Pinner: Yes, They Do [Part 2 of 3]
Pinner: A new column by Kim Petersen with small, true stories from a world that is disappearing as remembered by the folks that lived them.
She smiles at her reflection and the tension in her shoulder blades begins to release. She continues to pour water through the grounds until her cup is full.
She’s not mad at the bear for being there. She’s mad that every day they’re crossing paths a little more closely. She tries not to let them get too comfortable in her presence. When they do spot her she wants them to go the other way. For that reason she is loud. There is an air horn on the porch, bear spray on the bike and as a last resort the Ruger, but more and more she’s finding that she’s the problem. She is too comfortable, and that is going to get somebody killed. She’s not even considering that the somebody could be her.
She has had to make hard decisions before and that’s not how these things play out.
Setting the cone inside the sink she takes cream from the fridge and pours the thicker cooler liquid into her mug. She watches closely as it first begins to sink and then rises again in little swirls. She doesn’t stir it and instead carries it carefully to the couch. Tucking her feet under a pink faux fur throw she just sits holding the steaming mug and breathing it in for several minutes, looking out at the orchard. Bare of leaves now. The trees un-pruned, the ground is littered with over ripe fruit. She finally says out loud
And she sips the coffee trying not to think about it anymore. It is a problem. But, it is a problem for another day.
She needs to get ready for the HughesNet guys who will be arriving, theoretically, between eight and four.
Finishing her coffee she leaves the mug on the coffee table.
Unaware that she’s creating the trail of her belongings that inevitably mark her path through the day. It is a pattern she will follow later, but she must make the trail first.
It’s a law, like… gravity.
Turning on the house stereo is another law. There is always a song.
Everywhere. The song is what keeps the peace between her and her mind, and so Garth begins as she heads to the bathroom.
The hillside home, warm and smelling of fresh coffee, is filled with his contemplation of his love’s understanding of the depth of feeling he has for her.
By the time she is stepping out of the shower. Smelling of grapefruit and wrapping her hair in a towel. She is singing with him.
“And if my time on earth were through
And she must face this world without me
Is the love I gave her in the past
Gonna be enough to last
If tomorrow never comes?”
She dries herself just enough that she can pull on the black leggings without getting mad. Adds a pink sports bra and a forty-niners sweatshirt (with the neck cut out) unwraps her hair, and leaving two wet towels in the bedroom chair, heads back to the front room. As she walks the wet hair is twisted into a “hippie knot” which was her dad’s name for what would later become known as a “messy bun”.
She rarely has company. The trim crew comes at the end of each cycle, but they are practically family. Her kids are eighteen and twenty-one, they come up for a weekend or so when their schedules allow. But actual strangers? Never. So she is looking around with a different intent.
She is looking for hints. Clues that she is anything but an average woman, perhaps slightly redneck, living in a rural area. It looks pretty solid really. The family pictures on the shelves include dogs and horses. A painting of the Eel River, an inlaid mirror from the arts fair. It doesn’t look like hippies live here. It just looks like a country home, with boots and work gloves. A China cabinet and lace curtains. She smiles at the sight of the life she is living. It’s not staged. It’s just who she is now. A long way from the nineteen year old she was when her youngest was born. Those kids did at least as good a job raising her as she did them.
Stepping out onto the porch she sees the ashtray. Ahh that’s gotta go, there’s no smoking in the house, but outside it is a different story. The ashtray has a few cigarette butts in it, and at least twenty fat dark roaches and half joints.
You light up here. To talk. To celebrate. To commiserate. To judge the quality and compare and contrast. In Southern Humboldt you have a joint for your guest the same way you offer a cup of coffee or a beer. It’s just common courtesy.
Taking the ashtray and the blue Danish cookie can she goes around the deck to the side of the old barn that keeps the garbage dry and free of scavengers. She unhooks a tight red bungee cord and dumps the ashtray into the garbage can. The stash can gets tucked into a cupboard with a coffee can of screws and an assortment of other cans and bottles. WD-40, bar oil, carb cleaner, it’s fairly well stocked but she knew from experience that if an engine needed work, or plumbing was required there would still be a minimum of three trips to town. She does not touch plumbing or engines if at all avoidable. She gets mad watching people hold wrenches.
Going in the back door she takes the ashtray to the sink and washes it out, then gets the Windex from under the sink for good measure and gives it a spritz. After drying it with a paper towel she replaces it on the porch table. One more look around the porch and she is content. Antlers, two old bear traps, and a large spittoon go with the rocking chairs that flank the table. As a whole the set up is almost too much, but hadn’t even been intentional. They were just the things that migrated here.
She re-enters the living room and now it’s time to follow the path.
She picks up the sweats from the floor and hangs up the hoodie next to the front door. The pants go to the laundry. The coffee grounds go in the compost and the cone gets rinsed. She gets the cup from the living room and gives it a swipe, but the yellow sponge smells a little moldy so she tosses that in the microwave. The moldy smell reminds her of the wet towels and she heads to the bedroom to retrieve them, but before she gets down the hall she hears it.
Someone is coming up the hill to the house.
Someone driving very slowly.
She is so excited. It’s barely twenty after eight! She had been prepared to wait most of the day.
She is surprised when she walks outside to see that the vehicle coming up the drive is not a truck but a van. A two wheel drive thing like a city delivery van. She can’t imagine a world where that would be an acceptable work vehicle. It’s struggling a little just coming up her driveway, and she has nice three quarter crush on there. They would be out of luck if it were regular gravel, much less any real mud.
“Well, that’s bullshit,” she says.
Then by way of explanation she answers her own unspoken question.
And she nods agreeing with her assessment, it must be an okay work vehicle to people who work someplace, like Seattle.
She can see the two men in the front now and she gives them a friendly wave as they pull up the last part of the drive. The funny white van with its cheery blue logo comes to a stop right at the end of the deck.
She is smiling at the two men and her greeting is genuinely happy.
They both look a bit off really, kinda funny.
“I didn’t really expect you guys so early. The chick on the phone was super vague.”
She’s walking toward them as the driver is coming around the front of the van.
“She said between eight and four. Like no shit? During the entire work day? “
Her face animated a dramatic recreation of her mocking
“I mean, I could have figured that part out. I was kinda hoping for more specificity!”
She stops at the end of the deck leaving room for them to come up the stairs. Completely blind to the fact that she may – be a bit much.
They look at each other. The driver looks at her and begins to speak, but she interrupts.
“Hey, you need coffee? The water’s still hot.”
She is walking back toward the front door with the obvious expectation that they’ll follow.
But before she gets in the house the driver has pulled it together enough to speak.
“I’m sorry Ma’am. I’m Rich with Hughes Net and this is Len. Would you like to see our ID?”
She stops walking and turns back to them and now her smile has a twist on one side. She looks at the van.
“Nah bro, I’m good.”
Seeing the humor in her eyes seems to relax him a little.
And for the first time she really looks at them.
Fish outta water.
They are fish. She makes an attempt to pace herself for other people and says
“Sorry, sorry I just got excited.”
She sticks a hand out.
“It’s nice to meet you”
Rich gestures toward the van.
“Can I grab my clipboard? I need to go over a couple things with you.”
“Yeah, dude yeah. That’s cool.”
Len shakes her outstretched hand.
He’s got a hint of amusement hovering in the corners of his eyes.
Rich is a quick mover and he is already back in the van as Len opens up with
“That’s quite a road.”
She misunderstands. “Thanks, it was a real disaster when I first got this place.”
Her cheery look of pride catches the man off guard.
“Oh, hell. It was ridiculous, they’d let it go to shit – no crown on it, no rock – you’d be spinnin’ ‘em in four low all the way up the last hill.“
She doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.
He just nods.
“Oh, yeah that’s … “
He’s at a loss.
Luckily Rich saves them both.
He’s going to go over the fine points of the installation process, but she just takes his clipboard.
Right out of his hand.
As she walks inside reading the top sheet the men again look at each other with some confusion and amusement.
They have been working together for over a year and this whole situation is just unsettling.
They are both excited to be so far outside their home turf.
The company has lined up installations for them over a four day span traveling from this.–the southernmost job through central Oregon and back up to Washington. The job description for this home had been accurate, yet they had not really understood what it would be like until they were crossing the first narrow wooden bridge.
When they’d come into view of it on this goat path of road they had stopped.
The thing looked about a hundred years old. The surface was worn smooth and the edges of fat timber were rounded by time. It had no railing of any kind.
They looked at the instructions they had been given.
“It says stay to the right after the bridge for four miles”
“Well, this is some straight up Deliverance shit right here “
Rich had navigated the bridge at a snail’s pace making tiny micro corrections. And then they’d proceed the remaining miles along the narrow sunless road. Mostly alongside a roaring creek in a valley that looked like something you’d find in a dinosaur movie. Only to be faced with spinning tires during the final steep ascent to a lone cabin in a clearing. By the time they arrived at the old homestead both of them were sweating, literally sweating.
Now, here’s this woman sounding vaguely like the guy from Fast Times at Ridgemont High – but her record is playing on 78.
Inside the house he begins his run through on the documents again.
She is not listening. Not even a little bit, but she is making all the right noises and faces, as she sits at the dining table and begins initialing the pages everywhere there is a brightly colored sticky arrow. Flicking through the pile she completes her portion and slides the clipboard back to him.
She is oblivious to the look the men are sharing, and as they rise from the table she doesn’t notice the change in their tone.
“Where is your computer?”
Rich asks, looking around the big open room.
“Oh, it’s just for that laptop.”
She points at the coffee table where her laptop is sitting. It’s nothing but a high tech diary since she moved here. She opens it at 3 a.m. and the soft sounds of its keys speak only to her.
“And is this the area of the home where you will be using it for the most part?”
She looks around.
“Yeah. Like, right there.”
She points to the corner of the big leather sectional.
“Or, out on the porch in the summer..”
The two men begin moving around and talking.
Len looks at her.
“We’ll be drilling a hole up through this floor. “
“Whatever. Look, you guys do what you need to do. It’s all good.”
She steps to the kitchen sink and, topping off the kettle she places it back on the stove. She is about to stoke the fire when
“I guess a lot of people here grow pot, huh?”
Her eyes dart to the men and back to the fire.
“I guess. I mean I don’t know what other people do but… “
She shrugs and opens the draft . She doesn’t look at the men again but focuses on the task.
“It’s just that you know, Humboldt County weed, you hear about it all the time.”
It’s Len and he is down on the floor in the corner.
The fire is really taking off as she opens the door, but that’s not the only reason her cheeks are hot.
“Yeah, my family was here before all that.”
Moving to place another log she stays neutral in her tone, but she doesn’t like this conversation, at all.
When the men go outside to talk dish placement, she doesn’t follow.
Normally she’d be up in their business chatting them up. Quizzing them about the city and their lives. The fact that they already brought up weed has made her aware of them in a whole different way.
She’s alone. Far from anyone. She has two strangers in her home and now she is reminded of things she doesn’t like.
Things with bony little fingers scratching.
She closes both eyes and lets the heat from the open fire get to be a bit too much before she closes the fireplace door and damps it back down.
The fun has drained away and left a brittle surface. Her face looks the same, cheery and ready to smile, but not her eyes. Not there.
While the men are outside she goes to the bedroom. Pulling the sweatshirt over her head she buckles the holster & digs out a hoodie with an intact neckline.
She’d been foolish enough to think them fish, and never even considered that they might be bears.
God damn bears.
She goes back out, and gathering the laundry from the dryer she carries it to the couch and begins folding.
When they come back, she is all smiles.
“Can we drill into that pad the propane tank is on? There’s a good clear signal right there.”
Rich says this while Len is measuring the interior from the kitchen wall closest to the propane tank outside over to the corner they had originally started in.
She registers the gloves that they are both wearing now.
Her smile is charming, but her voice is different. She’s lost the surfer vibe and she’s no more aware of the change than they are.
“Yeah, I trust you. “
He smiles back.
“Okay we’re going get started, we ‘ll be in and out a bit. We’re going to run the cable right underneath your house and get your router connected.”
That brittle voice again.
She continues folding the clothes .
The men go to the van and begin bringing the necessary equipment and supplies for installation to staging areas. Near the propane tank and the end of the porch nearest the living room corner outside.
She loads the washing machine and finally deals with her damp towels.
She cleans her bathroom. Then sweeps. Always keeping the men in her periphery.
They do drill holes in the cement pad and install a metal mounting bracket.
They unspool a long stretch of cable. Calling back and forth to each other as one crawls under the house from the high side.
She listens as he makes his way nearly under the kitchen before they resort to using some long fishing tool to extend the cable.
She places the next load in the dryer and puts away the folded laundry.
The Ruger has warmed up.
She has cooled down.
She’s excited to see the dish standing.
They come in again and she has iced tea out in the three glasses.
“Do you guys want sugar?”
She has a pink and white box dug from the back of a cupboard.
“Oh man, you didn’t have to do that.”
Rich is pulling his gloves off and gratefully takes a long pull.
“Thank you!” Len says and begins mixing himself a diabetic coma of tea.
“Let’s turn on your laptop and set up your network.”
Rich places his half empty glass on the table and heads to the corner where he settles the network router into the shelved table that holds the television.
She fetches the laptop and sits at the table with Len.
They connect to and name the router. And they all have a pretty good laugh when Len suggests adding a password.
She logs in to the Internet and is instantly immersed.
Until the men who had begun to clean up their tools knock quietly.
“Hey, can we use your sink?”
She agrees almost mindlessly, deep in the midst of setting up a Skype account.
Len begins washing his hands and arms.
“Is it helping?”
“I don’t know man, it fucking burns.”
She looks up,
“Did you hurt yourself?”
“I don’t know what happened, my arms are just burning!”
She gets up and walks over to the sink.
One look at his arms and she knows.
“You got in the nettles.”
“Is that bugs?”
“No, it’s just a plant.”
She looks into his eyes really for the first time since they mentioned pot and ruined everything.
She is instantly guilty and contrite in equal measure.
If she hadn’t let herself get so paranoid she would have hung out with them, watched them better. She wouldn’t have let them get hurt.
“It’ll be okay, it just burns for a bit.”
She moves to the cupboard and gets some baking soda.
“Keep washing it. It’ll help get the little hairs out.”
In the small yellow Fire and Light bowl she mixes a soothing paste then grabs a latex glove from the box in the drawer and calls Len back to the table. Seated across from him she is all business.
“Here, give me an arm.”
It’s bright red with the tell tale raised white dots. She begins applying the paste gently and evenly as Rich looks on, then he laughs.
“You have all kinds of dangerous weed in Humboldt!”
She doesn’t laugh.
“Dude, why is that all anyone ever talks about? You know how annoying that is?”
She is stern and serious but still gently applying the paste to Len’s arms.
Len makes a noise and she looks at him in concern.
He is looking her in the eye and then he slides his gaze to the left leading her eyes with his own.
There in the middle of her dining room table, on a beautiful doily that her mother had made, sit three glass canisters of varying heights.
They are the kind you get at Bed Bath and Beyond. That people would fill with colorful pastas .
The tall one has a variety of purple so dark it’s nearly black. The shorter one is White Widow, pale and covered in crystal, and the middle one has old school Kush, with those distinct bright orange hairs.
She takes a sharp breath.
Her head whips back to Len’s face and then Rich’s .
They are both smiling.
And she has to pick a lane.
She begins laughing.
And when they join in, the world seems a brighter place.
She does what must be done.
“You guys want some for the road?”
They always do.
So she retrieves six baggies from the same drawer that she’d pulled the gloves from.
Each man is given a handful from each jar and she gives them a bullshit story about how she puts a few plants in her garden every year.
They aren’t aware enough to realize that this land is not good gardening land.
She doesn’t explain that this weed is decorative. That it’s been subject to sunlight and temperature shifts. She can’t remember when she put it in those jars.
She is just gracious and funny.
She makes them feel like friends.
She follows them out the road and locks the gate behind them.
And the smile falls away.
She looks down at the pile of apples in the road. Flattened now.
They probably are fish.
But they might get to thinking, or talking.
And so she’s left with those bony little fingers,
and thoughts of bears.