I have to record what happened today and it was all thanks to Percival “Pucker up” Perfect. That guy has such a brown nose he’s practically one solid color from head to toe.
Cal and I shop together in one vehicle for several reasons which should be obvious to anyone with half a brain, but more on that as I go along. We locked everything down tight and left early this morning to try and get the shopping done quickly before the nasties rolled out of bed and hit the streets. They stay up half the night making trouble despite the curfew and then like to sleep in late so they can do it again the next night.
We took my car because compared to Cal’s truck it sips gas. It is also easier to hide things in the trunk; no one goes around showing what they have these days, you never know who you are going to set off.
Of course Cal has to use a shoe horn to get in and out of my car but that’s just the way it is and he doesn’t laugh at the situation too hard though the passenger seat of the car is practically in the back seat so his knees aren’t up in his chest. We stopped at the produce market – a sad affair with so many of the booths gone or empty. I got a little bit of everything that I could afford but it was mostly just the local tropicals as usual: soursop, sweetsop, atemoya, velvet apple, pineapple guava, governor’s plum, acerola, mango, avocado, canistel, pomegranate, ambarella, jicama, pecan, calamondin, lemon, ambersweet oranges, cara cara navel oranges, navel oranges, and passion fruit. Oranges were coming in which I was happy to see and even though I had a bunch of trees already, ours wouldn’t be ripe for another month and they’d need a cold spell to sweeten them up.
Actually I shouldn’t say just tropicals as there were a few other things starting to show up. I got a few avocados and eggplants. Cal didn’t say anything but he wasn’t exactly jumping for joy either. I’ll teach him, avocado sandwiches are to die for and I know how to bake eggplant so that it isn’t the least bit mushy or slimy. They had cucumbers and I picked up a small bag of them in case my vines don’t bear. Right now I have a lot of blooms but that is about it. I could have gotten bell peppers too but I’ve already gotten the first few from the plants that I set; they are smaller than what was at the produce stands but beggars can’t be choosers. What I got a bunch of was mushrooms and onions. Cal loves onions anyway he can get them but even he looked a little scandalized at me buying a fifty pound bag of onions.
“Are you sure Aria?”
“Trust me. If you want salsa, spaghetti sauce, chili, onion soup, fried onion rings …”
“Ok, ok,” he finally laughed. “Just so long as you’re sure.”
“I’m sure, plus it is cheaper to buy them in bulk like this.” Actually I wish I could have bought more onions but maybe the next time I go … if there is a next time.
From there we went to the Barter Bizarre. Cal stayed with the car – too many people appear to know he is a police officer – because he didn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable or cause trouble for the churches. He was also willing to keep Feena but then Josh pulled up with Dorrie and her mother and I said it would be silly to try and have a guy talk with Feena doing her best to get their attention.
There were a lot of artisans and craft people at the bizarre and I grabbed a few bars of homemade soap, some candles, and I also picked up some yarn and some needle and thread. I found some more seeds but I had to be careful because not all of them looked like they had been stored very well … some of the packages were faded and some were obviously water damaged. Dorrie and I didn’t talk much; we were both being treated differently as word got around that we had cops in the family. She also seemed to have a lot on her mind. It was actually a relief to leave.
As we went back to the cars Dorrie’s mother said, “Well, I’ve never been insulted so completely. People I’ve known my whole life act like I’m a stranger just because we rent space to a police officer.”
It was upsetting but I wouldn’t tell Cal until we were back on the road heading to wally world.
‘They did what?!”
“Don’t snap Cal; there’s nothing you could have done.”
“This is getting ridiculous.”
I shrugged as I carefully crossed an intersection. “It’s been ridiculous and is now heading into absurd. People are just scared and they express it in stupid ways. These same people are the ones that will call in the middle of the night that someone is trying to break in their house and expect you to be there before they’ve even hung up, and no apology or embarrassment when it turns out to be an old tom cat in the garbage cans. I refuse to let that kind of idiocy get in my way. Dorrie’s mom may not go back to the bizarre but no one is going to scare me off. If they have something they want to sell that I’m willing to buy then we’ll work around their irrational prejudices.”
“Irrational prejudices. Is that what they call it these days?”
I snorted a giggle at the look on his face. “Actually they call it something much ruder but with Feena in the car and turning into a Class A mimic I’m being careful what she hears.” Since we’d already had one such incident where she’d overheard a particular word Cal had used when he’d busted a couple of knuckles while he was under the hood of his truck changing the oil filter he knew exactly what I meant.
We finally pulled into the parking lot of wally world. There were a lot of people wandering the parking lot but most of them only had one or two bags in their hands as they came out.
That’s when Cal says, “Aria, maybe we should split the list and shop separately.”
“Why? What if I can’t reach something on a shelf?”
He snorted, “You aren’t that short.”
“I know but they keep pushing things to the back of the top shelf like they don’t want anyone to reach them.”
“Then we’ll hook up and I’ll go back around. I just think it might be better if we don’t pile everything in the same cart.”
That’s when I began to understand what he meant. “Oh. You want us to look like everyone else.”
“See, I knew you were smart.”
I gave him a look that would have burnt toast and told him, “You’ll find out just how smart I am if you miss a single item on your half of the list. And don’t go picking up any junk either, especially not for Feena. I cannot believe you have her hooked on marshmallows. What happens when all the marshmallows run out?”
From the back seat her majesty demanded, “I sum mushmells. I sum mushmells. I sum mushmells.”
I glared at Cal but he just grinned. “Don’t look at me; you’re the one that said the M word.”
It just so happened I’d made the brilliant decision to stick a few miniature marshmallows in a Ziploc so I could give her a couple like a Scooby Snack and we finally grabbed a buggy and started to head into the store. Started being the operative word.
We walked through the first two double doors and as I was passing into the store and Cal was grabbing a buggy for himself we hear, “Deputy Lowery, what a surprise to see you here.”
I turned and looked for who would be lame-brained enough to shout out like that. I was right on the first guess … ol’ Percival Perfect, only he wasn’t alone. A number of other DHS personnel stood with him. In a voice full of sorrow he said, “I just wanted you to know that there are no hard feelings.”
I looked at Cal who was looking at PP with a carefully blank expression. I wanted to ask what it was about but Cal had gone granite and was holding himself very still. PP noticed and said in a falsely contrite tone, “Oh … Oh I apologize, you … you obviously haven’t gotten the call from your lawyer yet. I’m really surprised. Lily couldn’t wait to call me; the judge signed the papers this morning, she’s finally free.”
God help my mouth. Out popped, “Yeah, she could have been free a lot sooner if she hadn’t kept irritating the judge trying to change the paperwork.”
I don’t think he thought I was dumb enough to insert myself into the conversation. He underestimated the fact that I as completely able to be stupid at the drop of a hat.
He gave me superior look and said, “That was merely a misunderstanding.”
Num num. My foot tasted so good the first time I decided for another taste. I said, “No. That was the judge getting tired of her wasting the court’s time with supercilious motions. Lily was an adulterous wife trying to take her husband to the cleaners and the judge saw through it. The fact that you were the one she had her last affair with just has made it more complicated for Cal because of your father using his interdepartmental influence.”
Cal said sharply, “That’s enough Aria. Lily … Lily didn’t want to be married to me. She made it obvious in a hundred different ways; I just fought the obvious for too many years.”
One look at Cal’s face was enough to make me mentally cringe. He hurriedly ushered me into the store. I wanted to apologize but Cal separated from me as soon as we’d gotten passed the “hello – buy me” stuff they put right at the entrance. I wasn’t feeling very good; in fact I was nauseous. I’d blurted out instead of thought first. I was too old to be acting that way. I wanted to find Cal but knew it was a bad idea. I would have to hurry if I didn’t want to make things worse. At the rate that Cal was moving he’d have everything on his list before I got half way through with mine.
And in fact I was half way through with mine when a female DHS agent walked up beside me and said, “Mrs. Lowery, would you come with me please.”
Since the please was actually just rhetorical I followed her lead but was scared, nearly as scared as I’d ever been. I was wondering why I couldn’t have just kept my mouth closed. I pushed my buggy to the old layaway area and was asked to sit down in a chair stationed in front of a table.
“Mrs. Lowery …”
“Can I ask how you know my name?” I asked hesitantly.
She obviously didn’t appreciate questions but she arched an eyebrow. Then it clicked. “Oh … Percy.”
She twitched her nose and then continued. “Now as I was saying, Mrs. Lowery that is quite an accusation you made against one of our agents.”
I sighed. “If you want me to apologize I will. I’m … I’m a little hypersensitive where family is concerned.”
“Cal. He’s been hurt enough.”
With a carefully blank face she said, “I understand that you and Deputy Lowery have a relationship of long standing.”
When the innuendo clicked I sat up straighter but determined that I wasn’t going to cause any more trouble than I already had. Carefully I told her, “Our relationship is one of family and mutual support.”
“Could you explain that please?” Again, the please was only rhetorical.
I sighed. “Lily and Cal were a huge support to me when my husband … when he … look, I suppose you know what my husband did.”
She said, “He was a drug addict and killed his parents.”
I winced. “He was a severally brain damaged drug addict. And before he killed his parents he tried to … tried to kill me. In addition to the … to the physical injuries I suffered, it caused me to go into premature labor with Feena.” I nodded to my daughter who was chowing on the last of the mushmells to keep her quiet. “Both she and I were in critical care for almost two months. During that time Daniel – my husband – was confined by the state but he escaped and you know the rest from there. Lily and Cal provided my primary emotional and mental support during that time. They were also my primary contact with the outside world as the doctor’s didn’t deem it very good for my health to have a lot of visitors.”
“Were you aware of the stress their marriage was under?”
Quietly I said, “I knew something was going on because Lily was pulling away. I thought maybe it was me or maybe Feena … she didn’t want kids and once upon a time the family had given her a hard time about it but she and Cal had worked things out between them. He wanted her more than kids.”
“When did you become aware of the storminess of the marriage?”
“It wasn’t stormy; a couple of times Lily said that Cal just didn’t know how to fight and was boring. I thought she was playing at the time but maybe not. They were in counseling and I as well as my sister in laws thought things were getting better. At least until Lily pulled out of their second honeymoon at the last second and told Cal to take someone else on the cruise.”
“You’re very … free … with details Mrs. Lowery.”
I shrugged, resigned to the interview and determined to tell the truth. “It’s common knowledge. Plus it is probably in Cal and Lily’s divorce papers to prove that the marriage was irretrievably broken or whatever you want to call it. It isn’t rocket science to know you guys can look it up any time you want to and verify what I’m saying.”
She didn’t say anything to that for a moment then looking at some notes she asked, “When did Deputy Lowery move in with you?”
“Actually he didn’t really move in with me at first. He’d lent me his travel trailer to live in while the house I live in now was under repair to bring it up to code. When he came home and caught Lily in bed with yet another man everything just fell apart and Cal couldn’t take it one more time. He packed up and moved out.”
“Another man?” she asked like I’d caught her off guard.
“Yeah. When Cal caught your agent in bed with his wife that was the third time that I know of that Lily was unfaithful to Cal.”
He … he caught them … in the act?”
“Yeah. That’s how your agent wound up buck naked on the lawn outside while Lily and Cal had a real verbal blow up that the whole neighborhood could hear. You probably know that Lily’s dad is kinda rich – some hobnobber in the construction industry with some funky connections – and he sent a lawyer after Cal. Your agent’s father is … well he has his own connections and I guess as a father he just wanted to protect his son so I’m guessing he called in some favors, or at least that is what was said. Cal got stationed out here in Ruskin as a result. It just made the only sense possible at the time for him to move into his trailer since it was already parked and set up out here.”
She was silent for a moment like she was digesting something. Then she asked, “But he now sleeps with you.”
I made a face. “Not the way you’re thinking. It was a matter of economics. The price of gas made it hard for Cal to keep the generator going in his trailer and it got to be like an oven in there. When some guy was willing to buy it Cal jumped at the chance. The only reason he didn’t go find an apartment some place is because … well … I guess you can see I’m occasionally still a pretty big mess. He hangs around to help me keep up with things. Not to mention with prices and stuff … aw, you know what I mean. I’m a little embarrassed to admit it but if Cal wasn’t around I don’t know if I could afford to stay in the house I grew up in. He and some of his buddies from work help with the heavy lifting when something gets broken … it was a mess after the hurricane … and all they ask is to have a dock to fish off of. They haven’t been able to do much of that lately but … I don’t know … I feel safer too. You know what it’s like for most women that are alone and I don’t know, some guys just don’t get that I’m not ready to … er … fish. I don’t know if I ever will again. Cal understands because of what he’s been going through with Lily. We just kind of … protect each other, just in different ways. Like brother and sister.”
“You are very free with details Mrs. Lowery.”
I nodded. “You’ve already said that once. And like I said, I’m not saying anything you couldn’t confirm through public records or just by asking around. It is what it is, kinda stupid to try and make it something it isn’t.”
She made some notes, occasionally stopping to look at me. It made me so nervous I finally asked, “How much trouble am I in? For mouthing off I mean?”
She raised her eyebrows and said, “You aren’t in any trouble Mrs. Lowery that I’m aware of. Of course if anything you’ve said doesn’t check out …”
“Despite the way I acted back there, I’m not stupid. I’ve got my daughter to think of and it would be a pretty poor payback to embarrass Cal any more than I already have.”
“Wait here please.”
So I waited. She wasn’t gone five minutes before coming back with an envelope. “Just sign here and you are good to go.”
“Sign for your additional ration cards.”
I gave her a suspicious look. “I didn’t ask for ration cards, I’ve already got one per the new rules.”
“I’m well aware of that Mrs. Lowery. These are additional ration cards. You use them like gift cards.” When I still didn’t seem to understand she seemed to think she was dealing with someone mentally deficient. “Mrs. Lowery, we provide our community contacts with ration cards as a matter of policy.”
“Why? And when did I become a community contact? Don’t take this the wrong way but this is the last contact I want to have on this.”
She closed her eyes briefly like she was looking for patience. “Mrs. Lowery it is policy.”
“Policy for what?”
“For our community contacts.”
We looked at each other and then since she still wasn’t talking any language I understood I asked, “Can I go? If Cal has noticed that I’m missing his going to get worried.”
“After you sign for these ration cards.”
“But I didn’t ask for any ration cards.”
From behind me a voice said, “Take the cards Aria.”
I jumped up and turned around. “Cal! I am sooo sorry that I put my big fat foot in my mouth and …”
He cracked a small smile. “It’s ok.”
“No it’s not because I talked and answered questions but I swear I never asked for anything Cal … I didn’t … only I think she thinks I did because …”
Cal said, “Aria, take the cards. If you don’t they get in trouble.”
“In trouble? Why?”
“Because it’s policy.”
“Policy for what?”
The female agent sighed and said to Cal, “This is where I lost her every time.”
Cal looked at me and gave a small smile. “That’s because she doesn’t get the routine.” To me he said, “The agents have a policy and procedure they have to follow. When they conduct an interview and the facts check, then they issue ration cards.”
I made a face. “For telling the truth?”
“Essentially,” he answered.
“That makes no sense. Why pay someone for telling the truth?”
“Don’t think of it as payment, think of it as a reward.”
“You shouldn’t get a reward for doing what you’re supposed to do. Doing what you are supposed to should be reward in and of itself.”
The female agent and the male agent that had accompanied Cal looked at me like I was suffering some form of dementia.
“Sign for the cards so the nice agents don’t lose their jobs. The longer you stand there arguing the longer it is going to take us to get out of here.”
So I signed for the cards not really looking at them. I stuck them in my purse and then we went out, finished our shopping, and then left the store.”
After we had loaded everything into the car and pulled out I looked at Cal and said, “That was sooo strange.”
Cal burst out laughing and laughed nearly a whole mile before finally catching his breath. “Oh Aria … you are something else.”
“No I’m not, I’m me. And I still don’t understand those ration cards. I didn’t do anything but tell the truth. And I’m not sure I like being called a community contact.”
He continued to chortle. “Don’t worry about it, it doesn’t mean anything; just a way for them to justify their screwy policies and procedures. We’ll spend the ration cards and we’ll spend them on something we need. How much did they give you?”
I answered, “I don’t know; they’re in my purse.”
When he pulled them out and told me how much I nearly punched the breaks. “What?! That’s almost a whole month’s worth of points!! Oh my gosh, we have to go back, there’s been some kind of mistake or they are testing me or something! Cal …”
“Relax Aria before you get us in an accident; it’s the same amount they gave me.”
“Same amount they gave you? Oh no … I got you in trouble too.”
Cal shook his head. “Aria, why are you being such a ding bat over this? Neither of us is in trouble. It’s the same amount they give other people they interview. It is supposed to build good will.”
Not happy at being called a ding bat I grumped a little. “I’m not being a ding bat. I just don’t understand it.”
“I’m sure you don’t … at least not the way your average person would.”
“Well geez, thanks so much.”
“Don’t get upset. I just mean that you don’t expect things for doing what you are supposed to. In this case you told the truth and likely confirmed some stuff that they were already looking into or were aware of. For the most part those agents expect everyone to lie or that everyone is going to expect something for doing what they are supposed to. You aren’t like that.”
After a while even I get tired of going over the same old tracks so we agreed that it was silly for DHS to do what they did but that we’d have to disagree on why. All I know is that we now have almost two months extra ration points to use and it is all because of Percival Perfect.