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Sunday is a downer making its way into several uppers. I am awake much earlier than I prefer, conducting an urgent paint job on the front door. This opens the way for a visit from Jasmina, who approaches my work site in her black movie clothes. It’s a wonder her boss won’t let her work in short sleeves. She scratches her arm, which seems to be her favorite tic.
“Don’t tell me.”
I finish a stroke around the doorknob. “I almost left it up. If only they had been more accurate. ‘Godless heathen,’ by all means. ‘Infidel’ – hell yes. But ‘Satan worshipper?’ The bastards make up a bogeyman to take the blame for all the bad stuff, and then they accuse me of worshipping him?”
Jasmina cracks up. “Assholes! Hey, that color is a good match.”
“Last time they did the building, the painters gave me their leftovers. Let’s just say I anticipated some holy vandalism.”
“The meek shall tag the earth.”
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want for semi-gloss. Isn’t it a little early for movies?”
“I’m gonna drop by the Depot for some reading.”
“Cool. Hey, I got some terrific news just now.”
“Stop! Hold it right there. I’ve got some news, too. Why don’t I take you to dinner and we can swap stories.”
“Came into some money,” I say.
“You are so totally not allowed to go there.”
“Hey! Nice use of the displaced ‘totally.’ You sure you’re not a native?”
“I’ve been practicing. Six o’clock?”
“Do you have a suit?”
“Do your best.”
I go back to my work for a ten-count, then I turn to watch Jasmina walk away. Instead I find her watching me. Damn women. Always staring at your ass when you’re trying to stare at theirs.
She arrives at six looking stunning: black boots, plush corduroy pants, a charcoal top with smatterings of sequins, and a red crushed-velvet jacket with burgundy lapels. Her hair is up, except for two small tendrils framing her face. It’s the kind of outfit one might wear to a corporate fundraiser, just boho enough to converse with the proletariat. My own outfit – green sportcoat, jeans, white dress shirt – pales in comparison, but with Jasmina around who the hell would be looking at me?
“Ready to close up shop?” she says.
“You got it. Let me lock up the front.”
I’m driving uphill. Both of us are being quiet – an unusual occurrence.
“You know,” I say. “Sooner or later, you should probably tell me where we’re going.”
She laughs, a terrier yap. “I guess I was trying to figure out some way to surprise you, but you’re right. Take us to Lakshmi’s.”
“I’m salivating already.”
We take the long walk to the restaurant, shafts of sun stabbing the walls. I notice a vase holding a dozen silver tulips, the stems wrapped with a rubber band. Jasmina gives the vase a little tap and keeps walking.
We sit at the same table as before. The time for news arrives in the gap between ordering and eating.
“Okay,” she says. “You first.”
I sip from my Zinfandel and run it around my tongue. “Okay. I have an old friend – a fellow JW graduate.”
“Zelda’s a doctor, and an activist in the field of medical marijuana. She has decided to open a clinic in San Anselmo, and wants me to be her supplier.”
Jasmina shoots me the beauty pageant smile. “So you’re going legit!”
“Um. Sort of. The whole field is in this weird limbo right now. Mostly between state and federal. The gist is that she’s free to sell the stuff – at non-profit rates – but not to purchase it.”
“Well that’s just screwy.”
“Yes. But it actually works to my advantage. With a proven record of quality, discretion and espionage, I am the ideal candidate. I will be taking a hefty cut in my profit margin, but the volume is excellent, and who knows? Maybe someday I can take the whole thing above-board.”
“Just legalize the shit already!”
“That’s why I love you, Jazz. You have this habit of making sense.”
And there I go, tripping the wire again. Jasmina goes all silent, and I decide not to push her for her news. The silence continues into our entrees.
I finish a large mouthful of chicken curry. “Not the moviehouse! What would they…”
“Not the moviehouse.”
Eventually it sinks in. “Oh! That’s… great. Will you be okay financially?”
She’s looking at me but not precisely at me. “Yeah. I’ll be fine. I’ve got… options.”
The silence returns, but eventually, note by note, we build a conversation on easier subjects. Mostly, the effect that her latest book is having on Jasmina’s feelings toward her adopted country. I have come to greatly enjoy the way her mind processes new material. I suppose it reminds me of myself, when I first ventured into the wilds of freethought. She’s still at it as we climb the walkway – in fact, is so involved in her discourse that she’s still holding her dinner napkin.
“The thing that really intrigues me is how the early evangelicals actually encouraged the separation of church and state, because they knew that a religiously free society offered a more fertile ground for recruitment. And now, how those same evangelicals, without the slightest trace of irony, want to tear that separation down.”
She stops at the vase. She takes the silver tulips, wraps the stems in her dinner napkin and hands them to me.
“The thing is, I quit because I wanted to. I also quit because, for lack of a better way of putting it… I want to be your girlfriend.”
Her smile is shaking, the way it did before. She has caught me completely unprepared. I look at the tulips, which are perfect, which are frozen at a peak ripeness of petaldeath. Petaldeath – great name for a band.
Still there. Still with the smile.
“Geez, Jasmina. I’m flattered. I am. But, well, what do I want to say here? I’m dizzy! You haven’t let me stand in the same spot for more than five minutes since I met you. Mentor? Lover? Friend? What role am I playing? What’s my motivation?”
She kisses me on the cheek. “It’s not a pop quiz. I wasn’t expecting an answer.”
We drive home in more silence. Jasmina seems content, holding my tulips, her eyelids at half-mast. I’m feeling foggy, and so is Mill Valley.
When we reach the door of my shop, I turn to suggest, for the hundredth time, that she let me drive her home. She looks like one of those soft-focus closeups from an old movie, her hair loose around her shoulders, her dark eyes marked with apostrophes of light. Her smile replaced by a pair of plush lips, slightly parted, hint of white teeth. A target that no man – atheist, agnostic, evangelical – could possibly resist.
So I don’t.
Photo by MJV
Photo by MJV