Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Mason Tender VI

One day Penny's ex showed up around back, looking for Dickie.

"Vreeman up there?" he asked me.

"Which one?


I could tell he’d been drinking. "You bet," I said. The wind was strong and from the west, and the bum's hair flew in a mess over his eyes and face.

"What time you guys take coffee?" he said.

I told him 3:15.

I knew Dickie must have seen the guy show up, because he was finishing up on the roof. He wasn't surprised when I told him the guy had asked about coffee time.

Dickie's bush hair was bleached to a silvery pine color, and his back was brown like dark oak stain. He snapped off his head band when he jumped from scaffold, and he rung the moisture out with his fist, every single muscle and vein popping in his arm. Gray sweat ran through his fingers and flew off when he flicked his wrist.

"What he want?" he said.

I told him I didn't know.

Ed got us some long johns that afternoon, but nobody said a thing when Penny's ex showed up again. He had been to the corner during the hour or so he'd been away, and he came back smelling like a brewery. He was tall and gaunt and walked with a stoop, so that when he talked to you he squinted through the tops of his eyes. People called him Gimp because of the way his shoulders turned in a sort of semi-circle. He had a way of moving his head with his whole upper body, as if everything was connected from his waist up. The sleeves of his sweatshirt were cut off halfway up his biceps.

“I got you a proposition, Dickie,” he said, “better than the one you’re giving Penny and the kids.”

Ed got up right away and hiked up the scaffolds to the roof. I knew he didn’t want to hear any of it. I didn’t know where to go right away.

“I know what you been doing to my ex, see?” Gimp said. “I got proof—even photographs—‘cause I hired this private eye, and he knows all your comings in and goings forth.”

Dickie’s eyes were blue and soft, but he never once looked down.

“Look man, I’m strapped. I can’t make them damn payments for the rest of my life. She’s taken me down the river, see? Shoot, I got my own life too, you know, and everything I get I got to pay in for them kids.”

“You got my pity,” Dickie said.

“Look, it ain’t one bit fair that you’re getting her and not paying for it. I don’t call that justice, Dickie.” He crossed his arms on his chest, and his muscles, long and thing, flattened over his fingers.

“No business of yours,” Dickie said. “You got no right at all to be watching over me or her.”

“Listen, man-to-man, let’s talk. I got nothing against what you’re getting off her—she wants a man like you, then that’s fine with me. But I’m saying it ain’t fair and I got the law on my side, see?”

I shoved the rest of the long john into my mouth and wandered back over to the trough to slosh up the mix and keep it soft.

“I think it would be in your own best interest to get lost,” Dickie told him.

“It’s nothing against you personally, Dickie. I just want out of the payments, and it doesn’t seem right to me that you’re screwing around and not taking a dime’s worth of responsibility.” Gimp pulled his hair back out of his eyes.

Dickie looked around for a minute to see if anybody else was around back.

“All I’m saying is, let me go of them payments, see? I could give a damn if you marry that bitch. I just want out.”

“You got nothing to say, Gimp.” Dickie raised both arms up over his head and flicked on the sweatband.

“Hell, I don’t! I can get me a court order that keeps you out of that house forever. I got the goods on you, Dickie. You know what you are?—you’re an ‘impediment to the moral upbringing of my own sweet children.’” You could feel the cut in his straight-edge laugh. “I can keep you right out of her bed from this time forth—“

Dickie cleared his nose with one finger against a nostril.

Gimp stood there straight, arms crossed. “You’re crazy if you think you can screw her free. I got the law, man. You ain’t got shit.”

“Get out of here,” Dickie said.

“You get her to stop soaking me and you can have her—it’s just that simple. Otherwise, so help me, I’ll shut you off tight and put you back in jail.”

There was nothing on Dickie’s face but one twitching eye. He raised up his hands on his waist and turned them backwards so that his thumbs pointed out a Gimp. The muscles in his upper arms hung there like thick ropes.

Tomorrow: Dickie acts.

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