Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Painting Tacoma, Chapter Thirty: Payback

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“Have you had enough?” she asked.
            “Are you allowed?”
            “I’ve done my duty.”
            They slow-danced in a far corner of the Tacoma Dome, having survived four hours of country music. The tickets came from Tacoma’s boss. But her boyfriend’s sense of rhythm had been assaulted long enough.
            They walked a few blocks to the Harmon Microbrewery, where the cool, dark interior offered a nice escape from the humidity. Shawn sipped at a wheat beer and noticed a billboard-size portrait of Woody Guthrie at the History Museum across the street.
            “Now there’s...”
            “I’m sorry. It’s these goddamn ears of mine. It’s so hard to be non-critical of someone in your own field. But I still can’t believe your boss didn’t know who Asleep at the Wheel was.”
            Tacoma smiled. “And this from a woman whose hair is so authentically big, whose truck is so genuinely... huge.”
            “And who hired three teamsters to get her into those jeans.”
            “Is denim an amazing material or what?”
            “Well,” said Shawn, laughing. “I’ll give you the Dixie Chicks, but the rest of those fakers are playing pop music with a twang. And that one Generic Love Anthem they keep dragging out... Give me Buck Owens any day.”
            “Thanks for suffering with me, sweetie. So how was yesterday’s excursion?”
            “Oh! Let me tell ya. Pancho had a great time. They had this incredible guitarist, young black guy. Pancho brought a pair of binoculars so he could see how he fingered his chords. It was good for him to get away, too. This responsible adult thing has been pretty tough.
            “Poor Pancho. How was the drummer?”
            “You know, Gatemouth is so straight-ahead, it was hard to tell. He did this one thing with the snare, though, little drumrolls inside the beat. I’m definitely gonna steal that.”
            Shawn had done his research. But he could tell Tacoma only so many lies before he exploded. He stared at Woody Guthrie’s rough-cut face.
            “Oh, uh... yeah. Sorry. Tired, I guess.”
            “I’ve got something to take care of that,” she said. “Let’s go to my place.”
            She was clearly intent on being nice to him. He was going to have to live with it.

Lately, their sex was not as exciting. Nothing terrible, just the leveling effects of Tacoma’s medicine, which took out the peaks as well as the valleys.
            That night, she was different – electric to the touch, almost frantic. Every button he pushed brought a small detonation. The outfit didn’t hurt, either: a lacy red and black number you might see in a western movie.
            This was the comfy cellar of pleasure that brought Shawn to his reckoning. He lay at her side, tracing a finger along her shoulder blade, and could no longer bear the distance of small deceptions.
            “Honey, this is going to seem silly and stupid, but I didn’t go to Gatemouth Brown yesterday. A couple months ago, I promised Angie I would take her to a wedding. But I didn’t want to tell you. I just wanted to keep my promise and be done with it.”
            “So you lied your way around it,” she said, without turning.
            “Yes. And I’m very sorry, I can see that I was being selfish. And foolish – because you always know when I’m lying.”
            She twisted around to face him. Her expression was hard to read.
            “I’m glad you told me before I had to drag it out of you.”
            “I know. I just...”
            She put a finger to his lips. “Stop. Don’t ruin this. We’ll talk later.”
            She turned back around. A minute later, he ventured a hand to tug at her hair – her favorite gesture. She gave herself to the sensation and they made love, this time in silence. Then fell asleep, drifting to their separate sides.

All the next day – Labor Day – he waited for the hammer to fall. He woke up early and made breakfast, a linguisa omelet followed by bowls of sliced mango.
            They stopped at the Antique Sandwich Shop for breve lattes, then headed south to the Nisqually Delta, where they walked a long bird trail. Shawn was determined to spot a bald eagle, but had to settle for a pair of great blue herons, sighted through Tacoma’s binoculars in the mudflats.
            She spent the rest of the walk spinning out questions like a talk-show host. Some of them seemed cold and impersonal, but he was used to it.
            “Do you see yourself as someone who needs to be the center of attention?”
            “No. But I don’t avoid it. Anyone who wants to jump on a stage needs to have a bit of an ego.”
            “So is the ego-trip the main benefit?”
            “No. When I make the physical motions of playing the drums, the creation is only halfway there. It’s only complete when someone responds to it. Even better, dances to it. You wouldn’t believe the power, all those butts and feet at the end of your sticks.”
            They went on like that, a new question every few minutes. Did he think his drumming would ever fit into a normal lifestyle? Had he ever possessed an image of his perfect mate, and what were her characteristics? (And no BS’ing the interviewer.) Was he spoiled as a child? Neglected? What was the basis of his agnosticism?
            “Lack of faith.”
            “Yes. Such a negative phrase, isn’t it? But faith is a thing you either have or don’t have. There’s no faking it, and you have no choice in the matter. So my agnosticism is not, per se, a rejection of any particular religion.
            “Viewed another way, I have much more faith than a religious person, because I am willing to live without guarantees, and to let the mysteries of the universe remain mysterious.”
            “Well,” said Tacoma. “I hope you’re right, honey. On the other hand, I guess I don’t. Are those swallows?”
            By the time they got home, they were both exhausted. Shawn gathered his clothing from the day before, carried them outside in a sack and turned for a kiss.
            “I’m sorry. I can’t kiss you right now.”
            “You lied to me, Shawn. No matter the particulars, you lied to me. I’d appreciate it if we didn’t talk till... well, just let me call you when I’m ready. I have to think about this. Besides, I’m very busy at work. For now... please just leave. I’d prefer to kiss you only when I meant it.”
            He tried to think of something he could say to heal this, but he couldn’t.
            “Good... Goodbye, Tacoma. I... Okay.”
            He counted each tread on the staircase, raindrops peppering his path. Then looked back for her face, could see only the palm of her hand, flat against the screen.

Photo by MJV

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