Bender by Kenneth Weene

Bender by Kenneth Weene

The boy perched on the cement bench, squinted with the fantasy of warfare, and cautiously watched. The enemy was close. The responsibility great. The danger imminent.

Carefully he checked his weapon. His gun was loaded, but it’s range limited; Bender knew that he would have to wait for the opportune moment, dash forward, and fire before his neighbor, Mr. Cachlow, could react. Surprise was imperative. But speed was clearly the boy’s advantage; his new silver Razor scooter was ready

Leaning against the bench, its handle loosely held in Bender’s hand, the scooter had been a birthday gift. For three days he had ridden it round and round the complex. How fast could he go? He had pushed himself through training missions. Dripping with sweat he would return to his base, and his mother would remark on how hard he had ridden, how fast he seemed able to go. If she was impressed, then surely the enemy would be helpless before him.

Make no mistake; Rodger Cachlow was Bender’s enemy. Their war had begun the first week – just after Bender’s father, Ed Murdock, had moved them into the Sunny Arms Condominium and Apartment Complex.

“It won’t be so bad,” Ed had tried to reassure his son. “You’ll make new friends. There’s a pool when the weather gets good. You’ll see; it won’t be so bad.”

Bender had seen the tears gathering in his father’s eyes. “Sure, Dad,” he’d said without meaning it. He knew that his father’s pay had been cut, that they had “lost” their house, the house in which he had always lived. He knew, too, that there were fewer meatballs on the spaghetti and only occasional stops for ice cream. His mother didn’t go to the beauty parlor anymore, but he didn’t see why she would want to anyway. Bender didn’t mind that Mom now cut his hair and his father’s. The first few times he had looked kind of lopsided, but she’d gotten pretty good at it.

“What’s going to happen with my birthday?” he had asked.

“Will we have a party?”

“A small one,” his father had answered,

“A few of your friends, maybe Uncle Harry and Aunt Betty can come, nothing too big, you understand.”

“That’ll be great,” Bender had lied and he threw out the list of presents he wanted but realized he would not receive.

Mr. Cachlow was reading. The old man was always reading. Of course he never actually turned the pages. He just held the book and let the sun warm his old body. Bender thought it strange that the old man always wore a sweater and a knit cap. He would be sitting in the sun, and the day would be nice and warm, but the old man still wore that tattered gray sweater and the black wool hat.

Cachlow was the enemy. Bender knew that even though the old man had never done anything, never even said a word. Some things didn’t need to be said; Bender could just sense them. He had sensed that Sharon really liked him. He had known that the first day in the new school. She had smiled at him in a special way, and he had smiled back. Freddy Rupert, on the other hand, hadn’t smiled at all. Bender had immediately understood that Freddy would be his undying adversary.

Cachlow hated kids; that was as obvious as the unspoken reality that his mother was unhappy, that she too missed their old home, their neighborhood, their friends. She didn’t say it; she didn’t need to; with the innate wisdom of nine years of life Bender knew exactly how she felt.

Cachlow hated kids, and that meant he hated Bender. And Bender hated him. He hated the old man sitting in the sun, dropping into fitful sleep, that unread book sitting on his lap. Bender hated and plotted.

He took the power-soaker from his backpack and tried a single pump. The gratifying arc of water splattered against the Palo Verde. “Good aim,” he commended himself.

With a sideways glance, he checked out his enemy. Cachlow’s finger traced the lines of his book. His lips formed words that Bender could not hear.

“Why doesn’t he turn the damn page?” Somehow that seemed the worst of the old man’s sins.  The old man didn’t look up. “Can’t he feel me watching him?”

Bender had watched the movers carrying the furnishings from their house, at least those they would take with them. Some things had been left behind or sold – some had been things Bender had really liked, things he really missed. He missed his desk, which had been too big for his room in the apartment. He had loved that desk: loved building models on it, loved drawing, maybe not so much doing homework. Now, here, most of the time, he worked at the table; it had been the kitchen table in their old house. The dining room set had been sold. It would fill the whole living room if they had brought it.

Bender didn’t mind leaving that dining room furniture behind. He had never enjoyed the fancy dinners his mother would make when company came. He didn’t like sitting straight with his elbows off the table, his napkin on his lap, and his mouth carefully closed when he chewed. He’d never been one for company—that was company that ate in the dining room. Uncle Harry and Aunt Betty would joint them in the kitchen, and Bender’s father wouldn’t harrumph at all if his manners slipped around them And Grandpa, God he loved it when Grandpa came over.

Grandpa was like a kid except his teeth clicked when they ate and he wasn’t quite so good at games.  Bender missed Grandpa. They had had a special bond. Maybe because Bender had been named for his grandfather—William Bertram Murdock, Bertie to everyone.

It had been Grandpa who had given Bender his nickname. “Everybody needs a nickname,” he had explained.  “But why Bender?”  That had been four years ago, just before Bender had started school.

“Because you’re going to drive your teachers to drink,” Grandpa had answered with a chuckle. Bender’s parents had laughed, too. Bender, knowing it was a joke even if he didn’t get it, didn’t ask Dad for explanation, not even when he got back from driving Grandpa back to the home.

The next week, when his mother brought him to Miss Rice’s room, when other kids were looking scared and even crying, he had walked up to the thin lady with her long fingers and sharp-pointy nose who looked like a witch from one of his books; he’d walked up and stuck out his hand the way his Dad always did when he was meeting somebody new or even somebody he hadn’t seen for a while. “Hi,” he’d said, “I’m Bender,” like it was the most normal thing in the world even though Miss Rice had asked him what his real name was so she could put a mark in the book with all the kids’ names. But even though it said William Bertram Murdock, Jr. in that book, she always called him Bender; and he had liked her for that. And he loved his Grandpa for giving him a nickname that everybody knew.

Bender had loved his grandfather for lots of things, but now he just missed him. Grandpa had died two years ago. It was a long time ago, but Bender still missed him. He missed him and was just a bit angry at with him, too. Bender knew Grandpa hadn’t wanted to die. He knew that things like cancer, and heart attacks and strokes happen, that people die even though it would make their grandkids sad, that life isn’t very fair. He knew those things but he was still angry that Grandpa wasn’t around to play Monopoly and forget to buy Boardwalk, to tell him how great a model builder he was, to tell him jokes, or just to…

Bender wanted to shoot at the quail that were pecking around near the entrance to the pool. He wondered if somebody had dropped some crumbs. “It would scare them good.” He started to aim but thought better of it. “He’ll see me, and then he’ll be on guard.”

Still Cachlow’s finger traced the lines of that book. His lips forming words.

Bender saw that he had the advantage of surprise. With his left hand he grabbed the handle of his scooter and planted his left foot squarely on the deck and stood. Shoving with his right foot, he took off toward his quarry. The water blaster power-soaker Uncle Harry had given him for his birthday was at the ready. A few more pushes and he would be in range. 

Suddenly. Suddenly. Bender found himself gasping in wet, soaking-wet surprise. The old man was playing him with a hose. Water was dripping from his face, from his clothes, from his scooter. Worse, Cachlow was laughing, laughing at him.

“Got you, you little joker. It’ll be a cold day in hell before you can put one over on Rodg Cachlow.”

Embarrassed and suddenly scared, Bender wanted to run, maybe even to cry. The worst thing was the old man’s laughter. It stung, and Bender didn’t know why it hurt so much. Yeah, he had been caught, but there was something else.

Cachlow laughed, and Bender heard the sound of his teeth clacking together. In the moment of that sound, he could not restrain the tears. The pain of loss burned his heart.

“Hey, kid, it was just in fun.” Suddenly Cachlow’s tone had changed. There was concern, maybe even kindness. “I figured you were game, you know that you’d enjoy getting…”

The old man had put down the hose and the book. Getting stiffly to his feet, he came toward Bender. “Come on, son, it isn’t that bad, you know. Sometimes the old guy got to win.”  Bender continued crying.

“We’d better get you dried off. I got a towel right here.” Cachlow pulled a large beach towel covered with pictures of cowboys off a chair.

“Got this for my grandkid case he came to visit. That was two years ago. Probably’s outgrown cowboys by now. What the heck. I don’t know they’ll visit anyway.” Cachlow laughed again. There was a different sound to the laughter—not fun but pain.

“Sorry,” Bender said not knowing what else to do.

“Yeah, me, too. You got a name?”


“That a nickname? Must be, never heard anyone called that. Kind of like it. Me they call Quick Draw.” He chuckled.

“Sorry, bad joke; but I did get you.”

“Yes, sir.” Bender dropped his power-soaker and let go of the Razor, which tipped onto the grass. Reluctantly, he inched toward the man. “Could I have the towel?” he asked so quietly that he could barely hear his own words.

“Yeah, sure, Bender.” The old man held out the beach towel. “Actually folks have always called me Rodg; it’s short for Roger. Bender, what’s that short for?”

“Nothing, my name’s really William—William Bertram Murdock, like my grandfather, but everybody called him Bertie. At least they did until he died.”

“You must miss him.”

“Yes, sir.”

Rodg; you call me Rodg and I’ll call you Bender, that okay with you?”

“I guess.”

“Come on, Bender, you dry yourself off.”

Bender took the towel and concentrated on attacking his hair. “Mind if I tell you something?”

Bender looked up. “What?”

“Never underestimate us old guys. Know why?”

“No, why?”

“’Cause we know how it feels.”

Somehow that seemed right. Something else seemed right, too. Bender knew he wouldn’t be quite so unhappy, quite so lonely—not anymore.


Chicken Soup by Kenneth Weene

Chicken Soup by Kenneth Weene

“What a pain in the ass.” Trudy put her iPhone back into her pocketbook.

It wasn’t much of an expletive or very loud, but coming from the lips of my wife it was enough to make me look up from my snack, a piece of Trudy’s latest chocolate-pecan pie, and ask, “What is, Dear?”

“Not what, who. It’s Iris…Again…now she wants me to make her some chicken soup.”

“She asked you to make her chicken soup? I know she hasn’t been feeling—“

“No, she asked me how to make chicken soup; but if I know Iris, she’s hoping I’ll make it for her.”

“Does that woman think you’re her mother?” I asked as I slipped my plate into the sink and splashed it with water.

“That girl certainly needs a mother, but I’m not applying for the job.”

“So what are you going to do?” I asked.

I was heading into my study with my teacup still in hand. I do love to sip my tea, and the latest batch of Earl Grey was particularly good. I had send to San Francisco for a half pound only that month and had already made a significant dent in the tin. 

“What am I going to do? Nothing…nothing for now. I’ll get back to her this afternoon. Maybe if I let her simmer, she’ll get the idea and do it for herself.”

Later that day, when I was poking about in the refrigerator looking for some delicious meatloaf leftover from two days before, I noticed Trudy texting.

“Who is it?” I asked.

“I can’t hear you when your head is in the refrigerator,” Trudy responded.

Well, the door being open and a couple of containers already on the counter, I didn’t say anything more until I had the meatloaf in hand.

“Who?” I asked when, having piled the other containers back into the cold, I stood at the counter taking two pieces of bread from the new loaf.

“Who, correction, whom were you texting?” Before she could answer, I remarked,

“Damn, I forgot the mayonnaise.”

I was about to plunge back into the refrigerator looking for it, but Trudy reminded me,

“Bottom shelf in the door, right side.”

How she does that I don’t know, but Trudy always knows where things are.

“Iris,” she said. “I told her to buy a chicken…and some vegetables.”

“Vegetables? That sounds a bit too general for Iris.”

I’d barely gotten the words out then there was the sound of clinking glasses. Why Trudy chose that tone for her texts I have no idea, but each time she gets one I look around for the champagne and the strawberries. Two things I love to eat with champagne: strawberries and caviar. Sadly, it’s getting terribly hard to find good caviar.

Trudy, meanwhile, had read the new text and was laughing.

“What?” I asked, always ready for a joke.

“She wants to know what kind of chicken.”

“Tell her a live one,” I offered and received a sneer in response.

“Don’t be silly; she really doesn’t know anything.”

Trudy pecked away at the tiny letters on the iPhone screen. We’re too old for thumbing, still thinking typewriter. Well, at least the keyboard’s the same.

“So?” I didn’t really want to know anything, but I hate it when Trudy dismisses me.

“I told her to buy thighs, with the skin and bones.”

“Oh.” I slathered mayo onto the bread and dropped the knife among the dirty dishes in the sink.

There was another clink, which reminded me. I opened a cabinet and pulled out a bottle of Coke.

“You haven’t fini—” Too late, Trudy didn’t get to tell me there was a half full bottle. Oh well, I’d get back to it. I poured a class and pushed that bottle into the fridge. Crescents of ice fell into my glass splashing the soda. I licked it off the web between my thumb and forefinger.

“You were right,” my wife commented.

“That’s always good.”

“She didn’t know which vegetables.”

I laughed, smug in my superiority. It wasn’t until the next morning that Iris texted again.

“I’m going to the grocery store.”

“I guess she finally gave up,” Trudy observed.

“Gave up?”

“She’s figured out that I’m not on the way with a pot of soup.”

“You don’t—?”

“Yep. I’m sure she was hoping.”Trudy quickly sent off a text.

“What was that?”

“I told her to get a box of chicken stock. I figure if she’s going to try to make it, it should be edible. You don’t want Gary to suffer.”

“Oh, he’ll slip it to the dogs,” I answered

“That would be worse.”

The thought of dogs gagging distracted me enough that my English muffin got too brown. I hate when that happens, having to throw it out and start over. “Could you make this for me?” I asked. “I’m just not with it today.”

Trudy had already plunged her hands into the sink and was washing assorted dishes and cups. She dried them carefully on a dishtowel and took the package of muffins.

“What do you want on it?”



“And maybe some jam.”

“What kind of jam.”

“I don’t know; you pick.”

“Fine, I’ll have if for you in a minute or two.”I left the kitchen, turned back, and said,

“Strawberry. Yeah, strawberry.”


“You know what?”


“Another cup of tea.”

“ Fine. Where’s your cup?”

“My cup?”

“Yeah, didn’t you already have some tea this morning.”

“Right. I put that cup in the sink.”

This time her “Fine,” didn’t sound so fine. Still, I did have to say it, didn’t I?

“Could you make some of that new fig tea, you know what I mean?”

I didn’t feel so bad about dirtying another cup. After all, who would mix Irish breakfast tea and figgy tea? Figgy pudding maybe. Yeah, that would be good.Another text from Iris: “What do I do now?”

Clearly, Trudy was going to have to walk Iris through the cooking process.

“She’s so needy; I feel sorry for her,” my wife answered when I asked why she was bothering.  Meanwhile Trudy was texting away, Clink.Text.Clink.Text.

“I’m not sure she understands simmer.” Text, text, text.

“Can’t she Google it?”

“Google isn’t as patient as me.”Clink

“Now what?” I asked, my words somewhat distorted by the lamb chop I was devouring.

I will admit that I’m a bit strange in some of my eating habits. One is liking cold lamb, well not really cold but room temperature, just a chop or two from the leftovers zapped for a few seconds to take the chill off. Great snack. Although late at night I add a Zantac.It being mid-afternoon, I had ignored the possible indigestion and walked about the living room a chop in each hand. Trudy didn’t answer me. She was working too furiously at the next message. Finally, she hit send.

“She started talking seasoning.”

“Oh, God,” I moaned at the thought. We’d eaten Iris’s cooking—once and that had been enough. “Let me guess, paprika.”

“That was just the beginning. Would you believe cinnamon?”

“From Iris? Yeah.”

“Chili powder?”

“Ouch.”I took another generous bite of chop.

“What did you tell her?” I asked. There was still some meat in my mouth. I small piece flew onto the floor. Since I didn’t have a free hand, I made a mental note to pick it up later.

“I told her to use some salt, a little pepper, and maybe some parsley at the end. You know, to keep it simple.”


“No, I didn’t call her stupid.”

The next ping came some time later.  That was a nuisance. Trudy was buttering sheets of phyllo dough for a tray of baklava. The nuts—walnuts and pistachios are my favorites—were chopped and waiting in a bowl, from which I occasionally dipped, but only a pinch at a time. Trudy washed her hands, and read Iris’s text. I, in a bit of pique, took a handful of nuts to tide me over.

“I had to explain how to separate the liquid from the solid stuff. She has to pull the meat off the bones before she puts it back together.”

A quick glance in my direction, another into the now partly emptied bowl, and Trudy went to the cupboard.

“I guess I’ll have to chop some more nuts.” She pulled out a bag of almonds.

“These will have to do,” she muttered.

She dumped the almonds into a plastic bag, made sure it was closed, took a hammer from a drawer and pounded them into submissive smithereens. I don’t really like almonds, but I could hardly expect my wife to run to the store for more walnuts and pistachios, not if I wanted baklava for dessert.

Before my dessert was ready to pop into the oven, there was another clink. Iris again. What to do next?

I assuaged myself with a few Chinese spareribs. I keep Chinese food on hand for moments of desperation. If I eat it cold, it doesn’t get in the way of my appetite, doesn’t interfere with a good dinner.

“Skim the fat from the liquid with a spoon,” Trudy texted and went back to buttering phyllo dough. Almost immediately Trudy’s phone rang. It was Iris, doing the unthinkable, actually calling.

“What liquid,” I heard her scream over the phone.

Iris had tried to follow my wife’s instructions. How was she to know that when she strained off the liquid from the pot there was supposed to be a bowl or another pot under the colander? I mean, Trudy hadn’t told her to save the soup part of the soup. How was a neophyte to know? I watched Trudy grimace as she fought off the giggles that were already convulsing me.

Grabbing the phone from my wife’s hand, I mouthed, “I’ll take care of this.” More loudly, “Iris, honey, put Gary on.” I was taking charge.

“Hey,” came Gary’s voice through the ether.

“Hey, Gar! It’s time for us men to step up. What do say we take the little ladies out for dinner?”

“What did you have in mind?” he asked.

“A steak’s always good with me; how about you?”

I hung up with the satisfaction of having done the manly thing. That deserved a reward, and I knew there was a piece of Stilton with my name on it. I grabbed a dishtowel to wipe the red Chinese stuff off my hands and face and handed it to Trudy.

“Got some on your phone,” I commented as I headed for that cheese.

“Oh, Hon,” I said, “Could you grab me some crackers? The whole wheat ones. They’re healthier.”