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The Hostess With The Mostest

To learn about running a guest house

By Valerie KittellPublished 3 years ago 29 min read
Image by Cesco from Pixabay

“You’re not going to believe this,” Stelle announced, looking up from her computer at the kitchen table.

Since Dan was involved in the intricacies of installing a new fan into their range hood, Stelle was addressing herself to his headless torso. She thought she detected a grunt of interest so she stood up and moved into closer proximity. “My mother is doing HostelHost!” she shouted at him.

Dan dropped down onto the floor from his perch on the step stool and reached up and hit the “on” button on the hood. At first slowly and then progressively more loudly, a dull roar began emanating from the dark recess above the stove.

“Is that on high or low?” Stelle asked. “If it’s low I can’t begin to imagine high.”

“That’s just because it hasn’t been working for so long that you forgot what it sounds like,” Dan answered. “That’s low. On high it’s so strong that your hair’ll get swept up and you’ll be pulled into the flue. If I’m not around to get you out, say I’m on a business trip, I’d only find you when I return home and I’m looking for the source of the horrible odor in the kitchen.”

“Nice fantasy,” Stelle responded. “I could never fit into that chimney. You’ll have to find another location for my decomposing body in your demented daydreams.” Stelle spoke lightly, taking pains not to reveal how perturbed she was by Dan’s increasingly morbid wit. Was it normal for him to joke about such things? Was it normal for her to act like it was normal?

“Yeah, you would have to shrink a bit to accommodate that one,” Dan agreed, swatting her generous bottom. “Now, what about your mother? Did you say she was doing HostelHost? That beggars belief. Maybe she thought it was HostileHost? Oh, my God, can you imagine?”

Stelle shook her head. “You know what? She was always a lot more charming around strangers. My friends used to think I was making up mean stories about her. ‘But she seems so nice!’ they would say.”

She headed back to the computer. “Maybe she’s found her niche. She is a great cook when she wants to be and having people stay will encourage her to keep up the place a little more.”

Dan was still resistant to the news. “But where would people stay? Both the GI Joe museum and the Nancy Drew suite would creep people out.” Stelle knew he was referring to the stale, clutter-filled bedrooms she and her brother had occupied years earlier, neither of which had ever been re-purposed or re-decorated for any other human or pastime.

“She’s going to stay in Ethan’s room and let out her master suite with the bathroom. She’s not letting anyone stay longer than three days because she always says ‘fish and company stink after three days’. Who knows?” Stelle shrugged. “Maybe this will work out. She needs the money.”

“Well, it’ll keep her occupied anyway. Can’t wait for the reviews to come in.” Dan folded the step stool and put it back in the broom closet. “Okay,” he said, “what’s next on the list before the real estate agent comes over?”


Ruth surveyed the bedroom with satisfaction. Not bad. Amazing what new linens, a throw rug and a few toss pillows could do. Same thing in the bathroom where a zippier shower curtain, some purple towels, a room deodorizer and some decorative soaps turned the room from depressive to acceptable at the very least. Okay, it wasn’t the Taj Mahal, but what did people expect for forty dollars? She felt that if she were ushered into the room as a guest she would be very well satisfied. At the foot of the bed was her old Lane hope chest where she had laid out an assortment of New Yorkers, Atlantics and People magazines.

It would be unsettling to have strangers in the house, but hopefully they wouldn’t be in very much except to sleep during their three days. Why would people come into someone’s home and then just hang around? That simply didn’t make any sense. At least she did have a TV in that room, something she was glad she never got rid of although it had been considered many times. She never watched it in there, but who knew, someday she could get some serious illness and be confined to bed and then she would be glad of it.

She went downstairs into the kitchen where she prepared a small cracker and cheese tray to have on hand to offer her guests on arrival. She had no idea how solicitous or reserved to be. All the guidelines from HostelHost said to try to follow the signals sent out by the guests and to respond accordingly. But what if she misread their cues? And it was a couple that was coming, much to her consternation. There would be two sets of signals to interpret. What if one person was reserved and the other outgoing? She would have preferred a singleton for her first occupant, but when the Cordrays contacted her, she had agreed to accommodate them. The wife seemed pleasant enough on the phone when she called to confirm yesterday.

“Oh, we’re just a pair of comfortable old shoes,” she had said. “We like to stay in homey homes with no pretense, so please don’t worry about us. If there’s a bed and pillows and a bathroom, we’ll be all set. Plus, we plan to be at the hospital with Monty’s sister for the most part. We’ll just be slipping in and out and you won’t even know we’re there.” Montgomery and Evelyn, but Monty and Evie would be fine, she was informed. And did she prefer Mrs. Loftus or . . .

“Ruth, please. No one’s called me Mrs. Loftus since my children were in school,” Ruth replied gaily or what she hoped was gaily. Best to let them know right up front that she had family and wasn’t some lonely old lady with no relatives to look out for her. To that end she had emailed Stelle with instructions to call her nightly for the next three days and not to pay attention to anything she might say on her end.

Ruth paced anxiously for the next hour. They were supposed to arrive before dark, get marginally settled and then head off for evening visiting hours at the hospital where Mr. Cordray — Monty’s — sister was in the ICU. Ruth fluffed the sofa cushions more than a couple of times and finally attempted to sit down with a cup of tea and a crossword puzzle while she waited. Finally, after a couple of false alarms, she was positive that a car had driven up and parked in her driveway. She heard two car doors and then the trunk slam close. They were here!

She peeked out the sidelight of the door and saw two indistinct human forms advancing towards the door. She was overwhelmed by a sudden wave of fear, apprehension and regret. How could she have gotten herself in this situation? She briefly considered posing as her own identical twin, who had been unpleasantly surprised by her sister Ruth’s sudden death just today. But that would involve a refund, and she had no idea of how that would even work and then of course she could have no future bookings if she were deceased to her first guests. Although the twin could inherit the house . . . This was as far as her ruminations reached before the doorbell rang.

“Cordrays! How delightful!” she exclaimed as she threw open the door. The woman on the doorstep immediately matched her in enthusiasm and effusiveness.

“Ruth! How wonderful of you to invite us into your charming home.” The wife stepped through the door and then turned back to the husband, who was laden down with multiple shoulder bags, as well as towing a large wheeled valise behind him. Due to this unwieldy bulk, he was momentarily wedged between the partially opened storm door and the jamb. “Monty, come along. You’re letting in insects. What are those? I hope they’re not wood-boring.”

Evie was plumpish with an over decorated denim jacket, a large designer handbag, tight jeans, high heels and a platinum blonde updo the likes of which Ruth had not seen in several decades with the exception of Zsa Zsa Gabor and Ivana Trump. Monty was oddly and selectively corpulent, with most of his extra weight expressed in what seemed to be a bowling ball beneath his sweater, and the rest distributed between his neck and his face. He did still have a full head of luxuriant dark gray hair with white sweeps at the temples. The white stripes were so defined and uniform that Ruth wondered if they could possibly be natural. He sported round tortoiseshell glasses that were too small for his broad face and wore a corduroy jacket with suede elbow patches.

They were both “types” Ruth thought and looked like they had been sent from central casting to read for the parts of a college professor stranded with country singer bimbo on a desert island. Ruth couldn’t imagine any circumstances other than a natural or man made disaster that could have drawn these two together and made them a couple. Or the Internet could have done it, as well, she supposed. She had noticed an onslaught of increasingly improbable twosomes lately at her church and she suspected that more than a few of them were the results of some web matching service or the other.

For their part, neither Cordray found anything remarkable about their hostess. Ruth was a small woman with piercing hooded dark eyes above a hawkish yet not overly large nose. She had a small, pursed mouth, a very slightly receding chin and a neck of which she was particularly proud. Her neck was extraordinarily long and as smooth and firm and unwrinkled as a twenty-two-year old’s. Her hair was salt and pepper, very thick and full and cut in the same shingled bob she had sported for decades. She had a trim figure but had been burdened since her teen years with extremely large and matronly breasts which made her appear top-heavy and slightly listing forward. For some reason, the first adjective that popped into some people’s heads upon meeting her was “birdlike”, probably due to her constantly swiveling head on her long neck, as she compulsively surveyed her surroundings with her inquisitive eyes. While she typically expressed an almost eccentric exuberance in her clothes and jewelry, tonight she was decked out in a very old-fashioned looking apron — the type that went over one’s head and tied at the sides and went down almost to her knees.

The Cordrays waved off the cheese tray Ruth had set out on the coffee table since both were lactose intolerant as it turned out. “Oh, I wish I had known,” said Ruth, although she was secretly glad that she hadn’t.

She just flat out did not believe in lactose intolerance. “Whoever heard of it before a couple of years ago?” she would ask whenever the topic came up. After a number of discussions with her daughter and strangers at the dairy case, she allowed that it might be remotely possible among some ethnic groups and their descendants among whom dairy was not a common ancestral diet staple. Aside from that grudging accommodation, she considered it to be an affectation of people who considered themselves ‘delicate’ or requiring special treatment. The fact that her first two guests fell into this category did not augur well for any long term or recurring relationship. She recollected that she had used the words “healthy” and “wholesome” on the HostelHost site to describe her cooking style for the optional meal plan and wondered if that hadn’t sent out some subliminal attraction to lactose intolerants. She would have to rethink her wording or she’d find herself overrun with people demanding organic this and non-GMO that and cold pressed olive oil and bee pollen and who knows what. Thank heavens the Cordrays’ room reservation did not opt for meals.

Ruth thought they seemed somewhat underwhelmed when the door was thrown open to their bedroom. “Oh, what the hey” said Monty. “I expect it will do.”

“It’s perfect little doll house bedroom, isn’t it?” was Evie’s observation. Ruth’s hackles rose at that. It was no enormous McMansion master suite as she saw on the house shows on TV, but they always seemed ludicrous to her with their office nooks and sitting areas and walk-in closets. This room had been considered extra large and commodious in its day. “It’s an en-suite,” she said. “The bathroom’s right here and I believe you’ll find it quite comfortable.”

The Cordrays poked their noses in. “I haven’t seen that pink and black tile for years,” observed Evie. “Did you know that there are these marvelous companies now that can just come in and spray your tiles in modern colors? Even with the mania for retro, I wouldn’t bet on that combo ever coming back.”

“What, no heart-shaped bathtub for two? “asked Monty in a failed attempt at humor.

“Certainly not,” replied Ruth. Cut! The director in her head was calling for another take. A little too much of the headmistress was seeping out; she needed to re-calibrate.

She smiled at them both regretfully. “I thought the pictures made it perfectly clear that these were comfortable yet modest accommodations. If you’re not happy, I would be more than happy to put in for a refund for you with HostelHost.” Print! She felt she had hit just the right note of being ever so slightly offended, yet still obsequious enough to dispel any charges of overt inhospitality. They are not my adversaries, they are my guests, she gamely reminded herself.

“Oh, Ruth, Monty’s just having his little joke,” said Evie. “You’ll get used to him. We’re going to have to push off for the hospital to get in some time with Mary. Visiting hours are over at eight so we’ll be back by eight thirty. I hope it won’t be too much trouble to simply have dinner covered over so we can reheat it when we get back?”

Ruth felt temporarily dizzy and her throat tightened as she suppressed an actual gasp. This dreadful woman hadn’t just said what she thought she heard, had she? Did Evie actually say the word ‘dinner’ as in a repast that she expected Ruth to provide?

“Oh, Evie, there must be some mistake. Your reservation didn’t mention meals so naturally I didn’t make any provision for meals for you.”

“Oh, yes, there’s been a mistake,” said Evie as she put down her gigantic handbag on the bed and began rummaging through it. “Your listing includes meals with the room.” After a few brief moments of pawing, her chubby bejeweled fingers emerged clutching some folded papers which she waved triumphantly. “See why I always print things?” she said to Monty, as though Ruth were no longer in the room. “When a deal seems to be too good to be true, make sure you have proof.”

She turned back to the once again visible Ruth. “Honey, to be brutally honest, I thought your room photos online looked slightly lacking style-wise compared to what we’re accustomed to, but when I saw you were including breakfast and dinner in your price, I told Monty that was a deal we simply couldn’t afford to pass up. Here’s our confirmation paperwork. Take a good look. It clearly says ‘room and meals, B and D, $40 per day.’

Evie thrust her paperwork towards Ruth, who reluctantly accepted it, and lowered the reading glasses from their perpetual perch on the crown of her head in order to make sense of the blurry paragraphs in front of her. She wondered if it was possible that Evie could have made alterations to the confirmation page, perhaps pasting the letters B and D in? She held the paper up against the light, much as a skeptical gas station clerk would examine a suspicious fifty-dollar bill, but after staring at it far longer than was necessary, she had to conclude that there was no overt evidence of tampering and handed it back to Evie, beaten.

Evie smiled magnanimously at Ruth. “I was surprised when you offered that cheese tray, given that I clearly checked “no Lactose” on the food preferences sheet, but I thought we would just overlook that as there was no mention of a welcome cheese tray in the description.”

“Food preference sheet?” Ruth whispered.

“Yes, dear” said Evie. “When a HostelHost offers meals, the site automatically throws up a food preference sheet. It shows up on your part of the site as a tab that says “Your Guest Requests”. I only know because Monty and I were HostelHosts ourselves for a little while. Quite honestly, we couldn’t stand it. You wouldn’t believe some of the experiences we had. But anyway, while we’re out, do take a look at our preferences.”

She stood up and stuffed her crumpled paperwork back into her handbag. “We won’t stand on ceremony tonight and will allow some leeway since you seem to be new to all this. No worries, Ruth. We always start from five stars and work backwards.” She looked at her large turquoise inlaid bangle watch and gave a little frown. “We’re running late. We have to be off to the hospital. Monty.”

Ruth noticed that the two syllables of Monty’s name were enough to make him move to Evie’s side in order to await his next command. Ruth wondered if he had been clicker trained, so prompt and responsive was he. It was obvious who was the ‘decision maker’ in their two-member pecking order. Ruth clearly understood whose whims and caprices needed to served and satisfied over the next 72 hours in order to remain a HostelHost in good standing.

The Cordrays gallumped loudly back down the central staircase. Monty took the opportunity to test the security of the stair railing by seizing the newel post at the bottom and rocking it back and forth ferociously, much as a giant bipedal anteater would if it suspected a tasty insect mound lay hidden beneath it.

“Hey!” he shouted up the stairs to Ruth who remained standing and waving goodbye at the top. “This is a bit shaky. Better get your maintenance people on it. Hope you opted for the extra liability.”

After her house invaders were safely out the door, and the car had disappeared down the street, Ruth sat down and logged into the HostelHost site. She called up the Cordrays’ reservation sheet and her copy was exactly like the one already shown to her by Evie. She was deflated and defeated, as she had been 100 percent confident that in her earlier perusal of the reservation it had no mention of meals. And yet it clearly did. Two meals. After a long and tedious investigation, she finally realized that by not pricing meal options individually or excluding them entirely, she had inadvertently wrapped them into her room price as an all-inclusive.

Belatedly, she took the time to look at other nearby listings and saw immediately that she had severely under-priced her room given that the area was simultaneously a hub of hospitals, a university town and a beach resort. Those facts along with the famously grumpy outlook of the town fathers regarding any new development meant that the area had always suffered from a dearth of lodging, both short and long term. In fact, her room was so far below market, it invited suspicion. Live and learn she thought to herself. And now I am providing breakfast and dinner to these wretches for $40 a day! No wonder Evie had seen it as the deal of the century. Ruth sighed, but recollected that at least it was only for three days. She would just have to soldier through it.

She turned to the “Your Guest Requests” tab which she had never even noticed before. First, a Get to Know Us! page opened, festooned with a large picture of the Cordrays as the centerpiece. Must I? she thought.

Evie, several years and pounds ago and sporting thick Heidi type blond braids, stood behind a seated Monty with her hands on his shoulders. Monty’s face was thinner, his eyeglasses less overwhelmed by facial acreage and no white skunk sidepieces had yet developed at his temples. Their bio noted that Evie was a crafter and made dream catchers and bird crash avoidance reflectors for picture windows as the focus of her home business. Monty was a “business consultant” with no further elaboration. They lived about five hours away and enjoyed gardening, shopping, gourmet dining and cooking.

Ruth frowned when she got to the ‘gourmet dining and cooking’ bit. At the bottom of the page was the link to “Our Requests” which Ruth was hesitant to click on next. What an incredible and revolting idea that people could simply request whatever they felt like, she reflected. What if they wanted warm asses milk for their baths or candied hummingbird tongues? Did making a request mean that the request had to be honored? She saw that she had signed up as a HostelHost precipitously and without thinking it all through and examining every area of the host agreement and responsibilities. Well, there was no avoiding the situation she had gotten herself into now.

The “Our Requests” page was divided into two parts. First were the words “Avoid Please” with columns of choices. Checked off were: Lactose, Gluten, Yeast, Shellfish and Alcohol. Considering the amount of possible selections, Ruth felt almost relieved. The next section was “Likes” which offered an essay type area for the guest to give free rein to their favorite indulgences. It turns out that Evie and Monty were “locavores” and hoped that their hosts would find the time to introduce them to all the best local specialties of their area, culled from fresh markets and farmer’s stands or perhaps even from the host’s own (organic) garden!

Ruth snorted. She would introduce them to the weekly specials of her Bob’s Big Top Market and that would be it. She thought about serving them dented cans from the Reduced for Quick Sale area along with a can opener and a bowl. “This is how we here picturesque locals eat,” she would say. But seriously, what could she round up for their late supper? It was already dark and she hated to drive at night, even just the three stop lights away to Bob’s Big Top. And then there was breakfast to consider as well.

Ruth went into the kitchen and perused the contents of her fairly well stocked pantry. Gluten was going to be the big bugaboo, she could see. No dairy as well was a challenge. She felt like she was in one of those food competition shows where she had 15 minutes to make an entree using Rice Chex, beef jerky, coconut milk and barbecue sauce.

Half an hour later she had her dinner casserole in the oven. She had mashed redskin potatoes with a “healthfully balanced” oleo and chicken stock and put the mash in a pie pan topped with sautéed slices of kielbasa, cabbage steamed with a little apple juice, brown sugar, caraway seeds and sauerkraut mixed in and topped with a can of cannellini beans. Her own mother had called this ‘Polish Shepard’s Pie’ and it had been a family staple for decades. She left out the slices of Swiss cheese that normally blanketed the beans and glued them to the cabbage, but ‘no lactose’ was ‘no lactose’. She put foil over the top and put it in a low oven where she could safely leave it for a couple of hours. Then, she got out her crock-pot and started a giant vat of oatmeal which would slow cook and be ready by breakfast time in the morning, regardless of how early her boarders, or rather, guests, wanted to leave the house. She did have some fruit to put out, although the apples were a bit bruised and soft and the bananas even more so, since she had been letting them get over ripe for banana bread, but anything-bread was not in the running anymore. She did also have a full carton of eggs, thank heavens.

Knowing that she had her bases covered for at least the contracted for Dinner this evening and the Breakfast for the next day, she opened a new big box of Crushed Red Velvet Blend wine and depressed the tap to fill the jelly glass she preferred for her evening wine drinking, a solution she had arrived at after one time too many of waving her arms at the nightly news and toppling over her stemmed balloon glass, drenching the coffee table and splashing the surrounding furnishings. It’s one thing to be elegant and another thing to be practical, she thought. When one lived alone, practicality won over elegance every time.


Ruth slowly awakened from a dream of tanks maneuvering around in her front yard while troops with battering rams lined up in front of the door awaiting the go-ahead from the commander with the saber raised and the whistle between his teeth. There, he had dropped his arm and the onslaught ensued. Boom, boom, went the artillery, thud, thud, sounded the rams against the door. More thuds. Loud thuds. Very close and loud thuds. She swam slowly to the surface of her consciousness where the light of the world beckoned and could dimly hear “Ruth! Ruth! Mrs. Loftus! Open — we’re back!” off in the distance.

She blinked slowly, opened her eyes and attempted to examine her circumstances.

She lay in the fully extended recliner with her back to the front door and the TV was two shows past Jeopardy. Her feet seemed a bit numb so she wiggled them and unclenched her hands which caused her to release and drop her (thankfully) empty glass. The clink of the glass on the wood floor fully roused her. Yes, she was still an inhabitant of the temporal world. And that noise . . . Oh, my God! She hadn’t dreamed it, there were people staying in her house and they were demanding re-admittance at this moment.

She knew when she was doing it, that she really shouldn’t be going back to the Crushed Velvet wine box multiple times, especially with strangers imminently afoot, but regardless, she had consumed three if not four full jelly glasses of red wine. Her skull felt like it weighed three times its normal heft and there was a terrible tension behind her eyes. Somehow, even with her great triple sized melon head sagging on its feeble stem, she managed to retract the recliner, stand-up, locate the “off” button for the TV and perambulate to the front door. She noticed gratefully that, as usual, she had drawn the skinny little drapes over the sidelights at dark as she always did, to protect herself from the prying eyes of any Peeping Tom frequenting the neighborhood. Oh, they were out there, she knew they were. She had sensed their piercing stares any number of nights when she had neglected to draw the drapes. She threw open the door and the Cordrays, who had just lifted their arms for another round of pounding, practically fell into the room.

“Welcome back,” intoned Ruth. Immediately sensing a lack of vivacity in her voice, she smiled falsely and garishly in order to compensate. Monty and Evie were transfixed by the mottled purple teeth encased in a grape stained mouth with burgundy traced wrinkles radiating around the lips. Adding to the effect was that fact that the back of Ruth’s head had a number of salt and pepper clumps of hair standing straight up as a result of her sojourn on the recliner. Her sweater was rumpled and misbuttoned. The trim little birdlike landlady they met before they left had been replaced with her zombie dybbuk.

“How wash your sister?” Ruth asked Monty. Not bothering to wait for an answer, she lurched into the eat-in kitchen and waved for them to follow her. She put on thermal mitts and reached into the oven, took out the pie plate, put it on a trivet and removed the foil.

“What is that smell?” asked Evie. “Do you think you might have a gas leak? Should we call the gas company?”

“It’s Polish Shepherd’s Pie,” Ruth announced proudly. “Not bad for short notice, if you ask me.”

She lifted the trivet and the dish and walked carefully and ceremoniously before placing it in the center of the table. Monty looked at the offering and began sniffing, at first apprehensively and then more and more appreciatively.

“Kielbasa and cabbage?” he asked. “God, I haven’t had that in years. Not since. . ….” He trailed off after getting a loaded look from Evie.

“Not since I started watching your diet?” Evie asked with a touch of acid in her tone. “Kielbasa is loaded with nitrates.” She turned to Ruth. “I don’t think that sausage is on too many ‘wholesome and healthy’ lists. I hate to say it, but this could influence our review.”

Ruth looked at her and realized with a dull thwang of wine saturated insight that Evie in fact was her adversary far more than she was her guest. She decided to embrace the HostelHost guidebook and take her cues from her occupant who had just flatly declared war. Alrighty then.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” responded Ruth. “Our local artisan butcher will be so disappointed. He takes such pride in his products.”

Her imagination began to fill in the blanks of her make-believe meat purveyor. What was his name? “Roscoe.” Did she say that out loud? So what if she did? Roscoe was an excellent name for a butcher.

Pleased with the authenticity conveyed by this strong yet humble moniker, she plowed confidently ahead, “Roscoe’s pigs are fed a special diet of acorns, cornbread and sage. They have classical music piped into the barn. He doesn’t even slaughter them traditionally. You know that fear releases adrenaline and toughens muscle tissue, don’t you?”

“What’s he do?” Monty asked. “Give them vodka and Quaaludes? Read them Faulkner until they jump off a cliff?” He guffawed loudly at his own humor, which did actually make Ruth, although not Evie, smile.

“I don’t know,” said Ruth. “He doesn’t really go into it, except for using the words ‘humanely and compassionately.’ ” She began sidling unobtrusively towards her prep area where she had just noticed something. Vulture-like, Evie was watching her every move and jumped up to intercept her before she reached her goal.

“Well, that eliminates Faulkner then,” Monty said, still playing the donnish raconteur to his new literate and appreciative landlady, unaware of the cat and mouse maneuvering going on between the two women.

“Is your butcher Roscoe Hillshire? Heir to Hillshire Farms?” asked Evie. She fished out the Kielbasa wrapper her predatory eye noted poking out of the top of the kitchen garbage can, then triumphantly waved it at Ruth. “How lovely to know that such a large operation is so artisanal.” She rinsed the plastic out under the faucet, patted it dry and folded it inside fresh paper towels. My God, she’s retaining the evidence, Ruth realized, for some future HostelHost Tribunal, or even worse, an online review accompanied by images.

Ruth decided to ignore Evie’s barb. Everything would smooth itself out over the course of the next two days, of that she was sure. No food was making people peckish. She got out the pitcher of iced tea from the fridge and put it and two iced tea glasses on the table for the Cordrays. As for herself, iced tea upset her stomach, so a glass of water would have to suffice. It was immediately after forming this thought that the box of Crushed Red Velvet Blend on the counter seemed to practically animate itself, vibrating and sending out inaudible communication waves to her synapses — have more, have more, have more.

“I know you folks won’t join me, but I hope you don’t mind if I have a smallish glash, um,” knitting her brow in concentration, “glass of wine.”

She poured another jelly glass three quarters of the way full, knowing that she was making a terrible, terrible error of judgment even as she did it. Looking at the glass, she decided she had overfilled it to an indelicate amount for a lady. It wasn’t Welch’s grape juice, after all. She swallowed a large slug in order to reduce the fluid level to something that might conceivably pass as ‘smallish’.

Ruth joined and Evie and Monty at the table. She wasn’t sure if dining en famille with her guests violated host protocol or not, but she was more concerned about restoring some semblance of camaraderie to their trio. She sliced three large wedges of the pie and off loaded them successfully onto three plates. She silently congratulated herself on this small yet notable achievement, since while setting only three plates, she now discerned six plates and was unsure which ones were tangible and which were their ocular twins in another dimension.

As Evie picked and poked at her serving and Monty inhaled his portion, Ruth was seized with a sudden resolve. She picked up her own dish and went to the refrigerator where she took out a slice of Swiss cheese. She laid it on top of the shepard’s pie and nuked it in the microwave until it was soft and oozy. She wasn’t lactose intolerant, thank God. She sprinkled the homemade garlic butter crumbs she had made earlier, before remembering she couldn’t use them, in a generous blanket over the top of the gooey cheese. She had no reason to avoid gluten either, did she?

She returned to the table with her steaming, cheesy, crusty example of what the meal was supposed to look like when people ate what other people cooked without giving them ridiculous restrictions. Monty was looking at her dish with unfettered yearning and was actually licking his lips in vicarious anticipation as she raised her filled fork to her mouth, trailing long strands of Gruyere still tethered to the plate. As it turned out, that particular forkful never arrived at its destination.

The phone in the hall rang and Ruth sprang up. “Oh, that’s just my daughter. Such a good girl. Calls every night to check on me.”

Jumping to her feet was an ill-considered move. Her giant melon head wobbled forward and refused to return to the upright position. “Every shingle night” she re-iterated, before crumpling and passing out entirely onto the tile floor.

“I’d say she’s down to three stars at this point,” observed Monty.

But, as he always said, it was an ill wind that blew no good. He availed himself of Ruth’s portion of pie while Evie scurried off to answer the phone.


©Copyright 2018 Valerie Kittell All Rights Reserved

(Author’s note — The characters of Dan, Stelle and Ruth in this story are introduced in my story Art History)

Short Story

About the Creator

Valerie Kittell

I live in a seaside New England village and am trying to become the writer I always wanted to be. I focus on writing short stories and personal essays and I hope you enjoy my efforts. Likes and tips are very encouraging.

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