This novella, intended as the last of three in the collection titled Standard Six, is, for me, the strangest and most ambitious of the trilogy, by far, but it’s also the one that’s given me the most grief. I’ve written well beyond the excerpt here, but never quite have gotten the effects I was hoping for, so I keep pulling back and starting over. I like the opening (though the voice isn’t quite there yet–it sounds too similar to Jim Brincker’s voice in the novella “Standard Six”); I think it’s odd and funny in places, and then the strangeness begins to creep in–first with the call from Lou Cudhy’s son, then by the appearance of D.C. Satterwhite. Unlike the other novellas in this project, “Solid Gone” was always intended as a piece of “slipstream fiction,” as a blend of domestic realism and the fantastic. I’ll keep wrestling with it as long as the characters and situations stay alive in my mind, and so far (and it’s been years) they have.
A slightly different version of this, under the title “If You Lived Here You’d Be Home Now,” appeared in the first issue of Makeout Creek.
FROM: “SOLID GONE”
Lou Cudhy is talking…
That fall coming up I was scheduled to teach freshman comp, sophomore lit, and—Thursday evenings, 7-9:40—American Horror. Despite its popularity with students—the biggest slackers kept pestering the Department to offer the course more frequently—my colleagues dismissed it as more “Crud by Cudhy,” lightweight and lacking entirely in academic rigor. But oh fuck them. My most popular courses (the ones I’d dubbed my American Triad: American Horror, American Fantasy, American Crime) were lightweight, I’d never denied it. When had I ever denied it? They were entertaining, undemanding, and as briskly paced as network television (short lecture, short break, feature film). So what if they mostly were bullshit, too. Wasn’t everything?
My name is Lou Cudhy. It sounds like I should be a private eye or a Teamster official, but I’m only a tenured associate professor at a small, historically-but-now-halfheartedly Methodist college in central Virginia. It has pretensions to excellence, but honestly it just costs a lot of money. While the students are mediocre, they come expensively dressed and accessorized. Pretty campus, though: red maples and dogwoods, azaleas, horse chestnuts and magnolias, formal gardens, fish ponds, topiary and transverse walks of red Colonial brick. All of the classroom buildings date from the eighteenth century. During the Civil War (or as I once heard the provost call it, the War of Northern Aggression) Belvidere College was used as a Confederate hospital. Three alumnae plaques say so.
In 1984 when the we moved down from New Hampshire (I’d been teaching near Stamford at a prep school), our boys were five, three, and barely two months. Bobbi and I had discussed it at length and agreed we’d stay in Virginia five years at the max, but instead—well, here it was 2008. Here it was. The boys were 29, 27 and 24. Bobbi was 52. And I was 55. I couldn’t believe it. Well, I could, I had to, but it seemed impossible.
By choice I had no friends among the current, and much younger, teaching faculty and seldom spoke with anybody in my department, or any other for that matter. Nods on the trot would have to suffice. (The few Belvidere friends I’d once had, had retired or moved on and fallen out of touch.) For the last several years I’d declined most committee work or simply hadn’t performed it, and I never went to department or college meetings. I didn’t care about budgets or curriculum, I didn’t care about the strategic plan, I didn’t care about any of that stuff. I used to but not anymore. It happens. I had little interest, none really, in academe: I no longer subscribed to journals, attended conferences, or kept up my membership in the Modern Language Association. I was finished with all of that.
Ever since the summer of 2002 when I’d had a bad scare (it wasn’t serious finally, it was polyps, but it could have been cancer), ever since then I was trying my best to not let anything, small or large, spoil the pleasure, the sheer animal pleasure I took simply in being alive and healthy. I’m not a spiritual man, but whenever I’d send Bobbi a floral arrangement on her birthday, our anniversary or for no official reason, I would always remove a single flower—usually a rose, but it worked just as well with a daisy or a carnation—and then keep it in a narrow glass vase on my desk, staring at it each day for a couple of minutes. Staring was the best I could manage, I was no meditator. Anyway, I’d stare at the stupid flower and watch it gradually decay. It was a Buddhist koan or something like that. I’d read about it in a student essay. Yeah really, it was good sometimes to remind myself.
On the fourth of August, a Saturday, Saturday morning, I was up, dressed and coffeed by 7:30. While it was still cool and not so muggy I took a short walk around the neighborhood. Bobbi and I lived on a cul-de-sac named Hardwood Trace which opened into Hardwood Terrace, which led to Hardwood Place, which in turn brought you out to Bel Grove Parkway, the main thoroughfare, one lane in each direction, snaking through a subdivision called the Estates at Bel Grove.
During the time I was out, the only people I encountered were driving. As they rolled by they’d lackadaisically half-lift a hand from the steering wheel, a gesture I called the “Bel Grove Bear Hug.” God, I hated the suburbs and didn’t know why we still lived there, now the boys were gone. Inertia, I suppose. By the time I got home, the mercury thermometer hanging from a cup hook on the front porch registered 86 degrees. At ten of nine in the morning! I didn’t know why we still lived in Virginia, either.
So I came back and then I went into the family room, which is a bullshit name that makes me think of Walt Disney or the Republican Party. I started pulling out DVDs and videocassettes, piling them in stacks. My plan was to spend the weekend, plus Monday and Tuesday, lolling on the sofa watching favorite horror movies before choosing which ones to put on the syllabus and show in class. Frankenstein? Or Bride of? Freaks? Carnival of Souls? The Thing? Original or remake? Halloween or Nightmare on Elm Street? Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Gut Wrench? Gut Wrench or GW3: The Crucifixion of Toby?
“Why didn’t you wake me?” from Bobbi standing there all of a sudden still in her nightshirt, the one with Keith Haring’s big orange face silk-screened on the front. She bought it in New York City the weekend we’d driven up there to see our oldest son perform in a showcase production of—what was it again? Something by Beckett, but not Godot. Michael didn’t act anymore, that hadn’t panned out. He was a court stenographer now in Philadelphia. Not Beckett. Pinter. “I thought I asked you to wake me.”
“You said nine.”
“It’s quarter past ten.”
“Oh. Shit. I’m sorry, sweetie. You go on back up and take your shower, I’ll fix some breakfast. Eggs?”
She pushed a hand through her hair, fluffing it, then scratching her scalp. “That’s okay. Just coffee.” Already she was on her way back upstairs.
“I’ll make you pancakes,” I called. “Sweetie? Bob? Don’t not have breakfast. You’ll be driving all day, you need something in your stomach.”
As soon as I heard the shower, I dumped out what was left of the coffee I’d made earlier and put on a fresh pot. Then I took out the Bisquick, the milk, couple of eggs, cinnamon from the spice rack. I felt shitty for losing track of the time, but if Bobbi got out of the house by 11 she could still make it to Cincinnati by 6:30, 7 that evening. And it wasn’t like she was on a tight schedule. She wasn’t going to miss something important if she arrived a little bit later than she’d planned. Bobbi was just visiting her nutso sister, nutso Andrea. That’s all. I took out the measuring cup, the mixing bowl.
After I’d poured three dollops of batter, carefully, even finically, onto the hot skillet (let me tell you, I can produce absolutely perfect silver-dollar pancakes), I set Bobbi a place at the table: plate, knife, fork, juice glass, paper napkin, mug. Then I remembered her prescription (Welbutrin) and her slew of vitamins and dietary supplements (everything from B and C and E to fish oil and glucosamine), except when I pulled open the cabinet door they weren’t on the shelf where they’d always been. Usually whenever Bobbi was going on a trip she’d count out how many pills she’d need depending on how long she’d be away and toss everything into a sandwich baggie. Obviously this time she hadn’t. I flipped the pancakes, took out the orange juice, the butter, the maple syrup. It was Bobbi’s business but it seemed pretty dopey taking along all those bottles.
The only vitamins she’d left were the ones I took (although I often forgot to, as I’d done that day): the Centrum Silver knockoffs from Costco and the zinc tablets from GNC. I would never, never, Christ never want this to get out, I’d be completely humiliated, but the reason I’d started taking zinc? The honest to God real reason? Was I’d discovered somewhere on the Internet that one tablet swallowed daily could noticeably increase the amount of semen in a man’s ejaculation, increase it and thicken it nicely. In recent years I’d noticed that mine had become less copious, less white, and, most disturbing, a little watery.
Speaking of that, I probably should have had sex with Bobbi that morning instead of getting up so early—isn’t that what you do, have sex with your spouse before they go off on a trip? Which, when you think about it, is pretty goddamn pessimistic.
I was wondering if I should turn off the heat under the second batch of pancakes, run upstairs and see if I could catch her before she finished dressing when Bobbi came down.
“What?” she said.
I must’ve frowned. “You seem like something’s bothering you,” I said. “Everything okay?”
“Not looking forward to the drive?”
“No, I’m all right. I don’t mind driving, you know that.” Bullshit. How many years had we been married? Thirty-one. Thirty-one years and you can practically read the other person’s mind, you always know what’s going on in there, almost always. She didn’t want to drive to Cincinnati, but wouldn’t admit it. She had to do the right thing, even when it sucked. That was Bobbi. Visiting nutso Catholic Andrea (another baby, and at 43, for Christ’s sake) was maybe the compassionate and big-sisterly thing to do, but still it sucked. So did seven, eight hours in the car. Vacation traffic. All that stuff.
As she reached past me for the coffee carafe, I leaned to the side and kissed her, catching the side of her mouth. I thought she wouldn’t smile, but then she did. “I made you pancakes.”
“I noticed. Thank you.”
“Should I make a sandwich? Do you want to take along the cooler?” I opened the pantry door and stared—before snatching down a bag of dried mangoes from the top shelf and, from the shelf below, a jar of Planters nuts. Unsalted. Like she liked. “For the road. If I put a couple of Cokes in that quilted thingy they ought to stay cold—should I?”
“You pack any CDs?”
“I’ll listen to the radio.”
I shrugged and sat down at the table, watched her cut a wedge from a stack of three pancakes. It seemed to call for enormous concentration and will, so did raising the fork to her mouth. She looked spacey.
“Bobbi? Hon? You want me to come with you? I could be ready to go in ten minutes. What? What’s so funny?”
“What? What ‘Jesus, Lou’? I’m serious.”
“I know you are.” She patted my right hand. Then she laughed again and I knew if I said anything more about going with her to Cincinnati it would come out wrong, sounding pissed off and all offended, so I let the matter drop. Instead, I asked if she had enough cash, did she have her Triple-A card, her cell phone and was it charged. She finished her coffee but not the pancakes. “What about your bag? Where’s your bag?”
“It’s already in the car.”
“When did you do that?”
“Give me a big kiss and let me get going.”
We walked outside together, me saying good fucking lord I wouldn’t be surprised if it reached a hundred degrees by the afternoon, Bobbi fetching out her electronic key fob and aiming it at her PT Cruiser. It was a black one and the car she loved best of all of the ones she’d owned during our long marriage, ’75 VW Squareback included. Myself, I thought it was gimmicky and clunky, postmodern Chrysler bullshit, and not very comfortable, but it wasn’t my car, it was hers. So mazel tov.
I’d given it to her on her fiftieth birthday, a month before she gave me, on my fifty-third, a round-trip ticket to San Diego to spend a few days with Stevie, our youngest. At the time it seemed a great idea, a golden opportunity as much as a gift, but it hadn’t turned out so great, that trip, that father and son reunion, and when it was over, not soon enough, Stevie dropped me off at the airport and didn’t even say goodbye. In retrospect I would have much preferred a new laptop with all the bells and whistles; either that or a trip Bobbi and I could have taken to someplace we’d never been, which was just about anywhere you could think of on planet earth.
Bobbi started the car, the AC, then sat there, just sat there spacing again till I tapped her window and she powered it down.
“You okay to drive?
“Maybe I’m not completely awake.”
“Then let me run back inside and get you another cup of coffee for the road.”
She was adjusting the rearview mirror. “No more coffee.” The sideview. “I’ll be fine.” The seatback.
“Tell Chris and Andrea I said hi. What’s your gas situation? You think you should get it filled before you hit the road? You take the earpiece for your phone? I don’t like to think about you holding that thing and talking while you drive. What about your sunglasses?”
She reached through the window, touched a finger to my lips and shushed me. “Bicycle,” she said and powered up the window. She backed her car down the driveway, me waving, parade waving, then remembering as she rolled into the street that I’d never given her that big kiss, the one she’d asked for in the kitchen, and while, yeah sure, it hadn’t been a serious request, just something every spouse in the world says going out the front door, even so I felt kind of bad.
I knew I’d savor being on my own for the next few days, relish having the house to myself, but I’d also miss Bobbi. There had been a time, and it lasted two, three, maybe four years, when I was convinced I didn’t love her anymore, or she me, and that our marriage was total bullshit. But then one day, just one day, I was positive that it wasn’t and that I did, still did or did again, and that she did too. It was kind of cool. It was kind of cool how it happened. I wished I’d given her that big kiss, though. .
Before I went inside I made a leisurely circuit of the house—way too big now for just the pair of us—checking on Bobbi’s herb garden and my struggling fig tree, cranking the hose back onto its plastic drum, tightening the spritzing handle of the spigot, wondering if I could get away with not cutting the grass, and thinking Night of the Living Dead or Last House on the Left? What about Evil Dead 2?
The telephone answering machine sat in full view on the kitchen counter next to a short rack of cookbooks. But it wasn’t until I’d finished doing the breakfast dishes and was stacking away plates in a cabinet over the sink that I saw the cherry-red message light persistently blinking. Since I’d checked as soon I’d returned from my walk that morning, the missed call, two calls actually, had to have come in either while I was telling Bobbi goodbye or diddling around in the yard. “Hey guys, it’s me.” I smiled; only Brendan—of the boys, only Brendan, the middle one, the troubled one, the complete and total fuckup, would say that, say just “it’s me,” as if of course you’d know who “me” was, as of course I always did. “I’m just um…Mom? You there? Dad? Pick up pick up pick up pick up. Guess not. Okay. Well. Um. I was just, you know, seeing if everything was all right there. All right then. Okay.”
The second message also was from Brendan.
“Me again. Hey guys? Call me, okay? Don’t forget.”
Because this was so not like Brendan, so not like him, I listened over again to his first message with what I’d have to say was mounting apprehension. Brendan had called just to see “if everything was all right there”? Why wouldn’t it be?
Brendan’s number on Caller ID didn’t match either of the ones we had for him on the card wheel. There was even a different area code. Did that mean he was no longer in Maryland? Last we’d heard from Brendan he was in Laurel. Working at the track in Laurel. Before that he was at the Meadowlands, in New Jersey. And before that? I couldn’t recall.
“This is Kevin.”
“Is Brendan there?”
“Brendan. Brendan. Can you tell me what he looks like?”
I got only as far as to say, “Well, to be honest with you—” when there was a burst of snotty laughter, not just from this Kevin but from several others guys who must have been standing nearby listening. Then I heard Brendan’s reedy voice in the background, “You are such a dick—gimme that!” and finally my prodigal son came on the phone. “Hello?”
“Brendan, it’s Dad.”
“Hey Dad. Sorry about all that.”
Then there was a loud dull thump, followed instantly by a high-pitched shriek of laughter, then “Ow ow ow ow, motherfucker!” and I would have confidently bet a hundred dollars that my son had just made a fist, a giant fist considering Brendan’s size, and playfully but mulishly punched this Kevin character hard in the upper arm. I could see it, I could just see it. Oh Brendan.
“Sorry, Dad. Sorry, sorry. I’m here.”
“And where’s that?”
“Where are you calling from?” Then I remembered that I’d placed the call and rephrased: “Where are you now? At work?”
What the hell did that mean, kind of ? How can you be kind of at work? But I knew better than to pursue it. “Sorry we missed your calls,” I said. “But we got your messages.”
“You and Mom both?”
“Just me. Mom’s on her way to Aunt And’s.”
“Aunt Nutso’s?” Brendan laughed. “But so why would she be ‘unavailable’ at Aunt Andrea’s?”
“Unavailable? What’s that supposed to mean?” Here we go again, I thought Talking to Brendan was like—it was like Abbott and Costello, “Who’s on First?” You remember that routine? It was like that more often than not, confused and daffy, daffier by the minute. “Brendan?”
“I’m just telling you what she said last night in her email. Mom said she’d be unavailable, but not how come. So that’s how come I called.”
I had no idea where to begin. “Email? You got an email from Mom? I didn’t know you could even get email, Brendan.”
“I can get it.” He sounded like his feelings were hurt. “I get it at work. Or, you know, I got friends with computers.”
“I wish I’d known. I don’t have any email address for you.”
“Well, you should’ve asked Mom.”
“I guess I should’ve. But I’m trying to understand this. Mom sent you an email last night…”
“Not just me. Mike and Stevie too. I seen that she sent it to all three of us.”
“Could you read me this email?”
“I’m not where I can, you know? I can’t. Sorry, Dad.”
I didn’t believe him. “Well, what I think, you know what I think? Is maybe your mom didn’t make herself as clear as she might have, maybe she was saying that she’d be unavailable because she’ll be at Aunt And’s helping take care of the new baby. Unavailable like that, too busy.”
Brendan breathed into the phone. “Maybe.”
Then in a raised voice I said, “Unavailable for how long?” And knew the second I’d done it that I’d made a mistake. Raising your voice to Brendan, or even just around him, had always been dangerous. Even when he was 10 or 11 it was never a good idea. So quietly now, evenly, I tried again: “Unavailable for how long, Bren—did Mom say?”
“Couple of weeks. Then she’d call us. She’d call us but don’t try calling her. That’s what her email said. And that we shouldn’t call you, either.”
“But you did.”
“Yeah, I guess. But I guess I thought maybe I’d get Mom before she went all unavailable. I don’t know. I’m sorry.”
“Brendan, no hey.”
“I’m sorry I fucking called. I’m sorry I ever fucking called at all. Just forget I did, all right? All right?”
“Brendan, relax, it’s okay, and it’s great hearing your voice again. It’s so great.”
“I have to go. I’m at work.”
Now he was positively at work. Not just “kind of.”
“Bren, why don’t you call up your mom right now on her cell? And you can see for yourself just how available she is. What do you say? You’ll feel better. You want her number? Or do you have it? Brendan?”
“I have to go,” he said and hung up.
It was entirely possible, Brendan being Brendan, that he’d had a too-vivid dream last night, or just hallucinated the entire thing. In all likelihood, he still had no access to email. He wasn’t very—. Brendan just wasn’t, period. But…in the unlikely event Bobbi had sent him an email, I needed to know what in hell was going on. Unavailable? It made no sense. And the more I turned it over in my mind, the more convinced I became it was just another Brendan Event, this one mercifully not involving either an Emergency Room or the state police.
I tapped out Bobbi’s cell phone number.
After just one ring an electronic female voice said, “The Verizon customer you’re calling is currently unavailable. Please hang up and call again later.”
I redialed, with the same exasperating result. Okay, now this was strange. Officially this had turned little bit strange—where was Bobbi’s personal greeting, what happened to that?—but so far it was nothing to worry about, or get weirded over. I considered calling Brendan back, changed my mind and started to call Bobbi’s sister Andrea instead. I cancelled, though, before I could tap in the final digit.
Okay. Exactly why had I almost called Andrea?
Enough. That’s it, I thought. Finito. I’d just wait till Bobbi checked in from the road. Then find out what was going on, or, more likely, not going on. I was certain I’d hear from her within a few hours, possibly sooner, first time she pulled off the road to stretch and use a bathroom. In the meantime, didn’t I have some movies to watch?
The way I structured my horror course, it wasn’t only movies, there was required reading too—one anthology and five or six novels. But while I varied the movies, I almost never changed the texts—same novels every time by King and Straub and Shirley Jackson, same stories by Poe and Bierce and Lovecraft. So I wouldn’t seem out of touch I used a few stories by contemporary writers like Dan Chaon and Elizabeth Hand, but it was mostly the old standbys. Occasionally I’d toss in something oddball—“The Yellow Wallpaper” or “Jesus’ Son” or anything by Thom Jones—call it “horror,” see what the students made of it. (Not much, usually.)
To you, though, I’ll admit the readings were pretty much a stab at legitimacy (Esteemed Colleagues, as you can plainly see, it’s not complete bullshit, just mostly) and that what interested me and kept me teaching the course were the movies. I never grew tired of watching horror movies. Didn’t matter if I’d watched something twenty times, I could always watch it again. Even turkeys like Blair Witch 2 and Scream 3 I could see over and over. I wasn’t sure why, or even how, this stuff worked on me, it just did.
After I’d decided not to worry any further over Brendan’s call, I got straight to work. I selected four DVD’s—Freaks, the James Whale Frankenstein, Coppola’s Dracula, and Gut Wrench, a low-budget bogeyman feature from the 1980s. I put that one on first since I’d seen it the fewest times, but in the brief silence between the home video credits and the appearance of the Main Menu, a car pulled into my driveway and the engine cut off. It jumped crazily to mind that Bobbi had turned around and driven home. I couldn’t imagine why, but felt certain I was right, so uncomfortably certain that I hesitated before going into the front room and peeking through the blinds.
Parked behind my Saturn, but not close behind it, ten feet down the driveway, almost at the street, was a new-looking Ford F-10 longbed truck painted the most god-awful lime-green. I could just barely detect a country song, a male singer, neither recognizable. The tune abruptly stopped and the driver’s side door swung open and then a man who was positively enormous took his sweet time getting out. Because of the music, I was surprised to see the man was black. African-American.
It wasn’t anyone I knew until the instant it most certainly was.
Although I might have recognized him at once from his size as well as by the incongruously light-footed way that he made his progress up the driveway, along the slate walk and onto the front porch, I’d been thrown off by the way he’d come dressed: in a blue sport coat over a bluer Izod shirt, gray chinos, uncuffed and a skosh too short, white socks and shiny black loafers. Every time I’d seen him in the past, and it had been years since I’d seen him at all, D.C. Satterwhite had on either painters’ coveralls or faded flannel shirts and old Levis with rolled cuffs, always steel-toed scuffed work boots and a cap of some kind. Beginning with the screened-in deck (Bobbi called it the “sun porch”) D.C. had done a lot of work for us, most of it carpentry and painting but also some minor electrical and plumbing.
He was about my age, but there wasn’t a line stamped on his face. (I can’t say the same thing about mine.) His hair was cropped short, the only gray in it some tufts above and around his ears. He was, if I had to venture a guess, six-four, 280 pounds. He had killer arms and a powerful chest (I can’t believe I’m using that word, “powerful,” a powerful chest) but his stomach was tremendous, stupefyingly big. It pushed against his knit shirt, overstretching it like a drumhead. D.C. liked to eat, sure enough, but he didn’t drink. No one did in his family, he’d told us. He’d been raised Jehovah’s Witness but was no longer involved.
I had never expected to see D.C. Satterwhite again (unless we were to run into each other by accident at the movies or one of the malls, not very likely since he lived way out in the boonies) and I had no intention now of answering the doorbell. I went back into the family room to wait it out. I picked up the remote and selected Play Movie. The first shot was an eerily lit slow pan down a subterranean maze of old steam pipes, water droplets beaded at the couplings and along the undersides. “Gallows Pictures Presents.” D.C. kept a steady finger on the bell. “A Film by Slaughter Amboy.” After the bell ringing stopped, the knocking started. Then it alternated between ringing and knocking, ringing and knocking. “K Steuben.” “John Galen” “Angelique Dobbs” “In”
For Christ’s sake, what the hell did he want? Work? No more work. Go away.
“Mr. Cudhy? Professor?”
When I couldn’t put up any longer with the racket, I clomped into the front hall carrying the legal pad and one of my gel pens, most probably (I really hadn’t thought it through) as a signal to D.C. that I’d been hard at work, an implicit criticism of the big man for having interrupted me at it. But when I opened the door I pretended delighted surprise. I hate that about me.
“My God,” I said, “it’s been forever!” I stepped onto the porch, not offering my hand. “How are you, D.C.?”
“Doing well, professor.” His voice was both raspy and hoarse and made you think of a sore throat, you couldn’t help it. “No cause for complaint.”
But he looked uncomfortable, even gloomy, which from my limited (but not slight) knowledge of the man seemed out of character. Nothing ever had bothered D.C., not a stretch of bad weather, not unreliable help, not arthritis, not back surgery.
Except now he seemed unsure of himself, and vexed by the need to explain his presence. “I was hoping to talk with you, professor—”
“—and I was hoping you would invite me in.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t understand. You want to talk to me about what, exactly?”
“Not want. Need. Need to.”
“And what do you ‘need’ to talk to me about?”
At first it didn’t register: none of her brothers and sisters, not even her parents, ever called her Roberta. I certainly never had. More than a few times I’d heard her say the last people who’d called her that were the Sisters of St. Joseph at St. John Bosco, like a million-and-a-half years ago.
“You need to talk to me about Bobbi? I don’t understand.”
“Can we please go inside? And I’ll make sure you do.”
“No. You stand right there till you answer me. What the fuck is going on, D.C.?”
“Language. All right? And you a college professor.”
“I’ll use any fucking language I want…‘all right’? Now why’d you come here needing to talk to me about Bobbi?”
“You know where she is right now?” he said. “No, wait. Let me just tell you something: you don’t. You might think you do but you don’t. You think she’s somewhere but she’s someplace else.”
“Jesus.” All of a sudden I was bleary and flush, out of register, how I’d always felt coming down with some bug. My legs started to quiver.
“No, it’s okay—it’s okay, but let’s go inside,” said D.C. pulling open and holding open the glass door, whose jamb and lintels I’d called him to replace after Hurricane Isabel tore off the flanges along with chunks of wood. “It’s hot out here.” He took the pad and pen from my fingers. “Let’s go inside.”
I don’t remember getting from the front porch to the back of the house. But suddenly I was in the family room and so was D.C., who was pulling open one of the glass doors to the sun porch he’d built for us almost ten years ago. “Not there,” I said. “In here.”
Whatever D.C. Satterwhite planned to tell me, whatever terrible thing, I was afraid it would turn out to be all my fault.
On the TV screen a large hulking man stumbled through scalding clouds of steam as pipes burst over his head. I picked up the remote and paused the movie. Then I sat down. D.C. remained on his feet.
“You wanted to come in,” I said. “Well, you’re in. So talk.”
He thought for a moment and then nodded.
But when he spoke the only words I heard at first were: “Me and Roberta.”
Otherwise there was just loud blat and hissy static in my head.
With a little shrug, D.C. sat down on the sofa, and cupping his hands over his knees, waited like Buddha for my response.
Which, when it came finally, was this: “You and Roberta what?