A couple of years ago, Garver had found an old household dump out in the woods. He’d unearthed a plastic bas-relief Porky Pig face, the rollers of a washing machine, the carcass of a Bakelite radio, and a doll’s head with evenly spaced hair-holes, and brought them to his studio, thinking, Maybe someday. It had taken all this time for him to realize that he was sick of looking at them. Well, if you hate them, why not use them? Like that insidious hymn from his childhood: If you love Him, why not serve Him?
As the sun was setting, he gave up and started the woodstove—for what would be the first of many times before May—and finally took off his red plaid jacket; the denim shirt would be enough. He was listening to “The Jack Johnson Sessions” on his laptop and sketching out possible arrangements on bristol board—it would be a big canvas, and a bitch to transport, not that he’d ever be called upon to transport it—when Ben called his cell. “You receiving? Or you still working?”
“Nah, I’m about done. Jesus, there’s a confession.”
“Cool. I thought I’d stop by for a second. I’m flying out in the morning.”
“We used to sing that one, too,” Garver said. “Yeah, just give me a minute to put shit away.”
He turned off the music, put his sketches on his worktable, face down, then pawed through the canvases stacked against the wall. He pulled half a dozen that bothered him less than the others—he hoped he hadn’t already trotted them out—and lined them up facing the room. Wasn’t that a dainty dish to set before the king?
Ben came in wearing a black wool topcoat and a knit cap on his shaved head. “Man, it’s chilly,” he said. “I just checked the weather. Supposed to be a frost tonight. I have to get up at five so Lois can drive me to the airport.”
“Got a scraper for your windshield?” Garver said. “Better grab mine out of the truck. You picked a good time to get out of Dodge.”
“Yeah, but to Colorado?” Ben took off his coat and sat in the Morris chair next to the stove. “These new? I like that one on the left.”
“Newish. Newish-ish.” Garver took down the bottle of Knob Creek and two jelly glasses. “You want a taste?”
“Hit me,” Ben said. “So how cold does it get up here? Whoa, whoa, when.”
“Well, last winter wasn’t the worst.” Garver took the desk chair, supposedly ergonomic, and set his glass on the table between them. He’d nailed it together out of boards from the barn. “You’re probably going to want snow tires.”
“O.K., I’m not going to think about it,” Ben said. “Cheers.”
“First today,” Garver said. “Yeah. That burns. Congratulations again, by the way. I’d like to hear that piece sometime.”
“Actually.” Ben reached into his coat pocket and handed Garver a thumb drive. “This is still rough. And it’s not real strings.”
“Shit, thanks.” Garver got up and went to his laptop. “Just plug this in, right?”
“Oh, no, I didn’t mean for you to—keep it for sometime when you’re, maybe when you’re working or something. I think it’s—I don’t know, I’m not going to say.” He took a sip and nodded at the canvases. “That one on the left, with the red business? That just moves. Like, internally. I don’t really know how to talk about pictures.”
“Hey, I don’t know how to talk about music.” Garver put the thumb drive in his shirt pocket and snapped the snap.
Ben put his glass down. “Listen, what I could really use.”
“Great minds,” Garver said. “Your lady would kill me, though.”
“Oh. She give you the talk?”
“She was nice about it.”
“She would be. So I guess I’m cut off.”
“Paging Dr. Freud,” Garver said. “Ah, shit. I don’t want to be the devil, but one hit probably wouldn’t hurt you.”
“Yeah, I don’t know,” Ben said. “Pot’s a weird thing.”
“Everything’s a weird thing,” Garver said. “Properly looked at.” He opened the mini-fridge and took out the Ball jar, set it on the table, packed the wooden pipe, and turned the stem to Ben. “With an old man’s blessings.”
Ben took a hit, coughed it out, took another, and passed the pipe to Garver, then closed his eyes and released the smoke. “Oh, fuck yeah. It just gets so noisy by the end of the day.”
Garver sat back down in the desk chair. When he saw Ben’s eyes open again, he relit the pipe and took a hit himself. Yeah, better keep it to one. He set the pipe down, and Ben picked it up. Garver let out the smoke and said, “A word to the wise.”
“It’s cool.” Ben held this one in for what seemed to Garver like a long time, then took one more and passed the pipe across the table.
Garver held up a hand.
“Taking a wait-and-see position,” Ben said. “Fuck that, no offense. You mind if I?”
“Boys will be boys,” Garver said. “Hell, I might as well do one more, too. Music?”
“Yeah, but not—you wouldn’t have, like, Ellington? Or whatever. Just not anything too squonky. I mean, I don’t mean to dictate.”
Garver took a second hit, went to his laptop, and scrolled through iTunes. That first hit was coming on already, so it was Katie bar the door. “I got just the thing,” he said, and clicked on “The Payback.” Somehow it had got dark outside.
“Is this Ellington?” Ben said.
“No, no, no,” Garver said. “James Brown.”
“Right, right, right,” Ben said. “He is Ellington. No, actually he’s fucking Terry Riley. I fucking love this piece.” He started bobbing his head in time with it, then stopped. “You know,” he said, “I’m the real deal.”
He wasn’t making much of a case for himself.
The song seemed to be going on for a long time. After a while, Garver looked at the track listing: seven minutes and thirty-nine seconds. Whew: so that explained it. Ben had another hit; Garver drained his whiskey and poured himself more. He was afraid that Ben could read his thoughts, but was there really anything wrong in his thoughts? Well, that.
“More of this?” Garver said when the song finally stopped.
“More of everything,” Ben said. “You know, that picture? What I was thinking—the red thing? If it was farther up? And to the center more? Am I being too pushy? I am.”
“No, no. Something’s wrong with it.”
“Yeah, O.K., so you’re humoring me. Sorry. Fuck, I’m the only person in the world who gets belligerent on fucking pot. I think I need to take a walk.” He stood up, then sat back down. “I’m fucked.”
“Not to add to your troubles,” Garver said, “but is Lois going to be wondering where you are?”
“Yeah, shit, I better go.” He got to his feet again, put out a hand to steady himself against the woodstove, and jerked it back just in time. “I can keep this together. Experiences to the contrary—wait, what’d I say? Appearances to the contrary.”