Midwife in the Tire Swing

Chapter 45—Real Butter on Request

Ed Hobart swung his legs over the side of the bed to the alarm’s inquisitive cricket chirp. Last Wednesday and four AM. The last Wednesdays of the month were his command performance at the University in Orono—all the county agents were expected to show up for a monthly flogging, considered sound bureaucratic practice lest high morale generate discontent in the ranks.

Wake up. He switched the alarm off. High in the sky a red blob squinted in at him through a slit in the blinds. Why had he done this—set the clock to get him up at first light? Ed liked the little alarm, at five dollars ten years ago one of his few good investments. He allowed himself some self-congratulation as he groped for a cigarette and recalled he was supposed to have quit. Where had he gotten that clock? He held a hand up to hide the rising sun. That had been in Boston ten years ago. In a drugstore. He had been staying with friends who were not concerned with the time constraints of an industrial world, holistic dropouts. He had set up some job interviews while visiting in the area, hence the clock. Five dollar alarm clocks were the last reliable benchmark in a slippery world. They kept getting better, quieter. For the round trip to Orono he had to hit the road before 6:30.

On Last Wednesdays Heidi and Ed had a standing date for a late lunch at the Wilco Diner. Ed burned rubber back to Willipaq and headed for their regular booth near the window, positioned where passers-by would see them together. They liked to watch the clouds of seagulls following the herring boats. The gulls circled and dived, always hoping for the occasional herring to throw itself out of the stream of wriggling fish being hosed from ship to dock. A gull would make off with the fish and then the fun would begin. Above the gulls a squadron of ospreys followed. This late in the season the ospreys had no hungry young mouths waiting at home so they could be choosy—when the mood struck one would execute a barrel roll and chase a fleeing gull.

People watching birds watching fish while the guys who watched the fish for a living all day, every day, nursed their beers at the counter. The view at the bar was a wall of postcards from regulars who had retired to Florida.

The Wilco Diner hung on piles high above or right on astronomical high tide, depending—twice every twelve hours you could choose your dining ambience, either mud flats or the hungry tides that lapped the boards beneath your feet. Theo Arsenault, proprietor of Arsenault’s One-Stop and Family Sundries and the creative genius behind the Wilco Diner, had no master plan for the offerings from his tiny kitchen. Humble and down-to-earth, the food—including eggs sunnyside and Belgian waffles—was gray with a plotch of margarine for color. The guys at the counter went for the headless beer. They were here to get drunk, read the postcards and stare down the waitress’ shirtfronts, pulling nutrients from the salt sea air and the grease from the deep fryer. The Wilco Diner—real butter on request, pitcher beer, mayonnaise on everything, and vinegar always at the table.

Ed caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror behind the bar—ouch. “Hi Ed.” Heidi glowed. If he looked bad he didn’t look bad to her. Ed smiled—well, he still had all his teeth if not all his hair.

“Hi, Heidi.” Ed glowed.

Heidi Nichols and Ed Hobart watched the birds, the other diners, the steady motions of the tides. They spoke in lovers’ small talk of the day, the weather, people passing by. They should move in together—this was a good idea they decided.

They went home separately, to their separate beds, where they dreamed separate dreams. Their dreams were calming, but strangely disturbing.

He is approaching a derelict house—Lucy’s Victorian Gothic bloat is in a swamp surrounded by deep tangled roots like those of a banyan tree. The roots are moving, slithering—about to eat the house. The house is in New England; why the banyan trees? They ooze lethargically, and beneath festoons of Spanish moss venomous snakes coil to strike. He is here to rescue hardware and bathroom fixtures from the wreckers. He dashes in ahead of the bulldozers, over the twisted roots, dodging clanking tractor treads. The compressed soil springs back as he passes the bulldozer trail. He runs into the house as it collapses around him. Oops! He is dead.

Would being dead send Heidi the message that he was taking her for granted? Well, he was—taking her for granted, not dead like him, that is. Grantedness was one of the things you moved in together for, the idea that Heidi would always be there for him, without asking, and therefore lessened by it. Ed reassured himself he would be shrinking and diminishing too, keeping pace. There was an even-handedness to this. Small wonder he looks terrible; he has just had a house fall on him.

Both will remember their dreams. She is in an elevator. The door opens and closes, people get on and off, but the floor never changes. The other passengers are actors in the upcoming community theater play. The door closes on the last lines of the play. When it opens, the actors are gone. “Wait! Wait for me,” she cries in the empty elevator.

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