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Baamonde & Ostrowski – May 2020

Nicole K. Ostrowski and Annaliese Baamonde traded art and words. Nicole shared this untitled image with Annaliese:

In response, Annaliese wrote this story:

Shibboleth

Cadey pecked out a rambling tune to pass the time. The staff had assumed their usual poses in anticipation of the surge of dockhands that would soon storm the bar, eager to spend a bit of payday cash on the way home. The barman met Cadey’s eye with a wink. Annie leaned up against the piano.

“He fancies you,” said Annie. “I’m surprised he hasn’t offered to buy you out and keep you to himself one night.”

“Shame, Annie, your tongue wags at both ends! He want me all to hisself, he gon’ have to offer up more’n one sorry night’s spare change. That man best red up them bottles afore we get busy.”

Cadey smirked amiably, and set to playing in earnest as the first patrons trickled in. The evening passed the women by as they all did. Cadey sang showtunes for the increasingly inebriated crowd, while Annie and the others were led upstairs, one by one, by various men in sooty workwear.

As the sky darkened, the raucous energy of the good timers slowed to a wistful sentimentality. The men wrapped their arms around the girls and each other, swaying to the music. Cadey sang a song from home that fit the mood:

The cuckoo is a fine bird! He sings as he flies,
He brings us good tidings and tells us no lies.

The girls laughed as the men spun them about, keeping their footing as only professional dancers and whores can do. Amid the gaiety, a man approached the piano. Smilin’ like the cat that got the cream, Cadey thought. He stood out from the other patrons. His linen shirt was clean, and instead of worn overalls, it was layered beneath a fashionable sack coat and bowler hat. Cadey tracked him as she brought the song to a close:

Oh meeting is a pleasure and parting is a grief,
An unconstant lover is worse than a thief!

A few men boldly tried to kiss the nearest girl, and were teasingly rebuffed. The man leaned towards Cadey and remarked, in a Yankee accent as crisp as his collar, “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?”

Cadey laughed in spite of herself. She was flush with single-malt from admirers, dark hair falling from its loose chignon to frame her face. She turned to face him and the weight of the man’s gaze pinned her smile down.

“Indeed. I don’t believe you’re here solely for this sort of entertainment,” he gestured at the piano. “I’d like to be shown to a private room.”

Ain’t he the gentleman, she thought, annoyed that he had spoken frankly. Cadey’s music was part of her act. She played the part of an off-market gem until, inevitably, a man came along wanting a taste of forbidden fruit. With a little pretense, she could make as much off of one or two tricks as Annie might bring in for the whole night.

She let the man lead her away. He held her wrist firmly, and was practically pulling her towards the stairs. She tried to pry herself loose to fix her hair, but he tightened his grip and did not look at her.

Briggity bastard. And in a fuckin’ hurry, Cadey thought. As they entered a small room at the top of the stairs, he pushed her violently onto the bed. She kicked at him, but he was out of reach and loosening his belt.

“You think you’re something, playing dress up, out here in the city with your fancy clothes and big-time musical numbers. And that God-awful sangin’!” Cadey reeled back from his sudden mocking rage, more confused by its catalyst than she was afraid of his temper.

He leaned over her, belt in hand, growling like a rabid dog. “You mountain bitches are all the same. Talking like you got no sense, but you’re clever. I’ve seen enough to know. You trick and cheat and lie through those pretty little lips.”

He smacked her across the mouth and blood bubbled from between her teeth. He came towards her, clapping his belt in the air like a whip. She stood her ground now, realizing that she must fight or die. The first blow hit her across the chest. She managed to grab the belt, which pulled him closer to her. He let go of it and swung at her with his free hand, which landed on her right ear. She bit his cheek, and in that small breath of time, was able to free the derringer from her petticoat and put it to use against his chest. He fell on top of her.

Cadey pushed him off, and recalled the last time she had watched a creature die. It was a brisk spring day and she’d stood among the brambles, rifle in hand. The stray dog had gotten into their chicken coop, and she’d had no choice but to put it down. She had stroked the mutt’s ears as it died, silently asking forgiveness, hoping to send it away with a gentle touch.

She did not reach out to touch this man as he died. Instead, she tucked the derringer away and wiped her hands on the bloody bedcover, fixing her hair as she descended the stairs to meet Annie’s worried face with a smile.

* * * * *

Annaliese shared this story with Nicole:

The Apostate

Jacob wanted the last cookie. His lunchbox held a torn and smushed sandwich crust and the remnants of a carrot, smeared with ranch dip – he’d already eaten the good parts, and was unsatisfied. He liked to think of himself as an ambassador, a peace-maker of sorts, between the warring factions of the third grade. The trick, he thought, was to just be nice to everyone, and thus avoid problems. Jacob hadn’t realized, though, that he’d one day want this last cookie.

It was Sarah’s birthday: Sarah with the long blonde ponytail, who always shared her mechanical pencils and gummy bears with the other girls; Sarah, whose pretty green dress Jacob had once made filthy by bumping into her after a particularly muddy recess. Jacob still felt terrible about that. Sarah now sat surrounded by a phalanx of best friends, some of whom shared peach candy rings as they played clapping games amid the debris of half-eaten lunches and cookie crumbs.

Jacob would have to make a move soon, before the bell rang and someone swiped it on their way outside. He could pretend to be throwing away his sandwich crusts, and swipe it himself without anyone noticing. That would meet the parameters of his conflict-avoidance code, right? If memory served him well, the only threat to his plan – the peer lunch monitor – should be distracted by the kindergarteners needing help carrying their dirty trays, and he could swoop in undetected. Or was that too indirect? What if, instead, he simply pulled up alongside the armada of clapping girls and asked if anyone else wanted the last cookie? Oh God, but what if one of them said yes? There’d be no avoiding conflict, then. If he was nice, he wouldn’t get the cookie.

Just then, the fire alarm sounded. Jacob watched the lunch room explode into chaos, and knew this was his chance. He shoved the last cookie into his mouth, and slid into the horde of children flocking to the door.

 

In response, Nicole made this piece, titled “Plotting”:

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