E M Parmelee
Thursday, November 25, 2010
It is late autumn. A tall, slender man in his thirties stands at a modest gravesite overlooking the cold Saginaw Bay. An old oak looms overhead, fighting with the wind to hold onto the last of its brown leaves. Waves crash against the other side of a weedy bluff, breaking the bucolic peace and sending a mist spraying up and over. A small, somber group moves towards their cars, navigating around a few headstones, rectangular slabs of pink granite, placed in the ground, carved with names, dates and epitaphs. They walk away from a young man who remains, slouching, looking down as if memorizing the one new marker, alone, silent and still. The fingers of his right hand slowly trace the edges of the triangularly tucked fabric he holds tight to his chest. The gentle breeze coming off the cold water forces him to steady himself. The brand new stone right in front of him at the head of a freshly filled site reads:
JOSHUA “Trey” DAVID RYDER, III
MAY HE FINALLY REST IN PEACE
September 21, 1931 – November 22, 2010
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
from Invictus by William Ernest Henley
An older man, having moved with the departing crowd, reaches for his car door, stops and then glances back at the younger man still standing by the fresh dirt mound. The timeworn mourner slowly makes his way back to the gravesite where he firmly places his hand on the younger man’s shoulder and softly asks, “Why don’t you ride with us Josh?”
“No thank you, Uncle Cale,” Josh barley manages to say, “I just want to be alone.”
Cale smiles kindly and gives Josh a reassuring pat while saying, “You’re not alone.”
Josh doesn’t look up when he says, “Yes I am,” in a flat, monotone voice. “Now I am. And, if you're here to tell me I'm not, go fuck off.” Cale nods, accepting his nephew’s words and returns to his car, leaving the young man behind without so much as a glance back.
Hearing the last car leave, Josh sits down next to the fresh, moist dirt, and into the cold dew soaked weeds. Hearing the chirping of a lark, Josh looks up in time to see the lone bird in flight. His eyes follow its path through the sky, towards the water. He then takes a deep breath, catching site of a freighter passing in the far distance of the great freshwater sea. He smiles and lets memories flood over him.
Josh, age ten, asked, “Why do they call you ‘Trey,’ Daddy?”
A large, handsome and dignified man in a blue, pinstripe, double-breasted suit answered, “It means three. My name is Joshua David Ryder the Third. You're the Forth. I expect you to name your son the Fifth. My grandpa was the first and your grandpa was the Second.”
“I don't remember him,” Josh said.
“No you wouldn't. My dad died when you were just a little boy.” Josh noticed the falling look on his father's face.
“Everyone still talks about him,” Josh eagerly said with a smile, trying desperately to reassure his father.
“Everyone liked my dad.” Trey ruffled Josh's hair, giving the little boy a smile back. “Junior Ryder was a very nice man.”
“Is that why so many people know us?” the young boy asked with his chin held high and obviously ready and eager for the answer to come.
Trey lifted his head and pushed out his chest. “Our company, Ryder Chemical, is one of the world’s largest corporations.”
Josh, pretending to be confused, squinted and asked, “Is that good?”
Memories continue to flood over Josh sitting by the grave of his father.
Trey showed Josh, age fifteen, the view from the window of a corner office. “All of this belongs to us and facilities all over the world controlled from right here, controlled by us. This is an empire and we are a dynasty.” They looked out onto a campus of green lawns, full shade trees and people crisscrossing in the warm sun. “My grandpa, ‘J.D,’ Ryder, started Ryder Chemical in 1890 right here on this very spot in Saginaw Bay, Michigan. This is where Grandpa found bromine, underground, while still in college. Bromine has a lot of industrial uses, even today. You know what bromine is used for?”
“Bromine has many industrial applications, like flame retardation, a gasoline additive, pesticides, medical uses, for drilling fluids, as a flavor emulsifier, water filtration,” Josh said standing back from his father and counting the various uses on his fingers. All the facts neatly stacked and filed away in his mind as his father would expect him to repeat them again at some later date.
“And countless other uses, many discovered and undiscovered by my grandpa,” Trey added. “Your grandfather left his family in Pennsylvania to go to the Case Institute of Technology in Ohio.” Josh watched his father as he continued to drone on about the Ryder Family. He studied the weave of the man’s pinstripe suite, noticed the neat line of his close trimmed chocolate brown hair. “He was from a long line of bankers and politicians, descendants of Lucas Arnold Ryder, who came to New Jersey in the 1630’s, long before the American Revolution. My Grandpa left his family and their way of life and settled here to found this company and start his own family in what was then the middle of nowhere.”
“And your grandpa left that company to my grandpa,” Josh spoke right on cue.
Trey continued his search of the campus below, “Sort of. My grandpa only owned twenty percent of the company at the beginning. People back east owned the rest; they had helped him finance the start-up. You understand percentages, right?” Trey asks, looking down at his son, always more like a lecturing professor then a father, the boy knowing better then to break eye contact even as such became increasingly uncomfortable.
Josh took a big gulp before answering, “Yes. He only owned a small bit.”
Hesitating before looking pleased and returning to stare out the window, “That's right. My grandpa pushed everyone out of his way and took control of the company for himself, gaining as much as sixty percent.” With wide eyes and a cocky smile Trey said, “J.D. Ryder didn't like having people tell him what to do.” Then pausing before his serious look returned, “Grandpa gave my dad, your grandpa, a game plan to take control of the company. Grandpa left a small bit to dad and each of his sisters. In addition, dad had to purchase another forty-percent on his own. Unfortunately, business wasn't really my dad’s thing.”
“Business was your grandpa’s thing though, right?” Josh said eagerly looking up at his dad.
“Sure was,” Trey said beaming again and briefly looking down at his son. “My grandpa enjoyed the game. Almost immediately, after grandpa created the company a war started with the German monopoly in bromine. My grandpa just slightly undersold the Germans here in the United States. The German cartel responded by cutting their price to below cost and underselling Ryder Chemical in order to put grandpa out of business.”
“That's not nice,” Josh said grinning.
“Business isn't about being nice Josh,” Trey admonished and again briefly looking down at his son until recognizing the boy knew the routine, winking and then returning to look out the window. “And my grandpa wasn't about to be nice in return. J.D. Ryder gladly went to war with the Germans, buying up all the discounted bromine the Germans were selling here and then turned around and sold it in Europe for a sizable profit. By the time the German’s realized what was happening Ryder Chemical had taken over the bromine markets in Europe and the Asia Pacific rim. Within a few months the Germans gave up and my grandpa quickly took control of the American bromine market.”
“Your grandpa kicked their butts,” Josh said with a gleaming smile and a bit of laughter.
A smile taking over his face too, Trey turned around to look at his son and said, “Yes, no one who tangled with my grandpa ever won,” ruffling the boy's hair and saying, “A gruff old man with a firm handshake.”
“What about your dad?” Josh asked.
“My dad?” Trey's voice lowered an octave, matching the lowering of his head, “I love my dad. Junior, everyone called him Junior, but my mother and us kids.” Josh couldn’t help and notice how his father’s disposition went from head-held-high, stern and prideful to soft, content, and calm. “Junior Ryder was a very nice man, known for his art collection and donations made to the DIA and his for architecture. Dad designed the house your grandmother lives in and this building too, and his philanthropy, which meant that Dad gave away a lot of money. My dad came across as a kind man and within what they call polite society had no superior.”
Josh searched for whether Trey inferred distain for a weak man or affection for a gentle man.
A bit of that pride-fullness came back to his voice as Trey continued, “Junior Ryder married Eleanor Woodworth,” looking down to make sure the boy still paid attention, “your grandmother. Her father’s farm goes back to the 1830’s in the 'thumb' of Michigan, once rich hunting grounds for the natives. The Woodworth’s arrived to cut lumber and then with cleared land went into farming, dairy cows in particular. After the young death of her brother, my Uncle Caleb, my mother inherited the farm from her father, Aaron Woodworth, and my dad saved it from bankruptcy during the Great Depression. Have you studied that in school?”
Josh searched his brain for the facts and to align what he could recall to what his father might want to hear, “Yes. A time when everyone was broke.”
“Not everyone,” Trey snapped and Josh looked admonished, “During the Great Depression my mother and father built Woodworth Point, that big English mansion where grandma lives.”
Josh takes a deep breath and looks to see the long mansion way off in the distance, so very far away, appearing more like a model for little people then a home for giants. Looking back to the freighter still puttering along, he continues his search back through his memories.
Josh, twenty, looked out a wall of windows onto a wide river as thunderous racing boats skimmed the water. Pride swelled his chest as he noticed the front-runner with the Ryder Chemical logo. Then Josh heard his father's elevated voice, “No Clay you don't care about the people. You're stupid and dangerous. You don't understand NAFTA. And, this newest legislation of yours won't protect the environment. What it'll do is cost thousands of people their jobs. And why? So people will think that you actually care about the little guy when what you're proposing will devastate them and their communities, though of course they'll never understand why.”
A man his father's age then said in a calm and superior tone, “What I'm doing is caring for the future, for people like my daughter,” motioning to a girl in her late teens who tightly clung to the arm of a boy her age, “And our nephew, Augie,” patting the back of that boy.
Josh looked at the girl and her pretty face, which looked up at Augie, her eyes imploring their cousin to take her away from the situation.
“You're just upset because Uncle Thad's bill will cost Ryder Chemical billions!” Augie said sounding all too eager to make his own statement in the fight, stepping up to the two much older men with an equally bloated chest. “But, this isn't about money; it’s about caring for our planet!”
Trey smirked and pointed at him and said, “Listen boy, you, as a Ryder, start believing what this snake oil salesman tells you and we really will be in trouble.”
Josh stepped up next to his father noticing Julie tug at Augie's arm and said to his dad, “Just leave him alone dad. It’s not worth it.”
“That's true,” Trey agreed with a shake of his head. “Thad's still just bitter about his father, a drunk who failed at everything the idiot ever attempted to do. So what now, you trying to follow in your old man’s footsteps? No, you’re out to get revenge for your made up version of history?”
Noticing the girl's pained face Josh pleaded, “Come on dad, you're upsetting Julie.”
Trey snapped back at Josh, “Don't start defending her boy! Girl might as well know now how pathetic the Clay’s are, if she hasn't already figured that out for herself.”
Josh started to say 'stop,' but Augie cut him off, “Talk about pathetic. All you and Josh care about is money. You make the whole Ryder family look pathetic.”
“What?” Josh sounded shocked.
“You heard me,” Augie said pushing out his chest even further. “You don't like what I have to say, do something about it.”
Josh lunged forward and Trey held him back.
Thad then said to Trey, “See now, another war. Brother against brother. When are you going to learn to care about someone besides yourself?”
Julie let go of Augie's arm and ran away, and so Josh pulled free of Trey and followed her, still hearing the arguing behind then. Josh called after Julie, “You alright Jules?”
Julie snapped, “Leave me alone Josh!”
Josh stopped his quick chase as if someone pushed hard into his chest.
Josh, twenty-five, sat with Trey in cushioned chairs on the back loggia of Woodworth Point looking at a freighter slowly float by out on Lake Huron. Trey lowered his binoculars and said, “One of ours.” The silence between the two of them filled the crisp air. Josh continued to look through his binoculars as the freighter slowly made its way up the waterway. Eventually Trey spoke, “I saved the company from bankruptcy in the sixties.”
“Grandpa wasn’t a businessman.” Josh stated without putting the binoculars down, sounding as if he had heard this story to exhaustion and not really wanting to hear it again.
Going into his lecture mode, Trey said, “No. Dad was a nice man though. A very nice man. I had to sell our share of General Motors, in which my father and grandfather had invested so heavily.” Trey and Josh looked into the endlessness of the water beyond with a blank expression on their faces.
“Uncle Cale was pissed,” Josh said on cue, lowering his binoculars, though without looking away from the lake.
“Very,” Trey said speaking as if a crowd sat before him out on the terrace between the house and lawn and the lake. “I expanded into third world countries where I could manufacture chemicals and pesticides without environmental and labor restrictions.”
“Damn unions and fucking EPA,” Josh said finally looking at his dad with a devilish grin.
“Watch your mouth,” Trey turned and stared down his son.
Josh quickly looked down. “Yes dad.”
Trey spoke harshly, his eyes burrowing into the boy's head, “Leave that kind of talk for the managers. They’re under a lot of pressure. You’re better than that.”
“Yes dad,” Josh mumbled.
“Anyway,” Trey said returning to look out to the vanishing horizon, and his way of speaking matter-of-factly, “I produced plutonium for nuclear weapons and napalm used in Vietnam. I’m not ashamed of what I did. Some people just can’t live with the hard decisions others have to make. We kept America free of the Communists,” Trey declared.
“Yes dad. And you made the family rich again,” Josh said without a trace of emotion in his voice.
Trey spoke as if it didn’t matter to whom, giving an account and seeing nothing before him but the end of the world at the horizon's edge. “My grandpa created a multinational conglomeration. I organized the company into five main divisions: Plastics, Coatings, AgroScience, Electronics and PetroChemicals, the later beginning once I found oil and gas on the Woodworth property. Your grandmother wasn't happy but we needed to drill on the farm to get at it.”
"Why wasn't grandma happy?” Josh asked still looking at his feet.
“She thought drilling would destroy the land,” Trey said dismissively.
“No,” Trey answered with a touch of offense. “And, as soon as I could I capped the wells and found oil and gas elsewhere. Best to hold onto what we've got here for another time. Use someone else's reserves; like I told you, you always use someone else's money to make money whenever you can.”
“That's why the Clay Farm? Use their oil and gas?”
“I acquired the Clay's farm in bankruptcy court,” Trey said with pride. “They tell me I started the family feud between the Clay's and the Ryder's way back then when I was a kid running a multibillion dollar family business. Thad Clay’s father, Simon, who had inherited the farm from his father, started accepting the help of my dad to keep the business going. Without dad around to bail him out, Simon Clay went bankrupt and I picked the land up for cheap. I then immediately struck oil and gas on the property 'cause he was too dumb to do it himself. Simon went through several businesses during his lifetime, all ended in failure from which someone else picked up the pieces. I just happened to be the first.”
“So what happened to Ryder Chemical?” Josh tensely gripped the arms of his chair.
“I lost control. My brother and sister sold their combined thirty percent and walked away,” a slight bitterness crept into his voice.
“I'm sorry,” Josh said sounding sincere, quickly looking for only a second at his father before returning to look at his shoes.
“I'm doing everything I can to get the company back for you,” Trey said turning and looking at Josh.
Josh's expression made it clear the young man obviously knew his father sat looking at him and his tightening up of his body in his chair made it equally clear the son had no intention of looking at the father. “I know dad.”
Continuing to stare at Josh with an imploring look coming across his face, “I've been married three times, each a failure. I figured because of how things were between me and my brother and sister and between my dad and his sisters, you and Ellie and Aaron were better off raised on your own, separated and having nothing to do with this family or even Michigan.”
“Yea maybe,” Josh mumbled with a hint of bitterness.
“I wasn’t a very good husband, though I loved your mother more then you know, more than Lin'll ever know. And, I suppose I wasn't a very good dad, though I really wanted to be. I’d sell my soul to the devil for you son.”
“I wouldn’t want you to.”
“I’d make the deal anyway. Lucifer could take me piece by piece if that's what benefited you. You, your sister, your brother, you mean everything to me, believe it or not,” Josh looked sideways at this father, startled by the man’s voice, choked up with the last words ‘believe it or not.’
Josh looked up, straight up and out to sea, a stern angry look, refusing to turn to relieve his father’s pain. “Sure,” the boy’s words cut out from his mouth, his stiff chin, his piercing eyes.
“Nothing else, not even the breath in my body means a damn thing, and those bastards, they don’t care. My own fucking family doesn’t care about me or my kids. And, they’re too damn stupid to take care of themselves. All they got is dumb luck. But, they sure put on a good pretense. I taught you better, didn't I Josh?”
Josh, thirty, sat back on the loggia of Woodworth Point, this time alone, looking back out to the water, which had changed with the season, now frozen solid. Through the window, Josh heard his Uncle Cale and cousin Augie speaking inside the house. Cale saying, “Regardless Trey's still my brother.”
Augie snapped, “I know dad! But, what else did he expect out of life? Look how Trey treated people! Look how he treated you and Aunt Linda.”
“And how your Aunt Linda treated him.”
“Right, that's what I'm saying. You expect to get any better out of life when that's what you go around doing? I'm sorry dad, I know Trey's your brother but he's getting what he deserves.” Augie sounded pleased.
“I don't know,” Cale’s voice trailed off, “Sometimes I think Trey meant well. It’s hard to see him sitting there just staring. Hard to believe my brother is like that, not saying anything to anyone,” Cale's sounded on the verge of tears.
Augie laughed so loud it seemed he aimed it out the window, “Maybe he finally ran out of things to say . . . We won.”
Just three weeks ago Julie stood in front of Josh in the living room of a modest townhouse and yelled, “Love me? How do you screw Emily and tell me you love me? I don’t get it!” Josh stood in front of her stone face, searching for the words, tears swelling up in his eyes. “Oh please. What? Crying ‘cause you got caught? Or because I finally figured out the real you? You’re just like your father. A greedy son of a bitch! And my father warned me against you! But, I didn’t listen 'cause dad's a bastard too!” Then a moment of reprieve to her tone, “I thought, you’re Augie’s cousin, there has to be something decent about you.” Julie paused, waiting. Josh look like he wanted to speak, but couldn't. Finally, Julie asked, “Don’t you have anything to say?”
Josh whispers, “I love you Jules.”
“Did you love me while your face was shoved between Emily's legs?” Her words jarred him. “Augie was right; you’ll never be any good.” Her face dropped and her tone lowered, “Of course Augie left me for Delilah, so I figured, what did the perfect saint know? Maybe more than me. I mean, maybe this whole mess is me?” Julie's voice started to crack, “Maybe something's wrong with me.”
“No,” Josh implored and reached out for her.
Julie back up, “Augie doesn’t want me. You don’t want me.”
“Yes I do. I love you Jules,” his voice seemed to beg that Julie believe him, his arms reaching out.
“Just stop it! You don’t love me. Maybe you love Emily. You risked your life for her.”
Dropping his arms when Julie didn't fill them, “Augie and I put her life in danger doing business with those people.”
“Well I didn’t see Augie go and rescue her. Just forget it Josh. Who are we kidding? I’m with you because Augie left me for Delilah. Just like you're with me because Delilah left you for Augie.”
“No. That's not true,” Josh said, his body tensing up, his fists clenching.
“Good bye Josh.”
“Please don’t go,” the boy begged.
Julie turned and walked out the door. Josh couldn’t watch her leave and so flung the door shut and stumbled up against the wall behind him, sliding down and coming to sit on the floor, balling like a child.
Josh cried, “It wasn’t suppose’ to be like this . . . you weren’t suppose’ to love me back . . .”
After his breath finally caught and his tears ran out, Josh took out his phone and looked for a number, looking over several girls’ numbers.
A woman walked in from the back and sat down with him on the floor, “Remember when I use to tell you fairytales so you could escape your parent’s fighting?” He couldn’t look up. He couldn’t answer. “Those girls aren’t princesses,” she says taking the phone, “They’re just hurt, just like you.
Josh begins to cry again, “Aunt Donna, how can I live with what I did to her?”
Linda just holds him. Together they rock.
Yesterday, at the side of Trey’s open casket Julie said, “I’m sorry Josh,” tears swelling up in her eyes.
Josh wouldn't look at her and didn’t speak to her.
Her voice breaking up as she said, “I do care. No matter what happened between us. I do care about you. You don't have to be alone,” struggling not to cry, not to reach out and hold him, not to collapse right in front of him.
Josh walked away leaving Julie standing by herself in a room full of Ryder’s.
Cale then stepped up to her and said with a dirty look and a mean tone, “I think you should go.”
Short of breath, holding his head at his temples and squeezing in, Josh wobbles while attempting to stand at his father's grave. Rising without anything on which to hold, stumbling and nearly falling, then falling, getting up and steadying him body, stranding still and taking a deep breath before slowly walking toward his car.
An older, gruff man approaches and says, “Mr. Ryder.”
“Yes,” Josh looks up and lets go of his head.
The man notices the boy's squinty, red, puffy eyes. “I’m a friend of your father’s.”
“My father had a friend?” Josh looks down at the man's extended hand.
“Your father did. Several in fact. Dale Rogers,” the man further extends his hand.
Josh finally shakes the man’s hand and looks him in the eye saying, “I’m afraid you missed the funeral.”
The man smiles, giving him a firm and exuberant handshake, and says, “On purpose. In fact none of your father’s friends were here.”
“Feel free to pay your respects,” Josh says with dismissal in his voice and pulling his hand back.
“Your father isn’t over there. That’s a cold body. Trey spent the last ten years planning for this day.” The man takes an envelope from his pocket. Dale hands off the paper and Josh takes the crisp, white stationary. “You think your dad left you with nothing don’t you?” The man smiles as he lets go of the letter.
“Pretty much, nothing but bad memories.”
“You were the last phone call Trey Ryder ever made,” Dale winks.
With confusion crossing Josh's face, “You know about the phone call?”
“I was there. Your dad called your brother, then your sister and then finally you. Trey Ryder didn’t leave you with nothing. Mark my words.” The man holds a happy smile, and then leaves with a jaunty walk past the grave, to the edge where the water meets the land standing up on the bluff.
Josh looks at him praying with a rosary in his hands, then at the flag on the ground by the fresh dirt, and then puts the letter in his pocket and walks to his car. Opening the door, stopping, pausing, Josh then mumbles, “You left me a long time ago, didn’t you daddy?” Then pausing before finishing up Josh says, “Then again, I guess, me and everyone else left you too.” Josh stands watching the man and looking back at the grave for the longest time, not able to get into his car. Finally sitting in the driver's seat but not able to shut the door, returning to stare at the grave site, and then noticing the man had disappeared. Looking around, Josh didn't see him, returning to look at the grave before closing the door and gazing out the windshield as if looking for something in front of him.
Josh sits for some time before getting out of the car and running over to pick up the flag. He dusts it off and runs back to the car. Returning to the driver’s seat, the young slams the door shut, holding the flag close to him with his left hand and drives off.