Writing inspired by the SWC creative writing prompt: Quadrivium‘s direct translation from Latin is ‘the intersection of 4 roads’ – or simply ‘crossroads’. However, these days quadrivium is often used to refer to a specific place where 4 travellers all come together and meet – either by accident or intention. Write a story or a poem using either the original or the modern meaning of quadrivium.
By Connie Phlipot
“The taxes are the most complicated thing,” that was Janina’s opening to her standard story of her household situation. She’d pause a second to look at the puzzled faces of her interlocutors before resuming her story. “Yes, you see tax assessment is based on a determination of where economic activity takes place.” Another pause to let listeners ponder that consideration. “Two of the bedrooms are in Arizona. Not much economic activity there, you’d think.” That always got a laugh. “But, in fact, during lockdown and snow storms, I did a lot of my work right there, sitting on the bed.”
Heads nodded. They’d all experienced that. “And think about it further. Even when I go to the office or did my work on kitchen table, which in fact happens to be in Colorado, my most productive thoughts occurred in the bedroom. You know in that half-dreaming, half-waking time before sleep or before awakening.”
“And what about the shower or on the pot?” Someone would inevitably ask, eliciting twitters all around.
She’d laugh, then explain that after wrestling with this issue for several tax years, she’d reached the solution that her front door would determine her residency for income tax purposes. The state tax authorities in Salt Lake City — her front door was in Utah — had readily agreed. Real estate tax was more contentious. The letters from the four state jurisdictions tumbled out of her files, spilling onto the floor of the hallway closet that was in Arizona. One of the last letters assured her that the four states had come to an agreement to share tax revenues equally. Just as she piling up the letters to shred, one more came in from Colorado where her backyard was located, indicating that if she had a farm animal, her yard should be assessed at a different rate and could not be subject to the revenue sharing arrangement.
Her Rottweiler’s golden eyes, like toffee candy, reflected the sunset. No, he was no farm animal. She ignored the Colorado letter.
Had she purchased this house, a story-and-half stucco mid 20th century structure, because it was at the meeting of four states? her visitors would ask. “I couldn’t decide which state I preferred. I was born in Colorado, went to school in Utah, married in Arizona. All had their pluses and minuses.”
That wasn’t the reason but it stopped further questioning about her choice. That was a story she didn’t like to tell. One that had nothing to do with indecision or the cuteness of the Quadrivium.
They’d been married a few years — most of the time living in trailer parks with faulty water and electricity hook-us. The water constantly dripped in front of the make-shift steps, or the tap emitted gasps of air or rusty dribbles just as she had turned on the propane gas burner and started to fill the pot with water to cook pasta. Or the light sputtered, then when out, and she finished editing whatever journal she was working for at the time with flash light illumination.
She given up asking Henryk why they couldn’t at least rent a one-bedroom apartment in Silver City. IT was near his job in construction and she could get part-time work at the library to supplement her editing income.
“No, I need to move whenever I want. No roots, no ties.”
Not that it was that easy to move You didn’t just unplug the electricity and turn off the exterior water faucet. You had to find another trailer park that had free places. Make a deposit. Be sure the gas tank was full. Find a place to stay along the road. And there was the road — the long stretches of flatness — cars honking as they streaked past the slow, bulky trailer. Miles of nothingness. You couldn’t pull off and rest in the shady wilderness. Strictly forbidden on private land — and everything was private there.
She’d got up from the pull-down kitchen table, no longer able to write by flashlight. The moonlight slanted in through the sky light — not quite enough to read by. Pop music sounded from the camper next door, although loud noises were forbidden after 11:00 pm. Sugar, the cocker spaniel and Rottweiler predecessor, yelped as she did when surprised or frightened. Janina opened the door. Henrik was stepping to the cab of a red panel ruck. she thought a women was driving — but maybe that was the detail she added to enhance her feeling of being the jilted wife.
“Henryk,” she called out, but the truck was already bumping along the gravel driveway toward the highway.
She stayed at the trailer park until her food supplies got low, then packed up her backpack her lap top the dog and hitched a ride to Silver City.
She resolved then to never move once she found a proper house.
And hers it was. She’d been scouting environs for a few weeks the a real estate agent, a gentle, middle-aged man with eyes like her Rottweiler. He didn’t push her, or over-sell the merits of this or that place. His selections were well-suited to her tastes and needs but somehow nothing fit. Until she spotted a for-sale sign on a drive towards Colorado to pick up groceries.
Richard the real-estate agent, contacted the owner the next day.
“It has a history, you know?”
“Like what? A murder or ghosts?”
“No, you see it straddles four states.”
She laughed. “It must belong to one of them.”
“Apparently not. There was a complicated disagreement that had to do with custody of a child, or maybe it was prize winning horse. I’ve heard both versions.”
She walked up the stone steps and looked out from the porch. This was it, home, the panelled ceiling, the hard wood floor, the wide, low windows, embraced her. She felt like a child in her own dollhouse. The asking price was moderate— she agreed without bargaining.
And here she stayed— inventing her story of tax problems and indecision. But in fact she had never been so decisive in her life.
Sunday Writers' Club Member
Connie draws upon her experiences as a former U.S. diplomat in her short stories, flash fiction and creative non-fiction. Her novel-in-progress is loosely based on her grandparents’ lives as Belarusan immigrants in the coal mining community of early 20th century America.
My heart goes out to Janina in your story–imagine the paperwork! Thanks for sharing, Connie.