March 16, 2010
Plates had been cleared away. The table was now Carl’s large, dark desk which he helmed from his large, dark chair. Fresh, 100% arabica coffee steamed in front of him. He finished making some notes on a yellow legal pad, then put his hands together, facing Joe.
“I understand you’re interested in a position in our little enterprise,” Carl said. A snicker came from the kitchen where Evan was doing the dishes.
Joe heard it. “Yeah,” he said.
“What unique contributions do you feel you have to offer?” Carl asked.
Joe shifted. “Well, I’m strong… so I could probably do some things around the yard.”
“Landscape maintenance engineer, check.” Carl gouged the pad with the pen. “Anything else?”
“Um… I’m pretty good with tools, so I could fix things.”
“Handyman—” Another gashing checkmark. As Carl studied his pad, Audrey put a vase full of greenish-white hellebores in the middle of the table. She was wearing yellow kitchen gloves. She gave Carl a quick glance and the flowers a quick fluff.
Carl sipped his coffee. “Let’s see… your résumé says you worked for a diner—”
“Yeah. In L.A.”
“And that would be useful how?”
“Well… I could probably help with the cooking.”
“Definitely. I could definitely cook. I have a great recipe for minestrone.”
“He does,” Audrey said from the kitchen.
“Gourmet chef, check. Hmmm…” Carl let his thought trail off.
Joe squirmed; this craftiness was his dad’s little-used weapon. He touched one of the hellebores. It was sturdy, not delicate. A reassuring flower, it seemed to Joe.
“I suppose we should discuss the financial aspects of this position,” Carl said. “Of course, you know the budget is, how shall I say, pretty stretched. Painful, even.”
Joe nodded. “The economy,” he said, pulling one of the hellebore flowers off its stem. He rolled his thumb over the central pod like a bead.
“But I’m prepared to make you a reasonable offer.” Carl was smiling. “One, you’ll be expected to do your share of yard work, household repairs and kitchen duties. Two, you may park your carcass in your bedroom and your bus in the gravel area as long as you maintain those areas. Three, you will—”
“Ow—ow!” Suddenly Joe stared at his hand. His fingers were bright red. He jumped up and shook his hand. “What the—? My hand is burning!”
Audrey rushed in. She looked at his hand, then at the crushed flower on the table. “Did you do this?”
“Joe, these are hellebores. They’re poisonous.”
“Poisonous! Why are they on the dining room table?”
“We don’t eat them! Why are you fondling the bouquet, anyway? Do I have to put up a sign, ‘Don’t fondle the bouquet’? I’m not putting up a sign, Joe. You can live here, work on your screenwriting and help out where you’re needed, but the signs are up to you. Go on, Carl.”
“Thank you, dear. Three: You will pay us two hundred dollars a month rent.”
Carl went on to explain to his shocked eldest son that the arrangement would be good for six months, at the end of which they would sit down with a beer and see how things were going. Joe agreed, then stuck his hands into a sink of cold water.
“Dude,” Evan said.
“You’re next,” Joe said.
©2010 Pam Wells