10. The Iron Owl

By mutual, tacit consent, Brutus and Inglorion settle into a casual master/apprentice arrangement. Inglorion knows little about farming and water harvesting in this climate; Brutus knows a lot. Though the older man rarely provides step-by-step lessons, or even explicit advice, he’s willing to let Inglorion shadow him as he tinkers with his cisterns and basins, maintains his solar panels, and harvests what he grows.

Inglorion falls into the habit of showing up three or four days a week, following Brutus around, and helping out where he can. At first he’s not certain what he hopes to learn. There are a score of small knacks to every task, and there’s much that Brutus doesn’t know, or is in the process of teaching himself. However, Inglorion quickly realizes that even Brutus’s most routine interactions are intentional. He has a strategy for how approaches people and projects. At first, Inglorion simply likes to watch Brutus and try to predict his behavior, or understand his motivation.

Though Brutus never says so, Inglorion’s pretty sure he likes the idea of being able to pass on what he’s learned. He doesn’t like to answer questions or explain himself when he’s working, so he likes that Inglorion watches carefully and draws his own conclusions. After a few weeks, Brutus begins to offer occasional observations about people’s character and motives. Best of all, he will occasionally explain some small thing — the uses of a jandy valve, or how to calculate the necessary drop for a sewer connection — in loving detail.

Though Inglorion remains in the background or off to one side, Brutus’s neighbors and acquaintance come to expect him. They ask after him, and express curiosity about him. They’re fascinated by his coloring and build, and the contrast between the two. Indeed, though they’ve become accustomed to seeing Brutus’s tall, fair-haired form, it has the charm of novelty to see a much-shorter, silver-eyed, fragile creature trotting along beside him, closely observing everything he does.

Inglorion also gains some prestige from his association with Brutus. When he’s out alone or with Lucius, people will recognize Inglorion as Brutus’s sidekick. They question him about how the two know each other, or ask if Brutus might have an interest in purchasing a length of 1/2-inch copper pipe, or a few birds to add to his flock.

At least once a week, Brutus walks over to a sprawling, family-owned junkyard nearby. He gossips with the husband and accepts offers of fry bread from the wife. The husband sets aside building materials and parts that he thinks Brutus might need, or simply appreciate. While they talk, Inglorion will often browse the quonset hut where the wife, Rosa, sells used textiles, clothing and rugs; he’s looking for bits of finery that Lucius can use. Rosa follows him around today, like she usually does, in a friendly, curious manner. Inglorion’s still learning the local dialect, a mix of Spanish, Yaqui and Tohono O’odham, so they blunder along, grinning, gesturing, pointing and repeating themselves.

He rejoins Brutus presently, having bought various bits of fur trim, including a chain of stuffed mink, complete with sweetly tiny paws and metal clamps where their teeth should be. She provides him with a pillowcase to carry all of it, and throws in a few pairs of fur-lined leather gloves.

Inglorion finds Brutus loading up an assortment of fittings used for irrigation and plumbing. “Brand new, still boxed and bagged,” he murmurs with satisfaction. “What have you got there?”

“A few pounds of scrap fur for Lucius.”

“Nice. You’d better put it in the wagon.” They walk away slowly, exchanging a series of cheerful goodbyes with the husband and wife. Inglorion is never quite sure when the transaction is complete and they’re free to leave. He knows that they must be making allowances for the fact that he’s a novice and foreigner.

“What does ‘Tio’ mean?” Inglorion asks.

“Uncle. Why?”

“Because Rosa called you my ‘Tio.’ You needn’t worry,” he says airily. “I set her straight, and said, no, I fuck him. Not the other way around.”

Brutus gives a crack of laughter. “When you’re not here, they ask after my little friend.”

Little friend? I’m at least three inches taller than Rosa is.”

“Don’t flatter yourself. She outweighs you by three stone.” Brutus stops to light a cigarette, grins at Inglorion. “To them, everyone’s a cousin or uncle. They’re curious, just like elves. ‘Where’s your cousin from? Why are his eyes like that? Is he always that skinny? You should feed him more.’ That kind of thing.”

“What do you tell them?”

“That they should ask you, and give you a chance to practice your Spanish.”

The walk back takes them through some of the oldest parts of downtown. “I love this stretch of Main,” says Brutus. “Rich people built houses all along here as soon as they’d beaten back the Apaches.” He adds with sudden enthusiasm, “I don’t suppose you’ve seen the Owl’s Club. I love that place — it has this amazing fucking owl,” he says in a toned of almost pained desire.

“There’s an owl?”

Detail of owl from the Owl's Club facade
An iron owl glares down with a comically disapproving expression.

“You’ll see — it’s just a block over.” And in just a moment they draw abreast of an Art Nouveau mansion. Above the central balcony, there’s an arch flanked by pilasters and topped with a circular alcove where an iron owl glares down with a comically disapproving expression.

Inglorion eyes the owl thoughtfully. “I’m surprised you haven’t nicked it already,” he says. “It’s an easy climb. You’d want to rope in, because you’d be up there fucking around with tools, and you’d have to rig something to lower it down. Still….”

Brutus laughs. “Believe me, I’ve thought about it. But I don’t have anyone to hold a rope for me, and with my luck all that shit is plaster, and wouldn’t hold my weight.”

“That’s a fair point,” says Inglorion. “And God knows how the owl is secured. It could be a  real pain in the ass to dismount it. Still,” he says, craning his neck back and forth, “It seems doable.”

Brutus looks amused. “It seems like an excellent way to break my neck. And realistically I have no urgent need for an iron owl.”

For a linked table of contents, listing all of the Shelawn family adventures, click here.

 

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