Home > The Kind Worth Killing(5)

The Kind Worth Killing(5)
Peter Swanson

For one brief moment I felt ridiculous, a paranoid husband dressed up in camouflage and spying on his wife and his contractor, but after Brad put the molding down I watched as Miranda slid into his arms, tilted her head back, and kissed him on the mouth. With one big hand he reached down and pressed her hips against him, and with his other he grabbed a handful of her unkempt hair. I told myself to stop watching but somehow I couldn’t. I watched for at least ten minutes, watched as Brad bent my wife over the table, lifted her dark purple skirt, removed a pair of tiny white underpants, and entered her from behind. I watched Miranda position herself strategically along the table, one hand braced on its edge, the other between her own legs, guiding him inside of her. They had clearly done this before.

I slid backward and into a sitting position. When I regained the path I pulled my hood back and threw up my lunch into a dark, wind-ruffled puddle.

“How long ago was this?” asked my fellow traveler after I’d told her the story.

“Just over a week.”

She blinked her eyes, and bit at her lower lip. Her eyelids were pale as tissue paper.

“So what are you going to do about it?” she asked.

It was the question I’d been asking myself all week. “What I really want to do is to kill her.” I smiled with my gin-numbed mouth and attempted a little wink just to give her an opportunity to not believe me, but her face stayed serious. She lifted her reddish eyebrows.

“I think you should,” she said, and I waited for some indication that she was joking, but nothing came. Her stare was unwavering. Staring back, I realized she was so much more beautiful than I had originally thought. It was an ethereal beauty, timeless, as though she were the subject of a Renaissance painting. So different from my wife, who looked like she belonged on the cover of a pulp novel from the 1950s. I was about to finally speak when she cocked her head to listen to the muffled loudspeaker. They’d just announced that they were boarding our flight.



The summer I turned fourteen my mother invited a painter named Chet to come and stay with us. I don’t remember his last name; don’t know, in fact, if I ever knew it. He came and stayed in the small apartment above my mother’s studio. He had thick glasses in dark frames, a bushy beard that was always flecked with paint, and he smelled like overripe fruit. I remember the way his eyes darted down toward my chest when we were introduced. The summer was already hot and I was wearing cutoff jeans and a tank top. My breasts were no bigger than mosquito bites but he looked anyway.

“Hi Lily,” he said. “Call me Uncle Chet.”

“Why? Are you my uncle?”

He released my hand and laughed, a sputtering noise like an engine dying. “Hey, I already feel like family here, the way your parents are treating me. A whole summer to paint, man. Unbelievable.”

I walked away without saying anything.

He wasn’t the only houseguest that summer. In fact, there was never only one guest at Monk’s House, especially in summertime, when my parents’ teaching duties died down and they could focus on what they truly loved—drinking and adultery. I don’t say that in order to make some sort of tragedy of my childhood. I say it because it’s the truth. And that summer, the summer of Chet, there was a rotating cast of hangers-on, graduate students, ex-lovers, and current lovers, all coming and going like moths to a flickering porch light. And these were just the houseguests. My parents, as always, had endless parties—I would listen to these parties hum and roar through the walls of my bedroom as I lay in bed. They were familiar symphonies, beginning with bursts of laughter, discordant jazz, and the slap of screen doors, and ending, in the early morning hours, with the sound of yelling, sometimes sobbing, and always the slam of bedroom doors.

Chet was a slightly different breed of animal from the usual houseguest. My mother referred to him as an outsider artist, meaning, I suppose, that he was not affiliated with her college, neither a student nor a visiting artist. I remember my father calling him “the homeless degenerate your mother has housed for the summer. Avoid him, Lily, I think he has leprosy. And God knows what’s in the beard.” I don’t think it was genuine advice from my father—my mother was in earshot, and he was speaking for her benefit—but it turned out to be prophetic.

I’d spent my entire life at Monk’s House, my father’s name for the sprawling, rotting hundred-year-old Victorian mansion an hour from New York City in the deep woods of Connecticut. David Kintner—my father—was an English novelist who’d made most of his money off the film adaptation of his first and most successful book, a boarding-school sex farce that caused a brief sensation in the late 1960s. He’d come to America as a visiting writer at Shepaug University, and stayed on as an adjunct when he met Sharon Henderson, my mother, an abstract expressionist with a tenured teaching position in the school’s art department. Together, they bought Monk’s. It didn’t have a name when they purchased it, the year I was conceived, but my father, who rationalized the six bedrooms by plans to fill it with creative and intelligent (and young and female) houseguests, thought he’d like to name it after the house that Virginia and Leonard Woolf shared. It was also a reference to Thelonious Monk, my father’s favorite musician.

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