Allan's Fortune: A Short Story by Jon Steinhagen

A few days after his father’s funeral, Allan gets a phone call from his brother. Dom says “Maybe this won’t come as any surprise to you, maybe it will, but he didn’t leave you anything.”

“You called to tell me that? Screw you.”

“Now wait a minute, this isn’t a nasty call, I’m not trying to rub your nose in anything, I’m just calling to tell you, to save you the trip.”

“What trip?”

“Downtown, to Collnut.”

“I wasn’t planning on…what for?”

“The reading of the will.”

“I wasn’t invited.”

“Really? Well, maybe Collnut wanted to save you the embarrassment.”

“Oh, he’s a peach. I’m surprised that old sonofabitch didn’t ask all of you to gather in the library for brandies while he revealed all.”

“Well, it’s not going to be a reading of the will, we all know what’s in it, it’s more of a signing off on things. You’ve got nothing to sign, so don’t worry.”

“I’m not, I wasn’t. Anything else?”

“You seem to be taking this rather calmly.”

“Like you said, it might not come as any surprise to me, and it doesn’t. I knew. I mean, he didn’t say anything about it over the last couple years, but I figured it was going to pan out like this. Remember how he used to joke?”

“I don’t remember him joking.”

“Maybe I was hoping, at the time, that it was a joke, that he was just threatening me, that he’d never actually make it real, take the necessary steps or whatever one does when one is cutting his oldest son off without a dime.”

“Eldest.”

“Yeah. Great. Goodbye. Enjoy the money.”

“Hold on a second, will you? Marie and I want to know if we can help you in any way.”

“That’s a load of crap. Marie could care less what happens to me. She wouldn’t piss on me if I was on fire.”

“Listen, what I do, Marie does, because that’s how it is with us, we’re splitting everything right down the middle, and if I say we need to help you out, she’s going to help you out, too.”

“I wish I could’ve been a fly on the wall for that conversation. I’ll bet the bitch wailed like an ambulance siren when you told her that.”

“I haven’t told her yet.”

“Well, then remind me not to hold my breath.”

“Look, Allan, it’s a shitty thing he did, okay? A shitty thing. I’ll grant you that. Regardless of what went on between you.”

“All those years ago. Finish that sentence with the words “all those years ago,” okay? And how many years? Thirty-two. I was nineteen. You don’t remember, you were ten or something, out in the yard, running around with that mutt.”

“Yeah, but God knows I’ve heard the story enough.”

“And after all that time he couldn’t think that possibly I could have changed? Huh?”

“Look, I don’t know, I don’t see you that often, and he didn’t talk about it the last couple of years.”

“You still think I’m a bum?”

“I don’t recall ever referring to you as a bum. Let’s not be so hostile here; remember, ‘m the one who called you.”

“You couldn’t have told me at the funeral?”

“You were drunk, you sat in the back with your shades on, you didn’t talk to anybody.”

“Who said I was drunk?”

“Well, you weren’t standoffish, there’s a big difference between anti-social and tanked.”

“How do you know? You ever been either?”

“I’ve had a few too many, one or two times.”

“A few too many is nothing, it’s like an old lady having two teaspoonfuls of elderberry wine at Christmas instead of the one she takes every two weeks for medicinal purposes.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I’m just wondering why the phone call, why you felt the need to ring me up and drive the knife in further.”

“There are things one doesn’t discuss at funerals, and as it just so happens, I had no idea myself until yesterday the extent of his leavings.”

“Leavings, that’s good. Like droppings. Like what a filthy guinea pig craps out, you sweep up its leavings.”

“And I’m not driving in any knife, Allan, will you listen for a minute? Marie and I don’t want you left high and dry.”

“Again…”

“All right, forget Marie, I don’t want you left high and dry.”

“Fine, fine. That’s great. How much are we talking?”

“His estate? A little over eight hundred thousand.”

“I didn’t mean his estate, because I didn’t want to know how much I was being shafted out of, but you told me, so that’s fantastic, you and the gorgon can split eight hundred grand while all I get is a mild case of poison oak from the cemetery.”

“You didn’t really get poison oak, did you? That’s a joke, right? Although if I got, I’d know by now, wouldn’t I? Anyway, eight hundred grand is what it is, now you know, and Collnut said it worked out well, nice and even, because it’s easier to split eight hundred grand two ways than three ways.”

“Well, I’m so glad it all works out so well for him.”

“What was it between you two?”

“Me and who? Collnut?”

“Dad.”

“I bounced a few checks first year in college, he said I didn’t know how to manage money, which wasn’t true, I told him that at the time, I thought I had a certain amount of money in my checking account, and it wasn’t there, and I had to borrow from him to cover it. You see, this was before they had check cards and ATMs, and I had opened that checking account the summer I started working at the shoe place, I was fifteen, it was a joint account because I was a minor, it was me and Mom on the checks. I moved to college, I didn’t take my money out of the bank, didn’t change the account information, so my statements and returned checks and everything kept being delivered to the house, and Mom would open them, see the checks fall out, get calls from the bank, see the overdrafts, and I’d get in trouble.”

“Why’d you spend money you didn’t have? Didn’t you keep a balance?”

“I did, I tell you, only I must have made a mistake somewhere along the way to where I thought I had more on tap than I did, and you have to understand that I didn’t get a chance to reconcile the statement right away because it was being mailed to the house while I was up at Northern. So the two of them, Mom and Dad, are catching all this and waiting until I’m in trouble to say anything. And then there was the inheritance from Aunt Edie.”

“What about it?”

“I spent it.”

“All of it? That was like thirteen grand.”

“Well, Dad said he was taking ten of it to help defray the cost of my tuition, and I said sure, fair is fair, but it would’ve been nice to have had the full sum in a savings account to be a cushion, if you will, when times get tough, and that’s when we’d get to fighting about my grades and how if I’d’ve applied myself more I would’ve gotten a scholarship or at least a partial one, I’m sure you remember these fights. Anyway, I spent what he left me of the inheritance on a new sound system, top of the line, or at least it was supposed to be.”

“You spent three thousand dollars on a sound system?”

“Well, nearly three grand. This was when CDs were coming out, remember, and everybody had to have these cool sound systems. The one I picked up was state of the art, it had this removable cartridge or magazine that held five CDs at once, and I was accumulating quite a collection at the time, and most of those Zappa albums were like two CDs long. Anyway, I was broke again soon, bouncing checks, and he was fit to be tied. He was a cheapskate, that’s all it was, especially now that I know his estate came to nearly a million bones. But anyway, that’s just two examples of the runaround we had going. There was more. I could go on and on. Now that I think about it, that fancy CD player didn’t last me a year. I think it worked correctly like once. I remember now I had to take it in somewhere to get repaired, and that cost another fortune. I think I ended up dropping it out the dorm room window, I got in trouble for that, too, and there was a fine. I haven’t thought about any of this in a long time, you can understand why.”

“Some of that I kind of sort of knew, I think. I remember he was always steamed at you about something or other.”

“Yeah, well, it was tough.”

“Now about this money…”

“Keep it.”

“Why so hostile to me? Was I the one disinherited you? No, I wasn’t.”

“Sorry.”

“What could you use?”

“Use?”

“Money-wise.”

“Christ! The shape I’m in right now, five thousand would be a fortune.”

“Well, I don’t know if I could do five, because if I shaved off five from my end, Marie would have to cough up five, too, and while we reached an agreement on this, there’s no way in hell I’d get her to agree to five. Although I’m sure the ten grand, combined, would help you out.”

“So don’t give me five apiece, give me five total. Twenty-five hundred from you and her.”

“Or I could just give you the five myself and not tell her, you know, so there’s no further fuel added to the fire.”

“If you can give me five, great.”

“That’d be a little over ten percent of my share.”

“You’re the math whiz, whatever you say.”

“Even though I suppose, by rights, you’re entitled to a third of the entire estate.”

“Look, Dom, if you can fix it so I can lay my hands on three hundred grand, I’d be your friend for life, I’d leave you alone for good, although I’ve done a pretty good job of leaving you alone thus far.”

“It wouldn’t be three hundred grand, maybe a little over two-fifty.”

“Again, music to my impoverished ears. I called the old man a cheapskate before, I should thank him, all the loot he shored up over the years. How’d he do it, on his salary?”

“I gave him some stock tips maybe twelve, fifteen years ago.”

“Oh? How come you didn’t give any of those stock tips to me?”

“I just figured you wouldn’t have the money to invest in anything.”

“So I was living on Alpo and going without a decent winter coat all these years while you two were getting fat on your brilliant stock tips?”

“Allan…”

“Never mind, never mind. Let’s get back to the third of the estate I’m entitled to.”

“Had you let me finish, I would have said that while you might be entitled to it, per se, as one of three children, Dad fixed it so that you get nothing. And Marie sure as hell isn’t going to pay to have the will contested, not on your behalf, and I sure can’t afford court costs. I was just saying, in relation to what you could have had if you and Dad hadn’t been such enemies, you could be netting…well, never mind, I’m sorry I brought it up, I can’t remember why I even mentioned it.”

“Whatever, I’ll take the five grand.”

“I wish there was more I could do for you.”

“Hey, it’s my fault. When you asked me how much money I needed I should’ve have said ten grand, twenty-five grand, but I said five. Had I said twenty-five, we could have at least argued down to five, and that would have been a longer and worse conversation, but I said what I said and I’m getting it, and I should just shut up and be thankful you didn’t argue me down to five hundred dollars.”

“Listen, I know Marie and I splitting eight hundred thousand dollars seems like a tough break for you, but you don’t know what’s factored in. I mean, I’ve got six kids and Julie can’t work because of her hearing deficit, so yeah, my four hundred grand will come in handy but it won’t mean we won’t stop counting pennies to put everybody through college and keep up our house and the property in Ann Arbor. And as for Marie, well, Dale’s business isn’t what it used to be, and she’s got the three kids, too, and she’s taking care of her mother-in-law, although I’m sure when her mother-in-law kicks off they’ll have a lot of cash coming from her, but…hey, look at it this way, Dad was, I guess, looking out for his ten grandchildren.”

“Ten? Your six and Marie’s three? That’s nine.”

“Ten. Tommy’s a beneficiary, too.”

“No shit!”

“How could you forget your own son?”

“Jesus, Dom, I don’t know. It’s been a couple of years since I saw him, talked to him. Tommy! Well, Tom, now, God, he’s nearly as old as you are.”

“Hardly.”

“Well, he’s got to be thirty-two now, thirty-one. Ha! So Tommy made it into the will, huh? What’d Dad leave him?”

“I don’t know if that’s for me to say.”

“Say, say.”

“You should really talk to him, Allan.”

“What for? He doesn’t want to talk to me, and I can’t say I blame him. How’d Collnut find him?”

“Carol kept in touch with Dad.”

“Of course she did, that whore. Is she in the will?”

“No.”

“But she pushed Tommy at him all those years, I’ll bet. What a con artist! Hey, I don’t begrudge the little bastard – and he is just that, Dom, I’m not just calling him names – but to find out all these years that whore has been shoving that kid off on the old man…man, what a world. Come on, tell me. How much did he get?”

“Eight thousand.”

“Eight thousand! And here I am hustling you for five thousand I wasn’t supposed to get anyway! In my next life, I want to come back as my father’s grandson! Ain’t that the way the shit bounces?”

“Allan.”

“Yes.”

“I…well, I don’t know what to say.”

“You don’t have to say anything. That’s the way the cheese gets sliced. I can live with it.”

“Still…”

“Look, I’m hanging in there. I’m able to pay my bills. Really, I am. If I couldn’t make it each month, don’t you think that you’d have heard from me by now?”

“You’ve never come to me for a hand out.”

“No, and I didn’t go begging to Dad, either. Not after we weren’t speaking to each other.”

“That was a long time.”

“You bet. But I wanted to prove to him I could manage money, that he was wrong. Now, granted, I may not have shown a particular talent for making a significant amount of money, but I live reasonably comfortably for a frugal fifty-three year old man.”

“Renting?”

“Of course. You think I can afford a house?”

“I don’t know. I guess not.”

“Always wanted a house, though.”

“Why would you want a house?”

“To live in, jackass, why do you think?”

“It’s a lot to deal with, Allan. You don’t know.”

“No, and I suppose I won’t know, either. Not any time soon. Ah well, what’s the difference? The only inheritance I ever got I blew on a piece of machinery, so I guess my lesson’s been learned, huh? And anything I ever earned went to Carol and Tommy and my gas and electric and the water, sometimes, when whichever landlord I happened to have at the time paid the water. And of course there were car payments, although I never bought new, and car insurance. And medical insurance, when it wasn’t offered with whatever job I happened to have. Groceries. Toiletries. Pleasantries. It all goes, Dom, it all went. And you don’t feel sorry for me, do you?”

“Are you trying to make me feel sorry for you? And what an asshole-like thing to say to me, me who called you today, out of the blue, to ask you if I could help you.”

“And how do you think it makes me feel telling my kid brother who’s so successful with his stock tips and his vacation home in Michigan and his half a dozen kids and his deaf wife…”

“She’s not deaf. Watch it.”

“But you could spare me five grand if you don’t breathe a word of it to my rotten sister…oh, thank you! Thank you, Dominick! I’m indebted to you forever! Is that what you want to hear?”

Dom hangs up. Allan does not try to call him back.

He takes a beer from the fridge, cracks it opens, gulps it down, crunches the can, throws it into the sink. He shakes the last cigarette from the pack and sits in his living room. He lights up, he smokes. He picks up his phone, dials Carol. He asks her if she’s got Tommy’s number, he wants to ask him something.

 

END

Filed under: Prose/Poetry, Submissions

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