by Elizabeth Kent
by Elizabeth Kent
This story is a response to an exercise we did on the A-Slash where we describe a setting through two different characters' points of view. This scene takes place in the living room of Carrie and Jess Hicks in In Plane Sight.
Chicken soup. I thought that's what I smelled. Smells like home. We had soup nearly every Sunday growing up. Stone soup, Father Maghill called it. All the leftovers from the week were thrown in a big pot whether they were ever meant to go together or not. Sometimes there'd be a few extra ingredients that some parishoner or other had brought to services with them on Sunday. Never their best stuff, of course. We got the squash with the dings and the soft spots, the tomatoes that were past their prime, the smallest, most misshapen ears of corn. Sometimes after you cut out the rotten parts, there was more of the vegetable in the sink than in the soup pot. But we made do. "Be grateful for the kindness of those who don't have to be kind," Father Maghill would say when we complained. "'Tis better than going hungry."
Which it was. But it also led to one inescapable culinary conclusion that every orphan knows: soup is for poor people.
The room we're sitting in is crowded with furniture, almost too much for the room. There are a few nice pieces: a massive armoire, a china hutch, a big sideboard with a silver coffee service so highly polished I could use it to shave. Several of the furniture pieces show signs of repair. I can see the left-hand door on the armoir has had the hinges replaced more than once. There's a crack running along the marble top of the sideboard. They've tried to hide it with a dresser scarf, but I can still see it where the crack takes a sudden jog toward the back of the piece. Everywhere I look, I see signs of age and wear.
Carrie and Jess Hicks don't look well-enough off to have bought all these pieces even when they were in mint condition. Maybe they inherited them. I know about that, too. People leaving behind furniture and items they don't want anymore, giving you the rickety tables and chairs and the sofas with only three legs so you had to break off the three remaining legs to keep it from tipping. Some old stuff is antique, but some of it is just plain old. Old and broken down and not worth keeping, given away like unwanted children.
The upholstered pieces here are a little more suited to these people. A little frayed around the edges, a little old-fashioned. Comfortable, kind of lumpy. I bet Mr. Hicks has spent every night for the last forty years sitting in that flowered chair wishing it was leather but smiling inside because Mrs. Hicks thinks it's so pretty. The sheers over the windows are sweet, but I can tell they're homemade. The hem's a little uneven there on the left, and the two panels aren't exactly the same length. The roller shades behind them are definitely discount store quality.
Everything else is a little worn and old-fashioned, too. The plates on the wall are pretty, but only a few of `em are real china. Same for the cups and pitchers on that cup rack. Looks like they might have had a full set of china at one time, maybe from when they got married. I suppose pieces get broken over time, and they probably couldn't afford to replace them. And two entire wall racks devoted to spoons? Who collects spoons except someone who can't afford anything else?
Good grief, a couple of those mugs are gas-station giveaways from at least twenty years ago. Is that a toaster oven over there by the table? It is! An old one at that.
I knew it. I told Hannibal. People like this can't afford us. Not people who have to eat soup. Not people who have to hide the broken and worn spots on their furniture instead of replacing it.
We're gonna get stiffed!
Shouldn't be eatin' soup on this nice couch. Hope the fool don't spill his all over the upholstery. `Least nobody's bleedin'. Yet.
Man, this lady's got a lot of stuff. My mama never had dishes hangin' on the wall. They was always in the sink bein'washed, in the dish drainer waitin' to be dried, or shut up in the cupboard to keep the roaches off `em. Looks real pretty, though. Now that Mama's got a nicer place, mebbe she can put up some plates. Yeah. I'll buy her somethin' pretty. Somethin' quality. I'll get her somethin' blue. She likes blue.
Mm. Soup's pretty good. Not as good as Grandma's, but pretty good. Grandma's soup always had mustard greens in it, and what she call her special Georgia spice. Mama used to laugh at that, and it wasn't till I was grown I found out her Georgia spice was a bottle of beer.
Lady's got two spoon racks on the wall. Two! I ain't never seen so many spoons outside a restaurant in my life. Who collects spoons, anyway? What a waste, `specially if you don't eat off `em. Couple of `em are kinda pretty, though. Bet I could turn `em into spoon rings, and they'd look real nice.
Face is lookin' at the furniture like he gettin' ready to sell it. Bet his figurin' up how much he could get for each one and decidin' if these folks'll be able to pay us or not. There's more furniture in this room than there was in my entire apartment building when I was growin' up. Even the junk man that collected all the rich people's castoffs didn't have this much stuff.
Mama had a china cabinet just like this one. I wanted her to get rid of it and get something new, especially after I started workin' and brought home a little money so we could afford more than just food and utilities. "Get yourself a nice cupboard," I told her. "Get something pretty and new."
But Mama just shook her head. "That china cabinet belonged to your grandma and was made by your great-granddaddy for her wedding day. He was the best cabinet-maker in Atlanta, and he made this cabinet in his own little workshop that he set up just after the Civil War." She ran her hand along the edge of the door and fingered the rusty hinge that made the door hard to open. "Don't matter if something's a little worn or old," she said. "What matters is the pride that went into this piece, the pride of a man who isn't a slave any longer, who works all day long and then keeps working late into the night to make the finest piece he's ever made for his only daughter so she can take it with her up north and use it in her own home. Her own home, Scooter, not some shack with a dirt floor on some white man's plantation. You don't get rid of something like that, something so full of love and pride and hope. You can always buy furniture, baby, but you can't buy history."
I hope we're takin' this job no matter how little these folks can pay. Ain't right them havin' to sell their history even if it is to save their future. There's gotta be a way. And Faceman gonna find it, or I'm gonna pound him.
Please post a comment on this story.