Tag Archives: serial fiction

1.22 The Way Home

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What do you do when you unexpectedly find yourself in the mire? You keep putting one foot in front of the other and walk thru it. Mr. Grindle’s return call sucked me forcibly out of the rabbit hole I’d fallen into while sitting in a poorly lit park parking lot. 

Step One: Start the car.

My accident prone passenger waited patiently by the curb for me, swaying slightly on his crutches. This time his ingress into the Princess’s passenger seat featured more Three Stooges antics than the grace of applied physics. My toes bore the brunt of his reentry (the whack to the back of my head with his crutch was an accident, and it only smarted a little). By the time I’d limped to the driver’s seat, The Woman already sat amongst the fluff in my backseat.

Step Two: Fishing

Me (glancing in the rearview mirror trying to confirm the carbon date of her clothes): “So straight home then?”

Mr. Grindle: “Yes.”

The Woman (her eyes fixed on Mr. Grindle’s silhouette): “He murdered me you know.”

Me (testing her): “Did you use any of the more exciting stories to explain your leg?”

The Woman: “He explained me away.”

Mr. Grindle: “No, I told my colleagues the truth when it happened. So no one asked.”

Me: “To bad. The one about breaking it in a whitewater rafting accident while escaping a ferocious man-eating bear while you were camping was inspired. But I suppose honesty is the best policy.”

The Woman: “A bear wasn’t chasing him.”

Mr. Grindle: “Less interesting though.”

Me (I suppressed a shiver at her words): “Going to do anything fun after the cast comes off?” 

The Woman: “He cast off his ring when he buried me.”

Mr. Grindle (with feeling): “Yes, I am going to scratch an itch on my calf.”

Me (leaving her no other opening): “Camping?”

The Woman: “He discovered me camping at Pumpkin Mountain.”

Mr. Grindle: “No. Maybe I’ll run in one of those five-k’s my firm is always sponsoring.”

Me (pushing my luck): “Hiking?”

The Woman (deliberately detaching her gaze from my fare and placing it on me): “You don’t have to hike far to find my body.”

Mr. Grindle: “The out-of-doors doesn’t particularly interest me, a walk around Blue Lake is as close as I come. Maybe that’s what I’ll do.”

Me (looking straight ahead, adding extra pressure to the gas peddle and cheer to my voice): “Just thought you might try getting an actual bear story for the next party.”

The Woman (swiveling her attention back to its original object): “No search party came close to finding me.”

Mr. Grindle: “Wouldn’t that be fun!”

We lapsed into a thoughtful silence, which didn’t last more than two minutes before arriving at Mr. Grindle’s doorstep. Fortunately for my toes, his exit from the Princess was far less hazardous than his entry. When I closed the passenger door and glanced into my backseat, the Woman was gone. I helped Mr. Grindle weave his way up the steps to his front door. I didn’t want him to trip and break his other leg or his neck (which was a distinct possibility since the spirits he’d imbibed at the party seemed to be catching up with him). After he “helped” me unlock his front door I retraced my steps to the Princess.

Step 3: Get the hell out of Dodge.

I took a moment to sort out the FLYT ride record while sitting in his drive, this time I remembered to turn my status to ‘Off Duty’. When the front yard flooded with light I glanced up and saw The Woman’s profile filling the window. Mr. Grindle was nowhere to in sight, must still be wrestling off his coat in the foyer. Not wanting to capture her attention again I turned the key in the Princess’s ignition and reversed out of the drive. Trying, with some difficulty, to stop myself from taking one last  assessment of the 80’s glam the Woman wore.

Just as I turned the corner, my FLYT app dinged lighting up my screen – Fare #86 Tip Received: $25. 

I wonder if he meant to tip me more than the cost of the ride? 

1.18 Sugar & Spice and Nothing Nice

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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?

1.17 Unfortunate Roommates

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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.

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