Character: Police station clerk
Action: Tightening a knot
Setting: A meeting for a subversive group
Prop: Decorative songbirds made from vinyl records
by Elissa Nelson
George drives into Portland from where he lives, near the coast, near Florence. He’s not quite on the ocean—but he’s only about ten minutes away on his motorcycle, so good weather (really lots of kinds of weather), he gets over there a lot. Just to be by the ocean. Whoever would’ve thought he’d live ten minutes from the ocean? But he does. Sure, his house is smaller than it would be if he were farther away, but it’s big enough for him. Him and Frankie, who loves the ocean, and they’ve figured out how to get him there on the motorcycle! Took some doing, but they figured it out. Thank god Phil has her own bike, because he doesn’t know if he could stand to leave Frankie at home. Especially at this point, when they’ve figured it out. George is still working a lot—what the hell else would he do with himself, anyway?—but he does get to the coast most days. He has to swing by his house and get Frankie, unless Frankie came in to work with him, which he does a lot these days—then they head over to the ocean.
He lives in Glenada, officially—though there’s not a hell of a lot in Glenada, and he may as well live in Dunes City, since there’s a little more there—except he doesn’t. But yeah, take one of the little roads inland, that’s where he is. Not so far inland, but make sure it’s the right little road, or you’ll dead end in the woods somewhere. It’ll be beautiful, and it’ll still smell like ocean, but there won’t be anything there.
Anyway. He lives out in his little house with his dog, drives into Dunes City to his mechanics shop six days a week—just for a couple hours Monday, Tuesday, and sometimes Wednesday too, depending on what’s going on—he likes to show up, but Eddie can run the place without him, he knows that, and he knows it’s good to let him. So he makes an appearance, then he and Frankie take off to the coast, and/or ride up and down their favorite stretches of 101, and/or hang out at home and, depending on the weather, tinker in the garage with his ’50 Crosley station wagon that needs a lot of work, or the 1936 Ford Touring Sedan that’s in gorgeous shape at this point, but there’s always something he can do to it, even just wipe it down, or he might watch a movie, read the paper, read or reread a book, or just listen to music. Have a fire in the fireplace when the weather’s right for that, sit out on the porch when the weather’s right for that.
He’s got a good life. Lives with Frankie the dog, spends plenty of time with Phil but they don’t live together and he doesn’t know if that’ll ever happen—they both have their lives, with their space, and their ways of doing things. She’s got her daughter Stacy living with her now, and her friend Suzanne was living there for a while, and George is happy to stay there a couple nights a week, welcome Phil into his home a couple nights, and he thinks that might be enough for both of them. They’ve done the marriage thing. They both have their homes they love, they ride their motorcycles up and down the coast, Phil works as an emergency room nurse three nights a week at the hospital in Florence and she loves it—so yeah. So much for settling down with a lady in his late years. He’s settled down with a lady, he figures, but they don’t live together. The one he lives with is an eighty-pound boxer. He was never such a pet person—the girls had their dogs, and of course George did his fair share of walking them and caring for them. Then when they grew up and left home, he left too, and Sylvia kept the dogs until they went. Nice enough animals, but eh. He never really loved a dog until Frankie. He never knew what that meant, really. He was never a pet person. The girls’ dogs were fine, but eh. There was that horrible puppy that died when Suzette was only four and Allie was six—got some infection and that was the end of it, and he didn’t miss the puppy at all but talking the kids through the death of it, grieving with them or maybe just watching them grieve—that was so sad and awful.
Then they got Peaches when Allie was eight—terrible name for a dog, maybe he couldn’t really like it just because it was named Peaches—but it was a nice enough thing, that black lab/bulldog mix from Sylvia’s friend—what was her name? She was a nice lady. One of those people with like six dogs herself, or eight dogs, or something insane—but they were nice dogs, and she was nice. Anyway. Peaches. Allie got to name Peaches. Then when Suzette was eight, they got another dog from that same friend of Sylvia’s—this time a Rottweiler/Akita mix, which made more sense to him somehow, but that was a big dog. A really big dog, and Peaches was not little. Edgar, Suzette named him. Edgar and Peaches. Those were the family dogs. They were both still living—getting old, but going strong—when he and Sylvia split up. When Suzette went off to art school, that was when he moved out. Edgar would’ve been eight, then. Middle-aged for a dog.
George wanted to bring Frankie with him when he visited Allie. But she has dogs of her own, and he knew it was already some kind of imposition to be staying with her for a week, he had the sense of that. When he was the age Allie is now, Allie had been six and Suzette was four, and they went and visited his parents all the time and stayed with them. He and Sylvia and Allie and Suzette. If either of his daughters had children of their own, families, he’d want their families to come and visit him. But maybe it was different when it was your kid visiting you. He was glad, when the kids were little, that they could go visit his parents—that was almost like a vacation—it would’ve been hard work, them visiting. And Sylvia’s parents—it was just her mom, her father was MIA, a vet who nobody’d seen in years—and she lived close enough that she could come over for dinner or they could go there for dinner or meet her out for dinner, and she’d babysit for the girls, which was wonderful—he and Sylvia got to go on dates, thanks to Maryanne. She probably kept their marriage going—though he knew that really the kids did that, there was no way he would’ve left those girls, and there was no way Sylvia would’ve given them up, so as long as they were around—even when they were older and not always (or even often) so pleasant, he was sticking by his family because they were his family. Those were his kids. His kids. He didn’t really have any idea what that would mean to him until it was happening, then he was just flat out in love, like he’d never been before or since, like he never expected to be ever again. Unless there was a grandchild.
But there’s no grandchild. And he has enough sense not to ask about that. Suzette’s off living her life in Mexico, he doesn’t know if she’s dating anybody or what—she’s learning how to weave, and she’s looking after indigenous children, that’s what she’s doing, that’s what his daughters have told him, so that’s what he knows. And as far as he can tell, Allie’s single. But who knows, right? Plus, of course, these days you don’t need a husband—or a boyfriend, or whatever they’re calling it—to make a baby. But there isn’t a baby, and he doesn’t see any signs of one forthcoming anytime soon.
So he goes to spend a week with Allie in Portland. Everybody wants to know if he’s made sure it’s okay that he’s staying with her. The first time Phil asks, he says, “Of course I’m staying with her. She’s my daughter, I’m going to visit her.” The third time Phil asks, he checks with Allie.
“So, you’re sure it’s okay that I’m staying with you?” he says.
“Of course it’s okay!”
“Okay,” he says. “Just, everyone kept wanting me to make sure.”
“Everyone?” Allie asks.
“Oh,” Allie says. “Tell her you asked me and I said it was fine.”
“Will do,” he says, and he does, and Phil is annoyed that he talked to Allie about it and brought Phil into it, but also relieved that he asked.
Allie works in a police station in Portland, in a local precinct office. She’s ashamed of her job, of working in a police station, and he doesn’t get that. So the police aren’t her favorite—it’s a job, isn’t it? Not temping, nothing that involves waiting on people or washing their stuff—their dishes, their laundry, whatever. She sits at a desk and helps people. She’s too radical or something for the police—George had been like that too, once, in his younger days—but now he can see how they are a necessary evil in this society how it exists. Maybe not even evil, just necessary. Far as he can tell, none of the officers his daughter works with are evil, they seem like a nice group, really. She goes out for drinks with them sometimes, over to their houses for dinner, hangs out with their kids—she talks about the children of her co-workers like she really cares about them, loves some of them even. How is that a bad thing? It’s not! So. Her life isn’t what she imagined it would be—whose is?
He isn’t sure what Allie did imagine her life would be. She studied gardening in college—they called it something fancier than that—Plant sciences? Plant biology? She took a lot of intense science classes, at least that’s what it seemed like to him. But when she graduated, she said how she’d have to get a Ph.d to do anything with the degree, and apparently that wasn’t something she wanted to do—so she worked odd jobs for a few years—nannied, worked in coffee shops, waitressed—then settled down with this job at the police station. She’s been there maybe five years now? She’s thirty. George has a daughter who’s thirty.
While he’s visiting Allie, she drags him into this store in her neighborhood, one of those stores filled with useless “arty” objects, and she knows he hates stuff like that, but she’s suggested they look for a present for Phil, so they’re going into all these kinds of stores—seems like her neighborhood is full of them, four or five of them on every block, in between the frozen yogurt shops and the yoga studios and the acupuncturists/massage therapists. So in this one store, that is apparently a “collective” shared by a bunch of young designers, there are these sculptures made out of old records, shaped into birds.
His daughter thinks they are cool, thinks Phil might like one, but they are made out of such terrible records, mostly—he can’t give his girlfriend a Herb Alpert bird sculpture, for chrissake. He doesn’t really want to give her a bird sculpture made out of a great record, either, though—even if it’s a beautiful sculpture, and he’s not sure they are so beautiful—what a sad end for, say, “Abbey Road,” or “Diana Ross Presents the Jackson 5.” So they leave the store. Allie points out that he can always go back if he changes his mind—he’s visiting for a week, after all. And she has to work and stuff, he has a lot of time to himself.
He takes her dogs to lots of parks while she’s working—they go to Forest Park a couple times, and he even takes them out to the gorge for a good hike one day—and he knows Frankie’s in good hands with Phil, but he misses them both. Wishes he was going for a hike with the two of them, instead of with Petunia and Daphne. Those are Allie’s dogs, sisters, both pit/mutt mixes, and he thinks there’s some kind of hunting dog in there too—they’re both pointers, he takes them out in the woods and they’re all pointing the noses and posed with a leg up. He hates that they’re named Petunia and Daphne, but they’re Allie’s dogs, after all. And both names are better than Peaches, he has to admit.
Tuesday night after work she has a meeting—“You don’t mind, do you dad?” She belongs to some group called the Purple Striped Ladies. Apparently he couldn’t come along even if he wanted to—women only, and they meet at the feminist bookstore collective… He doesn’t mind, and doesn’t want to go. She lives near a nice brewery, he says, “Let’s just meet at the Golden Nickel when you’re done, I’ll bring a book, and when you get there we can get some dinner…” They’ve got good food at this place, and he’s rereading On the Road, which isn’t nearly as good as it was when he was twenty, but it’s still good, and it captures that time. He remembers before the kids, even before Sylvia, when he thought he’d change the world. Doing more than fixing cars and riding his motorcycle. But it’s nostalgia now.
When Allie gets to the brewery around nine-thirty, he’s already had a burger—he was starving!
“Sorry I’m so late,” she says.
“Not a problem,” he says, and it isn’t. But she seems on edge. She gets a Caesar salad and a beer, he has another beer to keep her company, then they go back to her house and crash out.
Thursday a postcard comes to the house for her, unsigned. It just says, “The knot is tightening. Careful you don’t get caught in it.” It’s got a picture on the front, from some old comic book. A superhero he doesn’t recognize. When she gets home from work, he says, “This came for you today,” and when he gives it to her, she bursts into tears. That worries him—Suzette’s always been quick to cry, but never Allie. Something’s going on.
“What’s up, honey?” he asks her.
“I can’t talk about it,” she says.
“Allie, what’s going on?” He waits, and after a bit she starts talking.
It turns out the Purple Striped Ladies are trying to overthrow the government, or something like that. He doesn’t really get it. And he’s not sure she does either—she does say, “There are lots of pieces to it, and we have to work together to put together the full picture, no one of us knows everything.”
Maybe they’re starting a revolution? Some of the stuff she tells him sounds good—he’s leaving Sunday, but Saturday they take the dogs out to the Sandy River, and she tells him what she knows about the Purple Striped Ladies plans, emphasizing that that’s not all of it, but that’s the part she’s been trusted with. It sounds good, really, thought out and sensible. They’re operating at a regional level, so there’s a Portland group, working with people in the different areas around Portland—then there are other groups, including all the way out past where George lives, and down the coast into California, plus north into Washington.
“It’s international,” Allie says. “I’m only involved in the US plan, really only in the Portland plan, then I know some stuff about what’s happening regionally and statewide—but we’re going to change the world! We are! But we do have enemies. Hence the postcard. And that’s not the only one I’ve gotten—and others have been getting them too.”
George has so many questions—like, Women only? but it’s Allie’s thing. Maybe later he can help.
Now he has to go home, to his mechanics shop and his dog and his girlfriend, and leave Allie to sort out what’s going on. He tells her though—“Sounds good. Sounds like you all are really making a start. Let me know what I can do, how I can help. What you need.”
Sunday before he leaves, he and Allie buy Phil one of the birds made out of a record, but George ends up leaving it in a rest area on the way home. It’s a Smoky Robinson record—one of his later ones, not his best stuff, but still, Smoky Robinson. You don’t do that to Smoky. Sure, the bird is interesting-looking, he thinks, but no, it’s not art. It just isn’t.
Allie’s okay, George decides on the way home. He was worrying about her—he missed her, wanted to see her just because she’s his daughter and he loves her, but he also needed to make sure she was all right. And she is. Her life isn’t perfect, but whose is? She has a decent job, nice dogs, some good stuff she’s involved in—this Purple Striped Ladies business seems more positive than anything else, he thinks. A little weird, but mostly good. She’s involved in something, that’s been one of his worries about Allie. That she doesn’t have quite enough going on in her life. But maybe she does. Maybe she’ll be okay. He hopes she’ll be okay. He loves her a lot, that one. His older daughter. Thirty. With her life well underway. She can do it. She’ll be all right.
© 2012 Elissa Nelson