Chapter 6

(Know more/know less:
Ditto to the preceding chapter.

Again, read now or need later.)

“Saturn comes a callin’,
earing take and give,
its re-entry aiming to 
hit you where you live.”   

           “Anyway, you were saying, Moon?”

           “Just that he’s been such a yo-yo lately. It’s getting so it’s about all I can do to keep him in the middle of his ups and downs.  Sometimes, I think his grad school gig is the only thing that keeps him from coming unglued. And it’s only gotten worse since his birthday…”

          “Really?” Sydney asked, back at Melissa’s kitchen table, leafing through ‘The Joy of Cooking’, pulled randomly from that overhead bookshelf. “So, how old is he?”

          “Just turned 29,” Moon sighed, over the steam kettle whistle for some milder Celestial tea.  “Around that time, he was getting so hyper, said he just wanted to hit the road, drive until his head cleared. It was Thanksgiving break, and I remembered what you wrote me last year about an astrologer who did your charts. So I told him, go to San Francisco or someplace, see somebody like that—couldn’t hurt.  All I knew was he was about to drive me up the wall around here.”

          “Ah, Saturn Return—the Big 2-9.  Crossroads time—that, I’ve heard plenty about, ’cause you know, we’re not that far away from it ourselves,” Syd glanced up to a small framed color photograph of a close-cropped familiar face in civvies, leaning against the famed Abbey Road stone wall. “Anyway, good thing I was out of town.  So did he?”

          “Wouldn’t say, one way or another, even got sort of Scorpio secretive about it.” Melissa poured two fresh cups of Mellow Mint, then spun back to her chipped tile counter tops as though they were prep tables at the Hotel Boulderado.  “The sad part is, I had figured our relationship was secure enough for the New Year’s thing. I figured he figured it, too.”

          “Not to mention Celeste and Jimbo…”

          “Don’t remind me.  I mean, we were all adults, and everything. I thought Kenny and I were of like mind that trust and sharing are the most important ingredients in keeping two people together, growing stronger…as long as the relationship is built on love.” Moon momentarily diverted to putter with the kitchen branch of her domesticated jungle. “I’ve prided myself on that with him—particularly after the fiasco with Lester.”

          “Oy, Lester,” Sydney sifted through some post-holiday bakery from an old Coke tray Moon had already set out in the center of the round kitchen table  “He joined us in Florida, you know…coming down from the farm to grace us with his presence. Now there’s a real basket case for you. I’m almost ashamed to admit the schlemiel’s my brother…but he is, no matter what, so…”

          “Well, he’s not for me anymore…” Moon busily pruned a thicket of onion bulbs, avocado starters and hothouse tomatoes, rooted in a rusting kitschy collection of rusting cocoa and coffee tins.  “I’m not at all interested in double jeopardy, especially with Lester Mendel…”

          “I told him I might see you, Moon. He asked me to wish you well, and tell you that he still cares very much. Says he might even try to call you sometime, yadda, yadda, yadda…”

          “Wouldn’t want to hear it if he did,” Melissa said sharply, now making for the refrigerator on kitchen cruise control, wiping her hands on her blue daffodil-print peasant dress.  She opened the brown enameled icebox, her crocheted sleigh and Kringle decorations slipsliding on their door magnets with the sudden centrifugal force.

          “I suppose,” Sydney sighed, plucking away at some messy fruitcake with her hot pink nails.  “I just still can’t see what really happened to you two—how the hell he let you get away.  For that matter, neither can Faith—it eats her up inside, like a major loss in the family.”  She seemed to dwell for a spell on the cluttered fertility of the kitchen—inventive yet organically practical— much like her mother’s at home, domestic skillsets Faith would never let her ever-so-gifted daughter deign to pursue.

          “That’s because you never saw the shout-a-thons,” Melissa pulled out a scuffed Tupperware container and Saran-wrapped plate of chopped vegetables. “Much as I miss you and your folks, I’d never want to go through that again.”

          “You’re still family, Moon,” Sydney insisted, downing a thin sliver of prune Danish, then rising to rinse out her tea mug in the web-cracked porcelain sink. “Remember what Faith always says, ‘water seeks its own level…’”

          “I know, I know…‘and people should be so wise.’” Moon arranged a platter of pre-chopped broccoli and carrot sticks into neat concentric circles, topped with some slightly overripe cherry tomatoes.

          “Trouble is, who knows who’s on the level anymore.” Syd then moved on the refrigerator herself, reaching in for a glass of apple juice, sizing up some Pearl Lager and a cluster of tin foiled remains. “Or who’s taking on water.”

          “I just know I’ve got a nice thing going right here.” Moon dipped back into the fridge, pulling out the tin foiled wads. She peeled back their silver wrappings, revealing various trimmed swads and slices of broiled prime rib, New York cut and filet mignon. All were courtesy of the Coach Light Inn; she smuggled them home nightly, like a mother redbreast feeding her nest.  “No matter what I say, more often than not, he can be so sweet and grounded. It’s something you can get real hooked on…”

          “Yes, sounds pretty saccharine icky to me.”

          “But it’s not just me.  Kenny’s had his fill of relationship combustion, too.” Everything else on Melissa’s daily menu she either stewed, baked, or cultivated herself—not to mention her pantry stash of canned preserves. Truth be told, she’d been covering rent, holding this household together by wits and grit longer than she dared recall. “He even got into it with his ex, Cassie, when she called him Christmas Eve.”

          “His ex still calls him,” Sydney sipped her unfiltered juice, glancing out the rear kitchen window toward the northbound lay of foothills—tapering winter-worn serrations stretching to greet a mounded cumulonimbus cloud formation brooding down by way of the Arapahoe timberline. “And you put up with that?”

          “It’s not my place not to. At least he and I understand each other about these things.  He’d feel the same about anybody in my past. Besides, she’s no threat, believe me.  In fact, I answered the phone, and she’s sort of real uptight and needy, sounded like a kid crying in the background. Then Kenny got on the phone and ripped right into her—yelling to never call him again, hanging up—washed his hands of her, just like that, didn’t want to hear a word she said.  Took me a whole plate of raspberry Madeleines to settle him down.” Having diced the steak cuts and dished out a finger bowl of soy tahini, Melissa beckoned Sydney back into the front room.

          “Incredible…he’s damn lucky you’re such a great cook…” It was all Syd could do to slam shut the refrigerator door, and follow Moon and her fresh platter into a cosy, sun skimmed parlor.

          “But I’m just as lucky,” she gently set her snack plate onto the shaky legged coffee table between the fireplace and sofa, flashing the blue stone and polished pewter setting on her left ring finger. “All along, he’s been doing the same thing for me. Look, he even gave me this star sapphire beauty. Sometimes he seems to good to be true.”

          “Yeah, well—I’ll have to take your word on that,” Sydney said tartly, again floored, befuddled by that Christmas tree, but then looking beyond it out the cabin’s lee side window case, to the Setter out there barking in the yard.  “But what is with your dog?”

          “Oh, he’s always cranky the day after a bath.  Actually, Seamus is more Kenny’s than mine.  I’m still basically a cat person…me and Pags.” She shooed her big, fat tabby off the overstuffed sofa.  “I like to rag Kenny than an Irish Setter is a subconscious manifestation of the flaming Celtic beauty he lusts for in his heart of hearts…”

          “That what he is, Irish?  Sydney plopping lotus-like on the saggy couch, marveling at the platter before her, dipping a carrot stick into the tahini. “Catholic, too, I suppose…”

          “Only part way—I think his father’s, like, Scotch…” Melissa instead leaned over to the fireplace, rolling up some yellowing sections of the Daily Camera newspaper, slipping them around and under the smoldering fireplace log.

          “As in boozer hound, huh?”

          “Tsk, his dad has had a little problem in the past, but…”

          “Well, I guess that explains the whole Christmas shmear. “Moon, Moon, I don’t mean to intervene, but when did you get off on this tangent—nice little Chicago Jewish girl like yourself?”

          “Truth is, I’ve had enough with nice Lesterlings, the whole blessed arrangement,” Melissa said, while no doubt trying to sort through some alien stirrings she felt at the bar mitzvah readings, not having been a religious body for so long. “Besides, I’ve got a lot invested in Kenny now…and it’s getting a little late in the game to be nit-picking around. I’ve got to make this one work…”

          “Sure, but maybe you’ve invested too much…just like with my brother.”

          “It’s not like that, at all.”  She eased over to re-stoke the fireplace, then ignited two frankincented mantle candles. “Kenny doesn’t try to control me like your brother did.  If anything, he gives me too much leash sometimes…”

          “Do tell,” Syd leered, nimbly fiddling with the top buttons of her sweater before stuffing her icy hands in her sweater pockets. “Now that, I want to hear about…god almighty, what is banging around out there?”

          “His tail…cute, huh?”  Melissa described an 18-inch black plastic length of plumbing pipe wagging where Seamus’s tail should have been. It was a cast—more a splint—drilled full of holes like a machine gun muzzle, shielding the tail from everything a frenetic Irish Setter might whack it against, but mostly to prevent him from chomping it off.  Thin strips of mercurochromed cloth suspended the tail inside this tube like the hub of a bicycle wheel, though Seamus made a habit of contrarily biting them away.

          “The vet had to shave his feathering when he set the tail,” she added, turning her attention to a giraffe-necked sprinkler on the corner windowsill. “It’s broken in two places: cracked coccygeal vertebrae and crushed hemal arches, something like that. The pooch nearly lost 20 inches of the most beautiful flowing tail I’ve ever seen.  By the time we got to Blaine Clinic, it was drooping like a funeral hanky—gangrene had nearly set in…”

          “How bizarre, a dog with his own tailpipe…too bad it doesn’t come with a muffler.”  Sydney turned away to peer out the cabin’s front windows, taking in the foothills, caught swivel headed once again by the Flatirons’s white granite slabs, jutting out like pitched anvils from the leading edge of the range. “Moon, dogs just don’t break their tails—this much, I know…”

          “It was an accident, a couple of weeks before Christmas,” she doted momentarily over a string of tender ivy cuttings in planters she’d crafted of pottery and macramé, hanging from ceiling hooks over bricked-up bookcases and a pair of re-stuffed chairs. “Kenny called me at work, totally hysterical. He said they had been wrestling around out front. He picked Seamus up and body slammed him…guess the dog came straight down on the tail—snappo.”

          “Snappo?  Great, now you’re telling me Mr. Sweet Understanding beats up his dog.”

          This, coupled with another unavoidable reconsideration of Melissa’s Christmas tree—all-American fairytale, from the Bethlehem star topping down to the stable scene base, from the hand-made wreath and all those miniature angels to the hand painted nativity figurines amid layers of tinseled, popcorn-strung flocking: Where was it all headed, for godsakes?  She then focused on Moon, and could scarcely imagine what Faith would make of her beloved ‘daughter-in-arms’ now, much less later on.

          “It was just some harmless rough-housing, Syd.  He’s not like that at all,” Melissa proceeded to follow her standard watering route, from filigree to rubber tree to wisteria and sunflowers. “If anything, maybe I’ve used too much tenderizer on him.  Made everything a little too laid-back, for a little too long.  He might have to get out there in the world pretty soon, but he seems so skittish…Kenny’s not much of a go-getter for his age, or planner aheader.  I’m even a bit antsy about it myself—don’t know what he needs more, a doctorate or a good boot in the tuckus.  But that’s our job isn’t it?  Let them be men.”

          “Here, use my platforms…do a little disco number on him.” Sydney smirked and pointed to her well-polished deer leather boots.

          “You know what’s kinda funny,” Melissa set aside the sprinkler. She began chewing what passed for her nails, then tugged at the ash brown wavelets along her temple, revealing a not insubstantially hairy underarm. “The vet said he started the plastic pipe technique when a rancher called him out to treat one of his prized bulls.  I really shouldn’t be talking like this, but the bull somehow managed to fracture his…you know, shvontz. So Seamus’s tail has become kind of a running joke around here because Kenny is not exactly chopped liver that way himself.  I tell him, see what’ll happen if you don’t shape up?”

          “Sooo, big in the boxers, is he?  Not like my little pisher of a brother,” Sydney cackled, ruefully concluding that Melissa was even more resourceful now than when toting Lester’s load.  “That’s what this is all about…you went and got yourself a John Holmes…”

          “Tsk, no—honestly…” Moon blushed, tying back the fullness of her hair, which seemed to comprise at least half of her body weight, food fetish or no.  “Actually, he’s into Jockeys, and pretty self-conscious about it.  He once told me how Cassie was a 37DD and hated them because of the special-order bras and how they got in the way of everything. Said sometimes he knows exactly how she felt.”

          “Well, that’s certainly not my personal problem, you can ask Faith,” Syd lamented. “So he’s hung and doesn’t strut it?  What are you trying to say, dear Kenny’s going light in the Levi’s?”

          “Don’t be silly!  He just happens to have a scattershot kind of sex drive, what with the studying, and all,” Melissa spouted, caught with a fistful of tahinied cauliflower by the ringing of the phone. “And, like, lately he sometimes doesn’t last all that long, you know?”

          “Flash Gordon, huh?   Well, that’s even worse than a pisher,” Sydney stared off into some recent fleeting pleasure. Still, she kept returning to the far wall photos: mounted halftones and color aspects of Napoli’s arching Porta Capuana, the Kappelbrucke Bridge in Lucerne, pyramided wine casks in Bad Durkheim. “Mark one for the Aspen neurologist.”

          “On the other hand, when he does, I’m sore for days,” Melissa smiled, rushing for the side room study. “But e-nough about me.  I want to hear all about your jet-setter doctors and tycoons…or at least about Bernard. Be right back…”

          “Pu-lease, don’t ask…it was just another romantic flame-out. My clock’s still running, same as yours.” Syd tracked her, numerous other color photos leading her gaze about the living room like landing lights, not least the time exposures of Martigues and Montmartre. At the same time, hill-bent sunlight now skewed in upon ‘Waif and Grain’ from just above Flagstaff Summit, igniting her signed portrait of Melissa, even more starkly headstrong, brown hair unfurling Godiva-like to her waist. At any rate, Sydney’s erstwhile wedding gift was now the fulcrum to an otherwise tidy, garage sale-variety décor. Guess that’s how she saw it, giving her painting its due, as damn well it deserved. “As for Bernard, he has all the excitement of a rabbi-arranged marriage.”

          “Unbelievable,” Melissa hissed, dropping the phone, waving her Xeroxed work schedule in frustration. “That was the restaurant. Regina, our other hostess?  She called in with the downhill flu—three-day variety. I have to pull double shifts through the rest of the weekend…starting in half an hour. We’ll just have to finish catching up Monday, or so.”

          “Moon, dear, I have to be getting back to San Francisco by then.” Syd slumped against study’s doorway, gearing for her final approach to the coast. Up to her lymph nodes in poinsettia white Christmas, she glanced over her left shoulder, and there was more: a hand-held color streaking of candlelight carolers in Trafalgar Square, a night time-exposure of the Heidelberg Castle. Nothing spectacular, nothing she hadn’t seen before. She probably just didn’t expect to see them here. “Where did you get all these photographs?”

          “Oh, they’re Kenny’s,” Melissa said in passing, a magenta streak through the kitchen into the rear bedroom and back again, clock radio blaring, her mind likely racing to re-order her immediate priorities. “Took them when he was in the army over there, but he doesn’t do that much anymore…he pretty much leaves the creativity to me.  Tsk, he will really wig himself out by tomorrow night if I’m not around here. Besides, I’ve been thinking about a little attitune-up party for him, hoped you could stay…”

          “Sorry, dahling, California calls,” Sydney reassessed the varied continental shots, visibly comparing them to her portrait—no contest—ultimately returning to Trafalgar, sight straightening its regal blue-matted frame before floating her way aft cabin to the bathroom, pausing at the kitchen porch door for a read on the darkening skies. “Nature does, too.”

          “That unctuous job—the last time Regina pulled this, she was stranded up at Winter Park for a week,” Melissa shivered, palm pressing her hostess uniform on the kitchen table. “Incidentally, the weatherman says a real monster is headed our way…”

          “Brrr, no lie,” Syd flushed, returning to the kitchen door, distracted by Seamus’s latest flare-up and the station wagon backfiring its way into the cabin’s unshovelled driveway.  She smoothed out, rebuttoned her alpine sweater up around her neck, before gathering her tooled leather purse, then clicking its brass flap clasp. “I think I hear him now.”

          “No, I mean a storm,”  Melissa rushed to open the living room door, hangered green and brown uniform in hand, greeting the lone figure hulking across the front yard.  “Kenny, Regina did it again. I’ve got to get over to the restaurant right away. Help us get Syd’s luggage out of my car, then maybe you can show her around town or something…”

          “Aww, Moon, I’ve really got a lot to sift through here,” I lugged a boxful of texts and papers into the study, a manila envelope flying off the top.

          “I understand totally,” Sydney picked up the letter marked G.I. bill, handing it to me once I dumped the box onto the side room floor. “I’ve got to get over to Lorraine’s, anyway. She’s such a godsend to put me up.”

          “Really. He’ll run you over, anytime you’re ready,” Melissa donned her pea coat from a doorway hook, kissing my chin.  “Won’t you, Kenny…” Already she was being escorted off the porch by a cold, stiff wind now roller bearing down over the foothills.

          “I guess,” I turned to Sydney, though not exactly seeing her eye to eye.  “Uh, you’re flying out, right?  Might want to call and reconfirm…”

          “No need. I have this incredible travel agent in San Francisco. She cast my whole itinerary in stone. Reserved and pre-boarded all the way, on real airlines, not like that puddle jumper I got stuck on out of Aspen.”

          “You know best, Ms Worldbeater, just flow with it.” Melissa blew here a kiss. “Kenny, her bags…”

          “All I’m saying is Stapleton can freeze up in a heartbeat when the weather gets like this.” I crammed the VA envelope back into the file box.

          “Not to worry, flash,” Sydney smiled, grabbing her ski jacket, motioning out toward Melissa’s car.  “Like Moon says, let’s just flow with it.”

Care for more?

 Chapter 7. ‘Thar she flows…’