Long Day's Journey into Night
Willie got home a half hour before it was time to get up, so there was no sense going back to bed. He took a long, steamy shower and put on yesterday's clothes. His clean stuff was stored at the Old House and his laundry was currently at the Evans Cottage, which is where he headed with bagels and cream cheese, as he was asked to do.
"Shh, Pop's still sleeping," Maggie answered the door. "Geez, Willie, you've got bags under your eyes. Didn't you get any rest after I left?"
"I sleep better when you're there."
"I know, honey. We'll try again tonight." She took the grocery bag from him and set it on the kitchen table. "Pop has some work for you today. It's on the easel."
"Good." Willie enjoyed making the frames for the artist's paintings. It gave him a chance to practice a real skill instead of the menial labor that usually occupied his days and evenings. And Sam seemed to approve of the woodwork, if not the carpenter. But no matter; after living with Barnabas, the boy was accustomed to working without compliment or compensation.
Mr. Evans appeared in the kitchen doorway, looking like a train wreck.
"Mornin', sir," Willie ventured.
"Yes, I know it's morning; thanks for that brilliant observation. Now get out of my chair," the older man growled as Willie quickly exchanged seats.
"Pop, be nice." Maggie helped her dad sit down and kissed his cheek. "Willie brought us breakfast, see?"
"I don't want anything, just coffee, sweetheart." He sneered at his good-for-nothing son-in-law. "So, maybe you'll get a decent job today."
"He already has two jobs," Maggie called from across the kitchen.
"And they don't pay enough to feed a parakeet."
"It's not his fault I only pay minimum wage."
"He's too old to be a busboy. How do you ever expect to support a family, huh, Loomis? Maybe you should have thought of that before you unzipped—"
"Pop." His daughter's voice had a warning tone as she set three mugs of steaming coffee on the table.
"Look at him, staring into space like the village idiot. He needs to accept some responsibility because you're not going to sling hash at that diner for much longer."
"But I'm the manager now," Maggie corrected him. "And head hash slinger. And someday, who knows? I'm thinking of taking some college classes in Business."
Sam harrumphed at that notion. "And where will you find the time and money for that?"
"When you become rich and famous…"
Willie had already zoned out. With a butter knife, he carved designs into the cream cheese on his bagel, only vaguely aware of the conversation going on. The next time the young man looked about, Maggie and her dad were on the sofa. He was snoring and she had her feet propped up on coffee table, watching Good Morning, Maine on TV. Almost half an hour had passed.
Willie cleared the breakfast plates, then went through the house, dumping ashtrays and picking up empty bottles and glasses. When the dishes were washed and dried, he swept the kitchen floor and proceeded to clean the bathroom.
"Bring me the laundry basket and I'll fold some wash while I'm sitting here." Maggie kissed him when he returned to take her empty coffee mug. "I know you work hard. Maybe, under the circumstances, Mr. Collins would give you a raise. Either that or tell him to find himself another flunky."
Willie looked uncertain. "I'll ask." The boss didn't like to part with his cold cash; he surmised that domestic staff should be satisfied with receiving room and board, with perhaps a small stipend at Christmas. A reward from Barnabas used to be not getting smacked across the room. "Your pop didn't wash out his brushes again. I'll rinse them off before I get started on that frame."
It was almost noon when Willie finished, but the final product looked quite professional. He set the framed portrait back on the old man's easel and grabbed his jacket. Maggie was napping in her room. He tiptoed in and kissed her softly.
"I'm headin' over to the Old House now. See you later."
"Willie, you're late." Dr. Hoffman sat at the parlor desk and looked up from her notes. "There are crates in the hallway for you to take upstairs to the lab."
"Julia, I need a raise. Sam Evans is ridin' my ass to make more money."
"Not now. Those boxes have been sitting there all morning. Then please drive me over to Collinwood." She observed his forlorn expression. "We can talk about it later. I doubt that Barnabas will be amenable—but I'll see what I can do." She patted his arm. "After all, this experiment wouldn't be possible without your help."
"I don't mind, as long as it don't involve donatin' blood; that didn't work out so good last time."
The woman smiled. "I think you'll be quite pleased with the results. Now get started. We have a busy day."
Willie spent the afternoon fetching and carrying, scrubbing and sweeping, cleaning out the fireplaces and chopping firewood. Gone were the days when he could use the chainsaw at Collinwood and enjoy a hot lunch twice a week with Mrs. Johnson. She was retired with a comfortable sum and had moved away to live with her daughter in Florida, where it was always warm and sunny.
The young man was pretty sure he had spent time in Miami with his old pal, who had business deals with Cubans, or something like that. That was a long time ago; Jason McGuire was dead now, although he still showed up occasionally.
It got dark so early at that time of year, the Old House servant lit the basement candles at 4:30 in anticipation of Barnabas' rising. He must have dozed off, because the next thing Willie realized, he was slumped on the floor and the vampire was glaring down at him.
"Please sleep on your own time, not whilst I am paying you," Barnabas snapped.
The boy scrambled to his feet. "Yeah, about that—"
"I trust you otherwise made good use of the day. Julia said you gave her a difficult time about an errand. I do not wish to reprimand you again on that subject." He retrieved his walking stick and closed the lid to the coffin.
"Speakin' of money—"
"I beg your pardon?" Barnabas turned with a raised brow. "Are we having two separate conversations?"
Willie hung his head. "No, sir."
"Very well." The vampire proceeded up the steps and his servant followed. "What have you read today?"
"I instructed you to begin Hamlet and you disappoint me yet again. How do you hope to better yourself when you resist my every effort to help you?"
"I dunno. If ya let me take somethin' home, I-I could read after work maybe."
The vampire snorted at the mention of home. In his day a servant's personal life in no way interfered with that of his master. "This is not a lending library, certainly not with the way you handle books."
Barnabas was often snippy first thing in the evening. Fortunately, Julia met him in the parlor with a warm mug filled with his equivalent of morning coffee. The vampire kissed her hand and settled into his favorite wing back chair. Willie shuffled over to stoke up the fire.
"I do not approve of your rushing off the moment I rise in the evening in order to work at another job. It's beyond me why you ever put yourself in that regrettable situation. Your loyalties should lie with Julia and me, not some…"
The voice trailed off as Willie stared at the blaze, mesmerized by the dancing flames, listening to the roar. Snap, crackle, pop...Rice Krispies...roasted wieners and marshmallows…clinking crystal. Maggie smiled at him, her hair was a brilliant auburn when lit by the fire.
A hand touched his shoulder. "Willie, look at me; are you feeling alright?" Julia peered into his eyes and, not liking what she saw, proceeded to take his pulse. "Let me get you something."
"No, I gotta drive; gotta go to work."
"Well, at least go upstairs and lie down for a little while."
"Can't do that." The young man shook his head with a chuckle.
"Relax, it's early yet."
"No, it's too late! I gotta go!" In a sudden panic, Willie jumped to his feet and raced out the door as the bewildered couple stared after him.
Willie froze in his tracks on the front porch. His pickup was gone; someone must have stolen it. There was that one time when Barnabas had given his truck to Harry Johnson, because he was a better worker and didn't break things. He wouldn't do that again, because Johnson himself became a vampire and was destroyed—Maggie and her trusty shotgun blew him into the next world so that not even a ghost remained.
The baffled servant stomped back into the Old House. "Alright, what the fuck have you done with my truck?" he demanded. "I need it. I got responsibilities, goddamit. You can't make me stay here!"
Barnabas rose and grabbed him by the throat. "On the contrary, continue to speak to me in that tone of voice, boy, and you will see exactly what I can make you do. And if I decide to punish you again, it will not be in the wine cellar."
"Don't, dear. You can see he's agitated." Julia interceded, gently grasping the vampire's arm. "Willie, breathe. Your truck is parked in the rear of the house. Don't you remember?"
The young man backed away, shaking his head. The room looked hazy and he felt strangely disoriented. He turned and walked uncertainly down the hall towards the servants' entrance.
"Willie, you can't come into work after cleaning fireplaces; you're filthy," Maggie clucked as her husband noticed for the first time that he was covered in soot. "Go wash your face and hands, then get an apron from the locker. Hurry up, we're running out of water glasses and forks."
On his way to the kitchen, Willie spotted Sam at a table enjoying his evening meal with Joe Haskell. Maggie's former boyfriend was a tall man with matinee idol looks. Their conversation died abruptly at the sight of the ruffian, Sam's fork clanked down on his plate as if his food had suddenly lost all flavor. Willie ducked into the men's room to wash up. What he really wanted to do was dump that dinner on their fat heads and punch their lights out, but good restaurant employees weren't supposed to do that.
With his sleeves rolled up, Willie immersed his hands in the hot water and his brain in the mindless, routine job of washing dishes. In the dining room, plates clattered, glasses clunked, patrons chatted, and food orders were yelled into the kitchen. When the sink was empty Willie would tour the tables, fill his plastic tub with dirty dishes, and begin again. Maggie looked cheerful but weary, sitting down whenever possible to nibble at a turkey sandwich she had stashed behind the counter. By the end of the evening she looked ready to pack it in.
"Someday I'm going to buy this place, and we'll be rich," Maggie said as she closed out the cash register while indulging in an evening snack of Harvard beets followed by strawberry ice cream. "Then you can work here as long as you want."
Willie settled down next to her and dove into his plate of stuffed cabbage, spaghetti and French fries. The cook fed him leftovers at the end of the day, usually the food that was too old to sell to customers. It was a free meal that he didn't have to prepare.
"I dunno. You shouldn't hand out them cushy jobs to your relatives. That's called nepotism." He must remember to tell Barnabas that he used one of his dictionary words in a sentence.
Without looking up, Maggie continued casually, "So, what are you planning to do on Sunday?"
Willie shrugged. "Go to work, I guess."
"The diner's closed."
"I mean at the Old House. Barnabas don't understand about things like days off."
"So I noticed," his wife snorted. "Well, since I do have off, Pop wants to take a day trip. There's a new Winslow Homer exhibit at the Portland Museum of Art, and he, uh, invited me and Joe to go with him."
"Come on, Willie, you wouldn't like it. I'll bet you've never been in a museum in your life."
"I have so. Lotsa times," he replied quietly.
Maggie knew that, while her husband was well traveled, there seemed to be a lot of gaps in his social upbringing. At times he seemed completely ignorant of everyday experiences.
"But, as you said, you have to work."
Willie thought for a moment. "Actually, I think Barnabas would like if I went to a museum. He's always wantin' me to better myself."
"I don't know…" Maggie looked sadly at her husband as he stared at the pink sauce on her plate. "Well, do you absolutely promise to get along with everyone and not embarrass me?"
"Okay, then." Maggie wrapped up the day's receipts to put in the safe. "Let's get out of here. Are you ready?"
"I still haveta fill the ketchup bottles and clean the bathrooms."
"Oh, no. Willie, I told you hours ago that the ladies' room was backed up."
"Well, lock up when you leave, and make sure the sign is turned and the lights are out."
"Yeah, boss. I know what to do." Maggie went in the back to retrieve her coat and handbag. "You goin' home?"
"I'm stopping off at the Blue Whale for a little while to meet Joe and Pop. Don't worry, just for a ginger ale. I'll see you back at the apartment." She gave him a quick kiss and left.
Willie looked at the alarm clock. He had been there for more than an hour, and Maggie still had not come home. Finally, the young man could stay awake no longer and dropped off to sleep as he sat by the window with his transistor radio still playing. A short while later, the telephone rang, and Willie jumped up to grab the phone.
"What? Maggie? Are you alright?"
It was Julia Hoffman.