Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Chapter Twenty-Three: Close Encounters

Compass stumbled out of her mother’s house and climbed on her bike to ride home. A morning which had seemed relatively promising, weather-wise, had descended into that wet, spitting misery Seattle is so good at. She might as well have left her glasses at home for all the good they did her, and she swiped at them furiously as she rode. This was the worst time to be on a bike: the mist made it impossible to see anything, and the beginning rains after any period of dry brought up the oil on the roads and made them slippery. The words “too much” kept circling through her head, keeping pace with her pedalling. Toomuchtoomuchtoomuch on the flats and downhills, t o o m u c h t o o m u c h on the ups.

After several near wipe-outs, Compass finally pulled over and tried to get her emotional feet back under her. It was, of course, entirely possible that her mother was lying about the cancer, and she wasn’t sure what was worse: that her mother would lie, despite Compass’ ultimatum, or that her mother might really have cancer, might actually die. And Compass was horrified at herself. Was she really so selfish she’d almost rather her mother have a life-threatening disease than be willing to lose her? A sudden stomach cramp bent Compass over her handlebars. She hunched there, sobbing, as the skies opened up above her.

Two hours later, swathed in a thick robe, freshly washed and warmed and gripping a cup of comfort- and peppermint schnapps-laced hot chocolate, things looked marginally better. Or Compass cared marginally less, it was hard to tell. She had piled onto the couch with the girls and a large bowl of popcorn and was preparing to watch Princess Bride for the umpty-umpth time when someone knocked, rather urgently, on her door. Compass considered ignoring it, decided that would be unwise, then rather warily checked the peephole. It was Mark.

“What’s up?”

He waved a newspaper in front of her face. “Did you see today’s PI?”

“Can’t say as I have. Why?”

Mark glanced back over his shoulder in a way that bordered on cliché and would have been funny if it weren’t slightly creepy. “You’re in it.” He pushed past her, closed her door and latched it from the inside.

“Oh, hoorah,” said Compass, not even particularly interested in hearing the details. She went into her bedroom to put on some clothes, then wandered back into her living room, shooed the cats away from the buttery popcorn and resolutely took up her place on the couch. “What did I do?”

“You didn’t do anything,” said Mark, and he moved cats and chocolate to make room for the paper on her coffee table. He spread out the paper, then turned to the Lifestyles section. One whole page of the paper was dedicated to a rather unusual, eye-catching ad. A picture of an old fashioned compass dial took up nearly the entire page. It was set at a slight angle, so that the N arrow pointed at the NE corner of the paper. In giant print at the top of the page was the legend, “Looking for you. Need directions.” At the bottom, just to the right of the S arrow, in a font meant to look like handwriting, it read, “Love, Dad.”

They sat and stared in silence for a long moment. Mark shifted slightly, turned to look at her, but Compass continued staring at the paper in front of her. Finally, the gears in her brain meshed up again and she could speak.

“Any chance this isn’t for me?

Mark pointed at the paper. Directly in the center of the compass, where all the arrows meet, there was perched a tiny dragonfly. “I doubt it.”


“This doesn’t mean he’s here in town,” said Mark. “He could order this ad from anywhere. And he’s being open about the fact that he’s looking for you. That’s got to be a good thing.”

Compass dropped a couple of pieces of popcorn on the floor for the cats to lick. “There’s no contact information,” she said. “No phone number, no address.”

“Actually, there is,” said Mark. And he was right. Along one side of a compass arrow was a tiny URL: http://dragonflydad.blogspot.com/.

“No, this is ridiculous. This can’t be meant for me.”

“Because Compass is such a common name.”

“Why go to all this trouble? I’m in the bloody phone book!”

“No, you’re not. Remember? The student stalker?”

Mark was right. Just over a year ago, a student had been given a grade with which he vehemently disagreed. He’d shown his displeasure by showing up at Compass’ apartment, poorly written compositions clutched in his fists, face red with rage and sporting those gross dry mucousy things in the corners of his mouth. Fearing for her cats, Compass got a restraining order, then moved as soon as her lease was up. Even though that student was now on meds and reportedly “doing much better,” Compass requested that she not be listed in the phone book anymore.


“This doesn’t have to be bad, Compass. He’s trying to contact you; that doesn’t mean he wants to hurt you.”

“He wants the emerald. Mom has it, he knows it, and I’m the thing between.”

“Let’s look at the website.”


“Why not? It can’t hurt.”

She didn’t know why. “It’s too much.” She told Mark about the conversation with her mother. Somewhere in the telling, he sat beside her on the couch, took one of her hands in both of his. “And the worst of it is, I’m not sure if she’s lying or dying. No, that’s actually the second worst. The real worst: I’m not sure which I’m hoping for. That makes me possibly the shittiest person alive.”

“Wow. I mean, no, you aren’t the shittiest, possibly not even in the top ten.” He smiled at her. “And your mom’s indestructible. She’ll find a way to get around this too. She’s very slippery, is Mina. And actually, I think you should be proud of yourself for going over there this morning and demanding some answers.”

“Proud? I would have snapped her arm in two in another minute.”

“Compass, for the last several weeks, all kinds of weird, crazy stuff has been happening to you. This is possibly the first real step you’ve taken to meet it.”


“I don’t want this to sound bad, but you’ve been a little . . . passive. Wave after wave, crashing in on you; now it sounds like you’re ready to take up arms and fight back.”

“That sounds bad. Despite the disclaimer,” said Compass, stung. “And it’s a mixed metaphor.”

“I’m not saying I would have or could have done any better. But I’m glad to see you standing up.”

“Well, thanks, I guess. I appreciate your help, I really do. And I will fight back. But I’ll do it my way when I’m ready, OK? First I need to figure out if fighting is actually called for.”

“Fair enough. But . . .” Mark stopped, looked uncertain.

“Go ahead. Advise,” she sighed.

“Don’t tell him where you are, OK? No address, no phone number, don’t contact him at all. In fact, it might be better to stay away from your mom’s for awhile too. No doubt he knows where she is.”

“I’ve already thought about that,” said Compass, who hadn’t. “I think staying away from Mom’s might be a good idea on several fronts.”

Mark hesitated for a brief but noticeable space: “Do you know what kind of cancer she has?”

Compass could hear the unspoken, parenthetical “(might have)” in his voice.

“No, she didn’t say, and I didn’t have a chance to ask.”

“Well, knowing your mom, she probably had a mole frozen off and she’s being a raging drama queen about it.”

“It’s possible.” But Compass couldn’t get the picture of the ragged, shabby woman she’d talked to this morning out of her head. Mina wouldn’t wash her car without being immaculately groomed. She wouldn’t wash her car, period, but if she had to do it herself, Compass was sure Mina’s hair and makeup would be perfect.

“I think you should have someone with you when you check the website.”

“You’re just full of advice this morning,” said Compass, feeling unaccountably light and cheerful all of a sudden. Her mind and body had apparently taken as much darkness as they could handle. The rain was over, sunlight streamed through the window sheers, and Compass suddenly wanted to get on her bike and ride her woes away. She practically pushed Mark out the door in her hurry to strap on her helmet and hit the road. She had some food in her fridge that would make a lovely picnic lunch, and Seward Park was a healthy riding distance away. She’d take a blanket and a book, huddle up on a bench and watch for eagles.

“Compass, this could be serious. I just want you to be careful.”

“Mmmmm,” said Compass, in what she hoped was an I agree, I’ll be careful, please go away now sort of tone. Mark had been great, he was great, but right now Compass just wanted to point her front tire toward the sunshine. Mark was right – it was time for her to take this whole mystery head-on. But to do that, she’d need to get her head straight. Otherwise her head-on would be more of a head-angled-to-one-side oblique sort of thing, and that wouldn’t do. So she packed her bag with hard-boiled eggs and cheese and crackers and cut up apples and baby carrots – brain food.

Halfway to Seward Park, Compass hit a pothole, hard, and jarred loose a revelation. Her father was in Seattle. And she’d already met him.


NuclearToast said...

Mina, still a mystery. Her dad, trying harder to contact her. The blog is a great touch! Another great chapter!

Ash said...

I love it! Love the DragonflyDad blog! What a cool scavenger hunt type twist!

I hate those “gross dry mucousy things” in the corners of people’s mouth.

Can’t wait for the next chapter!