A plot of land. Thats what Doug told his lawyer. Buy me a plot of land, hire a contractor, and build me a casino of a house. If the neighbors have five bedrooms, give me six. A four-car garage, the kitchen of a prize-winning chef, high ceilings, marble bathrooms, everything wired to the teeth. Whatever the architecture magazines say. Make the envying types envious.
What do you want with a mansion? Mikey asked. You barely sleep in your own apartment. Youd get nothing but lost.
Finden, Doug told him. Build it in Finden.
And so on a Sunday morning in January 2001, Mikey had picked Doug up at his place in Back Bay and they had driven west out of Boston in a light snow, the gray concrete of the overpasses along the Mass Pike blending with the gray sky above as they traveled the highway that Doug had traveled so often as a kid. It had been six years now since hed moved back up to Massachusetts from New York. What had brought him was a job at Union Atlantic, a commercial bank whose chairman and CEO, Jeffrey Holland, had entrusted Doug with the companys expansion. In the years since, his salary and bonuses had accumulated in the various accounts and investments his financial adviser had established, but hed spent practically nothing.
Youre pathetic, Mikey had said to him once, when hed come back to Dougs apartment for a beer and seen the college furniture and books still in their boxes. You need a life.
A solo practitioner, Mikey had gone to Suffolk Law at night, while he worked at a bail-bond office. He lived with his girlfriend in one of the new condos in South Boston, six stories up and two blocks east of the house hed grown up in, his mother still cooking him dinner on Sunday nights. He liked to call himself a well-rounded lawyer, which in practice meant he did everything but drive his clients to work.
A few miles short of the Alden town line, they turned off at the Finden exit onto a wooded road that opened out into the snow-covered meadows of a golf course, used at this time of year for cross-country skiing. They passed under an old, arched brick railway bridge and soon after reached the first stretch of houses.
The town was much as Doug remembered it from the days when hed driven his mother to work here: mostly woods, the homes widely spaced, with big yards and long driveways, the larger homes hidden from view by hedges and gates. When they reached the village center, he saw that the old stores had been replaced by newer clothing boutiques and specialty food shops, though their signage, by town ordinance, remained conservative and subdued. The benches on the sidewalks were neatly painted, as were the fire hydrants and the elaborate lampposts and the well-tended wooden planters.
On the far side of this little town center, the houses became sparse again, one large colonial after the next, most of them white clapboard with black trim. They passed a white steepled church with a snow-covered graveyard and a mile or so farther along turned onto a dirt track that led down a gentle incline. A few hundred yards into the woods, Mikey brought the car to a halt and cut the engine.
This is it, he said. Five acres. Up ahead you got a river. The other sides all Audubon so they cant touch you there. One other house up the hill to the right, and a couple more on the far side of that. Any other place, theyd put eight houses on a piece this size, but the locals ganged up and zoned it huge.
Stepping out of the car, they walked over the frozen ground farther down the track until they reached the bank of the river. Only four or five yards across and no more than a few feet deep, it flowed over a bed of leaves and mossy rock.
Amazing, Doug said, how quiet it is.
Excerpted from Union Atlantic by Adam Haslett Copyright © 2010 by Adam Haslett. Excerpted by permission of Nan A. Talese, 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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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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