They were boiling all morning, so I wasn’t surprised when she lost it. As usual it was about nothing. He’d forgotten the tickets and had to buy new ones. Big deal. It was only like twenty bucks.
But of course she acted like he’d committed some big crime, and after a couple of swipes back and forth they were red-faced and hissing scorn at each other, old insults and outrages flying. Par for the course, museum or not.
I got out before they started seriously yelling. I stood by the pond and watched the carp calmly swimming around, envying them.
The realtor fumbled with the enormous key ring. “Sorry about this. We haven’t had time to get a lockbox put on. It just came on the market.”
“So you said.” Squinting in the icy wind, her irritation was evident.
“Here we are.” The stiff lock clanked. The realtor held the door open. Dim blue light from the frosted windows made the enormous space look like a black and white photograph, the atmosphere still carrying a faint odor of stale sweat.
“The old man who owned it died five years ago,” the realtor said. “The daughter finally decided to sell it.”
She strode in and tossed her gloves onto the kitchen table. “That gardener is just impossible. I am surprised anyone uses him.”
I glanced at her over my paper. “What is it this time?”
“The roses. I specifically told him I wanted the hips saved when he cropped them for the season. I could not have been more clear. That moronic Mexican threw them out. Threw them out!”
“Did you tell him in English?”
“Of course not. He can barely speak Spanish. I think he drinks.”
“He’s a Mormon.”
“Let’s get out the dictionary and see what you told him.”
“You owe me a dollar.”
“What time is it?”
“Five to six. Pay up.”
He joined her at the window. The old man was out there working his snow shovel.
“I haven’t got any money.”
“I’ll add it to your tab,” she smiled.
He kissed her. “I love your teeth in this light. Whiter than the snow”
She hugged him. They stood watching the man. “He’s a hard worker. People now don’t work like that.”
“They use snow blowers. Make a goddamn racket.”
“I wonder what it’s like. To be that old.”
“We’ll know someday.”
“I hope we’ll know together.”
The hotel floor creaked with the weight of them as they barreled up to the bar. They spoke no Spanish, but instead a simplified English that would have been comical if it wasn’t so insulting.
“Hey, Peedro! What’s a fella got to do to get a fucking drink around here?” bellowed the fatter of the two.
Olivár made the snap decision to take the high road. He turned slowly and placed his hands on the tiled surface. “What would you like, sir?” he said in his perfect English.
“I’ll be dipped in dogshit!” said the other. “This wetback speaks American!”
Her favorite stories were full of wishes granted. A girl was lost in the forest and met a creature in distress. A dwarf or a fairy. The girl would do the creature a kindness because she had a good heart.
Because she expected nothing in return, the creature would reward her with wishes. She would be a princess, or her mother would be healed.
She walked through the clearcut, ran her finger across the stumps. She wished for wishes, but this ragged field was no forest. There were no creatures of any kind.
Besides, she would always expect wishes in return.
The bum sitting with my brother was filthy, his grizzled beard stained with food and tobacco. He fixed me with his blue eyes.
“Got us a visitor,” he said through his gash mouth. He had no teeth and sounded like the gaunt prospector from some western.
“Who’s this old fuck?” I asked BB. ” Jesus? Solomon?”
The man sat up His twisted left leg seemed to pain him when he moved. “Name’s Danny. I am holed up here for a spell. You brother’s a Samaritan. Been bringing me food and keeping me company.”
“Danny was friends with Pop,” said BB. “In the Navy.”
Woody says look at em. He points to the Guess-the-Weight game.
I says they’s just people.
No, says Woody. They’s suckers. Why they stand in line for that nonsense?
Well, I says. It’s something to do.
You’re saying they got so much free time they got to fill it with trash.
Don’t know, I says. They look happy to me.
Woody gets mad and he won’t give me no more cigarettes, so I walk off across the Midway.
Carsons moved Woody to the ring toss last week and he can’t work his old hustles no more. That’s why he’s mad.
O He, that Sis-Nancy, he all round everywhere. Got the best stories because he see everything.
You don’t see him, neither, sitting high up on the strings he build between the tree branches or the rafters of your hut.
Maybe catch him a fly. Maybe catch him a story, your own story.
You tell a story all the time, but you don’t know it.
Sis-Nancy, he see you telling it, catch him that story, wrap it up and keep it with all the others.
Maybe one day he bring it out, fit it in with the rest, but maybe not.
“Look, Daddy. I don’t want to fight. I was just hoping you’d come. Most of the parents are coming.”
“Probably want to see where their tuition money went.”
“You were the one who said I could go.”
“I said you could, not that you should. Art school? What job exactly does this prepare you for?”
“There are lots of successful artists, Dad.”
“Way more unsuccessful ones. You know what your degree qualifies you to do? To come back and live at home. Forever.”
“You’ve made your feelings clear, Father. Fine. Don’t come. I doubt you would understand my piece anyway.”