“Did you hear that? The way the buffet seemed to creak and settle?”

“Yeah, almost like a sigh.”

The buffet had started life as a stand of trees in what later became Tecumseh County, Michigan. After the brushfires of war with the natives and the British died down, lumber men had come up from the south with their axes and saws. The area was well-served by rivers which were deep and wide enough to float logs on, and when the lumber boom came in the 1880s, the trees found themselves in the center of a large logging camp known as Reid’s Slashing.

Cut down in the first expansion of the camp, the logs were floated downriver to Muskegon, where they went through a riverside sawmill and emerged as rough lumber. Then it was up the Grand River to Grand Rapids, the great Furniture City and boomtown of the hour. Berkley and Sons, a fast-growing furniture maker destined to become the state’s greatest carpentry concern until its collapse in the Great Depression, bought the lumber. Finished into a buffet in the then-fashionable style, it was loaded onto the Grand Rapids & Indian Railroad, ultimately destined for Chicago.

Gilded Age Chicago was booming in its own way, a center of railroads, meat-packing, and other heavy industry. The buffet quickly found a buyer in an up-and-coming district, changing hands several times before winding up on the South Side just before the second World War thanks to a pair of newlyweds and a garage sale. It held everything from knickknacks to wedding feasts over the next 40 years, before the crippling urban decay of the late 1970s and early 1980s forced the buffet’s owners to the suburbs.

30 years later, one of their grandchildren and his wife found the furniture in a storage unit where it had lay for almost a decade following the deaths of its owners. They loaded it up on a truck for their vacation home to the north–up in Michigan, in the blighted buckle of the Rust Belt, the boom days long since past. Setting it up in their second home, an old lumber baron’s mansion in the Tecumseh County seat of Deerton, they had both been startled by the strange, earthy noise it had made upon being set down.

Thing is, Deerton had grown up from the nucleus of the Reid’s Slashing lumber camp. The old house had been built in the heart of the Slashing, where the first trees had been logged long ago. For those old boards, sitting where they had once grown, they weren’t just decorating another living room.

They had come home.

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I even tended to refer to him with the informal pseudo-affectionate nickname “Teddy” even though I knew through a little bit of research that he’d hated being called that by anyone who wasn’t a close family member. Then again, Theodore Marlowe was the sort that knew the value of a name: born John Theodore Marlow, it had taken the judicious dropping of a too-common first name and the addition of an unnecessary vowel to make his a name fit for literary immortality.

Deerton held its annual Marlowe Days events at the same time as the county fair as the only vestige of tourism a tiny burg like that was able to eke out. After all, Teddy had been born at what was then Deerton General (now Infrared Health Systems Mid-Michigan Campus no. 27) and attended what was then Deerton Elementary (now John T. Seymour Elementary) until the age of 10, when his family had moved to Grand Rapids and thence to Detroit. He’d been shortlisted for a Nobel, his novels and stories were still in print, and film adaptations had made millions of dollars over the years.

I prickled a little under the management role I had in Marlowe Days, though, for the simple reason that Theodore Marlowe hadn’t been all that find of Deerton at all. Biographies tended to give us a sentence, if we were lucky, before going into exhaustive detail on Marlowe’s days in Grand Rapids and Detroit. I had been through reams of interviews, and all the man ever had to say about us was negative. There was the CBS interview from 1969 where he talked of “escaping the stultifying atmosphere of small-town mundanity,” for instance, or the 1978 radio talk where he said “everything that made me who I am is of the furniture and automotive cities.”

As in not Deerton.

After moving away, he hadn’t visited once despite plenty of Marlow and Higginsfield relatives. Invitations to speak at DHS commencements or other events were returned unopened. His books, powerful as they were, spoke to the salad days of Michigan industry giving way to the rust belt.

Big city problems.

Only in death, it seemed, did Teddy have anything for us. His estate agreed to Marlowe Days less than two months after the author died in 1980.

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This post is part of the March Blog Chain at Absolute Write. This month’s challenge is to describe a secondary character that surprises you in some way in 50 words or less and then to post a scene that shows why this character is special in 100 words or less.

Officer Charlie Bulforth, GRPD: eight-year veteran of the force who’s only just transitioned from his high school nickname ‘Bullshit Charlie’ to the more socially acceptable ‘Bullhorn Charlie’—appropriately, given his gravelly voice and lack of volume control. He is cheerfully, openly corrupt, though he sticks by friends—to a point.

“You need to figure out how to work a little extortion and corruption into your workaday life. How do you think I manage to keep myself in the style which I’ve become accustomed on a cop’s lousy take-home? I seek business opportunities wherever I can find them, be they shakings down, beatings up, or something sideways.”

“Frank about it, as always.”

“It’s a long way from being an upstanding citizen to a bastion of cheerful corruption like myself,” Charlie said. “But here we are. Just don’t ask me to do actual police work; I’m not sure you can afford it.”

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This post is part of the February Blog Chain at Absolute Write. This month’s challenge is to describe your antagonist in 50 words or less and then to answer the question “what would you say to your antagonist if you met them in real life” in 100 words or less.

Estranged and partially disinherited for her political views, industrial scion Allison Durant is enormously ambitious with far-ranging designs to ascend in political, social, and economic circles. Her vivaciousness and intelligence conceal the fact that she’s willing to betray people and principles to further herself, content to rationalize after the fact.

“Do the industrialists like my brother and Mr. Berkley still bribe citizens like yourself to ignore their dirty work, or is it just part of your tax refund by his point?” said Allison.

“Being apathetic’s damn hard work,” I said. “Take it seriously. If you’re hot and bothered about it, your trust-funded scions of industry can make a better offer.”

“Are you trying to goad me?” Allison said. “Get me to cause a scene? If so, you’re badly out of practice at provoking people. I hear more offensive tripe from my brother whenever we meet; would you like some tips?”

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This post is part of the August Blog Chain at Absolute Write. This month’s theme is color as a metaphor for an aspect of one’s writing.

Graham’s apartment was lit well enough from the streetlights below that Allison was able to find her way around without fumbling for a light switch. WJR was playing quietly in the dark, combining with the rain on the windows to generate a sheet of white noise.

“Nice place,” Allison muttered, glancing at the spare surroundings and the heap of dishes in the sink. Her gaze alighted on the overstuffed armchair in front of the radio. “What’s with the purple loveseat?”

“Purple’s my favorite color,” Graham said. “I’ve loved it ever since I had a little cast-iron toy truck that was that shade. Poor old girl was down to her last flecks when Mom melted her down for a scrap drive during the war.”

“Even so, purple doesn’t seem like your color,” Allison said, settling into the chair. “It wouldn’t strike most people as very manly, though it’s anyone’s guess how much raw masculinity matters to someone in your line of work.”

“Not just any purple,” replied Graham. “A very ancient and powerful hue they called ‘Tyrian purple.’ You could smell the sea-slugs they boiled in its manufacture for miles, and only emperors were allowed to wear it. Then, in time, people got to thinking it was a softer color, a pretty color, and now if you see purple at all it’s on a lady’s dress. Slumming in the fashion industry to pay the bills when once only the most powerful man in the world had the right to use it.”

“You think that’s a sad fate for a color that once represented absolutist oppression, huh? Some might say that purple’s gotten its poetic due.”

Graham shrugged. “I feel like purple and I both have a lot in common, in point of fact. Our best days are behind us, and we’re left to grind out what we can in a long, slow afterlife. Such potential, at the beginning, all wasted. So it’s livening up ladies’ dresses while I sit here with a job that can’t afford to pay me. Made into a handbag against your will or chasing down an overdue library book because you’ve got nothing better to do…I’d say there’s a kinship there, wouldn’t you?”

Graham gazed at his shoes as he spoke; Allison felt like she out to do something to lighten the mood, which the weather had already rendered depressing enough. “Being a handbag isn’t the worst thing in the world,” she said. “I know a few alligators that are dying to be just that.”

“Ostriches too,” Graham said, smiling a little. “And I could teach them a thing or two about putting your head in the sand.”

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