Friday, August 12, 2011

The house was a two story with a small attic tucked under the rafters serving as the second floor. She used this as a studio for her pottery making.

Ten years ago the main reason she was attracted to the house was its isolation at the end of a cul de sac. There were empty lots on either side filled with mature maple trees and crisscrossed with dirt paths. There was very little traffic. The neighbors came down the back lanes to park in their yards. Occasionally someone made a wrong turn and drove up the street, turned around and went off again, but that was about it.

Melody’s partner lived in the basement. He loved the quiet and sense of isolation even more than she for he worked security on the graveyard shift. In his basement room at the back of the house with the windows blacked out he slept like a baby from eight-thirty AM to four in the afternoon. In the evenings he worked for three hours on a fantasy novel, a long thing of some three thousand pages and growing longer. Arthur was his name. He had a bony face attached to a cadaverously thin body one would think would be brittle, easily breakable, but in actuality was very flexible and very strong. Sometimes he gave Melody the creeps with his long strides totally silent and inexorable like the movement of a two legged spider towards a victim caught in its web. But this had little to do with Arthur who was a very kindly, purposeful man, a passionate lover who did more around the house, cooking, cleaning and fixing than she did.

The house was actually owned by Arthur’s father, a terrible old barracuda who lived outside of town in a house large enough to be barracks for a small army. He lived there alone if you discounted the three servants who looked after the place and cooked his meals. He owned hotels, breweries, warehouses, apartment blocks and so many other things it would take a book to list them. As far as Melody could make out the old man spent most of his time hiring and firing people. He did this in a particularly obnoxious style shouting and screaming into one of the three cell phones he carried on his person at all times. His relationship to Arthur was a complete mess. Melody’s theory was that he hated Arthur for he was the only person in his life whom he could not fire. But this hatred made him feel guilty. After all it is rather unnatural to hate your son especially when he is a decent man like Arthur who looks after himself and asks nothing of you. So occasionally he alternated his hatred with a lugubrious sentimentality. When in one of these moods he would phone Arthur offering ownership of one hundred condominiums in the Bahamas or several office buildings in Chicago. Arthur always politely declined which made the old man furious.

“So Condos are not good enough for you, eh?” he would ask.

“I’m quite happy with what I’m doing, Dad,” Arthur would reply. “I have no need for condos or office buildings. Give them to the Winnipeg Foundation. Give them to the Art Gallery.”

“So it’s just great being a rent-a-cop, eh? And scribbling insane novels nobody reads or wants to read. That’s just the ideal way to spend your life, is it? Shacked up with a whore who makes false images with mud.”

“It would be better if you left Melody out of this, Dad.”

“I’m afraid I wasn’t hard enough on you when you were young, you slack mouthed son of a bitch. I should have sent you to a boot camp private school where they would have whipped you into shape. But your mother wouldn’t have that. No, no, we can’t send sensitive little Arthur off to be fondled at night by pederasts. Now look at you, a completely useless pile of shit.” Once the old man reached this level of foaming at the mouth abuse, Arthur hung up the phone. It immediately rang again but Arthur didn’t answer.

One of the old man’s favorite threats was to take back the house. When Arthur mentioned that this was impossible because the old man already owned it and had always owned it, he would threaten to evict them, throw them out on the street. Arthur took these threats in his stride.

“Three times every year he threatens to evict us,” Arthur would say to Melody. “He sends us lawyer’s notices, bailiff warnings, etcetera. Yet he never does it. So we pay for the house three times a year listening to his mad goings on. Not so bad when you come to think of it. We have some savings. If he ever does actually kick us out then we will have to look for a place to rent. We could look upon it as an adventure. Until then, what is the use of worrying about it?”

“I don’t see how you can stay so calm in the face of all that wind and fire,” Melody said.

“If you had heard all these things over and over again from when you were two years old, you too would learn to treat them as the rumblings of a far away geyser, all very interesting but not having much to do with the realities of your life.”

And this was exactly how Arthur did threat his Father’s threats and insults. When his Father was in a particularly windy period he would even bring a book to the phone and read it while his Dad went on about assets, ingratitude and mothers sucking the ompha out of little boys and leaving them useless for the real struggles of life, etc.

“Are you listening?” his Father would ask.

“Yes, Dad, I’m listening.”

“I hear you reading. You are reading one of those degenerate escape books. I can hear you, you bastard. Right across the broadband I can hear you.”

Sometimes Arthur would grow weary and refuse to take his father’s calls. Then Melody, who usually refused to talk to the old man, would answer the phone and listen to his complaints. It was as Arthur said. The old man was a wreck of a human being. Arthur and to some degree herself, were the only people with whom he had a relationship not based purely on money and power. In a way, miserable bastard that he was, Arthur and Melody were his only home. Everything else was a wasteland of will and greed.

“So why does he do this to me, Melody?” the old man would ask. “Refusing to talk to your Father is a mortal sin I would say.”

“He’s tired these days, Andrew. I think he needs a little bit of a break.”

“From what?”

“Listening to your constant bitching.”

“Jesus, what a way to talk. You are just as bad as he is.”

One day in June on a very fine and sunny morning, Melody and Arthur were packing for a weekend trip to the cabin. They bought a few acres of land some years before and had built a cabin on it, a simple affair with a backhouse and small solar system for lighting and the computers. There came a knock on the door. Melody walked out of the kitchen to the front of the house and opened the door.

It was Felicity, Arthur’s mom. As usual she was dressed extravagantly in a flowing red dress with a pink cape-like thing over her shoulders. Her make up, false eyelashes and fingernails weighed easily a half a pound. If Melody didn’t know her she would have thought she was on her way to the Academy Awards, which, actually, she did attend some years ago with a young protégé who acted in an afternoon soap. She was holding in one arm a massive handbag of tooled leather with sequins sewn around its perimeter and flashing in the bright morning sun. Over her shoulder Melody could see a Mercedes sedan with a uniformed driver at the wheel.

“Where’s Arthur, dear girl?” she asked, in a peculiarly strained, pathetic way which reminded Melody of Maggie Smith playing Wendy in ‘Hook’.

“In the kitchen, mother.” Melody called Felicity ‘mother’ and she called Melody ‘dear girl’ even though she would be forty her next birthday.

With a watery, weak smile, Felicity flowed past Melody and swept into the kitchen. Arthur, blessed with excellent hearing, already knew she was coming. When she appeared, he said,

“And how is my dear mother today?”

“I have never been better. It’s your Father I’m worried about. I’m afraid he has gone completely off the deep end so to speak. He has sold all of his Consolidated Edison and has taken up with a nineteen year old floozy. He has taken to wearing loose clothing and talking in hipster jargon.”

“Ah,” said Arthur.

“I spoke with the lawyers but they say nothing can be done. Apparently he has already given the floozy five million dollars worth of condominiums in the Bahamas and has promised to bankroll her career on stage and screen.”

“Hmmm,” said Arthur.

“Perhaps you can see what you can do with him, dear. He’ll listen to you. All he does with me is screech and complain about the past. He says such vile things that sometimes I think the man is the devil incarnate.”

“Hmmm,” said Arthur.

“See what you can do, dear. Remind him of his family obligations. Remind him that his own dear Father was dead against these May-December things, even though, granted, he did weaken at the end. Perhaps you and your dear girl could visit him and give me a report later about his floozy and how he spends his time, although I suppose taking sheep’s hormones and screwing would be the answer to that. Actually I am most curious about his state of mind, that is, how much he has already given to the vixen and how clever she is at scooping it all up. Promise me, dear.”

“I promise, mother. Sometime next week when we come back from the cabin.”

Felicity then gave him a light peck on the cheek and swished her way through the house out to the waiting Mercedes.

“Why do you bother?” Melody asked him when they were sitting on the cabin porch.

“They are my parents. To deal with them is to enter the world of madness but what am I going to do? They belong to me; I belong to them. I can’t pretend otherwise.”

“Will you go visit him?”

“Tuesday night. Want to come?”

“Yes. I would like to get a look at the floozy.”

Mildred the housekeeper opened the old man’s front door. Along with Arthur and Felicity as a hovering presence somewhere off in the distance, Mildred was the stable presence in the old man’s life. She had accomplished this by establishing a moral dominance over him some fifty years before. Although he complained bitterly about her behind her back to anyone who would listen, in her presence he was deferencial and patient. He even stopped swearing in her presence for Mildred was a firm Baptist and even though she would never have actually said anything about his foul mouth, an icy torrent of disapproval would have descended upon him like a precursor of the eternal torments. Melody and Arthur both liked Mildred. She was a no nonsense woman who had provided the old man for many years the rock of a daily schedule. And she did not take advantage of her position. She took what was hers and that was it - a good salary, a place to live and three vacations a year to visit her grandchildren. Mildred was not particularly impressed by the old man’s wealth. “You don’t have all that stuff with you when you are standing before the judgment seat,” she would often say.

The old man and his new girlfriend were out on the back patio. Andrew was indeed dressed in loose clothing as his mother had said but it was tasteful and suited him. During their visit he could detect no trace of the ‘hipster jargon’ complained about by his mother so put that down to her receiving reports from the malicious matrons at her country club. The ‘floozy’ was not really floozy at all but a self possessed young women with all her wits and social skills about her. She was beautiful and curvaceous as well, of course, and, no doubt, very keen on his Father’s many millions. Yet Arthur and Melody could not help but like her. She was intelligent and had a gentle, self deprecating sense of humor. All during the visit which lasted three hours, she was pleasant and polite and never said a single silly or patronizing thing to his Father, as floozies are famously want to do. Strangely Mildred, by her body language, seemed to approve of her as well. But then, besides being a Baptist, Mildred was a grounded woman who was in her own way loyal to the old man. If this woman, no matter what her age, was good for him, then she could turn a blind eye to the rigors of her moral code.

“What do you think?” Arthur asked Melody when they climbed into the car.

“He should keep her. She’s the real McCoy.”

Three weeks later a lawyer showed up at the door carrying an attaché case. In it he had an agreement of purchase for the house. Melody and Arthur signed and handed the Lawyer a dollar for the Consideration. For an entire week Andrew restrained himself from phoning them to reap the rewards of their gratitude and even when he did he was modest rather than his usual meglomaniacal self.

“First the house no longer dangled and then ‘aw shucks it was nothing’,” said Melody to Arthur while they were eating breakfast on the back porch. “A great improvement. Maybe we should try and find you a floozy too.”

“I already have one,” said Arthur and reached out to grab her by the right buttock as she passed him by.

Arthur’s Father and Anne, the young woman, married a year later. Ten months after that she was pregnant. This news, once again, brought his mother to the front door.

“The idea!” she said. “They probably sucked it out of him with a syringe and then put it in one of those cyclotron things to make it concentrated enough. The Doctors can do marvelous things these days.” Melody and Arthur blinked several times at this and then smirked knowingly at one another.

“After all a seventy year old man who drinks too much and sucks obnoxious cigars all day is unlikely to be able to do it in a natural way. Although then again perhaps they indulge in perversions intense enough to keep his old tent pole straight for a minute or two. Long enough if you are quick about it they tell me.”

The idea that his mother would have to be told about anything sexual, perverted or otherwise, struck Arthur as so ludicrous that he splurted a mouthful of tea all over his best pair of jeans. When he went off to change his pants, Felicity leaned over and said to Melody in a confidential whisper (guarding against who being a mystery for Arthur was in the basement),

“He’ll be second in line now, dear. What’s her name will see to that.”

“Oh, I don’t think he’ll mind,” said Melody.

When Melody told him what his mother said after she was gone, Arthur broke out laughing. “Mind?” he said, “Mind? My God when that child is born, I’ll be over there the next day with the keys to the kingdom.”

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