Authors: Lisa Wingate
Tags: #FIC042040, #FIC027020, #FIC042000, #Women professional employees—Washington (D.C.)—Fiction, #Life change events—Fiction, #Ranch life—Texas—Fiction, #Land use—Fiction, #Political corruption—Fiction
“Kind of out there by yourselves at the old headquarters.” He slid my drink closer to me, and his fingers brushed mine, pulling my gaze to his in a way that held both of us in a bond of things unsaid. “I know that house. Used to look after cows on the ranch, years back. That was back when Jack West's second wife was there. Before she wasÂ .Â .Â . well, anyway, that was a long time ago.”
An empty, hungry, unsteady discomfort swirled inside me. I felt a little sick. What did Pop, who gave suckers to kids and
welcomed newcomers to Moses Lake, know about our new boss that I didn't know?
“The house needs some work, to tell you the truth.” I felt myself teetering on the ragged edge of starting a rant, but wisely chose to keep it to myself. “We'll get it done, I'm sure.” Of all the strange things, tears pricked my eyes. I feltÂ .Â .Â . completely disoriented.
Pop Dorsey seemed to sense it. “Well, you need any helpâneed to know the number for a good carpenter, anything like thatâyou come talk to Pop, y'hear?” He looked up as the cowbell on the door clattered, announcing another customer.
I bit down on my emotions, swallowed hard. “Thanks. I will.” Things could be worse. At least Moses Lake was turning out to be friendly, even if the town was small.
“Len, over there, has been doin' some light carpentry work recently,” Pop offered, tilting his head toward the customer coming in the door. The man was thin and stooped, his ragged shirt and dirt-encrusted jeans drooping over his body like the cleaning rags my grandmother's maid tossed over the piazza railing. His hair hung in gray strings beneath a faded ball cap, and several teeth were missing when he smiled. He reminded me of the homeless people who inhabited sheltered spaces in DC.
He didn't look like anyone I would want in my house, or around Nick. It wasn't the most charitable reaction, but I couldn't help it. My mother had always been particular about the people we associated with, even those she hired for housework and gardening. They came from a professionally managed service where background checks were performed. They arrived in clean uniforms and were dignified and well-spoken.
Some attitudes rub off, whether you want them to or not. “OhÂ .Â .Â . well, I'll have to see how things go. But thanks.”
Nick turned and waved at the man by the door, his little
face lighting up, his head craning side to side, as if he were watching for something more. “Where
I blinked, looking at Nick.
Her? Her, who?
“Ubbb-Birdie's at the p-p-picnic,” the man stammered, his speech slow and slurred. “Www-with the uhh-kids. I ugg-gotta get someÂ .Â .Â . s-s-some more udd-drinks.”
Pop Dorsey waved a finger toward a stack of Gatorade cases by the door. “Got it right there for ya, Len. Just tell Miz Zimmer I'll put it on her summer school bill, and someone from the district can come by and pay it whenever.”
I gathered Nick and our food, and moved away from the counter, anxious to exit the conversation.
“Don't forget to sign the Wall of Wisdom while yer here,” Pop Dorsey called after us as we slid into a table with a chipped Formica top and torn red vinyl seats. “And you three sisters, too!” He addressed the women at the corner booth, who'd just finished sharing a slice of pie.
“Oh, we will. We already grabbed a Sharpie,” one of the women answered, then held up a pen and pointed to the back wall, where the windows overlooking the lake were surrounded by Sharpie-pen notations of all sorts. Amid the graffiti hung handmade wooden plaques with quotes like
Good things come to those who bait
Early to bed, Early to rise, Fish all day, Tell big lies.
One of the women in the corner booth leaned toward me, her expression warm beneath a shock of short reddish-blond hair. “It's good luck,” she offered. “The legend goes that if you sign the Wall of Wisdom with someone, you'll always return to Moses Lake together. Cindy and I just started remodeling a little lake house here, so we're hoping it works. Paula lives all the way in Floridaâ” she patted the hand of the brown-haired sisterâ “When we all get together, it's a big deal. It's terrible having your sister move halfway across the country.”
“Yes, it is.” All of a sudden, I missed my sisters. I wished they were here, where we could snuggle into the corner table together and talk about what to write on the Wall of Wisdom. “I have four of themâsisters, I mean. I just moved to Texas, and they're all in the DC area.” My voice trembled on the last words, which was so unlike me. I'd lived all over the world, by choice, in fact, but now a wave of homesickness was so thick in my throat that I felt like I might suffocate. My sisters were hundreds of miles away. They wouldn't be coming here anytime soon. Visiting would be a major undertaking of clearing schedules and arranging flights.
“Oh, you poor thing,” Paula offered. “I know what it's like to be the one living away. You should do what Alice and I do. We call it our Binding Through Books club. We read books together, then every three chapters, we have a little meeting about it over the phone. It's a lot of fun.”
Alice, the red-haired sister, nodded and smiled, the Wall of Wisdom quotes reflecting off her glasses. “You could start a Binding Through Books club with your sisters. All five of you. When you're on the phone talking about a story, it's just like you're right there together.”
“Thanks.” I forced a weak smile and pretended to be busy getting Nick and the food settled. I could just imagine what my sisters, with their ridiculously busy lives, would say if I suggested we read together and have regular phone-in book club meetings. They'd probably remind me that, for years, I'd been notorious about taking weeks to even answer personal emails.
Alice shoulder-bumped the third sister, who was giving me a sympathetic smile. “Cindy, write down some ideas for her.” She sent a wink my way. “Cindy works in a bookstore in Dallas. She knows all the latest. She's our source.”
“Sure, no problem.” Tucking her blond hair behind her
ear, Cindy took the Sharpie, turned a paper placemat over, and tapped the tip of the pen to her lips. “Okay, let me think. What kinds of things do your sisters read?”
In truth, I had no idea, so I described my sisters' personalities instead, and Cindy went to work on a suggested literature list that would help me remain connected with my family across the miles. She handed it to me as the Binding Through Books girls cleaned their table and moved to the Wall of Wisdom to leave their favorite quotes behind.
Nick paid little attention. He was busy keeping an eye on the door as Len came and went, carrying out boxes of Gatorade and bags of ice.
“Did you meet that man this morning when you were here?” I asked, knowing that he must have.
“It's Birdie's gam-pa,” Nick offered, smiling up at me, a fry dangling between his teeth. He munched it into his lips without touching it, then waited to see if I'd noticed.
“That's a good trick. Watch this.” I threw a partial fry in the air and caught it in my mouthâhours and hours of being a bored, lonely youngest child does have its benefits. You have plenty of time to perfect skills, like catching food as it flies through the air.
“Woooooo!” Nick breathed, and we were sympatico again. I loved these moments, when we were just enjoying each other. Something about having Nick's adoration soothed the pain of missing my sisters. He made me believe I really could be someone's mother.
A happy camaraderie settled over us as we started in on our chicken nuggets. Nick chattered on about his visit to the Waterbird that morning, when he'd sat at the table with his dad and met several “fishing men,” as well as a little girl who was apparently Len's granddaughter. Birdie had shown him a smiley face and a place on the Wall of Wisdom where she'd
signed her name. Nick trotted over and pointed it out to me, and I saw her writing there, B-i-R-D-i-E in uneven red print.
Looking at the wall, I tried to imagine where the girl might live, what her life might be like. I watched Nick skipping back to our table, completely unaware of the whirl of thoughts in my head.
This place, Moses Lake, was so foreign, so different from anything I'd ever known. How would I ever fit in here? How would I ever make the ranch or this little town my home?
The questions taunted me as Nick and I watched the activity on the lake below and finished our meals.
After we cleaned up our table, I walked to the back wall and stood a minute, studying it. The Wall of Wisdom was exactly what the name impliedâa place where locals and passersby had left little bits of themselves, quotes, words of advice, wisdom ranging from
Never test the depths of the water with both feet
to a quote from Anne Frank:
How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.
Moses Lake was like that wall, I realized. The mixture of people who lived here, who visited here, who spent time in proximity and were not carefully homogenized like the people I'd grown up with and lived among until now. This was not a place where you could select the right neighborhood, the right schools, the right stores, the right job, meet all your needs among your own kind. In this tiny town, the people were too few to be divided. They had no choice but to live all together in the pockets of civilization tucked among the rocks and hills.
I wasn't sure how I felt about that, but the clearest emotion I could identify was discomfortÂ .Â .Â . or fear. Maybe fear was a better word for it. Was I ready for a life like this? Did I really want it?
Was I more like my mother than I cared to admitâafraid that if I brushed elbows with the masses, something might rub off?
Was I a
“Y'all need a Sharpie?” Pop Dorsey called. A forty-something woman had entered from a door behind the counter. Judging by the body language, I guessed that she was family. Pop's daughter, perhaps. They had the same eyes.
“It's good luck to sign the wall,” Pop reminded.
“I'll have to think about it a few days,” I said, trying to sound cheerful and light, not as if I were engaged in a moment of deep spiritual questioning. Part of me was afraid of what that wall represented, of who it represented. “I want to make sure I come up with something good.” Suddenly in a hurry to be out of there, I grabbed my purse from the seat, bought a few groceries, and then Nick and I headed for the door.
“Welcome to Moses Lake. Be careful out there, 'kay?” Pop called after us, and when I turned around, I noticed that he and his daughter had their heads together, but their worried looks were directed my way. I had a feeling they were talking about Nick and meÂ .Â .Â . and the West Ranch.
The chill came rushing back, raising a flush of goose bumps as we exited the Waterbird and climbed into the Jeep. I wanted to forgo the hardware store and hurry home, but home wasn't a safe refuge either. In not so many hours, darkness would settle over the hills again, seep into the valleys, and color them a fathomless black. The current residents of the house would slip from their shadowy hiding places and canvas the walls and floors.
A stop for extermination equipment was a must.
The trailer made a squealing, grinding sound as I drove through town and pulled into the hardware store parking lot. I didn't look back to see where the noise was coming
from but just unloaded Nick and started toward the door. Whatever was going on with the trailer would have to wait until we got home.
The hardware store was quaint and old-fashioned, with a high ceiling downstairs, an ancient Otis freight elevator in the back, and an open area in the center. Stairs led to a second story wraparound balcony containing an assortment of clothes, shoes, hatboxes, and store displays that looked like they hailed back to the fifties. When my mother finally did come to visit, I'd have to bring her here. She would love the nostalgia of the placeâthe feeling of stepping back in time to an era when store walls were lined with richly polished wooden shelves offering everything from penny candy to nuts and bolts in multi-drawered cabinets that would be worth a fortune in an antique mall.
A friendly, dark-haired teenage boy was working behind the counter.
, his name tag read. He was well-spoken and seemed sympathetic to my vermin problem. He said I sounded like his mother. She couldn't abide crawly things in her house, either. Fortunately, Dustin knew quite a bit about how to get rid of them. By the time he rang up my mountain of bug bombs, steel wool, caulking, and a new catch-and-release form of mousetrap, I was feeling a little better about things. He made it sound like a simple enough propositionâplug the holes around plumbing and so forth with steel wool or caulking, open all the closets and cabinets, cover the countertops, and nuke the place with bug bombs. This procedure had worked in the house Dustin had moved into with his mother and new stepdad, who also happened to be the county game warden. Their new house had been sitting empty awhile before they acquired it, too.
At the front counter, I added some elbow-length plastic gloves and a facemask. Glancing at the promotional photo
of a woman wearing the bubble-like mask over her mouth and nose, I imagined myself geared up and ready for battle. A laugh teased my throat. I'd have to text a picture to Kaylyn and Josh. This was so far from
His Irish Bride
Actually, the Gymies would probably get a kick out of seeing the hardware store, too. They wouldn't believe this place. With its collection of old cabinets, assorted merchandise hanging on cardboard display cards, and the freight elevator where Nick was now pretending to be Buzz Lightyear, it really was something to see. The only things missing were old men playing checkers and lovers sipping sarsaparillas while strolling along the sidewalk, parasols and brightly wrapped packages in hand.
I grabbed my phone and snapped a few pictures, then emailed them to Kaylyn with a quick text.
In the hardware store buying nuclear bomb for house mice and bugs. Look at this place!