my order outright, not very welcoming.
No big deal.
Figured she was living off government processed cheese and whatnot. Decided to be nice and feigned my best smile to cheer her up, which was actually an exhausted line.
She grimaced. “What would you like to order, sir?”
“Caramel macchiato. Large.”
“Um, did you mean venti?” she asked with a judgmental undertone. I understood. Grande meant large and the former equaled twenty ounces in Italian. She likely assumed I didn’t see that movie too.
She sighed to imply I did something wrong. “Anything else, sir?”
“That’s all.” I could have said, “Thank you.”
People should earn such words. I still felt bad for her. She had to deal with tired assholes such as myself all day and I’d bet worked a double-shift tonight. So I tossed my change in the tip jar.
While I walked out, she yelled, “Good luck with that attitude—” in Texas, the equivalent of: “Go fuck yourself.”
I almost turned, said something.
My decision was to leave with my beverage in hand, pretend to not hear. What bothered me most was I tipped.
The situation could have ended there. Instead, the thought of whether to call her boss and district manager juggled in my mind for the day. My concern was the stuck up employee would speak this way to another customer. “Do you realize baristas like her hurt your business?” Had to be said.
To my reluctance the district manager convinced me to have them send two free drinks my way. I received a formal apology from the company. Gave the freebies to my dad before moving to Japan.
When I walked into a Starbucks there tired out of my mind, the cashier’s joyful smile makes me forget any of my troubles each time. Moreover, there’s usually a happy face, and “Thank you,” with a cute cartoon drawn on my cup. I love the customer service where I live now. Another difference is Japan uses real cheese, not government processed junk.
The house had certainly seen better days. The paint was chipping and starting to peel, the shingles were starting to fall off the roof, and the plants were over grown and dying.
Of course the inside was far worse. Piles of old newspapers and unwashed clothes were piled ceiling-high in nearly every room of the small three bedroom house, leaving only enough room for a tiny walkway throughout. Old food wrappers, some several years old, take out containers, unopened mail, and various books and magazines dotted the area as well. To be blunt, it looked like a landfill. No sane person would ever dare go inside let alone live there.
Yet, it was someone’s home, least it had been. The former inhabitant was now sadly deceased; years of smoking coupled with undiagnosed cancer had taken their toll and unfortunately caused their end. While the death was expected, the details weren’t as easy to deal with. The bulk of it was finished yet the worse remained, cleaning out the house. The one thing the family was dreading.
“I can’t believe she lived like this,” Margo commented as she walked through the house followed by her husband Craig and her nephew, Daniel.
Craig grimly nodded in agreement.
The trio made their way into the kitchen. Suddenly, the smell of rotting food hit them. Margo and Craig covered their noses while Daniel hurried out of the house. He sat down on the front steps and rested his head in his hands. He was beside himself that his mother lived like that. Hells, he was beside himself anyone could live like that.
He had hoped that his mother would have tried to get her hoard somewhat under control years ago when Daniel went to live with his aunt and uncle but she seemed to get worse, especially mentally. She had started to get paranoid and was convinced she was being spied on by the government, first by them going through her garbage then with her food.
“I don’t want that darn government food,” Janet, Daniel’s mother, used to say. “They spy on you with that processed cheese. That’s how they know what you’re thinking.”
Daniel had been beside himself with what to do with her the last years of her life. He had tried to get her house cleaned up somewhat before he went off to college but she fought him every step of the way. He eventually gave up, secretly hoping she would do it on her own but she got sick before that happened and now, well, she was gone.
Margo came out and sat next to Daniel, placing her hand on his shoulder. “You want to come back tomorrow and try again?” she asked.
Daniel shook his head. “No, let’s just get it over with.”
He stood up and went back inside. Before long, they had managed to get one room somewhat cleaned, throwing out a pile of trash. Including some darn government processed cheese.
Beer and Cheese
Bud Hankins sat down at the bar with a heavy sigh and ordered a beer. “Hey, Dave! Lager!” Dave smiled and replied, “Bud, you already owe me. I told you you don’t get served here until you pay your tab!” Bud’s shoulders dropped as a frown spread across his face. “Aw, come on, Dave, you know I’m good for it.” Dave rolled his eyes, “Yeah, right. I know your game. Now pay up, or shut up. You can sit here as long as you like. I ain’t gonna throw you out, but all you’re gonna get to drink is water; all you want.” Bud looked down at the floor to avoid eye contact and seemed to retreat into a little pity party. Without looking up he moaned, “Dang it! I wish I were rich. Dave, how come I ain’t rich? I meet all kinds of rich people. I know there’s plenty of money out there. How come I ain’t got any of it?”
Dave smiled as he wiped the counter with a damp cloth. “Bud, you ain’t got any money ‘cuz you come in here and drink it all. You ain’t looking far enough down the road.”
Bud looked confused. “What?”
Dave went on, “Besides, you don’t wanna be rich, Bud. You wanna be wealthy.”
Bud looked puzzled.
Dave continued, “ See, rich people have money, but they have expenses, too. They can’t stop working because all that money they have will get used up too soon, and they’ll be broke. But if you were wealthy, you could live a long time on the money that comes in without you working.”
Bud squinted in confusion.
“Let’s say you owned a $1000 of ice cream. Would you think you were wealthy?” “Yeah, I could sell it all and make a lot of money.”
“But could you sell it all before it melted?”
“Okay, then you’d have to go right back to work, so that’s not wealth. What if you owned $1000 of Coffee grounds? That stuff is useful to a lot of people.”
Bud smiled, “And it doesn’t go bad nearly as fast as ice cream.”
“Yes, Bud, but you’d still have to keep going out to collect more, and the supply could become short.” “So … that’s not wealth either?”
“No, you’re still having to work in order to keep up your standard of living. But what if you owned all the surplus government processed cheese in the world? That stuff lasts forever.”
“I’d get old and die before I sold all of it.”
“And you’d get someone else to sell it for you, so you don’t have to work. Now that’s wealth.”
“But, Dave, I still wouldn’t have piles of cash sitting around, just piles of cheese.”
“Probably not. You wouldn’t be rich, but you’d be wealthy; you could live pretty well and not have to work.”
Bud smiled, “Hey, Dave?”
“Where can I find me some of that cheese?”
“Not in here, Bud. Not in here.”