"The funeral is tomorrow morning," Wendy says. "Im flying in with the kids tonight. Barrys at a meeting in San Francisco. Hell catch the red-eye."
Wendys husband, Barry, is a portfolio manager for a large hedge fund. As far as I can tell, he gets paid to fly around the world on private jets and lose golf games to other richer men who might need his funds money. A few years ago, they transferred him to the L.A. office, which makes no sense, since he travels constantly, and Wendy would no doubt prefer to live back on the East Coast, where her cankles and post- pregnancy jiggle are less of a liability. On the other hand, shes being very well compensated for the inconvenience.
"Youre bringing the kids?"
"Believe me, Id rather not. But seven days is just too long to leave them alone with the nanny."
The kids are Ryan and Cole, six and three, towheaded, cherub-cheeked boys who never met a room they couldnt trash in two minutes flat, and Serena, Wendys seven-month-old baby girl.
"Thats how long it takes to sit shiva."
"Were not really going to do this, are we?"
"It was his dying wish," Wendy says, and in that single instant I think maybe I can hear the raw grief in the back of her throat.
"Pauls going along with this?"
"Pauls the one who told me about it."
"What did he say?"
"He said Dad wants us to sit shiva."
Paul is my older brother by sixteen months. Mom insisted I hadnt been a mistake, that shed fully intended to get pregnant again just seven months after giving birth to Paul. But I never really bought it, especially after my father, buzzed on peach schnapps at Friday-night dinner, had acknowledged somberly that back then they believed you couldnt get pregnant when you were breast-feeding. As for Paul and me, we get along fine as long as we dont spend any time together.
"Has anyone spoken to Phillip?" I say.
"Ive left messages at all his last known numbers. On the off chance he plays them, and hes not in jail, or stoned, or dead in a ditch, theres every reason to believe that theres a small possibility hell show up."
Phillip is our youngest brother, born nine years after me. Its hard to understand my parents procreational logic. Wendy, Paul, and me, all within four years, and then Phillip, almost a decade later, slapped on like an awkward coda. He is the Paul McCartney of our family: better-looking than the rest of us, always facing a different direction in pictures, and occasionally rumored to be dead. As the baby, he was alternately coddled and ignored, which may have been a significant factor in his becoming such a terminally screwed-up adult. He is currently living in Manhattan, where youd have to wake up pretty early in the morning to find a drug he hasnt done or a model he hasnt fucked. He will drop off the radar for months at a time and then show up unannounced at your house for dinner, where he might or might not casually mention that hes been in jail, or Tibet, or has just broken up with a quasi-famous actress. I havent seen him in over a year.
"I hope he makes it," I say. "Hell be devastated if he doesnt."
"And speaking of screwed-up little brothers, hows your own Greek tragedy coming along?"
Wendy can be funny, almost charming in her pointed tactlessness, but if there is a line between crass and cruel, shes never noticed it. Usually I can stomach her, but the last few months have left me ragged and raw, and my defenses have been depleted.
"I have to go now," I say, trying my best to sound like a guy not in the midst of an ongoing meltdown.
"Jesus, Judd. I was just expressing concern."
Excerpted from This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper. Copyright © 2009 by Jonathan Tropper. Excerpted by permission of Dutton. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
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