Alright, alright, Mickey's a mouse, Donald's a duck, Pluto's a dog. What's Goofy?”
– Stand By Me
Will left The March, and emerged to a beautiful, early summer night outside. The warm day had been a bit of a secret down at The March, sequestered away in a basement as it was. But its sister tavern, Scottie’s, with its enviable street level access and its ceiling-high windows opening to the outdoors, enjoyed the illusion of a charming al fresco bar from the inside. On these gorgeous summer nights, seats by those windows were at a premium.
Teddy’s normal table, on the other hand, was never at a premium. It was a rare evening that he walked into Scottie’s to find it occupied. His was a lonely, away table, visited only en route to the cigarette machine or the men’s toilet.
Will came in to find Teddy sitting at this table, papers strewn out in front of him, his ashtray half full of smoked-to-the-filter Camels, a 10 oz mug of Old Style almost empty. Will sat down at the table and guardedly initiated a conversation.
“I’ve just found out something about my mother,” said Will. “And I want to talk to you about it.”
Teddy sighed. “Stories about your side of the family are all so distressing and fraught. I’ll be glad to be done with them.”
Will marshaled his patience. “After this, you will be,” he said. “I’m less interested than you in carrying on this relationship. But this concerns you so just shut the fuck up and listen.”
“Carry on then,” said Teddy. “And try to avoid lengthy narrative.”
Will swallowed his irritation, or at least the part of it struggling to make its way out.
“My grandmother evidently had an affair with the man, Bulstrode, who owns this bar and The March and a whole bunch of other,” began Will.
“Everyone knew that,” said Teddy. “She was silly and too interested in male attention. It drove my mother crazy.”
“You know what, Teddy,” asked Will, anger boiling over despite his best efforts. “I didn’t know that. I didn’t know any of it and no one in our fucked up family could be bothered to tell me. Just like no one could be bothered to tell me any more about my mother than what shit she was or any more about my grandmother than what a silly whore she was. But, you know what, I loved my mother. And I bet I would have loved my grandmother if anyone had given me a chance.”
“Your mother and grandmother…” began Teddy, ready to launch into the litany of embarrassment and outrage he’d inherited from his mother.
“Fuck it, Teddy,” said Will. “For the rest of this conversation, let’s just take it as understood that your mother was a sainted vessel of self-control and financial judiciousness which she has handed down to you. My mother and grandmother lacked her obvious virtue. Can we just take that as understood and move fucking on?”
“Fine,” said Teddy, also irritated.
“When my grandmother got sick, she asked Bulstrode to find my mother,” said Will. “To settle her estate. Did you know that?”
“I knew he was involved somehow,” said Teddy. “But, of course, there was no money.”
“Yeah, except there was money,” said Will. “A pretty good chunk of it. And Bulstrode never tried to find my mother.”
“She dropped off the face of the earth,” said Teddy. “She lived in that hippie commune. Who could have found her?”
“The hippie commune,” said Will. “Wasn’t off the face of the earth. It was listed in the motherfucking white pages! No one tried to find her. Bulstrode didn’t try to find her and you didn’t try to find her.”
“She died, Will,” said Teddy. “And I took care of you. I never knew of any money left from her estate and I did the best I could by you.”
“Pity, huh,” said Will. “If you’d tried to find her, if anyone had tried to find her, than I wouldn’t have needed you to take care of me. I wouldn’t have needed your money.”
“Well, you took enough of it anyway,” said Teddy.
Will gave up. “Look, John Farebrother is going to write a story about James Bulstrode and his connection to our family. I thought it was right to tell you that the story was coming out. Get your blessing since it’s our family. But, whatever. I don’t care about your blessing”
“I don’t care either,” said Teddy. “Your side of the family is not my family. My mother and her sister had little to do with each other. I couldn’t care less what’s written about my desperate aunt and her hippie daughter.”
“I have one more thing to tell you before I leave,” said Will.
“Oh, for Christ’s sake, what now?” said Teddy.
“I’ve got a pretty good legal claim for half the value of that beautiful apartment you live in,” said Will.
“Of course you don’t,” said Teddy.
“Of course I do. It belonged to your mother and my grandmother equally,” said Will. “It might not be crystal clear anymore, but I bet with just a little effort I could go full on Bleak House trying to get that property away from you.”
“What do you want, Will,” said Teddy, icily.
“You don’t mention Brooke or me ever again,” said Will. “You don’t tell anyone about any promises she may or may not have made to you.”
“She did make me that promise,” said Teddy. “She did promise not to get involved with you.”
“That’s neither here nor there,” said Will. “Brooke and I aren’t together and won’t be. You’ve salted the earth there. But you encouraged people to think things about her that you know aren’t true. And I want it to stop.”
“I’ve done nothing wrong,” said Teddy. “I’ve told no lies and it was my relationship not yours to discuss. But I don’t care. If it’ll keep you out of my life, I’ll pretend that the whole thing never happened.
“Fine,” said Will. “I’ll get enough money from what Bulstrode owes me to pay for school, to start me off. And I’ll finally be done with all you bitter, mean-spirited, evil old men.”
With that, Will stood up from the table and left.
Before Will had even made it to the door, Teddy had re-engaged with the work before him. Without looking up, he began scribbling on the untidy mess of papers in front of him, scribbling the same heartless, banal judgments that were on every other piece of paper he’d scribbled on in bars for the last 30 years. If you laid those papers down side by side, they’d cover the breadth of Chicago, they’d bury Illinois and teach no one a thing, change nothing. They’d be as insignificant as the mark Teddy left on the world.
He lifted a hand up and gestured to the bar for another beer.
And that’s it for Teddy. We won’t visit him again. We’ll leave him there on his barstool, with his mug of beer and endless, barren pages of research. He’ll have no special comeuppance, Farebrother’s story will be published, but it won’t expose or embarrass him. Teddy won’t even be in it. He’ll pass what years are left to him alone at his sad table. The young men and women that work at Scottie’s will find him increasingly distasteful, but also innocuous. When he leaves of an evening, they’ll mock him as a terrible tipper with poor personal hygiene. And then they’ll chatteringly giggle about that waitress at The March who totally did it with him. Ewwwww. But come the next night, they’ll bring him his beers and leave him to sit at his table alone, joylessly anticipating an apocalypse.
Teddy abides in the life he’s created for himself. He will never be beloved, and should never be forgiven. But, pity’s cheap. And about all we can give him.