83 Feet of Clay

It was all generally hopeless, Greg despaired. There was play dough in every conceivable color, everywhere but in the little pots it had come from, all smeared together into appalling combinations, pebbled across the table strewn with plastic molds while the girls, tired of their school project, had deposited motley footprints, a clay trail into the living room. He hadn’t bargained for getting stuck into this kind of mess with hours left before they went home. He remembered doing homework alone, in tidy notebooks with a plain pencil, at a short desk in his small bedroom.Chapter 83 Feet of Clay

“Mrs. James, it’s Greg. Could you come up for a minute? I need your advice.”

Entering minutes later, she took one look at the table, then a longer one at him.”This is unacceptable. They know better than this.”

“I was hoping you’d say that. What can I do?”

“First, you say it’s unacceptable. To one of them at a time, if necessary, so they don’t outnumber you.” The TV insinuated indolence from the next room. “Then they clean it up, before they do anything else. It is their assignment, is it not?”

“O.K. I’ll try that. I suppose their mother doesn’t really want this to work out. Wish she hadn’t made me take this on for my first shot but I couldn’t very well say no, after I asked for it. She’s so much better at this, being an artist.”

“Is she? I understood her to be a police photographer.”

“That’s fairly recent. She’s an art director, by education. Never really worked at it, though. Twins came before she had the chance.”

“Indeed. Well, doesn’t that just give me an idea!” She paused to admire Greg’s eastern view, his watery perspective so unlike her own terrestrial, western one.

“Want to say?”

“It doesn’t address your difficulty. Finish this first. You can be perfectly capable of handling them for a few hours after school. Just slow it down and have only rules that you can keep. Tell Georgia that a project of this size and duration is best managed in one place – hers – in your judgement. You’d like to try something else. Sorry, but you did ask my advice.”

“And your other idea? Just curious.”

“I might approach Georgia myself, to ask her if she’d volunteer for the cookbook. We need an art director, Gertie says. I’m shameless when it comes to this project.”

“Serve my ex right, huh?” Greg chuckled. “But she never comes here, avoids it like the plague.”

“I met her here, remember? I’ll never forget. And you never took the girls mid-week either, ’til now. Maybe we could work a swap. Keep your kids on their toes. But Greg, deal with this mess sooner than later. You’ll be fine.” Mrs. James left marveling at the personal dynamics of a coach ably managing a horde of two hundred pound plus hockey players careening around on ice with sticks and the hapless father of little twin girls armed with tiny pots of colored dough.

Before she lost courage, she phoned. “Georgia, Mrs. James. Yes, the girls are fine. They’re not why I’m calling you. Do you have a few minutes to talk? I realize you’re having a few hours free so don’t want to intrude on those.”

“Not a lot going on here,” Georgia laughed. “You’re in on Greg’s little ‘if it’s Tuesday, it must be my turn again’ scheme, by the sounds of it. Kind of expected this would be him calling, throwing in the towel early. What’s on your mind?”

“I’m calling to ask you to volunteer as an art director.”

“Wow! You don’t mince words, do you?”

“It’s an enormous request, I know. I’m relying on the kindness of strangers, to borrow a phrase, in getting our cookbook project done well. Greg said you had expertise.”

“No expertise at all. Merely ambition, unfulfilled. Gina told me that a cookbook is in the works. She met, how did this happen now, the daughter of some guy with a dog? I wasn’t there, so it’s all a bit confusing.”

“More or less. Gina met Bert. His daughter, Gertie, is publishing our book and says we could really use an art director. Interested?”

“Suppose I meet with you and Gertie, before I say. I’d need to know what’s involved, first. Fair enough?”

“Absolutely. And thank you. I’ll have Gertie call you.” Another world up-ended, Mrs. James sat down and put her own feet up, for a quick rest. Mull instantly determined to keep her there.

Awaking later from her sunset snooze, she remembered she’d promised to go over and talk to Lee about her worries. No sense avoiding it; sleepless nights hinder recovery, even in the generally healthy young. This time the door was closed. She tapped gently, and waited. Guy opened the door and welcomed her inside, finger to lips, then beckoned her into the kitchen, bypassing the sleeping Lee.

Mrs. James' sunny afternoon view, with Holy Hill visible on the western horizon.

Mrs. James’ sunny afternoon view, with Holy Hill visible on the western horizon, a dot in the distance.

“She’s been asleep for awhile,” whispered Guy. “I suppose that’s good, isn’t it?”

“Any she can get, I agree. She’s pretty uncomfortable most of the time. But this gives us a chance to talk, if you don’t mind?”

“Please,” Guy held out a chair. “May I get you anything?”

“No, thanks. Let’s just talk. She confided in me that she’s worried that someone’s after her, or you or your sister.”

“She said that to me, too, and I tried to reassure her that everything’s just fine. She shouldn’t have to think about it.”

“But she does. She’s not a child, though you may feel that she is, especially when she’s been hurt and you want to protect her. Point is, none of us has been able to protect her, have we? Terrifying, but true. So why shouldn’t she think about it as we do, as adults?”

“I don’t want to know this. She’s my baby girl.” Carrie slipped into the room, hearing this last from her brother.

“Guy, you’re pathetic. She’s your very nearly grown up daughter. Who do you think you’re fooling?”

“Two – and when Lee’s better – three against one, just isn’t fair!” Carrie gave him a look, then turned expectantly to the decidedly more realistic Mrs. James.

“What do you suggest we do?”

“We need to listen, not dismiss her concerns. She’s frightened. I’m frightened! Aren’t you, both of you? It’s not an unreasonable response. If it’s not a random attack of tampering, and how strange is that I ask you, then it’s a specific one, possibly even stranger. Why would someone want to try and hurt her, of all people? What could prevent her from dwelling on it? Is this part of a plan to worry us all into madness? We don’t like to think about it but it’s there, isn’t it? She could easily have been killed. We have to look that squarely in the eye. Who is angry enough, or deranged enough, to have done this?” They were both teary, neither of them having had the courage to admit fear to the other.

“Problem is, I don’t have any answers. So what can I say to her?” spluttered Guy.

“Maybe just that. That you’re a bit scared and still trying to think it through, just like she is. If you all begin to think together, instead of hiding from the truth that someone apparently means you great harm, maybe together you’ll remember something. Sorry to be sounding impatient. Perhaps you don’t know how much I care for her.”