Thursday, February 9, 2012

Rusty Pails # 48: The Birthday Bash

by Rocky Macy



The evening shadows were beginning to crawl across Sprung Hinge as I pulled my old pickup truck, the Rust Bucket, up the alley that runs behind Ermine’s Coffee Bar.  I had steadfastly avoided that establishment ever since Ermine had dishonored every semi-retired, domino-playing man in town by desecrating the old Pump and Git and turning it into a biscuit boutique. 

But that was then, and lots of stuff had changed in the meantime.  The biggest change, of course, was that Ermine had pitched Shadetree Mike out the door, and Gladys Clench had caught him.  Now, after several months of slowly stripping Mike of every last shred of his manhood, Gladys was fixin’ to show him off at his “60th” birthday party.  And wouldn’t Gladys be surprised when she opened her front door tonight and saw me with my date, the lovely Ermine!

The first thing I noticed as I parked in the backyard was that Mike’s old storage shed had been knocked down and carted off.  In its place was a new cement foundation and the framing for a nice two-story building.    Gladys Clench wasn’t the only one who was erasing all traces of the old Shadetree Mike.  Did these women have no shame?

“Why Rusty Pails,” Ermine gushed as she opened the back door and pulled me inside.  “Just look at you – all gussied up in a sport coat and tie!  You clean up real nice, Rusty.”

“Here, “ I stammered, handing her a small box.  I was almost too embarrassed to talk.

“Whatever could this be?”  She pulled the ribbon loose and looked inside.  “Oh my, it’s a daisy corsage!  The last time I had a corsage was at my senior prom, and that’s been over twenty years ago!”

“Twice over,” I thought, but had the good sense not to say it out loud. 

After Ermine pinned the corsage onto her party dress, she and I loaded two baskets of baked goods into the Rust Bucket and headed out.   Gladys, who considered herself to be the best cook in the whole county, would not be pleased with Ermine’s donation to the party of cupcakes, cookies, and brownies.  It was going to be a great evening!

The ride over to the Gladys’s was a mite uncomfortable for me, but Ermine took no notice and chatted merrily the entire way.   When we finally reached the Clench estate, the parking valet (Truman Treetopper) tried to direct us to the back end of the pasture with the regular guests, but I wasn’t having none of that.  I parked the Rust Bucket square in front of Gladys’s new henhouse, the poultry mansion that I had helped to pay for.  Heck Frye had the same idea.  He and his waitress de jour pulled in next to us.

The four of us, me, Heck, and our “girls” carried our gifts and Ermine’s baked goods to the front porch  where I stepped boldly to the door and knocked.  I quickly dropped my hand low in order to be ready to catch Gladys’s teeth in case they slid out of her gaping mouth when she saw Ermine.  (It had been a long time since I had been pumped this much about anything!)

But when the door swung open, it wasn’t Gladys standing on the other side greeting new arrivals – it was Esther Pearl – the same Esther Pearl who didn’t want to come to the party with me because she had to stay home and paint her toenails!  “Why Rusty Pails!”  Esther declared as she grabbed me by the arm and pulled me into the house.   But while I was tripping across the threshold, she turned and suddenly caught sight of my guest.

“Ermine?”  Then Esther leaned into me and mumbled:  “You old dog!  Something told me this was going to be a party to remember.”

“Toenails!” I snapped back.

Esther didn’t get distracted, and instead she reached out and pulled Ermine into the house too – leaving Heck and his waitress to find their own way in.    “Look everybody,” she shouted above the din of the party.  “Rusty’s here with Ermine – and she brought food!”

Suddenly it was quieter than the lull before a big storm.  And then out of the corner of my eye, I saw the big storm rising from the couch and glaring lightning bolts directly at me and my guest.   Hurricane Gladys was fixin’ to blow!

But there was too danged many people stuffed into the Clench living room and there was some other commotion going on in the middle of the affair, so instead of trying to pounce from twenty-feet away, Gladys sat back down – bidding her time and doing a slow smolder.   She wasn’t going to calm down anytime soon because Ermine and Esther had already started passing out cupcakes.

The commotion in the center of the room turned out to be Shadetree Mike who was wearing a blindfold and being spun around by a couple of stout women from the Sprung Hinge Sewing Circle and Bucket Brigade.   He had a donkey’s tail in one hand and a root beer in the other.  The ladies gave the Dean of Dominoes one final spin and released him into the laughing crowd to blindly search for the donkey’s butt – the one tacked to the wall, not the one sitting on the couch!

Poor Mike stumbled in circles for a few moments until a true friend stepped through the partying fools to help him out.  “Here you go, buddy.”  I said as I held one of Ermine’s cupcakes under his nose.  Then I began to lead my old friend out of the mess that he had gotten himself into and toward one of my own making.  I had him almost to where Ermine and Esther were handing out the baked goods when suddenly a noise broke through the crowd that was about as pleasant as a blast from the noon siren – or a dozen angry dog whistles!  “Michael!”   Gladys screeched, “Get over here.  Now!” 

Shadetree Mike tried to turn and respond to his basic survival instincts, but I had him blocked.   Instead I jerked off the blindfold and Mike found himself staring eyeball-to-eyeball at his better half of more years than either of us would care to admit.  Ermine, in her pretty party dress, was smiling ear-to-ear and holding out a cupcake for the man who was still technically her husband.

“Ermine,” Mike stammered, “What are you doing here?”

“Oh, Mike,” she replied, “Rusty brought me.  Isn’t he just the sweetest man!”

Shadetree Mike glared at me in a way that didn’t say “sweet,” and then sputtered, “Yeah, he’s a real peach!”  And then to me, “Rusty, what kind of a friend goes out with his best friend’s wife?”

That put the ball in Ermine’s court, because I sure as Heck Frye wasn’t playing.  She was starting to heat up.  “Wife?  What kind of husband moves in the most desperate and despicable woman in town after a teensy little disagreement with his wife?”

I could see Gladys starting to push her way through the crowd – just when things were getting interesting.  But it looked like she would be too late because Ermine and Mike were totally locked on to each other.  It was Mike’s ball:  “You threw me out and destroyed my domino parlor.  I had to move somewhere.”

Ermine was beginning to soften just a little which could be dangerous because Gladys was almost within right hook range.  “Yes, you’re right.  I did throw you out and I reckon I’m a little sorry about that.  Even considering how long I put up with you and your ne’er-do-well friends, I could have treated you better than that.”  She reached into a box of baked goods and pulled out a thick envelope.  “Happy danged birthday!”  She said as she shoved the card into Mike’s hands.

By this time Gladys was between them.  “Ermine, you’re causing a scene.  I think you need to go!”

Now it was my turn to get into the act.  “If my girl goes, I go too!”

“All the better,” Gladys fired back.  “I should have known better than to invite an arsonist anyway!”

“Arsonist!  Arsonist!  Why you jack-booted, man-suffocating, hyena in a party dress – I ought to…to…” but I never got to finish that thought because at that moment the real arsonist, Truman Treetopper, came across the bagpipes that I brought to Mike for a birthday present  and began to play.  It might have been “Camptown Races” or “Amazing Grace,” but whatever tune Truman thought that he was playing, the neighborhood dogs and party guests all took to covering their ears and howling.

All except for Shadetree Mike.  He had the envelope open and was looking at a set of building plans.  When somebody finally wrestled the bagpipes away from Truman and it got sort of quiet again, Mike looked at Ermine.  “What is this, Honey Bunch?”

Gladys, with her fist doubled, “Honey Bunch!”

Ermine disregarded Mike’s captor and said, “I’m deeding the back yard over to you.  I’ve torn down the old shed and am having a nice two-story building put up in its place.  You can live upstairs and play dominoes downstairs – all day, every day.  And if you all can behave out there, I might even bring out some brownies every now and then.”

Shadetree Mike, who used to be the manliest man in town until Gladys got hold of him, had tears running down his cheeks.  When Ermine asked him if he wanted to come home, he looked at her all puppy-eyed and said, “I do!  I do!”  A large whoop went up from the party animals, and Gladys stormed upstairs, probably to get her gun!

All of us were out on the lawn by the time Gladys reappeared.  She had Mike’s worldly goods in a couple of brown paper bags and threw them down on the ground.  “You all have five minutes to get off of my property or I’ll turn the hose on you!”  And with that she went back inside and slammed the door on her guests.

I would like to say that Mike and Ermine lived happily ever after, but this is Sprung Hinge, after all, so let’s just say they continued to live interesting lives – just like the rest of us hereabouts!

(And I spent the rest of the night helping Esther Pearl paint her toenails, but you probably already guessed that!)