You know, I’ve shipwrecked manuscripts for less . . . But I refuse to let Pigeon go.
And vice versa, thank God.
So no real post today, but to fill the space and speaking of shipwrecks, I thought I’d toss up a weird character study I found in my file cabinet the other day, while I was looking for something else.
It’s dated around the time Sunny was born, so it’s probably also a study on what hormones can do to one’s subconscious. I think I stopped after two chapters and partial outline with this because another story captured my attention—can’t remember what that other story was, but it obviously didn’t make it out of the harbor, either.
But while I’m not letting another story get in the way of Pigeon—hush, those others meant nothing to me—I do like Ms. Daisy Zelda Fitzgerald, possibly because her nemesis might have her pegged.
Anyway, it’s good for a laugh.
I’d only thought about committing murder once or twice before—who hasn’t—but it was looking more and more like a viable option.
I snapped my cell phone shut and reached into the icy wind for my deposit receipt. “Thank you, Mrs. Fitzgerald!” said the cashier, smiling in her warm bank as I shoved the container back into its tube and hit the window toggle before I froze to death.
I lifted my hand in return, not wanting to brave the elements again just to correct her. It was a common, logical mistake for tellers and salesclerks, who assumed from the joint household account and same last name that Nicholas and I were husband and wife, instead of brother and sister.
But this particular misunderstanding would soon be at an end, along with the convenient financial arrangement—all the arrangements we’d set up over the past few years. Of course, the bank would probably think Nick had left me for another woman, which was technically the truth.
Nick was getting married.
I repeated that sentence a few times as I turned right onto Kimberley Road, trying to make it an everyday, normal statement instead of a major upheaval. An upheaval made worse by the frequent calls and voice mail messages that were encouraging my recent daydreams of homicide.
It wasn’t that I didn’t want my brother to be happy—I wasn’t entirely selfish. But Nick’s marriage was going to change everything. And after mulling over the problem for a few weeks, I’d decided that it wasn’t so much what was going to happen as who was making it happen.
I could not believe that my brother was going to marry Annette Billingsley. I knew from personal experience that love could be blind stupid, but this . . .
Annette was everything I was proud not to be, from her artificially enhanced figure—it is genetically improbable to be a size two and a double-D, Dolly Parton notwithstanding—to her manipulative, avaricious, and all too obvious ways of getting what she wanted from the opposite sex. And she thought I was a homely, sour-grape-fueled, man-hating control freak.
We were each fully aware of the other’s opinion, too, which proves that effective communication isn’t necessarily the answer to world peace.
Nick, one of nature’s ostriches, apparently assumed, since nothing had been discussed, that Annette would simply move in, start adding a paycheck a month to the household account, and all would be well. To be fair, we had been more or less civil to each other for his sake, so the poor man was probably unaware that a court order from God wouldn’t make us give each other access to money.
Living in the same house was unthinkable.
Thanksgiving dinner alone was going to be something of a trial, unless I snapped and poisoned her potatoes—except Annette would rather die than eat a starch after two p.m. I grinned as the wind shoved me across the parking lot and into the grocery store. Maybe just offering her potatoes would do it . . .
I went up and down the aisles in my habitual pattern, produce to meat to dairy to frozen, selecting the staples on my list and the more perishable ingredients for tomorrow’s feast. A Fitzgerald Family Thanksgiving owes much to the time-honored tradition of full fat dairy products, which I don’t keep on hand, as a rule.
Nick would’ve had the refrigerator stuffed full of them, if he could’ve, along with half the bakery department—and wouldn’t Annette have something to say about that—but the weekly shopping was my job, like the laundry was his. Though I guessed I’d be making better friends with the washing machine in the near future.
My cell vibrated while I was pricing sour cream. I checked the number, shoved the phone back into my coat pocket, and selected two pints of Swiss Valley. A short while later, a single beep told me I had a message, which I also ignored.
I wondered whether arsenic or hemlock would make a better choice of seasonings. But wasn’t hemlock a spring herb? I had the new Penzie’s spice catalog at home—maybe I should see if they had a Socrates Blend.
Arranging my groceries on the conveyor belt in the order I wished them to be bagged, I switched gears from the amusing to the practical, and thought through the financial side of keeping up the house on one salary. I didn’t have to worry about a mortgage—thank you, Grandpa Frank—and the last quarterly property tax payment for the year was ready to go. Only eight hundred and sixty-three dollars owed to the equity line of credit for last year’s roof replacement, and I had six years to—
“Don’t put the bread in with the cans, please,” I said, startling the teenager who was tossing my groceries into random bags. “Put it with the eggs. And please unload half of that one into another bag, then double bag both.” I kept an eye on him as he complied. “Thank you.”
I could handle the taxes by myself, I thought, as I signed the card reader in exchange for a receipt that was almost a foot longer than normal. Holiday or not, I winced at the total. Everyday household accounts might pinch a little once Nick was gone. But I could always cancel the cable and wear more sweaters.
I shivered as I steered my cart through the frozen parking lot. More sweaters might not be possible—I was already wearing half a drawerful and it hadn’t snowed, yet. I’m too skinny to deal well with Iowa winters, though my friend Chloe says that someone meeting me for the first time in December would assume I needed Weight Watchers. One more layer of clothing would make it difficult to bend at the joints.
The bags safely loaded into the trunk of my silver Civic, I headed for home.
I wound my way through the mish-mash of residential streets, the leaves swirling in panic as I drove through. Early Autumn made Winfield County a gorgeous riot of color, but now only a few trees still clung tight to their ragged glory, despite the weather’s efforts to beat them bald. It would have been quicker, maybe, to use River Drive, but the scenery, which included the businesses that had sprung up along the Mississippi over the past fifty years to block the view, wouldn’t have been half as pretty.
To hear Aunt Bernice tell it, our area, high on Bridge Hill, had been the premier location in the city when the current desirable neighborhoods were still dismantling their Civil War training barracks. But she admits we’ve had some setbacks since then, though in the last decade we’d become popular with people who could see lovely architectural bones underneath the ruinous vinyl siding and were willing to dedicate themselves to repairing the damages done by time and tenants.
But Fitzgerald House, the largest pile west of Union Street, had been tended, pampered, and catered to from the moment Ezra Fitzgerald, the lumber king, carried his bride, the former Clara Cruikshank, over the threshold. It held court on Bridge Avenue with other homes of pedigree, now owned by families my aunt considered usurpers of history.
I peered up at the gutters of Fitzgerald House as I followed the driveway around to the garage. The new guards seemed to be working, which was good. If Nick actually went through with the wedding, I wasn’t going to be the one hanging off the roof to scoop out any accumulated muck, and I didn’t know if my budget would stretch enough to hire a service.
I slotted my car into the attached garage, which had been added to the house years before the city Historical Preservation Commission—or Aunt Bernice— might have made an issue of it. Thank heavens for Great-Uncle Randolf, without whom I would have frozen solid before I could bring in all the groceries.
My phone rang just as I finished easing the last celery heart into the overfull crisper, and I answered it without checking, assuming it was Chloe, who always rang after work.
“Oh,” I said. “Hello, Annette. Yes, I received all your messages, but I was driving. I know you do—I don’t. Were you? He did, did he . . . ? No, I think the Pfaltzgraff is perfectly fine for Thanksgiving. . . Yes. I do. It even has a cornucopia pattern . . . Yes, it is a family tradition—plus it can be put in the dishwasher, too, unless you’re volunteering to wash eighteen settings of Spode by hand? Uh-huh.” I clenched the phone in my fist. “Well, thank you very much for your approval. Goodbye.” I shut the phone very carefully, opened it, and punched up my second emergency contact.
As expected, it went directly to voice mail. “This is Zee,” I said. “I am going to kill her dead and mount her head in the den next to Moriarty.** Come on over as soon as you can to help me plan—I’ll be home.”
I turned the ringer to vibrate and left it on the counter. There was a CSI marathon starting at noon. Maybe I could pick up some tips.
*You know that riddle about getting a rat, a cat, and a dog over a river in a canoe, and you can take two animals at at time, but you can’t leave the rat and the cat or the cat and the dog alone together? I went and wrote me one o’ them . . .
**Stuffed moose head. I was on a roll.