Too Young to Be Too Old to Die Young
”In old country is also apple pie made,” she said, as if he’d ever claimed to the contrary.
“That don’t make no difference. It’s foreign cooking.”
Marika put her hands on her hips and tilted her head.
“Is made with American apple. In American soil is root of tree, in American soil is grown other ingredient as well. How can it be foreign?” she asked.
“It’s not them apples, it’s them hands what done cooked it”, Ray said. Marika inspected her hands, looking at the backs and the fronts, checking her neatly trimmed nails and the little calluses on the palms.
“Foreign hands,” she said. “And this no good for you to eat because of?”
“If’n you’re asking if I don’t want no foreign swill, the answer to that is affirmative,” Ray said and pulled his Nashville Predators cap lower over his eyes.
“In old country is not polite, wearing hats indoors,” Marika pointed out, as she’d done before, the commie fascist.
“A man’s house is his castle, y’ever hear that?”
“Then don’t go telling a man what he can and cannot do in his house. Like that business with the shoes.”
Marika sighed, exasperated.
“Shoe trail in dirt and sand and who has to clean up after?” she asked.
“Ain’t that what they pay you for? Cleaning up after me.”
“That’s no reason to be making more mess. In this country people wear shoes indoors! Wear hats indoors! Why do this thing?”
Ray felt an itch in his scalp and took hold of the brim of his cap to move it about and scratch his head without needing to take the hat off entire. His hair was getting greasy and long. He might be looking at some sideburns growing soon, like what Don Mattingly used to have. Stubble on his chin was starting to grow up and reach his hair, and he wondered if sideburns were supposed to be beard or head hair.
“Is master thinking perhaps of haircut and bath?” Marika asked, tiptoeing on her birdfeet around the kitchen, her tail swinging and Ray had to admit a fine derriere on there too below that tail, the dress didn’t hide the shapes at least, not that he was interested in any of it.
“Who can afford a haircut these days? Ain’t no money in soldiering anymore and I ain’t taking handouts.”
“Much curious! Is help so shameful, when I am also paid for by state?” Marika asked, picking up the pie from the windowsill. The scent was appetizing, sure enough, but Ray was not of a mind to take a single bite of it so long as she was watching.
“Them’s the programs,” he admitted, “and I don’t recall signing up for ‘em.”
“Yet help is needed and help is given. In old country, always help for anyone who needs it, whether they’re too proud to ask for it or not.”
“That’s socialism and I ain’t giving up any of my constitutional rights just so the ideologically unemployed can sit at home doing nothing,” Ray said and swallowed the saliva that had salivated as a Pavlovian response to the scent of the pie.
“Ideologically unemployed also seems somewhat to describe master,” Marika said, slicing the pie in half, then in quarters, then in whatever you call it when you cut something into eight pieces.
“Did you hear the joke of the Umi-Osho in Italy?” she asked.
“Turtle, she goes to an Italian pizzeria, very delicious, and orders a pizza. They ask her how many slices would she like it to be cut into, six or eight.”
“So she say, the Umi-Osho, that six pieces, she couldn’t eat as many as eight.”
There was a smirk on the Kikimora’s face, but no laughter, only a narrowing of the eyes as she observed the results of her joke on Ray, who chuckled.
“What’s that mean, when you said I was ideologically unemployed?” he asked, to not be left on the defensive.
“Why just what I say. You can work, but choose not to.”
“I’m a soldier. Been that way for the family for generations. Weren’t my choice for them wars to stop and them armies to disband. It’s a hippy-thing.”
Marika nodded sagaciously and put a slice on a plate. Some of mom’s fine china, with the blue flowers on it, and now foreign swill covered it up.
“Ain’t no work for a soldier left,” he continued, when the maid said nothing and merely put another slice of pie on another plate.
“But master is also able to do other things. No physical, how do you say, impairement?”
“A soldier is a soldier and can’t be nothing else.”
Marika poured some cream over the slices.
“Perhaps master’s a soldier in a different kind of war now. One only inside his head.”
“Ain’t no war inside my head but that which God commands me to fight against the commies and things.”
“Pie is getting cold,” Marika said, putting the plate in front of him and a spoon right by it, a little spoon with which it would take many, many bites to finish a single slice.
“Cold like the war. Those were days, or so daddy told me. When you knew who your enemy was and nobody told you it was wrong to be a fighting man.”
Marika poured coffee into two cups, little cups that you had to told with just a couple fingers since the handles were so small, you’d have to drink many, many cups like that to fill your need for coffee.
“Does master take sugar or cream?”
“No, just black,” he said on reflex, not realizing he had never consented to being given coffee in the first place. Yet there it was, the little cup with its black contents on a little saucer, neither dishes he’d ever used though he knew they were there.
“Master has not perhaps thought to go into sports?” Marika asked, nodding at his hat while adding two sugars into her own cup and a little cream.
“Sports is for following and betting, not for the likes of me to play. I’m a soldier.”
“So master has said, yet master is perhaps mistaken, for there is no army for him to be part of, and a soldier without an army has no legitimacy.”
“That’s a fancy word.”
“The difference between justice and banditry.”
“And what does a maid know about it?”
Marika shrugged and took a sip from her cup.
“In old country there was also war.”
“I’m sure. And then you fucked them all into submission and made all the men docile little sheep.”
Marika arched an eyebrow, and the maternal disapproval in that gesture was so hard to face Ray found himself hiding behind his cup and drank a sip. Strong and good.
“It is no good for men to be docile little sheep,” Marika said. “A man should be strong. What woman doesn’t want to be picked up by her man and spun around like a little girl? To be held like and to feel like being a flower compared to the strength of the man?”
Ray didn’t know what to say to that so he found something to occupy his mouth with to avoid answering, and that something was the pie. It was as good as any he’d ever tasted and he kept eating without a word.
“There is another kind of strength for master to consider. One that a woman may find more important than just muscle.”
Damn good pie.
“Perhaps the strength to swallow the pride and to just get a job?”
Ray swallowed his pie and a sip of coffee and the cup was empty but before he could ask for more she was already up and pouring it.
“It’s all I’ve known all my life,” he said, not looking up at her.
“Master is not so very old that he cannot change his ways.”
“Maybe I’m not old enough to be too old to die young, but that don’t mean I ain’t given all I’ve had to this thing.”
A warm hand fell on his. He looked up. There was a gentle look on her face.
“If master is young enough to still die young, then master has his whole life ahead of him, and a lifetime is long enough to do any thing at all.”
And the she withdrew and ate her slice and he finished his and in silence they ate some more and finished all the coffee and there was half the pie left for later and she cleared the table while Ray sat there and thought about what he could do that didn’t involve the military.
“Marika,” he asked, speaking her name out loud for the first time, “would you get me the newspaper? I think I might look at them wanted ads.”
“Of course master,” she said, and her smile was the sun itself and he felt like a bud that would open just from the force of that radiance.
“But perhaps master would care for that haircut also?”
“Hm, yeah. Can’t go to no interviews looking like a bandit.”
“And also a change in wardrobe may be in order.”
“Hold on now, a man dresses as he pleases.”
“Even if it pleases him to dress like bandit?”
“Ain’t no bandit ever wore no Redskins shirt.”
“As master says.”
He got up and took off his hat, though. Ran his hand through his hair.
“Might be I’ll take a shower right after,” he said.
“As master says.”
“And then I reckon we could see about having a picnic.”
“There’s this old quilt I got, we used to go on family picnics right out in the yard. Put it on the grass and eat outside. We can finish that there pie out there.”
“Master approves of my foreign swill?”
“It’ll do, ma’am. It’ll do.”