Marina J. Neary, Sirens Over the Hudson
Sirens Over the Hudson
Publisher: Crossroad Press
Date: May 18, 2017
Length: 269 pages
Wall Street — August, 2008
“Have you ever seen a giant squirm in agony?” Brianna Hawkins asked the world from the screen. “It’s not a pretty picture. As everyone knows, Lehman Brothers, one of the global leaders in investment banking, is about to draw its final breath. Over a hundred and fifty years of prosperity are ending on a sad note. Bankruptcy is unavoidable. The significance of this financial institution is so great that its demise will mean catastrophic consequences for the entire country. The employees of Goldman Sax and Merrill Lynch are shaking in their boots, watching this disaster unfold, wondering which one of them will be next.”
After twenty-five years of marriage, Ron Hawkins continued to derive esthetic pleasure out of watching his wife on screen. Brianna’s detractors said that her diction was far from perfect, and that she still hummed too much, nodded and blinked her eyes, even after years of on-camera experience. Ron agreed with those criticisms to an extent. But damn it, she was so divinely photogenic! In times of hardships people need a synthetic blonde like her to keep the world from a massive panic attack. American pilots during WWII decorated the cockpits of their fighter planes with photos of blonde girls with big boobs. Brianna was past that age of inspiring soldiers before the battle, but her ironed-out platinum tresses and pumped up magenta lips kept the disgruntled investment bankers from committing suicide.
After turning off the TV in the lounge, Ron returned to his new office on the twelfth floor — his trusty bunker — and immersed himself into work. From time to time he glanced out the window to make sure that the sidewalk was not littered with corpses as it was during the Great Depression some eighty years prior. He could almost hear the deadly screams from the past.
His son was supposed to come by any minute now. It was time for Keith to return to Boston to continue his studies. Brianna had already packed his bags and exterminated the bugs from his room. Two days before Keith’s departure, his father suddenly realized that they had not spent any quality time together all summer. They needed to go out together for some manly bonding.
Keith arrived at six-thirty, exactly an hour late.
“What’s the matter? Subway on strike again?” Ron asked, not even looking in his son’s direction.
“Nah. I just got a late start.”
“What time did you get up?”
“To be honest, I don’t remember. I woke up and then spent some time just vegging out in bed, staring at the ceiling. I needed to catch up on sleep before the semester starts.”
The bottle on the water cooler was empty. Keith took a plastic cup and started squishing it, filling the office with a crunching sound. He learned that trick as a child. If he needed to get his father’s attention, annoying sounds were more effective than regular words.
“Can you please not do that?” Ron snapped. “I need to finish writing a letter the content of which is not very pleasant. I need to tell a client that his entire portfolio went belly up. Good old Elliot King really fucked up this time. I’ll kick his ass when I see him.”
“Go ahead, finish writing. No need to hurry.”
The crumpled cup flew into the garbage bin. Keith started hitting his heel against the leg of the chair, which caused Ron’s neck to turn red.
“Do you have to keep acting like a toddler? Just give me a chance to send the damn letter, and we’ll go to Timmony’s. Their steak is to die for. And then later we’ll go to a gentleman’s club. How’s that for recreational line-up?”
“If I last until the evening. I may not be alive by then.”
“Why wouldn’t you?”
“Because you are going to kill me.”
“Come on, don’t be dramatic,” Ron said, his eyes still on the computer screen. “If I haven’t killed you in the last twenty-plus years, why would I do it now? You’ve given me many reasons in the past. But I’d hate to lose all the money I’ve spent on you.”
“No, this time you’re really going to kill me. I’m giving you my own severed head on a platter. You don’t even have to swing the axe.”
Keith’s veiled confession sparked his father’s curiosity. Ron rotated in his chair to face his kid.
“Okay, what have you done? Crash the car? Max out the credit card?”
“I wish it was that simple.”
“Yeah, it’s that simple. Any problem, no matter how complicated, can be simplified with money. So don’t keep me waiting. Just tell me what you’ve done, so I can pay off the right people, before the money loses its value.”
“Okay, fine. If you’re ready to hear the truth, here it is. I raped a drunk lesbian.”
Ron exhaled with relief. Now he knew for certain that his son was only trying to attract his attention.
“Good God, Christopher, the things you come up with! I was already getting nervous, thinking you really did screw up. You can’t scare your old man like this. My nerves aren’t what they used to be.”
“But it’s true, Dad. At least that’s how the prosecutor will see it, if this incident goes to court. An assault on a member of sexual minority who was under the influence of alcohol. How much do you think I’ll get for something like this?”
“For starters, who is the Sapphic priestess?”
“Beth McMahon, a pre-med student. Ever heard of her? Her dad is disabled after a stroke. Her brother writes the cheesiest songs you’ll never hear on the radio. They have a house in Sleepy Hollow.”
“Let me think,” Ron hummed, rummaging through his memory. “Does she post her hairy legs on Facebook?”
“Yeah, that’s her. She documents every aspect of her life, not just her legs and armpits. Her page is full of vegan recipes and anti-patriarchal slogans.”
“So how did you end up with her?”
“Actually, she was the one who reached out to me. Last Saturday I went rock-climbing with her. She called me and said, ‘Hey, let’s go to Bear Mountain. I bought myself new equipment and want to test it. I’m a little scared to go alone.’ You know me. I’m not really outdoorsy. But I was bored, had nothing to do. So I agreed. Got a few single-serving bottles of booze just in case.”
“And, did you make it far?”
“Not really. Didn’t have a chance to. We had a slow start. Bess was carrying all the equipment strapped to her back. I offered to help her, but she yelled at me and basically told me to stick my patriarchal ways. She’s not some frail damsel in distress who needs help. I was like, okay, fine. Strain your back, see if I care. Didn’t argue with her. Just walked behind. If I walked in front of her, she would’ve killed me right there and then. A man actually leading the way? God forbid. Eventually, Bess paid for her hubris. She tripped, fell and smashed her knee. The feminism crown fell right off of her head. She started wailing like a beluga whale. No tears, just wailing. You could hear her all over the park. A flock of birds got scared and flew away.”
“And me? I’m not some bitter, vengeful person. I ran up to her, helped her to her feet, seated her down on a rock. I was wearing a plaid flannel shirt with long sleeves. I took it, made a tourniquet and wrapped it around her knee. Bess didn’t resist. Hell, she even complimented me on my technique. She said that for a man I was pretty resourceful. After bandaging her knee, I offered her some vodka to dull the pain. No complaint from her. So we both had a little bit to drink. Then we were just sitting there, talking. She became really nice all of a sudden, really emotional. Before I knew it, she was crying, this time for real, with tears and snot and all. She said some woman broke her heart. Of course, I started comforting her. She rubbed her nose against my shoulder. I was already a little buzzed. One thing led to another. I unzipped her shorts, pulled them down a little. Again, she was not resisting. She was just humming along. It sounded like moaning, like she wanted it.”
Ron shook his head austerely.
“Christopher, you really lowered your standards this time.”
“I was famished, okay?” Keith exclaimed, lifting his blazing face. “Beggars can’t be choosers. So we never made it to the top of the mountain that day. Just turned around and went back. We never even ate the turkey sandwiches. They went bad in the back seat of the car. Anyway, we were driving in total silence. I was behind the wheel, being the more sober of the two. She put the seat back and just sat there quietly. After that I tried calling her a few times, just to see how her knee was healing, but she never picked up. I left her a few messages. Zero response. I logged into Facebook, pulled up her name, and it looks like she unfriended and blocked me. Then I logged in under a fake profile, just to look at her wall, and then I saw...”
“And then you saw...”
“I saw a bunch of articles about rape culture, about violence towards lesbians, and how white men can get away with anything. Now I’m kicking myself for being so damn nice and compassionate. I should’ve dumped her in the woods and let her make her way home alone. I agreed to go with her on that stupid trip. I provided first aid. I comforted her the only way I know how to comfort a woman. And she? How did she thank me? And what if she reaches out to all my college girlfriends, all my random fuck buddies and convinces them that I’ve been raping them all this time? Those bitches will gang up on me and get me locked up! Then I’ll be the bitch — in the prison locker room.”
Ron was listening to his son’s saga and typing simultaneously.
“Sorry, kid, I don’t have time for this.”
“I knew you’d say that. I guess I’ll have to handle it on own.”
“No, son. Leave it to me. I’ll handle it the way I know how. The way I’ve handled every other problem in the past.”
Ron rummaged in the top drawer of his desk, pulled out a travel brochure featuring a white sailboat against the azure of the sea and tossed it to his son. Keith shuddered and recoiled, as if someone had splashed hot oil on him.
“What’s this, Dad? Some kind of sick joke?”
“Choose your destination. As of today you’re still a free man. The police haven’t issued an arrest warrant. Now is the perfect time to skip town.”
“But it would be like admitting that I did something wrong. It’s like saying ‘Yeah, I’m guilty and I know it.’”
“Well, can you, in good conscience, say that you’re not guilty? So there. Don’t worry I’m not going to cut off your nuts. It’s easier for me to keep you in Paris or Bangkok than follow you to the courtroom. So, go ahead and choose where you want to go. If you don’t, I’ll choose for you.”
Trembling, Keith clenched his teeth and poked his finger into a Gothic town hall in Brussels.
“There... I think.”
“Ah, excellent choice,” his father said approvingly. “I did a semester in Belgium as a college student. Palaces, hot chocolate.”
“What about school?” Keith inquired timidly.
“School can wait. You can take a break. I’ll call the department chair and tell him that you got a great opportunity to do an internship in Europe. I know you won’t just sit around doing nothing. You’ll take this opportunity to perfect your illustration technique.”
“Yeah, if my hands stop shaking.”
“They’ll stop shaking, no worries. She won’t harm you, my boy. I’ll find a way to silence her.”
“How will you do that?”
“That’s what lawyers are for. I seriously doubt that she’ll start anything against you. But she’ll aggravate you with threats. Words don’t cost anything. That’s why she’s barking in social media. If it gets out of hand, I’ll threaten to sue her for defamation of character. She can’t ruin an innocent man’s reputation.” After sending the final email of the day, Ron turned off the computer and locked the top drawer. “That should be it. I don’t think I’m forgetting anything. Well, are you ready? Let’s go.”
“Where are we going, Dad?”
“We’re going out to dinner. Remember? I took the time to make reservations.”
Keith had absolutely no appetite, but he would not dare to cross his father, who hated having his dinner plans sabotaged.
When they were in the elevator, Ron elbowed his son playfully.
“So, how was it?”
“What are you talking about?”
“Screwing a dyke. How did it feel? I’m only asking because I’ve never done it myself. In that regard you’re one step ahead of me, son.”
With his head pulled into his shoulders, Keith pressed himself into the corner of the elevator. He had nowhere else to hide.
“Please, Dad, I don’t want to think about it.”
“So it was bad,” Ron concluded. “You didn’t like it, huh?”
“It’s not whether I liked it or not. There are certain boundaries even I won’t cross. I can’t dish out all the mechanical details.”
“Look, if I saved your ass from prison, in a literal sense, the least you can do is satisfy my vulgar curiosity.”
Keith had to rake through his memories.
“How was it? Hm... As usual, I guess. In and out, in and out. Nothing spectacular.”
Ron winced in disgrace. His own son was actually uttering those words?
“Nothing spectacular? Is that all you have to say? You make me sick, Christopher. No wonder no sober chick will sleep with you.”
Copyright © 2017 by Marina J. Neary