“This is what Seldon looked like when he came home.” Mrs. Granger handed Bill a rust-colored photograph.
The house was dark. Bill turned towards the open window to catch the remaining light.
In the photograph Sully Granger sat in a high-backed chair with his mother over his left shoulder and his sister over his right. He wore a collar and tie but his hair was wild like he’d been standing in the wind and his eyes were wide and white. His left trouser cuff was rolled up and pinned beneath his hip. He looked like an ancient pagan king: fierce, isolate and profane.
“He always said he would come back home,” said Bill. “To take care of ‘his girls’, he said. You and Evelyn.”
Mrs. Granger nodded and looked away. “Since he lost his leg…”
Evelyn poured tea into two cups sitting on a table at the edge of the room. “You will have to talk to him,” she said to Bill. “He’ll listen to you. He always has.” The last time Bill heard such ice in Evelyn’s voice was when he was thirteen and she was chiding him and Sully for not including her in their games.
Mrs. Granger took Bill by the arm and led him down the hall. She knocked on a door and left Bill standing on the threshold.
Bill turned the knob and entered the room.
Sully sat in a cracked and noisy leather chair in a room full of books; books arranged on shelves, books stacked on tables and desks, opened books lying on open spaces on the floor. Sully puffed on a cigar, sucking the smoke in through his nostrils after it billowed out from between his lips.
Sully was thin. His black beard looked unnatural, like a play-actor’s prop. His eyes were red. He held a revolver in his right hand. A bottle of whiskey and a glass sat on the table next to his elbow.
Bill remembered seeing Hodges like this. Hodges had lost a leg. And a year later he’d shot himself in the chest.
“What are you doing here?” said Sully. He took a drink of whiskey.
“Your mother wrote me,” said Bill. He retrieved a crinkled letter from his jacket pocket.
“She shouldn’t have done that.” Sully’s voice was metallic, hollow, like noise from a broken drum.
“C’mon, Bill, sit down.”
Sully held out Dana’s Two Years Before the Mast. “Remember this, Bill? That book poisoned a generation. Maybe if you and I had read something else, neither one of us would have gone to sea.”
Candles and a banked fire in the grate lit the room. Sully rummaged through the books within arm’s reach. He pivoted in his seat on his left hip, his right leg anchoring him to the floor.
“Books and maps made us crazy back then, Bill. When we were kids, remember? Here, you always liked this one.” He held out Rasselas by Samuel Johnson.
“Sully,” said Bill.
“Bill, you remember Scattershot Bay?” Sully picked up the revolver and aimed it at the mounted deer’s head on the wall.
“Me, you, Jolly MacHeath, Larue Saudade, Blackjack O’Hara–who else was there?”
Sully pulled the trigger. Bill winced. The hammer fell on an empty chamber.
“Ugo,” said Bill.
“Yeah, that’s right, old Ugo Bonaventure. Whatever happened to him?”
“He was killed in Zanzibar six years ago.”
“Oh,” said Sully. He took a drink of whiskey.
Sully aimed the revolver out the west window. “I shot a crow two days ago right from this chair. He was sitting in a maple tree. Sixty yards, easy.”
“Ma told you how I lost my pin?” Sully patted the stump of his left leg. “In the jungle. Up the Amazon. The Jivaros got us. They got all of us. Except me. I hid in the mud with one of their darts in my leg. I watched the bastards tie the boys up to stakes and skewer ‘em with arrows. Arrows decorated with colored ribbons. It was the queerest thing.
“I stole one of their canoes and floated downriver. I was just a piece of meat by the time the Jesuits found me. My blood had gone bad. I was crazy. My leg was rotten. They sawed it off, and now I’m home. I always said I would come back. To take care of my girls, I said.”
“Sully,” said Bill. “They want you to go away.”
Mrs. Granger stood in the doorway.
“Your mother wrote to me,” said Bill.
“Look at yourself, Seldon,” said Mrs. Granger.
Sully put the revolver down.
Mrs. Granger wiped tears off her cheek. “You came home with your crutch and I thought, ‘the world has tamed him; he’s come back.’ But no, you were strong, and as reckless as before. It took living with us for seven months to bring you to this.”
“Mother, I always promised, I always said I would come back home and take care of you.”
“You were too late, Seldon. You didn’t come back. You missed everything. Your sister and I built a life. You followed yours. There’s nothing here to take care of except you.”
Sully took a drink of whiskey. He didn’t look at his mother. His hand rested on the revolver on the table but he didn’t pick it up. Instead, he picked up Dana’s Two Years Before the Mast. “I always liked this book.”
“C’mon, Sully,” said Bill. “I’m going down to St. Kitts. That Le Santo business you and I always talked about. Come with me.”
Sully nodded. He looked at his mother. He sighed. “Okay, Bill. I’m in.”
Sully got up. He leaned on his crutch. He looked at his mother.
Sully hugged his mother. “No more words,” he said. “I’m sorry for everything.” He hugged her tighter, holding her head as she sobbed against his shoulder. “Goodbye, ma. And thank you.” He kissed her cheek.
“C’mon, Bill,” said Sully. “Let’s go.”
Nick Logan lives and works in Woodstock, Illinois.