Haplessly Ever After

An Education

The following day Willie rushed through his morning chores at the Evans' cottage and dashed to the modest Collinsport Public Library where he completed an application for a library card and engaged the assistance of a long-faced woman with round, oversized glasses.

"Can ya help me find things? First, I need somethin' called Hamlet, one with notes where they tell ya what the hell's goin' on, and make sure it's not a first edition." The last time Willie read one of the boss's vintage novels, he dropped it and broke the spine.

The librarian stifled a smile. "Yes?"

"And I need a book that explains everythin' about art."

"That would be a very large book. Is there a particular kind of art you're interested in?"

"All kinds. Or maybe just the stuff from museums in Maine."

"Sir, since you've just applied for your card, you may check out only two books."

"That's fine, 'cause I only got one day to learn all this," he confided to the lady. "I need to impress somebody."

"In that case," she chuckled, "let's begin with Impressionism."

Sunday morning, Willie showered and shaved before making a beeline for the Old House, where he changed into his dark suit slacks and best sweater. Shoes polished. Hair combed back. Then he hit up Julia for an advance on his salary and left a note for Barnabas to explain that he needed a day off to better himself.

"What took so long?" Maggie asked as they left the house to pile into Sam's station wagon. "Pop wants to get there by ten."

"Sorry, I wanted to look nice. Ya know what Hamlet says, the apparel oft proclaims the man—"

"Then why did you show up in that old, ripped leather jacket?" Sam interrupted, knowing very well it was the only coat Willie owned.

Maggie took her husband's arm and guided him away. "I'll get you a new one for Christmas," she whispered.

Sam then instructed Willie to sit shotgun and Joe and Maggie to sit in the back. He handed a road map to his son-in-law.

"Any idea how to read this?"

"Uh, yessir, I'm pretty g-good at it." In addition to sailing around the world on tramp steamer ships, Willie had criss-crossed the country with Jason McGuire by car and bus.

"We'll see." He pointed to two spots. "This is where we are, and this is where we're going. Try to stay awake."

The Portland Museum of Art was located in three buildings on Congress Square. Sam wanted to start at the Memorial Gallery to see the newly acquired Winslow Homer works.

"How 'bout if you and Joe do that. I'm not a big Homer fan," Willie shrugged. "I understand you're all about his Maine seascapes but, c'mon, he's no Thomas Eakins."

"What?" Sam's brow furrowed as the trio looked with surprise at the young man.

"Just a matter of personal taste. I prefer Eakins' tone and realism."

"Is that so?"

"Anyway, I was hopin' to show Maggie some of the post-impressionists. I hear they got an excellent collection. That is, honey, unless you wanna hit the neo-classical sculptures first, 'cause you're gonna love them."

"Sure, Willie, uh, whatever."

"Cool." He took his wife's arm. "Why don't we meet you guys at the café later this afternoon?" He led Maggie away into the main building.

"What was all that about, Willie? Why were you so rude?"

"I just wanted to spend some time alone with you." They entered the first hall. "And I want to show you this Sewer-rat. It's called The Models."

"So it is," Maggie replied, checking the card on the wall as Willie checked the notes written on his palm. "I believe his name is pronounced Seurat."

"Yeah," he grinned. "It's one of my favorites."

"Because it has naked women?"

"Excuse me, this is art. Because he actually put another painting of his in the background, the one called, uh, Sunday on some Island. Old George here did pointyism; he's pretty much the boss of the whole neo-impressionistic movement."

"I see," Maggie eyed him dubiously.

"My other favorite is Starry Night, but that ain't here. Crazy guy painted it looking out his window at the nut house."

And so Willie talked his way through the 19th Century impressionists, European and American. He was at a loss, however, in the contemporary exhibits where the couple observed room after room of crazy splashes of paint or bizarre surrealistic images.

"So, tell me, big shot, what does this say to you?"

"It says somebody spilled shit all over their canvas." He snuck a peek at the card. "Or maybe this guy used color to make a statement about inhumanity."

Finally, turning a corner, the couple encountered a depiction of something Willie actually recognized. "Hey, look, it's a pipe!"

Then he read the caption: Leci n'est pas une pipe.

They proceeded through the galleries of Baroque, Rococo and Realism, but Willie started to fidget. The paintings reminded him too much of the portraiture at the Old House and Collinwood. Maggie found him staring of a portrait of a 18th Century man in a red frock coat. She moved on to the next room, but returned ten minutes later to find him in the same spot.

"Willie?" She nudged his shoulder. "Come and see what I…Willie?" She tried to turn him away from the painting, but he wouldn't budge. "You're shaking; what's the matter?"

"It's him. It's Barnabas."

"It is not; now stop it." She checked the card. "This is Portrait of an Etonian, whatever that is. The card says it was painted in England."

"That's where Barnabas went to school. He's a lot younger here, but that's him, I can tell. It talked to me."

Maggie grabbed Willie's arm and yanked him away. "Do me a favor, don't say anything to Pop about this. Now, we're going to act normal, walk quietly into the next room and look at the funny furniture. Got it?"


Willie glanced over his shoulder as they left, checking to see if the eyes were following him.

On the way home, the group dined at a Chinese restaurant. Willie smirked when the others asked for egg foo young and chop suey. Speaking to the waiter in Mandarin, the young man conversed briefly before asking if he could order something not on the American menu. Then he made a comment, obviously referring to the other members of his party, which made the server laugh.

"Willie, what did you say about us?" Maggie asked. "And when did you learn to speak Chinese?"

"When I lived there for a few years. And Chinese ain't a language, there's all dif’rent dialects: I just know a little Mandarin and some Cantonese from when me and Jason were in Hong Kong."

"Another fascinating revelation," Sam commented. "First we find out you're an art expert, now a multi linguist."

"What were you doing there?" Joe asked with a smile. "Were you a spy? Secret agent?"

"Actually, we did do some undercover work for the government, but I can't really talk about it. You know."

Sam looked at him disbelieving, but the young man wasn't lying. Not exactly. He and Jason did a bit of money laundering on the side. Mostly, though, Willie worked as a mule for smuggled drugs and black market contraband. A great deal of the time, he had no idea what was contained in the packages he delivered.

"Sounds pretty impressive," Joe remarked, to which Willie just shrugged nonchalantly.

Sam just grunted and pulled out his meerschaum pipe.

"Pop, please don't smoke right now. My stomach's a little upset. I guess I did too much walking today."

"Besides," said Joe, "the food's here."

Maggie eyes bulged when the server delivered her husband's dish: deep fried little animals in a speckled red sauce. Willie plucked up a plump one with chopsticks and plopped it into a small bowl of rice.

"Oh my God, what is that?" His wife's hand went to her month in apprehension.

Willie almost burst out laughing as he dove into his delicacy.

"Hot and spicy frog. Wanna try some? Taste like chicken. This is nothin', Jason and me used to eat all kinds of weird ass stuff: dog stew, big rooster balls, grasshoppers, lizards, crunchy beetles—hell, all kinds of bugs. Once we had brown bats in coconut milk—that was Indonesia—the wings're chewy, kinda like beef jerky. Chicken feet are okay, but ya gotta watch out for toenails. In the market place they'll fry up anything and stick it on a skewer. But sometimes they just eat 'em raw, or even live…"

The young woman stood abruptly and raced for the ladies' room.

"Well, that was a complete disaster," Maggie berated her husband that evening in their apartment. "I don't think Pop will ever invite you anywhere again."

"Sorry I made you barf."

"Why are you so insecure, Willie? You didn't need to show off like that. It was embarrassing."

"I didn't want ya to think I was a loser."

"And these." she held up the library books. "Really? Hamlet and Impressionist Masterpieces, or how to take a crash course in bragging."

Willie hung his head. "I didn't want ya to think I was stupid."

"Why would I think that?"

"'Cause I never been to a museum, that's why! I also never been to a ball game or a bowling alley or a play or a zoo! There, are ya happy?"

"What about a circus?" The girl asked after an uncomfortable silence. Willie hugged his knees and started to rock slightly. "I hated the circus; the clowns scared me."

"I'd protect ya; I'd kick their clown asses down the street."

Maggie laughed and pulled her husband into her arms. "It's not a crime to be poor. I'm sure your parents did their best—"

"What do you know?” the young man snapped. “My mother was a drunk who wasn't married and raised me in the bar where she worked."

"Oh. Is that why you won't talk about your childhood?"

"There's nothin' to t-talk about." He shrugged, his mood instantly brightening. "Everythin' turned out fine; Lyddie went to AA and got all better. You'll see when we visit at Thanksgiving. She's a very good cook, ya know."

Maggie sighed. "Willie, I've told you a dozen times, I am not going to leave Pop all alone and run off to New York during a holiday."

"But we haveta."

"No, and I'm not going to change my mind, so stop bugging me."

"He won't be alone. He'll eat with his pretty pal, Joey Haskell."

"And his only child." She folded her arms. "You're welcome to join us."

"Okay, first off, I am not welcome to join you. Second, they'll all eat with Joe's uncle who lives on that farm."

"So what? Are you afraid of cows now?"

"Maybe. A little." Willie had nightmares about cattle. He remembered breaking into dairy barns at the behest of his vampire boss back when Barnabas was on a diet of bovine blood. "I think they have g-guard dogs, too."

"I'll protect you; I'll kick their doggie butts down the street."

"But I promised my mom you would come."

Maggie took his face in her hands and looked him in the eye. "You had no right to do that. We hadn't even gone on a first date, and you told her we were getting married."

"That's 'cause I got magic powers to see the future. Wait—" He squeezed his eyes shut and tapped his temple. "I'm gettin' another one right now. It's a picture of you and me, we're in a truck, drivin' to Schenectady, singin' Over the river and through the woods..."

"Stop it!" His wife good naturedly aimed a smack at the side of his head, but Willie expertly dodged the blow. "I know she wants to meet me; I want to meet her too—only not on a holiday. I'm sure Joe's uncle won't mind if you come along."

"It'll be weird. I don't wanna eat with folks who don't like me." He took a deep breath before continuing. "I never hadda real Thanksgivin' dinner before, not at somebody's house."

"What are you talking about?" Maggie looked incredulous. "Do you make up these stories to get sympathy?"

Willie broke into a wide grin. "Yeah, sure."

"Why would you do that?"

"I'm bat-shit crazy," he laughed. "Let's get drunk and have sex."

"Sweet talker, you know I don't drink anymore."

"Oh, yeah." Her husband didn't remember that, but pretended he did. "I'm really not s'possed to, neither. Barnabas gets m-mad; he thinks that's why I break stuff all the time." Willie saw her bristle at the mention of the vampire's name. "How 'bout the other part?" His hand wandered beneath the blanket to the hem of her nightshirt. "Lady, shall I lie in your lap?" He peeked underneath. "I mean with my head in your lap." He disappeared under the cover. "Do ya think I meant country matters?"

"Is that from Hamlet?"

"Ah, there's the rub," came a muffled voice from down under.

"Just keep it down. I don't want anybody banging on the walls." Maggie switched off the light.

"I can't keep it down. Look."

"You're very funny."

"Then I will make you come with me…all the way to New York."

"That's it. Go away."

"I'll shuddup now."

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