Penny climbed unto the platform squeezing her flowered dress to her side to prevent the wind blowing it over her head. Her day had arrived. She was a winner, ready for the crown—albeit only a paper Mache one—but even more important, ready for the cash prize.
As had been pointed out at a recent town council meeting, the podium (where the ceremony was taking place) was constructed such that it resembled a medieval gallows. But unlike at a hanging, the crowd wasn’t cheering. Even at this late date, the other contestants—who Penny considered suspicious poor losers—were jealous and might try to grasp victory from her.
Mayor Higgins sidled over to her and hissed, “Where the hell is Fred?”
“Had a turn for the worse, but here in spirit.”
“Forget spirit. Get the lazy bugger over here and fast.”
As usual, Penny’s husband presented a challenge. But she wasn’t going to let him dampen the proudest moment of her life: the prizewinner in a competition that most couples in town had contended.
Prior to this day, Penny had never won a prize—except the basket of food from the Cats Are Us pet store (which even their dog had refused to eat).
The present competition had been sponsored by Wellness Times Two—a local counseling service—in response to a regional newspaper report naming Bucksville, with more marital disputes per capita than any other town in the country, “The Fightingest Town in the North.”
Local couples were competing to be fight free the longest; the last contestants standing were to be the winners. The initial reward had been increased by the town’s funeral parlor and was now over $4,000 bucks. In a small town, with half of the locals laid-off when the Better Bows’ jobs moved to China that was nothing to sneeze at.
The hitch was that the crowd couldn’t believe Penny and Fred were the winners. Over the years, the couple had attained a local notoriety for the volume and intensity of their arguments.
When the contest began, local folks had tried to catch she and Fred squabbling. For the first few weeks it was a terrible challenge. If someone had heard angry shouts and recorded them or caught Penny and Fred out the back yard arguing about fish livers or fertilizers, the couple would have been disqualified in a flash. But no one had. After years of swiping at one another as if they were mosquitoes, they had lived peacefully, as far as could be heard from outside the home, since the day they signed on as contestants.
“Needs must,” she said to her friend Mable.
It helped that Fred wasn’t getting out like he used to, and that she spent most days hunkered down at the library. And they both were solid sleepers afternoons and evenings, which cut down the opportunities for quarrels.
“I thought the contest was crazy,” Mable had admitted, “But if it brought you and Fred together, it wasn’t all bad.”
“All good in fact,” said the loving wife.
“How is he anyhow? The back still bothering him?”
“No, but he does have other health issues.”
Since the contest began, the locals who had signed on had tried desperately to keep from fighting and focused on catching others who couldn’t hold their tongues. But finally one by one, often with goading from neighbors, couples had been disqualified and only Penny and Fred remained in the race. Now it was time for their crowning moment; Fred was the only fly in the ointment.
The crowd, roasting in the afternoon sun, shouted at Mayor Higgins to get a move on; they were anxious to tuck into the promised back-ribs and beer offered by Eat More Foods.
Finally, unable to persuade her to hustle home and drag Fred back to the event, Mayor Higgins plopped the crown on Penny’s head and announced. “As Penny’s better half isn’t here, I’ll hold the check. They can pick it up at City Hall.”
Grumbling about the injustices she faced, Penny hurried home to reread the contest rules. Surely she could get by on a technicality.
“You’ve screwed us up again, Fred,” she said to her husband. “I’ve already booked my tickets for Hawaii. You never think how your actions affect others.”
In frustration, she reeled off the many times her husband had not been there for her. For once, Fred didn’t high tail it down to the corner pub to avoid her comments.
Finally, she was forced to shut the lid on him. Even at the best of times, the cellar wasn’t warm, and this afternoon the cold air from the freezer was giving her a chill.
~ Melodie Corrigall
Published in Foliate Art. Oct.2016