Category Archives: Hump Day Fiction Wednesday

Hump Day Fiction – Auntie Dark and Crunchy

Here’s a Holiday story for you. I hope you enjoy it.

Auntie Dark and Crunchy

I gripped the handles of the white casserole dish over the lip of the sink, listening for my moment. In the distance came my cue, the muffled sound of the shower being turned on from the parents’ bedroom. It wouldn’t be for long, though. My mom wasn’t the type to waste water or anything else. It was either now or another twenty years of humiliation.

I tipped the handles of the casserole dish toward the sink – milky liquid, macaroni and chunks of cheddar splattered against the silver of the stainless steel down the drain. Most of it disappeared into the plastic, black mouth of the garbage disposal opening. The larger bits – macaroni noodles and cheese cubes were stuck against the silver. They needed a bit of help.

I pulled up the silver faucet handle to the right for the cold water to rush out. I used my hand to guide it the bits stuck against the sink. The water floated the remnants, the fat crescent noodles and orange, cubed cheddar cheese floating in the clear water.

And floated.

And stayed.

Dangit.

I pushed down the handle, shutting off the flood of water, but not the result. Too much too fast. I didn’t have the time to wait. And there was only one way to get rid of the evidence.

Was the shower still on? I closed my eyes concentrating on the sounds of the morning. I could still hear the water. I still had time.

I flipped up the switch right next to the spray nozzle on the kitchen sink. The garbage disposal rumbled on, taking the stragglers down the drain.

Hopefully, the sound of my mom’s shower covered up the sound. Dad was in the second bedroom that he used as his office since retiring. Thank goodness his hearing was going so he wasn’t able to hear what I was doing.

Now. There was no evidence. I punched in the code 1943 into the alarm pad next to the front window. The ‘rents had the house set with door chimes that sounded throughout the house whenever anyone opened the door. It was loud enough not to be missed. The soft beep let me know they had been turned off.

I jogged outside outside to my light blue Corolla parked in the driveway. As typical in Atlanta, it was sunny and temperate on Thanksgiving morning – enough for a hoodie, but not for an all-weather coat.  I wouldn’t be out there long, anyway.

What I wanted was in the trunk. I took out my keys from my pocket, unlocked the trunk and popped it open. There sat my Pyrex carrier with its packet of cold to keep the disposable aluminum container cool. Before taking it out into the open, I looked up and down the street.

Thank goodness this wasn’t the street I’d grown up on. I would have already been caught in the old ’hood. The ‘rents left that place right after I graduated from college. They said it was to downsize, that with all of us gone there was no reason to stay. I suspect it was that the ambulance alarms got too much on their ears and the split-level too much for their knees.

If we were in the old neighborhood, I’m sure Mrs. Washington next door or one of her boys would have been standing on the front stoop clocking my every move by now. There always had been a lot of movement in and out of that house. The bicycles dumped in the middle of the yard that eventually gave way to hoopties that grumbled rather than purred to life.

The Washingtons knew us. They knew my name – Kathleen. They knew where I’d gone to school – Spelman. And they knew exactly why there would be no reason on God’s green earth I would be bringing a casserole dish into the house on Thanksgiving morning.

But this new neighborhood had no history, no soul, and, no one who would rat me out. This place was full of tract homes – brick faces different enough so you can tell your house apart but similiar like they were blood related but not close.

The shower was still running when I snuck back in. My dad had not come from his office cave yet. I took my container and dumped the contents into Mama’s casserole dish.

If one looked closely, they would be able to tell the difference – the consistency was thicker than my mom’s and I used three types of cheese instead of her one chedder. Perfection, though, wasn’t what I was going after.  I just needed it to look like mom’s for the first person who actually started eating. Let’s get real. After the first scoop onto the plate, it would just look like the mess anyway. I needed to fool one person – not the 20 that would be weaving in and out of my parents’ home that day. That’s what happened when “family” meant spouses of siblings, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, cousins. The older you got, the more your family expanded until you qualified for group discounts at Braves games.

I stuffed the casserole carrier underneath the sink. My mom had one just like it so it wouldn’t be out of place. My aluminum container? I dumped it in the garbage can. By the time that bit of evidence was found, my deception would turn into my greatest triumph. No longer would I be known as Dark and Crunchy. Those days were over. Cancelled.

I looked over the kitchen for a final check. It was in neutrals like the rest of the house – brown cabinets and even a beige refrigerator. Mom thought stainless steel appliances were just a fad. You wanted to get something that would last she said. The small kitchen table held four chairs that reminded me of the chairs at my grandmother’s house – classic and sturdy. There was a formal table in the dining room that had turned into a family table over the years as the family grew. The plain, brown circle in the kitchen, though, was where most business was conducted. On the middle of the floor was a large area rug there specifically to soak up any spills. It looked exactly like I’d left it.

And it was all going to plan. I just needed to set the timer on the oven. I closed the lid on the garbage can and turned around to find the first hiccup on my way to mac and cheese redemption.

There – in his Grandpa uniform of gray sweatshirt, navy sweat pants and yes, a Falcons cap topping his head, was my dad. “Whatcha doing, Kay?” he asked.

He couldn’t have known. He didn’t. The casserole was in the oven, right? Except that it wasn’t. It was there sitting on the counter. I’d worried so much about getting rid of the evidence that I hadn’t actually put the doggone thing in the oven. He turned as my gaze fell on the incriminating dish.

“Nothing,” I said. “Just tossing something away. In the garbage.” OK. That didn’t sound incriminating, at all.

“You can handle putting a mac and cheese in the oven?”

“Yes, Sir,” I said, inching toward the counter. “Of course, I can.” There was no way that I would be able to fool Dad. He had been eating my mom’s mac and cheese for the forty years they’d been married. “It’s just 350 degrees. Mom said that she would know when it was ready to take it out. I’ll just go ahead and slip it in the oven now.” I kept my face straight as I casually, casually was a word in my brain and just reached the counter and opened the oven.

And that was my mistake.

Dad looked over it and turned his head like he was a dog that had heard a whistle or a man who realized that the mac and cheese in the casserole dish was not the one that he had been eating for over forty years. “This don’t look like Mom’s.”

Admit nothing. Act quickly.

“Really?” I asked shoving it into the oven and closing it. I stood in front of the oven so that he wouldn’t be able to see inside it. How to say something without lying about it… “It looked the same to me.” It did. I made sure that it did. I had been experimenting with being able to make a mac and cheese to look the same, but not taste the same – so that it would have my own mark. It was a Trojan horse kind of mac and cheese.

He straightened his head. “You sure? You sure that you haven’t tried to do anything?”

Evade the question. “Why would I do that?”

“I know you’re upset that you’re still on cups and napkins duty since” he held his fingers to to do the quotes thing, “the incident.”

“That was 20 years ago.”

“And you’re still on cups and napkins duty.”

“You have to admit it’s a bit ridiculous not to give someone another chance. I mean, what about forgiveness? We’re Christian, right? Our religion was founded on second chances. I mean, you make one wrong dish -”

“At Christmas.”

“So what if it was at Christmas? Doesn’t that mean that grace should be extended? We are, after all, all sinners.” I could have quoted the Bible chapter and verse (all those Wednesday night choir rehearsals that became Bible studies over the years) but I thought that would be over the top.

“You been begging to bring mac and cheese for the past five years. Said you have been, uh, and here the fingers quotes went up again ‘practicing’.”

I could tell that he was holding in the laughter in as they all did with his cheeks puffing out.

“I had,” I said.

“All right, Dark and Crunchy,” he said.

And then I said the thing that ruined everything, “I’ll show them.”

He looked closely at me, a little bit too close. I took after him rather than my mom. We had the same features even if we didn’t have the same skin color and we thought the same way.

“Move on and let me take a look at that mac and cheese in the oven.”

And I knew that it was over. My whole plan hinged on the first person who saw the casserole dish being too involved to notice if there were any differences. But between my dad’s intimate knowledge of mac and cheese combined with the time that it would take to inspect it… In his former life, he was a quality control engineer. It was his job to find stuff that was out of order.

Or maybe not. Maybe he wouldn’t notice. I simply wasn’t going to give up the game before I had to.

I moved away from the oven door. Dad opened it. His eyes narrowed in inspection. He slid the oven rack out and hovered for a moment over the casserole dish. His face relaxed and then slid the rack back into place and closed the oven door.

My shoulders relaxed. Maybe it had been good enough –

“Kathleen you know darn well that that’s not your mother’s macaroni and cheese.”

“Uh, -”

“It’s too thick. Not milky enough. What are you up to?”

“Forgiveness,” I said. “A, uh, chance at redemption.”

“What did you do with your mom’s mac and cheese?”

He wasn’t going to let it go. He wouldn’t. I took in a big breath and let it out. “I put it down the drain using the garbage disposal.”

“You threw away food? You threw away good money and you know Unous been looking forward to her Gramma’s mac and cheese.”

Unous was my niece visiting from school in North Carolina. She always asked for my mom’s macaroni and cheese. I might have felt bad but she attended my school’s arch rival based partly on what dad called ‘the incident’, so I wasn’t feeling gracious. Or guilty.

“It’s good, I promise,” I said. “I been practicing. I brought it into work -”

“Those people who you said would eat anything?”

“They liked it, Dad. Even the Black people.”

“How do you sound? Even the Black people. Edna!” he called out but my mom was still in the shower.

“Come on, Dad,” I said. “Give me a chance. Give it a chance. We all make mistakes. I just need them to try it one time and I’ll never be on cups and napkins again.”

“You don’t even like to cook. Why is this important to you?”

“It’s one thing not to want to cook. It’s another to be told not to cook.”

“If you had just told me,” he moved over to the kitchen table to sit down. “I might have been able to help you.”

There was hope. There was a light at the end of the tunnel – “So, you’ll help me now?”

“No,”

  • and it was an oncoming train.

“People should be able to know what they’re getting. If you want redemption, you’re going to have to earn it and not through deceit.”

I read his face, those features so familiar. He’d retired from 30 years in corporate America, well versed in deceit. He wasn’t telling the whole story.

“You’re not going to eat that mac and cheese either, are you?”

“Not on your life.”

#

Of course I had to hear the same thing from my mom as soon as she came out the shower. If I got my features from my dad, everything else came from my mom. At first glance, we looked alike with the same brown skin and hair, but that’s where it ends. I let my grown in a natural puff that sat on top of my head whereas my mom dared her hair to kink up. She looked like she could have belonged in a doo-wop group in the 60s and always wore her hair parted and bumped under and always, always dressed for company.

It was Thanksgiving morning, but she was wearing a dress, a house one that was knit, red and would look good in pictures. Now, though, standing in the kitchen with the mac and cheese, my mac and cheese in the oven, she didn’t look as if she’d want any pictures.

Her hands were on her hips. “What did you do?”

“Uh -”

“Edna,” my father, the traitor started. “She done switched the mac and cheese. The confederate mac and cheese is in the oven.”

Mom narrowed her eyes and then opened the door of the oven, the steam coming forth doing something else to heat my face from the coolness of the morning. The door returned to its place with a  thump.

“Kay,” she said.

“Yes, ma’am,” I said. “I just wanted to have a chance.”

“I’ma tell you what you’re doing to do. You’re going to go right on up to Publix and get what we need for my mac and cheese.” She looked at me for a moment and I guess what she saw there wasn’t something that she liked because she shook her head. “Nope,” she said. “Nope. I’ll go. I don’t trust you.”

“Awww, Edna,” my dad said, his arm around her shoulders rocking and squeezing her until she smiled. “You have to admit that it almost worked.”

“Hmm,” she said.

“Will you at least try it?” I asked. “I practiced. I did. And if the problem was that I burnt the mac and cheese the first time, then it won’t hurt because, because you’ll pull it out this time, right?”

I hunched my shoulders and looked down. I missed the class on manipulating parents with a puppy dog look just like I missed the class on how to pose for pictures. I knew I looked ridiculous. I hoped that by seeking to manipulate her and failing it would be enough to convince her to give me a try.

She sighed. I fought to keep the smile off my lips. She didn’t say no. She was breaking.

“Can you try just a spoonful?” I asked. “I did work on it.”

Dad said. “The folks at her job ate it.”

Yes! Dad with the assist. Unless he just said that to get out of eating it himself. My eyes narrowed at him. He returned a blank stare.

“Well,” Mom said. “I can try a spoonful. You did go through all the trouble.” She stepped to me, taking my hands in hers. “It can be like the … back up mac and cheese.” The last word punctuated with a nod.

What? Was this like an award for participation?

It was like she assured me that those stick figures I drew in kindergarten with a sun in the corner were real art. Let’s just keep the little one’s hopes up. That’s what it really said.

“All right,” she said. “I’ll going to head to the store. I’ll be back soon”

“I can go or you still don’t trust me?” I asked.

“I know who I raised,” she said with a nod and then headed off to the hall closet to pick up a light jacket as she headed outside.

“Don’t be so sad, Kay,” My dad said though there was a smirk on his face. “Maybe someone will , uh,” the mouth he was trying to hold something in, “Maybe someone will yeah” and then he exploded in laughter and went down the hall to his office shaking his head.

It was just me and the mac and cheese. Well. I knew it was good. Someone would take a chance on it. Surely. Right? Maybe all of mom’s would run out and someone would be desperate. Then I thought back to my aunt who had messed over the sweet potato pie by putting too much nutmeg in it. Forty years ago. She was now in charge of bringing the store-bought lemon cake from Publix.

Still. The mac and cheese was there and it would probably be wasted if anything in her family had to do with it.

The doorbell rang. I looked up at the clock. Yep, it was right on time and no one was right on time except…

“I’ll get it Dad,” I shouted out. And there, right on time was Unous, home from school and the white boy who had made it all the way – Chad. Unous had been encouraged to go to Bennett to become a Bennett Belle instead of a Spelmanite after my mac and cheese failure. She wore her white college sweatshirt proudly.

Any guilt that I might have felt at the moment, disappeared as the plan formed in my mind.

“Come on in,” I said. Chad looked more like a John to me. He was tall and gangly – all arm and legs, but loved my niece dearly. He’d held on too, God bless him. While she was up in Greensboro, he hoofed it down taking classes down at Georgia State.

They came in. Unous gave me a hug. She smelled of Ivory soap with her clean scrubbed face. I stood back from Chad and gave him a nod. He’d get a hug when Unous got a ring.

“Are we the first ones here?” Unous asked looking around.

“You’re always the first one here.”

“Where’s Grandpa? And Gramma?”

“Grandpa is in the office and Gramma is making a grocery run.”

“We were concerned when we didn’t see the car.”

“Hmm,” I said. “You two sit down. The mac and cheese is just about ready,” I said.

She went to the over and turned it the oven light. “Gramma’s mac and cheese?”

I said nothing. Can’t get caught in a lie if you don’t say anything.

The ding beeped, “Ah, “I said. “You want some?”

I opened the door the steam hopefully coloring my face to tinge red so that she wouldn’t see my coloring. I grabbed the two oven mitts and took out the casserole.

“Shouldn’t we wait though?” Unous asked. “That’s what Gramma would have us do.”

“Gramma isn’t here. I won’t tell if you don’t. If she asks, we’ll blame it on Chad.”

“Hey,” Chad said.

I raised an eyebrow and waited. Waited.

“All right,“ she said.

I took out a slotted spoon and from the drawer next to the oven and been took down two styrofoam saucers that we used for family gatherings. They were disposable.

I dipped the spoon into the dish, then dropped a bit of the mac and cheese on the saucers. Because I plated the food, it would give her plausible deniability if it all went wrong. She was my niece after all. I added a clear spoon to each saucer on the side then set them down at the kitchen table on the brown placemats.

First, she sat down, then Chad. She took one bite and I breathed easier.

She looked up her forehead twisted. “This tastes different.”

“Hmmm,” I said.

“Are you sure this is Gramma’s?”

“Why would you ask that?” And then I went for the easy mark, someone less familiar with my mother’s dish. “Chad, what do you think?”

He finished scooping up the last of it. “Can I have some more?”

“I guess that says it all,” I said.

“I mean,” she said. “It’s good and all,” She scooped up another scoop with her spoon and I heard the sound of feet against the last that ran down the hall to protect the carpet.

“Is that Grandpa?” Unous asked.

And before I could answer, he was there. His eyes went wide and arms outstretched. “Noooooo, Unous.”

Unous moved the saucer out of reach from my dad’s clutches. “What’s wrong? This is good.”

“Your Auntie made that.”

“Auntie Dark and Crunchy?” Yes, even the children had been indoctrinated. “It’s good, actually.”

Dad crossed his arms over his chest. “Good?”

“Yeah,” she said.

I stood there smiling. Twenty years of shame melted away. Chad’s opinion might not count for much but Unous was an expert.

“Why don’t you try some,” I asked.

“How did you get them to eat it?”

“Just try some,” I said already headed toward the cabinet  for another saucer.

A few minutes later and he nodded. “This is good. Different, but good.” He looked at me as he turned his head. ”Are you sure you made this?” He asked.

I nodded.

The garage door came up and my mom was there. Her hands a plastic sacks each sack.

“Edna,” my dad said. “You gotta taste this.” He held a spoon up and then she tasted it.

“You made this?”

“I told you I’d been practicing.

“I guess I, won’t need to do all of this.” She said but she hitched her shoulder.

Unous said, “I’ll have to make sure to that you’re here from now on. Two mac and cheeses.”

“Yeah,” Dad said. “You won’t have to work as hard.”

“No,” Mom said. “I guess mine can wait. Now you can make it for Christmas.”

“Christmas?” I asked.

“And next Thanksgiving.”

That mac and cheese took a ridiculous amount of time, it was just a one time thing. I didn’t plan on doing this on a regular basis. I had favored daughter status which meant that the only thing that I needed to do was to show up. All of a sudden, the cups and napkin gig didn’t seem so bad.

“Oh, yeah,“ Chad said. Chad. Even Chad.

“This was just going to be a one time gig,” I said.

Unous went back up to the stove top and dug herself another scoop. “Not when everyone gets a taste of it.” She took bite. “It tastes even better now that it’s cooled down some.”

Chad leaned back in his chair, turning toward the oven and turned. “Grab me some more, please.”

Mom put the sack of groceries on the kitchen counter. “I guess those can wait. You can whip up another batch, right? I mean I don’t know if Nous is going to let that go.”

“Whip up another?” I had plans. Plans for feeding on the tears of my familial enemies when I slayed my mac and cheese making skill. Slaving in the kitchen was not part of the plan.

“I’m sure that they’ll want your mac and cheese, Mom. I’ll even prep for you. How much cheese do you need cubed?”

“Just enough to fill up the bowl,” she said. “Now are you sure?”

“Positive,” I said.

Nous and Chad took their plates into the living room area to watch television. Dad went to his office. Mom to her room to take a phone call from her brother who lived too far away to make it down to Atlanta.

I didn’t think about the long term consequences of reaching my goal, but I did now.

#

“Here you go Mom,” I said. She looked at the the chopped cheese. “Looks good, Kay,” she said and her eyes drifted over to my creation sitting on the stovetop. “I’m just going to have one more taste.”

She took a teaspoon from the drawer and lifted it to her lips and then spit it out.

“Something wrong?” I asked

She rinsed the spoon, stuck it in the dishwasher and then turned on me. “What did you do, Kathleen?”

“I tasted it and actually I think that it needed more salt.”

“Something wrong with your tastebuds?”

“It tasted fine to me.”

“Unous, Bill, Chad come over here.”

Each one had their own tasting and each one had the same reaction.

“Well,” Dad said. “I guess Dark and Crunchy is better than Salty.”

Mom drained the pot that contained the noodles. “I guess it’s just good that we have a back up. You can go ahead and throw that away,” she said. “No one has to know. Just go on and pick up some cups and napkins down at Publix.”

“You don’t like it?”

“Everybody don’t have skills with everything,” she said. Then turned her back as she started making the mac and cheese. I swore I might have heard humming.

I took the casserole dish cornflower blue and dumped the casserole down the drain along with the swirl of the garbage disposal.

Chad had gone back to the living room to watch television but Unous was lookin at me and followed me out to the street where the car that had just come from Publix was getting ready to go back.

“You did that on purpose, didn’t you?”

Admit nothing. “Why would I do that?”

“You’ll give me the recipe?”

I didn’t respond, walking away from her and headed to the car and my rightful place as the cups and napkins aunt.

I was a good aunt. I could drop the recipe off by mail with a postal stamp. That would mean that it could come from anyone. No. I know that I’d do. I’d send it from the post office on Spelman’s Campus. It was worth paying for the parking to get it done.

I slid into the car and turned into the key in ignition to pick up Red Solo cups and paper napkins as the Good Lord intended. My reputation was intact.

It was going to be a good Thanksgiving.

Hump Day Fiction – The Vine That Ate The South

MEN.

They are people.

They have feelings. Concerns. Dreams.

I took a sip of the cold iced tea as the Georgia sun beat down on me. I was trying hard to remember that as my neighbor, my best friend Billy, stood before me shirtless, wearing the tiniest red running shorts known to man (or woman), leaning on a rake prepared to do yard work.

For me.

For free.

If there were something sexier on God’s green earth than that, you couldn’t tell me… and it’s not like I would have believed you anyway.

Billy had that tall, dark, and handsome thing going on, but it was really about the abs. Six-pack abs in the wild, my friend. I hope he was wearing sunscreen, because I was not about to tell him to put on a T-shirt. I, after all, had exercised more sense by wearing sweatpants and a thin T-shirt for this morning’s festivities to ward off the sun, mosquitoes, and any other creepy-crawlies we might run into. Since I didn’t have a chance in hell with him, at least I could enjoy the show.

Right now, though, the expression he wore was tight, and I was afraid that sooner or later we would have to do the thing he was over here to do.

“Billy,” I said, looking at my backyard philosophically, “don’t you think that looks like The Thing? It could be dangerous like The Thing. Kudzu can be some dangerous stuff.”

He at least took a quick glance to edge of the yard. Between my house and the house that backed up to it, there was a kind of no-man’s-land alley. A place where kudzu had run free and had to be beaten back on a regular basis.

Like today. All right, the truth was that Billy had insisted on coming out and helping me with this. He lived next door, so he could see that the heart-shaped leaves of the vine were getting out of control, and even though my brother Nick lived with me, Nick was too busy finding himself to help out with pesky things like yard work and paying bills.

Billy shook his head. “No,” he said. “I wouldn’t call it The Thing. I’d call it stalling, Laura. I know that you’re just looking for an excuse not to get started on this.”

“You know, they say that the only way you can really get rid of kudzu is by fire. Maybe you could have some of your buddies from the firehouse to do a controlled burn. Community service and all that.”

“I think our rakes should be able to do what we need to do in this instance.”

He turned toward the kudzu and I followed him to the edge, rake in hand.

Kudzu was originally brought over for erosion control until the South fell victim to unintended consequences.

It grew.

And grew.

And grew.

It grew over trees, telephone poles, and small children. When I was little, I’d make pictures out of kudzu instead of clouds.

I walked closer to the edge and noticed that the green leafy vine appeared to pulsate. But that couldn’t be right. I blinked. It was gone. Just my imagination was all. I stepped forward with the rake to hook and drag away the kudzu encroaching on my vegetable garden when I heard a manly “Hey!”

I looked up. There was Billy in the middle of a mass of kudzu.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“I’m stuck in this thing.”

“Told you kudzu was deadly.”

“Ha, funny. No, I can’t get out of this thing.”

I started moving toward it and he said, “No, no. You stay right there. It feels like something is wrapped around my leg like it could be a snake or something.”

“You’re serious. Something really has your leg?” I took out my phone from the pocket of my sweatpants, flipped it open to press speed dial 1—the line to the house where my kid brother was doing heavens knew what when he should have been down here helping. “I’m calling Nick for backup.”

Billy was struggling to get his leg a loose. As the phone rang, I asked, “Is it any tighter?”

“Feels that way.”

As I stood there, a vine lifted from the mass of green, waving its leafy tentacles, and struck out towards me. I ran away, dropping my phone so it made landing on the green piece of lawn. The kudzu hung there in the air, reaching for me, hindered only by its length. Billy’s groans broke through the morning’s birdsong as someone’s lawn mower rumbled along a couple of streets over.

I blinked again. The kudzu was still there, coming toward me. It was visually growing as Billy slumped toward the ground, the vine wrapping its way around his legs.

I backed up slowly, the kudzu growing stronger as while looked as though Billy grew weaker.

What the what?

“Laura,” the voice on the phone said, weak because it was so far away. At the sound of the voice, the kudzu dropped from its attack stance. Now it just looked like regular kudzu.

Had the voice scared it off?

The voice?

The phone—it registered in my mind—the phone!

I reached down, picked it up, and said, “Nick, Nick. You have got to get down here right now.” I knew that I probably sounded hysterical, but I couldn’t help it. Hell, a woman’s entitled to have a little freak-out moment now and then. Right? I mean, can I get an amen?

“I’m in the middle of my meditation,” Nick said. “Can it wait?”

“We’ve got a killer kudzu situation here.”

“Come on, sis. Really? Did you say killer kudzu?”

I kept the phone to my ear as I walked toward the kudzu waste. Billy was standing up now—that was good—but he probably needed some help. And the kudzu seemed to be tame for now. I didn’t know how long that situation would last, though.

I reached the waste and waded right in the middle of it. I reached my arm to loop around his waist.

“I’ve got you,” I said. “Go ahead, lean on me.”

He waited a second, probably debating with himself. He was taking too much time and I didn’t know how much time we had. I started moving toward the house. I figured he would come along if I dragged him out of the mess.

He leaned on me, the smell of his sweat in my nose and his sturdy body against mine. He was heavier than I imagined. Turns out that muscles really are heavier than fat like all the books say. I pulled him to safety, his strength returning. I could tell that he wasn’t as sluggish anymore, and I kept going, well beyond the edge where the kudzu had stopped.

I weren’t taking no chances.

Nick continued on the phone, “I would love to come and help, I really would.” It was almost a tagline with him. “But I’ve got this new meditation thing that I’m doing and it came with tea and I think this is really the thing that’s going to put me right on top. You know?”

I was only half listening, looking at the heaving form of my neighbor, bent over with his hands clutching his knees. Him being of an olive complexion and seeing as his current skin tone was a couple of shades paler, I figured this could not be a good thing.

I clicked off the phone on account that Nick weren’t making any kind of sense, no way. He was in the house, but couldn’t come out to the backyard?

“You okay?” I asked Nick.

“Getting there. At first I thought it was just a vine, and then it wrapped itself around my leg and started going higher. I think I even felt some of it pricking me.” He rubbed his hands along his legs as if he was trying to ease the pain.

“Come on, now. Kudzu doesn’t have thorns.”

“And kudzu isn’t supposed to attack people, either.”

“True. I called Nick to come and help.”

He snorted.

“If you can take a swipe at Nick, then I know that you’re feeling better.”

“Yeah,” he said straightening.

And that’s when I saw the vine begin to move.

“Billy,” I said. He stood up, following my gaze.

The kudzu came alive again, not as all leafy-menacy as before, but kudzu, my friend, is not supposed to move unless a strong wind is going by.

It was time to get inside the house to regroup. But Billy was way ahead of me. He took my hand and ran, practically dragging me up the sloping yard to my tiny concrete patio before I felt safe to talk.

“Do you have any matches,” I asked, in between huffing. I really needed to get in shape and this was embarrassing. “You’re a single guy; you’ve got to have matches from restaurants… Do they still have matchbook cases in a fishbowl?”

“I’m a divorced man with two kids. My money goes to child support and college funds. Not too many resources for candlelight dinners.”

Okay.” I looked back and forth from the kudzu and Billy.

“Let’s get inside,” he said. “At least it will be safer.”

He opened the glass sliding door that led to the living room on the bottom floor. There was Nick in the living room, wearing only a leopard-print Speedo, with the candles surrounding him. The room pulsated with energy. Plants floated around him.

“Nick,” I said.

No response.

“Nick!”

Still nothing.

I tried to step toward him and bumped into something invisible. At that point I was yanked back and then hidden behind Billy.

He felt around. “There’s a shield here. We can’t get close to him.”

There were a lot of plants around because Nick always thought that plants generated energy. Not that he could be counted on to do any weeding. He thought that they contributed to the energy of the house. At that moment, they did.

“What kills plants?” I asked

“Fire,” he said. “Go get your hairspray. I’m sure you have a lighter somewhere.”

“Don’t have any.” At his incredulous look, I added, “I have curly hair. A lot of curlies don’t have hairspray.”

“I’ll get some from my house,” he said. But didn’t get far.  The plants had reached out to surround us, blocking us off from the door, their tendrils twining toward us, growing more powerful.

But there was still this bubble of calm, and all of it centered around Nick and his guided meditation in the background. A teapot on the table in front of him. That tea.

“That doggone tea,” I said. “He’s been on this ‘plants help the house’s energy’ kick ever since he started drinking that nonsense.”

“When did he start drinking the tea?” Billy asked.

“This week. And then he said he wanted to help out the plants outside, so he started dumping it in the kudzu waste between the two yards. I just thought it was a phase. Goodness knows it was just another scheme that he would find enlightenment.”

It all seemed kind of stupid, saying it out loud. That and the whole about-to-be-suffocated-by-plants thing, with their stems and leaves coming toward me. I had never thought of him as anything except a freeloader.

But as he sat in the bubble of safety, I realized that that was exactly what it was. And just as I had provided the room and the air and even the clothes on his back sometimes, I had nurtured him and like these plants, and he had sucked it all from me simply to try to turn against me once I tried to exercise a bit of independence.

The music was coming from an old record player. I had noticed that the plants were far away from it; they were actually crowding me toward the wall that had the record player against it. Because he liked things are close to the ground as possible, he said. He didn’t like technology at all except when he could use it to buy tea from halfway across the world.

He liked the organic. He liked that warbly record. He especially liked to meditate to that warbly record.

I figured the distance. Because lemme tell you what was not going to happen. I sure was not going out like this. Strangled by plants that I fed? Uh, hell no.

As Billy protected my front, I dashed toward the record player and yanked it from the wall, sending it crashing to the floor. The sound stopped.

Nick opened his eyes.

The plants dropped.

Billy stepped in. “Where did you get that tea that you’ve been drinking and watering the plants and backyard kudzu with?”

Nick jerked up his chin. “Through a friend.”

“I suppose that it was legal?”

Why would we subject something that was natural to the regulations of the man?”

“Hold it,” I said. “You brought something into this house that you weren’t sure was safe?”

“What do you mean?” Nick asked.

“Whatever that stuff is—and it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s radioactive or part of the moon or some other kind of stuff and nonsense—it’s causing attack kudzu,” I said.

“You have such an overactive imagination.”

“Not that active.”

Billy said, “I saw it.”

“You,” Nick said, “are delusional, thinking that you have choices, that you have options.” He looked at me. “Did you kill the record?”

“It was either the record or the killer houseplants. You know, I’ve always hated that peace plant. To me it looks like a cobra when it flowers. And it did start to come toward me like one, too.”

“This is fantastical, and I wouldn’t trust the two of you anyway, trying to disturb the peace.”

Billy stepped forward and pushed past him to the kitchen. “Where does he keep the stuff, Laura?” he asked.

“The counter right above the can opener.”

Billy stalked into the kitchen and grabbed the box of tea. “We’ve got a fireplace at the firehouse. I think I know exactly what to do with this.”

“You can’t,” Nick said, “it’s rare.”

“And haven’t you ever thought of why it’s like that?” Billy pushed past Nick again, heading to the door as Nick tried to make a grab at the box.

“You coming, Laura?” Billy asked.

“Don’t do it,” Nick said. “Don’t give in to The Man.”

I turned to my brother. “How many possessions do you own?”

“You know I have less than a hundred. I’ve blogged extensively about it. Of course, that doesn’t count underwear. Underwear is counted as a group.”

I had to stop him before he got into the technical details, which he could talk about all day. “So,” I said, “it won’t take you long to pack up and leave.”

“Laura?” he asked, his face twisting as he tried to comprehend.

“Laura,” Billy said with a smile on his face.

“Billy takes the tea, but you and your stuff can be gone. Since you’re such a minimalist, I’m sure that you’ll be able to find a bed in a homeless shelter if it comes to that, but I think you’ll probably be able to couch surf with one of your friends.”

“Laura,” Nick, started reaching toward my hands, but I crossed my arms over my chest so that he didn’t have a place. “Are you sure about this? It’s not good to make such an impulsive decision.”

Billy stepped up. “Hey, Nicky. Need some help? I can help you pack.”

“No.” Nick turned to me. “Laura, I will leave. As you’ve noticed all my possessions fit in my rolling duffle bag. If you ever want to talk, you know how to reach me through my blog.”

He went upstairs to his room and came back down in ten minutes. He gave me the puppy-dog eyes.

I raised an eyebrow and kept my arms crossed.

Billy opened the door.

Nick rolled out.

I waited for the pangs to hit. Everything would probably hit me tonight. But when a man did not take responsibility for mutating kudzu, then it was time for him to leave. Even Ray Charles could see there was something wrong with that.

Billy shut the door. “Good riddance,” he said, then he pushed off the door. “I know some guys who run a kudzu removal service in their off time; they would be glad to get rid of this stuff. I don’t feel good about it being back there.”

“Thanks,” I said. “But if you know some guys that run a kudzu removal service, why did you offer to help me out?”

“What do you call it? Just being neighborly?”

“You’re from Buffalo, New York. I don’t think of y’all being very warm and fuzzy up there.”

“If you got to know me better, maybe you would.”

He looked sincere. And I waited for the punch line. The joke. But it didn’t come. He just stood there in the middle of a bunch of deflated vines scattered on the floor.

Flowers are pretty. Chocolates are awesome. But when a man does yard work for you, it’s best to pay attention.

“So,” I said, “uh, how do you think we could do that whole getting-to-know-each-other thing?”

“Well, I know that definitely I need to at least find somewhere where they have matchbooks for patrons. Who knows when I’ll need them?”

“I think I can help you out with that.”

I’d handled mutant kudzu. I knew I could handle Billy from Buffalo.

Hump Day Fiction: Faith and Margaritas

 

Cover Art © Talshiar | Dreamstime.com - Summer Retro Cocktails Photo

Cover Art © Talshiar | Dreamstime.com – Summer Retro Cocktails Photo

A women’s fiction short story – What’s the difference between saying you have a belief in a better future and real faith? After being stood up by a first date, Rochelle is about to find out. A 3,200 word – short story about friendship, belief and how sometimes the person who you would normally never talk to is the person who sees everything more clearly than you ever could. “Faith and Margaritas” is available for this website for one week. It is currently available as an ebook on Amazon and Nook and Kobo.

Hump Day Fiction: A Thanksgiving with Family

 

Cover Art © Photographerlondon | Dreamstime.com

Cover Art © Photographerlondon | Dreamstime.com

All Sandra wanted was a nice, Thanksgiving away from her country, family with her new, sophisticated friends. When her cousin Ree Ree shows up unexpectedly, Sandra finds herself trying to reconcile how she grew up to the person she wants to be.

A quick, humorous, holiday read of 3,640 words, “A Thanksgiving With Family” by Irette Y. Patterson was available to read free on this website for one week only. This story is also available as an ebook on Amazon and Nook and Kobo and Apple.

Hump Day Fiction: Meet The Parents

 

Cover Art Copyright Nils Weymann Dreamstime.com

Cover Art Copyright Nils Weymann Dreamstime.com

Marcus wants to put his best foot forward when meeting his girlfriend’s parents. But can he do that while still being himself? “Meet the Parents” was available to read for free for one week only. By the way, if you want your own copy, this story is also available as an ebook on Amazon and Nook and Kobo.

 

Hump Day Fiction: Common Ground

 

Cover Picture © vladimirfloyd - Fotolia.com

Cover Picture © vladimirfloyd – Fotolia.com

Bea wants to find a wedding dress as soon as possible but when her mom gets stuck in traffic, Bea gets stuck wedding dress shopping with her future sister-in-law and perfect Southern Belle Sharon.  Will Bea and Sharon ever find common ground?  A Women’s Fiction Short Story around 3,000 words about finding friends in the most surprising places. “Common Ground,” by Irette Y. Patterson, was available to read free on this website for one week only. It is currently available as an ebook on Amazon and Nook and Kobo.

 

 

Hump Day Fiction: Legacy

 

Cover Art © Hassanmohiudin | Dreamstime.com

Cover Art © Hassanmohiudin | Dreamstime.com

Ten-year-old Angie is a Mouse – a person in her family who is unable to wield magic. To give her the best chance at a normal life, her parents move them to Atlanta in the early 1980s, when opportunities were opening up for Blacks. Instead of making her feel safe, however, the darkness covering the city makes her scared more than ever. A 3,907 word historical fantasy about grandmothers and granddaughters and what it means to feel safe in an insecure world.  “Legacy,” by Irette Y. Patterson, was available to read free on this website for one week only. This story is currently available as an ebook on Amazon and Nook and Kobo.

 

 

 

Hump Day Fiction: Wedding Flowers

 

© Feferoni | Dreamstime.com

Cover Art © Feferoni | Dreamstime.com

Older bride Elyse thought stopping into the floral shop on a whim was a good idea. She figured that she could easily cross off “flowers” on her wedding to-do list. All the choices, though, gets her questioning what she really wants from the wedding.

 “Wedding Flowers,”  a Miss Lila’s Extraordinary Floral Shop story by Irette Y. Patterson, was available to read free on this website for one week only. This story is currently available as an ebook on Amazon and Nook and Kobo.