In the Garage
by Susan Pierce
Sissy Bliss pushed his chair back from the kitchen table and gave Lewis a stern look. “It’s time. We’ve been putting it off for three weeks.”
“Okay, Hon.” Lewis smiled. “Just one more cup of coffee and I’m on it. Ooo. Marph’ll be here any minute and we might as well wait for her. The garage will still be there in forty minutes.”
“Yeah. I told you last night. Marph Dickey. You know. She works with me in the OR at the hospital.”
“Oh. Martha Dickey. Deputy Dickey’s daughter.”
“Right. I asked her about staying with Auntie Ag while we’re gone for our trip on The Wine Train. I still don’t know what I’m gonna wear. I got that sweater at Macy’s, but after that business on the freeway it’s kind of lost its luster.”
“Quite right,” Auntie Ag nodded. “Murder does rather take the blush off the rose.”
Lewis frowned. “Let’s all please not talk about murder in front of Marph. She’s just a kid.”
Sissy raised his eyebrows as he poured out one more cup of coffee for each of the three at the table. “A kid?”
“Well, you know. She’s in her early twenties. She’s a heck of a sharp surgical tech and gives off a very peaceful vibe.” Lewis chose his words carefully. “She’s awesome in an emergency, thinks on her feet, and has a wonderfully dry sense of humor.”
“Sounds like you’re signing her high school year book.” Sissy sat back down at the table.
“No. I’m just saying. We don’t want to totally freak her out with the murder talk.”
“Well of course no one wants to dwell on the misfortunes of others.” Auntie Ag took an approving sip from her coffee cup. “She sounded lovely on the phone.”
“You’ve spoken with her?” Sissy was surprised.
“Oh, yes. She called about twenty minutes ago to say she was on her way. She even offered to stop by the market and pick something up for me. Very polite and very willing to be of help.”
“Is she perky?” Sissy wanted to know. “I don’t like perky.”
Auntie Ag added, “A very good point, dear. A perky young person in the house can be tiring, especially a perky nanny.”
“No, she’s not perky. And she’s not your nanny. She’ll just be a companion for you while we’re gone. She’s got a lot of positive energy, but she’s pretty laid back.”
There was a knock on the door and Lewis went to answer it.
It was Martha Dickey. She was short, thin, and full of life. Her dark brown hair was short, moderately spiked, and highlighted in purple. The four studs in her left earlobe were just as tasteful as the modest butterfly tattoo on her right forearm. The sweater tossed over her shoulders was covered with neon blue, green, pink, and orange fish and her big, brown eyes sparkled as they seemed to notice everything around her.
Lewis led Martha Dickey to the kitchen table and introduced her. Marph had beautifully straight, white teeth and a smile that lit up the room. Lewis thought, That smile must have cost Deputy Dickey a fortune in orthodontics. Marph handed a small, brown bag to Auntie Ag.
“Thank you so much,” Auntie said as she took the bag from Marph. She put it in her lap but didn’t open it. “Very kind of you.”
“Oh, I’m just glad to help, Ms. Bliss.”
“Do call me Auntie Ag, won’t you?”
Lewis was delighted that Auntie warmed to Martha. So far, so good, he thought. He and Sissy gave her a tour of the house and deck and invited her to come for dinner the following week. During the tour, Lewis noticed that Auntie Ag tucked the little brown bag into her dresser drawer.
It’s probably one of those lady things, he thought.
“You know,” Sissy said to Lewis as Marph drove off, “it might be good for Auntie Ag to have a young woman around. You know, every now and then.”
“I think so. Plus, we can pick up some fashion tips,” Lewis agreed. “Marph has great hair.”
Sissy stretched. “Well, it’s time, Lewis. The garage awaits.”
“I’m on it. Ooo. I just remembered. I’ve got to run to the store and pick something up for Auntie Ag. Go ahead and get started and I’ll meet you in the garage.”
Lewis pulled the Subaru keys out of his pocket and was half way down the driveway before Sissy could reply.
Sissy opened the automatic garage door with resignation. Against all three walls was piled the accumulation of five busy years in northern California. There were boxes, tools, sports equipment, and bits and pieces of automotive supplies.
There was a little space for the interior door that led into the kitchen and there was plenty of room to park the White Cloud and the Subaru. The trouble was that the walls were piled high from floor to ceiling. Unused objects even hung from the rafters.
We really ought to do this every year, Sissy thought. He thought again, Yeah, right. Like that’ll happen.
He decided to launch Operation Garage with a frontal attack on the cement floor. It was covered with leaves and the reddish dirt of Gold Country. He found a push broom hanging from a ceiling beam and began.
But the broom was old and its bristles were bent to the point of no longer actually sweeping up anything. He unscrewed the broom head, threw it in the middle of the floor, and balanced the wooden handle on top of a box. He thought, I can probably use that someday.
“Thought we had a shop vac out here somewhere,” he said to no one as he went to the kitchen closet and found a better broom. Returning to the garage, Sissy decided to set a couple of big, plastic trash cans on wheels in the middle of the floor.
Efficiency, he thought. It’ll be a direct shot for junk. I’ll dig out some bags for usable stuff we can give away. He began looking for yard bags in which to put the give-away items.
Lewis pulled into the driveway. He parked near the garage door and jumped out of the car. “I’m just going to take this in to Auntie Ag,” he said as he hustled toward the kitchen door. “And I’ll throw some laundry into the washer. Then, I’m all yours.”
Sissy didn’t answer. He began pulling things out of a pile next to the kitchen door: waders and a fishing net; a rusty crowbar; two-thirds of a tennis racket.
Lewis came out and went straight to the Subaru. He opened the passenger’s front door and took out two large, cardboard beverage cups. “Time for a break,” he smiled. “Starbucks.”
The two leaned against the front bumper of the Subaru and sipped coffee.
“Haven’t really done anything,” Sissy sighed. “Can’t decide where to start on this mess.” Then he said, “You know, I’m a lot better at almost everything when you’re here.”
They finished their coffee, tossed the cardboard cups into one of the big, plastic trash cans on wheels, and charged the enemy fortress.
“Now listen,” Lewis said with an air of authority, “if we haven’t used it in the last year, it goes. Those waders and the fishing net go for give-away. The tennis racket and crowbar are junk.” He picked up the wooden push broom handle. “A pole? Not on my watch.” He threw it into the trash.
Sissy was relieved of having to make the painful decisions facing a man with one or two tendencies toward hoarding. The piles began to diminish.
“So why do they call her Marph?”
“She has a little brother,” Lewis explained. “When he started talking he couldn’t say Martha. It always came out Marph. The name stuck.”
“Funny how people get nicknames.”
Lewis saw the opening and decided to sail through it. “I asked Auntie Ag how you got your name. She told me about Sisyphus and St. Francis of Assisi.”
“Yeah. I don’t think I’d like your mom and dad.”
“Oh?” They continued to work as they talked.
“Yeah,” Lewis said. “But when we first met I thought your name was Arthur.”
“It was. I changed it when I applied to Annapolis.”
“Really?” There was a major spike on Lewis’ dish-o-meter. Gossip was coming.
“Well think about it. In the military, it’s always last name first. Can you imagine standing in line at attention a dozen times a day and hearing someone bark, ‘Bliss, Sissy!’ or, ‘Bliss, Sissy-puss!’?”
“How awful.” That humiliation hadn’t occurred to Lewis.
“So I re-named myself for the Navy.”
“How’d you decide on Arthur?”
“King Arthur and the Round Table. Knights always ready to fight the good fight.”
“Ooo. I like that. Did you pick a middle name?”
“I read about a Fifth Century Viking named Robert the Strong.”
“Arthur Robert Bliss. ‘Bliss, Arthur!’ I see what you mean. It sounds way better.”
“But Auntie Ag has always called me Sissy. I have a little sister and she couldn’t say Sisyphus.”
“Little brothers and sisters can really screw up a person’s entire sense of identity.” Lewis added, “Of course, older sisters and brothers can do the same thing.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“My big brother hasn’t spoken to me since he left home for college. Not that I care. He’s a mean person.”
“Really? Or is that just one of those sibling things?” Sissy asked.
“Hold that thought. I’ve got to go throw the washing into the dryer.” With that, Lewis disappeared through the kitchen door.
When he returned to the garage Lewis asked, “Do you think I’d look good in glasses?”
“Do you need glasses?”
“Then why would you wear ‘em?”
“I had a roommate in college who got glasses. He didn’t need them, but he said they made him look totally smarter. So, what do you think? Would I look good in glasses?”
Sissy chuckled quietly then said, “You always look good to me, Babe. If you want ‘em and you can afford ‘em, what the heck—get ‘em.”
“Well, I’m just thinking about it. Maybe I’ll get glasses for The Wine Train.”
“Just one thing. If you do get glasses and wear them for a while, then get sick of them, pleeze don’t leave them on a pile of stuff in the garage.”
Lewis threw a rag at him.
By late afternoon they were finished. Trash was separated from give-aways and the garage seemed twice the size it had been that morning. They moved the Subaru and the White Cloud into it and closed the automatic door with enormous satisfaction.
Later that night Lewis said, “Sissy, there’s something I’ve got to tell you.”
“You know when I was putting away the laundry this afternoon? I had some things for Auntie Ag, so I put them in her dresser.”
“That’s nice of you.”
“Yeah, but here’s the thing. She asked me to go to the store and pick up a tin of cloves for her, so I did.”
“So I found it in her dresser drawer. The little brown bag Marph brought her was in there, too, so I looked in it. It was another tin of cloves.”
“Hmm. Maybe she forgot Marph brought it to her.” Sissy turned off the lights and headed for the bedroom.
“Yeah. But here’s the thing.” Lewis followed him. “I looked through her dresser and found like twenty-nine other tins of cloves.”
Sissy said, “Hmm. Well, we know two things for sure. First, it’s probably a good idea for you to get into Auntie Ag’s drawers from time to time.”
“Pleeze!” Lewis giggled and swatted at Sissy.
“The second thing is that if there’s ever a cloves emergency, we know where to go.”
Lewis threw a pillow at him. “Good night, Hon.”
“Good night, Lewis.”