DINNER ON THE PORCH BY 5:15:

THE STORY OF MABEL JOHNSON

By Katherine Schott

 

Mabel Johnson's husband, Joe Johnson, worked at the Happy Valley slaughter house. On a typical day in October, Mabel prepared a simple meal of cabbage stew and rice. She took off her apron and sat down at the table on the porch to wait for Joe. It was unusual for him to be home later than 5:15 sharp, but Mabel assumed that something had come up at the slaughter house. The minutes ticked by, turning into hours, but Mabel remained at the table starring into her rippled reflection in the now cold stew. She began to remember when times were different between herself and Joe.

It was before they had been married; when he always had a clean shave and no pot belly; when his brown hair was never ragged and he had that small lock of hair that hung in front of his youthful blue eyes. Things were different now. Now he would come home to her only to say, "Beer," and then he would sit out on the porch. When he belched, this was Mabel's cue to bring him another. Now he would hit her because dinner wasn't ready on time. His blood shot eyes would fill with rage, and his hand would come crashing against her face.

Mabel's eyes began to well with raging, sorrowful tears, but she still sat there with her cold stew waiting for a man who she loathed, but feared - a man whom she called her husband.

Time passed and when the rest of the town had gone to bed, Mabel Johnson rose from her seat and went to bed... alone.

* * * * * * * * * *

Joe Johnson never came home. A search party was organized to look for him, but no one every admitted to knowing what had happened to Joe. Although, it seemed to Mabel that something has been kept from her. The boys who worked at the slaughter house seemed to be holding back.

Gruesome town rumors began to spread of Joe having a deadly accident in the slaughter house. They ranged from being ground into the sausage, to being packaged in the spam. But these rumors soon subsided.

Mabel, on the other hand, never seemed to be affected by any of this. Life went on as usual. She continued to play the organ at every Sunday church service; she went to pick up 10 links of sausage every Tuesday as always, and she carried on in her chattering Mabel way; conversing with everyone about nothing at all. Although, one thing was different about Mabel...

Every night by 5:15 she would have dinner set up for two on the porch even in December. It was from this spot where she watched all of the town happenings that she would later exaggerate and tell the whole town about.

On Tuesday, Mabel went to the Happy Valley slaughter house as always, to buy 10 links of the town's best (and only sausage). When she entered the bell on the door rang and the roaring sound of chain saws subsided for a moment. Jung Li came to greet her.

"Oh, good morning Mabel. How are you today?"

"Just fine," Mabel replied.

"How are things with out Joe around? If there is anything I can do, just let me know."

"Like I said, things these days are just fine. But you know that poor girl Dora May. You know, the runaway? She could use some help."

"Oh ya, a sad case."

"And you know that man Mervyn. I hear he has twelve illegitimate children living right here in Dwibe."

"Oh goodness. Now, will you have your usual 10 links today?"

"Oh yes, of course. You know that wrestler, Helga? I think she is absolutely hideous. A lady has to watch her weight, you know?"

"Here are your 10 links Ms. Mabel. Have a nice day."

"Oh, you too, Mr. Li."

Mabel knew every person in Dwibe, but her conversations were never meaningful. Most sensible people in town would excuse it for mindless chatter. No one knew just why Mabel talked like that. Some speculated that it was just to fill her own silence. However, Mabel wasn't always talking.

It was from her lonely place on the porch that Mabel in complete quiet would watch Ida, the shy, lonely waitress from the Greasy Spoon Saloon. Every night after all the dinner customers had left, Ida would walk alone down the dark Main Street. Though, during the day, Mabel only regarded Ida as a clumsy waitress, somehow when her slim figure was lit only by the moon, she had a different way about her. She walked with a humble grace. Mabel would periodically drop into the Greasy Spoon for lunch. She would watch as Ida frantically waited on all the tables. Her forehead always had a healthy glow of perspiration from the hot kitchens.

Two days after Joe had disappeared Mabel was in the Greasy Spoon. When Ida came up to take Mabel's order she put her hand on Mabel's shoulder and said, "I hope they find him Mabel, I really do."

Mabel's heart began to race when Ida's hand came down to touch her, "Oh, I'm not too worried. I'm sure he had a little too much to drink and forgot where home was."

"Well, I'm pray'in for him. What can I get to today?"

"I'll have the usual," Mabel replied.

Mabel always tried to make meaningless conversation with Ida on these busy days in the saloon, but she never told her of the dreams she sometimes had. The dreams in which Ida was naked. Mabel never spoke to anyone of these dreams and tried not to think of them herself. They made her ill. How could she be like that; dreaming of another woman naked. It made Mabel's stomach turn. As long as she kept other things on her mind, Mabel rarely thought of these dreams.

And so it was this way that Mabel Johnson lived every day, without Joe; without Ida; without love. And dinner was always on the porch by 5:15.