Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Chapter 2.3

'Why do you want to know where she lives?'
'I have to present to the Council.' Barkus gestured to the briefcase -the papers were returned safely- and then towards the door Annie had just left by. 'I need to meet with Sheryl to make sure that I get everything straight and that she's okay with the changes I propose.' Lynn put her head on one side.
'Okay, I've a better idea then,' she said after a few seconds. 'I go get her and we all have lunch together while you two discuss it.' She looked around while Barkus' stomach growled its agreement with the plan. 'You get that round table with the red flowers and we'll be back in ten.' And she was gone.
Barkus obediently moved his coffee cup and the briefcase to the new table, then glanced around for the washrooms. Mary, the smiling owner pointed for him as she retrieved the used crockery.
On the way back, Barkus noted the framed pictures along the walls. Someone liked Jazz, that was for sure. You couldn't tell from the background music. He sat down at the new table and noted with a smile that the waitress had not only added a large jug of water and several glasses to the table, she had also replaced his half-empty, half-cold coffee cup with a new, full one. He sipped at the fresh coffee and looked around for more pictures. In so doing, he absently noticed that his seat gave him a perfect view of the entire interior.
In fact, he mused. If anyone were to come in from any point of entrance, I'd see them and I could leave through 3 other points of exit He thought for a moment, then switched seats so that he sat at an oblique angle to the first seat. He had barely gotten comfortable when Lynn entered, just ahead of Sheryl. The woman was pale, but she seemed determined.
'Good morning.' Barkus stood, but didn't move around the table as they walked over.
'Good morning,' Sheryl replied, not quite looking at him. She gravitated to the 'perfect view' seat as Lynn moved to the one opposite Barkus but near enough to Sheryl to give moral support if necessary. They all sat down.
'So, Lynn tells me you need to modify my design.' Sheryl said it in a matter-of-fact way, but Barkus saw her white knuckles.
'In minor ways,' he replied soothingly. He slid the papers out of the briefcase again and spread the relevant pages in front of her.
Lynn sat back and looked for Mary, but she was already on the way over with a fresh jug of coffee. She made small talk and asked for menus, then looked at the other two. Barkus was using a capped pen to illustrate whatever he was saying. Sheryl was engrossed in the discussion and was waving her own pen in time to her comments.
'There you go Lynn,' the waitress handed her some menus.
'Thanks Mary.' Mary nodded and went to see to a young family that had just walked in. Barkus looked up.
'Good idea Lynn,' he said and took the menu that she offered. 'I am starving.' He checked his watch. 'Oh wow, no wonder. Its past 11 o'clock and I haven't eaten anything yet.'
'You haven't had breakfast?' both female voices asked in unison, then they looked at each other and laughed.
'You two are definitely best friends,' Barkus observed. 'But to answer your questioning, no I have not. The motel doesn't exactly run a 5 star kitchen.'
'You're at the Motel?' Sheryl sounded surprised. 'Oh I think you can do better than that, don't you think so Lynn?'
'Absolutely, Mary rents out the apartment upstairs, I think its empty at the moment.' They turned expectant eyes on him and Barkus coughed to hid the sudden laugh.
'Thank you ladies, I must say that the thought of having breakfast here in the mornings does appeal to me.' He meant it, the place had a certain charm about it.
'Ready to order?' Mary bustled up.
'Well, I know what I want,' Barkus began as both Lynn and Sheryl scanned the menu guiltily. 'I'll take the Big Breakfast, over easy, ham, home-fries, whole grain toast.' He waited while she jotted that down. 'And Lynn and Sheryl tell me that you have a room to rent.'
'Oh yes, do you need a place to say?' Mary asked, in the act of taking back the menu.
'He's at the Motel,' Lynn supplied before Barkus could say anything. 'And I'll take the muesli and yoghurt, and some peanut butter please.'
'Ugh, gotta get you out of there. What'll ya have Sheryl?'
'Soft boiled egg with whole grain toast and fruit preserves please Mary.'
'Sure thing, honey. Well,' Mary paused after writing the order and looked at Barkus. 'Come see me today when we both have time and I'll show you the place, deal?' The door bell tinkled as more customers came in.
'Deal.' And with a smile she was off.

Barkus stared at the ugly, weed-filled flowerbeds and his creaking stomach sent him a prophecy of what would happen if he even thought of trying to clear them himself. Well, what was the point of being a self-made man if you couldn't take advantage of it? He looked around and sighted on the gang of teenagers sprawled in the sun just off the square.
They exchanged sullen expressions and started pulling their various items together in preparation for being yelled along as he walked towards them.
'Hang on, hang on,' Barkus called out. 'I'm not gonna tell you to push off, I want to ask you something.'
'Oh yeah,' said an apparent leader non-concomitantly. 'What's that?'
'How'd you all like to earn some money?' Only after saying it did Barkus realize how dodgy that sentence could sound. But the teenagers didn't turn and flee. The leader regarded him impassively.
'And how would we be earning it, exactly?' Barkus pointed back towards the dreadful flowerbeds.
'Clear those god-awful patches of weeds. Pick up all the trash, pull out every single plant by the roots, prep the ground for planting then cover them with tarps.' Barkus hesitated, every teen had turned a thoughtful eye to the flowerbeds. 'Do you know how to prep ground for planting?' The leader nodded.
'Most of us prepped and planted those beds the last time they were done,' he mused. 'Got a day off school for it.'
'We knew they were ugly as sin when we planted them,' said someone else. 'And they've only gotten worse since.'
'So you're John Barkus I take it then,' the leader continued, looking him up and down. 'You're the one who's gonna decide what our town centre looks like then?'
'No,' Barkus replied honestly. 'The Town Council is.' The chorus of derisive snorts and hoots let Barkus know their opinion on that.
'In this town, that means the Taylors will decide it,' the leader informed him solemnly. 'And that means Paul Taylor will be the one designing it. Again.'
'Not necessarily.' Barkus eyed the group, a strange idea growing in the back of his head. 'How would you like to be a part of making sure that doesn't happen?' Now he had their attention.

Ten minutes later, Barkus was whistling his way into Jim's Place.
'Well aren't you a happy fellow,' Jim said in surprise as Barkus sat at the bar with a grin. 'Suspiciously happy I would say for a fellow who has to clear all them beds on his own.' The statement had a curve in the end.
'But not for a fellow who has just found people to do the work for him,' Barkus replied. 'Turns out that teenagers can be motivated, you just need to find the right way of presenting it to them.' And the right account balance he mused as Jim placed a beer in front of him. The leader of the teens, his name had turned out to be Gareth, was a shrewd negotiator and Barkus had been forced into promising a bit more money than he had bargained for. However, he had been assured that it would be worth it.
'Oh yeah, and whats that then, showing them the lounging options available?'
'You were a teenager once, what was the single biggest thing you wanted to do?' Jim sighed in nostalgia.
'Nancy Chase.' Laughter. 'No, I think I see what you mean. So you've convinced them that picking trash and weeding is gonna screw things up for 'Tha Man'?'
'It can be if 'Tha Man' is the chance that Paul Taylor is going to design the square again apparently.' Jim paused.
'You're a smart bastard, you know that?' Barkus grinned and saluted slightly with his beer. 'So what, they get the beds cleared out and ready to plant and then you present the design to the council and force an agreement on a time-limit basis because Paul is gone for another 2 weeks?' Barkus was surprised.
'You're pretty smart too, you know that?' Jim smiled self-deprecatingly. 'But yes, that's my devious plan to get the job done. Here's hoping it works.'

Barkus decided to leave Jim's before closing time for once and strolled along the sidewalk towards Mary's Cafe and where his suitcase now rested in the hallway of the flat above it. He meandered, taking the long way around the square, eyeing the lines and buildings and where people had made their own paths in the grass verges, leaving some pieces of concrete walkway worn and some like new. He strolled, enjoying the cooling evening air and the 2 beer buzz, not thinking of anything in particular. He idly wondered when people stopped using the square as a gathering place and the maintenance became a nuisance.
' “You see,” a voice rumbled out of memory. Barkus could see him now, his father sitting in his big chair by the fire with his friends. He, the second youngest son, between the chair and the dog, afraid to move or make a sound in case he was spotted and whisked away to bed. “What I think you're doing is mixing up a Unicorn and a Draft Horse. A unicorn is this incredible, fantastical beast representing purity and innocence and vast power to a select few based on easily violated requirements. It's elusive, it's awe-inspiring, it's fake. A draft horse is this huge block of hair and muscle and it's got it's own wants and needs and it's real. You dont get much realer than scrubbing down a draft horse after a long day, I can tell you that. And they have thoughts and feelings and if you can understand that and work with them, then they will give you everything that they have. But if you start thinking otherwise they can and will do anything, up to and including kicking your fool head clean off.”
“What's your point Dave?” said Jonas Brown, a neighbour.
“My point is that unicorns dont need anything from us, they're a dream. They will always have waterfalls and forests and happy times because we imagine them there. So we can go along and do whatever we please, what we do in our real lives has no impact on the unicorn. Now the draft horse is a whole 'nother matter. It needs us. It needs us for food and water, shelter and care and maintenance, doesnt it? They are hard work, they require an investment from us not just in money but also in care and time and love and responsibility. It is our duty and our actions and choices that affect them. And at the end of the day, that long hard day, it is our attitude that determines how drudgerous it all is.”
“So what are you saying?”
“Sometimes you gotta stand back and look at a situation and wonder; Is it a unicorn or is it a draft horse? Am I just thinking happy thoughts, pretending that things are ticking over properly, that it doesnt have anything to do with me? Or is it a draft horse where there are things to be done that need to be done and maybe arent being done?” '
The headlights of a truck cut into Barkus' thoughts and he realised that he was staring out over the square, chewing on his shirt collar. His chest hurt and his eyes burnt, but he smiled and blinked away the tears, then turned and walked up the stairs to the flat.

No comments:

Post a Comment