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.
“You have no one to blame but yourself. I told you not to ask her out to begin with.” Charlie said.
“I am bereft of reason, now that she leaved me, unspeakable sadness cloaks my very being. I dance with the reaper, going merrily, merrily down. My purpose has departed on a Roman Merchant Sailing Vessel,peddling my heart, broken and bleeding, into the ever-setting sun…” Sam held up one hand toward seagulls flying across the crimson sky.
“You are never gonna get another date if you don’t ‘ix-nay the olonious-Pay’. I told you,chicks dig intelligent, laid back men of the world, not world-weary overwrought, English majors.”
“Aye, my soul is frozen to the very core, girdled by the most meager flour-sack, trampled by Bunny the Wonder Elephant,” wailed Sam.
“The who?” Charlie looked at Sam, regarded his drunken state and decided to cheer him up.
“Up you go, come on now, help me out here dude. You ain’t light. I am not sure gaining 25 pounds to play Hamlet was such a good idea after all… more to life than the Royal Shakespeare Company, you know?” He heaved his friend toward the railing.
“You see that? Look here man, look at those colors.” He pointed at the horizon.
“My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun,” Sam said, swigging another sip.
Just because your heart got tasered, don’t mean you gotta give up. What’s that you always say? ‘One man plays many parts’? Yeah, you’re in like, Act I. Soon you won’t even remember her name, Jenny, Jill,.. What was it again?” Charlie asked.
“How can you fall so madly in love with somebody in three days? “. Charlie said. “You just need a new Juliette, that’s all. Look. Here comes one now, and don’t she look fine…” Charlie watched the young woman climb onto her bicycle and pedal away.
“Oh, sweet adversity… it is a bitter and ugly toad, but it has it’s upside; hidden jewels that you could not have otherwise found, girls you never would have met…” Charlie’s voice mixed with the Seagull cries above.
“And this our life, exempt from public haunt..” Sam slurred, “Tongues in trees…sermons in stones.”
“Other words, life hands you lemons, you gotta make Kool-Aid brother!” Charlie said and patted him on the back. “Okay?”
“I think you mean lemonade…” Sam said.
“Take these broken wings and learn to fly! All your life…You were only waiting for this moment to arise..”, Charlie bowed, then whistled the tune.
“That’s not Shakespeare.” Sam shoved him.
“A rose is a rose dude. You quote one English rock star, you quote ’em all.
A Life-Saving Performance
It took Agliamesi months to convince his rivals, the Royal Shakespearian Company that his act, while honed in the now-defunct circus his father started some 40 years prior, offered equal entertainment value. He worked with them non-stop, rehearsed day after day on the monologue he had prepared for the opening performance in France. It was all coming to fruition in the next 24 hours. If only Agliamesi could pull off the one last piece of this venture: Getting his beloved Bunny, the African elephant, on the ship without the rest of the actors knowing she was aboard.
The ship was set to sail early and Agliamesi had Bunny crated the night before, waiting for the dock workers to load the crates on the Roman-style merchant sailing ship. Hopefully they would have her loaded before the rest of the actors arrived. He had positioned her in the crate, slightly covered and padded with a box of flour sacks he grabbed while walking through the awaiting cargo and crates. It wasn’t until he started padding Bunny’s crate that he realized they were actually flour sack girdles! Oh well, all the better for extra cushioning.
The dock workers finished loading the 8000 pound crate just as the Royal Shakespearian Company of 72 actors and actresses arrived. Although they had reluctantly accepted him into their midst, Agliamesi did not yet feel part of the inner circle of which he longed to belong. Maybe after this maiden voyage and initial performance of the new season, they would realize his value.
It was only an hour out of port when the winds started picking up in the English Channel. The actors upchucked their breakfasts overboard. Suddenly the winds turned and the ship began to tip. The rain came in torrents and the ship pitched and heaved. The captain announced the ship was out of balance and he needed as many people as possible to go below and move crates to rebalance the ship! Agliamesi knew there was no hiding Bunny from them now!
They made their way to the lower part of the ship and found the crates and cargo had been slammed against the walls, tossed about, and some even broke open and spilled their contents. In the middle of the mess stood Bunny, the Wonder Elephant! Gasps could be heard and a few screams of fear. But Agliamesi immediately ran to Bunny and soothed her by rubbing that special spot between her eyes and telling her all was well.
The ship continued to tip and the crew and helpers began to move crates from one side of the ship to the other, trying to get it balanced and upright. Bunny stood firmly in the center of the cargo hold while they packed boxes around her until the ship was back on an even keel.
The Royal Shakespearian Company landed safely, Agliamesi performed an outstanding monologue and Bunny the Wonder elephant became the favorite member of the cast, traveling with them throughout the season.
“And the Murderer is…”
Paul Arden Lidberg
Detective Maxwell Dent surveyed the storied assemblage and smiled with deep satisfaction. Despite their heritage, history, and wealth, they had again been forced to call upon him to solve their problems. Their money, influence, positions of power – these meant nothing. It took Maxwell Dent, the son of a cobbler – he was their savior.
On the table were the clues to the murders of the four scions of these families. Simple objects, but each was key. As they sat, nervously sipping coffee, he reviewed it again.
Lady Diana Effington, “Pip” to her friends, had died with her throat cut. Dent had shown how it had been done, not by a knife, but a show program. “Hamlet” by The Royal Shakespearian Company. A deftly administered swipe of the mint condition book had delivered a deep papercut across her carotid, and ended her life rather abruptly.
Lord Sir John Thomas, the shipping magnate, had died more prosaically. He owned an unrivaled collection of merchant ship models, and the half-crushed model of the “Saturn”, a Roman merchant vessel, attested to how he had passed. One blow was all it took.
Lady Tabitha Weatherby, Duchess of Earle, had died in a manner most embarrassing. A flour sack girdle belonging to one of the staff had been on the floor near the stairs. A small shove was all it took. Lady Earle first slipped on the girdle, then the stairs…all the way down.
Brigadier General Sir Ainsely Smythe-Burnham of Her Majesty’s SAS, ret., had loved the circus since he was a little boy. He loved to go watch the animals perform, and collect little souvenirs. The prize of his collection, a ceramic model of Bunny the Wonder Elephant, was his favorite, and he would pull it out at any excuse. That had been his downfall.
For the Brigadier was deathly allergic to peanuts. Any contact would send him to the emergency room. Someone coated the toy in peanut oil, the anaphylactic reaction had been severe, and he was dead before hitting the floor.
Dent had spent most of the last half hour explaining this to the group, showing who had had access and motive. Well, mostly. He paced around and faced away from the group.
“And now you’re all wondering who killed all of these people…their murderer who managed to stump the finest Scotland Yard had to offer…” he said.
“There wasn’t any one person who had access to them all” exclaimed Percyl, gadfly son-in-law of Lady Effington.
“That’s where you are wrong, young man” replied Maxwell calmly, “one person did.” Max turned and looked at them all. “Me.”
“What?” rose collectively from the group. “But why?”
“Because I’m tired of cleaning up after you.” He cast his gaze around the shocked assemblage. “And it ends tonight!”
He turned and headed toward the door, then looked back. “Oh, and one more thing…you know that coffee you’ve been drinking? I hope you enjoyed it, because it’s your last.” He walked calmly through the door as the group started to fall with varying looks of shock and dismay.
In Her Eyes
I first met Pam Christafer in kindergarten. Among the 20 children corralled together for half a day with nothing better to do than play in the yard, finger paint, consume Kool-Aid and graham crackers, and take naps on mats, we mingled a bit. She usually napped on the mat next to me, and frequently would share the graham cracker she had saved from snack time with me. She was like that – generous and thoughtful – but Pam was also very overweight.
Her mother would tie Pam’s hair into fun, bouncy pigtails which someone must have thought looked like rabbit ears, because she soon acquired the nickname Bunny.
One of my fondest memories of Pam is when she was in the fifth-grade school play, taking on the part of “Willy, the wonder elephant”. With her chubby rolls of fat, she seemed to fit the part to a T. This was when we started referring to her as “Bunny, the wonder elephant”.
I think her weight problem was beginning to bother her even then, because I know she had made, backstage and in secret, a girdle out of an old flour sack to try to make herself look more glamorous on stage. However, her scenes were obviously a little awkward for the audience. Her faltering self-image was showing through.
As the years rolled by, I saw her ostracized from many social activities, and treated… differently… because of her weight. One evening, I found her sitting on the park bench, alone. Without a word spoken, I sat down beside her. Making no attempt to hide from me, she turned to face me. Her wet, red eyes were dark and empty.
This was not the Bunny I knew.
So, I hugged her.
That was 30 years ago. Now, I stand with my wife on the deck of a mock-up Roman merchant sailing ship, one of the many props I have helped to build for the Royal Shakespearean Company here in Stratford-Upon-Avon. In their production of “Antony and Cleopatra”, she’s playing the part of Octavia, Caesar’s sister, referred to as “a woman of poor complexion and undignified gait”. It’s not a flattering role, but she’s okay with that. There’s no dire need for her ego to be stroked; her self-image is fixed and strong. She says the part is perfect for her, and she gives this ecstatic shudder of glee.
Now, that’s my Bunny!
“Dear, I don’t mean to disrupt your thoughts, but I have to get ready. There’s so much to do before I go on stage tonight.”
“I’m almost finished here, Sweetheart. I’ll be there to see you before the house lights go down.”
“What shall we do for dinner? We’ll be famished by the time I get changed.”
“What do you say we stop in at The Rubicon? Then, we can walk through the park after dinner.”
Turning to face me, her eyes are bright and full of light, and in them I see the most attractive woman in the world.