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(from Jazz Notes in the Misty Blue: A Mountain Empire Anthology)
“Zilch Montenegro, Connecticut”
by Jeannette Harris
REST STOP Lounge & Library
Janie kept her balance against the current, feet planted deteminedly, toes gripping a slippery flat rock, as she cast into the riffles below the falls. Several small-mouth bass and a fall-fish she'd kept for catfish bait swung from a stringer attached to her belt. From a rope tied to a loop in her pants hung a covered plastic cup, half full of nightcrawlers that had poked up from the wet ground into her garden this morning and helgrammites she'd snatched from under river stones as she'd walked toward the white water.
She knew she'd waited too long. That bass had gotten his meal for free. Janie wound her line in, anticipating the empty hook and finding instead a small, evanescent and gilded bluegill barely thrashing as it flashed out of the water against the sun. Janie removed the hook, imagining the size of the fillets, and added the perch to her stringer. Four, and she needed at least six for Cass to bother cleaning and frying them. Janie threaded the head of a larger helgrammite onto her hook and, as the dark, segmented tail whipped and curled in the air, cast out below the rapids.
Harley screamed to Diane, "Right, RIGHT!", as he dug his paddle deep and urgently into the current to the right of the canoe. Furious white water foamed and crashed against ragged grey rocks suddenly straight ahead of them. Diane back-paddled from the stern, steering their canoe toward a pebble beach, laughing as cool water sprayed her sun-burnt shoulders and back. What if they fell out? At least they'd cool off, she thought. Diane paddled toward the shore. She envied the gal standing in the riffles, casting downstream. Next time she'd bring an anchor and her fishing rod, although Harley might be a bit bored with that. Maybe he could bring a book.
Cass splashed through shallow clear water, searching the dark colored stones and ivory shells, stooping to examine an unbroken mussel, turning its irridescent blue-green curve toward the sun. Reaching the riffles, Cass settled into the rocks a few feet from Janie, stretched her legs into white water and splayed her toes against the cool current. A piliated woodpecker tapped against a tree trunk, red head bobbing against the large green leaves of sycamores. Canoes, green and yellow and red, swirled around the rapids.
Mallards and wood ducks hid in tall grasses along the shore while canoers shouted and splashed downstream. As Janie cast and waited and reeled in her fish and an evening quiet returned to the river, they slid out again onto the green, still pools, winding around rocks and islands, splashing out onto the clear air currents, gliding into cool downstream waters. Pintails who'd watched boats from the trees flew down to the bank and a solitary heron, purple-gray and regal, dipped its slender beak into the shallows.
Trish emptied her pocketbook onto the dining room table. Somewhere in there was her eye shadow case. And inside it was a one hundred dollar bill. She needed it now for groceries. Ah, she said to herself, there it is. But that was her blush case. No. The eye shadow case was gone. She could hardly believe it.
She rummaged again through the strewn contents of her purse. It simply wasn't there. She went to the bathroom and checked on the sink counter. Not there either. Then she checked the bedroom in vain. Finally, she convinced herself she had put the bill someplace else entirely. She went through the contents of her jewelry cases and through the pockets of her sweaters and coats and skirts. After hours of fruitless searching and rising panic, Trish finally accepted that the one hundred dollars was gone.
And what, she asked herself, had she to eat until payday next Friday. She checked the cabinets. No, she was out of powdered and evaporated milk. She had some canned vegetables and some spaghetti sauce and noodles. She checked the refrigerator and found half a can of margarine and some bread and juice. Trish poured herself a glass of that and sat down again at the dining room table. Who could she call for a loan this time?
"Hello, Mom, how are you doing?.... Just fine.... Well, I've had another little catastrophe...." Trish explained the situation. Her mother expressed her regret at not being able to help. She advised her daughter to keep her money in the bank and have more ample savings. 'Ten dollars a paycheck', she admonished again, 'will add up to a rainy day fund', if her daughter would just comply.
"Carol?.... How are you?.... No, I've had another of my little disasters...."
Trish recounted her latest fiasco to her best friend. Carol said she could loan her twenty dollars until the following Friday. The butterflies began to leave Trish's stomach. That was better than nothing.
"Pete?.... What's up with you?.... Oh, I've had another small fiasco...." Trish retold the story and her old boyfriend offered to loan her thirty-five dollars until payday. Trish was feeling better. She finished her glass of juice and poured herself another. Checking again through the cabinets, she found crackers and peanut butter for supper.
"Janet?... How are you this afternoon, sis?.... Well, I've had a minor setback...." Trish again told the tale of the eye shadow case and her missing one hundred dollars. Janet promised to loan her forty dollars until she could pay it back, whenever that might be. Trish felt a crush lift from her chest. That was enough for groceries and sundries, including gas, until she was paid again.
Crisis averted, she drove first to visit Janet. She retrieved the forty dollars with only a minor scolding from her older sibling. Pete gave her thirty-five dollars with no words of wisdom except that she try to build up a bank account, as her mother had admonished. Carol offered her thirty dollars after all and promised to help again if she needed it. Trish stopped by the grocery on the way home and bought what she needed for the week. Passing Ted's One-Stop, she splurged and bought a fifth of white wine. Arriving at home, she called Wilma.
"Want to come over tonight for wine and cheese and crackers?" Trish asked. "I'd love some company. And you can help me resolve the latest mystery."
Intrigued, Wilma agreed and arrived at the door of Trish's apartment some hour or so later. "So what's to solve?" she asked, settling in her favorite chair.
Trish told one more time her story of the eye shadow case and the missing one hundred dollar bill.
"Are you sure that's where you put it?"
"Did you check in your wallet?"
"Of course." A momentary trepidation passed over Trish as she wondered if she really had.
"Check again. Go on."
Trish went over to the dining room table to retrieve her wallet and opened it for her friend. "There. It isn't there. See?" Wilma took the wallet and began going through it methodically.
Shortly, she pulled out a folded one hundred dollar bill from behind a credit card lodged securely in its section. "Here it is, kid. Just where you put it," she informed her friend.
Trish stared. "How did it get there?"
"I think you put it there."
"Yes, but when? I know I had it in the eye shadow case."
"Was that this one hundred dollar bill or another one?"
"No. It was this one."
"When did you go to the store last?" Wilma asked, determined to resolve the mystery before she finished her wine and left for home.
"Oh," Trish said with disgust. "I know what happened."
"I meant to go to the store last night and put it in my wallet before I left. Then they were calling for freezing rain and I decided to go tonight instead. Now all I need to find is my eye shadow case."
"Your poor head. You really need someone to help keep you straight."
"Thank you for being that person. Do you think I'm getting to that age where I need live-in help?"
"No, it's just the trauma of losing your husband, being on your own, and some other travails you've had, including getting a job after all these years."
"Well, there's nothing like old friends." Wilma gathered her pocketbook and coat and stood up to go. "Emphasis on 'old'," she replied with a grin.