|Chapter 67||Table of Contents||Chapter 69|
Estrangement, February 1, 2059
I hadn’t seen Jon in the flesh for almost three years. I was shocked by how much he had changed. He was harder and smoother somehow, as if he had an invisible barrier just above his skin. Nothing stuck to him. At first I thought it was shock over Matt’s death, but there was more to it than that. Jon drifted through the funeral like an alien. He talked, he laughed, he shared old stories, but it was all surface. There was a distance and a calculation in him that made me uneasy.
The fact that Matt had been declared an enemy of the state was not a secret. No doubt some in the crowd were curiosity seekers, but I also saw a lot of faces I recognized. More than a few whispered conversations stopped as soon as I got within earshot. I didn’t care; I just wanted to bury my brother.
I thought I had got used to the idea of Matt being dead, but during the ceremony and after, at the reception, I, several times, felt like a piece of my heart had been torn away. I hate the feeling of having no option, no escape — the feeling that there is absolutely nothing one can do but suffer and accept. Oh, you can howl at the moon, run in mad circles, build pyramids and statues, but in the end you’ll wind up right back where you began — at suffering and acceptance.
At the end of the reception, Jon turned to me and said, “I’ll see you Monday. I have someone to meet.”
I felt cut off at the knees. What could I do but say, “Okay”? He was gone just like that.
Sunday was a quiet day. I fussed in the greenhouse all day, keeping myself busy. When I am troubled, I find that working with my hands is a good way to keep my mind off ‘the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.’ Anna brought me coffee from the house a couple of times.
Mid-morning on Monday, Jon showed up. We left Anna with Bessie Waters next door and headed to the lawyer’s office. Jon, Edie and I were joined by Zarina Forbes, a long-time employee who had worked with Matt from the garage days. No one else was there.
I was surprised by how little money Matt had left. A couple of years before I knew he was worth more than 10 million credits, but the estate was now down to 2.7 million, which was more than I would ever make, but he had burnt through a lot of money.
Matt specified a scholarship in dad’s name — the Robert Fontaine Memorial Scholarship Fund. He gave money to several long-time employees, including Zarina. Jon and I each got a chunk of cash and the bulk of the estate, he left to Edie and Anna.
Before Jon was to catch his train, we went to a restaurant. It has to have been one of the strangest meals I have ever experienced.
Jon hardly said two words the whole time — and Edie was much the same. She had a distant, abstracted look on her face. I wasn’t aware of any tension between them. They were both just in orbit. Different orbits. I tried to strike up a conversation, but Jon just smiled and shook his head. He wasn’t being superior; he just didn’t want to talk. I tried several times. Edie was good for a monosyllable or two — yes, no, I don’t know. Finally, I concentrated on eating my soup and sandwich and just let the conversation lie on the floor like an unwelcome corpse.
When we finished I paid the bill by iris scan. Jon came up to me at the till, with Edie behind.
“I’m going to head to the station,” he said.
“I’ll go with you.”
“I’m going home,” said Edie, and she gave me an anguished, indecisive look I didn’t know how to interpret.
“See you soon,” I said to her.
The station was just under two kilometers away, so we had a little walk. Jon maintained his silence most of the way. As the station came into view, he sighed and said, “I’ll have so much work to catch up on.”
The station was half full of people waiting. We checked the schedule. He had an hour and a quarter to wait. We sat on some ancient, uncomfortable, wooden pew-type benches whose only virtue was being practically indestructable.
For a couple of minutes, we sat without talking, then Jon said, “Well if you don’t mind, I’m going to get to work.”
He opened a pocket case and pulled out an iris computer. He popped it in his left eye and proceeded to manipulate his data world via virtual keyboard.
“465,” he said.
“465 waiting messages,” he said.
I felt fairly strange. Here we were, identical brothers who couldn’t talk to each other, sitting in a lobby full of people, half of whom were watching us. With his right eye gleaming, Jon was madly typing in the air, pushing toggles and gadgets only he could see. Children gawked and old men scowled.
I sat and waited, watching the clock. When the train arrived, I walked Jon to the boarding gate, then stood and watched the train depart.
My true feelings didn’t emerge until I was halfway home. I felt relieved. It was like I had lost two brothers, but I was in the clear. I was free and clear now.
Excerpted from _The Bottleneck Years_ by H.E. Taylor
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Last modified November 26, 2013