excerpt #3 continued
In the living room, Sarah soon spread out on the sofa with a recent New York Review of Books, reading a retrospective review of the work of historian Tony Judt, who had died a few years ago from Lou Gehrig’s disease. But the prose was too thick and she was tired. She clicked on the TV, where a senator was speaking to journalist Judy Woodruff. Sarah caught a snatch of topical idiom erupting into a perfect storm of cliché—“will be a game-changer if he doubles down and we’ll have to go it alone”— before she shut it off and yelled, “Like clichés on steroids!” adding one more tired phrase to the noxious brew as she threw the remote onto the sofa.
She wandered back to the kitchen in a sour mood. Sarah had the keen blueish eyes and firm jaw of her mother and the mess of curls and propensity to irritation of her father.
She stuck her nose in the pot and gathered in the rich scents. She cast a sardonic eye at her father, who had asked as she wandered in, “What are you growling about now, Sarahkins?”
Sarah ignored this and said instead, “Meg called me, Dad.”
Meg Stillwell, Sarah’s long-time friend, was Ricky’s older sister, who now lived with her boyfriend in Seattle, a stone’s throw from Gas Works Park. Meg was a manager at the Wallingford Food Coop. The boyfriend, Matthew Einstein-Moomjy, played keyboards and ultimate Frisbee, or one of its spin-offs. Sarah had met him once when she went out to Seattle to visit Meg.
They had gone to a bar where they listened to spoken poetry in a hip hop vein, delivered by a Russian immigrant with keyboard accompaniment by the versatile Matthew. At some point in the evening Sarah could see that Meg and Matthew were eyeing each other. The vibe of the bar room eventually led to the deeper groove of cohabitation and much else. Meg’s parents, the infamous Clara and Carver, did not know about Matthew Einstein-Moomjy. Better that way.
“How is Meg doing?” Sam asked his daughter. “Is she home for the holiday?”
“No, she’s staying in Seattle. And how do you think she’s doing?” Sarah was still affronted by the drivel on TV, and now her father was being clueless. “She’s a mess. Her brother’s become a nut job. Your protégé.” She grimaced in her father’s direction. “He’s like as wacky as Clara. Meg told me about the stuff he posted about that girl on Facebook.”
“Oh, I know. It’s terrible, Sarah. It is hard to believe Ricky wrote what he did.” But he reconsidered as he adjusted the flame under the simmering rice. “No, that’s not really true. I’ve heard him say things a bit like that before. But not quite in that way. About this. About her.”
He spooned out a bit of the curry, blew on it, and tasted, and tried to make his thoughts more coherent. “But, Sarah, don’t blame Ricky too much. Kerry Pearson committed suicide. Ricky couldn’t know.”
“You think so?” she said with a sarcastic drip.
“He couldn’t know how she’d react. I mean, of course what he wrote was awful and painful. There’s a lot of pain everywhere. I don’t really know Francine Loughlin that well—she’s Kerry’s mother—but Alicia is close to her. Alicia says she is destroyed by this. Well, of course.” He looked at his daughter. “Some things you can’t help.”
She stared back at him. Ricky could damn well have helped, she thought.
“I mean, it is what it is,” he added idiotically.
“It is what it is? Don’t be lame, Dad. You sound like John McCain on the TV just now. What does that mean? That no one is responsible for anything? That it’s fate, for Christ’s sake, or providence?” said the girl who lived in Providence.
It was as if Sarah were channeling her father’s voice from an incident years in the past. They were in the Ford minivan, on the way to a soccer game in Northwood, some fifteen miles south of Montpelier. Sarah and Meg, who must have been about twelve, were in the back seat.
Clara Stillwell sat in the front of the van while Sam drove, the man on the radio talking about the recent abduction, rape and murder of a local girl by her uncle. Clara made some comment about the crime, which Sarah had forgotten, but Clara ended it with words Sarah did remember. “There’s a reason for everything,” Clara had intoned.
This is the kind of thing people say without thought, Sarah understood. But Clara had uttered the words with intention and her manner conveyed her fervent belief. Clara was known for this.
From her rear seat, Sarah saw her father stiffen and his knuckles tighten on the wheel. She caught a glimpse of his face in the rearview mirror, fury in his eyes. Then her father bit his words through clenched teeth. “I suppose there’s a reason for every horror—for the destruction of the Jews of Europe? It was all meant to happen? It’s all fate, just deserts, all God’s will? What the hell.”
The minivan swerved precariously across the yellow line—at least as Sarah recalled. Clara had no answer. Meg had only looked out the window and would not meet Sarah’s eye.
Here in the family kitchen, with the curry aromas in the air, the memory of the incident flooded Sarah’s mind, and she felt utter intolerance of her father’s obtuseness about Ricky’s moral responsibility.