Blog: Point No Point

Pine Street Episode 147

Allison glanced at the thermometer her boss kept on the wall next to the main entrance to the office supply store. Its old-fashioned hand seemed to waver in the heat, but it looked like it was pointing at the hash mark just past ninety degrees Fahrenheit on the dial. 

Fricking hot. And only a little past one o’clock in the afternoon, with the real heat of the day yet to descend.

At least there’s no wildfire smoke, not yet, anyway, Allison pondered. She stepped inside the cool air-conditioned store, a rash of goosebumps prickling her arms. Some days, she wished they could turn the AC off. The store was built with thick concrete walls and floors, and would stay relatively cool anyway, without that damp chill that hit you when you came in from the out of doors. 

But, you know, customers, she would say to herself. They want to be cool. 

Truthfully, Allison found the customers provided a welcome diversion from fixing up her green house. She loved working on the house, but every day that she had a shift at the store, she looked forward to showering, putting on clothes that were entirely presentable, and getting out of her house (and head) for a bit. The part-time income helped, too. This week’s paycheck was going for paint. 

Allison had always wanted a bright red front door, and earlier in the summer she’d found a solid wood panel door at a yard sale. Seventy-five dollars, and Leo helped her haul it home. It was perched on two sawhorses, under a tarp, ready for primer. Allison found the paint color she loved, and following Leo’s advice, bought the premium outdoor latex brand. “You won’t regret it, even though it seems expensive, Al. It will save you hours by going on smoothly.” Same with two high-quality brushes, one for the primer and one for the cover coats. “Invest in your tools,” Leo said. She’d chuckled at that, as most of his tools were in some state of disrepair, just waiting for the moment when he had the time and parts to fix them.

That was one of the things that she loved about Leo: he didn’t throw stuff away. Or people. He didn’t cast people off, either, just because they were dinged or dented or missing something. 

David was her prime example. Most of the spring, she knew, David had been scheming up something to do with Leo and Franny. But Leo still greeted David with a smile, shook his hand, told him a joke.

Allison had tried to caution Leo, but he wouldn’t have it. “I know David’s a good person. That’s all I need to know,” Leo would say. 

She walked to the back room, and noticed a box on the Will-Call shelf. 

Customized stationery of some sort, she realized, and then she saw the name on the order. 

Douglas, David’s father. 

They looked like wedding invitations.

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Pine Street Episode 146

That’s a nice spot to pause Franny and Leo for a bit, isn’t it? They are in love, happy, transforming themselves from who they were before to who they will be with one another. 

They’ll still be involved with their friends on Pine Street, of course. They can’t avoid it. That’s how small towns work. No one is ever completely outside the main story.

David wants to cause trouble in their world; he probably will. He’s smart enough and sad enough to distract himself that way. But Sasha has other plans for David, and herself, and we’ll want to find out what they are.

Allison needs Leo’s help on the renovation of her green house. He’s happy to help, of course; he always is, which is why his own projects often languish. But Allison also is drawn to figure out David’s issues, perhaps as way to avoid dwelling on her mother’s ill health and her father’s lack of ability to cope.

Kassandra continues to be the ray of sunshine on Pine Street. Even as summer heats up, her light shines brightly. So does her art. We’ll discover one of her pieces, and where it takes her. Kassandra deserves a little fame, and don’t worry, it won’t go to her head. She’s too kind for that.

Let’s not forget Douglas and Louise, either. They were regular coffee dates in the late winter and early spring. It’s quite possible, don’t you think, that Douglas deserves another round of love in his life; and Louise certainly deserves her first. 

With all that to follow, we can let Franny and Leo have some private time to explore their romance.

Besides, it’s getting hot out there on the sidewalks of Pine Street, and the dog days of summer loom. Precious needs to rest up a bit. She’s an old dog, and we have to take good care of her, pamper her a little now and then. 

Marilyn would want it that way.

Pine Street Episode 145

Franny ejected herself from her apartment building onto the street, ready to refresh herself with a brisk walk, and shake off the lingering “ugh” feeling left by her brief visit from David. She turned away from the wind, moderate for this time of year, and focused on the sidewalk.

“Hey,” a voice called from behind her. “Slow down.” 

She was tempted, oh so tempted, to ignore the voice. But, almost in spite of herself, her heart lifted. 

It was Leo’s voice, and she longed to spend time with him. Her devotion to writing had kept her cooped up and away, with Leo’s full support. Franny loved the sense of accomplishment she found in spending her planned three hours at the keyboard. 

And, she realized, she loved Leo. 

Love terrified her. It thrilled her. It made her unsettled, cranky, picky. It made her want to throw her laptop out the window, call Leo in to her bedroom, and not come out for days. 

Love had led Franny down dark and dismal pathways before, and she was not eager to tread them again. 

And love had lifted her out of herself, given her a new view of the world, filled it with colors, songs, and smells she could never have imagined without it.

Anyone who has seen the crumbling of a marriage they worked hard to build, who has felt a marriage slip through their clinging fingers, who has listened to the loneliness of a shared, loveless bed, anyone who has been through this will understand Franny’s pause on the corner, the inner competition, one voice imploring her to keep walking, the other inviting her to turn toward her lover.

On this breezy, late-spring, almost-summer day, Franny chose to say “yes” to the invitation. 

She turned to Leo, and kissed him as a brief cloudburst soaked them through.

Precious the scruffy old dog, who typically hated to get wet, waited patiently, tail wagging, happy in her humans’ joy

Pine Street Episode 144

It’s been a while since we visited Franny. She’s been hidden away, focusing on her writing, taking the occasional walk with Leo and Precious, spending some mornings behind her laptop at the coffee shop, fueled by Americanos and eavesdropping on the conversations around her. She’s teaching, too, even unpublished fiction writers have to make a living. And she gives her students the best she can. It takes most of her energy. So, we have allowed her, mostly, to work in peace.

David’s interruption this late spring afternoon was not entirely welcome. Too polite to tell him to go away, Franny buzzed him in the main door, popped her apartment door ajar, and went to her refrigerator to pull out a couple of seltzer waters. 

She turned back to her living room. David sat there. He’d entered silently, while her back was turned. 

So awkward, she thought. No wonder Kassandra is the only one who can really tolerate him.

“Oh, hello,” Franny said. “I didn’t hear you come in.” She offered a seltzer water. “Thirsty?”

“No, thank you, Franny,” David said. “I can’t stay long.”

She opened her own can, which made the only sound in the room: a spritz of carbonation releasing its pressure. She had an odd flash of imagining the pressure in the room releasing in the same way, with a flood of tiny bubbles floating out into the hallway. 

Franny waited for David to say why he’d stopped by. 

He did not. He sat quietly, gazing at her, with a smile that seemed to indicate a private joke.

“Um, okay,” Franny broke the silence. “What can I do for you, David?”

“Not a thing, Franny. I just wanted to check to see if you are okay.”

“Me? I’m fine. Why?”

“Oh, you know. Word on the street. People are concerned. That’s all.”

Franny frowned. “People? What people? Why are they concerned?”

“I’m sure it’s nothing. As I said. Just people, probably making up stuff when nothing’s really going on.” He rose. “How’s Leo?”

“Fine, I assume. I haven’t seen him in a few days. Why? Did you hear something about him, too?”

“Oh, nothing in particular. You know how it is. Well, thank you for reassuring me. I’ll pass the word along.” David gave a slight bow, and left, that secretive smile still on his face.

Ugh, thought Franny. I’m sure he’s just stirring the pot.

But she found she could not re-settle into her writing, so she grabbed a light jacket and headed out to clear her head with a walk.

Pine Street Episode 143

Leo and Precious circled Franny’s block. David had not, so far as Leo could tell, emerged back onto the street. What could he be doing in there for so long? Or did he leave, and I missed him? Leo fretted.

And fretting was not Leo’s favorite emotion. He typically filled his time with tasks and his mind with thoughts, in order to avoid fretting. Over the course of his life, Leo had seen others give in to worry as a raison d’être. He’d even convinced himself that being lost in worry was a mark of adulthood; and so, determined to avoid it, he worked hard not to become a real adult. 

Women in his life seemed to know this about him. First, they were drawn to his carefree attitude. Then, they grew frustrated with what seemed to be a lack of caring. Finally, they would confront him with an ultimatum: grow up or get out. 

He would get out, lovingly, understandingly, sad that he could not be the person they seemed to want, resolute in his determination not to be that boring, worry-full adult. 

Only recently did he realize that worry had snuck in through the back door, a loophole in his emotional logic. His determination not to succumb to a life of fretting made worrying about worrying his constant companion.

Crushed by this realization, and lost in fretting, Leo watched the door to Franny’s apartment building. Precious sat patiently at the other end of the leash, occasionally sniffing something within nose-reach. The scruffy old dog had felt many human emotions transmitted down that length of nylon webbing: fear, joy, sadness, grief, distraction, elation, silliness, and, of course, worry. In her canine way, she took them all in stride. Humans were nothing if not changeable, transitioning through emotional states the way dogs move through a stand of tall grass, sniffing every molecule that tells the story of the past twelve to forty-eight hours of the site. Wait five seconds, the wind will shift, and you will learn something new. 

Dogs, however, do not judge the smells that come their way. They simply take them in, translate them into useful information, and move on. Humans are full of judgment, layering it on like coats of paint, creating a muddle of colors and textures. 

On balance, Precious thought, I’m glad I’m a dog.

Pine Street Episode 142

Leo loved taking Precious on long walks around town. He would get busy with a project, or work, or helping someone, and think: I don’t have time for a walk with Precious. 

Then, he’d realize: that’s crazy. Of course I have time for a walk with Precious. And, he’d get her on the leash, grab some plastic sacks for poop scooping, and head out. 

Walking with a dog on the leash turns transportation into meditation. You can’t have a destination or time too much in mind; you have to let the dog stop, sniff, circle, pee, reverse directions, and do it all again. If you pass other dogs out on their walks, you must do the modern-day equivalent of doffing your cap, sharing a conspiratorial smile that encompasses all the emotions of dog-love: the joyfulness, the slight anxiety to keep your canine friend safe, the slow release of built-up tension, the shiver of disgust at having to touch poop, even through a plastic bag or scoop. 

When Allison returned from caring for her mom, and knocked on his door, Leo had been out with Precious, walking a random route, stopping to chat with others they met along the way. He’d intended to stop by Franny’s place, and bring her along on their walk, but Precious had started off in the opposite direction. For an elderly dog, she could pull a strong man like Leo down the sidewalk with surprising ease. Perhaps it was because Leo didn’t like to use his full strength, but he wondered. In a true tug of war, if Precious gave it her all, and he did the same, who would win? She had a single-mindedness that, Leo believed, would give her the advantage over his brute strength. 

So, he decided to follow the scruffy old dog on her choice of route, and gently wind their way to see Franny at the end of their walk. Perhaps they could convince her to put her writing aside, for a bit, and come sit on the porch with them, enjoying the sensation of summer lilting in the air. 

When they came to the sidewalk in front of Franny’s building, though, Leo saw David buzzing the front door. He fought the irrational urge to rescue Franny, as if something bad was about to happen. 

That’s silly, Leo thought. David’s odd, and awkward, but he’s trying. 

Still, Leo decided to circle the block with Precious, more compliant now that she’d burned off some of her canine energy, until he could be sure David had left again.

Pine Street Episode 141

After being away for a few weeks, caring for her mother, Allison found herself shocked as she walked down Pine Street to the coffee shop. 

She was sure that there was at least one more empty storefront than when she left. Or maybe two more? 

All around her town, city economies boomed. They struggled to hold all the people who streamed to their centers for the decent jobs flourishing there. Then those same people realized they could not afford to live close to those decent jobs. Some found roommates and tiny spaces to share with them; others pushed their lives to the periphery of the city, creating the need for cars or buses or trains to ferry them back and forth to work. The bustle of commuting became a kind of second job for these people, adding hours to their time away from the homes they worked so hard to be able to afford. 

Some of those people found their way to Allison’s town, perched on the edge of a barely feasible commuting distance, especially if they could telecommute during the worst of the winters. 

And yet. Despite this growth, despite these additional people, the core of the town seemed to be stripping itself bare. Three or four shops had closed just on this single street. People retired, or relocated, according to the brief notices in the local paper, and no one stepped in to buy the business or replace it with something else. Or, a business simply failed. A good idea, but no lightning in a bottle to keep it alive.

Allison worried. She slowed her pace, reading the For Lease notices, scanning the interiors visible through paper taped to the windows for a glimpse of the life that had been so present in the space just a heartbeat ago. Was this just an ebb in the flow of commerce, a coincidental episode, and the street would thrive again in another year or two? 

Or was Pine Street dying?

The bell over the door of the coffee shop offered its reassuring jingle, and she entered an arena of noisy community: young moms chatting with one another, hair pulled back in practical ponytails; older women planning book club meetings; students settling in for hours of homework, using the wireless for the price of a single drip coffee; and over there, in her usual spot, Franny with her laptop, writing feverishly. 

This corner of Pine Street, was thoroughly alive, at least for now.