At the station (pt 1 yr2)

“What time was it even in Wales? (2:13am pst – 9:13am wales)are there different time zones in Wales is it even big enough to have time zones. He has been planning this trip he told me forever, just one of those things “see the old country” I guess, I don’t know… this is just not the kind of thing I could have imagined. I just wanted to show Pops he could rely on me. And now…?” The pressure was building again, have you ever tried to hold back tears with a broken nose? Let me tell you this, it’s just not fair, the more it hurts the more you want to cry the more you want to cry the more it hurts, but there is a fear of even bigger pain then if you do start to cry…. and of course that feeds into the whole cycle too. 

Seeing the tears Mr Smith started wiggling in his seat. I could empathize I didn’t do well with crying I couldn’t fix either. Still at the time… just coming out of the fog again, it was hard to spare time for sympathy. I was the one who Pops trusted, I was the one so sure nothing would go wrong because it never had, nothing had ever gone wrong, in all our years of running a repair shop we’d never had a fire, a chemical burn, maybe a trip or two to the ER but we never had anything like this happen. Oh sure you hear about disasters, you see broken people sifting through the ruins of broken homes and think how terrible big disasters are. I broke as I pictured him standing there in what must be ash by now. I don’t know… did the second floor even burn, maybe they’d gotten to it in time, maybe there was something to salvage. Some family pictures or something.

I was weeping again, a full ugly cry would have brought me to the floor with pain but I could definitely feel the waterworks seeping under pressure. That thought though, something about the family pictures. It had only ever been me and pops, why was I worried about that? The realization came to me just about as Mr Smith was headed for the door to get backup (or presumably another box of tissues as I’d demolished the one he tried to push over to me) I blinked at him, The woman who visited, the one who’d punched me. She had a family picture, of Pops Family, wife, kids… if that was still at the house maybe there would be something I could save. Maybe she dropped it and it burned in the fire too though. Ok. Breathe. Just enough of a cry to get back some composure. Breathe in, breathe out. I looked sheepishly at agent Mr Smith and nodded. “I’m better now, thank you for bearing with me, just promise you won’t ask if I’m ok and I’ll manage to keep a lid on it until later” He smiled back “Oh I get it, I can only imagine how it must feel, just take your time. Now you said Pops called you at 2 in the morning, why so early? Is that when he usually calls?”  I shrugged “I don’t know about usually, he’s only just left a week ago, gods what day is this? Thursday now? He flew out last Saturday and called when he landed then again each day from the hotel lobby about 7pm their time, maybe noonish here, I’m usually at lunch about then, check up on projects, It’s weird, working together we don’t chat much, so I feel like I’ve been getting to talk to him more since he’s been in Wales. He keeps going on about this or that bit of coast line and the mountains and the pervasive damp, like it wasn’t just the same here, but for some reason he’s just almost… chipper if that’s right, to be miserable and cheerful about it all at once. He was headed out to Rhyl, I think. He was going to call at 12 but it was busy today… I don’t think I noticed he missed a call, just was wiped out, crashed late and bam 2am!” I must have looked confused because Mr Smith prompted me. “What did he have to say, at 2am?” I tried to be clever because I was quite certain that if I told Mr Smith what he said Pops would have a lot to answer for when he got back. I mean, there is no way in the 7 hells he’d have done anything to the shop but the urgency in his voice and the warning to get out of there, that wouldn’t look good any way you looked at it. ” You mean before or after I started yelling at him for waking me up at 2AM?” Mr Smith chuckled. My temper wasn’t a secret, and usually didn’t exist after I’d had proper sleep and coffee but George had a way of talking and there was this one time he drunk dialed me that I knew the moment I’d ended with “and your shiny red ass too!” I would never live down in this town. “Ok fair enough Effie, what did he say After you were done berating him?” “It’s a  bit blurry there, sir” I said truthfully enough. “That was when this “woman” knocked on the door”  “and the air quotes are for?”  “Well, she hit me!” “Who was she?” “I have literally no idea… she had a picture of Pops though, with his family it looked like. I never knew them, but they all seemed so happy.. ” “Can you describe her? What she was wearing… what she looked like?”

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Day 7

I was watching the officers face as I was wheeled over and it looked like he’d had a rough day. I imagine he was on duty when everything went down so I’m not sure how much overtime he was on but it was beginning to show. “Officer..”

“Smith” he said. I smiled because of course Agent Smith was here to help. He stood up and and offered to relieve the orderly. “Can we speak down at the station?”

“I haven’t called for a ride yet so yeah as long as you can get me there I can get home from there” Rats, who was up at this hour anyway, it must be close to 6am by now. I was good with heading out. Maybe we’d take long enough I wouldn’t feel guilty asking for a ride from a friend.

I sat in the backseat of the cruiser. I don’t know if it’s this way for everyone but I always feel a little guilty around police. I smiled nervously. Luckily the last dose of pain meds were starting to kick in and the relief alone made me feel kinda tipsy. I looked out over our little community. It was suburby and green. The main street leading from the hospital took us through the fast food corridor, Oh food. Yep the drugs had kicked in, I was ravenous. My backpack however was in the front of the cruiser. I wasn’t sure if it was acceptable to ask if he pull over so I could get out and get it from the front seat but I was about to gnaw my arm off in the back, add to that my penchant for stress eating and I was doomed. Officer Agent Smith looked back at me. “It’s been a long day I’m sure Miss MacCowan how are you holding up back there?”

You can’t ask for a better opening “It’s been rough, but as bad as it sounds I’m pretty hungry right now, I’ve got some bars in my backpack if we could pull over for just a moment I swear I’d be your best friend.” A shadow flicked over his face but he smiled back warmly.

“I’ll do you one better, how do you feel about pizza?”

“Oh man that would be AMAZING!” I could barely hide my relief

“Excellent” He said “It’s been a hell of a shift for me so a little chow while I wrap up questions would be great”

“Dude, you feed me and I’ll help you stamp, write, file,  whatever office gophering you need I can do!”

He chuckled “Good good, now the first serious question, how do you feel about fruit on your pizza?”

“Are you married? I’m all in for Hawaiian!” It seems silly, but when nothing else in your life is going right, a simple meal seems like some attempt at normalcy, some control. Also, dude, Pizza.

After picking up the pizza and getting to the station we found a little unused conferency type room and sat down with our prize. After I demolished 3 slices I leaned back and sighed. We had eaten in an amiable sort of ravenous silence, understanding and sharing a moment that was significantly more relaxing that the previous what, 15 or so hours had been.

“My wife, and yes I’m married, hates pineapple. So, thank you. I don’t get to order my own pizza very often as she can tell if it’s even ordered on a separate pizza the smell just makes her sick”

“Oh man, I’m sorry, that’s kinda rough. At least my Pops and I are both happy with the same pizza” “Crap, I need to tell him” I frowned, he leaves for a couple weeks for the first time since I’ve known him. He leaves me in charge and I manage to get the building burned down. I feel like crap just thinking about the conversation I’m going to have to have.

Smith tilted his head at me “What are you going to tell him?”

“That when he woke me up in the middle of the night to tell me to get out of the house. I ran into a… stranger on our porch, and she punched me” I gestured at my face which was starting to feel a little tender again from chewing solid food. I glowered, my blood pressure starting to rise “and then she went through our things.. my things.. everything was turned upside down, and then… fire?” “Why would she even do that?”

He made a sympathetic sound “ok, back up, Pops called you?” I nodded. He sighed. “What time was that?”

“2:13 this morning, gods… it feels like a week ago, but it was so early, I just couldn’t believe he called then, I have to call him back.”

Day 6

Good old George. Remember? Nice guy. He was sitting on the end of my hospital bed. “You look like shit” He smiled gently. I almost regret not getting serious with him. Still he was one of the rare few who actually seemed to get where I was with my own baggage and seemed to just go with the flow.

“Thanks, you should see the other guy!” I attempted a smile back and was acutely reminded that my nose does not want to move. Through all the swelling on the front of my face there was still some serious damage underneath and OUCH. I blinked back tears from the pain. Oh man, breath, good. It’s a quirk with me, I hate crying in front of guys.  Broken nose pain crying at least I feel like I earned, never mind if the tears served to release from more than one issue. I sniffled. A lot.

He endured round 2 with patient grace, he really got it. Letting me get through the worst and just handing over tissues and a cup of water alternating as needed until I got things under control again. “You know, it’ll tarnish your image as the resident grouch in training if this gets out”

“It’s a good thing I know where you sleep and will kick your ass then” I managed a smaller but still appreciative smile. “I really need to get back and see what’s left, make calls, figure out what to do”

He smiled “Way ahead of you.” He had put all my belongings together in my backpack that I had almost forgotten. It was a go bag that I kept as an overnight bag or in case of zombie apocalypse. Pops laughed at me, but it felt like such a security blanket right now that I was glad for my weird and geeky ways. “I noticed your Cliff stash was empty so I picked up a couple. Seriously no one needs to talk to you until you’ve eaten. I remember that much”

His thoughtfulness was too much to handle, but I stood up, taking my time, and gave him a big hug. Then stepped back and halfheartedly punched his shoulder for good measure. “Probably a good idea as the Jello this morning had surprise applesauce at the bottom… and I’m just not sure I can take that kind of torture again” I rifled through my backpack and found an old pair of work jeans and my Rainbow Dash t-shirt. I made a shooing motion for him to leave.

“Look, I know you are not big into that letting people help you thing. Seriously though, you have friends here, and I’m here. Just, let me know if you need anything, even if it’s just a coffee or a distraction.” I glanced over at him. I couldn’t really articulate, but was grateful for the thought.

“George, I, just, thank you. For everything you’ve already done” suck it up, you’re tough but at least acknowledge the lifeline.  “and if there is anyone in town I’d call for help, you are that person for me” His arms were around me before I knew it and I got the Hug. Georges hugs were almost a form of communication of their own and maybe that’s my favorite thing about him. Somehow he said “I’ve got your back” “I miss you” and “I get baggage, do your thing, I’m here” all at once.

“Ms MacCowan?” “Effie MacCowan?” I glanced at the doorway and saw Sammamishs finest.

“Uh, yes officer? I’m sorry I’ve been tied up, I have a list of people to call and I need to report the break in and the fire and.. ”

“Ms MacCowan, When you get checked out at the nurse’s desk please come see me, I have a couple questions for you, I will wait in the hall” with that he turned and stood just outside my door, which I thought was a bit much but given the break in I was relieved to be honest. I still hadn’t processed the whole event but my world was significantly less secure than it was yesterday.

George smiled at me again and waved his way out then did the “call me” thing with his hand next to his ear and closed the door.

I got dressed and came out to the desk where all my discharge papers were waiting to be signed. Then I got the stinkeye from the nurse as I was apparently not supposed to be up and dressed and ready to go looking like an overgrown raccoon and still smelling faintly of smoke. She glanced at the officer though and let me sign my way out. She did insist on that weird wheelchair protocol thing hospitals do, so I sat in the chair provided by the worlds most bored orderly and motioned that I was supposed to check with the officer on my way out.

 

 

Day 5

The rooms had been gone through, our little apartment above the store, everything scattered. Papers from the desk, wait, were they like that before? To be fair it was hard to tell, they were always in danger of walking off the desk and forming their own entity. I joked Pops would have discovered the first carbon print based life form, anyway, I thought it was funny. I walked over, maybe they had been looking for papers. There was nothing obvious, just receipts and bills pending, payments pending. We never kept an overly complicated or possibly accurate system, but it worked all the same.

I could see through the hall door so I know they had upturned his whole bedroom. We didn’t really have much so I can’t imagine anything worth stealing, and it didn’t look like anything was missing, just everything turned upside down. I checked my room, same thing.. everything dumped on the floor, sorted through. My poor stuffed dragon on the ground looking vaguely disgruntled. I grabbed him up for a hug. “I’m sorry Stanley, some guests have no taste” I put him back up on the shelf, like if nothing else was right, at least him being on guard in my room made it a little better.

My face was throbbing, it can’t have been long since I woke up. My nose just didn’t seem as pressing as my room, as our little home, being ransacked. I looked around, I just couldn’t see the purpose to it. Maybe I had a little cash in my sundries box on the dresser, next to my picture book. My picture book that wasn’t there, though sundries had been dumped and sorted through. My picture book that wasn’t on the floor, under my pile of practical and comfortable clothes. My picture book that had most my childhood friends and classmates in it. People come in and out of my life and though I’ve always been here with Pops I’ve never felt quite grounded, stable, like people just whisp in and out like a carousel, but somehow dissappear before they come round again. I like my pictures to remind me of times where neat people came in. Where, no, not under the bed, still not on the dresser, or the drawers that were at least cleaned out for me.

Why that book? Why now? Why did Pops go and … why was I seeing smoke? Wait what? I turned my head so I could see better. Smoke, outside my window, a ghostly sort of trail. I looked around and could see a bit of a haze I hadn’t before. I ran back to our porch landing and down the stairs.

Fire. Yeah. Great. Shit. I reached to grab the front door handle to our shop. Ouch! Dammit, of course it burned. I was not thinking clearly so please forgive me that. I looked at the gathering smoke inside the shop through a kind of numb cloud. It was so dark inside, save where I could already see the the flames engulfing our supposedly fire safe chemical cabinet. The cabinet doors were open though. That caused me to blink.

Our fire extinguishers were inside of course, and the sprinklers hadn’t gone off in the shop. The alarms hadn’t gone off. The cabinet had started a good burn and I could see a deepening orange behind the smoke now. Smaller patches of fire could be seen by the old work benches, by the laundry basket next to the door.

I didn’t run up to save anything as you would think in my emotional state I would have tried. I backed up across the little lot that served as our parking and sat down facing the fire. Facing our shop, our apartment. My face didn’t hurt as much anymore, at least not as much as my heart. I had been staring numbly at our little building for a while when I heard sirens coming closer.

I couldn’t take my eyes off the fire. It had become a respectable two-story blaze. Everything in my life was slowly being eaten by this fire that just didn’t make sense. Nothing did. A gentle touch on my shoulder broke my gaze. As I turned I saw George, local FD, went to school with him, nice guy, really. Not the type of nice guy that would tell you he was nice, just the type of guy that looks at  you with a heart full of sympathy when he knows you’re not ok. Though not nice enough to realize things are only ok as long as nobody brings up the topic.

“Are you ok?” Soft voice, kind, see I told you, nice guy.

I blink once “I don’t even have any marshmallows” and then it was time for the ugly cry. I really don’t need to describe it other than to commend George on his bravery in the face of a full on meltdown. There are things the body does when it needs to dump excess stress. Especially female bodies. Especially female bodies that were just fucking done with everything.

“I’m going to bring you over to the ambulance now, just hold my hand, that’s it. You’re doing fine we’ll just let you sit down right here” “Joe? Yes, Joe will be right here with you, I’m going to go check on things, they will check you over and may take you to the hospital, is that ok? Ok. You do that for me and I’ll check back with you there. ” George said some words to Joe and Joe wrapped me in a blanket and insisted on asking me questions. I managed positive and negative sounding grunts but that was about all Joe got. Twenty questions got him the basics then he left me to report and call ahead to the hospital, nonsense about observation and all that.

I fell asleep on the cot in the back of the ambulance. Asleep or just checked out. I wasn’t able to tell. Stuff just got sort of fuzzy. Hehheh touch fuzzy get dizzy. I chuckled to myself. Joe cast a worried glance back from the drivers seat, but apparently decided I should still go in. So glad he didn’t run the sirens though. Those are loud. I just wanted to close my eyes, maybe this time I’d wake up to something different.

Day 4 (head cold)

I really couldn’t make up my mind. I was functioning on adrenaline and the panic in Pops voice. Still there I was staring in a life size mirror, well sort of, we kind of looked like the before and after ads for an aggressive cross fit gym. Where I was comfortable she was tight, where I was splotchy she apparently understood hydration and it’s multiple benefits for skin and complexion. I glared back at her.

“Yes, in fact you can help me” She said, though why she was mad I couldn’t begin to guess. “Have you seen this man?” She held up a picture of Pops. A family picture, a happy smiling Pops family picture. Taken what must have been years before he took me in. It looked like he had a very productive life, 6 kids in the picture and what looked like a very pregnant or very fat happy smiling wife. Who does that? 6 kids. I blinked back tears for what must have been. I mean, I knew he had a family, but.. I had never seen them, so it was a vague notion, I never knew. A couple boys maybe near 7 or 8, an adorable pair of what must have been twin girls, ginger to the root and looking every bit of trouble their hair proclaimed, 6ish maybe? One fat toddler of indeterminate gender, same going for the pudgy baby.

I reached out to touch the picture, because out of this crazy moment that was the one thing that seemed real. She pulled it back with a smile “Ah so I am in the right place” She fixed her glare back on me “Where is he? I will not repeat the question”

“Aw schucks, seeing how you seem nice and not creepy at all I’m so sorry to inform you that  you just missed him”

Her eyes narrowed.

In for a penny “Oh yeah, he’s in another country, decided to take a trip. Guess it was time for a break. Y’know just felt like he needed some fresh air. I’m sure I could take a message” I smiled my best good girl too dumb to know better look. If nothing else it usually buys me time to figure out what is going on. I was so far out of my depth it took me as a surprise when fireworks went off under my eyes. Do noses spontaneously explode? Is this a thing? It seemed my face was now connected with her fist, somehow there was no more room between the two, and I’m not sure how that happened but I had just enough time to register the thought before I blinked and the stars were the last thing I saw.

It seemed a pity to move as my back was sorely cramped. I guess I’d never slept in the hallway of our front entrance before. The door was still open, I used the handle to pull myself up. I don’t know how long I’d been out but long enough I see for Ms Crossfit to make a ripe mess of things. What the ever lovin hell had happened? I was confused, hadn’t managed to follow basic directions and had no clue what had happened.

Day 3

Coffee, hot, heavy cream and honey. I like it blonde and sweet. I breathed in the steam from the opening in the plastic cap, closing my eyes for a moment in grateful devotion. Oh caffeine from which the force of life flows, guide my thoughts into cohesion, give my heart and soul strength to face the day. I took a tentative sip. Styrofoam is pretty much the devil, but it does keep the coffee hot, and you would think I’d had enough time on this earth to learn how not to burn my tongue on that first sip. You’d think that, and you’d be wrong.

Well, that did it. I was awake now, sore, but still alive. I was also very confused. Not a new feeling for me but usually I knew at least where to start looking for answers. Here, someone who I had been tracking down, meaning to confront, basically paused, noticed me, then went on her way. I don’t know if she didn’t think what she had done warranted an explanation. It seemed like she should have expected something. “waste of life””weak” her words echoed like the voices in my own head. In a tone that wasn’t meant to be mocking or cruel her words cut down to the core of self-doubt.

What had even happened? Why was I here? What the hell did I think I could do and what could I hope to get out of the confrontation? I didn’t have answers, so maybe it was time I went over what I did know, again. Sometimes you look through a problem so many times you lose track of where you thought you were. Pieces that seemed important shifted down, details that seemed off at the time filter up. Then they switch places. Hire a detective? Call the police? Sure sure, these things might have made life easier to start with. Given me simple explanations like “crime of opportunity” “tragic accident” “wrong place, wrong time” all those things were true, but there was something there that ate at me, wouldn’t let me go on with my life because, because my life wasn’t there anymore. “We fix things” had burned. Some tools had survived, like my hammer, things well crafted. Things that were so solid they would never need fixed. I think that’s why I brought the hammer with me. It was the one thing in my life that didn’t need fixed. Maybe it could help me.

The deed was in front of me. The shop, the loft above. Pops wanted me to sign, he wanted to transfer ownership and have me take over the shop. What could I say? I couldn’t conceive of a time when that shop wasn’t run by Pops. I thought he would die there, that some day I’d find him leaning over one last fix.  A little nothing shop, but it was everything. He said he wanted to go visit the old country, his great-grandfather had brought his grandfather over as a boy, there wasn’t even a hint of accent to his speech, yet he wanted to go back. He’d never traveled outside of Washington, much less to another country. I’m pretty sure this is what insanity feels like. It broke my brain to think of this shift.

“It’s important to me.” He said, “that you stay here, run things.”  He was never much of a talker, I feel like he communicated without the need for words. People came. He fixed. I helped. It seemed like a waste  of time to discuss the whys of anything. He was going and that was that. “You’ll be fine” He smiled at me. “I’ll send someone around to check on you” I tilted my head at him. “No seriously, You just keep fixing things and it will all work itself out” He had already packed, this was pretty much our 5 minutes on his way to the station.

“Wales though? Really?” I couldn’t think of anything we hadn’t said last time. “I’ve been with you 20 years, and now you get an itch to explore the wild yonder?”

“It’s just like here, rainy, gloomy, and filled with the truly cynical at heart!” He shook his head, amused at his own humor. If nothing else he embraced his own abrasive ways. “It will be alright” He smiled, then quickly turned. Abrupt, the stillness left behind felt so much emptier, quieter. I couldn’t know then it was his last smile I’d see, if not the last words I’d hear.

Oh gawd, so late and now the phone rings? “It isn’t alright” out of breath

“It’s 2am, of course it isn’t alright, I just got to bed!” I am at my grumpiest whenever I wake up not by choice.

“Baby girl, I’m so sorry, you just get up now. Listen to Pops, you get up and get out of the shop”

“What wait, what is going on? Are you kidding me? Oh gods, I didn’t even get to sleep until 12 and you are scaring the crap out of me. You never joke like this, you never.. ”

“Stop. Now. Get up. Get out.”His voice had shifted and sounded like the thunder you hear as lightning strikes.

I sat upright dropping the phone, I looked around swearing I’d see a some kind of boogeyman. Clear room, quiet night. I pick up the phone.

“Stop stalling ditherbrains, Get. Out. Now!”

I grabbed my backpack and bolted. Glad it had been a rare night I’d worn my clothes to bed. Kicked on my shoes by the door and opened it to a blast of wind that pushed me back. Mind you I’m not a slight creature but this blew me back, hard. I blink my eyes and clear my vision. My vision. I’m not sure what I look like, I mean we all know what we look like in a mirror, but we rarely get a full view of our whole body, and yet, there I was standing in front of me with a look I know better than to try to fight. I wear that look when I’m ready to bite heads off, when I deem myself unsuitable for company and bolt my bedroom door for a day to cool off.

“Huh” She glowered at me. “Unexpected, but it makes sense I suppose”

“Uh” I said. “Excuse me, can I help… you?”

—–Things just were, and you either let them be or fixed them. If it needed fixing, we were occupied. If it didn’t need fixing, we left well enough alone and enjoyed the rare break. It was a small town, developed out of what used to be a couple of vacation lodges. The kind of place where rich people went to get away from it all, but still be surrounded by the luxuries of everyone taking care of your laundry, cooking and entertainment. 50,000 people made it just big enough to provide service and still be rural enough for the elite. Our little shop

Day 2

It was in the old shop, acrid and oily, warm. I smiled as I inhaled. Pops was in the corner, cussing some contraption back to life. Grizzled and limping, always at some level of intoxication, he still managed to make things work.

What things? Well, that depended on what you could come up with. He handled everything from broken shoes to small engines. One time, this particularly well off family came in with a doll house. Don’t ask me why but his sign read “We Fix Things” and as he was unspecific, his customers took him at his word. This dollhouse was an antique, cherished and furnished with the scraps of the families own house. Where they had a lovely painting, there was one in the living room of the dollhouse. The chairs were covered with fabric scraps that matched the chairs in their house. I only know because I got to deliver it when it was finished.

Where Pops fixed, I Gophered. Anyway, apparently the railing had come off the stairway leading to the 2nd floor of this miniature mansion, and though it seemed a simple enough fix, Pops looked gravely at it. “Can you fix it?” the little one asked with a fat tear rolling down her cheek. Blonde curls and a sad face. Pops was doomed. She stammered “I broke it, Mama told me to  be careful but, but.. ” another tear “I wanted to put the  garland Nana made me on the railing, it’s the last thing I have she made, I put it on every holiday, just like she said” She couldn’t have been more than 12. I who had never had half the family she had, could see her grief.

He knelt down, and glowered at her. She backed up a step until she was pressed against her parents. “You weren’t careful were you?” It was a statement not an accusation, but she trembled as if he’d beaten her. “no.. “she said in a smallish voice. He looked her over and said “Will you be careful now?” She looked so hopeful as she nodded yes. Unable to speak she jumped at him and gave him the biggest hug. My jaw dropped, in my 20 yrs I had never seen him accept physical affections…. maybe a gruff handshake sure, mutual respect of course. He disentangled himself from her hug and looked at her parents, “Pick it up this time next week” he said and took off back to his contraptions and machines, making a show of being a surly cuss as if to shake off the overly saccharine moment.

I took to follow him as the family left and he just shut the door to his back office. I veered back to my corner. Pops may have been the only family I had, but I know he had once had a family before me. That old life, before me, that was something we just didn’t talk about. So, back to cleaning, sorting. So many random tools, but we often needed to fix things that we had no idea of what we might need so the collection included just about anything we could get our hands on. I picked up the hammer to hang it back on the wall, the weight of it felt real, the smell of the shop, the dust I hadn’t yet swept up.. hazy. It was so familiar, I turned it over in my hand, it was the first tool I was with him to buy.

Warm and sunny, maybe 5 or 6, I was so excited to help. He gave me a safe place to sleep, my very own bed and he made food so I didn’t have to scrounge or look for myself. Basically he was a god, but one of the old ones in the stories. He smelled like whiskey and he cussed, a lot. Never at me though. Oh he’d yell up a storm and be terrifying, especially if I slacked in any chores, but, he let me help. Treated me like a person instead of a baby.  He was old and prone to odd moods. I grew to predict when the weather would shift and it would be time to batten down the hatches. Cleaning became a pastime of peace and serenity compared to his moods, but even this felt good and right because that’s what we were. Old and young, cynical and hopeful, stormy and still. I slowly grew up with him, and as I did the gap would occasionally switch and eventually close. We were each the others compliment. Another thing he passed on to me, never get stuck with people who agree with you all the time.

A shop was closing and selling off old tools and we were there to “pick over the carcass” as he used to say. He was dickering with the owner over a specific lot while I wandered the front shop. I grew bored and like every other kid my age began running my fingers over every item, as if I could know what it was or what it could do if I just touched it enough. My fingers brushed the handle of a hammer. It was prettier than the other tools, some kind of leafy pattern in the wood, the handle half again my height, but the swirls and patterns of vines lured my fingers to touch, lift, … well try to lift.. man it was heavy. Instead I ran my fingers of the head of the hammer, it was molded like a bear, lion, wolf? Some kind of animal with gaping mouth and teeth. The head faded into the traditional rounded flat side you’d see in a hammer, right about where the nose of the amorphous creature would be. The exaggerated flattened nose made the toothy grin somewhat more comical than fierce.  Old with wear, but a kind of weathered tarnished silvery look. I loved it. Oh I don’t mean it was anything special, it’s just, with something so big, so pretty, I thought I could help Pops fix things. That’s what he did, so that’s what I wanted to do. Fix.

I put my hands under the head of that hammer on each side and lifted it with all I had. I pulled it close to my body. I was very careful. Tools are special because if you take care of them, they help you fix things. I kept the handle from dragging the floor and managed to keep my clumsy feet from tripping over it, but only just. I got to the front of the shop slightly out of breath but beaming up at Pops with my find. He glanced over at me and barely hid a smile. I smiled even bigger knowing then I had found a good tool, a fixing tool. We were not wealthy like some of his clients, he couldn’t always get what he wanted, but we made do. I carried that hammer as we walked home. It was the only thing he ended up getting at the shop. I never questioned it, it was among a dozen  quiet sacrifices he made. I learned later that hammer was pretty much the reason we had Ramen for a year and not much else. It was so heavy, but I was determined to help and he let me. I felt like I was 5ft tall and practically grown up.

When we got home and I had reached the point of almost being desperate enough to ask for help he reached down to me to lift the hammer. I didn’t want to let go. The handle pulled and tugged at my fingers and I panicked. I felt tears well in my eyes and Pops got blurry in my vision. “I don’t want to let go” “It’s alright” He said “I’m always going to be here with you” I tilted my head when did Pops get so short? Why was he eye level? He pulled the hammer again.

“It’s stuck Chief, gods but she’s a heavy broad” I blinked, clutching the hammer, closing my eyes.

“No! Mine” I snarled, being viciously awakened is one thing, being torn from a happy dream, Oh somebody was going to pay. My grip tightened as I rolled over, flailing and sweeping a leg from under what I could only assume was Chiefs braver accomplice. A satisfying thud spoke of my success, as he face planted the concrete. I got up and stared down the standing opponent. I must have perfected my “Broad be too crazy to be worth it” look while spending the greater part of what must have been a rainy night in the alley.

Chief smiled at me “No hard feelings” shrugged his shoulders helped his less than amused comrade up and sauntered off. I managed to stay upright and waited until they we off around the corner to sit back down and groan. It’d been what, 7hrs… time enough to get well out of town. Damn, I used most my resources tracking her to this spot, not sure how I’d catch up if she already skipped town again.

Damn Damn Damn. Well, coffee first. Then thinking. One just wasn’t going to happen without the other.

Day 1 – The fight scene.

My breath came hard and heavy. “Cardio” I muttered “waaaay more cardio”

My assailant sneered. “You think that now? If you started 30 yrs ago you could have been Batman, but no, you chose an easier path, indulgent, hedonistic, lazy…”

My grip on her wrist loosened as she twisted back attempting to pull me offside.

“Weak” she said.

I managed to keep my balance just barely, finding my center. In through the nose, out through mouth. Controlled breath is the sign of a controlled mind and mine raced as I studied my predicament. My assets were little and less, my choices rock or hard place? Her eyes narrowed, she was barely ruffled and looking at me like I was the threat. Good, let her give me credit for a cunning brain… cause shit if I knew how this was going to end. I tracked her here, followed the breadcrumbs, every intention of confrontation, and not a damned clue as to how to make her stop.

“So, come here often?” Yep, witty old me, but talking I could do, even if it slightly betrayed my lack of air.

She tilted her head, unsure of my game. “This conversation is a waste of both my time and your life, what little of it you have made so far”

A dart and I barely deflected her attack. Her blades flashed, sharp and quick as her movements, precise, purposeful. I felt like molasses, adrenaline barely making up the difference anymore. My hammer is a handy tool, and though grateful for its effectiveness at the moment as the worlds tiniest shield it was simply not going to be advantageous over time. I tried for her open hip as she passed taking a swing that left me cringing at my own ineptness, but I couldn’t let her own the space in between us. She had to fear that I could do her some damage, keep her from her plans.

“You have no power left, no way to stop me and you persist. You’ve become more annoying than amusing.” She flipper her dagger in that annoying way people obsessed with knives and daggers do. “You have 2 options. Cease this pursuit or forfeit what is left of your life.”

I shrugged “It’s not really an option to let you continue so I’ll go with option 2, but maybe I don’t know, live or something.. that sounds better to me” I gave my best crooked tooth smile “I’m kind of attached to this living thing if it’s all the same to you”

“It’s not” she said as she came at me again low and for all my life telegraphing a feint so obvious I felt vaguely insulted. As she came by I swung down catching her arm and deflecting the blade from creating a new hole in my intestines. The arc that would have made a coin purse of my stomach instead drew the faintest line across my inner forearm, delicate almost.

3 steps on the other side she spun back to face me, tipped her hat (why do the bad guys always wear the coolest hats?) and … ran? Wait, is that supposed to happen? I looked at the small beads of blood from the shallow scratch and then back up to where she had been. Look, I was out of breath, see? So it took a moment to process. I glanced back down and noticed how the little beads kinda looked blurry, and my hand, hammer still in it, felt heavy, kinda tingly. Well really my whole body was a little tingly, and getting kinda warm too. When did I eat last? Was it just on my way here? No.. the day before, when I left the road crew I was with. John, yeah… he was funny… what was the song he was singing? Something about Ruthanne? … Susanne? Oh Susanna! Don’t you cry for me… Susanna?… I’m getting sleepy so… sleepy. Mmmm I hope Susanna knows how to make muffins.

Well sure. Let’s see how coherent you are when you are drugged! So let’s just say I was out for the count. I suppose now is a good time to let you know why I was there, in that particular alley facing down that particular… bitch. She poisoned me! I’m allowed to jump to conclusions surrounding her character. She also left me there in the alley alive, as you are aware. So I might take that into consideration as well.