Authors: Scott Lasser
He waited for Bergen's response. He'd said more than he'd meant to say, but he was tired of everyone trashing Detroit.
Bergen seemed lost in thought.
know what I'm talking about,” David said. “You've never left.”
Bergen smiled. “Hell,” he said. “The Tigers might even make the playoffs this year.”
“I wouldn't get your hopes up.”
Bergen stood, and David with him. “I'll get you an offer letter,” Bergen said.
“I'll be giving up partnership,” said David. “You'll need to replace it.”
“You expect to be hired as a partner?”
“I expect a foot in the door, yes.”
“That's more than a foot in the door.”
“I'm just saying that there's a market for my labor. I ask that you pay the going rate.”
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ITHIN A WEEK
he'd met with the other three partners, negotiated a small partnership stake (though without his name on the door), and begun to look for a place to live. He visited a dozen houses that managed to make Denver homes look expensive, but buying seemed too big a step, so he called his landlord and offered to continue on a month-to-month basis. The man sounded as if he might shout out a cry of joy.
There was also the delicate situation of extracting himself from his current firm. He called Tom Cutter and explained that he was simply sick about it but he had to withdraw from the firm and move back to Detroit, that filial duty and responsibility demanded it.
“Ah, David,” Cutter said. “I'm really sorry. Detroit? What are you going to do for work?”
“I'll find something.”
“You know anything about bankruptcy law?”
“You're saying I can't make a living planning for death in Detroit?”
Cutter wished him luck.
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E CALLED STACY.
They had dated for almost a year, more off than on. He wasn't sure how long it had been since he'd called her. Three weeks? Four?
“I'd just stopped wondering if you were ever going to call again,” she said.
“I'm not,” he told her. He used fewer than twenty words to give her the story.
“Well, I hope you find what you're looking for.”
“Who says I'm looking for anything?”
“Oh, please,” she said.
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E WAS DRIVING
when Carolyn called. He wasn't expecting it.
“Where are you?” she wanted to know.
“On my way home,” he said.
“I'm at your apartment,” she said.
He found her sitting in her rental car, a Mazda. It wasn't long till they lay shoulder-to-shoulder on their backs, the air redolent with her smell. In the dim light he could see the steady rise and fall of her breasts, hear the faint rustle of her breathing.
“I'm not staying.”
“I know,” he said.
“Okay, then.” She sighed. She rolled to him, took him in her hands. “Can we do something about this?” she asked.
He responded, though it took what seemed to him a long time, so that when it was over he didn't want to move a muscle. She reached toward the nightstand for her phone.
“You're making a call?” he asked.
“Setting the alarm.”
An hour later, it woke him. She rose and dressed without saying a word. He wanted to ask her to stay but knew she wouldn't. She seemed intent on leaving.
“Goodbye, Carolyn,” he said.
Through the dim light he saw her hesitate, and then perhaps she gave him a nod. When the door closed he felt his stomach clench. He thought about her as he tried to drift back to sleep.
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E WOKE TO
the dawn. Muted light was making an end run around the blinds. He had a brief, fleeting memory of Cory, of a morning when the light in the bedroom had been just like this and Cory had come in, seven or eight years old, and tapped an index finger on David's forehead. “The day is wasting away,” he said, one of David's lines.
The bed smelled of Carolyn. He found his cell phone and called her, but the call went to voicemail. He rose and stripped the bed, stuffed the sheets in the little stacked washer/dryer unit. He hated housework. He hated that she was gone. He waited an hour and phoned her again, and again got voicemail. His stomach cramped and roiled on the instant coffee. It was early, but he called her mother's house.
“She's left already, David,” Tina said. She had recognized him just from his voice.
“For the airport?”
“Yes, of course.”
He was reminded of when Natalie left for college.
“I was going to say goodbye.”
“Interesting,” Tina said. She agreed to pass his message along. He saw that he was being silly, but he didn't care.
HE TERMINAL WAS
new, with high ceilings and wide hallways, unlike the old claustrophobic tunnels where the airlines other than Northwest conducted their business. In her youth, Carolyn remembered, Northwest had been called Northwest Orient, a name that conjured up the allure of travel, the idea that you could leave Detroit and go someplace completely foreign, even exotic. Of course, the world was smaller now; in her youth California would have been exotic rather than home. Part of her looked forward to getting back. She wanted to see Kevin; she didn't want to think about herself. She was worn out with the consideration of her own problems.
She passed two stores selling athletic apparel, one green and white for Michigan State, the other blue and gold for the University of Michigan. She stopped at the latter and bought Kevin a blue hooded sweatshirt, two T-shirts, and a Nerf football. Even at Detroit Metro the souvenirs weren't from the city, except in the check-in hall, where there were new cars on display, just as there had always been.
She slowed to look as she passed the concessions, but she couldn't eat. It seemed a metaphor for everything that lay ahead. She had to act and she couldn't act. She couldn't stay with Marty and she couldn't break up the family. Worst of all, she saw that she'd done it to herself, that she'd made the deal with Marty because she thought it was what she wanted. She'd been wrong.
She had met him at a bad time in her life, after she'd broken up with a man she'd thought “the one.” She and this man had spent three blissful months together, and then he informed her that his ex-girlfriend was pregnant. “I don't want to lose you,” he told Carolyn, but in the end he went back to the other woman. Months later she met Marty. He pursued her relentlessly, and he was so clumsy at it that she assumed he'd never tried that hard before. It was flattering. He was a lawyer, and unlike almost every other man she'd met in Los Angeles, he had no secret dream to make movies. He lived in the real world. He felt solid and safe. She didn't think he would ever hurt her. She thought she could make a life with him, and fill in the missing pieces later.
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AROLYN?” SAID A
voice. She looked over. It took her a moment, but then she recognized Suzy Maxwell. It had been twenty-five years, perhaps twenty-five pounds, but this was unmistakably Suzy Maxwell, same blue eyes, same dark hair; still, something was a little different.
“Suzy?” Carolyn asked.
“It's the nose,” she whispered. They were sitting one seat apart in a long row of connected chairs. “I had it done.”
“Oh,” Carolyn said, surprised by Suzy's line. It was the way people talked in L.A. “It looks good,” Carolyn added.
“Are you okay?” Suzy asked.
“You look upset.”
“I don't like flying,” Carolyn said.
They spent twenty-five seconds on the last twenty-five years. It was all they needed. At this spot, at this time, what had happened in those twenty-five years didn't matter nearly as much as the shared experiences that had come before it. Suzy lived in Encino with her two kids. She “didn't really” work; the ex-husband took care of the bills.
“So,” Suzy said, “you going to the reunion?”
“Twenty-five years, our class. It's Thanksgiving weekend, this year.”
“I'm not in touch with anyone,” Carolyn said.
“Well, now you're in touch with me.”
“I don't know,” Carolyn said.
“What's wrong?” Suzy asked again. “There is obviously something wrong.”
“I lost my sister,” she said. “And my brother.”
“I didn't know you had a brother.”
Carolyn explained. She'd been working very hard to move on, but suddenly the loss of Natalie hit her. It wasn't right. Natalie deserved to live. She wasn't a twin, but Natalie's life was the one life most like her own. Natalie was the one other person she might have been. And now she was dead. There was a basic injustice to it, this random violence. You lived your life and then all of a suddenâ
“I'm so sorry,” Suzy said.
“And then there's my marriage,” Carolyn said.
“What about it? Is he cheating?”
“Oh, no. No. At least, I don'tâno. He's not cheating.
“I cheated. I'm not cheating now. At least, I'm going to stop.” She thought for a moment. She hadn't cheated for almost nine hours.
“I don't know what to say about your sister or your brother, but with your marriage? I've been there,” Suzy said. “Try to work it out. And don't tell your husband about the other guy.”
“Okay.” Carolyn felt calmer. It helped that it was Suzy, a stranger she trusted. Pam and Carrie, her best friends in L.A.âshe wasn't sure she could admit her infidelity to them.
“Go to therapy. Get him to go. Work on it. For the boy, if nothing else.”
“Of course,” Carolyn said.
Over the loudspeaker the gate agent promised that the plane would be boarding shortly.
“You think I can make it work?” Carolyn said.
“Are you sure you really want to know what I think?”
“I don't think you'll work it out. You get to a point, it's probably not going to get better. But you've got to try. You have to so you can move on without dying from guilt. It's a killer, that guilt.”
The announcement came to board the plane.
“C'mon,” Suzy said. “Let's get the hell out of Detroit.”
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HEY TOOK OFF
and banked west. Carolyn could see I-94, the plane ascending just north of it, then over the Romulus City Cemetery. The landscape, a dozen shades of green in summer, looked lush and inviting, so different from the arid parts of the West. Small droplets of water streamed across the window as the engines strained as they continued to rise.
Natalie and Dirk had died together, and it occurred to her now that she was alive because she'd been absent. She was always absent, had absented herself from the family as a reflex, and she couldn't say why. She knew only that it was foolish. She loved her sister, and if Natalie felt so strongly about Dirk, then Carolyn knew she would have, too. They were her people and she felt guilty to be alive, for had she been a good sister, she would have been with them.
E DROVE EAST,
across the endless plains. Carolyn wouldn't take his calls. She was gone and David found himself sick with longing for her. He remembered odd physical details: the turquoise vein that jumped across the crook in her arm, the pink color she painted her toenails, the bony knobs at the edges of her wrists. He understood it was a silly youthful crushâhe couldn't ever rule out that it was related to Natalie, to what he'd lost, most specifically his youthâbut he felt it deeply. He saw no reason why even at his age he shouldn't be able to fall in love. And maybe this time enjoy it.
He drove into town on the new 696 and exited at Telegraph. He'd been driving since Colorado, two days of interstates, and now finally he'd made it to surface streets. He was coming home. In the back of his car he had eight suits, the uniform of his work. Things were still slightly formal here. The rest of his clothes were back there, too, plus a few books, a pair of ski boots, two diplomas, five years of tax returns, a nine-by-twelve-inch envelope filled with pictures of Julie andâmostlyâCory. Back in Denver he hadn't been able to throw these pictures away, though he found them too painful to look at. He doubted he would ever look at them again, or let them go.
His entire life fit easily in the back of an Audi A6. He lacked a drive for acquisition but always had the feeling that he should have more and want more.
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E DROVE UP
Telegraph and remembered a day in Denver when it was gray and windy like this. Cory had had a Little League game. He was ten or eleven. They drove all the way to a field in Arvada, the first to arrive. Soon it became clear they would be the only ones to arrive. It was April, cold, maybe forty degrees, the wind whipping along the foothills, picking up dust and throwing it across the infield the way breakers threw mist. David phoned the coach.
“Didn't you check the website? The game's called,” the coach said.
“Too damn cold and windy.”
In Michigan, in April, you played no matter the weather. You played if it wasn't snowing or raining too hard, and you thanked God for the chance. David closed the phone, told his son the news. He got Cory to throw for ten minutes because he thought there were important lessons in it. Soon Cory's cheeks turned red and raw in the wind, and often they had to stop throwing to turn away from the flying dust. Still, they played. David could see that Cory wasn't having a good time, and that was perhaps the point. David believed in perseverance.