Authors: Gloria Dank
FRIENDS TILL THE END
GOING OUT IN STYLE
PUBLISHED BY DOUBLEDAY
a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell
Publishing Group, Inc.
is a trademark of Doubleday, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc.
All of the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Grateful acknowledgment is made for permission to reprint excerpts from “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” in
Collected Poems, 1909–1962
by T. S. Eliot, copyright 1936 by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc. and copyright © 1964, 1963 by T. S. Eliot, reprinted by permission of Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc. and Faber and Faber Limited.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
As the sparks fly upward / by Gloria Dank.
“A Perfect Crime book”—T.p. verso
Copyright © 1992 by Gloria Dank
All Rights Reserved
The phone rang at two in the morning.
Bernard, a stolid slumbering mass, did not move. Maya rolled over and sleepily picked up the phone.
“Go to hell.”
Maya hung up the phone with a
She nestled up to her husband and instantly fell asleep.
The phone rang again.
“We were disconnected,” her younger brother said cheerfully. His voice sounded far away and tinny, like an early gramophone recording. “This is a terrible connection. I guess they don’t have real phones up here in the woods. Still, I guess I shouldn’t complain. I’m lucky to have a phone at all.”
“Where are you?”
“I’m in Vermont. A little town called Lyle.”
“That’s nice. And why are you calling me now?”
“Snooky, don’t you know what time it is?”
“No,” her brother said. He sounded, maddeningly, more cheerful than ever. “Is it late? My watch stopped and I don’t have a clock in the cabin.”
“It’s two in the morning.”
There was a pause while Snooky digested this. “Oh, well. You’re awake now, aren’t you? So here’s my plan. You and Bernard pack your bags tomorrow and come up here for a couple of weeks. I’ve rented this beautiful cabin in the woods, and it’s more idyllic than you can imagine. I was just out looking at the moon. It’s big and yellow tonight, like Gruyère cheese. It takes up half the sky. I feel that I’ve never really looked at the moon before, Maya. I want you and Bernard to come up here and see it.”
“Sounds nice.” Maya propped up her pillow and leaned against it drowsily. “Sounds nice. I’ll think about it.”
“You do that. I’ll expect you tomorrow night. I’ll have dinner ready and waiting.”
“Forget it, Snooks. We can’t come that soon. I’ve got an article due and Bernard is working on his new book.”
“Which one is this?”
“It’s another one about Mrs. Woolly. He hasn’t told me the plot yet.”
“Well, tell Bernard he can bring his typewriter and work up here. I have the guest room all ready for you. And it’s cider season, Maya, do you hear me? Cider season. There are twenty jugs of fresh cider out back.”
“It’s delicious. There’s nothing like life in the wilderness, Maya. I’m happier than I’ve ever been.”
“That would be pretty happy,” said Maya. Her brother was normally a rather cheerful person.
“Thank you for calling, Snooks. I’m going back to sleep now. Try not to call again before morning.”
“Good night, Maya. I won’t call. I’m going outside to gaze at the moon.”
In the morning, Bernard looked over his coffee cup, a two-handled French affair that was as big as a soup bowl, and said curtly, “No way.”
Maya smiled at him. In any given situation, her husband could be counted on to deliver the misanthropic response. “Come on, Bernard. It sounded very nice, the way Snooky described it. And we were thinking of getting away for a while, just the two of us.”
“Exactly. Just the two of us.”
“Snooky’s no trouble.”
“Don’t be absurd, Maya. Snooky’s nothing but trouble. He never has been and he never will be anything else.”
“You could bring your typewriter and work up there just as well as you do here.”
“No, I could not.”
“And why is that?”
“Because I am comfortable here. I have my study and my routine and my coffee just the way I like it. It would take me a week at least to get used to being somewhere else. And also, now that we’re discussing it, I don’t like the idea of this cabin in the woods.”
“It sounds creepy.” Bernard put down his cup, which clattered loudly on its saucer.
Maya regarded him fondly. Bernard Woodruff was one of the biggest men she had ever met. He was not so much large or fat as simply massive. He looked like a big good-natured bear, except that he was not good-natured. He had dark curly hair and a bristling beard and deceptively soft, twinkly brown eyes. Now he scowled at her. “I refuse to go.”
“There’s nothing to be afraid of. It’s only Snooky.”
“Snooky and a gang of psychopathic murderers roaming the woods, looking for some throats to cut.” Bernard picked up the paper. “No, thank you.”
“Yours is not exactly the spirit of adventure, sweetheart.”
The phone rang. Maya picked it up and said, “Hello?”
It was her younger brother again, his voice high-pitched and tinny, as if emanating through a time warp from his childhood.
“I’m expecting you. Are you on the road yet, heading up here?”
“Not yet, Snooky.”
“Why not? What’s wrong? It’s Bernard, isn’t it? He doesn’t want to come visit me, right? He says he can’t work up here and he’d rather stay in Connecticut, right?”
“That’s right, Snooks.”
“Put him on the phone.”
“He’s not in a very good mood.”
“Bernard never is in a good mood. Put him on.”
Bernard picked up the phone impassively. “Yes?”
An absorbed expression stole over his face. “Yes … Yes … That’s true … That’s very true … Uh-huh … Yes … Yes, I see your point … That’s certainly true … Yes … All right. Fine. Say the day after tomorrow. How long a drive is it?… And we have to bring the dog, remember. We don’t go anywhere without Misty.”
Misty, a small red furball at Bernard’s feet, thumped her tail at the mention of her name.
“All right. I hadn’t thought of it that way … Okay. Day after tomorrow, then. Good-bye.” Bernard replaced the phone gingerly on its receiver.
Maya stared at him in astonishment. “Good Lord. What did he say?”
“He pointed out that if we visit him, we’ll be staying in his place and eating his food and bothering him, instead of the other way around. It was such a novel idea that I accepted. I wouldn’t mind eating Snooky’s food for once.”
Maya smiled. In the four years since Snooky had graduated from college, he had visited them often, showing up unexpectedly at their door and overstaying his welcome by several months.
“Good. I’ll go pack,” she said, rising from the table.
“I think the dog’s throwing up,” Bernard said.
They were on I-91 heading north for Vermont. They had just passed the Connecticut-Massachusetts border. Maya glanced into the back seat.
“Oh, God. Don’t look back. It’s disgusting.”
“This is a new car,” Bernard said mournfully.
“It is not new. It’s three years old.”
“What do you want me to do about it, Bernard? Climb over the seat and clean it up while you’re doing sixty-five miles an hour on the highway?”
“No. I’ll tell you what. Let’s just forget about it.”
“Let’s ignore it, and maybe it will go away.”
Misty retched again, miserably. Bernard stared moodily out at the unending highway.
“This was a mistake,” he said. “I can feel it. Misty can feel it. Anything to do with your little brother is trouble. He’s the original—what’s that quote?—the original man born unto trouble, or something.”
“ ‘Man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward,’ ” quoted Maya. “The Book of Job.”
“Snooky isn’t so bad, Bernard. You’ve never given him a chance.”
“I’ve given him plenty of chances.”
“You have not.”
They lapsed into sullen silence. Bernard thrummed his fingers on the steering wheel. “He practically lives in my house, doesn’t he?”
“I’ll say this for you, sweetheart, you’ve been very forebearing. You’ve never turned him away.”
“He’s my brother-in-law.”
“He’d like to be closer to you, you know. I know he would. He often talks to me about it. He’d like it if the two of you were friends.”
Bernard turned his face away. In the back seat, Misty threw up.
Maya sighed and dug into the picnic hamper she had brought along. It was always like this. Her husband didn’t dislike Snooky any more than he disliked anyone else, but he didn’t like him any better, either. Of course, Bernard hated everyone. It was part of his charm. To be included inside the pinprick circle of his affection and concern always made her feel smug, somehow. Bernard never spoke to anyone else if he could help it, although he had to speak to Snooky sometimes, when Snooky was staying in their house. Since graduating from college, Snooky had spent his time and money wandering across the country, staying here and there as the whim suited him. He did not work; their parents, who had died years ago, had left Snooky, Maya, and their older brother, William, a large enough fortune that he did not have to work. This fact drove William nearly insane.
“I hate him,” he would say. “I hate him, Maya. Do you hear me? There’s nothing I hate more than him. I—I
William, a hardworking corporate lawyer who had raised his younger siblings after their parents died, found the mere spectacle of Snooky irritating.
“I hate the way he sits around all day,” he would say in an ominous whisper to Maya. “I hate the way he lies on the couch and watches TV. He’s a child of our age, Maya—a child of our age. A videohead.”
His frequent lectures to Snooky on this subject, however, left William more baffled than not.
work, William,” his younger brother would say in tones of reproach. “I work in unseen ways. I hold up my end of the universe. I fulfill a useful function.”
“And what is that?” William would ask, grinding his teeth.
“I umbellate, William. I umbellate.”
And by the time William had rushed to the dictionary, to discover that “umbellate” had something to do with the shape in which carrots grow, and nothing to do with any kind of useful work whatsoever, Snooky would have made good his escape.
Bernard sighed deeply and turned the radio on. “How’s Misty doing?”
“Better. She seems to have settled down.”
“You were thinking about William, weren’t you?”
“Yes. How could you tell?”
“Every time you think about him, a little involuntary spasm crosses your face. It’s sort of touching.”
Maya smiled and settled back in her seat.
Hours later, Bernard said gloomily, “We’ve missed the exit, haven’t we?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think so.”