Bolstered by the thought, he felt that he was up to the task of phoning his son, Roger, in London. He wiped his fingertips on a soft yellow rag and peered with concentration at the innumerable chrome buttons and LED displays of the cordless phone, a present from Roger. Its speed dial and voice activation capabilities were, Roger said, useful for the elderly. Major Pettigrew disagreed on both its ease of use and the designation of himself as old. It was frustratingly common that children were no sooner gone from the nest and established in their own homes, in Rogers case a gleaming black-and-brass-decorated penthouse in a high-rise that blighted the Thames near Putney, than they began to infantilize their own parents and wish them dead, or at least in assisted living. It was all very Greek, the Major thought. With an oily finger, he managed to depress the button marked 1Roger Pettigrew, VP, Chelsea Equity Partners, which Roger had filled in with large, childlike print. Rogers private equity firm occupied two floors in a tall glass office tower in Londons Docklands; as the phone rang with a metallic ticking sound, the Major imagined Roger in his unpleasantly sterile cubicle with the battery of computer monitors and the heap of files for which some very expensive architect had not bothered to provide drawers.
Roger had already heard.
Jemima has taken on the call-making. The girls hysterical, but there she is, calling everyone and his dog.
It helps to keep busy, suggested the Major.
More like wallowing in the whole bereaved-daughter role, if you ask me, said Roger. Its a bit off, but then theyve always been that way, havent they? His voice was muffled and the Major assumed this meant he was once again eating at his desk.
Thats unnecessary, Roger, he said firmly. Really, his son was becoming as unedited as Marjories family. The city was full of blunt, arrogant young men these days and Roger, approaching thirty, showed few signs of evolving past their influence.
Sorry, Dad. Im very sorry about Uncle Bertie. There was a pause. Ill always remember when I had chicken pox and he came over with that model plane kit. He stayed all day helping me glue all those tiny bits of balsa together.
As I recall you broke it against the window the next day, after youd been warned against flying it indoors.
Yeah, and you used it as kindling for the kitchen stove.
It was broken to pieces. No sense in wasting it. The memory was quite familiar to them both. The same story came up over and over at family parties. Sometimes it was told as a joke and they all laughed. Sometimes it was a cautionary lecture to Jemimas willful son. Today the hint of reproach was showing along the seams.
Will you come down the night before? asked the Major.
No, Ill take the train. But listen, Dad, dont wait for me. Its possible I might get stuck.
Excerpted from Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson Copyright © 2010 by Helen Simonson. Excerpted by permission of Random House, 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.
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