How evan broke his head.., p.13
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       How Evan Broke His Head and Other Secrets, p.13
 

          

  “No?” she asks.

  He shakes his head. She sighs, stands; she’s fully dressed.

  “Where are you going?”

  “We don’t want to set a bad example, ” she replies.

  She’s too understanding for a normal person. Perhaps she’s an alien. He starts to rise.

  “Don’t get up, ” she says, then, doing her best Arnold, she warns, “I’ll be back.”

  She gathers her things, gives him a kiss on the forehead, and slips out of the room.

  He closes his eyes and urges himself back to sleep, but he can’t quite get there. He hangs just on the edge of it. It’s not uncomfortable. His body is, for all intents and purposes, asleep. But his mind gets no rest at all.

  THE DAY PICKS up where the previous one left off. Mica returns with a box full of Krispy Kremes that she and Dean devour recklessly. They are a team. They are instant oatmeal: add water, make family. Evan is sure that, deep down, none of them are convinced of the legitimacy of their venture. But they are all having a good time, so who’s Evan to burst their bubble?

  They enjoy themselves without remorse. They laugh and joke as they explore Underground Seattle, take a ferry ride across the Sound to Bainbridge Island and back, watch the seals, eat lunch at the Aquarium. No one will let it end. One more thing, one more thing. Every time the afternoon begins to wind down, it is one more thing. Until they are standing in front of Market Seafood at the Public Market late in the day, watching the thick-handed men hurl twenty-pound salmon across the counter, bellowing words of caution as tourists cower in mock terror: sustenance as entertainment. Perverse, in a way. A twisted interpretation of the food chain. Sadistic performance art. But only if you’re the salmon. Otherwise, it’s good, clean fun.

  Mica asks one of the flashy fishmongers to filet her a slab of red flesh. She turns with her catch and announces that she’s cooking dinner for Evan and Dean. She buys produce at the produce stands, wine in the wine store, ice cream where ice cream is sold, and then they retire to Evan’s apartment where she flies through the kitchen cooking furiously, cleaning nothing, until the sink is piled high with pots and pans and a frighteningly self-assured dinner is set on the table.

  Evan and Dean exchange a look. It’s an unfamiliar look of complicity between virtual strangers. She’s pretty, she’s smart, she’s happy, she’s motherly, she’s sexy, she cooks. . . . If she does laundry, she’s got the job. They laugh at themselves.

  “What?” she asks.

  “Nothing, ” Evan says with a giggle.

  “Nothing, ” Dean repeats, same giggle.

  She gives them a look, then concedes and sits. They plow into the food, which is wonderful, naturally. The conversation is lively and convivial because that’s how they contrive it to be. And then it happens.

  “What’s that sound?” Dean asks.

  “It sounds like someone talking, ”Mica says.

  They listen carefully. Indeed, there’s a soft mumbling in the background that sounds like someone talking. Who could it be? A neighbor? A television? Maybe a clock radio alarm that accidently went off due to a power outage? No. It sounds more like . . . an answering machine.

  Oh, right. Evan had turned off the ringer in the living room because he didn’t want it to disturb Dean’s sleep. They’re talking loudly, the music is on, they didn’t hear the ringing.

  “It’s the phone, ” Evan says. He stands. “I’ll see who it is.”

  He goes into his bedroom, and the voice becomes much clearer. It is a woman’s voice. She is upset.

  “. . . I don’t understand, ” she says. He knows that voice. Tracy? “You said you’d be here in the early afternoon. I haven’t heard from you. Are you hurt? Should I call the police? You said you’d bring Dean home—”

  Oh, shit, it’s not Tracy’s ghost, it’s Ellen. He told her he’d bring Dean home on Sunday. Today is Sunday. Oh, shit. He grabs the phone.

  “Mrs. Smith?”

  “Evan?”

  “I just walked in.”

  “Is everything all right? I’ve been worried sick.”

  “Oh, I totally . . . totally—”

  “What happened?”

  “—forgot. I’m so sorry.”

  A long pause that sounds remarkably like Ellen composing herself. Evan envisions her thin, pale fingers flitting through her hair.

  “We were having such a great time, ” he adds for good measure. She’s pretty shaken, he can tell.

  “I was so worried, ” she practically whispers.

  “We were having a good time and the day just flew by. I don’t know how I could have forgotten.”

  “You could have called.”

  “I know, I know.”

  “I was worried you might have gotten into an accident, ” she says.

  “No, no. Why would you think that?”

  “Oh, Evan, ” she cries, breaking down.“How could you ask me that? My daughter was just killed in her car and you tell me you’ll bring Dean home and you don’t arrive, how am I not to think that you two aren’t dead, also? Why wouldn’t I think that? Oh, Evan.”

  She sobs uncontrollably into the phone.

  “Oh, no, Mrs. Smith.”

  “Please, Evan.”

  “I’m really sorry.”

  “Oh, Evan, ” she bawls. “Please bring him home tomorrow. Please.”

  Evan hesitates before he answers. He hesitates because he feels somewhat caught. On the one hand, he wants to yield to authority, give Dean back to his rightful owners. On the other hand, he’s had such a good time with Dean and Mica, he doesn’t want it to end.

  “Evan?”

  But it has to end. Logically, that’s what it must do. End.

  “You’ll bring him home tomorrow, won’t you?” she begs.

  “I’ll bring him home tomorrow, ” he says. “I’ll have him there by two.”

  “Really?”

  “Two o’clock, Mrs. Smith. Dean will be on your doorstep at two o’clock tomorrow.”

  “Thank you, Evan.”

  Don’t thank me. Thank the devil, who just got a soul real cheap.

  He gets up from the bed and turns; he starts when he see Dean standing in the doorway.

  Dean lets his presence be felt in the dim room; it’s a clingy presence that seeps into the edges; as he grows more mature his presence will change; it will continue to develop until people who know him will call him wise, magnetic, charismatic.

  “I have to go to the bathroom, ” he says cautiously.

  “Sure.”

  “There’s only one.”

  “I know. Go ahead.”

  Dean steps into the bathroom and closes the door.

  What has he heard? What does he know?

  He locks the door.

  Ah. He’s heard everything. He knows everything. Between a father and a son, sometimes, no dialogue is necessary. The simple act of locking a bathroom door can be enough . . . simple, but no less symbolic than the construction of the Berlin Wall, which, after all, was erected in a single, dark, lonely, Teutonic night. What does he know? He knows everything.

  “WHO WAS IT?”Mica asks Evan.

  “Dean’s grandmother.”

  “Everything all right?”

  “She was just checking in, ” Evan lies. He’ll have to tell her soon. Right now she thinks that Dean is a permanent fixture in Evan’s life. He’ll have to burst that bubble, explain that he’s shipping Dean out on the next slow boat. Then he’ll tell her what status epilepticus means. The rhetorical version of a one-two punch.

  “Listen, ”Mica says, “I have to confess something.”

  Confess? She has to confess?

  “Remember when I told you guys I had to go out of town soon to mix a track for a movie?”

  “Yes.”

  “Well, I’m leaving tomorrow morning. I’m going to Jamaica for about a week-and-a-half. I mean, it’s not a big deal. Just so you know.”

  “Yeah, sure. Sounds like fun.”

  “Ugh. It’l
l be a ton of work, but . . .”

  Jamaica. Evan wishes he were going. Ganja capital of the world. He’d like to stuff himself into one of Mica’s bags and get air-freighted down there.

  Dean emerges from the bedroom and skulks back into the dining room; he slides into his chair. He stares dully at his plate; he doesn’t make a move toward eating; his arms are limp from the shoulder.

  “Everything all right?” Mica asks.

  “Yeah.”

  “I was just telling your dad . . . I’m heading off to Jamaica tomorrow morning. I won’t see you guys for a couple of weeks.”

  “Oh?”

  “It’s work, not vacation. If it were vacation I’d blow it off in a second. You guys are too much fun. But I’m expected. There’s a studio down there where some musicians like to record, and I’ve been requested.”

  “Oh, ” Dean says.“Okay.”

  They try to continue dinner, but the fun is all gone. Mica is full, Evan pushes some food around his plate, and Dean sits sullenly, staring at his fork.

  “You feeling okay?” Mica asks Dean.

  He shrugs.

  “Stomachache?” She wonders.

  “No.”

  “You look pale. Are you warm? Evan, does he have a fever? Maybe too much sun? You should drink some water.”

  She fills his glass from the water pitcher on the table.

  “Maybe you want to lie down?” she offers.

  Dean moves his head slightly—a move that might be construed as a nod—pushes back, scraping the chair legs on the floor. He hoists himself from the seat and trudges off, head hanging. Mica watches after him, then reluctantly stands and begins clearing the table.

  “He’s upset with me for leaving, ” she says.

  Evan agrees that Dean is upset. But it’s not what Mica thinks.

  “I wish I could change it, ” she continues. “But I can’t.”

  “That’s not what he’s upset about, ” Evan tells her. She’s holding onto a stack of plates that she’d taken into the kitchen, but there’s no place to set them so she brings them back to the table.

  “What?”

  “He’s not upset about your leaving. He’s upset about something else.”

  “What?” she asks.“Us?You and me?”

  “No.”

  “Then, what?”

  Now’s the time to tell her. She walked right into it. If only everything were this easy. Ask a question, get an answer. Easy. Not like the many longstanding secrets he’s kept from his parents. Things that are too complicated to unravel at a single gathering.

  “You might want to sit.”

  Piqued, she sits. “I’m ready, ” she says.

  Evan takes a big breath.“Dean is my son. He’s been my son his entire life, but I’ve only known him for the past week.”

  Her eyes narrow and her jaw sets.

  “Are you angry?” he asks.

  “Go on, ” she says.

  “His mother, Tracy, died. And I got a call. I went to the funeral and met Dean. And then his grandparents were having some kind of drama and his grandmother told me to get him out of there, so I did. I brought him home with me. And now she just called and said she wants him back—actually, she called a couple of days ago and I told her I’d bring him back today, but I forgot because we were having such a great time. Now she wants him back and I think he overheard me talking to her, telling her that I’d bring him back tomorrow, and I think that’s what he’s upset about, not that you’re leaving. Not that he wouldn’t be upset about your leaving. But he’s more upset about the other thing.”

  “That’s interesting, ” she says. She’s clearly seething, but her anger is masked behind a detached coldness; she might kill him right now, or she might walk away and let him suffer for the rest of his life.“But I’m more concerned about life before this past week. I’m interested in how it happened that you didn’t see him for his entire life. How did that work?”

  Oh, that part.

  “I got Tracy pregnant, ” he says.“We were in high school. She moved away. I mean, her father moved them away, that’s obvious now. She didn’t want to move away, she wanted to go to Reed.”

  “Reed.”

  “College. Small, liberal arts, Portland.”

  “I know.”

  “Well, she wanted to go there. But she couldn’t go with a baby. I mean, how could she? She wanted to go to college. You know, live in the dorms and stuff. How could she do that with a baby? She couldn’t.”

  “So, she didn’t.”

  “I don’t know what she did. I mean, I don’t think she went to Reed because they moved away, and she, obviously, had the baby.”

  “But the plan was for her not to have the baby.”

  “Well, the plan, as I recall it, was that she was using birth control and she wouldn’t get pregnant.”

  “But you weren’t.”

  “What?”

  “Using birth control?”

  “Sometimes. I mean, I was just a kid.”

  “Babies having babies.”

  “Look, ” he says, “the more you find out about me, the more you’re going to hate me. Believe it. I’m a bad person. I’m stupid. I’ve wasted a perfectly good life. I’ve had every chance. I’m the eldest son of a famous, wealthy, white male heart surgeon. You can’t beat that in America. I could have picked up the Old Boy Handbook and found myself listed as the number one pledge. I have no excuses. Everything bad that’s happened to me is my own fault. So maybe we should cut it short and you can hate what I am and we can save ourselves a lot of trouble.”

  She looks at him crookedly.

  “Boo-fucking-hoo, ” she says.

  “I don’t—”

  “Evan. Listen closely. I don’t know who your girlfriends have been in the past, but here’s the deal: try that self-indulgent self-pitying bullshit with me one more time and you’ll never see me again. You won’t even see my shadow again. Got it?”

  Evan nods. Message received.

  “Now quit the whining and tell me what happened. You didn’t want to go to Portland with her, you had your own life, you didn’t want the baby.”

  “No!” Evan says strenuously.“No, not at all. No, no, no. I wanted the baby. I really did. I didn’t care about college. I had no plan to go to college. I was in a band. Hell, the summer after I graduated high school all I wanted to be was a rock star. Are you kidding? I was willing to move down to Portland and marry Tracy and we’d raise Dean together. I’d go on tour when I had to. No, no—”

  “Okay. So, what, then?”

  “She wanted an abortion. That’s what she wanted.”

  “How did you know?”

  “Well, she said something like, ‘I’m not going to college with a baby, ’ and then she said something like, ‘I need money for an abortion.’ It wasn’t tricky.”

  “No, I guess not.”

  “So I gave her the money. But you have to understand, I wanted the baby. I asked her to marry me. I told her I’d move wherever she wanted, I’d quit the band, I’d get a job, whatever she wanted. She said no. She said she wasn’t going to college with a baby.”

  “Ouch, ”Mica says.

  “Yeah, ” Evan agrees.

  “Fuck you, you liar!”

  They turn, startled by the new voice. Dean is in the living room, watching them.

  “I hate you, ” he shouts. “I hate you, you liar!”

  Evan feels like he’s been shot in the stomach. Dean’s been standing there the whole time. Evan can’t believe it. It makes him sick; Dean heard the whole thing.

  “I hate you so much. I hate you so much I want to kill you. That’s not what happened. You ran out on us. You’re a dirty, stupid, drug-addicted liar. My mother hated you. She wasn’t even sure you were my real father. She hated you and she knew you’d be a lousy father. I hate you so much.”

  Mica discreetly slips into the kitchen and begins to clean the dishes. Dean’s face is bright red and his fists are clenched, but he doesn’t move
an inch as he speaks. His eyes are fixed and red with blood, his shoulders are rigid.

  “You’re sick, trying to get laid, so you’re lying about my mother. That’s the worst kind of sick. I wish she were here. I wish she were here. She’d tell you what happened. You tried to force her to have an abortion so she had to run away. I hate you so much. She used to tell me. You know what she used to tell me about you? She used to tell me that you can’t make someone a father, and if you try to make someone a father who isn’t, he just becomes mean and cruel and abusive and angry and that’s what you are. And she was right. Telling lies about my mother. I want to kill you.”

  Dean’s so upset he can’t control himself anymore. Spittle flies from his mouth as he speaks. He’s barely intelligible. He breathes in gasping breaths. His face is flooded with tears.

  “I want to go home, ” he says desperately.“I want to go home. I want to go home.”

  And then, almost like he’d been clicking his heels together, he disappears in an instant, gone, back into Evan’s bedroom, the door slamming after him, gone from the room, gone.

  Evan doesn’t move. He feels like someone has sucked his organs out through his mouth. Hollow man. He is empty. He sits in stunned disbelief for a long time, he doesn’t know how long, for what seems like a long time.

  “I’m going to go, ” Mica says softly in his ear; her hand touches his.“You two have to talk. I would stay if I could help, but . . . you have to talk to him. I’ll call you from Jamaica.”

  Her lips lightly brush his cheek. He watches her cross in front of him and let herself out. He glances at the kitchen: it is clean. Still, he doesn’t move. A minute later he hears the whoop of her car alarm through the window. How quickly we get to know people. How quickly they leave once we know them.

  THE GREAT PUMPKIN had passed over Magnolia the previous week, leaving in his wake a world perpetually dark and wet, and a group of kids huddled together in conspiracy just down an embankment along a mildly steep road.

 
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