1.26 “Help”

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WWNDD? Well, Nancy Drew would put on her big girl panties and follow her new friend inside the shed. Fortune favors the bold. The lights flipped on when I hit the threshold.

This garden shed did not meet any of my preconceived notions.

Missing were the overwhelmingly potent odors of fertilizers, insecticides and machine oils. Instead, the delicate bouquet of old paper, whiskey, and cedar greeted me. The aromatic infusion of these scents into my surplus seemed a much more pleasant prospect than what I’d envisioned on the walk down.

Gazing around the space, I also noted the lack of axes, saws, hoes, spades, and mowers. Taking their place on one wall was wooden floor to ceiling flat filing cabinets. Mirrored on the opposing side were traditional bookcases, crammed full of oversized, spiral bound and stapled together books. The cases, like the ones in the house, had their middle shelves dedicated to fascinating artifacts. Only, in this case, the words ‘fascinating artifacts’ should be swapped for ‘unadulterated kitsch’. Stout vases filled with mini-troll dolls, rubber ducks, compasses, plastic goldfish and the occasional dragon and that was only a fraction of her unique collection. 

Who knew a lawn separated a virtual natural history museum from a corner five-and-dime? Or that the shed shared a disturbing similarity to a mad man’s blue box? I swear Beatrice’s shed was bigger on the inside.

Spying an empty area by the back window, I reckoned my boxes would easily fit under it while my kitchen table would work beautifully in the center of the room. This place looked like it desperately needed a surface to set things on.

Beatrice (looking oddly proud): “Dourwood didn’t think you’d make it inside.”

Wood told? Beatrice knew I was freaking out on my walk down? I could not think of a bad enough word to call them. Setting my mug down on the counter to my left, I crossed my arms and pinned my housemate down with a stare.

Me (trying to control my mortification): “He told you about it?”

Beatrice (hands held up in front of her while talking fast): “No. He called while I was in Scotland and mentioned your problem locating the storage area. Trying to help you out. When I told him where it was, he laughed. I asked why but he just bet me ten bucks you’d never step foot in here, I pressed, but he never told me why.”

Me: “Harrumph. Is that why you chose to walk down here at six in the morning? In the dark?” 

Beatrice (reddening slightly): I apologize, I do need to get to work early today. But facing your fears is essential for personal growth? I just wanted to help. 

While I worked out how angry/annoyed/embarrassed I felt, my eyes stray back to the odd assortment of neat junk on her shelves. She should never let a toddler loose in here. They’d go nuts. I found the flat files just as curious, not even the main branch of the library has this many cabinets.

Me  (still trying to gauge my level mortification): “Is it to nosey to ask what’s in the drawers?” 

Beatrice (audibly exhaling): “Not at all – I collect maps. My collection grew too large for the apartment, so I moved them out here.”

I let her explanation go – it held most of the truth – the legs of the cabinets and bookcases matched the ghost of furniture past (the divots in the carpet) in my room. A room which is larger in square footage than the shed, curious thing to fib about. 

Me (looking thoughtfully at the floor to ceiling installation): “What kind of maps?”

Beatrice (walking over and pulling open a drawer): “All kinds. Local, regional, antique, obsolete. Cartography fascinates me.”

Me (wholly diverted now): “Any treasure maps?”

Beatrice (sensing the humor in the question, she closed the drawer and walked to the counter): “No. Alas, the only one I found turned out to be fraudulent.” 

Me (remembering my current conundrum): “Does your collection include an index? I’m looking for a place called Pumpkin Mountain.”

Beatrice (opening a cupboard above the counter and selecting two keys off a row of hooks, turned to me): “Never heard of it, but when I get home tonight I can see what I can find for you. Any reason?”

Me (thinking quickly): “One of my fares’ mentioned it in passing. I thought they might be pulling my leg, sounds like a place you’d find Jack Skellington hanging out in. Now I’m curious if it’s a real place.”

Beatrice (regarding me with interest): “No problem. I like a challenge. Any clue where to find it?”

Me (thinking back): “Mountains. Someplace which allows camping you need to hike to, that’s all I know.”

Beatrice (handing me the keys, her cheeks still red): “Narrows it down a bit, I’ll see what I can do. Here are the keys, if you could lock both locks when you leave I’d appreciate it and please don’t leave them lying about – some of these maps took a long time to find.”

Me (pulling out my Nevermore keys and slipping them onto ring): “No problem.”

Beatrice: “Thanks. Can you forgive me?”

Me (deliberating): “Bring home take-out from anywhere but The Fungus House and promise not to do it again and we’ll be okay.”

Beatrice: “Japanese or Chinese?”

Me: “Yes.”

My housemate peeled off when we approached the alley, I heard her car door slam and her engine turn over in the quiet of the morning (still needed to work out how annoyed I felt about her and Wood’s shenanigans). 

Our apartment windows lit the walk enough to keep me from stumbling the rest of the way to my door. With my eyes focused so intently on the house, it allowed a bit of movement to catch my eye. For a moment a curtain swayed slightly just before a soft light turned off in Ms. Hettie’s portion of the house. 

Perhaps she was more vigilant that Beatrice realized.

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