Ed Nichols, 10/6/2014
Current Occupation: Management Consultant and Author
Former Occupation: Human Resources Manager and Consultant
Contact Information: Ed Nichols lives outside Clarkesville, Georgia. He is a journalism graduate from the University of Georgia. He is a short story award winner from Southeastern Writers Association. He has had short stories published, and/or scheduled for publication in: Every Writer’s Resource, Fiction On The Web, Short-Stories.me, Vending Machine Press, Floyd County Moonshine Review, Beorh Quarterly, Page and Spine, and Belle Reve Literary Review.
Driving home from work Friday afternoon, Leon Henson was more worried than he had ever been in his entire life. He’d gone through a lot in his fifty years, but now things were looking really bleak. Tonight, he was going to have to tell Pat, his wife, what was going to happen to the garment plant, and his job. He’d told her before that it wouldn’t surprise him if Mr. Sorrells sold the plant, or moved it overseas. Now it was definite. It was moving to China. Mr. Sorrells called Leon in his office right at five o’clock and gave him the news. He swore Leon to secrecy, since it wouldn’t be announced to the other employees until Monday morning. And Monday morning, he needed an answer from Leon; if he was interested in going to China to help start up the new plant. Twenty-two years he’d worked for Mr. Sorrells. One of the last garment plants producing men’s dress shirts in Georgia, probably in the whole country, Leon figured. Now the shirts would be produced thousands of miles away, on the other side of the world, by people with no experience, and shipped by boat across the ocean—and Leon still couldn’t understand how this would be better, or cheaper, than the way they made shirts.
He parked his pickup in the front yard, went inside his house and got a cold beer out of the fridge and went out to the back porch. He stood for a while, sipping the beer and staring at the small pond on the edge of his pasture. He sat in his rocker and closed his eyes for a moment. God, he thought. I’ve worked my ass off for years at that plant. He remembered Pat reading a book not long ago, something about, Bad Things That Happen to Good People. He wondered. He’d always tried to do right in everything. “Be honest and never lie,” his daddy had told him many times. Leon knew that he’d tried to live an honest life. He’d always put his heart and soul into everything he did. Even in Vietnam. He could’ve done some bad things over there, but he didn’t. Then he remembered his daddy telling him, “Everything runs in cycles, son. There’ll be good times and bad times. You got to just ride the bad times out.”
Later that afternoon, Pat came home and Leon told her. And since she operated her shop on Saturdays, and knowing how gossip swirls around her shop, he told her not to say a word tomorrow about the plant closing, no matter who she was talking to. Then he told her about Mr. Sorrells offer for him to help start up the plant in China.
“Wow,” Pat said. “That’s says a lot about how much he respects your ability and experience.”
“Yea. But, I’m not going.”
“I don’t want you to go, either,” Pat said. “But…it would be something, wouldn’t it?”
“I was close to China once—in the army—and I don’t have any desire to go back to that part of the world.”
“I understand,” Pat said. “What did Mr. Sorrells say—six months in China?”
“Yea. Probably about six months to get it up and running. Lot depends how fast they learn, I guess.” Leon rubbed his eyes, and then said, “Let’s go get a bite somewhere.”
“Okay,” Pat said.
Leon and Pat liked to eat fish on Fridays, so they went to Trader Jack’s Seafood restaurant on the square in Clarkesville. The catfish was fresh and very good. Leon enjoyed the meal, and being in the restaurant with Pat lifted his spirits somewhat. Back home, they sat on the porch and talked until the sun went down. Leon drank a couple of beers and Pat sipped a glass of white wine. He had just turned fifty, and here he was, soon to be unemployed. He’d said earlier to Pat, “Who the hell is going to hire a fifty-year-old sewing machine mechanic?” Then he’d said, with angry in his voice, “Damn the Chinese!”
She’d told him to take it easy. They would get by. Something good would come out of it.
On Saturday afternoon, Leon decided to cook some chili, so Pat wouldn’t have to do anything when she got home. Saturday’s were usually hectic at her shop. Plus, cooking chili had always been good therapy for him. He’d been over to visit his daughter at her trailer earlier in the day, and he needed to get his mind off that; and with all that was going to happen at the plant on Monday, he was pretty stressed out. He loved his daughter and two grandchildren, but she’d created a hard life for herself, and he blamed himself, somewhat. She married way too young, to a real weirdo. Had kids way too soon, divorced, and had a hell of a time keeping a job and making ends meet. He stirred ground chuck in the skillet and added chili powder as the meat cooked and turned golden brown. Making chili was something he had always enjoyed—and he was good at it, at least everyone who’d ever eaten it always told him it was really good. He had a special way of doing it, combining the various ingredients. How much you added to the mix, and at what point you added them, was his secret, he thought. As he was spooning the meat into his large boiler, he heard the front door open and close. “That you?” he said.
“It’s me,” his wife said. She walked in the kitchen, sniffed loud, and said, “Chili?”
“Yea. You smell it?”
“Uh-huh,” she said. “I’m glad, too, cause I’m starved. Had four perms today so I didn’t even stop for lunch.”
“Go get comfortable,” he said. “It’ll be a little while before it’s ready.”
Leaving the kitchen, she asked, “You visit Clarice today?”
He anticipated her next questions, and said, “She’s okay. The new job at Piggly Wiggly seems to be good, for right now at least. And the kids are doing well, she says.”
He added chopped onions and bell peppers to the boiler, stirred hard, and then poured in diced tomatoes, red kidney beans, tomato paste, corn, and a bottle of beer. He stirred steady with his left hand as he gradually added all the spices, which he had mixed earlier in the afternoon. While the chili simmered, he made a pan of cornbread. Glancing out the kitchen window, he watched a flock of geese glide toward the pond. Just as the geese swooped low, a gust of wind whipped across the lake, bending the apple trees and shrubs on the edge of the lake, causing the geese to angle sideways and land abruptly. He said aloud, “Almost crash-landed, didn’t you? Just like what’s gonna happen to me.”
Forty-five minutes later, he called to Pat, and she came to the kitchen in her robe and bedroom shoes. “I went ahead and took a hot bath,” she said.
“Good. Got rid of that perm smell, huh?”
“Yes,” she said. “But it smells like money, doesn’t it?”
“Hey. Have I ever complained?” he said, motioning to the breakfast table.
She kissed him and sat down. He fixed two glasses of iced tea and spooned out two bowls of chili and put the plate of cornbread in the middle of the table. She ate more chili than he did, but that was due to the fact that he had continuously sampled the chili, with his big wooden spoon. After eating and clearing the table, he poured two glasses of wine and they went to the living room to watch television. They sat together on the sofa. “You know, Leon,” she said, “if you had a restaurant, I really believe you could do well.”
He laughed. “You’ve said that before. But I couldn’t serve chili every day.”
“No. Of course not. You’d have to have a menu. Sandwiches, hamburgers and fries and such.” She paused and put her hand on his thigh. “But, one or two days a week you could have a
special on your chili. I think it would really draw folks into the restaurant.”
He laughed again. “I appreciate your confidence in my expertise as a chef.”
“I’m serious, Honey,” she said. “Besides, you’ve already said there were absolutely no jobs for a sewing machine mechanic.”
He leaned over and kissed her. “You’re nut’s, you know that?”
“Something to think about, with what’s going to happen Monday,” she said.
He leaned his head back on the sofa. “Damn, Chinese!”
Sunday morning, Leon drove downtown and bought a newspaper. He and Pat sat on the sofa and read it. She folded the classified section and laid it on the coffee table. With a red pen she circled two restaurants: one for lease and one for sale. Leon was studying the want ads when she smiled and motioned for him to look at what she had circled in red.
Leon laughed, and then saw that she was serious. “God, Pat,” he said. “I don’t know… about this restaurant idea.”
“Hey, we’ve got a little saved up, and you figure Mr. Sorrells will give you some severance pay, right?”
She reached over, pulled on his arm and stood up. “Let’s go for a ride,” she said.
“Okay,” he said, laughing, and feeling something different. A vision, or scene, flashed across his mind, and he started thinking of his chili recipe. Then when they stopped at the restaurant that was for lease and both held their hands beside their eyes like blinders, looking through the closed glass doors, he became aware of a new sense of freedom. He could suddenly see a real up-cycle in their lives. At that moment, he began to visualize the sign he would have made for the restaurant.