Remember when I I said I forgot to ask Beatrice about something when she toured me through the Lavender Lady? When she lured me into a very reasonable lease?
Yeah, I figured it out.
The penny dropped when I started searching for the promised storage area.
It turns out Beatrice owned a rather nice espresso machine, so I finished unpacking and arranging my books (then rearranging them when I imagined a better way), rebuilding my bed and hanging up my clothes in two days.
However during said process, an island coalesced into existence in the center of my room. Unopened boxes which contained useful yet redundant items; a second set of dishes, silverware, pots and pans, my dinner table and such. While putting my stuff away, I’d poked my nose into all kinds of interesting corners of the apartment and I knew this mythical storage spaces wasn’t inside our four walls (I did earmark a few places for further investigation). Now why didn’t I just ask Beatrice? She left the day after I moved in for Scotland. Pulp sent her to a book festival and she wasn’t going to return until the following Saturday. I didn’t think my itch to finish (and to quit barking my shins on the boxes) warranted a transcontinental call.
Which is why on I found myself on my tiptoes peeking in outbuildings around grounds. I found a tool shed and potting bench, a root cellar (which could also double as an oubliette), a garden shed (which I couldn’t see inside because of some very thorny rose bushes and a locked door) and the garage – which looked promising, but the only thing in it was a vintage Chevy Impala, not a single shelf in sight.
That’s when she caught up with me.
A voice croaked behind me: “What are you doing? Casing up my house?”
Startled, since I hadn’t heard her approach, I whipped around and saw the cutest little old lady standing on the walk. She looked like an advertisement with her long braid of silver hair, rosy cheeks and pleasant plumpness. She wore a frilly apron over her sweater and jeans and a pair of sensible shoes on her feet. I could just imagine her baking sugar cookies for her grandkids’ school bake sale or knitting red woolen mittens for neighborhood kids. I tried to discreetly look around for who’d spoken me – because the voice I heard didn’t match the person standing in front of me.
The vision of sugar and spice opened her mouth: “Well? Are you one of the thieves who robbed me?”
Seriously, the croaking ten-pack-a-day-washed-down-with-a-half-a-bottle-of-bourbon voice came from her and she thought I burgled her house. Fantastic.
Me (with my brain still trying to align incongruous sensory input, fell back onto Aunt Pearl’s axiom ‘politeness never hurt anyone’): “No ma’am. My name is Phoebe Arden, Beatrice’s new roommate…”
Her (cutting me off without any attempt to conceal her suspicion, she barked): “Doesn’t mean you’re not a thief.”
Me (trying again): “I’m not ma’am. Beatrice left for a week and forgot to tell me where the storage space is. So I was seeing if I could find it myself.”
Her: “So snooping then?”
Me (praying she had a cellphone in one of those adorably frilly pockets): “I’m not snooping, ma’am. I am just looking for someplace to put my extra boxes. Call Beatrice, she’ll tell you who I am.”
Her (snorting and crossing her arms over the geese frolicking across the apron top): “Don’t need to. I know who you are and I don’t like snoops.”
Me (an idea finally dawned on me): “I am not snooping. Are you Ms. Hettie?”
Her (a sneered marred the laugh lines around her mouth): “Who else would I be?”
Me (irritated by her manner and lack of manners): “So if you know who I am, you know I’m not going to rob you and I am not snooping around. Will you show me where the storage space is?”
Ms. Hettie: “Beatrice can show you when she gets home.”
With that she turned on her heel and disappeared around the corner of the garage – leaving me gaping like a fish at her unwarranted unpleasant attitude. Then I remembered Beatrice’s comment in Altar about Ms. Hettie and the other shoe dropped, “…when she gets nervous she gets cranky, well crankier.”
Well hell, I forgot to ask Beatrice what her definition of cranky was. Maybe calling her in Scotland wasn’t such a bad idea?
So while the shadows grew long and the light turned orange, red and gold outside the Lavender Lady, inside her walls finally held all my earthly possessions and most of my closest friends. Filled with satisfaction and surrounded by the physical manifestation of our labors – disassembled furniture and boxes – we sprawled eating pizza and drinking beer (which again is the traditional “thank-you-for-helping-me-move-house-even-though-we-are-past-the-point-in-our-lives-when-this-is-fun” fare). Feeling free and breezy under the influence of nostalgia (the beer helped) we reminisced about all the horrible hovels we resided in during our twenties, and the peculiar people we shared them with.
Here are the highlights:
Me (slowly picking off layers of pizza toppings): The guy who made up his own religion declaring the name Pete all powerful. Wednesdays were his sabbath and he wouldn’t do chores if he happened across the name on any day of the week. Meaning if someone said Pete, if he saw it in print (which was a problem since there was a giant billboard down the street advertising Pete’s Potato Chips) or a picture of a famous Pete popped up – he’d hunker down in his room to “worship”. Which entailed smoking a lot of weed and listening to jazz records featuring Pete Fountain. We never saw that security deposit back, a tornado couldn’t air out that room.
Sarah (a still mortified co-worker): My college roommate’s boyfriend decided to pee out the window one evening because Julie, his girlfriend, was taking too long in the bathroom….unfortunately someone was sitting next to the open window below and got a real surprise. They both fled when the shouting started – which left me to plead ignorance and then innocence by trying to demonstrate the leverage and physics required for me to perform said feat through a screen. Could have wrung their necks.
Beatrice (rolling her eyes at the memory): I roomed with a girl who loved my curls so much she snipped a few off one night while I slept. When I woke up and she was sitting at the kitchen table bobbing them up and down like some kind of demented fishing lure. Her defense? She only cut a couple off at the nape of my neck – not the really good ones around my face. Wasn’t that considerate? I can’t swear she didn’t made a voodoo doll from them when I moved at the end of the month, but I did sprain my ankle a week later…
Dourwood (laughing and poking me in the leg): I roomed with this girl who would get into constant arguments with the fridge, toaster, house plant, door…then would try to pass it off as “rehearsing lines” for her improve group!
I felt compelled to hit Wood in the shoulder at this point and everyone laughed (I was in an improv group…). With an air of dignity, “I no longer tread the boards.”
“Tread the boards! Ha! You just don’t want to admit you talk to yourself!” Wood laughed (as did everyone else, he easily avoiding my second punch). His phone buzzed. Looking at his watch he got to his feet and drained his beer, “Well I am off. Laney’s out front.” Getting to my feet I started to invite her in when Wood shook his head, “She can’t come in. Her Mom’s with her.”
When one person sets out, others usually follow and soon after our cozy pizza party broke up. When I’d seen the last of my friends out (I will not recount their giggled reminiscence of me doing “improv”, apparently I am caught talking to myself more than I knew) I shut my new front door. Smiling I turned and leaned against it, surveying my new living room (the upstairs of the Lavender Lady may be too stately to incorporate such an ordinary room, but the basement is not) when I spied a bit of macabre in the corner of the room…
A wood framed box with a glass front sat propped up against the wall at the end of a line of bookcases. I simply couldn’t believe my eyes, how did I miss him? He watched while I approached his box. While I scanned his bones nestled in the forest green lining, finally meeting his eye sockets – I blinked first.
Beatrice: “His name is Harold.”
Me: “Harold? Looks like he had a rough life.” All but five ribs were cracked, broken and/or splintered. His left eye socket was scored and broken. The rest of his bones sported a number of unusual nicks and gouges, which didn’t look organic in origin.
Beatrice (unsuccessfully in keeping a straight face): “I won him.”
Me (rolling me eyes): “Where? From where, eBuy? Did a test crash dummy get tired of a human stealing his job?”
Beatrice (laughing now): “No, a publisher raffled him during a convention, for a historical thriller – a find clue to the killer in the bones – sort of thing. Harold came with an advanced copy of the book.”
Me (still inspecting his many extra bits): “Harummph. So they really let you walk off with a real skeleton?”
Beatrice: “I liked him. I don’t think they expected anyone to really want to take him home – but they couldn’t really object when I did. Hey let me help you clean up.”
With that she walked down the hall towards my room, I followed my attention divided between Beatrice and the many parts of Harold.
Just this once I don’t think I am the weirdest roommate in the house.
I blame Indiana Jones.
A ten year old me wanted nothing more than to roam the earth with Professor Jones (as I called him because I’d be a student, not a love interest) finding idols, grails and such things. So to prepare I did my best to research archeology; books, techniques and principles. Since Aunt Pearl could not be persuaded to take the annual family vacation to the Amazon (too many bugs), Egypt (too hot) or Ireland (who wants to see a bog?), I started excavating locations within my proximity – to help hone my “critical eye” (I was ten and this made total sense). I dug holes in the back yard, beaches, parks and occasionally at school – cataloguing everything I found buried and at what depth. When the authorities (parental and otherwise) figured out it was me digging – and not a rogue band of pooches – my work was curtailed.
My ambition didn’t even break stride.
I went to work with food. Nothing that wasn’t labeled a scramble, hash or came from a crock pot was safe from my analytical examinations. Lasagna, sandwiches, pies & cake – no meal featuring these items escaped my painstaking attentions (my Aunt forbade the use of a magnifying glass at dinner when I started telling everyone what her secret ingredients were). The food which drove my Aunt Pearl to distraction, however, was pizza.
I was meticulous and methodical. Starting with the top layer, meat – which if it was good – I would announce to everyone that there was something here worth digging for (didn’t matter if anyone was listening, I was to focused on my “research project”). Even if it was bad, I could continue on – I was a hungry ten year old kid and this was pizza after all – but I would narrate it a bit less. I think Aunt Pearl tried for a while to order pizza from Don John’s which wasn’t as good as Don Pedro’s, but my Uncle put a kibosh to that “nonsense”. I would pick the veggies off next, then I would then peel the cheese off (extra points if it came off in one sheet), then I licked the sauce off the crust, and finally finishing off the slice by rolling it up like a sleeping bag and gnawing on it. I did this with each and every piece – every time we ate pizza – dinner achieved new levels of obnoxiousness only a naive ten year old kid can muster (really, it only bothered my Aunt; my Uncle thought it was funny. I think this is why he started bringing a pie home every Friday). I wasn’t trying to be obnoxious. I was simply honing my scientific skills as best I could since my spade had been taken away (Uncle also didn’t mind my digging either, since it meant less lawn for him to mow).
This weekly event finally spawned a rare compromise from my Aunt. I could excavate my first slice to my heart’s content without her commenting – IF – I ate the rest like a normal person. This compromise quickly devolved into bargaining session which spanned an entire dinner (where my Uncle sat back trying not to burst a seam) until I did agree to limiting my scientific pursuits to the first slice. I also won my spade back! I could dig in the garden provided I helped weed it – with supervision (btw I think it is why my Aunt lobbied for a pool – less yard for me to dig up). My cousins sat awestruck at my audacity.
So why are my dinner time shenanigans important?
Pizza. Pizza is the key here.
Because when friends help friends move house they are fed pizza and beer as the reward for their extra effort.
It’s the law.
Some people swear by Chinese food, others go for giant sub sandwiches and some provide liquor and chicken wings.
I am a traditionalist.
Rolling down the window of sickly pumpkin colored hybrid, “Talking on your phone again?” The opening salvo.
Returning fire, I gestured with my phone, “Sure looks that way.” I opened my email, hoping the glowing screen and obvious inattention would spark the idea of leaving me alone.
No such luck, “Well, could you follow me to the cottage? I have some work to do.”
Seriously, he wouldn’t lift a finger for me unless something caught on fire or froze and now he’s Mr. Fix-It? Pulling patience up from my socks, “Ben, it’s after five, couldn’t it wait until tomorrow? And shouldn’t you be giving your dad a call? You know he wants weekly updates, I am sure he’d like to hear how the cost saving measures went.” Hoping my invoking of the Dad card or my current unemployment status would make him leave (petty I know, but the man was leaning on my last nerve).
Funny thing, Ben wouldn’t look me in the eye. Maybe he did feel bad about letting me go. Normally he’s too focused on his goals to notice other people. “Dad and I switched update days. So since I am free to put in some time tonight, I want to get the new hot water heater installed. I will need your assistance to finish tonight.”
Got that wrong.
Diverted by indignation of his expectation of my participation in the installation I went on the offensive, “Ben, I don’t work here anymore. And my lease, which runs through the end of the month states all non-emergency repairs need to either be completed or halted at the end of the business day, five.” Yes, I reread my lease after he delivered the eviction notice. Ben wouldn’t do anything unlawful, but annoying? Absolutely.
Changing tactics he huffed, “I would have expected more dedication from you.”
Really? The loyalty card? Wrong play. Planting my hands on the hood of the Princess, I leaned towards him. “Ben, until four days ago, I worked here for over eighteen years. You let me go to finance one of your projects. Fine. But I am not going to give you free labor for improvements you should have made to my cottage years ago.”
Retreating he puffed, “Well if you refuse to help, I will do it tomorrow.” With that last wild jab towards my conscience he pulled away, leaving me alone in the dark (dusk doesn’t last long). Leaning against the Princess I discovered that I felt reluctant to return home at this moment. The word “no” didn’t always seep into and saturate Ben’s brain and I didn’t want to get roped into a cottage improvement project. Even the chill spreading through my bones and the tingling of my toes on this clear autumn night could not propel me forth.
“I could convince him to leave you know.” I smiled when I herd his voice, the man in the sleek grey suit leaning next to me could indeed pull such a feat off. Joseph sounded bored with the very idea; I knew better. I rolled around his idea in my mind, but the sugary coating of it dissolved too soon and left nothing but the sour center which sucked the sweetness away.
I leaned my head back and stared at the stars while mirroring his dispassionate tone, “I am not sure you could. He’s sunk a lot of money into two large projects that I know of and I’m not sure he really can afford to live outside Nevermore.”
Turning towards me, “It wouldn’t take much.”
Rolling my neck so I could look him in the face, “It would leave Nevermore without a Caretaker, the Residents alone and wouldn’t guarantee they’d rehire me. But I appreciate the thought.”
“Well, the offer is a standing one. Just ask.” I smiled, he nodded then departed. A man of few words, Joseph.
An involuntary shiver wracked through me, convincing me that I should head home. Winding my way through the lanes, trees and gravestones, I stopped when I turned the last corner to my cottage – Ben’s hybrid stood in the drive and every window in the cottage glowed with light. Did he think I’d fall for this obvious flanking technique?
Stupid. Adult. Behavior.
Turn the other cheek my ass. Should take Joesph up on his offer. See how he liked my end game!
Thankful of the Princess’s small turning radius I decided to hit the Rusty Hinge for dinner and a very aggressive game of pinball instead. Just as I completed the maneuver and pressed the go pedal, I thought I caught sight of Joseph watching the cottage out the corner of my eye. Of course when I looked back it was only old Hugh standing there (Hugh Grunbaum providing a perch for crows since 1953).
Nope. Not worried about that at all….
The advert which gave me the idea of driving for FLYT! I get to be a professional driver…though I think my skills are more on level with Herbie The Love Bug than Lewis Hamilton (sadly).
(You remember Herbie The Love Bug, the 1968 Disney film with Buddy Hackett? No? Well, check it out post-haste if you’ve never seen it – it’s fun!)
(photo credit here, words are mine)
The sunset this evening looked much like this one? Should have whipped my camera out – perhaps Little Ben would have taken the hint….