By Nick Jones
The screen door slammed softly as Esther entered her kitchen. She could tell by the smell that the chicken-n-dumplings simmering on the stove would soon be ready. As she stirred the pot a small sigh escaped her. It had been the favorite of her late husband Earl, gone now almost ten years.
The act of cooking this dish had stirred in her the urge to start the long neglected task of cleaning out Earl’s workshop. It was filled to the brim with ancient tools, knicknacks, and assorted things that Earl had considered most prized, and she had considered pointless distractions. The workshop had been Earl’s oasis, his safe spot from the world, distractions, and mostly, from Esther.
It would be a mild comment to describe Esther’s nature as stern. This nature stood in stark contrast to that of Earl, who was friendly and rather meek. It’s been said of Esther that she didn’t suffer fools lightly, which is ironic because it’s also been said of Earl that he just might have been a fool. It is not for certain whether or not she ever laid a finger on him out of malice, but without doubt the occasion of a raised frying pan and a menacing glare, would elicit in Earl the memory of some pressing activity that needed to be attended to in the workshop.
Earl excelled at almost nothing but idling away the day happily and avoiding Esther’s wrath. The exception to this was gardening, and the most prized things he had cultivated were his decades old grape vines. Esther had always looked upon his seemingly thriving grape vines and the time he spent tending to them with the utmost derision. For, no matter how well they seemed to be growing, each year the harvest he brought her was barely enough to make a couple quarts of jelly. Unbeknownst to her, the vast majority of each year's crop had somehow found its way to the workshop in a form more liquid than jelly.
Esther was staring out the kitchen window thinking of the task of the workshop. Could she sell any of the rusty and dilapidated tools? How would she get the huge and ancient refrigerator out? Something out of the window caught her eye. It was the two Johnson boys from next door coming down the dusty road. She lit out the front door and instantly put on an air of sweetness that startled the boys. She offered them both a slice of pie if they would move the refrigerator out of the workshop. Having spent their entire childhoods in fear of her, they couldn’t even speak, much less refuse.
In the gloom and dust of the workshop the boys began the arduous process. It quickly became more stressful as Esther became angrier. Outside now, Esther barked an order for them to mind her hydrangeas. Just as she said this, the younger boy stepped on the flowering bush. In a burst of anger Esther slapped the boy on the side of the head. The refrigerator tumbled over on it’s side with doors flung open. Esther prepared to rage on them but they were gone before she could speak.
She scowled over the moldy insides of the empty refrigerator. An old rusty metal ice cube tray had fallen out of the freezer. She snatched it up because it was the first thing she could find to throw in anger. But as she raised it the sunlight shone on something. Golden, brass, a small key wedged into one of the slots. She pried it out and stared at it in the palm of her hand for some time.
An hour later she had torn through the workshop. Dust, metal, wine, and wood flew with abandon as she searched. The Johnson brothers heard this commotion from next door and continued cowering in fear. Eventually, she found it. A locked briefcase with a keyhole in a cabinet.
The key clicked. Esther trembled as she lifted the lid and became aghast when she saw the contents. It was pornography! Lewd magazines! She wretched in horror and her horror turned to rage. She had never been a Christian woman but had always fervently pretended to be, so she saw this as the ultimate betrayal! She slammed the case and flung it. The case ricocheted off a wall and smashed a window. She wanted to burn down the whole workshop then and there. She wanted to take her fury out on someone as she’d always done before. But for the first time in her life there was no one there to direct her anger. Her mind drifted down the dirt road to the cemetery. It would be a long walk.
The pot of chicken-n-dumplings sat at Earl’s feet as Esther glared at the headstone for some time. Eventually, she picked it up and approached the stone, calmly dumping the pot’s contents over the headstone. She turned to go but her face soured. Turning back she swung the pot by the handle, striking the stone repeatedly in fury. The pot took an errant bounce and flew out of her hand. The crack of her pinkie finger snapping was audible. More enraged now, she started violently kicking the stone. The result was a broken sandal and a badly bloodied big toe.
Esther set off down the dirt road home: one shoe less, limping, crying, exhausted, drenched with sweat, in pain, and her mangled face and hair were specked with bits of creamy goodness. Flies settled on the pools of blood she left behind on the scorching road.
That night was quiet for the Johnson boys and the next morning they felt brave enough to go out. They quickly noticed the broken window of the workshop, and soon enough, something in the bushes. An old briefcase that still had a key in the lock. As the morning sun rose behind them, and as the case’s lid rose in front of them, the young boy’s eyebrows rose even higher.