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By Seneca Blue
CHAPTER ONE (circa 2007)
“Could this day get any worse?” Ed asked herself.
She slammed her cell phone closed, thrusting the electronic inconvenience into her pocket. With five part-time jobs and an old house constantly under renovation, Ed had no tolerance for stupidity.
Today, stupidity was everywhere.
“Of course I know where I live. Is it my fault you can’t follow directions?” she mumbled.
Ed watched from the front window of her house as the idiot neighbor attempted to parallel park his enormous sport utility vehicle between Ed’s new Ford and her other neighbor’s beat-up mini van. The space obviously wouldn’t fit the beastly truck, but he insisted on trying to do it. If he even breathed on Aretha (a great name for a car manufactured in Motown), she would rip him a new orifice.
Ed remained fixated as the idiot next-door once again backed toward the mini van in futile effort to squeeze the SUV into a compact car-sized space. This numb-nut couldn’t park on the left side of the one-way street on a good day with ample space.
Meanwhile, the phone— her new leash, now everyone could keep tabs on her— vibrated spastically in her pocket. She pulled it out, and recognized the phone number of the directionally-challenged moron who couldn’t find her house. Let it go to voice mail, she thought, as the SUV idiot backed into the mini van. At least it wasn’t Aretha. She hadn’t even made her first payment on Aretha yet.
She noticed a crumpled receipt in the crevice of the flip-phone. She tugged at it. She exhaled forcefully. It was the receipt for her new digital camera.
Three days ago, Ed had purchased a humdinger digital camera. It had every feature she had ever lusted for, in a camera, that is. She had partially treated herself since the hand-me-down camera she had previously wasn’t making the grade for the newspaper. In her most recent part-time job, she signed on as a freelance photographer (and reporter, though the editor hadn’t realized yet that Ed couldn’t write) at a start-up weekly newspaper. Ed reasoned the tax deduction would outweigh the expense. It was for business.
But that’s not what this receipt was for. This receipt was for the second digital camera she had purchased this week. She found this one on sale at Best Buy, another freaking mega-chain raping the salivating American consumer eager to throw money away. It wasn’t a humdinger, but it was an improvement over the hand-me-down.
The latest saga in Ed’s boring yet dramatic life had started this morning. She had a light schedule: photo shoot at the library at ten, student projects to grade for her online graphic design course, a lunch date with a potential design client, and a pro bono project for the League of Women Voters.
It rained. It wasn’t just rain, but a torrential downpour that transformed the steep grade of her street into a powerful waterfall. Ed, the graceful and (ahem) svelte (yeah, maybe one calf) creature, stepped onto the ramp outside her front door and slid. Ed had a reputation for clumsiness, and in the rain, her five-foot eleven, 230-pound body did not disappoint the neighbors who had to be watching. In her neighborhood, someone was always watching. Of course, usually, it was her drunken sister, Tootie.
Ed stepped out the front door, walked onto the ramp and crashed downward, her spine banging against the ground as her feet flew upwards and her heels landed on the sidewalk. Then, in slow-motion, she watched her brand new camera, right out of the box, never even plugged into a USB port on her computer, sail through the air, toward Aretha, and plunge drastically toward the gutter. The camera splashed into the torrent of water between the edge of the street and the curb.
If that weren’t bad enough, before Ed could hoist her plump butt upright, the camera raced toward the storm water basin at the end of the block. Wet, rumpled and slightly limping, Ed ran after it, hoping to intercept. She dropped to her knees right before the inlet and jammed her hands between the garbage and the rotted fauna. Rain bombarded her face, streaked her glasses, and drenched her outfit. And the camera, despite her heroic efforts, dropped between her hands into the freshly-unclogged storm water basin. If she had left the basin alone, the debris would have stopped it.
That was when she changed clothes, grunted at her sister/annoying roommate, and headed to Circuit City. She arrived at the library and photographed the toddlers and preschoolers at storytime with the “celebrity reader” from the local police department. She even got shots of kids eating green eggs and ham served by librarians served in red- and white-striped hats.
The phone shook in her palm, indicating a voicemail message. She didn’t even need to listen to know what it said.
For weeks, Ed had spent every free moment reclaiming her overgrown garden, trading plants with friends and family and giving some away through Freecycle. Until today, she hadn’t had a problem. But then again, today everything had gone wrong. Must be a full moon.
She had held some plants for a freecycler who was going out of town but “really wanted them.” To exercise some kindness toward her fellow man, she said sure, she’d keep some. Being nice never pays off. You’d think, with her luck, she would have realized that by now. A good deed will always come back and bite you in the ass. Today, it resulted in a series of angry voice mail messages. She dialed into the system to retrieve the message. Beep. The automated voice greeted her. She often wished everyone else she came in contact with could emulate the voice’s flat and emotionless tone.
“You have one new message.”
Beep. “Message one.” Beep.
“This is Floyd, from Freecycle. I wanted to get the monkey flower and partridge-berry this morning and can’t find your damn house.”
Nothing flat and emotionless here. We were approaching irate.
“Turned right off of Main Street and your number doesn’t freaking exist. Went up and down the block four times and there is a 516, and a 520 but no freaking 518. Then I went back, turned left and the numbers were going the wrong way.”
Floyd screamed into the phone now.
“I went the heck home. Stuff you plants up you arse, I don’t freaking want them anymore. Especially since I can’t get a hold of you.”
Beep. The knucklehead had gotten lost in the maze of one-way streets around the dead steel mill. Serves him right… That’s why she told him to call first. She deleted the message, slammed the phone shut again, returned it to her pocket and smoothed the receipt so she could file it. Her hands trembled. It had not been a good day.
“I’ve got to calm down,” she said, not that anybody was listening. No one would care anyway.
Horrible, horrible day. Her mind calculated just how behind she was on her “to do” list. In the hubbub, she hadn’t even begun the project for the League of Women Voters. She should finish grading her on-line students, but she couldn’t risk her bad mood rubbing off on her opinions of their work. Graphic design critiques and lousy moods didn’t mix. When you didn’t have face-to-face relationships, the slightest word choice misstep could crush, humiliate, or offend a student.
The phone vibrated in her pocket. Ed whipped it out and slapped it open without even looking at the caller ID.
“What?” Ed barked.
“What’s your problem?” came the soft but firm reply.
It was her older sister, Martha.
“Sorry,” Ed said, her temper simmering. “What did you want?”
“Just wanted to know if you could water the plants while we’re on vacation.”
“That’s not until next week,” Ed said, the edge returning to her voice even though she fought it. “Don’t I always?”
“What’s put you in a pissy mood?” Martha asked.
“It’s just been a crappy day. Started the minute I got up. I whacked my foot on the couch trying to get to work on time,” Ed said. “I think I broke my toe.”
She headed up the stairs toward her office. She had moved her desk and computer into the guest bedroom. No one ever spent the night here. Everyone was afraid of Tootie. Ed had lost the spare bed under a pile of graphic design books and files from each of her ongoing projects.
As Ed began to tell Martha about her miserable day, including the story about her camera and how the potential client (the owner of the club basketball team) stood her up for a lunch meeting, bloodcurdling screams from the other end of the line interrupted. When they didn’t stop promptly, Ed’s sister had to intervene.
“The kids are trying to kill each other,” Martha said.
From the commotion, Ed thought perhaps her niece and nephew really would murder one another.
“What’s going on over there?” Ed asked.
“Jarrod is using his sister’s pretty princess wand like a club and beating her with it,” Martha said, exasperated. “They’re both chasing the dog. He’s nipping at Belinda… Belinda, Belinda! BEA! Leave the dog alone. Oh, no, I think Jarr just poked Bea in the eye.”
Wails accompanied the play-by-play. The black lab yelped.
“Sorry, Sissy. I’ve got to go.”
The line went dead. Once again, the phone returned to Ed’s pocket. Ed dropped into her computer chair and pushed the power button on her trusty iMac—the only object in her life that she considered reliable. The computer boomed to life with that trademark chime.
Email, Ed thought. Maybe something in one of her eight email accounts would cheer her. She normally considered a silly picture or a dumb joke an annoyance, but today she needed a distraction desperately. Which account should she check first? Five of those eight accounts served as work addresses.
“Why,” she said to herself, “couldn’t I be normal and have one or maybe two jobs?”
She would wait to check her work accounts last. She didn’t need more projects or problems. She opened her personal email, scanning the list of messages in her inbox for attachments that could be photographs.
“Maybe Islama sent pictures or video of the baby,” she said as she scrolled.
Photos of a newborn would brighten an otherwise horrible day. Nevertheless, nothing came in her personal account, just fifteen messages from Celeste, her writer friend who always had questions of “What if this character did this? What if that character slept with her? What if so-and-so bought a new car?” Enough already!
Ed hadn’t expected anything in her volunteer work account. She checked it just to be sure. That just left one, her planet-save account. She could depend on something fun or silly there. That’s the account she gave to strangers—the freecycle group, newsletter subscriptions, and online shopping.
Thirty-seven messages, they all looked like spam. Surveying the list, Ed chuckled at the subject lines. She pondered if she could enlarge her penis, get six-pack abs, and maintain longer lasting erections… So much for target marketing.
“Well,” she said, “at least they’re not weight loss ads.”
Single, overweight, and on the cusp of forty, Ed considered Americans weight obsessed. If the people who spent billions on weight loss products and gym memberships (the kind where people went once and never visited again, even locked into a one-year contract) paid a tax that would funnel a fraction of that money to education, the world and her decaying neighborhood especially, would transform into a much better place.
Continuing to scan the subject lines, Ed noticed that the spammers had grown clever, jumbling the letters in their titles to trick the junk-mail filters. But Ed saw one familiar name. Against her better judgment, she leaned her fingers into the mouse and clicked open the e-mail. Now she could read a message from the knucklehead that left the angry voice mail. Maybe he’s emailing to apologize. Men do sometimes realize when they act like jerks.
Ed started to read the email. No apologies here, just more incoherent, irrational musings. This was one angry man.
“Fuck him,” she said, peeking over her shoulder to make sure her nosy sister wasn’t spying.
Ed logged out of her email, still fuming about the Freecycle fiasco. They’re free plants for Pete’s sake! What does he want—them gift wrapped and delivered? Maybe with a nice ribbon and a card, or maybe a box of chocolates?
Riled up again, Ed couldn’t think about grading. Why did she do this to herself? She stormed to the fridge for a cold Kutztown sarsaparilla. The local pop confectionery makes a mean sarsaparilla. Not too sweet and not too bitter, it goes down as smooth as a fine brew or a perfectly blended margarita.
As she pulled open the fridge door, a jar of Pennsylvania Dutch pickled red beets crashed to the linoleum. The glass shattered, just about the same time Ed realized how much filth had layered on the floor. Now, red-stained vinegar laced across the fridge door, and liquid pooled in front of the refrigerator and oozed underneath. The smell of vinegar and eggs wafted through the kitchen.
“Shit!” Ed exclaimed. “Will this day ever end?”
She hated pickled eggs. She didn’t even like to touch hard-boiled eggs. They reminded her of the peeled grapes people would make children feel at Halloween parties while they whispered menacingly, “Eyes.”
“I should have stayed in bed today,” she said.
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