Sunday, December 16, 2007

Attic Tapes, III

Light was just peeking in the windows when Charlotte woke, smell of coffee in the camper. Ben leaned up against the galley counter, looking pretty spruced up. He’d been out to the mudroom in the Optimist motel and taken a sponge bath, complete with shampooing his head in the sink. He handed a mug of coffee to Charlotte as she sat up. “Merry Christmas,” he said.

“Mmm, coffee,” she replied. “Thanks.” She held the mug under her nose and breathed deeply.

Ben said, “You didn’t get much sleep, but I figure those babies are already chomping at the bit for Christmas day.”

“They are now. Thanks to you. At least I don’t have to be a complete asshole and on the defensive all day.”

“You ever see an old black man pushing a stuffed shopping cart or gardening on some godforsaken stretch of sidewalk, that’s your Santa. Those were his tips in the coffee can. He refused to take them.”

“This CDM coffee we’re drinking now?”

“Oh, yeah.”

Charlotte took a sip of the drink and then looked off through the window for a good minute. When she looked back at Ben, a lone tear rolled from the corner of her left eye.

She said, “When you pulled the money out of the can last night, I noticed that there was another.”

“This time of year, you can never have enough coffee.”

Charlotte wiped the tear with the back of her hand. Had a hard time getting it out, but said, “I figured it might just be another little bank.”

Ben smiled. “You did, did you?”

He watched her face and felt the struggle within her. He took another drink of coffee to stifle the impulse to help her out of her own mess.

Tears fell from the corners of both eyes now.

She said, “Thank God for Mary, otherwise I’d have had my hand in that other one. That was my plan, anyway.”

Ben set his coffee on the counter. He said, “Charlotte, I don’t think Mary had anything to do with keeping your hand out of anything. I suspect she came to you once you made the right choice.”

“I’m a long way from giving myself that kind of credit.”

“Well, I’d say today’s a good time to start.”

She let a few years’ pain roll out of her as she wept on the cot. Ben handed her a clean dish towel to wipe her tears. She drained her mug and stood to go. Before he could open the door for her, she pulled him close—she still smelled like a bower of roses. Into his ear, she said, “You’re a good man, Ben.”

“On some days,” he said, “yes, I am.”

She squeezed him once more, kissed his neck, and then headed for her car. A chill in the air, but a bright blue sky.

“Hey,” Ben said. “Your coat.”

He walked it out to her, watched her climb in the car and drive off.

The Packers beat the Bears and the Lakers beat the Heat, and Charlotte was headed out the door for more beer Christmas evening before she found the money from the other can in her coat pocket. She flew down San Pedro and Basse for the lot, but by the time she got there, the camper was gone and Ben and Ray were crossing back into Louisiana.

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Blogger San said...

Again, very nice, Paschal. I smell cheap canned, chicory-laced coffee, and Ben's shampoo, along with Charlotte/Mary's roses. When you've made me smell a story, you've done good. Just came up with that. I'll call it the First Law of Olfactory Dynamics.

Nice "final" paragraph, the way it opens into to the larger world...

4:50 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

I'm glad we're establishing the laws of fiction here, though there are some occasional fictional olfactoids my munchkins toss my way that I can do without. Ciao.

5:36 PM  

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