Ike Duckworth–Chapter 7

Chapter 7

Three Faces of Eve

To understand how any society functions you must understand the relationship between the men and the women.—Angela Davis

Fred was filling his mug with the day’s first hit of coffee—a habit he wished to, but had not succeeded in breaking, although he had at least stopped buying expensive café coffee and had become habituated to the office brew—still a bit in a fog since the all-around winning evening he’d had on Friday night. He’d met a great girl—and got her number—and won enough on a lottery ticket to be able to throw a banging party. After he’d dragged himself out of bed late on Saturday morning, he and Ike spent the remainder of the weekend planning their party.

Here it was: Everyone at work was to be invited, Constantia and her roommate, Paulette the pool shark, and flyers announcing it were to be distributed on his street and on the bus. A keg or two and plenty of pop would be needed, some vodka, whiskey and rum maybe, as well as a plentiful supply of elixir, of course. Fred planned to spend the week ahead baking breadtzels, while a supply would be laid in of chips, dips, cheese, crackers and peanuts. Ike took charge of the sound system and tunes.

In the midst of Fred’s happy daydreams of a boisterous neighborhood celebrating an impromptu Oktoberfest, a charmingly curvaceous woman he had never seen before raced through the lunch room, sweeping a cape from her shoulders and shaking out her silky maroon hair as she went. For heaven sake, she wore black and purple striped stockings wrapped around her fat calves, sculptural platform stilettos, severe enough to look formal, and a short black knit dress that squiggled with cables and texture. Her hair was a sleek bob cut above her shoulders, perfect deep bangs coming down to her eyebrows. The word “wow” popped inside him. She stalked around the end of the aisle and disappeared. Was she—an architect?

Without even thinking, he followed her, watching as she folded the cape over the back of her chair, whispering something as she did so with her curled red lips. Her cubicle was a riot of color: postcards, post-its, stacks of books, photographs of family, a bunch of smiling friends dressed up for Halloween, and plants, leafy, spiky, flowered, tumbling from a variety of ingenious containers.

“Are you an architect?” Fred asked, brain flowing unpremeditated to the voice.

“‘Fraid so,” she cooed, looking up at him, her pale blue eyes framed in a smudge of kohl. Fred was staring. “Did you need something, hon?”

He detected a hint of the South in her voice, which nicely complimented her bodacious ensemble. “An introduction only. Frederick Fuchs, itinerant fiduciary, at your service,” he said with his customary half-bow.

She laughed happily and extended a ring-studded hand. “Esmeralda Lane, landscape architect, very pleased.”

Fred was still standing there after she’d freed her hand, and the gaze between them continued for a while, bedazzled on his side and bemused on hers.

“You have wise, old eyes,” she said, and then sat down, her nails clicking merrily on the shiny Mac keyboard. “You might consider trading in your fiduciary shingle to take up farming.”

“Indeed, I do suspect that is my calling. This–” he gestured to include himself and the office, “is necessitous wage work. It is, I believe, my only vice.”

She indicated his coffee cup. “Some see that drug as a vice.”

“Indeed. However, such ones and I do not define the word ‘vice’ in quite the same manner. Where it does not abjectly impede my health, I cannot call a vice a thing which renders pleasure.”

“I couldn’t agree more. We should go for lunch sometime; I like listening to you talk.”

“I am not engaged today–”

“But I am. Regrets. Still, I do need my yoga or all this sitting would adversely jam my chakras. Tomorrow would be better.”

“I await the day with pleasure.” He bowed again. “Miss Lane.”

“Mr. Fuchs.”

Her lips twisted like a ribbon in the wind when she said his name; his heart flipped over, or at least some deep, blood-loving element with similar needs. At the same time, to be fair to his conscience, his mind said: Constantia. He was glad—both radiant creatures who gave so much pleasure.

His day was not entertaining, nor had he expected it to be, as it entailed the exact same task that had consumed the previous three months, that is, slogging his way through seventy-five banker’s boxes of billing statements, fund transfers and expense reports, recalculating all the figures and then checking them against a master spreadsheet. All of which then meant something mysterious to the battery of tax consultants and lawyers to whom they sent their results week after week. Instead, his mind played with the images of these two women, Constantia Andreolakis and Esmeralda Lane, as if they were paper dolls. He admired them, dressed and undressed them, made them speak to him and to each other.

Ike was not at the bus stop at 5:50 that evening to catch the 56E. Probably stuck doing overtime on the criminally-mismanaged gym project at the very moment when he wish to commune with his comrade. Corporate America! he thought with indignant excoriation.

Here was his issue: He had not actually asked for Constantia’s number, and though he certainly liked her, he wasn’t sure if he would have asked, maybe hoping to run into her again sometime and let things develop from there. Yet here he was with the number in his hand, knowing this woman he met in a bar was counting the days, expecting him to call, and all the time, he wasn’t sure he’d ever wanted to. But on the other hand, why the hell not?

That evening, in spite of misgivings, he called Constantia.

She laughed when she heard his voice, a bell-like, happy sound. She was in the middle of her shift at West Penn, but she wanted to hear all about the party plans. She had a few ideas that had not occurred to him—like balloons to mark the party house, or adding color (and protecting furniture) with inexpensive, colorful fabric—that might really add something to the festivities. There’d need to be some wrangling for her to get Saturday night off, but she promised to try. There was also, apparently, a new CD Paulette had turned her onto, some sort of punk-trance or something like that; she said she’d burn him a copy. He was surprised how easy it was to talk to her. She promised to call him at work when she got up on Wednesday and maybe meet him in town for lunch. Things were moving along nicely.

Later, when Ike finally turned up, over a well-earned late night jar of elixir, Fred did convey the ecstasy of his new acquaintance.

“Wait—you mean Witchypoo? You’re in raptures over her? That woman is seriously weird. And she’s, um, fat, man. Are you kidding me?”

But since when did Fred kid?

“Pardon?”

“She’s a witch, said so herself, doesn’t make a secret of it. Skull rings and half-moon tattoos, candles burning, and all the weird little talismans she’s got hanging all over.”

“Fascinating,” Fred said, stoking the fire. “Perhaps those whose faith is close to the earth have already begun the revolution of everyday life.”

Ike’s attention had just been distracted from the newly leaping flames to Fred’ s large feet landing on the coffee table, clad in fuzzy brown bunny slippers.

“Um, yeah, sure. They’ve given up the Necronomicon for Debord and Vaniegem.” He was actually a little surprised at knowing what the Situationists were, though impossible to avoid, living here as he did in New Paris, Pittsburgh. As for the Necronomicon, it was the only magical thing he could think of other than Harry Potter, probably from some Fright Night double feature or one of those skinny Lovecraft paperbacks he’d read when he was thirteen and had a fascination for all things creepy.

For Fred’s part, he’d taken no notice of the occult trappings that Ike seemed familiar with, so captivated had he been by the curve of her lips, the Southern honey in her voice, and the superior sartorial sense to which he bowed most humbly. No doubt about it, he was awash with anticipation of tomorrow’s lunch, when he would fix all his powers of observation and acuity upon this magnificently unusual female form.
He’d also apparently forgotten the note card that had come in the mail that day which now lay forlorn and crumpled on the coffee table. But Ike noticed. On the outside was a reproduction of a drawing by da Vinci that looked like the angel of the Annunciation; on the inside, in a tight script that slanted to the left, was this message:

Frederick,

I am selling my home. There is no point staying anymore; it is only bad memories. There are some things of yours in the attic that I would like you to take away.

I am home most Saturdays. Please call before coming.

Mother

“What’s this?” Ike said, holding up the partially straightened card.

Fred glowered and snatched it away. “A Royal request from Her Majesty, my mother.”

He tossed the card into the fire. It wavered, buckled in the heat, before being consumed in a puff of flame.

While Ike thought his own mom worried too much over every little thing he did and had crazy notions of the devotion adult sons were likely to demonstrate to their mothers, he got on fine with her. She made his favorite meal for his birthday every year—red-hot goulash and chocolate cake with chocolate icing—he sent her a card for Mother’s Day, called her on her birthday and showed up for Thanksgiving, Easter and Christmas dinners. If she wanted more, she was nuts; he was content with their relationship. Watching Fred though, made him wonder what was wrong there, but as the card warped and twisted in its death agony, he thought better of asking.

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