The day she won the National Exclamation Lottery – which was also her birthday – she decided, at once, that almost the first thing she would do was buy her old man the boat. She was generous like this. But, first, she had to go to work. So, she finished her second coffee, pocketed her keys, covered the huge dish of creamed potato and chives with clingfilm, left the scruffy apartment and drove the old car through the city to the zoo. One side of an unknown Joni Mitchell album played on the stereo. Everytime it reached the end she pressed rewind and began it again.
She’d worked at the zoo for some time now. Her official title was Monkey Binder and this meant that she helped the monkeys with their binding problems. It was pretty mundane work, but she was good at it. She made it look easy, which, if you’ve ever tried, you’ll know it isn’t.
“Fanny May, I swear, you’re generous to a t,” said one of her work colleagues as she passed around the collection of plastic forks to each of the team. They were in the cafeteria, gathered around the huge dish of creamed potato and chives that she’d brought in from home to give out at lunch. The dish was an old family recipe and the giving out of birthday lunch was an old family tradition.
“I’ve never really got to grips with what that means,” she said. “Generous to a t? It’s a kinda real awkward apophthegm.”
The others said nothing or else nodded, creamily. Mmm.
She felt that it was an Old English maxim. But, it may have been Anglo-Saxon from the French. It was something anyway. She’d looked into it once and found, confusingly, that the t was shortened from an old and outmoded word, ‘tittle’, that at one time had signified the dot above the letter i. One of her dictionaries (she had a few) suggested further that actually t (or was it i?) was a shortened version of an even older and even more foreign word, iota. Anyway, it didn’t matter too much to her because she was more than capable of deploying such a word as apophthegm.
They ate mostly in silence and she took this to mean that the creamed potato and chive dish was as good as ever. She made a note to phone her mum.
The old man had always shown an interest in sailing. Infact, he spoke in great detail about a sailing holiday in the Mediterranean that he had taken when he was younger so often that she knew the story as well as he did. So, she scrambled some eggs and some onions and some sausage, and, as she ate them, she read again, for the hundredth time, the magazine clipping she kept on the fridge door beneath the Go! AL! magnet.
The Shale Basin. 54′ – twin berth – galley – handmade -1964 classic – ocean ready – $54,000
She drove the old car out to the peninsula. It had come from a secondhand lot in the dock area and would only play the one cassette that was jammed in the deck and so had come with the car. Since owning the car she had come to know all the songs on one side of the cassette by heart, although she had no idea of their titles or the name of the album. Infact, she was only aware that the artist was called Joni Mitchell because the salesman had mentioned the jammed cassette tape when she’d bought the car.
“There’s a Joni Mitchell tape stuck in the deck. It’ll play one side and then you just ride the rewind. You can have that for free!”
It was the second week in December and, unusually, the mist had been burnt off by the low, winter sun. The city took on a new and shiny appearance as she travelled through it. She sang the songs and she began to wonder if in this new future she might leave her apartment in the suburbs and buy a sea view place or maybe even one of those downtown warehouse lofts that were popular now with the bohemians. Maybe.
But, actually she enjoyed her scruffy apartment. She loved the peace of the woods and the relaxing walks around Salmon Creek, so she thought she’d probably just stay where she was. Who knows, perhaps the old man would get it into his head to make a return to the Mediterranean and she could give up the zoo and join him? Well, there was a whole world out there – and now, being a lottery winner, she could do pretty much what she wanted. As she drove further out toward the peninsula, the city dropping away, she played a dozen scenarios over in her head.
She stopped outside a wooden cabin at the water’s edge. It was set back from the dirt track among a spread of pines. She checked the address on the magazine clipping. There was a brilliant white yacht bobbing around on the diamonded water. She turned off the music. She could hear the breeze rattling the rigging. A vast V formation of geese passed overhead and, honking excitedly, moved out over the bay. There was a man in blue overalls stood on the deck of the yacht.
He was coiling a rope. Winding it back onto the deck. Ready. She watched him work.
He passed and gathered a collection of generous and even loops from one hand into the palm of the other. Each new loop he gave a slight twist as he collected it in this slow and methodical manner. She found it a joy to watch – the way a practiced motion can appear quite simple and artful. Hypnotic.
As she closed the door of the old car, the man looked up. He laid the completed coil onto the deck and, shielding his eyes to the winter sun with his palm, looked in her direction. She put the keys in her pocket and walked to the water’s edge. The last of the morning frost capturing her footprints.
one side of a cassette
Furry Sings The Blues
A Strange Boy