Mary

Cancer. Fuck. Fuck you, cancer. You took my friend Mary. You took her last night and she’s gone. Gone from this world, off to another, and I can’t see her again. It’s been almost a year of fighting for her life, a private battle, one for her and Stacy and their family. There was nothing that I could do, not really, knowing chemo was wearing away her reserves, yet when we’d meet up, every few months for lunch, Mary still shone, laughed, and told stories. That’s just how she was, a positive creative strong feisty funny friend who stayed in my world even as I drove off, drove back, we’d meet, the three of us and we’d laugh, tell stories over a beer and burger at Blue Corn, together the three of us, twenty years of us coming together. This morning the news came saying that Mary had passed on, a beautiful goodbye, said Stacy, reassuring their friends, reassuring me. There’s magic in having the chance to say goodbye, knowing you are loved. This is the paradox, even as I walk and cry in the rain. Mary is with us in my stories, in me, she lives inside me. Mary is with me still. In some way. She is. Mary. Mary.

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Stay Hungry. Stay Human.

GRAB LIFE.

Grab your beloveds and tell them. Go after your dreams. Be hungry. Act on your hopes, on your ideals, stop making the same bloody excuses. This is it. This is your life. Please grab it. Be hungry. Stay awake. There are no guarantees, we don’t know how long we have. We don’t know what our friends and loves are going through. We don’t know when our own clocks will go silent. GRAB YOUR LIFE and claim it. Every fucking day.
Too many friends have lost people the last few weeks. Four people in my world died. So please stop fucking around. This is it. This is your life. Stay hungry. Stay human. Unless you’re a dog, then just be a dog. Running full out.

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Living The Dream: 21

 

SEPTEMBER: SUPPORTIVE FRIENDS

“Do you have a shotgun?”

“Did you kill it?”
“What happened?”
I poured the French Roast one at a time and answered, “we went to bed.”
The café broke out in laughter; all began talking at the same time. The two tables were full of locals, with newspapers, empty paper cups, plates of bagels, and the various phones and hats they all carried. Eight chairs, seven gray-haired men, and one four-year old little girl in pink. She held court between the snake stories. Mark and I’d gotten off lightly apparently. One local woman had a rattlesnake climb into bed with her. I’m glad that wasn’t me.

The guys all had different ideas as to what we could/ should do next time. No one had the definitive answer that I heard. But here goes, the ideas included but were not limited to:

Shotgun.

Rope on a stick to lasso the bastard.

Metal buckets with lids.

Cats keep away mice and rats, and therefore the snakes don’t come over for dinner.

Clean up piles of lumber and trash. (Little did they guess that I was pretty anal about that already and didn’t need any excuse.)

Wire mesh under the bus to keep out all kinds of critters.

Cat-litter spread around the perimeter.

And again, get a shotgun.
I poured coffees for the regulars and made lattes for the tourists. The café business was slowing down after my mid-morning rush. I took a breath and carried on cleaning, dusting, and catching up. I drank another cappuccino. The two glass doors had been propped open and a soft crosswind took out some of the various odors, not all were that pleasant let’s say. I wiped down the shelves and took a cloth to the shelves full of small colorful silly gifts for those passing through. I looked at my notes. Matthew, a local mechanic, had drawn a sketch for how to make a lasso out of PVC pipe and baling wire. He’d drawn a cartoon of Mark and I chasing down a posse of snakes across the desert. I wanted to frame it; he’d done such a great job. Frida was asleep outside in the back yard of the café, under the elm tree with her favorite blanket and toy near by. She’d been on quivering guard all night long and the poor thing was exhausted. I checked on her every so often but she barely moved.

The morning passed peacefully and for that I was glad. I scanned the paper, looking for jobs for Mark. He’d hate that, but he’d need to do something soon. I couldn’t support us both on what I was doing. I thought of asking at the restaurants but couldn’t face that either. I leaned against the counter and daydreamed.

 

“Hi. Is Anne around?”
Andrew, the birthday boy, stood in front of me with his hat in hands, politely letting me gather myself. He’d pulled up in the driveway in his 4Runner, the engine still running. I checked the calendar and told him she’d be back in the morning but not before.
“Can I help somehow?”
Andrew shook his head but sat down on one of the wooden stools in front of me, his truck forgotten. His long white hair hung loosely and the blue Levis and denim shirt were much more worn out than at his party the other weekend. He wasn’t in his Sunday best, I guess.

“I don’t know, Jenny. It’s my sister; I’m worried about her. Anne’s so good at all of her community outreach stuff, I wanted to ask her help.”
“What’s wrong? Is there anything I can do?” I poured him a cup of coffee out of habit and sat next to him. I turned down the music. He sat quietly for a moment, thinking to himself before he started to talk.

“It’s the rescue. She’s drowning in debt but won’t ask for help from anyone. I don’t think she can keep going for much longer unless she gets some money together. I don’t know how. We’re all the family there is, we don’t have anyone to turn to. Mom’s ancient and doesn’t even recognize us any more.”
“So you thought of Anne? How come?”
He glanced at me. “I forget you’re still new here.”
“I’m not. I’ve been here almost three months now,” I said indignantly.

He laughed, “no offence, but that’s not so long, is it? Anyway, Anne’s put on fundraisers before. I thought maybe we could do one for the sanctuary.”
“I want to help. I don’t know how, but I’m sure I could do something. What does she need?” Ready to get involved as usual, I couldn’t keep my enthusiasm in check. I tried not to bounce in my seat.
“Mostly it’s the financial stuff, paying bills, buying supplies for the dogs, paying medical bills as they come up, maybe even making it into a non-profit.” He grinned. “Well, that’s what I’ve come up with so far.” and he tied his hair back and out of the way. His moustache drooped and dipped into the coffee.
“What’s she been doing until now?”
He sighed deeply. “Nothing. I told her to set herself up properly when her husband left, but did she listen to me? No, I’m just her older brother.”
“Mark’s been helping over there, mending fences and stuff. It’s not really what he’s good at. He’s more of a musician than anything else. But he’s good on the computer. Maybe we could do the Internet stuff for her, work on the accounts and look into some marketing?”
“Louisa doesn’t like getting people involved in her life. We’d have to get her okay first. But is it hard to get the non-profit stuff done?”
I shook my head and sipped coffee and grabbed notebook and pen. I started to write down ideas free form. “I’d think it’s probably just lots of details, setting up the different roles and that. We could do it so she has the final say on mission statements and that, but we organize how to deal with the money side of things. If Mark or someone could write some grants, then…”
“She’d be okay? I don’t want her to lose everything in the meantime.”
“Oh, right, that wouldn’t help her out right now.” I stood up and called to Frida. She trotted up the steps and lay down next to Andrew’s boots, and started to lick the one nearest her.
“Been cleaning out the stables,” he explained as we watched my dog.

I wrote down about grants, sponsors, fundraisers, and asked, “When Anne’s done other events, how does that work?”
Andrew added some more sugar and talked about the tavern hosting various shows over the years, with silent and live auctions, music all night long with the local bands each getting a set or two before the community jam towards the end of the night. “For one woman with a back injury, we raised about six thousand, and that took care of her mortgage and those kinds of expenses. The hospital covered the medical bills since she was under the poverty income levels.”

“Do you really get that much support here? There are not enough people, surely?”
Andrew laughed, “I know it seems that way at times, but there’s another four hundred or so folks living out in the mountains, and most of them are artists and writers and sculptors and woodworkers. They all bring their own creations to auction off. The musicians play with each other and with their reputations they bring in more of a Santa Fe audience, the families bring the kids, and it’s pretty incredible.” He had the sweetest smile right then.

I petted Frida. “Let’s do it, a fundraiser then, and in the meantime, Mark and I can work on the long term legal stuff, finding us, I mean Louisa, sponsors. I’m up for it. I’ll tell Mark later today, okay?”
Andrew put his hand on my arm, and still smiling, simply said thanks.

 

The four of us sat at the corner table in the tavern. Papers and pens lay scattered among pints of half-drunk beer and untouched iced water. A bowl of tortilla chips was brought over by the waiter. He left us to it after checking we didn’t need anything for a while. We all talked over each other, one idea after another. Anne took down notes as to names of artists and galleries. I wrote their suggestions for media coverage, which papers and the specific journalists to approach. Radio stations, online yahoo groups, Facebook, all the different social networks came to mind. Mark scribbled his own ideas and questions to follow up on for finding the bands. Andrew stood up after a while and stepped outside to smoke, with Mark following his lead. Anne and I took a breath and stopped talking. The calm felt good. I set the pen down. I breathed in deeply and let it out slowly.

The tavern was empty. Then again, for a weekday afternoon, I should know to expect that by now. Anne drained her first pint and ordered another round, with a plate of nachos for the group of us.
We sat in an easy silence.

The drinks came. The men didn’t.

“Cheers.” she toasted me. “Welcome to Oliver. You’re truly a part of this place if this is how you spend your time off.”
I tipped my glass and took a sip. “Yep, I feel like I can help out. I know Louisa. If it had been anyone else, I don’t know that I’d be as keen as this, to be honest. But I like what she’s doing up there. Maybe I can help set up a website, tell people about the specific dogs looking for homes.”
“She’d do well with a monthly newsletter to keep us in touch. She’s not good with people, that’s for sure, but I’ve known her with these dogs, ones you’d think should be quarantined because they’re so unpredictable. But she works with them, teaches them manners, and finds them homes. It’s such a shame her husband left her, but I reckon she’s happier without him.”
“Really? Why?”
“It wasn’t his dream, you know? The ones that don’t make it out on the land, well, usually one or the other is just going along with it to keep the partner happy. After a while, hauling water, or chopping firewood, or waking up to a raging windstorm, it gets old for some.”
“Not me. I love every minute of it. I didn’t know I would, but I do. And Mark’s been amazing too. He’s so great with the pup, and with getting his hands dirty, all the while he’s grinning and giggling and whistling to himself. I’ve not seen him this happy before. It’s pretty amazing.” I stared out the window and we watched Andrew and Mark chatting away, big smiles on their faces, non-stop back and forth. Mark pushed his curls out of his eyes and tied a bandana around the unruly mess, as he stroked his goatee absently. He finished his pint as he listened to the older man. Andrew’s faded denim shirt glowed in the direct afternoon sunlight, and his weathered skin suited him just fine, so much so that I imagined my boyfriend in his seventies looking somewhat like his new friend. I smiled to myself and turned back to Anne. She was reading her notes distractedly, fiddling with a strand of hair.

“Where’s Graham today?” I asked suddenly.
She shrugged. “I’m not sure. Something about the fire department, taking out a new volunteer to check for wildfires. He said they’d be back late afternoon sometime. We’ll see.”

She shook her head and focused on writing reminders to herself when Mark wandered over. He took a seat next to me just as the nachos arrived. He helped himself, humming away as he ate. I watched them both.

So, how are the rattlers at your place?

“How are they? Er, fine, thanks, pretty healthy.”
I smiled and wondered if that’s what he meant, this tourist I was chatting with at the coffee shop in town. Here I am in Madrid, NM, talking about rattlesnakes as usual. It’s the season for paranoia. I’m over it to be honest, looking forward to moving to Vermont, a place of bugs and mozzies, something less life-threatening. I can deal with that.

So what do you say to the question about rattlers? Where do I begin? Do you want the statistics of injuries, deaths, human encounters or animal encounters? The names and numbers of those who’ll come take care of the snake for you? Talk of Little Chris, who once drunk as a skunk, thought he could pick one up with his hand. He ended up in hospital for a week. Stories, you want stories? Are you sure?

We had a few bad years, the moisture and springtime brought an abundance of mice, rats, rabbits and snakes. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Or rather, I’m going back too far. Let’s talk about now. In May 2017.

This week, Rosie my mini-Husky/ lab mix, went to the vet for blood work so we can start her on heartworm. We had to sedate her, and that alone took an hour to mellow her out enough to then cover her in a towel while Nan took blood. While we’re sitting around after Harold, the other dog, a Collie/ Husky mutt recovered from minor surgery, and Rosie is trying not to fall asleep, Nan tells me of a rattlesnake bite. Damn, already? I’m not ready, already…

Rebecca’s young dog, Nika, was bitten on the nose, spent the night in the emergency care at the local vets in Santa Fe. Costly, scary, not something I wish on anyone. I forget though, how unusual this is, this risk of rattlers. In a presentation given at Overland Expo in Flagstaff, one of the crowd asked me where I lived since so much of the class was spent on the subject of how to take care of rattlesnake bites and more importantly, all those little things we can do to limit the risks. Like move to Vermont, that sounds good to me.

I’ve been at home in New Mexico since 1993. It’s been a while, I come and go most years, most months even, but rattlers are part of life here. No flip-flops on walks. Cut the weeds and grass near your home and on paths. Clean up the piles of lumber, trash, recycling etc to keep rats away and also so there are less places for the snakes to claim as their own . Don’t walk around at night in the height of summer. Don’t walk around in the evenings and mornings of spring. It’s all about timing, temperature, season. There’s so much to consider. Not that I knew any of this when I bought my land outside of town. Finally, I was a grown up! I had property, twenty acres, an adobe shack to create into a home. All within reach of the local village, it seemed perfect. In many ways, it is.

That first summer though was a challenge, emotionally. Living in a school-bus, raising a new puppy, Harold the Handsome, and building a home while working as a landscaper the rest of the week. Damn I was fit. And busy. It was a good life. I had a home! Well, almost. The shack was about twenty by twenty with a flat roof that leaked, broken windows, dark and dank, with straw and dirt floors. The fourth wall, facing the driveway, was incomplete, some windows, some half-finished stable doors and not much else. I put the mattress inside once I’d cleaned up after the last human pack-rat/ squatter had left it filled with pipes, broken tools and gadgets, dirty clothes, old rotten sleeping bags for him and his kid. I’d claimed it back to health, swept the dirt, put in a camp-chair, a mattress, and a stove for coffee in the mornings. Home, I had my own home.

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Harold woke me up with a squeak. Dark inside our new home, I fumbled for the flashlight but couldn’t find it. Harold squeaked a puppy yip of fear. A rattle sounded. I froze. Harold shook. At the end of the bed, a rattler coiled up and stared us down. Saying nothing, I slowly climbed out of bed, clutching Harold to me, and hugged the walls, gently moving around the bed and out the front almost-door.

I stashed Harold in the truck. I locked the doors.
No, I don’t know why, but I locked the doors. No snake would get him now.

It was five in the morning. What the hell was I to do? My friends Alexis and Alan were camped on the land with their two kids. I wrote a note and stuck a rock on top so they’d find it on opening their doors in the morning. First light was creeping over the horizon and I craved coffee. To Java Junction then. Down the dirt road and into Madrid we drove. Harold on my lap, me trying not to cry. It was too early though, the cafe wasn’t yet open. I drove to Carol’s and woke her. Eyes still closed, she passed me the tools. I shook my head.

“You want me to do it?”

Nod. Nod. Desperate nod. Carol was one of our local snake-wranglers, and of course I wanted her to do it. I was too freaked out. This was my home. My supposed safe space. Home. Home isn’t meant to be invaded by things that kill. That’s in movies and books. Not real life. Not my life.

“Okay, give me half an hour. I’ll meet you at Java. I need a shower.”

A shower? At this time? It’s too important for a damn shower…but I nodded, mute as ever, and wandered next door. Elisa came to the porch in pajamas.

“Ooh, yes, let me get my gun! I’ll meet you at Java.” She trotted off excited by my news. No need for a shower for the Minx.

By seven o’clock, I’d rallied a team of gunslingers, hoe-holders, kids, families on holiday, families just curious, Grandmas and kin, all ready to take down this snake for me. We couldn’t find the fucker though. My not-quite-a-home was barren, dirt walls, dirt floors, wooden beams and little else. Where could it be? Carol and I slowly lifted the mattress, nope. Then the box spring, nope. I slashed the fabric underneath to make sure, what a nightmare that would’ve been, to find it hiding in my bed the next night. Then Carol mentions how snakes climb. As one, we all look up at the wooden ceilings, above us in the trees but nothing. Carol stepped lightly in ever-widening circles and under a thick juniper some fifteen feet from the house, she found it. A six-footer. Thick of waist and hearty with hissing, it rattled furiously as she caught it in her home-made noose, and dropped it into a metal trashcan. Alexis slammed the lid. Elisa reluctantly put the gun away. The kids loved it: Viv, Sofia, Zoe and Kathryn, all under ten years old and loving every moment. Not me. Not so much. But we were done, right?

Half of the crew left, and Harold was allowed out of the locked truck. He wandered around, sniffing and peeing as puppies do. Then Carol mentioned that at rattlers often pair up.
“I think there’s another one near by. It’s just a sense.”

Oh great. Just great.

Harold was quickly deposited back in the truck. I hid on the far side of the house, rocking manically when Elisa joined me. Five feet something, a Chicagoan folk artist who inspires me constantly with her quirky views and manners, she pulls up the only other chair. The adobe wall behind us hides us from the Sleam Team and it’s peaceful, briefly. She sighs and picks at a rock, making shapes with the scattered debris at her feet.

“They found another. The dilemma now is, what to do with it. They can’t open the trash can because number one wants out. So, I think-”

Bam. Bam. Bam. Bam.

There goes Elisa’s gun as she finishes by saying, “-that Alexis is going to shoot the second one. She might even-”

Bam. Bam.

“-shoot the first one too.”

I can’t deal, suddenly I’m sobbing in the corner with Elisa awkwardly being there for me. Pat. Pat. We’re not the cuddly type. Pat. Pat. Young Viv comes around the corner with a bloody rattle in her hand, dripping down her five-year old skinny forearm, happily showing “Look what I got! Dad cut it off for me! Do you want the other one?”

“Viv,” says Elisa, “now might not be the best time.”
“Oh, okay. I’ll show the others.” Viv wandered off around back to the activity out front.

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These days, the old timers in Madrid call me Snake: they don’t know that I’d cried. I didn’t mention that part. I did get pretty good at dealing with the snakes on my own. I’ve caught three or so per year in the last nine years up here, killed some, got friends to catch some, and even called Animal Control at times. All in a summer’s work, right? What’s the big deal? It just never ends…

A few years later, we had the snake season from hell. A neighbor of mine was breeding them, not intentionally, but you know, three acres of stuff, piles of broken down vehicles, trash, lumber, firewood, old mobile homes and trailers, his property was a hotbed of snake sex. Nine dogs were bitten that summer. Three died. One was a puppy, a little boy I’d called Eric, he and his siblings used to come hang out with me next door. Too young, too small, he’d swollen and died. My snake magic couldn’t help him. I did adopt the rest of his litter though, fostered until we found them all homes, safe homes.

Snake magic. I say that with a shake of the head. So Santa Fe, I can’t wait to be gone from those who tell me all about snake magic, ask me what I’m transforming or shaking off, pronounce my need to let go of old ways to shed the skin of blah-de-blah-de-bloody-blah. I’m too pragmatic, too bloody English for such talk. I nod, mutely, and watch where I step.

After getting back from the vet this week, Harold was sleeping in the house after having a lump removed, and Rosie staggered around, telling the cat, “I’m fine, fine. Just can’t walk too well, right now. Oh shit, SNAKE!”

Bark. Bark. Bark. Bark. Bark. Bark. Bark.

The monotonous single bark alerts me. She’s seen a snake. I race out and coach her and Little Stevie, the cat, back into the house. With dog-door closed, I look for the snake. It’s six inches of dried cholla. She was tripping. False alarm. Thankfully. I’m over it. Bloody snakes.

At least the home is finished now.  I can sleep safely.

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Living The Dream: 10

As part of the ongoing Sunday installments of the novel. You can find the other chapters on here, posted each Sunday morning. Thanks! 

 

JULY: ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE

 

I woke up to the sun shining in through the bus windows. The sky was streaked in gold and periwinkle. My sweetie was snoring next to me. The wind gently rocked the bus, but in a good way. I yawned and stretched my legs. I climbed out of bed and took three steps to turn on the coffee pot. I stared out another window at the mountains to the south of us. Tall and craggy, they loomed over the valley we lived in.
I got dressed in the usual jeans and red tee shirt, found my new cowboy hat, and poured out a fresh brewed Joe. I opened the door quietly and stepped down on to our almost finished porch. The paint smell had finally blown away.

I stretched tall and touched the tin roof above before bending forward to scratch my toes. I looked all around and once again was overwhelmed by how beautiful the desert can be. Sitting down on the bench we’d made yesterday, I put my feet up. The coffee was perfect. The sky lightened into a teal and orange stripe fest. The silence enveloped me. I sighed. I drank the coffee.

 

“What the hell?”

In front of me stood a small animal. Furry. Four legs. Tail tucked somewhere underneath. She looked like a roast chicken that had been left drying out on the dining room table.

A stray dog, in other words, she looked like a border terrier mixed with something, I had no idea what. I put my feet to the floor softly and she flinched but didn’t run away. The poor little bugger was all skin and bones, panting even now in the cool morning temperatures. I stood up, talking gently the whole time. I took a couple of steps and climbed into the bus, grabbing a green cereal bowl and filling it with water. I couldn’t think of what to feed her.

I came back out and she’d gone. I stood there, water in hand, and started to cry. It was hormones, honest. I put the bowl on the wooden platform and sat back on the bench. Out from under my feet she crawled past me and crept over to the water. She drank half and then burped like a pro. I laughed out loud and she jumped, running back under the porch itself. I could see her through the flooring.

I drank some of my tepid coffee and started to talk. I described the bus and how we’d found it. I told her about the mice and rats. I mentioned my favorite colors. I just talked a bunch of crap really.

The dog came out and sat in front of me with her head tilted. She had long spindly legs and that scruffy wiry creamy straw-like fur that terriers are known for. On her top lip, she’d grown a short moustache. She licked her lips as I spoke.

“Are you hungry, Frida?”
She knew what I was offering and her tail made an appearance, wagging slowly and cautiously. I stood up.

“Well, let’s see what you might like, shall we? Come on inside, don’t worry; the fella snoring is one of those good ones. He’s a keeper. He’ll be nice to you, I promise.”
I looked behind me to see her at the top step, nose working furiously, aimed at the new kitchen. I squatted down and opened the fridge. We had some beans, rice, and tortillas, Mark’s leftover hamburger and fries, a bag of tomatoes, coffee, cream, and beer. Oh, and some eggs. I pulled out what I wanted and put everything on the counter above me. I found another bowl, blue this time, and half filled it with the rice, an egg and some burger and stirred it all together. I headed back outside with the little girl at my feet, staring at me expectantly.

I put the bowl by her water and stepped away.

She sat. She waited. She licked her moustache.
“Go on, it’s yours.”

 

We walked the property with the sun rising behind us. I walked and talked out loud to the pup. She bounced like a puppy, forgetting herself and chasing at leaves and flies. She looked up when I chatted. She played under the pinions and in the sand, digging furiously at a small hole. I wandered over to see what the fuss was and she stopped to stare at me. I squatted down to her height. I leaned against a banana of a boulder. She dug some more. Suddenly a mouse ran between her legs and I squealed. Frida lunged after the little creature and gave chase. I heard her excited yelps growing more and more distant. I waited. She didn’t come back when I thought she would.
I carried on walking. I reached the back half of the forty acres and came across a few deep holes, seemingly old ones, hidden by branches cut from a nearby juniper tree.

I stood on the high point that looks over a dry riverbed, an arroyo as they say hereabouts. Sand and river rock lined the route the water must take if ever it flows. We’d still not had more than a slight rain so far this summer. My umbrella stared forlornly at me from the hook on the porch.

I sat down and listened hard. No furry footsteps came my way. I sighed and stood up and walked home. I took the western path, cutting under a ridge with sandstone ledges that scared me; the slightest extra weight could bring them crashing down on me. I spotted a small stumpy cactus that had thrown out a shocking pink flower. Just the one. I got close and stared. It was delicate yet chunky. Solid in it’s new growth, the flower didn’t move in the breeze. Or when I poked it with a stick.
The sand turned a burnt sienna in places, and in others a golden cinnamon toast. I was hungry. I picked up the pace. The sky was becoming more of a gunmetal gray than the periwinkle blue I’d grown used to. In the distance I heard a rumble. It wasn’t my stomach this time.

I walked fast through the silver pale green shrubs and the forest of tall cactus near our homestead. I heard Mark snoring still. I rounded the tail end of the school bus. On the steps sat Frida, with both the water and food bowls licked clean. Her tail wriggled and she stood up and ran to me. She stood on her back legs when I bent down. A lick on the chin, and that was that; I loved her.

 

“What the hell is that?” Mark yelled from the bed.

I ran inside. Frida followed a few paces behind. On the pillow next to my boy was a mouse. A dead mouse. Mark had scooted to the bottom of the mattress. His hair stuck out in all directions and he gave me a frantic look. “How on earth did that get there? Is this some kind of a joke?”
I laughed, which probably wasn’t a good idea. He scowled. I nodded behind me. “I think she brought you a present.”

“Who?” Mark pulled his knees to his chest and stared at me in a foggy daze.
Frida stepped closer to me and peered at Mark from between my legs, all sixteen pounds of her pressed into me for support.

“What’s that?”
Frida whimpered and shook slightly. I looked down at my scruffy new friend. “That is a dog.”

“He has a moustache.”
She, yes, she does. She has a name.”

“What name?”
“Frida, her name is Frida.”
“Oh, right. We can talk about this later, okay? Can you do me a favor now? Take the corpse away.” He pointed to my pillow. “You might want to wash that before tonight.”

I picked up the mouse with his bandana. Frida watched me with her head tilted sideways. Her one ear flopped and the other stood up high. She licked her top lip nervously. I smiled at her and looked back to Mark. “Isn’t she adorable?”
“Does that mean we’re keeping her?”
I smiled sweetly. “Did you want coffee in bed?”
“We should try to find if someone lost her.” Mark said sensibly.

“But what if they did and I have to give her back?”

He drank more coffee and leaned back against the headboard. I sat next to him. Frida looked at us from over the edge of the mattress, her little tufty ears following us back and forth. She watched as we decided her fate.

“What if it was your dog? Wouldn’t you want someone to give her back?”
“Yes, of course. Damn, now we’ll have to go to Oliver and try to find her family, won’t we?”
He nodded sagely, and lightly tapped the bed once. Frida needed no more encouragement and she bounced up. She stood there for a second, all eighteen inches tall, before she circled twice and curled up at his feet. Her eyes watched him closely.

“We can make some flyers or something. Go to the Post Office and ask around at the store and at the cafe. It’s a small enough town that they probably know the dogs’ names more than their neighbors.”

Mark was right; we’d have to go look, and make sure she wasn’t simply lost. To me, there was something wrong about how scared the pup was. That shouldn’t be allowed if she did indeed have a home nearby. Maybe someone dropped her off on the highway? Left her out here on her own?

“What about driving and asking the neighbors first? We could drive up Harold’s Way and ask around.”
Frida sighed and wriggled against Mark. He reached down and petted her absent-mindedly. I said nothing and left them to it.

 

“Hello? Anyone home?”

Mark shouted out of the car window. Three big furry dogs ran up to our Subaru and barked like crazy. Frida hid at my feet. The adobe house had one wall fallen in. A horse stood in a corral and watched us, flicking its tail. The German Shepherds soon got bored and walked back over to the shade of the porch. They didn’t stop staring. The house was pretty big but incredibly run down. Gutters half fell off the roof. Buckets lay everywhere. Empty bottles and trashcans lined the driveway. An old Chevy truck sat on blocks. The firewood pile had cacti growing out of it. The path to the front door was clear and well worn. Where was everyone?
I wanted to get out and look around. Mark wasn’t going to let me.
“Remember what Dieselhead Danny said, about how people don’t like visitors showing up uninvited? Especially folks they’ve never even met. We’re lucky we didn’t get shot.”
He looked around nervously, smoking as he checked his mirrors. “Do you have that note about Frida? We can stick it to the gate post on the way out.”
We turned the car around slowly, trying to avoid the stuff lying everywhere. The gate had been open when we drove up but I got out and pulled it shut behind us. I had some duct tape and I attached the description of Frida to the right hand side. That would get their attention.

 

One by one, we stuck notes on gates and sometimes on front doors, depending on the dog situation. If none charged us as we drove up, I was sent to do the deed. If the car was surrounded, Mark admitted defeat and we drove away with Frida on my lap. Her fur tickled. She leaned against me, nestling in for hugs when Mark wasn’t looking. We spent most of the morning looking for her owners but no one could help. Not that we met many people, but still, we did run into a few and not one recognized her. There was one last reclusive homestead on the way to Oliver we were told to check out first.

The gate was firmly shut but for some reason Mark insisted on going up closer. I got out to push the metal gate out the way when a voice shouted out to me.

“Don’t do that.”
Deep and strong, the voice was of God, booming out from the unseen. I spun around. A tall dark-skinned woman strode towards us. Frida whimpered and ran for the car, bouncing in and onto Mark’s lap. I was on my own here.

“I’m sorry to disturb you,” I started in my polite middle class way when she reached me. At some six-foot or so, she made a remarkable first impression. The long legs reached higher than my waist. The tee shirt hugged a skinny wiry body devoid of anything extra, (that’s a polite way of saying she was flat-chested), the muscles shaped her arms into string beans, and her hair was a silver gray, and almost invisible it was that short. Her blue eyes took me by surprise. I didn’t expect that. I stuttered out the story of finding Frida. “Are you missing a dog?”
“I might be. Describe her again.” She had a no nonsense approach for such a strange answer.

“Surely you’d know if a dog’s gone, right?”
“Not necessarily. You see, I run a rescue here. That’s why I didn’t want the gate opened by strangers. Look up the hill and you’ll see my dogs are watching us closely.”
I looked and almost fainted. The hilltop was lined with dogs staring at me, bunches of dogs, all eyes focused on my healthy sized thighs, the color of a medium rare hamburger.

“How many do you have?” I shuddered in awe.
“Thirty-three. Or maybe it’s thirty-two now?” She smiled and suddenly I liked her. A childish mischief came out in the twinkle in her eyes. I grinned back.

“Let me show you Frida, she’s with Mark in the car.”
“Okay, that’ll work. I did get some dogs in recently that haven’t adjusted to the pack dynamic. They want to leave. I try to take a handful in to Santa Fe each month to find more permanent homes, you know, but that’s hard to do sometimes.”

We walked back, introduced ourselves, and she talked about the sanctuary. She’d had the place for fifteen years, starting with two rescue dogs that she found wandering her land. Mark watched us but didn’t get out of the car, Frida sat on his lap, and they both stared at us worriedly. Her little ears drooped at the sight of us.

“Is that one of yours?” I asked.

Louise stepped closer.

“Yep, she came in last week. She hates it here. The other dogs are much bigger. This isn’t really the place for a dog like her; she’s too vulnerable. Too small.”
“How did you end up with her?” Mark piped up, curious after all.

“Her owner died of old age and in his sleep. The EMTs brought her here when no family came forward. They’re pretty good like that, taking care of more than just the emergency patients. You could say that she came here reluctantly.”
We stood next to each other in silence. In the Subaru, Frida sat on Mark’s lap and licked her nose nervously. The storm hovered above the hills to the north of us, which were lit by a streak of sunlight within a mix of dark gray and baby blue clouds. Ominous.

“Can we keep her?” Mark said it first. I grinned at him and he smiled back briefly before focusing on the woman next to me. She stood quietly scratching her shaven head absently.

“On one condition,” she answered after a moment spent assessing us both. “You come help me here with the dogs and the property. My husband left me last spring, for a woman with two cats.” She shook her head in disbelief. “I need help, with maintaining the place more than anything, but also taking four or five dogs to town each month to find them homes.” She broke into a toothy gapped grin that made me nod my head without thinking it through. She stuck out her hand to mine. I shook hers and I didn’t wonder why.

She stepped closer to the car and leaned down and into the window. Mark held onto Frida. Louisa laughed softly.
“Don’t worry, she’s yours. I’d say she’s about three years old, and I know she’s had her shots and been spayed. I have the records for you. She’s a good dog. Thanks for taking her.” She petted the pup gently. Louisa looked into Mark’s eyes. “I’ll see you on the weekend, shall I? Not too late, I get up a six.”

Living The Dream: 9

As part of the ongoing Sunday installments of the novel. You can find the other chapters on here, posted each Sunday morning. Click on the image for a link to the whole novel if you can’t wait.  

DECEMBER: HOW TO

“I’m not sure, to be honest. Mark’s really good at improvising, that made it all a game, you know?” I reached down and petted Nelson’s head, reassuring myself.   “Mark just knew how to look at what we had lying around, and then create from that. He taught me a lot, that’s for sure. I’d not really built anything until we got to the land. I was the dreamer, the researcher, the teacher but he taught me how to play.”
“Your home became an art project then?” Angie sat back and finished her enchiladas. Jonnie was still eating but listening fully. It was good to talk. I hadn’t stopped yet.

“Yeah, I guess so. We had fun; making plans, playing with the materials. I love how our home was so, well, organic I guess. We didn’t really know what we needed until it became obvious. It was all so different to living in the nice little home in Olympia, gardening and watering with the hose, walking to town if we needed to pick up something. This was a whole new world for us. For me.”

I drifted off for a moment, picturing how Mark and I’d created such a home within months.

 

 

 

 

JULY: ART PROJECTS 101

 

 

“Are you sure that’s level, Jenny?”

I stepped back a few feet and looked again. It seemed pretty good to me and told him so. I walked around and checked from all the other angles. Yep, pretty good. I came back to the first post and took up my grip again. Mark let go of the four by four and grabbed his tools. A new cordless drill and a pocket full of screws made the boy so damn happy. He attached a crossbeam to another angled piece of two by four. The posts now stood up on their own. The porch was taking shape.

Impressive.

Next he had me hold more lumber in place as he screwed in the eight footers and tied it all together to make a basic framework for a roof. We’d dug the holes earlier in the day before it all got too hot. No cement but rocks and sand packed in tightly seemed to be enough to keep everything solid. Our plan was to build six uprights and create a frame of two by fours for a shed-like roof. On that we’d simply screw in the old eight foot sheets of corrugated tin that were stacked up near the driveway. Reuse and recycle had become our new mantra. In Santa Fe, Mark had discovered Habitat for Humanity where you could buy lightly used building supplies. It had become a favorite place to visit. Sinks, furniture, plumbing, electrical, you name it, they stocked it. Mark loved coming home from his errands with a box of screws that cost him only a dollar. Or that time he’d bought a kitchen cabinet made of old metal, absolutely rat proof and perfect for his next project. Yep, the homestead was coming along nicely and at a great price.
Mark set up a platform to stand upon by using his dad’s table. He started laying the lumber out for the next stage. I held pieces in place, trying to keep my face out of the direct sun. I didn’t want to look like some of the women around here. Much too wrinkled for my tastes.

“Can you go get some roofing for me?” Mark stood up on the table as he worked. “I’d say we can get this part done today and build the actual platform in the morning. What do you think? Are you up for another hour or so?”
“Sure, let’s get as much done as we can. I’ve still got some energy. I’ll go get you a sheet.” I wandered off down the dirt track and off to the right. Under another bunch of short stumpy trees I found the stack of old tin. I picked up a piece and brought it back to the school bus. I passed it up to him.

“This roof will make all the difference. Can’t you see us sitting on the deck for our morning coffee?” I was excited at seeing our first real building project come together.
Mark grunted as he worked. “Next time get a couple of sheets, okay?”
“Oh, right.”
Back and forth, I carried dirty, somewhat rusty, roofing. I set him up with what he needed, passing screws, tin, bottles of water. He worked. I helped. The roof was done. Nothing moved when I shook the posts. It all held firm.
“Good job.” I congratulated my boyfriend. “What do you need now?”
“A bath? A shower? A pizza and a beer.”
“Okay, let’s see. I have a beer for you. Does that work?”
He jumped back down and stood there admiring our work. He opened a beer and drank a good part of it before answering me. “That’s much better. Thanks. But what do you say to us staying in town tomorrow and getting a motel room?”
“Really? How decadent of us. I’d love it.”
He grinned and sat down in the shade of his new patio. He looked up at new roofing and nodded to himself. His shirt was drenched and his hair lay flat for once. The burnt toast color suited his face nicely. I stayed lobster pink, a rose by any other name.

“How about our goal is for finishing the deck tomorrow, putting across the wood to make some kind of platform, and making sure it won’t move in the wind? It won’t take me too long. I’ll probably be done by lunchtime and we can go to town after that and relax for the night.”
I sat next to him and leaned back. I gave him a short sweet kiss.

“When you do that, if you don’t need me, I want to get the painting done inside. It can air out when we’re away for the night. What do you think?”
“Yep, that works. But more importantly, what’s for dinner? I’m starving.”
I opened the cooler and rummaged around for a second, then pulled out the hot dogs and a pack of whole-wheat buns. Mark grinned.

“I think I need to eat something a bit healthier tomorrow night, but for now, no complaints. Do you need help? I’ll go wash up a bit if that’s okay?”

“Sure, go for it. I’ll make us a fire.”
He wandered off to the car and pulled out a five-gallon container of water. He filled a bucket, found his soap, and striped down to his boxers. He washed. I watched. It was a good evening at the homestead.

 

The night trickled along easily. We had a sweet routine of work, cook, drink, and then daydream. We’d chat about the different ideas for homes, and how could we do it, get a home base by winter? It was dawning on us both that this was a bigger project than imagined. He was growing into the idea of yurts and teepees and stuff like that, each being quick and easy to set up, even if you had to pay more upfront. I wanted us to build with stones taken from around the land, or even better to make adobes and create some funky weirdly shaped dome home. The labor-intensive options didn’t get his enthusiasm for some reason. We were chatting about compromising with a yurt that had straw bales set around the base for extra insulation when we saw flashing lights heading up our driveway.

We both stood up. Visitors? At this time of night?

Mark threw on a couple more logs so we could see what the hell was going on. Three large huge sounding trucks pulled up next to our campsite with their spotlights blinding us but I couldn’t see what was going on. Who were they? I shaded my eyes, unsure as to where to look or talk. A voice from the darkness spoke.

“Do you have a permit for that fire?”

A door opened and in the distance more vehicles rumbled down the driveway. For us?
“What’s going on? What do you mean, a permit?”

Mark walked into the light. I lost sight of him.

I felt naked in my shorts and tee shirt under the bright lights. I never had been one for standing on stage in front of strangers. I wanted the darkness back. I wanted the silence back.
The fire trucks kept their engines running. I moved into the shadows and tried to work out what was going on. Mark was surrounded by some ten firefighters in full gear. Helmets, boots, reflective coats, the lot. Radios beeped and voices bounced off each other.
“Didn’t I meet you the other day?”
I jumped and coughed. Next to me stood the man from the EMT vehicle in the parade.

“No, but I saw you at the Independence Day event. I caught a candy you threw.” I replied in surprise.
“Oh that’s right,” He smiled. He was smaller than I’d pictured, with a bit of a belly stuck out over his pants, and his skin hadn’t tanned like most peoples round here. But he was in uniform, what can I say? I liked uniforms. His dark hair was cut military style, and he had a salt and pepper moustache that didn’t make me laugh out loud. He smiled again. Perfect teeth. That must have cost his parents a fortune.

“I’m Graham. I’m with the Fire Department.”
“Jenny. I’m new to town. Welcome to my home.” and I blushed. It was too dark to tell, thankfully. I wanted to giggle. I stifled another cough instead.

“Have you ever thought to join the department? I could do with some sweet female energy. There.” He stepped closer. Nice aftershave.
“Really? You could? I mean, what do you need? At the department?” I didn’t tell him that I hate blood and can’t stand anything bigger than my campfire. ‘Hot’ scares me. He didn’t scare me. Well, not like that. His green eyes held me captive as he talked about volunteering. I had no idea as to what he said. I watched his mouth. Nice soft lips he had.

I suddenly realized that a couple of men were throwing dirt on our fire. They stood around in a group and with shovels in hand, messed up our very nice new fire-pit. I was  none too impressed.
“Hey, what the hell are you doing?” I stood between them and the smothered flames.
Mark jumped in and explained to me how there was a countywide ban of open fires. The wild fire risks were too great, he’d been told. In the Jemez Mountains some fifty thousand acres had already burnt up this summer. Everyone was scared. Especially as they were all waiting for the monsoon season to kick in.

“No more fires for us, eh?” He smiled nervously. “And if their boss shows up, we’re in trouble. They’d have to give us a ticket. But since we’re new and haven’t been here long enough to hear about that kind of fire ban, we’re okay this time. The Fire Officer told me it’s a fine if we get caught with another fire. Bummer eh?” He whispered and stared behind me, “Hey, honey, who’s that watching us?”
I turned to see the Graham head back towards the Fire Engines. A couple of men, and I think one woman, walked up to him.

“Hey Chief. Are we done yet?” someone asked him.
“Yes, let’s call it in and go back to Oliver. Did you make sure the fire’s out?”

“Yes sir.”
Graham waved at us both politely and climbed up into the lead vehicle. The other volunteers came and shook our hands first, almost apologetic for disturbing us, and they too left.
We stood in the dark and watched their lights grow smaller and smaller, with no sounds but for an owl to keep us company.

“Bedtime, I guess?”

Living The Dream: 7

As part of the ongoing Sunday installments of the novel. You can find the other chapters on here, posted each Sunday morning. Click on the image for a link to the whole novel if you can’t wait.  

DECEMBER: THE BIG CITY

“Old town? Downtown? Uptown? Which one did you want?” The young woman looked up Central Avenue, tugged a long woolen scarf tighter, and hugged herself against the biting wind. “I think you’d probably be happier just up the road, Nob Hill. It’s kinda artsy, lots of small businesses, cafes, restaurants, a movie theatre, that kind of thing, and more your style I’m thinking. Yep, Nob Hill is where I’d go if I were you. There’s this amazing clothes store, kind of a consignment place. Bonanza sells funky stuff from all different decades. It’s really cool, you know?” She nodded to herself and then smiled. “I think I might go there myself today in fact. Yes, yes, I think I will. Well, nice chatting to you and I hope you enjoy your visit. Bye then, bye.” She huddled in the doorway of the café and pulled out her smart phone, ignoring me suddenly.

I pushed past her gently and found myself in line at a counter before I’d had a chance to look around.

“Next.”
“Me? Oh me, right?”

The menu above the counter went on and on. What with the music, the chatter and laughter all around, and a crowd of dinnertime customers pushing against me, I stared uncomprehending.

“Mmm, do you mac and cheese?”

“With or without chile?”
“Without, and a mug of decaf too please?”

I stood aside and waited as she rang me up. Fifties décor filled the huge cavernous café. Bright color photos and movie stills lined the walls, weird odd keepsakes from Route 66, and even two ancient gas pumps stood under the neon signs for the bathrooms. I took my number and found a seat in the far corner next to a window. The place was packed, loud, and anonymous. It wasn’t exactly what I’d hoped for but oh well. My head was silent for once, words and memories drowned out by the wall of noise around me. Tired and hungry, I waited quietly.

 

“Okay, Nelson, what do you think? A walk around the neighborhood before we find a motel for the night?”
Nelson sat up with a huge wide yawn and jumped out to sit next to me. His light cappuccino fur looked ragged. I felt bad for him. Later, later tonight, I’d brush my boy. I should probably look for some better dog quality food too, we’d been buying cheap crap found in gas stations and tiny rural stores, and it was time to take more care of my boy. I’d been neglecting him.

I hooked on his lead and we took off down Central. A Friday evening in December is a busy time in Albuquerque apparently. Couples, families, students, all walked in and out of the various stores, selling books, new and used clothes, music, and even food. Food. A real live co-op. We stopped and looked in a window to see shelves of organic veggies lined up, bottles of juice and sodas, a deli in the back, and yes, it looked to have a pet food section. Perfect.

“We’ll come back in a bit, Nelson, okay? Grab you a bone at the same time if they have them.”
Cyclists raced past us, yelling at each other over the screech of buses, semis, and trucks all commuting home in the wintery dark. The wind dropped and streetlights kicked on. Christmas was just around the corner and the holiday spirit filled the stores with farolitas, strings of colored lights, everything on sale, and all the paraphernalia for the shopping frenzy to come.

“I wonder where we’ll be, eh?” I looked down at my curious pup as he sniffed and marked every tree we came across. “Do you want to go home?”
Nelson froze. He stared up at me and wagged his tail, low and slow.
“Not now, I didn’t mean right now. I’m sorry Nelson, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. But soon, we’ll go back. I don’t know that we’ll stay but we’ll go back. It’ll just be weird without Mark and Frida though. I don’t know if I can stick it out…” I wandered along, talking out loud to my four-legged friend.
“Excuse me?” A hand stopped me in my tracks. “Can you help?”

A middle-aged man with dark brown hair in a ponytail and wearing a ragged but well loved leather jacket stood back a step awkwardly. “I didn’t mean to scare you. I was looking for Kelly’s? Do you know it? Am I even close?”

Nelson wagged and approached the man. I relaxed and looked around in confusion, unsure as to how far we’d walked. Opposite us, a sign proclaimed, “Art walk Fridays. New works and local bluegrass band here at Kelly’s Brewpub 6 p.m. Free.”

I pointed silently, not trusting my voice after days alone.

The guy laughed in delight. “Isn’t that just the way? Same at the store, whenever I ask for something, it’s right in front of me. Now I feel like a right idiot.” A wide smile lit up his brown eyes and I couldn’t help but smile. We chatted for a moment as he waited for a break in the traffic. Suddenly he turned to me.

“Hey, do you want to come? I’m meeting my wife at six, so I’m probably late, but anyway, come on. Oh there she is. Angie. Angie.”

A tall slender figure hidden in a long ankle length leather coat waved to us. She grinned widely and pointed to the propane heaters on the patio, motioning for us to join her.

“Oh hell, why not? It’s not like we had plans, right Nelson?”

He wagged and peed on one more tree and we all ran across the six-lane street, laughing at the crazy wind that suddenly battered us and died out again before we reached the sidewalk.

 

“Angie, I just met this young lady, but I don’t know her name yet. I’m Jonnie.”
“Jen, and this is Nelson. Hi.” I held out my hand to his wife, suddenly shy, unsure of myself. Nelson nudged me out the way and sat at her feet, tail thumping silently. Angie knelt down to pet him, letting him sniff her hands before touching his coat.

“What a beautiful boy you are. How handsome.”

Nelson smiled. He knew those words, he heard them often enough. He looked over at me, checking in, and smiled his wide toothy grin when he caught my eyes watching. Thump. Thump. My boy’s been lonely, I guess.
I followed Jonnie and Angie to her table under the heater. Nelson sat between Angie and me with Jonnie opposite, facing the street. The tables all around were packed full despite the bad weather. Music blasted out from the speakers by the door to the restaurant.

“Is it always this busy?” I looked at the beer menu. Sixty beers on tap confused me for a second but I found one familiar to me and ordered that. My new friends chose a couple IPAs brewed on site. Jonnie shook his head and shrugged.

“We live south of here, in T or C. Well, Angie? Why did you pick this place to meet me?”
She leaned back and undid her scarf. Her hair was surprisingly short, a buzz cut of silver and black. “It’s on the old Route 66, like in all those movies we love. And it’s nearly always this busy on a Friday evening. I thought you’d enjoy the vibe, remind you of those college days of ours, Jonnie.”

The beers arrived and she took a sip, toasting us both. The waitress returned with a small bowl of water and a treat for Nelson.

“So tell us about yourself, are you a student here or something?”

 

As part of the ongoing Sunday installments of the novel. You can find the other chapters on here, posted each Sunday morning. Click on the image for a link to the whole novel if you can’t wait.