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.”
“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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”