They both had troubling weeks. Scootie’s visions of a December marked only by a craft festival and the obligatory Christmas Carol were obliterated by a memo from Garth. He was requesting complete budget projections for the coming year. Assuming that Garth would never do anything like this of his own volition, Scootie guessed that the idea came from the trustees and their new president-elect.
Juliana emerged from a meeting of the finance committee with more challenges than she had bargained for. The gala and the shooting fees for Sophomore Jinx had barely made a dent in the long-growing deficit – a number destined to double in the next five years as the mansion underwent a seismic retrofit. Juliana called for an immediate budgetary analysis, so she could get a better picture of the beast with whom she would be wrestling.
Then there was Juliana’s message, which read: The hammer god ascends lucidly at the squid’s cousin. The egret is eating snails off fine flatware. Ares means “Hello, Mister Spalding!”
At first glance, Scootie assumed that Juliana had taken up chance poetry. After two 12-hour days of juggling figures, he found the return to language rough going, and took a half hour just to get through the first sentence. The hammer god was Thor, after whom Thursday was named. The squid’s cousin would be the octopus, beginning with the Latin prefix “octo” for eight, so the meeting was clear, or lucid, for eight o’clock Thursday. Any bird these days meant Scott, and fine flatware was China. The snails either meant he was eating escargot, or he would be slow in returning. The third sentence was an utter mystery. After 15 minutes of staring, he gave up and brought it to Jackie. She took one glance and began laughing hysterically.
“Ares is Mars,” she explained. “The red planet?”
“She’s having her period. As for ‘Hello, Mister Spalding!’ that’s the opposite of ‘Goodbye, Mister Spalding!’ which is what great baseball announcers say when someone hits a homer. So...”
“You ain’t goin’ all the way, pal.”
Jackie looked at the rest of the note, written in sloppy, left-handed script to disguise Juliana’s handwriting. “You two are quite a case.”
“Yes,” Scootie sighed. “I am Batman, and I’m sleeping with The Riddler.”
“Not this week you ain’t.”
Scootie went to the statue of Pan and left a patriotic message: Keep your eyes on the flag. Then he went back to his budget.
The final needle in the voodoo doll. came from Scootie’s failings in meteorology. The day brought a sky full of clouds, but he took them as the usual coastal overcast, and flew the golden flag. His own trip was easy and dry, but Juliana arrived a half-hour later good and soaked, her shoes coated with mud. He handed her a towel while she lined up some insults.
“Goddamn newspaper coulda done a better job than this, Scootie. Why didn’t you just play it safe?”
“I honestly thought it would stay dry. And I missed the Villa.”
“The Villa’s been here a hundred years, Scootie. I’m sure the ghost of Fetzle will not come back to claim it.”
“Who made me Nostradamus? You’ve lived here longer. Why don’t you fly the fucking flags?”
“And have half the town discussing Juliana Kross and her flags of mystery.”
“Especially now that you’re president of the board.”
Juliana tossed the towel on the table and glared. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
Scootie ran a hand over the top of his head, trying to figure out what the hell that was supposed to mean. “Before you became president.”
“President-elect, we seemed to be approaching something... normal. Comfortable. Now you’re getting a little fixated on your civic identity – and a little paranoid. It took me all afternoon to dissect that message, for Christ’s sake. I didn’t even get the last part – I had to show it to Ja...”
Juliana’s eyes became black holes. “You... You showed the message to Jackie?”
Scootie looked heavenward and sighed. “Yes. But... she already knew... about us.”
“I had to tell her.”
“She wanted to sleep with me.”
“Oh, say no more! That explains everything.” She put a hand to her forehead and stormed off to sit in Miguel’s chair. The size of the chair produced an unintentionally comic effect, but she looked up to reveal tears of frustration.
“Do you realize what you’re putting at risk when you do something like that?”
Scootie leaned forward with his hands on the table. “You don’t understand. She was drunk, heartbroken. Her ego was shattered. I know it sounds... unusual, but I couldn’t turn her down without a good reason.”
Juliana answered through clenched teeth. “I’d rather you’d have slept with her. This isn’t some small... recreation, Scootie. The Fetzle Center and Hallis need me right now, and they need me to be stable. If word got out about us, the whole thing would... well, I don’t want to think about it.”
“Listen to yourself!” said Scootie. “Listen to what you’re defending. You’re married to a ghost, Juliana. You’re one half of a sick marriage. But now, just because you’re a more important person, that sick marriage is the lynchpin of your existence.”
Juliana sank behind a wall of her own making, the placid face she used in committee meetings and business lunches. She asked the next question as quietly as she could.
“Why are you acting like this? Why are you different?”
Scootie stretched his hands over the low rafters, looking away in order to gather the real answer: all their time together, the narrow margin in which their lives were allowed to meet. He tried to match the calm of her question.
“I have given great parts of myself to you, more than you know, more than I have told you. What I want is for you to give a part of yourself back to me. I want you to live in shame. I want to see what you and I can become, together, in this shamed world. I want us to love one another, because underneath all these trappings of society, and art, and marriage, lies the single truth that you and I belong together.”
In the careful arranging of her life, the multicolored boxcars of her appointment calendar, Juliana had never planned for anything like this – this ebony-eyed Ovid spouting passions at her from a lowered ceiling. The fright came over her in stages. The first brought her to the front door. She opened it, looked out at the rain, her heart beating rapidly. The second was a loud, dark wind, driving her into the woods. She picked up speed as she turned on Miguel Barran’s smooth stones and tumbled, her legs twisting beneath her. She found her bearings in the word Califa, not remembering where the word came from, then spied a black-maned creature running up to her. She felt his hands at her ankle and swatted them away.
“Juliana, you can’t...”
“I’m fine.” She stood up briskly, using her fright to drive down the pain in her left shin.
“Let me help you,” said Scootie. “You’re hurt. You can’t walk alone.”
“I have to.” She limped away, then turned. “We can’t let anyone... see us together.”
Scootie stood at the gate marker, rainwater streaming down his face, the thought of what more he might have to give up focused on Juliana’s fading shoulders. He would not realize the depth of her fright until four days later, when she entered a meeting with a cast on her left leg. A hairline fracture, said Jackie. Fell while she was jogging. That’s what Aggie tells me.
Photo by MJV