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‘No, we’re deeply concerned. He is too, he just doesn’t know it.’
‘Okay, then down in the third paragraph in the operative clauses, quote, the United States will peg hydrocarbon fuel reductions in a two-to-one ratio to such reductions by China and India, and will provide matching funds for all tidal and wind power plants built in those countries and in all countries that fall under a five in the UN’s prospering countries index, these plants to be operated by a joint powers agency that will include the United States as a permanent member; four, these provisions will combine with the climate-neutral power production –’
‘Wait, call that power generation.’
‘Power generation, okay, such that any savings in environmental mitigation in participating countries as determined by IPCC ratings will be credited equally to the US rating, and not less than fifty million dollars per year in savings is to be earmarked specifically for the construction of more such climate-neutral power plants; and not less than fifty million dollars per year in savings is to be earmarked specifically for the construction of so-called ‘carbon sinks’, meaning any environmental engineering project designed to capture and sequester atmospheric carbon dioxide safely, in forests, peat beds, oceans, or other locations –’
‘Yeah hey you know carbon sinks are so crucial, scrubbing CO
out of the air may eventually turn out to be our only option, so maybe we should reverse those two clauses. Make carbon sinks come first and the climate-neutral power plants second in that paragraph.’
‘Yes. Definitely. Carbon sinks could be the only way that our kids, and about a thousand years’ worth of kids actually, can save themselves from living in Swamp World. From living their whole lives on Venus.’
‘Or should we say Washington DC.’
‘Okay, those are flip-flopped then. So that’s that paragraph, now, hmm, that’s it for text. I guess the next question is, what can we offer Winston and his gang to get them to accept this version.’
‘Get Winston’s people to give you their list of riders, and then pick the two least offensive ones and tell them they’re the most we could get Phil to accept, but only if they accept our changes first.’
‘But will they go for that?’
‘No, but – wait – Joe?’
Charlie didn’t see Joe anywhere. He ducked to be able to see under the climbing structure to the other side. No Joe.
‘Hey Roy let me call you back okay? I gotta find Joe he’s wandered off.’
‘Okay, give me a buzz.’
Charlie clicked off and yanked the earplug out of his ear, jammed it in his pocket.
He looked around at the West Indian nannies – none of them were watching, none of them would meet his eye. No help there. He jogged south to be able to see farther around the back of the fire station. Ah ha! There was Joe, trundling full speed for Wisconsin Avenue.
That was as loud as Charlie could shout. He saw that Joe had indeed heard him, and had redoubled the speed of his diaper-waddle towards the busy street.
Charlie took off in a sprint after him. ‘JOE!’ he shouted as he pelted over the grass. ‘STOP! JOE! STOP RIGHT THERE!’ He didn’t believe that Joe would stop, but possibly he would try to go even faster, and fall.
No such luck. Joe was in stride now, running like a duck trying to escape something without taking flight. He was on the sidewalk next to the fire station, and had a clear shot at Wisconsin, where trucks and cars zipped by as always.
Charlie closed in, cleared the fire station, saw big trucks bearing down; if Joe catapulted off the kerb he would be right under their wheels. By the time Charlie caught up to him he was so close to the edge that Charlie had to grab him by the back of his shirt and lift him off his feet, whirling him around in a broad circle through the air, back onto Charlie as they both fell in a heap on the sidewalk.
‘Ow!’ Joe howled.
‘WHAT ARE YOU DOING!’ Charlie shouted in his face. ‘WHAT ARE YOU DOING? DON’T EVER DO THAT AGAIN!’
Joe, amazed, stopped howling for a moment. He stared at his father, face crimson. Then he recommenced howling.
Charlie shifted into a crosslegged position, hefted the crying boy into his lap. He was shaking, his heart was pounding; he could feel it tripping away madly in his hands and chest. In an old reflex he put his thumb to the other wrist and watched the seconds pass on his watch for fifteen seconds. Multiply by four. Impossible. One hundred and eighty beats a minute. Surely that was impossible. Sweat was pouring out of all his skin at once. He was gasping.
The parade of trucks and cars continued to roar by, inches away. Wisconsin Avenue was a major truck route from the Beltway into the city. Most of the trucks entirely filled the right lane, from kerb to lane line; and most were moving at about forty miles an hour.
‘Why do you do that?’ Charlie whispered into his boy’s hair. Suddenly he was filled with fear, and some kind of dread or despair. ‘It’s just crazy.’
‘Ow,’ Joe said.
Big shuddering sighs racked them both.
Charlie’s phone rang. He clicked it on and held an earplug to his ear.
‘Oh hi hon!’
‘Oh nothing, nothing. I’ve just been chasing Joe around. We’re at the park.’
‘Wow, you must be cooking. Isn’t it the hottest part of the day?’
‘Yeah it is, almost, but we’ve been having fun so we stayed. We’re about to head back now.’
‘Okay, I won’t keep you. I just wanted to check if we had any plans for next weekend.’
‘None that I know of.’
‘Okay, good. Because I had an interesting thing happen this morning, I met a bunch of people downstairs, new to the building. They’re like Tibetans, I think, only they live on an island. They’ve taken the office space downstairs that the travel agency used to have.’
‘That’s nice dear.’
‘Yes. I’m going to have lunch with them, and if it seems like a good idea I might ask them over for dinner sometime, if you don’t mind.’
‘No, that’s fine, snooks. Whatever you like. It sounds interesting.’
‘Great, okay. I’m going to go meet them soon, I’ll tell you about it.’
‘Okay, bye dove.’
‘Bye love, talk to you.’
Charlie clicked off.
After ten giant breaths he stood, lifting Joe in his arms. Joe buried his face in Charlie’s neck. Shakily Charlie retraced their course. It was somewhere between fifty and a hundred yards. Rivulets of sweat ran down his ribs, and off his forehead into his eyes. He wiped them against Joe’s shirt. Joe was sweaty too. When he reached their stuff Charlie swung Joe around, down into his backpack. For once Joe did not resist. ‘Sowy Da,’ he said, and fell asleep as Charlie swung him onto his back.
Charlie took off walking. Joe’s head rested against his neck, a sensation that had always pleased him before. Sometimes he would even suckle the tendon there. Now it was like the touch of some meaning so great that he couldn’t bear it, a huge cloudy aura of danger and love. He started to cry, wiped his eyes and shook it off, as if shaking away a nightmare. Hostages to fortune, he thought. You get married, have kids, you give up such hostages to fortune. No avoiding it, no help for it. It’s just the price you pay for such love. His son was a complete maniac, and it only made him love him more.
He walked hard for most of an hour, through all the neighborhoods he had come to know so well in his years of lonely Mr Momhood. The vestiges of an older way of life lay under the trees like a network of ley lines: railway beds, canal systems, Indian trails, even deer trails, all could be discerned. Charlie walked them sightlessly. The ductile world drooped around him in the heat. Sweat lubricated his every move.
Slowly he regained his sense of normality. Just an ordinary day with Joe and Da.
The residential streets of Bethesda and Chevy Chase were in many ways quite beautiful. It had mostly to do with the immense trees, and the grass underfoot. Green everywhere. On a weekday afternoon like this there was almost no one to be seen. The slight hilliness was just right for walking. Tall old hardwoods gave some relief from the heat; above them the sky was an incandescent white. The trees were undoubtedly second or even third growth, there couldn’t be many old-growth hardwoods anywhere east of the Mississippi. Still they were old trees, and tall. Charlie had never shifted out of his California consciousness, in which open landscapes were the norm and the desire, so that on the one hand he found the omnipresent forest claustrophobic – he pined for a pineless view – while on the other hand it remained always exotic and compelling, even slightly ominous or spooky. The dapple of leaves at every level, from the ground to the highest canopy, was a perpetual revelation to him; nothing in his home ground or in his bookish sense of forests had prepared him for this vast and delicate venation of the air. On the other hand he longed for a view of distant mountains as if for oxygen itself. On this day especially he felt stifled and gasping.
His phone beeped again, and he pulled the earplugs out of his pocket and stuck them in his ears, clicked the set on.
‘Hey Charlie, I don’t want to bug you, but are you and Joe okay?’
‘Oh yeah, thanks Roy. Thanks for checking back in, I forgot to call you.’
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