Paul Peter Hinckley watched his father fall clumsily onto the seventh green of the Audubon golf course, his fingers fanned over the tight grass inches from the hole. He knew—in a way he would describe as “uncannilly familial” every time he recounted the story for years and years to come–that his father was dead. In the hole was Paul’s father’s dimpled ball, resting patiently between its past on the seventh tee and its future home enclosed in glass and mounted in the clubhouse.
“A hole in one, Pop,” Paul had just said.
There was a cry from far back at the tee box, an impatient foursome waiting for the green to be cleared. Paul turned to face their blurry forms, his eyes drawing in.
“A doctor? Any of you guys a doctor?”
He started to walk towards them, his putter still in hand, its rubber grip sliding in his sweaty palms.
“Jeesum Petes. Hey, a doctor?”
Underneath his immediate desire for a doctor the instinctual processes that whirr to life in reaction to unexpected ploys of fate presented him with his options. He could wait for the paramedics to arrive, their sirens halted in the parking lot and the paunchy uniformed men who would jog over the fairways with a stretcher, flap their latex-ed hands, push him aside and tell him to follow in his own sedan, or he could take matters into his own hands, call up Doctor Pochet, drive his father’s body to the hospital himself, and free up the hole.
“What’d you say, buddy?” one of the players called out.
“Nevermind, nevermind,” Paul said, waving his hands in a beckoning motion. “You guys play on, okay? We’ll be out of your way in two minutes.”
He jogged back up the green, retrieved his father’s ball, and then knelt meaning to embrace his father or clasp his shoulder and pat it, but instead he only looked down into the pink, hairy canal of James Douglas Hinckley’s ear. For a few moments, his mind rode a mobius strip of childhood pictures and memories, the bright, ripe colors of reapprehended time, the slow pace of hand-me-down smiles and handshakes. In the background there were oak trees. Amidst the rush, there were single-noted chimes.
“Jeesum.” Paul wished he could have one single, hard martini right at hand.
After a struggle, first with the body, then with the two bags, Paul pulled a tight turn in the golf cart and headed back to the clubhouse. He saw the first member of the group who had been behind him bring down the driver and heard the ricocheting clack as it impacted the ball.
Launched it, Paul thought. He doesn’t know that on seven you gotta come up short.
* * *
Paul summoned a pair of black orderlies in maroon scrubs at the front desk of Touro Hospital to follow him to his car.
“I’m Paul Hinckley.” He decided to shake their hands. “Can you bring one of those wheelchairs?”
The three of them jogged down the sloping circular drive onto Prytania Street. Paul dug through the pocket of his linen shorts and pulled out his keychain and disarmed the alarm.
“What he got?” asked one of the orderlies.
“He’s had a stroke or a heart attack or—god, is it hot or what? Come on, come on, come on, let’s go.”
“Hardertack? We should fetch a stretcha.”
Paul opened the passenger side door, leaned in, and carefully unlatched the seatbelt and pulled it over his father’s stomach.
“Fellas, I hate to get sentimental, but he’s dead.”
“Mister, what we gonna do with him?”
Paul folded his arms and put his chin forward and prepared to talk out of one side of his mouth, a motion that had accompanied all of his irritated demands since childhood. “Look, boys, there’s a plaque in that building there with my father’s name in big raised bronze capitals, so let’s get this done.”
The two orderlies looked at each other and broke a sweat on top of their sweat. “Look, Mr. Hinckley, we can take him inside, but nottroo those doors. It’s emergency only.”
Paul threw his hands apart and brought them back together in a silent, angry clap. “This is a damn emergency!”
“You want him in the lobby, settin’ there dead with the waitin’ folks?”
“I want him in Dr. Pochet’s theater as soon as possible. Look, just put him in the chair and I’ll wheel himself. This hospital used to have a reputation, you know. A damn good one.”
* * *
Paul rode in the elevator watching the line of numbers pass the peach light from one to another. His father slumped in the wheelchair in front of him, sweating through the pique cotton of his shirt as eagerly as if he had been alive.
The elevator slowed and stopped. Paul triggered the Door Close button as soon as the doors started to part. A nurse with a baby in one arm and a sheaf of manila folders in the other scowled and tried to protest.
“There should be a ‘Non-stop’ option here, but otherwise, I’m sorry,” Paul said. The doors shut and the elevator resumed. He bent over as if to throw his words under the door: “I’ll send it back down, ma’am!”
Once he finally arrived on the ICU floor, Paul could feel his nerves start to calm. He was able to plan his next few hours: a phone call to Liza, who could then in turn call and assemble all his brothers, a quick shower at home, and steak at Crescent City. His mind placed the memory of a drop of olive-dirty vodka on the back of his tongue. The lead nurse eyed him suspiciously as he approached.
“Hello, Paul Peter Hinckley. And this is James Douglas.”
“What’s Mr. Douglas’ concern?”
“No, no. James Douglas Hinckley, my father.”
“Sir? You are in the ICU ward. Does your father need intensive care?”
“I’m afraid he’s passed on, actually.”
“Oh my god! He’s dead?”
“Could you please page Dr. Carl Pochet for me, please?”
“Sir, if there’s some kind of—”
“Dr. Pochet, please.”
The nurse looked down at the body in the chair, its neatly folded hands, its evaporating pit stains, its paunchy fragility. Then she looked at the tall man behind it, his fifty-year-old freckles, thinning maple hair, and politely unreasonable eyes. She did not hear him say again, “Dr. Pochet, please.” She watched the words float out of his mouth and put her hand on the phone.
When his old friend turned the corner adjusting his bowtie, Paul mismanaged a look of simultaneous cheer and concern.
“My god, Paul. What’s wrong with the old man? You should be downstairs.”
The doctor reached for his stethoscope.
“No, no, you misunderstand. I’m sorry. He’s passed.”
“Would you believe on the seventh green? It’s fitting, right? He loved that hole.”
“Paul, he’s dead? What are you doing here? You should be heading to the funeral home. I can call ahead for you.”
“I just thought maybe we could determine—”
Dr. Pochet put his left hand up to cover his mouth. “Paul, the man has had three stents put in and a bypass surgery. Jesus. This isn’t a medical mystery. Come into my office.”
In the tight office that Dr. Pochet kept generic and clean, Paul remained standing behind the wheelchair. The doctor opened a cabinet and pulled out a fifth of Jameson that soon relinquished two small shots in Styrofoam cups. Paul sipped at his, and felt his heart pump warm and hard, as if it was overcompensating for the past hour of shallow churning.
“You really want someone to do a post-mortem?”
Paul laughed, “Well I didn’t drive up here at this time of day to enjoy the traffic.”
“Paul, you’re having a serious grief issue.”
“You don’t think we could, maybe this afternoon, ah—”
“No, Paul, I don’t. You need to call your brothers. You need to get a hold of yourself and…and, frankly, stop pushing a corpse around as if you’ve got all the time in the world.”
“Are you busy, is that it?”
“I’m always busy, Paul, but that’s not the point.”
“I’m not looking forward to telling Mother.”
Dr. Pochet moved close and nodded. He put a hand on Paul’s shoulder and whispered, “Paul, you know who you have to call. They can take care of everything for you and you can go be with your family.”
“Maybe I’ll drive him myself.”
“Paul, come on.”
Paul straightened up and tightened his grip on the handles of the wheelchair. “He’s my pop.”
“I know. I know.”
The two of them looked down at the bald crown of James Douglas Hinckley, a pink, sun-spotted hide wrapped in a white Lacoste visor. As the seconds scattered, the doctor could feel himself getting drawn into Paul’s fantasy that the body might shiver, convulse, then look up at them with that famous smile, those shining eyes that had sold hundreds of closing arguments to hundreds of jurors and judges.
“Paul, without the weight of this man’s character, the world is left a little unbalanced. And it’ll be a few days before it gets its legs back. But you’ll see. It’s going to be all right. Why don’t you leave him with me. We’ll get him out to the home, and in the meantime, you can calm and collect.”
“It was his heart, wasn’t it?”
“It’s always the heart with guys like him. They’re not like us, Paul, the previous generation. No use for a diet. Reminds them too much of rationing. It’s always the heart and the arteries, clogged with success.”
Paul pursed his lips and nodded. “Let me take his wallet. And the shoes. They’re actually Mr. Moynahan’s. Pop always had a hard time finding a good pair of his own, you know?”
The doctor nodded. “My best to Liza.”
“Join us for dinner tonight? Steak at Crescent City.”
“On call. Sorry, Paul.”
“Nothing to be sorry about. You guys did everything you could save swapping your own hearts out for his.”
“That’s what he did for so many of us himself.”
Down in the street, Paul withdrew a parking ticket from under his windshield wiper. “The nerve,” he said, then opened his phone to call Liza.
* * *
Elizabeth Rosenstein stood in front of a full-length mirror in the alterations shop on the second floor of Perlis’ clothing store, her full figure eclipsing a second reflection of the Vietnamese tailor. She stood on tiptoe at the estimated height of her Minolo Blahnik heels and actively ignored the clattering sewing machines and the hissing pants press as she turned her head from side to try and see the fabric of a green silk dress fall over her body. The middle-aged latinas with needles poking from their tight lips looked up from moment to moment.
“Do you see, Mr. Nyugen?” she asked. “It’s still drawing here and here. Sometimes I think you just like torturing girls like me.”
“Here?” the tailor asked.
“Face forward. There.”
“Now it no do it. It fall fine.”
Liza turned her head again and contorted her body. “No, you see?”
“Stand straight, it fall fine. You move, this pull.”
“You mean my stomach?” She narrowed her eyes at herself in the mirror and tried to subtly suck in her stomach. “That’s impossible. I’m in the gym now four days a week.”
The tailor shrugged and put his thumbs through his front belt loops. “You gain muscle then.”
Liza huffed. “Shit. These fucking shoulders never felt right anyway. I would start buying clothes here again, but your bags are so unattractive.”
“Okay. You change now?”
Her cell phone rang, echoing in the small changing room. “Hold on. Unzip me.”
She closed the slatted door and opened her phone. “Shit, Paul, I’m changing.”
“What? No, I’m at Perlis’. Just hang on.”
“It’s Pop, Liza.”
“What about him? Abandon another game?” She struggled with the dress until it let go of her and pooled on the floor.
“He died, Liza. Right on the seventh green. Can you believe that? Jeesum, he loved that hole.”
“Oh my god, what happened?”
“Listen, can you call my brothers?”
“Paul, don’t you think—”
“I need a shower badly. Have you been out today? You can taste the air. The air has calories in it.”
Liza rolled her eyes. “Paul, your father is dead!”
“I think so. I left him with Carl.”
“You took him to Touro? I thought you said he died on the damn green.”
“After you call my brothers, you need to call Crescent City and make a reservation for—”
“Paul, are you at home? Let’s meet at home then we can sort this out.”
“—you, me, Joseph, Robert, oh, and I ran into the Favrots outside Langenstein’s and they said they’d like to come.”
“Celine and Clay?”
“No! Samantha and Christopher. So that’s one, two…”
“That’s six, Paul. Christ, can you just meet me at your house and we’ll—”
“Seven. Tell Frankie to make a table for seven.”
“What? Who else now?”
A long, digitized sigh came through the phone. “Liza, we need an empty place.”
“I can’t believe you’re going to leave this up to me to tell your brothers that your father has died while you finish up your day off errands. This is typical.”
“What do you mean ‘typical’?”
“Just how it sounds, with a capital fuckin’ T, so—”
“I don’t wanna fight today, Liza.”
“Did you at least call the firm?”
“Think, Liza. Do you want to spend dinner with fifteen junior partners? Cause that’s what will happen.”
“Don’t tell them about fucking dinner. Just call Mr. Hart personally. He deserves to know.”
“Yeah, yeah, okay. I’ll see you at my house.”
Liza hung up and looked down over her body, at the strange rolls that didn’t belong, didn’t align with her lithe memories of youth. She hadn’t changed her life or routine since she turned eighteen except to drop a few bad habits. Yet she continued to expand and soften. It wasn’t fair. While she gathered her white linen pantsuit and started to dress, she wondered what it would feel like to slip out of the body like Paul’s father, a soul shedding pounds, a new-come youngster amidst the host of eternity.
It’s not like me to think that way, she thought. It’s just not.
She emerged from the changing room and revisited the mirror to straighten her hair.
“Twenty-five dollar, Ms. Rosenstein.”
“Put it on my boyfriend Paul Hinckley’s charge account,” she said. “He won’t mind. He just became a millionaire.”
* * *
The Crescent City Steakhouse was nearly empty besides the long table assembled for their group. Behind the long bar at the back the servers chatted with a bartender, waiting to be summoned. A few red, white, and blue streamers leftover from the fourth hung lightly from the crown molding, rippling from the current of the air conditioners that kept the bright room chilled at sixty-eight degrees. Paul looked between the gray heads of Mr. and Mrs. Favrot at the flat screen television rooted on top of a shelf beside the hostess’ podium. He watched statistics appear in silver boxes that shared the screen with a Mets-Royals game.
“I think if I tried I could remember which exact years this place upgraded the television. Jeesum, look at that picture. We saw game five of the 1973 World Series here in black and white. I know that for sure.”
“Paulie,” Mr. Favrot grinned, “I can remember when they had a radio.”
Liza sliced a soft boiled potato in half with the edge of her fork. “Well, I can remember when the staff at least still wore ties.”
“The rib eye hasn’t changed for forty years, and that’s all I care about.” Paul’s oldest brother, Robert sat to Paul’s left separated by an empty seat.
“Forty years. Jeesum,” Paul said. “It seems like too short a time for this neighborhood to change so much.” Beyond the large windows, carefully hidden by gauzy white valences was a typical Broad Street line of empty storefronts and rust-locked warehouse doors. “We used to be able to ride our bikes through here. You remember? Pop and you and all the other usual suspects, Mr. Favrot. You’d tell us kids to be up here by seven. We all shoved into one of those little booths over there and drew the curtains and talked girls while Pop did business the way he liked to best. With a knife and a fork in his hand instead of a fountain pen.” Paul and Mrs. Favrot laughed.
“Paul, we’re gonna need to get down to business ourselves soon,” Joseph said. Paul looked down at the table at him, annoyed for the fiftieth time that night that his younger brother was still wearing an open-collared button-down shirt with his company’s logo embroidered on it.
Joseph leaned in and lowered his voice. “The way I see it, we got our top-tier priorities. Obituary, the wake, and getting them started carving on the headstone. Then we got secondary. Flowers, catering, Father McCafferty. The like.”
Paul shook his head. “You’re going to upset Mrs. Favrot here, Joe.”
“Who’s gonna write the obituary?” Robert asked. “I sure as hell can’t do it.”
“Guys—” Peter pleaded. Mr. and Mrs. Favrot turned their heads back and forth to follow the volleyed sentences.
“You gotta do the eulogy, though, Robbie,” Joseph said, pointing. “You’re the oldest. But, don’t worry, we’ll get someone else to write that, too.”
Peter looked into the parsley-flecked grease coating his empty plate and shook his head. “Guys, I thought maybe I could—”
“Maybe Aunt Irene.”
“C’mon, guys, I think—”
“Paul, are you going to let them run this whole show?” asked Liza.
Peter picked up his empty bourbon glass, lifted it six inches, and slammed it down on the table, producing a sharp knock. Then eight inches. Then ten inches. It seemed to bounce on that try and his arm flew straight up above his head. “Can I get a darn drink here, please?” He yelled. A college-aged waiter jogged out from behind the bar like he was coming out of a dugout, called forward to settle down a wild pitcher. He took Paul’s tumbler out of his hand and replaced it with a new one containing two inches of neat whiskey that were already causing the glass to sweat. Each pair of eyes around the table watched him bring the rim close to his lips and pause.
“Look, guys, our family is Irish in history and in name. The only business we have to take care of tonight is getting cock-eyed and sharing stories. Here’s to Pop.”
Mrs. Favrot raised her mug of coffee and her husband clapped his hands. Liza’s cocktail straw was already in her mouth. Robert and Joseph leaned across the table to see each other around Paul’s pose.
Joseph spoke first. “Now, look. I can take a few guys off a crew and send them out to 3131 tomorrow. They can clean the place up and air it out for the visitation. I don’t have keys though. Who has the keys?”
Hearing the address sent something swimming amidst the half-digested steak in Paul’s stomach. The old family house on St. Charles Avenue was set back on a lawn too modest for its size and flourish. The brothers had each had their reverse graduation from that house to more accessible dwellings years ago. Once the baby Joseph had left, his parents gently unemployed the staff save for one maid. Then, years later, once his mother’s mind had necessitated a move to Poydras Home, James Douglas Hinckley decided to move out, too. Peter could remember the year that the house’s designation shifted from “home” to “3131.” It was the same year his father took a room at the International House Hotel in the Central Business District, just a few blocks from the office building that housed the contemporary offices of Hart, Hinckley, and Sternberg. It was the year Jordan left basketball.
“The keys are in a safe deposit box in the Whitney Bank downtown,” Robert said.
“And who has that key?” asked Liza.
Paul downed almost all of his new drink and rose. “Excuse me,” he declared, and marched away towards the bathroom, pausing only to watch the glide of a home run ball in high definition.
In the bathroom he fumbled with his fly and stared at the wall above the urinal but couldn’t recognize the blank space. While trying to figure out if it had been painted a different color, the alcohol in which his neurons were soaking had set their own agenda, and his ambitions shifted from emptying a bottle passed from couch to couch in his living room with his brothers to achieving complete euphoria on a barstool at the Mayfair Lounge.
He washed his hands thoroughly and reentered the dining room. At the table Liza was chewing on her red plastic cocktail stirrer while Mrs. Favrot dug through her purse looking for photographs of her grandchildren. Joseph had traded seats and now sat in the previously empty place Paul had demanded so he could speak freely with Robert. Paul checked the front pocket of his navy blazer for his wallet then stepped sideways towards the door.
If they’re not going to have any sense of decorum, he thought, then how can I be bothered to say goodnight?
A hard, wet heat pressed down on him once he was outside in the parking lot. A couple pulled themselves out of a black and white United Cab and Paul slid into the vinyl backseat they had just vacated and crossed his arms.
“The Mayfair Lounge,” he told the driver.
“What’s that address, mister?”
“Jeesum!” Paul muttered. “Doesn’t anyone know this city anymore?”
Continue Reading Chapter 2: Exile at the Mayfair Lounge