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Dog Rides in Car, Inadvertently Breaks China

By three o’clock we need to hit the road. Patrick packs his stuff for a six-day trip in thirty minutes. I take six hours to pack, and worry about The Money and What To Bring and Is a Vacation Really Necessary? Leaving my house for a week seems as heartless as leaving behind the dog. She’s gonna cry in her sleep and stop eating because every waking minute she’ll think: My People Have Left Me. Secretly I don’t want to go on vacation. At All. Though Airbnb reviews of Kristina’s place were positive, who knows?

But somehow, something happens when my suitcases and duffel bags and boxes are roped in the back of Patrick’s truck. I become Dog Going for a Ride. Because, at last, we are On The Road. That means no more packing. And out the windows is Scenery. We see sky, mountains, desert scrub and trees. This delight my husband has known of all along, and he smiles as he drives us to Bisbee, an artsy mining town settled in the nooks of a narrow valley in southeastern Arizona.

Light shifts color as day fades. That night we meet Kristina, a costume designer and former nurse. Her house is petite and clean, built in 1917 and nicely restored. Wood floors, area rugs, crown molding painted white. She shows us around and we say thank you, sincerely. We sleep with cool breezes blowing through open windows.

Mornings Patrick and I chat on the patio, watch the sparrows and drink tea. We take wanders and drives and day hikes. We mosey down roads of this small town, with its wildly-painted houses and wacko yard art. Everyone says hello.

I don’t get worked up about the Bisbee omelets being more cheese than egg, or the rusted-out terraces in the distance, left over from pit-mines. I don’t worry when I lose Patrick at the farmer’s market, or that our dinner at The Quarry has bacon hidden under the kale. Who cares if the streets are a little spooky at night? You can see stars here. We don’t even mind sleeping feet-to-the-window because the floor isn’t quite level. Kristina’s house and this funky town I don’t want to leave.

I buy our host three bags of chocolates, mint tea for the shelf above the stove, and a watercolor print card. I’m thinking these will be the last things we trade this week.

But then, Sunday.

I stand in my pajamas at Kristina’s stove, waiting for the water to boil in the teakettle. The house is quiet. I pull down the box of tea and nudge the shelf with my hand. Something heavy and square front-flips off the shelf, lands on the stove with a crack: a green tile etched with a bushy-tailed squirrel. One corner is now missing, and the white plaster blinks at me like a busted tooth. Broken in two jagged halves is the vintage ceramic spoon rest I’ve admired each day of our visit.

I admired its dainty pink edges, its teeny bunch of fruit painted in the center. This spoon rest held my soup spoons and bean spoons and rice spoons this week. I was a little bit in love with this homey offering. Just as I was a little bit in love with the lamps with fringey shades, the wooly shawl draped over the arm of the couch, and the bedside table stocked with A Room of One’s Own among the other classic hardbacks.

Now Kristina’s vintage spoon rest is cracked in half and chipped in a few places. I turn over the squirrel tile and read the girly italic font:

Peace and Joy!

I whine inside. My stomach is turning over and wringing itself tight. I have just broken things that aren’t mine. I can’t fix these things with glue or money or apologies. Here I am, right in the middle of my mistake. This accident breaks me open.

An hour needs to elapse before I can call Kristina, so I groan and clean the house. I pack my clothes and boots and books and kitchen supplies. I wash and dry the dishes by hand, and sweep the kitchen floor. I pull the sheets from the bed and neatly fold up the quilt.

At 10:30, my hands sweat as I hold my phone to my cheek. Kristina’s number rings. I am leaning against the kitchen sink. When she answers, I tell her there’s been an accident, for which I am so, so, so sorry. I tell her I’ll replace these things, which, aren’t truly replaceable, I know.

She seems to be quiet for an hour.

Then she says quietly, “Oh.” Her voice seems to carry the same note of sadness as my mother’s, years ago, when I accidentally broke a china dinner plate or a crystal goblet.

Later it will occur to me that these moments were like life-or-death to me. Someone might Hate me! Someone might get Very Mad at me. But for now I go on about the sweet little house and the cozy towels, good beds, the sturdy clothesline that couldn’t have been more my style, and the lacy curtains Kristina must’ve sewn herself.

Eventually, she says, “It is a great place, isn’t it?”

She and her partner put seven years into the house before they decided to move. People who invest that kind of time on their homes know and love every inch. My favorite thing about the house? It made Vacation wonderful for me. I wasn’t homesick. I had a hunch that our place in Tucson was just fine, wagging its tail, sometimes chasing rabbits across the yard, napping whenever it pleased.

I tell Kristina, again, I’ll do my darnedest to find two new treasures she can set in her kitchen—in place of the things I broke.

In monotone, she says, “Okay.”

I thank her. We hang up.

Patrick and I drive back to Tucson. I press a Kleenex to my eyes. In five minutes, I realize I can breathe. My skin feels somehow calm.

The next day I search Etsy for some kitchen-y knickknacks. Within five minutes, I find the same vintage spoon rest with the grapes and berries painted at the center. Fourteen dollars and ninety-nine cents.


Shadow in the back seat, 2008

To see pictures of Kristina's place, The Rose Gallaspy House in Bisbee, click here!

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