slightly as she crossed the small concrete bridge into Adams County.
Somehow, she felt safer, just leaving Whitman County. The whole mess
was behind her and what lay before her, would at least be new. She had
finally made the break. It had taken a full year, for her to make up
her mind, gather up the nerve and pull away. Ruben had helped of
coarse. Not that he had forged any indelible marks in her heart, but he
had provided the final catalyst that forced her to leave. She wasn’t
sure what she was actually leaving. There were so many choices to pick
from. There was always the same old grind at the insurance office, day
after boring day. She woke up every morning, submitted herself to the
urges of her husband, drug herself out of bed to do the chores and then
went into town to do the same old job. When five o’clock came, she
punched the time clock, went to the bar and watched Garth drink until
it was time to go home. This went on for most of a year before she
realized it wan’t working and then it took another year for her to find
a way out.
She had left her
father’s home under less than pleasant circumstances to be with Garth
and now she was on the run again. Her father ran a tight ship. He laid
down the rules and they would be followed to the letter, or there would
be hell to pay. He was dictatorial to say the least and tyrannical
might be a better description. She hadn’t realized that her move in
with Garth was only a change of scenery. Garth was nearly as oppressive
as her farther had been and he drank to excess nearly every day. His
drinking, however, had its pros and cons. He became more autocratic,
the more he drank, but if he drank enough, he would slip into a stupor
and finally pass out, thus leaving her somewhat free, until he sobered
up again. There must have been something that brought her to a union
with this man, Garth, but she couldn’t untangle the complexities that
surrounded it. There was always the obvious need for her to get away
from her father, but she had merely changed one despot for another.
When she finally realized this, she was married to the man and there
was little she could do but ride out the storm.
Ruben had come
along like a white knight under the guise of a jester and slid
unobtrusively into her life at just the right time. He was short,
scruffy and maybe, if you didn’t look too hard, kind of adorable. Like
the rest of Pricilla’s crowd, he drank too much and imbibed in far too
many drugs, but at least he did these things for fun and not to drown
some kind of pain, like she felt Garth did. Ruben first showed up as
one of Garth’s friends. They had hunted and fished and drank together
for some time, before she realized he was possibly the answer to her
dilemma. After work, when she and Garth went to the bar, Ruben was
usually there. He and Garth would shoot pool and prattle on of past and
future hunting expeditions, until Garth began to slur, first his words
and then his thoughts, and then she and Ruben would pass away the rest
of the evening in casual conversation. Nearly every evening went the
same. Garth would finally regain some semblance of composure, she would
gather him up and one of them would drive the ten or twelve miles out
into the country to where they lived in a rented old farmhouse.
this old house was the best part of the deal. It may have even delayed
her move substantially. She had been born a century too late for her
true calling and the pioneers that settled this country, would have
been proud to call her one of them, for she would have fit comfortably
into their world. Even though she had been brought up with all the
modern conveniences, she would have gladly renounced her ties with the
twentieth century and hopped the time machine to some past era.
It was early
March and spring, though officially a couple weeks away, had showed
signs that it was just around the corner, while winter’s last vestiges
still hung, not so quietly in the wings, ready for a curtain call. It
was one of those days, where if you didn’t like the weather, you could
wait five minutes and it would change. The sun had shone several times,
earlier in the day, but now the clouds built up thick overhead and
Pricilla could feel the snow they held. She drove on, headed west, past
Washtucna, through the sparse dessert of Central Washington and finally
she crossed the Columbia River at Vantage. Vantage. This place,
Vantage, had a name, as though it was a town, or something else of like
importance, but in fact it was nothing more than a gas station and a
hamburger joint on the western side of the long bridge across the
Columbia river. It was one of those places, one could have nightmares
about being stranded in. It was one of those places that if your car
broke down there, you would, in all likelihood, still be there. Once
stranded in Vantage there was no way out. Pricilla only glanced out of
the corner of her eye at the one building and three trees, as she left
the bridge and headed up the long hill to the high prairie that would
take her into the mountains beyond.
The farther West
she went, the more dense the clouds became, until, as she began her
ascent up the East side of the Cascade mountain range, the shear weight
of the moisture the clouds contained, began to precipitate out as tiny
crystals of ice. They were almost imperceptible at first, but as she
continued to gain altitude, these little translucent specks grew in
size until they were large snowflakes. At first, they melted as they
touched the ground, but as she climbed further into the tree covered
crags of the Cascades, they began to whiten the road in front of her.
They fell furiously from the sky, making it difficult to see and by the
time she had reached the top of the pass, she was exhausted from the
strain. She pulled off the road onto the shoulder and just sat for
several minutes, trying to relax. Her knuckles were white from gripping
the steering wheel and her heart beat loudly from the stress. She
closed her eyes, leaning back in the seat and tried to let her mind go
blank, but thoughts from her past crowded into every corner, swirling
around like the snow that fell outside the car and she realized that
she could do nothing but push on. Gritting her teeth and taking a firm
grip of the wheel, she pulled back out onto the highway and headed down
the west side of the pass.
that Ruben would be there when she arrived, that is if she arrived at
all. She kept having visions of sliding off the road, or slamming into
an oncoming semi-truck. She also wasn’t sure she could find where she
was going. About three weeks before, when she had finally decided to
leave Garth, she and Ruben had driven this same road to Seattle, where
they had stayed with friends in the South part of the city. She had
only been there about a week, when Garth had found her whereabouts and
come to fetch her. Why she had gone back with him, she didn’t know, but
she had and it hadn’t worked out any better than she had thought it
would. This time she was leaving for good, no matter how it turned out.
She knew that she could never go back.
She tried to
visualize the route to where Ruben and their friends lived, but it
seemed hazy and unclear. She didn’t know the address and they didn’t
have a telephone, so she knew she had to rely on her vague memories to
find the place again. She started to panic, thinking she would arrive
in this big cold city and be without a place to go. She had enough
money to spend a night or two in a motel if she had to, but she needed
to conserve her resources. She had to find them tonight. She tucked
these worries back into the far corners of her mind and concentrated on
staying on the road. There were several inches of heavy wet snow on the
highway and it took everything she had, just to keep going. As usual,
there was a lot of traffic and she was the slowest car on the road. The
lights of the many cars that had piled up behind her, glared in the
mirror, distracting her much needed concentration and the oncoming cars
seemed to be heading directly at her. When she came up behind a
snowplow, she uttered a sigh of relief, pulled in behind it as close as
she felt safe and followed along in its wake until she reached the edge
of the city.
Issaquah, the snow turned back into rain, the snowplow pulled off the
road and she was left to find her own way amongst the ever-increasing
traffic. Each drop, the full contents of a measuring cup, left her
windshield wipers unable to keep up and visibility was next to nothing.
That didn’t stop the local traffic from driving over the speed limit
and Pricilla quickly became a unique hazard in what were already
dangerous conditions. She was sure that one of the many cars that
passed her would cause an accident that she would certainly be dragged
into. The narrow floating bridge across Lake Washington was especially
scary and by the time she reached the belly of the city, she was a
virtual wreck. She found herself driving along a reasonably normal city
street with parking on both sides. The rain was still heavy and the
multitude of city lights made her windshield seem like looking through
a kaleidoscope. It was nearly nine o’clock and empty parking spots were
occasionally available, as she made her way North along what she
believed to be Second or Third Avenue. She knew she was going in the
wrong direction, but instead of turning around, she pulled into an
empty parking spot and stopped to look at a map of the city.
Leaving the car
running, she took the map from the glove compartment and before
unfolding it, she sat back in the seat, closing her eyes. She could
feel the tensions flow out of her as she breathed deeply and repeated
the mantra she had learned a year ago, when she had tried to take up
yoga, but had been thwarted by Garth’s constant criticism. Even though
she was a little scared that she might not find Ruben and their friends
that evening, she felt sure that she would find them eventually. ‘Maybe
she would take up yoga again,’ she thought, ‘now that she wouldn’t be
constantly made fun of by Garth.’ She was surprised to find how fast
the yoga trance came back and how quickly she was lifted to a new level
as she sat quietly oblivious to the city around her.
was torn from this placid realm, dragged back by someone banging on the
side window of the car. Looking to her right, she could only barely
make out, through the raindrops and fogged window, a large figure bent
over, peering into the car.
"Hey! What you
doin honey? Let me keep you some company," the figure called to her
through the window and banged on it again.
A cold panic
shot through Pricilla. She automatically reached over to lock the door.
It was already locked, but the back door was not. She reached back,
locking it and then quickly pushed down both knobs on her side of the
car. She put the car in reverse and backed away from the automobile in
front. The figure leaped on the hood of the old Rambler and she could
see it was a large man, dressed in heavy clothes. She pulled forward
out of the parking spot and into the street. As she accelerated, the
man still clung to the hood, looking in on her with his face pasted
against the windshield. She could see his scraggly beard and crooked
teeth against the glass, as he grinned at her, gripping the right
windshield wiper with one hand and banging on the hood of the car with
the other. She looked past him to the street, just as the traffic light
ahead of her, turned red. She slammed on the brakes, sliding to a stop
and he slid off the front of the car, taking the windshield wiper with
him. He rolled onto the ground in front of her for several feet and
then slid into the curb. Cars moved rapidly across in front of her. She
looked to the side where the man had come to a stop. All she could see
through the rain spotted window, was a dark form on the ground. She
looked ahead at the cross street again. There was a break in the solid
line of cars, she stepped on the gas, pulling out into the gap in
traffic and turning right. She looked back and still, all she could
make out was the dark form of the man, huddled against the curb. She
didn’t look back again.
know how long she had been driving around or where she was. She just
knew she had to stop and look at her map. The rain had stopped and she
noticed for the first time that she only had one windshield wiper. It
was screeching back and forth across the windshield like fingernails
across a blackboard. She reached forward, pushing the wiper switch and
the lone blade that had been swishing hypnotically in front her, came
to a stop. Taking a look around, she tried to get her bearings. All she
could tell was that she had driven into a residential area. There were
no other cars on the street except those that were parked along the
sides. She pulled over near a corner under a street lamp, turned on the
dome light and unfolded the map. From the street name on the signpost
and the map index, she located where she was. She had been heading
generally to the East and had driven herself up onto Capital Hill. She
knew that she wanted to be somewhere to the South and began scanning
the map for a familiar street name. There were so many streets, it
seemed useless and then, there it was, Empire Way. It was a main
arterial that ran South clear to Renton.
Ruben and their
friends lived on Empire Way somewhere. She drew lines with her finger,
following street after street finding the most direct route and then
headed off. It took her nearly twenty minutes to finally arrive on
Empire Way and when she got there, it didn’t look any more familiar
than anywhere else. She drove south, trying to pick out something she
recognized, but everything seemed to look the same. There were so many
stores, big and small and parking lots that sometimes looked as large
as football fields that she began to wonder if she had remembered the
right street. She tried desperately to find something that she
recognized. If only there was one thing, she would feel like she was
headed in the right direction. She drove on for what seemed like
eternity, scanning the sides of the street through fogged windows,
hoping to find that one familiar landmark that would tell her she was
near the end of her voyage and then, there it was, the housing project.
To her right was
a series of multi-story tenements, part of a low-income housing
project, built some ten years before and now occupied mostly by blacks
trying to keep their lives above the poverty level. She remembered
driving by this run down group of buildings with Ruben and Vern as they
came home from the inner-city one time before. She felt better now and
knew she couldn’t be far from her destination. She began to recognize a
few more things and when she stopped for a street light, she noticed
the Axe Handle Tavern across the intersection, where she and Ruben had
drank beer several times. Now she was only a block from the house. She
gave out a sigh of relief and leaned her head on the steering wheel.
When the light turned green and she didn’t move, the car behind her
laid on the horn, startling her. She looked back and then pulled
forward. Once across the intersection the car that had honked, pulled
out around her and sped past, giving her the finger on the way by. ‘God
what an awful place to live,’ she thought as she came to the tall
cyclone fence that surrounded the large construction companies bone
yard, where Vern and his wife’s house sat.
Valiant sat in front of the house and several lights were on inside.
She pulled in next to the Valiant, stopped and sat there for a few
moments before she got out of the car. She finally got out, remembered
that they never used the front door and went through the gate to the
rear of the house. She knocked several times, but no one came to the
door. She timidly turned the doorknob and the door swung open. She went
in, called out for Vern first, then his wife Paula and finally for
Ruben. There was no answer. She stepped into the kitchen cautiously. It
looked the same as when she had left a couple of weeks before. The
dirty dishes were stacked nearly to the bottom of the upper cupboards
and beer bottles littered the kitchen table. She walked through the
house to the living room. The place was empty. There was an old army
blanket crumpled on the couch and one of Paula’s Agatha Christy novels
lying on top of it. She set the book on the end table next the couch
and sat down, tucking her legs under her. The tensions of what seemed
like weeks, maybe even months or years, began to seep slowly out of
every pore. She was tired and chilled. Lying down, she pulled the
blanket over her and was soon fast asleep.
woke to the sound of the back door opening, clumsy footsteps and the
door shutting again. It was vague and distant, almost like a dream.
Then voices drifted through the house and finally people entered the
living room. When she opened her eyes, Vern, Paula and Ruben stood
starring at her, snuggled into the couch. Ruben sat down beside her,
putting his hand on her shoulder.
he said smiling and rubbing her arm through the blanket. "Wow! I can’t
believe it. I’d almost given up."
still in-between that hollow void of dreamless sleep and the familiar
associations of cognition. She blinked her eyes several times, yawned
and rolled over on her back, looking up at Ruben.
"Hi," he said.
pushed back the blanket and scooted herself up to a partial sitting
position. "Hi, you’re home, good. Jesus what a trip I had getting here."
"Oh yeah," Ruben
"Oh, it was
awful. I’m lucky to have made it at all." She proceeded to tell the
whole story, beginning with when she snuck away from Garth, to the
present. Paula sat on the floor in front of the couch; Vern went into
the kitchen, took a beer from the refrigerator and returned to sit in
an overstuffed chair across the room. Ruben sat with her on the couch,
taking her hand in his, from time to time, as her tale progressed. As
she related the happenings of the crumpled figure against the curb,
they all gasped and asked several questions about the man’s condition
that she couldn’t answer. She finished the story of her experience and
then looked at Ruben. "What do you think will happen if I killed that
awful man?" She asked.
"Sounds like he
was just some street bum," Vern said. "Probably won’t matter what you
did to him. Cops most likely won’t even look to see who did it. Just be
one less of’em they gotta look after."
just awful," Pricilla said. "I mean, he was horrible, but I didn’t want
to kill him. Maybe he just wanted food or something. I mean, he never
had a chance to do anything bad and now he’s dead, maybe." She tucked
her legs up under her and pulled the blanket up around her knees. "And
responsible," Ruben argued. "You just tried to get out of there and
this guy got hurt. It was just an accident."
"Hell it was a
lucky accident, if you ask me," Vern kept up his tirade on the lack of
value of Pricilla’s intruder. "It’d be better if you did kill the
son-of-a-bitch. Worthless fucker's like that aren’t good for anything
anyway. Shit, you ought’a get a medal. Even the old bastard himself is
better off, probably."
Jesus Vern, how
can you say that?" Pricilla asked. "Who’s to say, we’re any better,
really. He’s somebody’s friend. Someone will miss him. He may even be
"Oh god, don’t
be so sentimental," Vern said, taking a cigarette out of his shirt
pocket. "This guy tried to mess with you. Shit, if he’d got in your car
he probably would have raped you and then killed you. He got what he
deserved. I wouldn’t lose any sleep over it."
"I just can’t
feel that way," she said. "He was a person, no matter what else he was.
And besides, someone may have gotten my license number and they’ll be
looking for me. I should probably turn myself in right now."
"I don’t think
you need to do that," Paula threw in. "You didn’t really hit the man.
He just fell off the front of the car, onto the ground. He might not
even be hurt at all. Besides, if you turned yourself in, then the cops
would have to go through a bunch of bullshit, just cause you brought it
"Yeah, but he
could have hit his head or something and…" Pricilla began.
Pricilla," Vern interrupted, sounding a little exasperated. "He could
have done a lot of things, but it doesn’t matter. It’s done and what
ever happened to the asshole, has already happened and it was none of
you’re doing. He brought it all on himself. What the hell else could
you have done? Really, were you supposed to invite the fucker into the
car? Hell no. You did the only thing you could have and that’s all
there is to it. Just relax and figure you’re damn lucky you didn’t get
"Well, let’s not
worry about it anymore tonight," Ruben said. "Whatever we do, isn’t
going to change a thing. Let’s get your stuff out of the car and get
"That’s a good
idea," Paula agreed. Did you bring everything you own?"
pretty full, but I had to leave a lot of things back there, of course.
I’m really going to miss my stove and my cat."
Vern stood up,
walked to the front door, unlocked it and swung it open. "We can just
bring everything in here for now," he said. "Then tomorrow, we can put
it all wherever you want it."
"Well, I don’t
know. It’s probably going downstairs anyway," Ruben suggested. "Why
don’t we just put it all down there. It’s about as easy."
would save moving it twice," Vern agreed, shutting the door again.
"Let’s do it then."
Pricilla’s car keys and then he and Vern went out through the back to
gather her things from the car. They hauled everything down into the
basement where she and Ruben would be staying and piled them loosely in
the corner near a table that held the electroplating setup. That
accomplished, they returned upstairs. Vern took two beers from the
refrigerator as they went through the kitchen, handing one to Ruben and
offering the other to Pricilla when they got into the living room. She
declined the offer and he sat down to drink it himself. The four of
them sat making small talk about what they would all do in the near
future for about an hour and then went to bed. Because the basement had
no inside stairway to it, Ruben and Pricilla went out the back door
through the kitchen, around the corner of the house and down a short
flight of concrete steps to the damp basement.
The basement had
never been finished off and remained in a rough state. There was a
cement floor and walls up to about five feet. The open frame
construction of the old two-story building set directly on this short
concrete wall and the ceiling was comprised of the exposed floor joists
of the rooms above. The plumbing and electrical wiring strung out in an
order less manner between and through these heavy rough-cut boards.
Cobwebs and dust had accumulated throughout the entire space; and
anywhere that their small jewelry making operation had not encroached
on these relics of the past, they still hung as a reminder of the once
quieter times the basement had seen. Large posts sat rigid between the
floor and ceiling in a number of places, holding up the center of the
house. Several bare light bulbs offered a stark glare to the otherwise
dingy appearance of the main room.
The furnace, now
converted from coal to fuel oil, sat along one wall, taking up more
room than its heating value would seem to warrant. On the other side of
that wall, was a small room, once used as a coal bin. Vern had used it
to store a number of five-gallon jugs of rhubarb wine he had recently
made and Ruben had placed a makeshift bed in one corner, where he now
slept. The floor of this room was covered with old shipping pallets
with loose plywood laid on top. Ruben had done this to keep his feet
out of the water that ran down the walls and stood stagnant on the
concrete floor when it rained.
Pricilla through the working area of the basement and into this small
damp room, turning the light on as he entered.
step," he said, pointing at the rise in the floor level caused by the
pallets. He had built a set of shelves along one wall that served as
dresser and closet, and there were several nails driven into the wall
that held some of his clothes. "This isn’t much, but we can work on
making it a little more comfortable tomorrow."
"I’m too tired
to care," she said, sitting on the edge of the bed and beginning to
take off her clothes.
The bed, made of
a sheet of plywood laid over a number of wooden shipping crates, sat on
a foot high raised concrete slab at one end of the room. Ruben had
found an old mattress at the Goodwill and laid it on the plywood. This
he had covered with an old army blanket and a sheet. His covers
consisted of two moth-eaten blankets and a quilt he had obtained from
an acquaintance in a marijuana deal.
Pricilla piled her clothes on the floor of the raised concrete, where
they would be out of the dampness and crawled in under the covers.
Ruben turned off the light, removed his clothes and slid in beside her.
Ruben was glad
to see her. He had missed her dreadfully when she had gone back to the
East Side to join her husband and feared that he would not see her
again. Her return pleased him very much and he was anxious to
consummate their reunion. Pricilla, on the other hand, was far more
glad to be away from her husband than she was to be here, or any place
for that matter and their love-making, though pleasant, had
considerably more meaning for Ruben than it did for her. She kept
thinking that the sooner it was over, the sooner she could get to sleep.
woke, the morning light was already flowing through the un-curtained
window of the room. It was raining as usual and the grayness of Seattle
cast its dull spell on her immediately. She lay on her back beside
Ruben listening to his even breathing for a few minutes before she
slipped out from under the covers, stepped carefully over him and onto
the floor without his noticing. Just the humidity in the damp room had
moistened her clothes and they felt clammy as she slid them on. Once
dressed, she stood looking at Ruben for a few moments before leaving
the dungeon like cubicle he called his room. She shuddered to think
that this was now her bedroom as well. Leaving the room and wandering
into the main area of the basement where the several small windows let
in enough light to permit her maneuvering around the cluttered area
without stumbling over anything, she soon found a large broken down
couch, where she sat down. Looking out across the accumulation of junk
and tools and workbenches, she could only imagine what might come from
her staying here. The cobwebs, the dust and dirt, and the disarray,
gave her a feeling that nothing of much consequence could come from
this place. As she sat musing over the dingy nature of the room, she
began to account for the many tools that set here and there amongst the
confusion. There was a centrifugal casting machine, used to cast the
small intricate pieces used in jewelry making. Near the center of the
room was a table covered with fire-brick, and an oxyacetylene torch
setting on the floor next to it, where small parts could be soldered
together. On a bench along one wall, were several glass containers of
liquid and some kind of electrical devise that she couldn’t identify
and next to it was a large floor stand with an electric motor bolted to
the top. A shaft protruded from each end of the motor with a buffing
wheel attached to each. Under a row of four small windows was a
workbench covered with hand tools and projects in progress. Sitting
next to where she sat, was a low end-table with several delicately
constructed metal objects resting on it.
She picked up
one of these small pieces and looked carefully at it. It was a
rectangular piece of cast silver about an inch high and two inches
wide. It looked like it had been cast from a wooden model. The surface
had been buffed to a high sheen, leaving the wood grain showing through
and several polished stones had been set in the four corners. In the
center was an oval, cut out and framed with carefully twisted wire
where a small enameled portrait of a person had been placed. The silver
casting was framed with a pair of delicately twisted wires, beveled at
the corners and on the back was a hinged pin that would secure it to
one’s lapel or dress. It was stamped with the initials “PAJ”.
‘This must be
something Paula has made,’ she thought as she turned it over to look at
the front again. Looking around the disheveled basement again, she
wondered how anything this nice could ever come out of this mess before
her. She set the piece back on the table and looked at the other two
pieces that rested there. They were equally well constructed, but
looked as if they were only partially finished. There were a number of
copper disks, two or three inches in diameter sitting on a small
rickety workbench in front of the couch. One of them had been covered
with copper enamel, divulging a scene of a man standing in a room with
what appeared to be a pickle swinging from the ceiling. The other disks
carried scenes as well, but they were merely raised copper lines
delineating the picture and the colored enamel had not yet been added.
The motif on these pieces looked as though Ruben had had a hand in them.
She sat back in
the deep cushions of the couch, brought her knees up to her chest and
wrapped her arms around them. ‘What could she do here?’ She thought.
She had taken several classes in jewelry at the university before she
had quit and she did have an interest in learning more, but was this
the place to do it? Most of the equipment was here in front of her; it
appeared that Paula and Ruben, at least, could teach her a good deal
and she was certain that she would be welcome, but was this dismal spot
the right place for her to learn those other things she needed to
learn. She was referring to those personal kinds of things that could
only come from introspection and a tranquility that could never be
achieved in the bustle of the city or within the confines of Ruben’s
She didn’t know
what she wanted. It was certain that her feelings for Ruben were not
the same as his feelings for her. She liked him well enough and
respected him too, she thought, but it just wasn’t the same thing as
falling deeply in love, like she had with Garth when they first got
together. Of coarse, that was before she knew what a drunk he was and
how controlling he would become. She just needed some space, room to
expand and spread out into the corners of her capabilities. She didn’t
have a clue as to what those capabilities were. She’d never had a
chance to explore her own endowments or the potentials they held. She
also knew that to stay here and not have some kind of involved
relationship with Ruben was impossible. She felt a wave of guilt flow
over her as she sat starring blankly into the dim basement. Ruben had
provided the final nudge that propelled her out of her last
confinement, but now she felt that he too would be constricting as
well. She felt like she had used him poorly. Her relationship with
Garth had fallen apart on it’s own and when Ruben had come along,
fallen in love with her and offered a quick way out, she had grabbed at
the chance. She had been desperate to get away from Garth and
subconsciously at least, to leave that attachment, not to enter
another. Ruben, on the other hand had different thoughts. He felt that
she was coming to be with him. He didn’t really understand her needs
and therefore couldn’t aid her in those next steps along that
compelling path she had embarked upon.
were interrupted by the sound of someone stirring around upstairs. The
toilet flushed and then footsteps made their way to the kitchen where
water ran again as someone began making the morning pot of coffee. She
realized that she had to use the bathroom, got up from the couch and
made her way up the concrete stairs leading to the backyard. The light
rain settled onto her like mist as she rounded the corner of the house
and headed up the rear steps into the kitchen. Opening the backdoor,
she found Paula sitting at the cluttered kitchen table, just lighting a
“Oh hi,” Paula
said, moving her gaze from out the rear window to Pricilla. “How was
your first night back?”
“Fine, I guess.
I slept like a rock. Boy, yesterday really drained me. It may take a
few good nights sleep to get me back in shape for anything but just
“How is Ruben?”
She asked, but before Pricilla could answer, she continued. “He’s been
like a lost puppy around here since you went back over to Pullman. I
should think he’ll perk up, now that your back though. He just moped
around the house most of the time. I think last night was the first
time Vern and I even got him out of the house to have some fun and I
don’t think he had much fun even then.”
“I’m afraid that
may be a problem,” she said.
“What do you
mean?” Paula asked.
just too serious. I think he’d like me to just move into a permanent
relationship with him and I don’t think I’m ready for another heavy
trip right now.” She started out of the room and then turned back.
“I’ll be right back. I have to take a leak.” She went into the bathroom
and shut the door.
puzzled by Pricilla’s last words. From what she had gathered from
Ruben, they were a pair. Ruben had made it sound like they had fallen
deeply in love and that when Pricilla finally managed to extricate
herself from Garth’s grasp, she and Ruben would be a complete team.
Paula realized that what Pricilla had just said, made perfect sense,
but she hadn’t given it much thought. She got up, went to the stove and
took the coffee off the burner. Sliding the clutter back from the edges
of the table, she placed two cups on it and poured them full. Replacing
the pot back on the stove, she sat back down and waited for Pricilla to
“It’s not like I
don’t like Ruben,” Pricilla said as she came back into the kitchen and
sat down across from Paula. “In fact, I probably do love him in a way,
but it’s not like I want to dive back into another marriage or anything
like that right now.” She took a drink of her coffee and reached across
the table, picking up Paula’s cigarette pack, turning it slowly in her
“Have one if you
want,” Paula offered. “How’s this going to set with Ruben?”
“I don’t know,”
she answered, taking a cigarette from the pack. “I haven’t said
anything yet, but I’m going to have to pretty soon. I feel kinda bad,
like I used him to get out of the mess I had going with Garth, but I
just can’t start another big heavy thing right now.” She scuffed around
on the table, looking for a match. Paula reached under a magazine,
produced a book of matches and handed them to her.
“Yeah, I think I
can understand that, but you better figure out a good way to break it
to Ruben. I think he has other plans.”
“Yeah, I know.
Maybe when he finds out what a bitch I can be, he’ll back away on his
count on it,” Paula said. “Besides you don’t have enough bitch in you
to even show much. I’m afraid that won’t work. You’re just going to
have to sit him down and explain it to him.”
right. Nothing could ever be as simple as that. It’s not like I want to
date a bunch of men or anything. I just want to have my own space for a
while. I never have had my own life, ever, and I think I need to figure
out things for myself for a while before I jump into anything.” She
took a drink of coffee and leaned back in the chair she sat in. “Say,
you guys have really made some progress fixing up the jewelry shop
since I left two or three weeks ago.”
Yeah, Vern got
some money right after you left, from the VA and he bought a whole
bunch of tools. We’re pretty well set up down there. You took a bunch
of jewelry in school didn’t you? You’re welcome to join us in some kind
of little business if you like.”
What do you
mean, business?” Pricilla asked.
“I don’t know if
you could call it a business, but we want to make a bunch of jewelry
and sell it somehow.”
“I really liked
my jewelry classes, but I can’t say I got very good. I sure wouldn’t
mind trying to make some things though.”
None of us are
very good yet, even Ruben, though he might not agree, but we’re getting
better. You will too. I think it would be kinda fun to be able to make
a living at something like that.”
“I’ll have to
see how it goes with Ruben before I make any commitments in that
“You don’t have
to make any commitments, at least not to us. That’s kinda what you’re
trying to get away from.”
“I’ll have to
see how it goes, but it does sound cool, if I can work it out with
Ruben.” She got up, went to the stove, picking up the coffeepot and
returned to the table, where she re-filled their cups and then placed
the pot back on the stove.
They sat, for
most of an hour, talking of the jewelry possibilities and what it was
like to live in the big city. Paula had been brought up in Seattle and
felt comfortable there. The hustle and bustle was a source of energy
for her and she didn’t worry about the dangers. Things like what
Pricilla had gone through the evening before, with the bum that had
bounced onto the street in front of her car, were just one of those
things that you had to put up with. All in all, the city was
stimulating and the best place for her. Vern felt the same way and
Ruben was finding it to his liking as well. Pricilla wasn’t convinced
that the city had enough advantages to make it worth living there, but
she was resigned to try it out for a while. To Pricilla, the incident
with the bum, was just not acceptable. She sat at the table drinking
her coffee, looking out the kitchen window into the blank wall of the
building next door, trying to replace this scene with the pleasant view
she had had at the farm, only a day before. She was released from the
traumas of her marriage, but she had traded them for a new kind of
discomfort that she knew nothing about. Looking at the blank wall, she
smiled and hoped that this was not a symbol of her first step away from
the confines of her past. She also hoped that this move, which had
started as a move away from a bad situation, would soon become a move
toward something positive.
She heard the
basement door open and shut and then Ruben appeared in the kitchen. He
looked disheveled as usual and seemed relieved to find her still there.
“Hi,” he said.
“I didn’t here you get up. I was afraid you might be gone again.”
at Paula and then back at him. “Where would I go?”
“I don’t know,
but it just scared me a little. Now that you’re back, I may not let you
out of my sight.”
sound too fair. There are some things I need to do by myself. You know,
things like baths, the toilet, in fact there’s lots of things I need a
little space for.” She hadn’t planned to explain her needs to him right
now, but as long as the subject was broached, maybe this was the time.
Paula got up and started to leave the room.
“Sit down here
Ruben,” she said pointing to the seat she had just got up from. “Have a
cup of coffee.” She poured a cup from the pot on the stove, set it on
the table and left the room. Ruben went over to the table and sat down.
“I know you have different plans than I do, but I need to figure a
bunch of stuff out before I make any permanent plans,” she began.
“Hell, I don’t
have any plans,” he said. “I sorta thought we’d be making some plans
“Maybe so, but
I’m just not ready to make any plans right now. I’m still pretty mixed
up from the last couple of years with Garth. I have to get my own life
in order before I can start making any plans that include someone
“Well okay, I
don’t want to push you. I just thought it was settled, I guess, but if
you need some time, I can give it to you. How much time you want?”
“Man, I have no
idea how long it’ll take me to figure out what I want out of life. I
just know that I’m not ready to make any decisions about it right now.
You know, I’ve never had enough space to hardly turn around by myself,
ever, in my whole life. My dad was a real control freak and you know
how Garth was. I’m not sure I even know how to make decisions on my own
and I have to learn how to do that before I can get into any kind of
serious permanent thing with anyone.” She reached across the table,
took another cigarette from Paula’s pack and put it in her mouth. Ruben
took a book of matches from his shirt pocket, lit her cigarette and
leaned back in his chair.
“How much space
do you want? Do you want your own room or your own place to live or
what? Whatever you need, I can wait,” he said, taking his tobacco out
of his pocket and rolling a cigarette of his own.
“I don’t know
what I want right now. Let’s just play that by ear. I’m just warning
you about not letting me out of your sight and shit like that. I do
think that I want to get involved with the jewelry trip here though,
but that’s about as far as I can think for right now.”
just leave it right there for now,” Ruben said, lighting his cigarette.
“You want some more coffee?” He got up, going to the stove and
returning with the pot.
“No, I have half
a cup left,” she answered.
The sound of
footsteps descending the stairs could be heard and then Vern appeared
in the doorway to the kitchen.
“Hi you guys,
Ruben replied. “Just sitting here looking at the drizzle.”
“Paula says you
might like to make jewelry with us,” he said, looking at Pricilla.
“I don’t know
how much help I’d be, but I’d like to try. I was looking at some of the
things you’ve been making downstairs and it looks like I have a long
ways to go to catch up with you guys.”
“Well, we’ve got
a long ways to go ourselves, but we can all get there together,” Vern
Paula came back
into the kitchen, sat down and they sat for some time working out a
plan for their jewelry operation. It was decided that they would
develop a line of inexpensive silver work, designed to appeal to the
younger people that could afford items under twenty dollars. The
complex pieces that Paula and Ruben had been working on would have to
take a back seat for the time being and they both agreed to concentrate
on the new line. Ruben had, while attending graduate school, had
experimented with making molds from parts obtained from plastic models,
like cars and airplanes. He thought that they could develop some simple
rings and pendants from combinations of these parts and then cast them
in silver. They would be fast and easy to make and the cost of the
silver would be their only expense. Paula wanted to include some
semi-precious stones in some of her work and they agreed that this
could add to the salability of the work.
Vern and Ruben
headed into town to look for a couple of plastic models for the
foundation to the new line of jewelry, while Pricilla and Paula went to
the basement to organize the workshop. They swept and cleaned the
entire basement and then put all the hand tools in their proper places.
Since none of the tools had proper places they had to decide where
these tools should go first. Since it seemed that they would be using
the casting machine a good deal, they paid special attention to it.
when they had finished, it sat glistening in the middle of the room,
ready for use. The burn out kiln was moved from the far corner of the
room to a spot next to the centrifugal casting machine, where it would
be handy to transfer the molds from the kiln to the casting machine
with the most efficiency. The long workbench was set up for the use of
wax and plastic modeling and long before Vern and Ruben returned, they
were ready to go to work.
Vern and Ruben
went to several hobby stores looking for the perfect models. They
argued about which models would work best, but finally agreed on three
with many small parts and then went to the closest bar for a drink.
Here, they sat drinking beer and discussing everything from the jewelry
business to the quality of the women that frequented the bar. Their
idea of quality had far more to do with the women’s good looks than
anything real and lasting which made this conversation fairly shallow.
They spent most of the afternoon lounging in the bar and trying
unsuccessfully to pick up one or two of these girls. Around four
o’clock Vern noted that he was hungry and suggested that they head for
home. They had drank enough to be fairly tight and even though they
made it without incident, it took considerably longer than it should
have because Vern drove mostly on the side streets to avoid the police.
When they did arrive home, Paula had dinner ready as usual. Pricilla
was rather cool to Ruben, which he didn’t seem to understand, but he
said nothing. With dinner finished, they sat around for a while looking
at the models Vern and Ruben had brought home and figured out how to
utilize them. Pricilla got up and went to bed at an early hour, saying
she was tired. Ruben stayed up until about midnight and then joined
her. She didn’t wake up, even when he tried to arouse her with gentle
caresses and he finally gave up, drifting off to sleep himself.
soundly and woke early. The sun had poked it’s way out from behind the
clouds and cast a thin ribbon of brightness in through the basement
window, shining directly on her as she opened her eyes. She carefully
looked over at Ruben, hoping not to awaken him. His thin beard and
scraggly hair reminded her of the incident with the bum she had hit,
giving her a slight shudder. She quietly slid out from under the covers
and stepped across him to the floor unnoticed.
Once dressed she
went upstairs, made a pot of coffee and sat looking over the plastic
models. Ruben had showed her several examples of what could be done
with them and she understood how the lost-wax process would magically
turn them into silver or gold, but she didn’t see anything very
creative about any of it. She had a million ideas swimming around in
her head. Each one seemed far more interesting than a bunch of melted
plastic turned into metal by a trick of the trade. Her only drawback
was that she didn’t know many of the tricks of trade and she resigned
herself to paying attention to what went on here long enough to learn
as much as she could. She picked through the various parts, trying to
come up with something that made sense. Her thoughts kept returning to
the night she had arrived in Seattle and the awful man that had tried
to get into her car. His blurred face peering through the window of her
car seemed to stick in her visions and it wouldn’t leave her alone. She
pushed the small cardboard box full of airplane parts to the far side
of the kitchen table and opened the box containing one of the two model
cars. It was a replica of a nineteen sixty-six Chevrolet Impala.
Most of the
parts were connected to each other by the plastic sprues that were used
to cast them. There were four rectangular arrays of parts, each
containing twenty or more small pieces. There must have been a hundred
parts in all. She laid them out on the table before her and looked
carefully at the minute detail that had been cast into each piece.
There was even two small plastic people, both seated, ready to be
painted and set into the front seat of the automobile, when it was
realizing what she was doing, she picked up one of the little plastic
people, carefully separated it from the sprue that had been used to
fill the mold and set it in front of her. She then, with even less
conscious effort than before, picked up one of the front doors, broke
it off from the sprue and held it delicately in one hand. Picking up
the small figure in the other hand, she put them together, poking the
outstretched arms of the little man, out the open window of the door.
Now she realized what she was doing. It was the scene she had
experienced with the bum.
Leaving the rest
of the model parts scattered on the table, she jumped up and started
out the backdoor with the little figure and the small door to the car.
Realizing that the coffee was finished perking, she went back to the
stove, poured herself a cup, turned off the burner and then went to the
basement. She set her coffee on the workbench, took an alcohol lamp
from a shelf above the bench and lit it. Carefully heating the small
plastic figure until it was soft and malleable, but not so much as to
distort his fine features, she bent him around to where he looked
natural when she poked him through the window of the door. With a pair
of wire cutters, she cut off the lower portion of his torso and legs.
Heating the tip of a screwdriver and pressing against the plastic just
above where she had cut, she thinned the plastic to make a tight joint
where he protruded out the window. She realized that this was backwards
from what had happened to her and she turned everything around, having
the little man reach into the car instead of out. This seemed to
portray the scene much better. It even made her shiver a little as she
sat admiring her work. She decided to cast the door in silver and the
small figure in copper for a bit of variation. ‘What was it?’ She
wondered. ‘Was it jewelry, or was it a sculpture?’ She decided that if
she put a pin back on it, it would make a broach.
She was anxious
to continue, but she had never cast anything before and was unsure what
to do next. She would have to wait for help from one of the others. She
picked up her coffee and went to the couch. Sitting quietly, she
continued to study the two pieces of plastic she had been working with.
The inside panel of the door was missing. It was a separate piece and
she had left it upstairs. Taking her coffee cup with her, she climbed
the stairs to the kitchen, poured herself more coffee and returned with
the rest of the parts for the model. She spread the parts out on the
couch beside her and looked for the door panel. It seemed to hide from
her among the many parts, but finally she found it attached to a panel
along with all the parts for the engine. Carefully separating it from
the sprue, she found that it fit perfectly on the inside of the door
and it added nicely to the detail of her work. When she looked at the
outside of the door where the figure poked through the window, she
could see that the thickness of the little man made the whole thing
thick and bulky.
As she sat
engrossed in trying to figure out how to solve this problem, Ruben
wandered in from their coal bin bedroom without her noticing.
“Hi,” he said
yawning. “You’re up early.”
couldn’t sleep any longer,” she answered, looking up at him as he
approached her on the couch. “It’s not all that early. I think it’s
nearly eight o’clock.”
early around here,” he said, sliding the parts she had spread over the
couch out of the way and sitting down. “What are you doing?”
She held out the
door and little figure, but said nothing. He took them, turning them in
his hand trying to figure out how she intended them to go.
“Here,” she said
reaching over to show him. Poke the little man in from the outside.”
“Oh, I see,
you’re still worrying about that deal with the bum the other night.”
“Yeah, I guess.
It kinda keeps popping into my head, like an old silent movie or
something. I wish it didn’t. I still wonder what happened to that awful
didn’t hurt him much,” Ruben answered, handing her back the plastic
parts. “He’s most likely out there scaring someone else by now.”
“I don’t know
whether to hope so or not. But I guess I don’t want to be responsible
for hurting someone.”
“You’re not,” he
assured her. “What do you plan on doing with that?” he asked, pointing
at the parts she still held in her hand.
“I thought I’d
try to cast them in maybe silver and copper and then solder them
to end up pretty thick and heavy,” he suggested.
“Yeah, I know.
How can I get around that?”
“Well,” he said
and then paused, reaching for the pieces she held. “You need the window
frame, but the rest of the outside of the door isn’t needed. You could
cut all that off before you cast it and then file off the back of the
little man. It doesn’t show anyway. That would reduce the weight quite
“I’ll try that,”
she said taking back the parts. “What are you going to do?”
“I thought that
I’d make a bunch of simple rings out of the sprues. They’re pretty fast
and easy. We need to get a bunch of stuff to sell and I can crank out a
dozen or two rings in a couple of days. They aren’t very art like, but
they look pretty nice and I think they’ll sell.”
“It would sure
be nice if we didn’t have to sell everything,” she said. “It’s a lot
more fun when you can just make things for the sake of making them.”
“Yeah, I know
what you mean,” Ruben agreed. “We don’t have to sell everything we
make, but we have to sell enough to be able to keep making things. Why
don’t you finish working on that and then you can make some things to
“I would like to
finish this thing, whatever it is. I’m going to need some help when I
start trying to cast it.”
“Sure,” he said,
getting up from the couch. “Is there coffee made upstairs?”
“Yeah, but it
may not be very hot. I turned it off when I came down.”
“Here, I’ll get
you some more,” he said reaching for her cup.
She handed it to
him and he went out the basement door, leaving her alone to study the
possibilities for lightening the broach. It appeared that she could
remove most of the outer part of the door, but she would have to clean
up the edges and put something back there to attach the pin.
She was still
working on the problem when Ruben returned with two cups of hot coffee
and sat down beside her. He picked up one of the rectangular frameworks
of car parts. It had a continuous sprue that encircled the entire form
with several other sprues coming off of it pointing to the inside. The
parts were attached to these side sprues wherever there was room for
them. Ruben sat quietly looking at the many pieces. He looked blankly
at the car parts. His mind was more on Pricilla than anything. Even
though he had agreed to give her more space, he didn’t want to. She had
not wakened when he came to bed last night and she had slipped away
unnoticed this morning. He was sure that she was purposely ignoring his
attentions. He understood from an intellectual point of view, but it
was hard for him to keep his relationship with her on this plane. He
had fallen in love with her long before she left Garth and now that she
was free of him, or so he thought, he wished desperately to become an
integral part of her life.
She sat next to
him on the couch having similar thoughts. She did care deeply for
Ruben. In fact, she thought that she probably even loved him to some
degree, but she needed to find her own way with out his aid, without
anyone's aid. During her and Ruben’s brief affair that ended with her
leaving Garth, she had thought that her ties to Ruben were stronger
than they really were. She had thought for at least a short time that
she was actually leaving to be with him, but this was not the case. She
knew that she had certainly given Ruben that idea and now she had to
change that misconception. She was sure that he didn’t really
understand what she had said the day before about needing more room and
she knew that as long as they slept together, he would never be able to
give her the space she needed. She had virtually no money and what she
had would have to go for her share of the expenses here. She would have
liked to get her own place to live, but she could not afford that. She
thought of finding a regular job, but she didn’t want to, at least not
yet. She really did want to make jewelry and she knew that if she could
work something out with Ruben, she could learn a great deal from him.
He had been doing this for some time and he had taught jewelry at the
university just before she had met him. Vern and Paula had both been
his students and Paula had been one of his best pupils. She knew that
if she was to go forward with her interests in jewelry, she would be
best off to work things out with Ruben, right here.
She got up from
the couch and went to the work bench. At the back of the bench was a
long board with many various tools poked into holes that had been
drilled into it for just that purpose. She picked out a pair of
side-cutters and began to snip away at the small plastic door. When she
had finished, the weight of the entire piece had been reduced
considerably and the little figure didn't protrude as far out the back.
She still needed something to attach the pin back to and decided to
think more about that later. Now, she just wanted to cast the parts in
metal. This was where she needed Ruben.
"How do I turn
this thing into metal?" She asked, turning to Ruben.
sitting on the couch holding an array of small car parts, looked up at
her. He had drifted away, deep into his thoughts of their relationship
and how it didn't seem to be moving in the direction he had planed. It
had been several months since he had fallen in love with Pricilla and
he had been waiting patiently for her freedom from Garth so that they
could begin building a world of their own. He was confused. He had
missed the signs, if there had been any, that Pricilla would want to go
off on her own. It hadn't occurred to him that she wouldn't wish to
immediately take up with him. He was greatly disappointed, but he
thought that if he were to wait patiently for a little while longer,
she would come around.
"What kind of
metal do want to cast it in?" He asked.
"I don't know,
really," she said. "I was thinking of copper and silver. I think it
would be better if the little man was different than the rest of it."
Ruben got up, walked to the bench and took the pieces from her, turning
them slowly in his hand. "Well, you've got three pieces here," he said.
"You could make it three kinds of metal if you want. Either that or you
should glue these two together before you invest them."
she said. "What's that mean?"
"Well," he said
and then paused, trying to think of a simple explanation. "You need to
make a mold by covering the whole thing with plaster, except for one
place. And then we'll put it in the burn-out kiln and burn out all the
plastic. Then you'll pour the metal into the mold and fill all the area
where the plastic was. You'll need to make a separate investment for
each different kind of metal. You see, you have two pieces here for the
door and window frame and the interior of the door. It would be easy to
cast them separately out of different metals and then solder them
together later. If they're going to be the same metal it would be
easier to just glue them together now and cast them all at once, but
the little man needs to be a separate investment anyway." He handed the
pieces back to her and took his tobacco and cigarette papers from his
shirt pocket and began to roll a cigarette.
"Hmm, it would
be kinda cool to have the door two kinds of metal, like a silver frame
around it and the interior panel made out of brass or copper. And then
I could make the little figure out of some other metal." She held the
parts out in front of her imagining how they would look in metal.
Ruben spent the
rest of the morning between helping Pricilla invest her plastic parts
and setting up to make a number of rings out of the sprues from the
model car. Paula and Vern showed up in the basement around nine o'clock
and Paula worked on finishing one of the two pieces she had been
working on, while Vern prepared the burn-out kiln for use and set up
the centrifugal casting machine. Around noon, Vern came up with several
things he needed from downtown, giving him an excuse for getting out of
the house. He and Ruben headed into the city to buy a new thermostat
for the kiln, some wiring, and a supply of tropical fish food for the
many fish that lived in the seven fish tanks that cluttered the main
floor of the old house.
They first went
to a jewelry supply house where they bought a thermostat. Vern knew of
a small electrical supply store near a small out of the way tavern, he
had always wanted to go into, so they picked up a few short lengths of
wire there and went to the bar for a beer. One beer turned to three or
four and before they knew it, they had wasted most of the afternoon
drinking and playing shuffleboard. Ruben glanced up at the clock that
hung behind the bar and mentioned that they needed to get moving if
they were going to get any fish food. Vern agreed and they headed south
toward the pet store and home.
Vern had two
tanks full of guppies. Some of these were quite ornamental, with long
colorful tails and he never passed up adding another fish to the tank
if he thought it might add to the already exotic gene-pool that existed
in his tanks. Every pet store had a tank of guppies, usually filled
with plain drab fish, but Vern could tell when he saw a young fish if
it would mature into one of the few bright and fancy individuals that
sometimes graced this species.
They first went
to the tank containing nearly twenty-five guppies that sat near the
back of the store. Vern peered in with interest. When people bought
guppies, they nearly always bought the colorful ones, so most of the
remaining stock was rather drab. Most of these were very young, just
large enough to avoid being eaten by their parents, who lived in the
same tank. Vern studied the young guppies for the few that he suspected
would gain a lot of color as they grew up. The female of the species
seldom have much color, but Vern had successfully bred a strain where
even they were brightly marked with reds and blues. He identified three
small fish in the tank that showed promise of becoming good breeding
stock and asked the store keeper for a small net to take them from the
tank. The man came to the rear of the store carrying a small net. Vern
reached to take the net from him, but he held it back from him.
"I do all the
catching around here," he said. "How many do you want/"
three of them in there that I want," Vern answered, a bit upset that
the fellow wouldn't let him catch his own fish.
The man scooped
the net into the tank and came out with four fish. "look at that," he
said. "You get an extra one for free."
"No! I want a
"What the hell! Guppies are just guppies," the man said, in a
disgruntled tone. "There ain't no difference in any of them."
"You ought to
see my guppies at home," Vern said, as the man picked up a plastic sack
to put the four randomly netted guppies in. "I'm serious. There's only
three fish in that tank that I want and two of them are females."
ones are too small to tell what sex they are," the clerk admonished.
"And I don't really want to sell those four adults. They're my breeding
"Oh you can tell
which are which with the little ones if you really look," Vern
insisted, bending down to peer closely into the tank. "Put those back
in the tank and take a look in here," he ordered.
The man dumped
the four tiny guppies back over the side of the tank and bent down
halfheartedly. "I still say you might as well just let me dip out
three. You can't even catch any particular one if you try. You'll be
here all damn night and I'm going to close up here before too long."
"There, see that
one right there," Vern said pointing at a small group of fish swimming
near the front of the tank. "That little one in front is a male. See
the thin dark line in his tail and notice how thin he is compared the
one next to him. The other one doesn’t have the line and it's fatter.
Also see how the tail itself is more squared off on the female." He
stepped back from the glass to give the clerk a closer view.
"Do you think
you know what you're talking about?" The man questioned, but he moved a
little closer and looked hard into the tank.
"I don't, I
guess," Vern said. "I have two tanks of guppies at home along with a
bunch of other tanks full different stuff. I have a lot of males that
are so bright and colorful you might not even think they were guppies.
Even my females have as much color as those two males in there."
"You think so
huh. I'll bet there not females." The clerk said with a slight sneer
and stepped back from the tank.
along with the clerk. "Well if they're not I have something more
amazing that a brightly colored female. I bred her with one of my
fanciest males and then took the male out and let her fatten up. She
just had a bunch of babies a couple of days ago. I took her out as soon
as she had them of coarse, so she wouldn't eat them all. I'm not
kidding, she's got far more color than either of those males."
"So you have a
lot of fish," the man said beginning to warm up a little.
"Yeah, I have …"
he paused for a moment thinking. "I guess I have seven tanks and a big
bathtub with a couple of large goldfish."
The clerk took a
brief look at Vern and then bent down, looking into the guppy tank
again. "You think you can tell the difference between these little
"Sure. Just look
at the body, just in front of the tail fin. See how some of them have
that tiny dark line right in the middle. Those are the males. And see
how others are a little fatter and have a bulge just in front of that
same area. Those are the females. The two females that I want out of
there, both have little spots on the tail section. I think they'll turn
out to have some good genes for my project."
"What kind of
project do you have?" The clerk asked looking up at Vern.
"Oh, it's not
really a project," he answered. "I just have all these guppies that
I've been selectively breeding for the fancy colors. I'll bring some of
them in to show you sometime."
"If you have
some real fancy ones, I might be interested in buying them from you."
"Oh yeah, I have
some males with tails this long." He held up his thumb and forefinger,
showing about an inch and a half distance between them. Oh shit! They
must have five or six different colors in them. I have to keep them
separated from the females of they fight all the time and tear each
other up. I have two big tanks, ten gallons each, and then I have two
little gallon jars that I use to breed and birth in."
The man asked. "They're not the kind of thing people usually try to
"Well, I didn't
really start breeding them. The fact is that you have to work at not
breeding them. They're a little like rabbits. What I really need is a
whole lot of small tanks to keep them separated, so I can be more
clerk said standing back up and holding the net out to Vern. "You go
ahead and fish out the ones you want. I want to see how you manage
that." He gave a little chuckle and stepped back.
Vern took the
net and deftly scooped around in the tank, taking out the three fish he
wanted. He paid the man thirty-nine cents apiece for the little guppies
and he and Ruben left. They got back in the car and headed home. As
Vern pulled the car into the driveway, he remembered that he had
forgotten to buy the fish food.
"Damn!" He said.
"I forgot the food. Oh well, I'm not out yet. I guess we'll be down
that way again in a few days."
They got out of
the car and went into the house. Paula and Pricilla had started dinner
and the house smelled like fresh bread. Vern went to the refrigerator,
took out two beers and handed one to Ruben, who had immediately gone up
to Pricilla and given her a slight hug. He hoped that she had already
figured out her life and that he was to be part of it, but he knew it
was too early for that yet. Vern went into the living room, set his
beer on the coffee table and went to the guppy tank to put his new fish
in. He stood for a moment in front of the shelf containing the two ten
gallon tanks and the two gallon jars.
"I need to get
more of these small tanks going," he said turning to Ruben, who had
followed him into the room. "I suppose that I could clean up some more
of those gallon jars from the basement. There's room for about four
more on this shelf."
"It would be a
shame if those new fish had some terrible disease and the rest of your
fish ended up with it," Ruben said, taking a drink from his beer.
"Yeah, I think
I'll do it. I need the room for expansion anyway. I might as well do it
right now. You want to help?" He set the plastic bag containing the
fish on the shelf, went to the coffee table, picked up his beer and
turned to look at Ruben.
"Sure, I'll help
if I can."
went to the basement and Vern went into a dark closet-like room near
where Ruben and Pricilla slept. There was no light in the narrow damp
room and he felt around for the jars. "Here, take these," he said,
handing two of the jars to Ruben. He then rummaged around briefly and
came out with two more of the dusty gallon containers. They took the
jars to the large laundry sink near the door to the outside and Vern
washed each one meticulously, before they took them upstairs. Vern went
to a small cupboard under one of the many fish tanks and took out one
of three five-gallon buckets of water that had been sitting aging for
several weeks. With a plastic pitcher, he filled the gallon jars and
handed them to Ruben, who set them on the shelf. Vern added about an
inch of gravel to the bottom of each jar and then went into a small sun
room, where most of the fish tanks were and gathered some of the plant
material covering the top of the bath tub containing the goldfish. He
transferred the new fish into one of the jars and put the weed-like
plant in as well.
"That ought to
hold them for now," Vern remarked, putting away the rest of the water.
"I'll have to figure out what to put in those other jars later."
He went over to
the television, turned it on and sat down to watch the last of the
evening news. Ruben went into the kitchen, but the girls paid no
attention to him and he returned to the living room to watch television
with Vern. By the time the news was over, dinner was ready. Paula and
Pricilla came into the living room carrying their plates heaped with
spaghetti and sauce and sat down.
You better get it while it's hot," Paula said, putting her feet up on
the low coffee table.
Ruben jumped up
first, went into the kitchen and began dishing up. There was fresh
bread and salad to go along with the spaghetti and he piled on an ample
portion of both. Vern filled his plate as well and they both returned
to the living room to eat and watch some inane comedy on the tube.
show led to another as did one beer lead to a second and then a third
and more until the evening was used up along with the beer. Paula and
Pricilla slipped away to bed between beers, leaving the boys to some
frightful war movie that fed their machismo and fulfilled some of those
latent urges left over from an ice age or two ago. When the late movie
started, Vern went to the cupboard, brought out a bottle of good Scotch
whiskey and set it between he and Ruben, to be nursed throughout the