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Bird’s Nest In Your Hair

Chapter Sixteen

1

After finishing one long cut into a section of sheet rock, Pebble put down the saw and brushed the white dust from his clothes. He pushed his goggles up onto his forehead and used the bottom of his tee shirt to wipe some of the sweat from his face, smearing around more dust in the process.

“That’s it. I’m done. We’re done.”

“Thought you’d never.” said Larry, one of the other workers, who’d been marking up another long sheet of wallboard for the next cut. “This’ll wait ‘til Monday.”

Over in the corner a skinny guy named Nosey holstered his hammer and said, “Yeah, I can call it a day. Nuttin here that won’t stay over the weekend.”

It being the end of winter, and still a little chilly and wet a lot of the time, they had all been happy to find work indoors. It was a fairly straightforward remodel of an office building not too far from the gym Pebble worked at and worked out at every once in awhile. Pebble liked to keep busy, but there wasn’t much he liked more than calling it quits for the day. And now he was glad to be done for the week – at least with construction. He had a shift at the gym in the morning.

After they’d put the cover back on the table saw and stacked up some of the odds and ends they’d been working on, they all filed out through the door and waited until Pebble locked it behind them. Three flights of stairs later they were out in the parking lot, where at 4:30 it was already getting dark. The streetlamps over the parking lot had just come on, somewhat diminishing the effect of the orange glow overhead, darkest in the distance where the jagged edge of the Olympics severed the sky from the earth. It was quite a bit cooler outdoors, and Pebble was still pulling on his canvas jacket as he walked over to his truck, an old, white Toyota pick-up.

“Miller time?” called out a guy named Oscar, to no one in particular.

“If that’s what you like,” said Pebble, knowing he didn’t.

Just a few days into the project the five had gotten so tired of arguing about where to go and what to drink that they’d decided to assign one night a week to each person, who would choose where they would go after work and paid for the privilege by buying the first round. Because of family commitments, Thursday was often the only night Larry could go. Nosey picked the Spouter’s Inn, for its ladies night earlier in the week. Pebble picked the RoDeO because he worked there as a bartender Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, and this way he could drink with his comrades as long as possible before punching onto the clock. He also worked at the gym on Monday nights, when the Spouter’s Inn was closed – even though he and Nosey were friends from way back. The fifth member of the team, Marco, had decided on über Wurst, a gay comedy club, because he often stayed there for open mic night. Some of the others had first gone there a little grudgingly. Now they enjoyed it themselves, for laughs. This was the evening before one of the others always bought Gutter Sputter, an amber bock that was available as a $5.00 Happy Hour pitcher at a microbrewery down by the stadiums called “the Tank”.

“What about your place?” asked Nosey, looking at Pebble. “Those waitresses are muy buenas!

Chulo!” said Marco, laughing at Pebble. He liked mocking the others from time to time, and switched to Spanish as well: “todos los que buscan su buena señoritas!

“No way,” said Pebble. “Not where I work. Not tonight.” By the time he’d loaded his tools into the locker in the back of his truck and had, in fact, made a call to one of his girl friends, everyone else had left. Unfortunately, he couldn’t remember where they’d agreed to meet. Poor Pebble! He was about to call one of the others when it suddenly came back to him: Oscar. The hard stuff. He put the Toyota in drive and slowly turned his way out of the lot.

2

Keith was crestfallen. Here it was near the end of a significant stage in his journey towards Heaven (he didn’t want to assume to much, of course, but one had to hope), and one of the people he had most enjoyed getting to know on this journey had elected not to be one of the elect. Moreover, he couldn’t shake his suspicion that it was his conversation with her that had helped turned the tide. He looked back on the time he and Diana had talked together on Sunday afternoons and realized that he had been arrogant. He looked back on their afternoon at the coffee shop and winced. He gave himself a light smack on the head whenever he looked back on his comment about her job as a bartender. Hadn’t Christ himself walked with sinners? he asked himself. Wasn’t that exactly what she was doing, in her own way – working with sinners? More to the point, aren’t we all sinners? Yes, that was certainly true, and he continued thinking, We are all sinners. I am probably the biggest sinner of all. I am guilty of the sin of pride. There’s a lot for me to learn, and I could learn a lot from Diana.

Then he remembered the last thing she had said as they’d walked out of the Starbucks: “Come by the bar anytime!” She was joking, he knew; needling him a little for his apparent prudishness, which even he now had to admit was a little more than simply apparent. Well, he could take a joke. He would take the joke. He was finishing up work for the week, and could be at the bar in a matter of minutes. The veneration of the cross wasn’t scheduled for another two hours, so there was plenty of time. But what should he do about drinking? He couldn’t very well have a drink on his way to the Good Friday service. Perhaps he would order a drink, without actually drinking it. No, that was no good; that was deceitful, and this of all days was not a day for deceit. Well, he’d order a soda water. Not a Coke – no caffeine until Sunday. She would understand. He was who he was, and he needn’t apologize for it. But he would certainly go and let her know that she needn’t apologize, either. Not that she felt she had to; he couldn’t really speak to that. But perhaps she could learn something from him, too. Perhaps they really could learn from each other.

3

Jim sat forward in his chair with his forearms resting on the hollow between his knees and his quadriceps, leaving himself just enough arm to employ his idiosyncratic gestures to make a point. Sarah sat next to him, or rather sat next to the small table – that same small table that a few days earlier had served as a potter’s wheel – her legs stretched out in front of her, one hand in her lap and the other poised above, index and thumb resting on her chin. The couple had for a long time maintained the habit of stopping by to see Cervantes every Friday afternoon on their way home from the office they shared with him, along with Louise, the secretary. Sometimes they chatted for a while, and sometimes they even agreed to continue their conversation over drinks and a meal – first suggested by Cervantes in memory of the BS sessions with his classmates at the corner pub when he was in school back in England. Being marriage counselors themselves hadn’t made Jim and Sarah immune to troubles of their own, and Jim in particular had sought out Cervantes’ assistance in the past. It was partly for that reason but mostly because of their personalities that Jim did more of the talking, while Sarah adopted a somewhat more reserved posture. At the moment, Jim was expostulating on investments.

“Mark my words, Mike, energy is where it’s at.”

“Well, I understand that, but there’s an ethical dimension to these investments as well. You of all people should be aware of that.”

“And markets are actually one of the more civilized instruments of change. And besides, you have, what, two kids in college now?”

“Not to mention a third in a couple of years.”

“Well, I think this could help. We’re counting on it for our retirement.”

“Not quite counting on it, dear,” said Sarah, wanting to make sure that an accurate picture was being formed. “We are looking forward to traveling, though.”

“Yep. To China!” exclaimed Jim.

“It’s a repressive authoritarian state. They still have a gulag, even if it isn’t on any of the itineraries. I wouldn’t invest there any sooner than I’d invest in Cuba.”

“Cuba! We should be treating them the same way we’ve been dealing with the Chinese. Bring ‘em around with trade. More carrot, less stick. That works for all of us.”

Sarah laughed at this and said, “It took me years to convince you of that for the children!”

Cervantes smiled and held up both his hands to signal that he’d run out of arguments. Jim had much more invested in this particular discussion, and Cervantes obligingly let him have his say. This was a subject they’d covered before, in one form or another, as it usually kept them a pretty good distance from issues connected to work. Each knew where the other stood, so it was an easy talk to have, and the fact that they had different opinions actually made it easier.

“Well, how else is everything with you two?”

“Fine. Very good,” said Sarah, looking towards her husband. “Jim takes the plunge tomorrow night.”

“Couldn’t feel any better about it,” said Jim. “Shoulda done it years ago. Of course, that’s sort of the point – everything in it’s own good time. That’s what the padre said to me just last week.”

“Nobody calls them padres any more, Jim,” said Sarah, imploringly. “And besides, he’s not Spanish. He’s Polish.”

“Well, that’s what they called them where I grew up, Spanish or Irish or Italian. I always envied the way all the old guys called them that. And in the movies. It’s part of the tradition.”

“What? The movie tradition?” She sighed, in what Cervantes recognized as familiar and even affectionate exasperation.

Jim continued talking with Cervantes. “Nope, I couldn’t feel better about it. And now she’s gonna get the Catholic wedding she always deserved.”

“It’s a renewal of vows,” explained Sarah. “The first set still holds,” she added, turning to her husband. “So don’t get any crazy ideas for the next couple of weeks!”

“You know I think I’m actually more excited about it than you are,” said Jim. “You were pretty excited about the minister thing though.”

Sarah explained. “I’d always wanted to be more involved with the church, but I’ve always put it off for one reason or another. Then Jim got to talking about going to church, and things just seemed to open up.”

“So what does this entail?” asked Cervantes, although he had a pretty good idea already.

“Basically, we help the priest give communion. Once he’s consecrated the host – blessed it, I mean . . .” and here Sarah checked to make sure Cervantes understood, and seeing him nod, continued. “He divides the bread up into separate bowls and the wine into different cups, and we, the lay ministers, stand with him at various places in front of the altar and hand out communion.”

“I’d imagine that could mean quite a bit to you.”

“It does. At first it was pretty strange – I grew up in a world where only priests were allowed to distribute communion, so naturally it seemed a little presumptuous. By the time they started using Eucharistic ministers I’d lost what little childhood interest I’d had in such things. Now it really does mean something to me. All these people filing up – they’re like lambs, really. I should say ‘we’re like lambs,’ myself included. Perhaps for some people that’s a bad thing, but it’s so peaceful. It’s a crowd, certainly, but without being a mob. We’re all there for our own reasons, but we’re all there together. And I say ‘we’ because in every person that comes up to take communion I can see myself. A part of myself, anyway; the most important part.”

“Hmmph,” muttered Jim, leaning back in his own chair. “It’s too bad about the girl though.”

“What girl?” asked Cervantes.

“Jim had a little crush on one of the girls in the group,” explained Sarah. “We just heard that she’s decided she wasn’t ready to go to first communion.”

“It isn’t just first communion, though. I don’t think she wants to be Catholic at all. She’s something, I’ll tell you that. You could see how seriously she took all of it.”

“You’re pretty serious about it yourself, Jim,” said Sarah.

“Well, maybe so, but I’m older. She’s young. You know I didn’t take any of this seriously when I was her age.”

“Everything in its own time,” offered Dr. Cervantes.

“That’s absolutely right,” said Sarah, reaching out for Jim’s hand.

“Yep,” said Jim. “We wish her the best.”

“We’re going to stop by and say hello to her now, actually,” said Sarah to Cervantes. “Would you like to come along?”

“She’s a bartender,” explained Jim, leaning forward again. “Works over at the big fish house over on Eastlake.”

“I know the place,” said Cervantes. “Been there quite a few times.”

“Well, she’s probably poured you a beer or two already,” said Jim.

“Probably,” said Cervantes, chuckling a little. “Sure, I’d love to join you.”

“We’re not going to stay long,” said Sarah. “We have something else going on over at the church tonight.”

“Just want to say hello, and let her know that she’s still alright with us.”

“But you’re not going to say anything about that,” said Sarah, patting him on his shoulder affectionately.

“You keep saying that,” said Jim, swiveling his head around to look at her and make his point more emphatic. “As if I’m going to embarrass us all. I just want to say hello, and I think she’ll be glad to see us.”

“Well you’ll certainly be happy to see her!” After teasing him a little she sounded a little more thoughtful. “I just wonder if we shouldn’t just give her some privacy. Especially at work.”

“Give me just a minute,” said Cervantes. With that he picked up a couple of files from his desk and stood up to go. “I just have to drop off a couple of things up front, and we’ll be on our way.”

He turned off the lamp on his desk. Sarah did the same for the much taller floor lamp, and Jim regarded the picture of Picasso’s Don Quixote on the wall.

“You know I saw this on a tee shirt not too long ago,” he said.

“Yes, it’s a pretty popular image,” said Cervantes. “I’ve seen it on coffee mugs as well. And beach towels; it’s all over the place, actually. Of course I’m always on the lookout for it. Subconsciously anyway. That makes a difference.”

4

Professor Calahan and Professor Rosen were in Calahan’s office, talking about everything from students they had in common to the general decline in standards of scholarship for just about every publication in the field. The usual stuff for a pair of sixty-something professors on a Friday afternoon. They talked about an upcoming conference down at one of the California schools about a month later and a paper that Calahan planned to give on various instances of the aorist subjunctive in the plays of Aristophanes. Typical, topical fare. Then they talked about their own days in graduate school, memories of their teachers, and one of Calahan’s in particular who had escaped Europe as the Nazis began dismissing Jews from their university posts. He’d written a number of incendiary newspaper articles criticizing the brutish practices of the new regimes sweeping across the continent, and had left only at the urging of his friends. The same old odds and ends.

Then Professor Calahan closed his door a little more than the usual forty-five degree angle and began speaking in a hushed tone.

“And you know what else?”

Professor Rosen shook his head from side to side.

“It’s been thirty five years since I’ve had a drink.”

“No kidding?” said Professor Rosen, who had indeed heard the rumours about Calahan’s past, but never dreamed that he’d hear him say anything about it.

“Thirty five years ago on Good Friday I promised my wife I wouldn’t touch the stuff again. Ever. You see, I’d simply put her through too much. You remember what those days were like. So I promised.”

“But surely you’re not retiring.”

“No, but just this week we had Dean Smith over for dinner, and of course he brought a bottle of wine. And of course I refused. A little later, as we were about to bring the food from the kitchen, Dolores turned to me and said, ‘I think you’ve proved your point, Professor Calahan.’”

“She calls you Professor Calahan?” asked Professor Rosen, incredulously.

“When she wants to get my attention she does. Mostly when she thinks I’m taking myself a little too seriously. Can you imagine that?” Calahan was working hard, but not too hard, to suppress a mirthful smile.

“No!” scoffed Professor Rosen, going along with the joke.

“So I said, ‘Dolores, what ever in the world do you mean?’ And she said, ‘You know damn well you can have a glass of wine when the Dean and his wife bring a bottle over to dinner, and it might even do you some good!’” Here Calahan paused for effect, his face filled with glee.

“What good is that?” asked Professor Rosen.

“Oh, that’s Dolores, always the climber,” said Calahan. “But you know the Dean, so you can guess what I said to Dolores.”

“Tell me,” said Rosen.

“I said I’ll be damned if the first drink I have in twenty five years is a glass of Dago Red with Dean Smith!”

“Ha ha!” chortled Rosen, probably a little harder than the story deserved.

“Hee hee, hee!” giggled Calahan while slapping his knee. “Dean Smith and his wop wine!”

“I thought it was Spanish,” said Rosen.

“Whatever!” said Calahan.

“So what do you want to have?” queried Rosen.

“Well,” said Calahan, leaning forward and now adopting a serious tone. “This occasion calls for nothing less than a double Jameson’s.”

“And I suppose you know where to get some of this?”

“Well, I’ll bet we can find something in Bruno’s desk,” said Calahan, sticking his thumb out behind him in the direction of a colleague’s office down the hall. “But Erikson over in the English Department says he knows just the place. Says it has a literary ring to it, with a big, politically incorrect statue in the front. In other words, my kind of place.”

“And when will this be happening?” asked Rosen.

Professor Calahan looked at his watch, which just then showed 5:00. “I think this will be happening right about now. Care to join us?”

“Oh yes, I wouldn’t miss it,” said Professor Rosen. “And let’s see if we can tear Bruno away from his desk.”

Comments

  1. almostgotit says

    I think the characters should be having more sex. It’s a metaphor that works for you!

    “This is my body, given for you..”

    Parents will always object when their children write about sex. So write another nice book for your parents, and don’t let them read this one at all (until after it’s published, anyway!)

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