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by John Minichillo


Met a good enough woman through the municipal arts project and I'm on the brink of making it with her.  A design of mine was runner-up in a contest and I was invited to the installation, one of twenty-six Fiberglass saxophones placed around the city on twenty-six Saturdays, the most ostentatious thing ever in plain old Maulderburg, now vying for the nickname Saxophone City.  Bellephonic Instruments is housed in a two-story machine shop downtown.  Their woodwinds are B-rated and for kids.  They make ten times more flutes than saxophones.  In another part of town is a Fiberglass molding shop.  They devised and lobbied for this contest.  My saxophone had triangle-shaped keys and the horn blew blackbirds.  I scanned in flat shapes, pasted them with Photoshop, and made composite color prints at Kinko's.  My guiding principle was an abstract woman.  The pieces made up a woman, though I probably should have written that on the plan, because you only see her looking straight on.

My good enough woman is a welder, nothing sexy about her.  When I met her she was dressed in welder's gray:  mask, gloves, steel-toed rubber boots, iron apron.  Under her helmet was a curly black mane pinned into a bun, a swath of gray hair also pulled back and tucked in.  Her name's Dawn.  She has welded fifteen saxophone installations and mine is her favorite.  The concrete was poured days ahead so it was clean, new, and dry.  She attached the sculpture to the rebar prongs set in the cement.  

I seized the moment and asked if she took off her rings to weld.  It was my way of asking if she was married.  She shrugged her shoulders, put the gloves on, and went to work.  Later she said she thought I'd said ‘wings,' and it was a compliment.  But I never would have said that.  So I lucked out again, because runner-up was nothing to scoff at, and they presented me a check.

My saxophone was stage left of the juvenile justice courthouse, part of the renovated downtown and among the recognizable buildings.  My artistic vision—my idea of a saxophone—was at the heart of the city.  Maulderburg put on a contest and I responded.  I gave back.  The photographer snapped a shot of me, Dawn, and my Fiberglass saxophone:  in the photo we're smiling and I'm between Dawn and my sax, an arm around both.  In that particular photo I can tell the sax is a woman, though probably no one else can.

I followed Dawn in the paper afterwards and got to know her.  Her last name is DeWalt.   One guy accused first the city, then the paper, of hiring a model, but I could have told him.  I had put my arm around her and she was genuine.  She worked.  At installations she remembered me, my sculpture still her favorite.  I put my arm around her again, only this time there was no photographer waving us together.

Truthfully, one or two of the other saxophones were better than mine.  One had them twisting and untwisting like loose braids.  I didn't know Fiberglass could do that.  Then I noticed the best artists never came to the unveilings.  It got me thinking.  Maybe some of them were inside jobs, people from the molding shop sneaking in their own designs.  Dawn posed with her blowtorch and I held up the sculpture for the photo—an unwieldy yellow thing more banana than sax.  I'm cropped out of the shot but I'm there.  I'm holding it up.  

 

 

[Drive-In]

 

Dawn has eight children.  I had guessed maybe one or two.  Was likely at our age.  She invited me to her church, and her church became where I eventually saw her.  That is to say I succeeded in casually running into her.  Streams of people went into and out of the stone building, not the kinds of people I like.  I spotted her with the eight kids.  Two were pulling her by the hands and she hardly kept them together as they crossed the street to her brick-colored minivan.  I called her name and she turned.  She loaded the kids into the van and locked it so we could talk.  She had eight girls, of various ethnicities, a beige-and-brown bouquet, one with her face pressed against the windshield.  

I said I wasn't the church type, said I was more interested in her than God, but I would come try it out.  The faces in the van stared back at me, her girls each about two years apart.  And the youngest looked to be two, a kid who stood in her car seat and pointed at me, as if I was being called out to provide the next DeWalt sibling.  Yes, she welded for a living, but I'd seen Dawn's softer side.  She liked girl movies, she liked veggie pizza, she liked Will and Grace.  These were the things we had talked about at the installations.  They draped each sax with the black velvet curtain minutes before unveiling, the effect worn shabby, the same thing every Saturday, for the cameras mostly and also no-shows for the artists.  

Dawn said church was the only time she could get the girls together and quiet.  I liked them shut up in the van like that, so I proposed going to a drive-in together.  They could stay like they were and maybe she would come join me in my car.  You probably imagined me driving some sweet car.  I always wanted a Corvette.  One of the old Sting-Ray's, the curvy ones, painted with gold specks and with a T-bar roof.  Now thoselooked like a woman.  I drive an Oldsmobile but mostly walk around town or ride my mountain bike.  

Dawn knew a drive-in she liked, The Star-Glo Amphitheater, though it wasn't an amphitheater, everyone knew that, the parking spaces in regular square rows, the lot flat, yellow lines spray-painted on limestone gravel.  The Sunday night feature was The Passion all summer long.  Some rich Christian was paying for it, the tickets free.  So we set a date.  We drove our separate cars and met in the lot.  I brought wine and snacks and whatever, and we parked side-by-side.  It was up to her to sit with the kids or to sit with me, depending on her mood.  

She wanted me to see The Passion because I was new to the faith.  I suppose I should have felt insulted but I wasn't.  That's me, her guinea pig.  I thought I'd try to kiss her during this Passion movie.  

As soon as we were parked the kids wanted popcorn.  Eight is an easy number to multiply by, especially when you add two, then it becomes ten.  Around the concession grounds families sat at picnic tables, kids putt-putted, kids were swinging on swings, everyone facing the screen.  Dawn got out of the car and ran behind her older girls who went right for the Daytona racing video game in the arcade.  I brought over the four youngest, most easily done by carrying two and trying to corral the remaining two with my feet.  Dawn handed out quarters and the girls commandeered the four linked sit-down racing consoles.  They got the green light and were pedal-to-the-metal.  When they hit the first turn there were identical screams.  After coaxing, I managed to get the four-year-old to slap the fire button repeatedly while I played a sit-down table version of Asteroids, and I balanced the two-year old on my thigh.  Dawn caught kids three and four wandering off and she lured them over to a Barbie pinball machine.  

She came over to me and it was like we were alone.  We stood at the exit of the arcade, at the threshold of an open garage door where we could see the movie and also watch the girls.  She put her arm around me.  I was holding her youngest and the second youngest sat in the gravel in front of us, picking up a piece and examining it, then putting the small stone back in its exact place.

“Having fun?” she said.

“More fun than Jesus.”

“Hard times then,” she said.  

“These guys are Spartans, right?”

“Romans.”  

“Spartans are a kind of Roman,” I said in my own defense.  It had been my school mascot.  I knew about Spartans.  “Remind me again why there's no English?”

“Artistic choice.”

“Romans sure did kill some people.”

“We all did,” she said.  Then after a pause she added, “…do.”

I supposed she was talking about the war.  Which I liked to forget.  I didn't have a steady job, wasn't exactly contributing to society.  I was afraid of a draft.  They needed bodies.    

“You probably get lots of dates,” I said, but it was the wrong thing to say.  What I meant was that I liked her.  She was outgoing and had a cute face.

“No one wants eight kids,” she said.  “I need a helper.”

I don't want eight kids either.  I hadn't thought about them.  Was easy enough to make them go away.  I wanted wine, but I left it in the car and that's not the kind of place this was.  I'd wanted to see the rich Christian, but knew as soon as I rolled through the gate no rich person was making any appearance.  Christian or not, he had better places to be.  

“There's guys that would,” I said and I put my arm around her.  I didn't feel I was promising anything.  Because I might not have been talking about myself.  

 

 

 

[Ark of the Convent]

 

I told Dawn I wanted to attend sermons.  What I really wanted was to hear about this thing God gave the Jews that kicked ass in war, The Lost Ark from the Indiana Jones movie.  The ultimate weapon but no one seemed to want to speechify on that.  Probably if Jesus had had that, things would have really wound up different.  But I had a feeling that months would go by before anybody would bring up the Ark of the Convent.  There's a Web site says it might still be out there.  Buried in some pyramid in Egypt.  If I had the ultimate weapon I'd make money.  I'd keep the thing cocked so no one could swipe it and people would pay me to view it.  I could charge anything.  Or I'd get paid through the defense budget, a line item—one superfat U.S. Government check every year like Christmas.  

I asked Dawn about Jesus' magical powers and she got a gleam in her eye.  We can't talk during the sermon so she whispered with her lips pressed to my ear.  

And so there's this moment in our story where maybe Dawn is the girl of my dreams and we will make it together.  Or maybe nothing like this has ever happened and never will.  If I say we make it, who believes me?  But if I say we don't, none of the rest of this makes sense.  How can I describe her?  How can I describe moving on top of her and staring deep into dark eyes?  Or if I say she closes her eyes when we make it is that more believable?  What I do is wait for her to hire two babysitters.  She says hiring one is just plain cruel.  And we're alone in her van for the first time.  

 

 

 

[Dawn]

 

I would soon see Dawn's van as my own and it wasn't long before I was at the wheel.  There was a still-air smell that was always around her girls, it lingered in the van and in their house, most especially in the bedrooms:  talculm, lilacs, and something else—the DeWalt smell.  I was around them so much I didn't notice but I occasionally got a whiff of her that took me back to when her scent was intoxicating, to when I was calling the kids by the wrong names and no one got mad.  I used to joke about Dancer and Prancer and Dasher, but I never got far before I couldn't remember reindeer names either.  I joked about Dawn's house with the ninety fingers and the ninety toes and this they would join me in, this usually raised the mood.  But I never knew when to quit, so I would say something about Eight is Enough.  None of the kids had seen that show, and Dawn just hated it.  There was a spot on the old shag carpet where I liked to lie in front of the TV.  There were dolphins swimming across the TV screen, the camera underwater.  Leonard Nimoy spoke a voiceover about mermaids, dolphin birthing, dolphin nursing, dolphin mating, dolphin bites.  

Dawn said, “They're so beautiful.”  

I sometimes tipped my head back and watched the screen upside down.  It was like being a kid again.  We watched nature shows and the youngest girls climbed over me or they found toys to put on me.  And Dawn knew so much about nature.  If God wanted to start over he would do well to enlist her.  She could weld a scrap iron forest with her blowtorch.  I got up off the floor and sat next to her on the couch, because her “beautiful” remark was inviting.  Leonard Nimoy read a line about the day when humans and dolphins would interact via synthesized dolphin calls.  “The beginning of a new age,” he said, pausing for emphasis before signing off, “and that day is nearly here.”  

Dawn squeezed my hand as if it were the beginning of our new day too.  

I looked deep into dark eyes.  

 

 

 

[Something]

 

But there's something I left out.  Because it's embarrassing and it made me angry.  I had been sitting with Dawn on the couch and things were going as planned, until I felt her tummy and she was beginning to show.  This wouldn't have been bad if the kid was mine.  But I counted back the months and there had been someone else, someone before me—when she must have hired two babysitters.  

Dawn was giving me all the right signals, her older girls staying up with us past nine.  She wanted me to snuggle with her under the blanket, where there was no telling what we might do.  But when I felt her I was pissed.  She hadn't told me she was pregnant.  I felt she owed me a big apology.  If she thought I was signing up for nine kids, she had some talking to do.

“Look how they smile,” Dawn said.  She meant the dolphins.

“I heard they were gay,” I said, the best way I knew to convey my anger.

“Don't be mean,” Dawn said.

“They do gay things,” I said.

That perked up the ears of the younger girls.  I even think they got it.  

“If dolphins are so gay, where do dolphins come from?” Dawn said.

“Not all gay,” I said.  “And not all the time.”

“Spock never mentioned it,” she said.

“This is a show for kids,” I said.

“Kids know,” she said.

Your kids know,” I said.

“Dolphins aren't gay.”

“It's what I heard.”

“I heard you were gay,” she said, and the girls laughed.  It was the kind of thing kids said to each other, so she was being playful, but Dawn was also serious.  We'd been snuggling on the couch and she wanted to know why I hadn't made my move.  All this time putting my arm around her.  

I had one of two choices.  I could begin the slow process with hands and hot breath, the girls sent to bed, and then no holding back.  Or I might mope on the carpet.  Which was what I felt like.  I wasn't happy after she'd said what she'd said.  I was man enough.  

“I heard you were a powder puff,” one of her girls added.  She sounded sleepy but she'd said it effortlessly, like recalling a true memory.  

“I heard you like it in your dookie hole,” the youngest from that group of girls said, and I had to count off in my head:  two, four, six, eight, ten.  This girl was ten years old and she knew what she was saying.          

“Dawn, can your kids be less rude?” I told her from my place on the floor, but she didn't say a word.

Everyone in the room suppressed giggles except me, and the ten year-old added, “I heard you were the girl.”  

 

 

 

[Engaged]

 

Though actually quite small, a white diamond has a way of expanding inside itself.  I debated over how much to save for the ceremony and the honeymoon, but decided not to compromise on cut or carat.  Dawn's diamond drew the eye with an array of light, an infinity of line and angle, the illusion of pure bright space inside the clear gem.  

I put it on my own finger, just as far as the first joint, so it wouldn't get stuck, to see what it felt like.  And I couldn't stop staring.  Time passed without me.  I kept the ring a few days longer, not ready to give it up.  But when I pulled it from my pocket and opened the petite velvet-covered black box, the look of surprised joy on Dawn's face was better than winning any contest.  She would have said yes, just to be able to put it on.  But she hugged and kissed me and I hung around until she was wearing nothing but the diamond.  We both stole glances at it, when our eyes weren't locked, and I felt like I'd done the right thing, the good thing.  I was man enough.  No one was going to be calling me the girl.  We didn't need two babysitters to be together and here was proof.  

 

 

 

[Where He Makes It]

 

There are alcoholic drinks with caffeine in them now and everyone smokes that really good weed.  I drink iced tea laced with ginseng and I chew orange baby aspirin for my heart.  I was nothing before Dawn.  She gets on my nerves but she completes me.  We know number nine is not mine—though that we never talk about.  He's a cocky specimen.  His sisters are goo-goo for him and he knows.  Eleven is not an easy number to multiply by and you can forget division.  But any more kids from here on out are mine because we sealed the deal.

That night was the first of six we spent alone in a log cabin in the woods.  It had a hot tub and we soaked and watched the stars.  There were fearless raccoons and we splashed water to make them shoo.  I often return to those nights in my head because it's when we were most close.  Afterwards, she stopped trying to talk about Jesus with me and all of a sudden money was important.  I don't hit her kids but man am I ever going to.  Not to make it sound all bad.  We've had our moments.  And I have a lot to offer a woman like Dawn.  We're legally bound now.  What's mine is hers is mine, etc.


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