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Jill Churchill

A Farewell To Yarns

One

December 10, 8:37A.M.

The Jeffry house in the suburbs of Chicagowas empty, but it was a hectic sort of emptiness. The portable television in the kitchen was on the 'Today' show at top volume. Jane's ninth-grade daughter, Katie, had turned it on in the desperate hope of finding some tidbit of news with which to complete her social studies assignment. Naturally, she hadn't thought of turning it off before leaving for school. Such things never occurred to Katie. From upstairs, the sound of sixteen-yearold Mike's stereo was blaring an extremely noisy Queen album. Mike didn't set much store by turning things off, either.

The coffee maker was making a very peculiar burble because, in her haste to get her kids off to school, Jane had slopped water on the heating element. The furnace was going full blast, making the funny clicking sound Jane had been worrying about for a couple of days, and from the basement there was the sound of some lonely item of clothing with a metal button thrashing around in the dryer.

The kitchen phone was ringing insistently and was being ignored by the cat closest to it. He, a rotund gray tabby tom named Max, was standing in the sink fishing expertly in the garbage disposal for any little treasures that might not have been thoroughly disposed of. The faucet was dripping every few seconds on the back of his almost nonexistent neck, but it didn't seem to worry him. His counterpart, a sleek yellow item named Meow, was daintily cruising the breakfast room table for crumbs.

In the dining room a great shambling dog named Willard was barking his head off at the neighbor who walked the poodle by the house every morning. Willard had been soundly trounced once by the poodle and now spent a few refreshing moments every morning telling the interloper (from the safety of his own dining room) what would happen to him next time they met. Jane had to clean the low windows at least once a week because of his spitty morning barkfests.

Added to this at 8:38 was the rumble of Jane's car pulling into the driveway. 'It's only a little hole in the muffler, Mom,' Mike had assured her. Jane thought it sounded like a Concorde taking off every time she accelerated.

Jane Jeffrey came in the outside kitchen door a moment later. Normally an attractive (though she didn't really think so) and well-groomed woman in her late thirties, this morning Jane was a wreck. Most of her blond hair was stuffed under a stocking cap that did more to emphasize than conceal its uncombed condition. She wore an antique and very tatty so-called minkshe'd picked up at a garage sale several years earlier. Jane didn't really approve of wearing fur—her economics as well as ethics were offended by it—but this one looked like it came from an animal that ought to be extinct. The coat was a disgrace, and she knew it, but it was incredibly warm, just what she needed for driving winter morning car pools. With this unstylish garment, she wore jeans, a sweatshirt that said, 'This is no ordinary housewife you're dealing with,' and sheepskin slippers that she removed and shook the snow from into the sink—after hoisting Max out.

She leaned on the counter for a moment, looking around the kitchen with disgust. 'This looks like white trash lives here, and it's your fault!' she told the car. Then she bellowed at the dog, 'Willard! I'll bring that poodle in here to beat you up if you don't stop barking this instant!”

There was a knock at the kitchen door, and Jane opened it to find her friend and next-door neighbor Shelley Nowack. A few snowflakes spangled Shelley's neat cap of dark hair and the velvet trim on her coat. In honor of the approaching holidays, she had a sequined Christmas tree brooch pinned to her lapel. Even in her distracted state, Jane noticed that Shelley's high-heeled boots were of exactly the same shade as her gloves and her purse. 'How dare you look that good already.'

“My God, Jane. What happened to you? You look like you've been savaged by a gang of bikers.'

“...which is roughly equivalent to being the mother of three kids. The electricity must have been out for an hour or so last night. We overslept. Why didn't you?'

“My alarm is battery powered. You should have one. Now I know what to get you for Christmas.'

“I should have a lot of things. A housekeeper for starters. Then maybe an indulgent millionaire husband. Shelley, pour us some coffee, would you?”

Shelley took off her coat, folding it neatly over the back of a chair, then laid her gloves and purse on the seat. She took down two coffee mugs from the shelf, while Jane hastily cleaned the table. 'Calm down. We've got plenty of time,' Shelley said as Jane brutally shoved cereal boxes into the cabinet.

“Yes, I guess so. I just work up in a panic mode and can't seem to stop.' She sat down and blew on the coffee. 'Jesus! I hate days that start this way. Mike thought they ought to just stay home from school altogether since they were going to be late anyway and was outraged that I wouldn't consider it. Katie acted like I'd turned the clocks off on purpose to make her miss some girly-girly gossip session in the second floor john before school. And Todd took advantage of the situation to trick me into signing a sheet saying I'd help drive the fifth grade to something or other. If Steve weren't already dead, I'd kill him for leaving me with all this. He should have been here helping.'

“Come on, Jane. Steve wouldn't have been helping you this morning. He'd have been standing around helplessly, wanting you to iron a shirt or something.'

“You're right. Either way, I'm mad at him. Ughhh! This coffee is awful.'

“That's possibly Steve's fault, too,' Shelley said with a grin.

Jane smiled back. 'As a matter of fact, it is. I buy it because it was his favorite brand. He's been gone nearly a year, and I'm still drinking his disgusting coffee. What's the matter with me?'

“Nothing that time won't take care of. Just think. You can use some of his lovely insurance money to buy all sorts of expensive gourmet brands to try out. Now, go get dressed and put on a face, and I'll tidy up the kitchen.'

“Don't even think about it! I don't want you to look in my cabinets and know what a slob I really am.”

Shelley put a well-manicured hand on Jane's wrist and said, 'Can I be honest?'

“Why stop at honest? Go straight to cruel.'

“I don't have to look into cabinets to know your secret. Get dressed, unless you plan to meet your old friend looking this way.'

“I don't think Phyllis would care. Knowing Phyllis, it's questionable whether she'd notice, but I'd hate to risk seeing a look of raw pity in her eyes. I'll have to feed Willard; he'd be terrified to eat anything someone else's hands had touched. The whole world is out to poison him, he says, but the cat food is under the sink in the guest bathroom.'

“There must be a reason for that,' Shelley said mildly, having long since accepted most of the vagaries of Jane's peculiar housekeeping system.

“It's my emergency supply, for when I've run out and they start attacking my ankles.' Jane disappeared down the basement steps, peeling her sweatshirt off over her head as she went.

She came back up a few minutes later wearing a denim skirt and blue-and-white striped blouse. 'There's noting like getting dressed right out of the dryer. So toasty and warm.' She sat down on a kitchen chair and struggled into a pair of panty hose. The cats were sitting on opposite sides of their dish, staring at each other, each afraid to eat first for fear of getting smacked on the head by the other. Willard kept sticking his big wet nose into the back of Jane's knees. 'Yes, yes. Just a minute,' she told him.

As she stood up to give her panty hose a final tug, her finger punched through the hose, and a fat run

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