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Authors: Jon Harrison

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Drama & Plays, #United States, #Nonfiction

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BOOK: The Banks of Certain Rivers
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I wonder if that was the last time I’ll say goodbye to my
son?

I wonder if that was the last time I’ll hear his voice?

The night is quiet. With the cable news muted on TV I write a couple
emails on my phone. The news is meaningless to me, so I turn it off
and try to read my book and consider Leland’s offer from
earlier. There’s not much to think about, enticing as it may
be, because I’ve promised Carol, and I know just the thought of
it would have broken Dick’s heart. My answer, when Leland
returns, will be just the same as Alan’s, just the same as it
ever is: No.

I try to stay awake so I can say hi to Chris when he gets home. I
always try this, and I often fail. It’s a quarter past one when
I feel a hand on my shoulder and hear my son’s deep voice
saying: “Come on, Dad, get up. You should go to bed. What
happened to your lip?”

I sit up, and the book that was open across my chest tumbles to the
floor.

“Broke up a fight after school. No big deal.” I blink and
rub my eyes. “So we lost, huh?”

“We got crushed.” My son smiles and pats my arm. “Go
to bed, Dad. Maybe put some ice on that. I’ll see you in the
morning.”

It really does work. Chris comes home every time.

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Sent: September 8, 6:20 am

Subject: envelope

_____________________________

W-

Do you recall a student when I first
started teaching named Jake Martinez? He was super nice, played
varsity soccer, and for some unknown reason all the kids called him
“Envelope Martinez.” Even I started calling him Envelope
at school. Everyone else did, so why not? He didn’t seem to
mind. I think he even signed his schoolwork that way. I remember
asking a couple people how he got the nickname, but no one seemed to
know.

ANYWAY, I found an old padded mailer
in one of your boxes in the garage last night. It totally surprised
me because it had your name written on it in that loopy,
high-school-era-Wendy handwriting, not the straight, grown-up-Wendy
style. I thought I’d seen all that stuff too, everything there
was to see, but every once in a while something new turns up, like
artifacts uncovered by a retreating glacier. I was sort of reluctant
to open the thing, to tell the truth. But I did, and inside I found:

- Four paperclips, one of which had
been opened up and bent into a circle

- A photograph of your dad (wearing
his orange hunting hat)

- A photograph of two Labrador
retrievers playing tug-of-war with a stick (Uncle Art’s dogs,
maybe?)

- A half-depleted lined stationary
pad (with FROM WENDOLYN OLSSON printed over a rainbow at the top)

- Twenty-eight opened letters, from
me to you, bound with a rubber band. Seven were written when I was
fifteen, eleven more when I was sixteen, and the remaining ten when I
was seventeen. ALL were painfully embarrassing to read (indeed, some
of them included poems/song lyrics I’d written for you)

And finally:

- One sealed, stamped, but unsent
letter in a light blue envelope, addressed to me from you and thick
with folded paper inside

I didn’t open it. Part of me
just didn’t want to, and part of me wanted to save it for
later, for when the glacier melts away and stops spitting out
artifacts for good.

-N

CHAPTER FIVE

Christopher sleeps in the next
morning while I
make coffee. It’s still early, not yet
eight, and through my kitchen window I’m watching the day come
over the world to turn the orchard from monochrome to color. Mist
burns away. Across the field, under one of our twisted old apple
trees, two deer nose at rotten fruit down amid the bent, dewy grass.
They spring upright and freeze—cautious, ears turned
forward—and bound away when Alan Massie and his old bicycle
come rattling around the curve of my drive.

Alan leans the bike against my deck and shuffles in through the side
door like he has a thousand times or more over the course of my
knowing him—silently, a stainless steel travel mug in one hand
and a half-eaten bagel in the other—and takes a seat at my
kitchen table.

“Could almost see my breath out there,” he says, settling
into a chair.

My arms are crossed as I continue to stare out the window. “It’s
coming.”

“We’ll get rain next week.”

My coffeemaker hisses to completion, and I top off Alan’s mug
before filling one for myself. I leave a note for Chris on the
whiteboard on the fridge (
Gone to town w/ Alan, back by 11, DON’T
FORGET TO MOW THE FIELD
) and we quietly make our way to the
garage to climb aboard my pick-up truck. Alan and I hardly speak
again until we’re almost to the city limits, when my friend
directs me to take a detour.

“Hold up, hold up,” he says, pointing at an upcoming
turn. “Go through Old Town.” Old Town, as the name might
imply, is the oldest part of Port Manitou; a strip of nearly hundred
year-old Victorian-style homes along the harbor with our long defunct
rail depot-turned-brewpub and some overpriced tourist shops at the
center where the cannery once stood. Recently deemed a “Historical
District,” it is also ground zero for the latest wave of
gentrification spreading across our fair incorporated burg. I turn
off the highway and Alan cackles as we start down Main Street.

“Have you seen that fucking house they’re working on?”
he asks, suddenly animated and leaning forward in his seat. “The
one they painted—”

“You mean the purple one?”

“Yes, the purple one!”

“My girls call this ‘Purple Street’ when we run it
now,” I say.

“Here we go,” he says. “Slow down. Will you look at
this shit?”

We coast to a stop in front of a narrow house; tidy behind scaffold
boards and clad in shocking purple siding, its perfectly restored
gingerbread trim has been painted an equally vibrant lavender. Some
painters are gathered around a work trailer, and I wonder what their
thoughts are on the color choice, or if they’ve left all their
scaffolding erected because they know they’ll be forced soon to
climb back up and cover their work with more sane pigments.

“I can’t believe anyone in the town approved that,”
Alan says. “Someone’s going to make them paint over it.”

“You say so.”

One of the workers has noticed that we’ve stopped, and the way
he shakes his head suggests we’re not the first gawkers he’s
encountered. I let off the brakes and we roll away down the street.
The guy watches us as we go.

“I don’t know,” I say. “At least it has some
character.”

“You’re kidding me, Neil. That place is beyond tacky.”

I laugh at this. “I don’t think I’d be so quick to
judge—”

“Don’t start with me!”

“—Considering that thing you have in your yard.”

Alan shakes his head. “My thing is different. It’s so
different. Mega-Putt is a mission rooted in
principle
.”

I knew, without needing to ask, that this morning’s trip to the
lumber store would be in material support of Alan’s most recent
obsession: the construction of an eighteen-hole miniature golf course
along his bit of property adjacent to the highway. This is not a
labor sprung from some deep love of golf on Alan’s part; Massie
Mega-Putt is a project rooted almost entirely in spite. At the
beginning of last summer, not long after Leland Dinks established his
heavy equipment storage lot in full view of Alan and Kristin’s
back door, Alan went over to ask if he’d maybe consider
relocating it. Leland repeatedly said no, tough luck, that was the
area most out of sight from the resort and it made no sense to put it
anywhere else. As the story goes (and I’ve heard it more than
once), Alan said something along the lines of: “Christ, Leland,
what if I had a bunch of excavators parked right out there in my yard
for everyone coming by to see? Or what if I had some tacky bullshit
like…like
a mini-golf course
right there by the
entrance to your development? That’s how much it sucks to have
to look at your stuff. What if all your buyers had to see some
garbage like that before they pulled into your stupid resort?”

To this, Leland simply replied: “Well thank goodness they
don’t.”

Alan had eighteen holes plotted out on graph paper and a backhoe
rented before the week was done.

Thanks (or maybe no thanks) to the lack of zoning or building
regulations beyond town limits, Alan’s creation is over the
top. It’s beyond over the top: it’s a Gaudi-esqe fever
dream of leaning concrete towers, spouting jets of water, sneering
gargoyles and general obnoxiousness. I’d call it brilliant, in
a madman sort of way. I have no idea if it’s fun to play (Alan,
to the best of my knowledge, hasn’t let anyone try it out yet),
but I do know it’s achieved its primary goal: through the small
town gossip telegraph we’ve heard that Leland has approached
out elected officials more than once to see how he might legally
force it to be razed to the ground.

The home improvement store is in a strip mall complex on the east
side of town, and the place is already crowded when we pull into the
lot. There seem to be many retiree-types out at this hour: dogged
faces pushing loads of plumbing supplies, circular saws, and light
fixtures.

“So what are we getting today?” I ask, threading the
truck through carts and shoppers to a near-enough parking space.

“I shorted myself on light posts last week. Why don’t you
ever park any closer to the store?”

“Why don’t you ever get enough supplies to begin with, so
I wouldn’t have to drive you out here every Saturday morning?
Then my proximity to the store wouldn’t be an issue.”

Alan laughs as he climbs down from the truck. “Frugality, Neil.
This period of unemployment has led me to become a frugal man.”

“Right,” I say, and Alan shrugs and tells me he’ll
be right back. Truth is, through cleverness and good luck, Alan and
Kristin are well off enough that neither of them really needs to work
at all. About ten years ago, when I first met him, Alan was
working—during long breaks between flying international
routes—on a tennis-simulating contraption, a clunky device
involving blocky sensors and accelerometers pulled from several cars’
airbag deployment systems that he’d strapped onto a tennis
racquet. With the whole assembly wired up to a pair of computer
servers, Alan claimed it could perfectly detect how the racquet was
being swung through three-dimensional space, and after applying for
patents on the thing he shopped it around to a number of sports
companies as a potential training aid. There were some flickers of
interest, but the contraption was pretty ungainly, heavy as a sack of
bricks and dangling bundles of wires, and after striking out on who
knows how many sales pitches Alan gave up on it and turned his
attention once again to flying. He’d given it a good shot, and
was not left embittered. A device ahead of its time, we called it.

Ahead of its time, that is, until a year or so later when chronology
aligned with Alan’s mad science and four impeccably dressed
Japanese businessmen showed up at his home. They were from a certain
entertainment company, they explained, and wished to engage in
discussions about his tennis racquet invention. Those conversations
led to two of his patents ending up in the Wii videogame system, and
a whole bunch of money ending up in the Massies’ bank account
in the form of licensing fees and continuing royalties.

The money didn’t change them. Al kept flying planes, and Kris
kept on with her dental practice. They stayed the same, but it was an
awfully nice score for both of them.

On the way back
to Alan’s place, with a quiver of ten-foot
posts sticking out from the back of my truck, I get a text from
Lauren. The shelves look fantastic, she writes, and she wishes I
could have stayed all night.

“That from Lauren?” Alan asks, peering over at the phone
in my hand.

“Yep.” I’m angling the screen away from him, but
what’s the point? He knows.

“Things are going well with her. You guys were screwing
yesterday.”

“Alan.”

“I could tell. I mean, her car was there, you were over there,
it’s pretty obvious what—”

“Enough.
Enough
.”

“And the look on your face after. Even with the lip. Which
looks much better today, I should add. But man, Carol’s house?
Ballsy, Neil. Ballsy move.”

“Okay. Yes. Okay. Ballsy. Whatever. It was stupid. Stupid,
stupid. I know we can’t…I told her we can’t—”

“Neil.”

“What?”

“Stop.”

“I’m just telling you.”

“No, I mean stop the car. Right now. Pull over. Right here.”

I pull off to the side of the road and put the truck in park, and
Alan turns and grabs me by the shoulder. “Will you listen to
yourself?” he says, shaking me. “Listen to yourself.
You’re a grown man, and you’re talking like a kid. You
need to just suck it up, and get it out there. And Christopher—”

“God, Christopher.”

“He’s going to take it just fine.”

“You say that.”

“He’s a smart kid,” Alan says. “The smartest
kid I know. Solid. After everything, solid. He’s going to take
it just fine.”

“But Wendy, the way he feels about her…”

Alan crosses his arms and stares forward. “It’s an
admirable thing you’re doing. Maybe. But maybe it’s
stupid too. And maybe it’s unfair. Unfair to yourself, and
unfair to Chris. Maybe you’re not giving him enough credit.”

“Hey, hold on a second. That’s not—”

“I said maybe. Maybe. This is just my opinion, Neil. I don’t
like you beating yourself up. I don’t like seeing it. Maybe get
it out there.”

BOOK: The Banks of Certain Rivers
6.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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