The Hat Band
Sarah stood at the kitchen window with a bowl in her hand stirring up batter for biscuits. She added a ball of lard to the mound of flour in her bowl, a cup of milk, stirred the mixture until it formed a ball, pinched off little balls of the dough, rolled them in her palm, patted them into a pan, made a score along the top of each one to spread butter in and placed them in the oven. Henry her husband of forty years was standing on the front porch in his overalls eyeing a large, diamond back rattler curled on the top step. He was trying to lineup the slanted eyes in his sights, and he knew if he made an error in judgement, the rattler would strike. He was large, deadly, and already starting to windup into a defensive coil. Henry aimed at the raised head, squeezed the trigger and saw him slump onto the step. He picked the dead snake up with a stick, started to pitch him off the side of the porch, but knew he would catch hell from Sarah, so he carried him to the door of the dugout behind the house where Sarah kept her canned food and winter apples. She wouldn't balk at him leaving the snake there until he could skin him to make a head band for his hat. He washed his hands at the outside spicket, picked up his gun, opened the door to the kitchen where a plate of warm biscuits, a pan of bacon and eggs, and Sarah, waited for him. Life was good.
The windup alarm clock jangles loudly, and I open my eyes. The morning sun is shining through my bedroom window, and I can hear Mom downstairs making breakfast.
It is my favorite time of year. I have a lineup built of things I want to do this summer, and I can’t wait to get started. Today, I think I will finally paint the dugout canoe that has been sitting abandoned in the garage since Dad left--kind of like us.
I jump out of bed and throw on my jeans. It strikes me that yesterday’s diamond-print shirt still smells okay, so I slip it on and head to the bathroom to brush my teeth and pee. I pass Ashley in the hall, and catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I do my best Big Time Wrestling impersonation, and she laughs. For a kid sister, she’s not too bad.
Downstairs, Mom is whisking batter, and the griddle is already hot. Score! She knows how much I love pancakes. Soon there is a mound of deliciousness on my plate, and a glass of cold milk next to it. Best breakfast ever!
“Gerald,” Mom says. “The dog needs a bath today, and I have to get to work early. I also need you and Ashley to get your laundry downstairs.”
My shoulders slump, but I know better than to balk. I used to pitch a fit when stuff got in the way of my plans, but like she reminds me, I’m a teenager now. Besides talking back is one error I won’t be making again any time soon.
Instead, I grab Rusty and we head out to the back yard to play fetch with his ball.
© 2023 - dustygrein
It's not even a pretty diamond. Just a crystalline mound, really. Disgustingly large and cut unevenly to preserve every piece of it, more of a testament to the rarity of the find than a show of elegance or use. But if value comes from scarcity, it's the perfect score.
I hook my rope to the skylight and begin to slide down. Ten minutes before the mansion's security systems reboot, no matter how thoroughly my forced power surge took them out. If these cameras catch me, the police station lineup will be little more than ceremony.
I turn on my flashlight as I near the ground, careful not to misjudge my landing in the almost pitch black room. I hate the sound when my own boots strike the tile. It's the sound of a pressure plate, a sensor. An error. Close calls batter one's nerves.
So does the figure across the room.
I choke back a startled noise and level my flashlight at it. But the fear devolves into irritation when I recognize him.
"Oh, don't balk at me," he says with his insufferable British accent and his ridiculous toothy grin. "Surely you knew I couldn't ignore this find, either. Donbury, out of town overnight? An empty house? It's irresistible."
I glare. "Ryker, stay out of my job before I put a hot ball of lead through your chest."
It's the windup to a punch I can't land, and he knows it.
"Don't play, Tonya. You can't hide a body in ten minutes. Settle with me, and you can go home to your quaint little dugout with ten percent profit and no prison. Deal?"
I don't let my shoulders slump. Five minutes left on the clock, and I'm tired of running. If he doesn't bend, we both go out.
I slump to the floor of my one bedroom apartment. A plate of half eaten spaghetti states at me from across the room. It hits me. He didn’t even balk when he packed his things. No tears. No perceived error in his judgment. A mound of dirty laundry he left taunts me from the corner. The diamond he placed on my hand so many years ago. I thought he was the catch of a lifetime. My fingers trace dried cake batter that had dripped onto the stove at some point. I reminisced of how he would sing in the shower, off pitch, tone deaf. I had to break out of this funk. Get back on the ball. But in that moment, I saw his favorite wind up toy among the lineup of trinkets he left. I snapped. Recklessly, throwing everything left behind into his dugout canoe in front yard, I proceeded to strike the match, and watch it burn. It warmed my heart to watch those flames lick, lap up, and consume his worldly belongings, like his absence had consumed my soul.
A costly craft
Donnie Pendergast gave his pitch to the captain the morning after the third diamond heist of the month.
"Cap, you got a minute?"
Captain Jake looked up from the mound of papers on his desk behind which he had a plate of jelly donuts.
"What is it, Pendergast? I'm drowning here. The lineup was a bust this morning. None of the witnesses had a clue. Worse still, to a person they felt the need to balk. They each claimed to have made an error and apparently the thief they saw wasn't tall and blonde but rather was short and dark haired. And, oh, by the way, there were three robbers, not four. C'mon!" He took a bite of a donut. "So, what is it, kid?"
"Cap, before they strike again, I know where we can catch them in the act."
"I'm all ears, kid. The mayor and the commisioner feel the need to batter someone on this and that someone is me." He offered him the plate. Donnie shook his head. The captain picked up another donut. " Whatcha got?"
"Well, you see, it's like this..."
"Don’t slump, kid, sit up straight."
Donnie sat up. "You see, Cap, I'm positive they're gonna try to score the biggest job yet this Saturday."
"Why Saturday? There's been no pattern, aside from one a week."
"This Saturday is the Center City Historical Society's annual ball."
"And the items for auction include a miniature native American dugout designed by that eccentric millionaire carpenter who made the life-sized windup cuckoo clock for last year's ball."
"John Boise? Nutcase. So what?"
"He lined the bottom of the dugout with 25 one carat diamonds."
The captain stood and grabbed his jacket. "I think it's time we pay the Society and Mr. Boise a visit, kid."
On a sunny April morning, 1930, a handsome man was driving along a railroad mound, whistling. The telegaph poles lined up in a row beside him, forming a peaceful and melancholic scenery. The man wondered why his model T pickup refused to wind up well in the morning and hardly ever in the evening. Perhaps the car didn't like waking up early as much as him.
"Gush, where is the world going... Another strike at the railway. It seems someone has nothing to put on his plate today. The economy is a complete slump."
As if expressing its consent, the truck cracked and squeaked under its cargo: some twenty jars of fine condensed milk. Or, at least, they looked like condensed milk.
The man had made great profit out of it lately; unlike wine, he had no need to hide milk in a dugout and wait until it got pitch-black at night to drive this special cargo to the town.
"I'll pick a newspaper from a boy later and look who scored what. Then I'll have a battered chicken at the diner, no, something less heavy perhaps." The stones on the road shone like diamonds. What an error if one mistakes them! The driver laughed to himself.
They would not catch him, of course. If the things went wrong with the milk, he would start selling rubber balls or wooden balks instead. Whistle, whistle...
“With me is Doctor Barratt of the Midshire University Archaeology Department.”
“Doctor, what exactly am I looking at?”
“Our most recent dig. Our most exciting one in decades.”
The reporter glances into the dugout. “But what is it?”
“A barrow mound, carbon dating estimates 1000 BCE, with a 10% margin for error.”
“In a field in the middle of nowhere? How did you find it?”
“It began as a class project. A search for anomalies by studying aerial photography. Several candidates and not one to balk at a challenge, this is the one I chose. We hoped we’d strike gold, and… Some of the artefacts are amazing..”
“A diamond encrusted bronze plate is the most valuable piece, but a clay pot sealed with pitch contained a surprise. The most important discovery is a windup toy and a ball similar in size to a modern football. The body was that of a child.”
“3000 year old clockwork?”
“Nothing quite so exotic, but it was driven by a spring.”
“And the contents of the pot?”
“A fish, coated in what could only be described as batter.”
“Aren’t barrow mounds normally above ground?”
“There are a lot of mines in the area. Five hundred years ago, the workings beneath it collapsed causing the whole mound to slump into a deep dip which gradually filled with debris over time.”
“Thank you, doctor. Dennis Mulligan, BBC news, Cheshire.”
The screen switched back to the studio.
“Sport now, and Manchester United have announced a new lineup”
The TV turned off.
“I think that went rather well. Score one for us.” Barratt grinned.
Barratt’s assistant stared at the blank TV, worry creasing his brow. “But what if they catch us? It’s the most audacious hoax since Piltdown Man!”
“I wouldn’t worry about that.”
The ski hill was covered in MOUNDs of hard packed moguls. LINE UPs at the lifts were horrendous. Everyone in the crowd knew it was the last weekend of the season. Black DIAMOND runs were off limits with PLATEs of slate peeping through melting ice.
I realized my ERROR and BALKed looking down the steeply PITCHed slope. The last race of the year would BATTER my knees. I could have a BALL with the run CATCHing the jumps perfectly or go for speed. Or, and that was a big if, I might combine the two and create a perfect SCORE, followng the line exactly right to end up with enough momentum to skate across the DUGOUT pond at the bottom of the hill filled with run off. If I managed to meld all of the elements together, I would cross the finish line with the best time and the highest jump marks, completely dry.
I took a deep breath. Glancing over at the other racer in the blue gate I wondered if I would break the SLUMP I was in. Four races, no podium. It was epic. I never missed placing more than twice in a season. But my knees were giving out. The start count down was beeping, I had to WIND UP bursting through right when the gate in front of me released. Every split second was valuable.
Why was I wondering if? That was a loser's attitude. I knew what no one else did. This was my last race. Go out in a blaze of glory or die trying. You can't have it both ways, STRIKE hard to win. By the time I hit the water I knew I laid down one of my best ever runs. My adversary? She sank to the bottom of the pond.
The Problem Children
Mom calls her children into the living room. Two Golden Retrievers named Sadie and Sunny and a Tabby named Millie form a LINE-UP in front of her.
"Who broke Mommy's PLATE?"
Hesitantly, Sunny sets a paw down onto Millie's back.
Millie hisses at him.
"I should've known." Mom points at Millie, sternly. "Bad kitty."
Millie looks away.
"Now, who took Mommy's DIAMOND?"
Sunny SLUMPS, weighed down by the ERROR of his ways.
But that's not enough for Millie. She has a SCORE to settle. She STRIKES his face.
Millie continues to BATTER him, her meow increasing in PITCH.
Sadie slowly backs away.
"Stop it, Millie." Mom scolds. She separates them before she addresses Sunny. "Where did you put Mommy's ring?"
Sunny tilts his head to the left.
She grimaces as something occurs to her. "I hope you didn't eat it."
He tilts his head to the right.
Mom looks up to find a possible answer. There are multiple MOUNDS of dirt in the backyard. She searches through each DUG-OUT. With one more left, she gets a growing sense of dread. If she doesn't find it here, she might be picking through poop later. The WIND-UP of the search leaves her breathing a sigh of relief. She finds her ring glinting at the bottom of the shallow hole.
Although they were bad, Mom can't stay mad at Sunny and Millie for too long. She lets them and Sadie, of course, out into the yard. Mom gives Sadie extra love for behaving when they play fetch with her favorite BALL. Mom throws Sunny's favorite frisbee for him to CATCH. Meanwhile, Millie is content to sunbathe on the deck by herself.
Dad returns home later to find Mom and the kids resting on the couch, watching Animal Planet.
I’ve been in this slump for too long and counting
There’s an error within me, somewhere
From the moment my eyes blink open
I strike out
And can’t move past that action for hours
My dreams ride a dugout through crystal rivers
It’s an overnight windup
Only to wake up
On the cold, hard mound
I can see the diamond
Yet, with every step I take
There’s a catch
And the score regresses
Is this batter meant to break?
Or rather to balk
In the face of withdrawal
Setting a new pitch
Forbidding the ball to be dropped again
I’m eager for a shift
Where a new lineup is ready
And patterns are broken
So my plate may serve life
Fully and wholly