When he was a high school student, his mother Alana had planned to take him on a trip to Monterey, California over Easter. His older brother Liam was away in college and his younger sister, Jane Deirdre, wanted to stay with friends.
At the last minute, Alana Molloy was invited by a male friend to take a cruise on the Queen Elizabeth, something she had always wanted to do. She accepted and asked Liam to take his brother to California.
Liam was restless the whole week; he clearly would rather have been somewhere else, away from Aidan. It was the first time in many years Aidan had been alone with Liam. The predominant memory of the week was the restless beauty of the sea otters that swam in Monterey harbor. They were lively, nervous, playful animals, constantly in motion. They writhed in knots in the water, curling about one another, or floated on their backs looking up at Aidan with dark eyes.
"If I could be an animal," Aidan said, "I'd want to be a sea otter."
"I'll bet you a dollar," Liam replied, "I could hit that one from here with a rock."
After graduating from the State University of New York at New Paltz with a computer science degree, Aidan went to live with Liam in New York City.
The brothers shared a two bedroom apartment on East 90th Street near Third Avenue. Liam loved the city and swore he could never live anywhere else again; Aidan was intrigued by its tempo and possibilities but believed that he moved too slowly to take advantage of it. By the time he decided on anything, it had already swept by in the stream.
Home was Montauk, New York, a village at the tip of Long Island where their father had designed and built half the expensive homes. Their mother, Alana, still lived there. It was what Aidan was used to and at times he longed to return, but there was no work in his field there, or anywhere on the East End of Long Island.
Liam had recently started a recruiting firm with one partner, an older man named Sol Heymann. He had a small office on Madison Avenue at 55th Street.
Aidan originally came to the city to look for a job in the field of software development. When he had been on a few interviews and received one dispiriting offer for thirteen thousand dollars a year, to train as a Cobol programmer with a bank, Liam made him a proposition. He suggested that Aidan come and work for him at a salary of $20,000.00 a year, and Liam would be responsible for finding projects for him.
People who saw them together were always surprised that the two were brothers. Liam was more powerfully built and dark-haired, with an intense, serious look. He was physically awkward, and did not dance or play sports. Aidan was sandy-haired and charming; he was an athlete and dancer and was constantly laughing and telling stories. Liam was ambitious and hungry for material things; Aidan liked to be comfortable but had no particular goals other than to write software and enjoy life.
Aidan accepted the job. Part of the benefit was that he could code in the languages that most interested him, Pascal and C, and could stay away from Cobol or Fortran. Liam was gambling that he could diversify the business in two ways. First, he had never had a technical employee and had so far only made full-time placements at his clients. He was betting they would buy Aidan's time at a markup that would give him a substantial profit over what Aidan's salary cost him. Secondly, he sensed that the mainframe world might be supplanted by two new developments, the Unix operating system and the new DOS-based PC's from IBM. Aidan knew both Unix and DOS.
Liam made a few phone calls and found a client, a Wall Street brokerage that was installing PC's for its traders and needed someone to support them and do some incidental coding to make applications share data. The firm made a six month commitment for Aidan's services.
Aidan would get home in the evening an hour or two before Liam. The brothers lived very independently of each other and Liam wouldn't usually bother to call if he wasn't coming home. Sometimes Aidan didn't see him for days. When Liam wasn't working at work, he was working at women with equal intensity. He had tried to involve his younger brother in the hunt. Aidan had joined him once or twice, but did not want to prowl with him any more because he felt that Liam used him as bait on these occasions. Liam had the looks but not the social ease; he relied on Aidan to charm women traveling in pairs and bring them within reach. Aidan felt like a procurer and anyway, was not as interested in conquest as his brother was.
Liam had a great love to whom he kept returning, but who seemed not to know whether she wanted him as a boyfriend or as a friend. Her name was Darcy Sisnowski. Liam had met her at NYU, where she was studying dance while he studied business administration; she was tall and graceful, with light brown hair and blue eyes. Every few months, she would show up at the apartment and stay for a week. She usually arrived good-humored and left irritated with Liam. Aidan had never seen two people trapped in such a profitless repetition, and he couldn't figure out what either of them saw in the other. He suspected that Liam was too boring for Darcy, and that Darcy was too smart to suit Liam. Darcy cared only for art, and Liam thought of nothing except business.
Given the hours which Liam worked, Darcy was often in the apartment without him, and she and Aidan became friends. Liam trusted Aidan, or at least was too unimaginative to worry about his brother stealing his girlfriend, and Aidan was too honest, or at least too little motivated, to try it. And Darcy wasn't interested anyway. She liked to talk to Aidan obsessively about Liam: What were his origins? Since Aidan and their younger sister, Jane, were so warm-hearted, how was it possible that Liam was so cold? Did he think Liam was capable of love? Aidan told Darcy that Liam must love her because why else would he continue on in their episodic relationship? Darcy had several theories, in which Liam's consistency towards her was either a performance or his response to a challenge.
Most of the time, Aidan felt his older brother wasn't interested in him, but sometimes Liam would set aside an hour or two to talk. Aidan would come out of these sessions feeling dazzled, as if he had just been in the too-bright sun. He suspected, with Darcy, that he had just been the audience for a performance which Liam couldn't usually be bothered to give. Also, much of Liam's attention to you consisted of talking about himself.
For example: "Do you think you and I really come from the same stock? We're so different physically and mentally." And he went on: "I've often thought we had different fathers. You look like John Molloy and I don't. I have a daydream in which I find our parents' wedding certificate and find that I was born before or three months after instead of a year like Mom says."
"That's absurd. Of course Dad was your dad."
"I've often thought Tom Harris was my father. I look more like him, at least like I remember him." Harris was an investment banker who had retired to the East End, a man who had been doing leveraged buy-outs before anyone coined the term. It was true that he had been at the house more or less continuously during their childhood; John Molloy had built several houses for him. Harris had died in 1972. He had been dark like Liam.
"Did you ever ask Mom?"
"I did once and she got really mad at me."
"But what did she tell you?"
"Alana"--he liked to call her that sometimes, as if she wasn't really his mother--"said I'm mad to have thoughts like that, that Dad is the only man she was with her whole life up to his death."
Aidan didn't want to think too much about who she might have been with since.
"They had a good marriage," he said.
"Nonsense. You were too young to know. They hated each other. Only convention kept them glued to each other. They didn't want to hurt the kids or shock the neighbors."
"We'll never agree on this. They loved each other madly."
"They fought like cats and dogs."
"They fought sometimes like everybody does. But they really loved each other."
In August, Aidan took a four day weekend and caught a Trailways bus up to Hopeworth, the town in western New York State where their younger sister, Jane Deirdre, had just finished her freshman year of college.
She met him at the station and took him to dinner at Valerie's Diner in downtown Hopeworth. She was obviously nervous.
"Stop beating around the bush," he said smiling. "You have something to tell me. You've met somebody."
Wallflower Jane was stocky and shy but very smart. She had straight black shoulder-length hair and honest blue eyes. Aidan forgot about Jane too easily when he wasn't with her but felt much closer to her than Liam when he saw her.
"I have but its not who you think."
"I don't think anything in particular, Thing."
In childhood they had a game in which she was a shapeshifter named Thing and he was a creature called the Sand Prince. They played it for hours at a time over many years. They would go out on the beautiful, unpeopled stretch of beach near their home in Hither Hills and Aidan would pretend that he could wrap the beach around him like a cloak. Jane would make believe that she could turn herself into driftwood. Liam refused to play and they named him "Dark Brother."
Only Aidan was permitted to call Jane Thing.
"I'm living with a woman," she said carefully and Aidan's mind raced. "You were living with two girls before," he almost responded, but asked, "You mean...."
Jane tried again. "I'm in a loving relationship with a woman."
Aidan was holding his sister's hand; he had a talent for doing the right thing without thinking. "Are you happy?"
"Its like a fairy tale. She's waiting at home for us. I can't wait for you to meet her."
"Let's go right now."
"Finish your food. And there's one more thing. I've decided to use 'Deirdre', not 'Jane'."
"Okay, Thing." He liked Hopeworth. It was one little orderly street overwhelmed by hills and light. Aidan liked being places where you could see more sky than concrete.
"This is a pretty place."
"I never thought so before." They were still holding hands as they walked to her apartment.
Aidan liked Victoria Sawe at first sight, and Victoria Sawe disliked him. Aidan knew, and appreciated her all the more for it. She was the kind of fierce, honest person he felt comfortable around--you always knew where you stood with her. He felt she disliked him for the right reasons: not from jealousy, nor from malice, but simply because that was her default setting. Victoria didn't trust you until you proved you were no threat. She didn't seem worried about herself--Aidan knew Victoria could protect herself, even before he knew about her guns and occasional violence--but was constantly scanning for threats to Jane. (He was going to have to work at calling her Deirdre.)
He knew that people had tormented and hurt Jane and that, much as he loved her, he hadn't always protected her. In school, he had been popular and the other kids had cut Jane from the pack. Jane had always seemed unaware that Aidan had never risked his own popularity to protect her. Instead, it had been Liam, who detested Jane, who bloodied people's noses if they made fun of her.
Aidan knew immediately that his sister would be safe with Victoria Sawe. There could be no question about it; Victoria, who stood a head taller than her and had a lithe, taut look, was hyper-competent. She was the kind of woman who knew her way around an automobile engine, pitched overhand and could tag an insolent batter, or back down a schoolyard bully.
It helped immensely that Sea Lion, the game of trireme warfare she had designed, was one of his favorites. He had spent hours playing it with friends in college.
Jane knew that everything was fine when Ewas--her name for Victoria--went down to smoke a cigarette and Aidan went with her. She leaned out the second story window and looked down on Aidan's unruly blond hair and Ewas' baseball cap. They were arguing volubly about whether Steve Jackson's game Ogre was unbalanced. Aidan had bummed a cigarette off of Ewas. His accommodation to health was never to purchase his own and never to ask strangers for cigarettes.
Aidan liked their little one-bedroom apartment, which he said seemed "very lived in". It was full of Ewas' things--quilts, painted pieces from role-playing games, and plants. Jane had only books. Her Apple II computer was set up on a desk next the queen-sized bed, and Ewas' Kaypro lived on a table in the cluttered living room. Ewas designed games and rules supplements which were distributed by other people.
Ewas , at her desk, logged on to Compuserve for her email, while Jane and Aidan took Juno, a red setter dog, for a walk down the street. "Ewas also writes science fiction novels," Jane said. "She hasn't published anything yet, but she has some contacts with writers who play her games. Next month we're going to North Carolina for a workshop." He hugged her. "This is the best you've ever been, Thing. God bless you."
He told Jane about Liam's theory that their parents had been unhappy and she said: "He's crazy. They had the best marriage in the world."
He slept on the couch under one of Ewas' quilts. The next morning, she went out to do some marketing and Jane showed him some programs she had been writing in Turbo Pascal. That afternoon, Jane guided him through the Colman College campus, and Ewas picked them up in her blue Volkswagen Bug and drove them into the hills west of town, where they hiked for a few hours. Ewas had a staff, with a wizard's head carved in the wood, and she constantly poked at things and turned over rocks. Jane was in a happy, quiet reverie, looking with big eyes at everything, just like she had as a child. Aidan photographed Ewas standing atop the firetower at the summit, her hand shading her hazel eyes.
He returned to New York City on the bus. The city seemed particularly dark and filthy after Hopeworth; only the evening light over his apartment building belonged to the same world. He went out on the fire escape to enjoy it and thought of the lines from Eliot:
His soul stretched tight across the skies
That fade behind a city block,
Or trampled by insistent feet
At four and five and six o'clock;
And short square fingers stuffing pipes,
And evening newspapers, and eyes
Assured of certain certainties,
The conscience of a blackened street
Impatient to assume the world.
Liam came home and asked after Jane. Since she had not yet told Alana about Ewas, Aidan had agreed not to say anything. Once Alana knew, Jane wanted him to tell Liam, with whom she had no relationship.
He told Liam instead about the Pascal code Jane was writing. "She's much further ahead in it after six months than I am after getting a computer science degree. She's instinctively found some things I never thought of. I think Jane's twice as smart as I am."
"Then I suppose she's four times smarter than me," said Liam.
Aidan got a phone call from a girl named Emily Taft who had just graduated Hopeworth and was working as an assistant at a television station. She had been one of Jane's roommates the prior year and stayed in touch with her through the other, Lisa Steinberg. He took her out and felt vaguely attracted to her, though there was nothing in particular about her he liked. She was only moderately intelligent, a snob, and very interested in material things. "Daddy is a slumlord," she said. She smelled great, had light brown hair and keen brown eyes flecked with green; Aidan liked her eyes best of all. He and Liam double-dated and after, Emily said of Darcy, "She's kind of pretty." The remark offended Aidan, who thought Darcy was beautiful. He attributed it to Emily's intense vanity. She wasn't nice to anyone except in a stale, conventional fashion. She wanted to work in television in the worst way, had the looks to be on the air but not the presentation. She had done a daily news broadcast on the Colman College radio station and Jane said that she constantly fluttered her lines.
One night, the two couples ended up at Roseland. Afterwards, Aidan was never sure why, since neither Liam nor Emily could dance. He or Darcy--more likely Darcy--must have suddenly had a passionate desire to waltz. Emily observed bitterly that she had signed up for a tap-dancing course upon arriving in New York City but the instructor had asked her to leave, as she was throwing the rest off. Most of the night, Liam and Emily sat at a table in the corner, drinking vodka, while Aidan and Darcy danced under the shifting spotlights, surrounded mainly by couples twenty or thirty years older than themselves. Aidan was an excellent dancer. Darcy was drunk, but you could hardly tell it, as she was so graceful. "I wish Liam was more like you," she whispered into Aidan's ear. "You wish he could dance?" "I wish he was more like you."
Aidan knew he was making his brother jealous but for once he didn't care. He felt obscurely angry at Liam, but knew every reason he hit upon--like Liam's sarcasm to Darcy--was an excuse. Every time he returned to the table, Liam had a cutting remark for him. If Liam had been with any other woman, they would have left hours ago, or would not have come. It was part of his ongoing disaster with Darcy that he did what she wanted, but held himself out of the essence of it.
Emily also felt bitter to be in a place where she did not show to advantage. She and Liam seemed to like each other too much, to be engaged in a conspiracy of sarcasm. Finally, Aidan sat with Emily from duty, but could not get her to dance. Darcy reached her thin-fingered, beautiful hands out to Liam and drew him onto the dance floor. But a few minutes later he returned angry, followed by a sorrowful Darcy. She was trying to make light of something but they wouldn't say what.
He had been out twice prior with Emily but had never touched her save to accept her kiss on the cheek. Tonight, when he took her home to her apartment on East 59th Street (paid for by Daddy, he was sure; it was so much larger and nicer than his own), she invited him up and attacked him eagerly, as if to lay claim to something which had almost evaded her at Roseland. He had been with three women before but never one who enjoyed sex so much. Aidan performed his usual trick of thinking about something else until Emily was apparently satisfied. She fell asleep and he went out to her living room and watched an old B movie, Attack of the Monolith Monsters, on her television.
After that, they made love whenever she wanted, for nearly two months until she broke off with him. He was completely surprised, as he enjoyed her company, and hadn't seen any trouble brewing. They had never had an argument, though they never talked about anything either. On the whole, he would rather be with her than not. He asked her why and Emily said:
"You don't care about our love-making."
Aidan protested that he enjoyed it and she replied, "You're the only man I've ever been with who doesn't care about sex. You never come on to me; its always up to me to start anything. And then it always seems like you're thinking about something else."
Emily wasn't emotional, but she enjoyed dramatic moments. Her voice quivered as she said, "I want a man who's always at me."
A few weeks later, Liam, who was on the outs with Darcy again, asked if Aidan if would mind if he dated Emily. Aidan didn't think he had any grounds to object. For the next few weeks, it was very disconcerting to encounter his ex-girlfriend coming out of his brother's bedroom on Saturday mornings. Still, it was apparent that Liam and Emily were well-suited to each other; both were vain and aggressive. He supposed Liam was the kind of man who would always be at Emily. Actually, Emily wasn't at all sure about Liam, as she later told Aidan, because she also wanted someone who had a more loving nature than she did. But for once, she was not mistress of the timing. Liam reconciled with Darcy, and dropped Emily in a rather casually cruel way, by failing to return phone calls. Emily called the apartment for the fourth time and got the truth from Aidan. She said, "Its my turn to sniff shit for awhile."
Aidan got an account on CompuServe and began exchanging email with Jane every day. She would leave code for him on a server at Colman, and he would watch her ideas expanding on his screen. She had written a number of programs, but the one which interested him the most simulated a series of index cards. You could fill them out individually and then display them back to yourself in any order-- page through them, or search on any word occurring in them. But the most interesting feature was that you could create a persistent link from any card to any other. You could use the software to create disorderly collections of knowledge, and then impose order on them. It was a very neatly written program, small, with tight code and an excellent user interface. Jane referred to a collection of cards as an "idea pile".
The day job was becoming very boring; Aidan was installing the same software and answering the same user questions over and over. He asked Liam to find him something else, and Liam asked him to wait four or five months, while a steadier relationship was established with the client. Aidan sought Jane's permission to introduce her program to the world. She agreed. He took the software, which he named Ideapile, and showed it to a few of his online acquaintances, including a gray eminence in Vancouver who had been one of the co-creators of the Unix operating system. Everyone told him that Jane had made something new and interesting, so Aidan modified the code to create a version which could manage a maximum of 100 cards. He wrote a text file displayed on the screen at boot-up which said the software was shareware and could be registered for thirty-five dollars. If you registered Ideapile, you would receive a version which could handle an almost unlimited number of cards (for the fun of it Aidan created a five thousand card pile without appreciably affecting performance.) He rented a p.o. box at the local post office, and wrote a little manual, which he reproduced at a copy shop. He began systematically uploading Ideapile to every bulletin board he could find. In a matter of weeks, checks began arriving; there seemed to be a lot of favorable buzz about Ideapile on the boards and on Compuserve. At Jane's request, he listed her as J.D. Molloy on the boot-up screen.
He had initially begun distributing Ideapile as a proof of concept, and he didn't keep any of the first money to come in. The checks were all made out to J.D. Molloy, and he sent them on to Jane. He received an email in return which said in its entirety: "Wow."
Liam was preoccupied with business---he was in the process of forcing his partner out--and he was used to Aidan sitting all evening at his Apple II, so he didn't know anything about Ideapile until Aidan sought advice from Rick Bauer, Liam's attorney, who was also a friend and frequently at the apartment. Rick was engaged to Lisa Steinberg, Jane's other former roommate, and had been introduced to Liam by Jane. Rick spent an hour with him one day while Liam was on the phone, telling him about corporations, copyrights and license agreements. Rick was fascinated by Ideapile and took a copy back to his law firm. He created a pile of precedents pertaining to the enforcement of noncompete clauses in New York state. A few weeks later, Aidan negotiated his first site license, allowing Rick's law firm the right to make unlimited copies for internal use.
He had now sent Jane almost three thousand dollars, lively evidence that she had something. With mingled feelings of guilt and glee, Aidan found himself working on Ideapile during the workday, tweaking the code or uploading it to bulletin boards during slow hours at the brokerage. One night, Liam came into his room, asking, "What's this product of yours Rick is talking about?"
When Aidan told him Jane had written it, Liam refused to believe it at first: "You're shitting me." Finally he said, "Strange Jane is good for something after all."
"I told you she was smart."
"I knew that," Liam said, "but the world is full of smart people who don't know how to make money."
He offered to bring Aidan back to the office a day a week to work on distributing Ideapile if Aidan and Jane would assign the product to HM Consulting. Aidan doubted Jane would want to do it and she didn't. "We're fine as we are, aren't we?"
Aidan began to believe that he and Jane could split thirty or even fifty thousand dollars over the next twelve months---possibly enough for both of them to live on. A lot depended on whether he could make more corporate sales, though fifteen hundred dollars a month was coming in through shareware licenses alone. Jane wrote that she was tempted to quit school, because writing code was more fun than studying the clarinet. Aidan advised against it, and Ewas put her foot down and insisted that Jane stay in college. Jane considered transferring to a school which had a computer science degree, but the two women enjoyed life in Hopeworth and Aidan added that, in his estimation, Jane had taught herself more in a year than she would learn in four years of a C.S. program.
Jane called to say she had been home for a holiday with Ewas, who checked into the Windward Shores motel while Jane went into Hither Hills to tell Alana about her. Of her three children, Alana had most in common with Aidan; she was graceful and charming and had always had a difficult relationship with Jane. She loved her daughter and respected her intelligence, but easily became exasperated with her for being shy and plain. Alana made a grandiose declaration that anything which made Jane happy was fine with her, then began crying hysterically. Jane went back to the hotel in a panic, certain that she would have to abort the visit without introducing Ewas to Alana and afraid Ewas would be angry. She called her mother in the morning and Alana, who had taken Valium, quietly asked her to come right over with Ewas. The two women detested each other immediately but would always treat each other with icy politeness.
On the drive home to Hopeworth, Ewas said she wasn't angry; mothers were like that. "God save us from mothers."
Jane now authorized Aidan to tell Liam she was gay. He was not surprised. "I always knew Jane was a dyke."
"That's an ugly word."
"An ugly word for an ugly girl."
Aidan hated Liam, for an hour.
Liam had a worse blow-up than the usual with Darcy and she broke up with him more emphatically. A few days later, Darcy called Aidan and he saw her for brunch on a Saturday, in her neighborhood on the upper West Side. She complained as she so often had to him that Liam was more a simulation than a man when it came to feelings and Aidan, rather ineptly, tried to entertain her by improvising a routine about a "reverse Turing test" in which people would try to distinguish Liam from a computer. It wouldn't have gone over at the best of times, and Darcy was too upset to listen. She began to cry. Aidan, who hadn't shed tears since age three, couldn't bear it when anybody wept. He slid in next to her in the booth and Darcy cried openmouthed sobs which wet his blue denim shirt. He put an arm around her and soon realized he was a little aroused. He didn't think she was romantically interested in him, and wouldn't want to harm Liam, with whom he was sure she would soon be reconciled. Most of all he didn't want to replace the friendship they felt for each other with anything unknown or stormy, which might leave them with nothing.
"I met him last week at the fountain in Lincoln Center," Darcy said, "and as I walked up to him he said something about how enchanting I looked and how glad he was to be with me in the most romantic spot in the most exciting city in the world."
"You were certainly right to drop him then," Aidan replied, "for a line like that."
"You don't understand. He had obviously been rehearsing it for an hour."
A few months later, Aidan gave Darcy away at her wedding ceremony in the county clerk's office. He was the only invited guest. He felt very uneasy about the man she married, a French concert promoter she had met through a banquet at her school less than eight weeks before. He was strikingly handsome, romantic as a pirate, with a wonderful accent. He was more charming than Aidan but made Liam look like a pillar of sincerity. Darcy was a good judge of Liam but not of other men.
The brokerage was late one month in paying for Aidan's services and Liam made increasingly irritated phone calls to accounts payable and finally to Harry Browne, the MIS director who supervised Aidan. Harry walked upstairs to accounting and came back with an envelope, which he gave Aidan. It was not sealed, and on the subway going uptown Aidan, after wrestling with his conscience for a few moments, slipped out the check and the folded copy of the invoice. He discovered that Liam was charging forty-five dollars an hour for his services. Aidan's own salary came out to about eleven dollars an hour.
He came in to their cluttered apartment very angry, ready for a blow-out with Liam, thinking seriously about hitting him, as he had done just once before in junior high school when Liam accused him of betraying Jane to the popular pack. But Liam wasn't home; he was up at Rick's office, finalizing the arrangement under which Sol Heymann was to resign from the firm, which now became Molloy Data. Aidan took stock of his life; the three room apartment with its unsteady wooden chairs, linoleum floor in the kitchen, dusty bookcases (mostly his books) and piles of clothing, suddenly disgusted him. He opened the window--- it was late June now and the frame swelled so that it was hard to open in the warm weather--- and crawled out on the fire escape, wishing he had a cigarette. He looked down onto 90th street and saw Mad Tom, a familiar dreadlocked schizophrenic, ranting and drooling; a cop car went by very slowly, no siren, but with its light on and turning; there were however sirens in the distance. Aidan realized that there was nothing to hold him in the city. He could distribute Ideapile from anywhere. He realized that he had been tired of his life for the longest time; his thoughts drew towards home.
Liam came in after ten and looked out the window. He was willing to come out, but Aidan crawled in and showed Liam the invoice. He saw three or four expressions flit over Liam's face: anger, concern, resignation, then the usual reserve. "What's your point?" Liam asked in his usual sarcastic cool manner.
"You're making a spread of thirty-four dollars an hour and paying me eleven."
"I do all the work," Liam said turning away. "You only have to show up." He turned back without giving his brother a chance to answer and seemed to be attempting to work himself into a fury; or rather, he was acting the part of a man in a fury. "I take the risk. I pay the rent, here and at the office. I arrange for the health insurance. I find the clients and chase the money. I run the advertisements.I work the phones." Every "I" tolled like a bell. "What the fuck do you do? You show up and jerk off in front of computers."
Aidan felt sorry for Liam; he remembered that his brother had just definitively lost Darcy, and had not shown his usual hard exultation about the business for some time.
"I'll raise you to thirty thousand," Liam said. "You shouldn't expect too much at once. That's a ten grand raise."
"I don't really want to be in the city any more."
Liam was shocked. He made an attempt to persuade Aidan to stay. "We're building something together."
Aidan got the worn college copy of Walden from the shelf and read Liam a passage he had underlined:
Men have an indistinct notion that if they keep up this activity of joint stocks and spades long enough all will at length ride somewhere, in next to no time, and for nothing; but though a crowd rushes to the depot, and the conductor shouts "All aboard!", when the smoke is blown away and the vapor condensed, it will be perceived that a few are riding, but the rest are run over,--and it will be called, and will be, "A melancholy accident."
The next morning, Thursday, Aidan called in sick at the brokerage and took the Long Island Railroad to Montauk. It was a three hour trip; he slept halfway, then looked out the window with nostalgia as the train entered the Hamptons: smaller stations, trees, water glittering in the distance, the broad blue sky of early summer, women in station wagons picking up husbands who were off for the long weekend. From the train, he saw three buildings along the way that his father had built: a large home, a town hall, a movie theater. Then the train ran through the woods, back in Hither Hills State Park, near his favorite beach and the fishing pond and the place where he often saw foxes. He had called ahead, and Alana met him at the Montauk station, the end of the line. She was driving her old Mercedes. He looked affectionately at his mother's larger than life oval head, the hair she had been dying red his whole life ("Alana is a red-headed name," she said). "Why, Mom looks like Darcy," he thought: tall, thin, graceful. He wondered if Liam had ever noticed. He mourned the tightening and artificiality of the several face-lifts and the effects of the makeup.
His mother was wearing blue slacks and a Nike running jacket; she had large diamond earrings. He laughed; Alana was familiar and incomprehensible; she was like the ocean. She drove him back to the huge house, John Molloy's greatest achievement, which dominated a narrow spit of land between Fort Pond and Long Island Sound. You could see fresh water out the back and salt from the deck in front. He had lived here all his life until he went away to school.
John Molloy, his father, had never finished college. He had wanted badly to be an architect and became a builder instead. He designed houses anyway, and worked with complacent architects who rubber-stamped his work. Aidan had never been comfortable with John Molloy's art; his work was sometimes blocky, sometimes grandiose, and the family home was the latter, like an English country stone mansion realized in wood.
Alana was a product of the 1930's and '40's, a woman who had been raised to believe she was a child and who had never been called on to apply herself. She said sometimes that she had been prevented, that the choices had never been offered; but Aidan had met Rick Bauer's mother Nora, a physician of the same generation. He was sure that there had been greater obstacles to his mother's progress in the world than Dr. Bauer's, because Suffolk County was twenty years behind the city in all respects; but he also knew that Alana was lazy and comfortable and liked being cared for. He was sure though that Liam was wrong and that his parents had been wild about each other.
After John Molloy's death, Alana had dated more men than he cared to remember; he was sure there were many more than he knew about, as she had been very secretive. Two stood out. When Aidan was in high school, there had been a physician, whom he had liked, whom Alana had announced she would marry; the man had died of a heart attack, visiting his sister in Brooklyn, before they could make any plans. Later, when he was away at college, she had been engaged to a man whom he detested, who owned the waste hauling franchise for a large section of Suffolk. Liam had called him the "garbage man." The wedding had been set for September 1979 and the invitations had gone out, when Alana had called Aidan at school to say it was cancelled. She never said why.
He dumped his duffel bag in his old bedroom, which was still full of his airplane models and board games, and went downstairs to the kitchen where Alana sat at the large, heavy wooden table ("built to last one hundred years," said John Molloy), smoking a cigarette. He borrowed one from her and they smoked together in comfortable silence.
He knew Alana thought she had three strange children. She was most comfortable with Aidan, but none of them were much like her. Liam was intense, angry, applied, and very difficult to read. Jane was always lost in a dream, inarticulate, her eyes hidden behind her black hair, playing alone in her room or on the beach with Aidan. Alana had complained to him of the others; he had less knowledge of her thoughts about him, but he imagined that she thought him charming but as mysterious as the other two, dancing away to computers and New York City instead of putting down roots in the East End. For Alana, marriage, property, career, children, were the thing; only Liam presented any sure prospects of conquering these four elements, and the chances were he would do it in some wildly wrong way.
Alana was looking at him. She shrugged and he laughed.
"Why exactly are you here?" she asked, acerb like Liam.
He told her about Ideapile. Out the window behind her, he could see the bay, and terns flying against the breeze, hovering almost still over a walker on the beach whom they were trying to drive away from their nests. Aidan loved the bay where there was rarely any surf. The ocean side, the southern shore, frightened him. He enjoyed the wilder, wider beach there, but never went in the water. Jane and Liam loved swimming in the surf, possibly the one thing they had in common.
"Jane told me about it," Alana said, smoking. Aidan explained that he was making a business of it. Since this could be done from anywhere, he wanted to come home to Montauk, but he needed Alana's help. Wasn't there an old spec house of their father's that she still owned, on the ocean side? Could she let him have it rent free until he got the business going?
"It's taken for the summer," Alana said. She looked at him, calculating, he supposed, what it would be like to have him back in Montauk. He tried to look through his mother's eyes. She would enjoy his company, but she had that once a month or so anyway. Would he be at the house every day? Would he expect her to provide for him? She didn't need the rent on the spec house, but would he make other strident demands for money? Alana loved her indolent life. Aidan might be entertaining or he might be a burden on a woman so extravagantly retired. He supposed she had a social life, probably a boyfriend; Alana didn't talk about these things. Having her son back in Montauk might be exhausting, might warp her comfortable routine.
"You can have the house in September," Alana said, "and of course you can stay here until then."
"Thank you, mother." He went over and kissed her rough cheek, scoured by surgery and time, and then went out alone on the beach to dare the angry terns.