Pricilla

This is a study of Pricilla, a character to be combined with others including Giles and Martha Rose for a Novel titled "New Paths"

 image

Pricilla

          Pricilla relaxed 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.
          To Pricilla, 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.
          Pricilla hoped 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.
          Somewhere near 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.
          Suddenly, she 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.
          Pricilla didn’t 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.
          Vern’s red 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.
          She partially 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.
          "You’re back," he said smiling and rubbing her arm through the blanket. "Wow! I can’t believe it. I’d almost given up."
          "Welcome home," Paula said.
          Pricilla was 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.
          She smiled, 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 mumbled.
          "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."
          "That sounds 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 I’m responsible."
          You’re not 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 somebody’s father."
          "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 up."
          "Yeah, but he could have hit his head or something and…" Pricilla began.
          "Oh shit, 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 hurt yourself."
          "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 some sleep."
          "That’s a good idea," Paula agreed. Did you bring everything you own?"
          "The car’s 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."
          "Yeah, that would save moving it twice," Vern agreed, shutting the door again. "Let’s do it then."
          Ruben took 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.
          Ruben led Pricilla through the working area of the basement and into this small damp room, turning the light on as he entered.
          "Watch your 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.
         When Pricilla 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 demanding love.
          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.
          Her thoughts 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 cigarette.
          “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 lying around.”
          “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.
          “Ruben, he’s 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.
          Paula sat 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 return.
          “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 hand.
          “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 own.”
          “I wouldn’t 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.”
          “You’re probably 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 direction.”
          “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.”
          Pricilla glanced 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.”
          “That doesn’t 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 together.”
          “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 else’s life.”
          “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.”
          “Well, let’s 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, what’s up?”
          “Not much,” 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 answered.
          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.
          Pricilla slept 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 finished.
          Without even 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.”
          “Yeah, I 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.”
          “That’s pretty 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 man.”
          “You probably 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 together.”
          “They’re going 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 a bit.”
          “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 peddle.”
          “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.
          Ruben, still 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."
          "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/"
          "Well, there's 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 particular three."
"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."
          "Those little 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 stock."
          "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.
          Vern laughed 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 guys, huh?"
          "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."
          "Why guppies?" The man asked. "They're not the kind of thing people usually try to breed."
          "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 selective."
          "Here," the 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."
          Together, they 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.
          "Dinner's ready. 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.
          One television 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 show.

 

 

Copyright 2007. Ed Gnaedinger.