My uncle never did a bad thing to anybody, but one day while he was on his front porch eating an ice cream cone, two men came upon him, pushed him inside, tied his hands and feet, robbed his house, and shot him in the head.
Image from Flickr via anyjazz65
My uncle never did a bad thing to anybody, but one day while he was on his front porch eating an ice cream cone, two men came upon him, pushed him inside, tied his hands and feet, robbed his house, and shot him in the head. He was in a coma for a week. I was nine years old and my father took me to see him that first Saturday he was in the hospital. I remember his forehead was wrapped up and someone had placed a straw hat on top of his head. On the television mounted to the far wall there was a hefty Italian woman stirring a pot of tomato sauce.
“How can he watch television when he’s asleep?” I asked my father.
We heard the toilet flush and out walked Tutti, my uncle’s girlfriend.
“How’s he look?” she said, gesturing to the hat.
“Like a dead farmer,” my father said.
“Whoa, I just had déjà vu,” Tutti said, her hand at her chest.
“Any news?” my father asked.
“Nothing. Absolutely nothing.” She could tell my father was unhappy about the hat. “This is just to keep me entertained. I’ve been here for hours. I didn’t mean anything by it.” She took the hat off his head and put it over the lamp on the nightstand.
Tutti was from Ottawa. She didn’t live with my uncle. She had a condo in Naples, Florida, provided for her by another lover, a wealthy man who sold Mercedes-Benzes and turned over houses that had been foreclosed on.
“What are you two doing this afternoon?” she asked.
“We didn’t have anything planned other than to visit the hospital. Maybe we’ll go down to the beach for a little while. Right, bud?”
My father patted me on the back.
“I would just love it if I could come with you.”
“What if he wakes up?” I said.
“He won’t wake up while we’re at the beach,” Tutti said.
Tutti was from Ottawa. She didn’t live with my uncle. She had a condo in Naples, Florida, provided for her by another lover, a wealthy man who sold Mercedes-Benzes and turned over houses that had been foreclosed on. She was in her mid-forties and had been married to her high school boyfriend, who managed a Tim Horton’s doughnut shop. She still saw him, but, according to my father, whose openness about that time, years later, provides most of the exposition here, wanted to experience much more than that man could give. She flew to Canada in the summers and stayed with him for a month or two, and then flew to Boston to be with my uncle in his little cottage near the beach on Cape Cod. Her lover in Florida unknowingly paid for everything. Tutti’s cover was that she was one of the top interior decorators in the world. She had phony business cards and a client list of rich-sounding names. I thought she was beautiful, but I didn’t have much to compare her to. My mother had died when I was three. She was an artist. Her paintings hung in our house. There is one of a cathedral in Mexico that I particularly like and that I have with me still. The cathedral is off to the side of a dirt road. The viewer stands on the road, considering whether or not to enter the cathedral. She died from a brain embolism. My father and I were asleep when it happened. “She died dreaming,” my father used to say. In photographs she was still and easy to forget. But Tutti moved. Her breasts swung. Her skin changed colors. Her hair glowed in sunlight.
Tutti was odd, and back then I laughed at anything that seemed odd. It was a problem. My father had been depressed ever since my mother died, and maybe before. I was always laughing.
On the way to the beach, my father stopped for coffee and bought me an orange juice and a sugared jelly donut. Tutti sat in the backseat, smoking. I had offered her the front seat, but she said she wanted to stretch her legs.
“You’re pretty lucky not to have been here when it happened,” my father said to her.
“I know it. And, the funny part is, well, not funny really but fortunate, for me, was that I had planned on being here last week but your brother called and said he wasn’t feeling well and I should wait a few days before I came down. Maybe he knew something was going to happen.”
“He ate a bad clam,” my father said. “Where are you staying?”
“I’d planned on the cottage, but I guess the cops are still investigating.”
“You can stay with us,” I said, and glanced at my father.
“That would be perfect. All the motels in this town smell like seafood.”
I laughed at this, but I don’t know why. Tutti was odd, and back then I laughed at anything that seemed odd. It was a problem. My father had been depressed ever since my mother died, and maybe before. I was always laughing.
At the beach, Tutti went into the woman’s restroom carrying an oversized leopard print bag. My father and I changed into our bathing suits. We waited for Tutti. The sand was hot under my feet. I dug them in where it was cooler. Tutti was wearing a green polka dot bikini. There were puffs of hair under her arms, a curled line below her navel, and coils around her calves. The mound of her pubic hair webbed out from beneath her two-piece.
She caught me staring and winked.
My father seemed impressed. He believed in keeping everything natural. As an architect, he melded the tough peninsular landscape with each house he drew up in his specs. We lived in a classic Greek colonial with cherry wood finish and a mahogany deck. In the winter, we heated the house with a wood-burning stove and fireplace. We bathed three times a week to conserve water. When we went to the beach, my father never brought towels or chairs or something to read. He swam for about twenty minutes, then lay down so the sand speckled his body. I didn’t like the feeling and would run along the shore until I was dry, then sit cross-legged watching the seagulls hover above families with picnic lunches.
When my father caught me, he picked me up on his shoulders and flung me farther out into the ocean. I crashed awkwardly, never fully prepared, swallowing and spitting out seawater.
“You want to play shark, bud?” my father asked me.
“What’s shark?” Tutti asked.
“Just a game.”
“I want to play, too.”
We jogged down to the shore. I stopped at the water’s edge, choosing to ease myself in. My father dove straight ahead, the oncoming wave acting as a portal from one world to the next. Tutti knelt down and put her palms on top of the water. She turned and faced me, lowered her arm behind her head, arched her torso and brought her legs up and over her body so that she seemed for a moment to be suspended in the air before landing in the same position. I was last in the water and farthest away from my father. I swam out to where I couldn’t put my feet down and moved my arms as hard as I could, pretending I was a bigger shark, or some sea monster sharks feared. My father went under again and breached the surface with his palms pressed together, his fingers forming the frightening fin. I was always caught; I thought I was a much faster swimmer than I was. In the north Atlantic, human bodies are invisible underwater. I sensed movement, and that’s what made the game fun. When my father caught me, he picked me up on his shoulders and flung me farther out into the ocean. I crashed awkwardly, never fully prepared, swallowing and spitting out seawater. Tutti burst out laughing. My father came for her next. But he treated her capture differently. He picked her up and carried her to the shore as though he wasn’t sure what he had found.
Tutti lay on her stomach and undid the knot on her bikini top. A faint white line ran across her back. Her hair was darker from the water and flecked with sand. She brought it around her shoulder, squeezed it like a wet rag, and flung it back. She put her hands on her upper arms and rested her chin just inside her left shoulder. She looked at us.
“This is all I’ve ever wanted from life,” she said.
My father gave me a dollar to buy some candy at the snack bar. Full of sugar, I went off to play whiffleball with a group of boys near the volleyball nets. The sky was clear. There was a slight breeze. I could see everything.
Later, we lingered at the edge of the shore, silent, listening. There is a time when everyone begins to depart from the beach as though the beach itself urges them to go, casts them out gently in the falling light, so it can be alone. Then the beach becomes a different place altogether. One can hear the water as well as the internal rhythms of the body. The sun moves downward on an arc. The moon, a phantom, appears.
We drove back to the hospital. This time, Tutti sat up front. I rolled down the window and put my hand out, let the wind push it back. The inside of the car smelled like the sea.
The sheets under my uncle’s body were whiter than before. Tutti kissed his cheek.
“They’ll trim his beard for him, won’t they?” she asked my father.
“To be alive and not know it,” she said.
We sat in the room until visiting hours were over. Tutti ripped a page out of a magazine and showed me how to make a swan. My father sat near the window with one leg crossed over the other.
The rain started that night and carried into the next day. Tutti and my father stayed up late and played cards and smoked pot. Later, she read his palms.
“All the pain in your life has passed,” she said. “See where these lines cross at the bottom? They never cross again.”
“Maybe it’s the other way around,” my father said.
“No. We don’t care so much about pain when we’re old.”
“Do me,” I said.
He turned to me. “Bad things will happen. They have to. They’re good for you, anyway.”
She held my hand in hers, turned it so slowly I felt it was something separate from my body. She had long fingernails, pointed at the tips. She traced the lines in my palm with the end of her ring finger.
“Yours is different than your father’s,” she said. She seemed concerned. I began to take my hand away.
“No, it’s OK. Your lines branch out into these three paths. I think it means there will be three distinct periods in your life. Now you are young and learning. Later, you will be successful and have a lovely wife and healthy children. Then, you will live comfortably, even if the world is falling apart all around you in your old age.”
“Sounds horrifying,” my father said.
“Oh, don’t,” Tutti said.
“I mean we all need to suffer a little. You don’t want to fill his head with this idea that there won’t be any pain in his life.” He turned to me. “Bad things will happen. They have to. They’re good for you, anyway.”
My father gave Tutti his bed. He said he was going to sleep on the couch. In the summer, there was no limit on how much time I could spend awake. I tried to fold a piece of paper into a swan like Tutti had showed me. I arranged my music cassettes in alphabetical order. I went under the bed and imagined what it would be like to be buried alive. Then I heard the bed in my father’s room creaking. My father had had fits of restlessness and bad dreams. Often I slept beside him when I was younger. His doctor had given him pills to help him sleep, and it’d been a while since I’d heard any noise from his room during the night. I went out to the living room and saw that the blanket was spread open on the couch and my father was not there. When Tutti began to moan, I knew what was going on: I’d seen a movie at a friend’s house. My father must’ve put his palm over her mouth, because then it was just the creaking bed until, ten minutes or so later, I heard him get up and use the bathroom in the hallway.
The next day, my uncle died. It had happened early that morning. A series of muffled cries from the living room reached me in my sleep and, like a remnant from a dream, a sort of soft rain that quits once the sun is up, I woke and went downstairs to find Tutti with her head on my father’s knee. She seemed smaller than before, like a sister only a few years older than me. My father stared straight ahead, with one arm across her back, as though he were driving somewhere.
Later that afternoon, I heard Tutti on the phone in the kitchen. She was whispering, but her voice was so high-pitched that even a whisper was sharp and clear.
“You didn’t have anything to do with this, did you?” she asked. I imagined she was looking all around the room, for my father, me.
“But he was harmless. You must’ve known that. It was all me. I’m the problem, not him.”
My legs were trembling; whatever worry was in my gut had poured down into them.
I could hear her whimpering now. I peeked my head out and saw her sitting on a stool at the kitchen counter, her shoulders slumped forward, and her face cocked to the side with her left hand hovering over the receiver.
“I do love you. And no I don’t think you’re a fool. How could you be, with all the money you’ve made? I’m just not the type of person that can commit. I tried that and it didn’t work. Oh, God.”
My legs were trembling; whatever worry was in my gut had poured down into them.
“What do we do now?” Tutti asked, her voice lowering to a sultry, complicit tone. Whatever the man from Florida had said to her was enough to turn my uncle’s death into an experience of intrigue and excitement.
My father entered the kitchen from the side door that let out into the sunroom where he often read in the late afternoon.
Quickly, Tutti’s voice changed. In near-hilarity spiked with fear she said, “Oh, yes, yes, it’s been beautiful here, mother.”
I watched my father lower and kiss Tutti on the head. She rose up and covered the receiver. “I’ll only be another minute,” she said.
My father passed me on the way into the living room.
“Don’t be a snoop,” he said.
During the days that followed, I kept quiet about what I’d heard. I went with my father to the funeral home and to the places he had in mind to spread his brother’s ashes. They had a sister living in Amsterdam who my father kept trying to reach. He hadn’t spoken to her in ten years. I feel as though his inability to contact her hurt him more than anything else. Both my grandparents had died of cancer in their early sixties. I remember their stone-like faces in their caskets.
“I missed the lottery, but your uncle didn’t,” my father said the day we collected his brother’s ashes.
I didn’t know my uncle very well. I really didn’t know anyone at that age, and only now when I look back have I come to the conclusion that the entire history of my family is a sort of fiction, seen through my eyes, misunderstood by me alone. According to my father, my uncle was a spiritual man. Whether people thought he was a peacenik or hippie didn’t matter. He’d been touched, as they say, by some kind of light. That’s what I remember about him. His eyes glowed in the same way a woman’s does just before they begin to well up. When I was very young, I thought he had something wrong with his eyes and remember asking my father if he was going blind. It was as though he’d taken on the very essence of the thing I’ve been striving to attain for most of my adult life: the ability to disconnect the soul from the body, to understand that the essential self is beyond temporary conditions, where time and space hold no recourse, and the body can be perceived as a building of sorts, holding every thought, emotion, and memory the soul has ever perceived. One can ride the elevator up and down to bring forth those recollections and feelings, yet one can also leave the building for a while, see it as a holding place that in time will eventually decay and crumble, or be demolished by a wrecking ball.
“I missed the lottery, but your uncle didn’t,” my father said the day we collected his brother’s ashes. Tutti was with us. She and my father had been sleeping together nearly every night. “Lucky for him, he was a terrible shot. He was sent to Germany where he worked as a transition agent for soldiers heading back to the world, as they called it then, when their tours were over. No one liked him very much until he started dealing hash. He used to hollow out these roman candles and stuff it in the center so the dogs couldn’t smell it. But one night a sensible officer busted him crossing over the French border. ‘Too many candles for a grown man,’ he said. He was discharged.
“When he returned, he had all these ideas about the cosmos. He said that this life he’d been living was just one of many lives and that he no longer feared death because this was only one part of him, and there were other parts out in the universe that he had yet to experience. Maybe I’m not explaining it well. What I remember is that he was sincere about these other lives he was living. Mirror lives, he called them.”
“So like different version of ourselves?” I asked.
“That’s exactly right,” Tutti said, her voice like a pinprick in my ear, reminding me that I, too, was an accomplice in my uncle’s murder.
“When I think about it,” my father said, “he never worried about anything. Sometimes that infuriated me and sometimes it made me envious.”
Tutti put her head in her hands and began to cry. My father looked at me. I believe he knew that I knew the two of them had been together, and that it was best to let Tutti go on and get it out.
We were heading out to Chatham, a true Cape Cod town that looks the same now as it did then, and as it did when my father was a boy—cottages scattered along the coast, an old style pump handle gas station, seafood shacks and cluttered bookstores.
“I think he would’ve liked to have his ashes spread out here. This way, the ocean can take him in all different directions.”
Tutti put her head in her hands and began to cry. My father looked at me. I believe he knew that I knew the two of them had been together, and that it was best to let Tutti go on and get it out. It was the first time I had ever pitied my father.
The men who shot my uncle came from Fall River. They were brothers in their mid-thirties, failed fishermen who, like many in those decaying towns along the eastern seaboard, had been relegated to car repair work or boat cleaning, But rejecting that sort of labor, took to robbing houses in the alcoves where a handful of wealthy holdovers from a once prosperous time still lived. Their name was Bodfish. They’d both spent time in prison, but not for the same crimes. Carey, the older brother, did five years in Walpole for auto theft, and Stephen did fifteen months in Dedham for unarmed robbery. It wasn’t clear when the two decided to become killers. It was Carey Bodfish who’d fired the gun.
Either way, they weren’t very good at killing, or stealing. They left their fingerprints all over the cottage, and one of the brothers had used the toilet, forgetting to flush. With their profiles already on record, police raided their vacated apartment, discovering some of the stolen goods my father had reported missing: a twelve-speed mountain bike, my grandfather’s stamp collection, a bronzed statue of Miles Davis, a Les Paul electric guitar, and a worthless reproduction of a Mayan mask that, nevertheless, meant a great deal to my uncle because he’d watched a man in Morelia create it from a block of wood. Except for the stamps, which my father kept in a safe deposit box in case we ever needed to sell them, the rest of my uncle’s things were stored in the garage, still sealed as evidence, until years later when I graduated from college and he asked if I wanted anything from the house for my apartment in Boston.
The Bodfish brothers were mean-looking black-eyed Irishmen. Because neither of them had any motive, Police suspected there was someone behind the plot. Yet, all through the investigation, trial, and sentencing, they didn’t mention any names. They were given life in prison without chance for parole. In the papers they were known as “The Statue Brothers” because their faces never changed in the courtroom. If you still read the paper closely, which I tend to do, you might’ve seen a brief blurb in the Metro section of the Globe about Carey Bodfish dying of lymphoma. He was fifty-seven years old; the same age my father was when he passed away three months ago.
He was a hard man. And hard men are generous, but they don’t forgive. Forgiveness is for suckers anyway. I wouldn’t forgive me. So why should he?
“I want you to know everything,” Tutti said on the phone days after we saw each other at my father’s wake, twenty years later, in the unusual dark of a June evening. “I mean none of it really makes sense. You start trying to tell your life story and you realize how random it all is. That’s why I don’t like novels or movies. Everything’s so neatly condensed. But, still, I think it’s important.”
Those next few weeks after we spread my uncle’s ashes, Tutti stayed with us. She went shopping and made big, hearty meals of meat and potato stew, steak tips and baked cod. She claimed her cooking acumen from growing up as the child of a single father. Her mother had been a professor of Eastern Religions and fell in love with a graduate student from Ghana. The two ran off together and left Tutti and her father alone. Soon, they moved out to the countryside, to a decaying farmhouse where her father’s grandparents had once lived. Her father got the farm up and running again, bought two cows and a dozen hens. She learned to make meals for her father. She enjoyed watching him eat.
When spring came, and then summer, she thought to herself: somewhere there must be a place I can always feel this good, not trapped under layers of clothing, where I can swim naked and walk for hours without worrying about frostbite. Her mother was in Africa. She sent letters. Never before had she seen a place so beautiful. And Tutti began to pocket money so that she could go and live with her mother, money that her father made from the canned vegetables and preserves he sold. Already she was beginning to lie, to learn to lie, that so-and-so didn’t have the exact amount but said he would make up the rest next week. Because her mother had kept the household accounts, her father never completely knew where they stood financially, but he trusted his wife and daughter, and when his wife left, he put all that trust into Tutti alone. She had to learn how to manage money and people and goods. If anything was to come out of this divorce, this unbelievable set of circumstances that he still could not explain (often Tutti saw him weep in the vegetable garden) it was the ability to become self-sufficient, to understand that one day she might not have anyone to take care of her. Then, she would have to find a way to survive.
This was always in the back of her mind, even when she met Thomas, who, long before he began managing a doughnut shop, drove an ice truck, and from whose transactions, because the price was always changing, she was able to stash away the most money. They went on a handful of dates and she liked him fine, liked the way he looked at her with those big, stupid, Labrador eyes, and how innocent he was. “He loved me too much,” she said. Her ability to make him forget whatever he was meant to do with his life was how she learned to be properly self-sufficient.
Why she married Thomas, she wasn’t sure. Her father loved the boy, and with the farm doing well and the boy and his father’s ice truck business, I guess he felt they’d be set for life and Tutti would never have to worry about a thing. So, at her father’s urging, she said yes. She didn’t understand Thomas’s motivations, his dreams. He wanted a house, a fleet of ice trucks, quiet nights listening to music and making love. Even as she grew older, Tutti felt she was still saving to fly to Africa, asking for money for groceries or a new blouse, then hiding that money in a shoebox she kept under a pile of out-of-season clothes.
She lived this still life, as she called it, for a long time. “Too long,” she said. “Suddenly I was thirty years old and I hadn’t left Ontario once.”
I don’t know Thomas, but I know he was intelligent enough to realize what type of woman Tutti was. Whether his dreams were small or not, he held onto the idea of a quiet life with her. But, here is Tutti, sleeping with a shifty bartender named Luc, and here she is at the airport, waiting to board her flight to Ghana, which she never did board, and instead went to Fort Myers for reasons she couldn’t explain, only that she looked at the departures and thought, if I’m anything like my mother… and arrived not knowing anyone, with cash saved over the past fifteen years, enough to rent her a place in Naples. She called Thomas and described to him tales of her mother’s lover taking them out for a hunt and eating sugared plantains and dancing to some kind of tribal drums, all of which she’d read about in a series of National Geographic articles in the dentist’s office back in Ottawa when she was a kid.
Covered in filth, eaten by mosquitoes, tired and wet and hungry, I returned home, washed in the tub and ate at the table with my father and Tutti, who, by then, had begun to love and care for one another.
I can see now that I want Tutti to be so much more, to have not just disappeared from one life and turned up in another, following an impulse that brought her to the beds of different men, all unable to satisfy her, but asking constantly, “What is it that you want, baby?” Her reply a material thing, a thing she would find joy in for a week or so, like a child with a new toy before putting it away, never to be worn or used again. I want her to be forever that impulse she had at the airport, or even before that, while she was pilfering bills and coins to travel to Africa, to have a reason for what she was doing in Florida. Though, as she had said, that was not life; her narrative was not something she stopped to understand, building in a way that could explain how everything came to that moment when I saw her in my uncle’s hospital room. She controlled men and they gave her things, and when she finally attached herself to the Mercedes-Benz dealer, she realized she would always live this way.
I spent the rest of that summer out of the house, riding my bicycle along the coastal trails that wound past Hyannis Harbor into the port and up the cliffside properties of actors and politicians and venture capitalists who posted No Trespassing signs along the street, and through whose wide, floor-length windows I could see what they saw as they drank their morning coffee: the fog low and thick above the ocean, the fishing boats easing through the gray. I climbed the hill to the Country Club where I collected golf balls in the gullies and marshes, and resold them outside the club’s entrance for a quarter apiece. Later, I swam in the ocean and sat under the Centerville Bridge with a chicken salad sandwich, watching the silver-bellied fish shoot up from the river. I rode to the gas station and put air in my tires. In the insect-hum of noon, I play-acted tragic death scenes in the swampland behind the Taylors’s burned-out house. Covered in filth, eaten by mosquitoes, tired and wet and hungry, I returned home, washed in the tub and ate at the table with my father and Tutti, who, by then, had begun to love and care for one another. In the soft laughter that followed an unintentional burp, the playful smack on the hand when my father attempted to serve himself, the way they spoke each others’ names like cherished objects, I became invisible and so further penetrated the fantastical and unexplainable worlds which hung in my brain.
A month or so after my uncle’s murder, during a night when I had been so lost in a struggle between The Wimbles and the The Wobbles, two factions of planetary warriors, who, in their battle for universal domination, found themselves floating aimlessly in the ether, waiting for me to decide their fates, I was struck by the greatest fear I’d ever known, the fear that there is nothing beyond the universe. That we were contained by an infinite darkness was inconceivable to me, and this single, piercing thought caused me to break out in a fit of screams.
Though I remember screaming, I don’t remember how long I went on for, as is the case when, on occasion, I find myself in the kitchen or living room, suddenly overwhelmed by a flash of white, a thought, a memory of a voice or smell I realize I have missed for so long. Only now it is my wife who comes to me and holds me and kisses my neck and cheek and takes my hand in hers and sits by my side until I’m spent, relieved of whatever force had overtaken me for that moment. That night, though, it was Tutti who came into my room.
I was sitting up in bed with my head between my knees. She was a little drunk, I could tell, smiling at me, at my eyes peeking out at her. She switched on the bedside lamp and sat down.
“It’s just me,” she said and laughed brightly, her eyes sparkling in the soft lamplight.
She took my head in her hands and brought it out of the small hole I had created between my knees as an archeologist might lift a petrified skull from the earth, gently guiding me toward the pillow, not wanting to shake up any more of the thoughts in my head. It was probably true that I had generated this fear from a sense of my own mortality, but there was also the guilt of knowing what Tutti knew and of facing my father every day. No matter how big the country, the earth, the universe, I could not conceal myself.
Tutti lay down beside me and turned her head. Her breath smelled of wine and cigarettes and cake, a silent midnight snack, saved from that night when she and my father had gone to Alberto’s to give her a break from cooking. I felt the warmth of her palm hovering an inch above my chest. Her fingers drifted back and forth like wheatgrass.
“I am not a boy,” I said quietly, somewhat embarrassed.
“I want you to say these things with me,” she said, her voice unchanging. “First, I’ll go and then you repeat what I’ve said. Okay?”
I nodded. I could feel the sweat that had gathered in a shallow pool at the base of my neck.
“I am not a boy,” she said.
I was silent. I didn’t understand.
“Say it, sweetie. You’ll feel better. Think of this as a departure from your self.”
She repeated, “I am not a boy.”
“I am not a boy,” I said quietly, somewhat embarrassed.
“I am not a son.”
“I am not a son.”
“Good,” she said, continuing to draw her fingers in a gentle swoosh down the middle of my chest. “Relax, now. Listen to your voice.”
“I live nowhere.”
“I live nowhere.”
“I want nothing.”
“I want nothing.”
“I need nothing.”
“I need nothing.”
“I am never awake or asleep.”
“I am never awake or asleep.”
“I have no eyes, no ears, no mouth, no body.”
“I have no eyes, no ears, no mouth, no body.”
This meditation (with some variation) I still use today in an attempt to strip away all the temporary conditions I associate with myself.
“I have experienced nothing.”
“I have experienced nothing.”
“I will experience nothing.”
“I will experience nothing.”
“I am nothing I know.”
“I am nothing I know.”
“I am an unchanging, eternal being.”
“I am an unchanging, eternal being.”
“I was never born, and I will never die.”
“I was never born, and I will never die.”
Not until the morning did I remember Tutti asking me to repeat these words back to her as I drifted to sleep. This meditation (with some variation) I still use today in an attempt to strip away all the temporary conditions I associate with myself. The last line I recently came across in the Bhagavad-Gita. Instantly I was back in my childhood bed with Tutti next to me.
“Did that help?” she asked at breakfast.
“Yes,” I said, averting her spellbinding eyes.
“I learned it from my mother. If it doesn’t work, you can also say to yourself a mantra that goes, ‘So Hum’, which means, I am That. And That represents the unnamable essence of your being. Your uncle understood this, too. He never worried about what happened around him. He believed in an eternal self. I’ve been teaching your father. It seems to be working, don’t you think?”
In truth, my father did seem happier, though I believe it had more to do with not being alone than Tutti’s mantras and meditations. He had begun jogging in the mornings, stretching beforehand in the kitchen, a sweatband tight around his head guarding the thin black curls of his hair. He exhaled in quick bursts just before darting out to the street as though he were about to greet an audience of thousands that had gathered to see him perform. I remember the smell of new sweat, the stain on his shirtfront like some kind of godhead, and the veins along his arms uprooted and tightened as he drank down a large glass of water. At night, Tutti and my father made love, but the sounds of the bed were no different now than the wind passing through the window screens as I attempted to recite the phrases that separated my temporary self from my eternal self, feeling somewhat stupid and self-conscious, falling asleep only to wake in the middle of the night and turn on the lamp so that I was not surrounded by so much darkness.
I began middle school that fall and rode my bike each morning past the river and up a long, winding hill that opened onto a pleasant street with small cottages guarded by looming maple trees, then through the cemetery where my mother was buried at the behest of my grandparents who did not believe in cremation, wondering, how is it where you are? Around the package store and down busy Falmouth Road where children in busses screamed to me from the windows en route to that hideous, flat Y-shaped building. With the exception of my lustful desire to see the young teaching assistant, Ms. Cone, naked, nothing from the time spent there has stayed with me.
But at home I became aware of how love can be borne from violence and misery and odd circumstances. Tutti had left for a weekend, an endless time considering my father’s new sort of loneliness, not the depressed state he was often in during my childhood, but pacing, waiting, listening for the phone to ring. As we played cribbage in the kitchen, a sudden uproar of chirping birds caused his hand to tremble over the board. I can believe now that Tutti possessed a certain power over men, as the greatest women often do; that we are no longer controlled by our pasts, the places in which we live, the people we know or have known, or the public spectacle of sport and politics, which at that time consisted mainly of disarming and killing a mustached man in a beret, from a country whose name sounded like a deathly cough. Tutti consumed my father. And I understood that a woman could do this to a man, could strip away all misfortune and pain, leaving us naked and vulnerable.
When she returned, Tutti brought with her two large suitcases full of clothes, a dozen books on new age spirituality and the like, certain childhood possessions she felt she could not live without, and word that she had finally divorced Thomas, who, in a vain attempt to rekindle their marriage, had brought Tutti to a ski resort outside of Montreal.
“I let him make love to me,” I heard her tell my father that night. “But then, halfway through it, he stopped and said, ‘It’s over isn’t it?’ He could tell by the way my body felt. Then he cried. All night he cried. I went out and hiked up to the empty ski lifts and sat in one of the chairs for so long I fell asleep. A woman from the hotel woke me and said it was going to get cold and they didn’t want to be liable if I were to get sick. When I went back to the room, Thomas was gone. He’d packed and left and put some money on the dresser as though I were some kind of prostitute. I guess I deserved to feel that way, but I only felt sad for him. I want good things for Thomas, you know. He loved me.”
My father was not disturbed by her past. He, too, had his stories. There was a black saleswoman who worked with him in Plymouth. She sold lots to lower middle-class families looking to move out of Boston. She had a gap between her teeth and when she spoke her tongue pushed against them and threads of spit spread across her lips. She was very tall, and when I went to my father’s office, she seemed always to bend from the waist so that her rear stuck out and her back straightened on a decline like someone slowly diving into a pool, asking me, “Are you helping your father design houses today?” I nodded, entranced. Now, I think about that woman, whose name I forget, who positions her existence alongside the running images of hundreds of women I’ve met over the years, nameless women remembered only by certain physical characteristics and smells and voices. My father, guiltily, fucking her in his office with the blinds closed and the radio on and the phones ringing. “It’s okay, baby, you need a woman after what you’ve been through.” My father cleaning up in the small bathroom of his office, testing the strength to stand there idle, looking at himself in the mirror, filled with the belief that the dead can see him, that my mother has been watching, and what will she say when he arrives at that infinite destination?
The three of us had slowly acclimated to the unusual trajectories that had brought us together. We believed we were a family, that whatever was past was past, and moving forward through each small yet significant change to the house’s interior—the kitchen painted red, the living room rearranged, the dusty trinkets my mother had collected boxed away and replaced with thick, clean-smelling candles—we became comfortable with the rituals of life that included Tutti. She made lunch for me on weekday mornings, set a wonderful spread for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and, because I grew three inches that year, took me to the Atrium in Braintree and bought me new clothes.
We weren’t without our struggles, though. This was during the last housing crunch, and my father’s company hadn’t sold a new home since the summer. He wasn’t fired, but frozen. Local businesses were yielding to corporate buyouts and the Mid-Cape began to resemble the thousands of towns and suburbs across the country unable to hold out through the crisis. Electronics stores and clothing outlets and fast food joints I had only seen in the city were popping up along Route 132 and down Falmouth Road. Now there are huge, vacant complexes where during the past twenty years many of these franchises thrived. Seagulls perch on the gabled entrances, swooping down to peck at the strewn garbage in the sandy parking lots. For Lease signs line the storefronts. But this is the present, a sad, beguiling drive through my old town, toward the beachfront, unchanged and drenched in sunlight; my wife in her retro green one-piece bathing suit, we, like any other tourists, down for Labor Day weekend, lying on the same beach under the same sky listening to the same waves my father and mother and childhood self once did. I can see them in the pockets of unclaimed sand.
Last February, I lost a tooth in a fistfight outside of a bar.
Through the spring into the following summer, my father mowed lawns, built decks, and repainted some of the houses he had designed. When I was off from school, I worked with him. I cannot remember a time when I felt as comfortable with my father or myself: his big, callused hands holding me up from the ladder so that I could sweep out the gutters; stripping and priming and painting the long, wooden fence along Farm Acres Road; spreading the thick, sour-smelling mulch around the shrubs and flowerbeds of those large houses on the water; and in the cool summer afternoon, listening to sports radio, packing up our tools and coiling the extension cords, the sweat dried into our shirts, stinking and spent, but alive, more alive than I have ever felt, sensing the tightening of the muscles in my forearms and chest, and the windows rolled down on the ride home, listening to the air rush by, the sun an orange disc descending over the town, light moving through us, giving way to night.
I can recall feeling present, without worry, free. But I’m not sure that was the case. Or maybe it’s that I’ve lived a while now and have never been able to get back to that feeling. Or it could be that my memory has skewed the past in a way that has made me believe that at one time I lived between the drastic highs and lows that come with each passing day. Sometimes I feel so overjoyed I could break down in tears, so enraged I could smash my fist through a window. My tendons and muscles and nerves stretch tight as fresh guitar strings, playing a harmless background music, until somebody, dead or alive, plucks an off chord, sending a shiver throughout my body.
Last February, I lost a tooth in a fistfight outside of a bar. I wasn’t very drunk. There was just something about the place, the music, the people—this sense of dread and fatigue, a general apathy to the living world—and without provocation, I decked a sorry-looking man who was sitting by himself in the barroom corner. We were thrown out onto the street and a crowd gathered. The man was a quick and thoughtful fighter. I must have swung low and mistakenly brought my body forward, exposing the right side of my face, which he struck with the hammer-like bone of his elbow, sending an expensively crowned molar flying into the snow which sparkled like sand under the streetlamps. How pathetic it was to be searching out there in the unplowed street for my tooth. Though, as I dug my hands into the soft, cold powder, I felt that same sense of freedom I had when I was a boy.
Because that time in my life was so short, I return there, as one does with any kind of addictive substance when it first gave them pleasure. I dress Tutti in short shorts and a tight-fitting top, and my father in worn khakis and a polo shirt. We eat fried seafood out on the boat at Baxter’s Landing, throw French fries to the seagulls, and watch the schooners and sailboats head out of the harbor. My father has his arm around Tutti’s waist, her head on his shoulder, and we stand by as the old Chevrolets file down Main Street, drivers honking their horns, repositioning the small, newly washed mirrors as their passengers wave to us.
When we returned home from one of these late summer afternoons, there was a cream colored Mercedes parked in the driveway. As a kid, a year can feel as long as a decade, and I had forgotten about the man from Florida, his role in my uncle’s death, even the guilt I had felt so strongly after hearing Tutti speak to him on the phone. But it all came rushing back to me then, and it seemed that the same was true for Tutti, who grabbed hold of my father’s arm and steered the car away from the house. “Keep driving! Keep driving!” she shouted. “Please!” My father braked and the engine stuttered; then, with a shot of gas, the car burst ahead.
What my father said then was, “Oh, fuck this,” but, what he was really saying was something along the lines of, “I knew nothing could be so good.” And even before we went back to the house, he had given up on Tutti, on any kind of family, believing, possibly, that he was not meant to have that kind of life.
Summer afternoons have an eerie music about them, of swarming insects, water seeping from the bottoms of exposed air conditioners, the buzz of charging electricity through hanging telephone wires: I heard everything as my father approached the front door.
“What are you doing?” Tutti shouted. “Are you crazy or something?”
“That’s my house. If someone’s in there, then I’m going to throw him out.”
“He has guns,” Tutti said, her voice lowering, but not enough to keep me from hearing.
“Well if he wanted to kill you, he would’ve done it a long time ago. Now, if he’s come for me, at least there’ll be witnesses.”
My father’s view of his own mortality put me over the edge. I felt as though I was calling out to him from the bottom of a well, “Please, Dad, listen to her.”
“Don’t worry, bud,” he said with certainty. “We’ll be fine.”
Summer afternoons have an eerie music about them, of swarming insects, water seeping from the bottoms of exposed air conditioners, the buzz of charging electricity through hanging telephone wires: I heard everything as my father approached the front door. He guarded himself by pulling his left arm across his chest and lowering his shoulder as though he were drawing a cape over his body, as though he were the assailant, set to unmask himself to an unassuming victim. And what good did meditation do any of us at that moment? We could not detach from our bodies.
Tutti ran after my father. I jumped out of the car and cowered near the front tire. When my father entered the house, I remember feeling a kind of vibrating stone inside my chest. My legs went numb and my face was burning. I crept up to the door and swiftly moved inside, looking left and right; nothing had been damaged. The house was filled with the foreign scent of strong cologne.
My father was standing by the bathroom door in the hallway. Tutti, opposite him, saw me and put her finger to her lips. The toilet flushed and the man inside the bathroom coughed wickedly, cropping up a wad of phlegm from his throat.
“By God,” the man said and opened the door.
My father struck him in the side of the head and the man stumbled sideways into Tutti’s arms. Tutti tried to hold him up, but he was the kind of man whose weight was in his belly and she could not keep him upright. My father had split some kind of polyp on his earlobe and the blood was streaming down his neck. His eyes were closed and his left arm was stretched out and leaping like a fish.
“He’s an old man,” Tutti said. “You didn’t have to hit him like that.”
“He’ll be fine,” my father said uncertainly. “Don’t you think he’ll be fine?” My father bent down and looked at the man, turned and stared at me with eyes still wide and buzzing from the thrill of sudden violence.
“Oh, poor, Rudy,” Tutti said.
“Poor, Rudy?” my father cried, sounding almost embarrassed. “The man broke into my house. And Rudy? Rudy and Tutti? What a pair!”
Stroking Rudy’s face, she asked me to go to the kitchen and pour him a glass of water. I could hear them arguing: she wanting to get Rudy to a hospital and my father refusing, claiming he was going to call the police if he was calling anyone. I silently wished for Rudy to wake up. Adults in these vulnerable positions made me nervous. This is why children cannot stand to see their parents asleep.
I returned with the water and handed it to Tutti. She had Rudy propped up in her lap now. He began to mutter incomprehensibly. His eyelids rose slightly and Tutti put the glass to his lips.
“Drink this,” she said.
As he drank, he began to cough, and the water shot from his mouth and dribbled down his chin.
“Ah!” he cried.
“Help him up,” Tutti said to my father.
“Christ Almighty,” my father said and put his arms up under Rudy’s shoulders and pulled him to his feet. He slung Rudy’s arm over his neck and brought him to the couch. Tutti fluffed up a pillow and together they laid Rudy down.
Except for the bloodied ear, he was a good-looking older gentleman. He had straight, strawberry blonde hair combed neatly away from his brow and stuck in this position by some kind of mousse—none of it moved from the punch or the fall. He was wearing blue khaki shorts and an expensive-looking yellow shirt. His limbs were weirdly thin in comparison to his hard, curved belly. There was a scar along his left knee and his legs were strikingly hairless. His belt had tiny sailboats printed on it.
I was sitting on the ottoman across from the couch and, after another intense coughing fit, the man looked at me and smiled as though there was some kind of secret the two of us had shared and agreed to keep quiet about.
“You look like a strong boy,” he said. “Are you practicing your form?”
“What?” I asked, amused by his bleeding, and by his extremely rational voice.
“The way you walk and hold yourself. In the Army, we practiced our form everyday. We kept our backs straight and our shoulders level. We ate sitting up and we had impeccable balance.”
“I have good balance,” I said. “We were on a boat in a storm once and I was able to hold myself up without falling over.”
“That’s good,” the man said. “Without proper form you’ll never be taken seriously. You see me now, I’m old and my body is weak and no one takes me as seriously as they once did. There’s nothing I can do about it now, but when I was young, I exuded confidence. All because of my form.”
Tutti sat beside him with a towel and a bowl of water. She dampened the towel and cleaned the dried blood away from his ear and neck.
My father stood above us all, looking down as though assessing a sorry litter of dogs he knew very well no one was going to want.
“Okay, then. What’s this all about?” he said.
Tutti put the end of the towel in the bowl and the water turned a cloudy red color.
“I was sitting out there for a while hoping to see Tutti, and then I just figured I’d try the door because I came all the way out here and it seemed childish to wait in the car. The door was open. How wonderfully secure you all feel in these old New England towns. And this is quite a place. I can see Tutti’s influence.”
“Right. Right. We live together. So, how’s that affect you?”
“I love her. I’ve loved her for a long time now, and I don’t think it’s a mystery that I need someone to take care of me.”
“Is that what love is?” my father said, pacing. “Caretaking? Is that what you want, Tutti? You want to make his meals and take him for walks and wipe his ass?”
“Not in front of him,” Tutti said, nodding towards me. Her voice was steady and confident. She lived to make momentous choices.
“Listen, baby,” Rudy said. “I’m not doing too well. I’ve got a tumor in my noggin. They say it could be anywhere from three months to a year, but that’s with treatment. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life in a hospital bed. I’m going out on the boat. I’m sailing to Cape Town. People have always told me it’s the most beautiful place on earth, and if I make it there, well, what better place to die in than the most beautiful one? So, what I’m asking is, will you come with me?”
My father and I waited for Tutti to answer, mystified by this man’s brashness, which I imagine comes with knowing you have limited time.
Tutti looked at my father, who stood now with his arms across his chest, then back to the man from Florida. We were all boys, all the same to her, all wanting and waiting. My father and Rudy were as silent as closed doors, which, if opened, would unveil to her an entirely new life.
“Can’t we talk about this in the morning?” she said. “I need some time to think.”
“And what do we do with him?” my father said.
“Rudy can sleep on the couch.”
That night, no one but Rudy slept. Tutti stayed in the bedroom while my father read in the kitchen. Rudy had fallen asleep on the couch and his face looked made of plaster, still, yet fragile.
I took the cribbage board out and asked my father if he wanted to play.
“Not tonight, bud,” he said, and went back to looking at the real estate section of the paper. I noticed that his eyes were not moving as he read.
Later that night, The Wimbles had advanced fearlessly towards the barricade set up by The Wobbles, blasting away the walls with advanced weaponry. During their last intergalactic battle, The Great Leaders of both factions met face to face on a distant planet where they could see the fighting millions of light years away. First they dined and reflected on what had brought them to this point. Then, understanding that any sort of peace was futile, they had their servants dress them in the dated garb of earthly soldiers, drew their swords, and with a fateful nod, positioned themselves for a final battle. As they approached one another, I heard Tutti sobbing in the bedroom.
“Oh, I have to,” she cried.
And my father’s voice, “No, you don’t. Don’t you see that you have a good thing here? You’re going to throw it all away if you leave.”
“But, imagine if… ”
“No,” my father shouted. “Don’t bring my wife into this.”
“But, just imagine.”
I went out into the living room where Rudy was still asleep on the couch. I touched his face lightly, feeling the sharp edges of his unshaved chin. His eyes opened and he grabbed my wrist.
“Who are you?” he said.
I whacked him in the mouth with my free hand. He reeled and sneezed and, sitting up, called for Tutti through his hands with a muffled cry.
“I knew it was a bad idea to have him here,” my father said.
“What did you do, sweetie?” Tutti said to me. I realized that I was standing there with my hand still bunched up in a fist as though expecting more of a fight from Rudy.
Tutti inspected his lip and cradled the old man’s head in her arms.
“We have to go,” she said and helped Rudy to his feet.
For the first time she looked like an ugly woman to me.
My father had a faint smile on his face. I had imparted a kind of justice for him, yet I didn’t feel good about what I had done. I felt that I had to do something more. I had to tell my father what I knew, that Rudy was responsible for sending those men to my uncle’s house and that Tutti knew all about it. But for some reason I couldn’t spit it out. Rudy looked so harmless, so bewildered and broken, that to turn him in seemed like it would only make everything worse.
My father never saw Tutti again. Up until he got sick, he refused to speak about her or to even have her name mentioned in the house. He dated a few women here and there, and just before I left for college, asked one of them, a customs agent at Logan, who was older than him by ten years and carried a gun, if she’d like to move in. He called her his companion. I doubt he loved her, but she cared for him during the remainder of his life, and as my own life began to take shape, I was comforted in knowing that he was not alone.
Staying with him this summer, playing cribbage on the sun porch in the late evening light, he recalled everything he could remember, leaping from one point in time to the next, from one life to another. He was lucid and free of anger, and he told me about my uncle and about Tutti and the man from Florida, and he also described my mother, how beautiful she was, how much he missed her. What made him so depressed during that time before Tutti was how angry he felt at her dying.
“But it wasn’t her fault,” he said. “It was just some freak thing that happened.”
He wanted me to know he thought most of life was like this: that there are no coincidences, that our lives are strange and never work out the way we think they should.
“And it’s alright,” he said. “It’s better this way.”
But then he said, “I can’t believe I’m dying. I really can’t believe it.”
I was with him that night in the hospital. He began gasping for air, and with each attempt at breathing, his body expanded and crumpled. His eyes were so big and his left eye was looking right at me, while his other was rolled back, as though warning me that he was up ahead, close to the other side, and he couldn’t see anything yet.
Tutti showed up at my father’s wake alone. She’d cut her hair short and put on ten pounds or so. She had dark circles under her eyes from crying, but she held herself together and gave me a hug and kneeled at my father’s casket, making whatever amends she needed to make.
Later, my wife and I were standing outside waiting for the remaining mourners to leave.
“This is such a stupid ritual,” my wife said.
“I guess it’s the same as when you’re born. Everyone wants to have a look at you and they have no idea what your life is going to be like so they just look, and when you’re dead, they look at you the same way.”
A string of fireworks were set off across the road. It was the week before the Fourth of July and already people were celebrating.
“You were good to have stayed with him all that time,” my wife said. She stroked my neck with her long, thin fingers, and went back into the funeral home.
It was a muggy night and I went to the car to get the air conditioner running. Parked beside me was the old cream-colored Mercedes I remembered from so many years ago. New Mexico plates were fixed to the rusted out bumper. A thin line of smoke escaped from the lowered driver’s side window. I went around to the passenger side door and looked in. The backseat was piled high with clothes and shoes and bags, and one of the flower arrangements from the wake. I tapped my knuckle on the window. Startled, Tutti dropped her cigarette between her boots and hurried to pick it up and stamp it in the ashtray. She motioned for me to get in the car.
“Oh my god,” she said. “You’re so grown up now. It’s unbelievable. And I know what they were telling you in there, but you look nothing like your father. I don’t even see a resemblance. Well, maybe your nose.”
“You’re living in New Mexico now?”
“I did for a little while. Santa Fe. It’s a wonderful city. Clean. And everyone has so much energy. But I missed the water.”
“So, are you back in Florida?”
“No. That’s a state I’d be happy never to see again.”
“My wife and I were down in Miami for a week last year. I thought I saw you in Lincoln Square.”
“Maybe you did.”
“No. It was someone else.”
I had followed the woman, whoever she was, to this little dress shop on a corner. I saw her through the glass window: a plain-looking woman shuffling through short, tropical dresses on a rack, the same age Tutti was back then.
“I do miss going down to South Beach. But, it’s all so phony. And you have to be rich. I guess you can tell that I’m not rich, and hopefully you don’t think I’m phony.”
“I never did.”
“What then? I mean, what did you think?”
“I thought you loved my father. But, I also thought that you couldn’t change who you were. I know he loved you, and I know that when you left, he wasn’t ever as happy again.”
“Me, neither,” Tutti said. She lit another cigarette and blew the smoke out in patchy clouds, coughing a bit, waving a mosquito from her face. “But I wasn’t used to being so comfortable. It scared me, you know? There wasn’t anything to be afraid of, but that’s what was so frightening. I did try to come back after Rudy died. I called your father and I even flew up here to see him, but he wouldn’t talk to me. He was a hard man. And hard men are generous, but they don’t forgive. Forgiveness is for suckers anyway. I wouldn’t forgive me. So why should he? That made things easier. Has made things easier. Because now I’m thinking, what would it have been like if I stayed? Would I be any different? You know, inside? Probably not. But everything else would be. The outside, I mean.”
We were silent for a while. Tutti put out her cigarette, smiled at me, and lowered her head. The last of the people who’d come to see my father started up their cars and drove off. My wife was standing by the door, talking to my father’s companion and Mr. Simmons, the funeral director. The light in the parking lot went out. We were two dark figures in a car.
“A whole bunch of other stuff has happened to you, right?” Tutti said then. “It’s not just this? I mean, your father and me, we’re not everything. We’re just a part of the thing. You have a beautiful wife and I’m sure you’ll have lovely children, and whatever else is going to happen won’t have much to do with the past, I don’t think.”
“No, but it doesn’t seem like anything has ended.”
“I’m not sure there ever is an ending.”
How easily I asked her then, thinking that I might never get another chance, if it was true that Rudy had my uncle murdered.
I don’t believe she intended to laugh, but that’s what she did. I was exhausted in my grief, and maybe too easily accepted her apology.
“No,” she stuttered. “Two maniacs zonked out of their minds killed your uncle. But, when I told Rudy, he had me believe he was responsible, that he had this kind of power. He knew he was losing me; he could hear it my voice. We talked almost every day. He must’ve thought that if I feared him enough, I’d come back, which, as you know, I did. But, not because of your uncle.”
Tutti raised her head and sneezed three times, a high-pitched, awful-sounding sneeze.
“Bless you,” I said.
“Thanks, sweetie,” she said and blew her nose into a napkin.
“Did you ever get to Cape Town?” I asked. “After you left?”
“Yes,” she said. “But Rudy died before we made it there. I did see my mother for the first time since I was young. But that’s not important to you, is it? And besides, your lovely wife is waiting.”
“I’d like to hear about it sometime, though,” I said.
I wrote down my cell number on a scrap of paper, folded and handed it to her. We hugged across the console. She gripped me tightly.
“You’re so big,” she said. She let go and held onto my hand. “You don’t think I’m a bad person, do you?”
“No,” I said. “I don’t think that.”
“There’s nothing I can do to change that part of my life. Once you’re in it, you don’t know you’re in it, don’t see yourself as you do later on when you look back, know what I mean, sweetie?”
“I do,” I said.
I couldn’t sleep that night. My wife stayed up with me and we watched television and ate grilled cheese and talked about what I don’t remember. It felt like one of those nights in college when she and I would lay in bed and tell each other about everything we knew, all those stories, whether true or not, and how we told them only so that we could stay awake and not be away from each other.
At dawn, we showered together. My wife looked beautiful in the pink light. Her skin was slightly tanned with tiny freckles on her shoulders. She felt soft against my body. Her hair smelled like nectarines. We made love and lay in bed with the ceiling fan whirring above us. She told me about seeing her father saw off part of his forefinger when she was a girl. She didn’t remember any blood, only the howling, percussive scream, which he’d omitted from his own version of what had happened after he caught me staring at the nub of his finger during a family cookout a few years back.
She’d heard most of what there was to tell about Tutti and my father and my uncle’s murder. What I never told her before was that small detail I began this story with, that my uncle was eating an ice-cream cone when the Bodfish brothers attacked him. That before the lights went dark the last thing he tasted was something sweet and pleasing.
She responded in her yawning, half-asleep voice, “How would you know something like that?”
It was a good question.
How did I know? Who told me? Why has it stuck with me all these years?
Patrick Dacey’s work has appeared in Bomb magazine, The Greensboro Review, Salt Hill, The Washington Square Review, and Zoetrope All-Story. He has recently completed his first novel and a collection of short stories. His fiction has previously appeared in Guernica.