Independence Day: Bascombe Trilogy | Chapter 19 of 22 - Part: 1 of 11

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

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INDEPENDENCE DAY

Streets away, in the summoning, glimmery early-morning heat, a car alarm breaks into life, shattering all silences. Bwoop-bwip! Bwoop-bwip! Bwoop-bwip! On the front steps of 46 Clio Street, reading my paper, I gaze up into the azure heavens through sycamore boughs, take a breath, blink and wait for peace.

I am here before nine, again in my red REALTOR jacket and my own The Rock shirt, awaiting the Markhams, currently on their way down from New Brunswick. Though unlike most of my previous intercourse with them, this time there is not a long story. Possibly there is even a hopeful one.

At the end of yesterday’s bewildering if not completely demoralizing events, Irv was good enough to chauffeur me back up to Cooperstown—a drive during which he talked a mile a minute and in an almost desperate way about needing to get out of the simulator business, except that in his current view and based on careful analysis, the rah-rah, back-slap, yahoo days in his industry were all done, so that a policy favoring a career move seemed foolhardy, whereas holding his cards seemed wise. Continuity—an earnest new commanding metaphor—was applicable to all and was taking up the slack for synchronicity (which never carries you far enough).

When we arrived long into the shaded dewy hours of early evening, the Deerslayer lot was jammed full of new vacationer cars and my Ford had been towed away, since inasmuch as I was no longer a paying guest my license number was no longer on file. Irv and I and the resurrected Erma then sat in the office at the Mobil station behind Doubleday Field and waited until the tow-truck driver arrived with keys to the razor-wire impoundment, during which time I decided to make my necessary calls before paying my sixty dollars, saying good-bye and turning homeward alone.

My second call and inexcusably late was to Rocky and Carlo’s, to leave a message with Nick the bartender. Sally would receive this when she got in from South Mantoloking, and among its profuse apologies were instructions to go straight to the Algonquin (my first call), where I’d reserved a big suite for her, there to check in and order room service. Later that night, from the village of Long Eddy, New York, halfway down the Delaware, we spoke and I told her all about the day’s lamentable happenings and some odd feeling of peculiar and not easily explainable hope I’d already started to revive by then, after which we were able to impress each other with our seriousness and the possibilities for commitment in ways we admitted were “dangerous” and “anxious-making” and that we had never quite advanced to in the solitary months of only “seeing” each other. (Who knows why we hadn’t, except there’s nothing like tragedy or at least a grave injury or major inconvenience to cut through red tape and bullshit and reveal anyone’s best nature.)

Joe and Phyllis Markham, when I reached them, were as meek as mice on hearing they’d missed their chance on the Houlihan house, that I was now fresh out of good ideas and a long way from home, that my already afflicted son had been poleaxed playing baseball and was at that moment in ominous surgery at Yale-New Haven and would probably lose his vision. In my voice, I know, were the somber tonalities and slow, end-stop rhythms of resignation, of having run the course, made the valiant try in more ways than ten, endured imprecation, come back from the trash heap with no hard feelings, and yet in a moment or two I would say good-bye forever. (“Realty death” is the industry buzzword.)

“Frank, look,” Joe said, annoyingly tapping a pencil lead on the receiver from within his medium-priced double at the Raritan Ramada and seeming as clearheaded, plainspoken and ready to own up to reality as a Lutheran preacher at the funeral of his impoverished aunt. “Is there any way Phyl and I could get a peek at that colored rental property you mentioned? I know I got away from myself a little on Friday when I flared up that way. And I probably owe you an apology.” (For calling me an asshole, a prick, a shithead? Why not, I thought, though that was as close as we got.) “There’s one colored family in Island Pond who’s been there since the Underground Railroad. Everybody treats ’em like regular citizens. Sonja goes to school right beside one of them every day.”

“Tell him we want to look at it tomorrow,” I heard Phyllis say. Changes had occurred aloft, I realized, a storm pushed on out to sea. In the realty business, change is good; from 100 percent for to 150 percent against, or vice versa, are everyday occurrences and signs of promising instability. My job is to make all that seem normal (and, if possible, make every nutty change in a client’s mind seem smarter than anything I myself could’ve advised).

“Joe, I’ll be home tonight around eleven, God willing.” I leaned wearily against the window glass at the Mobil, the da-ding, da-ding, da-ding of the customer bell going constantly. (There was no use picking up the racial cudgels to try explaining to Joe that it was not “a colored house” but my house.) “So if I don’t call you, I’ll meet you on the porch at forty-six Clio Street at nine a.m. tomorrow.”

“Four-six Clio, check,” Joe said militarily.

“When can we move in?” Phyllis said from the background.

“Tomorrow morning if you want to. It’s ready to go. It just needs airing out.”

“It’s ready to go,” Joe said brusquely.

“Oh, thank God,” I heard Phyllis say.

“I guess you heard that,” Joe said, brimming with relief and craven satisfaction.

“I’ll see you there, Joe.” And in that way the deal was sealed.

The car alarm goes just as suddenly silent, and quiet morning reconvenes. (These almost never herald an actual robbery.) Down the block some kids are hovering around what looks like a red coffee can they’ve set in the middle of the street. No doubt they’re following through on plans for an early-morning detonation to alert the neighbors that it’s a holiday. Fireworks, of course, are unthinkably illegal in Haddam, and once the explosion blows, it’s automatic that a cruiser will idle through the neighborhood, an HPD officer inquiring if we’ve heard or seen people shooting or carrying guns. I’ve noticed Myrlene Beavers twice behind her screen, her walker glinting out of the murk. She seems not to notice me today but to concentrate her vigilance on the boys, one of whom—his little face shiny and black—is sporting a bright Uncle Sam costume and will no doubt be marching in the parade later on (assuming he’s not in jail). There is yet no sign of the Markhams, or for that matter the McLeods, whom I also have business with.

Since arriving at eight, I’ve mowed the small front yard with the (supplied) hand mower, watered the parched grass and sprayed the metal siding using my hose from home. I’ve cut back the dead hydrangea branches and the spirea and the roses, hauled the refuse to the back alley and opened windows and doors front and back to get air flowing inside the house. I’ve swept the porch, the front walk, run the tap in all the sinks, flushed the commode, used my broom to jab any cobwebs out from the ceiling corners and finished up by taking down the FOR RENT sign and stowing it in my trunk just to minimize the Markhams’ feelings of displacement.

As always, I’ve noticed an awkward, flat-footed sensation involved with showing my own rental house (though I’ve done it several times since the Harrises left). The rooms seem somehow too large (or small), too drab and unhopeful, already used up and going nowhere, as though the only thing to truly revive the place would be for me to move in myself and turn it homey with my own possessions and positive attitudes. It’s possible, of course, that this reaction is only compensatory for some wrong take a potential renter might fall victim to, since my underlying feeling is that I like the house exactly the way I liked it the day I bought it almost two years ago, and the McLeods’ house the same. (I’ve seen a curtain twitch there now, but no face shows behind it—someone observing me, someone who doesn’t enjoy paying his or her rent.) I admire its clean, tidy, unassuming adequacy, its sturdy rightness, finished off by the soffit vents, the new wrought-iron banister on the stoop, even the flashing to prevent ice dams and water “creep” during January thaws. It would be my dream house if I were a renter: tight, shipshape, cozy. A no-brainer.

In the Trenton Times I find holiday news, most of it not good. A man in Providence has sneaked a peek down a fireworks cannon at the most imperfect of moments and lost his life. Two people in far distant parts of the country have been shot with crossbows (both times at picnics). There’s a “rash” of arsons, though fewer boating mishaps than might seem likely. I’ve even found a squib for the murder I stumbled upon three nights back: the vacationers were from Utah; they were bound for the Cape; the husband was stabbed; the alleged assailants were fifteen—the age of my son—and from Bridgeport. No names are given, so that all seems insulated from me now, only the relatives left to bear the brunt.

On the briefer, lighter side, the Beach Boys are at Bally’s grandstand for one show only, flag-pole sales have once again skyrocketed, harness racing is celebrating its birthday (150) and a kidney transplant team (five men and a black Lab) is at this hour swimming the Channel—their foreseeable impediments: oil slicks, jellyfish and the twenty-one miles themselves (though not their kidneys).

Though the most interesting news is of two natures. One pertains to the demonstration at the Baseball Hall of Fame yesterday, the one that diverted Paul and me off our course and onward to what fate held in store. The demonstrators who blocked the Hall’s doors for an important hour were, it turns out, rising in support of a lovable Yankee shortstop from the Forties, who deserved (they felt) a place, a plaque and a bust inside but who in the view of the sportswriter pundits was never good enough and had come by his obscurity honestly. (I side with the protesters on the principle of Who cares anyway?)

Yet of even more exotic interest is the “Haddam story,” the discovery by our streets crew of a whole human skeleton unearthed, so the Times says, Friday morning at nine (on Cleveland Street, the 100 block) by a backhoe operator trenching our new sewer line under the provisos of our “well-being” bond. Details are sketchy due to the backhoe operator’s poor command of English, but there’s speculation by the town historian that the remains could be “very old, indeed, by Haddam standards,” though another rumor has it that the bones are a “female Negro servant” who disappeared a hundred years ago when the Presidents Streets were a dairy farm. Still another theorizes an Italian construction worker was “buried alive” in the Twenties when the town was replatted. Local residents have already half-seriously named the bones “Homo haddamus pithecarius,” and an archaeological team from Fairleigh Dickinson is planning to have a look. Meanwhile, the remains are in the morgue. More later, we think, and hope.

When I arrived last night at eleven, having beaten it home in four hours to an odd day-within-night indigo luminance down the quiet streets of town (many house lights were still lit), a message was waiting from Ann, declaring that Paul had come through his surgery “okay” and there was reason for hope, though he would probably develop glaucoma by fifty and need glasses much sooner. He was “resting comfortably” in any event, and I could call her anytime at a 203 number, a Scottish Inn in Hamden (the closer-in New Haven places already filled again with holiday voyagers).

“It was funny, almost,” Ann said drowsily, I supposed from bed. “When he came out of it he just jabbered on and on about the Baseball Hall of Fame. All about the exhibits he’d seen and the … I guess they’re statues. Right? He thought he’d had a splendid time. I asked him how you’d liked it, and he said you hadn’t been able to go. He said you’d had a date with somebody. So … some things are funny.”

A languor in Ann’s voice made me think of the last year of our marriage, eight years ago nearly, when we made love half waking in the middle of the night (and only then), half aware, half believing the other might be someone else, performing love’s acts in a half-ritual, half-blind, purely corporal way that never went on long and didn’t qualify as much or dignify passion, so vaguely willed and distant from true intimacy was it, so inhibited by longing and dread. (This was not so long after Ralph’s death.)

But where had passion gone? I wondered it all the time. And why, when we needed it so? The morning after such a night’s squandering, I’d wake and feel I’d done good for humanity but not much for anyone I knew. Ann would act as if she’d had a dream she only remotely remembered as pleasant. And then it was over for a long time, until our needs would once more rise (sometimes weeks and weeks later) and, aided by sleep, our ancient fears suppressed, we would meet again. Desire, turned to habit, allowed to go sadly astray by fools. (We could do better now, or so I decided last night, since we understand each other better, having nothing to offer or take away and therefore nothing worth holding back or protecting. It is a kind of progress.)

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

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