Archy looked down at Rolando English, a rusty young man with a sweet mouth and soft brown ringlety curls all sweaty and stuck to the side of his head, stuffed into a blue onesie, then wrapped in a yellow cotton blanket. Archy hefted Rolando English and heard a satisfying slosh from inside. Rolando Englishs mother, Aisha, was a daughter of the King of Bling. Archy had offered to take Rolando off Aishas hands for the morning, maybe pick up a few items the baby required, and so forth. Archys wife was expecting their first child, and it was Archys notion that, given the imminence of paternity, he might get in some practice before the first of October, their due date, maybe ease the shock of finding himself, at the age of thirty-six, a practicing father.
So he and Rolando had made an excursion up to Walgreens, Archy not at all minding the walk on such a fine August morning. Archy dropped thirty dollars of Aishas money on diapers, wipes, formula, bottles, and a package of Nuk nipplesAisha gave him a listthen sat down right there on the bus bench in front of the Walgreens, where he and Rolando English changed themselves some foul-smelling diaper, had a little snack, Archy working his way through a bag of glazed holes from the United Federation of Donuts, Rolando English obliged to content himself with a pony of Gerber Good Start.
This heres Rolando, Archy said. I borrowed him from Aisha English. So far he doesnt do too much, but hes cute. Now, Nat, I gather from one or two of your previous statements that we are fucked in some manner.
I ran into Singletary.
And he gave you some insight.
Nat spun the crate of records he had carried in with him, maybe thirty-five, forty discs in a Chiquita crate, started idly flipping through them. At first Archy assumed Nat was bringing them in from home, items from his own collection he wanted to sell, or records he had taken home for closer study, the boundaries among the owners respective private stocks and the stores inventory being maintained with a careless exactitude. Archy saw that it was all just volunteers. A Juice Newton record, a bad, late Commodores record, a Care Bears Christmas record. Trash, curb fruit, the bitter residue of a yard sale. Orphaned record libraries called out constantly to the partners from wherever fate had abandoned them, emitting a distress signal only Nat and Archy could hear. The man could go to Antarctica, Aviva Roth-Jaffe once said of her husband, and come back with a box of wax 78s . Now, hopeless and hopeful, Nat sifted through this latest find, each disc potentially something great, though the chances of that outcome diminished by a factor of ten with each decrease in the randomness of the bad taste of whoever had tossed them out.
Andy Gibb, Nat said, not even bothering to freight the words with contempt, just slipping ghosts of quotation marks around the name as if it were a known alias. He pulled out a copy of After Dark (RSO, 1980) and held it up for Rolando Englishs inspection. You like Andy Gibb, Rolando?
Rolando English seemed to regard the last album released by the youngest Gibb brother with greater open-mindedness than his interlocutor.
Ill go along with you on the cuteness, Nat said, his tone implying that he would go no further than that, like he and Archy had been having an argument, which, as far as Archy could remember, they had not. Give him.
Archy passed the baby to Nat, feeling the cramp in his shoulder only after he had let go. Nat encircled the baby under the arms with both hands and lifted him, going face-to-face, Rolando English doing a fine job of keeping his head up, meeting Nats gaze with that same air of willingness to cut people a break, Andy Gibb, Nat Jaffe, whomever. Nats humming turned soft and lullaby-like as the two considered each other. Baby Rolando had a nice, solid feel to him, a bunch of rolled socks stuffed inside one big sock, dense and sleepy, not one of those scrawny flapping-chicken babies one ran across from time to time.
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