The patio with the koi pond and Japanese maples was fenced off from the rest of the property. Previous owners had put a trailer higher up on the hill and rented it out for extra income. The cement pad on which the trailer had rested made a wonderful barbecue area for their parties; Mark and Emily had put in a kind of water fountain on the hookups for water and drain -- "an outdoors wet bar," Mark had called it. They had capped the sewer line, as Mark said he didn't want the place to look like it had an outhouse like his grandmother's house had. For a time they had toyed with the idea of putting in a pool, but Port Laughton's weather was rarely warm enough to want to go swimming, and Emily was not particularly interested even when young to be seen in a swimsuit. The gate to the upper property was set high; a cat -- or any cat-sized creature -- could easily crawl beneath the bottom boards. Examining the bottom edge, Emily found a white hair clinging to the rough edges, but none that were black. Probably the animal the cable man had seen was a white cat. Nevertheless, Emily exercised caution opening up the gate, peering around its edge timidly. There was neither white cat nor black and white skunk to be seen. She stepped out onto the grass past the high pyracanthas that lined that side of the fence. She scanned the entire field, every inch. There were no skunks to be seen, and there was no place for them to hide in the grassy expanse.
Except beneath the massive pyracantha bushes beside which she now stood. She gasped and held her breath, listening for a characteristic scuffling sound. The only sound was the afternoon breeze as it flowed inland from the ocean. Emily walked quickly up the hill to the top of the property and the forest gate. The bottom of this gate was smooth, and had no adhering hair. But it was only a few inches off the ground -- surely a grown skunk couldn't squeeze under there! She unlocked the gate and opened it a crack. No wildlife. She opened the gate farther and looked around.
Breathing a gusty sigh of relief, she walked into the forest, slowing only when she reached the dell. She took a step, listened, took another two, listened. Unoccupied. The squash she had saved for the skunks was in small chunks, and the bits looked prettily bright against the brown leaves that carpeted the forest. Emily sat on her rock. I haven't been up here since the day before I went to visit Dad. Poor little guys probably thought I forgot them.
It's the rest of my life I'd like to forget, not the skunks. So her husband had a picture of the University president's wife tucked away, and he was shocked when he found out she had had sex with the football coach. That didn't necessarily mean he was having an affair with her. Maybe he just thought the picture of her was attractive in the same way he found the Playboy models attractive. She shuddered. They were all a bit long in the tooth, Marcella along with the rest. She was just a bit better preserved.
Well, a lot better preserved, I suppose. Why didn't Mark ever suggest that I dye my hair, or lose weight, or work out, or go to tanning salons? Because he liked me just the way I am -- to put it in his own words, "fucking stupid?" Those words had put a terrible barbed hook in her heart and in her mind. She would readily have accepted being called "dull" or "plain." But being called something worse than stupid was just unfair. A ragged feeling of disgust raced through Emily's head. She had left her cell phone on the counter in the kitchen. If I don't stop doing dumb stuff, I'm going to deserve the description. The quiet of the forest was not for her, not with criminal investigations floating in the air. She rose and headed back down the hill to the house, hands jammed in coat pockets.
The house seemed warm after being outside and letting her body heat be leached out through her rear by sitting on that rock. She found the meatball maker on the floor and was about to put it back in the drawer, but then she looked at it closely. There were holes in each little scoop to let the air out so that some clever cook could make perfectly round meatballs. The tong handles would enable the maker of meatballs to squeeze out all the excess meatball mixture and ensure customer satisfaction by uniform product. No more little Stevie crying, "Mommy! Annie's meatball is bigger than mine is!" Did Mom ever make meatballs? No, wait, this came from kitchen stuff Mark's mother didn't need anymore. "Here Emily. I don't want this cluttering up my kitchen, so you should have it!"
Emily went to the pantry and found one of the paper bags from Albertson's supermarket. She shook it so it opened with a cracking sound. Into it she tossed the meatball scooper. Then she propped up the wooden spoon so that its bowl was once again pointed upward, the concave side facing her. "Realistically speaking, Spoon, what do I really need for use in this kitchen for the rest of my life? Huh? You get to stay, in return for listening to me while I talk, and because I like you when I make cookies. The meatball maker goes to the Big House tomorrow, guilty of taking up too much space for too much time. Who else are we going to prosecute?"
Spoon was mute, knowing well how to keep silence when an angry and bewildered woman was in the kitchen with a Bag of Termination of Employment. Emily slammed open the implements drawer again. The whisk and the masher were spared; she used both often and now set them on the counter. The long tongs she used for fried foods and corn on the cob were permitted to join their brethren. White nylon spatulas used in conjunction with non-stick pans were not given walking papers, but the rubber spatula herd needed thinning badly. She put one large one and one small on the counter beside the masher and the whisk, and the rest joined the meatball maker. There were four ladles; one was shallow, one was stainless steel and had a medium cup, one was black nylon, and one was a wooden-handled, deep cupped tool that she had seen her mother use from her earliest memories until her illness prevented her from cooking ever again. "My mother was a wonderful mom," Emily told Spoon. "I used to love when she made apple pie. She made apples appear from right out of thin air. It was the only magic trick she knew, and she stopped doing it when she was peeling turnips one day and I asked her to pull an apple out of the air. She said the ether was not quite right for magic that day, and told me much later that she wanted to end the magic act while I still believed in it, before I might reason that she was tricking me. I actually knew that no one could make apples come out of the air, but I was willing to suspend my belief in order for my mother to be magical." She put her mother's ladle and the stainless steel one on the counter, and the other two ... well ...
My mother handed things down to me, and I expected to hand them down to someone some day. Who will take my things when I'm gone? When her mother had been buried and gone, and Middi had taken her place at her father's side, Nathan had offered Emily any and all of the kitchen ware -- Middi had her own collection and was in need of nothing. All of it was here, as Emily had furiously taken possession of her mother's things in outrage at Middi's invasion of her father's heart. Dishes, silverware, pots and pans, most of it still in boxes in the attic; she and Mark had everyday dishes already, and a full place setting for sixteen of white china with real gold rims. And the crystal glasses, stemware, sugar bowl, salt and pepper shakers, real silver platters and decanters, none of which were used any more, their parties having grown too large and boisterous to risk the china, and it was so much easier to rent the plates and glasses from the catering store. Two aging persons, so much stuff.
Middi was right. "Every, every minute counts," she told me, and she's right. You've got to be ready to go in a moment's notice. What's going to happen to me when Mark runs off to Michigan with a tootsie? For however angry and hurt she might be that Mark had a secret picture of Marcella the Slut Henderson, the fact was that he was looking to find a job far from his home, and he was not including her in the bargain. What's he going to do, move out at night by stealth and leave me snoring and holding the mortgage to this place? That didn't sound like Mark; he was not likely to leave the value of the house and property behind, even if he could leave the woman of the house behind. Emily's befuddlement returned. What on earth was going on?
Two egg slicers, three eight piece sets of barbecue skewers (she could pick up bamboo skewers at the supermarket any time), a rolling pin that Mark's mother had bought her when she saw the Mexican roller that had been her mother's, a ratty basting brush, all the measuring cups that did not match up with the plastic set and the metal set, (likewise all the unmatched measuring spoons), two meat thermometers that she never used, and a motley crowd of metal spatulas and black nylon spaghetti servers and slotted spoons and a meat tenderizer and egg rings and rusted cookie cutters later (and there may have been more), Emily hauled the bag in the waning light of early evening to her car and put it in the trunk. What's going to be left when I'm done getting rid of crap I don't need? What will I look like in the mirror?
She returned to the kitchen to wipe out the now empty drawer, and checked again, as she had every few minutes since her first conversation with Spoon, to make sure there were no black and white cat-sized animals on the patio to get her in more trouble than she was already in.