Fiction

Ben Venice II: The Season of the Scorpion 4

BenVenice2

1961

With her straight auburn hair pinned up under a curly blonde wig, oversized glasses, and drab sweatsuit, Louise hoped that even her father wouldn’t recognize her. Granted, he hadn’t looked at her with any kind of deliberate sentiment since she was in pigtails, so she might not garner a second look even if he made her. Why bother to care now?

She didn’t often return to Vermont, it made her stomach hurt. That KIA for the CIA cover that Kennedy and the General arranged suited her just fine. Her mother died in childbirth, and she didn’t care too much for her father, especially after his lack of response or interest in what happened to her sister. Didn’t even show at the service they held, once hope for her return was abandoned. The girls were a pair of disappointments to the elder Edelman, a pretentious college professor with Communist leanings. The one thing that would push his ambivalence towards them into contempt was for them to take on government work, which they both did. Although he’d never cop to it, he resented the girls. Especially Louise, the life exchanged in the loss of his wife.

She sat in the brown sedan and watched the house she grew up in from up the street. The neighborhood had changed very little from the days of her youth. She couldn’t say for sure why she should return to it now. Maybe the recent Cuban missile crisis made her sentimental, from her view of the back stage scene she knew how closely apocalypse beckoned. Maybe the business she just handled for the cause in nearby NYC gave her too easy an excuse to stop by the old homestead. Maybe it was the right time to go to ground for a day or two, after she got into it with Bud. “I’ve got too much blood on my hands and put too much into this operation to just be ‘the broad’,” she told him, “so stop leaving me with the boss’ brat while the men talk.” He seemed to agree she needed a spot at the table, but she hated that it had to come to words.

She leaned back in the seat as her father opened the door and emerged from the house. He walked swiftly to his Cadillac, checking his watch as he hustled. “Always late still, huh, Pop?” Louise said to herself. He drove right by the spot where she parked, never even giving a glance. She still held her breath, anyway. It occurred to her that she had been rocksteady and cool as the pillow’s other side when facing down or sneaking past killers and dangerous creatures of every stripe, but still her father gave her that weird chill. She resented him all the more for it.

Once she was sure that he was off and down the road, she climbed out of the car and went for a jog. She did the block, then on the second go around went behind the house to the back porch, casually pulled an old key from her pocket. It still fit. She couldn’t say if that was because he never figured she would be back around or that it never even occurred to him that she might. It certainly wouldn’t have been because she was welcome. If any neighbors were looking on, she hoped that the old rule would apply: the key to getting away with anything you’re not supposed to do is to act like you absolutely are.

The house still looked and felt the same. Very little decoration, piles of things everywhere. Books, literary magazines, loose papers, junk. The neighborhood was nice, but the inside of the house was unkempt, dusty, and smelled of stagnant air. Louisewas reminded immediately why she was so fastidiously organized. Hating your father will shape your personality in ways that few could relate to outside of a broken family.

All this familiar, depressing mess did was fill Louise with hope, because if the eccentric old man’s housekeeping carelessness had been continuing unabated all this time, what she wanted was right where it had been left. She climbed the stairs, and with a Herculean effort she resisted the temptation to open the door to her sister’s old room at the top. Louise was hard as a rock and tough as nails, but she knew better than to open that literal door. Instead, she went down one and stepped into her old room. Nothing had been subtracted, but piles of shit had been added. Dear old dad just kept dropping all the fire hazards he had been acquiring in the middle of the floor.

She had to edge around the side of the room to get to her old bed, still made, the old blue sheets still there. The last time she slept there was the night before she took a bus to basic training, following in her sister’s footsteps. That was some seven years ago. She remembered making that bed, but not if she saw her father that day. Probably didn’t.

Looking underneath, she found what she needed. An old, brown shoebox. She pulled it out and opened it quickly, feeling like a Christmas thrill she never had. There were stacks of photos, her sister and her. She held the box tight to her chest, then made her way out. She didn’t look back as she casually made her way to the car, and pulled out of the subdivision. The only piece of home she ever had was safe and sound, sitting on the passenger seat. Louise breathed deep.

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