Read My Best Man Online

Authors: Andy Schell

Tags: #General, #Fiction

My Best Man (8 page)

BOOK: My Best Man
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I’m cold. My ears are hurting already, and my fingers are nearly frozen to the pipe I’m using to steady myself. But I keep watching. I can’t believe that Aaron is giving it to her so cocksure and that Iris is abandoning herself so freely and getting so much pleasure from him. I remember what Amity sounded like when she was being ridden to the finish line by Bart, and I wonder if she’d be so vocal coming down the home stretch with someone like Aaron or me?


/- Amity and I are just roommates,” I declare, standing in kitchen with my mother. “I know that,” my mother says, mixing curry into mayonnaise a very exotic dip for the Midwest. She’s it herself, because she’s scaled back our family maid, Marzetta, minimal hours on account of Donald, her new husband, who anything worth doing should be done by yourself. I watch her as she stirs. Like Amity’s, they’re too young for the rest of but only because my mother has had not only a face-lift, but hand-lift also. My late father’s golfing buddy, Bud Orenstein, plastic surgeon, tried his experimental hand-lift surgery on mother and it actually worked. Of course, she has little scars at wrist points, but those are covered by gold bracelets cut to a fit so that they never move from their camouflage position.

My mother is secretly relieved that Matthew and I have up, she tells me. It’s much easier to talk to her friends about she explains, now that I’m living with a girl down in Dallas. whoever this Amity is, she is good enough for my mother. said is you should bring her up here to visit sometime. It’s” that I meet her.” She smoothes her auburn hair with her left

“Why in the world is it important you meet her?”


She places the dish of curry dip on the platter and spreads the crudit6s around it. “She could be the beginning of something new and wonderful for you.”

My mother, like Bart, like so many people, thinks I just haven’t found the right girl. She doesn’t believe that anyone is gay. She thinks that Liberace has “a rare form of masculinity” and that Richard Simmons is just “playing a role.” She thinks if I’ll just get on with it, I’ll be happy.

If all learning was by example, perhaps I would. The day after my father killed himself, she sweetly instructed the maid to take his Cadillac, the very one that had put him to sleep, and return it to the dealership for credit. And a month later, she used that credit toward the purchase of a new car for her new husband, my new stepfather, Donald, a retired general in the air force who fought in the Korean War, as well as in Vietnam. He’s sixty-something years old, but has the body of a forty year old. He’s handsome, in a John Wayne kind of way, though his hands look as if they were transplanted from a gorilla. I suspect the reason he still has a full head of hair is because he’s not given any of it permission to fall out.

They met at a golf tournament at the country club It was one of those mixer things where you draw your partner’s name from a golf hat. Donald, whose wife had succumbed to cancer just six months prior, drew my mother’s name. When she identified herself, he went to her, kissed her hand, carried her clubs to the cart, and from the way she tells it practically hit every shot for her along the eighteen holes. My biological father, from a fine family that taught him every rule of etiquette known to the civil world, had to be prompted to accomplish even the simplest gesture, such as holding a door open for my mother. He was a man’s man, and he had little patience for women. So naturally, when my mother met Donald, she attained the nirvana never offered by my father: the state of bliss that comes from surrendering every decision to someone else


who then makes you feel as if the decision is yours. I think she’ crazy. Golf is already a stupid game, and I can only imagine ridiculous it gets when someone is hitting your shots for you. she put it in no uncertain terms: “I don’t care if Donald’s collar as blue as your father’s blood,” she told me, after announcing elopement. “He’s the best man for me at this point in life.” “What is her family like?” my mother asks.

How can I answer? Whenever I mention her family, dodges me. “I haven’t met them yet.”

“All in good time,” my mother says, picking up the tray vegetables. We join her husband in the great room. General left his living quarters in the retired officers’ village of the air to move into my parents’ (mother’s) house on the edge of country club. How could my mother bring this carpetbagger our lives? He looks so comfortable, sipping his glass of scotch the fire, his feet on the needlepoint-covered ottoman, his boots on. “This isn’t a bunch of crap from Levitz,” I want to “My grandmother did that needlepoint, so take your boots soldier!”

I was eight years old when I sat with Grammie at her ranch in Colorado, and we drank lemonade while she stitched ottoman cover. I’d come down with a mild case of chicken pox week I was supposed to fly off to Italy with my family for a week holiday, and so, being quarantined, my family went on me and left me in the care of Marzetta. instructing her to send on to my grandmother’s ranch when I was well enough to Those two weeks at Grammie’s are magic in my memory. In morning we ate bacon and pancakes, and Grammie let me small cup of coffee with lots of cream and sugar in it. We horses in the grassy valley below the house. My grandmother regal, yet trustworthy and unaffected, and for a woman of breeding, she rode comfortably in the saddle, like a cowgirl fifteen. In the afternoons, we listened to records on the


everything from Patsy Cline to exotic bamboo music from a phono graph she’d obtained while on an adventure tour of the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific. And when we’d accidentally leave a record in the sun too long and it warped, she’d take it off the turntable and walk to the edge of the porch, high above the valley below, and fling the record far into the distance like a Frisbee. “Goodbye, Benny Goodman!” she’d yell while transforming his bowed recording into a spinning flying saucer. She taught me how to throw a Frisbee that way, with old warped vinyl records.

In the late afternoon, we’d hike down to the stream and cast our rods for rainbow trout. And in the evening we’d take our catch to Fish Fry Point, where my grandfather had built a stone fireplace with a grill for cooking our bounty. We’d eat our fish right out of the pan, then roast marshmallows over the fire for dessert. Fish and marshmallows. Ginger ale to drink. Then Grammie would read from her latest book Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, or Wallace Stegner’s A Shooting Star until the real stars would appear, and we’d hike back to the house by the light of the moon, our handheld flashlights puncturing the trail with quick stabs of light as we walked.

Her friend Louise came to visit us during the second week of my stay. Louise was married to a man much like Grammie’s husband, my grandfather. They were stern men, not overly comfortable around their wives, and they liked to go hunting together in Wyo ming and drink rye straight from the bottle. I loved Louise nearly as much as my grandmother. She was risque, as my mother said, and wore loose fitting dresses that were always revealing a shoulder or half a bosom. Long earrings dangled from her pierced ears, and by the time she started in on her second martini, those earrings Would begin to dance and slap her in the face as she moved her head to laugh and tell stories of her hapless year at the helm of the Women’ sLeague of Denver, where she was the only president ever to be impeached for refusing to honor the mayor with a luncheon. “He was a politically racist son of a bitch who just happened to


be sleeping with his adorable black maid,” she said, offering me a sip of her martini. Grammie would scold Louise for using profanity in my company, but I could tell she loved the wild delivery Louise’s stories as much as I. Together, Louise and Grammie finished stitching that cover during the second week of my visit, taking turns as one the other tired of the detail. Upon my departure, they handed it me at the airport, wrapped in paper printed with cowboys and to give to my mother. And when I cried as they put me on plane to fly home, Louise said, “Buck up, Harry. I’ll take care your grandmother,” as if I was worried to leave her alone, of the truth that I was sad to leave them both.

Outside the sliding glass doors, I watch a fierce north wind in and push the cold rain to the freezing point. Everything to be icing over in front of my eyes. In the yard, skeletons of oaks stand shaking, their bare arms raised, as if Donald has open the door and yelled, “Don’t move or I’ll shoot!” Beyond yard, the brown dormant fairway grasses of the golf course like huge straw mats large enough for Donald to wipe his big feet on. I can’t help wonder how much money Donald will from my dead father.

The moment is dying for conversation, so I tell them both my horrific flight into Wichita today. “The turbulence was so that the flight attendant was knocking into seats and s against the sides of the overhead bins, but she refused to sit She just kept serving watery drinks and those Hello Kitty-size of peanuts. I was waiting for her head to hit the ceiling and off and go rolling down the aisle, smiling.”

Donald doesn’t understand my sense of humor and looks at as if I’m callous.

“They shot three approaches,” I continue, “before they able to land the plane. Every time they tried a different the wind would change again. I thought we were going to


into bits and pieces in some wheat field bordering the airport. And stewardess was so perky, I’ll bet she would have trudged through the rubble with a beverage tray embedded in her forehead while she offered decks of playing cards to the survivors.”

“It couldn’t have been that bad, or they wouldn’t have landed the plane,” Donald says staunchly, a glass of Glenlivet dwarfed in his simian hands. The TV is broadcasting the Olympics in Sarajevo.

At the moment, no one is watching.

Curling competition.

“It was the worst flight I’ve ever been on,” I state emphatically, feeling my status as an airline attendant gives me authority.

“I’ll tell you about a scary flight,” he says, stretching out, more comfortable still.

Here we go. A war story. I’ve only met this guy twice, but both times he was full of war lore. The first day we met, my mother insisted he tell his land mine story. The one where a recruit gets his arm blown through the air, and when it lands in the tree, it salutes the guy’s own dying body. The curling competition is starting to look good.

” “Nam,” he says, shaking his head. “It was mission number 742. Hying out of Vung Tau.”

“You go ahead with your story,” my mother says to Donald. “Harry and I will be listening from the kitchen.” She nods for me to follow her.

I’m shocked. The other two times I was around them, she doted on him relentlessly and hung on his every word …. even when he was reading closing shares from the New York Stock Exchange aloud.

“Just another ordinary day for a Caribou pilot…” I hear him say as my mother and I step into the kitchen. His voice is muted by the TV.

“I want to tell you, I’ve got a little lump,” my mother says,


adding more vodka to her gimlet with one hand, patting her with the other. “And I’m going in next week to have it looked at.,

Oh, my God, I survived my flight, and now it’s my mother, feet on the ground, who’s in danger. “What do you think, I ask, knowing she must have some kind of intuition.

“It was June. The Tet Offensive, which had started in was over. The flight was routine to Saigon…” Donald from the living room.

“Yes,” my mother calls to Donald, “The Tet Offensive!” if it’s a wonderful Broadway play. She whispers to me, “I told Donald. He’s been through so much, losing his wife

I’m sure he’s had enough cancer for one year. Besides, it’s a job having to step into the shoes of your father and all. Botter has completely snubbed him. She won’t even mention in her column nothing about us as a couple either.”

Barbie Botter is the society columnist for the local paper. married to a banking executive who’s been having a Ion affair with a blond TV news anchor from a local affiliate of of the national broadcasting companies. Barbie and the news were once pictured at a Wichita charity event giving each kisses, and if you looked close you could see Barbie’s fingers around the anchor’s waist, were curled back and positioned so Barbie was flipping her the bird. “Forget about Barbie Botter. what do you think?”

“I’ve had lumps before. Many times,” she says, sipping drink. But then her brow wrinkles and she looks slightly a terrible sign coming from my mother because she’s the woman who’s cheerful even during televised executions and tornadoes. “This time, I don’t know.”

“The commander said they wouldn’t last another night.

all be killed if we didn’t scoop ‘em up,” Donald proclaims.

“So what did you do?” my mother calls out, before turning ll me and saying, “This really is one of his best stories.”


“Mom,” I tell her, reaching out for her tight-skinned hand, “I can’t believe you’re telling me this. What if you have cancer?”

I’ll beat it!” she sings as if it’s as simple as beating an egg. “Your father wasn’t right to do what he did,” she adds with very little judgment.

“I agree,” I say, smiling gently. “Are you going to tell the general about the lump?”

“When we landed on that little dirt airstrip, those young Vietnamese boys were waiting for us proud little shits, they were.”

“Well, Donald!” my mother yells, pulling her hand from mine and putting it to her throat. She keeps it there to cover the wrinkles. “Of course I’ll tell him,” she quietly tells me. “But let’s have a nice visit while you’re here. I’ll tell him after you go.”

Donald’s voice grows louder. “… catastrophic left engine failure!”

It makes me sad to see her nirvana shaken, to see her faced with a decision she cannot surrender to Donald. “Mom, I love you,” I tell her.

“And I love you,” she says, setting her vodka gimlet down. She pulls me to her damaged breast and hugs me close, whispering in my ear, “Right or wrong, I have to carry out your father’s wishes, follow the codicil in the will. You understand, don’t you?”

I hold tight, afraid to let go, but don’t understand. Why won’t my mother just negate the whole thing and set me free? She has a sense of duty to my father, but what about her sense of duty to me? He’s dead, I’m alive. I can’t help but think she’s using my father’s instructions as a last resort for her own attempt to straighten -me out and send me off into the sunset with a wife. It makes me angry that my mother would do this. But now she may possibly have cancer. And I love every little nip and tuck of her. I want her to feel better, to heal, to live. I almost tell her about Amity. how nay feelings for her are more genuine than they’ve been for anyone Outside of the family. That, believe it or not, I very well may feel

BOOK: My Best Man
9.47Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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