Andy said, "What the hell, we're on Long Island, right? I'll have a Long Island Iced Tea."
They thought that one up after I stopped drinking, so I never learned what's in it, but I gather it contains a mix of liquors, and that tea's nowhere to be found. The name's ironic, and I suppose it's a reference to rum-running during Prohibition, which would make it doubly ironic, since the kids who get wasted on it can't even remember Vietnam.
The drinks came. Andy sipped his and pronounced it a stupid drink. "Who thought this up?" he wondered. "It's supposed to have a kick like a mule but it doesn't taste like anything at all. I suppose that's the point, especially if you're nineteen years old and looking to get your girlfriend drunk." He took another sip and said, "It grows on you. I was going to say this is my first Long Island Iced Tea and it's going to be my last, but maybe not. Maybe I'll finish it and have six more of them."
"And maybe you won't," his brother said. "Gray needs us back at the house."
"Is that what you call him? Gray?"
"It's what Mom called him," Andy said. "I never had much occasion to call him anything, really. Just if he answered the phone when I called, or the couple of times I visited."
"Which would have been four years ago," I said.
"Plus once since then."
"I guess it was last Thanksgiving. I never did come into the city, I just visited here for a couple of days and flew straight out again." He looked at his glass. "I called you a few times," he said unconvincingly. "I got the machine every time I called, and I didn't want to leave a message."
I said, "He seems like a nice enough fellow, Gray."
"He's all right," Andy said.
"He was good for Mom," Michael said. "He was there for her, you know?"
Unlike some people. "I never thought I'd see this day," I said, surprising myself with the words, evidently surprising them as well from the looks on their faces. "I always assumed I'd go first," I explained. "I didn't think about it much, but I guess I took it for granted. I was older by three years and change, and men generally die first. And all of a sudden she's gone."
They didn't say anything.
"Everybody says that's the best way," I said. "One minute you're here and the next minute you're gone. No pain to speak of, no long-drawn-out illness, no standing at the brink and staring out at the abyss. But it's not what I would want for myself."
I shook my head. "I'd want time to make sure I wasn't leaving a mess. My affairs in order, that sort of thing. And I'd want time for other people to get used to the idea. A sudden death may be easier on the victim, but it's harder on everybody else."
"I don't know about that," Michael said. "June's got an aunt with Alzheimer's, she's been hanging on for years. Be a lot easier on all concerned if she stroked out or had a heart attack."
I said he had a point. Andy said when it was his turn he wanted to be lowered into a vat of lanolin and softened to death. That seemed funny, but not funny enough to laugh at, given the mood at the table.
"Anyway," Michael said, "we had a warning. Mom had a minor heart attack about a little over a year ago."
"I didn't know that."
"I didn't hear about it right away. She and Gray didn't exactly call a press conference. But she had diabetes and high blood pressure, and- "
"I didn't know that, either."
"You didn't? I guess she developed diabetes about ten years ago. I don't know about the blood pressure, how long she had that. I believe you can have it a while without knowing it. The diabetes was mild enough so she didn't need injections, just oral insulin, but I guess it affects the heart, and so does the high blood pressure. She had the one heart attack, and it was just a question of time until she had another one, but I didn't expect it this soon."
"I thought she'd beat it," Andy said. "She seemed fine at Thanksgiving, and she and Gray were full of plans. There was this riverboat cruise through Germany they were going to take."
"It's next month," his brother said. "They were going to leave right after Labor Day."
"Well, I guess that's out," Andy said. "Maybe you can use their tickets, you and Elaine."
There was an awkward silence, and then he said, "Sorry, I don't know why I said that." He picked up his glass and looked at the ceiling light through it. I thought of all the times I'd done that myself, though never with a glass of Long Island Iced Tea. "This stuff ought to come with a warning label. I'm sorry."
"Anyway, I don't suppose Elaine would want to go to Germany, would she?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, she's Jewish, isn't she?"
"So she might not be that crazy about going to Germany. She might be worried about getting turned into soap."
Michael said, "Andy, why don't you shut up?"
"Hey, it was just a joke, okay?"
"A stupid joke."
"Nobody likes my jokes," Andy said. "Soap, lanolin, I can't win. Nobody likes my jokes today."
"It's not a great day for jokes, bro."
"Just what is it a great day for, bro? Will you tell me that?"
"I guess you guys'll want to get back to the house," I said, not knowing what they wanted to do, not caring much, knowing only that I wanted to get the hell out of there. "Gray can probably use you for the next few hours."
"Gray," Andy said. "You ever meet him?"
"Just now, at the funeral."
"I figured you were old friends, calling him Gray and all."
I turned to Michael. "I think you'd better drive," I said.
"Andy's all right."
"Whatever you say."
"He's upset, that's all."
"Talking about me like I'm not here," Andy said. "Can I ask a question? One fucking question?" He didn't wait for permission. "Where do you get off having the long face, talking about how you thought you'd be the first to go? I mean, where in the hell does that come from? Who appointed you chief mourner, for God's sake?"
I could feel the anger, moving up my spine like an army. I kept a lid on it.
"You didn't give a shit about her while she was alive," he went on. "Did you ever love her?"
"I thought I did."
"But I guess it didn't last."
"No," I said. "The two of us weren't very good at being married."
"She wasn't so bad at it. You were the one who left."
"I'm sure I wasn't the only one who thought of it. It's easier for a man to leave."
"I don't know," he said. "Past few years, I've run into a few women who didn't find it so goddam hard. Pack a bag, walk out the door, easiest thing in the world."
"It's not always as easy as it looks."
"Especially if there's kids involved," he said. "Right?"
"I guess we didn't count, me and Mikey."
I didn't have anything to say to that. And the anger I'd felt before was gone now, stuffed wherever that sort of thing gets stuffed. If I felt anything it was an almighty weariness. I wanted this little talk to be over and I knew it was going to go on forever.
"Why'd you come, anyway?"
"Because your brother called me up and told me about it," I said. "Not Saturday, when he found out about it, and not Sunday when you both got here, but late last night." I turned to Michael. "That was considerate," I said. "That way I didn't have a long period of agonizing before the funeral."
"I just- "
"In fact," I said, "with any luck at all I'd have made plans it would have been too late to cancel, and I wouldn't be here at all. Just your luck I'm a guy who hasn't got too much to do these days."
"I was afraid to call," he said.
"What were you afraid of?"
"I don't know. How you'd take it, what you'd say. That you'd come, that you wouldn't come. I don't know."
"I couldn't not come," I said. "I won't pretend I wanted to be here, but there's no way I could have stayed away. I had to be here for you two, even though you might have been happier if I'd stayed in the city. And I had to be here for her." I took a breath. "She was a good woman, your mother. I couldn't have stayed married to anyone, the kind of man I was. She did the best she could. Jesus, I guess we both did the best we could. That's what everybody does, the best they can, and that's all anybody does."
Andy wiped away tears with his sleeve. He said, "Dad, I'm sorry."
"It's all right."
"I'm sorry as hell. I don't know what got into me."
"Six different kinds of booze," Michael said, "all in one drink. What the hell did you expect?"
What did any of us expect?
"I'm afraid you won't get to see any of them this time around," I told Elaine. "Mike and June fly home tomorrow morning."
"What did June do, leave Melanie with her parents?"
"They brought her along," I said, "but I didn't get to see her. June thought the funeral would be too much for her, so she stayed at the house. I don't know whether they hired a sitter or some family member stayed with her."
"And you didn't get to see her at all?"
"I could have, if I'd wanted to go to the house, but I decided I'd rather come straight home."
"I don't blame you. What about Andy? He has to go straight home to Denver?"
" Tucson in the summer? It's like an oven."
"Well, I guess he figures he'll enjoy the winters. If he's still there."
"Your rolling stone."
"Not mine," I said. "Not anymore. They're neither of them mine anymore, honey. I don't know if they ever were."
"You're saying that because of the kind of day you've just had."
"That's only part of it. Oh, I'm still their father, and they're still my sons. Otherwise we wouldn't get on one another's nerves the way we do. We'll get calls and cards at Christmas, and Andy may even keep us up to date on address changes. And they'll call if they happen to be in the city. Maybe not every time they come here, but some of the time. Of course they won't come to the city all that often."
"And when I drop dead," I said, "they'll fly in for the funeral, and they'll show up wearing suits. They both look good in suits, I have to say that for them. They'll help carry the box, they got in practice for that this afternoon, although they'll have more weight to deal with next time."
"Unless you waste away," she said.
"Aren't you something," I said. "You won't let me get away with a thing, will you?"
"Would you love me more if I did?"
"I don't see how I could. They'll be decent to you, incidentally. They were decent to Gray. That's what they call him, Gray."
"So you said."
"Oh, I mentioned that? Gray. Big, good-looking fellow with one of those open, honest faces. Looked like he might have played football in school. Linebacker, maybe. Put on some weight since then but stayed in pretty good shape."