Pat O. Butter and Melba Toast contest is a tie between Patrick Nelson and Helen Chapman

Buttered Toast by Helen Chapman
‘Melba? Melba! Come on! It’s almost time!’ Patricia Olivia Butter straightened the seams of her hose one last time, then bent to buckle the straps on her Mary Jane pumps. She had been waiting all week for this, and she wasn’t about to be late.
Her friend exited the bedroom, tying her hair in place with a ribbon as she walked. ‘I’m coming already, Pat. Geez Louise, you’d think you had never been to a movie before. So we’re a few minutes late. We’ll just watch the news real after the feature.’ 
Pat rolled her eyes at her friend, then shrugged into her coat. ‘We’re going to see everything in order. Now come on!’
The two friends hurried from Melba’s house and down the street. It was a good five blocks to the Arcade Theater. Pat knew they could walk it faster than waiting for the bus do take them up Harford Road. Besides, they didn’t have enough money for the movie and round trip fare. Pat linked her arm with Melba to keep her moving.
‘Gee, Mel. You’d think you didn’t want to see that good looking candy butcher you were making eyes at last week.’ She grinned when she saw her friend blush up to the roots of her red hair.
‘I don’t know who you’re talking about, Pat.’
Pat laughed and squeezed her friend’s arm. ‘Oh, I think you do. Brad something, wasn’t it? Brad...Crust?’
Melba pulled away from Pat. ‘You know good and well his name is Brad Toast.’
Pat noticed that Melba’s step quickened a bit as the marquee lights of the Arcade came into view. When they got close enough to read what the feature presentation was, Melba stopped short.
‘Oh no. You’re not getting me in there! Nuh-uh. You know I can’t watch those kind of movies.’ Melba shook her head so hard the bow she had tied so carefully went askew.
Her friend reached up and tried to straighten the bow as she spoke to her in what she hoped was a calming tone. ‘Now, Mel...just calm down. We’ll get a seat in the back row on the aisle. You can sit on the end, okay? If anything really scary starts to happen, you can go out and talk to Brad in the lobby.’ Pat finally gave up trying to straighten her friend’s bow. Instead, she reached up and pushed her own slightly to the other side, so at least they’d match. Who knows, maybe they’d set a new trend.
Pat took Melba’s hand and half dragged her the remaining half-block to the entrance to the Arcade. They walked in from the street, then down the hallway papered with broadsheet posters of coming attractions.
‘Look at that, Pat. Why couldn’t we wait until tomorrow? Then we could see Old Yeller.’
‘Do you really want Brad to see you with your eyes all red and your mascara running? You know how you get when you see animal movies.’
They bought their tickets and went in through the double doors. The smell of popcorn was redolent throughout the lobby. The small candy counter held boxes of Jordan Almonds, Good n’ Plentys and Nonpareils.
The lobby held a few people. Men and women standing about finishing their last cigarette before they went inside, a few children complaining of being taken home as they left from the previous showing. Melba didn’t understand why anyone would bring a kid to see a movie like this.
Melba stopped dead in her tracks. She looked to the left.
Brad Toast stood behind the candy counter. He was assembling popcorn boxes with rapid precision. As he worked, he stared at Melba.
Melba smiled at him somewhat tenuously.
He gestured with a nod that they should come over.
Melba hesitated. She really didn’t know this man. How forward of him to do this in front of everyone. Why, she should just turn around and report him to the manager.
Pat smiled broadly and dragged Melba across the lobby to the counter. ‘Hi, Brad.’
The man in the red jacket trimmed with gold braid merely nodded at Pat. ‘Melba, I didn’t know you liked this kind of movie too.’
Melba felt Pat give her an elbow in the ribs. ‘Oh sure. Me and Patty, we come to these things all the time. Can’t get enough of them. The scarier the better.’
He grinned. Melba thought she swoon when he showed his dimples to their best effect. He set the last box aside and leaned over the counter to whisper. ‘Sit in the back row and save me a seat on the end. Once the feature comes on I’ll be in. Been wanting to see this one all week, and this is the last night.’
Melba fairly floated into the auditorium. Pat stopped just inside the door and moved into the last row against the wall. There were only three seats on that row, and Pat made sure she sat against the wall. Melba sat in the center seat and fidgeted nervously with her purse.
The houselights dimmed and the projector roared to life in the booth. A Movietone Newsreel flickered on the screen, surrounded by blue velvet curtains and proscenium. The newsreel gave way to a cartoon. Melba wasn’t sure if it was Tom and Jerry or Sylvester. She didn’t care. All she knew was that Brad was coming in to sit with her, and she had her best friend to thank for it.
Finally, when the selected shorts and previews ended, and the screen went briefly black.
Allied Artists Pictures Presents
a Walter Wanger Production
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Melba was staring at the screen. The music was creepy, the credits set her on edge, even the clouds in the opening sequence scared her.
She almost screamed when a box of popcorn appeared in front of her, and a red-clad arm slid across the back of her seat.
You Magnificent You by Patrick Nelson

     “Lookie! Lookie! This would look so good with that skirt you bought last week!” Melba said bending down with the blouse and holding it in it front of Pat who was sitting in front of the rack of clothes that Melba was just rifling through. “Here, take it and go look at it in the mirror over there” pointing at the back wall of the high end and spartan boutique they where shopping in.
    Rising grudgingly to comply, Pat said feebly: “ You mean the one you bought for me. I don’t need you to keep buying these, these, things to keep me happy. You know I like my clothes just fine and there’s nothing wrong with them. They are clean, well-cared for and still sort of stylish. They may not be as nice as all these clothes here... but I don’t have a problem dressing my age.” Pat clutched the hangar tight in the left hand and a small purse tight in the right. “I am happy to be with you without you buying me baubles and things to keep me.”
     Melba gently grabbed Pat’s arm and stopped her from turning towards the mirror. Being the taller of the two, she inched closer to Pat andlowered her head in a coy manner and pouted out her lower lip a bit. “Poor baby, can mummy do anyfing to make you feew bettuh?” she teased.  She started to play with the silk belt of Pat’s dress.
    “Stop it, you minx! No fair!” She whispered to Melba. “You know I don’t like people staring at us. Not here.” She shifted her gaze nervously to she if any judging eyes were burning them yet. Especially the waif-like girl at the register who, in Pat’s regard, seemed to be looking down her skinny nose at them from the moment they walked in.
    Melba picked up on this and backed away from Pat, but not the topic. “Well, where would you like people to stare at us? Come on sweetie! That little bitch at the front desk is just making sure no one is stealing any of this trash hanging here.” She gave a disdainful swipe of her hand across the rack of clothes and grabbed the blouse from Pat and hung it back on the rack where she got it from. “She isn’t really seeing us. I bet if we tossed a candy bar in the corner we could walk out with half her stuff before she even finished licking the wrapper.”
    Pat clutched her purse with both her hands now, drew them up close to her mouth and gave a titter that seemed inappropriate for a person her
age. “Oh, Melba! You’re devilish!”
    That was them in a capsule. Melba the smooth, stylish and assertive one. Pat the clumsy, frumpy and self-conscious one. Ever since they met back in 1958, they never left each other’s side. They started having lunch together at the law office they worked at and soon that became dinner, movies, long weekends at Melba’s family’s cabin. They found they needed no one else. It seemed only natural with the feelings they brought out in each other that they should be together all the time, so they got an apartment together. Ultimately, that led to a house. They where this mismatched perfect pair. Melba went looking for adventure and always brought Pat along. Melba had the upper hand, but Pat held it all together with her heart.
    To say they were ahead of their time was putting it mildly.
    Even today, when every lifestyle was accepted and, more often, applauded, Melba and Pat are distinct and most irregular. Though, seeing these two elderly women in a vogue salon such as this was strange. To see them flirting with each other this way would unnerve even the most open-minded sort. They were unconventional, uncategorizable and perfectly happy that way thank you very much.
    “Why are we here again?” Pat asked Melba, who had crossed around to another rack of clothes.
    Melba stopped sliding hangers back and forth and said “You remember, don’t you?” She had a genuine look of concern on her face.
    “Oh, my. Yes. I remember now. Sorry. When is your niece supposed to get here again and why did she pick this stuffy place?”
    Relief washed over Melba as she replied “Lucy said two o’clock and she wanted to meet here so she could talk to us about something
important while she shops for something for her honeymoon.”
    “Well if she’s shopping here for an outfit, she and Wally must be doing very well” she said as she turned over a price tag. She did not
approve of the price.
    “If you raise your eyebrows any higher, you’re going to push your wig off your head.” Melba chuckled.
    Just then the front door opened and the bell attached to the top tinkled wildly. A pretty young girl in her late twenties strode briskly to the rear of the store and stopped at the side of the elderly couple. She had blond hair pulled tight into a pony tail and a bright yellow dress with a matching purse and high heels.
    “Melba! Pat! Soooo good to see you two! Thank you for meeting me here. It really helps me kill two birds with one stick. I’m so busy with the final touches of the wedding” she said in one breath. “Well I suppose I should get right to the point about this. You got my invitations, yes?”
    “Yes, dear. Thank you so much for thinking of us two little old ladies. You know how Pat here loves a wedding and it gives us a chance to dress up in our best. We don’t get to go out that much anymore” Melba said.
    “Well, funny enough, that’s exactly what I wanted to discuss with you two. This is really uncomfortable for me to say, but. . .” she hesitated in her speech, but not in her perusal of the items on the rack. Without even glancing at the two of them, Lucy continued: “You know Wally and I don’t have any problem with you two or your life choices, but some of his relatives are not as accepting. I was wanting to ask you two if you don’t mind. . . Oh, I don’t know how to ask this.” She finally turned to the two women and sheepishly shrugged and held her palms up.
    “What, dear? Are you asking us to not come? Are you ashamed of us” Melba said, her voice rising but shaky.
    “Now, now, Melba. Let’s give her a chance to finish. I’m sure your niece is saying no such thing” Pat stepped in between the two women and put her arm across Melba’s chest and patted her shoulder gently. ”Are you, Dear?”
    “No! No. All right. Here goes.” She took a deep breath and exhaled, saying in a quick burst: “We need you two to not dress up for the wedding. We need you to not wear dresses. We need you to wear suits like all the other men at the wedding.”
    Melba and Pat just stood there for a moment frozen. They stared at Lucy with their mouths open, slowly they turned their heads to face each other. Some thought must have passed between the two for they turned back to Lucy and started both shouting at once: “You’ve known how strongly we feel about our need to dress like this” Pat screeched. “We thought you would be the last person to hurt us like this.”
    “Does your mother know about this? She can’t have known. I never imagined that little girl I watched grow up would ever be so cruel.” Melba moaned with pain. “How could you?”
    The two elderly women whirled around arm in arm and headed for the door. Lucy tried to call after them and stop them “Uncle Mel! Uncle Patrick! Please! Come back!”
    The door slammed against the counter and the bell rang furiously, making the small clerk jump straight up.
    As the door was slowly closing, Melba turned on her heel and shouted in to Lucy: “And you look like a canary! Your purse and shoes need to be a different color than your dress!”
    With that, the door clicked shut and the two women briskly walked out of sight.

I want to thank all of you for writing such great pieces.  I’m having a fantastic time reading through them all.  I feel really honored that you all took the time to think about Melba Toast and Pat O. Butter.  Just a reminder, just because I chose them to win the drawings doesn’t mean that I am the arbiter of good taste.  I actually think all of them were great and since all of you honored me with your efforts I’ve really tried to carefully read and respond to each of your stories. 

This contest is a tie between Patrick Nelson and Helen Chapman.  I’m going to make another drawing of Pat and Melba to send off so both Chapman and Nelson get drawings of the subjects of their stories.  Here’s what I thought of each of the pieces.

Helen Chapman and Patrick Nelson’s “You Magnificent You” jump right into the flow of a story and really had a strong sense of plot with a bit of a punch at the end that capped the story nicely.  Chapman’s piece also had all the best elements of all the stories but all these elements were integrated into the flow.  It was funny, had a strong sense of time and place, and really gave a sense of who the characters were.   I think another strength with both were that the stories were not character sketches in the traditional sense but more through the actions and behavior of the characters.  Each story complimented the portraits without directly referring to them.  A difference was how Patrick Nelson’s “You Magnificent You” dealt with a very contemporary theme that is sometimes called “otherness.”  I had an “Oh shit!” moment. You have to read his story to see why this quote from his story is so relevant.

 “Melba! Pat! Soooo good to see you two! Thank you for meeting me here. It really helps me kill two birds with one stick.”

Similar to the two winners was “Blarney” by Gigi DeVault, in which difference, sexual orientation, race and geography also figure strongly into the plot.   I don’t know how a piece of short fiction can feel epic but DeVault manages to do this and it almost seems like a scene out of a film from “Zhivago” or “Reds.”    (“Reds” is kind of a theme for me here so wait to see how it relates to the rest of the stories.) Not only was DVault able to make reference to the other paintings that depict the Toasts it also plays with the names and gives a wonderful sense of backstory.  This piece almost seems like the intro to a larger work. 

This batch of stories were a bit different then some of the earlier competitions. Many of the stories in this batch were kinds of vignettes.  Several of these stories reminded me of the movie “Reds.”  It seemed like almost all of the stories were partly reminiscences that were meant to describe the character or Melba and Pat. 
Three of these interesting character studies that shared this quality among other things were by D. Charles Florey, Martrice Candler, and William Knight. These sketches match the feel of the actual drawings of the characters.  As vignettes, they explore the element of friendship as it moves through history and in two cases even a move to California.  All three share a kind of nostalgia, however, in the case of Florey and Candler also a sense of ennui or disappointment on the part of one of the characters too.  A strength in the piece by D. Charles Florey was his dialog and strong finish.  I think Candler’s high points are that she incorporates interesting elements such as religion race and geography and how they all intersect and lost friends.

A different take on character study/development was the charming “Green Lace Flowers and Billy Mayonnaise” by Kayla Mahoney and the more sinister “Burned Bridges and Toast” Deneze Bellenghi.  In Mahoney’s the temperament or feeling of each of the characters was conveyed through a sort of dialog between the two.  A little bit like that song “We met at eight, We met at nine, a yes I remember it well.” Bellenghi’s story was more of a monologue and a kind of remembrance of a friendship and actions that ended with betrayal and the sound of a kinetic toaster.

A mysterious and kind of delightfully creepy study of the characters was Royce A Ratterman’s “Questions Never Asked.”  One part story one part riddle all parts develop the two characters and made we wonder what the prologue must have been.  Ratterman’s story is kind of a post episode description of the after effects of a single violent act, but, what were the chain of events that lead up to the axe fall?  What inspired the chain of events that sent Pat’s brother to prison?  I felt the same way about Almost-Sisters by Myka Wright.  Similarly sinister it has one line it that is almost like the key the whole story is set to.  It’s a great and perfectly apt description of time and setting for the feeling of the relationship of the two close women,  I don’t want to ruin it for you but, “The pumpkins were frowning with mold. . .”

Taylor Ray’s story takes the local train and provides another kind of vignette about two friends and the games they play.  I remember doing things like these two women playing word games while travelling and sometimes even a small game can lead to a little bit of a cold war.

Both David G. Brosky and S.M. Florey’s stories again are more character sketches of the two which give us a trip through time.  The portrait about to be framed in S.M. Florey’s “Remembrance” is a bittersweet artifact of memory and the story is really about the feelings of the beholder rather than the subject of the portrait.  The story had a kind of magical cap at the end that was a little bit like “Red Violin” or “Portrait in Blue.”  Nice story with a bit of melancholy.  The same is true with David G. Brosky’s.  Brosky has a strong sense of time and place and sets his story in a sort of Norman Rockwell world but with a slight barb to it that is the reality of aging it’s a kind of counterpoint to Florey’s picture which seems to be post mortem.

 “Telegraphy” by James Thibeault is a sort of simulacra (um?) of a series of telegraphs between “Bread” and “Butter” that tells a story in shorthand. It reminded me a little bit of finding a bound series of letters in someone’s shoe box.  I think it’s a great idea and it left me wondering what the ultimate outcome would be.  I think that Thibeault developed characters and plot in a unique way.  What a great idea!

Read all the stories here:

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