By Shelly Reuben

My Mostly Happy Life: Autobiography of a Climbing Tree CHAPTER 18
Illustrations by Ruth McGraw

 

Chapter 18: The Matchmaker

 

Esther carried Winston to the park in the same tote bag she used to carry him to work, but once inside the park, she did not let him run free. She put him into a little red harness that strapped under his forepaws and around his neck, and she attached the harness to a long leash. Ferrets, she had decided, were as likely to get lost or be stolen as children, and she wasn’t going to take any chances.

 

            Winston loved the park. 

 

Esther would sit on her favorite bench and sketch ideas for new inventions while he scampered in the grass, exploring, digging, terrorizing flowers, and hiding chestnuts under huge hosta leaves. Often, people came up to her and asked about the small creature at the end of her leash.

 

“He’s a ferret,” Esther responded cheerfully. “His name is Winston.”

 

“Does he bite?”

 

“Oh, yes. Once he bit the communications tower off a skyscraper, and another time he chewed up an entire city bus.”

 

“You’re kidding, right?”

 

“Right.”

 

“He’s cute. May I pet him?”

 

“I don’t know. Winston, can this nice lady pet you?”

 

At the sound of his name, Winston looked up.

 

“Come here, Handsome,” Esther said, and patted her knees.

 

He scurried over. She scooped him into her arms.

 

“Okay,” she said to the friendly stranger. “You can pet him now.”

 

“Ooooh. He’s so soft.”

 

“Very soft. Very sweet. He’s also a great cook, and he can play Beethoven sonatas on the violin.”

 

The stranger stopped petting and gave Esther an odd look.

 

“You’re kidding again, right?”

 

Esther smiled.

 

The petting resumed.

 

Variations on a theme of that interchange took place often, since Winston enjoyed the attention of strangers and was quick to make friends. It was always the strangers, though, who initiated contact, and other than that first time in the park with Esther, it had never been the other way around. Or, I should say, almost never. An exception occurred that very day, not twenty feet from where Esther was doodling in her notebook and Winston was playing in the grass. 

 

Unless you were looking directly at the person sitting on the park bench nearby, he did not attract attention. If, however, you glanced in his direction, you would have seen a tall man in his late thirties with dark copper colored skin that contrasted vividly with sky blue eyes, and short curly hair that had turned pure white.

 

He had an aquiline nose, high cheekbones, a high forehead, and was saved from being too handsome by bushy eyebrows and a point in his square jaw. His body was slim and muscular, with big hard hands capable of digging a trench, baking lasagna (we later discovered that he was a good cook), or rebuilding the engine of a car. 

My Mostly Happy Life: Autobiography of a Climbing Tree CHAPTER 18


 

His right leg was crossed casually over his left with his ankle resting on his left knee; his right arm extended along the top slat of the park bench, and was bent at the elbow with his hand hanging loosely at the wrist.

 

Except for his eyes, which were in a state of perpetual alertness, he had the odd ability to be absolutely still, and could have been a statue or a stone or the trunk of a tree. 

 

While Esther sketched in her notepad, Winston had wandered the full extension of his leash until he was standing on the grass under the white-haired man’s bench. In the same manner that Winston greeted Esther’s uncles and brothers, he started to scratch at the man’s shoe.  The man lowered his eyes and noticed the ferret.

My Mostly Happy Life: Autobiography of a Climbing Tree CHAPTER 18

He dropped his right foot to the ground, reached down, and lifted Winston onto to his lap. 

“Well, hello there!” he said.

His long hard fingers inspected the ferret’s harness. His eyes followed the leash across the twenty or so feet that separated his bench from where the woman was lying in the grass. She was scribbling intently into a notebook. 

The man leaned over and whispered into Winston’s ear, “You have a very pretty mistress. What do you say we try to get her attention?”

He gently tugged on Winston’s leash.

Esther felt it move in her hand. She looked up, turned toward the tug, and saw Winston sitting on a stranger’s lap.

Esther stood and walked to his bench.

He motioned her to sit down beside him. 

She sat. 

She studied his face. He had a big nose, which she liked, and a square jaw, which she really liked. What she liked most, though were those unusual light blue eyes. She had heard before of eyes described as “twinkling,” but had never seen any. Her grandfather’s eyes did not twinkle. Her brothers’ eyes did not twinkle. Even Winston’s eyes, although they always looked at her adoringly, never got past the word “please.”

This man’s eyes, though...

“My name,” he said, “is Merritt Jones.”

Esther pointed to the ferret in his lap. She said, “He’s mine. His name is Winston.”

Merritt Jones nodded. “How about you?  Do you have a name?”

“I have three names, if you include the one in the middle.”

“Will you tell them to me?”

Esther thought for a moment. 

Something about the day, the man, and his eyes seemed to shrink the size of the world until it occupied no more space than the park bench on which they sat. She did not know if the three of them – man, ferret, and herself – had expanded to fill the entire universe, or if the universe had diminished to exclude everybody but themselves.

Either way, it felt right.

“Yes,” Esther nodded. “I will tell you my name.”

And that was how Winston the ferret, in a very deliberate act of matchmaking, introduced Esther Alexandra Swerling to Merritt Jones.

Interesting things were to follow.

  

Copyright © 2017, Shelly Reuben

 

Shelly Reuben’s books have been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. For more about her work, visit www.shellyreuben.com.