Fog wrapped it’s arms around Gig Harbor, Washington. The Sunday afternoon sun loosing the battle to the fog.
Nineteen-year-old Zack Taylor ran up our street. His strawberry-blond curls bobbing in pace. Riley, his two-year-old, black Labrador retriever at his heels.
“Hi Mrs. C.. I see you almost got all your Halloween decorations put away,” he said, panting in rhythm with his dog. Their breath blending with the fog. He wore a black Metal Church t-shirt from the 1990’s. It stretch across his chest. It was meant for someone a size smaller.
“I see you stole your mom’s t-shirt again,” I said, laughing, running my fingers through my short brown hair. If he knew what his mom did to get that shirt, he might never wear it again.
“She finally gave it to me,” he said, with a fist pump. “Do you want some help with that?” he asked, pointing to the life-sized zombie staked to the ground.
Riley wandered around the yard. He sniffed the moss, ferns, rhododendrons, fir and cedar trees, Oregon grape, and rocks. Leaving his mark on the non-existent grass and anything suspicious.
“Sure,” I said, pulling out the last stake holding the zombie upright.
Zack caught it mid-fall. It forced him backwards. Riley barked. The fur on the back of his neck rising. “Down boy,” Zack said. “It’s not real. See.” He made the zombie dance in front of him.
Riley sniffed the air. He inched toward the zombie.
Zack yelled, “Boo,” and thrust the zombie forward.
Riley jumped back. His tail went between his legs. He whined, crouched, and circled us. A low growl for accompaniment.
“Zack, that’s enough,” I said, borrowing my mother’s official “Mom” tone, “stop teasing your dog.”
Zack stared at me. Surprise flickered across his face. “Sorry, Mrs. C.,” he said, contrition flooding his voice. Lowering the zombie, he asked, “Where does this go?”
“Follow me,” I said, leading him into the double car garage. “He should fit on top of that shelf,” I said, pointing to the empty top shelf labeled “Zombie,” just above the shelf housing the candles and stemless wine glasses. I moved my white step ladder out of the way.
Zack tucked the zombie onto the shelf. “How do you get that up there by yourself, Mrs. C.? No offense, but he’s bigger than you are.”
“I may be short, but I’m scrappy,” I said, pulling up the sleeves of my black and white striped rugby shirt.
Richard walked out into the garage. He wore his favorite gray sweat shirt, the sleeves shoved up to his elbows. His tall, lean frame towering over me and Zack. He shook Zack’s hand. “So what brings you over?” he asked, eying Zack’s t-shirt. His devilish grin spread across his lips.
“Riley and I were out for a run.” Riley laid at his feet. His head popped up. His tail wagged. “I spotted Mrs. C. picking up the last of your yard decor,” he said, shoving his hands in the pockets of his navy blue sweatpants.
“Zack helped me put away the big zombie,” I said, smiling. Tapping my lips with my index finger, I said, “He also told me his mother finally gave him that t-shirt.”
“I see,” Richard said, nodding his head. The depth of his voice conveyed a double entendre which sailed over Zack’s head. “Well, since you’re here, you can help me shelve the last of these tombstones.” Richard handed him the Ogre Yoga tombstone.
Zack stared at it for a minute. He mouthed, “Tired of munching on human bones all day.” He looked up. “I have very fond memories of this tombstone,” he said, running his fingers across the white painted board with black lettering.
“You mean, like the time you lifted it from our yard and wired it to the back of your dad’s car?” I asked, winking. “And he drove to Seattle and back never knowing.”
Zack fair skin produced a pale shade of red. “Something like that.” He looked back at the tombstone. His head popped up. Hope spread across his face. “Can I have it?” he asked, the pitch of his voice left the basement and headed for 13-years-old.
“Zack, I’ll tell you what,” I said, glancing at Richard. “You graduate from college and it’s your graduation present. I’ll even frame it for you if you want.”
“You’re on Mrs. C.,” he said, clasping the board against his chest with his left arm. He shook my hand with enough vigor, I thought my teeth might fall out.
Little Black Kitty, the neighborhood vermin assassin, trotted into our garage. He carried a dead mole in his mouth. He froze when he saw Riley.
Riley sprang to his feet. He lunged for the cat.
Little Black Kitty leaped six feet up. He landed on the top shelf with the zombie.
Riley charged. Jumping at the shelf and hitting it with his body. Bouncing backwards—falling to the ground with a grunt.
The shelf tottered. It tilted forward.
We yelled, “NO,” in unison, and lunged for the shelve. Little Black Kitty dropped his mole. He leaped onto Richard’s work bench, knocked over the bags of Epsom salts and alfalfa meal sending them onto the floor, and raced out of the garage.
Riley sprang to his feet. Before he moved two steps down the driveway, Zack grabbed his collar and held him back.
Gravity over took the shelf.
Richard and I jumped backwards. The shelves crashed. My heart slammed into a dry throat looking for an exit. The boxes housing the wine glasses burst open spraying glass shards, sending shatter echos down the street.
Richard threw his arms around me, spinning me out of the way. Pieces of glass grazed his left hand and arm. A curved piece of glass embedded in the back of his hand. Riley barked and dragged Zack down the driveway.
Colorful euphemisms flavored the air.
“Richard, are you all right?” I asked, my words ending in a squeak.
Blood trickled down Richard’s hand. It dripped from his fingers.
“We need to get you in for stitches,” I said, my voice quavering. My stomach churning a two-and-a-half somersault with a twist.
“No, Fannie, I’ll be fine,” he said, the color rising in his face. “I’ve had worse and you know it.” The inflection of his voice slamming the door behind him.
Zack walked into the garage, Riley at his heels. He stared at Richard’s hand. “Whoa, Mr. C., you really need to go to a doctor.”
Richard’s eyes flashed. “I’m not going to a doctor, and that’s final.” His voice smoldering on the border of anger. Leaning forward, cradling his bleeding hand, and speaking with a slow, deliberate pace, emphasizing each word, he said, “I’ll tell you what. I’ll get this to stop bleeding, you start cleaning up this disaster.”
Zack stiffened. Riley whined. I felt the hairs on the back of my neck salute.
* * *
Two days later Richard walked into the house carrying the mail.
“Fannie, would you look at this?” he asked, his voice carrying wonder. He held up a hand-crafted, thick, blue-gray envelope with our address handwritten on it in Clarissa’s, Zack’s mom, artistic cursive. “It’s from Zack,” Richard said, handing me the envelope.
The envelope contained a letter on matching stationery and a $100 gift card for Pier 1.
In Clarissa’s handwriting, ‘Dear Mr. and Mrs. C, I want to apologize for Riley’s and my part in destroying your Halloween decorations. Please accept this gift card as payment toward replacing the wine glasses.’ Followed by a scribble meant for a signature and a post script in slightly better scribble, ‘P.S. I hope you haven’t changed your mind about the ogre tombstone.’
Our eyes met. Laughter poured from every orifice.
“Looks like we’ll be making a trip to Pier 1 this weekend,” Richard said, catching his breath and rubbing his hand.
Taking his hand, I asked, “Are you putting Neosporin on these cuts?” The mildly red, puffy cuts on his hand not healing well.
“Yes, I am,” he said, pulling his hand back. A defensive tone colored his voice.
* * *
I entered the house a moment ahead of Richard Thursday evening after work. We walked into the bright yellow and white kitchen. On the end of the yellow linoleum counter sat the white cordless phone. The indicator light on the phone flashed.
I pressed the button.
“Fannie, it’s Dr. Malarkey. I’m making a house call,” he laughed like Santa. “Okay, you got me, I’m calling your house. Velverlorn called. Give me a call back. And forget the Neosporin, get out the Epsom salts.”
I met Richard’s eyes. They darkened slightly. His lips pressed into a straight line. He drew in a deep breath, puffing it out his nose. His shoulders tightened. “Fannie, I thought it was a crank call until he mentioned your mother. Who is Dr. Malarkey?”
The words rushed out of me like they were running from a fire. “He used to practice here in Gig Harbor before he retired. He’s practically family. He grew up in George and Bunny’s house across the street. And he even delivered me when I was born.”
“And why does he sound like the Uptown Santa?” Richard drummed his fingers on the yellow counter top.
I put my hand on his arm. “You’ve already met him. He is the Uptown Santa. I didn’t want our pictures ruined if you found out he was a doctor. Richard, he’s really good—and not a pill pusher.”
“Is Malarkey really his name?” he asked, skepticism crept into his voice.
“Is Richard Cranium really yours?” I asked, my right eyebrow taking the street car to the top of my forehead. “You didn’t corner the market on unbelievable names yah know,” I said, trying to squash my sarcasm. “His dad lost a bet to his uncle and had to name his first born, Phul O’ Malarkey. I’m sure YOU can imagine what he went through growing up. You should hear the story he tells about going before the medical board and receiving his M.D.,” I said, laughing.
Richard’s shoulders softened. “All right, call him back,” he said, the tone of his voice radiating doubt tinged with irritation.
YES. I gave myself a mental high five. I dialed Dr. Malarkey’s number.
“Fannie, you’re mom filled me in about you know who and the you know what,” Dr. Malarkey said, his voice filled with jovial conspiracy. “It’s one of the oldest cures in the book, forget everything but the Epsom salts.”
“Epsom salts, we use those in the garden. How do we use it?” I asked, glancing at Richard who sat on the kitchen bar stool next to me listening to the conversation. His face a stone mask—the New Zealand warrior kind, except he hadn’t stuck his tongue out at me yet.
“You’re gonna heat up enough water to fill up your 9” x 13” glass pan, cause with the size of Richard’s hand, the 8” x 8” I usually prescribe won’t work here,” he said, laughing with a tinge of Santa thrown in. “Put two tablespoons of Epsom salts into the water and stir until it completely dissolves. While the water is still hot, but cool enough to soak his hand in it, soak it for five minutes. Repeat this four times a day until the redness disappears.”
“That’s it?” I asked, surprised.
“Well, don’t drink the water, it’ll have small particle of puss floating in it,” he said, in doctor speak. “Although, if you do accidentally drink some, don’t drink too much, or you’ll quickly be performing a scene from ‘Colonoscopy, the Musical,’ IF you know what I mean.” He laughed: Ho, ho, ho—snort.
A chuckle escaped Richard’s lips.
* * *
Richard parked the Love Wagon—a red Ford F150, with disco ball and futon in the back—next to a late model, silver Mercedes C-Class coupe with a personalized license plate, ‘BON VIN’, in front of Pier 1 Saturday morning.
We walked into the store. Sunlight filtered through the clouds and filled the front of the store with muted light. One customer shopped on the far side of the showroom. Four clerks dusted and stacked inventory.
The clerk closest to us, about my height, wearing a black apron, asked, “Can I help you?”
“Yes, we need a lot of stemless wine glasses. Do you have any in stock right now?” I asked, looking toward the glass wear on the left side of the store.
“Follow me,” she said, with a smile. She lead us to a wall covered with dark-stained wooden shelves. They supported a myriad of glass ware. Above my head, two shelves displayed stemless wine glasses in a variety of sizes.
Richard said, over the top of me, “We’ll take ’em all.”
The clerk faced him. Her eyes wide. Her tongue thrust just through her lips. “All of them?” she asked. She licked her lips.
“That’s right. I’ll help you carry them,” Richard said, a smile spread over his face.
She looked at me.
“He’s not kidding,” I said, shaking my head. “Do you have a basket or some boxes we could fill?”
“Okay, I’ll be right back,” she said, over her shoulder, her voice conveying resignation. She disappeared into the back of the store.
Richard found a couple of baskets. He handed one to me. We made our first trip to the counter. The store manager cleared a space for us. She pulled out a large box of gray wrapping paper. The clerk met us back at the shelves.
On my second trip to the counter, a slender woman in her late fifties—with a perfect silver wedge hairdo, diamond stud earrings, platinum bangle bracelets, an enormous solitaire diamond ring on her left hand, a platinum, champagne-bottle broach with diamonds for bubbles pinned to her jacket lapel and her nails manicured a soft lavender to match her outfit—stood at the counter.
I set my basket on the counter about a foot away from her.
Making eye contact, she said, in a warm, friendly voice, “Our daughter got married a few weeks ago. One of our friends gave her several stemless wine goblets like the ones your purchasing.” She waved her hand toward my basket. “So when they got back from their honeymoon, they invited us over for their first meal in their new home. We brought a couple of bottles of Verite La Joie to celebrate.” The smile lines around her eyes made her eyes glow. Her lips spread into a joyous smile. “What a generous gift you must be giving someone,” she said, her gray eyes dancing, complimenting her hair color.
Richard walked up behind me with the last box of glass wear. “Oh, these aren’t for gifts, they’re to put in our yard.”
The woman stiffened. Her chin shot up. Her nostrils flared. She set the items she held on the counter. She slid her purse up over her shoulder and straightened the lavender-color jacket of her suit. She marched out of the store, and climbed into the silver Mercedes. The engine started. The tires squealed in reverse.
Richard set down the box he carried. He put his hand on my shoulder. “What do you suppose got into her?” he asked, the tone of his voice full of amazement.
Scratching my head, I said, “I don’t know. Maybe she forgot everything but the Epsom salts?”