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Dylan’s Roost

by Susan Lloy

 

The man burst into the shop like he was running for his life. Causing the bell on the door to jingle erratically as if it had been jolted from a deep slumber. He brushed himself off from the rain that had settled on his jacket and water dropped to the floor like big tears from a sad tale. He proceeded to the fiction section to examine titles.

I recognized him by his photograph, Penvro Davis, a well-known author. He comes in sporadically, but never engages in conversation. I suspect he’s aware that I know who he is. Though, each time he approaches the counter to pay for a book, he silently hands over the money or bankcard without a single word except, ‘thank you’, before exiting.

I like Penvro’s books. They are cerebral and edgy with characters on the brink with unusual habits and uncommon dreams. But, he hasn’t published for some time now. I often think about him while sitting behind this counter surrounded by second hand books. This is my shop. I’ve been here fifteen years. It isn’t a good living, but I only answer to myself and that pretty much seals it for me.

There is a tiny bell that jingles each time the door opens or closes and I can hear it from every crevice in my shop. Sometimes it barely jingles at all. The space is open and square with a large antique leaded glass window all the way to the back and a glass front that faces the street. Bookshelves run along each wall, divided by author. I always wanted to be a writer and have attempted a novel and a short story collection, but have never completed anything. I roll in a constant state of perpetual planning, jotting down notes for this and plots for that. Putting them in my folder under the counter. Beginning a Word document, rendering words that have no conclusions. Eating a sandwich. Waiting for the door to jingle.

Penvro studies sleeves. Finally, he slides over a collection of three plays by Eugene O’Neill. I’m surprised. He hands over a twenty-dollar bill without words or gestures. As I give him back his change, I flirt with the idea of asking him to look at my work. Yet, this doesn’t seem likely. He leaves briskly – like he entered. The door shuts and the bell jangles enthusiastically.

I decide to make tea. It soothes my nerves. I prefer strong, black tea with a bit of milk. Sipping away, encased by books with the smell of paper lingering. It is a cozy space with atmospheric lighting and a few comfortable reading chairs next to the paned window at the back. Folks are welcome to hang about and sample a book. See if the words touch or penetrate, humor or shock. It probably isn’t good for business permitting customers a taste beforehand, nevertheless I think it’s nice and that’s what counts. However, I know the other merchants talk about me.

“I don’t know how that Dylan doesn’t go broke. Mind you now, he’s a good fella and all, but he has no head for making a buck.”

I’m not bothered. Everyone has something to say. But I must admit – it isn’t easy to be a bookseller when so many are reading online. My psychiatrist called today and informed me he must reschedule. An emergency. Doesn’t upset me. Most sessions there isn’t anything exciting to discuss. My life has been rather dull for some time now. In fact, I can’t remember when it wasn’t dull. No, that’s not true. My youth had been fairly wild. There were lots of parties, women and many illicit goings-on. Though, now that middle age has straddled me, these memories seem far away. Perhaps, three incarnations ago.

There’s always books to put away. People often come in to sell books. Most of the time there isn’t anything compelling, but these books waiting to be shelved aren’t too bad. I pick up each book with care, catalogue it and dust the cover before slotting it according to genre and author. I don’t live far away and the rent has been stable. The landlord is an old guy with a good heart. A rare commodity. But, he is getting on and I worry what will happen when he dies and the property is sold. How will I manage? There’s always something to fret about and my thoughts are diverted by the jingle of the door.

The woman nods when I look in her direction. She comes in often, though we never talk. Sometimes when I sit here and the door remains silent, I think about my customers’ lives and secrets. I write notes about them. Inserting them in my folder that sleeps under the counter.

She’s looking in the self-help section. I find that women prefer these type of books. They don’t much interest me. This particular woman’s weight fluctuates. Often she buys a book about dieting or weight loss recipes. Today she has one about getting rid of guilt and accepting the ‘real you’. I wonder what is real about her. She never says anything either. Only a mutter, perhaps a thank you, as I slide her change across the counter. After she leaves the shop I see a folded paper lying on the floor. It must have slipped out of her pocket. I walk over, pick it up and return to my counter to read the words.

It’s a grocery list containing various processed cakes and ready-to-go prepared dishes: macaroni, lasagna, Pad Thai, butter chicken, prunes and a laxative product – Senokot. Normally I’d throw it in the garbage, however, there are several phone numbers at the end and I ponder whether to return the paper if and when she comes again. I put it in another drawer under the counter. I open a Word document. The wind had picked up scattering litter throughout the city streets. Rain began to fall heavy from the sky. I wondered what to do with my afternoon, for I was out of money and without plans….

I heard the door jingle again and it is the same woman who was just here. She scans the floor. Probably for her lost paper.

“Miss, are you looking for this?’

“Yes. I believe so.”

“I found it on the floor after you left.”

“Thank you very much.”

She took the folded paper and put it in her pocket and left immediately. I looked out the window and watched her walking vigorously down the street. Wind lifts her skirt as she walks away. She’ll wonder if I’ve read it. It will play on her. I now know her secret, or at least something more about her.

 

The rain has stopped and the sun edges itself through the front windows. It highlights all the defects on these old wooden hardwood floors. Scratches and wear marks from thousands of shoes that have scuttled about. This shop has had many tenants, first a tailor, followed by an accountant and then a comic bookshop owner. I took it over in 2001. I had just moved back from Amsterdam. Amsterdam had been my home for several years. But, a relationship faltered and my visa became problematic. I had a small amount of money put aside and secured this lease within one month of my return. Not at all convinced of my decision. But I’m still here. And the door jingles.

It’s Lee. He has his own apartment, which his family pays for, but enjoys the streets and comes in frequently. At times he rambles, yet is often lucid. Sometimes I let him rest in one of the reading chairs or let him wash up in the bathroom behind my counter. He stands in front of the cash register and tells me about the aliens and predators that are after him. Today he is far away…

“Dylan. Dylan. How are ya man? There are ships all around us. Those cunts have been tracking me for days. I’ve seen them in the sky, between the clouds and stars. They’re in the sewers. When I’m on the streets I hear their beacons signaling far below the earth. I know they’ve put something in my ear. It buzzes all the time and if it doesn’t stop I’m heading for Chow Mien right after this and jabbing a chopstick in my ear. I know the guy who washes the dishes and feeds the stray cats. One, two, three, many, many man… He’ll give me food and I’ll ask for the sticks. I’ll plan my revolt. But, here I know I’m safe. This shop is a force field and the books are my shields. Hey, got tea? I know your tea short circuits the stray trackers. Fucks their coordinates.”

“You’ll be safe here. Don’t worry, Lee. I’ve got an extra sandwich. Are you hungry?”

“No, No. I just ate with the cats at Pizza Joe’s. Cats know. Yup. Yup. Cats are cleaver, man. Hiss – purr, don’t matter. Yes. Yes. The cats are with me, Dylan. They’re with me.”

I brought him tea and the wrapped sandwich.

“Here, take this for later on.”

He drank the tea and put the sandwich in his pocket.

Lee had fallen asleep. Two hours had passed and the door had barely jingled. But, I’m closing up and must wake him.

“Lee. You got to get going now.”

He opened his eyes widely, as if in the midst of some horrible thought. He blinked several times and stood up like he had just been zapped by a cattle prod.

“No worry. No worry. I’m energized and ready. Ready. Ready. I think the nap fucked their trackers. The buzzing is gone from my ear.”

“That’s great, Lee. Shall we walk out together?”

“OK. OK.”

I gave him five bucks and wished him luck from the creatures beyond the sun. Locked the door.

-2-

I walk towards my flat. The rain has stopped, but the sidewalks remain wet and glisten from the streetlights shining above. It’s about a twenty-minute walk from the shop and the air smells fresh and the sea close. Halifax is surrounded by water. I’ve tried living in other places, but I need to be close to an ocean.

A ferry’s horn drones in the distance. I think about Lee and wonder where he’ll sleep tonight to avoid the damp and cool air that will settle in from the harbor, or if he’ll bunk at home. Sometimes he disappears for a while, but he always comes back and I sort of miss him when he’s gone. My flat is on the top floor of an old building and I can see the lights of the city fuse into each other.

I’m single and have been for years now. That’s one of the reasons I’m seeing a psychiatrist. I can’t seem to initiate anything in my life other than opening the door of my shop and waiting for the bell to jingle. He has me on an antidepressant. Dysrel. It’s an older generation pill and helps me sleep. I pop one after brushing my teeth. Fall into bed. Reach for my groin before falling off.

I wake up to a foggy morning. Make coffee and have a slice of toast with rhubarb jam. I don’t open my shop until ten so I have time to leaf through the pages of the New Yorker to see what I’m missing. Today, I’ll open later because of an appointment with my shrink. The fog hangs making the morning appear Film noir.

His office isn’t too far and I reach it within fifteen minutes. There are a few patients in the waiting room as I pick up a magazine and drink my takeout latte. The psychiatrist’s door opens and I see Penvro exiting. He looks directly at me, but doesn’t smile or nod and leaves rapidly as if late for another appointment. My doctor motions me to come inside his office.

“Hello Dylan.”

“Hi.”

“So? Have you thought anymore about what we discussed at our last session?”

“A little.”

“And?”

“ I just don’t see myself going online to meet a woman. It’s just not me. I know that’s what people do these days. But, like I said, it’s not me.”

“Well, what about joining a group. You enjoy writing. How about a writers’ workshop or a course at one of the universities in creative writing? There’s always the chance of meeting some new people there.”

“Maybe.”

I look around the calm and uncluttered office. Medical degrees hang on the walls with framed photographs of nondescript geographical locations. The furniture has a modern feel. I have another twenty-five minutes to go without anything to say.

“How are you sleeping?”

“Not too bad. You know. Not great every night, but most are OK. Better with the medication.”

“You know, we can always up your dosage. The maximum is three hundred milligrams, however, it may make you groggy in the morning.

“I’m all right with the present prescription. Let’s leave it at that.”

The remaining time passes and I leave feeling that these visits are a complete waste of time. Still, it’s something to do and someone to talk with and that keeps me coming back.

 

Penvro

Whiskey and scotch line the table and smoke washes the room reminiscent of noctilucent clouds at polar twilight. It’s a bright room with windows that face east and west, but they’re covered by drawn blinds that block the sun like great warriors of a past world. His head is heavy and listless, without thoughts or words. Powerless to express or dream. He doesn’t attribute these afflictions to the booze, for this is the reason why he drinks.

This slump has sucked him up like a starved pilgrim refusing to spit him out. His last novel, ‘Treaty of Thought’, was published in 2011. Several new novel drafts were attempted, but his ideas were transient and the characters moved about without accomplishing anything of much interest, unable to stir any emotion. Although, he has published three books to date, the royalties aren’t sufficient to sustain him. He must produce. Therapy was initiated with the hope that it might dislodge his lettered constipation.

 

Arial

Arial kicks open the door of her apartment with a high-heeled shoe, struggling from the burden of grocery bags. She gently drops them on the kitchen floor enjoying the new weightlessness like a freed paratropper.

Her clothes and hair are disheveled from the wind and rain that falls relentlessly. Before removing her jacket, she reaches in her pocket and gently removes the wrinkled paper examining the phone numbers that are smudged, yet, still legible transcribing them in a little red book that she keeps in the kitchen drawer. She doesn’t own a cellphone and is proud of it, something that separates her from the others. Though, others think her odd.

Arial stands before the hallway mirror and lets out a disapproving sigh. Her stomach is extended inhibiting her skirt zipper from completing its course. After changing her wet attire, she checks for telephone messages; “You have no new messages” and returns to the kitchen. She cuts a large section of ice cream Oreo cake. Plunks herself on the sofa, turns on the television and furiously eats the cool desert. Following the cake she chooses lime taco chips and onion cream cheese spread. She turns up the volume on the screen as her crunching is drowning the sound.

 

She stares at her name on the unopened mail. Arial. It’s ethereal, though she is far from light. Eating is merely something to do. Breaking up the monotony of her days and nights. Following the taco chips and spread she swallows two Senekots. This is her ritual.

She sits before the computer and checks for emails. Little red dots are absent from her mail icon. She remembers discussing funny names of places that pepper the Nova Scotian shoreline with a guy from an online dating site.

Shag Harbor, for example, probably some sailors got laid there…. Sober Island, perhaps someone moved there to straighten out…. Bush Island and Beaver Harbor, well what can be said about them?

Arial thought these trivias comical and interesting, but he stopped chatting without reason. Now, her emails were mostly advertisers and the occasional far-away friend. She reopens the drawer and takes out the red book. Examines the phone numbers and closes the book again. Recently she had gone on a speed dating session and asked for a couple of contact numbers.  No man requested hers.

-3-

I open the shop following the appointment with my psychiatrist. The sun has broken through the fog and light scatters throughout, igniting the space with rich warmth. I sit at the counter and wonder whether when Penvro comes again if he will he give me some kind of wink, wink, nudge, nudge, say no more kind of look. I expect the day to pass sluggishly.

The outside mailbox rattles from a drop and I immediately gravitate towards it. There are a few advertisements and a legal-looking envelope squeezed in between. Steward Taylor & Wexler is on the top left hand corner of the envelope in a dark blue font. It is an end of lease notice for this shop, stating that Mr. Riley has died and the property is now the under the proprietorship of his son, Randall. It says that I have six months to vacate. The door jingles. It’s Lee.

“Dylan, my man. Dylan. You’re late today. I’ve been waiting the long, damp night and morning. I hung out with the cats at Pizza Joe’s. Been doing smooth journeys through my starry nights and bright days. It’s been awhile since we took in each other’s eyes. Eyes of brown and blue. Colors of the sky and earth. That’s what they want – our sky and earth. The salt of the seven seas. But, it’s been quiet for days now I must say.”

“That’s good, Lee.”

I put the letter on the counter. Dread boils. I head to the small alcove next to the bathroom and plug in the kettle. Grab two mugs.

“Hey, Lee. Feel for tea?”

“Yup. Yup. Yup. Thanks man.”

Tea won’t help me much today. My fear has bloomed. It always seems if we worry about something enough, it eventually becomes a reality. At least now there is something tangible to discuss with my shrink.

The door jingles and a young woman enters. Her hair is a brassy blond with dark roots. Her clothes are tight fitting and worn.

“I bet her pussy stinks.”

“Shush, Lee. That’s not nice.”

“Sorry, sorry Dylan.”

“Ya know my girl Hazel is as perfect as a girl ever could be.”

“Oh yeah. How come you never bring her around Lee?”

“She’s not social. She’s shy. She’s….”

The girl approaches the counter with a collection of poems by Allen Ginsburg.

“Now that’s a good choice,” I say as she approaches the counter.

She smiles, hands over the money and exits. Lee quietly sips his tea in the corner.

 

Lee has left the shop and I’m filled with fearful thoughts. I have to get a hold of Randall and discuss the possibility of extending the lease. He’ll want more money. But where will I get it? I’m barely managing now. I sit for a long time in the shop. The door doesn’t jingle.

 

Penvro opens a bottle of scotch, pours a drink and stares at the blank page on his screen. He begins with a dialogue between two characters he overheard at the tavern. They discuss buried treasure and possible extraction sites along the Nova Scotian shoreline. After about fifteen minutes he stops. He has maps and costs, equipment and Nova Scotian history wandering his thoughts. Maybe this is something to play with? He recalls Captain Kidd’s words, “After my death, you may find treasure I have buried in a place where two tides meet.” He becomes enthusiastic and pulls the blind up; daylight enters, bathing him in white heat.

 

Arial is at work. She’s an assistant to a lawyer. Let’s say a bit more than a secretary and less of an assistant, but a space between these two worlds. She has more to do than just secretarial tasks. She must arrange dinners and procure tickets, book hotels and sometimes purchase a gift for the wife or children. It makes her feel superior to the other ladies, yet she’s bored and feels stuck.

Arial goes for lunch and has a light salad. She must make more of an effort. Her bowels haven’t been too happy either and her stomach is bloated and full of gas from overeating and purging. She’s finding it difficult today, glued to the chair at her desk. Her belly in revolt. She flirts with the idea of calling one of the men she met at speed dating in her little red book.

Upon arriving home Arial lets out great expulsions of gas. She’s certain there’s enough to take her to Saturn and back. Her behavior towards her body, a temple besieged by famine and plenty, is delinquent and requires scrutiny. She feels shame wash over her. Her agitated belly is swollen and round. She looks at least seven months gone.

She retrieves the little red book from the kitchen drawer. There are two names with contact numbers from her speed-date soirée. Kevin and Eric are written in a careful pen. She remembers their faces – Kevin, kind of rugged with a graying beard and Eric more artsy, tall and thin sporting black attire.

Arial asked for their numbers because they had been curious and seemed to exhibit some degree of concentration when she spilled her precious five minutes sitting opposite them with a cocktail in hand at a bar called ‘The Cranky Duck’.

 

Stretching herself flat on the sofa she picks up the telephone and dials the first number. It rings four times.

“Hello.”

“Kevin?”

“Yes. Kevin here.”

“This is Arial.”

“Who?”

“Arial, we met at speed-dating.”

“Oh, OK. Sorry, but I’m not sure I remember you.”

“I wore a midnight-blue dress. My hair leans a little to the auburn shade. I work for a lawyer. More curvy than thin.”

“Yeah, I think I know who you are.”

“Listen Kevin. I was wondering if you’d like to hookup? Have a drink, or a meal, a movie or whatever?”

“I can’t Arial, sorry. I’ve been seeing someone since that evening. I’m, how can I put it, on lockdown you might say.”

Disappointment spreads like spilt ink.

“OK, then Kevin, well it was nice talking to you. Bye.”

“See ya.”

She puts the phone on the coffee table and rubs her stomach with the palm of her hand.

 

I’ve been ringing Randall all morning, but it continuously goes to voicemail. Maybe he’s avoiding me, even though we’ve never met. I look around my shop envisioning empty shelves and a space where voices echo. A door that opens, yet doesn’t jingle.

I divert my worries by turning the radio to the chamber music channel. A string quartet encircles the room. Penvro enters and comes towards me, which is unusual taking me by surprise.

“Hi.” He says with a clear toned voice. A voice that can send words across auditoriums and digital platforms.

“Listen, I’m not sure how to approach this, but I’d really appreciate it if

you’d keep my psychiatric visits to yourself and away from your customers.   Let’s face it – this is a small town. I don’t want people knowing my business.

“No problem. It’s nobody’s news.”

“What’s your name anyway?”

“Dylan.”

He offered his hand.

“Penvro. Thanks Dylan. And by the way I enjoy your shop.”

He tapped his hand on the counter and left abruptly. The door jangled. I try to reach Randall. I’ve left several messages, but he never returns my call. I search the white pages to see if I can find his father’s address. Perhaps he’s staying there. If the house is in the vicinity I intend to walk there after I close. At the very least, put a note in the mailbox asking him to give me a call. The day passes slowly and I feel swallowed by dread. I make an appointment with my shrink.

 

“I have no solutions for my life if lose the shop. There aren’t any reserves. A little put away, but certainly not enough to start something new. I really don’t know what I’m going to do.”

“Yes. Change is always challenging. Dylan if you didn’t have money issues and you could do anything you wanted, what would that be?”

“That’s just it, I don’t have a clue. I’m in a total rut.”

“Well when we’re under stress, decisions and life changes can seem ominous, but we have to sort out what is possible. Don’t you agree?”

“I suppose so. But, let’s be frank. I initiated these visits because I can’t start anything. What makes you think I’ll be able to accomplish that now?”

“We’re at a junction where these issues must be accelerated. How has your sleep been since you’ve received your lease termination notice?”

“Not great.”

“Shall we up the medication during this transition period? It only adds more anxiety to the pot if we’re sleep deprived.”

“OK. Whatever. I don’t care.”

We continue without any resolve. I take my new prescription and make a new appointment before exiting the empty waiting room.

-4-

I made my journey to the Riley residence. It was in darkness when I rang the bell, leaving my letter in the mailbox with the hope of hearing from Randall soon. Limbo isn’t a great spot to linger.

The next day Lee is waiting for me when I approach the shop.

“Dylan. Dylan, my man. I’ve been waiting for ya.”

“Yes. I can see that Lee. What’s up?”

“Me Dylan. Me. I feel good today. Energized and ready. Ready for whatever comes my way.”

“That’s good, Lee.”

I turn the key and the door jingles. Lee follows me inside.

“Want tea?”

“You bet.”

“You don’t seem yourself, Dylan. I see all things. Anything and everything. See. See. See. Tell me what’s on your troubled mind.”

“Oh Lee, I don’t want to bother you with my troubles.”

The door opens and Arial enters the shop. She doesn’t look in our direction, but heads to the books.

“She’s nice. Maybe I should ask her on a date?”

“Thought you had a girl Lee? Isn’t her name Hazel?”

“Hazel’s no more. No. No. No more.”

“What happened Lee?”

“They got her.”

“Who’s they, Lee?”

“Them.”

He points his finger towards the ceiling.

“She doesn’t contact me anymore.”

“That’s too bad, Lee.”

“Yeah. Too bad. Got to find another girl now.”

And he looks towards Arial.

“Maybe her?”

Arial observes books. Not taking any notice of our discussion and Lee’s sudden interest. She chooses a romantic novel and brings it to the counter.

“That looks good!” proclaims Lee.

“We’ll see.”

Arial continues smiling at him as she slides seven dollars towards me.

“Thanks again.”

She saunters slowly out the shop and down the street. Lee records her direction of walking from the bookstore window and says without a doubt…

“She’s the one.”

Lee’s a handsome dude. He’s tall and thin with dusty, blonde hair loosely haloing his head. He has striking blue eyes and a good nose. Sensual lips. If he didn’t speak there’d be a buzz of ladies around him. I tell him if he’s serious about getting a new girlfriend, then he must adhere to his medication. Otherwise, he’ll scare them off.

“Right, right, right, Dylan my advisor and confidant of all internal workings. I shall heed your wise instruction.”

I sit gloomily looking out the storefront window waiting for the rain to fall. Sometimes it’s good for business when it pours. People come in to escape the weather and look at books while waiting for a break in the downpour.

Lee is hanging around. I don’t mind. I often hijack his fractured thoughts, travelling to other galaxies, forging the unknown. It disrupts the tedium of my day.

Arial takes her book purchase to the office. She puts it in the drawer of her desk with the image of Lee’s face in her head. His beautiful smile and interest in her book or her, perhaps. As the day lingers he becomes fixed in her thoughts, like a favourite sweet or new pasta dish, something that she can’t get enough of.

 

After multiple phone messages and the letter drop-off, Randall finally responds. He left me a message stating it wasn’t merely a question of more rent, but that he intends to sell. Now that his father has gone, he has no intention of maintaining the family home and buildings. He’s selling up. I feel the bottom of my stomach fall to the ground. That’s that. Now what?

Penvro comes into the store and for the first time says,

“Hello Dylan.”

Not another word was uttered. He went to the historical section, grabbed a couple of books and slumped in one of the reading chairs by the paned window. I had bought a bag of clementines on the way here and began to peel one. The aroma of orange laced the air. I saw Penvro’s head look in my direction.

“Want one?”

“Sure. They smell awfully good. You have a long face today. Therapy not working?”

“That too, but I’m going to lose my shop. The landlord is selling.”

“I’m truly sorry. A lot of people will miss this place, including me. Are you going to look for another space?”

“I don’t know.”

I forgot that Lee was still here and he came darting around the corner knocking a book or two off the shelf as he frantically raced to the counter.

“Dylan. Tell me it’s not true. What will we do? This is the center of all things.”

 

I sit before the counter in a daze, my thoughts moving about sluggishly and without intent. The door jingles and Penvro walks in.

“I’ve got an idea that may shift your mood. How about coming with me to scout possible buried treasure sites? I could use an assistant.”

“Oh yeah! Why me?”

“Maybe it’ll cheer you up. There are several sites; I’ve done some research already.

“If you’re referring to Oak Island, there’s been enough said about that.”

“I know, but maybe there’s a twist.”

“Penvro, I’m not even sure that we can access the site.”

“That’s why I need you. To alert me if someone comes. You’ll call me on my cell. So how about it… you in?”

“Sure, I guess. When?”

“As you know I’m flexible. When is your next day off?”

“Sunday, Monday.”

“Well, think about it. Sometimes an adventure is good. Clears the head.”

“OK then, it’s a date.”

“Sunday it is.”

Penvro left and I stood there wondering why he had invited me along. For all one knows he may want to discuss our shrink. That must be it.

 

It’s a small city with streets brushing each other north and south,

east and west. The weather was warm and the Atlantic breeze softly blew throughout, licking the faces of the citizens and twirling weathervanes of sailing ships on building tops. Arial left the office, her stomach growling. She took an outside sidewalk table and ordered lunch. Lee was present in her head. He was something she wanted to sample, finish and enjoy every piece. It had been some years since she’d been with a man and although she wasn’t thrilled by the state of her current physical condition the contemplation of his touch and what appeared enthusiastic gesture, would hopefully prompt her to get it together. Roadblock this gorge and purge act. She went back to work, though her thoughts were not on her afternoon duties, but of Lee and how she might approach him. She envisioned him in motion, dancing before her as if he were a Twirling Dervish, handing over a rose, a piece of jewellery or chocolate with each whirligig.

I stand in front of my shop waiting on Penvro. He arrives on time, pulls in fast, and is hard on the breaks.

“Ready?”

“Well, I’m here right?”

I got in and looked around his vehicle, which was on old Volvo. It was cluttered with papers, empty Styrofoam cups and a full ashtray.

“Don’t mind the mess. I’m not much of a housekeeper.”

He asks me if I want the music on and I tell him I don’t care either way.  Penvro turns on a seventies music station and my thoughts are returned to youth, long hair and reefers. Hallucinogens. Fun times.

“So, what’s your angle gonna be on this story?”

“I don’t know yet. That’s why I want to explore the site. See if it can ignite vision. Are you still going to our shrink?”

“Yeah, for now. But I won’t be able to afford it for much longer. Anyways, I find it a waste of time.”

“I know what you mean. Most of the time I feel the same.”

We take the old road instead of the highway, which sweeps along the coast past little villages, wharfs, boats and fishing gear. The sun burnishes the dark blue ocean and the whitecaps dance tangos.

 

We cross the narrow causeway, which leads to Oak Island. All is still, save for the birds in the sky and the surf that washes against its irregular shores.

There were a couple of buildings facing us when our wheels first touched the island’s soil, but there nary a vehicle in site and the place looked deserted and silent. We take the road that travels the east side of the island and then head west where the road divides the island in half. We drive towards the Money Pit that was first discovered in 1795 where six people have lost their lives and others squandered entire fortunes attempting to locate the suspected treasure that lies deep within, protected by booby traps and flood tunnels.

When we arrive at the pit there isn’t much to see, only a wire fence with a dilapidated shaft in the middle. Penvro asks me to wait at the road. There has been much speculation as to what lies down there: from Captain Kidd’s treasure to Shakespeare’s original works to Naval treasure. Maybe even the Holy Grail or Ark of the Covenant. I wait for a bit then head towards the Pit to join Penvro. Although, after jumping the fence and standing before the opening looking for any hint of something undiscovered, there were only weeds and brush to greet us and the occasional deerfly nipping at our exposed skin.

There is a large sign outside the fence. It chronologically outlines the first discovery in 1795 and the original elevation of thirty-two feet to present at one hundred-seventy feet and where it has since been gridlocked. We take a look around listening for sounds for this is a privately owned island and trespassing will be met with fines or possible prosecution.

-5-

I head to my shop where Lee is waiting for me. His hands are theatrical as he looks up and down left and right

“Lee. What’s up?”

“Dylan. Dylan. Dylan. What are we going to do about this shop?”

“Lee, we aren’t going to anything. There isn’t anything to be done. The owner wants to sell. That’s it. Can’t control that.”

“Control. Control. Control. He’s part of them man. He’s with those cunts that place the trackers in our heads. Mine has been acting up since you’ve told me about the shop. I want to find him. Make him answer to this unforgiving buzzing. And I’ll make him answer. Yup. Yup. Yup.”

“Calm down Lee. Have you been taking your medication? I thought you were interested in finding a new girlfriend? You seemed quite taken with the lady who you were chatting up last week.”

“Who?”

“Substantial. You said she’s the one.”

“Yes. Yes. Yes. I do want to ask her on a date”

“Then you best clam yourself. You’ll have no chance if you’re wound up like this. Have you seen your doctor lately?”

“No. He’s a cunt too.”

It’s lunchtime. A few customers linger about browsing through the titles, reviewing the backs of book covers. Lee has left and I worry about him. He’s seems more off-kilter than is customary for him. I call and cancel my appointment with my shrink.

 

Arial leaves the office for lunch in the park facing the harbor. She spots Lee sitting on a park bench as she makes her way up the steep hill. Her stomach begins to flutter and she feels more alive than is customary. She is undecided whether to say hello, walk by, or maybe drop her purse before his feet. Arial decides to take action and approaches Lee.

“Hello.”

Lee lifts his head in the direction of her voice and looks directly at her.

“Hello too.”

“Have you been to the shop recently?”

“I just left. Neither one of us can go there for much longer. The owner is going to sell the shop. My man Dylan will be no more.”

“Oh, I didn’t know that. I have a fondness for that bookshop myself. In fact, that’s were we met. I’m on my lunch. Do you want to go for a coffee and discuss it?”

“OK. You lead the way. I shall follow. Maybe to the ends of the earth.”

They walk a couple of blocks towards a small restaurant and choose a table with a red-checkered cloth facing the street. A busker plays a guitar and sings on the sidewalk, while blowing a harmonica between lyrics.

“You know, we haven’t formally met. I’m Arial.”

“Lee, who rides with glee. Said, he, he, he.”

She looks at him, thinking his remark was rather odd, but instead takes in all of his beauty. Tossing his words to another hamlet, to a place that won’t be troubled or questioned. She wonders what he makes of her. Does he find her desirable and interesting? She envisions herself as a ripe maid needing to be feasted on without delay. Though, he appears somewhat nervous and his eyes never settle on her entirety.

 

“What do you do Lee?”

“Do? I do everything and anything. Do. Do. Do.”

“What I mean is, what is your line of work?”

“I don’t work. Not in a conventional way at least. I’m the sentinel of the city. Alerting the citizens of predators who lurk below and fly above.”

“I see, sounds like fascinating work.”

“It is, most definitely.”

“Who are these predators you speak of?”

“The ones who place the trackers in our heads. The ones who create the intolerable buzzing. The ones who want our earth. The ones who want us.”

“I must say they sound extremely menacing.”

“Oh, we must be diligent. You bet. You never know when they’ll appear. They’re sneaky and calculating and must be stopped.”

“Lee can I ask you something?”

“Ask away.”

“Do you suffer from a mental illness?”

“Suffer. No. Mental illness, yes. I’m schizophrenic so they tell me. Does this information alarm you?”

“No, not at all. I find you charming and eccentric at best.”

He was quirky, to say the least, yet a lot more engaging than most of those dull lawyers in her office. Overhearing the events of their boring weekends and family holidays. Trying to squeeze by their polished shoes and their beer bellies hidden by three-piece suits. As a result, she chooses to find him unique, rather than ill.

“Lee, would you like to have dinner with me sometime?”

“That sounds good. Good. Good. Good.”

“How about Thursday? We could go out, or I could cook for you. Which do you prefer?”

“Home cooking. Then I know it’s safe. They haven’t gotten to it.”

“Are you always so suspicious?”

“Yes. As should you be, my fair Arial.”

They exchange numbers and part ways. She follows his footsteps as he heads towards the bookshop Dylan’s Roost – where she had initially spotted him.

Lee comes into the shop and tells me about his coffee date with Arial.

“That’s great Lee. But don’t skip on your meds. Don’t want to scare her off. Right?”

“Right. Right.”

 

Penvro enters and walks directly to me.

“Dylan. How are ya?”

“OK. Same old.”

“Did you know that there are three hundred and fifty islands off Mahone Bay and Oak Island? The treasure could be on any one of them.”

“Is that your angle?”

“Not sure yet.”

“Now tell me, why would anyone go to all the trouble of building that pit with its hosts of booby traps and oak castings every ten feet?”

“Perhaps that’s the key. To throw folks off. Keep people busy.”

“I dunno Penvro, sounds stupid to me.”

Penvro looks at me and I think that even though I’m surrounded by books I haven’t read most of them, nearly none of them. I feel like a total fraud. It’s not that I don’t like books. On the contrary I love books, but my concentration level has been disabled for a long time. At least ninety-six full moons, one eclipse, three direct-hit hurricanes and countless sub-tropical storms.

When someone approaches me and inquires about words I usually wing it. I have a visual memory for book covers and can usually recall some hint of content by remembering bits of the back flap pitch. So who am I to question Penvro’s ideas?

“Sorry Penvro. I didn’t mean stupid. What do I know?

“That’s OK, Dylan. I haven’t sorted it out myself yet, but I value your opinion.”

 

Arial thinks about her upcoming date. Should she be wary? Naugh. He seems spirited and sweet. She went for a Brazilian bikini wax; had her hair done and a pedicure, for she wanted to be prepared. And ready she was. She had rehearsed the evening over in her head, first a cocktail, dinner and then Lee for dessert.

In fact, she had thought about him so much she had fallen behind with her work had been questioned by her boss, Mr. Stewart. He had inquired with concern, not malice. Arial had been at this office for thirteen years and she and Mr. Stewart, who was the head partner in the firm and a highly respected criminal defense lawyer, had formed a close working relationship. She was highly efficient, but he felt sorry for her, jammed in her snug attire and never a new story about a man, trip or anything to speak of.

Arial assures Mr. Stewart that all is well, but that she had just received news about an old friend who lived an ocean away and was saddened from the sudden death. She had always been a good fibber and she willed her nose to keep its small, thick position as Mr. Stewart voiced his concern for her. Telling her to take the rest of the week off and sort herself out. She sheds a false tear and thanks him. He rubs Arial’s shoulder like a loving father instructing her not to think about work. She gathers her purse, leaving a desk absent of personal touches. Not one photograph or any indication that she spends most of her hours behind it.

She goes directly home and begins preparing dinner, roast-beef and potatoes, Yorkshire pudding and vegetables. She figures any man would like this standard meal. As Arial checks the slow cooking roast she worries that he may be a vegetarian. She forgot to ask.

Lee was to arrive at seven o’clock. She checks the time and sure enough, five minutes before, the doorbell rings. It is Stella her next-door neighbor wanting to borrow a light bulb.

“Smells awfully good in here Arial.”

“I’m cooking roast.”

“I wish I could muster a dinner like that, but it’s hard to do the all the work just for oneself, as we are. I should take a cue from you.”

Arial brings the light bulb and feels like Stella is waiting for an invitation, or at the very least, a dinner plate sent over when it’s done.

“Sorry Stella, I’ve got a date. Got to get back to the kitchen.”

“Oh lucky you, Arial.”

Just as Stella turns, she comes face to face with Lee.

“Hello.”

“Hello. Hello.”

“Lee, how nice to see you. Come in.”

Stella looks behind trying to get a better glimpse as Arial closes the door behind him. Lee is casually dressed, appears calm and less fixity than she recalls.

“How are you, Lee? Care for a glass of wine? I hope you eat meat. I’ve prepared a roast beef dinner.”

“No for wine. And yes for meat.”

“Can I offer you something else instead? A port perhaps, or a cocktail?”

“Just water, please.”

“Sparkling or uncarbonated?”

“Sparkling, like a clear night sky or a sun-kissed sea, topaz and tears.”

Arial brings the water gesturing Lee to sit, staring into his light blue eyes wanting to know every detail about him.

 

Lee is hungry, wants to eat right away and doesn’t feel like making small talk. He thinks, ‘I won’t stay long’. It’s not that he’s uninterested in Arial, but, there is something of greater importance pending. When Dylan was chatting with Penvro, Lee spotted the eviction letter in Dylan’s drawer and memorized both the address and name of Randall Riley. He plans to visit old Randall and ask him outright, why he wants to take away the place of refuge and ideas, dreams and escapes.

“Your dinner smells delightful, Miss Arial, I must say.”

“Miss? Don’t be so formal.”

“I’m rather famished as I’ve been skulking the beasts all day. Their bastard captain has sicked the sleuthhounds on me.”

“What captain?”

Lee points towards the ceiling light.

“Oh come on Lee, you don’t really believe that do you?”

“Yes. Yes. Yes. I certainly do. Often I see and hear them. One could say we schizophrenics are either cursed or blessed. I choose the second.”

Arial gestures Lee to take a seat at the dining room table. She brings the steaming roast with gravy and side dishes and invites Lee to help himself.

“Can these ‘sleuthhounds’ see us now? What about our privacy?”

“No. No. I ditched them at Dylan’s Roost. That’s the only place they can’t control. And do you know that Dylan will lose his shop? The landlord is selling the building. Lee eagerly eats. All the while saying …“Yum. Yum. Yum. Arial you are a gifted cook.”

-6-

When Dylan arrives at his shop he sees the ‘For Sale’ sign standing erect and determined in front of his store by an established real estate company. His stomach feels nauseous and he is filled with shuddersome thoughts. Thoughts that take him to dark places without exits or armour. He opens the door; the bell jingles and he decides that once this shop is gone, he never wants to hear a bell jingle again. But, the door does jingle and a few customers saunter in listlessly pulling the odd book from its shelf.

He looks at the empty chair in front of the lead-paned window and wonders how Lee’s date went, or if he even showed up. He can’t imagine Lee on a date and Dylan runs scenarios in his head. He sees Lee excited rambling on about predators and preventative measures. He sees Lee looking wide-eyed saying, “You’re the one.” He sees the disenchanted woman exploring his handsome face thinking,

‘Why do you have to be like this?” as Lee repeats his words, solidly cementing them in the ears of his listener.

Lee heads to the Riley residence passing streetlamps dimmed by the incoming fog that hangs low smacking the cool sidewalk with lusty moisture. Arial wasn’t at all pleased when he gulped down his coffee after the last mouthful of tart apple crumble, repeating, “Why so soon? Do you have to go? Can’t this wait?” As he tried to explain the calibre of the situation. Blurting out, “No time to waste. No leniency for Riley. No to invasion. No to control. No to spending the night.” Her sad face trailed his quick footsteps.

 

The Riley house is majestic, standing proudly at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac and set a fair distance from the road by a well-groomed lawn. There are a few lights burning as he begins his approach, not sure what steps his plan should follow.

Lee slowly cases the place peeking in the ground floor windows. The house appears empty and lifeless. He tries the double-hung wooden window frames, then struggles with a set of French doors facing a terrace hosting a swing chair and dining area, which is stuffed with olive-colored cushions and potted ferns of varied growth.

Tonight the sky is bursting with stars and Lee feels panicked swinging in the squeaky chair fully exposed to danger, viruses, beams and radiation, horrible strange creatures, noise and torturers. His head boils with electricity and uncontrollable buzzing. He’s convinced the cunning cunts above and below shall launch their crafts and come not only for him, but others as well.

He runs for cover under a willow tree letting the soft branches dust over him as he becomes highly agitated and frenzied. Lee has a direct view to the house interior and spots a man drying his hair with a bath towel while pouring a drink at the same time. He scurries to the house and peers in, but the figure has his back to him and is unaware of his presence.

Lee begins to knock on the door gesturing the man towards him. Randall takes a swig of whiskey squinting his eyes exerting to see who is the shadow before the glass. He grabs a fireplace poker, finishes his drink with one swift gulp and walks towards the doors and tapping the poker on the highly polished floorboards.

“Yeah. What do you want out there?”

“Are you Mr. Riley?”

“Yes, who’s this?”

“My name is Lee, may I come in?”

“Lee? What do you mean banging on my door at this late hour?”

The knocking becomes harder and hurried.

“Please open!”

Randall lifts the poker while turning the knob of the door. Before he has a chance to question him, Lee rushes through, pushes him aside, locks the door and pulls the blue velvet curtains tightly together.

It’s been several weeks since I’ve seen Penvro, whom I imagine is preoccupied with pirates, treasure, shipwrecks, canons, gangplanks, swords, mutiny, eye patches, taverns, parrots and ship rats, plus the random damsel here and there. But, that isn’t so. Penvro sits in an old sailors’ pub down on the waterfront hearing yarns about sea travels, disasters and triumphs.

Arial hasn’t heard from Lee for several days and strolls the streets hoping to catch a sign of him. But, Randall knocked him on the head with the fire poker and rang for help. Now Lee lies sedated in the Psychiatry ward. She calls his cellphone but he never picks up. She lets several weeks pass before heading to the bookstore unsure of what she’ll do if she runs into him. She climbs the hill to the familiar street, but Dylan’s Roost is vacant, absent of any forwarding address. She looks in the window and examines the cleared-out store void of books or any sign that it was once a haven from wind and rain and comforter of words. She turns away missing a postcard stuck in the doorframe from a foreign land.

“Dearest Dylan,

   Sorry I didn’t stop to say good-bye, I left quite unexpectedly, jumping a freighter to parts unknown. You might say to clear my head…Take care, my friend and guardian of thoughts. Penvro.”

   Dylan sits before his psychiatrist, his head empty of words.

 

 

BIO

Susan LloySusan Lloy has honed her perceptual skills working in diverse environments; from handling nitro and explosives in the Canadian North to slinging drinks in Halifax, she now coordinates a Cardiac Surgery Unit in Montreal. A graduate of the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design, Susan has published twice with Revolution House, Production Gray Editions, Penduline Press, PARAGRAPHITI, Beecher’s, The Prague Revue, The Round Up Writer’s Zine and this September with The Writing Disorder based in Los Angeles and the Amsterdam Quarterly. She will be published again in late October with Blue Crow Magazine out of Australia. She has just finished a short story collection.

 

 

 

0
Cheryl Diane Kidder

Objects in Limbo

by Cheryl Diane Kidder

 

 

George and Doris were in the backyard having coffee at the picnic table. The weather had just warmed up enough for them to take their breakfast outside before George headed out to work.

“What was that?” George heard it first.

Doris looked up from her English muffin and sniffed the air a bit. “I didn’t hear anything.” She looked at the back fence, expecting another sound, maybe those coyotes trying to get in the yard. Good thing they didn’t have a small dog. “If it’s those coyotes again, I say we get the shotgun.”

“Wasn’t coyotes,” George said.

They sat very still on the two opposing redwood benches, the morning warming up around them. It was too early for Mrs. Betts next door to be out and about yet and the young couple on the other side were late risers as well. The sound had either come from directly behind their house, or where?

“Sounds like somebody threw a TV out the window,” George suggested, pushing the bench aside.

“Oh, you’re not going out there are you? We don’t need to get involved, whatever the hell it is.” Doris tried to keep her seat but she was up on her feet and right behind George.

The two of them tiptoed through their own house, both silently making their way to the living room. Luckily, Doris hadn’t opened the blinds yet so they were both able to walk right up to the window then carefully fold back one vertical blind, Doris on one side of the window and George at the other. They had to experiment a minute before each found a blind that gave them good access to the drama unfolding across the street.

“Good God, what have they done over there?” Doris said.

“Maybe I should call the police?” George suggested but made no move away from the blinds.

“Yes, I think you should. Someone could be hurt over there.”

“It looks like he drove straight through the garage door,” George said, still not believing it.

“Yeah it does. But where is she? Can you see him? Is that a body slumped over the wheel?”

“Ok, I’m calling the police.” George still didn’t move.

All the drapes were open across the street. Doris could see directly into the house, but she saw no movement at all.

“Do you think the children are still in there?” Doris said.

George didn’t answer. He found the cord to the blinds and yanked it hard. Doris let out a little scream. “What are you doing?” she whispered.

“I can’t see properly. If I’m going to call the police, I want to be sure what I’m reporting.”

They stood in their robes and pajamas in the picture window staring across the street. The garage door was certainly in pieces and the little navy blue Saturn Mr. Mulligan drove to work every day was sitting in the middle of the pile of wrecked lumber. She just couldn’t tell if anybody was in the car.

“Can you see in the car?” Doris asked.

“No, can you see anything?”

“Nothing at all. But now we know what that sound was.”

They stood at their window. Doris pulled her robe tighter around her body.

“Well, are you going to call the police, or what?” she asked George.

He shrugged his shoulders. “Maybe it’s none of our business.”

“If it was me, I’d want somebody to call the police for me.”

“Well that’s fine but it would never be you. I’d never drive through the garage door.”

“Yes, but that’s not the point.”

They looked back across the street. Two people had just walked through the front room very fast. Then their front door opened and Mr. Mulligan appeared.

“Quick, close the blinds, George. For heaven’s sake.” And she jumped back behind the drape.

“They’re not looking over here. Let’s just see what happens.”

Doris peeked out from behind the drape. Mrs. Mulligan appeared at the front door, hands on her hips. She was in her nightgown and her hair was fuzzy and ratted out.

“She’s yelling at him,” George said.

“Can you hear anything?”

“No. But I think he’s just going to get in the car and drive off.”

“How can he do that? He just wrecked his house. His wife is standing in the front door yelling at him.”

They watched as Mr. Mulligan got into his blue Saturn and pulled fast out of the driveway. Planks and pieces of board fell off the car as he backed out. Mrs. Mullligan started running down the front walkway.

“She’s going to try to stop him.”

“I can see that, Doris.”

They watched Mrs. Mulligan run down the sidewalk after the disappearing Saturn. She didn’t get much past her own driveway though and stopped. She hung her head, turned around and walked back to her front door, stepped in and closed it behind her. George and Doris waited a moment and then kept watching as, very slowly, the drapes were pulled shut.

“Well, that’s that.” Doris said.

“I’m glad I didn’t call the police.”

“You might have to one day. I still didn’t see the children.”

“Doris,” George had grabbed the rope pulleys of the blinds and let the blinds fall back into place, “you’re just too nosey. It’s none of our business.”

And now George was back pretending to prune her apricot tree. Doris walked out onto the front porch. She could tell George was watching the Mulligan house again, just like before.

“Just come in now, George. Nothing’s happening anyway.”

George pulled the sheers back from the apricot tree and let them hang at his side. He looked down at the cut limbs on his lawn and regretted that he’d now have to pull the garbage can around to the front and break up the wood.

Doris was at his side. She took the sheers out of his hands. He let her. He was late for work anyway.

“I know what you were doing out there, George.” Doris gave him a bad look as he headed for the car. He took the sack lunch she held out to him.

“Yeah, well, you never know what goes on in another person’s house, do you?” He was a little sad. He probably should have called the police before the Mulligans had the garage door repaired. Now he’s most likely missed his chance.

“You better jump, mister. Coming in late every day isn’t going to get the bills paid.” She put her hand on his back as he turned away.

“I should have retired last year. Then I could prune the trees anytime I like. What’s for lunch,” he asked, opening the door to the garage.

“Tuna sandwich and strawberries.” She closed the door behind him. Sometimes she found it hard to believe he was a civil engineer. She imagined he was a good enough civil engineer, but when he’d brought up retiring last year she had to set him straight.

“We are in no position to retire from anything, George,” she told him. He made her promise that they could discuss retiring next year. They were both past retirement age but every time George tried to bring it up, Doris poo-pooed him.

“What would you do with yourself all day? Might as well keep bringing a paycheck home if we’re still able to.”

George scrunched up his face at her and walked away. He could think of a few things he’d like to be doing.

That night they watched an old movie on TV instead of the usual talk shows. Doris loved the old movies. They reminded her of when she was a kid, rather of when her mother was a kid. Her mother was always telling her about movies she’d seen. Doris had grown up watching Shirley Temple movies and then musicals. Her mother would buy the entire score of her favorite musicals and learn how to play them on their old Steinway. She wasn’t a great piano player but she could read music and once you got the melody line you could sing the words. Doris knew the words to more songs than anybody she’d ever met.

Every night when she turned the bedside lamp off she looked down at the framed picture of her mother on the bedside table. The picture was taken when her parents were courting. Her mother is young and slim, her head is thrown back and she’s laughing wildly. Doris thinks if she looks at the picture long enough she can conjure up a memory of her mother like this, but it hadn’t happened yet. She remembers her mother very differently, but loves the picture just the same.

George seemed tired and not thrilled with a movie, and once he laid down and shut his eyes, he was out. Sometimes Doris saw this as a betrayal or an abandonment. She hates not being the first one asleep, but more and more George falls asleep first and Doris must make do with the company of the TV. On this night, she stayed up late after watching an old Ethel Merman musical with Jimmy Durante and then watched The Thin Man. Mostly she loved watching Asta, their little dog. She had always wanted a little dog but George would always nix the idea so she became a connoisseur of film dogs.

Halfway through The Thin Man, George started snoring like crazy. She pushed his shoulder, he turned over and stopped. Her last thought was, “I should turn off the TV.”

Next thing she knew her eyes were open, the TV was still on, some guy trying to sell exercise equipment. She reached over for the remote and saw the other side of the bed was empty. She patted the empty space just to make sure she wasn’t seeing things.

“George?” she called out, then got out of bed, put on her slippers and tiptoed out into the hall. She looked in the bathroom, nothing. She walked into the kitchen, no lights on. She flipped on the light switch. The refrigerator was humming as usual, but no George. She flipped the light off and walked into the front room. She turned on the little lamp at the side of the couch, just enough light to see by. Nope, no George. Then she heard it. The snipping again, just like this morning. She went to the blinds. There was George, out in the light of the moon, snipping at her apricot tree again. She went to the front door, yanked it open and walked right out onto the front lawn, “George Johanson, what in god’s name are you doing out here? Do you have any idea what time it is?”

She put her hand on his arm to stop the snipping and looked into his face. He turned his face to her. His eyes were wide open but he wasn’t there. She took the sheers out of his hands and threw them on the ground a few feet away.

“George?” She shook him a little. “George, are you awake?”

George looked at her and said, “Mali con nomey, burn a bunny.”

“What?” she shook him again. “Wake up. Wake up.” She pushed the hair off his forehead.

“I’m awake.” He said simply.

“Well, what are you doing out here?”

“Money come happy, cars. Doors.” He said sincerely to her and looked across the street.

“Oh, no you don’t. No more cars or doors. You have to come into the house right now.” She took his arm and pulled him a little at first. Then he followed her until they got to the front door. He tripped over the front step.

“There you go.” Doris pulled his legs back up onto the bed and then pulled the covers over him. He put his head on his pillow and smiled up at her.

“Vinnie con tuo.” He nodded at her and closed his eyes.

She got back into her side of the bed and stared at him, afraid at first to not sit up and watch him, afraid he might do that again. He could have been hurt, anything could have happened. She sat there watching George, the light of the TV illuminating the room. She picked up the remote and turned the sound up a little bit. It wouldn’t hurt her to make sure he got back to sleep soundly. She surfed around until she found My Man Godfrey, another William Powell movie,then sat back against her pillows. George hadn’t sleepwalked in years. The doings over at the Mulligans must have upset him more than she realized.

* * *

That night George dreamed about when he was a boy and had wanted to get away from his parents and seven brothers and sisters. He’d gone down to the lake, not the end of the lake where all the boats were tied up and where all the tourists go every summer, but the complete opposite end of the lake. It wasn’t easy to get to either. He happened upon it by chance one summer when the whole family had driven down for a short weekend vacation.

The cabin his parents had rented was only two rooms, parents in one room, his three sisters in the other bedroom and George and his brothers sacked out in the living room in sleeping bags. The price difference between the two-bedroom and the three-bedroom probably would have put his father too much in the hole so instead of not going at all, the boys agreed to rough it by sleeping on the floor.

Well, George had about had it with roughing it after the first Friday night. Mikey kept rolling over and kicking him in the face and he wasn’t asleep at the time either. George was the second youngest so Kevin and Patrick were always picking on him and Mikey could only pick on George when they weren’t at home and he knew George wouldn’t hit him back or cuss him. George did his best to keep the peace. It wasn’t always easy.

So, since he was wide awake anyway, he got up in the pitch black, put on his jeans and grabbed an apple and his pack with his fishing gear and took off in the complete opposite direction of all the people and all the family and everything that had any mark of civilization on it.

For a couple hours he really thought he’d gotten lost. He’d lost all sight of the lake but could still smell it. The dawn came up early which was good. He tried to get his bearings by the sun, but the trees were so high and so dense that it was tough to do. He cussed himself out for leaving the compass behind. He knew it was right there in Kevin’s pack too. But soon he came upon a small trail that led him straight to the water’s edge.

Once he got back to the water he followed it along until he couldn’t go any further. A sandy beach opened up and he set his pack down. The sun was at his back. The campsite and cabins were directly across the lake. All he could hear was an owl sometimes, far off. Even the birds had quieted down. The clear lake water lapped gently on the sand and then retreated. It had its own business and wanted nothing from him. It wouldn’t kick him in the head or punch him in the arm. He lay back and set his head on his pack and looked up at the sky. There were clouds whisping about, nothing much and a little breeze. He closed his eyes.

When he woke up the sun was directly in his eyes, heading fast down the opposite end of the lake, behind the tall pines. It looked like he’d slept all day. He sat up and looked around. There weren’t any boats on the lake, none that he could see or hear. The water was just as clear and calm as when he’d fallen asleep. After his initial panic he started wondering what his hurry was. He was pretty sure his parents might not even notice he was gone so he headed back, but he headed back slow.

He hadn’t been back to his beach in probably more than twenty years. Although he visited it every time he took a family trip there and a couple times when he was in college he took a drive by himself and hiked out to his beach and sat there watching the sun set. He never wanted to take anybody else there. It wasn’t a large beach, really only enough room for one person to comfortably sit or lie down anyway. He never saw any footprints on the sand. And there were always the most beautifully colored, sand-polished stones just at the edge of the beach, just under the water. He never picked one up. He tried to memorize their position once to see if anyone had moved them the next time he visited. If he had a paper and pencil right now he could still map them out just as they were then: two round blue stones, six multi-colored in a rectangular formation and one flat stone with a red hue to it. If he concentrated on the colors of the stones and the sound of the water breaking over them, even now, he could hear the water falling between the stones, onto the beach, almost up to his bare feet.

* * *

“George, get away from that window, I’m serious.”

“Shut off the light, would you?”

“I will not shut off the light. You get away from that window and put down those binoculars. I swear. You’d think you were eight years old.”

“There’s nothing wrong with a little healthy curiosity.”

“Your curiosity has been the death of my apricot tree.”

“That tree was on its last legs.”

“It was in better shape before you took the pruning sheers to it.”

“Every tree needs a little pruning now and then.”

“George, you’ve pruned that tree every day for a month. There’s nothing left but a stump. It’ll never grow back. You know I got a book out of the library that says you’re not supposed to trim fruit trees down to the stump. You just do that for roses.”

“Maybe I’ll buy you some rose bushes tomorrow.”

“What, so you can prune those for me? No thanks. Why don’t you buy a nice evergreen that we don’t have to do anything to but water.”

“Too boring, too predictable. I want something that might die immediately but for the care I give it.”

“We could always get a dog, George.”

“Dog’s are messy and they die on you. No, a dog’s no good.”

“Ok, then a cat? A parakeet, a hamster, anything. I’d love to have another living thing in the house.”

“No, no rodents. I refuse to share my house with rodents. Hell, we pay people to come get rid of pests like that.”

“Cats aren’t pests, George.”

“They are to me.”

“Now give me those binoculars.”

“No, wait, I think I see a light on.”

“There’s nothing to see there George. Let’s go to bed.”

“You go on ahead, I’ll be there in a minute.”

“I’ve heard that same thing for a month George and every morning I wake up and another bush or tree has been pruned to the point that I’m going to have to take them out.”

“Well, we need some new landscaping anyway.”

“Come to bed, George.”

“In a minute.”

“I’m not going in without you this time. I’m waiting right here so you might as well finish up. There’ll be no pruning tonight.”

“God, you won’t let me have any fun at all. You know at my age, fun becomes very difficult.”

“Spying on the neighbors isn’t fun, George. It’s probably criminal. You could go to jail if they reported you.”

“The only person going to jail is you for forcing me to give up the only pleasurable thing I have.”

“I can wait all night, George.”

“I’m almost done.”

“Hand over the binoculars.”

“In a minute.”

“Hand them over, George.”

“All right fine. Here.”

“That’s better. Now let’s go to bed.”

George followed Doris reluctantly out of the living room. Never want anything you just can’t do without, he reminded himself.

* * *

Doris refused to go to Wal-Mart. At first it was a political thing, the way they would always build them right on the outskirts of poor communities, forcing all the downtown mom-and-pop stores out of business. She read in the paper about how Wal-Mart was the biggest employer in the US and she just figured that was wrong.

But more than that was that awful smell of old popcorn. George loved it. They’d hand out miniature bags of popcorn, red and white striped bags with ruffled edges, overflowing with yellow popcorn. Yellow from all the fake butter and George would munch on it as he walked down all the hardware aisles. First Doris would go with him and just wander off by herself into kitchenwares and usually pick up a few different size Tupperware containers. But then she put her foot down.

“I’m not going to Wal-Mart any more,” she told George as he dangled the keys in front of her.

“Why not?”

“I just don’t like the way they do business.”

“Since when?”

“Since forever. I always felt this way but I just didn’t think about making a big deal out of it but now, now I think I found my principles after all.”

George thought it over for a minute. “Well, will you go to K-mart then?”

Doris thought back to the last time she was in K-mart. No popcorn smell. The aisles were wider, not so many poor families with snotty nose kids hanging off of the shopping carts.

“Yeah, K-mart’s OK. Target would be better.”

“You just like Target because it’s in that ritzy neighborhood.”

“Nothing wrong with that. I like looking at the big houses.”

George grumbled to himself all the way out to the car, his face all creased up like he was thinking about some math problem but what he was thinking was that Doris was wanting a bigger house, a bigger yard, a different neighborhood. He wasn’t going to bring it up, but every time Doris even got close to suggesting that some other house was so nice, or maybe they could spend Sunday morning some time driving around looking at model homes, George crinkled up his face and Doris immediately dropped the idea.

“What’s so bad about dreaming big, George?” she’d asked him once after he’d nixed a Sunday outing.

“I got all I need right here. There’s no reason for a bigger house. Bigger house just means bigger mortgage and more cleaning and more lawn to mow. More work.”

“But wouldn’t it be fun to move, to experience a different place, maybe meet new neighbors who were more, you know, like us?”

George crinkled up his face. He liked the neighbors just fine. They stayed in their houses and he and Doris stayed in their house. No uncomfortable social sessions out on the sidewalk, no potlucks on weeknights, and no kids riding bikes and skateboards up and down the street. That was a plus.

“I like it fine right where we are. I thought you did too?” He looked over at Doris, with the most agreeable look he could manage and was surprised when she dropped the subject entirely.

K-mart wasn’t like Doris remembered. They walked in together through the automatic doors, the a/c hitting them square in the face. Doris looked up at the mirror and watched George’s bald spot walk away from her toward the hardware section. She stopped for a minute to get her bearings. No popcorn smell. That’s good. Off to her left the cash registers rang. Every sales station had a big line of people in it, their shopping carts bulging with purchases. It made Doris want to go right back outside, maybe drive to a park, take a walk, anything but spend money.

Sighing heavily, she headed off toward housewares, as usual. She got to the head of the aisle with the Tupperware and stopped. She thought back to her cupboards at home that were already chock-full of Tupperware and fake Tupperware. She had Tupperware containers and Tupperware in the shape of Jell-O molds and popsicle molds she’d never even used before. She turned around and headed instead to the lingerie department. It was the one place she was certain she would never spend any money.

When they got back home, George went out to the garage to hang up the new tools he’d bought. Doris took her bag, which she purchased without George’s knowledge, into the bathroom and locked the door. She turned the bag upside down dumping the contents out on the counter then picked up each piece separately and laid it out so she could get a good look at it all.

She’d decided to go all red. A red thong, red push up bra (she guessed at the size, it’d been years since she bought a new bra), a short red nightie and something the sales lady said was the piece de resistance, whatever that meant: a garter belt and of course the red stockings to go with it. She’d never seen so much red lace and polyester before in one place and just looking at it all laid out on the counter made her laugh.

She avoided looking at the garter belt and left the stockings in their package. She held the thong up and could not figure out which end went where even though the sales lady had practically drawn her a map. She hiked up her dress and stepped out of her normal white cotton undies. She laid the thong on the ground trying to get a better look at it but she still couldn’t figure which way it went so she just picked up one side and the other and stepped into it and pulled it up.

She looked in the mirror. “Oh, this just can’t be right.” She said to her reflection.

* * *

The first time George got a look at the red lingerie he’d just turned the TV off and had stood up from the Barcalounger after several hours. Doris walked in all in red and he had to sit right back down.

“What the hell is that?” he asked her, his voice a little loud though he tried not to sound too scared.

“What do you think?” she was smiling. She held out the lacey edges of the red nightie and slowly turned around giving George the full three-sixty.

“That’s a lot of red.” He stretched back into the Barcalounger, not sure he was ever going to get out of it now.

“I thought I’d pick up a little something different,” Doris giggled then caught herself.

“They run out of Tupperware?” George asked hesitantly.

Doris put the sides of her nightie down and stood in her kitten-heeled red silk-like slippers in the middle of the living room, TV off, the lamp over in the corner the only light.

“Is that all you have to say?” she asked him.

“Well, it’s different all right.” He put his hand over his mouth. He just realized what she reminded him of. One Halloween when he was ten or so, Millie Bates down the street had dressed up all in red, from head to toe and put a green felt hat on her head. She claimed her mother had made the outfit and that it was supposed to be an apple and certainly her chubbiness aided the illusion, but now all George could think of was fat Millie Bates in her apple costume carrying a pillowcase asking for candy up and down the street. For a second he forgot himself and laughed out loud. Once he heard the laugh he clamped his hand back over his face hoping Doris hadn’t heard.

“Really, there’s no need to laugh,” Doris hung her head. Her arms hung at her sides.

George leaned forward and squinted. “What’s that you’ve got on underneath there?”

Doris looked up at him. “It’s called a thong and this other contraption’s a garter belt. See?” She lifted her nightie up to reveal the complex web of undergarments, all still red.

George sat back in his chair. “Is it comfortable? Are you going to sleep in all that?”

Doris stepped over to the couch and sat down. The nightie blossomed around her like a little red cloud. She kept her knees together and her toes forced into a point due to the shape of the slippers.

“I don’t think this is for sleeping actually,” she said.

“I thought you liked those cotton nightgowns I’ve been buying you all these years.”

“I do like them. This was just something, you know, different, something new.”

“New is not always a good thing.”

“You don’t like it.”

“I like it fine, but do you like it?”

“I kind of like it.” Doris managed a little smile. “Makes me feel, different.”

“Different how?” George’s brow crinkled. This was not like Doris, not like Doris at all.

“Just different. I don’t know how yet. I guess I have to wear it around a little more to see.”

George got up. “Well, I’m going to bed. You coming?” He paused by the lamp, ready to turn it out, not wanting to leave her in the dark.

“I think I’ll just sit here for a while.”

“Now, Doris, come to bed. You know I can’t get to sleep until you come in.”

“I’ll be in. I just want to sit here for a while in my new things.”

“All right then.”

George walked into the bedroom and sat on the edge of the bed. It was no use even putting on his pajamas, he’d be wide awake until she got into bed and if she got into bed in that contraption he might never get to sleep. What was she thinking? All these years, he’d never seen that much red lace in his own house. What was he going to do? Maybe he could make her take it back. But she seemed to really like it.

George remembered the time he’d bought the fishing waders from that Angler’s catalog. They’d taken six months to arrive and when they did he pulled them right out of the box and stepped into them. Granted, they didn’t exactly feel natural but he could totally imagine standing in the middle of some great trout stream in Montana in those babies, cool, dry and comfortable. When Doris had walked in on him and started laughing he had to wait for the explanation.

“You look like you’re about to go get on a motorcycle or something.”

“What do you mean? They’re waders. Aren’t they great?”

“Your butt’s hanging out of the back just like those guys who ride motorcycles.”

“It’s not the same at all,” he’d argued at first.

“And why the camouflage? Are you planning on going to war?” Doris had laughed all the way into the kitchen.

George had thought the camouflage was cool, made it all seem more serious somehow. But he couldn’t stand to be made fun of. He’d gone into the bathroom and stood on top of the toilet seat trying to see what they looked like in the mirror over the sink. He still didn’t think they looked so bad but he’d put them away that night, back into their box and stuffed the box under the bed and had never gotten it back out even though he’d gone fishing just last summer.

Doris sat at the kitchen table idly flipping the pages of the morning paper, trying not to pout. She wriggled her bottom in the plastic seat, trying to get comfortable with the thong. She needed something to take her mind away from her failure to impress George. She never used to read the science section but then the headline “Faded Star Defies Description” grabbed her attention. She unsnapped her garter belt, adjusted the thong again, leaned closer to the table and read further.

“Some stars take, some give. Then there is the tortured relationship in EF Eridanus, where the smaller of two stars gave so much to its larger companion that it reached a dead end, scientists reported. Doomed to orbit its more energetic partner for millions of years, the burned-out star has lost so much mass that it can no longer sustain nuclear fusion at its core and has become a new, indeterminate stellar object.”

 

“A new, indeterminate stellar object,” Doris repeated. Could it be there was something up there that hadn’t been defined, named, labeled? This interested her.

“Now the donor star has reached a dead end – it is far too massive to be considered a super-planet, its composition does not match known brown dwarfs, and it is far too low in mass to be a star. There’s no true category for an object in such limbo.”

 

She had to remember that one, no longer a star, but something new, undefined. In that moment a world opened up to her she hadn’t thought of in a long time. Sure, she took astronomy in high school and she used to study the stars as a kid, but she barely remembered the names of the ones that were labeled, and now this.

She imagined herself all new again and got up from the table. She stretched her legs out in front of her like a ballerina and did a couple of twirls as she walked over to the light switch on the wall. Her red nightie flew around her like an encircling moon or Saturn’s rings. She just might keep this nightie after all.

* * *

The next morning George stepped outside to pick up the morning paper. He left the front door open to let in the breeze and sat on the couch, spreading the paper out in front of him. He flipped the edges until he found the sports page and wriggled it out, sat back into the deep cushions, licked his thumb and opened the pages directly to the fishing section, sounds of Doris in the kitchen slapping pans around for breakfast.

“Hello?”

He heard the voice and looked up, the paper shielding his face from the front door.

“Hello?” he answered back.

“It’s me, Sara Mulligan from across the street.”

George dropped the paper. So it was. The very woman he’d had framed in his binoculars day after day. He sat up straight, aware he was in his pajamas, his hair mussed, his teeth unbrushed.

“Ah, please come in?” He had to pause before he stood up. Was he decent? Would he be exposing too much by standing up and stretching out a welcoming hand?

“I don’t want to bother you,” she paused as well just inside the front door.

“No bother at all. We’re just getting up. I mean, we’re just here, reading, early morning, no bother.”

She stared at him. He was sure she was about to cry. Good God, not tears, anything but tears. He jumped up and moved the papers away from the couch, forgetting all thoughts of decorum.

“Please, sit here.” He waved his hand to include the entire couch and backed off a little while she decided what to do.

“I really don’t want to bother you.” She dropped down onto the corner of the couch at the same time dissolving into a mask of tears, her head hung down, hair obscuring her face.

Now is your chance, George. Comfort her, say something, be a friend, a father figure, a brother, a potential lover. No, scratch that. Sit down, say something, touch her hand.

“You have some trouble?” He sat down on the couch next to her, an arm’s length away, and reached out his hand, but he was too far away to touch her.

Her crying had quieted. She nodded her head and looked up at him.

She had the clearest blue eyes he had ever seen, her tears coloring them almost sea green and when she blinked, back to blue. He tried concentrating on her mouth.

“How can I help?” He reached his hand out again and touched the couch near where her knee crooked over the edge. He was aware of how her jeans fit and the soft leather of her boots.

“Do you have any Kleenex?” she asked.

George laughed. “Kleenex? Of course, Kleenex, yes I can get you Kleenex.” He jumped up to run into the half bath off the front hallway and tripped over the coffee table, bashing his knee directly into the corner. He hardly noticed it.

Back, he handed her the box of Kleenex with the crocheted cover. It was pink with a black poodle on it. The poodle had a rhinestone collar. He was instantly embarrassed.

“My wife’s aunt makes those things for Christmas. Have to have them out, you know, if they come over.”

“My husband’s gone,” she said.

George nodded. It didn’t surprise him. Her husband had been leaving for months. He’d watched him leave for days at a time before. How could she be sure this time he was gone for good?

“You think he’s gone for good then?”

She nodded and blew her nose, a dainty and delicate maneuver in her hands. She tucked the used Kleenex under her leg.

“The children?” he asked her. His mind was racing. Why was she here? What did she want him to do about it? Maybe she should be speaking with Doris.

“They’re at his mother’s in Oklahoma.”

“I see,” he told her, though he saw no such thing.

“I think,” she started and then the tears began to flow again. “I think he’s gone there to take them away from me.” She lowered her head, buried her face in her sobs.

George moved closer to her, took a Kleenex out of the crocheted box and touched her chin. She looked up at him. He smoothed her hair back and wiped the tears off her cheeks. He saw how young she was, no long held grief or disappointments showed on her face. He knew just by looking at her that she was someone who dared to ask for things and that things would be given to her. He couldn’t tell her no, he would never tell her no.

She sniffed and looked into his eyes. “You’re very kind.”

He could smell her breath. She’d had some sugary cereal for breakfast, maybe Lucky Charms or Captain Crunch. He caught the sweet smell as she opened her mouth to speak. He leaned closer to her.

At that moment the kitchen door opened and a red nightie-clad Doris came through the door, plate of eggs in one hand, glass of orange juice in the other.

“George?” She stopped midway between the door and the couch when she saw George leaning over the young woman from across the street.

George immediately stood up and faced her. “Doris, this is Sara.” He stood in between the two women, crumpling the wet Kleenex in his hand, surreptitiously pulling his pajama bottoms closer around him. “Sara from across the street.” He looked expectantly to Doris and then really looked at her and saw that she hadn’t changed out of her red ensemble.

“Oh, oh dear.” He turned his back on Doris and stood directly in front of Sara to shield her from seeing Doris in her nightie.

Sara stood up and leaned around George. “I’m so sorry to invade your home like this.” She stepped away from the couch.

Doris stepped over to the coffee table and set the eggs down. “Your eggs, George.” Then she took a couple of swigs of the orange juice herself.

“It’s quite all right,” Doris sank down onto the opposite end of the couch. “I always knew it would come down to this.”

“What?” George was jumbled by the vision of Doris all in red and the woman he had so long watched being in the same room, the one on his left hand the other on his right, only a couch separating them.

“I knew I couldn’t hold onto him any longer. I’ve known it for a long time.” She looked sadly out the front window. “Look at what lengths,” she held out the corner of her red nightie, “I’ve gone to. Made a clown of myself and for what?” She laughed. “It happened any way.”

“George?” Sara Mulligan looked to George for guidance.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about, Doris.” George said.

“That’s all right.” She got up and ran her hands through her hair to straighten it. “I’ll pack my bags and be out by lunch time.”

“What?” George fell back onto the couch, both hands on his head.

Sara stood immediately and took a step toward the front door. “I’m afraid you’ve misunderstood,” she said.

“Doris, Sara’s husband’s left her.”

Doris turned around, a wise smile on her face. “Well, that will make it all the easier for you two.”

“Doris, Sara’s afraid her husband has taken their children and she came over here for advice.”

Doris stopped walking to the bedroom and turned around again. “But he’s left you many times in the past.”

Sara shook her head vehemently. “No, he’s never left us. Never. We’ve had some quarrels, some disagreements, but this is different.” She teared up again.

“You’re not here to run away with George then?” Doris asked her.

“Doris,” George said, trying to stop the words before she said them.

Sara looked over at George. “George has been kind enough to listen to my troubles. You see, I don’t have any family here and you two always seemed so perfect in your perfectly kept up house, perfectly manicured yard.”

George looked over at Doris and raised his eyebrows. Doris frowned at him.

“So you’re not here to take George away?” Doris repeated, unclear how an over-pruned yard could be mistaken for a perfectly manicured one.

“No, no of course not,” Sara answered her. “I’m here for help. Any help. I don’t know what to do. Can you help me?”

Doris walked back over to the couch and sat down next to George taking his hand. She took a big breath, looked at Sara, looked at George. George smiled at her sheepishly.

“Well, I guess we could give her the name of our lawyer?” She looked at George, willing herself not to cry.

George looked at his wife, at her soft brown eyes, the face he knew so well, and pushed back her hair letting his hand brush her cheek for a moment. Doris smiled up at him.

* * *

Later that day they drove out to the Garden Center just beyond the interstate and walked down the rows of star jasmine, pyracantha and fruit trees until Doris found a medium sized elm she liked the looks of. George bought it for her and they planted it just outside their big front picture window.

The light filtered through the leaves and hit their front curtains that they generally kept closed at all times except of course when the new family moved in across the street. Then George had to hunt through the hall closet to find his old set of binoculars as well as Doris’s new set. Doris moved the two armchairs next to the window and pulled the curtains open just enough for the two of them.

“Flat screen TV,” George was the first to notice.

“Two dogs,” Doris yelled.

“Oh god, not dogs, anything but dogs.”

 

BIO

Cheryl Diane Kidder has a B.A. in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. Her work, nominated five times for the Pushcart Prize, has appeared or is forthcoming in: Able Muse, CutThroat Journal of the Arts, Weber – The Contemporary West, Pembroke Magazine, decomP Magazine, Tinge Magazine, Brevity Magazine, Brain,Child, Identity Theory, In Posse Review, and elsewhere.

For a full listing see: Truewest – http://cheryldkidder.blogspot.com.

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