About the Author
Mary McGarry Morris is the author of Vanished, which was a finalist for the National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award; A Dangerous Woman, which was chosen by Time as of of the five best novels of 1991; Songs in Ordinary Time, an Oprah's Book Club Selection and national bestseller, and the critically acclaimed Fiona Range and A Hole in the Universe. She lives in Andover, Massachussetts.
On the web: http://www.marymcgarrymorris.com
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
“The way to look at it is, that was somebody else, some eighteen-year-old kid with the same name. It wasn’t you.” His brother, Dennis, sat at the foot of the bed, watching him in the mirror.
“Who was it, then?” Gordon Loomis squinted through the blur of sweat. The jug-eared face was the same, bland, the deep chin cleft its only discernible feature. He dragged his starched sleeve across his forehead. He still wasn’t used to the heat of a proper room. The closeness of his brother’s voice seemed the only air to breathe.
“You know what I mean!” Dennis said. “And besides, people forget. I mean, twenty-five years! That’s like what? A lifetime ago when you think of it. Nobody’s the same person they were then, just like you’re not.”
“But I am. I’m still the same,” Gordon said. His thick fingers struggled with the tiny collar button. Three hundred and fifty pounds, six and a half feet tall. Just as big then—“Loomer,” because he took up so much space. Because of the way he leaned so close to hear. Because he never knew quite what to do with himself or where he belonged.
“No, you’re not! For one thing, you used to be a complete slob, and now look.” Dennis laughed, pointing at Gordon’s hairbrush, the comb placed in the exact center row of bristles. “What do you call this? Obsessive-compulsive? Anal retentive?” He meant the rows of coins stacked heads up, the sleek black flashlight, and still in its box the blue tie Dennis had bought for him to wear today. Gordon had laid it all out last night. Some things he could control. Most he could not, like this job interview.
He took deep breaths to block out the nasally thrum of Dennis’s voice. “I don’t get it. Lisa and I had you all set up in Mom and Dad’s room. So why’d you go and move your stuff in here? It’s the smallest room in the house.”
“It’s my bedroom,” Gordon grunted, chin raised and straining, the button almost fastened.
“Was your bedroom. Was—twenty-five years ago. But life moves on, Gordon! Right? It does, doesn’t it?” His brother’s pained smile rose like a welt on his lean, boyish face.
Gordon knew better than to answer. His younger brother was as thin-skinned and mercurial as he was generous. It couldn’t have been easy all these years with his greatest desire, Gordon’s freedom, so fraught with expectations of disaster. In the week that Gordon had been home, Dennis had criticized his every decision. His brother’s confidence in him was strongest with visitors’ Plexiglas between them.
“It’s so damn dark back here.” Dennis looked out the window into the leaf-tented patch of shade, the old tree’s crown grown bigger than the yard. Now Gordon would hear how he should have gone to California: he’d have a fresh start there, complete anonymity.
“Damn!” he muttered, and Dennis started toward him just as the button went through.
“You’re so nervous!” Dennis handed him the tie. “It’s just an interview. What’s there to be nervous about?”
Gordon turned his damp collar over the tie. The interview was too soon. He wasn’t ready. Freedom was like this new suit Dennis had bought for him. It might look a perfect fit, but it felt as if it belonged to someone else. Gordon tried to knot the tie, then yanked it apart. “I never could do this!” He threw it down on the bureau.
“C’mon, big guy,” Dennis coaxed, slipping it back around Gordon’s neck. “Hey! After all you’ve been through, this’ll be a piece of cake! You’ll do fine!”
Gordon glared until Dennis stepped away. His hands trembled as he fastened the tie himself.
“Knot’s too big,” Dennis said, shaking his head.
Gordon pulled tighter, his face a mask again, eyes half-lidded to this speck in the mirror, not a man, but a point in time, that was all. No more than a moment. A moment. And then it would pass without pain, without anger or loss.
“Now what’d you do? You got the wrong end too long.” Dennis chuckled. “Here, let me.”
He reached out.
Gordon stiffened. “There.” He stuffed the longer narrow end into his shirtfront. “You can’t even see it.”
“No!” Dennis howled with dismayed laughter.
“That’s the way I always did it,” he said.
“Sure, when you were a kid. C’mere!” Dennis was undoing the tie. “We don’t have much time left.”
Gordon recoiled from the sour intimacy of his brother’s breath. According to the corrections manual, each inmate had his own space, a circumference of twenty-four inviolable inches.
“That guy I told you about, Kinnon, my patient?” Dennis murmured with the last loop. “I called last night to double-check, and he said it was all set. He said he’d already laid the ground work. He’d already explained things.”
“Things. You know what I mean, the details.”
The knot dug into his gullet. Details. The scrapings of flesh—his—gleaned from under her fingernails. The cuts on his enormous arms measured, photographed: the quantifiable proof of her grasping, desperate struggle against the pillow. Details, twenty-five years deep, most like flotsam released in pieces, surfacing through dreams, or snatches from a song, certain smells: the damp sweetness of shampooed hair, or even abrupt silence into which would rise her muffled pleas, soft moans, the last earthly sounds of Janine Walters and male fetus. Kevin.
“He said he explained it all, you know, how young you were and everything,” Dennis said as they got into the car.
Everything. Gordon stared out the window. As if it were one of those crazy things kids do? A prank? Just break into a house and kill a sleeping woman. His eyes closed. “I hope you never forget! I hope every day of your miserable life is a living hell!” her raw-eyed mother screamed with the verdict. She had wanted him dead.
“So now you just have to show them what a normal, regular guy you really are.” Dennis grinned. “Plus, you’ve got all these letters.” The folder between them was thick with testaments to his good behavior and trustworthiness from chaplains, wardens, guards.
"The best one though’s from Delores.”
“What do you mean, from Delores?”
“Her letter. I told you I was going to ask her.”
“No, you didn’t!”
“Well, I thought I did. I meant to. I must’ve forgot, that’s all. No big deal.” Dennis backed into the street, then had to wait while a chunky young woman in a skimpy sundress carried an infant while maneuvering a sagging stroller across the street. Roped onto the stroller was a television set.
“And where the hell do you think she got that?” Dennis sighed and shook his head. “Don’t forget: Keep everything locked. Mrs. Jukas said you even leave a window open and they’re in like rats.”
“You shouldn’t have done that. I can’t believe you asked Delores without asking me first.”
“What? What’re you talking about? It’s just Delores! What’s the big deal?” Dennis said.
The minute the woman passed, he hit the gas and raced up the street.
“I don’t want her to write a letter.” He gripped the door handle. The contents of his stomach rose and fell with the blur of signs, sunstruck glass, cars passing, the honk of a horn. On the way home from Fortley, Dennis had to stop on the highway three times while Gordon dry-heaved alongside the car.
“What’re you talking about?” Dennis shouted. “She already did! She wrote it! All it says is how she’s known you all your life, and what a decent person you are. You know, things like that.”
“No! Take it out!”
“But it’s just a letter. She wanted to!” Dennis kept looking over, stunned. “It’s not like I put pressure on her or anything. You know how she feels about you.”
“No. I don’t want it in there.” Gordon reached for the file, but Dennis clamped his hand over it.
“Will you tell me why the hell not?”
“Because.” He felt breathless, as if he were running up a steep hill. “Because she shouldn’t have to have her name mixed up in this.” Because he didn’t want to owe her any more than he already did for all her letters and visits through the years. He had nothing to give. He had to be careful, careful of everything. More so now than ever before.
“Have her name mixed up in what? What do you mean? She’s your friend, that’s all.”
Gordon groped for the handle to roll down the window, then remembered. It was a button now. “Can you slow down a little?”
“You want to be late?”
“My stomach, it feels funny.”
“You’re nervous, that’s all.”
“No, it’s riding. The car, I’m still not used to it. It makes me feel sick.” Eyes closed, he turned his face to the open window.
“Jesus Christ,” Dennis muttered, slowing down. He said no more until they pulled into the Corcopax parking lot. “Oh, and one more thing. The only opening right now’s in Human Resources.”
“Human Resources? I thought you said laminating. They’re not going to hire me for a job like that. Why didn’t you tell me? I ...
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