And sometimes, it feels like you did just fine

As a parent, I have a constant low-level anxiety running through my head, a nagging persistent combination of dread and hope. And guilt. I think all parents do. This is completely separate and different from the constant worry that your kids will get eaten by BEARS.

It’s the worry that you have managed, somehow, to completely screw up your kids in spite of your best efforts. It alternates with the somewhat desperate belief that maybe you haven’t done too much damage, after all, in their journey from infancy to adulthood. This has nothing to do with any evidence one way or the other. It doesn’t mater how happy and successful and well-adjusted your kids seem to be. It has no basis in reality, unlike that whole BEAR thing.

It just is.

But every once in a while, your kids do something or say something and the constant cycle of dread/hope/guilt pauses and lightens for a moment. The sheer relief and welling of emotion are almost overwhelming.

I had two such moments recently.

My son and I were texting back and forth the other day. He was sending me funny (and slightly inappropriate) pictures of various internet memes. He shares my dry irreverent sense of humour and I was laughing (and groaning) at all of them. This was probably the least offensive:

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Me: “LOL. Yes, my hermit self agrees with this sentiment.”

Him: “You’re so weird.”

Me: “I can’t believe you’re not on twitter or facebook.”

Him: “You can’t? I think that shit is stupid.”

Me: “But FB is great for that kind of thing.”

Him: “I just like laughing at these funny pics. I don’t care if anyone sees that I think it’s funny.”

What a refreshing attitude, compared to the people I see online whose sole intent seems to be getting ALL THE ATTENTION. Ahem. Yes, mea culpa. And I realized that my son has a very level head on his shoulders. Plus one hell of a lot of self-confidence, to enjoy the things he thinks are funny or interesting and not care whether other people “like” or “favorite” everydamnthing he says.

It was impressive, all the fucks he did not give.

Did I teach him that? I don’t know. Not intentionally. Maybe I could stand to re-learn that lesson, myself.

And then my daughter (who lives in Boston) posted these before and after pics on facebook yesterday:

BEFORE

BEFORE

AFTER

AFTER

Yes, of course, I was proud of her for tackling that impressive accumulation of snow. This wasn’t the snow from last week, when they got 20 or so inches. They’d already dug out from that, thankyouverymuch. This was new snowfall, more than a foot of it, that fell on Monday.

Thing is, I know she’s physically strong and mentally tough. She’s more than capable of shoveling snow. I certainly shoveled enough of it myself, growing up in Minnesota. So I know it’s hard work, but I also know it’s manageable for someone who is young and physically fit.

That’s not what had me all choked up. It was the hashtags she added to her caption:

My lunchtime activity today: snow shoveling. Pre and post pics. ‪#‎likeaboss ‪#‎likeagirl

Yeah.

Sometimes, in spite of our best efforts, our kids turn out to be pretty damn impressive people.

Sometimes, you just hope you can live up to their example.

 

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Filed under parenting, social media

Explosions, spreadsheets and snowstorms

I didn’t realize how much I love to cook until my oven exploded last weekend. Unable to use my oven — or even the stovetop, since I turned off the circuit breaker — suddenly my thoughts were filled with all the amazing food I couldn’t make. Poor me. Never mind that I’m entirely capable of ignoring my oven for weeks at a time. Regardless, I spent the week feeling deprived, even though I wasn’t exactly starving to death here.

OK, fine, my oven didn’t actually “explode.” The heating element burned out. There was a big whomp sound and a bright red-orange ball of fire in there, which sure looked like an explosion, but it’s not as if the entire thing blew up. It was a mini-explosion. Dramatic, but contained.

Good thing I was sitting at the kitchen table, aka my writing desk, at the time or I might not have known what happened. Luckily, the pork roast I’d been slow cooking all day was thoroughly cooked. Here’s a pic of the aftermath. Looks like it exploded, right?

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I tried to shoo her away so I could take the pics, but The White Ninja was fascinated.

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I put off calling a repair person for days. Partly because I didn’t want to know how much it would cost if they couldn’t just replace the element, but mostly because I hate making phone calls.

But I finally made the call and a repair guy came yesterday and replaced the element. He was very pleasant, charged a totally reasonable amount, did the work in less time than any other repair person has ever done anything, and yet still managed to tell me ALL ABOUT HIS LIFE.

I’m not kidding. This happens all the time. People seem compelled to tell me stuff. Personal stuff. Stuff I’d never tell a complete stranger. Well, except on my blog. Heh. I now know how long he’s been in the business, where he grew up, how many siblings he has, where they live, where he lives, all the details of his dad’s and stepmom’s recent medical troubles, which hospitals they’re currently in, how often he visits them, how many hospice places he has researched, and that he planned to spend the rest of the day looking at more facilities. All this in the space of a half hour.

I’m telling you, appliance repair is overwhelming and exhausting. And all I had to do was sit there and listen.

* * *

Speaking of procrastination, I recently did something I’d resolved to do last year, when I was getting tax info together for my accountant and thinking how much easier that chore really should be. I resolved that 2014 was the year I was finally going to get organized and put all my financial info into QuickBooks.

This is why I don’t make resolutions, which are generally a promise for future action. They don’t work for me. I either do a thing, right now, in the present, or I don’t.

Anyway. When I realized a few weeks ago that it was 2015 and I still hadn’t done it . . . well, let’s just say I was mighty fed up with myself. It’s not like this is a difficult thing for me. I’ve worked with QuickBooks (and other financial accounting programs) for decades, in various day jobs. I can make that program sing and dance if I want to.

So I finally downloaded the program and entered all my 2014 information. I can now track expense (ugh) and income from all vendors/distributors, broken down by each individual project/book, for any time period I choose. The reports, they are beautiful. I even made categories for Advances and Royalties. Because, reasons.

Not difficult, but time-consuming and tedious. I took frequent breaks. And I did stay off the internet, as I said last month that I going to. Mostly.

* * *

The other thing I did — I mean, if you’re going to get organized, you should just go ahead and get completely organized — was to finally make a comprehensive Excel spreadsheet to keep track of word count on all my writing projects. Yet another thing I’d resolved to do (several times) in the past and never quite got around to. Another thing that was not even remotely difficult, given my experience.

When I was done, I was surprised to discover that I currently have eight on-going writing projects. Well, that does include the category “blog posts.” And, granted, a couple of those projects are just extensive notes or research or a few random paragraphs I wrote before they got lost in my brain. But still. It’s more than I thought I had going on.

I imagine some of you will be glad to know I haven’t abandoned Max and Jenna, although they’re going to have to wait their turn. And try not to kill each other in the meantime. (<— that’s a link to the beginning of their story, in case you  missed it)

* * *

In far less tedious news, my daughter and her husband enjoyed playing in all the snow produced by the snowstorm that hit Boston the middle of last week. She took a bunch of pictures and said I could share some of them over here. They were taken sort of mid-storm and don’t show the final depth of snowfall (which was, I believe, somewhere around 20 inches).

(There’s a slideshow here, for those of you reading in feeds and who perhaps can’t see it.)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

* * *

Let’s see, cat pics? Check. Snow pics? Check. What else has been going on that I should add to this too-long, topic-less, meandering post? Hmmm. I do encourage you to sign up for my Mailing List, if you haven’t, so you can be among the first to know when I release a new work of fiction. Or, you know, something else similarly exciting and noteworthy. But that’s about it for updates from me. For now.

Overall, I’m feeling a huge sense of relief and accomplishment. Mixed with mild frustration. Because even though the tasks I accomplished in the past few weeks were necessary, and long overdue, they did take time away from writing. Not that I stopped writing. Far from it. Just as I didn’t stop eating simply because my oven exploded.

Luckily, I’m pretty good at making alternate plans. Also luckily, I have a microwave. And lots of leftover roast pork and garlic mashed potatoes.

Sometimes you don’t realize how desperately you want to do a thing — cooking, writing, whatever — until events transpire that divert you, that prevent you from spending as much time working on a thing as what you had planned.

But now those diversions have been resolved and I’m full speed ahead, all writing, all the time. Plus a bit of cooking. Why do I feel like I just jinxed myself?

 

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Filed under goals, miscellaneous bits, writing

Random thoughts in December

This is a rambling post full of random thoughts. I know you’re used to that over here and probably I don’t even need to mention it, but whatever.

I have somehow ended up with an iPhone. I’d say I’m not sure how that happened, but I know exactly how it happened.

Several months ago, my daughter decided we were paying too much for cell phone service (she and her husband are on my plan). So I told her, fine, you find a good plan that’s less expensive and we’ll switch. Because I hate dealing with that kind of stuff.

Of course, being an intrepid adventurer who did not inherit my gene for procrastination, she did just that. Only problem was, my very old cell phone was so old that it sent the new plan into paroxysms of laughter before it said, “No. You need a new phone. One from this century.”

Here’s a picture of my old phone (on the left, if you couldn’t tell), next to the new one. With bonus coasters, because I’m too lazy to crop them out.

photo

Oh, stop laughing. The old one was functional. I was able to check the time and date and send text messages and even set an alarm. I’m pretty sure I could make phone calls with it. Probably. It’s not like I have first-hand knowledge of that.

Sigh. I guess all good things come to an end.

I looked at the options for new non-smart phones (I wasn’t impressed) and decided I might as well accept the inevitable sooner rather than . . . even later. I resigned myself to the fact that I’d have to get a phone that could launch missiles and connect with the ISS and negotiate world peace through predictive text.

Now, I’m not a complete Luddite, but the adaptation has been predictably hilarious. And pitiful. Here’s an example of a typical text conversation with my daughter (we had been talking about the pic she sent of her Christmas tree):

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And then there is this inexplicably recurring nonsense from Siri, which I have transcribed from memory:

Siri: Hey, I learned a new trick! Just say “Hey Siri” to learn more.

Me: . . . [silent, wondering whether there’s a way to opt out of being spoken to like a three-year-old]

Siri: I’m not sure what you said.

Me: That’s because I’m speechless.

Siri: I’m not sure I understand. Did you say, “How do I write a speech?”

Me: Not even close.

Or I’d hit some weird combination of buttons and get this:

Siri: How can I help you?

Me: Sorry, didn’t mean to summon you.

Siri: You do not need to apologize to me.

Me: I’m going to disconnect you now.

Siri: Okay. Bye!

I decided Siri might be less irritating as a male, so I changed the voice preference the other day and haven’t heard from her, er, him since.

But I did discover — completely by accident, due to my tendency to click on stuff despite not knowing what it does — that I can text from my laptop. This is so cool, I can hardly believe it. Totally awesome to type a text message on a full keyboard rather than a tiny phone screen. This thing is really more computer than phone.

Another plus, the camera is light years better than the one on my old phone. Here’s a pic of The White Ninja, which is what my son calls her [it has been pointed out that I can’t really call her The Intruder Cat anymore, since the cat-intruded-upon is no longer with us]. See how she’s being all cooperative and shedding on a white blanket? That’s only because I moved my black sweater.

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As you might suspect, I’ve been feeling sad the last several weeks, missing my ancient kitty. She might have been ornery, but she was mine. There was a significant amount of time both before and after she died during which I didn’t write. At all. But I’ve been trying to get back to it in the past few days. Not easy, with the distractions of the holidays.

Speaking of distractions, my son just sent me this text message:

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I laughed SO HARD. That child definitely inherited his mother’s irreverent sense of humour. [I’m sorry if you don’t get the reference, and really sorry if no one forces you to watch that South Park episode every year at Christmas time, but I am not going to be the one to explain it.]

Where was I? Oh, yeah.

I’ve heard quite a few writers say they don’t like to talk about what they’re writing while writing it. As if doing so saps the words of their energy, deflating the story and rendering it lifeless. I’ve discovered over the years that I fall squarely into this camp.

However.

I will say that an interesting thing has happened with my writing in the past several months. “Interesting” being open to interpretation, I guess. I’ve been actively writing two stories at the same time. While making notes on a third. And there’s a fourth one, a short story, that is completely developed in my mind.

I’ve never attempted this before. I’m sure it’s a Very Bad Idea. There is no “right” way to write, but if there’s an inadvisable way or a convoluted way or a way that is more difficult, you can bet that’s what I’ll manage to do.

Is this procrastination? I don’t know. Maybe. I’d be worried if I completely stopped writing one story in favour of another. That’s a big red flag. But this is different, this switching back and forth and writing two at once. Yes, it means the entire process is taking a bit longer, but I’m not sure I could write these two stories any other way. They’re both proving to be . . . difficult. In different ways. It helps to alternate, for one to lay fallow while the other percolates words, and then back again.

The interesting thing, to me, is the discovery that writing straight romance has helped me see that thriller manuscript I set aside more clearly. I don’t mean “straight” as a sexual definition. Is “pure” romance a better term? No, that has other connotations as well. I mean straight-up romance without a thriller plot or a conspiracy woven though it.

One thing that bothered me about that story was that the tone was uneven. Most of it sounded like a thriller, but large sections of it sounded more like a romance. This is not a good thing. But, somehow, writing romance has made it easier for me to really “feel” the genre differences between romance and thrillers. Mind you, I’m an avid reader of both genres. I understand the differences. I just couldn’t always manage to separate them in my writing. And even though I want to write both, I had come to believe I’d never have what it takes to do justice to a thriller. So it’s encouraging that I’ve been thinking about that thriller again in stray moments. Getting excited about it again. That story will require intense and exclusive focus, when it’s time, but that time might come sooner than I anticipated. We’ll see what transpires.

Anyway, due to this weird new process, it might happen that I finish several stories at the roughly same time. But who knows. I’ve learned to stop making predictions. Life has a way of thwarting even the simplest plans and there was plenty of that this year.

I’ve decided to announce new releases first via my newsletter, well ahead of mentioning them here on my blog or elsewhere. So if you want to be among the first to hear about the publication of new stories, at a discounted price, go sign up for my newsletter (here’s a link, or see the sidebar). I won’t share your email address and you can unsubscribe at any time. No pressure. You do whatever you feel comfortable doing.

Good grief, I’ve rambled on longer than even I thought I would. I do want to mention that I’m going to take an extended break from the internet after Christmas, in spite of this new iThing that insists on connecting me every time I move. I have at least two stories at the point where they need my complete focus. And another one, perhaps two, that are impatient to burst forth onto the page. Seems like a good idea to mute the distractions for a while.

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas, if that’s something you celebrate. Regardless of holiday preferences, I wish everyone peace and calm and clarity as one calendar year draws to a close and a new one begins.

I hope you are able to take a few days off from the ordinary and make them extraordinary. I hope you manage to share space with people you love, or at least find tolerable the ones you’re stuck with. And I hope you make time to read.

As for me, I’ll be wishing for an encore of this:

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Filed under blogging, holidays, miscellaneous bits

Letting go, paying respect

She has been my friend, my faithful furry companion, for twenty-one years and seven months. Sitting here tonight, listening to the raindrops patter softly on the fallen leaves covering the ground outside, I know I’m standing watch on the final moments of her life.

I know this time has been coming. How could I not know? None of us can live forever and she long since defied all reasonable expectations. I’ve kept an eye out, recently, for any signs of pain or misery and there just haven’t been any. But there have been changes. Of course there have.

Several months ago, she began to accumulate an impressive pelt of clumpy dreadlocks along her back. I told myself this was perhaps a religious or cultural expression or maybe just a fashion statement, but . . . she’s a cat. I know it’s because she can no longer groom herself. She won’t allow me to comb her and I can’t bring myself to risk injuring her by trying to cut them off.

A month ago, she lost the ability to hear, although I think she can still feel the rumbles of sound when I put my mouth up to that soft place just behind her ear and tell her that I love her. I know she can still see and can smell a freshly opened can of cat food from two rooms away.

In the last few weeks, she has lost weight and body mass and feels almost insubstantial when I pick her up. A mere semblance of a cat.

Just yesterday, she was still able to jump up onto a chair and from there leap onto the dining room table to access her food bowl. Some routines you maintain even after you no longer need to keep cat food out of reach of the dog.

Just yesterday, I woke to the morning routine of her growl-and-hiss standoff with The Intruder Cat, letting me know she had survived the night to fight another day.

Just yesterday, she spent most of the day curled up and sleeping in the nest I’d made in a corner of the living room couch with a towel and one of my old soft sweatshirts.

But today . . . today has been different. And difficult.

Today, she made it into the kitchen and then didn’t leave.

Today, she sat on the throw rug under my writing chair pulled up to the kitchen table, even when I wasn’t in the room.

Today, she had a tough time walking the few shaky inches from the rug to the water bowl.

Today, she licked at the tuna fish I gave her but I’m not sure she actually ate any of it.

Today, The Intruder Cat didn’t even try to mess with her.

Today, she still purrs when I pick her up and hold her.

But I know even this moderate degree of decline won’t last. I know she won’t last much longer. I know it down deep in my bones, with the certainty that comes from knowing a creature for twenty-one years. And seven months.

She has always been a fierce fighter, this feral cat we adopted from the wild at the tearful insistence of my children and tried to domesticate. She has always had a killer instinct for small things that moved in the night, gleefully and efficiently killing the mice and lizards and bugs that crossed her path. Just last week, she annihilated and devoured a cricket in three seconds flat, leaving only the saw-blade back legs for which she has contempt.

She was at first wary of the loud exuberance of my children, reluctantly tolerant of our various dogs, perpetually and consistently terrified of The Great Outdoors. And she was inexplicably and unconditionally attached to me, the one person in the family who never, ever wanted to have a cat.

Officially, we named her Coconut — what can I say, we lived in south Florida and it seemed like a good idea at the time — although none of us ever called her by that name. Never. Not even once. She has, over the years, had more nicknames than I can recall. Mostly, we called her Kitty. Or Mitten, for her white paws. Or Kitty Mitten. Mitty Kitty. Mew. Mow-meow. Mewey. We called her all the silly rhyming names you call your first cat, with complete disregard for whether there might ever be another cat who might also someday be called “kitty.”

She answered to none of them. She allowed herself to be held only on her own terms and mostly this involved bribes of food. Her idea of snuggling was to sit on the opposite end of the couch and glower. Unless she was cold, then she’d deign to sit next to you. But never on your lap. Not willingly.

When she was small and new to us and thought hiding was the better part of valour, she would crawl up on the back of the couch where I was sitting and burrow under my hair and wrap herself around the back of my neck. This was a very strange feeling, for someone who had never had a cat, but it was an effective hiding place. When she was still a tiny kitten, she’d sleep curled up on my chest at night, or stretch out along my side if I turned over. This made it difficult to breathe. And yet somehow it felt like a precious privilege, to bear and lift her weight with each breath.

Tonight, she manages to look slightly irritated that I’ve picked her up and dampened her fur with tears. Not for the first time, but perhaps for the last.

Mind you, I still don’t particularly like cats. Much. But I love her.

I will miss her when she’s gone.

Soon. She will be gone soon. I know this with inexplicable certainty.

For twenty-one years and seven months, she has been there for me, through more joy and heartache and drudgery and the ups and downs of everyday life than I could ever recount.

So tonight, I stand watch.

Tonight, I am here for her. For this cat I didn’t want, didn’t know I needed, and don’t quite know how I will do without.

* * *

I wrote the words above on Tuesday night. Twenty-four hours later, her condition had rapidly deteriorated to the point where there was no remedy and no humane alternative for survival. It was time for the dreaded end of life measures.

This cat has always been extraordinarily traumatized by car trips and interactions with strangers. There is simply no way to overstate that. I didn’t want to subject her to that trauma in the last moments of her life. I know that some veterinarians offer in-home euthanasia, so I called our regular vet to ask about that option. It wasn’t something they offered. They referred me to another doctor who did offer it, but she was out of town. She referred me, long distance while on vacation, to a different doctor who it turned out was too far away. Regardless, she in turn referred me to yet another doctor who generously agreed to cancel his plans with friends and drive 45 minutes out of his way to come help me.

He agreed to do this at the last minute of the last hour of a long workday. On the eve of a major holiday.

Although I am writing these words on a day dedicated to giving thanks, I’m not sure how to adequately express the depth of my gratitude. This veterinarian — the last in a long line of generous individuals who were relentless in their determination to help — not only agreed to help me, he did so with grace and patience and compassion and dignity. In the process, he offered wisdom and conversation and acceptance. And a great big hug.

I’m not a particularly religious person, but I sincerely wish all blessings and good karma and brownie points and love will rain down upon these professionals who comprised the daisy chain of referral and caring that made this traumatic event less so. They truly are heroes in the lives of animals, and people, in need.

I won’t get into the details here, but suffice it to say my cat was as fierce and ornery during this process of dying as she was in every other aspect of living. Oddly, I found this comforting.

I was afraid I had waited too long, even though her deterioration happened so quickly, afraid that she was too far gone and diminished and destroyed. That she was in too much pain. Too incapacitated. I was full of dread that by waiting to make this decision I had selfishly made her a helpless victim. The guilt that I had let her get to that point was devastating. But she responded the way she always has to any stranger who dared to get too close and touch her without permission.

To be clear, nothing the vet did was painful. He was remarkably gentle. If anything, the initial sedative eliminated any pain she might have been feeling. She was just pissed off that a stranger was touching her. She was defiant and ornery and, even though she was clearly and undeniably and irrevocably at the end of her life, she displayed the irascible temperament that has always been uniquely hers and watching it filled me with admiration and gratitude. And respect.

She fought the good fight, this contrary little wildcat, for twenty-one years and seven months. Not a minute less and not a minute more than necessary. At the very end, she heaved a big sigh and peacefully drifted away. That’s how I want to go, when it’s my time. When it is, inevitably, my time to go. Let me be fierce and fearless and fucking feral.

(There’s a slideshow here, for those of you reading in feeds and who perhaps can’t see it.)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This song, these lyrics, are in my head tonight.

“I’ll be seeing you

in all the old familiar places

that this heart of mine embraces

all day through.”

 Goddamn, I’m going to miss that cat. I already do.

Rest in peace, Mitty Kitten. You earned every bit of it.

 

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Filed under deep thoughts

Are we scared yet?

I wasn’t going to write a Halloween post this year, it not being my favourite holiday, but then this happened:

I haven’t been sleeping well lately, which means I’ve been exhausted and generally worthless, so the other day I decided to take a nap. Just a quick nap on the couch, maybe 20 minutes. Heh.

I woke up roughly two hours later, about the time the sun was starting to go down, feeling all groggy and worse than before my nap. I went to use the downstairs bathroom and noticed a weird reddish glow on the wall of the back stairs. Still feeling mostly out of it, I stopped and looked up the stairs at the glow and thought, “Wow, must be a really gorgeous sunset going on.” Not wanting to miss it, I backtracked to look out the windows by the deck, but the sky looked very ordinary. No red at all. No orange or even any pink. That was weird.

So I used the bathroom and then looked again and there was still this weird red glow coming from upstairs. Groggy, I briefly wondered whether the bonus room was on fire. But it wasn’t that kind of light. No flickering, no smell of smoke. No sound at all. Fire is noisy.

Then I wondered whether maybe there was something red up there and the sun was hitting it or reflecting off it. Like maybe a red vase. Or maybe my daughter had hung something in a window last weekend when she was home. But I couldn’t remember seeing anything up there that might do that.

Now by this time, the sun had pretty much gone down and there was no way the red glow was being caused by sunlight. And it was definitely still red. Very red. And it was sort of starting to freak me out. Normally, the staircase leading to the bonus room is completely dark at night.

This is what it looked like, as if maybe a portal had opened to the ninth circle of hell up there:

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It didn’t help that I’ve already been a bit jumpy for the past week or so. The oak trees have produced a bumper crop of acorns this year and the damn things have been hitting the house and deck with great force at irregular intervals. The ones that land on the deck bounce up and hit the French windows and it sounds like someone is trying to break in. Startles me every single time. Sort of like an ineffective mash-up of The Lottery and The Raven. Smooth, round acorns, carefully selected, gently rapping, rapping . . . tapping my house to death.

In fact, I can easily imagine both Jackson and Poe, sitting in their respective houses being pelted by acorns, thinking, “This sound is irritating; I wonder how I can make it horrifying, so that years from now some woman with a wild imagination . . .”

I did mention I’ve been sleep deprived, right?

I stepped up onto the bottom stair, to get a better look. I craned my head as far off to the side as I could and— the neon Budweiser sign my son brought home from college and hung on the wall was lit up!

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Okay, now I was TOTALLY FREAKED OUT. Not to mention finally wide awake. I know that sign wasn’t on before then. I definitely would have noticed the red glow. I was the only one in the house. Who the hell had turned it on? Had someone come into the house while I was napping? I’d been totally zonked out, dead to the world, but surely that would have woken me. Wouldn’t it? And why would anyone even DO THAT? Who breaks into a house and TURNS ON A LIGHT?

If someone was gaslighting me and using a neon sign to do it, I could appreciate the pun, I guess, but that would be beyond bizarre. And unlikely.

I remembered that while I was drifting off, Cauliflower (my daughter’s cat who now lives with me, because allergies) had been spazzing out, running around downstairs and then charging up the back stairs and thumping around up there before coming back down and racing around some more down here. This is nothing new. It’s what she does. But now she was sitting in the back entry, all tense and alert with her tail puffed up like she was scared, and swiveling her head every once in a while to look up the stairs before looking expectantly back at me.

WHAT THE HELL?

I almost called my son to come over and investigate. Because he’s 6’3″ and strong and athletic and . . . I am not. But probably it was nothing. Probably. And given that he inherited my sense of humour, I’d never hear the end of it. Except, how could it be nothing? I can understand a light going OFF unexpectedly, but not one that turned on for no reason. Someone or something had to have turned it on. And then, predictably, helpfully, of course I had this bit of movie dialog running through my head:

Cowardly Lion: I do believe in spooks, I do believe in spooks. I do, I do, I do, I do believe in spooks, I do believe in spooks, I do, I do, I do, I do!

Wicked Witch of the West: Ah! You’ll believe in more than that before I’m finished with you.

I would have scared myself silly and fled from the house by now, if I had a tail to pull.

CRACK. CRACK-CRACK.

Forget the tail, the acorns hitting the windows were going to finish me off.

Not yet ready to abandon all hope, I screwed my courage to the sticking place and decided to go upstairs to check it out. It’s not like I could just ignore it. At the very least, I had to go turn off the glowing red light. Never mind that I was starting to feel like the too-stupid-to-live heroine who goes down into the basement at night, wearing a diaphanous nightgown and carrying only a lit candle, to check out the strange noises after the power goes out in spite of knowing there’s an escaped serial killer in the area. But it was either go up there or put a sign in a front window, advertising hourly rates.

I don’t think there are any escaped villains in the area, not that I’d watched the news recently, not with an election imminent. And my power wasn’t out – obviously, given the sign was on – and I did arm myself with my cell phone. I mean, really, what kind of weapon would even be useful, let alone necessary, when confronting someone who entered a home with the sole intent of turning on a neon beer sign? I half expected to find some vagrant passed out on the couch, empty longneck dangling from his fingers, waiting for someone to come shoot a few games of pool with him.

Yes, there’s a pool table up there. If worst came to worst, I absolutely know my way around a pool cue. I am fucking proficient with a pool cue.

I went up the front stairs. If there was something in that room that was going to startle me, I didn’t want to be teetering at the top of the back staircase when it happened. I checked out all the other rooms first. Nothing seemed out of place. The house was quiet. Very quiet. Other than the sound of acorns hitting the roof from time to time, making me jump. And the stampeding feet of the cat thundering up the stairs behind me.

I cautiously made my way to the bonus room. If there was an intruder, it was the quietest intruder, ever, in the entire history of intruders. And also invisible. There was no one in the room. Believe me, I checked thoroughly. The only living things in the house were the two cats and me. And the big-ass spider that got away before I could smash it earlier.

My elderly cat was downstairs on the living room couch, blissfully deaf in her old age and sound asleep. The spider was somewhere in the depths of the hall closet, never (I hope) to be seen again. But Cauliflower was now sitting in the middle of the pool table, tail all puffed up and eyes gone dark, staring intently at the neon Budweiser sign. Which was still glowing.

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Well hell.

Sure, I was relieved not to find an intruder. Of course I was. But that had been the obvious rational explanation for this mystery . . . and now . . . I didn’t know what to think. I don’t like unsolved mysteries and I don’t like feeling afraid. Not that I had a choice. It’s not like anyone asked me whether I wanted to participate in a locked room mystery for the evening’s entertainment.

Seemed like the only thing to do was turn off the sign and go back downstairs and, I don’t know, remain hyper-vigilant. For the rest of my life.

So I started looking for the off switch. I assumed it was one of those wheel-type things on the cord that you spin with your thumb. Standing at what I considered a questionably safe distance, because I’m now more than slightly leery of this thing, I ran my hand along the entire length of cord but couldn’t find a switch. Fuuuuck. There had to be a switch because, in my dogged pursuit of reason, I had decided probably it was faulty. I wasn’t giving up until I found it. No way was I willing to believe that some unknown force had picked up the cord and plugged the damn thing in.

I looked again, moving even closer. I’m telling you, this is as brave as I get, standing alone at night in a silent house with a freaked-out cat at my back, an eerie red glow painting my face, trying to figure out how to turn off an apparently possessed neon sign.

And then I saw it:

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The World’s Most Perfect Cat Toy, dangling right there in front of me.

If you think there wasn’t some choice profanity at this point, you don’t know me very well.

I figure Cauliflower must have been messing around with that string attached to the pull chain when she was racing around earlier, probably got a claw stuck in it, and turned on the light. Idiot cat. I don’t have absolute proof or anything. But that’s the most likely, the only reasonable, explanation. Right? It’s not like there are ghouls running around loose and making mischief this time of year. RIGHT?!

The only consolation was that the experience seemed to have frightened the cat as much as it did me. I turned to look at her, still sitting on the pool table, still completely intent on the sign, still all puffed up and tense. If she could talk, I imagine at that moment she would have said, “See? I discovered how to make light! And it is fucking scary.” Yeah, tell me about it, cat.

So the Budweiser sign has now been turned off. And unplugged. I swear, if it happens again I’m calling an exorcist.

Enjoy your Halloween, all. Sweet dreams.

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