She keeps me in her basement; it is a daylight basement, in her sprawling home on Queen Anne, Seattle. Ashley married a doctor shortly after graduating from Cornell, and now she has this huge house overlooking Puget Sound, where she has graciously allowed me to stay for three weeks while I find an apartment, buy a car and furniture and dishes and silverware.
Ashley is pregnant. She had been pregnant once before, right before her wedding. She aborted her child because she wanted to be thin, not pregnant, at her wedding. I implored her to keep the baby.
“But you’re a pro-choice feminist, and you’re the only bridesmaid not supporting me!”
I was pro-choice, but I did not believe in aborting a fetus because it was growing at an inconvenient time. I was pro-choice because I knew abortions would be performed whether they were legal or not, and I wanted a woman to be able to have them safely when they were too young, or couldn’t afford to support a child.
“Everyone thinks Mike and I are the perfect couple,” Ashley said. Ashley came from money, old money. Her parents lived in a mansion in Greenwich, Connecticut. She had never had to struggle, unlike me.
But it was clear from the next morning that there was trouble in paradise. Ashley said I should pick up the mail when it was delivered before Mike came home at night. She would take the mail from me, rifle through it, curse, and tear up the bank statements.
“I can’t let Mike see that I am over drafting each month. I’m just getting over being a shopaholic. I go to meetings. My lowest point was buying a remote control holder.”
Meanwhile Mike and I were getting stoned every night.
“You can never tell anyone that Mike gets high every night. He’s on call all the time. No one can ever know, he has a good reputation.”
One of Ashley’s wifely duties was to secure the pot. We were always going to far away dive bars to meet dealers. One time Ashley left me alone in the bar, and a drunken biker approached me.
“You are my dream girl from the 70’s,” he said.
“Really? Because you are my nightmare.” I said.
It was only a matter of time before Mike found out that Ashley was over drafting and over spending, and, apparently, as I couldn’t help overhearing the violent fight I cowered from in the basement guest room, that Ashley was dipping into her child’s college fund.
“We could go to jail for this!” Mike yelled. Ashley must have been writing bad checks. Mike screamed at her for hours.
The next morning, at breakfast, I couldn’t look at Mike, I didn’t say “good morning.”
Ashley acted like nothing had happened. She later confessed to me.
“I’m in trouble with my dad about money too. He’s trying to teach me the value of a dollar. I borrowed five grand from him, and now he wants it back. He keeps hounding me. Where the hell am I going to get five grand?”
She started to cry.
“I wish I could do something.”
I was living in her house rent-free, eating her food. I felt beholden to her. I had already caused damage to her house. She had asked me if I knew how to kill slugs, and I salted them right on the deck. I forgot to put out a dish with beer in it first, to draw them in. The salt removed the stain on the deck.
To make up for that, I offered to clean out her jacuzzi. I spilled the buckets of water from the jacuzzi down the incline of Queen Anne hill, near the house.
Shortly thereafter, long bugs appeared in the shower of my bathroom. Soon they infested all the bathrooms. Ashley called the exterminator, and I was to let him in.
“These are water bugs. Did you have a flood here recently?” He said.
He talked at length about the bugs, and then took me outside to see where the bugs were coming from. He took my hand as we walked down the rock path.
When he called Ashley he said, “Beautiful house. Beautiful girl inside the house. Is she single?” Ashley eagerly told him I was available. Thank God he hadn’t appeared when I was using the jacuzzi naked, which Ashley and Mike found shocking. “We have neighbors!” They warned.
“Ashley, I am not dating an exterminator!” I said. How desperate did she think I was? She was always trying to fix me up with ugly guys. On the first night that I arrived, she had tried to fix me up with Cheese man, which they called him because he didn’t eat cheese. He was bald with thick, giant glasses.
“Cheese man likes you. He said you’re the most alive, vibrant woman he’s ever met.”
“Ashley, he’s hideous and old!’
“He’s loaded.” Cheese man worked at a large software company, and he owned stock in the company.” Ashley was becoming Jane Austen’s Emma.
And now here she was, needing my help.
“Actually,” she said, “There is something you can do.”