“It’s my grandmother’s best recipe,” she said loudly to the group in general. No one said a word but watched Myrtle’s face for a cue.

 

Myrtle let a few long moments pass before she challenged, “Gladys, we all get too busy to bake from time to time,” pointedly eyeing the empty box sitting on the nearby folding chair.

 

Gladys Parkins gasped slightly and then smoothly grabbed the box, smashed it into quarters with one motion and pushed it into a white plastic can beneath the folding table. “Just happened to have one of Dillon’s boxes next to the refrigerator and thought it perfect to keep the cake fresh,” she manufactured, her face as flushed as the rose-colored crocheted sweater she wore. The ladies, on cue, nodded.

 

Myrtle felt the moment pass, but suddenly saw a folded slip of paper on the floor under Gladys’ heel.  “You dropped something, dear,” she said, bending to retrieve it. Gladys stepped back sharply as Myrtle reached beneath her skirt and secured the paper, opening it to read what she thought was a register receipt; proof of deception!

 

Her face fell a bit; instead of the neat tabular print-out of Dillon’s register, the paper held a flourish of handwriting, obviously that of a woman. She squinted and Gladys saw her opportunity, snatching it from her hand.

 

“Whatever is this?” Gladys queried in a loud voice. “Why, it’s some sort of note. Huh…wonder where that came from?”

 

“It was stuck to the bottom of Dillon’s, that is, your cake box from Dillon’s, “Myrtle prompted.

 

Gladys frowned, but quickly gathered herself. “Impossible! I haven’t been to Dillon’s and I would certainly have noticed that when I re-assembled the box from home. It must have been left on the chair!”

 

Myrtle was on the scent and not about to lose face. “Oh, I don’t think so, dear. We would have noticed it earlier. What does the note say?” she said quickly, grabbing it back from Gladys’ hand.

 

He’s working the rail and looking for you. Help him, I’ve run out of time.  –W

 

Myrtle looked up from reading it aloud with a puzzled look on her face. “Who is “W” and who is working what rail?” she asked to the group in general, but everyone shook their head. “Gladys? What is this all about?”

 

Gladys thought quickly and snatched the paper back, crumpling it before tossing it in with the cake box. “I don’t know…it’s probably from the man I hired to paint my porch and railing,” she improvised quickly. “He had a boy, a helper…yes, I’m sure that’s it. He was just leaving work instructions,” she finished suddenly and picked up the large knife to begin cutting slices. There was such a determination in her slashing strokes that neither Myrtle nor any of the others thought it wise to argue further.

 

Thus the twice-monthly meeting of the ladies of the Silver Charter convened with Mrs. Parkins’ grandmother’s chocolate cake and dainty cups of decaffeinated coffee. Clicking tongues were slowed somewhat by the dry cake, but no one thought it remarkable. Mrs. Parkins was not known for her cooking.

The Note

It was Thanksgiving night in Ivy Nook Village. The streets glinted as the afternoon’s rain crystallized in the wind off the lake, and slivers of tinsel from Turkey Parade floats clung to bushes and lampposts. Here and there from the shadows could be heard the warble of a lucky turkey that had escaped The Great Greased Turkey Roundup, and was now making its way to high ground and yet another year of life. That night it was a village of relaxation and resurrection.

 

Sometime after everyone had gone to bed, a lone figure scooted one foot ahead of the other down the center of Main Street. Every so often it stopped, as though listening for something high above the Valkyrie shriek of the wind. Whether it was reassured by what it heard, or had yet to hear, it continued on until it was abreast of Dillon’s Market. Dillon’s covered entrance was lined with bales of hay where the pumpkins and rust-colored mums had offered themselves. It was here that the figure perched, eventually lying back against the largest stack, drawing feet up beneath for warmth.

 

It was there that Bobby Dillon found her when he came in at 5 a.m. to make doughnuts. He shook her rigid shoulder and when he got no response, he laid his coat over her and called for the sheriff, who was already on his way for morning coffee and his favorite glazed cruller. Windell’s got the next call and the cause of demise was listed as hypothermia.  All the men took a long moment to look at her face, but no one recognized her.  She must have been just passing through town, they agreed, although most people who came, never left.

 

“I s’pose in her own way, she left town,” Bobby said softly as was fitting in such a sober setting. Windell’s loaded the body and left just as the morning traffic was beginning.

 

 

 

 

The ladies of the Silver Charter were conducting their twice-monthly meeting at the community center. They shared the space with almost every group in town so the chairs were generally already set up, as they were this day. It was Mrs. Parkins’ turn to bring dessert but she was a bit green from greasy turkey and too much cooking sherry, so she decided to cheat a bit and stop at Dillon’s to buy a ready-made cake.

 

She was glad it was the new girl who waited on her and that Bobby was in the back room; he would ask too many questions. She snagged a chocolate layer cake from the day-old rack and made the girl pry off the frosting turkey and stick a white rosette in its place.  Once it was in the box, no one could tell the difference. She paid at the deli register, steadied the box on quivery fingers and headed out the door before remembering that she’d stuck her car keys in her left coat pocket. She momentarily set the cake down on one of the hay bales out front while fishing out the keys and then made her way to the community center in her ’64 mint-green Chevy.

 

The ladies were arriving and someone had already spread the white linen on the folding table so Mrs. Parkins moved quickly to remove the cake from the box and set it on an antique glass stand she’d brought from home.  “You feeling yourself?” Myrtle Watkins asked, eyeing Mrs. Parkins’ palid face.

 

“Of course, why wouldn’t I?” Mrs. Parkins huffed.

 

“You would know, dear,” Myrtle returned smoothly and spun around to wink at a few equally suspicious faces in the group. Myrtle’s husband, Mr. Muggins, was the president of the Ivy Nook Village Savings and Loan so her patronage was highly desired by the ladies of the Silver Charter. Several knowing smiles were returned and Mrs. Parkins’ face flamed with embarrassment when she spotted the smirks.

 

 

 

Column two >>

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