The Art of Being Un-Wired: Chapter 10

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(Read the other chapters here.)

I turned my attention to the guys who had been on the corner, now surveying the pumpkin as if it was something only to be seen on the Discovery Channel.  I closed my door and went back into the house. I wanted to lie down on the sofa with a cool cloth on my head and pretend that I had never met Francisco and, most certainly, had never quit my “good government” job at the publishing house. Recounting this, especially turning down the opportunity to head up the new scholastic division, I wished I had simply told Ted yes, instead of answering as I had:

“Ted, I think I need to find out what I came to this earth to do, my purpose – I mean I know that writing pithy PR pieces for business reference books isn’t ditch digging, but still….”  Hearing this, Ted Marin, my boss and Vice President of Acquisitions, held up his hand, and emitted one of his dry “you silly Billy” chuckles he gave Donna, the receptionist, whenever she got regular cream cheese for his cinnamon and raisin bagel instead of low fat Philly. It was the same amused chuckle he gave his three-year-old daughter, Agnes-Marie, on their bi-weekly after nap phone visits.

“Well, whatever you think, Estella.  Just let me know by tomorrow close of business, because if you’re not interested,” he looked up at me, his lips tight, brow furrowed, “then we’ll have to form a search committee and, well…you know the drill.”  But that was two years ago. Here and now, stooping down to plump the art deco inspired pillows strategically arranged for comfort on the living room sofa, I knew I needed to stop thinking about cream cheese obsessed Ted Marin, and find out what in the world was happening up on the roof next door.


I scanned the whole of the roof, taking a breath as I did a ninety degree turn and faced the roof next to mine. Not the shunner’s whose property was separated from my own by a breezeway, but the house to the left of mine. Everything seemed as it had been when I last was there. I looked over at the ledge, where I had first spotted the single baby pumpkin. It was still there in its same place, but now kept company with two additional gourds as if the first, lonely, had asked the other two to come out and play. What I hadn’t noticed before was the lattice butt up against the ledge on the other property, covered in a mass of vines as intricate and interwoven as the hairstyles of many of the women who frequent Baltimore’s hair salons each day.

I walked the short distance over to the lattice, reaching out to pull on one of the vines making up a tapestry of green with beautiful small yellow blooms. I had one within my reach, when I noticed an opening in the lattice, several slats unobstructed by foliage, but which under close inspection were filled with eyes. Spooked, I jumped off the ledge, only to fall back onto my own roof. Though my butt hurt, I managed to get up and scurry back inside the house, where trembling and heart pounding, I double bolted the door behind me.

I hadn’t seen much: wild-eyes, with an even wilder, wiry shock of hair acting as a canopy over wide set and jet black eyes. Still, what I had seen frightened me. How in the world were my guests to relax, lounge on the newly stained rooftop deck when there was a wild eyed peeping tom ready to bomb them with ten pound orange missiles?

Not to be deterred, I grabbed a shovel and trash bag, and began scooping up the mess in front of my house, noticing as I did that the shunner appeared to have a clear routine: Right around dawn she planted herself on her stoop. I knew this because sometime around 5:30am there was intermittent scraping mixed with curses which woke me. But the resin chair’s placement was for later in the day, the 3pm to 11pm shift, when in need of a change of locale, she would then toddle the three or so feet from her stoop to her protector, her Trident maple, and where she could be found sitting, holding grumpy court until the start of the late evening news.

I snuck a look over at the shunner. She turned her face away, toward the Trident’s litter strewn tree box. I continued to scoop the last of the pumpkin mess into a large trash bag. I was glad it was midday and that the corner guys who stood street sentry on a fairly constant basis were nowhere to be seen. My hands sticky with pulp, I hoisted the bag and the shovel, and began walking the few short steps back to my house, noticing as I did that the shunner was now gone, forced I suppose with my presence back into her den. Her door, as usual, was left ajar. “Whatever,” I mumbled. In or out, shunned or not shunned, I had too other many pressing issues to concern myself with this day.

As I started back up my own stoop, I heard a voice, “Hey, neighbor.”  I was so taken aback at hearing this, that and trying to balance the bag with the pumpkin and the snow shovel dripping with pumpkin, I nearly fell backwards again.

“Hi,” I answered, coming down off the stoop.

“I’ve been meaning to knock and say hello before this, but lately my schedule has me dropping by closer to night than morning.”

I looked at the woman who looked to be near my age, and who wore a blue smock over her blouse and had on comfortable, but not especially attractive, tan shoes.

“So, you live here, too?” I avoided looking inside the open door, not wanting to be met by yet another set of scary eyes.

“You might as well say I do, but I really stay mainly over at my mom’s place over on Landale – Westside,” she added with some emphasis. I nodded. I had noticed almost everyone who had lived in Baltimore for some time did this, making a point of telling the quatrain they lived in. Whether, East, North, South, or West–which was often the same one they had been born in—all appeared to take singular pride in never having ventured more than a mile away from home, never having set eyes on anything not native to Baltimore.

“I come to check on Miss Pauline, make sure she’s doing everything the clinic doctor says she should be doing. I’m a home health tech. She’s an old family friend.”  I listened, finding it hard to believe that the shunner had friends.

“Yeah, she’s practically family. I don’t charge. I just come and check, report back to her social worker if anything’s not right.”

“She seems a little bashful,” I said, trying to keep a straight face.

The woman laughed.  “What she is, is ornery.”

“By the way, my name is Estella.”

“I’m Ruthie, after Ruth in the Bible.”

“Good to meet you, Ruth. You know, it’s funny because the couple of times I looked at my place before I decided to buy, there never seemed to be that much activity.  It’s almost as if it’s a totally different place. Not nearly as quiet, especially seeing how it’s only these six rowhouses and the church at the end of the block here.”

The woman let out a howl of laughter. “You can thank Mr. Marty for that. The second he had the house as ready as it was going to be with him doing the work, he paid just about all the regulars five dollars a day to make themselves scarce between the hours of 10 and 5pm.  Even Miss Pauline got a couple of dollars.  Yes, indeed, when all you got on a block is six little rowhouses, a library annex across the street, and a church at the block’s end, it can be pretty quiet if people are paid not to show their face.

I felt a nauseating wave come over me, the same one I felt when I ate brownies or pancakes or pizza. All those glutenous food products I always craved whenever I felt overwhelmed and, in this instance, besieged by circumstances way beyond my control.

Once the woman took a break in her laughing, I excused myself.  “Well, it was nice to meet you Ruth.  Perhaps, I’ll see you later.  I’ve got to get back to cleaning.”

“Nice meeting you, too,” she said, “I’ll be sure to tell Miss Pauline her new neighbor’s not a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” she added, starting again with that wild laughter of hers.  I gave back a weak smile as I hefted my shovel and bag of pumpkin remnants, stepping quickly back inside the house.

Once in the kitchen, I rinsed off the shovel and put it in the utility closet and dumped the bag with the pumpkin remains outside into the trash. I wanted with everything in me to have a piece of toast smeared up to its outer most edges with globs of butter, and not the pound cakey gluten free stuff. I wanted good old fashion red, yellow and blue polka dot wrapped Wonder Bread as presumably as soft and as white as I remembered the hollow of my third grade teacher Mrs. Howard’s throat being.

I didn’t notice the blinking light on the phone until I was halfway up the back kitchen stairs.

“Hello, Miss Tinsdale.  This is Sherilynn from Minnesota.  I’m calling to let you know that my husband Henry and me are going to need to cancel our reservation for next week.  We got ourselves in a fix with having to get some priorities taken care of and we really need to be back at the farm on those days we scheduled to visit Baltimore.”

My stomach was doing flip flops. That same churny feeling I had had while talking to Ruth was now a tsunami ready to sweep me away with not even a wimpy Trident Maple to grab hold to.

“But since we’re driving, we’ve decided to still come on through, but it would have to be this coming Friday, with us leaving on Sunday. I know this is short notice, but if you’ve got the availability, we would still like to stay at your B&B.  So let us know if that works for you and your staff because we’d sure like to stay somewhere as homey as your place sounds.”

I was relieved, but not by much.  I’d have to do a lot to finish getting the place ready for guests by Friday, which was only two days away.  And there was still the matter of food.  If I couldn’t cook anything, how was I to feed these people for two days?  It’s not like I could order in Chinese or McDonald’s for every meal. They’d expect just what the website listed on the menu. For breakfast: a medley of blueberry, pecan, and chocolate pancakes, omelets prepared to order, and an assortment of freshly squeezed juices. For lunch and/or dinner: crab cakes, seafood pasta, steak medallions, or bourbon Salmon, all accompanied by seasonal farmers market vegetables and herbs. And, for dessert: fruit and gluten-free pastries from Heaven’s Sweet Tooth. I looked deep into the refrigerator and grabbed a Diet Coke, the only item other than ice cubes and several takeout duck sauce packets to be found in the 1950s reproduction appliance.

 to be continued…