Sunday, June 19, 2016

21 - Charlotte Unfolding

“Can you hand me the kale?” asked Bartholomew as he grabbed a colander from the counter.

Charlotte handed over the kale and continued mincing garlic. Bartholomew ripped the big rough leaves, stem and all, from the stalk, placed them in the colander and washed them in the sink.

“You sure you washed them enough?” asked Charlotte. “They can be pretty dirty inside all those bumps.”

“This is how my mom used to do it. It should work,” said Bartholomew with confidence.

“So you used to cook with your mom?”

“No, I never really did. Both my parents were really good cooks. They would buy fresh and organic vegetables and things from the farmers’ market and the co-op and they would cook really amazing meals. They were so tasty, but for some reason I didn't feel like I should cook with them. It kinda seemed like something they liked to do together – just the two of them.”

“Didn't they want to teach you to cook?”

“Yeah, they asked me all the time. But I just didn't want to do it. What they did was so delicious and magical. I didn't even want to know how it was done. That would have ruined the magic.”

Charlotte tossed the minced garlic in a large black cast-iron skillet to saute in some oil. Bartholomew kept piling more and more kale into the colander.

“How much do you plan on eating?” asked Charlotte.

“Oh, it cooks down a lot,” said Bartholomew.

Charlotte removed a lid from a pot of soup she had made the day before and stirred it around with a big plastic spoon. She made the soup by chopping up vegetables and cooking them in a couple cans of tomato soup she bought at the grocery store. This was Charlotte's general method of cooking. She would purchase pre-made items at the store and then add a few of her own ingredients to make them better. “Charlotizing” food made her feel good about her cooking skills. Topping knew how to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, hot dogs and a bowl of cereal but not much else. In exchange for Charlotte doing all the cooking, Topping would help set the table and clean up afterward – and always tell her he liked her cooking.

“He sure is quiet back there,” said Bartholomew about Topping who was in the bedroom working on a design for painting Bartholomew's car.

“Yeah, he wanted to finish it before you got here tonight but had a little more to do. He has a hard time finishing it, he doesn't know when to stop.”

“What do you mean?”

“Oh, you know. Topping is just so intense and such a perfectionist about stuff that he always sees something else he wants to change or correct.”

“Really?” Bartholomew said. “I always thought he was just winging along and having fun. I didn't know he was a perfectionist.”

Charlotte felt like sharing her thoughts about Topping with Bartholomew, but worried it would be inappropriate. But she felt she could trust Bartholomew.

“Yeah, well when he is at a party he is really enjoying himself. And when he is designing a paint job, he is really designing a paint job. He is very intense about what he is doing. Lately, I think because he hasn't had a job, he has been filling all of his time with projects. Did you know he designed the garden you want to plant?”

“He has designed it? Wow, great! I really haven't thought about any kind of design yet,” said Bartholomew a bit relieved.

“No, that's not great. He should be out here talking with us and helping us and being a good friend – and a good boyfriend.”

Bartholomew said nothing. He didn't want to be in the middle of Topping and Charlotte's relationship. He washed a few more kale leaves.

“I'm sorry,” said Charlotte, “I shouldn't have said anything. You’re his friend, I shouldn't be sharing this stuff with you.”

“No, that's okay,” lied Bartholomew. Changing the subject, he asked, “Is the garlic done? The kale is ready to be cooked.”

“Oh shoot, it's getting a little burnt,” said Charlotte.

Quickly Bartholomew threw a heaping pile of kale in the skillet and stirred it all together, hoping to prevent the garlic from burning more. Charlotte pulled some bread out of a cupboard, removed it from the bag and started slicing it.

“Did you make that bread?” asked Bartholomew.

“Yeah, I did,” said Charlotte. “They have the dough already made in the freezer section at the Food Barn. I just pop it in the oven and forty-five minutes later it’s bread. It's pretty good.”

Bartholomew changed the subject again, “You hear about Claire taking those spoken word classes?”

“Yeah, I think its great! I just love how she says what's on her mind. You should have seen her stick it to Mayor Dick at the Earth Day Celebration. It was so cool. I really admire her. I'm glad Topping met you and Claire. You guys are good friends.”

Noticing that she didn't mention Ned, Bartholomew said, “You, too. I mean you two, too. Both you and Topping. And Claire. I like her a lot, too. And Ned. He's great, too. Ned is always coming over to my house.”

Charlotte continued, “We should go to Claire's performance. She has one in two weeks. It would be great to go support her.”

“Definitely,” said Bartholomew. “That would be fun.”

“Hey, when is your garden planning meeting?”

“Uhmm,” Bartholomew glanced at the calendar in his head. “On the last Wednesday of the month. I have you two, Claire and Ned, Aunt Josephine and Uncle Jeffrey and maybe Mr. MacBardon, my neighbor, all planning on being there. I'm really looking forward to it. I haven't thought at all about the design, but I know what I want to grow in it and am ordering some seeds this week.”

“Could we order some seeds with you?”

“Sure, you can...”

“Wow, that smells great!” interrupted Topping as he walked into the kitchen. “Is it almost ready?”

Bartholomew, who had forgotten about the kale while talking to Charlotte, jerked his head around to see that the kale had indeed cooked down quite a bit. He stirred what was left in the pan while Charlotte went back to cutting bread.

“Yes, it’s just about done,” said Bartholomew.

With that pronouncement, Topping went to the cupboards and started pulling out plates and set them on the card table. He came back, put his hand gently on Charlotte's shoulder to move her slightly so he could reach the glasses above her head. He placed those on the table and then did the same with utensils, napkins, salt and pepper and the butter dish. As Charlotte placed the slices of bread on a plate and Bartholomew scooped the kale into a bowl, Topping grabbed three beers from the refrigerator. Then they all sat down on three of the four folding chairs around the table.

“Would you like to give thanks?” Topping asked Charlotte.

Charlotte was a little annoyed at this. She liked to give a silent “thanks” before each meal, but Topping would never join her. He would simply sit and wait. Now he was asking her to give thanks with a guest, as if this was something Topping always took part in. A little embarrassed, she turned to Bartholomew and explained, “I only give thanks quietly. Like a moment of silence. We don't actually say a prayer or anything.” With that, she bowed her head and was silent for a moment. Bartholomew bowed his head, too, but kept one eye open just in case he had to cross himself or mimic some other ritual he was unfamiliar with. He noticed that Charlotte bowed her head and gave thanks while Topping just stared at her and waited.

“Amen,” said Charlotte.

“Amen,” said Bartholomew.

“Let's eat,” said Topping as he grabbed the soup and ladled it into his bowl. Then he chose a piece of bread and scooped some kale onto his plate. He started devouring the soup.

“Mmm. This is really good!” he said to Charlotte.

He then buttered his bread, dipped it in the soup and ate half a slice in one bite. With his mouth loaded he mumbled to Charlotte, “Whoa, this is great bread.”

After finishing his soup and bread, Topping turned his fork upon the kale. He took a big mouthful of the limp green mass. He chewed it a couple of times. Then a couple more times. Bartholomew was waiting for the inevitable compliment, but one never came. Topping kept chewing and chewing. Before Topping was done, Bartholomew and Charlotte had taken a forkful of kale, as well. They chewed and they chewed. Then they chewed some more. The texture was rubbery, soggy and crunchy all at the same time. Bartholomew didn't think that was possible with any food. Topping finally swallowed.

“That's... what is that?” asked Topping.

“Kale,” Bartholomew said while still masticating.

“Is this how you always eat it?” asked Topping.

“Well, yes,” said Bartholomew. “But my mother used to make it ten times better. I don't know what she used to do. I wish I knew.”

Charlotte finally swallowed her mass of goop and said, “I think you need to take the stems of the leaves out. They really... well, they...I think you should just take them out. Cut them out and just cook the leafy part. I think that would be better.”

No one ate any more kale. They had ice cream for dessert. After Topping cleaned up the kitchen, he showed Bartholomew his designs for the car. Upon seeing them, Bartholomew just laughed.

“Don't you like them?” asked Topping somewhat unsure.

“Like them? I think they're fabulous!” Bartholomew was looking at three sketches of his car, each with a different flame design. One design had flames that were more symbolic of flames than actually looking like flames. The second was more flame-like as the shapes licked down the side of the car from the hood to the back. The third had what looked like actual flames over the whole front of the car and then disappearing down the sides.

“Wow, can you really paint these on my car?” asked Bartholomew.

“Well...,” said Topping, “the first design I can definitely do. The second one I could do but it is a technique I haven't really done before. But I'm sure I could do it. The third one is probably beyond me. I can draw it, but Uncle Cy would have to help me quite a bit...and that one would take a long time.”

Bartholomew surveyed the drawings one more time. “I think we should try the second one, then. It will give you a challenge and I like it better than the first. That third one I'm not sure about. I don't know if I'm that excited about flames to want that. But the second design would be cool.”

Topping was a little disappointed to hear Bartholomew say that flames aren't what he is really excited about. He wanted this paint job to be something Bartholomew really wanted, that expressed something about him.

“Are you sure?” asked Topping.

“Yeah, I'm sure.”

“You really want flames?”

“Yes,” said Bartholomew grimacing at Topping. “Yes, I want flames and I want you to paint them.”

“Okay,” said Topping. “My Uncle said the shop would be available starting the first week of next month. You're going to have to leave the car with me for three weeks. I hope that's okay?”

“I'll just walk, or bike or use Uncle Jeffrey's car. That should be fine,” said Bartholomew.

“Okay, then. That's settled,” said Topping, knowing in the recesses of his mind that the design was going to change again before he painted Bartholomew's car. He would find just the right design for Bartholomew even if he had to work on it every day for the rest of this month. He wanted it to be perfect. Charlotte sighed knowing what Topping was thinking.

Bartholomew looked over the drawings one more time. “These are really good drawings. You ever think of just making art?”

“Nope,” said Topping.
___________________________________________________________ Written by Mark Granlund
Illustrated by Raighne Hogan

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

20 - Coffee with an Angel

Bartholomew swung through the door of the coffee shop and saw The Nanny waving at him. She was beautiful. Her blonde hair was up in a bun exposing her long porcelain neck and strong jaw line. She wore a buttoned blue blouse, a pair of tight jeans and cowboy boots. Her eyes were a bright fiery blue – as if they held the light of heaven. The only remnant of her previous Goth attire was the over-large cross necklace of which Bartholomew could see the top before it disappeared into her blouse.

At the sight of Bartholomew, a smile spread across The Nanny’s face. She stood up and welcomed Bartholomew with a hug – a BIG, looong hug. He barely noticed the cross imbedding into his chest.

“I am so happy you could make it,” said The Nanny as she sat back down.

Bartholomew sat down across the small round table from her. “Yeah, happy to be here. I'm glad you could finally fit me into your schedule.”

“I'm so sorry about that,” she said with a sympathetic look in her eyes. “Things have been much busier than I could handle.”

“Dog-sitting?” asked Bartholomew with a bit of sarcasm in his voice.

“Yes! Oh it has been amazingly more work than I ever imagined,” said The Nanny with such enthusiasm in her voice and eyes that Bartholomew's sarcasm faded. “But I think I have finally figured it out. I know what should happen now.”

Bartholomew didn't understand what she meant but moved on to the subject he wanted to discuss with her. “What happened to Geraldine? Why didn't you tell me she was missing?”

“Yes, she is missing. Oh… does that bother you?”

“Does it bother me? Does it bother me?! Yes, it bothers me! Geraldine was a nice girl. All right, she was crazy, sex-starved and would take advantage of every situation, but there was a nice side to her, too.”

The Nanny smiled-- seemed pleased about something.

“Geraldine is missing! Why are you so happy?!” Bartholomew almost yelled.

The Nanny said nothing but stared at Bartholomew with such sparkling eyes and such beautiful skin and such full-bodied hair and such positive energy and... Her presence was disarming, as if her whole soul was there to do nothing but love and support someone. Bartholomew couldn't help but think how different she was when he had met her at Gerald's house. Her black Goth clothes and dark eyeliner were gone. More importantly, he sensed that her attitude was completely different. Before she seemed to be waiting. The Nanny previously was disciplining and corralling Gerald's sons and daughter, as if keeping them in line until something else happens. But now, The Nanny was purposeful. She seemed focused, honed-in and ready to do whatever it was she was meant to do after a long delay. This made her very happy, full of life and much larger than Bartholomew's anger or cynicism.

“Bartholomew, would you be relieved if Geraldine walked through that door right now?”

“Well, wha... of course. I don't want anything bad to happen to her.”

“Bartholomew, would you feel something in your heart, something beyond politeness and kindness, if Geraldine were to walk in that door and sit right down at our table?” asked The Nanny staring unflinchingly into Bartholomew's eyes.

Bartholomew did not answer. What was The Nanny getting at, he wondered. Wanting an answer, The Nanny reached across the table and put her hand on Bartholomew's. There it was again, the feeling Bartholomew had when he first met her, when she had first put her hand on his arm – he wanted to share everything with her.

“Yes, yes, I would feel something in my heart,” said Bartholomew. “Geraldine is too crazy for me, but there is still something nice about her… underneath. I liked it when she would say nice things about me and how she liked to be with me. And...,” Bartholomew hesitated, “when I broke up with her, when we were on a picnic, she was really hurt. It was then I realized how much she really liked me and that there was a part of her that was..., was... truly good.”

The Nanny moved closer to Bartholomew. “You are amazing, Bartholomew. There is so much I want to share with you. Your kindness and your heart are in tune with something inside me. It makes me want to give something back to you – something special, something deep and personal.”

Bartholomew's eyes grew big. What did she mean? This casual date was going better than he imagined, maybe a little better than he was ready for. Bartholomew moved closer to The Nanny. “What would that be?”

“I can't share it with you right now,” said The Nanny. “It's not time yet. Maybe a few more dates, a little more history, a few more interactions and then it will be time. I can't wait. I’m very excited!”

Bartholomew couldn't believe what he was hearing. He felt he must say something instead of sitting there like a dolt with his mouth open. “Uh...I' Yeah, that would be great. I'm very excited, too.”

A yelp was heard from outside the coffee shop. “I have to go,” said The Nanny. “I'm sorry to cut this date short. Can we get together next week? I'll call you.”

“Yeah, next week would be fine,” said Bartholomew. “We'll talk.”

The Nanny walked to the door. Bartholomew stared at her beautiful jean-wrapped ass as it moved across the room. She turned as she opened the door. “Bartholomew, if this works out right, you're gonna get yourself a girl who is everything you could want.” She smiled and walked out of the door as another yelp was heard from outside.

After The Nanny disappeared from view, Bartholomew almost fell out of his chair with pent up energy. He sat up straight and, not knowing what to do, stayed in the coffee shop for another half hour thinking of all the ways he wanted to get to know The Nanny better. Not all of them would be considered polite, by some people, but they were all certainly filled with kindness.
Written by Mark Granlund
Illustrated by Mary Sandberg

Sunday, June 5, 2016

19 - Earth Day

“Thanks for biking with me to this Earth Day thing,” Claire said to Ned.
“Yeah, well…this is going to be fun,” said Ned as he shivered in the cold wind.

“You really don’t have to, you know,” said Claire as she downshifted so Ned could keep up.

“No, I think (puff)…Earth Day (gasp)…is great,” said Ned. “Tell me again…why are we celebrating…Earth Day in March?”

“Because Mayor Dick is a total idiot. He didn’t realize Earth Day is in April and by the time he figured it out he was already booked for that day. So he declared Earth Day in our city to be on March 22nd because it fit his schedule.”

They pedaled along to the sounds of Ned huffing and puffing. As City Hall appeared, booths and food vendors filled the streets and the great lawn in front was almost empty. On a stage was a band playing some country rock song about how incompetent the government is.

“Let’s head over that way,” said Claire as she nodded toward some booths. “I want to see if Charlotte is volunteering.”

Claire and Ned locked their bikes to a rack and headed over to find Charlotte. They passed the Trees of Hope and Food Fit booths. Claire was looking ahead for the next booth when Ned noticed the attractive women at the Food Fit booth. He took a leaflet they were handing out about healthy food, along with recipes. Ned thanked them and said he may come back later because he liked healthy food. “Awesome!” the young women replied.

They passed the Robo-Green Revolution, Not In My Back 40, Garden Yourself, and the Solar Collector Collection booths before Claire finally saw Charlotte. She was working at the local progressive AM radio station booth, WGRN.

“Hey, Charlotte!” said Claire.

“Hi Claire. Hi Ned,” said Charlotte.

“How's it going?” asked Claire while Ned just stared at Charlotte with a silly grin on his face.

“It's been slow – no crowd at all. It's not surprising since the whole event was moved up a month. It's freezing out here!” she said as she blew into her hands and rubbed them together.

Upon hearing Charlotte's words, Claire's eyes widened with anger and she began a diatribe. “Can you believe that? Mayor Dick is such a...such an...idiot. Forgetting Earth Day is in April and moving the city's celebration to March. Oh, it steams me! I just can't imagine what would possess him to be so arrogant – so backward about these things.”

“I think he didn't want people to show up for the real Earth Day, so he moved it.” said Charlotte. “His record on the environment has been pretty bad. This is worse than not acknowledging Earth Day at all. Look, there's hardly anybody here.”

Wanting to impress Charlotte, Ned said, “Yeah, maybe he really didn't want them to show up. And...and...” He was looking for something to say that would sound intelligent. “Maybe he wanted to toot his horn about his new small business initiative that is supposed to help reduce carbon emissions.”

“That initiative doesn't do anything to reduce emissions,” said Claire. “He just says it does. It will actually increase emissions because it allows larger businesses to create more under a cap and trade agreement.”

“Yeah, and he could toot his horn next month if he wanted anyway,” added Charlotte. “When its warm out.”

Ned shrugged his shoulders and changed the topic, “Are you and Topping going to garden with Bartholomew?”

“Yeah, I'm so excited. This is going to be fun. I've never gardened before, have you?”

“No, not really,” said Ned. “My parents had a small garden but I never helped them with it.” Neither of them asked Claire that question, because they knew her parents really liked gardening-- and they even raised chickens. As Ned began to wonder why it was that he never helped his parents garden, he noticed several crows flying toward a tree behind the stage. Then he noticed that the tree, which looked like it had leaves, was actually full of birds.

The band stopped playing and a woman's voice rang out, “Ladies and gentleman, welcome! Welcome all of you to the Great Earth Day Celebration!” A few cheers rose from the pitifully small crowd as people turned to face the Deputy Mayor.

“It is a great honor to have you all here. It's a little chilly, but seeing all of you warms my heart,” said the woman. Applause rose from the crowd, mostly to keep their hands warm; a couple people whistled. “Let me delay no longer. I have the great honor of introducing to you the person most responsible for this Earth Day celebration. A person without whose leadership and guidance this city wouldn't be the spectacular place it is. Ladies and gentlemen, your mayor and your friend, Mayor Dick!”

There was no applause or cheers from the smattering of cold people standing around. The word “moron” was heard inside some muffles coming from somewhere back by the display booths.

“Thank you, thank you,” boomed the voice of Mayor Dick. The mic was too loud. “What a great honor to be with you all here on this beautiful day – Earth Day.”

“But it’s not Earth Day!” yelled a young woman's voice.

Mayor Dick didn't notice the comment or the few robins and mourning doves that began to circle overhead. He continued, “I am as proud as anyone of the great strides our fair city has made under my mayorship toward a greener and more vibrant city. I, and the city council and city staff...” a “boo” was heard from the crowd... “have worked tirelessly to bring this city into the greening of the 21st Century. It is with great pleasure that I read the following list of our accomplishments. First, an additional four acres of green space in our residential neighborhoods...”

“Due to foreclosures,” the young woman's voice interrupted.

Ignoring the heckle, Mayor Dick continued, “...for our children to play in. A new local food vendor for our public schools...”

“Donkey Burgers are going to make them all fat!”

“...that will provide healthy, nutritious food for our children.”

“Donkey Burgers cause heart disease!” said Claire as she moved toward the podium. The sun now dimmed as numerous birds flew overhead. Robins, mourning doves, crows, chickadees, warblers, cardinals and even a few chickens created a massive dark cloud that became noisier with each proclamation by Mayor Dick.

“The city fleet has reduced its gas consumption by fifteen percent.”

“Due to job loss!”

Mayor Dick refused to acknowledge Claire, but directed his comments to other people in the crowd. “We have created a small business plan that will reduce small business carbon emissions by thirty percent.”

“But it will allow large businesses to increase their carbon emissions by forty percent,” said Claire as she stepped up next to the stage.

Mayor Dick scowled her way and continued with agitation in his voice, “Citizens of this fair metropolis, fear not of the future, for I and the council will continue always to protect our land, water and air while also protecting our high-quality way of life.” He paused for a moment as he witnessed a single white dove feather fall down from the sky and land on Claire's dark green beret. The sound of chirps and calls grew louder

“You're a liar!” yelled Claire only a few feet from Mayor Dick.

“Now that is not fair!” yelled an offended Mayor Dick directly at Claire. “nothing I have said is a lie.” A cacophony of squawks, chirps, calls, crowings and gobblings almost drowned out the interchange between Claire and Mayor Dick.

“Well, it hasn't been the truth either,” Claire yelled back.

“You, my dear, are the liar here. And I will not let you deceive the fine people of this city with your misguided understanding of what is important and what I have accomplished. It is I who has been elected to be the protector of this fair city from the misinformation and cynical enviro-propoganda you are espousing,” replied Mayor Dick.

Claire did not give quarter. “Donkey Burger is not going to provide healthy and nutritional meals to our schools. The only reason they make burgers out of donkey meat is because donkey meat isn't considered a food item by the FDA. They do it so they don't have to follow regulations – so they can cut corners and MAKE MORE MONEY!”

“I will not stand here and listen to you slander my good friend Gerald. He has run his Donkey Burger business above board and with great success for many years.” With this, the birds descended-- as a single organism-- to within five feet of Mayor Dick's head. Hundreds of birds were flying en masse in figure eights and diving to and fro just above his head, but still he paid no attention. He only could see Claire, her red face and angry eyes.

“Gerald? Gerald? Above board? Do you have any idea what he buys his daughter for Christmas presents?” said Claire in disgust.

“Whatever he buys her has nothing to do with what kind of man Gerald is. “You obviously are not here because you care about Earth Day...or the earth. Someone please remove this girl from these festivities,” said Mayor Dick as he signaled to a security guard.

With that, Claire ran, and the birds flew off to distant rooftops, trees and places unseen. Claire wanted to blend in with the crowd and disappear too, but there was no crowd. She headed toward the booth where Charlotte and Ned were standing.

“Help, they’re coming to remove me!” said Claire.

“Quick, you can hide under here,” said Charlotte.

“If they want us to leave, why don't we just leave?” asked Ned.

Claire's voice came from under the table inside the WGRN booth, “Ned, go get our bikes and then we can get away. Bring mine here. I need to hide!”

Ned's face folded up in a look of “Do I have to?” But he turned and went to fetch Claire's bike. He was back in a few minutes.

“Ned. Put it by the back of the booth,” said Claire's voice. Ned did as he was told. “I'll meet you back at Madeline Park by the water fountain. Then let's go get some lunch.” Claire shot out from under the table, got on her bike and was gone.

As she saw Claire disappear over a hill in the distance, Charlotte said, “That Claire. She is amazing how she isn't afraid to stand up to them. She is so inspiring.”

Ned wasn't feeling inspired. He thought about going back to the Food Fit booth and talking to the attractive women. But he wasn't feeling right about that. He thought about talking with Charlotte a while and getting to know her better. But he wasn't feeling like doing that today either. He mounted his bike and slowly pedaled away from the Earth Day celebration. Ned suddenly realized what he was feeling – he was feeling alone.
Written by Mark Granlund
Illustrations by Matt Wells

Monday, May 30, 2016

18 - At the Library

     “I knew you’d be here,” said Topping to Bartholomew who was tucked in behind stacks of gardening books.

     “Aren’t I always here? I assume you’re looking up jobs,” said Bartholomew happy to see his friend.

     “Actually, I’m looking at books about painting cars.”

     “So, you’re working for Uncle Cy again?” asked Bartholomew as he closed a book on garden design.

     Topping looked down, picked up a book and ran his fingers over the spine. “No, he hasn’t had me back, yet. Well, just one day a couple of weeks ago, but now it’s almost March and I don’t know when he’ll call.”

     Bartholomew smiled at Topping. “I’m sure his work will pick up soon. It’s getting warmer out and people will want to show off their cars.”

     Topping squinted at Bartholomew and shrugged, “Yeah, maybe.”

     Bartholomew wondered what he could do to help Topping. He hated seeing him so down. Then he said it without even thinking, “Do you want to paint my car?”

     Topping looked at him. He wasn’t sure if it was a joke or just a bad attempt to make him feel better. Bartholomew couldn’t believe he had said it. But then he thought to himself, “Why not?”

     “Topping, I want you to paint my car,” said Bartholomew.

     “No…no, I couldn’t. It’s expensive to do and it’s a nice car just like it is.”

     “No it’s not. My car is white with a big pink stripe down each side. That is not nice, or pretty or anything but ugly,” said Bartholomew realizing that he never really had liked the color of that car.

     “But Bartholomew, painting a car isn’t easy and the paint is expensive…and there’s no place to paint it…and, and … it’s expensive,” said Topping.

     “Geez, you make it sound like painting a car is expensive,” joked Bartholomew. “Paint it at Uncle Cy’s place after-hours and I will pay you.”

     “No, you can’t pay me, I’m your friend!” protested Topping. Other people in the library started to stare disapprovingly at the two of them.

     Firmly but more quietly, Bartholomew looked straight at Topping and said, “Design a new paint job for my car and I will pay for the paint and five hundred dollars for you. Don’t worry, Uncle Jeffrey submitted my taxes in early February and I just got my return. I can cover this.”

     Topping didn’t know what to say. He stood quietly for a while but then leaned forward and whispered to Bartholomew, “It’s going to have flames. I hope you don’t mind a 1974 Peugeot with flames.”

     Bartholomew looked up and answered, “As long as you get rid of the pink, I don’t care what you do.” Thinking for a moment, he then added, “But flames would be cool. Way cool.”

     Topping pulled up a chair and sat across the table from Bartholomew. They turned their attention to the stack of gardening books.

     “What are you going to plant?” asked Topping.

     “I’m not sure, yet. Tomatoes, peppers, and kale for sure. Some lettuce. Other than that, I don’t know. The problem is I’m not sure where I am going to plant. And I want enough room for you and Charlotte and other people to plant, too.”

     “Aren’t you planting in your yard?” asked Topping.

     “No, it’s too shady. I have a big old oak tree that was planted there by my great-great-grandfather, and it covers the entire back yard. And the front yard is small and shady, too - it’s a really big tree,” said Bartholomew holding his arms out to indicate a sense of largeness. “I was thinking of maybe planting at the end of my street. It ends at a railroad track and there is a big space. Certainly big enough for a garden.”

     “I’ll help you build it,” said Topping.

     “What?” asked Bartholomew.

     “I’ll help you build your garden. Your helping me do something I want to do, so I’ll help you do something you want to do,” said Topping.

     Bartholomew stared at him for only a moment and then said, “All right. Good. I’ll let you know when I start. But it’s going to be big.”

     “Big enough for chickens?” asked Topping with a grin.

     Bartholomew laughed. “Yeah, Claire and her chickens. That’s dubious.”

     “I can’t believe she wants you to have chickens in your garden,” said Topping shaking his head.

     “I can’t believe her and Ned are still living together. And it’s your fault,” accused Bartholomew.

     “My fault?! How the fuck you figure it’s my fault?”

     “You’re the one that had the New Years Eve party. She never went home after that, did she? Stayed at Ned’s that night and every night since.”

     Topping just shrugged his shoulders and flipped some more pages. “Not my fault they shacked up. You came to the party and you didn’t shack up with anyone. And if Ned has his doubts and lets a woman run all over him, that’s his problem – not mine.”

     “Yeah, well I guess you don’t hear about it as much as I do,” said Bartholomew. “He's not hanging out at your place to get away from Claire.” They turned their attention back to the books.

     After awhile, Bartholomew wanted to talk to Topping about something – to get his advice – but wasn’t sure how to go about it. His eyes skimmed the surface of the book pages while thinking about what to say. He decided to just start talking. “I still haven’t gone out with The Nanny.”

     “Well, I’m not surprised,” said Topping.

     Taken aback, Bartholomew demanded, “What do you mean by that?”

     “Geez, don’t get your underwear in a bunch, I just meant with Geraldine missing The Nanny is probably too busy or too freaked out to want to get together.”

     “Missing?! What do you mean Geraldine is missing?” asked Bartholomew as he pushed aside a stack of books to better see Topping. He heard a “shush” come from somewhere to his right.

     “Didn’t you read about it in the paper? Geraldine has been missing for a couple of weeks now. She just disappeared one day,” said Topping.

     “Wha…how, what happened?”

     “Like I said, she just disappeared. No sign, no trace.”

     Bartholomew sat quiet for a moment. Scenarios raced through his mind: was she abducted by one of her “lovers,” had one of her brothers killed her, had The Nanny done something to her? The last time Bartholomew had seen The Nanny she had mentioned doing something illegal.

     “Are you okay?” asked Topping.

     Bartholomew didn’t answer. He felt a ball of sadness inside him. How could Geraldine be gone? He had dated her - and now she was gone? This just doesn’t happen. This shouldn’t have happened. How? He had always thought Geraldine was kind to him – spoke well of him. She was wild, but Bartholomew always knew there was a nice person inside her.

     “I dated her,” said Bartholomew, half catatonic.

     “I thought you said you didn’t get together with The Nanny,” said Topping.

     “No, I mean Geraldine… quite awhile ago, and she was too wild for me. But I got a sense that she liked me and there is a nice side to her that most people don’t see.”

     Topping almost snickered when Bartholomew said that he had dated Geraldine. But then he saw how moved Bartholomew was by this news. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know,” said Topping. “They didn’t say she was dead or anything like that,” he added. “She might have just run away. You should ask The Nanny. Give her a call.”

     Anger appeared in Bartholomew’s voice, “She’s been telling me for the last few weeks she can’t get together because she’s too busy dog-sitting. That it was taking up more of her time than she thought it would. All this time and she never has mentioned anything about Geraldine missing.”

     “Dog-sitting?!” asked Topping.

     “Yeah, she picked up a side job sitting somebody’s dog. I think it’s a pug.”

     “And she hasn’t mentioned anything about Geraldine? That’s fucked up,” said Topping.

     Bartholomew cringed inside at the sound of Topping swearing. It didn’t seem like appropriate language given the terrible circumstance.

     “Yes, I will have to call The Nanny and ask her about this,” said Bartholomew.

     “Yeah, let me know what you find out,” said Topping. He hesitated. “Bartholomew,…”

     Bartholomew looked at Topping.

     “…well, if you need anything, you can let me know that, too.”

     In the seventy days that they’d known each other, Bartholomew and Topping had become friends. They had been running into each other at the library every other week. Bartholomew was very happy about this. He had never had a friend his age to support him when he was down. He had never had anyone who wanted to work on projects with him and help him do what he wanted to do. His friends had always been someone to play with, someone to have fun with – like children. His previous friends had no idea how to comfort him or simply sit with him when his parents had died. They never patiently listened to him when he was unsure about things, they didn’t know how to empathize and they never offered themselves up as emotional support. As he thought about it, he had never really had a friend who could help him like an adult can. Then he laughed quietly to himself, “Hmmm, am I becoming an adult?”
Written by Mark Granlund
Illustrated by Mark Granlund

Sunday, May 22, 2016

17 - The Nanny is Too Literal

      One day Bartholomew was downtown shopping at his favorite t-shirt store. Across the store, he saw The Nanny and Geraldine. He wanted to hide from Geraldine, but he wanted to talk with The Nanny. He wasn’t sure what to do, but then The Nanny waved at him and both she and Geraldine walked over to where he was standing. Geraldine lagged behind The Nanny.

     “Hey, Bartholomew,” said The Nanny happily.

     “Hey, The Nanny. Hi Geraldine,” said Bartholomew being polite.

     Geraldine said nothing.

     The Nanny was wearing a black bodice with lace sleeves and silver metallic jeans with lips to match. Her hair was pulled up in a bun and, as always, she had heavy black mascara around her eyes. Bartholomew could see the chain of her large cross necklace around her neck. Geraldine was wearing a plain, white, low-cut v-neck t-shirt that was about two sizes too small. It was obvious she was not wearing a bra.

     Geraldine noticed Bartholomew noticing her chest.

      “Hi, Bartholomew,” she said perking up. “I’ve missed you. What you been up to?”

      “Uh…not much. Just hanging out with some friends and stuff.”

      Geraldine put her arms behind her back and began swaying her chest back and forth like a hypnotist’s watch.

      “Maybe we could hang out again sometime?”

      “Yeah, uhm… maybe,” said Bartholomew forgetting that Geraldine doesn’t understand when people are just being polite. “What are you guys shopping for?” he changed the subject.

      “We’re looking for some new spring clothes; shoes, new pants and a few t-shirts,” said The Nanny.

      “Yeah, and maybe some underwear,” added Geraldine. “Want to shop with us?”

      “You know, Geraldine, perhaps Bartholomew has his own shopping to do. You don’t need to have a guy help you with everything. Remember, this is supposed to be some shopping time for me and you – girl time.”

      “That’s okay,” said Bartholomew, “I don’t really shop in the woman’s department. I think I’ll be over here shopping for my stuff.”

      “Okay, maybe we can meet up at the food court or the bathrooms later,” encouraged Geraldine. The Nanny rolled her eyes and then grabbed Geraldine by the shoulders.

      “All right, Geraldine, let’s head over to the women’s department. It was nice seeing you, Bartholomew. Good luck with your shopping.”

      “Good bye,” said Bartholomew.

      “See ya later,” said Geraldine as she flashed a toothy smile.

      Bartholomew went about his shopping. He looked at cargo pants, shorts some sandals and t-shirts - lots of t-shirts.

      He turned to look at a rack behind him and bumped into The Nanny. 


      “Huh? Sorry,” Bartholomew apologized for bumping into her.

      “I’m really sorry about Geraldine being so pushy with you.”

      “That’s okay,” said Bartholomew, “I kinda expect it from her.”

      The Nanny laughed.

      “I know that you and Geraldine dated for awhile last year. I’m sure that the story I got isn’t accurate as to what happened. But I want you to know that I’m working with Geraldine to help her see that she shouldn’t be so… needy.”

      Bartholomew laughed. “Good luck!”

      “I have tried just about everything I can think of that is legal. I just hope you don’t think too poorly of her. She really is a nice girl, its just she needs some help to stay focused. As I said, I’m sure what Geraldine told me wasn’t all true, but I can tell that she didn’t lie when she said you were the guy who has treated her the nicest. That’s not saying much, considering most of the guys she’s been with, but I can tell that you are very kind to your girlfriends.”

      Bartholomew blushed, “Geraldine’s okay in my book. We’re just two very different people and we don’t want the same thing.” He paused. “What I mean is, well, I mean maybe I do want what she wants, just not, you know, not like she wants it.”

      The Nanny cocked her head and her brow creased slightly between her eyes.

      “I mean I would want it with…someone...who is…else. I mean, it would be fine with someone else. But Geraldine isn’t the…maybe there is someone else - someone nicer, someone prettier. Not that looks are all I’m about, I just mean…” Bartholomew took a deep breath. “Where’s Geraldine?”

      “She took about twenty items into the dressing room. She’ll be in there for about forty-five minutes. Lord only knows what she does when she’s in a dressing room. She takes for-eeeeeee-ver.”

      Bartholomew looked over The Nanny’s shoulder and spied Geraldine talking to a young man who works at the store. Together, they disappeared into the changing room area.

      “She just doesn’t stop, does she?” said Bartholomew.
“She doesn’t stop what? Changing?”

      “Uh, yeah, changing. That must be why she takes so long in the dressing room,” answered Bartholomew.

      The Nanny stared blankly at him.

      “Anyway, I don’t want to talk about Geraldine anymore,” said The Nanny as she looked over her shoulder to check on her. She turned back to Bartholomew.

      “I would like to get together with you every so often. Just check-in, talk, hangout. Would that be okay with you?” asked The Nanny.

      “Uh, yeah, that would be fine by me,” answered Bartholomew excited that The Nanny was interested in him.

      “Great! Would you be free this Thursday after I’m done with work?”

      “Sure, I’m uh, sure that would be fine.”

      “Let’s meet at McGliffkey’s,” said the Nanny. “I’ll see you there at nine o’clock.”

      “Okay,” said Bartholomew.

      “And I won’t bring Geraldine,” laughed The Nanny.

      “Good,” said Bartholomew with a big smile, “cuz that would be like trying to have a conversation while a dog is humping your leg.” He immediately felt bad about comparing Geraldine to a dog and blushed because he was sure The Nanny would think he was a jerk for saying this.

      “What did you say?” asked The Nanny.

      Good. She didn’t hear.

      “Like a dog humping your leg?” she continued.

      Oh no! She did hear.

      Bartholomew buried his face in a pile of t-shirts he was holding. A dog humping your leg - what a stupid thing to say.

      “That gives me an idea,” The Nanny said to herself as she turned and walked away.

      Bartholomew uncovered his face to apologize, or at least add something on a positive note, but when he looked up, The Nanny was nowhere in sight. 
Written by Mark Granlund
Illustrations by Raighne Hogan

Friday, May 13, 2016

16 - Mental Exercises

     “Hey, see you later,” said Ned. “Happy New Year!”

     Ned drifted out of the building and into an unusually warm January morning. He thought it was odd but was glad the weather was not bone chilling, since he had to walk home. He lived in a small apartment building near the river on what was considered the edge of downtown. It wasn't a fancy apartment, but he was proud to have his own place. His job didn't pay very well, but he had managed to scrimp and save enough money to be comfortable and do the things he liked to do. Mind you, what is “comfortable” to a twenty-three year old male is not necessarily comfortable for anyone else.

      As he walked, he thought about the evening. He wondered why Claire, a young woman he had danced with earlier at the party, seemed to become angry when they talked about the environment. He thought she even called him names, or at least he thought they were names – the music was loud and he hadn't heard her very well. But she left the party in a huff and it seemed to be directed at him.

      “So what?” Ned said to himself. He hadn't had a girlfriend in the last year. He wasn't going to get bent out of shape by a girl getting weird at a party. Maybe it was best that they didn't hook up.

      It was warm enough that the few piles of snow here and there were melting and running across the sidewalk. The evening reminded him of a warm January night he had spent with his father a few years ago. He was home visiting his parents during his senior year of college. Ned was studying for a business degree and the course load was becoming very difficult as he neared the end. Statistics was never anyone's favorite subject, but for some reason, Ned enjoyed it and was very good at it. But as the course become more advanced and started to deal with stochastic calculus Ned became very challenged. In fact, he was thinking that his grade might come in too low to get a good job. What had bothered Ned the most was that he would disappoint his father. His father had been very supportive and he’d made it to every basketball and baseball game Ned played in high school. He made sure Ned could go to a college with a good reputation, paid for his tuition, and was always encouraging him to learn a practical business skill – which would increase Ned's chances at landing a decent introductory level job. He knew once Ned had achieved these goals, it was then up to Ned how far he would go. But what if he couldn't even get out of school with a decent grade? All the work his father had done to position Ned would be wasted. That night, a couple of years ago, while on a walk, Ned felt that he should share his school problems with his father...   

     “Uh, Dad,” Ned began as they walked the dog down a snowy road.

       His dad did not respond, but kept his eye on the dog.

      “Dad, I thought I should tell you that, well, things are pretty crazy at school...”

      “JINGLES!” his father yelled as the dog spent too much time sniffing around a garbage can. The dog left the smell of chicken, moldy pizza and table scraps and moved on down the road. Ned watched the spaniel for a while and then spoke again.

      “My statistics class is really stress-...”

      “STAY OUTTA THERE!” his father yelled as the dog bounded into a swampy area off the road.

     Again, Ned watched Jingles who came up to him with her tongue hanging out of her big grin. As Ned bent over to pet her, the dog took off down the road again. Ned walked on, following his father and the dog. They walked up a small rise, and as they were nearing the house, Ned felt that he had one more chance to talk to his dad before they were home, before his mom would interrupt and try to feed them.

      “Dad, I...”

      “Don't make me pick up your crap!” his father yelled at Jingles as she squatted in a neighbor’s yard. Jingles, looking sheepishly, deposited her package on the neighbor’s lawn. “For cripes sake, can't you get anything right? Stupid dog,” Ned's father muttered.

      Other than the weather, Ned wasn't sure why he was remembering that night with his father. He never did share his school problems with him, but he ended the semester with good grades and now had that introductory level job. Everything was fine as far as his father was concerned. But Ned wasn't happy with his job. He felt it was demeaning, simple and boring. Ned often dreamed about starting his own business, but was pretty sure there were enough stores and online sources that had role-playing games and World War II models. He had no idea what his niche would be, nor how to attract an audience. It never passed through Ned's mind that he had no money to start a business and the mental exercise of creating a business plan was so far just that: a mental exercise.

      His mind wandered to Claire. “Did she call me a Nazi?” Ned muttered bewildered. “It couldn't have been Nazi. Maybe Yahtzee – no that's stupid. Why would she ask me to play Yahtzee?” Ned kicked at an icicle on the sidewalk and sent it skidding off the curb and into the street. What was her problem? It seemed like the party was going so good: they danced, they talked and they even flirted. Maybe she drank too much. Ned did notice that she always had a gin and tonic in her hand. He didn't realize that Claire noticed he always had food in his hand – or in his mouth.      Ned's mind wandered back to his father. He realized, for the first time, that his father, although supportive of him, never really shared himself with Ned. Ned's father's idea of support was to provide opportunities for Ned, not to interact in a personal way. This seemed like an idea that should make Ned uncomfortable, but it didn’t. He’d grown up with that. His mind simply wandered off the subject.

     What was that comment Claire made? Something about the world warming up and how the environment is dying – maybe. Thinking back Ned wasn't sure what their conversation was before Claire left. Maybe he had said something wrong. Other than complaining about his job, he couldn't remember anything else he had said. Other than Claire talking about the world coming to an end, he wasn't sure what else she had said. Ned was starting to feel tired, and he looked up to see how much farther he had to walk. He was more than halfway home.

      Maybe he could get a better job, one that would make his father proud. He wasn't too concerned about what the business was or who he worked for, Ned just wanted a job that would impress his father and give him a chance to advance. As long as he could keep advancing his career he would have a standard to measure himself against. Is that too much to ask for? He determined to send out a couple of resumes each week until he got a job he wanted.

      Ned thought Claire was cute, but he could do better there, too. He should try to find someone who would be considered more of a “catch,” or at least someone who wouldn’t call him names. Maybe he could find someone who would think the world of him-- someone who would compliment and balance out his skills and interests. Someone who is fun. Ned felt he should start asking more women out. Being an introvert, Ned was not accustomed to approaching women, but what the heck, this is a new year – a new beginning. Ned determined to ask out two young women each week until he found one he wanted. In fact, he thought that he should ask out the very next young woman he met – as long as she wasn't wearing an engagement or wedding ring.

      He looked up to see that he was only a block from his apartment. He also noticed the night had blackened considerably and he was alone on the street - he was glad he did not have much farther to walk. He heard footsteps coming from across the dark street. A young woman appeared out of the night and came directly toward him. From what he could see through the dark night, her winter coat, scarf and hat, she looked cute. “Now this is more like it,” Ned encouraged himself. _____________________________________________________________ 

Written and Illustrated by Mark Granlund