No Age Cafe

Used to take me 18 months to get over a relationship,’’ Mark said. “Now it’s 18 weeks and dropping. You know what they say about falling off a horse.’’

“Climb back on—right.’’ Oliver said. “All very well for you. I’m not, like, in demand. I got lucky, was all.’’

“Come on! Just cuz you’re four feet, two . . .”

“Five feet, two,’’ Oliver said. “Don’t you forget it.’’

“Ork. It doesn’t mean shit,’’ Mark said. “Do I look like Mr. Studley?’’

“How do you do it, anyway?’’

“Fabric, man. They’re helpless for fabric. You got to buy stuff they want to touch. The ladies have no imagination; if they can’t touch it, it doesn’t count.’’ Mark drank and smiled. “I spend a fortune on shirts and sweaters. ‘Oooh,’ they say. I hold out my arm for the feel. ‘Yeah, nice—silk and cashmere,’ I say. ‘Alpaca,’ or whatever the hell it is. Next day, I mail it to them. Would look better on you, I tell them.’’

“I don’t have a fortune,’’ Oliver said.

“Shop around,’’ Mark said. “Linen. You got to start somewhere.’’

“Yeah,’’ Oliver said.

For the hell of it, he checked out Filene’s Basement, but he couldn’t find anything that didn’t have the executive leisurewear look. The next day he was in Freeport and stopped at the Ralph Lauren factory outlet store. He bought a linen bush jacket that was radically marked down. It was dyed a dark sandy color and looked as though it would last. The traditional cut made it seem less trendy. Maybe that was why it had been marked down.

Oliver was lonely, but he continued to feel as though a weight had been lifted from him. The crying fit at Jacky’s had liberated him. He wondered why. Why had it felt right, somehow, to be punished by her? He missed the sex, ached for it, but he didn’t miss the beatings. He just didn’t feel guilty any more.

Guilty. As soon as he thought the word, Oliver knew that he was onto something. He realized that he had felt guilty for as long as he could remember—so long, in fact, that he didn’t register it as guilt; it was just the way he was. Why should he feel this way? He couldn’t be sure—this was murky territory—but he suspected that it had to do with his mother. She seemed to hover around the edges when he thought back. He wondered if he hadn’t, at a very young age, taken on responsibility for her problems—with Owl, with him, with life. Maybe he had felt that they were his fault, somehow. Whatever it had been, Jacky had beaten it out of him. Probably that was why she picked him in the first place. She had sensed his need, matching hers.

He continued to work at home and at the Conservancy. One afternoon, Jennifer talked him into the “Drumming For Gaia’’ trip.

“I can’t drum anything,’’ he said.

“Oliver, you like music. I know you do.’’ It was true. “We have a teacher—a Master Drummer. A lot of people have never drummed before, and they always have a good time.’’

“I don’t have a drum.’’

“We sell them—simple ones. I have an extra one. I’ll bring it for you.’’ She was enthusiastic and meant well. He couldn’t say no.

The morning of the trip was cool and foggy. The group was to meet at the Conservancy and then be bussed to Wolf Neck State Park. Jennifer spotted him as soon as he drove in.

“Morning! I love your jacket.’’ She reached out and felt it between her thumb and first two fingers. That Mark.

“Morning, Jennifer. Yeah, it’s nice. Linen,’’ he said, but he was damned if he was going to mail it to her.

“I brought your drum; it’s in the car. I’ll get it.’’ She skipped over to a white Volvo and took a drum from the back seat. “You’re going to love this.’’ He accepted it, feeling foolish. She handed him a wooden striker. “You can hold it any way that is comfortable.’’ She took it back and tucked it between her left arm and side. “Like this, or straight up, if you’re sitting.’’

“O.K., I get it,’’ Oliver said.

“We’ll be leaving in about ten minutes.’’ He took a seat near the front of the bus and tried to look relaxed. The drum was shaped like a miniature conga, handmade with a skin head that was lashed tight. He rested it on his lap and watched cars drive in. Twelve or fifteen people got on the bus, most of them his age or younger, mostly women in twos and threes.

Jennifer bounced in and sat beside him. “We’ll pick up a few more on the way. There’s another group coming down the coast. I hope it doesn’t rain. Think positive thoughts, Oliver.’’

“What are they?’’

“Oh, Silly,’’ she slapped him on the arm. “Don’t worry; you’ll have fun. I am going to have fun!’’ She passed around a box of name labels and a magic marker. “Aliases permitted,’’ she said.

Forty-five minutes later, they stepped from the bus and gathered around tables standing in a grassy field. Oliver had been there before. The ocean was just out of sight through trees and down a steep bank. Paths wound along a narrow wooded peninsula with views of islands, tiny coves, wetlands, and pine groves. Picnic tables and grills waited in small clearings. It was a popular place in winter for cross–country skiing.

The second bus arrived. People milled about reading each other’s name tags. Oliver helped carry folding chairs from the back of the bus. A van drove up. Its horn tooted twice, and a short round man popped out. He was holding a stick adorned with feathers and bells. He stamped it on the ground and shook it. When he had everyone’s attention, he said, “Bogdolf’s the name; merriment’s the game!’’

“Good grief,’’ Oliver said.

“Shhh, he’s the Lore Keeper,’’ Jennifer explained. She stepped closer and whispered, “He’s expensive, but he brings in extra contributions; he’s worth it.’’

“Good morning, fair folks,’’ Bogdolf said, twinkling. “Good morning, Jennifer. Have we time for a story?’’

“Yes,’’ Jennifer said. “Raul will be here at eleven for the drumming. For those of you who don’t know,’’ she raised her voice and addressed the group, “this is Bogdolf, Lore Keeper. I’ve asked him to speak to us this morning.’’ She sat in one of the chairs. Oliver sat next to her. The others made themselves comfortable, and Bogdolf took a position in front of them.

“Drumming For Gaia,’’ Bogdolf said. “Fine. Very fine. I don’t often have an orchestra. Oh, we’re going to have fun this morning. Ba, ba, boom!’’ He made a pirouette and stamped his stick playfully. His eye fell on Oliver, and he pointed at him with the stick. “Let me hear it, son.’’ He made striking motions with his stick. “Ba, ba boom! Ba, ba, boom! Let me hear it now.’’ He had twirled his way directly in front of Oliver. His eyes were sharp and blue beneath shaggy gray eyebrows. He smiled happily, letting the group feel his joy. Oliver felt Jennifer’s foot on his; he stopped staring and struck his drum three times.

“Yes,’’ Bogdolf said, spreading his arms approvingly. “The power!’’ He looked upward and staggered back several steps. He looked again at Oliver and made a commanding motion with the stick. Oliver struck the drum three times. “Gaia,’’ Bogdolf said. Oliver felt a pat on his arm.

“A long time ago,’’ Bogdolf began, “in the time of the Water People . . .” He paced back and forth as he told the story. His voice rose and fell. He was on the verge of tears. He laughed. He whispered. Threatened. Trembled. Finally: “And that is how the little drum saved the Water People.’’ He looked at Oliver. Jennifer’s foot pressed down. Oliver struck his drum three times, and there was loud clapping.

“Gaia!’’ someone called. Bogdolf bowed modestly and made his way to the coffee table where he was soon surrounded.

(from: O+F)
John Moncure Wetterau

No Age Cafe