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January 30, 2023

Out with the Trash 17

By Sand Pilarski

Chapter Seventeen

When the cable man showed up, Emily was still trembling from her interview with the police. "Yes, hello, right this way. I'll need the router box -- is that what it's called? -- in the upstairs bedroom." As she mounted the stairs, her mind was repeating the same three letters over and over. FBI. FBI. FBI. Do I have any secrets I don't want to disclose to the FBI? She had none, of course, but the very idea of the Federal Bureau of Investigations peering at their credit card activity -- Oh, God, will they bring up my purchase of the laptop? -- shook her to the core. They were about to be laid bare in an investigation.

"Wow, pink," said the cable man, as they entered her bedroom. "Real pretty."

Emily wanted to kill him on the spot. Here, stick a fork in this electrical socket, would you please? She gestured at the cable outlet, from which she had disconnected the television she never used. No, officer, I have no idea why he would stick a fork in an electrical socket and commit suicide in my house. Could it be he was just suddenly overcome by a realization of how tasteless and crass he was?

She was unnecessarily irritable, and didn't say anything nasty aloud. She made meaningless noises, and checked her cell phone for messages while he hooked the cable modem into the wall. That was more to let him know that she had an active phone connection than anything else -- how shitty, to have to worry about a utility employee. His face matched his name badge, but you could never be too sure, not while you were pursuing a case of fraud by a little old lady recluse who ripped you off for thousands. Had she, the little needy woman from Seattle, been misled herself about the dwarves? Would the investigation ruin her? Maybe the real culprit was her great-grandfather, who had worked with Schroeder, and who had used Schroeder's molds to make bogus dwarves for his heirs to quarrel over and hide in attics until they would be considered a fortune in themselves. Somehow she didn't believe that. Edith Weber was too smooth in passing herself off as an old lady divesting herself of investments so as to supplement her Social Security.

I don't know why I'm thinking of her as a little old lady, she has to only be ten years older than I am. Shit, in ten years I will still never be smart enough to know how to rip someone else off so badly.

"What's your user name going to be?" the cable man interrupted her thoughts. "You have to have a user name so you can make an e-mail account."


He typed it into his metallic silver keyboard. "Nope, that's already taken."

"How about 'EStorm'?"

"Nope, someone has that, too."

"What about 'Storm50'?" That would be easy enough to remember, her maiden name and the year she was born. She hoped it would work, as she was running out of names. We could be standing here for an hour trying to think up something to use. She felt a prickle of sweat at the thought of trying to be creative about names.

Tik-tik-tik, went his fingers. "Okay, that's good. Here, you have to type in a password to access the account. See there? You type it in, and then hit 'Tab' and then type it again." He averted his eyes from her as she typed a word that only she was privy to, and then again. "Hey!" he said as he gazed out her window. "Your cat just went under the fence!"

Emily walked to the window and looked out. "Cat?" Was that miserable Siamese from next door pestering her fish again?

"Yeah, I looked out and saw a white tail going under your gate down there."

"I don't have a cat." A white cat tail made her think of Aphrodite, long gone from her house and from the world, too, no doubt. She'd last seen white Persian Aphrodite twenty-five years ago. "Must be a neighbor's, though I don't know any cats in the neighborhood that are white."

The cable man looked at the little portable keyboard and then held out his clipboard. "Sign there, and we're all done. You get premium channels and DSL."

She signed, and then escorted the man to the front door. When he was gone, she locked the door behind him and breathed a great sigh of relief. She ran back up the stairs and into her bedroom once again, pulling at the lingerie drawer in almost a frenzy, fumbling with the power cord of the laptop and plugging it into the socket beside her bed like a junkie tying up his arm for a fix.

She held her breath as the display came on the screen, and then pursed her lips in disappointment when there was no indication she was on line.

Then Emily exploded into action as she realized she had not plugged in the wireless router. Hands shaking, she threaded the wireless equipment into the cable DSL router line. Then she went back to her laptop marvel again.

She clicked on the icon for browser and for a long minute, thought she was screwed. Then a little sign in the lowest task bar said, "Signal strength: Excellent" and she was on line, on the internet, she could go anywhere, to any city, ask any question, make any query, and she laughed out loud with tears forming in her eyes. She typed the word "Koi" in the search window and triumphantly hit the "Enter" key with her little finger. Voila! There was a whole page of links to websites about the fish. She could spend hours just looking at koi!

She typed in the URL of the email site, and bookmarked it. She couldn't remember Middi's email address, but she knew she kept it in her desk in her office. She set the machine on the bed (a computer on a rose and purple quilt, how beautiful!) and walked, almost skipping, to her office. She had always dutifully kept track of addresses, and e-mail addresses ("addies," the librarians called them) even though she didn't have a computer, knowing that Mark could send a message for her from his work computer if necessary. Emily grabbed the address book and went back to the bedroom, where she settled back against the pillows and began adding e-mail addresses to her very own personal private account. There weren't many to input, and she had plenty of time to send Middi a quick message.

"Hi, Middi, it's me! I've been very, very wicked and went out and bought myself a laptop computer. I love it! It's still a secret from Mark, though. I don't know how to tell him, but I'll figure out how by the time I get the rebate check.

"Mark was really upset about finding out the Shroeder was a fake. He threw a fit for an evening, but got over it by the next day. I called the police this morning, and they said that because it was fraud across state lines involving eBay, the FBI had jurisdiction. That's really scary.

"Anyway, I hope Las Vegas is wonderful for you! Say hi to Dad for me.

"Love, Emily."

She signed out of the email, closed the window on the screen, and just gazed at the bland picture that was the background. I've got to figure out how to set a background picture. Maybe I can find a koi that looks like Paris. She eyed the Spider Solitaire icon in the corner. The class she had taken at the library years ago taught the students to use the mouse 'fluently' by having them play the Solitaire and Free Cell games. Free Cell had been challenging, but after learning it, Solitaire had seemed too simple. Spider Solitaire was easy at the first level, but she'd only tried the medium difficulty level a couple times at the library (on a day when there was no one waiting to use the machine) before giving it up as too hard to learn on a public machine. Now she itched to play the game. That way lies madness. She chuckled at herself, but it was nearly noon and time to get some lunch and play with the fish.

As she tucked the laptop into the underwear drawer, she realized she would have to figure out a way to disguise the new cable box and wireless router. A stack of books would do for now, but she didn't want to have to move a pile of stuff every time she wanted to play with the computer. A silk flower arrangement in a big basket? That would do, and she could even make it purple and pink if she could only bring herself to stand fake flowers. That would be the hard part. She stacked a few books, then in sudden inspiration, went to the closet and brought out the big shoebox that held her leather winter boots. If Mark peeked in, (which was highly unlikely) he'd just see the shoebox, and if he inquired about the purpose of a shoebox on a dresser (which was even more unlikely) she'd tell him that they were horribly out of style and she was going to take them to the thrift store.

What a liar I'm becoming. Pretty soon I'll be trying to sell the remaining Schroeder dwarves to some rube and robbing banks. She picked up her day planner and carried it with her to the kitchen, so that when the agent called from the FBI, she could write down any notes or phone numbers.

She was putting mayonnaise on a slice of bread when she realized it had been a week ago today that she had been bustling about, consumed with preparations for their New Year's Eve party. The party had become the center of the universe, with all the guests and their histories and their importances and their comfort dictating every single thing that needed to be taken care of. There had been no thought in her mind whatsoever of fraud and deceit and defiance. Decorum and efficiency, oh yes. But concerns about her life and the state of her marriage and her husband's activities outside the home, no, not at all. Last Tuesday she would never have thought about telling her husband off, or surreptitiously searching his rooms, or brazenly ignoring his rule about internet access in the house to buy herself her own private computer. With surprise she realized that she had no intention of sharing the machine, not for a minute. It was hers, like the koi and the skunks, not for public consumption, not for wedded entertainment. There was no his in the fish pond or the woods; there was no his and hers on the lid of the computer.

Who am I? She did not feel like the same person she had been a week ago. This week's Emily was angry, determined, and ready to fight. Was it the outrage at the behavior of the guests at the party? Was it the fear she'd felt at breaking an ugly little statue? Or was it a case of hearing Clive Jameson's verdict, and realizing she wasn't the biggest dummy in the household after all?

What was more amazing was that This Week Emily looked back and pitied Last Week Emily. What on earth had she been thinking? The real question is, why on earth had I not been thinking? How could she have been so numb to the rest of the world?

She finished her sandwich, put the dish in the dishwasher. Just like I would have done last week. She got the jar with the fish food pellets from the cabinet, pulled on a warm jacket, and went outside. The blanket she used when she would lie beside the pond was in the deck box. At the rumble of the lid, Paris flipped through the surface of the water in anticipation. By the time she got to the edge of the pond, all the fish were milling about near the edge of the water.

As she put her hand to the water with a pellet in her fingers, Paris swept forward, pushing the other fish out of the way. He took the pellet, and with a swish of his tail, propelled himself away from the other fish. Oslo snatched the next one before London was able to get his nerve up to touch her fingers. He hesitated when she put her hand down slowly again, then touched her fingers with his mouth, seeking the pellet. He had barely taken it when Paris came streaming back quickly, shoving his fellow fish out of the way. Emily let him snatch another pellet and then focused on Juneau, who was within a half-inch of her hand. Suddenly Juneau darted forward and knocked the pellet from her fingers, a cue for Shanghai to dive and rob Juneau of her treat.

Emily sat up and dried her hand on her pants. She sprinkled the remaining pellets in the water, as she would not have done just last week. She was too cold, and too distracted to be patient with the fish. She couldn't let herself sink into the mental calmness that she needed to train them. My husband is trying for a job in Michigan and hasn't spoken to me about it. And he knows I hate it there.

She folded the blanket and put it away. How does This Week Emily feel about that?

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2017-05-22
Image(s) © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
1 Reader Comments
Ralph Bland
06:15:55 PM
Emily is certainly hitting her stride in the past week. She has made such a turnaround since the beginning of the story that I can't wait to see how far she goes and where she ends up.
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