I is for Ida

Ida sat at her kitchen table and scanned the morning newspaper. She sipped her coffee and took a bite of her honey-slathered toast. As usual the news was all depressing. “Screw this Noise” she said out loud, though there was no one around to hear her. She called information and got the phone number for the newspaper’s subscription department. When an associate named Wiley asked Ida why she wanted to cancel her subscription she said, “because there is nothing good left in this world, we have gone to Hell in a Hand Basket,” and she hung up.

After completing her morning chores, Ida put on her face, then drove to her local supermarket. With a short list in hand she walked slowly down the aisles with her cart. A young boy pushed by her on his way to grab a box of cookies, “young man, show some respect to your elders” Ida yelled. He looked at her, terrified and his mother glared at Ida. “Don’t talk to my precious boy like that” she said. “Precious?He’s hardly precious, he just about knocked me down. I could sue you!” The woman, dressed in drape-y expensive neutrals, accented by faux spiritual jewelry, grabbed her son and hurried away.  “I can hardly wait to see what kind of a nightmare he grows up to be!” Ida yelled after her.

She turned down the aisle marked “International Foods.” Ida felt superior to the schmucks who just shopped the “regular” aisles, as if she were more worldly and progressive. She placed a package of Italian cookies in her cart, then added a box of Abuelita Mexican style instant chocolate drink mix. “Es Muy Delicioso” said Ida loudly to a woman standing nearby. “Good to know,” answered the woman, quickly turning her cart away from Ida. “At least I know a little Spanish,” Ida grumbled.

At the check-out counter she stood behind a young man who had several containers of Tofu, along with many vegetables. “Are you a Vegetarian?”  Ida asked him accusingly. The young man eyed her, smiling slightly.  “Yes Ma’am I am,” he answered. “That’s why you’re so thin and pasty, you need to eat some meat. But you have good manners, so that’s something I guess.” The young man sighed, paid his bill and took his canvas shopping bags with him. The cashier started ringing up Ida’s purchases, hoping to avoid any conversation with her. “Did you color your hair yourself?” asked Ida. The cashier flinched. “Yes, I did, why do you ask?” “Well, I think you went a little overboard on the red, it’s too bright. People are going to see you coming from a mile away. You should stick with a nice light auburn.” The cashier gritted her teeth. If her Manager wasn’t standing nearby she would tell Ida to go jump in a lake. “Oh well, to each her own I guess,” she said cheerily.

On her way back to her car, Ida saw the most adorable little black dog tied up to a pole outside the store. “Unbelievable!” she exclaimed. She hated people who tied up their dogs while they were busy running errands. It was too dangerous, anything could happen – the dog could break free and get run over by a car, a mean kid might tease the dog, the dog could eat something and get sick…She would like to tie the dog’s owner to a pole and see how she or he liked it! Ida put her groceries in her car and then went back to the dog. She bent down and petted the dog and spoke to him lovingly. The dog seemed to take to her immediately.  “Your owner does not deserve you,” she cooed. And then, just like that, she untied the dog, picked him up and when he didn’t resist, she carried him back to her car. He rode shotgun with her back to the house, not seeming to mind one bit that he was with a complete stranger.

Back at the house Ida found an old frisbee in the hall closet and she and Sammy – the perfect name for him! – played in the backyard until Sammy was tired out. She then set down a bowl of water and made him a cozy bed from old comforters and pillows, though she knew she would let him sleep with her tonight. She figured he deserved a special meal, so she would cook him chicken and rice for dinner. Sammy, exhausted from the exercise and sudden life change, immediately passed out. Ida made herself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and watched him sleep. He snored like her long dead husband, Earl. But Sammy was much cuter than Earl. Earl had had a face that not even his mother could have loved, but he had been a good man. Well, he had been a reasonably good man. Ida lay down on her beige chenille couch.  Actually Earl had not been a very good man at all, what the hell was she thinking?! He had been mean as a snake! Ugly and mean – there’s a winning combination for you! Ida chuckled to herself. She had been so happy the day Earl died that she had gone out shopping to celebrate. She had bought herself a pair of blue sandals, a matching purse and a perfume called “La Vie Est Belle.” Ida closed her eyes and was soon fast asleep. Sammy eventually joined her on the couch, jamming his face under her left armpit.

 

F is for Frannie

It was 5:00 pm, Frannie’s husband Gus would be home from work soon. Frannie checked on the pot roast in the oven and set the table. She added a little more butter to the mashed potatoes, then poured herself a glass of wine.

Frannie kept a box of Chardonnay in the fridge. Every evening at precisely 5:00 o’clock, she poured herself a large goblet-full and continued to refill it throughout the night. As Gus would ramble on about his day at work, Frannie would sip from her glass and respond appropriately. When needed she would gasp, other times shake her head, but more often than not she would simply nod approvingly.

From 7:00-10:00 pm Gus watched back-to-back episodes of those cop shows featuring tough talking NYC policemen solving heinous crimes. At 8:00 Frannie would bring Gus his dessert, which he would eat while lying down on their brown leather couch. He would balance the plate on his soft round belly and slowly shovel forkfuls of sweetness into his small mouth. On more than one occasion Frannie had asked him to eat his dessert while sitting up, she was afraid he would choke. He always refused, saying he worked hard and deserved to relax when he was home. Frannie didn’t know the Heimlich manoeuvre and she had no intention of learning it, so he was on his own.

Tonight’s dessert was pecan pie and vanilla ice cream. The pie was freshly baked, not by Frannie, but by the bakery at her local supermarket. Though Frannie considered herself a decent baker, she saw no reason to waste her time with it. A man like Gus didn’t know the difference between a home baked pie and a store bought one, so what was the point? Besides, Frannie enjoyed keeping up the ruse, delighting each time she discarded another bakery box.

While Gus watched television Frannie would tidy up and lay out clean clothes for him for the next day. Then, after refreshing her wine, she would go to their office and turn on the computer. Frannie collected garden gnomes – she currently had 39 gnomes displayed throughout their backyard – and she was always on the hunt for new and unique ones. Last summer Frannie had suffered a horrible loss to her collection: her red, white and blue 4th of July gnome had been stolen from their front porch. It had taken Frannie weeks to recover. What kind of a low-life steals a patriotic garden gnome?

Frannie was busy scrolling through websites when Gus called out: “Frannie, a little more please! It’s one of your best pecan pies ever!” “Ha!” thought Frannie. She went and retrieved the plate from Gus’s belly and re-filled it with more pie and ice cream.

“Thanks Frannie,” he said with his eyes glued to the television screen, as she placed the plate back on his bulging mid-section.

Frannie returned to her search and ten minutes later she scored: a bright yellow gnome on sale for $19.99. She quickly typed in her credit card information and address. The yellow would be a great pop of color for the back corner of her garden which was currently filled with darker shade plants.

“Frannie, I’m finished!” yelled Gus.

Frannie went and took the empty plate off of Gus’s belly, rinsed it and placed it in the dishwasher.  Then she went outside, turned on the sprinkler and watched as her gnomes enjoyed their nightly bath.

E is for Ethel

“Would you like to try a sample?  It’s our newest praline, coconut & chocolate coated, they’re just delicious!”  A very large woman wearing a pink felt hat – in June! – graciously accepted a sample.  Ethel smiled at her and then moved along, pausing to take a sip of orange Gatorade to keep her energy up.  She kept a small bottle in her apron pocket, though technically speaking it was more of a Gatorade Cocktail.  The vodka allowed Ethel to sail through her day and not be bothered by the loud tourists, the sticky fingered kids and the rich ladies who looked down on Ethel, even as they picked out the chocolates that they would later binge on.

“Ethel – it’s time for your break!” shouted her Manager, Mary-Jo.  Mary-Jo believed in crystals, colour therapy and past lives.  She dressed in purple because it was her “power colour,” “I’m a Goddess Warrior when I wear purple!” she was fond of saying.  She also wore huge cuff bracelets – Wonder Woman style – several ornate rings and dangly amethyst earrings.  “Ethel -” she lightly touched Ethel’s arm, “we need to get you dressing in your power colour – turquoise.  Your life will manifest ten times its beauty once you start honouring your inner Goddess!”  Ethel had absolutely no idea what Mary-Jo was talking about.  She continued on into the break room and opened the fridge to get her lunch.  Ethel ate the same thing everyday – carrot sticks and a tuna sandwich.  She figured this healthy eating cancelled out her daily vodka intake.

Ethel slipped off her Easy Spirit loafers and took a bite of her sandwich.  She looked forward to finishing her shift and getting home.  On Wednesday nights her friend Marg always came over.  They would order Chinese food and drink a couple bottles of wine, sometimes three.  Marg was twice divorced and lived with seven cats.  Ethel couldn’t stand the smell of Marg’s apartment so Marg always came to Ethel’s place.  They had met each other years ago at an AA meeting and had remained close friends.

As Ethel munched on her carrots and read a magazine article about celebrity dogs, a large crystal suddenly appeared in front of her on the table.  “Ethel, I bought you this sacred, healing crystal to help you start out on your journey of transformation.”  Mary-Jo was looking at her intently, like one of those zealots who were always handing out pamphlets.  “Christ on a Crutch!” thought Ethel.  Just then, Julie, a part-time worker, buzzed the intercom: “Mary-Jo, I need your help out here, I’ve got a line-up.” “Find your power Ethel!” said Mary-Jo as she raced out – Goddess Warrior style – to help Julie.  Ethel finished her sandwich and carrots, then stretched out on the old, white leather couch to take a ten minute nap.  She left the crystal on the table, next to the roll of paper towels and packets of sugar and salt.  “I’ve got my own damn power, thank you very much,” she said to herself as she dozed off.

C is for Charlie

Charlie activated the boutique’s alarm then locked the door.  She walked to her car and got in, but before starting the engine she got out and walked back to the door.  She tried opening it, but of course it was locked.  Okay, she thought, all is alright.

Driving home she listened to KCRW, while dangling a Belmont out the window. A Prius drove up next to her – “you’re killing yourself and polluting our shared air!” shouted a twenty-something.  He had a messy man bun, an even messier Grizzly Adams beard and though Charlie couldn’t see them, she was certain that he was wearing skinny jeans – probably with the pre-shredded knees. Charlie took a long drag of her cigarette and blew smoke towards his open window.  She smiled and waved as he roared off – well, as much as you can roar off when you’re driving a Prius.

Charlie sang to herself, “hold’er Jack, we’re headed for the rhubarb!” as she took a sharp corner into Trader Joe’s parking lot.  She grabbed her canvas shopping bags – God forbid you didn’t bring your own bags, the other shoppers would probably stone you to death with organic nuts – and headed in to do a little grocery shopping.

She filled her cart quickly – fresh flowers (every Friday she bought herself flowers), wine, pre-made salad, Louisiana sausages, Tortilla chips…In the frozen dessert aisle a handsome guy with salt and pepper hair smiled at her, “have you tried these Mochi?  They’re insane.  Last time I bought them I ate the whole box in one sitting.”  He was wearing beat-up black engineer boots – maybe Frye? – with faded jeans, a pricey looking sports watch and a ratty Motörhead tee. Hmm thought Charlie.  She smiled back.  “I like a guy who binges, I’ll try a box of those,” she reached over to get a box out of the freezer and their arms touched.  “I’m Max” he held out his hand to shake hers.  “Charlie,” she answered, giving his hand a firm shake after she placed the Mochi in her cart.

They walked down the aisle together.  “I forgot my shopping bags,” he said with a grimace.  “I’m dreading going to the check-out counter, they always give you that look, you know?”  Charlie laughed, “I know!!  I’m so over this ‘Ecowarrior, green smoothie drinking, politically correct, everybody is wearing glasses, retro crap!’ I can’t take it anymore!”  Max exploded into a fit of laughter.  He was so loud that several guys in the Craft Beer section looked up from their label hunting.  His laughter reminded Charlie of Rhoda Morgenstern from The Mary Tyler Moore show, it didn’t seem to match who he was and yet it was perfect.

 

 

B is for Beatrice

Beatrice spent her afternoons in the field behind her family’s home.  Under a giant weeping willow she had created the most beautiful little hideaway for herself.  Using odds and ends and some colorful sari fabric she had bought at a garage sale, Beatrice had fashioned what interior decorators would call a “boho-chic retreat.”

The day was sunny and warm, so Beatrice knotted the fabric doors to the tree so that the sunshine could pour in.  She curled up like a cat, cozy on her patchwork pillows and opened her journal.

May 16th 2008

School was lame – as usual.  I hate everyone except Denise.  Not that Denise is THAT great, but she’s ok.  We ate lunch together – as usual.  But somehow we ended up sitting next to Jessica and her gang of wannabes.  I would rather choke on a piece of steak than be friends with Jessica. Denise and I did our “thing” where we pretend to have a conversation but secretly we’re really eavesdropping.  All the girls talked about was the school dance and their dresses – lame!  Again, I would rather die – like someone could knife me in the gut – than be one of those girls.  They are an embarrassment to the entire race of females.

Beatrice paused and took a few bites of her bear paw cookie and sucked orange juice from a glass with a red licorice straw.  A ball of fur whizzed by the hideaway door – it was Len, her family’s cat.  Like most cats, Len did his own thing.  At times he would curl up next to Beatrice on her bed and purr like the cats do in commercials.  But more often than not he seemed to look at Beatrice and her family with disdain, as if he were King and they were his lowly servants.  Beatrice resumed writing.

Denise and I are OBVIOUSLY not going to the stupid dance – as if!  Denise is coming over here and we’re going to watch The Stepford Wives, it’s some creepy 1970’s movie where the men turn their wives into robot ladies.  Can you believe that?!  Men are lame.  They think they know everything and that they’re better than us.  But they better watch out! Girls like me – and Denise – we’re not going to put up with their CRAP!  Mom makes dinner for dad every single night, he NEVER cooks! There is no way that I’m cooking for my husband every night!   He can go to California Pizza Kitchen and pick up dinner twice a week.  Then HE will cook dinner twice a week and I will cook dinner twice a week.  That leaves one night for us to go out to a fancy restaurant for a fancy dinner.  That’s how it’s going to go down, otherwise I am NOT getting married.

Beatrice put down her journal and stretched her long, stick-like legs onto the grass.  She tried to imagine being a robot lady.  Just then Len strolled in, looked at her like she was useless and strolled back out.  We really need to get a dog, thought Beatrice.

 

 

 

 

 

A is for Annabelle

Annabelle stretched out on the park bench, hiking up her dress a little to try and tan her legs. “Sweet Jesus, I’m white as cake flour.” She tilted her head, sunflower-style, hoping that her tiny freckles would soon turn to Jennifer Aniston bronzed skin. She kept a tight grip on her purse. Her parents had warned Annabelle about New Yorkers – “they’re savages!” her father had hissed when she’d told him about her plans to visit the city. “Don’t let go of your purse for one second!” her mother had cried. Her mother had also secretly packed Annabelle’s bag with bandages, power bars and a “rape whistle.”

Ever since watching Breakfast at Tiffany’s as a child, Annabelle had dreamt of visiting New York City. Of course as an eight year-old she had not been aware of the dark undercurrent of the movie, she had simply been in love with Audrey’s style, her milk-filled champagne glasses and the glamour of Manhattan. So after earning a degree – and top marks – in Paralegal Studies from Emmerson Community College, Annabelle had decided to reward herself with her dream trip.

She was starting to get a little hungry, so she decided to take herself out for a chic lunch. Annabelle had made a list of all the fashionable restaurants that celebrities and style-makers frequented and she made her way to one of them, “Saint Martine” in Soho. On the subway downtown, Annabelle chatted with a young woman named Crystal who told her all about her cheating, no-good boyfriend. Annabelle advised her to leave him immediately: “Life is short and precious! Don’t waste one more minute on him!” Crystal had been moved by Annabelle’s warm demeanour and had giver her her phone number scrolled on the back of an old prescription. “If you get in a jam and need any help, call me!” she said as she hopped off the train.

Once on the cobblestone streets of Soho, Annabelle took a moment to fix her face and smooth out her Kate Spade floral dress. She’d bought the dress for fifteen dollars at The Salvation Army. Annabelle shopped thrift stores on a regular basis, but she only frequented the ones near rich neighborhoods. She also had a brand new Coach purse, a graduation gift from her Aunt Helen who understood the importance of dressing well. “Annabelle is going to be surrounded by high-end lawyers, she needs to look the part,” Aunt Helen had said when her mother protested that the purse was too expensive.

Though the restaurant was full, the hostess took a liking to Annabelle, there was just something about her face, it was like a friendly, round moon pie and most people couldn’t resist spending a few minutes with her. Before long Annabelle was seated at a corner table with perfect people-watching views and the hostess – Jaimee – was telling her all about her latest audition which had gone extremely well. “I think I nailed it, I really do. I think I’m finally going to get my shot and I’m sooo ready! Know what I mean about being sooo ready for something?” she asked Annabelle. “I totally know what you mean. I was sooo ready to get out of Chilton Missouri and now here I am! And you know what? You ARE going to get the part, I just know it. You have that star quality, that ‘je ne sais quoi!'” Jaimee put her hands in an emoji-style prayer position and then quickly walked off to seat two boho-chic model types. Suddenly a glass of champagne appeared in front of Annabelle, “it’s on the house,” said a beautiful waiter as he swept by her. Annabelle took her very first sip of champagne, delighting in how the bubbles danced on her tongue. New Yorkers are not Savages, she thought. And I’m not going home.

Stanley

Stanley awoke from a long luxurious sleep, stretched and then set out walking.  He turned down the alleyway behind Greenwood Avenue and headed to the grey duplex with the blue trim, number 105.  The back gate was open, so he strolled in.  He was hungry and was looking forward to having lunch with Mrs. Blackwell.  He sat on her deck for about five minutes, enjoying the mid-day sun while waiting for her to appear.  Then he decided to take a stroll through her backyard since she was obviously running late.

Mrs. Blackwell had recently added new planters which were filled with pink flowers that smelled like delicious candies.  He also noticed a new herb garden, each herb had its own little sign: “basil,” “oregano,” “mint.”  He took a little taste of the mint, it was lovely and made his mouth tingle.  In the back corner of the yard Mrs. Blackwell had moved her porch swing, which had received an update with bright new yellow cushions.  Stanley decided to wait there since it was out of the sun and under the shade of a big leafy tree.  He settled in for a mini-nap while Mrs. Blackwell finished up with whatever was making her late for their lunch date.  He dozed happily, enjoying the swaying of the tree’s leaves above him – it was as if he had his own “garçon” fanning him. The sweet garden smells made his stomach gurgle, he could hardly wait to eat.

“Stanley!” called out Mrs. Blackwell.  Her voice was soft, with a hint of a Southern twang.  Mrs Blackwell had grown up in Texas and though she had lived in Toronto for twenty-five years she still considered herself a die-hard Texan, she even had a “Don’t Mess with Texas” plaque on her front porch.  Stanley headed over to the deck and joined Mrs. Blackwell at the patio table under a huge umbrella which she had opened to shield them from the sun.  She had set out two plates of food, iced tea (she was Texan after all) and water.  She smiled at Stanley, thankful for his company.  Ever since her husband Earl had passed away last year she had been terribly lonely.  Having a daily lunch companion who lived right in her neighborhood had lifted her spirits and put a little spark back in her step.

She sprinkled salt on her fresh avocado and tomato sandwich and took a small dainty bite.  “A little slice of heaven!” she said.  Stanley was focused on opening the shell of his giant peanut and extricating the nut.  He tried his best to eat as little of the shell as possible.  He chirped away happily as he finished his peanut and moved on to his walnut.  Mrs. Blackwell loved to watch Stanley eat.  It was like watching an artist at work, he ate so speedily, yet with such grace.  She told Stanley about her busy morning.  She had baked a cake for a friend’s birthday, cleared out her husband’s bedroom closet – which she had been procrastinating about – and called her doctor about the arthritis in her left knee which seemed to be getting worse.  Stanley chirped and swung his tail around in sympathy.

As per usual, Stanley took the last few nuts and stuffed them in his mouth.  Mrs. Blackwell knew his habits well. Now he would be off to hide the nuts for later and hopefully, if his memory served him, he would remember where he had hidden them.  “Good-bye Stanley!  See you tomorrow!” called out Mrs. Blackwell.  Stanley chirped and scurried away quickly.  It was crucial that he bury his nuts before other squirrels noticed that his mouth was full.  Otherwise he ran the risk of having them secretly follow him and then steal his delicious, organic, Trader Joe’s nuts.  It was a tough world out there, but at least he had his good friend Mrs. Blackwell, she was a gem.

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