Chapter 1

 

     Sipe was driving the Old Man home from physical therapy when the Old Man said, “Simon, I think you ought to be the one to go down and bring Connie home.”

     Anymore, the Old Man called him Simon.  Sometimes he called him Dmitri.  Sipe didn’t know a Dmitri, but just a couple years back Simon had transformed into a cautionary tale. 

     The Old Man did business up in Alaska with a shipping company, the front specializing in this kick ass gorp endorsed by several prominent Iditarod participants.  The more profitable shipping company boats arrived off the books, bearing weapons, black market electronics, or sometimes people desperate enough to endure shipping containers for days on end out on the ocean. 

     An executive with the shipping company had a wife with legs that just didn’t stop.  A leg man through and through, Simon just dumb enough he thought no one would find out about his dipping her on the down low or if they did, his position as the Old Man’s driver was some magic get-out-of-trouble card. 

     They never found Simon.  He just vanished.  Last trip Simon ever took was probably on a trawler out of Anchorage, already mixed in with the chum.  These days, Simon was settled into the sediment at the bottom of the Pacific, but the Old Man thought Simon was still driving him around Seattle, ferrying him home after rehab sessions on his knee, gone to shit after a tumble in the shower. 

     “Is he done with school now?” asked Sipe.  The Old Man’s only kid, Connie was enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America, down in St. Helena in California.

     “I don’t want anyone flying, you hear me?” said the Old Man.  He had a blanket up to his chin.  He’d use the blanket at the tail end of the therapy sessions.  When they iced his knee, it made his entire aged body cold.

     Some weeks, session finished, the Old Man would just start talking nonstop, and Sipe did therapists and patients a solid, wandering back to fetch him out of their hair.  The Old Man’s therapist an Asian lady with defined biceps and a terrifically muscular rear end.  Today, she’d flashed a grin and five fingers at Sipe, telling him, nope, the chatterbox had five more minutes of ice pack. 

     “You know,” said Sipe, “I know you don’t like the flying, but I could get Connie home faster if I flew down.  Then we could just take a rental car back home.”

     The Old man shook his head ‘no.'  The turkey thing with his chin going into full effect.  Waddle wobble.  His hair almost all white, he combed it back, and it was longish in the back, so with the tinted glasses he wore all the time, he looked a little like some foreign film producer.  A legend.  A guy who could make you or break you, moving mountains with just his pinkie, his nod or the refusal to nod.

     “We don’t fly,” he said.  “It’s too risky.  Too risky.” 

     “Ok.”

     “You take a car down.  You take a day or two.  Take a nice trip.  You know, you could stop, go see your wife.  Your kids.”

     Sipe nodded.  He agreed with Zeke.  Skip corrections.  It was just easier to roll right along with some of the Old Man’s jibber jabber.   

     “He’s a chef now,” said the Old Man.  “Connie.  Gonna open his own restaurant.”

     “That’s great.”

     “Can probably make anything.  Make it delicious.”  The Old Man waggled forward and gripped the back of Sipe’s seat.  Sipe signaled, making the turn onto Lake Washington Boulevard.

     “You know what I can make?” asked the Old Man.

     “I don’t.” 

     “Shit on a shingle.  I can make that.  You know what it tastes like?”

     “Nope.”

     “Like actual shit on an actual shingle.”

     Sipe looked back for just a second.  The Old Man needing that look, the acknowledgment keyed something for him, and he’d laugh and laugh.  Smack the back of the seat and keep producing a noise like an old truck trying to turn over on a winter morning.  Eventually, he sat back and settled down back under his blanket.  Got cozy.  Cozy, he could fall asleep in seconds.  Magic.  The one time Sipe had tried to wake him up, get him out of the backseat and into the Lake Washington house, the Old Man had screeched, thrown the blanket at Sipe, and then hobbled off the grounds and across the street down to the lake itself.  That time, Sipe and Zeke conferred, they’d called Susan, Connie’s former nanny, and she’d lured the Old Man back to the house.  She’d modeled bloodied scratches on her neck for all her efforts. 

     The Old Man out like a light, swaddled beneath a moose and owls print, Sipe parked on the brick driveway and walked to the house, checked the alarm system, looked around inside and then back outside, leaned against a pillar, keeping an eye on the car. 

Traffic on the floating bridge hummed.  Over the gate, he could see the opposite shore, the eastside, at least one sailboat on the lake.  The last time the Old Man was with it enough to have female company, the girls made out with one another on the balcony, the Old Man telling them to pause the slurping and sucking now and then to wave across the water at Bill Gates.  

     Sipe hadn’t seen a parent or a sibling in years.  The closest he’d come was spending time with his former brother-in-law down in Longview.  He was thinking about that trip when the car backdoor opened, and the Old Man slid out, dragging his blanket, walking towards the house.  The limp was getting less noticeable all the time.  The Old Man doing his home exercises religiously, desiring to please the therapist with her great smile, the even better posterior.  Other than the brains going south, the Old Man was in pretty good shape for someone almost 80.  

     Inside the house, the Old Man dropped the blanket and kicked off his Birkenstocks.  He wore a tank top and black shorts.  The surgical scar on the knee looked like wax against the too tan skin.

     “Anyone here?” the Old Man asked Sipe.

     “I checked.  Just us.” 

     “Time me,” said the Old Man.

     The doctor and the physical therapist wanted the Old Man active but didn’t want the Old Man taking stairs.  They’d suggested a lift, an electronic chair.  Or life resettled to only the first floor.  The Old Man insisted on working the stairs.  He refused to be an invalid.  Grunting, sweating, swearing, he went up the steps, hobbling, thumping.  Sipe alternated between watching the event, watching the second hand on the watch.  

     After picking up the blanket and the Birkenstocks, Sipe walked up the steps.  The Old Man gripped the top rail, wheezing, looking down into the foyer.

     “Tell me,” said the Old Man.

     “Same as last time.”

     “Same?  Bullshit.”

     “Maybe a second slower.”

     “God-damnit.”

     “It’s hot today.”

     “Fuck you.  Fuck your hot.”

     The clamshell shaped window over the door went dull then bright.  Clouds scudded over and off the sun like no one’s business today, brightening then dimming the gold inlaid in the foyer tile.  

     The Old Man took deep breaths.  He toddled back from the railing and worked his arms like chicken wings in slow motion.  His exhales overemphasized his front teeth, giving him a squirrel-like appearance.  

     “You tell Connie it’s up to him,” said the Old Man.

     “What is?” 

     “This.  This.”  He motioned towards the lobby, the house itself, maybe the floating bridge connecting Seattle and Bellevue.  And maybe the sun playing peekaboo. 

     “Everything.  He can do both if he wants.  Be a chef.  Be me when I’m gone.  You ever hear that that is the mark of genius?  To hold two conflicting ideas in your head at the very same time.  So he might be able to do that.  I couldn’t.  I wanted to do so many things, and I ended up only doing one.  Just the one.  You got all the time in the world on that drive.”

     Sipe nodded.

     “Shower time,” said the Old Man.  Walking into the bedroom, tugging his tank top out of the shorts he paused and motioned at the blanket.  “Wash that thing, huh?  It smells like an old man.”

     Sipe nodded.  The Alaskan shipping company had sent the blanket after the Old Man had made an inquiry.  Simon went M.I.A., and they sent a blanket.  It got the guys talking, speculating what they were worth in compensation.      

     Sipe listened for the shower to start up, for the Old Man to swear at the handrail they’d put inside the stall.  The shower door clicked shut.  Sipe set the Birkenstocks just inside the bedroom door, right where the Old Man liked to put them on, at least, on those days he could even remember what Birkenstocks were for. 

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