“Are there moose in Pasadena?”
“Are there what? Where?”
“Moose. In Pasadena. I just ask ‘cause I’ve never been to Pasadena.”
Evelyn looked at Mr. Houle as if he had lost his mind. Mr. Houle had what people called “quirks.” White hair, a little bent and a smallish man, he was frailty’s poster child.
He was actually sixty-five and energetic. Just when you thought he would fall over with the wind, he’d begin his long and determined run through the park, down past the river, out to where the office buildings refused to go and the old barns refused to leave.
And he’d run back the way he came, without respite, never drained by the ordeal. If anything, he was invigorated. Until he started to think, when he would slump, walk slowly and appear very, very old.
In the early spring he had been asking about Dutch windmills, Don Quixote and the availability of old fashioned metal barber basins. When questioned, he replied, “Life should imitate art. I’m exploring possibilities.”
“Why would you want to know if they have moose in Pasadena?” Evelyn asked. She was not famous for a lively imagination.
“The re-creation,” Mr. Houle said.
“Yes,” he replied. Despite appearances, he was astute and saw Evelyn would need more information. “My basement. I thought I should put something down there. I decided on Pasadena.”
Baffled, Evelyn asked, “Why?”
“I’ve never been to Pasadena.” The logic was self-evident.
Evelyn returned to her life at the bank, where she was moving upward managing the personal accounts of the many people who, unlike her, were incapable of organizing and orchestrating and ordering their finances.
There was good money in other people’s failings.
Evelyn led a life guided by order and planning and “plain good sense” (her father’s phrase). She had a house that would be paid for on a specific date. She had a fuel-efficient car completely paid for. And she had a cat though she did not see the point of cats. In fact, she had named her cat Pointless. (The cat had been a friend’s idea.)
Evelyn had neighbours on one side she greatly appreciated because they were rarely home and when they were, they were function-focused: car washing, lawn cutting, leaf raking.
Evelyn’s other neighbour was Mr. Houle. He was always home, never functional, and had a dog, Troy, who wagged his tail for everyone but Evelyn. With her, he barked crossly and shat on her lawn. The only place he ever shat was on her lawn.
She wanted to report the dog and would have long ago but everyone on the street loved Troy and found his antics cute. Many of them were her clients at the bank.
With his shitting dog, impractical pursuits and deadpan seriousness while discussing the most absurd of ideas, Mr. Houle reminded Evelyn almost daily of her mother, whom her father had left when she was twelve in an act informed by plain good sense.
Most galling to Evelyn was the information she had received from an old university friend who worked in a similar position as she, but at another bank. Mr. Houle was loaded and had started from nothing.
How the hell could that be?
One day in late January, Mr. Houle called out to Evelyn as she was heading for work.
“Ever been to Pasadena?”
Rushing, she simply answered, “No.”
“It sure is somethin’!”
To Evelyn’s dismay, he walked over to her.
“I tell you, I’ve never been much for football. And I never understood what Americans saw in that college football. But I’ll say this, that Rose Bowl is a thing to see. A thing to see.”
“I’m sure it is,” Evelyn said. “I don’t mean to be rude, but I’m running behind. Bye!” She quickly got in her car, started it up and left.
The Woodstocks were looking at the possibility of a loan, maybe a second mortgage, to finance their son Josh’s education. Evelyn was impressed. He’d be going to Caltech.
She was concerned with the application, though.
“You’ll be able to cover tuition and things like books, but I don’t see how you can cover living accommodations, meals and so on.”
“Josh will be staying at home,” Mrs. Woodstock said. “He’ll have his bedroom and we’ve decided to give him the back room too. And he’ll be eating at home of course.” She smiled.
Evelyn blinked, then asked, “Are these online studies?”
Mr. Woodbridge answered, “Oh no. He’s got the campus map and all. He’ll be doing some running around, mind, but if he’s quick he’ll manage it.”
Bluntly, Evelyn asked, “How will he be living at home and attending classes at Caltech? That’s in Pasadena. California.”
“It is. But Mr. Houle says it’s fine for Josh to come by in the mornings and go downstairs. The Bester’s girl, Leah, she’s been going for over a week. To Pasadena, that is. Says the climate’s more agreeable. And Mr. Houle don’t mind.”
After work, Evelyn went straight to Mr. Houle’s front door.
“I’ve had people at the bank today saying their son is going to school at Caltech in Pasadena but living at home. When I ask how that’s possible, they say, ‘Oh, Mr. Houle doesn’t mind. He says use the basement anytime.’”
“But you don’t have Pasadena in your basement.”
“But I do.”
“Oh, you have Pasadena in your basement?”
“Yes. Wasn’t sure it would fit, but it does. And it’s a helluva thing. I’d move there except I prefer living on the main floor of the house.”
“You do not have Pasadena in your basement.”
“Yes I do.
“No you don’t.”
It was an irresolvable moment so Mr. Houle said, “Why not come downstairs and see?”
Fuming, Evelyn said, “Yes. Let’s just do that.”
They went down to the basement.
It was Pasadena. It was sunny. Everyone was so, so tanned.
There were no moose.
© Copyright 2009 William Wren. All rights reserved.
William Wren is a writer-editor in New Brunswick, Canada. He likes constraints. With the above example, he spent more time reducing the word count than actually writing the story. More to the point, he finds his creativity stimulated by constraints such as, “a Pasadena connection.” Having never been to Pasadena and knowing little beyond a parade and football game, the writing became very compelling. What to write? Why, a Pasadena of the mind, of course.