by Margaret Andrews
Judge Fairchild entered the sweltering tent. Ladies in aprons scattered about brushing back stray strands of hair, clearing throats, straightening skirts. The tent air was thick with heat. Outside, the breeze gave little relief, but it was better than this humid hothouse.
Judge Fairchild pulled out his handkerchief and wiped his sweaty brow, his chubby face and the skin rolls on the back of his neck. He looked around at the expectant crowd of women, some fanning themselves with contest brochures. This was the last group and he was exhausted. His boss told him that no one could hold a candle to his abilities, otherwise, he might have quit by now. But if he did quit, who would take his place? He took a deep breath and mustered up some enthusiasm.
"Well, hello ladies," he roared. I sure do appreciate your patience, but like I always say, save the best for last. Whoo boy, is it hot enough in here for you?"
Nervous laughter burst out in the tent and quickly evaporated.
"Okay, I'll just start over here and go in a clockwise direction." He turned toward his assistant. "Jenny, can you get me something cold to drink? It's blazing in here and I need something to wash all this stuff down with."
The hideously large sweat stains under his arms made one woman gasp as he reached up to smooth his dark slicked-back hair. "I hope no one made ice cream pie this year."
Some of the women tried to laugh with his boisterous bellow, but most were too hot to do anything but continue fanning.
"Does he seem bigger to you than last year?" one woman whispered behind a brochure to her friend.
"I heard it's from eating on the road all the time," whispered back her friend.
"I heard it's from his wife," whispered an eavesdropper standing behind them.
"How does he stand this heat every day?" the first women asked.
"My husband said no one else was willing to travel around during the summer. I wonder why Judge Fairchild keeps it up," said the second woman.
"Maybe he was offered a lot of money," the eavesdropper offered.
Judge Fairchild turned to the table on his left. "Hello, Mrs. Green, I see you've made your raspberry pie this year. It looks delicious."
* * *
"How was your trip, dear?" Mrs. Fairchild asked her husband when he came in the front door with two suitcases and immediately dropped to the sofa.
"Fresno was the worst. They set everything up in a Wal-Mart parking lot and the heat from the blacktop - whew! The YWCA group put up a tent thinking the shade would help keep things cool, but those pies were still baking when I got there. I'm starting to sweat again just thinking about it."
"Well, I don't know why you do this during the summer, it's too hot for your heart. I'm afraid you'll die of heatstroke one of these days."
"You know, one of those tent women passed out it was so danged hot. Problem is, most of these contests only take place during the summer."
"But honey, if you keep this up, you could really do a number on yourself. Couldn't you take part of the summer off? Maybe August, when it's the worst?"
She wished she could have taken it back, but it was too late. He shot her the look and at first it appeared he might let it go. Then he stood up and went for the liquor cabinet. She should have just kept her mouth shut. Here it comes, she thought.
"How can you ask me to just up and quit something like that? They need me!"
"You mean they feed you. And I'm not asking you to quit, although now that you mention it..." Oops.
"What? You want me quit? My bread and butter? Our bread and butter?" He poured himself a scotch and soda. "I'm the best damn pie judge -" and this next part she chanted with him - "this side of the Mississippi!"
"Of course you are, dear."
"Well I am! Nobody knows pies like I do. I can tell if there's too much butter in the crust. I can tell if the pumpkin isn't creamy enough. I know when the berries are not too tart and not too sweet. There was a woman in Bakersfield who had the audacity to try to get canned cherry pie filling past my palate. Who in their right mind, I ask you?"
"Well, you don't have to get your panties in a bundle. I just think eating all that pie is going to come back to haunt you one day. You've gained 50 pounds just in the last year alone. Why don't you take a vacation from it for a while?"
"What?" His pitch increased with each retort. "Are you kidding me? I'm still a young man and I love what I do! Love it, you hear me? I'm not ever giving this up! This job puts food on the table and clothes on your back."
"But you're hardly ever home. I never get to see you and when I do, you look bigger every time. I've been wanting children for so long, and you won't make love to me anymore because you're so self-conscious."
"Oh no! Don't you dare bring that up again! We've discussed children. End of discussion."
Several moments of silence passed as each Fairchild thought about what they said and considered continuing this repetitive argument or giving up. Twelve months prior to this conversation, Judge Fairchild discovered he was unable to father children and couldn't work up the nerve to tell his wife. Fifty pounds later, he managed to bury the truth, or at least postpone it by feigning shame about his weight and a lack of libido. She desperately wanted children and he feared she would leave him if his "boys couldn't swim". If he waited just a little longer, a brilliant idea would come that would solve everything. It had to. He didn't know what else to do.
Twelve months prior to this conversation, Mrs. Fairchild noticed a sudden drop-off in Mr. Fairchild's amorous advances. She wondered if her husband had found someone else. His recent reticence in bed concerned her and she was afraid that he was no longer attracted to her. She knew that if she could just get pregnant and he could see their beautiful baby, he would never leave her. And she could even forgive him for his transgressions. She tried fancy perfumes, sexy clothes, alluring lingerie. Her current tactic was to satisfy his appetite for food. Surely, he wouldn't leave if she were the best cook he knew.
"I'm sorry to burst out like that, sweetie," Mr. Fairchild said.
"Oh, that's all right. I shouldn't have attacked you the moment you walked in the door."
"You know I love you, my little berry cobbler, don't you?"
She tried not to smile. "How about some dinner, are you hungry?"
"Am I? Oh yes. What're we having?"
Mrs. Fairchild stood up and started walking toward the kitchen with Mr. Fairchild in tow. "Pork chops, mashed potatoes and gravy, and biscuits."
"And for dessert?"
Mrs. Fairchild turned around briefly to face her husband and replied with a twinkle in her eye, "Peach pie, no cans".
He patted her bottom as he followed her into the kitchen. "Yummy yum.
Margaret Andrews lives somewhat simultaneously in Los Angeles and Sacramento, relentlessly waiting to escape from her job as a computer nerd while she pursues a writing career. Her story "How Olive Oil Got Its Scream" won Honorable Mention in the Writers Digest Short Story Contest. She is currently working on her first novel "A Slice of Heaven". Contact Margaret.