The Tambinder Engine (part six)
The Tambinder Engine
A McAlley Story
She passed Matthew’s picture window and stopped, saw a couple at the bottom of the drive. The woman’s hair, hanging long and coarse, ash blonde, her young face furrowed, mouth and brow. She scowled, and the furrows came strong.
The man, wind goggles on, straddled a motorbike.
The woman paced the gravel, shaded her eyes, turned to him, turned to scan the hilltop. He sat inert. His lips did not move, nor his head, nor his hands…while his partner’s body language waxed and waned. She went to the bike, tried unfastening a bedroll at the back, and the man reached to catch her wrist.
Well, what were they wanting to do? Camp on the land? Matthew’s place had woods, a rock face along the road, with cavities, a stream running the ditch. Deenie hoped they would motor on, not force hospitality.
Not either be on her property uninvited, worrying her through the night.
The woman strode a few paces, and the man barked: “Lynn!”
Then his words carried clearly. “She’ll only call him. You should’ve kept in, if you wanted all this.” He revved his engine. Lynn, Matthew’s daughter, earning Deenie’s pity, scurried to mount, and the bike rattled off.
With her letters to gather, Deenie had the excuse of walking down, of listening at the roadside—if they hadn’t gone, just carried their debate out of sight. Kept in, wanted all this… He meant the house, the horses.
I will call Matthew.
The box held another of the fat envelopes. Two stories played in Deenie’s head, climbing back. That Matthew could order his legacy as he liked. Was it her business?
No, but if Lynn needs…
No. The impulse was a near enemy, as Rory and Tirza discussed. I’m putting myself where I don’t belong, wanting him to tell me why he’s mad at her. Or why his daughter won’t have to do with him. Concerned, caring Deenie, furnished with reason to pry.
She smiled at herself.
She felt her nose grow stuffed with mourning.
The other narrative—hectic thoughts of Dustin. Diary pages torn from a notebook arrived, mailed by whom, no clue ever showed. McAlley sent them. Or Dustin sent them, saying to his mother all he could.
Too far estranged to suffer her reply. Or Victor sent them, spurned and vengeful, a ploy engineered to bear weight…
Until a foot mislanded.
Deenie’s ritual of making cocoa, plating a treat, putting the phone on the table, convincing herself someone’s advice would clarify her mind, shouted today futility. Today’s first diary page began:
I was partway to Victor’s, I was at the fish store, where I like to stop. He would harangue at me, maybe not harangue, drone maybe. Trite stuff. Animals in captivity. False sense of caring, delusion eagerness for food eagerness to see you. I like looking at them. I’d keep a tank, but I don’t think I will.
He’s right I should have a regular place. When it’s not killing cold out, I like the streets. He says he can get me in, and I think he can, they treasure him that much. Wear the white shirt and black vest, what the errand runners wear. Get my eyeball burrowing through all the servers of the world, the most trustworthy eyeball, a sentient, travelling eyeball, a black diamond clearance of an eyeball, scanning everywhere. Wear the Bitterroot badge. Visit Stephen’s wife, say I’m sorry, I’ve come with a message.
A gap. A clue at last, appearing as things denied will:
Writing this Wednesday. I get the sudden urge to make it official. They’ll search my room when I’m gone. They’ll like the mad ramblings, ‘Oh, yes, precisely the profile expected.’ Wednesday, April 10, five years since I came here after Victor, a month and three days before I turn 23. Official, because I now have a police record. I had to do it, go into the tunnel and tag my encoded eyeball, make it fly over the ‘many nations’ like a crass old tablecloth print. A voice came: ‘Hold on’, and I thought it was some chatty weirdo. Then it said, ‘You.’ I tossed the can, had a little left, could have tried it for a weapon, but I ran to the water park, the bench and the ugly tree. The river was lapping, so I jumped in. The policeman on the bank said, ‘Best haul out of there.’ I didn’t answer. I got carried into a tangle of roots, and couldn’t find a foothold to hoist myself. The cops turned up in a dinghy, two of them dragged me aboard. So I was in a cell, waiting to see a judge. They said I could plead and pay a fine. I said, One but not the other. Did I have family? No. Did I have a friend? No. But I have Victor. Will he pay the fine? I said, you’ll find out if you ask him. They brought me to a phone, and told me, call him. I called Bitterroot, since I have no number for Victor. Bitterroot said, if you know your party’s extension, you may enter it now. If you would like to hold for an operator, blah, blah. I said, Not me personally, and hung up. I looked at my guard and said, All yours. When he was putting me back in my cell, somehow my head got banged against the door-bars. Next day, they let me go. They found Victor and he paid, no mystery. Nothing extra for me. So I walked back to the Old Parish. There’s some little stairs going down to the plaza, where I can get right under, no camera. ‘It ain’t much, but it’s home.’
Why would they search his room, Deenie thought, numb. If my son is living under stairs. Victor has intervened, something extra after all. Victor lets Dustin stay, but they fight, and Dustin leaves. Years ago she had written Victor, at McAlley’s given address, his Bitterroot one. She had written again. She would get Victor in trouble, he would become her enemy—
She had meant to think of a better thing; she had not done it.
Thinking now, wildly, that she must fly to the world’s other end, look for an Old Parish, a fish store, a tunnel, a river, an ugly park, she tapped Matthew’s number.
“Lynn was here. I’m sure it was Lynn. She was with a man, they were on a motorbike.”
“And asking what? What did she say to you?”
Stymie. Deenie answered: “Nothing.”
She clicked him off. She sat, in the setting sun, kitten Bobbo on her lap, tears running over the rebuke in Matthew’s voice.
The Tambinder Engine
(2022, Stephanie Foster)