I’ve been revising my 2008 NaNo novel, Ike Duckworth and the Alienation of Casa Hector, on and off for 7 years now, always adding things, thinking of new layers of meaning. Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever finish it. I still don’t think it’s perfect, but I like it. So why not share?
Comment are definitely welcome.
Fox and Goose
“The roles we play in everyday life, on the other hand, soak into the individual, preventing him from being what he really is and what he really wants to be.” – Vaneigem
Ike Duckworth was the sort of young man who followed every piece of good advice he had ever received: he dressed for success, he gave 110%, he always looked on the bright side. As advertised, these virtues had won him a much-coveted berth at Franklin Krasnoski Radnor and Sykowitz, a prestigious architectural firm renowned for its award-winning design work, now extended to eight glossy, oversized volumes of houses, sports complexes and office towers.
He still eyed the office like a cautious tourist: the lunch room with its massive hand-crafted table, strewn with the mingled sections of the Post-Gazette and the New York Times, the spiral stairs that descended from it, the oddly angled double-hung windows that went clear up to the crown molding, the bowl-like sculpture made from a stop sign, red and yellow on the one chartreuse wall in the otherwise whitewashed studio. It sure wasn’t what he expected. Laying his fingertips against the glass, he peered out to the horizon, and then down, precipitously down, into the busy street below. He wasn’t one for vertigo, but it was a long way down.
Miraculously, Ike’s attention had been drawn, in spite of this visual mayhem, not by the blue mirrored-glass tower under construction a few blocks away, or the punchy graphics of a lecture series poster, or even the recent drawings done by the staff on a sketch outing, what caught his attention was a lime green flyer with the words CASA HECTOR blaring across the top in a hyperbolic font that probably had a name like WhimZee. No designer in his right mind would have made that combination and, in fact, it was an unknown bespectacled man in jeans and steel-toed boots who was presently tacking it to the wall.
Casa Hector? Sounded like a resort. So he asked.
“Frederick Fuchs,” the questionable designer said, making a neat bow when Ike took his extended hand. “At your service.”
Ike gave his name, without the bow, the corners of his lips twitching with the effort of not laughing at the clicked heels he imagined, but did not see.
“I commend your acuity,” Fred said, taking a moment now to look him over severely.
Ike looked down at his Italian loafers and back at Fred. What?
“You seem,” Fred continued with a strange smile, “Discerning. This is, in fact, an advertisement for a vacancy in my domicile. Its name, I don’t doubt, may lead you to expect an expansive hacienda, or at the very least, a wrought-iron encrusted, yellow stucco Spanish Revival manse—as an architect, you cannot fool me about your expectations—but you will, instead, discover that Casa Hector is a typical Pittsburgh four-square, if on a somewhat smaller scale than is usual.”
Fredrick Fuchs managed to say all of that in one very smooth, long breath.
Ike took a breath for him. He’d finished reading the flyer, which actually advertised, and this was the wording: ‘convenient lodging for the discerning bachelor.’
“I’d have my own room?”
“Naturally, as well as freedom in the rest of the house.”
“How much you asking?”
Living at home really wasn’t working and not only because he had an hour commute to the downtown office; between his father asking nightly when he was moving out and his mother hovering and fussing, in only two weeks, Ike knew he needed to get out before he said—or did—something he’d regret.
As for this Fred character, all he knew was that he was one of the Accounting temps from Numbers4U that had set up camp in the small conference room, six people grueling over stacks of banker boxes, adding machines and laptops; the glass doors always firmly shut.
“One hundred and fifty dollars a month; split the utilities.”
Fred’s dignity was wounded, causing him to stand even more perfectly erect than before. “It’s just a room.”
“It’s a whole house–”
“—that at all times will be my domain, though I am willing to share with the right tenant.”
Ike shrugged. “When can I see this Casa Hector of yours?”
“At your convenience,” Fred said, and bowed again.
So it was arranged for Ike to swing by after work, which turned out to be about 7:30 by the time he got finished drafting the toilet partition revisions for the new gym FKRS was designing, crawled through the eastbound Parkway traffic and shot off the ramp just before the tunnels. Not doing the tunnels every night would be a real deliverance.
Casa Hector was exactly as described: a small brick four-square about half way up the hillside on a quiet street. There wasn’t a lot of parking on the block, what with all the driveways and handicap-designated parking spots, but he found a place about four doors up on the other side of the street. He was prepared not to be too particular.
The sun was still above the horizon, the day languidly warm, golden light raking across trees and lawns, making deep contrasts of shade and shimmer. Ike sauntered down the sidewalk, hands in his pockets, aware that a dog, somewhere below, had noticed his presence with a howl. Every other house on the block was fronted by a prim postage stamp of manicured grass, miniature golfing greens his father would approve of, but the front yard of Casa Hector was enclosed in hedges, within which a sprawling purple-leaved tree shared space with an array of rose bushes, which sent clouds of pink, yellow and white petals above the neatly sculpted border. It was like walking out of a checkerboard sprawl and into the Alhambra. As he approached Fred’s house, the man himself called out from the swing on the deep, shady porch.
“You found us!”
Ike lifted a hand in greeting. He saw no one but Fred. Opera was blaring from somewhere inside.
Fred welcomed Ike inside, looking the same as he always did at work, minus shoes. The interior was the same as the exterior, which is to say, it was not at all what might be expected of bachelor’s digs. The entry was tidy and clean with an umbrella stand and Fred’s steel-toed boots by the door and pegs for coats opposite, by the stairs. The living room contained an overstuffed couch and chair, built-in bookcases flanking a fireplace, a small TV in the corner and a profusion of weird portrait art—most of it quite amateurish—arrayed on the aqua walls. Ike looked at Fred again, wondering for a moment what kind of roommate he was advertising for; at least two of the paintings on the walls had women in them, one of whom was naked, which he decided was a statement of preference and so followed Fred into the dining room.
This room was purple—aubergine, to be more accurate—with a few dark wood bookcases in the corners, a cabinet, and a round oak table surrounded by mismatched chairs. More paintings; this time less surreal landscapes and still-lifes, all vibrant with exaggerated color and line.
At the back of the house was the kitchen, small, old and in bad need of renovation, yet its tangerine walls were warm and cheerful. Plates and bowls in turquoise, heliotrope and black sat on open shelves, and of course, there were books here, too. Fred suggested they tour the upstairs next.
At the end of the hall upstairs was a small library with floor-to-ceiling shelves, a sagging armchair in the middle. Ike took a moment to check out the titles: the jarring neon-orange of Future Shock beside another orange book called Your Money or Your Life, Culture Jam, The Society of the Spectacle and a few other titles with Debord’s name on them, faded paperbacks from the 60s by Freud, Jung, Huxley and Schumacher, books on politics, history and gardening, an acre of opera CDs. He reached out for one of the books on Atlantis, stopped midway, smiling at the dozen or so books on UFOs lined up neatly beside it.
Reshelving two volumes that had been lying in the chair, Fred noticed Ike’s absorption in his collection.
“You are a bibliophile as well?”
“I, uh, like design books,” Ike was willing to admit. Really, Fred looked more like one of the X-File’s Lone Gunmen than Fox Mulder, but anyone who still kept Chariots of the Gods on his bookshelf had to be alright.
Fred pulled up his lower lip and nodded thoughtfully, now leading the way to his own room. Making an arabesque gesture of display as he opened the door with those slender, spidery-fingered hands, the sort of hands that ought to play the piano, he revealed a room in stark contrast with the rest of the house.
Painted a soothing blue, it was quietly Spartan–a single bed, one small chest of drawers—but of course there were books, stacked on the chest, on the floor, even, at the moment, on the bed.
The large room in the back that would be his, right beside the bathroom, was painted pale yellow, though Fred said he was amenable to a change in color. The bathroom was small: white fixtures and tile to the sill of the window, the walls painted red above the tile. It was striking.
Interested in seeing the backyard, he found, instead of the requisite patch of lawn, a tenth of an acre almost entirely under cultivation. Even Ike recognized beans, lettuce, tomatoes, cabbage, corn into which were mixed a variety of flowers.
“That brings us nearly to the end of the tour,” Fred said, “though I would like to show you the basement. I have plans that will make it quite cozy.”
Ike shrugged his acceptance, following Fred through the kitchen and down the basement stairs.
“May I offer you a cooling beverage?”
Ike wasn’t going to say no to a beer. Reaching into a metal cupboard at the foot of the stairs, Fred grabbed a Giant Eagle Sauerkraut jar (the label, though faded, was remarkably intact) and filled it with something pink from a Coleman jug, and handed it across.
When his own repurposed pickle jar was in his hands, Fred lifted the jar in salute. “Cheers!”
He took a rather enthusiastic gulp of the slightly fizzy, cloudy pink drink.
Ike sniffed the heady contents sloshing in his jar. “What is this?”
A blank stare.
“Hand-crafted wine, if you will. I hope you do consider sampling it.”
Ike shrugged and took a swig. It was like a wine cooler with a dangerous kick. He took another, deeper gulp.
Fred smiled. “Now that you have had the tour, have you an interest in my accommodations?”
Ike stared into the rose elixir. “This stuff is good, considering.”
“That it is cheap and is crafted in a common plastic garbage can? Damn straight. I believe that generous hospitality is the foundation of a joyous community.”
Ike’s eyes roved around the white washed walls of the basement, where various tools and gardening implements were ranked in neat array, reminding him of his dad’s garage. “Will you take a check?”
Fred grinned, lifting his jar again. “Communitas Felix!”
“Whatever,” Ike chuckled. “Cheers!”
There was clinking of pickle and sauerkraut jars and tipping back of beverages. Ike’s brain fizzed with elixir, fatigue and relief. Up in there somewhere, mixed up among the neurons was a little switch, a switch that had been flipped all the way to Overdrive since he was the smallest child for whom anyone might have expectations, and now, with no more fanfare than a fizzle and a pop, clicked with a rattling finality to Off. When had the damage started? Was it on the construction crew, the pitching mound, the studio all-nighters? It wasn’t a matter of will, but rather the opposite, though in truth, the dead switch scarcely mattered; the machine had been broken long before, no one being much the wiser. Still, one stumbled on, forced the way forward, got along. The body, the will, all that remained of Ike Duckworth, coasted to a halt in the safety of refuge, perhaps to recover, perhaps to molder into that premature middle age known as conformity, watched over by a careless, if benevolent shepherd, in the person of Frederick Fuchs.
Next chapter here.