“You awake, Jack?” The front door, opened, was closed by a heavy hand. The voice was heavy, too. A creak of the first step echoed in wooden framework. “Special delivery from the Perkins Institute. A full bag. Could be a Nobel winner here.” The voice was a diaphragm voice, right up out of a broad chest, not an ounce of sarcasm in it.
His wife had described the mailman to him early in the new assignment. “Name’s Armand Kingsley. A big man with a big smile, brown hair, blue eyes, glasses dark on the rim, steady in his walk no matter how fat his bag is. Never shifts it like he’s uncomfortable with it. Lives over on Mulvern Road. And the first full load that came, when you thought your reading for the summer came in one fell swoop, well, he wouldn’t let me carry it upstairs. Lugged it himself.”
Jack, as he did when trying to lock a new person into his mind, scratching for a face, an image, went back to the Corps for a proxy, a viable stand-in, a moving faute de mieux. Came leaping to him from out of Nicaragua and Philadelphia and the old Charlestown Navy Yard, tough and leathery and sure as a calendar, John Bateman Yancy, three up and three down, six-foot-two and trouble for you! He reserved that image in his mind, saving it for the mailman, a former Marine himself he had found out early in their talks...Semper Fidelis, Nor Heat of Day Nor Gloom of Night, dress blues striding down Germantown Ave. and a whole weekend about to fall at his and Yancy’s feet. The time they were alone in Atlanta, long after midnight, rebels without a cause, came crushing back with its weights, its sounds, the night air cool again on his cheeks, on his brow, coming out of the northeast.
“Awake as I’ll ever be. C’mon up. Rise and stein!”
“You sure you want a beer at this hour?” Jack heard the creak of the second step, a nail losing some of its grip, a good century of clutch tired of the holding on. The first step again, sending out its signature as he pictured Yancy-Kingsley pivoting, shifting his weight, the bag over one shoulder like a hunchback’s extra load. A flash of dress blues, mailman gray, black-visored hat stiff as funerals.
“Just one, if you’ve got a free hand, Armand.”
The mailman-Corpsman settled his load on the floor, the bottle top snapped off like a period being popped from the end of a long, long sentence, the cold surface of delight placed against his hand signaling high noon, okaying its high noonness, high noon and the good elixir. One bubble sometimes was good enough. For a moment there was a joyful vacancy in his mind as if he were lost in some mid-world. It was a delicious moment.
Cushions of the Morris chair exhaled, cloths rubbed each other, wood said in protest it was being employed by significant weight. Floorboards accented a load shift, a center of gravity change, nail-wood talk. The cord about the canvas bag was loosened, sounding like a noose coming off a neck in The Oxbow Incident. Christ, he vowed to himself, I could watch a Fonda film all day long. Long as he wore a hat and wasn’t shaved.
Jack Derrick, dexterity not lost in him, poured the bottle of beer into a glass mug he’d caught off a hook on the side of a small table. Armand Kingsley watched the amber fluid trace itself across a yellowed fingertip, guiding the way, assuring the way; he wondered how much feeling was left in the finger. Could he phony it up? Was Jack’s timing impeccable?
“You have time to read the titles?” Jack said, hoisting the full glass, not a drop spilled, to his lips. His question was more suggestion than question.
“Yes, some of them. I told Dorrie I’d be home early today, as early as possible.” He had slid a foot across the floor, putting it under his big frame, as if to rise.
“How she doing?” Jack wet his lips after the first taste of the day, doubling up his taste.
Armand smiled at the licking. Tasted it himself. Made it Guinness, brown bottle, room temperature, from under a bar in Ballyniskallin so many years ago he couldn’t time it.
“I’m never sure, Jack. She hides a lot. We talked about that before. She doesn’t want to drop anything else on me. On top of housework, shopping and cooking just about every night. Don’t get to many games at the park any more. But she’ll be fine, I think. Doc says she’ll live another hundred years. If she has her way!” And in the same breath and with the same stress, continued, “Say! I heard you had some poor soul up here the other night and gave him the old treatment, like back at Paris Island. Herb told me, all his gestures, too. I saw him just this morning. Heard you cutting loose on somebody. What happened?”
“You met my niece Paula?”
“Yah, the one from the West Coast.”
“Staying for a bit with us, looking for a job, seeing old friends. Met one of her old boyfriends. Came by one night real late and three sheets to you know where, made a hell of a racket, woke the neighbors up. Was a real pain in the ass. I got rip. Told Paula when he sobers up he had to come by and apologize.” He took another sip of beer, sure, easy, a method drinker, practice perfect. Armand nodding his appreciation, biting his lip lightly in doing so, still recalling the Guinness he had pulled back from the long ago. In spite of Jack’s inability to see, Armand felt open, exposed, as if secrets were being given up. Pulling at his jacket, he faked a button check in front of the blind man. He shook his head disbelieving himself.