Home > A Different Blue(8)

A Different Blue(8)
Author: Amy Harmon

“Yeah. That too,” I sighed and started up my truck. Manny forgave me about ten seconds into the ride and chattered the rest of the way home. Manny couldn't stay angry unless, of course, someone messed with Graciela. Then all reason left him and his mother joked that he became a raging chihuahua. I'd only seen it happen a few times, but it was enough to make me never want a chihuahua. Apparently, since I'd only pointed out his flaws, I was immediately forgiven and back in his good graces with barely a snarl.

When I got home the heat inside the apartment felt like the bowels of hell. It didn't smell very good either. Stale cigarettes and spilled beer mixed with 90 degree October heat wasn't a pleasant combination. The door to Cheryl's room was shut. I wondered at her ability to sleep in the heat and sighed as I emptied the ashtrays and wiped up the beer spilled on the coffee table. Cheryl obviously had company. A pair of men's jeans lay in a crumpled pile and Cheryl's black bra and work shirt were tossed alongside them. Nice. The sooner I got out of there, the better. I stripped my jeans off and pulled on a pair of cut-off sweats and a tank-top, pulling my hair up in a sloppy ponytail. Shoving my feet into flip-flops, I left the apartment ten minutes after I had arrived.

I rented a storage unit behind the complex for fifty bucks a month. It had lights and power, and it was my own little workshop. It had a couple of work tables fashioned from sawhorses and long sheets of plywood. I had a large dremel, various sizes of mallets and chisels, files and grinders, and an oscillating fan that moved the hot air and sawdust around in lazy circles. Projects in various stages, from a discard pile to completed pieces of twisting, gleaming art decorated the perimeter of the space. I had found a thick, gnarled branch of Mesquite on my travels the day before, and I was eager to see what it looked like under the layers of thorny bark that I had yet to strip off. Most people who worked with wood liked to use soft woods because they were easy to carve and whittle, easy to shape into their own creation. Nobody carved with mesquite or mountain mahogany or juniper. The wood was too hard. The ranchers out west considered mesquite a weed. You couldn't use a sharp knife to shape it, that was for sure. I had to use a big chisel and a mallet to strip off the bark. When the wood was laid bare, I would usually spend a great deal of time just looking at it before I did anything. I had learned that from Jimmy.

Jimmy Echohawk had been a quiet man, quiet to the point of not talking for days at a time. It was amazing that I had any language skills at all when I came to live with Cheryl. Thank you, PBS. When I was two years old, my mother – at least we assume it was her – left me in the front seat of his truck and drove away. I didn't remember my mother at all, beyond a vague memory of dark hair and a blue blanket. Jimmy was a Pawnee Indian and had very little that he called his own. He had an old pickup truck and a camp trailer that he pulled along behind it, and that's where we lived. We never stayed in one place for very long, and we never had company, except for each other. He said he had family on a reservation in Oklahoma, but I never met any of them. He taught me how to carve, and the skill had saved me, both financially, and emotionally, many times. I lost myself in it now, working until the early hours of morning when I knew Cheryl would be gone to work, along with her mystery man, and the apartment would be empty.

Chapter Three

“When Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon, he knew what it would mean.” Mr. Wilson was looking at us all somberly, as if Julius Caesar was his homey and he had just crossed the Rubics Cube yesterday. I sighed and tossed back my hair, slouching even further into my seat.

“It was considered treason to bring a standing army into Italy proper. The senators in Rome were intimidated by Caesar's power and his popularity. They wanted to control him, see, and it was fine if he was winning battles for Rome, conquering the Celtic and Germanic tribes, but they didn't want him to become too rich or too popular, and that was exactly what was happening. Add to that Julius Caesar's own political ambitions, and you have a recipe for disaster . . . or the very least, civil war.”

Mr. Wilson walked down the aisle, and I noticed in surprise that he seemed to have the attention of my classmates. They were watching him closely, waiting for what he would say next. He didn't use notes or read from a textbook or manual. He just talked, like he was relating the highlights of a killer movie.

“Caesar had some friends in high places. They snooped around, whispered in a few ears, and blatantly tried to influence the Senate. But the Senate wanted no part of it. They told Caesar to disband the army and resign his position, or risk becoming an 'enemy of the state.' We use the same term today in the US government. It basically means the government finds you guilty of crimes against your country. People who sell national secrets, spy for another country, that kind of thing, are deemed 'enemies of the state.' Very 007 without the glamour or the amazing stunts or the fit Bond girls.”

I found myself smiling as the rest of the class laughed, and I marveled that I'd forgotten for a moment that I didn't like Mr. Wilson.

“Plus, can you imagine what that label would do to someone? Some would argue that such a label is used as a political tool – a tool to repress or intimidate. You charge someone with being a traitor to their country, an 'enemy of the state' and their life is over. It's like accusing someone of being a child molester. It wasn't any different in Ancient Rome. So we have Julius Caesar, ambitious, angry that he is being told he can't lead his army anymore, and basically being threatened with ugly labels and treason.

“Long story short, he brings his army to the banks of the Rubicon, which doesn't exist today, so no one really knows if it was just a little stream or a substantial river, and he stands there, thinking. He says to his men. 'We can still retreat. It's not too late, but once we pass this bridge, we will have to fight.'”

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