The puddle, notably, did not sink into the bedroom carpet, but pooled on top of it in a shiny oblong. The fibers had over fifty years or so become so densely compacted  through use and dirt that it rejected any sort of spill, at least for a few minutes. Antoine the grey Shihtz-A-Poo arthritically hobbled away nearby, in no rush to flee the scene of his bladder crime. Someone eventually would come by and throw some paper towels on it, or not.

The room always looked the same: the tweedy brown curtains with the blackout liner drawn tightly closed, the only light in the room from a single bedside lamp with a yellowed papery shade that gave the room a harsh amber glow, never switched off. The fake wood paneling, if you touched it, would leave an oily yellow stain on your finger, and it smelled like smoke. A teetery fake brass TV tray held multiple pill containers, many empty, and old bits of tissues, neatly folded. A stack of paperback pulp novels sat haphazardly in a bookshelf, not moved  since Nixon left office and it was Fritos the Chihuahua peeing on the carpet.

A portable toilet with metal handrails. A flickering television set, also never turned off because no one could find the remote.  The steady hiss of an oxygen tank. Antoine’s toenails clicking on the bathroom floor. Time only marked by the television, and never noticed.



Someone driving that tan Dodge minivan wanted you to know that her name was Fern, because she paid to have her license plate spell it out, all boldly capital : FERN.

FERN was, as you might guess, a woman of an indeterminate middle age, whose lumpy, shapeless body and indifferent fashion sense outwardly belied the inward personality she proudly claimed. FERN thought of herself as a tigress: fearless, powerful, sexy and sensual, beautiful and deadly.

The only visible way in which she expressed her natural temperament was in her refusal to look behind her backing up in a parking lot, ever. Everyone else would just have to watch out, make way, and wait as the tan van boldly announced that HELL YES, it’s FERN.


“Would you like a sample of pumpkin bread today?” The supermarket bakery clerk stood stoutly behind a counter, which was filled with neatly-cut samples in white paper muffin cups. She was over six-foot-tall, ruddy-faced, was pushing 300 lbs., and wore her long brown hair in two enormously-thick braids hanging down from the both sides of her face.

I looked up from the bread to her, with her red face in her red apron. I don’t think I could have wrapped my hand completely around one of those braids. “Sure,” I said, and took the piece closest to me and popped it in my mouth.

Conspiratorially, she leaned towards me, as much as she reasonably could over the counter. “Do you bake a lot?” she whispered.

“Oh…yes,” I lied.

“You should get over to Aisle 8 right away. You didn’t hear it from me, but there’s going to be a real shortage of Libby’s Canned Pumpkin. Get it while you can.” She seemed both nervous and proud to let me in on this.

“Oh…OK…great!” She nodded at me.

As I walked away, I remembered to say, “Thank you, Helga!” and then cringed as I turned from her, because I really, really doubt that her name was Helga.