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Posts Tagged ‘AZ’

It was at least six months since I could encircle her waist with my hands but the rest of Rosalie’s body was still reed thin. Saturday afternoon and we were sitting on the couch. I was holding her very close. A dust storm raged outside rocking the eight by forty-foot house trailer. We each wore wet handkerchiefs tied over our nose and mouth their purpose to filter as much dust as possible. The handkerchiefs smelled like the first drops of rain falling on a dusty dirt road. The trailer shuddered, slipping on the concrete blocks supporting the far end, where we were huddled. The swirling dust inside was so thick I could barely make out the passageway from the kitchen area to the walk-through bedroom only ten steps away from where we huddled.

“It feels like it will tip over,” she moaned.

“No, we’re solid,” I lied. “It will be OK. It would be more dangerous to go outside than to stay put.”

Mister lay panting at our feet, occasionally sneezing to clear his nose. It was August in Paradise Valley, north of Phoenix, and hot, very hot in the closed tight mobile home. The dust turned to mud in skin creases on our necks and on the inside of our elbows where sweat had collected. I wasn’t certain if the threat was greatest from dust inhalation, heat prostration or the house trailer being blown over. Finally, the wind started to abate. I wiped the dust from the face of my wrist watch and peered at it.

“Only forty-five minutes but it sounds like it may be over. It seemed to last a lot longer than usual.”

A last burst of wind slammed the trailer adding to the thick cloud of brown dust. Then it was quiet. Mister sat up and licked Rosalie’s hand to reassure her.

“I am hot, unbelievably hot. I can’t stand this anymore.” Rosalie stood and alternately coughed and sneezed.

“OK,” I said. “I think it’s over. I’ll get up on the roof and take apart the cooler and clean it up so we can turn it on. When I get it apart I’ll yell down and you can turn on the fan.  It won’t do much to cool the trailer down but if you open the windows maybe it will blow out some of the dust.”

After stepping carefully on the slippery hot metal of the trailer’s roof I worked my way over to the evaporative cooler. Imagine a car that has been sitting in the Phoenix sun with all the windows rolled up, that was our home. I took off the first of the four side panels and the heat from inside the trailer pushed past my face. Each of the excelsior filled panels was full of mud. I unplugged the circulating pump.

“Honey, turn on the fan and then come around and hand me up the hose, OK?”

I climbed halfway down the ladder to reach the hose Rosalie handed up.

“OK, when I holler turn on the water. I’ll clean out the cooler pan and the excelsior pads.”

Using my thumb over the end of the hose to create a jet I rinsed out the cooler pan then each of the side panels and the pads.

“Watch out, I’m throwing the hose down.”

Mister pounced on the hose snaking on the ground and proudly carried the water spouting end to Rosalie in the process soaking her from the belly down.

“Mister, drop it,” she snapped. “Actually that feels pretty good.” She patted the dog’s head as she turned off the water faucet.

I put the cooler back together and Rosalie turned it on as I came down.

“That should help. I’ll help you clean up the mess inside.”

The people building what was to be the Paradise Animal Hospital were off for the weekend. I was starting my own practice. We had acquired the trailer for a hundred dollars in cash plus taking over the previous owner’s payments. We then moved it to the back of the lot that was the construction site for our hospital. I was spending most of my time going around and leaving business cards with everyone I could find letting people know I would take calls to treat horses or other farm type animals and could do simple things like vaccinations for their pets as house calls. The hospital building was due to be finished soon, or so the contractor kept telling me.

My Dad was an accountant. Two of his clients were retired veterinarians, Drs. Bramley and Shapiro. They would identify likely areas for a veterinary practice, purchase the land and build a clinic. They then leased the buildings to young veterinarians giving an option to purchase the practice after three years. It was a good financial arrangement and investment for them and a good deal, my Dad assured me, for someone like me without the financial resources to build a hospital and practice on my own.

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“Animals are such agreeable friends – they ask no questions, they pass no criticism” – George Elliot

Mister rose to his feet and tip toed three steps to the metal door of our mobile home, the hair on his back bristling. Three sharp knocks announced a visitor. Rosalie struggled to her feet then leaned back to balance the watermelon-size protrusion that was to be our firstborn. Mister positioned himself between her and the door as she waddled towards it.

A hard-used woman was standing on the top of the three wood steps. She moved down two steps as Rosalie pushed the door open. She was dressed in dirty Levi cutoffs riding high on overly muscled thighs. A much washed and faded orange T-shirt did nothing to hide she wasn’t wearing a bra. The sweet/sour odor of unwashed armpits caused Rosalie to wrinkle her nose. The apparition’s face was leathery from too much sun, her hair a curly mop dyed jet black. Too thin lips were drawn into a sarcastic half smile, half sneer. She held her right hand behind her back.

“Yes,” Rosalie inquired?

“The Vet here?”

“No, I’m sorry. He’s out on calls.”

“You recognize me?”

“No, I’m sorry.”

“Thought you might, my picture’s been in both the Republic and Gazette. I was just acquitted for the murder of my girlfriend.”

“Oh.”

Mister leaned against Rosalie who took another step back.

“I’m a professional wrestler, Killer Amy, maybe you’ve heard of me?”

“No, I’m sorry, I haven’t.”

She brought her hand from behind her back, holding a chunk of skin covered with thick gray hair. Mister rumbled.

“I need to have the Vet tell me if this is human or not. I found it on my property. I don’t need more trouble. Will that dog attack?”

“My husband should be back soon. Can you come back in an hour or two?”

“Can’t I just leave it and he can call me when he gets back?  I’ll leave you my phone number if you’ve got pen and paper.”

The woman took a step up and extended the scalp, it smelled like meat left on the counter overnight by mistake. Mister rumbled louder and leaned against Rosalie forcing her back another step.

“I think it would be much better if you kept it in your possession until he can look at it.”

“Well, if you say so. You think he’ll be back in an hour?” She stepped back down as Mister growled again. “That dog’s pretty protective ain’t he?”

 

The mobile home was parked in back of our under-construction veterinary hospital in the summer of 1961. We expected to overcome the delays and get the hospital open within the next few months but meantime I was taking horse and other animal calls and even spaying a few dogs on our kitchen table, much to Rosalie’s consternation.

I was back and eating lunch when she returned. I went outside to examine the scalp.

“Looks like jackrabbit, I doubt it’s human but I can’t say for sure. If I were you I would take it to the police. They have labs that can identify human remains.”

We never found out if she took it to the police. We did see her name in the newspaper, the sports page, two weeks later. A story about a wrestling match.

***

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On the way over from San Diego to Phoenix I remembered my first time trip to San Diego. I was ten years old, the summer of 1946. The Second World War was over and my Uncle Sol, my Dad’s younger brother, was being mustered out of the Navy. The trip was made in our 1940 Chevy, before the multi-fabric, multi-color upholstery. The Chevy had new tires, but no air conditioning in fact I don’t remember a heater in that car, at least not one that functioned. To beat the summer heat we started after dark and Dad drove all night, no freeways or interstate highways to travel at seventy-five miles an hour. I don’t think Dad ever put that car over fifty. No radio either, not that there would have been a radio station to connect to anywhere in that desert, well, maybe in Yuma.

My brother and sister and I slept in the back seat, but I can remember waking up and listening in on the soft conversation taking place between Mom and Dad. Talking to keep awake, about mundane, every day subjects and their hopes and dreams, mostly concerning us kids. The road frequently dipped down then up through many gullies and washes, no bridges. I was concerned because there were stories about whole families being washed away in their car by a flash flood that originated in the mountains sending a wall of water gushing through those desert washes.

Old Blue, Charlize and I will make that trip to San Diego again soon, during daylight, on the interstate, at seventy-five, the radio tuned to a station playing Jazz, air conditioning if we need it. It will be different, better? Maybe. What’s the rush?

Here is Charlize in my brother’s back yard, and practicing her sit-stay, unhappily, in front of some cholla cactus, both near Cave Creek, AZ.

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