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  • Speak of the Devil
  • Jonathan Dunn (bio)

They thought Ryan would come crawling back. They thought he’d last a few days without his bed or the big screen downstairs or a fridge stocked with food, and then he would learn his lesson and come home. They thought it would be, in the long run, a good experience for them all. An opportunity in each other’s absence to appreciate what they took for granted and missed about the other—son to parents, parents to son. They thought a message had to be sent. They thought a message had been sent. They thought twenty was too old to be living at home with no intention of leaving, no plans for college, a part-time job with no future prospects, a relationship with a girl they didn’t like or trust, and a drug habit to boot. They thought their discovery of a joint in his jacket pocket meant a drug habit. They thought if they didn’t do it, he was going to end up like the grown man down the street who worked at Office Depot and lived with his parents and probably also had a drug habit. The one whose idea of fun was hitting golf balls by himself in the empty field behind their house, back and forth, back and forth.

They thought it would be painful, but they also thought it would be short. One to three days, they thought. A week, max. Then he would come home, and they would all finally get serious. They thought they were saving him. They thought they had no choice. They didn’t think he’d disappear.

The hardest part had been telling the others. Their twelve-year-old, Molly. Her grandfather. The house was crowded; it had been crowded for years. When Grandpa moved in after Grandma died, they had all still thought Ryan might go to college—community college, if nothing else. Vocational school if he wanted. He’d half-heartedly applied to one university, but their early rejection highlighted to him the futility of the process, and despite his parents’ warnings, he’d let the other deadlines pass. They all resigned themselves to living more closely together. Grandpa kept to himself, and Molly had no say in the matter, though she and Ryan got along better than everyone else in the family anyway. Their age gap was enough to make them non-competitors.

Neither Molly nor Grandpa seemed to fully understand the point of kicking him out. Not that they didn’t recognize in their own ways that Ryan had problems. That he didn’t have much in his future. That possibly this was a bad thing. But he wasn’t especially dirty or rude or cruel. He was an okay brother. A perfectly adequate grandson. They weren’t sure what pushing him out was supposed to do. [End Page 118]

“He needs a fresh start,” his father explained. “A kick in the pants. Something to get him moving. He needs a change, and it wasn’t happening here.”

“Do you really think this is going to change anything?” Grandpa had said.

“You’re not helping, Dad,” Ryan’s mother said.

“So when’s he coming home?” Molly asked.

“That,” her father said, “is entirely up to him.”

Two weeks after he left, they debated their first phone call. They would have debated a visit if they knew where he was.

“I don’t want us to undermine ourselves,” his mother said. “I’m just starting to worry.”

“Maybe this is a good sign,” his father said. “Maybe he’s doing what we asked. Maybe he’s busy learning to become self-sufficient.”

“Sure,” his mother said. “Maybe.”

“I’m just saying, it’s still early. So he’s lasted a little longer than we thought. That’s okay. I’m sure he’s fine. Not happy, maybe. But fine. In the long run.”

“I don’t know,” his mother said. “If he’d been responsible enough to survive on his own, we wouldn’t have needed to kick him out in the first place.”

“Right,” his father said. “Fair point.”

So they agreed to a...


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pp. 118-128
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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