Monthly Archives: February 2012
When the phone rang at 3:23 am Mira was already awake. She’d been lying in bed listening to the rain pound on the roof above. Hearing the rain was like a reminder of how all of this was somehow her fault. She could also hear the water dripping into the various buckets strategically placed around the bedroom. She knew her husband was awake as well, but it still surprised her when he quickly reached across her to snatch the phone from her nightstand.
“Hello?” His voice sounded urgent, as if he’d been waiting for the call all evening. And in a way they had both been waiting for the call since they moved in.
. . .
For days now it felt as if the sky were emptying over their heads, drumming rain onto the metal roof of their 1910 farmhouse. That quaint metal roof had been one of the selling points that most drew Mira to the place, despite her husband’s cautioning that it looked to be the original roofing which made it over 100 years old.
They’d come up to the Skagit Valley from Redmond in springtime 2 years ago to ride their bikes through the blazing color fields of tulips and daffodils. It was a rare sunny day in the Pacific Northwest, and after the long dark winter both Mira and Mick felt like giddy school kids playing hooky. They both had called in sick to their respective tech firms to take advantage of the beautiful day and to enjoy the relative quiet of a weekday visit to the Tulipfest.
While riding along a quiet country road they’d seen the farmstead sitting up on a rise from the distance. It was a charmingly faded white clapboard two-story building with a porch that angled down in one corner and the dull silver metal roof, bearing a patina that only time and rain can create. As they pedaled closer they could see further beyond the farmhouse there was a brick red barn whose wooden doors hung partly open. Behind the barn a tributary of the Skagit River meandered through the acres of farmland that surrounded the property. The grass grew up high around the barn and the house. Mira did not hesitate turning her bike down the long dipping driveway that rose again up to the house.
“Are you coming Mick?” She shouted over her shoulder as she pedaled harder towards the house, sitting on its small hill. Mick had stopped at the for-sale sign posted at the end of the driveway, looking as if he wasn’t sure if he would join her in trespassing on the abandoned property. But by the time Mira had her bike leaning up against the side of the house he was halfway there.
Mira peered into the grimy windows but couldn’t see into the house due to a yellowed shade. She was going to try the door. She turned to tell Mick to hurry. He was already off his bike and looking concerned. He did not share Mira’s delight in “exploring” but also could not stop her from dragging him along. He ran up the hill and took one step onto the sloping porch, which promptly broke through, leaving one foot on the concrete step and the other buried up to its calf in splintered rotten deck wood.
It was this moment, they liked to joke, that Mira knew they would buy the place, and that Mick knew it would be his cross to bear.
In the 2 years they’d owned the farmstead they’d both quit their tech jobs and cashed in Mick’s 401k to finance the seemly endless repairs needed to the farmhouse and barn. They’d done many improvements themselves, including shoring up the decrepit porch and re-hanging the barn doors. Both felt satisfaction doing the physical work they’d never had at their 9-5 jobs. But the roof was beyond their primitive carpentry skills. They had waited for a long enough dry stretch to have the roofer replace it, but it being a La Nina year there hadn’t been any time when it wasn’t raining. Now Mira was tormented by the pounding sound the rain made on the metal and the incessant dripping inside their bedroom.
. . .
The voice on the other end of the call spoke quickly and loudly as if they were trying to be heard over a din. Mira could not make out what they said, but she knew by the tone that the call was not a call of comfort; rather it was a call to action.
Swinging her feet out of the warmth of the bed she felt the cool wood floor beneath her feet. The floor that they had refinished themselves over the past summer, hand sanding the corners where the floor sander they’d rented couldn’t reach. Sitting upright changed the way the rain sounded, making it louder and more insistent. She reached over to turn on the light and realized the power had gone out. Lighting the candle that they kept on the bedside table (they’d quickly realized power-outages were common in 100 year old houses) she saw Mick toss the now defunct phone onto the bed.
“What’d they say?” she asked. Knowing it wasn’t good news.
“Johnson’s levy failed.” Mick was hurrying into a pair of jeans and pulling on thick socks. “Fuck!” he shouted as he tripped on a bucket near the foot of the bed, spilling the rainwater all over the bedroom floor.
. . .
When they’d purchased the farmhouse the realtor had explained why the house was perched on it’s own seemingly man-made hill. The Skagit Valley sat at the base of the North Cascade Mountain Range and the rivers that flowed out of the mountains were prone to flooding. While the rich soil had long drawn agriculturists to the area, the periodic flooding had led early settlers to build up dykes and levies to control the rivers and creeks that criss-crossed the flood plain. Building a house on a hill, even a small one like the farmstead was on, helped guarantee that the water could rise and fall, with the house staying above it all. However, new scientific studies showed the possibility of what they called “100 Year Flood.” The scenario involved a heavy snowpack year, caused by La Nina, followed by heavy springtime rains, leading to unprecedented flooding in all the areas between the Cascades and Puget Sound. Mina argued to Mick that if the house had survived for 100 years already it was certainly safe for the next 100. He wasn’t as sure.
. . .
When Mira got downstairs Mick was already pulling his rubber boots on over his already damp socks. She held the candle up to illuminate the room. The rain seemed quieter until he pulled open the front door. The wind snuffed the candle out. Darkness and rain were all they could see. Mark shut the door against the storm and went to find the high-powered flashlight that never seemed to be where it was supposed to be. He returned from the kitchen with the flashlight already on, its bright light glinting off the window glass which Mira had painstakingly scraped all traces of paint and grime. This time when they opened the door they braced themselves for the blast. Both wearing Gortex jackets and rubber boots they ventured onto the deck, gripping each other against the wind and rain. At the edge of the porch Mick shone the light towards the barn. The powerful light illuminated the side of the building and then passing lower, revealed the dark water that swirled around the base.
“My chicks!” Mira cried lunging for the steps off the porch.
“Mira! No!” Mick yelled as she descended into the dark.
. . .
The idea of having her own hens had been one of Mira’s main arguments for living at the farmhouse.
“Just think of those free-range eggs!” she’d enthused to Mick. “No more $4 a dozen at the farmer’s market!”
When she’d come home from the feed store with a box of 12 yellow peeping chicks, it was Mick who had to fashion together a place to keep them warm and safe. “But not IN the house.” He’d put his foot down on that one. Which left the barn, to be finally used again for what it was intended, housing animals. Not that the 11 chicks (one had died the first night in the box) made much use out of the cavernous space.
. . .
Mira quickly realized the futility of getting to the barn. She slipped on the muddy slope leading away from the house, landing hard on her backside. Mud clung to her hands as she struggled to stand up. Mick ran to her with the flashlight bobbing light onto her mud-bathed state in time to help her to her feet. She was trying hard not to cry but the fall had jarred something loose that had been building for a while. She clung to Mick burying her face into his shoulder.
“Don’t worry about the chicks. They’ll be fine in that big old barn,” he reassured her. Patting her on her very muddy back.
“But the power is out and they’ll be too cold with out their heat-lamp!” she wailed.
Keeping an arm around Mina, Mick shined the light again on the barn to see if reaching it was possible in any way. In the 5 minutes they’d been outside the water had already risen higher. He noticed one of the barn doors they had so proudly re-hung on refinished hinges was again gaping open. As he watched the door began to slowly open as if pushed by and unseen force. He realized the water was now running in earnest through the barn.
“You go back to the porch and wait for me there,” he told her giving her a little push up the hill. “I’ll be right back.”
As Mira groped her way in the dark back to the house she felt more alone in the world than she ever had before. Heaving herself up onto the porch she finally turned to look towards the barn. She could see Mick’s flashlight shining through the gaping wood walls of the barn. She had a moment of hope that he’d made it to the chicks when suddenly a sharp cracking sound cut through the storm. She watched in horror as the flashlight illuminated wall of the barn suddenly caved into itself, bringing the roof crashing down. The light no longer visible, Mina could only hear the sound of splintering wood and the sound of rushing water.
. . .
At first light Mina opened her eyes. She was still on the porch where she had fainted after witnessing the barn collapse. All was calm now. The silvery grey sky reflected into the perfectly glassy water that surrounded the farmhouse, itself an island amidst a sea of water. A small sound drew her to peer over the edge of the porch into the black water. There, on a floating piece of barn wood, was a single yellow peeping chick.
“Carrots, please. I’ll take 2 pounds of your sweetest organic carrots.” Belle Tucker asked her favorite green grocer. “I’m going to make some beautiful braised carrot for tonight’s dinner with butter, a little sugar and nutmeg.”
“Are you having a dinner party?” a man said who was standing a few steps away. Carrots, yellow, orange and purple poked out of his bag. He looked at her and smiled. He was on the tall side about six feet, skinny with a hipster beard, and dark glasses. He had on a close-to-his-head knit cap. His hair stuck out from under the cap and his long fingers were gloved. She liked what she saw.
“ Oh yes, I’m going to cook a vegetarian feast for my birthday.”
“A Pisces princess I see.”
“Well, what’s wrong with that?”
“Sorry girl, I didn’t mean that in a bad way. Actually I have a thing for you Pisces chicks, so sensitive and psychic.”
She looked him up and down and had to smile in spite of herself. “I’d better finish my shopping. I’ve got a lot of stuff to do.”
“Thanks for letting me interfere in your business.” As she turned to go a couple of carrots fell out of her bag. He rushed over in one step, swooped down just as she did and when he picked up the stray carrots they crashed heads.
“Ouch, that hurt,” she yelled loudly as she rubbed the top of her head.
He rubbed his chin and said, “That was a jaw dropping hit. I’m so sorry. Are you OK? Are you sure you’re alright?” He handed her the errant carrots. “I guess after that we should at least introduce ourselves. My name is Will and I’m a Pisces too. My birthday is March 1st and I’m a triple Pisces. I’m twenty-eight, well almost twenty-eight and….”
“ Don’t tell me you’re a musician too! She laughed.
“How did you know that?”
“Oh, I have my ways or maybe bumping heads gave me ESP.”
He laughed and when he did she noticed his straight white teeth and the well-defined shape of his mouth. She liked this.
The sun was shinning even though it was cold in Seattle, one of the last winter cold days. The Market was almost empty. The cobblestones echoed the stumbles of the regular habitués of Pike Place market life, the crafters, fishmongers, buskers and everyday shoppers. “Well, you were so right about my sign but I have a much deeper personality than just my birth sign.”
“Oh, you mean you are not so dreamy and depressed or a drug addict, eh?”
“No, I have a lot more going on than just stupid astrological generalizations.”
“Oh no, there I go again. I’m sorry once again. I’ll have to make it up to you, I’ll have to be nice and sweet to you. Do you want to have coffee with me, or something stronger? We can just pop into the Athenian. I won’t try and head butt you again and I’ll promise I won’t mention astrology any more. I have a book store downstairs. Everybody knows me. I’m actually a nice guy once you get to know me.”
She thought about his proposition. He was quite charming and he had a beautiful voice and she liked his smile. ”Ok, just for one coffee. I have to finish my shopping and get home to cook. “
They crossed over and ducked into the Athenian. There were no tourists this time of the year. The only customers were upstairs in the bar hunched over drinks. The only chatter was between the bartender and the one server who came right over and took their orders. The view from the Athenian is exquisite. The water of the Sound was deep turquoise and the Olympics were white with fresh powder. The standard fare of ferryboats went about the business of toting commuters to exurbian serenity,
“Let me introduce myself more formally than that terrible Glasgow handshake. My name is Will, short for William Anthony Grant. Let’s see, I could bore you a lot talking about myself but I don’t any idea who you are?”
“Well, you know my sign. Ah ha, I just got it. I know how you knew my sign. You heard me talking to Phil when I was buying the carrots. And I thought you just figured me out divinely!” She liked this repartee, his quickness, his directness and his smile made her feel buoyant and a little bit guilty.
My name FYI is Belle, Belle Tucker. It’s been very nice meeting you Will, even under these painful circumstances. It’s funny, I’ve never seen you around before and I am always shopping here at the Market.”
“Well, like I said. My shop is all the way down on the lower level and I am the only one working so I don’t surface often. Plus I park down in the parking lot under the Viaduct, and I just duck out the back way when I’m done, so I don’t really hang out up top. They talked easily over the two frosty mugs of Brew 66.
She took a sip of her beer. “I never drink during the day but these actually taste good. I guess I’ll be extra relaxed tonight.”
“Is it really your birthday? What are you going to cook?” he wanted to know more about this Belle girl. Hummm, he thought to himself, “what a pretty name for a pretty girl.” She was shorter than his six feet. Her skin was the color of a fine milk chocolate bar, Ghirardelli brown. Her lips were painted a rosy orange and those eyelashes were so long and thick she must have extensions like his sister. Her hair was braided into two long fat braids. He wanted to touch them, pet them and rub them on his face. He had to look away from her. He didn’t want her to think he was a pervert. The sun was going down. This time of the year the light lingered a bit longer each day waiting for spring.
She had felt his gaze as she rummaged around in her purse for her lipstick and mirror. Finding it she lightly patted on the lipstick and shut her purse. “I’d better get going it’s getting late and I still have a lot to do.”
“I still need to know what you are cooking for dinner besides braised carrots.”
“Well, I decided to be very French today as I am leaving for Paris in just a few days.”
“Are you kidding me? I have my confirmation email. Look at this. He pressed his phone got to his emails and showed her the one from Icelandic Air.”
“That’s so bizarre. I mean why with such a random encounter would I meet you right now. That’s so random.”
“What day are you leaving?”
“On my actual birthday March 2nd.”
“Thank god I’m leaving on the 10th. I mean I would be really freaked out if it was the same day.”
“No kidding but this is still too crazy. I guess we were destined to meet.”
“Here let’s exchange digits now. We have to meet up when we get to Paris.”
“For sure Will, I would like that very much.” This done they got up to leave. He touched her arm and she looked up and smiled.
He held on to her a little tighter and said, “I still don’t know what you’re cooking. I have to know before you go.”
“Portabellas en croute, scalloped potatoes, braised carrots and a green salad. And for desert a tarte tatin.”
“Damn girl, I wish I could come over tonight and help you celebrate. I have some good wine I could bring. ”
“No. You’ll have to wait. When we meet in Paris I’ll have you over for dinner and I’ll cook the same things.” He took her shoulders and pulled her to him and kissed her sweetly on both cheeks. She looked up at him eyelashes fluttering and whispered, “a la prochain Will. A bientot mon cher.”
This fancy French dinner would be bitter sweet tonight. She was getting ready to leave her old world behind, the house, the furniture and her husband of five years for a new life and she still hadn’t told him she was leaving him.
She had been thinking long and hard about how she was going to spend the money.
There were the bills, of course.
After those, there wasn’t nearly enough left to set her up for life. Just a two or three years, after which she’d be back pounding the pavement for whatever work there was in this town (or some other town) for a highly experienced supervising records clerk, work that hasn’t already been outsourced to some dollar-an-hour keyboard jockey in Costa Rica.
She could go to some community college to pick up a new trade. But what? By the time she became qualified to be a home-care nurse, she’d need one. Everything else that anybody was being hired for demanded at least a BA degree plus experience. She wasn’t going to spend the next four years studying for something she’d only do for eight years at the most after that.
That would be, at the most, a backup plan.
Something to go back to if plans A through C didn’t work out.
So: Her plans A through C, in no particular order:
• Budget travel, around the world. No particular destination. No particular itinerary. Perhaps hold up in one spot for a while, if a job and/or a man and/or a particularly spectacular place to live show up. She could just see herself lazing on some foreign nude beach, her beauty so easily outshining that of the empty headed young girls, being fed cocktails by a distinguished exotic gentleman who’s used his local influence to let her stay there with no visa hassles, because she can love him like no local woman can. Yeah, that’s not bloody likely, but why not try?
• Determine where in the US of A she’d most like to live, or where there might be work for someone like her. But did she really want to run another records center, even if there still were any that were hiring? And, aside from the weather, wasn’t any one part of America just the same as any other anymore?
• Make her own destiny. Start her own business. Maybe she could take her wrongful-termination money and run her own records center. Compete directly with the jerks who fired her. Besides, she hears it’s warm all year round in Costa Rica.
The Arrangement by Laurie Michaels
“Are you coming in or what?” Said the gallery owner as she pushed on the heavy glass door.
“Yes, I’m coming in,” said Su. “But I have to do this first.”
Su Choo had been arranging her work while she waited for the owner to open the gallery. Tonight was the art walk.
She arranged the seven small tempera canvases, being careful to shield them from the rain. Her pre-gallery arrangement was taking place in the hatchback of her old Subaru that was parked in a loading zone.
Su had painted each canvas as a natural progression from the previous canvas. Each piece was relevant to the next. She knew the difficult part was here, now.
Does the evolution make sense? Surely the appeal was in the arrangement. Would the gallery goers “get it”?
Does it have to be relevant to them or me?
Should the Bird go first or last? Maybe it should start with the arched Elderberry? Where do the Rotting Logs fit in?
Again, the gallery owner; “Are you coming in?”
“Yes, almost, give me a minute.”
Su wondered; is it possible that it doesn’t matter about the order of the canvases? Is anyone going to relate to my order of progression?
By now the rain was a steady mist and the back of her jacket was getting weighty.
Viewers have to see it from my perspective. The Fish has to go first, then the Stream and then the Dead Leaves and the Elderberry…
The gallery owner; annoyed, “When are you coming in? What are you waiting for?”
“I’m just finishing”. One minute.”
The gray carpet in the back of the Subaru offered up the blue-greens, purples and rusty gold of the canvases without competition.
Su was almost in agreement with herself, and then the Stream, then the Shallow Pools followed by the Rotting Logs…
That’s how it’s going to hang.
The arrangement was obvious now. True progression. The relationships made sense.
She fixed small post-its on the back of the canvases mapping the installation with numbers one thru seven.
She carefully stacked her arranged progression into a plastic tote and shut the hatchback. Soggy, she hurried toward the gallery door.
Inside the white walled gallery, the owner and her installers were attending to a large piece of silk painted with some type of Gutta technique.
“Finally” Su Choo”, the gallery owner’s voice echoed, “you’d think we had all day.”
The owner motioned with her free arm towards a large primitive tea chest standing in the middle of the concrete floor, “Leave your work over there”. “Don’t forget, be back by 6:30 this evening”.
After finding parking on a side street Su returned to the gallery. It was just past 8pm. The gallery walls were occupied with canvases, fabrics, metals and wood. The space was occupied with the usual edgy energy of gallery goers.
This is the dreaded part of showing Su thought. Mingling with gallery goers. How long before I can leave? Too bad I’m not high. Will my work sell? Where is it? Will it pay for my wall space? What am I doing here?
She found her work installed two-thirds of the way back on an inside wall that stood six feet high and eight feet wide. She shared the wall with Native American masks carved by someone named Eelling. Her canvasses looked foreign hanging on the wall.
Later, Su found her way back to the comfort of her Subaru hatchback where she waited for the gallery to close. She woke to the blare of a truck horn, city darkness and cold feet. The rain was steady and fine. It made the streetlights turn to liquid on her windshield.
Just after 1am the gallery owner unlocked the glass door for Su. “Come in. Come in. Congratulations. Your work went to a woman who was in love with the color palette of the first four pieces. She said they would blend perfectly with her new décor. She’s not sure where she’ll hang the other three but she was delighted to find the colors she was after”.
The caterers were busy making sharp echoes with the last of the clean up.
As many times as Su looked into the gallery owner’s eyes, she never found anything familiar. Tonight was no exception.
All Su wanted to do was find her car and go home. She took the index card the gallery owner held out to her. On it was the date and time for her next exhibit. Plenty of time Su thought.
The hair-netted boy behind the steamed food counter regarded her as if she were an alien.
“Carrots?” he asked.
It’s true, they didn’t look very appetizing. Theresa wondered if he guessed why she wanted them. She was being paranoid.
He put a scoop of rather washed-out looking carrots on a small plate. They seemed to be covered with little bits of green stuff. Parsley? It was hard to tell. They looked greasy.
“I’d like a large serving. Big plate.”
Her voice was quiet and he leaned over the counter towards her to hear. She was trying so hard not to draw attention to herself. The guy behind her in line edged closer, peered over her shoulder.
“A big plate like this?” the food service boy asked, pulling one from the stack next to the fried food counter. Theresa nodded.
“And should I just fill it? Like, cover the plate?” She nodded again.
The guy behind her was definitely curious now.
Her roommate’s natural remedies book (the only health-oriented book on their shelves) had recommended food-sourced vitamin A in large quantities. Both as a prophilaxis and as treatment. She didn’t really know if she needed either, but she was having anxiety dreams and felt like action was required. Drops of butter, or margarine, more likely, were congealing on the individual carrot pieces. They looked revolting.
Lunch first, and then the appointment. And then she could stop freaking out. Theresa pulled her meal card out of her wallet and handed it to the cashier, who only raised her eyebrows at the ungodly quantity of carrots. Then she headed to an empty table at the back of the cafeteria. She started with a tentative nibble and then commenced shoveling carrots in her mouth by the large spoonful. She hoped that none of this was necessary, but felt vaguely better that she was being proactive in case it was.
After the feast of carrots, Theresa hopped on a bus heading toward town. It had all started with that stupid, stupid made-for-TV movie she watched when she should have been studying. About the girl dying from AIDS. And then several days later, stupid Nick bragging about his ex-girlfriend and her track-marked arms. He wasn’t bragging, actually, more seeking sympathy for his poor choices in women or exoneration for breaking up with an addict that couldn’t help herself or something equally stupid. But he had to talk about it, didn’t he, and now she was freaking out. FREAKING OUT.
Theresa had only had sex with Nick a handful of times. He wanted her to be his girlfriend, he was needy that way, but she wasn’t sure how much she really liked him and wasn’t ready to have a steady guy in the middle of her freshman year. He had cute hair, and he was conveniently located – right down the hall, in fact – but he didn’t seem all that smart. He always wanted to talk politics with her and she was embarrassed by his ignorance. He was a year ahead in school and almost two years older and, well, she wanted to be wowed by an older guy. Not feel intellectually superior. Not wish he could just keep his mouth shut and look pretty. That’s probably why they ended up in the sack in the first place. He had been hanging out in her room, and decided to start reading out loud from her Marxist theory text book. She was a little drunk, and decided that kissing him would be the most efficient way to shut him up. That led to some rather mediocre sex. Mediocre, unprotected sex. She was petrified for a week and a half that she’d gotten pregnant, but her period arrived right on schedule. After that, the three or four times that she’d had too much to drink and ended up in Nick’s room or he in hers, she’d kept enough wits about her to bring or insist that he find a condom. But there was that one slip-up…which was all that the girl on the made-for-TV show had died for.
Theresa arrived at the family planning clinic with 20 minutes to spare. She considered walking around for a while, but decided that would make her more nervous. She used the same quiet voice with the woman at the reception desk as she had with the server at the cafeteria.
“I’m sorry, dear, but can you speak up?” the woman asked.
“Um, I’m Theresa Daley and I have an appointment at 1:30.”
“Ah, yes, here you are. For a ‘screening’ right? If you could just fill out these four forms and bring them back up to me, we’ll get you right in.”
Theresa took the clipboard and headed for one of the non-descript mauve chairs in the waiting room. The first form was fairly basic: name, address, age, emergency contact (who should that be? Her mother? Emergency, Gail, your daughter has AIDS!), insurance provider (oh sure), drug allergies. The second and third forms, too, were endless questions about family diseases, hospitalizations, and other boring questions.
The final form was more interesting. It was entitled “Sexual Practices.” One question asked her to circle the number next to each category that represented any part of her sexual experience: 1) Light kissing, cuddling and skin-to-skin fondling above the waist, 2) Deep kissing and genital fondling, 3) Intercourse, 4) Oral sex, bondage, anal sex, group sex, fisting. Really? Theresa circled one through three. She didn’t circle four but underlined oral sex twice. The next question asked about number of sexual partners. Nick had been number four for Theresa. The categories were Zero, 1 – 3, 4 – 75, or 75+. Theresa stared at the page. She didn’t particularly self-identify as a goody-two-shoes, but this form was definitely saying she was a slut. Maybe four partners was the number where you became high-risk for AIDS. She was pretty sure that the girl on the made-for-TV movie had only had sex with one guy, though. She chose not to circle any of the options but underlined number 4 in the 4 – 75 category. Another question asked if she’d ever been intimate with anyone who might have injected drugs or engaged in same sex intercourse OR if she’d been intimate with anyone who’d been intimate with anyone who might have injected drugs or engaged in same sex intercourse. She wrote YES in capital letters and then said, “Oh for fuck’s sake,” right out loud.
She turned in her paperwork, feeling as if she didn’t need to get the test after all, as she was clearly high risk and maybe already in some type of late stage infection. She hadn’t been feeling all that well, now that she thought about it. But maybe it was the two pounds of greasy steamed carrots she’d eaten for lunch. Good immune booster, her roommate’s book said. She thought she might throw up.
A nurse called her name from the hallway and escorted her to a small room with what looked like a school desk in the middle. It was all over in a couple of minutes. The nurse drew her blood, made her sign another form, suggested she check the box for “I’d like counseling with my results.” No words of encouragement or sympathy.
Theresa decided she wouldn’t speak to Nick for the two weeks until her results came back from the lab. If they came back okay, maybe she’d buy a new pack of condoms and try him out as a real boyfriend. Or maybe make him get a test, too, although the nurse told her you’d have to be with the same sexual partner for at least six months after testing, with no slip-ups, to be sure. Six months seemed like forever, and the no slip-ups part, well, probably out of the question. But if her test came back negative, she might be willing to give it a try.
In the meantime she was going to eat a fuckload of carrots.
DARK/PARK, smash. By Daphne Bellflower
It was dark at the park when Jill arrived. Liz tapped her foot impatiently and glanced down at her shoes. The thought briefly crossed her mind that her new Fluevogs weren’t the best choice of footwear for the task at hand.
As Jill approached the park bench where she sat, Liz jumped up and put out her cigarette. “Jesus Jill, what took you so long? I’m going to be late to the party. We need to get this thing done so I can head over there.” Liz glanced up at Jill’s face. Jill looked worried and a little nauseous. “Are you having second thoughts about this?”
“No. Got a rock. We’ll throw it through the window, grab the laptop, and get out. I need to get home before the kids wake up.” Liz looked down and saw that Jill had a large rock in her diaper bag.
The only reason Liz had agreed to tonight was because she felt partly responsible for the predicament Jill found herself in. Liz and Jill had been friends for over 20 years. This was now a loose description at best; Liz and Jill had grown apart after Jill had two kids. Liz was privately contemptuous of Jill’s choice to be a stay-at-home mom and housewife, and she found it difficult to appear interested in Jill’s activities. This was no mystery to Jill – Liz’s not-so-subtle comments and eye rolls made her position about Jill’s choices perfectly clear.
Prior to her first child, Jill had been the vice-president of an English bank, a job she secured immediately after she got her MBA at Swarthmore. Jill made great money, and had a lot of fun with it – clothes, clubs, dinners at good restaurants, vacations, and a lot of late evenings out. Jill was one of Liz’s favorite friends. She was good to go without a lot of advance notice and, most importantly, could keep up with Liz. Liz and Jill met at a mutual friend’s party, and were inseparable during their late 20s and early 30s.
Liz was happy when Jill married Johnny, a funny, good-looking partner in what was now a publicly-traded tech company. Jill and Johnny were a great couple – smart, wild, and best friends with Liz and her boyfriend Cal. The couples spent most of their free time together. They loved going to see music at clubs, heavy drinking, and the occasional coke and esctasy binge. They skiied together, the hiked together, they spent New Years Eve’s together. They all had straight day jobs, and thought they escaped the yuppie path by going out every night. But after Jill and Johnny got married, Liz watched them become a straight couple and start a family.
Liz and Cal didn’t want to get married in a traditional ceremony and did they didn’t want to get married in an ironic ceremony by some Elvis impersonator. So they decided not to get married at all. Liz and Cal had been together longer than most married couples – it was 19 years now – and Liz liked to taunt her couples friends with tales of she and Cal staying together for love and sex and adventure – not kids.
Liz and Cal watched Jill and Johnny slowly become overwhelmed by the demands of modern parenting, and they began to lose touch. Liz was amused by it all; the obsession with filling every last minute of a child’s day with quality activities, the demands of elementary school, the worries over chemicals in Baggies. Over time, Liz become less amused by Jill’s uber-mommy activities. Then Liz became bored with Jill. She no longer had a damn thing to say when they went out that didn’t concern her kids, or Johnny’s work schedule and the time he spent away from home.
Can’t blame you Johnny, Liz thought on the rare occasions when Jill could get away from her house and kids and meet her for happy hour. Why would Johnny want to come home after work to listen to the kids scream and Jill bitch. Liz could barely take it one night a month. Jill complained about Johnny’s work schedule more than she complained about the PTA. Jill was equally impatient with Liz’s tales of over-40, aging hipster activities.
“Snorting coke on your trip to LA. Really. At a club. What are you, 22?” Jill asked Liz over dinner a couple of months ago. “Liz, this isn’t going to stop you from aging. You’re 48. Are you going to keep this up until your first Social Security check?” Jill rolled her eyes and laughed.
Liz grinned at Jill. She continued to schedule their monthly happy hour nights because every once and a while, Jill’s sharp, sarcastic personality would sneak out of her modern housewife persona. “Tell me you wouldn’t do it if some guy offered it to you. Next time come with me. Leave the kids with Johnny. Better yet, use some of that “me time” and fuck some young guy – Johnny’s at work so much that you have the time.” Jill snorted and ordered another drink.
Liz was surprised to get a call a few weeks later from a freaked-out Jill. Jill’s intense child-rearing schedule rarely allowed for free time to engage in unscheduled adult conversations. Jill asked “Liz – what are you doing tonight? I need your help.” Liz started explaining to Jill that she had a party in Georgetown, and she needed to get some sleep before the party, and that tonight was bad night for any number of reasons, but Jill cut her off.
“Liz, quit talking about yourself for a minute. I need you to help me after the kids are in bed. I fucked our next-door neighbor Malcom – that skinny Microsoft guy. Remember, you met him at our Christmas party.” Jill paused for a second, then whispered “I have to break into his house tonight and get his hard drive. We took pictures when we fucked, and I was drunk. I have to get them. Tonight. Malcom’s out of town. Well?” Jill waited for Liz to respond.
Liz sighed. “Malcom? That visual is making me sick. Are you kidding me, what the hell!” Liz continued, “Jill, if we get caught, it would be super embarrassing, I don’t want to have an Internet mug shot, I look terrible in orange, I can’t miss the party, this is illegal, and…Malcom? Gross.” She thought about Jill screwing Malcom out of boredom or God knows what. Liz sighed again. “What should I wear to this event?”
A few hours later, Liz found herself following Jill through the dark streets from the park to her house. The house next door to Jill’s was dark. Liz followed Jill through the gate into what apparently was Malcom’s back yard. Liz glanced next door at Jill’s house. “Who’s watching the kids tonight?” she asked.
“Babysitter,” Jill replied. “Why do you care?”
“I didn’t know what a mom does with her kids when she’s breaking into the neighbor’s house to steal a laptop with photos of Mommy screwing the neighbor,” Liz snapped back. “What the hell happened to you Jill?”
“I grew up. I got married. I have a family. That’s what happened Liz. I. Grew. Up. Quit being such a bitch about it. So you don’t think it’s cool. So. Fucking. What.” Jill dug around her diaper bag and pulled out her rock. “OK. I’m going to break the glass, unlock the door, run in and grab the laptop. You keep an eye out for anything weird. Yell if you see something.” Jill smashed the rock through the glass, pulled the door open, and ran inside while Malcom’s security system started insistently bleating. Jill came running out with a Microsoft-issue PC. “Put this in your trunk and throw it out or back over it or napalm it, I don’t care just get rid of it.”
Liz and Jill ran through the gate to Jill’s yard, and darted into Jil’s garage, panting and laughing. “Nice breaking and entering skills. Where’d you pick those up?” Liz asked, doubled over in a giggling fit. “Some kid’s cartoon? Did you see Sponge Bob break into Squidward’s pineapple last week? Did Squidward have Sponge Bob porn?” Liz couldn’t stop laughing, but assumed this would all be far less funny if the police caught them.
“So where’s your party tonight?” Jill asked. “Can I come with you?”
“Fuck the party. Let’s pay off your babysitter and have a glass of wine. Plus, we won’t be surprised when the police head over here with a search warrant” Liz said. “I don’t want to go anywhere. I’m tired and my feet hurt.”
Thanks to all who contributed on Tuesday! As to the prompts for next time, everyone wrote a first line for a story and passed it to the left, then that person wrote another first line and passed it two to the right. it was like a game of Hearts — so appropriate for our post-Valentine get-together. Anyway, each person ended up with two first lines to choose from. For the sake of the people who weren’t there, could you all please email the line you are NOT using to the group. Anyone in need of a prompt can choose from those. And, as always, feel free to disregard the suggestions and write whatever you want!
Hope to see you all next week.
My best, Ruth
Red paper cupids decorated the windows of room six. Mrs. Levinson stood at her desk in front of her fourth grade class and picked up the large brass bell shaped like a woman with a big hoop skirt. Mrs. Levinson was a big woman in her mid forties but to the class of ten-year olds, she seemed ancient. She loved to sing and at every major school assembly, Mrs. Levinson gave her ear-splitting rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” in her Wagnerian soprano best. And like all good Wagnerian sopranos, she had an intimidating bosom that wobbled dangerously when she sang, which made the children giggle when she sang. She was quick to anger but quick to forgive. The children liked her because when Mrs. Levinson read to them, she did all the characters and did sound effects, too. She had at least six wigs of different colors and never wore the same one two days in a row.
Mrs. Levinson rang the bell once and twenty-three boys and girls bolted from their seats and scrambled around the room placing Valentines in the oversized cut paper envelopes hanging off the fronts of their desks. The class had spent an hour that morning the girls decorating them with hearts and little cupids shooting arrows, and the boys, with cars and rocket ships. The girls giggled and squealed, the boys smirked and shoved as they raced to finish delivering their cards. After five minutes, Mrs. Levinson rang the bell again and the children quickly returned to their seats.
“You may open your Valentines, children.” More squeals from the girls as they tore open the flimsy paper envelopes that held the objects of their desire. The boys acted silly and laughed as they razzed each other about liking this or that girl. Riley didn’t like Valentines Day. She was new to this school and had only started in January. Riley didn’t really know the girls in her class yet and the boys were mostly bullies or too annoying. On the playground, Riley generally avoided playing with anyone and spent recess making daisy chains or braiding grass or making little hills in the sandy dirt at the edge of the paved play area. She wasn’t rich, she wasn’t poor. She wasn’t pretty or ugly, fat or skinny, stupid or smart, any of the things that would single her out as either being popular or a target for teasing. She kept her head down and most of the children left her alone. Not out of spite, but because they just didn’t see her. She was almost invisible.
The night before, her mother had made her sign her name on the cards they bought at the store. Her mother had chosen a boxed set of Valentines with a flower motif. Her mother read names from the class list and Riley wrote them on the front of the envelopes and randomly stuffed the cards inside. She really didn’t care who got which one. She signed the one to her teacher, which was slightly larger that the others, and carefully wrote her name on the envelope. She liked Mrs. Levinson and wanted her to admire her careful handwriting. Riley and the class were writing in cursive now and her penmanship was the best in the class. Riley was meticulous about her handwriting. She loved practicing in class with the large double lined paper, making the upper case letters match exactly the examples on the penmanship style cards. Mrs. Levinson had praised her in front of the class and put her paper up on the board as an example of perfect penmanship. This was thrilling for Riley who, while a good student, was rarely held up as an example. Oddly, her fellow students didn’t tease her or call her teacher’s pet. This praise was just a blip. After all, Riley was easy to ignore.
Riley opened one of the cards tentatively. Inside was a card with a picture of a little Indian girl and boy paddling canoes toward one another. A voice balloon over the boy’s head read “Will you be-um my heap big Valentine?” The voice balloon over the girls head read, “Yes-um and HOW!” turned it over and read the messy pencil scrawl on the back “To Riley from your friend Brian H.” There were three Brians in her class. It was a popular name in 1959. Brian H. was Brian Hanford. He was good at math and dodge ball and was generally an okay boy. He lived near Riley and sometimes she would see him around the neighborhood, riding his bike or playing with some boys. He didn’t tease the girls much, and when he did, he was never really mean. The other two Brain Green and Brian Daines, were another story. They shared a vicious streak that made Riley and most of the other students more than a little wary of them. They were the Bad Brians. They spent a lot of time in the detention corner, and even in the principle’s office.
The bell rang again and Mrs. Levinson announced that Mrs. Green, the room mother (and incidentally, mother to one of the one of the Bad Brians), was going to help pass out cupcakes and juice to the children. Riley quickly stuffed the card back into her large envelope and took the cupcake and juice offered to her. The cupcake was a homemade affair, chocolate with pink icing and a large red candy heart. Riley licked the icing from around the side and then took a bite. It was delicious. Frosting smeared on her nose and she wiped it off with her napkin.
Riley looked around the room and saw that Mrs. Levinson and Mrs. Green had stepped into the hall to talk for a moment. She could see their heads through the glass window. They seemed to be having a serious conversation. Some of the boys had taken the candy hearts off their cupcakes and were throwing them at the girls who began to shriek. One of the Bad Brians got out of his seat and was bothering Jason. He had grabbed Jason’s juice and was threatening to pour it down his shirt. Some of the children were laughing nervously, glad that it was Jason and not them who was being tormented. The other Bad Brian was running around the class. He tore one the Valentine cupids from the window and holding it up in his hand, he pretended to fly it around the room yelling, “Look out, here comes Cupid!” He ran over to Melody’s desk and smashed the Cupid into her cupcake, spilling her juice all over her Valentines. Melody began to cry loudly. Three other girls, Kelly, Julie and Debbie, banded together and cornered that Bad Brian, and held him tight while Barb dumped her juice over his head. He began to yell and punched his way out of their hold, his fist making contact with Julie’s left eye. Julie began to cry. Brian H. tried to get the other Bad Brian to settle down and stop teasing Jason but he got elbowed in the stomach and he started to first yell at Bad Brian, then he too, began to cry. Riley looked out of the hall window and could no longer see their teacher and Mrs. Green in the hall.
Riley took another bite of her cupcake and drank some juice. She finished eating and put her Valentines inside her desk. She got up from her desk and walked through the classroom of yelling, crying children and picked up Mrs. Levinson’s bell. She began to ring it, swinging it gently from side to side, slowly, and regularly. The bell had a deep tone, like the sort of bell one found in a bell choir. Riley liked the sound.
Silence fell over the room like a layer of thick pink frosting. The children looked up, expecting to see a wrathful Mrs. Levinson, and seeing that it was Riley ringing the bell, they began to shout at her. Riley stood there as they began to yell things like, “Ooo, Riley touched the teacher’s bell! You touched the teacher’s bell! You are in so much trouble! You are so bad!” She looked around the room at the spilled juice, ruined decorations and smashed cupcakes on the floor, set the bell down and walked back to her seat.
Mrs. Levinson and Mrs. Green bustled through the door. The children froze and then scattered back to their seats, some still crying softly, except for Melody, who was still wailing hysterically.
“Teacher, Riley rang your bell!”, Melody tattled between sobs. Experience had taught them to expect Mrs. Levinson to grab the bell and ring it furiously to bring them to order or to yell and heap shame upon, but all she and Mrs. Green did was stand there in the front of the room, looking at each other.
“Brian H.”, Mrs. Levinson said in a surprisingly soft voice, “will you please go with Mrs. Green.” Brian H. got up from his desk looking puzzled, but went with Mrs. Green. One of the Bad Brians said “Busted!” in a loud stage whisper, but no one laughed. Mrs. Green glared at her son who shrank back in his seat and pointed to the other Brian. They left the room, the door shutting with a soft click behind them. Mrs. Levinson looked around at the chaos.
“Children, I want to quietly and quickly clean up your desks and put away your Valentines.” Her normally commanding voice was strangely quiet. This so surprised the children that they immediately cleaned up their messes and sat back down.
“I have some very sad news to tell you. Brian’s mother has been very sick. She was taken to the hospital this morning and she”, Mrs. Levinson paused, “she has had a heart attack and she died.” Mrs. Levinson fished in her pocket for her handkerchief and dabbed at her eyes.
The class was silent. One or two of the girls who had been crying gave a few gulping sobs. A boy coughed. Someone’s chair scraped the floor.
Mrs. Levinson continued, “Brian is going to stay with his grandparents for a bit and I know you children will be very kind to Brian when he comes back to school. Now let’s have a few moments of quiet before the bell rings.” The teacher dabbed her eyes again. The class was silent. None of the children in this class had lost a parent. They could not imagine a life without a mother. It was too big to hear, too much to feel, too awful to contemplate.
The bell rang. The children quietly left to catch their school buses or walk home. Riley took her Valentines from her desk, got her coat from her locker in the hall and went outside. It began to drizzle as she headed home. She walked down the hill and passed Brian H.’s house. It was dark. When she got home, she told her mother about her day, and told her about Brian H.’s mother. Her mother reached out to give her a hug but Riley shrugged her off and went to her room. Riley sat on the bed. She thought she was supposed to cry; to weep in sympathy for Brian H. but there were no tears. She just felt lonely and sad and baffled. She spent the rest of the evening looking at her Valentines. There was one from every child in the class, even from the Bad Brians. She pinned Brian H.’s Valentine to the wall next to her bed and looked at it for a long time.
Brian H. never came back to Mrs. Levinson’s class. He had moved to Everett to live with his grandparents. Mrs. Levinson had the children write him a group letter and each child signed it and they mailed it to him but he never wrote back.
The Lowells and the Stewarts moved in to the adjoining houses at nearly the same time, after Hugh Lowell and Eric Stewart were both transferred to this town by their mutual employer, a mutual insurance company.
Technically, Hugh was the new regional manager and Eric was his trusted underling. But they operated more like equal partners, a two-man firm nested within a national underwriter.
And it wasn’t just on the job. They and their wives did EVERYTHING together. The same restaurant meals. The same double dates on the town. The same summer vacations to Paris or the Grand Canyon.
At first their neighbors and colleagues teased them as being the local Ricardos and Mertzes.
Or the local Kramdens and Nortons.
Or the local Flintstones and Rubbles.
Then in 1972, during a banquet at a corporate retreat, a work colleague of Hugh and Eric called them and their wives the local answer to “Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice.”
When the room turned around en masse to look at them, the couples gave up some nervous little giggles. They had never been anything in public but two faithful pairs. They had never publicly said nor done anything to suggest otherwise. What were these people in this room thinking? The Stewarts and Lowells became even more private, only talking strictly about business for the rest of the weekend.
Then in 1979, Kim Lowell had what turned out to be a fatal heart attack. The police found her in the Stewarts’ master bedroom. They were rumored to have found some of Hugh Lowell’s belongings in there too.
A few years after that, Eric and Hugh retired, within the same month. They and Nancy Stewart retired to New Mexico. The two couples’ ashes are now interred in adjoining niches at a local cemetery. Some townspeople continue to spread a rumor that the four sets of ashes were mixed.
Nobody knew for sure what their private lives were really like.
Until the newest owners of the Stewarts’ house found something in the basement.
It was a false wall.
The new occupants, Lily Snyder and Noah Shea, found it when they had the furnace replaced.
In bed the night after they discovered the false wall, Lily and Noah speculated on what might be behind it. It could be somebody’s old drug stash. It could be weapons. It could be what ever wasn’t in Al Capone’s vault.
All they knew for sure was they couldn’t smell anything from the other side of the fake wall, probably ruling out the presence of any dead bodies.
Lily and Noah played out little fantasy scenarios. They were a 1920s gangster and his moll. They were student archeologists trapped in a cave together. They were the king and queen of a heretofore secret underground empire. Lily liked that one the best, because she got to be the all powerful matriarch of a matrilineal pagan realm, thoroughly serviced by her subservient prince consort.
The next morning it was back to the realm of brute force. Crowbars. Pick axes. Big plastic buckets to hold the shards of sheetrock.
Noah got the first peephole sized breach. All he saw, he told Lily, was “a lot of dark.”
Once enough of a hole was made to stick a flashlight into, they saw a darkened space, with somebody’s old forgotten personal effects.
When they crowbarred enough of a hole to climb through, they found the room went on longer than it ought to. It became a passageway under the easement between their home and the old Lowell home, ending at another false wall.
From the other end of that wall, Lily and Noah could hear their neighbors Lisa and Simon Holden. They’d obviously heard the banging and had come down to inspect. The Holdens knocked on the their side of their fake wall.
“It’s just us,” Lily shouted into the 2 x 4s that now solely separated the basements. She told a short version of the secret room story, and invited the Holdens over to see for themselves.
Ten minutes later, the four of them were in the long, narrow room. The space was musty and stale-aired from its decades of isolation. They were newly equipped with full coffee mugs and emptying beer bottles. Simon mounted a “trouble light” on a ceiling rafter; it illuminated the space with a harsh yellow hue.
One long wall inexplicably bore old wallpaper in a kitschy rose blossom pattern. The other long wall was naked concrete brick, behind rough wood-plank shelving. The four female and four male hands grabbed onto some of the forgotten belongings on these shelves. The two female and two male mouths blew accumulated dust and sheetrock particles off of these objects of observation.
What they found, over the course of the next half hour:
• Mostly-empty paint and varnish cans.
• Stacks of mid-century magazines; including Sunset, Playboy, Life, Better Homes and Gardens, Holiday, insurance trade journals, and some of the first Hustlers.
• Household knickknacks and tchotchkes. Ugly butter dishes and collector plates. A framed embroidery of the phrase “[house symbol] IS WHERE THE [heart symbol] IS.”
• Boxed Christmas decorations.
• Cardboard cartons containing old receipts, tax returns, and mortgage documents.
• Plaques honoring either Eric Stewart or Hugh Lowell as an insurance company’s regional or national salesman or manager of a particular year.
• Three boxes of costume pieces, unsorted. Shoes, hats, domino masks, capes, robes, togas, kimonos, tuxes, shawls, imitation-silk scarves, a belly dancer’s suit.
• Two thick photo albums, with Dymo Labelmaker type titling them as AWAY and HOME.
While the Holdens entertained themselves with the costumes, trying on the accessories and holding the garments in front of them, Lily and Noah pored through the old photos.
Both albums held pictures date-stamped or captioned between 1957 and 1981; some looked like they could be slightly older.
The AWAY book held pictures shot at major tourist attractions, in North America and overseas.
The HOME book held pictures shot in and around the Lily/Noah house, the Lisa/Simon house, around the town, and at hotels, restaurants, and nightclubs.
The pictures all depicted the same four people. Either the four as a group, or the two women, or the two men, or one woman and both men, or one man and both women, or one of the men or women solo.
But none of them, so far as Lily and Noah could tell on a quick leaf-through, showed just one of the women with just one of the men.
Lily and Noah also noticed, especially in the HOME volume, that virtually every picture that showed two or more of the people showed them gazing at one another as much as to the camera.
What’s more, Lily proclaimed that they looked “like they were all lovers.”
Lisa and Simon put down their party costumes and looked into the HOME book. They saw it too. The just slightly guilty smiles. The relaxed expressions. The doting eyes. The way each of them seemed perfectly comfortable with one another.
Then Lisa found a third photo album, labeled PARTY, at the bottom of the box of costumes.
These pictures displayed the four dressed-up, or undressed-up, in the party costumes already found in the room. The more undressed pictures were all Polaroids. Simon noted that with Polaroids, “nobody had to see your pictures except you. You never had to trust a local photo lab.”
The reason for such discretion became clear the more they delved into these pages. Some of the poses weren’t just naughty. They might have gotten somebody arrested at the time they’d been taken. Every body part was fully shown, alone or in combination with others’ parts. The pictures were mounted on the pages in no apparent order. The four past-day bodies went from young to middle aged and back again, as they engaged in genital, manual, oral, and even anal sex acts. One man with one woman, then with the other woman. The women with one another. All four together.
The first of the present-day four to admit discomfort was Noah. He made up an excuse about needing to head upstairs for some more beers. At Lisa’s silent prompting, Simon followed him.
Ten minutes later, Simon and Noah descended the stairs. Waiting for them, out of the secret passageway and in the main Lily/Noah basement.
Dressed only in accessories from the costume box.
Lisa wore a Charlie Chaplin hat, a beauty pageant sash, and a fake Hawaiian grass skirt with the plastic blades of grass pulled to either side.
Lily wore a Batgirl cape and mask, the bottom half of the belly dancer suit, and nylons with garters.
Each of the men approached his own mate. The women shook their heads and silently pointed at the men to switch positions.
Once the men were switched, Lily quietly yet assuredly explained the rules. For the rest of this Saturday afternoon. They would re-enact scenes from the Polaroids, in order. “Are you guys willing? It’s your last chance to chicken out. Speak now or forever hold your piece.”
Neither Noah nor Simon budged.
Lisa and Lily turned to one another and smiled.
For they knew they’d rearranged the order of the Polaroids.
And that scene #11 depicted the two men sucking each other off.
My Love’s a Pair of Red Red Shoes
By Laurie Michaels-Lee
These red, red shoes of mine take me thru, down, up and over. They’ve traveled down paths of clear vision with no direction.
Once, these red, red shoes were fancy, shiny and new, pinched a little and gifted a blister or two.
This pair has strutted and danced and climbed and shuffled.
This pair has taken me down paths of bloom and paths of snow, maybe a slip but never a stumble.
These red, red shoes have been re-souled countless times and no doubt, will be re-soled many more.
Now, well worn, a luster replaces the shine. A comfort replaces the pinch. The fit is one of a kind.
These red, red shoes of mine.