A few weeks ago, we had a neighbour come over to visit. We had just redecorated our bedroom, adding some architectural columns and whatnot and she was interested in seeing the end result. I proudly escorted her into the room where she looked around and complimented me on the new design, but I thought she seemed a little lukewarm and anxious to leave. Then, on our way out, I glanced over at the bed and gasped internally. Ken had wrapped one of Atlas’s tug toys around one of his big rubber bones, and from a distance, it looked very much like something you would find in an “adult” store. I wanted to run after her as she hurried downstairs, holding it aloft and exclaiming, “It’s for the dog!!” but I don’t think that would have helped matters any, and may, in fact, have made them worse. But then I got looking around my house and realized that a LOT of Atlas’s toys look like they may have come from The Stag Shop, which is the most common sex toy franchise around here. So with that in mind, I have a quiz for you: Sex Toy or Dog Toy?
Here’s the answer key: All of them are dog toys. I will never have anyone over to my house again.
(Except for today, because we’re having a party for Kate’s birthday last Tuesday and Ken’s birthday tomorrow, so I’ve hidden all Atlas’s dog toys. And his vibrator.)
I had the great pleasure of being featured on author Gabi Coatsworth’s official website as part of her series on authors and where they write. My writing space is really precious to me, and I appreciate having the chance to share it with you. If you want to see it and find out more about the place where I wrote Smile, The Dome, Feasting Upon The Bones, and The Seventh Devil, you can read about it here: Where I Write
I, like many people, have adopted new hobbies during the long cold never-ending winter that was the lockdown. I had always been disinterested in jigsaw puzzles, didn’t understand the thrill of putting a piece in its rightful spot, and certainly couldn’t see myself spending hours on something whose only end goal was to finish it then take it apart again. What a fool I was. Having now spent those many hours doing exactly those things, I, Ken, and Kate have completed numerous jigsaw puzzles, and the quest for new puzzles online when all the stores were closed has kept me plenty busy. We’ve done some beautiful puzzles, some easy, some hard, and some near impossible. And they’ve all been very normal in their own way—until now.
Not too long ago, I wrote a short story about a creepy jigsaw puzzle (it’s called “A Surprise In Every Box” and you can find it in my recently released short story collection Feasting Upon The Bones*, and I apologize for that shameless plug) but I never imagined I would find an insidiously creepy puzzle of my own until Thursday. My parents quite often prowl around thrift shops looking for cheap puzzles too, and they brought us one last week, a seemingly typical Dowdle puzzle of Peggy’s Cove in (she googles ‘where is Peggy’s Cove’ because even though she’s Canadian, she has a terrible knowledge of any country’s geography) Nova Scotia. I started to piece the edge together as one does and immediately discovered that one of the pieces was all chewed up and distorted, like a dog had eaten it and spat (or sh*t) it back out. Oh well, I thought, at least it’s not missing, because I HATE when a puzzle has a missing piece, and I think I’ve written about suspecting Atlas of stealing puzzle pieces before. But it got worse. See, there are a lot of tiny human (?) figures in the puzzle, and as I started to pull them out, it became clear that the artist who designed it was, perhaps, really more into horror stories than pastoral scenes of a harbour town.
Like, OK, it’s bad enough that there are 4 dudes standing on a rock looking like they all want to talk to me about Jesus, and numerous people are hoisting lobsters in the air and swinging them around like that’s a completely normal activity (and maybe it is in Peggy’s Cove) but then there’s this guy:
What the absolute f*ck is this guy doing, crawling out over a rock towards you like that girl from The Ring?! You don’t notice him at first, because there’s so much else going on, what with all the proselytizing and lobster waving, but once you do, HE’S ALL YOU SEE. And then suddenly it seems like maybe instead of an idyllic fishing village, this is a zombie town, and all the figures are now ominous and the lobsters are screaming for help. So far, I’ve only found his face. In the poster that comes with the puzzle, he appears to be wearing large, weird mittens on his hands, and I really don’t think I want to find the rest of him in case he comes to life and starts crawling over the back of my couch.
“And why do you have so much time to do jigsaw puzzles? Don’t you have a quilt to finish?” I hear you ask. In fact, I don’t. Partway through row 11, when my second sewing machine once again lost its mind and refused to work, I threw down my denim patch in dismay and announced that I was going to find someone to finish it for me. This is not “giving up”. This is simply a recognition that there are things I’m good at, and things I’m not. So I went in search of someone who was better at sewing than me. I posted an ad on the local Facebook page, and that was a bit of a bust, giving me only advice on how to fix my machine. I did get one offer to come over and “consult” because the quilter in question was “very particular” about her projects and didn’t want it to look like two different people had done the quilt and I didn’t realize that was even a thing, because I am not particular AT ALL. But then Ken mentioned that the lady across the street had said she taught sewing once, so on Monday, I walked over and interrupted her mowing her lawn to inquire about her willingness to help me out. A long shot, some might say, but she immediately said “Sure”, that she could try a few rows to see.
I bundled some up and gave them to her in a bag. Less than half an hour later, I saw her coming up my sidewalk carrying the bag, and my heart sunk. She’d changed her mind, obviously. But no. As it turned out, she’s a VERY GOOD sewer, unlike me, and had done the three rows in the time it took me to sew one patch and swear at my machine like a sailor. The next day she called me over to look at all the now-completed rows, laid out on her living room floor, and I was a little overwhelmed and very grateful. Also, my carefully/haphazardly chosen pattern looked awesome. She’s going to finish the whole thing for me, and if she gets it done by Christmas, that’s still faster than I would have been able to do it.
*Speaking of kind things that people do, and speaking of Feasting Upon The Bones, if you bought it and liked it, could you leave a review? In exchange, I’ll name a character after you in the next collection, which I’m already working on now that I’ve contracted out the quilt and have all this free time.
So I’m feeling a little anxious right now for a couple of reasons. First, I DID manage to find two chairs that were not cocaine-related, so I quickly set about painting and reupholstering them and fixing up the table, and made a very cute set complete with a piece of wall art that I advertised for sale. Almost immediately, a woman contacted me and asked me to call her. I did:
Me: Hi, you were asking about the table and chairs set? Woman (thick Russian accent): Yes. I will take. Sandra will call to arrange pick up. Me: Um…okay…
And then I had several questions, the first and foremost of which was “Who the f*ck is Sandra, and how am I once again back in this weird chair/cocaine loop?” I so badly wanted to say “This really is a table and chairs, not anything else, IF YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN”, but what if she didn’t know what I meant and then I lost the sale? Or what if she DID, and then I lost the sale? So I figured I’d play things by ear. On Thursday night, somebody named Ray messaged me: “It’s Sandra. I’m on the way.” But then the phone rang, and it was Sandra, telling me she couldn’t come because it was raining. This made little sense until she explained that she had an open pick-up truck and didn’t want the set, which she was picking up for the Russian woman, to get wet. Ultimately, Ken and I delivered the whole thing to her because, as it turned out, she lived just one town over and she was a very nice woman and had no interest in cocaine, or at least she was polite enough not to mention it.
The second reason I’ve been feeling anxious is because Ken has embarked upon yet another home improvement project involving the dismantling and rebuilding of our side porch. He had previously done the same with the front porch and it’s amazing, but it took him TWO YEARS. And remember the gazebo that started out as a simple deck with a roof for the inflatable hot tub but ended up being something akin to the Taj Mahal? The issue is that we use the side porch as our main entrance, so I’m more than a little concerned about the pace and scope of this project.
In addition, I have certain irrational fears about elements of the construction industry, like being afraid of stepping on a nail sticking out of a wooden board, falling onto a table saw, and other highly improbable things involving dangerous power tool-like objects. I can usually quell these fears, except that I’m married to a man who takes extreme delight in making them worse. Case in point: I have a morbid fear of nail guns. Ken was using one last weekend, and I had to keep going into the other room because I was afraid of getting shot with it. When Ken pointed out that it was absolutely impossible that he could shoot me with a nail gun because of its safety guard, I reminded HIM that that was exactly what he said about the electric staple gun, right before he shot a staple past my head and that I didn’t trust ANY so-called “safety technology” regarding sharp, missile-like objects when it was in his hands. Sure enough, not much later, he dropped the nail gun on the floor, tip-down, and came close to shooting a nail into his foot. He will claim that I am exaggerating in a “lying” kind of way, but I’m just telling it like I saw it.
In other news, because I’m retiring at the end of September, the job ad to replace me was posted on Friday, and when I read it, my first thought was “Holy sh*t, is that what I actually do?!” And then it occurred to me that if I applied for it, I wasn’t even sure that I would get it, because it made me sound very fancy and experienced, and not at all afraid of Russian cocaine dealers or power tools.
And in other, other news, Feasting Upon The Bones, my debut short story collection from Potters Grove Press (which is currently sitting at #1 on Amazon’s Hot New Releases for Horror Anthologies), is now being delivered and my parents were the first people as far as I know to get their copy. And don’t think I’m a terrible daughter—I offered to give them a copy for free but they insisted on buying one, which I signed for them yesterday, because they really are the best and most supportive parents a girl with irrational fears could ask for.
It all started a couple of weeks ago, when I made the mistake of taking a table out of our family room to use in my new outdoor office. This led to a cascading domino effect involving several pieces of furniture which needed to be reconfigured. Ken undertook the rearranging of the room with his usual good humour, rolling his eyes only slightly as I issued instructions:
Me: Can you put that cupboard in the corner by the sectional? Ken: Okay. Me: Ooh, I don’t like it there. Can you move it over by the patio doors? Ken: OKAY. Me: Maybe it would be better by the window…? Ken: Me: Never mind, it’s fine where it is.
After all the adjustments were made, Kate complained that there was no longer a table behind the couch for her to set a drink on. But I had another table that I’d just bought for resale, and it would do in a pinch. Then I saw a really cool idea for a sofa table involving using a cast iron sewing machine base with a wooden top, and decided that was exactly what the room needed. I found an old machine for 50 bucks, took it apart and repainted the base, then we used some cherry wood that Ken’s dad had given us for the top.
It looks awesome, and the best part is I sold the machine for $30 and the drawers for $40. But that left us with the placeholder table that I had to do something with. Then I had a brainstorm—I would buy two cheap chairs, paint them and upholster the seats in a toile fabric, and sell the whole damn thing as a set. But where to find chairs? Obviously, Facebook Marketplace. And wouldn’t you know it? I found the two exact chairs I needed for sale for $25 for the pair so I immediately messaged Cindy, the woman who had posted the ad with the standard “Is this still available?” message. She replied right away that yes, they were, so I asked if I could pick them up the next day around 4:30. This was her response:
Open 8am to 4pm Monday to Thursday. Friday 9am to 4PM. address___________ (I’ve blanked this out for reasons which will become clear) drive in the parking lot to the back white Bay 1 door. ring bell. ask for Deana
And now, of course, I had more questions than answers, the first and foremost of which was “Who the f*ck is Deana?” Is Cindy RELATED to Diana, or is she her boss or what? Does Deana know she is going to be asked for? And why am I picking up two apparently antique chairs from some strange warehouse/speakeasy? Is there a secret password that I need to know? I was also slightly miffed that Cindy hadn’t even bothered to read my message wherein I had clearly stated that I couldn’t be there until 4:30, so I responded with “Sorry, I can’t make it by 4”. And then the plot thickened…
Peter will be in the front office waiting for you. drive in the front. park where the invalid sign is go to the door in front of the sign. ring bell. let me know if that works for you
NO, CINDY, your convoluted instructions and “Choose your own adventure” directions don’t work for me! And on top of that, now we’ve thrown Peter into the mix?! Also, by “invalid”, did she mean “not valid” or is that some bizarre archaic way of identifying a parking spot for those with disabilities? Ultimately, I chose to pass on the chairs, because I couldn’t make heads nor tails of this virtual game of Twister. But then, bored because I had no project to work on, I began to wonder what if I HAD gone to get the chairs?…
Me (rings bell nervously): Ooh, this place looks deserted. (rifles through purse) Where’s my bear spray? (Door Opens) Man, presumably Peter (whispers, and for some reason he has a Russian accent): Vat is password? Me: Ummm… “Let me know if that works for you”? Peter (nods): You’re here for package? Me: Well, if you mean the chairs, then yes. Peter: Deana is waiting in back. You have instructions? Me: White Bay Door 1, ring bell? Peter (looks around suspiciously): Quiet pliz! Now go.
Me (rings second bell nervously: Dang, it’s even more sketchy back here. (rifles through purse) Where’s my zombie spray? (Door opens) Woman, presumably Deana (whispers, and for some reason she has a posh English accent): Good afternoon. May I be of assistance? Me: Peter sent me back. Deana: Ah, of course. You’re here for the cocaine? Me: What?! No, I’m here for a pair of antique chairs! Deana (blanches and shakes her fist at the sky): Bloody hell, Cindy, will you ever get it right?! Me: I’ll just be on my way then. (runs quickly to car and drives home very fast).
So no, I still don’t have any antique chairs to paint and re-upholster, and I haven’t slept for days.
Living life with a chronic illness is definitely not easy. But I do my best to push through all the barriers this illness puts in front of me! In my heart and mind, I believe maintaining a positive outlook on all situations in life will carry us through to much better times! I hope you find the information that I provide both helpful and inspirational!