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We may not be going to Europe, but there’s plenty to see right here in my own backyard.

A few months ago I thought I’d be spending the Spring Fever months in Uzbekistan, Paris, and Llanfairpwllgwyngyll, a delightful town best known for the Bryn Celli Ddu Burial Chamber, the Plas Cadnant in bloom, and its 19 syllables, shortened from the ancient 313 when phone books were invented. Because of self-distancing and the subsequent collapse of all international travel, I am instead strolling the sidewalks and byways of my hometown of Edmonds, Washington, looking out across Puget Sound at the majestic and now inaccessible snowcapped Olympic tops, dreaming of fresh baguettes from my friend Jacques’s Parisian patisserie, of palov from a delightful street cart in Tashkent, or a big heaping bowl of Tatws Popty from the always delightful Llanfairpwllgwyngyll pub. 

We may not be going to Europe, but there’s plenty to see right here in my own backyard.

I confess I have spent very little time in my own backyard; I travel most of the time and I tend to only be here to handle the mail and change a shirt. My family is probably around here somewhere, but the kids have asked me to not “tour” their rooms while they Facetime with their friends. So let’s explore the wonders of nature right here!

My backyard is a 12’x12’ concrete pad, adorned with some delightful patio furniture my wife trashpicked from the neighbors eleven years ago. The chairs are green, plastic, and, I have to say, very comfortable, with a delightful view of the 3’x12’ strip of let’s call it a garden blooming in a sunny frame of late afternoon Edmonton light against the white fence that separates the Steves from the McAllisters, who I believe still live there, I’m really not around here very much.

But a cool early spring breeze and some moody clouds make me think it’s time to seek out a delightful cocoa and warmer climes, so off we go!

The sliding patio door is original to the house, circa 1975, and while the aluminum has acquired a pebbled patina, it still slides smoothly most of the time, representing a classic design that speaks of a culture in touch with its need to commune with nature with both a clear view and a clever arrangement for access that speaks of a philosophy based on getting up and going where life takes you. Let’s go in.

The charming kitchen catches the last of the afternoon light in an orange stripe across the family photos on the refrigerator. The room is dominated by the tornviken, or “kitchen island,” and the svenbertil, a traditional form of table designed to fit in the kitchen at a reasonable price, some assembly required. Here we meet a local woman, steeped in the traditions and practices of Minnesota cooking, but long a resident of these milder winters west of her birthplace. She’s making a traditional Edmonton favorite, multi-grain bread “sandwiching” two slices of ham with lettuce and garlic mayonnaise, or “mayo.” Having local friends or guides to bring local life to life always helps to bring local life to life, and we are not disappointed now. This happens to be my wife. “Did you...did you want one too?” she asks, I think hopefully.

“I’m going to make some cocoa,” I say, heading toward the stove where I see the kettle.

“Okay,” she responds, clearly relieved that I will be refreshed. She is the woman of the house, my wife and fellow house curator, Mrs. Steves. Under her friendly guidance, I am directed to the Hersheys, a chocolate powder produced since 1894 in Pennsylvania, an eastern state. When mixed with milk it produces a warm drink that can be quite pleasing on a chilly night. “Do you know how old this Hersheys is?” I ask.

She smiles. “I’m sure the expire date is at least 2022.” We laugh. At least I do. As the cocoa warms in the pan, I select a mug. The Steves collection goes back to my grandmother’s childhood, and includes a 1957 Roy Rogers and a 1963 Bullwinkle J. Moose. I select a widemouth SubPop (founded 1986 in nearby Seattle, better known for music), low, modern, starkly white against the deep brown of the liquid, which is now bubbling over in the pan. I am alerted to this by the gentle simmer as milk touches the stovetop and my wife says a quiet traditional snack blessing, “Oh for the love of God.”

It’s the perfect way to end our tour of this charming corner of Edmonds, Washington. My fellow curator and I retire to drive the kids from the family room and catch up on the stories of the day’s pandemic adventures, in a medley of recommendations on YouTube. It’s a feast for the eyes, and if we’re lucky we’ll catch one of my memories of the Baltic, or perhaps soft porn.

Sarah looked around, which didn’t take long: The gas lawn mower; the partially filled hole described in his hilarious groundhog invasion story at the cookout last Saturday night; six useless flowerpots, cracked and spilling dirt; and the time machine.

This started as one thing and I'm not sure how it became this other thing.

Tom entered the shed and turned on the overhead light. He edged over to let Sarah in. He motioned for her to close the door behind her. Sarah motioned that this was ridiculous. It drifted on its hinges and partially closed on its own. He shuffled over to the wall to the right of the door, the nail holding the rake snagging his t-shirt for an inch before releasing it. There wasn’t much room. It seemed a mistake to be in here wearing flip-flops. She kept her ankles as close together as possible without falling over while she found a level spot. Sarah looked around, which didn’t take long: The gas lawn mower; the partially filled hole described in his hilarious groundhog invasion story at the cookout last Saturday night; six useless flowerpots, cracked and spilling dirt; and the time machine.

“That’s the time machine?” Sarah asked, since he hadn’t offered.

"Homebody" at the Saturday Evening Post Friday Fiction

“Wait,” said Scrooge. “I was told to expect the Ghost of Christmas Present. Aren’t you the Ghost of Christmas Future? Did I sleep through that?” “I am the Ghost of Christmas Present,” boomed the ghost. “You’re just not going to like what’s going on out there right now.”

The Ghost of Christmas Past had just left. Scrooge was moody, reminded of his lonely childhood and his sister, the only person who had loved him, and whom he truly loved. Now he felt a little bad about treating her son like dirt. He heard a sound, felt a change in the air, and he knew what was coming next: The Ghost of Christmas Present. He turned and saw a giant in a black shroud slowly raising a bony, skeletal finger to point at him.

“Wait,” said Scrooge. “I was told to expect the Ghost of Christmas Present. Aren’t you the Ghost of Christmas Future? Did I sleep through that?”

“I am the Ghost of Christmas Present,” boomed the ghost. “You’re just not going to like what’s going on out there right now.”

Scrooge reached out to lightly touch the hem of the Ghost’s garment. The Ghost reached faster and yanked Scrooge along by his ear. They saw factory workers with a high ratio of cancer and lung disease because of lowered water and air standards. High tariffs had boomeranged to pass the costs on to consumers. Forests burned and continents turned to mud. People with the same economic and community interests were at each other’s throats because of race or gender identification.His ex-fiance was working 20-hour shifts in an ICU. His clerk was quarantined from the rest of his family, their medical insurance exhausted and their table set from a food bank. A pandemic raged, killing thousands weekly and no one knew which medical advice to trust. The GCP looked down at the miserable wretch next to him, waiting.

“Nothing to do with me.”

“Fuck you, pal,” said the Ghost. “My time grows short. I have to get this costume back in five minutes.” 

He opened his robe. There, clutching his knobby knees, were Lou Dobbs and Jeanine Pirro. “These are Greed and Ignorance. Beware them, but Ignorance most.”

As the spirit dissolved and feeling came back into his right ear clam, Ebeneezer Scrooge drew himself up to his full, lopsided height and passed a shaky hand through his comb-over indignantly.  He patted his bulging wallet, the thick wad angling his butt out like a nightgown with a bustle. “Nothing to do with me,” he repeated, just to hear himself.

The sound of music and the twinkling blind of bright fairy lights startled him, coming so instantly. When he could focus he saw a tall, happy Ghost of Christmas Future. He was thin, with white hair and a weirdly too-white smile, and seemed to be thousands of years old and a boy at the same time.

“Hey, man,” said the Ghost. “How’s it going?” He laughed merrily. “You don’t have to answer that.”

“I thought the Ghost of Christmas Future didn’t talk?” said Scrooge. 

“I don’t like to tell people bad news.” 

There was something about the chipper tone that frightened Scrooge, more than anything had frightened him since that time his dad almost didn’t bail him out of his fourth bankruptcy.  

“You have good news for me then, Spirit?”

The spirit smiled, his merry eyes twinkling in the electric candlelight. “Good news for you, no.”

“That’s all I’m interested in,” Scrooge said, or more precisely whined.

“That’s my point, man. You’ll be gone. People will heal. The great work will begin because everyone will remember the cautionary tale of you.”

“I thought you spirits were sent to help me?”

“Yeah, we gave up after the second try.”

Scrooge swayed, and almost fell to his knees except he was too arrogant and also had a bad sense of balance and thought he might fall over. “O Spirit! What will become of me?”

“You’ll be dead. What do you care what happens to the world after you’re gone?”

“Good point,” admitted Scrooge. “Nothing to do with me.”

With that Scrooge awoke in his own bed. He was happy, somehow taking the lesson to be he would die before the indictments came in.He went to the window to order a Christmas turkey to be delivered to himself, but the delivery kid was at home under quarantine.