Author: Dev Bentham
Money can’t buy happiness. Jacob Nussbaum knows this better than anyone. He’s a corporate lawyer deep inside a huge New York firm, where he works overtime, sacrifices any chance at a personal life, and has been selling his soul for years. With a secretary as his only friend, he trudges on, until his whole world is blown apart by a manila envelope of photos—evidence that one of the firm’s partners is the dirtiest lawyer in one hell of a filthy business.
In search of the truth, Jacob travels to a small northern Wisconsin fishing resort. There he meets Ben Anderson, a brutally lonely man, who knocks him off his feet. Ben prompts Jacob to reevaluate his life. He’s a dozen years older than Jacob, still recovering from the death of his long time love, and doesn’t want to leave anyone a widower. But a jaded New Yorker on a soul-searching mission might be just the man to convince the grieving Ben that it’s never too late to begin again.
August third. Again. Ben poured himself a large shot of scotch.
He stared out the cabin window at the rain pounding the lake. Manny had loved summer up here. He’d even liked the rain. Ben pictured him running down to the dock, naked that first year and after that, when they’d had paying company, in ridiculously gaudy swim trunks, running straight across the dock and leaping in, laughing the whole time as rain pelted his shoulders and drenched his hair.
Ben wiped at his eyes. Shit, he hated this. Their last year had sucked bear balls, but at least he’d still had Manny. Now two years after his world ended, it was just Ben in this old cabin that smelled like the Northwoods and happier days. He turned to the urn on the mantle and toasted. “Happy birthday, baby.”
Jesus. Could he be more pathetic? Ben downed the whiskey and poured another. What he should be doing right now was heading to the lodge to help Miriam with the lunch service. But he didn’t want to face all those cheerful vacationing faces. Couldn’t even face Miriam, although if anyone would understand how the day made him feel, it’d be her. She’d be going through her own form of hell right about now.
What he wanted to do was crawl into bed and sleep the day away. No, what he really wanted to do was to crawl into Manny’s closet, like he had so many times those first few weeks, and bury his nose in the clothes, inhaling the still-alive scent of Manny. But he wouldn’t. Not today. The clothes were still there, but the scent had faded, overtaken by pine and woodsmoke and cedar. Trying to capture the fleeting scent of Manny would only depress him more. Miriam was right. He should get rid of the clothes, give away the shoes, and scatter Manny’s damned ashes.
But not today. Today he wanted to drink himself to sleep in the privacy of their living room and hope he’d somehow die in his sleep. Or at least forget.
He stared at the urn on the mantle. Biodegradable. It was supposed to take days to dissolve in water and a few months to disintegrate in the earth. How long would it last on a shelf? Manny had wanted his ashes to merge into the ecosystem of Wildcat Lake. He’d hate how maudlin Ben was making the day. Well, fuck him. It was his own fault for dying and leaving Ben alone. Happy fucking sixty-seventh, Manny. He was supposed to live forever, not die the year he should have been retiring and living the dream.
The cabin was a refuge—always had been. Two small bedrooms, a kitchen/living room, it was half the size of their Chicago apartment but had been their safe place. Even in the end, when Manny wasn’t strong enough to leave the city, the lake was all he could talk about. Looking back, Ben wished he’d yanked Manny out of that hospital bed and dragged his ass up here to die. But back then he’d been clinging to an insane hope that doctors were magicians.
Tucked into a cluster of trees at the end of the main path, this was one of two winterized cabins, the other being Miriam’s at the far end of camp. Most of their business occurred from Memorial to Labor Day, with a few hunters in the fall and a handful of skiers braving the winter months. Miriam went south every winter, so between her cabin and the two guest rooms in the lodge itself, they could accommodate the few cold-weather travelers who visited the island off-season. Back before Manny died, the winter travelers were on their own up here. A caretaker from Boulder Junction had helped them get to the island, given them the keys to the cabins and lodge, and left them to fend for themselves in the icy weather. Manny would take a week off work to open up the camp in the spring, and then Ben would take over for the summer once school was out, with Manny showing up every weekend with a huge grin on his face.
Then, during the dark time, Miriam had taken over, and they’d only made it up a few times, once in the dead of winter because Manny had always wanted to see the place covered in snow.
Now Ben lived here year round. He’d quit his job when Manny got sick, and after Manny died, he couldn’t face the thought of teaching chemical equations to bored high schoolers. He’d sold the place in Chicago and moved up permanently, like they’d always planned. Miriam accused him of hiding away, and she was probably right.
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