The Fiction of Robert Charest

THE MASTERS OF MARSTON

a novel

Timothy Stoles is a young man who has spent his entire life in the fictional colonial New England town of Marston.  Shortly after his father dies he answers an ad in the paper and takes a job in town that lands him in the midst of a battle over historic district zoning regulations and technicalities of law.  As hard egos and old ways clash with the new, and a mysterious woodsman and his two young daughters appear on the scene, Timothy matures into manhood.  Scroll down through the first four chapters.

Table of Contents

 

1)                  The Stage

2)                  The Tanner Family

3)                  Diller and Voller

4)                  In Response

5)                  All Told in the Painting

6)                  On Dealing With Debauchery

7)                  At Home

8)                  At Work

9)                  A Meeting

10)              The Autumn

11)              The Fall

12)              Callers

13)              Bestowing Thanks

14)              A New Home

15)              A Tearful Goodbye

16)              Drawing Lines

17)              Unveiled

18)              The Spring Flowers

19)              Another Meeting

20)              A Short Discourse

21)              Unions

22)              Flight to Next

23)              Resolve, Recourse, Reaction, Result

24)              A House Ablaze

25)              An Abruptly Altered Course of Action

26)              From Good Hands to Good Hands

27)              Another Short Discourse

 


Chapter 1

The Stage

 

“Where do I go to see an igloo?”

If you were to take this question and pose it to an Eskimo, his answer (if he were polite and friendly) would be directions to his home.  If you were to put this question to a common citizen you would probably be advised to go to Alaska and ask the nearest Eskimo.  If, however, you had posed this question to a resident of Marston in the winter of concern here, the answer you received would have been quite different.

A walking tour through the center of the New England town would begin at the edge of Armfield, where you would be greeted by this sign:  “Welcome to Historic Marston.  Population 1109.  Proud of our fathers, and working to make them proud of us.”  Beyond this you would see deep thicket on the right hand side, and thick, majestic woods on the left.  Eventually the road meanders to a long slope which drops gently into the town.  The continues unbroken on the one side, but the thicket on the other has long since given way to lawn and landscape, where the tiny overlooking houses have stood for more than a century.  These structures have the hardy sturdiness of miniature mansions, and all the more warmth.  The hill gradually begins to level as it approaches the heart of town, and accordingly the woods on the left have given way to housing.  The road finally flattens with the land, and the stores and shops necessary to life in any small town begin to appear on both sides.

There are more houses, and more closely built, before you come upon the next significant road sign:  ‘Entering Marston’s Historic District.  1698-1825.’  From this point to the end of the historic district there are only houses, with the exception of one store, Tanner’s Grocery, and the Protestant church.  These colonial homes are more angular and interesting, with small gables, shuttered faces, strange windows and odd porches.  They are more generously lawned and spaced apart, and are finely groomed, with impeccably maintained gardens, shrubbery, hedges and trees.  In accordance with the Historic Commission’s regulations for the authentic preservation of antiquity, all of these houses are painted one of the three permissible colors, red, white or brown, and have no exterior improvements not in agreement with the era.  Many boast patriotic flags and ostentatiously displayed hand-painted plaques, which honor the builder and the year of construction, and which bear names such as Stoles, Mast and Tockerton.

These homes, and their protective historic district, end with the local green, which is located on the right hand side on the way out of town.  Behind the huge patch are the town hall and post office, both of which are still in their original buildings, erected respectively in 1771 and 1876.  The two structures have aged beautifully, and command reverence from the local resident and passerby alike.  There are several great spruce trees standing evenly across the green, a local veteran’s memorial at the far end, an immense flagpole in the middle, and a statue of Jacob Mast, a revolutionary war hero, at the near side.  He is mounted on his brass steed facing back at the historic district, directly at the house which he built in 1757.  However, a Mast has not lived there since the middle of the nineteenth century.

The town green ends with another sign:  ‘Leaving Marston’s Historic District.’  From here the dwellings are slightly shabbier, or rather, less important.  In their midst are the general store, a bank, a liquor store, the Catholic church, and finally the woods and thicket leading up the hill to North Amberton.

Marston’s residents have always maintained brimming pride regarding their town’s unique history and colonial heritage.  The town was officially settled in 1698 by the locally famous Four Founding Fathers.  The four men—Thomas Tanner, John Mast, Joshua Marks and Jonathan Stoles worked together taming the land, fending off Indians and building homes for themselves and their families.

As the legend goes, John Mast was a rugged young man of eighteen when he came upon the land in the seventeenth century, in the year which is locally celebrated as 1690.  He had been wandering alone in the woods for weeks when he happened upon a beautiful clearing near a bursting, crystal stream, and was so instantly enthralled that he decided to stop and rest for a day.  The day doubled, and then doubled again, and then became a week.  He had been journeying alone for many months since the winter, when he had lost his young wife to illness resulting from exposure.  He left the settlement where they had been living to travel south in search of a better place.  All the spring and summer he survived by fetching wild berries, fruits, vegetables and small game.  He lived well, and was able to avoid his few brushes with Indians and strangers by ducking behind trees, but there seemed to be no escape from the haunting memory of his frail and delicate wife.  He needed to find a place of solace and solitude that he could claim for himself and pass the period of his mourning, however long that might be.  The huge clearing by the stream appeared to be the perfectly suited spot.

After only a week’s repose his decision was made.  The comfortable clime and abundance of foods and fresh water had settled his mind.  He would stay for as many months and years needed to lessen his grip on the memory of his dear departed Constance.

The conclusion of that summer was tranquil, and the autumn spectacular, but the winter fell harsher than he had hoped.  Still the spring dawned freshly, and he knew he was where he belonged.  He remained there all of that year, through the winter, through the spring and into the following summer.  The memory of his beloved had only slightly diminished, but that would come with time, and like the place where he was, he saw no reason to go elsewhere.  He had been forced to kill one Indian, but who settling the new territory hadn’t?  That was nothing he could escape by changing his location.

One morning he awoke to the sight of a man foraging through his hidden store of nuts.  He stealthily crawled over, jumped on the man, and wrested him to the ground.  “That’s my food!” he growled, thinking he was atop an Indian.  The mumbling man struggled beneath him, and Mast, who was still groggy, noticed that the skin of the man’s neck was white.  He let him up, and found himself facing a short, ragged man of frail build and mussed appearance.  The stranger could have been twice John’s age.

“I’m sorry!  I’m sorry!” the little man exclaimed hastily, stepping back from Mast.

“What are you doing in my nuts?” John demanded.

“I didn’t know they were yours.  Honestly,” the man replied nervously.  He had telltale crumbs at both corners of his mouth.  “I just ate a few.  I haven’t eaten in days, and I’m starved.”

“Well, they are my nuts,” Mast said.

“Then I won’t eat them,” the man answered.  He finally noticed the actual trees whence they had come.  “But you couldn’t object to my picking a few of my own, could you?”  Mast motioned with his head that it would be all right.  “May I?” the man inquired, pointing to the stream.  John nodded, while lowering his guard, and the man hurried to the stream, knelt down, and began scooping handfuls of water into his mouth.  When he was finished he went and stood again before Mast, saying:  “That was plenty good of both you and the stream.”

The two fell into conversation, introduced themselves as John Mast and Jonathan Stoles, and over a breakfast of nuts and fresh raspberries struck up as friends and partners.  Stoles, according to himself, had been traveling with a large party who had arrived from England in the spring.  He was one of the more accurate men with a rifle, and was often sent away from the path to do the hunting.  These short excursions into the wilderness were usually successful and eventless, until one day he accidentally stumbled upon a camp of three Indians.  Their eyes were cold holes without souls, he said, and fearing for his hair, he fled.  There were two younger ones and an elder, and he could hear all three sets of footsteps chasing after him.  There were two shots loaded into his rifle.  He thought he had a good lead on them, but they were still giving chase, so he turned quickly, fired, and watched one of the younger drop.  He continued running full sprint, and when he had another opportunity he turned and fired again, and watched as the other young Indian fell down dead.  He kept running, for what seemed hours and miles, with the elder’s footfalls keeping pace.  Eventually they faded away, but Jonathan continued jogging to insure that he was safe.  He was near the end of his strength when he haphazardly tumbled down a ravine and landed in a tangled mass of thorns.  He lost consciousness, and when he awoke, judging from his hunger, he surmised that many hours had passed.  His clothes and skin were torn and cut, and he knew immediately that his chances of finding his party were slim at best.  He nonetheless started wandering in search, and after several fruitless months he came upon Mister John Mast in his fine clearing.

“Well, why don’t you settle down here with me for a while?” John suggested.  “Two is always safer than one in these parts, and I could do with a little companionship.”

“I can’t say that I have anyone or anything better to go to,” Stoles replied, “and this seems to be just the kind of particular spot my party was looking for in the first place.”

They were immediately agreed, and the arrangement lasted for several years, during which time they built a sturdy cabin in which they lived compatibly and became good friends.

One summer morning, several years later, Stoles awoke one morning to find two men rummaging through their hidden supply of chestnuts, much the way Mast had found him.  “What are you doing?” Stoles demanded.  The strangers, who were white men, looked up, and were taken down together from behind by Mast, who had been doing some early morning fishing.

“What are you doing in our food?” he demanded.

Both men were of small yet robust builds, though one slightly smaller than the other, who responded by saying, “We didn’t know they belonged to anyone.  We thought some chipmunks had stored them up.  We were only eating them because we haven’t eaten in days.  We’ve been wandering and starving for weeks.”

Mast and Stoles inspected the strangers closely, then agreed that Mast should release them.  He did, and the two men explained that they had been roaming aimlessly since disembarking from their ship two months earlier, and were only looking for a good place to settle.  Introductions were made, and the four men—Mast, Stoles, Thomas Tanner and Joshua Marks—decided that they would share the clearing, and would work together to preserve and protect it.

This arrangement lasted for two years, during which time only two Indians needed to be confronted and killed, and a very few other minor problems required reckoning.  The four men quickly found that they complemented each other perfectly.  Mast had strong frontier instincts, and was given the task of providing fish and meats.  Marks was more in touch with the land, and was charged with the care and order of the vegetable gardens and berry patches.  Stoles was a master carpenter, and worked at constructing second cabin and a storage shed.  Tanner, whose organizational skills were phenomenal, did the cooking, the cleaning, and kept the food supplies in order.  Their lives were not easy, but they were as happy as they could possibly be.

One fine summer day, when the aforementioned two years had transpired, a beautiful woman happened to walk into their camp.  Being the first to see her, Marks rushed from his work to offer greetings, and quickly learned that she had recently become separated from her party, which consisted of her four brothers, one sister, and two female cousins.  Her parents had been killed in an Indian raid on their camp, and fearing that many more were nearby, they struck out together in search of a safer place.  Only the day before she had lost them by fluke in a storm.  She was invited to sup with the four men, who hadn’t seen a woman in years, and soon found them all vying desperately for her attention.  After only one day in their camp she fell for Mast, who had decided immediately upon seeing her that he was finally recovered from the loss of his young wife several years earlier.  Two days later the rest of her party stumbled into the clearing, with her sister and one cousin, who was much older, providing eventual companions for Tanner and Stoles.  Short weeks later Marks met his female companion when another party passed through, and the four couples went in four directions away from the stream.  They helped each other forge their own smaller plots of land, build their own cabins, and cultivate their own gardens.  The fledgling village had fourteen residents when they officially claimed the area, Marston, as their own in 1698.

They lived difficult but satisfying lives, and though none of the town’s founders nor their children were directly involved in the Revolutionary War, all had grandsons who participated in the conflict.  Abraham Marks was an inspiring drummer for the marching rebel forces.  Andrew Stoles and Joseph Tanner were brave foot soldiers for the New England army, and William Mast was their valiant general and leader.  None of these men were killed in battle, and all were able to return to Marston after Independence had been successfully declared and defended.

When the Revolution ended Marston settled quickly into being a quiet small town, and moved slowly out of the eighteenth, through the nineteenth, and into the twentieth century.  Between 1698 and the middle of the twentieth century the population grew only to 640, but only twenty years later it had nearly doubled, jumping to 1109.  The reason for the dramatic increase was a sudden influx of younger people—doctors, lawyers, businessmen and executives—who had moved to Marston to live and raise their families.  They appreciated the peaceful, rural aspects of the town, but they didn’t concern themselves with learning and understanding local history.  This became the source of an underlying tension between the longtime residents who re-enacted the battle of Marston every July fifteenth and who comprised the local fife and drum corps, and the people who were responsible for clearing acres and acres of woodland and who monthly flooded the town hall with applications for building permits.  These were also the people who had drawn sides over the issue of the Historic District.  The advocates of the district, many of whom lived within its boundaries, said that Marston should be a sort of museum for colonial relics, and should be given the same regard and consideration as a great work of art.  The opposition promptly called these people ‘colonial relics,’ and several town meetings escalated into vigorous shouting matches from which complete sentences could not be extracted.

 


Chapter 2

The Tanner Family

 

Green Hill Lane was one of Marston’s many plush back roads.  It was winding, narrow and flowed like a vein away from the heart of town into the verdant flesh.  There were only three homes along the two miles of the lane which were within the town’s limits.  All three were lovely and bright, but one outshone the other two with uncommon beauty and maintaining.  It was an historically accurate colonial home owned by the Tanner family. 

It was not the original house built by Thomas Tanner in the late seventeenth century.  The house that Thomas built was closer to town, at the end of Main Street.  Four generations of Tanners lived in that house until 1803, when twenty five year old Trenton Tanner sold the dwelling and set out to build a new home at the edge of a field in the woods away from town.

The house was set up off the road on a slope of lawn.  To say that the yard was a lawn is true, but it functioned more as a canvas, upon which was painted a most beautiful real life of shrubs and flowers.  The crushed gravel driveway, which ran along the edge of the field on the end of the property closer to town, was bordered by an ivy-laden split rail fence.  Around the base of each fence post there was a fat, bursting begonia, and thick pachysandra filled the space between.  At the corner formed by the driveway and the road there was a small lawn lamp hanging over the mailbox, which was oversized, and upon which the family name was imprinted in intricate and ostentatious characters.  The mailbox and lamp also provided two more posts beneath which obese begonias flourished.  The grass which bordered the road sported long, even rows of tulips in the spring, and was immaculately maintained during the other three seasons.

The far edge of the yard ended with a very defined line of woods, and was also the locale of the sole tree within the yard, a stout and reverend oak which appeared to have long ago escaped from the home of its nearby family—so near and so far!  In the spring and summer the Tanners often sat snugly beneath the many protective and comforting arms of this old wood friend.  There was also a thin stream which ran out of the woods, through the yard, under the driveway, down the field, trickling into its larger and more famous brother, the one along which the town was originally settled.

The house itself was a plain, weathered white two storey colonial, around which were plump shrubs trimmed perfectly flat and numerous varieties of flowers, and upon which were green shutters and a wooden plaque bearing, in the same ornate lettering as on the mailbox, the name Trenton Tanner with the year 1803 inscribed beneath it.  There was an open porch off the side of the house overlooking the field, with rose bushes tended up on two sides, and a bed of azaleas along the third.  The backyard was not more than a large patch of grass which ran up the hill and blended with more trees.

The indoor décor was both pragmatic and pleasing to the eye.  There were waxed hardwood floors and hand-carved trim in every room.  The furnishings were of colonial tradition, consisting of dozens of antique oil lamps, figurines, glasswares, ceramic planters, and various glass, brass and wooden candlestick holders.  There were plants hanging in every window, and many more on shelves throughout the house.

The three bedrooms had been occupied by various Tanners throughout the almost two centuries the house had been in existence; from Trenton, the original builder, to James, who rebuilt it in 1891 after it was burned to the ground by a stray bolt of lightning in an electrical storm.  In the present time of this book, the master bedroom was occupied by Irving Tanner and his wife Trudy.  He had lived in the house all of his life, which, if he were to reach the average expectancy for me, he was halfway through.  He was a gaunt man with thick, wiry black hair which stood straight up no more than half an inch from his scalp.  His smile was a rare one—not in its charm and appeal, but in the frequency of its appearance.  Being in his fifth two year term as Marston’s first selectman, and the owner of and butcher at Tanner’s Grocery, the family store which was established in 1901, Irving was one of the more prominent figures in the community.  Trudy was a rather dull looking woman with dark eyes, drawn cheeks, and noticeably dry skin.  She stood at just under five feet compared to her husband, who was an inch over six.  She was a devoted mother, and stood proudly beside her husband when in the eyes of the town.  For the duration of their marriage they had called each other by the simple moniker ‘Dear,’ but the pet name had long since lost the endearing quality in its ring, and was used solely as a convenient way to get the other’s attention.

In the next bedroom were their two children, Maxine and Martin.  She was nine and he seven.  They were obedient at home, adjusted at school, and sang duets together—though against their wills—in the Protestant church’s youth choir.  Their being forced the share a bedroom for all their lives had caused some strange, indefinable aspects to develop in their relationship as siblings.  The reason for this was that the third bedroom was occupied by their grandfather.  Henry Tanner dwelt in the room across the hall from his grandchildren’s, where it was generally thought in the family that he was living in his own world.  Slipping was the descriptive word most commonly used by Mrs. Tanner, and he had only been spared from a home for the elderly by Irving’s refusal to place him there.

Of a summer evening in the year here concerned, the five Tanners were found outdoors awaiting the sunset.  Irving and Trudy were seated at the ends of a small antique bench on the porch.  He was working on his book, THE COMPREHENSIVE HISTORY OF THE TANNER FAMILY, and she was staring out into the woods and sky, allowing her mind to meander.  Henry was struggling with a word puzzle in his hammock, which was attached to the porch; and Maxine and Martin were on the lawn beyond the azaleas with their toys.

They were a quiet family, and often sat for ten, twenty, and thirty minutes without anyone speaking.  In this instance it was Henry who broke the long silence.  “Seventeen across,” he said, for he was in the occasional habit of announcing clues aloud, in what he thought was a clever plea for help.  “An imaginary, fire-breathing she-monster.  Seven letters, and the first is a ‘C.’  We know it’s not a Trudy Tanner, because she’s real and has too many letters.  Ha, ha, ha, ha!  Just kidding, my dear!”

Irving shook his head without looking up, and Trudy replied:  “I don’t know Henry; why don’t you just fill in any letters.  That’s how you finish all your puzzles when you can’t fill in any more real words.”

There was no response to her comment, and the ensuing silence lasted for several minutes.  Maxine, who had left off with her toy to search the clover, finally disturbed the air with her pretty, well-trained voice, singing:  “I want to be a butterfly, I want to see the air.”

“Maxine!” Martin whined.

“Now children,” Trudy said, trailing off.

“But Mom,” Martin pleaded, “you know that if you don’t make her stop now she’ll sing all night.  It’s not like she’ll be in another room, or another house.  She’s on the bottom bunk, and I’ll have to stay up all night listening to her sing while she sleeps.”

“I want to be a fish so I can swim without a care,” she continued.

“Mom!”

“Quiet now,” Irving demanded, harsh and flatly.  “Maxine, you’re supposed to practice your singing in the morning.  Martin, leave your sister alone.”

Trudy looked at her husband, the children at their father, and Henry out into the twilight.  Slowly they each returned to what they had been doing, and there was another long period of quiet.

“Isn’t the sunset lovely?” Trudy said with a sigh, staring into the tree-filtered vermilion.  No one responded, for they had seen the same view and heard the same remark one hundred times before.  “Dear,” she continued, “I know I’ve said it before, but I can’t help but to keep thinking that we really need that extra bedroom, now more than ever.  The children have already spent half of their youths confined together.  I can’t imagine what it would have been like to grow up in the same bedroom as my brother.  At least now there’s still time for them to live normally during their adolescent years.  I know we’ve discussed it over and over time and again, but we need to seriously consider either building an addition to the house, or placing your father in a home for the elderly.”

All of this was spoken casually, in normal conversational volume, and within several feet of her father-in-law.  Whether Henry had lost his hearing to the years or his mind had permanently drifted out of earshot was not certain knowledge to his family, but they had long known that they were able to speak frankly about him in his presence, and especially when he was concentrating on an activity such as the word puzzle.

“We’ve run through this too many times already, dear,” Irving replied.  “He is my father, and Tanners do not unburden themselves of ailing parents until the Lord deems.  I don’t expect Maxine and Martin to do it to us, and we’re not going to do it to him.”

Yes, dear, I understand that only too well, but you seem to refuse to acknowledge that I am being severely imposed upon nearly every moment of my life.”  She glanced at her husband on the word ‘acknowledge,’ but he did not look up, nor did his pen break its stride across the page, and she stared back out at the remaining embers of the sunset.  “I’m the one who has to stay with him all day,” she continued.  “You and the children are at work and school while he and I are stuck here at the house.  You don’t make his breakfast, I do.  You don’t cook his lunch, I do.  You don’t clean up after him, I do.  He may be the only one in this family who’s loopy now, but I can tell you that I feel like I’m well on my way, although if Maxine and Martin are stuck together in that room for many more years, your father and I will have company, and you alone will have to take care of all of us.”  Irving seemingly failed to recognize that she had spoken, and she, frustrated, paused to muster her courage, then finished the monologue with one blurted phrase.  “I think I wish he would go ahead and die already.”

Henry appeared to remain unaware, and continued working on his puzzle with the same inexplicable grin on his face.  Irving, however, leered at his wife and snapped:  “How dare you!”

“I didn’t really mean it,” she replied, sighing heavily again.  “I just said it to get your attention.  You spend so much time lost in the history of your dead relatives that you neglect those of us who are still alive.”

“All of my family is very important to me,” he said, “living and dead.  He’s my father, and he has lived his entire life in this house.  I can’t just go move him into a home and let him live like an animal in a zoo until he finally dies.  He’s too proud to face death like that, and I’m too proud to let him.”

She exhaled loudly and looked off into the night.  Irving gave her a long stare before returning to his manuscript.

Momentarily there was a loud thump, followed by another.  It was the two cats, Lady and Ma’am, who had jumped through the empty window space in the kitchen storm door.  Lady was black and long-haired with one large spot on each of her rear paws.  She was the older of the two.  Ma’am was a plain gray tabby and a male, but Maxine had insisted on naming him Ma’am to maintain the consistency established with Lady.

They stood side by side, slowly scrutinizing their keepers.  Finally Lady strode beneath the bench where Irving and Trudy were seated, and came to a stop under Henry’s hammock.  She looked around for a moment, fell to cleaning herself, and then suddenly a hand shot down and gently hoisted her into the air.

“You are nothing but a quadrupedal torso with a furry tail and a hairy head!”  She was in Henry’s outstretched grasp, listening to his address while looking down at him from three feet above his face.

“You see?  Do you see what I live with?” Trudy exclaimed softly.  “All day long those poor cats are stretched into hairbrushes and scrunched into fuzzy bowling balls.  You only have to listen to him at night, but I hear him in nearly every one of my waking hours.  And he respects you more than he does me; he has no respect for me at all.  He works to make me crazy.  I know it.”

“That is crazy,” Irving muttered.

“Everything is crazy around here,” she replied.  She then huffed, stood, and announced that she was saying good night and retiring.  Several minutes later Irving jotted down his final thoughts, bid Henry good evening, told his children to do the same, and went into the house.

Maxine immediately threw down a handful of grass and ran to her grandfather while Martin continued digging with his scooper truck in the part of the flower bed that his father had left unplanted for just that purpose.

“I have to go to bed now grandpa,” she said, kissing the front part of his bald head.

“Well, all right my dear,” he replied.  “You be sweet to your dreams and they’ll be sweet to you.”  She began humming the butterfly-fish song, and skipped across the porch and into the house.  “Come up here and say good night to your grandfather, Little Martin,” Henry said.  He folded the crossword and dropped it over the edge of the hammock.

Martin slowly emptied the payload from his truck and parked it in its imaginary garage underneath the corner of the porch, then dragged himself over to his grandfather.

“Have a seat for a moment, Little Martin,” Henry said.  Martin did so, on the bench where his parents had been.  “I guess I’ll have to start calling you Big Martin soon enough.  Some day you’re going to be a huge lot bigger than you are right now, but by then you won’t want me calling you Big Martin, and I’ll probably have to resort to addressing you as Sir.  Ha, ha, ha!  You’ll be a great and large Tanner, just like your father and me.  Do you know what being a Tanner means?  Nothing.  Absolute nill.  Your father thinks it’s so very important, but I know our family’s history, and it’s really nothing to be proud about.  It would have been far more honorable to have been one of the Indians that were chased away by the Tanners, the Masts, and the Stoles, than it was to be one of the Tanners, the Masts, or the Stoles.”

“Martin!” Irving beckoned from within.

“I have to go to bed now grandpa,” Martin said, kissing Henry’s cheek.

“Good night Sir Little Big Martin,” he replied with a laugh and a handshake.  Martin went in, and Henry added:  “I hope you are nothing like your father when you finally are a Sir.”

He noticed that Lady and Ma’am had fallen asleep beneath the hammock, so he picked Lady up and held her high over his head.  “You are nothing more than a fuzzy radio that desperately needs to be finely tuned,” he said, gently pretending to twist her dangling paws until she began purring fiercely.  “That sounds much better.”  He placed her comfortably in his lap and brought up Ma’am, who was awaiting his hand.  “And you are no more than a misshapen gourd which somewhere along the line sprouted fur and was mysteriously brought to life by a spark from heaven!”  Ma’am’s throat also began vibrating, and Henry placed him in his lap against the other leg, and the three drifted into their slumbers.


Chapter 3

Diller and Vollen

 

Dennis Diller and Olie Vollen had just completed long tours of Europe and Asia when they decided to settle down.  Dennis was away on his journeys for three years, Olie for four, and they had spent the last two together.  They met in Holland, where Olie was in her hometown on a break from traveling.  Her family owned an inn, and she was in the tavern serving drinks on the night that Dennis stopped off for a draught.

He was in the latter years of his youth.  He was blonde, athletic, and his ruddy face grinned perpetually.  In his short life he had already attained his goals of financial fortune, and was traveling the world in search of love and experience.  When he met Olie he immediately decided that both were to be found in her.  He had plenty of money, the want of which was the sole reason she had returned home, so after a two day stay with her family they set out together to see the world.

For both, the next two years were the best and most carefree in their lives.  After a time, however, this lifestyle made them both restless, and after several lengthy discussions they decided to buy a house in some small New England town.  They would stay together for exactly one year, and after that time would either marry or separate.  Dennis was to fix the house and spend time with her, and was not to consider starting a business.  She was to try and channel some of her youthful energy into versing herself in domestic life, and children were certainly a future consideration.

After several trips through numerous towns and dozens of houses, they agreed on a home in Marston.  Their selection was fairly maintained colonial saltbox needing some work on the inside edge of the Historic District.  Dennis was impressed with the architectural design and sound structure, while Olie was entirely taken with the view of the green, the town hall, and the post office, which reminded her of home in a way she could not explain.

They saw the house for the first time in the beginning of May.  They owned it by the end of the month, and were fully moved in by the middle of June.  Olie became instantly engaged with the local colonial heritage, and under her guidance the interior was decorated with a pleasant mixture of early American and her native Dutch.  After Dennis had stripped and refinished the hardwood floors and trim in the living room, Olie decided on a sturdy maple sofa, two matching rockers, and an antique coffee table which she had acquired at a local shop.  There were several dried flower arrangements throughout the room, and framed still lifes of floral scenes on every wall.  In the center of the adjoining dining room was a plain dinner set which looked a perfectly new two hundred years old.  Behind this was a leaded-glass hutch filled with delicate, ornate china.  Above the table Dennis mounted the crystal chandelier he had given to her in Paris on the previous Christmas.

The rest of the house was the upstairs, which consisted of two bedrooms and the water closet.  They placed a huge canopy bed in their room to fulfill one of Olie’s lifelong dreams.  This and the windows were hung with misty rose drapes.  The other bedroom was left empty in the event that they decided to marry and have a child.  Olie, however, had insisted on decorating the room regardless, and tried to prove that she was unbiased in her hopes by painting the walls pink and the trim blue.  Dennis agreed to the horrid combination of colors, but only temporarily.  When and if the baby was born the room would have to be converted to entirely one color or the other.  Olie thought it looked cute and quaint as it was, and argued that it would help the child to subconsciously cultivate a healthy attitude toward the opposite sex.  Dennis laughed and told her to stop reading psychology books or she was going to make their baby mad before he was even born.  “She,” Olie corrected.

Their work progressed steadily, and the interior of the house was completely finished by the end of July.  They were far ahead of any schedule they might have made for themselves, but they had also made an error in judgment.  By waiting till the end of summer to do the work on the exterior of the house, including the yard and garage, they didn’t leave themselves any time to enjoy it.  Upon brief consideration they decided to work hastily and complete a temporary design that they could enjoy for the autumn and winter, and which they could easily alter in the spring.  They also resolved to create their landscape tastefully, with bright colors, because they felt that all the red, white, and brown houses on Main Street were too bland and blending.  They wished to paint the house a light shade of lavender, and to plant the yard with an appropriate complement of flowers.  So while Dennis secured the equipment necessary to clean and paint the house, Olie purchased begonias, chrysanthemums, and dozens upon dozens of violets.

The exterior work commenced on the first day of August.  They were early risers, and were out in the yard within an hour of dawn.  Dennis went up on a ladder and began scraping flakes of paint off the house while Olie started cleaning leaves and other natural debris from beneath the hedges.

Shortly thereafter they received a visitor.  He alighted from a pick-up truck that looked to be at least fifty years old, and which looked brand new.  He walked awkwardly as he approached them.

“Welcome to Marston,” he said to Dennis, who was climbing down the ladder to greet him.

“Dennis Diller,” he responded, wiping and extending his hand.

“Irving Tanner.”

Irving,” Dennis said, “this is my friend, my love, my housemate and partner, Olie Vollen.”

She removed her soiled work gloves and offered him her hand.  He shook it gently, and not without procuring some secret pleasure from the feel of her soft, young skin.  “Irving Tanner,” he repeated.  “I was on my way to work when I saw you out here.  I know it’s a little early, but I thought I’d stop by anyway to introduce myself and welcome you to town.”

“Tanner?” Olie said.  “Do you have anything to do with the market up the street?”

“My family owns it,” he replied.  “My great grandfather Alexander opened the store in 1901.  I run the place and do some of the meat cutting.  I’m also Marston’s first selectman.  If you have any problems, complaints, or suggestions you can call me there,” he said, pointing across the street to the town hall.  “Or you can just attend our town meetings.  They are held in the auditorium of the high school on the third Tuesday of every month.”

“That’s some good information to know.  Run into the house and write that down,” Dennis said jokingly to Olie.  She responded with a giggle and a playful slap on his posterior.

“You’ve been living here since the middle of June, if I’m correct,” Irving stated.  Dennis and Olie nodded affirmation.  “So what are your impressions of our little town thus far?”

“I like it very much,” Olie replied.  “It reminds me quite a lot of the town where I grew up in Holland.”

“You’re from Holland, eh?” Irving said.  “That sounds interesting.  I didn’t recognize your accent.”

“Yes,” she replied.  “Living in America has been quite a change, but Dennis has been wonderful in helping me to learn and adjust.”  She kissed him and gave him a squeeze about the waist.

Irving watched their affectionate display with a bit of chagrin, and the fact that they were yet unwed led him to the next turn in the conversation.  “So you two must be planning to get married soon, heh?  There’s nothing in the world more lovely than a summer wedding in Marston.”

“Not quite yet,” Olie said.  “We made an agreement, next June seventeenth—“

“We don’t know when or if we’ll be getting married,” Dennis interrupted.

Irving frowned slightly and gazed into the woods behind their house.  He spoke as if he were off in that distance.  “This town used to be so much different.  So much different and so much better, in my opinion.  For years and years the beauty of the land meant more than anything.  But now, more and more people—younger folks, like yourselves—are coming into Marston and building themselves these new modern homes.  All the contractors and their noisy construction equipment are disturbing the quiet atmosphere that most people move here for in the first place.  The only thing moving faster than new homes going up are the trees coming down.  Our small population has almost doubled in the last twenty years alone.”

“You can’t stop progress,” Olie remarked.

“We don’t want to stop it,” he said.  “We’d be happy just to avoid it for a few hundred years.”

“It seems like you have already,” said Dennis.  “But you can’t hide from time.  That catches up to everyone and every thing.”

“I wasn’t referring to you two in particular,” Irving clarified.  “Don’t misunderstand my meaning.  It’s just sad to see our town finally growing up and getting old.  I love the old ways, and I’ve been having great difficulty adjusting to the new.  Why, we were always able to pride ourselves on being a white town.  Now we can no longer even make that claim.”

“A white town?” Dennis said.

Irving flattened his hand, placed it next to his mouth, and whispered:  “Negroes.”

“Negroes?” Olie inquired incredulously.

“Colored people,” he explained.

“I know what they are,” she said.

“We rarely even saw them pass through until about ten years ago,” Irving remarked.  “Now we’ve got three families of ‘em living here.”

“Well, my younger brother is black,” Dennis said, “and so is our mother.  Will they be allowed to visit?”

“Oh!  Ah—ah—of course,” Irving stammered.

“Good.  If they like it here I’ll buy them a house,” Dennis said.  “Or better yet, I’ll build them a new one myself.”

“Yes.  Well…” Irving responded slowly.  “We’ve been doing our best to clean up the town and keep it from getting any dirtier—if you know what I mean; I don’t think you want to invite that kind of trouble into your lives.”

“In truth, all of my family and relatives are Caucasians,” Dennis stated flatly, as if it were the deadpan punch line to the joke.  Olie giggled.

This was followed by an awkard period of silence which Irving finally ended by saying:  “I see that you’re going to paint the house.”

“Well it certainly does need it,” Dennis replied.  “But I just started scraping it down this morning.  If I have to do everything alone, it will take me at least three weeks.”

“And what color did you have in mind to use?” Irving inquired.

“A nice shade of lavender,” Olie answered.  “I want to replace some of the hedges along the side, and—“

“You can’t paint this house lavender,” he interrupted.

“But I want to plant azaleas and violets along—“

“Why can’t we paint it lavender, local regulations?” Dennis asked.  His eyes had widened with curiosity.

“That’s correct.  This house is located in Marston’s Historic District,” Irving proudly declared.  A touch of arrogance suffused his visage in the shape of a sharp grin.

“Which means I have to notify the historic commission of any exterior improvements to my house, right?”

“I’m afraid so,” Irving replied.  “And I can tell you now that you may only paint your house specific shades of red, white and brown.  The color charts are at the town hall, and you may come see them at your convenience.”

“And what if we decide to go ahead and paint it blue and yellow anyway?” Dennis asked.

“We are protected by the law,” Irving smugly proclaimed.

“Well that is ridiculous,” Olie huffed, thoroughly affronted.  “Why can’t we paint our house whatever color we decide?  Why do we have ask someone’s permission?  I was under the impression that America is the land of the free.”

“I’m very proud to be able to say that it is,” Irving replied.  “Very proud.  I must be getting along to work now, the store opens shortly.  As I said before, the paint charts are at the town hall at your convenience.  I will also mail you a copy of your rights as Marston Historic District homeowner.  Welcome to town, and have a nice day.”

“I thought this was a democracy,” Olie remarked.  “You make it sound more like a dictatorship.”

“It is a democracy Ma’am,” Irving replied as he was opening the door to his truck.  “And I’m very proud to be able to say that it is.”

“I don’t think I like him very much,” Olie said as Irving rumbled away.

“I know I like him even less than that,” rejoined Dennis.

“He interrupted me in the middle of my sentence, twice.  If there’s one rudeness which I find inexcusable, it’s not respecting someone enough to let them finish saying what they think.”  She was quite exasperated, and her face was beginning to reach the deeper shades of red.  “A white town?  What did he mean by that?  I thought that kind of garbage thinking was a mistake of the past.”

“It is, but it’s also very much alive and thriving in this country.  Just look at this town.  They want to be true to the colonial days in every way possible.  Now you calm down,” he said, and began to massage her shoulders.  “I don’t like him and his ideas any more than you do, but these people are very easily dealt with.”  A smug smile was firmly planted on his mouth.

“What are we going to do?” she asked.

“We’re going to begin by painting the house,” he replied.  The smile increased almost imperceptibly.  “And we’re going to paint it the most lovely shade of lavender.”

 


Chapter 4

In Response

 

There was one month left in the summer.  Timothy Stoles had been back home for two, and both were unhappily spent.  He was unemployed, without direction, and in a depression, having recently been pronounced a failure and disappointment by his father.  Timothy had been graduated from high school for over three years, and still hadn’t done anything the man considered successful.  He had worked as a stock clerk in Tanner’s Market for four years when he left to go to veterinary school, at the exhortation of his father.  John Stoles had built a thriving veterinary practice in Marston, and had always assumed that his son would eventually take it over.  Timothy loved animals, but was not at all inclined to tend to their ills.  He enrolled in the school only in response to the persistent, increasingly stern entreaties of his father.

John Stoles indulged in excessive libations.  He had always been predisposed to daily drink, and became even more so when his wife died.  That was when Timothy was seventeen, and his sister, Marie, fifteen.  John undertook to finish their upbringing alone, but with the added influence of liquor, things went from grieving to difficult to worse.  Only once did he actually reach the point of laying his hand on them, and that was on the day that would have been his twentieth wedding anniversary.  Timothy was then nineteen.  The next morning, Marie, without leaving an address, moved into an apartment in Armfield with her friend Michael.  Timothy thought to do the same, but having nowhere to go, and feeling strangely obligated to remain near his father, he stayed home.

This living arrangement lasted the two months until Christmas, when he ended his employment with Irving—who was his father’s closest friend—and enrolled in the Tuckahoe Veterinary College, which was his father’s alma mater.  The semester began in January, and his attention spanned only until March, but he fulfilled the term on campus—which ended in May—at the continued urgings of his father.  When he was finally permitted to drop from school and return home for the summer, he lapsed into a severe depression.  He was tired of being considered a failure, he was tired of floundering without goals, he was tired of being suppressed by someone else’s bottle, and he was just plain tired.  Much to his relief he saw little of his father during those two months, and the few conversations they did have were mundane and trivial.

Eventually, Timothy also grew tired of lying around in bed and re-reading his encyclopedias.  So one morning, in the first week of August, he turned to the classified advertisements, after reading the funny page of the newspaper, and decided to look at the job offerings.  Nothing tickled his curiosity until his eyes alighted on this ad:

Odds and end man wanted.  Apply in person to the Diller and Pinkle Co. during any daylight hour.  273 Main Street, Marston.

 

He had been considering finding a job, and was especially interested in this one because the address was for a house just down the street.  The only work experience he had was at Irving’s store, but he had wanted to learn a new occupation, or at least some new skills.

In the afternoon he went for a walk, and when he passed by number two seventy three he realized that it was the younger man and woman whom he had noticed working in their yard for the past few days.  He decided to stop and inquire about the position.

The manner of Dennis Diller’s response was frank and candid.  “You’ll be doing assorted carpentry, painting and household jobs, anything from hanging sheetrock and spackling to digging ditches, pouring cement, and planting fenceposts and shrubbery.  If someone hires us to dismantle a house an d reconstruct it for no better reason than to do it, then we’ll do it.  And if we’re doing something you don’t know how to do, I’ll expect you to learn it.  If you work hard and stick around, I’ll pay you fairly.  You may or may not find me tough, depending on who you are, but if you think you can handle it, you’re hired.”

Timothy thought for a moment, and in response to his gut instinct, accepted the job.

“You can come to work anytime you’re ready beginning tomorrow at sunrise,” Dennis said.  “Or you can just wait until Monday and start then.”

“All right,” Timothy nervously replied.  “I’ll be here in the morning, after dawn.”

“You don’t have to come that early,” Olie said lightly.  Timothy’s entire body felt dizzy in the presence of what he thought was perfect beauty.  He forced himself to return her smile, though weakly.

“Why don’t you come about half past eight,” Dennis suggested.  “Or earlier, if you like.  We’ll be up.”

Timothy nodded, shook hands with both of them, then left and finished his afternoon walk.  That night at dinner he tried to tell his father about his new job, but John Stoles was unfortunately far into his day’s consumption.  “A new chop sounds good,” was the closest he got to an intelligible remark.

“I have to be at work at six in the morning.”

“Mmmmmm,” John mumbled, almost passing out face first into the bowl of beef and potatoes that his son had prepared for his dinner.

Timothy retired to his room for the night, and in the morning, when awoke and went to the kitchen, his father was asleep sprawled over the table.  He slipped quietly out into the new day, where the rising sun was burning away the last few wisps of early fog.  He began walking slowly, and was blatantly afraid of the new phase of life into which he was so rashly rushing.

They only lived a dozen houses away, on the opposite side of the street, so even at a slow pace Timothy arrived quickly.  “Two hours early,” Dennis said, looking at his watch and clearly impressed.  “I like you so far.  Here’s a scraper and a stepladder.  Go start on the back corner of the house.  You’ll see what I mean when you get there.”

“Good morning Miss Vollen,” he politely remarked as he passed her on the way to his assignment.  She was digging in a flower bed along the side of the house.

“Just Olie,” she pleasantly corrected.  “Good morning.”

Timothy commenced working, and had been scraping for several minutes when Dennis came to check his progress.  “That’s pretty good, but bend the scraper on more of a downward angle and use your fingers for leverage not strength,” he said.  “You’ll get more for less.”

“That is easier,” Timothy replied, shaking his fingers in an effort to shrug the stiffness that had already settled into place.

“Do you know a guy named Edward Broughton?” asked Dennis.

Shock at the sound of the name turned Timothy’s stomach queasy.  “Yes I do,” he replied.  How could one forget the worst browbeater and troublemaker from one’s thirteen years of schooling?

“I hired him on as well, so you two will be working together.  He should be here within an hour and a half.”  Timothy acknowledged with a nod.  “Let me return to my work so you can return to yours,” Dennis said, and disappeared around the corner.

Timothy was not exactly enthralled with the thought of working alongside Edward Broughton.  They were the same age, and had grown up in Marston together, but Edward had never meant anything but trouble for Timothy.  When they were seven Edward had brought him down excessively hard in a game of Tackle, and Timothy hit his face on an exposed tree root.  Three baby teeth came out.  When they were ten Edward hid his bicycle in a pricker patch.  By the time he retrieved it, with his arms and covered in scrapes and cuts, it was only to discover that both tires had already been flattened.  Mrs. Stoles called Mrs. Broughton and complained, and the tires were replaced, but for the next year Edward taunted him with nicknames like Durwark and Timothy Tell-On-Me,  When they were thirteen Edward pulled down his shorts in front of a group of girls.  When they were sixteen Edward ‘accidentally’ tripped and fell, spilling a large glass of punch into Timothy’s lap at a school dance.  All these incidents and more recalled themselves from his memory and began running through his mind.

Edward arrived at the very moment they halted work to go indoors for a break.  It seemed pointless to make him start scraping alone, so he joined them in the house for pastries, and drank black coffee with Dennis while Timothy and Olie preferred tea.

“This is fine coffee, Miss Vollen,” Edward politely said, “and these muffins are fresh and delicious.  He was stout and tall, though his head naturally lurched forward.  He had long, thick, stringy dark hair, a large mouth, and a full, shadowy chin.

“Thank you, but please, call me Olie,” she said, smiling pleasantly.  “And you can compliment Dennis about the muffins.  He baked them this morning.”

Edward wondered about his new employer’s baking skills while Timothy wondered how long before dawn he had gotten out of bed to employ them.

“These are very good,” Edward said, turning and nodding respectfully to Dennis.

He shied the compliment off and immediately changed the topic of conversation.  “So what kind of work did you say you have done?  I recall you saying you had poured foundations, among other things.”

“Yes, that’s right,” Edward replied.  “I dug and poured foundations and cleared mass acreage with one company.  I also built houses cellar to ceiling and everything in between with another company.”  He gulped the coffee that was left in his cup, then refilled it from the warmer Olie had placed on the table.

“Have you ever hung sheetrock?” Dennis asked.

“I spackled, taped and sheetrocked for another company, and I’ve painted for several different private contractors,” Edward answered, lunging his teeth into a second muffin.

“Mostly around here?” Dennis asked, pursuing the conversation.

“Ahem!” Olie hummed politely, seating herself across the table from Timothy.  “Where did you say it was that you had worked?”

“Tanner’s Market,” he hesitantly answered.

“And what were your duties there?” she continued.

“I did everything that needed doing,” Timothy replied.  “I packed bags, unpacked boxes, loaded shelves, unloaded deliveries, rang the register, mopped floors, washed windows, cut meats, and painted the sale signs from the front window of the store.”

“Then we could put you to work inside the house as well,” Olie said.

“I know we could put them both to work outside right now,” Dennis rejoined.  He had been standing throughout the conversation, and moved toward the front door as he spoke.  Timothy rose and joined Edward, who had also been standing, and they were quickly led from the house.

“You be easy on them!” Olie shouted, as she began clearing away the mess.

Dennis brought them to the rear of the house and provided them with identical paint scrapers and stepladders.  “Do you want to work together or alone?”  Neither expressed an interest either way, so Dennis decided for them.  “Then I’ll start you in the middle.  Come over here,” he said, motioning to the back door, which was at the center of the house.  “Edward.  Or shall I call you Ed?  Or Eddie?”

“Edward,” he replied.

“And Tim—no, you just look like a Timothy.  I’m sure that’s what you prefer, correct?”  Timothy only nodded.  “Edward, you start above the door and work your way left.  Timothy, you start above the door and work your way right.  This way you can work together for some time, and I’ll still be able to measure what you do.  Don’t worry about getting up any higher than you can reach, I have bigger ladders for another day.  Any questions?”  There were none, and he went to help Olie finish cleaning the kitchen.

So Timothy, tell on me—uh—tell me, why are you working here?” Edward sarcastically asked.  He placed his scraper against the shingle and began moving it slowly, as if he were adjusting to cold water feet first.  “I’ve never seen you work anywhere but in Tanner’s store.”

Timothy shrugged, looked down the back wall to where he had been working earlier, and wished he were there.  “I’ve been sitting at home all summer doing nothing but reading.  I needed something different to do, and this was convenient, so here I am.  What about yourself?” he added, hesitantly.

“I came here to work!” Edward exclaimed, and he got down to his knees and began scraping at the corner formed by the doorway and the ground.  He spoke no further, and was soon working at a furious pace.  Timothy was in awe, for not only had his counterpart set an extremely fast tempo, he was sustaining it.  Timothy did not attempt to match Edward’s rate, but was working noticeably harder than he had before the break.

Almost immediately both began waiting for Dennis to come and check their work, but he never did.  And after only an hour, Edward stopped scraping completely.  He had made a four foot square patch as smooth and bare as blank paper, but had exhausted himself in so doing.  Timothy had cleared a piece of the same area, but not as cleanly.  Two more hours passed, and neither heard nor saw Dennis or Olie.  Edward had managed to extend his spot by one foot, but that was not as finely scraped as the first four.  Timothy had increased his spot into a seven foot square, but was as fatigued as Edward.

Finally Dennis came and inspected their efforts.  “This is good work, Edward, but I’m willing to sacrifice a little bit of quality for a bit more of the quantity.  Let me see what you’ve done.”  He crossed to Timothy’s side.  “You’ve got the right idea too,” he said, rubbing the wood.  “It’s fairly smooth, but in your case I’d sacrifice a tiny bit of the quantity for a tiny bit more of the pretty.  Why don’t the both of you go sit down over there.”  He pointed to the picnic table under the maple tree.  “That’s where we’ll be having lunch.”  He went in the house to help Olie while Timothy and Edward gladly unloaded their feet.

After a short meal it was back to work, and then on along with the afternoon, which protracted itself interminably.  The food in his stomach gave Edward a short burst of energy which he used up in twenty minutes, while Timothy continued on a gradual decline.  By the day’s end they were both entirely lackluster and devoid of strength.  They had combined to scrape a patch amounting to about half of the house’s rear face.  Neither appeared to have outdone the other, though Timothy’s work was more consistent while Edward’s was erratically rougher and smoother.

“All right fellows,” Dennis said, when he finally came to relieve them.  “It looks good for your first day.  Sleep well, as I see you will, and I’ll see you here early in the morning.  I’ll have the big ladders waiting, and you can scrape yourselves into oblivion on the top half.  So long.”

They passed by Olie where she was still on her knees digging in flower beds, and pleasant farewells were exchanged.  Then they went on together to the road.

“What did you come here for again, Durwark?” Edward asked.

“For the same reason as you,” Timothy answered, yawning.  “I came here to work.”

“Well, I’ll show you how to really go to work in the morning!” Edward said.  He then broke away and started walking toward the green, for he lived on the way out of town, while Timothy went the other way, toward his home.

 

“I like Timothy quite much,” Olie said, “but Edward gives me weird looks, and weird vibrations.”

“It’s too early to tell,” Dennis replied.  “We’ll know for sure within a few days if one, both, or neither are going to work out.”

 

When Timothy walked into the house, tired and hungry, he found his father swaying slowly back and forth in the rocking chair just inside the front door.

“Where have you been?” he demanded.

“Working,” Timothy replied.  “I got a job.”

“Where?” John asked more sternly.  He was staring at the opposite wall of the living room, and did not break his gaze to look at his son.

Timothy could tell that his father was not drunk, but he also knew that his father was by degrees nastier and more difficult when sober.  “I took a job working for the man who lives at the Jiggs place.  He just bought it a couple of months ago.  I told you that last night at dinner,” Timothy explained.

“You certainly did not tell me anything of the sort,” John replied.  His voice was unflinched in its tone.

“Yes I did,” Timothy protested; “but you probably don’t remember because you were too, too—“

“Drunk?  You don’t have to be afraid to say it.  I had too many glasses and I got inebriated,” he said.  “But I wasn’t so drunk that I don’t remember what you told me at dinner.  And speaking of which, where is our dinner?”

“I just walked in,” Timothy said.  “I’m going to start it now.”

“If you were still working for Irving this wouldn’t happen,” John said.  He absent-mindedly began to pick at his fingernails.  “You’d be home at a more reasonable hour.  I still don’t understand why you didn’t go back to work for Irving when you came home from school.”

“I told you two months ago,” Timothy said, “and several times since:  I can’t bear the thought of spending one more day in that store.  I worked there for four years, and I’m never going to work there again.”  He put a pot of water on to boil, announced that supper would be ready shortly, and went to clean up.

 

Over the next two days Timothy, Edward, Dennis and Olie learned many new things about each other.  Timothy and Edward learned a bit about their employers’ pasts, and their present and future plans.  They were told of Dennis’ successful construction company in Florida, and that Plower was a phony name attached solely for tax and advertising purposes.  Dennis and Olie learned that Timothy lived with his father, John, who was close friends with Irving Tanner.  Edward lived alone in a room above Austin’s Automotive Repair, which his brother’s friend owned.  Timothy had left veterinary school after one discontented semester.  Edward had recently returned from living freestyle in California, where he had stayed with his other brother while bumming around the beach with a surfboard while painting part time.  Timothy learned that Edward had not really been learning to surf while working as a painter, but had been in jail for theft.  Dennis learned that Olie definitely preferred Timothy to Edward, and Olie learned that Dennis thought it was still to early to judge.  Timothy and Edward discovered that all the time they were scraping and Olie was planting flowers, Dennis was measuring the yard, and with her help, drawing detailed plans of a landscape design; and they all learned that Irving was keeping an eye on all their movements, as they saw him drive slowly by in his truck several times each day.

On the Friday of Timothy and Edward’s first work week, Irving stopped to speak with Dennis while the four of them were taking a break.  They were sitting on the front lawn drinking iced tea.

“The house is shaping up real fast.  What color have you decided to use?” Irving inquired, settling his sights contemplatively into the sky above and behind the house.

Dennis stood and offered his hand.  “We haven’t reached a decision yet.  Brown is definitely out, but we’re still torn between the whites and the reds.”

Irving shook hands weakly and replied:  “Might I suggest that you go with a brick red.  It would fit perfectly with the neighboring houses, and the view against the autumn foliage would be superior.”

“Is there any possible way we could get the commission to make an exception and give us approval for a shade of lavender?” Olie asked, in a voice which employed the height of her charms.  “If only you could use your imagination to see what it’s going to look like.  There’s going to be begonias and azaleas over there, cushion mums near the hyacinth bush, and violets all around the house.”

“There’s no chance of using any lavender, Miss,” Irving said, with a feigned humility that failed to disguise the underlying smugness.  “I’m truly sorry.”

“Well, it’s going to be beautiful any way we do it,” she responded.

“When do you expect to commence with the actual painting?” Irving asked.

“I’m in no actual hurry,” Dennis replied.  “We’ll probably do it some time at the end of next week.”

“I see,” Irving said.  “Timothy, could I speak in private with you?  You don’t mind if I borrow your employee for a moment, do you Mr. Diller?”

“Certainly not,” Dennis replied.  “The rest of us should think about returning to work anyhow.”  And with that he, Olie and Edward departed and resumed what they had been doing.

Irving stiffly placed his hand on Timothy’s shoulder.  “Has your father told you what he thinks about your working for this man?”

“He knows that I am, and I tried telling him about it, but—“

“I happen to know that he not only does not like it, he not going to permit it.  I told him how rude they were to me when I came to welcome them to town, and he’s not going to allow you to remain under his roof unless you give up this job.  Now Timothy…we’ve known each other for a long time, and I think the best thing you could do is leave this job and come back to work for me.  I could afford to give you a small raise, and I would make you the official floor manager.  You could even give orders to Peggy and Dolly.  Ha, ha, ha!  Think about it.  What do you think?”

“No offense to you, Mr. Tanner—“

Irving.  Please, Irving.”

“No personal offense to you, but I’d rather not go back to work in your store,” Timothy said.  “I worked there for four years, and I need a change.  Here I enjoy my work, and I’m going to be learning new skills.”

Irving was mildly affronted.  “Well, I’m not happy with what appears to be your decision, and I know your father won’t like it either,” he said, then turned to walk toward his truck.  “You’re all making a mistake.”  Timothy did not reply, and returned to his work without turning to glance as Irving drove away.

It was several minutes before Dennis approached Timothy.  “What did our esteemed First Selectman want?”

“He just had to give me a message for my father.”

“Anything important, or of concern to me?” Dennis inquired.

“No—yes, but it’s not important,” Timothy replied.  “They want me to quit working for you and go back to work in his store.”

“So they don’t trust me, huh?” Dennis said.  “If they don’t want you working for me, then it’s probably because they don’t like me.  And if they don’t like me, then it stands to reason that they don’t trust me either, yes?”  Timothy nodded slowly.  “He probably still thinks I’m going to go ahead and paint the house lavender, which I am.  I suppose I can’t blame him for not trusting me, though he could try to be a little friendlier with strangers—especially nice ones like Olie and myself.  So, what did you tell him you want to do?”

“I told him that I didn’t mean to offend him, but that I am going to continue working here rather than returning to his store.”

“Of course I think you made the right decision, and if Olie and I can help you in any way, don’t at all be afraid to ask us,” Dennis said.  He rubbed his hand where Timothy had scraped, said that it was progressing nicely, then left and returned to his drawing board.

At four o’clock Timothy and Edward had begun working at opposite ends of the front of the house when Dennis greeted them with the news that they could begin their weekends an hour early.  Olie was cleaning her miniature rake and spade when she said good bye to them as they were leaving.

“Hey Durwark, look,” Edward said discreetly, pulling his hand from his pocket.  They were stopped at the edge of the road, which was just beginning to show increased traffic.

“What?” Timothy mumbled.

Edward opened his clenched fist and revealed a tiny ceramic pink elephant.  “I copped it from the closet in the bathroom.”  Timothy stared in shock.  “My mom’s friends will fight each other to pay me twenty bucks for this piece of crap.  Wait till Monday.  I’ll show you how to really go to work around here.”

“What are you.—“

Edward ignored any response, and bolted off toward the green.  Timothy paused for a moment, was troubled in pondering what had just happened, then walked off uneasily in the direction of his house.