Jul 13, 2023, 05:57AM

Jules, Scene 2

Jules, driving home.

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Yellow-billed Magpie

Scene 1: Jules, Corner Booth

Jules drove slowly north toward Foothill, the edge of Santa Barbara where his house was lived tucked into the Santa Ynez Mountains.

He drove extra carefully these days. His friend Edgar was recently in a horrible accident and Reva constantly reminded Jules that driving was especially dangerous after age 80. Jules wasn't one of those "take the keys away before something catastrophic happens" types of grandpas. He never drove after six p.m. and never took the freeway anymore. He drove down from the steep but sleepy winding streets toward the beach. He went to the diner. He went to the bookstore. He met his friend Seamus for a four p.m. dinner at their Mexican place. That was about it these days. Driving north toward the mountains, Jules felt at peace. Like he was climbing toward heaven, as the car wound its way toward his two-bedroom bungalow on the edge of the mountains.

His back porch looked out over the range. One of his favorite birds to watch was the magpie, also known as pica pica. Birders considered it one of the more intelligent species of birds in the world. The magpies Jules watched were black and white with greenish-black tails and they soared with a rare kind of grace. Jules’ mind wandered to Becca.

Becca was a junior at Pomona. She was studying neuropsychology, researching the effects of technology on adolescent brain development. Jules thought of Becca as mature for her age, but he wondered if anyone was completely past adolescence at 20. On the other hand, maybe you had to be a college kid to get the truth out of middle schoolers anyway. Jules always gravitated toward psychology. As a Jew from Philadelphia, he’d grown up with more than a few friends who’d worked as psychiatrists, psychologists, guidance counselors or social workers.

Becca’s drive from the northern edge of Los Angeles to his home at the northern edge of Santa Barbara was about two hours without traffic, but that meant leaving at six a.m. or nine p.m. Jules always preferred a phone call to a text. His thumbs weren't made for those QWERTY keyboards. Becca usually texted him to ask if he was available for a call. If he didn't reply, she called. Tomorrow was a good day for visit. It was always a good day to see his granddaughter.

Jules and Violet moved from the creaky old house in Lower Merion to Santa Barbara, when the girls were little. Violet planned to develop her community gardens in Santa Barbara, where an old college friend had connections. Jules planned to write, sit in cafes and diners and porches. He also planned to watch the ocean and the mountains. Jules waited his whole life to retire. Not that developing educational curriculum for publishing companies was a horrendous way to make a living. He just wanted to wake up whenever he woke up. He simply wanted to be with Violet.

Becca studied adolescent brain development because she’d been clinically depressed at the end of middle school. Eighth grade was a social minefield for most thinking people, but it was especially awful for Becca when her parents divorced. Her dad moved abroad. At that time, Reva's husband Karl began reporting overseas. He became a war correspondent based in North Africa, mainly covering Sudan. Not only did Becca miss him, she had nightmares of him dying in Darfur. Her older sister, Neve, would crawl into bed to comfort her. Sometimes they would both crawl into Reva’s king-sized bed, snuggling in and pushing their snoring dachshund Wally onto the floor.

As Becca progressed through high school, she bloomed. She was an elegant cross-country runner and hit her serve harder than any of the other girls on the tennis team. Now 20, Jules occasionally worried that Becca was becoming too beautiful. Her face was perfectly symmetrical. Her cheekbones were high. When a smile flashed across her face, it drew even anti-social people toward her. There was a wide spectrum of beauty, but if a person displayed too much of it Jules had noticed a pattern of issues that came with it.

At first meeting, we are often objects being watched. Like staring into the sun, a gorgeous person is dangerous to look at directly. Language breaks down those visual barriers to connection. Otherwise, too many people act as mere lust-filled animals and too many people find confidence directly from their beauty, which is fleeting to begin with. To be physically attractive gives a person a leg- up on the competition, but then invites an unhealthy view of competition itself. Jules decided that memorable conversations usually came from two people taking in their surroundings together, rather than facing each other. Conversations needn't be negotiations, despite the way they'd often been in his childhood. Most people came to a conversation with some sort of ulterior motive. If he could impart anything to his granddaughters, it’d be how to enjoy a conversation. 



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