Reprinted with permission by the Berthoud Weekly Surveyor
“Mom, why is our neighbor’s face all blue and do we have any of those mini Oreos left?”
It would be awkward, to say the least, so she knew she had to get the old guy out of the way sooner, rather than later. There were still three loads of laundry to finish, vegetables to chop for tonight’s stew, not to mention that stupid daffodil costume to finish for Willow’s kindergarten program.
If there was to be any finger pointing for the 180 lb. dead guy in the next room, it was five-year-old Willow’s fault. If only she was home to own up to her complicity, Carol could send her to a time out and put the responsibility of body disposal squarely on the girl’s petite shoulders.
Unfortunately for Carol, Willow was busy learning her ABCs, undoubtedly while wiping the contents of her nose on Paris Romero’s sweater. Her daughter was blithely unaware of the catastrophic course of events, all because she required a costume in the shape of a spring bloom.
Carol sighed loudly, trying to muster up some righteous self-pity for the situation. If she couldn’t blame her precocious youngster for the foul play, then she knew where the blame really settled.
On the old guy himself, of course.
His spectacularly poor timing did him in. Not Carol Royce, who was head of the neighborhood watch, co-chair of the local chapter of MADD, and author of three yet-to-be-published gluten-free cookbooks. It was all on him.
Him and the last untenable 48 hours.
Two days earlier, Carol woke to the delighted squeals of three ecstatic children. School had been canceled due to heavy snow, high winds, and an apparent unwillingness to educate during predictable, regional weather conditions.
Within two days the unholy trio had eaten everything in the house, traumatized the cat until it refused to come out from under the bed, and built a blanket fort that filled most of the house. With her husband Phil stuck in Saginaw until the storm cleared out, Carol was on her own with the snowbound brood. She also belatedly discovered that the liquor cabinet had not been replenished before the weather came in. The forecast was dire, and not just outdoors.
When the district announced school would be back in session today, Carol almost wept with joy. After more than an hour of shoveling and scraping, she got the car out and the monsters delivered 14 minutes early. It all went downhill from there.
Upon arriving home, Carol discovered that the overzealous city workers had plowed a four-foot wall in front of the same driveway she had just broke her back to clear. After re-digging an entry, she came inside to find the family dog had done his business on her bedroom rug as he was too cold or lazy to venture outside like other dogs.
Then as she brought an arm full of firewood to the den for the wood stove, she dropped a log on her foot, thus releasing such a torrent of expletives that the dog wisely retreated and tried to wipe up his own mess. Carol was 96% sure she would lose a toenail in spite of the recent coat of Maui Nights polish.
When she realized the wood stove wasn’t making a dent on the cold, Carol learned that the pilot light in the ancient furnace had gone out. Again. She completely split out the butt in her favorite yoga pants when bending over to light it. The noise of the seam popping was so loud the dog piddled again.
Once the furnace was working, the dog mess cleaned up and all 328 blankets and chairs were returned to their rightful place, Carol sat down with a cup of coffee spiked with cherry flavored cough syrup. It didn’t taste great but she imagined the pioneers would be proud of her resourcefulness and drank it anyway. She had just about found her long-lost sense of calm when the doorbell rang.
Carol was surprised to see their neighbor, Wally, bundled up on the stoop. The octogenarian was wearing a puffy blue coat that was last in fashion when Reagan was president and only his rheumy eyes peered out between the matching knit scarf and hat.
“Wally, what are you doing out in this weather? Come on in here,” she admonished, leading him into the mudroom. In a couple of hours it would be full of discarded coats, scarves and wet boots, no doubt left for her to pick up. She sighed dramatically, already dreading the onslaught of loud, messy beings that were still young enough to love this weather.
The weather that was reaching its bitter cold fingers through the door as Wally waddled in. She shut it behind him and watched him shake snow and slush onto the clean floor.
“What can I do for you?” she asked, feigning warmth she hadn’t felt since last September. His eyes twinkled as he pulled down the scarf.
“Well, I hate to bother you, but Maude and I are heading to Florida this weekend and I was wondering if you have any sunscreen I could borrow. My nose burns something awful at the beach.” He grinned his 84-year-old denture smile at her and waited expectantly.
“The beach. You’re going to the beach this weekend?”
He nodded enthusiastically.
Carol saw the bright yellow fabric still in her hand that would eventually be a colorful daffodil, then looked out at the blanket of white in the yard, the steel-gray slushy mess in the streets where the crews had plowed. She looked at her beach-bound neighbor and snapped.
Distantly, she heard herself screaming about blanket forts, dog pee and spring flowers as she grabbed the ends of his green woolen scarf and shook the old man. She was still going on about wasted toenail polish and pilot lights when his face turned several different shades of blue and his tongue peeked out between his perfect false teeth.
Later that afternoon Carol sat with another cup of coffee – this one spiked with something a little more appropriate than cough syrup – and stared out the window. The kids were watching TV, the costume was sewn and ready as her husband pulled his car easily into the driveway she had shoveled out three times.
Phil Royce waved at Wally’s wife who was walking their well-trained pooch as he unloaded his bags from the car. He and Maude exchanged a few words before he stomped into the now-empty mudroom.
After hugs, greetings and a warm kiss on Carol’s cheek, he asked if she was feeling all right.
“Yes, why?” Carol asked, trying to look away from the monochromatic yard.
“Mrs. Winter said her husband came over earlier to borrow a cup of sugar and you reacted oddly. He was worried you might not be feeling well.” Phil took a sip of his wife’s coffee and smiled appreciatively.
Carol finally pulled her eyes from the snowy blanket covering the hard, frozen earth, still weeks away from being soft enough to till and dig. Her daughter might be a bright yellow harbinger of spring, but there wouldn’t be any blossoms in the yard for a while. March was the snowiest month of the year and Carol doubted her sanity would survive it.
Three kids cooped up inside for two days, a couple of neurotic pets, a visit from old man Winter and an overactive imagination all came together in one afternoon.
She looked at her husband with a lazy smile and reclaimed her coffee.
“Oh, just a little case of spring fever, honey. I’ll be fine.”