Phone Rings Six

He’s heading to the kitchen for a snack, passes Dan’s photo on the fireplace mantel, stops and goes back to look at it. He put it there a few days after Dan died three months ago, the only photo he could find of him as an adult. It was taken at Stu’s wedding twenty years before. The ceremony and reception were held in their one-bedroom apartment in New York. His sister Natalie shot a roll of film with her camera and a friend of his and his wife was given their camera and two rolls of film to take photos, but none of the friend’s came out. “I might have put the film in wrong,” the friend said. “Both rolls?” Stu said, trying not to show his anger. “You said you were a good photographer and knew cameras, because these pictures were very important to us.” “I do know cameras, especially one as uncomplicated as yours, and I am a good photographer. So now I’m thinking there was something wrong with your camera or you gave me film that had been exposed.” Only half the photos his sister took came out, and one was this one of Dan, or actually, Dan and Stu. Dan’s behind him, squeezing Stu’s shoulder, and they’re both smiling. During the ceremony Stu cried. Dan might have too. He was standing next to Stu, had given him the rings when the rabbi asked him to, but Stu’s eyes were watery from the time he walked down the aisle till a little after Janice and he were pronounced married. He still looks a little teary though very happy in the photo, so it was probably taken soon after the ceremony. Stu had gone through all his own photos looking for one of Dan. Then through his wife’s, and she had about ten times as many as he, in a big cardboard box, most in the envelopes they came back from the developer in, but they were all of her and them and their kids and her parents and friends and of gardens and flowers and Russian churches and some just of cupolas and many of cats she’s had. Then he remembered the wedding photos and thought maybe out of the fifteen or so that came out there was one with Dan in it. He asked his wife “What ever happened to our wedding photos—I haven’t seen them for years?” and she said “They’re where they’ve always been, or since we moved here—in an album on the desk in my studio, no doubt hidden under a pile of things. Why, you looking for one of Dan?” and he said “Yeah, I can’t find any except kid shots with all the brothers and sisters but me, for some reason—even one where he’s holding Deborah though looking afraid he’s going to drop her, a week or two after she was born,” and she said “I recall one of him in the wedding bunch; he’s patting your back.” He got the album and pulled out the photo and stood it up against his wife’s jewelry box on the dresser, thinking he’d be forced to look at it a lot because the clock and phone were there. The box doesn’t contain any jewelry, but she keeps it there because the kids bought it for her; her jewelry, what she has left of it—most was stolen when the house was broken into last summer while they were in Maine—she keeps in a lower dresser drawer so she can reach it from her wheelchair. But he kept finding the photo on the floor, probably having something to do with his daughter fiddling with it while she was on the phone or she or someone else walking by it so fast that it was swept off the dresser. So he put it on the mantel. Nobody touches the mantel much except the cleaning woman, who comes every other Thursday, and cleans it about once every two months. And when she dusts the mantel and everything on it—he’s seen her—she puts everything back where it was. So he sees the photo, sometimes stops to look at it—still, after three months—several times a day. One night when he was drinking and thinking of Dan and feeling very sad, he lit a candle on either side of the photo, shut the light, put his elbows on the mantel, and got so close to the flames while he was staring at the photo but especially Dan that his face started to burn and he had to jump away. He also broke down after a while and then blew the candles out and turned the living room lights back on. Stu was about six inches taller than Dan and though the photo’s only from their waists up, the difference in their heights shows. They look like brothers in the photo, but much closer in age. Almost the same nose: Dan’s is smaller—he had the smallest in the family other than their mother’s—and more pugged. Same high cheekbones—also their mother’s—and strong chin with a dent in it: all four brothers had that, which came from their father. In the photo they both have more hair. Dan’s started to recede, it seemed, only when he reached sixty, and just a little patch in back and a bit at the temples. Stu’s hair started receding when he was fifteen, but it was a slow recession, if it can be said that way, and he still had some hair on the top and the sides were full. Their hair is brown in the photo. Stu’s hair is all gray now, in some places—sideburns, right above the ears—white. Dan’s was brown when he died, with grey flecks. Stu and Jay’s hair—Jay was three years older than he and an inch taller—must have come from their father, who was bald but, unlike them, short. Dan and Newton’s hair—Newt was fourteen months younger than Dan and the same height—must have come from their mother, since two of her three brothers and her father had lost none of their hair, but all were tall. Jay’s hair started receding when he was thirteen and went quicker than Stu’s, so had he lived—he was on a freighter that disappeared in the North Atlantic when he was twenty-seven and at the end of a year-long round-the-world trip—he probably would have been much balder than he. Newt, who died at nineteen—murdered in Turkey in a botched robbery while he was on naval shore leave—had thick kinky red hair—the only kinky-haired redheaded person in the family and which had to have come from some Polish forebear several generations back—and if he had lived there was a good chance he would have had the same hairline as Dan’s. My brother, he thinks, staring at the photo. That was some day, the wedding, huh? Everyone there but Jay, Newt, Deborah and Dad. Food was good; half of it made by Janice and he, the rest from Zabar’s. Great wine and champagne. A friend of his wife—a concert pianist—played before the ceremony began: Ravel, Debussy, Satie. She was French. And when they walked down the aisle—Dan was already in front with Janice’s parents and her best friend—the first prelude of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier. Simple ceremony; two thin wedding bands. A rabbi, to please Janice’s father, but nothing much about the Jewish faith, and Stu had told him beforehand he wasn’t going to step on any glass. Coldest January 10th on record, the Times said the next day. After, Stu walked Dan and his wife to their car parked in a spot that someone had previously dug out of a three-foot-high pile of snow. Snow from a few days ago. It would have been too cold to snow that day, or that’s what he’d heard. Temperature now around zero or two or three below. Their apartment building and the parking spot were on Riverside Drive, so maybe five to ten degrees colder down there, with the river and wind. As Dan was about to get into the car he said “That was the nicest wedding I’ve ever been to. I can’t imagine it being surpassed in any way: food, drink, elegance, restraint, simplicity, genuine good taste. Even the rabbi, and I usually don’t like those guys and how they speak and what they say, was okay. You know I’m an emotional guy but cover it up most of the time and sometimes I might even seem hard—I don’t display my real feelings very much, I’m saying—but I’m so damn happy for you both. So happy I can’t tell you how much,” and he started crying. “What happened, he had too much to drink?” Stu said, and Melody said “No, if that were so, I wouldn’t let him drive,” and then she started crying. “Come on, both of you, it’s not that bad. You lost a brother but gained a sister-in-law. Okay, stupid joke. Get out of here already, and watch out for black ice.” He stayed in the street to wave them off. “Go home, it’s freezing cold,” Dan said, getting in the car. The car wouldn’t start. Dan and he pushed it out of the parking spot while Melody sat behind the wheel. They pushed it down Riverside Drive for about fifteen minutes till the engine started, and then Dan got behind the wheel, rolled down the window and said “Toot toot,” and drove off. Stu went back to the apartment. A few people were left whom he’d promised to drive home to the West Seventies and Sixties. Stu said “Give me ten minutes to thaw out,” and was helping Janice clean up the place when Dan called from downstairs. The car had stalled three blocks away. “Melody’s with me, and she’s so cold from the walk back that I don’t want her going out till I got the car started and warm again. I’d call a garage but it might be hours before they come, because I’m sure lots of other cars have the same problem tonight. You mind helping me out again, but this time you driving and just I push?” “Oh no you don’t. I’m warmed up, even had a nice shot of cognac and put on a dry pair of socks, so you drive while I push. Okay, folks,” he said to the people he was going to drive home, “you’ll have to wait a few more minutes. Family comes first. Anybody want to help out in pushing my brother’s car, be my guest,” and the only man said “Wish I could, but my heart,” and one of the women said “I’m really not dressed for it, especially the shoes.” Dan and he jogged to the car, Dan got behind the wheel and Stu pushed. He slipped a few times, got himself wet, thought “So what? It’s for my brother. It’s invigorating and good for a laugh too. ‘What did I do at the end of my one and only wedding? Pushed my brother’s car for half an hour when it was ten below zero and I was getting soaked; what did you?’” Car finally started. Stu got in, they stayed parked with the motor going for about five minutes, and drove back to the apartment house. Stu got Melody, and Dan said to him through a crack in the window “I’m so sorry I had to put you through all this. I think we got it going for good, though. You’re a great brother. I’ve never told you; I probably never will again. Ah, maybe I will when I’m much older and so addled that I forgot I already told you it once. And I still think it was the greatest most beautiful and moving wedding I’ve ever been to.” “Janice planned the whole thing,” Stu said. “Whoever did it, and I’m sure you had a hand in it too, it was the best. Goodnight,” and they drove off, Melody waving and blowing kisses to Stu. The people he was going to drive home had left. “They called a car service,” Janice said. “You’d done more than enough on your wedding day, they said, and we still had the place to clean up. They also apologized for not being able to help you push your brother’s car and hoped you understood why they couldn’t.” “It’s all right. I’m glad I did it alone.”