Having money for things was new. Petra had lived on grants, otherwise been hired for jobs term-to-term. Since buying this land eighteen years ago, she had lived by hodgepodge, not free to roam.
But by selling a few things, renting the pasture, taking fees from other artists for use of the studio and kilns…
By once or twice a year getting paid for a piece of writing…
And because with land you could garden; because she had a sewing machine, and could knit; because she felt clean enough dusting and polishing with just a damp cloth… And because the guineas laid eggs (protein), Petra could spend as little as a hundred dollars a month at the grocery. She made even that go far, buying sacks of dried beans, bakery items on clearance to freeze, bulk off-brands for the pets.
With Tom had come that luxurious check deposited in the bank each month. By Petra’s standards, they had too much money.
And so, what she sought was a gratitude project. Without making the notion precious somehow. Her poor bobbles felt indulgent; they spoke to the refugee state, and their creator had fallen into luck and comfort. This little insight was bounty, too, another debt.
It’s easier to feel authentic when you’re low. Life sets you on a higher plane, and you can’t talk every day about how hard things are. So many are still down there, and you aren’t one of them anymore.
Some kind of belonging, on this new plane, had to be figured out.
Her partner’s troubles were not as tough. (An opinion she did not air with Tom.)
“Because, even wanting to tell the truth, you can’t just. You need to level the playing field. You’re vulnerable. You’re only asking, give me a second chance…but suppose someone decides to be hateful instead of compassionate? You deserve an idea of what cards they’ll play.”
“I know that, prof.”
Her agent, who had her on file, if no longer under contract, had sent a friendly letter—a real one, pretty scented stationery, and every evidence of hand writing. This was sweet, as commercial efforts went; it was not personal. And not encouragement that a new MS would be accepted.
“She’s started her own agency and she’s trying to build a stable.”
“So…you want us to work together shaping up your book?”
“No. Never say never, but Hector’s finished. It’d be no good, anyway…Sandy reps mysteries. Have you done genre?”
The rehabilitation of Haverton Wilmot would, if the two of them wrote something saleable, begin under the pen name of Carter MacNeice. Unless the publisher disliked this. Over too, was the old Artis Morrow series (not Artis herself, still serviceable). But at some point…should the question come up…Tom’s writing pal would be there to vouch for him. The narrative improved. “And your truth, if you’ll look at it that way, is almost inspirational.”
“No, come on. I can live with getting booted from the Legitimate Writers’ Club. I’m not going on the road as a redeemed sinner.”
“But, I mean, people lie and do cowardly things. Like you. Tom Wilmot can write. And there are people out there who need this story…not that we’re forcing it.”
On scenic drives, hiking trails, walking the property doing chores, Petra and Tom brainstormed.
Who’s our sleuth going to be…one of those cozy bumblers who keeps finding bodies; a professional of some kind, a career to spawn fresh plots?
Woman of mystery?
Great Plains midwife?
Dark horse county sheriff?
“Artist scrounging for materials?” She playacted. “What’s that in the ditch? A human foot?”
They were having inordinate fun.
(2019, Stephanie Foster)