Strong Motion

Strong Motion by Jonathan Franzen Read Free Book Online

Book: Strong Motion by Jonathan Franzen Read Free Book Online
Authors: Jonathan Franzen
Tags: Fiction
at the wheel, the kids in back. The kids’ cars had stayed behind in the hotel lot because Bob Holland considered automobiles an abomination and had threatened to walk if they took more than one. Louis was folded together like a card table and incipiently carsick, with his under-insulated head against a cold fogged window and the taste of heavy rain and diesel exhaust in his throat. On his shins he held his mother’s hat. Someone who was not Louis and probably not Eileen was farting steadily. Bob, looking diminished in a thirty-year-old suit, was glaring out his window at overtaken drivers in the heavy midmoming traffic on Memorial Drive. He thought that driving a car was an act of personal immorality.
    Louis pushed out the hinged rear window and put his nose and mouth against the flat surface of the cooler air outside. He was beginning to relate his carsickness to flatten the left frontal portion of the skull and immediately terminate all brain activity , the imagination of death having advanced covertly and autonomously, penetrating his consciousness only now. He managed to suck a fortifying breath of air in through the window. “Do you think she knew it was an earthquake?”
    Eileen gave him an ugly, morose look and retreated within herself.
    “Who?” Melanie said.
    “You know. Rita. Do you think she knew the shaking was an earthquake?”
    “It sounds,” Melanie said, “as if she was far too inebriated to think much of anything.”
    “It’s kind of sad,” Louis said, “don’t you think?”
    “There are worse ways to go. Better this than cirrhosis in a hospital bed.”
    “She’s left you all this money. Don’t you think it’s kind of sad?”
    “She didn’t leave me any money. She didn’t leave me anything but a quarter of a million dollars in illegally secured debts, if you want to know the truth.”
    “Oh come on, Mel.”
    “Well, she did, Bob. She had a mortgage on a house that didn’t belong to her. The bank in Ipswich was unaware of this little fact, which—”
    “Your mother’s father,” Bob said, “left everything he had in a trust—”
    “Bob, this doesn’t interest Louis.”
    “Sure it does,” Louis said.
    “And it’s not particularly his business either.”
    “Oh, well.”
    “But the basic point,” Melanie continued, “is that by the time my father died he had a very clear idea of the kind of woman he’d taken for a second wife, and while he had a duty to leave her comfortable he also didn’t want her to fritter away an estate that he eventually wanted to go to his children—”
    Bob barked with delight. “Meaning he didn’t leave your mother a cent! And not a cent to your Aunt Heidi either! He wrote exactly the kind of spiteful, arrogant, dead-handed, lawyer’s lawyer will you’d have expected from him. Everybody beggared, everybody bitter, and a committee of three lawyers from the Bank of Boston meeting twice a year to write themselves checks on the fund.”
    “I like the way you honor the dead.”
    “Could you open a window a little?”
    “And Mel’s going to right a few wrongs now, isn’t she? See, Lou, after Heidi died it all came to devolve on your mother. It was supposed to go to the surviving daughters. Your mother’s in exactly the same position your grandfather was ten years ago. Only the rich have gotten richer, haven’t they? Your mother’s in a position to build some schools and clinics, maybe give a gym to Wellesley. Or help the homeless, huh, Mel?”
    Melanie tilted her head back, removing herself from the discussion. Eileen smiled bitterly. Louis asked again to have a window opened.
    The memorial service, which was to have been held in a meadow in Essex County if the sun had shone, had been shifted to the ballroom of the Royal Sonesta, a luxury hotel overlooking the mouth of the Charles at the extreme northeast corner of Cambridge. For a moment, when Louis followed his parents through the doorway, he thought they’d entered the wrong room;

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