Welcome to Linden, where almost everyone is A Bubble or so Off Plumb

Welcome to Linden, where almost everyone is A Bubble or so Off Plumb

by Kathi Gardner


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781504329835
Publisher: Balboa Press
Publication date: 04/23/2015
Pages: 214
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.49(d)

Read an Excerpt

Welcome to Linden, where almost everyone is A Bubble or so Off Plumb

By Kathi Gardner

Balboa Press

Copyright © 2015 Kathi Gardner
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5043-2983-5



When the call came, Ethelyn had just finished pressing Melvin's shirts. It was a tedious task, and less than rewarding because Melvin was one of those unfortunate men who looked perpetually rumpled, even in a suit and tie.

She wrestled the ironing board back up into the wall unit, slammed the door, and stretched across the breakfast bar for the phone.

"Ethelyn? It's Vi." Ethelyn rolled her eyes heavenward. Viwas able to sustain a phone conversation longer than Caruso could hold a note, and she had far too much to do this morning to listen to a rundown of whose gallbladder was acting up. Melvin called these reports "organ recitals," which Ethelyn thought rather crass, but there was a certain underlying truth there that was undeniable.

"What is it, Vi?" Ethelyn inquired. "You know I have my hair appointment with Norma at eleven, and I was just about to weed the front flowerbed when you called."

"Oh, dear." Vi sounded truly distressed. "That's what I called you about. You must not have seen the paper yet this morning. It's Norma."

"What about Norma?" Ethelyn asked. A tremor of foreboding crept up the back of her neck, causing several of the tightly shellacked hairs to spring loose at the base of her skull. Ethelyn reached up absent-mindedly and tucked them back into place.

"I don't know quite how to tell you this, Ethelyn. Norma's.... passed."

It took Ethelyn a moment to comprehend what Vi was trying to say. When it finally filtered into her consciousness, she sat down heavily at the breakfast bar. "Norma's DEAD?" she gasped.

"Yes, dear. I'm so upset, I just can't think! Betty called me this morning. Tiggy wink bit the postman again, and he went round to the back of the house to tell Norma. There she was, he said, pizzle-end up in the nasturtiums, poor lamb."

Tiggy wink was Norma's thoroughly detestable dog, a tiny thing with bulging eyes and pointy, rodent-like teeth, a dog that looked like a hairball which had been coughed up by a much larger dog. Tiggy wink bit the postman, and many of Norma's other acquaintances, on a regular basis. Norma always apologized and assured them that he really didn't mean it - he was just 'high strung.' He had never bitten Ethelyn, and Norma took this as a sign. "See? He LIKES you, hon," she would say. The real reason that he had never bitten Ethelyn, although she would never have told Norma this, was that once when Norma had left the room, Ethelyn had whirled in her chair and found the wretched little menace creeping up on her from behind, pulling himself silently along the carpet by his tiny dog toenails. Ethelyn bent, looked him square in the eye, and informed him in no uncertain terms that if he made one more move, she would squash him like a bug with her huge Buick the first chance she got. He hadn't bothered her since, although whenever she went to Norma's to get her hair done, he lurked about the perimeter of the room eyeing Ethelyn balefully.

"Ethelyn? Are you there?"

"But - I have an appointment!" Ethelyn said.

"I know, dear," Vi said soothingly. "It's a real shock to all of us. Norma was so young - not much older than me, although she looked her age, if I do say so. Now myself, I like to keep"

"Listen, Vi," Ethelyn said, cutting Vi off in mid-rant. "I have to run. Call me when you hear where Norma's being, well, when the services are set."

"Well, all right, then. If you're sure you're OK.... Vi paused uncertainly, then hung up.

Ethelyn made her way to the stove and put the water onto heat. She needed a good strong cup of tea, not herbal -something with a real boost of caffeine. Norma had been doing her hair since the day of the Senior Prom, many more years ago than Ethelyn cared to count. What on earth would she do without her?

Finding Norma had been almost accidental. Ethelyn had resigned herself to missing the prom - after all, a girl who hadn't had a single date all through high school could hardly be expected to put in an appearance unless she came with her brother or a cousin, a humiliation that Ethelyn refused to subject herself to. She had always been what her mother described as a "robust" girl, "stout, like her grandmother," Ethelyn's mother said. "One day, honey, you'll blossom, simply blossom," Ethelyn's mother told her, but Ethelyn was of the opinion that her bud would shrivel and drop from it's stem before anyone noticed - that is, until the spring choral concert her senior year.

While Ethelyn was no beauty, she had a healthy singing voice that wavered between alto and tenor. Mr Schroeder, the choir director, was beside himself with delight the first time he heard her sing. Finally, here was someone who could fill in on the tenor parts. There was a great void in the tenor and bass sections, as the majority of boys regarded choir as a sissy class, which was just as well, considering that most of them couldn't carry a tune in a bucket.

In a fit of creativity, the theater department had strewn bales of hay artfully across the makeshift stage and covered them with fake grass blankets on loan from the Harlow Brothers Funeral Home. Pots of real spring flowers, courtesy of Bud's Floral, dotted the grassy expanse.

The idea was for the chorus members to be seated on stage, girls in frothy pastel dresses, boys in slacks and white shirts, when the curtain rose, and after the performance, they would rise and stroll off stage casually.

Ethelyn's mother had coerced her sister, Ruth, into making a suitable dress. It was yellow, with tiny white daisies and a gathered skirt that Ethelyn secretly thought made her look like a giant tea cosy, but she knew better than to argue with her mother. Besides, Ethelyn was to sit on the floor between the alto and tenor sections, and a straight skirt, her mother pointed out, would be impossible to get up and down in.

Ethelyn loved to sing. It was one of the few things she knew she could do well, and when she was singing, Ethelyn felt different, feminine, almost delicate. She forgot about her size ten flats, her broad shoulders, the fact that she towered several inches above most of the boys in her class. It was a good feeling.

A respectable number of parents, grandparents and siblings showed up for the concert. Nobody missed their cues, and if the sopranos were a little flat now and then, everyone pretended not to notice. Ethelyn found that she had, in fact, rather enjoyed herself- that is, until she attempted to rise gracefully from her bale of hay and discovered that her left leg was sound asleep from mid-thigh down.

She could feel nothing. Casting a quick peek, she saw that her foot was, indeed, in contact with the floor, but it might as well have been in Pittsburgh. People were beginning to swerve around her. "Move it!" a male voice hissed scornfully. Tentatively, Ethelyn attempted to lift the leg. It swung outward in an uncontrollable arc, hovered a few seconds, and she lurched, off-balance. 'Please God, if I'm going to fall over, let me die now,' she thought - and then a large, solid arm was under hers, buoying her up on the right, propelling her firmly off stage.

"My foot's asleep," Ethelyn squeaked, mortified, when she was safely behind the curtain. She looked up.

Standing next to her, still gripping her arm, was a large, shapeless boy with glasses. Ethelyn knew this boy vaguely. His family had just moved to town in October, and the boy's name was Melvin something. He was staring solemnly at Ethelyn.

"Are you sure you're OK?" he asked.

"Yes. Thank you. For catching me, I mean," Ethelyn said.

"It's OK," Melvin said. He did not let go of Ethelyn's arm.

"So," he said after a moment. "Are you, uh, going to the, uh, prom? I mean, with somebody?"

Ethelyn considered for a moment. "Are you asking me?"

"Uh huh. I mean, if you'd like to go. I mean, I know it's only two weeks away. Maybe it's too late. It's OK, if you already have a date...." Melvin let go of her arm suddenly as though it were on fire.

"No, that's fine," Ethelyn said quickly. "Thank you for asking." She wasn't sure if the strange prickling feeling in her spine was from excitement, or from her leg, which was beginning to come agonizingly awake.

When she told her mother that she had a date to the Prom, Ludene screamed so loudly that Ethelyn's leg hairs stood on end. The next two weeks had been, Ethelyn recalled, the most frenetic of her entire life up to that point.

Ludene drove Ethelyn to Duluth on a dress hunting expedition, took her to LaDots Shoe Emporium for her first real pair of heels - Melvin was actually taller than Ethelyn, a fact in which her mother rejoiced fervently - and gave her make-up lessons. There was, however, one major hurdle to overcome.

There was not a hairdresser in town who wasn't booked. Ethelyn's mother was beside herself. Ethelyn heard her on the phone, begging Lucille, manager of the Hair Faire, for anything available. "Look, Lucille," her mother said, "even a Friday appointment. I'll write her an excuse for school. We can use extra spray on it. She can sleep sitting up, for goodness' sake."

Apparently her mother's longstanding once-a-week appointment paid off , for Lucille agreed to somehow squeeze Ethelyn in.

When they arrived for the appointment, a short, chubby woman with thick, dark-rimmed glasses came to the counter and called out Ethelyn's name. Ethelyn stepped forward hesitantly.

"I'm Norma," the woman said. "So, you're going to the Prom! We'll have to give you something special."

Norma, Ethelyn thought to herself, had not been much to look at. However, your hair in Norma's hands was like a block of marble in the hands of Michelangelo. She could, and did, make small miracles.

Ethelyn had endured the washing, setting, drying, backcombing and spraying with the resigned acceptance of a prisoner on the way to the gallows. She had always worn her cardboard-box brown hair simply, pulled back and tied in a ponytail at the nape of her neck, sensible, serviceable and designed to attract as little attention as possible. She had few illusions about her looks, and Norma in no way resembled a fairy godmother, so when Norma said to her, "There you are, honey," and turned her chair toward the mirror, Ethelyn was taken aback by the person who looked back at her.

Ethelyn's hair rose upward in a smooth, majestic swoop to the crown of her head, where it swirled into a curve that rested atop the structure in one giant, perfect curl. At the front, a sheet of hair draped seductively low over one eye, then blended flawlessly into the curve of the upsweep. She stared, transfixed.

"Don't you like it?" Norma asked anxiously.

"Oh, yes. Yes!" Ethelyn breathed. Its so ... elegant!"

That evening, for the first time in her life, Ethelyn felt beautiful. Her dress was plain midnight blue satin, simply cut, with a sweetheart neckline. Her mother had surprised Ethelyn by giving her a pair of tastefully small pearl ear drops that she herself had never worn - Ludene preferred earrings that resembled large, brightly colored sparkplugs - and Melvin's mother had called to confer about flowers. Melvin presented her with a lovely corsage of cream carnations trimmed with deep blue ribbon and bits of silver tulle.

They had agreed ahead of time to dance only slow dances. Melvin was relieved, since he didn't know any of the popular steps, and Ethelyn was terrified that her hair might collapse if she moved too fast. Surprisingly, Melvin was a rather good dancer. He floated around the floor, somehow managing to keep his size 13 EEE's a hairsbreadth from Ethelyn's modestly heeled pumps. He was, however, tongue-tied. Ethelyn tried to make small talk about the decorations, the music, and school gossip, but Melvin remained monosyllabic. Finally, she ventured a peek upward, being careful not to shift her hair too rapidly.

Melvin was staring down at her with the same look that she had seen on the face of the family dog, Kilroy, when he sat in the picture window watching the squirrels outside, making soft, tortured whimpers to himself. Their eyes met.

"Your hair is really pretty," Melvin blurted.

Ethelyn was momentarily speechless. Her heart swelled at the compliment. So, she realized, did something just south of Melvin's ill-fitting cummerbund.

Ethelyn's mother had warned her about this sort of thing. She stepped back slightly, pretending not to notice.

"It makes you look like a princess," Melvin declared.

"Thank you," Ethelyn whispered. She stared up at Melvin's broad, earnest face. An unruly lock of brown hair dangled over his right eye. Gently Ethelyn reached up and brushed the lock of hair back into place. Then Ethelyn stepped closer to Melvin. She fitted herself against his slightly rounded stomach, resting her head carefully on his sloping shoulder and let the music take them where it would.

The teakettle shrilled. Ethelyn jumped, shook herself, took the kettle off the burner and poured hot water over her bag of orange pekoe, then sat back down and reached for the phone book. She turned to the yellow pages at the back. There were only three beauty shops in town, four if you counted the one at the mall on the edge of town. She couldn't bring herself to call there - they played loud, peculiar electronic music, and all the operators had bangs that stood up at least four inches from their foreheads, like hairy little tidal waves. Ethelyn had even seen one young woman coming out of the place with pink hair. She'd assumed it was an accident, but then, you never knew.

Half an hour later, she was frantic. She had even called the two shops she knew of in the next town, but everybody was booked this close to the weekend, and she knew Melvin couldn't spare the car long enough for her to drive to Duluth. A lump of dread in the pit of her stomach, Ethelyn dialed the place in the mall.

"Hair's to You," a nasal young voice answered.

"Hello," Ethelyn said. "I've recently lost my hairdresser, and I really need to make an appointment."

"We're pretty slow this afternoon, so you could have Rhonda or Sherry," the voice said. "When can you get here?"

Ethelyn was stunned. "Now, you mean? Well, I guess I could come now," she said lamely. "Do you do touchups, too?"

"Ya mean ROOTS," the girl said loudly. "Sure, we do everything here, perms, cuts, frosts, the works."

"That won't be necessary," Ethelyn said quickly. "I just need a touch up, and a wash and set. Thank you." She hung up and went, with considerable misgivings, to get her coat and purse.

As Ethelyn approached the shop a raucous song blasted from somewhere in the bowels of the place with lyrics that she could not understand, although she was sure they were luridly sexual in nature. The beauty operators that Ethelyn could see through the glass all looked barely old enough to be weaned. When she reached the desk, she cleared her throat tentatively.

"Hiyee!" the girl at the desk said brightly. Her nametag said Michelle. Ethelyn caught a flash of neon green as she tossed her gum from one cheek to the other. "How can I be of service?"


"How can I help you?" Michelle enunciated carefully, as if Ethelyn were from another planet.

"I called earlier," Ethelyn said uncertainly.

"Oh, yeah, sure," the girl said. "The roots, wash & set. Hold on, I think Rhonda's just finishing up a cut. Have a seat."

Ethelyn hovered gingerly on the edge of a chair as though it were about to burst into flame. This is all a terrible mistake, she thought to herself, and was just about to bolt when a tiny girl with huge hair and platform shoes teetered up to her.

"Hi, I'm Rhonda," she said, smiling. "And your name is ...?"

"Mrs. Shefsky," Ethelyn said stonily. She was not about to allow someone obviously the age of her son, Wallace, the familiarity of a fi rst name.

"So, Michelle says you're having a wash and style, and a 'touch-up'?" Rhonda asked. Ethelyn nodded. "Come this way, please," Rhonda said. "First we'll do a comb out on you, and see what condition your hair is in."

Ethelyn settled herself in the chair and closed her eyes. Norma had only a hand mirror in her home salon, so Ethelyn had become used to just shutting her eyes and surrendering herself to Norma's capable hands until Norma presented her with the hand mirror to inspect the final product.

Rhonda took out the hairpins and began to comb out Ethelyn's hair with feathery, tentative touches that felt as though mice were nibbling her scalp. "Just go ahead and brush it out," Ethelyn said crossly. She recalled how Norma used to drag the brush through her hair, and how good it felt when the air finally reached her scalp.

"All done!" Rhonda said finally. "Lets go shampoo, OK?"

Ethelyn rose to follow Rhonda to the shampoo chair, and as she did, caught sight of herself in the large mirror.

"Dear Heaven!" she said, sitting back down rapidly. "What have you DONE?"

Stiff, dry hanks of hair jutted out in every possible direction. She looked, Ethelyn thought to herself, as though she'd just been electrocuted.

Rhonda patted her shoulders consolingly. "Your hair is, like, really, really dry from all the spray, and you have, like, really REALLY bad split ends from all the backcombing."


Excerpted from Welcome to Linden, where almost everyone is A Bubble or so Off Plumb by Kathi Gardner. Copyright © 2015 Kathi Gardner. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Ethelyn, 1,
Wally, 15,
Floyd, 34,
Ludene, 57,
Wanda, 78,
Ilona, 88,
Earl and Verna, 100,
Doc Bob McGrath, 117,
Louie Caprioli, 126,
Ernestine, 140,
Sherman, 156,
Harlow Brothers, 168,
Della, 188,
Epilogue, 202,
About the Author, 205,

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