Work Song

Work Song by Ivan Doig Read Free Book Online

Book: Work Song by Ivan Doig Read Free Book Online
Authors: Ivan Doig
behaved less like lurking black furies; but they never quite vanished. Something quivers in a person at such times, like a tuning fork set off by phantom touch. You look back along a darkened street that is suddenly limitless and whatever is there keeps eyeing you hungrily. Watching over my shoulder as I zigzagged to the boardinghouse after each wake, I had to wonder whether an old loss was catching up with me. Every footfall, it seemed, brought the thought of my brother and the cold lake waters that took him.
    Not all haunting is mere superstition. I’d noticed a certain look in Grace’s eyes whenever Griffith and Hooper got going on the evils of Anaconda and the Speculator fire and its perished miners; at such moments Arthur Faraday left his matrimonial picture frame and came to her side, I would have wagered.
    One of those suppertimes, as Griff and Hoop hobbled off to their own pursuits, I spoke up as she somberly cleared away the dishes.
    “May I be of help?”
    She took so long to answer, I wondered if she considered the question hypothetical. But then she looked over with a flicker of interest and said, “You can dry, if you don’t have dropsy.”
    Following her into the kitchen, I took up a dish towel. “As Marco Polo said, I know my way around china. I did dishes at the Palmer House between school terms.”
    “It seems there is no end to your talents,” Grace said with exaggerated wonder, making room for me at the sink. It had been a long while since I settled in side by side with a woman to such a chore. With her braid tucked back and her sleeves rolled up, she was an aproned vision of efficiency at her dishpan task. Still, I could tell something troubled her. I asked, “Have the glory hole grabbers been giving you a bad time again?”
    She shook her head. “No, it’s not that. It’s our anniversary. Arthur’s and mine.” Slowly washing a plate, she went on: “Seven years ago today we were married. I don’t know why this year bothers me so much.” She looked cross with herself. “I’m sorry, Morrie, I didn’t mean to mope.”
    “Grief sometimes goes by numbers,” I suggested gently. “Seven, that’s the copper anniversary.”
    “I might have known you’d have the answer, you schoolbook.” She flicked a few drops of dishwater at me. “I’ll simmer down, I promise.” By now I was well aware she could also simmer up faster than the law of heat transfer ever predicated, but I was learning to weather that. It seemed worth it for the glimpses of the woman behind the landlady veneer. When something serious was not on her mind, she had the best smile, bright and teasing. That came out again now as she glanced at me and the dimple did sly work. “Let’s fish around in you, for a change. Off on a toot again tonight, are you?”
    “Grace, it is my job. I seem to recall you being all for it.”
    “Anyone who runs a boardinghouse needs to be in favor of whatever a lodger does to come up with the rent.” That canny glance again. “Within reason.”
    I smoothed my mustache while I thought that over. I had to admit, presenting myself at a wake most every night made me feel uncomfortably like one of those mechanical statuettes of Death that clank out of a guildhall clock tower at the appointed hour and chase the merrymakers around the cupola. Grace had a point about the reasonableness of that as a lasting occupation. “Life as cryer does have its drawbacks,” I conceded to her. “A main one is that I wake up each morning feeling as if my brain were being pickled, gray cell by gray cell.”
    She prompted: “And while you still have a few to spare?”
    “Tomorrow,” I said with sudden decision, “I shall find the public library and consult Polk.”
    Grace paused in her sudsy grapple with the meat platter, puzzled. “Poke who?”
    “The Polk city directory.” I smiled. “The treasure map to where ledgers are kept.”

4

    T here is an old story that any Londoners with a madman in the family

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