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Authors: William Stamp

The Merchants of Zion (38 page)

BOOK: The Merchants of Zion
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“But you were not a scoundrel—you only played one on camera. The image of James I like best, and will always keep with me, is from a couple of months ago. We were having lunch and he was getting ready to take a train up to Rockford to close the business deal that ultimately led to his death. If it went well he wanted to have a party. After it happened—after the deal went through—he called me and we brainstormed for something that would impress Cliff. He was so grateful for all of his support, and wanted Cliff to remember the celebration for the rest of his life. He was so sensitive, so thoughtful, and I was jealous, wishing anyone I knew had such tender feelings towards me.

“In the end, in classic Jamesian fashion, he drove around Rockford and found nothing that lived up to his high standards, so that by the time he was willing to admit failure it was time to pick us up from the train station. And that's how we ended up drinking expensive liquor in a cheap hotel. A weekend filled with good intentions gone horribly awry. Like so much that is terrible in love, and life. James, may your soul rest in peace. We will remember you always.”

Her face was stoic and dry. Mine was not. The workers were applauding. She stepped down from the dais and placed the bouquet on the coffin.

The service coordinator pressed a button on his phone's screen and the coffin descended into the grave. And it was over. Ruth led me, in a daze, back to the car. A cement truck had pulled up behind us, its idling combustible engine releasing regular puffs of tar-colored smoke.

I stared out the window for most of the ride back. Ruth was engrossed in her phone. The landscape transitioned from forests to strip malls and then we were at the outskirts of the city, the occasional offices and condos growing like branchless trees amidst fields of one and two story buildings.

“You should be marrying me,” I said.

“Well, it's not like you asked,” she said.

“You know what I mean.”

“It would never have worked out. You and I both know that.”

“I always thought we'd date at some point. At least for a little while.”

“We did, kind of.”

“And now that you're getting married there won't be another chance.”

“Do you remember how miserable you were at my party? Our relationship would have been like that. Every day.”

The car turned a familiar corner. In a few moments we'd be outside my house and the shattering of my life would be complete. Dimtri had abandoned me, James was dead, and soon Ruth would be gone as well. Leaving me completely and utterly alone.

Despair must have been flashing in neon across my face. Ruth patted my leg and tried to comfort me. “Oh Cliff, I know it's been hard, but you'll be okay. Take a vacation. Go visit your sister. I'm sure she misses you.”

We stopped at my stoop. The car door opened. “We have arrived at your destination,” the voice said.

“Call me,” she said, as I stepped out of the car. “If there's anything I can do for you. Anything at all.”

“I will.”

When the car turned the corner I deleted her number, but it wasn't enough. I hurled the phone at the concrete and it broke into three pieces. Still unsatisfied, I stomped on them until my memory of her was pulverized to sand.

 

* * *

 

I heard from Hunter that Ruth's engagement ended almost as quickly as it began, while Edward told me she and Brian got married on a private Caribbean island. In either case I never received a wedding invitation and I couldn't be bothered to research the fact for myself. If she wanted to tell me she knew where to find me.

Several packages arrived for James in the months after his death. Each one was followed by a visit from the authorities, who would claim it as a piece of evidence for some ongoing investigation. I wondered—but never asked—why they insisted on bothering me and didn't just intercept them at the post office. Due to some arcane, bureaucratic rule, I was sure. Except for that, they left me alone. No Minutemen or Valley Forge authorities ever showed up at my door to take me away, though for several months I awaited, and perhaps hoped for, some midnight raid to place the fate of my life in hands other than my own. But though I came to recognize the black car parked outside my house, day and night, nothing dramatic ever happened, and soon it faded to just another familiar piece of scenery, like the bodega on the corner or the chestnut's trunk frozen to the sidewalk.

Winter was on its way out before I took care of the second bedroom. I paid someone to have the carpet and window replaced, but I cleaned it out myself. James had filled his closet with new suits—slate grey and pin-striped, every one—the week before his death, and when I'd thrown everything else away I lingered in front of them, unsure of what to do. They represented absolute hope, such certainty in the success the future would bring. That he was little more than an ant beneath the feet of giants, to be crushed or allowed to live with absolute indifference, had never crossed his mind. Unwilling to toss them with everything else, I stored them in the attic.

Shades of what's past seep into every crevice, crowd us on all sides.

 

THE END 

Table of Contents

1. The Arrival of James

2. The Introduction of Elly

3. Short Chapter

4. The Arrival of Ruth, Part 1

5. The Arrival of Ruth, Part 2

6. Dream Sequence

7. The Well-Tempered Clavier

8. Noise Show

9. Chicago

10. Going Back

11. Rockford New York, Part 1

12. Rockford New York, Part 2

13. Roof Party

14. Fallout

15. New Horizons

16. Epilogue

BOOK: The Merchants of Zion
3.01Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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