A journal of narrative writing.
Prince of Fools


What was he supposed to do when Jake called and said things hadn’t been going real well at school and he was going to need to come home now, for the summer, just till things got straightened out? Will balked. No way. No way was little brother moving back in.

“Well, there’s the Lair,” he told Jake. “How about that?”

Aunt Hattie was their father’s older sister, and she had lived in the Lair. Disabled, mentally handicapped, retarded, crazy, whatever she had been, Walter had inherited her care after their parents died. He put that little studio flat in upstairs over the shop for her so he could keep an eye on her. The flat smelled of sour clothes, bad breath and feet. Whenever she saw Will she’d cry out “Veely! Veely!” and he hid from her. The television ran twenty four hours a day, sometimes the radio too. Sometimes she sang, a tuneless drone drifting down the metal steps. Every morning, noon and evening, Walter trudged upstairs, made sure that she ate, that the stove wasn’t on (finally he disconnected it), that occasionally a window would be opened a few inches in spite of her frantic protests. When she stopped using the toilet, they moved her into a nursing home. They put the soiled armchair and rank mattress in the dumpster. Walter thought maybe they could rent the place out, and got as far as replacing the carpet, but by then the boys’ mother was diagnosed with the breast cancer that would eventually kill her. He just locked the door and left it. Six months later, Hattie was dead. Jake was just old enough to vaguely remember old Hattie. Sometimes he lured Will up into the empty flat, where he opened all the cupboards and made spooky noises at Will to taunt him. If Will told on him, Walter would just sigh and say, “Leave him be. He’s just a kid.”

Jake was the one who started calling it the Witch’s Lair. In high school Jake dragged in another mattress and his electric guitar, the one he had pleaded and begged and pouted and sulked for so persistently that Walter had agreed to pay for it by reconditioning all the vacuum cleaners for a maid service. But who, Will remembered, who was it who spent several Saturdays actually doing the final detailing on those vacuums, buffing the shells and fitting the new rubber bumpers and artfully winding the cords in neat figure eights? Me, that’s who. For his goddamn guitar, along with herbalistic whiffs and unfamiliar kids coming and going up the back stairs at night, leaving beer cans in the parking lot that Will cleaned up in the mornings. Once he complained about it to Jake, who grinned and ducked and said, “Sorry, bro. I’ll tell them to cut it out, or at least use the dumpster.”

“Or maybe you could pick them up,” Will sniped, “and put them in the recycling bin.” But he didn’t, and they didn’t, and Will couldn’t stand to leave them there till Jake managed to drag himself out of bed. He wished Jake would just move totally into the Lair, but it didn’t come with laundry facilities and a full refrigerator or a self-cleaning bathroom. The day Jake loaded his guitar and amp and wa-wa pedal into the Toyota Walter bought him, Will watched his father’s eyes go wet as Jake waved and headed down the highway for the state college he’d managed to get into. He wanted to slug both of them.

Will informed his father that they should sell vacuum cleaners as well as fixing them. People were only going to bother to repair a machine if it was good enough to make it worth it. So they should sell them: high-end, classy ones that might actually last more than a couple of years. Walter pondered and nodded, saying, “And with Jake’s tuition, that might help.”

A year after that, Walter retired. Will sold Miele, Riccar and Sebo vacuums, and fixed anything anyone brought in the door. Walter went on a charter tour of Germany, to see for the first time where his parents had come from. He met a lovely woman on the trip, vivacious and generous. He visited her in Florida, and decided to stay.

Will refloored the house in laminate and tile; he replaced the old brocaded curtains with white sheers that made him think of summer breezes off the sea, like the cover of the L.L. Bean catalog. He bought a leather recliner and a flat screen television. He thought about getting a cat. He’d always liked cats. He’d been told Jake was allergic to cats.

So it was going to be the Lair or nothing for Jake. Jake laughed and said the Lair would be just fine. And maybe he could help out in the shop some, too. Will noticed the “maybe” and the “some.”

When he did, he was charming. Tall, slim, bleached teeth gleaming, he swept the Miele turbo head across the sample carpet patch triumphantly crying “Vroom! Vroom!” and women would laugh. “Remember, my dear,” he would coo, “the bitterness of poor quality lingers long after the sweetness of low price has faded.” They would shake their heads and get out their credit cards. So he wasn’t totally useless.


So Jake told me to come around in the back door. Then my purse caught on that broom and it whacked on the floor, and I’m thinking what the hell do they even need a broom for when it’s a vacuum cleaner store? This guy working in the back snapped a look at me and said, “Can I help you, young lady?” Oh, please. I told him I was supposed to meet Jake Froehlich, and he said Jake wasn’t there. I mean, Jake told me to come around four, and it was like four fifteen, and he wasn’t even there. No text, no voicemail, zip. So I’m standing around in the back room with this sketchy guy, I thought he must be Jake’s landlord or something. It kind of sucked. I got out a smoke, and he told me I couldn’t smoke there, then he looked out the window and asked if that was my little red car out there, and I’m like yeah, and…? And he goes you might not want to park under that tree back there, it’s half dead and you probably don’t want a limb coming down on it or the carpenter ants all over the place. So I’m about to go back out there and move my car and have a smoke as long as I have to wait around, and just then Jake comes in the door with a case of beer and a bag from the grocery store. Whew. Just in time. We’d hooked up at a couple parties down at school, but I hadn’t seen him since he left, and had sort of forgotten (but not totally, you know?) how hot he is. You just want to touch him, he’s all smooth and gold colored and you want to pet his hair down because it’s usually a mess, especially when he needs a haircut, like now. Anyway, then he introduces me to the guy – it’s his brother. I didn’t know he even had a brother. But the way the brother, Bill or Will,whatever his name was, was looking at me – more like NOT looking at me – made me think I’d, oh, make nice a little, you know what I mean? So I walked over to him, smiling like kind of shy, and held out my hand and said all sweet, “It’s really nice to meet you.” He literally backed up and held up his hands and said, “oh, sorry, my hands are all dirty,” which they were. So I reached over and patted his arm and gave it a little squeeze and walked away kind of slow so he could have a good look at that view. When we got upstairs I was busting out laughing and Jake shook his finger at me and said “That is not nice, smarming up my big brother.” He stood pushed up behind me and slid the straps of my bra and tank top down off my shoulder.

“You jealous?” I said.

“Course,” he said, with his mouth running up and down the back of my neck. I reached behind and slid a finger or two up the hem of his shorts. He bit down a little. Oh yes, uh-huh. He was going to be a good boy, I could tell.