The Hidden Properties of Fruitcake (Part I)

An Epiphany Story by Virginia Diaz

In the deep and inky cold of a December’s night, a bowed figure, swathed in ancient stuffs and tinkling fragments, stirred together a most heady concoction. A reedy cackle rose from the crone as she added the vital and last ingredient. “When experience brings no wisdom, defect must serve in its stead.” Later, in the quiet calm of suburban mid-morning, the same strange form laid a brightly wrapped parcel at the doorstep of an unwary family. . . .

1

“Penny, Wink, come to the table, dinner’s ready,” Sheila Fogerty bellowed up the stairs. She shook her coat from her shoulders with a shrug and caught it in one hand while balancing various and sundry bags and packages in the other.

“Mmm, Sheila, that smells terrific. What is it?” Sheila’s husband Marshall asked, while coming out from the den. Rex, the family’s Mastiff, who thought himself a much smaller dog, twined around his master’s feet as they walked.

“Moo Goo Gai Pan, I stopped for take-out.” She deposited the lion’s share of her load in the near to capacity hall closet and brought the Chinese food into the kitchen.

“You are such a great cook, honey. I could eat your cooking every meal for the rest of my life and never get tired of it.” He took his usual seat at the head of the table. Rex brought him a tennis ball and they played a quick game of fetch, endangering the Nativity that was set up on the sideboard, until Sheila’s hairy eyeball convinced Rex to stop and settle at Marshall’s feet.

“Oh yeah, my Moo Goo Gai Pan is to die for. Kids, come to the table. Now please!” Sheila yelled in the direction of the stairs- they heard her, she knew they did. She gathered assorted papers from the tabletop and piled them precariously high at one end of the table to allow room for the dinner dishes.

“Say, Pudding, did you do something to your hair? It looks fantastic.” He sorted through the day’s mail making piles of different types on the newly available tabletop.

“I stopped over to see Jack and Sarah’s new baby and the little dumplin’ spit up in it. I didn’t have time to wash it out yet. HEY, if you guys don’t get down here, we’re eating all the food without you!” She meant it, too. They might just learn a thing about gratitude if they had to fend for themselves for a night. Arriving at the dining room with two hands full (cups, silver and napkins piled on top of dishes), she re-cleared the table and set it.

“Oh, I thought that was a new perfume. I like your old scent much better,” he added, reaching into one of the food cartons to sneak a taste, and coming out with burned fingers.

“Thanks, I’ll stick with soap then. THAT’S IT! Anyone not at the table for grace is grounded for the next week!” She poured the food into serving bowls and plopped down into her chair.

“Jeez, Mom, feeling a little high strung today?” Penny asked as she flounced down the stairs and over to the refrigerator to pull out the Diet Rocket Fuel Cola and bring it with her to the table.

“Yeah, we were coming,” Wink said into the tiny screen of his Game-Mania Handheld that was six inches from his face. It beeped in response.

“Wink dear, no video games at the table- you know how it distracts your father. Now, let’s say grace.” The kids put aside their things and joined hands. Marshall, however, was intent on shaking a package that had come in the mail that day and it took several moments of silence, interrupted only by Sheila’s repeated throat clearings, for him to realize they were waiting for him.

“Ah, right. . . . Dear Lord, we thank you for this fine cuisine. The forks and knives look really clean. Providing us with Moo Goo Gai Pan- you really rock, Lord, you da Man. Amen.”

“Marshall, you know how inappropriate I think prayers like that are for the children. If you don’t speak properly, they won’t speak properly,” Sheila complained, dishing out the food.

“So, I’m wondering- Is anyone expecting a package?” Marshall lifted up the one he’d been shaking earlier to make sure they all knew what a package looked like. “It has no name on it, not even a return address, so it could be for any of us. What with Christmas being three weeks away, I didn’t want to open it in case someone ordered me a surprise.” He shook it again and it made a dull thud as something heavy moved in very little extra space.

“Right, like we’ve started Christmas shopping yet. Good one Dad,” Wink commented around his egg roll, a conspicuous beeping coming from under the table in front of him.

“You’re not expecting anything, are you, Sweetie Pumpkin?” Marshall asked Penny.

“Me and whose allowance? I can’t afford to get you anything I’d have to pay shipping on. I can barely afford my music downloads, let alone anything for Christmas presents.” She pushed her food around her plate to make it look picked at and swigged some diet cola.

“So, nobody knows anything about this package?” He checked again for good measure. “Guess I’d better open it.”

“Marshall, couldn’t you wait until after dinner?” Sheila asked, envisioning bringing a forkful of packing peanuts to her mouth.

“Nonsense, I’m too curious to eat,” he poo pooed and ripped off the first bit of tape. Bits of paper, tape and, yes, packing peanuts went flying about and, a moment later, Marshall emerged victorious with a large tin featuring some manufacturer in China’s idea of Grandmother’s House on the outside. “Oh, maybe it’s chocolate!”

“Dad, you think everything might be chocolate until you open it. Remember the box with the holes in it that Rex came in that Christmas? You ignored the barking and started wondering how much fondue you could make out of that amount of chocolate,” Wink reminded as he paused his game, so intrigued was he by the mystery tin.

“I don’t eat chocolate anymore,” Penny announced, getting up from the table and setting her full plate in the sink before going back upstairs.

“Well, don’t just sit there calculating how much milk you’ll need to go with this gift, open it,” Sheila chirped, getting into the spirit of the moment despite her earlier resolution to herself to be grumpy on account of her long day. She always melted for Marshall’s goofy charm.

“Okay, here we go.” He pried the lid off the tin to reveal . . . the largest, stickiest, cloyingly sweet-smelling fruitcake the planet had ever seen. “Oh,” he frowned. “It’s not chocolate.”

“That’s alright, honey,” Sheila offered, pressing the lid back onto the tin and setting it on the sideboard. “There’s plenty of time for the really large chocolate bar elf to leave one under your pillow before Christmas. We’ll use that fondue pot before the year’s out, you’ll see.”

2

The morning after the mysterious gift arrived, Sheila moved a pile of papers from the end of the dining room table to the sideboard to make space for the breakfast dishes and covered the fruitcake tin.

***

On the fifteenth, Wink piled the fruitcake tin along with five large books (The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, the phone book, War and Peace, Wink’s own hard cover copy of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and the Unabridged Dictionary), Marshall’s little used tackle box, and a large mixing bowl on top of a chair in an effort to see if Sheila had hidden any Christmas gifts for him at the top of the hall closet. He and the makeshift platform fell before he’d climbed to the top denting both the tin and his head (just a little bit). After that, the tin stopped closing properly. Sheila put it along with the books on the low shelf in the living room when she came home and cleaned up again.

***

On the twentieth, Penny finally started her essay on Henry V, which was due the next day, only to realize she left her copy of the play in her locker. Pulling Sheila’s copy of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare from the bookshelf in the living room, she upset the stack and the dented fruitcake tin rolled wobbleishly across the floor on its side bumping into the Christmas tree stand and causing Penny a small moment of panic while she rushed over to stop the tree from toppling completely.

***

Late in the afternoon Christmas Day, Great Aunt Gretchen arrived unexpectedly and Marshall was about to re-gift the fruitcake to her before Sheila stopped him. She wasn’t certain that the horrendous thing hadn’t come from Gretchen in the first place- that was the type of thing Gretchen was always giving- old fashioned and unappealing. Instead, Sheila found a lovely set of hand painted hurricane glasses she’d bought and kept handy so as not to be caught gift-less in such a situation. As it turned out, Great Aunt Gretchen announced she wasn’t giving gifts that year because the holiday was too material. Then she handed each of them a small card proclaiming that a donation to charity had been given in their names. Later Sheila moved the fruitcake tin to the liquor cabinet to keep Marshall from accidentally giving it to someone else.

***

On New Year’s Eve, a tipsy Dottie Jones found the fruitcake while looking for the toddy mix and nearly helped herself to a big slice before Sheila brought both Dottie and the fruitcake to the kitchen table and convinced her neighbor that she’d enjoy a cup of coffee much better. Unfortunately, Sheila’s plan to prevent a fruitcake-fueled redecoration of the living room was foiled by Dottie using the coffee to wash down a dozen rum balls, some pickled eggs, a liverwurst and olive sandwich, a handful of mint jellybeans and half a bag of cheese curls. Soon after that, Dottie dragged her husband into the middle of the living room and insisted they show off the swing dancing moves learned in the lessons they’d taken several years earlier (when it had been all the rage). Needless to say, the party broke up shortly thereafter (even though it was only 11:15) and the new carpet was installed on January 3rd.

***

“Hey! Give that back!” Penny whined at Wink, after he plucked a photograph from inside her notebook. It was January 5th and school had only just started up after the winter vacation. She’d had to wait for a week and a half to get the photo from her friend Beth because Beth had spent Christmas in Vail.

“Why, so you can spend more time slobbering over Ryan Jones? Oh Ryan, you’re so dreamy. Oh Ryan, I wanna kiss you. Oh Ryan, I wanna lick your toenails.” Wink wriggled his stinky bare feet in her direction while keeping the photo a good arms length away from Penny’s out-grabbing hands.

“Eww! You’re disgusting! Only you would want to lick someone’s toenails, you scrub!” Wink danced around the room, placing the kitchen table between himself and his perturbed sister. “Besides, I don’t like him. I’m on yearbook. I need that for school so, GIVE IT BACK, YOU WEASLE!”

“Make me, Princess Bulimia,” Wink taunted and stuck a finger down his throat.

“I’m not bulimic. I’m just watching my carbs as part of a healthy lifestyle,” Penny defended.

Oh Ryan, I wanna be your girlfriend. Oh Ryan, I lost three pounds for you. Oh Ryan, my love for you burns like the heat of a thousand calories. Oh Ry-

Penny broke around the table hoping to grab hold of her brother, but he saw it coming and they ended up making three circuits of the table before she faked right and went left, catching him by the wrist and giving it a good bite. He yelped in pain, dropped the photo and jumped back, knocking the kitchen table. The tilt of the table was just enough for the fruitcake tin to slide over the edge and land hard on its side on the tile floor. It popped open and the crumbly cake spilled out, fanning across the room- dried fruit went everywhere.

“Oo-ooo, look what you did,” Wink accused.

“I didn’t do it. It was your fault. If you hadn’t stolen my picture, it never would have happened.” She stamped her foot to illustrate the rightness of her argument.

“Yeah, well if you hadn’t bit me I wouldn’t have bumped the table.” He rubbed the sore spot on his wrist again.

“You better clean it up before Mom gets home.” She secured the photo inside her notebook again.

“I’m not cleaning it up. You clean it up.”

“It’s not my mess, brain stain.” The sound of an SUV pulling into the drive could be heard. “Oh crap, she’s here.”

“You’re in trouble. You’re in trouble,” Wink sing-songed, doing a wiggly little jig and waving a finger at her.

“Why you little-” Penny lunged at him again. At the sound of a key in the door, she faltered and both of them quickly made for the stairs.

***

Sheila arrived home in an inexplicably good mood. She placed her jacket and her ever present various and sundry parcels in the hall closet (she’d cleaned it out last month after Wink had nearly broken his neck looking for his left glove). She slipped off her shoes and headed into the kitchen with the day’s mail in hand, making fists with her toes in the carpet as she went. She just loved the new carpet. The fact that it had been an ’emergency replacement’ meant that they didn’t have time to comparison shop. Therefore, Sheila actually got to go with her first choice regardless of price. She was three steps beyond the carpet and into the kitchen when she realized that something moist was squished between the toes of her left foot.

“REX!” she roared, falsely expecting the worst possible explanation. As it turned out, she regretted calling the dog as she then had to fight him back into the den and close the door to keep him from Hoovering up the fruitcake and most certainly re-depositing it on the beloved new carpet a few hours later. At least it was contained in the kitchen- the carpet was spared. She didn’t think her heart could have taken that loss after New Year’s.

3

Sheila was never certain what woke her in the wee hours of that next morning. It might have been the sleet falling pitter-pat on the roof tiles. It might have been Marshall mumbling about fudge in his sleep. It might have been the grandfather clock striking 1:13 as it always did no matter what they did to try to remedy it. OR. It might just have been the barbaric yawps and various and sundry caterwauls coming from the kitchen. By the time Sheila was tying her dressing gown, Marshall was arming himself with his butterfly net to defend home and family from whatever had Rex so worked up. The kids fell in step behind them on the stairwell. Whatever they were going down to, they were going down together.

They deployed by twos- Marshall and Sheila approaching the entrance to the kitchen and Wink and Penny taking up a fallback position by the bottommost stair so as to be ready for either a forward charge or a strategic retreat. They could only see a few feet into the kitchen by the light from the stairs. A flash of orange that greatly resembled the Jones’ tabby cat Tabitha hissed and screeched through that small patch of light followed by the lolloping form of Rex, also articulating his species’ brand of noise.

“How did that bleeping cat get in the house?” Marshall asked with frustrated relief that all they were facing was a little species rivalry. When Rex was a puppy, Sheila had had primroses lining their backyard. They had only lasted for about a week after Rex had gotten his first look at Tabby. Tabby liked to walk top of the fence that divided the Jones’ yard from theirs and Rex could never resist jumping up after her. “Wink, did you lock the dog flap after Rex took you for his evening drag?”

“Yes, Dad,” came the rote reply. An abrupt shriek from the cat followed by near silence drew their attention back to the kitchen. Sheila stepped through the doorway and flicked on the overhead light.

The room was more than a bit worse for wear. Chairs were upset, papers from the table top were mixed in with rubbish from the overturned trash bin (including the ruined fruitcake, tin and all), and on the far side of the room, just beside the backdoor, was Rex happily shaking the limp tabby cat in his jaws, orange fluff wisping about in the air.

“Gross, he killed it,” Penny exclaimed.

“Way to go, Rex!” Wink rooted, his enthusiasm waning as he noticed Sheila’s expression. “Sorry, Mom.”

“I should say so, Wink. Just think of that poor creature. Just think of the Joneses. Why, Dottie will be beside herself. She just loves that cat,” Sheila scolded.

“Your mother’s right, son. Plus, we don’t want Rex going around killing the neighborhood cats. Animal control will have him put to sle-” Marshall was stopped mid-sentence by the realization that no one in the room was paying any attention to him. While that was not necessarily a new experience, in this case, it bore remark, as it was not a lack of interest in what Marshall had to say, but a very peculiar distraction that lost him their focus. Everyone was agog- slack jawed- looking at something behind Marshall.

“Meow.”

Marshall whirled around to find the not quite dead yet Tabby standing atop the counter with nary a scratch on her.

Penny found her voice first, “So, Mom, when you gave us that ‘say no to drugs’ speech, you didn’t tell us you were speaking from experience.” She walked over to the cat and picked her up just before Rex reared up to snap at Tabby. “You never told us you dropped acid when you were pregnant and we’d get the flashbacks, ’cause, this can’t be real.”

“Of course it’s real. Cats have nine lives, stupid,” Wink advised her. “Now that one’s only got eight.”

“Uh, Wink, honey, I’m pretty certain that’s not how it works. Oh, and don’t call your sister stupid.” Sheila fell into automatic ‘Mom’ mode, correcting Wink and bending down to start sorting the garbage from the papers from the top of the table.

Right about then, Rex bounded up on Penny, causing Tabby to hiss and claw her way out of Penny’s grasp. The cat bolted into the living room. Rex was short behind, tracking refuse and food scraps across the carpet. Marshall sprung into action, brandishing the large butterfly net trying to catch the cat. Any attempt to catch the dog would have been ridiculous as he outweighed every member of the family. Despite Marshall’s valiant effort, and the family’s other ill-conceived attempts at stopping it, Rex managed to catch Tabby and, this time, she looked dead for sure. Well, for at least forty-five seconds she looked dead. . . .

***

“What’s the score?” Wink asked as he returned from the bathroom.

“Dog- nineteen, cat- zero,” Penny replied, scooting over on the sofa to make room for her brother.

“How much you want to bet this keeps going until at least dawn?” he whispered, hoping his mother wouldn’t hear.

“I don’t know. Rex is starting to look a little tired. The last time took a good fifteen minutes. I got a fiver that says he gives up and goes to sleep before he hits thirty kills.”

Sheila looked up from her work of trying to salvage the carpet from the successive assaults by the animal fight. “Penny, Wink, that’s terrible. There will be no betting on how many times our dog stalks and kills that poor cat. I don’t know how I’m going to look Dottie in the eye the next time I see her in the grocery as it is.”

“Hi-ho! Cheese popcorn. Did I miss anything good?” Marshall called out as he breezed into the room from the kitchen and offered the bowl around to his family.

The kids each took a generous handful, but Sheila waved him off saying, “Marshall! You made snacks? That’s nearly as bad as Wink and Penny betting on this horrible situation.”

“Betting huh? What kind of odds are you giving the cat, son?”

“Marshall!”

“Oh Sheila, Pudding, lighten up, it’s just a dream. The cat’s not even here. We’re not even here. We’re upstairs, snug in our beds,” Marshall confidently informed her.

“But what if we’re not? What if this isn’t a dream of mine, but some bizarre, horrific reality. Oh! What if I’m in hell?” Sheila withered, dropping the stack of papers she was trying to sort to the carpet where Tabby ran across them leaving little brown paw prints.

“Mom?”

“Yes, Penny.”

“How likely is it that your own personal hell includes all of us sitting in our living room, watching Rex repeatedly bump off the neighbors’ cat, and eating cheese popcorn at three in the morning?” Penny reasoned.

“You see what they’ve done to my carpet, don’t you?” her mother whined. “If I’m not in hell, where am I?”

“You know, Mom that is a good question,” Wink answered. “What exactly is happening here? My best theory was the whole nine lives thing, but that died ten, no eleven lives ago. So, any ideas?” He looked around the room at the family, hoping.

“I’m still certain this is all an olive loaf induced dream,” Marshall replied.

“The acid flashback thing is still a possibility in my mind- or, maybe radon. Maybe the contractors did too good a job when they finished that room in the basement and we’re all having a nice shared hallucination, like the Salem witch trials,” Penny offered.

Then Wink got an odd look on his face and said, “What if it is magic?”

“Wink dear, despite your Great Aunt Gretchen’s entrancing gypsy tales, there is no such thing as magic,” Sheila assured him. (The fact that Sheila used the word ‘entrancing’ was a concession to the fact that Wink was the only one in the household who held much liking for the old woman. Sheila would have broken ties with her if such a thing were possible, but the crone kept showing up at least once a year- on Epiphany- no matter what they did. Why, once they weren’t even home- Gretchen found them at Captain Fryer’s Deep Dip and they all had halibut, because Gretchen insisted it was good luck. Sheila hated halibut.)

“Yeah, and tabby cats are just flesh and blood,” Wink added as the one in their living room died for the twentieth time.

“What kind of magic do you think it would be, son?” Marshall asked and licked orange cheese powder from his thumb.

“Well, Rex has a pretty happy life- nice home, the good food, plenty of table scraps and a big yard to frolic in,” Wink said. “The only thing he could want is to catch that tease of a cat. It sure seems like wish fulfillment to me.”

“Right, so how’d he get his wish fulfilled? Don’t you need to catch a leprechaun or something for that?” Penny wondered.

“No, you catch a leprechaun and he gives you fool’s gold. You need to kiss a frog to get a wish granted,” Marshall corrected. “Isn’t that right Sheila?”

“I thought kissing a frog caused warts and genies grant wishes if you can guess their true names in three tries?”

“Whoa, stop. You’ve got all of it wrong,” Wink took over. “A leprechaun leads you to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, if you can catch him. Kissing a frog turns him into a prince. Rubbing a genie’s lamp gets you three wishes, and Rumpelstiltzkin won’t take your firstborn son as payment for spinning gold into straw, if you can guess his true name in three tries- but all of that is fake. All of those are fairy tales. The only real magic is gypsy magic and the way you get wishes in gypsy magic is to take a potion or to be hexed.”

“But who would hex Rex? Jeez, but I’m enjoying this dream,” Marshall said as Rex caught Tabby one more time before settling in the corner and going to sleep. As soon as he shut his eyes, the limp cat lying on the carpet beside him revived, shook herself and then disappeared through the unlatched doggie door.

“I don’t think anyone would hex our dog. I think he took a potion.”

“But, we don’t keep potions in the house,” Sheila reminded Wink, as if he could have thought that to be the case. “We only have that eye of newt from Halloween, but I’m certain they’re not real. The Partyville clerk said they were plastic.”

“Yeah, Mom, they’re plastic, I checked. I’m not talking about some random accident- I think Rex took a potion meant for us.” Wink pointed to the nearly empty tin sitting under the table.

“The fruitcake?” Penny asked incredulously.

“Think about it. It arrived mysteriously- with no return address and addressed to no one. We couldn’t think of one person who might have sent it. That’s classic. That’s just how a gypsy would get someone to take a potion without their knowledge.”

“Wink, that’s just ridiculous. There is no such thing as magic gypsy potions, right Marshall?”

“Oo-oo, I know, now I get to disprove Wink’s theory by eating some fruitcake and making a wish. I love when I dream about food, it’s like dinner theater.” Marshall then proceeded to cut a small piece off the remainder of the fruitcake, cover it with chocolate sauce and swallow it in one gulp.

“Eww Dad! That’s nasty. I can’t believe you ate that,” Penny said, making a face at the thought.

“So, what did you wish for?” Wink asked.

“Oh right, I have to make a wish. Hmm, how about this- I wish I had a large glass of milk to wash down the cake. Dairyglasio Appearo!” Marshall incanted and waved his hand in a way he thought looked as though he were working a charm.

Then they all waited for the magic to happen. After about three minutes, Sheila gave up, walked over to the refrigerator, poured a glass of milk and set it in front of Marshall.

“Well, now that Rex has worn himself out and the house is quiet again, maybe we should all try to get some sleep.” Sheila made another small attempt to clean as she shooed the children up to bed.

4

“Sheila, Bonbon, don’t put that can out!” Marshall hollered as he leapt from his car, barely taking the time to put it in park and turn off the ignition.

“Marshall what are you doing home?” Sheila asked. She was in the middle of the walkway that led round to the backyard, carrying the garbage can to the curb. She was struggling because she didn’t want to let the dirty can brush against her suit- she was going for a job interview that morning. The sanitation truck was only two houses away. If they didn’t want to keep this trash for another week, she had to hustle.

“It worked! We need to take this back inside,” Marshall made to take the can from her arms.

“I’ve just lugged it out here trying to beat the truck because Wink forgot this morning. Why do you want to drag it back into the house? It stinks to high heaven!” Sheila reasoned loudly.

The truck stopped in front of the house and one of the sanitation engineers walked over for the can. “Forgive me for butting in, as domestic disputes are not really my area of expertise, but I’d leave the can and take the wife inside instead, if I were you,” he advised, giving Sheila a good, hard looking at.

“I’ll take them both, thank you, Jeff,” Marshall replied. (Marshall called Jeff by name because Marshall knew just about everybody in town. Sheila barely knew a third of the people Marshall knew. It irked her for some reason she couldn’t put her finger on.) “Listen, I got the promotion,” Marshall said, turning back to his wife and walking her and the can back towards the house. Jeff shrugged and moved onto the cans in front of the Jones’ house.

“What promotion? You were up for a promotion? And, here you were complaining about how no one appreciates you at the office,” Sheila responded as he jostled her in the front door, where they were met by Rex, who was excited to see if his old pal garbage can was still full of interesting stuffs. All four of them made their way through the house and back into the kitchen.

“Well, I didn’t say anything because Thom Jones was the heir apparent for the job,” he stopped to ruffle the dog’s fur behind the ears (Hiya boy, are you Daddy’s good Rexy-boy? Yes, yes you are.), “but Thom went to breakfast with the boss this morning and he committed some sort of gaff. Word on the street is he ordered himself eggs benedict, which comes with a side of peas and carrots over at Gravel’s, you know, and he ate his peas with his knife. As everybody knows, Eustace T. Quijebo’s a stickler for knife safety ever since that whole circus fiasco at last year’s company picnic, so well, poor Thom’s lucky he’s still got his job, ol’ Eustace was so angry,” Marshall explained.

“That’s great, darling, but why does that mean we aren’t throwing out our garbage anymore?”

“I wished for the promotion.” Marshall rummaged through the can, dropping various and sundry bits of refuse willy-nilly onto the kitchen floor, much to Rex’s delight.

“Uh-huh.” She crouched down and started elbowing out the dog so she could pick up what Marshall was dropping and place it back into the can.

“And I got the promotion.” He stopped his work so he could look her in the eyes the better to drive home his point. Unfortunately, she was busy tempting Rex out the doggy door with a treat and securing the latch, so she didn’t see his eyes or his well driven home point.

“Yes, congratulations. Does it come with a pay raise?” She continued cleaning, hoping to get ahead of the game before Marshall decided to resume dirtying her polished cherry floor.

“Oh, I’m not sure. I’ll ask tomorrow. Wait, forget the pay raise.” He set aside the garbage can and took her sticky hands in his own, making her face him. “You’re not hearing me. I ate the fruitcake and I got the promotion.”

“Oh. . . .” A quizzical look passed briefly over her face and was replaced by one of irritated understanding, “Oh! Marshall, you’re not telling me that you believe that the fruitcake you ate last night had anything to do with Thom Jones eating his veggies with his knife so you’d get a promotion? I thought we’d settled all that nonsense last night when the cat finally left.”

“So had I. I was certain it was just an odd, odd dream. When would I ever have put chocolate sauce on fruitcake? Everyone knows you need to dunk it in hot cocoa, but once I thought about it, I realized a lot of my wishes have been coming true today.” He dropped her hands having at least made her understand if not believe, and dug back into the trash.

“For example?” she asked doubtfully. “I mean, you didn’t even get that glass of milk you wished for last night. I had to get it for you myself.”

“Maybe that was my wish coming true.” He finally found the fruitcake tin and shook it off over the garbage.

“Oh Marshall, that’s ridiculous,” Sheila scolded as she again picked up the refuse from the floor and refilled the garbage can.

“Oh yeah, think about this. Even though I only got three hours sleep last night, I’m not tired, because I remember wishing that it would somehow be enough. Then this morning, you made waffles from scratch,” Marshall argued, following her over to the sink and waiting while she washed her hands.

“I just felt like making waffles.”

“On a Thursday morning? And, this morning on the drive in, I didn’t hit one red light.” He picked up the dishcloth from the sink and started wiping off the tin with it.

“Coincidence.”

“What about this?” he offered. “This morning at 9:38 I had just settled down at my desk for my usual Boston cream and coffee. Every day I try to take my break at 9:38 because 9:38 is the perfect minute- after I’ve finished my morning correspondence, but before I’ve begun my revisions for the day. Everything starts to hit the fan by 9:45, you know. Yet, every day I can’t savor the perfect minute because every day my superior stops by to inquire, ‘How’s the new version coming along? Gonna make next week’s deadline?’ I’ve been working on the ‘new version’ of this project for the last eighteen months (ever since I finished the original version).

“Today I looked up from my donut, and gave him my standard answer, ‘90% done, Chief, I just need to put the finishing touches on.’ Which is an out and out lie, but it hardly matters as the deadline is always next week. Yet somehow, ‘next week’ never comes because every Thursday afternoon Quijebo decides to tweak the enhancement list and therefore pushes back the deadline by a week.

“To be honest, Sheila, I don’t really understand why we’re revising the original version. It works perfectly well, sells briskly with very little marketing and none of the clients is asking for any of the bells and whistles Quijebo is forever tweaking onto it. In fact, the bells were quite annoying to the test panel Marketing solicited opinions from, and the whistles tend to attract stray dogs, which most clients want to avoid (though someone in R&D has proposed cross marketing it to municipalities for use by animal control departments).

“Anyway, there I was, stuck in the same ruined 9:38 as I am every morning, when I just wished that ol’ Eustace would disappear . . . and he did,” Marshall finished.

“Your boss disappeared into thin air?” she asked incredulously.

“Oh, no. He was called away. There was some crisis in the IT department that needed his immediate attention, so he left, without asking any follow up questions- not even, ‘You know we need to give a hundred and fourteen percent on this to make deadline, right Fogerty?’ which is what he always asks next.”

“Marshall, as long and pointless at that story was, I’m not convinced it had anything to do with you eating that piece of fruitcake last night. It’s all just coincidence. You’re just having a good day, that’s all,” Sheila assured him.
“You know, I just wish you’d believe me. The fruitcake grants wishes and we’d be foolish to not use it,” he sighed, resigned to her disbelief. He knew her well enough to see that she wouldn’t see, no matter what he said.

“Well I don’t see how I can possibly believe that that fruitcake grants wishes, unless, you make a wish for me and it comes true right here, right now,” she said, calling his bluff.

“All right, what should I wish for?” he asked, not having been bluffing at all.

“Let me see . . . I know- wish for us to be able to save the carpet. I don’t want to go through replacing it again.”

“Okee-dokee. I wish we could save the carpet,” he said, in a hopeful tone that indicated that he was making a formal wish, although he had no reason to believe that it would make the wish coming true any more likely.

“See, nothing’s happening. The carpet’s still stained and there are no elves appearing at the door with magic wands to zap it clean,” Sheila snapped, finally losing all patience for this silliness.

“Huh. Maybe we need to give it a few minutes.”

“You go right ahead and give it all the time you want. I’ve got to change my skirt- it has bananas and some sort of grease on it.” She left the kitchen and made for the stairs.

“Well, since I’m home, I guess I’ll catch up on my stories,” Marshall said, absentmindedly switching on the TV on the counter.

Sheila was three steps up the stairs when she realized what the voice from the TV was saying-

. . . but wait, there’s more . . . as part of this FREE TV OFFER, you not only get this space-aged technology developed by NASA for use on the international space station, but if you call in the next thirteen minutes and mention the secret code word- fruitcake you also get free overnight shipping. That’s right, tomorrow morning you can have the cleanest carpets in the universe with absolutely no risk. You have my personal guarantee your carpet will be cleaner than new or double your money back. Don’t delay. Call now to get your free canister of Cosmic Carpet Cleaner and harness the power of the vacuum.

They reached for the phone at the same time and even got the free rush delivery. Ten minutes later, after taking some preemptory antibiotics leftover from the last time Wink had strep throat, Sheila held her nose and ate a bite of fruitcake.

Go on to Part II

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