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THE TALKING CUKE/Frederick Busch LOVE IS UNSPEAKABLE. Consider the story of the older brother who went off to school, the briUiant, taU mother and wife who hunched herseU shorter, curved at her tilted drafting table as if around the buUdings she planned for her cUents. Consider the husband, son of a bankrupt Hudson Valley apple grower, who made a Uving as a junior high school principal. And then consider me, fifteen years old and up to my wrists in vomiting dogs and hemorrhaging cats, and the darkening drift and dismay of my parents. We lived in an old house surrounded by the ruins of the orchards. The air pulsed, in autumn, with the drunken dancing of wasps that had supped on the tan, rotted flesh of English Russets and Chenangos. We walked on the mush of the orchard's decay, and in winter some one of us never failed to be surprised by the glowing red or golden apples which continued to hang, as snow started falling, on the gray-black trunks of dozens of trees. Apple trees aren't peaceful. The trunks and limbs look like tensed or writhing hands. My mother commuted from the farm to Manhattan by car or train, and she designed the structures that held people's lives. And my father continued to faU her, despite what I would have described, if asked, as pretty sizable efforts to win her approval. And my big brother, Edwin, who had escaped, as I saw it, to Ohio, shone over the plains and through the forests, lighting up my mother's face and causing her to say to friends, "Yes, my baby's gone away." She looked truly sad—and therefore beautiful and fragile—and she looked highly pleased, and both at once. Apparently, she was proud but also bereft. Something had been stolen from her life, and she knew that she would never retrieve it. This is what I thought I learned, spying—younger siblings tend to live sub rosa lives—from around the corners of our rooms, or simply from my place at the kitchen table where I sat in my life and took note of them in theirs while they failed, mercifuUy often, to notice me. I was like the furniture. I was a shape your eye slid over. You get used to it—to me—and then you say what you wish I hadn't heard. That's how it is with younger brothers when the genius goes to Oberlin and writes home his observations on existentialism and a man my parents referred to as Sart! They sneezed or barked it with a powerful emphasis on the final two letters they didn't pronounce. The Missouri Review · 135 My father wished to replace her Edwin, and he never could. And, anyway, that led to competition. And who ever heard of a father competing with his son? It was cannibalistic. It was barbaric. It was Freudian. That was the last word I heard through the screen windows one hot Sunday afternoon, while I was about to use the back door to report in the cool kitchen, shaded by tall, old maples, not runty apple trees, that I had mowed the lawns and could be found in front of our vast, boxy Emerson, watching the New York Yankees stumble and whiff. Freudian. I knew a bit about Freud. He was the speciaUst in women who wanted penises. I could not imagine my mother ever wanting a penis, nor could I fathom why my father might wish her to develop one. It took several days for further investigation to suggest that Freudian meant having to do with dreams, and with wishes you didn't know you wished. That made sense, given our family. There were a lot of secret wishes flying around. I was pretty sure that several of them had to do with Dr. Victor Mason, the veterinarian who took care of our terrible cat until she died, and who hired me to work on weekday afternoons and Saturday mornings . My job was to be the big kid who comes into the examination room with the vet and holds your Yorkshire terrier down while Dr...


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pp. 135-145
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