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THE LAST TIME MY UNCLE CAME TO VISIT / Robert Einaudi IPICK MY UNCLE UP from the bus station. He's chain-smoking as usual so I teU him not to use the ashtrays—my mother likes to keep the car nice. He roUs down the window and flicks ashes from time to time. Ifs a cool evening. "So hov/s my sister been treating you?" he asks. When he says "my sister," I feel as if it isn't my mother he's talking about. Ifs as if she was my girlfriend or wife, and he was my brother-inlaw . "Fine," I say. "Damn. You know what? I didn't even bring her a present." He tosses his dgarette butt out the window. "Doesn't matter," I say. My unde Ughts another dgarette. "I just wanted to surprise her for once." The air rushes through the car, and for a whUe neither of us speaks. Then my uncle turns to me. "Why doesn't she ever come to pick me up? Her own brother, for Chrisfs sake." I just shrug. He knows the answer anyway. "Damn," he says. In the five years since my parents' divorce—since my mother and I moved to California—my uncle's visits have become almost routine. At first they were short stays, a day or two at the most. But last year he lost his job as manager of a stereo store. He sold his car and got behind on his rent. And then he started staying with us on a regular basis, and for longer periods of time. The last time my uncle came to visit, my mother told him he was leaning on her too much, that he had worn out his welcome. She told him she didn't want to see him for a long time. That was about a month ago. Last week he caUed to say he was coming. He caUed when he knew neither of us would be home and left a message on the machine. My mother tried to caU him back, but his phone had been disconneded. 186 ' The Missouri Review My mother was furious. I went to my room and put on a record to drown out the slamming and swearing in the kitchen. But by the next morning she had calmed down. She even made a big show of being happy, making the two of us pancakes. She told me she had made up her mind about things. She would let him stay one night, but that was it. One night. She wanted to make things clear. She went over this again right before I went to pick him up. She was buUding herself up—smoking, pacing around and repeating herself. She kept looking at me Uke she was asking me to agree with her. My uncle is out of the car before I even shut off the engine. He walks partway onto the lawn and stands there, looking over the house and smoothing out his pants. He is just over thirty, but already fat and going bald. I start to get his bag from the trunk, but he says, "Leave it." I foUow him inside. My mother is sitting at the kitchen table, smoking. When we walk in, she pushes some stray hair behind her ear and says, "You're here." She barely smiles. "I'm here, Margaret. Happy to see me?" My uncle makes a choked laugh and sits down. "How was the bus?" My mother blows smoke and raises her chin sUghtly, Uke she's a movie star or something. "Fine," he says. "Like always." Then he says, "How come you never pick me up?" My mother looks at me and smUes. "What's wrong with Michael?" When I say, "Mom," she says, "What?"—innocently, Uke I was asking a question. Ifs sUent for a moment, and then my uncle laughs. "Nothing is wrong with Michael." He glances at me when he says this, and then he looks down at the table. My mother is looking at me again. She is smiling, triumphant. I turn and leave the room. I Ue on my bed with the Ughts off. Their voices are...


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