Home > The Burgess Boys(6)

The Burgess Boys(6)
Elizabeth Strout

“Hellie, you’re upset, and I get it,” Jim said patiently. “But Susan’s a mess. And I’ll get him a Maine lawyer. But Zach has to take himself in because—” Here Jim paused and looked around the room. “Because he did it. That’s the first reason. The other first reason is that if he goes in right away and says, ‘Oh, stupid me,’ they’ll probably be easier on him. But the Burgesses aren’t fugitives. That’s not who we are. We don’t hide.”

“Okay,” said Helen. “All right.”

“I kept telling Susan: They’ll charge him, set bail, get him right back home. It’s a misdemeanor. But she’s got to get him in there. The cops are under pressure with the publicity.” Jim spread his hands as if he were holding a basketball in front of him. “The immediate thing is to contain this.”

“I’ll go,” Bob said.

“You?” Jim said. “Mr. Scared-to-Fly?”

“I’ll take your car. I’ll leave early in the morning. You guys go wherever you’re going. Where are you going?”

“St. Kitts,” said Helen. “Jim, why don’t you let Bob go?”

“Because …” Jim closed his eyes, bowed his head.

“Because I can’t do it?” Bob said. “It’s true she likes you better, but come on, Jimmy, I’ll go. I want to.” Bob had a sudden feeling of drunkenness, as if the earlier whiskey had just kicked in.

Jim kept his eyes closed.

“Jim,” Helen said. “You need this vacation. You’re seriously overworked.” The urgency in her voice made Bob’s heart ache with a fresh loneliness: Helen’s alliance with Jim was strong—and not to be assaulted by the needs of a sister-in-law whom Helen, after all these years, barely knew.

“Fine,” Jim said. He picked his head up, looked at Bob. “You go. Fine.”

“We’re one mess of a family, aren’t we, Jimmy?” Bob, sitting next to his brother, put his arm over Jim’s shoulder.

“Stop it,” said Jim. “Would you stop? Jesus Christ almighty.”

Bob walked back home along the darkened streets. As he got closer to his building, he saw from the sidewalk that the television was on in the apartment below his. He could just make out the form of Adriana sitting alone and staring at the TV. Had she no one who could spend the night with her? He might knock on her door, ask if she was all right. But he pictured himself, the big gray-haired man who lived above her, standing in her doorway, and thought she would not want that. He climbed the stairs to his place, tossed his coat onto the floor, and picked up his phone.

“Susie,” he said. “It’s me.”

They were twins.

Jim had his own name right from the start, but Susie and Bob were The Twins. Go find the twins. Tell the twins to come and eat. The twins have chicken pox, the twins can’t sleep. But twins have a special connection. They are, fingers crossed, like this. “Kill him,” Susan was saying now, on the telephone. “String him up by his toenails.”

“Susan, take it easy, he’s your kid.” Bob had switched on his desk lamp and stood looking over the street.

“I’m talking about the rabbi. And the queer-o woman minister of the Unitarian church. They’ve come out with a statement. Not only has the town been damaged by this, but the whole state. No, excuse me. The whole country.”

Bob rubbed the back of his neck. “So, Susan. Why did Zach do this?”

“Why did he do it? When was the last time you raised a child, Bob? Oh, I know I’m supposed to be sensitive about that, never mention your low sperm or no sperm or whatever it is, and I never have. I’ve never said a word about why Pam might have left, so she could have children with someone—I can’t believe you’re making me say all this, when I’m the one in trouble.”

Bob turned away from the window. “Susan, do you have a pill you can take?”

“Like a cyanide tablet?”

“Valium.” Bob felt an inexpressible sadness go through him, and he wandered back toward the bedroom with the phone.

“I never take Valium.”

“Well, it’s time to start. Your doctor can phone in a prescription. You’ll be able to sleep tonight.”

Susan didn’t answer, and Bob knew that his sadness was a longing for Jim. Because the truth (and Jimmy knew it) was that Bob didn’t know what to do. “The kid’s safe,” Bob said. “No one’s going to hurt him. Or you.” Bob sat down on his bed, then stood up again. He really had absolutely no idea what to do. He wouldn’t sleep tonight; not even a Valium, and he had plenty, would get him to sleep, he could tell. Not with his nephew in trouble, and that poor woman below him watching TV, and even Preppy Boy in jail. And Jimmy headed off to some island. Bob walked back to the front of the apartment, switched off his desk lamp.

“Let me ask you something,” his sister was saying.

In the darkness, a bus pulled up across the street. An old black woman sat looking out the bus window, her face implacable; a man toward the back nodded his head, maybe listening to earphones. They seemed exquisitely innocent, and far away—

“Do you think this is a movie?” his sister asked. “Like this is some boondocks of a town and the farmers are going down to the courthouse and demand his head on a stick?”

“What are you talking about?”

“Thank God Mommy’s gone. She’d die all over again. She would.” Susan was crying.

Bob said, “This will blow over.”

“God’s teeth, how can you say that? It’s on every news station—”

“Don’t watch,” Bob told her.

“Do you think I’m crazy?” she asked.

“A little bit. At the moment.”

“That’s helpful. Thank you. Did Jimmy tell you a little boy in the mosque fainted, the pig’s head scared him so much? It’d begun to thaw, so it was bloody. I know what you’re thinking. What kid stores a pig’s head in his mother’s freezer without her knowing, and then does something like this? You can’t deny you’re thinking that, Bob. And it makes me crazy. Which you just called me a moment ago.”

“Susan, you’ve—”

“You expect certain things with kids, you know. Well, you don’t know. But car accidents. The wrong girlfriends. Bad grades, that stuff. You don’t expect to have anything to do with friggin’ mosques, for crying out loud.”

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