Sunday, July 3, 2011

"The Idylls of Staff Bickerston" by Tom Sheehan (chapter 2)

Lowell Stratton saw Mathis across the diminutive Spofford rotary traffic circle and hailed her. His long legs took him quickly to her side. His hair, she noticed, was thinning, a small breath of air parting it in more than one place, and long hours of work sat in his eyes. Lowell, it was known, never went home early to Lila Theis, his wife. She suspected no one would.
Those thoughts were on her mind as she said, looking up into his face, “I know what you’re going to say, Lowell, that we’re late again, but Staff will get something done again. He always does.” Never cute, hardly ever precious, Lowell seemed a bit softer, the breeze at his hair making him vulnerable, susceptible, and, even for a banker, somewhat tolerable.
Once they had dated - it seemed a century ago - but Staff Bickerston had ended that promptly. Long ago, Lowell had admitted that Staff, for once, knew what he wanted and took care of the situation.
Lowell noticed her smile was still the loveliest smile around the whole lake, realizing once more she could charm him at a moment’s notice. For twenty years she had had that power. All her cares, all Staff’s shortcomings, had not creased that lovely skin; and her eyes were yet the softest blue he had ever known. There had been times when he thought he could see the back of her mind. “I know what the old skinflint pays him, Mathis. I do his taxes, and I don’t know how Staff will get by this time. Things are really serious. It’s rolling all around us, cutting corners, tightening the belt. Even old Culbertson’s getting to feel it. He’s been the Rock of Gibraltar forever, it seems.  I just don’t know how Staff‘ll do it this time. It might be the last leg.”
Lowell,” she said, her hand touching lightly the sleeve of his suit coat, “you are a very honorable man. Staff has always said you were a most honorable man. Your father was hard but fair, and you are a cut of the same cloth. We know you are patient. Whatever comes to pass will come to pass. Staff’s family has had that house for almost a century now. I don’t think he will let it go without some rather amazing
effort at retention. He knows he will owe forever, or almost ever. But the dreams keep him going. It’s what he does best, and there’s something to be said for that. He will never die from stress or a heart attack. It’s simply not in his make-up.”
“Oh, Lord, Mathy, how well I know that. There are moments, I’ll frankly admit, when the tonnage comes down on top of me and I wonder what Staff would do in the same circumstance. I swear there are times, right smack in the middle of my day, when I can hear him talking me out of a blue funk or a frazzle. Sometimes I hear him say, sort of an aside, ‘Go fishing, Lowell. The trout are biting at flies,’ or ‘the bass are looking for silver lures,’ or ‘go put your skates on, Lowell, and make a little breeze of your own.’”
“Come see us, Lowell. You’re always welcome. The porch is made for conversation. Staff says that all the time. Come by for coffee some night, when the breeze talks itself across the lake. Those nights are magic for the soul, he says. I might tell you about his putting some old glass panes in the old chicken coop, just so Marco can break them with his slingshot. They are cuts of the same cloth, those two.”
“My, Mathy, only Staff would do something like that. Only he would think of it in the first place. Yes, I’ll try to make it pure social, but I can never promise in this business. Some hard things get hammered home every day. Last week we had to foreclose on Jed Akins at last. Near broke both our hearts, but had to be done.”
“What’s he going to do now, Lowell?”
“It’s probably going to beat him into the ground, but I think he’s going to live in a spare room at his son, Ethan’s, over in Coldwell, by the river.” There was no pain in Lowell’s eyes that Mathis could see, but she knew it was there. “At least he’ll have a view of the river. Staff would say that is important, wouldn’t he?”
“You pick things up quickly, Lowell. Come see us, an evening or a night when the breeze is right.” She walked off on her errands.


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