Chapter Five: The Confrontation

 

Joel awoke early and prepared himself a breakfast. Jennine didnít stir when he got out of the bed and when he looked at her. In the dimness of the room before departing, he saw that she slept with a frown. Once upon a time, she looked like and angel and wore a smile while she slept. But now, years on, frowning had become such a part of her person that it was apparently permanently etched into her face. The few lines on her face that showed the slow passage of time were those born of constantly knitted eyebrows and scowling mouth.

In the bathroom, he studied his reflection before washing his face and brushing his teeth. He was thirty-seven years old and was starting to see sighs of the advancement of age on himself as well. A few gray strands sprouted along his temple and his goatee was home to a few dozen gray invaders as well. His eyes looked tired and completely unrefreshed by what was a rare full nightís sleep. He had slept well, in spite of his rocky reception when he arrived home last night, which usually left him so agitated that he went to bed later than usual to calm down, and failed to sleep for that residual agitation.

Last night was different. There was a calmness that had overcome him after his telephone conversation with Fiera Coles, and while he would have liked to have attributed that to his plans of infidelity that resulted from the conversation, he didnít think that it was that. He had strayed a couple times during his marriage, the vast majority of the indiscretions being within the past 3 years, and usually thoughts of them or thoughts of wanting to engage in them left him feeling uneasy. He truly loved his wife, regardless of how their relationship had deteriorated, but she did not provide him with everything that he needed in that relationship anymore. They still had sex on occasion, and sometims it was even fulfilling, but it wasnít necessarily sex from his wife that he craved. While that might have been the very first instinct that drove him toward her in his adolescence, what they developed in that time since had dwarfed that instinct. There had been so much more in their lives, but now, like those days and the passage of those times since, it was gone and there was no getting it back.

Did he like what he saw when he looked in the mirror, in the eyes of the reflection that he saw as himself, as he had become?

He thought about it while he ate a breakfast of bread and honey, cold fruit chunks, and soy milk, all organically grown and purchased from farm cooperatives that he frequented. The stuff was expensive, but it was well worth it in his estimation, as most of the agro-industrial produced food stuff was increasingly contaminated with all sorts of pathogens and chemicals born of the foodstuffís transgenic creation. The honey was the most expensive part, considering that the venerable old honey bee had been on the doorstep to oblivion, were it not for cellular manipulations that brought them back from the brink. Their population wasnít restored yet, but they were thriving once again, and their resistance to those transgenically formed toxins seemed to be increasing with each successive generation.

The food was purifying and he felt that he needed as much purification as possible, since he was impure in his relationship with his wife. And that is what the reflection in the mirror imagesí eyes told him.

Still, thoughts alone couldnít convince him, and after breakfast and cleaning up after himself, he went upstairs to pack an overnight bag. He had one in his office that was for emergency contingencies, but since he always took an overnight bag with him to the office when he had legitimate out of town business to attend to after work, he did so also when he had illegitimate business. He wanted it to look legitimate, so he followed his routine to the letter.

He dressed after making up his overnight bag, and scribbled a note that he would leave on his pillow for her to find when she finally got out of bed. Since she didnít like for him to talk about work related issues, it made it simpler to do it this way, in keeping with the routine, and, if she complained, her wishes. He always took one last look at her and wished that there were something that he could do to bridge the ever-widening gap that had formed between them, but he know of nothing more than what he had tried, which was pretty much everything.

It was 6:30 AM when he left his house. It was dark. So far, there was no rain, and the over night winds had dried the streets except for those imperfections in the streets that accumulated pools of water after the rest had run down the gutter and into the stormwater inlet. It was still windy, and the chill that it brought carved its way through his coat as if it knew how to burrow its way through the thick outer layer, then wend its way through the thinner interstitial layers to finally claw and probe at his bare skin. He had his collar pulled up tight to his face, his wide-brimmed hat pulled low on his head, and his overnight bag slung across his shoulder. His limp was hardly noticeable.

As he approached the bus stop, he saw that it was empty, but he saw a shadowy figure slowly moving toward it. The street lamp only made the figure more shadowy, spo he was unable to make out any details of the figure. It sat down on the bench and didnít move again.

Joel made sure to look both ways before crossing. The intersection was a busy one usually and with people in such blind haste these days, heíd already seen several people struck by automobiles, and heard of several more. Even the rumble strips that lined the road to slow the drivers didnít have much impact on their excessive speeding. They apparently didnít care about the cameras recently installed either. They blew through the intersection with impunity.

When he was safely on the other side, he moved toward the bus stop and noticed that the figure stirred in such a way that the person was obviously looking at him. He could see that the person was dressed in a heavy gray overcoat that seemed to engulf the figure because it was so large and the person inside it so slight. Not that the person was short, because the legs looked long, judging by how high the knees were in relation to the bench, but the person simply lacked the bulk to adequately fill out the coat. No doubt, the wind and the cold easily infiltrated it and the person must have been freezing cold, unless he or she had on tons of clothing in multiple layers beneath.

The pants legs of the person wavered in the wind whenever a gust found its way into the glass structure the comprised the bus stop and suggested that they were made of a light weight material not suited for the cold weather. Perhaps it was some sort of space-age material that was thin but had high insulation ability, but he doubted that. And on the personís feet, black canvas hightop sneakers that tapped out a rhythm presto. The personís face and head was obscured by a black hood.

Joel stayed along the front end of the shed, although it wasnít very deep and set his bag down on the bench. He nodded at the person, who was obviously looking at him from the depths of the hood, and although he couldnít see the personís face, he was certain that he could see eyes glimmer in the dark recess, and the person nodded back and turned his or her head to look straight.

Suddenly, a pall of vapor poured from within the hood and a long sigh with a familiar timbre rushed out.

Joel looked back at the person, who looked back at him. Then he noticed something about the person that made him purse his lips. Thin hands with dark nail polish clamped between the knees and a jumble of bracelets crushed down around the heel of the hands.

"Minerva? Is that you?"

The head nodded, and a giggle came out. "Good morning, boss. Iím surprised you recognized me."

She pulled the hood away, and the person looked different. It was obviously Minerva, for the features were the same as he remembered them, but gone was the overwhelming darkness of the mascara from around her eyes, and the russet lipstick, while still on her lips, was on in a much more controlled and conservative way. She had a small mouth with fine lips that spread wide to unveil those pearly white pearly whites. Her eyes were bright and sparkling and seemed amused and delighted at the same time.

Joel had to admit that she was a pretty girl.

"What are you doing here this time of morning?"

She shrugged. "I dunno. Just thought Iíd get an early start?"

Joel pursed his lips. "And what are you doing at this stop? Iíve never seen you here before."

Again she shrugged. "I was walking and decided to stop at this stop?"

Joel shook his head. "Nope. Not buying it."

She rolled her eyes, but the gaiety never left them. "Itís good to see you, boss. How did you rest last night?"

Joel eyed her for a minute, then huffed. "Great. And you?"

"Slept like a rock. And you know what?"

"No. What?"

"I had a dream and you were in it."

Joel didnít like the sound of that. It sounded eerily like the confessions of his mentor about the hand on his back that pushed him over the edge and the hand around his ankle that tripped him up. Apparently, the girls he had involved himself with dreamt of him too. He remained silent.

"Do you want to hear about the dream?"

"Not really."

"It was a good dream! I dreamt we were working on a job together and we found a way to save the world from pollution. And you know how we did it?"

"How?"

"We taught people the right way to live. It was great!"

Joel smirked. "Sounds great."

"Donít you wish we could do that, you and me? Teach the people how to do the right things and not be greedy and selfish and wasteful."

Joel nodded. "Yup, it certainly would be."

She nodded and squeezed her hands between her knees. She looked thoughtful and remained silent while images of it flashed through her head and radiated through her eyes with a bright glitter.

"Oh, guess what?"

"What?"

"Today? After school? Me and my folks are coming up to see you about the job. They are so happy that I can get a job doing what I love to do. They always told me: they said, Minnyómom and pops call me Minny. They said: ĎMinny, a job isnít work if you really love what you do.í Is that true?"

He nodded. "Very true."

She smiled. "Good. You see too many people who are miserable because they donít love their jobs. Like, does Ahra love her job?"

Joel chuckled at the question. "Does Ahra sound like she loves her job?"

Minerva thought about it for a second. "Nah, I guess not. She loves you, though. She has crazy respect for you. Is she pretty?"

"Sheís my employee. Sheís neither pretty, nor ugly, good nor bad. She does her job and when she wants to, she does it well. All I ask of my employees is to do their jobs."

"I will."

"IfÖ you get the job."

She pouted a bit, but it was no serious sadness. "If."

 

Unto the Living Earth © 2007 Walter R. Milton