Monday’s Meander: Glorious Trees and Houses of Autumn

I am sharing a neighborhood walk today–its colors, style and Halloween scenes. Since moving from historic Irvington neighborhood March 2019 after over 25 years, I’ve made it a point to return there each new season. Some of the graceful houses are over one hundred years old; Queen Anne, Period Revival Bungalow/Craftsman and Prairie School styles predominate. I love the architecture, towering trees, lush lawns. Enjoy the views!

Wednesday’s Word/Fiction: Neighbors and Strangers

Ellis was not a neighbor watcher but, nonetheless, she stared out her windows more times than she could count. Her mind was on a netherworld-like pause, somewhere between cottony oblivion and sleepwalking auto-pilot. Why not set her body down, more rag doll than efficient biological organism, right on the desk chair in her back bedroom, or frayed floral wing back in the living room, or schoolhouse wooden chair at the kitchen table? She rotated: morning at the kitchen chair; afternoon at wing back; and desk chair in evening before flopping into bed.

Five weeks with no work. The seconds had ticked loudly in her head at first, small clicks that grew louder, then minutes and hours began to beat away, giving her a headache, until they ebbed and flowed with a swish, a flow without direction that still refused to let her go. Ellis was on a sailboat with no wind and no recourse. This thought made her perk up a second. Sam Towne had taken her sailing last August and she’d imagined it a beginning of something. It was–a friendship that was loosely woven across two hundred miles. He had called every other Thursday. Week-ends he’d been out and about. Not so now with the virus snaring their lives. Sam already had worked remotely and felt guilty he had paying work and she did not. He called less now, though he was at home like she was.

Only a few called at all–a couple old friends, her father, a cousin across town. Her ex-co-workers, never. They were work partners, never lunched or gossiped together. She was the boss then. Now they all were without a job.

She hadn’t loved her manager’s position at a large jewelry store. Ellis appreciated the product yet daily tasks were monotonous, customers’ relentless demands were taxing. Her paychecks eventually afforded her the 975 square foot frame house. It helped her even now feel better. She’d fallen in love with it at first sight four years ago. She could still wrap herself in its natural good ambiance despite a lurking depression.

Now she stayed in bed awhile, let her eyes take in first light as it spilled through sheer ivory curtains. The old maple’s branches gave up two or three robins that trilled, hopped about, flew off with stealth and returned to resume their singing. Ellis watched the leaves unfurl–the tree was that close, close enough to scrape the window in a thunderstorm, to offer shade in summer heat, and to cast a pale green sheen over her compact room as the sun took the sky into its arms. Sometimes this made her cry, all that brilliant new sunshine, but she couldn’t think why…it just all felt tender.

This morning after two slices of toast with cream cheese and a coffee, she had checked her neighbors’ yards. It was becoming the usual routine. The one to her left was quiet at first, then Heidi came out and whacked away at a rectangle of grassy dirt with a hoe. It had been decades since she had seen anyone with a hoe–her father had used one to break up, turn over earth to plant flower bulbs for her mother–and saw that Heidi was making a garden.

At the edge of her own trim back yard was a low stone wall, and then an alley, and beyond that lilac bushes primarily lined the perimeter of Genevieve’s wide, deep lawn. Except that there was an open space and a low gate set between two oaks. A pathway wound through Genevieve’s yard, and Ellis could see quite well much of what went on if she stood close to the wall or sat on it, looking past the gate. Which she did when she walked around. Genevieve didn’t care, it seemed, though she never beckoned exactly but nodded at Ellis, her pale face a smile of an aging goddess. She and Alf lived in a smallish mansion (albeit crumbling after 100 years). But the older woman didn’t get out much even before the pandemic. Another man came and went. Ellis thought he was someone who helped them out, and then a nurse, too, for the husband, she was sure of that.

Lately in daytime Genevieve sat at her patio table with a book, her wide brimmed straw hat shielding her face. And also her cat, Tucker, who stalked a bug or other invisible prey in the lush grass.

Ellis took the plate and cup and set them in the sink, then considered more cleaning. She held up her hands, spread her fingers apart. The ring on her right hand turned so the glittering sapphire was face down. She took it off and put it in a pocket. Her skin was cracked from constant disinfecting, the scrubbing, the attempts to hold every germ at bay. It was becoming a war. She felt battle fatigue already, to her dismay. Sapphires and platinum meant nothing.

She wished Sam Towne would call again, then almost spontaneously called him. Instead, she played an album of old standards and browsed through a home and garden magazine until she fell blissfully asleep.

******

Heidi had never gardened before. Well, she had helped her mother with an herb garden, so she did know a bit about those plants. But she wasn’t a great cook–not like her mother–and the thought of failure hit her in the knees, making them tremble. She gripped square-palmed hands about the hoe tighter and scraped and dug into the topsoil. Surely she could manage to plant a few seeds. That was the main goal now: make sure they had enough food. Her daughter must not be deprived of fresh vegetables and she was not going to the store every week, exposing them to the terrible virus. It had taken four weeks for five seed packets to arrive. When Heidi had checked on the order status, a notice appeared that no more orders would be taken. They were so backlogged that the company couldn’t keep up with demand and deliveries.

It was tiring. Not just the surprisingly sweaty dirt digging, but the way life had left them in this spot. She had been hopeful about that teaching post in Indiana but in these times that was no longer an option. She would stay where she was, then, and make the best of it at the private school, teaching online classes. Who knew how much longer the term would last? They hoped until June. Then she had summer off, as usual, then hopefully when fall returned….but it was too much to think on. Whether or not the country would be safe and healthy enough. Whether her ten year old, Marie, who stuttered when anxiety increased, would stay strong with her. Well, it was up to Heidi, of course, to make things secure. And a garden would be a good way to shore them up in all ways. You fed people and they knew you loved them well, her mother had said. It worked, Heidi knew that.

Yet her mother had loved her brother better. And look where Mason had ended up: Nova Scotia, as far away as he could get from them all. Far from most of the havoc that was wreaked on everyone else’s lives, it seemed. When did they last talk or email?

Marie had taken to sleeping in on week-ends. Heidi did not. She believed if she kept to her routines, starting laundry at 8 o’clock sharp, making coffee while soapy water swirled in the washer tub, making eggs for them both after she finally awakened her daughter, and so on–if she was diligent, nothing could come apart at the seams. It was ritualized living, a spell said against a negative outcome, and she hoped beyond hope that it’d work. Because she was starting to feel soft at the center, as if her abdominal muscles were going lame despite a half hour or more of yoga each afternoon.

Marie opened the screen door and let it crash behind her. She had a fashion catalog in her hand. She liked to browse even though she knew she could ask for nothing new. Maybe not until next fall.

“You find anything good in there?”

“Naw, it’s the usual dumb stuff, leggings, ankle jeans. I have all that. Maybe a jacket.”

“You have two spring jackets.”

Marie shrugged and folded herself into the hanging egg chair suspended from the ceiling of their rectangular covered patio.

“What are you doing with that tool thing?”

“I told you I wanted a garden.”

“But do you know how?”

Heidi stopped her labor and stood with hoe handle cupped in both hands , her chin resting there.

“That never stopped me from doing anything. You can learn things as you go.”

“True, I guess…maybe call Grandma Jean? She has the green thumb, ya know.” She held the catalog close to squinting eyes. She might need glasses, she wasn’t sure, but was saying nothing about it. She flipped the pages. “We could Zoom her tonight.”

Heidi picked up the hoe and worked harder, sweat accumulating under her faded denim shirt collar. Her mother. The woman of many careers. Now there was a person whose luck just got better. What a surprising business, her herb sales soaring as if customers thought little green things might redeem and save them. Heidi’s grip held firm and she put her back right into it and the soil gave way. At the damp end of an hour she saw things were progressing, after all. She imagined food coming from warm dewy air and then serving it up to Marie with a whistle, a jig and a hug. Musicals, she thought, her lost destiny, and laughed aloud.

Heidi heard her neighbor’s door swing closed and looked over at Ellis’ house. The yard was empty; she must have come out and gone back in. Why didn’t they talk more? Now that Ellis was home for good. For now, anyway. The woman was quite pleasant, a cheery greeting at yard’s boundary when she was home–she used to fly off to various trainings and gem trade shows. Must be hard staying home. But Ellis was not that approachable. Even Marie said so, and she could get anybody engaged in a good chat.

She took a seat beside Marie and peered at the bright leggings on a page. “We could get one pair,” she said.

Marie put her hand atop her mother’s dirty one and stared at the freshly turned soil. “Naw, I can wait. Before we know it, we can wear shorts.”

******

Within a lemony warmth spread over walls and floor of the solarium, Alf stirred in his wheelchair and looked at Genevieve longingly. Not that she could see him. He’d join her, but first he just wanted to look.

Genevieve was the most beautiful woman he had ever met when he was twenty-one, and that had never changed. Tall–taller than his five ft. ten inches–and willowy, graceful to the point of seeming less human than most, and her straight blond hair cropped at chin length, her ivory skin forever smoothed in sunscreen…she shimmered. Her words still came to him as they had from the start: liquid, warm, rich with deeper meanings as her alto voice slipped into ordinary air and jazzed it up. He was in love just like that and he never fell out or away. Even when he suspected she was smarter than he was–it added to her allure.

Genevieve was less enthralled with him at start. His potential, she said, was amazing, and hopefully he would follow his great instincts and dream beyond the usual–his dream then was to become the best something in the city. So he made lots of money as a stockbroker and wasn’t happy. Neither was she; her tastes and material wants were not terribly elevated, though her heart and mind reached higher. She kept painting large canvasses from seven to noon each day; it helped her discontent with her narrowed vision, his disappointments. So he tried out a pubic relations firm, became VP, and that was barely closer to what he longed to do. But what was to come next? What was his calling?

After a heart attack at forty-nine, he left the PR work and began to dictate into a machine some story lines for mysteries. To pass the tedium of halting days and a burden of too-long nights. To distract from his severe failure to remain a specimen of health.

Soon those jottings became stories. He asked Genevieve’s opinion as she was far better read than was he. He trusted her. She found the weak spots and magnetic aspects, suggested character strengths, weaknesses or quirks he might add. She smiled more. She became his happy shadow in his study, plying him with herbal tea and lemon poppy seed scones as she gradually worked alongside him in the afternoons. Those stories turned into books–he simply had a knack for it. And he was finally content. And Genevieve found her way to selling paintings, a show here and there.

Then came the stroke at 73, and it swept him off his feet and landed him in a cave of grief. He wrote nothing–for that matter, he spoke almost nothing of any kind of value– for seven, eight months as he worked to make his various appendages move in a less tentative or spastic way, to create strength out of little, and mental and spiritual plenty out of such paucity as he had never known. He caught sight of himself in the mirror, shuddered at the heap he had become. His legs never got as well as he wanted. he sat more in the wheelchair than he though he’d allow of himself. But surrender sometimes is best when you are clearly on a losing streak.

Yet there was Genevieve, talking with him, helping him. reading to him, painting and humming beside him as he adjusted to the wheelchair. She was not a sentimental woman despite pale beauty or considerable other assets. Every time Alf thought to give up–what good was he to anyone? how could she even bear his presence now? what stories were left in the wide world to share?– she told him no such thoughts were allowed to park in his brain cells, only the knowledge that he would go forward, and find the good in each day, in every hour. It sounded nuts. But they would grow old together, and now the process was well underway, and only a few complaints.

So, he’d learned how to write again and he had another book coming out. It was about them, their love and smarts more or less, with a crime or two tossed in.

She turned then in her chair on the patio, one hand holding her hat in place. Her hair was kept golden, cropped close about a lined face; her figure was still narrow and tensile, at ease in the world. Basic good health clothed her though she was slower than last year in gait and sparser of hearing. She didn’t care; she was still pleased with their life. Even though his books sold a bit less well and the house was not quite up to standards for a place that took up half a block, lawn included. They were entirely at home with each other and generous surroundings.

They could care less that they had to remain in place due to the pandemic, though the terrible loss of life and the mess of politics were points of head-shaking woe every day they spoke of it. They might stay well, or they might not, and meanwhile they lived.

Alf raised a shaky hand, half-waved. She waved back, her hand moving like that of a beauty queen–though she’d scoff at such a foolish picture. He wheeled himself close as she poured two glasses of iced tea. April might seem early, but it was iced tea as soon as it was sweater weather.

Alf took a long draft and then held her pale blue eyes. Tucker lept off her lap with a meow, lept onto his then left very fast to chase a bee.

“I think we might entertain more,” he said.

She cocked her head. “Entertain? How might we manage that, darling Alf?”

“You know, invite people closer, serve tea and food, maybe something good Clive can cook; he cooks four days a week, anyway.”

Her right eyebrow rose in a gentle arch and she murmured, ‘That’s true. He’d not complain of a few more now and then. But we have to remain apart, you know, socially distanced. Quite a lot of distance, Alf, remember? Hard to hold a group conversation that is not around a table. Or the fire pit.”

“Still.” He wheeled himself farther out to the patio’s tiled edge, almost halfway to the large fire pit where they used to gather people every week-end. Long ago. He gestured across the alleyway. “Those two. Three, I guess. They watch us, and we watch them. What are they called?”

Genevieve got up and went to him. Hands then rested on the wheelchair handlebars, readied to push is needed.”You mean Ellis and Heidi and her daughter….Mary or Marissa…no, Marie, I think. You’re suggesting we have them over here?”

“We might certainly do that. We can stay in our chairs on the patio to eat, while they can come in the yard, enjoy a small spring table well laid. We can still chat at the requisite number of feet–six is it now? Or they can stay at the edges, back here by the fire pit, enjoy its glow.” He looked up at her. “I miss other people sometimes, don’t you? We had such fun.”

She patted his shoulder then walked toward the lilac bushes and the gate at the alley; looked over the stone wall of Ellis’ and at the child with Heidi, her mother, then walked slowly back again.

“Extraordinary idea,” Genevieve said. She tapped her upper lip twice with a long finger, a bent elbow cradled in her other hand, a habit of hers. “I like it.” She leaned down, planted a kiss on a bristly cheek. “Let me think it over more. Come up with a plan. What a surprising person you turned out to be, Alf!”

Alf had heard that many times and it always filled him up with a warm humming. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath– the perfume of nearby cherry blossoms came to him, and cinnamon from the iced tea he had propped in his lap with his better hand, and her signature scent of lilies of the valley. And Genevieve smelled these, too, and the faint tang of sweat from her husband, and she laughed softly, thinking how fortunate they had been. And she felt it like a miraculous thing, a blessing amid the worst of times.

******

They all met there once a week thereafter. Ellis brought masks that they sometimes used, other times tucked into their pockets. They were never too close, always counting mentally the feet between them– yet never that far away, just placed so they could hear to share ideas and swap vignettes, even dumb jokes. Marie instituted a “show and tell”: they had to bring something quirky, interesting, or of real personal value. They felt safe standing like that in the evening, sitting apart around the fire, Alf and Genevieve seated ehind them but pitching in thoughts often enough. The savory and sweet foods they took turns making were satisfying, and the night air at once invigorating and calming. If it rained, they missed the time with each other but stored up more talk and searched for odd things to bring, items that told of their lives and wove more stories.

It was the best they could do, considering, even much more than Heidi and Ellis imagined possible a few weeks before. Or Genevieve and Alf. Marie wondered what took them so long, but she never said that to any of them, not even her mom. She knew adults had to take their time to figure things out right. But somehow she knew the oldest of them, Alf, as welcoming as her old teddy bear, had been the one who got it all going. Genevieve, too, but she was like a worn silk scarf; it took a little time to get comfortable with her, and then you were glad you did.

As they talked to one another more it felt as if they were becoming friends. The best things could come out of weird, scary times, Marie thought, and she couldn’t wait to wheel Alf around the block when the world got better.

Monday’s Meander: NE Portland Sunny Sights Call Me–Again

Lion and the Rose Victorian Guest House

I cannot lie–though I have come to quite appreciate southwest Portland with its curvaceous topography, its serpentine, woodsy trails, I still feel a tug to the old neighborhood, close-in to city center. So I visit NE Portland–especially now that the weather has begun to turn a jot warmer and a tad drier. We call it spring when there are two days with little more than very small bursts of rain, the snowdrops, crocuses, camellias start to open and swaths of sunlight land gentle on the skin. Though I must say I wait, too, for the intense fragrance of daphne to find me.

So, off I went in search of blooms and bluer skies; the parks and buildings attract me, also. Here are a few shots from the old neighborhood. I guarantee there will be more to post as spring unfolds into summer and and then fall graces the yards and streets. Historic Irvington is that lovely.

Above and below displays some of an old hotel now operated as a bed and breakfast that has been sold a couple of times in 30 years. I noted it once again had a For Sale sign. I hope it isn’t ever demolished to make way for an apartment building. Though opened for guests in 1993, it is a mansion built in 1906, a melding of Craftsman and Victorian architecture and decoration.

As I stroll about the neighborhood, welcoming views catch my eye with their hints of longer, warmer days. Note pungent daphne, below with pink flowerlets and bright striated foliage. Could smell it long before I saw it.

I like the many sorts of fences and walls. The stone is well loved by mosses and colorful plants.

I could manage an entire post of graceful houses and never share them all from Irvington (if you live in Portland, take a long walk around and see for yourself). But here are three pleasant spots.

I’ve never understood these perched angels looking quite sullen and perhaps considering chastisements, but there you are. I suppose they’re doing their job, watching passersby.

I leave you with these small but happy moments–until next week.

Friday’s Quick Pick/Photos: A Peek into My Old Neighborhood

It was inevitable that sooner or later I’d end up nosing about the old neighborhood of Irvington in Portland. We moved into woodsy ex-burbs on 1st of March; it’s not as if we’ve been gone ages. But when an appointment took me back and weather cleared plus I had time, of course I was going to check out a proliferation of new blossoms among old sights. I expect more within a month or two and will return. In our new digs we have greater vistas and different plant life as we are higher, nearer mountain foothills– but with fewer flowers, so far.

Hope you enjoy absorbing the sights, as I certainly did (though I am still pleased with our move).

All photos ©Cynthia Guenther Richardson 2019

If you made it to the bottom, a PS: our youngest daughter is delivering twins next Tuesday, so I may be absent a couple of days–unless I post Monday. But I will be busier than ever after this so writing may be less of quantity but, hopefully, still retain some decent quality. And to say I am excited about the additions to our family may be a true understatement…! I will share some of those new experiences.

Garage Living

As Clark opened the double doors to air things out, in rushed a gust of damp, dead leaf odor. He couldn’t win. He thought if he got busy with something his newly inflated misery would be deflated some. It had been six months since they had moved to this broad street with friendly looking houses but now all he could ever see was the rain. It had let up some in the last hour but it was still ever-present and irksome, like the projects he never got around to finishing. Like fixing the second-hand cabinet Mina wanted in their master bathroom. The door needed new hinges and a fresh coat of ivory paint–Milkweed White, she called it. Nothing taxing, so this chore was his goal for the day. But how can you be successful in such dampness? It’d take days to dry.

He reached a hand to the top of a door and stood there, the other in his left worn khaki pocket; a corner of his upper lip betrayed mild disgust. Anyone passing might think he was a well-bred fellow, a man who knew how to take charge–he was taller than many, for one thing, and moved or stood still as if he meant it–a man who had a decent job and was just taking a day off because he’d earned it and why not?

Instead, he was a man without a job, having been let go before they moved. They sold their house in California as soon as Mina got a far better job in Oregon. Life was supposed to be cheaper, more relaxed here, but he wasn’t so sure. The expectation, of course, was that he would get employment as soon as possible. But the insurance industry market seemed different here, though he frankly didn’t care about that line of work much. Yet he definitely was a resistant handyman/house husband. Mina went off to work as Nurse Midwife each morning, nearly whistling. But that was not different from before.

“Where is the stupid damned Phillips screwdriver?” He rifled through things on his creaky workbench; it was hiding under the previous owner’s old washer warranty and a handful of bent nails. He tossed it all into the wastebasket.

Clark could hear Mina tsk tsk over his language as he unscrewed four rusting hinges, cleaned the wood beneath them, then loaded the paintbrush from a newly opened can. She was quite proper in her speaking while he was tried to recall mannerly rules. But, then, they were so different in every way, it was a wonder that they had made it fifteen years.

Mina grew tired of the sunny palette of California while he had found himself utterly adapted after a month. She liked more variety while he liked the constancy so it followed that for him routine was appreciated and for her, spontaneity was enjoyed. Clark liked essential orderliness and she liked a little mess in every room “to make the scene more interesting.” People were not his thing, other than for the sake of business but give Mina a chance to greet a stranger and she would have them gabbing up a storm with her in no time.

They had one main thing in common: they loved each other. So they tolerated things, supported each other, had plenty of laughs, survived the spats trying to figure out how to manage life together. It just worked.

Until he lost his job, they moved and he could not find another good job and she was adapting without him. He wondered when she’d get sick and tired of his moping but so far she had just stayed her usual positive self and let him be.

He slapped more paint on the cupboard but wiped up drips before they made a worse mess. he did want her to be happy. Didn’t he? She always said that no matter what difficulty they were facing, she got to help new humans enter the world and that was enough happiness to tide her over. She took care of people and loved life because she had a gift for it. Clark cautioned himself to not puncture that happiness but why was it so great being born into this place, anyway? But Mina was smart and she’d had a hardscrabble childhood in India. She well knew the costs of life daily lived, the value of the smallest, random joy.

The rain drummed harder on the roof of the garage. He ignored it and stepped back from the cupboard to examine his work. Looked acceptable, much better than before sans hinges, which he’d add when the Milkweed White dried. he checked his irrelevant watch. He had hours to go.

“Hey, Clark, how’s it going?”

Neal the mailman didn’t expect a reply as he dashed through puddles to hand off the mail but Clark wanted to talk.

“No change, still a handyman. Painted a cupboard,” he said, pointing at it with a small flourish.

“Looks good, enjoy the free time–you’ll find work soon!” and Neal was gone, splashing his way to the Hudson’s’, a retired couple he never saw.

This rain, it’s like a curse that’s never-ending, Clark thought as he noted his sneakers were damp from the puddle Neal agitated. And that’s when the cat raced in, sniffed the newly painted piece and sat himself down. Clark frowned at it, sat across from it on his three legged stool and wished it would disappear.

******

By the time Mina arrived home he’s gotten acquainted with it. There was no collar or bell, ad nothing interesting about the cat other than it looked more like an oversized sleeked down rat with all that wet grey fur. In other words, ugly. Clark didn’t recall it being in the neighborhood and wondered if it would go its own way as cats do. It looked cold as it curled up on the cracked cement floor. He felt it, too, under his rain jacket, that icy damp that spread as cloud coverage got thicker and rain pummeled the earth like a beastly thing. No wonder the cat took a chance with him.

“Clark, you out there?”

Mina always parked at front of the house around the corner. She came through the kitchen door and found them sitting quietly. He had closed the doors to warm the space up some and was contemplating how to make it even cozier.

“What happened to the poor creature and why is it here?”

She squatted before it, still dressed in her blue nursing clothes, ebony hair swept up in a fat bun with tendrils escaping, her eyes lit with interest.

“It dashed in, it can’t take this winter deluge, either. He’s been drying out some, along with your cupboard.”

She stood up, studied the piece, then clasped her hands. “Wonderful! That will look so good when it’s up, thank you, honey!” and she turned and planted a kiss on his lips. She was not a cheek kisser with her husband; that was one thing he loved.

“Well, he?–yes, it’s a he–deserves a safe place to dry out. Maybe we should give it some milk or tuna fish–he looks famished. As am I.”

She bustled out and the quiet two gents sat a moment longer before Clark got up and left the cat a few moments.

“Were are you going with that?” Mina called after him as he returned with his idea in hand.

“Right out here, we need it here.”

And he plugged in the portable electric fireplace unit into the extension cord and then turned it on. It emitted a nice hum as the phony flames leapt up and heat was dispelled.

When Mina came to call him in for reheated beef and bean casserole and to feed the cat, she found them both dozing before the pleasant representation of a fireplace. Clark’s head was leaning against his work bench; she noted how much his sandy beard had grown in. Was it a bit sexy or was it becoming concerning? She knew he would get another job; if only he believed it, too. She opted for sexy, placed her hand on his shoulder and shook it so his eyes flew open.

The cat became fully alert and dove right into the tuna.

******

That’s how it started. The rain, being out of work, the painting of a cupboard and a drenched stray cat.

Clark set about fixing up his small garage with a vengeance, letting his vintage Fiat remain sitting under the maple tree. He sorted and tossed bits and pieces left behind by previous folks and swept the floor well, then covered it with sealant and waterproof paint of blue to mimic the ocean’s color. He put up pegboard and hung his tools, then purchased a better utility lamp. Their bicycles were hung on the walls until spring. There was even a painting on the vacant wall between rakes and lawnmower. He had found it at a second hand store, a tropical landscape he still sorely missed, and there was a beach shack on the shore. He thought about hanging fish netting from the rafters but Mina frowned at that.

The cat–whose picture he had posted all over the neighborhood–mostly settled in before five days had gone by. He ventured once or twice inside the house but preferred the garage or the outdoors, much to Mina’s relief and Clark’s acceptance.

“Is there to be a name or do we simply cat him ‘Cat’?” Mina asked.

Clark thought it over, giving a stroke to the skittish creature. He’d dried and fluffed surprisingly well; the thick grey coat was handsome beneath green eyes.

“Captain,” he said quietly to the cat who looked up at him, blinked once and looked away, then back at him, whiskers seeming to twitch. They held each other’s gaze a couple of seconds and thus, it was decided.

“Well, Captain, you’ve managed a miraculous thing for Clark and his garage, so welcome.” She worried that someone would come looking for him, but for now she’d take it as it came as long as he stayed outdoors. She wasn’t such a cat person, and who even knew he liked cats? They’d had cocker spaniels until the last was hit crossing their busy street in California.

“Let’s see if the weather surprises us this morning,” he said to Captain as he opened his garage doors.

“See you two tonight!” Mina called as she closed the garage door.

******

Bernie Hudson liked to keep an eye on things from his living room window. When he saw there were colorful lights being strung on Clark’s garage, he decided to get out and watch more closely. He moved slowly among slippery leaves, using his cane for better purchase.

“Hello, Bernie.” Clark, startled since he had spoken with the older man maybe a half dozen times, greeted him from the ladder. He was about done with the lights and they draped about the doors like small exclamation marks, brightly welcoming. The cat was curled up on a big flat rock now that the rain had stopped. Weal sunlight eked through the clouds and rested on its green eyes and Clark’s congenial face.

“That looks real good, I have to say. Some people make such a show of wasting electricity but this will be tasteful.”

Clark chuckled –he didn’t think of holiday lights as being fine decor–and climbed down, then entered the garage and plugged them in. The brilliant colors glowed under the mostly bare black limbs of trees, seemed to spruce up the homely garage. They admired it together, noted the other houses people had lit up over the week-end.

“You got a new cat, eh? Fine looking animal.”

“Oh, he found us, a stray I guess. I advertised that he was here but no one has claimed him this week. I decided he could stay–well, he comes and goes but  likes to hang out in my garage.”

Bernie followed him inside the warm space, leaning on the cane as he gazed about. It looked almost like a makeshift den, he thought, with two old ladder back chairs and a humming electric fireplace and a painting on the wall. A well used oval rag rug was aid across the floor, to his surprise. Hardly a regular garage. But pleasant.

“Mind if I have a sit? This leg gives me grief.”

“Not at all. I’m about to put on new hinges on a repainted cupboard for our bathroom.”

“Nice job,” he said, and took out his pipe. “Mind if I smoke?”

Clark hesitated before answering. he disliked cigarette smoke and cigars were overwhelming but maybe a pipe would be okay. He didn’t mind the old guy visiting, so why not?

“I like best my Paladin Black Cherry, do you know it?”

“No sire, can’t say I do, not a smoker, but go ahead.”

Clark worked in silence after that while Bernie smoked and grunted a little at the cat or over his sore leg and captain took his spot on the big braded rug by the fireplace. The aromatic scent wafted about the room  and since the excess escaped through the open doors, it lent a peaceful atmosphere. As time went by, Clark shared some about his past work and how he wanted something different, he was a very good numbers man. Bernie talked about his wife’s weak heart and their seven grandchildren and how he could get tired of the dark, wet weather, too, but this was home until they were too old and then who knew? Best to enjoy the days as they came.

“Clark, what have you rigged up here? How enchanting.”

It was the neighborhood’s community mediation specialist, Julie, with daughter Carrie in a stroller. The three year old reached for the cat but he got up stretched and sauntered off.

“Oh, just a project while I keep applying for more jobs… the house can feel small all closed up in winter and well, I like garages.”

“Yes, Troy would admit to the same. He’ll want to come and see this!” She waved and kept on.

He hadn’t recalled her ever talking to him. Julie lived kitty-corner from them; Mina had run into her once in the store, she’d said.

As darkness began to fall and the little lights quietly blazed, Bernie waved to someone getting out of a BMW. It was Terry Hansen and his wife, Melba. Clark gritted his teeth; they were both younger and lawyers; they likely would sneer privately at his little project. They’d ask whether he was working or not. Clark got busy fiddling at the workbench but on they came and looked things over as they chatted with Bernie and then his wife, who had hobbled over to find her spouse.

Mina opened the garage door, then carefully backed out onto a landing atop three steps. As she turned, two mugs of coffee in her hands, she stopped. She was amazed to see Clark chatting with neighbors they barely had been able to recognize. Everyone was so busy with their lives. But the visitors greeted her warmly so she offered them coffee.

“Sure, why not?” Terry said. “It’s been a grueling day. Mind if we sit and chat?”

Melba helped with coffee and then the women joined in, opening two camp stools on which to sit. The rain had started up again and darkness was thickening about the streets and houses but the glow of the Christmas lights sparked up the homely scene. Clark looked on from his three legged stool and made a mental note to bring out their set of folding chairs, and to buy a tall stool for himself. But he was a little baffled by all these people, how much they liked his funky garage. Maybe no one here had thought of such a thing before but its wasn’t entirely unheard of, he was sure. On the other hand, garages not renovated for, say, an extra bedroom, were meant for cars and tools, not people.

Once more, rain started up, sweeping across the street, yards, bushes, into the garage. Clark pulled the doors to a little, enough to see the curtain of water and let out the pipe smoke. They grew quieter, each in his or her own thoughts. Dinner time was also past due.

Terry drank the last gulp of his coffee, stood up and stretched his compact frame. “You play cards at all, Clark? Poker or a hot game of rummy? I’m thinking this would be a great place to play on an occasional week-end night, open the doors some for fresh air, fire up the fireplace unit and have at it. What do you think?”

“Oh no, another ‘man cave’ plan being hatched!”  Melba said in mock horror but she seemed to not find it so appealing.

“Keeps him occupied for now,” Mina said, smiling tolerantly at the chic woman. “I kind of like what he’s done, and so does the cat.”

“Here, here,” Bernie said with a lift of his pipe. “Cards are sorely missing from my life.”

Clark thought it over and found it full of possibilities. “I might like that idea…”

“Good, we’ll figure out a couple more players. Quite a nice set-up you’ve created. Unique, I have to say. Just what the neighborhood needed.”

Melba moaned good-naturedly and reached for Mina; they swapped phone numbers. “We need to get our own thing started,” she suggested.

After all had left and Mina ordered Italian take out, Clark puttered around until Captain came back. When the cat yawned and he figured it was time to pick up their food, he closed the garage doors and turned off the electric fireplace. He petted him twice and went into the house, leaving one garage door ajar. He figured if Captain wanted to leave he’d come back sooner or later; he sure knew his way around places and people. This could be a decent life for them both, at least for the time being.