Shoeless Jill Madge woke up to the sound of wind, whistling around the cabin. She had been drifting in an enchanted place, where her children were still little, cuddly little roly-poly people. People who wanted to sit on the sofa scrunched up next to her while she read them books.
She reached for her tea – it was cold. The fire in the Franklin stove was getting low. She got up slowly, pulling her body back together from a state of diaspora. She tossed a big chunk of wood into the stove and surveyed her wood supply. Kindling looked good, but it wouldn’t hurt to bring more wood in – enough to last through tomorrow night.
The sun was past mid-day. In addition to firewood, it was also time to go check on the car. Madge started layering up, with her aging tan REI jacket as a base. Soft knit hat, scarf wrapped around her neck, the good coat, gloves. Ready. She stepped onto the porch and took in the cold air through her nostrils. The wind was biting, chapping the exposed skin on her face. She went back inside and put on her long johns and a ski mask as the new base and then the rest.
Back outside she watched for a while as the wind shook the trees, shaking snow off in thuds onto a foot of snow beneath. She shuffled through the snow to make a path down the hill to the garage. Once there, she started up the ancient Jeep. Like a top, she thought. She let it run for a few minutes. She was letting its juices run, she thought. The Jeep was like a friend to her. It had been her mother’s. The cabin had been her mother’s. Mother’s one big indulgence after she got the settlement from Dad’s death. She checked around the garage. Everything was as it should be. The battery charger and the generator encouraged her sense of self-sufficiency. She turned off the engine of the vehicle and locked the garage.
The road was a mess. The county snowplow had not been up the road since this new round of snow and there were tracks where the brave had ventured. Ill prepared and foolish people going to town for what? Beer?
A small sound caught her attention. It sounded kind of like a generator over on the other side of the hill where her neighbor’s house was, but why would Franny need to run her generator? And it had a kind of a squealing sound. She was curious.
Madge trudged up the road wishing she had brought her walking stick. And that she was wearing her good snow boots. She walked up the gentle hill trying to keep inside of the most recent tracks. The noise got louder as she got closer to Franny’s driveway but when she got to the turnoff, the sound was further up the road. So up the road she went.
She rounded the corner and saw a car off to the side of the road, stuck in a ditch, with the back wheels turning and making an ever-shriller noise as they labored against a tree. Madge felt a jolt of adrenaline move her body from weary to high alert. There was someone in the car. She was sure of it.
She climbed into the ditch and tried to open the door on the driver’s side, but it wouldn’t budge. Maybe the frame was bent. She went around to the other side of the car and got the back door open. As she climbed in, the car heaved down a notch from her weight.
The driver was slumped over a deflated air bag wrapped over steering wheel. By the hair, it appeared that it might be a woman or a maybe it was a man with long hair. Or a girl. Or a boy. It was human being, that was for sure. With great difficulty, Madge worked her hand down to the seat belt lock and popped it open. Luckily for her, the unconscious person was of small stature. Madge lowered the front passenger seat and dragged, pulled, and pushed the body out of the car. As she thought of the idea that the person was not a human being, but rather a body, she stopped her feverish work and checked to see if the person was even alive. There was a pulse and the person appeared to be a woman, or perhaps a girl.
The car started to shimmy, and Madge finally thought to turn the engine off. The silence was both calming and frightening. No one was handy to help her with this. If she did slog all the way to Franny’s house what use would that be? Franny was old and frail and an idiot. She would have to take care of Franny, who would probably have hysterics. Ix-nay on Franny.
With the victim resting outside the car, Madge calculated her choices. No, don’t leave her here while you go use the land line back at the house. Checked her phone just to make sure. No bars, as usual. Sometimes if she got to just the right spot, she could get service, but that wasn’t with a foot of snow on the ground. Okay, so drag this thing back to the house.
Madge was thankful numerous times on the slow journey back to her house, that the woman was light. When she got to the house and got the casualty up on the sofa, Madge collapsed on the floor next to her. She noticed that the woman’s shoes were gone. She leaned over to feel the closest foot. It was cold. She decided this young thing needed a name - “Shoeless Jill” would do for now.
Madge took Shoeless Jill’s socks off and wrapped her feet in the quilt she kept on the couch. She tugged Jill’s jacket off and added a blanket to cover her hands and all. She got up and stoked the fire, added a log, put the kettle on, and set up two teacups. Ever the optimist, she thought. She heard a small noise, a guttural moaning. She grabbed one of the kitchen table chairs and pulled it up next to her patient. She sat close and watched as Jill fluttered her eyes open, took one look, and then shut her eyes hard. Her “No,” was the softest possible articulation, but Madge heard it.
“No, what, Jill?”
Jill opened her eyes again, this time with a started look on her face. She tried to sit up but quickly thought better of it. “Where am I? Who are you? What happened?” she said querulously.
“You were in a car accident. Your car is in a ditch. You probably lost control because you were driving on an unplowed road with a lot of snow. No chains. I’m Madge. I rescued you and brought you up to my house. How do you feel?”
“How do I feel? I feel like I was in a car accident. I’m fine. I just need to rest up a minute.”
“What’s your name?”
“My name?“ After a long pause, she said, “Jill. My name is Jill.”
“Well,” Madge said, “I guess I’d better call 911 so we can get you checked out.
Emphatically, Jill said, “No. Don’t do that. I’m fine. Or I’m gonna be fine. Just give me a minute.” She reached into her pocket and took out the smallest cell phone Madge had ever seen.
“No signal out here, dear. You’ll have to use the land line.” Madge got up and fetched the phone. It was an old black rotary phone, original to the house when it was constructed, sometime in the 1950s. She handed the heavy monster over; Jill picked up the big handset and held it to her ear. Her face puzzled, she handed it over to Madge. Madge listened. No dial tone.
“I’m not surprised. There are so many places that line can go down between here and town. The phone company will be around to fix it quickly enough. Probably sometime tomorrow.”
The skinny little missy looked at Madge with a weary smile, “Perhaps it’s for the best.”
No Particular Place to Go Madge got up and made tea. A nice robust Earl Grey with honey and milk. She was so glad the power was still up. She did like that fossil fueled electricity. It was too shady for solar panels. She had a big propane tank down by the road – ran the stove and heated her water. But she like the Franklin the best. She tried not to think about carbon. She wasn’t going to be able to solve that by herself. Life is a struggle and then you die, all for no apparent reason. She couldn’t solve the problems of the world. She really just wanted to be let alone, to rot in peace out in the forest, far from the sound of the road.
When she brought Jill the tea, Jill was grateful and drank it greedily. Her face was starting to show mottled bruising from her intimate relationship with an air bag. They inventoried Jill’s aches and pains, which included all of her torso. Her arms and legs seemed to be fine, and she was able to get up and use the bathroom by herself.
Madge found some socks and her back-up slippers and put them on Jill’s feet. She had Jill change out of her clothes and put on some pajamas. She loaned Jill her fuzzy bathrobe. “How about if I make grilled ham and cheese sandwiches with some canned pea soup?” she asked.
Jill started to say, “I’m vegan,” but then she stopped herself. “That would be great. Thank you. Thank you for saving my life, Madge.” She looked at Madge with the sweetest, most sincere expression, and Madge was taken back to a time when her girls were that age. So endearing, Madge thought.
They ate at the kitchen table. Madge always enjoyed that table – it was wooden, round, covered with red and white checkered oil cloth, and a kerosine lantern held down a stack of paper napkins. As they ate, Madge tried to elicit information from Jill, but it was rough going.
“So what are you doing up here?” was the first question Jill rebuffed.
“I was just taking a drive in the country. I wanted to see the snow.”
Wow, thought Madge. If that is true, this girl is an dimwit. She doesn’t seem that kind of stupid so she must by lying. I guess time will tell. She smiled at Jill. “So do you have someone you need to call?”
“Not really. I am on a break from work. I don’t really have any friends out here yet. I just moved to Seattle a couple weeks ago and I haven’t really gotten to know anyone yet. Just getting acclimated at work.”
“Where do you work?”
Jill made a face, pulling her upper lip down and grimacing slightly. She shuddered ever so faintly. “I don’t want to get into that. Let’s talk about something else. Let’s talk about this. Is there any way you can get my purse out of the car? And my documents out of the glove box? And maybe my suitcase out of the trunk. And my briefcase?”
“Well, I can try,” Madge responded kindly. “Right after I wash up these dirty dishes.”
“Oh don’t worry about that,” Jill said. “I can do that. I can make myself useful.”
Jill got up gingerly and started clearing the table. Madge dressed for winter and went out, shortly coming back in with an arm load of firewood. Jill was leaning with her back against the kitchen sink staring at her phone; she looked up guiltily and dropped the phone back into her pocket. Without a word, she went back to work on the dishes, whistling a tune which turned into “Whistle While You Work.” Madge was amused. Madge got out a piece of paper and a black marker and wrote “Questions? Contact Madge at the second house down the hill.” She found the blue painter’s tape, her go-to tool for all kinds of useful labeling projects.
As she walked along, she discovered two shoes. They were black flats that looked about as sturdy as a pair of ballet slippers. Madge shook her head. What can that girl have been thinking? Madge put the shoes in her pockets – one on each side. They stuck out a little, looking like goblin ears with her puffy coat for a head.
When Madge got to the car, she looked around and smelled around. The car appeared to be stable with the nose resting up against an embankment and the body resting on the edge of the ditch. None of the car was sticking into the road and it wasn’t really visible from the down hill side. It was quite noticeable from the uphill side. She smelled no gasoline. That was good. She shoved the car and it didn’t move. She tried to reach the trunk, but she would need a ladder for that . . . a ladder she would have to borrow. There had to be a better way.
She got into the car carefully. It did not move about. She taped the note onto the inside of the driver’s side window. She took the car key out of the ignition and put the set of keys into her jacket pocket. She looked for Jill’s purse which she found wedged under the driver’s seat. She unzipped it, emptied the contents of the glove box into it, and then zipped it back up again,
She investigated the back seat to see if she could get into the trunk that way. She found some webbed fabric tabs and tugged them down to open the back seat. The contents of the trunk slid down all around here. She was not much injured by the suitcase, the briefcase, and a toolbox. She pushed the suitcase and the briefcase out the open car door, wiggled out, and shut the car up, locking it tight. She put the keys into the purse, looped it over her shoulder and then pulled the suitcase back to her house.
Jill was resting on the sofa, wrapped in the quilt, holding a fresh cup of tea. “Do you want some tea?” she said, starting to get up. “No thank you. Not right now.”
Madge started the time-consuming process of removing her outer clothes. She hung the wet pieces on a clothes rack by the front door. Madge handed Jill the shoes and then the purse. Jill set the purse down next to her on the sofa and dumped the shoes on the floor, seemingly uninterested in either. “Those shoes are so dainty for walking in the snow,” Madge said in a questioning tone.
“Yes, you can get away with any kind of shoes in the city. Everything is swept clear of snow, plus there isn’t really snow in Seattle. More like endless rain, init? I didn’t really think about it when I drove out here. I just wanted to get out of the city and see snow. I was packed to do something else, and I changed my mind. I could see the snow on the mountains from Seattle. I knew if I drove east, I could find some.” After her long speech, she stopped suddenly and looked down at her tea, moving her finger up and down the handle slowly.
“Well, that makes sense, I guess,” Madge pondered. “Well, quite frankly, I’m exhausted. I haven’t had this much physical activity in a long time. Years. I’m going to take a shower and go to bed. I’ll set you up some bath towels so you can clean up how you like. I guess you have a toothbrush in your suitcase . . . “
“I do have a toothbrush. Thank you so so much for getting my stuff. And for saving my life. You saved my life. If you hadn’t found me, I probably would have froze to death. I don’t know. Maybe I would have woken up and gotten out of there but . . . I think you saved my life. So I owe you one.”
Jill had a way of blurting out a lot of information at once, Madge thought. A little, a lot, or nothing. Not much in-between. Well, she’d had a rough day, hadn’t she? Poor little missy. And with that, Madge went off to get ready for a much-deserved sleep. They both slept in the next morning. Madge woke up when she heard the shower going. It startled her at first and she was out of bed in a flash. Then she remembered . . . oh yeah, Shoeless Jill.
She was making a breakfast of oatmeal and canned fruit with wonderful tea, her favorite beverage, when Jill came in, toweling her hair. Jill stood in front of the crackling stove and warmed her wet head.
“You know I named you ‘Shoeless Jill’ when I saw that your shoes were missing,” Madge said, laughing. Jill laughed too.
“If the shoe fits . . . or wait . . . if the shoe doesn’t fit . . . well there’s gotta be a joke in there somewhere,” Jill commented.
They were eating in an easy silence when they heard footsteps on the front door followed by a vigorous pounding on the front door. Madge attended to it, opening the door. “Hello Frank! Hello Teddy! Come in, come in!” she exclaimed joyfully.
Two handsome clean-shaven men came in. They took turns hugging Madge. “So I guess you’re here about the car, eh?” she said. “What in the world? A car butt-end up in a ditch? On our little country road? Some fool . . . “Frank’s voice trailed off into silence as a collected himself, staring at the young woman seated at Madge’s breakfast table.
The bruises on her face were pronounced; she was lightly black and blue in a mottled pattern over parts of her face. “How in the world did you get your car into that mess?” he asked, in a kinder tone.
“I don’t remember,” Jill said stiffly.
To Madge, he said, “We saw your note in the car window. That was a good idea.”
“You put a note in the window?” Jill asked anxiously. “What did it say?”
Madge responded, “It just said to talk to me if anyone has questions. We take care of each other out here on the hill,” she finished sternly. Then to Teddy and Frank she said, “So you fellahs are on the way into town? On this bad driving day?” “Yes, my love, we have the chains on and we’re ready to tackle the world! We’re getting haircuts at Tony’s and then brunch at the Chez Elizabeth.”
Madge snort laughed. “Brunch? At Chez Elizabeth? You mean lunch at Betty’s Diner?” She smirked. “I’ll have to remember that. Chez Elizabeth.” Then she stopped laughing and turned more serious. “Can you do me a favor when you’re down there? Drop by Leo’s Garage and have him bring his tow truck up here and pull that car out of the ditch. I want him to see what it would take to get that thing back on the road. I think the frame might be bent, but let’s see what he thinks.”
“Sure thing, Margaritaville. No problem,” Teddy said.
“Do me a favor,” Jill interjected. “Can you have this Leo guy keep my car inside the garage? I don’t want it outside. Teddy and Frank looked at Madge, questions in their eyes.
Madge shook her head. No. Don’t ask, she warned with her eyes rolling almost imperceptibly in the direction of the girl. Teddy took up Frank’s hand and announced, “Sure, fine, honeybee. Well, I have to take this delicious morsel down to get his hair cut. Look at what a mess it is.” Then he smiled and looked sweetly at Frank. “So we’re off!” There were, of course, more hugs in parting, and they were on their way.
Secrets The sun came out and the temperature rose. The snow in the sunny places started to melt into a pock-marked and slushy mess. Leo dropped by to discuss payment with Madge. “Put it on my tab,” she said. Leo smiled and winked at her. Madge emitted a low-level cackle and then pursed her lips creating a lop-sided smile. Then she gave up any suppression of her emotions and smiled broadly. “We’ll talk about that more later, sir.”
Leo grinned. The corners of his mouth crinkled up making dimples; his eyes scrunched up in mirth. Then he tipped his grungy work cap and departed. Madge watched him striding away down the soggy path. Well, that’s a fine figure of a man, she thought. Madge made bread, four big loaves. Jill read the book she found on the coffee table, Sometimes A Great Notion. She didn’t ask permission and she took the bookmark for her own. Her face was swollen in the morning but by the evening the swelling was starting to go down. The bruises were already starting to change from blue and purple to green and yellow. Oh, to be young again, Madge thought. What a quick healer. I used to be like that.
Dinner was canned stew, the bread, and peas from the freezer. Madge got out a bottle of white wine and poured into small cut glass goblets. Not quite large enough to be wine glasses, and not quite the shape, also too heavy. But they were pretty, and Madge found that it slowed down her consumption to serve it this way.
Madge drank slowly but refilled Jill’s glass whenever it was empty. She told stories of her life before moving to the cabin (BC she called it) and more stories of her life after she moved into the cabin (AC), explaining how her husband had left her to go “traveling about.” That was what he wanted to do, and that was what she did not want to do. So they were still married but rarely communicated. Her children were busy with their own lives and there wasn’t room in the cabin for them to stay. When either of her daughters visited, which was rarely, they stayed in the Best View Motel down in Gold Bar. Both of them were eternally unhappy with her for not keeping their dad close at hand. They were unsympathetic to her willingness to give him his freedom to do what he wanted. They never heard from him, except for a birthday card once a year, always mailed from random places they’d never heard of before. “What’s done is done,” Madge would say, never defending herself, or him for that matter. She just let them rant and complain until they were ready to move the conversation on to a new topic.
Finally, Madge started probing her now drunken houseguest, easily finding that Jill was an orphan. Of course she’s an orphan, Madge thought. Or at least she feels like one . . . Jill gave up that she worked for a janitorial services company in Sacramento where she was the youngest and only female manager of a group of work teams. She had recently moved up to corporate headquarters in Seattle because the regional manager had thought she had “promise.”
But when Madge pressed for information about her work in Seattle, and why she was taking a break from work so soon after moving up there, Jill clammed up. Jill picked up the empty wine bottle and asked, “Do you have any more of these.” Madge told her, “I can’t drink any more tonight, honey. That’s all we’re having today. Maybe tomorrow.” And then she got up, making the motions of getting ready for bed.
When she came back from using the bathroom, Jill was slumped on the couch holding her purse. She was digging around in it. She found what she was looking for. It was a wad of money; looked like tens and twenties, but a lot of them. One of the bills slipped out of Jill’s hand and floated to the floor. Madge picked it up. It was a C-note. “Gimme that,” Jill slurred. Madge gave her that and then helped Jill close up her purse and lay down on the sofa. She covered Jill up with the blankets. Jill shuddered and then fell asleep, snoring immediately.
Well, at least I’ll be able to hear that she’s sleeping, Madge thought. She was starting to get a bead on this strange girl. Madge felt deeply that Jill was not dangerous to her. She thought that Jill was a victim of some kind, and that as long as she wasn’t crossed, Jill would cause Madge no harm. She hoped her instinct was right.
Bees Make Honey In the new morning, both of the women were hung over. Jill’s was the typical dry mouth headache kind, Madge’s was the inflammation stiffness kind. Her hands hurt. She made orange juice from a container in the freezer and served it with toast and eggs – the last four. She needed to go check on Franny and get some more eggs.
“You want to go with me to get eggs? It’s just a walk up the hill,” she asked.
“Um, my head hurts?” Jill said crankily.
“Here, have some Advil and drink more juice. That’ll fix you right up.”
“Sure it will.” Jill took the glass of orange juice Madge was offering and drink it down as though it was medicine. Then she burped loudly. “Tell you what. You go get the eggs and I’ll lay on the sofa and rest my eyes.” And with that, Jill returned to the sofa and pulled the covers over her head.
Madge walked over to Franny’s to get eggs. She brought a loaf of bread and an empty egg carton. Franny was doing well for a really old person. Franny opined that there had been a lot of cars going up and down the road lately, cars that didn’t belong. “It’s a dead end you know. Nobody should be coming up here what don’t live here.” Madge told Franny about the stranger looking for snow and the car in the ditch. “That’s a fool for a girl, that is,” Franny derided.
Madge nodded. “But she’s a stranger in need, old thing. I like her.”
“No accounting for taste,” Franny grumped. But then she put the kettle on and made tea, stirring in honey from her own hives. “I made this honey,” she asserted.
“You made the honey?” Madge asked archly.
“Okay,” Franny replied, suddenly less grim. “The bees made the honey and I stole it. I stole this honey.” And that put her back into a more cheerful mood. The conversation turned to more prosaic matters, such as when the phone company was going to reconnect their line and why the county always plowed their road last, “by the time they get here the snow will be completely melted,” and how it was better in the long run that they didn’t get any cell phone reception. “Keeps the riff-raff out, don’t it?” When Madge got back to the cabin, Jill was up, showered, and had made a minor mess in the kitchen cutting slices of bread and leaving the knife, cutting board and crumbs as well as the jam jar out on the counter. “Don’t worry about the mess, Madge,” I’ll clean it up in a minute. This bread is so good! And this jam, what is this?”
Madge sat down next to Jill. “Blackberry.”
“So good. I love it. Did you make it?”
And Madge was drawn in. She not only had made the jam, put it up so to speak, but she had picked the blackberries. She actually had a lot to say about the process. Jill leaned back, chewing each bite slowing as she enjoyed the story. “I wouldn’t mind helping with that,” when Madge’s story tapered off into silence. Madge’s face was a soft smile. “That’s a summertime job, love.”
Jill smiled back, “I know that. Just sayin.”
“Your face is looking much better, Jill,” Madge said, changing the subject. “I hope you can come with me tomorrow. I need to go to town for supplies while the weather is good, or not horrible at least, and I want to go to Leo’s garage and find out what’s up with your car.
“Oh I don’t want to go to town,” Jill said reluctantly.
“It’s your car Jill. You need to fix it. Don’t you have someone you need to call? You can’t just sit on my sofa for the rest of your life.” Madge paused. “Can you? Is that your plan?”
“Oh my god no!” Jill exclaimed. “I didn’t say I wouldn’t do it. I just said I don’t want to. Don’t be such a . . . oh never mind. What time tomorrow?”
Jill was close-lipped for the rest of the day. Madge let her sulk. She was used to being alone.
Leo’s Garage Jill seemed to be back in a good mood the next morning and they talked about Madge’s plans for the outing. The first stop was going to be the garage. When they got there, Leo outlined a plan to get the car back on the road. He needed $400 up front to buy parts. “The tires look okay, actually, but the front axle is bent, and some other stuff also will be needed. I’ll go down to the auto wrecker in Monroe and pick one off one of the parts-cars.”
“$400 seems awful cheap,” Madge offered.
“That’s just for the parts. It’ll be another $200 for the labor.”
“Sold,” Jill piped up. Madge and Leo looked at her, surprised. She had been invisible, and then she wasn’t. Leo extended his hand to Jill, and they shook on the deal. Jill walked away, rummaged in her purse, and then came back, holding out four hundred-dollar bills. “Here you go.”
“I’ll make you out a receipt,” Leo said.
“Don’t bother,” was Jill’s reply.
“Madge, can I talk to you in private?” Leo said. “Jill, you can wait in my office. There’s a phone in there. You can use it. Madge and Leo walked towards the back of the garage, heading for a staircase going up. Madge slapped Leo’s ass as they started up the stairs. Jill was shocked. And then not. Then she laughed.
Time passed. Leo and Madge came downstairs, and Leo went back to work; Madge looked for Jill in the office. Jill was not there but there were origami cranes littering the desk. They were made from paper taken from a stack of flyers on Leo’s mess of desk. Madge picked one up, turning it around in her hand. The colors of the flyer were incorporated into the design. Quite striking. Leo didn’t make these, she thought. Jill did?
Looking out the window into the parking area in front of the garage, she saw Jill crossing the street from the Good Will store. She was wearing aviator sunglasses and a grey hooded sweatshirt with the hood up, carrying her coat. With the hood up she was unrecognizable.
She stopped near Madge’s Jeep and got out her cell phone. Soon she was talking to someone. Leaving a message, by the looks of it. Madge came out and walked towards her. Jill took off her shades and looked Madge straight in the eye. “I appreciate that you are letting me stay with you. Can I stay longer? Until my car is working?”
“Of course. No problem,” was Madges simple reply, delivered with a smile. “I’m happy to help you. Pay it forward and all that.” “Thank you. It means more than you’ll ever know.” And Madge thought, I don’t know about that. I think I will get to know. Something is wrong here. It’s not you, pretty young thing, but it’s attached to you. You’re hiding something.
The Quiet The next few days were quiet. Madge and Jill settled into a routine. Jill was constantly interested in all the mundane tasks that filled Madge’s days; splitting firewood into kindling, baking bread, reattaching the plastic that served as storm windows, cleaning the endless supply of grey grunge that built up on the floors. Jill was curious about everything including how the generator worked, how it was connected to the electricity in the house, why it was safe to store gasoline in cans in the garage (it wasn’t). She inquired about why Madge started the car every day (to make sure it’s still working, to turn the engine over, to make sure the battery is still working). She wanted to see how the battery charger worked. She wanted to know where the firewood came from and why Madge stacked it the way she did, in a pattern that looked like plants; (because it amused her to do so.)
Madge enjoyed the company. Jill was nothing like either of her children; Jill was less comfortable in her own skin and seemed to have no ambition. Madge’s girls were self-sufficient independent women, highly functional. They were not particularly interested in Madge’s life; they had their own interesting lives. Plus they were bummed out that their father was so distant. They blamed Madge, even though, as Madge reasoned, it was not her fault that her husband wanted to travel, and she didn’t want to travel. They should blame him! But that’s not how the world works. We blame what’s handy, don’t we?
One day, Leo showed up. He had driven Jill’s car up, to check that it was road-ready and to deliver it since it was. The three of them went down to the garage, beside which he had parked the older model Honda. “It ain’t much of a car, but it’ll do. I didn’t do any repairs to the body for looks, just took care of the function. It’s safe to drive, but looks like hell, don’t it?”
Jill reached into her pocket and took out two hundred-dollar bills, crisp, folded in half neatly. Fanning them out, she held them up. “Two hundred, right?” Leo nodded a yes and took the money.
Madge invited him up for coffee and he assented. She made coffee for Leo, and tea for herself and Jill. They sat at the kitchen table, pushed up against a window with a view of the densely wooded hill next to the cabin. They talked about the weather for a bit; another snowstorm was due in the next day or so. “And the snow from the last one isn’t completely gone,” Madge remarked. “So Jill, now that your car is fixed, what are your plans?”
Jill looked surprised. “I hadn’t really thought about it,” was her weak response.
“Don’t you need to get back to work?” Madge inquired.
“I’m in no rush. I am taking a break from work. I can pay you. I want to stay here a couple more days. Would that be okay?” “Sure, kid,” Madge responded, a puzzled look on her face. “But you don’t need to pay me.”
“Oh say, before I go,” Leo started up, seeming to want to change the tone of the conversation, “I wanted to tell you about something kind of weird going on in town.” This got the attention of both of the women.
“Something happened? What, that slug Ernie parking his car in the middle of the road again?”
“Nah, nothing like that. Strangers. A couple of guys are camping out at the Valley Motel. They are inquisitive buggers. They’ve been in town a couple of days now, and they are just looking around at everything. They say they are looking for property, but they seem more interested in looking inside people’s garages. Today they were poking around at my place. They were looking at your car, Jill. They made an offer to buy it. A beater like that? They wanted contact information for you.” The color had drained from Jill’s face. “You told them I was here?”
“Oh hell no. I made up some bullshit about how the car was left on the side of the road outside of town, broken down, and how I was keeping it for the sheriff. A slim story, I’ll admit, but best I could do.”
“Madge! Let me put my car in your garage!”
“What? Okay, Jill, it’s time to tell the truth. The whole truth,” was Madge’s answer.
“Okay. It’s not as bad as it sounds. I’m not a criminal,” Jill began.
Wild Thing “When I was in Sacramento, I was a hot shot at ACME Janitorial Services. I was good at my job and I was fun. By fun, I mean that I was having sex with anyone I wanted. I had an affair with my boss, at least that was what he would call it. What I would call it was having sex, partying, drinking a lot, dancing a lot. Doing as I please and let the devil take the hindmost.” “This was working out fine for me. I made no commitments. No one was in love with me. It was just life. But then the owner and CEO of ACME, Mr. Argo, came to town. He was there to visit the building, get to know the employees. So he took all us top management out to dinner and one thing led to another and I ended up in his room at the Kimpton Sawyer Hotel. What a swanky place. I’ve never stayed in a place that nice. And he had the best room, up at the top, with an amazing view. And room service. And we had a great time. He isn’t that old, not 40 I don’t think.”
“So when he made the offer for me to move up in the company and relocate to Seattle, I jumped at it. More money works for me.” “When I got up there I was staying at a residency hotel while I looked for an apartment. Mr. Argo, Bill, came out there to see me. The sex was great but he said he didn’t like being in such a low rent place. It’s not low-rent! It’s perfectly decent and not cheap! But he didn’t like and he wanted to me to move to a nicer place. I told him I didn’t have the money for that. ‘It’s just temporary,’ I told him. But he insisted. He said it could be a perk of my relocation bonus package. So I told him that sounded great. Which it did.”
“He said he was going to have some movers come get my stuff, which sounded pretty cool. But they didn’t look like movers. They were wearing suits. They were really muscular. They had short hair cuts. They made me nervous.” “I didn’t have a lot of my stuff with me, just what I could fit in my car. The rest is still in storage in Sacramento. They loaded it up into a company van and told me to follow in my car, which I did. But we drove into a residential area, went through a gate and drove up to a gigantic house. It was his house, Mr. Argo’s.”
“The ‘movers’ put my stuff in a very nice room overlooking a swimming pool. I was angry. I called Mr. Argo. His secretary said he was busy, so I asked for her to set up an appointment for me. She said she could fit me in that day. So I drove down to the national headquarters and waited in the cafeteria for my appointment. I ate a lot of tacos. They were good. But they sat in my stomach like rocks.”
“Finally, the time for my appointment arrived and I went up to have it out with Bill. ‘I don’t want to live at your house, sir. Our relationship is casual. I’m not getting into a serious relationship with you, or anyone else.’ Bill wouldn’t look at me at first. He stared out the window at his amazing view of the water, with all kinds of boats, bridges full of moving cars, green trees parted by stately homes and businesses. Campuses, they call them. I wondered at why I wanted to cross this very rich man, but ‘NO’ I was NOT going to live at his house.”
“I am actually very good at my job, sir. I don’t want you to have any mistake about that. And I like the sex. I like you. I just don’t want to live with you.”
“Finally, he stopped staring out the window, and looked at me. ‘Alright,’ he told me. ‘I misread the signals,’ he said. Misread the signals? I dunno about that, but whatever. Anyway, he said he would help me find a nice apartment near work. It would be a perk. ‘So just stay at my house for a couple day, until we get you set up. Does that work for you?”
“So I stayed at his house. I loved the place. I want a place like that for my own someday. Why not? I’m a good manager. And my cute ass doesn’t hold me back. Or so I thought.”
“That Thursday, he asked me if I wanted to go with him on a trip over the weekend. He said he was going to Aspen for a meeting of business colleagues. He said we could ski. I love skiing. So I said yes.”
“I drove my car into work on Friday with my suitcase packed. I was excited. Towards the end of the day, I went up to his office to ask him about ski clothes; all my ski clothes and my skis are in storage in Sacramento. His secretary was away from her desk, so I just went over to the door. I paused for a second, because it’s such bad form to interrupt someone while they’re working, but I needed to get back to work. I was almost done reading all the training and organizational manuals. I had found numerous typos and I was preparing a report to present requesting that the errors be corrected. It wasn’t really part of my job, but someone needed to do it. I thought it was pathetic.”
“That’s where it all went sideways. As I opened the door, I heard Mr. Argo talking angrily. ‘That’s it, Joe. He’s done. Get the movers to clean him out. I don’t want anything left or him or his business. And it damn well better look like an accident.”
“So I quietly closed the door and went down and got my briefcase and left in my car. I went to the bank, which I am so grateful that I’m with Bank of America, because no matter what state I am in, I can get at money. I took out $4000 in cash, which I still have most of left, except what I gave Leo.”
“Then I just drove. It got dark and it was snowing but I was afraid they would find me. So I thought I would sleep in my car on a side road. You know the rest.”
Jill looked at Madge and Leo expectantly. Madge and Leo were looking at each other. They seemed to be having some kind of conversation, but there were no words to it, so Jill couldn’t tell what they were thinking, what they were deciding. “So are you going to help me? I feel so safe here. I don’t want to leave.”
Madge finally spoke to the anxious young woman sitting at her kitchen table, drinking her tea, and turning her life upside down. She sighed. She looked at Leo. He nodded a supporting encouragement.
“Yes. I’ll help you, Jill. If that’s your real name.”
“Okay, my name is not Jill. My name is Amy. Amy Dodge. So, I can stay here?”
“Yes, you can stay here until you figure it out. Why didn’t you call the police?”
“Don’t be absurd. They wouldn’t believe me. Bill is a powerful man with thugs at his disposal. I think he’d have me killed. I think he was having someone killed. No fucking way.”
“Well, that’s settled,” Leo said. “Let’s go move her car like she said. Then you can drive me back to work. I have things to do.” Turning towards Amy, he said, “We’ll figure something out. We’re hiding your car. You stay away from the road. Try not to worry too much.”
Amy snort laughed. “Good one, Leo.” She shook her head and laughed again. “Try not worry . . . too much.”
Madge and Leo moved the Jeep out of her garage and parked Amy’s Honda in there. Madge drove Leo to his garage. When she came there was a black BMW iX parked in her short driveway. It was blocking her entrance to her garage. She squeezed the Jeep around it, barely scraping some trees. She didn’t mind the damage to the Jeep, but she was worried about the trees. She made a mental note to check on the trees after she dealt with whatever shitstorm was brewing up at the cabin. She would have sprinted up to the house, but she just didn’t have the knees for it, so she lumbered up there at her usual steady pace. The front door was open. She peeked in and saw the evidence of a struggle. Coffee table was moved, rug was flipped up, magazine rack was tipped on its side with magazines and papers spilled out.
She heard something. A noise coming from behind the cabin. She walked around to the back on a narrow concrete path, being careful not to slip on snow or ice still lingering in the shade. Now she could hear it. Amy was yelling loudly, inarticulate words or sounds. She could hear a low calm voice of a man. She headed up the hill in back of the cabin, up the narrow hairpin path. She arrived at a small clearing just in time to see Amy shove a strange little man with all the force and fury an angry woman can muster. The man fell over backwards, slamming his head on a tree. Then he was still, just leaning up against the tree. Madge moved forward, heading towards the man. His eyes were open, but they were still and expressionless. She reached out and touched his shoulder; he was unresponsive. She applied some pressure to his shoulder, and it moved but his head didn’t. She peered behind his head from the side. He was stuck on a broken branch. Impaled.
“He’s dead,” Madge announced, non-judgmentally.
“He deserved it,” Amy said. Madge raised her eyebrows and thought about it.
“I reckon he did,” she replied. “Well, you picked the right spot for it. This is a graveyard. She was looking down at a rectangular piece of stone, set into bit of concrete. Amy looked at it too. It was a gravestone. It said, “Rover.” “So that’s where we buried my husband’s dog. That dog was the actual love of his life. He loved me, but never as much as that dog. Okay, help me with this. I don’t like having him stuck on that tree like that. I take it this is Mr. Argo.” Amy nodded.
So they laid Mr. Argo on the ground. Madge found his car keys in one of his pockets. She took all the other loot from his pockets and handed them to Amy. Then they headed back down the hill to the cabin.
Amy dumped the wallet and other ephemera of the dead man’s life onto the dining room table and started picking up the mess she and he had left behind. Madge went down to her garage and rearranged the cars so Argo’s car was inside the garage. She covered it up with the emergency blankets she kept in the Jeep.
When she got back to the cabin, Amy was making tea. She seemed remarkably calm for a person who had just killed someone in a violent struggle for her life. Madge checked the phone. Eureka, there was a dial tone. She called Franny. “We need to have an emergency meeting of the Rover Society tonight. Can you make the calls?” “You bet honey. I’m right on it,” Franny answered.
They didn’t all show up at once. Franny was first to arrive. She was wearing rubber boots and was carrying a bag. “Flower bulbs,” she offered as an explanation. Teddy and Frank arrived next. They were also wearing work boots and additionally carried a bag and a dirty shovel; they left the shovel and bag on the front porch. “Franny said, “You should clean your tools after you use them, boys.” Teddy shook his fist at her, in mock indignation. Frank said, “I told him that. He never listens.” Leo arrived last. He was carrying one of those bags that holds four bottles of wine. And there were, indeed four bottles of wine visible in the bag. They took up seats around the coffee table, bringing the chairs from the kitchen to fill in the empty slots needed for sitting. Madge and Leo uncorked and poured wine. There were only two actual wine glasses, if you can call those stemmed cut glass goblets wine glasses. Madge gave Amy one and kept one for herself. The others got their beverage in plastic tumblers and one small canning jar. She gave that one to Leo.
Madge broke the small talk with, “This Amy Dodge, but from here on in, I think we better go back to calling you Jill. Jill, tell your story.”
Jill told her story. It took a while. There were questions. Then there was silence. Finally, Franny said, “So we’re not calling the sheriff?”
“NO!” came the voices of Madge, Jill, and Leo, almost simultaneously. Frank and Teddy also agreed, although less vehemently.
“So what’s the plan, ducks?” asked Franny, as though she were asking the directions for a board game. Jill was amazed at the whole thing and really had nothing to contribute, but the others quickly devised a plan, or rather agreed to something they already had agreed to somehow. Intuitively.
Leo headed down to the garage and got a shovel and then followed Teddy up the hill. Soon all of them were up there, squeezed around the edges of a hole they were digging at the grave of Rover. Madge and Frank took turns digging. They arrived at a wooden box about three feet long and two feet wide. It seemed to be holding up well given its length of time in the dirt. “Redwood is a good coffin material,” Franny commented as they put the box over on the side of the clearing, on the other side of the deceased man.
They kept digging, taking turn, sharing the gloves Teddy had brought up. Finally, they hit something. “Okay, this is the spot,” Leo said. Jill peered down into the hole. “What the hell is that?” she shrieked. She knew what it was. It was a skull. “Oh that. That’s Able. The remains of my dearly departed husband,” Madge finished. And then she turned to start dragging the corpse of dead Bill. “Room for two in there,” she said. “Or three counting Rover.”
Aftershocks They covered Mr. Argo with a layer of dirt, and then place the box of Rover on top of that, and then they filled in the rest of the hole with most of the dirt piled up next to the gravesite. Franny planted the bulbs she had brought. “This way it will look like the reason you bin digging is to plant these bulbs,” she said, looking upon her work with satisfaction. “These will look real pretty in the spring.”
The dirt that didn’t fit neatly with the grave, they scattered around the area, tossing some into the woods, and they brought debris from the understory out to cover up the mess they’d made of the area around the gravesite. Then they carried the shovels and bags back down the hill. “Leave the shovels leaning by the front door,” Madge said. “I’ll clean them tomorrow. You don’t know how to do that right, do you Frank?” Teddy smirked at Frank.
Leaving their muddy boots out on the porch, they went back in the house to finish the wine and the plotting. The three men agreed to a plan to move the cars. They decided that after it got dark, they would drive Argo’s BMW down by the Pike Place Market in Seattle and leave the keys in the ignition with the door unlocked. That would be a problem that would solve itself. They took Leo’s truck for their get-away.
Jill’s car was a bit more of a problem, but eventually, they decided to take the car out to an auto wrecking yard near Wenatchee, on the Columbia River. They planned to and did damage the frame so that the vehicle would not be worth saving. Jill went along on this trip, which took all of the next day. She go $50 for the car and watched as the owner’s sons begin immediately stripping off everything they thought they could sell. They pulled out the engine and various other elements of value and then towed the hulk over to the line of cars waiting to go through the car compactor.
Leo drove out there a few weeks later and the car was gone, hopefully crushed and dumped into the pit out at the back of the lot. The pit was really just a hillside where they pushed the gross debris of their job. Sooner or later, the EPA was bound to call it a toxic site, but that day nobody cared about the leaking heavy metals and oil.
Leo drove Jill out to a BofA in Bellevue where she closed her account, taking $15,000 in cash. Getting Jill ID was a larger problem. Teddy and Frank used their connections in Los Angeles to find a shady lawyer in Tacoma. The lawyer agreed to get Jill a driver’s license and passport for $10,000. She chose the name Jill Parker.
When the dust had settled from all that tawdry business, Jill bought Ernie’s car from him, for a cash payment of $200. Ernie need the money to pay his fine for parking the car in the road one time too many, and he had decided that his driving days were over. He never did change the deed of ownership.
Jill went down to Betty’s Diner and applied for a job as a waitress. The diner was owned by a woman named Velma, but everyone called her Betty, on account of the diner being named “Betty’s Diner.” She thought Jill would look good in the uniform, creamy blue with some décolleté. “Designed ‘em myself,” Velma said. Velma hemmed the garment so that it barely covered Jill’s pretty butt and told her to “feel free to bend over while you’re working. We need to keep the customers coming back. And you’ll like the tips.” Jill didn’t mind. She had thought she was going to try abstinence after the disaster she had created by living a life of sexual freedom, but that was not to be.
She took an apartment over the hardware store and invited an ever-changing lineup of men to her home. She eventually became a bartender as well, over at “The Speakeasy” which was not exactly a dive bar, and it had a jukebox with records of songs that had been popular many years earlier. Jill liked her life. Madge and Leo continued to play hanky-panky at the garage every week when she came into town for supplies. On all the major holidays, Madge invited the members of The Rover Society over a potluck meal. She provided the wine. Jill bought her a set of six decent wine glasses.
Oh, and about Abel. He died of natural causes not long after Rover passed. Madge stood to lose all his retirement income. So, she told Franny, and Franny told Teddy and Frank, and they told Leo, and together, all her friends formed “The Rover Society,” to make sure that Madge wouldn’t lose the cabin over the small matter of property taxes. I mean Abel was dead. They couldn’t fix that.
And the bulbs came up in the spring. They were little white flowers known as snowdrops.