The Forest

Prompt: Forest

forest mushroom

Our mother said, don’t touch the walls of the tent. So we all touched the walls of the tent. It was canvas, so water started saturating the little finger spots, droplets formed, and the inside of the tent became wet and cold.

So our mother gave us each a plastic bucket, which we hadn’t been able to use on the sandy beach all week because of the rain, and sent us out to the forest across the road to forage for dinner. No mushrooms though, she said. And: “If you don’t find food, you don’t eat.”

She tied on makeshift rain bonnets though gave up on the boots and we wore rubber thongs and our feet got wet.

The rain in the forest sounded like a waterfall; a continuous ruuuussssh of drips and drops, and the forest floor was muddy and our flip-flops kept sucking into the ground and we walked with great effort, looking for berries. Or maybe a dead rabbit? We weren’t certain what edibles were to be found in the forest.

We came across a man, sleeping on his side under a plastic sheet attached to branches secured into the ground. His hands joined in a fist and nestled between his thighs. He wore dark clothes and sunglasses and had a straggly beard. It occurred to us that he might be dead.

We saw a battered wallet peeking out from under a damp grey pillow, and pulled that out. There was ten dollars in it; we took five and put the wallet back.

Drops fell on our faces and stuck to our eyelashes.

We found some deer scat, which we’d learned about in science class. It didn’t gross us out. We didn’t see any deer, though. Perhaps they were taking shelter from the rain, or perhaps the hunters had taken them all down. My mother once fed us venison pretending it was beef, but we knew it wasn’t beef, and wouldn’t eat it.

There was a clearing ahead where the road curved around the woods, and a small grey stucco building stood in a level gravel lot dotted with tufts of grass and moss. The windows were opaque with condensation, rivulets running down and pooling on the soggy ground beneath the eaves. Letters hammered to the frame over the door said “Store”, so we went in to forage for dinner.

There was a wooden bucket of worms, and a glass jar of brass bullets, and a stack of felt cowboy hats, and a counter behind glass with tubs of ice cream underneath it, and we all had a single scoop cone. We all had chocolate. After we ate the ice cream we examined each others’ faces for traces of chocolate, and cleaned off any smears with damp kleenex.

We had enough money left from the five dollars we stole from the sleeping man to buy two boxes of macaroni and cheese, a bag of liquorice whips, which our mother liked, and a coke.

We put the macaroni and cheese, liquorice whips, and pop into the buckets along with one shiny brass bullet which the store owner gave us for free, because he said he was proud of us for not staying inside just because it was raining.

We started to head back to the tent through the forest, but we saw the sleeping man in the distance through some dripping white spruce. He was awake and packing up the shelter, folding the plastic sheeting into an irregular square and stuffing it into a nylon bag.

The rain had subsided to a drizzle, the spit of god.

So instead of going through the forest, we traced the road skirting around it back to the tent, and mother didn’t ask us where we got the money for the macaroni and cheese. She was pleased with the liquorice and said she would share it with us later.

But she didn’t.

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Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner [Repost]

Prompt: Assay

Rockwell turkey dinner.jpg

At least Iggie and Aggie were dressed for dinner. By that I mean they had some clothes on. Iggie wore a pair of my father’s swim trunks, which looked uncomfortably tight and inflexible, and Aggie wore a pair of Julie’s terry cloth work shorts. They each had a kind of shawl, made of deerskin, which they wore fur side in, and which actually didn’t smell that bad. When ever my mother passed Aggie, sitting awkwardly in her dining chair, she wrapped the shawl a little tighter at the front, to avoid the exposure of Aggie’s nipples.

Breasts were OK at the dinner table, just not nipples. Julie wore a very low scoop-necked white sweater, which so showed off her pillowy breasts that Iggie reached across the table to touch them. His wrist was caught in a swift move by my father, who slapped a turkey drumstick into Iggie’s palm, and this seemed to diffuse the situation.

Iggie and Aggie glared at Uncle Fred, because Uncle Fred made no allowances for their sneezing and wore a healthy dollop of Old Spice anyway. Uncle Fred never made allowances, so Iggie and Aggie should not have taken this personally. Uncle Fred also resisted allowing them to touch his carefully gelled and parted hair, or poke their pinkie fingers into his ear.

We never had our devices with us at the dinner table; it was a rule. Except for Celia, who at eight years old pretty much did whatever she wanted. My mother made her put a napkin over her iPhone, and surprisingly, she complied. But she peeked at it every so often, and whatever she found there made her laugh. Iggie and Aggie looked at her with pity. They had never seen an Apple, though they seemed quite fond of apples, which they ate whole, spitting out only the stems, which still lay on the hallway floor.

When Celia realized that neither of our guests could speak or understand English, nor any language, really, she very cheerfully made child judgements of their appearance and smell. “Iggie smells like Charlie’s breath, that time he ate that dead fish that washed up on the beach,” she said.

“That,” said my father, “is very disrespectful.”

Iggie picked up the fork at the side of his plate, which he hadn’t used yet, and started to scratch his groin with it. Aggie watched him with disdain, then snatched the fork out of his hand and threw it across the room. This seemed to be some kind of personal issue, so we stayed out of it.

When it was time to go, we all stood up. Mother gave them a tupperware container of homemade chocolate chip cookies which they put in the Batman pillow case that Celia had provided. Aggie took the turkey carcass from its platter and put it in the pillow slip along with the cookies. Iggie crossed the room and picked up the fork Aggie had thrown and put it in the bag, too. Then he bit Julie in the ass. Aggie, startled by his attentions to another woman, bit Uncle Fred in the ass. They started to laugh, and we all joined in.

We must have inherited their sense of humour.


Original Prompt: Modern Families, January 10, 2016
If one of your late ancestors were to come back from the dead and join you for dinner, what things about your family would this person find the most shocking?

dog and fish

My August Long Weekend

Prompt: Organize

beach party crowd

My long weekend starts on Thursday evening, with a mac & cheese dinner for family plus 4-6 guests.

Friday morning: Golf.
Friday: sunning, swimming, boating, sand-castling, beverages. Make 2 salads.
Friday dinner: Bring Your Own Dog (hot dog BBQ) for family plus 20.

Saturday morning: Golf. Make spaghetti sauce for 50. Pick up garlic bread. Make salad. Buy watermelon.
Saturday: sunning, swimming, boating sand-castling, beverages. Set up marquee and tables. Prepare plates, cutlery, napkins and condiments.
Saturday dinner: Pasta for 50 (some years 70-80). Meatball Contest. Musical entertainment. Beverages. Dancing.

Sunday morning: Golf.
Sunday afternoon: Bocce Bitch Tournament. Prizes. Variety of salmon appetizers. Beverages.
Sunday evening: Tacos for 30.

Monday: sunning, swimming, boating, sand-castling, beverages. Strike down marquee.
Monday afternoon: Greek lunch buffet.
Monday evening: leftovers for ? Strike down tables.

Tuesday: Bye bye to all except 3 visiting family. Return rental plates, glasses, cutlery, tables, cloths, and pots.

Wednesday: Sleep. Do laundry, Do more laundry. Try to find lost kitchen utensils. Hose down deck. Avoid weighing oneself.

___

Now, the above is too much work, and as well-organized as it all has become over the years, the number of people who come early and linger late has increased. People have procreated and bring their children to a weekend that meant so much to themselves as children. And so it goes.

How do we scale it back without offending anyone or ruining childhood memories of a fine gathering put together by generous, open-hearted and loving hosts? I enjoy all of the events and dinners, but there are never fewer than 20 or so people here, in and out, over the course of any day. I don’t golf. I personally oversee only the Thursday, Friday, and Saturday dinners, and I have help; friends or family host the others. I organize and provide prizes for the Bocce Bitch Tournament. Most people pitch in to clean up.

We go through scads of toilet  paper. The fridge stops functioning properly. The dog gets neurotic.

But it’s mostly fun. And utterly exhausting. What to do?

Rescue

Prompt: Zip

dog rescue nepal

“So, you’re the parents,” said Bob.

Envy tensed involuntarily. God, Bob, please don’t. We had a talk about your Radical Honesty. Please zip it this one time. Don’t tell my parents what I’ve said about them. Please please.

“Yes,” said Envy’s mother. “We are Envy’s biological parents.” Edwina Applegate was small and energetic, with grey-streaked smokey hair pulled back into a loose bun at the nape of her neck. She wore a very expensive red sheath, that hung upon her spare frame in a perfect, flattering drape. The “biological parents” remark was meant to be amusing. Actually, Envy did smother a tiny smile at her mother’s refusal to take the bait that Bob seemed to be offering, but on the other hand she felt the sting of her mother’s words too, because they implied what Envy knew to be true: that she was a disappointment to them. No one envied her beauty, and no one envied the wealth that her ex-husband had mostly squandered.

“I’ve heard a lot about you,” Bob said, honestly, taking her father’s outstretched hand and finding the grip rather overdone, as if Mr Applegate was making a point. He was a big man, his sturdy stoutness disguised by a loose, charcoal-covered sports jacket and an open shirt. He had a healthy crop of light brown hair, probably tinted since there was no grey at all.

While they enjoyed cocktails before dinner, Envy was careful to keep the topics of conversation neutral, knowing Bob’s honest opinion on the wet spring, the number of potholes in suburban and rural roads, and the dearth of fuel efficient cars outside of Europe would not cause offence to anyone.

“I take it Cash and Virginia and the baby aren’t joining us for dinner,” said Envy. She took a sip of her Bloody Mary, suddenly wishing it was bloodier (more alcoholic) and suppressed a sigh.

“Echo has colic,” said Edwina. “And you know your brother.”

“He’s becoming quite the doting mother,” said Darwin Applegate.

Bob’s honesty extended to his facial expressions. He looked surprised.

Envy said quickly, “There’s nothing wrong with Cash loving his baby daughter.”

“I bet you wish you’d had more time to spend with your kids, Mr Applegate,” said Bob. “You know, up-and-coming millionaire and all.”

This was met with an uncomprehending silence, until Envy coughed and said, “Bob trains dogs who rescue people from earthquakes.”

“Like when buildings collapse?” asked Edwina, an unwitting ally.

“Exactly like that,” said Envy.

“Do you personally supervise the excavations?” asked Darwin.

“No,” said Bob. “I just train the dogs.”

“Oh,” said Darwin.

They took their seats in the smaller family dining room. The table cloth was a white embroidered coffee-coloured sateen, with fresh-picked violets packed into three tiny vases set evenly spaced upon the table. They would wilt within a few hours.

A server brought in their dinner, platter by platter; each of them were casually passed around the table. Steak, roasted vegetables, truffled mushrooms.

Envy put her hand in her lap and glanced at her watch. Oh god. Seriously? We’ve only been her forty-five minutes? She looked around the table. No one was smiling. It could be worse, surely?

“This chimichurri is outstanding,” said Bob, making an effort.

“Thank you,” said Edwina. “Our cook, Connie, is from Peru.”

“Legally?” asked Bob.

Envy discreetly reached under the table, put her hand on Bob’s thigh, and squeezed. It was a warning and a plea. Bob took it as encouragement. He put his hand on hers and squeezed back.

“Just what do you mean by that, Bob?” asked Darwin, his voice disturbingly neutral in tone.

“Well I hear a lot of servants are in the country illegally, I mean it is commonplace. Probably all your friends do it too.”

“Connie was hired via a respectable agency,” said Edwina.

“Ah,” said Bob. “Good on you, then.” He lifted his wine glass in a toast, and emptied it in one gulp. He turned to Envy and smiled. His expression was, See? Not so bad after all, right?

Pretty bad, Envy’s eyes told him. She wasn’t sure if he got the message, because as the server was refilling his wine glass, Bob was staring at her mother. Then a quick glance at her father, and back to Edwina again. Woman past her prime. Rich old bigot who dyes his hair.

An odd kind of group telepathy seemed to occur. Edwina looked up and caught his Bob’s eye. Darwin looked at them both. No one looked at Envy. In a flash she knew what Bob was thinking. Don’t say it Don’t say it Don’t say it.

“I believe in family values,” said Darwin abruptly. He knew what this fucking young and ignorant man was thinking, oh yes he did.

“In my experience, family values people are the first ones to cheat on their, uh, spouses,” said Bob. He cut a roasted carrot into tiny pieces. “You know those bible thumper types, always being caught with their pants down.”

“That’s ridiculous,” said Darwin. “We believe in Jesus Christ in this household, and the Church believes in the family above all else.”

“Catholic, right?” asked Bob.

“We are Catholic, yes,” said Envy. Jesus God, if you’re there, help!

“‘We’?” said Bob.

Oops. She hadn’t told Bob that she’d returned to the church after Marcos tried to kill her. Was that an important ommission?

She stood up. “We have to go,” she said.

“Sit down, Envy,” said her father.

“No, we really do. We have tickets,” Envy said. “Bob?”

“If they have tickets, Darwin…” her mother said, the colour starting to return to her face.

Bob stood up. Someone fetched their jackets. Bob didn’t speak again until he said, “It was sure interesting meeting you both,” as they shook hands in parting.

Her parents, not being honesty radicals, were silent.

Stefan

Prompt: Blur

dinner-napkin

Another restaurant meeting, but this time an assassination.

She arrived seven minutes early and was escorted to a red leather booth separated from prying eyes by a deep red velvet curtain. She noticed two bodyguards by the double door entrance, trying to be subtle, but failing. They were dressed in severely dark suits, and looked around the room in a kind of silent desperation, as if aching for trouble. Another one stood motionless in the shadows near the entrance to the restrooms. The restaurant was about half full, diners murmuring in soft tones, a sound as silky as a love song. It was perfect.

She remained standing behind the curtain, waiting, in her white silk dress and pearls, a large beaded bag holding cosmetics, cigarettes, and other necessities, pearl earrings dripping from her earlobes, and two diamond rings, glittering in the candlelight. She was blonde this night, a luxurious, shimmering blonde, with painted lips as red and rich as the velvet drapes.

He’d spotted her at a diplomatic dinner, as they’d hoped, and very discreetly arranged a rendezvous. She didn’t mind being bait— it was part of her job— but she didn’t like the idea of being a prop in this drama. She wanted a leading role, and she was given it.

They ate rare steaks, they fed each other dessert, flirting and giggling. She called him “Stefan”, much to his delight. He bragged about his closeness to the President, while stoically and repeatedly telling her that he could not discuss state issues, then proceeding to do so in order to highlight his significant role in such affairs.

“The President relies on you,” she said, reaching across the table, extending a delicate finger and intimately dabbing the corner of his mouth.

He took her hand and kissed it, then inelegantly wiped his mouth and chin with the white linen napkin. “He does— and when he doesn’t he comes to me to clean up the mess.”

She smiled, and took a small sip of champagne. He was not a handsome man, but had the arrogance that power brings, and the confidence that power would always ensure liaisons with beautiful, otherwise untouchable women.

“I have a small suite booked at the Palisades,” he said. “Shall we?” He stood and extended a hand to help her to her feet. “Just let me alert the guys, and hit the toilet.” He kissed her on the top of her head, and disappeared through the curtain.

While he was in the gentleman’s room, she swiftly took a clean white linen napkin from her bag, wiped her fingerprints from utensils and glassware, then put it on his plate, taking his napkin into her bag.

There was suddenly a commotion from beyond the curtain. She heard many voices, and the flash of cameras threw shadows across the wall and onto the corner of the table. One of the bodyguards came through and said, “Sorry, miss. Someone must have tipped off the press. If you come with me, you can leave through the kitchen. A taxi is waiting to take you home.”

She eschewed the taxi, pulling her cashmere shawl around her shoulders, and walked a few blocks in the brisk air, before hailing another cab and climbing inside.

Early the next morning, his wife found him dead in his Sealy Posturpedic bed. An autopsy was pending, but no foul play was suspected.