Keep a Short Story Short
November 5, 2007
Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. It was kind of cool out, and very windy, and Stephanie Davis was singing "Harvest Blues" as I cleaned up the kitchen after a really fine meal of hot beefs and garlic smashed potatoes and corn bake followed up with a plate of those ochocolate caramel bars Dolores Salveson always brought over on Halloween. You know the ones.
As I said, Dolores Solveson, who lives just down the street across from the Murphys', has made a habit of bringing bars over on Halloween while the kids are out trick or treating, so that they'll have a snack waiting for them when they return. She really simply wants the company, and we generally sit and talk a good two hours, answering the door every now and then and passing out candy to the rabbits and the ballerinas and the trolls. It was odd how Dolores didn't show up this year. Every time the doorbell rang and I held out the bowl of candy, I took a gander down the street where her porch light was not on and her garage door was shut. I called three times and left three messages. I called Ruth, her best friend, and asked whether she'd heard from Dolores. "Heck, no," she said, "I been at deer camp all week and I'm headin' back out in the morning."
So after the kids were in bed, I grabbed a flashlight and a handful of snack-size candy bars and headed on over to Dolores'. No answer after several knocks, so I tried the door and it was open and I went in. I didn't even have to holler. There she was, all curled up, her silver-bunned head resting on her right forearm which rested on the arm of the couch. She was wearing a pink gingham apron over her brown dress. There was a large bowl of candy and a few wrappers on the coffee table. She was smiling a bit and didn't stir and I knew before I got to her that she wasn't about to, either.
To keep a short story short, Dolores had died sometime Wednesday afternoon, and what I can tell you is that while I waited for the police to arrive, sitting there holding Dolores' hand, the strangest warmth washed over me. I remembered how she'd planted pralines in her backyard, hoping they would grow, and how she washed out and kept used plastic bags in the hall closet. I remembered how she'd always wanted to fly a plane, and how deeply she missed Leroy, her husband, after he died of flu complications a year or so ago. And I remembered how Dolores always said that change is good, and that the seasons really are quite a blessing, unlike some places where everything is in a kind of limbo at times. They give us something to focus on, something to remind us we're moving forward, not back, and imagine what it would be like if nothing ever changed. "We'd all be lumps," she said, "and I'm not down with that movement. I've got places to go." That's what brought me to smiling on Saturday, when the moon was a sliver and the phone never rang, and three children had the presence of mind to find their mittens ahead of time, and lay them out on the counter for the morning. There were light flurries in the forecast, and they didn't get here 'til Monday, but they got here. Now I have to find the shovel. The big red one. Never know what's comin', and I've got places to go.
Those Chocolate Caramel Bars (Dolores Solveson's prizewinner)
1 package light caramels (about 32)
1/3 c evaporated milk
Combine and cook over low heat until melted. Set aside.
1 pkg. German chocolate cake mix
3/4 c butter, melted
1/3 c evaporated milk
1 c chocolate chips
In large mixing bowl, combine cake mix, butter, and evaporated milk. Mix with your hands until dough is together. Pat half of dough into greased and floured pan. Reserve rest for top. Bake at 350 for 7 minutes. Sprinkle chocolate chips over crust. Pour caramel over chips. Drop rest of batter over caramel mixture. Return to oven for 20 minutes at 350.