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Peter Cooper

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Books by Peter Cooper
Residue of Design
By Peter Cooper
Friday, November 30, 2001

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Their childish affection terrified their parents, and while a bizarre plan to separate them works, the price is higher than suspected.

Branch Rickey once said that luck is the residue of design. And that may be a great truth for the sport of baseball, but much more difficult to decipher in the real world.

Bobby and Carol grew up in California, near the Monterey Peninsula. Every morning the fog rolled in, or so he told her, so the early morning sun wouldn't hurt her eyes. And Carol never disbelieved her brother's considerate lie. He was, after all, two years older.

Their parents often commented on the quiet understanding their son and daughter shared. They said this with a certain wonder, as if they hadn't participated in bringing it about. Probably because they hadn't.

The kissing began when Bobby was eight and Carol six. Naturally, he being older, the blame was directed toward him. His mother would make his father confront him.

"It's not right."

"Well, who am I supposed to kiss, then?"

"Anyone, everyone; except your own sister. It's indecent."

Now, the concept of decency had never occurred to Bobby, and surely not to Carol. So they gave up kissing, though she complained as bitterly as a six year old was capable. Hers was a simple explanation:
"It tastes good."

So instead, they began holding hands. And their parents tolerated this variation on the theme for three years. But when Bobby put his arm around her shoulders during her tenth birthday party, they quietly agreed enough was enough.

At this time in California, there was no lack of child psychologists, which would seem to indicate that somewhere along the line parenting had gone out of style for California family life, allowing for the intrusion of external guidance experts. (Besides that, there was money in it). After seven sessions with Bobby, the doctor called the parents in for a conference.

"I'm afraid I can come to only one conclusion; the boy loves his sister. The situation is beyond remediation."

Bobby's mother was distraught, and she looked to Carol's father for help. He challenged the lack of hope. "But doctor, how can this sort of thing happen? We are a perfectly ordinary family, lots of love and communication."

The doctor fiddled with his eyebrows, but remained clinical. "I admit there are no apparent signs of trauma that usually accompanies this form of deviant behavior, but I am not here to treat causes, merely effects."

"What treatment do you recommend?" asked Carol's mother apprehensively.

"I'm afraid," said the doctor, pausing to light his pipe. "I'm afraid separation is the only answer."

The two beleaguered parents exchanged fearful glances. The father recovered, clearing his throat. "I- I suppose Bobby's old enough to go to a military school. That way we could still see him- "

"I'm afraid that will not effect the proper distance," stated the doctor brusquely. "You see, one of our studies has shown that this form of latent relationship thrives on temporal separations; ones that endures for periods of intense reunion. If you want your son to become a normal, functioning member of society, you will have to break all ties between him and the sister. Otherwise, you run the risk of damaging both of them permanently."

Shocked, Bobby's mother rose angrily. "Are you suggesting that we just throw our son away? I'm afraid you are asking too much. I won't hear of it. Not another word!"

The doctor nodded in sympathy. "I understand your dismay, but consider how much more difficult it will become to separate them when they reach their teens."

The hint at carnal incest was all the parents could stand, and a plan was effected to separate the loving siblings, once and for all.

On the sixth of November, Bobby was taken from his geometry class and informed that his parents and sister had been killed in an automobile accident. Two days later, after observing a private, if bogus cremation of his parents and sister, he boarded a plane for the East Coast.

On the eighth of November, Bobby met his new guardian. Aunt Bertie was nearing sixty and walked with a painful limp. He vaguely remembered his departed mother mentioning Aunt Bertie once at a family reunion. The crowd of relatives grew silent and the head shaking caused the leaves to ripple as far away as ten yards.

Aunt Bertie hugged him at the train station. And again within the confines of her New England home. In fact, the hugging went on for six years. Other than that, Bobby had a rather uneventful stay with Aunt Bertie.

On his eighteenth birthday, Bobby kissed Aunt Bertie good-bye and started hitchhiking back to California. It being a pilgrimage of sorts, he took his time. He spent the first year in Philadelphia as a gofer during the filming of the sequel to Rocky VII.

Another six months were spent in Chicago courting a girl who reminded him vaguely of his dead sister. The night they finally made love Bobby discovered that she really wasn't like his sister at all. He wasn't positive, but something was different, it wasn't as he imagined it would be. Something about the way her kisses tasted. The next morning he was back on his way to the West.

Bobby felt he owed it to his dear, departed sister to learn how to ski, so the next five months were spent in Aspen. One night he spied someone who looked exactly as he imagined Carol would have looked at seventeen. He almost went over to speak to the slim brunette with flashing green eyes, but the memory of his disappointment in Chicago made him hold back. It wasn't good to go through life looking for a dead person, not healthy.

He arrived in Monterey exactly two years after leaving Aunt Bertie. It was a Saturday morning and he was in no hurry, so he walked along the wharf. While he was idling, a group of throwbacks to an earlier age came streaming down the dock, their long, scraggly gray hair streaming behind them. They jumped into a small replica of a Viking ship and rowed out into the early morning water. Bobby's sister's fog was just beginning to burn off.

The walk up to the Presidio took him more than an hour, and he was sweating under the hot sun by the time he got to the top. Drops of perspiration clung to his beard and he wiped at his chin with his sleeve.

The small graveyard was closer than the old family homestead, so he stopped there first. An hour of searching for the family plot failed to uncover its whereabouts so head headed on for the house where he had spent his first twelve years.

The tree in the front yard had grown and there were still roses climbing over the trellis along the side. Whoever lived in the house appeared to be gone, so Bobby wandered around back to see if the little grove was still intact. It was. He sat in the middle, allowing the shade to cool and refresh him. A tree to his left still bore the marks of his childhood, indeed adult infatuation: "B.C. Loves C.C."

He leaned back, awash in the sweet emotion of the place. It was here where they shared their first kiss. Here, where they would sit, obediently holding hands, the furthest permissible expression of their childish devotion. Rather than succumb to tears, Bobby relived it, slowly turning the memory over and over in his mind. He didn't want to cry and squander the sweet emotion so quickly.

A car door slammed in the front of the house and Bobby stood up to dust the dirt from his jeans. A man met him coming around the corner of the house and they both stopped in their tracks.

"Excuse me," the man said when he caught his voice. "Are you looking for someone?"

"No." said Bobby, embarrassed to be caught so. "I was just reminiscing. I used to live in this house."

"I see." said the man, noting the length of Bobby's beard.

"In fact," said Bobby, pushing forward. "I appreciate the way you've left everything the same as before."

"Well, we liked the way the other people had things laid out."

Bobby nodded appreciatively. "How long have you lived here?"

"Oh, we just moved in this year. Are you a relative?"

"No, I guess not." Bobby felt a little disoriented in time. "I lived here over seven years ago."

Seeing the young man was no threat, the homeowner softened. "Would you like a cold drink?"

Bobby hesitated. The inside of the house had belonged to his parents moreso than the yard. He wasn't sure he wanted to muddy his memories of the place to that extent. But the man took him by the arm kindly.

"Come on in, it's cooler inside."

As he entered, Bobby was relieved the furniture was different. That would have been too eerie, too difficult to absorb. They walked through the livingroom to the den. His host excused himself to prepare the drinks, and as he sat, Bobby's eyes were caught by a painting of a young girl. She was probably fifteen or sixteen, with long brown hair and green green eyes.

When his host returned, he noticed his guest was staring at the painting. "Oh, yes." he stated proudly. "We're quite proud of that. Actually, the way we found the house was through an estate sale. The people who lived here died in a traffic accident. Apparently, this was their daughter.

Bobby had trouble finding enough of his voice to speak. "Did she die in the accident also?"

"No, apparently she had run away from home. The neighbors told us the parents found her in Aspen, or somewhere in Colorado. Anyway, she refused to come home with them, or something like that. They died on their way back from the airport."

"Do you know what their name was?" Bobby croaked through the dry dirt in his throat.

"I don't remember offhand," said the man, scratching his head. "Began with a 'C' I believe."

Bobby nodded and sipped gingerly at his drink. The eyes in the painting were calling out to him. His own were answering back.

Four days later Bobby arrived back in Aspen. Carol's name leaped out at him from the telephone book. After getting directions from a gas station attendant, he walked toward her apartment. The building was nondescript, reminding him of so many brain cells arranged in the head. One of those cells was very important to him.

He rang the buzzer on the door once and a slim brunette answered. "Yes, can I help you?"

Bobby stood mute, caught by the green green eyes he had thought were lost so long ago. "Sorry," he mumbled. "Must have the wrong apartment."

She looked at him quizzically, then smiled and closed the door.

Going down the stairs Bobby thought back to the day he told Carol about the fog coming in to keep her eyes from hurting. Part of loving is protecting, if even from the truth. He was halfway down the block when he heard someone call out his name. He turned to see the slim brunette rushing toward him. She slowed when she was within ten feet of him, a sudden shyness having taken control.

He looked into her eyes. "How did you know?"

"Gertie called me after mom and dad died."

Bobby nodded, not knowing what else to do, then watched with fascination as her small hand snaked timidly toward his. There is no satisfactory, nor psychological description for the feeling that exploded along his arm as the sensation of that one warm grasp traveled up his arm to his head. Inside his brain, one particular cell that had been calling out for eight years suddenly went quiet.

Through the years their friends often commented on the quiet understanding Bobby and Carol shared. And though the couple never had children, everyone who knew them said they would have made wonderful parents. On the other hand, they had the kind of relationship that didn't seem to need children. One friend from California put it best:
"Well, you know, it's like, yeah, they kinda had each other."

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