As if that were a cue, we hear the crunch of gravel under Daphne's tires. Since today is Friday, she will have spent the day making fruit smoothies for tourists. On Monday and Tuesday, the only other days she works, she has been substituting for a dentist's receptionist, who was mugged in Miami during her ninth month of pregnancy. Six weeks after the mugging, the woman has still not given birth. If nothing happens by Monday, they are going to induce labor -- though apparently what the woman is most afraid of is leaving her house. I know all this because Daphne phones the house often, and when I answer she always feels obliged to strike up a conversation.
Much ooh-ing and aah-ing at the front door: such a lovely house, so secluded, such beautiful plants everywhere. The unexpected delight of seeing roses growing in profusion in the Keys, blah blah blah.
She has brought me -- the absurd cow has brought me -- a plastic manatee. She has brought Lowell three birds-of-paradise, wrapped by the flower shop in lavender paper, which she pronounces "coals to Newcastle." But the manatee...we don't already have one of those, do we? No, we don't. We don't even have a rubber ducky to float in the bathwater. We're so...you know...old.
Behold: she has on gold Lycra pants, gold thong sandals, and a football-sized shirt with enormous shoulder pads. The material is iridescent: blue, shimmering gold, flashing orange, everything sparkling as if Tinker Bell, in a mad mood, applied the finishing touches. The sparkly stuff is also in her hair, broken lines of it, as if to provide a passing lane. All this, because she put a heaping teaspoon of protein powder into Lowell's smoothie, gratis. I see Lowell slip his arm around her shoulder as the two of them walk to the edge of the deck. I go into the house to get glasses and ice.
When I return, with the three glasses on a tray, she is in mid-banality: the loveliness of the sky, etc. Well: Kathryn's pathetic butler would bow out at this point, but in our house, the servant drinks and eats with the employer. The employer has no real friends except for the servant, in good part because he is given to sarcasm, periods of dark despair, temper tantrums, and hypochondriacal illnesses, alternating with intense self-appreciation. Similarly, the servant has been co-opted by a life of leisure, a feeling of gratitude. Lowell is far easier to take care of than a wife, certainly easier to care for than a child, much easier to look after than the majority of dogs, by which I mean no disrespect to either party, as a dog was the one thing I ever had a strong attachment to and deep admiration for. The Marines, I found out, were sociopaths. Imagine the days of my youth when I thought I would prove my manhood and patriotism by outdoing my army lieutenant colonel father by joining the Marines. Sir, yes, sir! And Lowell thinks there might be a problem with tracking down a particular herb mixture? I could kiss his feet. Though I settle for shining his shoes -- or did, in pre-Reebok days.
Lowell and Daphne have decided to take a ride in the kayak, tied to the end of the pier. This may leave me alone to greet Kathryn, who should arrive in twenty minutes or so, if everything goes according to schedule. Lately, I have begun to think that she is angry because she has had to pity me for so many years. The choked-up version my uncle gave her of the event that ostensibly ruined my young life registered so strongly with her that she has never been able to put it aside. The sheer misery of what I went through gets superimposed, I suspect, on her desire to be competitive with me, makes her back off from trying, more tenaciously, to solve the puzzle that is me: a street kid who gradually became educated (nothing else to do those four long, cold years we lived in Saratoga), only to shun those with similar education -- to shun everyone, in fact. What she doesn't know is that I knew almost immediately my marriage was a mistake, I never wanted to become a father -- the accident was my way out, not only from the situation, but for all time. Daphne could have spooned so much protein powder into my fruit drink it would have had the consistency of sawdust, and I would only have paid her and walked away. I've faltered a bit, from time to time; Kathryn would love to know with whom, and when, but my uncle spoke so graphically to her, years ago, that he managed to instill even future shame -- that's the way I think of the service he inadvertently did for me -- so that she still can't bring herself to ask outright what the story is with some hulking street kid who has no girlfriend and no friends, who is aging companionably, in the lower Florida Keys, with her bizarre, neurotic brother.
Excerpted from Perfect Recall, copyright (c) 2000 Ann Beattie. Reproduced with permission from the publisher; all rights reserved.
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