1 OK Google
“OK, Google. Remind me to buy a turkey tomorrow.”
“What?” I call from the bathroom as I rinse toothpaste down the sink. It’s bedtime. Denny doesn’t hear me. I bend over and put my toothbrush in the cabinet and realize he is not talking to me.
I remember now that Denny asked me earlier if he should buy a turkey. Turkey is on sale. It’s the week before Christmas. Denny is talking to his new toy, a computerized watch.
I turn off the bathroom light and walk into the living room. Between the bathroom and the living room I’ve decided—tomorrow I am going to start that book.
At a writer’s conference I showed an editor an excerpt of my manuscript, well, actually three excerpts. I had three segments with me so I thought I might as well go for broke.
She looked up at me over her reading glasses. I’m sitting there, not sure what to make of her, but I’m looking at her grey hair and thinking she should change hairdressers.
“You know what I’m going to tell you?”
Well, no, I don’t. I wait.
“Forget the book.”
I stare at her. Fifteen years of work. She wants me to forget it.
“Start over. Start something new.”
Simple. Just like that.
In the living room I break the news to Denny about my plan to start a new book. Maybe I’ll start writing a page a day I tell him.
“If you’re really serious about writing, Rosie, it would be a good idea to set aside a specific time each day to do it. If you write a page a day, you could have a book finished in one year. It’s good to be consistent and write at the same time each day. You’ll be surprised how much you can accomplish if you do that.”
I acknowledge his suggestion and start for the bedroom. Then, impulsively, I break my routine. Instead of going to bed, I walk back to the living room, sit down in the corner in my favorite upholstered chair and open a book.
Denny is turning off the lights. He asks me to close the window blind behind me. He turns off my reading lamp. The room goes dark.
“I’m going to read for awhile.”
“Oh,” the light goes back on.
Denny sits down with his laptop, across from me, on the sofa. There is a faux leather ottoman between us. We both prop our feet up on the ottoman.
After awhile Denny interrupts me and asks if he can show me a two minute video. He angles his computer so I can see. Two guys sit on coolers opposite each other take turns putting an elastic band around the middle of a watermelon. Suddenly the watermelon explodes and they go flying off their seats. Denny laughs heartily.
A few minutes later I ask Denny if I can read something to him. It’s a funny part but he doesn’t even crack a smile.
“Can you read that again?”
I read the two sentences again. Now he breaks out laughing.
I try and focus on my reading but before long I get up and go sit with Denny on the sofa.
“It’s bedtime,” he tells me as I lean against him.
He puts his arm around me. I rest my head against his bare chest and feel the soft coarseness of his copper and white chest hair on my cheek. I look over at his computer and see a picture of a phone.
“How long can you look at the Nexus 6?” I figure he has been doing this all evening, all week. He’s been talking about the Nexus 6 for over a week now.
“It’s not the Nexus, it’s the case,” he snaps shut his laptop. OK, so he was studying a case for a cell phone.
I snuggle in and get cozy next to him.
“We might fall asleep here,” he says.
“Wouldn’t this be a great way to fall asleep? I just want to let those little endorphins kick around for awhile.”
Two seconds later a hot flash hits me full force and I forget all about endorphins, or snuggling, or even sleeping. I head for the bedroom and strip.
Hot flashes make me desperate. My friend calls them flushes. Whatever.
Denny follows me.
“I need to find my laptop,” I look around the room in desperation.
Denny goes to the living room in search of my laptop. I’m pulling my nightgown over my head when he returns and holds out my laptop to me. I put it on the bed. My body feels like I’ve over-stayed my time limit in a hot tub.
Denny stands still in our tiny bedroom where there isn’t even room to pass and I realize he is waiting to kiss me goodnight.
Dutifully I turn to him and he kisses my forehead. I am not too distracted to notice. I kiss his lips.
He says goodnight and walks into the living room. Denny has taken to sleeping on the sofa due to my hot spells and erratic sleeping patterns.
It is December and the Canadian west coast feels like the tropics to me. I prop pillows behind my back as I sit in bed and open my laptop. I picture the woman with the hair that looked like she cut it herself and wonder about her credentials before I start to write.
2 Ticket to Ride
I am in the shower, trying to rinse off the aches in my back, my neck, my hips. Mornings are like that.
Going back to work, after Christmas, I have so much on my mind.
Above the noise of the shower spraying I hear tinkling in the toilet. Denny is up. He doesn’t have to go to work this week.
I turn off the shower and squeegee down the wall tiles with a firm grip on the rubber handle.
A few minutes later my hair is dried, my make-up is on. “I have a million thoughts running through my head for my story.”
“Would it help for you to record them?”
“I don’t think I have time to do that.”
In Denny’s life there is always time for the things he wants to do.
I sit down in my chair and pick up my laptop. I will quickly get some notes down. It will only take a minute.
Denny says something and then stops himself. “I shouldn’t be interrupting you.” He is sitting on the sofa opposite me. He pulls a fuzzy brown blanket over his head. He is still in his underwear and I can see his large white legs sticking out from beneath the blanket.
“I’m not here,” I hear Denny’s muffled voice from underneath the blanket. Of course I’m not distracted as he continues to sit there, his ankles crossed and his feet wiggling.
His looks up and now he is wearing the blanket as a toga. I grin.
“I’m going to write a silly book, like Miranda Spence.” I point at the book I was reading yesterday.
“You’re laughing already and you haven’t even finished the book.”
I’m not really laughing, but almost.
“I tell you, if you can make people laugh, they’re going to love it,” Denny tells me. “That’s what people want. They want you to make them laugh.”
I smile some more. I get back to typing. Only now I have forgotten the main thing I wanted to remember to write, the reason I risked turning on my computer in the first place.
I get up and walk to the kitchen, where the thought originated, thinking this might help.
“The bananas you bought yesterday are already over-ripe,” I tell Denny. His doctor advised him to eat a banana a day for potassium.
I look in the fridge for something to take for lunch. Yesterday evening I polished off a tub of rice pudding and there is one more chilling in front of me. I reach for a carrot. Lutein, for my eyes. They have been burning lately. I grab a celery stick and a couple of radishes to go with my carrot and stuff them in a container and snap it shut.
We’ve long ago given up having normal breakfasts together, except on weekends, when Denny cooks. Denny could do one of those YouTube videos on how to cook breakfast.
I glance at the table. On the table is the Ticket to Ride game we played last night.
Denny sees me looking at the game. “You won again yesterday. You’re better than I am.”
“No I’m not.”
“Yes you are. You’ve won every time except once.”
“I just have a strategy that works.”
“That’s why you’re better than me.”
Because Denny is not working today I have asked him to come to my office, later, and help me with my desktop publishing. Denny is a self-trained computer tech.
I also need him to do a couple of odd maintenance jobs.
“If it’s ok with you, I think I’ll plan to put that thing up on the wall on Friday, instead, and anything else you need done on Friday.”
“Umm. Uh huh.” That thing refers to the paper towel dispenser in the kitchen. He also needs to put white receptacles in the ladies’ bathroom stalls. A lot of things have been neglected in the last decade at the non-profit I work for, including waste receptacles in the women’s bathrooms.
Denny agrees to come to the office today after lunch to help me with my computer. On Friday he will do kitchen and bathroom maintenance and replace finicky fluorescent lightbulbs that require the use of a stepladder. Denny likes to have a clearly laid out plan.
When I was hired in the summer it was assumed Denny was part of the package. So far he’s cool with it.
I go to the door and glance at the time on the microwave—9:40 a.m. I grab my things, kiss Denny goodbye and hurry down the hallway to the elevator without a minute to spare. This writing life will take some adjustment.
I am cleaning out my purse and dumping stuff on the dining room table. Denny walks by and rubs my back affectionately. I stuff a fistful of receipts, Kleenex and handi-wipes into the garbage in the kitchen and return to the dining table. I pull a booklet I picked up at work out of my purse, “Finding Peace at Christmas.” I open it and read a line here and there and put it in recycle.
I take the passports out of my purse. They are still in there from the last time we crossed the boarder to visit the kids and to buy gasoline. Gas is cheaper there than in Canada. I put the passports safely away.
I fill my water bottle and I’m ready for work again.
“Don’t forget your lunch,” Denny says cheerfully as he brings me a tiny bag from the refrigerator and holds it out for me. The bag contains a spanakopita. Yesterday he came home with one spanakopita and a Butter Chicken samosa for me. Denny likes to surprise me with food treats.
“It’s minus three out there,” Denny warns me. “I just about froze my fingers off yesterday when I went for a walk.”
“I forgot to get the keys made,” I exclaim in dismay as I remember I was going to make duplicate keys yesterday for new tenants at work.
“Can you get those done on the way to work?”
“Yes, but I’ll be late then.”
“Well, it’s part of work. It should be your hours.”
Denny is right.
That’s the part I haven’t figured out—how to get paid for the extra hours I put in. Never mind the extra hours Denny puts in working for me.
The thing with a non-profit is that it runs on volunteers. With all those hours put in by volunteers, what’s an extra hour of free work here and there?
I decide to take Denny’s advice and I text my boss to tell him I’ll be half an hour late because I’m getting keys made. I grab my spanakopita and smile as I head out the door. Not a bad idea, Denny. The spanakopita and getting paid for working.
4 The Vacuum Cleaner
“You want to see something really cool?” Denny holds up his watch and starts talking to it. “‘I have a really cool idea of something to write. It’s all about a taco.’”
Denny looks at me as he talks to his watch, the one he got for Christmas that connects to his Android phone.
“And then I can go to my phone later in the day and it will have all those notes for me. Pretty cool, eh?” He shows me his phone and sure enough, there is a message about a taco!
“Kind of like Star Wars,” he says. “I can go to Jason and say, ‘Agent 763489. This is 76. Nice stash.’” Denny is pretending with his watch, as he talks into it. Jason is our grandson. He’s at the age where he loves make-belief.
I follow Denny’s conversation as I sit in my chair and wait to begin my writing. Denny knows I want to start writing.
“What do you mean by ‘nice stash’?” I ask him.
I smile. Denny is proud of his own ‘stache.’ It is fairly prominent.
“It wasn’t about the moustache this morning,” I say, coyly.
Denny laughs merrily. He trimmed his moustache after he got out of the shower and came into the bedroom to show me.
He carries his cup of tea into the living room and walks up to me and wafts it under my nose.
“Do you want to smell this?”
“Makes you feel like you want to eat something.” Denny is a coffee and tea connoisseur. I take a wiff of peach spice. It’s a specialty tea and a bit pricy, so Denny found it online and ordered a bag of loose leaf tea for a deal. We have a lot of peach spice tea now.
My computer is on my lap. I am waiting for Denny to finish talking to me.
When I was a teen my uncle Tom would pull the vacuum cleaner cord out of the electrical socket while I was vacuuming, just to watch my reaction. All innocent fun. He liked to see me riled and then he’d laugh.
Uncle Tom, lived at our house for awhile. My younger sisters and I thought he was handsome, darkly tanned from working in road construction. He was one of six of my mom’s brothers. Uncle Tom would play the guitar and sing, “Down the road I look and there runs Mary, Hair of gold and lips like cherries. It’s good to touch the green, green grass of home.” He married Mary with hair of gold and lips like cherries. I remember how much time he spent getting ready for his first date with her. He wore a fuzzy baby blue sweater I had never seen before.
This, right here, is the reason I spent fifteen years on my first book. I can’t write as long as Denny’s attention is on me. He unplugs my cord.
I can’t block out things around me like Denny can. Denny has focus. Denny has concentration. Denny is solid and stationary, like a rock. I’m like water. Water moves around things. Things move around Denny. They have to.
“I’ll stop talking to you now,” Denny has an impish little boy expression on his face that he knows I can’t resist.
He pulls out his banjo case. “I won’t talk to you anymore. I’m playing banjo.”
“I’m playing banjo,” he says softly, as if to himself, glancing at me. I’m supposed to sympathize with the difficulty he has pulling himself away from me on a Saturday morning.
Then, banjo on his lap, he’s suddenly back to his normal voice, “I have to develop seven songs and record them in the studio by the end of the month.”
Now I can start writing. Denny is working.
A few minutes later I interrupt him, “I’d love to read this to you, but it’s not going to happen.”
“I know. You have to wait till it’s all done. Fifteen years down the road. For fifteen years you can’t talk about it. You can’t even tell me the title. It will spoil everything.”
5 Wild at Heart
I ask Denny to bring me my daytimer from my purse, the one with the green elastic around it. I am settled in my chair with my fuzzy gray blanket wrapped around me. It’s too much effort to get up and re-settle. Denny already brought me my reading glasses. In the daytimer are notes, actual notes, on paper, written with a pen.
Yesterday at work I was obsessive about cleaning up and organizing. My boss went to Africa on a business trip for three weeks after Christmas—a good time of year to get away to a warm country.
I decided to print identical green labels for the staff and volunteer mailboxes. The mailboxes are really just black plastic trays stacked on top of the hutch of an office desk. It took me awhile to locate the labels and then even longer to print them.
It’s something I should have had a volunteer do. I trained three office volunteers but they have very specific skill sets, and they don’t have access to my computer.
I notice one mailbox hasn’t been disturbed since I started work six months ago. It doesn’t have a name. It contains a box with a phone and two books, The Measure of a Man and Wild at Heart.
I wonder about the owner and the contents of this mailbox. I make a mental note to talk to some of the volunteers about it.
I’m reminded of a flyer that came in the mail yesterday from an organization called “Promise Keepers.” Promise Keepers is a men’s movement that motivates men to keep their promises. The men have rallies and get pretty intense about this. That’s as much as we women know about it.
On the brochure it says the theme of the next Promise Keepers rally is “Fearless.”
I replaced the poster on the bulletin board for It’s a Wonderful Life Radio Show with the Fearless poster. I tacked a second one up on the men’s bathroom bulletin board.
Now, sitting across from Denny, I wonder if I should tell him about the Fearless rally.
Denny is playing his banjo.
The smoke detector goes off across the hall. Denny gets up and peers through the tiny glass peep hole in the door, out into the hallway. “They’ve done that before. Burnt things.”
The couple across the hall have three children, two of which were born since they moved in three years ago. We often hear a lot of commotion going on there. Stomping, yelling, loud trilling sounds by the woman, probably meant to get the kids to quiet down. The man who lives beneath them sends threatening text messages to them. Now the management company has hired a mediator for the situation. The mediator told the man downstairs he could no longer vent by text but has to come upstairs and talk to the couple through their door. We weren’t sure about this idea, but what do we know? Now it is to the point where the man is forbidden to come upstairs to talk to them.
They speak some English and Denny has been trying to get the couple to understand how this sort of arbitration works.
Denny puts his banjo away after the interruption. I’m thinking I probably couldn’t interest him in reading The Measure of a Man or Wild at Heart. I don’t think he’d go to a Fearless rally either.
I like that Denny knows what he wants and what he doesn’t want and is pretty fearless about coming out with it. I’ll leave him to reading Jeffrey Archer and Louis L’Amour.
6 One Good Book
Today I am tempted to read just a bit of my book to Denny.
“No. You don’t want to do that. Seriously, you don’t want to do that. It will mess everything up. Just think. You’ve got fifteen more years to write that book. You can wait. It’s not Christmas yet. Christmas is when the book is done, that’s when you unwrap the book.”
“Just think,” Denny continues, “The harder it is for you to wait, the better it is. That’s what it’s all about. Waiting till Christmas. It’s a thermometer. If it’s really, really, hard, the peeing your pants kind of hard, then that means it’s really good.”
“Well that’s probably enough for one day,” I say about my writing. Denny is being funny again and I can’t concentrate.
“Oh, no, don’t stop now. The sooner you finish it the sooner you can read it to me.”
I’m laughing now because I just thought of something funny to write and Denny says to me, “Tell you what. You don’t have to tell me. I’ll laugh anyway. Will that help you?” And he does.
“This is going to be one good book,” I exclaim.
“That’s what we want, one good book.” Denny has that silly, mischievous grin on his face.
“I just have to come up with daily inspiration.”
“Don’t take life too seriously and you’ll have endless amounts of material.”
Yes, Denny. No end of material.