Fake, signifying nothing. “The nuns say the same thing. ‘We’re all God’s children.’ But they don’t like the marches either. Sister de Montfort told us their reward would be in heaven. But why should only Negroes have to wait until after death for their reward?”
Bob’s face felt boiled, swollen, sweaty, and lobsterish. “We all don’t get what we want. That’s just the way it is. Everyone should just shut up and take it. All this ‘I Have a Dream’ nonsense. It is what it is.” He had felt out of breath. Always did with Jules.
Remembering Lake Tamsin and still recovering from his wife’s eightieth birthday party, Bob felt tired, more tired than after those long days making hospital rounds, visiting nuns, and even making house calls to patients rendered immobile by old age. His family always had done that to him: exhaustion. How could anyone be generous under those circumstances? As a kid, he had learned fast. Helping his father pick tomatoes from the time he could walk, harvesting them with a flashlight, Bob and his brothers had looked for the rotten ones they sold to Dole and Hunt’s for canning. They got more money for those than for the perfect-size ones. Taught him a lesson—the prettiest weren’t always the best deal. You could camouflage almost anything and make it palatable.
His stock portfolio could wait. He propped the pillow under his head and turned off the lamp, hoping that Aida hadn’t spotted the light from under the door. A few minutes later, as the sheets on his side of the bed cooled his hot body, he felt her slide in under the light sheet. He always felt seething, a restless turmoil inside. The turmoil was ugly, nasty. He no longer could tolerate even the slightest body contact from Aida. They hadn’t had sex since Joanne was born.
“Don’t pretend. You’re not asleep. Wouldn’t want to soil my new pink negligee anyway.”
He hated all the pink nightgowns: see-through and transparent. Made of gauze, like the surgical kind. The opposite of beautiful. And pink was his least favorite color—reminded him of the bows his stepmother pinned above his ears. Why hadn’t he listened to the residents at Montefiore Hospital who had warned him—I eat-a, you eat-a, we’ll all eat-a. He hadn’t believed what they had said about Aida. He had ignored the nuggets of truth. He always had understood what men wanted more. Aida’s snoring could wake up the dead. He sobbed into his pillow, a child’s kind of sob.
“Bob, this is Alice calling from LA.”
Oh, his sister-in-law was a good woman. His brother was a luckier man than he had been. Alice reminded him of his former fiancée, Nancy, except that Alice had also been something of a flirt. That had been his downfall. Just a game, couldn’t resist—and that’s how he’d ended up marrying Aida. He was still recovering from her “birthday blast” two days before.
“Oh, Barbie. Such bad news, I’m afraid.”
While Alice was trying to speak, Bob knew what the next words would be.
“Wilson has suffered a massive stroke, Barbie. Can you fly out here as soon as possible?”
How could he refuse his ninety-year-old brother, the head of what was left of their clan? Almost thirty years ago, when it came time for Wilson to collect on Bob’s promise for his son Charlie, he’d dutifullyhanded over $10,000, the exact amount that his tuition had been in the late 1940s. Bob was pleased he could honor his promise and still have enough for his own kids. But his brothers seemed ungrateful, even outraged, and he didn’t understand why. Did they think he owed them interest on the loan—or perhaps the 1980s equivalent, somewhere in the range of $100,000? Only a fool would promise that—a tenfold increase on the original loan—and he was no fool.
Charlie applied for financial aid and a student loan and eventually became a renowned neurologist at UCLA medical school. And one of their other brothers also helped Wilson pay back his son’s