Dan had explained to me at the same kitchen table how sorry he was. He didn’t know what had made him fall in love with Lucy. It had just happened, he’d said. Maybe he and I had been too close from too early on. Maybe we fell in love at too young an age and had smothered each other and kept each other from experiencing the world.
We both cried. I threw up. He left and I threw my favorite cobalt-blue vase against the wall. I couldn’t call anyone I was so devastated. I managed to get into my car and drove to Miller’s for a pack of cigarettes and a bottle of gin. I’d never smoked until that night, and to this day gin hasn’t touched these lips again.
The next day my family and friends came to my rescue and they have never really quit trying to save me since.
Dan has been very generous. I’m sure it’s purely out of guilt for breaking me in half. We never got a lawyer. He gave me almost all that we’d owned together. He and Lucy both made more money than I would ever come close to. The cottage was mine. He paid off my car and bought a new set of tires for it. All he took was the crappy Ford Escort that had the big dent from the deer I’d smacked into, and he drove off into the sunset with my life. For almost two years he mailed me a check for no other reason than to soothe his own conscience. I couldn’t touch that blood money. It’s still sitting in a separate savings account collecting interest on pain.
I watered not only the red impatiens in the front yard, but also the small flower bed off the back deck that was full of black-eyed Suzannes and the remains of daisies. I dead-headed the other potted plants on the deck and watered them too. It was eighty-two degrees by the thermometer and there were just a few puffy clouds in the sky.
The deck above the boathouse looked inviting as always under the shade of the oak growing next to it, and the short pier of just three sections, with the bench built for two, looked bright, sunny, and scorching hot. Being a Monday, the lake traffic was light. The water was calm.
An artist at heart, I knew I had to begin writing while my mind was reeling and my adrenaline was flowing. The boathouse deck was the place to go. Later I could clear off my desk, dust off my computer, start it up, and organize all of my writing paraphernalia.
It took a couple of trips up the steps to bring the necessities. I had my big white plastic bag from Books For You and a glass of iced tea with lemon. That was more for effect than anything. Next I grabbed my sunglasses, an ashtray, a lighter, a box of Triscuits, some cheddar cheese spread, my jack knife, and the little broom to sweep the cob webs that would start to come back as soon as I’d finish sweeping them away.
I chose one of the five new writing tablets and a pencil to begin. I needed time to ponder, so I lit a cigarette and placed it in the ashtray on the smaller of the two wooden spool tables seated to the right of my lounge chair.
I began to carve the perfect writing tip with my jackknife. It’s a drawing ritual that I use, and it seemed to be the right thing to do. Maybe Stephen King does the same.
I’d been in such a hurry after the initial scare of my loss of confidence at the turn of my car key that I hadn’t even bothered to change out of my work get up. Too late, I thought. Stay right where you are missy.
THE TWIN FORK BRIDGE
It started like any other day. My alarm hadn’t gone off yet and I was in a deep state of sleep, yet my subconscious knew the day was about to begin. My mind and my body were at war with each other for the right of way. The same as most days, something pulled me out of that place minutes before the single click and then the intrusively loud buzzing would begin.
Once that happened, there would be no more peace. I knew from hundreds of mornings just like this one, that try as I might, my safe zone from the world had ended again. It would be back, but with far too much time in between. Oh, I could have rolled over and stuck my face into my pillow to savor the moment, but that would have been it, a moment. Sadness would have crept in anyway. The only course of action I could take to keep it away was to get up. So I did, just like any other day.
The sun wasn’t visible yet from my bedroom, but I was certain that when I got out of the shower and into the kitchen for that first cup of coffee, it would be making an appearance through my favorite window over the sink. There would be patches of yellow and blue on the sand colored floor, a reflection from the stained glass piece hanging there. Morning was the best time to catch those colors.
Wearing a long, white, belted, terry cloth robe, I carried a steaming cup of bold, black coffee into the bathroom to begin my morning ritual. I squeezed the white tea therapy lotion generously into my palm and rubbed it over my silky smooth, freshly shaven legs. My arms, neck, breasts, stomach and as much of my back that I could reach would be in for the same, a sip of coffee, the special face soap and cream to follow, another sip and then I brushed my teeth. Foundation, sip, powder with the big soft brown handled brush, sip, a quick dab of blush, sip, mascara, sip, and now the hair styling fiasco.
I wandered back to the kitchen for a refill. I needed a heater upper for the goop and hair dryer ordeal. The patches of yellow and blue had moved only slightly, which meant I was making good time. The birds were singing. They probably had been, but the coffee and the shower enabled me to hear them on this trip.
I scooped some gunk out and rubbed my hands together. Pulling it through my short, dark, hair, I began to shape it. I took the hanging hair dryer off its hook and turned it on low. Mindlessly, I moved it back and forth using my other hand to pull my hair up and out, as the warm air blew through. It seemed to take forever, like it always did. Before it was completely dry, I grabbed the pump hair spray and swirled it around my hair hoping it would hold what looked good at the moment.
Down the hall and into my bedroom I passed the beckoning bed with its upturned sheets. The pillows looked as though they’d been tossed onto the bright and cheery comforter, now partially dragging on the floor.
My closet was stuffed and there was a pile of shoes cluttering the bottom, making it impossible to shut the door all the way. Shirts, dresses, skirts and pants hung, waiting to be chosen. The top shelf was full of sweatshirts, sweaters and tees in disarray. I was never one for changing out closets with the seasons. I used to have hope of some semblance of organization. That hope has passed.
I chose a favorite skirt. One that feels good. It’s the flimsy type that flairs out if I twirl around, with specks of orange, rust and brown throughout. This one negates the non-feminine look that lurks under the surface when I wear my hair short, especially now that I am nearing the thirty year mark.
I pulled a choral colored peasant blouse over my head. The scooped neck allowed for a necklace made of a brown suede leather strap with a couple of brown wood beads and a flattened, burnt-orange medallion of a rose, about an inch in diameter. The earth-toned, inch-long teardrop earrings, made by a good friend pulled the outfit together.
Now for shoes. Shoes can make or break your day. Not even a second guess. I chose the thick soled brown leather slip-on sandals with the cut out flower on top of each, leaving all the sheik, slinky pairs of sandals behind. I buy them and then I can’t seem to bring myself to put them on. They make me feel like I’m someone trying to impersonate an adult. On went the old favorites. They were a perfect fit. If only the perfect person could see me now. Nope. Not possible. That was before. This was my new life, my new old life. Just like hundreds of days in a row now.
Sitting in the driver’s seat of the white Kia with the sun roof cracked open, I pulled down the visor mirror to apply some cinnamon lipstick and caught sight of my dark brown eyes. They were pretty at first glance, but then on closer inspection, I could see that they were hollow.
I backed out onto the quiet street and turned left, heading in the direction of the interstate that would take me to the office I’d been employed at for eight years. There was a luscious ten mile stretch to begin the drive. The houses and cottages along the way were mostly still. A few early risers had been out and had their sprinklers going on their sacred flower gardens. There were many retired folks in the area, some vacation homes and a minority of working commuters like me.
At the intersection that crossed the old highway, I pulled a cigarette out of my crocheted purse and flicked on my lighter, just as I always did.
The radio was on low. The DJ was looking for the fifth caller to some inane contest where you could win some asinine tickets to the race track the following weekend. Oh what the hell. I pulled my cell phone out of my purse and dialed 555-10.09 and was the fourth caller. I had never in my life called to win anything. It had never occurred to me. Why did I that day? What would I have done with those tickets? I probably would have given them to my nephews who were far too young to drive and then gotten one of those “thanks a lot” looks from their mother, my sister.
My journey continued on and my world flew past, breathtaking as always, no matter the season. This happened to be the greenest time of the year. I was two miles from the I-system that would lead me to cubicle number 257 and suddenly I knew that I wouldn’t be going there. The difference was, everything was the same and I needed everything to be different. I was wearing a variation of the same ensemble that I always wore to the office. There was the other flimsy blue deal, the flowing green with the pure white scoop tank top, the gray and black with the flicks of pink and so on and so on and so on. All in all, everything was the same, except I had called the radio station for no apparent reason. Something was different.
1976 – Misfit
“Everyone who lives here is a misfit,” Charlie said. He was standing in front of the dryer at Charlie’s Hotel, cupping his blotchy hands around a cigarette that he was about to light.
He was the closest thing to a father figure that I had in Gardiner. He had a calming voice, was witty and was pretty good at making me laugh. Sometimes he even got me thinking. I never saw him dressed in anything but jeans, button down shirts with rolled up sleeves and cowboy boots. Whenever he left the premises he wore a cowboy hat over his faded silver and strawberry woven hair and his knees were always bent to nearly ninety degrees whether he was sitting or standing. He was my boss and he was my friend.
His wife Jean had hired first me and then Louisa as maids. Every day we took a mid-morning break. Jean would signal to one of us that it was break time and then that maid would pass the news on to the other maids and then we‘d all gather in the little kitchen next to the office and drink fresh hot coffee and munch on cookies, brownies or coffee cake.
While we were piling on calories, Jean would sit back and sip on a cold protein shake through a straw swinging her free leg that was draped over the one that was crossed underneath her. I liked to study the intricate pattern of the day on her expensive boot as we swapped jokes and stories for those coveted fifteen minutes. None of us maids were in any rush to get back to scrubbing out toilets. Our breaks often stretched beyond fifteen minutes and into twenty.
The week that Charlie and Jean went on vacation, they left the business in the hands of their daughter, Ellie. That week our breaks ran especially long. Ellie was a good friend of blue and brown eyed Lucy, of the Corner Café. So, during our mid morning breaks Lucy would join us in the little kitchen. She of course never ate any food, saving her all of her Weight Watcher points for light beer and Ellie was following in her mother’s footsteps of sipping on protein shakes. So there were always seconds and thirds for us maids to eat while listening to the wild tales of the older girls who were in charge of the place. That was a fun week and Charlie’s Hotel was still standing when Charlie and Jean returned and then our fifteen minute breaks returned to twenty minutes.
Each day after the rooms were cleaned, I would join Charlie in the laundry room. Due to my exquisite work performance and just plain showing up every day, I’d been promoted to head maid and helping out in the laundry room was part of my responsibilities. It was the first promotion I’d ever gotten in my young life and along with the prestigious title came more money.
“Why do you say that everyone in Gardiner is a misfit?” I remember asking him as I pulled an easy to fold, warm pillow case, out of the cart.
“Do you see anyone in this town who you would call normal?”
“Well, if what you say is true,” I smirked. “Then that means that you are a misfit too.”
“That, I am.”
“Do you really think you are?”
“Of course I do. Otherwise I wouldn’t be here.”
“Then you must think I’m a misfit too.”
“Well, you are here.”
While I was pondering his accusation he said, “Millie, being a misfit isn’t a bad thing. It just means that you’re different; that you listen to a different drum. I would rather be a happy misfit than an unhappy fish out there swimming up a stream with a bunch of other unhappy fish who think they know where they’re going.”
“Do you know where you’re going?”
“Sure I do. Nowhere. I like it right here, in the land of misfits.”
I thought about what he’d said. The fresh smell of bleached air, the washer window filled with white suds and white towels, the steady beat of the dryer clinking and clanking, the warmth of the pillowcase in may hand and Charlie’s voice were all very calming to me. I decided that I liked it here too. I was never going to leave. I guessed he was right. I was a misfit. I was a proud misfit.
I dug around in the cart for another warm pillow case and pulled it out.
Charlie exhaled smoke and said, “You know you’re going to run out of the easy stuff at some point, right?”
The Yellowstone River was in the back of the hotel, down a steep bank. The rushing of it drowned out the noise we made as we traipsed along the sidewalk day to day, from room to room pulling the cleaning carts and vacuums along behind us. More than once Louisa and I were trapped inside a room and had to wait out a big horn sheep that had come a grazing in the yard.
“You take the high road and I’ll take the low road,” Louisa used to say to me on our way in the first room of the morning.
The high road was what we’d named, making up or stripping the beds and dusting the living area. The low road is what we’d named, cleaning the bathroom. God, we hated the low road and the pubic hairs that came with it.
It didn’t matter if you had the high road or the low road in the first room, because we alternated. It made it seem like we were going faster by working together, although I don’t think we actually were. We didn’t spend as much time per room, since we had two bodies working them, but there were still the same amount of rooms and the same amount of bodies no matter how you added them up. Whether one of you started on one end of the hotel and one started on the other and you worked your way to the middle, or if one of you took the high road and one took the low road in each room and you went from one end to the other, it still took the same amount of time. We were paid by the hour anyway, so it made no sense to see how fast we could finish, but that is exactly what we did, every day.
Charlie was very specific about how the rooms were to be cleaned. “This is a triple A place you know. Inspectors could show up anytime,” he’d say. “We always have to be ready.”
No toilet brushes for the maids. We used bleach cleaned rags and our rubber gloved hands. Charlie was certain that a person could clean more deeply with their hands than with any brush swishing around in there.
“Always wipe the faucets dry after washing them. Make them sparkle. Never leave a drop of water in the sink or on the counter. Dust everything in the room, even if there is no dust. Spray the Lysol Disinfectant into the air in an S-like motion, like this, all the way to the door before leaving.”
He was having a hell of a time with the newly developed waterproof mascara and the deep red shades of lipstick the guests were wiping off on his whiter than pristine snow washcloths and towels. He usually got them back to a crispy bright white by the time he was through with them. If he couldn’t, they became our new toilet cleaning cloths.
The week that we had to deep clean and spit shine the place because inspection time was approaching, we washed every window inside and out. We vacuumed and scrubbed every wall. We took apart every light fixture and dusted all the grates on all the heaters. We wiped out each drawer and dusted off every Gideon’s Bible. We were there all day long, every day that week and we made lots of money, but boy, did we work for it. The most awful job that still gives me the heebie jeebies was taking each mattress off each bed and vacuuming out the springs underneath. And that, my friends is where the term spring cleaning originated. It was at Charlie’s Hotel in Gardiner, Montana, in 1976.
“What happened to your sister?” Charlie asked me one afternoon. He’d seen me going from room to room without my side kick.
“Oh, Louisa? Yeah, she went home. She wasn’t feeling the best.”
“Uh , yeah, I think so,” I lied, remembering her slithering down the wall and sliding under the bed in slow motion, her golden blonde hair and freckles disappearing from sight and then her feet were sticking out on my side like the bad witches. We’d been taking the high roads together that day, each of us on either side of the bed stripping off the sheets. Louisa was sitting out the low roads completely. She thought if she had to deal with any pubic hair she would puke for sure.
After I’d pulled her out from under the bed she went home. Then I had to remake the thing. We’d been rolling around on top of it in total hysterics, laughing about her ridiculous condition. I was mimicking her. “I won’t be late Millie!”
I’d seen her at the K-Bar the night before. She was dancing in front of the juke box. Louisa wasn’t an in front of the juke box dancing kind of a girl. I’d said, “Louisa, don’t forget you have to work tomorrow. You can’t be late.”
“Oh Millie, don’t worry about me,” she’d snapped. “I won’t be late.”
She was right, she had not been late.
2010 – Steve McQueen
Mom and I decided to check out the Two Bit Saloon. The stone wall on the outside looked the same as it had, but the upstairs had been converted to a bar with a restaurant and a rafting business. The upstairs was in business, but the whole downstairs was no longer in use.
The girl in the restaurant let us pay the downstairs a visit. I’d explained to her that I’d lived in Gardiner thirty years ago, when the lower level had been the main hang out and a magnificent dance hall.
We descended the old wooden stairs and walked right into a time capsule after passing a bright red painted door leaning against the wall.
CHAPTER THREE – SLICE OF
Johnson Toast scanned the Sky Mall Magazine. He could find nothing of interest, other than a sling-type dog bed, made for the back seat of a car. It looked like it could possibly keep his Mustang free of dog hair and general dog scum. But then what would really keep his car free of dog hair and general dog scum would be for his sister to use her own vehicle when rushing Ginger to the vet when she gets a sand bur stuck in her paw. And what would be an absolute guarantee to be without dog hair and dog scum, would be if there was no dog.
Johnson was seated between his sister, who at the moment was flagging down the stewardess for another cocktail and the beautiful and mysterious Pearlina, who he could tell out of the corner of his eye, was deep in thought as she watched the cumulus puffs of clouds floating below them. He tried to recall how and why he’d gotten where he was in the first place.
“Jack Bender is in trouble,” is what Pearlina had said two days prior, while sitting in his office.
Johnson had answered, “Well, Jack Bender’s missing. The police report says that he took a flight to Montego Bay. And in case you don’t know, I have his DOG.”
“You are a good man to take her in. Jack loves that dog.”
“Oh really? What kind of an ass leaves the country without making arrangements for his dog that he loves?”
The woman looked across the desk in the home office, slash spare bedroom and said, “The kind of an ass that is in trouble.”
Johnson had replied, “I doubt he’s in trouble.”
“You Mr. Toast are a detective. You have to know something is not right about that. Jack told me that if he ever went missing that I was to contact you.”
“Me? Why in the hell would he say to contact me?”
“Two reasons. One, you are a private investigator, and two, you have the key to his survival.”
“What are you talking about?” he’d said. “I don’t have any key to his survival and I barley know the guy. And what little I do know of him, I don’t like. He’s a grown man who bought a one way ticket to the Caribbean and left his dog to die.”
“You’ve gotta believe me, mahn. Jack told me if he ever disappeared, I must take his money, fly to America to find you and bring you and the doll back to Jamaica. He said if I didn’t do what he said, he would have no chance and that he would be as good as dead.”
“Whoa, whoa. Wait a minute. His money? A doll?”
“Yes mahn. Jack left me money to pay you. And there is a very important doll, right here, in your home. It is buried in a wall downstairs.”
Jack stood up. “Excuse me, Pearlina is it?”
“What in the hell are you talking about?”
There were footsteps coming down the hallway. “Johnson,” his sister yelled. “I’m turning the burner off on the S.O.S. All you have to do is make toast and warm the sauce back up when you are ready to eat. Got that?”
“Yeah, yeah, got it,” he’d hollered back.
Pearlina stood up. “Mr. Toast, she said, “you are my only hope to find Jack. He promised me that once I am able to tell you the whole story that you will come around. And he said that if the story doesn’t turn your head, the money will.”
“Okay, let’s start there. How much money are we talking about?”
“I have forty thousand dollars, cash.”
Johnson sat back down and so did Pearlina.
“Mr. Toast,” Pearlina continued.
“Call me Johnson.”
“Johnson Toast. That is a strange name, mahn. You know if you say it fast it sounds like Jontsome Toast? You know, Want some Toast? Has anyone ever said that to you?”
“Only everyday. Just call me Johnson and forget the Toast. Tell me about this forty thousand dollars, this very important doll, Jack Bender and what any of it has to do with me.”
Pearlina’s eyes blackened. She spoke in a low whisper. “Jack’s troubles began when he was just a small boy. He was about eight or nine years old when the darklings entered his body. They came through his mouth, like they normally do.”
“Yes the darklings. They are from the other side.”
“The other side of what?”
“The other side of life.”
“I didn’t know there was another side of life.”
“Of course there is mahn. It is called death. That would be the other side of life.”
Chapter 2 – Shit on a Shingle
“Dustin! Dane! Sombeody! Answer that door.” Laney shouted from the kitchen.
“Wooof, wooof, woooof.”
“Ginger! Shut up! Boys, get the door,” she hollered again, stirring the slowly thickening white sauce with one hand, a cigarette in the other. She was wearing a fluorescent pink outfit that even her June Cleaver apron couldn’t hide the ample cleavage moving around with the wooden spoon. Her sandy blonde hair was up in a messy bun and her face was under some kind of a cream.
“I’ve got it,” said Johnson, coming out of the back room, his office. “Jesus, what the hell is going on around here?”
“Wooof, woof, woof.”
“Ginger, knock it off,” he said.
Johnson stopped at the door. It was still summer. It was only a screen. On the other side of it stood perhaps the most beautiful woman in the world. She was probably the same height as he was, six feet. Her skin was cocoa brown. Her eyes were black saucers. Her shiny jet black hair was pulled back taught, revealing model high cheekbones. Her long and slender arms grew out of a bright yellow cotton top and came to tiny wrists with long and lean fingers full of rings and nails that were painted dark blue, each with a sun. Her yellow top fit her body closely and stopped just above her petite waist where her skin-tight, black capris took over just below her diamond studded inney till just below her knees. There her smooth cocoa shins emerged and traveled all the way to fragile looking ankles, where a black, yellow, orange and green beaded bracelet lay on the left one and finally long and lean sandaled feet with nails painted the same dark blue as her fingernails, each toe displaying a moon, from crescent to full. She smiled. Johnson had never seen such white, straight and sparkly teeth, ever.
“Ginger,” he said again. “Sit.” He looked at the stranger and said, “Can I help you?” Wondering who she could possibly be. She obviously was not from the neighborhood. There were no cocoa faces living on his block or for several blocks of the little Midwestern urban area. Just blocks of cookie cutter houses and cookie cutter people. Who was she? Not a Jehovah’s Witness, they travel in groups. Didn’t look like she had anything to sell. Hmm, no car in the driveway, he thought. Maybe she’s got pamphlets or a petition and is going door to door. Maybe she’s political. Maybe she needs directions. What ever it is, I’m buying it or signing it or taking her anywhere she needs to go.
“Are you Mr. Johnson Toast?” is what she said, in a deep, silky voice, with an accent he didn’t recognize.
She’s not a sales person, he thought. She knows my name. Why the hell is she here?
“Yes, I am Johnson Toast.”
“Johnson Toast, Private Eye?”
Okay, now I get it. She’s looking for a detective. “That would be me.”
“Mr. Toast, my name is Pearlina. I am here from Negril and I need you to help me find Jack Bender.”
Okay, that I did not expect, he thought. “Would you like to step into my office?”
“Yah maahn. I would like that. So you will help me then, Mr. Toast?”
Yah maahn. Hmmm, Negril, I think that is Jamaica mahhn. “I’ll give it a shot,” he said.
Once inside Johnson led Pearlina past the show underway in the kitchen. Ginger was waiting patiently for the go ahead signal so that she could flip a piece of Carl Budding Beef off her snout and into her mouth. “Okay,” said the woman under the cream.
“Johnson,” she called after the two that were headed down the hallway, dinner will be early tonight and I’m going out, okay?”
“What’s for dinner?” he said.
“Shit on a shingle.”
Pearlina’s black saucer eyes widened.
There, a connection to Jamaica and voodoo possibilities. PK, I’m sure you are convinced that Pearlina is a man.
He’s tall. He’s dark. He’s Johnson Toast, Private Eye.
Johnson Toast has been lurking around for more than a year. All I know about him is, he’s a detective and he is involved with voodoo. I know nothing about detectives or voodoo. I’ve written, The Beginning. Once you read it you will know as much about Johnson Toast as I do. I’m inviting you to join me on this journey. You wouldn’t leave me all alone with a private eye I don’t even know with an f’d up private life, running into God knows what out there in Voodoo Land, would you? This could get scary. Help me write this. All ideas are welcome. Thanks.
Chapter One – The Toasted Bagel
“Johnson Toast?” She said with a light hearted giggle.
“Ha-ha, very funny,” muttered the forty-something guy, not looking up from the newspaper spread out on the kitchen table, his Benjamin Franklin reading glasses on the tip of his straight nose.
“I’m serious,” his sister answered. ” I said, do you want some toast?”
“I’ll take a half a bagel.”
Johnson Toast went back to the article that had caught his eye. It was about a carpenter named Jack Bender, who’d gone missing. The man only lived a few houses away. He was on the same block, kitty corner in the back. Jack was the type of neighbor that Johnson waved to, but that was about it. As far as Johnson knew, it was just Jack and his dog, Ginger who lived there. Ginger was a mutty kind of a thing. Looked like a mix between a beagle and a Rottweiler. She was the more popular of the two. Although dogs were not supposed to roam the streets unattended or off leash in Cedar Cove, Ginger did. It was no fault of her own of course. It was that irresponsible owner of hers who had complete disregard for the rules, but that didn’t make Ginger any less likeable. As a matter of fact she was considered to be everyone’s dog. It was not unusual to see her walk out of any of the neighboring houses after having invited herself over for dinner. She was a regular at the Toast residence whenever Johnson’s sister was in the mood for stroganoff. Laney liked to cook and she’d thought that her brother was getting a little too gaunt after Angela had run off with that young guy she’d met at the coffee shop, after five years of what Johnson had considered to be a blissful marriage.
Laney, Johnson’s youngest sister had eased herself into his spare bedroom a little bit at a time after she and Carter had split a few years back. She was only going to stay until she could figure out what to do and then she did figure out what to do. She hired Jack Bender to finish off her brother’s basement while Johnson was away on a much needed two week vacation. The remodel was complete with two bedrooms and a family room down there, so that her semi delinquent sons would be more comfortable when they came to stay on weekends and for the summer.
Johnson was miffed with his sister and her surprise. She jabbered on and on about some big change at the house that he was going to just LOVE, all the way home from the airport. He never liked how she referred to it as the house instead of his house. Weren’t guests supposed to call it, your house? He knew it was all over when she’d put the blindfold on him and walked him to the bottom of the stairs. He was a private eye. He’d already seen the traces of drywall dust on his black tarred driveway when they’d first pulled in. He could smell the fresh cut two by fours, new paint and carpet from the top of the stairwell.
“Do you like it?” She’d asked when he’d removed his blindfold and surveyed the damage.
“Nice,” he’d uttered.
“I thought the boys could sleep down here and this would be a great place for them to play their video games and watch their own T.V. shows. This way if they want to invite a friend or two over they won’t all be underfoot. And of course this will only add value to your property when we move out someday. It’s a win-win.”
2010 – Making the Rounds
After lunch when I stepped out of the K-Bar Café and into the sunshine, Mom was there waiting for me.
“Well?” I said.
“Well?” she teased. “Are you talking about a hole in the wall?”
“Oh for the love of God,” I said, “Let’s go find the bakery.”
Highway 89 comes into the north end of Gardiner from Livingston. It becomes the bridge that expands over the Yellowstone River which cuts the town in half, then it turns right at the stop sign at the top of the road by the Sinclair Gas Station. Across the street from the Sinclair Gas Station are rolling hills and then mountains and Yellowstone Park. This section of Highway 89 is lined on the right with businesses and the left with mountains. If you were to continue on this road, it would veer back to the left and then it would lead you to The Roosevelt Arch, which is the gateway into Yellowstone Park. Electric Peak is part of this scene and it’s a mountain I remember well, after staring at it daily, sitting at a table in the front room of the bakery, which had been located in that very row of businesses.
1976 – Sissy
Sissy was on some sort of a pilgrimage that summer. She was on her way through Gardiner when she decided to stay for a week or so and then was going to return after she left in a few weeks and then would be back again on her way back through. I never could follow her plans but she always had them, and was, and still is, one of my most beloved friends.
During this particular visit she was helping me make a birthday cake for our landlord, Gale. Gale and her skeleton of a husband Francis owned the hotel, the little brown cabin and our blue house apartment.
I often coffee-clutched with Gale in her miniature kitchen next to the hotel office, where she chain smoked cigarettes and couldn’t resist blowing smoke rings with her creased lips. I never saw her without coffee at her side or without a juicy story to tell. She loved to gossip about people I never knew; mostly her family. She had some bad ass relatives, who, according to her, liked to sleep around and duke it out.
One day she mentioned that she and Francis had never consummated their marriage of fifteen years.