Saturday, October 31, 2015

Fifth Saturday Fiction

The farm table (short short story)

By Bob Boldt

“The secrets in the world are infinite. The secrets in families are even vaster.” –Daniel Reeves

The mashed potatoes circled the table as slowly as a silent storm cloud. The only sound heard was the occasional click of the serving spoon on bowl or plate.
    “Gravy?” questioned Herman Brown from the head of the table. His stern visage looked borrowed from the reproduction of Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” that hung in the lobby of the Grand Forks Public Library, wire rimmed spectacles and bib overalls over white striped shirt and all. Saturday dinner at the Brown farmstead not being a formal affair, the small family was still dressed in their farm clothes. The only sacrifice conducted to commemorate the evening meal was the scrupulous washing of hands and face and behind the neck and ears please. Blond-haired Jeffrey and his twin sister Jennifer, having grown to the respectable age of twelve, were seated across from each other. Jeffrey had on his overhauls while wife and mother, Emma Brown, dressed in a style that was echoed in detail by her daughter, a print gingham dress made from the same material. The potato bowl, having made its rounds, was silently followed by string beans.
    “Not so stingy Jeffrey, you know those beans’ll put hair on your chest,” Father said.
    Jennifer giggled. Jeffrey blushed.
    “Oh, Herman, don’t be always at the boy so,” scolded the mother. She agreed with the need for vegetables but lately she felt that an unexplained rift had been growing between father and son, and she tried to nip any sign of tension between them in the bud.
    “How’d that fence look down at the creek? Did the storm wash it out some?” The ritual was that Father was always the one to begin any discussion at table.
    “It was jus’ fine, Pa.” Jeffrey pushed three green beans under a large dollop of mashed potatoes.
    “You know those posts can be near washed out and still look fine.” Father cut deep into the roast with a large knife.
    “Ya, Pa, I even shook ’em real good.”
    “Did you know the price of coffee has gone up a whole fifteen cents more a pound?” Mother broke in, in an attempt to get to some other topic of interest. “Merle at the store said it had something to do with trouble in Colombia.”
    “I thought we bought American coffee.” Father was just as happy to be off the subject of chores as was Jeffrey.
    “Nearly all coffee comes from South America, I think,” returned the mother. “Higher prices in one part means higher prices in ’em all.”
    Plates were passed to the head of the table, where Father dispensed generous cuts of the roast.
    “Well, if it goes up any higher I’d just as soon switch to tea,” he lied.
    “Herman?” Mother questioned. Father, busy chewing, did not immediately respond. “I want to take Jeffrey into town next Saturday. His school is having auditions for the town pageant. They’re putting on a play about Tom Sawyer and they want Jeffrey to be in it.”
    It seemed that Father took longer than usual to finish the portion he had been chewing on. He even took time to pour out more water from the large cut-glass pitcher before looking up. “They’ll be no play acting in the Brown family.”
    “But he was so thrilled to be asked. I’m sure it won’t take that much time.”
    “It’s not just the time.”
    Jeffrey’s eyes remained trained on the untouched portion of roast on his plate.
    “They’ll be no play acting in the Brown family,” came the reply repeated, solemn and final as a benediction.
    Mother looked shocked, her fork poised above her plate. This sudden turn was a surprise for her. The silence returned broken only by the sound of a utensil’s occasional tick on the china. Mother knew that this was something she could not let stand. In spite of her husband’s stubbornness, she was determined to press on further. “Herman Brown, I just can’t take that kind of an answer without a further say so.” A red flush began to rise from her neck to her face. “You’ll just have to give me a better reason than no reason.”
    “This play acting is no good for my son. He needs to keep his mind on school, and the farm. The only thing play acting will get him is a swell head full of useless notions.”

    “Well, for pity sake!” Mother said. “A play is only a small part of a body’s life. You yourself were in the senior play in high school. And if I remember correctly, you cut a fine figure as Brom Bones in Ichabod Crane.”
    “Yes, and I got beat for it by my pa when he found out, if you remember.”
    “No, I’m sorry. I never knew you snuck away behind your Pa’s back to be in that play.”
    Jeffrey was staring at his father transfixed in amazement.

Copyright © 2015 by Bob Boldt

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