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THE WOLF HOUSE/'Peter Selgin THAT SUNDAY MORNING, when I told her, "Mrs. Wolff is dead," my mother groaned, cocked her head, pursed her lips and said, in a voice barely loud enough to hear, "Che peccato." The next day she lay in her bed, sick, calling to me in her Death Voice, "Andrew? Andrew? Sei tu, Andrew?" Of course it was me; who else would it be? Not Geordie, my twin, who preaches in Vermont. I stood at her bedroom door, like I've always stood there, like I've stood there my whole life, helpless. But this time I did something different. "That's it," I said, marching over, tearing the bedclothes offher. "Tm taking you to the emergency room. They'll do a million useless tests, then we'll go home. Okay?" I felt just like Geordie, saying it. Havingpiledherintohermint-conditiongreen '68 RamblerAmerican, I drove my mother to the hospital, where they're testing her for meningitis . She doesn't have meningitis. So I leave my mother in the hands of medical experts and go pick up Lenny Wolff, whose mother is dead. It rains. Lenny's father, wife and eight-month-old baby boy huddle in a corner of his childhood living room, surrounded by plastic buckets, Tupperware bowls and pots catching drops from a leaky roof. Everyone's saying carefully sentimental things like She's in a better place now. With his barrel chest, thick neck and bowed, ruddy head, Mr. Wolff looks like one of the huge red water valves at the reservoir pumping station where he works and where I sometimes visithim. Lennyhas a two o'clock appointmentwith the priest. "You're late," he says first thing when he sees me. "Sorry," I say. "It's raining." As if he hasn't noticed. "Tm on a very tight schedule," says Father Moynahan, a man with thin blue eyes and thinning hair who speaks in a soft, cautious voice. Everything about the man is cautious, grotesquely moderate. He meets us by the confessional. There's a wedding in progress, so he doubts he'll have many "takers." "They don't like to come during weddings," he says. Lenny quit believing in God the year we graduated, the same year he quit smoking. Since then he's been waiting for the Catholic church to collapse, as if his piety had been the main thing supporting it. Only The Missouri Review ยท 129 his mom's side of the family remains true to Rome; the rest are lapsed, agnostics, Jews, while most of his friends are atheists like me, Geordie and Clyde. Though she attended mass every Sunday, Mrs. Wolff always sat in the last pew, alone, like a shy man in a porno theater. Her mouth would open up to sing, Lenny once told me, but no sound ever came out. Father Moynahan, who'll be performing the service, doesn't seem to remember her. "Was this by any chance the Mrs. Wolff who lived at the Good Samaritan Nursing Home?" he asks Lenny. "She lived with my father," Lenny answers, his brown eyes narrowing to rusty blades. "I see," says Father M. "That must be another Mrs. Wolff." "Yes, it must," says Lenny. Why the hell does Lenny want me here? To keep him from punching the priest? Since the day Geordie and I met Lenny, I've always been slightly afraid of him. It was Clyde Rawlings who brought us together on the rock at Bennington Pond back when we were still in puberty. The DePoIi twins were the only first-generation Americans in this small, New England factory town, the only atheists, our dead father a scientist and inventor. We'd learned to hate and fear Catholic boys, pimple-faced, plaid-necktied hooligans who'd beat us up at the bus stop for being "Guineas" and not believing in God. We expected no less of Lenny, who loomed barrel-chested and fierce on our rock, like Samson over the Philistines. Clyde made introductions. "Lenny Wolff, God-fearing Catholic, meet Andrew and Geordie, blaspheming atheists ." My twin and I froze like headlight deer and remained frozen as Lenny smiled and shook hands with us...


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