Over the next few months he came to have a lot of contact with Mr. Grossman, or Morty, as he insisted on being called. Morty seemed genuinely impressed by his business acumen and constantly joked with David about his desire to steal him away from him. Yet it was not just a business bond that was being formed, but also a personal one.
He learned that 18 years ago, during a storm, he was driving with his 7 year-old son Aaron and 5 year-old daughter Irene when he got into an accident that only temporarily injured himself and his daughter but killed his son, who had removed the seatbelt he always hated to wear. His daughter began struggling in school, progressively so as the years went on. Some considered her lazy, others, simply of “low intelligence” and they didn’t always hide these views from her. The kids even began to catch on and she began being taunted with nicknames like Dummy and Dunce. Finding solace in food, she eventually was anointed with another one: Fatty.
Thinking it might help the friendless girl, he bought her a puppy for her ninth birthday and another for her tenth and a cat for her eleventh and at the age of twelve she added a canary and a parrot to her menagerie. She lost weight, but only enough to shrink from fat to extremely chubby and seemed to lose all interest in people, seeming frighteningly content to spend all her time with her pets. She even begged him and his wife to let her take in a stray dog and cat she saw wandering through their neighborhood. His wife Sylvia was horrified, but he bribed her with the promise of an extremely expensive piece of jewelry he had previously refused her to get her to agree. At the age of fifteen, she was finally diagnosed with severe dyslexia, which not only made reading and writing, but also processing information, extremely difficult. A mere year after the term “learning disabled” had even entered the education lexicon, there was little help for someone like her, even with all his money, and her advanced age made things even worse as early intervention was so key.
Once she told him in high school that she might want to become a veterinarian and he had to swallow a lump in his throat. She would be lucky if she would become a housewife. In addition to her weight, she was saddled with painful shyness and had developed a terrible acne condition. At the age of 23, the acne had been replaced with a scattering of scars and pockmarks, but the 50 excess pounds and social awkwardness remained. She had a job she enjoyed that he had gotten her working at an animal shelter, where she had developed a friendship with an equally quiet and unattractive coworker named Harriet, but she had never even had had a boyfriend and still lived with him at home.
At the mention of his home, a tiny electric spark prickled his brain as he imaged what it might look like. He would get to find out when, six months after first meeting him, Morty invited him to his Long Island mansion, whose interior and exterior looked like a huge human-sized version of an opulent Victorian doll house. When he first met his daughter he was a little shocked. She had the button nose, huge long-lashed eyes and the thick glossy hair of the dolls he had spied in the toy section of Forsythe and Frost. When she said hello to him, she did so in a voice so prettily high-pitched, he could have imagined it coming out one of them were they to come to life. When she extended her hand to shake it, he did not take it. But before he could explain to her why, her mother, a slightly pump heavily bejeweled pineapple blonde lightly snapped. “Remember what we told you? They don’t shake women’s hands.”
The painful awkwardness at dinner gradually shrunk afterwards as she showed him her menagerie and told him something about each animal. She had four dogs, two cats, and four exotic birds. Though she seemed most enthusiastic about the dogs, he was most drawn to the birds. Not merely because of birds themselves, but also their cages, which were almost as dazzlingly ornate in their beauty.
Morty continued to invite him to dinner at his home every couple of weeks or so. As he had with the first dinner, he successfully pulled the wool over his father’s and David’s eyes by telling his father he was working overtime for David and telling David he was doing work for Morty – a ruse Morty was all-to-willing to help him keep afloat. After a few months of this, he began to fear it was only a matter of time before he got caught. One night, however, after the women had retired and he was waiting for Morty to take him to the train station as he always did on these nights, Morty asked him if he could not get home a bit later. He had something to talk to him about. He took him into his study where he poured him a 50-year old scotch and lit for him a Cuban cigar.
A week later, Elias, clean-shaven and pais-free in a suit bought for him by Morty, married Irene in the Grossman’s reform rabbi’s chambers, he was installed in an executive position at Forsythe and Frost, and his father, and therefore his whole family by default, had disowned him.
As he said, “I do,” the premonition came over him on him that he would never see any of them again. His brain felt clouded, heavy, the fog only lifting as a euphoric chill ran through his body. Looking at Irene and feeling for the first time an inkling of sexual desire for her, he gave her first kiss.
Eleven months later Irene gave birth to eight-pound baby boy. They named him Jonah.
Cathy Rosoff fiction has been published in Blue Lake Review, Unlikely 2.0, The Write Room and The Stone Hobo. Her novel ‘Feral Little Gods’ passed through the first round of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award and has been excerpted in The Write Room and The Stone Hobo. The excerpt in the latter publication was nominated for the 2012 Pushcart Prize. She lives in New York City.
This piece is excerpted from Cathy Rosoff’s forthcoming novel, ‘Ravensbone’.