For LOST IN LOS ALAMOS Beta Readers Only - Please Do Not Share.
A New Normal
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Everyone knows the definition of insanity. That Scott kept doing an insane thing over and over underscored it and amplified it.
The morning’s routine changed just a bit, though. The soap holder in the North shower was too small for the king sized coffee mug Scott had bought as a present for himself the night before, so he had to reach out of the shower to the low sink to get it and slug down another gulp of warmth. Scott wondered what it was going to be like when he had a hot shower.
On tap for Christmas Day was to return phone calls and messages. He would attack the smallest things on the list so he could cross a bunch of them off. Outlet plates could go on in the kitchen after he sealed the grout. In fact, he’d go through the house and shore up all of the outlets and light switches, make a list of ones that needed replacement. There was some finish sanding to do on the cabinet repairs he’d made.
Lee wouldn’t be there because he’d told Scott he was going out of town for a few days. Scott now finally put it together with Christmas. He hoped Lee wouldn’t be away too long. He was anxious to get to two things. He wanted to close up the big opening in the wall between the sleeping room and the living room. He had a plan for that but it was at least an all day job and he needed help holding up the paneling sheets to nail them.
The other thing he wanted to get done was pulling up the broken twelve-inch glazed tiles in the kitchen. There were at least five of them. He had to do it before Todd could build the island. The tiles were another all day job because he wasn’t sure what might happen when he chiseled them out. Amazingly, there was a stack of extra house tiles in the storage shed that hadn’t been stolen. Scott had a new lock on that and it was serving it’s purpose now.
Scott was determined to keep things as simple as he could. He kept the many things he couldn’t get to yet out of his mind. Mostly, he kept moving. He had seen that it was when he was still that he began to withdraw into his thoughts and worries. There were so many things that needed to be worked out, both with the situation and within himself and his altered life. He conjured a landscape image of the late sun turning Half Dome in Yosemite National Park into a golden buddha, a point in the distance that dominated and eclipsed everything that might be close and immediate and closing in on him. He would use that image often.
After he’d quietly walked over to Tom’s and got the gas container, he emptied it into the Jeep and drove into town. It was a quiet drive. Deserted streets. But the sun was out in full. A clear blue sky filled the Jeep’s windshield.
Only the gas station next to the airport at the other end of town was open. Scott didn’t mind driving out there at all. The Jeep needed the run and Scott needed the open skies to breath easier. He got his gas and by then the sun had started to melt the dirty snow along the edges of the blacktop.
The white Jeep was filthy. All the slush and snow and mud spray had turned it taupe. A cleaning was coming. But for now he drove back to the house to get to work.
There had been a clearing in him through the night. A small seed of acceptance had sprouted now that he was making progress. He still had to guard his mind and heart from the longing and frustration of not being in his own life. That picture of Yosemite and the scene at Betty’s house and the girls and their goodness and appreciation... enough. It was enough to continue. Scott still hoped he could finish the place in maybe a week more. He could make it that long. He would do that.
Back at the house, Scott opened the fruit cake package and it’s Bourbon and candied fruit with cinnamon scents put him into Christmas more than anything else had. It was a favorite of his Mom’s. The chocolate covered cherries, too. When he was off at school she would send him a box of them every Christmas along with a homemade fruitcake.
He sliced two thick pieces and scraped some butter onto them before sliding them into the microwave for a few seconds. His second cup of coffee was still hot.
Since his mom was on his mind, he decided to call her. And he would talk to his dad, as well. All his thoughts on that subject were that he was glad and relieved to have buried the hatchet between him and his dad. After the Men’s Weekend, he’d come to see his father for who he really was and so cut him some slack. Besides, he didn’t want to have to always gear up for a visit or phone call with them to protect himself from what he dreaded about his father’s criticisms and advice.
He was now free to make his own choices so his dad could say whatever the hell he wanted and mostly, now, he laughed at, and along, with his dad. He understood that his dad actually respected Scott for not taking his shit so personally anymore and the two could joke about it.
He made the call and he made the other calls to Brent and two other friends. He composed a quick email to send out to clients and family. The calls made included the proclamation that he was going to be down there a lot longer than was planned. Couldn’t get around it. With the sending out of this information, he was committed, kind of. So he’d go straight through to the end. In theory and intention.
That business finished, he went to work. And he kept on working. He made sure to keep drinking liquids. He shuffled his meals between CookieSheets and Sonic and eating out of the microwave and fridge.
Three days into into it he was still going strong. Then Todd decided to show up.
It was such an interesting balance, or tension, that Scott maintained when it came to Todd. The necessity of Todd in finishing the job was essential. Scott couldn’t even envision a scenario that might exclude him. That was a done deal.
But how and how much and when were questions to be worked out on a day-to-day and situational basis. Somehow, what he had to put up with had to be worth it. Like both Infinitesimal and Differential Calculus combined, though, it was difficult to see the path or trajectory of the work until you got results from each of the segments and contributors to the equation. Scott needed a simpler analogy.
To Scott, working with Todd was like being in a high-maintenance relationship. He felt he had to walk on eggshells and shape his speech to prevent confrontation. In a high maintenance relationship, you will always lose the confrontation, because even if you do win, you lose. To track the mind of Todd, he had to keep above the fray, read between the lines because Todd himself twirled wheels within wheels.
When Todd walked in with Mikey and his two boys, Scott was on the kitchen floor, sweating with a face mask and goggles on as he smacked a hammer onto the shaft head of a cement chisel, chips of tile cement flying with dust. The loud and sharp Whack! of the work was such a high, penetrating sound that Scott didn’t hear them come in. He was in the zone and listening to music with EarPods plugged in.
On his knees facing the counters, Scott felt a wet, sandpapery tongue swipe across the salt-sweaty back of his next and he quickly ducked and turned, which must have seemed aggressive to Mikey because the Big Dog took an offensive stance and growled.
“Shit!” Scott yelled.
“Mikey! Cool it!” Todd yelled, startling Scott even more.
The two boys standing in the kitchen started laughing. Scott pulled down his mask to reveal a scowl, almost stabbing himself in the nostril with the chisel when he reached up.
Todd involuntarily laughed and said, “Sorry Dude!” The he registered what Scott was doing and his face changed to an exaggerated look of disbelief.
“Oh, hombre! I told you not to mess with the those tiles!”
Scott put his goggles up on his head and stood. Mikey had stayed put.
“They’re broken! They have to be replaced.”
Todd looked over to his boys who were studying the confrontation. Mikey started barking at Scott.
“Tommy! Take Mikey outside.” He turned back to Scott as the younger boy complied. Todd made an attempt at de-escalating by changing his expression to one of beseeching Scott to understand.
“Scott, listen. You’ll never get out of here if you spend time on that shit you don’t need to do. Just get the basic things done to get out of here.”
“What, I just let it stay broken? That’ll go well with a buyer. They walk over and it rocks where it’s broken,” Scott countered.
“I told you, just get a good foundation glue and squeeze it into the cracks real tight. It will hold till the place gets sold. Believe me, if you continue to fart around...”
“If these tiles were laid right in the first place, this wouldn’t even be necessary,” Scott said. There. He said it. Bobby looked between his dad and Scott.
Todd leaned his head backward and eyed Scott. He put out his hand on the end of the counter.
“Now, what the hell do you know about laying tiles. You have not shown me anything to tell me you are qualified to make a judgement.”
“I’m not new to tiles, Todd,” Scott said.
“You know about these winters and summers here?”
Scott knew where Todd was taking this. “I know that if you don’t use a backer board, all bets are off on cracking and I just got down through the Thinset mortar and apparently, someone put the tiles directly on the plywood floor, which expands and contracts at way different rates than the tiles.”
Todd looked at Scott skeptically.
“Plus, there’s big gaps in the Thinset. So the tile’s going to bend in that hole if you step just right, which appears someone has managed to do. Someone heavy.”
Scott gave a glance to Bobby, who was intently following the exchange. Scott was aware that he was aiming his criticism at the boy’s father, and it made him uncomfortable to do so.
Todd didn’t just see red, he went red. Bright red. Then he, too, glanced at the older boy. Todd’s beady blue eyes darted around the place, looking for a landing. They wandered out through the window to the street.
“Oh, Mierda!” Todd exclaimed. He ran out the front door, his footsteps thundering across the floor and over the front porch. Bobby ran to the open door. Scott stepped quickly to the window.
The scene outside was crazy. Little Tommy had a hold of Mikey’s collar but he wasn’t on his feet. He was being dragged along the grass in pursuit of the Power and Light guy fleeing toward his truck down the street. Tommy was yelling, Mikey was barking, and Power Guy calling Todd’s name to get him to call Mikey off. Then there was Todd, loping across the lawn to cut off Mikey, yelling at the big dog to stop.
Scott let out a laugh. He guiltily looked over to the door. Bobby looked back in and over at Scott, a frightened look on his face which turned to a grin when he saw the same on Scott’s face. They laughed.
Later, Scott watched from the front door as Todd piled them all into an old tan Cadillac. Before he got in, Todd stood at the broad car door and yelled to Scott.
“Just get the shit done, okay?! I’ll be back over tomorrow to help you!”
When the Caddy pulled away, Scott noticed Tom, from across the street, sitting in a webbed chair in front of his Jeep, sunglasses on, one leg crossed over the other and his hands folded in his lap. His long black hair was down over his shoulders and he was wearing a thick green flannel shirt and fatigues.
Tom’s face came back to Scott after trailing the Caddy down the street. He smiled big and raised his arms, palms up and extended and just gave a shrug.
Scott laughed again and nodded. Then he waved to Tom and turned back into the house shaking his head.