The last time that I was at this house, I wouldn't wish to recall. Nor did I wish to be here. In the neighborhood, a child practiced his recorder or flute. Those woodwinds were always too meaninglessly similar. Dogs yipped and barked to the left. Before me, and hidden away in the canopies, birds sang a thousand cacophonies.
It was my brother Dale's house and I rarely felt at ease in its confines. He and his wife did not rise from our parents' lifestyle. None too surprising as Dale venerated their suburban life. To summarize, it was far too homely to the point of being tacky. Thin walls and close neighbors permitted seeping sounds from the outside. He complained of the length for his commute. Still, he and his wife Eliza insisted on its merits that I found meritless.
His car had a Bernie 2020 bumper sticker. I did not vote for Trump in 2016 but for his tax cuts, I intended to in 2020. I ascended the front porch and rang the bell. Eliza opened the door then hugged me. Up close, a red tint to her eyes was apparent. I patted her on the back to signify some grief of my own. After taking her fill, she disengaged and beckoned me in. I extended a courteous nod and took my steps into her living room.
They had more pillows than I remembered. One of few nights we got together, Dale and I went to a bar. Drank that night, he detailed the 'sensual joy' of frequent pillow fights with Eliza. Laced in, he mentioned, was frequent raids to their alcohol cabinet. After that, they drank more and drove in Mario Kart. Neither won but they kissed just the same and cursed Blue Shells. He explained that with the greatest smile. Their unproductivity vindicated my sentiments on the seriousness lacking in his life.
His modest living room testified to his character. A blanket laid on the floor. A cabinet door was open. The shoe rack was a clear disaster and I knew best to not leave my designer shoes amongst the rabble.
Dale entered with a glass in one hand and dish towel in the other, "Walter, come in, come in! How are you?"
"I am fine. Let's make this as brief as possible."
"And so that's how you're going to be? Coming in with guns blazing? Perhaps it ought to be expected."
"If you want me to, I can leave right now. It would probably do us all better."
"No, please come in. It means a lot to me for you to come in here even if it seriously inconveniences you. As of course you made sure to mention in your email."
"But no, no, everything for the benefit of family."
"Just come in, will you, Walter? Eliza made us some cookies before, you know, we go."
"Dale, please, your brother has been through a lot recently," Eliza said, "and I want you try my cookies."
"As have I been, my love. As brothers, Walter and I would have gone through the same emotions these past few days," he looked at me, "normal brothers would be going through the same emotions now, wouldn't they?"
"Let's go to the kitchen to talk, just you and me Dale," Eliza said, "please make yourself comfortable, Walter."
Dale went back into the kitchen followed by Eliza. I grabbed the blanket and folded it at arm's length to avoid the muck. I put it on their loveseat and sat in their armchair. I picked up one of Eliza's pedestrian magazines and pretended to flip through it. Not too long and I drifted to a watercolor tacked on their wall. It showed a wandering little child as he waded along a shoreline. A swift signature in the corner read 'Rene Dunn.'
In the distance, the pair shuffled pans and ran water over dishes. In between, I heard tickles of whispers. Why, I couldn't recall the last time that I wished my own dishes. I never rented an apartment without a dishwasher. It must have been business school.
Eliza came back first, and she carried a small tray decorated with chocolate chip cookies. She was quite a plain woman and her best characteristic was a vivid smile. She did herself few favors by wearing a prosaic black t-shirt and tan shorts. She flashed a brief smile when she lowered the tray atop multiple old People magazines. My collared shirt without tie and pants had more charisma than her.
Dale entered and the pair settled on the loveseat. Eliza threw the blanket over herself and Dale. He smiled and curled up with her. Bodies shifted and it seemed that the two locked hands under the fabric.
They wore shorts and t-shirt, clothing very ill-suited for our pending encounter with an important landlord. Disappointing but not surprising for the couple and proving once again why they never rose to economic fortitude. What was Dale's profession again? He wasted as a lowly middle school teacher.
"When are we departing for Rene's apartment?" I asked.
"I believe it would be wise to digest a bit. Please, Walter, please, enjoy Eliza's cookies. She stayed up late to make them," Dale said.
"It is best practice for dieting to not break it. I have a sharp figure to maintain for clients."
"One cookie will not kill you."
"It is best practice for dieting to not break it."
"Then I'll take one," Dale said, "would you want one, Eliza?"
"Please, my dear."
I recognized their clear decision to stall and took a cookie of my own.
"Besides," Dale said, "I was talking to the landlord and he told me that he was caught in traffic. It's going to be even later for him to arrive at Rene's apartment to unlock it."
"Did he specify if the police finished their investigation?"
"No foul play was conclusively determined."
"Any interest in Rene's suicide?"
"The police have washed their hands of everything. Rene lives in a rougher neighborhood. They have much bigger fish to fry unfortunately."
Eliza sniffled between bites of her cookie.
"And there is not too much to find on why Rene might have done it. We have free reign across his apartment now?" I asked.
"Very well then, I suggest that we leave at once to meet the landlord at his discretion. A solid relationship with the man is fundamental to business and fundamental to our business interests in Rene's property."
"I think Eliza and I want a bit more time to prep ourselves. It's a lot to take in, don't you think? Why don't we stay for a bit to make some small talk?" Dale asked.
"That was a solution suggested by Eliza," Dale said, "thank you."
"Do you have any plans to move out and find a better location anytime soon?" I asked.
"No, we renovated a room to become a nursery," Dale said, "so we really have no intentions to move out."
"You could have a better house. It's not that the place is entirely meritless, even if I disagree with your merits, but you could afford better. Think about your house as an investment to your financial future."
"We'll pass. A home for our family is more important. We settled into a nice neighborhood for families, not for investing."
"A house's value can tank, taking your family's situation with it."
"This house is all I need to dream for. I've got a lovely wife; our first child is on the way. We have a nice yard for sports and nice neighbors to grill with. It has something enjoyable to do every day, even more so once our child arrives."
"You can do better. You have the talents to leave the middle school and get a real job in science."
"I have a more than enough fulfilling job working at a middle school. Walter, even on my worst days, I can drive home happy knowing that I am helping these kids. Why get a job in medicine to manufacture drugs that'll cost patients an arm and a leg? Does Martin Shkreli need me to stuff his pockets?"
"If you truly wish to engineer a successful life for you and your wife."
"Though, Shkreli's in prison now. Maybe I can help another one of your porky-nosed banker friends somewhere else?"
"And Walter, I can more than enough handle myself in this world," Eliza said.
"I'll let the issue die in that case."
He was never one for the more serious things in life. I earned As; he got Bs except for the sciences. Our drives carried over to the rest of our lives. His LinkedIn was set up by me. He was always more active on Snapchat – until he deleted it at Eliza's request. I could go on and list anecdotes and strong empirical data to further my point. The strongest evidence would fall on bank accounts. Even with a working wife, I made more money than the two combined.
"Dale, I think I am ready to visit Rene's apartment," Eliza said, "and going will help cool all heads."
"As do I now," he said.
"Then it is settled," I said, "who is driving?"
"Would you like to?"
I nodded and the three of us left for my car. Dale and Eliza clambered into the rear. A bit peculiar that no one should join me upfront. Certainly, was there an element of isolation to sit alone. Though I imagined Dale's company would be a net negative. None the less, they did not risk scuffing up the pristine front of my car. Clients and coworkers always remarked on my cleanliness. I had reason to care more for their comments than that of others. If only others knew how many bottles of beer I cleaned out last night. I would want to laugh, if not for how blackout drunk that I got.
We drove the suburb. Frequent stop signs and children at play signs slowed me. We even had to stop for a game of baseball played out on the streets. Fortunately, it was only once and there were more children at play signs than actual children.
A turn of a corner and we entered a new neighborhood. Half of the structures were blights. Rene's former apartment was a side street over. I parked in a visitor spot by his apartment. I made my way to the office; the others remained in the car.
"Hey, Walter," Dale said.
"Yes? Why do you call to stall me?"
"The landlord's going to be late. He just texted me again."
"Come here and see."
I marched to Dale. He showed the text where the landlord apologized for additional lateness. A follow up text told us to avail ourselves of the amenities in his office. I pointed to the air conditioner and the implicit hospitable climate.
Dale shook his head and pointed out a pond just around the parking lot.
"Do you think I care? I'll just wait in his office."
"Do you even know if it's unlocked? The landlord seems like a decent guy, but I'm not too sure if I can trust him."
"It matters little to me."
"Walt, we can relax, visit the little pond right by this place. It won't hurt us to relax a tad before our grave task today. Peace, let's give peace a chance."
We went our separate ways. Dale and Eliza walked to the pond. I took the more sensible approach and walked to the landlord's office. Pulling the handle opened only provided frustration against its lock. Dale and Eliza remained in sight and stood in repose near the pond.
The pond looked to me to be nothing more than a diseased kidney with reeds. One shore sloped down enough and was clear enough for humans to examine. Dale and Eliza already made their way down. While at the risk of appearing weak, I approached the pond but stayed behind as the shore looked to be excessively muddy and mixed with decayed organic matter, the kind to muck up one's shoes.
To think that they thought this was relaxing?
Eliza rested her head on Dale's shoulder. One hand of hers rested on his chest. The other held one of his.
In the bushes, life stirred. A bird chirped. A creature peeked through last season's foliage. Ripples of seeking animals broke then revibrated once the animal sank below the surface. The wind carried leaves and petals to the pond then cradled them on the mattress. A rift of traffic carried behind us. Before us, we only had the occasional avian and crossing critters.
An emerald perhaps in the neighborhood, I could understand some relaxation. Dale and Eliza succumbed to the allure of the gemstone. By their greed, they risked tracking muck before the landlord. Such a pedestrian disregard for decorum was very much a signature trait of Dale's.
Dale pulled out his phone and then turned to me, "the landlord is coming within the minute. I trust that you failed to get in?"
"You are underdressed for this. I should have mentioned it sooner," I said.
"Walt, do you think you're rather formal for this? What are those on your feet? Designer shoes?"
"Nonsense that I am overdressed, we are meeting a man of business and I always intend to make a good first impression. You know very well I hate that nickname."
"And so you do, so you do. You came to hate it. You enjoyed it growing up."
Dale and I kept distance as we returned to the parking lot. The landlord was a rotund man who heaved himself free of his car. He nodded to acknowledge our presence, pushed on the door handle, and invited us to his office.
The office was a pigsty of a low-level businessman. The landlord's desk was covered in papers. He kept a mess of pens chewed throughout the years, odd knickknacks unbecoming of a man of his statue. Perhaps its sole saving grace was a water cooler exiled next to a couch. As pedestrian and roughed as the couch was, the water cooler was the sole saving grace.
"Lady and gentlemen, please make yourself at home," the landlord said, "and I trust you are Rene's family."
"We're his brothers," Dale said, "and this is my wife."
"He was a sincere kid, your brother. Even if he was late more often than not in payments, he always said sorry and minded his manners. I enjoyed his respect you'd understand."
"Rene is courteous."
"More than courteous, an honest fellow. That's becoming quite rare nowadays you'll understand. The world needs less ruthlessness and more integrity if you agree with me."
"That might be," Dale looked at me, "something everyone needs to know."
"And which of you two brothers are the one who I texted? I like to match faces to names and names to faces."
"That would be me. I'm Dale Dunn."
"Pleased to finally meet you in the flesh. Now let me tell you, it will be something sad to know your brother will no longer be around to spread his cheer about anymore. It must be so much tougher on you guys."
"My nights have been more restless than usual."
"And when's the funeral? I ought to pay my respects."
"It is this Saturday, June twenty-second."
"I'll be there for sure," the landlord said, "have your jobs been helpful with bereavement leave?"
"I am a teacher. Tomorrow is the last day of school."
"I see, and what about you?" The landlord looked at me, "can't say if I think we exchanged names."
"Walter," I said.
"Walter? As in Walt for Disney?"
"I do not like that nickname. It is too childish."
"Sorry about my informality," he said, "have you managed your grief? Has work been kind to you?"
"I have privacy at my job."
"I think I can understand. Dunn family, I assume you'll want to head up to Rene's apartment?"
"Yes please," Dale said.
"It is the sole reason I came out here," I said.
The landlord grabbed a key and walked us up a flight of stairs. He inserted the key into room 217 and left us.
I spoke once he left, "as if you had courtesy, Dale."
"What? I didn't hear you."
"There is no need to repeat it," Eliza said, "the two of you are brothers and must act like it."
I flipped the switch. The lights started with a flicker then burst to canvass the entire room. A fly traced the ceiling. With no way to reach the cavernous ceiling, we likely would have to endure a fair bit. In a manner completely becoming of Rene, plates piled high on the counter. Though perhaps uncharacteristic of Rene, an odd fume bellowed into our noses. One of few good aesthetic judgements that he made was that he showered. Not something that a business rationalist should venerate, but amongst his crowd of beatnik scribblers, it was a minor miracle.
Rene had cloth sheets atop his watercolors. His obsession and metaphysical belief in an art career emerged in high school. He sprayed not only his obnoxious designs around the house but also left art magazines and books scattered about the house. If he found you looking at them for a more than a minute, he would seize upon the chance to drill his belief in avant-garde watercolors or futurist romanticism. He never talked of those styles, but I exaggerated the names to my friends in the Business Club.
"Well, where should we begin?" Dale asked.
"Why are you asking me? I had little vested interest in attending today."
"I was hoping that you'd have some wisdom as the eldest."
"And now you are the youngest."
Eliza pushed against the door.
"Don't you think that is too soon? We're in Rene's apartment for goodness sake!" His gaze fell to the floor, "where he killed himself, this isn't Rene's anymore."
"Walter," Eliza said.
I took the first tentative steps into the apartment. Confined to an all-purpose studio room and bathroom, Rene made use of his space. Art stacked atop one another; his bed hosted its own mini exhibit. A pile of cloth covers laid atop his fridge. He had no TV, only a small laptop covered by watercolor materials. The police must have never bothered to examine it, or they forgot.
I was unsure what to look for. We imagined that we could find mementos, something that the sentimentalists in Dale and Eliza could do better than me. They searched high, they searched low. I stood in a kitchenette circled by utilitarian plates and utensils that no one could have sentimental attachments to. The two looked to be naturals, even if I had no inclination of how their sentimental sense functioned.
"Let's not go through the art pieces, not just yet," Dale said.
"I had no interest."
"I'll try to take that in the best possible way."
"Boys," Eliza breathed, "could you try to get along?"
"Perhaps Dale's tone was merited. I confess some tact has been missing."
"Some?" He asked.
"Certainly not all."
We stared across a cluttered countertop.
"Dale, you work with middle schoolers day in and day out. Act like you're better than one," Eliza said, "I completely understand how much stress both of you have been under but can it, you two are grown men."
"Forget it, whatever."
I broke my gaze and returned to pretending to know what I was doing. Dale resumed his search. Here I was more than helpless in Rene's apartment. Did I even know my own brother enough to judge what he treasured? No, I could not. Nor could I recall the last time that I made fun of Rene for I knew that was the last I spoke of him. When I last said a brotherly word was more even more alienated.
The fly's buzzing was interrupted by the sharp ring of a phone.
"Do you hear that Eliza?" Dale asked.
"Where is it? I fear it's going to be important," she said.
"I do not see it," I said.
"Shit," Dale said, "where is it? Can't this day give us at least one thing easy?"
I searched the kitchen, opening drawers at random to scope out hiding places. All I found were stowed away excessively large knives and forgotten snack packs. One drawer yielded a leather-bound book. A sticky note attached to its cover said, 'Accounting Book.' Still that wouldn't bring me any closer to the phone.
The ringing stopped. No one held the phone. A few seconds of silence and we resumed our digging. I opened the 'Accounting Book' to glean what, if anything, was of value within it. A crease on a middle page divided the book into two sections. The first section held multiple receipts, entries and commissions. The second detailed an accurate tally of expenses and income related to this work with a unique level of diligence.
Sobbing broke my gaze from the book. Dale was hunched over in a corner with Eliza at his side. The breathing was deep and masculine, Dale's crying most likely. He rarely cried; last heard, he cried at his wedding.
The phone rang again. With Dale invalidated by his emotions and Eliza as his comforter, I had to locate the phone. Distorted and muffled, I thought it might be positioned for some obscure reason in the bathroom. A peek through that door confirmed my suspicions and I picked up the corded phone. Its cord extended just enough to walk out in the studio.
"Hello?" I asked.
"Hey, is this Rene Dunn? How's my commission coming?"
"Who is calling?"
"Yeah, we never called each other before. We met online, it's me, gentleknight1985. Remember I messaged about your commissions?"
"This is not Rene. This is his brother."
"Could you put him on the line for me? It's actually pretty important. I already paid and I need to talk money with him."
"Paid for what?"
"A commission for art, yeah art. We can call it that."
"Does it have a title?"
"Why do you care so much about what I ordered? I wanted Rene and I want to talk money with him."
"Rene died. If your artwork was–"
"Could you repeat that?"
"If your artwork is finished, we will send it to you. If it is unfinished, I will look through his financial documents and send you a refund."
"That, that wouldn't be necessary. No, I, I have to go now. Forget that I called about my commission. Do you remember my username?"
"Do you think I cared?"
He hung up.
Dale looked up, "could you be less rude next time?"
"The man was being cryptic. He claimed to have ordered a commission from Rene and was inquiring about its status. I told him the truth and offered a refund."
"Do you think the man needed some time to process what you just told him? Quite bluntly I must add."
"It is a fact and we have to recognize it."
"Walter, I swear, you have less," Dale turned at Eliza's touch, "never mind."
The phone rang again.
I picked it up, "hello, this is Walter Dunn, Rene's brother answering."
"I want a refund," a shrill woman's voice said.
"I trust that you placed an order and are aware of Rene's untimely passing."
"I didn't place an order. My son stole my credit card and placed an order. It just went through on my credit card!"
"I understand your anger. May you tell me your name so I can verify Rene's records about the order? I apologize for the distress that my late brother caused you."
"My name's Maple Banner."
"Please excuse me as I search through the orders."
Not buried too deep into his accounting book was an order for a credit card belonging to Ms. Banner. Scribbled underneath was gentlemanknight1985 followed by a question mark. The line below had 'status' written underneath and left unchecked. I looked at the price, time of the order, and its name: "Chun-Li Watercolor Rule 34."
"I found it, Ms. Maple. I will contact Rene's bank company to inform them of the fraud. I would suggest that you contact yours likewise about this case of fraud."
"Thank but I think my son only did it this once. He's a good boy you see but he makes mistakes sometimes."
She hung up.
"That was better," Dale said.
"Eliza, Dale," I turned to face them, "we are to look through his art."
"Walter, we agreed not to."
"I promised a refund to a mother whose son stole her credit card to commission pornography. It is in everyone's interest to determine how much pornography he produced before our parents wish to inspect his work."
"You're kidding, right? Walter, you've never been to tell fast ones like this."
"I can read you titles of commissions."
"That won't be necessary, Walter. I trust you," Eliza said.
"If Eliza trusts you," Dale stood beside her, "then I'll hate to lift those covers."
"It's what we owe Rene. We can give him a fitting record in not our memories, but the memories of others, for history as he would have liked it."
I approached them in the center of the room. Hearts beating, mine at least, we unveiled the first piece. It showed a waterfall. Diluted green trees stood in the background. The next piece showed a calm fish, half finished with its tail non-existent. The third unveiled piece was an expanse of road flanked by endless sky, or if he finished it as the sky gave way to unpainted white blankness.
"Are you sure that he made porn?" Dale asked.
"I could easily cite the accounting book."
Dale flung another cover and examined a half-finished forest. Eliza looked at a well-lit meadow. I held a signed picture of a shoreline at sunset. While not exactly the most skilled artwork, I saw potential. His signature in black ink stood against the light tan of the sand. The more I looked, the more the piece spoke to me. It showed a beach that couldn't be too far away, not removed like an exotic beach for a distant tropical island that I visited on work conferences. This could be a beach where Dale and Eliza would bring their child.
I shook my head, purging the distraction from my head.
There had to be unapologetic pornography somewhere buried here. For the sake of Rene's dignity, he deserved for us to censor the work. If not for the value of a flawed man, to maintain an illusion before our parents could inspect his room. Mom would demand to see his room as part of the grief process. That much was sure. As we explored new landscape canvas, the risk of stumbling upon the works diminished. As a rational fact, they diminished. Something outside explanation thought every piece could become pornography.
"Has anyone looked under his bed yet?" I asked.
"Did you Eliza?" Dale asked.
"Nor have I."
"Then I shall check it out," I said.
"What if there's anything personal that Rene wouldn't want us to see?"
"I already got a phone call regarding something that he would never want to be known. We vowed to find the pornographic images so as to retain his dignity," I said, "nor if I am to be blunt, but Rene–"
"I understand your point. Do what you must for our duty."
"Thank you, Dale."
"One question though before you do it. Walter, do you, never mind."
"Do I what?"
"Never mind, I said."
I crouched by the bedsheet. A peek under revealed new watercolor canvasses. I pulled a stack out and was greeted by a mostly finished nude. Perhaps generous, I could describe it as purely artistic. The lighting made it so, if one just ignored the exaggeration to the woman's sexual characteristics. Below it was an animeseque nude. I did not bother to check the rest knowing that I found the relevant material.
"Did you find them?" Dale asked.
I heard neither Dale nor Eliza turn around to join me. I was left alone with the nudes. I was now quite unsure what to do with them. Should I burn them? Where could I burn them? When could I burn them? These were people's commissioned art pieces, to destroy them might damage a vested property interest against the estate. The estate that I would manage with dad.
Dale and Eliza continued shifting through the other pieces. I doubted that they would find anything more than unfinished landscapes. Perhaps that was how we were supposed to remember Rene, not as a perverted artist but a failed painter who only sought to make us happy with landscapes. The charitable version, and quite a lie as well, but it was the marketing spin required for everyone to get through the funeral.
"Why do you think he did it?" Dale asked.
"Did what? Rene did a great many deal of things."
"I suppose I want to know what compelled him to start making the pornographic work. It so differs from his previous work and stands so much at odds with what I would expect from him. He had artistic principles, something greater than pornography. He wanted people to be happy, and not happy for five minutes, but happy in life."
"Recognizing what must have been his economic woes, I would be inclined to say that he needed to provide for himself via any and all economic avenues. The production of porn was only the next logical step."
"It is unideal for him. He kept a good accounting book from what I flipped through. He could have taken a good job in my office if I knew."
"He's good at accounting?"
"It seemed that he was. I advised him to take an accounting class back in high school. His accounting book testified to those skills."
Dale said nothing.
"Rather than pursuing his romantic dream of the tortured artist, he could have gotten a real job in an accounting office."
"Are you happy working in your business office, Walter?"
"There is a unique thrill to it, Dale."
"Unique thrill to trading in debt and colossal fortunes that probably are trivial to you now?"
"Now is not the time to debate the morals of my work."
"Dale," Eliza extended an arm to him, "can it, can it right now."
"Yeah, I guess not."
I said nothing.
"I cannot always say if I am happy for more than five minutes at my job either. The smile varies in length relative to the size of income. Was Rene?"
"I, I cannot say," Dale said.
"He was so happy when he saw how much we loved his watercolor. Do you remember that?" Eliza asked.
"I do. He came to visit us and after Eliza and I told him a few days earlier that she confirmed her pregnancy. He made a picture of a toddler wading along the beach."
"I saw that earlier today."
"He couldn't stop smiling when he gave to us."
"That would not have been too long before his suicide," I said.
"Yeah, yeah, you're right about that," Dale said, "was it the last time I saw him alive?"
The fly's buzzing continued. I felt a need to break the moment and tried to track the buzzing and find the fly. However small it was made it difficult to track. I grew quite aware of the sweat trickling down my forehead. I wiped it off and then turned on the air condition. The rush of cooling air did us all well.
"No need to say sorry, Dale. We know from his suicide note that Rene took his life for a deep fear of the future and inability to pay the bills. His art, taken in its most charitable form, made him happy."
"This happiness was tarnished by the reality of his finances that required him to produce pornography to survive. Eventually the totality of the fear pushed him to suicide. He had dreams, a desired narrative to paint of his life, but no means to accomplish them, in the end, he ended his life."
"You're right," Dale said.
"I just wish I wasn't."
"Rene was a kid who I told to take an accounting class. He must have done well. That's all I have to say," I said, "to say as his oldest brother."
"You don't have to be rough on yourself, Walter."
"I could have done something. You had time for him, resources to spare. What do I have? Everything more than you and I gave nothing to Rene."
"We gave him little–"
"You gave him time, something that I never had for him. Never had time to give him. I want to give him time now," I sniffled, "but I could never."
"Walter, I'm telling you," Dale stopped at Eliza's touch.
"Dale, I think Walt wants to talk right now."
"Yes, I do want to, I wish to. Thank you, Eliza."
"Please go on."
"I have nothing else to say now."
Sounds from the apartment over permeated thin walls. Rushing water from a shower vibrated through Rene's apartment. Outside, the birds continued to sing. A quiet hum of traffic broke through the air. Perhaps strongest of all were our breathes. Dale's was the heaviest, labored and wet with emotion. Eliza's was thinner, wet with emotion as well. Mine was deep, pressurized by my heart and the heat of grief.
"I think you and Eliza were the first passengers in my car not to be business related," I said, "do have you plans for a car seat?"
"A car seat?" Dale asked.
"For your child when he or she is born."
"Of course, anything for our baby."
"Will you be getting a baby on board sticker?"
Dale smiled, "what are you trying to get at?"
"I'm curious, that's all."
"Yeah, I guess it is in the distant future."
"Yeah, cause eight months is so far very far away," Eliza said, "and easier for you to say."
"I'll be sure to pick up my slack on chores as the pregnancy develops."
"I really only do keep you around because you're cute. I can't trust you to keep your word."
"Don't worry Eliza, I'll earn my keep once our baby is born."
I smiled. I had little knowledge of children, even less of where to buy products for them. When we drove back to Dale's house, I would take them to a store. There I could purchase towel and swimwear for the little wanderer on the beach.