“What do you mean, brother? I don’t have any brother.” Waiting for his shuddering heart to subside— when the phone rang he thought, absurdly, that it might be Maddalena—Thurston leans against the kitchen wall and looks out the window. Live oak and acacia stand motionless in the deepening twilight. Further down the slope, some low-growing bushes swagger back and forth, announcing the skunks who come up at night from the arroyo.
“—like I said,” the voice on the other end of the phone continues, “I’m your brother. Half-brother, actually. Raymond P. Toledo.” The voice is deep, with a threat of laughter—a salesman’s voice, full of unearned bonhomie. “I don’t have any brothers,” Thurston repeats. “Or sisters, for that matter.”
“My mother’s name was Bonnie Olenick. That’s your mother, right? Our Aunt Marge in Cleveland told me how to get hold of you.”
Our, indeed. “I’m an only child,” says Thurston. With thumb and forefinger he rubs his narrow nose where his spectacles rest. “You’ve been misinformed. I’m sorry,” he adds insincerely.
“You just moved out from back East, right?” the salesmanvoice persists. “Grew up in Providence, R. I., right?”
“I grew up right down the road,” Thurston lies, in precarious control now of his own voice. “I’ve lived in South Pasadena all my life. Must be some other Calvin Thurston.”
There is a pause. Then, “Sorry to bother you. Well. You have a nice day.”
Thurston moves to clinch the deal. “Have a great day,” he says, upping the ante, and hangs up firmly.
Coward, Maddalena would have said, vigliacco— or not said, just thought, loudly enough for him to pick up on it. Thurston sits down at the table with his elbows on the green-checked cloth. Tails up like question marks, two skunks rummage in the dusty leaves of a young eucalyptus. In the twilight the V-shaped stripe down each back is the blue-white of gardenias.
His mother left when Thurston was two; his father never spoke her name in his son’s hearing, nor did he allow anyone else to. He got rid of all his wife’s pictures (photos in their one album had irregular holes where her face or torso had been expunged) and died 33 years later without ever having mentioned her. Wherever she went, she has not been part of Thurston’s life. And he does not even want to imagine the owner of the voice he has just heard—meaty, red-faced, salt-of-the-earth—as any relative of his.
Thurston goes into the main room to get back to work. The guesthouse he rented illegally when he arrived in September stands on bare red clay between the main house and the lip of the arroyo. Inside, everything is hard and white and shining—the bare walls, the tile floor, the painted woodwork—like being in an enormous bathtub. He sits down on the sofa under the overhang of the sleeping loft. There are papers strewn all over: he has two dozen verses due at Holi-Day Greetings next week. The month is October; the weather feels like August; Thurston is composing sentiments for Valentine’s Day. There is a surrealness to this that exhausts him.
In the kitchen the phone rings; Thurston ignores it. Most of the fronts they’ve sent him are Female Spouse/Other: For My (Wonderful Wife/Better Half/Sweetheart/Darling/Honey/ Wife). He flips through the fronts that already have their visuals. The first, in the shape of two cut-out rabbits (one in a red-ribbon bowtie) clearly calls for “Honey-Bunny”; the last, a color photo of a chimpanzee (in a red-ribbon bowtie) has him stumped. “Don’t Monkey With My Heart”?
The phone is still ringing—15 rings, 18 (part of Thurston’s mind cannot help counting), 20. He gets up and goes into the kitchen and yanks the cord out of the jack. Sitting down on the sofa again in the silence, he runs his fingers through his neat beard. The watercolor of two yellow rosebuds is easy; so is the pastel lace heart. He will not think of Maddalena.
Thurston the celebrant—vicarious partner in other people’s births, loves, marriages, deaths, and the anniversaries thereof—goes to work.
By the time she left, moving herself and her houseplants (palm, grape ivy, devil’s ivy, schefflera, split-leaf philodendron—Thurston would like to forget their names but finds he cannot) closer to her practice in Warwick, Maddalena had accused Thurston, in her own language, of a number of things.
Fear of entropy. Fear of surprise. (Timore d’entropia; di sorpresa. He tried to point out the logical contradiction here, but Maddalena was unmoved.) Fear of marriage. Well. Yes.
Another time she called him her guardian mole. Shouted at him to find someone else, someone who appreciated having all her roadmaps in alphabetical order. Over the months of accusation her beautiful voice shifted its undertone from disbelief to doubt to despair. In the end it was she who found someone else.
Thurston’s Mustang crossed the Harbor Freeway (“Oldest Freeway in America”) and turns right onto Colorado. Every Tuesday he teaches an extension class at Pasadena City College, “Philosophy in Everyday Life,” a last-minute substitute for its regular instructor, who left to join the Cistercians. He swings out into the left-hand lane to avoid a tow truck that has broken down. In front of him a VW Beetle bears a bumper sticker that says, “God Is Awesome.” To his left trees skip past—acacia, palo verde, the eternal eucalyptus. Thurston can see them clearly—and beyond them, the woolly humps of the San Gabriel mountains, the rose-stained sunset sky—because the door on the driver’s side of his car is gone. This afternoon, after a day struggling with “For My Honey-Bunny,” he went outside to make sure the car would start and found the door neatly removed, hinges and all.
The students are always startled when Thurston appears. The sound of their voices shuts off, and they swivel to face him with a swift collective scraping of stools. The room, a biology lab by day, is long and deep with rows of blacktopped tables. Hard yellow overhead lights turn the brick walls the color of baked beans. In a corner at front of the room is a human skeleton on an iron stand.
Thurston clears his throat. Through the high windows come the smell of gardenias and the sundown noises of the ducks on the little artificial pond outside, like far-off mocking laughter. “Good evening. The topic for tonight is—” he gives a quick glance down at his predecessor’s syllabus—”Truth. How do we know what is true.” Thurston explains, mentioning Plato, Spinoza (he has done his homework, one step ahead of his students), Boethius, turning now and then to write on the blackboard. The silence is not attentive, and as always he feels his carefully prepared lecture, like the sheaf of typescript in his lightly sweating hand, go limper and limper. The two Buildings & Grounds guys in the back row, as rosy and stolid as Thurston imagines Raymond P. Toledo to be, watch the skeleton with the expression of long-distance passengers regarding the back of the busdriver’s head. Whenever Thurston pauses he can hear one of them cracking his knuckles under the table, the sound of popcorn popping. Others—Mr. Hitachi, a courtly retired gardener; silent Barbara Dahl, who has insisted that everyone call her Barbie; Mrs. Wentworth and Mrs. Meade, when their blue-grey heads are not gently sinking to their breastbones—tend to look at the skeleton and then away, their eyes alternating between it and Thurston in distracting pinpong-match fashion.
“And so we see that, as Plato maintains, the particular is simply—an accident. We are all accidents of history. Each and every one of us could just as well have appeared in some other place at some other—”
Mr. Gujarati is waving his hand.
“—time. Or not have—”
“Please, Professor.” The dark eyes are brimful, the face suffused with a characteristic earnestness that Thurston on the one hand regards as spurious but on the other envies. Mr. Gujarati is studying to be a lie-detector technician. From their written assignments, which the class persists in treating as invitation to autobiography, Thurston knows far more about his students than he wants to. He knows that Barbie Dahl’s baby is in difficulty, its brain growing while the bones of its skull do not; he knows that Mrs. Meade believes she has a guardian angel named Hugh.
“—not have appeared at all,” Thurston finishes. “Yes, Mr. Gujarati?”
Mr. Gujarati gets to his feet. “What about HAPpiness?” His accent rocks syllables back and forth like small boats at sea. “How do we achieve to be HAPpy in this world of every-DAY? Happiness IS the natural END of man.” He looks down on the blue head of Mrs. Wentworth. “And WOman.”
Several of the others are nodding. George Boynton has stopped cracking his knuckles. Young Mrs. Dahl leans forward.
“Success is getting what you want,” offers little Bettina Cheng, the technical writer. “Happiness is wanting what you get.”
“Right on!” booms one of the Building & Grounds guys.
Thurston crosses the room and stands next to the skeleton. “The topic for tonight is not happiness. The topic for tonight is Truth.” He has to shout to be heard over the crossfire discussion, people in the front row turning to speak to those in back, no one looking at Thurston. Happiness, they demand of each other, what makes people happy? “I tote this CURSE was for everyDAY life,” Mr. Gujarati complains to Mr. Hitachi, agitation skewing his vowels. Thurston listens in dismay. He does not want to become involved with these people, these particular lives. After a few more minutes, fortunately, the bell rings.
When she lost the baby—was that when things went finally, irrevocably wrong? February: in Thurston’s memory the month after Maddalena’s miscarriage presents itself as one long, white, windless Sunday, snow falling blankly, a dark room. Her vigilant sadness, which he could not touch. Her understanding, which neither of them mentioned, that he had been—not first, and not only, but nevertheless— relieved.
White roses shed their petals
To give your skin its hue;
Your lovely eyes have stolen—
“Your brother has telephoned. I have taken for you the message.”
Charlotte, his Swiss landlady, is standing in the doorway of the guesthouse. She holds out a piece of paper with a phone number written in green ink. No, she cannot stay: in the morning they are coming early to paint the lawn.
Maybe he hasn’t heard right. He spends so much time alone. “The drought,” she says patiently. “The brown grass— ach! They paint a nice green, it is no longer a sore eye in the neighborhood.”
Your lovely eyes have stolen—have stolen—
Thurston moves restlessly around the small space. He still has not recovered from class tonight, when several students, led by Mr. Gujarati, renewed last week’s demand for bumpersticker wisdom, making mincemeat of his carefully prepared lecture on Beauty. His shoes tap on the tile floor. He tries the TV. On the religious channel a white-haired evangelist informs him, “We are blest here in America. Blest.” Across the bottom of the screen a ticker-tape reads, TO MAKE YOUR VOW CALL 1—800—123-SAVE. Another channel offers an exercise, Confronting the Hidden Self, which calls for standing naked in front of a full-length mirror and asking yourself what you want out of life (the demonstration uses dolls). Thurston watches the news for a while—coalition forces gathering in the Persian Gulf—then switches off.
In the kitchen window the moon shines above the eucalyptus trees. Their pale trunks glow like nude flesh, and their leaves cast a thousand separate shadows on the packed dirt. The moon is nearly full—one plump cheek ends abruptly at the jawline. To Thurston it has always seemed a female face. It is more than a little like Maddalena’s. The concerned forehead; the wide cheeks; the eyes large and shallow-set. Her eyebrows were so fair that from any distance they seemed not to be there. Plato says that true beauty is without color or shape; but Plato never saw Maddalena. Her skin, Thurston remembers unwillingly, was shiny the way skin gets when you have a fever. It made you want to touch her. Half her clients—she was a physical therapist—refused to terminate when she told them they were done. Why would someone like that want to be with someone like him?
A breeze has sprung up; in the distance Charlotte’s wind chimes offer their precise, impersonal music. Thurston finds himself still holding the piece of paper with the phone number. He folds it in half and puts it under the sugar bowl with the Warwick number Maddalena sent him, without explanation, the month before—two numbers he will never dial—and pulls his notebook towards him. Some rhymes are inevitable.
Your lovely eyes have stolen from Forget-me-nots their blue
Halfway through Thurston’s lecture on The Good, at a tap on the shoulder from Bettina Cheng, Mr. Gujarati rises. He reads from a piece of loose-leaf paper that shakes slightly in his hand. “”The secret of HAPpiness is this: let your interests be AS wide AS possible, and let your reactions to the things and PERsons that interest you be AS far AS possible friendly rather than HOStile. ” Bertrand Russell.”
“Right on!” cries Mrs. Meade.
“Happiness,” counters Thurston, “is the perpetual possession of being well deceived. Jonathan Swift.” Not bad for off the top of his head. Through the high windows comes the faint, derisive laughter of the ducks. He resolves to do some research.
The John Bull is designed in relentless imitation of a British pub, all rough-hewn dark wood and stucco. Squinting to adjust to the gloom, Thurston looks around for the red hat Toledo promised to wear. At the far end of the room, in one of the heavy wooden booths, it glows in the blue light from an overhead television set.
Toledo rises to greet him, shakes his hand too firmly. He is meaty. Tall—as tall as Thurston—and a good 40 pounds heavier. Too heavy for the jeans he wears, which creak as he sits down.
“Call me Ray,” he says, as Thurston knew he would. The hat, a red cloth baseball cap, says KETCHIKAN FISHFINDERS in white letters that curve around a map of Alaska. Raymond’s hair boils out beneath the edges, a pale red nearly pink.
A brown-haired girl in a T-shirt with the Union Jack on it appears. They order Courage ale and, on Toledo’s recommendation, something called bangers.
“So. My long-lost little brother. How do you like that.” Toledo studies him, smiling. His eyes are the color of Windex, with white squint lines in the sunburned skin around them. Foam clings to his pale-red mustache; the mouth beneath takes on a womanly sadness when he stops smiling.
Older than me. It surprises Thurston that his mother was married before; he always assumed she’d married again after, figuring that she’d left his father for some other guy. “Well— Raymond. It is a surprise.” This self-proclaimed brother, who wore him down—phoning every day, setting Charlotte on him—needn’t think Thurston is going to get cozy. He is here, once, period.
Their ale arrives and Thurston takes several grateful gulps. It is cold and pleasantly bitter. For several moments they sit silent. The other diners, sequestered in their own high wooden booths, are invisible. Television sets crouch in the rafters in various parts of the room. Thurston watches ten tons of snow being trucked in from the Sierras as a Halloween treat for an orphanage in Van Nuys.
“What the hell. Tell me about yourself, Cal. I wanna know all about my little brother.”
“Calvin,” Thurston says stiffly. He is saved by the brown-haired waitress arriving with their food, sluglike grey sausages surrounded by a moat of mashed potatoes. Raymond does most of the talking, chewing with gusto and gulping ale, now and then extending his lower lip up over his mustache to clean it with little sipping sounds. He lives with his “girl” (four years older than he is, which makes her 52) in the desert near Twentynine Palms. She runs a bar for the Marines at the base. He pans for gold (only three quart Mason jars of gold dust so far, but you never know) and collects turquoise and agate and quartz which he polishes in a tumbler and sells to jewelers in L. A.
“Don’t know why she’s so crazy about me. Pretty little thing like that,” Raymond says cheerfully. “Says I make her feel safe. Can you feature that? You’d think the sun rose and set on my head.”
His large hand, sweeping over the table, knocks Thurston’s mug onto the floor. Raymond bends over, grunting, and wipes the floor with his napkin and Thurston’s, while the waitress brings two more steins. He is what his voice on the phone told Thurston he would be, an affable bumbler, the kind of guy who uses half of your seatbelt on an airplane and says things like “lucky fucker.”
“You got a girl? Woman, I guess we’re s’posed to call ‘em now.” Raymond has noticed the gap in Thurston’s earlier narrative.
“We—split up.” Thurston hates himself for the hesitation, the slight quaver that Raymond doesn’t fail to notice. Leaning forward, belly overlapping the edge of the table, he says to Thurston, “You love each other?” He sips his mustache.
Thurston shapes his lips for no but finds he cannot say it. He opens his mouth to tell Raymond to mind his own business.
“Well, hell then.” Raymond leans back. “You could patch it up, Cal. What the hell. No statue of limitations on love.”
Oh, for Christ’s sake, Thurston thinks. On the television above Raymond’s head, a man punches John Glenn on the jaw in the middle of a news interview. “The earthquake, that was just the beginning,” he shouts as he is hauled away. “That was just a sign!”
With dessert (Raymond orders Pina Colada ice cream; Thurston, plain vanilla) they arrive at the subject of their (their!) mother. It is simple, and less painful than Thurston feared. She was killed a dozen years ago, on a houseboat in the Florida Keys; a motorboat cut it nearly in two while she was sleeping. It was her third husband’s houseboat. He survived: he’d been sleeping aft, on a campbed.
“What’re you gonna do?” Raymond says. “She didn’t have any easy life. Some women, that’s how it takes them. The thing Pop always regretted, she had to wear a cloth coat. He couldn’t buy her sable like her girlfriends.”
This guy could see a bright side to the Slaughter of the Innocents, thinks Thurston. He remembers one of the quotations he collected this week for Mr. Gujarati: Happiness, Tennessee Williams said, is insensitivity. It doesn’t prevent the thought that Maddalena would have liked him.
“Now, Joetta and me. What we’re gonna do, see, we’re gonna save up a while longer. Then we’re gonna buy a boat, a 30-foot Chris Craft, say, or maybe a Sea Ray Express, and take it up the Inside Passage.” His eyes shine like the ice cream on the ends of his mustache. “All the way from Seattle to Ketchikan, seven hundred and fifty-seven miles. What the hell. Glaciers, 20, 000-foot mountains, waterfalls—thousands of ‘em, like you’ve never seen. Sea otters. Whales. Brown bear and deer, they swim right up to the boat. Not another human soul, far as the eye can see. Just me and Joetta.”
For a minute, looking into the Windex-blue eyes, Thurston feels himself floating. He sees the shining reaches of dark water, the glaciers like luminous dunes, the sleek heads of the sea otters. He smells the snow-scented air, sharp as iodine.
At the end of the meal Thurston watches his half-brother count out far too large a tip (he insisted on paying for both their meals: “I asked you” he said, which was certainly true). Silent to express a disapproval that is clearly lost on Raymond, Thurston follows him into the warm night. His goodbye is tepid; to Raymond’s parting “Call you!” he makes no reply.
But later, in the hot little sleeping loft, he dreams of turquoise and agate and gold plunging and tumbling in a huge iron cylinder, in which he, Thurston, is tumbling too.
Early in December Thurston finishes with Valentine’s Day and starts on Easter. A Santa Ana blows dirt and dried-out eucalyptus leaves against the guesthouse windows as Thurston writes:
Under an April sky of BLUE I met a little BUNNY He said to send this card to YOU ‘Cause you’re my Easter HONEY!
At PCC the class has finished with Values and moved on to Ethics. At least, that’s what the syllabus says; as far as Thurston’s students are concerned, the “major area of innarest” (Barbie Dahl, speaking for the first time since September, speaks for everyone) is happiness. The bland, accepting silence is gone; his students refuse the elegently-phrased thoughts of dead men. “What, PERsonally, do you BElieve?” Mr. Gujarati demanded of him the preceding Tuesday. Panicked, Thurston checked the time on the pie-faced clock at the back of the room. He had no idea what, personally, he believed.
On the second Tuesday in December, in the PCC library before class, Thurston pursues happiness through the card catalogue. He riffles through journals with names like Metaphysical Review and Mind, comforted by the stalwart syllogisms, the footnotes spread across the bottom of each page like a safety net. Through the library windows comes the sound of hammering. They’re beginning to put up the bleachers for the Rose Parade, stretching across campus and down Colorado Boulevard, grey-painted, peeling, empty. Sunlight splashes the open pages of the Journal of Speculative Philosophy, drawing Thurston’s eye to an essay on the delusional nature of happiness. “Assume that an individual 7 believes P on the strength of evidence E, and that E is the sum of what I knows which pertains to P. Given the aforementioned conditions, it is phenomenologically pertinent that. . . .”
This is what he’s been looking for. This is how real philosophers sound. An undergraduate in a yellow blouse sits down across the table from him, rattles a box of chiclets. Thurston copies out the formula for enlightening someone like Individual I who labors under the delusion that he is happy. (1) Check I’s life plan for: (a) commitment to mut. exclusive princ., (b) wanting thing humanly imposs, (3) etc. The undergraduate flings her long hair smartly over her shoulders. (2) Check I’s method of fulfulling life plan: (a) imposs in context of I’s society? (b) lacks essent. ingred?
Thurston thinks of Ray. In the month since their first dinner together, meetings with his new-found half-brother have somehow become a once-a-week ritual, always for dinner, always at the John Bull. Raymond insists on paying. Cheerfully blind to Thurston’s lack of interest, he brings maps and navigational charts and spreads them out over the table. His stolid tenacity is more compelling than passion.
Despite himself, Thurston has learned to read the crackling charts with their hundreds of tiny numbers indicating depth, their pale-green warnings of hidden banks and shoals. He’s begun looking forward to the maps—their few roads, their mottling of mountains and flat, amoebalike lakes. When the brown-haired waitress brings the bill he surfaces, feeling as if he’s been somewhere else.
Ray keeps pushing for more—come out to Twentynine Palms, meet Joetta. Who knows, he’s threatened, maybe they’ll get married. “Might’s well take a risk once and a while. What the hell. Life is haphazardous, regardless.”
Thurston has declined. Absolutely not. He doesn’t want to get in any deeper than he is already.
The cold light of the John Bull’s TV sets is not kind to Joetta’s 52-year-old face, though Raymond doesn’t appear to notice. The two of them sit opposite Thurston in the highbacked wooden booth, Raymond gazing at Joetta as she talks and stroking the little glinting hairs on her forearm. There is something fragile about her, something vulnerable, though actually she’s on the plump side. She is wearing an orange dress with a halter neck; Thurston can see the start of her large breasts, a pleating of warm, tanned skin at each armpit. They disturb him, these little fans of flesh, they are more arousing than cleavage would have been. Around her neck is a string of Raymond’s turquoises. There is a hesitance, something almost like fear, in her yellow eyes; or maybe it is just shrewdness?
“A little the worse for wear,” she says to Thurston, reading his mind in that way women have, which he hates. Her drink is ginger ale, not ale, and she takes a long swallow. Her lipstick leaves a vermilion crust on the edge of her glass.
Thurston measures out a smile. He let Raymond talk him into this, but he never promised to enjoy it. “Well, Joetta—”
“Hey! Call me Jet. Any friend of Ray’s.”
She smiles warmly, but the yellow eyes make him feel cold. Thurston settles his spectacles protectively on his nose.
Joetta reaches under the table and hauls up a big red leather purse patterned all over with elephants lifting their trunks. She pulls out a brown paper bag and hands it to Thurston.
“Almost forgot. Merry Christmas early. Do they have persimmons in Rhode Island?”
Thurston looks into the bag: six or seven things that look like stunted oranges. He thanks her and sets the bag beside him on the wooden bench, where it can easily be left behind. The red leather purse shuts with a snap. He feels as if something has vanished into rather than out of it.
Ray says, “We figure now, maybe we oughta go to 33-, 34-foot—maybe a Bertram FBC. Right, Jet? If we’re gonna live on it and all. What the hell.”
“Thurston, you come visit and see my bar. El Dorado Bar and Lounge—that’s its new name—Ray tell you? El Dorado,” Joetta repeats, her bright lips tasting each syllable. “There’s a lot we gotta do yet.”
“Can you feature it?” Ray is still stroking Joetta’s forearm. Thurston can see her nostrils flare, as if it irritates her. “Day and night on the water. Brown bear swimming up for your toast crusts in the morning.”
“Some of those soft leather banquettes. A patio outside for dining under the stars. Those class of things. Ray’s helped me out a lot already,” Joetta tells Thurston. Her blued eyelids raise and lower at him like signals. “He’s not like a lot of men. Tighter than skin on a grape—that was my ex. Took me for everything I had. With Ray you’re safe.”
“They make’em tough enough for the open sea, not just the Inside Passage. What the hell. Maybe that’ll be next.”
Listening to two separate conversations, Thurston feels at first vindicated, then sad. He signals the brown-haired waitress, who brings his third stein: Ray and Joetta have left him nothing to do but drink. His half-brother is a fool, Thurston thinks, he’s as deluded as poor Individual /.
Smiling at Ray, Joetta moves her arm out of his reach, puts her hand in her lap. Ray beams at her—this desert bandit, this carpetbagger of the heart. That’s how it goes, Thurston thinks muzzily, how it always goes. He sees Maddalena’s face. He’s not going to let his brother—his brother, for Chrissake—get screwed. He takes a long draught of Courage.
Joetta leans across the table confidingly. “Ray knows how to say Yes,” she tells Thurston. “That’s the most erotic word a man can say to woman—yes.”
Thurston cannot bear his brother’s radiance a moment longer.
“Listen.” He intends a shout but it conies out a whisper. “Listen,” he says to Ray, louder this time. “You think you’re happy.” He jerks his head toward Joetta, whose eyelids have narrowed to blue slots. “Well, lemme tell you. Lemme just tell you.” The words come easily, the same speech he delivered to Mr. Gujarati two nights before. “Check your life plan, Ray. Unconditional—” he burps—”unconditional commitment to two or more mutual—mutually exclusive desires—”
But these two are not listening with Mr. Gujarati’s respectful, damp-eyed attention. Frowning, not quite decided, Joetta opens her mouth to speak. “Given these conditions” Thurston shouts. “Given these—” It doesn’t sound right. He spreads his arms for emphasis. The paper bag bounces on the seat beside him. “Consider— Consider the evidence I— No, the individual E—” Persimmons thud onto the wooden floor and roll out into the aisle. One rebounds off his right foot, hard.
Joetta decides on laughter. Her head tilts back; the tanned flesh of her bare arms shivers. After a second, Ray laughs, too. They lean across the table and say to Thurston, at the same moment, “Hey. Take it easy.” Immediately they turn toward each other and hook their little fingers together.
“What goes up the chimney? Smoke I” they chant, in unison. Their eyes lock; their faces shine with laughter. Thurston might as well be in Rhode Island.
The next morning he stands in front of the long, mahoganyframed mirror holding Maddalena’s number. Morning sun fills the loft with glittering needles of dust that seem to pierce his eyeballs. Head aching, he confronts his naked image. Narrow shoulders and collarbone; two pale nipples and the extra third one just below the left, smaller than a dime (he thinks of the stories of one twin devouring the other in the womb); penis trembling lightly. He sees that he’s forgotten to remove his socks.
401/331—6291: he doesn’t need to look down at the paper in his trembling hand. Why can’t he make himself dial it? Would Ray hesitate? Thurston’s Hidden Self, gazing sternly back through his spectacles, seems to look past him. The neat brown beard looks odd above the white flesh, as if he were dressed and undressed at the same time. Ray wouldn’t feel this crawling in his stomach when he remembered the dark-blue spring evenings, Maddalena’s key stumbling in the faulty lock, her face pink with lies. And yet, there were the other times: Maddalena’s big bed under the eaves, the shine of her breath coming toward him in the dark, the long chain of bones down her back, like knuckles.
Through the still morning air come the soft throat-clearings of mourning doves. Thurston thinks, Those we hate, truly hate, are those we have wronged. He understands that now. He looks around the spare, white loft, empty except for the chenille-covered bed and the reflection that asks nothing of him. Maddalena sent him this number; Maddalena does not hate him. Who, then, has wronged whom?
“Hey. Cal.” Ray leans in through the space left by the door that Thurston still can’t afford to replace. When he does, Charlotte told him last week, she’s found the perfect car alarm: a synthesized voice that repeats over and over, I HAVE BEEN VIOLATED.
“Ray, What’s up?”
Usually they meet inside the John Bull. Thurston looks around the parking lot. No sign of his half-brother’s pickup.
“Listen,” says Ray, and Thurston notices that his face is different—the lines deeper, the womanly set of the mouth more pronounced under the pink mustache. “You mind if we don’t eat? Let’s just walk, okay?”
A full moon keep pace with the two men down Fair Oaks, its color deepening from silver to gold. Thurston breathes in the smell of gardenias and car exhaust, heady as the first drag on a cigarette. All week he thought Raymond wouldn’t show. After Thurston’s outburst on Thursday, he might have decided (Thurston contemplated the possibility with mixed feelings) that he didn’t want a brother after all. Now, walking alongside his brother, he is surprised to feel pure relief. They cover several blocks in a silence unusual for Ray. They turn—Ray slightly in the lead—onto Del Mar, heading east, toward PCC. Finally Thurston says again, “What’s up?”
Looking straight ahead, Ray says, “I left.”
“Left?” In the moment before he understands, Thurston says foolishly, “Left where?”
“Jet, Joetta.” Ray stands still. The brim of his red cap shades his face from the streetlamps; Thurston can’t read his expression. “Come down to it, she ain’t the right crew for me. Says the trip’s too dangerous. Dangerous! Doesn’t trust me, is what she meant.”
“I’m sorry,” Thurston says. And he is: he feels his throat clamp shut.
Thurston puts out his hand, grabs Ray awkwardly by the elbow. Half-turning, Ray gives him a quick sideways look. Both men face front again. They walk like that for a few seconds, clumsily, out of step. Then Thurston lets go. A swell of sadness washes over him. He feels as if he is seeing for the last time the shining ice, the sunlit tops of mountains, the brown bears trolling in the clear air.
They pass the Pasadena Unity church, with its marquee that spells out: EVERYONE WELCOME. CREATE A NEW YOU. Ray is still a half-step ahead. He walks with his head down and his hands in his pockets, clicking something. They turn down a side street devoted to condominiums. The grass between the sidewalk and the curb has been painted green, like Charlotte’s; in the moonlight it doesn’t look bad. Someone has wrapped the trunks of the fig trees in aluminum foil and tied each one with a large red bow. Thurston is reminded that Christmas is only two days off: Holi-Day has him doing Mother’s Day cards now.
“What’ll you do?” he says.
Ray is silent. For a moment Thurston thinks he’s about to ask him to move in with him, share expenses, they’re brothers after all—but of course Ray does no such thing. He draws a long breath. He says, “My cash is all tied up in the bar. I had to sell the truck, the tumbler and all. Everything. I’m gonna hitch to Seattle, pick up a boat secondhand.” Ray’s face is still shadowed by the hat brim, but his voice is the ghost of his old voice.
“You’re going anyway?” Something more than relief wells up in Thurston, a tickling so strong it might be joy.
“What the hell. Won’t ship, won’t keep. Can’t head for someplace, I’m cooked. Might as well be Ketchikan. Hell, maybe I’ll keep going, maybe go on up Prince Rupert Sound to Valdez.”
On Colorado they turn right, heading east again. Bleachers for the Rose Parade line both sides of the street. In the moonlight they look like the skeletons of something. The two men walk in silence for several blocks; then Ray stops and turns to Thurston. He pulls his hands out of his pockets. For the first time, he smiles.
“Cal. You take care, you hear?” He puts something into Thurston’s hand. A polished stone, oval and warm from Ray’s grasp, almost the color of moonlight. “Rutillated quartz. For Maddalena,” Ray says. He punches Thurston lightly on the arm. “Be seein’ ya.”
And then he is striding away down Colorado Boulevard in the direction of the freeway.
“Hey! Ray! You’ve got my address,” Thurston calls after him.
Ray turns and, walking backwards, holds up two fingers in a V for victory. Then he turns around again.
“You’ve got my number,” Thurston shouts. “Call me.” He watches his brother moving east, moving fast, until he is a tiny figure between the stark, spectral rows of empty bleachers, under the Maddalena-moon. Thurston is left standing in the moonlight in the middle of Colorado Boulevard, three miles from where he left his car. The stone in his hand has grown cool, and his palm tingles, as if the stone has given off something his skin is absorbing. He opens his hand. It glows imperfectly, a dozen flaws like tiny shining wires trapped inside. He stands looking down at it. The ringing of the crickets is like faint incessant sleighbells on the warm air. What the hell, Thurston says to himself. He turns and starts to walk back the way he came.