Archive for April, 2016

Beautiful Women

Pink Unicorn

This post is less about politics and more about critical thinking. I’m not going to tell you who you should vote for—that’s your prerogative. I will challenge you to think critically though. Dr. Eskue Ousley is dusting off her Ph.D., so you’ve been warned. If you’re okay with thinking about tough issues, read on.

This week I read an article where Donald Trump stated, “Frankly, if Hillary Clinton were a man, I don’t think she’d get 5 percent of the vote.” He went on to say, “The only thing she’s got going is the woman’s card.” My point is not to defend Clinton (she’s capable of doing that herself, and already has), but to say that Trump has a history of making misogynistic statements. He also has a history of making generalizations.

What’s a generalization? Allow me to explain it using an example from grad school. I had this fantastic mentor at the University of Arizona named Gary Rhoades. He’s a brilliant professor with a gift for telling stories. One day his young daughter threw a banana at him. He got on to her about it, telling her not to throw things at people. Her response? “But Daddy, all little girls throw bananas.” A generalization is a concept inferred from specific cases. However, as in the above example, it may not be grounded in facts. It should be, if it aims to be credible.

Back to Trump—he too is making a sweeping statement (on par with a justification for throwing fruit), but where are the facts? What’s his source for saying a candidate would get five percent of the vote? Is he citing a poll? Has he done quantitative research, conducting surveys with representative samples? Doubtful. In all fairness, other people make generalizations as well. I daresay we all do (and that’s a generalization right there).

But what, exactly, is the “woman’s card”? I guess he is saying the only reason women will vote for Clinton is because she is a woman. Maybe some women will vote for her because of that. I cannot speak for other women voters, but I feel confident I can choose the candidate who best represents my interests without regard to gender. I also feel confident there is no force in hell that would make me vote for somebody who vomits sexist comments like he’s got diarrhea of the mouth, but I said I wasn’t going to tell you who you should vote for, and I won’t tell you who you shouldn’t vote for.

I would like you to think about those sexist statements, however, and to consider how even small aggressions based on gender affect society. (By the way, aggressions can go both ways, and they are not harmless.) We’ve lived in a world where rules were made based on gender. Some things have changed, to be sure. That’s why I have more education than my great-grandmother did.

There are some things that still need to change. I would like to see a world where my great-granddaughter can walk down the street without being harassed because she happens to be female. I would like her to never experience the fear she could be abducted and raped because some man drives past her as she’s walking alone, and tries to convince her to get into his car. That happened to me when I was a teen. The guy drove slowly past me, and when I crossed the street to avoid him, he turned his car around and followed me. He stopped when I entered the parking lot of a shopping center, where there were other people. This didn’t happen in a big city, rife with crime. It happened in my small, supposedly safe home town. The real tragedy? Every woman I know has a story like this. This is not a generalization. This is qualitative research, supported by quantitative research.

Pink UnicornI would like to live in a world where I form my own definition about what it means to be beautiful. Beauty is, after all, subjective. It is in the eye of the beholder. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve observed that Trump often makes statements about beauty. He seems obsessed with the topic, using the phrase “beautiful women” and ranking women by attractiveness. To my ears, “beautiful women” sounds like some kind of sacred voting demographic, or perhaps a type of mythical beast, too ethereal for the likes of us lesser mortals. If you want to have a laugh, read his quotes, substituting the word “unicorns” for this phrase. As in: “I tend to like unicorns more than unattractive women.” Or “I love unicorns and unicorns love me.” Ridiculous, isn’t it?

I know beautiful women. They are smart and kind, and because of that, they are beautiful in my eyes. I believe Trump’s definition has nothing to do with intelligence or character. I suspect it has to do with genetics and surgery. I’m not against genetics or surgery. If your DNA has provided you with highly symmetrical facial features, good for you. If you feel you can’t be beautiful without altering your body, go for it. Who am I to tell you what to do with your body?

Do whatever makes you feel beautiful, whatever your gender. Wear what you want. Wear makeup. Or don’t wear makeup. Plank. Or don’t plank. But don’t tell me I can’t be beautiful because I choose to do something different, or because I believe being educated is part of what makes me beautiful. I’m certain I’ll never make Trump’s list of beautiful women, and I don’t care. Why would I even want to be on that list? It’s demeaning. He can say anything he wants (and he does), but that doesn’t define me as a woman or a voter. Like I said, I’ll vote for the person who best represents my interests.

© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2016


These Are The Days

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It’s easy to find excuses to avoid things. Case in point: exercise. I can find a hundred things to do instead of exercising. Start a load of laundry. Wash the dishes. Write a novel. I love to swim, but I’ve found excuses not to do it—the time it takes to drive to the recreation center, the increase in monthly fees.

Forget about running. I don’t run. Unless I’m being chased by a homicidal maniac wielding an ax, I don’t see the point. I’ll walk though, and I’ve found that pairing a treadmill with Netflix works to get me moving. It’s easier on my knees than running, so that’s a plus. I try to get in a couple of miles any day I have time, but sometimes I make excuses to avoid that too.

Before buying the treadmill, I could use rain as an excuse not to exercise. Now I can’t, but I sometimes use rain as an excuse for staying inside. I live on the beautiful Oregon coast, and we’ve got a number of trails meandering through forests or leading to beaches. I love hiking, so it’s a shame I haven’t gotten out every weekend to explore them all. I’m an Oregonian—rain is no excuse. If it were, we’d never get anything done.

Still, I have a bad habit of letting weekends slip away, sleeping in and doing mundane things I won’t care about in the long run. It’s easy to use the time doing things I can justify, like paying bills or finishing household chores. It’s just as easy to get lost surfing the internet. The rest of my family does the same thing, the four of us in our silos, on various devices, spending time in the same room without spending time with each other. All of us—me, my husband, and two sons—are introverted, so we’re comfortable having time to ourselves. We need that sometimes, to recharge from our busy weeks at work and school.

Last weekend we broke free from our bad habits. It was one of those glorious weekends when the sun was shining on the coast. I do love rain—without it the Pacific Northwest wouldn’t be green—but I love our sunny days. Summers on the Oregon coast are a dream. That’s why we have so many tourists, bumper to bumper on the highway. (And we appreciate them all, along with the money they invest in our economy.)

Since the weekend was so gorgeous, we decided to head to the beach. We unearthed our boogie boards from the garage, sorted through the sunscreen, trying to find a bottle that wasn’t expired, and pulled out our swimsuits and towels. We threw in a couple of shovels and buckets too, and then headed to Sunset Beach, one of our favorite places to play.

IMG_7846The boys wanted to build a driftwood fort, so that was first on our agenda. We scavenged the beach for logs big enough to use, yet small enough to carry (or drag), and got to work. A huge log had washed up near the dunes, so we built around that, excavating a bunker, and laying out logs and twigs to fashion a roof. We did a great job, creating a cozy spot to lounge and watch the waves.

After that, we grabbed our boards and caught some waves. We’re not cool enough to be surfers, but we love the ocean. (I keep saying we should at least take a surfing class. Maybe this will be the summer we do that.) The water was freezing. It was actually painful to wade in up to my waist, but I was willing to make the sacrifice for my boys. They won’t be twelve forever, and it won’t be long before they won’t want to spend time with me. They’ll be too busy hanging with friends, checking out girls. The clock is ticking, and I want to make the most of the time we have left.

After a whole lot of yelping and squealing, we finally got used to the cold. Translation: we were numb from the neck down, and having too much fun to care. Playing in the waves is not without risk. Besides the cold, there are riptides that could sweep us out to sea. There are hungry great whites that might nibble on us (unlikely) and sea nettles that could sting us (more likely, though maybe the cold will dull the pain). But there’s risk to everything, isn’t there? There’s risk crossing the street. Heck, there’s risk to eating dessert. If you use risk as an excuse to avoid doing things you love, you’ll never have any fun.

IMG_7957We have a lot of fun in the waves. It’s thrilling to see the perfect wave rolling in, and then to catch it in just the right spot so it carries you to shore. I love feeling the pull of the tide going out, right before a really big wave forms. I love the rush of speeding along, harnessing the power of the water. What I love most is hearing my sons shout with joy when they catch a good wave, laughing until their boards bottom out on the sand, and then scrambling to their feet, hurrying back to catch the next wave. These are the days they’ll always remember. These are the days made for living, and I don’t want to waste a single one.

© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2016


Be This Guy

Thanks

There’s a story in the Bible about gratitude that has always stuck with me. Jesus was headed to Jerusalem, walking along the border of Samaria and Galilee. He came to a village and encountered ten men with leprosy. Leprosy is caused by bacteria, and if untreated, can cause deformity, crippling, and blindness. It still exists today. What you have to understand about the disease at that time is people with leprosy were considered unclean and cast out from society. This was because the disease was thought to be highly contagious, and people tended to think that if you were sick, you must have done something to deserve it. You sinned, therefore God punished you by giving you leprosy. You had to stay away from your family and friends. You couldn’t get a job. And without a job, you had to beg if you wanted to eat. But, you were an outcast, so who’s going to give food or money to an unclean beggar? Hardly anyone. Basically, it was a lonely, miserable illness.

The men with leprosy called out to Jesus, asking him to heal them. He did, and told them to go show themselves to the priests, so it would be known they had been cleansed and could rejoin society.

It’s a compelling story, but here’s where it gets interesting to me. Only one of the men came back to say thank you.

Luke 17:15-19
One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.* Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

Do you get the writer’s sarcasm here? “There were these ten guys, and not one of them came back to say thanks except this guy, and look at him, he’s not even one of us. He’s just this dude, from across the border.”

ThanksHere’s the question I ask myself: who am I in this story? Am I the person who skips off happily when somebody does something nice for me? Or do I take time to express my appreciation? I try to remember to be like the grateful guy rather than the others, though I don’t always succeed.

Still, whenever possible, I say thank you for the kind things people do, because no one’s required to be nice to me. Even our parents don’t have to be kind. In a world as dark as ours, sometimes parents don’t even like their kids, much less love them. (I’m blessed to have parents who love me and do nice things for me. Hi Mom and Dad.)

I’m a fan of handwritten thank you notes. Not for everything. I call or email to say thanks for things like birthday gifts, just because my family would think I was being ridiculously formal for sending a note. (Probably they’d think me pretentious as well.) But for some things, yes, I send a note.

This weekend I attended a book fair in Cannon Beach. Jupiter’s Books hosted 24 indie authors so we could chat with readers and boost our sales. This is no small thing for an independent bookstore to do. The owner gave us a generous cut on sales and invested who knows how many hours putting this event together, making sure it was widely advertised. I wrote him a thank you note because I truly appreciate him doing this for us. He doesn’t have to be so nice, but he is.

Sometimes I fear I say thank you too much. Is that possible? Maybe. In one note, I might say thanks three different ways. I can see how that could be annoying. I hope the recipient knows I’m being sincere. I am thankful, and I’d rather err on the side of gratitude, than let someone think I don’t appreciate a kind deed.

*Some things never change. People were pretty horrible to outsiders back then too. Samaritans were considered low-class people and it was taboo to associate with them. Really, the only person who was cool about Samaritans was Jesus. He often casts them as heroes in his stories.

© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2016


Save Yourself

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This is me waiting to go through security at an airport: long before I get to the metal detector, I’ve got my jacket off, tickets and shoes in hand, pockets emptied of coins and keys, and bag positioned to pull out my laptop. I try to think ahead so things go as smoothly as possible, but of course, there are sometimes complications, especially when traveling with small children. There are two fears behind all this prep—missing my flight and holding up the line, annoying my fellow travelers.

When I stay in a hotel, I tend to keep my belongings in my bag, only unpacking what I need at the time, like toiletries or clothes for the day. I’ll hang up work clothes that might get wrinkled, but I never use the provided dresser drawers. If I do have loose items, like books or snacks, they end up stacked neatly next to my purse. Type-A behavior to be sure, but I wouldn’t say I’m a type-A person. It has more to do with anxiety that if I spread my stuff all over the place, I’ll forget something when I check out, or, if I’m rooming with someone, I’ll hog too much space and annoy them.

There’s a theme here—social anxiety about annoying people—but the other part of this is a desire to be self-reliant. To keep my crap together, so to speak. Self-reliance was a message drummed into me from the time I was young, but it’s also part of my personality. I love being independent, and I hate relying on other people. I want to be seen as competent. I think it also has to do with how kids, especially girls, are socialized. “Don’t make a fuss. Don’t draw attention to yourself. Keep your head down, and toe the line.”

I was a cheerleader in high school, and we performed stunts. I was a base, which meant I was the one with sneaker hickeys on my neck from letting another girl climb on my shoulders, holding her ankles tight so she could tower over the crowd. Sometimes we’d throw a girl into the air and join hands, forming a basket to catch her. It could be hazardous, both for the person being thrown and the people doing the catching. I had bruises to prove it. I never wanted to be the girl on top. It was partly a fear of falling, though I doubt anyone would have dropped me, not on purpose at least. Part of it was this savior complex I have—no one was going to fall on my watch. I knew, as a base, I had the strength to hold someone, and I’d let them crush me before I’d let them land on the unforgiving gym floor.

That attitude has served me well as a parent. I’m overprotective, but my kids have survived childhood thus far. The savior complex has gotten me into trouble a few times too, walking toward bad situations instead of away from them. I did stupid things when I worked in mental health. I was a naïve young woman who wanted to save the world, and that translated to volunteering in bad parts of town, providing therapy for homeless men. It’s amazing nothing awful happened to me, because I spent a lot of time alone in windowless rooms with addicts and parolees. Somebody must have been looking out for me, because none of the guys I worked with treated me badly, though I’m sure they doubted my competence. Sometimes I think about that girl and wonder what wisdom she thought she could offer people with far more life experience than she. Maybe they were kind because they knew more than I did about how vulnerable I was, in spite of my bravado.

Strength is a point of pride for me—I try not to look vulnerable. I’ve been known to brush off injuries for fear of appearing weak. When it comes to helping other people, I’ve gotten better about saying no, but at times I still take on too much instead of letting people know I’m swamped. When I get in a tight spot, I tend to keep it to myself, only sharing how bad things are with those in my inner circle.

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Exhibit A

Most of the time it’s good to be strong, to help others. I’ve never seen myself as a damsel in distress. For one, I’m not exactly dainty. Two, I favor boots over heels, and I’ll carry my own sword, thank you very much.* Usually, when I get in a sticky situation, I save myself. But what happens when I can’t?

The problem with working to look like you’ve got it together is people can’t always tell when you need rescued. If you’re like me, you don’t actually have it together all the time, but it’s hard to ask for help. I’d rather suck it up and suffer than expose my vulnerabilities. There have been times when I’ve needed saving, and I kept that fact to myself. Sometimes it was because I had a problem nobody could fix. Other times it was because I was so busy keeping up the illusion I didn’t need help, that I didn’t take time to connect with people so they’d be there to ask.

I’m trying to be better about this. I recently read Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking, and she makes valid points about giving, receiving, and letting people see you, scars and all. One thing she said that resonated with me was about the act of receiving—allowing people to help you is a gift you give. We need these exchanges, because none of us can get through this life on our own. She also said it’s easier to ask for help for others than it is to ask for yourself. I have found this to be true.

I’m lucky. I have loving friends. I know the closest among them would take me in if ever I showed up on their doorsteps in the middle of the night. But even among my most trusted friends I could stand to show a little more vulnerability, to be brave enough to ask for help instead of trying to save myself.

*I do own a sword. My dad made it for me. See Exhibit A.

© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2016


Pest Control

Pink Tea Pot

A short story in honor of April Fool’s Day. A seasoned assassin finds her breach of etiquette isn’t the only snafu at a friend’s party.

Pink Tea PotI checked the address written on my invitation, and then the sign near the door. The Rose Petal Tea Room. This was the place. A brand new building plopped down in the middle of town, next to a strip mall, made to look old with its shabby chic white shutters and ivy starting to crawl up pink walls. Rachel would have called the color cheerful. It reminded me of that pink medicine you take when you’ve got the runs. Diarrhea pink, I decided.

Even before entering the restaurant, I felt a looming sense of doom. I could already tell—this event was not going to be my cup of tea. Normally, I wouldn’t frequent a place like this, unless it was for a job. My discomfort deepened when I entered the tiny boutique at the front of the tea room. Shelves lined the walls, and on every inch was something pretty and fragile—delicate tea cups and saucers, tea pots covered in roses and other flowers, and small porcelain figurines of women in Victorian dress. It was like standing in my grandma’s living room. Not that I don’t love my grandma, but I’ve never been able to relax when I visit. I’m not a large woman, but in her tiny house, I feel like a lumbering giant, clumsy and stupid—I’m that worried about breaking something.

There was a “Please wait to be seated” sign barring the entrance to the rest of the restaurant. I waited there obediently, checking the time. I was five minutes early, so that was good. Through the arched doorway I could see the hostess seating a gaggle of elderly women, all of them sporting gaudy purple hats with wide brims and red ribbons. Darn, I thought, forgot mine at home.

The hostess, a wholesome looking woman with a complicated updo and a pearl necklace, returned to her station. She looked mildly alarmed to see me, which did nothing to ease my own sense of being out of my element. “May I help you?”

Since she was acting like I came to rob the place, I gave her a smile and took my hands out of my jacket pockets so she’d see I was unarmed. “Yes, I’m here for a bridal shower. I believe the reservation is under Rachel Anderson.”

The woman scanned the list at her podium, and frowned. “I’m sorry, ma’am. There’s no reservation for Ms. Anderson.” She looked me over again. “Are you sure you have the right place?”

I was starting to question that too, so I retrieved the invitation from my pocket and showed it to her. “Rose Petal Tea Room, two o’clock.” I was surprised I hadn’t seen Rachel coming through the door yet—it was her party after all. The hostess glanced over at the clock above the archway. “I’m a little early,” I apologized, not sure why I was doing it. I thought it was good etiquette to arrive on time, if not a little early, but maybe I should have been fashionably late.

The woman looked over her papers again. I caught a glimpse of a seating chart. “Well, I can go ahead and seat you, and then bring your friend over when she arrives.”

“There might be a few of us,” I said. I had no idea how many people were supposed to come.

She nodded. “That’s quite all right. We’ll move your party to a larger table if need be. Your name?”

“Morgan Connors.”

The hostess wrote my name on the chart and grabbed a menu from beneath the podium. “Thank you. This way, Ms. Connors.”

She seated me in the middle of the tea room, fussed with the tableware for a moment, and then returned to her station to greet some women who had just arrived. I looked for Rachel but didn’t see her among them. I scanned the large room, hoping to recognize a familiar face among the lace tablecloths and pastoral landscapes that looked as though they were of the English countryside.

It was then I realized why the hostess had acted strange when she saw me. I’d committed several major faux pas with my wardrobe. One, I was dressed all in black: black skinnies, black t-shirt, black moto jacket and boots. The other patrons hadn’t even risked a little black dress. I was drowning in a sea of pastels. Two, I was the only one wearing pants. I owned exactly one dress, and that was only because I’d been coerced into being a bridesmaid. I had an idea it was bad form to wear the same dress to the bridal shower and the wedding, so my single dress was hanging in my closet, awaiting Rachel’s big day. Three, my hair was slicked back and woven into a tight braid, which is good form in my line of work. Intricate updos and soft flowing locks, like the ones I was seeing in the tea room, could get a girl killed. I’d learned pretty fast that in a fight, you pull back your hair and you never wear earrings. Not if you want your earlobes to remain intact. Against all those blush pink, baby blue, and mint green dresses, the only way I would have stood out more was if I were a three-hundred pound biker with a beard covering half his face and tattoos covering the other half. I was glad my own tattoo was safely covered. Wouldn’t want to have to use smelling salts on anyone.

I checked the time again—it was now fifteen minutes after two. Where was Rachel? I considered leaving when I saw her sister Stephanie headed from the ladies room down a hallway. I jumped up from my chair, careful to push it back in so no one would give me a dirty look, and then followed her.

As I entered a room draped in lacy bridal decorations, I finally caught sight of my friend, sitting at the head of the table, surrounded by women dressed nothing like me. Rachel stood up and gave me a bright smile. “You came!” She crossed the room to wrap me in a hug.

I’d do anything for Rachel, even bear haughty looks from her future mother-in-law, Mrs. Rollins, and the maid of honor, Elizabeth Whitney. Something clicked into place. That was why the hostess hadn’t found Rachel’s name. The reservation must have been under Elizabeth’s. “Sorry I’m late,” I whispered to Rachel.

“Just glad you’re here,” she said. We’d been close since college, when we went through a few scrapes together. Not the kind of stories you share with polite company, since they involved actual blood being shed. I found it amusing no one in the room knew about our sordid past, but I wasn’t about to ruin the party by sharing those secrets. Rachel’s reputation was soiled enough just by associating with me.

Rachel took my hand. “Come on. I saved you a seat.” She led me to the chair next to hers, and I settled in, avoiding eye contact with everyone else. “We were about to eat.”

A server, holding a large platter, set the tray on a stand and began placing dishes around the table. “Glad you could make it,” Elizabeth said, from across the table. She held out an elegantly manicured hand. I shook it with a firm grip, my own nails short and unpainted. “Megan, was it?” she asked.

As I released her hand, I tried to hide my annoyance. We’d met on a few occasions, but every time, Elizabeth acted like she’d never seen me before. I smiled sweetly. “Morgan. And you’re Liz, right?”

She scowled, placing her napkin in her lap. “Elizabeth. Never Liz.”

Rachel shot me a warning look, but I could tell she was hiding a laugh. I gave her a sly smile. I didn’t know what she saw in Elizabeth, but then again, I wasn’t sure what she saw in me either. I was just glad I hadn’t been tagged as maid of honor and forced to pull off a fancy party like this. I had skills a woman like Elizabeth couldn’t imagine, but I had to concede—she was a better choice for a shindig worthy of its own social media following.

The server set a plate in front of me, which held five tiny sandwiches. I use the term sandwich loosely—they were more like round slices of bread about the size of a half-dollar, filled with green stuff of unknown origin. I picked one up as delicately as I could manage and chanced a bite, chewing slowly. The mystery filling wasn’t bad, something with spinach and garlic I thought. My stomach growled, louder than I would have liked. I stole a look at the other women, doing more chatting than eating. I popped a second sandwich in my mouth. Would it be poor etiquette to request seconds? I’d kill for a fat, juicy cheeseburger.

“And what is it you do, Morgan?” Mrs. Rollins asked me. Like the hostess out front, she was wearing pearls, and her hair was twisted into a French roll.

I looked at Rachel. This was always the hardest part—explaining what, exactly, I did for a living. She nodded, and I said, “People come to me with problems, and I make them go away.” Vague, but I couldn’t explain it better without fear of making Mrs. Rollins queasy.

Rachel’s mom-in-law-to-be looked intrigued. “What sort of problems?”

Elizabeth-never-Liz chimed in. “Rachel said you were an exterminator.”

I raised an eyebrow at Rachel, and she shrugged. Exterminator was technically correct, but the preferred term was assassin. Still, hunting down nasty characters for pay wasn’t something everyone could accept. “Pest control,” I agreed. I took a sip of tea, hoping Mrs. Rollins’ curiosity was satisfied.

I was saved from further interrogation by a cake.

Another server entered the room, carrying an elaborately iced dessert, topped with edible flowers. She placed the cake in front of Rachel while several of the ladies applauded in approval. Rachel beamed at Elizabeth as the server prepared to slice the cake.

Then the flowers on the cake moved. I stared as they pulsed, as though something were wriggling inside the confection, trying to climb out. And it did.

A brown, rat-like face surfaced, popping out of the icing to peer up at Rachel, a pink and yellow hibiscus still balanced precariously on top of its head.

“A rat!” Mrs. Rollins shrieked. She pushed back from the table and climbed on top of her chair with an agility you wouldn’t expect from a woman in her sixties. Fear is a powerful thing.

The rest of us looked on in surprise. The cake crumbled as three other figures burst forth. They were tiny, hairy things, standing up on their hind legs and hunched over in a way that made it easy to mistake them for rodents. Except some of them were wearing clothes. Primitive looking vests and scarves, yes, but clothes nonetheless. Not rats. Boggarts. I’d tangled with malicious house spirits like these before.

The one in the velvety green vest launched itself at Elizabeth’s face, sending her backwards in her chair, head over red-soled Louboutins. It looked like Mrs. Rollins was going to find out what I did for a living after all. I leapt up from my seat and grabbed the table salt, screwing off the top as I rounded the table.

Elizabeth lay sprawled on the floor, her screams muffled by her long, pleated skirt, which was hiked up over her head. I yanked the skirt off her face to find her clawing at the hairy little monster biting her. I upended the salt container on the boggart, and it popped like a balloon, drenching Elizabeth with dark slime. I was handing her a cloth napkin to wipe off the goo when I heard Rachel yelling.

I turned to see my friend dancing in a circle, pounding herself on the back of her head. It almost looked comical, except for the nasty little beast pulling her hair. The boggart with the scarf had entangled itself in her chignon, no doubt attracted by the rhinestones in her hair pins. Like other faeryfolk, boggarts like shiny things.

What they don’t like is iron, and I had a horseshoe in my jacket pocket, which I carried for just such an occasion. Okay, I’d never been in a situation quite like this, but you get the idea. This kind of thing happens more than you’d think, and it’s good to be prepared. You might want to take notes.

I held the ends of the horseshoe up to the boggart. It howled, a kind of guttural growl as the iron burned its flesh. It didn’t explode like the first boggart, so I grabbed a fork off the table and skewered it, working it free of Rachel’s hair. She seemed unharmed, but the boggart began to melt, curling its body around the silver-plated utensil. I tossed it on the ground and scanned the room for the other two creatures.

One was shoving frosting in its mouth while the other taunted Mrs. Rollins and the other ladies, most of whom had joined her on their chairs. The server had backed up against the wall, her face frozen in a look of horror.

I grabbed the tea pot from the middle of the table and forced the two boggarts inside, pushing them along with the horseshoe. They clawed at me, but the toxic iron did the trick, persuading them to submit. I dropped in a little St. John’s Wort, retrieved from another pocket in my jacket, replaced the lid on the teapot, and let them steep in the mixture. They wouldn’t be bothering anyone else.

I checked on Elizabeth, who had gained her feet. She’d managed to get most of the slime off her face, but her nose was bloody and looked like it had been gnawed on. Nothing a good plastic surgeon couldn’t fix. She nodded to me, not quite a thank you, but I’d take it. I couldn’t fault her for being too shaken to express a full appreciation for my talents.

As I helped a still trembling Mrs. Rollins down from her chair, she said, “An exterminator, you say?”

“Something like that.”

She gave me a grateful smile. “I’m glad you came, Morgan.”

© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2016