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Bird’s Nest In Your Hair

Chapter Twelve

His neck now bore traces of several shades of violet and blue, but for the most part a relatively discreet, mustard yellow had spread across the skin between his jaw and his collar bone. One eye was still black and a little puffy, and it still hurt when he tried to climb off of his mattress in the morning. He hadn’t seen his nemesis since they’d both been arrested and spent the night in jail. Jeb didn’t know anybody he could call, so he hadn’t called anyone, and in the morning had simply been let out on his own recognizance with a stern warning to stay out of bars. He had duly promised to do so and limped the entire few miles back to the shack on his own. He still had to study for his final exams, and that helped to keep his mind off the pain for rest of the weekend. He thought he had probably done pretty well on Monday and Tuesday, and here it was Wednesday with a couple of days off before he was done with the term.

He stared at the aspidistra for a few minutes and thought about the rest of his day. There wasn’t much to think about really: more studying, and he had his fill of that. Since the fight he’d steered clear of Queequeg’s, as he wasn’t really looking forward to explaining his appearance to Diana. But his eye wasn’t quite so tender and his body wasn’t as stiff as it had been the day before, so he convinced himself that he looked pretty nearly normal and decided to stop by and see how she was doing. Hopefully she’d be there. During his night in the clink he’d come to realize that the only way his heckler could have known about some of those poems was if he’d somehow intercepted the copy meant for Diana, so over the weekend he’d put together another copy. He’d even taken more time with this version (it was even better relief from his pains than studying for the tests) by carefully sewing it together with thread and drawing a picture of the freeway on the cover.

So he got dressed and grabbed his book bag and headed down the street towards Queequeg’s. It was just before 10:00 when he arrived. The doors were open, but the bar was still unlit inside and Diana wasn’t there yet. Jeb decided to take a seat on a bench not far from the entrance and took out one of his books to read. He didn’t think he’d actually be able to get any studying done, but he wanted to appear occupied when someone showed up to open the doors.

About five minutes later Diana showed up and noticed his black eye right away.

“What happened to you?”

“Oh… got into a little scrape over the weekend.”

“You look a little more than scraped.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. On your way to school?”

“Something like that.”

He followed her through the door and took a seat at the bar while she turned on half the lights.

“Coffee should be ready in a couple of minutes. Or maybe Allen’s already started a pot in the back.”

Jeb looked at himself in the mirror while Diana went to look for coffee back near the dining rooms. His eye seemed to be about the same. His hair was a mess, so he went back to the bathroom to clean himself up a little. He washed his hands and combed his hair with his fingers. When he got back Diana was pouring a bucket of ice into the well; steam was rising from a cup of coffee waiting for him in his usual place.

“Maybe I should grab a steak from the kitchen for your eye,” she said, picking up an ice scoop from the bar and rinsing it off in the sink.

“Probably a little late for that, but thanks,” said Jeb.

“So what happened?”

“I had to defend my mother’s honor,” said Jeb, and shrugged.

Diana gave him a wry smile.

“So it came down to insults about your mom?”

“Yeah. Pretty dumb. But it was fun at the time.”

“So how does the other guy look?”

“Pretty bad, I hope,” Jeb said. “He usually wears a blue jacket.”

“You’re wearing a blue jacket,” said Diana, nodding towards him.

“Yeah, well, his is more blue. He has brownish hair, sometimes sits at the bar and reads the paper.”

“Hmm … it’s not really ringing a bell.”

At that moment Allen came from around the corner and slapped his hands on the bar next to Diana to get her attention.

“What’s up, Allen? Thanks for making the coffee, by the way.”

“Somebody’s gonna need it,” said Allen. “The dishwasher never showed up last night and the kitchen is completely trashed.”

“What do you mean, ‘trashed’” asked Diana.

“I mean nobody did the dishes last night. We’ve got enough to get started on lunch, but there’s no pots and pans, and we need to start cooking for tonight. We’re in serious in trouble.”

“So call somebody in.”

“Nobody’s answering.”

“I don’t know what to tell you, Allen. You’ll have to do them yourself.”

Jeb and Diana watched as Allen’s shoulders sagged and he dropped his head onto his arms in an exaggerated show of exasperation. Maybe he wasn’t exaggerating all that much. He looked defeated, even to Diana Then he looked up at Jeb.

“What about you? You look like you could you use a little money.”

Jeb shrugged. “I don’t need it that bad.”

“Fifty bucks. You can probably get it done in a couple of hours.”

“I’d take a look at it first if I were you,” said Diana to Jeb.

Allen glowered at Diana and said, “So come back and take a look.”

Jeb shrugged and got off his bar stool to follow Allen back to the kitchen. Diana lifted up the gate to the bar and followed them both back to see for herself.

They walked through the kitchen were most of the cooks were setting up for lunch: pulling bread and rolls off the bakery shelves, opening up industrial sized cans of vegetables, and pulling various things out of the huge, walk-in refrigerator. One of the cooks was scrubbing out a pan for himself, but looked up preemptively as Allen and Jeb approached the dishwashing area.

“Don’t think for a minute that I’m doing all of these, Allen. I’m just doing this one to get started for tonight. You’re gonna have to do the rest yourself.”

Jeb couldn’t believe the mountain of pots and pans and dishes piled up on the counters. He had a hard time believing they could actually use so many in one day. The room didn’t smell very good, either.

“Holy cow!” said Diana.
Allen held up his arms in a sweeping gesture, turned back towards Jeb, and said, “Four hours, tops. That’s more than ten bucks an hour.”

“I don’t know, Allen, that’s a lot of dishes,” said Diana. “And he’s never done them here before. It could take a lot longer than you think.”

“I have to go to school,” said Jeb. “I’ve got studying to do.”

“Offer him a hundred,” said Diana to Allen. “You know it’s worth it to you.”

Allen glowered at Diana again. “Alright. A hundred bucks. For every last spoon. And whatever comes in for lunch as well.”

“That’s pretty good money, Jeb,” said Diana, “and you get a free shift drink when you’re done.”

Allen looked pained, but he didn’t glower.

Jeb shrugged and said, “Okay. If it means that much to you.”

So Allen gave him a smock and a rubber apron with gloves to match, and Jeb went to work as a dishwasher. It was pretty awful work, and as much as he was looking forward to the money he probably wouldn’t have bothered without Diana’s encouragement. She’d slapped him on the back after he’d agreed and said, “This means were co-workers!”

The cooks needed the pots and pans, so he got started on a pile of those first. One of them showed him how to work the automatic dishwasher, and soon he worked out a system were he was able to do some of the work by hand while the dishes were in the machine. He was glad Allen had given him the smock, since he was pretty well soaked soon after he’d started. He had a hard time believing the amount of grease that was in some of the pots and wondered about some of the food he’d eaten at Queequeg’s over the last couple of months.

Still, after a couple of hours of the work he found that he was actually enjoying himself. This was in the area all the cooks called ‘the dishpit,’ and some of the kids that worked there earned an anagram to match. Jeb fantasized about himself as a modern day Hercules, assigned by Eurystheus the task of cleaning out the Augean stables. It took about two minutes per cycle to wash the plates, silverware, and glasses using a big, square industrial washing machine at the center of a long metal counter. The larger amounts of leftover food were scraped off into a huge plastic garbage can, which didn’t look all that different than what came out of a horse, and may even have smelled worse. He and he worked out a rhythm in which he was able to load up the big, square racks with dishes, rinse the remaining food off with a power hose (his version of the river directed by the Greek hero to wash out the filth), and then push them into the machine for the sanitizing wash. Once he pushed the racks through to the other side he would let them cool off while he went back to putting more dishes in the racks. When the clean dishes had cooled off a little he stacked them up by the dozens and walked them back up to the front line. He was glad to get out of the pit, even if it was just for a minute. Every half hour or so he’d walk out to the bar, where Diana would give him his complementary Coke to help keep him going.

Everybody seemed appreciative of the job he was doing; the cooks, Allen, and Diana all thanked him every time they saw him. When he was finished fantasizing about himself as Hercules, he thought about what a good thing manual labor was. He never really got this kind of satisfaction from all the school work he did. It was particularly satisfying to see the overwhelming pile of pots and pans gradually reduced to nothing, and he especially enjoyed orderly placing the stacks of clean plates in their metal shelves out on the front line. Even more than this sense of satisfaction, he had the feeling he was working out the sore spots he’d gotten in the brawl over the weekend. He was seeing visible results of his work, and it felt good.

He finished his labors at about a quarter to four, almost six hours after he’d started. He washed himself off as best he could in the big sinks in back, and then went back to the men’s room and washed himself off again. He traded his smock and rubber apron back to Allen for his sweater and jacket, and then went out to the bar to collect his shift drink. Diana was talking to one of the customers named Dave at the other end of the bar. He and a couple at one of the tables in the far corner were the only customers in the entire bar. One of the cocktail waitresses, Cindy, was in another corner smoking a cigarette and rolling knives and forks into the sturdy paper napkins to make “roll-ups”. These made it easy to set up tables in a hurry.

Jeb sat down heavily in the same stool he’d chosen six hours earlier, while Diana wound up her conversation with Dave and walked over smiling.

“So how does that feel? Not so bad for a hundred bucks.”

“Yeah, and I seem to remember you saying something about free beer.”

“Comin’ up”, said Diana, nodding, and started pouring a Creosote without waiting for Jeb to ask.

Allen came out of the office just then with a handful of twenty dollar bills. “Most expensive dishwasher we’ve ever hired, but I do thank you,” he said, somewhat formerly, and counted five twenties onto the counter next to Jeb’s beer.

“Any chance you want to come back for more?”

“I don’t know,” said Jeb, “that was pretty awful.”

“Well, we can’t afford you anyway. We’ll go broke paying dishwashers that kind of money. And don’t go telling the cooks about how much he made,” he said to Diana. “They’ll start asking for more money, too.”

“Yeah, we should all become dishwashers. That’s a lot more than I made this shift,” said Diana. “We’re having kind of a slow day here.”

“So how would you feel about getting off the clock?” asked Allen.

“Seriously?”

“Sure. Cindy’s ready to come on the floor now, and I can tend bar until Steve comes on in an hour.”

“You talked me into it,” said Diana, already taking off her apron. “And what if I just drop my bank for the bookkeeper?”

Allen shrugged. “Okay.”

So Diana grabbed all the money in her till and zipped it up into the money pouch without doing the usual inventory. Jeb looked on admiringly as she opened the gate and strolled back to the office to hand if over to the bookkeeper. When she came out she asked Allen to pour her a Slug Bait, and she and Jeb took their drinks over to a nearby table. Allen went over and started a conversation with Dave. Jeb told Diana about his Hercules fantasy while washing the dishes.

“Yeah, that was a big job alright. Herculean seems about right.”

Jeb was thinking about the book of poems he had in his book bag and how he should give it to her.

“So, did you ever get the book I dropped off for you the other week?” he asked.

“No,” said Diana, “I’ve been meaning to ask you about that. What happened?”

“I think that other guy came and took it.”

“The guy who gave you the black eye?”

“Yeah.”

“Man, your neck isn’t looking so good either.”

Jeb instinctively put a hand up to the bruise on his neck. “It’s not so sore anymore. I think it looks worse than it feels.”

“It would have to,” said Diana, helpfully.

“So are we going to listen to some more Dylan here, or what?” asked Jeb.

“We could…” said Diana, slowly, “but I have another idea.”

“Yeah?”

“Yep. Now that you’re so rich, you can buy me dinner.”

“Not here though.”

“No, never. I’ve got a better idea.” She looked especially eager, so he made a face and gave her back the same, wide-eyed stare.

“Okay … ”

“I know a great fish ‘n chips place. Do you like fish ‘n chips?”

“I’m not sure I’m ready to eat anything after scraping food off plates all day, but yeah, I like fish and chips.”

“It’s a bit of a drive, but it’ll be worth it.”

So Jeb soon found himself, once again, in the passenger seat of a German sports car belonging to an older woman, being driven somewhere he didn’t know. There are certainly worse predicaments to find one’s self repeatedly falling into. Diana had one of the more recent vintage Volkswagons, yellow, with a red tulip in a little vase attached to the dashboard. It may not have been quite as fast as the Audi, but he enjoyed the company more.

Since it was getting close to rush hour, Diana opted for 99 rather than I-5, and zipped down along Eastlake towards the bottom of Lake Union and then up towards Seattle Center. She was a fast, confident driver, and after a few quick turns was soon driving under the Public Market.

“This way we’ll get a view of the water,” said Diana”

“If you get tired of tending bar you can always be a tour guide,” said Jeb, “or even a taxi driver.”

As they sped through the viaduct, Jeb nodded back in the general direction of the city.

“This is about where I got into trouble last Friday.”

“Yeah? How’s this for trouble?” asked Diana, and turned up the volume on her stereo. You asked for more music, didn’t you?”

Jeb smiled on her obsession, trying to make out the words over a thumping beat that sounded like somebody tramping down a set of stairs.

I got to know Lord, when to pull back on the reins,
Death can be the result of the most underrated pain.
Satan whispers to ya, “Well, I don’t want to bore ya,
But when ya get tired of Miss So-and-so I got another woman for ya.

“Cheerful,” said Jeb, reaching over and turning the sound down. He did it out of instinct from his experience with the Divorcee, and instantly regretted it. Diana didn’t seem to mind.

They continued speeding past the stadiums south of downtown and started up the ramp towards the Magnusson Bridge to West Seattle. Diana turned the music back up for the rest of the song. Jeb liked this one better, and said so.

Man Gave Names to All the Animals,” she said. “As if you couldn’t have figured that out!”

“It’s a little repetitive, but it’s good. It’s a happy song.”

Diana appreciated his effort at finding common ground, and turned the volume down. They were driving along Alki beach and past a pretty spectacular view of downtown. “This is my favorite place in Seattle,” she said.

“And I’ve never been here,” said Jeb. “Thanks for taking me.”

“You’ve never been to Alki? You’ve gotta get out more.”

“Not everyone has a such a nice car,” said Jeb.

“Keep washing dishes and you might,” answered Diana.

They followed the curves in the shoreline and row after row of condominiums opposite the beach. Light was beginning to drain out of the sky overhead, and the buildings on the opposite shore were beginning to glitter in the twilight.

“What’s that over there?” asked Jeb.

“Bainbridge Island,” answered Diana. “And that’s Vashon over there.” She pointed further down the shore, where they seemed to be headed.

“Where are we headed?”

“Well, if you don’t mind putting off dinner for a little longer, I have something else in mind.”

Jeb shrugged. “Sure.”

“Me-Kwa-Mooks,” said Diana, matter-of-factly.

“You’re a what?”

“It’s the name of a beach,” said Diana, laughing. “It’s an Indian word – Native American word, I mean, for ‘Bear face.’ I think it refers to the shape of the shoreline. How they figured that out, I’m not sure. But it’s low tide now, and there’s still enough light to do a little tidepooling.”

“Tidepooling.”

“Beachwalking. Looking at stuff. You’ll like it.”

“Sounds wet, and I just spent the entire day getting drenched. But okay.”

Diana drove on for a few more minutes and soon had them parked next to a path that led down to a beach. Jeb thought there was probably twenty-five or thirty yards between the curb and the water, most of it pretty rocky terrain. Jeb was surprised at how many other people were walking around on the beach. Mostly in groups of twos and threes, some of them down by the water skipping rocks and others apparently looking into tidepoos for whatever other kinds of treasure they could find. Jeb and Diana walked single file on top of a huge piece of driftwood and made their way past the sand and down to the rocks. Diana picked up few pebbles and shells without comment.

“So how’s the hunt for God going, anyway?” asked Jeb, thinking of the song they’d listened to on the way over. He instantly regretted asking, thinking that it was none of his business.

Diana picked up a brown, glassy looking pebble about the size of a pea.

“Here’s an agate for you.”

She bent down and picked up two more. “Here’s just a plain old rock with some seaweed attached to it,” she said, and tossed one of them to him.

Jeb felt the weight in his hand and said, “Thanks.”

She took the rock she was still holding and threw it about twenty feet out into the water. They both stood and watched as ripples spread in circles across the glassy surface. Jeb stood there for a moment, tossing the rock from one hand to the other a few times before throwing it out into the water. He managed to drop it right in the center of the circles and gave out a gasp when he saw what he’d done. Diana smiled at him briefly before turning to walk further on.

“Funny you should say ‘hunt’, actually.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. It’s a good word for it, but I’ve given it up for the time being. Or I’m taking a detour. I was having a hard time with one of the prayers.”

“Seems like you’re still taking it pretty seriously.”

“That’s what the priest said. I told him that I felt like I was rushing into it.”

Jeb didn’t know what to say. So he didn’t say anything.

“I still have the big questions though, and things have been a little strange since I stopped going to church.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. For example, do you remember Pete?”

“The old guy, sure.”

“Well he wasn’t that old.” Diana felt herself beginning to tear up and turned from Jeb towards the shoreline. After a few seconds she turned back and said, “He died in a car wreck last week.”

“God, I’m so sorry. I had no idea.”

“The strange thing is, I think I did have an idea.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that it seemed to sort of fit when I found out about it.”

“Fit what? A car accident?”

“Well, I’m not so sure it was a car accident.”

“Oh.”

“I’d been wondering about him all winter, actually. He was good at telling jokes and usually seemed cheerful enough, but sometimes I’d look at him when we weren’t talking and I could just see his wheels turning. Other times he’d have this defeated look on his face, like he wasn’t sure what to do with himself.”

“Yeah. The last time I saw him he was pretty drunk.”

Diana didn’t say anything.

“Sorry,” said Jeb, once again realizing that he’d said the wrong thing.

Diana answered him anyway; “Yeah, that was a problem, I think. That’s the last time I saw him, too. Not the way I want to remember him.”

“So what’s the official word?” asked Jeb. “They think it’s more than just an accident?”

“Well, that’s what I wonder. If they do they’re not saying anything. Or they haven’t told me anything. Nobody has mentioned anything about a note. But there isn’t always a note.”

They walked on a little further. Diana crouched down a number of times to pick up a shell and look it over. Most of them she set back down, but she held onto one.

“See this?” she said, holding it out towards Jeb. “It’s a clamshell. If you look here you can see a tiny hole.”

Jeb looked at the end of her index finger and said, “Yeah, I see it.”

“It’s from a moon snail. They have a tiny tongue that works like a razor blade. The snail drills a hole in the shell and then puts in a kind of enzyme that dissolves the meat of the clam enough for the snail to it suck out of the hole.”

“Wow. That’s almost scary.”

“Yep. It’s an invertebrate-eat-invertebrate world.”

Jeb laughed at this while Diana managed a smile at her own joke. They walked on a ways, and Jeb kicked the occasional rock. It was getting darker, and more and more lights were twinkling on the opposite shore.

“Well, I can see how Pete’s accident could throw a wrench in your search,” said Jeb.

“Actually, that came afterwards,” said Diana. “That’s what I mean by strange. I’m not sure whether it confirms my hesitation, or whether it’s the universe asking me to take a second look.”

“The universe?” asked Jeb”

“Well, that’s the best I can manage for now. That’s what I feel like I have to go on right now.”

“Not sure I follow you.”

“Yeah. Well, I’m trying to look at the whole thing honestly. Truthfully. And it seems like there are a lot of holes. And some of the questions about evolution have just been nagging me even more since I started going to church. It’s obvious to me that it’s a fact of life, and as a theory that explains life I think it pretty well dissolves any of the ways we’ve traditionally thought about the divine origins of the universe.”

“Just to play devil’s advocate, though, there has to be some sort of beginning.”

“I’m not so sure,” said Diana. “I’m not sure about anything.”

“Hmm,” said Jeb, and then they stopped walking.

“Gosh,” said Diana. “It’s too bad we’re losing all the light. There’s a lot of great stuff out here tonight.

Jeb turned his head from side to side to show he was looking. “It’s nice. The stars are starting to come out.”

Diana kneeled down in front of a big puddle and said, “Those aren’t the only stars. Look at these.”

She had a piece of driftwood about the size of a baseball bat and used it to point out a purple sea star. It was hard to see at first, and then Jeb was surprised at how big it was. Once he saw the first one he was able to look down the shore and see several more. Others were orange and easier to spot from a distance.

“Seems like they’re a long ways from the water,” he said.

“Well, they wouldn’t be here if they didn’t want to be,” explained Diana. “My guess is that they’re looking for food.”

“Weren’t we going to get some food?” asked Jeb.

“What about one of these?” Diana was reaching into the puddle and pulled out what looked at first to be a piece of bubblegum with tentacles on one end. “It’s a nudibranch.”

“It’s tiny,” said Jeb. “and as far as I can tell, it’s nude.”

“They can get a lot bigger,” said Diana, either failing to notice his joke, or ignoring it. “And a lot more colorful. In the South Pacific they’re striped, with rows of tentacles, and they look like coral.”

She crouched down again and let it slip from her finger into the water. Then she pulled out a lumpsucker no bigger than her pinky and held it out towards Jeb, who declared that it looked even less appetizing than the nudibranch. “It’s like your own personal aquarium here,” he added.

“Everything begins on a beach,” she said.

“Poetry, too,” said Jeb.

“Are you going to recite some poetry for me?” asked Diana, playfully.

Menin aede thea,” said Jeb. “Rage, sing, goddess.”

“Very nice,” said Diana, “and catchy, too.”

“You like that, eh?”

“Oh yeah, very much. But what’s she so angry about?”

“She’s not the one that’s so angry. It’s the poet asking for help from his muse. The anger has more to do with Achilles, who fights Agamemnon over a girl named Briseis.”

“Kind of like you. Fighting because somebody called you out on your mom.”

“Yeah,” Jeb laughed. “Kinda like that.”

“First you think you’re Hercules, and now it’s Achilles. What an ego!”

“What about some of those fish and chips?” asked Jeb.

“Fish ‘n chips,” said Diana. “You’ve gotta say it right if you’re going to eat it.”

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