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Friday, Jun. 30, 2006

“It’s 5:30, and Maggie and I are sitting here starving. You planning on being home any time soon?” My wife can sound at once plaintive and Mom-with-belt-in-hand when sitting in her hearthside chair, cell phone resolute upon shoulder.

“You’re home early aren't you and yes, I’ll be there directly” I said in as dignified a way as possible. Which is tough when trying not to wheeze at the Greek, who was making gestures suggesting a battleaxe with rolling pin and a sneer. Bar owners are like that, they hate to see a regular go home but cannot resist the lure of the jibe.

“And how is Ally, and the pregnant Maggie?” he asked with a smile. He knows them well, it is his business to know so that my continued patronage is a smoothly functioning thing.

“Fat, and sassy, and hard to tell which one is which, Greek.” I drained the longneck in time to his chuckle and capped it with a five dollar bill. “But I believe the Sassy one wouldn’t be calling if the Fat one wasn’t having hunger pains, so I need to take this road show down the street and start the grill. See ye next time.”

“You take it easy Outfoxed, looks like the rain has let up for a minute at least.”

I shoved the heavy door open and scanned the sky, dark with rain. Much as the Greek needed to know his customers, I needed to know the weather. Stalking a jobsite in heavy boots and overseeing a cobbled together crew of carpenters makes you very aware of weather, and who is going to show up today, and what delivery is going to be delayed by rain. And there’s been a lot of that lately.

The phone, again. Beth the Eldest wailed in with, “Dad, that cable splitter you gave me, I can’t figger it out, and I wanna get TV in the bedroom, and . . .”

And again. Chief Mo, sounding desperate. “Hey buddy, my internet that you set up, how does that address bar thing work again? You nearby? Cause for the love of God I can’t figger it out, and . . .”

And again. The Tall Dog, still (at 5:30 in the evening? The fifth call of the day?) at the shop pumping out the goods that keeps me on the road and installing same. “Hey Outfoxed, I got the (insert inconsequential products that I won’t need for probably two weeks, but he’s calling because he loves the enabling, and I’m apparently a calm and reasonable enabler to his wanting me to know every facet of his daily life) ready to go. You’re a hard man to keep busy. I tell you, I still can’t figger out how you finished a whole wing of that school in only 8 days, I just can’t figger it out . . .”

I swung the truck to rest in front of the Rental house, snatched lunch pail and did the “Pops home from the world” walk. You know the one. The one where you have precisely 15 seconds to prep for the onslaught.

Ally and Maggie had to wait for the ritual donning of the clean shirt, necessitated by the gumming up of its shirt drawer neighbor with the sweat of mine brow, but it was a very quick procedure. “So, we ready to go?” I’m like that. Summon me from the cool depths of a quick stop at the Watering Hole, be ready when I get there.

Ally was like quicksilver. “Go? I’ve got stuff to do here. Got to get ready for Maggie’s baby shower on Saturday,” and she and Maggie exchanged Baby Shower! Baby Shower! looks that ran cold the blood in my veins. “Which reminds me, you know you’re going to do your grille thing for us on Saturday, remember?”

I frowned. Squared shoulders and stood tall. People say that I’ve lost a fair amount of weight, mainly from the once formidable belly, which makes a lot of sense when you understand that I walk ten miles a day in full tool belt glory and don’t have a lot of free time to spend at the Hole. And with squared shoulders it makes what little belly I have disappear. Add the frown, and the steely blue squint, and I look positively formidable. Clint Eastwood, according to my wife.

I was about to address the whole Saturday thing when Ben came lumbering around the corner with his girlfriend/shadow/teen-queen in tow. “Hey Dad, take a look at what I worked on today, we installed some stuff downtown and I got pictures on my cell phone . . .”

“. . . need to pick up some burgers of course, and you better check to see if there’s enough charcoal, ‘cause remember that time six years ago when we had the neighbors over and we had like two briquettes in the bottom of the bag, and you . . .”

“. . . Mr. Outfoxed! How was your day!! Ben and I just got back from the mall!!! He didn’t like when I made him help me pick out new sandals, but my Mom . . .”

And the Lab was making his arthritic way over for a pat on the nose, and Maggie’s Boxer was in his normal state of writhing frenzy around my right leg, a long tongue hanging and a masked clown face in rapture.

I held up a steady paw, looking for all the world like Moses preparing to part the waters, and beckoned to Maggie, who sat quietly amused throughout the whole proceedings with an eye on me. A simple jerk of the thumb towards the curb, she did that peculiar roll-from-chair thing that women great with child do, and strolled smiling out the front door as I held it open for her.

“. . . and when you get done at Beth’s call me and maybe I’ll meet you two for dinner, but don’t go driving too fast ‘cause that rain looks like it will be back any second . . .”

“. . . then we went to my girlfriends house! And she was wearing those cheap shorts!! I saw the same pair at the mall the other day!!! Ben said that . . .

“oh and hey Pops, you’re gonna take care of that insurance thing when I get my license back next Friday, right? So I can get the truck on the road and . . .”

I suppose we made it almost a mile down the road before I noticed Maggie looking over at me in a speculative kind of way, as if to memorize. “Talks a lot, doesn’t she?”

I was honestly flummoxed. “Who, which?”

“Ben’s girlfriend, the teen queen.” Maggie was smiling. “She talks a lot but nothing much ever makes it past the end of her nose.”

I snorted. “Yuh. Personality of a pear. Hope Ben’s got a wallet bigger than what I think he has. She’ll suck that thing dry in an hour.”

“I expect she already has, Dad.”

The rain couldn’t wait, it started hitting the vast expanse of glass on the front of the mighty truck in sheets and I quick switched the wipers to high, the big tires throwing up great rooster tails of water. A bolt of lightning streaked in a jagged way not a mile off to the left, and the thunder sounded like a hundred cannons fired in unison.

Maggie leaned back, a caressing hand over her swollen belly, eyes alight and tuned in. “I love a good thunderstorm, I really do.” And another bolt crackled sideways, a fireworks show right on the big screen, a show of light and sound. Life, and that which is bigger than life.

She sighed. “Don’t drive too fast, I don’t want to miss this.”

“Me neither, sweetheart.”

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