There was soup simmering in the kitchen, crickets chirping away in the night, and Hunter hadn’t come home yet. His mother was waiting up for him, again. Chicken with dumplings was his favorite and how long had it been? It didn’t matter. One day was the same as another, and when he did come home, then that would be the day that counted. Until then, rituals, and why not? She’d paid the bills, answered the email enquiries, sorted the mail, kept everything nice and neat. Hunter had a thing about order. Since the time he was a baby he kept everything organized; action toys in this corner, stuffed animals in another. Contact between unlike things was never allowed. Which did not explain that girlfriend, or the messy apartment, or the noise and grime in that part of town. Every other situation had resolved itself in time. No reason to think the present was any different from the past. Wasn’t it Einstein who said something about history repeating itself? It’s okay, she reminded herself. Everything is always ok. She didn’t need to look out the window, or check the clock on the wall. She could feel his return in her soul.
There, in the woods, behind a scraggly bush, it was a cave of sorts. Not too deep you thought, but didn’t know for sure. It was dark in there. Kids said there was a guy camped out sometimes. Weirdo with habits. You’d never go near it at night, but even during the day when there was nobody around for sure, you might peek in, but cautiously, and with a stick in your hand, just in case. One time a rabbit hopped out and Jamie screamed so loud. Years go by. You’re eight and ten and suddenly nineteen, and the weirdo must have moved on you thought, but didn’t know for sure. There was litter there sometimes, bag of chips, old soda can. Somebody must have been there that’s for sure. Jamie wouldn’t go near it and not because of rabbits. No, it was the story Laura told, the one about cancer and how your hair falls out, and Jamie said she just knew it in her head that there was hair on the ground all around that place. She could hear it growing at night. Kept her awake. That and the screaming that would never stop. She’s still in that place, is Jamie, now already twenty two. They have to keep her in a room all by herself. That cave, she says. He’s in there, I just know it.
“What’s it to ya?” asked the man at the bar, to which I politely replied,
“I’ll kick your fucking head in.”
The man at the bar got up off his stool and staggered towards me. I pulled my Glock out of my waistband and waved it around for a sec. He staggered back, plopped himself down again.
“That’s what’s it to me,” I growled.
At least that’s how my “shower fight” went. You know, when you play it over again in your head the next day.
“I’d have to say no. It wasn’t worth waiting for. And after all that!”
Cherryl looked at the pile of wrappings spread all over the living room floor and felt like kicking the box it all came in. Her feet were itching to kick something. It was her go-to move.
“After all that,” she repeated, shaking her head. Devon wasn’t sure how he was supposed to react. It was nothing to him. What did he care, except that when she was disappointed like this, and itching to kick something, he’d learned it didn’t bode well for the rest of the weekend. He might as well be calling Martin and making plans for poker or something. Maybe a wine tasting would turn it around. He thought about suggesting it, but then remembered how awful she could be after just a bottle or two. He was already reconsidering everything in his life.
“Oh well,” Cherryl suddenly announced. “I probably should have known better. Next time I’ll think twice, and then twice again.”
Cheerful now, she hopped up and started collecting all the papers strewn about, and before Devon had time to re-factor the changes she’d already grabbed a trash bag, stuffed all the waste into it and was even bouncing down the stairs to take it all outside. Now it was his turn to be a little disappointed.
In later years I investigated crimes that were not committed, and not just those against cheese, but all sorts of pairings and varietals as well. One case you may have heard of involved some rather attractive dumplings and a stew that should remain un-named. Incidents like these took me on the road a lot, and I toured a number of exotic locales without formal addresses or even legitimate street signs. Those were the early days of the hashtag resistance, before the calendars went all emoji and such. You couldn’t slide down a tube without a general freakout about one biodegradable cause or another. Non-committal was all the rage back then. You only had to think about a thing and there it was, projected three dimensional from the back burners of your brain. Didn’t make it any less illegal. Food for thought – heh, the Boys in Bleu used to use that joke a lot.
I guess you’d say the Delaware Dairy Guys was my most famous apprehension. Man, I could tell you stories about that lot.
The hardest part was following the rules. Julie kept changing them, and with Karen interrupting every five seconds it was hard to keep everything straight.
“You’ll want to lay off juice for eleven days,” Julie said.
“Including organic?” Karen asked.
“Except organic. Refined sugars, no.”
“I wouldn’t,” Julie said.
“And this is good for?”
“Balance. And nutrition. And shedding those extra pounds.”
“And after eleven days, then all the juice you want?”
“I’d go another five days,” Julie said.
“So that’s sixteen days, no juice, except organic, but not prune.”
“Eleven days,” Julie reiterated, “and then I’d go another five more.”
“So that’s sixteen,” Karen mumbled but I had already lost count.
“Eleven, and that’s just juices,” Julie said, and then she moved on to grains. I already knew this diet was doomed.
“She used to love me,” Marlon insisted. I could tell he was being serious. He usually didn’t drag out this old bean unless we were somewhere in the mountains sitting around a campfire on a cold night after a long day of futile stream fishing. In the morning he’d be right back in the moment, making plans, but this special time was reserved for the righteous self-pity that only a memory of Paloma could invoke. Any old word association could trigger the thing. This time I’d happened to use the code word ‘smoke’, as in ‘the goddamn smoke from this here fire” and he was off and running with the good old days and how Paloma used to do this and used to say that and the way she brushed her hair out of her eyes and the smell of the peppercorn trees and that look in her eyes when she thought about pasta bolognese.
“I know she did,” I told him, hoping to put the subject to rest but knowing better. He’d be on it for a while, probably until the time he turned in for the night, and I’d just sit there, staring at the flames and doing my best not to think about all the times that Paloma and I, well, doing my best not to think about that.