Derek J Wood

Notary Public. Snappy Dresser. Genius.

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       Kristen was carrying a bucket of jambalaya. Of course she was. When wasn’t she? “Jambalaya Kristen” they called her. Actually nobody called her that. She wished they did. Anything would be better than “Crater Face Kristen.” It didn’t even make sense. The skin on her face was as smooth as a baby’s bottom. It always had been. Which, unfortunately, lead to her current nickname of “Baby butt face.” It wasn’t particularly clever, but at least it was more accurate than “Crater Face Kristen.” How one person could acquire two such contradictory nicknames remained a mystery. But what difference did it make anyway? She’d be stuck with these nicknames until her 76th birthday when she earned the moniker “Ol’ Calamari Kristen.”

       She had gone to a seaside restaurant on the coast of Oregon with her grandson to celebrate. They were running a special – eat 20 pounds of calamari in less than an hour and you get free meals for life. Nobody had ever accomplished – or even tried – the feat before. Twenty pounds, they said, was simply too much calamari. Kristen was never one to shy away from a challenge. Particularly when it came to food. She was, after all, a five time Custer County pie-eating competition champion. It would have been six if it weren’t for that darn Alice. She thought she was so great. And maybe she was. But then, maybe she wasn’t. If Kristen hadn’t just finished judging the chili cook off an hour beforehand, she knows she could have beaten the socks off that cocky wench. As it was, though, the rhubarb pie was just too much and the crowd ended up drenched in a chili/pie mixture that looked as good as you might think and smelled like curdled milk sprinkled with wet dog fur.

       The calamari came out on a platter big enough to encompass the entire table. It made the meal awkward for her grandson, but nobody cares about children’s comfort so things proceeded with no regard for his whining. It took Kristen but thirty-seven minutes to complete the entire tray of calamari, leaving all in awe of her eating abilities. She raised her arms in triumph, then slowly pulled herself onto the table to do a victory dance. Of course, the table could not hold the calamari-infused Kristen and it flipped over, sending her plummeting in the ocean. Oh, how her grandson had pleaded with her not to take a table on the open balcony. “How can they even have such a thing?!” he had exclaimed. “It must be in violation of some sort of safety code!”

       And indeed it was. The restaurant was shut down shortly thereafter for numerous safety violations, not the least of which was using a bonfire, rather than a conventional oven, in the kitchen to cook the food.

       The grandson screamed in horror as his grandmother somersaulted like a disabled manatee into the chilly water below. Some patrons took pictures and tried cheering him up by showing him the hilarious faces Kristen had made during her plunge.

       Now, it was well known that Kristen was no slouch when it came to swimming. She was on a cruise to the Bahamas once when her ship’s engine failed. Everyone was sure they would die stranded in the open water, and rioting was sure to break out. But Kristen remained calm and in control, tied the boat to her waist with some dental floss and swam the ship to shore. They held a parade for her on that very day and it was awful because parades take planning. But she appreciated the gesture nonetheless.

       However, on this day, the seventy-sixth birthday of Kristen, she was so weighed down with the calamari that she plummeted immediately to the bottom of the ocean. She tried to propel herself upwards, but the calamari proved to be too much for her and she perished in a watery grave. “Alice never would have been able to finish all that calamari” was the last thought to go through her head.

       The grandson was overcome with grief when the manager came to tell him that, unfortunately, the prize was non-transferrable, so the free-food-for-life award had thus expired nearly immediately. But the mood was lightened when he offered the young boy a free t-shirt as a consolation prize and got him a refill on his root beer.

       When Kristen’s body was finally recovered from the bottom of the sea, she was laid to rest on the top of a grassy knoll, looking down on the plot Alice had reserved for herself. “That’ll show her,” thought the rotting corpse of Kristen.

       At her final resting place, the headstone was etched with the words
              Here lies Ol’ Calamari Kristen
              She ate a lot
              Now she’s dead

       And the legend of Ol’ Calamari Kristen lives on to this day. But that’s not what I’m here to tell you about.

       Kristen was carrying a bucket of jambalaya. It’s not often you see an entire bucket of jambalaya, but this was no ordinary day. Kristen was celebrating. She had just won the Custer County pie-eating contest (a contest she would win four more times – have you heard that story?) and was feeling particularly jazzed. The only way to celebrate eating all that pie was to eat a bucket of jambalaya. She wouldn’t be eating it herself, of course. There’s no point in gorging oneself if there’s no ribbon to be won. No, her whole family would be coming over. Cousins, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, cousins, uncles, grandfathers, cousins (she had a lot of cousins), and, of course, the vicar. The bucket was quite cumbersome and made it difficult for Kristen to see what was in her path. It was no surprise, then, when she tripped over Mister Cassidy and sent the jambalaya flying into the stratosphere.

       Mister Cassidy, or simply M.C., was Kristen’s cat. I’d tell you what he looked like, but such details bore me. He had followed her home one day after she had gone scuba diving with a giant tuna. This was obviously before she had moved to Custer County. Not that the timing is particularly important. She must have smelled like a can of Starkist – it’s the only real explanation for her appeal. She had never been much of a cat person. And cats are known not to be real people persons…cats…whatever. So there’s no other logical explanation for why M.C. would be drawn to her and why she would have agreed to keep him. Actually, her smelling like tuna doesn’t explain why she would have kept him at all.

       Kristen was going through a rough patch in her life. She had lost her job and was making ends meet by knitting scarves and selling them on a street corner like they were whores. Wool scarves were not a big seller in Southern California, but Kristen could only knit in a straight line, so she had no alternative. There was no great love in her life, so, perhaps to fill the loveless void and dull the monotonous agony of scarf-knitting, it was natural for her to accept M.C. into her life.

       This is not to say it was a match made in heaven. Truth be told, it almost didn’t last beyond a day. Once Kristen had showered and no longer smelled like Charlie the Tuna, M.C. turned cold. He wouldn’t look at her, wouldn’t come to her when she called, wouldn’t sit or roll over…finally, Kristen had enough and asked him to leave. It was then that he rubbed up against her leg and purred like the engine of a Power Wheels. Because that’s how cats are. They treat you like dirt. Then you threaten to kick them to the curb and they trick you into thinking they care. They’re horrible creatures really.

       Jambalaya was flying through the air. Kristen was stumbling about like a drunken clown on the tight rope, grasping for any support to keep her from plummeting face-first into a bed of linoleum. M.C. nonchalantly licked his paws and generally looked like the pompous d-bag that he was. You may think with thousands of tiny grains of rice there would doubtless be a gigantic mess in the kitchen that day. You would, of course, be wrong because you clearly know nothing. The jambalaya flew through the sky as a single unified organism, akin to a gelatinous blob, and landed squarely in Kristen’s cast iron skillet. As she flailed about wildly, her hand grabbed hold of the knob of the stove and lit the gas. This being her only support, she promptly stopped not being unconscious on the kitchen floor. M.C. then stopped licking himself long enough to jump up on the counter and knock the entire contents of a cayenne pepper bottle into the jambalaya. He then walked away and presumably did something else incredibly pestiferous.

       When Kristen awoke 20 minutes later, the air stung her nostrils. The odor of cayenne hung in the air not unlike other odors that hang in the air. Once she got her bearings, she realized the disaster that had befallen her. Her jambalaya had been ruined. Smothered in cayenne pepper and burned on her cast iron skillet – no way to cook jambalaya! Gordon Ramsay would be spinning in his grave if he only had been dead. Kristen turned off the burner dejected. M.C. licked himself.

       The legion of cousins showed up not long after to the stench of cayenne and shame and cat pee. Disgusted, they vowed never to visit Kristen again unless she could eliminate the funk. Kristen, being a fan of Earth Wind & Fire was reluctant to oblige, but she realized family came first, and the only solution was to burn her apartment to the ground with her treasured cast iron skillet inside.

       It would be months before Kristen could rid herself of the smell. She showered twelve times daily and bathed in lavender. It was not until a traveling sales man sold her some dandelion perfume that she finally stopped smelling like a dumpster fire. She hadn’t planned on buying anything from him, but she felt bad for him because who even is a traveling sales man anymore? It had to be an awful gig. Surely he had had more doors slammed in his face than a Jehovah’s witness. His face was weathered with the rain of a thousand tears and something about his broken spirit reminded Kristen of her lost cast iron skillet. Perhaps it was fate that brought him to her door that day. Whatever the case, she purchased the perfume for a sum not very reasonable and they parted, richer for knowing each other. Kristen in the spiritual sense, the traveling sales man in the literal sense. He would go on to become a squatter in the house of an old woman who died the moment she opened the door to let him in. It was three years before anyone realized she had passed and by that time the house was legally his. He bought a cat (WHY?!) and lived somewhat happily until the house burned down in a horrible jambalaya accident. Nobody attended his funeral. Nobody, that is, save for Kristen and her fluctuatingly (sure it’s a word) loyal cat, M.C.

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