two nonfictions

by Kristi Helgeson

Touring a Neighbor’s House After the Untimely Death of Her Husband Autumn sun streams through skylight, illuminates the wedding photo on the dresser, a book of poems I gave her, alone on the bed, a corner nightstand, where medical tubing droops from a black box, lifeless as the man who used it last week. We’ve been invited—too soon—to see the house she wants us to buy now that he’s gone. We move through the house quietly in stocking feet, with awkward happiness for the opportunity of a new home. My teen daughter longingly eyes the baby grand piano; Do you want to keep it with the house? My son imagines the slab-granite kitchen as the set for his next “Chopped” parody. As we leave, my neighbor says she’s been reading the poems, and I pause from voyeuristic guilt. But I remember Stafford’s “The Way It Is” on page 86. “Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding. / You don’t ever let go of the thread. She reaches out for a hug and we make plans to meet again, review comps, agree on a price, handle everything without agents so she can follow the thread and move on.   At the Wedgwood Broiler They still serve prime rib “while it lasts” on Friday nights and top the salad with Cheez-Its yet things are changing here. This place could be closed next year—the real estate worth more as a nonprofit development of subsidized housing for the homeless. Property taxes keep going up and $15 an hour means the cost of prime rib must rise. But customers keep coming. Sitting in brown vinyl booths, white haired, they make a wisecrack to Vera about fixed incomes and how they still have a cat to feed at home. But tonight, I’m lucky. There’s a small booth for two set for one, and as I read Olav Hauge while plunging French dip in au jus I think about the former rainforest where my dinner once grazed and how earlier today the world’s young people used social media to coordinate a climate change strike while I changed sheets and sprayed bleach on a toilet at the Airbnb that helps pay our taxes. Still, I didn’t hear birdsong in the rhododendrons as I cleaned with the door open. They say three billion birds have died and millions of salmon and, so, the orcas, too. It feels like genocide. And this month the Wedgwood Broiler’s walls feature framed nature photographs for sale—a mother and juvenile orca pose for the camera head to torso above the water line in matching black and white, real but not quite real, like the Facebook posts by moms from the private school for the gifted my kids used to attend or the families that pose in color-coordinated outfits and bare feet for the cover of the neighborhood real estate agent’s magazine that shows up in our mailbox without our asking. But this self-promoting noise is quieted by the Wedgwood Broiler. Low chatter of conversation. Porcelain on porcelain. Steam rising from the open kitchen. And my cup of coffee. The cream on the table in single plastic servings that will become part of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch next year and maybe by then Greta Thunberg will have convinced the world order to ban Mini Moo’s and paper napkins and take-out bags and my French dip, and I see the recycle and compost bins in the bussing station and although we just sell all of it to be dumped in China, we feel good putting it in those bins and we think there is hope. Then a three-year-old one booth away sings Twinkle Twinkle Little Star at the top of his lungs and his mother doesn’t mind and the servers don’t mind and neither do I. — Kristi Helgeson is a writer who cannot eat raw onions, has conquered her fear of (most) spiders, and once single-handedly managed a Norwegian fjord horse ranch with no prior experience (yes, they all survived). Now a city mouse, her work is inspired by life as a country mouse who happened to stow away on various moving machines in order to, eventually, circumnavigate the globe. She lives in Seattle with her family, who tolerates her. Artwork by: Harrison Haines