Tuesday, February 15, 2011

“Appetizers” by Matt O'Malley is winner of the Burt and Melba Toast's Thank You Note

Appetizers--By Matt O'Malley

Melba trudged through the flour white snow from the backyard woodpile to her home where she climbed four stairs, balanced a pair of logs in one arm and opened the door to the mudroom with the other. She stomped the snow off her boots opened her clear plastic Old London disposable slicker and tossed it in the trash before entering the house proper; the remaining crumbs of snow falling from her crusty pants as she entered.

Inside and Melba carried the logs to the living room, warily glancing as she passed at the kitchen table that held an open photo album she’d been looking through since her husband Burt left for work at Oster Ground Control. She placed the logs into the living room fireplace and started a fire. She smiled for she knew that in just a few minutes the house would be toasty warm; just in time for Burt who was running late on his return home from work.

Melba returned to the kitchen and sat at the table. She turned the page of the photo album and stared intently at the images. The photos were from the wedding of their friends Eva and Benton Destruction. She smiled in reminisce and then reread the nice thank you card they had sent. Everything seemed so perfect back then, like a never ending afternoon tea party filled with small sandwiches and petit fours. But that feeling was from a long time ago. Lately things hadn’t been well for either Melba and Burt or Eva and Benton.

It had been four months since the great spaceship Destitute One had taken off, a virtual ark of genetically perfect Adams and Eves headed to a distant planet in hopes of saving the human race from extinction. It was thought at the time, the Earth was splitting in two due to a shifting magnetic field however since then, the earthquakes and volcanic eruptions subsided and the Earth had settled down. Now the last released reports stated that Destitute One was out of control, wobbling uncontrollably through space due to a “faulty” gyroscope. There currently was no way to help the astronauts or the pilots of this great ship, the pilots being Eva and Benton. 

Melba sniffed back some tears as she thought of her dear friends. Understandably, tension onboard the great spaceship were apparently running high. From what Burt had told Melba, recently during a heated argument, Eva had hit Benton over the head with a frying pan while he was at the controls of the ship. Benton had in turn, removed one of the guidance control handles and threw it at Eva and now that handle was inexplicably lost. Benton was also nearly incoherent during last contact; someone had snuck alcohol aboard the ship prior to liftoff.

Melba sighed then cried some more. Both Eva and Benton had become so impulsive, reckless. She just hoped they weren’t on the eve of their own destruction.

She had become so upset reminiscing that she found herself sopping wet with tears and her whole body felt weak and flimsy. She could no longer hold the thank you card from Eva and Benton in her hands. She realized she had to dry herself out and find out what was happening back at Oster Ground Control. She went to the living room and picked up the phone to call Burt.

“I’m so burned out!” Burt said as soon as he heard Melba’s voice.

This was not what Melba wanted to hear. She wanted Burt to pick her spirits up, not to bring her down. “I just hate it when you say you’re feeling burnt out.” Melba said, “You’re working to save our friends! You shouldn’t get cranky, crusty or snappy.”

“I’m snappy?” Burt snapped, “And you don’t get snappy?” Melba could hear the stress in Burt’s voice. “Sometimes you’re so brittle, I…” Burt took a breath, “Look. I’m just about done. We’ll talk when I get home.”

When Melba hung up the phone and found herself feeling sadder then before. Sure they had their problems, Melba and Burt Toast, but she was determined not to let the stress she and Burt were feeling tear them apart as it seemed to be happening to Benton and Eva. She decided at that moment that she was going to turn this ship around!

Melba went to the kitchen, stood in front of the fridge and decided to gussy herself up by first stripping down to the bare. “Hmm, a dab of Dijon mustard here, a bit of mayo there, and oh, a slice of cheese and ham will be perfect here!” Melba emptied the crisper and cold compartments of meats and cheeses and placed them on the table. She then climbed upon the table, surrounded herself with, and placed upon herself in strategic locations, the various delicacies and condiments.

“Honey!” Melba heard Burt yell from the front door. “I’m home. Sorry I’m late.”

Melba could hear Burt stomp his shoes clean and hang up his coat in the front foyer. “Oh what a cooker of a day!” Burt continued, “I have so much to do! I think I’ll be up all night!

“Oh honey!” Melba called out.

Burt pealed off another slice of clothing and murmured. “Oh, I’m so over-heated! Gotta remember not to overdress. You know,” Burt yelled for Melba to hear, “If it wasn’t Benton and Eva up there, well you could just about put a fork in me, ‘cause I’m so done!  Sweetie,” Burt called out, “Where are you?”

“In the kitchen!” Melba giggled and yelled.

Burt arrived at the romantically lit kitchen and found his wife splayed upon the table. A large grin crossed his face as he always liked to find his Melba Toast surrounded by cheese and pate.  

In the morning, Burt thought to himself, he would again work on the problem of Destruction.
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The story that gets the drawing is “Appetizers” by Matt O'Malley, that being said, the stories were united in consistent quality and they all really satisfied.  I love reading and really loved reading this group of stories.

It’s funny how many of the stories could have been grouped together.  Several of the stories had a surreal feeling that referenced colonialism on several levels and had a tropical kind of motif to them.  Some of them had the transitive them that dealt with continuing or building on Matt O’Malley’s earlier story.  It’s super short so I’m pasting it here:

The day the earth split into two halves! -by Matt O'Malley

Ten
The gleaming silver bullet shaped rocket stood on the tarmac spewing exhaust as the loading platform pulled further away.

Nine
With the earth splitting from the inside out from a shifting magnetic field, a consortium of nations had searched to find the best, the brightest, and the most genetically pure humans to continue the human race on a new found planet.

Eight
Captain Benton and copilot Eva Destruction, poised to leave a dying earth to travel to the far and distant planet in hopes of saving a portion of humanity, sat in the nose of the rocket as the countdown continued.

Seven
Childhood friends, he always had called her princess.
She always had called him her knight in shinning armor.

Six
He always seemed to have a couple of screws loose and as he aged, he had grown to be a daredevil, bungee jumping, parachuting, race car driving, astronaut pilot.
She always had a nesting urge and as she waited, she had grown to be the brainy, mathematician, physicist, nuclear scientist, inventor doctor.

Five
Together they had a dream white and champagne wedding in the most glamorous and exclusive beachfront resort filled with dignitaries, fellow scientists, astronauts, family and friends.

Four
A year long worldwide traveling honeymoon from Europe to Asia, Africa and South America then back to the States where they were selected to pilot the rocket ship and to be one of the pairs of Adams and Eves.

Three
But the honeymoon was five years ago and today she woke up cranky from her period and he was cranky from nursing a hangover and playing poker late into the night with the boys.

Two
And he was always this way. Impulsive. Reckless.
How could he have forgotten to call her mother and say goodbye!

One
And she was always this way. Impulsive. Reckless.
She broke the gyroscope with her fist.

Zero
It was going to be a long flight.


The stories that most built on this theme established by were by “The day the earth split into two halves!” were by “Frangipani Dreams” by Kate Campbell, Royce A Ratterman’s “Out of Sorts” and  “Appetizers” by Matt O'Malley which I think should take the drawing.

“Frangipani Dreams” by Kate Campbell had that sort of watercolour in the rain kind of focus that is one part magic realism and one part Truman Capote “Voices from Another Room.”  The story had a surreal sense of time and I kept having olfactory hallucinations.  I felt myself a little unmoored from time and place when I read it.  It’s neat how Campbell related it to the earlier story with Benton and Eva Destruction in it.

Royce A Ratterman’s “Out of Sorts” is almost a perfect counterpoint or even continuation of O’Malley’s two stories and Kate Campbell’s “Frangipani Dreams.”  I like his whole “Buck Rogers” approach to the story and it reminded me of films that were made from the era that the photobooths were used.  I liked Ratterman’s plot too and I kind of felt that several of the stories kind of belonged together almost like Bradbury’s “Martian Chronicles” or “The Illustrated Man.” 

I had a really long and tough day.  So I was surprised (and so was my wife Valerie, that as I read “Appetizers” by Matt O'Malley I started laughing out loud.  My wife Valerie asked me what was up and I told her both stories out loud.  I so totally got a kick out of it.  This story was so was just some damn Rock Hudson/Doris Day cute and built so cleverly on O’Malley’s earlier “Benton and Eva” story.  The ending was a totally perfect double entendre that liberated me with another real laugh.   It should almost be called “Pillow Talk in Space.”  

The sort of South Pacific crossed with an almost film noir sensibility were “Thanks,” by D. Charles Florey, “Thanks Again” by S.M. Florey, and the very powerful Come Sundown” by Gigi DeVault.  I liked this group also because of the surprise element. 

“Thanks,” by D. Charles Florey confused me just a bit.  I like the way it hints at the rest of a narrative but then I have to close the loop myself.  “Thanks” closed with an event that had a great sense of punctuation.

“Thanks Again” by S.M. Florey was very film noir and not at all what I expected!  It had a sort of Roald Dahl “Tales of the Unexpected” feeling.  It kind of seemed real to me and made me wonder about the author.  Was it from experience?

While reading “Come Sundown” by Gigi DeVault I had an “oh wow” moment when I finally understood the situation.  I could really picture the faces of the characters and the even hear their voices the way DeVault described the accents and sounds.  I kept thinking of movies like “Empire of the Sun” and “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence” with just a touch of “Heart of Darkness.”  Really liked the tone, the setting and the surprise!  Great stuff!

Read them all here:
http://kenney-mencher.blogspot.com/2011/01/write-story-about-burt-and-melba-toasts.html
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