Half an Arc
As soon as Dana’s name lit up my phone at 7:59 on the morning of her father’s funeral, I heard the voice of reason itself—basically Morgan Freeman—say, “Under no circumstances should you accept that call, Z.
I looked across the table at my sister, Mackenzie. She was on day two of her four-day-stay in Seattle and she did not look thrilled. The light from the kitchen window was reflecting off her lip gloss enough to make me squint. Her hair was shiny too, dark and shiny. Mackenzie was a shiny person on east coast time and an early riser anyway, which meant she had already gotten up and gone running and cooled down and stretched and showered and dressed and caught an Uber and rang our doorbell and, when that didn’t work, started knocking, really really ready for our special day together to transpire. She’d actually landed the morning before, but as I hadn’t asked for the day off from the pot shop soon enough, my wife, Claire, had to show her around the city until my shift was through, at which point we all went out for cocktails with at least fifteen ingredients in them, because that’s what Mackenzie was into, cocktails with at least fifteen ingredients in them.
That was day one. Now we were on day two. And yet even today, I was only available until noon.
Mackenzie’s trip was ill-timed. This just couldn’t be helped. After almost five years of radio silence, we’d started talking again. A couple of conversations had gone okay before the idea of a visit got floated. Mackenzie was an orthodontist—and not just any orthodontist, but a Manhattan-based one who placed ads of herself with arms crossed and pearls around her neck, smiling expansively on the final page of magazines you only find in the seatbacks of airplanes—which meant her vacations had to be planned forever in advance. Thus into stone her visit dates were set.
All this was fine. I was actually almost excited even. The only problem was that during the nine-month interim, one of our roommates, Dan, died.
Dan was like ninety, so his wasn’t the most unexpected/depressing death in history. Still, Dan didn’t want to die and we didn’t want him to either. Claire and I rented our rooms from Dan’s brother, Vance, another white-haired, white-bearded gent about ten years Dan’s junior who had bought up a bunch of Seattle real estate back before the tech boom and was now one of those multi-millionaires-on-paper-but-on-paper-only. It was a living arrangement Claire and I had hoped would be temporary, but what with student loans and credit cards and the cost of city living, we found it too tough to walk away from the two pretty big rooms Vance rented us for a pittance—the family price, as he called it, because that’s what we technically were, family.
Vance was my brother-in-law’s father-in-law. Simple, I thought. But whenever I said this to people, they’d invariably frown and look up and start typing it out in the air between us, leaving me to translate, “You know, my wife’s brother’s wife’s father.”
Vance’s house was a big brick seven-bedroom affair in upper Capitol Hill that hadn’t had a coat of paint in thirty years and whose ancient electrical outlets emitted tiny blue sparks you could see whenever the lights were out. The abundance of space was why Dan had moved in with his younger brother during his final year of life, along with a live-in nurse and stacks and stacks of liquid food. Dan needed a respirator towards the end and there was room for that too.
Dan had actually passed several months before Mackenzie’s visit, but this family was hardly uptight regarding deadlines, plus Dan had been a sculptor of repute in his day, which meant his headstone had to be appropriately awesome, and since he’d already been cremated, it was technically no rush. The only problem with any of this was that when Dan’s daughter, Dana, finally settled on a funeral date, it landed on day two of my until-recently-estranged sister’s four-day stay with us.
I had done my best to explain all this to Mackenzie over the phone a month before her visit. I’d explained it to her two weeks prior by email and three days ago by text message and again a day later by phone, plus once more last night tete-a-tete over those cocktails with the fifteen ingredients in them. I’d just finished re-explaining for the whatever-th time on the morning of Dana’s call, doing so with heavily apologetic tones while presenting her with a list of sightseeing stuff she could do while Claire and I spent the afternoon putting Dan underground.
“You’ll have fun,” I told her. “Lots to do around here. Then we’ll have all day tomorrow and all day Monday. It’ll be highly meaningful, you’ll see. Plus we still have the rest of this fine morning together. Or until 11:30, anyway.”
“You said 11:45.”
“Yes. Yes, I did. Need to get dressed too though. Got to account for that.”
“It’s fine, Z. I’ll be fine. Don’t worry about me.”
“Hey, I just had an idea! You could come with us! How do you feel about that option? The graveyard is supposedly right on the ocean. Honestly, it sounds crazy idyllic.”
“A funeral,” she said flatly.
“I doubt it will be your typical run-of-the-mill funeral. They don’t do anything typical around here. Dana’s been talking about where to source the marble for the headstone for months now. There will probably be a DJ. Vance mumbled something about strobe lights a few days ago.”
“Z? You’re not seriously inviting me to an interment right now, are you?”
“You would have loved Dan,” I assured her. “He’d have loved you, I guarantee that. Dan loved everybody. Plus, you wouldn’t have to stand around for the actual burial part. You could just sort of wander among the graves, reading epitaphs. I mean, you definitely wouldn’t have to change into more morbid-colored garments, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
“No, Z. It’s fine. Seriously. Thank you for the list. We’ll have all day tomorrow and the next. Like you said.”
“Don’t forget the rest of this morning. Or until 11:00 anyway. There’s a lovely park nearby that you’ll probably be into. Then we can walk down 15th and grab some—”
And that’s when Dana called.
For several seconds I watched my phone quake across the kitchen table. Funny thing is, I almost never picked up calls, usually just waited for the voicemail and called back later. Morgan Freeman suggested I keep that custom going. But when I looked across at my sister, she looked as peeved as I’d ever seen her. She was several years older than the last time I’d seen her in any state, so either the tooth-straightening business had sharpened her fangs, or I’d just forgotten what she looked like.
Mackenzie and I hadn’t seen each other for five years, not since the summer after Mom’s accident. I wish I could say we had a falling out over something in particular, but we didn’t, not really. We may be twins, but we’re definitely twins cut from different cloth. She and Mom had been proud owners of wrist watches and talked about them and also about haircuts and the color schemes of royal weddings.
Here’s another way to put it: there are two types of people in this world, those who use the word brunch and those who don’t. My sister and mom used to say and/or eat that non-meal most days a week.
It’s also worth mentioning that our family comprises a long line of medical doctors. Mom was one, so was Dad, as was his father and brother too, and Mackenzie followed suit. Me, I’d dropped out of college and worked part time at a pot shop in a city I couldn’t afford and spent most my spare time making shit up that didn’t make a ton of sense but which I hoped enough people would pay $28 a pop for so I could continue making them up. “Not the soundest business model,” my mom had once said.
All this is to say that, as I looked across the table at my shiny fuming sister, even Morgan Freeman sounded unconvincing.
I picked up my phone and punched accept.
“Dana,” I said in my best hello-dear-friend-on-this-morning-of-your-father’s-funeral tone of voice.
“Z! Thank the gods! Help! We need help here. Someone strong!”
“I . . . Am I strong?”
“Z, we got to get the statues out! Those fuckers are just toting them off!”
“Toting? What’re you talking about, Dana?”
“Dad’s work! All his goddamned work! They broke into his studio and it’s a freaking free for all right now, people just carrying off statues and stuff from his studio! The police aren’t coming and I need muscle! Your muscle! Somebody’s got to get Dad’s Pegasus out and that other one with the thing!”
“His . . . ?”
“Pegasus! And the—that—the other—or at least the—DAMNIT! This day of all days!”
Claire had just come smiling into the kitchen, drying her hair with a towel, but quickly noted Mackenzie’s expression, which had intensified from pissed to projectile disdain, and stopped smiling.
“Did you call the police?” I asked Dana.
“They came last night, the fire department did, and boarded up the door, but these swine, they knocked it down sometime this morning and are just carrying shit off. I need your help, Z. I can’t carry Dad’s sculptures by myself and everybody else is already up north for the service.”
“So you need help carrying the heavy stuff?” I repeated for Claire and Mackenzie’s sake.
“Yes, and there’s other stuff too, but the heavy stuff, yeah, that’s the stuff I need carried, carried by you.”
“Okay, Dana. Hold on one sec. Let me think here.”
I looked at Claire, who had stopped drying her hair and was staring at me all wide-eyed. Her hair was not shiny at all but soft-looking and ripply like a beach. Then I looked at my sister, whose face had now become this fifteen-ingredient cocktail:
2 oz. longstanding resentment
2 oz. renewed disappointment
3 oz. unmasked disgust
½ oz. suppressed loneliness
1 egg white
1 ½ oz. superiority a la professional/financial success
4 years of Mu Tai lessons
2 pints Campari
¾ gallon gin
6-8 fairly pleasant childhood memories
80 milligrams Adderall
2 common parents (one still living) (dad)
2 bottles skim milk
4 oz. scotch, preferably an Islay
1 grapefruit slice for garnish
I told Dana, “I’ll be right over.”
Mackenzie got up from the table so she could more easily turn her back on me while I did some basic explaining to Claire.
“So. I guess I’m running over there to help,” I said.
“Where even is Dan’s studio?” Clair asked.
“Good question. I guess I’ll have to call back once I get on the road.”
Mackenzie was standing in the middle of the kitchen with her arms crossed just like in her airplane ads, minus the florescent smile.
“Mackenzie,” I said, “listen. Sorry about all this. Really. This’s obviously some unfortunate timing. I mean, it is the day of our uncle’s funeral, after all, so shit’s likely to go down.
“Why do you keep calling him your uncle?”
“Because. That’s what he is. Obviously. Or grand uncle or great uncle or something. Should I be adding second as a prefix? Is that why you’re scowling at me right now? Should I be saying thrice removed through marriage or some shit?”
“Z,” Claire interrupted.
“No, no, no. I’m just really curious how they say it in the United Kingdom, is all.”
“What, Claire? He was our fucking wife’s brother’s wife’s father’s brother, wasn’t he?”
“No. Wait. Sorry. My bad. My wife’s brother, your plain brother’s. Listen Mac, I apologize. Sincerely. I’d have illuminated you a family tree in advance if I’d known this was coming.”
Mackenzie said, “Don’t you go bending over backwards just for me, Z. I’m merely your sister. And I have this nifty little Home Depot receipt with a list of destinations scribbled on the back to keep me busy while you tend to your family emergency.”
“Listen. I’m just going to run over there and help Dana. It’ll take like ten minutes. We shall be reunited by 9:00 or 9:30 at the latest, and then we can drink coffee and discuss toothpaste, okay? Just hang in there till then. Please.”
On my way out the door, Claire said, “You be careful, Z.”
* * *
To read the rest of this and other stories in Half an Arc & Artifacts & Then the Other Half order your copy today and have it delivered to your house when it is released in February/March 2022