Nameless Threat (Part 1)

There are some things in life you just can’t control. I’ve come to the conclusion that family is probably the most unpredictable, and old women are the worst. My husband’s mother called last week and told me she was coming to live in Yakima.

I swore silently, decided I wasn’t going to sleep yet and turned on the bedside lamp. Gordon was sleeping open-mouthed beside me, not quite snoring. Envying his ability to fall asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow, I padded out to the kitchen in my purple fuzzy slippers.

The same thoughts were swirling around in my head over and over: Why me? Why was she coming to live with me in her cranky old widowhood? My forehead thunked the counter as the teapot began to whistle. I poured hot water over a Sleepy Time teabag and decided I was screwed. Opal and I have always gotten along on a very superficial basis. I love her son and she does too, but living in the same town and living a thousand miles away were two very different things.

A heavy sigh escaped my lungs. I wasn’t usually so fatalistic, but my husband’s family brought these feeling out in me. The tea began to strengthen me and I squared my shoulders; I’m an adult and a mother of two—I can handle one old woman. With that thought I crawled back into bed beside a snoring Gordon and slept a deep sleep.

Gordon came shuffling into the kitchen as I was finishing breakfast.

“That smells good.”

My husband thinks anything edible smells good. “I made you some bacon.”

I watched him shovel hashbrowns onto his plate.

I met Gordon just after I graduated from high school and he was a student at the University of Washington. Less than a year later we were married and pregnant with our first child. It was odd to think of us as childless, I still thought of myself as a group. Our youngest had left for college in August, nearly seven months ago and I was just beginning to appreciate the quiet. How I had craved a clean and silent house when they were small, and now I was bored.

“Your mom’s plane arrives at 11:30. I figure we should be there at least 15 minutes early.” Gordon just nodded his head, too busy chewing to answer. We ate the rest of our meal in silence; that was Gordon’s way. I learned the value of silent communication long ago. It was either that or go crazy living with a man who only uttered what was necessary and the older he became the worse his communication skills got.

I looked at my watch and realized it was already nine o’clock.

“I’m going to look in on Roger’s cat; I’ll be back in just a minute.” I grabbed my coat on the way out—the biting winds of March had begun. I shook out my wad of keys and chose the key to Roger’s house. He was a good neighbor, quiet and clean. We pretty much kept to ourselves but Roger took a lot of vacations and I loved animals. The two of us had struck a deal long ago that I took care of his beloved cat while he was away.

“Here, kitty, kitty, kitty”, I sang in a high voice. The bright orange tabby responded immediately and bounded down the stairs.

“Let’s get you some food”. Ginger rubbed against my legs as I opened the can and stirred the wet and dry food together.

“Here ya go, pretty girl”, I refilled her water and quickly cleaned her litter box. I locked the door and patted my pocket for my keys while shutting the door behind me. Our houses were exactly alike on a block of older well-kept homes. Most of the homeowners were just like my husband and I, and had lived there for decades. I waved at Mrs. Gillis on her morning walk with her Cocker Spaniel.

I walked through our front door and glanced at my reflection in the hall mirror. I had what Yakimanians refer to as the wind-blown look. My hair looked like I’d stuck my finger in a light-socket. Yakima is located in a valley just east of the Cascades and wind blew March through June with ferocity. Well, I knew where Opal was going to start. Another sigh escaped me.

*There were dishes in the sink and laundry in the hamper, but there was a mystery calling my name. I grabbed the paperback off the shelf and settled myself into my big comfy chair. I looked over at the newspaper sitting in the chair beside me and smiled.

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Bertie Layman was just trying to find some peace and quiet. That didn’t happen anymore, not since he’d gotten married to the love of his life. He thought his father-in-law’s den would be the perfect place to hide because Maddie said it was repulsive. He liked it, though. It was a man-cave with dark wood-paneled walls and honey leather furniture worn soft as butter. The trophy animals staring at him with dark blank eyes made him feel powerful.

The soft footsteps had passed by the door a couple of times before it slowly cracked open. An irritated face floated through the gloom into his line of sight.

“You need to at least look for a job. My parents aren’t going to let us live here forever, after the baby comes.” She looked down at her swollen belly and her face softened a little, but then her gaze rose up to settle on Bertie’s and her scowl returned. “And shave your face—you know I hate facial hair. It makes you look like you’re homeless.”

“Which I am, actually”, he deliberately stood and walked to the small bar in the corner of the room. He smacked a glass onto the counter and poured himself some rum, never taking his eyes off her sullen face. She hated when he drank.

“You have a Master’s Degree for God’s sake! I can’t believe after all that work you don’t even want to try!” Her cheeks became splotchy and she wiped at her nose with the back of her hand. “You’re going to be a father”, she almost whispered before turning and slamming the door behind her.

He flopped into the chair and stretched out, staring up at the ceiling. Bertie had never seen the abyss before, had never witnessed rock bottom. The interview he’d had at the high school hadn’t gone very well and he didn’t expect a call back. A deep breath shook out of his lungs.

“Dear Man in the Sky—if you exist—otherwise I’m just talking to myself I guess. I know we haven’t talked since I was a kid, but I was wondering if you could do me a favor. I’ve never asked for anything”, he chuckled to himself remembering all those times he had said please and realized he was lying. “Ok, I know, but—I need a job that will pay the bills and make Maddie happy. You know how she is when she’s not happy.”

Bertie sat alone in that savage room and drank rum until the sun set and darkness settled into the corners. The streetlamp was his only light when he finally stumbled out the door.

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Ecological Home Economist Saves the Day!

Melody was looking down the barrel of a gun into the eyes of a bank robber. She smiled warmly and he looked startled.

Mel was very pleased because her morning had been exactly like all her other mornings and she had thought that today would be like all the other days in her well-planned life. She had gotten her two children out the door to school (a boy and a girl like all well-planned families) and kissed her husband of eleven years goodbye. She drank coffee while she read the newspaper, planned dinner and made lists. She was glad she decided to run her errands before cleaning house today.

“What are you smilin’ at lady?”

Mel shrugged her impeccably clad shoulders. “It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?”


“Well, it’s sunny. It’s still a bit cool, but it will probably warm up a little—“

He thrust the gun toward her nose and waved it a little. “Are you on something?”

“No, but I’ve been reading up on prozac. All my friends take it and maybe I need some too—“

The thief rolled his eyes, or what she could see of them through a ski mask, and he shook his head.

“Ok, nutball, you’re drivin’”

It was Mel’s turn to look perplexed. “What? Drive where?”

“We’ll discuss that after we get into your car. You can drive, right?”

Mel nodded mutely and backed slowly out the door. Fear was finally sinking into her brain. She wasn’t glad to have a gun pointing at her—what was she thinking? Guns shot explosive projectiles and this gun was pointing right at her face.

“This your car? Nice.”

Mel fumbled in her bag for her keys.

“Oh, my God, you locked your car to go into the bank?”

She could hear them rattling at the bottom of her suitcase sized bag, but she couldn’t see or feel them. Just as sirens filled the air she pulled out a mound of keys and fumbled the car door open. Mel jumped into her seat, stuck the key into the ignition and fired the engine. She slammed her door shut and flew into reverse.

“Oh, shit.” What had she backed into? She didn’t see anything in her rearview mirror, and she didn’t see a bank robber anywhere. Should she just keep going? But what if she killed him? That did it—she wasn’t going to hell for some stupid thief’s death. She put it in park and got out—there he was; sprawled on the pavement behind her car. Her stomach quivered into her chest and she turned her back on the scene.

A woman peeked her head out of the shiny glass revolving door like a groundhog afraid of her shadow.

“Is he dead?”

Mel didn’t get a chance to answer over the sirens blazing into the parking lot. She thought she was going to pass out—her heart was pounding so hard that her vision blurred a little. Oh, god, I’m too pretty for prison she thought.

Three cop cars and an ambulance screeched to a halt just feet from where she stood not looking at her murder victim.

“Are you okay, ma’am?”

Ma’am? Were they joking? She was probably younger than two of them at least—she was incensed.

“Ma’am? I think she’s in shock!” The stocky cop yelled to his compatriots.

Mel nodded dumbly while a handsome paramedic wrapped her in a blanket. He led her to the curb past his partner checking vitals on her victim. She watched him out of the corner of her eye as they bundled him onto a gurney and attached a neck brace. She released her breath when they rolled him into the ambulance without covering him with a sheet.

People started to slowly seep out of the building one by one. The first was groundhog lady.

“You are a hero. Thank you.”

“Really?” Mel replied. “It was an accident.”

“Oh, don’t be modest, sweetheart.”

Most of them ignored her, but a few came to shake her hand or give her a hug and thank her for being so brave. The police took her statement and then the local news crew came and interviewed her and a few others.

“Don’t forget to watch channel 29 tonight at 5 o’clock!”

When all the excitement was over and they let her leave, it was time to pick her kids up from school. After they bundled into the car, she told them all about her day—embellishing it only a little here and there.

“Wow, mom, that’s cool.”

“What kind of gun did he have?”

“Can we buy a gun?”

The kitchen was still a mess when she got home so she did the dishes and threw in a load of laundry. She listened anxiously for the front door to open and her husband to walk in.

“I had the best day today—it was so exciting!” She threw her arms around his neck and kissed him hard on the mouth.

“Uh huh, that’s nice”, he craned his neck around her. “Where’s dinner?”

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Theory of Light

In a gray city just south of the Puget Sound, a girl left school and began walking. The squeak of her rain boots was the only sound she made as she weaved through groups of teenagers. She zipped her green raincoat up to the neck and flipped the hood over her long braid, shielding her face from the incessant drizzle. She walked with her head down, moisture dripping onto the wet gray pavement. Down the sidewalk she swished, crossing at two lights and climbing a flight of stairs. She loved standing on the overpass, watching the cars scream down the highway. The gray road melded into the gray sky. The chain link fencing kept her from leaning too far over, while the rain dripped off her raincoat. She closed her eyes and listened to the rain tap her head, the sound magnified through the rubber hood. Soft flannel lining warmed her skin.

With a sigh, she continued across the overpass and down the stairs at the other side. She had another half mile to her brother’s elementary school. The girl in the green raincoat squelched across mud and wet grass through the park. Peter G. Schmidt Elementary crept into view through the trees, with a dry alcove hidden between classrooms. She dug her favorite book out of her backpack and sat with her back against the cold bricks. It didn’t faze her though. Time passed as her friends moved between the pages, the half an hour wait always went by fast while she was reading. When the bell rang, she stood and put her backpack on. Chris was always so slow leaving his third grade classroom, usually the last kid out.

“What took you so long?” She asked testily.

“I forgot my coat on the playground, so I had to go to the office to get it back.” It was always something like that.

“Well, put your coat and backpack on. You can’t walk home dragging your stuff the whole way.” She held his bag as he zipped his black raincoat up to his chin. “Come on.”

Their boots squeaked in unison through the park and onto the sidewalk. They walked in silence until her brother asked, “Cassie, what do you think we’re gonna do during spring break?”

“I don’t know; it’ll probably be just you and me because Mom and Dad have to work.”

“I know, maybe we can perfect our secret code. I got a book out of the library about secret codes. They have that one that you use, the writing backward one.”

“Yeah, okay. Maybe we can play spies with the walkie talkies, too.” Chris smiled and nodded his head. They continued in quiet until they reached their white house with hydrangeas growing on either side of the porch. One side was purple and the other was blue. They gingerly traversed the walkway so they didn’t step on a slug and hopped up the concrete steps to their front door. Cassie dug her key out of her pocket, but realized the door was unlocked when she heard her parents talking inside.

They burst through the door into the warmth of the living room. Her father was standing by the fireplace, arms folded across his chest. Her mother sat in the corner of the couch, unshed tears made her eyes look shiny. Cassie and her brother froze in the entryway, the door hanging open behind them.

“We’re moving to Yakima”, her father said.

“What? Why?” She asked, confused.

“Pater has cancer, so I requested a transfer to Yakima. We have two weeks until I report for the new job. The moving truck will be here next weekend.”

Her mother sniffed loudly from the couch and cleared her throat. “I can’t believe you didn’t say anything. What am I supposed to do about my job? Why didn’t you at least tell me your father is sick?”

“We’ll get a dog. ” He add pleadingly.

“We’re not moving again until I graduate from high school”, demanded Cassie.

Her mother and father both nodded in silence. “No more moving.” Her mother smiled wryly, “this will be our fourteenth move and Cassie will be fourteen in two months.” She let out a slightly crazy giggle. Cassie didn’t think it was funny at all, she had never been at the same school for two years in a row.

When the movers came, the house became a hollow shell. Memories circled around the emptiness, and echoed in the garden. Three strange men came to pack their clothes and toys and books. What a strange feeling to watch it happen. They packed everything–even the broken pencils and crayons that had accumulated behind the furniture. Everything was wrapped in tan paper and packed in boxes that all looked the same.

Chris did not like the process of being packed by movers or watching his things disappear into a strange truck. He was sad that he was going to miss dissecting a frog in science class. He was going to miss playing with the neighbor boy and his dog every day. Cassie reminded him that their dad had promised them a dog of their own once they moved to Yakima.

“I want a white one”, he said happily.

Cassie felt numb inside. She didn’t have very many friends at school because they had just moved to Tumwater in August. She felt like a stranger here, so how would another move make it any different? It did, somehow. The why of it evaded her, though. She pulled her rain coat tight around her as the moving truck pulled out of their cul-de-sac and headed for their new home in Yakima.

Uncle Bobby had come to lend moral support; his debilitating rheumatoid arthritis prevented him fro anything else. He was a spare man; tall and lanky. His shaggy blonde hair curled thickly around his ears and his bright blue eyes were crinkled around the edges from laughter. Cassie was glad he was there, and he was happy that they were moving to Yakima. He wasn’t married and didn’t have any kids; he always said that Cassie and Chris were his “stand-ins”. They called him Homer sometimes because whenever they would call him on the telephone, deep breathing would come from the other end.

“Bobby, is that you?” they would ask.

“Nooooo, iiit’s Wheeezerrrrrr”, would be the reply. Cassie and her brother would laugh every time.

“I’m gonna ride with Uncle Bobby to Yakima”, Cassie announced to her parents as they stared glassy-eyed at the emply house. She took their mild nodding as consent.

Cassie ran back out to the front porch. “I’m going to ride with you, Uncle Bobby!”

“What about Chris? Does he want to ride with us?”

“You don’t want him in your car, he pukes.”

Uncle Bobby’s gnarled hands moved the steering wheel toward the “scenic” route to Yakima. They left on I-5 out of Olympia, going south through small towns called Centralia and Chehalis. When they came to the Cowlitz River they turned west onto Highway 12 through a town called Mossyrock. They joked about how things were named until Bobby pointed out Mt. St. Helens in the distance.

“That’s the mountain that blew up on your third birthday.”

All the way to Yakima, Cassie and Bobby played a game of “Who are they?” They took turns making up stories about everyone they saw. When the game would lull, Bobby would say “What about that guy?”

“He’s a famous painter, and now he’s driving down the highway looking for an inspirational scene to immortalize. Look, he’s turning off. Now he’s going to paint that lake by the highway.”

Bobby’s stories were long and convoluted, they branched off into other people’s lives that they saw along the way. His ideas were always silly–everyone was an undercover agent or a UFO investigator. Cassie loved Uncle Bobby’s imagination.

It rained and rained as they crossed White Pass, Uncle Bobby decided he needed a cup of coffee at the same time that Cassie decided she needed to pee. About halfway to Yakima, they stopped in a tiny town called Morton right on the Cowlitz River. Off the highway just a little way was Mt. Adams Cafe, it had coffee and a bathroom. Uncle Bobby tried to buy her something to eat, but her stomach felt like an aching knot.

“I’m so happy you guys are moving to Yakima”, his smile broke her heart a little because she was angry about it.

“Do you think Pater will be okay?” She asked hesitantly.

“Oh, yeah, he’s too ornery to die.” Chuckling quietly to himself. Cassie smiled too, because it was true.

As they came over the foothills into Yakima the clouds parted and the sun shone onto a mostly brown landscape. Cassie had visited Yakima many times, but she could never get over the pervasive color of sand.

“Isn’t it spring?” she asked.

“Yeah, it’s always sunny in Yakima.”

“No, it’s brown.”

“Oh, you’ll get used to it.”

No, she thought, I won’t. She tucked her hands inside her rain coat and missed the green they had left behind.

Their new house was so much smaller than the one they had rented in Tumwater, it was a brown ranch house with darker brown trim. No basement to hide in, no loamy garden earth to dig her toes into. No trees grew in the yard and the dirt was hard with thick dry grass. The area round the back stoop had been baked into clay where no grass grew at all. A dog would hate that yard, she thought sourly to herself. There was a patch of green a couple of blocks away called Wide Hollow Creek; she decided she would spend most of her time there.

That night she lay in bed thinking and worrying about the next day. Another new school this year. Who would be there? She hated change. What would her teachers be like? She decided her parents were gypsies. Would she like her classes? Her fears flared again and again as she wrestled for sleep.

Monday dawned bright and sunny.

“Don’t worry, everyone will just be getting back from Spring Vacation.” Her mother tried to be empathetic, not realizing that didn’t help at all.

She stood in front of her closet, wanting to wrap herself in her raincoat but knowing it would look strange in this new desert town. She fingered her soft purple hooded sweatshirt and slipped it off its hanger. As she slid her arms into the sleeves she felt like she was donning change.

She walked to school that morning under a blue sky. Her tennis shoes scuffed the pavement with every step, her braid dangling from side to side. The sunlight warmed her scalp and made her squint. Two cars passed sedately before she could cross the only street separating  her from school. As the Junior High loomed into view she thought about Uncle Bobby and decided she could be happy here surrounded by barely green foothills and family.

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Old Age

I will get old. Should I age gracefully?
Buy creams that make me look young while letting my hair fade?
Traveling the world continuously leaping
from place to place not existing in form but in soul
bringing water to children then shopping at Les Puces
for an afternoon of rest, remaining viable and desired
jetting back to the States on a visit to my grown children
and amaze at all their accomplishments. But then—

When my sons introduce me to their prospective brides
I will train my face to always smile,
and not ask Why can’t you find one with a brain?
How else to feel other than I am,
often thinking Stepford Wives—
Oh how terrible it must be for an older woman
standing before a future family member and her thinking
I can’t believe she created such a man! Don’t worry I will fix your mistakes!
After dinner she would ask How much money do you have?
Should I tell her? Would she like me then?
Say All right I’m gaining a daughter
and should I ask Why couldn’t you find one with a brain?

O God then grandchildren! All of them running wild—
I should surround them with love and homemade cookies
and never give cheap immature gifts but find the perfect things
their mother would never buy and teach them to play violin and flute
I’ll keep a set of snare drums at my house
and we’ll organize a marching band for the neighbors’ afternoon
enjoyment then afterward go out for pizza and sugar-laden pop
that fizzes in their cups as I liberally fill grubby hands with quarters
to spend on machines at the prepubescent casino.

But I have to get old and I know I should tap into the well
and have a greater capacity for love and acceptance than youth can give
but I probably won’t—I’ll forget how to use a debit card
and police young people on their dress and driving skills
because polyester pants with elastic waistbands are very concealing
and you should never exceed 30 miles per hour
for safety reasons and gas consumption, I won’t be able to babysit
on account of the silence I need and the naps I take
to endure the bodily pains and neat-freak house filled with collections
of crystal and glass and antique furniture that might break.

O but what about childhood? I forget childhood
and all the wonder that surrounds a child
it’s just that the idea of becoming a grandmother feels like a strange garment
that’s too tight here and too long there—I never want to be an old woman
who is always cranky and expects short adults
so has lost something that maybe I can find—
going back to the beginning and with fresh eyes see
everything new again.

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Party Hats

My oldest son is 16. I made him his first quilt when he was about 4 years old and it had been worn to shreds. I had a dilemma–how do I make him a quilt that signifies his love of everything outer space, but maintain the dignity of a teenager? I found this pattern called “party hats” on McCall’s quilting website and thought it looked like simple stars. I had not done anything more complicated than squares and strips before, so I was entering new territory. I was surprised to find this block very easy to piece together. He really likes it and always has it on his bed.


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Hourglass quilt

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It all starts with fabric. I love fabric. I wander slowly through the fabric store, touching each bolt tenderly.

Next comes the search for the perfect pattern to complement the fabric I fell in love with.

Then, cutting a piecing of the design. I spent a wonderfully peaceful day doing this:

Ahhh, bliss.

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