(This is first part of a draft chapter from the next Ro Delahanty novel, “The Berlin Fiddle”.)
Ro had learned if she didn’t feel sleepy within a few minutes of lying down, she wasn’t going to sleep; this morning was one of those times.
After their stop at Brody’s, Frank had gone back to the park and she’d returned to her apartment, undressed and climbed into bed. She’d really thought she was tired; they had made love half the night, they’d gone out to see Neshnala, then to Brody’s. But now she found herself sitting up against a pile of pillows looking across the dim room at Peter Panda in his usual spot on top of her dresser.
“What’re you staring at?” she said with mock impatience to the three-foot teddy bear that had been her “roommate” since she was two years old. Her sounding board and confidante, she thought of him as her version of Wilson from the Tom Hanks’ film “Cast Away.” Clearly well-loved, he had several bare spots in his “fur” and because one corner of his mouth was missing had this silly, but at the same time inscrutable smile.
“Whaddya mean, ‘Is something’s bothering me?’ No…,” she insisted.
After a pause: “I know I can’t sleep. That doesn’t mean something’s ‘bothering’ me.”
The teddy bear just stared back with an expression that said, “R-i-g-h-t…”
“Okay, I guess you could say ‘bother,’” she said with resignation. “But, it’s not like upsetting… It’s more like so much has happened I kind of need to sort it out.”
“Like?” she said, repeating Pete’s question: “Well, let’s see – I became a deputy sheriff,” there was clear pride in her voice; “I’ve got a new ‘boyfriend,’” she said “boyfriend” as though it had quotes around it; “I was in a shootout with some bad guys,” this matter-of-factly, like it was a normal part of her job; “I helped clean-up body parts after a pretty horrible accident,” also matter-of-factly; “Sonny’s going pro,” this was with affection; “Atti’s really excited about her new job,” also with affection; “and I got to pay my respects to Neshnala,” this with wonderment.
“What?” she said with a frown of disbelief. “No, I am not jealous of Sonny and Atti. I can’t believe you even asked that question. Why would I be jealous? I’m doing what I’ve always wanted to do. They’re doing what they want to be doing.” She shrugged, “See, all’s right with the world…”
After a pause: “Why are you looking at me like you don’t believe me?” She rolled her eyes, answering the teddy bear’s question: “Oh, so you think I’m agonizing… Well, I suppose I am, but about what? I don’t think for one second that Sonny shouldn’t be playing golf or that Atti shouldn’t…”
Her mouth dropped open and she sucked in her breath, like something important had just occurred to her: “…Atti shouldn’t be who she is.” Then, shaking her head added, “No, that’s a cop out, Pete… It’s too… Too pat… Too easy…”
Even though Ro was aware the stuffed animal had no facial muscles and couldn’t change its expression, she “knew” one eyebrow went up, encouraging her: “Okay… Keep going…”
“But, where do you want me to go?” she demanded, confused by a jumble of thoughts.
She plucked at the light blanket that lay across her lap… She stared out the window… She adjusted the position of her butt… She plumped the pillows, again…
“I know I’m stalling,” she finally said to the teddy bear, then laughed because she almost added, “Give me a minute,” the very same words she’d said to Frank a little over two hours ago when she was resting her fingers on Neshnala.
“Oh god,” she sighed, staring at Pete.
Suddenly connections started to fall into place, things began to make sense. When she’d approached the tree, and touched it for the first time, her only expectation – at least that she had been conscious of – was to pay her respects. It was a private ritual she’d repeated with literally hundreds of old trees for as long as she could remember. When she could touch a tree, she did; when she couldn’t, she pointed, but always with the same silent mantra: “I respect your age and your strength and what you’ve seen.” She didn’t know exactly what it meant, except it was how she had always felt around old trees.
Ro hadn’t really expected Neshnala to respond, no tree ever had.
To be continued…
(C) 2018 Dave Lager