(Praying Mantis was always my private nickname for the Elder Son, because until he warmed up to me and we became friends–which I ruined–I thought he had the personality of a praying mantis. I never called him this to his face.)
Mantis was, reluctantly, coming over after his classes were done, as his father had demanded that he do, but he wasn’t coming for dinner. He had no idea what he was in for (neither did I), only that it couldn’t have been good since the Collector refused to discuss the issue over the phone and had insisted on a next-day meeting.
I was sick with dread knowing that the Collector was going to confront Mantis in person, with me in the house. Absolutely nervous as hell. I was hoping that Mantis would tell his father to fuck off, or simply not show up. I would have texted him and told him not to come, that it was too dangerous, but the Collector had confiscated my phone.
I might have been anxious, but the Collector was calm and collected. A man with a plan.
“Here. Wear this,” he said, rummaging through my closet. It was a slinky red cocktail dress. It was 7 in the evening, but I doubted we were going out for cocktails or breaking out the champagne. “Fix your hair and makeup.”
“Collector!” I pointed frantically at the right side of my face, which was still red and swollen, and then at his partial black eye. “How are we going to explain this?”
He leaned over and kissed me on the forehead. “Margo, what have I taught you about explaining? Never explain.”
Then he walked out, leaving me to prepare.
Mantis was 20 minutes late. Could have been the train, but my money’s on that he did it deliberately to piss off his dad. It was fine with me, because it gave me time to ask for, and receive, a third Stoli Vanilla, which I was sucking down in the kitchen.
“You look beautiful,” the Collector said. He was wearing slacks, a buttondown, and a vest. I thought he was a little dressed up for a Friday night at home chastising your adult kid, but what the hell do I know? At least we matched.
The doorbell rang.
“You know what to do!” he smiled and patted my shoulder.
“Actually, I don’t. You never told me.”
“What you’re told, of course!” he said over his shoulder, walking away.
I waited a minute until I knew he was in his office and went to get the door.
Except for two Skype telephone calls (which the Collector didn’t know about), I hadn’t seen Mantis in about a year, since everything turned to shit. He looked pretty much the same except that his buzzed haircut another thing I think he did just to aggravate his father (The Collector had referred to it as Your Nazi-sympathizer boot camp hairstyle) had grown out. He didn’t look nervous, although at least part of him had to be. He looked like he always did around his father: defiant and grouchy.
“Yeah, he told me you’d be here,” he said, standing in the doorway.
“We’re considering reconciliation.”
“Sorry to hear it. Disappointed, but not surprised.”
“Why is that?”
“Because sooner or later, he always gets what he wants.”
Mantis should know. After I left, the Collector blamed Mantis for a big part of it and cut him off financially to punish him. It worked. Eventually the boy caved, doubtlessly knocking on Dad’s door with his hat in his hand. God only knows how humiliating that discussion had to be.
“Want me to hang up your parka? There is coffee.”
“No. Hopefully I won’t be here that long. Where is he?”
“In the office.” Kind of a weird place to meet family, but maybe that was the point.
We walked down the hallway and I knocked on the door. We waited until we were admitted.
The blinds were closed and some of the lamps were off. There was, I’d say, just enough light to read by. The Collector was sitting in the corner of the sofa across the two chairs. He did not stand up.
“What is this about?” asked Mantis.
“Have a seat.”
Mantis sighed and walked to the chairs. I waited until I saw him sit down directly across from his father and I turned to go.
“Oh, no, Margo. You stay. You need to be here for this.” His voice was completely neutral.
Oh no, I thought, but like Mantis, I dutifully walked over and sat at the opposite end of the couch, as far away from the inevitable confrontation as I could.
He patted the seat right beside him. “Closer, please.”
Fucker. I scooted over until I was sitting right beside him.
“I think we need to talk about that unfortunate weekend we were all at the house, Mantis. In English, so that Margo can follow.”
Mantis didn’t say anything.
“I think we need to talk about your behavior towards her while I was out of town with your brother. To the best of my knowledge, you’ve never even apologized to her, is that correct?”
(In fact, Mantis had apologized in our first brief Skype conversation, months after the fact. He’d called to apologize, which consisted of I’m sorry for what I did, to which I replied, It’s okay, Mantis. It wasn’t the worst thing that ever happened to me in my life. Not by a longshot. When it comes to violence, you are strictly bush league. I’d hoped that would be magnanimous and insulting at the same time.)
“He hasn’t,” I said. The fucking last thing I needed was for the Collector to think we we’d had undisclosed conversations during the many months I refused to take his phone calls.
He patted my hand to let me know he hadn’t been talking to me, so kindly shut the fuck up.
“I haven’t,” said Mantis.
“I took the first flight home, of course, but even so, by the time I finally came here, found her, and let her go, she had been in that position for at least 12 hours.”
It was true: I’d been handcuffed on the rickety metal bed in the tiny upstairs room I’d been hiding in since about 2 AM, and I’d spent several hours of it lying in my own urine because I couldn’t get up and make it to the treacherous bathroom five feet away. He’d been generous enough to leave the bathroom light on, though, so at least I wasn’t laying there in the dark.
“Margo told me all about it, so I never asked you for your narrative, Mantis. I found her explanation, the holes you put in the wall of my house, and the things you expressed to me during your shrieking drunken disrespectful late-night telephone call all to be perfectly adequate.
Right now, however, I want you to tell me exactly what happened after you hung up the phone. Before you stole one of my cars and ran to the airport, as if you could escape the consequences of your actions.
In your own words, what happened?”
TO BE CONTINUED, HOPEFULLY BEFORE I GO TO REHAB ON MONDAY