This might have been a problem if my mother, Katherine, had still been around, but for a long time it had been a curfewless house of men.
My father and Mack staggered off to their beds as soon as we got in the door. Dana and I grabbed the Jameson and a couple of thick glasses. We climbed the steep, wooden stairs to Peter's old bedroom.
"I'm right behind you," Dana whispered. I reached back and took her hand, held it tight. "I'm glad."
I was struck again by how spare Peter kept the room. A pale wooden desk and bureau against one wall faced two twin beds. Except for the tiny and oblique detail of a stamp-size black-and-white photograph of the great bebop alto saxophonist Charlie Parker that Peter had taped above his bed, we could have been in a Motel 6.
Maybe Peter kept it that way because he didn't want to think of himself as living there anymore. It made me feel even worse, as if he didn't think that he had a real home anywhere.
Dana put on one of Peter's old Sonny Rollins CDs. I pushed the twin beds together and we stretched out on them. We wrapped our arms around each other.
"I can't believe any of this," I said in a daze. "I know," Dana whispered, and held me tighter.
The whiskey had unclenched my brain enough to know that nothing made sense. Zero. There was no way my brother chose to go swimming that night. For Peter, staying warm was about the closest thing he had to a religion. Even without the heavy waves, the fifty-degree water was enough to keep him out.
It was even less likely he'd killed himself. I didn't know how he could have afforded it, but he'd just bought a $19,000 motorcycle. He'd waited six months to get the exact shade of blue he wanted, and it had less than three thousand miles on it. You don't wash a motorcycle twice a day when you're contemplating suicide.
On top of that, he was scheduled to do a print shoot the next week for Helmut Lang jeans. He had called at work and told me that one of photographer Herb Ritts's assistants had spotted him at the Talkhouse and had sent him a contract.
Peter was trying hard to downplay it, but he wasn't fooling anyone, especially not me.
Dana refilled my glass and kissed me on the forehead. I took a long gulp of whiskey. I thought about how as kids, Peter and I used to wrestle in this room, playing a game called king of the bed. I realized now that half the time brothers wrestle, it's just an excuse to hug each other.
Then I told Dana about a fall afternoon, maybe twelve years ago. I was probably babbling, but she let me go on.
"On Saturdays a group of us would play touch football in the field behind the middle school. That day I brought along Peter for the first time.
"Even though he was about five years younger than anyone else, I vouched for him. Bill Conway, one of the two teenagers who ran the game, grudgingly consented to let him play.
"Anyway, Peter was the last guy taken on our side, and our quarterback never threw the ball anywhere near him all afternoon. Peter was so grateful to be included in the big kids game, he never complained.
"With the sun fading fast, the game was tied. We were down to our last possession. In the huddle I told Livolsi to throw the ball to Peter. The other team had stopped covering him an hour ago. For some reason, Livolsi actually listened to me. On the last play of the game, he sent all the other receivers one way and Peter the other. Then he dropped back and hurled the ball half the length of the field. Peter was this tiny figure standing all alone in the dusk on one side of the end zone.
"Unfortunately, Livolsi himself was not a future Hall of Famer. His pass was way off. Peter chased after it and, at the last instant, left his feet and stretched out parallel to the ground like some dude in one of those slow-motion NFL films. I swear to you, not one person who was there will ever forget it. Livolsi mentions it every time I see him. Dana, he was nine. He weighed fifty-eight pounds. The guy could do anything he ever tried. He could have been anything he wanted to be, Dana. He had it all."
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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