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Featured Story - Week of March 10, 2019: "Theresa The Tamale Lady"

Each week we feature stories from members of our group based on the weekend meeting's prompt assignment. For this week's assignment, we each wrote a story about a firsthand account (fictional or otherwise) of our narrator's encounter with a person in town that everyone has a story about. We had 20 minutes to write.

Theresa The Tamale Lady

By Ryan Carbery

Theresa the tamale and burrito lady was a wish your stomach made. She was an unlicensed food distributor, the kind of thing you generally speaking didn't want to roll the dice on. But past midnight idling in a parking lot waiting for blood alcohol levels to drop to acceptable levels or gathered outside sleeping strip malls her patchwork Honda would arrive like a food bearing chariot ready to dispense corn and flour wrapped delight at just the right time.

The reasons we found ourselves at the concrete tables of the currently closed Sam's CharBurgers were complicated and mostly dumb. We had slept most of the day as the lot of us had later shift jobs. With sleep defying youthfulness we wanted to begin our day at 11pm which inconvenienced our more elderly neighbors. While you would never make it your goal to find Theresa the tamale and burrito lady, there was no food in the fridge and grocery shopping seemed like a hassle.

So packing up a bag of dice and a box of rule books we headed to the CharBurger that had been closed since 4pm and set out to play as loud a game as our rambunctiousness called for. Mike drove since his was the car that had the best chance of both starting and fitting all four of us, a frumpy Subaru with doors that felt like they were made out of textile rather than metal. I had shut the door with my usual heft reserved for the giant wing door of my sloppy American iron that I had propped a new last leg under in the hopes to milk another few thousand miles out of it while it begged to die. It was a common mistake and one I didn't feel like taking responsibility for so when Mike began his protest I was already dismissing it. When I realized that he had wanted the door locked I was in too deep, I had to keep going.

“We're five feet away from the car. What could possibly happen?”

I was young, I didn't know you were never suppose to ask that question.

An hour and a half later and Pete's half-orc mage is negotiating the physics of a magical world with Nick when we all started watching with curious side eye the wandering Neil Young type dude from the bar we failed to consider next door. It was a time before podcasts and shared universes and billionaire nerds, we were closer to Tom Hanks killing his friends over a game than we were Chris Hardwicks.

Sure enough like a hyena to the weakest members of the herd he approached. You couldn't tell but we had all girded ourselves with a teenage lifetime of smug siblings and clueless parents on how to quickly describe the game in a way that had no follow up questions. What we hadn't prepared was an answer to the question he had asked.

“Can you guys give me a ride to Tahoe?”

That was unexpected. Tahoe was an hour and six thousand feet away from our sea level 'burg. The last time we went we trashed Mike's Izuzu, leading to the Subaru. It wasn't a trip we were eager to make again. Not for piss drunk Neil Young. The Eagle Scouts Nick and Mike snapped into action, giving directions to the nearest Greyhound and struggling to remember the numbers we had seen on the sides of taxis. You know how prey animals sometimes will just sit there and hope that you don't take enough interest in them? Like, they know you want to chase them and they hope if it looks like you're not going to play you might get a pass? It was that mode we were frozen in that made us miss drunk Black Bart coming up to negotiate the ride for drunk Neil Young.

I felt the weight of Mike's wilting stare as Black Bart opened my car door to let Neil Young in, confident in his ability to negotiate a ride from four guys who didn't have enough gas money between

them to make it to Auburn. We all stood. It would be a mistake to think it was an act of intimidation. The closest thing any of us had been in a fight was the game we were playing. We had no plan. Fortunately even dorks can be tall and Mike and Nick were that, bulked up by Round Table Pizza and Pringles. But Black Bart had made a ridiculous promise.

With no plan we stood, both sides terrified and committed to a plan none of us wanted. Maybe it was the collective grumble of our stomachs or the collection of junkfood addicts and drunks who needed to sober up, but the struggling horn of Theresa's battered Honda broke the tension. We never really understood why she parked directly behind Mike's Subaru, but it was the act that saved the day.

In a flurry of broken English and Mike's academic Spanish, Nick had bought our cowboy duo tamales and as Neil Young emerged to take his trunk food bounty I was able to lock the door and close it with abnormal subtlety. With a wave and bowing gracias she was gone as sudden as she had arrived, our drunk travelers sent down the road peeling at the corn crust of the tamales they had clearly never eaten before.

Theresa the tamale and burrito lady was a wish your stomach made.

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