ABOUT JESUS, MO, AND CHEESE PUFFS
Flo’s deformed eye doesn’t bother her a bit. Nope. Never mind the eye patch or her aversion to mirrors. But when she wins $40,000 in the lottery, she decides to get one of those “TV doctors” to fix her bad eye. It’s a long way from Indiana to California, so she and Mo, pack along some extra bags of cheese puffs for the trip.
Funny thing about life, it doesn’t always follow a plan. Flo and Mo, primed for an adventure, get sidetracked at every turn. For one, there’s the young family with the broken-down car they stop to help only two hours into the trip. Turns out there’s more to the young family than either of them could ever imagine. On to Hooker, Oklahoma, where they stumble into a wake for the town hero—High Henry, a Clydesdale horse, who shows the town it’s not the package but the heart inside that matters.
At a farmer’s market in Pasadena, Jostlin’ Jack and Angel—a happy if homeless couple, suggest Flo “wear the world like a loose garment.” Angel’s words come back to Flo when the plastic surgeon wants to rework her whole face and make her into something she’s not. Realizing at last the only limitations in life are the ones she puts on herself, Flo opens her heart to the possibilities.
Jesus, Mo and Cheese Puffs is the kind of story that asks you to look and find the magic in every single encounter.
Lisa Boucher has Sicilian roots and thinks about cooking and food about as often as she thinks about writing more books! In her spare time she travels, holds a BA in English, works part-time as a nurse, and makes pesto and homemade granola, naming her local cottage product line (Simple Grace). Lisa is married, and has twin sons that play college football.
Next book in the pipeline: “Black Butterflies White Fences,” an interracial love story. Coming late spring or early this summer.
Enjoy the first chapter!
The three things Flo loved most in life were Jesus, Mo, and cheese puffs. And because she loved Jesus so much, she didn’t think he’d mind if she kept one dollar each week from the offering basket and used it to buy a lotto ticket. Although the 7-Eleven sold oodles of tickets, she liked the scratch-off kind. What a thrill to clasp a penny or nickel and scratch away at the silver coating on the card. Every pull of the coin revealed another number. She liked knowing right away if she won.
Nestled inside the blue Buick, she positioned her pocketbook and the now open bag of cheese puffs next to her on the passenger seat. Clutching the ticket, she stuck the keys in the ignition so she wouldn’t forget where she put them, and placed the ticket in her lap. Snatching another cheese puff out of the bag, she popped it into her mouth. Licking the orange salt off her fingertips, she plucked a tissue from the console to clean her hands. The tinny sound of crinkling cellophane pricked her ears as she folded up the dwindling bag of cheese puffs. She fished a nickel out of her purse, sucked in a breath and said what she’d been saying, once a week, for the past twenty-five years. “Today is the day!”
It took more than the usual few minutes to get home. With her palms sweating and leg bobbing she wanted to speed around the cars lined up like beads on a necklace at the four-way stop. A soccer game, commencing at the high school three blocks away, brought the spectators out in droves. Heavy traffic forced her to drive slow and easy, the way Mo insisted she drive anyway. Bursting with desire to shout the good news, it took every ounce of willpower not to pull over and ask one of the neighbor boys gliding by on skate boards to peek at the ticket and double check the digits. Unless her eyes played some sort of trick, which was a distinct possibility, it sure looked like those numbers and bells lined up the way a winning ticket ought to do.
A stiff brown patch covered the deformed eye, and she needed a thick, corrective lens for the other. Without glasses, her combined vision was only marginally better than legally blind. Squinting into the sun, she saw Mo wave, but then again, maybe not. Maybe he just wiped his brow. Easing through the intersection, Flo feigned extra caution. He hated for her to drive, but she’d convinced him the weekly jaunt to buy a lotto ticket wasn’t even the same kind of dangerous as jay walking across a busy street.
From her vantage down the block, he looked to be at the edge of the garden, his foot propped on the shovel, gazing toward the intersection. Every time she took the car he’d find a reason to head outside. True, the garden needed tilling but when she’d left the house he looked settled in his favorite chair watching NASCAR.
The familiar neighborhood streets, fringed as they were with people and friends they knew on a first name basis provided an oasis of comfort. She’d be fine. Besides, everyone needed a sticking point. The thought of giving up her last shard of independence made her throat constrict and chest feel tight, and figured Mo must have known he’d be in for a tussle if he tried to force the issue. And the way he scuttled about the house helping her find the keys, well, she couldn’t think of a better way for him to bestow his blessing.
He’d worked his way around one side of the garden. Turning up the dirt was a sure sign of spring. He and Flo kept a big garden, and they ate well all summer and into early fall. Come winter, they ate a lot of pork shoulder, fried cabbage, and butter beans. Mo thought she made the best butter beans in the world. Her secret was to add a whole stick of butter to the pot, right near the end of the cooking time.
Mo stomped on the shovel, sending the blade deep into the boggy earth. The car horn blared.
“Mo,” Flo’s head poked out the open window. “We won! We won! You ain’t going to believe this!”
Mo dropped the shovel, hastened to the driveway, and waited for Flo to park the car under the carport. He made sure to stay out of her way in case she accidentally hit the gas instead of the brake.
“You ain’t going to believe it, but I swear to the good Lord, I won!” She hopped out of the car and thrust the ticket into Mo’s hands. “Here. You take a look. I hope my eyes aren’t playing tricks on me. Go on, have a look. See, right there.” She jabbed the ticket with a fingernail. “Doesn’t it say if all six boxes match then I’m a winner? Isn’t that what it says?”
“Now hold on just a minute.” Mo pulled a slim, black case out of the breast pocket of his checkered shirt. He put on his glasses and peered again at the ticket.
“What’s it say? What’s it say?” Flo pranced around Mo, keys dancing and jingling in her trembling hands.
“Now hold on a minute, let me see.” Slow and steady, he dragged his finger over each box, checking the numbers not once, but three times. He turned the ticket over and scrutinized the small print. Satisfied there wasn’t a catch, he offered up a toothy smile. “By golly, I can’t believe it, but I think you’re right.” He turned the ticket over and over in his hand. “Yep, it says right here. Why, Flo, this is more money than we ever had. Forty thousand dollars! Well, how about that. I’ll be darned. You’ve been buying a ticket a week for all these years, and you finally won. Now ain’t that something.”
“What do we do now? Should we tell anyone? Should I call Martha?”
“Mouth of the South? Heck no, don’t tell her. She’ll have the whole town over here begging in no time.”
“What should we do?”
Mo slid the ticket into his breast pocket. “How about we go inside and think about this.”
“That sounds good. But don’t lose the ticket.”
Mo patted his pocket. “I got it right here. We’ve only got a few steps to get in the house. I doubt it’s gonna jump out.”
Flo let the door bang, and trotted into the kitchen where she dropped her yellow purse onto the Formica countertop. She paused to adjust the brown patch slipping off her eye. “I’m so excited I don’t think I could eat right now, but you’re probably hungry after all that digging. How about I make you a nice ham sandwich? I want to use up what’s left so I can make us a pot of bean soup with that bone.”
“That sounds real nice.” Mo plodded over to the sink to wash his hands. Usually Flo liked him to wash up in the bathroom, and if she caught him at the kitchen sink, she’d have a fit. But she didn’t even notice. She was too busy grinning as she sliced cheese and onions and spread mayonnaise over two slices of Wonder bread.
“What are we going to do with all that money?” She looked past the kitchen into the living room. “How about we replace the carpet? Or maybe buy a new bedroom set. We’ve had that furniture since we’ve been married.”
“I have a better idea.”
“You do?” Flo thrust the knife in the jar, braced one hand against the counter and wagged a finger at Mo. “Maybe I better sit down for this one. I have a feeling you’re up to something.” She scooted around the counter and joined Mo at the table.
“Yep. What’s the one thing you’ve been unhappy about since the car accident?”
Flo propped her elbows on the table, but as soon as she realized the insinuation, fidgeted, and began brushing imaginary lint off her blouse. “Oh, no, I could never do that. I’ve been living with this old eye the way it is for the better part of twenty years. It don’t bother me none.”
That was a lie. Some nights when she thought he was asleep, he’d see her standing in front of the mirror, pushing and tugging the skin around her eye this way and that, acting as if she wanted to know what her face would look like if she didn’t have all those scars and bumps. And the way the outer corner puckered, the wrinkles folded up on themselves, creating an unsightly flap. He knew she didn’t have the heart to tell him how much she hated the way her eye looked. Some nights he’d feign sleep or pretend he was reading. He hated seeing her scrunch her face, and it nearly broke his heart to see her brown eyes glazed with disappointment. He wished her lid would close the way a person’s eye is supposed to close.
Two years after the car accident, the doctor diagnosed her with Graves’ disease. That’s when she started wearing the patch under her gold wire-rimmed glasses. The doctor said the Graves’ disease made her eye bulge. Doc called it proptosis.
Flo scurried about the kitchen, rewashing the apples he swore she bathed yesterday, and scouring the sink that a few minutes ago when he washed his hands, appeared spotless.
“Flo, you’re getting yourself all worked up.”
Mo sat at the kitchen table and watched his wife of forty plus years dart around the kitchen like a trapped housefly. He marveled at her spunk. At sixty-eight, she kept a full social calendar. Chunks of her week spent volunteering and baking for the church, playing euchre, and facilitating a grief group for parents still struggling after losing a child. The latter no doubt is what kept her sane. No matter how much time passed, the sadness over losing Jimmy lived right behind her eyes. He guessed sharing her grief helped assuage some of the pain and kept it from knocking her over. “How about you come sit down a minute?”
“You’re right. I can’t even think straight” She dried her hands on a green terry towel and pressed her fingers to murmuring lips. “I’ll make us some tea. No big decisions should be made without tea and a prayer.” Flo handed Mo the ham sandwich, forgetting to cut it in half like she usually did.
“I’d love some of that black mango tea.” Mo chuckled. “And as far as all that whispering you’re doing, well, if praying makes you feel better, go right ahead. Me, I’m just gonna sit right here and figure out a plan.”
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