Mantorville, part 4

It’s snowing today. I probably shouldn’t complain because even though this one is forecast to be a significant snowfall, we aren’t even near the depth (up to three feet!) of the SuperBowl-weekend storm across the middle of the continental 48 and the mid-Atlantic states. However, we are supposed to get up to nine inches (more through the middle of Iowa―i.e. between Cedar Rapids and Des Moines). So I will be shoveling this morning (Tuesday) and need to have a post prepared earlier (the actual today, Monday).

I didn’t get up very early yesterday (really today, Monday), having not slept well Sunday night, for no good reason, just discomfort of various sorts. We had gotten a light dusting Sunday night―as Janet and I watched Titanic for about the sixth or seventh time. No Super Bowl fans here―although we did tune over to watch The Who at halftime: pretty good for what was basically just an extended medley of some hits; Pete looked healthy and funky and not too awkward with Roger, who also looked and sounded good.

We wrapped up Cameron’s flick (which Janet justly adjudged as holding up very well a dozen years later) about 10:30, missing the weather updates, and went to bed―me intending to arise early and clear the drive for Janet to head to work. It didn’t happen (although neighbor Levi Schmidt nobly came over with his leaf blower and did the job for us for some unknown but generous reason: thanks very much, Levi!).

I do not think I will be as easily let off today (tomorrow actually, Tuesday morning).

Since the easiest post is to continue with the still as-yet-unnamed horror story (doesn’t anyone have any ideas for me?), let’s continue with the May 6 session between patient James Arkham and shrink Joshua Symonds, who has gotten Arkham back on track, reminiscing about his first days in Quetzal County, nine years before. Having signed a contract the day of his job interview, Arkham next had to decide where to live.

Previous parts of the story are February 4, February 5 and yesterday.

So it was your choice to live in Bear River, not Mantorville?

I never even thought about it, to tell the truth. I just never even looked in Mantorville. Got back in my car and drove off, and when I got to Bear River, I realized I was going to need a place to stay. The drive didn’t seem bad, but I didn’t even think about that. It’s just nine or ten miles. According to the signs, nine miles headed north, ten miles going back. Funny, isn’t it? Highway Department’s as screwed up as anything in Quetzal County.

Probably measuring from different points.

Yeah. Must be. Never thought of that.

Was I going to spend this entire relationship getting him to notice what he never thought about then? I’d rather find out what he did think, what drove him to do what he did.

Anyway, I went to a drugstore downtown, bought the local paper—it comes out twice a week, Wednesdays and Saturdays. I got Wednesday’s and went right to the classifieds. There were more ads for places to rent than I’d’ve expected. What really took my notice was that there were houses to rent. Somehow that appealed to me. And the prices weren’t really much higher than apartments. The whole setup was almost half what I’d been used to paying, so it seemed like I’d fallen into a cup of cream.

Cup of cream?

Yeah. Hadn’t you heard that one before? My favorite aunt always said that. Like you’d gotten into something good, cozy, comfortable. But I was dead wrong, of course.

There, he’d gone and said it. Again. Always with the little hints. He knew where this was headed.

So I checked out a couple of places. It‘s hard finding your way around a new town, even a small one. And Bear River’d grown in three directions at different times under what must’ve been a couple dozen different contractors. Streets’d head one way, then stop at an intersection, but you hadn’t gotten to the address you wanted yet. But if you whipped around a couple of blocks—or a half dozen or so—and headed back in line, you could usually find the street had started up again, just skipping the numbers for the blocks where it wasn’t. Nice grid layout to the place, but inconsistently developed.

Back where I came from, they tried harder’n’hell to avoid that predictable grid, winding stupid streets around nonexistent hills to create some kind of Spielberg-silly suburbia out of what should have been fields growing corn. Here, they just didn’t plan enough.

So you didn’t like how they laid out the streets, then? Getting impatient.

Nah. I did. That’s the thing. It was hard to figure out—I don’t know that I ever did, really—, but I liked it. It was… real, you know? Even that day, looking for a place and not finding it, it seemed… actual. I dunno, solid? Real. Like I could count on it, weird as it may have been.

And I did find a place, too. I noticed three that sounded really interesting. The first was jut north of town on 41. I called and checked it first, thinking that being that little bit closer to Mantorville would be advantageous. But it was a real dump. I think drug dealers had been the previous residents. Or someone equally filthy.

The second place turned out not to be a house at all but just the upstairs. Nice enough, I guess. It was as big as my own place, except I had two bedrooms and this just had one really huge bedroom. I told the landlady I’d call her later if I wanted it.

The third place was it. Trees in the yard, front porch screened in, hardwood floors. It wasn’t the greatest—there was red linoleum in the gigantic kitchen and old, painted, probably handmade cabinets; the rooms otherwise were small. But I kind of liked the stairway to the second floor. I don’t know. Somehow it just seemed like home.

This was your residence on Ashton?

Of course. I only lived there. It was in those six rooms that I lived, corrected papers, and uncovered the secrets of Quetzal County. Far enough removed from Mantorville to see it for what it was.

And just what was it? I wanted to ask that question in the worst way, to make him tell me, to let me understand why he did the horrible things he did. But that would have to come from him, him alone, and only in his own good time. He had to find his way back there for himself.

I moved in three weeks after the interview. I’d been there overnight, even a couple of nights in those weeks, while I was moving myself and my stuff. But it was three full weeks before I was out of Jackson and my little upstairs apartment of twelve years and into my new house on Ashton Street in Bear River Falls.

I’d visited the school several times as well, checked out my room, gotten to know the secretaries in the office and eaten lunch with Howie a few times as well. He even offered to help me move, and did his bit unloading two different days, too. I really enjoyed that, not just because he was my boss and actually seemed to like me, but because I liked him. He was a good guy, Howie, funny and friendly, interested in things, companionable. I looked forward to the promised invitation to visit him and Sonia for dinner. I expected she had to be as much fun as he was…

Any reactions, folks? I like the praise some of you have provided, but I am after suggestions, too. There will be more on Thursday.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

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