[Episode Two of Adventures in Litter Bay]
After leaving Jane’s, Coheed drives east out of the Shore and heads for O’Shannon. He’s late for his appointment — by hours, thanks to his ex-wife — but screw it. How often does he get a chance to be with a woman? One he likes? There’s no parking out front or anywhere else on the block when he arrives, which is the first of several reasons Coheed only visits O’Shannon on business.
It’s a brisk and lively night and every place on the block is lit bright and loud, even the sports bar themed pizza place across the street that’s always empty and where Coheed can count on a quiet dinner, usually.
Inside O’Shannon Coheed shoulders his way to the bar (another reason), and when the bar girl smiles at him he says, “Heya Shannon. Is Old Phil still around?” O’Shannon is an Irish pub sports bar like the other couple dozen Irish pub sports bars he knows in Litter Bay — fish and chips, black and tans, Lakers and Dodgers, Shannon and Old Phil.
“Does he ever leave?” she says. “Out on the patio. Weren’t you supposed to be here at four?”
“I’m a busy guy. Can I get a beer? Old Phil is buying.”
The patio is packed just like the rest of the place. The crowd is pretty young, much younger than Coheed anyway. Old Phil is sitting with a group of students on the stone that surrounds the firepit, where a gas fire flares through black lava rock, beating back the late spring chill. Music tumbles out of speakers set high on the brick walls that frame the patio on three sides. The Dodgers are on the TV hanging from the wall opposite the door that leads out. Baseball season is barely a month old.
“Hey man where you been?” says Old Phil. Old Phil is no older than Coheed is (maybe he’s a little younger; Coheed doesn’t know), but he’s been around longer than his former manager, New Phil. New Phil got fired eventually and is now managing Jose Molloy’s, the Irish themed sports cantina in the Shore, where he’s now “Just Phil.”
The students turn to see the new arrival and Coheed sees that one of them is Marco the Professor, who he knows from The Irish up on Fourth.
“Coheed!” Marco says. “What are you doing here?”
“Fixing my chairs,” says Old Phil. “You picking them up tonight, then?”
“I didn’t know you did that kind of work,” says Marco.
“I don’t. But I know a guy. Maybe you do, too. He says he was your student.”
“Of mine? Pull up a seat.”
“No Phil, not tonight,” Coheed says to Old Phil. “Where am I going to keep ’em? I’ll get them in the morning.”
Coheed squeezes in between a couple of the gathered students on the stone surround around the firepit, a young man with a ball cap and a young woman with a cigarette loosely held, both scooching aside to make room, a parting of the student sea. It’s a tight fit and some of Coheed’s light beer sloshes on the young woman’s blue jeans and she brushes it aside and Coheed whispers “pardon me,” and leans forward to get up for a napkin or a towel and she says, “no biggie.”
“These are some of my students, too. Or they were. Today was the last day of class, and we’re celebrating finally reaching the end. That’s Maribel you spilled beer on and William on the other side. And over here is Mark and Geoff and Janeane.” As Marco says ‘Janeane,’ he draws out the ‘neane’ for an extra couple of beats and everybody laughs, even Janeane. “They’re all pretty good writers. Maybe better than pretty good. Maybe just good.”
“They always are.”
Marco laughs a satisfied Buddha laugh and his eyes twinkle. “What are you talking about?” he says. “They never are. This is a good group. Sometimes you get lucky as a teacher. Usually you don’t,” and he laughs again and reaches into his shirt pocket and pulls out a pipe and packs the tobacco down and lights it with a “pwup-pwup” and settles back. “So who’s this former student the chair fixer?”
“He’s just a guy with a shop over by my storage. Makes furniture and cabinets. ‘Lars.'”
“Well I had one student named ‘Lars,'” Marco says, drawing out the vowel an extra beat and saying it low so it comes from deep in his chest, “and he was a pretty good writer. But I don’t remember anything about furniture. He used to write about boats.”
“That sounds like him,” says Coheed.
“Well he was a pretty good writer but I’m glad if he’s making furniture instead of trying to make it as a writer and a teacher. Because this isn’t easy,” and he laughs again and so do his students.
They sit for a while and Coheed sips his light beer and listens to the students gossip about other students and Marco gossip about students and other teachers. Since he doesn’t like wine or those bitter beers everybody only sells now, light beer is what drinks in a place like O’Shannon, and he has to drink several for it to have any effect. Another reason not to come. Eventually the students get up in ones and twos and stand to shake Marco’s hand and say goodbye and Marco sees them off with a wave of his pipe. “You know where to find me — not here.” The rest of the place has quieted down, too, and Old Phil comes back with another light beer for Coheed and sits down next to him on the stone surround.
“There was a woman in here earlier asking about you.”
“She was … mid-40s? Brunette, tall, thin. Real tall on those heels. Good looking woman, so it was a surprise when she asked after you.”
“I told her you were late and she asked when you might be back.”
“And I told her I had no idea but she could leave a message and I could get it to you.”
“And?” says Marco.
“She gave me this.” Old Phil reaches into his back pocket and pulls forth a wrinkled envelope, folded in half. He lifts it to his nose and draws deeply and pretends to swoon and hands it over.
Coheed takes it and puts it up to his nose and smells the paper and the perfume himself. He doesn’t know if he recognizes it or doesn’t. It is waxy and lemony on top and then a deeper sandalwood and vanilla underneath — it’s been how many years and why would she wear the same? He unfolds it and sees his name written in her big cursive, there’s no question of it now, and he folds it back up and stuffs it in his back pocket.
“Make sure you get a whiff of that before he leaves,” says Old Phil.
“The hell with that,” says Marco.” I want to read it.” He draws out the ‘ead’ an extra beat or two and in the air over the firepit it forms itself into a lengthy breathed vowel.