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Envy

Kathryn Harrison
Querido, Amsterdam,




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the ledge - flash version*

*
English

ENVY — KATHRYN HARRISON

Will waits for his father at Molyvos, a Greek restaurant in midtown with a tiled floor and walls the color of terra-cotta. It’s not the quietest place, but the lunchtime crowd has started to thin, and the layout makes for a lot of small corner tables, a sense of privacy if not calm. Will prefers to have his back to the wall, but he takes the chair and saves the banquette for his father, who gives his shoulder a hello squeeze before he slides in.
‘So,’ he says. ‘How’s Carole? Sam?’
‘They’re good. Sam’s loving this crazy tai kwon do class we put her in. Spends hours bowing to herself in the mirror. Carole’s working too many hours – big surprise. There’s some sort of grievance developing between the union and the district, but her position probably won’t be affected by whatever changes are made. If any changes are made.’
‘So she did sign the contract?’
Will nods. In addition to her private practice, Carole has recently taken a job with District 15, screening children for speech disorders. Four mornings a week, she administers diagnostic tests at either P.S. 321 or P.S. 282 in Park Slope, or at P.S. 8, a progressive elementary school in Brooklyn Heights. No retirement package, but benefits that include health insurance at a rate much more affordable than what he can get through NAAP.
1.

 
ENVY — KATHRYN HARRISON


Will waves the waiter away. ‘We need a few minutes,’ he says. He points at a book in his father’s upper-left-hand pocket. ‘What’s that?’
His father pulls out a paperback copy of Frankenstein and asks Will if he’s read it.
‘A long time ago.’
His father frowns. I wasn’t expecting it to be so sad,’ he says, thumbing through the pages. ‘I’d stop, but you know how I am. Can’t walk out of a bad movie. Can’t cancel a trip to the beach because rain’s forecast.’
‘Where are you?’ Will asks him when he doesn’t look up from the book. ‘What part?’
The two of them meet once a month, just to see each other, keep up. Sometimes they talk about books they’ve discovered, movies they’ve seen, and Will is often surprised by his father’s choice of reading material. Last month it was Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
‘Just finished volume two,’ his father says, and closes the book. ‘The monster has killed Frankenstein’s son. And he’s requested a female companion as hideous and deformed as himself, so that he can make love to a creature that won’t turn away from him in revulsion.’ Will’s father closes his eyes for a moment. ‘Isn’t it curious that such a tragic figure would have become, a hundred years later, a kind of joke? A hulking, green bungler with big boots and bolts in his neck.
2.

 
ENVY — KATHRYN HARRISON

A figure of derision. Not capable of an act as focused as a hateful, vengeful murder.’
‘Why are you reading it?’
He shrugs. ‘I don’t know. I was in the bookstore, looking through the classics because, you know, I skipped so many. I picked it up, put it back on the shelf, ended up coming back to it when nothing else caught my eye. Something about the cover, must have been.’ He holds it up, but the picture’s too small for Will to see clearly from across the table, and his father hands it to him. It’s a reproduction of a painting – six people gathered around a table and above them, on a pedestal, a white bird trapped inside a glass globe. Will turns the book over to read the fine print on the back cover. ‘A detail from “An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump,” a painting in the National Gallery,’ he tells his father. No date is given for the work, and Will has never heard of the artist, Joseph Wright. The bird is caught in an unnatural position, one wing extended, perhaps broken, and a tube attaches the sealed glass globe to a sinister-looking apparatus. The whole scene is lit dramatically so that a flood of yellow light picks out certain details and leaves others in darkness, as in a crucifixion by Caravaggio, for example.
3.

 
ENVY — KATHRYN HARRISON


‘Doves usually represent the holy spirit, don’t they?’ Will asks his father.
‘Guess so,’ he says. ‘Distressing, seeing an animal trapped like that.’ The waiter returns and Will’s father points to a line on the menu. Will leans forward, trying to see what he’s chosen.
‘What are you getting?’ he asks him.
‘Dolmades?’ – dole maids – ‘Is that how you say it?’
Will shrugs. ‘Grape leaves,’ he says. ‘With rice inside and something else, I’m not sure what.’
Across the table, his father is patting the many pockets of his sportsman’s vest as if to remind himself of their contents, a gesture that has become habitual, even compulsive. Once he’d sold his veterinary practice and discarded his lab coats, he created what is in effect a new uniform: the khaki vest with numerous pockets, all of which he fills; wide-wale, navy blue corduroy trousers; and a fishing hat that looks like an upside-down flowerpot. The hat might be funny on another man – on anyone but his father – and Will has himself to blame for the vest. After he complained to his mother that he and Carole were receiving too many of what they’d begun to refer to as his father’s ‘booty calls’, his mother bought the vest so his father wouldn’t have to carry his cell phone in the back pocket of his trousers, into which he’d jam the thing and then sit on it while driving, inadvertently putting pressure on whatever button he’d programmed to speed dial Will’s home number.
4.

 
ENVY — KATHRYN HARRISON

Whoever picked up would hear the thrum and whoosh of highway travel punctuated by random throat clearings and sometimes the strains of whatever song was playing on the local oldies station. ‘Dad!’ Will would yell. ‘DAD!’ But his father never heard the tiny voice coming out from underneath him and once Will had answered the phone, he found it difficult to hang up and sever the connection. Though his father was oblivious to his phantom presence in the car – or perhaps because he was oblivious – there was an unexpected intimacy in having been summoned to ride along with him, invisible and undetected, returned to his ten-year-old self, happy to be with his father, no matter how workaday the errand.
5.


     
The Ledge
editor-in-chief: Stacey Knecht, info@the-ledge.com
Thanks to: De digitale pioniers and
Het Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds
Design: Maurits de Bruijn

Copyright: Pieter Steinz, Stacey Knecht
All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the author.