Aphelion Issue 233, Volume 22
October 2018
 
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A Romantic Tale (A Natural History)

by Dan Korgan




Waiting in line at the post office, Arnold Lupenfield and Lambert Winter each held a shoebox wrapped in brown butcher paper. And for that brief moment felt obligated to share what they had in common. A little anxcious, Lambert said, “I’m sending this bundle of recipes to Grandmother.” Then he blurted, “She lives in Texas, well, and she keeps asking me to send them to her. I work at The Star Lounge on Broadway and she has never been there.” In return, Arnold Lupinfield reported in his throaty nature he was sending to his Grandmother in Nebraska a few stones from the basin-and-range, mostly petrified wood and a few sandstone fossils of pine.

You see, Lupinfield had grown up on the east side of the highway and Walker on the west. They attended different schools but might have had a few friends in common. And when they learn this, Lambert thought maybe Arnold was one of the eastside punk-ass kids he would slug in the face. And Arnold did wonder if he had ever poisoned this man’s dog. Lambert recognized Arnold’s almond-shaped and cold-blue eyes. And Arnold recognized Lambert’s bulldog stance. From one week to the next, these two, most excellent, men bumped into one another this way. They found themselves in line together at the supermarket, standing in line together at the cinema, and sitting next to one another while waiting for a chair at the barbershop. Now, in their middle years they were less inclined to promote these coincidences. Arnold and Lambert had this much in common anyway – a little shy – a little embarrassed for their childhood misgivings.

It is now, Wednesday, on a dark and windy night, that Arnold Lupinfield drives with caution down a busy four lane highway. Cars rush past him spitting inky clouds of smoke past his windshield. He honks his horn and shakes his paw at those hasty drivers. And the storefronts with corrugated roofs and beige facades make him increasingly anxcious and increasingly hungry.

When Lupinfield turns into the parking lot a semi-truck blares its frightening horn and swerves big black tires around his station wagon that straddles the bus and far right lane. He sits for a few minutes to collect his nerves. Making sure he has landed in the right lot, he keeps the motor running and waits patiently for one of the many neon signs in the firmament to blink simultaneously and reveal all the right letters - T O U N G E, S A G E, T O E, S O N G, and finally T A R L U N E and finally S T A R L O U N G E. Arnold looks across the lot – a black stitching that holds the orange, purple, and green cars together into an impossible quilt of steel. Certainly, Arnold gathers, Lambert would be terribly busy if it was his job to feed all those people! But it had been six longs months now. And the last time he saw Lambert was when they had they had split a bottle of brandy. They chewed on smoked cod and goat cheese. And Arnold could not take his mind away from the idea that he had asked Lambert for a large amount of money, even though he did not need it very much.

In the restaurant lobby, at the lamp lit desk, Arnold Lupinfiled greets the handsome man who sports a tuxedo.

“Lambert here?” Arnold politely asks.

“He is working, yes.”

“Can you direct me?”

“Is this of grave importance?”

“Certainly is!”

“If it is of grave importance than I will take you to exactly-where-he-is.”

“Kind of you,” says Arnold.

“Through the feeding area,” the host snorts and straightens his black miniature bow tie.

The host leads Arnold down a narrow hallway to the bar where they pass shelves of tulip-shaped glasses and long-necked bottles filled with expensive liquors - then up a short ramp a few strides into the brightly lit kitchen. Arnold Lupinfied inhales deeply, remidned of the days gone by. And the host guides Mr. Lupinlfield to a walk-in cooler and pulls on a creaky and stiff-hinged door. A rush of cold air blasts at him. “In there,” the host says. And the host’s left paw swiftly closes the heavy door behind poor Arnmold.

From large meat hooks, ribs of cow hang from the ceiling, stainless steel trays hold fish with their mouths stiff and open, sacks of onions line the shelves along with large tupperware labeled hollandaise, esplanade, marinara, and demi-glaze. Arnold peels open one of the tubs, dips his finger and tries Lambert’s famous lemon custard. Farther in he admires Labert Winter’s colorful arrangement of tomatoes, kale, celery, carrots, and cauliflower sitting squarely in wooden crates. Folded in white cloth he finds sprigs of herbs. Such variety such abundance reminds Arnold why Lambert could never probe his friends with silly reminders for the things they had borrowed.

Arnold finds Lambert standing over a large tub pecking his pencil at his clipboard, counting something. Wearing an orange and green striped stocking cap and red chef coat, Arnold imagines his friend as a large tropical bird.

“It has nothing to do with the decline in the fish population, does it?” Arnold chuckles.

“Arnold!”

“Lambert!”

“I’ve been meaning...”

“How’s the family?” says Arnold.

“Quite healthy. My sister just left for Ecuador to plant trees and try out some guinea pig, and my parents are still traveling the Republic. They keep sending me recipes - as if I did not already how to bake Kolaches. My good friend, how have you been?”

“My students seem to be growing younger every year.”

Lambert chuckles, “I certainly hope this year they are as fanatic about natural history as you.”

“I wish they were more enthusiastic.”

“About banding chickadees!?”

“And following fresh tracks of deer to the corn field and spring.”

“Maybe it’s your fascination with grouse, Arnold.”

“I keep hunting for their droppings and hoping to find one budding in a popple thicket.”

“Well, I see you got past the new host.”

“A little snotty, if you ask me.”

While Lambert lifts and weighs and calculates, Arnold wonders if he will ever be able see any of the snowbirds. There is the Oregon Junco and the White-crowned Sparrow, cold-loving migrants who consider the Oregon winters balmy. And who could forget the cormorants who can fly under water!

Arnold follows Lambert father-in. From one-stack-of-shelves to another-stack-of-shelves. They walk from one heavy handle to another one just like it. To one steel door to another steel door, from one grey arctic room to the next until all Arnold can think about is birds, until his mind feels like a rising loaf of bread. And Arnold, for a moment thinks that he may have landed in the wrong parking lot. Arnold thinks that maybe he has landed in the wrong refrigerator.

Lambert finally comes out with, “Before I fell asleep last night, Grandfather Winter told me he had finally counted to a billion. He said he was 9,512 years old!”

“Why, that’s somethin’ else,” says Arnold.

Arnodld wanted to tell Lambert that his Grandfather Lupinfiled was one rugged man. He built bird houses for Sherman’s for a good twenty-five years just to be laid off by the profiteers. And with batter under his fingernails and flour in his hair, he would step into the living room and blurt, ‘Has that Arnold learned about copulation yet?’ Then he would quietly retreat to the kitchen to prepare for his family a plate of fried grits and okra. Word has it, Grandfather collected fireflies in a jar, stirred them into a paste and painted Grandmother’s face with wide neon-green lines. They ran naked. Gradmother chased him. She found traction. She cupped and squeezed his firm sack of nuts.

Perhaps it is only coincidence, but an hour before, while Lambert Winter picked at a plate of ceviche, he spoke to his Grandmother over the phone who reminded him directly why Grandfather Winter had had to bathe last. Lambert shared with Arnold, “’Because he was the most filthy,’” you see. “First, I would scrub cousin Betty’s scalp and chicken-thin legs. As I worked the washcloth from chest to thighs I would keep myself covered with bubbles. Then it was Ron-one and Ron-two’s turn. After riding the pigs they would take their turn in the bath, haloop and oops and hah in-and-out, splash-X-Z! Then Grandmother sat in the tub of muddy water, lathered her body with turmeric oil and sang showtunes. Well, while we all sat around the Formica kitchen table chewing strips of pickled tongue we ceratinly knew Grandfather’s tub would smell of farm and shit. His skin was saturated with chemicals, you see. And when Grandfather Winter scrubbed his leathery legs, the barn animals could hear the building of thunder from behind the bathroom door.”
?
Lambert Winter looks up at Arnold Lupinfield who was staring at his friend Lambert, deep in thought and deep in love.

“Some large containers, no?”

“You’re telling me, Lambert.”

“Nearly Skyscrapers.“

“Look, there goes a Mercedes!”

“And a Cadillac!”

“Taxi, taxi,” Lambert waves.

“Look, there is no one behind the wheel...”

“Arnold, why are you shaking!”

“It’s coooold!”

They chuckle at this simulation. It crosses Arnold’s mind that someday this friendship might begin to dwindle for reasons they are unable to recognize.

Lamert hangs-up his clipboard and chef coat. He slings his pack over his shoulder and follows Lambert out of the cooler. They pass through the brightly lit kitchen and through the smoky lounge where two skaters are making love on the DUPILICATOR.

Under the exit sign of The Star Lounge, Lambert reports, “It certainly is silly, Arnold, that you have your students keep a journal!”

“I have them document every species they can recognize. It may be important to us someday,” says Arnold.

“So you collect specimens?”

Lambert sees Arnold’s chagrin.

“Mostly twigs and leaves.”

“You are most certainly wasting your time,” says Lambert, “And your students’ too.”

“We collect every specimen we can find!”

“My goodness, Arnold.”

Outside, Arnold Lupinfield feels Coho wind moving through the valley. Behind the restaurant, behind the shopping mall where the neon signs blink letters to form distinct readable words, they walk across the parking lot to the bank of the Willamette River. Across the narrowing bend, from the paper mill’s jungle of shiny pipes, white columns of smoke swell into the atmosphere. Sitting under a cypress, Lambert Winter unwraps a piece of smoked salmon from its plastic wrap and Arnold chews on the fish. Arnold quietly whisppers to Lambert the naural history of the lilies: Camassia, Zigadenus, Trillium - Tofieldia, Fritillaria, Disporum.

Arnold streches. He takes a hold of a glaciers to the north that holds a supple fingers of ice that protrudes far enough south to dam the Missoula Lake. He brakes off a small piece. And here comes the roaring wall of water. It carryies a tangle of ice boulders and basalt carving a path through the mountains, fertilizing the valley with a bedrock of salt and minerals. Arnold lowers his eyes. Lying horizontal, Arnold rubs against pine needles and soil. Arnold reaches inside his front pocket and balls-up in his fist the bills he wanted to return to Lambert. They both take a deep breath. They both sit up and cross thier thin knoby legs. ‘We are just two cold-loving migrants perched at the ragged edge.’ They consider the Willamette River as it is rushing backwards.

The moon sets deep in the east. Arnold starts his car and drives to the edge of the parking lot. He often wonders where the moon goes when he can not see it. He climbs out his car. He paces his steps as he stomps through the bear grass - into the murky ravine. He could not say this directly, but just maybe Lambert could hear his words - coo, caw, coo – o i love you, coo, caw coo. Arnold looks at the swirling river. The boulders roll and tangle with silt and sand. He jumps off the bank. They flutter up and climb down and down again. Coo, caw, coo - Coo, caw, coo – Coo, caw, coo.



THE END


2018 Dan Korgan

Bio: Dan Korgan works as special education teacher at Monarch School for Autism in Cleveland Ohio where he uses horticulture as therapy. Jane Bowles is his favorite writer. And he loves cooking.

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