Third Sons: March 1974
“Where the hell have you been? Where is she?”, Chuck Jr. asks his younger brother.
“How’d you find me?”, Lonny Donny asks back.
“Where’d you get those clothes?”, Chuck Jr. replies.
“I’ve been with Betty, mostly,” Lonny Donny tells him. “She’s on set. I bought them.”
“I snuck in,” Chuck Jr. says, “and it wasn’t easy.” He grabs Lonny Donny by the sleeve. “C’mon,” he says, “we gotta go. Where’s her set?”
“They’re shooting,” Lonny Donny says. He pulls his arm back from his brother’s grip. “We can’t barge in. We can wait in her dressing room.”
“I can’t wait,” Chuck Jr. says. “Let’s go.” He grabs for Lonny Donny’s arm again.
Lonny Donny pushes his hand away. “I’m working,” he says.
“On what?”, Chuck Jr. asks.
“Not what, who,” Lonny Donny replies. “Betty Watt.”
“You told me that already,” Chuck Jr. says. “She pays you?”
“’Course she pays me,” says Lonny Donny. “It’s a job. I drive her, I shop for her, I even clean up after her sometimes. Mostly I just wait.”
“Wait for what?”, Chuck Jr. asks suspiciously.
“Her to finish,” Lonny Donny replies. “Then we go to the next place. Then I wait some more.” Lonny Donny almost tells his brother about hanging with Marta most afternoons, but he decides not to mention her.
Chuck Jr. stares at him. “What?”, Lonny Donny asks.
“Betty,” Chuck Jr. says.
“Bye-bye, gotta go, see ya, time’s flyin’.” Lonny Donny heads for Betty’s dressing room.
Halfway to Betty, Lonny Donny stops. “Why do we gotta go?”, he asks.
“We don’t,” Chuck Jr. replies, “you do. Help get Stan up to Vallejo. The sooner you leave, the better. He’ll stay with our cousin Jim ‘til he gets settled. Best he lay low, even up there.”
“Lay low?”, Lonny Donny asks. “Stan?”
“Don’t ask,” Chuck Jr. replies.
“I just did,” says Lonny Donny.
“Can we go now?”, Chuck Jr. motions.
“Why can’t Stan drive himself to Vallejo?”, Lonny Donny asks.
“That was your deal,” his brother replies, “you help him move to Vallejo.”
“Since when does Stan wanna move to Vallejo?”, Lonny Donny asks. “He seems to like LA.”
“Since two nights ago at Billy’s,” Chuck replies.
Lonny Donny and Chuck Jr. stand facing each other between squat buildings on a backlot. “You win,” Chuck Jr. says, “First, I wasn’t there. Second, you know how touchy Billy French is. Third, you know what Stan’s laugh is like. That’s how it happened.”
“That’s how what happened?”, Lonny Donny asks.
“The laughing. Stan put a glass down on Billy’s fancy table. Billy got ticked, Stan laughed. You know, because he was nervous, like he does. That giggly, girly laugh. So Billy gets madder. Stan laughs harder. The hotter Billy gets, the harder Stan giggles. Pretty soon everybody’s laughin’ at Billy. This sets Billie off good.”
“Billy loses it,” Chuck Jr. goes on, “Total ape shit. But the wilder Billy goes, the crazier everybody laughs. Finally, Billy attacks Stan. But he trips over his own ottoman,” Chuck laughs, “goes sprawlin’ across the rug, arms out. We’re falln’-on-the-floor laughin’ now.”
“I thought you said you weren’t there,” Lonny Donny interrupts.
“I mighta been,” Chuck Jr. replies. “Don’t matter. Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah. So Billy finally gets up and jumps Stan. But Stan’s a big guy. A lug, but big. Stan sends Billy flyin’, face first into a closet door.” Chuck Jr. laughs at the memory. “Now Billy says his career is ruined ‘cause Stan broke his nose and all. Turns out, Billy’s set to start shooting a horror flick in a week. Now his face is lunch meat. His agent is pissed. If they drop Billy, his agent’s talkin’ about suin’ Stan for Billy’s lost wages.”
Lonny Donny stares blankly at his older brother, waiting for the reason he has to go to Vallejo with Stan. Chuck Jr. is suddenly in no rush. “Billy’s agent is making Stan go to Vallejo,” Lonny Donny says.
“Exactly,” Chuck Jr. says. “Well, not exactly, but Stan needs out of LA. And you need to make sure he does. It’s what you signed up for. So tell Betty you need a week off to get Stan up north.”
“Where up north?”, Betty asks.
Chuck Jr. nearly falls backward. “Vallejo,” Lonny Donny says.
“Stan’s the cousin,” Betty says.
They both nod.
“Where’d you come from?”, Chuck Jr. asks.
“I work here,” Betty replies. “How’d you get in? Never mind. Vallejo’s near Napa Valley, right?”
“Something like that,” Lonny Donny replies.
“Maybe I’ll catch a ride with you,” Betty says. “I could use a road trip.”
Chuck Jr. laughs. “You in Stan’s van?”, he asks between guffaws.
“Tell Stan to get the damn thing power washed,” Betty says. “And sterilized to boot.” Lonny Donny looks at Betty, brow furrowed. “They don’t need me back ‘til Tuesday morning,” she says. “We’ll fly back Monday night. All set. We’ll bring Marta too, if she can get the time off. Hell, even if she can’t. That’ll cheer you up about having to leave LA.”
“You’re going to Vallejo in Stan’s van?”, Chuck Jr. asks, no longer laughing.
“I’ve done crazier things,” Betty replies. “Maybe not lately.”
“With Marta and my little brother?”, Chuck Jr. asks, getting worked up.
“Tell Stan I’m serious about sterilizing the van,” Betty tells him. “We’ll leave after breakfast. Let’s go tell Marta the good news.” She signals Lonny Donny to lead on. Chuck Jr. gulps. Over her shoulder, Betty says, “Maybe by the time we get back Chuck’ll be ready to tell us the real reason why he wants Stan out of town.”
“Where’s Vallejo?”, Marta asks when Betty tells her about the trip.
“Near Napa,” Betty replies. Marta looks at her blankly. Betty hmphs. “If I said it was near Beirut, would it matter?”, Betty asks.
“The baseball player?”, Marta asks back.
Betty starts to speak, just stutters. Lonny Donny starts to say something, but Betty cuts him off with a look. “Pack light,” she tells Marta. “But bring a sweater. A wool one. We’ll have breakfast at your place,” she adds. “Let’s hope your father’s on location."
” Don’t worry,” Marta says. “He’s in San Francisco. Ginger’ll be happy to have someone to cook for.”
Betty stops in her tracks. “Change of plans,” she says. “I’ll go with Marta.” She turns to Lonny Donny. “You get a ride with Stan tomorrow morning,” she says. “Be at Marta’s by nine. And that van better be spotless.”
“Has anybody told Stan?”, Lonny Donny asks.
The three of them look at Chuck Jr. “What?”, he asks.
“Where’s Stan?”, Betty asks.
Chuck shrugs. “Probably at a matinee,” he says.
“Find him and tell him he’s moving up north tomorrow morning,” Betty says. ”With three bodyguards."
"I said ‘clean,’” Betty says as she examines the interior of Stan’s van through the open rear doors. They’re standing in Marta’s driveway. “It smells like bad pot and rancid bacon,” Betty adds. She waves her hands. “Out,” she says, “all of it. Right now.” She walks up the drive.
“Wait,” Lonny Donny shouts after her. “All of it?” He looks around. “Where?”
Betty turns and points to a swath of grass next to the drive. Lonny Donny starts to ask another question, but Betty has disappeared inside the house. He looks at Stan. “She said all of it,” he says.
Betty walks into the kitchen, where Ginger and Marta are sitting at a long table. She pours a cup of tea from the pot and asks, “Just tea?”
“Just tea,” Ginger replies.
Betty sips, moans with pleasure, sits down. “I need a favor,” she says to Marta. “Stan’s van needs a makeover.”
“Like a tune-up?”, Marta asks. “I can’t change a lightbulb.”
“The inside,” Betty says. “Accommodations for two on the long ride to Vallejo.”
“Three,” Ginger says. “I’m going with you.”
“What?”, Betty asks.
“I’m not staying here,” Ginger replies. “No one around. Vallejo or Toledo.”
“Toledo?”, Betty asks.
“Where my sister lives,” Ginger replies. “Vallejo with you, or fly to Toledo. Make my sister crazy, me depressed. So I go with you. J.K. won’t be back for a week. I’m paid to cook, not to sit in this empty house.”
Betty smirks, nods. “But you gotta help Marta make Stan’s van liveable,” she says. “And you gotta be done by noon.” She picks up her teacup and walks outside.
Marta and Ginger watch Betty exit the kitchen. Ginger shrugs at Marta and follows Betty out. “What am I doing by noon?” Marta asks nobody.
“Better already,” Betty says as she looks at the inside of the now-empty van. She looks at Stan. “One box,” she says. “The rest stays here.”
“I can’t fit all the stuff I need in one box,” Stan says.
“Great,” Betty replies, “I’ll do it for you.” She heads for the pile on the lawn.
Stan beats Betty to the pile, grabs a box, and starts sifting through his belongings. “Where’re we gonna store what I can’t fit?”, he asks.
“Store,” Betty laughs. Then she gets serious and says to Stan, “There’s lots of empty space in Jerry’s garage. He won’t mind.”
Stan frowns. “Are you sure about that?”, he asks. “I might not be back for awhile.”
“The longer the better,” Betty says. “Jerry loves doing favors.”
“Since when?”, asks Ginger, who just walked up to them. “Jerry never does anything for nothing.”
Betty mouths (shut up). Stan frowns away. “This is valuable stuff,” he says.
Betty walks up to him, smiles. “Jerry would never think of throwing away such treasures. Let me tell you,” she says conspiratorially, “it’s safer in Jerry’s garage than it’d be in a van parked on some dark street in Vallejo.”
“My cousin Jim says Vallejo’s a nice town,” Stan replies defensively.
“Great place”, Betty says. “You’re gonna love it.” She pats his arm, turns to Lonny Donny and says, “Load this junk into Jerry’s garage. Marta and Ginger will redecorate Stan’s home away from home.” She walks back toward the house.
Lonny Donny asks, “Where you going?”
Betty stops, turns, says “Get to work!”, turns back, keeps walking.
“Work?”, Lonny Donny asks nobody. Ginger and Marta stare into the empty interior of the van. Stan crams items from the pile into his box. After a minute of staring into the empty van, Ginger says, “I got an idea.” She signals Marta to follow her. Lonny Donny watches them go.
When Ginger and Marta are out of sight, Lonny Donny returns to staring down the pile of Stan’s stuff. “Where’s the garage?”, Stan asks him.
“Try the end of the driveway,” Lonny Donny replies seriously. “The end that isn’t a street.”
Stan looks left and right, walks to the left.
Two minutes later, Stan returns and says, “Found it!”
“I knew you could do it,” Lonny Donny replies sincerely. He grabs an armful of junk from Stan’s pile. “We hauled this stuff across the country to stow it in a garage?”, he asks.
“Betty said,” Stan replies.
“You’ll never see any of this again,” Lonny Donny says. “We should just torch it. Save ourselves the trouble.”
“Burn my stuff?”, Stan half shouts. “Burn my stuff? You crazy?”
“Sane enough to know not to waste energy on all this,” Lonny Donny replies. He walks toward the house. “I’m gonna find Marta,” he says to Stan over his shoulder. “Find out if her and Ginger need a hand.” He heads for the kitchen door, but Betty spots him through the window and waves him away. She points behind him, toward the garage.
Lonny Donny follows the driveway to the back of the house. There’s no sign of Marta or Ginger, but he sees Betty through the kitchen window. He turns around, heads back. He hears muffled voices coming from behind the four-car garage. He peeks in the garage, sees two cars.
In the spot closest to the door is a new Mercedes 450SL. Next to it is Marta’s 1969 Mustang. The other spots are empty. The noise picks up. When Lonny Donny rounds the corner of the garage, he sees Marta and Ginger taking items from a shed and loading them into a big red wagon.
Lonny Donny is about to ask why they’re not taking Marta’s Mustang when Ginger sees him and says, “First load is ready.” She waves at Marta. “You two go,” she says to Marta. “Empty and come back for the next load.”
“Next load?”, Marta asks. Ginger steps back inside the shed. Marta looks at Lonny Donny and says, “Well?” She points at the wagon. Lonny Donny grabs the handle and wheels the wagon toward the driveway.
At 11:45 a.m. Betty walks out the back door and heads down the circular driveway. When Stan’s van comes into view, she stops in her tracks.
First, there’s the pile of smoldering rubble next to the van. Second, there are four figures standing around the van’s open back doors. The figures are paying no attention to the smokey heap of ashes. They’re staring at the van interior, speechless. Betty approaches slowly. When she gets close enough to see inside the van, she laughs in surprise. “How?”, she asks.
“Marta,” Ginger says.
“Ginger,” Marta says.
The inside of Stan’s van has been transformed. What was a pawnshop dumpster is now a Moorish caravan tent, all rugs, fabrics, and pillows.
“How’s Stan ever gonna return this stuff?”, Lonny Donny asks.
“Why would he do that?”, Betty asks back. “Jerry will never miss any of it.”
“Not a chance,” Marta says at the same time Ginger says, “No way.”
Stan points to a polished wooden box just inside the van’s back doors. “That’s my portable kitchen,” Ginger says. “That comes back.”
Betty looks over at the pile of sooty ashes. “Good choice,” she says to Stan.
At half past noon, the van is northbound on 101 and the five of them are comfortable, more or less. Stan is second-guessing the bonfire. Lonny Donny is in the passenger seat, wondering about the sleeping arrangements for the trip, lunch, Marta, and California, in that order.
Lonny Donny looks over his shoulder and sees Betty, Marta, and Ginger reclining on oversized pillows in the back of the van, half asleep. “Why Vallejo all of a sudden?”, Lonny Donny asks Stan. “Don’t you like LA?”
“Job in the shipyards,” Stan replies, “if I’m there by Monday.”
“What happened to HVAC?”, Lonny Donny asks.
“Huh? Oh, yeah,” Stan replies. “This in Vallejo is union work, our cousin Jim says. Mothballs.”
“Making mothballs?”, Lonny Donny asks.
“Mothball fleet,” Stan says, “Mare Island.” Lonny Donny looks confused. “Y’know, boats,” Stan adds.
“What kind of boats are made of mothballs?”, Lonny Donny asks. Betty laughs. Lonny Donny looks at her over his shoulder. “What?”, he asks.
“That’s not a bad idea, Stan,” Betty says. “Make boats out of mothballs. Sure beats HVAC.” She laughs again.
“You tell him then,” Stan says.
“Tell him what?”, Betty asks just as Lonny Donny asks, “Tell me what?”
“Mothball fleet,” Stan says, a little exasperated. “Lotsa old boats. Just sittin’ there, like a parking lot, but in water.”
“Like a junkyard,” Betty says.
“Nah,” Stan says. “Not a junkyard.Cars in a junkyard don’t run,” he adds defensively. “These boats gotta be kept running. Seaworthy.” He smiles.
Betty laughs derisively. “They gotta be kept off the bottom of the ocean,” she says. “Tow-worthy is all that matters. You’ll be doing nothing but plugging leaks.”
“You’re gonna be taking care of boats that don’t work?”, Lonny Donny asks. “Is that like joining the military even though you hate guns?”
“Who would join the military even though they hate guns?”, Betty asks.
“Stan,” Lonny Donny answers. “Tell her how you got out.”
Stan coughs. “It’s not like that,” he says. “The recruiter said I wouldn’t have to use a gun, ‘cause I was signed up for aircraft mechanic school. Then right off, it’s all guns. Study about guns, put guns together, take ‘em apart again, even marching with ‘em. C’mon!”
Stan returns his complete attention to the road ahead. “You got out,” Betty says after a pause.
“’Course I did,” Stan replies, “I’m here.”
“How?”, Betty asks, a little exasperated.
“Made like I was crazy,” Stan says under his breath.
“Tell her about the robot,” says Lonny Donny.
“Tell me about the robot,” Betty echoes with a small smile.
Stan ignores her. “There wasn’t one,” Lonny Donny says. “That was the point. Stan tells his Air Force bosses he made a robot that looks just like him to do his work. Stan stays in bed all day reading comic books. When they send the MPs after him for flakin’, Stan blames the robot for not showing.”
Stan stares ahead blankly. Betty leans forward and says into Stan’s ear, “There’s obviously more to you than meets the eye.” She leans back, laughing.
Marta looks up. “What’s so funny?”, she asks.
“Stan’s career in the Air Force,” Betty says. “Minus the guns. The imaginary robots are my favorite part.”
“There’s just the one imaginary robot, right Stan?”, Lonny Donny asks.
Stan grumbles as he drives.
“Is this somebody’s script?”, Marta asks.
“All I know is, it worked,” Stan says. “I’m not in the Air Force anymore.”
“Is that where you left the script about robots?”, Marta asks.
“First thing,” Betty says, “we gotta figure out who’s infiltrating the Air Force with robot jet mechanics, and what’s their fiendish plot.”
“What are you talking about?”, Stan asks. “There weren’t any damn robots, or fiendish plots, or scripts even.”
“Aliens, I bet,” Marta says.
“Soviets,” Betty offers. “Maybe Germans. The last gasp of the Nazis who escaped to South America.”
“I didn’t know they had one,” Marta says. Betty, Stan, and Lonny Donny look at Marta. “Nazis had a robot,” Marta says. “I missed that in history class. Must not’ve been any good.”
“The robot or the history class?”, Betty asks with a straight face.
“The robot, of course,” Marta replies. “They lost dang the war, right? Is that in the script?”, Marta asks Stan. “How the robots turned on their Nazi overlords and won the war for America?”
Stan drops his head. “I’d take that history class,” Betty says.
Stan looks at Lonny Donny and asks, “Why’d you bring up the Air Force?”
Lonny Donny smiles. “It got everybody talking,” he says.
“About Nazi robot scripts,” Stan replies, miffed.
“Was your robot a Nazi?”, Lonny Donny asks.
“I never had a robot,” Stan says, more miffed. “I made it up. Remember that part?”
“The movie’s gonna stink without a robot,” Betty says.
“All of a sudden there’s a movie about me getting out of the service,” Stan says.
“Only if you believe in yourself,” Betty says, laughing.
Marta has returned to lounging among the pillows and quilts that cover the floor of Stan’s van. Lonny Donny senses Betty getting restless.
“Lunch,” Ginger says out of nowhere.
After several seconds of silence, Betty replies, “We’re not even to Santa Barbara.”
Ginger ignores her. “Look for vegetable stands,” she continues. “Good ones coming up. Then we have a picnic.” Everyone but Stan turns and looks at Ginger. Ginger looks back at each one of them in turn. Without saying a word, they scan the road ahead, looking for signs of fresh produce for sale.
An hour later, they reach the outskirts of Santa Barbara without spotting any vegetables for sale. “Nazi robot,” Stan says out of the blue.
Another hour goes by. Just past Santa Maria, Stan nearly shouts, “fruit stand!” He slows the van. Ginger perks up, looks out the window. Stan parks the van in front of the stand. Ginger exits the side door, walks quickly to the bushel-laden tables. Seconds later, she turns.
The van’s other occupants have barely exited when Ginger walks back, makes a sour face, and waves both of her hands. “No good. Better further down,” Ginger says as she motions the others back inside the van. Betty and Marta follow Ginger through the van’s side door.
Stan and Lonny Donny exit the van’s front doors in time to watch Ginger, Betty, and Marta get back in the side door. “What?”, Stan asks.
“Wrong fruit, I guess,” Lonny Donny replies. Stan shrugs and returns to the driver’s seat. Lonny Donny looks all around. “Nice,” he says.
Betty leans her head out the van’s passenger window and says, “Take in the view later.”
Lonny Donny asks, “What do you call all of this?”
“All of what?”, Betty asks.
Lonny Donny extends his arms to each side, throws his head back, and says, “This!”
Betty looks up at the sky. “I know what he means,” Marta says as she settles herself among the cushions in the back of the van. “There’s something about this place.”
“Good air,” Ginger adds. “Good dirt.”
Betty looks at Marta, then at Ginger, then back at Lonny Donny, who is climbing back into the van. “What am I missing?”, she asks as Stan pulls the van back onto 101. She looks out the window. “California, right?” She takes in the view. “It is kinda pretty,” she says as she gazes out the van window. Low trees, low hills, green on greener, a spatter of wildflowers glinting.
The miles roll by, vegetable stands nearly forgotten. Suddenly, from the back of the van, Ginger yells, “Slow down!” Stan does just that. “Go there,” Ginger says, pointing east out the window.
“Where?”, Stan asks, craning his neck as he drives to see what Ginger is pointing at.
Now all four of them are straining to spot where Ginger is pointing. “I think I see it,” Betty says. “On that hill. Take the next right.”
“What right?”, Stan asks just as Lonny Donny asks, “What hill?”
Before Betty can answer, Marta asks, “You mean the house with the windmill?”
“Is that what that thing is?”, Betty asks back, squinting at a hill a half mile from the road.
“What are you people looking at?”, Stan asks.
“Aha,” Lonny Donny says as he scans the hillside, “a little farm.”
“Right turn, coming up,” says Betty, pointing out the van’s windshield.
After a half-dozen-or-so wrong turns, Stan steers the van around a sharp turn and nearly smacks into the base of a slow-turning windmill. “That is something,” says Stan, looking up at the dark green structure, its four blades turning slowly.
Ginger exits before the van stops. She heads for a large garden that fills most of the space between the squat farmhouse and a pagoda-shaped barn. Betty follows her slowly. Marta is a few steps behind Betty. They’re taking in the farmyard as they follow Ginger, who is now critically examining the garden bounty.
Stan and Lonny Donny stand stiffly next to the van, looking around nervously. Betty and Marta reach the garden just as the barn door opens. A woman exits the barn and walks up to Ginger, who is nearly enveloped in the garden. They begin to converse and gesture, like old friends. Betty and Marta stand several feet from the garden while Ginger and the woman converse. Stan and Lonny Donny maintain their post at the van.
A few minutes later, the woman returns to the barn and Ginger waves to Betty and Marta. “Find a basket,” she says. She studies the garden.
Betty and Marta look around the farm yard. No baskets in sight. Betty points at the house’s back porch. “Try over there,” she says to Marta.
“What kind of basket?”, Marta asks.
“Improvise,” Betty replies. She joins Ginger among the rows of vegetables.
“Improvise,” Marta repeats.
“I’ll cook there,” Ginger says when Betty reaches the garden. She waves vaguely behind Betty, who looks over her shoulder, then at Ginger. “I made a deal,” Ginger adds before Betty can speak. “With Mrs. Wert. I cook, you and Marta chop, they move the tub.” She points at the van.
“Mrs. Wert is the farmer’s wife?”, Betty asks.
“No, she’s the farmer,” Ginger replies. “Mr. Wert died.”
“Huh,” Betty says, then adds, “Tub?”
“Them,” Ginger says, hooking her thumb toward Stan and Lonny Donny, who stand like statues on either side of the van. “Out of the barn. Rains stopped, mostly,” Ginger adds, still eyeing the garden. “Move her tub out of the barn for the summer.”
“Chopping what?”, Betty asks. Ginger points at the garden, looks at Betty incredulously. Marta appears, pushing an empty wheelbarrow made of mismatched wooden planks. “Hey, nice improvising,” Betty says. Marta smiles. Ginger heads back into the garden, waving for Marta to follow her with the wheelbarrow.
Betty looks over ar Stan and Lonny Donny, who are standing stock still beside the van. “C’mon,” she shouts. “We’re working for our supper.”
“That’s a bathtub?”, Stan asks after his eyes adjust to the barn’s darkness. Betty and Lonny Donny stand next to him, peering at the tub. It looks like a cast-iron sleigh with four short, splayed feet. Black scorch marks run halfway up its sides.
Mrs. Wert stands behind them. “I like a warm bath,” she says meekly, by way of explanation.
“You could give half the county a bath in that all at once,” Stan says. He gives the tub a half-hearted test lift. “It’s too heavy for us two to carry,” he says to Lonny Donny.
Mrs. Wert points across the barn. “Try the skid,” she says.
Stan and Lonny Donny see a flat wooden sled leaning against the far barn wall. “Try it how?”, Stan asks.
“We could slide it under the tub,” Lonny Donny says with a smile, “then push it.”
Stan considers this. “It’s worth a try,” he says finally.
Betty looks from Stan to Lonny Donny and back to Stan, her jaw slightly dropped. Mrs. Wert asks, “Should we show ‘em the rope and lever?”
“Nah,” Betty replies. “This oughta keep ‘em occupied ‘til we get dinner ready.”
“I’ve got other chores for these two,” Mrs. Wert replies.
“Hear that, Kid?”, Betty asks loudly. “She’s got more work for you. You boys better get crackin’.”
“Work?”, Stan asks. “What about Vallejo?”
“Nobody’s in a hurry to get to Vallejo,” Betty replies. “For the next two hours, you are in the employ of Mrs. Wert.” She nods toward her.
Mrs. Wert exits the barn without saying a word. Betty follows her. Stan looks at the tub. Lonny Donny walks over to the skid, stands it up. “Did she say something about a rope and level?”, Lonny Donny asks.
“Lever, I think,” Stan replies. “What we need is a crowbar or big plank.”
“Isn’t that what a lever is?”, Lonny Donny asks. “Like a big crowbar?”
“Nah,” Stan replies. “A lever’s like a latch.”
Lonny Donny laughs. “They let you into the Air Force?”, he asks. He stands the skid upright. “Look at these,” he says, noticing two drilled holes. “That’s what the rope is for I bet,” he says, poking a finger through one of the holes.
From across the barn, he hears Stan cackle. “Don’t you tell me I don’t know what a lever is,” Stan says, holding up a long metal bar. “I was just thinking of something else is all.”
Stan and Lonny Donny surprise themselves at how quickly they lift the tub onto the skid and drag it to the covered patio beside the barn. “I was just thinking of dinner,” Lonny Donny replies.
Mrs. Wert arrives in time to direct Stan and Lonny Donny to the spot to place the tub. Unloading the skid proves tougher than loading it. After many fits and starts, Stan and Lonny Donny have the tub in place. Mrs. Wert shakes her head. “Wrong way,” she says.
“Huh?”, Stan asks. Mrs. Wert holds out her arms and makes a swivel motion. Stan and Lonny Donny look at each end of the tub. “What’s the diff?”, Stan asks.
Mrs. Wert points at one end of the tub, says, “Head.” She points at the other and says, “Feet.” She points to the west and says, “Sunset.”
Lonny Donny says to Mrs. Wert, “Why don’t you just--”
“Turn the damn tub already,” Betty interrupts from 20 yards away. “Don’t talk, turn.”
Lonny Donny and Stan exchange shrugs. “Get the skid,” Stan says as he reaches for the lever. “We’re getting good at this tub moving stuff.”
Once Stan and Lonny Donny have the tub situated to Mrs. Wert’s liking, she sets them to several jobs that benefit from height and muscle. Height and muscle the two Laffingstocks got. Lonny Donny is a notch over six feet. Stan’s a good two inches taller, and north of 200 pounds.
Dusk is nearly spent when Mrs. Wert leads Stan and Lonny Donny out of the barn, their last chore complete. They are met by a pleasing aroma. A few steps later, three figures come into view, huddled around a large pot simmering over a wood fire. Betty and Marta back, Ginger front. Lonny Donny notices a long, narrow table on which two oil lamps have been placed. Stars pop up above the dark line of hills to the east.
Mrs. Wert regards the contents of the large pot Ginger is stirring, nods approvingly. Betty motions to Lonny Donny and says, “Here’s good.”
Lonny Donny nods in agreement, then asks, “Good for what?”
“For tonight,” Betty replies. “We’ll take the patio. You two boys get the barn.”
“What about Vallejo?”, Stan asks, a little panicky.
“When you get there,” Betty replies, “you’ll wonder why you were in such a damn hurry.”
Soon the six of them are seated at the makeshift table in the yard of Mrs. Wert’s farm. “No meat at all?”, Stan asks Ginger. “You sure?”
“Again,” Ginger replies. “Vegetables only.” She rolls her eyes, smiles, and takes another bite.
“Vegetables,” Stan repeats, “California. What a place. Even the vegetables taste good.”
Betty puts down her fork and says, “Stan, where did you put your brain?”
Stan replies, “What’s my brain got to do with vegetables?”
“That’s what we’re trying to suss out,” says Betty. “The similarity is striking.”
“I’m just saying,” Stan says as he eats, “I never liked vegetables ‘til I got to California.”
Betty asks slowly, “What else is different?”
Stan looks at the sky. “We’re eatin’ al fredo,” he says.
“Fresco,” Marta corrects him.
Stan looks around. “Frisco?”, he asks. “San Fran?”
“Give up,” Betty tells Marta. She returns to Stan. “What else is different about these vegetables?”, she asks him.
Stan’s shoulders slump. “Who cooked ‘em, Stan?”, Lonny Donny asks.
Stan looks at Ginger. “You should open a restaurant or something,” he tells her. She ignores him.
“You could, you know,” Betty tells Ginger.
“She won’t,” Marta says after Ginger ignores Betty. “My dad offered her a spot right on Sunset.”
“Home chef is better,” Ginger says to nobody in particular. “I don’t want work. I want to cook. In a home. Or out here.” She waves her hand. “Like back home,” Ginger looks at the starry sky. “No restaurants,” she says. “Like cooking in a coal mine. Food needs a home with heart.”
“Hearth,” Lonny Donny says.
“Ginger said ‘heart’,” Marta replies.
“Same thing, eh?”, says Lonny Donny. “Hearth’s a heart, heart’s a hearth.”
Marta looks at Betty. “Makes sense,” Betty says noncommitally. She says to Ginger, “Restaurant kitchens aren’t noted for their serenity.”
“Unless you bring it with you,” Ginger replies.
Betty laughs, “I carry a bottle of serenity in my purse.”
“Is that like ludes?”, Marta asks.
“Yes,” Betty replies with a straight face, “just like ludes.” She looks at Ginger and asks, “You find serenity working for Marta’s father?”
“Different,” Ginger replies flatly. “I keep him alive.”
“She does,” Marta adds. “Without Ginger my dad would be dead in a week, or sooner.”
“What was that about ludes?”, Stan asks.
“Betty has something better in her purse,” Marta whispers to him. Lonny Donny shushes them both.
“What’s better than ludes?”, Stan whispers.
“I know!”, Marta whispers back.
“There are no ludes in my purse,” Betty says. “No drugs period.” Betty signals to Lonny Donny. “Get your cousin settled in the barn,” she says. “We’re leaving early. Stan is in a hurry to get to Vallejo.”
“Why can’t Stan settle himself in the barn?”, Lonny Donny asks.
“Because if he did,” Betty replies, “you’d still be sitting here with us.”
“You could just ask, geez,” Lonny Donny grumbles as he stands and walks toward the barn. Stan looks at Betty, then gets up and follows him.
Halfway to the barn, Lonny Donny turns around and walks back to the table. “Thank you for your hospitality, ma’am,” he says to Mrs. Wert. He turns to Ginger. “Thank you for the delicious, um, vegetables,” he says with a stiff bow. He smiles at Marta and says “night.”
Marta smiles and says “night” back.
Lonny Donny turns to Betty. Before he can say anything, Betty says, “You did a good job, kid. Thanks.”
Lonny Donny looks serious. “I’m on to you,” he says.
“What does that change?”, Betty asks.
Lonny Donny pauses, then replies, “Nothing much. I mean,” he sputters, “first you’re nice, then you’re mean, then you’re nice again.”
“I’m just breaking you in, kid,” Betty says. “Your wife’ll thank me someday.”
“What wife?”, Lonny Donny asks, not noticing Marta and Ginger cracking up. “Whose wife?”
“He’s a good boy,” Mrs. Wert tells Betty. “A hard worker. Workers deserve respect, even young’uns.”
Marta gasps. Betty looks embarrassed. “He is,” Betty says, eyes downcast.
Mrs. Wert looks at her. “An actress,” she says. “Good Lord.” She leans forward. “I’m wise to you, too. That’s as high as women got,” she adds. “Never ‘Art director.’ And for sure no director’s chair. I’m guessing it’s no better now.”
Betty’s look goes from sorrowful to sheepish. “You were in the business?”, she asks.
“Assistant art director,” Mrs. Wert replies evenly.
“How long ago was this?”, Betty asks.
Mrs. Wert leans back. “My husband and I came up here about 15 years ago.” She looks around. “He died. I like it well enough,” she adds right away. “Growing the garden, tending the stock.” She looks around again. “Such as they are.”
Betty, Marta, and Lonny Donny also look around, but outside the range of the lantern light is a wall of dark. They hear Stan approaching. “There’s something in that barn,” they hear Stan say before he’s in view. “I’ll sleep in the van.” He appears, wrapped in a coarse blanket.
“You will not,” Betty tells him. “We just got the stink out of it.” She stands up. “You can sleep under the van, how’s that?”
Stan groans. “Can’t sleep in my own van?”, Stan complains.
“Next week,” Betty replies, “you can haul stewed cabbage in it. ‘Til then, it’s commandeered.”
Stan looks in the direction of the barn, then toward the van. In a second he chooses the latter and disappears into the farmyard darkness.
“Looks like the barn’s all yours,” Betty says to Lonny Donny.
“No barn,” Mrs. Wert says. She tugs on Lonny Donny’s sleeve and walks off.
Lonny Donny stays seated. “You better follow her,” Betty says, “before you get lost in the dark.” Lonny Donny jumps up and hies after her.
Mrs. Wert leads Lonny Donny into her house through a squat back door. Without a word, she climbs a narrow stair that opens off the kitchen. Lonny Donny follows Mrs. Wert up the stairs to a small landing. Here the narrow steps reverse direction and become steeper, almost a ladder.
Mrs. Wert points up the stairs and says, “The comforter is in a box under the bed.” She heads back down the stairs to the farmhouse kitchen.
Lonny Donny is standing in an octagon whose eight equal-sized walls are nearly all windows. The glass reflects the dark night. Lonny Donny watches Mrs. Wert disappear down the stairs into the kitchen, then he climbs the step ladder to another narrow door that opens on his third hard push. He stumbles into a room nearly filled by a tall mattress that is covered by a tight white sheet. A pillow lays smack in the mattress middle.
Lonny Donny reaches under the mattress and pulls out a long, low box. Inside the box is a heavy quilt, which he removes, unfolds, holds up. In the meager starlight Lonny Donny makes out no markings on the quilt, nor can he identify its color. He spreads the quilt across the bed. HIs boots, shirt, and pants come off mechanically. Lonny Donny is asleep under the quilt before his head has settled fully into the pillow.
Lonny Donny is dreaming almost as quickly. He’s flying on a magic carpet, only he and the carpet are both upside down, so he’s underneath. In Lonny Donny’s dream, flying a magic carpet upside down is as natural as breathing. He realizes Marta is clinging tightly to him. “It’s nice up here,” Marta whispers in Lonny Donny’s ear. Lonny Donny straddles his magic-carpet dream and the warmth of Marta beside him.
Lonny Donny turns to Marta and gives her a soft, slow kiss that dispatches one dream and commences another. Marta fills his ears, his eyes. She fills his hands, his heart, his nose -- especially his nose. Lilacs and sweet corn. Wild berries, rhubarb, clover, fresh-turned soil.
Lonny Donny’s hands take Marta in, slowly, deliberately, not missing a rise, a dip, a curve. Just as slowly, Marta slides up, straddles him. When Lonny Donny opens his eyes, Marta’s face is floating above him in a sea of stars shining through a large glass dome in the ceiling. As Marta rises and sets above him, Lonny Donny watches worlds eclipse by the dozens, disappearing behind her silhouette, then reappearing.
Marta swaying in his arms, his heart swaying in his chest -- Lonny Donny feels like he’s sailing in rough seas, stars cresting like waves. The portico with the four mostly glass walls and glass dome in the roof has come unmoored in a sea of stars, propelled by two waking souls.
Away in the ocean of night, Lonny Donny glimpses the shadow of two figures, entwined just as he and Marta are, floating together, starbound.
January 1967, continued
January 1974, continued
June 1900, continued
Copyright 2020 by Dennis Richard O'Reilly -- all rights reserved