Saturday, November 28, 2009
Art You Can Sit On
I’ve always admired functional art, whether in clothing (kimonos, beautiful velvet scarves), dishware (hand-thrown one of a kind pottery), furniture (antiques with inlaid wood, beautiful hand-crafted curves and fitted corners), or jewelry (dangling beaded earrings). My city has a program called the ArtStart Bench Series where local artists, including children, beautify the downtown park benches. I had lunch the other day on Salvador Dali. Alfred Hitchcock was nearby. The fanciful musings of creative minds have made park bench sitting a gallery experience. Whether people watching, pigeon feeding, or just hanging out reading a book, you become part of the art. To get an up close and personal look at the benches above, click on the photos.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
Over the years in my day job as a psychotherapist, I’ve heard thousands of ‘stories’, none of which I can share outside of my consultation group; stories of courage, of heartbreak, of inconceivable suffering and loss, of creative growth and transformation, all of which have moved and molded me in some way.
Occasionally a client’s story will continue to haunt me. Even though the therapy has terminated, the images linger in my consciousness. As a way of processing the material while maintaining confidentiality, I turn to fiction, my favorite form of creativity.
Quilt of Souls is a story of five pages. I’m going to post it all in one sitting, so this will be a long one. The picture above is a painting that I found at a garage sale years ago (artist unknown). It speaks to me of many things, but perfectly illustrates this story. Welcome to my world:
Quilt of Souls
“Shhh, baby, baby, Momma’s sleepin’,” crooned seven-year-old Natalie to baby Landry wailing crocodile tears from the folds of her cradle. Natalie brushed back frizzy, dry hair like September wheat, from her own face and tucked it behind a delicate ear as she bent to free the infant from her swaddling. The back of her hand felt the wetness of soggy cradle sheet and her palm moistened with baby pee.
The room was hot and stuffy like the inside of an old trunk. There was not enough light to avoid tripping over the bottles strewn about the carpet, leaking rank fumes and amber liquid.
Landry continued howling like an alley cat in heat, her face red and swollen, her body reflecting the hot summer day. Natalie peeled off layers of blankets and threw them across the room in the general direction of the bucket. Baby pee didn’t smell so bad, she thought, as she laid Landry on a mostly clean towel. Not like the pee that puddles up under Momma. Dang, she wished she were at the swimming pool with Adele and Shank.
Out on the street she heard Butch, cussin’ out some poor bastard who happened to park in the curb space Butch considered his very own. She shook her head, the way a wet dog does, to try to get the sound of his voice out of her. When he had turned that shout on her, she had pulled so far inside she had near disappeared.
“It’s okay, Landry, I’m not gonna disappear on you,” she reassured the baby and herself. “You and me, someday we’re gonna get outta here. Open us up an ice cream store. Sell balloons and kites, too,” she sang the familiar mantra of better days ahead.
The baby, quiet now, stared up at her with eyes like saucers of fear and dread. Her tiny mouth sucked silently on her thumb as if it offered sustenance and protection from the evil so small a being should never have known.
An ambulance careened into the alley. The scream of the siren cut through the summer dusk scattering children playing Kick the Can, neighbors catching the first waft of cool evening breeze from rickety fire escapes, and stray cats rubbing against overflowing garbage pails. Bodies dispersed only to reconvene in morbid curiosity as the paramedics rushed up the steps of the brownstone.
“Stand back, folks,” Ed Fontaine used his bulk to clear a path through the onlookers to the open door of Number 11. He usually worked crowd control, leaving his partner La Rue quick access to triage. Ed never developed a stomach for being first on the scene.
“Oh, pee-euw!” said old Mrs. Hickey from across the hall. She reeled against her doorframe and covered her mouth and nose with the back of her liver-spotted hand.
From the far reaches of clouded consciousness, Cora heard Butch’s voice full of venom hiss, “Go on bitch, die. Do the world a favor.” Then, from nearer, “on my count, one, two, three...” and her body was shifted onto a hard surface. Then blackness all around.
In the ambulance, La Rue called in their ETA along with the alcohol and barbiturate overdose of 54 year old white female, Cora Buckley.
“Amen,” whispered Marvel as she finished her daily prayer for Jazelle’s soul and blew out the white candle on her altar. A slow drip of molten wax worked its way down the candle and melded into the silk scarf she used as an altar cloth.
The acidy sounds of The Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit blared from the shabby speakers balanced on a warped board that served as the dining table. They never ate at the table as Jazelle preferred a collection of TV trays that she’d decoupaged with pictures of bejeweled, toothy actors and actresses from her movie magazines.
Jazelle exhaled sweet, pungent smoke from her nose, leaving vapor trails in the air. “And the ones your mother gave you don’t do anything at all,” she sang in a sultry Grace Slick impersonation. Her big gold hoop earrings bobbled against her chin as she shook her head, flinging her sleek black hair over her shoulders and back again. Enough of all this gloom and doom, she was having herself a par-ty.
Baby Landry’s red-eyed gaze looked detached and far away through the cloud of smoke, but she was quiet now.
“Would you like to light a candle and pray for anyone, Natalie?” Marvel offered. “I’m praying for Cora. I figure she could use all the prayers she can get, locked up in that hospital.
“I don’t have much use for prayer,” Natalie said, keeping her voice even. “What kind of God would let this happen anyway?”
“Saint Marvel probably has an answer for that, don’t you Marvel?” asked Jazelle in a dreamy voice, swaying to the music in the middle of the room with the baby in her arms. The infant’s limbs hung limply and wobbled to the beat.
“God works in mysterious ways,” Marvel’s voice was full of quiet conviction. “I believe She’s working through us right now, to bring strength and hope to Cora,” she said.
Across town, in a dimly lit back room of the Psych. Ward at St. Boniface, Cora stirred in the muss of sheets, wet with sweat and tears. Her own stench made her nauseous.
“Damn, that was a stupid thing you did back there. You could’ve burned the whole place down with that lit cigarette that fell on the floor. What a cow,” Butch spared no mercy.
“Shut up! Shut up and go away. Leave me alone,” Cora managed to rasp out through a parched throat. Her scalp itched and the skin on her face burned. Every muscle felt as though it had been stretched taut then let go. She took the fear and despair she felt, loosened a brick in the wall of her emotional well, stuffed the feelings in, and tamped the brick back securely in place.
“You wouldn’t last a day without me, you idiot. Who the hell you think takes care of things when you’re shit-faced? I don’t know why I bother with the likes of you,” he harangued.
A young nurse with pale blonde hair pulled back in a long braid that swung as she crossed the room, scribbled notes in a manila chart and checked the white paper cup the pills came in to make sure it was empty. She made no eye contact, didn’t speak. Cora sensed that the woman was holding her breath.
“Could I get a drink--Cait?” she asked, noting the nurse’s name badge.
“Yeah,” whispered Butch, “just throw a liter of whiskey in the bag. Heh, heh. Cait,” he smirked just loud enough for Cora to hear, “not K-a-t-e, but C-a-i-t. Sheesh. Must be from California.”
Cora’s head was pounding. Cait Plunkett, LVN, answered in a voice that felt like Graham cracker crumbs in the bed. “Ice, you can have ice,” she said, looking at Cora’s chin. She turned abruptly and left the room.
“Flo Nightengale she ain’t,” muttered Butch.
“Leave me alone!” Cora shouted, pressing her temples and squinting against the pain.
“You don’t speak to me like that, woman.” Butch was on her like a junkyard dog. Before she knew what was happening, he had yanked her by the arm out of bed and onto the floor. She heard a soft thud on her way down as her head met the corner of the drawer that had been pulled out from the bedside table. Blood oozed down the front of her white hospital gown. Her vision blurred and a searing pain finally caught up with her.
A keening cry that Cora didn’t realize was her own, brought an attendant on the run, followed by Nurse Plunkett. Butch had vanished.
Back in the apartment, Natalie sat on the edge of the bed, rocking back and forth. “She’s not coming back, I know it,” she cried. She had used up all of her patience trying to calm Landry who had kept up a steady wail for the last hour. Her nerves were shot. She was scared.
“Oh, she’ll be just fine,” Jazelle patted her leg. “Have another brownie. You want more Coke?” she asked as she reached for a tube of lipstick on the nightstand. With a deft hand, she applied a layer of ice-pink over her lips, followed by another, and another. She flashed a butter- cream frosting smile at the mirror.
Natalie felt the mattress indent as Marvel curled up behind her, wrapped her arms loosely around her and whispered in her ear, “Pray with me.”
“Oh for heaven sake, Marvel, why don’t you pray that baby shuts up pretty soon or we’ll all be in the nut house!” Jazelle said.
As if plugged into an invisible battery, Landry launched into an even more vigorous outpouring of ear-splitting, raw emotion. Natalie sobbed quietly. Marvel began a “Hail Mary.” Jazelle reached for her nail polish.
In his own private world far away, Butch swore under his breath, “I’ll show you who is boss. Next time I just might kill you.”
An attendant wheeled Cora into an office on the second floor of the hospital. “Good morning, Cora. I’m Doctor Morgan Craul. You may call me Morgan. I’ll be your therapist for the next few weeks.”
“Okay,” Cora mustered. She couldn’t keep her mind focused. Why was she here?
“Do you know where you are, Cora?” Morgan asked. Her voice was calming. She seemed genuinely concerned. Cora nodded.
“Could you tell me where you are please,” Morgan was more specific this time. She looked into eyes that shifted like sand in the dunes. She knew that look.
“Damn, lady, if you don’t know, you’re in worse shape than I am.”
Morgan blinked at the deep voice, the hostile tone. She drew in a slow breath, settled back in her chair and said, “Hello, I’m Morgan. What may I call you?”
“You may call me a cab so I can get the hell outa here,” Butch answered. “She doesn’t need you, so why don’t you go do your do-gooding somewhere else, okay?” He leaned forward, hands braced on the seat of the couch, as if readying himself to lunge.
“Who else do you speak for?” Morgan asked. “May I speak to another?” She waited and watched the shift of energy, the carriage of the body, the melding of the eyes from one personality to another.
Unguarded tears ran from the eyes of the exhausted child who appeared before her.
“I can’t make her stop crying,” she said in a small voice. “I don’t know what to do,” she sighed, and pulled her legs up onto the couch, hugging them close to her body with her arms.
“How old are you, and what may I call you?” Morgan asked softly.
“Natalie. I’m seven. And I have to take care of baby Landry.”
“That’s a terribly big job for a seven-year old girl. Do you have any help?” Morgan prompted.
“Jazelle is supposed to be watching us. And Marvel.” Natalie blew her nose with the Kleenex Morgan handed her. “But they’re really not much help,” again, a jagged little sigh that sounded like a whimper.
“I’d like to be of help, if I could,” Morgan offered. “Do you suppose I could speak to Jazelle or Marvel? And, I’d like to talk to you again in a bit, if that would be okay.” Morgan wondered what trauma had left a seven-year old in charge of the system.
The gate was open. It was unusual to have so much revealed at the first session. She wondered if Cora had any idea.
Saturday, November 14, 2009
I’m thinking back to my second earliest memory of crouching over a mud puddle in the dirt driveway—I must have been three at most. The rain had cleared, and the sun shone on this mini-pond of water where oil residue floated from the family’s old Chevrolet.
I distinctly remember trailing my pointer finger through the puddle rearranging the rainbow that danced and swirled on the surface of the water. If I tapped the surface gently, little ripples of color spread in concentric circles. In my memory, I was there for a long time (it could have been minutes in child-time), experimenting with different media—a piece of gravel dropped from standing up height, a leaf floated on top. To a child (and I’m hoping to some adults), the world is a big canvas and everything is fair game for art.
All these many years later, the surface of the water in my hot tub when the moon reflects there making beautiful kanji that shape shifts with the slightest movement fills me with the same child-like awe and wonder.
Cloud art is still a favorite pastime from childhood. Ever shifting, what may appear as a princess on a camel at one moment turns into a cat eating an ice cream cone the next. Do you see the salamander in the cloud picture above? Click on it to make it bigger.
Leaves that float along the edge of the creek in a pattern that suggests a story, textured plaster on ceilings and walls (what do you see in the white picture above?), the arrangement of moss on a tree, are all sources of art expressing itself if you take time to look.
The water-trickles on the glass door of my shower have become a favorite canvas. I stumbled on this accidentally. Reaching for the towel I’d tossed over the rim of the shower, I splashed water on the steamy door. The splashes trickled down in an odd pattern. As I watched mesmerized three little children took form. I used my little finger to fill in some detail and found to my delight they were holding hands dancing in a circle. Not being an artist (my sister got that gene), I wasn’t able to recreate the picture once I was out of the shower. But for a moment, serendipity and I created a sweet piece of art there in the shower stall.
If you let your mind be a playground, you’ll never be bored. Creativity is free, and you don’t need anyone else to play.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
In my blog dated 10/27/09, I mentioned that the month of November is dedicated to creative expression in its many forms at the Center for Spiritual Living http://www.cslsr.org . A regular contributor is Monty Monty http://www.montymontyart.com/goodies.html , a found-object composition artist (see heart art above). Each year I wait excitedly to see what marvelous creation he’ll pull together using the most unlikely pieces of unrelated material.
That’s sort of like community; a lot of unique and (seemingly)unrelated people come together to experience the whole as greater than the sum of its parts, and who know that when we gather, something wonderful is created which is dependent on each and every individual. Without one, the outcome would be a whole different 'piece of art'. I wish for you a good balance of individual and community expression that will enrich your life and the lives of those around you.
Saturday, November 7, 2009
Continuing on from my last post:
A week before the Ronald event, I set my alarm for six A.M., turned off my light and watched the ten o’clock news from bed. By the time the automatic timer clicked the T.V. off at ten-thirty, I was sound asleep.
Just after midnight, Deirdre pounded on my door.
“Sharm, Sharm...did you call me?” she hollered through the closed door. Her voice had that hysterical edge to it.
I turned over, fumbled for the bedside light.
“Sharm? Are you in there?” Deirdre demanded. Bang, bang. “I heard you call my name.”
I pulled myself to a sitting position. “I didn’t call you,” I hollered back at the bedroom door.
Deirdre opened the door and stuck her head into the room. “But, I heard someone call my name and you’re the only one here,” she insisted.
How do you prove to someone that you didn’t do something? Was it even worth trying?
“Deirdre, go back to bed. I didn’t call you. I was asleep until you woke me just now,” I tried to keep my voice steady.
Hands on hips, Deidre insisted, “But I know it was you.”
“GET OUT OF MY ROOM!” I yelled, shaking my fist, and yes, even baring my teeth.
“Well!” Deirdre said, her voice huffy. “You don’t have to be such a bitch.” She yanked my door shut with such force the walls rattled. A framed picture of Quoin Yin, goddess of compassion, fell with a crash, tossing shards of glass into the carpet like Pick-Up-Sticks.
A week later, at 3:30 A.M., Deirdre burst through my bedroom door and switched on the overhead light. The door slamming into the telephone stand and 100 watts flooding the room yanked me from a deep sleep.
“Get the fuck out of bed and come clean up your mess!” she screamed, red faced, eyes bulging.
I sat bolt upright, shook my head, blinked a few times and said, “What on earth are you talking about?”
“Oh, yeah, like you don’t know. Get up, asshole!” she demanded. She shook her clenched fists and took a menacing step through the doorway. “You flooded the toilet with your feces and waste just to mess with me. I know what you’re trying to do.”
It was like a scene out of Mommie Dearest, and it took everything in my power to remain rational. I had a choice here. I could watch her psychotic break from the vantage of my bed and hope she didn’t hurl herself at me, or I could drag myself into the bathroom and unclog the toilet which was, indeed, overflowing with toilet paper and excrement. Deirdre stormed back into her own room, slammed the door, all the while muttering about conspiracies.
“Did you call the police?” Beth asked the next morning.
“And tell them what? My housemate plugged up the toilet and blamed me? Yeah, right. I’m sure that would be high priority, right up there with armed robbery and rape,” I grumbled.
I waited for the next step. Blevins promised me a process server would contact Deirdre in a few days to inform her she was being evicted. I worked later and later at the bank to avoid having any contact with Deirdre. It didn’t work.
“Well, you’re finally home,” Deirdre sniped at me as I opened the back door that led into the kitchen.
“I just wanted to tell you I’ve taken the mail box off the porch and asked the carrier to slip all the mail through the slot in the front door,” she whined.
“Why on earth would you do something like that?” I said, appalled. I’d hung the expensive, handcrafted, artsy mailbox that color-coordinated with the freshly painted porch just before I began showing the place. Curb appeal, Beth had called it.
Even worse, the front door was part of Deirdra’s rental. I had no access to the room that was now receiving my mail, which made me completely dependent on the good will of Deirdre.
“That’s, that’s--unacceptable,” I searched feebly for the right word for this latest insanity.
“Well,” Deirdre simpered, “I know you’ve been stealing my mail, so I’m just taking control of the situation. I’ll bring your mail into the kitchen in the evening,” she said with a little pout.
Deirdre’s mail consisted of movie magazines, coupon offers, and a handful of bills, which went upaid.
“It’s mail fraud, or something, isn’t it?” Beth asked during our nightly phone conversation.
“I don’t think so--not unless she withholds my mail,” I said. “She’s crafty. She walks just on the inside of the line. I don’t know how much longer I can last,” I said as tears welled up.
“Five days max, right? She’ll be gone,” Beth said, trying to reassure me.
“I suppose,” I said sighing deeply.
On the afternoon of the fifth day, I sat at my office desk staring at the computer. Words swam incomprehensibly on the screen. I placed a call to Blevin’s office.
“That woman--she’s still here. Why is she still here?” I pleaded.
“Can’t serve someone who’s not there, can ya?” Blevins replied. For this I am paying a dollar a minute.
“What do you mean she’s not there? She’s home every day, all day, sleeping.” My grip on rationality began to slip. I paced my cubicle.
“Process server says no car in the driveway, no answer at the door. Can’t get blood from a turnip, girlie,” he summed. “If she comes home…”
“I’m telling you she IS home; she’s just not answering the damned door.” I could feel my face burn with fury.
“As I was saying,” Blevins continued slowly, deliberately, as if addressing a slow child, “if you know she’s home, call the process server at this number right away. They’ll know what to do.”
I hung up after jotting down the cell phone number and sat glaring at the receiver as if it had somehow betrayed me.
“Jen, can you cover for me? I’ve got to run home for a moment,” I called over my shoulder to my secretary.
“Somethin’ to do with your crazy housemate, honey?” Jen asked. I don’t like mixing my work life with my personal life, so had kept the details minimal when Jen asked about the dark circles under my eyes.
“Yeah, sort of,” I said, grabbing my jacket.
“Hoo-eee,” Jen shook her head, “you can’t get rid of one and I can’t find one. Life’s unfair, that’s what I’m tellin’ you,” I heard her rant as I headed out the side door.
Traffic was light, and in five minutes, I pulled up against the curb in front of my brown-shingled bungalow on Foxwood. The driveway was empty of the usual powder blue Escort that marked Deirdre’s territory. Deirdre had taken over the driveway when she moved in, just as she’d taken over the front porch, the back deck, and the mail box. The driveway had been a concession due to her claim of a hip injury that made walking distances difficult. The resulting hostage taking of the deck and porch, were of the give an inch, take a mile variety.
“Well, I’ll be damned,” I muttered. “I know she’s in there.”
I shifted into first gear and drove to the corner. Impulsively, I turned left, deciding to circle the block. Left at the next corner, and there it was, in the middle of the next block, nestled between a mini-van and a Dodge pick-up.
“Ah ha!” I yelled. An older man in a tattered green coat walking a beagle raised an eyebrow as he hurried on past. I gripped the steering wheel to steady my shaking hands. I felt a rush of heat move from my belly, up my neck, and flood over my face. I clenched my teeth to stop them from rattling. My whole body vibrated with rage.
I screeched into the driveway and slammed through the back entrance of the house. I charged over to the phone that set on the night table and punched in the number Blevins had given me.
You’ve reached John ace process server. Leave me a message and I’ll call you right back, the recording went through the usual litany. I didn’t know if he meant John, ace process server, or John Ace, process server. And did it matter? He wasn’t there. I left my number, a two-word message, “Call me,” and hung up.
“Great, now I can’t leave.” Again, I felt that sense of being a captive in my own home. I reached for the phone to call Jen to let her know I’d been detained. What if John tries to call while I’m on the phone?
I sat, imprisoned in my chair staring at the phone. “Right back, right back,” I chanted, as if saying it would make it so.
Half an hour later, the phone’s sharp ring jarred me out of a doze of boredom. John would be right over. “All right, let’s get this show on the road.” I smiled as I hung up the phone, filled with hope, knowing the end was in sight.
The front door slammed at just that moment. I bolted for the window in time to see Deirdre bustling down the sidewalk in the direction of her car.
“How could she have possibly known?” I whined to John on his cell phone.
“I know; it’s uncanny, isn’t it?” he sympathized. “Listen, just call me, day or night, when she returns.” He hung up.
She didn’t return that night, or the next. Instead of the good night’s sleep I hoped for, I was hypervigilent, waiting for any sound that would suggest Deirdre had snuck back into the house.
Walking down the driveway Monday morning, I cast a glance at the front door to see if there was any sign of life in the front half of the house. The large window to the left of the door caught my eye. The curtains were gone.
“What the....” I turned and took the front porch steps two at a time. With my nose smashed against the window glass I stared in disbelief at the empty room.
I tried the doorknob that turned easily in my hand. As if moving through a fog, I stepped into the vacant room. The bedroom was also empty. In the middle of the floor there was a tattered piece of paper with a scribbled message:
I find you too abusive to live with any longer without risking my health. I don’t know why you’re so mean. I know rent was due last Friday, but I need that money to find a better place to live. You can return my deposit to my post office box. Deirdre.
“When hell freezes over,” I shouted.
“The nerve of her, leaving me like that,” I said to Beth from my office phone.
“Hey, didn’t you say you wanted her out at any cost?” Beth said. “You didn’t blink an eye at the retainer Blevins charged you...”
“Yeah, yeah,” I cut her off.
“She’s gone. That’s what’s important. She’s not in your life anymore. You’ll never have to cross paths with her again. Let it go,” Beth admonished.
“Thanks for the reality check,” I said. “Talk to you later.”
I sat staring at my desk calendar, pondering how fate had dealt me an unexpected hand. Beth was right, it was worth any amount of money lost in bills or rent to be rid of her. I felt my shoulders relax for the first time in months as I stretched my neck and rolled my head around in a slow circle.
“Gone, really gone,” I said, smiling.
“Say what?” Jen called from the door. “You talkin’ to yourself again?”
“Jen, you’re not going to believe this...”
“Hey, my news first,” Jen interrupted. “This is God in action, I swear,” she said, raising her hand in the air.
“You’ll never guess what happened. I just rented my spare room! After a month and a half, I was so desperate, I’d have rented it to the Devil,” she grinned. “Poor woman said she was leaving an abusive landlord situation.” Jen made a tsking sound and shook her head. “What’s this world coming to?”
Sunday, November 1, 2009
Life as fiction. Uh huh, you know what I’m talking about. It’s when something so horrendous happens that you can laugh, cry, have a nervous breakdown, or turn it into a story. I’m offering this story in two parts. I’ve still not mastered the short story genre. My short stories are too long, my novels are too short…somewhere in there I’ve tried a couple of novellas and seem to find comfort in that length. Housemate from Hell is a longish short story. Part One:
Housemate from Hell
“What do you want?” demanded the hunched-over demented looking little man peering around a metal file cabinet in the narrow reception room. The man’s nose was cross-hatched with red veins and his eyes bleared a nephritic yellow.
“I’m looking for ‘Show-no-mercy Blevins’,” I said. “Would that be you?” I could hardly contain a smirk at the thought that this character out of The Brothers Grimm could be the eviction lawyer Beth had raved about.
“Who would you be...and why would I be interested?” he sneered, sidestepping my question.
“I’d be Sharmalyn Burrell and you’d be interested because I have a check for $500 made out to Paul Blevins,” I said, not missing a beat.
The strange little man smacked his thigh and chortled. “I like your spunk, girlie,” he wheezed, as if sixty-some years of tobacco smoke had swathed his lungs and now rattled up through his larynx in a phlegmy cough.
I weighed the value of challenging the ‘girlie’ part and decided to put it on the back burner.
“So what’cher problem?” he hacked a mustard colored glob into a tissue he pulled from his trouser pocket.
I shrunk back slightly as the repugnant old geezer slammed the file drawer shut with his elbow and ambled my way. Suspenders. He was wearing plaid suspenders over a dingy white shirt. I shuddered and wondered briefly if this was his Court appearance attire.
“Housemate from hell,” I said, “crazy as a loon. I can’t stand it anymore.” My spunky demeanor began to dissolve and slide along with the tear that made its way down my cheek. Damn, I hate crybabies.
I flattened myself against the wall as Blevins squeezed past me, diffusing the scent of dirty underwear, and followed him down the short hallway to a small, dimly lit room that served as his law library. A battered wooden table filled most of the floor space. Six chairs upholstered in burgundy vinyl with stuffing escaping through tears in the fabric were slammed up against the table in a claustrophobic attempt to create the illusion that important meetings were held in this room. Dusty shelves crammed with color- coded law books ran ceiling to floor on three walls.
“Sit down, girlie, we’ve got papers to fill out,” he pointed to a chair. “You do what I tell ya, and we’ll have her candy ass out on the curb in a week or less,” he said, slapping the table with his pudgy palm. “Show-no-mercy Blevins, huh? Hah! That’s a good one.” Another cough rattled his chest.
Six months ago, Deirdre, mid-forties, shaped like a wine barrel, hair dyed ebony, came into my life. With three days until rent was due, the slightly anxious woman had seemed a godsend.
“I’ve been living in a motel for several months,” she’d confided in her breathy, asthmatic voice. “I simply must find a permanent place where I can stay forever,” she simpered.
I focused on the intent, not the content. Permanent renter, no more days of advertising my share rental, screening calls, interviewing loonies who were looking for housing because no one else would rent to them. No more dips into savings to cover the rent. So the woman was a little anxious. I could handle anxious.
“Sign those, at the “x” there,” Blevins slid a pile of forms in front of me, snapping me back to the present.
“What are they?”
“Don’t worry about it, just sign ‘em,” he said, busying himself with another stack of papers he’d extracted from his battered leather briefcase, mended with duct tape. “Trust me, I’m on your side, girlie,” he wheezed and spat once more.
I was not comforted by this.
Blevins asked questions and filled in blanks with a curiously childlike script.
“Here’s what’cha do. Follow these directions,” he handed me a short list. “You think you can follow three simple steps, girlie?” he fixed his jaundiced gaze on me.
“For god sake, I run a branch office of a bank. Yeah, I think I can handle three steps,” I said, my patience with Blevins having hit the wall.
“There’s no room for creativity here. Just follow the directions. One. Two. Three,” he ticked off three fat fingers in front of his face. “Then call me. Leave a message that you’re done. Got that?”
“I think I got that,” I said, my sarcasm was lost on him. “And then what? I mean, how soon will she be out?” I hated that my voice cracked with desperation.
“Don’t worry about that. I’ll tell you whatcha need to know when ya need to know it,” he said, gathering up papers and shoving them back into the briefcase.
I needed air. I slid the check across the table and left the library.
“What a nut case,” I muttered to myself on my way through the reception area.
“I beg your pardon?” queried an elderly receptionist with frosted hair who had been nowhere in sight when I arrived. She arched a penciled-in eyebrow at me.
“Uh, I said, glad he’s on my case--Mr. Blevins, that is.” I offered a feeble smile and slipped out the front door.
The sun was warm on my face although the temperature wasn’t expected to reach fifty. I sunk behind the wheel of my orange VW Bug and felt as flat and empty as a blown tire. My stomach rumbled. Visions of corndogs danced in my head. I started the engine and headed toward The Doggie Haus.
“No more veggies, ever,” I swore. For the last week, to avoid crossing paths with Deirdre in the kitchen, each evening I had armed myself with a bag of veggies and box of Ritz crackers I munched in my room with the door closed. There was a limit to the amount of broccoli I could consume. Breakfast wasn’t a problem, as Deirdre didn’t rise until four or five in the afternoon.
As I pulled into a parking spot and turned off her ignition, I noticed the stack of Deirdre’s unpaid share of the bills I’d forgotten to leave with Blevins. “Ugh,” I grunted, as much at the oversight necessitating another trip to Blevin’s office, as the memory of confronting Deirdre about the gas, garbage, phone, and water bills.
“Gee, I just don’t seem to have enough to cover those bills,” she’d simpered. “Maybe you could just pay them since they’re in your name. Wouldn’t want you to get in trouble now, would we?” she’d giggled. She had actually giggled.
I shoved the door to The Doggie Haus harder than was necessary banging it against an overflowing wastebasket. An array of dirty paper products streaked with catsup and mustard tumbled out onto the floor.
At the counter, a pimply-faced youth dressed in a weenie uniform took my order. As I carried my tray toward an empty corner table, a girlish voice called my name. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Deirdre waving wildly from a booth along the window.
“Sharm, Sharm...over here,” Deirdre called.
Without turning my head, I set my tray on a table in the corner, and feigned returning to the condiment hutch for catsup. I passed the hutch and walked on out the door, nausea chasing me like a bad doggie.
If I drove home quickly, I could commandeer my veggie bag and cracker box before Deirdre returned. I felt like a fugitive in my own home.
“Why don’t you call the police?” my neighbor Beth’s voice demanded on the other end of the phone after hearing the latest housemate horror story.
“Beth, it’s not like she was stalking me. We both just wound up at the weenie place at the same time. It just creeped me out is all,” I sighed.
It was Beth I called after each incident to get a sanity check. It was Beth who suggested eviction. It was Beth who referred me to Paul Blevins. The closest I had ever come to interacting with the legal system was watching Law and Order on late night television. I tried to think of life with Deirdre as possible script material—woman found strangled in suburban kitchen.
“That girl is bad news. Why you’ve let it go this long is beyond me,” Beth said when I told her about Ronald.
Ronald was Deirdre’s boyfriend, an older guy, skinny as a rail and half the height of a telephone pole. Ronald drove up from the City every weekend. Deirdre would reimburse him for his gas-guzzling old Desoto. The rest of the weekend, she would berate him for being a lousy excuse of a man, and he’d cower and apologize. Go figure.
One Saturday night, around ten o’clock, Ronald banged on my bedroom door.
“I’m so sorry to bother you,” he began. “Can I borrow ten dollars from you? I need to get out of here,” he looked back over his shoulder toward the kitchen. “She’s crazy--she won’t give me gas money to leave. She pulled out a can of mace,” he said. He spread his hands and shrugged hugely.
I gave Ronald a ten and wished him good luck. I never saw Ronald again.
A week before the Ronald event, I set my alarm for six A.M., turned off my light and watched the ten o’clock news from bed. By the time the automatic timer clicked the T.V. off at ten-thirty, I was sound asleep.
Just after midnight, Deirdre pounded on my door.
“Sharm, Sharm...did you call me?” she hollered through the closed door. Her voice had that hysterical edge to it. STAY TUNED FOR PART TWO…