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Goodwill To Men

Chapter Thirty-Three
Goodwill to men.

Chapter Thirty-Three
Goodwill to men.

In mid-December the daylight departs early north of the 45th parallel, the result of earth’s tilted spinning orbit of the sun. By four the light is almost gone. By five, it has vanished not to return until after seven the next morning. However, the cold sadness of the sun’s parting brings a corollary benefit —the early stars. Wilson strolls his great room’s deck, shoeless, but in stockings...walking first down the East and then the West wings taking in the constellations as they begin to climb the sky.
He has changed the music and no longer spins about to Kije. Instead, he listens to the opening passages of Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel. Bits and pieces of the opera have been playing and singing in his head all day, and now with darkness looming and the cells of his brain joyously addled with whiskey, he waits to hear the angels of the forest, the mother worried for her children, the magnificent French horns. He relishes the notes as the opera’s early chords travel up his spine then branch out and down his arms and into his fingertips.
Such music, such stars, such whiskey...Wilson feels exuberant, but wonders why he always needs the prop as he sips from his whiskey glass while observing these stars so bright with cold. Pagan it is all so pagan...Christmas with its lights and greenery.... The beckoning star, the animal warmth of myth and manger, the hope. Surely hope is pagan.
He has almost blocked them out, the troubles...the building, Courtland, Daphne. But the project’s progress dominates, it is certain he will not be going skiing. Instead he will wander the woods, drink and enjoy solitude in this house of his, with its media center, its views of trees and woods, junipers and deer, its swirling specter of winter storms through so many windows. He has stocked the house with lean cuisine and Camembert, Oreos and Christmas cookies. There are bottles of wine and bottles of champagne, store-bought beer and the eight remaining bottles of last summer’s batch of Indian Dick, four unopened fifths of Bourbon.
He will tolerate no questions; there will be no whining saws, no pops, no bangs, no inconvenience. The next two weeks will be a time to hunker down and assault and salve his soul and body with music, joy and inebriation. This will be his Christmas gift: Privacy amidst his home’s perfection, this sculptured achievement—he cannot sell. He will be like some Shepard who has seen the wondrous star, alone but with his sheep, on a Galilee hillside...the difference his comfort level greater by millenniums. And Wilson’s music will not be bahing sheep or whistling wind. He will have the masters at his fingertips the accompanied by the meowing of his cat.
A Christmas Carol sits on his table. He will be solitary as a Dickens oyster, but in a room of sound and light and comfort Boz could never have imagined. And if there are such things as spirits on the wind, he plans to get high enough to see them.

Every one who knows him believes him gone except for Dick. And Grace who would have stayed if he had not told her he was leaving has instead gone to Florida, to seek the sun and to meet once again with her bond trader, something about the tapestry. But Wilson is not sure this is the only reason, and right now he does not care. He wants no one coming about to bother him, to question his choice of exercise or inebriation. Grace has always said skiing was stupid. She has never wished to join him and ultimately even if they were together they would not be. So...
Moments ago he has moved back inside and noticed his machine flashing: A message from Courtland, the result of yet one more plea for payment. “I have sent a check and merry Christmas.” But how much Wilson wonders, replaying the message’s second half. We will be up the 27th to iron out the electric.”
“Oh you will, will you?”, He says to the machine. He has not told them he will not be going to Colorado. But now he will call and pledge the inconvenience, his ruined Christmas plans, just for them..... “Just for you! And bring more money”. The machine drones on in Courtland’s base “She, we...Daphne wants to keep the project humming.”.
“Great wonderful, now leave me alone... You useless goof ”, he replies.

He will believe it when the check arrives. He cranks up the volume, and walks upstairs, downstairs, lying on first one bed and then another, sampling the rooms, stretching his toes in the carpet, taking in the view from one window then another, and checking spaces he rarely spends any time in. For now he hopes he can block out the whole absurd and messy project. He turns on the television... turns it off. Then he decides he must have a Christmas tree. Tomorrow he will go and cut one. There is a perfect tree just out the door and across the drive, beyond the soggy cedars where the woods again grow drier. In the land conservancy, the tax write off that used to be his neighbor’s land but that now belongs to the people, or does it, he is not sure, but there are a few nice trees all jammed together which would benefit from thinning. He will cut one of them tomorrow as he tends the forest while bringing home a bit of Germanic green to brighten up the place in these shortest days of December.
Of course, if he does not receive Cortland’s envelope he could always swipe a tree from Daphne’s lot as payment, but then Janet or Conrad or maybe even Longbottom might see him and out of courtesy and Christmas cheer invite him to parties which would bore him to despair. The same old crowd, the same bad poetry, the same, the same. No he thinks, keep it private; stay hidden at least until this scheduled meeting next week. If it ever happens?
The next morning he calls Daphne, fortunately she is not home, so he leaves a message. “Thank you for the check your sending and have a Merry Christmas... Looking forward to seeing you the twenty-seventh. I have postponed my Colorado trip so we can meet.... Looking forward to the new year’s progress” He leaves a similar message at Courtland’s office. His head throbs, slightly and he makes himself a bloody Mary, sun over the yardarm somewhere, and goes to find his chain saw. Or should he just take his small crosscut.
He finds and positions these next to the overhead door, finds the gas can and checks the oil chamber. Then Wilson decides he will go to town, to his PO Box, and look for the check.
It has not snowed much: just enough to cover the roads and make them white, a half inch to an inch showing the tracks along the pavement of the few cars out this early. Beauville is deserted, the bridge is down and showing no evidence it may ever rise again, the channel partly frozen with chunks of ice dotting deep blue-green water that screams of cold. Past the bridge, there are only two cars parked along the three blocks bordering the harbor and two of them appear to have been there all-night.
Wilson pokes through the town taking in the few boats still in their slips and rigged with bubblers for the winter, noting the small swirls about their waterlines, which keep the ice from forming and crushing their plastic hulls. He drives up the hill and past the bank past the hardware, past the pizza joints and the Burger King, and one of Tim’s last statements the new shinning Mighty Burger sign without a building...coming to your town. It’s Mighty Burger. Was Mighty Burger Wilson mumbles to himself.
Past this he nears the bakery and the flapjack shack, the larger markets, the minimall the large white painted brick exterior of the cheapest Kmart building that company erects, surrounded by a large and empty parking lot. Then he reaches the new post office. The old one use to be downtown, a pleasant stroll past lake, land, and and water. Now he stops across the street from this ugly Kmart. The federal government, encouraging the beauty of the strip mall, has placed the new post office next door. No small town experience for this new green metal, glass, and brown brick monster of faux modernism.
Two years ago with its erection the small town’s patterns changed. Now everyone drives to get their mail at this new post office where you can be near the old cemetery, the new megawatt electric power station, its chain-link fence, three car dealerships with their towering rectangular lollipop signs, and another strip mall on the same side of the street complete with a beauty shop, an audio stores, Cheap Goods for a Dollar and in summer a fruit stand where other stores have failed to build and take advantage. And soon there will be more of this same America, a few more miles out the road and next to the new high school.. A big-box store, a home depot and a Walmart...Savings to delight the pocketbook, Savings, direct to you from China and other places East... from the great wide world of the global economy (remember when it use to be made in America at these places). Wilson is glad he lives on the other side of the bridge.
He enters the door and for the thousandth time finds his small box among the aisles, among the rows and rows of other small box’s, his box 3917-A. And inside to his surprise rests a priority mail envelope from Courtland. He grabs the envelope and rips it open. There is no note but there is a check for slightly more than he has asked for, and much more than he expected. He has assumed they would send a maximum of half, just enough to keep him going, but instead Courtland has sent one hundred and twenty five thousand, and this is enough to make him whole. Surprise, Surprise, Surprise, he thinks to himself imagining himself as that Television character Gomer Pyle from the sixties. Surprise....No shit! Surprise.
Money, such a thing to make the spirits sore, yet Wilson now is beaming, and as the sun breaks through the clouds, he assumes it must be an omen, sunshine just for him. Yahoo, he thinks as he hastens home, this calls for celebration. Forget the Christmas tree for now. This calls for heauvos-Wilson, and another bloody Mary. And he is on vacation, so the time, the hour, the cycle of the sun, morning-noon-or night, none of this maters. He will do whatever the fuck he feels like. He will read, he will diddle, he will watch old movies, make breakfast, listen to music, smoke a dooby. It is almost enough to believe in Jesus. He starts to hum, “away in a manger, no crib for a bed, the little lord....well, perhaps not.
Wilson’s day continues into one of relaxation and by this I do not mean a day of sloth, but instead a day of reading, searching the Internet for stories, a day of naps and intermittent alcohol.... An afternoon playing with house plans that intrigue him and may never be built...spending time on his computer manipulating a series of boxes, up and down, stretching, adding gables, hips and valleys, roofs and pitches...imagining space, bright hallways and tumbling planters, stairs which float, but illegal if one pays attention to the dam codes designed for babies and not for creativity...soaring vaults and wine rooms in the bowels of Daphne buildings...catacombs... and more.
It will be a day that without his direct awareness hinges on a sudden lack of worry and a peace and contentment he has not felt since he left Aspen. After all, the job has hardly been an easy sail, an easy sell, an easy anything. But with the check from Courtland he finds himself for the first time breaking even, his return from Aspen paid for, the house expenses covered, his personal bills covered, his fees and wages soon to rest in his bank account. He may even be ahead.
As he again meets an early evening while sipping whiskey from his glass he finds himself questioning, what would the wise man do? What might the unprincipled man do, what would every mover and shaker he has ever worked for, directly or indirectly, do? They would cover their ass. And perhaps this is what he should and could and can do now. Stop work, bale, don’t pay all the bills and keep the money for himself. He can certainly justify it. Peril on the horizon, he cannot trust them, what if they never pay again? What if they slowly renege on the deal...toss him aside and stick him with a series of unpaid obligations...what if? Of course he would need to give up. It would be a failure, a failure to not succeed to not persevere and still build something worthwhile. He has never been a quitter. But others might see it differently. Not a quitter but a seeker of another opportunity, a wise man capable of a necessary readjustment.
These thoughts might have popped up anyway, but this same day has come the call from Philippe, and he had not spoken to him since the fracas with the antiques. Their conversation an odd one, Philippe looking for a pal, a compatriot, a fellow conspirator... The same Philippe whose nose he’d bloodied. But times have changed. Still, Wilson is not sure, but he thinks he should interpret the call as a harbinger of things to come, a call of warning...Alert...Alert. Because Philippe has received no payment for the cabinets waiting in his storage. In fact, Courtland after wishing Philippe a Merry Christmas has suggested that perhaps Philippe might just absorb the storage cost for those cabinets “he should never have purchased”. And while Wilson agrees, Philippe should not have bought the furniture, or ordered cabinets either, before the house was even insulated, or the roof completely on or the kitchen plan finalized. It had been Philippe’s way of staking out his territory, and Daphne must have agreed to this. And Tim, who the hell will ever know? Anyway he interprets the call as a form of caution... beware...because Philippe was now worried he might even have to eat the cabinets if he could not send them back. Courtland’s brother having another supplier, who could get better quality or equal wholesale. “And we already have your plan”. All this, and a Merry Christmas and “we want to keep you on our team, Philippe”. And a Fa la la la la, thinks Wilson.

The days from the middle of December onward are much the same, some sunny, some cloudy, the temperatures rising into the midtwenties during the afternoon and falling to single digits at night. This changes the final week before Christmas when the temperatures grow still colder dropping to twenty below by midnight and barely making zero in the daytime. In the mornings he can see the steam rising from his boiler vents, see imagined frosty figures like Roarsach blots on his deck’s glass railings. In these frigid days after he has cut his tree, and hung a wreath on the wall next to the door, Wilson stays inside and luxuriates in the heat of his home, the lower level slab and the upper floors full of pipes which pump glycol through many zones, as valves open and close and thermostats call for heat. Inside he is a toasty seventy-five, while outside it is zero, or two, or ten bellow. Even when the sun breaks through; the cold hazes the sky leaving the clearest day and the brightest sky no more than a hollow faded washed out blue.
His cat, Ivy, not quite fooled but occasionally curious, ventures out for brief moments only to be shocked back inside, pawing franticly against the doorwall panes of glass, almost immediately meowing to return.
He wonders at the deer outside his walls gobbling on his cedars, which are for some reason smaller and more tender, more succulent then those just across the road or in the cedar swamp. How do these creatures stand it—this cold? But they seem to wander freely with their furry brown coats, and their presence is probably as much because of the bright red apples he has tossed outside as anything else.
Wilson no longer minds the deer as he did that first year, watching the first four feet of his woodsy landscaping devastated. Live and let live he has concluded. He can always transplant more. There are thousands just across the road, and the deer are interestingly attractive as they munch and stare in through the windows of his stairway, watching Ivy staring back. Their eyes flat, unknowing, their ears perking now and then as a clump of snow falls from this branch or that, or at some loan snowmobile a hundred yards or more distant which has come to circle partway down the bay.
The cold and clean cotton snow fits the season, and when the sun shines, even in these cold temperatures, as the day meets early afternoon the sun’s rays become bright from the south and the pumps of his heat stop pumping because then even in this Michigan spot, poorly suited to solar gain, the many windows for a few hours warm the house as if they were in Colorado, and he thinks of skiing. But skiing is not to be this Christmas (unless you consider the Michigan kind, which is not skiing at all, the Michigan mountains only suitable for athletic ants). Wilson is pleased he has built his home so tight. Because the walls are thick and packed with insulation and there are no drafts. Whole days pass and he never ventures farther than his garage where he occasionally will grab some wood to build an unnecessary fire.
Whiskey and music are constant companions as he waffles between wallowing in his lonely holiday while at the same time luxuriating in his solitude. When young Christmas had always been so packed that he could hardly stand it...a family time full of joy...or the excitement and anticipation of events, bonbons and the accumulation of additional stuff, which often passes for that emotion. But, he also remembers a holiday of comic farce which did not feel so at the time... weeks of expectations raised so high with pretensions of joy and obligation that his and his family’s occupation of the Holiday fell apart completely. Mad airport dashes, unpleasant altercations, broken legs, and twisted limbs, mountain condominiums rented out to someone else, and drunken conversations. Years when the Christmas cards imploded, tumbling in upon themselves to fester and wait for yet another year and another Christmas season. .
He supposes this is why the loneliness haunts him less than it might. This year. He has no stack of cards to tumble, and now with the recent check, which has stopped the worry, he has time to think. It is almost enough to be warm while listening to Bach and Haydn, Handel, Baroque Carols, the Mormon Tabernacle choir.

This emotion carries him through the final days before Christmas and then Christmas day when a few friends call, when Grace calls to leave a message, saying “I could not get you in Colorado” and then is surprised to hear him on the phone instead. “So, you let them make you stay... did they come up?” “Not yet,” he says the twenty-seventh. To which she replies, “you hope, and then I’ll be back for New Years, can you check on my Church....You’re there all by yourself!”
But, Wilson does not mind, because Christmas day is repeat of the past week where he sips and lounges about his house, while in between his self indulgent cheer, he thinks once more of solitary Scrooge. Were he loads up on junk...eating three dinners of the Man-size cuisine version of Turkey and dressing...filling but inadequate...his whiskey fruits and nuts all possessing more substance than the meal...superior to the glutinous gravy the plastic turkey and the boxed up mash potatoes.

A final night of carols, and his own drunken version of the Amen chorus propels him through Christmas, the twenty sixth and a sober boxing day, and into the 27th when he finds himself waiting once again for a call, a summons, an alert, an anything announcing the arrival of Courtland and Daphne. First he waits alone, and then Hippo and Walchinski arrive and then they all wait, then they go to the jobsite, thinking maybe they are there. And then they wait some more. First patiently, then angrily, and then drunkenly after they wander over to Macguilties for a couple drinks which turn into six and seven.
And as you might imagine they never see a glimpse of these two self-indulgent yim yams. And when the three of them head back to Wilson’s for yet one more drink, there is no message either. What house, what details, what meeting? Wilson is left to say... “I’m sorry” to a Grumpy Walchiski and a grumpier Hipo. Who by the time they leave have said “fuck these people” so often it has become a mantra... so many times... he wonders if they will ever even come back to work on the job again.
Wilson hears nothing on the 28th or the 29th. Repeated phone calls yield no conversations. His demon shouts, “what gives and why has he postponed skiing, we grovel for you, you idiot. Quite this... shit”. And by the thirtieth he as just about decided fuck it, take them money call his employees... “Happy new year fellows, well you know that job you were planning on till spring well forget, don’t. it ain’t happenin.”

Just shut the dam thing town and flee. Take the extra forty five thousand for percentages unrealized and for aggravation. Hi ho, hi ho.. I’m history. And this time never... I mean never come back to-to-to this Beauville again. Tell the realtor the house must be sold by the end of next summer. Peddle the boat, return to a life in the mountains.
He even makes the phone call to Art in Colorado, “can I rent the place till spring” And then on the evening of December thirtieth, when he is starting to pack, having decided to wait for New Years with Grace and then just load up the cat, turn down the heat and leave, the phone rings. There it is a call from the lords almighty just as he is sitting down to a drink and the big news, a call from self-indulgent-Ville...a ringing from the world of Daphne and her new side kick Courtland. “We’ll be up tomorrow, are the subs ready to meet, can we talk to that electrician... and Courtland adding I really need to speak to your plumber, my brother tells me we should alter our plans for the heat. We are going to want a different boiler”.... then again “are the subs scheduled?” By the time that Wilson has stopped sputtering in lieu of curses the phone receiver almost drips with spittle. “Oh sure, he say’s “You betcha, I had then scheduled for the 27th I’m sure they’d love to speak with you on New Years Eve. They may not even be here.”
“Were coming up anyway”, says Daphne, Now, you just try to get them...please.”
This is when Wilson grabs the cat and turns out the lights, turns down the heat and shuts the doors, starts the car, and drives out his driveway. When he reaches Boyne City road he almost turns towards the town towards the freeway towards the future. He still has skis and clothes in Colorado. And then for some reason: perhaps it is responsibility, a need to complete what he has started, a concern for his employees. Maybe it is Grace, or a combination of all of these. But instead of South, then West, he turns instead towards Ridge Road and Grace’s church. He and the cat will hide out there. But they will not be about for Daphne. Not this weekend.

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