Well, it’s nine-thirty on a Monday night, and I’m just now getting around to posting this, which I guess tells you everything you need to know about how my day’s gone.
Actually, it hasn’t been that bad, as Mondays go, but I feel perpetually in a state of trying to catch up and am still at least two tasks behind schedule. Well, what can you do, other than stop complaining and get on with the next thing.
And that takes us to today’s story! To recap, the prompt I came up with last week was an action/adventure, set in a restaurant kitchen, including… a stray sock. Hey, I just draw the cards. OK, so I also made up the list of prompts, but I didn’t foresee this particular combination. Maybe I should have. The combos have started getting a little weird the past couple draws.
Anyway, the first thing I pictured was Miss Vida Greenleaf, the early twentieth century St. Louis drag queen, chasing a thief through a restaurant kitchen with her faithful gentleman companion Herbert close at her heels. Then I just had to picture why they were chasing the thief and just what exactly he’d stolen. But I imagined that maybe Miss Vida was growing a little weary of all their time-hopping adventures—even if she wasn’t anywhere near ready to go back home.
What happened after that? Only one way to find out….
A Place to Land
Looking back, Miss Vida figured it was probably in that restaurant kitchen when she started having doubts about traveling through time with Herbert.
She didn’t have doubts about their relationship—heavens, no. Herbert was the most faithful suitor she’d ever known in all her life. If anything, she adored him more than he venerated her, and that was saying something.
And they had seen so much together, glimpsed futures they couldn’t have even dreamed of. Met people beyond her imagination. Seen advances that staggered the mind.
They had also seen some of the worst of humanity. Borne witness to two global wars, assassinations of world leaders, disasters that would have been inconceivable in their time.
But she’d also seen the way society had evolved since their time, and it made St. Louis at the cusp of the twentieth century seem… hopelessly backward.
“Darling,” she said to Herbert as they raced down the alley in pursuit of the man who’d picked Herbert’s pocket and taken the key to their time cabinet, “I don’t know how much longer I can go on.”
“I can maintain the pursuit, light of my life,” he said, his breath heaving. “You wait here.”
But she kept pace with him. “That was not my meaning, heart.”
The pickpocket skidded around a corner and disappeared for a moment. When they rounded the corner themselves, Miss Vida saw a large white man in a stained apron sprawled on the ground, a metal door behind him clanging shut.
“In there,” she cried, slowing momentarily to look down at the man and say, “I’m so sorry about all this.”
The door opened onto a long, narrow corridor. They had to run single file down its length until they reached another door that was just closing. Herbert grabbed the edge of it and flung it wide. On the other side was a kitchen, brightly lit, full of wire shelving and men and women, all dressed in white, hovering over flaming burners, steaming sinks and knives clattering against cutting boards.
The thief threaded his way around them, nearly knocking one woman against a steaming stockpot before Herbert seized the back of her white chef’s coat and steadied her. The thief elbowed another cook out of his way, and the poor man dropped his burden, a heavy pot filled with something white and gloopy looking—mashed potatoes, it turned out. And Herbert, in his haste, stepped right in it. The heavy mixture sucked the shoe clear off his foot, leaving him hobbling after the thief, his wet sock slapping loudly against the tiles.
Miss Vida vaulted past Herbert and followed their prey into a dimly lit, high-ceilinged dining room, filled with tables draped in white tablecloths, surrounded by people more fashionable than she could have imagined.
He was tantalizingly close, but still out of reach. So she grabbed the closest thing to hand from a nearby dining table—a salt cellar, round and white with a clasped brass lid, and extremely heavy for its size—and she winged it at him with all her might.
Contact. The projectile struck him in the back of the head and he collapsed across a table. The couple seated there leapt out of the way before their meals and the table itself came crashing down in their laps. Miss Vida pounced on the man, pinning one of his arms under her knee while wrenching the other behind his back as she rifled through his jacket pockets until she found, not just Herbert’s keychain, but his pocketwatch and money clip. Laughing victoriously, she held them aloft like a prize.
“Thought you’d gotten away, didn’t you, you sticky-fingered scoundrel!”
He called her a foul name and said, “Get the hell off me.” She clouted him in the back of the skull one more time.
For a moment, when the hostess reached the scene of their collision, Miss Vida thought she and Herbert were going to be the ones thrown out of the establishment. Luckily, she was able to smooth things over with both the hostess, the diners, and the police who were called in due course and carted the pickpocket away. Fortunate too that, in the general confusion, Miss Vida was able to pocket the keychain, although the police did insist on retaining the pocketwatch for evidence, as well as the money clip. Miss Vida, however, carefully removed most of the cash from the clip before handing it over.
So in the end, once the debris was cleared and Herbert’s shoe retrieved from the mashed potatoes—the sock was a lost cause—they were able to enjoy a lovely dinner with the couple whose meal the thief and Miss Vida interrupted so spectacularly.
“Dearest,” Herbert said later, as they walked away from the restaurant, “what’s wrong? You’ve been uncharacteristically taciturn since we sat down to dinner. You’re not still bothered about the pocket watch, are you?”
“No, darling, it’s not that.”
“Because I can always get another watch,” and here he jingled the key ring, “but we can’t get another time cabinet. Without that, we’d have no way home.”
Miss Vida stopped. They were at a corner not far from Jackson Square, and the other pedestrians flowed around them as she turned to face Herbert.
“Herbert, I think I’m ready to settle down.”
He frowned. “You want to go home?”
She shook her head. “That’s just it. I feel as if I need a moment to stop and catch my breath, but….”
Miss Vida looked behind them, as if the past were something she could glimpse in their wake, something pursuing them. She shivered, though it wasn’t cold at all, and looped her arm through Herbert’s.
“But I don’t want to go back to nineteen hundred four. I’ve seen too much of the world to go back.”
Herbert didn’t say anything for what seemed like an eternity. She couldn’t look at him, instead casting her gaze downward toward the cobblestones, the feet of the people walking by. If she did, there’d be disappointment in his eyes, surely.
When he seized her hand and brought it to his lips, she was surprised. When he sank down onto one knee, she was terrified. When he took both her hands and gazed up at her with that same unfailing adoration, she was lost, and also found.
“Vida, marry me.”