C U Then

I read and re-read this week’s and last week’s prompts all together and an idea started to take shape. Only, once I set to writing, none of the prompts showed up. I guess it was a mood all six created together that inspired me.


Chris Morriston sat in his car, head in his hands. A gentle knock on the passenger side window jerked him back into the present.

“Just checking…” the older man standing outside his car began, with a wave. Chris quickly looked him over and decided to turn the ignition to roll down the window.

“…you OK, there?”

Chris nodded. “Sorry. Just…rough day.”

“OK, well, s’long as you’re OK. I’m just coming in to work. Got the night shift at check-in,” the man pointed to his name badge, “Roger. So, if you need anything, dial zero, OK? What room you in?”

Chris understood the man was just helping his employer out by making sure Chris was not some guy using the parking lot to sleep it off, or whatever was best done somewhere other than hotel property.

“Yeah, thanks, um…My name’s Chris. Christopher. Morriston. I’m in 408.”

Roger the clerk gave him a thumbs up and walked away.

**********]

As Chris slid the keycard into the reader for Room 408, he gave the door a gentle knock. “Hello?” he called out. The lights were on, but the room was quiet. Chris’s pulse shot up with the sudden hope that maybe she had split while he was sitting in his car, trying to sort things out. He walked in, slowly, and called out again.

Mandy was face down in the first bed. The lower half of her body was uncovered, exposing lacy purple underwear that rode up one cheek. Chris stared, longer than he should; out of surprise, or the terror of sudden attraction, he could not tell which. He grabbed the edge of the blanket and yanked it over her legs, not caring if it woke her. She did not budge. His pulse raced again. He checked for signs of breathing. A muffled, gentle snore emanated from the corner of her open mouth. Relieved, Chris sighed. Death would have been one complication too many.

He walked over to her bag and opened the top, looking for anything that might further explain things. He was not worried about a weapon. She would have used it from the first if she had something on her. He lifted out a wallet and looked through it. Three dollars, four credit cards, a gym, grocery, and Starbucks card, a few coins, a receipt for LED bulbs and plumbing pipe from an ACE Hardware, and her license: Amanda Anne Andersen from Bend, Oregon. At least that checked out.

He looked at the ACE receipt again. Dated two years prior. He unfolded it and discovered his office phone number and his name scrolled on the back. He flipped it over again. Apple Valley. California? Minnesota? No phone, just a web address. There were at least a couple Apple Valleys in the country. The receipt might not have been hers. Whomever gave her his contact info might be the original owner.

Chris put all the contents of the wallet back and peered one last time into the purse before returning the wallet. Another pair of underwear, plain white cotton, and a pill bottle poking out of the fold of the bag’s lining: Ambien. She must have planned on at least one overnight somewhere, Chris thought. No wonder she was sleeping like the dead. Curious she wasn’t concerned about staying somewhat alert, he mused. He wondered at the difference between the underwear she was wearing and the plain cotton pair. Did she think a seduction might be necessary? If so, why? That didn’t make sense. Maybe not his seduction, but someone else?

Chris glanced at the hotel room door and then looked back at Mandy. He could just leave. Not that that would solve anything.  She’d just come looking for him again. No, he’d just have to see the damn thing through, though to what end, he was not at all sure. It was all too much, and too out of sync.

He walked to the far side of the other bed and sat, his back turned to the room. He stared out the window for what must have been the better part of a couple of hours, trying to grab hold of his thoughts as they flashed through his continued fits of anxiety. He had little to go on, and, at the moment, no way to check out any of it. Situations like these, you make a choice with only a hope in hell it’s not the wrong one.

His cell phone’s screen turned on every 20 or so minutes. He did not need to see who was trying to reach him. Only his wife Bella would be calling. Obviously, his text of several hours before did not do the trick.

He thought about Roger the night clerk and decided to head down to the lobby.

*************]

Roger the night clerk waved when he saw Chris. “Everything better now, sir?”

Chris shrugged. “ ‘bout the same, I guess.”

Roger bobbed his head in an understanding nod. “The restaurant’s open 24/7. Late night menu until six, then breakfast. The bar’s closed, of course, but you can still get a beer. They keep the Olympics’ channel on all night. You can catch up with whatever you missed so far.”

“Olympics?” Chris asked with a raised brow. “They got a channel?”

“Yup. Go figure. A channel for everything, these days, I suppose. That opening ceremony was something, huh? Oh, and, today’s paper’ll be here in about an hour.”

Roger the night clerk genuinely belonged in the hospitality industry, Chris thought with an inward smile. “Thanks. I’ll head in.”

He took a seat in a booth around the corner with his back to the entrance. That way, if Mandy did come looking for him, he had the advantage of seeing her first and ducking for cover. Since the thought that she might have taken off popped in his brain, he could not stop wishing she would. Maybe if he stayed away, she might freak out when she woke, give up in a panic, and just get gone.

A young waiter brought a single sheet menu. Chris quickly perused the late-night offerings and ordered barbeque pork sliders, whatever was on tap, and a shot.

“I am so sorry, sir,” the young man said in a curious lilt that made Chris wonder what sort of affectation the young man was trying to emulate, “but the bar is closed. No spirits after one A.M. So, just the brew OK?”

Chris nodded, handing back the menu. As the young man walked away, Chris found himself watching him go. Force of habit, he tried consoling himself, but truth was, since Mandy showed up, he had been on high alert; “show mode”, as he called it. Everyone was a potential threat or suspect, even the unassuming types, like friendly Roger the night clerk and the young waiter.

His phone lit up again. This time a hard-edged angst knotted his gut. He had never given Bella any reason to fear for his safety, nor question him when he said he would be away for a while but could not discuss why. While the job may put him at some risk from time to time, it was not as though he was actually an operative. That stuff was a young, single man’s game, and the older he got, the less interested he was in taking those sorts of gigs, anyway. These days, he was what they call in the movies, for lack of a more accurate title, an analyst.

He desperately wanted to answer Bella’s call, reassure her he was safe and that all would be OK. She knew well enough not to press for details, but his unannounced disappearance would be the red flag she always feared. He knew Bella would have long since contacted his boss. Fortunately, all Chris was required to say when he abruptly left the office earlier that day was that he had to see to a situation and that he’d report back in a few days. Bella knowing his boss knew Chris was away could go some distance with her, but, not answering any of her calls was counteracting that fail-safe. And, Chris knew absolutely nothing he could say in this moment would reassure her.

Nevertheless, he waited for the call to end before sending her another text: I’m ok but can’t talk. I’m safe. Shit went down today. Will have to see this thru 1st before calling. Promise to call as soon as it’s ok. I.LOVE.YOU. Hang tight sweets. Breathe. Home in a few.

Seconds later a text came in. Thinking it was Bella’s reply, Chris was surprised to see a coded message from his boss: Just fyi all set for Fri. C U then

“Ah, shit,” Chris muttered.

The Road Home

Burt chuckled when he realized that, for the past hour, he’d been wearing a smile. He couldn’t remember the last time he had anything to smile about.

The sky was clear and the valley stretched for miles in front of him. Burt hadn’t passed another vehicle since Garrettsville. The only sound was the singing of his tires as he sped along the highway that would take him back home. He checked the time again. In just about an hour he’d see Jilly and Micky.

The last time he saw his kids was a blur. He could not remember if there were tears, but there must have been. There was a lot of yelling, that much he definitely recalled. But, the memories he preferred to recollect were the ones of Micky telling himself long, shaggy-dog stories, using his toys as props and characters. And Jilly’s dance recitals. “My little Jilly ‘Sandman’ Jones,” he used to call her. She made Sammy Davis Jr. look like an amateur, as far as Burt was concerned.

Jilly and Micky would not be children anymore, of course. Burt wouldn’t need to scold them for putting their elbows on the table during the dinner to which they invited him, in order to get reacquainted. He tried to imagine what they look like now. Jilly must be tall, like her mother, and a dancer, maybe a Rockette, or even a professional ballerina. Micky maybe grew up to be a writer or journalist, what with all those stories he used to tell himself. Or an engineer, or maybe a scientist of some kind. He was always such a serious little kid.

What Burt knew for certain is that, in spite of his excitement, he needed to give both of them a wide berth. Let them ease into the reunion with him. Twenty-eight years is a long time.


UnOLWG Prompts are: keep the margins wide; throwing sand on the floor; tires singing; put your elbows on the table; this will take you there

Say Goodbye to Old Malcolm

“Been away so long, I hardly knew the place…”
I’ve not participated in weeks, but I must acknowledge three years of OLWG prompts! I pulled prompts from this post and the subsequent one, plus added one other. Can you guess what it is? Here’s a clue: What gift do you give for a third anniversary?


Along the old Lincoln highway in the heart of the industrial district, the Harvey Tannery and Shoes factory stretched all the way between Gower and Terracotta Avenues. The giant brick facility had been there practically since the day the city was a city. Its tannery days were long over, of course, and the manufacturing of shoes moved out about 60 years after that to wherever cheap labor could be found. What was behind the dirty shop windows was anybody’s guess. For the last several decades, people only knew it as “that giant brick building”, a relic of bygone days.

Dilapidated as it appeared, it was built to be a fortress. A century and a half of epic winter storms, floods (before the dam was built), a couple earthquakes and decades of Halloween pranksters who swore it was haunted, or drunk college boys on a Saturday night throwing rocks at the windows had not degraded its stalwartness, nor penetrated its walls.

Malcolm Dixon, a sixth generation Harvey on his mother’s side, depended on the building’s fortitude. It had been his home for some forty years. The original arrangement with the members of the Harvey family that still owned the property—-rent free residence in the apartment on the top floor that once was the factory foreman’s overlook, in exchange for turning the place into an event hall—-proved a pipe dream. Every effort to rid the place of the smell of curing leather and shoe polish did not work. The stuff perpetually emanated from the old brick walls. Not wanting to have to find another place to live, Malcolm suggested opening a shoe repair. He set up shop in what once was the entry lobby and administrative offices. He hand painted a marquee across the lobby windows in Robin’s egg blue that read, “Harvey Factory Shoe Repair”. In the decades since, the lettering faded to near white, but it still proudly announced that a shoe repair service was alive and well.

Not that Malcolm was not a cobbler. Never had been, and never wanted to be one. He just figured a shoe repair an obvious choice for an old shoe factory. Malcolm took the shoes and boots dropped off for repair out to the son of an old friend who actually was a cobbler. Once a week, Malcolm hopped a bus to the man’s shop in the suburbs with whatever had come in and returned the next week to pick up the repaired shoes. No one was ever the wiser. The warehouse shift workers, truckers and sometimes police officers who came in were just grateful to have a place where they could leave their expensive work boots to be resoled or patched for far less than the price of a new pair.

Primarily, Malcolm was a barroom fixture at The Factory Floor Bar & Grill. Part biker bar, part happy hour joint for shift workers, the place had been in the industrial district possibly as long as the Harvey factory. There was always a small crowd of bikers and drifters from opening to closing, but each weekday around 4:00pm, the place filled with tuneless rock-n-roll from the old juke box and guys and gals taking a load off of a long day before heading home. Malcolm would be in his spot at the end of bar closest to the door, greeting all the regulars as they came and went, sometimes collecting shoes for repair and payment for work completed, like some sort of side hustle.

On this day, when Malcolm came in at his usual time, the bartender, a tattooed toughy named Angel, uncharacteristically greeted him with a smile as she handed him his usual.

“So. Word’s goin’ ‘round,” Angel began, “and hey, that’s tough news. I’m really sorry to hear. You OK? I mean, where will ya go?”

Malcom took his boilermaker from Angel but hesitated a moment before he downed the whiskey and took a draw off his beer.

“Hmm?” he questioned, a bit confused.

“Um, we were just wondering…”

“Wait, wait … what’a ya mean, where will I go?”

Angel refilled Malcolm’s shot glass, “On the house.” Malcolm tossed the second shot back but kept his eye on Angel, who continued to give him a sheepish smile. As he set the glass down, he glanced around the room. A couple of the regulars quickly looked away.

“Angel? Why’s everyone’s lookin’ at me? What do you mean, ‘where will I go’?” Malcolm asked with some force this time.

Angel chose her words carefully. “OK. So, we heard…the old factory? Your building? Sold. Everyone’s talkin’ about it. People been askin’. I…we…just…are concerned, ya know? Anyway, I’m just sayin’. If you need a place, Bob said, if you want, you could stay in the studio back of the kitchen while you look for another place…”

Malcolm had been alone for so many years, with nobody to talk to but the crowd at the bar, that he had long been in the habit of not answering his phone in the shop. It suddenly occurred to him that lately, the phone had been ringing off the hook. He assumed it was robocalls. He never checked voicemail.

His mind was running like a gush of water down a gully. “What’a mean, you heard it sold?!”


Prompts are:

  1. run like water
  2. barroom fixture
  3. that song needs a chorus
  4. Gowers Avenue
  5.  dirty windows
  6.  robin’s egg blue
  7. leather

PNW Coronavirus Chronicle #4: A Silver Lining Between Two Angry Clouds

Since March 10th, the myriad of emotions and states of mind I’ve experienced exceed anything I’ve been through in a year. Maybe more. I’m stir crazy. I’m bored. I miss… so much. Variety. I miss variety in my days. While it’s hard to believe it’s been almost two months, I realize, because one day is exactly like the next, that that kind of monotony and solitude have the unreal ability of making time stand still.

I live near Seattle, and I work in the county to the north where the first COVID19 case in the U.S. was confirmed. It was a strange feeling to know I was living in the country’s first hotspot. At the time, everything was business as usual, which made it seem all the more strange, given the stories from China, Italy, South Korea and Spain. Then, a co-worker and his wife tested positive. The office was closed and the directive to self isolate came swiftly and decisively. A week later, WA State shut everything down.

But, who cares, right? It’s temporary. A coupl’a weeks. A really weird circumstance, but, honestly? It is not that dreadful. To have two weeks to play at being the sought-after professional who makes their own rules and works from a home office? How fun! So, sure. Whatever. Let’s hunker down. Lets shop for groceries as if the snow storm of the decade is forecast. Make all our favorite meals and desserts. Step outside and take a deep breath and marvel at the empty streets. Anyone can make the best of things for a couple of weeks, especially if they aren’t actually homebound by 3-foot drifts of snow. Or, confronted with homeschooling. Or cooped up with a partner, spouse and restless children. Or laid off or furloughed. It’s the best of all worlds.

Then the mandates are extended and two weeks turns into a month, and then another month, and now, the end of May. Parks are closed. Events are cancelled. Shopping centers are shuttered. Businesses close and jobs are lost so suddenly, it is as if they were hit by a massive nuclear bomb. Masks go from being declared of no use to mandatory. Tempers rise. The conflict between life versus livelihood takes on a mythical, almost epic gravitas. Healthcare workers break corporate rules and speak out about the horror show they are living. The need is yesterday, but our bureaucracies are not built for crisis management. By the time the relief fund or the medical supplies are finally in someone’s hands, it is too little, and way too late.

Even a walk in your neighborhood is a stresser. Mine in the park across the street has become an irritating cross between a game of wack-a-mo and an obstacle course, as you weave and bob around people and dogs and blissfully unconscious children running this way and that, trying to anticipate where the next encounter will pop up. Same goes for a trip to the grocery store.

So, the frightened and defiant stage protests. Leaders devolve into pissing matches. Politicians duke it out with scientists. Normally, this would be considered more of the same infuriating postering, but with what is actually at stake, it plays out as a clear and present danger. The stress of it all begins to dull and crack the gloss of your initial child’s play. It’s no longer a fun snow day.

All this came into play just after one of my family groups was bowled over by their own crisis. A relative, diagnosed in January with an aggressive cancer, was transported in an emergency air lift to an ICU unit the next state over, just as all of this hit. For various non-covid, but legitimate reasons, their spouse could not leave home to be with them. Then the shelter in place orders came down, making it impossible to consider travel. So family is forced to stay away, for fear of bringing the virus with them and infecting the others. The pressure and panic of it all proved too much. A very real, truly frightening meltdown takes place. The whole thing a horrible and gut wrenching drama.

I appreciate stories of people helping people during this universal crisis, pitching in where they can. But, to me, after all the emotions I’ve cycled through these past weeks, seeing people standing in doorways each night to applaud first responders, or leaving messages of encouragement with teddy bears in windows, or putting Christmas lights back up, or flying banners that read “We Got This!” seem naive and trite.

So, I take a deep breath and turn inward. I have to “fake it until I make it” in order to accept the audacity of hope that all will be fine, some day. Otherwise, I’m afraid I’ll start to wane. I have to make myself smile: At that banner with words of encouragement, waving in the warm breeze. At the sign in the window made by a child’s hand in colorful crayon. At the odd sight in April of a lighted snowman and Santa Claus in the front lawn.

As I write this, I sit on my couch, gazing out the window, grateful that Mother Nature has awakened from her winter’s nap. A bright yellow daffodil, brilliant purple tulip and a sunny afternoon go a long way to lift a spirit.

I take another deep breath…

The phone rings with the call that my family member succumbed to their cancer, peacefully passing Sunday morning. There cannot be any gathering to honor their life, acknowledge their passing, nor bring comfort to the grieving.

(sigh).

Open Mic Night at Nadine’s Cafe

“Then, let’s do it!” Judy smiled at the rest of the group, waiting for an affirmation. Wendy and Meredith nodded and shrugged. Karen seemed to not care. Jack always wore a grin, so it was hard to tell with him. Larry hadn’t paid any attention to the discussion to begin with.

Nadine stood and walked back behind the café counter. “Absolutely,” she said. “Nothing fills the place up more than a bad poet with a top-of-the-line sound system.”

“That’s not fair,” Judy scolded.

Nadine’s remark made the others chuckle.

“Look, I’m all for an open mic night, you know I am,” Nadine said, “I’m just sayin’. It’s a lot of money.”

Having spoken her mind, Nadine returned to her duties. Judy looked around the circle at the rest of the writers’ group. “Anybody else have an objection?”

The group muttered ‘no.’ Jack reached for his wallet and took out 2 twenties, handing them to Judy as he stood to leave. “To get the ball rolling.”

The others followed suit with whatever they had on hand or promised to send her a check later in the week. As they left, Judy went up to the café counter to confront Nadine.

“That was not necessary.”

“What wasn’t?”

“Your snark.”

“Oh, c’mon, Judy. It is a lot of money! For what you guys are talking about, you don’t need a set up like that.”

“We’re trying to help you, too, you know. You opened this place with the hopes people would think of it as a hangout. We could just as well meet in one of our homes, or at the Katty Korner, for that matter.”

Nadine ignored Judy’s idle threat while she finished making a mocha with extra whipped cream and nutmeg sprinkle on top. She handed it to her sister with an apologetic smile. Judy reluctantly took it. “I’m just sayin’, as well, you know.”

“And, I definitely appreciate it. I really do. It is a good idea. It’ll get the evening crowd in, especially now that I have my beer and wine license. I mean, at least your friends and their friends will come. Just…I mean, why not consider just getting one of those inexpensive karaoke setups?”

“You can’t hold a microphone and hold pages or a book and read. Makes people look like a clumsy twerp when they turn a page or adjust the microphone height. A headset just sits there, on your head, and you don’t have to think about it.”

“Yeah, OK, but a mix deck and two big speakers? You really don’t need all that.”

“You could use it for music groups, or something. We’d keep it here.”

“I’m not…anyway, if I do have music in here, it’ll be unplugged. Or they can bring their own stuff.”

Judy took a long sip of her mocha. “Well,” she began, as she licked the excess whipped cream from her lips, “I’m not going to give the money back.”

“Jude! What the hell! Of course, you will.”

“Here,” Judy pealed off a twenty and handed it to Nadine. “Here’s your return now.”

“Not now. You haven’t bought anything yet. Anyway, I don’t want it.”

“What do you want me to do with it?!”

“Put it in the urn with your cat’s cremains, for all I care.”

Judy drank the last of her mocha and handed back the mug. “How come you never liked my cat?”

“I liked your cat just fine. That’s not what I meant.”

“I don’t get you. You can be such a snark. Anyway, thanks for the mocha.”

“You bet. Now, forget about the expensive set up.”

“Yeah, OK,” Judy replied. She took in a deep breath and lifted her posture. “It’ll be fun. An open mic night will be a lot of fun. And, if people really like it, we’ll do it, like, every week! I’m excited!”

“Me, too. I’m sure everyone will have a good time. Only, never let Larry read first. Save his to the end, after everyone’s had a least a couple of beers in them.”

Judy laughed. “Agreed!”


Prompts from Un-OLWG this week are: Put them in the urn with the cremains; a bad poet with a good microphone; a rather clumsy girl

The Next Night at the Diner

The next night, the rain gave way to “a northerly,” as it’s called around here, pushing in below-freezing temperatures and high winds. Pablo’s first task when he arrived for his shift was to shovel snow off the sidewalk.

Adele, Spooky and Angel were huddled together in a back-corner booth. Business for them would be slow tonight. Their regulars would know to find them here, anyway. As long as they paid for a decent hotel room and let the girls run the room heater on high, the girls would happily comp their regulars a full night for the price of an hour. Pablo hoped one of Spooky’s guys would show up. She deserved a night in a clean hotel.

“Hey, Pablo, yo!” Becker called from the kitchen. “ ‘Bout time, dude. Maureen’s called in sick.”

Pablo cursed. “You stayin’?” he asked, hopefully.

“Nnnnnope.”

Pablo looked around the diner again, taking another appraisal of the place, now that he had to both cook and serve. Mrs. Gregor was in the front booth with her book, a cup of coffee and a half-finished slice of pie. Dwyane and James Jr., identical twin brothers who managed the shipping warehouse outside of town, were in another booth finishing up their meal. A group of teenagers made their way out the door, oblivious to the freezing cold. It made Pablo shiver just to watch them go. He grabbed a bussing tray and cleared their table. Little shits only left a couple dollars’ tip.

Becker was pulling on his coat and hat as Pablo walked into the kitchen. “I called Alejandro and Bixby, see if either of them could come in and help,” Becker said.

Pablo held out the dollar bills from the teen’s table to Becker.

“Nah. Keep it. Or put it in the relief drive. Fuckin’ brats. Ordered up half the damn menu .”

“Either a’them said they come in?”

“Hmm? Oh, yeah. Bixby. But, it’ll be a bit ‘fore he makes it.”

“Better’n nothing. Refill the coffees before you go, ya?”

Becker nodded. “Do you one better. I’ll set the machines on the counter. Tell folks to get their own refills.”

Officers Obie and Pat, and Officer Cheryl walked in.

As Pablo pulled the bill of his cap down low, he called out, “Shorthanded tonight. Help yourselves to the coffee. Cup’s under the counter. Creamer’s in the case.” The officers nodded. “Same as last night for you guys? And for you, ma’am? What’ll you have?”

Officer Cheryl smiled and shrugged. “Ahh….cheeseburger and fries?”

Officers Pat and Cheryl made their way with their coffees to the other front booth, while Obie sauntered over to the girls table with a carafe of coffee. “Ya’ll stayin’ warm inside?” he asked hopefully, as he filled their cups. They smiled, a bit sarcastically, except Adele, who kept her focus on her phone.

“Just stay safe, OK?”

“Aww, he cares,” Angel jeered. “See that?” she nudged Adele who stubbornly kept her face down and focused on her phone. “Tell you what, why don’t you get me a hot cup of cocoa, instead, make me feel all better, huh?”

“You didn’t do nothing to my coffee, right?” Spooky joked.

“No, no. Not me.” Obie replied. The girls laughed, including Adele, making Obie blush.

The twins bussed their own plates and came around the counter to pay Pablo in cash over the pass through. “Keep the change,” James Jr. said.

Obie quietly asked the twins to offer to see Mrs. Gregor home.

The old woman scoffed. “Been driving in snow deeper ‘n this since you two were still in your Buster Browns!”

The twins left and the diner fell quiet. Only the sound of the officers’ food sizzling on the fryer and the occasional electronic crackle and pop communication from their radios filled the empty space.

Mrs. Gregor left with a dismissive wave to Pablo. He smiled. Old bat taking advantage of no Maureen around to collect her tab.

A semi rolled up the middle of the boulevard and stopped at the intersection. Everyone in the diner watched as the driver got out, leaving his engine running, and walked in. Immediately seeing the officers, he stopped. “Don’t mind if I leave it there while a grab a bite?”

Conditioned to first assess a situation, the three officers looked out the window again at the truck and then up and down the boulevard before giving their consent.

“Best if you stay in town tonight,” Officer Cheryl said. “Motel Six is just a few blocks up. I’ll tell them you’re coming. Park in that side road on the westside. It goes all around the property, so you can drive straight out in the morning”

“If doesn’t keep snowing,” the driver quipped as he gave the girls a knowing chin-up nod. Angel and Snooky smiled back, gave the officers a quick glance and then stared each other down.

“Orders up!” Pablo called from the kitchen. The officers looked at one another and then got out of their booths and made their way around the counter to the pass through.

“Sorry ‘bout all this,” Pablo said. “ ‘Til one of the kids gets in, I’m a little shorthanded”

Officer Pat smiled. “So you said, Pablo.”

Pablo looked at Pat, a bit startled.

“I never forget a face,” Pat said. “ ‘Til my dyin’ day, I’ll never forget a face.”

Pablo pushed back the bill of his hat. “I did my time, sir.”

Pat nodded, “Yes, you did. Glad to see you landed on your feet. Always glad to see folks land on their feet.”


Inspired by the preamble and this week’s Un-OLWG prompts :

  1. What happened to my coffee?
  2. Buster Browns
  3. till my dying day

PNW CC #3: Home, Sweet Home…needs a decorator!

Another unforeseen critical situation in all of this is the mass hysteria of interior decorators. Have you seen the TV reporters broadcasting from their living rooms, kitchens and basements? I hope we aren’t actually getting a glimpse into their private lives, because, if so, many of these people are in critical need of some taste. However glad I am to see that IKEA has done as well as they have, I am at the same time mortified at the extreme state of unoriginality and lack of imagination. There might be a scourge worse than a virus for which there is not yet a vaccination: It’s called being color blind. I wrote my congress representative and insisted that a course in art appreciation be added to the $1200 we are to receive.


When I started this post, I was on a directive to work from home “as much as possible.” Shortly thereafter, while I was out running “essential” errands, I got a text that a co-worker and his wife tested positive. New directive: Quarantine for 2 weeks (btw…neither required hospitalization, and both are well on their way back to health, recovering at home).

The news waxes on about people battling isolation, cabin fever, and chaos, as people try to figure out how to work from home while learning the hard way how to be a homeschool educator. But there are people like me who are loving the new world order. You won’t see us on TV, though. We’re not about to solicit any sympathies. We are, firstly, healthy, still employed and not on the front lines in the hospitals, M.A.S.H. units or care centers. Next, we are single, no children, no one else who needs us, and under orders from our employer, our city and our state to shelter in place. Coronavirus is awful. Truly. I do not mean to be glib. But, my life at the moment? Not that bad.

The epitome of a lonely walk on a sunny day:

Until We Meet Again

Miriam was accustomed to being alone, but until the awful day her brother and parents drowned in the ferry accident, she never knew what it was like to be all alone. She chose the meadow about which her parents often spoke, and the long walk they took those many years ago; the one that concluded with a deciding kiss. Miriam made her way to a large oak, and as she began to slowly pour her brother and parents’ ashes among its roots, a breeze caught a bit and gently carried it toward the bright yellow, orange, purple and pink of the morning’s sunrise.


Prompts from The New, Unofficial, On-line Writers’ Guild are:
I’ve never been alone before/ Dipping my toe into the bright colours of the sunrise/ Miriam Ortiz Uribe 

PNW Coronavirus Chronicle #2: Hey, look! I have a can of clam chowder!

It’s pantry rummaging time. Not because I’m low on food and too scared to go out in public. I’m rummaging around my pantry because there is something that happens when an over anxious person is stricken with the onset of cabin fever. I don’t know why, but at lunch yesterday, the hunting and foraging instinct kicked in. I have a profound urge to nest within the safe confines of my home.

A moment of curious calm

Later, as I stood staring out a window, chatting with my manager on the phone as we tried to map out how this, however temporary, new normal will have to work, I saw two small birds in a tree, unperturbed, seemingly staring off into the same distance. They were every bit the picture of a comfortable couple gazing at the view from their back deck. All that was missing were a couple of tiny Adirondacks and itty-bitty glasses of wine.

I found the sight of those two birds very calming in the midst of all the hysteria. Small birds are always flitting about; easily startled, but these two sat on that branch staring off into the distance for almost 10 minutes. It was stormy, so the branches were pitching and swaying, but that didn’t bother either of them. Not a single flutter. It is a scene I think I will remember the rest of my life.


The clam chowder was fine, but truthfully, I needed more provisions, so I ventured out for groceries. I’ve been out and about every day this week, but only for short trips that did not involve being in the proximity of more than a couple of people at a time. A trip to the grocery seemed daunting.

Five o’clock is not the time to go to the grocery store on any day, but I knew that before I headed out, so, given the panic, I packed up a full ration of patience (along with homemade hand sanitizer and latex gloves). Not surprisingly, I had to circle the parking lot several times before landing a spot. The cluster-f**k that ensued when 5 cars vied for 2 spots opening up would usually result in a lot of parking-lot road rage. Not so today. As a community, we are well aware we are in crisis-mode. Every driver assessed their part in the do-si-do and maneuvered accordingly and expediently. It was the most neighborly thing I have ever witnessed.

The store was busy, but “normal” busy. The only difference were the empty shelves. It’s funny what people think is necessary to hord: Flour, eggs, butter, but not so much baking soda, yeast or salt. Frozen meals, of course, but only certain frozen meals. There’d been a run on plastic food storage bags, which seemed odd, and sale items, which seemed logical. And, I just have to say, all that broccoli is going to go bad in just a few days, so folks better eat up.

But Collard Greens? Holy crap! I had my pick! Mushrooms, too. Asparagus. Artichoke. Lettuce. Carrots. Radish. All that was left of the white onions were a few paper skins, but yellow, red onion and shallot were plenty to be had. Berries were picked over, but plenty of apples and oranges. Fish, meat, nuts, tomatoes, juice, cheese, baked desserts…you had your pick. What fascinated me was coffee. There was a lot of coffee.

As I considered buying the 1/2 turkey breast from the rotisserie service (as all the chicken was sold, like, all the chicken. They were completely out of fresh chicken to roast more), I heard a shopper curse under his breath that the salami slices were sold out. The neighborly demonstration in the parking lot inspired me to pay it forward. I suggested he get a 1/4 lb. at the deli counter. Poor guy had to take a moment to process. He’d never considered the deli counter before. He smiled and thanked me. As I moved along to the check out, I heard him ask, “How much is a pound?” A pound?! Wow.

PNW Coronavirus Chronicle #1: Letters from a shut-in

Yesterday at noon, the WA State Governor announced that all groups over 250 in our tri-county area are forbidden from gathering. He then hinted that schools will soon been closed (they did today, in the same tri-county area). A later email from a local school district further hinted an inevitable closure won’t be for weeks, but may be for months. Then, the cherry on top, our President blamed Europe.

For me, it all started last Friday, when the mayor of the small town where I work announced that several city-owned buildings would close. As our office is in one of those buildings (and we are a city agency), we received a subsequent notice to work from home, “as much as possible,” but it was not required. As much as everyone wanted to cry, “hell, yes!”, we abstained. When things get serious, it seems untoward to feel like you are taking advantage. So, most of us showed up the next day. Then we were sent home in the middle of that next day with the admonishment to only come into work if absolutely necessary. Before leaving the office, we were also given an agreement to sign. Basically, a scouts’ honor to work all 8 hours a day and always be available during working hours for phone calls, emails and the like, along with a reminder that city business is city business and no one else’s.

The “work from home” edict is one thing, but an example of how urgent folks are getting about the recommendations to curtail spread of this virus is this: I was talking to one of my co-workers when we were interrupted by a senior manager to be conscious of the fact that we were standing “way” too close. We looked at each other and then assessed our distance. Probably 4 feet. Another co-worker brought out a measuring tape, sort of as a joke, and measured the distance. It was five feet 1 inch. Turns out, “social distance” is six feet apart. Six feet is a really weird distance to have to stand when one is having a comfortable conversation with another. I’m telling ya. Just try it.

The one thing I’ve learned about working from home thus far is this: There is a lot that is accomplished in the consortium of co-workers that cannot possibly be accomplished when everyone is sent to sit in their respective corners with their backs to the room (so to speak). And then there is the weirdness of working from home. Home is where I hang out. Where I kick back. It is where—except for paying bills and all the other homeowner headaches—I only do the things I enjoy doing. There’s no flopping on the couch for an hour’s nap after lunch, just because I can; as I do on weekends. Were my cat still around, I’d being having a heck of a time keeping her off the desk, or circling me, constantly meowing. And, I’ve discovered to my great frustration, my home desk and office chair are not designed for a full day’s toil at the laptop. OUCH! My back!!

I’ve also learned my neighbor above me has a treadmill. I know she works from home on a regular basis, but all this time we’ve been neighbors, I never knew she had a treadmill. On her breaks during the work week, she jumps on that thing. And, that damn thing is loud! It’s like living under an earthquake. Funny, the things you learn when your circumstances change. I called her to ask about the treadmill, and she was surprised I was home. Turns out she always knows when I’m home sick because she hears my TV, or hears me cough. I’m home working, so, no TV, and I’m not sick, so no coughing. I told her to go on with her treadmill. It’ll give me an excuse to go out on a walk to escape the noise!

Which brings me to this: Walking around your neighborhood is the healthiest/safest thing you can do ’round these parts these days. You don’t encounter a single nasty germ-infested surface; the world around you (unless it’s raining) is lovely; and it is more than A-OK to keep a 6-foot-distance from others you pass by. However, it makes meeting the ebullient puppy-dog very awkward. I mean, leave it to the one canine in Hong Kong that (reputedly) contracted COVID19 to ruin such a sublime and neighborly encounter.

Because losing my mind with cabin fever (nevermind viral fever) is something I cannot abide, I will post Letters From a Coronavirus Shut-in regularly. Writing is my salvation as well as my sanity touchstone.


Op-Ed:
Yes, COVID19 is proclaimed a pandemic, and W.H.O. has not minced words in condemning governments for their slow and largely ineffective initial response. And historians will pontificate for decades to come whether this presidential electoral cycle had anything, or everything, to do with why elected officials, from park district commissioners all the way up to POTUS, were quick to make broad, sweeping directives…that is, once it became generally accepted that we had a dire situation at hand. Whatever. I’m left to wonder where the definition of “proportional response” lies in this case?

One one hand, there’s a virus for which there is no remedy, or immunity, that is fatal to the medically vulnerable. On the other hand, within a matter of just one week, businesses, like restaurants, are announcing permanent closure due to a massive drop in revenue. A friend of mine was laid off a gift store clerk job yesterday for lack of revenue from just one week of sales and forecast the many weeks to come of the same. The markets are crashing and it seems another recession is pretty much a given. Recessions have not ever been kind to me and my employment status, so, yeah. I’m worried. I could die (because I’m close enough to the stated ‘vulnerable’ age) or I could be unemployed. Again. Real and exceptionally daunting prospects against a very thin margin for hope against all hope.

So, I ask once more, where does the proportional, or appropriate response lie? W.H.O. and C.D.C. cite China, Singapore and Hong Kong’s response as they only way to manage this particular outbreak. Italy, too, I suppose, but the pundits say it was not enough and way too late in the game. We’re hearing the same criticism of US response. Too little, too late.

Holy crap. Really?