Cooperation chapter one

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            When I am sitting on a bench in a park when the weather is not unpleasant, I do not like to be distracted. My uncle knows this and ignores it. I go to Blackberry Park, not only because of the abundance of fresh blackberries that never ceases to delight me but because it is the one area in this neighborhood that is always shady. I do my best creative thinking outdoors when the sun is not too hot.

            However, considering my uncle lives across the street from the bench where I sit here and his front window directly faces me, I will admit I take risks with considerable odds against my favor. I have assumed he will be in his bedroom away from the window and more than fifty percent of the time I have been incorrect. Maybe he was in his bedroom and could hear my footsteps so he walked into his livingroom but that scenario seems unlikely. Yet, I will not put anything past the sneaky fellow.

            He did not yell my name this time. He had merely waved his hand with a gesture that told what words could not say politely. The message was that I would go immediately to his place. If I did not do so; well, I had just better do so.

            Now, as I sit on a recliner in his living room while my uncle and his two friends are watching television, I am glad I did so. Suddenly, there is rain. I did not bring a jacket or umbrella. My next-door neighbor told me there was a chance of rain today but I never listen to anyone who mentions things reported in the newspaper. I consider news to be biased toward giving negative information so, even if the information is accurate, I prefer to listen to my own observations. As far as I was concerned, the sky was slightly overcast but with no hint that a surprise downpour would occur. Today, watching my uncle, James, his friend, Timothy, and his other friend, Patrick, chatting nonsense, is peculiarly appealing.

            Ordinarily, for me to spend time with these older men – not older men generally but these three specifically – inside my uncle’s apartment where no windows are ever open and the smell of canned beans cooked previously mingle strangely with Timothy’s patchouli-scented cologne, would cause me to feel anxious in a way similar to the urge to take off my shoes and tight tube socks in a place where doing so would cause major problems. However, since the rain threatens to continue on through the n9ight, I am in no hurry to leave. Uncle James had not told me why he wanted me to be here, yet, but I had a sense he would do so soon. If I ask directly why, he could delay the answer for the heck of it.

            The show they are watching does not interest me. I am purposefully avoiding paying attention to the dialogue of the actors or what type of show it is other than observing it is black and white. Uncle James once said he dislikes all forms of entertainment past the nineteen fifties and I believe him. He once told me the only kind of rock and roll music he enjoyed was the sound of a rock that he threw on the ground which caused it to roll.

            He knows I am sitting in the recliner furthest from anybody. He is purposefully pretending he forgot I was in the room. I am fine with that. Part of my contentment is in not being noticed while I listen to the soothing sounds of the storm. However, Timothy turns his head back to look at me. His expression is to let me know he has not once forgotten I am here.

            Timothy turns his head away again and watches television. He says, “It’s hard to find a good banana in the local stores, nowadays.”

            James says, “Would you know it! They’re the kind that stay green all year round and never get ripe. I need them ripe so I can put them on my potato chips.”

            “I like to use real potatoes on my bananas, not just the chip. I like the whole fruit.”

            I am never certain, when I hear these conversations about food, what is the purpose of the talk. Timothy may or may not know a potato is not a fruit and that there is no part of a potato called a chip but, if he is testing me to see if I will respond, I am not succumbing. I arrived because James insisted. When the time is right for him to tell me why I am here, then he will tell me and I will respond.

            Finally, James says, “Patrick, it’s getting close to three o’clock in the afternoon. Do you want me to tell Gordon the errand you need him to do?”

            Patrick never contributes a word to the surreal food conversations – and there have been many of them – but he will be very direct when the subject is serious. He says, “Yes. Gordon, you’ve rested long enough on that recliner. It’s time for you to go to work.”

            I figured I would need to do a type of chore and I was right. I say, “I wasn’t resting. I was waiting.”

            He nods. “Fine. Waiting’s over. I need to send a message to someone. My phone is getting repaired. You can send it.”

            “That’s no problem. What’s the number?”

            “I’m not giving you the number. I have the message written down. You’re delivering the envelope.”

            “I’m delivering the envelope to whom?”

            “My daughter.”

            “Why don’t you want me to call your daughter?”

            “Because I want you to hand her the letter.”

            “A phone call is easier.”

            “Handing a letter to someone is not hard.”

            I am annoyed. “So, you want me to walk out of here and go somewhere else and hand this letter to your daughter, wherever that may be.”

            “That is the plan.”

            “You understand it’s raining outside. It’s pouring out.”

            “I am aware of that. We’ve needed some rain. I like it.”

            I did not appreciate his smug tone. I say, “I don’t have a raincoat or umbrella.”

            “I can see.”

            “I’ll need a raincoat at least or an umbrella.”

            “Will you also need a pacifier and a teddy bear?”

            I sigh. “Are you saying you don’t have a raincoat or umbrella?”

            “No. I came here with both those items.”

            “Will you let me borrow them?”

            “I will not let you borrow them.”

            “Why not?”

            “I could tell you why I don’t want you to borrow my things but let’s get to the point. You came here dressed like that. You’ll deliver the letter dressed like that.”

            “What’s in it for me if I go?”

            “I’d give you twenty dollars but now I’m making it ten because you’re stalling.”

            “Okay. Ten is fine.”

            He nods. “Ten is fine, you say. You will get it when you return from delivering the letter.”

            I am not surprised that he is suspicious. Patrick is not a mean man. He is generally an honest character but he never blindly gives anything generously. One has to earn what he will give, if he so decides to give anything.

            I ask, “Where does she live?”

            “432 Roseland Park Drive.”

            “This is 428 Roseland Park Drive.”

            He winked. “You got it. Not far at all.”

            “It’s in this apartment complex a few doors away. I don’t have to go out in the rain at all.”

            “You’ve earned merit points for using your intelligence.”

            I realize he has been behaving like this on purpose but I will not let it bother me. I say, “I’m curious, though. If she lives so close to here, why don’t you deliver the letter?”

            “I think she might like seeing a handsome man more her age than mine. I’m sure you’d like to talk with a woman, regardless of what she looks like, more than with me.”

            “What does that mean? Is she attractive?”

            He laughs and shakes his head. “I’m her father. I love her. But I think her personality would win you over.”

            I was concerned. “In other words, she’s not too hot.”

            “She’s not too hot.”

            I should have realized this was going to be another situation like many others in which I have dealt. James is the only living relative with whom I still have contact. My mother, Iris, my aunt – Iris’ and James’ sister – Tonya and their parents, George and Sandy Blum, died five or more years ago. I never met or knew anything about my father. One cousin, Betsy – Tonya’s daughter – lives in the next town but we have nothing in common. We make little effort to communicate other than occasional birthday or holiday cards as acknowledging each other’s presence. They all weighed over three hundred and fifty pounds except my mother who managed to stay slim. All of their friends and neighbors were equally overweight.

            I was not upset at my family for that reason. I was bothered because they preferred looking that way and loved the flavors of cheap processed junk foods and hated anything organic. James has said he is not attracted to slim women. Iris tried several times to introduce me to heavy women. She thought I needed a wife and heavy set women –according to her – would be more loyal to a husband than who she considered – in her words – ‘those fickle twigs.’

            Patrick is not as heavy as James but he is not slim. Timothy is four hundred pounds but he dresses in good clothes and manages to go out on dates with women friends, if he has told me the truth. I am not sure if Patrick is trying to set me up with the type of woman in which my mother would approve.

            I ask, “Does she have a good figure?”

            He shakes his head. “I don’t think so.”

            “Does she dress sexy?” As far as I am concerned, if a woman wears a tucked-in shirt, she is sexy.

            He sighs. “She has never dressed in anything other than one way and that is boring.”

            I hold out my hand. “Give me the letter.”

            He does so. “Thanks.”

            I leave and approach apartment 432. Other than the ten dollars that will come in handy until I get paid in two days, I am doing this to prove to myself that there are some things in life that are predictable. If one is a family member or friend of the Blum’s, that person will be heavy set.

            However – now that I just realize something – James’ daughter could be gorgeous. If his idea of beauty is similar to that of James’, I could be headed for a wonderful experience. I am very curious to discover the case. I knock on the door.

            From inside the door, she says, “I’m coming!”

            I say, “Okay!”

            She opens the door. “Hmm. Hello. Do I know you?”

            “We haven’t met. I’m a friend of your father’s, James Parker. I’m Gordon Blum.”

            “Okay. Very nice to meet you, Gordon Blum. I’m his daughter, Sinead. Is there a reason you are here?”

            “I hand her the letter. “James asked me to give this to you.”

            She looks at it and smiles. “Oh, wonderful! That’s so cool. I appreciate it. Would you like to come on in?”

            “Sure.” I do so and shut the door.

            “I’m making lemon tea. Would you like some?” She walks in another room, presumably the kitchen.

            “That would be nice.” I like her. Something about her energy is sticking like Velcro, as if it is trying to pull me next to her. I remain standing still, however, until she returns. I am a first-time guest. I will behave like one.

            She returns. “Not ready yet. A few more minutes. My apologies.”

            “That’s fine.” I had not noticed her outfit when she first opened the door but now I do. I am in complete disagreement with Patrick, to the point of not wanting his opinion on anything ever again. She is wearing a tucked-in beige sweater with a white button shirt underneath it. Her burgundy trousers are tight and the belt is cinched snugly. I know nothing about her other than what I see but, since I have never met anyone like her before, this experience will be stored in the Exceptional Moments compartment in my mind.

            She stands still, smiling at me for approximately ten seconds and then she says, “The water’s ready. Want to come in the kitchen with me and get your tea?” We walk in.

            “What kind of tea is it?”

            “Lemon. I add a cardamom pod. Gives it extra zing. Here you go.” She points to a cup on the center and I take it. “I’m happy you’re here. You’re rather attractive. I’ve been trying to figure out a logistical problem and I’m thinking you could help me with it.” We sit down at the table.

            “Logistics? I don’t know much about that subject.”

            “You’ll understand when it’s presented to you.”

            I want to hear whatever she has to say. She could talk about apricot stems for several hours and I would be attentive because she is the talker. “Okay.;”

            “I’m trying to figure out whether Leonhard Euber was missing something regarding the seven bridges of Konigsburg.”

            I nod, though I have no idea what she means.

            “I’’ make it very easy. The bridges of Konigsburg is a theory based on seven original bridges in that city. People were supposed to be able to walk across all seven bridges without needing to go back on one bridge to reach the second. People were supposed to walk continuously through each bridge.”

            “That’s easy. Set the bridges like one straight line.”

            “It isn’t that simple. The bridges were connected at different areas, like in the middle.”

            “That would make it difficult.”

            “Euber approached the predicament another way. It’s not easy to understand but it got me to thinking about topology.”

            “What’s that?”

            “It’ll be too complicated to explain everything but the idea I have is that a thing can continue on without interruption if another thing that is blocking it gets moved.”

            “Oh, well I get that. Like, if I want to go to a store but I can’t if it’s closed and the door is locked but once the store is open I can walk inside.”

            She shrugs. “Fine. I’ll get to my dilemma and I’m really hoping you can help me with it.”

            “I’m listening.”

            “Are you aware of the cooperation game called The Human Knot?”

            “I’ve heard of it.”

            “It’s hard for me to formulate what I want to say in the way I mean. I’ll just ask you a question. Do you think it is possible to untangle the Gordian Knot with enough patience?”

            “What’s the Gordian Knot?”

            “It’s like a big ball of tangled twine the size of a mountain.”

            “It would take an extremely long time, possibly more than one lifetime, to untangle it.”

            She nods. “Okay. So, it would be obvious that something very small could get untangled very quickly.”

            “That sounds right.”

            “Thank you. I think so, too. Before you go, I’ll need you to double-check something with me. It will be like a formality to confirm what we talked about.”

            “I’ll be happy to help you however I can.”

            “Okay. I’m so glad you said that. Most people I’ve encountered are so centered on their own situations and don’t want to help other people. My father is like that but it’s really nice what he sent me.”

            “What is it?”

            “It’s really something I gave him a long time ago and he gave it back to me. Wait. I want to see.” She opens the envelope and looks at the paper. “He kept the original. I wrote a poem to him when I was a little girl and he said he would find it and give me the poem’s lines. This is his handwriting.” She puts the paper back in the envelope.

            “You write poetry? I write stories.”

            “I do. I have. I haven’t been inspired much recently. My father thinks I don’t have a good physique.”

            “I think you look great. You’re not overweight at all.”

            She sighs. “He thinks I’m too slim. He says I need to put on the pounds and look like him.”

            “My family thought the same way. James is the only living relative I still see. I don’t agree with them. I think you look perfect just as you are.”

            “I’m so glad you said that. It makes me feel a lot better. My father says I dress boring and need to wear more dresses instead of pants and tops. I like the mixing and matching of pieces.”

            As far as I am concerned, her outfit is a work of art. Even the pushed up sleeves of the sweater and shirt – by the elbow – cuffed to show the layers of each, complement the already almost too sexy ensemble. Her mental concepts and her physical appearance match her whole body like the right song handled by the right producer. I do not know her well enough yet to determine if I can freely talk about my appreciation for women who tuck in their shirts but I want to say something. “I love your outfit.”

            She laughs. “You’re so great.”

            Outside, the rain is louder. The sound seems appropriate, as if it is cheering in my favor. Sinead is sipping her tea and looking at me in a way similar to that feeling of energy Velcro from earlier. I think I hear a barely audible hum but I am not sure. I should feel nervous but I do not. I do not know what to say next so I sip my tea.

            She asks, “Are you mimicking me?”

            “No. I figured you gave me this tea so I could drink it.”

            “I know. I’m kidding with you. Anyway, I’d like to show you something in the living room.” We get up and go in there. We walk towards the window. She points outside. “The dilemma I told you about? Look at the trees. Look at the bench. Look at everything. You can categorize it by type such as ‘tree’ or ‘bench’ or ‘wind’ or ‘water.’ It can also be categorized by substance such as ‘solid’ or ‘liquid.’ Yet, none of it is really disconnected from any of it. It is all one thing called the universe. That’s the gist of it. Any problem can be solved no matter how complex it is. Diligence is the key. Let’s go to my front door. I’d like to prove something to you.” We go to the door. “Okay. We have moved away from the site we just observed outside, correct?”

            As a writer, I have thought of concepts similar to what she is explaining to me but I have never had a conversation remotely similar to this one. If I answer, I am doing so merely on automatic pilot mode. “Yes, we have moved towards the front door.”

            “Okay. This area by the front door is different than the area outside the window but also it is not. It is all connected. If you look, ou can still see outside the window. So we really have not moved away from it. Here, let me show you something.” She holds out both arms crisscrossed. “Take my hands.”

            I do as requested, my right hand in her right, left in left. She grips firmly. I say, “Interesting.”

            “Yes. This is what I needed your help with. I needed to confirm how simple it is to untangle a small knot. This should only take one second.”

            “It is simple. We just put our arms straight.”

            She nods. “Okay.” She tries to undo the crisscrossing of her arms but, since she is still gripping my hands, she cannot do so. However, she keeps trying. She frowns as if encountering a problem she had not previously considered.

            “Sinead, it won’t work like that. We have to let go of hands first.”

            “No, we don’t.” She moves her arms in the other direction so hers are straight and mine are crisscrossed. “Still not right.”

            “Were you trying to get us both uncrossed or just you? If it was just you, you did it.”

            She shakes her had. “No. I wanted to get both of us that way.”

            “Okay. Like I said, it’s not going to work. We need to disconnect and then we can solve the problem” I feel awkward calling this a problem because I enjoy holding on but I semse she is annoyed so I try to help.

            She sighs. “It has to work. You said you’ve heard of The Human Knot. You’ve seen people play it, right? They’re able to get their arms straight without letting go.”

            “That’s because there’s more than two people.”

            “It should work if there’s only two.”

            “If we both had our arms crisscrossed then it would work but your arms crisscrossed and mine straight won’t work.”

            She frowns and raises her voice. “It works in The Human Knot!”

            I am annoyed. She is supposed to be more of the intellectual. “That’s because there’s more than two people!”

            “This is why I needed you here to prove what I mean. Do you remember me mentioning diligence is the key? If the solution doesn’t come right away, we have to keep at it until we find the answer.”

            “Here is the solution.” I try letting go of her hands but she is gripping tight. This is strange but I need to prove a point so I pull harder and harder and she squeezes tighter and tighter. I enjoyed this at first but now I feel I am caught in another dilemma. “We have to let go!”

            “Not until we get untangled!”

            “It will never happen the way you are suggesting.”

            “Yes, it will.”

            “Suppose it were possible there was a solution but we had to spend months or years figuring it out?”

            “Then that’s what we would do.”

            “You’re not going to hold my hands for that amount of time!”

            “I’ll hold your hands until we get untangled. If it never happens, then welcome to your new home.”

            Since there is no solution forthcoming on our predicament – and standing awkwardly for hours does not appeal to me – I say, “I need to see your father.”

            She frowns. “Why? Were you supposed to give me something else and you forgot?”

            “No. He’s going to give me ten dollars.”

            “Can that wait? We’re busy here.”

            “If I don’t get it from him now, he might forget.”

            She shakes her head. “So, I’m less important than ten dollars?”

            “Quit acting like this.”

            “I’m in the middle of figuring out one of the most complex mathematical equations ever in existence and you want us to stop right after we started so you can go out in the rain and look for my father? You don’t have a raincoat and I can’t put on mine because my hands are full. You don’t make sense.”

            “Your father is visiting my uncle.” They’re only a few doors down on 428.”

            She smiles. “Oh, that’s different. We can go there.”

            We try opening the front door but, since there is no way to grab the doorknob, I use my fingers as best I can to push the knob until it unlatches. She is pressing securely on my hands to make sure I am not trying to escape. Somehow, it works. The door is open and we walk out.

            I say, “We look ridiculous like this. I don’t see how they’ll not wonder what’s going on.”

            She shrugs. “My father is used to me. He’s seen me do some really eccentric things in the past. He knows about my phobia against wearing any type of shirt or top not tucked in. He’s seen it all.”

            I was not going to mention anything about how she applies her clothes because of my past experience many years ago. I was a teenager and one of the cheerleaders in my high school was Missy Baker. I did not know her at all, except for seeing her walk through school. However, one day, she approached me. She said she was asking various students to mention her best qualities so she could use the list in a campaign speech when she ran for school president. She was wearing the high school sweatshirt tucked into her jeans. Nine days out of ten her shirts were tucked in. I said that she looked great in tucked in shirts and that made her look like a winner. She smiled and said thank you. However, from the next day onward, ten days out of ten her shirts and sweatshirts were not tucked in. I could not be one hundred percent certain my words caused her to feel self-conscious but I made sure – from that moment on – not to take a chance by saying anything that might cause a woman to quit doing something attractive. In this case, Sinead mentioned it first and I doubt she will let go of my hands just to change her outfit.

            I ask, “How often do you tuck in your shirts?”

            “Always.”

            “How many days have you ever worn something not tucked in?”

            She frowns. “What do you mean? I told you I always wear them tucked in.”

            “So, you have never in your life ever worn a shirt not tucked in?”

            “Well, I can’t remember what I wore when I was an infant or toddler. My mom dressed me then so I can’t account for the years when I was really little. But I remember as far back as ten years old I had to make sure my shirt was fully tucked in before I would go out of the house. Mom would tell me to hurry up because I’d be late for the school bus and I’d tell her the bus had to wait.”

            “Did you ever get criticized for how you dressed?”

            “When we went to places like the park or hiking, and the weather was cold, I was told I had to wear a jacket or a sweater. I wasn’t going to let circumstances ruin the look I wanted to achieve so I would either wear a cardigan sweater or a windbreaker jacket and I would tuck it in. Mom would say I didn’t need to tuck in that type of top and I would yell at her that I was not going to wear it outside of my pants. I don’t know why you’re asking me these questions. I’m not going to stop the way I dress for anybody. If you don’t like it, that’s tough. You’re going to have to get over it or avert your eyes from my waistline.”

            I am aroused hearing her say this. “You misunderstand. I’m asking because I’m interested. Women look great wearing tucked in shirts. Not many women I know do so. Meeting you is a high point of my life.”

            She widens her eyes. “You’re the first person who has said that to me. Wow. Thank you.”

            “I’m just glad you didn’t take offense to it.”

            She raises her voice. “What I take offense to is my father who buys a lot of sweatshirts and knit sweaters for me, not realizing they get tucked in, too. He wants me to gain weight and dress like a sack of potatoes.”

            The door opens. James says, “So, it’s you two I heard.”

            I ask, “Is Patrick still here?”

            “Patrick and Timothy. The gang’s all here. You might not remember that song. That was before video games.”

            Sinead frowns as if not sure how to take James’ tone.

            I say, “That’s just how he is. Sarcasm is his fashion statement.”

            She nods. “Understood.”

            We walk in. James, Timothy and Patrick are watching television. Occasionally, Timothy turns his head to look at us. There is no discernible expression on his face but his looking at us becomes more frequent.

            I say, “Hi, Patrick. I delivered the letter.”

            He takes out a ten dollar bill and hands it to me. He says, “Very good.”

            “If you could put it in my pants pocket, that would be better.”

            “Hmm. I think there’s a solution better than that. I’ll put it in my shirt pocket.” He does so.

            I am in the awkward position of not being able to rectify the moment. My hands are not free. Patrick shows just enough hint of a small smug smile. In most cases, such would irk me but now I see the humor in it. Truthfully, there is nothing I can do about it.

            Sinead shrugs. “This means we can leave now.”

            “I would rather stay if you don’t mind.” I say this because I want to observe how many minutes go by before anybody acknowledges the peculiar way Sinead and I are joined. So far, other than Timothy’s occasional glances, which could be for any reason, they appear not to care in the slightest degree.

            We sit down on a couch, behind them. They are laughing, supposedly at the movie, but the scene does not look humorous, from what I can deduce. I assume they are laughing at us and use the television screen as a front so we will not know what they are really thinking.

            Finally, Patrick says, “I see you two are getting along.”

            I say, “She refuses to let go of my hands.”

            He nods. “Sounds good to me.”

            I am annoyed. “You don’t understand! She’s doing a weird two-person version of the human knot that can’t get solved and she says she will never stop until it gets solved. She plans to hold on forever.”

            “Yes, she has her ways about her. I’ve learned not to question it.”

            “You sounds like you don’t get the seriousness of this! She’s snapped somehow and thinks we can live like this, continuously holding hands.”

            “I’m fully aware of what you mean and I cannot honestly say I think you’re better off alone. What do you do all day? You stay home and watch television most of the time. I know I’m watching television but I’m visiting two friends. We watch television in the name of keeping each other company. You’re alone when you’re home. You’ll go to the park sometimes but you’re alone then, too. I hate to say it but you need a companion. If the only way she can accompany you is by physically holding on, I’d say you’d much prefer that than to be in a padded call and kept as a ward of the state.”

            Sinead looks content, as if she needed her father’s advice during a desperate situation and he said something that saved the day. I have stopped trying to pull free. Her determination to hold on has given her more than enough strength to prevent my leaving. For now, I will stay quiet in my panic.

            James smiles. “Relax, Gordon. I don’t really usually take out liquor unless it is a special occasion but today is pretty special. You have a new friend. Vodka and orange juice is a simple but perfect combination. It’s not like a Bloody Mary where you have tomato juice and Worcestershire sauce and the option of hot sauce or not. It doesn’t have one hundred different varieties of the recipe. It’s simply Vodka and orange juice. Since it’s so simple, it doesn’t need a fancy name. It needs as simple of a name as it can get. I call it The Drink.” He holds a glass. “Open up and I’ll pour.”

            I say, “I’m not in the mood for a drink right now.”

            “Please just indulge me. You don’t need to have more than one if you don’t want it but the first one is mandatory. Open up.” He pours the drink in my mouth.

            “Oh! That’s good. I guess I needed a drink, after all.”

            “That’

s the ticket. Do you want another one?”

            “Sure.”

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