Observatory Hill, the obvious location of the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory, wasn’t all that far, really, but there was no point in walking on a highway, and oh yeah, it was uphill. So we arrived less than fifteen minutes later, well rested. The cabbie reached under his seat for a sandwich and a newspaper and looked more content than he’d been in a while, though of course we had no way of knowing that.
“Centre of the Universe, huh?” she laughed on seeing the name of the place. “If I didn’t know what it was about, I would berate them for such arrogance.”
“This says it was briefly the largest telescope in the world.”
“How brief?” she grinned.
Shrug. “Maybe a couple of hours.”
Since neither of us were the hard science type, having a strictly amateur interest in astronomy, we allowed ourselves to be entertained by the exhibits without giving them much thought, which let us discuss life and other inconveniences like we always did. We both seemed pleased that we were able to get back into our established routine so easily after not seeing each other for a while.
“I still can’t believe someone like you majored in English.”
Being well used to my games by now, she merely smiled and purred, “Yep.”
“I like to think you’re a Shakespeare scholar.”
“After all, no one knows more about deceit and fuckups than my ol’ buddy Willy Shakes.” I looked at her meaningfully until she blushed.
“I wouldn’t put it that way,” she tried, not knowing why she bothered.
I shook his head sadly. “As stubborn as she is Irish.”
She pretended to be proud of that.
By this time we’d made it outside and were taking in the view, which included forest, water, and islands. She asked if that was the mainland over there, but I couldn’t be sure.
I watched her go over to the railing, checking out the other side of the landscape, marveling at her grace of movement, the fluid lubricant that filled such a body and made it move so beautifully. Once at the railing, she unconsciously let the leg closer to me bend up at the knee, foot on railing, forming the natural taper that to me was the most beautiful part of a woman’s body, and hers the most beautiful example. . . so it didn’t take more than a second for me to bring the camera up and shoot the pose without her noticing.
So I thought, anyway. Either she’d been working on her peripheral vision or she’d gotten familiar with the click of the camera. Either way, she gave me that trademark demented grimace that was just as much fun to shoot.
“I do not get you,” she complained. “You shoot beautiful models for a living and for whatever tetched reason you keep shooting me. Are you mental?”
“Penalty for overuse of synonyms.”
“Answer the question.”
“You’re much more fun to shoot.”
“Really? How? Because you make me blush all the time?”
“Partly, but I’m talking about the way you move.”
“The way your body is built, you should be gawky and uncoordinated. But you’re not, you’re a ballerina. That’s why it’s both a pleasure and a challenge to shoot you. If I can capture your gracefulness–”
“Never heard it called that before!” she hooted.
“You have an inherent graceful beauty, a fluidity, that’s a joy to watch, and I’m trying to capture it on film.”
“Good excuse,” she sighed, though grinning. “Like you need one.”
“If I don’t need one, then why’d you ask?”
She waved that away, not that it would get her out of it.
“You’re so wacky, and I don’t mean that in a good way.”
Pausing to ponder that, she finally tried to ask, “How can wacky not be good?” but was too late.
“So to have someone so wacky have such a natural grace of movement. . . the contradiction is fun to shoot.”
She rolled her eyes, but knew she wasn’t going to get anything better out of me. “You’re a jerk.”
“You know I always respect your opinion.”
She instantly blushed.
The I ruined it by adding, “Someone like you should be president.”
The blush quickly grew nuclear. “You mean prime minister,” she tried lightly, though it came out a croak.
“You haven’t passed the honorary Canadian test yet.”
“Oh, that’s right.”
There, she felt better now, in fact was smiling as she took in the sights. Lights over water, for instance, were much prettier at night, she thought.
And then felt my hand creeping along her back to her braid. “Enough with that!”
“I simply had a thought and instantly had to test it.”
Knowing she’d regret it, but also knowing her curiosity would always win out–and knowing that I knew it too, damn him–she had to ask.
“A guy could pretend to be Quasimodo and pull on your hair.”
She smiled weakly, having previously noticed the rope-like quality of her long braid. But was I also saying that her head was hollow as a bell?
“Wouldn’t I be too busy playing Beauty?” she tried, only to blush when a man passing by leered at her for that. . . then turned to find me taking her picture. Having moved into the shade, she had to ask, “Um, how’d you manage to do that without using flash?”
“Years of research.”
As she always did when I brought up my years of experience over her, she made a face and stuck out her tongue. . . which I’d of course known she would do and was ready to shoot that too.
“Ah, crap!” she moaned. “You’re gonna make copies to send to all my friends, aren’t ya?”
“What a marvelous idea!”
She stopped by a railing over the water, briefly considered jumping in, then was startled by my hand on her shoulder. Turning her head, she saw me smiling at her.
“You’d be great with kids,” I enthused, waiting for her to brightly return the smile before adding, “think how much fun they’d have pulling your braid.”
Shudder. “Step away from the hair!” she intoned in a way she’d heard on TV. But it did serve to get her out of her funk, as easily as she’d gotten into it.
“Now then, in order to totally salvage this situation, you’ll have to pose in a way that makes me completely forget about the tongue shot.”
Shuddering at the way “Tongue shot” sounded in her naughty mind, she figured Why not? and proceeded to pose as hammily as she could.
“Wow, you’ve turned into a true camera hog. What happened to that demureness you usta do so well?”
While momentarily relieved at not having to answer, she realized that might have been preferable when another male passerby laughed and asked me where he could get copies. And my photographer’s smile didn’t help either. She wondered if there was a category of blushes, like for hurricanes, and if she’d broken the record.
And of course she could never leave well enough alone. “Guys just care about looks.”
Snort. “You wish.”
She almost re-blushed at that, thinking I’d misunderstood; she wasn’t talking about herself. Then she realized I was denigrating her other qualities, her intelligence and sense of humor and–
She wanted to glare at me, but I was already grinning.
No, she still couldn’t leave it at that. “Are you out of your ever-fucking mind?”
“Not ever-loving, like a true romantic would, but ever-fucking. I like that.”
“You wish,” she growled.
“Playing both sides like a typical woman?”
“We were talking about you,” she managed through gritted teeth.
“When? Ever since I started with the photos, and especially when that guy passed, we’ve been talking about your beauty.”
“What beauty?” she shrieked. “I have wrinkles around my eyes! I’m too young for that!”
“Those aren’t wrinkles, they’re laugh lines. For you to laugh so much at an early age. . . you should wear them as a badge of honor.”
She grinned and sighed at the same time, kinda watching me in the reflection on the water. Damn, I love that! was the thought easy to read on her face.
“You know, I never figured you for the type who obsesses about her looks.”
Wince. Why couldn’t he have let me enjoy it for even a little bit? was the next un-poker face.
Finally changing the subject, I told her, “If we have time tomorah, I’ll take you to Craigflower Schoolhouse.”
“Because the guys who built it were drunk. I’m guessing it looked straight to them, but everything is sloped and tilted, almost like looking at a funhouse mirror.”
She wasn’t sure how to take that, figured it had to do with her Irishness, then realized it was exactly the kind of thing that would make her laugh.
“Unless, of course, you’d rather go to Anne Hathaway’s cottage.”
She did some furious calculations in her head. “No way Shakespeare’s wife could have lived here!”
“It’s a replica.”
“Ah. Well, I’ve already seen the original.”
“Never mind, then. Are we through here?”
“Sure, unless you want to make sure the cabbie earns his money.”
“I’m too hungry to care about other people right now.”
“That’s the attitude that won you Humanitarian of the Year.”
“I figured since I am now exempt from winning it again. . .”
She almost followed me into the men’s room, just to make sure I heard her reply, but it wasn’t that good. Plus she was laughing too hard.
Turned out the cabbie was taking a nap, but he didn’t seem that dismayed at being woken up, since there was still plenty of time in the day to pick up more fares. He even gave us his card, in case we wanted to pay him to sit around and do nothing again, but of course he didn’t say that.
After a quick pause at the hotel for freshening up purposes, so she claimed, we were soon back out and wandering the streets of Victoria, just as it was getting dark and cold. Not expecting that, Alanna grabbed my arm and hugged herself against me, convincing herself she was practicing for the return trip, when she wanted to give the impression of being my girlfriend so I wouldn’t be sending champagne to any more German girls.
“Hey, Irish pub!” she squealed. “I’m old enough now!”
“Still get carded, I bet.”
“But my card’s real now.”
“Ah. Besides, who knows what the legal age is here.”
“Very true! Anyway, I’ve always wanted to try an Irish coffee.”
“I knew a guy, he was in the Marines with me but originally from Ireland, who claims he went on a bender and drank eleven Irish coffees in a row.”
“Just try to imagine that. He said he went to bed totally drunk, but try as he might he couldn’t fall asleep from all the caffeine. Moaned that it was the worst night of his life, went clean and sober after that.”
Alanna was laughing too hard to make one of her usual comments, and couldn’t seem to stop, especially when I added, “An Irishman is never drunk as long as he has a blade of grass to hang onto.”
Finally able to get some semblance of control over herself, she tried to huff, “Can we go to this lobster-serving restaurant of yours now?”
“That’s where we’ve been going this whole time. As you might expect, it’s along the waterfront.”
“Not as long as Seattle’s.”
“True. Hope I don’t step on any frogs.”
“It’s not that provincial. It’s the state capital. . . or it would be if it was a state. Hmmm, considering it is a province, I guess it would be ‘provincial’ after all. . .”
“Ha! Word play, I love it.” Knowing she was taking a chance on grossing me out, she still couldn’t help herself. “I wonder if they have frog legs for dessert.”
“Old saying: if you have to eat two frogs, eat the bigger one first.”
When she laughed, I sat her down on a convenient bench and reached for my music player, quickly putting on Monty Python’s “Crunchy Frog.” A few minutes later, gagging on both laughter and the thought of “cockroach cluster” and “anthrax ripple,” she managed to stagger into the restaurant, where we were seated so fast she had to figure they knew me here too.
“So how goes the search for the dream job?” I yawned once my orange cream soda was on the way.
“Keep plugging away every week, but I may not be able to afford it much longer.”
Frown. “I didn’t know you had to spend money to get a job.”
Suddenly she looked dismayed. “I don’t think we’re talking about the same thing.”
“Ya think? Dean of Medieval Lit at Cambridge?”
“Yeah, that. What did you think?”
“Didn’t I tell you my dream job was Lotto winner?”
“Must have been someone else. Sorry.”
I might have let that go, but she was smiling way too sweetly to leave alone. “Did you just say ‘sorry?’”
“I did indeed.” Smirk. “You gonna make a big deal out of it?”
Having been saving this one for just such a situation, I told her, “You’re the kind of person who makes a perfect friend,” just to confuse her.
Instead she seemed inordinately pleased by that, and the waiter noticed as he took down her order, though he did look a bit perturbed at mine, considering it was a seafood restaurant.
“You’re already my hero for that last bit,” she grinned, “but tell me a Shakespeare joke.”
“I only know one.”
“That’s all you need, buddy.”
“Okay, you asked for it. It’s by David Gerrold, an author you claim not to be able to stand.”
“I said I didn’t get him, that’s different. Now give!”
“Once upon a time there was this guy driving through the Australian Outback–”
“I said Shakespeare!” came the interrupting scream. “They probably hadn’t discovered Australia yet when he was alive!”
I gave her that pitying look that she absolutely detested, so she went back to pining for her cockroach of the sea, elbow on table, chin on hand, and listened like the good little girl she really was deep down.
“His car broke down, and he wandered through the desert for hours with nothing to drink. Finally he came a shantytown, though he thought it was a mirage–” Waiting a beat to see if she interrupted. . . she didn’t, not even a grin. “One of the metal shanties had a sign that said ‘Pub,’ so he went in and immediately begged for water.
“‘Sorry, mate,’ the bartender told him, ‘the water around here is full of minerals and whatnot, it’s undrinkable. It’ll kill ya, in fact.’”
She seemed delighted by my perfect portrayal of the Aussie accent, but didn’t say anything.
“So the guy asks for a beer. ‘Can’t do that, sir. This ‘ere is the town of Mercy, Australia. It’s a religious community and alcohol is prohibited.’
“‘Well, how ‘bout a soda?’
“‘Sorry, mate. We’re so off the beaten path ‘ere we don’t get any deliveries. Why, we ‘aven’t ‘ad soft drinks in. . . oh, years, just how many I couldn’t–’
“‘So what do you people drink here?’
“‘Ah, thanks for askin’, sir. We make a special tea that we brew in the pouch of a koala. Can’t explain exactly what happens, but somehow brewin’ it in there makes it safe and drinkable.’”
She made a face.
“The man is feeling thirsty enough not to care, so he says ‘I’ll have some of that.’ But when it’s brought to him and he instantly takes a drink, he spits it out. ‘It’s full of hair!’
“‘That’s not ‘air, that’s fur. From the pouch of the koala.’
“‘Can’t you strain it first?’
“The bartender looks offended. ‘Sir! The koala tea of mercy. . . is not strained!’”
She moaned as she chorused along with the obvious punch line, knowing she only had herself to blame. . .
After that we spoke as we always did, of trivialities and sports and other things we had in common, finally back into our usual communication mode. And even when there was a pause, it never became an awkward silence, because we knew the other could come up with something either hilarious or taking the conversation in a new and exciting direction. She didn’t even mention the McDonald’s girl more than twice.
Having given her enough time–all day–to bring it up, I couldn’t resist any longer, grinning right into her face. “Shakespeare HORSE.”
Not only did she moan, she slapped herself on the forehead, before I could, anyway. “Never crossed my mind! Shit! Guess that means you go first.”
“Okay. Here’s one that your romantic nature, if you have any of it left, after this–”
“Hey, sex and love are totally different! Now quote me dammit, quote me now.”
“You have said nothing worth repeating!”
“You know what I mean!” she snarled through gritted teeth, even while knowing I was just trying to throw her off her game.
“‘Oh how this spring of love resembleth the uncertain glory of an April day.’”
Her face instantly went downcast, so much that I knew she’d never heard it before. And she couldn’t afford to fall behind early, knowing how badly she did under pressure. Her only recourse was to pretend to be thinking about it until the minute given ran out, even though she knew I never bought it.
Long before she thought possible, I snickered, “H! From the play which one shapely professor at Mississippi State called ‘Two Sparkers from Verona.’”
“Shakespeare, Suthin’ style!” she whooped, then plotted her next move.
Only to find me getting her out of her rhythm again when I told her, “Every time I see you, I’m glad you haven’t cut your hair.”
“Of course not! Do you think I’m stupid?”
“Stupid stupid, no. Crazy stupid, sometimes.”
“You know me too well,” she grumbled, getting up to hit the restroom.