About Lavender: A Faint Wash of Lavender
by Lucius Parhelion
Post World War Two finds Laguna Beach in its heyday as an artists'
colony. Tony runs his uncles' Grocery store in the town where a man of
his bent can hide among the eccentrics who call the place home,
including his Aunt Cora, who's in charge of this year's Pageant, where
denizens of Laguna Beach recreate great art.
Since neither of his older brothers was around to smack him in the head, Tony Guardi should have done the job himself when he realized what he'd gotten into. If he hadn't tried being sensible, Ben and he could have avoided the St. Francis Crisis of 1948, which would have spared them some nervous strain. Too bad that, for once, Tony had meant to act like a respectable citizen of Laguna Beach. He might have known better.
To be fair, when the long distance operator had put through Ben's call reporting his travel plans, his taking the train into Los Angeles and then a bus down the Pacific Coast Highway had sounded like a nice, leisurely trip. Tony hadn't suggested much in the way of changes; he was Ben's army buddy and pen pal, not his wife. He didn't even offer to pick up Ben at Union Station, but found him a ride with Charles Erskine, one of Aunt Cora's gentlemen-friends who was always going up to L.A. on Fridays for the weird errands artists had in big cities.
No, Tony meant to show some sense. Sure, he was pleased Ben was coming to visit. That was fine. Fight your way across enough hostile French and German real estate with someone and you were allowed to like the guy, like him a lot. Tony just needed to watch out for the part of himself that used to sing, "It's Ben! Hip, hip, hooray!" while waltzing around like a drunk at a wedding reception.
He was done with those feelings. Hell, even before they'd mustered out three years back, Tony had known you didn't inflict sentimental mush -- let alone sentimental lavender mush -- on a buddy who was planning to become some kind of missionary out in the back of beyond once the war was over.
The years of separation should have solved his little problem. Even so, Tony would be smart. He would wait for Ben like any normal guy with a normal job, taking over for Arlene at register two as usual while she went off to eat a lunch of leftover tuna casserole. Of course, also as usual, every customer who could drive Tony crazy would promptly trot through the front doors of Brandon's Grocery Mart once Arlene was safely barricaded in the back room. Speaking of which--
"Afternoon, Mr. Freeland," Tony said, punching keys to ring up some tomatoes.
"Good afternoon, Tony. Have you heard the news?"
Sure, about four times already. "Mmm."
"John Harriman and Peter Nagle were up to mischief at rehearsal last night." Freeland didn't bother saying which show the rehearsal was for. Right now, there was only one show that mattered in this town. Instead, he drew himself up like a politician in front of a newsreel camera and said, "Mischief! At rehearsal. Pretending to be mountain climbers or some such nonsense. And do you know what happened?"
Tony did. "I heard--"
"They fell right through the pile of flats they were clambering over. Of course those flats were thin, thin as could be, thin as--"
"Soda crackers," Old Mrs. Peabody said from behind Freeland in line.
"Aisle Three," Tony told her.
"Thin as soda crackers," she said to Freeland, ignoring Tony. "I heard they broke their legs." Her words came out spiced with that extra special relish elderly ladies could spread onto tales of young guys getting into messes.
"One greenstick fracture, one severe sprain," Freeland corrected her, sounding kind of pompous, if anyone had asked Tony his opinion instead of expecting him to ring up Kellogg's Corn Flakes. "But what will happen to the Pageant with those youngsters out of commission only two weeks before the opening, I do not know."
At this observation, a hush descended on the register line. Even Mrs. Walensky's youngest stopped swinging his mom's hand and humming "The Donkey Serenade" off-key.
The Pageant of the Masters had become, in its ten years or so of existence, a Very Big Deal. You really did not mess with Very Big Deals in fairly small towns, especially towns that needed places for tourists and summer residents to spend lots of money. Why so many visitors wanted to see the local citizens dressed up and standing absolutely still, pretending to be the people in famous paintings, Tony wasn't sure. But the Pageant was a huge hit and already a sacred cow as a result.
Tony tried reassurance. "I'm sure the director will find someone who can take over their roles." Before Freeland could explain to him why this would be horribly difficult, at length, Tony added quickly, "Two dollars and seventeen cents, please."
"Humph. Highway robbery."
With an apologetic shrug, Tony rang open the register with the usual mechanical clatter and said, "Prices are rising since the war. But at least you can get any kind of food you want. No rationing these days."
"I suppose. Well, we shall see what happens. With the Pageant, that is." Taking his bags of groceries and his change, Freeland marched out the doors with the air of someone who'd had the last word.
"Broke their legs in two places each, is what I heard," Mrs. Peabody said as she made it to the front of the line.
Swallowing a sigh, Tony started ringing up single cans of nine different varieties of Campbell's soup.