“Hugo!” Leo says when his long-time solicitor in Toulouse answers on the first ring. “How are you?”
“You’re up early, my friend.” Hugo says, looking at one of six clocks on his office wall, each displaying a different time zone. “Don’t you sleep anymore?”
“One of the first things to go in my old age.” Leo says, as he pours boiled water into the antique Royal Vienna teapot.
Hugo laughs. “How was the rock opera?”
“Symphony,” Leo says. “Mingan and Trudy both liked it, even though Trudy was reluctant to attend.”
“A spirited girl,” Hugo says. “How is she?”
“Partly why I’m calling,” Leo says. “Remember the genealogy research you arranged for me – for them?”
“Certainly,” Hugo says.
“They’re unhappy about the information,” Leo says. “I must have crossed a line.”
“It’s been known to happen,” Hugo says.
“Such historical information isn’t always met with fanfare,” Hugo says.
“They’ve lived life somewhat…adrift,” Leo says. “Surely learning one’s roots helps anchor a sense of self.”
“Sometimes,” Hugo says, after a pause. “People don’t want the particular association, or they may, and feel a new sense of loss.”
“I see,” Leo says. “Neither of which occurred to me.”
“You had the most generous intentions,” Hugo says.
“You can’t expect to always know their lived experiences,” Hugo says.
“Now I’ve caused more problems.”
“Give it time,” Hugo says. “You’ve done them both a world of good, my friend.”
Trudy rushes into the fulfillment center’s staff room – floor, technically, complete with full service cafeteria, ping pong tables, basketball hoops and yoga mats – and finds her friend, Edna, on break. Edna likes that the business operates 24 hours each day so she can complete her payroll duties during the first morning shift, leaving her evenings and overnights open for jamming. Edna, who once sang backing vocals for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, is Trudy’s best friend at work. Trudy’s only friend, really, despite the couple of decades or so age difference.
“Tru!” Edna says. “Aren’t you on graveyards?” Trudy nods.
“Did you bring your family tree?” Edna asks as they get in line at the cafeteria.
“You’re looking at a Brit!” Trudy says in a Madonna-like accent. “Originally, I mean.” The line moves quickly and they barely have time to decide what they want before it’s their turn to scan their ID cards and order.
“Interesting!” Edna says. “I’ve told you my family’s Irish? Oh, there’s some Greek and Italian in there too.” Edna chooses the green goddess cobb salad and Trudy the hand-line caught fish and chips.
Trudy nods. “I’m also part Soviet.”
“Russian! How exotic!” Edna says. “Your parents or grandparents?” They settle into a table alongside the floor-to-ceiling windows, overlooking the city.
“My grandmother ran off with a Soviet officer. Then, she brought their baby here, my mother. They said my grandmother got back on a boat and couldn’t find who looked after my mother but she got married when she was a teenager, and had me. She named me after her grandmother, Gertrude.” Trudy takes a deep breath, realizing she hadn’t stopped to breathe during her story. “That’s about all I know.”
“You come from a line of adventurers!”
“Too bad.” Trudy says, dipping a fistful of chips in a mix of Worchester sauce and ketchup. “I should be living in a big house in England and maybe have a butler. I shouldn’t have to listen to these a**holes on the phone all day. All night, I guess.” A job like this had once seemed out of reach and impossible; Trudy couldn’t have imagined she’d ever work with people who carried real designer handbags. She’d been excited when she started, but that excitement had faded fast.
“You’ve got your own Dr. Zhivago!” Edna says.
“A love story fraught with peril. What happened to your grandfather, the Soviet officer?”
Trudy shakes her head, “Dunno.”
“Well,” Edna says. “They may have been in a dangerous situation and they wanted your mother to be safe. Safe, here.”
“And look how that turned out.”
“You’re looking good to me, girl,” Edna says. “Their love crossed borders and oceans. Now that’s a legacy.”
“Maybe,” Trudy says.
Edna’s phone plays Braveheart, and she says, “’Scuse me, Zhivago.” Then, turning to her phone, purrs, “Hey, baby.”
“I’m a traitor,” Mingan says.
“What are you talking about?” Ned asks his best friend as he unlocks the homeless shelter for the day. “You’re the most solid dude I know.”
In the shelter’s kitchen, Ned turns three burners to maximum and fills three large stainless steel stock pots with water. He grabs a couple chipped enamel camping mugs as the pre-programmed coffee machine finishes brewing. “Love that thing.” He says, pouring them each a cup. “It’s like a present every morning.”
“You know Chief Seattle?” Mingan asks as they kick out chairs to sit at the kitchen table.
“Sure,” Ned says. “The city’s named after him.”
Mingan stirs honey into his coffee and slides the envelope Leo had given him across the table and it hits Ned’s hand.
“Man, you’re famous!” Ned says, reading the ancestral records Leo had procured for him.
“Infamous, maybe,” Mingan says.
“Chief Seattle! Are you kidding?” Ned bounds up. “You’re descended from greatness!”
“He gave the Europeans everything,” Mingan says. “Their lapdog.”
Ned looks at the pages in front of him, the smile vanished from his face. “I hadn’t thought of it that way.”
“’Course not, kemosabe,” Mingan says. “No offence.”
“I know,” Ned says.
They drink their coffee until the water on the stove boils. Ned gets up and stirs in rolled oats for the visitors’ breakfast, covers the pots then reduces the heat. He moves over to the kitchen’s second stove and preheats skillets.
“Hey man,” Ned says. “Give me a hand with the pancake batter?”
Mingan wrestles a large glass bowl and whisk from the industrial drying tray, and mixes the batter until it’s smooth and velvety. He’s flipping the first of the sand dollar sized pancakes when their silence is broken.
“You know,” Ned says. “I think it’s fair to say he was a diplomat and peacemaker. He took a bad situation and created an environment where people of all backgrounds could live together. He helped end bloodshed and had a vision for the future – a vision for you.”
Mingan stacks the pancakes on plates and puts them in the oven to keep warm until they’re ready to serve the visitors in the main room.
“Now I know where you get it,” Ned continues.
“The way you are, man.” Ned says. “You keep your cool, find solutions, help people and bring them together.”
“Well,” Mingan says after while. “Glad your family wasn’t wiped out in a hail of poison arrows.”
“Me too,” Ned says. “Thanks for that.”
Mingan mixes more batter for the next stack of pancakes and Ned retrieves bulk packages of sausage from the fridge.
“Watch your shirt.” Ned says, tossing Mingan his “Kiss the Cook” apron.
“Thanks, kemosabe.” Mingan says, pulling it over his head.
At ten minutes to seven, Leo rises from the table in the shop’s back room. He leaves the newspapers in a pile, but brings the crossword. He unlocks the front door and flips the sign from CLOSED – BACK AT 7:00 AM to WELCOME and turns on the lights.
He returns to the back room for the day’s float which he places in the antique brass cash register, then marks a new daily balance sheet. He looks toward the carved wood and tiled ceiling, and offers up silent thanks.
Not sure who or what he’s thanking, but feeling a light veil of peace fall over him, he folds the crossword puzzle beside the register. He closes his eyes and he’s back at his childhood home, at the servants’ table as they prepare breakfast. He can almost hear their chatter and bickering, punctuated by church bells chiming through the valley.
The small bells above the door jingle, bringing him back to the shop. “Good morning!” He calls to the day’s first customer. “I’m just making tea and coffee! Please have a look around and I’ll be right back.”
He opens the icebox in the back room for the pitcher of purified water and thinks, not for the first time, My full circle.
See previous installment of this story here.
See beginning of this story here.