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Where the Money Went: Storiesby Kevin Canty
Where the Money Went
When the thing was over, Braxton sat down at the kitchen table of his apartment and tried to figure out what they had done with the money.
Some of it went for schools, of course, good private schools--the hippy school for Lucinda and the Spanish Academy for Steve. The hippy school was a parent co-op. Braxton remembered sweating through a parent meeting, drunk: the affluent and lawyerly, trying out their voices on one another. On and on. It was like being in the eighth grade again, stupid with boredom, ready to flee. Plus the parent co-op was more expensive than the academy, ten thousand a year versus six. Plus the afterschool care. Plus Brenda, the sitter. The weekend art lessons, the tennis clinics, swimming.
Not that the public schools were terrible. They were fine.
Some of it went for cars, landscaping, clothes, vacations. The four of them flew to Honolulu for Christmas, Vail for Presidents' Day. He sat with pencil and envelope-back (he was pre-approved for fifty thousand dollars more) and tried to figure how a simple skiing weekend could cost so much: lift tickets, lunches, the fat, hourglass-shaped skis he bought himself and then, out of something like guilt, bought his wife. It wasn't the skis he bought himself that were wasted, he thought. He was a decent skier, he enjoyed it. No, it was the skis he bought his wife, hoping to encourage her. She used them that weekend and never again. Five hundred for the skis, one-and-a-quarter for the bindings. Then of course new boots.
That was a waste, he thought.
The snorkeling equipment, the Windsurfer, the mountain bike. A Klein, he remembered. He had spent months researching what the absolute best kind to get was. The little crazy expensive bike he bought Steve so they could tool slowly around the playground on their thousand-dollar rides, father and son.
They threw a party when the pool was done. Everybody they knew, under the lights. Braxton spent a thousand dollars at the liquor store alone, not to mention the catering, the lights, the pool itself. And then she had gotten drunk, early in the evening, some accident where she had forgotten to eat. It didn't happen constantly or even often but she loved to be drunk. She raced around the pool in the shadowy light, chatting, flirting. She was standing with her back to the pool, talking with the Andersons, when she took that one slow inadvertent step backward and could not right herself. He watched her topple slowly backward into the water, watched her dress bloom around her in the underwater light like some bright colorful flower and in that moment he had not disliked her. In fact he loved her, just in that moment.
Then heard the whispered word: "drunk." It passed around him, hand to hand.
Then she got out and she didn't even care, she went around the rest of the night in her wet dress, her nipples poking through the wet cotton.
The parkas, stereos.
The afternoon he figured out how bad it was, how bad it was going to get, he was in their bedroom, which faced the pool. Looking up from his bills and figuring, he saw Steve bobbing in the deep end on a silver plastic raft, eyes closed, hours on end. He had turned fat with his tenth birthday--"husky," she called it. Every time Braxton looked up, his son was there, immobile, drifting. He gets it from her, he thought angrily. That indolence. He looked on his son with disgust.
The rest of the money, what there was of it, went for the lawyers.
The Emperor of Ice Cream
The summer he almost killed his brother, Lander spent working at the front desk of the University library, watching the girls go by in their summer shorts and dresses. There was almost no traffic at the checkout counter, but the girls would come in early and late to check their e_mail at the long banks of computers, wearing wet bathing suits under their clothes sometimes. The girls all wore river sandals, and their feet were tan. It was hot all summer, months without rain or even clouds. In the cool and quiet of the library, Lander could feel the whole world outside having fun without him.
The doctors said the fact that Tim was drunk might have saved his life in the crash. And Lander was definitely the one who should have been driving that night: he passed the Breathalyzer and the blood test both, though not by much. It didn't matter. It wasn't like his parents called a family meeting to announce they didn't like him anymore. But they weren't pestering him to come home every weekend. They had troubles of their own.
His sister, Jen, was in and out of town that summer, too, finishing up the last three credits of her English teaching certificate. Jen would go up to Bigfork on Friday and come back Sunday, while Lander worked his weekend job at the ice-cream store, but she never had much to say to him when she got back. Lander was under the impression that she spent most of her time at the lake working on her tan. Their parents had split up that spring, and their father was then living on a forty-two-foot power boat tied up to the dock by Marina Cay, directly under the windows of their former condo, where his mother still lived. At least this is what Lander heard. He hadn't gotten up to see it yet.
Day after day after day rose into the nineties and stayed there till evening. The sun was always shining hard and the sky was an even cloudless blue. The library was always quiet and cool and lined with pretty girls who wanted nothing to do with him. At night, those same girls would come to the Orpheum, the ice-cream store, for tangerine sorbet and yellow-cake and bubble-gum cones. They would stand under the lights and lick their cones and laugh while Lander scooped another order out of the freezers with cold, chapped hands. Bugs circled and buzzed around the overhead lights. Summer was out there, out in the night.
* * *
Then, halfway through August, the call came that Tim was coming home from the nursing home in Kalispell.
Lander was supposed to drive up with his sister but he had to work till five that Friday. Jen went up at noon without him. The bank clock, when he finally got out of town, read 102 degrees, and the AC in his car didn't work right. He slugged his way north through twenty miles of the most major big-time road construction in the history of the world, stuck behind an elephant train of Winnebagos, as the dust blew in through the windows and settled on the dash. At times he would roll the windows up and pretend to be cool. By the time he got to Bigfork he was so air-dried, dusty and parched that his first steps carried him across the parking lot, down the dock and in one motion into the cold clean waters of the lake.
A delicious blinding cold went through him all at once in the cold lake-water, a dangerous bliss. He stayed underwater for as long as he could, rinsing the heat and dust out completely. When he surfaced and shook the water out of his eyes, he saw his father before him, standing next to some weird-looking neighbor kid on the deck of the largest motorboat Lander had ever seen. The lettering across the stern read LUCKY ME. His father was wearing a hat with a long birdlike bill and a complicated shirt with many flaps, pockets and buttons. In his salt-and-pepper beard, he did not look quite like Hemingway.
"Aren't you going to say hello to your brother?" his father asked him.
At first Lander didn't understand, then, dawning on him, he looked again at the weird-looking neighbor kid, who he had taken to be a twelve-year-old, and saw that it was actually Tim, or some small shrunken version of him. He looked tiny, thin and frail, and Lander felt a pang of fear run through him at the damage done.
"Jesus Christ," said Lander. "Get in the water."
Tim grinned down at him and it was actually him, just smaller and more tired. He asked, "Is that your wallet?"
Lander touched his back pocket underwater, and it was certainly his wallet. His father noticed. Tim laughed.
"Dumbass," Tim said.
"Actually, it's pronounced Dumas," Lander told him. He swam to the ladder on the side of the boat and clambered out, dripping, to man-hug his brother there. He was so small now! And pale, almost transparent.
"That is one big boat," Lander said to his father, who waited on deck.
"I'd forgotten," his father said, shaking his hand in his oversized burly way. "You haven't seen it yet. Let me give you the tour."
Behind his father on the rear deck of the boat, a pair of unnaturally good-looking tanned people sat in matching deck chairs, beaming at him. They were somewhere in their forties or even early fifties but they both looked fit and rested and eager--like eager golden retrievers held under restraint, Lander thought. He was afraid they were going to jump up and lick him.
"Steve and Polly Langendorf," said his father. "This is my son Lander."
They waited for him in their chairs and Lander was suddenly aware, as he shook their hands, that he was dripping wet and pale and a little fat, almost, from his nowhere summer. His mother looked down from the flying bridge overhead and shyly said hello. His mother! Last time he checked, Dad had a girlfriend and Mom had a lawyer.
"Tough trip up?" she asked. "Hi, sweetie. You look exhausted."
"I'm all right," Lander said. Just the fact that they had all been there together and he had not been invited, it left a weird taste in his mouth, like pennies or artichokes. OK, he had been invited, but not long ago. How long had this been going on?
"This is really something," Lander said.
"Twin Chryslers," his father said, as they passed through the living room and wheelhouse. "If you can afford to feed the beast, this thing will really go."
Belowdecks, evidence of careless male living was strewn around: laundry, dishes, the Telecaster that Lander had never quite learned to play and Tim had given up on, too. There was a picture of this same boat in a frame on the wall of the main cabin, which brought that taste into Lander's mouth again. It was just creepy, was all. The whole thing.
"I'm hungry," said his sister from somewhere nearby. He still hadn't seen her.
"We waited dinner for you," said his father--like this was something special, something other than the everyday congress of life. And here was his father's gigantic unmade bed in the rearward berth! For a moment, Lander wished himself back in the cool and quiet of the library, where things made sense. True, he was miserable there, but at least he knew why.
"And here's the guest quarters," said his father, leading him up to the slanted V_berth all the way forward, under the skylights, where two beautiful girls in tiny bathing suits were buffing their toenails. True, one of them was his sister, Jen, but one of them was not.
"Hey," said Lander.
"Hey," said his sister, without looking up.
"Hey," said the other girl. She smiled up briefly, insincerely, then went back to her work, but not before Lander saw she was pretty, polished but indifferent. She had the kind of lazy, languorous fog around her that Lander liked in a girl. Maybe there was something there for him.
"You're staying up in the condo," said his father. "Tim'll show you what's what. I'm going to go fire up the Weber."
Lander looked back wistfully at the two girls in their swimsuits but they were heads down, intent, elsewhere. His father led him up the passageway to where his brother waited on deck, under the eager gaze of the Langendorfs. Tiny, pale, frail.
"Who's the girl?" Lander asked on the way upstairs to the condo.
"One of the Langendorfs," Tim said. "Daughter of Ken and Barbie."
"I thought it was Steve and Polly."
"Whatever," Tim said.
"What's going on?" Lander said, when they got inside the condo hallway. A tomblike, air-conditioned quiet prevailed. "What the fuck, even. I mean, weren't they trying to kill each other when last seen?"
"It's an act," said Tim.
"And what's the deal with that fucking boat?"
"He's trying to sell the Inman place," Tim said, when they were into the condo. "He thinks he's got a shot at it with these two."
Lander set his bags down in the living room. The condo was unchanged since he last saw it, maybe since he first saw it, the clean quiet anonymity of a good hotel room. There was no sign of his mother's presence or his father's absence. He went to the refrigerator and took a cold beer, one of only three, he noted sadly. Beer run later. His brother was out on the little balcony, looking down at the little figure on the deck of the enormous boat. It dwarfed the other speedboats at the dock like a freighter in a yacht harbor.
"Dad thinks it'll go better if they can socialize them up," Tim said. "He's had a few things fall through this summer."
"Which one's the Inman place?"
"Over on Rocky Point?" Tim said. "We went by there once in the kayaks. It's the one with the fake waterfall."
"Geez," Lander said. "Two million?"
"Try eight," Tim said. "Things have been going crazy up here. That's the thing with the boat, Dad was going to buy a place for himself when he moved out, but every little rat shack with a dock is over a million. He couldn't find anything to buy."
"So he bought himself a private navy. What did that thing cost, anyway?"
"Cut him some slack," Tim said suddenly. "Both of them. It's been a tough summer."
Lander looked into his brother's face: small, hurt, closed. They were not in this together. They had always been before, always together.
"You want a beer?" Lander said. "Get you a beer?"
Again the closed, cloudy look in Tim's eyes. "I'm not supposed to," he said.
"OK," said Lander.
"I'm going to go downstairs, give Dad a hand," Tim said. "You go ahead and settle in."
Lander watched him leaving, getting ready to go, and felt a kind of panic to watch it. What was happening? They had never been like this before. He wanted to say something, anything, to keep Tim from going. In the end, he could only come up with "How are you doing, anyway?"
"I don't have a spleen anymore," Tim said. "I seem to get along without it just fine. That's about it. I don't miss that nursing home much."
"I'm sorry," Lander said.
"Don't worry about it," Tim said. "I don't imagine you did it on purpose."
He grinned at Lander in a hard cool way and left. Lander went out on the balcony again and looked down until he saw his brother set foot on the deck again, then turned back inside. Toy boat toy boat toy boat, he thought. The thing was three times the size of anything near it and gleaming white in the sun. Inside was the smell of perfumed soap and tears, his mother's house.
From the Hardcover edition.Copyright © 2009 by Kevin Canty
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