Wednesday, April 22, 2009


The interpreter was standing in his kitchen, stirring a pot and drinking white wine from a juice glass.

A few days earlier, he had said to Stacey, “You know, I really do appreciate all the stuff you’ve done, helping, I mean, since I got, you know, hit.” He had suddenly comprehended that this younger, prettier person had been carrying him, which he probably didn’t deserve, and that he had yet to show much gratitude. He was too rarely a gracious person. He knew that.

“It’s okay,” she said.

“No, I feel I something for you.”

“You can make me dinner,” she had said, just like that. Not “Buy me dinner,” which would mean a restaurant, a public place, but “Make me dinner,” which meant at his place--his apartment. And what would that mean?

And now here she was, standing in his apartment next to one of his many bookcases, a proper wine glass in her hand, head tilted to the side. She was reading the spines of his extensive collection of natural history books. “This explains a lot,” she said. Her hair, hanging, was now only a little bit sparkly. It had been trending that way.

He gulped more wine. He was making cioppino, or at least his version of cioppino, which he considered superior to any cioppino recipe he had ever bothered to follow all the way through. He had added the cubes of fish, deveined shrimp, and mussels, and a cup of wine, and set the pot to simmer for ten minutes. “Wine,” he said to himself. There wasn’t enough left for dinner. He turned to Stacey, “I have to get more wine. I’m going to run downstairs to the wine store. It’s just around the corner.”

Stacey went to the window as if to pinpoint the store.

“I’ll be right back. Stir the pot every couple minutes and turn it off if I’m not back in ten.”

Someone is jumping on a truck down there,” she said as he closed the door.

Her words didn’t sink in until he was in the elevator, going down. “What?” he said.

He breezed out the door and turned the corner, headed toward the wine store. As he passed below his eighth-floor balcony, he heard a man yelling. There was the tractor of a semi parked across the road in front of the Seniors’ residential tower. A man about forty years old came around the front, and then pulled himself up on the driver’s side. Holding a handrail with one hand, he pounded on the side window with the other. “Oh, that’s what she meant,” said the interpreter.

“Bobby!” the man yelled. “Hey, wake up, Bobby!” The interpreter stopped to watch. The man jumped up and down on the running board, trying to shake the truck’s cab.The interpreter should have kept on task. Wine and cioppino. Those were the issues that mattered. Dinner with Stacey in his apartment, that’s what mattered the most.

“Bobby, wake up, man!” The man was punching the window harder. 

The interpreter crossed the road. “Hey,” he said. “What’s wrong here?”

The man stepped down. He was breathing hard. “I own this truck. My partner Bobby is in there, but he’s asleep and won’t wake up. This is our switchover spot, but I’m late getting here and he’s out cold.”

“Could he be sick?”

The man shrugged. He put his hands on his knees and had a coughing fit. “Hey buddy, you give it a try why don’t ya?”

The interpreter climbed the side of the cab, put his hand next to his face and looked into the back. He could see a pair of blue-jeaned legs on mattress. He slapped the window with his open hand and yelled, “Hey, Bobby, wake up!” He made a fist and pounded on the cab. “Wake up, Bobby, Wake up!”

The man tugged the interpreter’s pant cuff. “I got an idea,” he said. “You go round the other side, climb up and we can rock back and forth, get the cab shaking. That might work.”

My cioppino, thought the interpreter. I hope Stacey is stirring it. “Okay,” he said.

He climbed down, went around the front of the truck and climbed back up the other side. When the truck’s owner started jumping up and down, so did the interpreter, trying to be in opposite phase to maximize the shaking. They chanted, “Wake up Bobby! Wake up!”

And then the interpreter was brusquely ripped down from the side of the truck by the back of his belt. He was slammed onto the hood of a police car by a short, aggressive cop who seemed particularly fond of flinging people around. “Hands on the car and don’t move!” commanded the cop. He patted the interpreter for weapons.

The interpreter said, “I’m helping that other guy. We’re trying to wake up the guy inside the truck. He may be unconscious. Maybe dead.”

“Shut up. We have a report of a guy who looks exactly like you trying to steal a truck, and look where I find you.”

The interpreter was stunned. “That’s retarded,” he said. He looked up at the Seniors’ residential tower. Frail figures were pressed against the windows, looking down. “You’re responding to the delusions of some addled old dimwit.”

“Shut up,” repeated the cop. The interpreter’s hands were pulled behind his back and handcuffs were roughly applied with surprising speed. The violent cop pushed him hard onto the hood of the cruiser and then went back to the truck.

The interpreter lifted his head from the car to look up at his apartment. He could see Stacey’s backlit outline in the window.“Stir the cioppino!” he yelled.

“You, shut up!” shouted the cop. He had now determined that the other man was in fact the truck’s owner, and that there was indeed an unconscious man inside the cab. He was now jumping up and down on the running board, accomplishing nothing. He snapped open a telescoping club and rapped the window with it.“Yo! Wake up! Police!”

“Yes, that will help,” said the interpreter. Then he noticed something interesting. The cuff on his left wrist was loose. The cop had cuffed around his sleeve, and once the sleeve was out the interpreter could slide his hand free. The cop was around the front of the truck, out of sight. The interpreter freed his hand and bolted, for some reason having assumed the mindset of a fugitive from justice. He ran back to his building and around the corner, but rather than enter through the front door, which would leave him waiting for an elevator that might not come in time, he continued running to the entrance of the underground parking, and, following a car, rolled under the descending metal gate like Indiana Jones.

There had been a problem with drug addicts sneaking into the garage in such a fashion and breaking into people’s cars. No doubt he looked like one to the man getting out of a Volvo who yelled at him to stop. The interpreter kept running to the stairwell and was surprised to find that Volvo-man had decided to give chase. Nine floors to freedom, the interpreter thought to himself as he heaved open the metal door. When he reached the ground floor, he heard his pursuer entering the stairwell, one floor behind. The interpreter’s quick glimpse of Volvo-man had suggested someone younger and more naturally athletic than himself. Should he lie in wait and hoof the idiot in the chest as he blindly rounded a corner? No, that probably would not be helpful. I can outrun him, he thought. Because his recent employment had required endless walking, canoe paddling, and dealing with children, the interpreter had stamina. He could probably outlast this guy if he could get four or five floors up without being caught -- which is what happened. After five floors the footfalls of his pursuer were becoming softer, and after six, couldn’t be heard anymore. At the seventh floor, the interpreter stopped and listened. He could hear only his own thumping heart. He entered the seventh floor hallway, sprinted to the fire doors at the far end and went up the last flight to his floor, where his was the first door on the left. As he fumbled with the keys, Stacey opened the door and pulled him inside. He reached to switch off the lights.

"What's going on?" she asked.

“Well, things went a bit sideways,” he said. “We have to get these things off me.” He waved the handcuffs that dangled from his right wrist. Then he smelled it. He brushed past Stacey and clicked on the dim fluorescent tube above the stove. “Oh dear,” he said.

“I’m so sorry,” she said. “I got so distracted by what you were doing down there, I forgot to stir. Why did you get arrested?”

“The old people ratted on me."  He dug disappointedly through the scorched glop, and said, "This is my fault." Then he asked, “Any chance you know how to remove handcuffs?”

“Oh, yes, I saw this trick in a movie. Are these cheap sunglasses, can I wreck them?” She scooped his Ray-bans off the counter and snapped one of the earpieces in half. She took his wrist and jammed the earpiece into the little hole on the cuff. Instantly, the device popped open and the cuffs fell to the floor.

“I’m emancipated,” said the interpreter. He picked up his dead Ray-bans. He looked at the dead cioppino. I guess we could go out somewhere,” he said.

“Or we could stay here and order take-out. You have to lie low for a while.”

He saw persistence. “Umm, okay.” He opened a drawer that in most homes would contain cutlery. It was stuffed with take-out menus. “You pick.”

“I pick Korean,” she said, almost immediately.

“There’s Korean in there?”

Stacey was on the phone, speaking slowly and clearly. Through a finger-width crack in the blinds the interpreter peered at the truck down below. The nasty cop and the other man had extracted Bobby from the cab. Bobby was very tall and thin. He was sitting on the grassy boulevard with his knees as high as his ears, looking confused. The cop was talking to him and Bobby was shaking his head.

Stacey finished the call. “We’ll see what comes of that,” she said.

The interpreter had an idea. He said, “Keep the lights off,” as he slowly slid open the balcony door.

“What are you doing?”

“Returning public property.” He spun the handcuffs on his finger.

“You’re not going to throw those off the balcony.”

“He was a very nice policeman. I wouldn’t want him to get into trouble.”
“You could hit somebody.”
“I’ll aim for the lawn beside the police car.”

“Wait.” She snatched them from him. She wiped the flat surfaces with the front of her t-shirt, and looped the cuffs back over his finger. “Don’t want to leave prints. Okay, go.” She pushed him out the door and, crouching in a ready-pose, gripped the handle. He squatted low on the balcony, and launched the handcuffs in a straight-armed pitch, like a grenade or cricket ball. He fell back inside and Stacey closed the door fast, not quite slamming it. They rushed to the window and peeked through the blinds. 

Bobby was still sitting on the grass, but was now staring at the pair of handcuffs inches from his right ankle. The cop was glaring up at the building with his hands on his belt, seeking the source of this insult.

The interpreter and Stacey sat cross-legged on the floor with the TV on, eating Korean food. They were watching the channel that showed the closed circuit coverage of the lobby, hoping not to see police officers entering the building. It was a silent, halting parade of bleary people, some of whom would loom up close to the camera lens and open and close their mouths.

“This is strangely fascinating,” said Stacey. “It’s like a haunted fish tank.”

“I watch this when I can’t sleep,” said the interpreter.

Stacey gathered their plates and plastic utensils and found which kitchen cupboard housed the garbage. She rinsed her hands, and then sat back down beside him. “Plan A,” she said.

The interpreter sighed. He spun on the carpet to put his back to her. He leaned forward slightly.

“Run your hand down the inner edge of my right shoulder blade.”

She did. “Uh, okay....” she said, puzzled.

“Now my left shoulder blade, the same thing. Run your hand downward.”

This time, halfway down, she stopped, went back up, and used her fingertips. She stopped again. “Lift your shirt,” she said.

He pulled up his shirt.

“Oh my God. You have a giant hole in your back.”

“There,” he said. “That was the end of Plan A.”


kompoStella said...

pheew... i had no idea that the life of an interpreter was this dramatic! (or maybe i did after watching The Interpreter but i guess i didn't quite count nature interpreters in that category)
i mean, this was exciting already, and now... now i'm breathless! plan A is a hole? how can we ever get to plan A then? will Stacey have to call in scientists specialising in black holes theories?
looking forward to the next instalment. praying the Volvo-man has forgotten. hoping just a little of the Stacey Sparkle will remain.

PSYL said...

A giant hole!? Was our beloved interpreter an actual fugitive before? I'll have to read this story again.

Another excellent part. Only a date with the Interpreter can come out so exciting (and so unfortunate) at the same time.

Hope this is not the final instalment.

Dave said...

Ah, the mysterious Plan A! You do have a knack for ending these episodes just at the right moment. Best strategy for retaining blog readers I've seen in a long time.

spinyurchin said...

“This is strangely fascinating,” said Stacey. “It’s like a haunted fish tank.”

Ha ha!

Anonymous said...

Man, this is great. I know others have said it, but you need to start looking for a publisher for the Collected Interpreter Stories.

BerryBird said...

Hugh, the Interpreter is a rock star. Bravo!