The Ashleyville Progress Association was meeting in the backroom of Mona’s Pancake House just off the village green in the quiet town of Ashleyille, Ohio. The association had been around for quite some time but had not fostered much progress. This was all going to change.
Russell Mattabub, the president, began his after-lunch address. “Ladies and gentlemen, I am proud and pleased to see you here today, and what a diverse group you are in terms of age, gender, religion, race, ethnicity. That’s good. It’s all good. It shows that little Ashleyville, Ohio is a microcosm not only of our state but of the nation. But at the same time, I want to mention that our organization, the APA, has not kept up with the promises we made to each other and to our community at our founding. We were looking for progress, yet, as I look around, it seems that we have seen no appreciable change in the ten years that our organization has been around. Chuck Yarborough, do you have a question?”
Chuck stood up as his napkin fell from his lap to the floor. “It’s more of an idea. I think we should hire an expert to come up with some ideas for our town.”
Others nodded and seemed to be in agreement. Russell thought for a moment. “Maybe there’s someone in Mapleville who can oversee this project.”
Chuck laughed, “Well, it’s 50 miles away. You know what they say: an expert is someone from 50 miles away.”
Russell was not particularly amused. “I wasn’t thinking about distance; I was thinking that this expert could commute. We wouldn’t have to put him up at a hotel.”
“Or her,” Nancy Macintosh called out.
“Yes, Nancy, or her. So what I propose is that we look for someone in Mapleville who knows about economics, real estate, city planning, demographics, regulations, and grant writing. That should do it. I’ll get on it right away. But I suppose we need a formal motion.” Out of the corner of his eye, Russell Mattabub had seen the APA parliamentarian squirming in his seat.
Then, the necessary motion and vote having been dispatched, the meeting adjourned. Russell Mattabub returned to his office. He ran his own investment company and was his own secretary; it was truly a one-man operation. He earned a decent living and prided himself on the success of his investments, his own as well as the ones he made for his clients.
Taking off his jacket, he went to his computer and started looking for experts in Mapleville, Ohio. He found a suitable website, findanexpertohio.com, and before long he was staring at photograph of a young woman, a really young woman, a pretty young woman. Her name was Rosamund Fletcher, and she was billing herself as an expert in economics, real estate, city planning, demographics, regulations, and grant writing. Russell let out a shout and woke up his West Highland Terrier, Malcolm, who had been dozing near the filing cabinets. What a piece of luck! But where did Rosamund Fletcher live? Too good to be true: she lived in Mapleville, just fifty miles away!
Tossing aside the forms he was filling out for one of his old clients, Russell, who was thirty and unattached, decided to pursue Rosamund Fletcher, for APA purposes, of course. Before long he was on the phone with her.
“So, Ms. Fletcher, I understand you have expertise in economics, real estate, city planning, demographics, regulations, and grant writing.”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“You seem so young. When did you graduate from college?”
“Just last year.”
“Then how did you get your expertise in economics, real estate, city planning, demographics, regulations, and grant writing?”
“I majored in business, and I had to take one class in each of those subjects.” She gave a laugh that he could only describe as silvery.
Russell had to do some quick thinking. He had dated, it seemed, just about every single woman below thirty in Ashleyville, and here he was, still alone. And yet on the other end of the phone was a pretty woman who fit the requirements for expert at the Ashleyville Progress Association. Well, maybe not totally. One class in economics, real estate, city planning, demographics, regulations, and grant writing: that was skimming the surface, he thought.
“You’re hired. When can you start?”
“Oh, anytime, Mr. Mattabub. I’m between assignments at the moment.” Again, that silvery laugh.
“Can you drive to Ashleyville by lunchtime tomorrow? Come to my office on Main Street, Mattabub Investments, 110 North Main. Noon. Does that work for you?”
The next day Russell Mattabub dressed more carefully than usual. He didn’t want to look stiff so he decided not to wear a suit. No, he chose a white shirt, colorful tie, khaki pants, navy sport coat, brown loafers: conventional, he knew, but it always seemed to work.
He worked hard that morning, filling out forms and calling his broker dealer and checking the stock market and answering the phone. He should have a secretary, he thought, but that was another expense he didn’t need. And he was doing all right as a one-man band, so to speak.
Just before noon he tidied up the office, dusted a little, and then sat down again, intent on looking preoccupied. At 11:59 a.m., according to the clock on the wall, the door opened and in walked Rosamund Fletcher.
“Hello. Mr. Mattabub? I’m Rosamund Fletcher.” She held out her hand as he stood up and leaned over his desk, reaching out to her. He tried not to hold her hand for very long and then was afraid he had been abrupt.
“Please call me Russell. I’ve made a reservation at a nice little restaurant down the street where we can talk. Malcolm, you’re in charge.”
The terrier, who had been sniffing Rosamund Fletcher’s shoes, cocked his head. “OK, let’s go. It’s a short walk to the Main Street Cafe.”
And so began Rosamund Fletcher’s association with Russell Mattabub, the Ashleyville Progress Association, and the charming town of Ashleyville itself.
She was a hit everywhere she went as she gathered data about Ashleyville’s economic state, its real estate, its city planning, its demographics, regulations, its attempts at grant writing. She worked every day and often had lunch with Russell, who had fallen for her, it seemed, when he first saw her photograph. He dreaded the end of her tenure as a consultant for the APA.
From time to time, Russell would glance at the portfolio Rosamund was building, and the data looked solid, so far as he could tell. Not that he was an expert in economics, real estate, city planning, demographics, regulations, and/or grant writing. And he wasn’t sure that Rosamund was an expert either. One course in each subject? It didn’t seem like quite enough. Still, she worked every day, and when they had lunch together, they would talk about the wholesome town of Ashleyville, Ohio. And then the month was at an end.
Rosamund was scheduled to unveil her findings at a luncheon meeting of the Ashleyville Progress Association. This time they convened at the Ashleyville Country Club; Mona’s Pancake House was not quite the thing for such a celebration.
Rosamund sat at a table with Russell and other members of the board of directors. She seemed nervous, Russell thought. He was nervous, too. After all, he was the one who had found her, so if her findings were incompetent or crazy or unworkable, well, then it would be his fault. He remembered the saying his Polish grandmother used to repeat: “Not my circus, not my monkeys, not my problem.” But this was his circus, he realized with an inward groan. His monkeys. His problem.
Coffee and dessert having been served, it was now time for Rosamund Fletcher’s speech. Russell Mattabub introduced her, trying to sound objective and calm, trying to avoid saying that he loved Rosamund and didn’t give a rat’s patootie about her findings. He just wanted her to stay in Ashleyville where she could then market herself as an expert in Mapleville which was, as everyone knew, fifty miles away from Ashleyville. He kept his introduction brief and business-like and then wondered why Rosamund looked unhappy. He changed his approach.
“Please welcome Ms. Rosamund Fletcher who has spent an entire month investigating what goes on in Ashleyville. She knows us better than we know ourselves. She has done a terrific job, and I am sure she has some important findings to share with us. Ms. Fletcher!”
Rosamund looked relieved. She approached the stage, gave Russell a hug, and placed a pile of papers on the lectern. She smiled at her audience and began.
“Citizens of Ashleyville, it has been a challenge and a gift to do research on your town, on its economics, city planning, its demographics, regulations, and its attempts at grant writing. As you can tell, I am not a seasoned analyst of the urban landscape. I have, in fact, taken only one course at Mapleville College in economics, city planning, demographics, government regulations, and grant writing.” Her audience started to talk. “However,” she continued, “I have at least taken one course in each of those subjects, and I suspect that many so-called experts have not done that much. I also live fifty miles from Ashleyville, and, as you know, an expert is often categorized as someone who lives just that very distance away.” There was a ripple of laughter “I have worked as hard as I could to analyze your community, its economics, city planning, demographics, regulations, and attempts at grant writing. And I have come to a startling conclusion.”
Her listeners stopped eating their cheesecake and looked up. “My conclusion is that Ashleyville is a perfect community. It’s diverse and vibrant, with good schools, law-abiding citizens, a sound economy, a pleasant environment, and friendly people. You don’t need to change anything.”
Her audience was silent and then, one by one, they applauded Rosamund Fletcher. Russell Mattabub ran up to the lectern and gave her a kiss. She responded with enthusiasm, and the audience cheered.
Anita G. Gorman grew up in Queens and now lives in northeast Ohio. Her scholarly work has appeared in such publications as Clues: A Journal of Detection; FOLLY; Mythlore; Dime Novel Roundup; the Swedish-American Historical Quarterly, and eight volumes of the Dictionary of Literary Biography. Her essay “Where Are You, O High-School Friends?” was published in Unfinished Chapters (2015) and “Finding Bill” in Finding Mr. Right (2016). "Tea with Barbara" appears in the 2018 collection Table for Two. Her short stories have appeared in Gilbert, Down in the Dirt, Dual Coast, Jitter Press, Red Fez, Speculative Grammarian, Scarlet Leaf Review, Knee-Jerk, Eyedrum Periodically, Adelaide, and Inwood Indiana Press. Her one-act play, "Astrid; Or, My Swedish Mama", was produced by the Hopewell Theatre in Youngstown, Ohio in March 2018.