You don’t know this, but I did everything in my power to convince my father to change his cockamamie will. I’m a lawyer for christ’s sake.
It’s hardly a reasonable document. Most of us will end up with nothing. Nothing! After all those weekends in a drafty cabin in godforsaken Barlo, supposedly hunting. Of all the cover stories, hunting! Eleanor made it all sound fairly legitimate, but Bennett only hunted when he worked himself into an angry drunk. And at that point it wasn’t hunting. It was killing. Daddy would drink all day and then something insignificant, a dropped glass or broken ashtray, would send him into a rage. He’d grab his rifle and ride the four-wheeler down the swamp road with a high beam spotlight. He’d see a pair of eyes and fire that damn cannon of a rifle. What was it? A seven millimeter Mauser. A cannon is what it was. I have tinnitus just from standing next to him. Sometimes he actually killed a buck, but most times not. Fawns, doe, wild boar, coyote; Bennett didn’t care. The game warden was on the dole so he didn’t care either. They’d call up some poor black guy from the squatter’s camp and have him drag the kill -whatever it happened to be- back to the cabin, skin it out, and butcher the meat. They’d pay him off, send him on his way, and then celebrate the successful hunt with a bottle of whiskey.
“Hunting, my ass,” I said.
“I did the best I could with what I had,” Eleanor said. “There wasn’t much.”
I was trying to tell the others about the will, but the mind wanders.
“Get on with it, Wallace.” Ren pumped his fist. “For God’s sake!”
Shane took off his shirt and wrapped it around his head like a sheik’s headdress. He sat with crossed legs on the pinestraw and placed his hands, palm up, on his knees. He closed his eyes and took deep, even breaths. He’s always been some kind of an alternative freak.
“This is church property Shane,” Celia said to her son. “Put your shirt back on.”
“You were a stripper,” Shane said. “Beside, a little mediation might be just the thing for this place. Walrus here could use it. Ren too. Look at his face.”
“This heat is oppressive,” Eleanor said. “I’m going back to New Orleans. Even Katrina didn’t stir up this much shit.”
“But I put up with it,” I continued. “I greased the wheels. I played the role of son. I bought an olive green goose feather jacket and acted like I gave a damn. I thought it would all pay off. I thought Bennett would recognize my loyalty and leave me a fair share of his wealth. His wealth. What a joke! He inherited every penny and spent more than he made. Which is pretty damn greedy when you think about how much money he had to begin with. How can you start with twelve and a half million dollars and end up with seven? How can anyone spend so much, make so little, and then leave everything to chance?”
Ren’s face was as red as a party balloon. He pumped his fist, leveled his eyes, and growled, “Spit it out, Walrus.”
I gave Ren my look that says don’t you dare call me that but I knew I’d better move on. Even I was antsy to get this out.
“A game of craps!” I said. “That’s his idea of a will. All seven million dollars will go to the wife or son who throws the best dice. I think Georgia gets a boat, but other than that, it’s all or nothing. Winner take all.”
“What about me,” Celia said, her eyes suddenly clear and focused.
“What are craps?” Joy asked.
“You roll like the rest of us,” Wallace said to Celia.
“And what boat? What does Georgia have to do with this?” Celia asked.
“Craps!” Shane shouted. “Excellent.”
“I could kill him,” Ren said, his jaw grinding.
“Too late,” Shane said.
Baxter jogged in place, eyes darting from brother to brother.
“One game?” Ren asked. “One roll of the dice for seven million? There are two wives, five children, and seven million dollars. Why not an even split?”
“Is this bathroom humor?” Joy asked. “I’ve never gone in for bathroom humor.”
“Didn’t even consult me on the legal ease of the document,” I explained. “Went to some other lawyer up in Birmingham. Some Mr. Bridges so and so. And it’s bullet proof. I can’t find any way out of it. We meet tomorrow at the courthouse at noon.”
“We’ll sue the will,” Celia said. “Can you sue a will? Did you say five children?”
“It’s perfect,” Shane said. “It’s the treasury of desire.”
“I think you’re behind this, Walrus,” Ren said. “I bet this is your doing. I’m bringing my own dice.”
I gave him my look again, but what more can you do at your father’s funeral?
“Good idea,” Shane said. “If we all bring loaded dice, we’ll all win.”
“Shut it, Buddha boy,” Ren shouted. “This is serious.”
“Georgia is his daughter?” Celia asked. She opened her purse and took out a medicine bottle, tapping out two tablets and swallowing them without water.
“This is all too much,” Eleanor said. “Call me when you come to town, Wallace.”
“Mr. Bridges will have the table and dice at the courthouse. Bennett made the arrangements. We could contest it, but we’d all have to agree. And if we did, it could take forever. Plus, the judges in this town might not budge. They think shenanigans like this are hysterical. Alabama. What in God’s name am I doing here? I should be over in New Orleans playing the real game. I should use my considerable intellect for something other than these small town, southern shenanigan.”
My brothers shouted and paced. Celia whined. Joy mumbled.
Then Baxter suddenly stopped running in place. He carefully slipped off his shoes and unbuckled his belt. Then he unzipped.
We all stopped what we were doing.
Baxter removed his pants. Underneath, he wore nylon running shorts. He put his running shoes back on, took off his button down shirt, and removed his undershirt. He stood before us bare-chested, zero-percent body fat, shaved head, and eyes full of tears.
“Honey,” Celia said. “Are you okay?”
Baxter wiped his eyes and very calmly began to run.
The Porter family, if you can call it that, stood in silence as Baxter ran down the Church driveway, past the fence, and onto the main road. I decided at that moment that if I won the dice game I’d leave Alabama forever. Even if I didn’t win, I had big plans brewing in New Orleans.
“Let him go.” Shane said. “Running is his meditation.”
We watched in silence until he was entirely out of sight.
Then we started fighting again.
Murray Dunlap's work has appeared in about forty magazines and journals. His stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize three times, as well as to Best New American Voices once, and his first book, "Alabama," was a finalist for the Maurice Prize in Fiction. He has a new book, a collection of short stories called "Bastard Blue," that was published by Press 53 on June 7th, 2011 (the three year anniversary of a car wreck that very nearly killed him…). The extraordinary individuals Pam Houston, Laura Dave, Michael Knight, and Fred Ashe taught him the art of writing.