A Short Story – In which there is a death in the family.
Keith Kinsey gets out of his Mercedes. He takes the air. There are olive and orange trees around the front of his father’s house. There is mangrove swamp to the east and west. Each has its own eco-specific system so that they can grow simultaneously. He is inside and out. “Story of my life”, he thinks and trudges into his dying father.
His father lives alone except for his staff who he keeps on as long as they meditate with him each morning and most evenings. He supports them and their families. He ensures that they are home-schooled, clean, well-fed and above all else, he ensures that they are centred. He never asks them to do anything he hasn’t already done, from chopping wood to making paella. He pays them well and is prepared for them to leave at any time. He is self-sufficient in all things.
He is in bed right now. He wants to stay alive for his child. He’s been talking to his child, the one he killed. He’s been tape recording the conversation on a “reel-to-real-to-RAEL” – tape machine for later inclusion in the “Archive of Authentic Time”.
It is a private conversation.
Keith marches into the house and sits on the beanbag closest to a landline phone. He’s come to ask his dad for some advice and doesn’t know that his dad is on death’s door. Keith’s used to waiting for his old man to appear. He’s had occasion to wait for a week before, but this man is the only man he is prepared to wait for. Anyway, Belinda is due to arrive in seven minutes and she is always on time so Keith won’t have to be alone for very much longer.
HIs Pa is upstairs knocking on death’s door. Keith should be OK with that. He’s had the training. But no matter how much insight he’s achieved: spiritual, temporal, he seriously doesn’t want make a mess of what’s coming in the room upstairs. Right now he wants money. His reviewed a few of the other life options during Yage trips, hypnotisms, hash, acid, meditations, sensory deprivations, sensory overloads, fasting, Blakeian excesses, trances, transcendentals, Endentals, cold, heat, sadism, masochism, primal therapy, he is aware that repetition without the correct underlying vibe is the dead end of universal truth. His dad has told him so. The only way to carve a new reality is with money. He is strong enough to ask for it. He is.
He tries hard to meditate until Belinda arrives, which she does in seven minutes time.
She has been working out, taking the dog – Carol, after Carol King – walking since 6:30am. She got in her car at 8:30. It’s Saturday and she’s arrived at 2:30pm. She is in a foul mood, having had once again to review notes on land leases provided to her by a senior – wrong, again. She wants a drink, a movie, a swim, a wank and not much else until at least 8:30 this evening. She knows, however, that she has to draft a last will and testament, and that is always wearing for everyone concerned.
She enters the house, kisses Keith on the head, “He’s asked me to go straight up,” she says with no tone. She continues, “Read this and remember as much of it as you can”. She heads upstairs using stairs not escalator or lift.
“I didn’t even know he was here yet?” He tells her rear, and drops the thing she’s given him to read.
“Did you bother to go and see him?” she asks from the foot of the stairs.
“He didn’t ask me”, he picks up the document and starts to read.
He wonders whether or not his father dying is a good or bad thing. After all, the old man has been banging on about moving on to the next stage for as long as Keith can remember. In and out of boarding school. Up and down from unis.
It’s going to score quite a large gap in his life. Probably going to be bigger than when nanny passed or when the grandparents ploughed into the mountainside on the way to the Buddy Holly convention. You’d have to assume so. Keith isn’t entirely certain.
There are also the additional funds to consider. Unless dad’s gone and made one of those “give it all to good causes” wills that he’s made passing mention to in the past. The will! Belinda’s up there sorting that out.
Keith moves rapidly to the kitchen where takes the servitude of the servants in his stride and sets out ginseng tea things and arrowroot biscuits as the kettle boils. He selects a suitable face from the armoury – not too sad (it could be a good thing for Pa) but not to much levity either (it’s not a fucking party). He places everything on one of the less damaged Woodstock 2 trays and makes his way upstairs (elevator) to his father’s futon which is placed out on the wide, wood north-facing, chiffon covered balcony.
Pandit Vasant Rao Kadnekar is vocalising on some old vinyl in the background and the Jasmine and Jacaranda blur the air. The old man is sitting up on a pile of cushions. His eyes are closed and he looks very old. He has been tearing the hair from his beard and head because he can no longer speak and this is frustrating for him. He is tapping out messages on a Stephen Hawking voice machine.
“Mumma must be looked after at all costs. She can’t look after herself. We must make sure that Cadrew is supplied with everything he needs to maintain the house and her.” It sounds like an adding machine making sure that compensation payments are ordered for its family of calculators.
Keith stands in the doorway. He is shaking. His father’s calming voice gone.
“Look after the animals. Make payments to petting zoos as mentioned in earlier correspondence. Make provision for house staff. Make provision for schools in Calcutta, Dhaka, Darwin, Birmingham and somewhere in Vanuatu. Maximum class size is 20 pupils. Curriculum as previously outlined. Only the poorest need apply. Make provision for LSD research. Make provision for cannabis and hemp lobbying. Increase security in Tasmania. Increase security in Litchfield. Submit all rock, Beat and trek memorabilia to relevant museums. Submit all Burroughs crap to British Library (that should annoy them).”
He tries to laugh but the stroke has paralysed his left side so all that happens is a lop-sided leer.
Keith moves forward rapidly and, placing the tray on the low side-table designed by George Nakashima for Pa Kinsey personally, he sits at his father’s right hand side.
“What about the money, dad? What about the fucking cash? I have a court case to fight. Don’t die, dad.” He says in his head, then out loud, all conflict and hope or panic playing the game. After all, this is the time to play it. This is the moment of truth. Ask the question.
“Don’t be concerned about the material things, Keith”, rasps his father’s voice-box.
Belinda, sitting cross-legged at the foot of the futon can’t help herself and makes a derisory eyebrow raise.
“I won’t Dad. I’ll be fine, really. I’ll look after Mumma.” Mumma’s been dead a decade and no one loved here anyway.
Keith is in tears. Real, whole tears are coming of him and he has no control over them. He’s noticed the scars on his dad’s head and face. The man has shrunk and now appears to be the short man he actually is. He’s wearing an extra large t-shirt with a mandala printed white on a dark green background and the neck ring is somewhere near his nipples. His neck itself is all vein and sinew connecting with his shoulders like the root system of an ancient tree connects to the ground.
Keith honestly can’t stop himself from sobbing. He’s trying to catch his breath and at the same time he’s realised that he’s cradling his father’s head in his arms and stroking the old man’s hair. Pa’s breath stinks to high, high heaven of garlic, coriander and rot. Sliced up, harsh groans come from inside his mouth and Keith thinks that he hears words that he can’t translate but can understand. Long sentences packed tight with love and tenderness.
“Of the peace of the peace of the peace of the peace…” he thinks he hears, “…the toilet, the toilet, the toilet.”
Belinda stands and walks to the edge of the balcony, looks into the trees, the canopy constructed for the birds and monkeys. Personally she’s never liked the old man; too full of shit. All this maudlin crap is wearing her down. No more than a sentimental attempt to draw some particular closure to a life that has basically been thrown away on a search for death. She’s seen the books, and the old man has added nothing to the world’s capital that didn’t already exist. He’s merely repurposed stuff. Lots of stuff.
In terms of wealth, OK, most of the time he’s lived on the interest from his grandparent’s bequest, give him that, but as for providing more value… it’s all been a “quest”. She doesn’t trust quests. They tend to be open ended and more about the journey than the goal. Goals are what make the world turn. Journeys are time wasted on views of passing things.
All she can hear is crying and gurgling. Whoever said it was right, we do go out the way we came in. Babies in and babies out. She also wishes that the annoying, whining, beatless music would stop. She breathes gently and snatches a look at messages that have appeared in her silenced mobile telephone. She texts back responses to dry cleaners, garage, travel agent and caterer. The sounds from behind her have quietened. She turns around and sees Keith, foetal – as is his wont – cradling his dreams of the old man’s money.
As for himself, the old man’s face fearful. At least the righthand side is. The left is slate.
She returns to her position at the foot of the bed, opens the laptop once again, and he continues to relate his last will and testament.
The sun is setting as a fight, a monkey fight, breaks out in the trees. They are fighting over food or sex or territory or something that can’t fight back.
“Please put Stations of the Crass on the turntable. Please play Hurry Up Garry (the Parsons Farted). “
She looks through the collection wishing that someone had ripped the lot to a decent format instead of this aged nonsense and finds the LP in question. She puts the stylus on track nine and as the noise begins she enters her own escapist state.
“The bastards, what are they playing at?
Don’t like the music, don’t like the words, don’t like the sentiments.
Well keep it for the birds and bees, boys, bastards.
Yes that’s right, I stepped out of line,
What do you want? What do you want?
As long as I play it moderate, that’s fine,
Well, fuck off runt, fuck off runt.”
The old man is typing, “Ha ha ha ha ha ha” incessantly on this keyboard. He is beckoning. Belinda stays exactly where she is. Not only has she got no idea what he’s trying to get at, deathbed scene or no, she has no inclination to find out. For all she knows another tiny but massive explosion has occurred inside his brain and he’s turned into some spastic sex attacker. Or maybe he wants to impart yet another truism.
Keith is silent, foetal. She looks the old man in the working eye and spits at him, full in the face. Pa can’t move to wipe it away.
“You never really did,” she emphasises ‘did’, “anything much did you, Steven?. You just soft-cocked your way around the world visiting all the places that you figured were the”, she emphasises ‘the’, “places. You’re a spiritual tourist aren’t you mate?”
He waggles his remaining finger and begins to type once again. “Please turn the music off.”
He continues, “You’re one hundred percent correct and at the same time wrong. Stop raising your eyebrows like that. I didn’t…”
“Want to be born into wealth and privilege.” I’ve heard that one. You said that one in Montreal, in your house in Montreal, or was it Mont Blanc or Monte Casino, I forget, there are so many of them.
“You didn’t exactly give it all up and take a vow of poverty did you? It was all about incense and chanting. From what I can see, it was all about the food, the places and the right people. Not very much different from granddaddy the arms dealer, great granddaddy the diamond magnet or great-great granddaddy the war profiteer. Right places, right people, right food and the occasional charitable write-off.”
He backspaces over what he was going to type. It’s dark now. The automatic lighting has come on, all very sombre and slightly golden – although that can equally be seen as yellow. Jani, one of the housemaids puts her head into the room and decides that it’s not her place to interrupt such an obviously holy, yes that’s the word, holy moment. She backs out and goes back to the kitchen to continue watching Reality TV and reading a supporting magazine. She’s laughing at the pictures of the fat women gone thin, ‘oooing’ at those of the dashing men gone bad, and generally having a lovely time with her sisters.
The old man types and his mechanism speaks, “Not much different at all unless you accept that I put the brakes on. I broke the cycle. When it comes down to it there is only so much you can do about…”
“Your genetic inheritance,” heard that one from you as well. It’s not really as admirable as it sounds inside your head.”
She’s enjoying this. She knows he can’t sack her. He’s about the die and she’s the only qualified person within miles of this pompous outpost who can ratify his will.
Belinda gets herself a drink. Water. Ice. She looks through the record collection, her back to the old man. She knows that there must be some cocaine in the house somewhere. It’s a comfort to know that she hasn’t gone looking for it. Her plan is to abstain from everything by this time next year. See if the brain still functions at a higher level that way. She sips and recalls that the old man had suggested that idea to her.
She’d expected him to be a stoner, but he’d quit the lot: booze, drugs, fags, sex, the lot. He kept booze and drugs in the house to challenge himself and, in to watch other people do them. Same with sex.
She’s seen him, alone, spending long evenings skinning up endless spliffs and placing them on a desk like soldiers in ranks. Chopping out lines and putting them in custom-made glass tubes (flared at one end with bulbs the other); soaking incredibly beautiful pieces of paper in LSD (kept since the Haight-Ashbury days in almost industrial quantities); decanting bottle after bottle of wine and spirits. He cried his eyes out when he did this. He won’t be doing it again.
Over the years she’s had a few conversations with him, usually when Keith wasn’t there, that lowered her guard to critical levels. He could be a really lovely man. She takes a sip of the water. She remembers talking to him about abortion and love. Those two separate conversations got her into tears and decisions.
Back to the old man. Her back to the old man.
“Why are you doing this to me?” The lack of an inflection in the voice makes it easier for her to interject her own feelings into the query. She doesn’t answer, there is no possible point to an answer. She hasn’t thought one through. She really does want some coke though. Short burst energy with dangerous history. It would take her mind off the matters in hand as she considers:
is it any good?
has she been stiffed?
has the rush started?
is this shit?
how illegal it this!?
where did this came from?
what will this rush be like?
aren’t all coke rushes the same?
why do we call this Charlie and not cocaine?
10) is this her or the Charlie?
11) isn’t the word Charlie cool?
12) when will the rush start?
13) is this the rush?
14) when will the rush will end?
15) when will the rush start?
16) is this the rush?
17) how beautiful is she?
18) does she need this cigarette?
19) why is that cigarette legal and this coke isn’t?
20) what did the farm it came look like?
21) what’s crack like?
22) could I handle crack?
23) has anybody noticed?
24) would I notice if anybody had noticed?
25) would I care?
26) has it finished?
27) has it started?
28) do I need a fuck?
29) do I need to fuck him?
30) is this the best idea I’ve ever had or wanted?
31) is that the best idea ever or what?
32) is the best I’ve ever felt, ever, ever, ever?
33) has it started or is this real, real reality?
34) has everything else been a myth and this is the reality?
35) Myth? Fuck off. Isn’t it always reality?
36) where can she get some more of this?
37) has it finished yet?
38) why is this illegal?
39) isn’t he such a wanker?
40) didn’t Freud recommend this for therapy?
41) how can I get higher because I am in control of this?
42) could I be more in control?
43) have I ever been more in control?
44) has anybody ever been more in control?
45) where can I get more?
46) has it finished?
47) do I look OK?
48) what is all that about paranoia?
49) do I look good?
50) do I look great?
51) do I look fabulous, grand, beautiful, gorgeous, victorious, fabulous?
52) what is he saying…
…and so on. Introversion at warp speed. The certain knowledge that the trip it took to get to her nose was far more dangerous than the trip it provided.
But she doesn’t take any because she asked enough times to know the answers. She’s made a decision to keep at arm’s length those things that limit her.
(And I don’t blame her. I’ve gone back over her catalogue. Believe me she’s got not reason for comfort in a deathbed scene, which between you and me is where she is.
Family members died on her like a pigeons fed poison bread by infants given it by adults who should have known better. Dropped at her feet one of them, an uncle, did. Cracked his head on the fridge as he fell with the aneurysm bursting.
I’ve seen a conversation between her and the old man in which she related this story and he’d intersected a question about her distinction between “a reaction being born in her” and her “making a decision”. She gets stoned. I would have as well. Way too nit-picky for me.)
Her brother discovered smoking at Uncle Charlie’s wake. Aunty Sharon had by then given up all hope and had sat on the steps of the church bleating. Nasty, selfish woman. She would make anybody take up cancer.
Belinda emerges from her reverie. She finds that she’s scared.
There is this bloody figure – a man who has featured as prominently in her life as her own father – lolling, dying, and then what? He’s played tricks before. When he had life in him he could be a killer. He had charm and brio and no conscience at all.
She shakes herself down. A water. Cold. Swift. Back to the old man. Her back to the old man.
She’s been in this man’s world long enough, she knows what he’s capable of. She doesn’t trust his death.
Here’s the situation in her mind: the immobile, foetal son whimpering slightly and then silent. The fighting monkeys screaming at each other as they tear something apart. The sickly yellow ambient light that doesn’t light the room. The inane laughter from the depths of the house. She’s sure now that he’s not going to stay down. He never has. He’s a snake. He’s always been a writhing, venal, venomous snake. All love for the world, no love for the people in it. He’s so rich, and so male and so never troubled that he can do anything and not feel it. He can end up back in Belgravia or 5th Avenue. He can slide back in there and no one would blink an eye at his fucking tie-dye or his pigtails. He’s been able to turn on, to tune in but never drop out.
She keeps her back to the old man. Grits her teeth. She breathes in and thinks about a vodka. No matter what he’s got in mind, she can take him. If he’s genuinely ill and has come up with this, admittedly out of character, arrangement it’ll be even easier to take him down. She works out and has decades on him. She wants to take him in fact.
She can take Keith as well. No problem there. She could probably take him with one sharp word to the brain.
He has to be ill though. No one would deliberately get themselves into the state he’s in for a prank. That makes things more complicated. That adds levels of unpredictability above those usually exhibited by the spoilt brat brigades.
These same brats are deeply unpredictable. This is because they set the standards for behaviour, and to be able to set one standard is to be able to dismiss another. Belinda knows not to take everything at face value.
(“These people are not to be trusted ever. The only ones worse are the middle classes because they are so incredibly dull. Watch the toffs, Belly-girl, watch them close. They can go years and years without showing their colours, but one day ‘Pow!’ and you’re in a Thai prison and they’re in Belgravia. They’ll break your fucking heart and then ask why you’re not laughing along with them.” Believe me, Belinda, I know.)
She’s had the trips of absurdly expensive endings. The meals at El Bulli, the Melbourne Cups, grouse shooting in Scotland, and river dolphins in the Amazon. She remembers not having paid for these adventures. She remembers good people, days and nights when she didn’t feel lucky because the people around her didn’t feel lucky.
“Why am I doing this to you? Because you’re going to be dead soon and I won’t have the chance to say it so that you can respond. I can’t do denial, there is no point in bargaining, I don’t do despair, so in order to get to acceptance I’m having to do the only one left that’s available to me and that’s anger. As I have no anger at myself for your condition and imminent death and I have no one else to blame, it’s going to be anger at you.”
“Good show. Well done”, says the machine voice. “That’s clear thinking. Always my problem that, no clear thinking. Now can we continue with finishing my will please?”
Keith stirs, farts, rolls back over and searches for his dad’s hand, goes deeper into defensive sleep.
Belinda turns from the records to reply to the old man’s question. He’s dead.