He threw his phone away on a Tuesday.
By Thursday, he was crossing the second bridge leading into Delle Faire. The first bridge would bring you to a little island in-between the mainland and the big island. The little island was called Marco’s River even though there was no river, but there was a small town, and Scott could just have easily bought a house there and been a little closer to his old life.
He could have done a lot of things that would have looked like half-stepping. He could have kept his phone. He could have left his social media profiles up. He could have taken the option of working remotely when his boss offered it to him.
“You’re one of our best, Scott,” Victor said as Scott was putting two paperweights and a pencil sharpener into a cardboard box before leaving his office for the last time, “Nobody can make a client feel as good as you do. Let’s give you two weeks off and then revisit the idea of having you work from home, how about that?”
Scott appreciated Victor being willing to bend the rules for him. The company did not want anyone else working remotely, and he wasn’t sure his boss even had the power to offer that chance to him, but it didn’t matter anyway, because he had made up his mind.
“Victor,” he said, hefting the box into his wildly unathletic arms, practically atrophied from lack of any kind of physical activity for years, “I never want to hear the words ‘client’ or ‘project’ or ‘deadline’ ever again for as long as I live.”
As he was walking past him, Victor called out--
“Life isn’t some movie, Scott,” the kindness in his previous offer now fully exterminated, “You and everybody else thinks you can just leave your job and survive--on what? You need income. You need a salary. Money isn’t just going to fall out of trees.”
Scott didn’t bother turning around. There was nothing to look at anyway and certainly nothing he could say that would change Victor’s mind.
Once he was over the second bridge, it was only a ten minute drive to the house his mother had told him about. She’d written a letter to him from California to see how he was doing, and when he responded that he had surrendered to her preferred way of life, the return letter had come swift and padded with jubilation.
I knew you’d come to your senses, she wrote, For awhile there, I thought you might be like your father. Attached to his phone right up until that third ear came popping out of his forehead. Even then, he wouldn’t put it down. Now you have all these people with extra ears walking around because that’s what happens after years and years of using these cell phones, and they’re all saying “Well, we need them. What are we supposed to do? Besides, we like the extra ear. It helps us listen.” Good thing you quit before your extra ear popped out, Scott.
While reading her words, he scratched a pink spot on his left shoulder where he was sure an ear was forming, but hopefully, he had stopped it in the nick of time.
Mom, he wrote back, I threw my phone away. Does this mean I get the house on Delle Faire? Is it finally mine?
The letter she responded with was covered in what he imagined were dried tears and drops of patchouli-based perfume. The entire page only had one sentence on it.
Kiddo, it’s yours.
The house was something of an inverse. Like the haunted Winchester mansion that had been added onto eternally until its owner dropped dead, Scott’s mother had taken what was once a distinguished, two-story Greek revival on the northernmost part of the island had been systematically dismantled over time until there was nothing left but a living room, a bedroom, and a kitchen with a bathtub in it. Once his mother had sabotaged the place to her satisfaction, she hightailed it to San Bernandino and never looked back. When he, at the age of ten, told her that he had no interest in living in California, she informed him that he could stay with his father since they shared the same “core values” anyway.
“You’ll become a schlub,” she told him, throwing the last of her unfinished tapestries into the back of a VW, “Maybe a cute schlub, but still a schlub. I’ll write to you once a week, but don’t try and call me. I’m relinquishing all contact with the outside world that isn’t in the form of pen and paper. I might even use quills. Who knows? When you’re ready to do the same, let me know and I’ll show you the way to a much better life.”
That better way of life involved the ownership of a whittled down house on an island with a population of a little over two hundred. There were houses buried in clearings every mile or so, which gave the island a bit of a hobbit feeling. Scott had never read The Lord of the Rings, but he understood that at least some of the characters in the book lived wedged into hillsides and drank mead or grub or whatever fantastical people drank, and that sounded good to him.
Upon entering the house for the first time since he was a child, he recalled his father promising him they would never return to the house as they were headed into the city to begin a new life without his mother and with a little suit his father had a tailor make for him. Scott felt a pinching sensation near his jugular remembering how tight his father had made him tie his tie before signing him up for Young Entrepreneurs of America. By the time he was eleven, he was a chapter President. By the time he was skipping grades in high school, he had already formed his first LLC built around a business idea comprised of turning ocean water into a drinkable liquid that tasted like orange juice.
He joined his firm when he was twenty-one after dropping out of college making him its youngest member only to find him becoming the youngest partner before striking out on his own to work in consulting as something of a barnraiser. That was all before the crash and the recession and the investigation into some of his riskier deals that led to him working for a putz like Victor in an office buried in an industrial park next to the corporate headquarters of Marzden Chocolates. As much as he loved the smell of caramel upon walking into work each morning, he knew he had to make a change.
That was all last month. It was amazing how topsy thirty days could be if you committed to making each one of them as chaotic as possible. Scott looked around his new abode and thought about rebuilding what his mother had destroyed. Maybe he could return it back to what it was. First, he would need to get a job. He wasn’t even sure there were jobs on this island. What did people do to earn money? Fish? Lobster trap? Sell tickets to the local pumpkin carving tournament?
He should have thought longer about all this.
It wasn’t until he began rifling through the cupboards that he found the note. He had only been expecting to find some battered cans of tuna and a lonely mouse, but there it was on tattered note paper complete with his mother’s chicken scratch.
Go outside was what he believed he could make out, but it might just as well have said Goats, Arrive.
Outside had to mean the backyard, since there was nothing noteworthy in the front yard aside from a sinkhole, which was where Scott was meant to deposit his trash. In the backyard, there was a small tree. When he approached it, he noticed little boxes hanging from it. He grabbed one of the boxes, and a tune began to play.
It sounded like Cole Porter, but it might have been Iggy Pop. Scott always confused the two. As the music played, he remembered now how his mother had made money while she lived on the island. Tourists would show up every Tuesday and purchase a music box from her. As a child, he believed his mother had made the boxes herself, but she must have been plucking them from this tree the entire time.
That explains why she never let me play outside, he thought, She was hiding this tree.
He gathered up a few of the ripe music boxes and brought them inside. On Monday, he would attach tiny sales tags to them indicating a price. He tried to recall how his mother would price them, but everything cost much more now, and he had to take that under consideration. He wanted to write her a letter to tell her that he had found her means to support, but he couldn’t locate a writing utensil anywhere in the house. He made a mental note to himself (the only kind of note he could write) to pick up some supplies at the island store the following day.
After stumbling upon some coffee behind the sculpture of Dick Cavett in the bedroom, he made himself a cup and walked outside to stand by the sinkhole and take in the sunset. It looked as though the day was departing first by touching the tip of the first bridge leading into Marco’s River and then the tip of the second leading into Delle Faire. One bridge would lead you into a different sort of life, and another would lead you somewhere else altogether.
The music box he held in his hand serenaded him with either “Begin the Beguine” or “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” but Scott didn’t know which, and he wasn’t sure it mattered anyway. He was keeping this box for himself, and he had the rest of his life to figure out just what song it was playing.