Work In Progress

Dispatches from the Wasteland: Tuna Turner and the Butterbean Queen

Explanatory Note: I’m in the midst of editing short stories for a collection that I hope to publish sometime this century, and the following is a new section that I have added to a multi-part serial that will (maybe?) be in the mix. Enjoy.

“As the Worm Turns”, Scene #37: Corporate breakroom, Tulsa, circa mid-1980s.

  Betty Jo Buckworth is sitting at one of the many round tables, currently alone. She is nibbling in a lackluster manner on her tuna fish sandwich, a creation that she didn’t really want, but it was the only thing she had managed to slap together before fleeing her house, early this morning.   

  Betty Jo had had no desire to still be in the kitchen, concocting something more appetizing, when her husband, Burl, awoke from his drunken, tooting slumber. There had been something of a row the previous night, when Burl arrived home rather late, smelling of bourbon and Brenda, Betty Jo’s trashy cousin. Invectives had been exchanged, an heirloom figurine of a dancing trout had been destroyed, and they had retired to separate sleeping quarters, accompanied by slamming doors.

No, Betty Jo had not relished a replay the morning after. So, tuna fish would have to do.

  Just then, Betty Jo caught a whiff of perfume, which was surprising considered the hefty presence of the tuna fish. And she knew quite well this new scent. It belonged to her best-friend-at-the-moment, Dottie Sue Sourdough. Betty Joe also knew that Dottie Sue bathed in her perfume, Eau de Crapeau, and the preliminary whiff she had detected was merely a harbinger. Dottie Sue herself would not arrive in the breakroom for a good thirty seconds.

  29 seconds later, Dottie Sue clattered through the door, and the intense power of her wafting caused a fern plant on top of the microwave to hurl itself to the floor, convinced as it was that life was not worth waiting for another watering, not if it ever had to smell that again. (Several employees raced out of the room, turning in their resignations as they sped to the front door, never to be seen again. They eventually made their way to California and managed to have lucrative careers in the just emerging personal computer industry, providing yet another example of why running away from Oklahoma is a good thing.)

  Betty Jo didn’t mind the smell, as it was a hair better than her possibly-tainted tuna and far better than bourbon and Brenda. She smiled winningly, hoping that Dottie Sue would choose her table as a destination. (You never knew with Dottie Sue. She had some focus issues, probably the result of that unfortunate threshing-machine mishap that occurred when Dottie Sue was in her senior year of high school, a mysterious development that just so happened to occur when she was running for Butterbean Queen, forcing her to withdraw from the competition. Suffice it to say that some small-town girls will do anything to be queen. Some boys as well.)

  Luckily, Dottie Sue had been taking most of her important meds, so she managed to not have one of her recurring flashback episodes that often resulted in her slapping people who manufacture farm vehicles. She spied Betty Jo’s winning smile, returned one of her own, stepped over the now-dead plant (alas, poor Yorick) and she and her nimbus cloud made their way to Betty Jo’s tuna-fish encampment.

  Dottie Sue, noting the dueling olfactory contingents: “Darlin’, you know I love you, but you’ve got to do something about that sandwich.”

  Betty Jo: “Done.” (She hurled said sandwich in the direction of a distant table, around which were seated several new hires, quivering in fear and questioning why they had bothered with going to college. The sandwich missed them entirely, despite the over-dramatic screams that many young people emit because they haven’t yet learned to sublimate their rage and simply be happy that they have a job. The sandwich slammed into a wall and stuck there, a crusty-bread example of most careers in corporate America.)

  Dottie Sue: “That’s so sweet of you!” She pulled out a chair and sat down at the table, with said chair immediately beginning to disintegrate due to the noxious Eau de Dottie. “Now, you are not going to believe what I heard from Belinda Jean Crankshaft in Accounting.”

  Betty Jo: “Honey, you know I trust everything you have to say. More than I trust that waste of a husband I have.”

  Dottie Sue: “I never did understand why you got hitched to him. I tried to tell you.”

  Betty Jo: “He done put a baby in me. I had to do somethin’.”

  Dottie Sue: “Well, there is that. How is Burl Junior doing these days?”

  Betty Jo: “He’s been a handful. He’s got a thing about matches and gasoline.”

  Dottie Sue: “Huh. Well, that sounds like somethin’ that’s gonna take us where I don’t wanna go, so let’s bring it back to me. Belinda Jean said Ernie Don has been sniffin’ around.”

  Betty Jo: “Ernie Don? Ain’t he married and all?”

  Dottie Sue: “That’s what I’m sayin’. And Belinda Jean said that sniffin’ has been goin’ on at one of our stores in north Tulsa, the store over to Admiral and Lewis.”

  Betty Jo: “Admiral and Lewis? That’s a craphole, it is. Why anybody would wanna be around there is beyond me.”

  Dottie Sue: “Oh, it gets better. Belinda Jean says he ain’t been sniffin’ for women.”

  Betty Jo: “Then what is he…. No, you can’t be sayin’ what I think you’re sayin’.”

  Dottie Sue: “I’m sayin’ it. He ain’t lookin’ for no Georgia peaches.”

  Betty Jo: “Well, don’t that beat all. I never woulda thought it.”

  Dottie Sue: “Well, I never woulda thought you’d go on a hayride with that bonehead Burl. I know he was the church choir director and you were just a third-chair soprano who needed a leg up to get a solo, but you didn’t need to raise both of ‘em.”

  Betty Jo paused to consider her options, but then decided, aw, screw it: “Honey, I think you’ve made your point about Burl. And it ain’t like your closet is clean.”

  Dottie Sue: “It’s a might cleaner than yours.”

  Betty Jo: “Oh, is it, now? That’s not what I’ve heard.”

  Dottie Sue: “Well, I never!”

  Betty Jo: “Oh, yes you did. A bunch of times. I don’t know how your kitchen sink doesn’t just fall right out.”

  Dottie Sue’s eyes narrowed. “Look, Betty Ho, I might not have the cleanest closet but at least I have the good sense to take a womanly pill every day and not get trapped singing with the choir director forever.”

  Betty Jo: “I don’t understand how you can take all those pills every day. Do you shove your head in a feed bag?”

  Dottie Sue was done. “I think it’s time that I go find me another friend.”

  Betty Jo: “Get after it. Ain’t nothin’ here stoppin’ you.”

  Dottie Sue stood up in a huff (her nimbus followed three seconds later), shoved her now-empty and somewhat-melted chair against the table with more force than necessary, turned, and stomped out of the room, stepping over the suicidal plant. (Yorick, still-alive and wise, did not move a muscle, lest Dottie Sue’s planticidal nimbus realized he was still producing chlorophyll and wafted his way.)

  The sandwich on the back wall chose that moment to lose its grip on the painted concrete and slide to the floor with a squelchy splat. This would have been the perfect moment for the director to holler “Cut!”, wrapping up the scene nicely, but one of the bit-part players sitting at the table of new-hires decided this was her moment to move up in the credits. (Said director decided to let the cameras keep rolling, partly because he was half-drunk but mostly because he was bored and had lost interest in the official script before he was even hired.)

  Bit-Part Newbie approached Betty Jo’s table, despite the warning odors of dead fish, dead plants and dead friendships, and plopped into the recently-vacated, disfigured chair. “Hi, you don’t know me, because I don’t have a big-enough title in this place, but I couldn’t help overhearing some of your conversation, with you two screaming at each other like cheerleaders competing for the Homecoming Court. Do you mind if I join you?”

  Betty Jo: “I mind a lot of things, but apparently not the ones I should be minding.”

  Bit-Part Newbie: “Right. Well, as I was saying, I overhead, and you sound like a smart woman who knows a lot of important things about this place.”

  Betty Jo, intrigued: “Go on.”

  Bit-Part Newbie, sensing the potential of moving up in the credits and possibly getting an actual character name, other than “third girl at distant table”: “Well, I also noticed that you like to gossip. I love to gossip! It makes me happy.”

  Betty Jo: “Me too! That, and avoiding my husband.”

  Bit-Part Newbie: “Me too! I wish I had never gotten hitched to the choir director from Pawhuska. I guess I was blinded by wanting to be the first-chair soprano.”

  Betty Jo, her heart warming, although it was probably just the cholesterol build-up: “Girl, I hear you loud and clear. What’s your name, honey?”

  Bit-Part Newbie, heart also warming, probably due to her ascension in the cast list: “Eve. Eve Harrington. But you can call me Evie Dean, because everybody around here should have a second first name, don’t you think?”

  Betty Jo: “I do, indeed. It’s the Oklahoma way. I think we’re gonna be tight. You?”

  Evie Dean: “Sure do. Let’s do us some gossip up right. What’s the latest you heard?”

  Betty Jo: “Well, the first thing you should know is that Dottie Sue has been offerin’ up her Georgia peaches over at the store on Admiral and Lewis, and don’t nobody want ‘em.”

  Evie Dean: “No! Tell me more!”

  End scene.

Background Details: For those who have been around Bonnywood for a while, the serialized story I mentioned in the opening is the one wherein I toiled as a convenience-store clerk in the mid-1980s, a saga that hopefully rings a faint bell for you. Just prior to the insertion of this addition, I was ranting about those horrid gossips that plague workplaces everywhere, and this fresh scene just came tumbling out of me with no real planning in mind. And really, that’s how most of my stories are written. I start out with one goal, and I end up somewhere else.

Of course, since this is a work in progress, I may change my mind tomorrow and this entire new scene just might vanish into the Bonnywood ether and never be seen again. Such is the cruel reality of the editing process.


28 replies »

  1. Definition of gossip, there is no such thing as a secret. Gossip, that bright light shone on anything and everything that was ever done, even if it has to be made up and exaggerated . (and in case this is a comment wordpress decides to not recognize the author- tis I Rebecca)

    Liked by 1 person

    • True story, though you may have made the connection: The ” eau de crapeau” angle was a nod to the French “crapaud”, albeit Americanized a bit. Once upon a time, as a budding French student in high school, our teacher, Madame Beckwith, who encouraged us to call her “Madame Beckavec”, because she was quirky and fun, once informed us that “espece de crapaud” was a fancy way of simply saying “toad”. This fascinated me, and it clearly stuck with me ever since. Ergo, the name of Dottie Sue’s perfume in this story was, for me, perfectly fitting for her personality…

      Liked by 1 person

      • I enjoyed hearing about the background to “eau de crapeau.” The connection I made was “chapeau,” as in “it’s very noticeable, like an ugly stinking hat,” and I even had a vision of a crap-dipped monstrosity perched proudly on her head. Crapaud works well too. Un chapeau de crapaud puant? Tres approprie! Cheers.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Such a powerful expression of a scrap of life, invoking three of our major senses! I feel most for Yorick; I hope that he survives to witness further developments in any of these squalid human existences. J.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ah, I remember your foray into convenience store clerking quite well, and I’m sure more fondly than you do as the stories are stellar. This one is a worthy inclusion, though I’m troubled by the reckless disregard for the sandwich. Such a waste! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was tragic, the Flight of the Flung Food. But the little guy’s journey was not in vain, as his performance earned him the Best Supporting Actor statuette at the Independent Sandwich Awards later that year…

      Liked by 1 person

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