Monthly Archives: February 2014

Bread and milk

The video, Bread and milk, is a modern-day meme that makes fun of people who panic when a storm is predicted. You like to make fun of those people, too, don’t you? Why else would the video be so popular? However, when the weatherman whips those people into a frenzy, and the snow does pile up, those people are the ones sitting snug in their homes with their comfort-food-of-choice while the scoffers stare mournfully at their impassable walkways wishing they had remembered to get gas for the snow blower.

Last weekend, the weather fear-mongers were out in full force warning that Boston could expect eight to ten inches, with the heaviest snowfall between seven and nine at night. We were supposed to go into town to see the Boston Symphony Orchestra preform the soundtrack to West Side Story, live, while the movie played on a big screen above their heads. The outing was a gift from my in-laws, who were to accompany us. Now, when it comes to inclement weather, I can be very low key until a more panicky sort gets me riled up. On the day in question, I was plagued by indecision. We agonized about whether or not to proceed as planned, or hole up at home. We discussed all the possible travel permutations, including how long it might take to slog home from the Alewife MBTA station, three and a half miles away. Then my mother-in-law announced that she was going “come hell or high water” and it was decided; we, too, would brave the storm.

Forgoing classy, Symphony-worthy outfits, we opted for clothing suitable for braving the elements, jeans and clunky, ugly, snow boots. We picked up my in-laws, drove to Alewife, parked in the garage, and caught the red line to Park Street. There we changed to the green line and rode it a few stops to Symphony. When we emerged from the subway, the wind was blowing, but the snow was quite light. We walked a few blocks to a Japanese restaurant and dined on sushi, maki and teriyaki, all the while keeping an eye on the weather. When we walked back to Symphony, right smack in the middle of what should have been the worst of the weather, it was still not doing much of anything.

Judging by how full the hall was, symphony audiences are a hearty breed; you would never have known that a storm was meant to be raging that night. When it was over, we all agreed that West Side Story was looking a tad dated, but that the orchestra more than made up for any shortcomings that the movie might have had. As we prepared to leave Symphony Hall, I was filled with trepidation. We were about to find out if we’d made the right call by coming out, or if we were going to be punished for our foolishness. We stepped outside into—not much of anything—and headed back to the subway.

I was mighty relieved that the dire predictions had come to naught. It would have been a shame, and a great waste of money, if we had bailed out on the evening. I was also angry at having wasted all that emotional energy. For a few days after, I was solidly in the camp of those who make fun of people who panic when snow is due. Then another storm was announced and I headed out for bread and milk.

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Good old George

George was a happy guy; some thought unnaturally so. Life had not been kind to him and yet he had a smile for everyone, friend and stranger alike. If you were a friend, he would stop and ask how you were and share a story or a joke. If the situation presented itself, in line at the bank or filling his tank at the gas station, he might do the same with a stranger. People who knew George always walked away remarking how wonderful it was that he was such a happy man, “In spite of it all.”

Ginny was the opposite of George. She led a comfortable life, born into a family that had more money than it knew what to do with. Good fortune notwithstanding, she went through life with a sour expression on her face. She never had a kind word for a cashier or a waitress, nor did she acknowledge anyone on the street, and woe to the person who knocked on her door to ask if she was familiar with their candidate for school committee. It was not unusual for people to mutter, after encountering Ginny, “Bitch.”

Barleyville wasn’t a big town; most folks knew each other, at least in passing. And if they didn’t, they certainly knew the stories. George’s wife had passed away suddenly when they’d been married for less than a year. Everyone agreed that it was a horrible accident. And it had happened so soon after he lost his parents. If the dog hadn’t alerted George he might have succumbed to smoke inhalation, too.

Ginny and George had gone through school together, all the way from first grade to high school graduation. Ginny always said there was something suspicious about George’s wife’s passing. Most everyone thought she was jealous because she’d had a crush on George in high school. Ginny was the only person in town that George didn’t smile or nod at when they passed each other on the street.

There was a pond in Barleyville that froze over in the winter. Saturday mornings the peewee hockey players would be out there as soon as the sun came up. They had to get an early start because the men’s team took the ice at eleven sharp. They had to get their game in before the afternoon shift at the factory. When they left, the figure skaters came out, mostly women practicing figure eights and such, but there were lots of young people, too.

One Saturday in February, when the peewees got there, the police turned them back. It was the damnedest thing. Ginny had fallen into the pond at the one spot where it wasn’t frozen over. Everyone knew to avoid that spot. It was there every year. People were so used to it, the town didn’t even bother to put a sawhorse in front of it anymore. George was the one who found her. He’d tried to pull her out, but was afraid of going in himself, so he’d called 911 from his cellphone. The rescue squad was too late.

No one was particularly sorry to hear what had happened to Ginny. They did, however, feel bad for George, “After all he’d been through.”

One peewee player, Timmy, had been early the morning of Ginny’s accident. He told his dad later that he saw George with his hands in the water.  He wasn’t supposed to use bad words so he didn’t tell his dad that then he heard George say, “Bitch.”

And they danced

This week, more short fiction

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Sheila hadn’t known anyone at the wedding. She wasn’t even sure why she’d been invited. The mother of the bride was a distant relative of her father’s. She’d met her once; the bride, never. She nervously smoothed her gray, wrinkle-free skirt over her knees, plucking at the hem so it would reach further down. The knee-hi stockings were a mistake, but pantyhose made her sweat. You couldn’t see her knees when she was standing up, but when she sat down and crossed her legs the elasticized tops of the fake nylons were visible. She crossed her ankles instead. She felt like a child in a painting, posed and uncomfortable.

The wine glass she was holding was empty except for a thin, round slice of lemon. She’d asked for water at the bar and that’s what she’d been served. Why did they put lemon in it? If they thought people wanted flavor, why not serve lemonade? Maybe she should have had a glass of wine instead. She still could, she supposed; perhaps with the meal. It wouldn’t do to get light-headed though. She didn’t often come to town and she was nervous about finding her way home again.

She was sitting at table eleven, the furthest one from the head table, closest to the door to the kitchen. She didn’t mind that; it was also the furthest from the band. There were eight chairs and the two across from her had been claimed, tilted forward to rest on the edge of the table. Sheila assumed that their occupants were dancing or mingling. She hadn’t recognized any of the names on the other cards for table eleven, but she hadn’t expected to.

She was staring at the kitchen door, willing it to open so they could start the meal, which would give her something to do, when a voice to her right said, “Is this seat taken?”

Startled, she looked toward the floor, shaking her head in little movements from side to side, like a horse trying to twitch off a fly. The voice pulled the chair back from the table and sat down. She looked as far right as she could without moving a muscle. She could see most of the body, which appeared to be clad in a navy blue suit, and the black shoes, which needed polishing.

“Are you a friend of the bride’s or the groom’s?” the voice asked.

“Bride,” she mumbled without turning her head.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t understand that.”

“Bride,” she said again, as her cheeks exploded into color.

“Groom, here,” he said. “Actually, distant relative of groom. Never even met him.”

Surprised, she allowed her head to turn toward the voice. “Me, neither.”

“You’ve never met the groom either?”

“The bride. Never met the bride.”

“So why are we here?” he asked with a little laugh. It was a nice laugh, friendly.

Sheila shrugged and shifted in her seat, being careful not to uncross her ankles. She tried desperately to appear casual as she studied his face. It was a pleasant face with round cheeks and a high forehead. He wore rectangular black glasses with thick lenses. She assumed they were stylish; she knew nothing about fashion.

“What say we dance?” he asked, pushing back his chair.

“Oh, no, thank you. I don’t dance.”

“That’s okay, neither do I. We’ll pretend we do. Come on.” He held out his hand, inviting her to stand up and join him.

Sheila uncrossed her ankles and pushed back her own chair. She took his hand and as they walked to the dance floor, the elastic on her left leg gave up and her knee-hi stocking sagged to her ankle. And then they danced.