The Iron Writer Challenge #184
2017 Spring Equinox Challenge #5
500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements
Keith Badowski, Michael Cottle, Violet Teagan
A naked Barbie doll
A dog collar.
Autumn’s Dream Job
Autumn was home from college, but not for a visit.
“It’s not for me, Mama. You can’t say I didn’t try it, now can you?”
I didn’t scream. Give me credit for that, especially after I spent all morning searching for Ellie’s lost Barbie and Herc’s missing collar. “You got all As, proved any career path is within your reach. And now you’re quitting? In October?”
Autumn raised an eyebrow. “Not quitting. Changing course. You insisted on at least one year. I did, plus change. Now I’m doing what I wanted to do right out of high school.”
“Aw no. Girls like you don’t do jobs like that. You’d be wonderful at so many other things.”
She drowned me out with the processor, pureeing the roasted Butternut Squash for her soup. Autumn became a vegetarian at school and had developed into an excellent cook. That gave me hope. I wasn’t thrilled about the sink filling up with her mess though. She poured the squash into a pot and dumped the processor pieces into the sink.
“I’ll rinse and load these, but if I allow you to stay, it’s going to be your job,” I said.
As soon as I rinsed out the plastic base for the processor, orange tinted water rose in the basin. I poked at the drain with a spoon finding no chunks.
“Aw crap, we’ve got a blockage.”
Just then Ellie ran into the kitchen with wet feet.
“The toilet is overflowing!” she bellowed, which got Herc barking and jumping around us, his paws soaked with toilet water.
Autumn piped up, saying, “Mama, let me take care of it. You’ll see. I’m good at it.”
A migraine was coming on. “No way. You’ll only make it worse. I’m calling John.”
My brother the plumber took three hours to get there, and five minutes later he’d cleared the toilet. The sink drain was more involved. I had to pull everything out from the cabinet so he could get to the pipes down there.
“Well, I never! Anyone missing a naked Barbie and a dog collar?” he said from under the sink.
“What? They were shoved in the back of the cabinet?” I asked.
He wriggled out and held up a soaked dog collar and a bedraggled, armless Barbie—both tinged orange. “Not in the cabinet. In the pipe. Someone who knows their way around plumbing has some explaining to do.”
John and I both looked at Autumn eating soup at the counter. She raised that one eyebrow again and dropped the Barbie arms beside her bowl.
“My offer still stands,” said John. “I could use an assistant who can do what you did. Not that I need anyone to stuff naked Barbies into pipes or anything. You know what I mean.”
“What do you say, Mama?”
What could I say? “In our house, there must be millions of things small enough to fit in pipes.”
“Mmm hmmm,” Autumn said, a spoon in her mouth.
“Fine. Do what you want, but you’re still in charge of keeping this sink empty. And, John, you better pay her enough so she can pay rent.”
Some dogs wear their collars like they are slave collars. Ace wore his with pride. He didn’t know he was a dog. He was a vigilante- a crime fighter by nature. Well, there was that one incident with plumber, but that was long ago. No one even remembered that any more, and who was he to ever remind them?
Ace kept the peace. He had seen it all. A few stray cats came into town a couple of times. Silly cats strutted their tales around like they owned the place which was more than Ace could stand. He chased them right out of the neighborhood at full speed. Many an hour, he spent lying about in the sun. He stretched out in the grass or in a pile of fresh raked leaves. It was a good life.
Jessica Johnson was the strangest girl in the neighborhood. And Jessica had dolls- lots of dolls. And she often left them lying around in the backyard. And they were usually naked!
Ace avoided the monstrosities at all costs. But sometimes he would forget in the midst of chasing the proverbial butterfly. And before he knew it, he would be right on top one of them. They’d be sprawled out in the grass or in the Johnson’s flower bed. Ace would cringe, whimper, and ease out of there in a most rapid fashion.
But, it was pretty late on this day, and Ace’s stomach was already gnawing on his backbone. The Johnsons had baked a ham. And that meant there was a hambone. Sure enough, with this hambone, it was Jessica who whistled and called for him. And ooh, that hambone smelled nice! What was a dog to do?
He answered the call at the wag of a tail, and clamped down on delicious goodness. Yet, no sooner than he did, he spotted one of those naked dolls lying in the grass. He started growling and backing away slowly, jaws still clamped down to the bone marrow. The naked doll began to mock him in a most unseasonable fashion.
He growled deeper, and the doll laughed.
He dropped the bone and barked louder. The doll hissed at him, merely playing with his senses.
Ace turned and ran away, ashamed and whimpering. The neighborhood vigilante defeated by a doll of indecent exposure mocking him in simply her manufacturing suit- he was devastated.
Ace whimpered and howled, but would not return to Jessica’s call. That bone could rot on the ground for all he cared. That doll was the devil.
“What’s up with that crazy dog?” Jessica’s mother asked.
“Who knows?” Jessica shrugged. “I guess he don’t like him no hambone.”
As it so happened, the only other scraps available that night were from Granny Griggs. Ace turned up his nose, but he had to eat something. That something was unfortunately butternut squash.
And so, for dessert, Ace ate grass. And then he ate more grass. As he sat there under his favorite tree, still a wee bit queasy, his ears perked up at a sound. Was it? Could it be? A cat?
He keeps her in the bedroom, hands in her lap, face straight ahead. Or either she’s doing the splits, like a cheerleader. Depends on his mood.
At night, after work, they watch television together, her straddling the recliner’s arm.
He realizes, despite her big hair and blue eyeliner, that she’s probably a liberal. But he doesn’t let it get to him. He can see the bigger picture. He knows that they could “sit around the same campfire, look at the same stack of burning logs” and still come away with different ideas of right and wrong. He likes to think she’s open minded. He hopes he is too. She’s a catalyst for bigger ideas. Besides, according to his therapist, a happy life involves compromise.
So most nights, they avoid the news and watch Sex and the City reruns instead. And he only listens to talk radio when he’s in the car.
Sometimes, though, when his manager’s been an ass and he’s tired of the liberal, freaking, left and the crap they’re trying to get away with, they watch Fox News. He drinks Budweiser and swears in critical affirmation about the bullshit obstructionists that drive the Democratic Party. But then, after a couple of beers, he feels guilty about lording his opinion over her like that. And he switches it to MSNBC. Although, he first unzips her Barbie dress, just to even things out. And if it’s Rachel Maddow, he peels off all her clothes, makes her recline fully nude, and explains gently, why Rachel is a communist. But he never gets angry, never raises his voice. And she doesn’t seem to mind his endless diatribes.
Last Sunday he visited his mom, who lives outside of town. She fixed roast beef and mashed potatoes, his favorite. They ate at the fancy table in the dining room that she bought during her third and last marriage.
“I just don’t want you to spend your life alone,” she said. He nodded and told her that he dates, “every now and then”.
“With the same girl?” she asked, green beans mid-air.
He shrugged and looked at her. She mistook his obtusity as reluctance. Maybe he didn’t want to overstate the relationship.
“Nice girls don’t make the first move,” she advised. “It’s up to the man to guide it along.”
That night, while watching “All in with Chris Hayes”, he gave her a bubble bath in the kitchen sink, then dressed her in a sheer, floral dress, meant to be a bathing suit cover up. And then put her between his palms and rolled her back and forth, like a troll doll, until her silky, blonde mane was as wild as a feral cat’s, bigger than the hair on a 1980’s rock star.
With his cell phone, he called his ex-wife, just to hear her say, “Hi. This is Jill. Leave a message.” An unfamiliar dog barked in the background.
He towel-dried the tiny woman and brushed her hair stick-straight before tucking her into his bed on the pillow next to his own.
And in the darkness, the moon’s light cast her shadow bigger than life. And in that spell, he fell fast asleep.