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Jan/Feb 2013 Spotlight

Pablo, Pablito – a novella

Chapter Four

by Steven Schutzman


Pablo leans out the building doorway to see if Dakota has gone in the direction back to her school. She still is, slowly under the newly leafing trees, in a different, more dramatic landscape in her mind. She has wrapped the red sleeping bag around her shoulders again, trailing it on the sidewalk behind her, like the beat up flag of a defeated country. The poor lost kid. Not belonging where she is. He feels bad for her and mad at the world which tries to crush such spirits, and guilty too because he knows he won't be seeing her again, his lie that he would see her again would help the spirit-crushing world crush her spirit.

In his mind, he calls out, Wait. Let's hang.

She better hurry. Dark rain clouds are gathering in the sky, slanting heavily down. It's one of those blustery days with storms blowing in and out separated by periods of brightness when the world seems brand new under a momentary sun.

Pablo trudges up the stairs, feeling drained. What a day. Though his keys fit the locks, though he hangs them and his jacket on their designated pegs by the front door, though his parakeet Cecilia lands on his shoulder with a song and a dance about her time alone, and though his answering machine is flashing red Pablo feels no comfort in these familiar things, only mechanisms. It's like that soccer girl has taken his spirit with her. He doesn't want to find out who called. Probably Little Grandmother wondering what's happening and why he didn't show at the diner.

Pablo looks around his apartment like a traveler coming back after a long time away, feeling he can no longer accept the settled life he had before.

My spirit has vacated this place today. I feel like a visitor in the museum of me. Okay. I just got to get through it and wake up tomorrow, normal again.

It is near to two o'clock and he hasn't eaten a thing since breakfast. He opens a can of chili and heats it up before realizing he's not hungry and leaves it cooling in the sauce pan on the stove. He doesn't feel like playing drums.

The bird is bugging him, pecking his ear lobes for attention. He puts her in her cage by the window. Outside, the cloud cover is making the world look like a black and white movie. Pablo leans out the window, feels the wind, smells the coming rain. He looks down in the hope of seeing a red sleeping bag with a girl wrapped in it down below, vivid as a dandelion against the gray concrete of the sidewalk. Alive. Miraculously alive. Nope. Only trash scuttling past the great endless wall of parked cars.

The bird won't shut up. As he is putting the towel over her cage, he has the crazy idea that when he woke up this morning his spirit didn't wake with him and that's why he is feeling the way he is, because he has been without his spirit all day. Maybe that's what people mean when they say you got up on the wrong side of the bed in the morning; that your spirit stayed in the dream and went on in the dream without you. The only thing to do then is go back to sleep and reunite with his spirit. Maybe his spirit is wandering down the frog road, the same as Dakota is heading back to school, and he just has to catch up to her again. Pablo lies down on top of the covers of his bed and falls asleep quickly. He has no dreams and is dead to the world until he is awakened, more than an hour later, by the telephone ringing in heavy air.

It is Grand Aunt Salma with the slow news that the getaway artist Grand Uncle Leo is on the loose again. In former times, it would have been faster news but Grand Aunt Salma, when something bad happens these days, pops more of the white pills the Doctor gave her to calm her down so she won't drop dead from a stroke. Otherwise she'd still be bouncing off the walls and calling the Doctor's office every day that she's dying.

After swallowing those pills, Grand Aunt throws herself upon the mercy of the world, in other words on Pablo who never says No, to find Grand Uncle again or her credit card or to see what's making the evil noise under the kitchen sink and tell her if she needs an exterminator or a plumber or exorcist or what, or to total her money up again to calculate if there's enough in case she lives to be a hundred, or to get her computer out of the box and up and running, or any of the thousand emergencies, causing him to wear a rut in the sidewalk to her house. A few years ago, Grand Uncle, a very handy person, could take care of everything for her, but now Grand Aunt must take care of him in his dementia and the responsibility is making her pop more and more white pills. She needs professional help taking care of her husband but can't afford it especially if she's going to live past a hundred.

Everyone who knows Grand Aunt is sure she will live a long time. Those without caller ID let their answering machines answer the phone just in case it's her with an emergency. Not Pablo. Her helpless nature makes him feel solid in himself and special, like a hero, like he is the only one who can talk a crazy person down from a bridge. He is grateful for the white pills even though they cause Grand Aunt to treat her troubles as if they were comedy episodes on the TV.

Guess what, Pablito Darling.

Oh no, not again, Grand Aunt. Where?

At the new Dollar store on the Avenue. Sponges, cleaning fluids, brushes, and the next thing I know he's gone.

Gone again.

Pablo knows it will do no good to tell Grand Aunt to be more careful shopping in the future. Every time it's the same mistake: Grand Aunt gets absorbed in the prices of things to figure out if they are bargains. She goes into a store trance, as if saving a few cents now will help her live past one hundred. She's only sixty seven. Pablo can't imagine her in thirty three years, if things keep going down hill like they're going down hill now.

Perhaps a leash is called for in the future, Pablito.

Perhaps, Grand Aunt.

Don't say that to me. I was kidding.

Me too, Grand Aunt.

Think how embarrassing a leash would be for a person of your Uncle's dignity.

It's just a question of not getting distracted in stores, paying closer attention.

Did you know a lot of things for sale at that Dollar store aren't really a dollar? Isn't that false advertising?

Yes, Grand Aunt.

I was going to speak to the manager when I noticed my husband was gone, she says. I called you at your job but they said you don't work there anymore. What the heck's with that, Pablo?

I'll be right over.

No, no, no, better not.

Why not?

I know where he is. The people called already and asked if they could keep him a while longer.

Why didn't you say so, Grand Aunt?

I'm so worried.

Another watchmaker?

Of course. They saw his ID bracelet and called. They sounded nice very.

Watchmakers always are nice, just like Uncle Leo was nice when he still had his business.

Watchmaker isn't the right word, you know.

I know.

They don't make watches, they repair them like your Uncle used to, the poor man. I always told him that.

Yes, Grand Aunt and all he wants is to repair watches again.

No way I'm going through that nonsense anymore, Pablo.

He can come over here and do it.

We'll see.

After his illness started and Grand Uncle had to retire, Grand Aunt used to ration him one broken watch a day but stopped because the repairs began ending badly. Sometimes he would smash a repaired watch with his jeweler's hammer or throw it against a wall or dangerously out a window or in the garbage can or put it in a casserole or the freezer or the oven. The end came when he put an large old pocket watch down the drain and broke the garbage disposal motor. Grand Aunt had had enough.

Pablo thought Grand Uncle was trying to tell everybody something with his repairing watches and wrecking the watches he repaired, when he couldn't repair his broken self, something deep and philosophical about life and time, something about the place he lived now, beyond time and language, like the place where Einstein thought his truths about time and space.

Pablo remembers how when he was on his way to church to be confirmed, in his white shirt and bow tie, he had to pass his idiot classmates leaning on cars and drinking sodas, needing shaves already and grinning like he was the biggest loser in the world and he took Little Grandmother's hand. He took Little Grandmother's hand for all of them to see what really mattered even though he knew he'd pay for it big time on Monday. Timeless and beyond language like that. What matters to the spirit. Uncle should be able to repair watches and wreck them if he wants.

Pablo thinks that he loves his Grand Uncle now in the same way he always loved Einstein, without being in the same world with him anymore or understanding it yet knowing he is right. In his mind, he sees Grand Uncle with Einstein's sad, wise eyes and wild hair, an absent-minded professor for the whole universe. Grand Aunt keeps his hair neat and trim, cutting it herself, and putting a folded handkerchief in his pocket befitting a man of his dignity.

This watchmaker's shop belongs to a husband and wife team like a comedy act with perfect timing based on years of practice. They are both about sixty and super-kind, with home-made cookies on hand Pablo thinks, like the couple in that fairy tale who wished, without success, for a child of their own and so they treat certain people with the special kind of love such childless sadness causes. Their tragedy makes them appreciate other people's tragedies, their lives defined by absence, absence everywhere they work to fill. Repair, repair and never stop repairing. From the moment he comes in, Pablo wants to learn the skill of watch repair and work in their shop for his new job but then he thinks, for some strange reason, they'll lock me up at night for my own good. He's one crazy freaking dude, like Dakota said. But his craziness usually makes him smile.

In real life, this couple wouldn't hurt a fly. Their shop is falling apart though, in need of a paint job and a new floor. The display cases are half empty of watches and pendants and rings and such, and the two Es in the neon ‘Greens' don't light up. The sign buzzes like an angry wasp above the door.

The small shop is squeezed between a chain drug store much brighter than the day outside and a tattoo and piercing shop, much darker and vibrating with heavy metal music. Pablo presses a buzzer to be let in. Still as a picture on his stool, Mr. Green, his jeweler's magnifying glass squeezed into one eye, doesn't react to Pablo's buzz. Mrs. Green, after licking her finger to turn a page, looks up slowly from a magazine on the counter to check out who wants into their shop. She smiles as if she knows Pablo and buzzes the door lock open. Seems like he is the Green's first customer in years, like a broken watch starting up because you dropped it.

Pablo notices the swelling curtain hanging in the doorway at the back of the shop and knows Grand Uncle is behind it like some Einstein hiding from the game show hosts who rule the world.

Good day, young man, says the short, compact Mrs. Green. She has small pointed breasts under the sequins of her sweater, big earrings, blue eyelids, rosy make-up circles on her cheeks, and short, sharply parted hair. How can we help you today?

Mr. Green's eye spits out his jeweler's glass and looks Pablo over with his other eye. His jeweler eye remains in a wink, half-closed, unable to exit its world of magnified gears and springs. Mr. Green is the opposite of his brightly made up wife, soft and comfortable looking as a sleepy bear. He absorbs light, she reflects it.

He doesn't need a new watch, Mr. Green says.

How can you tell that?

By his shoes.

By his shoes?

Trust me. Thirty years, I'm been in the business, trust me.

Don't mind him, Sweetie. He makes no sense. Never has. It's why I'm here. To deal with the public. Otherwise, he'd scare everybody off. He's harmless really, rough around the edges but harmless.

Trust me. You need a new watch, handsome?

No.

Aha. Am I right. Do I lie?

Maybe soon, Pablo says, not wanting to take sides.

What about a broken watch?

What?

You have one that needs to be fixed?

No.

I knew that.

Don't mind him. So if it's not a watch what can we do for you? A nice ring for your girlfriend?

Girlfriend? You think this guy has just one girlfriend, a handsome guy like him?

I can tell this young man is a young man a girl can count on.

His girls can count on him and he can count his girls.

We just started going out, Pablo says, thinking how convenient Dakota has become in certain ways. So it's a little soon for any kind of ring.

Maybe a heart locket, Mrs. Green says. A locket says things more privately, before you're ready for public announcements. Heart lockets can hold your secret like a little picture until you're ready to tell it to the world.

That's nice.

What about one of these here? Take a look.

Well...Okay. I guess.

You're someone who likes his privacy, I can tell. So I'll leave you alone while you look them over. Just call me over if you see one you like. How about a nice glass of water?

Will you let the guy alone already?

At his workbench, Mr. Green puts his jeweler's glass back in his eye and starts working again. Maybe this is the fate of watchmakers, like Grand Uncle. They can't take too much of the untidy world and must escape back into a more precise world that has the possibility of being repaired.

You called my Aunt about my Uncle Leo, Pablo says, across the counter from Mrs. Green who is just his height, the display case lighting her up dramatically from below. Not that I don't want to check out the lockets but I came here to get him.

He's here for the nice gentleman, Mrs. Green says to her husband without turning to him.

Huh? What's that?

The young man is here for the nice gentleman in the back.

See, I told you it wasn't about a watch.

Grand Uncle is at a workbench behind the curtain, jeweler's glass in his eye, bent in concentration over the inner workings of a watch. It seems that, under the bright workbench lights, he has shrunk to half his size. Pablo, touching his shoulder to let him know he's there, feels the fragile brittleness of his old bones, moving as like a stiffened cage under his hand.

Uncle.

Grand Uncle slowly unbends his body from the watch. He looks at Pablo a long time, before a frown, washes down his face from his eyes.

You, you, you...., he says in a strained whine. Good boy.

To Pablo it is an accusation. He bends Grand Uncle back over the watch and exits through the curtain.

Pablo explains Grand Uncle's history as a watchmaker to Mr. and Mrs. Green, tells them of his shop across the bridge in the neighborhood where he was born and the slow loss of his memory and language.

All he wants to do is repair watches like he used to do.

We know.

How?

He came in and showed us his tools in their leather case. We figured it out and set him up back there.

So Pablo learns Grand Uncle has been planning his getaways every time, bringing his tool case with him, waiting for an opening. Since his Uncle can't explain things anymore, he just does them.

There's a box of broken watches he can have. He's working on one now.

He has his own box of broken watches at home.

Oh.

He just needs a place to work is all.

Mr. and Mrs. Green look at each other. Despite their back and forth, they agree on important matters like how it would be indiscreet to ask Pablo why Grand Uncle Leo has no place to work at home, knowing it has something to do with the difficult woman they spoke to on the phone.

He can keep working here, of course, Mrs. Green says. We'd be honored.

Thanks. It's all he wants.

You can come back for him or stay here with us if you like.

Thanks. Can I use your phone?

Pablo calls Grand Aunt to tell her Grand Uncle is fine and that he will bring him home after they go out for sodas. He doesn't tell her he's letting him repair watches and that she should let him repair watches too. Later sitting by himself at a deli counter, nursing a cherry coke, giving Grand Uncle time to work, Pablo wonders why he has taken on the job of protecting people like Grand Aunt from the truth.

He buys the Greens a red heart full of chocolate candies which they put on the jewelry counter and stand over like people warming their hands at a fire. They are quiet, shoulders touching, looking at him like two people with the exact same idea. Pablo feels the need to split before they invite him to supper and everything. They are childless now, he knows. Maybe they never had kids, maybe their kids moved far away. Certain things can't be repaired.

Walking together, Pablo takes Grand Uncle's hand. He will never forget the foreign feel of the hand of someone mostly crossed over to the other side. Grand Uncle's hand is dry, stiff, calloused, like a knobby branch in winter but still there is secret life in it. Enough for another Spring? Perhaps Grand Uncle knows and perhaps he doesn't as he stares straight ahead and Pablo guides him down the street toward his longtime home.

 

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