Post # 202 The Flour Brigade (A Short Story by ME!)

December 16, 2013 at 4:51 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 202 The Flour Brigade (A Short Story by ME!)

For today’s post, I’m offering a short story in rough draft that I’ve been working on for some time.  It’s food-oriented so it fits with the theme of the blog.  Please feel free to comment on it, let me know what you think, etc.

 

The Flour Brigade

The knock on the door startled her.  She wasn’t expecting anyone.  To her delight it was Tommy.  Bless him!   He preferred to be called Tom or Thomas, as befitted his age, but to her he would always be Tommy.

“Hi, Mom,” he said as the cold air pushed him inside. “I’m here to do your walks.”

“Thank you, dear.  But I could get one of the neighborhood boys to do it.”

“It’s all right.  I wanted to.  I’m going to get started.  Have some coffee ready.”

She smiled and went to the kitchen at the back of the rambling house.  Pushing sacks of flour and sugar aside, and humming off-key, she made a pot of her “special” coffee.  The sounds of the shovel scraping ice and snow off the sidewalks brought back other pleasant feelings and for a moment, tears threatened.  She pushed them back resolutely.  She made sweet buns because Tommy liked them and she wanted to have something for him to eat.

As Tommy moved around the house, she watched through the windows as she worked.  Tommy was always the considerate one.  He was a real go-getter, but always made time for everyone around him.  He’d been the one to bring home the stray kitten who couldn’t walk or the bird fallen out of the nest.  He’d always taken care of the strays himself, never asking her to do it.  He’d ask advice and then get to work.  His own little family was the most important thing in his life.  Yet he still took time to take care of her.

It seemed in no time, Tommy was banging the snow off his boots and climbing the back steps.  He bustled in, so much like his father that she had to smile.  She took his scarf and gloves as he shrugged out of his coat.  It was a thick, warm coat.  He took care of himself as carefully as he took care of everyone else.

Tommy sat down at the table and wrapped his hands around the warm fragrant cup that smelled of coffee and vanilla.

“Oh, that feels good.  It’s mighty damn cold out there,” he said, gripping the warmth of the cup firmly, sniffing appreciatively.

“Don’t use profanity.” She chided absently.  She’d been saying that to him every day since he was twelve.  It felt oddly comfortable.

“How are things, Mom?  You keeping busy?”

She shrugged the question off. “Oh, certainly.  Keeping this place straight is a big enough job for two people.”

“That wasn’t quite what I meant.”

“I know, dear.”  She put a plate of buns on the table in front of him. “Eat up.”

Tommy reached for one with obvious boyish delight.  For a few moments, the kitchen was silent, but full of the companionable sounds of a man enjoying rich and satisfying sticky sweet rolls.

After Tommy finished his third bun, he sat back with a sigh that shouted contentment and patted his stomach.  She filled his coffee cup again, then pushed the sugar bowl closer.  She usually made it too sweet for him.

Tommy grinned.  He was starting to show signs of that ever-present expression, she noticed with surprise.  Tiny lines in his skin framed the corners of his warm eyes.  His gaze moved about the kitchen as he sweetened his coffee.

“I see the Flour Brigade made their annual visit.”  He commented, nodding toward the counter.

She scowled. “Yes, they stopped by this morning.  Honestly, twenty-five pounds of flour and ten of sugar.  What do they expect?”

“I’d imagine something along the lines of cookies, or cakes, or pies, or cinnamon buns.  Something like that.”

“I didn’t bake last year, or the year before that.  What makes them think I’ll bake this year?”

“They don’t.  But do make certain that the legacy is carried out.  And you know as well as I do that a lot of the women do bake.”

“Well they can.” she replied irritably. “I’m not going to.”

“You’re certainly happy to take the reduction on your power bill, though, aren’t you?”
“I’ve never taken it.  I always pay the full amount.” she responded pertly.

“Come on, mom.  It’s for a good cause.  And you have the time.”

“I don’t want to discuss it.”  That phrase had always silenced him before, and, please God, let it silence him now.  He’d never understand.  Labels were foreign to him.

Tommy looked down at his cup, deciding not to press the point for the moment.

She looked at Tommy, regretting her sharpness, and hoping he would overlook it; not go home.  She wanted company right now.

“How are Ruby and the girls?” she asked after a moment.

Tommy’s face lit up. “They’re fine.  The baby rolled over last night, and I think it was on purpose!”

She smiled as she listened.  Tommy became so animated when he talked about his family.  It was the same things that all young fathers bragged about.  Tommy’s dad had had the same look of pride when talking about his own new family.  She waited for the familiar stab of pain, but it didn’t come.  She couldn’t tell if she was glad, or somehow sad, as though she’d lost something important.  Lost in her thoughts, she didn’t hear Tommy’s question.

“I’m sorry, dear.  I was off in another world.  What did you ask?”

“I was wondering what you thought of me taking Ruby to Florida for a week, and would you watch the girls for us?”

“Heavens, yes!  You know I will.  Is this a Christmas present?”

“Yeah, that and therapy.  And I want to get away from all this snow for a while.  I’m shooting for March.  Is that good for you?”

“Certainly.  Your father always wanted to go to Florida in the winter.  He said he hated the cold and wanted to see a place where people wore shorts and T-shirts in winter.”

There was a beat of silence.  Then Tommy asked, “Do you still miss him, mom?”

She nodded.  It had been so quick.  He’d been out shoveling the walk on a day much like today.  They never knew if it was exertion or what exactly, but his valiant heart had just had enough.  He was dead before the ambulance arrived.

“Mom,” Tommy said quietly, “You need to make the cookies.”

The statement caught her by surprise.

“What?  What does that mean?” she asked.

“You need to face up to dad’s death.”

The words were simple, but they cut worse than a salted razor.

“Face up to it!” she cried, already hating herself for what she knew she was about to do. “I face up to it every day!  I don’t look for him first thing in the morning anymore.  I fix soup-for-one and eat it alone.  I don’t buy him socks, or shirts, or gloves.  And Christmas has gotten easier since I don’t have to guess what he wants…..”  Her voice caught in her throat.  She couldn’t believe the things she’d just said.  She gripped the edge of the table, unaware that she was standing and needed the support.

Tommy got up and put his arms around her.  She buried her face in his shoulder, not wanting to see the look of pity she knew would be on his face.  Blast it!  She wasn’t another of his hurt birds.  She struggled, but he was strong like his father.

“Mom, when was the last time you got out to see anyone other than family?”

“Who can get out in this weather?  You don’t expect me to go sliding down the sidewalk like some Olympic skater?”

“You know what I mean.  We’ve been through this.  Isn’t it time to let go?”

“Let go of what?  Let go of memories?  I don’t want to.”  She looked up at her son and saw his father. “It’s not as easy as you think.”

“If I go upstairs, will I find dad’s clothes in the closet?  Will his shoes be brushed out, and polished?”

She wanted to move away from the criticisms.  She wanted to lash out, but this was her son.  She couldn’t move.

“There’s nothing of your father’s in this house.”  She said in a voice curiously flat.  “I gave those things away long ago.  But I’m not ready.  Not yet.”

“Not ready for what?”

“I’m not ready to be a widow!” she stormed.

“What?” Tommy chuckled in surprise. “You are a widow.  You’ve been a widow for three years.”

“Well, I’m not ready to be treated like one.”  She waved her hand at the bags of flour on the counter.  “They only bring the flour to the widows.  They only give the discounts to the widows.  I don’t want it shoved in my face day after day that the man I loved with all my heart is dead.  It’s hard enough dealing with it on my own.”

“Mom, that’s not what this is about.  All you have to do is bake something and give it away.  It’s not an organized fund raising or anything.”

“Sure.  But Ruby doesn’t get flour at Christmas, does she?”

“No, of course not.  But, mom–”

“Her mother does.  Her mother is a widow.  Gladys Thompson has been getting flour and sugar for years.  I don’t want to be singled out.  There goes another poor widow-woman delivering her charity basket to the needy.  I’ve never accepted roles before, and I’m not going to start now just because my husband died.  Just because I’m old doesn’t mean I’m not still me!”

“Is that what this is about?  You’re not old.  Fifty isn’t ancient.”

“Widowhood is.  When you wear black, and act like a widow all anyone can see is a widow.”

Tommy looked confused. “When have you ever worn black?  Except maybe at the funeral?”

“I’ve always worn black.  You just never looked.”

She looked at the bags on the counter.  They stood alone, mutely testifying their grand purpose.

“Well, Mom, I hate to leave you like this, but I’ve gotta go.  You gonna be alright?”

“I’ll be fine.  You really have to go?” It was very hard to keep the disappointment out of her voice.

“Fraid so.  It’s my turn to do the firehouse.  The guys get downright testy if they slip and break their backsides.  Do you want me to come back after?”

“No, it’ll be dark by then.  You’ll all be over for Christmas Eve?”

“Wouldn’t miss it.  I put birdseed down so you won’t slip.  I don’t think it’s supposed to snow again for awhile, but if it does then I’ll be over to clear the walks again.”

As Tommy was leaving, she adjusted his scarf to keep out the drafts.  Shaking her head, she said, “You’re father never knew how to do up his scarf either.”

“You know, that’s the first time you’ve compared us since he died.”

“Really, dear?  I do it all the time in my mind.  I guess I just thought it was out loud.”

“Hey, lemme ask.  What do you do with the flour if you don’t bake?”

“I give it to the church.  They use it for their suppers and things.”

“Well, I guess that’s sort of in the tradition.  It’s something, anyways.  Bye, mom.  Love you.”

“Bye, dear.  Take care.”

She walked back to the kitchen to clean up.  The flour stood alone, proud but silent.  She cleaned around the bags, feeling as though they were staring at her.  Once the cleaning was finished, she put on a pot for tea.  The flour continued to stare at her.  As she sipped her tea, she looked at the bags, wondering what she could make and to whom she would give it.  Then, she turned her back, trying to decide what to make for supper.

She planned her simple meal of soup and crackers with a fresh sweet bun after then went out to the living room.  She sat with a magazine and an afghan around her feet.  The articles were interesting, but didn’t hold her attention.  She decided to go ahead and get supper out of the way.  Then, maybe she would build a little fire and enjoy the crackling flames and some music.

Humming, she prepared her meal.  She had to move the flour once to get some ingredients.  While she was eating, one bag slumped forward, startling her.

She glared at the flour.  “Oh, shut up.” she growled, and immediately felt better.

As she was clearing her dishes, she saw her pans.  Well, she had some cocoa, and eggs.  Of course, there was the flour and sugar sitting on the counter.  Brownies were easy, and usually impressive.  Did she have nuts?  She didn’t think so, but they weren’t absolutely necessary anyway.  She checked over her supplies.  She had enough ingredients to make six pans of brownies.  But definitely not cookies.  Never cookies.

Resolutely, she walked out of the kitchen, leaving the flour alone on the counter.  She built her fire, but the crackle wasn’t pleasing, and she couldn’t find anything good on the radio.  The television didn’t hold anything of interest, either.

She found herself back in the kitchen staring the flour.  Well, she could always give the church brownies instead of flour this year.  Lord, she’d be making brownies for a week to use up this much flour.  Still, she enjoyed baking, but blast it!  She didn’t like being forced into it.

“I’m too young for this,” she said irritably.   The flour didn’t answer.

She got out her bowls and pans.  Once the kitchen was full of the warm smell of brownies, she looked at all the flour still left.  Next year, she’d have a thing or two to say to the power man who left that flour.  Twenty-five pounds, indeed!  And let one person use the word “widow” and they might end up wearing a pan of brownies.  Dammit.

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