She didn’t understand wild mushroom anything.
Three nights later, the doorbell rang and Gil and Max ran to answer it. Chris Kane stood at the door with a bouquet of flowers in one hand and a small bag of gourmet dog treats in the other. Gil turned toward the stairs and yelled: “Kori! Time to go.” He turned back to Chris, hand on the knob, body blocking the doorway. He did not invite him in, just stared at him while Max sniffed the bag.
“Oh, yeah,” Chris said. “These are for Max.”
Gil opened the bag and without taking his eyes off Chris, tossed a biscuit in a high arc. Max made a mad dash across the room, snatching it from the air. One corner of Gil’s mouth quirked up when Max took the first crunching bite, but his gaze didn’t waver.
Kori appeared and Chris sighed from relief and appreciation. Kori smiled, waved and disappeared into the kitchen. After a few more moments, Gil took the flowers and went to join his sister, but when Chris took a step to follow, Max ceased his crunching and growled.
“Oh, they’re beautiful,” Chris heard her say from the kitchen. “Do me a favor and put these in water?” He heard the smacking of lips as cheeks were kissed.
“Avery should be home by ten. Gil needs to go to sleep by then.”
“Awww, Kori,” Gil whined.
“Alright. Ten-thirty.” Apparently that pleased Gil because Chris heard no argument.
“You be careful now.”
An older female voice. One Chris couldn’t identify.
“I will.” Another kiss. “Thanks, Aunt Stella.” Ah, yes. The neighbor.
“Well, whether you’re early or late, you know where you’ll find me.”
“Asleep on the couch and pretending not to be.” More laughter and then she was standing before him, smiling.
“What are you doing in the doorway?” Kori asked, the smile brightening.
“Waiting for you. What else?”
Kori laughed and he grabbed her arm and led her away.
“The more you delve into this stuff, the more that comes up,” Aunt Stella said. She and Gil sat at the kitchen table each with the remnants of a glass of milk and the cookie crumbs to go with it. Aunt Stella shuffled a deck of Tarot cards, tapped them tight and placed them in front of Gil. “That’s why people keep all their little secrets and don’t want to bother with them. It’s just too much for some to think about.” She smiled at Gil. “You’re still young, though. How many secrets could you possibly have?”
“Now what do I do?” Gil asked, impatient.
“Cut the cards three times to the left and then stack them up again on the pile to the right.” Gil did as instructed and waited on Aunt Stella’s next move. “We’re just going to do a short past, present, future reading right now rather than go through the whole song and dance of a lifetime reading. Although…” She placed a hand under her chin and played with an errant whisker, something her eyebrow tweezers had missed. She furrowed her brows, further accentuating the small, almost scar-like indentation that had formed over the years in the center of her eyebrows as a result of this exact facial expression. “Nah, let’s just do this.” Waving a pudgy hand to erase all contrary thoughts, she placed it on top of the cards, fanning them across the table before Gil. Although Aunt Stella had several Tarot decks at home, she preferred Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot Deck as it conveyed more of a feeling of beneficence on the reader than say, the Egyptian Tarot which was to her mind overly preoccupied with the twin themes of death and destruction.
“Pick three cards and place them right to left facing down.”
Gil acquiesced and looked up, doe-eyed at Aunt Stella, waiting for the next instruction. She pushed the remainder of the deck together in a pile and set it aside. Had any of the clergy members, all males, of the Greek Orthodox Church to which Aunt Stella belonged been here to witness such adroit familiarity with the work of Satan they would have blushed crimson and then blue for lack of oxygen. But despite the ecclesiastical indoctrinations of the church, it could not, for all its gumption, usurp such traditions, steeped in mysticism and superstition, that had survived among Greek women since the seers and high priestesses of the temple brought to light the oracles at Delphi.
“You know, my mother had the Sight. She could tell you who was on the phone the minute it rang.”
“Wow. Really?” Gil asked. “I wish I could do that.”
“You can. You just need focus. And some training.” Aunt Stella tapped the first of the three cards Gil had turned over. “My sister inherited my mother’s gift. She can read the cards just by looking at them. Not me, though. I need the book.” She flipped through The Tarot Book, by Angeles Arrien, its pages worn and rounded from overuse. She placed her hand reverently on the cover and closed her eyes. “My second bible,” she said, opening her eyes. “Shall we start?”
Aunt Stella picked up Gil’s first card. “This is your recent past.”
“Why didn’t you get your Mom’s gift?”
“It only goes to one woman in the family, usually the first born, but that varies. The others get some things, sympathetic leanings and what not, but usually only one gets the whole enchilada.”
The enchilada reference triggered a visceral reaction and Gil’s stomach grumbled loudly. Aunt Stella pushed her basket of treats his way and looked up the first card in the Angeles book. Gil pulled out a white-chocolate chip and macadamia nut cookie, so loaded with nuts that there was barely enough dough to hold the cookie together.
“What happens if there’s no girls?”
“Sometimes it skips a generation. Although boys can get it, too, if that’s what you’re asking. And sometimes it does run through the male line. Your father’s told me more than once about your grandmother. Apparently she had it. I think he was always a little disappointed that he didn’t have a full-fledged dose of it, although he was very intuitive, especially for a man. Still, he didn’t rise to your level.” Aunt Stella reached across the table and squeezed Gil’s hand. “He was so proud of you.”
Gil pulled out another cookie.
“That’s enough now. You’re not going to be able to sleep.”
“Yes I will.” He bit into it while Aunt Stella read Gil’s first card.
“The Six of Swords. Excellent. And not surprising, actually. The Six of Swords represents science.” She showed Gil the page in the book depicting the card as if that were sufficient to prove its meaning. “Objective communication is represented by the planet Mercury. See it there at the top. Then there’s Aquarius at the bottom, and it’s associated with ‘originality, innovation and pioneering work.’” She squeezed Gil’s arm and smiled. “This is good, Gilly. It symbolizes the creative mind that pulls ideas from unexplainable sources of inspiration and communicates them in a way people can understand without feeling threatened.”
“It’s the TDU! You see the TDU in the cards!”
“Right there in a full-color spectrum of light,” Aunt Stella said. Gil allowed himself a moment’s smile, but replaced it with a stern countenance.
“Does it say how it’ll do?” He bounced the heel of his foot up and down, the ball of his foot stationary on the floor, a habit born of nervousness.
“Hhmmmm. I’m surprised.” Aunt Stella raised her eyebrows at him. “You usually don’t care about those things.”
Aunt Stella locked eyes with him, a penetrating gaze; he looked down and studied the lines on his hands. She moved over to his side of the table, turned his face to hers.
“You’re not your father. You can only do what you can. I know you feel the burden of trying to save the world for him. And your mother. You can’t help but get that from your parents. But Gilly, you’re only ten, honey, and practically still a baby.” She squeezed Gil then released him so she could look in his eyes. “He’ll be proud of you no matter what you do.” Aunt Stella placed Gil’s head on her massive chest and he shed a few silent tears.
“I thought you said you weren’t psychic?” Gil said, sitting up to wipe his eyes.
“Well, maybe just a little.” Aunt Stella blushed and smiled. Gil reached for another cookie then stopped in mid-swipe and looked up at Aunt Stella first, the question in his smile.
She sighed. “Alright, but that’s it.”
Gil stared at the Six of Swords as he chewed. “What else does it say?”
“I don’t know. Why don’t you turn over another one?”
He flipped a card to see a man hanging upside down, bound at the ankle by a snake hanging from an Egyptian Ankh. He dropped the card. “Am I going to die?”
“Ah, the Hanged Man,” Aunt Stella said. “No, you’re not going to die, but you have to forget about everything you are if you want to move past the ego to a place where things really start happening. Break old habits. Release your fear. You’ll do great things.”
“But I don’t feel afraid of anything. I mean, sometimes I’m afraid of ghosts, but only the ones I don’t know, and sometimes the dark, but only if Max isn’t around.” At the mention of his name, Max raised his head, opened his mouth, revealing a full set of molars, and yawned. Gil scratched him behind the ears. Max put his head down and went back to sleep.
“How about this? The only limitations on you right now – since this card deals with the present – are those you put on yourself. Capice?”
Gil nodded. “What’s the last one say? The future card?”
“Turn it over.”
Gil popped the last bite of cookie in his mouth and flipped the card.
“The Seven of Wands. Excellent.”
“What’s that mean?”
“It means stand by what you believe. Don’t compromise and trust your intuition.”
Gil sighed, folded his hands on his lap and looked at the cards. “Do they say anything else? Because I’m not sure I understand.”
Aunt Stella smiled and reached for the deck. She handed them to Gil who wrapped his hands around them. “Concentrate,” she said. He closed his eyes for several moments and then put the cards on the table. “Now fan them out and pick one.”
Gil flipped over a card from the middle of the deck, “The Star,” a card from the major arcana. Aunt Stella smiled.
“More of the same, Gilly. Get out there. Do something wonderful. Be the gateway for the light to come through you and out into the world. And don’t be afraid to shine.”
“Is that it?” Gil put his hands under his chin and slumped in his chair. “Aunt Stella, how can I do this by myself if I’m only ten?”
“What about Avery? Can’t he help you?”
“Yes, but…” Gil looked around behind him to make sure Avery hadn’t suddenly appeared out of thin air, and whispered to Aunt Stella, “I think I need more help than that.”
“I don’t know, Gilly. Let’s see.” Aunt Stella pointed to the cards. “One more.”
Gil scanned the row of cards, his eyes running up and down, his fingers barely touching them until of their own volition they seemed to stop and hover about one card. Aunt Stella nodded and Gil turned over the card.
“Ah, that’s what you were looking for.” Gil stared at the card: “The Prince of Disks” depicted a man with a strange helmet sitting in a chariot being pulled by a bull. “The architect has arrived.” Aunt Stella consulted the Arien book. “See that double helix right there? It indicates an ability to build new worlds.” She stopped and smiled. “Gilly, meet your new partner.”
Gil stared back and forth between Aunt Stella and The Prince of Disks for a full minute before speaking: “Thanks, Aunt Stella.” He threw his arms around her, kissed her on the cheek, and went upstairs to bed.
to be continued. . .
Twenty-five years ago, when Ruth and Marty Tirabi purchased a ten-acre plot in the middle of bucolic farmland, they thought they’d landed in heaven. Unfortunately, the realtor who sold them the property neglected to tell them that beyond the tranquil, bucolic edge of their horizon, a toxic stew was brewing. At that time, no one thought much about the environmental hazards associated with home buying. But then the intermittent smell wafted in, the one hundred and fifty-seven single family dwellings rose up like a tsunami, and carloads of benzene, toluene, and perchloroethane joined truckloads of mercury, lead, nickel, perchloroethate, and a whole host of other hazardous substances with equally unpronounceable names, forming car pools and organizing marches to the aquifer below. The caravan traveled slowly, inch by careful inch, undiscovered until a quarter century later.
And water being what it was – ubiquitous by any standard – the contamination did not confine itself to any legal borders, but spread throughout the entire aquifer, a massive thing that provided water to the Stahl’s, the Tirabi’s and their neighbors in the new Hickory Hills development. Hickory Hills attracted wealthy city dwellers who pined for pristine country air and didn’t know most farmers’ propensity not only to sell what they grew, but to rent what they owned to cover the spread. Jim Stahl, Sr. had covered his spread by renting a portion of his property to the County to be used as a landfill. And since there were few, if any, instances where one person’s actions failed to affect the lives of others, Jim’s contaminated water spread to his neighbors’ homes and discreetly took up residence there, finding permanent quarter in the kitchens and bathrooms of all one hundred and fifty-seven single family dwellings.
Lawyers advised clients in hushed, confidential tones to get a blood test and a wave of pandemonium spread through the development as test after test came back positive for cancer. Children with their developing immune systems were hit especially hard. The local newspapers did their part to raise the level of hysteria. Gossip spread rumors like a middle-aged waist-line, forcing the EPA to mount a public awareness campaign. EPA went door-to-door, offering all the neighbors of Hickory Hills bottled water until the in-house filtration systems could be installed. But in many instances, it was too late.
Jim Stahl Sr. had started landfilling in 1975, thirteen years after Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring, one year before Congress passed the Clean Water Act, and eleven years before they would enact CERCLA, the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act, also known as the Superfund. Rivers were catching on fire, leaded gas was leaving a smoke screen out on U.S. highways, and Love Canal had exploded into public awareness. At that time, there was more to worry about than a few hundred thousand pounds of unprotected trash. But if the Senior Stahl had complied with even the most primitive dumping laws in effect at the time he started landfilling, the Hickory Hills development might not be on the National Priorities List today, and Jim Stahl, Jr. would not be mired in the muck that his father’s landfill had become. The National Priorities List or NPL was a list of the nation’s most contaminated Superfund Sites. Making that list was not something to write home about.
Over the years, corrective measures were put into place – a bit of cover here, some plastic to act as leachate collection there – but no one anticipated the rapid growth of the surrounding communities or looked at the scheme of the landfill in its entirety. Jim’s father retired, passing the whole problem on to his son – the sins of the father, as it were – and Jim took to greeting government inspectors at the door with a shotgun.
Several months and meetings later, EPA dispatched an OSC, On-Scene Coordinator, who directed two dozen people dressed in hazmat suits, moon suits as Vera, Jim’s wife, called them, to construct a temporary cap over the landfill. The cap was like a big Rubbermaid mat comprised of heavy-duty geosynthetic material. For three weeks, backhoes, trackhoes, bobcats, bulldozers and cranes dotted the landscape. When the temporary cap was complete, the contractors fenced the front half in, packed up and drove away, leaving the seething menace to percolate below and promising to send the culpable parties along to finish the job soon. Two years later, the temporary cap, held in place by used tires strung together with rope, had begun to show its age.
to be continued. . .
Gil lay fast asleep on the hammock in the barn, his face pillowed against Max’s smooth, thick coat. The lights were off, and in the late-afternoon dusky, winter light, the figures entwined on the hammock looked like some monstrous, hibernating snow beast. Someone had turned the heat off, most likely by accident; the heat thermostat and the alarm system were side-by-side on the same wall. Gil’s breath, that is, the breath that escaped the confines of Max’s coat, rose in wispy tendrils mingling with the cold ambient air before dispersing its atoms at random. Gil breathed strong and steady and with purpose; the area of Max’s coat surrounding his nose and mouth was heavy with droplets of condensation. It was the breath of one knee-deep in REM sleep, working through the day’s problems with the help of divine guidance. Gil’s face bore an intense look which supplanted his usual innocent countenance and his eyebrows furrowed in concentration. He twitched as if throwing off some distasteful thought and buried his hands and face deeper in the folds of Max’s warmth. Max had grown considerably in the months since they’d rescued each other — Max from life as a vagabond, and Gil from loneliness and despair — giving Gil all the more surface area to burrow beneath.
Gil tossed his head vigorously from side-to-side. His dream angels must have been working overtime and what they revealed must have sat squarely on his chest, for he groped and clawed at it as if to eradicate some pain. The behemoth beside him did not jump, simply looked back at his master to see if all was in order, yawned, then laid his head down again. He returned to doggy dreamland just as Gil opened his eyes to see his brother staring at him.
“I didn’t hear you come in,” Gil said.
“That’s cause you don’t pay attention,” Robbie said. Max lifted his head and barked. He and Robbie cast appraising glances at each other. Gil patted Max’s hindquarters and, satisfied there was no threat, Max went back to sleep.
“Where were you?”
“Inside. Doin’ stuff.” Robbie inclined his head toward the house.
Gil stared at Robbie as if he were a mirage. He blinked his eyes hard and watched as Robbie strolled over to Marty’s drawings on the table. He thumbed through, studying them with intense curiosity before turning his attention back to Gil. “It’s a few days worth of work, you know.”
“Then why don’t you finish it?”
Gil shrugged. “It’s not that.”
Gil sat up and studied his brother’s face. He looked thinner than Gil remembered and his uniform hung limply on his frame.
“Was it hard?”
Robbie nodded, a grave look momentarily alighted on his handsome face.
“Are you home for good now?”
Robbie shook his head, barely perceptible. “I still have some things to do.”
Robbie sat down on Marty’s swivel chair and pushed off hard. The chair spun. Robbie pulled his legs in close and coasted to a halt. Since they were children, the Tirabi kids played this game, seeing who could spin the most times around with one push. Being the smallest, and the lightest, Gil got the most out of his spin and held the all time record at just under four complete revolutions. Robbie pushed off again – two revolutions.
Gil watched him as happy and sad duked it out in his belly. “Do you still love us?”
Robbie abruptly placed both feet on the ground and focused on his brother: “I’ve never loved anything more in my life.”
They eyed each other a moment and then Gil smiled, his lips set in a tight thin line. He thought he might cry.
“Get to work, little brother,” Robbie said, and pushed off as hard as he could. He tucked his knees in and was spinning around once, twice, three times, when the door opened and a cold blast of arctic air preceded Avery into the barn.
Avery stood, dressed for skiing, his nose dripping. He reached for the box of tissues on the table by the door and blew profusely. Gil bolted upright and, flush with excitement, barked at his brother.
“I can’t believe you’re blowing your nose at a time like this.” Gil pointed to the chair and stared at Avery incredulously.
“You have a better time?” Avery responded, following Gil’s finger pointing to the empty chair. “Maybe I should wait until it drips down the front of my coat and then do it.”
Gil looked at the empty chair before lying back down on the hammock. He blinked and stared at the ceiling drawing quick, raw breaths.
“Hey, what’s the matter?” Avery was at his side in a flash.
Water ran from Gil’s eyes, cascaded down to form small pools in his ears. Gil plunged a finger in each side to stop the deluge. Avery sat down on the edge of the hammock upsetting the equilibrium. Max groaned, but shifted his weight.
“Did you see something when you walked in?” Gil asked.
Avery looked around the room then shook his head.
“You didn’t notice anything strange?”
“No.” He felt the edge in Gil’s voice and a chill ran up his spine. He looked around uncomfortably, the breath from his mouth coming forth like giant billows of white smoke.
“I do notice the heat’s off,” Avery said. Gil shivered involuntarily and huddled closer to Max for warmth. “Are you going to tell me what happened?”
Gil looked at his brother for a moment and buried his head in Max’s fur.
“I’m not sure.” The voice emanating from the fur was timid and full of uncertainty.
Minutes passed and Avery was beginning to wonder whether Gil had fallen asleep, huddled beneath a blanket of fur, when without warning, Gil bounded from the hammock, dropping Avery to the floor and leaving Max to swing in the breeze.
“Stay, Max.” Max whined, but Gil stifled him with a look. The dog put his head down on his paws and watched as his master zipped up his coat and donned his gloves and hat, the one with the jingle bells on it.
“Let’s go skiing,” Gil said. And before Avery could answer, he was out the door.
The tractor ran at a cruising rate of seven miles per hour through the woods. Gil and Avery arrived at the back side of the landfill in ten minutes. The Stahl’s had never put a fence around this side of the fill, a trash picker’s mecca, if there was anyone interested in picking trash.
Avery cut the engine, set the brake and hopped off. He grabbed a shovel and handed Gil one. Avery groaned. The thought of digging through trash made his stomach queasy. For some strange reason, it had relaxed his father.
Avery pulled a pair of leather work gloves from his back pocket and dug a few test holes, looking for buried treasure. Some worthy items lay scattered on top: a computer monitor, a box of clothes, a pair of sneakers. This was the newer part of the landfill that Jim Stahl, Jr. had worked toward the end of his reign – before EPA shut him down last year – and much of the trash still retained its original shape. In some of the older parts the refuse had already turned to sludge. Gil said the TDU could handle the sloppy mess, but Avery wasn’t sure if his nose were up to the task so he stuck to things that looked like earlier versions of themselves. He loaded trash with speed and dexterity, musing over the potential the TDU had to eliminate landfilling in his lifetime and thinking about Jim Stahl, Jr., their neighbor, and the son of the man unwittingly responsible for providing them with this bonanza of refuse. Like a miniature volcano, the landfill burped, releasing a pocket of foul-smelling methane gas into the ambient air. Avery jumped, coughed and covered his nose. Gil giggled.
Gil could feel rather than see the aquifer, bubbling as it flowed beneath the landfill, a toxic soup thick with carcinogens as unpronounceable as they were hazardous to the health. He stood up, stretching the last hour’s hard labor from his chicken wings. He planted the shovel in the ground and gave the area another cursory view. The trailer was already heaping, but Gil spied a box of recyclables, plastic bottles and aluminum cans, and couldn’t leave without them. Made from petroleum themselves, recyclable plastics were the TDU’s gold bullion. They yielded the highest quantity and best grade of oil. And Marty’s oil, already of superior quality, bumped up a notch each time the TDU ate a batch of recyclables. He tossed the shovel in the trailer, grabbed the box, and took a seat, hesitating a moment before setting it on his lap, the only free space left.
“What a waste of time,” Gil said.
“What’s a waste of time?” Avery asked tossing his shovel in the trailer.
“People spend hours every week recycling. And it ends up in a landfill.”
“That’s cause there’s no market. You can’t make food grade plastic out of lesser grades. We need a federal law and mandatory labeling. Then a milk container could be a milk container again. And a cat litter container could be a cat litter container again,” Avery said, getting behind the wheel of the tractor. “Right now they don’t know what’s what. Besides,” he said, starting the engine, “it would be political suicide to declare recycling a failure. It makes people feel like they’re doing their part.”
“So even if your SUV only gets eleven miles to the gallon, you can still feel good?”
“Right.” Avery grimaced at the slime now on Gil’s pants. “Hey, now when I call you a slime ball, I won’t be lying.”
Avery turned the tractor around and headed for home.
Kori sat at the kitchen table, cordless phone in hand, rifling through Ruth’s telephone book. Up to the F’s, she thumbed down the list, then dialed. Avery and Gil walked in, the twenty degree air on their heels. They stamped their feet, flinging snow off their boots and leaving it to puddle on the kitchen rug. Kori scowled at both the intrusion and the mess, throwing a dishtowel at Avery’s head. Avery wiped up the floor.
“Mrs. Friedler? Hi. This is Kori Tirabi. I’m calling to remind you about the public meeting tonight at the high school. Are you going?”
“Hey, Gil,” Avery said. “You want some hot chocolate?”
Kori waved Avery away, shooting him a take your conversation elsewhere look. Avery asked Gil the question again, but silently as he pantomimed liquid being poured into a cup and someone stirring. Gil responded in kind, rubbing his belly with huge circular motions and Kori giggled.
“Oh no, I wasn’t laughing at you, Mrs. Friedler. I know hemorrhoids can be dreadfully indisposing, well actually, I don’t have first hand knowledge, but my brother Avery suffers from them periodically.”
Avery’s eyes shot up and he threw the soggy dishtowel back at her. She ducked and it missed. Avery bowed low, making a sweeping motion with his arm indicative of a good loser.
“C’mon, Gil. Let’s see what’s on T.V. We’ll deal with her later.” He grabbed Gil by the shoulder and steered him in the direction of the living room.
“Well that’s great. We’ll see you tonight,” Kori said. She hung up and flipped Ruth’s directory to the G’s.
there’s more to the story if you start here
A fairly starved Gil started right in on the plate of eggs, sausages, and toast with butter and raspberry jam that appeared like magic before him. He didn’t care whether anyone else would be joining him. He would not be participating in conversation. He could not spare a single brain cell for anything other than the food in front of him and the inner workings of his own mind, occupied as it was, with gears, gaskets and temperature adjustments.
He could see the TDU clearly, behind the eye, all gleaming steel and aluminum, its curves and junctures, the placement of each nut and bolt. He’d studied the drawings for hours, had known since the time his father had asked what needed to be done how to correct the problems, but it was only now, with his father’s blessing, that he allowed himself the luxury of dwelling on the actual mechanics of its completion. Still, maybe fixing it was not at all what Marty was trying to tell him….
Gil missed his father terribly and wondered why his belly hurt now, months later, and whether those two things were connected. Maybe it was his Dad’s refusal to speak last night that reminded him of the truth of things. Since his death, Marty had so often visited Gil on the astral plane, that magic place where dreams intersect reality, that Gil had tricked himself into believing his father was still alive. But last night, Marty wouldn’t talk to him, no matter how much Gil pleaded. And now with Robbie…. A lump formed in his throat, a sensation he wasn’t used to, and he gulped down a mouthful of milk to wash it away.
He wiped his plate clean with the last bite of toast, downed the rest of his milk and belched. Max raised his head, wagged his tail, and went back to sleep.
“Gil!” Kori’s voice shook him from his reverie and he giggled. Avery stifled a laugh and took a bite of his eggs.
Kori was looking at him weird, like his mother used to. The resemblance was amazing, and when Kori stood and gave him a hug, he felt for a moment his mother’s arms around him, shuddered as her spirit passed over his bones. She’d want him to sleep, they both would, because his eyes were red and his nose still runny from being outside for so long, and she wouldn’t want him to get a cold. Still, he wasn’t tired, but wired with an unending series of thoughts and fractions of them. He didn’t want to sleep, he also didn’t want to think anymore; just wanted his mind to wait a little. And he sure as heck didn’t want to fight with Kori. Better go upstairs. Pretend to do what she wanted.
“May I be excused?” he asked.
Kori nodded acquiescence. “What are you going to do now? Watch a movie?”
“I’m going to go take a nap,” Gil announced.
“Oh, really.” Kori raised her eyebrows in disbelief. He smiled at her and mustered his most innocent facial expression.
“Bring your plate to the counter then.”
Gil obeyed, placing his plate and cup in the sink. “Good night,” he said and turned on his heel. He smiled to himself as he left, pleased with the deception. Max jumped up with alacrity and followed Gil out the door.
“I need to run some errands this morning,” Kori called after him. “Avery will be here if you need anything, but you probably won’t because you’ll be sleeping.” Gil turned and from the corner of his eye saw Kori and Avery exchange a glance; he feigned obliviousness.
“Okay,” Gil said. Mother instinct. They must be born with it . Plans foiled, the smile left Gil’s face as he and Max rounded the stairs to his room.
Gil waited forever while Avery ran the snow blower up and down their winding driveway and Kori shoveled out the walks. He was waiting for his chance to escape to the barn. He needed to decide whether to fix the TDU and maybe looking at it would help him. He paced the floor, indulging his impatience, then sat down on the floor, closed-eyed and cross-legged, concentrating on his breathing like Avery had taught him, but neither helped. After forever and ten minutes, he threw himself on the bed, pulled a blanket up to his chin, and stared at the ceiling. Patience was not his forte. Visions of valves and pistons danced in his cerebral cortex. Gil sighed and drew a deep breath.
“You almost need an oil company,” Marty said. “Otherwise, how do you think we’ll get the oil to the dealers? UPS?”
Gil laughed. My father, the card.
The back door slammed and Gil knew Avery had come inside. He sat up and looked around, rubbed his eyes. The room was empty.
“Rats.” The clock said he’d given the last four hours to Morpheus.
Gil listened at the top of the stairs and heard Avery banging around in the kitchen. He sniffed the ambient air with a deer-like adeptness and his stomach rumbled in response. Heavenly smells wafted toward him, threatening to derail his plans. Melted ham and cheese. Impulse and hunger almost threw him over the railing.
Gil found Avery bent over the toaster oven, fiddling with the sandwich makings inside. He looked at the table set for two and a satisfied smile crossed his face. He snuck up behind his brother and peered over his shoulder.
“Whatcha’ doin’?” Gil asked.
Avery jerked, slamming the door to the toaster oven as he did so. “You…have got…to stop …doing that,” he said, turning to his brother in slow motion.
Gil shrugged, smiled. “What’s for lunch?”
“Ham and cheese.”
“You know where they are.”
“When’s Kori coming home?”
“She went to Jack’s. It’s anybody’s guess.”
Gil retrieved the chips then watched as Avery pulled the melted deliciousness from the toaster oven. His mouth watered at the sight of his second favorite food in the entire world, his first being roasted pork cooked with loads of garlic, rosemary and sage, and a heaping pile of mashies on the side. Despite his culinary dispositions, Gil hadn’t thought much about how indebted he was to the pig. He opened the bag of chips, laying a handful on each plate, routed around the bag, found and stuffed the biggest chip in his mouth, and sat down.
Avery set a glass of milk in front of him and they ate in silence while Gil did a little happy dance in his chair. He finished his sandwich, downed the milk and raised his plate.
Avery raised his eyebrows and looked at Gil point blank.
“Please,” Gil said.
Avery retrieved a second round of sandwiches from the little oven, placing one on each of their plates. Gil leaned in close and sniffed in a lung full of ham and cheese. He held it a moment, before taking a whopper of a bite.
“Did Robbie really go to Iraq for oil?”
Avery dropped the hot pad on the counter and took his seat. “I don’t know. Sometimes I think there were some factors other than economic, perhaps humanitarian, but then I think about what the real legacy of the current administration will be and I wake up.”
Gil stared at his brother, perplexed. “What are you talking about?”
Gil rinsed his food down with some milk. “Kori thinks it was for oil.”
“Kori’s a cynic. But… she’s probably right.” Avery looked over at Gil’s crumby, milk-kissed mouth and handed him a napkin. “Does that upset you? I mean, would it upset you more?”
“You mean if he died for oil instead of something else important?”
Gil nodded, gazing out the window. “Uh-huh. Especially if I can make oil out back.”
“Do you think he did?” Avery asked. “Died, I mean.”
Gil shrugged. He’d been unable to formulate a coherent opinion on the subject, and all sources of help he might have received, divine or otherwise, weren’t talking. They finished their sandwiches in silence.
“You gonna do what Dad said?” Avery asked. “Fix the TDU?”
“I’m not sure yet.” Gil shoved a few chips in his mouth, but didn’t respond.
“If you decide to, I can get a few startup loads of trash.”
Gil dropped his plate in the sink, wiped his mouth with the sponge and grabbed his coat.
“Hey, Gil.” Gil turned.
“First of all, that’s gross. Second, I don’t think Robbie’s . . . dead. But regardless, the world still needs Dad’s contraption. Even if you don’t have a reason to build it.”
Gil gave Avery the briefest of hugs, rounded on his heel and ran out the door.
to be continued. . .
start here. . .
reading is an art. oh yes, it is.