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  • Writer's pictureWellington Lambert

Donna Farmer Chapters 7-12

Chapter 7

What does one wear to an execution?

I’m thinking black of course, but who cares if I look thin when my body is just lying in a pool of blood. I’ve created my death scene already, down to my dying words, something smart and sexy, touching yet intelligent, something that will spark a brief moment of remorse.

I grab the last bit of money in my wallet and indulge in a taxi. I hate taxis. They’re so personal. I feel rude if I don’t make small talk, but irritated when the driver talks. Nothing will satisfy me tonight. I’ll just give up to this feeling of increasing momentum downward.

“This is the house.” The taxi driver mumbles as he stops the meter. I check the number on my paper to the number of the gate. Christ, it looks like a haunted house, huge, run down. All the other houses around have been manicured to an inch of their historically preserved life, but this house, it looks stubborn and angry. I hand the taxi driver all my money and he smiles at the large tip. The last smile I will see...and I had to pay for it.

I step out of the taxi feeling over-dressed. Like my date has decided to wear jeans to the prom. I look around almost certain there are eyes watching my every step, every awkward and painful step in these high heels I never wear. I didn’t think about running, I don’t think I’ll bother.

I walk up to a stone wall that houses a large rusting gate, open just enough to squeeze through. I can’t tell if it’s trying to keep people out or keep someone in. I can see light pushing its way through vines that hang over what I assume is the entrance. There is no light leading the way to this uninviting glow, the stone wall combined with over grown trees and bushes manage to block what little light comes from the street. Looking down I can see a path has been worn down, bushes crushed, flowers trampled, an angry visitor stomping her way to a dying house. This leads to the yellow that seems to mark the entrance. I stare at my feet, making sure I don’t get caught in some kind of vine, or hole in the ground and end up stuck and starving to death in the front yard. I can see pieces of garbage thrown to the side of the path, like someone was packing in the carbs, getting ready for battle. What the hell could be inside there that requires a quick burger and fries before confronting? Maybe I should have eaten, brought a sword. Maybe she’s keeping an angry dragon inside and needs to feed it every now and then.

“Hello?” I finally arrive at the door, staring at a ring shaped bronze knocker the size of my head. I am barely able to lift the circular object. I’m afraid to let it hit the door which is rotting and looks like it might just open itself by falling down. I add the hello as a friendly, I come in peace offering. But no one is biting, no one is home.

I am secretly hoping no one answers. I could leave, say I was there. Act as if I am put out by her lack of responsibility, her unprofessionalism, her immaturity. Sure, I slept with her son...but she’s late.

I would have to be seriously drunk with Karen to convince myself whatever puked out of my mouth was the God’s given truth, even I can’t swallow my junk food logic.

“Hello.” I chirp in a voice that doesn’t want to be heard, talking to a door that stopped listening decades ago. “Hello?” I half whisper again, pulling up the end of the word, shaping it into a question.

I pause, no answer. There, I think to myself, it’s done. I did what she wanted, now I can go. But as I am about to turn around and face the darkness of my exit plan, I hear a branch snap behind me, the crunching sound of shoes on dry leaves. She’s here. My heart starts to race...this was her plan, for me to arrive before her, so she could sneak from behind and clock me over the head. “Clock?” I think about that word and wonder what a time measuring devise has to do with hitting someone on the head, then I think, wow, I’m about to be killed and I still can’t focus.

“You found it.”

I turned around and watch a dark shape turn into a shadowy figure.

“I should really put some lights on that path.” Anita is speaking casually, almost friendly, “Maybe some of those solar lights, something that doesn’t need to be plugged in.” She is digging through her purse, standing in front of me. She is smaller than I remember, but then we sat most of the time when we last met and in my mind’s eye she was physically huge with power. But now, now that I have convinced myself she is about to kill me, it doesn’t seem possible. I could snap her like a twig she is so thin, or just fall on top of her, like an old dying tree. “Here we go.” She pulls out a set of keys and walks pass me to the door without looking at me. She opens the door, with difficulty. “You have to lift the handle just a bit for the lock to slip out.” She is instructing me as if she sees this action in my near future which means I would have to be alive...breathing. She opens the door and I am surprised to see lights on inside, I couldn’t see any light leaking out from any cracks in the door or the window above the door.

“Ethel.” Anita calls in a voice more cautious than caring.

She calls again, a bit louder this time and walks through a maze of newspapers stacked on each side of the hallway entrance. The space provided by the crowding of the papers suggests you need to be this thin to get onto this ride. I stay put, closing the door and taking in the cluttered view of what was probably once a beautiful entrance. I stare upward and see curtains over the window, with something taped around the edges of the door, blocking more light or perhaps a draft. I picture Bob here taping the door, telling Anita to close it till it clicks. Bob... it seems like such a long time ago.

“Donna?” She is calling me from the bowels of this papered beast. I squeeze through the newspaper pillars and hold my breath. The hallway I’m walking through seems to be getting darker and darker. I can see light poking its way around a corner up ahead. There is something beneath my feet...moving. I scream and put my hands against the wall and stand still, this is how she does it, large furry rats are about to eat me. They’ll never find the body.

“What’s wrong?” Anita yells from around the corner, sounding annoyed.

“There’s something moving on the floor, something big.” I can hear Anita say something to someone, Ethel, I assume.

“Frostie...get in here.” I stand frozen...she named the rats? Then I hear someone pick up a bag and shake it. Whatever is beneath me brushes past my legs and I can see a clump of something on the floor run towards the light. “It’s just the of the cats.” Anita says, now sounding impatient. “Just keep walking...we’re in the kitchen.”

Kitchen? It’s hard to believe this house has anything that resembles a function.

“This is Ethel.” I enter the kitchen, out of the darkness. Anita is standing beside a shadowy figure sitting hunched over what appears to be a kitchen table. “Ethel,” Anita looks down at this non-responsive body and speaks, “This is Donna.” She does not respond, physically or verbally. “She’ll be your new friend.”

So that’s it, Anita is blackmailing me into being someone’s friend, not so bad really. It’s not like I have an over abundance of friends, or shortage of time. I could see taking this...thing out for the occasional walk...maybe a movie.

“She’ll be replacing Sharon. She’ll be moving into her room.”

Replacing?....Moving in? I want to say something, something like, no fucking way, but I realize now, this is the catch, this is the punishment, this is my fate.

“You two will be great together.”

Anita starts to pull a large yellow envelope out of the oversized purse and hands it to me. “Your instructions are in here, should be everything you need to know, plus the keys.”

I am a little shocked. This is not at all what I expected, not as bad, really, but not good. I stare at Ethel who is staring at something on the kitchen table, saying nothing. I bend down to get a better look at my new roommate. I can see her better now, grey hair hanging over a shadowed face. “Hello, Ethel.” I almost yell, mostly out of nervousness.

“She’s shy.” Anita rolls her eyes while straightening her jacket, looking bored.

“Maybe she’s hard of hearing?” I offer this like this would be news to Anita, like I’m showing off my abundance of knowledge about old people.


“Retarded?” I whisper, then wonder what that would have to do with not responding.

“No, she’s not developmentally challenged.” Anita laughs again, but cuts herself short. “I need you to start Monday.”

“Till when?” I’m thinking a few months of this won’t kill me, even a year I could manage.

“Till she’s dead.”

I laugh, but I am the only one laughing.

“How old is she?” I try to whisper, but being polite in front of a mute fossil seems pointless.

“I don’t know,” Anita takes my arm and starts to direct me towards the hallway, “carbon dating is your best bet.”

She pushes me through the dark hallway to the front door.

“Read the instructions. It will tell you everything.”

“What if,” I try to slow Anita down as she practically pushes me out the front door. “What if she hates me.”

Anita looks at me. She seems surprised that I would even care. “Don’t worry, she’s like a plant...just make sure she gets watered.”

With those caring heartfelt last words, Anita slams the door in my face.

I feel relieved, oddly enough, this horrible future is the most certainty I have felt in years. Besides, Ethel must be close to a hundred years old, how long could this last?

Chapter 8

“Hey Dad.” I give a limp forty-five degree salute to my father. It must be television night at the home, every night is television night here. It’s also crap food “night” and shit in your bed cause they can’t get to you “night” and listen to the lunatic beside you “night”. In fact every night here is wish you thought enough to shoot yourself while you still had the presence of mind and physical ability “night”. I don’t know how many times my father has witnessed his own fate being carted somewhere in a wheel chair and without missing a beat he’d say,” Just shoot me if I get like that.” I’d agreed of course, assuming he’d do the same, but time’s a tricky bitch, and before you know it, you’ve held onto life just a little too long and no one can save you with an easy death.

“Hey.” My father grunts, lifting his wrist with a look of recognition I don’t recognize. I don’t think he knows me, but I’m a friendly face and he seems thankful for that. It has been five years since his stroke, turning his left hemisphere into mush. Between the incompetent doctors who didn’t give a damn and the burnt out nurses, they almost managed to kill him. They should have finished the job, at least they would have managed to do one thing right.

He doesn’t speak much and I’m not sure if he understands me, but he has retained his look of attentiveness, nodding, smiling. This was always his appeal to strangers, his ability to listen...not so much care, but listen. That is good enough for me. He is my silent sounding board.

“I got a job.” I bend down and whisper to him. It’s standing room only here, in the TV room. It looks like the same DVD of Golden Girls they were playing last time I was here. Everyone is watching with an intensity that suggests there will be a test after the show. Eyes focused, trying to listen, trying to follow, just trying. “I got tired of the old one.” I continue, waiting for someone to shoosh me. It usually takes a minute or two, then I’ll wheel Dad out before some octogenarian throws an unidentified object at my head. It’s serious business here during TV hour, no foolin talking.

I wheel Dad out pre-shoosh. I could tell that lady with the pink pullover and the pinched faced was about to raise the roof. She‘s done it to me before. Even when my Dad and I were talking outside the TV room she wheeled herself out and started yelling at me. I usually just wheel Dad further down the hall, but once I lost it and threw a book at her. That didn’t go well. Now I give her a wide birth. I should be more understanding, but this is my time, my time with my Dad, my time to tell him with all honesty what my life is really about.

“David’s exhausted.”

It starts, my imaginary life. I figured even if my Dad does know who I am, who’s to say what’s going on in my life. I know my mother doesn’t talk about me to Dad and I know my fat ass brother doesn’t even come to see him, so really, my life began five years ago. I’m married to a wonderful man named David. We have two kids...Trisha and Jacob. We live in a wonderful house...which is being renovated at the moment so we’re renting till the reno’s finished. David’s always tired from working so hard at his own business, something in computers, something I don’t understand, something to do with the web. Trisha is four and very precocious, just like me. I laugh as I say this to my father, knowing there was nothing precocious about me. I grew up invisible, and liked it that way. But since I am reinventing my life, I might as well reinvent the past... It’s over anyway. Why not change it into something you can live with. Then there’s Jacob, poor sensitive Jacob. He’s at that age where the other kids are starting to figure out the power of language, and use it, as everyone does, badly. I talk about how David says he was just like Jacob at his age, and now look at him...well, actually, you can’t, because he doesn’t exist, but if you could look at him he would be tall, or just taller than me, sporty looking, but not sports minded. Someone who likes to go out and do things, not just sit around. We’re constantly on the go, bringing the kids on every adventure we can think of.

After a couple of hours of talking, I have to stop. If I get too detailed, I won’t remember what I added to my imaginary life. I want to be consistent, just in case my father does understand, even a little, besides, I’m kind of working on the “If you build it, they will come,” theory. I’m building the life I want, hoping the current of wishful thinking will pull what I need towards me.

But what could be wrong with making your father proud of you? And why do I feel so dirty and empty when I leave?

I have made myself into a piece of fiction.

“I need a place to store my stuff.”

My stuff, my crappy stuff, I look around, why not just burn it all.

“You’re not going to actually take care of that woman, are you?”

Karen has come over to offer emotional support, and by support, I mean, liquid, in the form of alcohol. Really, for all the emotional support I’m getting, I’m better off talking to the bottle.

“I don’t see a you see a choice? “ I’m using my sarcastic snippy voice, which never works with Karen. She is so inside her own head changes in vocal tone barely penetrate.

“I mean,” she continues “you could leave the country.”

“You mean with all the money I have in the bank?” I’m still using the snippy voice.

“Go to Europe,” Karen continues, living out her own fantasy. “See the world, the men.”

“Right now, I can’t even afford a metro-pass.” I’m talking to myself.

“I’ll visit you, you know, once you settle in, learn the language.”

“I’m not going to Europe.”

“Suit yourself.”

Karen doesn’t get it. She thinks I’m like everyone else, “with” options.

“You know.” Karen looks around, appraising my apartment with an interest that indicates a solution of sorts. “Maybe I could take over your apartment.”

I wait, putting time in to see if this thought has more longevity than the Europe one. Karen remains silent with that look of thinking she has perfected to force others into silence. I hear the fridge click on and start to hum. It’s a sound that would probably keep most people awake, but I’ve grown used it and kind of enjoy it. It makes me feel like the world is somehow taking care of itself, without me.

“Yes...” Karen continues. “I could use a second address. “

I want to ask her what she could possibly use a second address for, but I don’t want her to rethink this idea. It works for me.

“How much is the rent?”

“Eight hundred.”

“For this?”

“Karen,” I’m trying not to feel insulted. I kind of like my apartment, and believe it or not, in this city this shit hole is a bargain. “That’s cheap.”

“When are you leaving?”



Holy shit, she’s already making plans. I won’t ask what until she starts to pay the rent.

“I only need it during the weekend.”

“Oh,” I feel a bit deflated, that won’t work, I can’t afford to pay the rest.

“Don’t worry, I’ll still pay all the rent.” Karen has made her decision, I can tell, I know that look. That expression that lands somewhere between excitement and a bad idea, but who cares, this gives me somewhere to go if I need a break, if I get a break.

We spend the next few hours going through the apartment. My excitement was a little pre-mature. She will take over the rent, but still wants to get rid of most of my stuff. Now I’m really unsure about what she wants to use the apartment for, but I can tell she’s not going to let me know. The wheels in her head are still turning, I can hear them.

“Can I throw the furniture out...and the bed?”

I’m about to object, looking at each bit of furniture, I know the history. I start to think about where I could store things, my locker in the basement of the building, possibly, but it’s full. Then I take another glance around the room, no, , get rid of it all. I’m going to start over, I decide, just then. This must be the bottom they talk about, the place you go to when you only want one direction left as an option. There, I do have options, I’ve created my own option by getting rid of all the others. Smart little me, I really do know what I’m doing, even if I didn’t know it.

“Sure,” I tell Karen, allowing the alcohol to numb the moment, “throw everything out.”

Chapter 9

The sound of music. That’s what I’m hearing. Doe a deer, how do you solve a problem like Maria? I am Julie Andrews swinging my suit case, cheerfully skipping towards my fate. Except, instead of a being greeted by a group of children who will eventually adore me and a hot young Christopher Plummer who will love me for who I really am in a palace nestled in the bosom of snow dipped mountains. I am sweating my way up a steep hill, lined with houses so expensive just looking at them costs me something on a personal level. I will not be greeted by children or their hot stud father, but by a house that is as old as its occupant.

I am swinging a large suitcase, but the similarity ends there. No guitar, no dress, I am not humming, or singing with a big grin or a Casey hair cut from Mr. Dress up. I am pulling, with difficulty, a large piece of luggage, everything I now own. After giving Karen permission to throw out the contents of my apartment, she did just that, quickly, I kept what I thought were essentials, things a person might pack for a long trip – two pairs of shoes, some dress clothes, casual clothes, toiletries, and reading material. I have a feeling there is going to be a lot of down time, I mean, how much work can that old woman take. Throw a little bird seed on the floor, spread a few newspapers around, go to my room watch television and wait for her to die.

“You’re late.”

A huge woman dressed in a mint green maid’s outfit greets me at the door, and by greet I mean... yells.

“I’m sorry, the bus was delayed.”

“I don’t care about your excuses.”

Who is this woman?

“I’m Sharon, I’m the one you’re replacing.” She grabs a large shiny red designer bag and hooks it around her arm. It’s something Karen would have, something expensive, and like Karen it is her own little screw you to the world, even more effective when you’re wearing a God awful mint green maid’s outfit, complete with a collar that looks like a doily that has been misplaced.

She pauses long enough to register my reaction to her contrasting ensemble. “What are you looking at?”

“Nothing.” I look at the floor, holding my breath, waiting for her to leave.

“It’s not going to look any better on you.”

She walks past me to the door and at first I think, yes, that bag would look much better on me. Then I realize, she’s talking about the maid’s outfit. She pauses at the door, holding it half open.

“Good luck.”

She is smiling, or grinning. It’s hard to tell. She seems happy to leave and I’m glad she’s leaving.

I watch her fat ass wobble its way down the path and think, yes...that outfit will look better on me, not by much, but definitely better.

The smell is familiar from my last visit, musty rotting paper with just a pinch of cat urine. I will call this place home, if for no other reason than I simply have nowhere else to go. My suitcase barely fits though the hallway bumping into yesterdays’ news, last week, last year...last decade. One stack of newspapers falls and blocks my way out. Only one direction left, into the kitchen, where Ethel is sitting, waiting.

“Ethel?” The kitchen is how I remember it. No natural light has been allowed in, shutters sealed tight allowing the yellowish glow of several forty watt bulbs to do their best. There are no ceiling lights so everything from the counter down is clearly visible and everything above is heavily shadowed. I am standing half lit looking at Ethel sitting, again, at the table. She looks different this time. Her hair is pulled back into a pony tail with a bright yellow ribbon. Her face seems softer now, less cracked. She has make up on, cherry red lip stick with blue eye shadow. She is sporting a paisley dress that looks like some kind of pioneer throw back. It’s hard to tell if Sharon was trying to help her make a good first impression by outfitting Ethel and cleaning her up, or if this is some kind of farewell joke. Her elbows are on the table, arms reaching out, hands clasped together, tight.

“Ethel?” I try again, hoping secretly she’s dead, with her eyes open...sitting upright. Hey, a girl can dream.

I sit down and try to make eye contact, but to do that I have to lower my head onto the table, and I’m just not that committed.

“Ethel.” One more time, and this time I snap my fingers by my face, seeing if maybe I can bring her stare up to eye level.

It works. She moves the direction of her sight line from my breasts to my eyes.

“I’m not a dog.” She smiles.

“Oh, sorry, it’s just that...”

“If I were a dog, I’d be barking because you’re strange.”

“You mean a stranger.”

“That too.”

I clear my throat like I’m about to say something, but just remain silent.

“I’ll show you to your room.”

Ethel gets up quickly from her chair. I audibly gasp and grab my chest...I wasn’t expecting sudden movements from her, more like slow calculated “don’t break a hip” steps.

She moves faster than me. That can’t be good.

It seems one of Sharon’s skills, if she had any, did not include cleaning. The house is connected by one thin pathway between piles of stuff, linking one room to another, mainly the bedrooms. She did seem to keep the bathrooms clean...sort of, and the kitchen. Who knows, maybe the house was like this before she even showed up. As I follow Ethel to my bedroom, I am tempted to leave a trail of crumbs so I can find my way back to the kitchen, but it appears someone has already done that, along with full dried up slices of bread, chips, a couple of coke bottles. Christ, what was this woman doing, eating her way to bed? I should hold off judging her till I have survived a year. By then, I’ll be able to identify my own personal trail by the discarded vodka bottles.

Ethel shows me my room, which seems like a vast open space compared to the hallway. I can hear her shuffle back to the kitchen, down the long narrow trail piled shoulder high on each side with discarded bits of crap.

I can’t help, but think, how old is much longer?

The room I am standing in houses a bed, a dresser and a desk. Sharon has managed to clean out her stuff, but left me her sheets and a blanket, unwashed. There is a closet beside the dresser. I open it and spy left over hangers, looking lonely and useless. I hang my coat up and start to fill the room with my own personal smell. I am competing with well entrenched odours in the rug and a few other mysterious odours housed somewhere else. I am not a clean freak by any stretch of the imagination, but I immediately start planning my attack on this house. I do not want to share it with mice, rats, or cockroaches. I want more light, I need more space. I put my suitcase on the bed and open the curtains. The windows give me a view of the back yard, and even though it is unkempt, it’s a fantastic view. I can live with this. All I have to do now is figure out how I can live with this...and Ethel. We are going to have to find common ground, or create ground that feels common.

I rip the sheets off the bed, stick some of my clothes in the drawers of the dresser. Then make my way back to the kitchen.

“Sit, eat.”

Ethel is sitting at the kitchen table, waiting. She is sitting on the opposite side of the table, back facing the black hole I surfaced through earlier. She has made lunch, grill cheese and tomato smells fantastic. My stomach seems to have unravelled just a bit and I’m starting to feel hungry. I sit.

“I like to cook.” She says.

I look around mystified at the mountain of dirty pots and pans it took to make such a simple meal.

“I like to eat.” I answer, and sit.

I pick up my spoon and start on my soup.

“It’s good.” I offer.

“It’s just soup.” Ethel smiles, thinking I’m being nice, but it is good and I’m starting to feel better.

“Did you find everything in your bedroom okay?” Ethel asks between slurps.

“Yes, the dresser and the bed were exactly where I thought they would be.”


I want to ask Ethel a million questions, but I’m afraid of running out of conversation within the allotted time frame, whatever that is, so I stick to the basics. “I need to wash the sheets. Do you have a laundry room?”

I clean the kitchen up, figuring out ways to make it more liveable. Like, maybe, some natural light. I open the shutters on the windows above the sink, pull down the blinds behind them and allow a flood of light to hunt down every speck of dirt I will destroy. I made sure Ethel was okay with letting the light in. She just shrugged her shoulders and told me it was Sharon who blocked the windows. When I asked why, she told me Sharon was an odd lady. This coming from Ethel said something. I was beginning to wonder how odd and what treasures I would find under all this dirt. Then I remembered the sheets and decided I’d better start the laundry now since I might want to wash those sheets a few hundred times.

I made my way through the newspaper tunnel, clearing the collapse that I heard earlier that day, arriving, out of breath, at the front entrance. For some reason, I kept thinking about Sharon, her maid’s outfit, her purse, the way Ethel shrugged her shoulders. There was something about her, and it’s still here. I pulled apart the curtains on the windows in the front entrance and opened the door allowing the cool breeze to conquer the staleness that hung onto me. It felt good, like a new beginning, a fresh start, a...oh my God...what’s that smell? It appears I have disrupted the bowels of the house, creating a current. If a house could fart, that’s exactly what it is doing now. I recognize the smell, it’s attached to something small and furry, and shits, a lot.

The basement will have to be the first priority. I envision mountains of cat shit and lakes of urine, a kind of forest filled with cat excrement. By the intensity of the smell that cat has been shitting for years down there. My stomach turns. I’m not a cat person, or a dog person...or people person. I could never imagine changing a diaper let alone picking up the crap of an animal. I think most animals are useless, unless they’re dead and in between two pieces of bread, preferably cooked first. I’m sure the feeling is mutual. Pets and I keep our distance, they know I am not fooled by their evil ways, their bullshit purring or their tail wagging. They just want food, everything is about food...that, I understand. We had pets when we were young, a couple of cats, a dog...two maybe, I wasn’t really paying attention. I was too busy trying to survive childhood. But this time it is different. It’s my job. I will clean up after puss, and even feed her if I have to, but I will not be lulled into its little cat games. No, this is one person kitty won’t be able to trick.

Armed with cleaning supplies like the Rambo of Molly Maid, I make my way into the basement. I am surprised the smell stood still while I passed the stairs on the way to the kitchen. Lurking, filling the basement walls with feline identification. That’s what they do, mark everything, every God damn object in the house, rubbing against anything that will allow it. Leaving their personal stench, it probably pees on Ethel while she sleeps. Well pussy, game over, I’m here now. I’ll wash this cat right out of this house.

The basement is dark. I couldn’t find a light switch at the top of the stairs, so I am feeling my way along the wall of the corridor, slowly losing the assistance of what little light dares to educate me from above. I am now in total darkness and swimming in a smell that burns my eyes and lungs, an ammonia smell that makes me think about mustard gas in WW1. I know it’s probably not the same, but peeing on a rag and rapping it around face would definitely be an improvement to what I smell now. It amazes me what can come out of a body, how awful it can smell and look. We are gooey bags of crap dressing ourselves up, covering up what lies beneath. There, I officially grossed myself out. Now my thoughts stink as badly as the basement.

Got it... holy shit, and I mean lots of it. The light switch illuminates a corridor of crap. A hallway, lined on each side with kitty litter boxes, some full, some not so full. Most boxes have been used to their fullest potential, spilling over and creating small piles of litter and crap that the cat has managed to use again till each pile has hardened into a urinary kitty, almost an artist really. I’m starting to feel sorry for this little hairy shit machine. I get out my garbage bag, my dust bin and my broom and start knocking some of her little sculptures down, filling my bag quickly. I won’t overdo it. This will be my first job, get rid of the litter. That, and wash my sheets. A full day if I do say so myself...and I just did.

Chapter 10

The morning sun is shining through my window. Time to get up,... But instead I lay here, staring at a ceiling that is foreign to me, a painted tin ceiling that shadows a rectangular design, a sort of lumpy quilted look that suggests a time period as old as I feel at the moment. I stretch in bed, pushing my legs out and pointing my toes. I’m sore. I feel that wonderful feeling you get when you work out and the next morning your body reminds you that you actually did something healthy the day before. I miss that. I can’t remember the last time I felt this way. I can’t remember when I decided to replace this feeling with a hangover, permanently. I can’t remember when I stopped exercising, when I gave up on this body. At one time I would actually bounce out of bed and go for a run, first thing. My day was never complete without some form of cardio, some way to wash my brain and set the record straight in my head. I had plans and for the life of me...I can’t even think now what they were.

Well, I have plans now, clean more cat shit and organize a century of newspaper. I should be depressed, grumpy, perhaps even a little embarrassed. I should want to stay in bed, cozy up to a nice sharp razor blade, but no, I’m feeling something inside that is better than pride, I feel content. It feels like everything is where it should be, the whole mess of it. Why have I been fighting it? Why have I struggled so long to fill the shoes of someone who doesn’t exist?

I roll out of bed, literally, forgetting I am no longer on a futon on the floor. I pick myself up and stretch. Yoga...that’s what I should do. Grow some roots, connect with the earth, touch the sky. But for now, coffee would be nice.

I carry my wrinkled carcass to the kitchen, expecting to see Ethel, smiling, breakfast made...well, that was the deal, wasn’t it? No such luck. There is a pot of coffee made, sugar and cream out, cups and spoons. I smile. No one has ever done even this for me in the morning. If a date ever slept over, the only thing I saw in the morning were skid marks on the floor, leading to the door, but never a body, or coffee.

This is nice, maybe Ethel won’t be so bad. Maybe we’ll be roommates, friends possibly, eventually bonding over our hatred towards Anita, the Hun. When Ethel dies, we’ll share a tearful last breath as she tells me about a secret stash of money she has always planned to give me. She’ll tell me how I was the only one who understood her and when she has passed, she will move on to the great beyond to become my guardian angel. No one will mess with me then...I’ll have connections...good ones.

The coffee tastes good. I sit at the kitchen table and wait, listening to the cold pre-winter wind blow its first icy pelts again the window. I look forward to winter. Sometimes I think I’m the only one who does. I don’t understand this obsession with heat, or dryness. Give me snow, give me rain...that way I can watch from the inside and feel lucky. Lucky, I haven’t touched bottom yet. I give the window one more stare and decide here and now, things will get better, much better, I will actually go skiing this winter, I will make things happen. I will take control.

“Oh my God.”


“I’ve lost her.”

Maybe I upset the Gods, got a bit cheeky...too confident.

“Lost who?”


“Who’s Ethel?”

I might be wrong, but isn’t calling a friend supposed to make you feel better?

“Ethel, the woman I’m taking care of.”

“Or not taking care would seem.”

I hear Karen share a giggle. She is with someone. I hate that...she is showing off. If you can call treating a friend like shit showing off. I offer a bit of silence to even the score.

“Sorry, what happened?”

That’s one of the things I do like about Karen. She’s a quick study. She knows when a line is drawn and she knows not to cross it. She may have options, but most of them are uglier than the freedom of my potentional poverty.

“I don’t know, I got up this morning, came down to the kitchen and she wasn’t there.”

“Maybe she’s still in bed?”

I hear Karen shush whoever she is with and feel better that she is giving me her full attention.

“No, she made me coffee, she’s already been up...she’s not in her bedroom.”

“She made you coffee?”




Karen is starting to fixate on the wrong thing.


“That’s not really the point Karen. She’s gone. It’s noon, she could be anywhere...dead.”

“Well,” I know what Karen is going to say, “isn’t that kind of what you wanted?”

“Well, ya, but not if I caused it.”

I can hear a bit of rustling of paper, or sheets...I can’t tell.

“What are you doing?” I ask, trying to squeeze an ounce of help out of her.

“Getting dressed.”

“Now? I need your help here.”

“I know,” there’s a pause filled with a few grunts I recognize as Karen when she bends down to put her shoes on. “I’m coming over to help you look.”

Wow, I wasn’t expecting that.

“What’s the address?”

Generally speaking, my ability to find things once they are lost leaves something to be desired. But I’m thinking something as big as a person might be easier, something bigger than a wallet. I consider going through all the rooms, but most of them are blocked by debris and show no signs of being disturbed for the last decade or so. I know there is a pathway out back, leading to the ravine below. I’ll wait for Karen before exploring that option. I check Ethel’s bedroom again, thinking maybe I’ve mistaken her for one of the folds in the bed. Perhaps she was swept away in the night, carried by the tired arms of time, the very tired angry arms of time. I’m sure it only took seconds, weak little seconds, not strong minutes or Herculean hours.

She’s so close, just one little push.

Ethel’s dresser has an old wooden clock on it. It looks just like the one that was in my grandfather’s house. A curvy knot of wood with a numbered face, pock marked with three holes for winding. The image of my grandfather winding that clock every night during our visits comes back to me. He’d open the face, clicking off the glass disc that was hinged to its perimeter. He’d look at his watch, look at the clock, look back his watch, tap the minute hand, wind each hole and snap the glass disc back in place. Every night of our visit, every God damn night...I hated that clock. It rang every fifteen minutes, just enough to irritate me into insomnia. I loved my grandfather...I despised that clock. And here it is, sitting in front of me, staring at me, silent. It’s stuck on twenty after eight, frowning.

The room smells like those chalky white mints my mother would give me. It’s complimented by a white wash that holds the room as sun shines through shears hanging over the windows. Other than the mute clock, the room is almost bare, a dresser, a bed, the windows. Nothing is decorated with memories or meaning. No pictures or nik naks, nothing that would identify the occupant. Just some blankets and a pillow that suggest the fact that someone spends some time here, horizontal...probably at night.

I sit on the bed and think about my mother. She’s not as old as Ethel, but some day she will be. Who will be watching her, who will make sure she eats and sleeps, who will watch her die? It’s almost like Ethel is taking care of business ahead of time, vacating her space on this earth so when she does leave, she’ll already be gone.

“Did you check the attic?’

“What attic?”

“You know, the creepy old attic all these old places have.”

Karen has arrived and is offering about as much help as she did on the phone.

“There’s probably a skeleton or a...does it smell like cat piss, or is that, you know...her?”

“It’s cat piss.” I think.

Karen wanders around the kitchen opening cupboards, pulling out drawers. She looks like gypsy, or, maybe a witch that’s decided to trick more than treat, anyway, she kind of looks like a a nosy whore who’s not really helping me much at the moment.

“So what’s she like?”

“She’s nice.”



“Nice crazy or nice normal?”


Karen pauses after opening one of the cupboards. “She could have been kidnapped, is she rich?”

“I don’t know.”

“Did you find a note?”


Karen turns around and saunters over to the kitchen table where I’m sitting. She’s got this whole Stevie Nicks thing going on. I love Stevie Nicks. I wish Karen was Stevie Nicks.

“Well,” Karen pretends to think. “Shall we look somewhere?”

I look up at her, “Why are you dressed like that?”

“You like?”

“Not really.”


“I’m seeing someone.” And now we get to the real reason she’s here, to tell me about her latest adventure.


“He’s sort of my therapist.”

“That’s convenient.”

“He really gets me.”

“Ya, he’s got you.”

Karen giggles while fumbling with the pepper shaker. She has a history of dating her self-help team. Every six months or so, she’ll find some form of therapy to soak herself in. She’ll get involved with someone who is also involved in the process and spends the next three months shedding her skin.

“Let’s check the ravine.” I get up before Karen settles into an hour long monologue about her new self-discovery. God...she’s discovered herself so many times, there must be a million of her stored somewhere.

Chapter 11

“Are you a witch?”

Ethel has been found.


She is sitting in the kitchen preparing tea for two, like she knew I would return.

“You look like a witch.”

I’m beginning to like Ethel. Whatever she thinks comes out of her mouth.

“Ummm, I’m not a witch.”


Karen and I both look like hell. We just returned from the ravine, which is muddy and slippery, made worse by an early darkness set upon us with the slow approach of winter. We reached the bottom of the ravine and climbed back up, so, basically, if Ethel was almost directly behind the house, we would have found her. I’ll say it again, I’m not good at finding things.

“Ethel, this is Karen.” I gesture to Karen who takes a seat at the kitchen table without even looking at Ethel as I introduce them. “We just finished looking for you in the ravine.”

“Oh.” Ethel moves to the counter to start her tea preparation. I was expecting a little more of a reaction from her, but no, just oh. “You’re not exactly dressed for hiking.”

“We weren’t hiking.” Karen stabs Ethel in the back with her tone of voice and a nasty stare. “We were looking for you.”

Ethel is as oblivious to Karen’s tone as Karen is to everyone else’s.


I’m not sure if Ethel realizes she was lost, maybe this is how old people work, moving in and out of the real world, testing the waters of death.

“Well,” I try to remain calm. “I woke up this morning and you were gone, and, well, at four you still weren’t home, I was worried.”

This stops Ethel in her invisible tracks.

“You were worried?” She turns around and stares at my wet muddy state.

“Yes.” I’m so used to sarcasm that I automatically go into a defensive pose. “Of course, I thought something happened to you.” I really didn’t think this needed to be verbalized, but apparently it did.

She stares at me, suddenly sad, eyes watering. “I’m tired.” Ethel approaches me, arms open, a hug looking for a landing. She places both bird like appendages around me and cozies into my layers of fat.

Just when I think she has either suffocated or fallen asleep she detaches her boney frame from my body. “Goodnight Kathy.”

“Karen.” Karen says while staring at Ethel with a mix of confusion and contempt.

Ethel leaves, the kettle whistles and Karen farts.

“Sorry.” Karen offers.

“Don’t worry about it.” I grab the bottle Karen thoughtfully brought with her and open it. “This day couldn’t possibly smell worse.”

I was wrong...what the hell did Karen eat?

I can feel feet, toes to be exact, something scratching seductively at the sorry base of my permanently flat feet.

I try to put the evening together, calming myself down with the concrete knowledge that yes, we did find Ethel, or more accurately, she found herself.

The evening pieces itself together; bits of memory dig their way out of my alcohol haze. I’m not good with Vodka, or V as Karen calls it. I enjoy it too much. It’s the tofu of alcohol, taking on the taste of anything you mix it with, kicking it up a notch.

It seems we proceeded to get really drunk after Ethel went to bed. Karen passed out in the bed with me.

I slip out of bed and get myself ready for the day. This time I’ll be able to attack that cat shit and newspaper forest. I look back at Karen’s makeup smeared face, her drooling state, like everything she holds back is leaking out of her. She scares me because she is me. She is the person who dives in and owns the shit she sinks in. I am her, just scared. This is really the reason I am friends with Karen, she is my reflection. I hate her narcissistic ways, but only because it dulls my reflection. Karen is the only person who would drop anything to help me, and in a weird way, I resent her for it. It forces me to stay attached, to feel something, anything for someone else.



“Do you want some breakfast?”

“Fuck off.”

See, I knew she’d say that, and I love that I knew that. Maybe love is predictability, the ability to know someone so well you see yourself in them. You have managed the impossible, making two into one.

“Good morning.”

Ethel has made breakfast and is sitting waiting for me, eggs on the ready and toast standing by.

“Good morning.” I answer feeling the edginess of a hangover pull me down.

“Where’s Kathy?” Ethel asks this question with a tone that mutates friend into lover.

“She’s still in bed.” I give up, for all intents and purposes, I’m a lesbian. “She doesn’t eat breakfast.”

“But it’s the most important meal.” Ethel reaches across the table to cover my dry cracking hands in a gesture of maternal concern. I am touched and tickled just a bit. She makes me smile, this Ethel creature. She is so bare, so exposed. I am trying not to like her. I shouldn’t have named her.

“I’ll tell her that.”

Ethel feeds me breakfast and we eat together.

The afternoon approaches.

I surface from the basement looking like a fifties housewife fresh from a toxic spill, rubber gloves, mask, hair covered with a dish rag, tied back in that Doris Day kerchief style. This topped off with a flowered apron Ethel gave me.

I like it, this look.

After removing my outer gear in the front hall, I circle around the kitchen where Ethel is preparing lunch, taking the circular route to my bedroom. I can smell something delicious, something with garlic and onion, a bit of ginger.

“You’re still in bed?”

“I’m awake.”

“You’re still in bed?”

“Shut up.”

Karen has slept till almost noon. “Ethel’s making lunch, you want to join us?”

“No, do you have anything I can wear?”

Karen has managed an upright position. Her black hair looks post-tornado and her eyes have achieved a racoon appearance..

“Check the drawers.”

Karen changes and wanders around the kitchen out the front door. I needed that, a drunk night with Karen, a brain cell massacre... trimming the fat.

It’s almost noon. I am thinking about food. I’m always thinking about food. I decide to change my shirt into something that smells less like cat shit and more, well, clean. I open the dresser drawer and there it is, that envelop Anita gave me. Why do I do that, put things away and forget them? I know the moment I’m doing it, I will forget where I put it, but I still do it, thinking I will remember where it is...ahh, the science of shit, the science of assembling your life so you can still find it, or at least remember enough to know it’s lost.

I grab the envelope and read.

Right in front of me, first page, Anita explains the purpose of my adventure. Watch out for Ethel. Her routine is described, which is nothing like the routine she has now. I’m sure Anita has never spent so much as a day with her. Just the little bit of time it takes to pass her on to someone else.

I think about lunch, I think about food, I’m always thinking about food.


Ethel offers me a wrinkled piece of cooked dough.

“Thanks.” I stare at her. She is dressed in a simple outfit that would compare to those from fitting dresses nurses used to wear before they switched to Technicolor pyjamas. She houses a simple string of pearls and is wearing her inside slippers. Those slippers I always saw my European parented friends wear in their houses. I never understood that. We were a sock family, sometimes bare feet, footwear with a hard bottom was meant for the outdoors. Ethel commands the kitchen in a way that makes cooking look effortless. She appears younger to me now.

She sits and we both cut our scones together, buttering while warm so we can watch it melt and feel our anticipation grow.

I think I can see a definite shade of pink starting to bloom under the wrinkles where her cheeks should be.

Chapter 12

I have cleaned the basement, reducing the kitty litter box population down to one. You can actually walk through the basement hallway without tripping over a box or having that litter gravel stick to your feet.

I have also managed to re-organize the kitchen, even alphabetize the spices, which, really, is a bit much. But I want to be someone else, someone who thinks that sort of thing is important. I want to know how it feels to value all that kind of anal shit. I want the satisfaction of knowing that, in a small way, I can organize my world and control my immediate surroundings. Of course, I know that it’s bullshit, I know the more you try to keep things in place, the more they move away from you.

But this is going to be different. I’ll mould my old self into a new soul. I’ll learn to love again. I’ll...oh no, is that the cat?

This is the third time I’ve seen the cat if you count the time it scared me in the hallway upstairs. I don’t think we’ve been properly introduced. He’s just sitting there, at the end of the basement hallway at the foot of the stairs blocking my only exit. He’s pretty big for a cat, black, long haired with a white streak under its chin, kind of like a tuxedo. I think he is wondering where I put all his poop. Maybe he was collecting it. “Kitty, kitty.” I bend down to view the world from his level, extending my arm in a universal gesture of peace. “Kitty, puddy?” I start to “up” speak, cock my head to the left, like I’m asking a question, but neither of us know what the question is.

“Pussy.” I try something a little more erotic, but nothing, just a scary death stare that can’t be broken. “What’s wrong Kitty?” I take the off chance that maybe, just maybe, the cat speaks English.


I don’t like animals, I’m not usually afraid of them, maybe a dog now and then, but never a cat. But this cat is different. He has not only managed to frighten me, but he is oddly intimidating. I am not only afraid of being scratched to death, but I’m afraid he’s going to take my soul, or my essence, or whatever cats do to small children while they sleep. I can feel it now. He’s just sitting there, licking his metaphorical chops, staring at my huge fat essence.

“I cleaned for you...nice and clean for you.” I extend both my arms and gesture to the now empty hallway. “Just for you.”

Finally, the cat gets up, and without letting his angry green eyes off me, he moves towards his litter box, and towards me. I could run around him and straight up the stairs, but every time I start to move, he stops and looks like he is about to pounce....that’s what cats do right? ....pounce. It sounds much more soft and feline than attack, rip and gorge.

I start to back away, further down the hallway. There are four doors on each side of the corridor, and one at the very end. I know most of them are locked, so my options are limited. I think about running at the cat and maybe kicking it, but Ethel and I are doing so well right now. I think killing the cat will put me in the dog house, permanently. I finally reach the end of the corridor and rattle the door knob to see if it’s one of the open doors. I haven’t bothered to enter any of these rooms. I was busy climbing the stairs, getting the cat shit as far away as possible. The angry black cat is still staring at me. It turns sideways to pee and I can tell by its profile that this puss is missing a tail. No wonder the cat is so angry, he’s an amputee.

My hands feel a full rotation and the door behind me opens. I’ll just slip into this room for a moment, give little angry puss his pee time...maybe I’ll find a weapon.

I move my hand up the wall beside the door frame inside the room and locate a downward knob. Click, let there be light, and there is, the same creepy low wattage that leaks all over the main floor. The first thing I notice is how clean the room is, nothing lying on the floor, no litter boxes or newspapers, just a clean cement floor with a large rug covering most of it, a small table and a rocking chair...not too weird. I think I’ll sit down for a quick little rock before I go back out. I’ll just...ok, now that is weird. Sitting down in the rocking chair, I realize I am now facing a wall of shelves. They cover the entire length of the wall and go from the floor up to the ceiling. On these shelves are boxes, I think, they look like shoe boxes spaced six inches apart lined on each shelf from one end to the other. A chill goes up my spine as I recall a movie called Butter box babies. Could Ethel be some kind of psychotic nut job, I mean, would it really be that much of a stretch? I wanted her to be interesting, but not scary interesting. I manage to pull myself out of the rocking chair and venture a closer look. I feel so Nancy Drew, you know, mystery of the old insane baby killing nut job...I think I forgot to read that book. God, I wish the lighting was better. Upon closer inspection, the boxes are not shoe boxes, but wooden boxes, with that cedar smell I like so much. They’re kind of nice, in a coffin kind of way. I can see that each box contains a picture that is slid into a framing device and screwed onto the front. The frame is gold and shines faintly in the light. I hesitate as I reach for one of the pictures, sliding it upward and out. . Backing away from the wall and into the light, I lift the Polaroid picture up to the light. The image at first looks a bit blurry, then that bit of blurriness directs the viewer toward the focused part of the slightly yellowed’s a cat..., I scan the boxes...they’re all cats.

“Are you sure?”

“Of course I’m sure, I know what a cat looks like.”

“Did you put it back? I hope you put it back.”


“Well,” I can hear Karen on the other end of the line, pausing. “Nothing.”

“Don’t say nothing, tell me.”

“Well, isn’t that how most serial killers start out...killing animals?”

“I don’t would I know?”

“Maybe it’s just her pets, over the years.”

“Maybe...but, so many.”

“How many?”

“Over a hundred.”

“Well, she seems pretty old.”



“Are you scared?”

“I don’t know.”

“What’s inside the box?”

“More pictures, another box.”

“Another box?”

“Ya, a tin box, with ashes.”

“Of the cat?”

“I guess.”


“Ya, weird.”

The mystery of Ethel has lost its bloom. It’s now weird Ethel, troubled Ethel, insane Ethel. Just once, I’d like to meet someone who is not nuts. But, I guess, birds of a feather, well, it’s not so much flocking as a group of messed up individuals constantly bumping into each other. Although it feels better to think we choose to be together rather than just being dumped in front of each other like some kind of discount bargain brand up for sale, we’re all in the same bin, defective, past our prime.

I need to see my father.

“Is it ok if I leave you alone here for a while?” I ask casually, watching her nibble on her chicken breast, wondering now if it’s really chicken.

“I don’t think so, I mean, what if Anita comes for one of her surprise visits.”

“She has surprise visits?”

“Well,” Ethel gives up on her chicken breast, wipes her hands and starts in on her mashed potatoes. “She may tell me ahead of time. I don’t know. I forget, so they’re always a surprise to me.”


We sit together in the kitchen, making dinner noises. Slurps, chewing, cutlery banging, cutlery scraping. I remember eating dinner with my family. My father hated the sound of cutlery hitting anything. We all scooped and stirred without making a sound. I thought this was normal. I thought a lot of things were normal.

“What if I brought you with me.”


Just like that. This will now be the new normal for me. My life with a ninety pound growth called Ethel.

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