Shawn didn’t know he had tipped the hammer until it clanged on the concrete twelve feet below. He peered over the railing to find Pancho’s eyes, dark and put-upon.
“You’re lucky,” he said. “Six inches south and you woulda hit the monitor.”
They were working a high-tech firm in Fife, had been extra careful with the shipping department’s new computer, hatting it with a cardboard box to fend off the dust. Shawn watched as Pancho mapped out the copper piping, snugging it against the beams with a battery of T-joints, 45s and 90s. He could see why Pancho was already a crew chief.
It took Shawn another five minutes to realize the hammer wasn’t his fault. Seeing it on the railing, he had removed it to a table ten feet away. Whereupon Richard used it on some staples and put it right back on the railing.
“Gentlemen!” said Pancho. “We are done. Clean up everything and let’s get the hell out of Dodge!”
“Groovy,” said Satch. Satch was Pancho’s number two, worked all day wearing a cell phone with a headset. “Three o’clock’s a fine quittin’ time, dontcha think, Dickie?”
“Sure,” said Richard, smiling shyly.
They were getting into Shawn’s car when Richard said, “Thanks, Shawn.”
“Aha! I’m glad you noticed, you scumbum.”
“Yeah, I’m learning things. Heavy hammers, thin railings...”
“‘Salright. Pancho’s a bandmate. He won’t hold it against me. ‘Course, if it hits that monitor, I rat on you in a second.”
Richard laughed. “Duly noted.”
They hit the frontage road, headed for downtown.
“By the way,” said Richard. “My mom’s got some German chocolate cake for us. And she’s not taking no for an answer.”
“I wouldn’t ask her to.” He turned onto 705, drinking in the skyscrapers.
Shelly seemed flustered. After doling out thick slabs of cake with milk, she excused herself to make a call. When she came back, Shawn and Richard took turns exaggerating the flying hammer story.
“Well Pancho, see, he’s got this incredible peripheral vision – used to play soccer when he was younger - and right before the hammer just skulls poor Satch, he reaches out and...” The doorbell rang. “Oh, um... You want me to get that, Mom?”
“No, I’ve got it, dear.”
It was Tacoma. Her astonished smile revealed the breadth of Shelly’s deceit. Shawn found himself rising to his feet.
“Richard,” said Shelly. “Give your mother some working space.”
Before leaving, Richard whispered in his mother’s ear: “I expect a full report.”
Shelly turned to Tacoma and said, “Cake, dear?”
Tacoma broke her eyelock with Shawn. “Yes. That would be great.”
Shelly left the room. Shawn and Tacoma sat down at the table.
“Hi,” said Tacoma.
“Hi,” said Shawn. “How’s it going?”
“Okay. I quit my job.”
Shelly burst through the door. “Here you are, dear. And don’t be like those other girls who pretend they don’t like food.”
“No problem there, Shel.”
Shawn noted the shortening of the name, raised an eyebrow in Shelly’s direction.
“Okay, Shawn. I suppose you deserve an explanation. After all this time of you and Tacoma getting together and breaking up, I decided I had to meet her. She wasn’t hard to find – there aren’t too many Tacoma Davenports in the phone book.” She began to snicker. “Sorry dear. In my youth, you would have been a sofa shop.”
The stunned boy, the nervous girl were much too preoccupied to get the joke.
“Well. Yes,” said Shelly. “City Girl and I began having lunches once, twice a week, and she gave me the same story I’ve been getting from you. The tremendous void in your life, the feeling that your relationship was under constant attack from outside forces: bipolar episodes. financial setbacks, deaths in the family.”
Shelley stood and paced like an attorney.
“Well, honeys – I’m sick of the whining! This is what life does to people who fall in love. You have to learn to fight it out.”
She was getting too excited, so she sat down and sipped her coffee.
“Because he is dead, and because we never divorced, you probably assume that Francis and I had a perfect, sunshiny marriage. But you weren’t there the day he got back from Cleveland and I found a note from ‘Rosie’ in his jacket pocket. I also found a used condom wrapped in a sandwich bag. I don’t know what I hated worse: the betrayal, or the stupidity of not hiding the evidence. Was he saving it for a souvenir?”
“It took years for him to regain my trust, and lots of messy, noisy fights. Not because we wanted to fight, but because that was the only way we could save our marriage. Fighting requires passion; passion means you care.”
She patted two fingers against her temple, trying to recall her next point.
“The other thing is this: Shawn,” she put a hand on Shawn elbow. “I love you almost as much as my own son. In a very difficult time, you brought life into my house, and gave me someone to talk to. Now you’ve even gotten my son a job. You’re a wonderful, sweet young man, and you deserve the best. ‘The best’ is precisely that woman sitting across the table from you. You don’t go through as much living as I have without getting a pretty good idea about people who belong together, and people who don’t. Which is why I’m committing this atrocious act of meddling. You two need to give this thing another shot – but you need to stop being so goddamned civilized. Argue, shout, bicker. Break a few ceramics. She’s from Pittsburgh, she can handle it. And now... I’ve got a present.”
She went to the front closet and retrieved a box wrapped in purple tissue.
“Here, honey. Untie the ribbon, and we’ll let City Girl finish the job.”
They opened the box to find a royal blue dragon kite with a large spool of string. Tacoma looked at Shelly, quizzically.
“Go fly a kite! At Point Defiance, this afternoon. It’ll give you something to talk about. I predict, by the time you get the end of the string and back, you will have made some progress.”
They stood in the green bowl of the park’s front lawn, wind whipping off the narrows. The kite found the end of the tether in ten minutes. The effort provided a prelude of small cooperations, making it easier to start.
“So you quit your job.”
“Yes!” said Tacoma. The kite veered left, and she gave the line a tug. “I realized... I was doing something I saw no value in. Now I’m tutoring at a literacy center. Private.”
“Thanks. So what’re you up to?”
“The band’s pretty much dead. I’m working with Pancho, for a contractor. Just gofer stuff, but I hope to pick up some skills. You’ve heard about Pancho’s new wife?”
“Yes! And I hear he’s going to be a father, as well.”
“He never could do things in the right order.”
“Hmmph,” said Tacoma. “At least that’s one less woman in Shawn’s harem.”
“Hey! They’re all friends and you know it.”
“Except Angie. You’re attracted to Angie.”
“I was. But there is absolutely no chemistry. I told you that.”
“I think you’re a rake.”
“For a rake, I get very little actual sex.”
Tacoma handed him the spool.
“Any since me?”
“Ivy! She wasn’t even on my list.”
“Mine, either. One of those friendly... farewell things. What about you?”
“I dated this one guy. He wanted to kiss me goodnight. I told him I couldn’t, because it would remind me of my ex-boyfriend. He seemed... puzzled by that.”
“I don’t blame him.”
Tacoma cast a smile to the grass. “So. Do you like this?”
“We’re not fighting.”
“Openly disagreeing. Casting ugly truth to the wind. Like you having sex with your lead singer.”
“At the time, I didn’t have a girlfriend,” he said, a little too sharply.
The comment sank into Tacoma’s face, but she let it go. “Now there – that’s fighting.” She extended a hand for the spool. “We need a name for the kite.”
“Hal,” said Shawn, thinking of science fiction.
“Nuh-uh. You know what he looks like, don’t you?”
Shawn squinted skyward – the circular head, the long, wiggling tail.
“Okay,” he said, laughing. “You want to reel in ‘Spermie’ and go for some espresso?”
“You got it. Friend-fucker.”
“Oh! You are mean.”
They drove a few blocks to the Antique Sandwich Shop and walked in on the weekly open mic. A young female sat at the piano, reeling out breathy melismas in the current confessional style.
“Some singers,” said Shawn, “should sing with less emotion.”
“A-greed,” said Tacoma. “You can feel the torment in the air. Was I too much of a noodge?”
“Did I pick on you about little things. Did I nag you.”
“At times. But I can handle it.”
“That doesn’t change the fact that I was being a noodge.”
“No. Ugly truth.”
“In my wacky family, the only way we express love is by nagging. ‘Why do you dress so funny, Tacoma?’ ‘What’s the deal with that hair?’ ‘Why are you studying Russian?’ That’s why, when we first got together, I didn’t believe that you loved me.”
“In my wacky family,” said Shawn, “we express love by not nagging each other.”
“Goddamn Beaver Cleaver, that’s me.”
“As long as we’re confessing,” she continued. “That’s also why I cried so much when you said you would always love me. No one ever told me that before. I also thought you were saying it... because you were anticipating us breaking up.”
Shawn took a long sip from his latte, which was threatening to go cold from all the talking. “In a way, I guess I was. But I do still love you.”
Tacoma smiled, little fissures forming all over her heart. She took Shawn’s hand and pulled it to her lips. A blond man with a blond guitar sat at the mic, explaining the title of his song.
“It’s called ‘Grace,’ but it’s not about a specific person. ‘Grace’ is the name I use for all the people who come to hear me sing.”
“Nice,” said Shawn.
“If I ever had a daughter,” said Tacoma, “I would name her Grace.”
Photo by MJV