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 â€“ 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.
â€œYou know what to do?â€
â€œYes sir. An envelope on every table.â€
â€œAnd the written instructions?â€
â€œTo be opened by request of the groom.â€
â€œGood. Thank you.”
Great Aunt Agathaâ€™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.
â€œThereâ€™s the big man.â€
Leon raised himself from the chair, still chewing croissant, and offered his hand. Richard punched him in the arm, hard.
â€œA little jittery,â€ 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.
â€œAs you should be. Sit down. Finish breakfast.â€
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.
â€œGlad to see your appetite isnâ€™t affected.â€
Richard sat in the leather armchair facing the desk, gazing onto the bay absentmindedly.
â€œShould it be?â€
â€œWell, I guess some peopleâ€™s would be. Wouldnâ€™t they?â€
Leon spit out the black seed onto the plate. â€œPeople like you?â€
The tinkling of the spoon in Richardâ€™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.
â€œAnd howâ€™s the best man? You left the rehearsal dinner quite early yesterday.â€ Leon gulped some orange juice and began to put on his suit.
â€œAte 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.
â€œWe better get going.â€
â€œBefore we do, I brought you a little something.â€
A silver flask appeared from Richardâ€™s breast pocket. He unscrewed the cap.
â€œGlenlivet 18. Your favourite.â€
Leon had a long pull, taking from Richard as much as he could.
â€œDonâ€™t forget the rings.â€
â€œAll men get cold feet.â€
In the limousine, his motherâ€™s and sisterâ€™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.
â€œYour own father almost drove all the way to Mexico before stopping to call.â€
Familiar lawns with smug picket fences and imposing stucco garages passed by along the boulevard.
â€œIâ€™m fine. Really.â€
â€œAnd 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.â€
Richard was looking at his palms, clearly not listening. Carie was adjusting the corsage wreathed around her wrist. â€œWell, he better not be late for this one.â€
â€œHe has business.â€ His mother swatted away Carieâ€™s hand and started adjusting the flowers herself. â€œBut heâ€™ll be there.â€
The limousine merged onto the highway into the city. Traffic was light for Saturday morning. With the corsage fixed, his mother patted her daughterâ€™s hand and turned to Leon.
â€œYou should fix your hair.â€
â€œI want it this way.â€
â€œIt looks messy.â€
â€œItâ€™s supposed to.â€ Leon ran his fingers over his scalp, pushed the curls back and pressed down the sides.
â€œNot really.â€ From her purse she handed him a comb. â€œPart it to the side.â€ 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.
â€œWhat the fuck, Leon?â€
His mother frowned.
â€œI hope you buy her a new one you spoiled brat.â€
â€œEasy now,â€ 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.