Home > The Burgess Boys(11)

The Burgess Boys(11)
Elizabeth Strout

“They email. Sometimes Zach seems … well, not happy, but less unhappy, and I think it’s because of whatever Steve’s written him, but Zach won’t talk to me about it. Steve and I haven’t spoken since he walked out.” Susan’s cheeks grew pink. “Other times Zach gets really down, and I think that’s related to Steve too, but I don’t know, Bob, okay?” She squeezed her nose, sniffed hard.

“Hey, don’t panic.” Bob looked around for a paper napkin or a Kleenex, but there was nothing. “You know what Jimmy would say, don’t you? He’d say there’s no crying in baseball.”

Susan said, “What in hell, Bobby?”

“That movie they made about women’s baseball. It’s a great line.”

Susan leaned forward to place her cup of coffee on the floor beneath the bench. “If you’re playing baseball. My son’s in there getting arrested.”

A metal door opened, slammed shut. A policeman, short, and with a sprinkle of dark moles on his young face, walked into the lobby. “All set, folks. They’re transporting him over to the jail. You can follow him there. They’ll book him and call the bail commissioner, and you can take him back home.”

“Thank you.” The twins said this in unison.

The late afternoon light was fading and the town seemed twilight-gray and somber. Following the cruiser they could just make out Zach’s head in the backseat. They drove toward the bridge that would take them across to the county jail. “Where is everyone?” Bob asked. “Saturday afternoon and the town is dead.”

“It’s been dead for years.” Susan leaned forward as she drove.

Glancing down a side street Bob saw a dark-skinned man walking slowly, his hands in the pockets of his open coat, which seemed too big for him. Under the coat he wore a long white robe that went to his feet. On his head was a squarish cloth hat. “Hey,” Bob said.

“What?” Susan looked at him sharply.

“Is that one of them?”

“One of them? You’re like a retarded person, Bob. Living in New York all these years, and you haven’t seen a Negro?”

“Susan, relax.”

“Relax. Hadn’t thought of that. Thanks.” Susan pulled into a spot near the police car, which had driven into a large parking area behind the jail. They had a brief glimpse of Zach in handcuffs. He seemed to fall against the cruiser once he stepped out, then the officer guided him toward the building.

“Right behind you, buddy,” Bob called out, opening the car door. “Got you covered!”

“Bob, stop,” said Susan.

“Got you covered,” he called again.

Again they sat in a small lobby. Only once did a man in dark blue clothes step out, to tell them that Zach was being booked, fingerprinted, and that they had put in a call to the bail commissioner. It might take awhile for him to show up, the man said. How long? He couldn’t say. And so brother and sister sat. There was an ATM, and a vending machine. And, again, the darkened windows.

“Are we being watched?” Susan whispered.

“Probably.”

They sat in their coats, looking straight ahead. Finally Bob asked quietly, “What’s Zach do other than stock shelves?”

“You mean, does he drive around and rob people? Is he addicted to child porn? No, Bob. He’s just—Zach.”

Bob shifted in his coat. “You think he has any connection to a skinhead group? White supremacy group, anything like that?”

Susan looked at him with surprise, and then squinted her eyes. “No.” Adding in a softer tone, “I don’t think he has a real connection with anybody. But he isn’t like that, Bob.”

“Just checking. It’s going to be okay. He might have to do community service. Take a diversity class.”

“Do you think he’s still in handcuffs? That was terrible.”

“I know it,” Bob said, and he thought about how the sight of his Preppy Boy neighbor being led across the street felt as if it had happened years ago. Even his morning talk with Adriana seemed not believable, it was so far away. “Zach’s not in cuffs now. That’s just procedure. To escort him here.”

Susan said tiredly, “Some of the local clergy want to have a rally.”

“A rally? About this?” Bob rubbed his hands across his thighs. “Oy,” he said.

“Could you not say ‘Oy’?” Susan asked angrily. “Why do you say that?”

“Because for twenty years I’ve worked for Legal Aid, Susan, and lots of Jewish people work for Legal Aid, and they say ‘Oy’ and now I say ‘Oy.’ ”

“Well, it sounds affected. You’re not Jewish, Bob. You’re as white as they come.”

“I know that,” Bob agreed.

They sat in silence. Bob finally said, “When is this rally?”

“I have no idea.”

Bob dropped his head, closed his eyes.

After a few minutes, Susan asked, “Are you praying, or are you dead?”

Bob opened his eyes. “Remember how we took Zach and Jim’s kids to Sturbridge Village when they were little? The smugness of those toady women who guide you around dressed up with those dumb hats that cover their heads? I’m a self-loathing Puritan.”

“You’re a self-loathing weirdo,” Susan answered. She was agitated, craning her neck to peer through the darkened window of the entrance. “What’s taking so long?”

And it was long. They sat there for almost three hours. Bob stepped outside once to have a cigarette. The sky had grown dark. By the time the bail commissioner showed up, Bob’s weariness seemed like a large wet coat he was wearing. Susan paid the two hundred dollars in twenties, and Zach came through the door, his face as white as paper.

As they got ready to leave, a uniformed man said, “A photographer’s out there.”

“How can that be?” Susan asked, alarm springing through her voice.

“Don’t freak. Come on, kiddo.” Bob steered Zach toward the door. “Your Uncle Jim loves photographers. He’ll be jealous if you take over as family media hog.”

And Zach, perhaps because he found it funny, perhaps because the tension of the day was coming to an end—in any case, the boy smiled at Bob as he stepped through the door. A sudden flash of light met them in the chilly air.

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