With increasing responsibilities, meetings, handholding partisan Chicken Littles, business pressures from almost every town mercantile, appearances (ribbon-cuttings were the least of his duties) Mayor William “Big Bill” Jackson used his dawn pre-opening time at Picasso Joe’s to collect his thoughts. The stress of running a business and fulfilling his political work was beginning to make him antsy. He’d hired two more teenagers from the high school to help in the afternoons and he placed an ad in the locals-only Clamdigger newsletter looking for a phenomenal coffee-shop manager, someone who had never stepped into a Starbucks, an unwritten rule in his interviews. It wasn’t that Big Bill believed Starbucks was evil, either; beyond his wife, he kept his reasons mostly to himself. There were so many coffee shops opening on the island and these forced out others—a good democratic system spurring on competition to make things better. He was lucky Picasso Joe’s had a loyal following. It was Thanksgiving morning, and the shop would stay closed, but Big Bill wanted to check on things, have a moment to breathe. His kids slept. The teenagers, Molly and Kirsten, probably wouldn’t awake until well past noon. Their brother, Ian, would arise early and turn on the parade while eating (and spilling) cereal, Cheerios, his favorite of the boxed cereals he was allowed to eat. Sugar wasn’t welcome in their home, processed or otherwise. Diabetes had hit Jeannette’s family hard, with a father, his parents, and most of her siblings succumbing to a Type 2 diagnosis. Insulin had become a potent word in their home. So far no one had indicators, but Jeannette and Big Bill weren’t taking chances.
Doris was coming over. Big Bill’s sister-in-law, Jeannette’s older sister, lived in La Conner with her husband of twenty years and their own brood, four kids, two boys and two girls. The cousins his children ran with in packs most summers. The nephews and nieces he adored. Being a family man suited him, and not only because this made his political ambitions appear justifiably kosher. I know family. I know families are struggling to put food on the table . . . part of every stump speech. A glossy photo of him, Jeannette, Molly, Kirsten, and Ian grouped in front of the Anacortes Welcome Sign at the entrance to the town appeared in every mailbox flyer. The photo in a nice walnut frame hung on a sidewall of Picasso Joe’s. Pride hung there as well, and when he was alone in his shop, Big Bill stared at the photo, his heart blooming. Doris ruined this moment of reflection, as she ruined most of Big Bill’s thoughtful moments.
The truth is Doris was an untrusting sort, but multiply this a thousand times and no one would approach the level of her paranoia. Hard times were coming. She’d say this all the time. Economically? She predicted the collapse, and would crow about all the fools who didn’t listen to her, who grew afraid and pulled their meager savings out of the stock market and then lost everything. Cooking, sports, television shows, politics, pick any subject, and Doris would tell you what was going to go wrong with it, why she hated this, that, oh, and that!
She refused to call Big Bill Big Bill. She was always official (officious) with William. Had her reasons—a certain envy that would never be revealed as long as Doris lived. Said she loved her sister, Jeannette, more than the moon, and they did laugh a lot, but Big Bill, overhearing their conversations on many occasions, only heard Doris speaking. Jeannette listened, actively listened, something she learned to do well after taking the hospice volunteer training in town. This thought made Big Bill think of his wife as a saint, that he wasn’t good enough for her, and if he wasn’t good enough for her, Doris certainly fell far from the family tree.
The sky glowed sweet orange and the clouds parted. Forecast said a chilly blue this Thanksgiving, a clearing. The loud rap on the front door startled William and he jumped. He probably looked the fool, and was happy no one had caught him in one of those photos of the town’s Mayor spooked. His morning calm interrupted, he walked over to the door where Frederick Waltzcrop awaited, a smile wide across his face. His dome covered by a hat that looked like it belonged a hundred years ago, a small salt-and-pepper feather stuck out from a dark ribbon adorning the brimmed hat, jaunty. Hiding his domed skull, William thought, and he remembered his first late-night meeting with the man. A cat walking over a grave, his own, a black cat hissing, this feline picture flashed in his mind.