Martha's Kitchen (Short Story Excerpt from Ragged Souls)

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                                                                  Martha’s Kitchen

                                                       A story by Ernesto San Giacomo

It started out as a small quaint city, but had grown exponentially over the last forty years. All the surrounding townships had dwindled and become dilapidated ghost towns. Just as a corpse is the decaying shell of the person who once dwelled inside, the homes and buildings of the small towns were no different.

For a while, there was a segment of the populace of the ever-growing city who would recall with a smile the slow and easy life of their youth in one of the former towns. Despite the endless rivers of asphalt, brick apartment buildings, and skyscrapers, these folks tried to keep the flame of small-town culture alive. Now, after forty years, the Mason sisters, Martha and Jillian, were among the last few. They owned a luncheonette on the south side of the city called Martha’s Kitchen.

Glossy red and white décor filled the eatery. A band of square tiles in a checkered pattern formed a wainscoting. The jukebox in the corner played songs from the 60’s and photos of pop culture icons and magazine ads from the era lined the walls. Martha and Jillian fit in perfectly, sporting beehive hairdos, bobby socks and saddle shoes. They wore pink waitress uniforms, with crisp white aprons tied around their waists.

It was a slow Sunday night in the small neighborhood diner. Martha walked to the window and looked out onto the street, one of hundreds in the swelling metropolis. She stood still as a statue, staring at the street sign on the corner.

           Martha turned to Jillian. “Do you remember walking down Magnolia Lane on our way to church?”

            With a faraway look in her eye, Jillian answered, “How could I ever forget that?”

            “And now here we are at Fifteenth Street and Second Avenue,” Martha said in a sour tone. “So cold and impersonal. Imagine if I had to introduce myself with my Social Security Number instead of my name.”

“I don’t reckon it’ll be long before folks start doing just that.”

It was this lack of pretentiousness that made Martha’s Kitchen into a local legend over the years. The Masons left the town of Quantrill Forks and moved to the city forty years ago, one of the first families to begin the exodus. Their father had seen the opportunity for selling restaurant supplies, and struck while the proverbial iron was hot.

“Well,” Martha said, “they can’t blame daddy for street numbers, at least.”

Over the years, some folks in Quantrill Forks had begun to blame the Mason family for the town’s fading. Whenever the Masons returned to visit friends or attend Easter services, the display of their new wealth became too much to ignore. Bit by bit, the other townsfolk drifted to the city in search of their own fortunes.

Martha sprayed cleaner on the window. “Do you think we should stay open on Sundays?” she asked Jillian.  

“Business ain’t like it used to be.”

 “It was a proper service for former townsfolk, but now it’s just something quaint for those yuppie money traders. You know, like that group that was in here before.”

“Almost frightened me to death when he called Quantrill Forks a cemetery,” Jillian said.

Martha stopped wiping the glass. “Oh, me too. And did you catch a look at his wife?”

Jillian nodded. “Mmm hmm.”

“With her perfect salon hair and nails? You think she can do laundry or cook a proper meal with nails like that?”

“Nope, looks like she spends all her time making sure she looks like the cover of a magazine,” Jillian said with a cat-like grin.

“And I overheard them mention their eighth wedding anniversary. Can you imagine, eight years and no children? I bet they’re using those rubber things.”

Jillian’s mouth fell open and her hand covered her heart.

Martha put her hand over her mouth. “Ooooh, imagine me mentioning such an unmentionable thing on the Lord’s Day.”

Tiny bells jingled as the café door swung open. Martha and Jillian’s eyes darted to the tall, imposing figure that entered. 

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