Monday, January 17, 2011

Write a story about Pat O. Butter and Melba Toast & Win an original drawing of them!

Write a story about Pat O. Butter and Melba Toast 
and Win the Drawing on the Right
The contest closes Monday January 31, 2011




Pat O. Butter 
and Melba Toast
oil on masonite 10"x8"

Click on drawings to enlarge
The story you write should be a "Flash Fiction" which is a complete story in one thousand or fewer words.  Please post the story in the comment section, you will have to provide your name and an email address in order to be qualified to win or you can e-mail me at kmencher@ohlone.edu with your info.  There is a problem with how many characters can post (only about 4,000) so if you cannot post it.  E-mail it to me at kmencher@ohlone.edu

Go to my website for more contests: http://www.kenney-mencher.com/

Winning flash fiction stories will be integrated in with an exhibit in San Francisco at ArtHaus Gallery (April 8th for the reception).

The show is called:
Renovated Reputations: Paintings and Fiction inspired by Vintage Portrait Photographs

The exhibit will include a series of 20-40 paintings and mixed media works ranging in size from 8”x10” to 18”x24” framed with thrift store and vintage frames.  In addition to the exhibited works ArtHaus is publishing catalogs signed by me and as many of the authors as possible.

Catalogs/books will consist of image of the painting with the text of the “flash story” surrounding the image.  If I can get the authors to come to a book signing/party, authors would sign their pages for some of the printed stuff.

We're going to have a photobooth for the show for participants to play with and vintage costumes.

Of course I'll send the authors free copies of the catalogs. I will announce the winners the day after the closing deadline for the competition. I'm planning on doing one flash fiction competition a week every Monday from now until April. 

(If the conditions in the side bar are not to your liking, I'm totally flexible.  Send me a contract that you like and I will mail it back to you.  I just don't want to chase people for signatures when I publish the catalog!)
______________________________________________________

 
This came in by e-mail:
Burned Bridges and Toast Deneze Bellenghi

     I found an old photo of us in a drawer. Melba and me. Just like that, the dam broke.  Memories flooded  in, drowning me. All those years of building that wall. The photo brought it all back as if it  were yesterday. Pat and Melba. Butter and Toast. Funny, right? In high school, everyone has their niche, their identity. Our names gave us ours, comedy. We were funny and we made the most of it. We were like Lucy and Ethel and Dean and Jerry. I supplied the straight lines and Melba got the laughs. I didn't mind. I loved her. If she got laughs, we both got laughs. We were a team. Best friends. Sisters. We went together like peanut butter and jelly. Movies and popcorn. I saw us growing old together to the end. Death I mean. But in high school, we are not the sages we imagine ourselves to be.
     I remember the first time I saw Melba. I was helping in the school office. The assistant principal asked me to show the new girl, Melba around. Melba had that"I'm lost" feel about her. Not just the first day at a new school. She kept that insecurity about her. That's what drew me in. She needed me. I was her wingman, confidante, social coordinator and makeup, hair and fashion adviser. We did everything together. In the senior yearbook, our picture together won the new "Least likely to be separated" award.
     After graduation, the comedy team of Butter and Toast left for the city. We shared an apartment. The fun and games lasted for several years until I started seeing Jimmy. Melba continued to date around. She never missed a party or a  chance to needle me saying, “Are you seeing that sticky guy again tonight?"
     "You know Jimmy Jam is just his professional radio name," I answered, smiling. Melba had a great sense of humor.
     "Isn't it boring just seeing one guy all the time?” she asked.
     "No.” I answered. "Isn't it boring being the life of the party all the time?" I countered.
     "Well, if it is, it's your fault because you're not there." she always answered. Nice to be missed, I thought.
     Several months later, I went home. Dad was having surgery and mom needed help. On my return three weeks later, Melba never seemed to be home and Jimmy was working nights to replace an ill co-worker. Oddly enough, he was not on the air. One evening Melba came home early. She seemed edgy.
     "Pat, I need to talk to you. You've noticed that Jimmy hasn't been around." I shook my head, wondering where in the world she was going. “Well, the weeks you were away, Jimmy and I hung out together."   She looked at me to see if I was following where she was going. My face must have been as clueless as I felt. She continued," One thing lead to another, and well, we’re crazy about each other. We didn't mean for this to happen." She rushed on," But I know, dear Pat, that you want me, us, to be happy. I knew you wouldn't mind, am I right?" My legs gave way, and I was relieved to find a couch beneath me. I murmured something Melba took as affirmative. Then she let the ax fall," We're getting married next month." That brought me back to consciousness "What!"
     "Of course, Patty." Her smile was thin, “he needed a little encouragement." There it was. The mask had slipped. I saw a person I'd never seen before. How could I have not seen...
     "Of course, we want you to be maid of honor." a poisoned bone thrown down.
     "Of course,” I replied. She prattled on about the wedding and how she wanted each detail. I tried hard to smile. My face felt like unyielding rubber. I worked to keep a smile, as she talked and paced.  The bitch thought she had won. It was not a fait accompli. Slowly, my mind began to plan…
      I played the perfect maid of honor, carrying out her every wish until the day before the wedding. I went to Jimmy's apartment. He didn't want to talk to me but I insisted. "Melba told you she's pregnant didn't she."
    "She is. I don't want to discuss any of this. I 'm terribly sorry that I hurt you. It's the last thing I wanted to do. I really care about you."
     "Melba is lying about being pregnant."
      "She wouldn't lie…"
      "What doctor is she seeing?"
     "I,I don't know."
     "Make her take a pregnancy test before tomorrow. I know she is lying.” with that I left. Jimmy’s fate was in his own hands.
     I waited at the apartment. My bags were packed near the door. The distinctive burned smell became stronger and stronger as I worked in the kitchen. There was a smoky haze in the room. I was grateful the smoke alarm hadn't gone off. At last Melba made her entrance. She was livid. Her eyes bulged and there was no pretense, the fire breathing dragon was lose.
     "The wedding is off!! Are you happy now? We can both be unhappy! You couldn't stand to see me happy!" she screamed.
     "A person's happiness can't be built on another person's misery" I answered. “It was all a lie."
     "Jimmy loved me, he just didn't know it."
     "If he loved you, the wedding would still take place. By the way, I 'm leaving." I moved toward the door and my bags.
     "You can't leave," the old Melba was back as if nothing had happened. “We’re friends forever. We can get through this."
     "Forever is shorter than you think," I answered.
     It suddenly got to her, “What is that awful smell?" Bingo!
     I couldn't help myself, I smiled, “the toaster is broken, it burned every piece of bread I put in." I made my exit. As I headed out into fresh air, I 'm sure I heard the toaster crash against the door.
______________________________________________________
This came in by e-mail:

Pat and Melba by Martrice Candler

“Pat, Pat, wanna be black” the neighborhood hood kids sang in mocking variations of the black Baptist church choir. Pat had spent ½ of her life in Little Italy in the Bronx. The other half she was spending in San Francisco’s Bay View district. Her mother’s shameful divorce drove her from New York City to the promising Coast of San Francisco, California. In the Bronx her small  family attended the Baptist Church every week and her mother intended to keep it that way.
Pat and her mother joined the Black Baptist church located on 3rd Street, where her mother made canollies for the church pot luck and where Pat sang in the choir.  She was like a grain of salt on rich moist soil. The choir kids snickered as she parted her pale pink thin lips and  mouthed the negro spirituals. With collapsed eyebrows Bertha the head of choir asked “Pat, why won’t you sang gal?”  
After church Pat’s mother decided to speak with her about the dramatic change in their lives. “Pat, God teaches us love, strength and tolerance. We are learning the same word, Gods word. It’s just coming from a different vessel. Pat! Hand me that black cup and the white one.” Pat’s mother poured the freshly squeezed lemonade into both cups and told Pat to drink from both cups. Pat obeyed her mother even though she thought her request was silly. “Now Pat, does the lemonade taste different?” Her mother asked her sheepishly. “No” Pat said impatiently. “Well, Miss Pat you are ahead of most adults and your peers. The contents don’t change because of the vessel which carries it. If the lemonade didn’t change cause it was in a black cup then the Word doesn’t change cause because it coming from a Black man.”
            The following Sunday Pat returned to church with her choir robe freshly pressed and hair freshly curled. She decided today was the day to Sing. She took her usual spot in the back of the other children. All of their ironed choir robes looked like the fresh bloom of a stiff red rose. Pat’s nervousness got the best of her and she bellowed from the pit of her abysmal pain the introduction of the song ahead of the choir in the most achingly soulful and beautiful voice.  
“The joke was that Pat had the skin of a white girl and the soul of a black woman.  Her mother told me that story a million times.” Mebal said, staring into the painting of a lake hanging behind her psychologist as if she were projecting the images in her memory. “I met Pat when I was working at the wash house. She was a tiny thing, I wouldn’t have taken notice of her but she had her head phones on and was singing to herself aloud. The wash house had high ceilings and her voice echoed off it’s high Victorian ceilings. She had the most beautiful voice I had ever heard. I walked right up to her after she finished putting her laundry in the washing machine and told her she show could sing a tune. We walked to the coffee shop and talked up a storm.  She liked black men and said they made the prettiest babies for white women. I was intrigued by how self assure she was. She spoke with conviction and passion. Every since that day we became best friends. Her mother began calling us butter and toast.”  “Melba”, Dr. Mays interrupted, “are you still friends?”
“Pat will always be my dearest friend; she married Roman when she was 22. Their marriage didn’t last but two years. She told me he wanted to start a family but Pat wanted to sing. So she divorced him and moved to Los Angeles in the 80’s to pursue her singing career. I couldn’t believe the headshots of Pat I received in the mail. She had dyed her hair blonde, and  had on hot pink lipstick. The letter said she was the opening act for some local groups in Los Angeles and had just completed her demo. A few weeks later I received her demo in the mail and she explained that she had written all of her songs. I could tell in the letter she was very excited. I put the tape on my dresser and went to work that morning. A few days later her mother called me and told me Pat has passed. She never told me the details of her death. Her mother abruptly moved back to the east coast. I’m still angry with her mother. I still have the tape but have never listened to it. I just bought a cassette player and I’m going to listen to Pats demo tonight.”
______________________________________________________
This came in by e-mail:

Best Friends by D. Charles Florey

“Steak n eggs, with a side of potatoes for you...” Melba Toast said.  She carried her words as if singing a bird’s tune, letting the last word linger melodiously.  
The large man nodded under his black baseball cap.  He did not smile.  He scratched at his gray and black whiskers as if thinking of something to say, but deciding against it. 
“Bloody red raw like you like it hon,” she added.  
“And for you, my handsome little man, hamburger and fries.”  She set the plate in front of a boy no older than ten and smiled when she saw his eyes light up.
  “Ketchup for you fellas?”
“Yes ma’am!” the boy responded.  His mouth remained agape in a dimpled grin.
“Here you are, such a gentleman,” she said.  “Ya’ll enjoy now.”
  Melba returned to the line to check on her other orders.  She had seen far too many years in this place, but she enjoyed the regulars like Ray.  He didn’t say much, but he tipped well enough.  It was her place in this world - to serve people - to make them smile like she did Ray’s little boy.  As long as she could do that much, she was doing right by the world.  
Pat O. Butter joined her at the line, smelling like maple syrup and honey.
“Is that Ray over there?” Pat asked.
Melba looked at the man in the black cap and red and black checked shirt cutting into a rare steak.  “Yeah, that’s Ray.”
“Who’s that boy with him?”
“I dunno, I figured it was his boy.”
“Huh, fancy that.  A trucker like Ray havin’ a boy.  Crazy world.”
“I suppose,” Melba said.  
Pat grabbed the pot of coffee with the orange lid and turned toward the counter.  “More decaf boys?” She said.  
Melba leaned against the stainless steel shelving separating the front of the house from the back.  Behind her chaos clinked and clanked with the sounds of familiarity.  In front of her, the gruffest man she had ever known was sharing a meal with a dimpled, doe-eyed kid.  She watched as the boy kicked his heels against the booth, bouncing as he ate, holding his hamburger carelessly in one hand and listening as Ray spoke to him.  “Crazy world,” she said, echoing Pat’s words.
A bell rang.  “Melba!”  The bell rang again.  “Order’s up! Quit your daydreamin’,” Charlie said.  Melba turned around and grabbed two plates, then stared at Charlie.  
“Special order hun - table 5.”
“I got it,” Pat said.  Pat snatched the plates from Melba’s hands and rushed to a booth at the front of the diner.   Two well dressed men were sitting in the booth.  From Melba’s perspective, it appeared that the men were talking at each other at the same time.
“Here you are,” Pat said.  “Enjoy your meal.”
“Thank you,” each man responded, and then went on to talk at each other.
Pat rushed back to the line and grabbed the pot of coffee.
“What was that?” Melba said.
“Oh that was nothing - just trying to be helpful.”
“I had it.”
“Did you?  I’m sorry Melba, I just heard the bell ring and I snapped up.  No biggie.”
Melba shook her head.  Pat was always that way, always trying to spread herself around, pouring it on thick with folks, so sweet it’d make your heart melt.  Melba did her fair share with the sugar, but she didn’t see the need to butter everyone up.  What was the point?  If she made just one person smile through the night, that would do it for Melba.  There was no need to work so hard at it, they weren’t saving lives or auditioning for musicals or something. 
The night wore on.  Ray gave Melba a nice tip, and Pat seemed all out of sorts since she helped out the two nicely dressed men at table 5. 
Two AM arrived like molasses on a cold day, but came with the welcome of warm sun rays after the rain.  Melba folded her apron and set it on the counter.  She poured herself a cup of decaf, then rounded the counter and sat on a stool.  She kicked off her flats and rubbed her ankle, wincing at the pain.  The bandage she had placed on her ankle had long since fallen off.
“Closing time,” Pat said.  She took the stool next to Melba and placed her apron in front of her.
“Yep,” Melba replied.
“I’m going to miss this place,” Pat said.
“What?” said Melba.  “What do you mean by that?”
“Funny thing, really,” Pat said.  She chuckled, smiled, rubbed the back of her neck and looked up at Melba from her downcast countenance.  
“Funny?  Really?” Melba said.  Her tone lay flat, a single note of melancholy.
“Yeah, it turns out those men in the suits were big time movie producers from Hollywood.”
“Yeah?”
“Yeah, and they want to cast me in part.”
“No kidding.”
“No kidding.  They want me to start tomorrow, Melba.  I’m going to Hollywood!”
“That’s...that’s fantastic, Pat.”  Melba looked at her reflection in the back of her spoon.  She wasn’t getting any younger.  What was she doing in this place?  Was she really making a difference?  Why couldn’t she be the star?  Why did it always have to happen for Pat?
Melba stared at her black coffee, at the hot steam drifting up from it.  All at once she wanted to pick up the cup and throw it into Pat’s face.  She could feel herself trembling, wanting nothing more than that small, sweet revenge.  
But she couldn’t do it.
Pat looked at Melba, leaning in to get a good look at her face.  Melba was crying.  She allowed the tears to stream down her face onto the counter.
Pat embraced Melba and Melba returned the embraced.
“I love you, Melba.”
“I love you too, Pat.”  
Pat smiled.
Melba smiled too.
______________________________________________________________________

This came in by e-mail:
Blarney by Gigi DeVault

Streams of people flowed in both directions—as purposeful and orderly as if they were on a New York sidewalk.   I followed along and felt the coil of their urgent passage grow tighter.   The quiet of a waiting jungle dissipated, as the cacaphony swelled.  Sounds like a leopard slinking away—felt more than heard.

“U gaat de verkeerde kant op.  You are going the wrong way.”  Though slight, the dark-haired woman blocked my way.  

She grabbed my hand and pulled me into a thicket of big-leafed plants that slapped at me after she slipped through.  We squeezed past bamboo and kept going, until the noise—truck engines, rattling wooden keretas, and shouted orders—was muffled.   When she halted, she put a finger to her lips, her eyes on the way we had just come. 

She spun around, grabbed my necklace, and hissed, “Unbelievable!  There you go, strolling along wearing a big shiny cross and walking behind it like you think it makes you invisible?  Idiot!  It makes you a bloody target – triple points!”

“Triple?”  

She held up three fingers in turn: “Catholic, Dutch, stupid.”

“Look!  I’m going to the capitol,” I insisted.  “My husband is there.”

“You’ll never make it,” she said.  “You’ll be kidnapped, or worse.  The pemuda are protesting in Djakarta. Pro-revolutionaries are everywhere.   Tan Malaka – that Communist misfit -- is there, stirring them up.” She spit out several expletives.

“But he’s been exhiled!.”  The woman shushed me, and continued in a hushed voice.
“He was in Bayah and got all riled up by the treatment of the romusha  -- forced laborers -- in the coal mines there.”

I knew of Malaka.  He had no true ties to anyone, faithful only to his Marxist creedo.  He had a violent streak that snaked through his being just like a seam of that black coal.  If Malaka was in Djakarta, I was in great danger.  I’d been safer interned.

“Look, honey.  You better...”  Fear pitched a trembling into my core as hard as a double play thrown by that rookie Mickey Mantle.  Her tone softened.   “What’s your name?” 

“Melba Toast.”

She grinned.  “That’s awful .  You must be English.  Nobody else has names like Lamb, Lock, Sweet, Pudding, ..Toast.”

“Pudding?”

She snapped off the mirth – and with it, the light in her eyes -- while she listened again for any sound that would trigger our flight.  Satisfied, she continued, “You don’t want to hear that I’m half Irish, but if it wasn’t for the “O” in my name, I’d be in your English name bucket.  Patricia O’Butter.”  The grin was back. “Yes, Butter.”  Then, hand to her chest, she said, “Pat.”

“Toast is my married name.  My husband is English and Sumatran.   I’m Australian.  We made up our surnames on the ship over,” I said.  “I’ve got nothing against the Irish.”
“Or Indonesians, apparently,” Pat said, giving me a pitying smile.  “It can’t help that your husband…what’s his name?”

“Burt,” I whispered.

“Burt’s not truly Indo, then.  The whole caste thing here.  He doesn’t belong anywhere, does he?”

I tucked my hands criss-cross under my elbows to subdue my shakes, and my indignation.

“God alone knows what Queen Wilhelmina was thinking.  We’re all paying for her wishful thinking.   Where is she now that we need her?”  Pat took steps toward the road, as if she was actually going to go look for the Queen.  I snatched at her.  

Pat gripped my upper arms and continued.  “You’re better off without Burt just now.”  Ignoring my look, she said, “A white-skinned imperialist married to a mix-breed.  We have to get you somewhere safe.”

“I want to be with my husband!  I’m going to…”

“To the British military hospital in Sourabaya.  I’m a nurse, Melba.  I’ll say you are, too.”  Pat dug around in her shoulder bag and dragged out an item that she reverently began unfolding.  “Put it on,” she said, handing me a nurse’s cap.

From a pocket, Pat produced bobby pins to secure the cap.  Her hand went to a small gold pin with an intricate Medusa on her lapel.  This she carefully, conspicuously stuck in the collar of my blouse.

“I just came from the hospital.  I was trying to get to Bandung where my sweetheart is.”  She flashed a rueful smile, and began to retrace our steps, away from this hiding place.

I watched her stride right into the middle of the road.  I could picture her doing triage with the wounded as they were carried on stretchers into the hospital.  Was the authority she conveyed something she threw over herself—like the nurses’ cape she carried—that at once, like a soldier’s uniform, changed the way she carried herself?  Or was it blarney that stiffened her spine and caused courage to churn through her veins, like a few shots of good Irish whiskey?

She waved down a rattle-trap truck with space in the back between Dutch and British Indian soldiers.  “We are nurses,” Pat told them.  “We have to get to Sourabaya hospital.”  Hands reached down to pull us up.

We were offered seats and swigs from canteens.  Quick to spot the leaders, she charmed each one—teasing, asking about family, or telling some little joke, in Malay, Dutch, or English.  I was as awash in the spell she cast as these hapless men. 

My hand kept going to the nurse’s cap on my head, not so much to see if it was still in place, but to test my idea about removing it and shoving it in my pocket before anyone could see.  I couldn’t be sure which I feared more—the pro-revolutionaries or the prospect of having to provide treatment to some bloody, pain-racked soldier or civilian.

Pat passed out her smile to every admirer, and occasionally to me, while my mind spun round and round the words, “Irish blarney - luck of the Irish,” like some mantra that would carry me to safety, if only I believed. 
_________________________________________________________________________



This came in by e-mail:
By Taylor Ray
www.TaylorRayDirect.com

It started as a simple game. Pat said the first letter. Melba said the second. Pat said the third letter, and they took turns until they had a word.  Spelling together was like uncovering their invisible connection, and the girls would play for hours.
 
When they felt serious, the girls spelled words like  c-o-h-e-r-e-n-t  or  b-l-e-m-i-s-h. When they felt playful, words like  p-o-n-c-h-o  or  a-n-k-l-e  popped out. When they felt moody, g-a-r-g-o-y-l-e  or  f-u-n-i-c-u-l-a-r  or  p-i-t-u-i-t-a-r-y  spelled themselves in the air, and girls nodded quietly in agreement.
 
Each time Pat and Melba played the game, the two entered a new world. It didn’t matter that Pat was now in the 10th grade, or that Melba was learning how to use an electric sewing machine. The game made each girl equal. And every letter became a gift that was naturally followed by another gift, as if they were at birthday party--for both of them.
 
As they boarded their afternoon train, the young man took their tickets and greeted them directly. “Ladies,” he said as he tipped his hat. He punched their tickets and handed them back. This was his first job, and he wanted to do it well. Pat smiled, flattered by the young man’s greeting, but she kept one arm linked to her friend as he returned their tickets.
 
They sat down in the seat nearest the door and took off their gloves. Pat leaned over, and whispered “W” keeping her eyes on the young man. Melba whispered back “O”. Pat thought for a moment and added “R”. Melba giggled and responded “S”.  The young man reached the end of the car and then turned to survey his passengers. He caught Pat’s gaze and smiled. 
 
“Pat.” Melba elbowed her. “It’s your turn.”
 
“H.” Pat blurted out without thinking, eyes still in the direction of the young man. Melba startled in surprise. H was not right. H was not the next letter. H couldn’t be the next letter.  Melba turned in her seat, and then followed her friend’s gaze down the car to the young man.
 
Her stomach sank.
 
W-o-r-s-h meant the next letter would be I, and the final letter P. w-o-r-s-h-i-p.  Oh no. Pat was in love. Again.  And it would be a disaster. Again. Melba saw it all so clearly: the flirty hello, the suggestion of a date, the lovely evening walk, the stolen kiss, the whispered promises, the letters from the front, and then Pat on the sofa--crying for days. It was an unbearable scene, and Melba made a decision.
 
Melba raised her voice and tried to speak evenly. “The letter is T, Pat. It’s T. You must have misspoken”. Pat turned to her friend and searched her face. “T?,” Pat asked.  “Yes,” said Melba in her most dignified tone. “T.”  Pat took in a long breath. “w-o-r-s…t,” she exhaled.   Melba nodded and looked out the window. Pat sighed and leaned up against her. The two friends rode in silence.
_________________________________________
This came in by e-mail:
                                                             “Remembrance”         
                                                                 by S.M. Florey

“The artist really captured them.”  The old man gazed at the portrait of the two young women.  “My sweet Pat O. Butter and Melba Toast.  That was my pet name of them when they were little.  They were always together.  Met when they were first graders.  Inseperable, that’s what they were.”
“He really got their smile.  And Melba’s dress.   I remember that dress.  Wore it the day she announced her engagement.  Pat was going off to secretarial school.  They decided then to have their portrait done.  Their gift to me.  And he did a fine job.  Fine job.”  His voice trailed off.  Then he went on, “I’ll always treasure this.  That’s why I’m here.  It needs a new frame.  That old one, it just doesn’t do anymore – worn out, like me, so I’ve decided to get a new one –redecorate, give it a new life, so to speak.”  His voice caught as he spoke these last words and he seemed transfixed by the portrait.
He raised his eyes and peered at the clerk.  “How much will it cost?” he asked; then without waiting for a reply, he went on.  “It doesn’t really matter – the cost.  It’s the frame that matters.  They deserve a nice one, a new one.   Nothing too ornate.  They were nice, plain girls.  Nothing frilly.  Something calm and sweet,” he said softly.   “But not too sweet,” his  voice hardened.  “Saucy.”  He hesitated.   “But  not too saucy.”  His eyes bored into the clerk.  “Do you know what I mean?” he demanded..
The clerk nodded slightly and his gaze shifted to some indistinct thing over the old man’s shoulder. 
“It’s got to be a frame that will complement the painting and compliment them.  If you study the portrait you’ll know what frame it needs.  Study it, young man.  And make a frame worthy of them.”
He took a black cloth from his pocket, covered the portrait and handed it to the young clerk.  His voice trembled and a small tear touched his cheek.  “Study it,” he said softly as he turned to leave.  “I’ll be back in a week.” 
____________________________________________________________________
This came in by e-mail:

David G. Brosky

    Pat O. Butter and Melba Toast. Everyone who didn’t know them thought they were sisters. They weren’t. But just because two seeds aren’t squeezed from the same lemon doesn’t mean they won’t be spit out upon the same terrible ground. Recognizing in each other the desire both to understand and to be understood, they decided to be friends. It wasn’t weakness that made them cling to one another, it was the hard littleness inside of them, their hard humanness that would ultimately force them to submerge their vulnerabilities. America made them do it. America was rooting out weakness, making it drink coca-cola, then annihilating it.
    Sensitivity wasn’t cool. Sensitivity was for Communists. What the kids of this country wanted was ecstatic rudeness and combed hair ruthlessness. They’d earned it. When Bill Haley and the Comets released “Rock around the Clock” it was actually like an enormous alarm clock had exploded in the genitals of all teenagers, making them convulse and dance and talk in ways no one ever talked before, groping through the street light night in search of something that would explain what it was they were feeling.
    Pat O. and Melba T. couldn’t get enough rock n’ roll. It was as if the electric guitar knew the desires of their insides, knew the rhythm of their diaries and their little girl longings. They danced together in their bedrooms, throwing their heads back, laughing like sisters under the woolly blanket of radio waves and secret understanding.
    They didn’t care for Elvis. They thought he was trying too hard. “It should come naturally,” Pat said. Melba agreed. There was something in Elvis’ movements and outfits that begged for recognition. “He’s pathetic” Melba said “he’ll probably end up performing at gas stations.” “Yeah or airport motels” Pat added. “That’s it!” Melba screamed “that’s what he is, the way he shimmers and shines, he’s a human billboard.” They laughed at the individual image each of them had of Elvis with light bulbs dangling down and around his body. Then they decided to go get hamburgers because it was Friday night after all.
    Freddi’s was the place to get hamburgers. Pat made Melba call this guy Rex who drove too fast and was always going on about his lousy father. Rex came and picked them up, though Melba had to tell him to park his car down the street and wait for them there and not come to the house because if Pat’s mother saw Rex and his leather jacket and dirty jeans and bruised knuckles, she wouldn’t let them out of the house but would call the cops instead. Pat and Melba said they were going to the movies and that they wouldn’t be home late and that if they were they’d call. Pat’s mother kissed them goodbye and closed the door thoughtfully.
    They walked well-manneredly until they were out of sight of the house and then each took out a cigarette. “I forgot my lighter,” Melba sighed. “Dontcha worry kid, I got you,” Pat said jokingly as she reached out and lit Melba’s cigarette. As they neared the end of the block they saw Rex sitting in his car combing his hair and smoking his own cigarette. They strutted up and stood waiting for him to see them. “Well don’t you open the door for ladies?” Pat asked. “I would if I saw any around” Rex snapped back. “Don’t be a jerk,” Melba shouted and hit him with her purse. “Jesus, get in the car, let’s go,” Rex said turning the key. Pat sat in back and Melba sat in front cause Rex had already told Melba that he liked her and had tried to make it with her in his car last weekend at the drive-in. She’d pushed him off, “you think I’m just gonna take off my undies because a boy buys me popcorn and soda?”
    When they got to Freddi’s it was already crowded and getting rowdy, what with pretty much their whole high school there. Rex jammed the car into a small space and almost hit the waitress on roller skates. “I’m going to find Ernie. That guy owes me money,” Rex said and got out of the car. Pat and Melba sat quietly. “Pat O. Butter,” said Melba. “Melba Toast,” said Pat. They sat inside the car and watched their classmates eating and laughing outside. Something about the scene didn’t seem right. Something about the way they were eating and the way they were laughing made Pat and Melba nauseous. Melba turned around in the front seat. “Graduation” she said.
“College,” Pat said.
“Marriage.”
“House.”
“Television set.”
“Plastic fruit.”
“Kids.”
“Dog.”
“Palm Springs.”

They both got out of the car and began walking away from the hamburgers and coca-cola. The street lights were just beginning to turn on.

______________________________________________
This came in by email:
Buttered Toast
Helen Chapman
‘Melba? Melba! Come on! It’s almost time!’ Patricia Olivia Butter straightened the seams of her hose one last time, then bent to buckle the straps on her Mary Jane pumps. She had been waiting all week for this, and she wasn’t about to be late.
Her friend exited the bedroom, tying her hair in place with a ribbon as she walked. ‘I’m coming already, Pat. Geez Louise, you’d think you had never been to a movie before. So we’re a few minutes late. We’ll just watch the news real after the feature.’
Pat rolled her eyes at her friend, then shrugged into her coat. ‘We’re going to see everything in order. Now come on!’
The two friends hurried from Melba’s house and down the street. It was a good five blocks to the Arcade Theater. Pat knew they could walk it faster than waiting for the bus do take them up Harford Road. Besides, they didn’t have enough money for the movie and round trip fare. Pat linked her arm with Melba to keep her moving.
‘Gee, Mel. You’d think you didn’t want to see that good looking candy butcher you were making eyes at last week.’ She grinned when she saw her friend blush up to the roots of her red hair.
‘I don’t know who you’re talking about, Pat.’
Pat laughed and squeezed her friend’s arm. ‘Oh, I think you do. Brad something, wasn’t it? Brad...Crust?’
Melba pulled away from Pat. ‘You know good and well his name is Brad Toast.’
Pat noticed that Melba’s step quickened a bit as the marquee lights of the Arcade came into view. When they got close enough to read what the feature presentation was, Melba stopped short.
‘Oh no. You’re not getting me in there! Nuh-uh. You know I can’t watch those kind of movies.’ Melba shook her head so hard the bow she had tied so carefully went askew.
Her friend reached up and tried to straighten the bow as she spoke to her in what she hoped was a calming tone. ‘Now, Mel...just calm down. We’ll get a seat in the back row on the aisle. You can sit on the end, okay? If anything really scary starts to happen, you can go out and talk to Brad in the lobby.’ Pat finally gave up trying to straighten her friend’s bow. Instead, she reached up and pushed her own slightly to the other side, so at least they’d match. Who knows, maybe they’d set a new trend.
Pat took Melba’s hand and half dragged her the remaining half-block to the entrance to the Arcade. They walked in from the street, then down the hallway papered with broadsheet posters of coming attractions.
‘Look at that, Pat. Why couldn’t we wait until tomorrow? Then we could see Old Yeller.’
‘Do you really want Brad to see you with your eyes all red and your mascara running? You know how you get when you see animal movies.’
They bought their tickets and went in through the double doors. The smell of popcorn was redolent throughout the lobby. The small candy counter held boxes of Jordan Almonds, Good n’ Plentys and Nonpareils.
The lobby held a few people. Men and women standing about finishing their last cigarette before they went inside, a few children complaining of being taken home as they left from the previous showing. Melba didn’t understand why anyone would bring a kid to see a movie like this.
‘Pssst.’
Melba stopped dead in her tracks. She looked to the left.
Brad Toast stood behind the candy counter. He was assembling popcorn boxes with rapid precision. As he worked, he stared at Melba.
Melba smiled at him somewhat tenuously.
He gestured with a nod that they should come over.
Melba hesitated. She really didn’t know this man. How forward of him to do this in front of everyone. Why, she should just turn around and report him to the manager.
Pat smiled broadly and dragged Melba across the lobby to the counter. ‘Hi, Brad.’
The man in the red jacket trimmed with gold braid merely nodded at Pat. ‘Melba, I didn’t know you liked this kind of movie too.’
Melba felt Pat give her an elbow in the ribs. ‘Oh sure. Me and Patty, we come to these things all the time. Can’t get enough of them. The scarier the better.’
He grinned. Melba thought she swoon when he showed his dimples to their best effect. He set the last box aside and leaned over the counter to whisper. ‘Sit in the back row and save me a seat on the end. Once the feature comes on I’ll be in. Been wanting to see this one all week, and this is the last night.’
Melba fairly floated into the auditorium. Pat stopped just inside the door and moved into the last row against the wall. There were only three seats on that row, and Pat made sure she sat against the wall. Melba sat in the center seat and fidgeted nervously with her purse.
The houselights dimmed and the projector roared to life in the booth. A Movietone Newsreel flickered on the screen, surrounded by blue velvet curtains and proscenium. The newsreel gave way to a cartoon. Melba wasn’t sure if it was Tom and Jerry or Sylvester. She didn’t care. All she knew was that Brad was coming in to sit with her, and she had her best friend to thank for it.
Finally, when the selected shorts and previews ended, and the screen went briefly black.
Allied Artists Pictures Presents
a Walter Wanger Production
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Melba was staring at the screen. The music was creepy, the credits set her on edge, even the clouds in the opening sequence scared her.
She almost screamed when a box of popcorn appeared in front of her, and a red-clad arm slid across the back of her seat.

_____________________________________________________

  You Magnificent You by Patrick Nelson

     “Lookie! Lookie! This would look so good with that skirt you bought last week!” Melba said bending down with the blouse and holding it in it front of Pat who was sitting in front of the rack of clothes that Melba was just rifling through. “Here, take it and go look at it in the mirror over there” pointing at the back wall of the high end and spartan boutique they where shopping in.
    Rising grudgingly to comply, Pat said feebly: “ You mean the one you bought for me. I don’t need you to keep buying these, these, things to keep me happy. You know I like my clothes just fine and there’s nothing wrong with them. They are clean, well-cared for and still sort of stylish. They may not be as nice as all these clothes here... but I don’t have a problem dressing my age.” Pat clutched the hangar tight in the left hand and a small purse tight in the right. “I am happy to be with you without you buying me baubles and things to keep me.”
     Melba gently grabbed Pat’s arm and stopped her from turning towards the mirror. Being the taller of the two, she inched closer to Pat andlowered her head in a coy manner and pouted out her lower lip a bit. “Poor baby, can mummy do anyfing to make you feew bettuh?” she teased.  She started to play with the silk belt of Pat’s dress.
    “Stop it, you minx! No fair!” She whispered to Melba. “You know I don’t like people staring at us. Not here.” She shifted her gaze nervously to she if any judging eyes were burning them yet. Especially the waif-like girl at the register who, in Pat’s regard, seemed to be looking down her skinny nose at them from the moment they walked in.
    Melba picked up on this and backed away from Pat, but not the topic. “Well, where would you like people to stare at us? Come on sweetie! That little bitch at the front desk is just making sure no one is stealing any of this trash hanging here.” She gave a disdainful swipe of her hand across the rack of clothes and grabbed the blouse from Pat and hung it back on the rack where she got it from. “She isn’t really seeing us. I bet if we tossed a candy bar in the corner we could walk out with half her stuff before she even finished licking the wrapper.”
    Pat clutched her purse with both her hands now, drew them up close to her mouth and gave a titter that seemed inappropriate for a person her
age. “Oh, Melba! You’re devilish!”
    That was them in a capsule. Melba the smooth, stylish and assertive one. Pat the clumsy, frumpy and self-conscious one. Ever since they met back in 1958, they never left each other’s side. They started having lunch together at the law office they worked at and soon that became dinner, movies, long weekends at Melba’s family’s cabin. They found they needed no one else. It seemed only natural with the feelings they brought out in each other that they should be together all the time, so they got an apartment together. Ultimately, that led to a house. They where this mismatched perfect pair. Melba went looking for adventure and always brought Pat along. Melba had the upper hand, but Pat held it all together with her heart.
    To say they were ahead of their time was putting it mildly.
    Even today, when every lifestyle was accepted and, more often, applauded, Melba and Pat are distinct and most irregular. Though, seeing these two elderly women in a vogue salon such as this was strange. To see them flirting with each other this way would unnerve even the most open-minded sort. They were unconventional, uncategorizable and perfectly happy that way thank you very much.
    “Why are we here again?” Pat asked Melba, who had crossed around to another rack of clothes.
    Melba stopped sliding hangers back and forth and said “You remember, don’t you?” She had a genuine look of concern on her face.
    “Oh, my. Yes. I remember now. Sorry. When is your niece supposed to get here again and why did she pick this stuffy place?”
    Relief washed over Melba as she replied “Lucy said two o’clock and she wanted to meet here so she could talk to us about something
important while she shops for something for her honeymoon.”
    “Well if she’s shopping here for an outfit, she and Wally must be doing very well” she said as she turned over a price tag. She did not
approve of the price.
    “If you raise your eyebrows any higher, you’re going to push your wig off your head.” Melba chuckled.
    Just then the front door opened and the bell attached to the top tinkled wildly. A pretty young girl in her late twenties strode briskly to the rear of the store and stopped at the side of the elderly couple. She had blond hair pulled tight into a pony tail and a bright yellow dress with a matching purse and high heels.
    “Melba! Pat! Soooo good to see you two! Thank you for meeting me here. It really helps me kill two birds with one stick. I’m so busy with the final touches of the wedding” she said in one breath. “Well I suppose I should get right to the point about this. You got my invitations, yes?”
    “Yes, dear. Thank you so much for thinking of us two little old ladies. You know how Pat here loves a wedding and it gives us a chance to dress up in our best. We don’t get to go out that much anymore” Melba said.
    “Well, funny enough, that’s exactly what I wanted to discuss with you two. This is really uncomfortable for me to say, but. . .” she hesitated in her speech, but not in her perusal of the items on the rack. Without even glancing at the two of them, Lucy continued: “You know Wally and I don’t have any problem with you two or your life choices, but some of his relatives are not as accepting. I was wanting to ask you two if you don’t mind. . . Oh, I don’t know how to ask this.” She finally turned to the two women and sheepishly shrugged and held her palms up.
    “What, dear? Are you asking us to not come? Are you ashamed of us” Melba said, her voice rising but shaky.
    “Now, now, Melba. Let’s give her a chance to finish. I’m sure your niece is saying no such thing” Pat stepped in between the two women and put her arm across Melba’s chest and patted her shoulder gently. ”Are you, Dear?”
    “No! No. All right. Here goes.” She took a deep breath and exhaled, saying in a quick burst: “We need you two to not dress up for the wedding. We need you to not wear dresses. We need you to wear suits like all the other men at the wedding.”
    Melba and Pat just stood there for a moment frozen. They stared at Lucy with their mouths open, slowly they turned their heads to face each other. Some thought must have passed between the two for they turned back to Lucy and started both shouting at once: “You’ve known how strongly we feel about our need to dress like this” Pat screeched. “We thought you would be the last person to hurt us like this.”
    “Does your mother know about this? She can’t have known. I never imagined that little girl I watched grow up would ever be so cruel.” Melba moaned with pain. “How could you?”
    The two elderly women whirled around arm in arm and headed for the door. Lucy tried to call after them and stop them “Uncle Mel! Uncle Patrick! Please! Come back!”
    The door slammed against the counter and the bell rang furiously, making the small clerk jump straight up.
    As the door was slowly closing, Melba turned on her heel and shouted in to Lucy: “And you look like a canary! Your purse and shoes need to be a different color than your dress!”
    With that, the door clicked shut and the two women briskly walked out of sight.


____________________________________________________ 
Telegraphy by James Thibeault

COLORADO SPRINGS, COLO., APR. 9,1943
=BUTTER=
SORRY LEAVING YOU FOR DANCING I MISS BREAKFAST TOGETHER STOP ANSWER PHONE OR LETTER
=TOAST=


NM
RICHMOND, MA., MAY. 25, 1943
=TOAST=
HATE YOU CRIED HOURS AT MESSAGE GO DANCE SHAMELESSLY

=BUTTER=


SAN FRANCISCO, CAL., JUN. 4,1943
=BUTTER=
HEARD ABOUT DANNY FORGET THING I SAID REPLY LETTER OR PHONE
=TOAST=

NM
RICHMOND, MA., MAY. JUN. 6, 1943
=TOAST=
DANNY ONLY MIA KEEP DANCING FORGET MEMORIES WILL BE FINE

=BUTTER=


LAS VEGAS, NEV., JUL. 20, 1943
=BUTTER=
CANNOT WAIT WEEKS FOR TELEGRAM DANNY FLOATING IN PACIFIC I MISS BREAKFAST
=TOAST=

NM
RICHMOND, MA., MAY. JUL.23,  1943
==TOAST==
GO TO DINER
=BUTTER=



SAN ANTONIO, TEX., SEPT. 1,1943
=BUTTER=
CALLED NEIGHBOR SAYS YOU LOCK DOORS WALK ONLY AT NIGHT
=TOAST=

NM
RICHMOND, MA., MAY. SEPT. 5, 1943
=TOAST=
WAITING ON TELEGRAM SAYING DANNY ALIVE STOP RECEIVED YOUR TELEGRAMS INSTEAD
=BUTTER=



KANSAS CITY, KS., SEPT. 20,1943
=BUTTER=
DANNY LOVING HUSBAND FORGET THING I SAID
=TOAST=

NM
RICHMOND, MA., MAY. SEPT. 25, 1943
=TOAST=
DANNY WAS LOVING HUSBAND CANNOT FORGIVE REMARK
=BUTTER=

KANSAS CITY, KS., SEPT. 25,1943
=BUTTER=
QUIT DANCING MOVING TO RICHMOND WILL HAVE BREAKFAST
=TOAST=

NM
RICHMOND, MA., MAY. SEPT. 26, 1943
=TOAST=
LOCKED DOORS YOU CANNOT ENTER HOUSE
=BUTTER=

NM
RICHMOND, MA., MAY. SEPT. 27, 1943
=TOAST=
THREW OUT ALL THE BUTTER AND BREAD
=BUTTER=

NM
RICHMOND, MA., MAY. SEPT. 28, 1943
=TOAST=
NEVER ENTER RICHMOND STOP NEVER ENTER RICHMOND
=BUTTER=
_____________________________________________________
This was sent by e-mail:
Almost-Sisters Myka Wright
It was the last Tuesday in November. All the leaves that were going to turn had already done so. The pumpkins were frowning with mold on the doorsteps of those who had been too busy worrying about their in-laws coming for Thanksgiving dinner than keeping their front porches tidy.


The children who were of age were already back in school, only paying attention to the teacher just enough to keep them out of detention before the winter break.

Pat and Melba sat together in the diner. The conversation between them had started as somber, morphed into comfortable and was now almost joyous. The fellow diners flashed them looks of disapproval and they hushed their voices as their faces grew hot with embarrassment.
 

Sometimes, when they got together, they could get carried away, no
matter how bad they were supposed to be feeling. Melba looked
anxiously out the window, waiting for the red Chevrolet to make it’s
way around the corner and onto Main Street.

They had been friends since they could remember. Growing up in the small town of Avon, Indiana Pat had attended each of Melba’s dance recitals and in return, Melba had been an avid church-goer. Though not religious herself, Melba supported Pat’s short-lived stint in the community choir. Luckily for Melba, Pat was promptly removed when it was discovered that the two would retreat to the backyard cemetery and smoke cigarettes while discussing the inner monologue of middle school boys.

As they grew older, they stayed just as close. Attending Prom
together, working side by side at the Melba’s mother’s bakery, “Toast of the Town,” and even crafting ways to become related. By the time the girls were 19 they had set their sights on marrying the Butter twins, a couple of 21 year old trouble-makers from the larger city of Lafayette. The Butters were known more for keeping the local Sheriff busy than for contributing anything useful to society, but that didn’t matter to Pat and Melba. All that mattered was that they were young, handsome, and most importantly - brothers.

Jerry Butter was the more attractive of the two. He stood over six
feet tall and had striking blonde hair. His smile was crooked enough
to be noticed, but only made him seem more handsome as it added
mystery to his otherwise perfect exterior. Charlie Butter was shorter
and rounder. He had strawberry blonde hair that was perpetually in his face and would have been considered very good looking if standing alone, but was always next to Jerry.

It was a given that Pat would date Jerry. She was taller, slimmer and
had a much wider smile. Melba had become comfortable with her role in the looks department through the years and made no fuss when Pat suggested that Melba was “more Charlie’s style”. Secretly, Melba liked Charlie more anyway, there was something about Jerry that unsettled her and she didn’t care much for being around him alone, even if it was just that Pat had excused herself to head to the ladies room for a moment.

The double dating carried on for two years until finally, Jerry
garnered the courage to ask Pat for her hand in marriage. Charlie
served as the Best Man and Melba the Maid of Honor of course. The only thing left was for Charlie to close the deal and the family would be complete. It all would have gone exactly according to plan if the brakes on his old Ford hadn’t given out while he was racing home from the jewelry store last September. They found the small diamond ring in his coat pocket when they finally got the pickup out of the river.


Melba wore it on a chain around her neck.

It had been two months since the accident and the oncoming winter was an ominous sign for the girls. Along with trying to support her best friend in her time of need, Pat’s duties were doubled as she also had a husband at home who had lost his only family (Mr. and Mrs. Butter had also perished in a terrible car accident just four years before).  Jerry’s moods were becoming more and more erratic and Pat was finding herself subconsciously wondering how much longer she could hang on.

It was Melba who first suggested the idea of a girls’ weekend. It had
been ages since they had been alone together, Jerry had become more controlling even before Charlie’s death and since the accident it was even worse. Pat was so excited at the idea of spending time with her friend that she didn’t even notice the shift in her husband’s demeanor as she was telling him about the trip the week before. Once she finished describing the plan (a weekend stay at a B&B outside of Zionsville) a forced calm crept across Jerry’s face. Through his crooked smile and clenched teeth, he muttered “You can take the Chevy.


I’ll even tune it up for you before you go.”

The sun flashed against the diner window as a car door opened and
closed in the sun. Pat looked outside to see her husband leaning
against their red Chevy convertible, all polished up and ready for a
weekend trip. Pat and Melba grabbed their bags and headed outside. Pat asked Jerry to take their picture, and though Melba’s eyes were still puffy and red from the stress of the past months, she smiled with her best friend as they took their last photo together. It would later be published in the local paper under the headline “Tragedy for the
Almost-Sisters.”

As the car pulled off into the midday sun, Jerry reached into his coat pocket and felt the cool handle of the wire cutters. He wondered just how far they would get before the end.