Independence Day: Bascombe Trilogy | Chapter 12 of 22 - Part: 1 of 13

Author: Richard Ford | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 14947 Views | Add a Review

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6

Up the ink-dark seaboard, into the stillborn, ocean-rich night, my windows open wide for wakefulness: the Garden State, Red Bank, Matawan, Cheesequake, the steep bridge ascent over the Raritan and, beyond, the sallow grid-lights of Woodbridge.

There’s, of course, a ton of traffic. Certain Americans will only take their summer jaunts after dark, when “it’s easier on the engine,” “there’re fewer cops,” “the gas stations lower the rates.” The interchange at Exit 11 is aswarm with red taillights: U-Hauls, trailers, step vans, station wagons, tow dollies, land yachts, all cramming through, their drivers restless for someplace that can’t wait till morning: a new home in Barrington, a holiday rental on Lake Memphrémagog, an awkward reunion at a more successful brother’s chalet at Mount Whiteface—everyone with kids on board and screaming, a Port-a-Crib lashed to the top carry, desert bag harnessed to the front bumper, the whole, damn family belted in so tight that an easy breath can’t be drawn.

And, too, it’s that time of the month—when leases expire, contracts are up, payments come due. Car windows in the turnpike line reveal drawn faces behind steering wheels, frowns of concern over whether a certain check’s cleared or if someone left behind is calling the law to report furniture removed, locks jimmied, garages entered without permission—a license number noted as a car disappears down a quiet suburban street. Holidays are not always festive events.

Cops, needless to say, are out in force. Up ahead of me on the turnpike, blue lights flash far and near as I clear the toll plaza and start toward Carteret and the flaming refinery fields and cooling vats of Elizabeth. I have had, I realize, one glass of Round Hill too many and am now squinting into the shimmer lights and MERGE LEFT arrows, where road repavers are working late under banks of da-brite spots—our highway taxes at work here too.

It would’ve been smart, of course, just to pack Sally in with me, lock the house, activate the alarm, inaugurate a new stratagem for the rescue of collapsing love, since I’m at this moment positive that no matter what decision was entered an hour ago, it’ll never happen that way. Beyond an indistinct but critical point in life (near my own age, to be sure), most of your latter-day resolves fall apart and you end up either doing whatever’s damn well easiest or else whatever you feel strongest about. (These two in fact can get mixed up and cause plenty of mischief.) At the same time it also gets harder and harder to believe you can control anything via principle or discipline, though we all talk as if we can, and actually try like hell. I feel certain, batting past Newark airport, that Sally would’ve dropped everything and come with me if I’d as much as asked. (How this would go over with Ann would be another bridge to cross.) Paul, I’m sure, would’ve thought it was fine. He and Sally could’ve become secret pals in league against me, and who knows what might’ve been in store for the three of us. For starters, I wouldn’t be alone in this traffic-gunk metallurgic air shaft, bound for an empty set of sheets in who knows what motel in who knows what state.

An important truth about my day-to-day affairs is that I maintain a good share of flexibility, such that my personal time and whereabouts are often not of the essence. When poor sweet Clair Devane met her three o’clock at Pheasant Meadow and got pulled into a buzz saw of bad luck, a whole network of alarms and anguish cries bespeaking love, honor, dependency immediately sounded—north to south, coast to coast. Her very moment as a lost human entity was at once seismically registered on all she’d touched. But on any day I can rise and go about all my normal duties in a normal way; or I could drive down to Trenton, pull off a convenience-store stickup or a contract hit, then fly off to Caribou, Alberta, walk off naked into the muskeg and no one would notice much of anything out of the ordinary about my life, or even register I was gone. It could take days, possibly weeks, for serious personal dust to be raised. (It’s not exactly as if I didn’t exist, but that I don’t exist as much) So, if I didn’t appear tomorrow to get my son, or if I showed up with Sally as a provocative late sign-up to my team, if I showed up with the fat lady from the circus or a box of spitting cobras, as little as possible would be made of it by all concerned, partly in order that everybody retain as much of their own personal freedom and flexibility as possible, and partly because I just wouldn’t be noticed that much per se. (This reflects my own wishes, of course—the unhurried nature of my single life in the grip of the Existence Period—though it may also imply that laissez-faire is not precisely the same as independence.)

Where Sally’s concerned, however, I take responsibility for how things went tonight. Since, in spite of other successful adjustments, I have yet to learn to want properly. When I’ve been with Sally for longer than a day—plowing over the Green Mountains, or snug-a-bug in a big matrimonial suite at the Gettysburg Battlefield Colonial Inn, or just sitting staring at oil rigs and trawler lights riding the Atlantic, as we were tonight, what I always think is, Why don’t I love you?—which instantly makes me feel sorry for her and, after that, for myself, which can lead to bitterness and sarcasm or just evenings like tonight, when bruised feelings lurk below surface niceties (though still well above deep feelings).

But what bothers me about Sally—unlike Ann, who still superintends everything about me just by being alive and sharing ineluctable history—is that Sally superintends nothing, presupposes nothing and in essence promises to do nothing remotely like that (except like me, as she admitted she does). And whereas in marriage there’s the gnashing, cold but also cozy fear that after a while there’ll be no me left, only me chemically amalgamated with another, the proposition with Sally is that there’s just me. Forever. I alone would go on being responsible for everything that had me in it; no cushiony “chemistry” or heady synchronicity to fall back on, no other, only me and my acts, her and hers, somehow together—which of course is much more fearsome.

This is the very source of the joint feeling we both had sitting on the dark porch: that we weren’t waiting for anything to happen or change. What might’ve seemed like hollow, ritual acts or ritual feelings between us were, in fact, neither hollow nor ritual, but real acts and honest feelings—not nullity, not at all. That was the way we actually felt tonight at the actual time we felt it: simply present, alone and together. There was nothing really wrong with it. If you wanted to you might call our “relationship” the Existence Period shared.

Obviously what I need to do is simply “cut through,” make clear and understood what it is I do like about Sally (which is damn plenty), give in to whatever’s worth wanting, accept what’s offered, change the loaded question from “Why don’t I love you?” to the better, more answerable “How can I love you?” Though if I’m successful it would probably mean resuming life at about the point, give or take, where a good marriage would’ve brought me, had I been able to last at it long enough.

Past Exit 16W and across the Hackensack River from Giants Stadium, I curve off into the Vince Lombardi Rest Area to gas up, take a leak, clear my head with coffee and check for messages.

The “Vince” is a little red-brick Colonial Williamsburg-looking pavilion, whose parking lot this midnight is hopping with cars, tour buses, motor homes, pickups—all my adversaries from the turnpike—their passengers and drivers trooping dazedly inside through a scattering of sea gulls and under the woozy orange lights, toting diaper bags, thermoses and in-car trash receptacles, their minds fixed on sacks of Roy Rogers burgers, Giants novelty items, joke condoms, with a quick exit peep at the Vince memorabilia collection from the great man’s glory days on the “Six Blocks of Granite,” later as win-or-die Packer headman and later still as elder statesman of the resurgent Skins (when pride still mattered). Vince, of course, was born in Brooklyn, but began his coaching career at nearby Englewood’s St. Cecilia’s, which is why he has his own rest area. (Sportswriting leaves you with such memories as these.)

As there’s a lull at the pumps, I gas up first, then park oh the back forty, among the long-haul trucks and idling buses, and hike across the lot and into the lobby, where it’s as chaotic as a department store at Christmas yet also, strangely, half asleep (like an old-time Vegas casino at 4 a.m.), with its dark video arcade bing-jinging, long lines at the Roy’s and Nathan’s Famous and families walking around semi-catatonically eating, or else sitting arguing at plastic tables full of paper trash. Nothing suggests the 4th of July.

I make my visit to the cavernous men’s room, where the urinals flush the instant you’re done and on the walls, appropriately enough, there’re no pictures of Vince. I pass through the “Express Coffee Only” line at Roy’s, then carry my paper cup over to the phone bank, which as usual is being held hostage by twenty truckers in plaid shirts with big chained-on wallets, all leaning into the little metal phone cubbies, fingers sealing their ears, maundering to someone time zones away.

I wait till one of them hauls up on his jeans and saunters off like a man who’s just committed a secret sex act, then I set up shop and call for my messages, which I haven’t heard since three—nearly nine hours and counting. (My receiver holds onto the gritty warmth of the trucker’s grip as well as the lime-cologne odor from the rest room dispensers, a smell many women must find it possible to get used to.)

Message one (of ten!) is from Karl Bemish: “Frank, yeah. So’s you know. The little Frito Banditos just cruised through. CEY 146. Note that down in case they kill me. Another Mexican’s in the back seat this time through. I phoned the sheriff. Nothing to worry about.” Clunk.

Message two is another call from Joe Markham: “Look, Bascombe. Goddamn it. 259–6834. Call me. 609 area code. We’ll be here tonight.” Clunk.

Message three is a hang-up—undoubtedly Joe, going ballistic and becoming speechless.

Message four, though, is from Paul, in a mood of fierce hilarity. “Boss? Hello dere, boss?” His less than perfect Rochester voice. Someone else’s squeaky laughter is in the background. “If you needs to get laid, crawl up a chicken’s ass and wait!” Louder hilarity, possibly Paul’s girlfriend, the troubling Stephanie Deridder, though also possibly Clarissa Bascombe, his accomplice. “Okay, okay now. Wait.” He’s starting a new routine. This is not very good news. “You insect, you parasite, you worm! It’s Dr. Rection here. Dr. Hugh G. Rection, calling with your test results. It doesn’t look good for you, Frank. Oncology recapitulates ontogeny.” He couldn’t know what this means. “Bark, bark, bark, bark, bark.” This, of course, is very bad, though they’re both laughing like monkeys. Change clicks in a pay phone slot. “Next stop the Black Forest. I’ll have the torte, pleeeezzz. Bark, bark, bark, bark, bark. Make that two, t-o-o, doc-tah.” I hear the sound of the receiver being dropped, I hear them walking away giggling. I wait and wait and wait for them to come back (as though they were really there and I could speak to Paul, as though it wasn’t all recorded hours ago). But they don’t, and the tape stops. A bad call, about which I feel at a complete loss.

Message five is from Ann (strained, businesslike, a tone for the plumber who fixed her pipes wrong). “Frank, call me, please. All right? Use my private number: 203 526–1689. It’s important. Thanks.” Click.

Message six, Ann again: “Frank. Call me please? Anytime tonight, wherever you are—526–1689.” Click.

Message seven, another hang-up.

Message eight, Joe Markham: “We’re on our way to Vermont. So fuck you, asshole. You prick! You try to do—“ Clunk! Good riddance.

Message nine, Joe again (what a surprise): “We’re on our way to Vermont right now. So stick this message up your ass.” Clunk.

Message ten, Sally: “Hi.” A long, thought-organizing pause, then a sigh. “I should’ve been better tonight. I just … I don’t know what.” Pause. Sigh. “But—I’m sorry. I wish you were still here, even if you don’t. Wish, wish, wish. Let’s … umm … Sure. Just call me when you get home. Maybe I’ll come for a visit. Bye-bye.” Clunk.

Except for the last, an unusually unsettling collection of messages for 11:50 p.m.

I dial Ann and she answers immediately.

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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