That was the summer a sperm whale drifted sick into the bay, washed up dead at Mount Martha, and there were many terrible jokes about fertility. It was the summer that all the best cartoons went off the air, swapped for Gulf War broadcasts in infrared snippets, and your mother started saying things like I used to be pretty, you know? Christ, I used to be brave. But you thought brave was not crying when the neighbor girl dug her sharp red fingernails into your arm, until the skin broke and bled, and she cried out herself in disgust. You were still dumb enough to think that was winning.
The house in Hewer was three stories, much larger than they needed, and full of odd vacancies, as though the Jenkinses, from whom Paul and his wife were subletting, had planned to be away much longer than a single semester. But the kitchen cupboards were stocked, and in the basement, alongside the usual clutter, stood a huge upright refrigerator housing a billion frosted bottles of beer, to which Paul helped himself while instructing the babies, “This is an IPA, this is a, this is a porter, this is a stout, which means it’s very dark….” The babies, on the basement floor, were checking it all out. Meanwhile, upstairs, Olive was in eager flight, scouting around, poking her head into the mudroom and the garage and the second-floor sunroom, full of hard, happy intent. “Holy!” she purred, from the top of the stairs.
I’m the kind of guy who when there’s a problem, I like to get on it. I don’t like the problem to get me, I like to get it. When there’s a problem, I face it—I don’t let it faze me. You could say I like to faze it. I like to face my problems and take care of them, I don’t let them take care of me.
My daughter, Mosie, called me early to remind me about the dentist. She was feeding the dogs, and I could hear them whimper and moan as she gratified them. The old dentist had suddenly stopped taking my insurance. I stood watching the lake, its blind surface: here I was, a condo with a view and I’d never had any feelings for Lake Washington.
She had nothing else to say to me. Both of my children—Basho and Mosie—were first-time souls for whom the emotional was alien.