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Authors: Antoine Wilson

Tags: #Adult

The Interloper

Copyright © 2007 Antoine Wilson

Production Editor: Mira S. Park

This book was set in 11.5 pt ACaslon by Alpha Graphics of Pittsfield, NH.

eISBN: 978-1-59051-551-8

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from Other Press LLC, except in the case of brief quotations in reviews for inclusion in a magazine, newspaper, or broadcast. For information write to Other Press LLC, 2 Park Avenue, 24th Floor, New York, NY 10016. Or visit our Web site:
www.otherpress.com
.

The Library of Congress has cataloged the printed edition as follows:

Wilson, Antoine.
The interloper / Antoine Wilson.
   p. cm.
1. Murder victims’ families–Fiction. 2. Prisoners–Fiction. 3. Revenge–Fiction. I.
Title.
PS3623.I5778I67 2007
813′.54–dc22

2006014546

Publisher’s Note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

v3.1

To Chrissy

Acknowledgments

Thank you to Eric Bennett, Connie Brothers, Dana Goodyear, Brigid Hughes, Rosanna Levinson, Jack Livings, James Alan McPherson, Zoe Pagnamenta, Carol Houck Smith, John Woodward, and my parents. Also, for their generous support, the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, where I was fortunate to spend a year as the Carol Houck Smith Fellow in Fiction Writing.

Contents

Passing stranger! you do not know how longingly I look upon you,

You must be he I was seeking, or she I was seeking, (it comes to me, as of a dream,)

I have somewhere surely lived a life of joy with you,

All is recall’d as we flit by each other, fluid, affectionate, chaste, matured,

You grew up with me, were a boy with me, or a girl with me,

I ate with you, and slept with you, your body has become not yours only nor left my body mine only,

You give me the pleasure of your eyes, face, flesh, as we pass, you take of my beard, breast, hands, in return,

I am not to speak to you, I am to think of you when I sit alone or wake at night alone,

I am to wait, I do not doubt I am to meet you again,

I am to see to it that I do not lose you.

—WALT WHITMAN
, To a Stranger

1

My name is Owen Patterson. I am thirty-eight years old. I am in fine shape medically and psychologically. I have been checked out on both counts. Despite my being far away from her, and my not having talked to her for several months now, I remain married to Patricia Patterson, née Stocking. We have no children. I consider myself a civilized person, probably around 80% acclimated to the society in which I lived, if not more. A solid B. I miss working for the software company. Life had a nice routine to it. Software manuals are pleasingly logical when written right, and we used to write them right. If I could wake up from this bad dream, I would wake up in my cubicle at the software company, face creased from the edge of a binder, and ask mouth-breathing Neil, in the next cubicle over, if he wanted to get some coffee downstairs.

They won’t give me access to any of my files or letters. This account is an escape hatch that opens into deep water. If the man who murdered Patty’s brother had been executed for his crime,
if our justice system had been just, we might have been able to move on, we might have continued in a state of normalcy, however fragile. But the soil of our marriage was poisoned. Not by her brother’s murder. By the twenty-odd-year sentence handed down to the man who had taken CJ’s life. Twenty years—three square meals a day, a warm place to rest, friends and associates of like criminal mind—for taking CJ away forever.

I was present at the sentencing. I was the stiff man in the blue suit on whose lapel the victim’s sister quietly sobbed. Calvin Senior and I were two pillars of male strength, and we supported our weeping wives, as it was supposed to be. There was no admission of guilt from Henry Joseph Raven, no apology to the family, just a smile and a wink to a woman in the gallery as they led him away. He had no idea what he had done to the Stockings. He did not care, and the Stockings could see this, and there was no finality. The world was an unbalanced equation—you could write it down, it was there in front of you on paper, but it was fundamentally wrong.

Over a year after Henry Raven had been put away, Patty sat at the Stocking family dinner table with her parents, with me. She wore all black. There was no continuity between the Patty I’d married and the Patty whose brother had been murdered. The soil had been poisoned. We sleepwalked through our lives. She worked the night shift at the pharmaceutical company, I wrote software documentation, half at the office, half at home. We saw each other when we could. I once snuck out to Patty’s work to surprise her. In the lab she wore a sterile suit, and I was desperate to see her in something that wasn’t black. I couldn’t get past
security. If I had known how, I would have paid someone to kill Henry Raven in prison.

That night at dinner, I was optimistic for the first time in months. After a false start I will relate below, I had stumbled across a means by which Raven would suffer appropriately for his crime, a way to tip the scales, bring things back to normal, show the Stockings that justice had been done, that CJ’s death had not been met with a wink and a smile, but with just punishment.

First, dinner. Every family comprises a little metaphysical universe, and the addition or subtraction of a member can throw off the balance completely. Despite the fact that the Stockings had lost CJ—he was murdered while Patty and I were on our honeymoon—they’d gained me. I sat in his seat, but I did not possess the same appetite he did. CJ was known for his ability to eat seconds and thirds at every meal. I am a slow eater, due to some scar tissue in my esophagus I have never had repaired; also, I could not stand Minerva’s cooking. Everything was unsalted—for the benefit of Calvin Senior’s heart—and the only salt on the table was potassium salt, which was not salt. Patty had grown up on bland food, and had attuned her taste buds to it, while I had grown up foraging in my aunt and uncle’s kitchen (tortilla chips, corn dogs) and couldn’t taste Minerva’s flavorless cooking.

Calvin Stocking Senior was big and silent, bearish not in terms of hairiness but of his long and lumbering body, upon which had been placed a small head. At dinner, he still wore his tie from work, and the way the flesh of his thick neck bulged above his starched white collar reminded me of those dogs whose skulls are too small for their brains. Minerva Stocking was the rounder of the two, not fat so much as plump, and she could be
depended upon to wear various mystical stones, crystals, turquoise and the like, to accentuate her suburban outfits. If she had not talked, dinner would have been quiet. She was a great believer in signs. She gave me a card not long after CJ’s death that said “Everything Happens For A Reason—American Proverb.” A number of highly successful people are deeply susceptible to signs, and I have come to believe that many of them use this technique in order to commune with their unconscious minds. I have tried it from time to time, but find that my ego, if there is such a thing, will not let go easily. Her permanent subject was her murdered son. Phrases like “CJ would have loved this” and “If only CJ were here to see this” poured out in a steady stream of talk. Calvin Senior joined her in the talk, never enthusiastic but also never reluctant.

It was not the custom of my family to speak of the dead for too long after they were gone. When my cousin Eileen died, we established a tacit agreement that after the mourning period had come to an end, we would no longer speak of her unduly. We did this out of consideration for each other, to put the mourning behind us. Or, more accurately, to keep it bottled within us, hidden away, to reappear only when someone spoke tactlessly and scraped the old wound, or in dreams. To bring her up was to risk rousing emotions. Patty’s family was not afraid of emotions; theirs came out in Little Stocking Pieces instead of Frustrated Patterson Outbursts.

“Tonight we’re having CJ’s favorite,” Minerva announced from the kitchen, “T-bone steak and new potatoes.”

Even as I began to gain control over my physical responses to this talk about the dead, even as I felt like I was getting used
to it, I shivered at every mention of CJ. They would never finish talking about him.

Minerva looked at me across the table and asked what I thought of the tahini dressing.

I smiled and said, “What goes into that, exactly? I might want to throw some together at home.”

She listed ingredients and ran down some preparation instructions, which I forgot immediately. Patty knew what I was doing. She called it “baiting” her mother. She was highly attuned—possibly overattuned—to insincerity. Her mother suffered from no such sensitivity.

“Tell my parents how work is going,” said Patty.

“We’re doing a total revision of a manual for our accounting software. My boss wants to go head-to-head with the third-party manuals. I’m not sure why. It’s a lot of writing.”

“You know CJ used to write,” Minerva said.

“He did not,” Patty said.

“Now, now,” said Calvin Senior, “let your mother speak.”

“Writing was his favorite subject. We used to get all kinds of notes from his English teachers, talking about how creative his papers were. Now, they weren’t always supposed to be creative, but leave it to CJ. He was irre—something—ible that way.”

“Irresponsible?” I offered.

“Irrepressible,” said Patty.

“Yes. That.”

Typically, Minerva brought him up, Patty resisted, and Calvin Senior let it be known that they were going to talk about what Minerva wanted to talk about. After which Patty eased into CJ-talk herself.

I was a fresh audience, an opportunity to build CJ from the ground up. I had already begun hearing repeated stories. In some ways I was becoming one of them. Except I felt little sense of loss, vis-à-vis CJ. I had only met him in person a few times. Since I had gotten to know him through stories, I hadn’t really lost anything. The stories kept coming.

The Stockings never talked about the murder. They found a way to bring CJ’s memory into just about any conversation, but the murder itself was taboo. They never mentioned Henry Joseph Raven. He had become just another manifestation of a generalized evil force that existed “out there.” They simply missed CJ, as if he had died in a car accident or scaffolding collapse. I suppose they had some ideas about vengeance corrupting the soul.

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