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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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Maybe
I don’t want to talk about it right now.”

“Fair enough,” Alan says, and I put the truck into gear
to bring us back up onto the highway. I don’t look over at him
for a while as we drive, because I know he’s right. I don’t
say anything either, but it isn’t long before Alan starts up
again.

“Besides,” he goes on, “I’d say you have a
pretty good thing going. I mean, look, here we have an older guy, a
very decent guy, he likes a younger woman—”

“I’m only five years older. Well, six—”

“Like I’m saying. And she reciprocates the feeling.”

“It’s not that big a difference.”

“They like each other, these two. A good thing. Capital G,
capital T. Good thing.”

“It is a good thing.”

“A genuine affection. These two are truly
fond
of each
other.”

“We are,” I say.

“You and I have been friends for a long time, Neil. It makes me
happy to see you this way. It makes Kris happy. We’re all
having dinner tonight, the four of us, like we do, and you have no
idea how much we are looking forward to it. We look forward to it
every week. You’re like a new guy.”

“I appreciate that.”

“But,” Alan say, raising his eyebrows, “we’re
getting tired of being the only ones in Port Manitou in on the
secret.”

“It’s not…it isn’t going to be that much
longer.”

“Fine then. Get it out there. Tell Christopher.”

“I’m going to tell him. Really. I am.”

“When, though?”

“After graduation. Okay? When Chris is done. That’s
when.”

“Is that really fair to him? Or Lauren, for that matter? This
isn’t as big a deal as you’re making it out to be. Your
son is going to know about this, somehow. Why not get it out there on
your terms?”

I throw my head back and groan. “Leave it, Alan. Please?”
He is right, and it’s infuriating.

“Okay. I’ll leave it for now.” We turn into Alan’s
drive, and he points over to the left, toward Mega-Putt. “Take
us right over the grass.” I drive across his lawn and park next
to a hole featuring something like an Aztec pyramid in miniature, and
help Alan unload the posts. Then I start off without saying
goodbye—maybe I’m just a little miffed at him still, or
flustered—but Alan waves me to a stop and jumps back in,
reminding me he’s left his bicycle at my house. I don’t
say anything about it. Coming up my drive we see Christopher buzzing
around Carol’s yard on our riding mower, his ears encased in
massive headphones and his head bobbing away to some music. He grins
when he notices us and waves as we go by.

“Tell him he can mow my yard whenever,” Alan says.

“I’m sure he’ll get right on that,” I say.

“He’ll get free passes to Mega-Putt.”

We park, and I head out back to check if he’s made it to the
field yet. Alan follows as far as the fire pit, picks up a stick, and
pokes around in the barely smoking ashes. Chris must have made a fire
last night.

The field is still not mowed.

“Your son needs to do a better job at destroying his evidence,”
Alan calls. He hoists aloft a charred beer can dangling from the end
of his impromptu spear right as Chris rolls by on the mower. Alan
wags the can at him, and my son pretends not to see.

“What is that?” I shout, knowing he can’t hear me.
“Chris? Where did that come from?” He can’t hear me
as he bounces past, but I’m sure he knows
exactly
what
I’m saying, and I see him smile as he rumbles off toward the
tall grass of the field.

“He needed a hotter fire,” Alan says, dropping the can
back into the ashes. “Aluminum won’t melt until it gets
up to about twelve hundred degrees.”

“Jesus, Alan,” I start to say, but I can’t come up
with anything else.

From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Sent: September 8, 10:23 am

Subject: slam dunk

_____________________________

One other thing: remember the
overnight basketball camp Chris and Steve Dinks used to do on
Saturday nights in seventh grade? Christopher is actually on the
staff there now, a “camp counselor” I guess you could
call him, and I think he’s genuinely enjoying it. He’s
certainly not doing it for the money; Parks & Rec hardly pays him
anything, but he keeps going back to coach the games and chaperone
the sleepovers. I suppose there is a sort of compensation for him in
the form of free pizza. Our son’s appetite is a force of
nature.

Seriously though, I bumped into the
guy who runs the program last week, and he told me how much the kids
love Chris. He’s a natural with them. And they’re in awe
of his ability to dunk a basketball. I know he loves the job. It’s
fun to see him so into something (besides cooking).

See you in a bit.

CHAPTER SIX

In the kitchen, after Alan has
gone, I
find signs that Chris has been to our local farmers’
market this morning. It’s a new thing of his, an interest in
cooking and locally grown produce, encouraged by my Celebrity Chef
brother Michael. You’d recognize Michael; he’s that bald
chef from Chicago with the hoop earring and the weird last name, the
funny one with a couple restaurants who cooks once in a while on Good
Morning America and does a guest judge bit on that chef reality show.
Chris adores him, and every time he comes up on one of his frequent
visits Michael teaches my son some new technique in the kitchen. The
seeds of culinary art have taken root in my home.

Fueled by this expanding base of knowledge, Chris cooks for us at
least one night a week now, and usually he makes something
surprisingly good. I’ve never been too inventive in the kitchen
myself, but I do all right, and I’d like to think I’ve
done an okay job nourishing my son over the past few years. His
height—six feet six and counting—would suggest I’ve
nourished him pretty well.

He won’t let me come with him to the market. It’s
something he would have done with his mom, and I don’t want to
intrude on that. I imagine him there, my lone teenaged boy, sniffing
produce and thumping melons, coming up with some idea for dinner, or
thinking how he’d impress Wendy or Michael just by
being
there.

On our kitchen table there are a couple brown paper bags. A peek
inside reveals fresh tomatoes, some herbs, and what looks like a
chunk of some sort of plastic-wrapped cheese. There’s also a
long bundle of hydrangea stalks lying on the table, covered in a riot
of deep blue blossoms. He got these, I’m sure, for his mother.

Chris roars past outside the kitchen window on the riding mower, and
I take a look in the fridge to see what else he might have picked up.
Staring me in the face from the center shelf is a six-pack-minus-one
of Budweiser beer. I glance behind it for anything else, and lift it
by the empty loop just as Chris barges in through the door from the
garage.

“Chris,” I say. He stops when he sees what I’m
holding, composes himself, and smiles.

“Dad.”

“Is this yours?”

“Well…yeah.”

I drop the cans with a
thunk
to the table and look up at my
son. As Christopher is in full inheritance of the Olsson height gene,
I do my best to create an effect of being eye to eye with him during
disciplinary moments like these.

“Where did those come from?” I ask, crossing my arms and
raising my chin to speak with him. I rise up on my toes a little bit
too.

“Does it matter?”

“If you’re bringing them into
my
house, then yes,
it matters a lot.” There’s an interesting distinction
here: when we’re working on a project together, it’s our
house. When I’m enforcing rules, it’s mine. Right now,
it’s my house all the way.

“Dad, I’m almost eighteen, I should be able—”

I hold up my hand. “Two things. First, you’re not
eighteen yet. Second, even when you are eighteen, it still won’t
be legal for you to—”

“Will you just let me finish?” Chris slouches a little as
he says it, making my job of appearing taller that much easier.

“Fine. Go ahead and finish. But can you dispute those two
things?”

“No….”

“Okay. Finish, then. What were you going to say?”

“I was
responsible
about it. I waited until I was home,
I just had one. I sat by the fire pit and had one.
One
. I just
needed to think about some stuff. Okay? Don’t you think if I’m
responsible about it I should be able to—”

“Chris, what I think doesn’t matter here. What does
matter here is the law, whether I agree with it or not. And if you
got busted for minor in possession, what would happen with
basketball?”

His shoulders fall, and he stares at the floor. “I know.”

“And how would it look for me? My job?”

“Okay, I
know
.”

“Be smart, Chris.”

“Okay.”

“Now,” I say, working to keep my serious expression, “get
them out of here. I don’t want to see them in the fridge, or
anywhere else.”

My son furrows his brow. “Wait, you aren’t like dumping
them out or anything?”

“I’m going to
trust
you to take appropriate action
with that beer. I don’t want to see them. I’m sure”—I
clear my throat here—“you’ll do the right thing. So
take care of them, and then we’ll go see Mom.”

Christopher’s face brightens and he rises up to his full
height. “Yeah, um, I’m…I’ll get rid of these
right now!” He grabs the cans and trots off down to our
basement. When he comes back upstairs he dusts his hands together,
holds them up empty, and with a wide-eyed, completely earnest
expression says: “They’re all gone, Dad. See that?
All
gone
.”

We take Christopher’s
car
, an older Volvo wagon that he saved up to buy from Alan
and Kris, over to see Wendy. I’m planning on running the seven
miles back home, so I’ve got clothes to change into in a bag in
back. It’s about a fifteen-minute drive over rolling hills
lined with woods and farms, and Chris seems distracted.

“So,” I ask, “what stuff did you need to think
about last night?”

“Nothing really. Just stuff.”

“Stuff like…Jill?” Christopher’s old
girlfriend left a few weeks ago to start her freshman year at
Cornell, and my son has been in a minor funk ever since.

“Nah.”

Jill Swart was great—smart, a middle-distance runner and
lacrosse player—and she graduated in the spring. She and my son
dated for almost two solid years, and I know they talked about trying
to keep things going after she left for school, but Chris has been
surprisingly realistic about the situation. Even though he’s
pretty reluctant to discuss it I’ve managed to put together
though various conversations with him that he’s told Jill he’s
okay if she starts dating other people at college. I’m proud of
him for being so mature, but I also know how much it hurts him.

“Is it school?” I venture again. “Are you worried
about next fall?”

A pause.

“I dunno.”

I take this response as an affirmative, but I’m not going to
push it. Chris has been offered a basketball scholarship at Western
Michigan, and he’s having second thoughts. The scholarship is a
good deal, and Chris knows it, but Western isn’t his first
choice in schools, and now the cooking bug has got him too. Michael
has offered not only to write Chris a letter of recommendation for
culinary school, but to grant him a coveted internship at his
flagship restaurant as well. I know my son is tempted. What I don’t
know, however, is whether or not he’s genuinely serious about
cooking, or if this is a passing phase. I’ll probe more later,
and I know just the time and place to do it.

“Hey, I talked to Mrs. Mackie last week,” I say. “She
told me we can take her boat out tomorrow if we want.”

“I’d be into that,” Chris says, his expression
brightening. After cooking, his other love is sailing, and the
Assistant Superintendent of our school district, Peggy Mackie, has
been letting us take her boat out on the weekends. Aside from just
being a good time, I’ve found that sailing with Chris is one of
the best ways to get him to talk about things.

“I’ll call her tomorrow and set it up,” I say.
Tomorrow we can talk more.

We’re quiet for the
rest of the ride to Wendy’s. It’s pretty nice, as these
places go; the buildings are new and well landscaped, and the staff
seems happy and motivated to do good work. There are three wings,
each with its own parking lot: The “Living Center” (for
the Alzheimer’s people), “Hospice & Palliative Care”
(for the dying people), and “Long Term Care” (for the
vegetables). We park at Long Term. Chris brings his things from the
farmers’ market, and I have the pack with my running clothes
over my shoulder. Inside, I’m happy to see the head nurse,
Shanice, seated at the main station. Of everyone I ever met working
here, Shanice is my favorite.

“Hi, Mister K.,” she says with a broad smile. “Hey
there, Christopher.” She peers over her glasses at him. “Looks
like you brought some things for your mom. You bring those gorgeous
flowers for your mom?”

Chris grins, saying nothing, and reaches over the desk for a pair of
scissors. He clips off one of the hydrangea stalks and tucks the
cluster of blossoms into a pen-filled mug in front of Shanice,
causing her mouth to fall open in an exaggerated expression of
surprise. Chris bites his lip, like he can’t believe he’s
just pulled off this crazy smooth maneuver, and starts to blush as he
slinks off to his mother’s room. Shanice lets out a low whistle
as he goes.

“Damn, Mister K.,” she says. “You’re raising
that boy right!”

It’s dark inside Wendy’s room. The sounds are there, the
sounds I’ve tuned out, the beeping machines, the wheezing
machines, the gurgles and the hisses. They’re just extensions
of the body at the center of it all, and you ignore them after a
while, just like you ignore the sounds of your own living form.

BOOK: The Banks of Certain Rivers
4.93Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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