Joe Avery: When Calendula’s Away by Charles C Cole

Joe Avery: When Calendula’s Away
Charles C Cole

Next!” I swung open the door of my consultation chambers into our crowded waiting room, figuring the clients knew who was first in line better than I did and would make the appropriate accommodations. Calendula, my receptionist, was on a train somewhere returning the bodyless pumpkin to the headless horseman, two logical halves of the same whole. Two “disparate” clients with the same shared resolution.

Meanwhile, back in the office, in a classic no-win contest, a tortoise and a hare, dressed in identical running outfits, neither willing to defer to the other, got into a shoving match and managed to wedge their combined selves in my doorway in an immovable tangle of torsos.

To the one who admits defeat in this fruitless battle of wills, I promise my undivided attention in due time.” But my assurances fell on deaf ears.

They glared at each other with utter contempt, no words needed, and I knew we were at a complete standstill – until the desk phone rang.

I can only listen to one of you at a time,” I explained. “Since neither of you will concede, you’re forcing me to take that call and see if someone needs my help.”

The two would-be clients resumed glaring daggers at each other, at point blank range. “A final word: I have been known to ignore commonly accepted line etiquette for my own ends. And I will again, if you force my hand.” I grabbed the phone. “Joe Avery’s office.”

Joe, it’s Calendula. I’m sure you’re in conference, but I had to call.”

Are you all right?”

It was beautiful! Seeing those two reunited!”

I’m putting you on speaker. I’ll explain later.” I did so. “Tell me what happened.”

It was such a long ride, but worth every minute! They were a perfect match! How could someone separate them like that? They were lifeless like luggage alone, and together they danced a happy jig right in the train station! People cheered! I cried happy tears. That’s why we do what we do, making the world better one case at a time.”

I’m glad. The office hasn’t been the same without you, without your sense of organization and fair play. It’s been a struggle, but we’re muddling through.”

Joe, please tell me you’re not jumping the line again!” pleaded Calendula.

We are currently following established protocol,” I intoned. “How long is anyone’s guess.”

Are you alone? Why do you have me on speaker?”

To inspire all of us. Because it can be a frustratingly long time between the first meet-n-greet interview to the happy ending. And, I’m convinced, clients who come prepared and committed, to work as a team, will find the journey as satisfying as the destination. Come back soon.”

I hung up the phone.

The tortoise and hare freed themselves and apologized.

#

Another client: The man who entered was dressed like a well-to-do Dickens character with peacock feathers in his broad hat, bright colors over multiple layers, lace at his cuffs, a crisp apricot handkerchief in his breast pocket matching his cravat, and shiny black boots that came up to his knees. From a short dowel in his hand, he held a simple white mask with holes for eyes – like something from traditional Japanese theater – with which he covered his face.

I need help!”

I’m obliged to tell you the Elf King’s men are watching, and you might consider visiting him first. I wouldn’t want your life to get ugly.”

It already is!” He dropped his mask a moment. The face revealed surely did not belong to the carefully crafted costume. It was garish and cartoonish, drooping like stained glass exposed to high heat, with wide white eyes, wild dark devilish brows, splotches of rouge as if applied by a child on a doll.

A face reflecting a morally bankrupt life: “Dorian Gray! What happened?”

The painting, of which you’ve no doubt heard, appealed its case before the Elf King, seeking justice. You see it was, originally, a brilliant work of art. Museum quality. As you can imagine, I spare no expense when it comes to my vanity.”

Your choice.”

Now it’s the painting’s choice! It wants to be pretty again, as I was when I posed for the artist, before my life took a darker path. To that end, all of my recent lapses in character, the blemishes that I’d been transmuting into the oils of that portrait, have vanished and returned to me!”

I see.”

The whole world sees! The painting hangs in the Museum of Natural History. If you were to slash it –”

The painting’s alive?” I asked.

And quite an attraction.”

Then I can’t.”

Have you looked at me?!” he howled.

There must be other options.”

Yes,” hissed my guest, “I can hide out in the belfry of Notre Dame with Quasimodo.”

I have an idea, but it’s not an overnight cure.”

Go on.”

If your current appearance is due to the effects of decadence, what if you turned the ship around?”

Live virtuously?” He laughed a laugh that was grating on the ears.

I persisted.

Try it. Small things at first, until it comes easier. Feed the pigeons in the park. Rescue a stray cat. Give money to a beggar. Hail a taxi for someone who shouldn’t walk alone.”

You make it sound easy.”

It is,” I insisted.

He returned sometime later, mask still in place.

No luck?” I asked.

On the contrary.” He dropped the mask, revealing a pale, wanting visage but one without prominent distortions. “Does it make me bad, to do things for people while wanting something in return?”

You save a young boy from drowning because you want a pat on the back. The boy’s parents don’t care a whit about your motivation. How do you feel?”

A little less angry, though honestly, I’d still like to take a match to a familiar bit of canvas.”

Though work continued, Calendula was missed more than she knew.

Joe Avery: When Calendula’s Away by Charles C Cole 1

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