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Historical Fiction

A warm spring breeze, heavy with humidity, ushered its way down East Bay Street carrying the sounds and scents of the harbor with it. The day resembled a thousand spring days before it, yet was also unlike any previous day. It was its own original day, complete with its own sights, sounds and smells, none of them unique as individuals but on this day, they were. They were unique to this very moment of time and space. Never before and never again would these sounds and smells appear in the same way or in the same order.

Cody Barnes was one of the few though, who did think about such things. He appreciated the small nuances not only of day-to-day life, but also of this city that he called home too.

By profession, Cody was a Forensic Accountant and by the looks of him, he fit the accountant stereotype too. Hair grew sparsely on his head, resembling tufts of grass on a mostly bare patch of earth. His nose, sharp and pointed, caused one to think of an outcrop of rock on an otherwise barren hillside. The reading glasses perched there seemed as though they were a permanent fixture. He was tall and lanky, as if his body did not know how best to operate its six-foot, two-inch height.

Awkward and uncoordinated at an early age, Cody had retreated into himself and his interests, namely numbers and history. He wasn’t sure what it was that had attracted him to history; it might have been the war stories his grandfather had told him though. Whatever it was, he just knew that historical objects, like buildings or automobiles, fascinated him. Everything has a story to tell and he knew the stories of his city better than most of the tour guides.

Every law of nature had seemingly conspired against him; he was ungainly and unobtrusive yet despite these less than flattering attributes, Cody carried himself with a high degree of self-confidence. That self-confidence is what had initially attracted Lucy, his wife, to him.

When they were in the same room among a gathering of people, anyone who did not already know them would never place the two of them together as husband and wife. Cody’s skin was ghostly pale, so much so that on more than one occasion he had been asked if he was an albino. Lucy, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, had flawless, bronze colored skin. Her color was that which so many women spent countless hours on countless miles of beaches every summer trying to replicate what was natural for her. Her rich, brown eyes resembling two pools of melted chocolate were what had captivated Cody.

When they had first met, Lucy, trained by the Culinary Institute of America, was a sous chef at one of the best restaurants in town, The Palm. She wanted more though, as she had told Cody early on in their relationship. He remembered the conversation vividly, even though it had taken place more than five years ago.

“Who is ever satisfied being the number two?” she had asked him.

“I think that the only people who are satisfied being number two are the people who do not have a desire to lead or inspire” he replied. “The question is, then, what is your plan to be number one?”

“One day, I will own and open my own restaurant. The cuisine here is excellent; mine will be better” she replied.

 And he believed her, too. She had said those words with such conviction in her voice; fire and determination were in her eyes with such intensity that Cody knew that Lucy would be successful.

After they were married, Cody took control of saving and investing for Lucy’s soon-to-be restaurant. They both watched as the restaurant fund continued to grow, slowly at first but then by leaps and bounds. Often, while Lucy was working, Cody would stroll through the city, no particular place or street in mind; he would just walk and observe. Over the years, he had seen old buildings begin to crumble with time, and it saddened him.

One afternoon, he was sitting on a bench in the park on East Bay Street, a towering palm tree providing ample shade, watching sailboats navigate their way around the harbor. That was when the idea had hit him; he knew the perfect building for Lucy’s restaurant. Behind him and a block away to the east, was a behemoth of a building that had lay vacant for almost a decade.

Cody arranged a meeting with the building’s owner, Lucy and himself on a day that he knew she would be off.

“Tell me” he remembered her pleading. “You know I hate surprises.”

“In a minute my dear. Come, let’s go for a walk. That will take your mind off things.”

“I doubt that it will, but let’s go” she said.

He took her on a long, circuitous route through the heart of the city emerging at the far end of the park along the harbor, the same park where the idea had hit him. They walked up the gravel path that led through the park, winding their way around palm tree after palm tree. At last, Cody led them past a keystone etched with the year 1843 and stopped at the man, Edward, in front of the door.

“Surprise” he said.

“Surprise, what?” Lucy said.

“This is the surprise that I have for you.”

Stepping back, she took in the front of the building. The three- story building was twice as long as it was high and constructed of brick that lay five layers thick. Grimy and soot-stained, the front of the building looked anything but new. Rollers were attached to the top and bottom of the massive wooden doors and lay inside tracks to guide their movement.

“We can have those power-washed” Cody said, noticing that Lucy was staring at the bricks for an inordinate amount of time.

“No” she said, “I like the look. It gives the building a certain charm and distinction.” Turning to the Edward, she said “may we look inside, please.”

“Of course,” he replied, sensing that he might finally be rid of this abandoned warehouse.

  Removing the padlock and chain that held the warehouse doors closed, they stepped inside, a light switch to the right was flicked on. Fluorescent bulbs crackled to life, illuminating the first floor.

“Wow!” Lucy exclaimed. “Trees don’t grow that big anymore” she said, looking at the enormous oak beams that provided structure for the floor above.

“Those are the replacements too, my dear” Cody said. “Let me give you a bit of history about this particular warehouse, if I may.”

“Please do” she replied.

“Originally built in 1843, this warehouse spent the first century of its life storing bales of cotton. In case you are not aware, cotton, when it is in a standard bale, is quite heavy, roughly 500 pounds. Using approximations, the second and third floors of the warehouse held over two hundred tons of cotton bales each. The first floor held approximately three quarters of the amount that the second or third floor held alone. Wagons and an office took up the remaining room on the ground floor.”

“No wonder the beams are so big” Lucy said. “Why are the walls black though?”

“Ah, I wondered if you were going to ask about that. If you look closely at some of the bricks, you will notice that there are cracks in a few of them. The year is disputed, but it was in either 1875 or 1876 that the warehouse caught fire. The close proximity to the harbor did little to help the efforts to extinguish the blaze. The warehouse was all but destroyed. Luckily for the owner at the time, a Mr. Hiram, the warehouse was almost empty. It seems that Mr. Hiram did very well finding customers for his raw bales of cotton, but was quite negligent when it came time to paying his creditors. Rumors persisted for years that Mr. Hiram himself was responsible for setting fire to the warehouse in order to collect the insurance money. It was never conclusively proven that he had started the fire, so the insurance company had no choice but to pay. Once he settled his debts, Mr. Hiram sold the warehouse for a song and left town. It has never been used for more than a warehouse its entire life.”

“And now you think we can turn this warehouse into a restaurant?”

“Don’t you?” he responded. “Lucy, close your eyes and open your mind. There is enough space here to design your restaurant exactly how you want it. You won’t need a cramped kitchen, you can afford to have a nice sized office, all of it.”

“Let’s take a long walk home and talk about it.”

Thanking Edward for his time, they retraced their earlier path back home, talking along the way.

A year later, the self-titled ‘Lucy’s’ opened to much publicity. The renovation that turned an old, abandoned warehouse into a new, steampunk styled restaurant was credited in both local and regional papers with revitalizing the city’s warehouse district. Two months before the doors were opened, the restaurant’s reservation list was filled for the next six months.

In the months that followed, the city’s elite raved about Lucy’s, telling anyone who would listen that entering Lucy’s felt like entering a cavern. Some people swore that they could still smell the smoky remains of the fire more than a century before. Food critics, amazed at her creations that added a Caribbean flair to traditional southern dishes, heaped platitude upon platitude on the restaurant.

Three years after the doors to Lucy’s opened, she received the first of her two Michelin stars and The Palm had closed.

March 16, 2021 13:26

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2 comments

Gale Holdren
08:56 Mar 26, 2022

I like how the small details matter to Cody without seeming like minutiae. There is so much in our day to day world that we pay little or no attention to. When, if we were to notice these aspects, they would add much color and depth.

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Diana Summers
06:55 Jul 11, 2021

If you are willing to work hard enough your dreams may come true.

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