Inheritance: A Novel
‘It’s time to come back home,’ says Clint Conway.
He is a gruff, handsome man of sixty-eight years, lounging in a hot tub, speaking over the phone to his son, Jonas. It’s early evening, the sun resting behind a grove of bald cypress that tower over the backyard. A slight breeze pokes through the muggy Louisiana air.
Jonas, twenty-nine, lies tanning on a California balcony. From his sixth floor vantage point he watches as crowds fill the beach. The people alternate between activities of chaos and serenity. Yoga poses. Sand sprints. Volleyballs are slapped and served to opposing teams. Tanned and shirtless lifeguards sport red trunks and lean against the wooden railings of their towers, quietly surveilling the water. The tide, unaware of its audience, pushes forth and sucks back in on itself.
‘Must I?’ asks Jonas. 'The timing is incredibly inconvenient.'
He thinks about his hometown, how it remains positively ridden with heat, trapped underneath a fever which hangs in the air constantly. Not to mention the humidity. Oh, the humidity.
'We’re gonna get your life put together,' says Clint, draping his arm around a woman who nuzzles up next to him. The woman, Larissa, has just recently caught Clint’s attention, this being chiefly due to her status as a dermatologist who wears a bikini in her online dating profile. The newly minted couple watch a college football game playing on a TV mounted over the pool.
Jonas squeezes suntan lotion across his torso. 'Why would I make such a move?'
'I stopped payments on the condo,' says Clint. 'Larissa set you up a flight home—tomorrow. You’re staying here with me.'
Jonas sits up, and lotion begins to drip down his body, falling like tears. 'Tomorrow? I can’t.'
'Yes, you can. You have less than nothing going on.'
'But, Mr. Bubbles,' says Jonas.
'I don’t know what that is.'
Clint sighs heavily. 'God damn it.'
Heartened by his father’s disgust, Jonas looks over to Mr. Bubbles, who is sleeping on an adjacent chair. Perhaps they will be allowed to stay after all.
'Bring the stupid cat.'
Jonas hangs up the phone; he fights an impulse to toss it over the balcony’s rail. After stewing for an hour or so, he stands. Mr. Bubbles stirs awake, arching his back. By now the beach has gone mostly quiet. The people pause to watch the sun lower into the ocean, casting over the shoreline a magnificent orange and purple glow. 'Take a good look,' Jonas tells Mr. Bubbles. 'You won’t see that in Louisiana.'
Jonas turns and steps inside, intent on gathering his things.
Jonas Conway is moving back home.
Upon packing, Jonas was pleased to discover that his life fit into a backpack and rolling suitcase. Not taking into account Mr. Bubble’s belongings, Jonas’s entire inventory included: t-shirts, boxers, dop kit, two paperback novels, phone, six-hundred forty dollars cash, one pair of jeans, and one skateboard.
On the airplane, Jonas had trouble fitting the skateboard into a first-class luggage bin. He moved slowly, having consumed two whiskeys and a sleeping pill. A flight attendant approached him, and though his vision was a bit foggy, Jonas decided she was quite pretty. 'Sir,' she said, 'I’d be happy to store that for you during the flight.'
'Hands off,' said Jonas. The overhead bin snapped shut. 'Can’t afford to lose anything.' He clumsily set down Mr. Bubbles’s carrier, took his seat in 2A, and slipped a sleeping mask down over his eyes. 'Today, I land in Hell.'
'A fitting destination,' said the flight attendant.
Behind acres of forest and past the automated gate, at the end of a snaking driveway lined with sweetgums and cottonwoods, sat Clint Conway’s house, buried in the thick of it all. Inside, beneath the stairs, was a bank-style vault. The deciding factor for Clint having bought the house, the vault now doubled as his office. To gain entry, input a five-digit code in the keypad, spin the lockwheel, and tug open the door thick with steel. He killed time behind a desk, where he’d eat unsalted nuts out of the palm of his hand, watching TV and waiting for three o’ clock. By then, his phone would practically jump off the hook.
Clint had previously helmed a number of businesses: used and new car lots, restaurants, comic book stores, bars, baseball card shops, a numismatics portfolio, even a shop that sold Beanie Babies when those got big for a few years in the late ’90s. Just about any straight venture that made money, he’d give a shot. His tax returns declared him an entrepreneur. However, the folks of northeast Louisiana with a penchant for gambling knew him for what he really was: a big-time small town bookie.
Presently, Clint entered the vault and rummaged through his desk’s drawers. He was in search of a photograph. The photograph, taken years back, showed Clint standing atop Jonas’s inheritance, which he’d buried somewhere in the backyard. He’d be blindly digging straight through ‘til morning if he couldn’t find the picture. Time was getting away from him. If the boy was ever to learn the business—or do anything with his life—he thought, it was going to be now, and it was going to be with this money. Remembering the fraught beginnings of his own gambling career, Clint expected Jonas to learn, at least in the early goings, some expensive lessons.
Scouring the drawers, the shelves, and every corner of the vault, Clint remained empty-handed, except for an old baseball that had dropped onto his head while sweeping the top shelf. The ball was bound with leather that had gone somewhat yellow with age, and marked along its red horseshoe stitching was Clint’s own handwriting: Jonas first HR 3-08-03.
First Day Home
Jonas awoke in the bedroom that had been his as a teenager. His head felt heavy and his lips dry. This space, which had once been so intimately his, now felt curiously foreign, as if he were encountering a familiar-looking stranger on the street. The fixings that once had marked the territory as his own—the band posters, the love letters, the ticket stubs—now replaced by a neutral color scheme and a treadmill. A dull parody of his former sanctuary. Odd, he thought, how easily the traces of us wash away.
Jonas slumped down the stairs and into the kitchen. Clint stood behind the breakfast bar, sipping carefully from a steaming mug. A toaster dinged; two slices of bread perked up from its tray and Clint set them on a plate. Jonas’s stomach twisted at the sight of the man who had brought him home. The pillar that had propped him up since birth. His Creator. Or, at least, the closest thing to God that Jonas ever figured to see. And here that man stood, spreading jam on toast, wearing a half-open bathrobe.
'What you doing up so early?' Clint asked.
Jonas sank into a stool and laid his head atop the bar. 'Do you have Sugar Cinnamon Crunchies?'
Clint reached into a cabinet and presented Jonas with WHOLE WHEAT BITES.
Jonas sat up, eyeing the box distastefully. The cereal looked so plain that it was impossible to distinguish between the cover image and the box’s cardboard. 'How about sugar packets?' he asked.
Clint retrieved these from a drawer, along with a bowl, spoon, and milk from the fridge. He sat next to Jonas, unfolded a newspaper and flipped straight to the Sports section. Jonas dumped the sugar packets atop the plain cereal, added unsweetened oat milk, and began eating.
'You were pretty sauced up last night,' said Clint, scanning a finger across MLB boxscores. 'You remember me picking you up?'
Jonas shrugged. He carried with him an air of casual indifference, as if he hadn’t been living across the country for the past ten years.
'You even wonder why I brung you home?' Clint asked.
His mouth full of cereal, Jonas answered, 'Your friends are all in nursing homes and you needed company?'
'Are you sick?'
Jonas surveyed the home, then ran a finger across the countertop, checking for dust. 'Did Marta quit?'
'No,' Clint said, setting down his mug. 'Son, I think it’s time you got your inheritance.'
Jonas paused mid-bite to consider this. He set down his spoon and cradled his chin thoughtfully. 'Does that mean there’ll be no money left after you die?'
'How about I give you one of my customers,' said Clint. 'Then some more after that. We get you some money—bankroll you early on while you learn the game. What you say to that?'
This invitation effectively welcomed Jonas into an Order from which he’d been long excluded—his father’s business. Somewhere behind his eyes Jonas felt a tiny chisel hammering the insides of his skull, etching every frame of this moment into the deep recesses of his memory bank. Or perhaps his hangover was beginning to really take hold. 'Enticing offer,' said Jonas. 'I accept.'
'It ain’t bad work, I’ll show you how.'
'I already said ‘OK.’'
'You can drive the Mercedes ‘til we get you on your feet,' said Clint.
'You’re giving me your Mercedes?'
'Don’t know why you sound so surprised. Must be the fourth or fifth car I’ve given you.' Clint’s eyes suddenly lit up, as if he’d just remembered something. 'Oh, hey, check out what I found yesterday.' He walked over to the vault and returned holding a baseball, which he handed to Jonas. 'You remember this?'
Jonas read the ball’s inscription aloud. The handwriting, his father’s, was uniform and neat, laid out with intention, like how cities looked from a plane. 'Kind of,' he answered.
'Now we just gotta find your damn money,' said Clint. He sipped his coffee then motioned toward Jonas with the mug. 'But with those skinny arms of yours, we might be out there a while.'