The last thing in Scootie’s head before he went to sleep was something in Rip’s head, a fierce red blotch of aneurysm, clutching onto a blood vessel like a tick on a dog’s back. The tick was there when he last spoke with him. It was probably there when he first met him, growing by the day, keeping its date with the bursting point. When Rip woke last Wednesday with a bad headache, the tick exploded, and he fell, unconscious, his brain bleeding itself quickly to death. For the living, the suddenness was an horrific thought, but for Rip – he never knew what hit him.
The next thing on Scootie’s mind was the simple phrase wait a minute, reproducing like DNA in his dreams. When he woke it was on his lips, wait a minute, as he stumbled to the kitchen wait a minute where Juliana stood over a grill of French toast, and Scootie behind her, mumbling “wait a minute wait a minute.”
Juliana let out a husky laugh. “Wait a minute for what?”
“I don’t know. It’s been in my head all night. Wait a minute, wait a minute.”
“Do you think it means something?”
Scootie scratched his head. “Wait a minute. I don’t know. Do dreams always mean something?”
“This isn’t just a dream. It’s an involuntary mantra. What if I woke up chanting ‘must kill sea otters.’”
“I would search the house for tainted shellfish. Wait a minute.”
Juliana set down her spatula and gave Scootie a kiss on the cheek. “Why don’t you go in the dining room and say ‘wait a minute’ until it comes to you?”
“Wait a minute. What if it doesn’t?”
“Then breakfast will come to you. Here, have some coffee.”
Scootie took his mug with both hands and paced to the dining room window, where he repeated wait a minute at different intervals and tones, treating it like a John Cage experiment. The final trigger came when he looked at the battlements of Fetzle and saw the faded gold banner still flapping from his office window. He administered a needlessly dramatic slap to his forehead – and immediately imagined dozens of little aneurysms sparking to life.
“Wait a minute, wait a minute! What am I doing here?”
Juliana entered with a stack of French toast and a Mae West response. “I don’t know, but I certainly enjoyed what you were doing last night.”
Scootie sped right on through. “Don’t you see? Wait a minute is the voice of my friends, the parental voice, the voice of exterior judgment, and what it’s saying is, Look at these things that Juliana has done to hurt you. One, she hid you away for months. Two, she placed her schedule and needs far above yours. Three, when she got frightened about her little place in San Mateo society, she knocked you off like an unnecessary limb and set you out to sea.”
Juliana tried to respond in even tones, but couldn’t hide the hurt creeping into her voice. “Scootie, why are you saying these things?”
Scootie came to Juliana, cupped her chin in his hand and kissed the top of her head. “Juli, this isn’t me talking. I am irretrievably in love with you, and have long ago forgiven anything you’ve done to me. But this exterior voice, this judgment from the outside world, is not going to go away. If we don’t do something about it, it will follow us around like a cantankerous troll, tripping us up, driving us apart.”
Scootie reeled back to the window, grabbing at his hair like a mad genius. He tapped a drumbeat on the glass, back to his chant of wait a minute, wait a minute.
Juliana tossed in a word: “Guilt.”
Scootie whirled from the window and clapped his hands. “Wait a minute! Guilt. Yes. You have more guilt than I do. You have stripped me bare, Juli, you have taken everything from me and turned me into a kind of earthly saint. And you, in turn, have taken on guilt like thick bark on a tree. That is our difference!”
Juliana was beginning to see what it took, and donned her own exterior voice, the one she used at board meetings. Flush the ego, flush the ego...
“Okay,” she said. “I was shocked, and so pleased at having you back, that I didn’t consider this. But how do we get rid of the guilt? Punishment?”
“No. A little less than punishment.”
“Penance,” she said. “A test. A challenge.”
“Something I will have to work and suffer for.”
“And something that makes me the catalyst of your suffering. So that I can take on some guilt, too, and we can be half-sinners, half-saints, like everyone else. And also, something that brings you away from your world and into mine, the world of my friends, so they will know everything and the exterior voice...”
“Yes,” said Juliana. “Yes.”
Scootie slapped his bare thigh. “I have to work on this. I’ll see Geoffrey. Geoffrey will know.”
“Honey, please, that’s good and all, I’m glad we figured this out, but please have some breakfast, would you? It’s getting cold.”
“Yes, of course.” He pulled a chair from the table. Juliana put a hand on his bare shoulder.
“Wait a minute,” she said. “Could you put some clothes on first?”
Juliana spent her morning making almond-lemon cookies, wrapping an oddly shaped gift, and gazing out the window toward the Shoreline. She considered the idea that her test had already begun, that she had been left to stew while Geoffrey and Scootie decided her fate. After three batches of cookies, the claustrophobia took over and fled to the Bolero for a mocha. She took her drink to the back room and discovered Scootie at a chessboard, reaching across to move the white queen.
“Do you need someone to play with?” she asked.
“Nope. I’m playing Rip. As you can see, he’s very aggressive with his pawns. I’ve often accused him of being a closet imperialist.” Scootie took his black knight two over, one to the left, then winced and took him out with the white bishop. “I hate it when he hides his clergy like that.”
“Maybe that’s his mom.” She sat next to Rip’s chair and took a bite from the whipped cream on her mocha. “You’re really playing him, aren’t you?”
“I’ve been known to conjure spirits before.”
“John Cage, Harlan Fetzle. I spoke to Elvis once.”
“What did he have to say.”
“He wants his life back. He wants to return as a tobacco farmer.” Scootie slid his rook to the back row, studying the board before lifting his finger. “I’ve got you know, you sly old bastard. So. You’re probably wondering what Geoffrey and I dreamed up.”
“I’m ready for all possible tortures.”
“You remember your long-ago observation about my circle of friends, how I seem to share a single activity with each of them? How some of these activities are in questionable taste?”
“I never said that last part.”
“But you thought it.”
“Great! More guilt.”
Scootie lifted a trio of Rip’s recently slain pieces. “My friends – all of them pawns. You are about to get to know them, O white queen, better than you ever dreamed.”
“You’re on.” She reached under the table for Scootie’s gift, a cardboard tube wrapped in aluminum foil. “Pardon the presentation. It was the best I could come up with.”
Scootie short-changed Juliana’s efforts by punching a hole in one end and sliding the walking stick into his hand. He eyed it with affection, working up to the ivory tip, the great bear of the California flag.
“It belongs to... I mean, it belonged to Rip,” she said. “He wanted you to have it. He got it from...”
“Uncle Harlan,” said Scootie. He ran his fingernail along the bear’s snout. “Thanks. It’s grand.” His eyes strayed to the front door. “Uh-oh. The exterior voice just arrived.”
Juliana turned to find Virginia Mendheart, waltzing to the counter in a peach sundress.
“I suppose she’ll want to kiss me,” said Scootie.
Juliana turned to say Who wouldn’t? but was caught off-guard. “Scootie! When did you get an earring?”
Photo by MJV