Categories
Uncategorized

We Both Know

Everett and Marlene, both seventy-four, both professors emeritus at the University of Vermont, both undeniably eccentric, have been married for fifty-one years. They are the parents of Michael, an ornithologist, Caroline, a botanist, and Thomas, a wildlife biologist specializing in foxes and other small to medium-sized carnivores.

Marlene, her light brown hair now silvery gray, began her studies of butterflies when she was seven by capturing three Tiger Swallowtails and trying to keep them alive in her bedroom for as long as she could. Everett, a former redhead now bald, began collecting beetles when he was eight, and by the time he was twelve had a dozen large terrariums housing hundreds of beetles, each one known to Everett by the first, middle, and last names he gave them, along with their Latin appellations, of course.

Coincidentally, Marlene’s parents and Everett’s parents were all artists. Everett’s father was a sculptor specializing in statues of famous Americans, his mother a potter. Marlene’s father was a painter of nudes, Marlene’s mother a modern dancer.

Michael and Caroline and Thomas agree that Everett and Marlene could only have married each other because no one else could possibly put up with either of them. They agree about this for many reasons, but most obviously because Marlene sings constantly, not loudly or melodically, but noticeably, except when she’s sleeping or talking. She sings while driving, walking, writing, watching movies, reading, listening to other people, and during meals. And Everett hums and whistles, sometimes both simultaneously, concurrently with Marlene’s singing.

As a consequence of their incessant soundings and their loud and unexpected non sequiturs which are only funny to them, along with their mutual tendency to lecture others by asking questions they themselves never answer, to name but a few of their many idiosyncrasies, neither Everett nor Marlene has ever had a close friend, other than each other. And also as a consequence of their annoying habits, their children reflexively sought to distance themselves from their parents and seek refuge in each other and a series of valiant nannies employed by Everett and Marlene to raise the kids while they continued their obsessive studies of butterflies and beetles.

Which is not to say their children don’t love them, but to say their children don’t care to spend much time with them.

So you may imagine Michael and Caroline’s distress when Everett and Marlene announce they are coming to California for the two weeks surrounding Thanksgiving to meet their first and only grandchild Jenna, daughter of Michael and his wife Daisy, and to stay with Michael and Daisy in their new house contiguous with Ziggurat Farm on the outskirts of the northern California coastal town of Mercy.

Caroline, who is living with Michael and Daisy and Jenna while on sabbatical from the University of New Hampshire, is so worried about the impending arrival of her parents, she suggests to Michael and Daisy that they forewarn the adults of the Ziggurat Farm collective about Marlene and Everett’s eccentricities before their arrival a week hence.

And because Caroline and Michael and Daisy and baby Jenna dine with the farm collective several times a week, the meeting takes place the next night after the farm kids have gone to bed. Also present at the meeting are Delilah, twenty-five, the main homeschool teacher at Ziggurat Farm, and Nathan and Celia, an elderly couple who share their home in Mercy with Delilah and are frequent visitors to the farm.

“The good news,” says Michael, who is forty-three and somewhat less distressed than Caroline about their folks coming to visit, “is that our younger brother Thom is arriving a few days after Mommer and Popper and has agreed to take them on a couple overnight jaunts away from here to give us some relief.”

“You call your parents Mommer and Popper?” asks Andrea, boss of the farm’s vegetable and flower garden as well as manager of Ziggurat Farm Productions, publisher of Philip’s two cookbooks and a related line of Philip’s Kitchen and Ziggurat Farm T-shirts and sweatshirts featuring Delilah’s beguiling drawings, and a just-released volume of Nathan’s poems with illustrations by Delilah entitled Exactly Is A Tricky Word.

“When I was two and trying to say Mama and Papa,” Caroline explains to Andrea, “out came Mommer and Popper, and the effect on our parents was miraculous. Not only did they both stop their perpetual singing and humming, they both smiled and laughed and gave me and Michael hugs and kisses, something they rarely did, so thereafter we never called them anything else because we loved it when they stopped singing and humming and hugged us. When Thom came along ten years after me, we taught him to call them Mommer and Popper so he might reap the benefits of those inexplicably effective words.”

“Remarkable,” says Philip, who loves listening to Caroline speak. “Shall we call them Mommer and Popper?”

“No,” says Michael, slowly shaking his head. “Daisy tried a few times and Mommer angrily lectured her for several minutes each time with a cascade of questions.”

“How do you mean?” asks Nathan, who finds all this both silly and fascinating. “Can you demonstrate?”

“I will,” says Daisy, who is forty-one and adores Nathan. “Marlene said, ‘Do you think it appropriate for you to call me the pet name given to me by my children? Do you make a habit of that sort of thing? Who suggested you call me by that name? What did you call your mother? What pet name did she have for you? Would you like it if I called you by the pet name given to you by your mother?’ Etcetera.”

“I see,” says Nathan, finding the situation less silly.

“The other good news,” says Caroline, who loves being three thousand miles away from her parents instead of only a hundred and eighty-six miles, which is the distance between the University of New Hampshire where she is a professor and the University of Vermont where her parents still live, “is they are not thinking of retiring here because they both want to move somewhere warm year-round. We are hopeful of Hawaii if not Malaysia.”

“Surely you exaggerate, Caroline,” says Marcel, Andrea’s French husband and the farm’s wine maker. “You and Michael are both so charming and easy to be with. Your parents must be charming, too.”

“We were raised by wolves,” says Michael, matter-of-factly.

“Imagine a small pretty woman with silvery gray hair sitting at this table with us,” says Daisy, relieved to see seven-month-old Jenna snoozing peacefully in Celia’s arms, Jenna extra fussy of late. “And imagine while the rest of us are trying to have a conversation, this woman is singing, not quite under her breath, an endless song with unintelligible but almost intelligible lyrics. Now imagine there is also at the table a bald man humming and occasionally whistling an entirely different tune than the singing woman, his tune obnoxiously repetitive, and sometimes he hums and whistles simultaneously.”

“I didn’t know it was possible to whistle and hum at the same time,” says Marcel, giving Delilah a questioning look.

Michael demonstrates, the sound a cicada-like drone.

Philip tries to imitate Michael, so do Delilah, Marcel, Andrea, Lisa, and Nathan—all of them bursting out laughing at the strange noises they make—the outburst waking the baby who starts to cry.

“Calmate, hija,” says Celia, gently rocking the baby back to sleep.

“You’ve got the touch,” says Daisy, smiling gratefully at Celia. “Thank God.”

“Can’t you ask them to stop their humming and singing?” asks Marcel, who finds the idea of college professors behaving this way rather farfetched.

“Oh you can ask them to stop,” says Caroline, nodding knowingly. “As you might ask the wind to stop blowing. But the wind will not stop because you ask it to, nor will our parents stop singing and humming.”

“I don’t think this is going to be a problem,” says Nathan, looking at Caroline. “I think they’ll stop singing and humming after they’ve been here a few days.”

“Why would you say that?” asks Michael with a touch of anger in his voice. “You don’t know anything about them.”

“That’s true, Michael. And I didn’t mean to imply that I do. But I know you and I know Caroline and… I just have a strong feeling they’ll be changed by being here.”

“I’ll try to imagine that,” says Michael, his anger subsiding. “I really will. And if it comes to pass, I will forevermore believe in magic and that you can see into the future.”

*

When Everett and Marlene arrive at Ziggurat Farm on a cold November afternoon, having missed Daisy and Michael’s driveway as most people do the first time they come to visit, they are greeted at their rental car by three friendly dogs and four children on the cusp of young adulthood: Irenia, thirteen, Arturo, twelve, Henri, eleven, and Vivienne, ten, the kids extremely curious to meet the humming and singing parents of Michael and Caroline.

Everett and Marlene are delighted to meet the kids, and do, indeed, hum and sing throughout the introductions and on their way to the farmhouse.

They continue to hum and sing while meeting Marcel and Andrea and Philip and Lisa, and they keep humming and singing as they shed their raincoats and stand by the fire warming themselves—their combined noises sounding not unlike bees swarming around a hive on a warm day.

“Excuse me,” says Henri, standing before Everett, “but why are you humming?”

“Like to hum,” says Everett, winking at Henri. “She likes to sing and I like to hum.”

“While other people are talking?” asks Henri, ignoring his mother’s urgent gestures and facial expressions asking him to desist from this line of questioning.

“No one usually hears us,” says Marlene, who has a strong Boston accent. “We’re usually alone or just with each other.”

“But we are here now,” Henri persists. “We can hear you and it makes us feel like you don’t want us to talk to you.”

“Oh but we do,” says Marlene, smiling at him. “Just ignore it.”

“I’ll try,” says Henri, shrugging. “But I don’t think it will be easy.”

*

When Michael arrives at the farmhouse a little while later he finds Everett and Marlene sitting on the living room sofa holding hands and listening to Irenia and Arturo and Henri and Vivienne singing a four-part harmony version of The Beatles’ ‘Blackbird’, Arturo accompanying the singing on guitar. ‘Blackbird’ is one of the songs the kids will be performing at the upcoming Ziggurat Farm School Holiday Follies.

When the children finish their enthusiastic performance, Everett and Marlene jump up applauding, Everett exclaiming, “Don’t change a note. Couldn’t be better.”

And Marlene turns to Michael and shouts, “No wonder you became an ornithologist.”

*

 Two mornings later, a light rain falling, Caroline and Marlene walk from Daisy and Michael’s house to the cottage where Andrea and Marcel and Henri live, a stone’s throw from the farmhouse, and where for this morning Lisa has commandeered the living room to give Marlene a massage.

“I’ll be at the farmhouse, Mommer,” says Caroline, handing her mother off to Lisa. “See you after.”

Marlene stops singing to say to Caroline, “See you after,” and immediately resumes her singing.

When Caroline departs, Lisa says, “Would you like me to leave the room while you undress?”

“Undress?” says Marlene, startled. “Oh I don’t think I want to do that.”

“I use body oil that will be very good for you,” says Lisa, noting the stoop in Marlene’s posture and her marked lean to her left. “If you’re not naked, I can’t use the oil. But if you’d rather keep your clothes on, I can massage you without oil, though the massage won’t be as effective.”

“You want me to take off all my clothes?” asks Marlene, who has never had a massage and never been naked in front of anyone except Everett, and even with him she only takes off her nighty when they’re under the covers.

“You’ll be under a sheet,” Lisa explains, gesturing to the massage table made up with blue flannel sheets. “I’ll leave the room while you disrobe and you call me when you’re ready. We’ll start with you face down. The face catcher is at the end of the table. I think I can alleviate some of the pain you spoke of at supper last night.”

Lisa leaves the room and Marlene considers changing her mind and not having a massage, at which moment the pain in her neck and shoulders and back that has persisted for decades expresses itself loudly, and in a little rage of frustration Marlene takes off her clothes, drapes them over the back of the sofa, gets under the sheet on the massage table, and situates herself so she is face-down in the cushioned face catcher.

“Okay,” she murmurs, speaking so quietly she doesn’t think Lisa could possibly hear her, yet Lisa returns.

Lifting the sheet off Marlene’s feet, Lisa says, “I’m going to start with your feet, Marlene. Are you ticklish?”

“Not that I know of,” says Marlene, tensing her entire body in anticipation of Lisa touching her. “I’ve never done this before. But it’s not my feet that hurt, it’s my neck and shoulders and back.”

“I understand,” says Lisa, taking Marlene’s left foot in her warm hands. “But everything is connected. As you will see.”

*

Two hours later, Marlene wakes from a dream of having had an amazing life-changing massage from Lisa, and for a moment she doesn’t know where she is and doesn’t realize she is lying on her back on Lisa’s massage table—the pain that has defined her life for as long as she can remember entirely gone.

“Lisa?” she says, having no idea how long she’s been asleep.

“I’m here,” says Lisa, getting up from the sofa and coming to the massage table. “Need a hand up?”

“Okay,” says Marlene, holding out her hand to Lisa. “I’m… the pain is gone. I can’t believe it.”

“Might come back,” says Lisa, helping her sit up, the sheet falling away and Marlene not caring if Lisa sees her naked. “I’ll massage you a few more times while you’re here. But now… how about a warm bath in the soaking tub with me?”

“Okay,” says Marlene, getting off the table and allowing Lisa to wrap a big towel around her and lead her to the big tub in the bathhouse adjoining the cottage.

*

When Lisa and Marlene enter the farmhouse for lunch, the morning session of homeschooling has just ended and the six students are eating lunch with Delilah at the dining table while Philip and Andrea and Marcel are in the kitchen preparing lunch for the grownups.

“I feel like a little girl,” whispers Marlene, taking Lisa’s hand. “A little girl who has never been anywhere or done anything.”

*

That night as they get ready for bed in the guest room in Michael and Daisy’s house, Everett hums and whistles as he changes out of his clothes into his pajamas.

Now something feels terribly wrong to him, so he stops humming and realizes he can’t hear Marlene singing. In a panic, he turns to where he last saw her, and there she is in her nightgown, standing at the partly open window listening to the rain.

“You okay, Mars?” he asks, wondering why she isn’t singing.

“I’m fine,” she says, her voice calmer than Everett has ever known it to be. “Just enjoying the sound of the rain.”

He joins her at the window in his T-shirt and underpants, and he doesn’t hum and she doesn’t sing, and they listen to the rain together for several minutes, the sound intoxicating.

“We both know you started humming to drown out my singing,” she says, speaking the truth that has gone unsaid for fifty-two years. “I wish I’d stopped singing long ago, but I couldn’t. Or wouldn’t. But now I want to stop and I’d like you to help me by calling my attention to it whenever I start.” She takes his hand. “Will you Ev?”

“Are you sure you didn’t start singing to drown out my humming and whistling?” he says, wanting to share some of the blame.

“I’m sure,” she says, bringing his hand to her lips and kissing his fingertips. “You never hummed until we got together, and I’ve been singing like I do, which isn’t really singing but sing-song talking, since I was a little girl. But now I’m going to stop and I hope you’ll stop with me, and we’ll see what happens.”

“Is this because of the massage?” he asks, struggling to contain his tremendous urge to start humming.

“The massage was the key that opened the box with the treasure map inside,” she says, sitting on the edge of the bed.

“The treasure map?” he says, sitting beside her. “What do you mean?”

“The treasure map to the buried treasure that was me as a frightened girl who didn’t want to hear the horrible things her parents were saying to each other and to her brother and sister, and to her. She wanted to mute those words, but then her singing became her habit and also the way she stayed separate from everyone else, which was the only way she could feel even a little bit safe, and I have no doubt I would have ended up in the loony bin if you hadn’t seen through my singing and fallen in love with me so I could fall in love with you.”

*

The next morning, rain intermittent, Thomas Darling, Everett and Marlene’s youngest son, arrives at Ziggurat Farm, having missed the driveway to Michael and Daisy’s house as everyone does the first time they come to visit.

Thirty-one, handsome and broad-shouldered with unruly red hair, Thomas knocks on the farmhouse door and hears four dogs barking in tones he recognizes as friendly.

The door opens and here is Arturo, thirteen, a fast-growing cutie pie with longish brown hair and olive skin wearing a red Ziggurat Farm sweatshirt and black jeans and neon blue running shoes.

“Ah,” says Arturo, offering Thomas his hand. “You must be Thom. I’m Arturo. Please come in. We’re just finishing up the morning lesson and then one of us will escort you to Michael and Daisy’s. The entrance to their driveway is invisible to the uninitiated.”

Thomas enters the large high-ceilinged room that is living room, dining room, and kitchen all in one, only the long counter that separates kitchen from dining room a permanent divider of the spaciousness. A young woman with short brown hair and four kids ranging in age from ten to fourteen are seated in a big circle around a small dais upon which a twelve-year-old boy holding an accordion and wearing a headdress made of a dozen large feathers is posing for the others to sketch him.

“The greatly-anticipated Thom has arrived,” announces Arturo, returning to his seat in the circle.

“Welcome Thom,” says Henri, the artists’ model. “Or do you prefer Thomas?”

“Thom is fine,” says Thomas, delighted by what he’s stumbled into.

“Welcome Thom,” say the other kids as they continue sketching Henri.

Now the young woman stands up and Thomas’s jaw drops—his previous notions about everything blown to smithereens.

“Hello Thom,” she says, coming to greet him. “I’m Delilah. Do you mind hanging out with us until we finish the morning session? Then someone will guide you where you want to go.”

“Don’t mind at all,” he says, shaking her hand. “Might I join your class? I love to draw.”

“Please,” she says, very much enjoying the union of their hands, as is he.

fin

Forgotten Impulses

Categories
Uncategorized

Gig’s Baby

Todd's Elk Breakfast

Lucinda, a breakfast waitress at the Backwoods Cafe in Yakima Washington, a roly-poly brunette in her forties, her hair in a bun, her nametag pinned to her black vest, saunters over to the window table where Gig Antonelli is having a muffin and coffee, refills his coffee cup, gives him a sparkly smile, and says in a friendly way, “Would you mind telling me how old you are?”

“I’m fifty,” says Gig, smiling sleepily at Lucinda because he is sleepy, having spent the night dozing fitfully in the driver’s seat of his faded bronze 2000 Camry parked on the side of a dirt road thirty miles north of Yakima. “May I ask why you want to know my age?”

Gig’s nose is slightly aquiline, his eyes are greenish brown, his voice is pleasantly gruff, and he always sounds a little stoned, though he hasn’t had a puff of pot in three years. For most of his life he was a beefy stoner with lots of extra beef and long hair, and now he is trim and muscular, his graying brown hair cut short for the first time since he was on the high school football team in Mountain Home Idaho.

Lucinda gives Gig a wrinkled-nose smile and says, “Sara and I… Sara’s the other waitress here… we had a little bet. She said you were one of those guys in his sixties who takes really good care of himself, and I bet you were fifty-three.” She shrugs. “Sorry.”

“No need to be sorry,” says Gig, sipping his coffee. “How much did you win?”

“A dollar,” says Lucinda, deciding to flirt with Gig. “You in town for long?”

“No, I’m on my way to Idaho,” says Gig, and just saying Idaho brings him close to tears.

Gig rarely picks up male hitchhikers, but he always gives female hitchhikers rides because he worries about them being picked up by dangerous men. However, on this rainy day in March, he really wants to talk to somebody, needs to talk to somebody, so he stops for the scruffy blond guy with a wispy goatee standing at the south end of Yakima with a cardboard sign saying Boise.

“Thank you so much,” says the guy, getting in the car and holding his bulky black knapsack on his lap, his orange jacket badly frayed, his blue jeans about to tear at the knees. “Stood there all day yesterday and slept in a ditch last night.” He shrugs philosophically. “Not a bad ditch, but not one of your better ditches, and then just as I was falling asleep a couple coyotes came sniffing around so I hardly slept thinking they might come back with their pals and have a feast, not that there’s much on these bones to eat.”

“I’m Gig,” says Gig, offering the fellow his hand. “What’s your name?”

“Biz,” says the fellow, allowing Gig to grip his hand, but offering no resistance, no matching grip.

Gig releases Biz’s hand feeling mildly disappointed—the quality of a handshake important to him.

“You spell that B-I-Z?” asks Gig, looking at Biz’s knapsack. “You can throw that in the backseat if you want to. Long way to Boise.”

“Didn’t see much room back there,” says Biz, glancing back at the sum total of Gig’s earthly possessions, not counting the five guitars in the trunk.

“Oh it can ride on top of that stuff,” says Gig, waiting for Biz to get the knapsack situated before pulling back onto the highway. “Nothing breakable.”

“Thanks,” says Biz, settling into his seat and sighing with relief to be moving again. “So yeah, I spell it B-I-Z. Just one Z.”

“Short for business?” asks Gig, smiling curiously at Biz. “Which business would that be?”

“Show business,” says Biz, looking out the window at the passing scenery. “I was a regular on two TV shows and I was in nine movies. Long time ago.”

“Couldn’t have been that long,” says Gig, not believing him. “You’re what… twenty-eight? Twenty-nine?”

“Guess again,” says Biz, closing his eyes. “Man, this is a comfortable car.”

“Thirty?” says Gig, thinking Biz might be as young as twenty-seven and as old as thirty-five.

“I wish,” says Biz, keeping his eyes closed. “Try forty-seven.”

“No,” says Gig, making a disparaging face.

Biz opens his eyes and looks at Gig. “I played high school kids until I was thirty-five, and when I couldn’t play high school kids anymore, nobody wanted me.” He closes his eyes again. “Cut to twelve years later. Biz, a former actor now a homeless recovering crack addict, waits two days at the south end of Yakima freezing his ass off until a guy named Gig mercifully gives him a ride.”

“I’m homeless, too,” says Gig, deciding to believe everything Biz tells him from now on. “Though I do have a mother with a nice house who says I can come live with her.” He nods to confirm this. “So now the only question is, can I get over my shame about being such a humongous failure and go back home with nothing.”

“I know of what you speak,” says Biz, nodding. “I have a sister in Ogden. That’s where I’m going. Hoping she’ll let me stay with her for a while.”

“In the meantime,” says Gig, rolling down his window and breathing deeply of the rain-washed air, “here we are.”

“Yeah,” whispers Biz. “Okay with you if I sleep for a while?”

“Sure,” says Gig, yawning. “I’m pretty tired, too, so don’t be surprised if I pull off the road for a snooze.”

“No worries,” murmurs Biz. “I trust you.”

They stop for gas in Kennewick and Gig treats Biz to a couple hot dogs from the little grocery attached to the gas station; and because Biz hasn’t eaten anything in two days, the hot dogs and buns are gone before Gig can pay.

“You were hungry,” says Gig, unwrapping his granola bar when they get back to the car. “Guy in there told me about a good organic grocery store just up the road here. We’ll get foodstuffs for the rest of the day.”

“I don’t have any money,” says Biz, smiling painfully. “So you just get what you need for you.”

“No, no,” says Gig, shaking his head. “We’ll get food for both of us. I got enough for that.”

“Thank you,” says Biz, bowing his head. “Thank you so much.”

Speeding along the interstate, a bulging bag of groceries onboard, Biz says, “So where you coming from Gig?”

“Tacoma,” says Gig, eager to talk, but not wanting to seem too eager. “My wife and I moved there from Idaho five years ago, moved into a beautiful house on Puget Sound, right on the water. I owned a big music store. Power House Music.” He glances at Biz. “You mind if I tell kind of a long story?”

“No, I don’t mind,” says Biz, gobbling fig bars. “Happy to listen.”

“I appreciate that,” says Gig, on the verge of tears. “So before I met my wife seven years ago, I had a three-bedroom house and a guitar shop in Mountain Home, and I owned a duplex I rented out, too. That’s where I grew up. Mountain Home. About an hour from Boise. You know it?”

“No,” says Biz, shaking his head, “but I’ll bet it’s beautiful with all those mountains. I assume there’s mountains if they call it Mountain Home.”

“Yeah, it’s beautiful, if you like small towns, which I do. Mountains all around. Some people say it’s too windy there, but I don’t mind the wind, so… I had a good life there. Lots of friends, my sister and her family and my mom nearby. My dad died when I was thirteen.” He clears his throat. “Anyway… I liked buying and selling guitars and giving lessons, but I was missing something. You know what I mean? I thought it was a woman, only I couldn’t find anybody who fit me. I went out with some nice gals, but they didn’t get me. You know what I mean?”

“I do,” says Biz, nodding. “Somebody who understands how you see things, and likes how you see things, and you understand them and like how they see things.”

“Yeah, exactly,” says Gig, near tears again. “So there I was, forty-three and thinking I’d never find anybody, and one day I’m picking out a watermelon at the farmers market, and this gorgeous Mexican gal wants to buy one, too, and she smiles at me and I nearly faint because nobody that beautiful has ever smiled at me like that, and she says, ‘You know how to pick a good one?’ And I say, ‘Yeah. You thump’em. And if they sound like a bass drum they’re probably pretty good.’ So she asks me to pick one out for her and I carry it to her car and get her number, and four months later we were married.”

“What was her name?” asks Biz, thinking of his first wife Alicia who was half-Mexican and half-Swiss.

“Celia,” says Gig, taking a deep breath. “Celia Luisa Alvarez. Most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen. Hard to believe she would ever marry somebody like me. But she did.”

“Did she get you?” asks Biz, guessing she probably didn’t.

“Not even a little bit,” says Gig, laughing and shaking his head. “But I didn’t care because she was so beautiful and she let me love her, and we were madly in love. Or I was anyway.”

“Strong drug,” says Biz, speaking from experience. “Sex with a beautiful woman.” He forces a smile. “So were you happy?”

“For those four months before we got married I was happier than I’ve ever been,” says Gig, nodding. “Non-stop love. But then just a couple weeks after the wedding she got real moody and said she’d made a mistake and shouldn’t have married me, and I was just crushed. I mean… I loved her so much, and I thought she loved me, but she kept saying I wasn’t who she thought I was.”

“Who did she think you were?” asks Biz, frowning at Gig. “And who did you turn out to be?”

“She said she thought I was rich.” Gig frowns gravely. “But she knew what I had. We went over it a hundred times before we got married. I owned the guitar shop and the building it was in, and that was worth about three hundred thousand, though I sold the business and the building to Beckman for one-seventy-five. Beckman was a guy who worked for me. And I rented the other store in the building for eight hundred a month. I made about five hundred bucks a week selling guitars. My house was worth about three hundred thou, my duplex about two-fifty. Had about ten thousand in the bank. But Celia said she thought I was so rich she could quit her job. She was a cocktail waitress. Made huge tips. She was movie star stuff, if you know what I mean.”

“I do,” says Biz, wistfully. “Married two of that species myself.”

“They really are another species, aren’t they?” says Gig, thinking of Celia and how every time they made love he could hardly believe she was letting him inside her. “And I told her, ‘Well, you don’t have to work, honey, not if you don’t want to. We won’t live in luxury, but you don’t have to work,’ and we were planning to have kids anyway, so…”

“How old was she?” asks Biz, guessing twenty-something.

“Thirty-six. Seven years younger than me. But she looked about twenty-five.” Gig sighs. “And then she tells me she doesn’t want kids, which was totally bonkers because before we got married that’s all she talked about, how desperate she was to have kids, and I said I wanted them, too. Which was true.”

“No offense,” says Biz, scrunching up his cheeks, “but she sounds a little psycho.”

“Oh she was more than a little psycho,” says Gig, giving Biz a frightened look. “Turned out to be mega-psycho.”

“So you sold everything you owned,” says Biz, guessing the general plot of Gig’s story, “and you moved to Tacoma and gave her everything she said she wanted. But it wasn’t enough.”

“Seemed to be at first,” says Gig, wishing he could pinpoint the exact moment when everything fell apart, though he knows there was no exact moment, only a vast chasm between them from the beginning, a chasm bridged by his enormous desire to love her and be loved by her. “We had kind of a second honeymoon for a few months after we got there, and then…”

Biz looks out the window at a dense forest blurred by the speed of the car, and he thinks of his second wife Leslie, and how she tried to save their unsaveable marriage by booking the same honeymoon suite in the Las Vegas hotel where they honeymooned after their wedding and conceived their first child, and how he got tired of waiting for her to get dressed for dinner—she kept changing her outfit—so he snorted a few lines of coke and went down to the casino and had a few drinks and succumbed to a young woman who recognized him from Meet Ya After School, the sit-com in which Biz played Riley Caruthers, a likable idiot; and when he got back to the honeymoon suite the next morning, his wife was long gone.

“…she said the real problem was I was fat,” says Gig, going on with his story. “She said the problem had never been about money or where we lived, but about her not being attracted to me physically because I was fat and she’d been afraid to say anything about it.”

“But you’re not fat,” says Biz, looking at Gig. “You’re in great shape.”

“Yeah, but I was fat,” says Gig, nodding. “So I gave up sweets and fatty foods and started working out every day, and voila… I became the Adonis you see before you. But then she said the problem was that I smoked dope. So I stopped smoking dope. And then it was beer. So I stopped drinking beer.”

“When did it finally dawn on you that it didn’t matter what you did?” asks Biz, remembering his favorite rehab counselor, an ex-con who would proclaim Catch-22 whenever Biz elucidated one of his many dilemmas from which there was no escape because every escape route brought him back to the cause of the dilemma. “When did you realize she was the problem, and not you?”

“Nine months ago,” says Gig, recalling that critical moment as if watching a crystal-clear movie. “We go out to dinner and I try to pay with a credit card and the waitress comes back with the bill and the card and says, ‘Sorry but your card was rejected.’ So I give her another card, and that one’s no good either. So I give her a third card, and that’s kaput, too. Luckily, I have enough cash to pay the bill, and on the way home, Celia says, ‘You need to get us another card or get us more credit. It’s embarrassing when the cards get rejected.’ And I say, ‘Honey, these cards have twenty-five thousand dollar limits. Are you telling me you knew they were full? We don’t have seventy-five thousand dollars in play money. What’s going on?’ And she says, ‘I don’t want to talk about it right now. I’m too upset. I hate it when you yell at me.’ And I say, ‘But we have to talk about it right now. We’re in a very delicate financial position. The business is finally starting to make some real money and I can’t default on my loans or…’ and she shouts, ‘I don’t care about your fucking business. I want a divorce.’ And when we get home she jumps in her car and goes to her sister’s house and when I get home from work the next day the house is empty. She came with movers and took everything. And then I find out she got three more credit cards in my name without telling me and maxed them out getting cash, and she’s been getting cash from our cards ever since we moved to Tacoma. And then I find out she bought a fuckin’ condo with her sister. And before I can stop the bleeding I default on the big loan carrying my business and I lose everything. Everything!”

“You should pull over,” says Biz, speaking quietly. “You’re pretty upset, Gig. Pull over for a little while until you calm down.”

When they get to Pendleton Oregon mid-afternoon, Gig says to Biz, “I can’t drive any more today. I need to sleep. I’m gonna get a motel room. If you want to share it with me, I’ll get a room with two beds. But if you’re not comfortable with that, you’re welcome to sleep in the car and I’ll take you to Boise tomorrow.”

“A motel room sounds great,” says Biz, looking out at the rain. “Be nice to take a shower and get some sleep. Sounds great.”

“If I had a cell phone I could find the cheapest place,” says Gig, pulling into a gas station. “But in lieu of that, I’ll ask a human being.”

They are directed to a Motel 6 where Gig pays cash for a room with two single beds, and while Biz takes a shower, Gig sits cross-legged on the bed furthest from the bathroom, his back against the headboard, and calls the front desk.

“Hi, this is Gig Antonelli in Room 26. I don’t have a cell phone and I want to call Mountain Home Idaho. That’s not a local call, and since I didn’t put this room on a card I can’t make that call from this phone, so what do I have to do to make a long distance call from here?”

“You can come to the office and use my phone,” says the desk clerk. “Five bucks?”

“Okay,” says Gig, embarrassed not to have his own phone. “What’s your name?”

“Greg,” says the man. “Anything else?”

“No, that’s it,” says Gig, clearing his throat. “I might see you down there.”

Gig hangs up and closes his eyes, and he is so weary he falls asleep sitting up and doesn’t wake when Biz comes out of the shower and gets into the other bed and falls asleep the moment his head hits the pillow.

After an hour of sleeping sitting up, Gig wakes with a crick in his neck, takes off his clothes, and crawls under the covers.

He dreams he still owns Gig Music, the guitar shop he used to own in Mountain Home. He is standing behind the counter of the cluttered shop, unable to get the cash register open. His sole employee, Beckman, a very tall slender man, is sitting on one of the two ratty sofas playing The Beatles’ song ‘Blackbird’ on a small Martin guitar while Gig’s mother Sophia, wearing her red party dress and her faux diamond necklace, her long gray hair in a braid, sings the words. Her voice, usually high and quavering, sounds exactly like Paul McCartney.

Gig comes out from behind the counter and sings harmony with his mother, and as they sing together, his mother becomes a young African American woman and the song turns into ‘Moon River’ and Gig takes the young woman in his arms and they dance to the old love song until they begin to sink into the floor that turns into a deep pool of water and Gig begins to drown and wakes with a shout, gasping for breath.

At midnight, Biz and Gig dine on avocadoes and goat cheese and olives and seed bread and green protein drinks.

“So where were you coming from when I picked you up?” asks Gig, enjoying Biz’s company and appreciating his candor.

“Seattle,” says Biz, relieved to be gone from that crazy city. “Lived there for nine months. I was staying with a guy I went through rehab with, but I couldn’t find a job and he needed a roommate who could help with the rent so… here I am.”

“Where were you before Seattle?” asks Gig, never having given much thought to how homeless people survive until he became homeless a few months ago.

“Portland for a year,” says Biz, loving the food. “Worked in a pizza parlor. Slept in a little trailer behind the place. Me and two other guys. Juan from El Salvador and Diego from Mexico. They were both sending money home to their wives and parents, but I couldn’t save a dime. I like to go to movies and out for coffee and pastries and Mexican food and Chinese food and… Portland is food heaven if you’ve got money. But Juan and Diego made do with crappy pizza and never went anywhere, except Diego went to a massage parlor for sex every couple weeks.”

“And before Portland?” asks Gig, wondering what Biz does for sex, wondering if he’s ambidextrous, as Gig’s mother likes to call bisexuals.

“Santa Fe,” says Biz, sighing. “Lived with a woman I met in rehab. Diana.” He nods, remembering. “For two years. She lived in a little cottage behind her daughter’s mansion. Her daughter was a socialite married to a hedge fund guy.” Biz grins. “Diana’s in her sixties, but man, talk about a sexual dynamo. Fucked me silly.”

“Why’d you leave?” asks Gig, never having had sex with a woman older than he.

“What’s that expression?” says Biz, yawning. “Smothered with love?” He nods. “That’s how I felt with Diana. Couldn’t hardly breathe after a while.”

“Did you have a job?” asks Gig, thinking about looking for work in Mountain Home if he can get up the nerve to go back.

“Kind of,” says Biz, smiling wistfully. “I was writing screenplays. Hoping for a big break.” He raises his green protein drink. “Here’s to the gods of Hollywood. You never know what might happen.”

After their midnight feast, Biz falls asleep again, but Gig is wide awake, so he goes for a long walk, the night cold and clear.

When he gets back to the motel, he sees the motel office brightly-lit, a woman standing behind the counter, so he goes into the office, identifies himself, and says he wants to make a phone call in the morning and wonders if he can make an arrangement with her similar to the one he had with Paul.

“I’m here until eight and I have unlimited calling on my phone,” says the woman. She has a small nose and gray blue eyes and short blonde hair. She’s wearing a blue down jacket over a black Portland Trailblazers T-shirt, and Gig guesses she’s thirty-seven and descended from Scandinavians. “But you don’t have to pay me anything. And then Justin comes on after me and I’m sure he’ll let you use his phone for free.” She shakes her head. “That Greg. Never misses a chance to make a little extra. Can’t blame him, but… yeah, you get here before eight, no problem.”

“May I know your name?” asks Gig, liking her.

“Florence,” she says, reddening at the intimacy of telling him her name. “But everybody calls me Flo.” She arches an eyebrow. “What’s Gig short for?”

“Not really short for anything,” says Gig, remembering when he was next in line to cross the stage of the Mountain Home High School multi-purpose room to receive his diploma, and how when Mr. Frederickson leaned close to the microphone and said Lawrence Antonelli, Gig didn’t recognize his given name and just stood there waiting to hear Gig until Glenna Barnes shoved him from behind and hissed, ‘That’s you, Gig. Go!’

“Where you traveling to?” asks Flo, something in her voice suggesting to Gig that she would rather not be having this conversation.

“Mountain Home,” says Gig, stepping back from the counter. “I appreciate the future use of your phone. I’ll try to get down here before eight.”

“You want some tea?” she asks, nodding hopefully. “I was just about to make some black tea for me, but I could make you some chamomile. Help you sleep.”

“That’s very kind of you,” says Gig, smiling at the inaccuracy of his intuition. “I would love a cup of chamomile tea.”

So Flo makes their tea and Gig sits on a not-very-comfortable armchair, and Flo rolls her office chair out from behind the counter and sits a few feet away from him.

“The hardest thing about this job,” says Flo, glad to have someone to talk to, “is I’m so not a night person. As soon as Justin or Greg quits, I’ll get an earlier shift and get my life back.”

“How long have you been working graveyard?” asks Gig, noting her wedding ring.

“Almost two years,” she says, nodding wearily. “I keep thinking I’m gonna get used to it, but I never do. I get home at eight-fifteen and go to bed and sleep for a few hours. If I’m lucky. Then I get up around noon, my kids come home from school at three-thirty, we have dinner at six, I do the dishes and watch television and go to bed about eight, get up three hours later, leave the house at eleven-forty, and I’m here from midnight to eight. My days off I just drag around and try to catch up on shopping and housework and… I can’t wait for somebody to quit or get fired, but Justin’s not going anywhere and Greg keeps saying he’s moving to Portland, but he never does, so I don’t know.” She shrugs. “It’s a job. Better than no job, that’s for sure.”

“What does your husband do?” asks Gig, starting to feel the relaxing effects of the chamomile. “Assuming that’s a wedding ring on the official finger.”

“He works in a hardware store,” says Flo, her voice full of sadness. “We’ve been separated for two years. He says he wants to get back together, but I don’t. He’s a horrible pessimist. The world is out to get him. Everybody’s a crook except him. Everybody’s out to get him. I can’t live like that.”

“How old are your kids?” asks Gig, feeling a kinship with her.

“Fourteen and twelve,” she says, smiling at the thought of her children. “Boy and a girl. Aaron and Sheila.”

“Fourteen and twelve,” says Gig, feeling something shift inside him, something being released, a recalcitrant knot unfurling. “That can’t be easy. Puberty times two.”

She laughs. “They’re good kids. Thank goodness they’re smart and healthy and… but, yeah, it’s one thing after another at that age. Never a dull moment. That’s why I wish I could get on a day shift and be there for them more.”

“I believe in you, Flo,” says Gig, looking into her eyes. “And I thank you for this tea and your company. I’ll be back around seven-thirty.”

“Okay,” she says, getting up with him. “Thanks for helping me pass the time.”

“My pleasure,” he says, handing her his mug.

“Mine, too,” she says, blushing. “You’re a good person, Gig.”

Biz is sleeping soundly when Gig gets back to their room and undresses and crawls into bed.

And though Gig fears he won’t be able to sleep, he drifts into a dream of playing frisbee with Beckman in an orchard of newly planted apple trees, their exuberant game a celebration of the planting. Beckman throws the frisbee way over Gig’s head, and as Gig turns to chase the whirling disk, he realizes the frisbee is destined to slow as it meets the oncoming breeze and return to exactly where Gig is standing. With this in mind, he relaxes and waits for the disk to come to him, and as he waits, he hears his mother calling from afar, “Gee-ig. Gee-ig. Time for supper.”

At seven-thirty that morning, Gig goes to the office and Flo lends him her phone. He steps outside the office, the day dawning sunny, and after hesitating for a moment, he enters his mother’s phone number and listens to the dial tone until Sophia answers in her usual way. “Antonelli’s. Who’s calling, please?”

“It’s your erstwhile son,” says Gig, his eyes filling with tears. “Wondering if…” He can’t continue, his urge to cry too strong.

“I had a dream about you last night,” says Sophia, knowing Gig is crying. “When will you be here?”

“Mid-afternoon,” says Gig, struggling to speak. “You… you sure it’s still okay?”

“Don’t be silly, Gig,” she says, trying not to cry, too. “I’m making chicken and potatoes and salad.”

“Might bring a friend,” says Gig, thinking of Biz. “Nice guy I met. Maybe not, but…”

“That’s fine, honey. Drive safely. See you when you get here.”

Gig tries to say I love you, Mom, but he can’t stop sobbing.

He takes Biz out to breakfast at the Main Street Diner and Biz has a mushroom omelet, a stack of buttermilk pancakes, and a fruit smoothie. Gig has two eggs over easy with sausage and hash browns, and gives his toast to Biz.

“So this guy Beckman was in both your dreams,” says Biz, sipping his coffee and feeling pretty damn good. “Must be an important person in your life.”

“Yeah, he was,” says Gig, nodding. “We worked together six days a week for sixteen years, and we liked each other. He was quiet and friendly and a great guitar player. I can’t remember him ever missing a day of work. I used to get sick three or four times a year, but he never did. And you know what I just realized? Along with my mother and my sister, he was the only constant person in my life. The only constant man for sure.”

“And you’ll be seeing him soon,” says Biz, never having had a constant man in his life.

“I guess I will,” says Gig, imagining going into Gig Music again for the first time in five years. “Unless he’s not there anymore. We didn’t stay in touch so… we’ll see.”

“I think your first dream was about the past,” says Biz, nodding to the waitress as she comes to refill his coffee cup. “And I think your second dream was a prophecy of the future. A new beginning that’s coming to you.”

They reach the northern outskirts of Boise in the early afternoon, and Gig says, “So Biz, would you like to meet my mom? Hang out in Mountain Home for a few days? I asked her if that would be okay and she said it was fine with her.”

Biz forces a smile. “That’s really kind of you to offer, Gig, but my sister is expecting me, and with good luck I’ll get to Ogden tonight, and with bad luck I’ll get there tomorrow or the next day. I appreciate everything you did for me.”

“I’d like to stay in touch,” says Gig, nodding hopefully. “If you want to.”

“Yeah, I do,” says Biz, with little force. “I’ll see how things go in Ogden and then… I’ll give you a call. Your mother in the phone book?”

“Only Antonelli in town,” says Gig, feeling pretty sure he’ll never hear from Biz again. “Well, listen, now that I know I’ve got a place to live and I don’t have to worry so much about running out of money, how about I give you a little something? Get you to Ogden without starving to death.”

“That would be wonderful,” says Biz, sighing with relief. “You may not know it, Gig, but you’re some kind of angel.”

Gig drives by Gig Music on his way to his mother’s house and is startled to see the old Gig Music sign, big blocky black capital letters on a dirty white background, replaced by a much classier Gig Music sign, burgundy cursive, all lower case letters on a peach background, the new sign half the size of the old, yet much more eye-catching and intriguing.

Indeed, Gig finds the new sign so eye-catching and intriguing, he can’t resist parking in front of the shop, getting one of his guitars out of the trunk to sell for some quick cash, and hurrying to see what other changes have been made.

The front door is new, the funky glass door now solid wood painted the same burgundy as the cursive letters in the sign. And before Gig can reach out to turn the doorknob, the door opens inward automatically, a most convenient innovation for people who might be carrying guitars.

But these exterior changes are nothing compared to what awaits within. The old dark wood floor, treacherously warped, has been replaced by sunny bamboo flooring, the darkness of the high-ceilinged room no longer dispelled by fluorescent lights, but by seven large skylights and tasteful track lighting.

And the wall between Gig Music and what used to be Sylvia’s Hair Salon is now gone, the guitar shop merging seamlessly with an elegant art gallery with large paintings and photographs, landscapes and portraits, adorning the walls.

“Wow,” says Gig, awestruck. “Incredible.”

The two dilapidated sofas have been replaced by three handsome armless chairs with cushioned seats, and the wall where Gig used to display banjos and mandolins and fiddles is now a wall of guitars, each guitar spot-lit, suggesting These are works of art, too. And the big ever-cluttered counter has been replaced by a beautiful oak worktable, the cash register out of sight.

“May I help you?” asks someone calling from the art gallery; and Gig turns to behold an attractive woman wearing delicate red-framed glasses and blue jeans and sandals and a scarlet dress shirt, her long brown hair in a ponytail.

“Hello,” says Gig, waving to her. “Does Beckman still own this place?”

“Yes, he does,” she says, crossing the room to him, her accent thickly Spanish. “I recognize you. You are Gig. I’ve seen pictures of you with Julian.”

“Julian?” says Gig, half-smiling and half-frowning. “Oh, yeah. Julian. Sure. Beckman. Who are you?”

“I’m Portia,” she says, studying his face. “Julian’s wife.” She laughs. “Beckman’s wife. We invited you to our wedding three years ago, but we never heard from you, so then we sent you pictures of the wedding and our honeymoon in Spain. You didn’t get them?”

“No,” says Gig, knowing with absolute certainty that of all the things he might have forgotten in the last five years, he never would have forgotten an invitation to Beckman’s wedding and photos of the ceremony he missed. “I would have had to be in a hospital on life support not to come to Beckman’s wedding if I’d known about it.”

“You didn’t get the letters Julian wrote to you?”

“No,” says Gig, grimacing. “I don’t know why, but I didn’t.”

“I’m so sorry,” says Portia, placing a hand on her heart. “But you are here now, so we can celebrate. I’ll go get Julian. He’s just finishing up a lesson. Please, have a seat.”

So Gig sits down on one of the comfortable armless chairs and gazes around the big room at the many guitars, and he is filled with joy by the splendid transformation of this place he gave birth to.

        fin