Sunday, August 19, 2007

Fiction by John A. Ward

Okra Coach
by John A. Ward

Cooder and me worked on the float for a month steady. The hottest days of summer were gone, days when we would we would stop and stand in the shadow of a guy wire from a telephone pole just to get some shade and sip a Co-Cola. We were responsible for the coach the Okra Queen would ride in the Harvest Parade at the Cotulla County Fair. The okra coach would be on a flatbed trailer pulled by a Massey Ferguson. We weren’t responsible for the whole coach, just the wheels.

“I’d like to eliminate the tractor and trailer and have the coach run on its own,” said Cooder to the committee.

“Out of the question,” said Mayor Clay Henry. “Your jerry-built wheels won’t support the weight of the coach and this year’s queen, who might diplomatically be described as voluptuous.”

“Okra is a natural,” said Cooder. “Why, its innards look like the spokes of a wheel when you slice it for frying, except for the seed, of course. Though, if you think about it, they could be the ball bearings so the hub will turn on the axle slick as goose poop through a tin horn.”

“But the true okra we eat is the delicate sexual part of a flowering plant in the mallow family, also known as lady’s fingers in Indian cuisine,” said Marion Fox, local librarian and writer of children’s books, who appreciated a good metaphor as well as anyone else. “How will you get the audience to suspend disbelief?”

I expected Cooder to say, “Huh?” but instead he said, “The real question is, how will we not?” which is like something he heard Cuba Gooding say in Men of Honor and has since thought was a good response to any question that attempted to dampen his enthusiasm.

“Do what you want with the wheels,” said Mayor Henry, “but the whole rig is sitting on the flatbed even if you invent the next best thing since… fill in whatever you want here.”

So Cooder slammed his fist on the table and filled in, “Spandex!”

“Why did you pick that?” asked Ms. Fox.

“Because it’s like a good rule, that can be bent and stretched to produce the best effect,” said Cooder.

“Tabled,” said the mayor. “We have one more meeting before the parade. Show us what you have then.”


Two weeks into October, we took the welded rebar wagon wheels and painted them green in Ben Durbin’s abandoned barn. The barn was taken for taxes by the county while Ben was in the slammer. Chesty, Cooder’s on-again-off-again girlfriend, bought it at auction. She had a soft spot for Ben because she thought he might be her father. She intended to give it back to him when he was released, which wouldn’t be soon. He was still as crazy as a jack rabbit and started food fights in the mess hall whenever they didn’t serve pepper steak.

We were almost finished when Cooder said, “Let’s make it look like fried okra.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “There are two schools of okra eaters, fried and stewed, better to keep it uncooked and not split the vote.”

Cooder insisted. We glued scraps of brown Styrofoam the size of a fist onto the wheels to look like bread crumbs. Then we went over them with a blowtorch to get the fried effect.

At the final meeting, the committee appreciated the extra effort.

“After the fair,” said Mayor Henry, “I want to hang the wheels over the entrance of the Wagon Wheel CafĂ©,” his restaurant on Main Street.

“I’d like to discuss letting the okra coach ride on its own wheels again,” said Cooder. “I have them attached to a demonstration hand cart and I’ll give you all rides around the meeting room.”

After the demonstration, Ms. Fox said, “I agree that the wheels are sturdy enough, but the bread crumbs make the ride a little bumpy.”

“On the contrary,” said the mayor. “I feel that the Styrofoam squishes flat and actually provides a smoother ride where the breading meets the road, but to avoid a filibuster by the stewed okra faction, we will keep the coach on the flatbed as a compromise.”

“As you wish,” said Cooder, but there was a rebellious gleam in his eyes.

As we disassembled the cart to haul the wheels to the fair grounds, I asked, “What do you have in mind, Cooder?”

“Instead of the paper machĂ© horses, we’ll put Ben’s mules in the harness and rig a quick release on the trailer hitch.”

“We’ve only got one week. There’s no time for rehearsal. If anything goes wrong, we’ll be in a heap of trouble.”

“What could possibly go wrong?” said Cooder. “And, once they see how grand it is, all will be forgiven.”

When the parade passed the reviewing stand, Cooder released the trailer. The mules spooked just like he thought they would and jumped off, pulling the coach with them, but they skedaddled much faster than expected. The Styrofoam breading set up destructive oscillations that catapulted the Okra Queen end-over-end into the reviewing stand smack dab into Mayor Henry’s lap. The impact sent them crashing down under the bleachers. When they came out, they were disheveled and the queen’s makeup was smeared all over the mayor’s shirt. The mayor’s wife whomped him with her parasol. The mayor protested, “I never had sex with that woman.” There was talk of impeachment.

On Halloween, we were in the slammer with Ben.

Author bio:

John A. Ward was born on Staten Island, attended Wagner College in the early 60's, sold his first poem to Leatherneck magazine for $10, and became a biomedical scientist. He is now in San Antonio running, writing and living with his dance partner. He has published in Doorknobs & Bodypaint, Toasted Cheese, Green Tricycle, Apollo’s Lyre, Alighted Ezine, Clockwise Cat, Cenotaph Pocket Edition, The San Antonio Express-News, Antithesis Common, Wild Child, Sentence, Sun Poetic Times, Byline, Quirk, ken*again, R-KV-R-Y, The Smoking Poet and Long Story Short.

Links to John's work can be found at The Dancing Fool.

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