can you run as fast as this house will fall?
it’s burning through the bloodline
it’s cutting down the family tree
growing in the landscape, darling, in between you and me
(FLORENCE + THE MACHINE)
In the days that follow The Event –
(or, colloquially, that thing that happened that your mother won’t talk about – could you pass me those eggs)
-- his mother morphs into the kind of person who watches a lot of daytime tv, or at least gives the illusion of it. The news, mostly, b-rolls of press conferences and park openings playing over reporter monologues, everyone smiling, everything green and bright, the fucking suburbs.
Buildings don’t burn, lives don’t get ruined, people don’t die.
“It’s the Percocet,” Shane tells him, uninterested. Then, “Keep them away from Andy.”
Andy does that himself, hanging around the kitchen day in and day out, cooking food that no one eats and smoking what’s left of the last MILF crop. He stays ten feet away from her at all times, doesn’t look her in the eye, doesn’t raise his voice, like she’s fragile and it’s not just a gunshot wound to the shoulder.
Andy isn’t Andy and his mother isn’t his mother and Silas never really knew who he was in the first place.
People don’t die here, or maybe they just don’t really live.
He moves everything out of the as yet untouched grow-house and repaints that weekend.
It’s a stupid thing to do to a new house but it’s a shade of eggshell that’s about three off from the rest of the house and something about that, something about the bows on the plant stands and the off-brand fertilizer, makes him want to tear the whole place apart until it’s something he can call his.
It was a gesture.
It still feels like she’s grappling for control.
(She never said I’m sorry, never said anything in the vicinity of it, and some days that sets his teeth on edge.)
He buys new pots and leaves them in the yard. He spends more time inhaling paint fumes than is generally recommended, if just to get the smell of antiseptic and warm loaves of banana bread out of his nose, his clothes, his mind. He erases her influence where he can stand to.
Shane makes the drive into the city with him.
He doesn’t make the one back.
There’s room, their mother says, if you wanted, but he greets that offer with nothing but counterarguments. He has classes three days a week. He doesn’t have time for a five hour commute, round trip. Doug’s already living there during the week. He can help manage the New York side of their business dealings.
Her mouth twists, something sad, maybe a little forlorn.
He stands his ground.
It’s the braver thing to do, and Silas hates him a little for being able to manage what he cannot. For being able to leave, even if leaving means holding onto an apartment a state away and returning on the weekends. His sole act of defiance ended when he came running back with his tail between his legs. It’s better than that. Anything is, really.
(“What’s it like?” He asks, on the interstate.
“What’s what like?”
The conversation shades in déjà vu.
There’s a gun in Shane’s bag, where his art history books are supposed to be. He knows how this works.)
Jill’s car is gone from the driveway when he pulls in.
“Did you fuck her?”
“Why is it always me?”
“I don’t know, why is it always you?”
She bites the words off from the second floor landing, leant over the railing. Andy turns the vacuum on and yells I can’t hear you over it until she hits him in the head with a pillow, in a display of startling accuracy for a woman with only one good throwing arm.
He cracks open a beer; thinks home, sweet home without a single note of irony.
He spends more time out than in.
There’s a weird atmosphere in that house, now that it’s just his mother and Andy.
(Stevie’s gone. The kid she fought so damn hard to get back, gone again in the span of a few weeks, because there isn’t much use arguing about what’s better for him now that bullets have flown. Even she has to understand that.)
He’d call it sexual tension but that makes his head hurt, makes him think about them together in the bedroom of the old RV, that bed he sometimes slept in, and jesus fucking christ he cannot mentally go there. He’d call it sexual tension but it’s not just that, has never been just that, and sometimes her eyes are glassy and wide and sometimes her laughter spills out from the open windows and into the yard, but you can always count on Andy to act as an exaggerated mirror of sorts. She can’t let things out and he can’t keep things in, but they’re always the same things. It’s fucking symbiotic. It’s fucking ridiculous.
This house is too big to feel that suffocating.
(New York, he thinks, gets as far as the car with his hands gripped tight on the steering wheel and absolutely no further.
Slams the door so hard the birds rush out of the trees.
His plants are starting to sprout.)
She’s wearing his clothes.
(His shirt, black faded to charcoal, ruined and ripped down the middle, the word free now near unrecognizable, and the significance of that isn’t lost on him. He always pictures her laughing when she did it.
He should’ve let her keep the jeans.)
“Are you okay?” She asks.
His gaze rests left-of-center, to where the neckline is too loose from wear, has started to sag and slide down one shoulder, her prominent collarbone and the red-brown of her scar below, pink around the only edge that he can see.
(It looks like Shane’s did.
He wonders if there’s any part of her that looks like him.)
He licks his lips; it’s what you would call unconscious.
“Yeah,” he says, “I’m great.”
Supply is low and demand is high.
His plants aren’t ready and she wants to start selling in the suburbs again, starts seeking out frenzied parents looking for a pick-me-up at little league games and working her way through the local community college. New Haven has high-strung, Ivy League, trust-fund babies and he can tell that’s next. She’s going back to where she started, like she’s forgotten all about how that blew up in her face too.
He tries to hit up Heylia again.
(Hypocrite, hypocrite, hypocrite, or, in other words, like mother like son.)
Gets a stern look for his troubles and has to eat the steep cost of an early return flight.
Shane’s the one who comes through in the end. Supply just falls into his hands, like fucking magic, and all Silas can think of for days afterwards is that gun in his brother’s bag, nestled in with his college textbooks, the façade of a life that Silas had wanted for himself but never quite got around to.
(He’s too damn young to be thinking like this, like it’s all over for him and this is his lot in life, might as well just accept it.
But it is.)
Sometimes, he’ll be unloading supplies from his car, parked out in front of the curb, and he’ll look up, a glance, three seconds or less with the sun burning bright in his periphery, and he’ll be able to clearly see it:
A house engulfed in flames.
He has yet to decide if it’s a trick of the light or simple foreshadowing.
He knows about the photo.
As in the photo of his mother, wearing a silver sequined bowler hat and nothing else, first seen hidden in the pages of Yes I Can, The Story Of Sammy Davis Jr. and, later, at the bottom of her underwear drawer.
Silas never took psychology in high school, but he knows what an Oedipus Complex is.
What he doesn’t know:
There are sins far worse than a teenage boy surrendering to his baser urges.
Sins like idolization.
Sins like closing his eyes and being able to recall, in perfect detail, the fall of her hair along her shoulders and the jut of her hipbone. Her parted lips and the hand slipped between her thighs.
(When he was younger, when his father – when Judah – was still alive, she used to wear this perfume that smelled like cut grass, fresh and earthy, something like summer and worn jeans, sunny smile and that strip of bare skin at her midriff. He remembers in snippets, bits and pieces of the women she’s been, that added together make for a more cohesive whole, or so he hopes.)
He knows about that photo.
Shane is conveniently (read: suspiciously) busy the day he drives back to pick up the stash.
There’s a voicemail on his phone when he gets up at five ‘til nine, something about an overnight trip and art history class, and it’s the least convincing lie that Silas has ever heard but he goes with it. Maybe he doesn’t want to know what the lie is covering up or maybe he just doesn’t care anymore, but he doesn’t ask.
Andy pries it out of him over breakfast and within ten minutes his mother knows, has decided she’s coming along too.
“You’ll need the help,” she says.
He’ll need therapy too, he imagines.
She finds a loaded gun in the drawer where the utensils should be.
The apartment looks like it’s been full-on childproofed since the last time he’s been there. There are locks on the kitchen cabinets, cardboard boxes full of dimebags on the top shelf, and all the paraphernalia that used to practically serve as functional decoration has been tucked away, save for the giant bong on the end table next to the hammock that Doug has commandeered as a nightstand. Shane doesn’t smoke out, has never been much for it, and the locks are probably to keep Doug out – he’s an oversized child in his own right – but that doesn’t quite explain the fine-toothed comb that’s been taken to this place.
Gone are the post-it notes that lived on the fridge. Gone are the bedroom furnishings of old that Shane had so painstakingly cobbled together from memory have been replaced, the bed stripped down to plain white sheets and a navy comforter. Gone are the stack of flyers for Wonderful Wonderful Emporium and the business cards from their mother’s short-lived business venture. All signs that they had ever been there – eradicated.)
He finds her standing in the kitchen with it.
“Why does my eighteen year old have a gun?”
She has this way of phrasing things, of spitting them at you in this accusatory tone like suddenly this is your fault and, therefore, your problem. She’s just the innocent bystander. It’s the kind of shit that makes Andy roll over because he’s eager to please and Lenny fucked him up in such a manner that practically allows for it. It’s also the kind of shit that makes Silas furious because he knows better than that.
Shane is collateral damage. Her collateral damage.
“Because he’s a fucking cop, Nancy,” he says.
A cop, he says.
Nancy, he says.
They’re back to this again.
She needs a minute.
They take an hour.
“That’s probably where the drugs came from,” he says.
(He’s made a sandwich and she’s still holding the gun. It lays in limp hands, splayed in her lap, nothing flickering behind her eyes. He’s seen that before. Shane had come in through the back door while she was palming pills, blood stains on the new couch, and he had said don’t worry about the body or maybe it was you shouldn’t worry about the body but the sentiment was the same, carried the same meaning, and there was the initial shock, that first burst of panic, before she turned inward. Eyes open with no one looking out.
“It’s the Percocet,” Shane had told him, and meant no such thing.)
“Probably went along with Ouellette on a bust, intercepted them before they even made it into evidence.”
She looks up at him for the first time in an hour with something like disbelief. Not at the words but at the idea that he’s saying them, right now, choosing to poke and prod rather than placate. That’s the point. He wants her to snap. He wants her to yell and threaten because that’s how he knows her. Not quiet and withdrawn or calm and collected. Volatile and selfish and careless, these qualities that used to make her alien to him, that used to make him resent her for all they meant she couldn’t give him.
He needs a reaction.
(His brother is trying to play the system in such a manner that either ends in significant jail time or death. She took a bullet that could’ve just as easily done far more damage had she moved right or left, up or down. Could’ve just as easily hit him had he stood, had he moved. The stakes keep getting higher the farther they run, the more they try to make things better.
He needs a mother he hasn’t had for years now.
But he’ll take this.)
What he gets is the floor yanked out from underneath him.
She left the door open once.
Twelve years old and not half as precocious as his brother, walking down the hallway in the middle of the afternoon to find the door to his parents’ bedroom cracked. Her bare back had been visible then, the bony line of her spine, skin shining with sweat, and the span of his father’s hand along her ass as she rode him. It lacked the obscenity that comes with every teenager’s first introduction to porn, the mechanical joining of two bodies complete with tit close-ups and cum shots. Instead, there was the glint of the light off of her shoulderblade and the open-mouthed gasp she gave when he thrust up into her.
He did not turn away and he did not pull the door the rest of the way closed. He did not do what good little boys do. He stood there and he watched up until the shudder, the jerk of her body with her head thrown back and his hand tangled in her hair.
At age twelve, he knew there was something inherently wrong with that.
At age twenty-two, he knew there was something inherently wrong with him.
Silas never learned jack shit about religion.
His mother didn’t care for its restrictions and his father had lapsed out of spite. Andy probably broke all the commandments short of murder, with Shane picking up the slack on that one, selling t-shirts emblazoned with Chris died for your sins and using the rabbinate as cover from the United States Military.
Goyishe punim, his grandmother said, at his father’s funeral, with a shake of her head as if to say that she found this whole affair very undignified, felt it straight down to her creaky old bones. As if to say you aren’t one of us. As if to say just like your mother.
He wonders if Lars wakes up early on Sunday mornings.
He wonders whether or not it makes him a better person if he does.
The floor is a metaphor here. A figure of speech. Something.
She kneels on it, kneels in front of him, body caught between the coffee table and his legs, hard wood and soft denim. The coffee table is new. The jeans are not. Her knuckles behind his ear, along his jaw, the stretch of her fingers against his skin, and the way her mouth widens but never quite speaks and never quite smiles, are all also new. The struggle for power when he leans forward, an inch, then two, and she slicks that wide open mouth to his, is old.
So fucking old.
He can’t think in metaphors and similes and figures of speech. He can’t manage full sentences and asking for verbs to accompany nouns is too much for him here. He can only think of ways to unbalance her, of his fingers curled around one bony arm bruising-tight, of the way her hand isn’t flat against his cheek but, instead, a balled fist. Always fighting. Always violent. Always burning.
That there is something wrong with this is a foregone conclusion.
They fuck in the bed that was bought for her, the bed that she never slept in.
They fuck in the bed that Shane has co-opted as his own.
She wears his jeans when she goes to get coffee from that place down the street that she used to like, craves the caffeine like a cigarette, and he sits on the bed in his underwear and smokes the last of the MILF weed before he pulls the room back into the same organized chaos that he found it in.
They drive back to Connecticut in silence.
forgive me father for i have sinned –
They don’t talk about it.
The list of things that they don’t talk about in this family is so fucking extensive that he doesn’t know how there’s ever anything left to say. They don’t talk about Stevie, and if Stevie’s off-limits then so is Jill and so is Oakland and so is the answer to the question of why the fuck are we even here?. They don’t talk about the shooting, or how his brother killed a man, took yet another life. They don’t talk about how he carries a gun through the streets of New York City now or how he’s on the wrong (right) side of the law, because it turns out she’s perfectly content to let him live his own life, on his terms. They don’t talk about how Andy’s still wrapped around her finger because he’s still in love with her – will always be in love with her – and how she will literally bang anyone who isn’t him, up to and including her own son.
He understands now. He understands why Andy can talk endlessly about nothing and why his mother yells and spits vitriol at the slightest provocation. They’re just trying to fill up all of that empty space the only way that they know how.
He should’ve gotten out of the van back in California.
He should’ve never gotten on the plane in Dearborn.
He should’ve stayed in Copenhagen.
He should’ve –
(But the truth is? None of it would have made a difference. He wasn’t happy in California or Michigan or Denmark. He can’t even remember the last time that he was truly, undeniably happy.
He thinks it might have been the last day that his dad was alive.)
Every other Friday, he drives out to New Haven with a duffel bag full of weed and brings back enough cash to cover the mortgage and then some. Yale is teeming with clientele, kids looking to blow their parents money, and when it’s boxed up all fancy, when he learns to how to pronounce Une Mère que j'aimerais baiser and not sound like an idiot (always feels like one, like a fraud), their female base increases tenfold.
He tells people his name is Silas Guinard; they all just call him Nancy Botwin’s errand boy.
The second time he’s down there, he follows a pretty girl with a head full of dark brown waves back to her off-campus apartment. He takes her from behind, her body pressed face-down into the sheets, and she bites the pillows when she comes, his hands palming her breasts and the rhythm of his hips erratic.
She kicks him out afterwards.
Tells him that her girlfriend will be back soon and leaves him standing in the hallway outside with his jeans still undone.
“She knows,” he says.
Shane shrugs, looking at him from across the kitchen with a beer he’s still too young to be drinking.
(He forgets that sometimes. He forgets that he’s still a kid until he bothers to glance at a calendar and realizes they’re a week shy of Shane’s nineteenth, another birthday that will pass without fanfare or perhaps even mention. Silas doesn’t remember his nineteenth birthday, can’t remember if they were still in RenMar or if they were on the road, can’t remember if his brother was a murderer yet or if they were still teetering on the edge of normalcy, as normal as you can get with a politician-slash-cartel leader as a stepfather and a drug-dealing mother.
His parents used to let him play hooky on the occasion that his birthday fell on a school day. He turned fifteen on a Friday and his dad cut out of work far earlier than generally recommended to help him set up for the party, told him they’d talk about driving lessons, a car, next year, and Silas couldn’t wipe that smile off of his face for anything.
Judah was dead in a month.)
“So that doesn’t bother you?” He leans back against the counter. “This whole thing – what you’re doing – it doesn’t bother you? You don’t think it’s a conflict of interests?”
Silas expects to see a flicker of something (regret, doubt, worry) but Shane’s fingers are loose and easy around the neck of the bottle and he seems more bored than anxious as his eyes drift to the window.
(Shane struck a woman in the head with a croquet mallet. Shane shot a man in cold-blood in a suburban backyard and his hand did not shake around the gun. Shane is nothing like him at all.
He forgets that sometimes.)
It’s not just What Happens In New York, Stays In New York.
This took far too long to reach the boiling point, to finally spill over in the same explosive fashion as everything else in his life. Things like that aren’t simple, one-off events. They are complicated, messy, subject to endless repetition until something else breaks and forces everyone back into their corners with a new map of the playing field.
What he’s saying is this:
She brings him to his knees in the empty upstairs bedroom on a Saturday morning, the sound of cartoons filtering in from the neighbor’s house through the open windows. Her hands wind tightly in his short hair, tugging up as she comes with his mouth on her cunt, her breasts bare and heaving above him and his fingers biting into her hip.
He only ever calls her Nancy.
“Jesus fucking Christ,” she’ll say, breathing heavy against his shoulder, her forearm, the sheets, and it only ever sounds like disbelief, like I can’t believe we’re doing this, like I can’t believe you’re letting me do this.
In a dimly lit bathroom their fourth day in Copenhagen, he dyed his hair brown.
He bought hair dye before he bought clothes to replace the ones he never bothered to pack, before he bought a bed, before he bought into this new lease on life that Andy hadn’t shut up about since their feet hit the ground, half a day gone by and red, tired eyes that he blamed forever on jetlag.
They found an apartment and he dyed his hair brown and no one said a word about it until two weeks later when Doug said that he swore there was something different about him and, then, did you get taller?
In New York, his mother ruffled a hand through his hair, said it looks good; different but… and found herself at a loss for the appropriate adjective. She covered with a smile that his lips couldn’t quite match in kind. Never asked why. Never said it did nothing for his coloring or how she would’ve thought his particular shade of blond would’ve been more helpful when it came to blending in, back in Denmark.
(Face like a goy, his grandmother used to say.
As if to mean you aren’t one of us.
As if to mean there was something good and honorable about the Botwins in the first place.)
In Connecticut, her mouth is open against his in their dining room, in broad daylight, and there are windows and Andy upstairs napping and them tempting fate with her dress pushed up around her hips and her shoulder knocking the wall just an inch below the framed picture of them, the Botwin family, circa better days. A thirteen year old version of himself stares back, near unrecognizable, and he thinks they call this sacrilege.
The smoke alarm goes off at nine.
He listens to his mother and Andy converse through separate rooms, shouting over the alarm, over each other, when she tells him that she asked him to change the batteries a week ago and he counters that she most definitely did not. No one gets up. No one acts.
Silas pulls a pillow over his head and tries to let it all fade into white noise.
This is the suburbs and the grass is always greener on the other side of that pretty little white picket fence.
This is the suburbs. Take two.
(“Are you happy here?” She had asked.
He thinks his answer would still be no.
He’s beginning to think his answer will always be no.)