The three companions leaned against the rough granite bar top while they munched kettle corn. Cavern Tavern was a popular watering hole for the miners, advantageously located in an underground cave a quarter of a mile from the entrance to the coal mine. Benches had been chiseled out of the walls, lanterns had been set in wall niches, and votive candles hand-dipped by Snow White were set in holes drilled in stalactites suspended from the ceiling.
Grumpy Gramps, the late night bar tender, snarled after throwing a dart at the twirling dart board, rotating above a stalagmite. "Look, I'm too old to be stooping in that filthy mine, and I'll be damned if I'm gonna break my back stabbing out chunks of coal to heat that damn palace. One queen and her passel of servants live in that gigantic castle while the seven of us, eight if you count Snow White, are squeezed into one little cottage. Just look at the crowd tonight, and it's only Monday. Pooling our money and buying this tavern was the best decision we ever made."
Bashful J Chiles has found his niche as chief chef in the isolated, smaller cave. He regularly basted the carcass of wild boars that he rotated every fifteen minutes above a fire pit. Into his rabbit and bear stews, he tossed carrots, potatoes, and onions from the garden tended by Sleep at the Wheel Francis, who spent more time dozing than harvesting, kind of a made-to-order scare crow.
Red rimmed eyes watering, A'CH'man complained between sneezes, "I had to get out of that mine. It's not my fault that my eyes are always watering and that I sneeze every other minute. Chhoosh. Chhosh. Snow White's so afraid of germs that she keeps making me sleep in the loft." Looking mournful, the hefty dwarf dug out another handkerchief that had been neatly pressed by Snow White, which he kissed before he blew his nose, sounding like a troop of honking geese. "If I have to drink another bowl of chicken soup that she makes Doc carry up to me, I'll puke. Why won't she believe me that I don't have a cold? Our tavern is a success. I don't ever plan to go back to that damn mine. The coal dust kept my eyes red and watering, ruining any chance I have to charm Snow White, so she'll marry me."
"Marry you, not likely. She'll want someone mature, someone who can teach her about history, about life, about literature. You barely finished seventh grade. I was a student of philosophy and literature. I could have been a professor if the government hadn't cancelled my student financial aid and forced me to return to the coal mines."
"That was 20 years ago, you old geezer. If you're so smart, why did you take Philosophy 101 three times?" A'CH'man chided. His job was bouncer, an easy job since all the miners were too tired to be rowdy or cause any trouble.
"Don't get him started, man," Dopem'n giggled as he scarfed down his third bowl of steaming bear stew. When Dopem'n wasn't snacking, he took orders and topped mugs of ale.
"Ahhhh, Professor Belinda, what legs, what cleavage, what divine hips," Grumpy Gramps sighed. "Yeah too bad, she up and married some filthy rich duke. He never cared about the finer points of existentialism. He was trolling for chicks. His fancy coach and pair of coal black perfectly matched stallions dazzled her. She never had a chance."
Doc blew the shrill trumpet notes that sounded the entrance of Happy, their cross-dressing tap dancer. Everyone paused to watch the show. In his spangled evening dress and feathery stole, Happy cavorted in and out the tree-stump tables. Often to the delight and laughter of the tired crowd, he jumped from table top to bar counter, tapping drumming rhythms with his clunky work boots.
The seven dwarves, co-owners, ran a successful, cheerful establishment that raked in the coins. Their coal mining patrons drank up a storm to quench their thirst after long grueling hours in the mine. They were more than happy to spend their earnings to eat heartily of Bashful's culinary masterpieces.
When Happy took a well deserved break, A'CH'man cleared his throat, sneezed three times, and made a solemn pronouncement. "We have to tell Snow White about the Cavern Tavern. We should do it tomorrow."
"Hey man, I guess, you know, that you're realllly right. It's killing me just seeing her for a short time in the morning. Her cheery melodies that she sings while cooking us bacon and eggs take me to a happy place. If we tell her about the tavern, she could work here and fill our vaulted chambers with joyful songs."
"You know, I hate to say it, but you two are right, Grumpy Gramps said in his dolorous voice. "If Snow White worked here, this place would be immaculate, and I would have more time to court her."
"Yeah, Chhoosh. Chhosh. I know I could make her luvvvvve me," sighed A'CH'man.
"Yeaahhhhhhhh. I can almost hear the wedding bells," added Dopem'n. "We could get married in a glade by a stream and wear nothing but wild flowers."
Three months later, Grumpy Gramps, A'CH'man and Dopem'n in their lederhosen matching outfits, made especially by Snow White, snuck out of the Cavern Tavern. They huddled under the shelter of the thick pine branches that kept them dry from the pounding rain. In the first weeks when Snow White had been invited to their tavern, life had been more perfect than any of them had imagined. She sewed comfy pillows for the rock benches, she kept the tavern immaculate, she washed all the dishes, and her sweet voice echoed in the cavernous walls. Their business doubled as miners from neighboring coal pits swarmed to see the lovely Snow White sing ballads that made them weep.
But slowly the dream of having Snow White in their lives eighteen hours a day became a nightmare. She directed Grumpy Gramps to burn the tree-stump table tops and replaced them with marble tops. That meant backbreaking trips to the quarries to carve out slabs of marble. All day she had A'CH'man picking flowers to adorn the marble tables. Nowadays he sneezed more than he talked. In the beginning she suggested new recipes for Bashful to try, but as the weeks wore on, she insisted he substitute veggie burgers for slabs of deer meat. Instead of thick, hot stews, she put strawberry yogurt soup and vichyssoise on the menu.
Dopem'n hired some gypsy woman to drug Snow White so she would be too sleepy to come to work. The drug had the opposite affect. Now, Snow White had even more energy. Everyday she rehearsed Happy, Dopem'n, Doc, and Grumpy Gramps to sing barbershop quartet tunes. On Friday and Saturday nights, she had Doc play the accordion, while she stood on the granite bar and directed the patrons to polka. The patrons, who had flocked to Cavern Tavern, stayed away in droves.
"Hey man, she confiscated my weed. And not only that but she put Sleep at the Wheel Francis in charge of making coffee lattes and now he runs around the tavern like a chicken with his head cut off."
"Chhoosh. Chhosh, I know what you mean. He can't stop talking. Every other minute, he has a new plan for expanding our business. Just this morning, he suggested to Snow White that we should all take weaving lessons so we could start making chair bottoms out of woven reeds."
"This must stop," Grumpy Gramps barked. "We quit the mine and bought the tavern, so we could slow down and enjoy life and hang out with our friends. We don't need to entice those snooty people who work at the castle to come here. This tavern is for the coal miners."
"Yeah man, it didn't go over too cool when Snow White said those poor dudes had to shower before they could be admitted." Dopem'n was picking up pine cones and nervously pulling them apart. "Any ideas how can we get Snow White out of our hair. I don't want to hurt her feelings, or anything."
"Oh yes, I've got it all under control," Grumpy Gramps confessed, a smile almost visible beneath his full gray beard. He put two fingers in his mouth and blew a sharp, piercing whistle three times. Clip clops on the gravel road grew louder and louder. A horse neighed. Grumpy Gramps straightened his hunched shoulders and lifted up some drooping branches.
A'CH'man was so surprised that his sneeze stopped mid sneeze. Dopem'n, his head shaking back and forth, said in a hoarse, raspy voice, "Cooooool. He's the dude, man. Oh this is soooooo righttttt."
Prince Charming, tall and handsome, bent his head as he spurred his coal black horse under the dripping pine tree. "My dear mother, the former Professor Belinda, the current Duchess, said you wanted to see me, Grumpy Gramps."
"Oh yes, we want you to meet the incomparable Snow White. You will be unable to resist her charms."
"My pleasure. It was the least I could do for the son of my beloved professor."
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Copyright (c) 2000, 2004, David Erik Nelson, Fritz Swanson, Morgan Johnson