I’ve been working with Alfred for seven months and I’m writing sentences and reading on my own. I look up every word I don’t understand and I’m reading three books at a time. One book with Alfred, one with Martha Jo, and one on my own I also listen to books on tape when Martha Jo is driving. She is going to teach me how to drive next year. I told Martha Jo that I wanted to do more for her, I had noticed that I didn’t do enough for her. She told me it would be fine, but then I told her that I would buy her her own car when I got my license and she said that she could start teaching me right now.
Fingers got life in prison. Thank goodness, they should throw away the key for safe keeping. I’m grateful for what Fingers gave to me, I just don’t know how to process my feelings for him. It’s like what people say about Miles Davis, he gave us excellent jazz but he beat his wife senseless every night. What is important about the person? What is necessary for the person? I thank him for what he gave me I would be the person I am without him, if he was any different would I be different?
Daily is doing great and she’s taken well to being a grandmother. She’s going to be coming to the continental United States soon. Knuckles is doing well he’s taking the treatment and is scheduled to leave the program soon. Ruby is getting married, Ruby found more and then some in Texas. We all got invited and we will be making our way down there. I’m going to give Sally whichever store she wants, Lincoln or Omaha, I want it to be her choice. This will be the big test for her if she can handle this without a doubt I will give her Permanent. Niles is taking classes for implants, they are getting pretty big now and there is a new material that infuses with the bone.
The Crystal Needle and the Iron Press technique haven’t been doing so well since Ruckle’s murder. People are just terrified of it all, everything that is connected poisons the action, the idea alone is enough to keep people from thinking about it. All of the marketing, the testimonials, the quality of the work doesn’t stand up against a senseless action. One day that technique could be perfected and the only way people get tattoos but for now that isn’t the case.
It all goes by so quickly and oh so slowly, you can’t try to measure it. The shop is a constant but time can get stuck in the air and drag on. As we’re sitting in the shop the door opens and in walks the pompadour kid a.k.a. Malcolm and right behind him is Veronica. They come to the front desk Martha Jo and I are at the front counter.
“I was hoping that you would stop by. How are you?” I asked.
“I’m okay, just trying to straighten out all of the thoughts in my head. Also I wanted to know if you had any job openings?”
“You can tattoo?” I asked.
“Yeah, I learned from friends.”
“What about this guy?” I point to the pompadour kid.
“I pierce.” He said.
“Can you hire him please?” Niles shouts from afar.
We all give a little chuckle. “Niles has been overworked. Why don’t you go and talk shop with him for a while and see if you like the place.”
Malcolm goes to the back of the shop and Martha Jo tell me to take Veronica to the office. We walk back to the office and keep the door open. I sit down behind the desk and she sits down in front of it.
“He hasn’t written you or anything has he?”
“No he hasn’t, I think he’s done with us. In his own way killing Joseph was his way of saying that there is nothing for him in this world. He has killed before but not like this.”
“Are you justifying his actions?”
“No, I’m trying to make sense of them. He never did anything without a purpose. He killed those guys in that house because they were some of the biggest criminals in town. There is no justice so he took it upon himself to set things right, but when it came to Joseph he killed him because he could.”
“You don’t think he did it for you?”
“No, yes, Joseph roughed me up a couple of times but nothing to put him in the path of Fingers. Fingers is like a tornado with a mission.”
“What is knocking around in your head?”
“I wouldn’t be here if he wasn’t the person he is.”
“Hindsight is vain Veronica. If you went left instead of right, blah, blah, blah, would it really be so different? Would the different be better or worse? There is no way of possibly knowing what your life would have been like. Like your parents, what if you stayed with them?”
“My parents were meth heads, I wouldn’t have stayed with them.”
A creepy silence builds up from the floor of the room and rises. Martha Jo comes in and removes it by asking what we want for lunch. I tell her tacos but I was out voted by Chinese. We order from Three’s Happiness and when the food arrives we lock up the store and sit in the back.
“Niles, what say you about Malcolm?” I asked.
“He’s great, if you don’t hired him, I’ll cry.”
“Well it’s settled. Veronica? Would you like to work with us?” I asked.
With a mouth full of crab ragoon she shakes her head yes, we all chuckle and Sally hands her a napkin. As we got to talking I found myself liking Malcolm, my first impression of him was completely wrong. He’s funny, knowledgeable, and a great addition to the shop. Martha Jo taps me on the foot and uses her eyes to point toward Sally and Veronica. I look over to see the two of them hitting it off. After lunch I clean up the break room and Martha Jo turns on the open light. Veronica is helping me clean up.
“Don’t you have a shit ton of money? Why do you want to work?”
“Don’t you have a shit ton of money? Why do you want to work?” Veronica asked.
“Family is why I work. Money just piles up. Yeah you can spend it but everything you spend it on goes away and loses value. People on the other hand say with you longer than anything you buy with money. Even a tattoo can be removed, there are a few things that are permanent.” I said.
“I want to work because I don’t know what to do. There is nothing in the world I want to learn to go to school for. I don’t want to travel the world. I just want to have a normal life. What I mean is that I want to call in sick, take a vacation, talk shop with customers. Most of all I just want to be myself.”
I take the trash out of her hands and put it into the large paper bag the food came in. I stuff it into the trash can move over to Veronica and put my arms around her, she puts her arms under me and we hug. Her body starts to shake and I can feel a wetness on my chest, I start to hear her cry and as I try to wonder why she is crying I start to cry as well.
I ask Alfred if it would be okay to miss two weeks of class for a wedding. He tells me that I deserve a vacation and to just call him when I get back into town. We all get our tickets to Texas and fly out to the lone star state. A large van is there to pick us up and there is Ruby waving when she sees me and Martha Jo. I introduce Ruby to Veronica and Malcolm, we put our bags into the van and pile in. The commune is not what I thought it would look like. It looks more like a small town than a shanty or a European village.
It’s a bit of a sight to take in at first, it is a lot to get used to. This is what a type of freedom must be. No one is hiding anything and everyone is who they are on the inside. We’ve been put up in a vacant furnished house. Once we unpack we are taken to Ruby’s shop. The walls and floor are made up of bamboo, the chairs for tattooing are old dentist chairs, and Ruby has the latest and greatest equipment. Ruby asks if someone can cover for her while they do a rehearsal. Veronica and Sally volunteer at the same time. When I look over to them I see them holding hands.
“This place looks like where my grandpa was a P.O.W. in Japan during World War two.”
We turn to see who said that but before we can turn to see we hear the playful screams of children. It’s Daily, she has surprised us. Ruby and Daily hug, and for some reason the children had run to Martha Jo. With them at her legs she looks at me with a face I had never seen before. I see her mouth the words. “What do I do?” I tell her to pick them up. Martha Jo picks up one of the children by the biceps, the child puts their feet on Martha Jo’s chest and she tells him to stop that. The child replies by repeating,
Once outside Daily shows Martha Jo what Brandon, one of the small child was talking about. The child will walk up your chest while you hold their hands and would flip around. This would cause the child to laugh uncontrollably and Martha Jo. Seeing her laugh with a child was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen. It’s not seeing her as a mother but seeing her how I think of her. Kind, passionate, loving, I think that’s the purpose of children to show people who they actually are.
Every meal in the commune is a group meal, Breakfast, lunch and dinner, they have a “town hall” that they meet in for each meal. It lets the children run around, the adults talk, and the cooks to cook. We are sitting at a guest table and residents have sat at our table asking question about ourselves and Ruby. Asking us what is Omaha like, who was Ruby before all of this, just the question you’d think everyone would ask. Daily’s grandchildren wouldn’t leave Martha Jo alone for all the candy in the world. Martha Jo didn’t get flustered not once. I lean toward her ear to whisper.
“I thought you hated children?”
“I do, but these two aren’t so bad.”
“Don’t tell me you’re changing your mind.”
“I still have too much stuff I want to do and I know children aren’t always like this. One of these rug munchers will start to cry and I’m going to get pissed.”
“You mean rugrats. Rug munchers is a slur for lesbians.”
“Yes Martha Jo. How do you not know that?”
“I don’t go around yelling slurs are people. Don’t fault me for not hating enough.”
I chuckle and kiss her on the cheek.
“How do I get more of that?” Martha Jo asked.
“Just wait after dinner and I’ll give you more than you can handle.”
Ruby walks up to our table with another person that is just as indescribable as Ruby.
“This is my life mate, Terry.”
We all wave to Terry.
“Are you all Ruby’s family?”
We all shout yes.
“Would you mind if you are the one to read the vows to us?”
“No, I wouldn’t mind at all.” I say.
They next day is bottled chaos, opened and closed at a moment’s notice. Everyone is running around decorating, cooking, cleaning, getting the town ready as if the president was on her way. I’m sitting in a room in the town hall going over the words to the vows. It’s a lot of words and Martha Jo is helping me. After I go over the words ten times Martha Jo leaves to change but comes back wearing just a long shirt. We make love in this room four times and she leaves to get ready for the wedding.
I change and study the vows again and I know I have it down pat. The door opens and I look ready to see Martha Jo all dolled up but it is Ruby who enters the room. Dressed to the nines and looking ready to get married. I ask Ruby if it’s okay for me to keep the sheet of paper on me in case I get lost and Ruby tells me it’s fine. Martha Jo walks in looking as beautiful as always. She comes up to me and kisses me on the lips and fixes my tie. She sits down after all of that.
“Thanks for coming down. This means so much to me.” Ruby said.
“You’re family, so think nothing of it.” I said.
“You’re the only family I ever had.” Ruby said.
“Not anymore. You’re making your own today. No longer will you be alone or lonely, I never got to asked but what does Terry do on the commune?”
“Terry is the veterinarian, Terry gets all kinds of work from inside and outside the commune.”
A knock on the door.
“Come in.” I say.
“They are ready for you Ruby.” A well-dressed woman said.
I’m standing at the front of the town hall a bit nervous. I’ve never read in front of this many people before. Most people stutter when reading and I know I’ll cry while I’m up there so it should be okay. The wedding march isn’t played, Dolly Parton’s I will always love you is played while Ruby and Terry are walking down the aisle. Everyone is hooting and cheering while the two are walking toward me. I look over to Martha Jo who is staring at me passionately. I look over and see Sally and Veronica holding each other closely.
The two get to me and they hold each other’s hands and the music has stopped. Everyone sits down and everyone is looking at me. I realize that everyone is waiting on me and I start.
“We are here today because these people here have asked us to be. To celebrate in their love for one another, their love is unconditional, unbridle, and never ending. These two are making a promise to support each other through all the pains of life. To share in all its joys and to inspire other to have a love or a better love than theirs. Do you Ruby pledge to be with Terry and only Terry?”
“And do you Terry pledge to be with Ruby and Ruby only?”
“With only your words to go on will and your promise to be true, you two are now together now and forever. Kiss one another to start your lives as one.”
Once they kiss the town hall shakes with applause and cheering. The kiss goes one for a bit too long but it’s fine. The two run out of the hall and run into another room for the reception and we meet the newlyweds in the entertaining hall. There is music, food, wine, and everything else under the sun. Martha Jo has been dancing with Daily’s children, Sally and Veronica haven’t been seen in a while. No one in a ten mile radius isn’t having fun right now. Everyone in the town hall danced until they couldn’t anymore. We all crawled back to our beds.
Ruby and Terry dropped us all off at the airport and we all had our hugs and cries. Terry thank me for delivering the vows and I told him that I was happy to help. The plane ride was quick and Knuckles didn’t have to wait long for us to get our bags. Knuckles is looking healthier now that I know he wasn’t when he was around us. His skin is brighter, and he’s smiling a lot more, it’s a natural smile.
“How was the wedding?” Knuckles asked.
“It was great. A party in every since of the word.” I said. One by one Knuckles drops us off at our homes. Sally and Veronica get out together and Veronica looks at me like a friend, and I’m very happy that she is around now. I’m very happy to have her in my life. Knuckles drops off Martha Jo and I at Permanent because our car is there. Once we unload the bags and pack them into our cars Knuckles takes off. Martha Jo looks over and see someone trying to pry open the back door. I run over to the kid and grab him by the shoulder and spin the kid around.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“I was trying to break in and find some books on how to tattoo. I’m sorry I just want to learn how to do it.”
“Be here tomorrow and you’ll learn everything I can teach you.”