It took Max about a week and a half to get to Piermont, New York, because he allowed himself the luxury of taking minor roads and even of making wrong turns. He didn’t know where he’d been, which cities in which states, which borders he’d crossed, which rivers, which mountain ranges, or even what the weather had been like through any large portion of it. Except for the corn field. He did recall being on a small and empty road that had sliced right through the seven-foot stalks of an endless corn field; and he recalled taking slow note because the scenery, generally nothing more than a blur of changing shapes and colors, had turned into into a very consistent golden blur, almost a tunnel of gold.
So, periodically jerked into focus from these trance-like driving states, he’d get his bearings if he could find the main road; and then he would drift back into the other world, the randomly blurry one, the one that usually caused traffic accidents. Except in his case, he never actually fell asleep at the wheel. He never even ran a red light. Once in Piermont, an old mill and factory town and now a cleaner place with a bigger chamber of commerce, he felt as though he had slept for a hundred years and that his hair ought to be long and straggly by now, his breath bad and his fingernails grown out and curled. His mother remarked only that he looked mystifyingly refreshed. “I don’t know,” she said. “When I drive for a long while, I never arrive looking as though the whole thing has relaxed and invigorated me. I usually look wiped out; but you look like you just woke up, so….”
“It feels like I did just wake up” he told her. “I’ve been in a driving trance for what seems like months.”
“You said you left on the 14th,” she said in the flat, almost dead-pan tone what was uniquely and endearingly hers. “That would make it eleven days”
“Is that all?” said Max, beginning to come around. “How you doing, mom?” He put his arm around her “Where’s dad?”
“I’m fine,” said Katherine Perdue. “Old and wrinkled, but fine. Your father has planted vegetables this year and is tending them in the back yard. They have to be thinned, you know, and weeded, and he’s got the back muscles for it and I don’t anymore, so…” She finished many of her sentences with “So…,” an infuriating habit Max had learned to live with, even laugh at. “So what, Mom,” he poked her in the ribs. “So what?”
“Huh?” she said while she stared at Max with motherly adoration and let herself be teased. The attention was gratifying.
Elliot Perdue with his hands in the dirt? Max found this hard to believe. “You mean carrots and beans and peas and stuff?”
“Yes, Max, real vegetables. Including zucchini and tomatoes. The tomatoes are what take up so much of his time.”
“Incredible,” was the extent to which Max could comment and went to the window to see the od man, who, humbly bent over a plant, was straightening up to wipe his brow and take a sip from a squeeze bottle he had rigged to his belt. For no reason at all, he looked up toward the big picture window and saw Max standing there watching him. Elliot Perdue smiled and waved and then turned his squeeze bottle upside down to indicate that it was empty and empty was a good enough reason to come inside. “He’s not running any more, you know,” Max’s mother said. “But he bought a recumbent bicycle.”
“You’re kidding me,” said Max, entertaining visions of his father on the only such machine in the vicinity. “He’ll tell you about it himself, so….” added Katherine Perdue.
The visit with the folks was a good one for Max, even though it was hard for him to see his parents growing old, only because they themselves seemed so surprised by it. Wrinkles surprised his mother more than her bad back. Elliot Perdue — an athletic man by nature — had reluctantly given up running at the age of 65 on account of bad knees, but felt certain that with the new recumbent bicycle, he could reclaim his physical stature. At 65, he was doing a hundred sit ups a day, ten pull-ups, and a series of isometric exercises he himself had developed for men over sixty. Katherine couldn’t help but worry about the day he’d be forced to give up the exercise or to opt for a lighter version for even older folks. “You guys are looking good,” said Max to them, because he felt they really did. And as Elliot beamed, Katherine simply said, “Well, we’re getting old, so….”
Max persisted, “But you look a lot better than a lot of people your age.”
Naturally, they’d asked him about his new life in the middle of nowhere. Did he have pictures of the place? Of his girlfriend? Why not? Was something wrong?
“No,” he simplified it for them and for himself. “I just had to have a little break before going headlong into the tile-making business.”
“I would imagine so,” agreed his father.
“Hmmm,” said his mother, still wondering why he hadn’t brought any photos. But she didn’t press him.
“We just recently got a card from the Abruzzis, Gianni and Pietra, who asked about you,” Katherine told her son. “They always ask about you. And they have that new cafe. Haven’t you written them lately?”
No, Max hadn’t written to his surrogate family because every time he’d tried, it made him want to see them so bad he had to stop. Only at Christmas, because they would have been offended it he hadn’t, did he send them a card, usually a picture of the Madonna because he’d known they received other such cards at Christmas. His said nothing but “Love, Max” at the bottom. “I haven’t ever written them anything more than a Christmas card,” he admitted. “But I want to see them this time. I’ve missed them.”
Elliot and Katherine Perdue looked at each other and then they looked at their son. Somewhere along the line, they felt, they must have neglected him, driven him away. It was too late to make it up to him but they kept on trying. They never criticized Max, never demanded anything from him, and they supported him in his endeavors. And they were always very, very polite.
Max, for his part, had been pining to see the Abruzzis, to be welcomed in their home, to sit at the dining room table and have big noisy meals with them. He wanted to hear Gianni and Mama argue and tease each other and argue some more. Hard as it was to admit, he wanted to be with them, his adopted tribe, as much as he wanted to be with his own family. And now that he’d heard about their new cafe — well, the one their sons were running for them, he would simply show up there and hope to catch either Gianni or Mama.
The reunion was no disappointment.
Peter — called Pietro at home — and Mark — Marco — gave him big hugs at the cafe, fed him lunch – which turned out to be as much a meal of nostalgia as a meal of Italian food — and arranged to have him surprise their parents at dinner that night. “Mama, make enough for an extra person,” Marco had told her.
“You brining’ home a girl Marco, finally, after all dis time?”
“Yes, Mama, but she’s nothing special.”
“We’ll see how special she is,” said Mama, barely able to contain herself. With this, Marco knew they would be eating well.
Isn’t that kind of hard on her, to get her hopes up like that?” said Max, worried for Mama now.
“It’s not like I don’t bring girls home, Max,” said Marco. “But if she don’t like ’em, she forgets they ever existed. So it’s like I brought no one home at all. That’s why she always plays like I never bring any home: because she hasn’t liked any of them. Not even the Italian ones.”
Max smiled thinking of Mama. “Not even the Italian ones, huh, Marco?” he repeated, laughing at the impeccable Italianness of it all. “Why don’t you try shocking her with someone from the twilight zone? That’ll make everyone else look wonderful.”
“That’s a thought,” said Marco. “You mean like a professional exotic dancer or something, right? Knowing Mama, she’d probably go for that one! But she’s right, Maxie. The ones I bring home, they just aren’t that special. There’s no fire. And you, what about you?”
“I got myself a special one, all right.” Max surprised himself with his quick answer. “Enough special for three people. But she’s a handful.”
“Well then,” said Marco with his arm around his little surrogate brother, “You’ve got your work cut out for you. She feed you good?”
‘You wouldn’t believe it if I told you,” Max said. “It would be like something out of a cartoon strip. But I’ll give you a hint: she runs a cafe in the middle of nowhere — well, I’ve been helping her get started — and she’s pulling in truck drivers from all over the place. The thing is, she doesn’t serve any meat.”
“Na-a-a-a-ah,” said Marco thinking of all the truckers he knew or had known.
“Yes,” Max crossed his arms and nodded his head.
Oh, the tears and the fussing over Max that night!
They ate and drank until their cheeks puffed and their noses redeemed. Or was it the other way around? Finally, after espresso and Sambuca, and after Carol and Marco had gone home, Max was able to bask in the company of the two people who made him feel safe and understood, and he started talking about La Sal Junction and about the cafe and Mimi and his plans for the tile business. They asked him questions and he answered more than he needed to answer, which is how he happened to mention that Mimi was pregnant and about to have an abortion.
Mama brought her hands to her face. Gianni looked worried and spoke for the first time in a long while. “You know what you’re doing, getting rid of this baby?”
“I think we do,” said Max. “I mean I’ve only known her since last October. We hardly know each other, how can we have a child when we don’t know each other that well?”
“How well you gotta know someone if you love them? said Mama.
“Pietra and I, we had Carol very soon after getting married. We didn’t know each other besides being in love, but we knew we wanted children,” said Gianni. “You want children, Maxie?”
“Well, I think I do, but I’m not sure. I love Mimi. She loves me. But there’s so much I want to do. I don’t want to feel trapped by them. And I’m not sure I’d know what to do with them. And based on how much I worry about our animals, well, what if all I ever did after having them was worry about them? And besides that, there’s so much I want to do. Did I say that?”
“Why you can’t do it with children/” Mama shrugged. “You make such a good father Max. Such a good father. What’s more important than having a family?”
There it was, The Importance of the Family. Captive in this Italian household, Max felt drugged by the whole notion and found himself agreeing with them. What was more important than family?
“You gotta picture of this girl?” Gianni wanted to know.
Max shook his head.
“No picture?” Pietra echoed with a sour face. “Whenna we gonna meet this girl? Your parents meet her?”
Max shook his head.
Gianni and Mama shook their heads. “Where is it that you live, Maxie?” Gianni asked trying to catch up on his near-son. Max sighed and wondered if he would ever express the beauty of where he lived. “In the middle of nowhere,” was what he said. “Close to the pinto bean capitol of the world.”
“Pinto beans?” asked Mama beginning to comprehend his location in terms of the food that came from there.”Pinto beans are pretty good. But we use these new Anasazi beans now.” Noticing Max’s look of disbelief, she added, They cook fast and don’t make you gas as much. At our age, Max, you know, your insides go crazy with foods you eat your whole life. At our age.”
“Anasazi beans only grow right where we live. Right there! That’s where we live!” Max told them, still hardly believing that these two Italians were sitting there telling him they ate the tiny reduced-gas beans Max used to make his own burgers.
“You joking, Maxie? Anaszi beans? “Whatta coincidence!” Gianni sensed some gap had been bridged and sat back, proud that they had connected the dots. Mama took all the credit, though. “Si. Anasazi beans,” she summarized. “Must be good country,
At the end of a long evening, Max went home more confused and sadder than he would have wished on himself. In realizing how long he’d been away from Gianni and Pietra Abruzzi, their absence from his life scooped out a void in his rib cage, the region of his solar plexus, Like lighting a match in a cave and seeing how empty it is after having gotten used to the dark. He should have written to them, kept them informed, asked them for help when he’d needed it, asked them for advice. Now it was too late for that. All the years had changed him, “politened” him, as Mimi said. He needed the Abruzzis for their bluntness and forthright love and for their interrogations, and now that he’d had one evening of what he craved, it was choking him.
In the black hole of night, he dreamed deeply and remotely again, this time about a mound of green grass swelling in the summer heat. The emerald green sod, velvety and cool, welcomed Max, who lay upon it face down, arms and legs splayed. It seemed to be breathing Max’s own breath, Max who crawled up to its crest like an infant crawling to a nipple.
As he reached the summit he noticed, alarming himself in slow dream-time motion, that an opening was forming and kind of caving in. The grass at the top of the mound was cracking apart and Max, scared but unable to removed himself from the comfort of his perch, simply watched as giant fruit == black grapes, bananas, cherries, cantaloupe, kumquats, plums, everything — poured forth and surrounded him like denizens of some sweeter, riper world. He leaned delicately upon a grape whose diameter measured approximately two and a half feet. “I’m quite comfortable here with you all,” was the last thing he heard himself say, awakened by the sound of the coffee grinder.
“But “I’ve got to get back to the cafe” was the first thing he heard himself say to his parents who looked at him sadly but without much surprise.
A two-day visit Max?” inquired Katherine Perdue as delicately as she could. Her voice cracked.
“We understand, Max,” said his father. Who in fact didn’t have enough facts to understand anything at all.
And Max, ashamed for never having given these two the chance to understand him, drove away biting his lip. Only this time he hit the interstate immediately and let his lead foot take him back as quickly as possible, because now that he’d decided to return and now that he had gathered his scattered wits to him, he realized that he had to be back for the August 1 marriage of Syd and Anna. Once on the open road, and unlike the earlier lackadaisical journey of a man in a cloud, he focused with such intensity on the return destination that had he been wearing glasses his gaze might have burned a hole through paper or wood.
Not that he had any answers or was any less confused by the players and their respective parts, but in spite of that he let himself be driven back to the vortex, back to the figuring out of life, back to the companion he missed. Back to dreams of her and the warmth of her body, back to their animals and their life in the dusty, dreamlike middle of nowhere. It would be unfair not to mention that Max, after the dinner with the Abruzzis and the green mound dream and everything, was somewhere deep within himself hoping that Mimi might still be pregnant when he got home. that she might have opted to have a family, that she might have known enough for both of them to do this thing.
“Dear Max,” Mimi had written a couple of days after the arrival of Syd and Anna during the midday break. She had his address in Piermont and planned to use it.
“Did you ever notice how when you look out the kitchen window from the third tile back — how the horizon perfectly bisects the window. That there’s this grey-blue ever-so-changing sky exactly halfway into the window, the the landscape is taken over by earth and roadway and brush and an occasional comforting semi? It’s just one of those great things about our kitchen Or when you’re in our little bed, that the night breeze seems to come in across our faces and shoulders, caressing them actually, more than any other parts of our bodies? Lately, I’ve been thinking, well, about you, of course — more than anything else I’ve been thinking about you because you’re gone and I miss you — but I’ve also been thinking about all the little things that make life so full and so frail.
You’d think I’d be thinking about becoming an accidental author, about actually having a book published and gaining some notoriety (or not). “I spit in your eye–?” I could finally say to everyone who thought I was nothing more than what I’ve done for a living. “So don’t bother even trying to say hello because it’s too late.” Period.
You’d think I’d be grooming my ego for its new life.
You’d think all that.
But the fact is, I don’t think about it that much, Max. Oh sure, I think about all those letters I wrote; and having re-read them, I naturally think about that earlier life. The life of longing, and of comparing, and also the life of thinking that thinking well was the best revenge. I’m a little embarrassed by the whole thing, frankly — the student’s approach to life thing — but at the same time I can’t get over the fact that I wrote all those letters, not to mention someone’s saving them and liking them. Liking them more than me, I might add!
But more than all of that, much more, I think about all the small magnificent things that happen everyday. I think about the way the early morning light comes up so subtly here, like a shade being pulled up from the bottom, and how it seems to raise my spirits with it. I think about the sandstone cliffs and the dignity of vast spaces made captive by rock and sky and wind. I smell desert smells and they fill my lungs with the present. And on a more personable note, I think of my friends and acquaintances who share their lives with me (all those detais, their clothes, their styles, how they hold their coffee cups and say, “Excuse me, I’ve got to use the john.”). People who laugh at my jokes and eat my daily specials, smiling at themselves and at me. I think of Sally and Yates building furniture and cleaning pen knives, of Mo and her unbelievable golf scores. Of our hilarious family of animals. I think about repainting the gas pump old-time red, just for looks, and about replacing the burnt-out bulb on the incredible all-too-good-to-be-true turquoise sign.
This life of mine is lived for the present, I think, at least right now it is. It doesn’t pine or wonder or wish, it just kind of goes along moment by moment accepting the fireworks and the fizzles within the framework of each day. It’s not a cliche, although many of its more interesting ornaments are. What I’m trying to say, here, Max, is that that vision I had months and months ago sitting inside these buildings when they were as empty as time, that vision was a true vision, as true as they come. And my question to you and to the rest of the world would have to be, “Who the hell put that bag of Anasazi beans there in the first place?” This is the big mystery for me now. And besides wondering about this, the cause of my destiny, I wonder what propels you – another instrument of my destiny — to find yours.”
She signed it “Yours in space and time, Mimi.”
But it was a letter Mimi would never send to Max. Because several days after having written it, she kept her apointment to have the abortion. Afterwards, and even during the procedure, she couldn’t help the tears that trickled in a constant stream down her face, tears that confused her more than the actual pregnancy They wanted her to get counseling, all those people at the clinic, but Anna somehow managed to get her out of there in a hurry and they headed back to Utah, Anna driving, both quiet for the first hour of the trip. The trickle of tears didn’t really stop.
“Did you want the baby then?” Anna asked her, sickened by the effect of her own condition on her friend.
Mimi wasn’t sure enough of hseself to speak righ taway. “I thought I didn’t,” she said, feeling the lump in her throat.”I thought I had it all under control. The idea that it would be better to wait. The idea that I have time. The idea that I’m not ready yet and that Max didn’t want it, or couldn’t bring himself to want it.” She was beginning to struggle with control, and Anna, barely able to keep from sobbing herself, pulled the car over onto the gravelly dirt shoulder of an empty road and reached over to her. Mimi did not hesitate to lean into the proffered shoulder. “But now I feel so bad,” she cried into Anna’s sweatshirt. “Like what if I made the wrong decision and I don’t get a second chance? I wonder if I shouldn’t have just kept it in spite of Max. He would have gotten used to the idea, and he probably would have loved it even more than me, knowing him…”
Anna, unsure of the answers to such questions, decided not to admit to this. “You did the right thing, Mim. The only thing you could do given the timing and the circumstances and the way your perfectly unique brain works. And even it it it was a mistake, well people make mistakes on an hourly basis. Some lives are based on mistakes: which means you can’t really call them that. They’re just a part of life.” Extricating herself from the mass of Mimi’s hair and the clench of moist palms, she lifted Mimi’s hand and stroked it, finally bringing it up to her own face. “I’m sure you’ll get another chance to have a baby. And in the meantime, you and Max can talk about this. “
Mimi, in the grips of some horrible new hormone — or lack thereof — tried to calm herself, tried being even the slightest bit objective. Pondering her chemical imbalances and feeling more like distilled essence of crap than anything else, she nevertheless attended to the conversation. “Yes,” she admitted without much energy and hardly any feeling. “It will be important to talk to Max about it.”
Inside, however, she felt the blow of misunderstanding hit her again, even harder this time, because this time she was curiously devoid of anger. Instead, she felt as if her body, once filled with blood and guts, now flowed with a milky white substance. A cold milky white substance. And she had a dreadful feeling based on this observation that she and Max would not be getting along well for some time to come.
When she got home, after having gathered the animals around her for some love and support, she tucked away the letter to Max that sat on the counter waiting to be postmarked — slipped it in the crack between two kitchen cabinets, actually, which happened to be right there — and tried to think of what she’d said. What had she said? She couldn’t remember whatever it was she’d tried to express except that she’d been full of blood and guts then.
In the more of less two weeks Max was gone, much happened at the La Sal Junction Cafe besides Mimi’s own cataclysmic change. Well, enough happened. And it’s not as if Mimi couldn’t function as her old self in the cafe — she could. She merely worried for the day of reuniting and hoped he would give her that month he’d promised. Except that in that month away, he would miss the wedding and she didn’t know whether she could ever forgive him for that either.
As promised, Mo Robbins’ twins were delivered for the weekend of the golf tournament and were given explicit instructions by their mother especially on four counts. They were to behave at all times and keep their hands clean; they were to take care of all the animals’ needs for Mimi, Syd and Anna; they were to eat all vegetarian food without complaining; and they were not to stay up past nine unless Mimi said it was okay.
The twins fit themselves right in at the cafe without delay. Not what you’d call precocious, they did however have an uncanny ability (for ten-year olds) to listen to and be amused by people. Strangers didn’t scare them no matter how strange. The twins simply liked people.
The three adults running the show were no less than smitten by the spectacled twins who wore boy’s playclothes, who studied people casually and laughed with them, making conversation as if they’d done it professionally for more years than they’d been alive. Emma asked Dodge Robuck one night after looking him and up and down for a good five minutes if everyone in their family was “puny”; and Dodge, so taken aback by the question he didn’t have time to think, said no, he was pretty much the runt. “Runts are usually the nicest of the litter though,” Emma answered not missing a beat. “We’re not sure that’s true for humans, Emma,” Eleanor countered quite seriously.
Mimi was happy to let them stay up until closing both nights; and the staying up until midnight thing turned out to be the highlight of their weekend’s memoirs. It was the first thing they told their mother. It was what they talked about for weeks afterward. Midnight, Eleanor told Mimi in confidence, was the absolute middle of the night and it was when you could actually scare the bogey man. She laughed aloud when she said this, as if this idea of scaring the bogey man was the most deliciously righteous thing she had ever heard of. “So it’s perfectly safe for us to be up,” Emma summarized for everyone. “No bogey man to harm us.”
“I see,” Mimi responded with equal gravity as she wondered what books they’d been reading. “How do you know this?” was her cautious query.
“Common knowledge,” the twins answered in unison, smiling at each other and shrugging their shoulders in agreement. This evidently tickled Syd’s fancy because he got the giggles and could not be stopped. Giggles being contagious, Anna and Mimi joined in and all of them laughed until the smoke alarm went off, screeching so loudly everyone in the kitchen and in the cafe covered their ears. Syd ran over and yanked the battery out — without even having to use a step stool — at which point all memory of his test pizzas returned. His first foray back into the world of vegetarian restaurants had ended in smoke and charcoal. But the trace of a giggle remained.
The twins also taught the animals, all of the, some new tricks. in the two days they were at the cafe, Emma and Eleanor managed to teach Dale, Napoleon and Mirabelle to simultaneously roll over and then roll back the other way. Mimi was astounded that these particular animals, brilliant but equally independent, would perform such demeaning circus acts. She interrogated them on their methods. “We used cocktails franks that mom had hidden in our knapsacks as a reward,” said Eleanor, sensing that only the truth would work. “After rolling over for them together, ourselves, to show them what we meant,” added Emma. They used a corkscrew motion with their arms to make the animals go over, and then reversed it to make them roll back. Mimi, try as she might, could not make them do it again. Only Emma and Eleanor could ever make those three pull that one off.
When Mo returned from the tournament having just played the best golf of her life and ready to commit herself to more practice and more vision, she was in just the right mood to agree to drop the girls off whenever she needed a sitter for a weekend. “You WANT me to leave them with you?” She sounded doubtful.”We fit in here, mom,” Eleanor interjected. “And we like the food.” Mo could not have been more pleased.
As they said their good-byes, Syd, just having noticed it, gently pulled a sorely dog-eared spy of “Daily Meditations for Golfers” out of the leather purse Mo Robbins had slung across her shoulder.”Interesting,” he said, fingering the item that lay as small as a book of matches in his large hands. “Someone actually does read this.”
“Are you kidding?” Mo asked him. “It’s my bible.”
“Syd discovered that book, Mo,” Mimi piped in. “Didn’t you Syd?”
Still unbelieving, Syd continued to stare at the book. “Yep. I actually commissioned these two guys to write it. But I’ve never seen anyone holding one before.”
“Then you obviously don’t play golf,” said Mo who was as fired up as anyone had ever seen her. “You are responsible for this book? May I kiss your ring and have your autograph, or better yet, will you sign my own copy? This book is what made me the golfer I am — well, and practice and natural ability.”
“But this book — I just can’t believe this — is not only useful it’s lucky. My favorite quote is June 11: The inner game is the outer game. Keep your elbows in. I’ve repeated that quote like a prayer, over and over, since I got the book. It must have been instrumental in some kind of breakthrough for me.” She was beside herself and had succeeded in attracting the attention of the half dozen or so patrons in the cafe who were straining to see what book she was talking about. As Syd signed it, reluctantly and while telling her repeatedly that he wasn’t the author, several of the folks actually got up and came over to look at the source of the commotion. One of the was Angel Scheetz, probably the nosiest of the La Sal Junction regulars; she had her own views on Mo, as well.
“Your Bible is a little green book about golf??” she said not hiding the accusation in her voice “Why of all the….”
“She didn’t mean it was a her real Bible,” Emma snottily squared herself off with angel. “We have a real Bible at home.”
“Well, I’m glad to hear THAT,” said Angel yearning to flip through this curious little green book that had changed Mo Robbins’ life. The only book that had ever changed her life had been a book about starting a mail order business, which she’d picked up on a trip to Salt Lake. The idea of making money at home had appealed to her and having digested the bulk of the book, she’d come up with one item she could sell and make money off of, which, incidentally, she did. That item was made-to-order couch and chair covers. Slip covers. Cheap ones. People sent her the fabric and she made the covers. And to the surprise of everyone who’d heard her talk and talk and talk about it, it worked. She was able to make a substantial living — a better living than she let on, too — without leaving the comfort of her house in La Sal.
That had been four and a half year ago and now the business had gotten so big she’d hired on one of the local girls to help her out, cut out pieces, package things for shipping and so forth. Certainly “How to Make a Mint in Mail Order” had been the only book that had ever had such an incredible effect on her life. She had to admit certain books were potentially powerful.
So, as soon as Mo and at the girls had gone, she marched over to Syd. “What else did you ever publish?” she asked pointedly, her thought being that maybe he was a s lucky with other books and not just the little green book. When he’d answered “How to Train Your Pet Rabbit,” she considered it carefully before a canary-swelling expression suffused her face. She figured maybe she was onto something but took care to zip her lip for the time being.
In those two weeks of Max’s absence, of course, there was the whole issue of Syd and Anna being there in Mimi’s personal space. They showed up in their Airstream camper fully equipped to live in it for the next month, which in fact they did, and were such a welcomed surprise in the running of the place that by the end of their stay Mimi wished they’d never leave or that they never had come so that their absence would not be so evident and sharp. Naturally, the ripening Anna, visibly pregnant and blooming, had no small effect in Mimi, who sometimes could not even bear to look at her, especially after the procedure. Fortunately, Syd seemed to take the pressure off by being between the two women. In another circumstance, he might have come between them in not such a good way.
Syd, in fact, had been given free reign in the kitchen and seemed to be having a re-awakening, a re-igniting in the vegetarian cafe. He had linked up his hands and his subconscious with the epicenter of his mouth and — besides his first and failed attempt at pizza, which was never meant to be served at La Sal Junction in the first place — his food was a hit. If Mimi had been the founder of Irish-Chinese and Irish-Mexican nights, Syd himself was responsible for what they were calling, jokingly, “Norwegian East Indian.”
Mimi, infatuated with all the new spices, textures and smells, begged for written recipes. But Syd held out, citing Mimi’s ongoing reluctance to divulge the secret ingredient in the burgers. “Why should I give you the family recipes when you won’t give me one ingredient?”
“I just can’t,” Mimi stammered. “Who knows what you’d do with that information. You might tell someone.”
“Well how bad is this secret ingredient?” Worm juice? Fermented bird seed? Furniture polish, what?”
“No, nothing like that. Just a secret.”
This did not keep Syd from guessing, however; and guess he did in the hopes that Mimi’s face would when the fateful world was spoken. Surprisingly enough, he couldn’t come up with it. And to this end, Mimi was jubilant with both having kept her mouth shut and with having retained some measure of power over old Syd who treated her more and more like a sister as time passed.
By far the most fascinating thing about having Syd and Anna there was watching how they carrie on, how they related Possibly the most verbal combination Mimi had encountered, she noted the huge differences between their style and hers with Max. Anna Ortiz Kidd and Syd Renoir talked about everything under the sun, under all the suns of the galaxy. They discussed, they bantered, they philosophized, they queried. They did minutiae with as much skill as they did rubric and sub-category; they did intellectual and they did pop. But this is how they related. With words. And not even just English words. Mimi listened with interest.
One day, for instance, Syd was making dal and chapatis for a Norwegian East Indian special when he’d noticed that Anna’s complexion resembled the color of the yellow split peas. A backache, she’d said placing her hands on the small of her back and arching slightly. “Low back?” said Sad using his pretty deep voice.
“Yes,” answered Anna, “about two inches above my coccyx.” So conspiratorial.
“Sharp or dull?
“Mostly dull, but as if theres pressure there as well.”
“Shall we put some ice on it?”
“Maybe for five minutes or so. It wouldn’t hurt.”
“Have you done anything strenuous recently?”
“My normal stretches.” She waited. “Plus some extra cat-cows.”
“How many extra?”
And this could go on for half an hour, in very even, almost sensual tones. They relied on no props to explain themselves — no gestures, or exhibit A’s, no finger pointing to “it hurts right here.”
It was a dance to the minutiae of time, in which Anna and Sad intertwined themselves with their brains and their tongues. Such verbal displays absorbed Mimi entirely because had the situation ben hers and Max’s, Max would have gone to get her an herbal muscle relaxant or some ibuprofen and then he might have hugged her. More of their overt selves, their bodies, their manners, would have been involved.
As for the broader discussions – bite-sized topics rather than pint-sized ones — they occurred anytime and anywhere, as well. As a matter of fact, the discussion of her back pain and her stretches had led into a long exchange on the theories and benefits of stretching , in general. Anna, a big believer in stretching, began by explaining the virtues of the 25-second stretch followed by release then contraction then release. You had to remove the blood from the area and let the new blood in, she explained, in order for the tissue to remain youthful. She alluded to her own extrapolations from yoga, to current stretch gurus John Doe and Jane Smith, and to a visceral knowledge of the entire subject. Syd agreed as to the importanance of stretching but parted company with her on the length of the stretch. It didn’t have to be that long if you did it right. Mimi, unable to stand by mute and idle all the time, suggested that a stretch was only as good as your brain thought it was. “Oh, Mimi,” was all Anna could say.
Where this sort of “talk” would have driven Mimi nuts and pitted her against Max and him against her, it only seemed to bring Anna and Syd closer together. And if this talk weren’t enough just on its own, then the manner in which it was said could be scrutinized, as well as all implications, and innuendo. It blew Mimi’s mind.
The only other major thing that happened while Max was gone was that Mimi hired someone to help her out just as soon as her friend left. The ad she’d placed in the Dove Creek newspaper had done no good at all, not in the two months it had been there. And some weeks it had been the only help wanted ad in the entire eight-page weekly. “Cook needed for La Sal Junction Cafe,” it read. “No meat served. Knowledge of beans crucial.” Mimi hadn’t known that for three of the nine weeks it had actually run “No beans served. Knowledge of meat crucial.” In any case, no one had even applied. Dove Creek was too far away, and in another state. So he’d hired on Dominic Standish’s son, Werner.
Werner was a high school grad who needed something to do for the summer, his father sid. He was bright, his father, said, bored, and above all, according to his father, he didn’t particularly care for meat.
Now, Mimi figured this wasn’t necessarily true, but that Dominic needed some way to clinch the job for his son. He didn’t know Mimi had gotten desperate and that she wasn’t considering anyone else since there was no one else to consider. But “Send him over for an interview” was what she told Dominic Standish.
When Werner showed up, her initial reaction to him was “This beautiful young man does not go with the name he is attached to.” Werner didn’t think so either, evidently, because the first thing he did was to identify himself as John. “No one calls me Werner except my dad. It was his great-grandfather on his mother’s side’s last name.
“Okay John. So do you want this job or is your father making you apply for it”
I guess I want it.” Yep, he was eighteen all right.
“Well, what would you rather be doing this summer” Mimi attempted to get to know him.
“Working as an intern at a radio station.”
“Was that a possibility?”
“It was. But then dad said I wasn’t leaving La Sal until the middle of September when school starts.”
“Where are you going to school?”
‘University of Washington.” He was becoming more animated. “For radio and television.” He waited for the next question while Mimi scanned him. All the good looks of youth and fitness and hormones were his, topped off not too subtly by a rather stunning face. This boy was a looker. Mimi wondered if hers was similar to the feeling men had when faced with their sit-com style blond and brainless secretaries. She couldn’t take her eyes off him.
“Sounds good, John. When can you start?”
“When do you need me?” He innocently asked, not nearly unaware of the stare this woman in her thirties 0– not bad looking and with a nice pair of knockers 0- was giving him.
“August 2. Be here at six o’clock; that’s an hour later than me, I’m giving you a break. The pay is $7 per hour. YOu’re hired until you leave. Deal?”
“Deal, said Werner John Standish, delighted with the outrageous rate of pay And has he walked away, Mimi smiled at the firm gluteus maximum settling itself onto the seat of a motorcycle.
“Mr. Standish?” she said over the phone to the local plumber whose stint as a single father was nearly through.”I think I can keep Werner out of trouble for the rest of the summer.”
Dom Standish was relieved and didn’t hesitate to show it.”Thank god. And thank you Miss O’Rourke. He’s a good kid but it’s getting out of my contro, if you know what I mean.”
“I do. I know exactly what you mean.
Later on, Mimi asked Anna if she thought John Standish was too young to be cute and too cute to be working for her. “There’s no such thing as too young anymore, Mimi, my dear,” she answered. “And as for hiring him, did you have any choice???”
“Good point, said Mimi, glad to be reminded that common sense had played some part in her decision making.