Hope to die, p.6
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       Hope to Die, p.6

         Part #15 of Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block
 
Page 6

 

  Andy said, "What the hell, were on Long Island, right? Ill have a Long Island Iced Tea. "

  They thought that one up after I stopped drinking, so I never learned whats in it, but I gather it contains a mix of liquors, and that teas nowhere to be found. The names ironic, and I suppose its a reference to rum-running during Prohibition, which would make it doubly ironic, since the kids who get wasted on it cant even remember Vietnam.

  The drinks came. Andy sipped his and pronounced it a stupid drink. "Who thought this up?" he wondered. "Its supposed to have a kick like a mule but it doesnt taste like anything at all. I suppose thats the point, especially if youre nineteen years old and looking to get your girlfriend drunk. " He took another sip and said, "It grows on you. I was going to say this is my first Long Island Iced Tea and its going to be my last, but maybe not. Maybe Ill finish it and have six more of them. "

  "And maybe you wont," his brother said. "Gray needs us back at the house. "

  "Is that what you call him? Gray?"

  "Its what Mom called him," Andy said. "I never had much occasion to call him anything, really. Just if he answered the phone when I called, or the couple of times I visited. "

  "Which would have been four years ago," I said.

  "Plus once since then. "

  "Oh?"

  "I guess it was last Thanksgiving. I never did come into the city, I just visited here for a couple of days and flew straight out again. " He looked at his glass. "I called you a few times," he said unconvincingly. "I got the machine every time I called, and I didnt want to leave a message. "

  I said, "He seems like a nice enough fellow, Gray. "

  "Hes all right," Andy said.

  "He was good for Mom," Michael said. "He was there for her, you know?"

  Unlike some people. "I never thought Id see this day," I said, surprising myself with the words, evidently surprising them as well from the looks on their faces. "I always assumed Id go first," I explained. "I didnt think about it much, but I guess I took it for granted. I was older by three years and change, and men generally die first. And all of a sudden shes gone. "

  They didnt say anything.

  "Everybody says thats the best way," I said. "One minute youre here and the next minute youre gone. No pain to speak of, no long-drawn-out illness, no standing at the brink and staring out at the abyss. But its not what I would want for myself. "

  "No?"

  I shook my head. "Id want time to make sure I wasnt leaving a mess. My affairs in order, that sort of thing. And Id want time for other people to get used to the idea. A sudden death may be easier on the victim, but its harder on everybody else. "

  "I dont know about that," Michael said. "Junes got an aunt with Alzheimers, shes been hanging on for years. Be a lot easier on all concerned if she stroked out or had a heart attack. "

  I said he had a point. Andy said when it was his turn he wanted to be lowered into a vat of lanolin and softened to death. That seemed funny, but not funny enough to laugh at, given the mood at the table.

  "Anyway," Michael said, "we had a warning. Mom had a minor heart attack about a little over a year ago. "

  "I didnt know that. "

  "I didnt hear about it right away. She and Gray didnt exactly call a press conference. But she had diabetes and high blood pressure, and- "

  "I didnt know that, either. "

  "You didnt? I guess she developed diabetes about ten years ago. I dont know about the blood pressure, how long she had that. I believe you can have it a while without knowing it. The diabetes was mild enough so she didnt need injections, just oral insulin, but I guess it affects the heart, and so does the high blood pressure. She had the one heart attack, and it was just a question of time until she had another one, but I didnt expect it this soon. "

  "I thought shed beat it," Andy said. "She seemed fine at Thanksgiving, and she and Gray were full of plans. There was this riverboat cruise through Germany they were going to take. "

  "Its next month," his brother said. "They were going to leave right after Labor Day. "

  "Well, I guess thats out," Andy said. "Maybe you can use their tickets, you and Elaine. "

  There was an awkward silence, and then he said, "Sorry, I dont know why I said that. " He picked up his glass and looked at the ceiling light through it. I thought of all the times Id done that myself, though never with a glass of Long Island Iced Tea. "This stuff ought to come with a warning label. Im sorry. "

  "Forget it. "

  "Anyway, I dont suppose Elaine would want to go to Germany, would she?"

  "What do you mean?"

  "Well, shes Jewish, isnt she?"

  "So?"

  "So she might not be that crazy about going to Germany. She might be worried about getting turned into soap. "

  Michael said, "Andy, why dont you shut up?"

  "Hey, it was just a joke, okay?"

  "A stupid joke. "

  "Nobody likes my jokes," Andy said. "Soap, lanolin, I cant win. Nobody likes my jokes today. "

  "Its not a great day for jokes, bro. "

  "Just what is it a great day for, bro? Will you tell me that?"

  "I guess you guysll want to get back to the house," I said, not knowing what they wanted to do, not caring much, knowing only that I wanted to get the hell out of there. "Gray can probably use you for the next few hours. "

  "Gray," Andy said. "You ever meet him?"

  "Just now, at the funeral. "

  "I figured you were old friends, calling him Gray and all. "

  I turned to Michael. "I think youd better drive," I said.

  "Andys all right. "

  "Whatever you say. "

  "Hes upset, thats all. "

  "Talking about me like Im not here," Andy said. "Can I ask a question? One fucking question?" He didnt wait for permission. "Where do you get off having the long face, talking about how you thought youd be the first to go? I mean, where in the hell does that come from? Who appointed you chief mourner, for Gods sake?"

  I could feel the anger, moving up my spine like an army. I kept a lid on it.

  "You didnt give a shit about her while she was alive," he went on. "Did you ever love her?"

  "I thought I did. "

  "But I guess it didnt last. "

  "No," I said. "The two of us werent very good at being married. "

  "She wasnt so bad at it. You were the one who left. "

  "Im sure I wasnt the only one who thought of it. Its easier for a man to leave. "

  "I dont know," he said. "Past few years, Ive run into a few women who didnt find it so goddam hard. Pack a bag, walk out the door, easiest thing in the world. "

  "Its not always as easy as it looks. "

  "Especially if theres kids involved," he said. "Right?"

  "Right. "

  "I guess we didnt count, me and Mikey. "

  I didnt have anything to say to that. And the anger Id felt before was gone now, stuffed wherever that sort of thing gets stuffed. If I felt anything it was an almighty weariness. I wanted this little talk to be over and I knew it was going to go on forever.

  "Whyd you come, anyway?"

  "Because your brother called me up and told me about it," I said. "Not Saturday, when he found out about it, and not Sunday when you both got here, but late last night. " I turned to Michael. "That was considerate," I said. "That way I didnt have a long period of agonizing before the funeral. "

  "I just- "

  "In fact," I said, "with any luck at all Id have made plans it would have been too late to cancel, and I wouldnt be here at all. Just your luck Im a guy who hasnt got too much to do these days. "

  "I was afraid to call," he said.

  "What were you afraid of?"

  "I dont know. How youd take it, what youd say. That youd come, that you wouldnt come. I dont know. "

  "I couldnt not come," I said. "I wont pretend I wanted to be here, but theres no way I could have stayed away. I had to be here for you two,
even though you might have been happier if Id stayed in the city. And I had to be here for her. " I took a breath. "She was a good woman, your mother. I couldnt have stayed married to anyone, the kind of man I was. She did the best she could. Jesus, I guess we both did the best we could. Thats what everybody does, the best they can, and thats all anybody does. "

  Andy wiped away tears with his sleeve. He said, "Dad, Im sorry. "

  "Its all right. "

  "Im sorry as hell. I dont know what got into me. "

  "Six different kinds of booze," Michael said, "all in one drink. What the hell did you expect?"

  What did any of us expect?

  "Im afraid you wont get to see any of them this time around," I told Elaine. "Mike and June fly home tomorrow morning. "

  "What did June do, leave Melanie with her parents?"

  "They brought her along," I said, "but I didnt get to see her. June thought the funeral would be too much for her, so she stayed at the house. I dont know whether they hired a sitter or some family member stayed with her. "

  "And you didnt get to see her at all?"

  "I could have, if Id wanted to go to the house, but I decided Id rather come straight home. "

  "I dont blame you. What about Andy? He has to go straight home to Denver?"

  " Tucson. "

  " Tucson in the summer? Its like an oven. "

  "Well, I guess he figures hell enjoy the winters. If hes still there. "

  "Your rolling stone. "

  "Not mine," I said. "Not anymore. Theyre neither of them mine anymore, honey. I dont know if they ever were. "

  "Youre saying that because of the kind of day youve just had. "

  "Thats only part of it. Oh, Im still their father, and theyre still my sons. Otherwise we wouldnt get on one anothers nerves the way we do. Well get calls and cards at Christmas, and Andy may even keep us up to date on address changes. And theyll call if they happen to be in the city. Maybe not every time they come here, but some of the time. Of course they wont come to the city all that often. "

  "Baby- "

  "And when I drop dead," I said, "theyll fly in for the funeral, and theyll show up wearing suits. They both look good in suits, I have to say that for them. Theyll help carry the box, they got in practice for that this afternoon, although theyll have more weight to deal with next time. "

  "Unless you waste away," she said.

  "Arent you something," I said. "You wont let me get away with a thing, will you?"

  "Would you love me more if I did?"

  "I dont see how I could. Theyll be decent to you, incidentally. They were decent to Gray. Thats what they call him, Gray. "

  "So you said. "

  "Oh, I mentioned that? Gray. Big, good-looking fellow with one of those open, honest faces. Looked like he might have played football in school. Linebacker, maybe. Put on some weight since then but stayed in pretty good shape. "

 
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