It was Monday, Owen had 2 of new jobs starting today. But he was onsite at his own home as the pool crews began to dig out his new pool. His backyard landscaping had been even more lawnmower intensive than his front yard. Pretty much the only landscaping in the back yard was the large oak tree. The far right side of the back yard looked like a crime scene where the tree expert had used yellow tape to mark the edges of the oak tree root ball where the pool crews should not cross. The pool crew had promised that they didn’t even need to get within 10 feet of the yellow tape much less the actual roots of the tree but Owen knew that if the tree were harmed that Nola would be heartbroken and he would be very angry with himself. So he was there to make sure. Most of the work would actually be near the house.
The original brick walkway under the 2nd floor balcony was staying but every other bit of the back yard between the porch and the protected oak tree area was going to be impacted. The back yard was now just bare dirt and they had just started the real digging. Owen was watching the action from the upstairs back balcony and waiting for a phone call from Roger. And there it was, “Hey Roger.”
“Hey man, how’s it going at your house?”
“Owen moved inside so he could talk over the occasional beep, beep, beep when the BobCat went into reverse.
“Ok. I have a sea of bare ground in the back yard and they’ve just started the digging. These guys don’t fool around. How are the new job sites?”
“Fine man. No worries. Everything is in place, the crews were all on time and work is progressing. The Lakefront owner was a little nervous at first but then settled in. The Uptown house folks just swung by to make sure we showed up and then were off to work." Roger then chided him, "The guys tell me that your Nola is quite the foreman."
"Well they didn’t really say that. But she is all they were talking about this morning. They liked her. Straight talk, explained clearly what she wanted and why she wanted it, no bullshit whining or indecision, please and thank you and pitching in to move stuff, real organized. She knew working the garden and the form at the same time would be a bitch and had planned as much as possible to keep their work away from it. Or was that you?”
“Nope, all her. Thursday afternoon when she came back to set the smaller plants I tried to help lay things out but was told, with a kiss mind you, “You can’t help an artist paint a picture.”
Roger chuckled. “You’re in trouble man. The guys liked her but nobody else got a kiss. So when Joe commented that all the mulch bags were exactly he they needed them…?”
“You know she charmed Maurice & Louis into rigging string on your wall for those new vines, just by wondering how they would do it and listening to their suggestions, telling them good idea, thanking them and then walking away. I better watch it out, she'll get my job."
"No way, man. No way."
"I hear she's not bad to look at either. To quote Maurice, 'Curves man, just like Owen likes 'em. Not those skinny stick women with no tits the young kids tend to go for'."
"Well I'm glad to hear that Maurice approves of my new landscape specialist."
Roger chuckled, "Go back and watch your tree. You need to keep that woman happy so she will keep you happy.”
Owen laughed. “Thanks man.” And they hung up.
Work on the pool progressed at a rapid pace and by Tuesday they had the basic hole dug and most of the dirt hauled away. Owen was using some of it for fill at one of his job sites. He had no idea where the rest was going. The fountain crew was onsite for Wednesday doing measuring. It was going to be really easy to put the fountain along the wall because there was already an outdoor facet in the side yard. Owen’s guys had done the plumbing work to bring it the pipes the wall for the fountain last week. They had also run the necessary electricity in conduit. Maurice had set the pathway forms far enough away to leave room for the fountain work and for the path around it to be finished off later. By Thursday basic pool form was in.
Nola thought they could either talk about Roman Religion and the Cult of Diana at Aricia or talk a bit more about Owen’s reluctant to do magic. Perhaps they could watch The Secret. She had the small Secret companion book with her. She was planning on leaving that with him. She wasn’t sure that Owen would like The Secret DVD. Her daughter and her daughter’s friends liked it and it did say within the first 20 minutes of the program ‘thoughts are things’ but it might just be too saccharin sweet for this student. The small book might be less, she shrugged, irritating was the only word she could think to use. She had also gone through her DVDs at home and had with her what she called her ‘teaching movies’.
As she opened the gate and drove in, Owen opened the door. How did he do that?
“Evening, Big Man.”
He smiled, “Evening”.
She got out of the truck smiling at him and then started to look over the plantings. The small garlic chives, blue daze and oregano were hardy. The mulch looked solid. The other plants were larger and less likely to be stressed.
“Well how are things?”
“What we need is a good rain. It’s been so dry.”
“I’ve been watering just like you said.”
“Oh I can see that. Things look good, but there is nothing like rain to make new plants happy. Hose water is not the same.”
“Oh I see.” He didn’t but she seemed sure of herself.
She finally stopped looking over the plants and said, “How goes the pool?”
He hooked her arm and started walking her back to the house, “Amazingly fast. The hole is dug they tell me they will be painting this weekend or Monday. So, I’m hoping your plants can hold out for real rain for a few more days.”
“Ok, then I won’t twitch my nose for rain just is yet.”
“You do weather magic?”
“Well, rarely. It’s not something to play with, but sometimes. Especially during Hurricane season.”
“Did you have the day off for Katrina?” he teased.
“Actually, when Katrina kicked up, I was out of town, working 10 hours days and not watching the news. I had flown to Houston and Katrina was just a glimmer. When I got on the plane to Chicago 2 days later and saw the news at the airport, it was going to Florida. I didn’t even know about how bad it was or the path it had taken until James called to say he was evacuating. When I saw what it looked like on the Weather Channel I had to agree that leaving sounded like it might be a really good idea. I had arranged my flight to stay longer in Chicago. Then James called to say he was staying. It was insane on the highways, packing everything up and traveling to Texas or even the NorthShore was not something he relished. I told him there was no way that my family was going to be in New Orleans with me somewhere else. I arranged to fly home on the last plane that landed at the New Orleans Airport. The pilot pointed out the edge of the storm. It was crazy.”
“Yes.” She knew she would have to tell the Katrina story.
He was dumbfounded.
“You’ve seen our house. The main living floor is 2 stories up. We were like a houseboat but we were fine. We had neighbors behind us and 2 doors down and across the street who stayed. After 3 days of heat and the water not going down, being able to watch the water level on the steps change with the tide, helicopters flying overhead like a war zone and inconsistent news, we used air mattresses and boards off the windows to float Jamie and our bikes out. So did out neighbors. Then we rode the bikes to Jefferson Parish, thinking we could get on the buses that never came. We spent a weird night on the side of the interstate, were rousted awake before Bush flew over in Air Force One. We had been in contact via land line and cell phone with my friend in Chicago, 504 numbers weren’t working well, who then relayed to our families that where we were and that we were OK. My brother was sent to find us among the 10,000 people on the side of the interstate and did and got us out. James and Jamie were set up in Austin. I bought my replacement truck in Texas and I was back 8 days later to check on pets. The cats were OK. The dog had been taken off the porch. After weeks of looking, we found her on PetFinder and she came home in November the day before James & Jamie did.”
“That’s all.” He said dryly.
“Well, no, that’s not all. You’ve been around here long enough to know that everything was crazy and complicated. But when things get too crazy and complicated the chaos somehow simplifies and crystallizes everything. The point was I wasn’t around or aware that I needed to do weather magic for Katrina.”
“Oh, I missed that. You can’t really think it would have mattered.”
“I have no idea. But you can bet I would have been twitching my nose like crazy if I had not been a 1000 miles away working 10 hours a day with my head in a news hole.”
Owen opened the wine in silence, still thinking about the story and what he would do for hurricane evacuation. Strange that he hadn’t really thought about it before. Nola moseyed over to the kitchen’s back door and took a peek out at the pool area. Owen handed her a glass and said, “You can get a better overall view from the upstairs balcony. She looked up and smiled “Oh I’d love to get an overview. It will help with planning the landscaping.”
He smiled and shook his head and said, “Crack addict, plants are like crack to you.”
They took a right at the top of the stairs and walled down essentially a short center hall with rooms on both sides. As Owen opened the door to the balcony Nola noticed a long room open room with windows all down on wall. “ooooo, This room would be perfect for painting.”
“Painting? It is painted.”
“No I mean for painting, canvases, you know art, Owen.”
“Art, canvases. You paint?”
“No, not really. I mean I’m no artist. But sometimes I paint with acrylics for fun and just for me. I find that painting or sketching is the only time I completely relax, shut off the busyness in my mind and can just be. All these windows to let the light in while still being able to be inside … perfect.”
He shook his head and opened the back door, “Anything else you do you want to tell me about?”
She shrugged, “I sing to the radio. My daughter says I play rock and roll too loud.”
They stepped outside.
“Wow. What a transformation.”
He shook his head in agreement and said, “and fast too.”
She nodded too, “Impressive.”
They just stood on the balcony in silence, sipping wine. Each locked up in their own thoughts. Nola finally said,
“You are lucky all the houses that back into your lot are only single story. With that high redbrick wall you have all the privacy you need. You said you were going to put bamboo along the west wall?”
He nodded, “hmm umm.
“I see Clematis or Passion Vine or along the east side on the garage. The oak tree looks ok. The yellow tape is a nice touch.” And she smiled at him and he smiled back remembering Roger’s conversation earlier in the week. “What are you going to do with that dead space behind the garage?” He had been asking himself the same question. But she wasn’t really expecting an answer she was thinking out loud. “I think that it would be nice to have at least one pine tree some where over in the far left corner to make your own mulch for the garden. I see a mini forest in that corner. You could add a Shumard Oak and some swamp maple… Swamp Maple has become a favorite postKatrina. It grows quickly and had a touch of fall color and some understory trees, more redbud, a slower growing Japanese magnolia. And on the left corner another Sweet Olive. A garden should smell good. Owen, do you like figs?”
“Figs?” He was trying to keep up again as she moved across and changed the landscape
“Yes, figs. Fruiting tree, large lobe like leaves.”
“I know what a fig tree looks like, woman.”
She shrugged, “Oh. Well do you like them? Personally I think they are decadent. But we should plant something you like to eat. Do you have a favorite fruit that we could plant as a tree back here?”
“Ok Peaches. I think there are some new hybrids that do OK in our heat. We’ll have to work on that. What about the fig?”
“Anything you think is decadent can go in my backyard.”
And she laughed and then walked over to the far left end of the balcony.
“What are you going to do with that corner behind the garage? Hmmm, that would be the place for chickens. How full is your garage?”
He missed the comment about chickens because he had heard garage… “Prying into a man’s private domain.”
She laughed again. “Well I was just thinking that pools collect toys, you know floats, balls, extra chairs, etc. Do you have enough space in your garage for those things or do you need to build more? Because behind the garage would be one place to put them.”
Now he understood where she was going. “The garage has wood working tools and plenty enough room for my truck with empty space left over for pool toys. I could add a door on the side or back.”
She was still in her own world thinking, “Didn’t you say you have a nephew? How old is he 11? 12?”
“He’ll be 14 this May. We share a birthday.”
She nodded, she was thinking about her neighbors and their PostKatrina pool and their son, “Does he play basketball?”
Owen was not following… “Yeesss….,”
“What if you were to put in a basketball court, not a full one of course. Aren’t garages where you hang a basketball hoops? My neighbors 2 doors down have a son and a pool and he and his friends are always shooting hoops or playing ping pong or …
And Owen got it and his face opened… “now that is a very interesting idea... I see what you see. Yes absolutely a basketball court. Next time Maurice has some free time. He can lay it out. You’re a genius woman. Eric is going to love it.”
She smiled at his enthusiasm and sipped her wine and waited while he imagined what the backyard would look like. He finally turned and smiled at her and said again, “Genius.”
“Ok, well what if we went in and got this genius idea on paper and made a list of plants you’ll need?”
It hadn’t taken long to fill in the backyard plan. Owen was still grinning with the basketball court, ping pong area idea and they had settled in the library.
“Well student what do you want to talk about tonight?”
“Hmmm, he settled into the sofa and said, “I don’t know. Nothing? We always work when you come here, through the manual or on the landscaping. I think it would be nice if you just sat here with me on the sofa.”
“Well,” she said looking at an imaginary watch, “I can give you 20 minutes or so but then I think…
He sat straight up and said, “What! 20 minutes, you are not leaving just because I can’t think up any questions?”
And she laughed at him, “No.”
“That was cheap. A cheap trick. Shame on you.”
She held up her hands still laughing, “I won’t do it again. It’s just you looked so content snuggling into the sofa I couldn’t resist.” And she got up and started walking to the kitchen where she’d left her purse with the DVDs.
He started to get up saying, “Where are you going, woman?”
“Relax, I’ll be right back.”
He sat down but he didn’t relax until she was back pulling a bunch of DVDs from her purse. His eyebrows rose as he said, “You already had this planned!”
“No, I had no idea what we’d do tonight. So I essentially planned options. These are my teaching movies. They are movies that I think illustrate concepts that are aligned with the Ways. Since you said you just wanted to sit with me on the sofa I thought you could pick one and we could watch it tonight.”
“Genius, woman. Let me see those.”
Calendar Girls, Sirens, Stealing Beauty, Under the Tuscan Sun, What Dreams May Come. Oh you mentioned that one.”
And she wrinkled her brow, and said, “If you can want to sit on the sofa, I can want to do one of the other movies.”
“Ok” and he looked them over and said, “Sirens?”
“Love, Sexuality, Freedom, Christianity’s tendency to repression, set in the 1930’s in Australia, full of links to various mythos. It’s light in its approach, subtle, slow, subconscious in its messages.”
“Sirens it is.” And he put in the DVD lowered the light and snuggled into the sofa, insisting that she sit close to him.”
“I swear Owen, sometimes I feel like I'm your favorite new toy. You need to get out more.”
“New? We’ve known each for months. You’re not new. And didn’t I just say I wanted to sit with you on the sofa? Get over here woman.”
She shook her head at him but obliged and they settled in to watch the movie.
Sitting so closely to him had made it hard to gauge his reaction. So when the movie was over she wasn’t sure what he thought. She was curious, but she waited. He let the credits run and then used the remote to power it off. And still he didn’t say anything. She shifted slightly. Still nothing. He wasn’t asleep he had just shut the player off. She had been leaning against him and he had his left arm around her but draped over the back of the sofa. She shifted again and he leaned to his left into her so she shifted some more and ended up leaning against his arm with him leaning into her. Finally she said, “Well?”
Finally Owen said, “All that subtle sexuality with no overt sex.”
She smiled,“Yes, the movie is full of sexuality and sensuality and its power and how it’s repressed or its various representations or how it can be part of awakening the characters to who they are.”
“and the symbology, the snakes, temptation”
“in the Christian mythos, transformation in other mythos.”
“And Ulysses and the Odyssey, I expected some of that from the name, and the Christian symbols mixed with the pagan symbols. Very interesting. I can see why you would use it as a teaching DVD. But it’s so subtle and complex that if someone were to ask me about it I’m not quite sure what I’d say.”
She was thinking how she would describe it to someone she wasn’t teaching when he said, “I feel like the handy man in that movie.” And he kissed her. With the themes of the movie spinning in her head the kiss went spinning too. He was gentle but insistent and still lost in thought brought on by the movie. When he stopped Nola really didn’t know what to say or do.
Owen said, “We should watch it again.”
She laughed but only very lightly. “Not tonight.”
“Why not?” and he kissed her again. When Nola managed to say,
“Because it’s obviously already gone to your head.” And mine too. Then she sighed, “I need to get home before it gets too late. I have to go to work tomorrow. You can watch it again. I’ll leave all the movies here.”
And he gave her such a sad 10 year old face it almost didn’t look 10 years old. She gave him a gentle kiss and said “I have to say goodnight.” And she stood up and reached out to him, “Want to walk me to the door?”
“No, I want you to stay.”
She looked at him and held her hand out more firmly. He took it and she pulled him from the couch. They walked silently to the door and Owen gave her one of his hugs and a not so gentle kiss before he let her get in and watched her drive away.
He shut off the lights and climbed the stairs to his bedroom and flopped miserably in the bed. Tago nodded to Meana who sent him to sleep.
As Nola drove home she heard Owen say, “I feel like the handy man in the movie” again. And she wondered exactly what that meant to him. In his own way he was the handy man… He was also learning from her and by extension from those that thought her, a part of the continuum of learning and teaching but outside of it just like the handy man… All the women admired the raw physicality of the handy man, so much that the preacher’s wife and gone to him… And Meana nodded to Bellaria who shifted Nola’s thought process just enough so that Nola thought, Well this should make the Spring Equinox lesson very interesting.