After they’d dealt with the leftovers, Rosa cleared the children out of the kitchen then brought two of the folding chairs to the table, placing her own where she had a clear view of the children in the other rooms. “Sit, Lily.” Rosa patted the other chair. “Come. We use English. I need to use or forget todo, everything.” Lily pulled her chair next to Rosa and for a time they sat in comfortable silence watching the playing children. “This big man. He the one from the egg bar last week?”
“Same one. Si.”
Rosa sighed and resisted speaking in Spanish. “You feel safe down there with him? Ricardo check generator late and he see you come home in taxi car with this man. He act right with you?”
“Yes Rosa. He’s been behaving himself. I haven’t had a problem with him.” Lily absently twirled her braid as she watched the children playing in the next room.
“I don’t want to put my nose in your business. You are a grown woman. Maybe he a good man. Maybe he a bad man. I don’t know. What I know is you are a small woman. He is a muy big man. You and me see what he do with the pipes and wood. Use only his hands. Ricardo no can do like that. You understand? If he want, he take easy. Little Lily like bug.”
Lily turned and rested her forehead on her friend’s shoulder. “Yes, I understand. I’ll be careful.” Why am I not feeling any need to be careful? Hmm? Solve that equation for me, Rosa.
Ricardo and Sarge were still sitting at the small table seriously intent on the paper between them on which one or the other wrote with a pencil in turn when Rosa began organizing the children’s sleeping arrangements for the night. While Lily set out blankets, pillows and sleeping bags, Rosa supervised the children lined up to use the bathroom and kitchen sink for washing up. Noticing that the children were no longer playing nearby or under the table as they’d been, Sarge looked around then saw the older ones helping Lily arrange things in the spacious front room without any furniture in it. “Ricardo, what’s with all the kids here? They can’t all be yours or Rosa’s. There’s just too many for that. I’ve heard of folks with large families, but this many is huge.”
Ricardo set down the pencil and scratched his neck. “Just two are mine. Rosa has three. Rosa watches the others while their parents work. Parents pay her what they can afford or with things instead of money. Sometimes they drive Rosa places.” Ricardo gestured at the walls.”Some help do the painting. It all works out pretty good usually. People who work in M—and outside of Falls haven’t been able to get home with this hard snow. So Rosa keeps their children here with us, this way they’re not home by themselves. It gets a little crazy at times like this, but I don’t mind. It’s kind of fun actually. Always laughing, playing. I come home from work and relax just watching them do whatever. Better than having a tv.” Leaning back in his chair, Ricardo watched Sarge who was watching the goings on in the far room. “How about you, Sarge? You got family? Sisters? Brothers?”
Sarge nodded and held up a hand. “Five younger brothers. Oh yeah, I have family, Ricardo; parents, sisters-in-laws, nieces and nephews out the wazoo. Your sister Rosa, hell man, she could give lessons in child crowd control like none other. In the time I’ve been here she hasn’t raised her voice or a hand to any of these kids. Not once. There’s like what, I think I counted twenty-five of them. She is one impressive lady. My sister-in-law Irene can’t keep three kids in line from the house to the car without having a meltdown. My brother is no help to her at all. Truth be told, Francis only makes things worse when he helps. The others are the same way. Frankly, I do not understand any of their constant kid chaos considering how we were raised. Not that I would raise any kid of mine like that. No way. But my brothers don’t seem to have any idea of what they’re doing with their kids. From what I’ve seen there’s not much of any ‘with’ at all. Maybe that’s the problem right there.”
“Families are a tricky business.”
“You sure got that right, Ricardo.” He adjusted his feet so that Marianna, the little girl whose laughter Kozy thought was the squealing of a pig, and was now inspecting the tread pattern on the thick soles of his boots, could get a better look.
After Rosa’s concerned chat, Lily found herself wondering why she was anything but nervous or worried about being alone with Sarge for another night or quite possibly several more as the ongoing snowstorm apparently had no intention of moving east any time soon. Something about how they’d ‘squared things’ before venturing to the second floor for dinner had squashed any of the usual concerns a young woman in such a situation ought to have had. The more attention she paid to her home people vibes, or as Anton would have put it, the more she listened to her bones’ whisperings, the more she was glad that telling Sarge to find his way home was entirely out of the question. There was no getting around that reality that the weather conditions had worsened throughout the day to the point where everything in the Falls and M- had been shut down. Not even the commuter buses between Falls and M- were running. Anyone with a vehicle capable of moving through the snow packed streets had literally nowhere to go if they could even get going. Ricardo had barely managed to make it home late last night due to the white-out conditions on the main highway from M-.
Rosa had reminded her that there was the option of giving Sarge a sleeping bag and sending him to the empty room with the generator at the front of the house for the night. But for some reason just thinking about that option made Lily very uneasy even though she now had no doubt he’d make no argument about complying if she sent him in that direction. During the course of the evening spent upstairs she watched him good-naturedly go along with the ongoing usual flow of all things Rosa, Ricardo, their children and all their young guests. The children playing underfoot didn’t seem to bother him, not even Marianna, Ricardo’s six year old daughter, who explored and thoroughly investigated him just as she did everything that found its way into her domain, he made no complaints about the unfamiliar foods, nor did he comment on the lack of the usual household furniture such as couches, dining tables, chairs above the folding chair grade, a television and all the rest of the standard accessories. He seemed to have easily caught on that the main living areas were in a regular state of flux depending on what the current situation required for accommodating the extra twenty children. Rosa had her action plans, Ricardo had no intention of interfering with any part of the program, and the children were willingly going along with the whole show, especially those old enough to know their only option was exile to home alone, if they could even get there. Here with Rosa and Ricardo there was company for play, plenty of simple good food, heat and an endless supply of reassuring hugs. Sarge appeared to be just as content with the entire state of things as the children. Knowing full well that Rosa had simply given voice to the usual concerns anyone would have about any man who was still mainly an unknown quantity, Lily opted for sticking to her usual Saturday night routine and as long as things remained mellow and easy-going leaving the new wrinkle of sharing her down quilt in place.
All Lily had to do when it was time to take their leave was nod and gesture with her hands. Sarge read her cue, stood and shook hands with Ricardo. He called a thank you to the busy Rosa for the meal and followed Lily out and down the stairs. Upon reaching the first floor hallway they went to stare out the front door window at the still falling snow continuing to mount up in the space where the street ought to have been. Not a single truck or car of those parked along both sides of was visible anywhere. “The last time I saw so much snow was when I was a kid. I don’t remember if the cold and wind were this bad. But I do remember it being so deep we couldn’t even go out to play in it. It was something like a foot over our heads. How about you? Ever seen this much snow before, Lily?”
“Not deep like this with such high drifts. At home the wind would drive the snow constantly so it didn’t pile up and collect like this here. But the cold, I have experienced it before.”
“Where is home?”
“Now it’s here. It doesn’t exist anymore.”
Looking down at the top of her head as she spoke, Sarge sensed a subject better left alone and refrained from asking another question. Turning away from the window, Lily sighed. “I ought to get caught up with some work while I can. I don’t mean to be rude or unsociable. Just need to keep on top of things. Keep my mind in the groove.”
“No problem. I want to finish The Devil is an Ass, that Jonson play I started reading when Anton was here. You do what you need to do. I’m quite content to read.”
“Okay, sounds like we’ve got a workable game plan. All we need is something hot to drink and we’re set. How does a pot of cinnamon tea sound to you? There’s green and some herbal too if you prefer. And coffee, of course.”
“Cinnamon sounds perfect. Should go well with Rosa’s spices.”
“Good. I guess we’re set.”
Nearly three hours later Lily had caught up on all current assignments and worked two weeks ahead on the syllabus for Calculus. Deciding coffee and some bread and butter were needed before she commenced on doing another week of math problems, she left her study spot on the couch and went to the kitchen. There she discovered that Sarge, he’d finished reading the Jonson play some time back, had brought a diverse selection of books to the table along with physics and geometry books through which he was intently searching. Coming up beside his chair, nearly silent in her bare feet, she tried to get some sense of what he was after. “What are you looking for?”
The unexpected sound of her voice startled the man. “Had no idea you were there. Damn.” He caught his breath then pulled from under the books the piece of paper he and Ricardo had been working on earlier. “Making sure the idea Ricardo and I came up with will work correctly for reinforcing those old wooden foundation joists in the basement. I think I’ve got all the angles worked out. Now I’m just wondering about the pressure part for these areas with the xs.”
Lily took the piece of paper from him and sat down at the table. After studying the diagram of the basement, the notes written by both men, then Sarge’s calculations on the other side of the paper, she looked at him then spoke very gently. “Doing even half of this is pretty expensive. Rosa and Ricardo don’t have the money for anything like this, Sarge. It looks like it should work. But there’s no way they can pay for the materials. Labor would be no problem. Most of the parents of Rosa’s kids would be more than willing to help. And with the Watch there’d be plenty of muscle. But the cost…” She frowned when he smiled at her and shook his head.
“Lily don’t look so worried. Actually there’s only one obstacle to doing this right now—the damn snow.” He gestured at the falling snow outside the kitchen window.
She watched the snow for a few moments then pulled her attention back to their conversation. “I don’t understand. You can’t be thinking of paying for this yourself.”
Sarge laughed a little. “No one has to pay cash for anything. Do you remember what I said about living in a converted warehouse?”
“Yeah, you said something about that last night.” Lily laid the paper on the table and lightly rubbed her fingertips across it.
“Bear with me for a bit, okay.” Sarge got comfortable in his chair. “Well, Kozy, the guy who owns the building, hasn’t trashed any of the building materials since we started renovating the place. Kozy has been collecting salvage metals from similar buildings everywhere in something like a hundred mile driving range for years. He uses just a small amount of it for his art and a little more for renovations. But he’s a bit compulsive so he’s collected probably a ton or two more than he’ll ever use. He knows this. He also knows the city is none too thrilled with his stockpile. He also knows via his good buddy who works in the codes office, that it’s not a matter of if the city is going to fine him for what they consider an unpermitted garbage dump site, but of when they decide to declare war with the crazy Russian artist. Kozy has no interest in wasting his time or money fighting with the city. The city knows damn well that there is no garbage being dumped anywhere and that it is perfectly legal for those materials to be where they are in the freight district.”
Lily pulled up her feet onto the seat of her chair and leaned her chin on knees as she listened. “So why would they fine him if it’s all legal? Is someone trying to settle a personal score?
Sarge snapped his fingers. “Bingo. Yeah, it’s a vendetta. It’s a weird complicated story that goes all the way back to Mother Russia. So Kozy has decided that the easiest way to put an end to this mess is to cut it off before things wind up again. Bottom line is that he wants to get rid of his current stockpile and then start another with new salvage. All that metal needs a new home. Why shouldn’t some of it find one in Rosa’s basement? Don’t look at me like that. I’m not joking around here.”
Skeptical written all over her face, Lily’s fingers drummed on drawn up shins. “But why would this Kozy give away the metal for free when he can sell it?”
“Because Kozy has all the money he needs and probably will ever need.” Sarge leaned forward as he spoke about his friend. “He doesn’t care about making money. He cares about his art. He cares about good ideas. He cares about good people.” He reached across the table and tapped his fingernails on the diagram. “This is a very good idea. Rosa is a very good person. That’s why Kozy will give Rosa all the rebar needed for free.”
Lily dropped her feet to the floor and stared at the young man. Very softly, wondering what else she might coax out of him regarding his motivation, she said, “You just met her today. You barely know her. Your Kozy has not even met Rosa.”
“Yeah.” He shrugged and leaned back in his chair. “But what I learned from watching Rosa tonight with all those kids, that’s more than enough for me to try to work this out. Besides she just doesn’t have enough muscle to be her own plumber in that basement. Furthermore, Kozy loves a challenge and this is a fun one for a guy like him.”
Lily sat straight in her chair, picked up the diagram again. She scanned both sides and looked at the man watching her. “I suppose there’s no harm in tossing the idea at your friend Kozy. Just please don’t say anything to Rosa about him helping until you find out if he actually wants to. I hope he does. Something definitely needs to be done before the basement turns into an indoor swimming pool.” It was plain to see that her willingness to entertain the notion that his friend just might help out a complete stranger, pleased Sarge as he grinned and lowered his suddenly shy eyes. Wanting to put some hope in his plan and yet hesitant based on past experiences with other supposed helping hands, Lily wondered if Sarge could really make this happen. She almost started to explain her skepticism then decided not to taint the conversation with recounting bad memories. Remembering what had brought her into the kitchen she said, “I’m going to make some coffee. You want some?”
“Yeah, I’ll have a cup.” He looked at her from under his mop of hair. “How about I toast some rye bread to go with it?”
“Toast sounds really good, please.” Lily set about preparing the coffee while glancing at him already slicing bread thin enough to fit into the toaster. “A warm buttery snack should keep me going for a little while longer.”
Remembering watching her eat her toast at Big Bob’s, Sarge fought down an urge to laugh as he tested his bread slices in the toaster slots. He managed to contain himself by imagining Kozy meeting Rosa for the first time. In a few minutes toasted rye bread slathered in butter and fresh rich coffee occupied their attention until Lily wandered back to her books and Sarge to his. Each was keenly aware of the other’s presence even when out of sight.
Later, upon reaching the point where the need for sleep was impossible to ignore any longer, Lily stacked her books on the table behind the red velvet couch then shuffled her way into the kitchen. Seeing that Sarge had moved on to reading Bartholomew Fayre she leaned against the doorway. “Hey Mr. Night Owl, me Lily has to sleep now.” She gave a little wave when he looked away from the book to her. “I can leave the light on if you need it. I’ll just get all the way under the quilt so it doesn’t bother me.”
“I’ll be okay in the dark. Get some sleep. I’ll try to be quiet.”
“Okay.” Lily started on her way then turned back. “You always stay up this late, Sarge?”
“I work a lot of graveyard shifts so I’m used to it.”
“Hey, I don’t even know what kind of work you do.”
“Just throwing freight on the docks. It’s nothing fancy, but it pays well. Quiet. The night guys are easier to get along with than the day shifters. That’s a bonus in itself. So now you know. You better get to bed. You’re slipping away pretty fast just standing there, Lily.”
“Yeah, I feel it. Well, now I know. Night, Sarge.”
“Night, Lily.” Sarge watched her sleepily sway her way into the bedroom. Certain from the look of her that she’d be dead asleep inside of a minute, he decided to finish the scene he was reading then slide under the down quilt himself. He had plenty on his mind to think about until he’d fall asleep and he was enjoying the idea of doing it knowing she was curled up under the quilt nearby soothingly breathing soft and low in her sleep.
Breakfast Special, #13, The Most Important Meal of the Day https://47whitebuffalo.wordpress.com/2013/07/24/breakfast-special-13-the-most-important-meal-of-the-day/
Upload and music added by wolfiecanmeow
footage from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZFz5FI… [silent version]
song: beautiful girl – william fitzsimmons