Intermission: Excerpt from Lookout Butte

 

Since Chickenshit: Or How a City Girl Does Country All Wrong has reached its halfway point, I am taking a break this week to share a brief excerpt from my novel, Lookout Butte.

Lookout Butte is the story of a young lesbian couple in the mid Ought-Thousands who are just learning what it means to be a couple. There lives are complicated by guilt, jealousy, demanding work schedules, families of origin, and that bug-a-boo so many of us suffer from, lack of communication.

This scene is one where Alex kind of loses her shit. She has taken on a weekend job in addition to her social work program, so she rarely gets to see her partner, Kat. Alex has always struggled with accepting Kat’s job as a bartender and her fan club of bar skanks, with their overt gestures towards her girlfriend, despite Kat having sworn them off for good. But being gone all the time has Alex’s paranoia cranked up full blast.

… Alex was at the library, tying up loose ends on her coursework. She found it hard to concentrate, so she decided to take a break and see Kat. She could finish up in the morning.

Alex scanned the bar, and not seeing Kat, she sat down at a table and tossed her bag on the chair next to her. She crossed her legs at the knee, placed her arms on the armrests, and shifted her dangling foot to and fro. She glanced around the room again. The usual crowd. David was in his corner behind the bar, pouring some sort of complicated drink for a slightly balding gentleman, making conversation the whole time. She fished her phone out of her bag. No messages. She drummed her fingers on the table and glared at two women on the dance floor. One of them was sloppy drunk and gyrating against the other whose face was crimson with embarrassment. Alex hopped up and gathered her bag and traded her phone for her keys. She checked the bathroom and exited through the alley. No Kat. She walked back around to the front of the bar to get to her car, glancing where Kat usually parked her bike, expecting to see a bare pole. But the bike was there, locked neatly in place.

Her fingers tightened around her keys, as she stood, motionless. Her face was blank, as if waiting for an emotion to register. She plodded back to her car and got in. A white-hot energy flamed outward from her gut and engulfed her whole body. Her face contorted as though she were going to cry, but, instead, her right fist came up and slammed into the car’s ceiling, then onto the steering wheel and dash. “GODDAMMIT, GODDAMMIT, GODDAMMIT!” Tears welled in her eyes, as she continued to curse and punish the car for the imagined sins of her girlfriend. Nothing existed now but this pain, a riptide grabbing hold of her rational thought and dragging it from her grasp. Her eyes were open to the view of the street and the dark sky before her, but all she could see was Kat mounting some drunken woman from the bar, maybe in a car on this very street. Or maybe she was going down on her in her apartment right now. Will I ever be enough for anybody? She cradled her right wrist in her left hand, and, after a time, her eyes could focus again, and she put the keys into the ignition.

Alex arrived home about 11 o’clock. The place was quiet, but when she reached the bedroom…

 

What do you think happens next, and why? I will post the end of the scene next week, or sooner if there is enough interest.

Chickenshit: Crisis #5 Happy Valentine’s Day, Frodo.

February 3, 2013 (continued)

I crammed down a pop-tart (organic and gluten free from the Co-op), and got dressed and ready for snow shoveling by the time Jodie and her dad, Russ, showed up. Russ was a broad-shouldered, easy-going guy, who greeted me with a big, warm smile. He was happy to clear the driveway out, and he and his tractor made short work of it before heading down the road towards Elliot’s place. That left me and Jodie to shovel out paths to the goats, chickens, and dogs. I’m no stranger to snow, having been to Snoqualmie Pass more than a few times in the last four years, but I think I have only actually shoveled snow once in my whole life. And that was a sidewalk. It’s a lot different shoveling over gravel and grassy areas, since the blade doesn’t have a flat, hard surface to work against. I have to give Jodie credit, because not only did she shovel circles around me, she lined out all the paths, showed me how to clear the gates, and did not get all condescending over my ineptitude.

When we got out to the kennel, the dogs were yelping like the hounds of hell, like someone’s leg was in a trap. I had to fight Pippin and Bruno to get the snow off the gate just to open it. We went inside and gave them all snacks, then shoveled snow out of the run part, so they could get around easier. I tried to scoop up some poo, but it was frozen to the ground and didn’t want to budge. I got out a little digging tool and finally got the pile and a good chunk of earth lifted out and put in a bag.

“The glamorous side of pet ownership,” Jodie said. She scratched Lucy behind the ears and checked out the kennel.

“Well, it’s better than the alternative,” I said. I turned to put my treasure into the trash can and suddenly felt my feet slide out from under me and my butt make hard contact with the ground. The poo bag left my hand, flew over my head, and landed at Jodie’s feet.

“Score!” She yelled, causing the dogs to get excited again.

“Sorry.” I wanted to turn red with embarrassment, but I joined her in laughing at me instead.

She slid over to one of the dog houses and peered inside. “What’s going on with you, little guy?” It was the Scottie mix.

“Is something wrong with Frodo?” I walked over, rubbing my backside through my snow pants.

“I don’t know.”

Frodo crawled forward to the edge of his house and stopped. I reached in behind his shoulders and gently lifted him out. His eyebrows twitched with worry.

“Frodo, what’s wrong?” Jodie asked and leaned over me to boop his nose. She cleared some clumps of snow and dirt out of his paws with her fingers, but when she got to his back left paw, he yanked it back. “Uh-oh.” She touched his upper leg and wrapped her hand around it, pushing his paw out into the air. Frodo tolerated her enough to let her clean out his toes, but when I put him down he limped back into his house and lay down again.

“What should I do?”

“I’d call the vet.”

“Which vet?”

“I go to Black Canyon Vet Clinic, and the vet there is great. I don’t know where your dad went.”

“I guess I could find out from Elliot, or if I ever start to go through my dad’s paperwork.”

“It must be hard, losing your dad.” She kicked a little bank of snow with her foot.

“Well, yes, but it’s kind of weird. I didn’t really know him that well before. I think I know him better from staying here than from all the phone calls I had with him over the years.”

“Oh, that’s too bad. He was so funny. He helped me on a 4-H project when I was little, and he came into the library all the time before he got sick. He used to do the pull my finger trick, just ‘cause it was so corny it made me laugh. He would check out like ten paperbacks at a time and bring them back before they were due. He read every one. I’m lucky to get through a book a week. I miss him.” She looked up. “Oh, hey, there’s my dad heading back.”

We left Frodo and the gang and headed for the driveway. Russ pulled in and hopped off his tractor, leaving it running. He pulled off his hat, revealing a grim expression. “Elliot’s mom is in the hospital.”

“Oh, no.” Jodie said.

“I should go in and check on him. Which hospital?”

“They’re here in Emmett, just the one hospital.”

“Oh. How are the roads?”

“You should be fine, even with your little car, if you just take it slow. You should think about getting chains.” Russ put his hat and gloves on and got back on his tractor.

Jodie stood there looking at me for a moment. She pulled a business card from a zippered pocket on her coat and handed it to me. It was for her dad’s construction business.

“If you need anything, just call the number on the back.” I flipped it over to see a handwritten number. I felt my heart flutter a little. “That’s my cell.” She grabbed a side rail on the tractor and hoisted herself up. “See you later. Be careful.”

“I will.” What did it mean for her to give me her number? I’m sure she’s just being friendly, neighborly. Right?

I watched the ride back over to Sheila’s, load the tractor onto Russ’s trailer, and drive away.

 

February 4, 2013

 

It was a long day yesterday. I checked on Elliot and ended up running some errands for him, which I was glad to do. I fed his mom’s cat, picked up some clothes for him from his house, and I picked up a shawl he said his mother would want, one her mother made for her when she was little. Elliot is very close to his mother, and she may not make it out of the hospital this time. She’s almost eighty years old.

I went out this morning to get eggs, and one of the little terror orcs laid an egg way back under the main coop. I almost left it, but I thought about how bad it would smell if it broke later on, and that it might still be good, so I knelt down and duck-walked under the coop to retrieve it. I captured the golden coin and turned around to promptly smack my head against the floor of the coop. This made me pitch forward, and I almost landed on the hand with the egg in it, but instead I put my knee down into a quarter-sized ball of wet chicken poop. When I got to the edge of the coop, I turned around and carefully stood up so that I didn’t whack my head again. The rough board snagged my hair and yanked out a small strand.

I said a few choice words and finished up the egg run. As I walked across the driveway, I saw Jodie waving to me from Sheila’s place. I waved back, thinking I was glad she couldn’t see me close up, with my hair all teased out and poop smeared down my leg.

I got cleaned up and sat down at my dad’s desk, determined to go through some of his paperwork. He had actually bolted a pencil sharpener to the desk. I haven’t seen one since middle school. I took the container off and sniffed the shavings. I could almost see my dad sitting where I was sitting, turning the little handle. What was he writing?

There was a large blue book with graph paper in it where Dad had written down purchases for the farm. The last entry was from October for goat wormer. I remember him talking about that in the hospital, and it hit me just then how stupid I was. All that ranting he was doing at the hospice; he was trying to teach me something. And I was sitting there like some moron. “Like, whatever.” Oblivious to everything. I put the book back and sorted through a stack of warranties and product manuals for pumps, goat waterers, and electric fencing. It was just so overwhelming. I am in so far over my head. I hope I don’t ruin the place before I can get it sold.

I straightened up the desk and, afraid to throw anything out, I shoved a bunch of loose wires and metal twisty things into a bottom drawer.

I ate lunch, read some, and started to go out to check eggs again and feed the dogs when it hit me – Frodo! I forgot him.

It hadn’t snowed much since yesterday, so the shoveled path was clear. The other dogs were happy to see me and get fed, but Frodo was still in his house. I fished him out again, took him inside, and ended up stuffing him in a plastic kennel and leaving him in the house while I went to the hospital to check on Elliot and his mom.

The staff there is very friendly and they have been really good to Elliot. On my way out, I went to the bathroom, and while I was in there this little girl was in the stall next to me, humming and singing and swinging her feet. Her mom kept prodding her to finish up, but she was clearly running on her own time. I walked out of my stall a minute or so after her, and she looked up at me and said, “You’re in the wrong bathroom. You have to go to the boys’ bathroom.” Her mom said, “No, Ariel, that’s not right.” She mouthed, “Sorry,” to me before she left. I swear, is it me, or is it this place?

By the time I got back home from the hospital, it was dark and too late to call the vet. I took Frodo out and let him walk across the kitchen floor. He limped along on his poor foot but not as bad as before. His stench almost had a visible aura to it, so I stuck him in the kitchen sink and washed him up with shampoo. I rinsed several gallons of dirty water down the drain before he was even close to clean. He peed in the sink, so I figured we were good for the night on bathroom breaks. I wonder what breed or breeds were mixed in with Scottie. Beagle? Dachshund? Something short, anyway. He eyed me suspiciously as I cleaned out the kennel and lined it with an old towel, and when I tried to put him there later, he ran into the bedroom and curled up at the foot of my dad’s bed. Hmm. He slept there all night, so I didn’t see the point in kenneling him.

I thought about Ton-ton, and I thought about Jodie. What would be non-lame enough of an excuse to call her?

 

February 5, 2013

 

Frodo woke up before me, peed in the kitchen, and crapped on the carpet in the living room. Ugh. What was I thinking?

I called the vet, and she said to give it a day or two and come in during walk-in hours if there wasn’t a huge improvement.

 

February 8, 2013

 

I check on Elliot at the hospital every day. He has not been more than shouting distance from his mom since the day she went in. I asked him if there was anyone to call, family, church? But he said, “Nope. I’m the only one she has left.”

I have been going to the library in the afternoons, and I see Jodie there a lot. She gave me her number in case I needed help, and I am trying hard to not read anything into her kindness. I mean, her dad was there when she gave me her number. It is so hard, though, because she is sooo cute. I think about her a lot. And I am starting to feel isolated and out of touch with my friends. I texted a couple of my friends back in Seattle, but only got to talk to one of them for a few minutes. My phone kept cutting out. Did Dad feel this lonely?

Oh, Frodo is doing fine. Guess who has a new house pet? Yep, the vet said it would be risky putting him back outside in this cold after having him inside for so long. He is a good dog, though. Hasn’t “made” in the house since that first night. Vet thinks he’s about seven. He was neutered when Dad took him in about three years ago. He likely has a bad sprain, so he just needs time.

 

February 9, 2013

 

I went into Boise, and Nate got me set up for the part time gig with his radio station. It will be pretty close to the same thing I’m doing for the non-profit. This is great! They found a house they liked, but it already had an offer on it. They may end up waiting for spring, when most people put houses on the market.

A website I worked on last year finally paid me for my services! I didn’t think they would ever pay, so it was a complete surprise. Perfect timing. Dad has enough food, good food, around here for about twenty years, but I am getting a little tired of jams and crackers. Everything else has to be thawed or cooked in the slow cooker. And I was getting low on gas money. Liv would kill me, but I bought three bags of Combos – one pizza, one cheddar, and one regular, whatever that means, when I picked up a few things at the store. I got a gargantuan Mountain Dew from the convenient store on the way home and then I passed out on the couch. I’m sure the two things aren’t related.

Also, I cannot stop thinking about Ton-ton. Was there more to her than I remember? It is driving me crazy.

 

February 10, 2013

 

Elliot’s mom passed away this morning. I found him sitting on the roadside next to the hospital parking lot, no jacket on, and it was about forty-five degrees. I parked the car, went over, and sat down beside him.

“Hey.”

No response. We stared out across the road, watching our breath float away in the periphery and then disappear.

“I’m sorry,” I said. And it was probably the wrong thing to say, because Elliot let out a jagged breath and he just fell apart. His whole body shook, and he leaned forward, trying to hide his outburst. I scooted closer, trying to comfort him, but I wasn’t sure if I should put my arm around him or not. I finally did, and he calmed down.

“Sorry for that,” he said, once he could speak. He dragged his sleeve across his eyes and pulled his collar up to wipe his nose.

“It’s okay.” I was beginning to shiver, and I noticed him doing the same. “You want to go sit in my car?”

He nodded, and we went and sat inside, letting the heater blow full blast.

I realized that Elliot was now alone. Not alone like me, with no father and a mother living in another state, an ex-girlfriend who no longer cares about me. No, Elliot has no one. He has lived with his mom for decades, and now she’s gone. He has no father, no siblings, no girlfriend, no exes, or children, that I am aware of. Just a handful of neighbors.

He didn’t want to go back into the hospital, so we left. We got some drive-thru hamburgers, and I drove him home. He said he would be okay. I felt uneasy, but I had to trust him.

 

February 13, 2013

 

I have had a cold for the last few days, but I still made the rounds to take care of the animals.

Elliot did not leave his house for two days (I went by there a few times to make sure he was alright), but he came out this morning and fixed a few of the things I messed up. (I dropped a hay hook down into the feeder and couldn’t reach it and I apparently unplugged one of the heaters for the chicken water and it froze over.) Anyway, he is doing better. His mom’s funeral is on Friday. So that’s two funerals for me (and Elliot) in less than two months. That’s got to be some sort of record.

The bright side is Frodo. His foot is a little tender, but he is walking normally. He’s been my little buddy all this time. I can open the door, and he will run out and go do his business and come right back in. Amazing!

 

February 14, 2013

 

I am feeling a little better. I ran my usual chores, worked at the library for a few hours, had a good conversation with Jodie about books, and stopped by the farm supply store to get some boot laces, and this little exchange occurred.

As I stood in line, I could feel somebody watching me, so I turned around. A sawed-off redneck was staring me down.

“Is there something I can help you with?” I asked.

“Oh, shit, it’s a girl. Sorry, I thought you was a queer.”

“Well, I am, by the way.”

“Naw, I mean a queer boy. You mean you a lesbian?” He snickered.

I had just about had it when the cashier said, “Next, please!”

I handed her the laces and threw a glare at idiot boy, who was still giggling like some sort of teenage moron.

I got my change and receipt and decided to leave the store without further trouble.

“Now, Shirley, you stop that crap right now.” I turned back to see the cashier calling him out for being a jerk.

“Shirley? Ha!” I said so he could hear, then left the building.

As I was pulling away, idiot boy slinked off around the corner and down the street. The cashier must have really had his number.

The whole exchange left me feeling good, both that the cashier had called him out and that I stood up for myself. But when I got home, I looked at the calendar and realized it was Valentine’s Day. Yet, here I was, alone. I know it’s just an arbitrary day, but I didn’t get a heart from anybody. I’m sappy like that. I called Mom.

“Happy Valentine’s Day!”

Muffled noise. “Hang on a minute, sweetie … okay, okay, I’m here.”

“Happy Valentine’s Day, Mom!”

“Oh, happy Valentine’s Day, baby. Did you have a good day?”

“Not really, but it’s okay. Elliot’s out and about again. I got paid for a job I did a long time ago. And Frodo’s doing better.”

“Now, remind me who Frodo is.”

“The dog, Mom.”

“Oh, that’s right. Hey, I love you, sweetie, but I have to get the baby ready for bed.”

“Doesn’t the baby have a mother?” I had to admit, I was starting to feel a little neglected for an only child.

“Yes, but she gets a night off sometimes. I wish I’d had the night off from time to time. Anyway, got to go. I love you!”

“I love you, too, Mom.”

Click.

I took a video at random from my Dad’s stash and shoved it in the DVD player. It was a blow ‘em up movie. I took out the card Jodie gave me and turned it over and over in my hand. I had already memorized her number, and I hadn’t even called her once.

My phone buzzed with a text.

Ton-ton: Hey, girl. I’ve been trying to facetime you.

Oh, crap. I stared at the screen, not knowing what to do.

Ton-ton: ?

Me: Sorry, no internet here.

The phone rang.

“Hey, girl!” In baby talk, “I miss oo.”

“I miss you, too.”

“What have you been up to?”

“Just taking care of some family stuff. A friend of the family died, and her son is taking it pretty hard.” I was being intentionally vague, but with enough information to hopefully keep her from prying.

“Oh, that’s so sad.” Did she always sound like a bad pre-school teacher?

“Yeah, it is. So what’s up?”

“I wanted to wish you a happy Valentine’s Day. You know, I still think about you all the time.”

“I don’t want to hash that out again, Ton-ton. I think we’re better off apart. Aren’t you happier now with Rex, or whatever his name is?”

“He’s okay, beebs, but he’s no snuggle-bunny buddy.” Oh, god, what did I ever see in her?

“I should probably go. Happy Valentine’s Day.”

“Are you going to stay there forever, or are you coming back? Are you going to sell your dad’s place?”

“Huh? I never mentioned my dad’s place to you.”

“Well, no, I think Kelly mentioned something.”

Kelly was one of the friends I had texted. I was beginning to realize that Ton-ton thought I had money. I wanted to tell her she was barking up the wrong tree, that I was so broke I was joyous just to get some snacks and a soda as a treat. That she should crawl into a hole and die, like I wanted to do. But I didn’t.

“I gotta go.”

“Talk soon.”

Now it was my turn to hang up on someone. Click.

I wanted to scream, but I cried instead, angry that I hadn’t told Ton-ton off. I think I scared little Frodo, but he hopped up on the couch, anyway, and licked my face.

“At least you like me for me,” I told him. He tilted his head and licked me again. Then he curled himself up and laid his head on my lap. At least he can’t call me a snuggle-bunny buddy.

“Happy Valentine’s Day, Frodo.”

 

Chickenshit: Crisis #4 Chickenpooped

 

January 30, 2013

Last Tuesday

Well, the thing that was bothering me that day was that I didn’t latch the gate to the chicken coops. And what’s worse, I slept in the next morning and didn’t get out there until around 1:00. So the rounding up of birds fell to Elliot and our neighbor, Sheila Ybarra, who stopped to help him on her way out to get her groceries. She’s the one who has been picking up supplies for the farm since Dad got sick. I felt like an idiot for being so reckless, but Elliot said anybody could have done the same thing. He doesn’t think we lost any birds, at least. Goes to show, I am not cut out to be a farmer.

It was a little bit warmer than the day before, so I walked across the road to Sheila’s to tell her I was sorry about bugging her. I asked Elliot about taking her some eggs or stew, but he said, “Naw, we already traded. But let her know I saw her roan is looking a little weedy, so they need their hay checked over and more supplements, and see if she needs to get her teeth floated or get her wormed.” That was probably the most Elliot had ever said to me at one time so far. I’m not complaining. He does an incredible amount of work, and he is really easy to get along with.

I do have to say, though, Sheila is something else. She invited me into her house and wouldn’t let me leave without having some coffee with her. She showed me about forty pictures of her husband, kids, and grandkids, and she told me how her “sweet” husband passed on two years and three months ago. She leaned in and confided in me, “I didn’t even tell my daughter, but I’ll tell you. I wanted to lay down and die, too, but I got too much life left in me. I got my horses, church, the food bank, and seems there’s always nice new people showing up, like you.” She touched my wrist. “Hon, and you should see me when I get to Tempe. I am up at sunrise, playing with those babies, and I fall asleep in my chair after dinner, like a old person. I know, you think I’m old, but I never did feel old ‘til the day Argi came back from tending the sheep and sat in that chair over there …” She pointed to an orange rocker/recliner. “And cried. He wasn’t ashamed of crying, cried whenever he needed to – over lost loved ones, over nearly losing our Jinny, over many a people’s troubles – but never for his own pain. He said ‘I’m gonna have to quit, Sheila. I don’t have it in me no more.’ He sold the sheep off and was gone a year later. Anyway, I thank you for letting me know about Rosemarie.” It took me a minute to realize she meant the horse. “Oh, of course,” I said.

On my way out, I asked her if she had internet. She said she only had TV on internet and it was really expensive. “You know, your daddy helped me every once in a while when it went down. It’s funny, he knew everything you’d ever need to know about computers, but he never did have it at his own place. He said he could watch all the TV he wanted to on tapes and DVD’s. When he needed a computer, he went to the library in town.” After about an hour I got back to the farm and helped Elliot with the dogs and chickens, paying special attention that I latched the gates properly.

I stayed late that day and finished wiping out and rearranging the kitchen cabinets. Dad had a lot of canning jars full of about every kind of fruits and vegetables I’ve ever heard of and some I have not. There were blackberries, Marion berries, peaches, pears, tomatoes, squash, green beans, corn, salsa, pickles, and garlic. Whatever quince is, it is pretty. Besides that, he had some dented cans I’m assuming he bought by the case and a few canisters of things like noodles, flour, and sugar. It looks like he has had a mouse or two. It creeped me out a bit, but maybe cleaning the place up will make them go away.

Before I left, I went over to the small TV Dad kept on a bookshelf a few feet from his recliner. The top shelves held DVD’s, probably a hundred or so, Westerns, Sci-fi, a Nova series, and various popular movies. The shelf under the TV was filled with VHS tapes. There were cartoons, sing-a-longs, and some Christmas shows. There was a copy of Prancer, the movie about a little girl named Virginia who believes in Santa Clause. I know it’s sappy, but that was one of my favorite movies growing up. I guess Dad held onto it, all of these tapes, for me. I have started to feel closer to him, spending all my time on the farm, but it hit me all of a sudden how much of his life I have missed out on. I mean, an entire technological advancement, VHS to DVD, took place during the years when I could count the times I had seen him on my fingers and toes and still have digits left over. I wish I had somebody to watch these tapes with. Maybe someday.

Last Wednesday

I got an assignment from my boss that was due on Friday, so I tried to stay up late and work on it, but I zonked out after a half hour. I managed to get out to the farm early, so I didn’t feel bad about leaving at 2:00. I remembered Sheila saying Dad used the library in Emmett for Wi-Fi, so I went there to get my work done. They were really nice. An older lady named June and a woman about my age, Jodie, got me all set up on a desktop. It was easier to do the updates on my laptop and see the changes on the desktop. They were only open until 6:00, but I got a lot done. Jodie is cute. Too bad she’s straight. I know I shouldn’t because she is a user and manipulator, but I miss Ton-Ton. I miss being in a couple, having someone to go home to.

Last Thursday

About the same as yesterday. There was a kids’ program at the library. They were adorable, getting all excited about arts and crafts. I remember doing those at my after school program. I think my mom still has this thing I made her. I took a little book and covered it in gold paint which glued all the pages and cover together. Then I wrote, “You Are #1 in My Book, Mom” as the title in black paint. I am exhausted but almost finished with the coding changes that Deb sent me.

Last Friday

After I finished the assignment and got back to Liv’s, I made the mistake of telling her that I was feeling a little lonely, so she dragged me off to a couple of bars and would not take no for an answer. First we went to a gay bar, The Balcony. Liv kept pointing out cute and not so cute girls to me. There were a lot of straight girls there, bumping and grinding on each other. Normally, I find that kind of sad and cute, but in the state of mind I’m in, it just made me want to puke. I was nice to Liv, but, mercifully, we left after an hour and went to a bar called Humpin’ Hannah’s, which I did not hold out a lot of hope for, but we had a good time. We sat upstairs and watched all sorts of people walk past us on the sidewalk outside, then Nate joined us, and we went down to the dance floor for a few songs. Nate is growing on me. I mean, a lot of people change for their partner, and Liv is changing. I just don’t want her to lose herself being his girlfriend, wife, co-owners, baby-mama, or whatever they become. I swear, though, if they get a pug, I will be gone the next day and take Liv with me, if I can. She keeps trying to get me to go get a tattoo with her. Uh, nope.

Last Saturday

So, after getting home at 3 a.m., we had the great idea to get up early and go skiing. Nate is a freak for skiing, and Liv is getting to be, so I agreed to tag along. I have only skied a few times in my life: a couple when I was a little kid, a couple when Mom and I came back to my grandparents for Christmas break, and once at the Summit at Snoqualmie. The last time, I managed to get off the kiddie slope and ski one of the regular hills. I figured I could do that again.

We sang along with the Black Eyed Peas and talked nonstop along the twisty-turny road up to Bogus Basin. Traffic was not too bad that early. Liv offered to rent me some skis, but I really need to reign in how much financial help I take from her. She said she would take a break after a while, so I could borrow hers then if I wanted. We are about the same size and shared the clothes and shoes through college, so that would work out great.

Liv and Nate headed off to their separate locker rooms and I wandered off through the lodge. It was still kind of early, with only a handful of serious skiers there, ready to hit the slopes before the droves showed up. I shuffled past rows and rows of empty tables and blue metal chairs and went outside. The air was fresh and brilliant, strangely reminding me of a crisp apple and sheets warm from the dryer. I breathed in heavily and felt my stress melt away.

After a few minutes, I went back inside and sat down at a table facing the window and pulled out my dad’s copy of Stranger in a Strange Land. A lot of passages were highlighted and notes were scribbled down the side of the pages. I flipped to a random page and found one of his highlighted sections. It read:

”Love is that condition in which the happiness of another is essential to your own.”

And Dad wrote next to this, “Never forget this. Love is an action. In ways many and small. Until you see how essential they are to you.”

I thought that was pretty profound for my Dad. I turned back to the beginning and started to read. Moments later, I was asleep across the table. About three hours later, Liv woke me up. I was on the floor behind a bunch of oversized gear bags, and I have no idea how I got there. The bags were grey and black, like my clothes, so I blended in with them.

“Dude?! We were looking all over for you. You didn’t answer your phone!”

I pulled my phone out of my pocket, and it was dead. I sat up and told her I was sorry.

“That farm is wearing you out. Nate and I should go look at it and see if it is habitable. You are welcome at our place anytime, you know that, but maybe you need to stay out there during the week and back to our place on the weekend.” I told her she was probably right. Nate walked up just then.

“Oh, she’s okay,” he sighed a relief. “Are you okay?” He stared at me sitting on the floor.

“Yeah, but she’s exhausted! We have got to do something about it. Right?”

Nate looked at me for an answer, and I yawned my mouth open like an alligator. “Yes, of course,” he said.

“We can’t go out tomorrow because we have a thing at church.” She’d invited me a few times but finally gave up. “How about next Saturday?”

“Okay.” I tried to picture her and Nate in Dad’s living room, but the physics of it failed me.

Last Sunday

I slept the entire morning and part of the afternoon. I got up when Liv and Nate got back from church and went out and for coffee by myself. I drove up to the train depot and looked out over Boise. I remember coming here as a kid – just barely. I thought of calling Mom but texted her instead.

Hope everythings good. Hows Starvey?

Mom had been dating a guy named Harvey who ate like a starving Grizzly bear and had a bit of a beer gut.

Dont call him that. And hes fine. Hannah and his new gdaughter are staying with us. How are you, baby?

Hannah was Harvey’s daughter with his second wife. Mom would be his third if she’d ever agree, but she’s refused his proposal for close to a year. I think he may be resigned to living in sin by now.

Cold.

No duh. Farm going well?

Ish. Probably need to move in for a while if I ever want to get it ready to sell.  

Liv tired of you.

No. Im tired of the commute. She feels bad for me.

Fish and house guests, baby.

Huh?

They stink after three days. I miss you.

Me, too. Bye.

Call me soon.

Monday Wednesday  (Today)

This week I am following the same schedule as last week, but I decided to stay over tonight. I had dinner from stuff out of the cabinet. Green beans, corn, a corn dog from the convenient store, and for desert blackberry jam on some crackers that miraculously were not stale. I’ve been writing the last week down before I forget things, but I should probably go to sleep now, it’s just really quiet out here. And dark.

 

January 31, 2013

 

When I woke up it was still dark. I decided to make a quick trip to the coffee kiosk next to the convenient store about 15 minutes from here. The sun started coming up, as I headed back with an extra macchiato for Sheila and a hot chocolate for Elliot. I saw Elliot about halfway down the road, so I pulled up to my spot and carried the drink holder back down to the gate to meet him. “How-do,” he said. He pulled his wool hat down, accepted the hot chocolate, and thanked me.

“Wanna go over to Sheila’s first?” He mentioned yesterday that he needed to go do some things for her.

“Yep.”

So, we walked over and Sheila and I visited while Elliot did some horse care for her.

She has two quarter horses (does that make a half horse?). One is a roan (red) named Rosemarie and the other is a chestnut named Tucker. They are beautiful! She said she has a girl come over and ride them and care for them when she is gone. She’s leaving Saturday morning.

Elliot and I went back home and started on chores. We have this down now, so it goes a lot faster. Okay, it goes a lot faster now that I actually have some idea what I am doing. Get eggs, feed goats, make repairs, feed dogs, etc. Sometimes we divide and conquer, and the goats and chickens don’t have to be fed every day. There was a dead chicken in one of the coops this morning. Its comb was black and it looked blue around its mouth. It looked like it may have been that little grey hen that got out the first time I was here. Elliot said it was just the cold. It looked so pitiful as he carried it by the legs over to the trash can. A few of the birds have dark spots on their combs, and I am worried about them. I put more pine shavings inside their coops and nest boxes and straw in areas they congregate.

 

February 2, 2013

 

I spent last night cleaning the living room, bathroom, and kitchen again, but I know Liv will just barge in wherever she pleases, opening drawers, closets and cabinets, to see what I have gotten myself in for. She is like that, having to see everything for herself.

They got here around 10:30 and brought donuts and coffee. I heard them pull up and stepped out onto the porch to meet them.

“Oh, my gosh, are those Crocs?” she asked, looking at my foot ware. I ignored her and yelled at the dogs who were going off behind the house. They knew these people did not belong here.

“The dogs are cool,” I said. “They just want to know who’s here.”

Liv handed me the bag of donuts and walked past me and into the house. Nate got out of the car with a drink holder full of coffees and said, “Nice place. I’ve always liked goats.”

We walked in behind Liv and stopped just inside the door for them to take off their shoes. I looked at my cool hikers sitting in a boot tray, now trashed and covered in mud and, well let’s just stick with mud, and the new fleece-lined work boots I bought from the supply store in Emmett, also caked with mud. My Merrells were on standby whenever I wanted to go anywhere that didn’t involve mud.

“This is the grand tour of the house,” I said, pointing. “Kitchen here, living room there, bathroom here, bedroom there. That’s about it.”

Liv went over to the bathroom, stared, walked inside, opened and closed the drawers of the built-in cabinet, and surveyed the room. Can I predict Liv or what? “This is really cool. Needs some paint, but I like it. The faucet needs some cleaning, but it has that old farmhouse look, and people like that now.”

She floated into the bedroom and turned carefully around, touching her fingers on a couple of books. “Is this the only bedroom?” I told her that they had gutted the house to make a common area, then added the bedroom on. There’s a loft that’s pretty cool.”

“Oh, up there.” Nate pointed. He hustled up the wooden ladder and sat on the edge of the loft. “It is neat up here. There’s a mattress and a couple of boxes. Have you been up here?” I had climbed up to look once.

“It’s going to be a tough sell with just one bedroom.”

“You could section off this area,” Nate climbed back down and walked over to the area close to the bathroom. He held his arms out. “Just put up a couple of partition walls, and you’ll have your second bedroom. There’s even a window, so you’ll meet code.”

Code? I hadn’t even thought about code. Of course, there’ll have to be an inspection.

We all sat down at the table. “I think it’s adorable,” Liv insisted. They went on for about five minutes discussing pluses and minuses of the house and came up with several ideas about what I could do to fix it up. Nate admitted he was not good at carpentry, but he could change lights and make small repairs. Liv said she would love to paint and could even throw a painting party when the time came.

We took our donuts and coffee over to the living area and talked for a while. Liv gave an awkward stamp of approval. “It’s much better than I thought it was going to be. It’s livable. I feel better about leaving you here, anyway.”

There was a lull and Nate said, “Is now a good time?” Liv nodded. “So, I have some work available for you at the station. Nothing too big, just part-time, updating our links and buttons. Also, maybe adding some copy. It wouldn’t pay too much, but it’s something. Would you want that?”

I checked Liv to see if this was one of her schemes. “Did Liv talk you into this?”

“No,” he said. “I mean, I told her we needed somebody. But it was my idea to ask you. If you don’t want to, that’s okay.”

“Well, heck yeah, I want to do it.” This would help out in a huge way financially.

“Okay. Great. Most of it you can do from home, but you’d need to come in to the station occasionally. Would that work?”

“No problem. I can do that.”

We went outside and I showed them where the goats, chickens, and dogs were from where we stood in the driveway. We grabbed some of my things I’d asked Liv to bring and set them inside the house, and I could tell they were ready to go. I let them off the hook. Liv gave me a hug and told me to come back to their place anytime I needed to (Nate nodded agreement) and to keep the key. The wind started to pick up, so they got in their car and left, Liv waving furiously as they turned around and drove away.

Once they were gone, I went inside and sat on the couch. Now I don’t just stay here, I live here. Hmmm.

 

February 3, 2013

 

I woke up at 8:02 a.m. to a knock at the door. I took a look at my UW sweatpants and Pixie’s t-shirt and thought that whoever knocks at this time of morning should have low expectations. I opened the front door, and…

There stood Jodie. From the library.

She was catching her breath and grinning the way girls do in cold weather. She had a snow shovel balance on her shoulder.

“Hey, did you know it snowed like a foot last night?” I shook my head no. Then I looked past her to the driveway. It was covered in a smooth layer of the white stuff, other than a set of boot prints that led from the road to my porch.

“My dad is clearing Sheila’s driveway with his tractor. Do you want him to get yours, too?”

“Uh, yeah, sure.” I was still surprised to see her. I stepped out onto the porch and closed the door.

“How did you know I live here?”

“I knew your dad… and I take care of Sheila’s horses. Derp.”

“Oh, yeah. Sorry, I’m still asleep.” I am so stupid.

“Sorry.”

“No, no, I appreciate your help.” I stood there shivering with my arms crossed tightly, my teeth about to start chattering any second.

“Okay, well, he’ll clear the driveway when he’s done with Sheila’s. If you want, I could come back and help you shovel some paths so you can get to things.”

“Oh, that’d be great! Do you want me to help with the horses?”

“No, I got it. I’ll see you in a bit.”

With that, she turned and headed back up my driveway.

Chickenshit: Crisis #3 Steaming Bowl of Heaven

January 20, 2013

 

I spent today (Sunday) with Liv and her boyfriend hiking at Camel’s Back Park, and then we had lunch at the Boise Co-Op. Since it’s only a few blocks from her house (as is the park), she practically lives there. Liv is so sweet. She bought me some single serve salads to take with me out to the farm, and she’s been treating me to an occasional movie. I am so lucky to have such a cool friend. She walks and bikes a lot and hardly ever uses her car. Boise is really navigable if you live close in.

Her boyfriend, Nate, is an Assistant General Manager at a radio station. He moved in with her in November, and they don’t seem to mind me crashing on their couch until I get things settled with the farm. They are looking for a house off Warm Springs Road. Nate thinks the North End is just too trendy and he hates renting. He wants to buy a place and get married, but I haven’t really “sussed out” what Liv wants to do yet. She seems okay with it, though.

Liv and I met at the University of Washington (U-Dub), where we both worked as RA’s to supplement our school costs. She helped show me the ropes, and we practically lived in each other’s rooms our senior year. She went on to her master’s program in Communications at BSU, and I took a gap year working for a Seattle based non-profit that promotes environmentally sound community development (think anti-fracking). Basically, I do their web design and promote the hell out of the site.

Okay, going to bed early tonight. Tomorrow I am going back out to the farm to work with Elliot and see if I can get a handle on what needs to be done to maintain it and maybe get it ready to sell.

 

January 21, 2013

 

So, the long awaited big snow finally hit the mountains, and on this, my first full day spent out at the farm, snow was spitting and wind was blowing. I thought I was prepared for working outside, in case Elliot needed me to do anything. I had two long-sleeve t-shirts, my uber fleece ski jacket, a balaclava, insulated ski gloves, wool socks, and waterproof hikers. The latter was a Christmas present from Mom, ostensibly to use when I go to Snoqualmie Pass this summer with Ton-Ton. I may still go, you never know.

The first thing I wasn’t prepared for was the drive to the house. Almost an hour-and-a-half to make it through the fog, with unpredictable drivers in front of me and tailgaters behind.

The second thing I wasn’t prepared for was what I saw when I pulled up to the farm. Elliot was trudging back down the driveway towards the house, his shoulders slumped forward and his breath trailing behind him in a white puff of a cloud. When I glanced back at the driveway entrance to make my turn, I saw two hoofed legs sticking out of the top of the trash can. Yikes!

And then, finally, I was not prepared for virtually everything else that happened today.

I pulled up to the house and got out to talk to Elliot. He said he was sorry about the doe, that her buddy died in the fall and the others must have kept pushing her outside of the barn (who knew goats had cliques?), where the weather, her age, and her declining health combined in a deadly way. She was old, though, so not too sad. He pointed out her daughter over by the back fence, and said she was a sweet one and was settled. She looked calm enough. I guess some of them are wilder than others. I’m not sure if he meant her temperament was sweet, or maybe her milk? I hope he didn’t mean her meat. I’m still not reconciled to the whole animal to meat thing. I was practically vegetarian, living with Ton-ton. Maybe, I need to learn this, though.

Anyway, there are fifty-four goats on the farm, after the last casualty. Elliot had already fed them, so the next item on the agenda was to get their waters cleaned out. There were four water fountains lined up a few feet apart on the fence row where the gate was. They each had a thin layer of ice over the top, rotting leaves, and crud that I am pretty sure was goat crap. It smelled disgusting, sickly sweet and earthy, even in the cold. Not wanting to look like a wuss, I did just as Elliot showed me and reached in bare-handed, pulled out a plug, and swished debris out until the water ran clear. I put the plug back in and wiped my contaminated hand on my jeans, trying not to gag. Why don’t these things freeze over? They must have a heater in them.

One of the fountains wouldn’t stop running, so Elliot had to work on it. He pulled a side panel off to have a look, mumbled something, and went to get some tools. He made some adjustments and then had me hold the floating device in a certain spot (it looked like a smaller version of the one you see in toilets), but when I let it go, the fountain overflowed again. Finally, after numerous trips to get tools and parts from the shed, he finally fixed it. Did I mention that the entire time, it was about ten degrees with a icicle sharp breeze blowing? I was already cold on my legs, since I just had blue jeans on, but I soaked both my sleeves in the fountain, and my hands and wrists were tingling with cold. The boots were not insulated, so my feet were numb after about an hour. It was difficult to hold onto things, shivering as much as I was.

When I asked Elliot to come in with me to get warm, he said, “You go ahead, missy, I gotta get the chickens fed.” I thought you just walked around and threw feed to them in the morning, which didn’t seem like that big of a deal, but I guess that’s only if you have a few birds. Elliot says there are about 60-70 birds on the place, with four coops, or runs, I mean. The coop is just the house. There is a run for new birds, one large one for egg layers, and one for older birds and rehabs. Elliot said the big empty one was for meat birds, but I didn’t bother to ask anything more about that. So, the place has these large feeders that hold tens of pounds of feed. I asked him the most intelligent question I could think of, if the feed was organic, to which he replied, “Kin’ of.” I didn’t follow up on that one, either.

So we threw the feed into a garden cart and rolled it to the different feeders and used a scoop to fill them. The chickens attacked the feed like they were starving, but I saw pellets scattered all of the ground. The snowfall had quit spitting by then, so it was fairly easy to get around in the coops. I will say this, though, it’s damn near impossible to avoid the piles of chicken poop because they spring up everywhere you’re not looking.

After we put the leftover feed back in the shipping container shed, Elliot pointed to the house, and we started off. We wiped our boots on a boot brush, me tearing off layers of my wet jacket and top shirt. Elliot dropped his big coat on a rake handle under the porch. We both unlaced and stepped out of our boots and finally went into the house. From the moment I opened the front door, any thought of retrieving my meager salad from the car disappeared. Elliot had put food in dad’s crock pot for us that morning, and the house smelled amazing. “I hope it’s okay,” he said. “I figured you’d be hungry, and me and your dad used to have sumpin’ most days in winter.” He showed me where it was kept in the freezer in flattened bags marked “Goat Stew,” the top one with a date from last June. I let him know that it was more than okay, and to help himself any time.

Elliot and I hungrily slurped down our meal, as the weather station on the radio told us about the much needed snow pack and the upcoming week’s highs and lows. I was surprised how comfortable it was, just eating and listening to the reports. We were so glad to be out of the cold, and the stew tasted like a steaming bowl of heaven. I think I would have eaten it if the bags had said “baby rhino” or “fly larvae” on them.

After a few minutes to let the stew settle and our fingers thaw a little more, we headed back outside. We walked the goat fence, and Elliot showed me places where branches or goats had pulled the electric fence loose, how to unhook the voltage, and how to make repairs by wrapping the wire around a connector and twisting ends together. He had a spool of wire, and we cut off pieces when the downed wire was too short to reconnect. I kept slipping the gloves on and off, but my fingers were nearly frozen again by the time we got done with the fence.

The wind calmed, and we went over and checked on the dogs which I’d only seen from a distance. There are six hunting or herding dogs that stay in a kennel not far from the house. For the most part, they are friendly dogs. There are two brown ones that go by one name, TNT (short for Trevor and Trenton), that kind of look like a mix between beagles and labs, some kind of hunting dogs, I’m guessing. There is a somewhat timid Australian Shepherd named Pippin, a gregarious black lab named Lucy, a giant babyish Great Pyrenees named Bruno, and a stubby-looking Scotty mix called Frodo.

The whole team is like one big family, and even though they like company and barked like crazy when they saw us approaching, they seem content in their captivity. Their set-up was designed well, with heated dog houses for everybody, and a big shed-like thing for them to be fed and watered (two heated water dishes) and for them to lounge in and stay out of the wind and weather. Their food is kept outside the run in a deck box. There were chew toys, tennis balls, and sticks all over the run. Lucy, trying to ingratiate herself to me, brought a soggy tennis ball over and dropped it at my feet. Elliot warned me not to throw it unless I wanted to be there all day, so I just scratched Lucy behind the ears and helped Elliot finish feeding the dogs.

We gave them all a “lookover” to make sure there were no signs of cold exposure or injury. When we closed up, Elliot pulled Bruno out, took her over to the gate to the goat field, and told her, “Go to work!” Yep, Bruno’s a girl, and her “work” is to watch the property all night. She took off and started walking the fence.

After Elliot and I gathered eggs again, he showed me how to close the main gate when I left, where the key was hidden in a little box attached to one of the posts. What an idiot, I have driven past the gate several times without even noticing it. I wonder if Elliot has come back over and closed it after I left or if he was still on the property somewhere? It’s all a mystery.

After Elliot went home, I decided to spend a little time in the house. I sat in the living room, taking it all in, and trying to pull just one memory from my childhood into my conscious mind, but I was at a loss. I stared at the door to my dad’s bedroom, waiting. For what I don’t know. I was frozen and could feel my muscles start to ache after the long, cold day outside. Now, I know I’m no athlete or anything, but it blows me away how much work these guys do. Today would probably be nothing for my dad and Elliot. I wanted desperately to connect with my dad, and at the same time, I felt like it would be invading his privacy to start tearing his house apart. His voice boomed in my head, “Come on, Outlaw, I don’t have any privacy anymore. Death kinda removes the need for standing on ceremony.”

I got up and opened his door. I took a step inside and let my eyes settle on every inch of his room, from the tidy bookshelf, filled with his personal reading material – philosophy, sci-fi, and classics, mainly, to the wall of hooks that held his clothes, hats, and belts, and to his shoes lined up evenly along the wall. I felt a twinge of connection, these objects he touched and suited to his use. I thought of my own possessions, crammed into a corner of Liv’s garage, once laid out in drawers and hung up neatly like these.

His dresser’s top held a photo of me at my high school graduation and a wooden pipe caddy with four pipes, a spotless ashtray, and a container of tobacco. His nightstand held a recharging flashlight and a book with yellowing pages, open and face down, but gently so as not to break the spine. I picked it up to find it was Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein. I always meant to read that. I put it downed and looked around some more. His bed had the sheet and blankets turned down as if awaiting his return. I sat on the bed and picked up his pillow. It smelled like him, musky cologne mixed with faint traces of tobacco. I hugged the pillow and closed my eyes. What would it have been like to have been around him more? How would my life be different? How would I be different?

I still don’t have the keys figured out and I don’t know if Elliot has one to the house, so I left the door unlocked. On the way out, I stopped and locked up the gate, noticing the trash can sitting empty, no stiff legs sticking out, just the memory of the goat we lost.

It was near pitch dark, and the sky was starting to spit snow again, as I headed back to Liv’s. The shoosh of the tires made me a little drowsy, but I could not bring myself to turn the radio on. The ring of keys on the passenger seat kept me company, and to entertain myself, I thought about what locks the keys might go to – shed doors, vehicles, maybe a safe?

What would Dad keep in a safe? Maybe I’ll get Liv to come out with me next time. I am more tired than I have ever been in my life, but I had to get everything written down so I could sleep. I will have to figure out some sort of schedule so I can get my office work done, too. I have a nagging feeling I forgot to do something before I left.