Claire, Bartholomew and Geraldine the pug brought the vegetables into the kitchen where Aunt Josephine stood at the counter. “Thanks,” she said, “this is just what the salad needs.”
Claire and Bartholomew walked into the living room, Geraldine right behind, to find Uncle Jeffrey conversing politely with Topping and Charlotte. Ned was sitting in a corner of the room seemingly afraid of Oliver who was rubbing up against his legs.
“Yes, well, there is certainly a need for Mayor Dick to be more representative of his constituents than his business partners,” said Uncle Jeffrey.
“Don’t you just find him disgusting?” complained Charlotte. “I mean he doesn’t even care about us. He always says one thing during the election and then does something completely different once in office.”
“I think he has a lot of pressures on him that we don’t understand,” said Topping.
“Yeah, like pressures not to be a complete idiot,” added Claire.
“Name calling isn’t going to do any good,” chided Uncle Jeffrey. “When it comes to having a different political opinion it never helps to name call. If you’re not happy with the results, vote for someone else.”
“But by the time the next election comes along there will have been too much damage to recover. It will be a lot of work to get back to where we were and, in the meantime, the environment is being destroyed,” Claire said as she hunkered down onto the sofa with Charlotte. Charlotte put her arm in Claire’s to welcome her to the sofa and show support for her point of view.
“The environment can take care of itself and the Depression was caused by large businesses and monopolies acting in their own self-interest,” added Uncle Jeffrey. “If we could fight through it one time, we can fight through it again.”
“Yeah, but in the meantime a lot of people are going to get hurt and have their lives thrown into disarray,” continued Charlotte.
Topping sat up and began, “Yes, but…”
Bartholomew returned to the kitchen – he didn’t want to hear any more of this argument. He knew how it was going to end. He helped Aunt Josephine chop more of the vegetables he and Claire had harvested from the garden. She was going to stir fry the broccoli, tomatoes and herbs and place it on a bed of rice. She didn’t quite have the instinctual way of putting together flavors that Bartholomew’s mom did, but Aunt Josephine did know just how long to cook things to bring out their best flavors. Bartholomew was happy. He was eating food he had grown and thought was tasty and he was with his family and friends.
Voices grew louder. Aunt Josephine and Bartholomew looked at each other wondering what was going on in the living room. Suddenly there was yelling. They went to see what was the cause of this.
Charlotte and Topping were yelling at each other. This seemed incomprehensible to Bartholomew. He was so shocked by this turn of events that he didn’t really hear what they were yelling about. Charlotte began to cry and ran out the front door. Claire followed Charlotte, hitting Topping in the shoulder as she passed. “Idiot!”
Bartholomew gawked at Topping, waiting for some kind of explanation. He didn’t get one. Bartholomew looked at Ned who just shrugged his shoulders.
“Is dinner ready?” asked Uncle Jeffrey.
“Yes…I guess so,” said Aunt Josephine, who retreated to the kitchen to bring out the food.
“I’ll be back in a minute,” said Bartholomew as he went outside to see what was up with Charlotte and Claire. He saw them in the garden at the end of his street huddled together on the logs in the gathering area. He walked over and put his hand on Charlotte’s shoulder. She was still crying.
“You okay?” he asked.
“Sometimes… he makes me… so mad,” Charlotte said between the sobs. “He just acts… like my opinion… doesn’t mean anything.”
“Guys can be like that,” assured Claire. Bartholomew thought this was an unhelpful statement. In his experience, both men and women can behave in lots of ways. And besides, he thought he was the kind of guy who cares and he knew that Topping loved Charlotte.
“It’s just makes me mad… that we have lived together…for over a year and he still can be so… dismissive of me,” sobbed Charlotte.
Bartholomew began carefully, “I didn’t hear what was said, but I do know Topping loves you. He just makes mistakes sometimes.”
“Mistakes?” began Claire, “He’s so focused on himself he doesn’t know what Charlotte is doing half the time. Just because he’s your friend doesn’t mean you have to defend him.”
Bartholomew thought Claire, again, made an unhelpful statement. Of course Bartholomew is going to defend his friends. He would defend both Charlotte and Claire as well as Topping and Ned. He also knew that Topping did care about what Charlotte was doing, although he tended to focus on what was in front of him at the moment.
“Mistakes are fine,” said Charlotte recovering from her sobs. “I’m just tired of him not learning from his mistakes. I don’t know how many times I have told him to call or to let me know where he is or that I want to spend time with him and he forgets or ends up doing something else.”
“Why don’t you come back in for dinner and you two can talk this out later?” asked Bartholomew.
“No!” replied Charlotte. “I don’t want to talk anymore. I’m not going back in there.”
“C’mon, you can stay at my place tonight,” offered Claire.
Bartholomew didn’t think this offer was very helpful. Charlotte and Topping should be together and try to work this out. Separating wasn’t going to help. A bit exasperated with Claire’s three unhelpful comments, Bartholomew added, “You mean Ned’s place.”
Claire got an angry look on her face and punched Bartholomew in the shoulder. “I’ve been living there seven months! It’s my place, too!” Claire and Charlotte got up and walked to Claire’s bicycle. Charlotte sat on the seat and Claire stood up and pedaled.
“Did you ask Ned if it’s okay?” yelled Bartholomew as they biked down the street.
“Like Ned cares about anything!” Claire yelled back and the bicycle disappeared into the night.
Bartholomew returned to the house to find everyone eating quietly.
“Are they coming in to eat?” asked Aunt Josephine.
“No, they went to Ned’s place.”
Ned slumped a little.
“What did you say to her?” Bartholomew asked Topping.
“I have no fucking idea,” replied Topping.
“You will watch your mouth at this table, young man,” said Uncle Jeffrey.
“What?” replied an astonished Topping. “Why? What are you going to do? Pull me by the ear? Hit me with a wet noodle? Spank me? Send me to my room? Never mind, I’ll go there my fucking self!” Topping stood up and walked to the front door.
“Topping, don’t go,” pleaded Bartholomew.
“Whatever, Dude,” and out the door went Topping.
Bartholomew sat down. After a moment, everyone’s eyes turned to Ned who had been eating this whole time and was just cleaning his plate.
“Thank you for the food,” Ned said. “That was really good. You’re a good cook, Aunt Josephine.”
“Thank you, Ned,” Aunt Josephine said.
Ned stood up, wiped his mouth and announced, “Bartholomew, it’s been fun – sort of. You’re a nice guy but I really don’t fit in here. When I am with you and your friends and Aunt Josephine and Uncle Jeffrey I feel out of place. I feel real awkward. I don’t even like gardening. I don’t like my job. I don’t even like my girlfriend. I need to grow up. Maybe I will catch you down the road. Later.” Ned, shaking his dreds, walked out the front door and into the night.
Bartholomew, completely perplexed by the evening’s events, turned on Uncle Jeffrey.
“Uncle Jeffrey, this is my table and it’s all right by me if Topping swears.”
“Well, I don’t know about that Claire friend of yours, either. She’s got quite a mouth on her, too – and what an attitude!” added Uncle Jeffrey. “If that’s the type of people you want to hang around that’s your business, but…”
“These are the people I want to hang around with, Uncle Jeffrey, and I would appreciate it if you could be supportive.”
Bartholomew turned and went to his room. Oliver and Geraldine followed him. Uncle Jeffrey left soon after and Aunt Josephine stayed long enough to clean the table and the kitchen. When Bartholomew finally came out of his room, his house looked as if no one had been there that night. He hoped it had all been a dream. Unfortunately, his heart knew it had been a nightmare.__________________________________________
Written by Mark Granlund
Illustrations by Mark Granlund