Behind Our Eyes Makes News

As I said in earlier posts, I belong to a group of writers with disabilities called Behind Our Eyes. In December of 2007, we published an anthology of stories and poems by that name, and we now have an online magazine, Magnets and Ladders. Our President lives in Auburn, Maine, and she and I and others in the group were recently interviewed by a reporter from The Kennebec Journal in Augusta. You can read the resulting article here. Enjoy!

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome Website Email

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Dinner with the johnsons

My father had a nasty habit of inviting people to our house for dinner on the spur of the moment. This really irked my mother. One time after this happened, Dad offered to get fried chicken, but Mother insisted on preparing the meal, although she was obviously put out. I was in high school at the time, and I remember thinking maybe she should have let Dad be responsible for dinner. Then, he might have realized how much trouble it was and stopped asking people over without checking with her first.

Years later when I became a writer, I reflected on this and got one of those what if moments. What would have happened if Mother had taken off and left Dad to prepare the meal and entertain the guests on his own? The following story is one scenario. This is the third and last in the trilogy of tales about Al Johnson. The other two have appeared in earlier posts. Enjoy!

DINNER WITH THE JOHNSONS

“Honey, I invited the Batemans over for dinner tonight,” Al said, as he strode through the kitchen door on a sunny Saturday morning in September.

“What?” asked his wife Ruth, as she looked up from her bowl of cereal.

“I ran into Diane at the market when I went to pick up the milk,” said Al, as he set a bag on the counter. “I asked her and Jim and their little girls Sarah and Ella over for dinner tonight.”

“Oh Al,” said Ruth. “I think it’s wonderful that you want to welcome that new lawyer in your firm, but tonight is not a good night. I’ll be busy all day at the health fair, and I won’t have time or energy to cook anything.”

“Honey, you’re an excellent cook,” Al said, as he stroked her shoulder. “You’ll think of something.”

Ruth stiffened and leapt to her feet, her chair making a scraping sound as she shoved it away from her. Al let his hand fall to his side and gaped at her. “No, you’ll think of something,” she said, as she hurried to the phone. She lifted the receiver and dialed a number. “Mother, Al has planned a night out with the guys so I thought I might take you to dinner and a movie. How does that sound?”

After a pause, she said, “Great. I should be done at the health fair at about six o’clock. I’ll pick you up then, okay? Bye.”

“I can’t believe you did that,” said Al, who stood dumb-founded, staring at Ruth.

“I can’t believe you keep inviting people over here without checking with me first,” said Ruth. “I keep telling you over and over again how inconvenient it is for me when you do that. You say you’re sorry, but then you do it again. I’m not putting up with it any longer. I’m late.” She snatched her purse from a nearby chair.

“Honey, I can’t cook.”

“That’s your problem, isn’t it?” said Ruth, as she headed for the back door. “You think I’m your maid who will cook and clean for you and anyone else you choose to invite over here. You can call these people and tell them you forgot we have another engagement, or there’s a Stouffer’s lasagna and a package of green beans in the freezer. You can heat those up for them. There should be plenty. I’ve made plans with my mother, and I’m not going to change them. It’s up to you.” She turned and stomped out the back door, slamming it behind her.

Al stood stunned for a moment. He considered calling the Batemans to reschedule the dinner but thought better of it. They’re young, and I’m getting on. If I tell them I forgot a previous engagement, they’ll think I have Alzheimer’s, and I can’t tell them my inflexible, headstrong wife abandoned me because I didn’t check with her before inviting them over, he thought.

It then occurred to him to call his daughter. Michelle often invited Al and Ruth for dinner with her and her boyfriend Rick. Al knew if he explained the situation, she would understand and be willing to help. As he dialed her number, it was as if a great weight were being lifted from his shoulders. He smiled, as he waited for her to answer the phone but when he heard her answering machine after a few rings, he slammed down the receiver, and his heart sank.

With a sigh, he resigned himself to fixing frozen lasagna and green beans for the Batemans. “It might not be so bad,” he told himself, as he walked to the refrigerator. The Batemans’ little girls were seven-year-old twins, as he recalled. If they were anything like his children were at that age, they would love the lasagna whether it was homemade or not. If he plied their parents with enough drinks before dinner, they wouldn’t know the difference. A quick glance at the directions on the back of the lasagna box told him it would take a little over an hour. The green beans wouldn’t take long to heat in the microwave.

“Okay, I can do this,” he said, as he closed the freezer door. “I told Diane we’d eat about six o’clock. I’ll put the lasagna in about five and when they get here, I’ll get their drinks and do the beans. I’ll just tell them that Ruth had to leave at the last minute. I’ll pick up rolls and dessert at Walmart. I also need to make a trip to the liquor store.”

At four o’clock that afternoon, Al was ready to leave his office. During the drive to Walmart, he began doubting his ability to host a successful dinner party on his own. When he and Ruth entertained guests, she timed things just right. When guests arrived, they could enjoy drinks for about half an hour. By then, dinner was on the table. “I’ve got to stop inviting people over like this,” he said.

In the ice cream section, his spirits lifted. When his daughter Kate was the same age as the Bateman twins, she adored chocolate ice cream. He found rolls and a chocolate pie. After paying for these purchases, he stopped at the liquor storeand bought all the ingredients for gin martinis and Shirley Temples and a bottle of wine for the adults to drink with dinner.

When he reached home, it was nearly five o’clock. With asigh of relief, he hurried into the kitchen. Soon, the lasagna was in the oven. As he set the timer, he decided to shower and change. That would keep his mind off his anxiety about the night ahead.

At six o’clock when the doorbell rang, Al was ready. “Hello,” he said to the couple who stood on the porch. “Where are the girls?” he asked, as he ushered them into the living room.

“They had a sleep-over tonight,” said Diane. “They prefer to spend the evening with kids their own age instead of with boring grown-ups.”

“I completely understand,” said Al with a smile. “My daughters were the same way when they were their age.”

“I’m assuming Ruth’s in the kitchen cooking up whatever that delicious smell is,” said Jim.

“Actually, Ruth had to leave at the last minute,” said Al. “She works at the women’s center, and she had to be with a rape victim tonight.”

“At six o’clock in the evening,” said Diane, raising her eyebrows. “I thought those things happened late at night.”

“They can happen any time a man gets the urge to do it,” said Al.

“He’s right, honey,” said Jim, putting an arm around his wife. “I get the urge to make love to you legally during the day as well as at night.” He planted a kiss on her cheek.

“Oh you,” said Diane with a laugh, punching him in the ribs.

“Ow,” said Jim. “Is there a center that helps men who are being abused by their wives?”

“I don’t know,” said Al. “I do know how to make a gin martini if anyone’s interested.”

“Uh, we’re Mormons,” said Diane. “We don’t drink.”

“Oh well, I’m a Catholic and I do,” said Al, as his face grew hot. “Perhaps some ice tea?”

“I’m afraid we don’t drink coffee or tea,” Jim said.

Al scratched his head in concentration. “Orange juice then?” he asked.

“That sounds great,” said Diane.

“Make that two,” Jim said.

As he hurried to the kitchen, Al wondered if the Batemans’ religion allowed them to eat lasagna. There’s only one way to find out, he thought, as he found orange juice and glasses. When he returned to the living room with their drinks on atray, Jim and Diane were seated together on the couch. “I just thought of something,” said Diane. “Ruth Johnson is your wife, isn’t she?”

“Yes,” said Al, as he handed them their drinks.

“I met her at the health fair today,” said Diane. “It’s too bad she couldn’t be here. She seems like such a nice person.”

If only she knew the truth, Al thought, as he settled himself inan arm chair across from them with his martini. How could she leave him like this? What if the Batemans couldn’t eat thelasagna, green beans, rolls, pie, or ice cream? Ruth would know how to handle such a situation. All he could do was hope for the best.

The timer in the kitchen dinged. “That’s the lasagna,” he said, rising to his feet.

Jim and Diane also stood. Diane asked, “Is there anything we can do to help?”

“Not at all,” Al said. “I’ve got it all under control. I still have to heat up the green beans and the rolls so it’ll be a few minutes yet. Make yourselves comfortable. I’ll let you know when it’s ready.”

In the kitchen, he removed the lasagna from the oven and set it aside to cool. He placed the rolls on a baking sheet and set them in the oven as he’d seen Ruth do. He found a metal pan Ruth used to cook vegetables on the stove. After putting the green beans into it and adding water, he placed it in the microwave. After turning it on, he went to the dining room to set the table.

As he retrieved napkins and silverware from the buffet, he heard the microwave shut itself off. He thought this odd since it hadn’t been that long since he’d started it. Turning, he noticed that the kitchen light was off. He tried the dining roomlight switch. Nothing happened.

Jim and Diane appeared in the doorway. “Is everything okay?” Jim asked.

“The power seems to have gone out,” Al said. “The lasagna’s done so we can start on that if you like. Hopefully, the electricity will be back on soon.”

“I wonder if there’s a problem with the circuit breaker,” Diane said.

“I don’t know,” Al said.

“Would you like me to take a look?” asked Jim.

“Be my guest,” said Al. “The circuit breaker’s in the kitchen to the right of the door.”

“I’ll help you set the table,” Diane said, as Jim stepped into the kitchen.

The front door opened and closed. “Dad!” Michelle called.

“In the dining room,” Al yelled in surprise. “That’s my daughter.”

Michelle and Rick appeared in the doorway. “Michelle Johnson!” said Diane. “I didn’t make the connection.”

“Johnson is a popular name,” Rick said with a grin.

“You two know each other?” asked Al.

“Diane is my boss at the nursing home,” Michelle said. “What’s going on? When Rick and I got home, my Caller ID indicated that you’d called but didn’t leave a message. When I tried to call you, I got a recording saying that your number was disconnected or no longer in service.”

“Well, now not only is the power out but the phone is dead,” said Al.

“I’ll see if I can reach someone at the phone company on my cell,” said Rick, retrieving the device from his pocket and wandering into the living room.

“Where’s Ruth?” asked Michelle.

“I’m right here,” said Ruth from the kitchen doorway. “Thank goodness the house is still standing. Imagine my surprise to find the kitchen dark and a handsome young man fiddling with the circuit breaker.”

As the kitchen light came on, Diane stepped forward, extending a hand to Ruth. “Hi, I’m Diane Bateman. We met at the health fair this afternoon. How’s your rape victim?”

“Rape victim?” asked Ruth, as she broke into a broad grin. “That’s what Al told you.”

“What are you doing here?” asked Al, as Diane stared at him in astonishment.

“When I told Mother what happened this morning, she insisted I call to be sure you hadn’t burned the house down,” Ruth said. “When I did, I discovered that the phone was somehow disconnected. I left Mother and came straight here. You see, Diane, for years, Al has had this nasty habit of inviting people to the house for dinner at almost the last minute and expecting me to cook for them. I’m sorry you and your husband had to be caught in the middle like this, but I decided I’d had enough.”

“I understand,” Diane said. “If Jim ever did anything like that, I’d strangle him. Is there a center that helps men?”

Michelle burst into laughter, as Rick and Jim appeared. “Not if they’re dead,” Rick said.

“I think I found what caused the power outage,” said Jim. “Did you know you had a metal pan in the microwave?”

More laughter erupted, as Al hung his head. “I suppose that also caused the phone outage,” he said.

“I don’t think so,” said Rick. “The operator said the whole neighborhood’s out, but they’re working on it.”

“Well dear, I hope you learned your lesson,” said Ruth. “I’ll finish getting dinner on. Michelle, Rick, why don’t you stay? There’s plenty.”

Al slumped into his chair at the head of the table, as Diane finished setting it and other dinner preparations continued around him. Jim and Rick also sat at the table and chatted. In record time, Ruth and Michelle brought plates and platters containing the lasagna, green beans, and rolls.

When everyone was settled, Al took Ruth’s hand and said, “If you all don’t mind, I’ll say grace.” As the others joined hands, he said, “Dear Lord, we thank you for what we are about to receive. I also give thanks for my wife. I don’t think I really appreciated her until today.”

THE END

Abbie Johnson Taylor

Author of We Shall Overcome

http://www.abbiejohnsontaylor.com

abbie@samobile.net

Bossypants

I just finished reading a book by that name by Tina Fey. According to an article at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tina_Fey she got her start in comedy when she worked for The Second City, an improvisational theater company in Chicago. She was later hired as a writer for “Saturday Night Live.” In 2006, she began writing, starring in, and producing her own show, “30 Rock,” named for the address of the building where the NBC studios are located, 30 Rockefeller Plaza. She has also written, acted in, and produced other films such as “Mean Girls,” “Baby Mama,” and “Date Night.”

She received seven Emmy awards, three Golden Globe Awards, four Screen Actors Guild Awards, and four Writers Guild of America Awards. In 2008, she was singled out by the Associated Press as the performer who had the most impact on American culture and given the AP Entertainer of the Year Award for her satirical portrayal of Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin during a guest appearance on “Saturday Night Live.” In 2010, she was the youngest recipient of the Mark Twain Prize for Humor.

In Bossypants, released in April of 2011, she talks about growing up and her experiences working in The Second City, “Saturday Night Live,” and “30 Rock.”The book is available in print and audio formats. If you purchase the recording from audible.com, you can also download a PDF document containing pictures and other images referred to in the audio book. However, if you’re visually impaired like me, I don’t recommend trying to read the PDF with a screen reader. I assume that if you buy the book in print, the pictures and other images are included.

On the other hand, the audio book is great! Tina Fey herself reads it, and she does an excellent job, as naturally she would since she’s an actress. It includes a clip from “Saturday Night Live” containing the sketch I mentioned earlier where Tina impersonates Sarah Palin. Even if you don’t watch “Saturday Night Live” or “30 Rock” and never saw Sarah Palin on television during her vice presidential campaign, I recommend this book.

By the way, she calls it Bossypants because when she became producer of “30 Rock,” she was asked if it was hard being the boss. I like the title because it gives me another name to call my husband. To find out what Tina Fey says about being the boss, read the book.

Abbie Johnson Taylor

Author of We Shall Overcome

http://www.abbiejohnsontaylor.com

abbie@samobile.net

The Cigarettes

Several years ago when I was single, I once mistakenly received a delivery from a local market of three cartons of cigarettes for Al Johnson. Since I also used this market from time to time and was listed in the phone book as A. L. Johnson, I could see how they got us mixed up. I hope Al Johnson eventually got his cigarettes.
Below is a story that was inspired by this incident. It’s also on my Web site and is the second in a trilogy of stories about Al Johnson. The first, entitled “Michelle,” was posted here in December. The third, “Dinner with the Johnsons,” is on my Web site and will be posted here later.
THE CIGARETTES
            Michelle stood in the open doorway and stared at the delivery woman who struggled under the weight of three cartons of cigarettes which she claimed were for Al Johnson. “That’s my dad,” Michelle said. “He doesn’t live here, but he often comes here on his lunch break because it’s so close to his office.”
             “I vaguely remember delivering cigarettes to this address a few months ago.”
            “Dad thought I wouldn’t be here today, but there was a mix-up in my work schedule so I thought I would surprise him when he comes.”
            The woman placed the cigarettes on the living room couch while Michelle found her check book. After she left, Michelle stood staring at the cigarettes. A few months ago, her father promised her stepmother Ruth he would quit smoking. He asked Michelle for a key to her apartment. She agreed to have an extra one made and kept her refrigerator stocked with sandwich fixings so he could make his own lunch. She realized that her father was coming to her apartment to smoke and he was having his cigarettes delivered in order to save time.
            Her thoughts were interrupted by another knock at the door. What now, she wondered in annoyance, as she glanced at her watch. Her father would be here any minute, and she had yet to make lunch. When she opened the door, she was surprised to see Ruth. She smiled at her stepmother and hoped she didn’t notice the cartons of cigarettes that lay on the nearby couch.
            “Hello, dear,” said Ruth with a smile. “I know it’s sudden, but I drove by and saw your car so I thought I’d ask you to lunch.”
            Her father appeared, breathless and looking strained. When he saw his wife and daughter, his mouth gaped in astonishment.
            “Surprise!” said Michelle.
            “Surprise?” asked Ruth.
            “Yes,” answered Michelle. “I was planning to surprise Dad today, and now we can all go out to lunch together.”
            Al glanced at his watch. “Honey, I can’t. I’m supposed to be in court in half an hour.”
            “I’ll make lunch for us here,” said Michelle. “I’ve got plenty. It won’t take long.” She hurried into the kitchen and Al and Ruth followed.
            “Oh, Michelle, I hope you haven’t started smoking,” said Ruth.
            “What?” asked Michelle. “Oh, those cigarettes are Rick’s. He ordered them from Bino’s, but he was called to work before the delivery person came so I told him I’d take the cigarettes when they came and he could pay me for them later.”           
            Michelle removed bread, lunch meat, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, and onions from the refrigerator. “Here, honey, let me help,” said Al, taking plates out of the cupboard.
            “Since this kitchen is barely big enough for the two of you, I’ll just use the bathroom while you get everything ready,” said Ruth.
            Al whispered, “Those aren’t Rick’s cigarettes, are they?”
            Michelle grinned and shook her head. “Your secret is safe with me, Dad.”
            Al embraced his daughter. “Honey, I love you,” he said. As father and daughter worked together to prepare the sandwiches, Al said, “I tried to quit. I really did, but I just couldn’t do it, not cold turkey so I’m cutting down.”
            “Dad, you don’t have to explain anything to me. I have some errands to do later so I could drop the cigarettes by the office. Do you think your secretary would say anything to Ruth?”
            “That won’t be necessary. When I leave, I’ll just say I’m taking the cigarettes up and leaving them outside your neighbor’s door so he won’t have to come down here and get them when he comes home from work. Since we both met Rick when we helped you move in, Ruth shouldn’t suspect a thing.” 
            In the bathroom, the toilet flushed. A few minutes later, the three of them sat at the dining room table. As Al ate his sandwich, he chatted about the weather and other current events. He mentioned the court case he planned to argue that afternoon. From time to time, he glanced at the cigarettes. Michelle realized that he was probably accustomed to having a cigarette or two with lunch and her heart went out to him.
            Fearing that Ruth might become suspicious of Al’s behavior, Michelle tried to divert her stepmother’s attention from her father by asking her about her work as a counselor at the women’s center. For the next few minutes, they discussed that and Michelle’s job as an activities assistant at a nursing home. Al finally looked at his watch and said, “I’ve got ten minutes to get to the courthouse. I’ll just drop those cigarettes outside Rick’s apartment on my way out.” He rose and hurried around to Michelle’s side of the table and kissed her. “Thanks for lunch, honey,”
            Michelle jumped to her feet and dashed ahead of her father into the living room and in the direction of the front door. “I’ll get the door for you, Dad,” she said.
            Al and Ruth were right behind her. Al picked up the cartons of cigarettes and headed out the door of Michelle’s apartment. Unaware that Ruth was following him, he hurried in the direction of the outer door.
            “Al, where are you going?” asked Ruth. “Rick lives upstairs, remember?” Startled, Al almost dropped the cigarettes. With a sigh, he turned toward the stairs that led to the second floor. “I’ll wait while you take those cigarettes up to Rick’s, and then I’ll walk you to your car,” said Ruth.
            “Oh, you don’t have to do that,” said Al.
            “But I want to!” said Ruth.
            As Al staggered up the stairs, Michelle said, “Oh, Ruth, must you go? Why don’t I make us a pot of coffee and we can visit a while?”
            “I’d love to, dear, but I just remembered I’ve got an appointment in fifteen minutes. I worry about your father. He’s under a lot of stress.”
            “He’s always stressed out about one case or another,” Michelle said. “I guess that’s why he’s such a good lawyer.”
            Al returned, looking more strained than ever. Michelle gave him a conspiratorial wink she hoped Ruth wouldn’t notice, as they walked out the door of the apartment house. She decided to retrieve the cigarettes and leave a message on her father’s voice mail saying they were safe and he could pick them up after work.
            When she was sure both Al and Ruth were gone, she hurried up the stairs to Rick’s apartment, her heart pounding. She hoped Rick wasn’t home, or if he was, he didn’t see the cigarettes and take them, thinking they were a free gift. She didn’t know if he smoked. She breathed a sigh of relief when she saw the cartons still lying outside his apartment door. She listened for a moment but heard no sound from inside. She lifted the cartons of cigarettes and carried them back to her apartment.
            As she reached the bottom of the stairs, the outer door flew open and Al rushed into the hall. Startled, Michelle almost dropped the cigarettes, but without a word, she handed them to her father. The door again opened and in came Ruth. For an eternity, the three of them stood frozen in time.
THE END
Abbie Johnson Taylor
Author of We Shall Overcome

A Daughter’s Plea

This was one of the first poems I wrote after my mother passed away. It was published in The Best Poets and Poems of 2002 produced by the International Library of Poetry. I learned later that although this outfit is legitimate, they will only publish your work if you agree to purchase the anthology. Anyway, I hope mothers who are reading this enjoy a great day this Sunday.
A DAUGHTER’S PLEA   
I need you to share my joys,
console me in my times of sorrow,
listen and offer support and advice.
It’s not fair that you’ve left me so soon.
Please come back.
Abbie Johnson Taylor
Author of We Shall Overcome
abbie@samobile.net