Read an Excerpt
Another Day in Paradise
In the hazy glow of first morning light, a gleamingred Mercedes, a Roadster with its top up, sat on theside of the blacktopped county road. The engine idledgently, and headlights shone on the patchy grass andweeds.
The driver was slumped in the seat, comfortably, asif taking a nap. He was dead.
A dog lay with his head upon the man's thigh. Hehad lain there for some time, out of loyal respect to afriend.
In a nearby tree, a meadowlark gave out a shrillmorning call.
The dog, perking his ears, sat up and then went overto poke his wet nose out the window, fully open becausethe man had been driving along in the coolspring night with the passenger window down so thatthe dog could enjoy putting his face in the wind.
Fairly certain the man would no longer notice beingabandoned, the dog hopped through the window withgraceful ease and landed on the dewy wet grass.
After a moment of the sniffing the damp, pungentair, the dog trotted off in the easterly direction that thecar had been heading. It was pleasant in the cool firstlight. A little way along he came to a fresh armadillorun over in the road. He sniffed it, but he was yet farabove the depths of eating roadkill. An owl perchedon a fence post was kind enough to tell the dog thata town, where likely he could find breakfast, was justover the hill.
Sure enough, when he topped the hill, a town laybefore him. The dog sat and looked at it. The morningsun was just beginning to peek over thehorizon andcast its pink glow upon this world of humans. Wherefamilies of buffalo once wallowed and great herds ofcattle once crossed on their way to the rowdy marketsin Kansas, there now existed a place springing out ofthe prairie with tree-lined streets and brick buildingsand clapboard houses.
The dog had come to the town in the same mannerthat he went everywhere and to each of his humans,following the direction led by his heart. The day hehad come to the large concrete parking lot and to theman with the glasses, he had known that was the placefor him and the human for his dog's loyal work ofcompanionship.
Now, looking down on the town, he knew this wasa new place for him and a new human awaited hisministrations.
The dog started down the hill, taking in the lay ofthe land and ready for any opportunity that presenteditself.
The garbage trucks were starting on their first runs,and early risers all over began tuning kitchen radiosto the morning weather report and going out on frontporches to hang up flags in support of the campaignto keep Valentine's distinction as the Flag Town ofAmerica.
Fayrene Gardner, who had come into the MainStreet Café a half an hour early because she had beenunable to sleep due to the excitement of expecting avisit from her first ex-husband, came out the café doorand set the United States flag in its holder.
A few yards down the sidewalk, at the doors of TheValentine Voice, Charlotte Nation was doing likewise.Charlotte, who was a little dismayed to see Fayrenehad beat her to it, thought it important for the Voiceto get their flag out first, as they were a leader in thecommunity.
Setting the pole in the slot with some haste, shehurried back inside to get a cup of coffee for Leo, Sr.before he got off on his deliveries. Since their circulationmanager quit three weeks earlier, Leo had beenhandling the job. Charlotte was thrilled, as now Leowas there early each morning, like herself. He got allthe other deliverers off, and then was the last to leaveon a route of his own.
"Thanks, Charlotte," Leo said, taking the cup shehanded him and sipping. "Well, I gotta get goin'now."
"Yes ... you do." She followed him to the doorwayand stood there as he slipped into the delivery van anddrove off down the alley, watching with the eyes of awoman in love with a man she could never have.
Up on Church Street, Winston Valentine was gladto be able to manage the job of getting out the frontdoor of his house with the aid of a cane, while carryingtwo folded flags under his arm. One of his lady boarders,a piece of toast jammed in her mouth, came afterhim.
He told her with poorly tempered impatience, "I'mall right, Mildred ... you cain't help me and eat toast atthe same time!"
She had already dropped jelly on her ample bosom;Winston didn't want her to get jelly all over his flags.He felt guilty for having the thought that she could inthat minute drop dead and he would gladly step overher. He was relieved when she got more concernedabout her toast and jelly than about helping him.
He got himself down the front steps and over to theflag pole in the front yard, where he raised the Confederateflag, followed by the Stars and Bars. He couldstill raise his flags, and once more all by himself, thankGod, and he wasn't yet pissing in his pants, so the daylooked good.
Across the street, his neighbor Everett Northrupt,younger by better than ten years, was raising his flags,too, only the Stars and Bars of the U.S. of A. was ontop and a lot bigger. Everett was from up North.
Both men stood at attention as music, a mingling of"Dixie" and "The Star Spangled Banner," blared outfrom speakers from each man's home. Winston, notwanting Everett to have anything on him, stood asstraight as he could and saluted the flags and the day.
Then, as most days, ha saw Parker Lindsey joggingdown the street. Parker, a single fellow who no doubthad plenty of pent-up energy, would jog from his veterinaryclinic at the edge of town, cut through theschool yard and behind houses along a path that cameout east of the Blaine's house, then go down ChurchStreet to Porter and make several jogs to get to thehighway and back east to his own place. It was a distanceof five miles. Winston played a game of judgingthe younger man's state of sexual energy by how hardhe was running when he went past.
"G'mornin', Doc," Winston called to him, rememberingwhat it was like to be a virile man in his prime.He admired Parker Lindsey, who was going at a prettygood clip this morning.
"`Mornin'." Puffing, Parker raised a hand in awave and kept on going.
From the opposite direction came Leo, Jr., pedalingpast with his teenage legs on his Mountain Flier. "'lo,Mr. Winston!" he said and sent a rolled newspaperflying into the yard and landing two feet away.
"Bingo!" Winston called back with a wave.
He bent carefully to get the paper, considering itexercise. When he came up, he saw a woman in brightpink on a purple bicycle pumping along toward town.It was his niece, Leanne, who sometimes jogged andsometimes rode a bicycle. A professional barrel racer,Leanne worked to keep her legs strong.
"'lo, Uncle Winston!"
Winston waved back, while averting his gaze fromthe sight of her. Leanne wore the skimpy attire sopopular with women these days, and being her uncle,Winston did not consider it polite to stare. Leanne wasa fine specimen of a woman. It was a little too badshe liked to display that around a lot. Winston feltwomen today had forgotten mystique. He liked towatch women on exercise shows on television, though.
Walking stiffly, but grateful to be walking, he wentaround the side of the house, where he clipped blossomsfrom his dead wife's rosebushes. I'm keepin' on,Coweta. He would miss his wife until his dying day.
Further up Church Street, Vella Blaine, wearing alilac flowered apron and a big straw hat over her greyinghair, was out in her backyard, snipping freshblooms from her own rosebushes. She held each to hernose to inhale the delicious, soothing scent. Her veryfavorite were the yellow Graham-Thomas blossoms.She was so proud of her roses this spring.
Hearing a car, she looked up to see her husbandbehind the wheel of his big black 80s Lincoln as itchugged away, carrying him onward to his twelve-hourday at his drugstore.
Perry had not bothered to tell her goodbye. Again.
Gripping the stems of the cut roses so tightly thatthe thorns pricked her hands, Vella walked purposefullyup the back steps and went inside to prepare afresh pot of coffee for herself and Winston, who had,with the arrival of balmy spring, begun once more tojoin her for an early-morning chat. She got out theblue pottery mug Winston seemed to favor. In the mirrorhung on the inside of the cabinet door, she pausedto put on lipstick.
Down on Porter Street, the sun had risen highenough to shine its first golden rays on the roof of asmall house dating from the forties that Realtors calleda bungalow. In bed in the back bedroom, MarileeJames, who was definitely not a morning person, wasawakened by her eight-year-old son.
Marilee managed to crack an eyelid.
"Maa-ma ..." He peered into her face, his blue eyeslarge behind his thick glasses.
Marilee tried to focus enough to see the clock. WillieLee simply had no sense of time at all. He wokeup when he woke, and slept when he slept, neverminding the rest of the world ... or his mother, who hadnot had a decent night's sleep since Miss Porter hadsuddenly and fantastically thrown the newspaper managementinto her hands and run off with a husband.
Was that red numeral a five or a six? She was goingto have to get a bigger clock. The thought caused herto close her eyes.
"Ma-ma, can I have a dog?" Willie Lee spoke ina whisper and slowly, carefully pronouncing eachword, as was his habit.
"Not right this minute," Marilee managed to getout with as hoarse a voice as she used to have whenshe smoked a pack and a half a day of Virginia Slims.
She gathered courage and stretched herself towardthe clock. The red numerals came in more clearly. Itwas 6:10. Giving a groan, she rolled over and thoughtthat she could not get up. That was all there was to it.She would not get up.
"I want this dog in this pic-ture." Willie Lee shoved a book in her face.
Marilee, who could not respond in any way, shape or form, stared with fuzzy vision at a picture of a spotted dog in one of her son's picture books.
Willie Lee, not at all bothered by not being answered,sat back on folded legs and said, "I will askGod for this dog."
Marilee's sleepy gaze came to rest upon her son,upon his head bent once more to study the picturebook. His short white-blond hair stood on end in alldirections, as was usual.
Her Willie Lee, who had put up a mighty struggleto enter the world and ended up with brain damagethat cast doubt still upon his future ability to lead anythingresembling a normal life without someone towatch over him.
Her heart seemed to swell and her heartbeats togrow louder ... thump ... thump ... thump ... echoing inher ears, broken only by the clink of dishes from thekitchen, where Corrine was no doubt readying the tablefor breakfast, as she had each morning since comingto stay with them.
With the aroma of coffee floating in to reach her,Marilee pictured the slight figure of her young nieceat the counter. Likely she had to pull a chair over andstand on it in order to fill the coffeemaker.
Two of them, two little souls, depending upon onlyher, Marilee, a mere woman alone.
The idea so frightened her that in an instant she badflung back the covers and gotten to her feet, movingin the manner of generations of women before her whohad struggled with the overwhelming urge to runscreaming out of the house to throw themselves infront of the early-morning garbage truck. The savinganswer to that urge was to propel herself headlong intothe day of taking care of those who needed her.
"Let's get you dressed, buster," she said to her son,scooping him up, causing him to giggle.
"Time to get go-ing," he said, mimicking her usualrefrain.
"Yes ... time to get going."
When focusing on the needs of those around her,she did not have to face the needs clamoring insideherself.
"Here they are," Corrine said and brought Marileethe car keys she had been searching for, as the childdid each morning at seven-thirtyor any other time,really.
"Thank you, hon ... now, let's get goin'...."
The children trooped before her out the front door,and they all piled into the Jeep Cherokee for the five-minutedrive to school, where Marilee let them out onthe wide sidewalk in front of the long, low brick building.
The two, taller and very thin Corrine and shorter,slight Willie Lee, did not run off with the otherscreaming and laughing children but stood there sideby side, forlornly watching her drive away.
Marilee, who caught sight of them in the rearviewmirror, felt like a traitor abandoning her delicatecharges.
Pressing firmly on the accelerator, she focused onthe road and reminded herself that she was a workingmother, just like a million other working mothers, tryingto keep a roof over all their heads, and that herchildren needed to learn to deal with real life.
As she whipped the Cherokee into its accustomedplace in the narrow lot behind the brick building thathoused The Valentine Voice, she realized that she hadbeen doing the same thing for most of seven years.Where did the years go? When had twenty-one turnedinto forty?
It was Miss Porter running off into a new life whohad caused this unrest, Marilee thought with annoyance,hiking her heavy leather tote up on her shoulder.The next instant, having the disconcerting impressionthat she was beginning to resemble Miss Porter, shedropped the bag to her hand.
"My computer is down," Tammy Crawford saidimmediately when Marilee came down the large aisleof the main room.
"Call the repairman." Marilee threw her bag on heralready full desk and picked up the day's edition ofthe Voice. She had not had time to read it at home.She had not had time for weeks.
"Mrs. Oklahoma is going to visit the high schoolthis mornin'," Reggie said. "Principal forgot to callus ... I'm goin' right over there."
`"kay." Marilee didn't think everyone reallyneeded to report to her.
Charlotte strode forward with a handful of notes."Here's the first morning complaints of late papers ... andRoger, that new guy they've hired up at theprinter, wants you to call him ... and here's a note fromthe mayor for tomorrow's `About Town' column. Cityhall has lost those flags they thought they had left."
Marilee took the notes and sank into her chair.
June, who was now working on their ad layoutssince their top ad layout person had quit last week,came over and said, "I can't read this note Jewel puton this ad. Do you think that is supposed to be a twoor a five?"
"Call the Ford dealer and ask. I don't think theywould appreciate us guessing."
"Okay. I can do that." June generally needed toconvince herself of action,
Marilee, giving a large sigh, fell into her chair andflopped open the paper to see how it had come out,and if she would need to be making any retractionsand groveling apologies. She thought she was learningto grovel quite well.
"Another day in paradise," she said to no one inparticular.
The Valentine Voice
by Marilee James
For the one or two people in town who have not heard by now, Ms. Muriel Porter, former publisher of The Valentine Voice, and Mr. Dwight Abercrombie, who met last year on a Carribean cruise, were married yesterday afternoon in a small ceremony at St. Luke's Episcopal Church. Immediately afterward the two left on a world tour they estimate will take them upward of eighteen months. Following their world tour, the couple plan to settle in either Daytona Beach or possibly Majorca, Spain. Ms. Porter-Abercrombie wanted everyone to know she will always remain a Valentinian, however far she may roam.
"Valentine will always be my home," Ms.Porter stated. "My ties there are as necessary tomy life as cold tea on a hot day."
The new publisher and editor in chief of TheValentine Voice, Tate Holloway, will be arrivingthis weekend to officially take over the paper. Mr.Holloway is Ms. Porter-Abercrombie's cousinand a veteran newspaper journalist with thirtyyears experience on a number of the nation'sleading newspapers.
An open house will be held in honor of Mr.Holloway on Monday at the Voice offices. Cakeand coffee will be served courtesy of SweetieCakes of Main Street. Come by and welcome Mr.Holloway, or address to him your complaints.
Until Monday, I will continue as managing editor.All news stories should be reported to me,and you can call me at my home number, 555-4743,afternoons and until 8:00 p.m. Please saveall complaints for Mr. Holloway on Monday.
Other important bits of note:
The first meeting of the Valentine Rose Clubwill be held tonight, 7:00 p.m., at the MethodistChurch Fellowship Hall. Vella Blaine will headthe meeting and wants it stressed that all denominationsare welcome and there will be no passingof a collection plate.
Jaydee Mayhall has formally declared his candidacyfor city council. Thus far he is the firstcandidate to declare intentions of running for theseat being vacated by long-time member WesleyFitzwater, who says he is tired of the thanklessjob. Mayhall invites anyone who would like totalk to him about the town's needs to stop by tovisit with him at his office on Main Street.
Mayor Upchurch has ten Valentine town flagsleft at city hall, for anyone who wants to fly oneoutside their home or shop. The flags are free; theonly requirement is a proper pole high enoughthat the flag does not brush the ground.
Excerpted from COLD TEA ON A HOT DAY by Curtiss Ann Matlock. Copyright © 2001 by Curtiss Ann Matlock. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
An Irreverent Look at Life on the Inside
By Joseph Timilty with Jack Thomas
Northeastern University Press
Copyright © 1997 Joe Timilty and Jack Thomas.All rights reserved.