Excerpt of The Emperor of Ocean Park by Stephen L. Carter
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Four Augusts later, Abby's boyish laughter was no longer heard along Ocean Park, or anywhere else, her joy in life, and ours in her, having vanished in a confused instant of rain-slicked asphalt and an inexperienced teenager's fruitless effort to evade an out-of-control sports car, something fancy, seen by several witnesses but never accurately described and therefore never found; for the driver who killed my baby sister a few blocks north of the Washington Cathedral in that first spring of Jimmy Carter's presidency left the scene long before the police arrived. That Abby had only a learner's permit, not a license, never became a matter of public knowledge; and the marijuana that was found in her borrowed car was never again mentioned, least of all by the police or even the press, because my father was who he was and had the connections that he did, and, besides, in those days it was not yet our national sport to ravage the reputations of the great. Abby was therefore able to die as innocently as we pretended that she had lived. Addison by that time was on the verge of finishing college and Mariah was about to begin her sophomore year, leaving me in the nervous role of what my mother kept calling her only child. And all that Oak Bluffs summer, as my father, tight-lipped, commuted to the federal courthouse in Washington and my mother shuffled aimlessly from one downstairs room to the next, I made it my task to hunt through the house for memories of Abby--at the bottom of a stack of books on the black metal cart underneath the television, her favorite game of Life; in the back of the glass-fronted cabinet over the sink, a white ceramic mug emblazoned with the legend BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL, purchased to annoy my father; and, hiding in a corner of the airless attic, a stuffed panda named George, after the martyred black militant George Jackson, won at the fair and now leaking from its joints some hideous pink substance--memories, I must confess in my perilous middle age, that have grown ever fainter with the passage of time.
Ah, the Vineyard house! Addison was married in it, twice, once more or less successfully, and I smashed the leaded glass in the double front door, also twice, once more or less intentionally. Every summer of my youth we went there to live, because that is what one does with a summer home. Every winter my father griped about the upkeep and threatened to sell it, because that is what one does when happiness is a questionable investment. And when the cancer that pursued her for six years finally won, my mother died in it, in the smallest bedroom, with the nicest view of Nantucket Sound, because that is what one does if one can choose one's end.
My father died at his desk. And, at first, only my sister and a few stoned callers to late-night radio shows believed he had been murdered.
THE WHITE KITCHEN
The news of the Judge's death reached us several times in the years before the event actually occurred. It is not that he was ill; he was, as a rule, so vigorous that one tended to forget his wavering health, which is why the heart attack that at last cut him down was, at first, so difficult to credit. It is simply that he led the sort of life that generated rumor. People disliked my father, intensely, and he returned the favor. They spread stories of his death because they prayed the stories were true. To his enemies--they were legion, a fact in which he gloried--my father was a plague, and rumors of a cure always raise hopes in those who suffer, or love those who do. And, in this case, some of those my father plagued were not people but causes, which, in America, can always count their lovers in the millions, unlike individual people, who die unloved every day. Not one of his enemies but hated my father, and not one but spread the stories. Self-styled friends would call. They were always whispering how sorry they were. They had heard, they would say, about my father's heart attack while promoting his latest book up in Boston. Or his stroke while taping a television interview out in Cincinnati. Except that there would not have been one: he would be alive and well in San Antonio, speaking to the convention of some conservative political action committee--the Rightpacs, Kimmer calls them. But, oh, the gleeful rumors of his demise!
Excerpted from The Emperor of Ocean Park by Stephen L. Carter Copyright 2002 by Stephen L. Carter. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.