May 31, 2012

Robins’ nest


I am a terrible, horrible, clueless, thoughtless, ungrateful person.

           I found the second robins’ nest today.  It is in my greenhouse.  It’s just in a different place in my greenhouse.  And, you may ask, how did I find the new nest?  By dropping a new package of pots-made-out-of-compost* on mum robin’s head.  Neither of us was happy.   She freaked, obviously, and then I freaked, because there was a tiny feathered rocket boomeranging around my (also tiny) greenhouse.  Hey, it’s a good thing the glass is so dirty:  it means she stopped, rather than slamming into it.  As I stood there, feebly twitching my arms like the big dumb schmuck that I am, she got herself trapped between the front corner and the door and stayed there, fluttering up and down—rather like a very small winged cat** on a hot tin roof.  I’m so sorry, I kept saying stupidly, like this would mean something to her. 

            At this interesting juncture the hellhounds erupted indoors, and I went round to see what reckless person was at the door.***  By the time I returned to the greenhouse, the robin had disappeared.  AND THEN I DID IT AGAIN.  This time she figured out where the door was . . . FRELL.

            I was not entirely unhinged.  I hadn’t had the presence of mind, the first time, to move the frelling package of pots, and since I can’t see back there, I was afraid that the pots were literally on top of the nest, and she wouldn’t be able to sit on it even if she wanted to.  I’m still not sure, although clearly she had returned and was trying.  But I did move the pots.  And she was back on the nest by the time I went indoors for the last time today—there’s now a strategically arranged crack between ranks of pots where I can just see a bristly slice of nest—and the top of mum’s head.  Yaay. 

            But this is a lousy place for a nest.  Several years ago when I had my first robins’ nest in the greenhouse, while it was diabolically inconvenient because it was early in the season and slap next to my stack of plant trays—you never see a nest before it’s too late to rearrange its surroundings so that you can get at the stuff you’re going to need for the next few weeks—it was very attractively arranged in the back of a narrow cardboard box I had absent-mindedly left there.  The view was excellent.  This year’s first nest, while very unsatisfactory for photos, was pretty good for the show.  This one is a ratbag in all categories.

            But it’s in my greenhouse.  You know I’ve been sulking, because here is this excellent greenhouse, with a roof and everything, and hot and cold running mealworms, and they’ve gone somewhere ELSE for their second nest?  Except they haven’t.   I don’t think they’ve quite had time to have a second nest, which would make this one the third;  and I’ve seen two robins together several times lately, which, if they’re not trying to kill each other, means they’re nesting.  But I almost didn’t buy mealworms this week.  Fortunately I overcame my bad self and did the right thing.  If I’d waited till today, the pet shop would have been sold out.

            More baby robins, all being well.  Yaaaaay.† 

* * * 

* These are brilliant, by the way.  I use more of them every year.  I was trying to find a link, but I can’t remember what they’re called, and there are gazillions of plant pots out there, and gazillions of gardening sites to sell them to you.  These are not just biodegradable, they are built to be short-term and to disintegrate quietly after they, with the plants still in them, are put in the ground (or in a bigger, solider pot).  The one thing you have to remember, which I never do, is to tear the top rim off when you plant them out—chances are they’ll already be starting to get sort of saggy and squatty and this won’t be difficult—because otherwise you end up with this little hairy commemorative ring around your plant in its final position, which does not contribute to the effect in any way you want.  But—no root disturbance!  And if you get a little careless about getting your plants put in, these pots will remind you by starting to fall apart.  

** There is a large, beautiful and very annoying cat that saunters around the churchyard going ‘mine.  Mine.’  Whatever.  Now, the churchyard is two gardens over from my cul de sac, and that should be far enough.  But apparently it isn’t.  The black cat that kept trying to commit suicide under Wolfgang’s wheels used to have yowling and hissing matches under my bedroom window at generally considered unsuitable hours^, with whom I’m not sure, but then he moved, and there was a couple of years’ gap before Phineas brought the hellkitten home.  We had occasional feline visitors but since the hellkitten got old enough to stake territory he’s been the only one I’ve seen in the immediate vicinity.  Now the sodding churchyard cat has decided to expand his territory.  ARRRRRGH.  I also feel conflicted because the hellcat, despite being a member of a hated race, is my friend,^^ and it does seem to me that he’s the one with a right to call the cul de sac his domain.  Meanwhile . . . catfights at 3 am.  My favourite.^^^ 

^ which is to say that in terms of sleep it wasn’t that big a deal to me, although in terms of stop making that sodblasted noise it was a big deal. 

^^ The fact that he doesn’t go out of his way to torment the hellhounds goes a long way with me.  

^^^ I’ve been meaning to answer the cat-repellent suggestions.  The problem is that while Third House’s garden isn’t big in any absolute sense, it’s a lot bigger than I can keep covered in citrus spray or orange peel.  Sure, I can fend them off one stretch of beds, borders, hedges, driveway. . . but they just move to a different stretch.  They don’t like tea leaves either, but I started to have visions of changing the pH of my soil till I could only grow rhododendrons.  I can’t remember—I think it’s some kind of coleus?—there’s a plant that is sold as a cat fender-off, and yes, they avoid the plant.  But it’s boring.  It’s not like you want a lot of these plants all over your garden.  Stuff like lion dung—which at least used to be sold packaged under a proprietary brand over here—only works temporarily:  the cats figure out there’s no lion.  I’ve been told by people who’ve tried that mothballs don’t work worth a damn, and that’s something else I don’t want rotting down in quantity in my soil.  Sonic discouragers would, I believe, also drive the neighbourhood dogs crazy, and it’s not the dogs’ fault+.  And the things that squirt water, well, I don’t want to distress any hedgehogs I might be fortunate to have in my garden despite all the frelling cats.  (I assume the sonic scarers would bother hedgehogs too.  And what about birds?  I don’t know what their hearing range is.  Supposing they want to risk the high density feline population.)  Aside from the fact that it would be sure to go wrong and someone would take me to small claims court for the price of their++ silk dress.  

+ Although I have exactly the same feeling about dog crap in my garden that I do about cat crap:  I want to kill the human responsible. 

++ Yes, probably ‘her’.  But not necessarily. 

*** Penelope.  Just by the way. 

† As it happens I had a big bloated feed-the-birds catalogue fall through the mail slot in my door today.  And I was reading it.^  I have been resisting, most of my life, the Bird Feeding Trap, which is One More Thing, expensive, and tends to escalate.  But . . . um.  I was thinking that since robins and tits and the other little stuff are my favourites, I could get one of those feeders in a wire cage where the gaps are only big enough for the little stuff to get through.  But you need a frelling PhD to figure out what to buy.  There are 1,000,000,000 kinds of bird food and—I did know this—different birds eat different things.  And they eat them differently—so you need like six different kinds of feeders, as well as a clean and cleanable hellhound-free space on the ground.  Well, we’re not going to have six different kinds of feeders, we’re going to have like one long skinny hanging feeder in a cage, and some kind of (hanging) fat block in another cage.  But my (expensive) penchant for live mealworms calls into doubt the expertise of the Bird Food Pundits:  they have these titchy little trays you’re supposed to put your live mealworms in.  Are they crazy?  Mealworms climb.  In this weather they climb like frelling monkeys.  I’ve got them in a big flat-bottomed planter to keep them contained—I needed something wide enough that robins could fly in and out but high-sided enough that the mealworms couldn’t stand on each other’s heads and pole vault.  And, just by the way, so much for robins being ground feeders:  the mealworms have always been on my greenhouse table, which is about waist high. 

            I wish I knew what was going on with my bats. . . . 

^ Anything to avoid working.


KES, 14



            “We can take my car,” said Hayley, “and then we can chat on the way.  I think you are new to this area?”  I didn’t have to nod:  Hayley already knew I was not a returning native, burnt out on the big city and re-establishing her hometown roots.  She had identified me, like a bird-watcher running her finger down the description in her bird book:  was she marking me as transient or lost? 

            “I’ve lived all my life in New York City,” I said as neutrally as possible.  “It was time for a change.”

            We were walking down the street.  She pointed her keys at a small bright yellow car that went eeooeeooeeoo as its locks unsnapped.   To each her own.  I wanted a Silent Wonder Car to go with the dog.  “I have the info on three other houses in Cold Valley that you might be interested in,” she said, pulling some pages out of her briefcase.  “Perhaps you would care to look at these on the way.”

            I took them a bit dubiously.  My experience was limited, but real estate flyers tend to have their own unique relationship with what the rest of us call reality.  “Thanks,” I said.

            I climbed into the passenger seat.  I am not all that seriously tall but I was pretty much peering through my knees by the time I got the door closed.  There was a back seat but the briefcase and a box of tissues filled it.  Clearly families of one and a half took their own car.  I wasn’t sure there was room for me and five pages of house info, as well as my over-large and over-heavy knapsack, because I wasn’t going to leave my laptop in a motel room.  I was sure the friendly campfire in the window would lead it astray.

             The top two pages were the houses I’d already met—oh, fabulous, the big one had a tower.  Where the cackling madwoman lived, probably, eating the wallpaper in strips and muttering under the door sills.  I hadn’t realised I’d said any of this aloud—I hope I had not mentioned the madwoman—till Hayley said, “Yes, there were a number of rather grand houses built early last century, when the railroad came here, and Cold Valley was briefly a fashionable resort town.  Most of them were summer cottages, and there are only a few of them left.  There weren’t too many year-round houses to begin with.  Yours—I mean,” she said, blushing through her face powder, “I mean the one you are going to look at, is one of only two that are still lived in.  The other one is on the far side of the lake.  It has,” breathed the real estate agent reverentially, “six bedrooms.  A member of that family owns y—I mean, the one you are looking at, but he lives in Europe,” (she said disdainfully) “and I have never met him.”

            And you graduated from high school last June, I thought.  You have time to meet him later.  But I wanted her friendly, and my ever-fertile writer’s imagination suggested:  “If it’s a family house, maybe there’s some family stuff that makes him reluctant either to deal with it or sell.”  I glanced at her.  She was staring at the road, chin up, shoulders back, hands at ten and two, her button-down shirt blindingly white and crisp with recent ironing, a small tactful gold pin on the lapel of her blue blazer, looking every inch of twenty-one years old and invincibly professional.  Okay, maybe she graduated from college last June.  With a major in cartwheels. 

            She said thoughtfully, “There are stories —”, and then remembered she was talking to a prospective renter and said hastily, “but there are always stories.  It would be a lovely house if someone put some time and effort into renovating it.”

            Not me, babe, I thought.  Getting the lid off a new jar of peanut butter is as practical as I go.

            We left New Iceland behind in the first ten seconds.  We passed the high school—I know it was the high school because it said GENERAL JAMES B. CABELL HIGH SCHOOL across the front of the building, and it took up about as much front as the building had, which is to say I guess the graduating class was about twelve.  Maybe fourteen.  And then we were out in the country.  Oh gods.  Cows.  I may have clutched the arm rest.

            I looked back at the house descriptions.  The first new one had aluminum siding.  Not just aluminum siding but the weird kind of aluminum siding, which is sort of pitted and knobbly, as if there had been a terrible accident at the aluminum-siding factory.  In this case it was also mauve.  I’d rather live with a madwoman.  The second one should have been fine but even clever real-estate photography couldn’t disguise the fact that it had road on two sides and neighbors on the other two sides, and I needed somewhere to keep a rose-bush.  Oh, and a car.  Also the Silent Wonder Dog would need a place to pee in the mornings while we were both waiting for the caffeine to work and my legs become capable of going for a walk. 

            The final house was trying to be a log cabin.  Please.  Although self-delusion wasn’t necessarily a deal-breaker:  I write fantasy for a living.  But it was tiny and dark, tucked in a grove of gigantic, grotty looking pine trees.  I don’t know much about living in the country, but I know the noise pine trees make with the wind in them.  No thanks.

            Which left one perfectly normal house that didn’t allow pets.  And my doom.


Mondays are extreme enough, hot is too much


Mondays are always long and this one has been longer than most and I have Weetabix Brain.*  In the first place it is too hot.  Peter, who feels the heat worse than he used to, was saying that he wasn’t getting out enough;  that watering the wilting garden in the late afternoon, when the blaze is beginning to dim, was about as much as he could deal with.  I said, it’s really nice at dawn.  It does cool off some overnight** so when the sun is first coming up in the morning, and before it starts beating us up again, the world is pretty and cool(ish) and quiet and empty.***  You should try going out then.  (Peter is an early riser.)  I’ve taken hellhounds out for a quick sprint the last two dawns.  I hope you go to bed again after, said Peter.  Hrrmph, I said.  I don’t go to bed again.  I go to bed.† 

             Monday is also the day I have the dogminder to provide their afternoon hurtle, chiefly to keep me on her active customers list so I can use her for stuff like the Met Live Saturdays—but it is pleasant not to have to race out with hellhounds the minute I get home from my voice lesson, and to have time for a sit-down and a cup of tea before I go off again to ring bells at Colin’s tower.  Today I gave hellhounds extra morning time, told Mavis to make it a half-length amble this febrile afternoon, and took them out once more, although I would not call it racing, when I got home after Nadia.  Niall wasn’t going tonight†† so if I went ringing I had to drive myself, and the ME and I did have a little conversation about this but rather mysteriously the heat doesn’t seem to aggravate it the way it aggravates the rest of me.  And Wolfgang knows the way to all three of Colin’s towers.  So we went.††† 

            My voice lesson wasn’t nearly as terrible as it should have been.  Singing in the heat is strange.  Some of it is just the singing version of ‘what do you mean work’ but some of it is unique to the physiology of throats and small vibrating pieces of flesh.  I crack more in the heat and Nadia said severely, that’s dehydration.  I said, it is?  This sensitive-flower thing would be easier to take seriously if I had a voice worth cosseting, but I guess it’s like buying the best shoes for running even if you’re never going to be better than 1,000,000,000th in the London/New York marathon, it’s still your body.  So I guess I’m going to have to start doing that My Life, My Water Bottle that the upmarket spa people have turned into a fashion statement.  Sigh.  I don’t like water.‡  Also, I have Post Menopausal Woman Bladder.‡‡  The loo at Nadia’s is immediately outside the music room door, but this isn’t going to help me with the Muddles’ loo-free rehearsal church.

            Nadia always asks how it’s going with Oisin—and while I’ve told her that I’ve engaged the stubbornness element and am therefore now singing on Fridays pretty regularly, she’s kind enough not to assume.  Today we were discussing how I was going to keep myself amused while she’s on maternity leave‡‡‡ and I was explaining that while even a dork-level singer ought to be able to cope with some poor patient pianist supporting them on their effortful way, what interested me was the music-with aspect, the fact that someone else was performing music with you, and that therefore my favourite songs tended to be the ones when the ‘accompanist’ is doing something else entirely—when I can sing them, that is.  Nadia said immediately, oh, you should sing Peter Warlock.  The words were already out of her mouth.  Then she looked a little anxious and said that most of his songs were technically fairly demanding.  But it’s too late.  I’d love to sing some Warlock.  So she’s going to have a look at her [complete song collection] of Warlock at home and see if anything strikes her as possible.  And not too gruesome for the responsible voice teacher.

            So maybe there’s an explanation in there somewhere why the ringing tonight was . . . ahem . . . less than consummate generally.  Maybe it was just the shock of Glaciation being t shirt temperature even for me.  

* * *

* From Wiki on Weetabix:  ‘Dry Weetabix is so absorbent that it is extremely difficult to eat without liquid. Fund-raisers such as the Boy Scouts hold events based on this, such as returning double the entry fee for those who can eat two dry Weetabix.’  Thoughts produced from a Weetabix brain tend to be dry, hard and crumbly also.

** Which I realise puts us way ahead of you sufferers in places like the Midwest and Texas. 

*** I love empty.  My favourite parts of a lot of post-apocalypse and dystopian novels, especially because I’m not a big post-apocalypse and dystopian novel person, are the beginnings, when our hero or heroine or small beleaguered band of survivors are wandering through huge deserted cityscapes.  Before the zombies or the mutant bug things or whatever start eating them.

 † Dawn does come very early this time of year.  Very.  

†† Or rather he was going elsewhere.  He is increasingly sucked up into handbell peal ringing.  Feh. 

††† And failed to run over the duck roosting in the middle of the road.  Who objected to being moved on.  :_)#{*%$£”!!!!! 

‡ Except in tea. 

‡‡ Before that I had Menopausal Woman Bladder and before that I had Peri Menopausal Woman Bladder.  Before that I could drink ten giant mugfuls of tea a day without considering the consequences.  But it’s not all bad.  I do seriously like not blowing up like a water balloon every month and killing people because I can’t help myself.  If I’m going to kill someone, I want to do it deliberately.  

‡‡‡ I am, of course, convinced that by the end of the first Nadialess fortnight I’ll have lost my top end and be squeaking like a rusty wheel.  I can test this hypothesis the next fortnight since she is not teaching during the four-day Jubilee riot next week.  I plan to stay indoors as much as possible and to allow no red, white or blue in my vicinity.  I will put decals on [red] Wolfgang, and Darkness and Chaos will have to wear leather for a few days while their bunting-coloured harnesses are disallowed.  So not a monarchist.   


Confused early summer garden


Somewhere on the forum some evil person says ‘if there’s no photo it didn’t happen’.  THANKS A LOT, WHOEVER YOU ARE.  I thought it was about the leg warmers, but I have just looked through that thread, and if it’s there, it’s hiding, no doubt to escape the wrath of the hellgoddess.*   So here are some photos of a Confused Early Summer Garden.   From a plant’s perspective, first it was warm, and then it was cold, and then it was warm, and then it was cold, and then it was cold and wet, and then it was very very warm and dry.  What’s a poor leafy thing with incipient flowers to do?

            It varies.**

The Baron Girod de l'Ain

Yes, she really is that colour.   (Long time readers–and rose growers–already know this.  I’ve posted photos of her pretty much every year, I think, because she’s kind of spectacular.)  She’s another example of a ridiculously large rose that is very happy in her pot.  She’s doing a whole lot better in her pot than she did in the ground back at the old house.   She was also about five feet, in the ground at the old house, and easily eight or nine here, the better to embrace me lovingly as I try to get into the greenhouse. 

more of the Baron

She starts out crimson, and as the flowers get older they turn this amazing purple.  And you might notice what, if I were a tacky and vulgar person, I might describe as rose hickeys on my arm.  Speaking of loving embraces.

the jungle

It’s still mostly green.  Early and confused, as I said.  That big fat pink bud a little to left of centre is Lady of Megginch (who is also happy in her pot, although this is only her third year and the Baron has been there since the beginning, which is seven? Eight? years now), and the stem of little white buds just coming out slightly to her right is what is supposed to be a pink delphinium.  Stay tuned.

The Herbalist

She’s in a really terrible position (and a pot) without nearly enough sunlight and if she were going to flower at all she should at least do it late and sparingly to drive it home to the gardener that she is being hard done by.  But no.  She flowers early and lavishly, although there’s not a lot of flowers later.  She supposed to be a sort of repeat-flowering version of gallica offinalis.  Well, sort of.  But with flowers like these and a positive attitude, I am not complaining.

Frelling Agnes.

Frelling.  Frelling flowering a good eight foot overhead.  Arrrgh.  She did this at the old house too, but the garden was A LOT BIGGER and you could, you know, stand back away far enough to see all of her.  Although one of the reasons I wanted her in this little garden is that she smells divine.  Supposing you can drag her down far enough to enjoy it.  I’m so cross about the eight-foot main stem with the posy on the end I’m considering lopping it off and bringing it indoors and putting it in a vase.  (I am one of these peculiar people who mostly can’t bear to cut flowers.)  I got this photo via . . . extreme blood loss.  She’s also diabolically thorny, even as roses go.

Gertrude Jekyll

Having a go at trying to fool you into thinking she’s Queenie.  She’s not.  (Besides, Queenie always comes out late.  Queenie likes coming on with a last-minute burst just when I’m really starting to worry about her.)  But she’s pretty fabulous.  And like several of her friends and relations, she’s doing better at the cottage than she did at the old house–although she is drastically in the ground here.  She’s also reputed to have the strongest scent of any modern-bred rose.  I can’t vouch for a lot of roses (no, I haven’t grown them all) but it wouldn’t surprise me.

the jungle, continued

You can see a small outbreak of my pot mania here.  And yes, several of those pots are empty.  There are still roses waiting to go in.  Ahem.  And dahlias waiting to come on enough not to be utterly swamped in a big pot.  There’s the last of a pink rhododendron in the lower middle, Sophie’s Perpetual (rose) just coming out slightly above and to the left, the white spots to the right are nicotiana and that small blaze of pink and pale green perched on the yellow pot (waiting to be planted in it) is a variegated fuchsia.   The flowers are standard little red and purple dangly things but the leaves are fabulous, and year-round.  So long as you remember to take it indoors in winter.

Old Blush in riot mode

Tell me again that you can’t grow a big rose in a pot?  What’s that you say?  I can’t hear you.  Old Blush also went in my first year here at the cottage.  I will say, however, that roses are even hungrier than you realise.  I’m sure you can overfeed a rose, but it’s hard.  Poor Old Blush took a good bit of the brunt of my learning curve about roses in pots, those first few years.  But she seems to have forgiven me.

Old Blush

You darling.

first Louise Odier this year

And she is poised to be fabulous, for the first time since I put her in three years ago, in the next few days.  I’ll tell you all about it soon. . . .

* * *

* Who isn’t as young as she used to be, and her mind wanders, even when she’s doing deeply interesting/provoking things like reading forum comments.^ 

^ She finds herself wondering what Kes and Maggie would think of each other.+ 

+ Or the Silent Wonder Dog and Mongo.  Snork.  

** I’m a little worried about Mme Alfred Carriere.  Atlas and I hacked her back hard last autumn^ because she was taking over the town, and I think she may be feeling put-upon.  But she’s usually one of the early ones, and I can see one flower, hiding behind my neighbour’s chimney. 

^ I did the stuff from ground level.  Atlas did the twenty foot ladder.

KES, 13

The Story So Far…



The Voice of Doom was shrieking something indecipherable but clearly relating to the end of the world in my ear.  I shot awake and . . . nearly fell out of the bed I was in.  Wha’?  Where?  Huh?  Ugh.

            I located the source of the shrieking and hammered it till it shut up.  Okay.  Regroup.  I stared (blurrily—where were my glasses?  Okay, there.  Whew.  Put glasses on.  Let’s try this looking thing again) at the wall opposite, which was a sort of mottled brown with small square objects suspended on it.  These looked way too much like food squashed under glass and then inexplicably framed.  The frames looked like they were from the ‘sale’ bin of the local do-it-yourself store. I like ratatouille, but not on the wall.  A bowl of pasta dropped on the floor looked a lot like the one on the left. . . . Don’t ask me how I know this. . . . Oh gods, I’ve been kidnapped by Flowerhair’s wizard and imprisoned underground, and the wall decorations are to drive me mad with hunger.   I suppose after a few days vertical pasta will work as well as anything, but a giant poster of chocolate would be faster.

            I glanced toward the window which, mercifully, appeared to be letting sunlight in through the half-sheer curtains—around the giant toad monster squatting malevolently on the middle of the sill.  The silhouette of the toad monster looked vaguely familiar. . . .

            Oh.  It’s a Friendly Campfire.  Of course.  I knew that.

            And I want breakfast at Eats before I meet Hayley at ten.  Which means I have to walk that far before my first cup of tea (with the Eatsmobile in prospect, I was not going to essay the Friendly Campfire’s tea bags).  New life, new challenges.  Hey.

            I made it.  I didn’t get lost or anything.  I fell, to the extent that you can fall up, onto the first empty stool, and propped myself on the counter.  A sympathetic-looking waitress materialised in front of me.  “How do you like your caffeine?” she said.

            “Tea,” I croaked.

            “Special breakfast blend for that turbo-charged start to the day?” said the waitress.         

            “Yes please.”

            “Two cup, four cup or six cup pot?”

            I wavered.  “Four,” I said regretfully.  I had the rest of the day to get through, and I’d already concluded that eighteen cups a day was too many.  “You’ll warm the pot first, won’t you?”

            “Of course,” she said.  Her nameplate said Bridget.  Bridget, Mistress of Tea.

            She brought teapot, mug, sugar and milk on a little round tin tray.  The tray had purple irises on it.  The teapot had robins on it.  The mug had Pre-Raphaelite damsels on it.  The sugar bowl had red and pink polka dots.  The pottery milk jug was a sheeny, crackly teal blue.  The mug was hot too. Can you fall in love with a restaurant?  Bridget returned ten seconds later with a tea cosy.  The tea cosy had a clipper ship on it with an impressive bow wave.  It was official:  I was in love with this restaurant.  I also had the blueberry spelt pancakes with maple syrup and bacon.  If any evil magicians imprisoned me underground after last night’s dinner and today’s breakfast, I’d survive a very long time. 

            I waddled out the door, back down Bradbury, and paused at the corner of Schmitz Street.  It was a sunny, clear day, and the blue of the sky extended all the way down to the horizon in a way you don’t see in the middle of a city, even from your penthouse roof.  I looked around carefully, but all the shadows seemed to be accounted for:  buildings, stop signs, parking meters, people, including one being walked by her dog.  The dog came lunging up to me, dragging her person:  “Oh, Flossie,” said the person, in accents of resignation and despair.  I leaned down with difficulty over my stomach as Flossie attempted to bound up my leg, frantically wagging her tail and uttering little yips of, My long-lost best friend!  At last I have found you!  Terriers all have bedsprings where most other dogs have legs.  The person eventually dragged her away, no doubt to gladden the hearts and muddy the jeans of other long-lost best friends.  The Silent Wonder Dog would be friendly but reserved with everyone but me.  I of course would be the pinnacle of all aspiration, to the Silent Wonder Dog, who would behave accordingly. 

            I turned down Schmitz and stopped in front of Homeric Homes.  I took a deep breath.  I opened the door, which went, ding!  There were three desks and an open door into another office at the back.  There was a young blond woman who had been a cheerleader up until very recently, or perhaps still was in her spare time, at the first desk, standing up and stuffing papers into a red canvas briefcase.  She looked up at the ding! and smiled at me.  Nervously, I thought.  Probably because I wanted to live in Cold Valley.  “Are you Kes?” she said.  I nodded, wondering if I could talk to a cheerleader about Yog-Sothoth and the nightgaunt-shaped stain in the bedroom ceiling.

            “I’m Hayley,” she said, and held out her hand.


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