The Fourth of July weekend was over, and now that it was the middle of the week the crowds at the airport had thinned out. Aunt Marissa was able to get checked in faster than they expected, and since her flight didn’t leave for another hour and a half, they walked together through the the different little overpriced airport shops.
“I hate I didn’t get the kids anything,” she said, setting a plush crawfish back into its menagerie. “But seriously, they have enough toys for ten childhoods. Dr. Ray spoils them so bad.” It may have said Dr. Delray Garris on his business cards and bus stop ads, but everyone just called him Dr. Ray, including his wife, his mother, and himself.
Over on the magazine racks was an issue of Redbook with Laura Brennan-Spade on the cover. “We’re Made To Feel Broken”: A Revealing Interview About The Heartbreak Of Infertility. Setting a clear look of disdain on his face, Andre picked up the magazine and flipped through the pages, hoping to find the “exclusive preview of her new best-seller.” There might be some pictures from her modeling days.
“You know what would be so nice?” his aunt said. “If you would listen to me when I talked to you for the last ten minutes of my visit.” Apparently she’d said something that he’d missed.
“Sorry.” He put the magazine back on the shelf. “Do you wanna get some food?”
“What were you just looking at? Do you need tips for dealing with menopause?”
“It was nothing, I was just flipping through it. Christ.”
Marissa touched Laura Brennan-Spade's face on the cover. “Her books are so good. Have you read them? Dr. Ray has them in his waiting room and every time I go over there I end up just sitting there and reading like fifty pages.”
“Uh, yeah: no, I haven’t read any of her books. I’ll add them to the list.”
They moved back out into the airport. A flight from Charlotte had just landed, and exhausted passengers streamed up out of the concourse. On the bench in front of Andre a young couple sat, both of them heavily asleep. The man had a straw cowboy hat pulled down over his eyes, and moved his lips slowly as if in prayer. His girlfriend or wife clung to his arm, her mouth slightly open, and twitched occasionally as though she dreamed of chasing or being chased.
Andre and his aunt drifted over to another little shop, this one selling ceramic figurines depicting jazz musicians playing on the street in some mythical French Quarter. The salesperson was off in another corner, and both Andre and his aunt muttered an “oy” under their breath at the same time.
Their two weeks together had been pretty rough, but nothing compared to the slow-motion agony of this final hour. By now, Andre had a pretty good feeling that he'd had passed the unspoken test that was the real purpose behind her visit, and it was excruciating to know that he was so close to getting rid of her, to being free for the first time in what felt like forever. In a way, though, he almost relished the unbearable wait…he savored it, drank it in, tried to memorize it, so that when she was finally through the metal detectors and gone he’d feel that much lighter.
Andre examined a little statue of an alligator playing a saxophone in the bayou moonlight, and Aunt Marissa reached out and pinched his belly.
“I swear to God, Andre, I can’t believe how much slimmer you look after only two weeks,” she said. (This wasn’t actually true—she couldn’t detect any change in his gut at all—but despite all appearances to the contrary, Marissa Meyer believed in positive reinforcement.) “And you seem so much healthier. You’ve got your color back and those dark circles under your eyes are gone.”
This last bit was true, and Andre had noticed it himself, but he still didn’t want her talking about it. He smirked and turned away.
She’d been feeding him health food and processed low-calorie low-fat substitutes. And the portions! So small he always left the table hungry. Also, she'd made them go jogging every day over the last two weeks, to Andre’s never-ending shame and disgust.
That first week, they'd walked one block and jogged the next. The first few days had been miserable, and Andre would collapse, sore from his shoulders down to his calves, into a deadly sleep each night.
The second week, though, he’d discovered that for the first five minutes or so he could actually jog for two blocks before needing to walk. And afterwards he wasn’t nearly as wiped out as he’d been just a week before. He’d still felt awful, of course, sweaty and panting, with his glasses stuck slickly to his face, but he’d also felt good in a way he’d never exactly experienced before. Nor ever would again, thank God: jogging had been a fun little experiment, something to break up the monotony of his aunt’s visit, but now he was only fifteen minutes from never having to put on a pair of running shoes again.
“You’re going to stick with it, right? In just a couple of months you’ll look and feel so much better.”
“Yeah, I promise.”
The night before, Marissa had prepared a one last homemade meal for Andre and his dad, grilled salmon and steamed vegetables. After being roused by both Andre and his sister, Reuben Meyer had finally lurched out of his bedroom and sat, slumped over, at the table. His skin looked ashy, and he seemed a bit more out of it than usual. He stared down the food on his plate for a long time, flinching at the sight of it, before finally looking up at his son with a desperate look.
A few days before, Reuben had finished the last of the liquor Andre had secretly stockpiled for Aunt Marissa's two-week visit. There were still enough pills to get him through the rest of Marissa’s stay, thanks to Andre’s careful budgeting, but Reuben had been dry for almost four days by the time he joined them for this final dinner. He ate nearly nothing, simply chopping up the salmon with his fork and stirring it around on his plate to make it looked like he’d been taking bites. Occasionally he’d put a little fish in his mouth and chew it cautiously before swallowing with a look of great effort.
Finally he looked up, and with a small voice asked his sister if he could be excused. Andre thought it served him right for not being able to control himself, but he was also worried that this last meal had bought both of them a one-way ticket to Phoenix. His aunt didn’t say anything, though, only nodded her head and watched Reuben trudge his weight back down the hall to his bedroom. Andre cleared his throat and told her he was glad her flight was late the next day so they could get one more jog in, but she’d only smiled at him and continued eating.
“Oh, shoot...I forgot about your new insurance papers.” Aunt Marissa said, digging into her briefcase-style purse. The two of them had gotten into the security line together. There was still plenty of time to spare, but they’d already been in all the airport shops and they could think of nothing else to do.
“That's okay, you can fax them to us.” Andre counted the people in line. Twenty-two more inspections and he would be on his own again.
“No, wait...I have them, never mind.” She pulled two folders out and flipped through them. “I had Dr. Ray forge your signatures. He did a pretty good job, too. The hands of a master surgeon and all that.”
Andre began to grow nervous. If Aunt Marissa was going to drop a bomb on him, tell him she was looking into bringing him and his father to Arizona, it would be now, just as she was preparing to leave. Andre felt like he’d done a pretty good job of getting the house in order and making it seem like everything was running smoothly, and going jogging with her had helped a lot, too. But still, it was a totally fucked situation and he knew his aunt could go either way.
His dad had been better that morning, awake and aware as his sister was packing to go away. This was thanks to David Sebastian: the night before, long after Aunt Marissa had gone to bed, David sneaked over to the house with an emergency bottle of gin from his mother’s bar. Andre had given it to his father just before he'd left for their final jog, and by the time they got back, his dad was noticeably better, and even wanted to go along to the airport. He fell fitfully asleep in the living room before they could leave, though, and his sister said goodbye to him only by touching the hair on his head for a moment.
Now that there were only a few people between them and the security check, Aunt Marissa was listing the things she’d forgotten to tell him, or had told him only ten times already. “Only jog five days a week…take the weekend off. I know we did fourteen days straight, but that was because we didn’t have a lot of time together. Every week, add an extra block or two where you run instead of walk, and you’ll be jogging for half an hour straight in no time.”
“I will. I have the little notebook you gave me to keep track.”
“That’s right. And don’t eat a lot of crap. Slow down, chew your food. You eat like someone has a gun to your head. Put your fork down between bites, okay?”
Andre nodded at her, smiling and even squeezing her shoulder. Suddenly his nervousness had made him gregarious. “Okay. I promise.”
There were only a few people left in line, and Aunt Marissa looked back over her shoulder and then at Andre. “Well…okay. I guess this is it, then.”
She shifted her bags up onto her shoulders. “Let’s see if I can get my arms around that chunk of yours.”
He laughed for her, feeling suddenly magnanimous in his relief, and took her in his arms. “Thank you for everything,” he said, patting her back. “I really appreciate it.”
His aunt didn’t say anything, and held the hug for longer than he expected. A few people slipped past them and through the metal detector. Andre was surprised to feel her shudder once, then hold him even tighter. And when she pulled away, her eyes were red and wet and she searched his face with love and sympathy and worse.
“Andre, I…I just worry so much about you.”
Andre held her out at arm's length, his hands on her small shoulders, and smiled broadly. “What? No…I’m fine. Really, I am.”
“Okay.” She passed a hand quickly under her eyes. “All I want is for you to feel better…you know that, right?”
“I know. And I do feel better. I feel great.”
Andre watched his aunt move through the security check, her shoes in her hand, then off down the concourse, and he really did begin to feel as great as he claimed. Aunt Marissa turned back once and raised a hand at him, then went around a corner and was gone. A little ping of guilt echoed in his heart when he saw her final sad and worried goodbye, but he ignored it. He was free. He had passed. Yes, Andre felt great.
In fact, he felt so good that he left the airport, drove to the closest sandwich shop, and a ordered a large roast beef po' boy. With extra mayo and extra gravy that he could dip his fries in.
A couple hours later, just as the sun was setting, Andre keyed into his house and discovered his father still in the chair he’d fallen asleep in, but awake now and apparently waiting for him.
“Where have you been?” his dad asked, narrowing his eyes at Andre. “You should have been home hours ago.”
Andre shut the door and went up the four steps into the living room. “Like you even know what time it is. Quick, what’s today’s date?”
Reuben Meyer made a strangled sound in his throat and, reached out for Andre, kicking his feet out when he did it like a petulant prince. A small torquise vase fell off the nearest side table, hitting the carpet and refusing to break. “Don’t you…don’t you dare…you’re already in it, sir, so I wouldn’t make it worse. What did you do with my bottles?”
“I didn’t do anything with them. You drank them all, remember?” Andre was a bit…worried was too strong of a word. Concerned. His father had his surly moments, but he was never violent. Even now, though, his anger seemed rehearsed, like he was reciting lines from a movie about an alcoholic dad. A lifetime of reading shitty novels had given Reuben Meyer shitty dialogue for every occasion. “Of course you don’t remember.”
His father didn’t say anything, just fixed Andre with a sick look and breathed through his mouth. “I want you to go down to K&B and get me a bottle.”
“For fuck’s sake, Dad, I’m seventeen. I can’t just walk into a store and buy you liquor. Do I even have to ask if there’s any of that gin left over?”
Reuben Meyer eyed him suspiciously behind his thick glasses. “What gin?”
“Never mind.” Jesus Christ, arguing with his alcoholic father. It all felt so cliché, so movie-of-the-week…so low-class. “The delivery guy comes tomorrow, you can hold out that long.”
The food distribution company that supplied his father’s theaters dropped off a shipment of liquor every week, supposedly for all the society functions the Meyers were always throwing.
Andre started to go down to his room—one of his jackets was on the stairs for some reason—when he had a change of heart and opened the paper bag he’d carried in with him. After sitting on the levee with his roast beef po boy (Andre had been disgusted to find that he could only eat about a fourth of it) he drove over to where an older friend, another New Orleans blogger, worked. He gave the guy twenty bucks to run into A&P for a bottle of anything. The friend had been happy to do it, said it reminded him of being a high schooler himself, but the whole thing made Andre hatefully depressed: the condescension, the idea that it was for Andre himself, the fact that he couldn’t explain the real reason he needed it.
Andre had wanted to hold off as long as possible on giving the vodka to his dad, maybe even keeping it in reserve in case this ever happened again, but his father’s demeanor made him think he shouldn’t wait. Hopefully it would put him to sleep until the morning, when the delivery came.
His father reached up for the vodka, his feet coming up off the floor again. Andre pretended to give it to him, then yanked it back. His father made a pleading little whimper and reached out harder. Andre offered it again, and again pulled it away. Finally, on the third try, he tossed the bottle into his father’s outstretched hands.
Reuben Meyer tore at the screw-top’s plastic liner with his teeth, then cracked the cap of the bottle. He looked around for a glass and, not finding one, picked up the small vase he’d just knocked to the floor.
Andre chuckled in spite of himself and took the vase away from his father. “Just drink it out of the bottle, dad. Geez.”
After the first swallow his father relaxed back into the chair, gasping, then took another long drag. “Gin? Vodka? You know I drink whiskey.”
“Well, dad, it’s not like I had a whole lot of choice in the matter.” His friend had bought some kind of special vodka that he wanted Andre to try, as though he were Andre’s wise older brother, inducting him into the secret rites of adult drinking. Andre had acted kind and receptive during the lesson, the whole time wishing with a passionate sincerity that the guy would burst into flames.
His father took a third drink, sighed, and pointed his finger at him. “I don’t want you hiding my bottles from me anymore, you got that? I had to tear the house apart to find this one.”
The jacket on the stairs. “You had to…” Andre quickly went down a hallway, and it was true: his father had ransacked the entire house looking for the bottles that he himself had already finished. All the cleaning that Andre had done, all the work that Aunt Marissa had put into the house, was scattered in the doorways and piled in corners by his father’s search.
He drifted down another hallway, breathing slow and ragged. Everything that had been in one guest bedroom, even part of the mattress, had been thrown through the doorway. Downstairs, a cabinet in the family room was overturned.
Andre found his room in shambles, his desktop computer on its side but still working. The drawers of his nightstand hand been pulled out hurriedly; Andre looked in a panic through the bottom drawer, but the framed picture of him and his mom hadn’t been hurt.
“You idiot...you asshole!” His fists went up to his eyes and the world went dark red for a few seconds. Andre stormed up the stairs, two at a time, and headed towards his father. Reuben Meyer, mid-drink, saw his son’s face and shrank back in fear, but didn’t entirely take the bottle from his mouth.
Andre didn’t smack the bottle away, breaking it against the wall, and he didn't smash it across his father’s head, and he didn't make his father watch as he slowly poured the vodka all over the carpet. He stopped himself before he did any of that. Instead, he grabbed the end of the bottle and lifted it higher, so that the vodka spilled over his father’s gasping face and down his throat and shirt. “Do you know what I’ve been doing? I just saved your ass from rehab, you stupid fuck.”
His father sputtered wetly, holding the half-empty vodka bottle against his chest, but Andre turned to stalk back downstairs. Something soft hit him on the back of the heel. It was the small vase, and his father had his glasses off now and was staring at him with wild eyes.
“You treat me with respect, mister.” He tried and failed to pull himself up out of the chair. “You hear me? I’m your father.”
Andre knocked him softly back in the chair, barely pushing him at all, then went down the stairs without a word.
His father yelled after him. “There are gonna be some changes in this house, yes sir there are. Some big changes.”
Alone now in the wreckage of his room, Andre put the drawers back into his nightstand. The top drawer got stuck going in and he banged forcefully against it, again and again before tearing it back out with a choked sob.
He sat on his bed and sighed wetly once, twice, and a third time. His glasses came off for a second and he wiped hot tears away from his eyes. It would take him weeks to fix the house, and Emily had called the other day, to ask if she could bring Michael over for a movie this weekend. The house would still look like a robbery scene. He’d worked so hard, too. It wasn’t fair.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah.” Andre sniffled twice. He kicked off his shoes slowly, then walked out of his jeans, pulled off his shirt, and entered his bathroom wearing only his underwear. The bathroom was also destroyed, the medicine cabinet pulled from the wall, but his jogging shorts and muscle shirt were still in the hamper. His running shoes had been knocked behind the toilet, but he fished them out and laced them up. He slipped out the side door of the house, and through the gate, and ran away one step at a time.