By Michelle Morouse
It’s a bombshell, lobbed between gasps. Mom’s having a decent day, meaning she can talk, but she tears up, straining to continue. “I met him in college. Your Dad and I were separated for a few months. He knew.”
I want to run out. I want to know more. She coughs and tears up some more, dislodging the oxygen prongs from her nose and turning gray. The nurse is in before I can call, giving Mom a dose of morphine. I watch her fall asleep and then I head out to the club. My brother Joe and my sister Cindy will be at Mom’s house in an hour. Mom told me to go the club tonight, just two weeks before the handball tournament.
I win every match. Dad would have been proud. “Dad,” I think, with a tightness in my chest. We hit the club’s bar afterward for beers and burgers. Jackson’s telling a Mexican joke. It’s no funnier than when I first heard it six years ago, but I muster a chuckle. The guy’s one of my best clients. Cousin Suzanne’s holding court at the other end of the bar. Like every Wednesday, I wander over there after the guys take off. “Robert!” she greets me, all cleavage and jangling bracelets. We make small talk until her admirers leave.
First, I tell her how Mom is, same as last week, could be days, could be a week. I look into her dark brown eyes. She isn’t the type to say something just to say something. Then I take a deep breath and give her Mom’s big news, that my Dad, her mother’s brother, isn’t really my Dad, which meant….
Tonight,” she says, “Just a few hours. Who knows, we could get hit by a bus tomorrow.”
“Does anyone still say that?” I laugh, and then stop when I see her expression hasn’t changed. “Okay.”
The attendant looks at me funny as he brings up my Escalade, right after her Corvette. Fuck it. We’ve been in love since before we had a name for it. We saw each other every day until she turned 15 and had a falling out with my sister Cindy. Suzanne was rapidly becoming queen of the 10th grade, hell, the whole school. Cindy was mourning Dad’s death by disappearing under a layer of fat. She was miserable, and jealous of Suzanne. I was two years older, popular. Maybe I could have helped her, but I had my own grief to deal with.
Suzanne and I confessed our feelings for each other back at U of M, after a few beers. My roommate got back early, which saved us from doing anything beyond kissing. Since then, we’re careful never to be completely alone. She visits the club most Wednesdays. We get an hour or so alone in a back booth before closing, sneaking a kiss if the bartender turns his back. We talk on the phone a lot, any time, night or day.
Now we’re free, morally, if not legally. We’ll figure this out; both of us are unstoppable when we put our minds to something. The Pacific Northwest is nice.
I pull in to her driveway right behind her, and then we’re standing in her foyer, luxuriating in a full length kiss. The next two hours are beyond sex: sitar music and belly dancing, then some neo-punk shit, and Suzanne happier than I’ve ever seen her, wide-eyed and giggling between climaxes. Her body is amazing, and I’m used to dating women ten years younger. It’s too much, but just what I need and I’m startled by the tears running down my cheeks afterwards. She feeds me a snack, and then pushes me out the door to face the slow business of dying.
I walk to the car slowly, feeling tired and strong at the same time. I’ve got what I need to get me through the next few days and months. I can’t remember the last time I made a move without my cell phone, but there it is, on the passenger seat. There are four messages from Cindy and my brother Joe, starting with “please call back,” and ending with “You need to get here.” I’m across town and walking through Mom’s front door in twenty minutes. Cindy’s flushed, wearing some kind of Muumuu thing. “You missed the toasts! We toasted Mom without you, fuckwad!”
Joe wraps an arm around me and slurs “She’s gone, bro.”
Cindy’s just getting started. “You’re just Too Fucking Important to be here! Mr. Salesman of the Year! I’m glad you’re just my half-brother, not my full brother! That’s right! She told us!”
Joe frowns. “And half-cousin.”
“Dip-shit, there’s no such thing as a half-cousin! There are only full cousins…and double cousins.” She pivots to face me. “So asshole Uncle Jack is your real Dad! It figures!”
I lean against the wall. I picture grownups deep in college tales, smooth jazz, and even smoother cocktails- Mom and Uncle Jack on the debate team together, Mom introducing Aunt Kathy to Uncle Jack, and then Guess What?!, Aunt Kathy introducing Mom and Dad to each other. “Uncle Jack is my Dad?”
She laughs. “You couldn’t even hang around to find out who your real father is? Yes, it’s Uncle Jack! It makes sense! That Slutzanne was always more like a sister to you! Suzie! Suzie! Suzie! You make me sick!! What the Hell? What the Hell! Robert! Where the fuck do you think you’re going! Robert! Robert! I’m not done with you!”
Copyright Morouse 2012