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Nobody was there in the parking lot to hear us. Later, I just told the story that he split without telling me, took off for that girl’s place in the South Valley. But that crazy fucker never even made it up the freeway ramp before he passed out at the wheel. Goddamn him.
I played innocent. Told just enough truth to make a good lie. Made my Mom cry and pray even more when she found out I’d been drinking too, but that’s something that just couldn’t be avoided. I pretended I didn’t know how shitfaced he was.
I never said a word about how I just handed the keys over. And let him drive away. That’s my big fucking secret, so now you know. I am a spineless dickhead lying coward, and my big brother is dead.
The Intellectual Bliss of University Life
In the first week of his junior year of college, Harold had a revelation about what he had been doing, winding his way through the registration maze, chasing elusive professors for add/drop permissions, wrangling cheap textbook deals, bartering for lab time. Sitting in class day after day was merely the filler. It all became clear to him: The important life lesson to be learned was not about the principles of Cartesian dualism, nor the fundamentals of coding in C++, nor the finer points of communications management. It was all about how to work the system to get what you need.
Enlightened, he set out chasing his degree with new zest, like a baby after a cookie.
Harold surprised himself by becoming a smoker again. It had been years ago that he’d given it up, but now the world was changing, and he was changing with it. His proclivity had never been for tobacco; that was an addiction he just couldn’t relate to: the stale ashtray breath, the butts everywhere, the promise of cancer. The smoking habit he was resurrecting these days was an old teenage penchant for pot, an almost-forgotten marijuana jones. And although he felt oddly childish now as he sucked loudly on a joint, sitting alone with loosened tie in the living room of his own suburban ranch house, he nevertheless inhaled with great enthusiasm and a flamboyant flourish of the smoking match.
The kids were in bed; as usual, he had waited a full hour before lighting up, to be absolutely sure they were asleep. He worried that his daughter, a much-too- bright 8-year-old, was savvy to his law-breaking, but he had no real evidence. Nothing to require a change of behavior, not yet.
Earlier today, after he’d picked up his 5-year-old son from the sitter’s house and they were driving home, the radio was playing a song with the lyric, Every time you go away, you take a piece of me with you. It sent Harold into glum thoughts about his wife, and he was surprised when his son said, “This song makes me feel sad.” Harold made sudden cartoon-growl sounds. He reached across the seat and tickled the boy until he surrendered a reluctant giggle.
A week ago, Harold had spent an evening at his wife’s apartment downtown, helping her assemble a prefab bookcase. Afterward, they drank wine together and listened to music, and he tried to nuzzle her neck and murmur something sweet in her ear. She ignored the advance, tossed her hair, and moved across the room to wipe an invisible dust particle from her new shelves. Then, in just a couple of sentences, she managed to make casual references to three different male friends of hers, men that Harold had never met. One of them was a hip young photographer from somewhere in Eastern Europe, with whom she had spent several recent weekends, modeling for photo shoots in the farmlands and backwoods to the west, three hours away. They had slept in roadside motels, in the same room. It was a low-budget project, she had told Harold.
He was aware of how it might be discussed by the photographer and his artsy academic cronies. It was Art: shadowy black-and-white studies in which the Human (Harold’s wife’s) Form (nude) is radically recontextualized (posed melodramatically) within a milieu of metaphorical decay (dilapidated old barns), symbolizing the devolution of fin-de-siècle Western man (whatever).