When I came out in the afternoon Gus was on top of the toolshed.
“The great road hero,” he said. “A few drops of rain and you’re running for Mommy.”
It took me a moment he didn’t mean Petra. He reached for a hammer and it slithered down the roof onto the ground. I handed it back up.
“I couldn’t sleep in here. It was a swimming pool,” I said.
“Why I’m fixing it.” He nailed something into place.
From the kitchen I got us bread and pop and I joined him on the shed roof.
Standing up I could see over some of the roofs of houses sloping down to the bay. I couldn’t see the water but I saw across it the highest buildings downtown and the mountains behind them.
Gus finished his drink, threw the bottle down on the grass and took up the hammer again. He had a row of shingles peeled off. I watched him tack a strip of plastic from a shopping bag over the old wood. I helped by holding down pieces of shingle he was trying to nail back over the plastic.
“Is this how professional roofers do it?”
“Whatever does the job,” he said.
In an hour Gus and me patched almost the whole roof. It felt good working together with someone.
“We oughta go into business,” I said. “Plastic Bag Roofing Limited.”
“If it makes us money. We only got two weeks left.”
“I paid them four weeks board,” I said.
“I thought you only had enough for two.”
“Petra reduced our rate.”
“Four weeks then. Then what?”
I couldn’t get his worry. I had always expected our money to run out after we got to the coast. Then something would pop up to get us more. Or something would make money unnecessary. Some interesting way of living. Some commune I’d join. Some free food movement. Things I’d heard.
But talk of money set Gus off about having to look for work right then and there. So he went to get some newspapers to check the Help Wanted ads.
I laid back on the roof watching the house. As I was hoping, Petra appeared. She came up the alley and around to the back door, carrying groceries. I followed her into the kitchen. She sat at the table and flipped through a pack of photographs she’d brought.
“You took those?” I said.
She passed each one to me after she’d examined it. They were shots of staff in a restaurant kitchen, a funny one of a bartender shot from between mugs of beer, a bunch of waitresses including Loren.
“Not my serious stuff.” She got up to walk around the kitchen, putting things away. She seemed to be trying to stay distant today.
“You’re into this serious? Photography?”
“I have a darkroom in the basement for black-and-white work.”
She led me down the stairs. We passed a pile of laundry at the bottom and then a corner with a bed and some bookshelves which must be Wesley’s. His tape deck was on the floor with a cord going to a small box plugged into a socket on the wall.
Petra’s darkroom was on the other side of the furnace. A corner with a curtain rod curved around it.
She pulled the heavy black curtain around us and switched on a red light that made everything spooky and then switched back to a regular light.
Pictures were plastered all over the two corner walls. Close-ups of faces under caps and hardhats and balding heads, hands holding tools or drawing lines. People having fun in the park, on a ferry boat, at a meal on a porch. Some were obviously people she knew, acting up for the camera. One of Norbert screwing the light fixtures into the ceiling for this very darkroom. Other guys and women, looking up and smiling like they knew her. More guys than women.
She showed me her enlarger on the table and the trays for developing prints. But I went back to the pictures on the wall.
“You ever try and sell them?” I asked.
“Not those. These here are the kind I sold.” She pulled a black case out from under the table and unzipped it on three sides. “My portfolio.”
The first picture, blown up to fill the page, was a woman in this gauzy gown floating face down in water, the gown and hair drifting all around to make her a kinda drowned angel. Next was an ocean sunset reflecting off a bottle. Then, in black and white, a child’s face fading into a craggy old woman’s.
“Are they related, this kid and the old lady?” I said.
“No, just different shots I superimposed.”
“These you sold?”
“Some to magazines,” she said. “But not any more. Too many freelancers out there. Too many people who dedicate their lives to making and selling this garbage.”
“They look pretty good to me.”
She left me looking at them while she went upstairs to make coffee. On a shelf under the table was a whole stack of similar cases and binders. Hundreds of pictures. One book was all photographs of the same thing, a large children’s block carved with an A and a rose lying across it — the angle and the light were slightly different in each shot in the portfolio. Another collection was pictures of cities — traffic at a downtown intersection shot from overhead, clouds reflected on office towers, sun going down between old buildings. All good enough to be in magazines or ads I thought.
But I kept going back to the shots she’d pasted on the wall and wondered who the people were. If they were still in her life.
Upstairs I sipped the coffee she handed me. “That basement would be okay with a coupla more beds.”
She shook her head. “Too damp. My stuff’s in one of the two corners that don’t flood and Wesley’s in the other.”
“Couldn’t be worse than the shed.”
“Tell you the truth, everyone is just as happy to keep you out there. Nothing personal but six in here is enough. I only agreed to the shed because Wesley asked and I thought you could pay for your keep.”
We drank our coffees until I thought of some way to change the subject. “So Wesley goes way back with you?”
“A few years.”
“Was he always mental? He hardly shut up all the way here in that car but he never really let on about himself.”
She said, “Someday I’ll explain Wesley.”
“Why? Is it some big mystery?”
She smiled. “You could say that.”
This is God’s Country, hippie
You are beautiful!
Everyone's beautiful in their own way
End Canadian complicity in Vietnam
Trudeau, Prince of Lackeys
No one gets out of here alive
I got a Sweet at the Love Inn
Jesus saves at the British Mortgage and Trust
My Datsun 240Z is a lemon. Warranty a ripoff.
Michael, I’m at the Y
Smash the fashion state
It’s the Americanadian way