Blog: Point No Point

Pine Street Episode 170

“You will never guess,” Allison said to Leo. She had a copy of the original building permit for her old house, one the clerk had kindly made for her, and a giddy grin.

“Okay, then tell me,” Leo said.

“No, you should guess,” Allison responded. 

“You just told me I’d never guess.”

“Oh, come on, please try. It’ll be a lot more fun.”

Leo sighed, but not with frustration. He was curious, of course, but also loved seeing a spirit of playfulness in Allison. She was usually so serious, so focused. He joined her in grinning, out of delight in this transformation of his friend and landlord.

“Okay. The builder of this house was, um, George Washington.”

“Leo! That’s not a serious guess.” Allison frowned. “Try again. Think about it. Who’s the least likely person, or the one you would most wish had built this house?”

Leo pondered. “Least likely? I stand by my first guess, George Washington.” Before Allison could protest again, he went on. “Most wish? Oh, that’s a tough one. Give me a moment.” 

They were sitting on the porch, of course, their usual place. It was an unusually warm afternoon. Probably our last one this year, Leo had thought. Winter will be here before we can blink. 

His attention drifted as he watched a few of the last autumn leaves skitter up the street in the breeze. Everything will be here before we can blink. Old age, sickness, death. It all comes rushing up so fast. A vision of his old friend Marilyn in the hospital skittered through his mind, echoing the leaves. She was here, and then she wasn’t, he thought, and sighed again.

“You’re right,” Allison said, her voice carrying a note of shock. “How did you guess?”

Confused, Leo focused on her. “Huh?” 

“Marilyn. You said Marilyn.” 

“I did? I was thinking about here, but I didn’t realize I’d said anything out loud.”

“Yes, you did. And yes, it is.”

Leo stared, and then they both broke into huge smiles.

Allison confirmed his thought by handing him the piece of paper she’d been holding. “It’s her last name. Marilyn’s. On the building permit for this house.”

Pine Street Episode 169

Allison waited at the counter of the city permitting office. The office took up a retail space that had, over the decades, housed a doughnut shop, a fast-food sandwich vendor, and a non-profit that supported physically challenged artists. The linoleum was worn and the harsh florescent lighting illuminated every scuff and stain. 

She’d put in her request to see the ownership history of her house. When she’d bought the place, Allison had cared not one whit about the people who had lived in it before her. She only knew that it called to her, insisting she move in, settle in, and devote her spare time to making it beautiful again. The house’s age rooted her to the past, and that was enough. She’d focused only on its future as her safe, warm, home base.

Now, though, the mysterious barrel of concrete awoke her curiosity. Who would pour concrete into a barrel in a corner of a basement, and why? Since Leo had shown her the barrel, Allison had let the puzzle take over her late-night musings. She’d shared her fascination with Kassandra at the coffee shop, as the barista joined her on a quick break.

“Maybe it’s a dead body,” Allison said. 

Kassandra’s eyes widened. “Do you think so? That would be so awful.”

“No, I don’t really think so,” Allison reassured her friend. “I think it’s far more likely someone had leftover concrete, and dumped it in a barrel just to get it out of the way.”

“Oh. Well, that’s nicer. But not as interesting.” Kassandra grinned. “I think it’s buried treasure. Like gold, or something. And the person was hiding it from horrible relatives who wanted to steal it. So they put it in an old barrel, covered it with concrete, and figured they’d go back and get it when the coast was clear.” 

“Horrible relatives, yes,” Allison picked up the thread. “They were going to declare her as insane, just to get her fortune. Before they could lock her in the asylum, she hid her gold away.” 

“No, she got her lover to do it!” Kassandra added with a giggle. “Her lover was the local handyman, far below her social station. That’s why her horrible relatives wanted her locked away, before she could marry him.”

“Yes! And all he had to help her was his strong back and his ample supply of unused concrete.” At this, Allison and Kassandra dissolved into gales of laughter. 

“We’ve both been reading too many nineteenth century novels,” Kassandra gasped, when she caught her breath. 

Under the harsh florescent lights of the permit office, Allison giggled to herself at the memory. “Miss? Here you go,” the clerk pushed a bundle of papers across the long counter. 

Allison flipped through them quickly, back to the original building permit. The name on the permit caused her to gasp. 

Pine Street Episode 168

“Allison, you have to see this.” Leo waved his friend over to the exterior door to his basement apartment in her old green house. 

She’d stepped outside on this chilly, sunny fall afternoon, to stretch her legs and back, freeing them from the cramps of tiling work, and to fill her lungs with fresh air. 

For a moment, she considered putting Leo off. She loved him, and all the help he’d given her, but she clung to her solitude, sometimes a bit too much for her own good. So she pasted on a smile and walked over. 

“Sure, what is it?” 

“Come in here,” Leo said, and stepped through the door into the basement. “Back this way.” 

He led her to the door to a little storage area under the oldest part of the house. “Have you ever looked in here?” he asked. 

“Um, not really,” Allison answered. She had bought the old house on a whim, and Leo had moved in shortly after. Mostly, she let him have the privacy of the basement space.

“Me either, until today. Look what I found.” Leo opened the door, and stooped to enter the old space. “Don’t come all the way in – it’s dirty, and there’s probably spiders.” Allison smiled. All the work she’d done on this old place, she had never given Leo cause to believe that a spider or two would freak her out. And dirt? Good lord, she thought, I’m usually dirtier than he is. 

“There,” Leo said, and shone a flashlight beam toward the back corner. 

Allison saw what looked like an old wine barrel, covered in dust and spider webs. “Wow,” she said, unsure as to what kind of reaction Leo wanted.

“I know,” he said. “Let’s go back outside.”

Out in the fresh air once again, Allison could see Leo’s huge grin. She was curious. “What? Is it worth something, do you think?” 

“Oh, I have no idea. Probably not, given that it’s full of concrete.” He cackled. “It looks like its been there for decades, and its full of hardened concrete. I tried to move it. Couldn’t budge it, even an inch.” 

“Why would someone fill a barrel with concrete and leave it in the cellar?” Allison asked. 

“Exactly!” Leo’s expression was that of an eager little boy. “It’s a mystery!” His enthusiasm was contagious, and Allison joined him in laughing. 

“Well then,” she said, “Leo, let’s solve it.” 

Pine Street Episode 167

Allison’s days were filled with working at the office supply store and her evenings and weekends filled with working on her house. Leo helped as often as he could, and worked hard to honor Allison’s request to teach her how to do stuff rather than just doing it for her.

“Just remember, I’m not a carpenter. I’m more of a crap-enter,” Leo would say, and then give her a simple, effective, hands-on lesson with a power drill, or table saw, or tile cutter.

The current project was the master bath, or what she hoped would become the master bath. They’d yarded out the old tub, its pale pink ceramic coating chipped and stained. Luckily, the floor and surround under the old tile (also pale pink, with alternate squares painted over in a sort of dingy gray, which must have seemed quite trendy at the time, or else why would anyone have done it?) was in good shape. No obvious water damage or softness, so they did not have to rip out and replace the backer board or subfloor. 

In went the new tub, a crisp white, and a lucky find at the salvage store. Someone had changed their mind before even installing it, so it was pristine. Allison wondered at the sort of lifestyle that would allow someone to discard a brand new tub based on a simple change of mind. Who has that kind of money, she pondered, and what would that feel like? Would it be glorious, or the most boring life ever?

This crisp autumn weekend, Allison allowed thoughts such as that one to drift in and out of her mind as she worked on the tile surround for her new tub. The salvage store had also had piles of beautifully glazed tiles, all the same size, but in multiple rich colors of olive green, burgundy, ochre, and midnight blue. Allison had invited Kassandra to arrange them in an artistic pattern, but after several hours of playing with the tiles, Kassandra had turned to her friend with a smile.

“You know,” the artist-barista had said, “honestly I think you’ll get the best results if you mix these randomly. Just put them in a big pile and pull each one without thinking about it too much. Colors like this, they will sort themselves into something beautiful if you trust them.”

Maybe life is like that, too, Allison thought as she placed the next tile, midnight blue next to warm ochre. It arranges itself into beauty, if we let it.

Pine Street Episode 166

Sasha, unlike David, was still lost in seeking her revenge on the world. Her heart ached for all her losses, all the rejection, all the loneliness. Anger felt like a friend, because it distracted her from that ache. It gave her the energy to go forward. 

And so she threw her anger about until it found a target. When it did, the momentary satisfaction of transferring her own heart ache to someone else created a sense of elation. For that wonderful, lovely moment, Sasha’s lungs could expand and take in the oxygen her soul needed to survive. 

This frosty late autumn morning, the target of Sasha’s anger was her friend Kassandra. As it had been so many years ago, when Sasha had walked out on her friend after that horrible night at the lake. The loving kindness of Kassandra’s presence served as a constant rub of irritation, and this morning was no exception. 

It is, perhaps, a universal truth that the broken heart, using anger as its lifeline, finds itself attracted to the warmest, most loving hearts. Craving that love, unable to admit its longing, the broken heart tries to move closer to the source of warmth by using a poisoned spear.

Sasha sent her spear forward this way: asking Kassandra about the progress of her artistic projects, feigning support, until deep into Kassandra’s description of her love for metalwork and welding, Sasha saw her opportunity.

“Oh, that sounds so cool, Kass. Really wonderful. I really admire you, you know, for moving forward with your passion when it is ultimately so pointless. I mean, art, right? It’s not a living. It’s a hobby. But you just keep at it as if it’s the most important thing in the world. I admire your ability to stay in denial. I wish I could do the same.”

The wounded look in Kassandra’s eyes fed Sasha’s broken heart the quick dose of superiority she needed. She turned back to her work at the coffee shop, picking up a bag of beans to throw into the grinder, and whistled softly.

Kassandra, however, was not wounded for herself. She’d glimpsed her old friend’s broken heart in the sneak attack, and wanted nothing more than to wrap Sasha in a big hug. How, Kassandra thought, how can I help her? She is so broken.

Pine Street Episode 165

David walked slowly back to his father’s house, in the cold. This was the coldest night so far this autumn, temperatures dipping far below freezing. Somehow, the work of huddling against the chill comforted him. It was as if the cold was his penance.

Could it be, after all he’d been through, that simple words of forgiveness would change everything he believed about the world, about himself?

For so many years, David had allowed the world to be his enemy. He had attempted so many times, in so many ways, to extract his revenge for the world’s early betrayal, ripping him away from family, from warmth, from love. 

Now, in the freezing cold, David saw reality in stark relief. 

Lashing out at others, scheming, manipulating, bullying, menacing. All these tactics had left him exactly where he was: alone, out in the cold.

Oddly, David experienced no sense of judgment or shame about this. He did not view his reality with regret or disdain. He did not look down on himself for the choices he had made.

Grief, yes. A deep and old grief, long hidden under his schemes and bullying, arose with a long, silent wail. It went on so long David kept walking past the house, kept walking without deciding where to go, walking until the wail finally subsided of its own accord. 

And as it subsided, in its place welled up a sense of acceptance so profound David stopped short. 

This is who I am, he realized, a person with this story, of love and loss and revenge and loneliness and rejection and grief. 

Exactly like every other person. I am no different, not better, not worse. I don’t have to keep working to prove how different I am, because I’m not. I’m the same. His shoulders dropped as he released fully the weight of the need to be different. I’m the same.

All this passed through David’s mind and heart on a cold, cold fall night, on a random corner in the neighborhood he used to despise, but now found he loved. 

Pine Street Episode 164

Kassandra worried about her friend Sasha. She could see the quality of frantic searching underneath Sasha’s quest for an apartment, and for David’s attention. Although Sasha had been staying with Kassandra, they had not really talked about anything important. Every time Kassandra reached out, suggesting a long chat over coffee or a meal, Sasha begged off, or came up with an excuse at the last minute.

It prompted Kassandra to a deeper level of gratitude for her own life. Although she was saddened and challenged to accept how little her parents understood her, and although she could occasionally be blindsided by a wave of panic about her long-term future, most of her days were filled with things and people she loved: her art, her friends, her customers at the coffee shop. 

A story came on the news as Kassandra prepared for another shift. A reporter told an agonizing tale of people forced to flee their homes due to horrific violence, their trek across hostile lands, their struggles to keep their families together, often carrying small children for hundreds of miles, and the uncertainty they faced of ever finding a truly safe place to live. 

The story brought Kassandra to tears. But for the grace of the place in which she was born, but for the universe’s random assignment of parents with means to raise her in a safe environment, such a story could be her own. How would she behave if she found herself on the run? How would she survive? Would she? 

Kassandra pictured Sasha as a refugee from her own emotional life. Her old friend was on a different kind of agonizing journey, seeking safety and comfort, failing to find it. Sasha trekked across the hostile land of her inner terrors, and without trivializing the plight of refugees from war and violence, Kassandra saw how Sasha’s journey mirrored that awful feeling of being homeless.

I’ve found my place where I belong, Kassandra thought, in a world where so many people are still searching for theirs.