The second week of the new story bowled me over, I had four days where I could barely keep up. But now I need to take a short break from it, to take on professional and civic and friendship responsibilities. So let’s see where week two got us, aside from another eight thousand words (!!).
Cale’s relationship with his sister has a hard side and a softer side, one that she doesn’t let on about very often. It surprises Cale whenever it appears.
We stood side by side, unable to look at each other, both facing the grave square-on. We didn’t want to stay, didn’t know how to leave, knew that if we turned our backs and got into the car, we’d be ending that story forever. No redemption in the last act, just “The End” scrolled across the broken family in the shattered landscape.
Ray fixed it, same way she fixed everything, by reminding us of chores. “Better get back to the house, got ladies to hug and potato salad to speak highly of.” She laughed a little, and I could hear the tears within it. “Cale, I completely fuckin’ hate potato salad.” She reached up and squeezed my hand, then pulled out from under my shoulder. “Come on,” she said.
But then, after they discover what’s in their father’s will, the peace is broken again, even as she’s trying to hold her love for him.
We were all silent for a few seconds, like that moment after an earthquake, before you take stock of the damage, while you’re wondering whether this particular tremor is done. Then Ray, with her eyes closed, said, “Cale, I’m gonna need you to leave.”
“Come on, Ray…”
“Caleb, I need you away from this table in the next ten seconds, and out the driveway and gone from my house in the next ten minutes. Can you do that for me?”
As Cale drives back to Minneapolis and his summer work and his summer girlfriend, he sits in a truck stop and reads the letter that his father has left him. The letter that will lie at the heart of the story.
And then, finally, at the Formica table under the fluorescent lights and the suspended ceiling panels and the distant country music radio, I wiped the Rollerbites grease off my fingers, and I opened Dad’s letter. The envelope that simply said Caleb Barrows, in blue pen. Inside, one piece of three-ring paper, probably borrowed from Walker. The same blue ink.
Sammi, his summer girlfriend, has also arrived more fully, as a wise and merciful advisor.
I got home and just dumped it all out on Sammi, didn’t even unpack my bag. It was a total blender shake: the casket and the will and the letter and the macaroni salad, the church ladies and the parts guys, Ruth and Jerry, Walker’s hat. The pesticides and my mother. And my sister. Sammi fished out a pipe and some weed, put a chill mix on Spotify, and just let us both sit with it all. Sometimes there’s wisdom in not deciding anything. I remembered reading Siddhartha when I was in high school, there was one point where he didn’t have any food and so he decided to fast. I’d thought that was dumb then—of course he was fasting, he couldn’t eat. It took me a second reading to understand what he was doing: taking a necessity and making it into a sacrament.
Sammi offered me that sacrament. I couldn’t decide anything, and she let me know that I didn’t need to decide. And that it was a blessing to not decide. To just be in it. To just be sad and confused and hurt, not to fix it.
You look back every so often and you see that some work got done.
I launched this website in February 2019. In the intervening two and a half years, I’ve written a couple of books’ worth of words here as well. And today marks the three hundredth installment of these comments. If you’ve liked them, please consider following in the link at the bottom of the page. Thanks for coming along on the ride.