WHILE YOU WERE OUT...
When Joel reached toward the van door, I said, "Don't open it," just the way my book on lucid dreaming told me to. The book said to contradict anything I didn't like, but Joel ignored me.
"Well, hey, Bernie, what say we give you a ride home?" he said.
"Shut up and go away." That didn't work either. Amy stood next to Joel, her white-blond hair fluttering in the breeze. Joel's fingers closed around the pitted chrome lever. Before I could protest, the door rolled open, and the back of the van gaped like the mouth of a hungry cave. He was in there.
"I'm not doing this, and if this doesn't stop, I'm going to wake up," I said. Then I did.
In that sense, the lucid dreaming worked. It kept away the nightmares, but it cost me sleep. Half an hour later, when my mother called, I had just fallen back asleep.
"Did I wake you?" she said.
"No," I said, even though I knew my voice was gravelly with sleep.
"It's not even ten o'clock." She cleared her throat. "I'm afraid I'm calling with some bad news, Bernie."
"Are you okay?"
She sounded fine, but in Boston it was nearly eleven, late for her.
"Yes, I suppose, but Virginia just called to tell me Pen is dead." When I didn't answer, she said, "Did you hear me? Your grandfather Pen has died."
I got out of bed, opened the closet and turned on the light. Looking for my suit, I fumbled through the clothes at the back. I saw already where the conversation was going: a trip to Oklahoma.
"Did she say what happened?" I asked.
"A heart attack. He was nearly ninety."
"I know. When's the funeral?"
"You'll need to make that decision, unless you're going to leave it all to Virginia, which I think is hardly appropriate. You really ought to decide."
"Okay," I said. There I was at the end of a long line of Raleighs; whatever decisions there were to be made for my grandfather, I would have to make them.
After I hung up with my mother, I felt myself drifting. The floor seemed less firm, and the bathroom tiles had already lost their tangibility. Afraid of drifting further, I brewed a pot of coffee and popped a few white crosses-enough speed and caffeine to keep me awake for two days, or give me a stroke. I spent the night cleaning house and making lists, until my eyes felt cooked in their sockets. By six I was on the phone buying my plane ticket, and at eight, I was standing at the Overland Park post office filling out the paperwork that would commit me to having my mail forwarded to my grandfather's house.
I went into work two hours late, and stood at the front counter watching Ellen, the second assistant librarian, check a customer out. The only sounds in the library were the creaking of book spines, the discreet bleep of the scanner, the reassuring thump of the book cover, the intimate whisper as she slid the books across the counter to the customer. Under the counter, the printer chattered briefly. Ellen tore the receipt off and slipped it into the top book. I let it wash over me, a little balance of pleasure to get me through the funeral, and whatever came after.
My boss, Beverly, was shuffling papers at her desk, and when I told her about my grandfather, she gave me a gentle smile of condolence. She never spoke when a look would have the same effect. It was the thing that made her a superior librarian.
"It's probably going to be a month at least, maybe longer," I said.
"Why so long?"
It wasn't a simple matter of an old man's house and car and checking account. I described the monumental nature of the task, the largeness of the estate, and when she still didn't understand, I told her that my grandfather was Pen Raleigh. Then I told her to read the front page of the Wall Street Journal. I saw the elements fall into place for her, like a Tetris game at work.
Excerpted from Last Will by Bryn Greenwood. Copyright © 2012 by Bryn Greenwood. Excerpted by permission of Stairway Press. 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
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