The call came close to 3am and Jim hugged Jan goodbye and was on a plane and in the air before six. Two hours later, his brother met him at the airport.
A steel grip and cool smile betrayed the rift still between them. Sibling rivalry. Two decades of pretending they didn’t really care.
Steve quickly filled in details of the accident as they hurried to his half ton in the heavy rain. He fell silent. Tall and lanky, Steve was a carbon copy of their father. But there was pain in his pale blue eyes. And Jim noticed something else. Loneliness.
In the silence of the cab, Jim relived memories of their father. Countless hours relished on the river, just the three of them, pulling fish.
But now they were alone. Jim felt the stark cold reality of it. They were fatherless.
Hot tears suddenly swelled and Jim brushed them away, angrily. An hour passed. The silence in the cab was unbearable. From the highway he caught snatches of river.
Dad was a rock. Talk to Dad, they’d say. He always made sense of their world.
Jim voiced his thoughts. “Dad knew that whole stretch of river. He could run it in his sleep—is she low?” Low meant rocks, more opportunities to misjudge.
“River’s running deep this summer.”
They pulled off the main highway and followed a muddy road. “You know,” Steve continued. “Dad changed this year. Must have aged ten years. The stock market ate him up. And spit him out. He was different. And you know mom. She wont talk.”
Slowing at a bridge, Steve scanned the rocks below. “I wanna show you something,” he said, stopping on the far side. They headed through the rain and down a thin trail. Yellow police tape marked off a section of riverbank.
“Sheriff found Dad’s canoe here,” Steve stood staring at the swollen surge. His voice was flat and tense. “I don’t think we’ll ever find him,” the words hung helpless in the air. The silence stung. Steve turned away from the river, his eyes brimming.
In that moment the walls came down. Forgiveness flowed and they cried freely. Jim placed a hand on his brother’s shoulder, “we’ll pull through this,” he said. “We’ll pull through this together.”
The weekend was a continuous blur of activity. The search stalled in heavy rain, then resumed. A week later it was officially called off, though family, friends and neighbors continued to hunt on their own.
They didn’t find a body.
The ordeal hit their mother hardest and Jim made arrangements to look after her and set things in order. He commuted back and forth and brought Jan and the boys out occasionally.
Three years later, Steve confided in Jim on the way back to the airport, on a trip he made alone.
“I think Mom’s failing.”
“She sets the table for him.”
“I bring her mail. Drop off something from the Piggly Wiggly. And she’ll have a plate set out for dad.”
“Maybe she had company.”
“No. Mom told me she likes to remember Dad.
“Nothing wrong with that.”
“I don’t think it’s healthy. She needs to grieve and let go. She can’t keep pretending.
During his shower the following morning he pondered the conversation with his brother. It was unsettling.
“Honey! You gotta see this.” Jan’s voice was staccato. Shrill. Almost commanding.
Jim wrapped himself in a towel and found Jan in the kitchen. She cranked the television and spilled her coffee across the counter. She didn’t budge.
The sound of a car in the drive brought Jim from the television. He watched a young woman step out of a news vehicle.
She strode up the walk. His eyes shifted back to the television, in shock. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing. The station was playing the scene again. His childhood home, the yard with a half dozen dark blue suburbans. The camera panned close. FBI agents led his father and mother down the porch steps in handcuffs.
A faked death. Tax evasion. Insurance fraud. A new life in Costa Rica. Commentators commented. Analysts analyzed. This was his father they were dissecting. Jim couldn’t process it fast enough.
The phone rang and Jim let the machine pick up. He heard Steve’s familiar voice reassuring, like a hand on his shoulder. “We’ll pull through this, Jim,” he said, “We’ll pull through this, together.”
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