Happy Groundhog Day. I have plans to post chapters of my novel, Owyhee Days, every so often.
chapter one: Arrival Fumes
Jordan Valley, Oregon, remains a tiny splat on Highway 95. If you head over toward Silver City or Murphy, you find yourself in Idaho. If you want to stop in Jordan Valley, get some gas and a burger, you’re in Oregon. Flower Sheffield floated into Jack’s Gas-n-Go, with twenty five cents in her cup holder and a determination that she had absolutely done the right thing. Her gas gauge had been on red about twenty miles ago. All she owned in the entire world rested in boxes and garbage bags. She had stuffed everything she could into her small Toyota Camry. Everything else had been set on the curb outside the apartment building in North Hollywood, California. Including the very dead Dagwood but he had requested if he died that he be thrown out like trash. It had been his literal last wish. Trash for the trash, baby! That’s all we are. Trash for the trash. Flower was not one to mess with someone’s actual last wishes. It was bad karma or bad for the environment.
That she had skipped out on her share of the rent also twisted her guts a bit. But. After receiving that summons for court over that turned over to collections Discover account, with threats they’d garnish everything and yank her license and generally narrow down her choices to suicide or robbing a bank, well. Early morning, and the traffic was non-existent here in the hometown city center. The Jackrabbit Diner had three pickups pulled up before it and she could see people enjoying pancakes and eggs and sausages through the big dusty windows. She had not been back here for years. Winter. They had winter here. She had not lived in a place with four seasons for a while. Twenty years. Had she really been in Los Angeles for twenty damn years? Left Jordan Valley at thirty, with nothing and returned to Jordan Valley so far in the red it had rendered her a fugitive from the law. Maybe. Did the law care about some no-bit can’t pay her bills, can’t afford a lawyer fifty year old nobody? Probably more than they cared about a lawless president or a rich white guy operating a child sex ring. Which was just depressing. She’d go to prison before someone operating a child sex ring because they had a yacht and she didn’t. Did not seem at all fair. Life isn’t about fair, she thought with absolute reality and gloomy good cheer.
A knock on her window, an earnest kid with white-topped pimples across his forehead and chin peering in at her. She rolled down the window. “Yeah? Hi. What?” That fresh air stench, glorious. Dust and air. Dust air. It hit her lungs, so used to Los Angeles fumes, road rage stink and the burned ash of dead and dying dreams.
The boy, just on the cusp of that passing over into actual being a grown man territory, peered at her from blinky soft blue eyes. He wore a jacket against the September morning cold and yes, a nametag sewn on his uniform. Ethan. “You have to pull up to the pumps, ma’am.”
“Oh. I have twenty five cents. How much gas can I get? I need a job. Is that diner hiring?” Flower got out, stretched, her bladder full. The boy had stepped back, the gas station without a customer except some weirdo with Cali plates. She smelled. Who had money for a hotel room? She sure did not. Sleeping in car the only option. Her food had dwindled to a four year old granola bar, a plastic bottle of water she had filled at the last gas station that had taken her very last ten bucks and some questionable apples. It had seemed wise to buy a cheap bag of apples before attempting to flee California for the wilds of Oregon. She had two left. She had probably gained ten pounds on this new radical apples and old granola bars diet, with her luck and all. She realized that she had been spacing off, that the teenager had said something. “I’m sorry. What now? I can leave but I doubt my car will get far. No gas.”
“Ugh…ugh, you can check with Lindsey in there. I gotta,” he gestured like a game show host toward a giant man truck, four by four, with an extended cab and a black and white cow dog darting about in the bed. Shiny, yet dusty silver color. A meaty, substantial looking rancher powered the window down.
“I got things to do!” Big loud imperious voice of a range god, demanding he be served by the peasants. Oh I need some real food, a trailer house and five kids by six different daddies. I am so behind! Flower bit at her lips rather than bray all that out. Ethan hurried over to perform odd sexual acts with the gas nozzle and the truck’s gas tank opening. She walked into the small mini mart, where a twitchy woman with badly streaked mouse brown hair sorted postcards onto the holder. Big weird chunky blond streaks, with some of the streaks being brassy-greenish. Had she done this at home with peroxide? Had some enemy done it and convinced this woman it looked great? Giant bulgy eyes, like a pug’s. Almost the same color, a black-brown. A flat blue uniform, with Jack’s Gas-n-Go, on the front and a name tag. Lindsey. Everyone here was conveniently labeled. After a trip to the facilities, in which she scared herself with her own reflection, she yanked up her can-do spirit to face whatever happened next.
“Help you?” A nice voice. Flower had not expected that. Also someone who had done years of serving the public. That air of neutral waiting. No matter what was thrown at her, this Lindsey would be polite just to keep her shitty job.
“Yeah, actually. I was wondering if the diner next door is hiring. Or this place.”
“This place, no. All the shifts are covered. The Jackrabbit, now, they might need a dishwasher. The other one up and quit, but she did try to kill Ellis.” Lindsey sighed, placed more of those neat, tidy, shiny postcards. A good long look at Flower, then more post card shuffling. “You look familiar.”
“I should. My mom was the town whore. Steelie Bevins, then she married Mustang Sheffield, then he beat her so she went to jail for pulling his own shotgun on him…”
“Oh sure! Oh my goodness,” Lindsey took a second look at Flower. A real Jordan Valley native would not be fazed a bit about a local murder attempt, after all. “Opal or Mary, wasn’t it?”
“Opal. I go by Flower. It’s less embarrassing,” Flower said. Lindsey suddenly got a whole lot friendlier. Home town girl and all. “Dish washer. I can do that. Thanks. I’ll go see what’s what.”
“I can do that. I doubt he or Sandy, that’s his wife, would give you the time of day. They’re fighting over something. We all think he’s cheating again. Why not, he cheated with that Leslie. Sure, Flower Bevins.”
“Sheffield. He did adopt me. I never got around to changing it back. Thanks. I can wait outside by my car.” Her ex-stepdad had somehow found her PO box, sent her a demand she send him money for supporting her or he’d tell the cops she had helped her mother try and kill him. She had sent back a long letter about her day at Venice Beach watching weight lifters and drag queens and fat ladies enjoying the Pacific. That had been Dagwood’s idea. Return malice with merriment! Had Dagwood been found yet? She had wrapped him in garbage bags against the cockroaches and local stray dogs.
“Ethan will be in. He can watch the store. Hey, I gotta go to the diner. This is Flower, she used to live here. I’ll be right back.”
Ethan and Flower observed Lindsey trot over to the diner. Ethan cleared his throat, began fussing at the counter. Flower drooled at the offerings of beef jerky and candy bars, at the wall of cold beverages from water to beer. “Nice place,” she said. “Clean.”
“Yeah, “ Ethan nodded, not having yet mastered the polite indifferent niceness service people had toward the annoying public. He clearly wished her gone. Talking to a gross old lady, not his pipe of meth.
“So what are your future plans?” Flower asked and Ethan jerked as if she had stuck a cattle prod up a tender passage in his skinny, pimpled body. Not a basketball player, this one. Maybe a back up quarter back? Chess club! Did Jordan Valley have a chess club? Maybe Future Farmers of America? Did he schlep a pig to the Malheur County Fair? Maybe a nice calf that one of the local stockyards would buy to slaughter with happy efficiency. Maybe had a pony or horse. “Hey, are you in FFA?”
“Uh,” the poor child kept his soft blue eyes down, his face as red as one of her probably rotted apples. “No.”
“Oh. Okay. That still big around here? Kids take livestock to the fair or help plow fields, I was never sure what future farmers did. I guess you learn to cuss the government and dig out ditches.” She stood by the door, noting a pickup had pulled up. Battered, black and full of boxes. “Hey, I can stand outside while you see to that guy out there. I don’t want to get you or that other lady in trouble. I am from here, well, a long time ago, but still grew up here.”
“Shit,” the boy muttered, then flushed even more, those pimples standing out like pushpins on a map. “I guess. She should be back in a sec. Just outside. I guess.”
Flower observed Ethan do his job, wondering why Oregon still would not let people pump their own. Was it some sort of macho thing? Lindsey hurried out of the diner, smiling. Good? Bad? “He had a customer,” Flower said with unnecessary words. Lindsey could clearly see there was a guy in black truck, a Dodge, needing gas.
“That’s Rick Comber. Probably on his way to Boise. Again. Lawyer stuff,” Lindsey got back behind her counter, sighing with how busy she was, happy that she was busy and useful. Her long, almost pretty face had life in it. “Ellis can’t pay much. And it’s just a few shifts now and then. You can go talk to him. Sandy ain’t there. Jenny is and she’s a workhorse so just take her as she is. She can’t help how she is, is all. Toots is cooking her chili so you let her get to it. Best chili in the state. Even beats the batch at the Rome cafe.”
“No, really?” Flower asked with real astonishment. The Rome cafe had a reputation for the best food ever. It still must have that reputation. Good. Things had not changed that much, if at all. “Thanks. I appreciate it. Is my Aunt Tits…I mean, Barb Bevins still here? I have a number for her but my phone is dead. Is she still around?”
“Oh. Oh, honey,” Lindsey actually said, biting at her thin bird lips. She turned, took a pack of Pall Mall Golds from the rack of cigarettes, smokeless chew and pipe tobacco. The man from the black truck accepted them from her, as she rang him up. “Hey, Rick. Headed somewhere fun?”
“Fuck, no,” said Rick, with his small beer belly and his oversize nose. He looked like a rooster. With bright red hair and what had to be false teeth. Square, even and too white. Smokers had yellow teeth. “Hey,” he nodded at Flower, who nodded back. “Boise. Damn woman is gonna bleed me dry. I might find me a boyfriend after all this.” He laughed, Lindsey laughed, Flower smiled politely. Great, back to the land of gay bashing and steer tipping, she thought sourly. But. If she stayed here, she’d have to blend in with the locals or she’d find herself run out of Jordan Valley. With someone waving a shotgun full of bird shot at her. Unfair stereotyping. Jordan Valley might be a progressive liberal haven for new ideas and fluid sexuality. Give people a chance, Dagwood had told her. Let them disappoint you in all ways before you write them off. Great, how long until the Dagwood dumpster of life advice burned away completely? A while, her mind replied, before giving her a brief flash of opening her mail. Why, mind, why? Ah, Rick, still complaining. Pay attention! “Now she wants me to sell my toy tractor collection and split the difference. Can you fucking imagine that bullshit? I had some of them since I was a kid! My grandpa gave me three of em. I hate that fucking woman. I hate her. You were right. Never marry a Caldwell Kelso. They’re all nuts.”
“I’m sorry, Rick. He’s my cousin,” Lindsey let drop to Flower, who had tried to back off during this clearly not meant for her ears diatribe. “This is Flower Bev…no, Flower Sheffield, sorry. Sorry! She used to be from here. Back now. Steelie Bevin’s kid.” Lindsey seemed younger than Flower, yet Flower had regressed to being the town whore’s kid. Rick nodded, even shook her hand, his hand rough and powerful, his thumb’s nail completely black. Men who worked with their hands seemed to always have a black thumbnail. Always. It was one of the Ten Commandments.
“Ah, sure, a Bevins,” he said very politely. Very politely as if Flower would explode like an M-80 in a toilet bowl otherwise. “You take care, Linds. Welcome back,” and he nodded at Flower, without really looking at her. It was amazing that men thought she was after their junk or wanted anything from them but directions, or their take on medieval weaponry. Geez.
“Seems nice,” Flower offered and Lindsey rolled her eyes, as hard as possible without popping one out.
“He’s an asshole but he’s family. Yeah, just go talk to Ellis. He’s waiting for you over there. Oh, your aunt. I wouldn’t bother her.”
“Why not?” Not that Flower wanted to contact her aunt, who had all the familial loyalty of a rattlesnake but she needed a place to crash for a bit until she could make enough to buy a house. And a swimming pool and a pony! “Is she sick?”
“No. No,” Lindsey said but two women walked in, their Mercedes bearing Ohio plates. Ohio. Flower slipped out as the two wrinkled their surgically enhanced noses in her general direction. Yes, she did need a shower. Another man walked in, tall, with a Santa Claus belly but skinny legs. A John Deere baseball cap, a vest. A beard that almost touched his chest, a panoply of blond, brown and red. Gold, chestnut and copper, if she was being fanciful. A face so plain it had to be a crime in these photogenic social media times. A filter would fix that, so no worries there. “We still don’t have that dog food.” Lindsey’s tone announced that a serial killer puppy-kicking coastal elite had just walked in and was about to cause some real trouble. Stop it, Flower told herself. Stop it right now. These are nice people and you’re a jackass.
“Did I ask for that dog food?” The man returned rather snarkily and Lindsey sniffed. That small town sniff of ‘gosh, fuck you’. “I just need some milk. Is that okay?”
Now everyone watched this drama. Lindsey’s face turned colors. She nodded, put her eyes on sorting this or that at the counter. The two women whispered back and forth, in stylish jackets over jeans and hiking boots. Where were these two city broads headed? The man went to the milk and cheese section, clearly expecting all hell to break loose, clearly expecting a fight to end all fights. Lindsey’s ex? Another cousin? Town pariah? That’s my job, she thought. Hadn’t she lived outside social norms most of her life? Wow, is that true? Yes, it is. I really need some friends to share all this with. Yes, you do. What about Dana? Ugh!
“You two headed for Silver City?” Flower dropped and the two women actually jumped a bit, their hands gripping at their purses. “Nice drive up there.”
“No, we’re not. We’re headed for Portland. Taking the scenic route,” said the blonde one when the brunette tucked her lips inward, nearly making them disappear. “It’s pretty here.” She added lamely. “Real pretty. You expect Oregon to be green. Lots of rocks.”
“Yeah, everyone expects Oregon to be green,” Flower said when Lindsey and the man did not jump in to this fascinating exchange. “I lived in Portland for a bit. When the state took me from my whore mom. She was an actual whore. Took money and everything. She was local town color, so to speak. Ohio? Never been there. It’s one of those states you hear about but don’t really think about. Sort of like Vermont.” Had she not watched Dagwood start up conversations with strangers to get material for his many screenplays? All with the same theme of man’s inhumanity to man. I just have to hit the jackpot once. I just have to hit that sweet spot once, just once. It seemed fitting he had killed himself and given orders to be thrown away like garbage. Except that had not been inhumane. Or was it? “I might go to Ohio. I really like that old show WKRP.”
Two sets of raised eyebrows. Lindsey had her hand pressed to her lips. The man had turned to watch Flower, his face relaxing a bit. He had several moles that did not help his looks at all. “That’s nice.” The blond said, trying not to make eye contact.
“Just the coffee and the gas.” The brunette finally said. Neither had worked the coffee pots yet. “Rhona. Don’t.”
“They’re trying to visit with us,” the blonde, Rhona, said, and oh, it was on! Flower had not lived with Dagwood for nothing. “Town whore? There really isn’t a town here, honey.” Friendly enough tone. Maybe a teacher? A teacher of young tots who called them all ‘honey’ or ‘dear’.
“Flower. Opal, actually, but I decided that old lady name was not for me. She was called Steelie, my mom. Cause she never got tired, you know.” Flower sent a wink to everyone there. The man turned back to picking out milk. But his lips had twitched. “Jordan Valley isn’t big geographically but it’s real big on heart. We got more character here than an Oscar winning slice of life on a small town girl growing up poor. Ever seen that one? It’s nice.”
Now Rhona smiled. “I have seen that one. I’m so glad it won.”
“Oh come on, Selma. I’m Rhona, that’s Selma. We’re on our way to this rally in Portland. We wanna make a change, you know? Wanna get involved.”
“Well, sure.” Flower had no idea what rallies would be in Portland or why anyone wanted to try and change anything. Things never changed. They just got layers over the top a bit and then old habits and the way things had always been done broke right back through. Sort of like you could never get all the gunk from under the veggie drawers in the fridge. Life was like the gunk in a fridge, you just threw bleach at it once in a while and hoped for the best. If you even bothered that much. “Should be a good drive up that way. It’s so pretty over there. At least it used to be. Is it still pretty up past the Dalles?”
Lindsey nodded, ringing up the two coffees and now two power bars. “Oh sure. You can cut across, go through Burns, across the middle if you want. But the freeway is probably safer. It’s Dahlls. The Dahlls.”
“Stick to the freeway,” the man chimed in, with his gallon of milk chosen and a dozen eggs as well. These people casually buying food made her head swim a bit. “You won’t get lost. It’s not pronounced like the town in Texas.”
“Oh sure. Thanks. We’re meeting some friends outside Beaverton? Beaverville?” The two shrugged off the correct Oregon pronunciations like tourist pros. Water off a city duck’s back.
“Beaverton. That’s right there.” Lindsey handed back their credit card and the receipt, which Selma tucked away. Jack’s Gas-n-Go cashier had grown considerably frosty. A lot of people in Eastern Oregon hated Portland, however. Damn place full of liberal pansies had been the opinion twenty years ago. More than likely that opinion had strengthened.
“Good. Glad to meet all of you,” Rhona said, her black eyes twinkling. Black eyes against that fake blond hair. But well done fake blond hair. Fox News anchor fake blond hair. “Good coffee!” She had sipped from her disposable cup as Selma marched out of there, clearly wishing her friend or girlfriend or sister or stranger she had found alongside the road at the most bottom part of the nearest mineshaft.
The eggs and milk rang up. Lindsey shaking her head. “Bused in agitators. Globalist money pays for that.”
“They’re two girls looking to hold up signs,” the man said. “You said you’d get more of that dog food in. Dog loves it. They don’t carry it at Matt’s. I guess I can try Amazon.”
“You do that. I have no control over what’s ordered here. And those two were probably paid to go up there and cause trouble.”
“Let’s ask them that. They’re still here. Want me to ask?” The man took his eggs and milk, his change. Flower had yet to make it over to the diner but really, this was better than anything else at the moment. “Now who are you? Your mom was the town whore. My grandpa fucked a dead woman. On the front lawn. I guess I win.” And out he went, as Flower gaped at an actual mythical Wyler. Had to be. Lindsey made a sound between a snort and a gasp.
“I’m sorry. He’s awful. Stan Wyler. Yeah.” Lindsey rubbed at her face, her fingernails innocent of polish. “What a morning.”
Flower took that as her cue to go see Elf about a job. Elf? Oh dear, what was the job giver’s name again? Elbow? Enright? She stepped into the Jackrabbit and it smelled like bacon. Her stomach clanged that she should get some bacon, eat it, so stomach would be happy. A square sort of woman poured coffee into cups, wearing dark brown slacks and a yellow tunic with a rabbit sewn on the back. A smiling happy rabbit. Jackrabbit Diner above that smiling rabbit. A gigantic woman slung hash way back in the kitchen. A man with a perfectly round face and male pattern baldness hurried over to her, with a menu. The waitress nodded, continued to pour coffee, listening to whatever tale the customers sang in her weary ears. “Just one?”
A high voice. Tense about something. Blue eyes but everyone about these parts was German or Dutch or Irish. The Basque ones, well. “Did…did Lindsey tell you I needed a job? I’m Flower Sheffield. Dishwasher? A few shifts?”
“Oh. Oh! Right. Come on back.” He, with a sigh, put the menus down, led her back to the kitchen area where that giant woman stirred a giant cauldron. A Valkyrie witch? “This is Toots.”
“Hi,” Flower said but the man, Elf? led her even further back, to the pantry stocked full of flour and sugar and mustard. Gallon tins of green beans, corn, sausage gravy…they didn’t make their own? “I can work whenever. And you can pay me under the table.” Maybe she had overshot her hand. But he turned to her, his eyes lighting up.
“I’m Ellis Hauter, owner. Well, the bank owns it, I just sorta rent it. Damn banks,” he smiled, winked, she winked back, friendly as could be. “I’d prefer to pay you under the table. Min wage. That okay?”
“You bet. Do I start today?”
“We’re slow right now. Come back in two days, at about six. You’ll be cleaning, too, not just dishes. You know how to run the machine?” He led her to the industrial washer with the long lever and the big red button. Trays that slid through it. “You just load the tray, slide it here, close the door, push the button. Takes about ninety seconds. You might have to hand scrub the big pots. Just keep up when it’s busy. Toots, we having corn bread with that?”
Toots flipped a steak over. “Yep. This the new Leslie?”
“Maybe. I didn’t get your name.”
“Flower. Flower Sheffield. I used to live here. Toots and Elf. Sorry. Ellis. Lindsey over there told me your name but it got stuck in my head as Elf. Sorry.” She smiled, the two smiled back after a bit.
“Oh sure, a Bevins. Your mom married Mustang, oh sure, sure,” Toots said suddenly, her face doughy but oddly attractive. Rather like Liz Taylor gone to seed. Or maybe Sharon Stone gone to seed a bit. Something oddly German and Midwestern gone to seed. Toots also had the appearance of someone able to tear a grown man in half. A rope of golden-ivory hair wrapped about her head underneath a hair net. “Steelie’s kid. Oh sure.” A grim little mocking smile. Ellis shook his balding head. “Your mom was so pretty.”
“She sure was,” Flower said but she was used to being told that. And used to being told, sometimes to her face, how pretty she was not. That no longer stung even a little. No, she was no beauty. Her mother’s life had not been made easier by her pretty face and curvy easily given body. Beauty was not a blessing, she had learned. Not at all. “Are you making corn bread? Corn bread and chili, it’s like a law.”
“I sure am. Should I add jalapenos or not?”
“Not. Just plain. Everything’s hot or spicy these days,” Flower answered and Toots regarded her from her gray-green eyes that saw everything, stored it for gossip later. “I like plain corn bread. With syrup.”
“Okay!” Ellis ushered Flower out of there, and toward the door. “Two days, show up at six. You can meet Sandy then, my wife. I’ll just throw you in the deep end. There’s a list of chores and you keep the tables cleared.”
“Okay. Thank you,” Flower looked around at the diner, which seemed like ever other diner she had ever entered or left. Specials. The smell of meat. A tired looking waitress. Locals slurping joe. “Should I fill anything out? My phone doesn’t have any minutes. Is there a pay phone? I need to call my aunt. I’m staying with her.” Oh the lies, the lies. Her aunt had no idea she was even back in the state.
“Who’s your aunt?”
“Barb Bevins. She still lives here, right?”
Ellis blew out air, then leaned toward her a bit as the waitress eyeballed them. “You don’t want mixed up with that. Maurice and his brother, that’s just a mess.”
Maurice? Had he just said Maurice? Her aunt was shacked up with two brothers? Should she be delighted or horrified her seventy year some old aunt had two boyfriends at the same time? Or maybe it was entirely innocent. Maybe she had adopted two brothers? “Adopted them? She’s not exactly motherly. Susan won’t approve.”
“No no, she and Maurice have been, um, together since last year.”
“It ain’t right or Christian,” Toots added for no reason at all. What a petty little god. To still be keeping revenge tabs on the sex life of a seventy some year old woman. Shouldn’t a god be happy the old girl was still getting some?
“Oh. I haven’t talked to her for longer than I thought. I still need to call her.”
“Give her your phone, doofus,” said an old lady slurping up pancakes. “Men,” and she shook her blue-tinted head, her red lipstick smeared on her shiny teeth. Ellis flushed, then handed over his cell, a big square fake Apple iphone looking number. But so was hers. He showed her the pattern to unlock it. A zee.
“I have her number in my car. I’ll be right back. Thank you. Thank you, miss,” Flower sent to the old lady, who nodded back, pleased at being called a miss.
Had she really just gotten herself a crappy no-account job? Yes, she had! Life was good! She dialed the number. She had two numbers. One for Aunt Tits and one for Dana McCreary. She and Dana had sent emails back and forth for years. They were, to quote Dana, still friends. Flower tried not to notice the many messages waiting to be tackled. Most seemed official, from US Bank. Goodness. Her aunt’s number rang. Then her aunt answered. “Susan! You can’t fool me with this new number! You ain’t getting my daisy ring.” Click! Aunt Tits sounded in fine form. And had that been a chicken in the background? Aunt Tits hated animals.
Try again? Yes. Or she’d be sleeping in her car. “Aunt Tits? It’s Flower! Don’t hang up! It’s Flower.”
“Flower. Flower? Oh. Oh!” Aunt Tits coughed, then shouted at someone else not Flower. “Get that thing out of here. Bleed it in the damn lawn!” The reply told Aunt Tits that it had to be bled into that bowl with the sage burning or else it didn’t count. “Fuck,” Aunt Tits muttered, then spoke again to Flower. “What do you want?”
“I’m visiting. Can I sleep on the couch?”
“Visiting? Call first. Did Susan send you? No! No, get that dog out of here.” Click. Aunt Tits gone, the line dead. She had no gas. How could she get to wherever Tits was? And then get back to the diner? She took the phone back to Ellis, promised she’d be there in two days ready to work for peanuts, then walked back to the mini mart. Lindsey rang up two cowboys who were buying lunch stuff. Bologna, a package of cheese slices, Fritos, Hershey bars and a six pack of Coke. A loaf of white bread. They ambled out, speaking of taking on South Mountain and that herd of bitches. You think we’ll see that buck again? I doubt it, he’s long gone. Two men at peace with the world, who could make their own sandwiches. “Did you get it?”
“Yep. Thanks. How much does the motel there charge?”
“Sixty or so a night, I think. You can try Hetty’s. Bed and breakfast place but it’s more like seventy. Nice place and she’s great.”
Sixty bucks. Seventy bucks. She could try her credit card. There was negative fourteen thousand on it. What did a hundred more or so matter? Ha ha. Tee hee. “Oh. Okay.”
Lindsey looked up from fixing the gum and mints. “You need a place to stay?”
“I need a place to stay. My aunt fell through.” Flower had long ago given up any pride. She’d sleep on a couch here, accept a box of canned spaghetti sauce and extra salty canned green beans there. Pitiful and always in need of intervention from the Red Cross, was her life’s motto.
“Well, sure. She’s mixed up with Satanists. I got a barn. And a goat. But. There’s room in my barn. I got a cot. It’s not far, you can walk to work. It’s private. I just have the one bedroom.”
A job and a place to stay? Was she dreaming? No, sometimes God relented and let a person have some crumbs. That’s what this was. The same God who kept tabs on old lady bed hoppings could also show a bit of mercy. “Really? I can live with anyone. I can pay rent once I start getting paid.”
“Seventy five a month? I mean, it’s just a cot, the barn is cold, you’d be out there with Ethel. That’s my goat. Agnes died. I just have Ethel left. But you can use the bathroom in the house, use the kitchen.” Lindsey patted at her short hair, as if nervous. “I’d like someone else there. My ex husband is a stalker.”
Oh. Oh what now?
“He’s not violent. He just shows up now and then, looks in the window, tears up some flowers. It’s nothing,” Lindsey seemed oddly proud she had a stalker ex. Mostly, such assclowns were scary and murderous. “He’d never bother you. But I’d feel better if you were there.”
“Oh. Sure. I guess. Can I go there now? Where is it?”
“It’s just down Monroe. At the very end, the little white house with the barn. The other house is deserted. Oh, take my key. The other house key is beneath the toad. The cot’s already in the barn. You’re not a liberal, are you?”
Flower did not even hesitate. “Not really anything. Politics are boring. I don’t pay attention to that stuff.”
Correct answer. Lindsey relaxed with a visible slump. Lindsey took her ring of keys out of her pocket, took one off, handed it over to Flower. “It sticks a bit. Just jiggle it. Oh. I don’t have a mattress for that. I can get one from Jimmy. My brother. He might have one. Don’t mind the goat.”
“I won’t. I can use blankets for a mattress or whatever.”
“Cool. I’ll be off at four.”
Flower hoped her car had a bit left to get her to her new digs.
The car managed to get her to Lindsey’s house. A small square box of a box, rather ugly, with a chinmey. The barn looked made of tin foil. A driveway covered with large gravel, the lawn patchy. A fenced in area where a goat gazed at her from cat-slit eyes. A large white goat chewing laterally. “Hello, goat.” Flower went to the barn, which was just a rather flimsy-seeming metal shell held up by metal poles. Double doors. Yes, a space for the goat, with a bag of Goat Pellets leaning against the wall. A shovel, a rake, a snow shovel. A bag of salt. The water trough well filled, the food dish also held bits of carrot and what had to be cabbage or lettuce. A child’s ball. Did the goat play with it? The goat pushed through the plastic strips hanging down that covered the opening someone had cut for the goat to go to and fro. It walked to the fence, a metal fence, and eyed her. “I’m your new roommate. Hi. I’m Flower. And you are?”
The goat let out a string of what had to be goat curses, then butted the fence, then wandered back outside.
“Great. We’re gonna have so much fun,” Flower saw the frame of the cot, an Army cot perhaps. It leaned against the wall, by the bales of straw and the one bale of hay. Lindsey took care of her odd pet or maybe she intended to eat the goat. People did eat goats. How could you kill one? It would judge you so even after death. The cot had a bad leg but otherwise, a cot. Narrow and squeaky. She set up her bed, began bringing in her clothes, her two pairs of shoes. At least she could walk to work.
The house proved still and rather off-putting. Unnaturally tidy for a woman who lived alone. A wood-burning stove. A small couch, a kitchen table in the tiny kitchen. A framed print of an impossibly flowery meadow with a broken down Conestoga in the dead center. White curtains with a red trim. A small television set, with a cable box. No computer? A bookshelf with titles by Fox News hosts and conservative shouters. The War on Jesus. Enemies of the State. Nutty Nuts and the Lying Liars Who Lie. Liberalism, the Same Old Insanity. Other titles that made Flower’s eyes hurt. She dared peek into the bathroom. A shower. A washer and dryer in the very back room, with stacks of storage boxes for company. Christmas, one was labeled. How sad. That Lindsey would take out her Christmas decorations, put them up, then take them down. Did no one else show up to enjoy them? Or maybe Lindsey just went through the motions. Maybe she put up Christmas stuff when it was near Christmas because not to meant a break in the entire social order of Jordan Valley and America itself.
Flower decided a shower would help this sense that she dreamed this entire morning. It’s a lazy cop out, Dagwood had scoffed. If you have to use a dream to explain something, it’s just a cop out. Dreams don’t explain shit. It’s just the jumble your brain has left at the end of the day. Like leftovers. Flower used her own remaining shampoo and the Dollar Store body wash she had packed into the little bag of her personals. Tooth paste, body wash, cheap shampoo, a comb. What else did a woman on the lam need? Was she on the lam? For real. Yes, she was. The cops might not care about some deadbeat who could no longer make payments, after having trouble finding a job that was more than fourteen hours a week. Trying to work three jobs had proved almost impossible and getting fired from two of them had proved the final nail in her coffin. Fired due to budget cuts but still. You can’t make a five hundred dollar payment if you only make about three hundred or so a month, which had to cover rent, food, gas. Gas to get to work. The bus pass, sure. But that meant not being able to take other jobs since trying to get to them on buses proved impossible. It meant getting up at three in the morning to catch early buses as the buses never seemed to run on time. To get to some four hour shift at the halfway house.
Out to the barn she went, shivering a bit with her wet hair. Food. She could pilfer scraps from plates at the diner. Maybe work out a deal with Elf. It would help her save if she could just take scraps from customer plates. A lawyer needed to be paid the full amount before he or she would even start a bankruptcy process. That Pasadena lawyer had wanted almost two thousand. You don’t have anything, a Chapter Seven. Paid up front lawyer fees. Who had an extra two thou when one was flat dead fucking broke? What kinda system…? “I’m gonna need a coat.” She did not have a heavy winter coat and it got cold here. With snow. A month or so from now, there’d probably be snow. Thrift store. Was there one here? Probably not. Dana might be able to give her a lift to Ontario. A few shifts at the Happy Rabbit and she could just fill her tank with the good good gas, then motor there herself. Maybe head to Homedale or even Nampa. There might be a Savers or a giant Salvation Army in Nampa by now.
Write up a list of what had to be done. Oh wait, if she got nicked for the Dagwood thing, she’d need another lawyer or maybe the other lawyer could work some justice for the little people magic. For a hefty fee she’d have to work three years while living on an egg a day to pay for it. And she needed to put minutes on her phone. “It’s all going to be wonderful.” Her voice bounced off the metal walls. Mice scurried in and out of the hay. A hawk cried and screeched. Something died soon after that.