2014-12-20 17.38.28

VI

And Goldie was going to be on her own this summer. Her mother was a free-lance typists/clerical worker/bookkeeper. In the past she had cut back on work and worked mostly out of the home in the summer to be there with Goldie. They would visit the library together or go for walks or bake or argue politics, alternating sides every week. However, a new clinic in a neighboring town offered the mother the job of office manager, which she accepted.

And Goldie was to receive a new adult-sized ten-speed bike. Her father owned a business on the edge of town where he sold campers and camping supplies, boats and boating supplies, and bicycles. In early April Goldie had picked out which bike she wanted from a supplier’s list. The first morning after school ended her father drove her to work to get the bike. My, how she was growing up!

And voila, she had an in with Mr. Johnson, a way to start asking questions and get in his house to see the carvings. Goldie’s parents decided Mr. Johnson was their best candidate to be Goldie’s emergency help, if she needed it, during the summer. Not that they expected Mr. Johnson to sit around waiting. He agreed and took the extra house key they gave him, just in case she locked herself out, because, honestly, now, she could be a bit of a mutton-head.

Arne Johnson would prove to be Marigold’s savior in a manner nobody expected.

After her father made sure the bike was adjusted and that she had her house key, he said, “You are now as free as the wind, Maria.” She knew where she was going first. In the handlebar basket her father had added to the bike she placed a Sherlock Holmes book, a plastic jar of water, and a package of shortbread cookies. The cemetery was a three-mile ride past the abandoned iron ore pits on the other end of town. On Memorial Day she had noticed a bench under a few cedar trees on a small hill above Hilda Johnson’s grave.

Mr. Johnson was not there, not yet anyway. She lay on the bench on her back and took out the book, which she told, “I’m on the case now, Watson.” When she was transported into “A Study in Scarlet,” a shadow stepped over her face. Sherlock had just said, “There is only one point on which I should like a little more information.” When Goldie squinted at the shadow, a policeman stepped to the side so the sun was not behind him. They each studied the other, for different reasons. After many seconds, Goldie was about to address him as Inspector Lestrade, but fortunately for her, the officer, who was neither very literate nor whimsical, said, “You’re Walt Matton’s daughter.”

Sherlock would have told Lestrade that was elementary and would have made deductions from the policeman’s frayed cuffs, worn dirty shoes, too-long hair, and stains on his shirt. Alas, the officer wore a short-sleeved stain-free neatly-pressed shirt, and his hair was trimmed and combed. His shoes weren’t shined; in fact they were the sort of boots people called “lumberjack tennis shoes,” which nobody shined. Maybe she could deduce he was unhappily married, if she could see his ring finger. His hands were in his pockets. Ah ha! Hands in his pockets was a practiced gesture to make himself look non-threatening. Reading his name badge, Goldie said, “There is only one point on which I should like a little more information. Are you married, Officer Salmi?”

He looked at her in puzzlement. A voice spoke from behind Goldie, “He is married, Marigold. His wife is named Constance.”

Still lying on her back, Goldie craned her neck to look over her shoulder. Mr. Johnson was smiling at her. “Hello, Mr. Johnson. Please call me Goldie.”

The two men greeted each other and shook hands over Goldie’s head. Officer Salmi wore a wide gold wedding ring which looked very shinny. “Then I deduce Officer Salmi is newly married,” Goldie announced.

Officer Salmi hesitated for a moment. “I’ve been married for fifteen years.” He and Goldie looked at each other in puzzlement.

Mr. Johnson took the book from Goldie’s hands. “Jim, she’s reading Sherlock Holmes. How did you draw your Sherlock Holmes conclusion about him, Marigold?”

His uniform is very clean and neatly pressed. His hair is trimmed. His wedding ring is very shinny. Soooo, I’m not a very good detective I guess. But I do know he put his hands in his pockets to look relaxed, like he was not going to arrest me or anything. And I deduce his wife is really called Connie, which I deduce because you keep calling me Marigold.” The two men laughed.

She is called Connie,” Officer Salmi admitted.

Why are you here, Jim?” Mr. Johnson asked.

The sexton called us and said a gang of kids with bikes was vandalizing the graveyard.” He laughed. “I lost my wedding ring so my wife gave me a new one for our fifteenth anniversary two weeks ago.”

Goldie sat up. “Then I deduce you are happily married. Your wife does take good care of your uniform.” He nodded. “Sooo, what can I deduce about the sexton since he told you a little girl lying on a bench reading was a gang of vandals? People say I have too much imagination.”

Mr. Johnson sat beside Goldie and stage whispered, “His imagination has some artificial help.”

For a moment Goldie was puzzled. “Oh, you mean he drinks.”

Hands still in pockets, Officer Salmi asked, “Why are you here, Marigold, I mean Goldie?”

I have a brand new bike and a whole summer to use it. Pop says I am old enough to go exploring on my new bike. I do suppose it’s eccentric for a thirteen-year-old girl to read in a cemetery. I am going to find all kinds of eccentric places to read this summer. And, I was hoping to meet a friend here in the cemetery.”

Before sauntering off to the sexton’s building, Officer Salmi said. “I guess it’s eccentric, but it is a free world, Goldie. Have fun this summer. Careful on the streets, and stay away from the pits.”

Mr. Johnson asked, “So, now, is your friend still coming?”

She turned to look at him with the largest eyes she could make. “He is sitting beside me. Pop says you’re my guardian angel this summer. Explorers need guardian angels.”

Do detectives?”

Goldie leaned in towards Mr. Johnson, “I had to stop myself from calling the policeman Lestrade.”

Mr. Johnson showed no reaction.

Goldie considered his face for a few seconds. “I deduce you like to be funny by not acting like you’re being funny. You are good at it. It is funny, too. We were here Memorial Day and I deduced you carve by your wife’s grave . . . is it okay if I talk about her?”

I like to talk about her.”

You bring a chair and carve by your wife’s grave.” She reached into her bike basket for the cookies. “And you feed Girl Scout cookies to the squirrels or the birds. I don’t have any Girl Scout cookies. Yet I don’t think the squirrels give a hoot what brand the cookies are.” She took out a cookie and ate it. “Oops. Maybe the squirrels might care. These aren’t very good.” She offered the bag to him.

He took a cookie but did not eat it. “I deduce you want something from me.”

Yep. He was teasing, being funny by acting like he wasn’t being funny.

I wanted two things. One I figured out: what you do with the Girl Scout cookies you don’t eat, like you told me two years ago. I was going to ask you when I delivered them, but you were gone. A woman answered the door.” Her big eyes implied the prying question.

I took a trip to Sweden with my sister to visit cousins we have there.”

And the nice woman?”

A cousin’s grand daughter.” He made a small smile. “Your deduction about what I do with Girl Scout cookies is wrong. Now how did you make the mistake?”

She scrunched her face. “On the gravestone there were cookie crumbs. They smelled like shortbreads.”

He chuckled, but more to himself. “Bring your bike over to meet Hilly.” He walked to the grave and crumbled the cookie on the top of the stone. She trailed behind him pushing the bike. He fetched a chair and a box from his pickup. “Those were shortbread cookies you smelled, Marigold Holmes. Yes, yes, I know everyone calls you Goldie. But, now, think about it. Marigold, Sherlock. Marigold, Sherlock. Kind of the same sound, or ring to it, is that how I should say it? I would never waste the best cookies on the cemetery rodents and birds. The Girl Scout cookies are only for my friends.” With a self-satisfied look about him, Mr. Johnson sat in the chair. “What’s the other thing you want from me?”

She sat cross-legged on the ground facing him across the grave. “When you carve, how do you think in 3-D? How do you figure it out, I mean what to take out and leave in?”

You want to know how to carve a, oh, I don’t know, let’s say a horse?”

Uh, huh.”

Marigold, get yourself a block of wood the right size. Get yourself a nice sturdy comfortable chair. Get yourself a very good very sharp knife. Get yourself a very good sharpening stone and good strop. Now learn how to sharpen a knife. That will take awhile. Now take your very sharp, very good knife and make it sharper. Now hold the block of wood in your . . . are you left- or right-handed?”

Right.”

I’m left-handed. So, hold the wood in your left hand. Get yourself lots of bandages. Hold your fingers out of the way of any place the knife just might go by accident. Pick up the knife in your right hand and cut away every piece of wood that does not look like a horse. Speaking of horses, did you see the four on the other side of the brushy fence in the field next door?”

What? Wait . . . about . . . I did see the horses. I love horses.”

I consider horses my friends.”

What? Wait . . . you don’t feed Girl Scout cookies to horses?”

Why not? I think they deserve them.”

They don’t really eat them, then?”

Horses are sugar-lovers.” He took a plastic bag of four cookies out of the box. “Four cookies, four horses.” He made a high-pitched loud whistle. The horses ran to the fence. “Horses don’t know cookies from fingers, and they can’t see their mouths that well. Spread your hand out flat, and put a cookie in your palm and hold it out. Let the horse find the cookie. The black one with the long white blaze down her nose is a bully. So don’t let her steal from the others. She’d push you around if she could.”

After Goldie fed each of the horses, fighting off the bully, she stroked between their nostrils. “Why are horses noses so soft?”

It may have to do with eating, how they find food they cannot see well, using their sensitive noses. I don’t know.” He took out a knife and a honing stone and began sharpening the knife.

What are their names?” she asked.

Beats the heck out of me. They belong to the guy who owns this field. His house is a ways off in the woods, and he uses them for sleigh rides and parades and fairs. He’s just a horse lover is all I know, like you and me.”

How do you know so much about horses, then? Did you ever own horses?”

I grew up in the lumber camps. My father was a hostler. He tended to the horses and worked them. We moved around some from camp to camp. My job when I was younger than you was to tend the horses. I’d wipe them down, feed them, clean their feet.”

So you didn’t go to school?”

There were schools in the lumber camps. One of the teachers had a lot of books with her. I would borrow them. Then we moved to town here, and I went to high school. You want to learn to carve is that it?”

I don’t think so, I guess.” She sat across from the grave again. “I’m terrible at art. I’m very good at thinking in three dimensions. I mean I see things in three dimensions. What I want to know is how you think in three dimensions. Could I see your carvings in your home?”

I’m just a dumb old coot with time on his hand, alone in my house. I just picked up a knife a few years ago and started whittling.” He stopped his knife to look at her for several seconds. She did not flinch under his gaze. “Then you want to get in my house?”

Yes, that’s my secret plan. I’ve wanted to see your carvings since the first time I got a peek in your house when I was selling cookies. I want to see all your books and your dust.” She laughed at his confused expression. “Way back then you told me they were your dust collectors.”

He studied her again. “I suppose sometime. Sometime you can see my carvings and books . . . and my dust.”

Okay, I admit it. I’m very nosy. I sold cookies to get in peoples’ houses. You would not let me in. You are one of my two failures.”

He laughed. “I buy three dozen boxes of cookies and I’m your failure . . . in three dimensions I suppose.”

So, how do you think in three dimensions when you carve? How do you picture it? How do you not make mistakes?”

Huh. You think I don’t make mistakes. I burn my mistakes. See this.” He held up a figure of a man.

She took it and turned it around and around. “Cool. It’s an Uncle Sam but his sleeves are empty.”

I’ll carve the hands and glue them in the sleeves. I’ll carve a second Uncle Sam for you this summer. You can watch the whole process. You ask your parents if it is all right for you to come in my house. I’ll trust you to be honest. I have stuff to take care of for the next three days starting about now. Then we’ll start.” He packed up and left.

Goldie rode home for lunch and to read Sherlock Holmes in her room. That evening she asked her parents for permission to see inside Mr. Johnson’s house. They agreed. Her father did not tell her that Mr. Johnson had stopped at his business that day. For the next three days she was a free bird searching for places to nest and read.

VII

Over the summer she found many reading places, preferring the nests and hidden locations: The library of course but in several places around the building, sitting on a wide windowsill on the second floor of the courthouse, lying hidden from view behind a cannon in a park, on a shaded bench overlooking one of the abandoned ore mines, in a dozen places under trees, with permission on Miss/Mrs. Hagen’s back porch, with permission in the screened gazebo of another neighbor, without permission in an abandoned caboose, on benches in parks and around town, under two railroad bridges, in her father’s office or in campers, in the town band pavilion, under two country road bridges, on the top row of seats in the baseball park, in all three cemeteries. But best of all and most frequently, as you will learn, in Mr. Johnson’s living room reading his books while he carved—her own private library, as she came to think of it.

Life was excellent.

She rode every street and alley in town and out many country roads.

Life was excellent.

She felt mature with her responsibility for the house. Her mother paid her twenty dollars a week to clean the house, most of which she saved, riding each week to the bank to make the deposit. She began experimenting with lunches for herself. Once a week she biked sandwiches to her father’s business. On those rides she passed the house of one of her girl classmates, who rode along with her one day, and then once or twice a week they would ride together, just to be together. Another girl classmate she often encountered in the library. She discovered that her mean girl classmates were nice one-on-one at a time. Goldie reserved shared confidences for her parents and Mr. Johnson.

Life was excellent.

After her first visit to Mr. Johnson’s house, because of a book he gave her to read, she began a project.

VIII

Her first visit to his house happened at 8:02 a.m. four days after their cemetery encounter. Goldie knocked on Mr. Johnson’s door, which he opened wide and stepped back for her to enter. “Good thing I get up early, Marigold.”

I know when you get up.” She stood in the middle of the room and took in everything as her eyes adjusted to the dark room. He watched her walk slowly around the room looking but not touching.

Pick up anything you want to.”

I will. I want to just look first.”

Are you Sherlocking me?”

Well. . . “ she swiped her hand across a shelf, “you do not dust very often, but sometimes. This room is full of a woman’s things, from your wife, I guess, and you have left them out. This chair is where you sit and read. The cushion is worn down but all the other cushions are all plumped up and not very worn. A little. There is no TV. You have lots of books piled up around your chair. You have a good Hi-Fi . . . lots of different kinds of records. I don’t see any pet hair. I don’t see any smoking things like ash trays, but the house smells a bit of cigarettes. I will guess your wife smoked but you do not.” She peeked at his face as she talked. He was enjoying this while trying to hide that he was. “So you read and listen to music a lot. A lot. Many of the record albums are worn. I bet I could deduce which are your favorite records. I do not see wood chips in this room. You have done many, many, many carvings.” She picked up two Santa Claus carvings. “You have become better at carving because on this one the face is sort of flat and does not have many details. This other one is much better, the face is rounded and it has details in the beard and lines around the eyes, and sad eyes. Why did you make a Santa Claus with sad eyes?”

He was supposed to look sleepy. Some carvings just get away from me. So you can see I do not think that well in three dimensions.”

Oh, let me analyze the three dimensions of the house . . . Judging by the size of this room and the size of the house from the outside, on this floor is this room and a kitchen and I bet a dining room. But I can see a lot of light coming into the kitchen, so I guess it’s a dining area in the kitchen. Maybe there is a bathroom or a pantry in there, too. I know there’s a back porch on that corner.”

Mr. Johnson said, “Once a pantry, now a bathroom.” He went to a shelf and pulled out a thin book, which he handed to Goldie. She read the title aloud. “Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions.” She scanned through the description on the back of the book and tensed with excitement. “I have to read this, now.”

Go ahead. Read any books you want, here or take them.”

She scanned the room again. “I like to read in nests by windows.” She looked at him with her eyes large and pleading. He laughed.

You have barely been in my house and you want to rearrange the furniture? Okay, then, Sherlock Marigold, what furniture, by what window?”

She three-dimensioned before saying, “This little sofa here, can I move it to that window?”

Love seat. Yes, that would be okay.”

They positioned the love seat diagonally under two corner windows. Four visits and seven days later she knew him well enough to ask if she could position the love seat the other way around, back to the room, so she had a nest. But this first day she sat on the love seat, back against one arm rest, bare feat on the cushions. She read the book in one sitting. She was too absorbed by the book to see Mr. Johnson go into the kitchen and then come back. An hour later she closed the book and closed her eyes to imagine the visual tricks of Flatland.

She opened her eyes to see Mr. Johnson was also reading, one book in his hands and two books spread open face down on the arms of his chair. She startled him when she jumped erect and exclaimed, “That book was too good. I never thought about thinking in only two dimensions. It gave me an idea, and I have to bike to the variety store right now. I know you’re going to show me how to think about carving an Uncle Sam, but I have this excellent idea to get started on right now, okay?”

We have all summer. I’ll be around most days. Go, go, have your fun.” His screen door slammed as she rushed to her house for money and her bike. He decided that a screen door slamming was the sound of summer and children.

Goldie purchased a drawing pad and two mechanical pencils. No colors for her; she would limit herself to black and white. Colors, don’t you see, are three-dimensional. She wanted to be three-dimensional in two dimensions. Maybe at the end of the summer she would add in color, lots of bright colors because it was going to be a bright summer. Now the question was where to begin her project. On the bench overlooking the ore pit? Yes. The monstrous hole with its stepped walls and road spiraling up from the bottom, was the best place to think about thinking in three dimensions? When she arrived at the pit, she watched five boys, two her classmates, sneak below her and under a fence to get into the mine, she wrote on the first page “Upland: the Romance of the Third Dimension.”

She had lots of plans for what to put in her journal, but the first question was organization. Would she have sections for all the kinds of things she planned? What if some entries fell into two sections at once? What if she thought up new sections along the way? No, all jumbled together. She would list all of the books she read, with comments and a “2 to 5” rating system, with no “1” rating because she would know right away if it was going to be a “1” and not finish it. She would diary what she did every day. She would map the summer, where she rode and read. Okay, one big map of the town and then maps for each day. Every day she would explain some three-dimensional thinking. She would solve some mysteries, analyze houses for their people, analyze people’s lives by how they looked? What did the outside tell you about the inside?

Life was going to be excellent this summer.

She watched the sunlight shimmer off the greenish water in the bottom of the pit. She could see those boys down on the spiral road. To keep her entries jumbled, she opened the pad to somewhere in the middle and wrote the date upside down at the top of the page. She was good at writing upside down. She had practiced it in school on the sly since second grade, first in print and then in cursive. She could also write backwards with her left hand while she wrote forward with her right. It was simply a trick of turning off your mind and letting it do what it wants to with your left hand. Beneath the date she drew a map of Mr. Johnson’s house and a map of her ride today. She rated Flatland a “6”. It was that good! Oh! But it was that good! Okay, she had said she would rate books “2 to 5,” but she was not going to let plans limit her.

For an hour she read Sherlock Holmes, which was going to get a “4”. It was fun but she wanted more of Sherlock’s analysis than Doyle included.

Goldie biked home. After her liverwurst, pickles, lettuce, and malt vinegar sandwich—it was an interesting experience not to be repeated—she knocked on Mr. Johnson’s door. No answer. She went though a side gate into his backyard, which was enclosed by a four-foot-high woven wire fence. A dog fence. No dog. He must have once had one. Maybe Hilda was the dog liker. Goldie had never been in his backyard before. It was only grass. Not a chair or a bench or lounge on which she could read. Miss/Mrs. Hagen was working in a flower bed in her backyard, a yard which Goldie knew well. Why hadn’t she ever looked into this yard? She was always reading on Miss/Mrs. Hagen’s back porch, which did not overlook Mr. Johnson’s yard. Sherlock Holmes would have made a point of looking.

Miss/Mrs. Hagen called, “He’s not home now. What are you doing in his backyard?”

Mr. Johnson and I are friends.” She almost said he was her summer guardian angle, but she realized Miss/Mrs. Hagen would be jealous, which explained her Spanish Inquisition question. “He is going to show me how he carves.”

Well, then, that is nice, but he is making one of his visits, I expect.”

Goldie was going to ask about the visits, when she noticed something. His garage door was open. She biked down this alley all the time. Unlike most other people in the neighborhood, He never left his garage door open. No, not him. Maybe he was getting senile, which did not seem to be true. Or, maybe . . . . She said “thank you” and “good-bye” to Miss/Mrs. Hagen, who every day napped around 2:00 p.m. Goldie read for an hour, giving Sherlock Holmes a break for a day or two, switching to another English detective of note, Miss Marple. At 2:15 Goldie strode down the alley towards the open garage, not sneaking one bit, looking like a person going about a bright-daylight-legitimate purpose.

The Garage: Orderly but dusty, just like his house. Wood stove, many tools, work bench, an unfamiliar power tool, perhaps a saw? A small fishing boat, trailer, and motor with no dust on it and a bit of water in the bottom of the boat, which any fool knows means the boat had been recently used. Because Goldie rode through alleys a lot—backyards were more revealing than front yards—she had peered into many open garages. Mr. Johnson’s garage was a run-of-the-mill man’s garage. But, wait. No pin-up pictures. A calendar, but it had a photograph of fall color. November, 1970, four years old, and not a local photograph. Any fool knows all the color is blown away by November in Northeastern Minnesota. Here was the only mystery in the garage: why would a man with an orderly garage leave up an old calendar?

Goldie rode to the courthouse to read Miss Marple on her upstairs window ledge. A courthouse is a fine place to read a murder mystery, don’t you think, especially one of the civilized murders Miss Marple encountered in sleepy little St. Mary Mead, England, which was quite a different place than Sherlock Holmes’ London. St. Mary Mead was not that different from this town, when you think about it, which Goldie did. Two small towns where nothing much out of the usual happened—except all those murders in St. Mary Mead—where everyone pretty much knew about everyone around them. Sherlock solved cases by making keen observations and astute deductions. Miss Marple did more of her solving by being a keen observer of people, which in a small town means being nosy, and by understanding human nature. Miss Marple discovered the inside by analyzing the outside. However, Goldie gave Miss Marple only a “3”, which she realized meant she was giving her own life a “3”.

The next morning she watched Mr. Johnson’s front porch from her corner bedroom window until he stopped shaking his head over the newspaper and staring into his Bible while drinking hot water. When he began carving, she ran over with her drawing pad and pencils. He took her out to the garage to show her his hand-drawn pattern of an Uncle Sam, a bit different than the one he had just finished. Yes, it was his own design. He traced the pattern onto a block of wood and cut it out on the band saw. So, you see, that unknown tool was a saw. She had to see its inner workings. “Very clever,” she told Mr. Johnson, “Oh, and yes, I looked around in here yesterday when you left the door open. You left it open for me, didn’t you?”

He smiled slightly.

But there is one mystery in here: why is your calendar stuck on November,1970?”

And what is your deduction, Sherlock Marigold?”

Something important happened?” Wait a second. Maybe she shouldn’t have asked. She was trying to remember the dates on Hilda’s gravestone.

Maybe I just like the picture. Maybe I just got lazy. Maybe I went on a long trip and just never changed it and forgot about it. You don’t always notice what’s right in front of you. Maybe there is something important I need to remember written somewhere on the calendar. Maybe I put it up to arouse your curiosity before I left the door open, maybe for you, or maybe I just forgot. Maybe it is some other reason.”

Whew. That’s a ton of maybe’s. You’re not lazy. You’re not senile, maybe forgetful. The maybe about going on a trip is the most logical.”

Enough of the maybe’s, Marigold. Let’s do a certainty. Come with me to the porch to see how I think in three-dimensions.”

She did not forget the mystery. She did notice Miss/Mrs. Hagen was weeding the same backyard flower bed she had weeded yesterday afternoon. Goldie wanted to ask her if she had fast-growing weeds. Not long after they reached the porch, Miss/Mrs. Hagen was digging up dandelions in the nearest corner of her front lawn.

Mr. Johnson showed her how he penciled guidelines on the block. He explained that he then “roughed in” the figure on the front and the back before rounding the figure out. As he set to work, Goldie lounged on the wicker love seat and read, but still watching as he worked the knife. He often held up the Uncle Sam and turned it this way and that to judge his progress, to see the Uncle Sam inside the wood. “Lots of little cuts,” he told her, “so you don’t make big mistakes or cut yourself, not as often, anyway.” As he stopped to sharpen the knife, he reminded her, “The safest knife is the sharpest knife because then you have more control. You don’t have to push so hard to make the cut. Lots of little cuts. Keep the knife sharp. Remember what it is supposed to look like when it is all rounded out. Remember where your fingers are.”

Goldie was right; Mr. Johnson had to think in three dimensions to know which wood didn’t look like an Uncle Sam. But she learned something new; Mr. Johnson thought in two dimensions from two directions to get to three dimensions. She wandered into his house to pick up and study a few of the finished carvings. She imagined the process backwards, from fully rounded all the way back to a pattern and a block of wood.

Three dimensions. Deduction. Thinking backwards. Observing carefully. Imagining. And about that calendar? Seeing the inside from the outside.

She ran her finger across the spines of his books. Soon she had a pile of books to read by her nest in the corner of the living room. Before reading, she mapped her morning and journaled what she had learned, making the text wrap around the map and around her drawings of three dimensions shown in two opposite two-dimensional points of view. When he passed by to eat lunch, he did not disturb her, nor did she notice. Nor did she notice when he left to grocery shop. She was transported in a history of the French Revolution. She was fascinated by this story of human behavior, people whose goals were so right but were doing such wrong things, terrible things. He had left her a note: “Feeding cookies to horses tomorrow morning. I’ll bring you a chair, case you decide to come.”

She went home to heat up canned chicken soup and make a grilled-cheese sandwich with pickles and ketchup and green olives. The soup was a “0”. The sandwich was a “3.” She rode through alleys trying to search for out-of-date garage calendars, which she could not determine, without being too nosy, which would have been too nosy even for her. Then she biked out in the country, trying to ride far away from the French Revolution. Next morning, it was out to the cemetery to watch the carving progress, to feed cookies to horses, to read more Sherlock Holmes, to help Mr. Johnson put a bandage on his thumb, and to read Hilda’s stone. February 28, 1908 to October 3, 1969. Nope, that did not explain the calendar, for which she was glad.

And so he whittled, she watched, he read, she read, they enjoyed each other’s presence through June and July. They chatted. She did more of the talking; he did more of the listening. She told Mr. Johnson school was boring, boys were dopes, girls were drips, and most teachers were duds. He mentioned his children only twice, that two lived in Texas, that his visits were to friends to bring lefse. Now, exactly what was lefse? Soon she was in his kitchen helping him make the Swedish potato soft bread, fun to make but not interesting to eat. She knew it would not work for her sandwich concoctions. Too dull without adding sugar and butter, but she was not a willing eater of sugary things.

Goldie’s afternoons were a joyous jumble of peculiar sandwiches, rides, maps, and journal entries. She analyzed many insides by many outsides, visited all of her reading places multiple times, and thought about the mystery of the calendar. She decided the calendar wasn’t left unturned because of a long trip. His long trip to Sweden had been in 1971, which he talked about every now and then. He never talked about another trip; ergo there wasn’t one. Ergo was a new word for her, which made her conclusions sound more thorough. Just to be fair to Miss/Mrs. Hagen, Goldie made a point of reading on her back porch once a week, and talking to her, listening to the woman dither about making simple decisions. Yep, the town was pretty much like St. Mary Mead. The town was a “3,” or would be if it had any murders like St. Mary Mead. She read a second Miss Marple book to be sure. Yep, Goldie’s town was a “2.5.”

She and her parents took many weekend camping trips. Goldie only once locked herself out. She had to bike around awhile before Mr. Johnson came home, but her parents never knew, or so she thought at first, but then she thought about it and knew he had told them.

Yes, it was turning out to be as excellent a summer as she had planned.

Until the first week in August.

©Clyde L. Birkholz 2017

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