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Seth Berner

Seth Berner

Seth Berner is a playwright, bookseller, lawyer and actor living in Portland, Maine. His In the Early Dark was one of the Final 30 in the Samuel French Off-Off-Broadway Short Play Festival in 2013.

Wigs and Meatloaf

The man in a plaid sport shirt stood outside the church waiting for his young niece to come out. It was an overcast but refreshing spring day, the misty drops hovering in the cool air bringing out by contrast the newly-green buds on the wakening trees. The man, lost in his own thoughts, did not notice the weather, nor did he notice the figure approaching until he felt a tap on his shoulder.

"Is this where you get the free meatloaf?" The stranger spoke clearly but only by an effort of obvious extremity. The effects of demon alcohol were evident. Henry, though not adverse to a drink now and then himself, jumped back from the overwhelming aroma of fermented grape. From a distance of a few steps he squinted suspiciously at the newcomer. "Wassat?"

"I beg your pardon but is there where the free meatloaf is being disp . . .disp . . . dis-pen-sed." The facade crumbled on the last word.

"What meatloaf"? Henry's patience was never of the best, a problem compounded by the peeling bell signaling the imminent exit of Natalie from within, and the thought of a real meal awaiting him at home.

"It was today's paper, I think, free meatloaf to anyone wearing a wig. I forget where but you look like you might be in line."

"What wig?" Irritably.

"Is that not a wig you're wearing? Used to sell 'em, can spot one from fifty paces. Pretty good one, though, almost fooled me."

Though not vain Henry had a pride in his few undeniably good attributes, one of which was his thick, wavy hair. "I ain't got no wig on. What are you talking about?" Though peering through the congregation streaming out he still kept one eye on his interrogator.

"I just want to know if you are getting meatloaf or not because if not I will go in and get your portion as well, no point in letting food go to waste. Mind if I borrow your wig, old boy? My hair is my own."

Henry slapped at the hand reaching for his head. "Get your hand off me. I ain't got no wig. I ain't got no meatloaf neither. I ain't no damn soup kitchen. What do you think . . ." Just then he spotted Natalie in the crowd. "Natalie, let's go. Dinner's waiting. I ain't got time to wait forever." A beautiful girl of about five or six took the hand stretched out to her. The drunk turned his attention to her.

"I beg your pardon miss but did you see meatloaf being dispensed within? Not to you, of course, I can see you have no wig on, but perhaps you might have seen others being dispensed to."

Natalie looked quizzically up at Henry who answered for her. "She ain't seen no meatloaf either. None of us has. I already told you. Now let us go, we got dinner to get to." They brushed by the man who showed the depth of his intoxication by collapsing to the sidewalk at the minister's feet and snoring loudly.

Natalie broke the quiet of their homeward progress. "What's a wig, Uncle Henry?"

"It's what you put on your hair when you ain't got none."

"None what?"

"Hair."

"How can you put what on your hair when you ain't got none?"

"I don't want to discuss it. Ask your mother."

The rest of their walk home was silent but companionable. They were in a working class community, the houses all identical, solidly unaesthetic. They went up one undistinguishable driveway and knocked on the door. An attractive plumpish woman in her 30s let them in. The girl grabbled the woman's hand and, jumping up and down, addressed her. "Mama, mama what's a . . .?

"Now let's get seated and you can ask me as we eat." At the table Natalie lost herself in her peas and turkey and forgot her question.

After they had been eating for a bit the phone rang. When Natalie's mother returned to the table she looked troubled. "Henry, did you do something at church today"?

"No, mam."

"Reverend Hasty says one of your friends created an unpleasant scene and he is most upset."

"My friend? That weren't none of my friend. I ain't never set eyes on . . ." Margaret cut him off.

"Let me remind you that this is a Christian home. If you must break the Sabbath in that way you will have to do it somewhere else."

"Do I look like I got a wig?"

"What's that?"

"Do it look like . . . Oh, never mind. I did not drink, mam."

Natalie who had forgotten looked up from her plate. "Mama, what's a wig?"

Margaret looked slowly from her daughter to her brother-in-law. "Imagine talking about wigs on a Sunday. Surely you can find something more pleasant to converse about."

"Yes mam. I think so too."

"Well I hope so. Talking about wigs. I declare."

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