Chapter III (3)
A tea-party with rabbits
“Thank you for the coffee, it’s delicious,” was Lynn’s opening gambit. It fell as flat as a cornered king. Time for a different approach, she thought.
Behind her deceptively innocent face, and those beguiling emerald eyes, Lynn Ashcroft had an extremely astute mind, and she knew how to use all three to their best advantage, when necessary. Growing up, they had become Lynn’s survival tools, keeping her protected in the solitary and predatory world in which she existed. As she matured, these gifts became valuable assets in her chosen profession. There was one other survival technique that she had mastered, and one which she practiced on an almost a daily basis, mostly at work. She was able to separate her feelings and emotions, to stuff them away in different compartments in her mind and then continue to objectively focus on the task at hand without the distraction of emotions.
At thirty years old, Lynn was an attorney, a rising star in the field of child abuse and welfare. She was neither bitter nor old enough to have become cynical, she was simply good at her job, knowing when to be compassionate and caring with the innocent and when to be tough and uncompromising with the guilty. Sitting across from Charlie now, who was taciturn to say the least, Lynn decided to use one of her interviewing techniques to get him to open up. A mentor had once told her, “If you get them talking about what interests them, like their kids, or sports or fishing, then they’ll relax and maybe open up a little.” It had worked on more than one occasion, so Lynn tried it now.
Looking at Charlie, with an innocent smile on her face, Lynn asked, “So what’s Wilbur’s story?”
This completely threw Charlie. Where the heck’s this gal coming from? he thought.
“What?” he said. “I thought you were here to talk about family, Lin-Linda.”
And what kind of name is Lin-Linda? It sounds like Ling Ling, the name of the woman who runs the Chinese place in the next town over. But this Lin-Linda don’t look Chinese. All sorts of questions were running through his mind when Lynn interrupted them.
“My name’s Linda, not Lin-Linda, but I go by the name Lynn. It’s a long story,” said Lynn, who was starting to lose her famous patience.
“Oh,” said Charlie nodding, not understanding at all. He abruptly stood up, poured himself another cup of coffee, nodded at Lynn’s cup. She shook her head, no. “How about we go outside?” He continued. “It’s a nice morning and I need to clear my head.”
“Okay,” said Lynn who felt that the tables had been unexpectedly turned on her. “Could I have a glass of water please?” She asked. Charlie gave her one and they went outside to the front porch. He looked at the couch and remembering this morning’s struggles decided against sitting there. Lynn too glanced at the dirty looking couch and chose an uncomfortable looking plastic chair next to it.
Another long silence ensued.
“Wilbur would be about 13 now.” Out of the blue, Charlie began talking and Lynn relaxed a little in her chair. She was a good listener. Hearing his name, Wilbur came trotting up onto the porch and lay down at Charlie’s feet, sensing a delightful story about to be told. “He’s a good dog, aren’t you boy,” Charlie said as he nudged Wilbur with his toe. Without moving his head, Wilbur looked up at Charlie with those big brown eyes and slapped his tail just once on the boards.
Another lengthy silence occurred while Charlie sipped his coffee and looked out over the front yard and then back at Wilbur at his feet. Lynn was about to say something when Charlie started up again. “We got him when he was just a pup. From Frank across the way, after Jake had died.”
Another long pause.
This is going to be a long morning, thought Lynn. Charlie was not the most riveting storyteller that she had met. In this, she was quite mistaken, for in town amongst his friends at the diner or just sitting at the courthouse square, Charlie was known for his humorous stories. Lengthy, yes; entertaining, certainly. Friends would goad him into relating tales that by sheer repetition had almost become legends. Each telling differing slightly from its previous version.
Lynn shifted in her uncomfortable chair and Charlie looked into those eyes briefly, quickly looked away, stood up and said, “Let’s go for a walk.” Then he looked at Lynn’s feet to check what she was wearing. Ah, tennis shoes, thought Charlie. Good. “Me and Wilbur always go for a walk about this time, while it’s still cool. Come on boy,” he said to Wilbur who trotted off ahead of them instinctively knowing the path that they would take.
“Okay,” said Lynn and they set off down a tree-lined path between two fields. The air was crisp and fresh with just a little early morning bite to it, but it was the light that Lynn noticed. She was struggling to find the right words to describe the almost crystal-like clarity of the light when she realized Charlie was talking again.
“…run over by a car. Ellie was devastated but it hurt me the most. Jake was the best sidekick I ever had.”
“Forgive me, but I’m having a hard time following you,” said Lynn. “I take it Jake was another dog?”
“Yup,” replied Charlie.
“Is that what happened to Wilbur too?” Asked Lynn.
“Huh?” Said Charlie.
Lynn tried again. “The limp. Wilbur’s limping. Did he get run over too?”
“Nah,” said Charlie. “That were old Benjamin.”
Oh, for heaven’s sake, thought Lynn. I feel like Alice in Wonderland, falling deeper and deeper down the hole. Next, we’ll be having a tea party with rabbits. Out loud she asked, “And who might Benjamin be?”
“Oh, old Benjamin was the mule we had,” replied Charlie who was also trying to keep up with the twists and turns of this conversation. If she’d stop asking so many questions, I could get on with my story, he thought.
Lynn squeezed her eyes shut for a moment and thought, You had to ask, didn’t you? She must have spoken out loud because Charlie asked, “What?” But Lynn kept right on thinking, who calls a mule Benjamin and, come to think of it, who names a dog Wilbur?
By now they had come down to the river. Charlie threw a stick for Wilbur who ignored it and went wading in the shallows. It was obviously a special place for the two of them, the ground was well trampled. To Lynn it had the feel of a favorite spot. Charlie, bent his head backwards, closed his eyes and took a deep breath, savoring the air. Lynn looked at him, perhaps for the first time since they’d met, and saw the peace of the man and she envied his serenity. She understood now why he was quiet; he was merely calm, at one with this world and his place in it. And this was his territory.
Suddenly, Wilbur growled and raced past Lynn so quickly that she could feel the air ruffle the legs of her pants. She turned just in time to see the white tail of a rabbit disappearing round the corner with Wilbur in hot but lame pursuit. The chase didn’t last long and was unsuccessful on Wilbur’s part because he came limping and panting back round the corner and flopped himself down at Charlie’s feet, his bright red tongue hanging out of his mouth.
© John Longbottom 2021
More next week. Thank you for following the tale of Wilbur and Charlie.