Jillian returns after moving out and dresses down Paul because the landlord kept her $600 security deposit. Somehow it’s all Paul’s fault because he didn’t rent the studio after she vacated it mid-month. She wants Paul to reimburse the money because he failed in his station. I learn later the office manager gave her $300 just to maintain the peace.
Paul tries to enforce the “no free-cycle stacked in the halls when people are moving” concept (not a rule – Paul is philosophically opposed to rules). He proposes another concept about “no sophomoric installations in the halls as part of the puppies’ game of one-upmanship.”
Jack pitches a fit about how Paul’s not the artistic manager of the artist studios and cannot dictate what’s on display in the halls. I hear all this second hand, of course. Jack faces off with Paul with accusations and some off-the-wall stuff about growing marijuana in studio 214. “Jack made me open the vacant studio so he could see for himself. He threatened to call the police.”
I only laugh. “You should have called his bluff. Hand him your cellphone. ‘Here, let’s talk to the cops together,’ you should have said.”
“I saw him die before my eyes,” Paul says. “A guy I had always liked and wanted his respect. Some of the remarks… You don’t know. Calculated to be personal, like he had practiced it. His comments only show me what he’s been harboring all these months. I had no answer for him. It’s as though he died right there while he was talking.” Again he put it all on Jack. Nothing about Candish and machinations.
So the real estate agent from my hometown calls. A rental I inherited needs repairs and can she write a check to cover the costs for work already completed. News to me. I leave messages and she leaves messages. I juggle the budget and my non-existent money. Basically, I’ll starve in December while I cover this expense. I develop body aches from tension.
Then we winterize the deck garden, me and Paul. Chop the morning glory trailers and trash the weathered wooden planter boxes. Rearrange the carved pumpkin display. Stow the usable soil and stack empty plastic pots. Sweep and clean and secure for first frost. Each item has a place and everything in its place, satisfying.
I point out that the cats have been digging in the loose soil. Paul whispers like Candish can hear us. “I’ll have the landlords circulate a notice that cats cannot be on the deck unaccompanied.” I’m not holding my breath for the appearance of that circular.
We finish and go for Mexican food. We cry poor for an hour while running the tab past $30, then go dutch with our non-existent money. Paul speaks to his love of crossword puzzles and anagrams. “I read in the paper that Britney Spears is an anagram for Presbyterian and for best-in-prayer.” I laugh out loud, which feels good. Jeez Louise, best in prayer.
“You and Dan used to ditz us?” Like we’re saints or something. I consider Paul’s duplicity, proved to me many times over, and handle my caution. “It started with correcting Dan, and we’d been drinking. But you mustn’t tell the others. It’s way meaner than anything they did or said.”
“Meaner, maybe, but only because it’s funny.” We return to the artist studios and view our deck work. ***redacted***
Except Jack paints his oft-painted studio door and frame a vibrant baby-blue. He used flat paint instead of semi-gloss. He paints half of a neighbor’s door and leaves a stripe on one down the hall. He must have completed the work one morning after I left for school and Paul still snoozed. At least the words ‘Paul, leave me alone’ are gone. “I look forward to when they obtain BA degrees,” Paul says, “and can maybe write with a pen instead of crayons and paint.”
“He’s trying to get a rise from you,” I say. Paul insists that time spent thinking about Jack is a waste, like we don’t obsess continuously about being vulnerable to paybacks.
So some workmen strip Roger’s former studio then lather on white acrylic paint that stinks up the hallways for three days. The women who don’t smoke complain about a gas leak smell, but Paul and the super Hal, who both smoke, disregard us. What do women know?
I call Paul about the odor and get resistance. But he visits with cat to watch a movie, another in a series of Batman flicks. Paul can smell and taste the vapors in my studio and wonders why it lingers so thickly. “Maybe there’s a gas leak in Roger’s place,” I suggest. He tells me AGAIN that it’s a paint smell only. I become impatient and knock on tenants’ doors to ask if they have headaches from the odor. Paul and Hal finally open studio 114 and set a fan in the window to blow toxic fumes into the alley. That cautious step is undertaken after only three days of prodding, many scowls, and a threat to our friendship.