Don't Mess With Della
  There are some lessons we learn soundly in life, either by repetition or by hard experience: look both ways before crossing the street, always blow on your hot chocolate before drinking it, go to the bathroom before starting on a long trip and never - ever - sneak up behind Della Peterson.

I learned this lesson the hard way the other night when my husband, Alex, and I were at her house discussing a research problem. Della and Alex stood facing each other in the living room debating the merits and demerits of the issue when I decided to break up the gabfest by hugging Della from behind. As the two talked on, oblivious to me, I began my sneak attack by sauntering up to Della and then grabbing her waist as a prelude to an eventual full frontal embrace. Unfortunately, I never got that far. Della gasped and swung behind her, hitting me full force in the face and breaking my grip. As luck would have it, Della had just polished her antique hardwood floors. I went skittering across the room waving my arms like a crazed ballerina until I lost my balance and slid the rest of the way to the wall on my ass. I crashed into it with a loud sound.

"What...what?" Della sputtered and turned behind her. I was a tad indisposed at the time so Alex filled her in.

"Whoa, Della!" he exclaimed, looking rather impressed.

Della was holding a hand to her heart and had the other one stretched in front of her. "What, what happened?" she asked.

Alex scratched his head and looked at me, still sitting on the floor. "Woman, you just tossed my wife across the room. What do you do for an encore?"

Della's mouth dropped open in surprise. "Maggie?" she asked. "Was that you?"

I shook my head to clear it and tried to ignore the stars dancing in front of my eyes. "Uh huh," I replied.

Della walked towards me. I was tempted to start crawling in the opposite direction. "Oh, Maggie" she said gravely. "Don't ever sneak up behind me like that!"

"Nope, sure won't" I said weakly.

"I could have killed you!"

"Sounds about right..." I looked over at Alex. He hadn't moved an inch, he was that surprised. I glared up at him. "Would you mind helping me up before Ninja Della decides to flip me over her shoulder?"

"Oh!" Alex snapped to attention and helped me to my knees. "Sorry, Maggie."

Standing there on my knees was okay for the time being, at least until the lights in my eyes stopped flashing. My head was starting to hurt, too. I felt around for bumps. "Ooooh..." I moaned.

Della crossed her arms and shook her head as Alex helped me slowly to my feet. "I hit first and think later. You forget I'm nearly blind?" She sounded as though I had somehow forgotten this fact. "How do I know who's in front of me, much less who's behind me? Thank God you didn't try that while I was alone in the house."

"And?" I asked, starting to come to my senses.


"Yes," I said. "And?"

"Oh!" Della exclaimed, remembering. "Right." She turned to me. "I'm sorry I hit you, Maggie."

"Thank you, Della."

"But don't do that again or I'll clobber you again."

"I'll remember that, Della." I was on my feet now and standing without help.

"But I really am sorry, Maggie."

"Thank you, Della. I'm sure you are."

"It wasn't intentional."

"I'm sure it wasn't, Della."

"Good thing I didn't have my machete."

Alex suddenly pulled me as far away from Della as he could. "Machete?" he asked.

"Yeah, it's under the bed."

"It's under your bed..." I repeated.

Alex looked around the room, still holding me at a safe distance. "Oh, hey," he remarked. "A machete under the bed. Why of course. It's a jungle out there, particularly in the wilds of Beacon Hill. I'm sure you have to bushwhack your way across Storrow Drive to the Esplanade every morning. Hear those drums?"

Actually, I could. "Della," I said, fingering the growing lump at the back of my head. "Do you have a cold pack or something? I'm starting to swell up here."

"I have ice cubes in the kitchen," Della suggested. "We could put them in a plastic bag."

"Sounds good to me. How about aspirin?"

"It's in the kitchen, too. Let me take you back there." She started walking out of the living room with the two of us behind her. "Actually, I'm starting to get hungry. If you don't mind, I'm just going to pop a frozen dinner into the microwave."

Alex was still helping me walk. "Oh, absolutely Della," he said. "I'm sure body slamming your 4 foot 11 inch office mate worked up a wicked appetite."

Della scowled. "Very funny, Alex. Hey, you guys want to have something to eat? I've got Swanson's, Stouffer's, Lean Cuisine, Hungry Man..."

"No, no," I replied quickly. "That's alright."

"I've got popcorn shrimp."

"No, no, really."

"They had a sale on fried chicken. You like chicken, don't you?"

"Preferably attached to the bird and not in a paper tray," I said.

"Spoilsport." Della opened the freezer door once we arrived in her kitchen. "Well, suit yourself." She started pulling out ice cube trays and handing them over to Alex. He filled a self-sealing plastic bag and handed it over to me. I put it on my head as he filled a water glass and dropped two or three aspirin on the kitchen table in front of me.

"Sit," he commanded and pointed to a chair.

I sat and swallowed the aspirin. The ice was making my hand cold. "Della," I said. "Do you really have a machete under your bed?"

"Of course." She sounded like this was the most normal thing in the world. "My dad got it when he was serving in the Philippines. I keep it around in case somebody breaks in. I almost decapitated a boyfriend with it once. I forgot he was there. Damn, that was a close call!"

I stared at her. "Do you come with insurance?"


"Never mind." I adjusted the ice pack and tried to imagine Della with a machete swinging in the air. I started to giggle.

Della looked up. "What's so funny?"

"Nothing." I was guffawing now. "I'm trying to imagine you with a machete. It's funny!"

"No it's not!" She looked offended. "I'm totally blind at night. It's completely black. For all I know somebody could be standing over my bed ready to rob or rape me."

I could imagine Della tossing her attacker across the room and out of the nearest window with her machete close behind. Poor, defenseless Della. Now Alex started to giggle too.

Della glared in our general direction. "Yes, well next time you get mugged, just remember," she warned.

"We'll be sure to call you," Alex promised.

"Damn straight." Della suddenly grinned. "You can borrow a machete if you want. I've got two. You should see how fast they can slice open a frozen dinner. One swing." She walked to the refrigerator and pulled out a thawed dinner. "Don't mind me. I'm starving." She opened the dinner - not with a machete - and placed it in her microwave. A minute later it dinged. She pulled out the dinner and slowly began to turn around towards the table.

I suddenly had to go to the bathroom and realized that Della was in front of the kitchen door with her back to me. I didn't want a repeat of my earlier experience so I stood up and shouted: "Della! I'm right behind you!"

Della screeched and suddenly the room was raining peas and carrots. Alex took a flying leap at a piece of chicken that rocketed off of Della's paper tray. It squirted out of his hands and landed with a thud against the opposite wall before sliding down behind the stove. "Maggie!" both Della and Alex shouted at once.

Della stood with the now-empty tray in her hands. "That was my dinner!" she moaned.

I surveyed the crime scene I'd just created: the floor was strewn with assorted vegetables and flecks of crisped chicken batter. Alex was picking up a piece of chicken with a paper towel. A moment later he started fishing behind the stove and emerged with something that looked like a dead mouse. "Yuck," he said with an expression of distaste. "Don't you ever clean behind here? This thing looks likes like a dust bunny tumbleweed." He tossed the offending chicken parts into the kitchen trash and then began to wash his hands.

I picked up a dish towel and started cleaning mashed potatoes off of the chair behind Della. "Sorry," I muttered, wishing I could find a rock to crawl under.

Della sighed and started brushing peas off of her blouse. "That's okay. I got you and you got me. Guess we're even. Is anything in my hair?"

"Yea," I said. "I'm going to clean you off so please don't whack me." I picked out clumps of mashed potato from her hair and wiped up a gravy spill that threatened to dribble into her ear. "There," I said. "You're fairly clean."

Alex washed the stain over the stove and started wiping up the floor. "Well," he said. "Let's go out to dinner. At this rate Della won't have anything left and Maggie will get her nose broken for sure." He smiled. "Oh, you guys fight good. Della, can I see your machete?"

"Only if I can see yours," Della retorted and wiggled her eyebrows.

"Oh no you don't," I said. I pulled out my cell phone and made a reservation for three at an an Italian restaurant on Charles Street. "No machetes, no flying vegetables. How about pizza?"

Both Della and Alex looked contrite. "Yes, ma'am" they both muttered.

"And behave - both of you. Machetes, indeed." I started down the hallway with Alex and Della trailing behind me.

"Hey," I heard Alex. "We could cut the pizza with the machete!"

"Or Maggie could scare the hell out of me again - God, you're getting good at that - and we could have the place to ourselves."

"If we don't get arrested."

"That might be kind of fun, especially if they see the machete. I've never been fingerprinted. Have you?"

"Nope. Might be interesting."

I rolled my eyes and locked the door behind us.

StarPoet   StarPoet wrote
on 9/17/2008 2:45:23 AM
I liked that even though it could have been worse, humor saved the day. And that Della reminds me of Shaft. One bad mother... lol

Short Story
writing BostonMargy
50-Something and Still Writing
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Take Maggie's warning: proceed with caution when it comes to Della Peterson!
A Word from the Writer
Maggie Szczep and Della Peterson are the two protagonists of my mystery series. I've written a number of non-mystery short stories about them. This is one of my favorites!