Tuesday, May 12, 2009


(There’s absolutely no reason why anyone should read this very long entry. It’s fiction—no, it’s not about you—and it just fulfills a need I have to say that I’ve published fiction, even though pathetically I had to publish it myself on a free internet blog site.)

When the first New England Weekend catalog arrived in her mailbox, Diane vaguely wondered how in the world her name had landed on its mailing list. Her lifestyle? Her buying habits? Never. Why would her name appear as a potential customer of an upscale leisure catalog from Maine?

She had skimmed through the catalog briefly, raised her eyebrows at the prices, and then had tossed it into a pile of discarded magazines and glossy fliers on the front porch. The pile was three and a half feet tall—but it was nevertheless dwarfed by the teetering five-foot stack of old newspapers on one side and an untidy mound of Mel’s old shirts and pants on the other.

Diane sighed as she looked around the cluttered three-season front porch that ran the length of her house. Except for a narrow path that led from the exterior door to the interior door, the porch was full of Mel’s “stuff.” Mel had saved every item he had ever owned in their thirty-three years of marriage.

Besides the crammed front porch, Diane knew the attic was full and the garage was overflowing—because that was where she had carried items that no longer fit into the house. The dining room table was chronically heaped with piles that Mel intended to “go through sometime.” She occasionally tried to sort the piles when Mel was gone. But he amazingly knew every treasure in those stacks and would hunt frantically for missing fliers, coupons, or stray socks.

Mel loved garage sales and auctions. He especially loved the jumble boxes that people would assemble for their sales. “Look at all this great stuff I got for just fifty cents!” he would exclaim, rummaging through the box excitedly. Diane would try to look calm as he showed her an ancient egg beater with a broken gear, three orange plastic trick-or-treat pumpkins, an aqua lei from the county fair, or a ceramic troll with synthetic green hair.

Their yard contained every car Mel had owned since they’d been married—eight of them, although only two were actually running. Their elderly neighbor on the north, 82-year-old Gertie, would gaze nearsightedly at all the cars and quaver to Diane, “Houseful of company?” Diane would just smile wryly and say, “No, Gertie. Just Mel and me.”

When the second New England Weekend catalog appeared in the mailbox, Diane was about to toss it in the pile on the front porch, but the cover picture stopped her. White wooden Adirondack chairs were framed against a blue ocean background. A sailboat floated by. Border flowers surrounded a surrealistically green lawn—lilies, daisies, irises—in a profusion of blue, yellow, and orange. On a side table sat a colorful plate filled with grapes, peaches, strawberries, and watermelon.

No people cluttered the picture—just a single pair of red canvas shoes abandoned casually next to an Adirondack. Diane visualized herself sitting in one of the glossy white chairs, looking out over the flowers to the water and the sailboat, delicately picking the plumpest red strawberry from the plate.

Absently, she leafed through the catalog and saw herself slipping her feet into the red canvas shoes before leaving for a walk on the beach dressed in the coastal linen walking shorts and the lime-colored linen/cotton rib sweater from page 11. On an impulse, she mentally added the beautifully groomed, intelligent-looking golden retriever from page 22 (cozily sleeping on a forest-green cedar-filled dog bed) to run along beside her on the beach for companionship.

She thought briefly of adding Mel to the vision. But when she tried to put him into the River Pocket shorts and a pastel Kennebunkport Polo from page 27, Diane couldn’t keep the image in focus. In her mind he kept changing back into his ragged cut-off jeans and stained “We Fest 1995” tee shirt. So she kept the dog and eliminated Mel from her daydream.

The third catalog came a month later. Diane was still puzzled. Why did they keep sending her these catalogs? She had never ordered anything, yet they came with dogged regularity.

She cleared a spot on the couch, pushing aside the camouflage and blaze-orange hunting clothes that Mel had found at a garage sale the weekend before. Mel hadn’t hunted in twelve years. However, a widow had been selling all her husband’s hunting gear—and Mel had gotten the whole smelly pile for twenty-five-bucks-what-a-deal.

From the odor, Diane had half expected to find the widow’s dead husband buried within the pile of old clothes. As usual, she had looked at the pile without comment and left the room. Normally, she would have come back later, sighing and scooping them into the washing machine to at least retard the mildew growth. But this time, she had turned her back. So they had lain on the couch for four—no, five—days, making the living room smell like a duck blind.

Now as she sat looking at the New England Weekend catalog, she immersed herself in the pictures of cottage teak furniture with mortise and tenon joinery. She imagined her front porch cleared of Mel’s junk, the teak steamer chair from page 30 in the northwest corner and the garden arm chairs flanking the front door. Maybe she would add the Maine potting workbench on the south side and keep it filled with huge New Guinea impatiens in terra cotta planters. Perhaps she would lay a monogrammed doormat in front of the door. She might even train the beautiful golden retriever to lie on the doormat and greet visitors as they came through the sunny front porch.

Sighing, Diane tossed the catalog on top of the sliding magazine pile, turned, and went back into her kitchen. She looked at the counters, heaped with Mel’s treasures. The table overflowed. She would have to try to clear a space big enough for two plates in order to eat dinner.

She felt crowded, closed in, with every nook, every space, every wall, every surface covered, filled up, overflowing with Mel’s belongings. She was sure that if she walked through the house and retrieved only those items that belonged to her, she would fill a shoebox. The rest was Mel’s.

She half hoped that no more New England Weekend catalogs would arrive in her mailbox. They seemed to be the catalyst for the visions that made Mel’s messes feel even larger. She wondered if she could fill out a form at the post office to have them held.

Two weeks later, another catalog arrived. Resolutely, she put it into the magazine stack on the front porch without looking at it. It lay there for a whole day before she gave in and cautiously opened the first page. In minutes, Diane was walking along the ocean in a berry-colored field coat and roll-up Panama hat, with rubber wellies on her feet. The dog was there—Mel was not. The sky was overcast and a light rain fell as she and the dog sauntered along the beach toward her house. The dog ran ahead toward the back door, past the Hatteran sunbrella striped hammock (page 18) and the New England Spirit Gas grill (page 19). He waited patiently while she wiped his damp paws on a plush monogrammed pet towel so he wouldn’t leave tracks on the wool dhurrie rugs (page 23) that lined the hardwood floors.

Finally, seated on the cottage mission futon, nestled against needlepoint pillows, and cuddled under a tapestry throw, she laid her head back contentedly. The dog sighed and lay faithfully at her feet on a sun-yellow and blue plaid rug from page 36. Closing their eyes, she and the dog rested until Mel’s voice broke the reverie.

“Diane!” he called. She startled, disoriented, unsure of where she was. “Diane!” came another call from the back door. She opened her eyes, blinking. No dog lay at her feet. But the mildewed hunting clothes were still lying in a pile at the end of the couch.

“Diane!” The third call was impatient. “Where are you?”

Sighing, Diane rose and went to the back door where Mel stood holding a dirty gunnysack, his shoes caked with mud.

“Gees, Diane, where were you?” He didn’t wait for an answer but handed her the burlap bag. “I was down by the grocery store and just happened to be driving through the alley. Saw a kid throwing this in the dumpster.” He saw Diane’s look. “They weren’t in the dumpster, Diane. He hadn’t put them in yet.” Diane gingerly took the sack. The damp burlap spilled, and sprouted potatoes rolled in every direction. The putrid odor of mold wafted up.

“I know there are some soft ones in there,” Mel hurried to explain, “but you can cut out the bad spots. Why don’t you sort through them and pick out the ones we can still eat.” Diane felt nauseated as she bent to pick up the first potato. Her fingers hit a rotten spot and sank into an oozing brown center.

She opened her mouth to protest but Mel had already turned and left by the back door. Diane slowly gathered the potatoes with two fingers and put them back into the rotting gunnysack. Her stomach turned with the thought of sorting the potatoes one by one.

Holding the gunnysack as far away from herself as possible, Diane walked out the front door straight to her neighbor Gertie’s garbage can set out by the street. The garbage truck was due within the hour. Deliberately, she walked back into the house, pushed the moldy hunting clothes off the couch onto the living room floor, and opened the New England Weekend catalog to page 104 where a fit, healthy looking woman walked along the beach in a print linen/cotton jumper, a cotton lace stitch sweater the color of the ocean knotted casually over her shoulders, faithfully followed by her well-brushed golden retriever.


Anonymous said...

This is beautiful writing Rachel! I have a feeling you will be published and PAID for it someday. I loved it...is there more to her story...another chapter?
Thanks for sharing & hope you will continue to post more of your fictional writing.

bd said...

What a great escape to a gray, drizzly Minnesota day. Loved it! Are you sure Good Housekeeping wouldn't print it for one of those "short stories"? Send it and see what they say! Dare you!!!

Grandma Nettie said...

I double dare you---