Tag Archives: Crime

Bon Appetit

By Gary Wosk

[In 1995, a prominent Los Angeles restauranteur disappeared. The following classified information was provided to the author of this story by a Los Angeles Police Department detective who requested to remain anonymous. To this day the case has remained unsolved. I have pieced together the following series of events. It is strictly conjecture on my part, but all signs point in this direction. I have also changed the names of the characters mentioned in the story to protect me from any possible lawsuits.]

“Undercooked!” blurted out Charles, the conceited owner of Restaurant Ombrelle, after spitting a half-chewed morsel of chicken onto his linen napkin at his employee’s home.

His host, Paul, a very well-known French chef who had served the dish, was stunned. He usually bit his lip when Charles complained, which was often, but he had crossed the red line this time. This was the ultimate insult as far as he was concerned.

Undercooked? Paul blared out incredulously. “What?”

“You heard me,” said Charles, a rotund man with an oily complexion and a bad comb-over. His nose became even upturned when his feathers were ruffled.

“This chicken is not completely cooked. Are you trying to make me sick?”

“C’este impossible. Comment tu m’unsult!” said Paul, a much slimmer man who wore a razor-thin mustache that rested just above his lip.

“Spare me zee French words,” said Charles mockingly.

“First, you impugn my reputation, and then you criticize my language,” said Paul accusingly. “How dare you.”

The ponytailed Paul wanted to slap his guest silly. Before he could raise his hand, however, he thought better of it. He didn’t want to spoil his new surprise dinner plans. Instead, he meekly asked for an apology even though rage simmered under his skin like a bowl of bouillabaisse.

“I believe you owe me an apology,” said Paul.

“Apologize. Ha. You should beg for my forgiveness for possibly infecting me with salmonella!”

The chef retorted, “For your information, the supermarket chicken is not undercooked. It has been cooked to perfection. And it cost only seven dollars and fifty-nine cents, plus tax, for a two-pound bird that looks like a small turkey. A bargain. There’s enough chicken to here to last a week, so you’re welcome to come back.”

“Supermarket chicken!” erupted Charles. “How dare you serve me this inferior poultry, you fool!” He worried that the ingredients that he had just regurgitated were impure and would cause permanent damage to his delicate gastrological system. “You idiot!”

“I wish you would not address me in that manner,” said Paul. He wanted to call him a gluttonous baboon but refrained; otherwise, the outburst could ruin everything.

“I’ll use any words I want. Remember, it was I who rescued you from the pancake house when you first came to America and only made minimum wage as a short-order cook. I put you through a French cooking school. I took a big chance on you. And this is how you repay me? With this rotgut? My God, I may have to go to urgent care.”

“Yes, my dear friend. I have never forgotten how you save me,” said Paul. He also hadn’t forgotten how Charles would make him work on his days off and dock his pay if diners were not one hundred percent satisfied with their meals or would go into a tirade if he served one morsel too much of food or if he was a few minutes late. And then there were the little digs. The slights that Paul that put up with.

“Obviously, you need a refresher course on how to thoroughly cook chicken,” Charles said in his typical condescending tone.

And back and forth, they went like a fencing match. One on offence, the other on defence. And this is how it usually went when Charles and Paul met before the order was restored by their level-headed wives. Fortunately, their spouses were out of town, thought Paul. Perfect timing. He had an axe to grind.

“Please, Charles. Calm down. Let’s stop the arguing,” said Paul, extending an insincere olive branch.

Instead of agreeing to a ceasefire, however, Charles lobbed another verbal grenade. “This is, how should I say, so bourgeoisie of you. I had expected your famous beef bourguignon, my favourite; however, you chose to serve me this commoner’s meal.”

“Remember, I told you I would be serving something different.”

“I did not expect this gamey abomination of a dish!”

“Everyone I know loves supermarket rotisserie chicken except you, it seems,” said Paul, infuriating his guest even more. You behave as if you are royalty, but you are not. And you know what I’m talking about.”

“Supermarket rotisserie chicken indeed! Was this prepared in a supermarket? Disgusting,” said Charles. You must be kidding. Wait to tell everyone I know about the great French chef who works at my restaurant. And how dare you threaten me.”

Paul decided not to back down.

“You expect to be treated like a gourmand, but you are not. You eat the pancake house, for God’s sake, on a regular basis. Wait, I tell everyone I know that your favourite meal is buttermilk pancakes drenched with butter and maple syrup. You are not the king of the finest cuisine. Touché.”

“Ah-ha, I see you are finally standing up to me,” said Charles, who was just as overly sensitive to criticism as Paul. “Perhaps you are not so meek after all. Good for you. Go ahead, get it all off your chest. It does not matter. You are finished. Or in your case, fini.”

Paul tried to dial it down a notch. He didn’t want Charles to storm out of the house, not now. He took a step back.

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“If you like, I can cook the chicken for another five minutes. And I will not ruin our reputation.”

“Five minutes? Try thirty minutes. One hour would even be better. Nice and crisp.” He proceeded to split open a leg with his knife and fork to reveal the pinkish meat. “You knew I prefer my chicken well done. You are an ignoramus.”

“I followed instructions on the plastic lid of the chicken,” insisted Paul. “Reheat for fifteen minutes.”

“I repeat. You are a fool. I meant it the first time, and I mean it now.”
Paul’s face turned red. “Absurd! How dare you come into my house and tell me the chicken I served is undercooked. You then tell me how long I should reheat it. And then this constant barrage of insults.”

“So, what are you going to do about it?” challenged Charles. “Unload on me again? Like I just said, you are finished. I must be on my way. I will mail you your final check.”

“I only said you were not the king of cuisine. Remember, we met at the pancake house. It wasn’t a royal house. You were eating there too and liking it.”

“Stop it already. You keep bringing that up.”

Paul realized the evening he had envisioned could suddenly end if he kept it up.

“I am very sorry that I offended your pallet,” he said. If you’d like, I can whip up a quick souffle.”

“That is quite all right. I have suddenly lost my appetite. Supermarket chicken!” Charles muttered as he stood up from the dinner table and walked toward the front door.

“Wait, Charles. Why don’t we retire to my wine cellar and talk this over? We’ll have a toast.”

“A toast to what?”

“The renewal of our friendship and working together,” said Paul in a fawning voice.

“I suppose now you’re about to cry.”

“Please, Charles. A drink. Let bygones be bygones. Like we always do.”

“I’m not sure about that. You nearly poisoned me and criticized and threatened me; however, if you insist, so be it. One last drink with a former friend and employee.”

“Ah, you have found some forgiveness in your heart,” said Paul, gently brushing his mustache with his thumb and index finger.

“Who said anything about forgiveness?” said the surely Charles.

“Now, if you please, follow me. In a while, you will forget about all of this senseless quibbling.”

“How, by numbing our senses with alcohol?”

“Something like that,” laughed Paul.
After descending the stairs, Paul flipped on the wall switch. Before them, in the middle of the wine cellar, was a long wooden table and benches surrounded by wooden wine casks and racks of bottled wine that reached nearly to the ceiling.

“Here, my friend,” said Paul. “Please, sit down and relax. I will find a rare, vintage wine, something suitable to your refined palate.”

“Perhaps I was too rash upstairs,” said Charles, rethinking what had seemed to be an unretractable stance. “How comical that we should argue over supermarket chicken.”

“But, Charles, everyone knows that you often fly off the handle. You have no filter, but that is quite all right; I am used to it. Again, all is forgotten, and I mean it.”

“Ah, again, taking a swipe at me, but maybe you are right.”

“I owe you an apology, my friend,” said Paul, in another gesture of goodwill. “The chicken was awful. I wouldn’t even feed it to my dog. He deserves better.”

Paul reached into the right-hand side pocket of his dinner jacket and delicately pulled out a small leather cigar holder. “I would like to offer you one of Cuba’s finest cigars. He opened the case. The Montecristo. Enjoy it.”

“I’m starting to like you again,” said Charles. “If you will do me the honour, please light my cigar.”

“I am honoured that you are beginning to like me again.”

Paul retrieved an old-fashioned silver lighter from the other pocket of his dinner jacket, pressed down on the lighter’s spark wheel. He then extended the tiny flame to the tip of Charles’ cigar.

“Ah, excellent,” said Charles after inhaling the tobacco. “Will you have one, too?”

“Yes, in a moment, but first, I will find the rare vintage wine that I keep locked away for special occasions like this.”

As Paul began walking down a long, dank corridor, he turned his head and smiled at his friend. “Oh, I see you have some company.” A humungous Swiss mountain dog weighing nearly one hundred forty pounds sat in front of Charles. Man and beast stared at one another.

“Charles, meet my friend, Geoffrey.”

The heavily built black, brown and red shaded dog whimpered and began to brush up against Charles, sniffing about and licked the shins that were not covered by socks.

“Damn it! Tell your dog to stop licking me,” demanded Charles as he wiped away at the thick layer of pasty slobber that was left behind by the drooling dog.

“That’s a sign that he likes you. Geoffrey, leave my friend alone. If you’re good, I’ll bring you a nice treat. I’ll be back soon.”

“Hurry,” grunted Charles.

After what seemed like an eternity to Charles because of the unwelcome attention he was receiving from the dog, Paul finally reappeared.

“I hope Geoffrey has been a good boy,” he said as he tossed an oversized milk bone to the dog. “Here’s your appetizer. I will feed you more soon. Don’t worry, my little baby.”

“Yeah, he’s been a good boy all right, passing his germs on to me. And his constant staring is quite unnerving.”

“He likes to stare. That means he’s sizing you up.”

“For what?”

“To decide if he wants seconds.”


“To taste more of you.”

“That is just preposterous,” rejoined Charles. “You and your dog are nuts.”

Paul looked at his dog and issued a command in a calm voice, and pointed. “Go sit over there and be a good boy. He began filling two crystal goblets with wine.

“Cabernet Sauvignon, Bordeaux, 1962, only the best for you, Charles. There, please tell me what you think.”

Charles swished the dark liquid around his glass, placed his nose on the rim, then took a small professional sip. “This is exquisite. More please.”

“Yes, yes, as much as you’d like. Don’t be shy. We’re here to celebrate us.”

Charles and Paul lifted and clinked their glasses.

“Keep drinking, my friend,” Paul said encouragingly.

“Yes, fill my glass again.”

“I’m hungry. What’s for dinner?” said Charles in a slurred voice as inebriation and incoherency settled in. “Oh, yeah, we just ate. Supermarket rotisserie chicken. It was delicious. I love my meat raw now.”

“Have some more wine, Charles.”

“You’re the best friend and chef in the world. I’m going to give you a big raise.”

“Respect would have been good enough.”

“Respect. I respect you. Why would you say something like that?”

“You treat me like a greasy spoon fast-food cook.”

“Ah, you are so sensitive, my French cook. Okay. Okay. No more insults ever again. I promise,” said Charles before the glass slid from his hand and shattered on the concrete slab floor.

“Promises, promises,” said Paul to Charles, whose eyes were now completely closed.

“It’s too late.”

Just to make sure Charles stayed asleep permanently, Paul gave him a lethal injection he had concocted. When his body was completely limp, Paul laid him out on the table. He began removing Charles’ clothes so he could begin the process of marinating, which included such ingredients as the tomato-based Provencale sauce, garlic, shallot, butter, olive oil and dry white wine.

It took some doing, but Paul managed to lift Charles onto a gurney which he rolled toward his downstairs test kitchen. He turned to his dog. “Not yet, Geoffrey. Dinner will be served in about one hour. Braised short ribs, just the way you like it. Medium rare. Bon Appetit.”

{Paul bought Restaurant Ombrelle from Charles’ wife in 1998. He closed the restaurant in 2010 and turned it into an El Pollo Loco restaurant, where he occasionally helps out in the kitchen. As far as I know, no one has ever complained of undercooked chicken.}

Gary Wosk was raised in the Bronx and Los Angeles. Since graduating from California State University, Northridge, with a journalism degree, he has been a newspaper reporter, organization spokesperson and media relations manager. My Gym, They Are Here, Bezillgo Versus the Allerton Theatre, Bubbe to the Rescue, Flameout, On the Cover of the Rolling Stones, The Violation, Best Intentions, Sugar, Full Bladder, Typecast, Adrenalin Rush, Big Frank, Infirmary 909, Pearl, The Recliner, The Cabbie, Trini, The Raid, Executive Material, Tick-Tock, Scare Tactics and many of his other short stories have been featured in anthologies. Gary is a member of the California Writers Club. He lives in North Hills, California, with his wife, Mina, and an Australian Cattle Dog named Shelley. 


By Brooke Waits

I got a concussion once from a crabapple when I was eight. Walking home from the 3rd grade, the back of my head caught a line drive from the Johnston twins. Jacob and Jamie were two rowdy boys two years older, making a two-man army with two curved fast pitches and two stacks of crabapples in their two dirty shirttails. Doing the math, I was down by twelve points, at least thirteen if my naivety bore any factor.

“We’ll give you five second’s head start,” they’d say. I jumped at their offer, gambling frail odds on the unlikely event of dodging the assault. With the school close and armed with adults, I made a break for it. Relief, however, soon saw to be a frivolous mouse to chase Jacob and Jamie, never intending to let me go. In the race for flight, my feet lost second to crabapples, already an airborne attack.

“Leave me alone, or I’ll tell on you both.”

“Oh please, anything but that,” said Jamie. They mocked me, oddly in sync, and continued the pursuit of knocking my block off.

Across from the schoolyard, there was a crabapple tree on its last leg. A strong wind would’ve been the end of it because whatever the insects hadn’t hollowed, the rain had rotted. Subsequently, a curve made its trunk in the shape of “C.” Without my glasses, I saw the tree very sad, hunched over like an old woman with brittle bones. Jacob and Jamie gathered the fallen crabapples as they found them. When their supply ran dry, both battered the branches like little rascals at wife-beating camp. It was a coarse sight to see agriculture as an elder, dropping an erratic spread in the grass. I wanted to cry because I thought the crabapples looked like green brains. At eight, it only made sense that a tree would have green brains. How ironic, having one’s own brains knocked out by brains.

I lived in a southwest Norman Rockwell suburbia where the assumptions of stereotypes, Christianity and gossip were basically true. Even eight-year-olds had expectations and social circles, so I’d heard the rumours about the Johnston’s, each one possessed by a memoir worse than the last and each one their own spotlight for havoc in a would-be quiet neighbourhood: the father a drug-dealer, the mother a cultist, an older brother serving two life sentences and finally, twin boys the crabapple-throwers of little girls (the latter being a fact I knew personally but never told). Even their pets were the subjects of word-of-mouth witch-hunts. The family’s pit bull mauled the arms of a four-year-old and their fat Persian cat, too, ran fugitive after smothering an infant asleep in his crib.

According to my community’s etymologic translation, the name Johnston actually derived from the phrase “rife with trouble.” My name isn’t Johnston, but I got their troubles when they moved in—that and their kin of perpetrators living in the house next door.

After they arrived, life went something like this: Once upon a time, I was eight, and then I was old.

“C’mon say it, ‘I’m a cunt licker,'” said Jacob. He pinned me to the ground, his face so close to mine he spat on my mouth when he spoke while Jamie laughed himself to tears. “Just say it, and I’ll let you up.”

“Let me up, or I’m gonna tell,” I said. Struggling seemed tedious, so I gave up the fight and let my body become limp and heavy. If nature’s laws took effect, maybe he’d think I was dead or go paw at a severed limb still wild with nerves. I was pretty sure I no longer had legs and the left side of my butt, too.

“Say, ‘I like to eat pussy,’ and then you can go.” His tone was generic for kindergarten lectures on how to tie shoes.

“Iliketoeatpussy,” my cheeks a sudden siren, “now can I go?”

Jacob milled over it, swishing spit between his two front teeth while I waited for something invisible and good to rush me away to the clouds.

“Don’t expect me to be so generous next time,” said Jacob. He lifted himself off me butcher-style, one pound at a time.

I scurried to my feet and had a quick celebration for my legs still attached. Brushing leaves and debris from my hair, both boys stuck me with a stare more unnerving than someone’s foot at my heels.

I should’ve kept running. A few feet of distance, and I cried Ollie oxen free too soon. 

WHACK! Like a baseball glove in the 1932 World Series, my head took the heat of a crabapple slung so hard my eyes nearly rattled from their sockets. I’d found my coup de grâce that fateful day, and seeing stars, I went down.

Memory serves mute waves of it, black, scattered vision and falling like forever as I broke my nose on the curb.

Until then, the hitting was mostly harmless. Sometimes it scared me, but sometimes I liked it in a secret way that comes when something hurts. Dismissing the Johnston’s as simple boys with big talk was a safe assumption until the day they knocked me out cold.

I woke up, bloody and bones oozing, on the Johnston’s cool kitchen floor. My eyes were glued shut, sticky with sleep, and the room felt of nothingness and night, like a carnival ride turning me out in space. With my stomach at my throat and a skirt full of allergen weeds, I tried not to move.

Someone was cooking, and the haunted smell of it embodied the house; a ghost if a ghost could have stale breath. It was more like plastic melting than food cooking. The odour suggested the Johnston’s were having little green army men cooked in an Easy Bake Oven for dinner. I was familiar with the smell of three-inch men in flames, playing most afternoons with the older boy who lived three doors down. The two of us dug holes and burned toy figurines in them like a couple of prepubescent Nazis. It wasn’t supposed to smell, the boy three doors down assured me, saying, “It’ll burn without giving us away. See, it’s a clear smoke, so no one suspects a thing. And odourless is nothing suspicious and clear is just a word about something you can’t smell.”

“Odorless” had become more distinct than my mother’s Chanel No. 5. 

I shot up from the kitchen floor, wide-eyed, as ammonia napkins under my nose. The air was intense and too hard to catch on my back. I saw Jacob, busy cooking, although it wasn’t plastic toys. It looked like candy but better, and; he was cooking cocaine into crack. For me, a drug was a drug was a drug, which made their variety seem beside the point. The Johnston’s, however, cleared this problem up for me rather quickly. 

“You’re still alive,” he said. “I guess I can tell Jamie to patch up that hole we dug for you.” Across the kitchen, Jacob talked over his shoulder as he propped the stove-eye with one hand and held a spoonful of powder over the pilot light with the other. At first, I thought he might try to melt the spoon for bending into shapes. Like a clown with balloons, he was a bully with spoons.

“Hole?” I asked. “For me?”

“Yep,” I heard from behind me. “In the backyard. So, we can bury. You like. The others.” At my back stood a man with a shadow too slight for his body. I was surprised at the lack of length between us. He was close and looking. I guessed his serious eyes had aged him ten years too fast. He had cellophane skin, sucked airtight for slack and a habit of circling his jaw in crazy eight’s like a hula-hoop. The constant movement suggested that the lower half of his face was unhinged and caused his speech to be short and choppy. Listening to him was like an off-road ride in a car with no shocks. Hemorrhoids might’ve concerned me had I known what they were.

On his head, like sunshades, he wore a pair of prescription glasses, black, wide-framed with lenses the width of binoculars. I wondered if he was as blind as his glasses were as big and if seeing the world dissolve dissolved a part of him, too. I expected more of him to come around the corner to catch up, but nothing ever came. I decided that in a quieter light, he could resemble a secondhand Buddy Holly or Elvis Costello, maybe something hybrid. Being my dad’s true icons, I saw both musicians in everything too well. We built our house as a standing ode to the legends, but I was still up in the air on which one was dead.

I wondered if this man shared a similar taste with my father and if he knew all the words to “Veronica” without singing karaoke.       

“Relax. You. We’re only being. Wise with. You,” the man said. He hadn’t batted an eye, still standing at my back with his baggage of ten extra years.

“You. Put some scare in. Us. The boys are. Real sorry. Some. Times they roughhouse, get carried away,” he waited. Scratched his head. “I’m Rand. It’s not short for anything. Not Randy. Not Randall. Just Rand. Like the writer.”

He excused himself past me with a gentle hand on my back and walked to Jacob, still busy with powders and pilot lights. Rand examined his work with a critical, well-oiled eye. Taking the spoon of putty from Jacob’s grip, he swivelled the silver around in careful motions, and I saw the stuff move to the edge, like mercury, and back. I imagined it the same flavour of oysters, raw and cool to the throat.

“It isn’t saleable. Nobody. Can smoke that,” said Rand, “put it in the freezer. Let it form a rock.” He took a seat at the kitchen table under a cheap chandelier, swinging low with a crack, probably from someone’s head. Guessing the kitchen was the largest room in their house. It was two rooms meshed together, like an eatery/live-in area in one.

Walking in, the stove was the first thing to see, straight back and designed so that whomever cooking faced with his backside out, unaware of other parties neither coming nor going. To the left was a refrigerator, covered in magnets suggesting safety tips for handling raw meat. Third-party beef vendors gave them away every year at the State Fair’s stockyards. “Beef Gives You Z-I-P: Zinc, Iron, Protein.”

Nothing but cabinet space made up the rest of the kitchen’s left side. Miles of it, fake wood, topped with small plastic Baggies rolled up and rubber banded. There was pipe paraphernalia of the sort: thin pipes, glass pipes, large ceramic pipes with multiple spouts for inhaling. In gallon-size freezer bags, a variety of powder is tightly packed, along with hunks of crystallized substances and colourful tablets. My blood sugar would’ve risen amid the Johnston’s candy circus had I not paid attention to the shiny cops with pretty pictures speaking anti-drugs at the third-grade assembly. “Just say no.”

I said, “yes.”

The right side of the wall was basically an enormous window. The kitchen spoke of cheap wood and fine glass, double-plated with custom etchings of a phrase in another language repeated around the edge. A sliding door with a torn screen leading to the backyard was less than two feet from the dining table. Narrow and deep, like a stab wound, the kitchen took a prize for the oddest room I’d ever seen. What with the essence of a stadium, the bitter smell of nothing burning and porcelain tiles on the floor. Mismatched summed it up, but then so were the Johnston’s with their modest house built over an empire that just wouldn’t wait.

“What’s your name?” Rand asked.


“Then I will call. You Little, Leila. Is that okay?”

I didn’t answer, which meant okay because that’s what he called me for the rest of the day.

“Come sit,” he said, patting his knee. I climbed up on his lap at the table, my small self a little lighter with the conscience fallen away. His knee felt solid and familiar, like a song or Buddy Holly, and suddenly I missed home.

A slow hand crept under my blouse from the back, Rand discovering the tender nubs on my chest. “What do you have here?” he asked. He fondled and cupped, dividing his attention equally among the two.

“I don’t know,” I said. My nipples grew hard, and it seemed to please him.

“It’s power,” he said. “Your ticket in life. You’ll know what I mean soon.” He took his hand from my shirt and retrieved a clear, private bag from his own shirt pocket. The content was white as snow in contrast to the pink of his palm. It formed a solid lump in the same shape of magic Jacob cooked in his spoon, only harder.

“Son. Bring me a lighter. Bring me a pipe.”

Jacob sighed in staccato, throwing down his project like a temperamental girl on the rag. “For fuck’s sake.”

“Boy. You watch you. Fucking language.”

Spit foamed in the corners of his mouth as he sidled up to the table and presented his father with the requested items. Rand dipped in the bag for a white crumb to smear at the tip of a thin glass pipe.

“Do you know? What it’s like to feel good, Little?”

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I thought about the straight A’s I’d made on spelling tests and the sand under my feet on family vacations. “No.”

“Then feel it. Now,” he said. “Hold this pipe in your lips. And when I say… Breathe in.”

I nodded, with the pipe propped on my lips. A pro before the flame began its tease of flicking tongues in and out at the white tip. I inhaled until black spots invaded my sight.

“Now hold it. There in your lungs. Hold it like you’re underwater,” he said.
I sucked in a gust of phantoms through the impressionable pink rising below an unbuttoned blouse. Seconds, everything changed, and everything felt slow like honey. Time became erotic, and time came apart—a clock or a metronome playing the piano in pieces, playing an octave too low. I was strange and estranged. Pasted and cut like Willy Wonka on the boat in the tunnel with chaos and chicken heads.

My pupils expanded over the whites as the world tapered down to something acute, and I heard it scream like a small train in my ears. My shy person grew large, feet crashing through the walls, and I was, as a boy, suddenly tall.

“Little? What is it you feel?”

“High. I feel higher than you.”

“Then you feel just. Right,” said Rand. “Now that you know. You won’t ever feel other than right.”

I watched Jacob produce from powder to spoon, to pilot light to soft solid—from Jamie empty-handed to ripe delivery and out the door again.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because drugs. Aren’t what they used to be. Not two years ago. A habit would’ve landed you in the hood. But now it’s about feeling all right. It’s about accountants and pilots. All right is middle-upper class, and I’m playing God. Lucky you. The messiah at last.”

“Why am I lucky?”

“Because this house is all you need.” Rand scooted the chair so far under the table it poked me in the bladder, and I nearly peed on his lap. “Almost yesterday. Business was dodging bullets in the ghetto. A black neighbourhood is what it took just to smile.”

“Some of my friends are black,” I said.

“The Ronald’s?”

“Yes.” The Ronald’s lived three doors down, their son with whom I’d burned toy soldiers and played a little Nazi.

“He’s a Crystal-Meth man. The father. Not my taste, but still a drug scarce. And now it takes only my son. Or his legs to walk four doors down.” He stared at my giddy display—eyes filling the shoe of a saucer, teeth bearing the pressure of an earthquake in my jaw. “I see you share your father’s taste. His appetite for coke. Keeps me in business.” He cracked his neck on either side and saw his way back up my shirt. “My Little, it’s all about business, about money. We’re all working men and. We keep each other in business.”

With this man’s hand fondling my less than breasts, I couldn’t take the news of my father’s love for blow. I almost laughed and thought how we could use it together now, to hell with family night and Disney movies.

“What are you thinking?”

“What are those words in your door?” I pointed to the foreign phrase chiselled around the glass.

“What sorrow June can bring. It’s Latin.” Rand squinted at the words as if he’d never seen them before. “My wife. She left me because of me. And then. She died because of me.” He lifted the pipe with another dollop of white from the bag. “Cheers.” His mouth like a Hoover, one drag and the stuff was gone.

As if to say, “your turn,” the pipe was again at my lips with its fire and ramifications of “good.”

It was then that my life evaporated. I lost riffraff in transit, and I had no place for the “what” in-between.

“Are you okay?” Jacob asked. I’d forgotten he was there. The sudden interest in my condition made me suspicious.

“I feel nothing, and I feel everything. I want to fly a plane, and I want to go to bed.” It was the truest statement I’d ever make.

Rand bounced me on his knee, as I was on his own, and I enjoyed the attention too much to say.

“Keep this with you,” he said, tucking the bag of soft white and pipe down the front of my panties. “Feel good whenever you can because goodwill never leads you to bad.”

Jacob looked me over with something excruciating eclipsed in his eyes. “Sorry, we didn’t mean for this to happen, he said.” Angst and desperation at once in his voice, I was almost sorry for him.

“Making someone feel good forever. Is no reason for apologies,” said Rand. He held me tighter in his arms like we were a team like we had something in common, and I surrendered to the pull pushing me to please him.

He grabbed my hand as it fidgeted in mid-air and stuck it down the front of his pants, gapping at the waist. A hard lump growing harder and wrapped in soft skin came to rest in my palm. Rand’s eyes averted, and his lids fluttered a song. “You want to make me happy. Don’t you, Little?”

I nodded.

“Maybe you should come over more often. Run a few errands for me. Do some busywork. Have fun for free.”

Again, I nodded, willing to jump through hoops if he asked. Like a rearview mirror, a piece of my vision clipped Jacob, squirming not so far away. I saw him then as a boy, not a bully, with something to say. Next to the stove, balancing misery and loyalty, his lips parted on the verge of cracking a line both moot and profound. I waited, suspended… nothing, as he dissolved into more of a mouse than me.

“Then it’s a deal.” Rand didn’t ask but insisted.

“Yes, Mr. Johnston. I’d like to help you.”

He sighed in pleasure as I succumbed. “That’s a good girl.”
My body relaxed in no minor victory; I’d passed Big Brother’s induction test. But instead of excitement, I threw magic so as not to cry. Jacob, too, batted the tears away, cooking illicit cocktails and avoiding all contact with me.

Bang! Bang! Just then, there was a not so gentle beating at the front door. Rand’s long-rising excitement fell limp in my hand.

“Open the goddamn door!” a deep voice screamed from outside. Following, a steady series of fists pounding angry enough to get in. My lack of fright surprised me, so did my bored reaction to look up in faith that just wasn’t there. Instead of worrying not to be stopped, I gave my attention to the sky through the glass-laden kitchen. The moon was shallow in its place, shy and still pushing the sundown to sleep in its bed somewhere west. Looking out to the night was like primary art, blue construction paper and the windows, a quick chance at the sea.

After all of it: the crabapples, the concussion and crack, Rand, his proposal, and hand up my shirt. After the sky had blushed navy and the sun burned my shoulders, I lived the course of some number of days at the bargain price of sixty seconds. The sound of the front door shivering on its hinges echoed in the Fourier.

“Jesus Christ,” said Rand. “Jacob put the deadbolt on.” All the noise must’ve sobered him up because his speech went from breaking to battle.
“It’s locked,” Jacob squealed. His face sprinkled with hair and his voice deep for his age, he had a momentary lapse back to puberty.

“Little, you’re special. Remember. Now take cover in the cabinet.” I hopped from Rand’s lap and did as he instructed, taking shelter to the left, under the kitchen sink. I crawled over Jacob’s shoes to get there and hoped he, too, would join me, be Big Brother and protect me. But he didn’t, and neither did Rand. Instead, I listened to their lungs, breathing in panic and sweat, as the intruder bounced the door open and welcomed himself in.

I thought the wicked man never won, but his footsteps were already in the kitchen. Rand and Jacob were faint and hysterical in sound, pacing like nervous fathers because they could do nothing. Neither of them decided which way to go, their feet first facing left, then right and in the meantime touching the floor.

I felt like Anne Frank hiding away as the Germans uncovered my secret in the attic. The chemicals from cleaning solutions filled my eyes up with tears, and the assault of Clorox singed the hairs from my nose.

“You fucked me over,” said the intruder.

The man sounded familiar. But then all of them do. I was desperate to peek through the cabinet, but I was too scared and too high to move. Trying to calm my breathing, I pressed my forehead to the cool wood and listened as all hell broke loose.

“That’s ridiculous,” said Rand.

“That little son of a bitch is running bunk shit. I have a family. I have a kid to think about.” There was a second strange voice. Two intruders, only this one I recognized. It was my father, and I wanted him to take me home on his shoulders, holding my hands with my thighs around his ears.

“This is a mistake,” Rand pleaded.

“Fuck you.” Without missing a beat, four gunshots resounded, each with a racket unexpected and delicate, like bullets fired in shells of fabric softener.

“Where’s the other one? There are three,” said the one who was Dad.
In a struggle, my chest worked harder, harder still and left me lacking the instinct to fuss or feign over life. I smelled my breath consuming space in the cabinet, becoming quick, and I knew it was loud.

“He’s in the cabinet; I can hear him.” Then more rounds were shooting off and bullets parting the cabinet’s wood everywhere, like a hailstorm too close to my head. I felt a sudden sting, then throbbing in my right foot, and I knew it hit me. Hand over mouth, a private shriek, and the agony faded to numb. Eyes closed, almost asleep, the bullets kept coming and like Fort Knox with a short, the sparks rebounded from both sides of the plumbing pipes.

“C’mon, goddamn it, we got’em. Let’s go.” The last words spoken from the intruders before they fled was the last thing I remember besides the pain.

I didn’t budge from the cabinet for at least half an hour. Time somersaulted and went from immobile to a jockey on a purebred with the crowd on his side. It was the aftermath, the sock slurping up shock as my shoe filled with blood. I breathed in an air heavy with death and chemicals, new to both. My eyes and lungs flared wide and coated.
When I felt it safe to surface, the moon was full and careless, spilling the blood of Jacob and Rand like chocolate milk across the kitchen. My mind was a myriad of quick confusion and harshness. Where was my coupon for a childhood free? Where was my mother? Where was the sun in all of this? I couldn’t see that nothing came free. I couldn’t see my mother, her ears covered long ago, or the sun already melted on the floor in the Pacific. I couldn’t see a single sure thing, and wondering if anything true had ever been, I fled the Johnston’s house dragging a grudge and a gimp foot close behind. Dragging my sorry self through two overgrown yards and my bedroom window next door. Life felt of nothing. An atheist, and from apathy came energy.

“Later, I’m busy,” I yelled. My mother called me for dinner, and I was without concern. I crouched in the corner of my closet, chin over knees, trying to quiet my crash and cries. When too much became too much, I poked around in my panties until I found the bag of happy white Rand had given me for later. Jackpot. I felt myself a fruitful slot machine, the glass pipe and plastic bag of jewels secure where he’d left them, warm and riding up a goosy spot between my legs. I traced the procedure from memory, scooping a speck of white from the bag onto the tip of the pipe. Like a teapot, my head screamed an excitement enough to implode, and my heart sped from fast to eager to borderline attack. Sweat dribbled like drool from my neck, over my stomach, and sweat trickled from my palms, almost skipping down my shins.

With glistening hands, I gripped the lighter, leaving skin from my fingertips behind as I struck a flame. Tip pressed to flame; deafness came in spells while listening to the crackle of “good” coming to life in my ears. Things went up for me at last; my arm wore the wall as a bracelet, and I looked fine wearing a necklace of shingles. Life made sense again, the way it did when I sat in Rand’s lap, giddy to please him and first in line to be his daughter. I thought of “Veronica,” plane crashes and his Buddy Holly glasses. Then I thought of my father in shock and cold sweat, scrubbing blood spatters and willing to rid the Johnston’s from his clothes in the laundry room just below. I thought of the second voice, of it belonging to the father of the boy who lived three doors down. It came as a natural shock for the four of us to fit; the boy and I were ruthless in our private Nazi parties for two; my father and Mr. Ronald were secret partners in crime. Though I never knew them to mingle more than the mandatory neighbour “hello,” their fate together was inevitable or even sensible in a perverse light. They were strangers. They were star-crossed lovers.

These things happen, I suppose, just a nasty part of the business.
Looking down where I sat a small girl, I joined the mile-high club alone and got my thrills as an eye on the forehead of the Jolly Green Giant. I found it easy to disregard the death of my foot, the bullet still there many years later.

There was beauty in being a child—a subject strong enough to carry its own. However, being eight years old and addicted to drugs was an idea I remember like a spilled box of Crayola: too stimulating and too much of a mess to make right again. Nothing was so impressive anymore. After all, how can a chocolate bar or a pet goldfish compare to a nice fat blast of crack?

In the closet’s corner, high and chipping teeth, I appreciated the stout lapse of time to sling me from recess to rock in one afternoon. I swam around the exclusive little world milling about in my mind, debating everything and nothing at once. Ringlets of smoke swivelled over my head, and for the first time, I accepted the proposal of “clear” being a colour and “odourless” defining a smell. I wondered if I, too, would kill for a piece of the good. Anyway, what was good, and was it all that good?


With that, I closed my eyes for the pleasant ride and concentrated on the crabapple bump pulsing in the back of my skull. This was where I left myself, in this evening, to dissolve. And I felt a slow eradicating as I took off without my body. Much relief came in forgetting, so I forgot it all, and that was that. I cleaned house, ridding myself of Jamie, ridding myself of me. After all, family buried Jamie as a lone survivor. After all, Jamie was of the forgettable, forgotten by even death’s articulate swoop.

Good riddance.

Although somewhere in the world, it’s Jamie who catches me still, never forgetting, and it’s Jamie who catches me still on the run.

Brooke Waitslives in the US, just outside of Dallas, TX. She recently took on creative writing full-time. Crabapples was published in 2010 by Mobius: A Journal of Social Change. She’s currently writing her first novel for publication.

Ascendency, or a Story of Pineapples

By Chloe Bourdon

Sitting primly on the mahogany side table was the symbol of man’s greatest achievement: a pineapple. Its green crown rose crisply from the oval body. Each lobe was golden and precise in its anatomy. Beyond being an absolute triumph of tropical agriculture, it was arranged delicately and in the best of taste on the dark side table. Framing it was two silver-gilt candlesticks. Other than these three objects, the table was naked. A mirror hung on the wall directly behind the pineapple. The effect was thus that the viewers were blessed with a double-vision of the fruit. 

Standing in tasteful proximity to this arrangement was Paul Beaujolais. He had chosen his position to make the presence of the pineapple seem like a casual decoration at his birthday celebration, yet close enough that his guests would make no mistake in his association with it. As he stood, he looked at his guests and his pineapple alike with a wide-eyed stare that left a ring of white visible above his irises. The effect was a look of slight Mad Hatter-esqe insanity. Despite his relative youth, his dirty blonde hair was stiff and stood out above his ears in defiance of his earnest attempts to oil it close to his skull. 

Around him, ladies milled in silk skirts that whispered as they brushed against the floor and each other. Paul was pleased to see that all of his guests had dressed in the best of taste. No obnoxious colours or risqué necklines. The year was 1865, for God’s sake! The prudishness of the past was forgotten, and the audacity of the future was yet to come. As such, a little claret was appropriate, and the guests nursed glasses full of the blushing liquid. The men stood in proud groups around the periphery of the room, eyeing the shy women. The overall tone was that of a sparrow singing on a spring morning, one of promise. 

The sparrows had not always sung for Paul Beaujolais. Named for a Christian man and the orphanage’s mistress’s favourite bottle of wine, he had started life as a random spit of a boy. Despite the hard-won luxury now surrounding him, he could not help but think back to that time and its crippling sense of poverty, and therefore, inadequacy. 

In 1848, he had been living in St. Mary’s Orphanage, down on S—– Street in London. 

“Paul!” The screech of his headmistress echoed through his memory. He became lost in a reverie, remembering the sound of the switch cracking across his knuckles. “Paul, you must pay attention! You are too old for doodling. Pay attention, or next time the switch will find your head.” London, at that time, was still bursting at the seams from the explosion of innovation that had taken the world by a storm. That was how Paul ended up behind a desk in an orphanage instead of playing in a meadow, or more realistically, herding some sheep. Like many similar youngsters, he was being bred to run the machines that had taken the jobs of their parents (even though Paul had no parents). The world had outgrown shepherds and playtime. In this day and age, the price of being alive was tuberculosis and fingernails grey with the grime of machinery. 

Paul slowly looked up from his drab paper and stubby pencil to the red welt across his hand. He had merely been drawing a creek and a bridge. This math is too easy, he thought. What else am I supposed to do?

“Paul Beaujolais, I can see that look in your eyes. You may not know it, but God must have some purpose in mind for you that I could never”, she paused to cough, “divine. How else would I get so lucky as to educate you when you should instead be in the factories? Do you know that your peers are begging on the streets with toes so cold that they fall off into the gutter?”

“Yes, madame.” The switch whistled through the air and landed on the knuckles of his opposite hand. He flinched, and his face blushed in shame. Stupid, he thought. Stupid, stupid Paul. Under the desk, where he had hidden his abused hand, he pinched and twisted the skin on his legs. 

“Remember that. You were given a future. You are currently wasting it.” With that, the headmistress turned around and returned to the front of the classroom. The heavy black material girding her from neck to ankle looked suffocating. Maybe she can’t breathe, and that is why I can never please her, mused Paul. He bent his head down and tried harder not to draw attention to himself. And that is how he would have to continue for five more years until he got a job as a grocer. Then he would be in control of his life. Then he would be good enough. 

The headmistress frowned at his bowed head. She bent to her work, switch momentarily retired. 

Paul shook his head and returned to the present. He was pleased to see a group of women ask for more claret and then casually saunter their way in his direction, perhaps to wish him a happy birthday. At the last minute, they diverted to gather ’round the pineapple. He felt prouder than if one of them had walked up and kissed him right on the lips. His eyes bulged with pleasure and hope. 

“Claret, sir?” inquired a servant. 

“Yes, then, go on.” Paul held out his glass. While he was doing so, he saw Amelia Shelby sweep through the doors. In his eagerness, he almost pulled his glass away from the servant before he stopped pouring, which would have resulted in an embarrassing splash. Damn these orphan’s manners, Paul thought to himself carelessly. This thought had tread a well-worn path in his mind, eventually becoming so familiar that he didn’t even notice it anymore. Amelia was handing her cloak to another servant. Afraid of appearing too eager, Paul stayed where he was. His eagerness to talk to her was betrayed by the fact that he was standing almost on his toes to watch her little golden head bob across the room. 

Her eyes were the exact same shade as the proud crown of the pineapple. She radiated a juicy, sugary, fresh glow. Womanhood had just plucked her from immaturity, which lent her an awkwardness that was endearing to Paul. He loved her chewed fingernails, which he knew from experience had probably earned her more than one whipping. He looked down at his own masticated digits ruefully. This flaw, which he had noticed second only to her beauty when he bent down to kiss her hand for the very first time, had stolen his heart. 

He inched closer to the pineapple. When he rented the pineapple from that suspicious Scot, he had not failed to notice that its leaves matched her eyes. Her father, the factory manager that oversaw canned herring from Norway, would surely be impressed by the pineapple. After all, no poor man would have such a symbol of wealth sitting on his side table for all to see! Momentarily, Paul’s gorge rose when he considered the cost of his party, which had almost emptied his pockets completely. The feeling quickly dissipated as he glanced back at the pineapple; he felt a glow in his stomach spread up to warm his cheeks, and he did not think that it was the claret. 

“As a necessary precaution, Caleb took down Paul’s address…”

Two weeks earlier and hundreds of miles north, Caleb Fraser rode through the Scottish countryside peacefully. For once, the sun had defeated the clouds and beat down upon him, threatening to burn his fair brow. Miles of land lay at his disposal for the afternoon, and he intended to make the most of it! His tasks included lounging in the prodigious sunshine, drinking ale from his flask, maybe scaring a few kine, taking a nap, and galloping recklessly through the brush and trees. He sighed contentedly at his prospects. As he imagined it, so he carried it out. 

As he rode back into the outskirts of Edinburgh, he saw the smoke billows that indicated that the train had just arrived. Curious to see what wonders it had brought this time—Caleb had a healthy sense of wonder—he hurried to the outskirts of the city and tied up his horse. Walking quickly, but not hurriedly, he made his way across the cobblestones and mud to the new train station. Some passengers had already disembarked, but more than half were still stretching and working their way off this modern wonder of engineering. From London in less than a day! Caleb hoped to make this journey himself soon. 

He smirked at the people that climbed out of the carriages. Well off enough, he supposed, but certainly no Fraser. Caleb did not fail to notice the dirt on the hems of the ladies’ skirts, a sign that they had worn them many times before. Their poverty made them weak, and this weakness disgusted him. 

He noticed a beggar slumped against a wall a few buildings away. Caleb thought, a beggar is less revolting than the middle class because they do not have any dreams or presumptions. They are at home in their filth. But God above! Look at this lady! 

During this thought, he had given his hand to a middle-aged, tubby woman struggling off of the train. He smiled as he noted the scars on her hands and wrinkles between her eyebrows. 

He decided that she was vile. He wanted to push her to the ground but instead finished helping her off the train and safely onto the platform. 

Caleb wandered down the train, hands clasped behind his back, smiling benevolently on all who passed him. The onlookers were impressed with the quality of wool that bedecked his body. The ribbon in his hair was new, and its dark blue colour highlighted the porcelain white of his cheeks and the gold in his hair. 

With no warning, Caleb froze. Off the last carriage came a cart, filled to the brim with odd plants that Caleb had never seen before in his entire privileged life. 

Manipulating the cart was a man who was not so big but had such an aura of command and Success that Caleb instantly respected him wholeheartedly. Not only did he respect him, but he wanted to be him. He held himself erect and pushed his large cart with precision. With a boldness bordering on petulance, Caleb walked up to this man confidently. 

“Good day there, sir! Can I offer you some assistance?” Caleb asked. The man looked him up and down, an exercise that Caleb adored. Let him see my finery, Caleb thought. It cannot fail but to impress him. In response, the man shrugged and moved over so that Caleb could fit beside him on the cart. Eagerly, Caleb put his hands on his side of the cart and pushed. “Just lead the way, sir! I will make sure that I will not slow you down.” This proclamation hardly merited a response from the stranger. Instead, he began the process of moving the cart down the street. 

“If I may ask, what are these strange fruits that you have here?” Unable to stand his own curiosity, Caleb asked the question minutes after they had moved off the platform. 

“Pineapples, sir. From the Indies,” the stranger said, finally breaking his silence. He had a Cockney accent that had been polished by time evidently spent hawking his wares in London. 

“Do you eat them?” Caleb inquired further. 

“’ Course. Very sweet. So sweet they ‘urt your tongue.” At this, the stranger stopped in front of a nondescript close. “I stop ‘ere. Thank’ee for the help.”

“Wait,” Caleb cried before the stranger even turned to walk away. “I’ll buy a few. Two. No, let me think,” as he paused for barely a heartbeat. “Three. Give me three, fellow.” The stranger shrugged again and sold him the fruit. Without another word, he rumbled down the close into the twisting alleys that so characterize central Edinburgh. Arms filled with his prickly prize, Caleb gaily made his way home. 

A mere moment after he had opened the glass-paned door of his home, Emma Fraser, his young sister, ran up to him, yapping like a dog. He dodged her hugs and questions adroitly, as this was a maneuver he repeated most days of the week. As he started down the hall, having successfully pushed her to the side, he threw a lazy word behind him in answer to her inquiries: “A pineapple! That’s what it is, pup!” 

He took the fruit to the kitchen, successfully bewildering all of the servants. In fact, there was such confusion that he enlisted the help of his mother. 

The loud-mouthed Lady Fraser made her way down the stairs into the kitchen with blistering energy; the sullen clouds of Scotland only fueled the fire that drove Lady Fraser to extremes of activity, claiming that ‘rain is merely a hodgepodge of the tears of the unproductive.’ Much of her focus was dedicated to reading, a habit characterized by her peculiar habit of ceaselessly bouncing her leg as she studied her books. 

Before Caleb could open his mouth, she cried, “Oh, a pineapple!” He shut his mouth in surprise and bitterness. The presumption that he would be the only one familiar with this rarity had entertained him the whole way home, even eliciting a few private giggles. “Well then, cut off the crown and the rest of the green stuff. Serve us the yellow in a bowl. What a nice decoration the other ones will make! They are quite in vogue right now, you’ve heard. Very welcoming, they say.”

As it happens, the information that Lady Fraser was at that moment disseminating was also in the hands of Paul Beaujolais. After a long day at the artisanal grocery store that Paul was running for an ageing gentleman, Miles south, Paul encountered the very same information. In order to take his mind off Amelia, whom he had recently met, and to shake the mental cobwebs of rare spice receipts and the antics of his young assistant, he turned to a popular novel about a famed adventuress. In all her descriptions of wondrous things like cannibals and shipwrecks, the pineapple stood out to Paul for two reasons. First of all, he could sell it in his store. And secondly, more profoundly, it was a symbol of all that he hoped to achieve. It was a splint to all in him that he found broken. His wretchedness, his orphanage past, his aspirations for the future. His fear of Amelia’s father. In the firelight, Paul decided that to have a pineapple was to be a man.

The book in question was—true to Lady Fraser’s proclamation—in vogue. A pineapple frenzy took the nation by a storm. The elitist presumptions that a pineapple granted its owner confirmed Paul’s first impression; that to have a pineapple was to finally grasp Success, that elusive fox. The green leaves became the crown of the bourgeois domestic. Let it be said for Paul that his instinct for market trends was quite accurate. Due to the difficulty in harvesting and importing the illustrious fruit to England, its presence on a side table indicated affluence. 

The book grasped firmly in his hand, Paul saw the entire narrative take form. He would acquire a pineapple—just one; but oh, how it would be the best pineapple in all the land!—and he would put it on his table. Maybe put a candlestick or two on it. Then he would have a party and invite the Shelby’s. Conveniently, his birthday was just around the corner. Amelia would walk in, swoon into his arms. While he was holding her, Amelia’s father would shake his hand and declare their engagement.

Meanwhile, all of his guests would be impressed with his Success and perhaps even be intimidated by his luxury. Then, once they all realized that to have a pineapple was the pinnacle of human achievement, they would rush to his store to buy the golden fruit. A small smile grew on Paul’s face, and he rose to his toes. His eyes bulged with the thrill of a perfect plan. An unsuspecting servant was wrangled into his study and pummeled with talk of his plan for the better part of an hour. 

Caleb sampled the pineapple that evening, surrounded by the delighted cries of his family, and was rather disappointed. At first, the sharp flavour shocked him. It seemed sweet enough to cut right through his tongue. In fact, Caleb feared the flavour—he was uncertain that the thin, fleshy wall of his cheek could contain such a sensation. But pain sometimes joins with pleasure, and his shock prompted him to finish his bowl. Only then did his mouth, born into a land of fried fish and boiled peas, make known its opinion of this new food. Sores opened on his tongue so that he could consume nothing but water for a day and a night. Astonishingly ill-adapted to pain, Caleb found himself permanently in scorn of the bright treat. 

“Mother,” he began the day after the pineapple incident. “I have bought three pineapples but find myself disliking them. You know, though, that I cannot afford to simply throw the extra two away. I dare not waste money so willfully when some are going hungry.” Lady Fraser rolled her eyes at this lofty statement because she knew that it was the fruit of her husband’s purse that had purchased the ill-received treat. “Mother, what do I do?”

“Well, dear, why not sell them again? They probably have another week or so before they go bad. Aren’t you taking your maiden voyage to London on the train? Take them to your friends. The train makes the ride so short that you’ll be just fine.”

Caleb, by his silence, indicated that this plan was the best one he had encountered so far. 

“I’ll have one of the maids get you a special crate. Maybe one that used to hold apples. How will that work, hmm?” Lady Fraser already knew the answer, but she went through the motions of helping her son nonetheless. 

“That’ll do fine. I will sell them in London. We aren’t so savage as they may think!” Caleb remarked. In fact, the thought of flaunting his wealth to the stunted middle-class of London took hold of his mind. That class was so easy to bully. Their desire to belong meant that they followed the slightest suggestion of what may be fashionable and were therefore considerably easier to manipulate than the population of Caleb’s own class. The thought of Up, Up, Up distracted them from those that might take them down. The corners of Caleb’s mouth tightened into a curiously cold smile. 

Two days later, Paul encountered Caleb. Near London Bridge, headed towards Winchester Abbey, Paul had been walking with his hands behind his back. So absorbed was he in thoughts of his upcoming party that he failed to notice that the wind had taken command of his hair and was blowing it hither and thither. In fact, he looked a bit like a tufted dandelion. With the wind tickling his ears and his hair whispering, it is surprising that he heard the faint call at all. 

“Pineapples! I have only two! Rich as the setting sun and bright as it too! Pineapples!” Of course, it was Caleb’s voice that floated on the breeze. Perhaps it was even fate that bore his call into Paul’s ears. A twist of fate is the only explanation for why a dignity such as Caleb has been hawking wares on the street like an urchin.

Paul, on his part, froze comically with one foot in the air. At first, he thought that he had been thinking about his birthday party with such concentration that he had merely heard his own thoughts. 

Faintly, still frozen, he heard, “Pineapples!” from directly ahead, at the base of Big Ben. He put down his hovering foot with startling speed and hurried up the street. This motion, of course, blew his hair into even more of a flurry. His urgency caused his eyes to widen, exposing that strip of white so characteristic of passion and obsession. 

On the slippery cobblestones, there stood Caleb with a pineapple in each hand, like a picture of Justice herself. To his credit, he had selected two beautiful fruits. They contrasted with the grey of the sky, the grey of his coat, and the grey of the street beneath his feet. In fact, they were so bright that they were nearly blinding. Paul was so dazzled that he did not notice that no one around him gave Caleb a second glance. Hypnotized by their beauty into a sort of tunnel vision, Paul saw spectres of Success, romance, and riches etched onto their prickly skin. 

Caleb saw Paul hundreds of feet before Paul reached him. Bully that Caleb was, he knew a victim when he saw one. Though unwilling to learn in most ways, Caleb’s enthusiasm for the art of deception helped him to formulate an immediate plan. He thought I will not sell this pineapple to this pathetic man. He must rent it from me, and I’ll more than make back what I spent. He is so poor, so middle-class, that he could not buy it for what I paid for it, anyway. He’ll never be suspicious. Caleb observed how Paul nearly got hit by a passing carriage without even looking at it. Fool, he thought. 

“You, fine sir!” Caleb yelled at Paul. “Are you interested in renting this exquisite fruit with which to decorate your home?” The question was merely an exercise in redundancy, as Paul was practically slavering over the fruits as he finally arrived beneath the tower. At the last minute, he pulled himself together. 

“Well, yes. But what is the price?”

“Are you a man of quality? Can I trust you with my treasure?” Caleb drew the fruit closer to himself as if he were holding his first-born child. 

“Yes, of course, man. What is the price?” Paul was unconsciously wringing his fingers, and his eyes were bulging so comically that Caleb almost laughed in his revulsion. 

“You do seem like a man of quality. I trusted you the minute I saw you walking down the street. I think that I will deign to rent it to you, how about that?” 

Paul smiled, for he could not have hoped for such good news. “Yes, my fellow, that will be just fine.” 

“Good! We men of quality need to stick together in this strange world.” Caleb raised his shoulder in a friendly shrug that may have even led to a friendly back slap if his disgust at Paul’s tufted hair were not so complete. On the other hand, Paul flushed with pleasure at Caleb’s indication that they stood on equal gentlemanly ground. They exchanged the money and the precious fruit, agreeing to meet back at the same place in four days’ time. As a necessary precaution, Caleb took down Paul’s address. Amid hearty farewells, the two separated. 

“I wonder,” said the old man, narrowing his eyes slyly, “if it tastes as good as it looks.”

Amelia’s golden head, accompanied by her father’s grey one, had finally made their way across to the room to where Paul stood. He saw her father’s eyes flick to the pineapple, watched his bushy eyebrows raise, and exulted. He had impressed the old man.

As usual, he shook his hand and then bent over to kiss Amelia’s chewed nails.

“Welcome! Shall I call over some claret?” Paul bounced up onto his toes to look for a servant, one of which was directly behind his elbow. He turned quickly, almost upsetting the entire tray, before waving his hand towards his two distinguished guests. “There you go then, hand them the brightest glasses we’ve got.” Indeed, in Amelia’s hands, the claret looked like a perfect rose-hued diamond.

“Son, I see you’ve got that fruit, the… ah… willow-pear?”

“The pineapple, sir!”

“Of course,” Mr. Shelby conceded, “A pineapple.” Amelia looked sharply at her father, detecting a suspicious tone that Paul was too excited to notice.
“Straight from the Indies, sir!” Amelia’s eyes widened at being in the presence of such an exotic item, let alone under the beam of Paul’s glittering eyes.

“From a beach?” she asked. “With white sand? Not gray like ours, but white like driven snow?”

“From a beach with sand as white as your own brow, my dear,” Paul rejoined. Both Paul and Amelia blushed charmingly as Mr. Shelby looked on.

“Quite the accomplishment, my young man.”

“I am pleased to hear you say so, sir!” Paul was hyper with joy at the thought that his attempts to impress Mr. Shelby had worked so easily.

“I wonder,” said the old man, narrowing his eyes slyly, “if it tastes as good as it looks.”

More from Goat’s Milk Magazine

“Well, Mother, you’ll be pleased to know that I moved the goods on. For a tidy profit, too,” Caleb announced at dinner the evening that he arrived back to the Fraser Mansion from his trip to London. 

“Oh? And I’ll thank you for leaving that tidy profit in my purse tonight, yes?” His mother replied though she knew her son well enough to understand that she would never see a penny. Caleb concealed his flush of irritation clumsily, and she experienced a flash of that perverse joy that mothers experience from getting the best of their children. 

“Of course. I’ll do that right after dinner.” The sum had actually paid for a ticket to a show to see dancing girls from Amsterdam and no less than five pints of beer. In fact, Caleb already had plans for the remaining amount that that idiot Paul Baudelaire or Bourdain or whatever his name was. That man was revolting from his frizzy, dull hair to his skinny, grasping hands. Caleb had imagined whacking him across the face with the pineapple—imagine the red scratches and dripping blood that would be the result of the spiky skin raking across flesh—but instead decided to steal his money. My better nature always wins out; Caleb had thought glumly as his spindly prey walked away. 

But hope was not yet lost. If the idiot damaged the fruit, as Caleb suspected Paul might, then there was no shadow that Paul could crawl into to hide from the wrath of Caleb. The scheming Scot smiled into his pudding, a smile which gave his mother a very bad feeling indeed. 

“Paul was eager to distract himself from his situation—the impending awkward conversation…”

“Mr. Shelby, I must confess that I don’t know how the pineapple tastes. This is the first of the fruit that I have ever laid hands-on.” Paul had sunken from the balls of his feet firmly back onto his heels. “To tell the truth, I don’t think I should like it.” He didn’t want to admit that he would not even know how to instruct the servants to serve it. “And anyway, it’s been in this warm room all day.”

“No, I insist! A fruit that bright must have a wonderful flavour. Its spikes are all the more proof that it has treasure for its flesh. Let’s dig in.” Mr. Shelby reached authoritatively for the fruit.

“No!” Paul moved his arm quickly as if to knock Mr. Shelby aside but controlled the impulse at the last minute. “Sir, I am afraid that we cannot eat the pineapple.”

“Why shouldn’t we?” Amelia inquired. The Shelby’s were rich from the canned herring trade, and a fruit that was utterly forbidden was a foreign concept in her mind. “You aren’t teasing us, are you, Paul?”

“No, most certainly not! But the fellow I bought this from, a most distinguished gentleman from Edinburgh, told me quite firmly that it was not ripe.”

“Let’s poke it. If it gives a little, we will know that it’s ripe,” suggested Mr. Shelby. Before Paul could dissuade them again, Mr. Shelby gave the fruit a hard prod with the calloused tip of his finger. “There you go! The flesh inside is quite ripe, I assure you.”

By this time, the attention of most of the party was turned toward Paul and the Shelby’s. Inquisitive eyes darted between the object in question and the involved participants. Paul, who mistakenly thought himself in control of the situation, clearly and unknowingly displayed his agitation by wringing his pale fingers.

“What if someone is allergic?” he asked. His voice was noticeably higher in pitch than only a moment before.

Aware of the attention of the room at large, Mr. Shelby turned to face the crowd and asked, “Is anyone allergic?” Nobody raised their hands. The whites of Paul’s eyes began to show as his eyes bulged ever and ever further out of their sockets. “Well then, that’s that. You, maid, take this to the kitchen. I read that you cut off the horny bits and slice the yellow flesh beneath. Bring it to us in a bowl, directly.” The maid curtsied, grasped the strange fruit hesitatingly, and dashed it into the kitchens.

“Yes, go on now, dear, cut that up for us!” Paul called to her, already disappearing back. In an effort to maintain control of the situation, he turned to the crowd. He announced that his surprise for the evening would be that everyone would get to try a piece of this mysterious fruit from the Indies. “I have been considering it for quite some time, and I believe that merely looking at the fruit is not enough. We must taste it, yes?” There were some confused murmurs from the crowd. “And so we will!”

Only a moment after this statement, the maid returned with her laden bowl. Skirts rustled as the ladies bent in to get their taste. The men waited skeptically behind but eventually received their portion. Soft exclamations sounded around the room. Mr. Shelby said, “It is delightful!” and Amelia followed this with a satisfied sigh. In fact, she refused to eat anything for the rest of the night so that she could preserve this taste of white sand beaches in the Indies. Paul was eager to distract himself from his situation—the impending awkward conversation where he would have to tell Caleb Fraser that his wares were in the bellies of Paul’s guests—by reaching into the bowl with his silver fork.

Lo and behold, the guests had eaten every bit of his beloved fruit.

“At their entrance, she threw herself around in a panic, shifting the table back and forth…”

The next day, Caleb took the train into London once more. If he hadn’t had other business in that huge city, he would not have bothered Paul. But as it was, it would brighten up a dull afternoon.

As arranged, the two wayfarers met at the base of the clocktower. This time, instead of bouncing up to Caleb as he had before, Paul dragged his feet. His eyes studied the ground, and he held his hands rigidly behind his back. Only his sense of honesty, inherited from the switch-happy nuns, compelled him to return. All in all, he looked like a guilty child, which, of course, was an arena in which he had much experience. The juxtaposition of his greying hair and his juvenile posture was odd, and Caleb found it irritated him.

“Well?” he asked.

“Sir. I have the rest of my rent. Here it is for you.” Without looking up, Paul held out his hand with the money for the pineapple. Caleb took the money from his hand, and Paul turned to go.

“Wait! Where is the fruit?” Caleb called. Paul paused.

“It is gone.” He moved to continue his slow walk away.

“Gone! You there!” Paul stopped walking once more. “Don’t you walk away from me? You have stolen my pineapple!”

“I have paid you for the rest of my lease.”

“There is a penalty for the misplacement of the fruit.” If Paul had been watching Caleb as he spoke, he would see an odd gleam in the Scot’s squinting eyes. “I require triple the price of the lease.” The news landed on Paul’s ears so forcefully that he whirled around and nearly lost his balance.

“I cannot!” Paul exclaimed.

“But alas, you must.” Caleb rejoined in mock formality. “I have a team of rough men who will come for you if you do not. They shall; I will make sure of it.” Paul’s mouth hung open, and he stood there mute. “Remember, man, I know where you live.”

Without another word, Paul turned and ran. Caleb smiled.

“I am glad that you have run, Paul Boreaux. Now give me a merry chase.”

Caleb turned on his heel and quickly walked to the bar where he knew his friends would be within the hour for their afternoon libations. Made bold by the liquid courage in their cups, the group of pale, slim students left the pub to pay a visit at the ill-fated house on T—– Avenue.

Bursting with energy and hope that Paul would try to jump out of a window or something thrilling of the sort, the privileged group knocked raucously on his door. They shouted insults regarding his wealth, stature, and sexual appeal; that is, they taunted him for having none of the aforementioned. Taunts that elicit no response are hardly satisfying, however.

Lubricated with a strength belying their small bodies, the students threw themselves against the door until it opened.

“Forward, comrades!” Caleb shouted.

Together, they surged into the entryway. Upstairs, they heard a frantic scramble. With their blood on fire, they moved up the stairs, growling in impatience to both witness and dispense violence. Caleb led the group, crowing as he knocked pictures from the wall. Halfway down the hallway, he became so inspired by the mayhem that he drew a small knife from his boot and carved a crooked run down the length of the rest of the hallway. In the end, he gestured for his friends to quiet. They all listened carefully and were almost immediately gratified by a thumping in the door at the end, directly to Caleb’s right.

He grinned with the same expression that had inspired such uneasiness in his mother. Perhaps one or two of the students, raised on warm milk and nursery rhymes, felt hesitation at this time. If so, they only had a moment to question their decision to join Caleb’s quest.

Silently, Caleb put his hand on the door handle. At the same time, he put his shoulder on the door in anticipation of resistance. The group looked on. He nodded and received a unanimous nod in return. He pushed his shoulder into the door and turned the handle at the same time.

Inside, a cat—named Mary, though Caleb would never know her name—crouched angrily across the room, tethered to the leg of an upturned side table.

At their entrance, she threw herself around in a panic, shifting the table back and forth, thereby creating a thumping sound identical to that which had led them to this room.

“Paul scampered from all he had known, not in fear but in shame. He was right to be frightened of Caleb…”

Paul, by that point, was long gone. Hours before, he had realized that he could never make a place for himself in a world that would forever see him as the orphan—and a coward—that he was. A patchwork of bruises across the flesh of his legs, wrought by his anxious fingers, stood witness to the nature of his thoughts. Filled with the knowledge of his own inadequacy and fueled by the ever-present inferno of shame, he slunk through the poorer streets of London that Caleb Fraser would never penetrate. Tucked in a sack and thrown over his shoulder were a few of his most treasured possessions and a bit of money that would have gone to cover the expense of the pineapple. It was little enough.

He felt rotten about leaving poor Mary to the mercy of his hunters. Still, He consoled himself with the thought that no one would torture such an innocent creature. She would be released by his bewildered servants, who would show up the next day to an empty house. From there, he liked to think that she would live a happy feline life, such as he could not give her, hunting mice and exploring Kensington Garden.

He had left an envelope on a desk, a letter saying that all his belongings were to go to his dear almost-betrothed, Amelia Shelby. While he was writing it, he nearly broke his own heart with the romance and sincerity that he poured onto the paper. He did shed a tear, in fact, thinking of her devastation when she learned that he had been called away suddenly to serve in Her Majesty’s Royal Army as a colonel. He would likely never return. War is like that, sometimes. He also left some to St. Mary’s Orphanage, but when he was writing the letter, he found himself doodling on the margins, which helped him recall his lashings. Still, the nuns had given him a home.

Paul scampered from all he had known, not in fear but in shame. He was right to be frightened of Caleb. Still, by running, he had forfeited the opportunity to stand for something, for anything.

In his flight, he resembled nothing so much as a dandelion in the wind—tumbling freely in currents outside of his control, dropping fragments of himself here and there, and utterly, heartbreakingly fragile.

Chloe Bourdon earned her bachelor’s degree in English from Colorado Mesa University. She is currently earning her master’s degree in Teaching English as a Second Language at Northern Arizona University. In her spare time, she loves to write, read, rock climb, and travel. More of her writing is featured on her Tumblr.