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Her world, most of it, exists between the old house and her grandfather’s store and gas station. Thursday mornings are the best – before school, Mr. Johnson, the bread man arrives. He’s bald and wears a striped shirt with a Sunbeam bread patch on one side. The bread truck that he drives is mostly yellow with blue trim and stepping into the dark, cool interior of the back is magical to a six year old. And, best of all, the bread man delivers Lone Star donuts, too. Mr. Johnson invites her to pick one. She chooses her favorite, a jelly donut.
She never thought that she would like snow. But, as it turned out, she sometimes did. There were days in Montana when she would wake up to a white world and silence. The silence of the world covered in snow is not like any silence you have ever heard. It was best just to look out the window at the white blanket and throw another log on the fire. But, there were usually chores to be done, chickens, cows, horses and dogs. All of them waiting for people to break a trail and arrive in the white silence with food.
Spring, a sunny day, passing strangers on the street exclaiming, “The sun is shining!” – you know you live in the Pacific Northwest. It brought thoughts of other spring times. In those days, spring meant new dresses and shoes, maybe white gloves and an Easter bonnet. A Sunday spent at church and on green lawns hunting Easter eggs dyed the day before. Dyeing the eggs was more fun than the hunt. The smell of the vinegar and the colors in the assorted glasses and cups, the little wire hoop for retrieving the eggs meant spring then. After the hunt, bare feet!
So, spring in Texas, immediately after Easter Sunday, meant going barefoot. We would beg to be allowed to leave our shoes behind and usually it worked. For the first few days our feet were hesitant and tender. There were goat heads in the yard, a particularly vicious kind of sticker that dug in and made you grit your teeth when you pulled it out. It was an especially good idea to avoid those until the soles of your feet toughened. Soon, nothing bothered your feet –not even the Texas crude oil poured on the road to keep the dust down.
The taxi driver took us off the main square, away from the lights and bustle of the town square. “Where would you take your family for a special occasion?” we asked. The restaurant was on a side street and open in the front. In the entrance, hung the catch of the day – literally – a large red snapper. We walked to our table past an old woman sitting at a folding table with an adding machine and a stack of tickets, the tape on the machine hanging past the table edge. The meal was everything we wanted including a mariachi band.
Death, if you buy into the religious versions, is supposed to be better than life. There are those virgins, waiting for the martyrs, of course, and perfection on the inside of the Pearly Gates. But, if you are dead, can you appreciate an ice cold slice of watermelon, sweet juice drizzling down your chin. What about the comfort of your bed, tangled covers nesting around and a warm familiar body next to yours. Will you ever stop missing the dimpled smile of your son? Death is just not what it’s cracked up to be.
Jury duty; I was summoned for the first time in 35 years of being a registered voter. All in all I was impressed with the process. We came together, 50 different people and, while there were three or four who seemed to just want to get out of serving; the others were just there to serve. For most, it was at least an inconvenience; keeping them from planting their gardens, working at their jobs or just enjoying the spring sunshine but they came willingly enough. After hearing details, the case soon presented itself as a waste of tax payer dollars.
Jeanie was impatient with her trainer. There was no reason for him to drag her to this stuffy old museum. What could anything here possibly have to do with running a marathon? But Paul insisted on no training today and he insisted on the museum. He led her to a room with an exhibit of Da Vinci drawings and sculptures. Well, she had heard of Da Vinci but she was still having trouble with the point of all this. All of a sudden, this guy with a sketchpad crashed against her pushing her into a window looking over the courtyard.
She loved new jobs. The trouble with going to work for someone else was that she usually had been there, done that. No one believed it, usually, but there it was. She tried not to admit too much at first. Her life had been full and she was interested – interested in all manner of things.
She had experienced everything from basket weaving to gardening, running a country post office, census bureau surveys and rural school clerk. In another life there was the world of finance and travel. Another life; cattle ranching still another living aboard a sailboat. Life upon life.
Jumping on one foot, she put on one shoe, then the other and looked for an empty seat to get everything back in order after clearing airport security. Trying to slip her boarding pass and passport back in the “handy” pocket in her bag, hands full, her cell phone begins to ring…Damn, Hello, Is this Ms Jones? This is A had arrived 2 hours early for is now delayed for 3 hours – the dry spell won’t end here, what now? Airlines calling to let you know that your flight is delayed due to mechanical problems. Wonderful – the flight, which she
The scary part of all this was that she didn’t even know where the ideas came from to begin with. It seemed her brain was disengaged, in the shower, in the middle of the night when she got up to pee, driving to work and suddenly the idea would appear. Now, the well had run dry – omigod, she was reverting to clichés – old worn out ones at that. Sitting in the departure terminal of the airport, people moving purposely everywhere, mind disengaged and there was NOTHING. Would this trip out of her comfort zone shock her mind back into service?
Oddly enough, when she looked up and saw her father standing in the doorway, her first reaction was – how did he know where to find me. You might think the fact that he’d been dead for 10 years would be a bigger concern. But she just figured she must be dreaming so the dead part didn’t seem so impossible. She’d left Montana shortly after her father’s death; somehow, the communicating to the other side the fact that she’d changed states seemed a more difficult task.
Okay, suspend disbelief for now. What is he holding in his hand? It’s a book.
Not a beer or a cigar or even a tool; he was holding a book. She was not sure where she got her love of reading. She couldn’t remember seeing either of her parents with a book. Her mother read the newspaper every morning and took everyone to the library at least once a week in the summer.
But, it was definitely a book in her dad’s hand as he stood in her doorway. As if it was not strange enough to have her dead father in the living room, he brought along a book. This deserved a closer examination.
November in the Pacific Northwest is gray and that’s an understatement. The old hotel sat off the road, the weak neon sign proclaiming Hadlock Inn. At midnight the parking lot was empty. She pulled up to the entrance as instructed when she reserved the room. The note on the door pointed toward the entrance to a breezeway. Inside was a Coke machine and on top of it, an envelope with her name. Inside was a key to her room and instructions to, “Stop by the front desk in the morning” to check in. She thought she was the only guest.
The room was shabby but clean. She turned on a bedside lamp and looked around. An odd feeling made her look up – the ceiling over the bed was a perfect circle of mirrors. That might make sleep a bit difficult but, what the hell. She’d been driving all day; once the lights were out the mirrors wouldn’t matter. Tomorrow, if she dared, she would ask the significance of the mirrored ceiling. The place was almost too silent but she finally slept.
In the light of day, the shabbiness of the old building was more apparent. But, the view was spectacular.
From the second floor window of her room she could see a picnic area – trees, grass and a few tables at the edge of a beach. There were gulls and some sort of small ducks swimming in the bay and beyond that a marina. There were lots of masts making a grid of the sky. She wondered who owned the boats, where they sailed or if they ever left the dock. In November, they probably didn’t leave the dock often. The gray skies and stiff breeze didn’t seem conducive to a day out on a boat.
A dog appeared below.
The dog was exuberant. His person seemed less happy. She watched from the window, feeling a little like a peeping tom, but unable to turn away from the scene before her. The man was tall and thin, wearing a navy pea coat and old jeans. His shoulders were hunched and his head hung even as he tossed a ball for the black lab; jumping and spinning – taking little forays out into the surf.
She didn’t know why the man was so depressed but she knew it just by the way his shoulders drooped as he shuffled slowly down the beach.
It was time to get dressed and get out and explore the place. The night had been strange enough, could it get any stranger. Showered and dressed, the first order of the day was to go down to the front desk and check in. She rode the noisy elevator down to the main floor and walked through the breezeway to the lobby. The building was massive and the lobby had a three story ceiling and a large, cold fireplace. There was a young woman behind the desk. Her most memorable feature was her waist length hair. She smiled, “Good Morning”.
“Are things usually so quiet around here?” she asked the young women at the desk.
"This is pretty much what you get in November” was the answer. “If you are looking for anything like a crowd, come back to see us in July.”
“I guess I need to check in formally. I got in last night after you were closed.”
“Oh, okay. You must be Ms. Brown. Did you find your room without any problem?” asked the girl.
“I found my room just fine but it was a little spooky here at midnight – very quiet.”
“Oscar didn’t bother you, did he?”
“No one bothered me”, she replied. “Who’s Oscar?”
“He’s the resident ghost but you’d be more likely to run into Poe – the marina cat. He’s been known to make himself at home in a guest’s room if the door is left open for a few minutes. Oscar doesn’t make himself known to everyone but the staff blames him for every little thing; keys missing, light bulbs burned out, strange noises in the night.”
“Well, thanks for the heads up. I think I’ll go to breakfast now.” She’d had enough of a history lesson for the morning. Now, she needed coffee.
After coffee, she decided she needed to get out into the day. It was a gray, damp, Pacific Northwest kind of day but the marina and beach deserved a closer look. Soon she would need to get back to work but a few more hours wouldn’t be hard to justify. It had been long trip and she wanted a look around. If she wanted to use this location in her book, she needed to do a bit of exploring. The dog and man she had watched earlier from her window were no longer in sight. She walked out the pier.
There were benches along the pier but they were covered – due to the fact that it was November and the weather was not conducive to sitting in the sun and watching the ducks. The sun was elusive and the breeze biting and there were no ducks, only gulls. Standing on the pier, just outside the marina gate she looked down on a floating dock with a kayak pulled up on it. As she stood watching, an otter splashed up on the dock with a fish, munching noisily. He was joined by two others. They rolled, munched and looked like trouble.
She looked up from the antics of the otters to see what appeared to be a creature from the deep. On second glance, she realized that it was a man in a wet suit pushing a cart with a big blue tub in it through the gate. He said hello as he passed and she was surprised to hear an accent; Eastern European and see that he was an older man than he appeared at a distance.
Why, she wondered, had he been diving? “Excuse me”, she said, “I’m curious to know why you’ve been diving this cold November day.”
“Why, I am working”, was his reply. “I dive on boats and clean the growth off their bottoms and rudders. Someone is taking their boat to Port Townsend to be repaired and the rudder needed to be cleaned before they could move it”
She could see that the man was beginning to shiver and she thanked him for the information quickly. “You’d better hurry to change – it’s getting colder by the minute.”
“You are welcome”, came his reply. “Maybe I will see you on the docks again.”
Turning back to the gate she noticed a large black cat just inside.
The cat yawned and stretched, then rolled over on his back as if he wanted his tummy rubbed. He was very sleek and black with yellow eyes. She reached down and hesitantly rubbed the proffered tummy. She recalled the desk clerk’s mention of a cat named Poe. “Hello, you must be Poe,” she said to the cat. “I’ve heard about you.”
Straightening up, she looked around the dock. There was a small shed on one side and another on the other side that appeared to be the office. The sign on the sliding glass door said “Out on the Docks”.
Poe had gone on ahead and she saw him greeting a man heading her way. He stopped and rolled on his back as he had when she met him. He was a little too close to the edge of the dock and much to his surprise he rolled right off the dock and into the cold water. If she hadn’t known it was impossible she would have sworn that cat walked on water. He was back on the dock and on his feet so quickly he was hardly wet. The man he had been greeting was doubled over with laughter.
“Oh God, I haven’t seen anything that funny in awhile,” said the man. “Have you met Poe?”
“Well, not formally, but I’m staying at the Inn and the desk clerk mentioned the marina cat,” she answered. “Do you live in the marina?”
“I do,” he answered. “My boat is just down on the end of ‘A’ dock. I’m Thomas. Welcome to PH Marina.”
He was an older man, bald and he seemed to be a bit unsteady on his feet. “Is Poe your cat?”
“No, Poe belongs on a boat down on ‘E’ dock. His person works long, crazy hours.”
The woman stopped me at the top of the trail to the beach. “Do you know if I should report baby seals on the beach,” she asked.
I explained that Fish and Wildlife recommended that people leave baby seals alone. Even if they appeared to be abandoned, the mother seal was usually just off gathering food and would return. She thanked me and I walked on down to the beach.
I could see the animals further down the beach. As I drew closer I realized they were otters. Not so young either, they were old enough to be mating
The indignant cat shook and decided he’d had enough socialization. He stalked off down the dock with his tail flipping in the air. The man wiped his eyes, caught his breath and said, “Good morning. Did you enjoy the morning entertainment?”
“I haven’t laughed so hard in a long time”, she replied. “Is that cat always so funny?”
“Poe thinks he runs the marina – and the hotel for that matter”, came the reply. “He’s been known to appear at the window of the restaurant at the dinner hour with a cute little chipmunk in his mouth to entertain the diners."
“That must be impressive,” she said. “I’m Emily.”
“Hi, Emily, I’m Mike. Welcome to the marina. Are you here for long?”
“Just visiting and trying to get a feel for the area. It’s been interesting, so far.
“We’re nothing, if not interesting, around here. I sometimes think that’s like the Chinese curse –‘May you live in interesting times', but that’s life in the marina,” said Mike. “Will you be here long?"
“I’ve got another week in the area. I’m not sure where I’m staying, but this place certainly seems to have enough excitement to keep me here. See you around.”
The Tip Jar