from "All The Elements", an urban-paranormal novella
Patricia A. Leslie copyright 2012, 2016
JANE FELT her whole being sag with relief. Leona and Uriah were finally out the door.
SHE HAD never imagined that a house-sharing arrangement could be so awful. Leona had seemed like such a cool lady, when they had their ‘exploratory interview.’ Leona had said that she thought Jane was cool, too. So, they were both cool women, hip and liberated and artistic. Jane was only twenty, and Leona was thirty-one, but that didn’t seem to matter. They seemed to share a vibe.
And Uriah seemed like a nice little kid, although Jane didn’t know much about three-year-old boys. But his mother was raising him with Progressive Principles, and that seemed very, very cool. Especially since there had been nothing much progressive about the way Jane was raised. In fact, Leona was a teacher at some kind of modern, progressive elementary school. So she knew everything, presumably, about the best way to raise a child to grow up happy and well-adjusted.
But as soon as Jane paid first and last, and moved in all her stuff, the trouble started. Leona had turned out to not be very, very cool at all, but very, very uptight, about a whole lot of things.
The first thing had been the phone. Jane wasn’t supposed to use it when Leona was home. Leona got a lot of calls from a lot of friends, all of whom seemed to need extensive advice about everything that was going wrong in their lives. And Leona did not want to leave any of her friends waiting and wanting.
Jane didn’t know how Leona could be sure that while she was on one hour-long call, another desperate friend was not hopelessly dialling and re-dialling. But Leona seemed to operate on the principle that the people who needed her advice, had some sort of psychic connection, which stacked their crises like planes at a busy airport. The next one’s disaster would patiently circle her life, but not descend on her, until the current one was through being counselled. What none of them could endure waiting for, it seemed, was Jane making a five-minute call to see if she was going to be able to get some temp work the next day.
Leona left for her teaching job at eight, and she got back from it at three. Jane was welcome to use the phone during those seven hours, Monday to Friday. And any time Leona went out for the evening, or took Uriah out on the weekend for some intellectual and social stimulation, Jane could use the phone then, too. Leona saw this as not only equitable, but generous.
The problem for Jane, was that temp jobs often didn’t come in before three. Office managers apparently only ever noticed that they were going to be short-handed, during the last couple hours before going home. So she had missed several good, long-term ones, in the two months she had been here already. And her bank account had suffered, accordingly.
Then there was the bathroom issue. It was kind of like the phone situation. But not really worth reviewing in detail. It was just too discouraging. And the same with cooking in the kitchen, and shared space in the fridge.
And then there was the Uriah-sitting aspect of the house-sharing. She was getting a ‘break’ – meaning she only had to pay one-third of the rent and utilities – in exchange for being available to watch Uriah one or two nights a week, while Leona had ‘Leona-time.’ Jane had not expected much difficulty with Uriah. They would be living together, so he would quickly see her as somebody like his mother – an adult in control of the household.
Except Jane was not allowed to be in control of the household, especially where Uriah was concerned. And Uriah needed some controlling, in a lot of different ways. But he was the one thing Leona would not try to control.
Jane had moved in on a Saturday. The first time Leona blew up at her, was Monday afternoon. She wasn’t working that day, and when she’d finished up unpacking her things and putting them away, she made herself some early lunch. It was hours yet till Leona and Uriah got home, so she thought she would be a really great housemate, and straighten the place up. There wasn’t a lot of furniture or bric-a-brac, but there were a lot of things belonging to Uriah.
You couldn’t exactly call them toys – although he did have quite a lot of those, of the enriching and educational type. But most of what Uriah had, was stuff that he had acquired, or commandeered. Some of it was stuff that used to be Leona’s. Some of it, Jane gathered, was stuff that used to belong to Leona’s lovelorn friends, but which Uriah had taken a liking to, and they consequently had to learn to live without. And some of it seemed to be stuff he saw on the street and picked up and brought home. Lost stuff, tossed stuff, even fallen pieces of tree.
It was stuff that was all over the big open-plan living-dining-kitchen space. It made the house look a little like a thrift shop that had been hit by a hurricane.
Leona being a busy working mom, Jane could understand how difficult it was to get around to picking up after her kid. So, she gathered up and organized and stacked and shelved, and even put into a couple of things that seemed to be toy-boxes, all of Uriah’s stuff.
Wrong. Very, very wrong.
Upon discovering what Jane had done, Leona proceeded to shred her self-esteem, every bit as thoroughly as Jane’s father ever had.
It didn’t bear a lot of thinking about, but the gist was that Uriah had placed all of his crap around the house, based on the ‘needs of his developing child-psyche,’ and his ‘own special journey of discovery of the world around him,’ and also, in expression of his ‘innate creativity and unique forms of knowing and doing.’ So, by picking up all that stuff, and rearranging it ‘against his will,’ Jane had done untold damage to his tiny developing ego (not so tiny, Jane thought); and his overall intellectual development had been seriously set back, by an unknowable, but significant, period of time. This made her a Bad Person, no matter how good her intentions were.
Uriah himself seemed not particularly perturbed by the rearrangement (much more, by his mother’s raging, Jane thought). In fact, when her fury had spent itself, he appeared to be rather intrigued that his things had decided to play hide-and-seek, and he set about discovering where various items had gotten to, and extricating all of them, in a very workmanlike way.
Jane retreated into her bedroom, closed the door, and cried. From that moment onward, the house-sharing experience had gone downhill.
BUT TODAY, miraculously, Mama Lion and Cub (which was the usual way she thought of them now) had gone out for an entire Saturday, even though it was threating rain. (It was ‘important to keep your word with children and not change plans that they were counting on.’ Probably true – Jane wouldn’t know. Growing up, people had rarely kept their word with her.)
So she had the house to herself until at least five, and with it, certainty of a peace-filled day. She decided to have an early lunch. She made herself tea, and a pan of Quick Brown Rice, and flavoured it with a little butter and a lot of cream cheese and ketchup and brewer’s yeast.
She took her meal to the far end of the living room, where the wall was all glass – windows and sliding doors – to watch the trees and the sky beyond the big window. The house was in a little canyon-like cul-de-sac, some blocks back from East Blithedale, the main road to downtown Mill Valley. It was surrounded by large trees – some were oaks, she thought, because there were often acorns – and squirrels – out there on the deck. With a storm-wind coming up, the trees moved like living things, and seemed to be dancing. After watching for a moment, she went and got her Doors album; it was the first rock album Mom had allowed her to buy (because the band’s name didn’t sound threatening), and because of that, still a special favourite. She put it on Leona’s stereo to play. Then she settled down to watch the trees dance to ‘Break on Through.’ It worked very well, she thought. Putting on a soundtrack for the outside world was an entertainment she had invented for herself years ago.
There was, of course, no t.v., because ‘television was not good for a child’s psychological development.’ She didn’t really like t.v. that much anyway, and would have preferred to read while eating – she always had – but there was no dining table, and holding a book had proven too awkward while balancing a bowl on her lap, and sitting on a floor-cushion.
Anyway, she had gotten to like looking out at the trees – one, in particular, which grew almost against the deck, and which had a most aesthetic, sculpture-like arrangement of great branches, reaching up from a wide, sturdy trunk. She had tried, once, to draw it, but had been completely disappointed with the result. She had moved here in mid-January, when the whole skeletal structure of the tree was bared to view. Now that it was March, every branch and twig was covered with leaf-buds. Jane had become fascinated by the small, steady changes in the oak.
Thanks to Uriah, it was not easy to find a cushion that was clean enough for sitting, but by pushing a few alphabet-blocks off of the purple one (having previously discovered that a few minor repositionings of Uriah-things were not, usually, noticed) she was able to sit cross-legged, leaning against the wall near the corner where it met the sliding-glass doors.
She looked up at the oak. A few leaf-buds were just beginning to unfurl. She felt excited by that. Excited, and happy. It seemed like magic, how leaves appeared. And she probably would never have noticed – her whole life might have gone by without noticing – if she had not come here to live. So, there was some small compensation, for being trapped into living with a mentally ill woman and her uncontrolled child.
It was amazing, Jane reflected – and not for the first time in her life – how people who were seriously nutty, could cover it up when they needed to, in order to trick others into trusting them. She had gotten a second helping of rice, and was bringing it back to her place on the cushion. As she sank down gracefully onto her hip, her glance fell on the alphabet blocks that she had shoved away. She didn’t remember that there had been others scattered around that one cushion. But there were actually quite a few. It was a wonder she hadn’t tripped on any of them.
After a moment, her eyes strayed back to the blocks. Something had caught her attention in a subliminal way, and she looked again to see if she had seen it rightly. It made her laugh.
H E L O J A N I
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