I shouldn’t have gone back into the house. I had a lunch date with the irresistible Valerie. But as fate would have it, I just pulled the front door closed when the phone rang. I stopped my key mid-lock on the fifth ring and waited for the answering machine to pick up. From outside the voice was a little muffled, but clearly, it was my sister, Susan.
“Steven? If you’re there, please pick up. It’s important!” My sister’s voice sounded urgent. But, she had a flair for the dramatic, and she always managed to suck me in.
Since it wasn’t Valerie calling to change our date, my first thought was to keep turning the key and ignore the call. A minute or two later, and I wouldn’t have even heard the ring. But I heard it, dammit! In an instant, my decision was torn as both adrenaline and curiosity kicked in. I wanted to go to Sushi Siam with Valerie and then head back to her place for dessert, as was our custom, but I also really wanted to know what my sister thought was so damn important – and I wanted to know now, not later. Patience, no matter how many years I’d been in recovery, was something I still didn’t have a handle on.
Finally, after a seconds-long pause, I turned the key the other way and rushed back into the house.
“Steven! Please, be there!”
I grabbed the phone from its cradle. “What’s up?” I asked, out of breath. “Is everything okay?”
“Is this a bad time? We need to talk.” The urgency in her voice worried me, but she didn’t seem to be in pain or anything of that nature.
“Actually, I’m busy. I was just heading out the door. Can this wait until after lunch? I have a date.”
“No,” she replied, “No, it can’t,” her voice was low and shaky, and I knew something was very wrong.
“What is it? Tell me.” I didn’t think I wanted to know the answer. At least not right then, at that moment. I was staring at the kitchen wall, then thinking of Valerie’s kitchen wall and the last time I was there. It was a week ago, after dinner. It felt good to remember the softness of Valerie’s skin and how she felt in my arms. The smell of perfume on her neck was intoxicating, and the candle’s flame danced in her eyes as our lips met.
“Steven? Are you still there?”
I snapped out of my reverie. “What? Yeah, I’m here.” I was annoyed at my sister for calling without a life-threatening emergency, and I was annoyed at myself for not having the balls to hang up and leave for my date.
My sister took a deep breath, then another, and then went silent. When the silence began to linger, I lost patience.
“Shit Susan! I can’t help you if you don’t tell me what’s wrong.”
“I’m trying to figure out the best way to tell you.”
“Please stop the drama. I’m hungry. Valerie’s hungry. And I don’t have time for this crap. Just tell me what it is! If this is one of your—.”
“No. Please.” My sister was prone to emotional drama. When we were kids, Susan would run up to me and chant, “I’ve got a secret! I’ve got a secret!” Then she’d giggle and run away. It bothered me back then, and the drama irritated the hell out of me now.
Susan took a short, nervous breath. “I don’t know how to tell you this.”
“Whatever it is, just tell me, Godammit!” I snapped back.
“Uncle Butch is gone,” she blurted out.
“What? Whaddya mean gone?”
“Steven, we have no more Uncle. Uncle Butch is gone for good. Forever.”
“Fan-fucking-tastic! Is that all you wanted to tell me? That’s great news. I don’t know why you were so worried about telling me. This is the kind of news you shout from the rooftops. It’s almost a cause for celebration. Didn’t you know how much I hated Uncle Butch? He abandoned me. I get pissed every time I think about it. I’m glad he’s dead!”
“Don’t say that, Steven. Please.” She snapped back, surprisingly catching me off guard. Part of me thought she’d feel the same way, but maybe Susan was a better person. Me? I couldn’t stand my fucking Uncle. Good riddance. The world was better without that asshole.
“Shit! What’d you expect from me? Tears? A big mourning scene? If that bastard had died 40 years ago, we might have had a better childhood. Did he leave us anything? His auto junkyards, classic car collection, or better yet, money? When’s the reading of the will?
Mom always said that Uncle Butch had loads of cash and that if he died, we’d be set for life.”
“There’s no will. It’s not like that. Don’t be so sarcastic and insensitive.” She hesitated a moment before going on. “Um, how to say this? Uncle Butch is gone, but there is an Aunt Gloria, though.”
What the fuck was she talking about? “Who the hell is Aunt Gloria? I didn’t know he’d remarried.”
“He sure liked his women, didn’t he,” I went on. “Three wives; lucky bastard! His first two wives were gorgeous. Do you remember?”
“Steven, it’s not like that,” there was an edge in her voice, an edge I wasn’t used to. “Uncle Butch is—.”
I interrupted her again. “Cheer up, Susan! His death is cause for celebration. Damn! I wish I’d been there at the end before he died. I would’ve gotten a hell of a lot off my chest.”
“Steven! He’s our uncle, for God’s sake.”
“Well, you know how she hated him. He was never around when anyone needed him. Fuck him! I’m glad he’s dead. The world’s a better place without that selfish, self-centered, narcissistic bastard.
“Don’t be so hard on him. There’s stuff you don’t know,” Susan said.
“What’s to know?” I snapped back, honestly getting a little irritated.
“It’s hard to find the words.”
“Here we go again.” I mused, “I don’t have time for this shit. I’ve got a date, and I’m running late as it is.”
Her breathy sigh on the other end of the line caused me to roll my eyes. “Bye, Susan. I’ll talk to you later.” I pulled the phone from my ear and was inches from hanging it up.
“No! Wait, Steven, don’t go!” she pleaded into the phone. “Call Valerie and postpone your lunch. Tell her there’s a family emergency. It’s important that we talk, right now. There’s something you need to know about Uncle Butch. Can you come over?”
It would have been easy to let the phone drop a few more inches, and let it settle into its cradle and for this strange conversation to finally end so that I could get on with my day. But even though my libido was begging me not to, I put the receiver back to my ear.
“Steven? Are you there?”
“Yes,” I sighed. “You want me to come over? Right now?”
“Yes. Right now.”
“I already told you. I’m busy.” But, as is usually the case with Susan, I lost the will to argue. I didn’t want to admit it, but Susan won, and any attempt to resist was futile.
I think Susan felt the conversation shift as well, but she was willing to play along for the sake of my ego. “Please come over. It’s important.”
“What do you have to say that’s so important? Why can’t you just tell me over the phone?”
“I can’t do this over the phone.”
“Well try. I’m in a hurry, and I’m already late.”
“Steven, please. Please come over. I need to tell you what’s going on, and it would be better in person.”
“What? I’ve inherited his junkyard business?” I said sarcastically.
“No, Steven. I already told you there’s no will. Nobody’s inherited anything. Just please, come on over.”
“All right, chill out. Let me call Valerie, and I’ll be right over.” Sure, I was bitter but as dramatic as Susan could be something told me that this was different. “Boy, Susan, you sure know how to fuck up a beautiful day.”