Sunday, April 8, 2018


I want to scream at them. "You are the most selfish people that ever lived! How can you be so egocentric!!"

It is my birthday. My mother is dying and I have just come from spending 4 days with her. She knows who we are, knows what she likes and does not like but can't get the words out and sometimes gets confused if too much is said to her at once. She has a cancer in her liver and was diagnosed after Christmas because the doctor didn't want to ruin her holiday. It was stage 4. The doctors never want to give you a death sentence by telling you how many months you have left but at age 80, she figured her time was winding down anyway and she missed my dad, her husband of 55 years. She decided against treatment.

I came home for my birthday, praying my mother would not die on my birthday Many friends have had parents die around holidays and they could never really celebrate the holiday because of the grief. I too, was being selfish by wanting her to stick around a little longer.

My son is at his father's house. His parents are visiting and they are planning to have a house warming party today, on my birthday. Originally, they said our son probably would love to skip the party and be able to spend the day with me. But then the ex and his wife invited people with son's his age who began to ask if my son would be at the party. Plans suddenly changed without asking me. It was decided that there was a small window of time where I could come into town after they had brunch and we could do something close by together as long as I had him back so he could help set up for the party. That would be ok with me, right? They asked, not really wanting the real answer.

So being emotionally drained from worrying about my mother and the company I work for, changing ownership, I didn't have the energy to fight them. I did request that in the future, birthdays were sacred. In fact, if I looked it up on our divorce papers, I probably would see it written in there. I just don't want to revisit those papers.

I just don't understand how four adults, my ex and his wife and my former in-laws, could not see how important it might be for a son to spend the day with his mother on her birthday when her own mother is dying. Even if he were around and we were not doing anything fun, he would be there for me to hug and talk to.  I don't have a significant other and I don't want my son to assume the caretaker role at age 13, but the simple comfort that he would provide by being near me would help ease the pain.

When he was born, my ex did not stay with us in the hospital. Instead the day our son was born, he left in the afternoon to go meet his parents who were flying in the big event. They were supposed to bring dinner to me about 6pm and then I could have a good night's rest after my c-section. I was getting hungry and the nurse came in with the hospital menu. "Oh no," I told her happily, "My husband and in-laws are bringing dinner." She left the menu, just in case.

At 6, they called to say they were running late. I asked if I should order dinner in and they could take their time. No,no they assured me, we want to bring in something wonderful. You don't want to eat hospital food. At 7pm, I was really hungry. The kitchen would close for dinner in 30 minutes. I called them. They informed me the restaurant they wanted to go to was closed on Sundays! So they had to make a plan B. Ok, I will order something here. Don't worry about it. No, no don't do that. You won't be hungry when we bring you this great meal. I found some crackers and passed the time with our son when the nurse brought him in to eat. They took him away quickly though so I was watching the clock wondering if they had completely forgotten about me. Maybe they thought with a sewed up gash in my abdomen, I would not want to eat. I needed food to make food for the baby. I had not eaten anything but those scrounged up crackers all day. About 9pm as I was dosing off, they burst in the room with bags of Italian food they brought from a nearby restaurant. I was angry but ate a little bit. This should have given me a clue about the lot of them thinking about other people.

So here I am at home. I am crying because my mother will not eat and has asked my sister to give her morphine. She asks my sister how long it will take, as if my sister has given her a lethal dose to take her to the next place her spirit will reside. I am crying because in the past I have made such a big deal about how I think birthdays are the one day where you can be egocentric and selfish but I don't want anyone around but my son. I am crying because the day is cold and grey. I can't even get rid of the dispair by doing the menial tasks around the house that usually are a good way to dilute the pain and anger.

When my son's dad suggested that we have that time together between their brunch and the party, I told him that if I picked up our son, I would not bring him back and that would not suit their plans at all. I wanted to be nasty and text something biting back to him about being selfish for planning something with our son on my birthday. I didn't. I took the high road. I always take the high road.

By  the time my son comes to me tonight, it will be too late to get dinner at any of the small places I like in our little town. Likely, I won't feel like eating anyway. Aries, the babies of the zodiac. All about us, which is why my birthday is special to me. I think I need to rethink this.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Valentine Story: Palm Reader

“You know, I used to read palms,” confided Duffy, the handler for the soup contest judges. She was a spry woman in her 70’s with short white hair and an impish grin. Her white apron covered the colorful outfit she wore, but you could tell it had personality. Reading glassed hung on a chain around her neck. I would have bet, more than once, she asked her husband where her glasses were when she was wearing them.

We, the judges, were between the cream based and the stews, trying to let everything digest as we chit chatted in the back room of the event, hidden away from the competitors. Sophia, a kind woman with a velvet voice,  had a local radio segment featuring everyone in the food business from cooks to farmers to artisans. Annie, was an energetic adventurer, who worked for a regional travel magazine known for its beautiful photography. I was not sure what she did exactly but her social media posts were always from somewhere exciting around the state and she always seemed to meet famous people. I fell into the gig by being a local hobby farmer who cooked well, and was a coworker of the food writer at the local paper, who could not be there. My son had come to this event for years, starting when he was 8 when I could not find a sitter on a Saturday morning. Now 12, he came along because he had a sophisticated palette and liked to eat. He was the unofficial fourth judge.

“Would you read OUR palms?” Sophia asked so sweetly, no one could refuse her.

Annie and I chimed in enthusiastically, bouncing a little in our chairs, “yes! Yes! Read ours, please?” My preteen son pretended to be disinterested but he was watching her every move, secretly hoping he would be included too.

Duffy smiled at the request or maybe because she had turned “women of a certain age” into the giggling teenagers she once had taught. “No, no,” she demurred, “It has been so long. I am not sure I remember much.”

She was lying so we begged a little more, seeing she enjoyed being in the spotlight.

“Ok hold out your palm,” she commanded Sophia.

 After tracing the lines with her gnarled fingers and staring deeply at the open palm, she spoke. “Your career is going well for you. You do what you love. You have a good life line, and your love line is interesting too. The love of your life is someone you have known a long time. Is that true?”

“Well I don’t really have a significant other right now.” Sophia blushed. She had a gift for bringing interesting people together. She had wonderful brunches and dinner parties.  I was surprised that she had not attracted a wonderful guy through one of those events.

“You need to start going to some reunions to find him, I think! How else are you going to meet him? Do you have one coming up?”

Sophie laughed and said she would look into it.

My palm was outstretched waiting for her predictions. She studied the lines, cocking her head as if puzzled.

“You have had a long career but I see you changing careers. Also, your lines say you have three children or are going to. But two will be from a different man than the other”

“Nope, I think the ship has sailed for me to have other kids. I just have my awesome son over there.” I laughed, as he rolled his eyes at the compliment.

“I wonder what that means then. However, your life line is very, very long.”  She turned to my son and said, “I hope you are ready to have her around a super long time.” He nodded enthusiastically.

“Well let’s look at yours then,” she said taking his hand gently. “Interesting, you will have someone in love with you but you will be in love with someone else, maybe her best friend. You may have some juggling to do. But you will live a long time too, so you can take care of your mom.”  He was embarrassed at the prediction for his love life but promised he would take care of me.

Annie was last.

“You will live a long life but hmmmmm, interesting….” She trailed off.

“what, what?” Annie was impatient to hear her twist.

 “You will have several loves over your lifetime. Not just one.” Annie smiled as if it made perfect sense to her. She had not discussed her personal life much with us, but I had a feeling she had an interesting private life. I was pretty sure she had a girlfriend but I never asked. She was always becoming instant friends with the celebrities she met. She didn’t encourage Duffy to go on, as if she wanted to keep her secrets to herself.

Just then, I realized that Duffy had not said anything about my love life. I asked if she could revisit my palm because she forgot to tell me about my love life. Would I have many, like Annie? Would I have someone from my past, like Sophia? Will someone new come into my life and sweep me off my feet? I had to know. Patience was not one of my better qualities.

I thrust my palm out to her, then the other.

“Here read both, I am ambidextrous! One might be better than the other.”

She took my hands, looking carefully. Her head raised and she looked me deep in my eyes and said with a small grin. “You will live a long, long life.”

“Wait...... no, love life........what is the prediction for my love life?” I might have seemed a little desperate.

She held both of my hands, and said once again, “You will live a long, long life."

The attendant rolled in with the next batch of food for us to judge. Duffy sprang into action getting them on the table for us. Annie and Sophia looked at my crestfallen face, then each other, and laughed. My son didn’t get it.

“Well ladies,” I said when they were done laughing, “Guess I will have to figure out how to enjoy my long, long lonely life. Suggestions are welcome.”

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Say my name

I finally had the pleasure of seeing yurt boy, although I guess now Aaron is yurt-less boy since he lost everything in the fire. He said he was angry at first but now is resigned. Putting a positive spin on the tragedy, he said, was that he could buy any book now and be certain that he did not have it already. He now had five outfits that he rotated through the week thanks to a recent trip to Goodwill and what he escaped with. I wanted get him some clothes for his birthday which was just around the corner.  He assured me that he was not picky, unlike a man that I used to share a closet with.

After he met me at work with his bicycle, he was chuckling as we walked to my car to leave. He was laughing because he thought people must think I picked up a homeless man to take home. With his three bags, bike, funky sandals that laced over his pants (which I hated), uncombed long blond hair and beard, yeah, he looks, and actually was homeless, since the fire. I tried to reason that it was all about context really. If you saw him on the Adirondack trail or in the Rockies, you would think he was a mountain man, a Grizzley Adams type.

Now he was homeless, living temporarily with his uncle in town. I didn't even know he had an uncle nearby.  I was just happy that he was safe and alive. Part of me wished he could live with me until he figured out a better solution but I didn't think it would set a good example for Jay, having a guy around who was not going to permanent yet was very intimate. Truth be told, I didn't want him getting used to Aaron because he was not going to be around forever. Maybe I was scared of what Jay's dad would say since I gave him the third degree about sleeping with his girlfriend when she was visiting and Jay was around. Maybe still, I knew it would piss me off to have him around if he was not contributing anything but sexual gratification while I was working 40 hours a week, housing, and feeding him.

He would not have taken me up on the offer anyway because he wanted to be close to school and his friends in town. Living with his uncle was a good solution for now.

At home, I fed horses and got the mail.  Then my ex called to complain about our 5 year old son's lack of responsibility. Seems he was given some money for his birthday to put in the bank. His dad told him to put the money in his pocket. Instead of going straight to the bank, they went for a haircut, and a cupcake. By the time they got to the bank, the money was gone. I listened trying not to yell at him but instead be calm to his rant. How could he blame his child for this?

I was so worked up after the call that I collapsed on the couch with a huge growl/sigh and my feet on Aaron's lap. He knew how to calm me down even though it had been so long since we had been together. He slowly rubbed my feet and calves. He hit some sore spots that made me yelp in pain.
"You are holding your anger here," as he pressed on my ankle.
"Please, that hurts, can you press lighter?"
He put his fingers on my arm and gentle pressed. "This is how hard I am pressing."
It was not much at all. I knew from previous massages that sometimes to get the release, it had to hurt some. I kissed his palm and asked him to continue.  It felt so nice to be cared for.

"Are you still angry?"
"yes," I said unable to let it go.
"Use me to get your anger out.  Come fuck me."

He knew I thought sex was a great reliever of stress from anger and much more fun than cleaning, which was how I got rid of anger when I was alone.

 After a heroic effort to purge the anger from my heart, we lay in bed, his head on my stomach which rumbled so violently, his head raised.

"I'm hungry too," he said smiling but not offering to cook.

Trouble was, I really didn't feel like making anything. My creativity was zapped. I ended up cooking some bacon and stir frying green beans in the bacon fat.

"Aaron, dinner will be haricots verts stir-fried in pork belly drippings." I announced laughing because it sounded so much better than green beans fried in bacon grease.

A healthy shot of tequila in bubbly lime water washed it down pretty well. Maybe the  tequila would help break down the bacon fat faster. I felt pretty relaxed afterwards and we watched "Through the Wormhole" about quantum physics for awhile before heading back to bed. He told me that he thought time was spherical not linear. Time travel was possible just not in the physical way like on Dr. Who, he went on. I thought it was interesting but didn't feel like talking about it at the moment.

It was nice to have him at my house again. He was comfortable to have around, like my favorite slippers. We screwed around until we were exhausted and maybe beyond exhausted. It had been awhile since we had seen each other.

I curled into him with my head on his arm, his heavy arm over me, anchoring him to me.
"are you ok like this?" I whispered, feeling comfortably secure.
"Like what?"
"With my head on your arm. Will your arm fall asleep or get tired?"
"mmm no, I like it. Goodnight my sweet Wren"

 He said my name after saying goodnight. My name. One of the things that had bugged me about my married life was that my ex never said my name. I became depersonalized, if that made any sense. Just having someone say "goodnight" and then say my name after, was so comforting and sweet. Not "Babe", "sweetheart", "darling" but my given name. I fell asleep happy, wondering if it was as important for him to hear me say his name too.

Friday, December 15, 2017


The pub in Piccadilly Circus was crammed with college students and tourists. The smattering of locals from the London outskirts, who occupied the booths, had been there most of the afternoon and into the evening, enjoying more than one pint. The giggling coeds attracted their gaze and the locals chose amongst themselves which groups they would approach. Clearly they were Americans because half of the girls wore tennis shoes, a dead give away in this town of black boots and sensible shoes.

Karl, a local with curly, ginger hair and pale skin, looked over the girls standing near the bar with pints in hand. He wondered if they knew that British women rarely ordered pints, sticking to the smaller, more modest half pint glasses. The Americans were having fun trying to meet British men, like him, so they could hear the accents. Funny how these girls thought the way Brits talk was so attractive. Who was he not to take advantage of this fact. But which girl would he choose? He had driven up from a small town south of London. His mates suggested some fun in the city would be a good change of pace. Getting a date with an American would certainly be just that.

Lisbeth hated crowded places. She had arrived in London two weeks before for a semester abroad. She shared a flat with her sorority sister Kelly and four other girls from Ohio Wesleyan. Six young women in a one bathroom flat was problematic but the rent was right and they could make it work. Tonight they had coaxed her into going out with them saying she had already spent too much time alone on her exploring expeditions. They insisted that she needed to be more social. Pub hopping in the most touristy part of the city was not her idea of fun, but Kelly wanted her to get along with the other girls, so she dressed up in her best clothes that would not scream that she was American. She wanted so badly to blend into the London scene.

Karl noticed a girl was standing outside the group of five girls. Her shiny, dark hair shimmered when it caught the light reflecting from bar mirror. She looked uncomfortable with those girls but occasionally smiled. When she did, heads turned. Her smile was beautiful by English standards. Straight white teeth gleamed, thanks to years of American orthodontics. She was dressed like the girls he knew from town in a black pencil skirt and long print blouse. He could see the curve of her round bottom as the skirt clung to her on the part her blouse did not cover. She was the one he would focus on tonight. If he could get her to agree to a date, his mates would be impressed. Bloody hell, he would be impressed himself, if she said yes.

Her flatmates began chatting up some boys that had come over to talk to them. Lisbeth could barely hear herself think and wondered how anyone could have decent conversation in this crowded, noisy space. She was thinking she might just catch the tube and go home when a hand touched her arm purposefully. She turned and saw a likeable but goofy looking, red headed guy smiling at her.

"Hullo, I see you are getting low on your pint, can I give you a pub tip?" he asked, looking most sincere.

She nodded.

"Natives can tell you are American because you ordered a pint, not a half pint."

"Why do they? and why should I care?" The second question popped out before she could stop it because being judged by the size of your drink seemed archaic, as well as sexist.

It seemed to take him by surprise that she was so blunt, and almost rude. But still, he thought about her question a minute.

"Well because you are the fairer, more delicate sex and you would get snozzled keeping up with us men drinking pints. That would be dangerous for you."

She could not help but laugh at the word "snozzled" and fact that he knew nothing about the drinking habits of American college women. She suspected, based on his slim, wiry build, that she could drink him under the table. Karl took her laugh as an invitation to keep talking to her. He told her about some popular dance clubs to go to in the city.  She told him she was a photography student. He was charmed by the way she help up her end of the flirty conversation. She drank more and he became funnier. Much to her surprise, she was enjoying herself. Abruptly, her friends entered the conversation and began to tease them about starting a great romance in a pub.

"Love at first sight!!, " they squealed with mocking laughter. "Come on, we have to go. Tell Romeo goodbye."

"Ok, well nice meeting you," she said politely.

"Can I see you again?"

"Maybe we could meet at the pub near my flat if you want." He was not her type and the way his ears stuck out, well, even her beer goggles could not hide that. She was willing to meet him again since he was local and could possibly show her around.

"Wait, wait, I want to take you out and show you the sites and then we can have a meal." He looked hopeful.

She considered him and thought he looked harmless enough. It might be a good way to save on train fair somewhere interesting, if he would take her.

"That sounds fine but how about if we get to know each other a bit more first. Blenheim Arms on Saturday about 7pm. Ok, got a pen? I'll tell you where it is."

He dashed through the crowd to the bar to grab a napkin and pen. He came back and handed her a napkin with his name and number. She scribbled her number down and the address of the pub and handed the napkin to him as her flatmates dragged her by the arm out of the pub.

The week flew by and next thing she knew, it was her turn to drag the roommates out to the pub on Saturday. There were times when she could appreciate the gaggle of girls she lived with, and their need to do everything together. They were likely going to a pub anyway so why shouldn't it be the one up the street. She half hoped Karl would not be there. He didn't want him to get the idea she was romantically interested in him.

Karl waited for her at the bar. It would be easier for her to spot him when she walked in the door if he stood there. He sipped his pint and hoped she was as cute as he remembered. He also hoped that she didn't come with her flatmates. They were loud and silly and dominated the conversation. He wondered why she was not like them. She was more direct than the English girls he knew. His mates teased him about not even getting a kiss off to her last weekend. He was determined to fix that tonight. The door opened and a group of locals walked in, damn, not her. Would she show or was she just jerking him around? He drained the pint and was about to call for another when she walked in. She looked more American in her blue jeans and brightly colored sweater but at least no trainers. Then he saw the others follow her in laughing and looking for a booth to pile into. His heart sank.

It was hard to miss Karl with his curly red hair and protruding ears. Both seemed to glow from the bar light behind him. She questioned her judgment. She never should have suggested they meet again. She walked up to say hello. He deftly grabbed her elbow and steered her in for a kiss on the cheek. His kiss warm warm and dry, thank heaven for small things.

"What can I get you?" he asked politely.

"Shandy, please." She had taken a liking to this mix of beer and fizzy lemonade. She had never heard of it until she came here. He handed her the half pint and toasted. "To new friends!" Glasses clinked. She looked to see where the gaggle had landed over the rim of her glass. Karl caught this and turned his head to where they were sitting.

"Can we stay here and talk? I don't think I want to go over there with them just yet." She agreed with him. Except for Kelly, she had no desire to be hanging out with them except to have them near as protection or an excuse later.

As they talked, she considered Karl. Every feature seemed to be trying to run away from his face. His blond eyelashes were near invisible providing no barrier for his bulging pale eyes. The roundish bulbous nose hung over his thick lips that hid the gap in his front teeth, except when he smiled. Lisbeth wondered why she was even here with him except that he was funny and was trying very hard to entertain her. A couple hours later, she had coaxed him to join the gaggle. The girls had invited other boys over. The other boys in the group were not British but imports from Spain or Portugal. She was only half listening to the introductions but laughed when the others did so they would think she was paying attention.

Karl liked the way she laughed. It was easy to make her laugh with a stupid joke or silly observations about her flatmates. He wanted to see her again. He was sure that she would not be alone with him tonight outside of the pub. He thought he might tempt her again with a scenic tour and lunch next weekend. He planned to charm her with his knowledge of Surrey and tempt her with the photographic countryside.  He didn't know someone could make a decent living from taking pictures, let alone go to university to get a degree in taking pictures. What a world! Her dad must have money if she could afford a camera and go to university out of the country. He wondered if she had seen the page three girls in The Sun. Surely she would not be doing those kind of photographs. Thinking about her bent over taking photos of a topless page three girl was starting to get him hot.

 She was trying to figure out how to get out of this awkward situation and she was tired. She was supposed to meet some classmates to make pictures at Speakers Corner in the morning. When Karl came back, she was caught off guard when he asked if she wanted to go see the countryside the next weekend. He offered to drive and they could get lunch as well. Saying yes seemed easier than explaining no.

Sunday, she wondered if he would be on time. She thought she would take pictures for her photo class, a reason not to be glued to Karl's side. Her flat was above a pharmacy on a busy corner near Portabello Market. She was sure she would recognize the curly red hair from her vantage point on the second floor. The flatmates were going shopping in a group as usual, likely to buy a Hershey bar at the news stand instead of a cheaper, much better tasting Cadbury. They would not even try to blend.

The doorbell rang. The gaggle ran down the stairs before her and opened the door.

"Karl, where are going? when will you be back? You better behave yourself," they all gushed together. Kelly, from New Jersey and nobody's fool, was sure to get particulars from him.  She had not seen any reason for Lisbeth not to go on this date but she was going to make sure she knew where her sorority sister was going.

Lisbeth pushed past the others and said goodbye to Kelly. As Karl led the way, she turned and mouthed "Wish me luck!"  Kelly laughed and said "See you for dinner!", to make a point to Karl that Lisbeth better be home or she would call the bobbies.

Around the corner Karl led her to an orange Triumph convertible. This would be fun, soaring through the English countryside on a beautiful day with the top down. She tossed her cameras in the back and climbed in the door he held open for her. As she got in, he laid out the itinerary; Roman ruins, his flat for lunch, then Petworth, a stately historic mansion with grounds landscaped by Capablity Brown. She had heard one of her professors mention him so she was hooked.

"I wanted to make lunch for you," he said. In her head she translated that to, "I am too broke to take you anywhere." Since she herself had limited funds, she respected his creativity but thought fish and chips take away would not have set him back too much. Feeling trapped she felt she didn't have another option other than go and see what he had planned.

They chatted about language differences and living in America.

"And when you say people are wearing pants, I get the image of everyone running around in their knickers!" he said as he banged about in the small kitchen of his studio flat. He had set a little table in front of the windows with two places. He offered her a beer but she thought still water might be a better choice. She wanted to have all her wits about her. She sat at the tiny table, sipping her water, gazing out the window. The flat looked out onto a street that was tree lined. He had the windows open because the flat was in danger of getting stuffy with the two of them in the small space.

She heard a "Ta Dah!" from the kitchen and a shirtless Karl emerged carrying two plates of food.

"Karl, you seem to have lost your shirt," she said a politely as she could through the shock.

"Yeah, I was getting hot putting together lunch so I took it off. I don't have a lot of clean laundry so I didn't want to get this messed up for later." Her interpretation of this was I only have seven shirts and it is Saturday. Or it could be the same reason they were having lunch in his tiny flat, he was dead broke.

She felt that having conversation with a shirtless man she hardly knew, was not an experience she had been ready for. This had made conversation difficult. Karl did not seem to notice and asked if she liked the little lunch of canned tuna, small dry buns, corn salad and tiny gerkins he had put together. She nodded, picking at the tuna and artfully spreading the corn salad around the plate to make it look like she was eating it.

"Karl, what time do the Petworth grounds close? Shouldn't we get going?" she prodded.

His cheerful demeanor dimmed for a second as he realized that rumors about hyper sexually active American girls may not be true.

Karl was confused. His mates had assured him that once you get an American girl to your flat and knock her socks of with your brilliant reparte, she will be so taken with what she calls your "adorable accent" that she will likely jump your bones right there and then. Lisbeth had chilled considerably when he brought her to his flat. He thought that maybe she was just pretending to be shy so she would not overwhelm him. He was being honest about getting hot while making lunch. He didn't want his shirt to stink with nervous sweat. He had contemplated putting it back on for lunch but thought she might think he was as sexy as those California guys who were always shirtless on the beach with their surfboards. Maybe his bare chest would get her hot and he wanted to be ready for action when she lunged at him unable to contain her passion. Instead, she questioned the choice of no shirt, went oddly silent, and lost her appetite. No matter, he thought as he cleared the plates. I'll just save what she didn't eat and have it for breakfast in the morning. No sense in wasting it.

At last they were off down the scenic motorway through the "Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty". Lisbeth loved the names of places here. The British wanted to be sure that tourists knew outstanding natural beauty when they saw it.

"Petworth is a mansion that houses a large art collection and has huge grounds to roam with herds of fallow deer." Karl was trying to make up for his shirtless lunch faux pas with a history lesson. "People still live there in a private part of the house but you can see the public rooms which are quite grand."

It was getting later in the afternoon and she wondered how late the grounds were open. Would it be closed when they got there? The pulled through the large gateway. Two heavy wooden doors opened against a 15-20 foot stone wall. Gravel crunched under their wheels as they followed signs to the car park. The house was a short walk away. As they bought tickets to go in, the attendant told them the house would be closing in an hour. Lisbeth was miffed that there would not be time to go slowly through the home but they could explore the grounds when the house closed, she thought. There would be plenty of daylight left.

As they breezed though the solarium into the big house, Karl marveled at how fast this short, little American could walk. She was carrying a camera bag, too. That should have slowed her down. He almost had to jog to keep up with her. What was her hurry?

“hey there,” he called, “Slow up. Where’s the fire?”

“I wanted to at least see some of the house before it closes up. I hate not having enough time. ” She was feeling no need to be cordial except that she needed a ride home.“I probably won’t take pics in the house but I want to get the outside with the deer and all.”

“Lead the way then,” he said, holding his hand out. “I will go where ever you want.” Karl noticed the way she ignored his hand, brushing past him into the gallery. The red walls were covered floor to ceiling with oil paintings and marble statues where here and there throughout.  The bell rang too soon it seemed, giving them a 15 minute warning.
“Let’s go outside,” she said. “I don’t want to get involved in another room and have to leave in the middle.”
He did not think it made sense at all, but he preferred being outside as well so he followed her. Lisbeth seemed to know where she was going as she strode up the hill away from the house. So he continued to follow. When they got to the top, she was panting slightly and looked disappointed.

“Where are the deer? I wanted to get a picture of herds of deer with the mansion in the  background.” 

She realized that she sounded spoiled, but this day was not really going how she had planned. She wished they had brought that awful lunch here to the park to have a picnic. At least then, they would be in a picturesque setting with the rolling hills, lake and views of the surrounding countryside. Maybe then the deer would have wandered up and she could have sacrificed the corn salad to them.

The sun was getting lower and Karl knew he had to get Lisbeth back to London or that tough friend, Kelly might just call the police on him. The day was a bust for him. He thought he knew how the day would go, in fact he half expected they would not have made it to Petworth after lunch. He had hoped for a passionate afternoon at his flat with the curvy American photographer. Instead she was running him ragged all over the parkland.

“Come on, we need to go.” He touched her elbow lightly and to his surprise, she did not recoil.

“ok, you’re right, I need to get back. Everyone will be worried.”

The walk back to the car park seemed to take forever. The place was oddly quiet. They saw no one and had to go the long way around the house because the doors were locked. They had hoped the staff would have seen them as stragglers and let them cut through but it seemed deserted.

Karl wanted to apologized but he was not sure what part of the day to be sorry for, so he kept quiet. They walked in silence. As they turned the corner, they saw that the large car park gates, the same tall heavy beamed type they had come through to get into the property, were closed. They looked at each other in disbelief.

“Why would they shut the gates if they saw a car still in there?” Lisbeth could not comprehend the whole situation. How backwards were these people?

“Oh bugger, bugger, bugger…” Karl was muttering.

“Maybe there is a door or an office we can check into. You go around that way and I will go the other.” Lisbeth started barking orders. There was no way she was going to stay in this town over night. Besides, she had class in the morning! As Karl scurried around the corner, she though she would try the gates. Maybe they were closed but unlocked. The door budged and started to move but they were heavy.

Karl ran around looking for a gate house or office where the parking attendant might be counting the money for the day. He tried knocking at the back door to the house but no one answered. He had to work in the morning. He could not afford to get sacked. He’d only had the job for a few months and he liked it. He heard a whistle, like a call for a dog, then it repeated. He wondered if it was a grounds keeper. He went toward the sound, back to where he had left Lisbeth. She was standing there, hands on her hips, looking triumphant.
“Found the car,” she said, smiling broader than any proper English girl would. She had opened one door of the gate wide enough to get his tiny Triumph though. 
Se posed like a muscleman from a circus poster for an instant, then said, “Come on, hurry! Take my gear and get the car”

He obeyed grabbing his keys and hopping in the car. Lisbeth stayed behind to close the door. He watched in the rearview mirror as she threw all her weight against the door to get it moving. He felt guilty about her doing the hard work but she could not drive a manual. The 'no trespassing' signs and 'employees only' signs looked so ominous with the bold red lettering.  They were going to get in trouble for breaking out of the car park, he just knew it. But so far there was no one about. 

Lisbeth felt like a spy as she shut the gate and hopped in the car without opening the door.
“Always wanted to try that!” she was laughing now. He liked that.
“Now listen,” she was saying, “If anyone stops us, let me do the talking. I am going to play dumb American. You just shush. Got it?”
He nodded, practicing his silent routine.
They approached the gate out to the road. It was also closed. They both saw the security cameras pointed at the gate and the drive. Karl knew if they made it out, security would likely call the local police on them and they would have some explaining to do. Lisbeth began to get out of the car to try the gate when they heard a shout and heavy footsteps crunching on the gravel as someone ran toward them.

 “Hey there, stop right there!”

Lisbeth’s dark eyes flashed as she shot Karl a look that clearly told him to keep his mouth shut. She was shaking and tried to compose herself. She turned and smiled, showing her straight, white,  obviouslyAmerican teeth.

“Uh hi. We were just tryin' to get out,” she was saying in a sweet, apologetic voice that may have even had a twang of a southern drawl straight out of Gone with the Wind. Karl smiled at her theatrics. “We could not find anyone to let us out and I guess we lost track of time in the park. I am an American studying photography in London and I got so involved taking pictures….. We are so sorry. We didn’t mean to disturb anyone.”

The security guard looked at Karl and back at Lisbeth shaking his head slowly. Lisbeth thought she saw the corner of his mouth turn up slightly but her heart was pounding. Were they going to get arrested for trespassing?

“Will you get this nice, young lady home safely, lad?” the guard asked Karl.

“Yessir!!” he said with conviction.

The guard opened the gate. Tires spun on the gravel drive before taking hold and propelling them out into the narrow street. Lisbeth turned and waved to the guard. Turning around, she secured her seatbelt and dissolved in a fit of laughter that released all of the tension she had been holding all afternoon.

“Home, Karl,” she said with queen-like authority. “What a day. I can’t wait to tell the roomies about this. Thank you for a very…..interesting day.”

Karl wondered if there would be a third date.