Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2012 v11n1
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Zeke’s Dead

“You see everything so negatively,” Janice says.

George wonders if it’s true. He hulks beside her and their arms brush as they walk. It’s a five-minute sidewalk stroll to the drummer’s house and dry leaves argue along the edge of the tarred road. George and his wife, Janice, are wearing rubber footwear suitable for hiking through mountain streams.

“Pretend to have a good time,” Janice supplicates. “Do it for Alexander.”

George explains that he’s annoyed with Alexander because Alexander promised to go with him to Afton Mountain to see the hawks nesting on the ridge.

“The hawks will be there tomorrow,” Janice says and she’s right George knows, but by then they might not be circling.

“Why do you hate the idea of Alexander being in a rock band so much?” she asks.

George’s broad shoulders hint at a shrug.

“He’s not going to give up cello, he promised you that,” Janice insists.

They stand on the sidewalk in front of the drummer’s parents’ split-level brick house. A hedge reaching to George’s shoulders hides the house from Janice’s view. George smells the cocoa mulch that has been spread on the thickened trunk roots of the holly.

“Isn’t it kind of amazing?” Janice says. “Our son wants us to come hear his band play.”

“Not sure I see it that way,” George answers. He digs into his pocket and exhibits the earplugs he’s had the wherewithal to bring.

“George, please try harder. Is something wrong? Your eyes are gooey red.”

George looks away so she can’t doctor him. He’s almost a foot taller than Janice. His height is so obvious when he stands beside her, and yet it seems to George subsidiary to Janice’s other more subtle attributes. Right now her verbal quickness and good, good sense more than compensate for his stature. The power in their relationship tends to zigzag nicely, though lately he’s been stuck in a deep zag.

“It’s Cody then—you still hate him,” she says. She tries to peer into his eyes.

“How can anyone hate a thirteen-year-old kid?” He pictures Janice moving her hands skeptically to her hips, but instead she bends toward the freshly mulched hedge. He stares at her canvas-covered bottom. “Cody wears size twelve sneakers. His feet are bigger than mine,” he adds. George palms his wife’s ass as if it were bare and available. Suddenly, he’s zigging a bit. About when he recognizes the good feeling, it’s gone.

Standing, Janice lifts a handful of mulch to her nose. “This stuff can kill dogs,” she tells him. She lets the husks rain down on their rubber-enforced, heavily-vented footwear—his canoe green, hers steel blue. George knows she’s hit on it. They both know: he does hate Cody. That morning while lying next to Janice he’d fallen back into a doze where he allowed himself to fantasize dragging his son’s best friend, and now bandmate, Cody Elway, into the garden shed at the back of their suburban lot and locking him up there for good. It was a silly, harmless dream. George had savored it and had rerun it through his doze as though it were the winning play in a Redskins game.

“Aren’t you above it?” Janice asks. “I wish—”

“You wish what?” George breaks in, but then sits down on the curb like a small boy. He reaches one of his mighty arms out for a stick and begins to poke at recently fallen leaves, poplars, still green and supple-looking against the black tar.

“That you’d snap out of this. I don’t get why Barry can’t commit on the D.C. deal,” she says.

George thinks he knows where she’s headed. Barry is George’s business partner. Two years ago, George and Barry sold the software company Barry started out of college. George had taken the job with Barry twenty years ago—a job he didn’t want—so Janice could finish medical school with no debt. George sometimes feels funny about the pile of money he and Barry made over time. Sure they both lost money recently, but who hasn’t? The number of zeros that still pop up when he summons his account balances sometimes makes him log out and then look again. Barry is moving slowly to put the new deal together and George likes having the time off to hang with Alexander. He likes to be waiting when the crowd of kids pushes out of the middle school. George spots the orange backpack, the brown curly hair, the blushing cheeks. He grins. They greet with a hug and George hands over a snack: pretzels and juice, the next day a croissant and milk, or in a pinch a whole box of Honey Nut Cheerios.

George collects and reads biographies: Coleridge, Yeats, Churchill, Jefferson. George isn’t idle like Janice seems to think. He’s cut down on red meat and he gardens now, preferring dahlias. He’s even become a devoted bird-watcher and over the past two years of his temporary retirement, he and Janice and Alexander have sighted fifty-some rare birds in places like Mauritius and New Zealand. Until recently his easy, witty manner has gotten them so many dinner invitations Janice demanded he wiggle out of some.

Could he really be hung up on Cody Elway, the neighborhood bad boy, son of the unfathomable Margaret Elway? George wonders how the heck Cody has learned to play the guitar. Alexander has taken piano lessons since kindergarten and cello from fifth grade on: his knack for the bass guitar makes sense. Cody snaps his fingers and what? Presto—guitar licks?

The garage door of the drummer’s house scrapes open and George and Janice peer around the corner of the hedge to get a preview of their thirteen-year-old son, Alexander, with his two bandmates. Alexander’s bass amp sits inside George’s garden wheelbarrow. George wondered how the heck Alexander would get the bass amp down here on his own and now he knows. Cody’s on his cell phone and the band’s drummer, Kit, is attempting to juggle his drumsticks. The sticks keep hitting the runners on the ceiling of the garage and landing on the cement.

Alexander waves at them, points to the front entrance of the house, the entrance he wants them to use, and clangs shut the garage door.

The metallic shudder rings ominously. It’s a bad moment for George. His son has shut him out. He shivers and, just as involuntarily, he wants to kick something. If Janice says anything slightly annoying right now he might pull her hair. His plan to see the hawks with Alexander had meant something to both of them. They’d been crazy happy bird geeks together—until now.

Janice sits next to George on the curb. She sits so close it feels intimate. Their backs are turned to the drummer’s house and the hedge protects them from being seen.

“They really named their kid Kit?” George asks. “Why not be direct about it and call him Drum?”

“Kit’s a real name,” she says.

“You think?”

“So you don’t think Barry’s stalling?” Janice asks. George bumps his large frame over and explains patiently all the reasons Barry has so far failed to secure a deal for the new company and when George says that it might be a year, maybe more, before he’ll have a job to go to Janice’s body tightens; he feels it even though they aren’t touching. The sinewy veins on the top of her wrist puff out.

Then for the third time in the last month, she pushes Paxil on him. This time she’s brought the evil stuff with her. He peers into the cave of the big purse she holds open. The bunches of wrapped pills in there—samples from the drug reps, he knows—look to George like the Halloween candy he’s likely to set out on their front porch next week, awful dyed sugary stuff he won’t want Alexander to touch.

“You’re not my doctor,” he says.

“I know,” she says. “I’m sorry. I’m being too pushy—I’m worried about you. Something’s off.”

George wants to explain his love for Alexander, how much the relationship with their son has come to mean to him, but his strong feelings are too complicated and he worries he might tear up if he goes into stuff about his own father. Janice wasn’t there last week when he and Alexander discovered a flock of brown finches in a tree near the park. They lay down under the tree and peered up at the finches from underneath. George was pointing to one of the juveniles when a grown male shat on George’s face. He and Alexander laughed for a long time.

Spending time with Alexander has become such a big deal to George that he exaggerated stuff about how reckless the school bus driver was so he could start driving Alexander to and from school himself. George has a tendency to get so interested in Alexander’s school projects, Janice teases him about being back in middle school and the truth is George sometimes feels he has gone back, only this time, through Alexander, he’s doing everything right.

“I have an idea,” George says. “We could send Alexander to a private school—get Cody off his back.”

“You’re serious? Off his back? You’re pitiful.” She tries to look right at him. George turns away to examine the edges on one of the leaves. “What’s Cody done? Is there something I don’t know?”

“He used to wear camo pants,” George offers.

Janice obliges him a laugh. “Any chance crimes committed in elementary school could be forgiven?” she asks.

A squad of small boys rides by on too-tall bicycles. Dropping the leaf he’s torn to shreds, George burns with a memory: legs too short to reach the ground on his father’s off-limits bike, he’d landed squarely on the crossbar. George stands for a second to watch the fiery quintet pump around the corner and the glimpse of their jackets flapping as they fly reminds him that he could have been out on Skyline Drive with his son right now, just the two of them, watching the hawks.

Janice zips up her purse and George sits back down next to her.

“Remember when Cody almost strangled Alexander with his own helmet strap?” she says.

“Yeah,” he says, “but it was an accident.”

“‘How many accidents is one kid allowed?’ That’s what you asked,” she reminds him.

“I called him a thug,” George admits.

“To his face,” Janice says. “Remember the salamander?” she then asks, handing him his trump card.

George used the salamander card against Cody just the other day and is tired of it. The stunningly beautiful red salamander that Alexander found and that Cody subsequently kidnapped and killed years before is, in fact, the only real nail in Cody’s coffin, the only thing Alexander himself has ever held against his friend.

George waves his hand in an ultra sane way and then knocks his knee companionably against his wife’s. “As you say, it doesn’t count—they were in elementary school, third grade.”

“The night after the funeral, you know what?”


“The funeral Cody had for Zeke,” Janice says. “Zeke, you know, the salamander.”

George does not remember that the salamander had either a name or a funeral. The lapse makes him feel spaced out.

Janice stands and brushes off her pants. When George stands he thinks he feels the torn leaf under his foot. A squirrel runs up a tree. As Janice heaves her Paxil-filled purse onto her shoulder, she seems too small. In her office she wears a white lab coat and high heels and she’s sometimes glamorous to him then: her fantastic competence. Now she is small and clean and good and he wants to pick her up—he does sometimes at home and it makes Alexander laugh to see his mother high in the air like a dancer. She’s rounded the corner of the hedge and is moving toward the drummer’s house. She expects George to follow and he does.

George sticks his hand back in the bowl of popcorn. You see everything so negatively, she told him on the way over and so he tries to seem cheerful as he waits in the thickly carpeted basement for the rock band to set up. Every time the bearded guy says something, their plump host, the drummer’s father, roars. George can’t figure out why Kit’s father hasn’t introduced him to the bearded guy and George is beginning to feel left out. He’s eaten so much popcorn the salt has become embedded in his lips.

What is Janice finding to yack about with the women in the kitchen upstairs? Years before when George still walked Alexander to and from the school bus, George had done time with one of the women Janice is stuck with upstairs, Margaret Elway, aka Cody’s mom or M.E. ME is still George’s private designation for Cody’s mom. She doesn’t read the Times or the Post and can’t carry on a conversation about Iraq or Afghanistan; she’s never heard of the local food movement and doesn’t see why anyone would shop at a farmer’s market, doesn’t go to see recent flicks or rent old films, has zero to say about the school superintendent scandal; she wears orange and blue on UVA game days; all those years he’d stood next to her waiting for the school bus, she’d never known or guessed anything correctly about the weather. It wasn’t that he had minded having to shoot the bull with someone who wasn’t well read or thoughtful; over time as Cody became Alexander’s mega friend, George came to accept that ME had no interest in discovering that George tried to be both, both thoughtful and decently well-informed. As a result though—this was the part that had eventually pissed George off—if the two of them, George and ME, happened, say, to be waiting for the school bus in the rain, ME would slide under George’s umbrella in her thinly soled heels and do all the talking. Years after her divorce, she continued to dominate the conversation with drivel. He admits she smelled good as she pushed her large chest against his arm. Once in a while, she’d make him laugh.

George stands by one of the basement loungers near the drum set as though he is going to claim it and then, surprising himself, he does. He bounces down into it and swivels neatly to face the other two men. The oddly low-key flat screen is on mute and so the hissing sigh the chair makes—is still making—as George’s weight forces air out of the cushion, leather, real, but low-grade real, George knows as he feels the arm of the chair with the hand that is not holding popcorn, could easily have come from his host’s mouth.

As the hiss ends, the garage door opens and Cody enters. Mean, uneasy feelings, predictable as the dirty sock smell upon lifting the lid of his hamper, whistle through George. It almost always happens when Cody gets within a certain range. After George forgets to return Cody’s offhand wave, George finds himself in a private windstorm, a freakish gust meant for him alone.

Strapped to a green vintage Fender, Cody looks strikingly handsome. Even as a kid with bad army haircuts and pink cheeks fattened by entire packs of gum, Cody had been cute.

George swivels again—wee-ee—and watches his son Alexander roll his bass amp through the garage door. George stares at his son’s tender-looking face with the most intensely protective surge of love he’s felt, maybe ever; whiter and larger, to be sure, yet it is the same face George wiped the blood from when Alexander was born prematurely and the two of them, father and baby son, bonded in the pullout hospital bed like whispering lovers because Janice had been so frighteningly out of it with post-birth depression that, for a short time, she hadn’t wanted anything to do with either of them.

George looks over at the drummer and reminds himself that the drummer’s name is Kit. He’s a short, curly haired boy whose plumpness cuts the band’s coolness factor in a way George approves of. He swings his leg—hairy, for a thirteen-year-old—over the stool and begins a set of loose paradiddles.

The other two men trade stories about their own days playing in bands, bar bands: more money in it then than now, they agree. They drink beer from frosted glasses with handles and though George declined one when it was offered earlier, he wants one now. With his clean hand he reaches deep into his pant pockets to retrieve the earplugs planted there. To get his hand deep enough, he has to extend one leg into the stage area and twist sideways. He leaves his leg there—a tree limb blocking the roadway—thinking Cody might trip over it.

Kit stops pummeling the snare drum and so for now, George leaves the plugs where they are, their little bee-shaped bodies nestled next to two pain relievers—Advil or Tylenol—that he also brought in case the music gives him a headache.

All this time, George has been gripping his handful of popcorn so that it’s inedible and while he tries to figure out how to get rid of it without getting up from the dream chair, someone trips over his left foot.

“You all right there, Kit?” George asks holding out his free hand.

Kit’s dad reaches forward and fluffs his kid’s long, curly hair to remind him, George sees, that he isn’t a crybaby anymore.

Kit’s parents are okay, George admits to himself, but he’s worried about their investment in the whole rock band thing, buying him an elaborate drum set and letting him turn their basement into his practice room. Recently George heard someone say that there’s a new toxic parental group out there. Along with theater parents and Little League parents and Pop Warner football parents there are now rock band parents.

“Save my seat?” George asks Kit’s dad.

George rises as Kit’s snare hits morph into a 1-2-3 off-the-rack rock beat, heavy on the cymbals. Kit Sr. lays his arm across the back of George’s lounger and George heads upstairs to find a bathroom, somewhere to scrape off the popcorn mush and wash his hand, and check in with Janice.

He hears the women before he sees them. Janice is laughing too, not the loudest, but to George her laughter rings out like chimes—simple and pretty—among less favorable instruments.

Before entering the hall bathroom, George stops and stares at his wife; she stands at the butcher block island in the remodeled kitchen looking just as she had outside on the sidewalk, only now she’s wearing a small catcher’s mitt.

“Sour’s putting it mildly,” he hears Janice say.

At first he barely registers the comment, a flash of nothing.

All three of the women are blinking and he attributes the batting eyes to the bright kitchen lights. He notices too that the heavy pots swinging very slightly from a rack over their heads makes the scene look dangerous. He remains hidden by the door-frame.

Janice smacks her fist into the pocket of the kiddy catcher’s mitt. Her normally wide-open face begins to look scrunched, her dimples aggressively rearranged by a sort of slanting grin. He can’t stop staring. Again, Janice speaks: “Meaty, bald and sputtering is more like it.” George doesn’t want to hear more yet he sidesteps so that he’s hidden completely. He needs time to figure out what to do, so there he is, positioned to hear the rest.

How long has it taken him to realize the part of his body she’s talking about?

Looking at her, George still thinks his wife has a lovely face, even if she isn’t really beautiful. Her mouth and lips—too small maybe—give her face a wholesome look that her smallish, athletic build corroborates.

Janice often says he’s the one with the looks. George has lately become aware that his austere, Roman-looking face has remained, midway through his forties, youthful. The pointy-prominence of his nose—this is Janice’s theory—keeps his skin taut, the way a mast does for a sail. She says, stroking him, it’s as though he’s had a face-lift.

Peeking out from his hiding place, George sees Janice pick an apple from the fruit bowl and pitch it to herself with a satisfying slap. The eyes of the other women egg her on: don’t make us wait. Janice shivers as the women at the kitchen island laugh and yet when they pause to hear what Janice will say, it is ME who speaks up, “Cody’s dad, my ex-husband, called his—no—I can’t say—” ME giggles. George stares at ME’s large chest and isn’t sure if the see-through nature of her blouse is real. He thinks he sees enormous dark nipples through the sheer fabric.

“Oh come on,” Janice and Mrs. Kit say on cue. George sees that ME is going to tell whether they encourage her or not. The sight of ME’s unearthly nipples make him feel dizzy. All those years standing next to her at the bus stop; he’d never dreamed of such freakishness.

“He called—” She cups her hands beside her mouth. George can’t hear. ME giggles again. Janice takes a long sip of red wine.

“Did you say vroom?” Mrs. Kit asks.

“Like in Cat in the Hat,” ME explains. She sets her glass down. “Vroom!” Her hands shoot up. “The explosion is so powerful and magical that the pink stuff all over the snow disappears. All is right with the world.”

“That’s poetic,” Janice says. She smiles and pours more wine into her glass.

“Why do you suppose we all have a tendency to name them as they are in their grand state and not when they’re like shriveling, wet mushrooms?” Mrs. Kit asks.

“I bet you have a great name for George’s,” ME says to Janice. George wants to step forward and stop this but he doesn’t. Janice has dignity. She’ll never tell.

“Our name is kind of ordinary and it isn’t any of your business,” Janice answers in a half-snooty way.

George hears Kit bang on the drums again and then a string of deep blues notes from the Fender bass guitar George bought on eBay for Alexander makes George want to go back downstairs. George turns to go when he sees by the way Janice has her nose in the air that rather than insisting on her snooty dignity, she’s mocking it. Out of nowhere ME and Mrs. Kit slap the counter. “Tell, tell, tell, tell…” they chant. How could this be happening? Tell. Tell. Tell. Tell. It’s as if they’d gone to high school together and were on the same cheerleading squad. George knows for a fact that the women are only acquaintances. Where does their camaraderie come from?

“Oh God,” Janice says, having scarcely put up a fight. “We just call it ‘Pesky.’” She sips again from her glass and since neither of the women responds right away, she adds, “But Old Pesky hasn’t been all that pesky lately.”

That’s it. George sneaks silently downstairs where Alexander, Kit and Cody are warming up. Kit Sr. removes his arm so that George can reclaim the leather chair. When the chair releases its last bit of air George notices a group of youngsters outside the sliding glass doors. In the near dark through the glass their faces appear not to have bodies. They float there like balloons. George’s deep embarrassment has not yet slid to anger, but the progression is as inevitable as the one Cody is strumming with more rhythmic ingenuity than George could have imagined possible. Kit Sr. leans strenuously from his chair and slides the door open to let the faces—attached to bodies, it turns out—in. Three middle school girls, summoned no doubt by Cody’s phone call, carrying small purses and wearing flat slipper-like shoes, make deferential noises to Kit Sr. as they enter from the stone patio. The tallest girl, her hair streaked the colors of a Blue Martin’s feathers, waves to the adults. She goes straight to Cody and hugs him, creating, George guesses, a level of familiarity that did not exist before now.

“Check, check, one, two, three,” Cody booms into the microphone, drinking her with—what else?—his eyes.

“Mom,” Kit shouts coarsely as though at a sibling. “We’re starting.”

George hears the three women chattering before they enter the room in a single file, each carrying a full glass of red wine. “Rock on,” Mrs. Kit yells. Holding her glass high, she sort of swings her ample hips this way, then that, as she moves across the carpet. She knows how to be a groupie. Mr. Kit brings three upright chairs over from the game table, but Janice props herself boldly on one of the fat arms of George’s chair. Under other circumstances he might have offered her the seat.

“You look like Mike O,” Janice bends over to whisper. She pats his shoulder. Mike O was a grown Orangutan they saw in a protective sanctuary on a recent birding trip to Malaysia. The clear expression of profound unhappiness on the Orangutan’s face struck them both. Mike O is almost as much a part of their private lexicon as Pesky is. George takes Janice’s hand off his shoulder and ignores the way she now searches his face, as if she expects him to explain.

The three girls sit on the floor v-legged in what might be the front row.

“Hi, Mrs. Elway,” the tall girl says to ME. ME touches the girl’s back and speaks to her in a kindly way. The tall girl who flirted with Cody is Veronica, George learns. Veronica introduces her friends and George, desperate not to make contact with Janice, asks Kit Sr. for a beer. Kit Sr. chastises himself for being a bad host and while Kit Sr. pours the beer, the bearded guy leans over, shakes George’s hand, and introduces himself. Evan. Had George accepted a beer when he’d first come in, it seems, he might never have budged, might never have learned about the crime committed against him upstairs. Nor would he be attempting to get another glance at what might be ME’s horrifyingly gigantic nipples. ME’s arms are folded across her chest and in any case the basement light is dim.

Cody leans into the microphone. “Yeah so thanks for coming everyone. Our first song is one we wrote last week with the whole band. It’s called “Zeke’s Dead” and like, well, we hope you like it.”

Janice nudges George and smiles at him. Zeke the salamander, Zeke’s back. He doesn’t return Janice’s smile.

“What’s wrong?” she whispers.

Kit clicks his sticks and on the right sway of his body counts out loud: one, two, three, four. The other two watch Kit and then each other. Cody hits some random sounding notes before fretting a bunch of power chords and then Cody’s vocals solidify a punk rock groove. George picks up on Alexander’s bass line and realizes it’s the bass line that’s making him tap his foot.

Kit’s mom dances in place next to her chair.

Veronica sways her polished shoulders. The girl with the two ponytails takes out a little pot of something, sticks her finger in it, smears whatever is now on her finger across her tightly stretched lips and then passes the pot down so that the other two girls can do the same. Janice smiles again. Her teeth are purple. She’ll have a wicked hangover from all the cheap wine she’s drunk and it serves her right. George has not yet decided how to punish Janice.

Zeke’s a keeper. A bright red creature. Zeke’s a keeper.

Hell. I squashed his heart but not his soul.

Alexander leans in to sing with Cody on the chorus and as the high pure clarity of his son’s voice hits harmonic thirds George is nearly transported. The whole idea of the rock band gets way, way better for him. Alexander can sing. Who knew? This is big. Cody flips his hair around between verses. One more chorus and this time the harmonies, the two voices together, make Janice wipe her eyes and look at George. You see, she seems to be saying. Both Cody and Kit look at Alexander for a signal so that they all stop, more or less, at the same time. Veronica lifts her iPhone and clicks; in seconds pixels regroup inside cell phones and laptops of a hundred thirteen-year-olds all over Charlottesville and despite Janice’s treachery upstairs, George begins wondering if hearing the song these kids wrote and performed wasn’t almost as good, no better than, seeing the hawks soar from their nests.

“Rock on!” Kit’s mom yells.

ME whistles like a man through her fingers.

George claps longer than any of the other adults.

“My icons are trembling,” Veronica says, holding her phone so that her friend with the ponytails curling like muffs over her ears can see the inexplicable phenomenon.

“One more,” George yells. The bearded man, Evan, who is here as ME’s date, George now knows, slaps George on the back. Kit Sr. seconds the motion. When Janice tries to move in closer, he feels the cotton of her blouse touching his arm and he can’t stop himself. “Song, song, song, song—” he chants as he pounds his empty beer mug on his thigh, his intonation a perfect replica of the tell, tell, tell, tell he’d overheard upstairs and although he can’t be sure that either of the other women is quick enough to understand, Janice surely is.

“Oh God,” she says quietly. “I’m so sorry honey.”

“Yeah,” George says, “I bet.” Kit Sr. has taken it on himself to get George another beer and after George swaps his empty glass for a full one and downs a bit of it, George opens the hand that had been holding the popcorn all this time and smears the sticky stuff on Janice’s thigh.

After they have sex, half-decent sex, sex that lasts over half an hour, sex that ends in a long conversation that Janice doesn’t deep-six by revealing sick stuff about one of her geriatric patients or by thumping over on her stomach and whining about how tired she’ll be in the morning, Janice apologizes for her bad behavior earlier. She lets fly a supposition about how Alexander’s relationship to Cody is a little like his own to his business partner, Barry, doesn’t he see? And though George could blast her theory to bits he recognizes the wisdom of being agreeable. Janice returns to her very adult apology, avoiding excuses like alcohol and peer pressure, and nests her much smaller body into his large one as though pretending she’s after protection. A sham, he recognizes, but he’ll take it.

He smells Tide in their mussed sheets and feels the stubble on her leg with his foot. She teases him again about ME’s giant-size areolae. According to Janice there was a subtle circle pattern on ME’s undergarment. George begins to accept that he totally imagined her large areolae. He tells Janice it’s not his fault. Once, at the bus stop, ME rubbed up against him, he swears. Janice doesn’t doubt him and they both laugh.

The Paxil’s bagged up and thrown in the trash and Janice promises she won’t harass him about his moods anymore. She starts to apologize again and he interrupts her to ask if she wants to wake Alexander up and make him sing for them again. They each say three times, expressing it in slightly different ways, how amazing the band was. It’s as if, for the moment, they’re able to endorse what maybe lays ahead: the middle school trio stays together through high school, college, and beyond when they have to grapple with the indignities of putting a record out with a midsize label and touring the country in a rented van.

George asks Janice what will happen to Alexander’s singing voice when it changes and Janice admits she doesn’t know. Janice proves to George she still feels terrible for introducing other women to Pesky: she guides his hand to a wet cheek. She tries to apologize all over again but he tells her they should leave it there. He explains that he needs her last apologetic note to last longer. He wants the note to take up more space—like with vibrato. It’s hard for him to explain. He tells her he’s suddenly sick of repetition.

She digs her fingers into his posterior longitudinal ligaments and walks them down either side of his spine.

“Hawks are predatory animals,” he mutters.

“Shhh,” she says and continues with her doctor-wise massage. A minute later she asks, “Is that why you want Alexander to admire the hawks? Is it because they’re successful predators? Is that why you admire them?”

“They’re noble—my wanting Alexander to admire them isn’t an issue. He already does.”

“Hmm,” she says. “Something he’s inherited: a gawk-at-hawks in awe gene.”

“Something like that,” he answers lightly as she moves on to the lateral ligaments. Who’s being negative now?

Fifteen minutes later he bounces out of their gigantic bed that faces a tiny but coveted piece of wooded real estate—six bird feeders—to urinate; he washes his hands and then somehow gets hung up staring into the magnified side of the round makeup mirror. The goo in his eyes has cleared. His large nose is regal. The thick stubble makes him seem rugged not old. He flips the mirror to the normal side. As he examines his face thoroughly, he gets the idea of telling Janice that he doesn’t hate Cody anymore; when he returns to the bedroom with a wonderfully empty bladder somehow it’s true. He doesn’t.  

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