Advertise - Print Edition

Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

‘The Duke,’ part II

Published: March 4, 2011
Section: Arts, Etc.

Previously,in Part I:

After running into loner Veronica Dent, high school athlete Tim discovered that his novelist mother may be cheating on his father …

“Hey Mark, is Veronica Dent having sex with Coach Saunders?” Tim asked after the second lap around the track. It was the day after he found out that his mother was cheating on his father.

He had thrown himself into his classes, taking neat, comprehensive notes, raising his hand for almost every question. He needed an outlet for the steadily increasing wave of panic that made the hair on the back of his neck stand up and his hands sweat. Running usually helped stem similar anxious tides, but now the ugly secret interfered with his rhythm.

“Cassie saw Veronica in Coach Saunders’s pick-up truck last Friday,” Mark grunted, struggling to keep up. Track was not his sport, he had only joined the team because running didn’t involve any kind of catching or throwing of balls, for some reason Mark got conked in the head a lot. He joked that his head was a ball-magnet, but Tim thought it was because Mark was nearsighted and refused to wear his glasses because they were too dorky or to wear contacts as they freaked him out.

“That’s all?” Tim asked, watching Coach by the orange cooler, sipping lemonade from a paper cone.

“They’re always in his office, too. I walked in on them when I was going to ask Coach to sign my hall-pass.” Mark smiled, his blue eyes glinting, “Do you like her or something?”

Tim pictured Veronica standing by the reservoir, pale skin pink with anger, green eyes blood-shot, hands fisted.

“No, I was just curious about the rumors.”

Coach blew his whistle and a ragged line of boys wearing red and white jerseys ran to his side.

After Veronica told him the news, Tim had not been able to avoid his mother entirely. He had found a variety of excuses to be out of the house. He went back to the reservoir and he ran, but he couldn’t find his mental rhythm, he kept on starting and stopping. Since he wasn’t paying attention to where he was running, he almost tripped over a goose, which raised its wings and hissed at him. He gave that up and tried to think of other ways to keep himself busy.

They needed milk (they had plenty). He needed new track shorts (the old ones were fine). He wanted to try Mark’s recently purchased zombie-hunter video game (he disliked playing video games on nice days). This pretended frenzy of activity, far from distracting him, only made him twitchy. A minute past his curfew, he pulled into the driveway. In the dark, the house, a jumble of additions that amounted to what looked like a high-speed collision of shapes, seemed unfamiliar. Maybe time had shifted without him knowing. Maybe a different family lived there: one with happy, functional and boring lives.

There was a light on in the kitchen. It should have warned him away, but instead Tim was drawn to it.

He quietly unlocked the front door, slipped into the house and stepped into the kitchen.

His mom was eating a slice of New York-style cheesecake. “Don’t you think you’re pushing it a bit?” she said between tiny bites.

“I was in the middle of a good video game. How’s the cake?” he said to the cabinet, which he had opened in order to hide his confusion at seeing his exercise-fanatic mother indulge in a whopping serving of calories and fat.

She must be miserable.

He knew that his mother’s favorite tool of procrastination was gorging herself visually on food blogs, but he had never seen her sample any of his father’s creations before. He felt like he had caught his mother with the Duke.

“Not your father’s best effort. It’s delicious, but not mind-blowing.” She sighed and pushed the half-eaten dessert away. “The Duke hasn’t been cooperative lately. He just sits regally on his steed and refuses to do anything. I think I’m going to miss a deadline.”

“Can I read what you’ve written so far? Maybe I can help.”

His mom’s lips curved into a smile. “You’ve never seemed interested in my writing before. Is everything OK?”

Tim turned around. His mom was pretty in the conventional way, she had blonde hair she pulled back into a pony-tail and clear green eyes. His favorite thing about her was her too-big nose. When he was little and had nightmares she used to read “The Three Little Pigs” to him, acting out the scenes. He would forget why he had been so afraid and laugh at how she scrunched up her nose and lowered her voice theatrically when she said the wolf’s parts.

Are you happy? Tim thought.

But gazing at his beautiful mother he knew he couldn’t ask her. What if her answer was no? What would he do then?

“There’s this girl at school. I don’t understand her.”

“Is she pretty?” His mom leaned forward in her chair. This was the first time they had talked alone in a while.

“No, just confusing.”

“Fascinating. Well, people aren’t easy to understand, unless you spend more time with them.”

Tim nodded feeling sick from the words, the questions he was holding back. Are you in love with dad or are you in love with the Duke?

“Your mother is crazy,” Tim’s dad whispered. He nudged the sausages around on the grill.

Over his shoulder, Tim’s mom was setting up the tents with a series of efficient actions that was somehow terrifying to watch. She unsnapped poles, stabbed them into the ground and each violent gesture was punctuated by a small explosion of breath.

Tim shrugged, smacking a bug that had perched on his nose.

“What do you expect?” Tim said. They had forgotten to pack the coffee.

Tim was damp with sweat and bug-bit. He was in a foul mood. He hated Bumpkin Island with its stupid name and its bent trees that offered no shade and squashed bushes that pricked his ankles.

He hated Veronica Dent.

She was the reason Tim had suggested to his parents that they go on a family camping trip to the Boston Harbor Islands. His plan had been to observe them closely and judge for himself if they were happy. But little things that had gone wrong during the trip were distracting him, from the forgotten coffee to the realization that they were on an island with no shade in the middle of a heat wave. How could he judge the happiness of others when he was feeling so miserable?

“Keep an eye on them,” his dad said, handing Tim the poker. Tim grunted, he was seated hunched over the sausages with his shoulders up and his eyebrows furrowed. His mom had called this pose “Tim’s turtle mood.” Sometimes when Tim was brooding, he would contort himself into as small of a shape as his long limbs would allow.

“You’re doing it wrong!” his mom shouted. Tim’s dad let the fabric of the tent he was holding drop from his fingers and laughed. He bowed in a mock gallant pose and Tim could see his bald spot red and glinting in the sunlight.

His mom stomped off like a moody teenager.

Tim poked a sausage.

In the middle of the night, Tim woke up to loud whispering from his parents’ tent.

“You’re acting like a child.”

“I’m done with this conversation.”

Tim burrowed into his sleeping bag. When was the last time his parents acted like they loved each other? All Tim could come up with was a dim childhood memory of his parents making pancakes on a lazy Sunday morning and throwing batter at one another. Most of the time they weren’t even in the same room. His mom usually nestled in her office while his dad spent longer and longer hours at the bakery.

He sat up and shoved the sleeping bag off. The air was stale and hard to breathe, he fumbled with the tent flap and crawled outside.

Passing his parents’ tent he heard, “He’s taking over my life.”

He froze. His mom’s voice was soft, like how she used to read him a bedtime story, but the tone was completely different.

“All you have to do is choose us. Choose your family,” his father said. There was a moment of silence and Tim couldn’t bear it any more. He ran to the pier, which was a short distance from the campsite, and collapsed in a crouch at the edge.

Well, they weren’t happy. Tim knew this for a fact now. The knowledge made a crater in Tim’s understanding of the world.

He looked across the dark water of the Boston Harbor and scowled at the bright lights of the city in the distance.

It was time to plot with Veronica Dent.

Read the third installment of “The Duke” in the next issue of The Hoot!