by Rob Ross
The phone receiver floated down onto the large rosewood desk for a moment. From the open balcony a large freighter could be seen leaving port and heading to sea. No clouds, but smog enveloped the tall buildings in pink haze on the other side of the harbour.
Such scenes had become increasingly distracting – cars cautiously backing out of driveways, elderly people with walkers crossing streets, things that appeared to move in slow motion, as if time had stopped marching to a consistent beat.
Leon put the receiver back to his ear.
“You know what to do?”
“Yes sir. An envelope on every table.”
“And the written instructions?”
“To be opened by request of the groom.”
“Good. Thank you.”
Great Aunt Agatha’s silver tray sat on the desk with a croissant and squares of butter on a white china plate, next to a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice, a carafe of coffee, and a silver cream decanter. The white bowl with Etruscan figurines in cobalt blue, inherited from his great grandfather, held a variety of sliced melons. He took it, slid the melons onto the tray, went onto the balcony and threw it as far as he could.
With a slice of cantaloupe, Leon rested on the rail. In his cotton pyjamas and a silk housecoat, the air felt warm. The melon was exceptionally sweet and he wondered where such ripe cantaloupe could be from in May. Another slice was soon in his mouth and he returned to his desk to break apart the croissant.
There was a knock at the door as Richard let himself in.
“There’s the big man.”
Leon raised himself from the chair, still chewing croissant, and offered his hand. Richard punched him in the arm, hard.
“A little jittery,” he lied.
Taller than Leon, shoulders accentuated in the fine black suit, neck broader-looking from the bow tie, chestnut hair combed on either side of his brow in thick waves, he looked distinguished, robust even. Leon realized he had always hated Richard.
“As you should be. Sit down. Finish breakfast.”
Obediently, Leon took his seat and grabbed a slice of honeydew. He offered coffee to Richard, poured in all the cream, and heaped two spoonfuls of sugar into the cup.
“Glad to see your appetite isn’t affected.”
Richard sat in the leather armchair facing the desk, gazing onto the bay absentmindedly.
“Should it be?”
“Well, I guess some people’s would be. Wouldn’t they?”
Leon spit out the black seed onto the plate. “People like you?”
The tinkling of the spoon in Richard’s cup stopped. He brought the steaming liquid to his mouth, his eyes still intent on the scene outdoors. Leon waited as he blew into the mug and took a careful sip.
“And how’s the best man? You left the rehearsal dinner quite early yesterday.” Leon gulped some orange juice and began to put on his suit.
“Ate a little too much of that wonderful spinach dip. Ate a little too much of everything, in fact.”
Eight hours of chopping, stirring, blending, baking, and frying. His mother with flour on her ear. His older sister with a band-aid around the self-inflicted knife wound on her thumb. Twenty-three friends and relatives to serve. Resentment, petty rivalries, and open derision silently put away for a few hours of dishonest civility.
Leon buttoned his cuff links. With his bow still untied, the clock struck nine.
“We better get going.”
“Before we do, I brought you a little something.”
A silver flask appeared from Richard’s breast pocket. He unscrewed the cap.
“Glenlivet 18. Your favourite.”
Leon had a long pull, taking from Richard as much as he could.
“Don’t forget the rings.”
“All men get cold feet.”
In the limousine, his mother’s and sister’s profiles confronted him while Richard flicked over radio stations beside him on the back seat. His mother held the schedule in her hand, muttering its sequence silently. The interior was dark, a maroon plush, with inappropriate neon lights that ran along the ceiling towards the driver. Sad-looking champagne glasses, with rose paper napkins stuffed into them, were clipped along the side panel.
“Your own father almost drove all the way to Mexico before stopping to call.”
Familiar lawns with smug picket fences and imposing stucco garages passed by along the boulevard.
“I’m fine. Really.”
“And your Aunt Joan found your Uncle Fred down at the depot trying to catch a bus to San Francisco. Good thing she had all the money then.”
Richard was looking at his palms, clearly not listening. Carie was adjusting the corsage wreathed around her wrist. “Well, he better not be late for this one.”
“He has business.” His mother swatted away Carie’s hand and started adjusting the flowers herself. “But he’ll be there.”
The limousine merged onto the highway into the city. Traffic was light for Saturday morning. With the corsage fixed, his mother patted her daughter’s hand and turned to Leon.
“You should fix your hair.”
“I want it this way.”
“It looks messy.”
“It’s supposed to.” Leon ran his fingers over his scalp, pushed the curls back and pressed down the sides.
“Not really.” From her purse she handed him a comb. “Part it to the side.” She gestured with her hands, showing Leon how she wanted it done.
Leon clenched the comb and felt its plastic teeth bend to the pressure of his thumb, until it snapped in half.
Carie smacked his shoulder.
“What the fuck, Leon?”
His mother frowned.
“I hope you buy her a new one you spoiled brat.”
“Easy now,” she wrapped her arm around her daughter. Leon took a deep breath, amazed at how easily his anger overtook him, how simple it would be to sabotage himself.