NaNoWriMo Word Count: 1,274
“Can you believe it,” Mariam asked without pausing, bobbing the Tazo tea bag in her mug of hot water. “A drug company at a health fair. A health fair!”
Dagen sipped from his hot mug of the darkest roast French Meadow Bakery had to offer. Finally satisfied, getting a good cup of coffee. After inhaling the taunting fumes wafting through Ax’s office, he was more than happy to take the call from Mariam and her agreement to have a late-morning cup of coffee.
“Think of it from the perspective of the organizers,” Dagen said, “The drug companies are legitimate resources for doctors and their patients. It’s about education, right?”
“People need educating that if you need Viagra, maybe you need to eat more dark, leafy greens,” said Miriam, now glaring at Dagen from across the small table along the cold window that looked out onto Lyndale and its crust of gray snow.
Dagen smiled and said, “That would be a campaign to get more men to eat broccoli and spinach. Maybe some retro “Popeye” type cartoon to boost sales of dark leafy greens.”
Miriam pulled out her tea bag and frowned at Dagen, her eyes dark blue. A slight smile started to curve as if she just got the joke. “Okay. Funny. But seriously, not at a health fair. I didn’t help haul in forty cases of coconut water to set up next to a pharmaceutical company. They should be banned from health fairs.”
“And oil companies should be banned from the arctic,” said Dagen, knowing that this conversation was going as well as his previous one with Ax.
“Exactly!” Miriam said.
“Well, as a scientist, I need to remind you that someone has to pay for the research. Often it’s those pharmaceutical chemists you are vilifying that make discoveries to battle cancer. Who do you think pays for graduate research in colleges,” asked Dagen.
Leaning forward, almost huddling over her tea, Miriam said, “Oh, that’s right. I forgot. You’re celebrity elite. You probably have a man-purse filled with your traveling pharmaceuticals.”
Despite the conversation and Dagen’s now empty coffee mug, he studied her with a passive face. She certainly wasn’t pretty by Hollywood standards, but then that’s why he found her attractive. Today, her dreadlocks were pulled back with a red-almost-orange knit band that also covered her ears for warmth. Her dark blue tunic-length sweater matched her leggings tucked into brown-suede boots that nearly came to her knees. Her scarf piled around her neck was a splash of blues, oranges and yellow. She seemed more artistic than most artists he met in California, natural, unbranded, self-motivated. He knew she was irritated with him, but her passion was as real as Ax’s. It wasn’t some fad either of them followed. It was some beat from within. “Hold that Hollywood thought a moment. I’m going to get more coffee.”
Dagen returned with a full steaming cup of dark roast and sat back down across from Miriam who was looking out at the street. “February’s not so pretty,” she said to him.
“Depends. I used to love the way blocks of ice would pile up along the north-shore in February. Some years the piles would be like heaps that would catch the light in the ice and look blue. I used to pretend they were glaciers. But when you see a real glacier, its tip just bobbing above the water, the blue is like nothing else.” Dagen looked into Miriam’s blue eyes, thinking he could get lost in those depths as easy as he could staring at a glacier. “Call me crazy, but I like ice.”
“Newport Beach is a strange place to live if you like ice,” she said.
“You’re telling me. I just have a small apartment with lots of winter scenes depicted in art. And,” he said taking a swig of coffee, “I don’t carry a man-purse, I travel with duffel-bags and I don’t own a single pill-keep.”
“A pill-keep,” she asked.
“Yeah. Those plastic cases that remind you what pill to take when.”
“Oh,” she said.
Norway, Newport Beach, northern Minnesota. Places, people, pills. Blue eyes, blue ice, the smell of dogs and raw meat. That’s what Dagen was looking forward to. He was longing for the sound of sled runners over snow without the distraction of a trailing technical crew. Quiet so deep it was loud. No traffic, no cell phones. Puzzles to ponder, ice cores to study, layer by layer, revealing history. History that points to the future. No judgments, just observations. To be an objective scientist again. Let other make the judgment calls.
“What are you thinking,” she asked.
He shook his head and realized his mug was empty again. “I’m just looking forward to the ice,” he said.
“Huh. I was thinking that I was looking forward to when all this city ice will be gone and the leaves are green again,” Miriam said. “I suppose there aren’t any trees on Baffin Island.”
“Actually there are arctic willows. But nothing like Savannah oaks or white pines or maple trees.”
“And peanut butter, lemons and Clif Bars will be your meals,” she asked.
“Lemons are for water as a scurvy prevention. Hot lemon water is actually refreshing, but I’ll miss coffee. I’ll eat country food, too. Whatever my guide provides.”
“Like arctic char or caribou. Maybe seal.”
“Ugh. Seal. Don’t the Eskimos…”
Dagen cut her off and said, “Inuit.”
“Oh, Inuit. Well, don’t the Inuit eat some kind of whale blubber?”
“Muktuk. It’s how Inuit avoid scurvy and get nutrients otherwise found in dark leafy greens,” he said with a smile. Ax had told him not to depend on access to muktuk and to drink lemon water daily. He had also told Dagen to expect to eat the meat semi-frozen. That was the Inuit way. Maybe if it was really bad-tasting he would follow it with peanut butter.
“I’m vegan,” she said.
“Of course you are. You work at a co-op.”
Miriam glared at him, but before she could say anything, Dagen told her, “Stereotypes go both way. An interesting sit-com we could make—Hollywood and the Co-op Girl.”
She laughed. “Okay. Now we’re even. Don’t you have like a publicist or something to keep you in hand?”
Miriam had no idea how those words cut deep into him, like a truth he didn’t want to face. Vina Winslow. She wasn’t a publicist, but his agent. It felt more like a tormentor-captor relationship and one he wanted to get away from. She actually manipulated him with contracts and was the real reason he didn’t dare touch any pills, suspecting her of drugging him. Growing up in a fading Finnish community below the iron ore mines of northern Minnesota had not prepared Dagen to deal with this sort of person, let alone a woman. There were names for her in Norway that equated to soul-sucking magician or witch. But none fully captured what Vina Winslow was.
“No,” he said. “I need to check in with REI over in Bloomington for some gear I special ordered. So, it’s been nice. Thanks for having coffee with me, Co-op Girl.”
“Hey, I didn’t mean to offend you…”
“None taken. I like that you have something to believe in strongly. It’s a good thing. Health.”
“Well, okay,” she said, getting up and putting on a bright yellow down coat.
“And, I like your sense of colors,” he said to himself as he watched her walk out the door and down the street.