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Authors: Diane Hammond

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BOOK: Going to Bend
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“Great,” said Nadine. “Oh, that’s great.”

“Imagine,” said Rose, smiling her pretty, easy smile. “Me, writing a cookbook.”

A
FTER SHE
left Souperior’s, Rose headed out of town, up the headland and then off onto a narrow, poorly maintained spur that a long time ago had been the original coast highway. Hardly anyone took the road anymore, not even locals, and Rose loved the quiet up there after the noisy highway, and the buckled, worn-out look of the asphalt as it rose and twisted and reeled around the edges of thousand-foot drops straight to the ocean. She pulled into a gravel turnout and switched off the ignition. The day was overcast and the water far below looked sullen and metallic. At the bottom of the cliff, but across a hairpin inlet from it, a sea cave had been worn into the bottom of a sheer rock face. At low tide the cave had a gleaming black sand floor; at high tide, waves sucked and boiled around its ceiling. The place was unnamed as far as she knew and unreachable from land, and had always filled Rose with dread. Now as she stood looking she imagined someone washing in there half drowned, numb with cold and crazy with relief, only to realize that there was no way out and the tide had already turned.

Rose shuddered and crossed her arms tightly. It was a wild coast and things like that were possible. But she always had morbid thoughts the first few days Jim Christie was home, possibly to make up for all the
thinking she didn’t do while he was away. During his absences she wouldn’t even watch the weather reports because she didn’t want to know when there were storms. No one had ever told her she was being silly, either, not even Petie. Every year boats went down, men were lost.

Now, high above the ocean, she could see squalls gathering on the horizon. Let them come.

She climbed back into her old Ford, shabby and comfortable as a blown-out armchair, and, on a whim, headed for Sawyer. The road was quiet, nearly empty. Every day now there were fewer tourists, fewer RVs, fewer NO signs and more YES!es on the motels. It was everybody’s favorite time of year, when the coast was left to itself.

Sawyer Middle School was a brick box around which huddled a cluster of prefabricated, freestanding classrooms. There was a plant the school always reminded her of, what was it called—hens-and-chickens. The main building had been Sawyer High when Petie and Rose were young and children didn’t leave Hubbard until ninth grade. A better system. These sixth and seventh graders, so lately released from their safe little neighborhood grade schools, were too eager to be old. Rose had heard from several of Carissa’s teachers that there was a startling amount of promiscuity among the girls, particularly the ones from abusive homes. Carissa’s English teacher had confessed to Rose that she used to have her students keep journals for a semester, but that so many of them had confided terrible things, she didn’t give the assignment anymore. Even so, she said, last year one of her students had stayed after school and whispered that her mother’s boyfriend had started sneaking into her bed sometimes on the nights her mother was at work tending bar for the Elks. It hadn’t been that way when Rose and Petie were growing up. The teacher had told Rose she would be leaving the school system at the end of the year to teach at a Christian school for two-thirds the pay.

Rose pulled up to the curb, switched off her car engine and had just settled down to wait when she saw Carissa bounce out of a side door, one of the first children to appear, her backpack strapped onto her small shoulders—she was delicately made instead of roomy and soft like Rose.
She was dressed to the teeth in new jeans, new shoes, a new enormous sweatshirt with an expensive brand name on the front, fancy braids—her one good back-to-school outfit. A proud, bright, healthy girl in the throes of delight. Christie was home. When she caught sight of Rose she broke into a happy smile.

“Did you bring Jim?” she said, peering eagerly in the window. She wrestled the door of the car open.

“He’ll have supper with us. He’s down at the docks.”

Carissa tossed her backpack into the rear seat, where it landed with a heavy thud. She was a diligent student. “Did you tell him I was going to cook?”

“I told him.”

“I was thinking maybe I shouldn’t fry the chicken, you know, in case he’s been eating a lot of fried chicken on the boat or something. I could bake it.”

“Even if he’s been eating fried chicken every night, sweetie, it’s not going to have been home-fried chicken, and it’s not going to have been you cooking it. Go ahead and fix it like you want. He’ll like it either way.”

“I’m so glad he’s back, Mom. Aren’t you?”

“Oh yes.”

They drove in silence for a couple of blocks. Then Carissa said, “You know Billy Wall, who got arrested over here for doing nasty things to boys?”

Rose was startled. “How did you hear about that?”

“Oh, everyone knows. One of the boys he did that to, he’s in my class.”

“Well, you stay away from him.”

“Why?”

“Because he’s probably feeling real bad. He doesn’t need kids watching him.”

“I wouldn’t watch him or anything.”

“Well, you just keep some distance, all right? He’s had some bad things done to him, and sometimes children have trouble after that.”

Carissa’s thoughts had turned back to home. “Mom, when Jim’s away, do you think he misses us?”

“I don’t know. He must, in his own way.”

“I bet he can feel us missing him all the way up in Dutch Harbor. Do you think someday he might decide to just stay home?”

Rose glanced over at the small rapt face and looked away. “I don’t think so, sweetie,” she said gently. “No, I don’t think so.”

Chapter 4

H
UBBARD’S POST
office was at one end of town, a flimsy old box rancid with cigarette smoke and mold. Through the service window you could see into an apartment carpeted in old apple-green shag. The post office was not part of the postal service proper, but was a concession operated by Lou and Lee Boyles, who delivered the mail in a Ford Aspen station wagon with bad shocks and one taillight out. In Gordon’s opinion, whatever the Boyles were being paid by the postal service to keep zip code 97360 alive, it wasn’t enough. On days like today, when he was moderately depressed, he would gladly have paid an extra penny a stamp through the next millennium just to subsidize a fresh paint job and some new Formica.

He stepped up to the free community bulletin board, pulled a pushpin from a card in his jacket pocket and tacked up his last flyer.

Watch for it! From soup to nut breads, it’s
Local Flavor,
featuring the best of Hubbard’s souperior soups, breads and desserts. Edited by Rose Bundy, with contributions by Hubbard’s finest cooks. A souperb gift choice this Christmas. A Souperior’s Production
.

It was not inspired copy, but every other version Gordon had come up with relied on words like connoisseur, maestro, aficionado, tour de force, unparalleled cuisine, extraordinaire—words that did not seem to address
the general orientation or vocabulary of the average Hubbard resident. So he’d settled on this, and had spent the last two hours in Sawyer and now Hubbard posting the flyers on bulletin boards in supermarkets, the senior center, bakeries, bookstores, dental offices and the library. He and Nadine hadn’t intended to do flyers at all, but business was continuing to soften, the rains were here and it would be two more weeks before Rose even completed the copy: he and Nadine were getting more nervous every day about being able to make it through the winter.

Gordon had chosen the Hubbard post office as his last stop because it gave him a chance to check the post office box he had opened here recently. He had begun receiving copies of the
Los Angeles Times
, which he read more avidly than he ever had when he lived there. He missed L.A. He found it more and more amazing that he now lived in a place where the movie theater was really called the Bijou. And although he still found the scenery magnificent, scenery didn’t offer chamber music concerts or Thai cooking or cafes in which to read the Sunday paper. Of course, it also didn’t hit you over the head with a bat and take your shoes and billfold on a dark night, which was more or less what had happened to him several years ago. A clean-cut, well-dressed man had run at him from a doorway, eerily silent, and beaten him viciously without ever speaking above a whisper—and then only to say, “Your wallet and shoes, please.”
Please
. Gordon had thrown up his arms to protect himself; otherwise, as though in collusion, he had kept mute and done what he was told. And then, just as suddenly, he had been alone, sitting on the sidewalk bleeding and ashamed. Wasn’t it somehow worse to be beaten by a polite deviant? Muggers wore grimy clothing, had dirty hair, rough speech, and you could avoid them on the street if you paid attention, which Gordon always did. But this had been impossible, without cues; it had been like being beaten by, say, a crazed accountant. His assailant had worn neat khaki pants, leather loafers; his shirt had been tucked in.
Your wallet please
, he’d whispered, after he had already broken Gordon’s nose with a wood baton. What on earth could have happened? Cocaine addiction? Failure to pass the CPA exam? Or had he simply been shrewd enough to cross-dress as a different stereotype, knowing it would throw his victims
off? Gordon still pondered it from time to time, though now he thought of it as an odd and somewhat humorous calamity that had happened a long time ago.

In the post office, he squared the corners of his flyer with the notices for child care, firewood and lawn mower repair, collected his papers and mail, and climbed into his car, a well-loved Peugeot whose days were nevertheless numbered for lack of service opportunities. He turned up Wilson, crossed Third, then entered Wayne Street, where Rose lived. She had promised she’d have a batch of recipes ready for him to read, her first. She had sounded nervous about it on the phone, so now he was nervous, too. He and Nadine couldn’t afford any big mistakes—or even, it was possible, any little ones.

The car whined into a lower gear as he passed homes of varying degrees of squalor and disintegration, until he found the driveway Rose had described for him and pulled in behind her old car. The house turned out to be an old tan double-wide, one of the earliest models (perversely, Gordon had become something of an expert on manufactured home architecture) with none of the bay windows, novelty porches and mullions that made the newer models look so hopeful. In places the house’s metal siding was dented, as though someone had butted it with a car. But there were curtains at the windows and the yard was very tidy, with several whiskey barrels holding the remains of last summer’s annuals. On the lowest limb of a fir tree hung a wooden cutout of a bonneted little girl on a swing. Her skirt was made of real fabric trimmed in lace. For yard art, this was upper end. On the house next door, Gordon could see gargantuan pink wooden butterflies with three-foot wingspans nailed to the siding. Two doors down from Gordon’s own apartment building in Sawyer, there was a polka-dot-painted cutout of a woman’s backside bending over in the garden. Beside it was a cutout of a man’s blue-jeaned backside, his hand out to steal a feel.

Rose must have been watching for him; she opened the door before he’d even knocked. She wore dressier clothes than normal: a thin, full denim skirt, matching western-style shirt, fake tooled leather belt with fake silver medallions and turquoise, western boots. Could it all have
come from Wal-Mart? And yet he thought she looked very beautiful, ample in a way that you never saw in L.A.’s muscle-bound gym dolls. It disconcerted him to see her in clothes that were so different from her usual jeans, T-shirts, sweatshirts. People always led more complicated lives than he imagined or was prepared for.

He followed her into the living room, a shabby brown-paneled space furnished with mismatched furniture over which had been thrown bright crocheted afghans and scraps of lace, all of it clean and orderly. He fastened with appalled reverence on a single bookcase of pressboard and veneer occupying a place of honor along one wall. On the top two shelves were what looked like complete sets of works by Danielle Steel and Sidney Sheldon. Below them, neatly displayed, was a series of Happy Meal toys from McDonald’s.

“Mine.” Rose smiled when she saw where he was looking. “No one gets to touch those, not even Carissa.”

“Do you collect them all?”

“Oh, no. Just the ones I really like or think might be worth something later on. Otherwise you’d need a special place to keep them all, you’d have so many. Loose and Ryan, Petie’s boys, have whole shoe boxes full and we don’t even take them that often.”

Gordon nodded and buried his hands deep in the pockets of his corduroy trousers. It was conceivable that at that exact moment he was the only man in Hubbard wearing cuffs. He marveled that Rose would even speak to him. Sometimes when he passed by the barbershop or went into the post office, the conversation paused until he was out of earshot. It was not just his imagination, he was sure. And he minded; that was his dilemma.

Rose had walked over to a battered wood desk against one wall and was fussing with some papers, tapping them into order.

“It’s not going as fast as I thought it would,” she said apologetically. “I guess this probably doesn’t look like much.” She held out a thin sheaf of pages, handwritten on both sides of loose-leaf paper, school stuff. Gordon saw that her handwriting was firm, round and excessively legible. There were little circles instead of dots over the
i
’s, and at the end of
each recipe she had drawn a happy face. With dread Gordon scanned the pages. Then he went back and began to read.

You might not feel like bothering to put the navy beans through a food mill, since no one ever uses them anymore and they take time and muscle, too
, he found on one page.
Do it anyway. A food processor will leave you a jillion little pieces of navy bean skin that will stick to your teeth, your spoon and the sides of your bowl. Another thing about this soup: don’t eat it the day before anything really important, as it can be cleansing
.

BOOK: Going to Bend
6.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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