Paul Newman

Deidre took her role of house meeting chairperson and notetaker very seriously. House meeting, that once-weekly all-important gathering of minds and the ideas within them, always needed her firm hand to guide it, lest it become something raucous and – to Deidre there was no word more offensive – unproductive. She loved her housemates but Themis, Titaness Greek Goddess of Order forgive them, they could be a tad disorganized. Prone to drift. Canoes without paddles. Lovely canoes, in fact the friendliest and loveliest canoes she had ever known, but regardless: aimless.

“Ah yes,” she peered meaningfully over her half-moon glasses at the occupants of the table, “this next item is mine. It concerns salad dressings, namely the deterioration in the quality of our homemade ones thereof.”

“Beg your pardon?”

This was Fawn. Deidre frowned slightly. If she had a nemesis among canoes, it was Fawn. Fawn, who flitted in and out of the house like a manic butterfly and then claimed she was too disabled to empty the dishwasher. Fawn who matter-of-factly claimed that her mother and her sister were narcissists yet was too blind to see that she was one also. Fawn, who interrupted by raising a French tipped hand traffic cop style and interjecting some loud, nasally inanity. Fawn, who’d been a personal trainer before the accident towing her damn silly suitcase of supplements all over the house. Fawn whose forthrightness already verged on aggression, claiming she was going to start working on being a whole lot less passive.

“The salad dressings. I don’t know about anyone else but I’m getting sick of having to consume 1 part balsamic vinegar and 1 part olive oil every time we sit down to a supper. It’s gotten…old.”

“Oh,” said Fawn, putting on a mock and egregiously inaccurate posh English accent, “oh, dearie me.  Salad dressings not quite up to snuff are they, darling? Well, this cannot stand.” Fawn slapped the table. “I hereby propose that we eliminate salad dressing altogether lest Deborah –”

“Deidre.”

“Whatever. Don’t interrupt. I was in the middle of being amusing.”

And indeed, much to Deidre’s chagrin, some of the other ladies had been tittering and tittered still. And, Deidre was particularly disheartened to note, the one staff member present seemed mildly amused as well.

“Ladies,” said Janice, Executive Director of Isabella Duncan House and failing to suppress a smile, “let’s keep it civil.”

“And anyway,” Deidre was quick to speak up, lest Fawn get a word in edgewise, “I had a fun idea. What about a salad dressing challenge? To have some fun and encourage a little more care and variety with the salad dressings each cooking partnership makes?”

Brief silence. Then Janice: “I think that’s actually a really good idea.”

Deidre smiled. “I know, could be fun right? Kelly, what do you think?”

Kelly shrugged. “I dunno. Well, yeah. Would there be prizes?”

Everyone looked at Janice. They had a good life here at the group home where many a lady, previously derailed by the ravages of mental illness had healed to wholeness. The food was good and the policy of having cooking teams consisting of two or three of the residents make dinner one night of the week, Monday to Thursday, had helped many to recover self-confidence and acquire new skills. The program manager, a lithe and whippy thing named Raindrop, taught yoga. Massage therapy students down the road came once a week to give free massages as part of their learning. There was an art room and now, thanks to the kindness of one of the resident’s parents, a Smartspeaker in the kitchen who was always being asked to play Celine Dion if it was Petunia and 90’s dance if it was Jen. There was a large TV. There was a library. There was garden that teemed with native plants and buzzing bees. Karen was hellbent on saving the Eastern Monarch population single-handedly – thus, half the garden was milkweed.

But regardless of these comforts, the budget was not what it once was. Gone were the days when the funds allowed occasional brunches out and holiday dinners down the road at a very good restaurant.

Janice picked a ball of fluff off her angora sweater. “I think,” she said carefully, “that gift cards could probably be provided.”

“Tim Horton’s?” asked Petunia eagerly. Petunia loved her crullers and three-sugar dark roast coffees. 

Deidre was delighted. At least the idea was starting to appeal to one of her fellow residents. And she was thrilled that Janice was on board. That nearly made up for smiling at what stupid fucking Fawn had said.

“Then it’s decided,” she said as she wrote the word “decided” in irreproachable blocks letters. How like her, she thought as she relived this moment later. She was a lover of decision. Others had hobbies; she made choices and followed them up with the tenacity of an ox at the plough. This was what life was all about: when she made choices she affirmed her freedom to make them and yet, at the same time, provided herself with a limiting structure to her days that gave her the comfort of security. She was aware of the paradox but she resolved it thus: it was only within a fenced yard that a child was truly free to play with abandon.

For now, it was enough that Fawn had rolled her eyes and Deidre already had a lovely, creamy poppyseed creation in mind. She looked over her glasses one last time.

“Monday a week from now we start? No objections? Time enough to get those special quality ingredients on the list if you get cracking now, isn’t it?”

Silence.

Which Deidre counted as a yes.


The next morning Deidre was up early, as was her unfailing habit, and after her breakfast of porridge and black coffee was at the sideboard in the dining area, pulling out cookbooks. There was one that was entirely dedicated to “plant-powered” dressings and sauces and this was what must be hidden from the others. She jogged up the stairs intending to rouse Petunia and met that same person, who was blearily making her way down the stairs to the kitchen, having been summoned from sleep by the smell of Deidre’s coffee.

“Petunia! Good morning. Just the gal I hoped to see. We must set up a meeting – I really, really want to win this thing.”    

Petunia, never a particularly sanguine individual even when rested and alert, merely blinked. Her thoughts were of coffee and the words coming out of Deidre’s mouth, although English, made no sense to her.

Deidre, sensing confusion but with little appreciation of just how profound Petunia’s capacity for non-comprehension first thing in the morning truly was, attempted to fill in the blank that was Petunia’s non-caffeinated mind.

“The salad dressing competition! Don’t tell me you’ve forgot? Remember there’s a prize? Tim Horton’s, Petunia. Coffee and crullers.”

Petunia just stared. Her eyes were a big and sad as a cow’s. She’d recognized the word coffee, nothing else had rung a bell.

“Coffee?” she asked. She was barely audible. There was a sort of restrained hope coupled with fearful disbelief in her voice – kind of like how a Roman slave might say “really?” when told of her impending emancipation. Was it a joke? 

Petunia’s brows knit as this, her first non-coffee related thought of the day, crossed her mind. Anger was serving the same function as caffeine would have. As she awoke, pushed on by a small surge of adrenaline, Petunia became more fully aware of the situation. Deidre, perched three steps below, was in her way.

“Coffee,” said Petunia. It was a statement pushed through gritted teeth. But Deidre was oblivious to the threat implied in those two syllables and the tone in which they were delivered. She blithely continued, as cheerful as a girl’s yellow dress.

“Yes! And if we want to get our hands on all the free coffee, we’ve got to get to work. Let’s say we take advantage of the fact that we’ve got the house to ourselves and get to planning our competition-winning salad dressing!”

“COFFEE.”

“Hush, dear. We don’t want to wake up anyone else.” Deidre reached for Petunia’s hand. “Although I do admire that enthusiasm. That’s the spirit.”

And Petunia became dimly aware she was being led in the direction of her original destination. But as to the delay that Deidre had already caused…


Petunia and Deidre cooked Mondays so theirs was the first dressing under consideration. Deidre, unwilling in the end to trust the preparation of either salad or dressing to anyone else but herself (and here she still had doubts) had commanded that Petunia take responsibility for the rest of the meal. Petunia had raised no protest which might have struck Deidre was odd had she any thoughts to spare for anything other than total victory. Instead, with laser-like focus, she candied the pecans and portioned out the goat’s cheese she bought specially from the specialty cheese store up the road for an exorbitant amount. She sliced pears, rinsed the arugula. She was an hour on the dressing itself, measuring and stirring and tasting until she was at last satisfied with the result. 

She checked the clock. 5 minutes to dinner. She looked again at the large mason jar now full of creamy poppyseed dressing as she would her own child. She washed her hands and, as a wave of pure jubilation washed over her, slapped Petunia on the back and declared, “Well Petunia, I think we’ve done it.”

“Yeah,” said Petunia. The sarcasm of her reply was not noted by anyone but Fawn, who appeared in the doorway to the kitchen.

“Sorry to interrupt ladies,” she said. “But Deidre, someone’s waiting for you on the resident line. Says it’s urgent. I think it’s your son, although he didn’t say his name.”

Deidre stepped briskly from the sink, still wiping her hands dry on a tea towel.

“Are you sure? Did he sound like he was in trouble?”

Fawn jerked her thumb behind her towards the TV room. “Best see for yourself.”

Deidre rushed forward but still had the presence of mind to call over her shoulder at Petunia. “Petunia! Guard that dressing with your life!”

“Yeah, uhm, OK.”

Deidre moved past Fawn, who stepped aside with a mock obsequiousness that Deidre was too distracted to notice. She crossed in front the TV and grabbed the phone where Fawn had left it.

“Jason? Is that you?”

Silence.

“Jason? Can you hear me? It’s Mom. I can’t hear you honey.”

Fawn was standing nearby, arms folded over her chest. “Perhaps you got disconnected. Call him back.”

“Yes, thank you Fawn,” Deidre snapped. “Believe it or not, that had occurred to me.”

She hung up the phone and then dialed Jason’s number.

“Yo.”

“Jason? It’s Mom. Did you just call me?”

“Nuh-uh.”

“Are you absolutely sure?”

“Yep.”

“Is everything OK?”

“Sure.”

“Well, that’s a relief,” sighed Deidre, patting her chest. “We still on for Sunday?”

“I guess.”

“Lovely. I’ll see you then. Love you now.”

“Kay.”

He hung up. Deidre turned to Fawn, who shrugged.

“I guess I made a mistake. Sorry to worry you like that.”

The apology was utterly uncharacteristic. But Deidre only noticed that much later. She was already halfway to the kitchen, focused once again on her dressing. Stoned sons and Fawn might as well not exist.

Minutes later, Petunia as commanded by Deidre who had at last decided that everything was perfect, was moving through the house, ringing the small handbell whose clanging notes signaled dinner. Deidre stood at one end of the table, nervous fingers wrapped around the top of a chair, as she explained to arriving staff and residents that they were having salad first and on its own so everyone could get the full experience of what she and Petunia had concocted in their magic kitchen.

She said it like that. 

She forbade anyone to start eating before everyone was seated. She’d put so much into this. Fawn straggled in last, twirling a lock of her blonde hair and looking as nonchalant as possible. She was snapping gum and paused before sitting to ask, “Is this it, then?”

Deidre was too full of nervous anticipation to take much notice of Fawn. She encouraged Jen, who was seated nearest, to help herself to dressing.

“And what do we call this?” asked Janice with a smile.

“Deidre and Petunia’s Down Home Poppyseed Heaven.”

“Ooh.”

Deidre at last allowed herself to sit. She watched carefully as Jen and others took their first bite. She wore an ear-to-ear grin that dropped off her face and would have shattered on the floor had that been possible when she saw a look of complete disgust pass over Jen’s face.

“Oh God, Deidre. I think…I’m sorry to say…I think something’s gone badly awry here,” she said. And then she emptied the half-consumed contents of her mouth into her napkin and announced to the rest of the table, “No one eat it, OK? It’s really, really foul. Oh Jesus. I need water. Ugh. My God.”

Janice, who had the mason jar before her but had yet to help herself, sniffed at the jar’s contents. Her nostrils dilated, her brow wrinkled. “She’s not wrong, Deidre. That’s the nastiest thing I ever smelt. I think you must have used something expired.”

Deidre leapt to her feet and simultaneously slammed the table with both her hands. “That’s not possible! I made it myself. I tasted it – it was fine! It was more than fine! It was glorious.”

And then the full truth hit her. The bullshit phone call. Fawn luring her away. 

She grabbed a fork and pointed it menacingly in Fawn’s direction. “YOU! You are responsible for this.”

The program manager working that day was a large man named Ben. He pushed back from the table, grateful for his recent non-violent intervention refresher course.

“Deidre, hun. You need to calm down. You need to put down that fork, OK”

“And not just you,” continued Deidre. She pivoted and pointed her fork at Petunia. Petunia looked down at her plate, unable to sustain eye contact with her cooking partner. “You must have made the switch or done something when I was out of the room!”   

“Deidre, I am saying this again and just one more time,” said Ben, his baritone voice calm yet steady and emphatic. “You need to put down that fork RIGHT…NOW.”

“FUCK NO!”


😯 miles NE father and son put the finishing touches on their trebuchet. The old barn had been entirely given over to this purpose and for three long years, in what little free time the farmer and his son after the responsibilities entailed in managing a farm over one hundred acres in size, they had slaved over this project. It was truly a labour of love – there wasn’t much of a market for medieval siege engines these days. The Renaissance Fair held just 20 minutes distant each glorious summer was but two days away and – this they couldn’t quite believe – they were ready.

Ready to prove that John and Ian Smulders could do just about anything they put their minds to.


Jason sat at his mother’s bedside and tried to make sense of the situation.

“So, um, like you’re in the hospital again but you’re saying you’re not psychotic?”

An unsmiling nurse arrived to dispense medication.

“Yes!  I am not psychotic at all! This has all been a horrible mistake! You hear me nurse? A terrible mistake has been made!”

The nurse rolled her eyes and sighed theatrically. My God, if she had a nickel for every time she heard that she could finally quit this shit job and move to the Seychelles as she desperately wanted to. She thrust the dixie cup full of pills under Deidre’s nose. “You take now.”

Deidre slapped away the pills. “Bullshit! My salad dressing was tampered with! It was a genuine conspiracy! Ask Jen – she tasted it. Tampering – that fucking Fawn and her sidekick Petunia. There’s no justice in the world! Here I am and they’re trying to turn me into zombie while those two assholes are probably giggling behind their hands.”

The nurse had skittered from the room during this tirade.

Deidre turned to Jason. “Now just where the fuck do you think she’s going?”

And that is when the alarm sounded and a mechanical sounding voice started saying “Code White, 4th floor adult psychiatry, Code White.”

Deidre frowned. “But I’m on the fourth floor. You don’t suppose that has anyth –”

But at that moment the nurse reappeared wielding a giant syringe accompanied by two stocky orderlies. The two men restrained her while the nurse drove the knock out juice home.

Jason had stood aside to let the orderlies and nurse do their job. Deidre went limp at last but not before telling them she knew they were in on it too.

“Woah,” said Jason. “I mean, like…yikes.”

Note to self, thought Jason later. Never, ever visit your psychotic mother in the hospital having eaten 4 marijuana-laced gummy bears 2 hours previous.


Two days later, Petunia, after much pleading with the staff, was allowed to see Deidre.  Deidre, still heavily sedated and now in leather restraints, looked at Petunia a long moment before recognizing her. Then she began to writhe, struggling to be free. Of all the nerve – Petunia here to lord it over her no doubt.

“Please,” said Petunia, laying a gentle hand on Deidre’s forearm. “I’ve come to make amends. And hopefully get you out of here.”

“Oh, I see. Well thank you very much, Petunia. Too bad you couldn’t have had this change of heart BEFORE I got dragged to the hospital, then injected with god-knows-what, and tied to this bed like I’m some kind of raging psychopath.”

“Actually, psychopaths are normally quite cool and calculating –”

“Shut the fuck up, Petunia. Get me the fuck out of here and I might just not hate you for the rest of my life. That salad dressing contest was mine! And yours! I thought you wanted to win that Tim Horton’s gift card? Why would you do this?”

“Fawn offered me a gift card twice the amount I would have won from the house.”

Deidre tried to launch herself from the bed. When she discovered she couldn’t, she flailed her arms and hoped that the intensity of her rage would somehow snap them.

“That’s it!? That’s the reason I’m here? For the sake of an extra $10 worth of coffee and donuts?”

“I’m not sure a cruller actually counts as a donut –”

“GO FUCK YOURSELF PETUNIA.”

“I will get you out of here, I promise.”

“That’s the least you owe me.”

“I know. I’m thoroughly ashamed, if that helps.”

Deidre glared at Petunia a long minute. Then her expression softened and she said in a much quieter tone and with a prefacing sigh, “OK, Petunia. I can see that this is really more Fawn’s fault than yours. You’re just…kind of weak.”

Petunia shrugged. “If the shoe fits.”

“Where is that shitface anyway? If I didn’t know it’d get me put right back here or somewhere even worse, I’d twist her neck until her head came off.”

“Oh!  She’s gone. Her fiancé proposed. They moved somewhere up north.”

“Where exactly?”

“Honestly, she didn’t say.”

Deidre relaxed with another sigh and stared up at the ceiling. “Well, that’s probably for the best. I couldn’t imagine seeing her again after all this.”

Petunia patted the top of Deidre’s hand. “It’s funny how things often work out for the best. Staff says we’re going to have store bought dressing from now on.”

Deidre smiled in spite of herself. She turned her head once more in Petunia’s direction. “Paul Newman?”

Petunia smiled broadly. “I’m sure it can be arranged.”

“Well, fuck-a-doodle do. Funny how life turns on a dime, isn’t it?”

And Petunia agreed that indeed that was a funny and a true thing.


82 miles NE Fawn decided to go for a jog. Her new property had a portion of the Bruce Trail lining one of its boundaries and it seemed just the thing to jog along it to the point where it met the woods and then turn back. That would be just the thing to lift her spirits and keep her body taut to better enjoy newlywed bliss with the douchebag she had married.

She was thus completely exposed when a giant sand-filled fake cow carcass, whose trajectory had been grossly underestimated by Smulders and son, fell from the skies and squashed her flatter than a crêpe pan.

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