Black and blue

Audrey grappled with the old typewriter, the one she’d found at Goodwill earlier in the year. How could changing the ribbon be such a chore? She’d found a source for functional typewriter ribbons online. The instructions were simple enough. Too simple, perhaps: “Remove old ribbon spool. Insert new.”

She stared at her inky fingers. Audrey was not one to admit defeat easily—hence the mid-century solution to writing a new draft of the beast—but she wasn’s so proud that she wouldn’t ask for mechanical help. There was a fix-it shop not too far from here. All she had to do was to put the blasted typewriter into the carrying case, which was over there on the coffee table—

“Sonuva—guhn!”

She couldn’t tell what she had tripped over. The typewriter went flying, she landed on it with her right shin and rolled over it. She sat up and rubbed her leg.

“Owww—that’s gonna bruise like—oh, no—”

She groaned at her ink-smudged pants.

• • • • •

Evan jogged to keep up with Danni. They were several blocks past the park.

Pam Wells/The Pullets

“Come on,” she’d said. “I know where there’s a piano.”

They turned the corner onto a tree-lined commercial street. Danni wheeled past the doggie daycare, barbershop and dry cleaners before stopping in front of a thrift shop. An old upright piano was visible through the front window. Someone had painted it a swimming-pool shade of blue, and someone else (presumably) had tried to restore it to the original black, without success.

A bell jingled as Evan pushed Danni over the threshold. A middle-aged man came from behind the counter to hold the door open.

“Thanks, Beau,” Danni said.

“Welcome,” he said, and  propped the door open with a painted brick.

As Evan loosened his grip, Danni spun right, toward the piano.

“Do you play?” she asked him.

“Not really,” he said. “I indulged my parents when I was a kid. Took lessons.”

“Music lessons are good for your brain,” she said. “Sit with me.”

There was a chair pulled up to the piano, a modern wood chair with a red seat. She nudged him to push it to the right and rolled in next to it. Evan sat down.

“Did you ever see The Beast With Five Fingers?” she asked.

“I don’t think so,” he said.

“Well, there’s a hand… a disembodied hand…and it goes around committing murder—” CRANG! as her left hand hit a minor chord— “and also plays the piano.” Danni began to play, only with her left hand, the Chaconne from Bach’s Partita in D Minor. She held onto Evan’s hand with her right.

Evan listened, watched, felt the music surge. As the piece moved into the upper octaves, Danni leaned against him to reach the notes, never letting go of his hand. On she played for more than ten minutes. Finally she came to the end, which brought a lively if small round of applause from people who had gathered outside the door..

“Where did you learn to do that?” Evan asked. He was dumbfounded.

“I took lessons, too.”

Audrey, one of the outside crowd, stepped through the doorway to get a closer look. There she was, the pianist—a teenage girl. Wonderful. And with her, a young man… who looked like…

“Evan?”

©2010 Pam Wells

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Hummers

The two scanned the back yard around the broad-leaved tree, keeping the red fountain of nectar at center focus.

“Whatcha see?” she asked.

“Nuttin’ but my sugar,” he said, approaching cautiously. He took cover behind the greenery of the tree. She followed. As they moved stealthily, using the foliage as a curtain, a sound came from the house. They snapped their heads toward it. A vision of rose-red was growing near.

“Oh, lordy, look a-that,” he said. “Got my heart racin’.”

“I’m lookin’,” she said. “Well, go on. Go.”

“No, you go,” he said, and flitted away. She chased him.

“You chicken!” she said. “Cheee-kin.”

Pam Wells/The Pullets

“I’m not a chicken! This here’s your job description, lovey dove. You’re the taste tester, an’ you’re so fine at it. You know me, honey dew. I’d get my nose stuck on sumpin’ I couldn’t identify.”

“Yeah, I know you, all right,” she said, just out of reach, “but you’re still a pointy-nosed chicken.” She slipped back to the far side of the tree. She had to get a bit closer, but safely. That red outfit—tse-tse-tseek, very very chic, but not for me. She rejoined her partner.

“Well?” he said.

“No cashin’ that cheeek,” she said.

“You kiddin’?”

“Would I be sittin’ here if I was kiddin’?”

Tse-tse! Let’s get a move on. This ain’t the only party on the block.”

“Was yesterday.”

“Oh, so now we flyin’ backwards, eh? Well, we can hang here flappin’ or we can move on. I’m hungry.”

• • • • •

“Wait!” Audrey called. “Don’t go!” She watched the pair slip into Felder’s yard as Carl drove down the driveway. She crept to the gap in the hedge, her camera in  hand.

“What’re you looking at?” Carl asked.

“Hummingbirds,” she said. “I wanted to take a picture but I couldn’t get close enough.” As she pocketed the camera in her red fleece vest, Carl noticed the tag on the shoulder. “I heard ’em talking, though,” she went on. “They make this little metallic sound, like tse-tse-tse.”

“If you say so. Was that vest really five ninety-nine?”

“Oh, good Lord, I forgot,” she said, pulling off the tag. “Yeah, very very cheap.”

“Nice. What’cha got going for dinner? I’m starving.”

“Chicken.”

“Mmmmm.”

Audrey lifted her chin, listening to a faraway tseek-tseek-tseek. Although she was surprised Carl couldn’t hear it, he insisted her hearing was good enough for the both of them. She explained loudly that hovering over her in the kitchen would not produce dinner any faster and that he should stop sticking his finger in the honey-mustard dressing.

©2010 Pam Wells

Love Audrey

Audrey took off her bike helmet and sat on the red vinyl bench. The young Chinese hostess disappeared to the back of the restaurant.

Dear Dad,

Things are growing in the yard like you wouldn’t believe. I took a different approach to weed control this year… by eating them. Even if we make dandelion pesto on a regular basis, I don’t think we’ll be able to keep up.

A waiter set down a large tray of Chinese greens and rice on a nearby table.

Guess I’m trying to control a few other things, too. I finally got Carl to go in for his colonoscopy, and we decided to name Joe as Evan’s guardian in our wills. Okay, I decided, and Carl agreed. Was I ever this bossy as a little kid? Don’t answer that. I’m hoping this won’t be a problem with Jeannie. I can’t even remember the last time she saw the boys. She’s probably teaching the Belgians how to make chocolate by now… sorry.

At another table, a big sister was instructing her sibling on the proper use of chopsticks, the two of them merrily dropping rice on the floor.

Pam Wells/The Pullets

Evan still runs nearly every day, though from the looks of his shoes he’s heading into the woods. He likes having Joe around, if only because Joe does so much of the yardwork. They’ve developed this sort of brother-talk. Pretty funny. Actually I think it’s been good for Carl, too. I’m not sure he would’ve driven out to Forest Grove to buy my anniversary painting if Joe hadn’t gone with him. I feel like Joe is reconnecting with the family. With any luck, Todd will come home, too.

The cashier added a handful of fortune cookies to Audrey’s take-out order.

I’m taking the night off cooking tonight. Invited Felder over for Chinese food because he eats alone so much of the time. Guess I should go pick it up. Clouds are breaking up… maybe I’ll ride my bike.

The large white bag strapped to her bike rack, Audrey rode through the post office drive-thru. She made sure the envelope didn’t stick in the slot.

Love,

Audrey

Goodwill booking

The geography was pleasantly disorienting. Colorado bordered Washington, Egypt bordered Spain and Ancient Mexico was northwest of 21st-century Florida.

This bookcase at Goodwill was marked “Travel.” Nobody tried to organize it any further, by state or country or whatever, because the stock of books changed every day. Today Audrey spotted a few titles which must’ve taken a wrong turn at the corner of Fiction and Nonfiction: Postcards from the Edge. The Gulag Archipelago. Travels With My Aunt. She held two books side by side (the first by Patricia Schultz, the second by Bill Bryson) and ran the titles together: 1,000 Places to See Before You DieIn A Sunburned Country. This was worth considering. She read the first line of each book:

Pam Wells/The Pullets

“As surprisingly comfortable as it is overwhelmingly grand, this National Trust property is England’s most majestic country-house hotel.” And:

“Flying into Australia, I realized with a sigh that I had forgotten who their prime minister is.”

Quite a difference in their approaches, Audrey thought. This one read like touring the wondrous rooms in the Museum of Travel. That one read like driving cross-country without a map. Her own youthful travels had more resembled the wrong turns on the bookshelf: sending postcards from the Gulag Archipelago while visiting a lunatic aunt. So why, in the twenty-five years the family had barely ventured beyond the Pacific Time Zone, had she just applied for a passport?

It was those damn postcards, the ones Jeannie had sent from France and Belgium. Audrey put the books back on the shelf. She could feel her jaw tighten, picturing her half-sister posing for a snapshot in front of the—

“Excuse me,” a woman said. “Are you taking that one?”

Audrey realized she hadn’t let go of one of the books. She tucked it under her arm.

“Yes, I am,” she said.

©2010 Pam Wells

Chocolate as a second language

Carl spread butter on his bagel. “Where are they now?” he asked.

“Belgium,” Audrey said. She read the postcard aloud. ‘Matt and I couldn’t stand hanging around Paris wondering when we could fly out. Hopped on a train to la Belgique. Love to all, Jeannie.’ They couldn’t stand hanging around Paris,” Audrey huffed.

“Don’t worry, hon. They probably can’t stand hanging around Belgium, either.”

“Why not?”

“Government jush collapshed,” he said through a mouthful of breakfast.

“Again?”

Pam Wells/The Pullets

“Those crazy Belgians,” Evan said. He was skating through the kitchen, collecting a bag of foodstuffs he could eat later. “Linguistic meltdown. Like de French-talkin’ jive don’t mix wid de Dutch-talkin’ jive, you know wha’ I’m sayin’?”

Audrey and Carl stared at him. Evan broke for the door. “Gotta go.”

Audrey poured more coffee and turned the page of the paper. “Oh, oh, new study: depressed people eat more chocolate.” *

“How is this news?” Carl asked.

“I don’t know,” Audrey said. “Especially since they have no idea if eating chocolate causes depression or if depression causes eating more chocolate.”

“Huh. Maybe they used chocolate eggs.”

“Yeah. Maybe they used Belgian chocolate eggs.”

“Probably not, dear. This wasn’t a Belgian study, was it? Depressed Belgians eat more chocolate?”

“No. Carl?”

“Hmmm?”

“Do you think Jeannie and Matt will be upset that we’re naming Joe as Evan’s guardian in our wills and taking them out?”

Carl shrugged. “Might be a little depressed.”

Audrey folded up her paper. “They’re probably eating chocolate right now. In la Belgique. Where they went because Paris was so excruciatingly dull.” She got up abruptly and opened the pantry.

“What’re you looking for?”

“Never mind.”

©2010 Pam Wells

*Archives of Internal Medicine, “Mood Food: Chocolate and Depressive Symptoms in a Cross-sectional Analysis,” Vol 170 No. 8, April 26, 2010

Cutline

Audrey turned to the back page of The Oregonian’s A section. Her eyes fell on something, and without realizing it she closed her arms around herself. She skimmed a few paragraphs, but her thoughts went elsewhere. She called Evan and Joe from their bedrooms.

Carl was watching the first quarter of the Blazers-Suns game.

“Carl, could we mute this for a few minutes?” she asked.

“Oh, ‘be patient,’ my foot,” Carl said, standing up.

“What?”

“Huh? Oh, sorry, hon. Blazers just blew a fourteen-point lead and the coach says he’s being patient. I can’t watch this.” He disappeared into the dark kitchen.

“Carl—” She heard him open the fridge, heard the rattling of beer bottles and the shoosh of the door shutting. She waited.

Carl got comfy again. The boys came down the stairs and sat where they could get away quickly: Evan on the arm of the couch, Joe straddling a hard chair.

Pam Wells/The Pullets

“Okay, Aud, what’s up?” Carl asked.

Audrey showed them the newspaper photo.

“What is that?” Evan asked.

“What do you see?”

“Flowers on the street,” Evan said. “Pictures… candles.”

“It’s a memorial, dude,” Joe said.

“I saw it online,” Carl said. “The bus accident downtown.”

The photo which had gripped Audrey had been shot just a few inches from the pavement. In the foreground was a tribute to the victims struck by a TriMet bus Saturday night in downtown Portland.

“Did you know them?” Evan asked.

“No.”

“Then—”

“I’ll cut to it,” she said. “Joe, I’d like to name you as Evan’s guardian in my will. I’m assuming your dad will follow suit to avoid any confusion. I hope you understand how much responsibility you’d be taking on if something—if we weren’t here anymore. But you’re the natural choice, not the aunt and uncle you don’t remember. If you’re okay with that.”

Joe straightened. “I’m okay with that,” he said, and glanced at Evan. “You okay with that?”

Evan was okay with that. He and Joe went back upstairs.

Carl quietly sipped his beer.

“We’ve been talking about it for two weeks, Carl. What if?” Audrey said, and held up the photo. “What if this was our caption?”

©2010 Pam Wells

Vigilance

“Felder? Got a minute?”

Audrey stood at the gap in the hedge between her house and Felder’s. She watched him stand up stiffly and walk with some difficulty in her direction. The hedge opening was a bit narrower now, the arborvitaes a bit fluffier, but there was still plenty of room for him to walk through.

“Yes, I’d say I’ve got the rest of the afternoon,” he said, rubbing his back. “Rest of the week, maybe.”

“I need you to look at something.”

Photo by Pam Wells ©2010

She led him to a large Rosa rugosa which was just beginning to bloom.

“Wonderful,” he said, and sniffed the deep pink petals. “How I love a rugosa.”

“You’re not alone,” she said, and turned over one of the leaves. A tiny cluster of oblong, orangy-gold eggs adhered to the underside. “Friend or foe?”

Felder examined the deposit. “If I’m not mistaken—” he said as Joe walked toward them.

“Mom,” Joe said. “Would you look at this again?”

“Okay, just a minute.”

“Please?” He held out a single printed page. Audrey looked pained.

“I’m in no hurry,” Felder said. “Got a date with a nap, is all.”

Audrey took the page in her dirty-gloved hand. If Joe was going to interrupt, he could deal with a little dirt. It would go with his scruffy look today, his lackluster smile, the droop of his shoulders.

“Just tell me what you think,” he said. He sat on a tree stump and sipped an energy drink. Audrey scanned the page quickly.

“Out loud, out loud,” Felder said.

Audrey began: “‘In this futuristic action thriller, a special unit of vigilantes trained not to sleep must defend their city against criminals from a dying planet. This is Vigilance.’ Oh, you’ve got it now. It’s clear and simple, gives you the conflict, everything.”

“Thanks.”

“A few typos in there, but overall—”

“Yeah, thanks, mom.”

“Tell you what I think,” Felder said. “I think you need sleep more than I do.”

Joe shrugged it off. “I’m entering a big screenwriting contest, so it’s crunch time. Deadline’s Saturday. Anyway, I go to bed, I can’t sleep. It’s like my mind never shuts off.”

“Heh, well, I don’t have that problem,” Felder said, and went back to examining the bristly rose stems. “Here we go, here’s who laid your little golden eggs. She’s keeping a watchful eye on your garden. Also sucking the juice out of your aphids.”

Audrey and Joe looked where he was pointing, to a red ladybug.

“Awesome,” Joe said.

“Friend,” Audrey said.

©2010 Pam Wells