Yonder Stands Your Orphan With His Gun
Julian was waiting at the gate holding a loose bouquet of blue lace cap hydrangeas and white delphinium. She spotted him leaning against a pillar, cell phone wedged between his ear and shoulder. “Miranda,” he mouthed nodding and eyeing the phone. Ah, Miranda, little baby girl, that they all fussed and cooed over like some rare species of exotic bird—who was what—now sixteen? The only child of Julian’s brief marriage to some Persian queen. “She’s in for the wedding, well for the shopping too, maybe the whole summer. Things with her mother are rough right now. Who knew—that was still up in the air. It was a real illness this time, no postpartum nada—cells splitting wildly. We have to talk about that,” Julian said.
Well, her aunt certainly provided her with ample wedding and shopping opportunities. What was this for Cleo now, wedding number three, maybe four— did Inez miss one? Had she married that Brazilian or did they just run a ranch together in some backwater place in the Amazon? Julian— his face now edged in the silver of a close trimmed beard— the years just revealed more perfect bone structure. He reached out fondly, warmly and kissed her cheek.
“Up for some shopping?” he said, leading her by the elbow. He certainly was.
“My friend Elly has a shop with some of the most fantastic stuff in the city, in North America. She is waiting for us and will get you something “fabulous” for the wedding.
“She used the word “fabulous'?” Inez asked, “Are you serious?”
At the shop Inez sat on a tufted teal ottoman as Elly and Julian surveyed and gathered arms full of possibilities and things to enhance those possibilities. It seemed here that nothing stood on its own merit and there was nothing that the correct accessory could not shore up. There was a blue shawl as fine as gossamer—looked like it had been spun out directly from the underbelly of some large but benevolent insect—glossy iridescent sheen. Then a black jacket with grosgrain ribbon trim that was so perfect in the cut and cuffs. Inez imagined the clothes blooming on her like jungle flowers, a flock multi-colored birds aloft —a wild impressionist woman, barefoot and biting into exotic fruits.
“A wedding, I am sure they will have a long happy life together.” Elly chimed as she put the clothes into a garment bag that signaled how very special and costly the shop was. Inez thought it a bit late for long life together and maybe for happy also.
Inez has noted that so many people she knew could talk about their lives with all the polished surface of a fable. All her friends, and her friends' friends placed themselves squarely in the center of everything that came their way. Improving whatever corner of the world they occupied. They sat not just dutifully, but with a real sense of commitment on committees to improve their children’s schools, their communities. Just convinced that somehow they made the world a better place, by just being there and doing the things that benefited them—their challenges were universally, primordially simple—the child that failed to form sentences or to make eye contact, the wife stealing small items from the drug store, the man that drove one hundred miles to expose himself in a public park. Not human failing, not frailty, never lapses in judgment, but rather some larger code like a moral tale—how was it that they were perpetually the ant and not the grasshopper?
Miranda, of course, was late meeting them at the restaurant and Inez thought she could have sat a bit longer on the ottoman. They were seated at a small table under old photographs of men’s sports teams—the crew team 1922, the football team 1910, baseball 1870. Julian took the menu and ordered—limited and familiar. The restaurant was a mix of academic and business diners—all subdued and eating and speaking studiously. They sat hunched over plates if they were officiously completing a task while a supervisor observed with a stopwatch.
No doubt about it, the atmosphere in Boston was different—the air and mood not as fraught and complex. The cobbled streets of the neighborhood seemed indifferent—the winds were gentle, not tainted with the scent of burring flesh and cinders—dust was dust, not human remains. In the few brief blocks from the shop she noticed the darker skinned residents were all but absent. Holed up behind heavy oaken doors in the ivy towers, she thought, in fear of fellowships disappearing, thanking gods that they were not driving cabs in Manhattan. The few academic types in haute couture she saw did not seem to wear the same countenance of fear and shame as they had to adopt in New York to just get from point A to point B. In New York their new country had turned on them like an abused dog growls and snaps back at a benevolent owner.
Part of the year the city had put on a happy face—a bright yellow smiley face as creepy as a harlequin or weeping clown paintings— a “nothing is going to stop New York” kind of stance—yet every time she rode the subway she could not help thinking gas attack, bomb, something. The papers made hash of the situation every morning—words were flying—justice, enemy, freedom. What did those men feel when they boarded the plane? They were after the all the most elite and privileged of their countries. Did they also taste injustice bitter in their mouths, where did it come from? Were words flying in their countries also? Did their mother tongue swell with hurt and rage? Does a sense of entitlement gone haywire burn with the same indignation reserved for oppression? These questions confused Inez because on a very fundamental level she could not always make out the difference between us and them.
The slender waiter in a white waist apron brought out a pretty glass pitcher of water with lemon slices and then placed a basket of bread and a white ramekin with butter.
When Miranda arrived she looked like she has been caught in a sudden rain shower, the ends of her hair wet and limp, her bangs plastered to one side of her forehead. She had on the heavy “look at me” eyeliner that girls her age start with until they get tired and realize that getting looked at was not really what they had wanted or expected. Almost every finger flashes a ring. She collapsed into a chair, pulled out a phone and started to text.
“Oh I am so hungry,” she said, eyeing Julian’s salad.
“Here take this,” he said and pushed his salad in front of her
“Ranch? Right?” she said. Julian nodded and looked over his shoulder for the waiter.
Julian raised his glass of water and tipped his head graciously in Miranda’s direction. “Here’s to a great summer, a good tan, and the SAT prep class I signed you up for.” For an instant she looked crestfallen but then her eyes flickered with indignation.
“But me and Claude were going to . . .” She said.
“Well it is only three weeks long, I’m sure he can rearrange his schedule.” Julian said
“Does this make you feel like a parent or something? I mean, why do have to try to ruin my summer?”
Miranda pushed the plate to the side and leaned into the table with both elbows. Inez touched her arm. Miranda turned to Inez and gave her a withering look
“I need shoes.” She said flatly. Julian looked down at her feet and again he saw the same hard candy red coating that was her lips. True enough, the child was there in a pair of flat straw sandals. Inez forced a thin smile. How could Miranda be expected to know, that in some parts of the world girls this age at the very moment were screaming with labor pains, or carrying on their heads jugs of water back from the river to the red-earthed village? Not possible. This girl sitting, just sitting next to her father; was somehow under the table rubbing the world against her thigh.
“Let’s see what you bought” Julian said.
[Please check back tomorrow for part 4 of All Knees Shall Bend And Every Tongue Shall Vow]