Brother on Sunday
By A. M. Homes
March 2, 2009
She is on the phone. He can see her reflection in the bathroom mirror, the headset wrapped around her ear as if she were an air-traffic controller or a Secret Service agent. “Are you sure?” she whispers. “I can’t believe it. I don’t want to believe it. If it’s true, it’s horrible. . . . Of course I don’t know anything! If I knew something, I’d tell you. . . . No, he doesn’t know anything, either. If he knew, he’d tell me. We vowed we wouldn’t keep secrets.” She pauses, listening for a moment. “Yes, of course, not a word.”
“Tom,” she calls. “Tom, are you ready?”
“In a minute,” he says.
He examines himself in her makeup mirror. He raises his eyebrows, bares his teeth, smiles. And then he smiles again, harder, showing gum. He tilts his head, left and right, checking where the shadows fall. He turns on the light and flips the mirror to the magnifying side. A thin silver needle enters the reflection; there’s a closeup of skin, the glistening tip of the needle, surrounded by a halo of light. He blinks. The needle goes in; his hand is steady on the syringe. He injects a little here, a little there; it’s just a touchup, a filler-up. Later, when someone says, “You look great,” he’ll smile and his face will bend gently, but no lines will appear. “Doctor’s orders,” he’ll say. He recaps the syringe, tucks it into his shirt pocket, flips the toilet seat up, and pees.
When he comes out of the bathroom, his wife, Sandy, is there, in the bedroom, waiting.
“Who was that on the phone?”
“Sara,” she says.
He waits, knowing that silence will prompt her to say more.
“Susie called Sara to say that she’s
worried Scott is having an affair.”
He says, quite honestly, “Of all people, I wouldn’t think Scott would be having an affair.”
“She doesn’t know that he’s having an affair – she just suspects.” Sandy puts her coverup into a tote bag and hands him his camera. “Can’t leave without this,” she says.
“Thanks,” he says. “Are you ready to go?”
“Check my back,” she says. “I felt something.” She turns, lifting her blouse.
“You have a tick,” he says, plucking it off her.
Somewhere in the summer house, a loud buzzer goes off. “The towels are done,” she says.
“Should we take wine?” he asks.
“I packed a bottle of champagne and some orange juice. It’s Sunday, after all.”
“My brother is coming, after all,” he says. His brother, Roger, visits the beach once a year, like a tropical storm that changes everything.
“It’s a beautiful day,” she says. And she’s right.
Tom sits in a low chair, facing the water, his feet buried in the sand. Just in front of him, hanging from the lifeguard stand, an American flag softly flutters. His sunglasses are his shield, his thick white lotion a kind of futuristic body armor that lets him imagine he is invisible. He believes that on the beach you are allowed to stare, as though you were looking not at the person but through the person, past the person at the water, past the water to the horizon, past the horizon into infinity.
.He is seeing things that he would otherwise not allow himself to see. He is staring. He is in awe, mesmerized by the body, by the grace and lack of grace. He takes pictures – “studies,” he calls them. It’s his habit, his hobby. What is he looking for? What is he thinking while he does this?