J. Lincoln Todd, "Linc," a 58-year-old professor from Chicago, is in Florida at the funeral of his black-sheep cousin, Wayne Shit-for-Brains. When Linc was 14, he had an adventure with Wayne and a girl -- an incident he would rather not remember.
Trailing down the hall with the family to the visitation room, now emptied of other mourners, Linc saw Aunt Harriet stagger toward the coffin, supported by Uncle Hank and Tommy. A sobbing June, on her own husband's arm, stumbled after. This was too painful for Linc, and he felt like a voyeur to be witnessing it. As the funeral director gently closed the doors, he slipped out.
In the large room opposite, people had begun to choose places in the rows of folding chairs that greatly outnumbered the potential occupants. Taking a seat on the far left of a middle row, Linc tried to be inconspicuous, a difficult task for a six-foot-two professor in a northern sports coat. He stared at his hands, which he noticed were pale and bony, the veins prominent and greenish-blue.
Would his two sisters do what Wayne's siblings had done, he wondered -- offer to donate organs, or pieces of them, if his failed? Did they love him that much, though he seldom heard from them? How did a reprobate like Wayne excite so much feeling? June was a teacher, Tommy a manager in a paint store, both solid citizens, and yet they behaved as though a scumbag life like Wayne's merited a dangerous sacrifice.
Would Linc's wife, even, offer herself in that way? Well, probably, and he'd do the same for her. He and Meg had a good marriage, coming up on thirty years, the main glitch being that nineteen-month gap in the middle when she'd walked out, saying he "wasn't there" -- a charge he understood because they'd both been so occupied with their careers. Nevertheless, it had taken her a good while to forgive him for being himself, and he hadn't quite forgiven her for that.
Last night when he'd called to say he was staying over an extra day for his cousin's funeral, she'd been mystified, of course -- he never spoke of Wayne -- but curiously aloof. "Do you miss me?" he'd asked in a jokingly forlorn tone. "Yes," she'd retorted in mock irritation, "there's nobody to walk the dog. He slept on my feet all night."
So now here he sat, jealous of a dog and a dead man, both of whom could win affection without civilized behavior. Whereas he, the deserving one --
A clang drew his attention. The old man to whom he'd spoken in the visitation room was fumbling to a seat in the next row up, at the center aisle. His daughter, straightening the chair he'd knocked askew, caught Linc's glance and nodded. What was her name again? Her broad, fleshy face disturbed him.
His knuckles gave a loud crack, and he realized he'd been crushing one fist inside the other.
* * *
They were dashing across the yard, all three of them laughing -- even Linc chuckled at the absurdity. Sheets of fluid silver whipped around their single red umbrella. His elbow that stuck out was wet and cold, and a slosh got into his sneakers. In a few steps Wayne pulled up suddenly as a wall materialized. The girl clattered open a door and disappeared.
"What's this?" Linc asked.
"More private," Wayne said in his ear. "Quick, get inside."
Linc had to duck through the opening. A smell of fermented grass and oil assaulted him, and as the door slammed he realized they were in a large garden shed. In the dim light from a dirty window he made out a lawnmower, a gasoline can, shelves of tools, miscellaneous other junk. The rain punished the corrugated roof like a crazed drummer.
The girl was giggling as she rubbed her bare feet together. Blades of wet grass clung to her ankles. Wayne grabbed a tarp off a shelf, tossed it across the floor and plopped down on it like he owned the place. "C'mere, honey," he motioned to her.
"What if I don't want to?"
"But you do. You know you do."
Peering around, listening to the tumult on the roof, Linc had a momentary sense of fun, like being a little kid in a hideout. It was warm and sticky in here, but you could peek through the window, spying on the adult world, and nobody would know where you were. You could spend hours here, invisible.
But then Wayne and the girl were snuggling again, which offended him, so he pretended to study a rusty shovel propped against the wall, wiping his glasses that had steamed over. After a couple of minutes there was a gasp loud enough to hear above the rain, and sneaking a sideways glance, he was startled to see Wayne's bare ass bobbing in the air.
Linc yanked his head away, horrified, but couldn't resist turning back. The girl's plump, pallid legs hooked around his bucking cousin. Her skirt bunched above her waist. Wayne groped with one hand under her blouse, grunting with short explosions of air. Linc was so frozen in place he forgot to breathe; when his lungs insisted, his chest jerked convulsively.
Before Linc could know what he thought, Wayne let out a yell and rolled off her. The dark swatch between her legs stared back at Linc until she adjusted her skirt with one hand. She panted at the shed's ceiling, where the thumping rain answered her.
"Your turn, cuz."
Linc gaped at Wayne, who had risen to tug up his pants.
"Yeah, for real! She said it's fine. She likes you! Go ahead, man, she's waiting for you."
* * *
Once the coffin, now closed, had made a stately entrance on its rolling bier, the young pastor from Harriet and Hank's church recited the service, indicating that "we believe" Wayne "is in a better place now." Linc's mind floated away, and because nobody from the family spoke, the ceremony ended before he focused again. The funeral director explained how to line up cars for the procession to the cemetery, then extended the family's invitation to Harriet and Hank's home afterward.
As the audience rose and people congregated round the bereaved, Linc hung back in his middle row. Rather than gradually fitting in, he was feeling more and more out of place. Not until the crowd dispersed and the dark-suited men whisked the coffin out a side door did he meander to the lobby, where Mel Mancuso was creating a small disturbance by the dry fountain.
"I ain't watchin' 'em drop him in a hole," the old man griped, shaking his daughter's hand off his arm. "I seen enough of that. Sometimes they throw dirt."
"Shhh," she said. "Daddy, they're leaving in a couple minutes, are you sure? I'll take you home if you want, but I was hoping that -- "
"I can take myself home! It's my car!"
"And leave me stranded here?"
"You go on to the cemetery and get a ride from somebody. Or walk."
"Oh, excuse us," she apologized as Linc tried to sneak past. "My father's just -- "
"Exercise'd do you good," Mr. Mancuso ranted. "Get out in a public place today, you never seen so many fat broads in your life, they're wavin' it in your face."
"Daddy, hush! You do need to go home."
"I'll go home when I like! Not a minute before!"
"Right now! This way, we're leaving."
They were pursuing Linc toward the front doors, and though he sped up to discourage further interaction, the woman called to him. "Mr. Todd? Is there any chance that -- "
And so it came about that Linc, who wanted to avoid her, ended up volunteering that she could ride with him to the cemetery, though he hadn't known until that moment that he was going. She hurriedly pointed her father to his own car and eased herself into Linc's rented Ford sedan. "He'll be fine," she assured Linc. "He gets cranky before lunch, that's all. And after lunch. And before dinner."
"Oh." What had she said her name was? No, the old man had mentioned it: Marie.
"I don't like imposin', but Wayne always thought real high of you, I remember when he heard you'd got to be a professor, he was proud he had a cousin like that."
Who the hell was she? How did she know him? The answer lurked, too preposterous to acknowledge.
* * *
The rhythmic pulse of her jaw showed she was still chewing gum, but Linc's eyes riveted on the white flesh below the skirt. Through his steamy glasses he watched a trickle run along her left thigh, matching the rivulet zigzagging down his forehead. His throat wanted to retch while his heart hurtled around his chest and his knees went rubbery; at the same time the thick air inside the shed made him so lightheaded that his brain floated on the roof.
It was at this moment that, without looking at him, she lifted her chin with a suggestion of arrogance. "Are you doing it or not? 'Cause I got other plans today, y'know."
Though the two options were both inconceivable, Linc's fingers fumbled at his belt. Letting his knees collapse as they wanted to, he knelt in front of her. As he put one hand on the tarp for balance, something snagged his nails, and when he lifted them her panties dangled in the dusty light. Trembling, he shook them off. She turned her face to him, her mouth pouty and scornful at first but then relenting. Her eyes were large, shimmery, and to use Wayne's word, pretty.
"He's bashful," she called to Wayne. "Wait outside."
"You gotta be kidding, it's pouring out there," he laughed.
"Wayne!" she insisted.
There was no scrape of the door, but Wayne must have changed position because she whispered to Linc, "He's not looking. Come on, you're OK."
"It's not," Linc tried to say, but couldn't remember what it was not. She sat up and helped him with his pants and underwear, seeming to know it was his first time. She wriggled to position the two of them and grabbed his dick to pull it to the right spot.
It was only half-erect, though, and it slipped out of her. She tried again and it stayed in. She provided the movement while he held himself rigid, straining. Everything was wet and slippery and smelled of decaying grass.
Did she really want to do this, or had Wayne conned her into it? With his right palm he ventured to stroke the side of her face, and she responded to that, turning to nip his hand. She ran her lips along his neck with a loose pressure that seemed to ask him for something, though he didn't know what else that might be. There was a dimple in the center of her chin that he wanted to touch, but she lifted his hand and squeezed it against her breast.
He got harder, more determined. Then her fat tongue protruded, with the chewing gum stuck to it, and he was revolted. But revulsion somehow was triumph, exalting him, except that her damp huffing on his neck felt like a sickness. It was hideous and thrilling -- different every few seconds -- and he was mortified that Wayne witnessed all of it.
After some incredible length of time, a hundred minutes or two and a half, he gave a yell like Wayne's and eased himself off her. He caught her eyes as he did so, and there was a twitch of her lips as if she knew he was faking.
"Thank you," he gasped.
She snickered, not in a mean way but enough to shame him more. She touched his arm as he sat up, and again he thought that perhaps she still wanted something.
It seemed only an instant later that the rain ceased and he and Wayne were back outside, heading toward the bikes. "She's a good ride, ain't she?" Wayne swaggered, clapping him on the back. Linc, who thought he was being mocked for his failure, shot his cousin a look of disgust.
But Wayne merely beamed, "Tell me this ain't your best vacation ever."
Part Three of Four