It is said that mindless manual labor is good for times when one needs to let one’s mind work, for it holds at bay the immediacy of the mundane. Be that as it may, Brother Lapis did not like to dirty his hands with manual labor, but there he was now, out in the inner courtyard, assembling the wooden crates that would hold this year’s batch of holiday fruitcakes. Brother Rudyard watched him from the balcony outside the dormitory, noting how Lapis’ movements became more efficient and mechanical as he progressed through the stacked slats of rough cut wood that had been delivered earlier that week. The students had noticed also, but they knew better than to idly stand and watch. The secret nicknames they had given to Brother Lapis were well deserved.
Besides, that was less work for them.
Lapis was half way through the third stack of slats when Rudyard decided to find out what was going through his head.
“Something tells me you are not thinking about Moonwall’s problem set.”
Lapis did not say anything until the crate he was working on was finished and stacked.
“I don’t know what I’m thinking about.”
Rudyard picked up a stencil and paint pot and started daubing the butts of the crates with a stiff short haired brush. “You are thinking that it is half way into November, and that it is getting colder, and that you have not secured a welcoming bed to keep you warm this winter, because you are so thin and scrawny that you cannot generate enough body heat to warm your poor wretched bachelor bed by yourself.”
Lapis spoke through the nails he held in his mouth while he picked up the next set of slats. “What, are you going to start sleeping with me too?”
“I am the closest thing you will ever have to a wife, my Brother. I can read your every thought.”
“I suppose you are right. So tell me, wife, am I over the hill?”
“Who turned you down this time?”
“Every bargirl in town.”
“Even Njal. I saw her over at the Gangplank. Malus has got himself a damned harem over there.”
“Did you try flowers?”
“Njal doesn’t like flowers, she likes wine.”
Rudyard tutted and shook his head. “Why don’t you find someone your own age? There is no shortage of available women in this town.”
“Because older women have agendas. And children. And husbands. And daytime liasons don’t get me an invitation to breakfast,” Lapis finished, striking hammer on nail where the periods of his sentences belonged. “It is best for men in our positions to keep things as uncomplicated as possible.”
“You know, Lapis, you keep this up, and I will be forced to think that you are simply afraid of the dark. Is that your deep dark secret?”
“Yes. That’s it. Terrified.” Lapis responded with deadpan humor.
“Old little brother,” Rudyard taunted, as he did when he had first met Lapis back when they were students. “Too scared to sleep alone. Maybe he wants his mommy.”
“Let me tell you about yo’ momma,” Lapis said, but the set of his mouth let Rudyard know that he had said something with a trace of truth in it. A night out was the only thing that could bring Lapis back to sanity when he started getting on edge. Yes, there really was nothing like mindless manual labor when you needed to work something out.
“Someday you will tell me, Dominic. In the meantime, you need to find something for the students to do tomorrow. I was going to have them work on these crates, but now you’ve gone and done it yourself.”
Lapis looked around the yard for more wood, some surprise registering on his face.
“Let’s get cleaned up for supper before you give everyone something to talk about.”