From Coffee Cans to Green Dresses

“I can’t believe we have to report back to school this week,” Karen lamented. She had talked Julie into coming with her while she ran back to school errands.

Julie hadn’t wanted to. She’d done her own back to school shopping at the beginning of the month. Unlike most teachers, she was one of the few who enjoyed opening up her classroom in the early part of August and performing the types of basic housekeeping and readiness activities that everyone else saved for the first days before the students arrived so that they had all in the ready but the actual lesson plans. Julie preferred to gear herself up for the inevitable with cleaning, unpacking and organizing so that when the first day back for teachers arrived, she could devote the little time there was between meetings to preparing to teach something substantial. She had a reputation for being one of “those” teachers, who spent a few minutes on the rules before plowing right into the work and who might even give homework on the first day. In truth, Julie assigned homework on a needs basis. She didn’t believe in it and was so dismissive of its necessity she didn’t even argue the point anymore. Her rules were simple in any case,

“Don’t piss me off,” she told each class. “I’m an easy person to get along with so long as you understand that I have plans and subverting them irritates me.”

But Karen dangled Target and a non-fat chai from Starbucks in front of her and like Pavel’s dog she responded, rationalizing that a teacher could never have too many boxes of Kleenex and economy sized boxes of number two pencils.

“Do you remember that boy a few years back whose nose ran constantly. Thick, green and as constant as a leaky faucet?” Karen asked after Julie shared her theory on tissue.

“And he’d wipe it on the back of his hand and then spend the next thirty minutes rubbing it to paste with his index finger and dust it off onto the floor after?” Julie asked for clarification purposes. Nose picking, she’d discovered to her disgust, was a life long habit for some.

“That’s the one,” Karen confirmed. “He used to get sent to me just about every class period during the cold and flu season because no one could believe the kid was simply a walking snot spigot.”

“I had to train him to use tissues,” Julie said. “I thought he was embarrassed to use them at first and call attention to the chronic snot stream, but the playing with boogers thing suggested otherwise.”

Karen nodded. “Do you remember his parents?”

Julie did. She’d seen more examples in support of Margaret Sanger’s birth control theories than she cared to recall over the years. There was the 26 year old man with the twelve year old son who she encountered during her first years as a middle school teacher. The twin boys who were about as close to being raised by wolves as she had ever seen. Their mother was a schizophrenic that social workers thought could be trained to be a good parent. She kept those babies locked in a bedroom closet for the first 18 months of their lives until family members were finally able to secure custody of them. One truly memorable parent encounter occurred at her very first parent/teacher conference. She sat across the table from a shaggy haired boy who seldom produced anything other opportunites to be sent to the vice-principal, although he did a credible job for her, and his Hell’s Angel mother. Jet black hair cut in the obligatory mullet of the working poor, her Hank Jr. concert tee was hacked at the shoulders and the neckline so her red bra-straps could peek out. Her right arm sported a full-sleeve tattoo of a thorny vine climbing up to culminate in a rose. On her left shoulder was the picture of a very little girl with nothing to identify her but the dates of her birth and her death. She sat stone-faced while Julie walked her through the reports from the various subject area teachers and the boy did a slow slide down the folding chair until he was just about eye-level with the table. After she finished, Julie asked if she’d any questions and the woman turned to her son and with a disgusted sneer announced, “Well, that’s it for you. No more cigarettes until these grades come up.”

But Snot Boy’s parents were a horror on another level. Julie understood where Cigarette Boy and his Biker Mama came from, and why they were likely to never rise above themselves or their circumstances. Snot Boy’s parents were nice people. They wanted to be good parents, but they just weren’t smart enough. Julie wasn’t sure just how mentally disabled the couple was, but it was more than evident that they were. She suspected that the boy was not, and he would go on to prove her right, but sweet as they were and try though they did, Julie couldn’t help but wonder what this boy might have been and could have done in the hands of more capable parents.

They were each pushing carts, but Julie’s was a prop. When Jimmy had been first ill, the only outings she had aside from the time she spent at work was when she needed to go shopping. For groceries. For household necessities. For clothing. Once Jimmy’s illness forced her to take an extended leave from work, shopping was sometimes her only brush with humanity at large aside from the few friends Brecca had who would brave their hospice-like home and, of course, Karen and her sisters, who barely counted as at large.

She followed Karen around from one aisle to another without much enthusiasm or even feigned interest. Karen noticed but pretended not to. She could be hard on Julie. When she felt her friend was slipping too far into herself which, in Karen’s opinion, was not good for her or for Brecca, she could be as brutally edged as Gemma, but she recognized that there were times when Julie just needed to be a widow, addled and absent. Karen, however, did not think she needed to allow Julie to do this in the cloistered atmosphere of her home all the time and coaxed and prodded her into the world as much as she was able.

They rounded a corner, passing the pet aisle. Decorative pet food containers caught her eye and she stopped for a moment.

“Thinking about caving and getting Brecca that purse puppy?”

“We looked for urns here.”

“You were going to bury Jimmy in a doggy dish?”

“The woman at the funeral home mentioned that some people saved money through cremation and that we could use containers that could pass as urns, so we came over here one evening and looked around. Jimmy thought that the doggy treat canister was about the right size, but we couldn’t figure out how to get the dog image off the side. I mean if we had a dog, we could have just said the dog was representative of Jimmy’s great love of dogs, but he didn’t even like dogs. He thought his mother would have gone for it anyway because she’s just that dense, and you know, she collects anything with a dog on it. She would have thought it was …… I don’t know, something sugary and hard to keep down. We almost bought the coffee container at the Starbucks but in the end I just couldn’t see myself burying my husband in the yuppie version of a coffee can.”

“He did love their mocha lattes,” Karen pointed out.

“Yeah, but I think people would have noticed the Starbucks’ logo at the wake and judged me. I mean, aren’t we supposed to pull the credit card out of ice and spend money we don’t have to bury the ones we love? Lavish funerals are representative of our love for someone, right?”

“Not everyone thinks like that,” Karen assured her.

“Most everyone does,” Julie disagreed. “And if it’s not money, it’s the number of times you choke back tears or break down completely or it’s how often you visit the grave later and decorate it with crap that just gets ruined in the rain or the snow if it’s not blown away by the wind or stolen by teenagers who think it’s funny to steal knick-knacks from the dead.”

“Let’s check out clothes,” Karen suggested in such an obvious attempt to change the subject that Julie smiled in spite of rising irritation, allowing herself to be led to the women’s department where designers trolled for dollars from women they secretly deemed too fat and frumpy to wear their knock off’s. Julie had lost enough weight from her already slender frame over the months that she could wear just about anything she took from the racks, but she hated clothes shopping with Karen. She could mix and match a hundred outfits in the time it took Karen to second-guess her way to a single shirt or pair of pants. She was grateful that Karen would listen to her talk about things like having considered burying her husband in a coffee can without cringing or telling her she shouldn’t be dwelling on it any more. Past is past, Gemma would say. Let it be and think happy thoughts was the general response of most others she might encounter. And with a pinch of pixie dust, I could fly, thought Julie. Like a pig.

“Do you have anything summery casual yet not mommish?” Karen broke in.

She was rummaging through a rack of skorts, rearranging as she did so. Karen was a store employee’s dream. She put things back where she found them and tidied up after other customers who dropped or reshelved items without regard to where they’d found them or in what state.

“I need something like that?” Julie asked, wrinkling her nose at the selections Karen held up for her approval. “And does anything say ‘mom’ like a skort?”

“I am not toned enough for shorts and little skirts and dresses screams out denial,” Karen said. “And yes, you do. You agreed to go to Summer Fest this weekend, remember?”

She didn’t and couldn’t imagine what state of weakness she was caught in that prompted her to acquiesce to such a thing.

Summer Fest was a weekend long ritual marking the end of summer. The downtown came alive for a weekend with morning farmers’ market and a day long craft and arts market, punctuated with street performances ranging from puppet shows to juggling troubadours reciting Shakespeare and magicians who lured children with balloon animals and pulled chocolate covered coins from behind sweaty little ears.

In years past, Jimmy and Julie would stroll the farmers’ market in the morning, studiously avoiding  the throngs in the afternoon by hanging around the marina on the only asset of worth Gemma walked away from her marriage with – a boat that served as the family’s equivalent of summering in the Hamptons.

“I’d have wrestled that worm I was married to in a blow up pool of jello for that boat,” Gemma declared.

And when the sun would begin its stealthy descent behind the bluffs, they would all make their way to the Clock Tower Square for the live bands and dancing.

“I don’t need anything new,” Julie said.

“I can’t imagine how you couldn’t,” Karen said. “Everything you own hangs on you like bad wallpaper.”

She dove into a nearby rack and emerged with a Marilyn Monroe over the subway grate dress in a pale green that Julie knew would pull the muddy grass color out the hazel mish-mash of her eyes. Not wanting to, she wanted the dress anyway. Like many random things of late, it tugged at dormant dreams and wants and needs.

“This is perfect,” Karen declared, holding it up against Julie’s slumped form. “You have great shoulders and you’ve always looked great from behind – even when you’re so thin, you are covergirl ugly.”

“How could I not be sold with such a winning sales pitch?” Julie asked, taking the hanger by the neck but holding it away from her as though it smelled bad.

In the fitting room, Julie craned this way and that. She was too pale. Too skinny. Her hair was in need of an expert and not her customary sheering on the fly in the en suite with whatever pair of scissors she could find. But all those things aside, Julie liked the way the skirt flounced around her knees, brushing her bare thighs in a way that reminded her it had been a long time since anyone had seen them.

Later that evening, alone again because the newly single mother of a teenage daughter spends a lot of time being envious of the latter’s social life, Julie danced around her bedroom in the dress. Slowly she swayed like a little girl pretending Swan Lake until she ran out of space and fell backwards on the king-size bed, the blades of the ceiling fan shadowing her in turn.

The Other Wife

Memorial Weekend when Julie was a little girl meant a long Sunday afternoon drives that looped through the countryside ferrying her grandmother from one church cemetery to another. Her favorite was North Garryowen. The church was long shuttered, even when she was a child, but the cemetery teemed with a shadowy life that reminded Julie still of a children’s novel she’d read in the fifth grade. The story took place in an abandoned castle where the inhabitants still lived though the only evidence of their existence were their shadows. Julie regarded her long lost relations as shades still casting influence through the stories their names pulled from her grandmother and sisters.

Even as an teenager, Julie loved walking through the cemeteries with Granny Fagan on her arm, the old woman pointing her cane at this petrified tree or that granite angel, chuckling and gossiping as though they were strolling among relatives at a reunion and not a garden of stones.

Bluffs topped with a gaudy metal crucifix that cast an alien green glow over its western edges at night on the far southern edges of town, overlooking the highway and over shadowed Mount Olivet. The cross was all that remained of a Baptist bible camp that never stood a chance of catching on with the mostly Catholic locals. Abandoned to its fate in the woods, the cross was the subject of regular fundraising drives in an effort to keep it glowing like some cheap dashboard decoration. Jimmy had loved the idea of its cheesy neon light illuminating his eternal resting place.

The late May air was a bit cooler than usual and Julie hugged herself inside the red and black plaid flannel she’d inherited from her husband. The elbows needed mending and two buttons were missing, but Julie wore it anyway, dreading the warm weather because she didn’t know how she would cope without its soft comfort wrapped around her.

The stone bench near the gravesite radiated with the kind of cold Julie expected from a cemetery where everything resided in stasis. The granite chilled her backside and she was glad she’d opted for sweatpants instead of jeans.

Jimmy’s grave was still bare but for the memorial tokens strewn over the last few week by family and friends who’d come by out of respect, longing or simple curiosity after hearing the news of the headstone’s arrival. Not knowing the proper etiquette for such an announcement, Julie opted for emails and phone calls to anyone she thought might care to know.

“Why don’t you just put it in your Facebook status?” Brecca asked when a spate of phone calls left Julie too teary and choked up to eat supper one evening.

“Facebook?” Julie asked. “Seriously? I might as well go to the party store and grab invites to the unveiling then?”

“Don’t be snarky, Mother,” Brecca said. “It’s just everyone we know is our Facebook friend and if you are going to get all weepy every time you need to let people know something about Dad, it’s a better way to go. No face to face.”

Julie didn’t bother to point out that everyone she knew was not on Facebook unless they’d been coerced during a high school reunion drive or driven to sign up in a parental form of self-defense, but she bowed to the wisdom of youth when it came to angst and posted the status of Jimmy’s new status on her status bar.

In fact the strategy worked so well that it became her default way of dealing on days when she simply couldn’t deal in fleshy encounters.

“Perhaps you should just register an account for Jimmy and be done with it,” Gemma remarked in the comment box when Julie had updated the status of her grief for the third time.

Julie was offended and wouldn’t talk to her sister for a week after but Brecca thought it was funny.

“Dad always said it would be over his own dead body that he signed up for Facebook,” she chuckled, and Julie was struck yet again at the differences between her and her child’s grief.

Grief dogged Julie from the first rays of morning consciousness through her dreams every night, but Brecca lived her fifteen-year-old life the same as she had before and during her father’s illness. Her tears were brief like late afternoon summer showers that arrived without warning and flooded the side-yard before disappearing over the rainbow and draining away into the storm sewers. She grieved like she grew, suddenly and always at the most inopportune time.

Memorial Day coincided with Jimmy’s birthday that year. He loved it when that happened. The weekend would be one long gathering that ebbed and flowed from one meal to the next and one day over to another. Maggie had wanted to commemorate the day with a barbecue at her home with family and friends.

“And a pony keg,” she complained to Karen.

“It is Jimmy’s family,” Karen said, as if Julie needed reminding.

“But she expects me to pay for it!” Julie said. “Cater it too. She wanted to know if I could talk to my brother-in-law about a discount at the store.”

Julie’s younger sister worked at the local Hy-Vee grocery as a butcher and her husband was the assistant manager. They’d arranged for the funeral dinner and Maggie had guilted them into providing Easter dinner for the immediate family through their employee discounts and connections, but Jen had complained to Julie about it later and Julie found herself in the uncomfortable position of having to set her mother-in-law straight about limits and the propriety of using one’s loss for monetary gain.

“Well, let’s just have a little party of our own then,” Karen said. “You, me and Gemma. Brecca if she wants. We’ll have a picnic at Jimmy’s place. How does that sound?”

Jimmy’s place had become the euphemism for his grave.

“I spent the afternoon at Jimmy’s place,” she would say if anyone came around the house looking for her on the rare occasions that anyone aside from Karen or her sisters looked at all.

She was not always at the cemetery but found it a useful alibi when people pried or harangued her about needing to “get back out there” or “pull herself together” with all the boot strappy connotations that usually rode shotgun with such advice. Well meaning as it was, Julie found it irritating and having a handy catchall phrase to put people into an ill-at-ease frame of being was a surprising comfort.

Since going on leave, Julie spent her days in a life of Riley limbo. Once Brecca was seen off to school, she might head back to bed for nap as it was easier to sleep during the day than at night or she would walk over to the health club for a swim and sauna. Afternoon diversions included errands or yard work or she might wander the mall with a Starbucks in hand, shopping in her mind’s eye for things that she’d always meant to acquire but now that she had money suddenly wondered why she thought she needed them in the first place. But at least once a week, Julie found herself perched like a little wren contemplating flight on the stone bench near her husband’s grave, watching spring slowly overtake the bare earth as tufts of new grass fought with the weeds for supremacy.

A simple light grey granite marker marked the spot now. It matched the weathered one just to its right, lined up as perfectly as x’s on a tic tac toe board which reminded Julie of her own unmarked grave on the other side. The inscription was plain. Jimmy had insisted.

“Nothing Shakespearean or biblical,” he said. “Just the facts. Here lies James M. Cox. Husband, father and son.”

“No mention of your beloved nature or extraordinary love and devotion?”

“No,” he said, his voice flattening with emotion and the mounting effort it took to breathe while remaining on his feet. “I wasn’t practically lovable and my devotion, being a given, hardly needs mentioning.”

“Why the change?” Julie asked.

“Change?” he said and then followed her gaze before nodding in understanding. “Mary E. Cox, Beloved wife and mother.”

He began to cough and Julie held him close to her side as he struggled to expel a blood tinged wad of mucus which he spat on the ground in front of him before pulling a tissue from his coat and wiping away the evidence from his lips.

“Wives deserved no less,” he wheezed a bit as he spoke. “If I’d been fixed better, there’d be a boulder with a short novel on it sitting there.”

“What would you put on mine?” Julie asked. She struggled with curiosity where Jimmy and Mary were concerned, and for the bulk of their nearly eleven years of marriage, she’d resisted comparing herself or asking Jimmy to do so, but the likelihood of a threesome for eternity was right there in front of her and hard to ignore or rationalize.

“Julie Ann Cox, beloved other wife,” he said without cracking the smile she could hear over the wheeze in his voice and see in his dancing blue eyes.

Julie back smacked him flat across the chest, forgetting for an instance that he was twenty pounds lighter than he’d been just six months earlier. Horrified her hand flew to her mouth and tears welled, but Jimmy laughed and hugged her around the waist.

“You couldn’t damage a fly with those weenie arms of yours,” he assured her and kissed her cheek. “About as lethal as a sparrow’s kneecap, those guns of yours.”

“Where are you?”

Julie started at the sound of her sister’s voice. Before looking up, she wiped away tears that had somehow dripped the length of her face and hung like droplets on the eaves on dewey mornings.

“Remembering,” she said.

“Productively too I see,” Gemma remarked, pointedly eyeing the salt tracks on Julie’s cheeks.

“So, I cry,” Julie shrugged. “It’s what widows do.”

Gemma ignored her and waved her over to help with the portable camping table.

“Didn’t this belong to Dan?” Julie asked as she grabbed an end and steadied it while Gemma crouched underneath.

“Yes, I got all the camping stuff and he took the electronics,” she said, “and that I feel screwed goes without saying because I would never have spent a millisecond in the outdoors but for him, and in the end, it was all a façade. He hated camping as much as I did.”

The table was up and she dragged it back and forth in search of the most level part of the ground. Not finding it, Gemma gave up and sat down. Julie slid in across from her.

“I brought cake and your favorite wine despite the fact that they clash from a gourmet perspective,” Gemma said. She reached over into a small red cooler and produced a bottle of Riesling and then a small cake box. “And I can see you brought nothing.”

“Karen told me to just show up,” Julie said.

“And you’re getting really good at that too,” Gemma replied.

Julie felt the earlier sadness lift like fog as the heat of her anger rose to claim its place. She bit back a reply because she was beginning to suspect that her sister deliberately baited her in an attempt to force her out of the comfortable funk widowhood was becoming.

“I hope Karen is bringing cups, plates and the like because I can share a bottle but eating with fingers is just too gross for me.”

While she was pontificating, Julie saw Karen’s minivan pull up behind her truck. She waved and Karen returned it, emerging from the vehicle with a picnic basket that Julie didn’t doubt was the Martha Stewart interpretation of “always prepared”.

“So, what have I missed?” Karen asked as she plunked down the basket and began unloading plates, flatware and green plastic wine glasses from Target.

“Julie was grieving as usual,” Gemma informed her as she set the table.

“And Gemma was being a bitch about it,” Julie said.

“Wow,” Karen said, “you guys are a Dr. Phil episode and that is scary on levels I don’t want to explore. So, Gemma put your jealous inner rat terrier back in its cage, and Julie? Suck it up and have some cake.”

“Jealous? Moi?” Gemma asked as she placed a slice of white-layered cake drowning in butter cream on summer themed paper plates.

“It’s the widow thing,” Karen explained. “Speaking from a hierarchy standpoint, widow trumps divorcée just like married trumps single and stay at home trumps working mom.”

“Hmmm, but having been married at all trumps spinsterhood,” Gemma said.

“I don’t think spinster is the sensitive person’s term,” Karen corrected.

“Which is why Gem used it,” Julie pointed out.

“Exactly,” Gemma agreed through a mouth full of cake, “if I can be a cunt to my poor widowed sister what do I care about lonely cat ladies?”

“My point is,” Karen said, pouring the wine as she continued, “that you are jealous because Julie is looked upon with sympathy and you are scorned as a failure.”

“Julie’s pitied,” Gemma said. “I’d rather have people cluck their tongues and whisper about what a mess I’ve made of my life than have to put up with poodle eyes and sympathy that’s just one step up from horror.”

“It’s not pity,” Karen said.

Julie shook her head and put down her fork. The cake was too sweet and she wasn’t sure she could gag down a second mouthful.

“It is pity. They feel sorry for me and are glad it is me and not them,” she said. “It’s all over their faces and in the way they pat you like you were covered in something smelly and step back quickly afterward as though you were a plague carrier.”

“I’ve never done that,” Gemma said with a smugly prideful note.

“Well, you’ve never been nice to me a day in my life,” Julie said.

“And I never will,” Gemma assured her. “Isn’t it a comfort to have one real person in your life?”

“Gemma, down,” Karen said.

Julie didn’t reply. In some ways her sister’s refusal to be other than herself through the last months was as welcome as it was maddening. Gemma was the last to offer a shoulder but her shoulder was more authentic and interested in Julie than just about anyone else.

“Oh, Julie knows I love her,” Gemma replied without looking up from the rapidly disappearing cake on her plate.

Karen broke the silence that followed with a nod towards the graves.

“We haven’t toasted the birthday boy.”

“Can you technically be said to age once you are dead?” Gemma asked.

“His mother seems to think so,” Julie said.

“Well, Mags is a fountain of wisdom,” Gemma conceded. She lifted her glass. “A toast to Jimmy. Happy birthday brother and a long eternity to you!”

Julie smiled and raised her glass. Jimmy would’ve wanted a dark ale and one of those oversized cookies they made at the mall, but his preferences didn’t matter anymore she supposed.

“Happy birthday, beloved,” she said because she decided it really shouldn’t go without saying after all.

Time Out

Julie remembered watching the Apollo astronauts being helped from  helicopters after being plucked from their oceanic landing pads. She’d thought they needed assistance because of their spacesuits which were awkward and heavy, not being designed for the burden of Earth’s atmosphere. It wasn’t until her junior high school science teacher explained the effects of weightlessness on the human body that Julie understood. They had to get used to the oppression of gravity again.

During Jimmy’s illness, Julie lived in a vacuum where only the only things that mattered had to do with getting from one hour to the next all day long. When he died, the world collapsed like a black hole around her and slowly it became apparent that she could either allow herself to be pulled steadily towards its eye and swallowed or fight the gravitational pull and move on. But like the astronauts, Julie was used to the rarified atmosphere of caregiver and wife of the walking dead. It took different emotional muscles and as oppressed as she had felt, she realized that in focusing on Jimmy, she’d neglected to prepare herself properly for life after Jimmy was dead. Gone was the iron will and Wonder Woman strength that drew praise from the peanut gallery and left in its place was a widow without the proper sea legs.

She’d worked sporadically since the first of the year. Never having need of her sick days for babies, Julie had over a year’s worth of accumulated days and a principal only too willing to let her bend the rules and use it in the care of her husband. But she’d gone back to work a week after the funeral.

“Work is good,” she assured her sister and Karen and Brecca, and their doubtful looks just made her more determined to prove she was every inch the strong woman.

She came back in time for spring conferences. Two solid days sitting on hard wood chairs under the blinding glare of flourescent lighting in a cavernous gymnasium under state tournament banners that dated back to the Great Depression. It was cold. It was pointless, as the parents she needed to see rarely showed up and those who did were spoiling for fights. And worst of all, it meant hours of time all alone in a crowd with her thoughts.

As school nurse, Karen had little to do but help the office staff with the distribution of report cards at a central table just outside the gym doors. Her contempt for this misuse of her talents manifested in frequent breaks to visit Julie in her corner near the north doors.

“Did I really spend four years earning a degree to hand out report cards and collect overdue school fees?” she complained to Julie.

Julie said nothing. The question was nearly rhetorical.

“No,” Karen continued, “I did not. If Gremmel hadn’t been so kind to you these last months with the leave thing and all, I would’ve told him to stick it up his …”

“Parent at twelve o’clock,” Julie interrupted.

Karen turned, grimaced and asked, “Should I stay close?”

Julie shook her head. This was one of three conferences she knew she could count on. The first one had been Beth Allen’s parents. Older and profoundly grateful for their daughter, they asked thoughtful questions that demonstrated their clear interest in Beth as a person as well as a student. They were also the only parents Julie would see who’d also attended Jimmy’s funeral and asked after her and Gemma. Next up was Elvin’s mother, a frazzled young woman no one would have guessed had a 17-year-old son.

“I don’t know what to do with him,” she told Julie as she handed her the report card. As usual, Elvin was failing nearly every class but Julie’s.

“How do you get him to work?” she asked. “Can’t you teach the others your secret?”

But there was no secret and she knew it. Julie liked Elvin and he liked her and English. Elvin didn’t have time for anything that didn’t appeal to him. His life was taken up with his writing, girls and shoes.

On the first day of school that year, Julie had encountered him in the hallway a good ten minutes after the tardy bell for first hour. He shuffled slowly towards her with his eyes targeted squarely on his toes.

“Elvin,” she said, “you need to hurry up. You’re late.”

“Can’t Mrs. C,” he replied without looking up. “These are brand new shoes and if I walk too fast the toes will crease.”

Mr. Timm the journalism teacher overheard the conversation  that day and for the rest of the year, he tortured Elvin with,

“Yo, El, are those toe creases?”

And Elvin looked every time.

But huffing towards her now was Ms. Vickie Skye. Julie had taken her daughter, Leslie, as a mercy transfer late in the first semester when Carmen Tate, the other English 11 teacher had taken Leslie by the arm, goose-stepped the girl out to the hall and then locked the door on her, refusing to let her back in her classroom ever.

“The only thing I want to see of that girl is the back of her head walking away from me,” she told the vice-principal and because she wasn’t the only member of the staff that felt that way, Mr. Harvey had come to Julie and asked if she could please accomodate one more special case.

Julie was the special case expert, but where once it had been a point of pride, she had come to feel that it was being used against her.

“She’s failing again,” her mother said as she dropped the report card on the table in front of Julie and herself with a whoosh of compressed air on the tiny wooden chair recently vacated by Karen.

“I know,” Julie said, trying to find the right measure of concern and warmth. Ms. Skye was the tree that Leslie hadn’t fallen far enough from.

“If you know, then why have you done nothing about it?”

Julie paused, measuring her words carefully in her mind.

“I’ve been away for a while and the substitute didn’t have much luck collecting homework or even classwork from Leslie,” Julie explained. “Now that I’m back, I am sure we can work together and get her caught up.”

“Yes,” Ms. Skye dismissed her with a wave of the hand, “I am aware that you have been off on some leave, but I thought you’d have kept back track of things. Don’t they pay you to monitor what goes on? Leave instructions for the subs? Leslie told me that man who was in for you didn’t know what he was supposed to teach and had to make things up most days?”

“Mr. Carr was left with the appropriate plans and I was in contact with him,” Julie heard her voice rise a bit and she bit her lower lip. “Leslie simply took advantage of my absence.”

“Well, maybe you shouldn’t plan vacations during the school year.”

“I had a family emergency to attend to,” Julie’s voice rose as her eyes flattened and her teeth clenched.

“We all have families, don’t we,” Mrs. Skye had mastered the art of unbalance. She counted on her opponent losing their cool and skillfully stoked the embers. “I can’t imagine what kind of an emergency a woman living on the west end with a husband and house and a cushy 9 month a year job could possibly have. Try being a single mom working full time with a child to raise and bills that always need paying. Maybe then you’ll know what an emergency really is.”

She sat back with folded arms, waiting for the reaction she could sense was coming. Julie took one deep breath and then another. She sized Mrs. Skye up from her jelly rolled waist to her platinum mullet, stopping to note that she was wearing the leather jacket with the chain-linked epelets instead of the usual fringe.

“My husband was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer and I took time off to watch him die as he slowly suffucated in the sludge that was left of his lungs,” Julie told her as she methodically gathered up her papers and grade book, stacking them neatly in front of her. She delibrately avoided eye contact as she spoke more because she knew she’d cry than because it was an effective way to show contempt.

“I didn’t know,” Mrs. Skye blinked and foolishly reached out to pat Julie’s arm.

“Of course not,” Julie said. “You don’t know anything. If you did, your daughter wouldn’t be the annoying little bitch she is.”

And with that, Julie stood up and briskly marched across the gym to the table where her principal sat with the basketball coaches discussing a NCAA brackets.

“Julie,” he greeted her. “You look like you’re on a mission. Mrs. Skye giving you trouble.”

“No,” she said, “but I think I’d like to take you up on your offer of arranging leave through the end of the year.”

He nodded to the coaches who didn’t need any encouragement to leave and glanced past Julie to see Mrs. Skye in a fury with the vice-principal.

“I’ll see you in the fall,” he said.

My NaNoWriMo has been tardy this week, but I hope to be on track soon enough. First, I had the chance to write the tolerance piece for Care2 which I totally took. Then we were on the road to Victoria all day Saturday where we encountered white out conditions on the high mountain highway between Merritt and Hope and then downpour rain coming into Vancouver. We were on a tight time-table already and just got to the ferry in time to board.

On the ferry, I had a piece of carrot cake and for reasons unknown had a rather severe allergic reaction. I am thinking it was the walnuts. I have a peanut allergy but have never reacted to tree nuts before and as I was stuffed up still from the flu and the high altitudes, it took me a while to figure out it was the walnuts. Another day in the life of the chemically sensitive mutant.

Today I am finally over the worst of the allergy, but I haven’t been writing but for the chapters in my head.

Victoria is beautiful. It’s a walkable place which I love. I walked the harbour on my own this morning and then made my way back to the hotel past Parliament where there were workers laying long strings of Christmas bulbs in preparation for lighting a huge Sequoia that grows in the front lawn. It’s massive. The trunk is the size of a small car.

We haven’t tried afternoon tea yet. Victoria’s Brit influence is quite evident. But maybe today after we stroll and look/see a bit. Tomorrow we are having lunch with Sally and her two kids.

Tonight I’ll finish up chapter four. It’s a shorter one.

Finnegan Waked

Largely unnoticed but for a quick shoulder hug from her Nana Grace, Brecca wove through the maudlin forest of her father’s friends and relations, searching for her mother.

For most of the evening, Julie greeted those came to pay their respects at the large double doored entrance that separated the funeral home’s foyer from the impossibly long, wide room where Jimmy lay in state. Because normally the bereaved widow waited at the casket for They’d walked up to him side meshed to side when mourners, this breach of etiquette caused a log jam with visitors clogging the foyer and stretching out into the unusually warm spring night. Jimmy’s mother alternated being tears and artfully concealed fuming but her appeals to Jimmy’s father and the funeral director to convince Julie to follow protocol were ignored. Only Gemma dared approach her sister and retreated with a shrug when she saw the set of Julie’s jaw and color of her eyes. Gemma knew that square clench and storm gray stare. She’d never prevailed against it when they were children and wasn’t going to attempt to better that score now.

When they’d first arrived with Brecca’s slight arms locked around Julie’s waist and Julie leaning her head atop Brecca’s and her right arm draped in a protective loop across the back of the girl’s shoulders, they found that Jimmy’s family had arrived ahead of them and were already staking claims near the simple wood casket he’d chosen for himself months earlier.

Brecca had helped Julie and the hospice nurse on duty clean and dress her father in the half hour after his death before the funeral director had arrived with the hearse to take him away. Minus the suffocating hiss of the oxygen machine and the gurgle  Jimmy’s throat emitted that reminded her of the burble of a hair clogged drain, the house was still, only the muted thump of the first strains of Welcome to the Jungle on a maddening Guitar Hero loop from the hillbillies next door to remind them that the world hadn’t actually come to an end.

The Jimmy who lay breathless and waxen in front of them was less Jimmy than his newly vacated form had been two days earlier. Painted, stuffed and sprouting hair in places that Julie was sure were long bare, he looked like the portraits of her great-grandparents. The ones colored after the fact with bright pastels in hopes of rendering life less black and white.

“Doesn’t he look wonderful,” his mother, Maggie, sighed as she attempted to wiggle her arm through Julie’s and failing at that settled for a double bear hug of both she and Brecca.

Brecca felt her mother stiffen and push her a little to the side to break Maggie’s hold.

“Yeah. Life like,” she replied.

Brecca knew the tone and caught the smirk on Gemma’s face before she hid it under her hand.

“See Dan, I told you. He looks as good as he did alive. Before, ya know,” she said, glancing over her shoulder to address her ex-husband who sat without comment or expression on a love seat with his wife, Grace near the middle of the a row of seats clearly meant for family in the receiving line.

“I don’t see why we need a receiving line,” Julie had argued with Jimmy the day they’d sat on that same love seat, surveying the room while the funeral director went to find a catalogue of caskets for them to look through.

“Catholic wakes. Receiving lines,” Jimmy said. “It’s the way it’s done.”

“Since when you are so Catholic or traditional for that matter,” she groused as he slid an arm around her and pulled her close enough that she could feel drainage tubes hidden underneath his baggy quilted flannel. He kissed her cheek and snuggled her, the plastic tubing of his oxygen line cold against her skin.

“Funerals are for the living,” he replied.

“Well this living person doesn’t need a receiving line or wake either,” she said, not wanting to fight and yet starting one without being able to stop herself.

“Babydoll,” Jimmy’s tone was more breathy and she knew he was agitated, but how could he expect her to play perfect hostess for his loutish, disloyal friends and cater to his nerve shredding mother within days of his death?

Angry with herself and him, she brushed away hot tears with the sleeve of her favorite gray sweater and pursed her lips to keep back sobs that always were frustratingly near the surface.

“Brecca and I are the only living people who should matter,” she was finally able to whisper.

Jimmy chuckled softly, kissing her curls this time.

“Aw, baby, it’s not that simple. You’ll see.”

Julie saw the family lining up. Maggie positioned herself at the head and beckoned Julie to fill the next spot with a  circular wave of her jingly ringed hand. The late afternoon light caught the zirconia and J.C.Penney gemstones creating a kaleidoscope effect that distracted Julie for a second before she smiled that divorced from her flat dewy eyes imitation of civility and said,

“I’d rather meet people at the door.”

She took Brecca’s hand firmly in her own and walked back them back they way they’d come. The room was filling and taking their cue from the family lining up like actors taking the stage, they began to make their way up to pay final respects. Few realized that the widow was striding past them but those who did stopped Julie  and tentatively offered condolences. And told their stories.

Her own memories of funerals were similar to Jimmy’s. Dead bodies on display, family meet and greets that flowed easily from weddings to funerals with hardly a second thought about the morbid similarities and that the first might simply be practice for the second. There had been no receiving line for Jimmy and Julie. They saved themselves the trouble by eloping.

“We were married by a transgender Elvis impersonator at the Graceland Memorial Love Chapel in Memphis,” Jimmy used to tell this story hard on the heels on Julie’s recitation of his Harlequin romance proposal because the contrast amused him.

What Julie remembered most about funerals where the tales told and the way lives she thought she knew revealed their shady places through others’ memories. It was as if a person was a jigsaw puzzle with pieces scattered across their lives that only come back together in the end.

At her own father’s funeral, Julie stood in the exact spot Maggie had offered her, behind her mother, and listened as one person after another revealed a man she  always suspected that she never really knew. What she didn’t know at the time was how much of the information was news to her mother too.

Brecca slipped through the side door to a long hallway that ran past the viewing room to the foyer, looking back towards the building’s entrance she saw people lined up in both directions, into the room where her father lay and out the front door into the cold inky night. In the other direction was a dimming hall that  seemed narrower for lack of light, but no sign of her mother. The last she’d seen of her was a half hour earlier when Julie had sent her to the courtesy room set up for the family.

“There are sandwiches and things. Get something to eat and sit for a while,” Julie told her.

“I should stay with you,” Brecca said although she wanted to be away from the introductions, dank embraces and the inane surprise about her growth.

“Wasn’t I supposed to?” she blurted out without meaning to and prompting her mother’s suggestion in the first place.

It was Karen who took her firmly by the shoulders and shepherded her past the group of men who made up the nucleus of Jimmy’s friends. Older looking than Brecca remembered but still sporting t-shirts bearing the names of sports teams under suit coats that hung loosely or clung to bellies that overhung jeans that would have been reality checking on women of the same age, they ducked eye contact and whispered among themselves like school boys. She cast a glance back at Julie, who smiled with the only genuine light Brecca had seen in her all day as Karen whisked her away and down the same dim hallway she faced now.

The family room was off to the left, and Brecca peeked in, seeing only Bailey and his younger brother Roth, still munching and watching television as though they were in their own living room.

“You need something Brec?” Bailey asked. He sat up straight and leaned forward on the sofa expectantly.

“Have you seen my mom?”

“She was here a while ago and then left,” Roth replied though he didn’t take his eyes from the television.

“She was with our mom,” Bailey added. “I thought they were heading back to the … room? What do you call it anyway?”

“I don’t know that it has a specific designation,” Brecca said.

“They call them chapels,” Roth supplied helpfully.

“How do you know that?” Bailey asked.

Roth picked up a brochure that was on the coffee table and tossed it in his brother’s lap.

“Says so right here,” he said.

Bailey leafed through it, frowning before tossing it back.

“What’s the point of advertising in a room that’s only used by customers?”

“Do you guys know where else they might have gone,” Brecca wasn’t in the mood for brotherly banter.

Bailey shrugged and sighed. He hadn’t done a thing right in days and was still pitching a perfect game.

“Sorry, no.”

Voices further down the hall caught her attention and with a small wave she followed them to a ladies restroom. It was locked but she could clearly hear women’s voices inside.


Silence and then a click before the door opened slightly and Karen peered out. Seeing Brecca she opened the door wide enough for the girl to slip through. Julie was sitting in a club chair in the corner.

“I told you she would be the second to notice,” Julie said.

Gemma was perched on the vanity and Karen seated her self on the closed lid of the toilet.

“I’m sure people are asking for you,” Karen said. “Right, Brec?”

“No, I came on my own because I didn’t see mom at the door.”

Gemma laughed, but Julie’s reaction was as hard to read as it had been since it was obvious that Jimmy wouldn’t wake up again 5 days ago.

“Kare-bear, your faith inspires me,” Gemma said.

“Now that I’ve proved my point,” Julie added, “it’s time to call in quits for the night.”

She stood with a slight wobble that everyone noticed but let go without comment and stretched out an arm for her daughter. Brecca responded quickly and was snuggled up under Julie’s wing as Karen and Gemma headed out the door ahead of them.

“Just have to make it through tomorrow, Mom,” Brecca said.

The naive sincerity in Brecca’s voice brought tears to Julie’s eyes for the first time that day.


Valentine’s was the anniversary of the evening Jimmy pulled off the perfect proposal. Until the cancer, Julie had been able to tell the story in great detail to anyone who asked, and many people did. Storybook engagement tales are the stuff on which unrealistic expectations and bitter comparisons thrive.

She’d worked late, having been coerced into manning the scoreboard for a ninth grade girls’ basketball game at the last minute because the shop teacher had left early with the flu that day. In her single days, Julie had been the go-to whenever coverage for a colleague was needed, but since moving in with Jimmy and Brecca just before Thanksgiving, her focus shifted. She was still a team player but only from 7:35 until 3:15. The rest of her left belonged to Jimmy and his little girl. It neither surprised nor angered those around her as much as it did her. She was twenty-five and captivated with her career and carefree life.

“I’m not looking for a boyfriend,” was her response to Jimmy’s first attempts at pinning her down. She was not interested in a 30 year old man with a small child.

But that evening, she only agreed to keep score at the game because several of the girls on the team were students whom she’d idly promised before the season began that she would come out to cheer on at least once. Julie was impatient to be home. It was Valentine’s Day. The first ever being in love. With anyone really. And even without anything to compare it to, Julie knew that Jimmy was it for her.

“That’s why we’re perfect for each other,” had been Jimmy’s response to her rebuffs. “I’m not looking to be anything less than your match.”

He hadn’t won her over in those first weeks, but he hadn’t tried either. Jimmy’s patient confidence in his own suitability for her fascinated Julie in spite of her objections. Like rapids over rocks, he subtly directed her bubbly flow and she wore  new grooves in his constant as bedrock persona and their ebbs and flows aligned like planets.

“I don’t play house,” he told Julie when he asked her to move in. She’d voiced her fears just moments earlier. Her sisters were victims of living together syndrome, in her opinion. Women who took on living in sin arrangements in hopes of a wedded upgrade only to find themselves years later with nothing but a roommate without the tangible benefits for which they’d compromised.

“I wasn’t looking for this,” she explained, “but having found it – you and Brec – I’m not going to settle for less than what I know is right.”

“I don’t play house,” he’d said. “I know what I want, but you have to be sure. I’m part of a package. What I am offering is more than lovers. More than just the two of us. I know who I am. This is for you to make sure you know too.”

They set a deadline. Easter. They would announce their wedding date to family as they made the obligatory family loop that day.

But Jimmy couldn’t wait.

Though Julie was the first off work every day, Jimmy picked Brecca up from daycare and brought her home. It was their routine before she’d been a part of their lives and until they were officially engaged, they both agreed it was a routine that shouldn’t change. But it was their only concession to practicality as Brecca absorbed Julie like a sponge who’d never before known water’s influence.

That Valentine’s  Jimmy arranged an overnight at his father and step-mother’s for the little girl and promised Julie a romantic dinner and evening on the town.

“Not John’s,” she tried not to make her request sound like pleading. She didn’t want to be known as one of those girlfriend’s. The kind who separate their men from friends and haunts with the surgical precision of a serial killer with a chain saw.

“You don’t think that’d be romantic?” he teased. “Cozying up by the pool table with a plate of curly fries and a pitcher of Bud Light? But Babydoll, that’s how we met.”

“We did not!” she said, knowing from his grin that he was hoping for a heated reaction and in love enough to give him one. “They moved the table that night to make room for the band. And we danced.”

To a hairy garage band  she later discovered were high school buddies of his. She’d been talked into going by her recently divorced older sister, Gemma, who never was one for letting the grass grow. Feeling prim and out of place, Julie burrowed into the far corner of the booth her sister had secured for them when they arrived. Gemma always had a table. She was not the kind of girl who stood with her drink in the middle of a crowded bar looking for shelter. Gemma was shelter.

Julie watched her on the dance floor, gyrating between an earthy pair who where as heartbreakingly aware of her as she was oblivious to them. Gemma danced like the red-shoed girl but she was searching for herself that night, not another man.

“Would you like to dance?”

He startled her, appearing as if summoned by a genie’s lamp. Medium height and build, Julie realized with dismay that she was a bit taller and wondered what that fact would do to his wide, though half-hidden under a full bushy brown beard, smile if she stood and accepted.

“I don’t dance well,” she admitted, hoping he would back away with grace.

“I’ll tell’em to play a slow one, just for you,” he countered, turning and heading into the throng towards the tiny stage but stopped, came back and leaned in towards her, “You can sway, right?”

She smiled. And that was that though she didn’t realize it.

Four months later, he greeted her at the door with a kiss and a caution,

“Stay out of the kitchen,” he said. “It’s a surprise.”

He led her to the couch and sat her down, handing her a long stemmed wine glass she hadn’t noticed when he greeted her.

“I’ll be right back,” he said, scurrying back to the kitchen like a little boy with a secret far to big to contain.

Julie nearly disobeyed. An aroma, spicy and warm, poked her empty tummy until it grumbled at her lack of initiative. Instead she sipped the wine and called after him,

“I’m sorry to be so late. I just couldn’t get out of duty. I’ve been a bit of a slacker and I needed to make it up,” she said.

“It’s okay,” his voice floated back to her with the delicious scent of fresh from the oven bread.

“Did you make breadsticks?” she asked, delighted by the turn of events. Jimmy needed an entourage to feel right in the world, but Julie just needed him.

“Yep,” he said as he reappeared at her feet like the Prince’s page in Cinderella.

“Are you going to help me out of me shoes into a pair of glass slippers now?” she asked playfully.

Jimmy smiled. Julie noticed for the first time that he’d shaved his winter beard down to the goatee she so loved to pull at the end. She reached up and stroked two fingers down the side of a smooth cheek not noticing at all that he had reached under the sofa and removed a small green velvet covered box.

He pulled back just a bit and opened it.

“Will you do me the honor of being my wife?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said. And that was that again.

On the 11th anniversary of that long ago Valentine’s, Jimmy went to bed and never really got up again and Julie stopped telling the story though she hadn’t forgotten it at all.

It was on that same day that Karen and John’s old house was infested with the new neighbors. Brecca watched them unload one pick up bed after another piled high in a style that would have made the Clampett’s blush.

“They have velvet paintings,” she rushed into the downstairs bedroom to report as Julie and the hospice nurse worked to settle Jimmy into the newly installed hospital bed. He no longer had the strength or breath to climb the stairs to the master suite directly above. Air whistled in and out past his graying lips with a mucous drenched gurgle.

“Elvis? Or dogs playing poker?” he wheezed.

“It looks kinda like space porn to me,” she replied before hurrying back to her spying.

“How does she know what space porn looks like,” Judy, the hospice nurse, asked curiously.

Curious herself, Julie mock scowled at her husband who feigned his most innocent look before shrugging and nestling with a slight grimace into the nest of crisply white pillows that propped him up. He couldn’t lie flat and catch his breath.

“Well,” Judy said, “that’s that for now so I think I’ll go take a peek at space porn before I leave. Call if you need anything.”

She patted first Jimmy and then Julie before leaving.

“Everyone pats me now,” Julie said, sitting on the edge of the bed, stroking Jimmy’s patchy beard.

“Get used to it, Babydoll,” he whispered. “Flat handed pity and stiff awkward hugs are your future.”

Julie smiled with her mouth and he reached up to pull at her chin.

“Happy Anniversary,” he managed before a violent cough nearly dislodged him from the bed. Weakened though he was, he gripped Julie’s forearms trying to steady himself as he fought to expel bloody yellow phlegm and find air at the same time.

Julie smoothed his thinning hair without any outward reaction. The first time Jimmy had been seized with a coughing fit, she’d nearly wet herself with fear but now she alternated between hoping he would break through and wishing he would simply quit trying so hard.

Gradually he relaxed as the slimy sputum ran from the corners of his mouth and he was able to catch his breath again. She plucked tissue from the box on the nightstand and wiped his chin and lips.

“Happy Anniversary, baby,” she said.

Opening note: Unexpectedly Dee and I are both ill, so nothing got done yesterday aside from articles I needed to write-up for the new education blog (live soon).  I don’t know what losing a day will do and I am going on holiday with the family next week, so factor that. Comment or suggestion as you please. It’s a rough draft but for a couple of chapters I wrote long ago and plan to work in.

It’s a Trailer Park Kinda Life

Karen’s divorce finalized just after the start of the new year. The for sale sign which had popped up in the yard in the fall after her husband, John, had moved in with the 20-year-old Hooters waitress he’d knocked up became a sold sign. And just like that another of life’s foundations shifted uneasily beneath the weight of Julie’s world. Six months earlier, the four of them cranked up the grills every Friday night, potlucking between patios while their teenage children raided the grilled goodies and disappeared into  sticky August evenings. Fifteen years left little new to discuss but plenty of memories to rehash. Without trying Julie realized she’d become the mother half of her parents. She recalled summer nights playing kick the can until the fireflies were the only illumination in the fenceless backyards that made up the playing field while her parents and her friends’ parents laughed, drank and played cards. They hosted by turns, but the formula never varied. Seared meats, a relish tray, chips and an assortment of homemade desserts to sample.

Karen and John had moved into the house next door after a rapid succession of renters pushed Jimmy into putting up a privacy fence that exceeded the subdivision’s code by an even two feet.

“Someone’s going to turn you in,” Julie pointed out. Rules were immutable in her worldview but from Jimmy’s vantage they were flexible to the point of being guidelines at best.

“That’s what a saw is for,” he told her.

No hurt. No foul.

And then the rental agency, tired perhaps of the revolving door, abruptly sold it. Karen was pregnant with Roth and dragging her four-year old Bailey from the car when they met. Julie, a newlywed and struggling instant mom of a five-year old girl, instantly recognized her kindred spirit trapped inside the body of a stay at home mother.

“I hate this,” she told Julie. “I shouldn’t be moving away when you guys need me.”

“You moving two blocks,” Julie said. “I think we’ll be okay.”

“That’s not the point,” Karen said. “None of this should have happened the way it has.”

They were in the kitchen like Custer at the Little Bighorn  by  half-packed boxes mocking their attempt to divvy up 18 years worth of Correll, Pampered Chef and Tupperware. The boxes were labeled “me” and “douchebag”. Douchebag’s boxes were brimming with the tattered and mis-matched.

“If it’s ugly, stained or came from his mother, put it in those boxes,” Karen had instructed.

Julie didn’t comment on her friend’s observation. The day after Jimmy’s diagnosis, she’d decided that dwelling on thoughts about fair or what should be would only be distracting and in the kind of way that turns a woman into a bitter cat lady. Fatally jaded and living among creatures that would lick anything off themselves was not a healthy life’s path in her opinion.

“Dave should be dying and not Jimmy,” Karen said.

“Don’t say that,” Julie said quietly as she sorted through the flatware. There were no fewer than three complete sets in the drawer. Her own cutlery drawer harbored fugitives from nearly every stage of her adult life. Spoons from the Currier Hall dining room. Two matching place settings she’d bought from a next door neighbor of her parents who held a garage sale that summer before she’d moved to Nogales for her first teaching job. And the garish Fiestaware inspired survivors she’d schleped back two years later when the job market loosened and she finally found a position at the local high school where she’d taught on and off ever since.

“Why not?” her friend countered. “It’s true. No one will miss Dave. Except for that idiot minded little slut who thinks a forty something with an ex and two kids is the romantic equivalent of the Powerball and our equally without taste dog. Even the boys won’t talk to him and they’ve pretty much forgiven him every asinine thing he’s ever done until now.”

“You make it sound like some people deserve to die and others are too good for it.”

“And that’s not true?” Karen didn’t look up from her seat on the pantry floor where she was arbitrarily assigning the generics to her ex-husband’s boxes of foodstuffs.

“He’s making you divide up the food?” Julie asked.

“No, it’s just easier than making a run to the food pantry today, and you didn’t answer my question,” Karen replied.

“No, I didn’t,” Julie said as she dumped all the utensils into a douche box. “Let’s just go to Target and get you a new kitchen.”

She didn’t want to debate the ideas of a destined universe without karmic overtones versus a chaotic, uncaring one. It really didn’t matter in light of reality. What is mattered and what should be was the stuff of Disney Princess movies.

Karen looked up, beaming.

“What an excellent idea.”