Meet Odelia Kennicot as she starts her new job in hum-drum Ridgewood in this new excerpt from The Munsen Street Drive-In Theatre (& Tie Factory)
I stared down at the obituaries and saw my future. My nothing future in this nothing town, writing up obits and puff-pieces that could only be defined as human interest stories in the very loosest sense of the term.
Groaning, I brushed aside the unedited In Memoriums and lowered my head onto my desk. Slowly. And. Repeatedly.
What was I doing here? The Ridgewood Gazette was a far cry from the Garrison Falls Herald, but then Ridgewood was a far cry from Garrison Falls.
Garrison Falls. My hometown. I had cut my teeth there as a young columnist with the dream of someday joining the ranks of that mythical beast: the Investigative Journalist. I had honed my hunches and cultivated my curiosity, writing pieces that had been well-received by both my boss and the reading public. But then my editor had kicked me to the curb.
Okay, that wasn’t fair. It wasn’t as though I’d been fired. More like… reassigned with tough love.
You’re still young, he’d said. Only twenty years old. You need to get out there. See the world. For a moment I had been excited. A map had unfolded itself across my mind. Images of bustling marketplaces in the Far East and secluded villages in South America shot up like fireworks and then popped like soap bubbles as Mr. Park had continued, I got you a job in Ridgewood; I know a guy there.
My eyes flitted back down to the papers in front of me. The cold, black-and-white descriptions of grief always seemed to come across as heartless, no matter how many soft words I used. Survived by his loving wife. Survived by her four children. I glanced back up to the clock; it was still three minutes until lunch. I ground my teeth and wrote the obituary for my workday.
Odelia Kennicot. Survived by the skin of her teeth.
Itching to be done, I swivelled in my chair, lifting my feet to let it swing me a full 360 degrees. A panoramic view of the Gazette’s bullpen sailed before my eyes. It was a landscape of empty desks and faded photos; the rest of the newspaper’s staff seemed to have the day off. Jankowitz, the copy editor, was at home with his new triplets while Zimmerman, the paper’s only photographer/sports writer, had called in sick, although whether it was he or his border collie who was ill, I hadn’t fully understood.
The only other news-man – as he had told me he liked to be called – in the office was my new boss, the Editor-in-Chief of the Ridgewood Gazette, Mr. Quentin Banning.
Through the large glass window he’d had installed – no doubt to feel like that big-city editor – I could see Mr. Banning in his office. In fact, I couldn’t have missed him if I’d tried. He lay back in his chair now, his mouth wide open as he sent roaring snores to reverberate against the glass and echo out into the bullpen. His obese form spilled out over the arms of his belaboured chair and jiggled with each snort and snuffle as he sank deeper and deeper into his first nap of the day.
I watched in fascination as Mr. Banning’s toupee slipped further and further down over his forehead with each breath until it covered his eyes like a cowboy hat pulled down low over the face of a resting buckaroo in an old western.
I tore my eyes away and sent my gaze to restlessly bounce against the unforgiving plastic cover of the clock.
Still one minute to go. The final countdown was on.
I sat, depressed, letting homesickness flood my system like the ocean rushing into a sinking ship until I couldn’t stand it any longer. I stood up, seconds before the clock told me it was time for my lunch break. Feeling rebellious, I didn’t shut off my monitor like I was supposed to. On my way out the door I glanced at my reflection in the glass wall of Mr. Banning’s office. My own face stared back at me; my challenging look carried more than a hint of desperation. I sighed deeply as my stomach let out a rumble to let me know that it was feeling empty.
You and me both, pal, I thought, and then I escaped out the door before my boss woke up.
Mrs. Kovačević looked like the type of person who had seen some things. Strange things. Crazy things. Disturbing things. The kinds of things you expect to hear from a loud and staggering stranger on the bus. The type who looks over-medicated and smells under-washed.
Some stories are never meant to be heard.
As I sat sipping my mug of iced tea, I found myself hoping that she would share those stories with me, which was perhaps a measure of my desperation. Mrs. Kovačević didn’t look like the most trustworthy source. She seemed the type to read the National Inquirer, not the Washington Post. Beneath her frizzy grey hair and shaded bifocals, her mouth kept opening and closing silently, as if she were a goldfish straining to remember the circumstances that had led to her being trapped in this bowl. The idea disheartened me so I kept the conversation anchored in what I thought to be safer waters.
I should have known better.
“Here, Odelia.” Mrs. Kovačević set down a plate of very dry-looking biscotti. “Odelia. This is a strange name.”
I cringed. It was a strange name. That’s because the people who gave it to me were strange people. The type of people who enjoy singing karaoke before they dip into the alcohol. The type of people who think long road trips with family are a good idea.
My parents. There had never been a dull moment growing up in that house, for better or for worse. How could I look at Ridgewood as anything less than abysmally monotonous after an upbringing like the one they’d given me? It really wasn’t fair to the city.
“It means wealthy,” I said, taking a sip of iced tea and cringing at the high sugar content. My taste buds retreated from the sweetness and my tongue felt suddenly crystalized, as though the inside of my mouth was now a cooling crème brûlée. As I sat beneath Mrs. Kovačević’s scorching stare, I was reminded of the old saying: In Soviet Russia, food cooks you.
“So. Wealthy, yes?” Mrs. Kovačević stood to her feet and padded back into the kitchen, her flowery robe drifting behind her as she shuffled her hedgehog slippers over the cheap, curling linoleum. “You will look at these then.” I heard her rummaging through a drawer and then she re-entered the dining area and tossed a pile of lottery tickets onto the table in front of me.
“Go. Pick a winner.” I chuckled as she stared at me, unblinking. It took me a few seconds to realise that she was serious.
“Umm… this one?” I randomly pulled a ticket from the pile. “It feels lucky.”
She nodded swiftly and pulled a pencil out of her hair, drawing a crooked smiley-face onto the ticket before picking them all up again and taking them into the kitchen to dump them back into the chaos from whence they’d come.
I shook my head. If only weird were the same as exciting, then at least my new digs would be an escape. I had already been here for a week and so far I had spent every day at the office, where I’d invented a dazzling assortment of new ways to count down to the end of the workday. Every night had been spent at home, sitting quietly in my basement suite while Mrs. Kovačević’s salsa dance mix thumped loudly overhead.
It was not the life I had hoped for, to say the least. It’s hard to give in to your curiosity in a city where there is nothing to discover. I longed for Chicago or Miami or Las Vegas.
My thoughts were interrupted by a surprise visit from Major Brampton. The landlady’s cat jumped up neatly onto my lap and began to purr, instructing more than inviting me to stroke his back. His calico colouring was at odds with my dark pants and I sighed as I gave in, hoping that the unavoidable hairs would decorate rather than mar my outfit for the second half of my work day.
“You understand, don’t you, Major?” I peered down at the cat while I rubbed my fingers between his ears. “Don’t you sometimes wish there was more out there?”
Major Brampton didn’t respond. “Of course you don’t,” I said with a sigh. “I know what curiosity does to the likes of you. And it’s not pretty.”
I reached out and grabbed a biscotti, nibbling on it as gently as I could. Over the last week I had learned that eating Mrs. Kovačević’s baked goods could be hazardous to one’s teeth. Some small crumbs crackled onto the tabletop under my chin and Major Brampton let out a hiss and jumped down to the floor, his pride injured in that unknowable feline way.
I could hear Mrs. Kovačević banging around in the kitchen as she ladled out a couple of bowls of her “famous garlic soup,” as she called it. Whether it was famous or not, I couldn’t say, but its smell certainly preceded it. I wiped at the tears forming in my eyes and my gaze fell on a small advertisement that lay tucked away in the bottom corner of the open page.
Munsen Street Drive-In Theatre
Only Five Dollars!
Just the Classics!
Playing every night this summer @ 7:30!
I brightened as I read the ad. The drive-in was located relatively near my house; I remember seeing signs for Munsen Street on my commutes to and from work.
Could be interesting, I thought. Anything to escape the salsa music. Tonight was the mambo.
I respectfully pasted on a grateful smile as Mrs. Kovačević set my bowl down in front of me and plopped two slivers of broken-up candy cane into the soup.
“Peppermint brings out flavour in the garlic, Odelia,” she said, speaking around the cigarette dangling from her lips. “Otherwise you can hardly taste a thing. Do you wish to know who taught me this little trick?”
I nodded as politely as I could.
Some stories are never meant to be heard.