Peggy stood at her kitchen counter methodically working the shortening into the flour mixture with her fingers, just the way she had learned as a girl in her mother's kitchen. The feel of it in her hands was comforting, reassuring, in a world that seemed to have spun out of control around her. This, she guessed, was why she still baked biscuits nearly everyday. All of her friends had long ago switched to those canned things from the supermarket, along with TV dinners, delivered pizza, and instant tea.
All the wonderful time savers of the day ; Peggy couldn't help but wonder just what they did with all that time they were saving. She had enough trouble filling the hours left over even when she stuck with the old-fashioned ways. And what about those two at the club last night? Surely neither one of them actually lifted a finger to do mundane things like cooking and cleaning, after all one could break a perfectly manicured nail that way! Quickly she arrested that thought, it was way too catty, a few more like that and she would be just like them.
Sliding the pan of biscuits into the preheated oven and moving to the pantry to select a jar of fruit preserves she sighed to herself, what had she been thinking, giving into an impulse like that foolishness with the coffee. It was exactly the sort of cattiness she found so annoying in others. And allotting in her mind incredible powers of persuasion to Janice was simply hiding from the truth. After studying the orderly rows of jars for a moment she selected some of last summer's peach jam and carried it to table. There really was no good reason for her to be resentful of women like that, they did not create the value system that seemed so wrong to her, they were only pawns of it. How the world had come to value dyed hair and polished nails so far above a well run home and perfectly prepared food was a mystery to her, one well beyond her powers of reason, at least for the moment.
Spreading jam on her still warm biscuits she realized there would be more than adequate time later to beat herself up over this, the thing to do now was damage control.
Manny, obviously quite smitten with Frankie, would be ok, as long as Frankie came back. Now there was the rub, would she come back after what Peggy had done to her? There was certainly more to that Frankie and Janice situation than met the eye. They had, after all, left together. Would Janice admit to Frankie that the coffee was her idea?
Finished with her breakfast, Peggy hurried through the clean up chores, suddenly anxious to get to the club, finish cleaning up the mess from last night and see what all the after effects would be.
Ralph took the last clean bowl and spoon from the dishwasher. He filled the bowl with Cheerios, awful things really, but supposed to be good for his heart! On top he heaped several spoons of sugar, then drowned the entire thing in whole milk. Most likely all that sugar and milk fat canceled the benefits of the cereal, but he couldn't stand the stuff otherwise.
Looking for a place to sit, Ralph carried his brimming bowl and spoon from room to room, slopping a bit of sugary milk here and there as he went. Finally in the living room he gave up, perched the bowl on the edge of the coffee table, where he had spotted a small blank spot and shoved yesterday's mail over, pushing the piles on the sofa together and making just enough room to sit.
Sitting there he consumed the mixture, slowly, methodically; while his mind raced at break neck speed. What a mess! This room, his whole house, his bank accounts, his credit cards, everything really was such a mess. And on top of all that he had made a real mess of things last night at the club too. The club, it had been the one shining spot of peace, order, even hope in his life and now he had screwed that too!
Such a fool he had made of himself, drooling over those two girls, and dear Peggy just watching it all! He hadn't even tried to talk to Peggy while driving her home, he was just so absorbed in thoughts of those girls. How could he, what were girls like that to him? Had he managed now to mess that up too? Well, really there was nothing there to mess up anyway, foolish idea on his part that a woman like Peggy, so strong and in control would be the least bit interested in him.
Ralph resolved, for what must have been the thousandth time in his life, to do better. It was way past time he got a grip and sorted his life out, after all he made the messes, he should clean them up. But where to begin?
He slowly became aware of the empty bowl still clutched in his hands, alright, this was as good a place as any to start. Today he would clean house, it would give him plenty of time to figure out what to do about the other things that needed to be sorted out.
Manny checked his watch again, wondering for the briefest moment if it was broken. Surely more than a minute had passed since he last checked, but no, the time was confirmed by the large clock on the office wall. Another 5 minutes to quitting time!
Close enough! Manny began to straighten papers and shut down his computer for the day, today he would be first at the elevator when the clock finally inched its way to 5PM.
Today he would not waste time going home first, today he was off to the club, briefcase and all. No, wait, why bother with that briefcase, there really was no need, he only carried it out of habit and a desire to look more professional and important than he really was. Closing the case he tucked it next to the small filing cabinet where it would probably not be noticed. At last the hands of the clock reached the magic hour and Manny practically bolted for the elevator, hardly noticing and certainly not caring about the crowd of fellow office dwellers that surrounded him.
Of course Manny knew that this headlong rush to the club was silly. After last night it seemed unlikely that Frankie would ever be back to the club. Never mind, it really didn't matter, if there was any chance of seeing her again Manny would be there. He rode the rest of the way on the bus smiling.
Fred was a bit later than usual arriving at the club that day, he left home at the same time as always but somehow his feet had not wanted to move at his usual brisk pace. It seemed that if he did not arrive at the club and actually view the mess they had left, then it might not have happened. His wonderful club, things had seemed to be going so well... It was, or at least had been well on its way to becoming what he had envisioned. A quiet, homey sort of place where people could meet, relax, talk, and simply share bits of their lives without fear.
Placing his key in the door Fred paused, almost wishing that somehow it would turn out that last night had all just been a bad dream. Of course it had not been, there was the sofa still pulled over, out of its usual spot, remnants of refreshments still on the side table, a few missed bits of food and broken things at the end of the coffee table, which was slightly askew from its normal place, not lined up neatly with the couch as it should be. And also there, next to the table, the blue vase, resting miraculously unbroken after its various mishaps. Fred paused, considering starting with picking up the vase and replacing it on the table, but somehow he just didn't want to touch it, like somehow it might jinx things to move it another time just now.
Deciding to ignore the mess for the moment Fred went on to the office and settled in behind the desk. The membership list was front and center, where he had left it last night, neat little check marks beside the names of those who had come for story night. He stared at it blankly. Slowly it actually came into focus and the last two names on the list leaped out at him, different from the rest, they were hand written at the bottom instead of neatly typed in alphabetical order.
Frankie, Janice, those two, or was it just Frankie? They had changed things last night. He considered, what were they doing here anyway? They really didn't fit, he thought about keeping people like them out, but no, that would violate the spirit of the place he was trying to create, anybody, everybody who felt the need should be welcome here. What exactly had happened last night? Fred was really not very sure, had Frankie finally had enough of Manny and spilled her coffee on purpose? Certainly a better alternative than using the probable purse alligator. Maybe it really had been an accident? Should he ask Manny about it, or just let it pass and see what happens next? Fred's head was actually starting to hurt from trying to puzzle it all out, when the sound of the front door provided a welcome interruption to his train of thought.
Peggy looked around, spotted Fred in the office, apparently busy with some paperwork, waved as cheerfully as she could manage and set about clearing up the last remnants of last night's joke gone bad. The first thing she noticed was the blue vase, resting on the floor beside the coffee table, odd she didn't recall that being left there when she and Janice had been picking up things last night. She reached to retrieve it from the floor, then paused, what if it was broken, on the bottom, where she couldn't see it? She would never forgive herself if her foolish stunt had caused that. Summoning nerve from somewhere, she touched it carefully and then grasped it firmly. Whew, after looking at it closely, positive there was no damage, she set it back on the center of the table where it belonged and moved on to the rest of the cleaning. Finally, everything was done except for replacing the sofa, she was about to interrupt Fred and ask for his assistance when the front door opened and Manny entered. Manny was wearing the biggest, most foolish looking grin she had ever seen, she couldn't help but smile back in response. Had she ever even seen Manny smile before? Was this a normal smile for him? It was positively infectious, she felt happier just seeing it. Manny bounced over to the other end of the sofa and grabbed the armrest.
"Need some help?"
Peggy could only manage a nod in response. Together they replaced the sofa and then settled down on opposite ends of it, surveying the once again orderly club.
Fred emerged from the office just as they finished moving the sofa and greeted Manny. He was still trying to figure if he should ask Manny about last night or not when he noted the the big smile on Manny's face. That did it. He would not ask anything, Manny was happy, and he would share it if he wanted to.
Fred sat near them in an easy chair and the three of them began chatting about nothing in particular. It was one of those very forgettable small talk conversations, meant to do nothing more than fill the silence and pass some time. Every few minutes one of the three would glance towards the front door, each with their own hopes about who might enter next.
Peggy surprised herself by wishing that Ralph would show, she was actually starting to like the guy in spite of her better judgment. After the silent ride home last night, she couldn't help but worry that he had somehow guessed she was responsible for the mess. What would she do if someone actually asked her about it?
Manny, of course, was hoping for Frankie. She didn't even have to talk to him, he just wanted to see her again, assure himself that she was real, not a dream.
Fred wanted anybody else to show. He was truly worried that most of the members would not be back after last night, especially John now that he thought about it.
Time passed, they ran out of small talk and the silence started to weigh on them. At last Peggy got up and moved into the kitchen, finding things there to busy herself. Fred drifted back to his paperwork.
Manny moved over to study the shelves of books, hoping to find something to fill the time waiting for Frankie to show.
Eventually his eye fell on a dusty old tome, in barely readable and very gaudy Gothic print the title appeared to be "The Diary of a Don".
He flipped the book open to a random page and began to read.
My Liver and the Lover
I woke this morning with a vague indisposition and a heavy head... calling it morning is just a manner of speaking, it was at least half past noon. Looking in the bathroom mirror I could tell, by the yellowish tint of my eyes that in fact I had a liver crisis overnight. How very polite of the poor thing to not wake me, and go through the thick of it in splendid solitude. Just to make sure, I pulled out a horribly charged tongue... That was it, I felt for the tried organ. Milk, a lot of it, let's make up.
In the fridge the reason for it all still awaited me, at least in part. Unfortunately English doesn't really have words for all the sorts of chocolate I had in there. First, there is a sort of chocolate mousse, with rum, that is much like a thicker, creamier chocolate fudge. There was at least a half pound left, but considering it was 2 pounds to start with, I didn't do that bad after all. Then three different sort of pralines,filled with hazels, with vanilla butter and with marzipan. Two different boxes of chocolate bonbons with all the ridiculous wrappings that someone way up there in the chocolate industrial hierarchy decided once and for all must be in the absolute worst taste affordable by the modern wrapping industry. The reds, the yellows, all gildy, the designs... the smaller box had the unfortunate effigy of a W. Mozart on it... the maestro had a definite expression of exasperation on his press rendered figure. With a sigh I had to admit my defeat, picked the maestro, along with the box he was on and the chocolate stuffed in it, along with most of the pralines and threw the lot in the garbage. They were there for almost a week now, enough is enough. I decided to keep the fudge-like thing, I really like that one after all.
I really hate throwing away chocolate, and I'm sure it's all linked to my childhood. It's not that I had a sweets-deprived childhood you see... but growing up in a soviet-satellite country in the 80's, chocolate was a truly scarce commodity. Trying to balance the ridiculous situation of a huge industrial sector that could not sell water in the Sahara, the rulers of the time decided to cut on all imports. It did keep the coke and meth and most all other sweet stuffs well out... but also bananas, and cotton, and silk, and fine drinks and, interestingly enough, condoms. It seems the committee for national planification decided that, since it can't really supply even bread to most of the citizens, the only thing to do is force them to multiply, thus solving the problem. Don't ask me how they figured that one.
However, even the communists have some people more equal than others, and my family was more equal than most. Now you might not ever think about coca-cola, except when you're out and go buy, and then only for maybe two intervals of three seconds each. But try to understand the mentality of people living in a communist regime. Nothing was on sale anywhere. Not even oil, or sugar. Imagine a 23 million strong country that had absolutely no convenience stores. At all. None. You can see how keeping yourself supplied becomes an important matter. Often enough, the most important matter. For days. Weeks. Eventually it turns into a life-long preoccupation. Fifteen years after the fall of the regime, people still spend over half of their income on foodstuffs. As a direct result of this devouring preoccupation with the bare necessities, my house was ever overstuffed. At a time I was very sick, and the doctors figured it might be the appendix and they might have to operate. However, they told my folks, they have no serum at the hospital. I'm okay for a few days it seemed to them, but in case I need surgery they need serum. My family went into a panic, and everybody in the far reaching family network was alerted. A couple days later a total of 23 pounds of physiological serum was stacked nicely in a dark closet, in half pound and quarter pound bags, enough to do a triple bypass on a horse and two mares, and it turned out I had an intestinal indisposition and my appendix was fine. In fact I still retain it to this day. Once my father brought a 95 pound box of chocolate wafers. It sat in a closet for weeks, anybody who came visiting was forced to take at least a few... course they didn't have to be forced too hard. Kids might have been talking about sex, arson, rock and roll, sex again, fast cars, super heroes, or whatever else in the US... but here, they were talking about sweets. You can't imagine how loved I was because I always had sweets. And back in those days, whoever had them was smart, beautiful, and always right. Looking at people sucking up cause they don't want to be in bad terms with the bubblegum dispenser is probably a life wrecking experience, especially when you are young and inexperienced. You might think that is the worst and most base manifestation of all there is disgusting in mankind. It's what the communists called 'the new man'.
As a result, I really hate to throw away chocolate. I am sure somewhere there must be a nine year old kid who never had any chocolate in his life. Or his eleven year old sister who, after probably days of fighting with herself, offered to trade her (almost) complete collection of Pif magazines for a full bag of Hariboos. You probably don't even know what those are anyway. Or what somebody had to do to get them blasted French socialistic propaganda pieces of crap they called Pif magazine.
I have a friend. She is young and smart. To add to that, she is very very beautiful. Of course we might well know that beauty in women is an entirely ludicrous concept, just like the idea of true love. But the crowd doesn't know, and she is fortunate enough to be the very ideal of the time. Natural blond, very thin, with long legs and a very common face, which is to say it has very little for distinctive features, her nose is not too big and not too small, her lips are not too full and yet not lacking, her ears are not too high and not too low... in a word she is perfect. Sad perfection of the lack of all accident. What is even more rare, she is very determined. She knows what she wants to do with her life. She is in fact very poor. Her parents divorced, and over here that means the same thing nine cases of ten. It means the husband was a drunk, and that's usually a violent drunk, but that is not enough, that can go on for years, decades. It also means he was unable to keep a job. My friend has decided, I'm sure, although she never told me as much, since we never really discussed it, that she will never be poor in her life. It is one of those decisions that align a life around an idea, and she has the discipline to do it, too. She doesn't have the confidence unfortunately, which is, I'm told, very common for girls with disrespected fathers. She shopped around for some and figured in her position her best shot at making the pot-o-gold is to become a lawyer. Of course, most girls that are so close to a Barbie doll (except they also include a vagina) want to be stars, singers, go to Hollywood, marry a rich guy. Did I mention she is smart? She is dangerously smart, I might say. She somehow managed to grasp, without me even telling her, the crappiness of that gildy dream. In fact, she decided to fuck unattractive old men for a limited time only, instead of putting herself at their disposal for the rest of her life, which in that case is usually either very short or very sad. Who can say now Marilyn died for nothing?
To go through college however one needs money. Also clothes, food, a place to stay. In this town all that is very expensive, especially if one would rather have good food and nice clothes. You can spend living decently an yearly average salary each month... or two weeks. So she entertains. She is not precisely a whore, but that is a scholarly distinction. She doesn't walk the streets at night trying to talk to strangers. Besides, that would be very inefficient for her purpose. This country is very stratified, and to spend your time with the commoners you will have a callous vulva before you can afford a semester's tuition. Not to mention the poorer they are, the more difficult they are to manage... a millionaire might pay you a thousand dollars just to laugh at his jokes... but your average guy will want you to cook, clean, fuck, be jealous, be abused, do all this once in private and twice in company so he can show you off to his friends, and when all is said and done, his money back. So she entertains those who can afford. In fact she doesn't ask for much, at least in terms of the civilized world, and she is very much decided to work for all of it.
We however are friends, which isn't my delicate way of saying we never had sex. It is my delicate way of saying I am the only one person that I know of that a professional of keeping company appreciates the company of. Since I'm neither abusive towards women, nor do I really think any less of a woman for fucking around, we are rather close. As such, I know all sorts of things about her that people will never find out. You might think I just proven myself the liar about the not abusive part, being en route to tell you intimate bits about a girl that obviously has shared them with me as some sort of confidence. In fact, I know her well enough to be certain that right about now she will have her blood racing with the perverse pleasure of being seen naked, or rather stripped, of the only covers she decided to keep all for herself, and all this in complete anonymity. So you see, my dear reader, yet again you are the instrument of the whore's pleasure, not the other way around. And considering you likely paid to read this...
In the hope that anyone will ever get this far with the reading, let me continue. My friend has an admirer. What's better, a secret admirer. In fact I suspect there must be at least two, I'll tell you why later. She is a very neurotic girl, as most very disciplined people are, and for a bit she was somewhat scared. Said admirer's face was never seen, although every now and again she thought she spotted a likely contact at an event, or in a bar. What the admirer did was send her flowers, sometimes, and chocolate, most of the time. And of course all sorts of notes filled with the most ridiculous crap, and usually in verse, or should I say in rhyme. I never could quite understand this, the libraries are filled to the brim with poetry, some good, some not so good, but all of it five notches better than anything an average bloke can produce overnight. And yet nobody uses the library, everybody insists on scribbling his very own, very poor rhymed sentences in love notes. Why? I ask you. You think there is any chance anybody might spot your theft? So what if they do? Better stolen good verse than your own poor. In the former all that proves is you would steal for your love. In the later, that you can't write poetry, or even worse, that you are idiotic enough not to notice. And if you have the common sense to steer clear of the very very famous ones, and the very fashionable ones, there is no way on earth you will ever get caught, even if your beloved is an university teacher of poetry with 27 PhD's on her wall. In which case she wouldn't be interested in you anyway.
My friend happens to be borderline on eating disorder. She barely eats anything. She is far from fat, so far from it I told her a number of times I'm surprised she ovulates at all. And on all those occasions time proved she was, indeed, just late. She will not eat anything animal. She doesn't swallow, it took me a while to realize what her problem was, sitting there not saying a word, not spitting, not swallowing, her usual sharp, decided self unable to make a call... normally at such a time you ask, but how was she to ask? She lives off roots and grass from what I imagine, and at some point she had managed an anemia. I took her to my doctor, ever since having a bullet taken out of my leg with the equivalent of a nail file disinfected with a lighter flame, and then the wound strapped together with silk torn from a beautiful green skirt I liked very much I have developed a sort of underground hospital, I think I could probably pull off an underground liver transplant if need be. Of course, the wild years are now long behind us, and any real emergency is very unlikely, but still the thing develops as by a will of its own. Hence I have a doctor, or a dozen, for most anything, and in this case I told the good man the girl is not eating anything and he'd better fix her up, which he did try, and I'm not sure what stances of medical hell he painted before the young and huge eyed lawyer-to-be, but it did have some effect, and she eats at least fish and liver every now and again as a result.
But not chocolate. Definitely not chocolate. So I get stuck with it, what can I say.