For today, I give you some reading material just for fun. It’s fiction, of course. I had a dystopian setting in mind when I wrote it. This piece comes from one of my old writing files of several years ago. It’s a single scene. Make of it what you will.
Bess Cable Of The Dunes
The wind threw a spatter of rain against the window as warning of a coming gale. It sounded like a handful of grapes. But she went about plating her dinner unfazed. It was a comforting sound—the gentle chink of spoon against porcelain as she served up a mound of boiled cabbage onto her plate at the stove. Other than the occasional volleys of rain against the north windows there were no other sounds inside. Even the wind could not be heard inside her cluttered burrow of an apartment.
“Do your worst,” she told the storm as the rain pelted the window, “I’ve seen your hurricanes. I ain’t a-scared of you. Fact, I’m going to sit right cheer and eat my supper. And when I’m finished, I’m going to bed and sleep like a child in her mama’s arms.”
After serving herself the cabbage, she took up the fried egg from the skillet, placed it on a pad of newspaper to soak up the oil, then plated it too. She salted egg and cabbage generously and gave the egg a dusting of pepper. She took knife and fork from the drawer with her left hand as she balanced the plate of egg and cabbage in her right, then doddered to the table and set her place in the only clear spot there was, where she always ate.
Then she went back to the shelf above the stove to fetch the grease lamp or the Betty as folks who used them called them. Dusk and the storm were closing in now and filling the room with shadow. The Betty was the common homemade sort, fashioned out of a tuna can. It raged against the imposing darkness—burning it up and converting it into inky smoke. The lamp sat on a saucer and she brought it to the table. Ever since the cockroach incident, Bess had grown fond of seeing what was on her fork before placing it in her mouth.
“Supper is served,” she announced as if it was Christmas and a roomful of guests waited impatiently for the ham. Finally, she sat down with her egg and cabbage before her. She folded her hands, bowed her head, and muttered the incantation she always recited before meals:
“God, if you exist, don’t let me poison myself with this here food I’m about to eat for it’s all I’ve got. And please overlook my impertinence for saying so, but I’d appreciate better provisions if you can spare them. All the same, I am grateful for this here nourishment. Amen.”
She picked up knife and fork in each hand, then paused and studied the hard fried egg and mound of boiled cabbage there before her as if uncertain whether to proceed, or having forgotten something—a condiment perhaps—or a hesitation to figure out where to begin. She wiped back a wisp of white hair which had fallen over one eye with the back of her wrist, and then began with the egg, cutting it. Her knife was tentative and unsteady. It made a timid scratching sound on the plate. And after a minute or so, she produced a small piece of egg which she skewered with her fork, then turned daintily upside down, and placed in her mouth upon outstretched tongue. But once the meager morsel of food was in her mouth, she chewed greedily as if she had not eaten in a month and, while masticating, breathed heavily through her nostrils. After a couple more bites, her purpose with the knife became more controlled, more vicious, and she made quick work of the egg then attacked the cabbage.
When she had finished, she crossed fork and knife neatly on her plate and wiped the corners of her mouth with the hem of her apron.
“That was a right good supper, Miss Bess. Thank you very much,” she said to herself. “Why you are quite welcome,” she answered then rose and took her plate to the sink. “I could do with some tea. How about you, Miss Blossom?”
Miss Blossom was the antique grocery store doll who stood mutely in her triangular shaped, window box in the other chair at the kitchen table. And she was Bess’s most cherished possession—gotten for three dollars at a garage sale—and best friend. Miss Blossom enjoyed the rare position of having the standing and respect of Bess to be able to challenge her when her ideas strayed towards lunacy.
From appearances—the tightly coifed hair, the pearls, the satin and tulle gown, the silver pillbox hat and veil, the lacy heels, and the serene, controlled smile of a well-heeled woman—one might have assumed Miss Blossom was too demure to ever deal with issues directly, to take the bull by the horns, so to speak. But such an assumption, in Miss Blossom’s case, would have been a mistake for Miss Blossom could be ferocious with her blunt opinions and razor sharp tongue. But it was why Bess loved her so much: she was honest even when the truth hurt. And Bess relied on Missy’s unvarnished opinions for mental balance, though, quite often, those opinions came unsolicited and led to vehement arguments between them. Bess could not remember ever winning one of their arguments, however. Missy was so much like Bess’s mother in that regard: she never lost an argument.
“Fresh out of lemon, Miss Blossom, but might have an orange peel here abouts, if that will do. No, no honey either, I’m afraid. I know I ain’t running a proper household, but I do the best I can, given my situation. … Well, Missy, I’d like to see you do better and don’t start no talk ‘bout finding a man. I do enough jes taking care of my own pitiful self without someone else to feed and wash his long johns. Besides, what man wants an old sack of lint like me whose acorns the squirrels have already picked?”
Bess then poured a little water into the basin to wash the dishes and continued arguing with Miss Blossom about the practicality of running a “proper household” on so little means.