THE TREASURES IN CHI CHI’S SHED
Phoebe felt she had been asleep only a few minutes when she heard a knock on her door. “Wake u-uup!” came Penny’s cheerful voice. “It’s after nine o’clock. Glenda’s picking us up in half an hour.” Penny opened the door and looked in. “We’ve got a big day,” she said.
“Just like Mom,” muttered Phoebe as she sat up. Why, oh why did I promise to go out food shopping? They don’t need me. I’m not interested in food shopping. I’ll just be an extra passenger in a bad mood.
But Phoebe rose and threw on her clothes and splashed cold water on her face. She grabbed a cup of coffee and sat on the front steps. There she entered a peaceful moment. White fog rose in wisps from the still shadowy forest. The rising sun beamed off the white cliffs in the distance. The world beyond seemed very far away.
Yes, this was a panorama that made sense. She drank her coffee and quietly got adjusted to the day. To hell with Gilligan, she thought. Maybe I won’t even show up. But she knew she would.
Glenda’s blue truck came down Oak Knoll Lane onto Main Street and pulled into the driveway. Phoebe slowly took her last few swallows of coffee, and, leaving her mug on the steps, walked over to the truck. Penny appeared from the backyard and climbed into the front seat next to Tiny and Glenda, while Phoebe jumped into the open bed of the pickup and sat on the large trunk bolted to the floor behind the cab.
“There’s room in the front,” called Glenda.
“That’s okay. It’s fun here,” replied Phoebe, and off they went.
Glenda drove down Main Street to Bridge Avenue, took a left, and cruised along slowly, looking for parking. She finally pulled into an open spot right in front of the toy store. Penny, carrying an enormous canvas bag, hit the street with Glenda and Tiny on her heels, and walked to the door of Sammy’s Coffee Shop. Phoebe jumped to the sidewalk and followed.
Penny headed for the back shelves, but after a few steps turned to Sammy with a look of anxiety on her face. It was clear from a distance that the shelves were completely empty. Sammy shook his head and held up his hands with a shrug.
“Sorry,” he said. “You know how it is with this stuff.”
“Sammy, I’m desperate. The party’s tomorrow.”
“I know, but what can I do? I would have saved all of it for you, but nothing’s come in.”
“That’s all right,” returned Penny. “I’ll try something else.” She turned toward the door.
“But what have you got in that bag?” asked Sammy. “I sure could use a few loaves and maybe two dozen muffins. We could sell them all today. I know you like to trade, but remember, cash is always useful too.”
After a brief negotiation the small group walked back to the truck with an empty canvas bag. Glenda lifted Tiny into the front seat, and then walked around the truck to enter on the driver’s side. Phoebe and Penny waited on the sidewalk to discuss the situation.
“That’s odd,” said Phoebe. “I thought Chi Chi said he’d have the vegetables at Sammy’s by today. I wonder what happened.”
“He did say that,” replied Penny.
“What’s up?” asked Glenda, joining them on the sidewalk.
“We have to go see Chi Chi,” explained Penny. “He sometimes has the vegetables in his shed. That is, if it’s okay with you.”
Hmm… thought Phoebe. Penny’s worried that Glenda’s trying to stay out of all this. “That’s all right,” Glenda replied. “We’ve been there before. He gives lemon cukes to Tiny whenever we shop at the garden center.”
“Chi Chi! Chi Chi!” came the high, thin voice of Tiny, who had climbed out of the truck to the sidewalk and overheard the conversation. “Let’s go and see Chi Chi!”
“Oh Tiny!” moaned Glenda in frustration. “How did you learn the door to the truck so easily? Come on now, let’s get back in.” She lifted Tiny into the front seat again, and looked back at Phoebe and Penny. “Don’t worry about us,” she said. “I know all about it. The story of my life.”
Penny joined them in the front seat and Phoebe returned to her spot on the trunk behind the cab. Glenda turned right on Old Stone road, right again down Cemetery Lane almost to the forest, and parked in front of the old one-story wood and sheet metal shed with a stovepipe emerging from its slanted roof. Above the window to the right a faded sign read, MONUMENTS AND INSCRIPTIONS. As they approached this strange old workshop, the door
opened. There stood the man with the triangular face and pointed ears.
“Chi Chi!” burst out Penny, trying to keep her excited voice low. “I’m so glad you’re back. What happened? Sammy has nothing in his shop.”
Chi Chi’s hazel eyes darted over their faces. “Come in, come in,” he said in a quiet tone that vibrated with energy, nodding and smiling to all as he ushered them through the door. “It’s not easy to make a delivery these days, but… as you’ll see, I haven’t forgotten you.”
He showed them inside a dim and cluttered workshop, mostly hidden in shadow, to a wide worktable that held three overflowing burlap bags.
“We only have a few hours to prepare,” said Penny nervously.
“Of course, of course,” cooed Chi Chi, smiling and rubbing his hands together. A window behind the table lit up the faces of the group as he greeted them. “Glenda, so good to see you, as pretty as ever. And your lovely daughter, growing by leaps and bounds!” He bowed to Tiny and said, “Sit up here so you can see something special.” He helped her up on a tall stool.
Then he turned to Phoebe, who was standing back a few paces, and offered his hand. “Don’t be shy,” he said. As she grasped his hand he pulled her forward to the table, and then addressed the group as if they were all part of a secret plan.
“You’re in luck,” he announced. “I’ve just returned from a few wonderful long walks. I knew these treats would cause a stir in the coffee shop, so I’ll present them to you here in privacy.”
He quickly wiped the wooden table clean, and began unpacking the bags, laying out in the light of the window bunches of basil, arugula, and cilantro, bags of leaf lettuce, bags of peas bursting in their shells, bags of blackberries each over an inch long, gorgeous peaches the size of grapefruits, dozens of dark green finger beans and lemon cukes, a pile of colossal tomatoes, and maybe forty ears of corn the size of a man’s forearm. The smells, the colors, the sizes and the shapes, were overpowering. He rubbed a lemon cuke, sliced off the top, and reached across the table to hand it to Tiny.
“For you, my dear,” said Chi Chi with another bow. Tiny smiled and nodded her head in return.
Phoebe glanced at Glenda to see if she might be irritated by this new encounter with the business of the forest, but Glenda looked pleased as she watched Tiny slurp down the lemon cuke.
Unable to resist, Penny reached out and fingered an ear of corn, gently peeling back a little bit of the husk, revealing a few baby kernels. “The first corn of the season! How do you get them so early? People will talk.”
“Let them. Let them,” replied Chi Chi. “We’re almost ready. In a week the farms will flood the town with lemon cukes, finger beans, and early corn, and everyone will be talking. There’s nothing to worry about.”
Phoebe wondered if any of this dazzling array might come from the garden among the hay bales, just a stone’s throw away. Certainly not the corn and peaches, or the blackberries either, but maybe some of the rest. She watched carefully as Penny stared, her eyes sparkling.
“Now just for this occasion,” Chi Chi went on, “knowing who will be attending, I’ll give you something special – from the heights and the depths.” He lifted onto the table two more bags, one of wet burlap that spilled dark and silvery fish amid crushed ice glistening onto the table, and another – an ordinary paper grocery bag – that Chi Chi turned on its side. Out rolled dozens of small mushrooms with white stems and darkly veined caps like small pointed brains.
“Chi Chi!” gasped Penny. “You outdo yourself. How did you even carry all this?”
He smiled gleefully and rubbed his hands together. “Surely the occasion calls for something special? It is a bit expensive though. I’ve had to raise the price we agreed on.”
Penny took a deep breath. “Go on,” she sighed.
“Three large loaves a week for twelve weeks, mostly your new specialties, big on the amaranth, corn, and bean flours.”
“Twelve weeks!” howled Penny. I don’t have enough of the new flours! And I’ve given you six loaves already! Eight weeks is enough.”
“Now, now,” cautioned Chi Chi. "I have the advantage today. But for you I’ll make it ten. Think what I could get for this elsewhere.”
Penny glanced at him sharply. “Chi Chi! You wouldn’t!”
“I’m not threatening. I’m just saying, look at the rest of the world.”
“Let’s not even think of it. What we’re doing together here is too important. Ten weeks it is.”
They began to pack up their treasures. Phoebe, Glenda, and Tiny watched with fascination. On the way out the door Chi Chi said, “Now don’t forget, my friends, to be very quiet about this little exchange.” He bowed his head in a formal and touching gesture, and they all bowed in return.