Sunday, December 21, 2008

Lupe's Christmas part 2: The King of Diamonds

Reginald Wayne Dupres cinched his immaculate overcoat against the wind as he stepped onto the porch. He breathed deeply of the city air--a small city to be sure, and a bit far from its heart, but then Wayne Dupres was a small man in many ways--and doffing his hat, a beret as neat as his overcoat, into the cup of his hand, he turned and bowed deeply at the front door of the home. It was an ineffectual gesture to be sure. By now, she'd already be returned to the fireplace or to the kitchen table, where she'd pore carefully over the family ledgers, drifting into the comfort of checking sums, lulled by the careful skritch of her pencil, till the safe smells of rubber and shaved woods calmed her, until her mind came to that rest state, where Wayne's meaty, visceral reality could dissolve back to that thing of straw she carried around in her mind, that sexless empty vessel that was wrong about everything, always, always wrong. Wayne allowed himself his moments of irony, at least when she wasn't watching.

Stepping down from the stoop, he walked into a surprise drift of snow that had come up the short walk from the street. The damn plow had come off schedule, burying the cars on the side of the road, with an extra swerve to the house he shared with her. Figures. Wayne brushed the snow carefully off of his wool leg, frowning. He had so few pleasures, so few that he could wear outside anyway. He brushed his lapel--ermine--and thrust out his lip with a brio that he imagined to be sincere. He strode through the snowdrift, finding it passably clean, and thrust his hands in the deep pockets of his overcoat, forced a whistle. Marie could sink into caricature as well when they were apart, and before long she was a supporting presence in Wayne's mind, that rare soul who matched his goals and whose pecadillos matched his own.

Pecadillos, you say? No, Wayne and Marie are not nice people, they're our antagonists in fact, but if our characterizations are bad, they're not quite that cheap. Marie, as we've hinted, resorts to accounting under those long periods of personal stress, and she possesses a shelf of many neat books, carefully maintained. What on earth does she account, haunting, as she does, that tidy kitchen table for so many hours on end? Well, we'll get there, but suffice to say that there are a number of government programs which warrant returns. Her enterprise has a lawful paper trail at least, and a carefully tended one. She keeps track of her husband's ample failings as well, and those of others around her, but I suppose we've hinted at that too.

For his part, Reg. W. Dupres is a grown man who plays with dolls. This, we admit, is a trifle stranger than his wife's compulsive bookkeeping. When Reggie (Wayne) Dupres was a boy, some of his sister's Barbies had met strange ends. This wasn't rare in the neighborhood, but as his schoolmates terrorized the girls' royal court with kidnappings and torture, firecrackers and disturbingly bloodless decapitations, Reggie secreted the disproportioned creatures to the back of his closet and set them on golden chairs, where they could sit judgement from a private Olympus. Sometimes the his sister and her friends would lose hats and clothes too, and if there were suspicions, they were never voiced. No one knew how the outfits would be carefully scrubbed and rinsed and matched, organized into tiny concealed boxes, and set to carefully occupy a series of nooks and keepsaked drawers, from which the queens could rise and rule on many a neglected evening.

Yes, little Reggie had cared a great deal for his appearance, and fine clothes mattered more to him than summer camp, or video games, or friends, but bullies nonethelss found little purchase in the boy. They'd scatter his perfect class notes, and he'd steel up his little neck and walk, seemingly oblivious, to his house. They'd brake their bikes in front of him, and get it in their minds to throw mudballs in summer and snowballs in winter, and yet Reggie was an unrewarding target, soon forgotten. He swallowed his dignity and continued on, marched home where he could take out his aggressions in private, and calm himself with the joys of accessorizing, braiding and combing little plastic tresses.

Fancying himself a businessman, he made it through a college degree, keeping a few private boxes from an assortment of obnoxious roommates, mostly successfully. One evening, he came home from classes to a small bonfire of Mattel treasures, but by that time, Wayne had already graduated to more realistic figures. He'd kept a wish list for American Girl, then Creedies and Kishes, and eventually a taste for antiques, perfect little Victorian girls and boys. Without appetites for alcohol, food, or sex, he'd started a few investments in the brands without any further reservation, each carefully arranged on, at first, particleboard bookshelves, and eventually in places of honor on the walls and corners of his various apartments. Meeting Marie was a surprising thing, and in those days, she admired his fastidious notes, complete with receipts and collectors' appraisals. Before long there were signatures, carefully recorded in front of a justice, and then, without much warning, it had been ten years.

They told themselves they were a fine match, and perhaps they were. The decade between had found them overseeing a few well-subsidized foster creatures, complete with complicated paperwork and a great deal of attentive grooming. They managed not to kill any of them, and each found new homes in the system or winded their way back to their old ones, but the lucrative nature of the arrangement was lost on neither of the couple, and they told themselves they were doing good deeds in the process. And the necessity of guardianship did draw a speck of personality out of Wayne at least, a jaunty smile that could match some of his more cavalier outfits, and he evolved into the couple's public face. The children generally met Marie a little later. It had been a year without a ward, however, and ice was setting in, a slow crackling freeze, as each of the two regarded the other's highly defective nature and picked yet another cold battle to fight.

Wayne clumped through the snow, letting his aggression dissipate with steaming breath. Before long, he imagined himself a nineteenth century gentleman, with fur boots, gloves, and capacious overcoats. Perhaps he should invest in a pipe, but regrettably times had evolved, and you couldn't smoke one of those things just anywhere. He decided it wise to be on the lookout as the weather turned. Winter could sometimes reveal a few strays, and it was a good time to look. He'd walk about town, starting at the library; they liked to gravitate to the warm places, and they rarely knew how to dress properly for the cold.

Wolfman and young Ms. Guadalupe had a deal: he'd take care of the provisions, so long as she agreed to learn something constructive once in a while. The learning wasn't challenging (or unwelcome) for Lupe, but the whole business of guidance certainly was another matter. Wolfman didn't think in terms like "single parent" and "homeschool" as a rule, but even without the legal distinctions, he'd wandered into such a role. He didn't think in terms of "education" even, but he certainly valued knowing stuff. Perhaps he imagined Lupe could grow into one of the powerful women of his occasional temporary acquaintance, and he was pretty sure that whatever the motions most of the world went through to go about their incomprehensible mass-produced lives, such players were a product of something else. Perhaps Wolfman wished to guide her into an adulthood free of the malice that seemed to fester in other effective minds like hers, or maybe he just acted in some vague sense of parental responsibility, or a more acute feeling of love.

And Wolfman's responsibility brought him closer to the manners of the masses than he realized. In the evenings, he'd study what Lupe had gone over the previous day, in a futile attempt to keep up with the girl: she flitted insatiably from physics to philosophy, from business to biochemistry, from mathematics to music. Wolfman did his best to keep up enough to propose leading questions (as I suppose we've previously mentioned). Their mornings would be spent on a meal, purchased from a rapidly dwindling bankroll, and some quality time (another horrifyingly unfamiliar term to Wolfman) before the girl was let loose to prowl the public institutions of knowledge. The public library had computer access, but the university library was, while she was not strictly allowed in there, much easier to lose herself in. In between, Lupe would trot about town, enjoying the weather if it was enjoyable, or causing trouble with the hapless townies (the students annoyed her particularly, dull and entitled and arrogant) when she felt secure, and pondering how to prank her mentor when she felt less so. She didn't have much heart to do that today. As Wolfman waved at her and turned around, she could almost see the tail drooping behind him. Like him, she had a finely tuned sense of indignity. She'd never tell him how much she admired his sacrifice.

Wolfman made his way back to the trailer, which from the outside looked like a derelict leaning against a brick building, butting agaisnt a weedy lot. Entering it was a careful deal though, and he checked the tracks in the unwelcome snow, and found the bit of string still pulled across the door. He figured sooner or later someone would notice the extension cord, or some light seeping out of the door, and if no other arrangements could be made by then, they'd have to find some other cave to huddle into. He sighed and his shoulders drooped, as if he could feel the weight of life on them. Freedom had never used to be such a challenge. He kicked his shoes at the base of the door and walked in.

Inside, Wolfman smacked his hand to his chest, and dug a paw into the pocket there, gave the deck a desultory shuffle or two, and pulled off the top card. We already know its identity.

Wolfman wasn't a fan of kings. It wasn't for the authority--queens are much more regal, really--it was more that they seemed such dissapointed, dangerous spirits, their sad disinterested eyes guiding hands of violent design. Three of the four were frowning (at least in the pack with the naked, bike-straddling cherubs), finding their own inevitable deeds distasteful. (The exception was Hearts, who smirks as he swings, and thank the gum-throwing boy Hey-zoos that it wasn't that crazy fucker.) Diamonds had cash though, cold cash, and an open hand giving, taking, or sometimes both. Wolfman shurgged, and pensively twirled the card over the back of his knuckles, hiding the stub of his ring finger for a moment. Well, he considered, looking at his home, what the hell did he have to take anyway? He flipped the card onto the floor and tore his hat off the surface of the table (an unnoticed triangle of vinyl came along for the ride). He supposed he'd have to ask for a new beard. He tilted the cap at the most rakish slant he could manage, and stalked out of the trailer. Wolfman was sure that he had the worse end of their bargain, but if you could press Wolfman, he'd surely admit that any such bargain was not what their relationship was all about. Some people just belonged together.

He leaned a block against the door to keep it shut while he was gone, fixed his primitive alarms, and slunk off to his thankless job.

[Finish this by Christmas? The cards see it as unlikely.]

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