Warning: This this chapter contains scenes involving
Actually it would've been up a while ago if not for karaoke.
Karaoke is a rather new possession with me. It drives my neighbors nuts and it sent me places that caused my computer to catch a severe infection: the stupid machine started hiding, and in some cases exterminating, files. The situation was actually rather upsetting, what with the about thousand photos, the animations, the background material for the Tail, and the rest of the stuff that I hadn't backed up.
What? Duh. *rolling eyes* Sure, I was running anti-virus (updated), and firewall (carefully tended), plus this nifty program that prevents spy ware (updated).
Do you know what happens when you go through the trial versions of anti-virus program after anti-virus program, working backwards from the knownest brands - and end up running four of them at the same time because you're too lazy to keep uninstalling and there just never seems to be convenient and/or effective off buttons in anti-virus programs? Right. The computer clogs up - completely.
Hey, you just try to find the off button in McAffee on a first try. And - good luck.
By the way - McAffee cannot be uninstalled while running Windows in safe mode. What can I say? Tough little fellow, that one.
The trick, when you tire of complicated programs that insist on starting up when the machine is booting and you feel like using a sledgehammer, is to dig out the old DOS manual and go in with an outdated (because I never bothered since Windows 95) rescue disk, and rename the folders containing the unruly programs, using names that no respectable piece of machinery, infected or not, will want to recognize upon any reboot. Four is such a nice number of letters.
Really, at that point I had started planning how I wanted the hard disk partitioned when reinstalling the system. I just wanted inside to read a few help files (praying for sudden ability to understand them) and make a proper rescue disk. I was really looking forward to all the entertainment of reinstalling everything, and was absolutely not thinking about never daring to open the probably infected and incurable seven full(!) CDs I had backed my files up on after I figured out how serious the situation was.
On the CD that I had stuffed with anti-virus programs (made while at work (blah-blah - I just did, okay?)) there was one little bugger left to try: A small, less than half an Mb, amateurishly presented application. It was only because I had faced up to having to start all over that I dared try it.
When installed, it's got an interface that looks like a freeware shoot-the-spaceships game from 1980, you can't get any info on what exactly it's doing, much less meddle with the setup, and it's got the most annoying mouse-over beep that you can't turn off. But as soon as it was installed it asked so nicely that I wanted to kiss its grimy little cheek: Did I want to squash this dirty process? Okay, done, and that one too? And what about this ugly bugger? Right, and this one?
And voila - most of the eloped files were visible again! I was so relieved that I didn't know whether to breathe or cry.
Now I can see the true charm in the design of the beeping piece of digitized weaponry: the optimistic, and oddly innocent aggressiveness is deeply reassuring. I really don't hope they decide to streamline it; I like it just like this. Actually, sometimes I call the program up just to do a mouse-over and listen to the beeps; how else can I pet it?
I usually don't preach propaganda for commercial products in public spaces like this one, so this is an exception. If your files start to disappear: The annoying beeper is "Anti-Virus&Trojan", and it can be purchased from http://www.your-soft.com (there's a demo-version too). I don't think the name of the business is meant as an insult (you're probably not expected to say it aloud) though, really, it's okay if it is: it would sort of fit the beeps.
Anyway, all that aside. As I said, the Tail is done. There may be a Mikkel-story coming out once in a while. If so, it'll be posted at Nifty, though not necessarily here at the boyband section. Subscribing to my update service is probably the best way to stay informed (you can also drop by at my site). I promise not to bomb your mail box. (Above tale in mind: You may want to know that I use web mail only, won't send you attachments, and long ago uninstalled the address book feature in Windows).
Thank you for reading my story. *waving good-bye* And thanks for all the encouraging emails that I've gotten during the process of writing the Tail. You guys rock.
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Epilogue of The Tail of the Tiger
The Sweet Bowl
The spruce by my driveway had lost the struggle with the previous night's hurricane: in a moment's weakness it had snapped, and tumbled to the ground. Even though Martin the week before finally had convinced me that it was time to take the tree down, it seemed tragic that the proud giant had fallen to a random gust of wind like this.
Now it lay across my neighbors Birgit and John's very crushed hedge. In its fall the tree had put a serious dent in their driveway, breaking the pavement stones, ravished the well kept lawn, crushed bushes and the hedge of the next set of neighbors Ebbe and Christine. The top of the tree was forced up in vertical position by Ebbe and Christine's garage, which had not, thank all godly beings, been seriously damaged it was merely a matter of replacing bits and pieces.
I was counting my pieces of luck: the electric wires along the road were unhurt, the road was unblocked, my own workshop still had its roof, as did my house, and nobody had been hurt by the fall of the spruce. My heart was still beating, unaffected by the beats it had skipped when the snapping and crashing of the falling tree had drowned the sound of the mad wind, and the crash had shaken my house. That was a lot of luck right there. Faithfully sticking to positive statistics, I didn't count goldfish in the tally of luck.
The spruce had delivered Birgit and John's unfortunate fish pond its deathblow, and the pond had bled most of its water into the ground. Their two kids had saved a couple of fish from a small puddle; the miraculously surviving fish were at present swimming around in a bucket the garage. John had collected the remaining thirteen dead fish to use as fertilizer: a very economic man, John. I wasn't sure how the row that had started on the lawn had ended: The kids wanted the fish for burial at their small cemetery in the backyard; they already had a dead blackbird and a run-over, flat toad buried there.
Martin was moving about armed with a roaring chain saw, chopping up the fallen tree; his sure movements, unhurried and effortless, set little pangs off in me, and my dick sighed sleepily in appreciation. The pangs were mostly due to the fact that the way Martin moved told that he was balanced and secure inside it made me warm and glad to see. Years back, before they took off to Germany, he only moved like that when he went out hunting after having had lots of sex.
Only this fall Martin had discovered that he had a boyfriend in Rasmus when Rasmus in no uncertain terms had told Palle and me that Martin was off limits. Martin had listened, surprised, and I had seen the confusion in him give way to something good, something that made him glow.
"We're not having sex anymore", I had, truthfully, told Rasmus. "But, hell, you can't expect me not to look when he's showing off his ass." We had been playing pool; it was a few days before Palle had to go to Jylland to serve a sentence, and we had taken him out to cheer him up. Martin had just finished his turn and as usual his backside looked damned fine when he was bent over a pool table. Palle, high and merry, had patted Martin's ass in support of my sentiment.
Martin had told the three of us to shut up and keep our hands to ourselves, but the front his pants had, as Palle helpfully had pointed out, in case Martin hadn't noticed the event, suddenly grown very tight and bulgy.
But at the moment Martin and Karlo were busy tidying up the mess that my tree had made of the neighbors' front yard. John had come out to give a hand too; the sorted piles were growing in size, and the mess on the lawn slowly grew less. They had cleared the driveway so that the car could get out, and Birgit had finally gotten her Sunday paper and cake. She had returned from her favorite baker with new tales of the damage that the hurricane had left in its wake.
Palle too had been out helping with dismantling the tree, but he had gone inside for nap a while ago. His stamina was close to nil; he was skeletonous thin, recovering from a bad lung infection, and from the depression that inevitably followed when he came out of jail.
I had spent a lot of the day reading but restlessness kept sending me out to watch the three men work. I did the watching from a proper distance: Karlo and Martin had told me to get out of their way; this was not a work area for one-legged invalids.
Not being able to do anything was driving me up the wall.
For the umpteenth time I had realized how frustrating a broken leg could be. I didn't need Mormor's help to discover the sources of frustration, but when we were on the phone she kept shoveling her memories at me just to make things worse. Sympathy? Not from my grandmother. And from my cousin Tom, the evil physiotherapist, I just received rants about doing all future skiing on flat runs with traffic lights and speed control. Tom's new boyfriend Jimmy was much nicer to me, being very sympathetic about it all. Tom said that it was only because we hadn't met yet.
The door behind me opened. "Work." Palle said, and handed me the phone before disappearing inside again; his thin hair was unruly the way it would be if had just gotten up.
I stepped inside, and closed the door to get away from the noise of the chain saws; leaning against the wall for support and balance, and holding the crutches in one hand, I put the phone to my ear. "Yes? This is Mikkel."
"It's Trine. We took the workstations of all their top people two of them had a modem installed-" Trine had recently taken over my job supervising the 'secret missions'. In this case the company owners had asked us to make a quick evaluation of their computers, and decide which workstations to take apart, looking for proof of espionage. It was a touchy case, and I had asked Trine to report in when she got back.
The branch that Trine now headed had sprouted unexpectedly after the first couple of cases, and had grown from an occasionally gathered team of three to a small department with a lab and quite a travel budget.
We finished talking, and I hobbled into the kitchen, and placed the phone in its charger.
One of the first things I had done when I bought the house was to tear down the wall between the kitchen and living room, creating a large, light and pleasant space with a view to both the front and the back yard. Across the room I could see that Palle had given up on his nap, and was sitting cross legged in the sofa, playing a game on the portable house computer; it was a good guess that he was online since he preferred hooking either of the game boxes up with the TV when he was playing on his own. The headset lay unused on the sofa table, so he wasn't playing with Chris.
I turned the oven on, and got a unbaked liver pâté from the freezer, expecting the forest workers to want something to eat before they left. The phone rang while I was peeling the onions.
"Man," Chris said in my ear, making my belly heat up comfortably, and he continued in an odd blend of three languages. "Tell klaptorsken to turn das Telefon on, okay?"
"Sejt. Bye." He hung up.
"Bye," I said to the disconnected phone. "Fucker."
"Chris?" Palle asked, perking up.
"Turn das damned phone on, klaptorsk."
He grinned, and put the headset on. Soon after, he was hammering away on the keyboard while chatting in his odd mix of German and Danish with an occasional English word thrown in he had dude, and what the fuck down pat. Amazingly, Chris understood most of what he said and, equally amazing, Palle could understand quite a lot of Chris' very personal brand of German.
"You've got computers and computer games," Karlo had said to me back in mid-December, the day after I had returned, in a wheelchair, from the weekend in Norway. We had met up to discuss who Palle should room with once he got out of jail. "Put him up in my old digs upstairs. Besides, you need a nurse. He'll be the world's worst nurse but he's better than nobody."
"If he lives with me, he'll disappear underground the moment he's in the slightest trouble," I had countered. It was not that I didn't want Palle around but I liked to know that he was warm, fed, and comfortable, and that got his meds regularly.
"I'll talk with him," Martin had said, meaning Palle wouldn't end up homeless the moment he left my place.
"He's better off with you and Chris," Niller had rumbled, as if Chris and I were an institution, and sending me reeling with the implication.
I had managed a, "Huh?"
"You and Chris are better for him." He'd repeated patiently, convincing me that my ears had worked properly the first time.
Thinking of Niller's you and Chris could still make me dizzy. When did this happen? When did my friends get that idea?
Chris and I had waxed and waned over the almost seven years since I first went to Florida. In periods we had merely been widely spaced beeps on each other's radar. There had been girlfriends and boyfriends along the way; of those, Dani and Chris' relationship had lasted the longest. This last year I had crossed the Atlantic thrice and Chris had been to visit me for a longer period during the summer. We were still putting our projects first, but they were no longer as all-consuming.
During the previous wane, we had been down to a couple of calls a month and we hadn't met up for more than a year. Things had just slipped.
Then I met Terje.
Terje had been fun, and being with him had been a lot like living on a supersonic carousel. In the two months he lived with me I went to more parties and events than I could count, and got a bunch of new friends.
When Terje moved in, Chris had taken me by surprise by acting hurt, "Gee, give a guy a warning before you go cavorting off, fucknut." He had called back almost immediately just to say, "I don't like his name."
Days later, after Terje had answered the phone when Chris called, it was: "I don't like his voice."
Terje hadn't liked Chris' phone voice either.
Whatever news-search service Chris used had found the homepage of a Danish gossip magazine with a photo of Terje and me from some event that we had attended. I had received a mail with a link to the page and: "What kind of tree did his mum live in? Bet it was a tall one and that she dropped him a LOT. And right on his ugly head, too." At which point I had finally understood that he wasn't just acting hurt he was hurt.
Terje and I had clashed spectacularly when I wanted a period doing other stuff with a different set of friends. He had told me that I was being stupid and ineffective at networking: there were friends more profitable investing my emotional energy in.
Things had spiraled down from there, and I had decided to drop my investment in Terje. He had been out within a week, moving back to Stockholm where he came from, and where they were more than welcome to keep him, thank you. After that, I had been busy finding my feet, tracking down Chris, and reconfirming "unprofitable" friendships akin to the ones I had with people who put everything else aside to help me out the minute they heard about trees fallen in inconvenient places.
These days Chris' presence often wafted through the house, like when Palle was talking in incomprehensible code on the phone, or we had the web cameras going while doing our separate things. It was all rather unplanned for, and sometimes days would go by without any contact.
Chris' schedule was up in the air: he had an album almost finished but no record contract, he and his band the Little Red Monsters were ready to go out and perform but nothing was in place yet, and there was a charity concert dangling unfixed somewhere in the near future.
My own job had probably reached the point of maximum flexibility that I had been striving for: leaving on short notice was tricky, but I could plan my travels like a string of pearls into the future, and the plans usually came though. Except when stupid things like a broken leg got in the way.
Maybe I should just go ahead and do. In several of my imagined conversations I could see Chris haring off at full panic when I told of my idea.
Well, let him freak. Or not. When the pâté was in the oven, I sat down at the kitchen table to ponder my calendar, and Chris', and make some decisions. That done, it was time to start the cooking.
Life was almost perfect when Martin and Karlo came in from the outside noisy and nicely hungry, smelling of male sweat, motor exhausts, and wrapped in an invisible cloud of tree juices and fresh air. They took their delicious scent with them to the bathrooms, to wash it off while it still was magic.
When Karlo came out from the shower, he took one look at my face, and told me to sit down and put the leg up which I did. The leg was hurting: I had been up all night, running around from window to window, because it felt like the wind was going to tear the roof off and topple the house. Nothing had happened to the house other than the windows needing a cleaning because they were full of the prints of my sweating nose and hands.
Karlo took over cleaning the mushrooms in between stirring the onions simmering in the frying pan. "You two still good?" he quietly asked so that Palle wouldn't hear.
Not that there was much chance of Palle hearing anything: the game was momentarily abandoned in favor of a video conference while he told Chris about last night's hurricane, complete with sound effects and much waving of thin arms.
"Yes. Really good, actually. I like having him around and. Did he tell you about the cat?"
"What cat?" Karlo innocently asked, keeping his back turned, but I could hear that he was smiling.
"The one that leaves its hairs in my chair, uses the saucers that Palle never would use for himself, the cat that never is around when I come home. At a guess it's the weird looking one that's been sitting in the garden and staring at the house; the one that I've told Palle to leave alone. Because it's already got a home, a perfectly nice one with a little cat door, in a respectable house up the street. That cat. You can stop laughing."
"Well, ask him."
I snorted, and tried to ape Palle's reaction, "What cat? Oh, the cat. It snuck in I threw it out."
Karlo chuckled, and dumped the mushrooms into the pan with the onions. Then he rummaged about in the fridge, found the jar with marinated red cabbage, and one of the large bottles of my favorite locally brewed beer. He dumped the cabbage into a pan and set it to heat before coming over to sit down at the table with me.
"So, how's Ditte?" I asked as he carefully poured beer into two glasses.
He recapped the bottle. "We decided to stop." He scratched his neck. "She didn't believe me when I said I was going to find a different job." He was gone for days at a time, driving a truck on a regular run between Denmark and Spain.
"Well, maybe that's because you haven't done anything but talk about it in the, what, half a year you've been going out with her. No, it's more you got together in July."
"Probably," he grunted, and we drank. "Niller offered me a job. I said no."
I nodded; Niller had already told me.
"I just couldn't see myself driving a delivery van around the town. It just isn't the same. I don't even know if going back and forth between, say, Copenhagen and Esbjerg would be enough. The rush is still there when I roll over a border.... It's better than dope."
Balancing evil against the pain, I asked, "Why was it you stopped seeing Hanne?"
He looked at me for a moment, gray eyes crinkling at the corners. "Do you want a pill?"
"Sometimes I wish I could find a woman like your Chris," he said as he got the package from the cupboard.
"A woman that lives on the other side of the globe? One with a hairy chest, a beard, and a dick?"
"You know what I mean one that... fits."
"I'm not sure Chris is mine don't bother with that," I said when he reached for a clean glass. He got me the water anyway, and took away my beer, and his own, holding on to the glasses while I washed down the painkillers with water. Karlo had some weird principles when it came to medicine.
"You fit," he said, and let me have my beer back before he went to stir the food. "And I'm not so sure about Chris not being yours. You're certainly his. Maybe you just need to tell him."
"I. Yes. I'm going to. He may freak like crazy."
Karlo grunted quiet but firm disbelief, and added a bit of his beer to the red cabbage
I winced, wishing he would have poured from the bottle. "One thing." I washed the taste of water away with beer. "Chris and I try to not promise what we can't keep."
"Ouch? Boot prints on my ass?"
"Yep. Of course that means that we keep a lot of promises that we haven't given, and sometimes that gets complicated too."
"Like when you took up with Terje, and Chris got upset?"
"Don't mention his name in my house. It makes my leg hurt."
"We call him the Prick," Palle helpfully offered, having left the sofa and bee-lining for the beer bottle. Apparently he had finished talking with Chris. "Chris said it wasn't a real hurricane." He emptied the bottle, and got another from the fridge.
I wriggled about, looking in vain for a position of comfort. "I wouldn't trust his estimation of natural phenomena one bit did he tell you about the time he went surfing during a hurricane?"
"No." Palle looked thoughtful. "Sounds like something."
Karlo grinned, and shook his head. I got the feeling that it probably was very stupid to tell Palle about that particular Kirkpatrick feat. If we got another hurricane I'd do well to chain him to something solidly anchored high on dry land, and far away from my boathouse by the lake at the end of the garden. "Well, he did, and he's just as brain damaged as this other guy who ran around down by the water last night while bits, large bits, of trees and the neighbor's garden shed were flying all over the place. Meathead."
"It was fun." Palle grinned, unrepentant. "What's Martin doing?"
"Beating off in the shower," Karlo guessed, which was what he himself had done.
I shook my head. "Not when he's going to see Rasmus."
"Did you see the way he walks? Must've spent the whole night with Rasmus' dick in his ass. That guy is so hung." Not that Palle had seen Rasmus naked and hard but he was a firm believer in the saying about big feet and big dicks, and Rasmus had really big feet.
"Something's burning," said Martin, coming out from the hallway by my bedroom, sauntering across the living room.
Karlo jumped up to check on everything on the stove, then realized that Martin wasn't serious. "What took you so long?" he asked.
"You shaved," Palle said. "Again."
"Oh, la, la. New shirt." Karlo looked Martin over. It was a new shirt alright and the black jeans that he usually saved for more formal occasions.
Martin gave us the finger, and opened the fridge to get one of the non-alcoholic beers.
"Mmm. Smelling good," I noted as Martin sat down next to me. He sent me the evil eye when the other two came over to sniff him, and say their uhms and ahs, loudly appreciating the spicy scent of the cologne he'd put on.
"So, what's up?" asked Karlo, escaping before Martin got to the point where he started banging our heads together. "Did you piss him off this morning?"
Martin just drank his beer, looking cool. So: not.
"Going out?" I guessed, and received another dirty look. "Oh. Meeting the 'rents!"
Martin yanked my mustache. He had taken to that after I started getting haircuts on a regular basis and there no longer was a bundle of hair to pull. "Shut up. You can be damned irritating, you know."
"Ow!" I batted his hand away from my face. "Is the dinner at Rasmus' place or theirs?"
"Is it your first time meeting them?" asked Karlo while checking on the liver pâté.
"Yes." Martin pulled at the label on the bottle.
"Oh, my," muttered Karlo, and took the dish out of the oven. Martin got up to help him get things onto the table.
Palle and I shared a look, trying to decide on a strategy.
"Cake," Palle said and jumped up. "You'll want cake." He was talking about the space cake laced heavily with hash that I routinely made for him. He couldn't smoke up properly without falling prey to one of the coughing fits that seemed to never stop once they started. When he first moved in he hadn't had any appetite at all, and at least the space cake had supplied him with much needed calories.
"No," said Martin, hungrily eyeing the dark brown chocolate cake with thick, pale yellow icing that Palle brought out. "Can I have a couple of pieces for Rasmus and me, for after?"
"But you have to. You always bring a present when you come for dinner, I mean, when it's kind of formal," Palle said in one of his surprising displays of knowledge of proper conduct. "It's, like, polite."
"I do?" Martin recognized a display when he saw it, and looked slightly worried.
"Sure. Flowers or something. Space cake's perfect and this one is fresh; Mikkel made it yesterday." Palle cut, carefully following the markings that indicated the correct dose for Palle. Martin would know to cut the slices into smaller pieces one third of a slice for Rasmus and two thirds for Martin.
"Flowers. Where can I get flowers?" There was definitely a note of panic in Martin's voice.
Once we had pointed a couple of viable possibilities out for Martin, and several that were not quite viable, he calmed down, and we settled down to eat.
"What's so bad about it? Is Rasmus nervous that you're going to pee on the floor?" Karlo asked.
Martin shook his head.
"His parents are probably nervous too," I said.
"Is that going to make conversation easier? Nobody's ever dragged my home to meet their 'rents before, man. I'm forty-one and it's my first time!"
I didn't think that Martin could use my latest experience with meeting-a-parent-for-the-first-time for anything. For one thing, neither she nor I had been able to prepare: Chris and I had been working, each of us sitting on his respective continent doing his paperwork, while the web cameras were going; once in a while we would exchange a few words or take a break and talk. At the sound of the doorbell, Chris had jumped up run out of the office. When I next had looked up, there was a chubby, dark haired woman in the door, curiously eyeing the screen with me on it. Her features and the brown eyes had left me in no doubt as to whom she was. I had waved to her and said, "Hi, Beverly" she'd jumped and yelped, "Oh, my god! It's alive!"
Her reaction to Chris yelling in the background, demanding she get out of his office, had been to get inside quickly, and lock the door behind her, before moving towards the computer with an excited glint in her smiling eyes. Chris was his mother's son in looks as well as in deeds.
"Do they have a garden?" I asked Martin.
"There you're all set; they'll want to talk gardening with a professional. Lots to talk about." Martin had been working with a landscape gardener for years. "And there's the hurricane, too. You'll do fine."
When Martin still looked unconvinced, I added, "Dad never bit you."
"That's different he's like my ex-in-law." It was odd watching them together, utterly intrigued with each other, both of them completely unaware of the high regard the other man held for him.
"We got a postcard from him," Palle said, and got up to find it. While his back was turned I took a look at his plate he'd actually eaten a whole piece of bread and a good helping of pâté and fixings. When Palle came back, the card with the picture from New Zealand was handed around the table, and the talk fell on other things.
By the time Martin and Karlo left, it was late afternoon and dark had fallen. As Palle and I stood waving goodbye on the stairs outside, I thought I saw a small dark shadow shooting past behind us.
The shadow turned out to have a more solid existence than that of a mere spirit. It was sitting on the kitchen table when Palle and I got back in; when it saw Palle it rose, tail rising even higher, and it went "Meeeeow!" while shifting on its feet as if it was kneading.
It was the cat from the garden alright: Fluffy coat, mostly brownish gray striped with irregular splotches of white and red. One could imagine color genes exploding before they were employed properly in the early process of making a litter of feline babies.
Instinctively I barked at it; the color-challenged beast flew down from the table, and streaked under the sofa.
"Fuck, that's no way to treat a cat!" Palle said and sent me a glare.
"It was on the kitchen table. Where we eat! Sitting on its ass!"
"It's a cat!"
"I don't care if it's a cat or a rat its ass doesn't have any business on the kitchen table."
"Oh, man," muttered Palle and walked towards the sofa. "Eat some proper pain meds, and go lay down. Fucknut." Fucknut in English.
I was too upset to sit, much less to lie down, so I fetched the bucket, and tapped hot water, adding disinfectant. In the living room Palle was kneeling by the sofa and cooing stupidly. Hobbling around, I scrubbed the table. By the time I poured the water out, Palle had convinced the cat to come out of hiding. When I sat down in my chair, leg elevated on the footstool, he was sitting on the floor, petting the cat.
"Take the beast down to number seven, tell the them that it looks like it's moving in up here," I told him.
"Yes. The house with the walnut tree out front. There's an elderly couple living there. The cat is probably like their baby or something."
He nodded and got up. Before he put his coat on, he placed a glass of water, a pill, the phone, and the computer within my easy reach. "This one works," he assured me. When he walked off, the cat glared at me over his shoulder. I stuck my tongue out at it; the animal didn't even blink.
The pill looked very small. Palle no doubt had given me one of the best ones he had, and it probably could knock out four elephants for two weeks or more the miniature size was just camouflage. I let it lie; if the leg didn't get any better, then perhaps I would take the elephant knockout before I went to bed.
Chris wasn't online, so I set out to order transatlantic trips, one approximately every second month for the next year and a half forward. When I had finished I updated the online calendar that Kurt, Chris, and my secretary all had access to. There. I wasn't sure how often Chris checked the calendar, or if he did at all. Let him find out for himself. My belly clenched in anticipation. At least with Chris, one could be sure that he would say something if so much planning went against him.
Chris still wasn't online, and I called a couple of friends, just to say hi; the last of them was Lisbeth.
"Did you hear that Johanne closed the restaurant?" she asked. "Four days ago."
This was how I stayed informed about my mother: through Lisbeth and Morfar. It was three years since my mother and I had talked face to face it had been name calling (her part), and poisonous barbs (my part). Lisbeth hadn't tried tricking us both to visit her at the same time after that attempt at surprise diplomacy.
"Have you talked with her?" I asked. Karla had closed her restaurant in early summer, and I hadn't expected my mother to keep going for this long after that.
"I met up with her when I was out shopping on Friday.... She'd just bought a really nice fur coat, not a cheap one, and a holiday on Gran Canaria. And she hates flying, I don't think you can go to Gran Canaria without flying, do you?"
"It would certainly be a long boat ride. How was she?"
"Odd. I mean, like, she was chatting all the time, about nothing, really; and she didn't listen to anything I said. Maybe she was drugged, I mean, I'm no good at spotting that, but I think she could've been. You should go see her."
Of course she's odd if she's had to close the shop. I tried imagining the same thing happening to me several hundreds of people out of work.... My soul would need gallons of chemical support. Chris had been quite out of it when he'd had to close down his clothes line. Opposed to both Chris and I, my mother had never cared much about the employees at least she wouldn't have that part weighing heavily on her. The restaurant was her soul. That's another difference between us. "Did she say anything about seeing me? Did she ask about me at all?"
"No. But. Mikkel, please? She needs you."
"Hardly." Needs me? Inconceivable.
Lisbeth sighed, "I think you're wrong. Look, Karla's not. I mean, she has a new boyfriend."
"A new boyfriend? Has anybody thought to warn him?"
"Mikkel, I'll look, just stay out of it, okay? It's just that Karla won't be much around Johanne, now.... She's alone."
"She's got friends. And Morfar." I would have to call Morfar since he hadn't called me, it was very likely that mother hadn't told him yet.
"I don't think so, not that kind of friends. Well, me. But. I'm not you."
"If she wants to talk, why hasn't she called me?"
Lisbeth wouldn't disconnect before she had my firm promise that I would contact my mother soon.
Dad, who was the obvious one to consult about this kind of thing, was prowling New Zealand with my friend Jens Peter and Jens Peter's wife Doris.
Oh, well. Maybe it would do her some good to have me to bitch at. I didn't look forward to being my mother's doormat.
"What's up?" Palle asked when he came home without the cat, and found me sketching gargoyles. "Man, that's neat. Can I have that on my stone?" He sat down on the armrest and put an arm around my neck.
For once I was not averse to discussing his headstone, and we sat together while I sketched, and Palle gave pointers in between talking about the cat and the nice humans it kept for cat purposes in its house up the street. The humans were fine with their master expanding its borders. Palle was going to put a cat door in the back door. I resigned myself to sharing house and endless battles with an imperialistic color accident with bad habits.
"What experience would you like us to have when we visit your grave?" I asked Palle when his wishes grew a tad horrific. "Because that stone will give me nightmares."
"Uh. I didn't think of it like that. I mean, I just like it."
"I could carve it in wood and put it on the workshop that's what I'm making the gargoyles for; they're supposed to keep the stone splitting spirits away." I was still a beginner at stone carving, and the granite had a tendency to bruise and crack.
"Okay. Well, then. I'd like something like this," he said, and pulled a paper out of the small pile we had made. "Except it's not very comfortable to sit on."
We worked that part out, and finally he seemed satisfied. "So, why were you so upset when I came back?"
"My mother has gone bankrupt. I've promised Lisbeth to get in touch with her."
My mother was not popular with him or with any of my other close friends. Yet: he nodded. "Martin went to see his dad."
"I don't know, not long after we came back to Denmark. It was hell; his dad was drunk, and wanted to beat him up. But he went to see him. I don't think they talked much, and I don't think Martin's been back. He's glad he went, or, I don't know, relieved."
"He never told me."
"Well, he wouldn't. So are you going to see her?"
"Tomorrow; I'll drop by on my way home." I was suddenly weary.
Palle nodded and got up. He noticed that I checked my watch, and grinned. "It's fuck-the-hippo time," he said, and sauntered off. "Tell him that it was a hurricane."
I hit speed dial.
"Hippo Love Hotel. What can I do for ya?" the well known voice gasped in my ear, and heat spread through my body; suddenly it was much easier to relax.
It was the time for his midday exercise: Chris was set on maximum preparedness for the upcoming performances which apparently included serious shrinkage of his soft layer.
He was working out three times a day, and dieting, and generally making me nervous and upset about the way he treated himself. And the upset wasn't only because I would miss blowing raspberries on the curved expanse of the nice Potbelly.
He'd been quite determined and full of intent since singing the National Anthem, solo, at the Steelers game in December. The need to be up there with the guys was burning hot in him.
It was good to see him burn again after the prolonged and draining disintegration of Nsync it was also a good thing that it wasn't the soul consuming wildfire of the No Strings Tour.
"This is Otto Horn from Rhino Rubber Limited calling you with an amazing offer-"
"Hi, Otto. New job, huh?"
"Oh yes. This one's a keeper. Look, this week we at Rhino Rubber Limited give a discount on all our high quality rubber products; condoms are all at ten dollars a pound, no matter the size! That'll for instance give you five Rhino-poker Supersized Polkadots for only ten dollars, or one-hundred-twenty-seven Australian Newt's Rillform, one African Watercooled Elephant-rut with zebra stripes, or four-hundred-fifty-three fitted, extra tough Hippohop Bugger-rubs, our new and improved model for American hippos! Only ten dollars, sir!"
"Yeah? Hey, do the Hiphop Rubber-bugs have polka. Wait a minute, how many did you say?"
"Four-hundred-fifty-three fitted, extra tough Hippohop Bugger-rubs, sir it's a sensation. And yes, they do of course also come with polka-dots. Purple dots on fluorescent pink. Those are four-hundred-twenty-one rubbers to a pound due to the extra weight of the dots; the dots are knobby, you see, for extra pleasure."
"And how many newt rubbers?" His small grin was quite evident in his voice.
"One-hundred-twenty-seven Newt's Rillform, sir. Non-knobby Polka-dots are the standard in this model. If you want Newtpopper Queens Only, the model with little, electric charges, you get ninety-eight rubbers pr pound."
For a moment there was only his dear, heavy breath to be heard. "Your numbers are wrong."
"You switched the stats for the rhino and the hippo rubbers."
"The Rhino-poker Supersized Polkadots and the Hippohop Bugger-rubs?"
"But, sir, it's. Oh.... Does that mean you'll take five Hippohop Bugger-rubs for ten dollars? We can do that."
"Sure. And four-hundred-what-ever Rhino-pokers for ten dollars. Do you have them with explosive charges?"
"Sir, I. Say, why would you want Rhino-poker Supersized Polkadots for a hippo love hotel?"
"For the dicks." He sounded very reasonable.
"For the dicks."
"Yeah. Yeah, the dicks."
"For standard American hippo dicks?"
"Standard? I don't know about standard, man. I'm talking about. Big. Fat. Swinging. Target seeking. Hungry. Cum dripping. Hippo dicks." He enunciated the words very clearly on separate, sweat dripping exhalations.
And despite the pain in my leg: Little Troll Poker! I demand the Little Troll Poker now! I had to swallow before I could talk. "Uhm. Right. Erh. Is this the new kink?"
"Oh, yeah. Well, not really new. Our big dicks are in high demand, very high demand. We've got a permanent two-mile line-up waiting out front, night and day with huge posters of the favorites. Most of them are of mine, hard as a fucker. Not that I wanna brag or anything, but my dick looks damned fine on a forest of posters."
Me, me and Troll Poker on a forest of posters! "No, no. I mean. I'm sure it does. The electron microscope is a marvelous invention-"
"What's that got to do with anything?"
"I was thinking of something else. Sorry. Say, what do you do with three foot excess, flabby rubber tube after you've, what, taped? the rubber on? Or do you use glue and string? I imagine that the tape would-"
He snorted. "I can guarantee that there is no excess rubber hanging from my dick, dude I use an extra-extra super sized model for Indian bodybuilder elephants. With explosive charges boom!"
My ass contracted in horror. "Ouch! That hurt. You're evil."
He cackled triumphantly as well as he could when the cackle was riding on short breath.
"Are you rowing?" I asked, imagining him sitting in the row-machine that he had bought second hand and set up by his pool.
"Nope. Having sex with a hippo." Which was pretty much his standard answer.
"Who's on top?"
"The hippo, man. I'm flat. The raspberry field is totally leveled." He did sound sexed up when he was breathing hard.
"I still say you're overdoing it. I asked Tom, and now I have it on authority. Have you talked with your doctor? Or do I have to sic Tom on you?"
"Yes and hell no. And what the fuck, dude? Kill the bird, will you." He meant my inner Mother Hen, the one bird he routinely and ruthlessly sent to the guillotine.
"I'm all surrounded by headless, rotten poultry zombies, man. Some of them are so old they have lost all the feathers."
"Huh? What happened?"
"My mother finally closed the restaurant-" By the end of my story, Chris' breath had grown calmer; he had stopped doing whatever exercise that he had been doing.
"Have you tried calling her?" he quietly asked.
"Not yet. I thought, maybe go visit her tomorrow. Sounds like she's going crazy."
"You should do it right now. Call her. And call me back afterwards. I'll be waiting." I could hear his Mother Hen loudly nagging at him, and he usually kept her firmly locked away so that she wouldn't take sole reign over his life, she being a very bossy creature. And not a dude in the sentence either.
Since the bossiest of all mother hens had been allowed out, I did call him back when my mother, to my relief, didn't answer her phone. There was that odd pause again, almost as if he was suppressing some kind of explosion, but his voice was still quiet. "Mikkel, You gotta go see her, and you gotta do it right now. Track her down, get to her. Is Palle there?"
Stunned, I said, "Yes."
"Let me speak with him. Go collect what you need for break and entry."
It finally dawned on me what he was telling me. Swallowing the pain, I got up. "Palle, Chris wants to talk with you. Now! Hurry!" I yelled, and went as quickly as I could out to the workshop, picking up a bag on the way.
Even though I was as fast as I could be, it still seemed like hours before Palle and I were in my car, getting out of the drive at a snail's pace.
I was shaking like a leaf and fumbling with the map book, trying to figure out the fastest route to a place that I had never been to before: my mother's house. Litlgator lay restless in my breast pocket it was poking me with it pointed little tail hurry.
Palle was playing lose and fast with traffic lights and speed limits. And of course, this one time when I absolutely did not want to lose my way, we ended up detouring unnecessarily. At last we were there, in front of a yellow brick house with a sales sign by the road.
The house looked empty; there was no light on inside, and the curtains were undrawn. The front of the house was flooded in the pale light from the street lamp.
"Piece of pie," muttered Palle as we got out, and I knew that he already had decided on an alternative way in, likely through a basement window. We hurried up the stairs to the front door, I pushed the bell button and then we stood there, waiting. And waiting. How long do we wait before we break in? Ten seconds more? One two - I pushed the button again. Palle was behind me, rubbing my back. Waiting. -seven eight. Do I hear steps? Please! Let me hear-
The door opened. She was standing there, apparently alive if haggard, looking at me with consternation all over her face. Lots of consternation. "Mikkel?"
"You're okay? You didn't.... You look, I mean, you're alive!" I was babbling. "That's good. I mean, I'm. Glad. Uh. Can I come in?"
She hesitated, her glance flicked to my leg and back to my face. "What do you want?" A small hitch splintered the tight control of her voice.
"Are you okay?" I asked, and it was a very stupid question because of course she was not okay at all, but it was the only question that I could think of. The waiting had destroyed what cool I had left, and my brain was making more static than sense.
She opened her mouth, and then closed it; frowning, she slowly stepped back, holding the door open. I hobbled inside. I looked behind me when Palle wasn't following, and saw him on his way back to the road, the bulging bag slung over his shoulder.
I followed her into hallway and into the living room. "Lisbeth told me you had to sell the restaurant. I'm sorry to hear that."
"And now you've come to gloat."
"No. No, I came to see how you were doing...." Her fight. Yet: "To see if there's anything I can do."
She snorted and walked to one of the windows; with a finger she distractedly checked the soil of one of the potted flowers in the window sill. The soil already looked damp; I doubted the plant needed water.
She had lost weight since I last saw her; her knees appeared knobbier, and the skirt she was wearing did not hug her hips the smooth way her skirts usually did. Are all people shrinking and disappearing on me? Her blouse looked like it was freshly ironed, and she was wearing her pearls; perhaps she had been on her way out.
Unhurriedly, she rubbed the soil off the finger. "Well, four million on my bank account would work wonders." Her voice was almost light it was probably more meant as a joke than a serious request. "Who is he?"
Four million? "Palle. He lives with me." Through one of the windows, and overlaid with the reflections of the living room, I could see Palle under the street light by the car, putting a small item to his ear: my phone. I hoped he thought to call Chris. "He and I go back a long time."
"He looks ill."
"Yes. He is."
"So, I heard your business still is doing well. You're really popular with the magazines."
"Not so much any more. That was last year; I went to a lot parties."
"I saw a picture of you and your boyfriend. Some premiere.... What's his name? He's Swedish, right?"
"Terje, from Stockholm. We broke up." Camera flashes had been Terje's favorite turn on, and he had actually read those seedy magazines. "We were together for three months." And why is she asking about boyfriends?
Is she actually interested? Her voice was monotone, and frailer than I remembered it. I had no idea how to interpret it. "He looked good," she said. "Handsome."
"I suppose. He certainly was a learning experience. Do you have a boyfriend?"
"No, I don't." Listless. She was still looking at her own reflection or perhaps at Palle, who was speaking into the phone, and gesturing; the size of the gestures hinted that he was babbling in German.
"Were you serious about the four million?"
She turned and looked at me, one eyebrow raised. "You have four million crowns you don't know what to do with?"
"It's not like I don't know what to do with them; it's more like I know how to do without them." I suddenly felt bad for testing and manipulating her like I was some evil old witch.
"I though you didn't want to get involved in my fucked-up, fraught-tinted economy." The last was my own words, and they sounded really odd coming out of her mouth. Apparently the words had struck which came as a surprise to me.
"A straight request of four million is simple as long as I have the money, and we do it my way: We put everything on paper, keep it legal, and between nobody but you, me and Tax-Daddy. What you do with it is your own decision; I'm not even going to ask."
"And what are you going to ask in return?"
"Nothing." It was heady, this belief in easy solutions the ten seconds it lasted. The illusion of being able to clear the slate, maybe even start form anew was alluring. Is she listening?
"Why? Why will you do this now?"
She's asking. Perhaps she is listening. "Really, can you look at the two ex-husbands that Karla wrung dry and destroyed can you look at them and tell me that Dad and I were wrong to stay the hell away from any dealings that involved her?"
She shook her head once.
"Karla's found a new boyfriend, and she's going to shun you while she's working on hooking him into marriage at least as long as she figures that you're out of resources. If four millions and a respite from Karla are what it takes for you to, I don't know, find your feet and have a go at saving yourself, then, fine. Whatever. Not that I'm asking for any promises I'm not."
"You're doing this for me?"
"It's utterly selfish, really. Like, maybe some day I'll have my mother back."
She studied me expressionlessly. Then she made a small motion with her hand. "Do you want to sit?"
"Thanks." I looked at the chairs: all of them were deep, soft ones that it was tricky to get into or out off. It wasn't an exercise that I wanted to do more times than necessary, not when my leg was swelling and aching. "Uh. The bathroom?"
"In the hallway. At the very end."
The only light in the hallway was that which seeped through the open door from the living room and, a weaker light, through a door slightly ajar next to the bathroom. When I looked in, I could see the corner of a bed and a lit candle on the small bedside table; my mother had always had a thing against leaving candles burning untended. Odd. I shouldered the door open, intending to go in and blow out the candle.
There was another lit candle, a bottle of wine, and a glass on the table at the opposite side of the bed. Oops, maybe I shouldn't. Maybe there's somebody in there. A man? The thought of my mother hiding a man in her closet was funny.
A crystal bowl stood next the bottle; in my childhood the bowl had been used for candy but now it didn't hold candy but: pills in several sizes and shapes, white pills with a few of pastel colored ones, lots of pills.
It's funny how one can see things without registering their meaning. I was staring for that bowl for a long moment before realizing the implications. Something splintered in me, and my throat ached when a too large sound forced its way out, "Ma!"
She came running, but stopped when she saw me standing in the open bedroom door.
"You. My god. You were going to. Have you?" My voice was shaking same as the rest of me.
She shook her head once.
"Good, that's good. God." In my flustered state I forgot about holding on, and the crutch clattered to the floor when I raised my hand to rub at my face as if sense and order was something one could apply like a sun lotion. "Oh, shit."
She was just standing there, face unreadable in the semi-dark.
"Could you. A hand, please?" I didn't trust my balance mucking around to get hold of the stupid thing on the floor.
She came towards me, slowly. When she came closer to the light, I could see wet streaks on her cheeks. Her eyes were huge.
Before she could bend to pick up the clutch, I put a hand on her shoulder, desperately needing to confirm that she was there, warm and alive. "A hug? Please?"
She blinked, it took her a moment to understand, and, thank goodness, she came forward, awkwardly, and unsure what to do. The other crutch went clattering against the wooden floor: I needed both arms for that hug.
The computer pinged softly. I pushed the binder out of the way, and hit a set of shortcut keys. The darkened screen came alive as the machine started the appropriate processes, the LED on the webcam flickered.
And there he was: dressed in sweats and a ragged T-shirt; his short, damp hair was pointing in all directions his typical towel-rub hairdo. He was in the kitchen, an empty plate had been pushed aside to make room for his legs on the table; the Belly! no longer lent quite as prominent weight to his presence as it had done when I visited in late November.
He would have been very comfortable sitting like that if he hadn't spilled water on himself. Frowning, he stopped brushing at the wet splotch on his belly, and looked up. The offended frown slipped right off, and was replaced with the penetrating gaze that saw everything and in detail too: he was wearing his glasses. He always got me when he was wearing his glasses, causing an extra ping of warmth; the glasses were slightly askew making the ping more like a pingpingping. Chris!
He wriggled the bottle at me. "So?"
"You were right," I told him. He didn't crow the way he usually would when one told him he'd been right, rather he was all attentive seriousness. "She had everything ready, she was going to. Pills. She had them in the frigging candy bowl, like.... She said it was like having a party for one. She said she said she was sure I wouldn't care much. Like she was actually going to do me a favor. It was. Is. So fucking fucked up."
He nodded me on without commenting on my tears.
I dried my face on the back of my hand. "She's at the hospital, now. Psychiatric ward. She agreed to get help, but they're gonna let her out too soon; we have to figure something out, find a psychiatrist or psychologist, I'm not sure which, but I expect the hospital will be able to help us on that. Morfar is coming over in the morning." He was going to bring two of his dogs the cat would not like that. Hopefully I could get Morfar to take, or at least join me for, the meeting with my mother's lawyer.
"Is he going to stay with you?"
"Yes. For a couple of days or so." It would be Morfar's first visit to my house. He didn't care for cities at all, and when we saw each other, which was seldom, it was always when I visited him.
"That's good. How are you, man?" He was studying me closely.
"Beat. Leg's hurting like a motherfucker. Off balance. Numb when I'm not jumping between profound relief, stink-sweat terror, and fucked up guilt like, I can't settle. My brain won't stop racing in circles, either except when it goes into whiteout."
"Yeah, well. You look like hell."
I nodded. I felt like hell.
"Go to bed. Get some sleep."
"Yeah. I suppose...." I eyed the binder that my mother had asked me to take to the lawyer. "I just have to-"
"You've got to sleep, dude."
I wrinkled my nose in distaste. "Palle gave me something. You know, I suddenly have very mixed feeling towards funny pills."
"I can call Tom," purred Chris.
I shook my head. "Say, when did my cousin get to be a bogey man?"
"When you sicced him on me back in December 1999 for being too thin, you fucker. Now, I've got stretch marks!" The last was said with wide-eyed indignation and a pat to his belly.
Kiss Chris! Nuzzle the Fine Belly! "Raspberry fields forever," I hummed thickly, trying but not succeeding at hitting an old Beatles melody.
He snorted, and flipped me off before he took a gulp of water.
"With lots of farm subsidiaries, and a little sprinkler system," I hummed on, and still couldn't hit the melody so never mind if the words didn't fit it at all.
Sprinkler system it was when Chris spat water, making me feel numbly proud of myself. "Fuckhead," he snapped, and pulled his T-shirt away from his body.
He smiled, that small smile. The Transatlantic Super-hug. "Go to bed, dude. I'll save my speeches for tomorrow."
"Speeches? On what?"
"On why your mum isn't the only one who should see a shrink, man."
"You think I should?"
"Much as I'd enjoy the spectacle of seeing you go bananas with a flamethrower yeah. But it's no fun telling you stuff when you're beat and just do whatever I tell you to."
"Uhm. Okay." I wasn't sure I could get up. "Bed?"
"Sing for me?" I wasn't too beat to take full advantage of the Bossy Mother Hen temporarily having escaped the hencoop.
"Okay. But not-"
"Please? I promise not to cry." Much.
He frowned at me, obviously not trusting my promise one bit. "Get moving, Mikkel."
I did. After what seemed like hours of effort I was on my back in bed, pillowed up for maximum comfort, tapping commands on the keyboard on the night table. When Chris, wearing a different T-shirt, came on screen he was sitting on a chair in his studio on the first floor, strumming his old guitar.
"Wanna hear some of the stuff I'm working on?" he asked.
"Yeah." I let the song list in my head slip away. This was better I was hard pressed to find anything more relaxing than listening to Chris going this way and that, humming, and dropping a word here and there while looking for a song.
"How did you know?" I asked, when the pain began receding on waves, and he paused to drink from his ever-present water bottle.
"You're supposed to stop thinking." He put the bottle away, and plucked at the strings for a moment. "My step dad went shopping like crazy before he killed himself. Are the drugs kicking in yet?"
"They are." His step dad had committed suicide back when money was short. Bev and her kids had been left in one hell of situation.
"Good. Stop thinking, and keep your eyes closed."
"Okay. Eyes closed." I tried, I really tried, and did succeed for a little while. The flashbacks of my mother crying wasn't as scary as I had feared, but they hurt.
Suddenly I longed painfully for a solid, meaty Chris hug with fringe benefits like poking, and hair pulling, and the goodness of Chris-scents. I let it go, sighing to make my gut unclench. It was very stupid focusing on what we had not that road led to all sorts of destructive things. And isn't it time I used that knowledge in relation to my mother? "I was thinking about us today."
"Oh, shit. Look, you're not gonna ask the kid-question again, are you? 'Cause the answer hasn't changed: Not your fault, and no I don't. And why does that answer always make me want to uncap a marker?"
"No, no. Not the kid and picket fence question; it's not bothering me anymore. Just I'm glad for what we have." I hoped Terje had been my last major, stupid mistake. Chris had snorted in disbelief when I had told him that. Mistakes aren't rationed, dude.
"I checked your calendar," he said lightly.
He doesn't sound scared that's good. "Yes?"
"Yeah." It was a breathy and very heart-shaped yeah. Chris sat hunched over his guitar; I couldn't see his mouth. Yet, the impishness of his grin was very visible in the archs of the eyebrows, the angle of his neck, and the curve of his cheeks.
Comfortably warm in all the right places I closed my eyes. "What's the point in taking funny pills if I'm just sleeping the fun away?"
He chuckled, and adjusted the tension of a string. I faded in and out for a while, and finally, safely wrapped in the sound of Chris humming and playing around with a small sequence of notes, I went out.
End of The Tail of the Tiger
© Morgenfryd 2005