This week, I present an excerpt from my other novel, Snow Ball. Snow Ball is not at all like Adelaide Einstein, it’s a dark comic mystery. And when I say dark, I mean it — as this excerpt will demonstrate.
“Shine on, shine on harvest moon, up in the sky…” Velma crooned, bouncing one hip as she worked. She spun to open the refrigerator door, briefly eyed its numerous contenders for lunchtime beverages, then closed it again and stepped over to the basement door. She gave it a little push to open it wider, calling, “Do ya want pop or milk with your lunch?” Her accent made the word “pop” sound like “pap”.
She heard a grinding sound, a muffled cry and a thud. “Ah…milk is great, hon,” Walter responded from somewhere out of view. “With a little chocolate syrup?”
She smiled and closed the door, turning back to get the milk. “He’s as bad as the kids,” she chuckled to herself. She put the toast on the plate and the chipped beef on the toast, then set the table with a placemat, flatware and Walter’s glass of chocolate milk. She flung the basement door open again and had to yell to be heard over the buzzing power tools. “Walter, soup’s on!” she called. “Now can ya turn that thing off and get your hiney up here before it gets cold?”
The buzzing stopped and Walter appeared at the foot of the stairs, wearing a yellow, blood-sprayed, disposable surgical suit with matching mask and booties, his glasses speckled with red and his gloved hands smeared with the same. He lowered his mask. “Before what gets cold,” he jokingly asked, “my hiney or the chipped beef?”
Velma giggled. “Oh, you!” she chided him. “Get all that stuff off and come on up now.”
When Walter reappeared, stripped of his disposable garb, glasses washed, he took his place at the table and said, “Oh, this looks great, just great Vel.” Anyone seeing him on the street would’ve assumed he was an accountant or maybe a junior college math teacher. He took a bite and hummed appreciatively.
After he’d swallowed and had a slug of chocolate milk, he smiled at Velma and, pointing at his plate with his fork, asked, “Do ya know what they used ta call this when I was in the service, Vel?”
Velma’s eyes rolled and she smiled back indulgently. “Yah, I do. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Walter. Do ya have ta tell that story every time I make ya chipped beef?”
Walter chuckled. “Oh, I was a different man then, Velma. If you’da seen me then, ya woulda thought I was like John Wayne.” He looked a little distant as he reminisced. “We hadda be ready for anything.” He looked at Velma and smiled again. “But ta tell ya the truth, I’m glad I never got the call. Truth is, I don’t know if I’da had the stomach for it.”
Velma turned off the radio and took the chair next to Walter’s. “Yah, I know whatcha mean,” she said, squeezing his hand. “Gunning folks down, left an’ right. It’s all so impersonal, ya know? I mean, those other boys never did anything ta you, they’re just fighting for their country same as we are.”
“Yah,” Walter sighed. “War is a terrible business, ya got that right Velma. If there’s a war going when our boys get ta be old enough, I’ll have ‘em up at Peter’s faster than you can say Jack Robinson.” He dug back into his lunch.
To change the subject, Velma cocked her head toward the basement door and brightly asked, “So didja get anything yet?”
Walter tucked his napkin in at his throat and grumbled, “Not much.” He took another bite and smiled as he chewed and swallowed. “He’s a toughie, all right,” he said with admiration. “Golly, I don’t know what else ta try.”
Velma patted Walter’s left hand as he continued eating with his right. “Are ya sure it’s really worth all this work, Walter? I mean, couldn’t ya just finish it and move on ahead? We’re all set ta go with the pharmaceuticals business now, and―”
“No, no,” Walt gently protested, wiping his mouth and shaking his head. “Now that’s just the problem nowadays, is folks lettin’ other folks take advantage. That last kilo wasn’t stolen from this turkey, he took it and he sold it himself. He stole it from us, Velma.”
Velma shook her head and clucked, “I know I shouldn’t be surprised anymore, with all I’ve seen, but jeez louise, doesn’t that young man have a mother?”
“I know, I know what you’re sayin’.” Walt nodded. “It’s like the parents today don’t even bother ta teach their kids common courtesy, let alone how ta behave like proper citizens.” He tapped the table with his index finger for emphasis. “And it’s just that kinda thing that’s ruining this country, Vel. First there’s no respect for the elders, then it’s a lack of manners, and next thing ya know ya can’t even leave your fence alone with your merchandise for ten minutes.”
Velma clasped her coffee cup. “Yah, I s’pose you’re right, Walt. It’s just that it’s taking so long, and the kids’ll be home in a coupla hours. Dickie’s hockey playoff starts at three, and ya promised him you’d be there.”
“I know, hon,” Walter whined, “but I gotta finish this thing.” He polished off his chocolate milk and snickered, “I can’t leave ‘im in there all night, ya know.”
Velma studied her cup. “But there must be a way ta speed it up…” She paused to think a moment, then snapped her fingers and stood up, saying, “I’ve got just the thing!” She trotted out of the room and reappeared a few minutes later, holding a seam ripper.
“A lotta times it’s a mistake ta go right ta the heavy machinery, Walt. A lotta times it’s attention ta detail that gets results.”
Walter took the small, sharp, hooked blade and beamed, “Ah, you’re a peach, Vel. This is super.” He turned it over to look at it from all angles. “How does it work?”
“Oh Walter,” she sighed, shaking her head patiently. She took the implement back and pantomimed in the air as she explained, “Ya stick it in an opening, any opening, and then pull it along in the direction ya want ta cut.”
Walter took it back. “Wow, that’s really somethin’,” he grinned. “I bet this’ll do the trick all right.”
“Well all right then, but ya gotta buy me a new one,” Velma replied, giving Walter an affectionate pat on the shoulder. “I’m not done with that quilt I’m making for your mother, ya know.”