* * *
For high school graduation Calderwood’s father gave him a Porsche 911, silver with black leather seats. In the fall he drove the car to Dartmouth and when he came home for Thanksgiving he brought his new girlfriend with him. Ginny Hanson was a scholarship student from Bay City, Michigan — her mother a waitress and her father long gone. “Holy shit,” said Ginny as they came up the driveway. The house, which was made of fieldstone and rough timber with great expanses of glass, sat in a meadow in Weston, Massachusetts and had once been featured in an architectural magazine. For Thanksgiving, his mother put on her usual feast and his father got drunk and flirted with Ginny. The next day Ted and Ginny went shopping in Boston and when they came home in the afternoon there were three unfamiliar cars parked in front of the house — identical black Buick sedans, very official looking. Calderwood thought of undertakers, clergyman. Two men in dark suits came out of the garage and went in the front door, and Teddy and Ginny hurried after them. His father was in the foyer talking to a man in a tan raincoat. Calderwood tried to interrupt but Big Ed put up his hand and said, “Not now, son.” Ruth was in the kitchen peeling carrots. “Mom,” he said, “what’s going on?” His mother turned around and smiled mechanically and said to Ginny, “My, what a beautiful scarf.” Ginny blushed and told her Teddy had just bought it for her. One of the dark-suited men appeared outside the kitchen and pasted a sheet of paper to the glass. “Mom, please, what’s happening? Who are these men?” “They’re from the IRS,” Ruth said and started to peel another carrot. “Don’t worry, dear. It’s all a big mistake. Your father will straighten things out.” The afternoon sun shown through the paper on the window; bold letters in mirror writing across the top: NOTICE OF SEIZURE. Calderwood ran outside. The IRS agents were pasting notices on the front door, on the abstract sculpture on the front lawn, on his parents’ cars. He found a putty knife on the workbench in the garage and began scraping a notice from one of the windows. Ginny stood beside him, watching, a look of worried admiration on her face. One of the agents came over and said, “I wouldn’t do that, kid. Your father’s in enough trouble already, you don’t want to make it any worse.” Calderwood felt like slashing the man’s face with the putty knife. “Go fuck yourself, Jack,” he said. “My father’s worth ten of you.” The agent grinned. “That your car?” he said, pointing to the Porsche. “My girlfriend’s,” Calderwood lied. It was actually owned by his father’s company — a legal technicality, another write-off for the business. The agent walked over to the car and glanced at the license plate; he took a sheet of paper from his suit coat and ran his finger down a list. “Bingo,” the agent said, and grinned again.
* * *
Calderwood tells his mother about the car getting stuck in the driveway.
“I’ll call Bob Hollins down at the Texaco,” she says, starting to get up from the table, but he covers her hand with his and says it can wait.
A low moan comes from the living room, the fierceness of the earlier cries having faded into something that sounds almost sexual.
Ruth says, “He’ll sleep now. You can go in and see him later.”
“How often does he get like this?”
“Four or five times a day. He hates for me to see him like that. When he feels a spell coming on, he’ll ask me to leave him alone. He doesn’t start yelling till I leave the room. Sometimes it just breaks my heart.”
“How long do the spells last?”
“About an hour, maybe a little more. I lose track. I’ll go out for a drive sometimes or take a long walk.”
“Why won’t he take anything?”
“He says the pain-killers make him foggy, like he’s caught in a maze. You know your father,” she says with a hint of pride in her voice. “Always has to do things his own way.”
He looks away and doesn’t say anything. Even with Big Ed dying, he and his mother will probably be fighting soon enough — Teddy belittling the old man, Ruth making excuses.
“So how was your flight?” she says.
“All right. I didn’t get any sleep, but it wasn’t too bad.”
“I don’t like to fly at night.”
“I like to sit by the window and look at the countryside. In the daytime I think about all the people down there looking up at the plane and it makes me feel safer. Like nothing bad could happen as long as they’re watching.”
Ever the lawyer, Calderwood says, “What if the plane’s above the clouds? Or over the ocean?”
Ruth acts as if she didn’t hear.
“One night your father and I were coming home from Seattle. We were flying over Montana or North Dakota, one of those big empty places, and we passed over the lights of this little town, maybe fifteen or twenty houses, and then there was nothing. Total darkness, no sign of life. It was dark inside the plane too, just those tiny emergency lights on the floor. Ed was sound asleep, nobody moving around the plane, not even the stewardesses. I could hear the engines droning on and on, and I got this queer feeling, like we’d flown off the edge of the earth. I thought I was going to jump out of my skin. Then, way off in the distance, I saw a car. A pair of headlights going down some lonely country road, and it made me feel . . . I don’t know . . . like the person in that car and I were looking out for one another. Like we were connected. And when I couldn’t see it anymore, it made me cry.”
She smiles and rubs one hand with the other, her joints misshapen with arthritis.
He says, “I guess we better call about getting my rental car towed out of the driveway.”
The guy from the Texaco comes right over. He’s a burly, red-bearded fellow who looks like he could lift the car out of the ditch, which is basically what he does while Calderwood sits behind the wheel and maneuvers it back down the hill. When Calderwood asks him how much he owes him, the guy laughs and flaps his hand and says that Ruth and Big Ed are his favorite customers. Calderwood leaves the car at the bottom of the driveway and carries his travel bag up to the house.
His mother says, “How about some soup for lunch? Split pea and ham?”
“Your father’s awake now.”
The door to the hall that leads to living room is open.
“Did you tell him I was here?”
She sighs and says, “You’ve come three thousand miles, honey. Don’t turn back now.”
“He can come out here to the kitchen.”
“No he can’t, Teddy. It hurts him too much to get in and out of the wheelchair. He spends all his time on the couch now, day and night.” She tries to smile. “He calls it his cave. Like he was a big old bear.”
“He needs in a wheelchair? I didn’t think the cancer . . .”
His mother gives him a look that makes him feel like he’s twelve years old. “Just go in and see him, Teddy.”
He stands there holding his travel bag then puts it down on the floor.
The hall is lined with books — leather-bound volumes of Gibbons, Emerson, William James, H.G. Wells’s Outline of History — the collection of his grandfather, the first Edward Angus Calderwood, also called Teddy. His grandfather was a teacher, the Mr. Chips of the Belmont Hill School. When he retired they hung an oil portrait of him in his tweed jacket and bow tie in the school library. Not longer after, his health began to fail, a slow pitiable decline from diabetes and emphysema, his ailments capped by the ignominy of seeing his son’s name — his own good name — dragged through the mud: the various legal battles of Edward Angus Calderwood, Jr. duly reported in the newspapers, culminating in three trials, a million dollars in fines and civil judgments, and nineteen months in Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary. But it isn’t just the books in the hall that remind Calderwood of his grandfather, it’s the stench of sickness and excrement oozing through a piney disinfectant haze. The smell seeps down into Calderwood’s throat and makes him gag.
“Teddy?” his father says from the living room. “Teddy, are you okay?”
Calderwood swallows hard. “Yeah, I’m fine.”
He pulls himself up straight and steps into the wide archway. All the curtains are closed, the only light coming from a Tiffany lamp on top of the piano, no more than a forty-watt bulb. His father, emaciated almost beyond recognition, sits in a heap in the far corner of the couch, a plaid blanket on his lap and a Navy blue watch cap on his head. His eyes are lost in their deep sockets; his mouth is a scaly lipless cleft above his gray-stubbled chin.
Calderwood moves toward him slowly.
“Hey, Big Ed.”
Calderwood hasn’t called him Dad since his father left and moved in with his secretary. The old man had set her up in an apartment on Beacon Hill — a blowzy redhead who hung on until the money got tight and the legal stuff turned ugly. Then Big Ed went crawling back to Ruth.
“Welcome home,” the old man says, reaching out his hand.
“Thank you.” Calderwood takes the hand, which is soft and dry and yellow as a chamois.
“It’s good to see you. I’ve been hoping you’d come.”
Calderwood shrugs, open-palmed, as if to say, Here I am.
The old man shivers, a spasm that rocks him so hard you can almost hear his bones knocking against one another under the skin. He smiles weakly and says, “Would you see if you could get that fire going?”
Calderwood goes to the hearth and removes the fire screen. He lays in some kindling and squats down and blows on the embers, then he takes a birch log from the antique copper laundry tub and places it top. The log crackles as the scrolled white bark leaps into flame.
“Thanks,” Big Ed says. “That’ll help take the chill off.”
Calderwood turns a low armchair away from the fire and sits down facing him.
“Your mother keeps the thermostat turned way up, I’ve got this blanket and a couple of layers of clothing, but I still can’t seem to keep warm.”
“You used to tell me you had ice water in your veins.”
“Ah, Teddy,” his father says, smiling, a tooth missing on top, “I taught you too well.”
And Calderwood smiles too in spite of himself.
Ruth comes into the room with a tray — three bowls of soup and a plate of crackers, a mug of coffee. She pushes the travel books on the coffee table to one side and sets down the tray.
“I have your coffee, Ed,” she says, handing him the mug. “Will you try some soup?”
“Nah, maybe later.”
“Just try a little. It’s split pea and ham.” She sits on the couch beside him and moves the tray a little closer to his reach.
“I’ll have a cracker,” he says and takes a saltine.
He bites the cracker in half, crumbs sticking in his whiskers. Ruth’s hands fidget, wanting to wipe his chin, but she manages to hold herself back. She turns to Teddy and apologizes for not bringing him something to drink.
“I just want water,” he says, standing up from his chair. “Can I get you some too?”
“Yes, that would be nice.” Ruth beams at him, then at Big Ed — as if to say, Isn’t he wonderful? Didn’t we raise a good boy?