Authors: Joshua V. Scher
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Text copyright © 2015 Joshua V. Scher
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by 47North, Seattle
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Cover design by M.S. Corley
May 16, 2011
I hope my “care package” finds you well. Wish I could say it left me that way. Who knew FedEx delivered Pandora’s boxes, right? I’m sure you must be looking over the edge of my letter, staring down at the unstable innards bound in an oversized leather briefcase, sealed with duct tape, and cradled by packing peanuts, wondering, “What the fuck did Dan send me?” It’s a beast. Trust me, I know. Probably dislocated your FedEx guy’s lower lumbar-region. Lift with your legs.
When I first found all this, my mother had already been missing for close to a year. I’m not sure if I took possession of her report or it me.
Things were always that way with Hilary.
“Why in hell did Dan send me . . . ?” I know. I
. I didn’t really have many options. And honestly, you’re the only guy I know who might actually be able to help. Who am I to ask a favor, right? We bump into each other up at Brown last spring; before then we only hung out after a handful of run-ins around the city in the years since college. I don’t know, man, I hope your heart is still big and your tolerance for bullshit still miniscule.
All I’m asking is that you take a look, and if you believe me—no—if you just think there’s something here, help me drag this behemoth out into the light. Just look inside, please. No promises necessary. Take a glance and
see if it grabs you. It got me with the first line I happened upon:
“It was the second time he had broken the basement.”
Who the hell breaks a basement? Twice? I stumbled upon the thing while cleaning up my mother’s past and sifting through the jigsaw of skeletons in the back of a closet, ten fathoms deep. When I read that line, I knew. This was it, my cipher. This would help put the pieces together and give me more closure than a closet could ever contain. I was sure that somehow this aberrant phrase about a broken basement was the tip of the iceberg, just sharp enough to crack open the case and let me peer inside—and find my mother.
I didn’t tell you any of this that afternoon we ran into each other up at Brown, ’cause, well, how do you just unload something like this on someone? Plus, back then I was channeling through my own river of shit, locked in with my tunneling tunnel vision. And honestly, the last thing I wanted to do was explain to anyone how my mother had vanished. I didn’t want to explain anything about her at all. It never went well. The last time I tried, I was fourteen and got sent to boarding school as a result. I mean sure, it stopped me from crawling into bed with my mother every night, but it didn’t bring my dad back from the dead. That looks weird as I write it. It wasn’t at the time. It was the only way I could cope. What do I know? I nursed till I was three. Psychologists’ kids are always fucked up.
Did I mention yet that I miss her?
I’d always been scared about losing my parents. What kid isn’t? I just went a little above and beyond. I
had nightmares. Not your run-of-the-mill, wake-up-a-little-scared, turn-on-a-night-light, and go-back-to-sleep nightmares. No. I had slam-awake, screaming, drenched-in-a-cold-sweat, shiver-in-fear-for-the-next-three-hours nightmares. And they started galloping through my head at a very young age.
Maybe I was having premonitions about my dad’s death. He was an artist, or wished he were: an artist dressed in lawyer’s clothing. My earliest memories are of him wearing stained painter pants and a T-shirt blotched with color. Whenever inspired, he would sneak off to his art studio on O Street to “keep the paint from drying out.” Maybe he should have let it go. Maybe it was the paint that killed him. All the carcinogens and lead and mercury and sarin gas and who the hell knows what else. Maybe that’s what gave him nonsmoking lung cancer. Twin tumors blossomed in each lung, replicating to their hearts’ content and my father’s demise. The doctors told him to stop eating artificial sweetener and instead to spike his coffee with massive doses of chemo cocktails, but those cells wouldn’t stop splitting. It took only four months from diagnosis to demise. That’s the velocity of death.
I was thirteen.
But you know all this. And I know all about your year of death and the whole high-school-classmate-killed-by-lightning thing. I’ve learned something new though since our tête-à-têtes from sophomore year. I’ve learned about the abeyant hell that is the lack of death.
Legally speaking, the courts don’t consider someone dead until seven years after filing a missing person’s report. Dead in absentia. My mom’s only two years in. Well, two
years plus however long it took me to realize she was gone in the first place.
It had been at least a month since the last time we had talked. (According to the police investigation, my phone records stipulate it had actually been thirty-eight days since my mom and I had talked.) Some small talk, some work talk (me, not her, she rarely talked about her work), a little dancing around romantic relationships talk (again, me not her), and lastly a fight. As always, it escalated to a game of emotional chicken that ended with one of us hanging up on the other. I called her a few weeks after that. Left a voice mail. It’s hard to say if she had disappeared by that point, because my mom could hold a grudge. So fuck her for being so stubborn. She didn’t want to talk, fine by me.
At the time I was at a company called Anomaly, which was defiantly “not an ad agency.” No, no. We were executionally agnostic market innovators who utilized a multi-disciplinary approach to unravel the advertising enigmas of the modern media arena. We eschewed the old and embraced the numinous. We thought we were hotter than a lava monster shitting in a deep fryer turned up to high. I myself was the head of Innovation and Intellectual Initiatives, III, the Trinity of Me, or Tri-Me for short.
Being the steward of strategy was no easy task at a place like that. To make it work, I not only had to con an entire bullpen of bullshitters, I had to make it stick to the fan like it was covered in airplane glue. Looks like a Brown semiotics degree had some use in the real world. Who would’ve thought that my fabricated thesis about the utilization of reflections in Pierre Menard’s remake of Baudrillard’s
House of Mirrors
(a film, mind you, that itself was a complete fabrication of my imagination) would give me a corporate
edge? I mean, how many different ways can someone describe how when a driver sees a red octagon atop a pole on the side of the road, he knows to stop, even if he doesn’t see the letters S-T-O-P? He “reads” the sign. That’s it. That’s semiotics: brand recognition, for academics.
With my days flooded by the deluge of Anomaly, my nights were inundated by the tide of Toby. Do you remember him? I think you met the night we ran into each other at the club, K-OS. You were there with that insecure producer named Doubtie, I think. Toby’s the guy I grew up with in the “alleys” of Foggy Bottom, while you were living large up above Woodley Park. Toby had become my very own Manhattan Virgil, ferrying me along a river of spirits around the nine circles of the Lower East Side. We’d start out downing ambrosia at Milk and Honey, sipping overpriced mojitos through stainless steel straws, sweetened by the nectar of exclusivity. I always thought it was a cloying attempt at a speakeasy in a city where Prohibition was a bar on the Upper West Side. Still, the mojitos were delicious, and the dark, retronouvelle twenties décor reflected in the copper-tiled ceiling had a certain charm. Even if we all knew that, behind that thick velvet curtain of exclusivity, there was a garbage-choked Delancey Street. From there, we would stumble to any one of a bevy of hip scenes, so cool they needed only a monosyllabic name: Branch, Tree, Land, Sea, Salt, Bread, Rain, Spice, and the coup de grâce of creativity—Bar.
Well, late one night, Toby and I found ourselves in a renowned lesbian bar in the West Village. I was swinging for the fences and doing about as well as a one-legged kid at kickball. Toby, on the other hand, couldn’t even raise his drink to his lips as it was weighed down by the diesel dyke
hanging on his arm. Jesus, that body-building gay girl had more muscle than a Blue Bell cow and less body fat than a Eurasian model. There I was commiserating with a suicide grrrl about how we always end up with loonies with extra crazy sprinkled on top, and there he was, murmuring into a sinewy ear, talking Hippolyta right out of her magical girdle. My only conciliation was stealing sips of Toby’s bourbon. And damnitall if while leaning in to purloin another slug, I didn’t overhear his athletic ornament whisper an inquiry as to Toby’s preference for anal. I couldn’t believe it, not only was Toby picking up a lovely lady in a lesbian bar, he had found one that could make a porn star blush. Having long since hit my limit, I took that as my cue to head out.