Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
“You know,” Tricia said to Heather and Molly over lunch the next day, “that was an interesting evening for it being so totally off the cuff. But you know I’m starting to feel a little guilty about people inviting me to dinner. I mean, I appreciate it and I almost always enjoy it and learn something and come away with a lot of food for thought, but I’m beginning to feel like I should invite some people over in return.”
“So do it,” Heather shrugged. “You have a nice place for a single person and you keep it nice. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
“Yeah, but you know I can barely boil water. I can’t very well invite someone to dinner and then open a couple cans of stew.”
“So do something simple,” Molly suggested. “Maybe practice a little to be sure you can do it halfway right before you try it out on company. The neat thing about that, in your situation, is that once you learn how to do something you can do it over and over, since you’d be having different guests each time you served it.”
“I hate to say it, but I wouldn’t even know where to start.”
“Tricia,” Heather smiled, “You always say you aren’t any good at those kinds of things. There was a time you weren’t any good at medicine, wasn’t there? It took training and practice to get where you are today, didn’t it?”
“Well, of course.”
“It’s exactly the same thing with cooking. God, I don’t know how Russ and Lee and I managed to survive when I first got married. Yes, you make some mistakes along the way, but that’s what garbage cans are for.”
“It’s hard to cook for yourself,” Molly added. “I know, I used to do it for a while. I’ll admit, it’s easier to open a can of stew and throw it in the microwave, but cooking is a social skill like a lot of other things. It isn’t just given to you, you have to learn to do it.”
“But Molly,” Tricia whined. “I wouldn’t know where to start.”
“Dr. York,” Heather replied sarcastically, “when you get a boyfriend, if you ever get a boyfriend that is, are we going to have to give you a seminar in how to make love to him? I’ve had to do that with girls half your age.”
“Well, no. I think I can manage that all right. I’m not completely inexperienced in that area,” Tricia replied thinking, Heather, if only you knew . . .
“I sort of wonder sometimes,” Heather grinned. “Look, Molly is right. Try something out. Practice on it. If it goes bad, toss it and figure you’ve learned something.”
“Spaghetti is usually a pretty good guest meal,” Molly suggested. “Everybody makes the sauce a little differently, so it’s hard to tell if it’s bad or good. People might not like yours but all that says is that they have different tastes.”
“Molly is right,” Heather smiled. “Look, go down to the Super Market. There’ll be two or three different kinds of canned spaghetti sauce there. Brown a pound of hamburger, drain it, mix in the sauce, and put it in the microwave until it’s warm. Boil about half a box of spaghetti noodles, just follow the directions, and ladle the sauce onto the spaghetti when you get it on the plate. It’s easy. After you’ve done it once or twice, try a different brand of spaghetti sauce, or try adding something, or use ground sausage instead of hamburger. Get some grated parmesan cheese to sprinkle on top. If you have guests, get yourself a package of Italian bread. There’s a kind that comes already buttered in a foil package. All you have to do is put it in the oven for a while. Again, just follow the directions on the package.”
“You make it sound so easy,” Tricia shrugged. “I guarantee you I can screw it up. But I’ll stop off at the Super Market on the way home and give it a try.”
The next morning was busier than normal, and as a result lunch ran a little late. But that didn’t mean they didn’t have time to sit for a few minutes and enjoy the excellent vegetable wraps Molly had made. “So,” Molly asked, “how did it go with the spaghetti?”
“It was a disaster,” Tricia admitted. “I burned the hamburger in the frying pan and I didn’t think I wanted to louse up the sauce by adding all the carbon to it, and I couldn’t see how to get it into little pieces anyway. Then the spaghetti just stuck together all in one big clump. I have to admit the sauce tasted pretty good when I spread it on the Italian bread, though. Somehow I managed to not screw that up, even if it seemed a little over-done.”
Heather and Molly just looked at each other, rolled their eyes and shook their heads. “This is going to be harder than I thought,” Heather said finally.
“Yeah,” Molly agreed. “Maybe she’s right about not being able to do much more than boil water.”
“OK,” Heather said, determined to not be defeated that easily. “Let’s start with the hamburger. Don’t try to fry it. Get a mixing bowl, a glass one, not a metal one. Put the hamburger in it and break it up with a table knife, into as little pieces as you can before you try to brown it. Five minutes in the microwave on high power should be plenty if it isn’t frozen, but be sure you have a cover on it or it’ll get the inside of the microwave all messy. You can go a little longer if there’s still pink showing. Drain off the fat, then add your sauce. As far as the spaghetti goes, don’t just dump it into the pot. You have to swirl it around a little so it’s not just lying there all next to each other.”
“I have a better idea,” Tricia said. “Rather than just telling me about it, write it out for me, as detailed as you can be. That way maybe I’ll not forget something simple, like putting the hamburger in the bowl before I put it in the microwave.”
To say that Tricia was less than enthusiastic about the prospect of another spaghetti disaster would be to put it mildly. The only reason she was attempting the meal again was the needling she’d gotten from Heather and Molly. Even then she wasn’t sure how she felt about it. She had mixed feelings about whether she’d really rather it would come out all right to prove she could do it, or whether she hoped that somehow it would turn into an even worse disaster, preferably something that wouldn’t require the ALS ambulance, just to prove she was right.
She was still mentally flipping a nickel about it when she drove in the driveway of the duplex, noting that a car was sitting in the other driveway. She’d seen indications that she had a neighbor for a couple days. The lights had been on when she’d driven over to see Nicole Clark a couple of nights before; they’d still been on when she got back, but by then she figured it was too late to just drop in to say hello.
Maybe she’d better do it tonight while she was thinking about it, before it got too late. She grabbed the bag from the Super Market and her briefcase with the patient files for the next day to review and hauled them inside, dumping both on the kitchen table. Better do it now, she thought, while I’m halfway presentable and still have my jacket on. Getting into scrubs before she attempted cooking spaghetti seemed like a good idea since she didn’t want to mess up the fairly new clothes she had on.
She went out the front door and across the shared porch to the front door of the other half of the duplex. I hope this doesn’t seem too forward of me, she thought as she rang the bell. In a moment a tallish young man about her age opened the door.
“Hi,” she said, glancing at him; a nice enough looking guy, she thought. “I’m your next-door neighbor, Tricia York. I thought I ought to stop over and say hello.”
“You’re the new doctor in town?” he asked with mild curiosity.
“Yes, I took over Dr. Luce’s practice a couple months ago.”
“Well, pleased to meet you, Dr. York,” he replied with a smile. “I’ve heard some good things about you. I’m Henry McMahon.”
“I know I’ve heard the name McMahon somewhere in this town before. Oh! Are you related to the McMahons at the newspaper?”
“I’m their son,” he replied. “I’m working there again too. It’s a long story about that.”
“I’ve heard that before,” she grinned. “I’m fairly new in town, and every time I ask about something people tell me it’s a long story. It gets a little frustrating at times.”
“Well, sometimes things get to be long stories whether you’d like them to or not. But I’m not minding my manners. Would you like to come in?”
“I’d better not,” she shook her head. “I was just about ready to get started on supper, and I have to say that’s a long story, too.”
“All right, now you’ve got me curious,” he smiled. “How could getting supper ready be a long story?”
“I’m a lousy cook,” she replied honestly. “And my office nurse and medical receptionist have been bugging me about trying to learn something about it. I loused up a simple spaghetti recipe unbelievably last night, and they sort of pushed me into trying it again. If you hear any explosions or swearing from the other side of the wall in the next half hour or so, you’ll know what it’s all about.”
“Come on, it can’t be that bad,” he grinned. “I’m not the world’s greatest cook myself, but I can usually manage to eat what I make.”
“I can if it’s in a can or in a frozen tray,” she sighed. “Beyond that I’m hopeless in the kitchen. It gets a bit frustrating at times.”
“Oh, I know what frustrating can be,” he replied. “That has a lot to do with why I’m back in Spearfish Lake at all. But I can’t believe your cooking could be that bad.”
Fat lot he knows about it, she thought. “I could prove it to you,” she told him. “This recipe is for more than I’d normally eat anyway. If you’d like to come over and watch a disaster in the making, you’re welcome to come watch me make an ass of myself.”
Even as she said it, Tricia wasn’t sure why she did. It wasn’t like her to invite a guy she’d barely met into her home for dinner, even though he seemed to be a nice guy and just lived across the wall from her. Jesus, you’re getting forward, she thought. At least he was from a well-known family in town, so that didn’t make him quite a total stranger even though she’d never met him before.
“Sure,” he said. “I was just trying to figure out what can I was going to open for supper anyway. If your spaghetti turns out to be a total mess, I’ll open a couple cans for us.”
No backing out now, she thought. Oh, well. “Sure, why not,” she smiled. It might be more interesting than another evening of struggling through Dr. Luce’s handwriting, at a minimum. At least it would be something different. “Doctors have a reputation for infallibility and I’ll be glad to show you just how wrong that is. Come on, there’s no point in standing out here in the cold.”
In only a moment they were back in her half of the duplex. “So I take it you’re from around here?” she asked.
“I grew up here,” he replied. “I lived here until I left for college. I wanted to see the world, you know how that is.”
“Well, I guess I know,” she said. “I didn’t really plan to; it just worked out that way. But most of what I’ve seen has been college, med school, and internship and residency. I think I would have been just as happy to go to med school at UCLA but I couldn’t get in there. I did get into the University of Wisconsin.”
“I’ve never paid a lot of attention but I’ve always understood getting into med school is something of a crap shoot.”
“It pretty much is,” she said, heading to the kitchen and unfolding the several pages of notes Heather had worked up for her. “But since I got in there, I decided to work as hard as I could so I could get as much out of it as I could. So where did you go to school?”
“Oh, just to Central,” he said. “It’s a perfectly good school and has a good journalism program. I was working on a master’s in public policy down in Decatur, but I wasn’t working real hard on it when things went to hell for me.”
“Were you just being a student?”
“No, I was working at a TV station down there. Just a reporter, fires and convenience store stickups, things like that. The station sort of had the policy of ‘if it bleeds, it leads.’”
“I haven’t had the time to watch television for years,” she said. “And that may be part of the reason why.”
“Perfectly understandable, I couldn’t stomach watching some of that stuff myself. Dad taught me for years that while some things like that are news, they have to be properly handled so you don’t capitalize on people’s pain. They sure didn’t think that down there.”
“So then, something must have happened,” she said as she studied the few ingredients on the kitchen table. She had to start somewhere and wasn’t sure where. Well, follow the directions, she thought. She picked up the papers and read the first line. “Fill a large pot half full of warm water, turn on the stove and let it heat till it’s almost boiling.” She thought she could handle that.
“Well, yeah,” he agreed as she hunted around in the cupboard for a larger pot than she’d used last night. “I got tired of that jazz, and when one of the local papers wanted someone to cover government issues, I applied, got the job, and went to work covering city hall. There were some good stories there that really needed exposure, some real corruption issues. I hadn’t been on the job two months before the paper got bought up and they went through a huge downsizing. Worse, they decided to de-emphasize government issues and turn more tabloid, so I wound up out on the street.”
“Ouch,” she said. “That’s not good.”
“Not these days,” he agreed. “That’s the recipe you’re working from? This must be some spaghetti!”
“According to Heather, she’s my office nurse, it’s about the simplest spaghetti recipe there is, and she swears I can’t louse it up. I sure did last night, so she gave me very detailed instructions. I’m sure she’ll ask me about it in the morning, and I don’t know if I’ll be happier to tell her it worked out all right or it was even a worse disaster than last night. So how did you wind up back here?”
“The simple answer to that is I knew there was a job back here and good reasons for me to come back,” he shrugged. “See, Dad and Mom run the Record-Herald, and ever since I was in high school they sort of hoped I’d come back to run the paper. They’re not ready to retire yet, but sometime in the next few years, and for various reasons they haven’t been able to develop anyone else for the job. They have a few years to find someone yet, but they’ve been bugging me about it for years. Under the circumstances, I couldn’t say no.”
“That had to be a downer,” she said, setting the pot on the stove and lighting the burner as per instructions. Good god, she thought, Heather even had to tell me to turn on the stove! Am I that inept?
Yes, I am, she thought, or she wouldn’t have had to remind me to light the stove in the first place.
“Well, yeah,” he replied. “There were up sides and down sides to it. Don’t get me wrong, I like this place, but I’d really hoped to make a career for myself elsewhere and be big enough in whatever I was doing so that when the time came for them to get a replacement they’d find someone else. I thought for a while my little sister might take them up on it when she got a bit older, but I could tell clear back when I was in college that wasn’t going to happen.”
“Not interested in journalism?”
“Oh, she’s interested in it, but while I’m reasonably happy to come back to Spearfish Lake with the idea of staying here, she wouldn’t be. She’s, well, she’s an internationalist, for lack of a better word. She speaks five languages and her main goal in life is to travel the world on someone else’s pocketbook. She spent a year in Japan, teaching English in high schools and trying to break the kids of saying ‘Engrish,’ if you know what I mean, and she’s doing the same thing in China now.”
“She speaks Japanese? That’s uncommon.”
“She still has some troubles with the ideographs but she’s quite adept speaking it. She’s one of those irritating people who only have to hear a language to pick it up and get the accent in the process. She speaks German literally like a native, so well that a German can’t pick out an American accent. French, Spanish, and English, of course.”
“Good god, she must be some sort of genius. Let’s see, I guess the next step is browning the hamburger. Heather said to do it in the microwave.”
“That’s how I’ve always done it,” he agreed. “Anyway, Susan isn’t a genius, except in languages. Don’t get me wrong, she’s a good student; she graduated from Southern Michigan last spring, but well, she has a broader view of her place in the world than most of us. Like I said, her goal is to see the world on someone else’s pocketbook. I think she’s going to have a hard time of it, but if I’ve learned anything about her, she won’t let a little thing like that stop her.”
“My mother thought my being a doctor was an impossible goal,” she sighed as she started to unwrap the package of hamburger. “I sure wish she’d lived just so I could have told her, ‘I told you so.’” That was kind of a personal statement to be making at this point, but what the hell, it was true.
“I take it you worked pretty hard at it,” he commented as he pulled out a chair from the kitchen table and sat down.
“Very hard,” she replied. “Several times since I’ve been here I’ve been made aware of just how many other things in life I had to bypass just to do it.” She shook her head and added, “Things like learning how to cook a simple dinner, for example.”
“Can’t be good at everything, I suppose,” he grinned. “but don’t let it worry you too much. There’s a woman in this town who is very good at almost everything she does. She was a self-made multi-millionaire by the time she reached thirty, retired, got bored, and turned to teaching and coaching basketball. From everything I’ve ever heard she’s a hell of a teacher, and there are something like six state championship trophies in the case over at the school that have her fingerprints on them. She married a guy who also is a self-made millionaire, investments and software development in his case. He also retired early and turned dogsled racer, pretty successfully, too. Neither one of them can boil water without burning it. I mean, they’re supposed to be even worse at it than you claim to be. It’s a huge joke around this town.”
“It’s good to know I’m not alone,” she smiled. “I’m going to have to meet this couple.”
“You probably will sooner or later. This time of year he’s up to his butt in training dogs, so people won’t see much of him until around April.”
“Dogsled racing? That seems kind of odd.”
“Not around this town,” he smiled. “We have a big winter festival in February, and that includes a hundred-mile race to Warsaw and back. Dad was involved in setting that up when I was a little kid. You ever heard about the Iditarod? The thousand-mile dogsled race across Alaska?”
“I can’t say as I have,” she replied. “Do they actually race dogs that far? I wouldn’t have believed it.”
“You wouldn’t believe what dogs are capable of if they’re treated right. Phil, the guy I was just talking about, has done that race ten times, I think. My older sister Tiffany and her husband Josh have each done it six times, and both of them not always in the same year. I also have sort of a shirt-tail relative by marriage twice over who’s getting set to do for it the third time next spring.”
“Do you race dogsleds?” she replied, a little amazed.
“I used to when I was in high school,” he said. “But that was mostly training Josh and Tiffany’s dogs. I ran some sprints and did the Warsaw Run a couple times, but that was just using their dogs they wanted to get some extra training on. The odds are I’ll get sucked into dog training sometime this winter unless I can come up with a good excuse not to – hope, hope, hope. Dad, Mom, and their best friends get volunteered a lot, too. Josh and Tiffany’s kids, Michelle and Curtis, aren’t quite old enough to get shoved into helping yet, but I’ll bet it won’t be much longer for Michelle.”
“Good grief!” she said. She’d finished breaking up the hamburger in the bowl, and checked the directions. Heather had even included the reminder that she had to cover the bowl before starting the microwave. So far, so good, she thought, but we’ve still got a long way to go before it’s done. “I can’t imagine what that would be like.”
“Well, it can be pretty fun on a nice sunny winter day if the wind isn’t blowing real hard,” he smiled. “At night, colder than hell, blowing snow, not much idea of where you’re going and freezing your ass off, well, that’s not as much fun. Hey, if you want, sometime when we get one of those nice winter days with a little more snow on the ground, I can take you out to Tiffany’s and have her give you a dogsled ride, maybe even take you on one myself.”
“That might be fun,” she agreed. “Ever since I’ve been in town, I see people interested in things other than their jobs, and some of those things are quite rewarding to them. I don’t think I’d ever want to run a dog team across Alaska, but I keep thinking I ought to widen my horizons at least a little bit.”
“All work and no play may make jack, but it can also kill you,” he said. “Like I said, I’m really not all that interested in dogsledding any more, but I grew up with it and I know just how much damn work it can be. That doesn’t mean there aren’t other things to do, and some of them aren’t easy to do in a place like Decatur.”
“Yeah, I keep thinking that,” she agreed. “Like I told you, I’ve been so focused on becoming a physician that I let a lot of other things in my life slide. Now that I have at least a little time when I could do something else, it’s hard to let that focus go a bit.” The microwave dinged, and she said, “All right, now we’re getting into the hard part. Drain the hamburger, Heather’s instructions say. I wonder how you do that?”