Howard put the
broom into the shed at the back of the diner and tossed the bag of leaves into
the dumpster before heading for the IGA.
What the hell was Bitsy thinking, sending a man down to the store to buy
plants? Couldn’t she have sent
Ellie? Or did Bitsy believe, like many
of the residents of Medford, that he’d gone soft in the head? Howard frowned at the thought. Just because a man didn’t talk didn’t make him
stupid. Bitsy of all people ought to
have understood that.
Laundromat, one of the Ransom boys stuck a finger into the coin door of the pay
phone, looking for change. His brother
stuck a hanger inside the cigarette machine and worked it around
furiously. Their father Travis sat on
the washing machine, looking exhausted and defeated. Raising those boys would take the life out of
anyone, Howard thought.
Travis raised a
hand in greeting, which Howard returned.
Many times Travis had sat beside
Howard at the breakfast bar, chewing on tobacco and jawing about the difficulty
of raising boys without a mother. “Count
yerself lucky, Howard Heacock,” Travis would always say, shaking his head. But Howard would have given his eyeteeth for
children of his own, even if they were like the Travis boys.
Howard.” Eloise Dimkowitcz stepped out
of the pharmacy, clutching a lottery ticket in her left hand. Howard nodded and continued down Main. That pharmacy had driven Tank Jones out of business. When they were in high school, Tank’s
reputation as a nose tackle spread throughout all of Ohio. Tank went to college on a football
scholarship, got his degree in pharmacy and set up shop. Less than ten years later, one of the big
guys came in and took him down. Tank
knew he couldn’t compete with that. He
sold the store and put on one of the company badges and put himself behind the
counter, dolling out prescriptions but surrendering the day-to-day operations
of the business to a young manager who apparently knew better. Every day that Tank worked behind the counter
of another man’s business, he appeared to get a little smaller.
better have those plants all picked out, that much was for certain, Howard
thought, as he found himself standing at the entrance to the IGA. The doors slid open and he stepped inside.
“Hey, Howie.” Andee Miller
looked up from the store’s sole cash register where she was ringing up Hank
Delacroix, the town barber. “You here
for them plants?”
“I got them
wrapped up. Just bring your truck round
Truck? How many plants was she expecting him to take? No, Howard would just carry them up the hill
and if he couldn’t carry all of them, he could just borrow a cart from Andee
and wheel them there.
“You got your
Bible verse memorized, Hank?” Andee
Miller firmly believed she was in charge of single-handedly saving all of the
lost souls of Medford.
“You know I don’t, Andee.”
“Save ten percent, Hank, if you can just give me your verse.”
“I got my coupons, Andee. That’ll
save me just as much.”
“Hank, it’s right there on the sign.
Just read it aloud to me.”
Hank patted his shirt pocket. “Damn. Forgot my glasses again.”
“Oh for heaven’s
sake, Hank.” Andee closed her eyes and
took a deep breath. “’For wherever your
treasure is, there also will your heart be.’”
“I ain’t got no
treasure, Andee.” Hank thumped his
chest. “And my heart’s right here, where
the doctor tells me it’s supposed to be.”
frowned. “I’ll give you the discount
anyway. But this is the last…”
Howard sighed and
headed down an aisle to kill time. He
found himself in the baking aisle: flour, sugar, cocoa and chocolate chips and dusty
jars of maraschino cherries lined up on the shelf. There was a little display of Halloween
cookie cutters and tubes of orange and black frosting. Howard didn’t understand how people like
Annie Fowler and Bitsy could take all these independent ingredients and combine
them into something better than they were alone. What was it they did that other women
“Now where did
that Howard get to? Did you see him
leave the store?” Andee said.
“No, ma’am,” Hank
“Well he sure
ain’t here anymore.”
strange one, that’s for sure. Beam me
up, Scotty,” Hank said.
yourself, Hank. There ain’t nothing
wrong with Howard. ‘Sides,” she
continued, “some of us like the silent type.”
The doors slid
open Another customer entered. “Hey, Wally,” Hank called. “I ain’t seen you in weeks. What brings you to town?”
“Come to pay my
respects to a dear friend. Town’ll never
see a teacher the likes of Wheezy Hart again.”
“It’s a real
shame,” Andee said. “No wife. No family.”
“Remember when he
used to live outside of town?” Hank
said. “Whatever happened to that
“His daddy sold it
to the Fowlers, after they learned about Wheezy’s asthma,” Wally said.
“And now,” Andee
said, “someone’s trying to buy the farm off of Jonathan.”
surprised by this news: He hadn’t heard it before.
“You ask me, he
ought to sell out. Lord knows we could
use the influx of people. On a good day
I have eight clients,” Hank said. “That’s
not enough to keep a man in bread.”
that place,” Andee said.
“Yes,” Wally said. “But we love this place too. That farm is land we could build on. The developer wants to put up thirty houses
and a couple of nice stores, too.”
“Stores that will
likely put me out of business. Fancy
houses bring fancy people who want prettified stores,” Andee said. “Besides, what a man does with his own land is
his own business.”
“Not when it
affects more than the man. Jonathan’s
sitting on a gold mine,” Wally said.
never has two cents to rub together, Wally and you know it.”
“He sells that
place and he’ll have more than two cents.
Hell, he doesn’t even pay Howard Heacock a decent wage. Howard’s on the far side of thirty and he
still can’t afford a place of his own.
And that girl what works down at Bitsy’s. He’s got her working her fingers to the bone
on the farm. Probably doesn’t pay her a
“Jonathan’s a fair
man, Wally. And Howard…Where is Howard,
anyhow?” Andee asked. “He was supposed
to take his truck out back and pick up those plants Bitsy ordered. Oh, Lord.”
She walked to the window and peered out.
“I promised ‘em to Bitsy before the funeral.”
“Me and Wally will
run ‘em up, Andee,” Hank said. “It’s not
as if I have any customers waiting for me back at the shop.”
“Thank you, Hank. Could you help us load up, Wally?”
while the three headed to the back of the store. And after they’d left, their arms full of
plants, he sneaked out the entrance. He
knew what Bitsy’s and Annie’s secret was: Both the women cooked the way they
lived their lives: with love and not malice.
Howard swore he could taste the love in their food. And Jonathan Fowler cared for the land in the
same way—with a heart full of love; a love that no builder would extend to the
farm, should he get his hands on it. No. Howard shook his head. The only thing a builder would love about the
farm is the money it would generate. He
hoped—for the sake of the Fowlers and Ellie and, yes, for himself—that Jonathan
wouldn’t sell the farm that had been Howard’s true home for the past eighteen
For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Dili challenged me with "take a good quote you like from something sci-fi, and use it to make something that's anything but sci-fi" and I challenged Chaos Mandy with "The sun winked out and the skies went black.
What happens next?"
Labels: Fiction, Indie Ink Writing Challenge