After years of office work, it took a while for Scootie’s body to adjust to physical labor. In addition, the work was pretty grimy, and rodents had invaded the garage, leaving a layer of feces over everything. But to this, too, he adapted.
There was an interesting story in these boxes – one he could never quite grasp. He found black-and-white photos of Baptist conferences, full of smiling, neatly dressed Japanese men and women. There were a few of family occasions – barbecues, birthday parties – and small gifts like inexpensive watches, a snow bubble from San Francisco. Toward the end, there was a box filled with with antique copies of Penthouse and Playboy. There were rolled-up classroom maps with outdated, fifties-era borders and countries; Scootie took a U.S. map and hung it on his apartment wall.
But what happened here? An assignment to some far-off country? A sudden break with the church? A death back in Japan? Why did he leave all this stuff?
The other end of the trip held its own fascinations. The Ox Mountain landfill lay in the hills northeast of Half Moon Bay, and if it weren’t for all the garbage, it would be a beautiful place. But even the garbage was interesting – the huge tractors smashing the stuff down, the pipes that released the methane gas from far underneath, the vast flock of seagulls patrolling the grounds. And a certain liberating quality, to arrive with a truckload of useless junk, back up to the trash hills and toss it recklessly from the back. After the sixth of his twelve loads, the Latino kid at the gate lowered his admission from $7.50 to $3.75. He was a regular.
Fay celebrated the recovery of her garage space by filling it with junk from her studio. After Scootie transferred the final box, she spun in place, her arms spread wide, and declared, “I can breathe again!” Then went to fetch her checkbook.
“This is nice,” said Geoffrey, producing seven rings of smoke (an art Scootie would never master). “Wee touch of almond in there. Nicaragua?”
“Brazil,” said Scootie, victorious. “Zino. Fay got it for me, from that shop in downtown San Jose.” He took a drag from his Don Tomas corona (a mundane selection, for Geoffrey) and let it out in a broad fire-extinguisher sweep. “So. Let’s draw letters.”
“Hold on a minute,” said Geoffrey. “This work you’ve been doing. She’s paying you ten an hour? And it’s four bucks for the landfill?”
“That’s about it.”
Geoffrey folded his hands under his beard. “Scootie, I think I’ve got a storage shed with your name on it.”
One look at the rusted car parts and splintered boards and Scootie realized he was going to need some gloves. He reported to Sal’s Hardware, on the south side of Hallis, and was trying on a pair when he heard a familiar voice from the next aisle.
“I was thinking terra cotta. Not quite that strong, but along those lines. Fuddy-duddy Scott, of course, he insists that adobe is supposed to be white, but I’m tired of living in an igloo! I want something a little Italian, a little spicy and warm. Ooh, Brenda, take a look at this one. ‘Sourdough.’ Isn’t that gorgeous?”
The last thing Scootie wanted was a surprise encounter, so he put on his sunglasses and tried on a straw gardener’s hat. He pretended to study a row of vegetable seeds while watching Juliana through a gap in the racks.
In the last month, Scootie had begun to lose his memory of Juliana’s appearance. Now, seeing her so alive, so present, he wondered how that could have happened. Even in faded jeans and a sweatshirt, she was ravishing. She had let her hair grow longer, and worked a couple streaks of light brown into the chestnut. It shaded her eyes as she leaned over to study the color cards. All he could see were lips, speaking in that rapid way she had when she was latched onto a project.
Juliana tapped a card with her fingernail, took it out, and went to the counter to question the salesman. She was out of range now, but he thought he heard the word “sourdough” again. The salesman mixed three gallons, placed it in a shallow box with a roller and some brushes, then carried it into the parking lot, Juliana and Brenda following.
Scootie waited five more minutes, just to be sure, then went to the color cards and slipped Sourdough into his pocket.
Photo by MJV