Thursday, May 15, 2014

Simple Gifts

Of the three gifts Granny Hart left her granddaughters, the stick was perhaps the most lackluster. Being the youngest, Katya was last to choose from Granny’s things, which is the same as saying that she had no choice at all.

Annabel, the oldest, chose first. She selected the mule whose talents were beyond question. As soon as she could, she placed one kitchen towel before and one behind the creature and commanded, “Bricklebrit!”  Each of the women could remember the first time that Granny had demonstrated the mule’s ability. She had allowed them to take turns pronouncing the command one night in the barn long ago. It had been an evening of unbelievable and giddy delight full of laughter and clapping and girlish squeals.

Shrouded by the passage of years, they might have begun to believe it was only a strange dream if not for the gold coin they each received in a card on the anniversaries of their individual birthdays.
Now, as level headed adults, they watched gold coins shower from both ends of the mule. Annabel merely bore a small satisfied smile, raised an eyebrow to her sisters and gathered up the towels full of loot.

Second to choose was Lise. Without hesitation she took possession of Granny’s table. The strange powers of this item had also been demonstrated to the girls in their youth, in this case more than once. Lise went around the table and pulled out a chair for each of her sisters inviting them to sit before seating herself. She hesitated a moment, biting her top lip and looking at both Annabel and Katya before clearing her throat and speaking,
“Table be laid!”

There was a momentary shivering of the air above the table before items began to materialize; a vase of fresh cut flowers, a bottle of wine, delicate long stemmed goblets, three place settings. First a plate of appetizers appeared, calamari frites with a sweet thai chili sauce. The three sisters sighed with pleasure with the first bites.
Before they could finish this the salads appeared;  Endive, Pear, Prosciutto, Blue Cheese, and Roasted Spiced Walnuts topped with a walnut vinaigrette. Their eyes widened as they chewed and issued more sounds of appreciation.
The main courses materialized as the salads were nearly finished. For Annabel Glazed Duck Breast with Poached Pear and Baby Carrots under a Vanilla-Cinnamon Glaze, for Lise Grilled Hanger Steak with pomme maison in a red wine mushroom sauce, and for Katya grilled Chicken Paillard with artichokes, tomato and olive tagine topped with grilled vegetables.
When the women thought they would burst Chocolate Pots de Crème appeared before them. This consisted of a Belgium chocolate custard topped with white chocolate whipped cream accompanied by steaming cups of fragrant coffee.

The sisters took their time recovering from the feast. They recollected that the fare had been simpler in their youth, consisting often of macaroni and cheese or fried chicken drumsticks. They could now conclude that part of the table's magic involved perfectly suiting the appetites of those it served. Lise outlined her plan to open a gourmet restaurant using the table as an exclusive highlight to be reserved for the highest paying patrons. Annabel agreed to help finance the operation until it could stand on its own reputation.

At last  Katya collected her inheritance, the stick in its long burlap bag with a strap that could be worn over the shoulder. None of them had ever seen it used, though grandmother had described the method of application and the situations in which it had come in handy for her. Those had been frightening stories. If not for the table and the mule the girls would have believed Granny Hart was merely spinning yarns for them. As it was, Katya knew better.

Lise’s restaurant, The Enchanted Table, grew to be a tremendous success. She married her head chef, Jorge St. Jorge, an already famous man with his own magazine and cooking show. Likewise Annabel had been enjoying the benefits of the mules special ability. Though the mule could only do so much, it was no small amount and Annabel’s wise investment strategies made good use of it. She became part of the jet set, sampling the best of what the world had to offer. She opened a chain of successful hotels and as her wealth accumulated she turned her attention to philanthropic enterprises.

Meanwhile Katya backpacked Europe with her stick in its sack over her shoulder. Emboldened by its particular magic and guided by her inquisitive nature she found herself soon bound for more dangerous treks. While Annabel flew the bright skies and skimmed through glittering hotel lobbies Katya became better acquainted with the world's entrails.
After returning to the states she hoboed  for six months before at last settling in Granny Hart’s house, of which she was one third owner. She dusted off an old Smith and Wesson typewriter and sat down to chronicle her misadventures, relaxing back into the quiet life.
One afternoon as she was hard at work on her manuscript, the doorbell rang.

It was Lise, suitcase in hand, red faced and puffy eyed. It seemed that Jorge had divorced her and as the face of The Enchanted Table had managed to win sole ownership of the establishment. Worse, though it had been awarded to her, Granny’s table was missing. When she tried to bring it home from the restaurant it’s magick no longer worked. She was certain that it was a clever forgery placed there by Jorge so he could keep the original. Yet for all this, she cried hardest of all because she was heartbroken.

Katya knew what had to be done, but poor Lise was in such a terrible state she was afraid to leave her alone. On her third day home Katya found her unconscious in the bathroom beside an empty pill bottle and half drunk bottle of wine. Thinking quickly she turned Lise over the side of the tub and thrust her fingers down her throat, gagging her until she vomited up the sleeping  pills and booze. After this she hardly left her side and tried to keep her spirits up with chocolate ice cream, funny movies, and walks through the hills..

She tried without success to contact Annabel and left her several messages. Nearly a month had passed and Lise was showing small signs of improvement when the doorbell rang again. It was Annabel, looking pale with blood shot eyes, her driver in tow with several suitcases. Unlike Lise, who was perhaps the most sensitive of the three women, Annabel did not cry much. She took off her long black gloves and laid them on the coffee table beside Lise’s tissues.

“Where’s Lise?” she asked Katya after her suitcases were in the house and the driver was gone.
“Asleep in her room.”
“Good.” Annabel said and sat on the couch putting her elbows on her knees and her head in her hands. “I’ve been very foolish.” She said when she at last looked up at Katya sitting in the easy chair across from her. “You know, I knew Jorge from the beginning when I first helped Lise set up The Enchanted Table. I introduced them. In the early days I was there a lot, helping Lise, writing checks to cover her expenses, bringing in my rich new friends to sit at Granny‘s table.

That’s why it didn’t seem too far fetched when Jorge showed up a month ago, before the divorce was finalized. He said he’d married the wrong sister. That he’d been secretly in love with me for years. I don’t know why I did it Katya. He can be so charming. He convinced me that it really was love. I wasn’t checking my messages, you know, because I was hiding from Lise. I didn’t know what he had done. I just thought that after a decent amount of time passed I could talk to her, let her know that I was with him… or maybe the whole affair would be over and I’d never have to mention it.”

Annabel sighed. “Then last week  he talked me into taking him to my place upstate. You visited me there once after your Appalachian trek. Well, a strange thing happened right away. The barn was left open that first night and a number of the animals were missing in the morning, including my mule. It seemed like a wild dog had gotten in, killed a few chickens and scared the other animals away. I was so furious. I fired my groundskeeper because I thought it was his fault. The goats made their way back but not the mule.
I called the police and the game and wildlife commission. Jorge kept saying it was crazy for me to fuss over some farm animals, he made a fight out of it, over how I wanted to search for a missing mule rather than spending time with him. Of course I thought he didn’t know about the mule’s talent and I didn’t want to tell him. The fight got bigger and bigger and he broke things off between us  and left.  I paid for a big search for the mule. People up there think I’m certifiable now, but no mule.
And then I had some time and realized I was so relieved that Jorge was gone, and that I could check on Lise now without trying to hide from her. I listened to all my messages. I should have been there for her, I feel so guilty. I heard yours too. Pills? Really?” she asked.
Katya nodded.
“I am such a terrible person.” Annibel said and her voice cracked. She reached for the tissues. “I’m the one who should die.” her tears at last started falling, “Not poor Lise.”
Katya got up and came to Annabel’s side, wrapping her arms around her.
“Shhh,” Katya soothed, “She’s better now. I can’t handle two suicidal sisters, so please don’t think like that.”
Annabel  sniffed.
“Do you think I should tell her? I want to, to apologize, but I don’t want to hurt her more.”
“I don’t know.” Katya admitted. “Probably. It would be better not to have a secret.”
The two sat in silence for a while. Then  Katya  asked,
“Do you think he took the mule?”
“Definitely." Annabel answered. "It’s all he wanted. Lise must have told him about it.”
“Do you know where he is?” Katya asked.
“Probably back at the restaurant.” Annabel answered helping herself to another tissue and blowing her nose.

Katya stood up and went to the hall closet. She took out her leather travel jacket and put it on.
“I need you to keep an eye on Lise.” she said and pulled out the sack with the stick in it. “I’ll be back in a few days.”

Jorge was not in the restaurant but Katya left a message for him saying that she had just come back from a three month trip in the amazon and couldn’t get in touch with either of her sisters. She left the number of the hotel where she was staying and went back there to wait. It wasn’t long before Jorge called and asked Katya if he could cook her dinner. She came to his new apartment on the upper east side at the appointed time.

“Have you heard back from your sisters?” he asked her as soon as she was through the door.
“No.” she said, “Is Lise here? I can‘t wait to tell her about my trip.”
Jorge brought a hand to his head and began to ckoke back a sob.
“Are you alright?” Katya put a hand on Jorge’s shoulder.
“Yes, I’m sorry. I guess you haven’t heard. Lise and I are divorced.”
“What?” Katya feigned shock.
“She left me, for another man.” he began crying again. “I’m sorry. Forgive me. It’s still too much for me.” He headed for a chair to sit down, pressing the back of his hand to his mouth as if to stifle an anguished cry. Katya shut the door and came to his side.
“I’m so sorry Jorge. I had no idea. I can’t believe it.”
“She was my sunshine.” he cried, “The world has been so dark for me without her.”
Katya patted his back ,
“I’m so sorry. I wouldn’t have bothered you if I knew. I should go.”
“No, no.” Jorge protested. “I promised you dinner. Forgive my outburst and stay. It will be so nice to have some company again. I‘ve been very lonely since Lise left.”

He served her Wild Mushroom Ravioli with arugula, sundried tomatoes and fresh herbs and kept the wine flowing. All the while he kept up his heartbroken act.
“I’m ruined without her.” he said after sufficient wine seemed to have been drunk. “She took her magical table with her. What is The Enchanted Table without the enchanted table?”
“You’re a wonderful chef. You don’t need it.”
“Thank you.” he said, “But the world is hard for those of us without enchanted tables or magical mules. I suppose you know.”
Katya cleared her throat,
“Well actually, I don’t know. I have something even better than those things,” she said and patted the sack concealing the stick which she had brought and hung from her chair.
“Really?” asked Jorge. “What is it?”
“Never mind.” Katya said, “I’ve had to much to drink and am talking silly.”

They moved the drinking into the living room for a while and Jorge cried some more burying his face in Katya’s shoulder, then apologizing some more. It might have been a very successful seduction technique if Katya had not known it was all an act. At one point he kissed her, then apologized, then tried again,
“If only I had met you before Lise.”
Katya said, “It’s getting late, I should go.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, you should stay here where you’ll be more comfortable. I have a guest room. You can stay as long as you need to get settled back in the states and get in touch with your sisters.”
Katya accepted and made a show of carrying the sack into the bedroom with her and setting it against the night stand. She said goodnight to Jorge and lay down on the bed and waited.
An hour passed before the door swung quietly open and Jorge crept into the room towards the nightstand. Katya smiled in the darkness and waited until his hand was tugging on the drawstring of the sack. Then she said, “Let me help you Jorge.” clicked on the bedside lamp and cried, “Stick out of the sack!”

Jorge’s face was a comical mask of surprise and pain as Granny’s stick flew out of the sack and delivered the first blow to his groin. It continued to administer sharp thwacks all over his body until he cowered on the ground trying to escape the vicious attack.
“You didn’t suppose that an all you can eat table and a gold shitting mule were all that there was to the Hart legacy did you?”
Jorge could do no more than scream with pain.
“Stick be still.” Katya said and the stick paused in the air over Jorge’s crumpled form. “It can go on all night, but you can’t. It will beat you to death if I let it,” she pulled the collar of her blouse to the side revealing a scar, “as it did to the man who gave me this. A thief in Cuzco.”
She slowly unbuttoned the blouse revealing another  hideous scar across her middrift.
“And the one who did this. Somali pirate.” She began to button the blouse back up. “And I will let it do the same to you if you don’t tell me where to find the table and the mule.”
Spitting blood Jorge whimpered,
“Something’s broken. I need to go to the hospital.”
“Well, we’ll see about that when I have what I want. First where is the table?”
Jorge merely groaned.
“Stick fall to.” the blows resumed harder than before until Jorge cried,
“Stop, stop, I’ll tell you, please stop!”

The news of Jorge St. Jorge’s hospitalization after a brutal mugging reached the two elder sisters before Katya‘s return. When she at last arrived in a moving truck they embraced her and helped unload the table and lead the mule to the barn. That night the three sisters once again feasted together upon the enchanted table in Granny Hart’s kitchen. They talked deep into the night and it was agreed that both the table and the mule should remain at the house and be kept a secret under Katya’s care. Whenever her sisters needed money, a meal, or protection they came to Katya’s door.

Of the three gifts Granny Hart left her granddaughters, the stick was perhaps the most lackluster, but Katya was rarely seen without the long burlap sack slung over her shoulder. It could be seen in the photo of her within the dust jacket of her book after it was published and even at the Tokyo launch party she wore it slung over her shoulder and exchanged nods with Japanese gentlemen covered in tattoos. The best parts of her stories always had to be left out of her books, but she had the scars to remember them, and miles more to go with her stick slung over her shoulder.

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