Ike Duckworth–Chapter 15

Chapter 15

Treating with Hallows

“But we only need to hold out our hands and touch one another, to raise our eyes and meet one another, and everything comes into focus, as if by magic.” – Raoul Vaneigem

The silent television flipped from an aerial image of a football stadium to what promised to be a beer commercial.

“Did you get Constantia anything? For her birthday,” Ike asked, adjusting the earpiece attached to his pocket radio.

Fred was flipping through the books that had come in the mail that day: a new Debord bio he hadn’t read and another about a walking trip through France. “I did indeed, though it was a ceaseless consternation. We’ve been dating for eternity—“

“Three weeks, at least.”

“—and yet, at a deliciously ripe 26 years of age, she has not yet embraced her joie de vivre. With respect to her obvious religious principles, and with an oblique, though I am sure well hidden, commentary, I made her a gift of an icon of the Theotokos.”

Ike waited patiently for Fred’s inevitable explanation, glancing at the TV to confirm the commercial intermission.

Fred obeyed the prompt. “A hand-painted rendering of the Holy Madonna from the Greek Orthodox perspective.”

Ike laughed around a mouthful of elixir. “Classy. Your subtlety is unmatched.”

Fred smiled, inclining his head in receipt of the compliment.

“Well, did she like it?”

“I believe she was surprised at my sensitivity to her principles.”

“Good on ya, mate. I’m sure it will pay off someday…”

And with this remark, Ike resumed laughing, but as it was at his expense, Fred did not care to join in. He had wanted to sleep with that woman the moment he laid eyes on her; what was taking her so long? It was obvious she liked him, but he was not happy with her recalcitrance.

Fred had been to her place once, to watch a DVD with her roommate, which had made for a pretty dull evening, though, after Paulette retired, they did make out a bit. Her place was in a typical apartment building: immaculate white boxes, in this case a renovated brick Victorian, replete with tan shag carpet, white linoleum kitchen floor, here and there, cutesy, little kountry-krafts tacked on the walls. He was desperately hoping they did not belong to Constantia and were not in her taste, though they did seem an odd accessory for Paulette. On the other hand, perhaps the country-leaning ornamentation signaled an undeveloped longing to be an urban homesteader.

This being Halloween, he’d invited her to come over early to give out candy with him and Ike. Ike, of course, understanding Fred’s plan, made himself scarce, which was easy to do with the workload at the office. Though she had said she would come, Fred was long since used to women who said they would and then didn’t. She’d been here only once before, the night of the party, but it had been so crowded, and he had been so engaged in playing the host, he’d had little time for conversation—or for anything else. Not that he hadn’t tried. Yet here was Constantia, jabbing at the doorbell over and over again with her perfectly lacquered fingernails.

“Constantia! Welcome to Casa Hector.”

She smiled at his predictability.

“Hi, Fred.”

She wore an ice-blue shiny jacket with fur trim around the hood. Her hobo-style purse was stuffed full and jangled with its multitudes.

He leaned in and kissed her on the cheek, which was still cool from the evening air. It had been the right move; she moved a little closer to him.

“Casa Hector? Where did that come from, anyway, the Trojan hero?” There was clear disdain in her tone.

“Not quite. Casa Hector was named to honor my rabbit.”

“You named your house for your rabbit?”

“And why not? He was a real good bunny.”

“Was?”

“Alas, Hector is no more. He now reposes, where he was wont to bounce and nibble, in the front garden amid the roses and lilies.”

“For a second there, I thought you were going to say you ate him.”

“Eat my second-best friend? What kind of woman are you?”

“I was only saying…”

“You had designs on my beloved pet.”

“I never met your beloved pet, remember? This is the first time I’ve ever even heard of him.“

“Indeed, Miss Goddess of Reason. I bow to your intellect.” Which he did indeed do. Fred made a point of meaning what he said.

“You may hang your coat up–” he gestured toward a row of coat hooks by the door, already occupied by a stylishly cut gray wool topcoat and a red plaid CPO jacket “—or throw it anywhere you like. We do not stand on ceremony at Casa Hector. As its proud proprietor, I believe in generosity as the lubricant of a joyous community. Make yourself at home. In the meantime, I should like to offer you a beverage.”

“I should like to accept.” She smiled and he left the room, returning with a Giant Eagle Hot Pepper rings jar for her, full of the pink brew, clearer now, but still nicely fizzy, and a pickle jar full for himself. She was, however, still wearing her coat.

“Communitas Felix,” he said, hoisting his jar.

“Cheers. I really had no idea though that you were so attached to your rabbit that you named your house for him.”

“Well, in fairness, I named it after Hector, so that the next owner would understand precisely who was haunting them, and would thus be able to protect themselves accordingly.”

“The rabbit haunts this house?” Her lips were poised on the rim of the jar, though she had already made good headway on the 8.5 ounces that had been allotted to her.

“Well—let us say, not often. He probably would if I packed up and sold the house to someone else, abandoning his soul to hopeless loneliness for all eternity. That would make me haunt the scene of my last happiness. Wouldn’t you?”

“You’re really weird, you know that don’t you?”

“That’s why you want to sleep with me, is it not?”

“Excuse me?”

“That is not why you came over?”

She stared at him, no longer drinking.

“Ah,” he said, swishing away a mouthful of elixir. “We have come to an awkward impasse of misunderstanding.”

He paused studying her. She studied him back.

“Or are you afraid of bunny nightmares?”

“Listen—“ she said. That “listen,” as any man of experience will know, is about the last civil word one is likely to hear before an imminent argument or a hasty exit, especially when the woman in question is still wearing her coat. As he did, indeed, seem attentively at her command, she hesitated.

“Can we, maybe, decide on this later?” She smiled and took another sip of the elixir.

“Of course,” he said, grinning into his jar.

They took a large wicker basket filled with candy out to the porch, where Fred had outfitted the swing with cushions, a Coleman jug stationed nearby for refills. There were SUV loads of kids trooping up and down the street: toddlers dressed as bees or teddy bears in their parents’ arms, the elementary crowd as superheroes, pirates, ballerinas and princesses, and the nervous teenagers with their makeshift vampire and fashionista costumes. They were all polite and excited, pleased by Fred’s selection of candy bars and old-fashioned jawbreakers and lollipops. Fred insisted his favorite celebrants take more than one piece, and he asked each one what candy they liked best. Constantia said she couldn’t guess their names, so some told her. She blew a kiss to a little Harry Potter when he said she looked like Hermione Granger. A lot of the accompanying adults called to Fred from the street, making friendly remarks about his party. Ever so mildly buzzed, Constantia was having fun.

As night came on in earnest, the candy-seekers thinned, and Fred suggested they retire inside.

They went down to the basement to build a fire in the stove. It was cozy down there on the lawn chairs, feet on the table, talking election politics, music and the best foods they’d ever eaten. Obama versus Hillary. The Magic Flute. Foo Fighters. Yes, yes, the way sushi should melt in your mouth, and ribs, sweet and hot and dripping, eaten with your fingers. Tomatoes hot from the vine. She asked for another jar of elixir; Fred asked her what she liked best about being a nurse. She cried about the ones who died. He kissed her and dabbed at the tears with his handkerchief. She stayed the night.

……………………………………………

You can catch up on chapters 1-14 here.

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