(Last chance on the comment challenge to trigger an extra post this Saturday! The comment count stands at 25, which means… we need 25 on this post! Or 10 on this post and 3-4 more on each of the previous 4-5 posts… -ctan)
I ignored the keyboard the next morning and set about caffeinating myself enough to contemplate going up to the gas station to try to call Ziggy. I didn’t even have anything I was burning to say. I just wanted to hear his voice and reassure myself that he was all right.
I started a pot of coffee and while it was brewing I started getting the milk and sugar ready. I put the sugar into the milk in the mug and stirred it.
Claire appeared around the time the pot was almost done. “What are you doing?”
“Pre-dissolving the sugar in the milk so it doesn’t just end up sludge in the bottom of the mug.”
She frowned. “Can’t you do anything the normal way?”
“The normal way doesn’t work when you like as much sugar and milk as I do.”
She looked into my mug suspiciously. “Hm.”
“I can make you some, too. There’s plenty of coffee.” I assumed Flip would also want some when he got up. The pot finished and I filled the mug the rest of the way with coffee. “Here. Try it and see if you like it.”
She took a sip. “Oh, I suppose it is acceptable.” She then leaned back against the counter, took a long gulp, and let out a deep, guttural sigh. I hid my smile while I made myself some. “I learned to drink it black so long ago.”
“When I was still a teenager. Fifteen or sixteen. I thought it made me seem more grown up. And I was worried about my figure.”
“Or your agent was?” I asked, but she didn’t reply to that. “I found your old publicity shots.”
“Oh, goodness, do I look piggish in them?”
“No! Jeez, no. You’re thin as a rail. I meant you didn’t need to worry at all.”
“Silly boy. If I look thin in the photos it’s proof my efforts were paying off.” She took another gulp of sugary, lukewarm coffee. “The doctor really did say I should keep up my calorie intake, didn’t he?”
“He did. You won’t have the energy to fight the disease if you don’t.”
“Well, then.” She handed me her empty mug and I filled it again. “Maybe we should switch from half and half to heavy cream.”
“I’ll pick some up while I’m out,” I said with a nod.
“I’ve got to make some calls. I’ll head up to the gas station and the store isn’t that much farther.” I wanted to do it before I ended up too stoned to drive. Even if I didn’t partake directly, the contact high was still quite strong for me. “I should at least page Ziggy.”
“Have you… heard from him?”
“A couple of ‘I love you’ pages, but that’s it.”
“‘I love you pages?’”
So I explained our number code system. “911 if it’s an emergency. 411 if you need information. 777 for good luck. 747 for ‘I’m getting on a plane now.’ That kind of thing.”
“Clever boys. What’s he up to?”
“I don’t know. I need to find out.” I barreled ahead more blithely than I felt. “If he’s not too busy, I want him to come back down here for a visit. I miss him.”
“There’s really not much room here for him, though,” she said with a wrinkled nose. I’d known she would resist the idea, but I guess I’d wanted to be sure.
Flip knocked on the front door and I let him in. “I’m going out to get some milk,” I told him. “Want to come?”
“I’ve got to go out myself,” he said. “Gotta gas up Bessie.”
“Good a name as any for the RV.” He shrugged. “You go on, though. I’ve still gotta caffeinate.”
“The rest of the coffee’s for you.” I pointed out the half-full pot on my way out the door. I did the cream errand and paged Ziggy back like I had planned to. He wasn’t answering at his apartment. I didn’t bother trying to call Carynne since I knew she’d page me as soon as she had anything to tell me.
When I got back, Flip took off in the RV. He was gone about two hours and when he came back, he’d not only been to get gas, he had picked up another friend of his. The guy had a thin gray ponytail and a silent-type demeanor. He was a former roadie, now retired, whose actual name I never learned. Flip, and therefore the rest of us, just called him “Chief.” I suspected from his tattoos that “Chief” was meant in the Navy sense and not in the Native American sense but I didn’t have the guts to ask.
It may have been Chief’s arrival that prompted Claire to ask me about Flip’s plans. She seemed very high strung when she asked me. At the time Flip and Chief were in the RV and we were in the house. We were standing in the corner that was the kitchen, as far from the keyboard as possible. We’d just finished eating a little something. She spoke in halting phrases: “Do you know, by any chance, how long your friend–and his friend–are planning to stay?”
“I really don’t know,” I told her. “We didn’t really talk about it.”
“Oh…?” She pulled an oh-really sort of face at me, blinking like that idea was making her eyes water.
“Are you hoping they’re leaving or hoping they’re staying?” I asked.
“Oh, well, that’s not what I meant by asking at all. I was just curious.”
“Claire, it’s okay. Just tell me what you want.”
“Oh, like that’s so simple.” She set down her tea cup or threw her napkin or something. “Like I”m supposed to know how this works?”
“How what works?”
She clenched her fists. “Dying. Or not dying. Or, or… having your son’s helpers bring drugs to your mountain hideaway.” (I wouldn’t have called where we were mountainous.)
“No one knows how this is supposed to work,” I answered. “If you want me to tell them to get a move on, I will.”
“And then where will we get it? It’s a miracle, you know. An absolute miracle.” She put her hand on her chest. “If I had one more bout of it, I think I was going to acid-burn my esophagus.”
Presumably the first “it” in her statement was marijuana and the second one was vomiting. “I could ask that.”
“No! I don’t want them to think they’re unwelcome.” She folded her hands. “The more the merrier.”
I was about to call her on it–on the fact that a few hours earlier she had said the place was too crowded and so Ziggy shouldn’t come, and now she was saying the more the merrier. But I caught myself. What was the point in that? Did I need her to agree with me? Or change her mind? Or anything? Not really. Pointing out her hypocrisy or inconsistency had never made her change before and I didn’t think she was about to start. But her statements made it starkly clear she didn’t want Ziggy around. That, I thought, was worth digging into.
So I went right at it. “Why don’t you want Ziggy here, then?”
“Oh, you misinterpret everything I say. But look around. Ziggy wouldn’t want to be here.”
Instead of arguing that she didn’t know that or that she should let him be the judge, I took another tack. “Don’t you like him? I thought you liked him.”
“He’s a dear.” Agreeing and yet not agreeing. “But aren’t the two of you going through a little something right now?”
“But then maybe letting him cool off is the best plan.”
There might have been another couple of rounds like that, where no matter what I said she came back with some reason why Ziggy shouldn’t come. You get the gist. I gave up trying to argue with her, but maybe I’d gotten what I wanted out of the argument, which was definite clarity on the fact she did not want him here.
What I still didn’t know was why. Maybe she thought he and I would argue and that would be bad for her health? That was the most charitable form of selfishness I could come up with for her. More likely she just wanted my attention all to herself?
I thought about that. I thought about that most of the rest of that day. I thought about it while sober and I thought about it while stoned.
I didn’t really like the conclusions I came to, so I thought about it some more.
(I know more than 25 of you are reading this… 25 comments is all it’ll take! Top-level comments only count toward the challenge, no replies! -ctan)