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The Brothers Bishop
By Bart Yates
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2005 Bart Yates
All rights reserved.
When I was five years old I stuck a pencil in a nice man's eye. He was at a desk, typing a letter, and I was sitting on a stool next to him, scribbling a brontosaurus on a sheet of typing paper. I remember looking over at him and wondering why he was so intent on what he was doing, and I remember wishing he'd pay more attention to me. So I held the eraser end of the pencil by the corner of his eye and waited until he turned toward me before making my move. I didn't push too hard and his lashes caught the bulk of the attack, but it still must have hurt like hell.
"Jesus Christ, kid!" he yelled, cradling his eye socket. "What did you do that for?"
I didn't have an answer for him then. I still don't. Sometimes you hurt people for no reason. Just because you can.
So this is how it ends. The day, I mean, with the sun dropping in the dunes at my back, coloring the surface of the water red and gold. I'm standing barefoot in the sand and the cold tide is licking at my ankles like a mutt with a foot fetish. I live half a mile from the beach, so I come here almost every day of the year to clear my head. It's summer now so I don't have the place to myself like I do in the winter, but I can usually find a quiet spot and pretend the ocean belongs exclusively to me.
Tommy's coming home tomorrow, with his new scrotal-buddy and a young married couple in tow. He called last week and asked if he could come see me, but he waited until I said yes before he told me he was bringing an entourage. When I told him I wasn't really in the mood to entertain anybody besides him, he got pissed.
"Don't be a dick, Nathan. You've had the cottage to yourself for three years. Is it going to kill you to have a little company for a couple of weeks?"
I told him that was the whole point, because we haven't seen each other since Dad died, and it would be nice to get together without a bunch of strangers barging in and taking over. He said his friends weren't really strangers, though, because "Philip is practically your brother-in-law" and "Kyle and Camille are my two best friends in the world." He assured me we'd all get along famously.
He's been like this his whole life. He thinks if he loves somebody, everyone else he cares about will automatically love that person too. What an idiot. But of course I caved in. I always do. You can't say no to Tommy.
Tommy's my younger brother and a complete flake. He bounces from one job to another and one relationship to another and one financial crisis to another and all he does is eat, sleep, shit and fuck.
But he gets what he wants from everybody, anyway, because he won the genetics lottery. He got our mother's looks — thick blond hair and startling blue eyes, clear skin, high cheekbones, delicate hands and feet — and he also got every ounce of her charm. I'm a clone of my father — pug nose, high forehead, black hair, brown eyes, sloped shoulders, heavy limbs, and yes, okay, an admittedly unattractive tendency to think of the world as a very screwed up place. If you saw us together on the street you'd never believe we're brothers.
I don't believe we're brothers, either. There is no way in hell somebody as beautiful and lighthearted as Tommy could be carrying around my father's genes. I think Mom took one look at me when I was born and decided she wasn't going to have any more dark, surly children, so she went and had an affair with a surfer or a Swedish porn star or something and got knocked up with Tommy.
I don't really remember our mother. She died when I was five years old and Tommy was only three, so everything we know about her we got from my father. From what he said, though, she sounds exactly like Tommy. Dad said that Mom could make people love her without even trying. He liked to tell the story about the time they were at a restaurant and she couldn't make up her mind about what kind of soda to order. Dad said she must have been overheard, because within half a minute three glasses appeared on the table — a Coke from the waiter, a Pepsi from the busboy, and a Dr. Pepper from the maître d'.
I guess I should warn you, though, that Dad was a liar. He had at least thirty different versions of that particular story — sometimes he'd say Mom was wearing a black evening gown with long sleeves, and the next time he'd go on about how her tits were spilling out of a skimpy red halter top. He always tailored his stories to fit his audience.
But something tells me most of what he said about Mom was true, because my brother can charm the short hairs off a troll, and he sure as hell didn't learn that from anybody he grew up with. I think charm is genetic — a personality fluke equivalent to being able to shape your tongue like a U. Why I didn't get any of Mom's magic and Tommy got it all is just another of life's little inequities I intend to confront God with at the earliest opportunity.
I've been standing in the water long enough for it to have covered my feet with sand and strands of foul-smelling seaweed. It's tempting to just keep standing here until I'm buried up to my neck.
I'm not ready to deal with Tommy yet. Especially not with three complete strangers in tow. This will sound terrible, but my life has been considerably better since Dad died. When we cremated him, it felt like someone took a pillow off my face and I could finally breathe for the first time in my life. Now Tommy is my sole remaining relative, and the truth is I hate that someone is still alive in the world who has a familial claim on me. I don't want Tommy to die or anything, I just want him to forget about me and leave me the hell alone.
It's not about love. Of course I love the little shit. But he knows too much about me that no one else on the planet knows, and when he's around I have no choice but to think about everything I hate about myself and my past. He's a gangrenous leg attached to my psyche, and I need to hack him off before he infects my whole fucking soul.
Okay, okay, that's pretty dramatic. But it's exactly how I feel. And if you were me, you'd feel that way too.
A couple of teenage kids run by, both of them dressed in ratty old cutoffs instead of swimsuits. They're probably fifteen or so, and slender and tanned, and one of them slows down and smiles and waves. "Hey, Mr. Bishop."
Great. One of my idiot students. Just what I need today. He's new in town and it takes a second to remember his name. "Hi, Simon. Having fun?"
"Yeah." He picks at some peeling skin on his shoulder. "We've been here all afternoon and now we're getting ready to go out on my dad's new boat before it gets too dark."
I glance at the falling sun. "You better hurry. There's not much daylight left."
He grins. He has straight, white teeth with just the hint of an underbite. "I know. Dad's trying to prove to Mom what a great sailor he is or something. We'll probably all drown just because he won't admit he's not very good at night sailing."
The other boy is waiting for him and Simon gives another little wave. "I guess I should go. See you later."
He runs to catch up, water flipping from his heels onto his back. I watch him go, admiring his speed and lightness.
His ass isn't bad either.
I'm a high school English teacher. I never used to work during the summer, but for the last three years I've been forced to teach remedial grammar courses to kids like Simon who can't tell a pronoun from a potato. And no, I've never done anything improper with one of my students, and I never will. But it doesn't hurt to look.
Is anything more flagrantly sexy than a teenage boy? They're so full of hormones and semen it's a wonder they can walk. Most of them spend every spare minute playing with themselves, but there are a few who haven't yet figured out how to deal with all the sensations in their bodies. You can see it in their eyes — a moist vulnerability, like their corneas are floating in cum and they haven't got a clue what's going on or what to do about it. Simon is like that, I think. He's a true innocent, a kid who would be horrified to know what most of his peers are doing three times a day in bathrooms and bedrooms and behind the bushes. But one of these days his body will override his hang-ups and he'll erupt like Vesuvius, spurting jiz on everyone and everything within a thirty-mile radius.
Mark my words. I know the type well.
A gull flies overhead, calling out. Why do they always sound so lonely? The breeze from the ocean picks up and I raise my arms like wings to let it blow over me and tickle the hair in my armpits. The gull dips and glides and I try to imitate how it moves.
Tommy and I grew up on the beach. Not literally, of course, but we spent almost every day of every summer here when we were little kids, and when we were in high school we were both lifeguards. I can't imagine growing up someplace far away from the ocean and the dunes. What's it like to go home to dinner without salt on your skin and sand between your toes?
I live in southern Connecticut in a little town called Walcott. The name of this beach is Hog's Head Beach, and it's about two hours north of New York City and an hour or so south of Providence. I'm thirty-one years old and except for the six years when I was in college and grad school I've never lived anyplace else and I never will. Sure, the town is backward (like every other small town in America) and the winters are cold and real estate is expensive, but who gives a crap? I own my cottage, and I'm within easy walking distance of a good pub, the public library, and a terrific bakery. A quarter mile from my front door in the other direction is a small cliff with a lighthouse on it (my closest neighbor, Caleb Farrell, lives in the house attached to it), and woods all around, and this beach.
I know almost everybody in town and they know me, and while that sometimes drives me crazy, for the most part it makes me feel safe. Tommy graduated high school and moved away the following summer, but I think he was a fool to not come back after he finished college like I did. He keeps trying to get me to move. He's worried because I never get laid and he says I'm wasting my life and he hasn't been to see me since Dad died because he says that Walcott is the rectum of the universe and he'd rather glue his nipples to a car bumper than spend another second in "that godforsaken hellhole."
But when I asked him why he was finally coming back for a visit, he said he was homesick.
I knew it would happen, sooner or later. He can pretend all he wants, but he loves this place more than I do.
Walcott is a resort town that no one who isn't rich can afford to live in, unless, like me, you happen to be lucky enough to have inherited a house that's been in the family for over a hundred years. My great-grandfather was a fisherman in the early nineteen hundreds and he built the cottage himself, which apparently made my great-grandmother insane because it took him nearly eleven years to finish it. He'd work on a room for a few days, then he'd leave to go fishing for months at a time, refusing to rush the job or hire somebody else to do it. I feel sorry for my great-grandmother, but I'm glad the old bastard did it that way, because he built the thing with a mind-boggling attention to detail that only comes from sitting around for weeks on end with nothing to do but fish and think about what you want your house to look like.
He built it like a boat. I don't mean that it's shaped like one, but he designed it with the same practicality and space-saving principles you find on small ships — nothing is wasted, nothing is merely decorative. It's two stories high, with the kitchen, guest room, bathroom and living room downstairs, and a gigantic master bedroom upstairs. The woodwork is simple and straightforward, but it's all oak and maple and pine, and when the sun comes through the windows in the morning the walls and the floors shine like church pews. Bookshelves are everywhere; the door to the guest room is actually a bookshelf that swings out on hidden hinges and shuts again with a quiet click. There's a potbellied stove in the corner of the living room, and a modest wine cellar under the kitchen, and in the master bedroom there's a massive old Edwardian desk looking out from an alcove onto the cornfield behind the house. Family legend has it that my great-grandfather stole the desk from some snotty English nobleman who lived in Rhode Island, but like the rest of our family history the story is probably bogus.
My favorite part of the house is the narrow, spiral staircase that connects the two levels. It's the only incompetent piece of carpentry in the house, rickety and uneven and somewhat dangerous to negotiate if you've had more than your share of red wine on a cold winter night. All the upstairs furniture had to be lifted through the windows from the outside because none of it would fit up the staircase. But my great-grandfather built it like that on purpose. He was an exquisite craftsman and could easily have come up with something elegant and functional, but for some inscrutable reason he chose to build an eyesore instead. And what's really funny is that in his will he stipulated that no one was to alter the staircase in the slightest, save for replacing boards if the old ones rotted out.
He never told his son or his wife why he did it that way and no one in the family since has had any clue. Maybe he wanted to restrict access to the upstairs; maybe he thought it was funny to have something ugly and out of place in an otherwise handsome home. Personally, I think he left it that way to piss off his wife. But whatever the reason, whenever I look at it, I wish I'd known the contrary old son of a bitch. The staircase screams attitude, and the only people in the world worth knowing are people with attitude.
There's a note on the front door of the cottage when I get home. It's from the "chairman" of Walcott's Historical Society, Cheri Tipton, politely reminding me that we had an appointment earlier that afternoon, and she was sorry to have missed me, and could I please call her at my earliest convenience to reschedule.
Shit. I forgot all about it. She called last week and asked if she could come over and take a walk with me through the cornfield, because she said she came across some historic papers that seemed to suggest that an old Indian village — predating European settlement by several centuries — may once have stood on my land. I told her I'd never found so much as an arrowhead out there but she insisted on stopping by anyway. I'm not surprised I forgot to be here. I have a bad habit of forgetting to show up for anything I don't want to do.
I crumple up the paper and stand outside the door for a minute, wondering who else is going to invade my house this week. Jesus. Maybe I should just open a Holiday Inn and put up a neon sign advertising multiple vacancies.
I make no apologies for being a hermit. My choice to live alone has been deliberate and entirely voluntary. As a general rule, people piss me off and I'm a much happier man when I'm by myself. I should mine the front yard and buy a couple of dobermans and then maybe I could finally get some privacy.
I take a deep breath. There are two big bushes on either side of the door with cantaloupe-sized white flowers that smell faintly of cat urine. I have no idea what kind of bushes they are, but they've been there my whole life. I could ask Tommy, I suppose, but who cares? I don't need flowers by my door; I need a state-of-the-art security system.
My father was a mean-spirited, petty old man, and a complete waste of human DNA. Aside from that, though, we got along fine.
It's impossible to talk about my dad without getting mad. Tommy says I should get over it and move on, but Tommy has never understood the healthful benefits of loathing someone with your whole heart. He thinks my bitterness is self-destructive and difficult to maintain, but, truly, it's no effort at all. It comes naturally to me, like breathing, or taking a crap.
I'm being flip because I know Tommy's right. My resentment of my father eats at me like cancer. And I should get counseling or a lobotomy or something and maybe eventually learn how to deal with everything he did to us as kids and adults — all the endless cruelties, large and small, he so liberally bestowed on us — except there's one thing I know I can never get past or dismiss so I won't even bother to try.
He loved us.
What a bastard.
Yeah, I know how fucked up that sounds, but there it is. If he'd hated Tommy and me, I think I could maybe forgive him for how he treated us. But he didn't hate us. He loved us, and still he went out of his way to hurt us, time and again, and he never apologized for anything.
Excerpted from The Brothers Bishop by Bart Yates. Copyright © 2005 Bart Yates. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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