I tried to rouse Len from his seat, hoping there really was a small measure of love guttering in his dark heart, but he remained fixed and staring.
I figured Nessie couldn’t have gotten far, so I went out the front door and circled around the side by her window. There was no sign of her, but the grass was short and trampled; it looked like this wasn’t the first time Nessie had gone AWOL. I tried to follow her path through the yard, but lost it a few yards from the house. I looked around and noticed the rampant neglect and decay I’d missed from the road.
Unruly blackberry brambles were encroaching from all sides and johnsongrass was spreading like a cancer over the ruins of a once fine bluegrass lawn. Rosebushes had been left untended to choke themselves out. Tiny, sickly buds were all the thorny masses could produce.
I zigzagged back and forth over the yard, looking for any sign of Nessie. I scanned in the distance, searching for her frail and crumpled form in the gently rolling lawn. I checked the ground nearby for footprints like some mountain tracker. I noticed a soft lump of green, a sudden and unexpected wave cresting up from the flat plane. I found myself drifting toward it.
As I got closer, its form sharpened up. It looked like an old garage or carriage house had succumbed in a sea of kudzu. The big doors were invisible beneath the twisting vines, but as I walked up a small door on the side swam into view. A few stray vines swung limply over it, but the rest had been cleanly pruned away. I tried the knob and pushed the door open into the gloom.
Motor oil and sawdust tinged the cool air, with a faint undercurrent of juniper or a musty Christmas tree lot. The dark building was oddly inviting and I still needed to find Nessie, so I ventured inside.
My eyes adjusted to the dim, greenish light. I felt like an explorer in an underwater grotto or a deserted temple buried in a tropical rainforest. To my left was a workbench and pegboard with artfully arranged tools. A hammer hung here, two wrenches placed just so, a set of screwdrivers with matching yellow handles lined up from tallest to shortest like a kindergarten class on its way to lunch. Screws and nails and nuts and rivets were organized by size and type in jars on a shelf. An old coffee can promising its contents were “Good to the last drop” overflowed with the bits and bobs that didn’t fit anywhere else. The workshop was organized and neat, in its way, and I couldn’t imagine someone like Len spending one minute inside it.
I caught some movement out of the corner of my eye and turned toward it. A small blob of gray-green, darker than the surrounding gray-green, shifted in the corner. A bright orange glow, like a lightning bug or a beacon, blossomed near the top of the shadow. I’d found Nessie and she was medicating herself.
“You want a toke?” she asked as I picked my way across the room. I figured the day couldn’t get much stranger. What the hell. I inhaled.
It was the first smoke I’d had since my ex went west, and I felt the lightness hit the back of my head before I’d even started blowing the first lungful of sweet smoke out. I’d almost forgotten how nice it could feel to get high because I wanted to and not because my boyfriend was getting stoned yet again. Looking back, I realized I was glad he got a fellowship in California. We’d both checked out of that relationship long before he left.
I passed the joint back to Nessie and sat on the floor next to her. “So tell me about Len. Why isn’t he giving you your meds?”
Nessie closed her eyes, took a long drag - longer than I’d have expected from her tired old lungs - and held it for a good fifteen seconds. I took hold of her wrist after ten just to make sure her heart was still beating, but it was going strong. The old girl might have been on her last lap, but she could hold her pot.
“He wants me to die quick so he can sell the farm. He doesn’t know I’ve already changed my will. He ain’t getting nothing. I’m leaving it all to Lulu. And…”
She trailed off and pinched the tip of the joint, dropping the remnants into another coffee can sitting by her side. “And what, Nessie?”
She put her hand over mine and looked me right in the eye, wit and clarity still sparkling in hers. “I don’t know why, but I think I can trust you. He mustn’t know about the treasure.”