So after some thought, I came to the conclusion that I should have posted the fourth chapter of Marcello’s Revenge. This was originally broken into 3 parts, but I decided to just dump it all together. Sorry for the ungodly length of the piece, and the out of order sequencing. Hope you enjoy, and thanks for reading.
Other installments can be found HERE.
With no traffic delays, the drive from our house to the Periwinkles normally takes about forty-five minutes. With Francine driving, though, we made it in about thirty-five. With quite a few white knuckle moments for me. Not so much due to her being a speedy driver, which she most certainly is, but for the fact that she never seems to brake at the proper stopping distance, waiting to be nearly on top of the car ahead of her, or at the cross walk of the intersection before aggressively applying the brakes. But the drive was good fun, with her wearing a smart pink dress that curved snuggly about her hips and ended just above her knees, her legs applying the pedals and moving oddly in sync with the salsa music playing on the stereo. I watched her as she pressed the clutch, the brake and the gas like they were a part of some complicated dance routine (clutch, brake, gas…clutch, brake, gas…). We spoke sparingly, if at all, but she would occasionally look over to me, my reflection in her dark, oversize sunglasses staring back dumbly at myself.
While our home is located in a middle class, suburban area (which I adore, by the way, with its rows of houses rising level upon level up the hill, established well-grown trees lining the streets and the creek which, in our fortunate position at being at the base of the hill, ran along the far end of our back yard), the Periwinkle house, by contrast, is outside town in a collection of large houses named Cranberry Lake Estates. The Estates included perhaps a dozen homes that surround an inlet of the lake. Each of them have long, sprawling lawns, both front and back, and they all share a single private pier. A few row boats would often be harbored there, or stacked up on the wooden planks of the dock where it widened at the shoreline. A thin road runs down to an area of the dock just beside the pier, where the road dips down into the water so that the residents can unload their power boats, or whatever other recreational water vehicles they have.
As there were a large number of attendees at the party, Francine was forced to park my modest Toyota Corolla outside of the estates and in the more rustic and less affluent Cranberry Lake Village. We parked on Dartmouth Road, and had to hike about a quarter-mile up to the Periwinkle residence.
It was quite a large event, with Darla’s graduation only being the pretense for Jacob and Cora to throw a spring extravaganza. They would often hold these types of parties, at least one per season, for various frivolous reasons in their successful attempts to stay relevant in the community in a social and political way. Jacob had confessed to me that he was to announce in the near future his plan to run for mayor in the next election cycle, which was to take place two and a half years hence. He was already on the city council. He was waiting until October, though, before making it public and implored me to not tell a soul. I really had no one to tell, except Francine, which I did, but who I can trust to keep a secret.
We passed a blue tent which had been set up for the occasion. The front lawn was littered with many round, plastic tables, each with a tablecloth fluttering in the breeze coming off the lake and a small vase of flowers. They, and their respective white chairs, were for the most part gathered under the tent, but there were some outside of it for guests to sit at while sipping their cocktails especial from sweating highball glasses in the late afternoon sun. A stage was set up. There a band played soft jazz versions of popular songs. As we were about thirty minutes late, all of the tables seemed already occupied with ladies and gentleman is soft clothes, bright smiles, and scrupulous desires. I took hold of Francine’s free hand as we made our way up the drive to the front door.
Inside, past the entryway and in the parlor, Cora and Darla stood side by side greeting their guests. A few others stood near them, school friends of Darla’s I suppose they were. There was a line of six other groups of people ahead of us, and we took our place at the end. It took some time for us to reach the front, what with the exaggerated conversations going on with their many congratulations and well-wishing. As we gained ground and were finally next to offer our condolences, Francine squeezed my hand. I looked to her and read in her demanding eyes the request for me to remain civil.
“Francine! Thank you for coming!” Darla exclaimed, and then to me she continued in a flat tone with “Robin.”
“Congratulations Darla! And thank you for having us,” Francine replied.
“Our pleasure,” said Cora who is of medium build with long, ashy blond hair and a fat nose. I had known her, and Jacob, for years. Since college, actually, where we ran together in the same group. Most of these people I had lost touch with, to both my benefit and detriment, for various reasons. Jacob and Cora though, I somehow always kept in touch with, even as they went on to make a name for themselves and a fortune to boot, and I went on to the lower levels of mediocrity. Still, we are friends. Well me and Jacob at least. Cora and I never had a close relationship though we were amiable most of the time to one another.
We gave them the gifts we brought. Francine the scarf in a box that she had beautifully wrapped in aqua green paper and a gold bow, and me the wine and cheese that was placed on a crepe paper bed in a wicker basket by The Wine Cellar. “Congratulations Darla,” I began while handing Cora the gift and turning to the young woman of the hour “I would like to take this opportunity to apologize, Darla, for my comments the other day. They were completely uncalled for, inexcusable and inconsiderate. Please forgive me. I must have been slightly inebriated at the time.”
“At one in the afternoon? On a Sunday?” Cora asked pointedly.
“Yes, yes. Totally indefensible. Some have church at ten on Sunday mornings. I have a drink. We all, I suppose, have our burdens we have to bear.”
“Some more than others,” Darla replied looking over to Francine. “It’s ok, Robin. I forgive you. But I don’t think I’m the only one you should ask. Doctor Cruz is here. It would be a great time to ask her too. She is right over there. Doctor Cruz! Hello! Yes, could you come over here for a sec?” From the other side of the room Stella Cruz slipped her way past people over to us. A lovely woman, if slightly weighty, but in a complimentary fashion. She is, as her name would imply, of Latin heritage, with deep walnut brown colored hair that contains a slightly reddish tint, cut short to reveal strikingly delicate ears. “Doctor Stella Cruz, I would like you to meet Francine Delacroix and Robin Mentor.”
“A pleasure,” Stella said. “Didn’t I have you in one of my classes?” She asked Francine.
“It is very nice to meet you. And no, Doctor. I never had the pleasure of taking your class. I did attend a lecture of yours, however: The Enlightenment of Women and the Empowerment of Humanity.”
“How wonderful! Did you like it?” Her voice was strange. Low, muted and grainy it reminded me of a Miles Davis trumpet solo played on a scratchy record. Or maybe like that of a hummingbird, whistling by an open window while someone with a sore throat hacks in the next room.
“Yes, very much.”
“And you,” she said turning to me, “I take it, are the man who made disparaging remarks as to my intentions towards Darla.”
“Pleased to make your acquaintance. Yes, that would be me. Remarks I would, if possible, take back and for which I ask your forgiveness.” I felt compelled to give a slight bow to her, not out of contempt, but mostly due to an overwhelming aura about her, a feeling as if I was meeting royalty. The way she held herself, and how others held her in regard, gave her the air of nobility. Her very presence seemed one of an aristocracy from ages long past and happily gone down into the swirling waters of history’s commode.
“Of course. What can one expect, really, from men who are stuck in their own constructed world with preconceptions that do not allow the possibility of a strong woman? A woman who, according to such men as yourself, cannot succeed in life, personally or professionally without that success having as its roots not their own qualifications of mind and skill and learning, but their physical attributes. I feel no animosity to you, so forgiveness is quite simple. I only pity you at your own short sighted and limited mind.”
“Yes, thank you. I am quite limited in sight and mind, I agree. For example I know so little of archeology except that you study bones, correct?” ”
“Archeologists do much more than just study bones, Mr. Mentor. But regardless, that is not my area of expertise. I am a doctor of sociology. Our study this summer is to focus on the impact that U.S. policy has had in Asia on local indigenous and underdeveloped rural populations, in particular that of women and their roles in these societies.”
“Sounds spectacular. Truly it does. I am sure that the work you and Darla will perform will have a significant and lasting impact in academia and hopefully will help even to shape future U.S. policy in that region.”
“Thank you Mr. Mentor.”
“Thank you, Doctor Cruz, for your hard work in the classroom and in the field. And also in providing this opportunity, really a once in a lifetime chance, to young Darla at the budding stage of her professional career. It is my sincere wish that all goes well with you two. Now, where is Jacob, Cora?” I asked turning from the good doctor.
“Out back by the pool. He’s at the grill. A catered event,” she added, addressing the crowd, “and he still needs to be sure that he’s grilling.”
“Then, if you will excuse me, I will go and see him. Will you be joining me, dearest?”
“Not quite yet, love, but soon.”
“Oh, Robin!” Cora added. “I’m sorry, but there’s no gin. It was an oversight. I hope you understand. But you will find a nice selection of drinks at the bar. Also, smoking has been assigned to the gazebo area near the lake. Please refrain from smoking anywhere else.”
“Of course. And do not bother yourself on my account in regards to the gin. I am more than happy to make due on whatever your hospitality has to offer. Thank you for your courtesy in letting me know.” I exited the room and the house through the patio door, emerging outside as a soprano saxophone played Love and Happiness, its empty notes drifting in the air and drowning in the sparkling blue, glassy water of the pool.
An explanation may be prudent in regards to the penitent and somewhat conciliatory nature of my conversation with Darla, Cora and the kindly professor. The Periwinkles, and Cora in particular, contributed a generous sum of money and effort to The State, a highly regarded and humble playhouse. I am certain that at one point I was informed as to why it was named The State. Perhaps it had some connection with Moorewood State University, an integral part of the community and its largest employer, but having forgotten I cannot say for certain. The playhouse, being financially dependent on the generosity of others, obtained most of its revenue through government grants as well as donations from wealthy patrons and local businesses. In doing so, these contributors, including Cora, had considerable clout in the business dealings of the theater.
Now, from a young age Francine had developed avid interest in costumes. She told me that it had begun when she was seven simply by constructing her own Halloween disguise, and had grown into a passion as the years passed. She does make exquisite costumes and is very meticulous and detail orientated. Down to small embroideries along the hems, to the undergarments and shoes, to the jewelry and the hats, everything being kept in line with the general theme and period of the piece. A whole room in our house had been converted to accommodate her craft. Filled with fabrics and accessories, an easel and desk for her sketches, and a couple of dummies standing erect and headless like guards blindly watching over her sacred hoard.
Cora, who had taken an immediate liking to Francine when they met for the first time, had quickly discovered the talent the young girl possessed through the intimacy their blossoming friendship afforded, and presented some of Francine’s work, with her permission, to The State’s Board of Directors. This helped Francine to obtain an internship at the playhouse. With their recommendation, she went on to change her major from Marketing to The Fine Arts. This may have set her back a bit in her schooling, but given that she was only a year in, and most of that time spent doing preliminary courses, it was not a major setback. Less than a year later, the Costume Designer, Douglas Theabold, who she said was a genius, and the Director at that time, Mary Shurer, who later went on to Boston and was replaced by the current one, Stacy Horance, were so impressed with her work they offered her a paid position on Douglas’ staff (which really only included one other person, an older gentleman named Bobby who did most of the sewing from what I was told).
Cora comes from an extremely loyal and fiercely matriarchal family. In the Periwinkle household, it was she was who had come from money, and also set the course to ensure her and Jacob’s continued financial abundance. Jacob’s family is blue-collar, his father being an electrician in New Jersey before retiring. Not that his family was poor. Having visited them with him on a couple of occasions I can attest that they are well off and living comfortably. But they are not wealthy. Jacob and his sister Margaret were their only children, and Darla is Margaret’s youngest child and only daughter. With the Periwinkles having two boys, Matt and Alan, she is the only girl between the two families.
She lived with her parents and three brothers in Texas for most of her life. The family doing respectively well until all of their money was stripped from them as a result of a Ponzi scheme or some other sinister ploy. With Cora’s pride in her family, especially in regards to the women, she provided the necessary finances to allow Darla to complete her high school years going to the same private school she attended before the disaster, and then beyond to college. This was also the beginning for the Periwinkle Foundation which provided scholarships to students majoring in the Humanities. Not having a daughter of her own, Cora was thrilled when she choose to grace Moorewood in her ongoing education. The two spent considerable amounts of time together during the four years Darla spent in our presence.
To Cora an attack on or disparaging her family in any form is an ultimate affront, and retribution would take precedence over any other matter at hand. Francine, regardless of how well liked she was by Cora, was an open and easy target, a tool to be used to get vengeance. There would be no compunction on Cora’s part over loosing that friendship under these circumstances. Francine had known this, and to preserve their relationship, and also keep her employment at The State, she took quick action to contact Cora and Darla to resolve the affair. Not that Francine could not get a job at another theater, but she liked this one so well and they helped her so much, it would have made her miserable to lose it. Thus it was that, in meek guise and gentle manner, I came to make amends. I could not justifiably and with good conscience bring myself to damage her no matter my own personal views on the grievance or the other people involved.
A bar that was set up on the patio, and I went up and ordered a scotch and soda. It was a stone patio located to the left of the pool, and was composed of three square layers, rising as they extended away from the house, with a series of five steps separating each of them. It was built away from the main rooms as to provide an unimpeded view of the lake from the house. Potted plants of seasonal flowers, bushes, and undersized trees were decoratively set around it with benches of iron and wood placed at intervals. The bar was on the second level. Jacob with his oversized grill and burley mustache was on the third and topmost layer. He was surrounded by several men, speaking in loud, baritone voices, sounding like disgruntled bears bellowing over a freshly caught salmon. Seeing me approach, Jacob called out my name fired a toothy smile and shook my hand stiffly.
Most of the men I recognized. There was Ralph Mueller owner of Pushman Inc, a manufacturing company of mowers and other lawn equipment; Darrel Plow who ran a private investment firm; Marty Washington, Editor in Chief of The Star. Also, not surprisingly, Kirk Kilbrowski was there, Jacob’s private accountant and closest confidant. Two I did not know, both well-groomed and sharply dressed in slacks and short sleeves. The one nearest to me had shallow eyes and wore a blue silk shirt. The other was wearing shiny black, pointed shoes, and had shifty or maybe uneasy look, habitually stroking his smooth chin.
“So you got everything straightened out with the girls?” Jacob asked me.
“Yes, I believe so,” I said.
“Good. Carla was pretty upset about it, I can tell you.” And by you he meant more the crowd than me. Jacob loved to tell a story, and the more people the better. What may have been a private affair was then turned to a public recounting. “I tried to reason with her. ‘Carla,’ I said, ‘It’s Robin!’ ‘I don’t care! I don’t want him here any more, and I don’t want you to have anything to do with him!’ She said. Boy. It was rough for a little bit there. Ha ha! I swear, she called her mom, Susan, and God knows who else. When Francie called, I didn’t think she would answer. But she did. And somehow that girl of yours calmed her down. So it’s good you got it all worked out. To tell you the truth, if I didn’t know Doctor Cruz was a woman, and I heard that a professor wanted to take Darla to some remote area of the world, I would have thought the same thing. I probably wouldn’t have allowed her to go. But, you know, she’s a girl, so it’s ok.” Jacob is one of the few true conservatives.
“Doctor Stella Cruz?” Shallow Eyes asked, licking his fat lips.
“Yeah, you know her?” Jacob asked.
“No. Not personally. But I am aware of her work.”
“Nice lady. And easy on the eyes,” Jacob chuckled. Kirk grunted his approval to this statement, and Ralph had a sheepish grin, his sagging cheeks blushing slightly.
“Yes,” Shallow Eyes replied in a dismissive manner.
“Oh,” Jacob continued, “Robin, have you met Peter Morelli? He is from the Turning Institute. And this is his colleague Mark Kelley.”
“No, I do not believe that I have.”
I shook their hands. Their palms were smooth and soft and I felt nearly envious at the condition and obvious care they appeared to have taken of them. “And what is it you do, Mr. Mentor?” Peter asked.
“I work for Pear Investigations. Currently assigned to a job at Duluth Properties.”
“What type of investigations does Pear perform? Criminal?” Mark asked brushing away a long curl the wind blew over his face.
“Oh, no. Not at all. Financial. I am a financial auditor. Primarily, I just look at numbers on endless spreadsheets, occasionally pulling specific orders or transactions for further investigation. Honestly, it is terribly boring, but it compensates for itself by allowing me to listen to music pretty much all day, and I generally will be provided a private office.”
“How is the audit going, Robin?” Marty asked. A nice man with a warm smile, slender build, and an unobtrusive disposition that I would imagine to be unusual for being a newspaper editor.
“Not bad, but that is all you are really going to get out of me, Marty, until it is complete and presented.”
“How long have you been there now?” Marty continued, still trying to squirm his way into any information that might constitute a story.
“Marty, I must say I do love your persistence. Every time we speak I feel that I am in some Film Noir where I have to utter ‘Is this off the record?’ But I do not see any issues in telling you that I have been there for three months now, and probably have another couple to go before it is done. Off the record of course.”
“Fascinating,” Peter said in a tone identifying his obvious boredom in the conversation.
“And what is the Turning Institute, Mr Morelli?” I asked turning back to him.
“We are an organization committed to the prosperity and advancement of humanity. We seek and are working to discover a resolution to the suffering caused by starvation, thirst, disease and war by means of expansion of the human potential.” I felt like I was just handed a brochure, and a poorly worded one at that.
“Interesting,” I said. “And how is that working out for you fellows?”
“It is not meant to work out for us, Mister Mentor. It is, as I said, for humanity.”
“Yes. I see. Well, in any case, I do hope that it does work out for you. I mean for humanity’s sake at the very least. Or whatever. I suppose it makes no difference. Am I correct? Personally, it sounds and feels a tad too hippy new age to me. But then who am I to say. Jacob, I am sorry, but if you will excuse me I need another drink and a smoke. I will speak with you again later. Marty, as usual a pleasure. Gentlemen.”
Stairs of cobble stone led from the upper deck of the patio down to the back lawn, a gently sloping track of land which descended to the lake. The gazebo was set in the middle of a round garden that was placed a little more than half way from the house to the shoreline. There were a few others gathered there smoking, but no one spoke, a sullen type of silence hung heavy in the stuffy air. The music from the front lawn was but a faint whisper, a shadow of itself echoing across the grass and out over the lake. I lit up a cigarette and blew the smoke through the trellis. Small vines had started to make their way up it, clinging and interweaving themselves through the latticework. I sent a text message to Francine: I am at the gazebo, love. Would you care to accompany me? She replied: Soon, dearest, soon.
While taking delicate sips from my drink I finishing my cigarette. I looked out over the lake, the sun in its decent casting a brilliant golden hue that scattered across its surface. A Great Blue Heron fished in the reeds strewn along the shallows of the water. A man with an obnoxious voice joined our quiet, anonymous group. Speaking to no one in particular, he discussed the finesse he had in the handling of cell phone companies, and which brakes were best suited for Hondas. A couple of people offered him courteous expressions that they were listening, acknowledging him with mild yeses and hmms and grunts. Every so often someone would even try to interject their own opinion, or perhaps relate an anecdote, but he would cut them off, speaking over them with a loud, booming voice that would suffer no companion.
Time passed and Francine, who has her own definition of soon, had yet to make an appearance. I struck up another cigarette. I was not exactly fond of staying where I was, and quickly came to the conclusion that I would seek her out and reunite at the party after that last smoke. Halfway through, however, and just when Boomer was relating his ideas on fast food, there suddenly appeared from a copse near the shore a girl. She wore a blue pleated skirt and a white blouse, blond hair pulled back by a hair band, and from a distance I would have gauged that she was in her late teens. Walking along stiffly she made her way to the party, often adjusting the purse strap on her shoulder.
Out of curiosity, and sizing on this new opportunity to escape Boomer, I decided to go and investigate the area she had recently vacated. I had been to that house any number of times, but had never had any interest in exploring that particular area. There was a narrow path near the water’s edge cutting through the woods. Walking through it for a short distance I found Matt sitting atop a concrete block out of which a storm drain emptied. His back was to me, legs dangling off of the block, and he did not notice me approach. A pipe and a bag that contained a minimal amount of marijuana was to the left of where he sat. I called out his name, and startled he tried to hide them, knocking down the pipe and spilling its ashes, but realizing the futility of the effort quickly gave up, looking at me with glazed eyes.
“Oh, it’s you Robin,” he said in a resigned tone.
Matt took an interest in cinema at a young age, and dreamed of becoming a director. When it came to movies, he was an encyclopedia of knowledge, well versed in all the different directors, actors, styles and eras dating back to silent films. He made some short films which I was subjected to watch when I would visit the Periwinkles. They really were not very good, but being made when he was in middle and high school the immaturity in the quality of the material was to be expected. The real issue, though, was that the poor child didn’t have any imagination.
It was my son, George, who had first informed me that Matt had developed a drug habit. George, who smoked marijuana at times as well, though he said never habitually, was friends with Matt, and when in town would occasionally spend time with him. Mainly it was marijuana that Matt used, but from what I heard it was developing into harder and more dangerous ones. The influence of drugs was apparent in his later films. He believed that the drugs expanded his mind and creativity, but this creative expansion only produced work that was totally incoherent behemoths with plot-less narratives. With the goal of helping to develop her son’s interest, Cora managed to secure him a job at The State. His poor attendance and lack of initiative forced them to let him go a short time after, but Francine did tell me of an encounter she had with him before this occurred.
She was leaving the theater one evening after getting some last-minute changes and minor alterations done before a new show opened. Matt was there to assist in setting up the stage, and sheepishly approached her, his long, curly black hair falling over his face. He told her that he was pretty messed up, and had not slept in a couple of days.
“The poor boy wasn’t looking good,” she said. “But I did not trust him. I hesitated and asked if I could call him a cab instead, but he said that he was afraid his parents and the theater would find out and he would be in trouble. He is already in trouble at The State, and I know it is only a matter of time before they find the gumption to let him go. I felt sorry for him, for his horrendous condition, and also for his obvious attempt to get me alone as if we were in high school. But there is also a strange feeling about him. Have you felt it? An emptiness, maybe, like a well without water. An empty, hollow hole in the earth that has lost its purpose.”
Francine ended capitulating to Matt’s sorrowful request, sad eyes looking out to her behind bouncy locks of hair, and agreed to take him home.
“I know it was stupid. Totally against common sense and reason. And yes, I do understand it sounds like the beginning of one of those cautionary tales you see on TV talk shows right before they say how they were terribly raped. But, like I said, he did not look good, weak with swollen eyes and pale skin, and his hands trembled. I was pretty sure I could take him out if any trouble started.
“‘Hey, actually, could you take me to a party?’ he asked me, changing his mind as we drove out of the parking lot. ‘There is a party going on over on Parris near Fourth. I don’t want to go home and have to explain why I didn’t drive. This way I can just say I met up with some friends and they picked me up from work and took me home after we went out.’ It being closer than driving him all the way home, I agreed. ‘Why don’t you come too?’ he asked. I said no, and he gave me that same pitiful look that he used earlier.
‘I am sorry, Matt, but even if I were interested, I have some errands that must be taken care of most expeditiously.’ He chuckled a little and turned to look out the window. He was mostly quiet the drive there, but I felt him watching me. He made me so uncomfortable. Creepy. A feeling, if one can imagine it, sort of similar to being in a dark room with ghouls gathered in the corners and crevices, staring at me with their invisible eyes.
“We drove up to the house, a little place with shutters painted a horrendous shade of yellow. Some people were gathered outside in the yard under a tree, and the front door was open where you could see a few more and hear them talk. Moody music drooled out, but I could not make out what band it was. Matt said to me ‘Come on in for a little while. Relax. It might help you, you know. You’ve been working hard, right. Take it easy before the show.’ I again declined. ‘Let me at least pay you before you go. I’ve got some X. Or pot. We can do a little and then you can take off afterwards.’ He started to fish around in his pockets.
“’No Matt’ I told him. ‘I don’t use drugs. Sorry. Not that I care if you do or not. I just prefer not to. And I don’t need to be paid. I did this as a favor. Nothing else.’ Looking dejected once again his head dropped so that he was staring at my legs. He leaned into me and put out his hand and touched my left thigh, and I felt a cold shiver stab through the fabric of my jeans, passing through my muscles and my flesh, and chilling me to the bone. ‘Matt, please remove your hand,’ I said. But he didn’t.
“‘Why are you with that old guy?’ he asked me. Sorry my love, his words. I do not see you as old at all.
“I even said as much to him. ‘Robin is not old,’ I said.
“But he went on in his quest to label you as a geriatric. ‘He is as old as my dad. He could be your dad! And he’s…’
“And then I slapped him. Pretty hard too as he pulled quickly back in shock hitting his back against the passenger door. ‘Do not insult my love or disrespect my father with your lewd comments,’ I told him. ‘I have a father and a lover, and I would thank you not equate the two based only on their common age. Further, my relationship to either of them is none of your concern, and I do not see where you have been provided any consent to comment on it.’” She laughed. “You know, he still did not get out. He was about to say something else, but I cut him off. I said ‘Leave Matt’. And he did, sulking out of the car like a wounded snail. I pulled away and came home. Oh, I also fixed a fiesta salad for dinner. And there is some stout in the refrigerator.”
“Do you have an extra smoke?” Matt asked me. I tossed him one, and he lit it up. As he sat there in his orange polo shirt sucking hungrily on the cigarette, I noticed that he had cut his long hair short to his head, shaved for the hot summer months perhaps. I could see why she took pity on him, strung out, worn and wasted as he was in a pathetic mockery. It was not the drugs, though. They were but a symptom of a disease that stirred deeper.
“Who was that who just left?” I asked.
“Julie. Julie Stills.”
“Are you ok Matt?” His eyes met mine. There was something there, and I could almost feel it wanting to come out. A desperate panic. Francine’s metaphor of the well may have been a tad off. To me he felt more like a damn. He gave me a strange look, dark and dangerous, then smiled. It was the same smile as his father, goofy and careless.
“Yeah. I’m good.”
“You look like shit.”
“Heh. Yeah. I haven’t been sleeping good.”
We didn’t talk for a time. I sat down beside him as he continued to smoke the cigarette. Eventually, he pointed to the pipe and asked if I would like some. I said no and he gave a coughing chuckle. I am not objectionable to the use of drugs, and had earlier in life spent some time in their company. But the desire to do continue to do so left me long ago. Except for drinking, of course. He asked how George was doing.
“He is doing well, thank you. I do not think he will not be here this summer, though, deciding to do summer school. He may make it up here for a week before the next semester, but chances are he will go and visit his mother as she is nearer to him, both being in Florida.”
“That’s a bummer. I was hoping to see him.” Matt finished smoking and grabbed his pipe and bag and stuffed them into his pocket. He got up and stretched. “Well, nice talking with you. And thanks for the smoke. I’ll see you around.”
“Nice to see you too. Goodbye Matt.”
I stayed for a few moments more. The boats that were out began to skim their way back to shore with the oncoming of night. Across the lake, the trees were arrayed in the wonderful green of their new spring foliage. Virginia Bluebells spread out in a purplish clusters along the small rivulet the storm drain produced. A cool, refreshing breeze blew by. Branches swayed and danced.
Working my way out of sylvan seclusion along the path I spied as I emerged Francine at the gazebo, her bright pink dress a beacon for my happiness. She gave me a cheery smile as I drew near, taking my hand and leading me to a bench where a scotch and soda she had brought me waited. She sat down after handing it to me.
“Do you have a cigarette, love?” she asked. I handed her one and sat beside her as she lit it. “What were you and Matt doing?”
“Oh really? About anything interesting?”
“No. Nothing much, honestly. I inquired as to how he was, and we talked about George. Sorry, dearest, nothing about you,” I teased.
“Pfft. I think the last thing I would like is for two men discussing me in some dense patch of woods. It would be much more romantic if it was at a café, outdoors and under the street lights and the stars. Or right before ten paces.”
“I don’t know. Isn’t there something Frankensteinian about it?”
“You lost me. How is it related in any way to Frankenstein?”
“Never mind. Where were you, by the way?”
“My love, you are a silly man. It is a party! I was mingling and eating. Eating and mingling,” she giggled. “And drinking. The food is quite good, and the Champaign they have is delicious. Someone put a sugar cube in mine. A large man with a striking smile. I think he may be from Texas. He said ‘Darling, you need one of these.’ And PLOP! put it right in! And he was right! Such a tasty combination. Have you ever had it?”
“No, I cannot say I have. I saw it in a movie once, I think. I cannot remember which one, however.”
“Oh, I don’t think I shall ever drink Champaign now without one. We must remember to pick up some sugar cubes.”
“You haven’t had anything to eat yet have you dearest?”
“No, I am afraid I have not.”
“Once I finish this, we will remedy that,” she said giving me a kiss on the cheek, the sweet smell of the Champaign floating in the air.
And so we did. Her arm linked in mine we rejoined the party on the front lawn. It was a magnificent affair. The band seemed to play better, but if this was of their own accomplishment, improving as the night wore on, or if it was from the drinks I had beginning to affect my opinion on such things, I could not say for sure, but I did not find them to be half bad. There was a beautiful rendition of Sweet Thing which they performed, and I found myself humming along with them. Truly, it was a lovely time, and I managed to see Jacob again, as well as Cora, but I did not see Matt at the party, or the girl Julie. Darla stayed mostly with her own group of friends. I think they all ended up using the pool for a short spell, but we did not really see her again that night. Boomer could be heard at times, and we were fortunate not to get too close to him. I also was blessed to have met the large gentleman that Francine had mentioned, Jonas Demarco. He had not a hair on his head, and invited us to join him and his wife, Maria, at their table. They were charming company, and we talked and laughed for hours, eating exquisite food served buffet style at a long table at the back of the tent. Around ten, though, and old and unfriendly condition I have decided to make an appearance.
Doctors have labeled it that I suffer from migraines. I am not sure if this is true, and none of the descriptions of those who suffer from that malady quite match mine. For example, I would not say that I am necessarily sensitive to light, it is just that everything becomes fuchsia colored and marshmallowy. The pain is severe though, but this being such a general term it is impossible for me to compare. It is a pounding and stabbing pain which assaults me, feeling like my head has been turned inside out to be the plaything of some child with an attention deficit disorder, striking it with plastic toy hammers and ice picks. The little bastard.
I would have just as soon left for home, but the sickness is worsened by motion, and I could not imagine getting into a car at that moment. It would have extended my suffering for days. Francine produced some medication the doctors had prescribed me, but though they rarely helped I swallowed them greedily. Jonas and Maria expressed their concern, but it was too much, and I am afraid I came off a little impatient and cross at the end. After going to ask Cora if it would be ok for me to lie down for a spell until the pain passed to a more tolerable level, Francine came back, appearing as a pink blurry angle nearly too bright to behold, and helped me into the house. I was permitted to go to a room in the basement where she sat me down in a reclining chair, put a cello concerto by Bach on her music player for me to listen to, turned off the lights, and, leaving, closed the door to the room.