Sunday, July 3, 2011

"The Idylls of Staff Bickerston" by Tom Sheehan (chapter 4)

A week later, Lowell Stratton showed up at the porch. Staff and Mathis were enjoying the breeze and the hum of the crickets and frogs coming up hill from the edges of the lake. Out over the lake, the evening star was a night light in a spacious room, and slightly downhill, clusters of fireflies danced their crazy dance at the edge of Staff’s field.
“It’s one of those nights, isn’t it, Lowell?” Mathis said, as he came up the steps. “I trust it’s social and not business.”
“I won’t mention any predicaments if you don’t,” countered Lowell. “Felt like a late coffee and Lila Theis wanted to get a good night’s sleep for her big day tomorrow over at the Benton Festival. Course, I can’t go. So I thought I’d pay my respects.” He sat his long frame down easily into an old red Adirondack chair. The chair made a few noises, as if a few nails had loosened up.
“You have a decent day, Lowell?” Staff asked. “Maybe an iced coffee might be the trick for you, if you didn’t. Be right back.” His footsteps sounded down the hallway.
Mathis said, “We still in trouble, Lowell?”
“Hasn’t got any better, but I really wasn’t going to mention it tonight. Just wanted to cool it a bit. Guess this place is about the best place in town for that. It’s probably even better than the lake. I would come by tomorrow, though, and say, if things got real bad, and they are about there now, I swear, I can get a good man to give you a solid price for the place. He’s from Alberton, done well for himself, and has asked a few times about this place.”
Mathis’ breath on the intake was clearly audible.
Lowell felt her anxiety. “There is no shame in selling, Mathis. You can pay off what you owe and get a smaller place. You don’t need all these fields, either. They just sit fallow all the time anyway, as if they’ll never grow another crop again, or be used for anything else appropriate.”
“That last part bothers me, Lowell. I know it’d bother Staff no end to see this place used appropriately, as you term it. We all know what that means, don’t we?” Then her head cocked to attention.
Staff’s footsteps came back down the hallway, the breeze humped its small back, and the fireflies leaped into a small cloud in the middle of a warm field. At one end of the porch, a trellis covered with roses, near the end of their short stay, made the slightest emanation on the breeze.
Mathis put her hand on Lowell’s sleeve. “Not tonight, Lowell. It’s just too beautiful. It has to be another time.”
“Scout’s honor,” Lowell said, putting his hand up, the breeze touching his fingers, the essence of rose trying to carry something of Lila Theis in it. He could not find it.
Staff brought Lowell a tall glass of iced coffee. “It’s quite a night, Lowell. Quite a night. You two have a pitch at business while I was out of earshot?” He put the glass into Lowell’s outstretched hand. “Tell you this, Lowell, I’d bet you’d be willing to swap places tonight, wouldn’t you? It’d be a great trade-off, what I have for what you have, only I’d never make that trade in a thousand years.”
“I came because Mathy invited me again, and because you know I know you have something special and I don’t. I know I couldn’t even buy it, so no business tonight, like I promised Mathy when she said come by for coffee.”
Staff pointed off across the field. “See those fireflies out there, Lowell? Know what my father told me about them? Way back, I was younger than Marco, I think, we were sitting here and he said they were the Milky Way in another smaller and infinite universe in constant motion. He said they were stars in their own right, just the motion and speed different from our place and time. Had me full convinced about it. Still think it’s possible. Gets me wondering sometimes.”
Lowell said, “I was thinking about the roses, Staff. How sweet they smell, and what a short time they’re here with us. Beautiful and sweet and gone as quick as you turn around. Oh, it’s hard to say, but Lila’s like that, sometimes like it’s not worth the bother.” He raised his glass. “To the roses,” he said, “while they last.”
Later that night, after Lowell had walked down past the small field, past the clusters of fireflies, and off to town, Mathy and Staff agreed it had been one of the saddest nights they had ever known.


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