Midwife in the Tire Swing
Chapter 9—Lucian Hobart confesses to the murder
of Archimedes Drye
“I did it. All these years and I never denied it; you must have wondered. I killed your father, one of them. One of us. The Germans shot him; I killed him.” On the phone with Sarah Drye Lucy Hobart has just now confessed to the murder of Archimedes Drye. “I’ll tell you more about this at some time in the as yet to be determined past or future. When you get here, how’s about that? You are coming home?”
“Um... seeing you is my idea, not yours. Now there’s a skeleton in the family attic and you think I want to hear about it. I never met the man, Archie Drye, and I’d really prefer to struggle along in ignorance. I like ignorance. Look at my family.”
“It is always all about you. Come home, daughter mine.”
“Where you live is not my home. Home is where I live. Here.”
“With Zoltan, the love-tunnel greaser. I am the direct descendant—and you, daughter mine—of John Hobart, 2nd Earl of Buckinghamshire. You can do better than some Hungarian.”
“That is a lie, another one of your Lucy stories. OK, we are now nobility. Wonderful. I’ll start knitting a coat of arms right off.”
“You are dipping your toes in a well of irony where a simple sarcasm would do. Truth, daughter mine, is finicky, fickle and, like yogurt and Patagonian gopher cheese, does not suffer travel gladly.”
“Neither do I. Have you considered dying? Packing it all in, like? I could help you out. I have training. I am a death-midwife.”
“Oh, lawsy-lawsy, missy Sarah, I’se too young to go.” The earpiece distorts as Lucy Hobart barks hard laughter. “Sure you don’t want to hear about how I killed Archie Drye? Not one teensy-weensy morsel? You are faking indifference to get back at me. For what I ask you? I have given you the greatest gift imaginable—the gift of life, with all the misery and disappointments appertaining thereunto. You get to see head-on collisions, the broken glass, puddled blood coagulating, the screams, the firemen coming to extract the victims. In 3-D and IMAX with no waxy buildup, the real look of wood, cleaner than clean, all the good stuff—live as it happens. Sarah?”
“Listen, I catch colds, get mugged and get cancer from second-hand smoke. I get flat tires. Thanks for the gift. Sorry I didn’t send you a card.”
Dear daughter, thinks Lucy, Your arrival will give me an opportunity to catch up on the brawls and oddments of 92 wasted years. “Thanks for the non-card,” says Lucy.
Sarah once leaves a yellow Post-it note in the center of Jerry’s computer screen, TAFFY O’TOOLE. Taffy now appears in Sarah’s dreams along with Tony Soprano and a congeries of capos wining and dining a horde of whores past their best used by date. “I have to see my father. I am dreaming about your ex. You talk about her in your sleep. All the time. When you are awake. Her jokes. I need a break.”
Emorej Yvel, known as Jerome Levy within the confines of his mother’s apartment in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, puts down Cahiers du Cinema and reaches for a thick book from a set of uniform bindings which occupies an honorable position above the clutter of his workspace.
“Lucy is a Trickster—an archetypal character. If you didn’t have one, you would need to invent one in your life. This is The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious by C.G. Jung. Listen,” there is a thumbing and riffling; “‘in many cultures this figure seems like an old river bed in which the water still flows. One can see this best of all from the fact that the trickster motif does not crop up only in its mythical form but appears just whenever, in fact, he feels himself at the mercy of annoying ‘accidents’ which thwart his will and his actions with apparently malicious intent...
“‘...this collective figure gradually breaks up under the impact of civilization, leaving traces in folklore which are difficult to recognize. But the main part of him gets personalized and is made an object of personal responsibility.’”
Sarah read over Jerry’s shoulder. “‘For such is the name for that which abides outside holiness.’ That’s my pop.”
Inside the telephone Lucy is pleased and scratches comfortably.
Sarah digs at the inner recesses of her left ear with a little finger and then throws herself into Jerry Levy’s lap, in the process breaking C.G. Jung’s spine, and whispers hoarsely, loud enough to be heard by her father in distant Maine, “Lucy says you are a Hungarian named Zoltan. He says you are a cocksman, a supremely good lay. Oooo, that was good,” she groaned close to the phone, to make sure Lucy got it.
“Sarah.” Lucy. “What are you doing? Right now? Having me on is what you are doing. You are not taking it up the ass while holding a conversation with your poor old dad?”
“Sorry, Lucy,” Sarah shouted. Jerry looked up from mourning the Collected Works of C. G. Jung, Vol. 9, Part 1. Sarah held the phone at arm’s length. “I’ve got receiver ear. All sweaty,” she howled. “I have an itch.”
“You have a delusion is all—personhood, daughter. You wish to behold yourself in the role of the fucker and the fuckee, engaging in Olympic sex with no buyer’s remorse after. You take a bow to thundering accolades as you slip into a warmed terry robe—armloads of flung roses, riotously for my Sarah.”
Lucy breaks into a coughing fit. Sarah waits. This too is on the telephone, but at another time. The breaths come thin and fast, whistling through his thin, old chest. “You are ninety-two years old. We—I—am tired of having you around. This is an act of mercy. For me if not for you. You are out there in the world, a presence...”
“I knew you’d be coming.”
After one such interview with Sarah, Lucy copied as many notable pedigrees as struck his fancy into a composition book with a black marbled binder and then improved them. He then improved upon his improvements until he had accumulated an acceptable ancestry should he be asked. No one asked. Lucy Hobart’s crabbed handwriting ran for pages in thick, black pencil. Assorted begats began with watercolor blobs where Lucy had licked the pencil in thought.
The past became the present; Lucy lost interest and left his embezzled heritage with gaps to be filled in later. Most Hobarts in the United States seemed to have come from Maine, before that from Buckinghamshire in the British Midlands. Thomas and Francis Hobart of Kittery, Maine, were among the very early settlers of the St. Croix River Valley. They settled there in 1784. Each bought 100 acre tracts of land on the river on a site that was now an 18-hole golf course.
Thomas Hobart, Jr., married Mary McCurdy from the Eastern Shore (Nova Scotia), and raised a large family, ten of whom survived to adulthood. One son, Francis William Hobart, was born in 1812 at Calais, Maine. It was this man who named Portland, Oregon, having arrived there by sailing around Cape Horn with goods to start a general store. Thomas, Sr. had children Francis, Thomas, John, Nahum, Benjamin, Martha (who married Daniel Bohannon), Nancy (who married a Hunter), Mercy, and Betsy. Francis (brother of Thomas, Sr.) married Triphena Brown from Canada and they had children John, Triphena, Benjamin, Betsey, Anna, Temperance, and Isabella.
Francis William married Sophia and they had sons Alfred Hobart (who died in the Sandwich Isles as Hawaii was then called) and Lucian Hobart, later known as Old Doxology, the father of Lucy.
This is interesting, thinks Lucy. He will call his daughter.
Sarah is reaching for the phone; Jerry and she have decided on Thai takeout. Her second thoughts are to let it ring as it might be Lucy, but it is too late. “Uh, yes?”
“None of the Hobarts had a middle name,” Lucy lies. He does not know why he has told Sarah this self-evident untruth and about such a trivial thing. He feels good lying to his daughter; it made the truth more palatable. It was satisfying; they were family.
“You called to tell me this. I am calling for takeout and you are set to blather on for hours. Bullshit, I am hungry. Hobart—that’s an everyday name. You want a fancy pedigree to impress me? Why not something heroic, swashbuckling? Merchant adventurers, pirates, highwaymen. Go the library; use the computer.” She looked doubtful. “You ever use a computer? Make it fast, Lucy.”
“All the time.” Lucy felt reassured. “And no middle name? This has been true almost without exception since the United Empire Loyalists...”
“I know... ‘Escaped the Continentals, their political reprisals, and ran off to Canada with what they had on their backs.’”
“Ah, daughter mine, they were tempted by Old Scrimshander’s monarchical profferings, loot. Pirate loot, stolen from the Indians. Gas, oil and uranium...”
“Lucy, are these the 1700s we are talking about here?”
“Perhaps. Whose story is this, yours or mine?”
“You said it was mine.”
“So it is.”
“No, it’s about you, always you, you, you. How about me for a change?”
“You are coming...?”
“I’m coming. I suppose it’s too much to ask that you pick me up at the airport.”
“Most likely. I could call Ed Hobart. The county agent? He’ll be looking to meet women since his girlfriend threw him out.”
“Sounds suspiciously like incest there, Lucy. I know—just your idea of good, clean fun. I’ll pass. I can’t afford the airfare anyway. I have a beat-up Volvo I park on the street. No radio, no GPS. No antenna. Stripped to bare minimum. Jerry and I went in on it together after his Volkswagen melted. No one bothers with it. It should start. How far is it?”
“To Maine? Long. Boring, but not for any woman capable of melting a Volkswagen. Take Route #1 from Bangor—up the coast; that’s where the tourist traps and junk stores are. Give you something to look at besides the goddamn scenery. There’s a Pyrofax sign—a little further on—then you’re almost here. Ed Phaneuf the gas guy hung it out after the war where I shot your father.”
“You are my father. And I thought the Germans shot him, Archie Drye. You just said that.”
“I killed him with a Colt .45. Most of us carried British sidearms, the .455 Webleys. They worked, you see; I used what they gave me. Then of course, the chambers in a revolver don’t always line up. Hot lead splinters get in the eyes. Nasty stuff.”
“Yes. You could hurt yourself with a gun.”
“The Germans shot him—flak from their ground batteries; I killed him. You said that you didn’t believe me. I am your father, and Archie, too. He looked so surprised. There he was, hanging upside down, the blood congealed, slippery and blackening. So I shot him. He was grateful. His look as he died said he’d never done anything like that before. So why not have me do something I’ve never done before?”
“And make him grateful.”
“Peasant cunning,” says Sarah.
“What?” asks Emorej Yvel as he thumbs the Cahiers du Cinema. He is thinking of rechanneling his energies into experimental filmmaking.
“You are waxing your carrot. Get your indolent butt back to the thesis. You. And my father,” says Sarah. “Always a hustle.”
“How long has it been?” Jerry looks up and over his half-frame glasses. His judgmental posture.
“Since you have seen one another. You obsess on him, you talk on the phone. He calls collect; you accept the charges. Then you turn right around and call him back reversing the charges to get back at him. Yet you natter on for hours. You must have been close.”
“He used to think that I was my mother. I mean I called him first. That was how I found about him, a thing Alicia let slip. She thought he was back from the dead twenty years... no, longer. My mother is a dotty old lady. I didn’t have a father. My father disappeared and my biological mother passed me around inside her steadily diminishing circle of friends and relations.”
Jerry Levy has found a way to redirect Sarah’s focus. “He feels guilty and is trying to put the past together for you. I believe the phrase is eidetic memory—a total recall of images, the ability to paint a scene from memory even after the lapse of decades. Assuming, of course, the ability to paint and remember.”
“All I have are scattered snapshots. If I had guessed at the times of my childhood that really important things were happening right now, I would have tried harder to remember. I thought he was a cover-up for a wartime quickie, Archimedes Drye. You know the drill—soldier on leave, lonely working girl and one thing leads to another in rapid succession. They usually didn’t have sex on the first date; in 1945 nice girls didn’t anyway. What Lucian Hobart is offering me is a photo album of leftovers―some pictures gray, folded and faded.”
“But something, at least, to pass along for that future time when you might be interested. He is leaving you clues. These are all he has; you can tote only so many albums along before you start to lose them. And how old is he?”
“Ninety-two. He has a wife—they were already married when he knocked up my mother.”
Headed north from the last town with more than one traffic light and a cloverleaf on the Interstate—Bangor, 130 miles from Lucy and Cat—Sarah passes the rusted Pyrofax sign five miles past a three-story motel, a showy plenitude of vinyl and artificial stone in the best McMansion chic with abundant gables, a golf course and a sign welcoming Visa and MasterCard. She thinks of Tony Soprano and the Jersey mob.
A giant teetering three-tiered cake is wheeled in. There are ruffles and flourishes, an Elgar fanfare, and Sarah blinks. She expects assassins with tommy guns to pop out and spray the room. Like in the movies. There is someone trapped, inside the cake. There is a muffled voice in a crescendo rising from confusion to irritation, frustration, then anger and tears. Aha, the top finally pops off and a middle-aged woman struggles out. Her costume is pink rosettes and garlanded laurel swags squeezed from a pastry tube. You can take a tart out of her torte... Sarah thinks. She recognizes her from Jerry’s description; it is Taffy.
Taffy is telling a joke, “...and the pimp says, ‘I never thought I’d end up as a role model...’” She smiles and jiggles; icing in red, green and white clings to her thighs. There is stony silence from the assembled ring of capos, dons and consiglieri. Tony advances, waving a biscotti.
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