wanted breathing room on the loan she gave us to buy our house. We
needed to stay on her good side.
Linda, the host, was highly skilled at pitting us against each other—
the taping was not as cathartic as the fireman assumes. It’s now September, and the book’s a best-seller. I guess readers love confessional trash.
“I loved the part where Linda hugged your sister and told her she
would heal.” His eyes tear up. “My dad was a drunk, too.”
“Alcoholism runs in our family, you know. Patty left that part out of
the book, how she spent years in and out of AA.”
“It’s called Alcoholics Anonymous for a reason,” says the fireman
with diluted sympathy.
That won’t do—I’m a sympathy junkie. I touch his padded rubber
arm and apologize, using my sweetest tone, the one perfected to bend
men’s hearts with its exposed wire of vulnerability. “My sister’s been so-
ber for like, twenty years. I’m sorry. I don’t know why I said that.” I ham
it up and rub my stomach. I’m barely showing. “Must be the hormones.”
“Oh,” says the fireman. “Congratulations.”
I nod and cast him a beatific smile. Patty’s book says I’m good at
getting what I want, and I suppose she’s right. Iris played the role of the
Mediator, making her both overly accommodating and subtly manipula-
tive. I change the subject back to my house, which, I remind the fireman,
is in actual tatters. He tells me not to enter the house under any circum-
stances and hands me a card for a disaster clean-up service. Then he
loads up the truck with his men and drives away.
George squats on the grass and hangs up the phone. I pat his denim
thigh, dusty with loose plaster sparkling in the morning light, and lay
my head on his shoulder. “Good news, I take it.”
“What?” he barks.
I lean into George’s good ear. He has tinnitus in the right from playing guitar too close to the amp for too many years. He’s only thirty-six,
same age as me.
“What did they say?”
He summarizes the insurance situation: our policy is about as struc-
turally sound as our piece-of-shit house. I start to roll out my magic
carpet of idiot’s optimism: Let’s see what happens, it’s early yet, et cetera.
He stops me. “Please don’t, Iris.”
He stares at the hole where the front door used to be, a black chasm
crowned with puffy insulation and smashed stucco. “I’m going in.”