THE WAR AGAINST STUFF
Warren could see the look on Debbie’s face before he even turned
“Beads?” Her voice conveyed disgust and incredulity. “Those
don’t look like beads to me.”
The long metal strips rattled as
Warren stood them in a niche next to the boxes of engineered hardwood flooring.
“Corner bead. It’s used to form the corners on drywall.”
did not really expect his wife to understand. She neither knew nor cared the
first thing about construction and materials. “They’ll come in perfect when we
do the guest house. Guy gave them away. Practically.”
“I can see why.”
With the corner bead safely corralled,
Warren turned to leave but could not pass Debbie, who stood arms akimbo between
where their daughters’ highchair sat
somewhat precariously on his grandfather’s genuine cowhide ottoman, and the
stacked barrels of pinto beans, rock salt and dried dates.
“I want to talk to you about all this stuff.”
The hard lines of her eyes and chin
told Warren this was serious. He groaned inwardly.
“We’re running out of room, Warren!” She wagged her hands,
“This is Marybeth’s bed-room! She can’t even come home from college now because
her bedroom has been turned into Home Depot. Or should I say the Ninety-Nine
Cent Store? You even have extra empty containers.”
Warren still hoped he could squirm out
of this. “She
can just stay
in Jennifer’s room. Temporarily.”
“Why should she have to? This used to be a perfectly good
bedroom. Over the years it’s just built up. The storage room, the trailer, the
patio. Pretty soon there won’t be room for any of us.”
Warren glanced down at the corner of
his eldest daughter’s bed, visible
beneath the boxes which contained almost every paper she ever brought home from
school, an assortment of pictures and picture frames, and old National
Geographics. “But these things are part of our lives.”
“These beads.” Debbie indicated the fresh stack of metal
strips. “They’re not part of my life that I remember.”
“But we’ll need it soon. It’s part of our future.”
her off before she could object. “Yes, like the flooring, the windows, the
cords, and the foodstuffs.” He had his frustrations, too. “Shoot, we could be
using that food right now.”
“When I need almonds, I need a half cup of almonds. So I can
dig through these unmarked boxes for a half hour, or I can go to the store and
buy ‘em for three bucks.”
She’d made a mistake right there. Warren flicked out his hand
to the tub right on top of the carton of trash bags. He snapped off the plastic
lid, and there gleamed clear bags of almonds, smoked and almonds, raw. “Boy
that was tough.”
She rolled her eyes. “You got lucky, that’s all.”
“I know it’s a little unorganized now. I’m going to start
it in the fall. Once I get organized, you’ll see, it’ll seem like it all just
Debbie nodded, whether in agreement or
resignation he could not tell. Didn’t much matter which. He loved his wife. She was smart, and
still pretty, a good mother and a loving mate. But she just let this one thing
bother her too much.
With one last humph she turned and
walked out of the room.
Warren stepped into the small open
area by the door, the foyer, if you will, of his daughter’s bedroom. He surveyed. It was
true it could be better organized. He knew that. But for now he’d just move
that new stack away from the window. And the three old weed whackers, the ones
awaiting repairs, standing inches away from the pink ruffles of his daughter’s
bed, that was a bit much. Especially since they hadn’t really been cleaned
before being brought in from the shed.
He worked his way over there and
rearranged them so the new weed whacker, still in its yellow and black box,
stood between the bed and the old dirty ones. He’d bought the two new McCulloughs at clearance, and
McCullough One was currently on active duty, while McCullough Two waited in
reserve. The others he would fix up and sell. Might even do that this weekend.
Warren turned and glimpsed Debbie
leaving the room again. Gone silently as a ghost. He hadn’t realized she came back in.
Once those new shelves went up in the garage, most of this stuff would go out
there. Then things would be a lot better.
The house looked a little cluttered,
but smelled clean, almost bracing. Officer Greenway sat at the kitchen table
opposite the woman. The space was a little cramped because of the big cabinet
full of cookbooks and knickknacks that pushed out from the wall.
“This is the Missing Persons form,” he told her. “We’ll
go through it.”
“I guess I want him back.” She chuckled with forced cheer.
Greenway gave her an encouraging
turn up, Mrs....”
“Debbie. Just call me Debbie.”
“Okay Debbie.” She was maybe forty, denim shorts, tan legs.
Blonde streaked hair. And she guessed she wanted the sonuvabitch back. That was
the thing about doing Missing Persons. Husbands disappeared, leaving lonely
wives. Lonely and occasionally attractive. The wrong kind of policeman would
take advantage of that—being the first in line, a figure of solidity and
comfort, a crisp, blue uniform. “So. Last seen?”
“He went for a walk,” she said.
“What time was that?”
“Before I got up. I slept late. ‘Til six-thirty.” Debbie
flashed a wavering smile. She had white, even teeth.
“Just never came back?”
Her lips trembled. She shook her head.
“But you didn’t call the police right away?”
“I figured he was just out. I don’t know. Then his boss
called me, and I realized it really was serious. We both called around. His car
was still here. Then his boss suggested I should call you. I was scared to.
Because, it was to admit. . .”
Greenway couldn’t help but notice how her speech
sped up as she talked. A sign of fear, stress, possibly lying. “There’s nothing
to be afraid of. We’re going to find him and he’s going to be fine. We take
this seriously, because of his age.”
She blinked, offended. “Why do you say his age?”
“I’m sorry, I assumed your husband was quite a bit older
than you. You know, sort of wandering off all the time.” Jesus! How stupid do
you have to be to imply something about a middle-aged woman’s middle age! “My
“He’s only a couple years older than me.”
“Oh, well then, cancel that.” Greenway smiled in what he
hoped came across as a self-deprecating way. “I do apologize. It’s just that
when they’re older, or on medication, they get a higher priority.”
She smiled at him gratefully, the
insult forgotten. “Well, he looks
older, and sometimes I wonder about his, well, his mental state.”
“Indeed. So this isn’t the first time he’s disappeared.”
“Well, he’s never disappeared before. He always came back.”
“Right. Okay.” Greenway made a note on the form: Wanders
off. “Do you have any ideas?”
Her face collapsed. She turned her
head and stared out the kitchen window.
“Anything that will help us.” Greenway gave the woman his
most soothing manner.
“The crosscut ditch,” she glanced up at him. “It always
worried me that he walked by there. It’s a dangerous place. He could fall in
there.” She stopped, overcome by emotion.
“Okay.” He did not want to say, we’ll take a look, because
the only possible followup to that clause was, for your husband’s bloated
and/or desiccated corpse. Three days in July, 112 plus every day, down in that
weed-choked alkali drain. Better for everybody if it turned out to be the
classic went-out-for-cigarettes-and-never-came-back. Then the report would get
filed fast and deep in the Whatever File. Unless the guy cleaned her out. “Has
there been any change in your bank accounts, credit card accounts? Any large
Debbie frowned. “I don’t think so. Not that I’ve
noticed. He kept the books. The accounts, you know? We’re not wealthy people.”
She was going south again. But she
looked at Greenway as if to say, No! I will not cry! I will get through this!
“I’ll tell you one thing.” She flashed him a haunted smile
below dead eyes. “If he tries to leave now, I’ll kill him!”
“Why do you say that?”
“Let me show you.”
She led him through the den, which
seemed to contain slightly more furniture than it could really hold. They went
into the dark hall, and she opened a door.
“See what I mean?” She reached past him to flip on the light
switch in the room. Her full, pink lips quivered briefly. “This was my sewing
Greenway peered in. The room was
stacked from floor to ceiling and wall to wall with plastic tubs, cardboard
boxes, and loose items. Down at this end of the house, Greenway recognized the
bracing smell he’d noticed
earlier. Machine oil. Most likely from power tools. Greenway didn’t see any
tools in the room, but anything could be piled behind that first row of boxes.
“I lost the war against stuff a long time ago.” She said it
softly, like a secret. The abandoned wives, not sure they even wanted the
sonuvabitch back, but already lonely. She was close enough that he could feel
her breath on his skin, in the vee of his open collar. An attractive,
vulnerable woman. The open collar of his crisp, blue uniform.
“If it’s old stuff
he says it’s part of our past. If it’s
new it’s for the future. There’s more, back there.” She motioned further down
the hall. “In my daughter’s bedroom.”
“That’s alright.” Greenway felt an odd buzz. Was he really
getting the signal he thought he was getting? Come into the bedroom?
“Are you sure?” Denim shorts, sea-green eyes under black
“Yeah, really.” Greenway would not be the one to take
advantage of this situation. He was happily married at last, to a girl who
really understood him. So no chippy-chippy side-side for him. He turned and
headed back to the den.
“He can’t leave,” she called after him in a soft, husky
voice. “I am not cleanin’ this crap up by myself!”
Officer Greenway was out of sympathy.
There was nothing else to be done. Who could guess the secret grudges these two
had built up in twenty years of marriage, the frustrations multiplied, the
dreams fractionalized? The sonuvabitch was gone, that’s all.
Getting ready to leave, he said “I’m sure he’ll
Sometimes a man just needs to get away. To think. I’m sure he’ll turn up.”
On the way out, Greenway passed a
young woman with spiky blonde hair getting out of a car in the driveway.
Attractive. Probably the daughter. As he got into his cruiser he watched her
walk in, glad to be out of there. You didn’t want to get mixed up with anyone who lived in that
packrat nest. People like that were weird and possessive and needy.
Officer Greenway said a quick prayer
of thanks that he was finally married, and didn’t have to follow strange women down twisted paths. He was
married to someone who really loved him.
Debbie couldn’t carry the secret any longer.
She’d barely gotten through the interview with the police officer. He had been
very concerned, and sympathetic. Certainly he hadn’t accused her of anything.
What stopped her from confessing was Warren’s voice in her head.
Now Marybeth sat in the same place at
the kitchen table. And Debbie couldn’t keep up the pretense anymore. She couldn’t even look her
daughter in the face. “I think it truly drove me crazy, all that stuff. Not
even him so much. It, the weight of all of it. The space. Sometimes I felt like
that stuff was replacing the very air in the house.”
Debbie glanced up. That crease between
she was very concerned. Best get on with it.
“It was an accident. I needed to find Jennifer’s birth
certificate and I was moving and hauling, and searching....” Debbie saw the
moment again. Felt it. Frustrated, angry, tired. Just tired of it all. “And
this big stack of crown molding fell down all around me. Hit me on the head. A
piece gouged me in the shoulder.
“He comes up to me and says, ‘Let me get that for you.’
I had that molding in my hand, and I just let him have it. It was just an
instinct. But I was so angry, I—” She made a chopping motion with her hand.
“Oh my God!” Marybeth whispered. “Daddy!”
“I’m so sorry honey.” Debbie had never spoken truer words.
They both broke down in tears, and
cried for a long time.
Finally her daughter looked at Debbie
with those big, sad eyes. “But what, you know. What happened to him, to, you know.”
Debbie sighed. “It may be hard for you to
understand. I don’t understand it myself.” She glanced past Marybeth through
the door into the den, toward the hallway. The back of the house.
“What?” Marybeth had the most fearful look on her face.
Debbie stared down at the kitchen
table in front of her. It was real maple. It needed a refinish, and then you
could sell it for five hundred bucks. The voice was still in her. Warren’s voice. All the things you
could do with this or that, fix it up, sell it, as soon as you got around to
it. And Warren’s voice had told her not to tell the policeman. To hide her
shame. That was the curse she would have to live with. Warren’s voice. “You
know that big barrel of rock salt he had? For the water conditioning?”
“Oh no.” Marybeth’s hands slowly rose, as if to fend off
Debbie nodded. “Well, now we have two barrels.
One barrel is half rock salt.” Debbie’s vocal cords flapped like they were
“The other barrel,” she whispered. “Well, that’s
and . . . your father.”
“Oh, Mom!” Marybeth wailed.
“He was such a big part of my past, of our past. I just
couldn’t bear to part with him.” Debbie was overwhelmed by guilt, but in her
daughter’s face she saw a glimmer of hope.
to embrace her. “Oh, Mom, I understand. I really
is the author of Line in the Sand, a thriller in which assassins
from a Mexican drug gang take on a janitor and a sixth-grade teacher and lose. Twice.
He has also written two historic Hollywood mysteries, including the
upcoming What's a Poor Girl to Do? His stories and articles
have appeared in American Heritage, Imitation Fruit, Close 2 the
Bone, and now, Yellow Mama.
facebook: fred andersen frequent author
Darren Blanch, Aussie creator of visions which tell you a tale long after first glimpses
have teased your peepers. With early influence from America's Norman Rockwell to show life
as life, Blanch has branched out mere art form to impact multi-dimensions of color
and connotation. People as people, emotions speaking their greater glory. Visual illusions
expanding the ways and means of any story.
Digital arts mastery provides
what Darren wishes a reader or viewer to take away in how their own minds are moved. His
evocative stylistics are an ongoing process which sync intrinsically to the expression
of the nearby written or implied word he has been called upon to render.
View the vivid
energy of IVSMA (Darren Blanch) works at: www.facebook.com/ivsma3Dart, YELLOW MAMA, Sympatico Studio - www.facebook.com/SympaticoStudio, DeviantArt - www.deviantart.com/ivsma and launching in 2019, as Art Director for suspense author / intrigue promoter
Kate Pilarcik's line of books and publishing promotion - SeaHaven Intrigue