The Brass Urn
I could begin with the brass urn, but that's near the end, not exactly, but closer. It's a brutally hot day in July when Armond appears, moving from bedroom to bath, we nod as if we know each other, after all, it is my house, and I should know who this dark stranger is, not exactly a stranger, he arrived with my twenty-five-year-old son in a green car with out-of-state license plates, which is parked in the driveway. I could have gone to the door and said hello, but I'm arguing on the phone with the exterminator about termites, four days away from selling this house and he's procrastinating about providing a termite-free certificate, I don't know what his problem is. I've got a million
things to do and, frankly, I'm not happy about guests descending on the house because to save money I've decided to pack everything myself and not much is packed despite the fact I've been at it for two months, not exactly two, but a good effort considering twenty-three years, four kids, a divorce, and my father's furniture. You probably don't want to hear all this, because this about a brass urn and a stranger named Armond, who came and went with my son, then returned alone that night, more like three a.m.
I hear yelling in the kitchen, which pisses me off because it woke me up. Armond's on the phone, no doubt long distance, my son's the only one he knows around here, and he's bitching about something so I wander into the kitchen as if I always do that sort of thing in the middle of the night, and Armond hangs up, I'm afraid we haven't been introduced, I say, and he says, I'm sorry, I'm Armond, which is when I notice how
finely chiseled his face is and the liquid way his shoulders move, so I start asking questions and he tells me that his father's a longshoreman with seventeen children by different women, Armond's the sixth from the youngest, family reunions are a Happening because everyone shows up. Armond's on a talking jag now, so I settle in and listen: he works in an insurance office, arranges club dates on the side, hands me a business card, says he came here with my son to attend a three-day music gig in the city,
but my son deserts him, drops him on a street corner in the dead of night in a place he's never been, because my son wants to go off and party with a bunch of guys he knows, why he doesn't want Armond to join them is beyond Armond, and me, for that matter, I'm sure there's more to it, anyway Armond spends an hour trying to find a cab, then can't remember this address and blows twenty bucks driving around in the cab trying to find the house.
By now the sun's coming up so I make a pot of strong coffee, because it doesn't make any sense to try and get more sleep, and while we're sipping the steaming coffee, I explain that I'm packing up the house and Armond asks if he can help, and I say, yes, because he's not the only one my son ditched, the son who promised to help but God knows when he intends to show up. Armond says he doesn't particularly want to go to the gig by himself, so we set about wrapping dishes, pictures, hauling junk out of the basement, loading it into the car, making ten trips to the garbage dump, a nightmare because it's 95° and the air's so humid it's dripping.
We tear off a cork bulletin board in the family room and ruin the wall, so Armond patches and paints, stripped to the waist, shoulder muscles glistening, while I label boxes, and, of course, this takes more than one day, and my son turns up on the second day full of excuses and wants Armond to come with him to the city, but Armond says he's going to help me finish packing, the rest of the conversation I won't repeat. My son
turns heel and drives away in the green car with the out-of-state license plates. On the third day, Armond borrows my car to pick up a money wire from Western Union to buy a plane ticket home, returns with a brass urn, which he says is a thank you for letting him stay at my house, which is crazy because he worked hard hauling, painting and packing for three blistering days,
but the story doesn't end here, that's why I said the brass urn was near the end and this is the part I was trying to get to: Armond leaves and my son comes home long enough to pack his bags and off he goes without so much as an apology about an hour before the movers arrive, believe me I'm not in the mood to listen to his nonsense anyway.
A year later, my son tells me, after we've made up and all that, Armond is dead. A wave of nausea whacks me, my throat tightens up and I have trouble swallowing.
Armond had to be maybe twenty-eight by then, and the story goes: Armond's cousin gets in trouble with the cops who take him into the station house and beat him to death, something to do with Armond, something to do with drugs. My son says Armond got spooked, but there has to be more to it because there's a girlfriend, a son Armond adores, and he and the girlfriend are planning to get married, they have a terrible fight but that wasn't it either, not nearly enough for Armond to take a gun, shove it in his mouth and pull the trigger.
Now every time I dust the brass urn's burnished surface, I wonder if anyone could have known on those three blistering days in July that this brass urn was an omen.
words: Nancy Scott , New Jersey (website)
image: 'lateral sun' - bl pawelek, Wisconsin (homepage)
this story was first published in Kelsey Review, Volume XIX, 2000.
another story that doesn't end here: Keepsake (#22)