"Ow," she said for the hundredth time, for the hundredth pot hole on Transit Road.
"Sorry. Again," I said, "Also, for the hundredth time."
Kitty laughed a bit. "I wish it wasn't so dreary. And I wish I hadn't taken that hydrocodone."
"Well, if you hadn't taken that, I would have never gotten you out of the house," I said.
"True. But still, I wish it wasn't raining." She sighed.
"There's a Tim Hortons ahead." I've never been certain if "Tim Hortons" is grammatically correct, or if it needs an apostrophe or if it was the Buffalo "S" running amok. Verbally, you can't tell the difference, but in writing it gets flagged by the spell checker, every time.
As I pulled in for our usual Timmy run, Kitty began musing.
"I should've put something in my stomach before that pill," she said.
"A muffin? Maybe a breakfast sandwich?" I offered.
"Hey, that's weird." Her voice was dreamy, distracted. "They turned that old tavern in to a temple."
I didn't slam on the brakes, it was just the sound my brain made.
"What did you just say?" I demanded.
"That tavern, the one that looks like a barn. It's a temple, now." She pointed at a rough building across Transit Road.
|The Peasant Dance by Pieter Bruegel the Elder|
What was especially odd was that the tavern's... er temple's other walls were made up of hay bales stacked up the rafters of the second floor. Someone had placed blue canvas under the bales to protect them from direct contact with the asphalt parking lot.
Kitty's eyes met mine and she sent one of those mental commands that only a spouse can do.
I swung the car around and crossed Transit Road. All six lanes, excitedly, but carefully. Equally carefully, I opened my wife's car door and helped her hobble to the entrance of the tav... temple. It was a trick getting her over the blue canvas, flapping in the wind and rain.
"Does it have a name?" Kitty asked.
"None, that I can see," I answered.
The door wasn't locked and we stumbled over the threshold; Kitty sucked air as her knee moved faster than the surgery would allow.
"Sorry," I said as I took her weight on my shoulder. Inside, by lantern light, I could see dark, rich colors and little else. There was a large rectangle, which I interpreted as a booth and table. We hobbled over and took a seat. We sat in the middle of seven high booths. For some reason, I moved to the seat across from Kitty, rather than next to her.
As I blinked in the relative darkness, I could see the booth backs were nearly six or seven feet high. We could only see a narrow slice of the room, like a hallway. Along the far wall was a high bar or a low wall. I couldn't tell which, but there was a lantern on that wooden bulk. The near wall was more interesting, it was made of hay. We both ran our hands across the prickly surface. A small tray of condiments was in the middle of the table, and inexplicably, there was a framed picture tacked to the hay bale wall. In the dark, I though perhaps the photo was of a couple or family standing around a table, but I couldn't be sure.
Kitty chuckled and said, "It's the Hydrocodone Tavern."
Unnerved by her chuckle I got up from my seat and moved next to her. A shadow loomed over us as a form blocked out the light of the lantern on the bar.
"Welcome to the Temple of the High-backed Booth." A zippo flared before my eyes. The friar lit a small candle next to the condiment tray. He was clean shaven, with ring of wild white hair around his head, but his scalp was bare, tonsured. He seemed to be wearing some sort of bearskin or perhaps a hair shirt. His boot steps were heavy thuds, even as he delicately shifted to the far side of the table to look at both of us. His look was full of judgement and appraisal.
He produced a pair of menus and two small black cups. Like the boots, they clunked solidly on the tabletop before us.
"I am Elder Bruegel, but you may know me as Peter." His voice was gravelly, like an old peasant's and his smile was slight like a wizened village elder.
"Diamonddraught from the Land, for the lady's knee. And Black Taquynian coffee imported from the Country of Torre, for the gentleman. Please consider your options carefully." He left the menus before us and faded back into the darkness.
"I'd say that was 'weird', but we're in an old bar turned Temple on Transit Road, ordering drinks," I said. "And there is a picture of the d'Amberville family standing around Stephen in a coffin."
"I don't want to know that. And I certainly don't want to drink this," Kitty indicated the cup before her.
"Yes, you do. Trust me."
She sniffed it. "It smells... powerful, clean."
I made a sound of assent.
"Trust me, it's better for you than what I have here. And this coffee is frickin' close to perfect." I fished around in the condiment tray for a half and half and raw sugar. A pair of percentile dice toppled out of the tray and there was a flare from my menu.
"What was that?" she asked.
"Something very good or very bad, I'm sure." I ignored the light from the menu and stirred up my coffee. I took a tiny sip. My whole face smiled as I remembered the last time I had this coffee.
"That good? You're face is going to stay like that if you keep smiling like that." Kitty tapped my nose and lips, smiling back at me.
"I haven't been to Elanith in forever," I said.
"Is that in Canada?" she asked.
"You need to drink, too," I said.
As I spoke she gently picked up the cup and sniffed it again.
"Trust me," I repeated.
She sipped the Diamonddraught and let out a deep, deep breath. Relief spread across her face. Although I had made her laugh and smile several times that morning, the creases of pain had let go of her forehead, dispelled by the giant's drink.
"Sir, the dice have been cast. Tell me your option." Elder Bruegel said. Funny, he had approached silently this time. It struck me as mysterious, the boots were gone, replaced by pointed shoes. A minor mystery I guess, because there was never any explanation.
I opened the menu and looked at it. It was blank but for one glowing line. I nodded at the option and it seemed fitting. Before I read it back to him, I asked a question.
"Elder Bruegel. Peter, sir. What is this place?"
"This is the Temple of The High-backed Booth. It is the place where one goes when one does not know what campaign they are on. It is the starting place of many adventures. But for people such as you, it is a resting place between adventures. As you know, at the level you two have attained, there is no magic and no miracles, but the ones you make. It is time for you to read me your selection," Elder Bruegel said.
Reassured, I read to him from the table in the menu.
"Number 67-68. Scout. The Son of the Miller," I read. I was pretty sure that if I had counted, there would be have been forty-nine blank spaces around it.
"So your adventure begins. Do you know what it means and what you must do?" Elder Bruegel asked.
"Do I get to roll?" Kitty asked.
"No. Any number of casts may be made in The Temple of the High-back Booth, but you are bound together in life and in this adventure," he said.
Kitty did not look happy at all. She was very disappointed not to be allow to play.
"My lady, it is very well, it more than suffices. Have faith. Take a chance today, like you did when he asked your leave, years ago," he said.
We only had a moment to hold hands and exchange nervous glances before Elder Bruegel returned with our food. He placed a covered platter before each of us and handed me a small bundle. It was made of parchment and wrapped with a wax sealed ribbon. Inside, I could feel cool metal.
"Do you know what to do?" Bruegel asked.
"Yes. I do." I answered. Before he could leave, I asked him for a blessing.
"Tireless guardian on our way,
"Thou has kept us well this day,
"While we thank thee, we request,
"Care continued, pardon, Rest."
"Thank you, Elder," I said. "That was beautiful."
Kitty smiled at him and he excused himself. That was the last we saw of him.
"Oh! It's perfect!" she exclaimed. It was a plate of strawberries, chocolate, tiny muffins and jams. "What did you get?"
"Bread. Want some?" I asked, but I already knew the answer.
She nodded and I broke it into pieces to share. She slather them with jam and we ate together, sipping our drinks. Just like we did on our honeymoon at Disney. The little jars of jam even had little Winnie the Poohs and Piglets, just like the jars in Disney did in 2001. I glanced around, half expecting a castle view out the window, but there wasn't even a window. A Disney Honeymoon is fantasy and this was real life.
"Is that the bill?" Kitty asked as she tapped the small package.
"Its... a form of payment. We paid in advance, I guess you could say." I answered as best I could. "We have to run the message to receive the reward."
As we drove home, the rain abated. Everything seems so much lighter and not just the sky. We felt lighter inside.
I gave the package to my son Paul, the scout.
Kitty asked, "What is it?"
"I don't know. Will see when it is done," answered Paul. He ran off to his bedroom with Elder Bruegel message.
Later that night, long after bedtime, Paul was done.
"I never would have gotten into models and games, if it wasn't for you dad."
I smiled. "I said the same thing to my dad. Probably more than once."
"It's a windmill," he said.
"What does it mean?" my wife asked.
"I think it is a sign. Millers used to be a place where people went to negotiate, with the actual miller-man acting as the moderator. It's a good thing to be, kind of the linchpin of society." I said.
"I don't care about that. I would like any thing you brought for me," Paul said.
"He's my boy, through and through," said Kitty as she gave him a hug.