Chapter 18 – One Step Forward

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Scott did another walk through of the rectangular prefab house. It kept getting worse, the more Scott looked. But he also kept seeing solutions and seeing how he would be able to do things that he had no experience with, and it was at least something that was heartening in all the mess.

Once again he looked at the list. “This seems to be all I’m good for so far,” he thought. “Making lists. Contemplating shit.

He wondered how much all of this would cost, so he went online on his phone and started pricing things from Home Depot, since there was one in both Albuquerque and Santa Fe, which was further away. This took him past lunch time. He needed to eat something since he skipped breakfast and Todd was supposed to show up in the afternoon sometime. 

Scott locked up the house and took the Jeep into town.

~~~

Todd had been sullen on the way back to Betti’s house. They didn’t talk at all and when Scott pulled up to the house, Todd told him to keep the engine running and he came around to the driver’s side.

“I thought you couldn’t drive,” Scott said, standing by the rear of the truck.

Halfway into the cab, Todd yelled back at Scott, not turning. “I’m able to drive home, at least!”

“What if you get stopped?” Scott asked, concerned for getting the work done if Todd ended up in jail. 

“Just around the corner and down the next street!” Todd replied above the roar and rattle of the Ford. “Dude, did I say you worry too much?!” Then he flipped up his sunglasses and looked back at Scott. He finally broke into his grin. Scott was confused.

“You look like shit, hombre!”

Todd closed the door, put the Ford in gear and was gone around the corner in a puff of blue smoke before Scott looked down at himself again. He hadn’t been this filthy since doing events with the men’s group and had gotten away from any real dirty work other than sweating while working out on the beach. He didn’t mind it, but his clothes were trashed.

Before he left, Todd had said he would be back later that day after checking on another job and he finally agreed to look at Scott’s list. 

Once inside, Scott went back and forth through the house, not able to get over what a disaster it was. He kept coming back to the thought that there was no way he or Todd were going to get the place done in ten days. It just wasn’t possible. They were looking at more like the three weeks that Todd had alluded to. At least.

In his head, Scott went through all of the kinds of complications in his life this was going to lead to. Freelance work would have to be put on hold. This was problematic, but not insurmountable. He had some receivables coming in and while they weren’t that much, they’d come in at the right times to pay bills. His clients loved him and so would tolerate a certain amount of play in the schedule.

The house back home was good and there wasn’t any severe weather in the forecast for the next few weeks, otherwise there would always be the threat of mudslides that liked to take the face of the Santa Monica bluffs and move them seaward. “Heh,” Scott thought, “Maybe I’d have a beachfront property then”. Scott affirmed that there was always the specter of earthquakes, but that was a factor whether he was there or not. Hopefully he’d have a place when he got back. That’s the best he could do about that.

His friends would chill. He missed them and the good times, but there was no danger there in being half a country away for a couple weeks. 

The band was a different story. Yeah, they could go without keyboards for a couple weeks if any gigs came in, but much longer than that and they’d want to move on with another keyboard player. He couldn’t blame them because they were all full time players and needed to keep multiple plates spinning. Plus, there were a lot of great keyboard players in Los Angeles - Scott was not indispensable by any means. He’d have to keep an eye on that situation and check in regularly.

He saved the one that gave him the most consternation for last. Sure, they had broken up. Yes, they had agreed to date other people. But, damn, she was hot. And he had been with Sienna, what, maybe a year and a half already? That was a record for Scott. It must mean something, right? Yet, if he was that stuck on her, why’d they break up?

Scott imagined he was talking to his good buddy Brent for the rest of this train of thought and so he began.

SCOTT: She’s so hot.

BRENT: Yep, no doubt about that. More than hot.

SCOTT: And she seemed like she was totally into me.

BRENT: I got that.

SCOTT: Then...

BRENT: Then nothing.

SCOTT: Exactly.

BRENT: Exactly.

SCOTT: You think I’m addicted to her? That I can’t think clearly about it?

BRENT: Like you’re thinking with your dick? Yeah.

SCOTT: But that’s not so bad is it?

BRENT: No, not in some cases.

SCOTT: But in this one?

BRENT: You want another ‘project’?

SCOTT: A project?

BRENT: Yeah, a project.

SCOTT: She’s not a project. She’s hot.

BRENT: Remember the last night you talked to her?

SCOTT: Don’t go bringing that up again, man. We’ve already been over that. That was a one-off.

BRENT: Yeah, a one-off. I seem to remember a story you told me about a client giving you advice you shoulda listened to way back with your ex.

SCOTT: And you gotta bring that one up, too! What’re you trying to do to me?

BRENT: What are you trying to do to yourself? You remember that night?

SCOTT: Yeah...

BRENT: You like dealing with drunken girlfriends calling you from a bar at one in the morning and hearing her with some guy next to her telling her what to say? Then asking you to come chauffeur her home?

SCOTT: No. That wasn’t fun. But Sienna’s so hot.

BRENT: Like I said, you want another project?

SCOTT: No.

BRENT: You ever have a girl that just loved the hell out of you?

SCOTT: Yes. 

BRENT: Yes, you have, I know all about it. You whined about that one for weeks - and months, maybe.

SCOTT: Yes.

BRENT: You left her.

SCOTT: Yes.

BRENT: Was she a project?

SCOTT: No. She was... easy. So easy. To be with.

BRENT: So. You want another project?

Scott knew the answer was ‘No’, but there was that something. Animal something attraction. But did he want to go through the heartache and stress of the in-between hot times?And they looked so good together in that picture on the beach.

“Shelve it,” Scott said aloud, his focus coming to the cabinets in front of him. The whole corner of the one on the end was smashed in. He’d have to ask Todd about that. How was he going to repair that with wood filler and screws? Was Todd nuts? Opening all of the cabinet doors, he also spotted cracked and splintered inside panels and missing shelves and once more, he looked around at the wreckage.

“Ten days. Right!” Scott said to the drywall. It felt like everything needed to be done first. He really didn’t think he could do it. The remodeling business wasn’t the business he wanted to be in, like DelRoy Lindo questioned in Cider House Rules when he was asking the orchard worker, Jack, if he was in the knife business. “You don’t want to be in the knife business with me, Jack!!” he had said after deftly cutting a slice through Jack’s raincoat and shirt front.

I gotta call Betti and give her the straight,” Scott thought. And then, “But I’m here, now, so let’s do something,” he resolved, finally moving his body from the cabinets and thus overcoming the inertia of defeatism.

So he began cleaning. It was something that was essential to Scott. He could be a slob with the best of buddies, for a necessary time only. Then he had to bring order to chaos or he couldn’t think straight. 

The first thing he did was to clean out the heat registers. Betti had promised to find a way to get the utilities back on after Todd had let all of them go into collection. Water was already on. Todd had seen to that before he left with a simple turn of the valve at the street with a T-bar he had fashioned together based on a Los Alamos Water and Power friend’s real thing. Electricity and Gas should be on tomorrow morning. So Scott had only until nightfall to work. 

He guessed he would go back to the Turd Motel even though he had vacated his room. It turned out it was the cheapest in town.

Scott had picked up an economy size box of garbage bags, eight rolls of paper towels, and Simple Green cleaner, rubber gloves, and filter face masks at the Price Plus after lunch, which had been at one of his favorites - Sonic.

~~~

He began the house cleaning by tackling the heat registers. It was quite  enlightening as they contained artifacts of the previous civilization, if you could call it that. Unearthed in each hole in the floor were things like a rubber ducky, more dog crap, dog food, and funnily enough, Sonic receipts mixed in with hair curlers, nerf bullets, but then, something that appeared to be a significant find.

In the master bedroom, as he dug the detritus out with his gloved hand, Scott pulled up a tightly-folded piece of paper that had once been wet and was welded together, ink and pencil bleeding through the layers. He removed his gloves, although he thought he should keep them on - lots of germs and nasties, he was sure. With the skin of his thumbs and index fingers, he gently pulled at the edges of the topmost layer and they began to separate. As he pulled the paper apart to the fold, he peered into the bottom corner of the paper. Scrawled in pencil was a portion of a heart with a pistol pointed at it, a bullet on the other side of the heart having gone through it like a heart with an arrow through it.

But that was the only flap he could pry up. He had to unfold the whole thing to see any more. When he tried to pull apart the first folding, the paper began to tear. Not good. But he was a man on a mission. He reached over to a water bottle next to him and wiped the plywood floor with the heel of his glove before he poured out a few drops. He dipped just the very edge of the opening opposite the folded side, moistening it. He let it soak in slightly and found he was able to separate it and open the fold. But it was the backside of the paper with nothing on it. There was a faint image with text showing through from the other side and backwards and the only letter he was able to make out were O-T-A. 

The late afternoon sun had crept across the dirty plywood underlayment where Scott was sitting cross legged in front of the heat register and pile of trash. He finally had a sense of the warm yellow trapezoid that had fallen across his lap and hands holding the paper and he realized that the day was just about gone. He looked up out of the window and saw the hills and mountains beyond the subdivision lit up in yellows and golds and the purpling of the sky low behind it all.

I should finish up,” he thought. After sitting for that long, his legs and knees were locked up and so he had to lean forward to unfurl his limbs, finally standing, the cold that had crept into his body there on the floor in the unheated house having stiffened him up like an old man. Still lightly holding the folded paper, he put it gently into his back pocket and then pulled his phone out to see what time it was. Four-thirty-three. Scott wanted to get some cleaning up in the living room before dark and so he went to revisit the squalor. 

There was nothing congruous about the “living room” in that there was no evidence that it had been lived in and held nothing that even remotely associated it with one. The center piece, beside the table saw, were the two mattresses haphazardly thrown onto the floor at what point in the timeline, Scott couldn’t tell. If this was what Todd meant by “Sleeping like a king,” on the phone, he would have to assume that nothing Todd had said was based in reality. He should have seen that by then, anyway.

Since there was sawdust all over the filthy things, it told Scott that Todd had been working in the house since the mattresses had been thrown down. That meant that Todd had not intended them to be for Scott, but since they were there, he’d say that they had been put there to make Scott comfortable. As. A. King. Scott laughed out loud. The laugh was like that of Slim Pickens riding the bomb all the way to the ground in Dr. No. He would experience that feeling many more times before he hit the ground and exploded there in New Mexico.

Scott set about to move the table saw over to the opposite wall and swept the mounds of sawdust from it into a garbage bag with the worn-tooth broom he had found. Was there yet another running meme with the brooms in Todd’s universe? Were these memes only because Scott was so keenly aware of the term and phenomena in social and electronic media these days? Scott suspected so. 

Still with gloves on, Scott lifted the side of one of the mattresses and dumped the sawdust and paper wrappers and old wood scraps from it onto the shag carpet. He had already been told by Betti that there had been carpet paid for and ordered for the living room and bedrooms and so he didn’t care about making it worse for now. When he had the mattress up on it’s side, he took a look at the other side of the mattress and it wasn’t any better. And was that a half-dollar size bloodstain in the corner? That bottom side was apparently the sleeping side because, of course, there were some nice stains in the middle and the other side had only filth from construction and the like on it. Scott decided to keep the construction side up and so laid the mattress back down. 

After he had somewhat cleared the other mattress off, he straightened it out and prepared it to stack the other mattress on, but stopped, looking through the wall opening into the small room adjacent to the living room. That floor was a linoleum floor which could actually be cleaned and even disinfected.

It was almost dark and Scott could barely see when he finished sweeping the small room, dragging the mattresses into it and setting it up as something resembling a bed. It brought back memories of traveling with the band one summer and the hovels they had to crash in at times and of when he was in college with a bare room to start out in, mattress on the floor. He was regressing. Great.

Scott stood back and looked at the room and what would be his bed for the next week or so. The top mattress, cleaned of sawdust, now actually looked filthier than it had. He remembered a piece of somewhat clean carpet in the south bedroom and went and got it and it just about fit the mattress. At least there was some sort of buffer between him and whatever was living or dead on the mattress. But he was not about to try sleeping there until the heat got back on.

The only light now was the light from the streetlight and Scott realized that Todd had never made it back like he said he would. A portent of how things were going to go? Scott vowed to make real progress once the electricity was back on.

By the light from the street, he organized his supplies as well as he could and with the drapes across the street watching him again, he locked up the house and wearily got in the cold Jeep, starting it up. While the engine warmed and Scott waited for the heat to kick in, he watched Tom’s house across the street, wondering about the guy. Scott had known other Native Americans. His dad had a good friend he worked with who was from the Menominee reservation and their families had done things together. But this long-haired Jar Head Tom guy was a wholly different character. What kind of story did the guy have? Must be a good one, Scott thought. 

In what Scott assumed was the living room, Tom must have put up a Christmas light American Flag in the window during the day because it was lit now and the white stars blinked on and off and it illuminated the snow and grass-patched front yard. Scott remembered their conversation they had... when? Was it only that same morning? Seemed like days had gone by since he had arrived. But while the guy seemed like a man of few words, he had a comfortable way about him similar to his friend Dan Buchanan back in Fairview. Scott felt he’d like to get to know the guy a little better. To what end, he had no idea and he didn’t pursue the thought further than that. The heat was finally coming out of the vents so Scott put the Jeep in gear and twisted the headlight stalk on. He noticed the darkened drapes in Tom’s end room swing shut as he pulled from the curb and headed back to the Turd Motel.

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