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“The… ere,” said Dylan, a final vvvvvvt from his drill securing in place another brass plaque on the slat directly below Mildred Stanfield’s:
Also in loving memory of
LENA ANN MAYWEATHER
whose ashes were here scattered
by her son Paul Manson
23 December 2019
“Oh, ho! That looks splendid!” said Dr. Constantinescu in that deep steroidal voice that could summon harpies from mountain tops. While his bloodless skin glared as white as a piano key against the long black overcoat draped around him, old Nosferatu there seemed otherwise unaffected by the brilliant midafternoon sun catching in the plaque and the sheen from the fresh coat of paint we’d concealed the cunt graffiti with. Stooping over for a better look, his nostrils flared as he inhaled deeply, hoovering up the enamel fumes radiating from the bench and said through the long exhale, “Splendid indeed,” as though they were exerting an agreeable influence on his nervous system that further elevated his appraisal of Dylan’s handiwork. “Let’s get that champers open, shall we,” he said over his shoulder to a glowering Deidre who’d anticipated the instruction and was already strangling the neck of a magnum of Dom Perignon as if it belonged to her insufferable grandfather.
“To Lena,” he said solemnly once we were all equipped with a glass. It seemed only fitting for him to lead the toast since he was the only one present who had any memory of Lena, never mind a loving one. For the same reason, and what with Lucy openly speculating on how much of the tube I would end up ingesting if the task were left to me, I’d offered to let him scatter the ashes as well. But he eyed the tube warily, like he risked infection by mortality should he come into contact with them, “No, no, no, my dear boy, she was your mother,” and stood well clear when I shook them into the wind (yes, in the right direction this time, thank you Lucy!)
“To Lena,” we all repeated in the deferential grumble wakes demanded, the weeping willow stripped of its leaves like a showering firework clattering in the breeze. With none of us having any anecdotes to share the only other sound, besides the ambient noise of jet engines drifting over from the airport, was the clinking of glasses. But I was happy Lena had finally come to rest on the wastes with Harold, its soil so peaty and contaminated it was unlikely to ever arouse the interest of developers. And a hundred years from now, machines in charge humanity irrelevant, the lonesome old tree would still be standing guard over the memorial bench, worst case another libelous vulgarity sprayed over it that time and the weather could work on disproving. It lifted my heart to think so anyway.
“C’mon, let’s take a picture!” came Dani’s exuberant young voice, bursting the silence and our thought bubbles with it. Digging in her backpack, she produced a portable tripod and extended the aluminum sections of its telescoping legs. “A group picture!” she clarified somewhat needlessly, her phone now clenched in the tripod’s rubber jaws. “Everyone behind the bench. That’s right. You in the middle, Paul. With Phoebe. Dr C. you… I know, I know you don’t like that but… okay, what is it again? Constantinople? Concrescu? See, no, my brain can’t deal with it. Sorry. Deidre, you next to your father. Is that better? No, really Deidre, you have to be in the picture. Lena taught you how to walk, isn’t that right? Right. So you have to be in it. You too Lucy. There you go. Good Dylan, you’re there with Phoebe too. Don’t give me that look Dylan. I’m going to come get in there beside you. Okay, cigarettes down, glasses up for Lena. Ready? For the next 10 seconds we’re all happy people. Got that? Happy fucking people. There,” she said, giving the phone a christening tap and flapping over to nestle in beside Dylan, the camera’s flash blinking off the seconds until the flurry of warning flashes – bellies in now humans, you’re about to be captured! And capture us it did until Dani, deaf to the chorus of groans when she said “just one more” yet again, was satisfied, Lucy and Deidre bonding in mutual admiration of their respective bitching skills. “There!” she cried finally, prying free the phone and holding it aloft, “Could be an album cover!”
“Give me a break,” said Dylan, spitting through his teeth as he always did for emphasis, then a sheepish “Sorry” when Phoebe chided him for spitting right where “Paul’s mom” had just been scattered. Paul’s mom… I was still only able to think of “my mom” as simply Lena, a character who’d lived a short, brutal life gazing from a faded old photograph; it never occurred to me to take umbrage at Dylan’s irreverence, even if Phoebe’s was as much caused by envisioning Dylan’s potential conduct at her own wake.
“See for yourself,” said Dani tersely, our phones binging as she texted out the picture. It was hardly an album cover not least because, even including Dani and Dylan, the average age of our party was about 157. But there was something strangely compelling about it, what with Dr. Constantinescu’s hulking frame hoisting the bottle, cigarette dangling from the corner of his ancient mouth in defiance of Dani’s choreography, Phoebe’s hair dancing vertically in an artful interpretation of the wind, her head tilted against my shoulder, me at odds with gravity to produce one of my torqued reverse smiles, Dylan wearing a badass don’t fuck with me face he probably rehearsed for hours in front of a mirror to perfect, oblivious to Dani’s two fingers poking up behind his head in a V sign, her beaming with impish delight, Deidre and Lucy with arms interlocked scowling like plotting crones. That was us alright, the unlikeliest band of misfits with me front and center.
And what would have become of me had I missed my train from New York, which I very nearly did thanks to the outrageous lineup at the Grand Central liquor store, and not encountered Phoebe in the bar car? Or bumped into Lucy who I’d essentially forgotten about? I sure wouldn’t be standing here today saving this picture to my phone, this first inhabitant of my Photos app, pondering even whether to post it (hey look, Paul does have a life, and check out that hottie beside him!) Lost and rudderless, what beach would I have washed up on other than the one Melanie had presumed: the All Alone one? In a cabin in front of a cold fireplace, relying on Jack for warmth and company, only rarely venturing up to Milkwood’s and, since her grouchy old man was my landlord, keeping the talk small and clean with that chirpy “barely legal” barmaid named Dani whenever she freshened my drink.
“It’s great, isn’t it?” bubbled Dani over my shoulder, studying her picture afresh as if additional aesthetic qualities had accrued from its journey through the internet from her phone to mine. “That’s the kind of picture people smoke weed and look at.”
“Do you have any, my flower?” gonged Dr. Constantinescu as expectantly as a dog waiting for its ball to be thrown, to the surprise of no one at this point even if, much to my amusement, Phoebe stiffened and made a face.
“Guess you’re not the only flower in the bouquet,” I whispered in her ear while Dani made smithereens of the doctor’s hopes by explaining not only did she not have any, she’s never tried it and never would, shit rots your brain, and not buying a single dime bag of his finger-wagging rebuttal about the medicinal properties of THC.
“Shut up, Paul.”
“Lucy’s probably one too. Venus flytrap I’d wager.”
“Hmmm?” said Lucy, whose hearing had so overcompensated for her terrible eyesight she could probably hear the bench’s coat of paint drying.
“I was just telling Phoebe how blossoming you are today.”
“I already told him to shut up,” sighed Phoebe and, frowning at the magnum lying on its side in the grass where Dr. Constantinescu had tossed it for being so uselessly empty, initiated the process of leaving by telling an abnormally compliant Dylan to help her pack up. Reaching the edge of the wastes where the vegetation began growing in more earthly deformations, I didn’t turn around for one last look this time. No, I knew what was behind me now and, with Dani’s stoner picture to remind me, I also knew I was never coming back.
To be continued…
*Previous chapters of The Angle of Attack are available at: http://bit.ly/2u7rqcL
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