I took a deep inhalation of chill air and began pressing and
releasing my suction cups, moving over the apex of the dome to
tend to the bird stains. At the age of sixteen, I was already the same
height my father had been when he passed away, and my lanky
frame covered a surprising amount of space on the dome. When I
adjusted myself perfectly on the top, every major landmark in town
was visible with the naked eye.
If I looked to the east, for example, I could see the slanted water
tower that read North Branch Beavers in rust-colored lettering.
Farther north was the symmetrical row of small businesses in the
town square. Then past the businesses, a little to the west, was the
giant brick castle of James K. Polk High School, which I was not
allowed to attend because Nana said their worldview was myopic
and wrong. And finally, to the far west, I could see all four lanes
of the expressway, including the exact exit that the tourists took to
visit us. I couldnt see our garish billboards, but I knew they were
there, facing the road, imploring every motorist to visit The House
I scraped my squeegee slowly over the last of the stains, and then
pressed and released all the way down to the brittle grass of our
lawn. I had seen on the World Wide Web once that a man from
France climbed the Empire State Building with just his hands and
feet. No cups. No harness. He was arrested, but he claimed it was
worth it to know he was really alive. It was a secret goal of mine to
one day scale our dome in this fashion, but for now I played it safe.
My sneakers touched the ground with a satisfying crunch, and I
undid my harness and let it drop to the ground. I walked around to
the front yard and turned the knob on our clear front door.
There sat Nana in our open dining room, imbibing one of her
signature smoothies. Every day, she performed the morning ritual
of dumping things in her Vita-Mix, a machine that pulverized her
breakfast. Anything that could fit through the clear plastic shaft
was fair game for one of these shakes. This morning, the concoction
was the same color fuchsia as her tracksuit. She owned a rainbow
of these sleek workout suits, and this particular one was made
of pink, sweat-resistant fibers and had a matching headband for her
shock of fl our-white hair.
Oh, Sebastian, she said, glancing up at me. You look like
a cave dweller, or one of those horrible men who collect all the
Yes, she said. Exactly. One of those.
I was wearing the same blue fl annel shirt and jeans that I always
wore. But my dirty-blond hair had gotten a tad shaggy around the
ears. I pushed it off my forehead and sat down. Nana leaned over
and kissed the top of my head.
Is your room arranged to specification? she asked, her mouth
hovering back over her straw.
Affirmative, I said.
Have you performed your toilet?
With startling success, I said.
A yes or no answer would be adequate, she said.
She sipped again on her smoothie, then frowned and let the
straw rest against the lip of the glass. Well, enough idle chatter,
she said. We need to have a conference.
I moved in closer and watched her face. It was inexplicably tight
for a woman of her age. You had to stare at it closely before you
could begin to find the thin wrinkles, like hairline cracks, in the
firm skin around her mouth and eyes. And it was only when she
glowered or furrowed her brow in the deepest of concentration that
you could tell that she had lived nearly eighty years on this earth.
Ill be direct with you, Sebastian, she said. The heating bill is
going up this month, and we need to maximize all sales efforts in
the gift shop. Do you read me?
A Man Called Intrepid author dies aged 89(Dec 03 2013) William Stevenson, a journalist and author who drew on his close ties with intelligence sources to write two best-selling books in the 1970s, A Man Called...