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Free Articles :: A new short story: The Hyster Sisters Go to Atlanta

A new short story:
The Hyster Sisters Go to Atlanta

(c) 2009 Elizabeth Power

“Well. Now see, you should take your children to all these places because they are after all wonderful for them…”

“Oh yes, just the most culturally enlightening, although of course not so much as New Yau-erk City since after all it does have the advantage of size and is not in fact landlocked.” They nodded their heads towards each other.

The young woman looked at them somewhat quizzically. Candace was new to Atlanta and just not so sure about these Southern women, but, these—after all—were the Hyster Sisters. And they were not just any Southern women.

“And how old are your children?” She asked, long fingered hands poised in the air, one picking elegantly at the hang nail on another. She peered out over her reading glasses, one eyebrow about to disappear from sight under her hair. It was a family trait, this elevating of the eyebrow to new heights.

Her sister shifted bags of doo lallies from hand to hand watching. This young woman at the desk was attractive, she thought. Such beauty. Tall, of color as they said these days, but obviously of more than one color, with smooth skin, evenly colored, hazel eyes, a wide face, and perhaps appearing, well, Sumatran or of East Indies descent. Little Sister had found out Thursday when they checked in that this young woman was recently relocated from New York. Now she had children.

The desk clerk replied, “Five and three.”

“Then you really should take them to the Aquarium—they will absolutely love it. And take them to the Ocean exhibit last, because they have a moving walkway that goes realllll slow and it’s just so peaceful there.” Little Sister piped in, shrugging her shoulders up on the counter with the bags of doo lallies so they rested on the green marble top.

“Uh-huh, and oh my, they’ll love Fernbank too!” Big Sister rotated toward Little Sister, grinning with glee. “What’s that thing on the bottom floor?”

“Um, uh, I think it’s a tyrannosaurus?”

“Oh never mind.. Whatever it is it will still be that tomorrow. Anyway, you should take your children. They’ll be richer for it. And that thing on the bottom floor looks like the skeleton of a big old possum on major steroids.”

Little Sister dragged the doo lallies off the counter, and up they went to their repose for the afternoon. Juiced up possums, T. rex, and babies were just too much.

“Where is that dadblasted elevator?!” Little Sister, decidedly impatient, tapped her foot, clad in newly purchased super light sock fitting swoosh branded shoes. She was ready—r-e-a-D-yto get out in the air, hot as it was.

Big Sister and she had lolled about, well, not quite, until about 8am. Big Sister, an early waker, had come to, gone and gotten the paper and come back up while Little Sister snored—actually chuffed—away, sacked out. Too much travel.

Little Sister had the most interesting, yet taxing and slightly stupid worklife imaginable. Born without the employee gene, she was forever doomed to be a contractor. Desperately disappointed that she didn’t get that one, or that was so recessive it had receded to another dimension, she was more than mildly jealous of Big Sister—but not in a mean way—and the fact that she had managed to garner 30 years (already!) with the State Department of Education (Now you didn’t think I’d tell you where, did you?) and was still reasonably happily teaching away. So while she trudged into the classroom everyday to face the children who no one wanted to teach, and do so better than the vast majority of other educators, Little Sister clambered aboard a plane every other week to trek to the hinterlands of corporate America. There, she hammered away at the computer, writing unintelligible documents that made sense to somebody. She felt like Archie the cockroach in Archie and Mehitabel, who flung himself head first onto the keyboard of an old Olivetti manual typewriter to write letters to Mehitabel, the scruffy cat who was his friend.

In actuality, the Hyster Sisters are superb naturally gifted educators who cannot help but teach. Destiny always overcomes preferences in times of need, and when history and destiny connect, there’s magic. May not always be comfortable magic, but it’s magic.

Big Sister sidled up next to her, splendorous in her weekend casual wear. They both looked a little better than average, even if they were so far beyond it, for it was, after all their “bah cassione” as they called it.

“What was that about ‘Right is North’ last night? You havin’ flashbacks about the Iran Contra Affair coupled with a sudden attack of the Republican?” She couldn’t help but rib Little Sister, who had, in fact, raised up and uttered those words before going to sleep.

“Simple. We turn right, we’re goin’ North.” Little Sister shrugged. “We have wandered around the block at least seven times trying to find everything—not that I mind, but it does seem a little time consuming in the hundred degree heat.. and when I finally got it through my head, I thought I’d remind myself before I went to sleep so maybe I’d remember in the morning.” And she had.

Ding! That nice elevator had finally arrived. Little Sister and Big Sister eased into the serene interior of the elevator, finding themselves corner to corner with two men who between them had more estrogen than the Hyster Sisters had possessed collectively across their childbearing years.

So they backed into their corner, politely smiling at the two gentlemen, one of whom had more overt piercings than used body armor in Iraq, and the other sporting an orangeish—tall—Mohawk. They were lithe and willowy, and smiled accommodatingly.

“Here for Pride?” Little Sister politely asked.

“Oh yayussssssss” Ms. Mohawk hissed, snaking an arm over the other one.

Who promptly looked up, smiled painfully and asked the Hyster Sisters how long they had been together.

“Why, 52 years!” smiled Big Sister, “52 years.”

Little Sister was momentarily possessed of the devil. She just couldn’t not say it, much as she tried to bite her tongue. “Yes. Yes. We be LIEVE in incest—that way you keep things in the family, don’t worry about STDs, and the family tree doesn’t have to fork.” (Of course she really didn’t say this, but it was a wonderful idea. Oh my. Maybe she did say this. Who knows?)

You can only imagine the look on those two boys’ faces. While the Hyster Sisters were grinning ear to ear most sincerely, the two boys were withering, truly withering right before their very eyes. Suddenly the elevator was big enough to hold at least six sets of triplets. It couldn’t descend fast enough.

The Hyster Sisters managed to hold their grins until they were out of sight of the two young things, and then they collapsed in peals of laughter. Never had they had such a moment of spontaneous hilarity in all their tenure.

We do not know what happened to the two young men, but it is a sure bet they were not at the Dykes on Bikes March the next day. Perhaps if there were a Queen for a Day, they might have an in.

____

“Oh Lordy, Big Sister, it’s HUGE. HUGE.” Little Sister shook her head. She had no never in her LIFE seen one so big. It went for—ever. Absolutely forever. It made the all-night Wally World look like a paltry convenience store. Big box had a whole new meaning.

Seventeen acres. It made six inches look like eighteen feet. They had really put the dog out to run on this one. Little Sister was undone by the lush and vast parking garage with spaces wide enough to park the Greyhound Bus in and open the luggage bin right up, not to mention the fact that the underground trappings were acres and acres and acres big. Underneath and over top, too. Nothing but yellow and blue and lots of flat pack furniture, gee gaws and tchotkes. And maybe some food.

They goggle-eyed towards the door and tried to figure out what to do next. Some cute young thing was dishing out big yellow bags that coulda been road warning markers as bright as they were, and trying to tell a person of color who spoke no English where to go. Not meanly where to go, but how to get to the real goods, where they sold things.

Big Sister wanted food, and so did Little Sister. The long drive from North and East for each of them had taxed their sensibilities and that cute hotel they were in just didn’t have a restaurant. So that cute little thing told them to take the elevator up—she even used her hand like an arrow, fingers all together, thumb folded over the palm—and turn left.

Well. The Hyster Sisters got up to the top of the escalator and Lordy Mercy they had never seen such. As far as they could see on all sides: furniture. All that cute clean Swedish or Danish or whatever it was furniture for little bitty people and even arrows on the floor to tell them where to go. It was simply amazing and more than a little overwhelming. Suddenly their home town area—former furniture capital of the world—seemed very tiny.

They turned left. They turned right. The magic spot called “café” eluded them; the signage sent them sputtering around corners and backtracking and the smells drove them nuts. Growling like drooling dogs would have been next had they not stumbled blindly into the café with yelps of Eureka and trembling low-sugared limbs.

There was no line, and nearly no food either. No salads, none of the Scandinavian delights advertised, but there was some exceptional poached salmon and dill sauce, and chicken marsala on rice; two colors of carrots steamed with broccoli and snow peas, and the best little red potatoes imaginable. All this, and coffee and tea, for under eleven—that’s 1-1—dollars.

Of all the eating out, junky food cafeterias the Hyster Sisters visited on this trip, this one took the cake. A flat pack furniture store with a great café, even if they were out of lots of things, was just triple decker bunk beds above the rest which suffered, truly suffered, from wrinkledy-skin hotdogs, drained and dry burger patties, and pizza with leathery crust served with a bottle of antacids. The dining room had the cutest children’s dishes and electric bottle warmers, just as efficient as you’d ever expect from those people over there where design really counts.

So. Dinner finished, they began the organized trek of the faithful through the serpentine concrete aisles occasionally marked with black directional arrows that seemed to contradict the overhead hangers. More than once, the Hyster Sisters commented that they weren’t too sure they would get out before the store closed and lamented the distance between bathrooms.

They almost became convinced that the way that the Ikea man got richer than Bill Gates was by accepting ransoms from customers who were desperate to either find their way out or get help figuring out what slabs of cardboard-and-contents to pull in the checkout area hoping they would assemble into something they thought they wanted, and probably did, but were unable to translate from that floor model into boxes A, B, C and X accompanied by parts 1234 and 5678 secured by a cute little Allen wrench, hammer, and screwdriver.

____

“I’d like a Starbucks coffee and a yogurt parfait, please.” Those were the only things that really looked appealing at the kitchy little counter. That young man with his three-degree head tilt had just looked at her like “what was a grey headed fat woman like her, too old to belong there” doing in front of him. He was exceptionally impatient and she felt her eyes narrow to little slits. Snake eyes. She never liked herself when got them.

“That young man could sure stand some manners,” Big Sister commented as they sashayed, coffee, parfait, and paper in hand to a table right behind the column with the backwards writing on it. “He is STILL in the service industry.” She was just a little peeved.

“Umhm..” Little Sister was working to let it go. She was not doing a very good job. And, it did not help when she found something dark and fecund looking swiped through the knife cut where the strawberry had been cut. Carefully, oh so carefully, she picked the clean ones to eat, and set the dirty ones in the lid. Some wads of whatever it was were the size of big peppercorns.

Politely enough, she ate what was clean. “Oh well,” she thought, “strawberries grow in dirt and I’ve certainly eaten enough in my life. What is it? Half a cup?” And the more she sat, the madder she got. She decided the kitchen really did need to know they weren’t being so careful; this being such a cute hotel and all she knew they’d want to do better.

So she took the parfait lid, ooky berries and all to the counter. And very politely she said, “Excuse me, I’m asking for a refund or anything but I know you want to know that the knife that cut these was dirty.”

“No it wasn’t.” He flipped his head.

“Excuse me? Then what is this on these strawberries?” She felt her blood pressure rise.

“How would I know?” He hissed. “But the knife was clean. You know, strawberries DO grow in dirt.”

“Yes, young man, I am well aware of that. But neither I nor the health department appreciates it when that dirt makes it to the table on the blade of a knife. It makes it appear that the kitchen isn’t doing such a good job with hygiene.”

“Well, that’s too bad, because the knife was clean.” And with that, Miss Thing tossed the parfait lid—and the strawberries—in the trash.

Little Sister dug one heel in the carpet, made a forty-five degree turn to the left and sizzled back to the table. She was being SO good not disturbing Big Sister as she read her paper, though she did peer over her glasses and snort at Little Sister who by now was puffed up like a large bullfrog.

Big Sister, infinite in her wisdom and experience, smiled and said “He really doesn’t know he works in a service industry, does he?” She waited for Little Sister to respond. It was interesting—she’d seen Little Sister turn from being a bona fide volcanic hot head to being exceptionally smooth, either from being worn down to a nub or finally having her parts sucked out.

Big Sister was still convinced girls should be born with a gift certificate for a hysterectomy in her hand, especially after seeing Little Sister’s conversion to a reasonable human being, something which even Little Sister agreed had happened to her, much to both her delight and dismay.

The only thing worse than remembering you were a perfect holy terror was remembering how you could still be one, and Little Sister was seriously struggling not to go there. Oh what the hell, she thought, he truly does deserve it.

And so she huffed her puffed up self right up to the front desk, politely asked Candace if she could speak to the Manager On Duty. Directly, this cute round-headed dark skinned man emerged and she asked him to come with her to the food counter.

“I will wait until there is no one at the counter, and then I will explain why I asked for you,” she said. No point in turning the fan any higher on the blown up skirts of the hotel. Dignity had to count for something, even when one was mad enough to spit nails and frame a house from fifty feet. Her words were as neatly clipped as new police recruit’s head after a set of clippers with number nine blades had made two runs. She was boiling. Not at getting dirt in her food (if that’s what it was); she was steamed by the snippy attitude of the little boy who didn’t know enough to now cower and seriously suck up to the raging fury switching its forked tail in front of him.

Once the counter was clear she moved in for the kill.

“I have brought the Manager on Duty, and I am talking to him in front of you. I purchased a yogurt parfait from this young man, and when I returned berries whose cut surface had a foreign substance on them, rather than take it seriously, his choice was to flip his head, be smart, and then toss the berries in the garbage.”

She felt herself trembling with fury.

“Now it’s one thing to serve bad food, it’s another be so flip about it. My next call may be to the Department of Health to report the kitchen, and that would bring a whole passel of inspectors down here.”

ll it was was…” He started in.

The MOD put his hand up to tell him to be quiet.

“But…” He tried again.

“Let her finish. She has a point.” The MOD was trying to work with this young pup.

“I purchased this food, when I discovered the stuff on the cut strawberries, I moved them aside, I continued eating—and when I brought the bad ones back, I did not ask for a refund, I did not make trouble, I pointed out what was obvious

“And instead of exhibiting the slightest sign of remorse or apologizing, this employee did not apologize, offer a refund, act as if he took the concern seriously—and indicating his further disdain, he threw away the bad food in front of me.” Little Sister was about to foam at the mouth if she wasn’t careful. All she was aware of was the intense need to speak in measured tones with deliberate words that were honed to the edge of a shoe knife: it could peel the outside edge of a peach peel off and leave it feeling like a nectarine. Sharp. Very sharp. Undeniable evidence of a new psychiatric disorder just being addressed—MAH.

“Mean As Hell” is evidenced by intermittent onset episodes of sheer meanness, accompanied by the sudden urge to file one’s teeth to a sharp point, use one’s verbal skills to prove a perfectly clear point that any dolt with an IQ over three should have been getting. Often prompted among those who have chronically been made invisible, it is often a desperate attempt to be acknowledged as having agency in one’s own world.

On occasion, however, it is a perfectly appropriate response to an individual who is simply not intelligent enough to recognize their own massive intellectual deficit or its potential implications in their situation. MAH, while not clinically recognized, is anecdotally evident in many societal situations.

The MOD was watching, silent, recognizing what he had on his hands. The young clerk, meanwhile was sputtering to defend himself.

“The knife was clean…” he tried to edge in.

“If the knife was clean, where did that stuff come from? Was the kitchen clean?” Oh she was steamed and there was no way he was going to be right, even in the eensiest way. Little Sister, like all women, had a certain inherent Rightness and a dull boy could certainly never dislodge it, especially when his behind was flapping in the air in the middle of Peachtree Road.

“It was probably just dirt…”

“And why weren’t the strawberries washed? There is NO excuse, and further, since you tossed them in the trash, you have no way of identifying what the substance or real cause was!”

“She is right—if the knife was clean, then either the cutting surface was soiled or the strawberries weren’t washed. When the customer is right, you need to apologize. And, you should keep the food that they are complaining about so we can figure out where we went wrong and not do it again.” The MOD had stepped in at last.

“Thank you.”

“Have you already paid for your food?” He leaned in, asking."

"Yes sir, but it was my sister—sitting over there—who paid.” She dropped her chin a few feet from its elevated position.

“I’ll bring her a refund immediately. Is there something else you’d like from the café?” He clearly got what customer service meant.

“No thank you, and thank you very much for taking care of this.” Little Sister felt the red hot demon slowly deflating, being vacuumed back into its corner by good sense and sensibility.

“You’re so welcome.”

“You know, he just doesn’t understand customer service.” She said.

“No,” said the MOD, smiling pleasantly, “but he will before the afternoon is out.” And with that, Little Sister eased back to the table as if nothing had happened where Big Sister was pleasantly reading the paper.

“Have fun?” she said, peering out over her reading glasses.

“Ever so much!” Little Sister chirped. “I just hated to do it, but he was rude.” She drew each word out punctuating it carefully.

“He was indeed. And you did a good job.” Little Sister loved it when Big Sister paid her a compliment. Big Sister had always had such a better way of complaining and letting people know what was what. She was such a good role model! Little Sister experienced one of those moments where she knew how much she just loved Big Sister, and then turned her attention back to her piece of the paper.

When the Manager on Duty came to give Big Sister the refund, you can bet that little-mister-doesn’t-give-half-a-hoot swooshed from out behind the counter to lurk nearby in case they were talking about him. And they were.