The Other Matter
On the farm, Laertes released his old, luxurious life day by day. He found that he did not miss extravagant meals at the estate, parties with wine and gin, afternoons at the golf club, custom shoes and silks, gossip, poker games, clouds of cigar smoke, or press conferences. The first winter there, he lived in a one-room shack with a pellet stove, a cot, and a corduroy armchair where he sat to watch dust drift in the sun that fell through the dirty window. The particles made the light tangible, and if light could become material, so might the human spirit, which meant he might someday encounter the soul of his lost son and recognize him. Odysseus’ spirit would be as golden as a winter sunbeam.
Back when Odysseus was a boy, Laertes had brought him out to the farm for a few weeks each summer. It was just a small orchard back then, but Laertes taught Odysseus the name of each apple and pear varietal, and they had tried them all. Odysseus was a messy eater and the juice would run between his fingers and along his arms to his elbows. Messy eating, Laertes always said, was a sign that a man knew how to enjoy life. Pleasure over order, he insisted. But he was always careful to remind his boy that there was more to life than pleasure.
In those youthful days spent on the land, life had a different rhythm for Laertes and Odysseus. They fished and hiked, picked berries, slept in a platform tent, and cooked meals over a campfire. When Odysseus and Penny married, Laertes had deeded the land to them, and the plan had been to keep the summer tradition going as their son Tellie grew up, but Odysseus had gone off to the first of four tours of Afghanistan when Tellie was an infant, and Laertes had only been out to the farm a handful of times since. Penny had even talked of selling it a few times, but she hadn’t gotten around to it.
That first year, it wasn’t much of an agricultural operation. Laertes built a wooden fence around the perimeter, planted a large garden, and pruned back the overgrown orchard. In the second summer, he coaxed the fruit trees back toward health and harvested enough apples and peaches to bring a little surplus to Penny and Tellie. He began trading labor with the neighbors, and even hired a few workers who lived in trailers on the farm. Together, they grew enough to sell fruit at the local market each week: apples, peaches, cherries, and grapes, and last summer—the nineteenth since Odysseus had first left for Afghanistan, and Laertes’ fifth on the farm—Laertes had begun fermenting wine. He had given a barrel of it to Penny, and she declared that it was good enough for guests, so Laertes was planning to triple his wine production in the fall. He might even make some of that sparkling wine with the green grapes. Word was that it was very popular these days, though frankly, Laertes found that it gave him a headache.
Laertes had learned so many new things since moving to the farm. Teresa, the woman he had hired to cook meals for him and his workers, taught him how to darn and patch his clothes after Luis, one of the workers, told Laertes about the river that ran along the northern edge of his hometown, a village near Nogales, Mexico, and how it ran pink or blue or green depending on the color of the dye the textile factory was using that day. The garments they made from those textiles were meant to last only a season before they fell apart or were considered unstylish. The apparel factories weren’t the only problem for the river, Luis said, not at all, but whether it was from textile dyes, agricultural byproducts, waste from plastics and electronics, or untreated sewage, the townspeople had grown sicker over the years. People died of cancer or suffered from mysterious rashes and respiratory conditions. Laertes decided if he did not know a shirt’s path from plant to tailor, he would not buy it. And his clothes were fine anyway, he said, shrugging. Why not wear them until they fell from his body like the meat from a pit-smoked hog? The next clothing he would wear, he said, would be the silk funerary shroud Penny was weaving for him, row after painstaking row. She had been working on it for five years now. In fact, it had been the announcement of the shroud project that had prompted Laertes to move out to the farm in the first place. Let her count the days to his death. He had plenty of work to do before they’d wrap him up and heap dirt over Penny’s craftsmanship.
Laertes and his workers tended tirelessly to the fruit trees, espaliering the limbs of pears along the fence so they looked like menorahs. From the soil, they coaxed rows of blue onions and chives, scrubby rosemary, clusters of mint and oregano, tomatoes and carrots and beets. Laertes found that he loved tending to growing things, and that when he was in his garden, or among the trees, his grief settled some, and he did not worry so much about his own impending death. He was more at ease with other people. He could spend hours with his workers in silence and it never felt awkward because they were all bent to their tasks.
That August, Laertes’ sixth on the land and the twentieth since Odysseus’ had first left for the war, Laertes turned seventy-three. Penny invited him into town to celebrate, but he said Teresa would make pie and fresh ice cream, and he’d have a quiet celebration out in the valley as he had for his last four birthdays. He invited Penny and Tellie to join him, but on the night of his birthday, only Tellie showed up, reporting that his mother’s gallerist had arrived from New York that afternoon, unannounced and anxious about how long it had been since Penny had completed any new work. Penny sent her regrets, and Tellie said that Laertes should be glad she had not chosen to bring the gallerist out to the farm. The man was insufferable, and would probably be studying Laertes for signs of impending death because of the stupid burial shroud.
Tellie was nearly twenty-one now, a willowy young man who spent most of his time reading novels, and almost always wore a huge pair of headphones snug over his ears. The headphones were around his neck now, a tinny beat spilling from them.
“Turn those things off and come have some dinner,” Laertes said.
Tellie extended his hand and in his palm rested a pair of golden cufflinks. “My mom sent these for you. Happy birthday, Grandpa.”
Laertes could not imagine an occasion when cufflinks would make sense in his life, but he laughed and affixed the cufflinks through the buttonholes of his tattered sleeves where they dangled, useless and gleaming.
After dinner, when Teresa was scooping ice cream onto slices of pie, and Tellie had drifted off to the orchard, Ignacio sat down next to Laertes and handed him a small flat box tied with a striped ribbon. Laertes opened it to find a pair of work gloves made from supple, golden brown leather, punctuated with the distinctive triple follicles of peccary, a remarkable pair of gloves.
Ignacio spoke solemnly. “I did not personally know the animal from which these gloves came,” he said, for he knew Laertes’ rule about new clothing. “It was a wild animal in Peru, a boar that wandered free, untamed by humans, and it was hunted down in the forest, but it was my wife that tanned and stretched the leather, and she cut and sewed the gloves. I know that you work hard, and that you must protect your hands from the brambles. I hope you will agree that your hard work will honor the animal from which this skin was taken.”
Laertes took the gloves from the box and pressed them to his cheek to feel their smoothness. He put them on, one finger at a time, and wiggled his fingers gleefully. “I thank the animal, and your wife, and you, who have given me this gift,” he said.
As the others began to wash dishes, or went off to call their families or prepare for bed, Laertes lingered over a glass of wine, catching distant strains of a harmonica being played in the orchard. He thought of the animal from whose skin the gloves had been made, a beast that had wandered in the mountains of Peru, so far away. He decided the animal was like a brother to Odysseus, who also wandered wild now, whether it was in earthly mountains or in the unknown valleys of the underworld. But if his son had not gone to Afghanistan, and then, upon completing his fourth tour of duty, disappeared—he had stopped calling almost a decade back—then he, Laertes, may never have known this part of life—the apple blossoms, and the company of the men with whom he worked—and while Laertes wouldn’t go as far as to say he was grateful to have lost his son, he was glad to know this sweetness that now made his eyes brim over with joy.
Over time, Laertes had learned where each of his workers had come from, which was mostly Mexico, though some were from Honduras or El Salvador. While he loved the farm, he understood that it was not home to his workers, that they worked in order to live and take care of their families, who were elsewhere. Ignacio, who had soft, brown curls that he always tucked into his hat, had three children and a wife back in San Salvador, and he sent almost all of his pay to them. Unlike Luis, who had told Laertes about the textile factories, Ignacio did not want to bring his family to the U.S., but hoped to earn enough money that he could return home and run his mother’s pupuseria without worry, and that his daughters could get the education they wanted, whether that meant college or culinary school, or even business school. He hoped one of them might one day franchise the pupuseria. For Ignacio, saving money meant being able to return and remain in his hometown, to keep his roots intact, and give his children a lasting home. Alejandro was also from El Salvador, but he had left his village with his thirteen-year-old son because a local gang had been harassing and threatening the boy, who would, it seemed, eventually have to join a gang if they stayed. Alejandro was powerless against them. They had applied for asylum, but the case had been pending for a year now. Laertes knew that Mitchell’s favorite place in the whole world was Carwash Cenote, a natural sinkhole somewhere near Tulum, where Mitchell had snorkeled when he was a boy, a place where lily pads waved gently and one could drift for hours in the bright blue water, and then sit on shore eating lotus blossoms by the handful. (“What do you mean ‘lotus blossoms’?” Laertes had asked, but Mitchell was unable to translate it any other way. “It’s an edible flower,” Mitchell said. “They make you dreamy.”)
All of Laertes’ workers knew about Odysseus, too. When Laertes’ eyes welled with tears because he was thinking of his son, they hugged him, or sat up late with him, or began playing a new song on the guitar to lift the mood. Some of them knew what it was like to wait for a lost loved one, the way you might sometimes wish for news of the loved one’s death, or the discovery of their remains, because at least this news would put an end to the waiting and wondering, the stasis of grief that stretched across years.
Luis told Laertes about his brother one morning while they were installing a new irrigation hose. Three years ago, Luis said, before Luis had gotten the H-2A Visa, he and his brother had walked to the U.S. On a starry, cold night, somewhere in Arizona, they had felt they were nearing the end of their time in the wilderness and were dreaming of fresh water, clean beds, and showers. Soon they could call their families. But then they ran into a border patrol Jeep. Searchlights and gunfire sent everyone running, scattering the group, and in the morning, when Luis uncurled from his hiding place in an outcropping of rocks, a few of the others also emerged from their hiding places and gathered under the morning sky, but his brother was not among them. The group had found their way to a town, where Luis waited, hoping his brother would turn up, either in custody or on his own two feet. Luis called home every other day to see if his brother had made it back to the village, but his brother never arrived on either side of the border. Luis wondered if one day a rancher or immigration officer or hiker might find his brother’s bones, and if so, how would they know that it was him? So, yes, Luis knew what it meant to wait, to wonder, to grieve for someone who was neither dead nor alive.
Standing at the gate to the farm, Odysseus watched his father pat soil around the base of a vine. Twenty years ago, when Odysseus had left for the war, his father had been a strong man with a straight back and broad shoulders, no white in his hair, but now Laertes looked like a beggar. His beard was tangled and stained yellow around the mouth, and his clothing was filthy and worn, patched with visible seams. Laertes smoothed the dirt with tenderness that seemed extreme, as if the plant were a child, or perhaps even a lover.
In town the night before, Odysseus had reunited with Penny, who reported that Laertes had gotten “eccentric,” that it had been over three years since he had set foot in the house, and possibly as long since he had even been into town. She worried that the old man was sliding into dementia, though she admitted that stubbornness or reclusiveness did not necessarily indicate that Laertes was losing his mind. Thank God, Odysseus thought as he watched his father, that Laertes had sequestered himself out here and was not wandering through the city streets collecting cans, or making a fool of himself in front of the media back at the house. He cringed to think of the news headlines they’d run. But no one paid attention to what happened out here. Now that Odysseus was back, he would take control of the finances, get things back on track. He’d get his father the medical care he surely needed and get Laertes to move back to the estate where he could bathe regularly and they could keep an eye on him. But at least this reunion would be private.
Odysseus sighed at the weight of it all, the hullaballoo his arrival was sure to cause. In a way, he wished he could slip back into his life quietly, skip the drama, the questions, the press conferences, the whole media circus, the legal paperwork that was sure to come as he sorted through his holdings. But on the other hand, he had a million stories to tell, and he wanted to tell them! He wasn’t some average middle-aged golf pro like some of the men he’d grown up with. He wasn’t measuring his life out with coffee spoons and charitable donations. He was an adventurer and a soldier, and he wanted his rightful welcome. He wanted nights of feasting and storytelling—nights like last night, which he had spent in bed with his wife, telling stories between tussles. Now that he was back, he had to admit he had really missed Penny.
But would his father even recognize him? Odysseus was middle-aged now, stouter and ruddier than he had been when he left. He had spent a lot of time in the sun, after all. Laertes would be surprised, quite possibly overwhelmed. What if the surprise of Odysseus’ return caused Laertes to have a heart-attack or a stroke? What if he wept? Odysseus hated weeping. It embarrassed him. It would be best, Odysseus decided, to feel out the situation anonymously. His father’s eyes were clouded with cataracts anyway. Odysseus would pretend to be someone else, get the lay of the land, find out just how far gone the old man was.
Odysseus stepped into the garden. “Hello there,” he said.
Laertes looked up and studied him, but he did not stand.
“Whose farm is this, may I ask?” Odysseus asked. “Who is it that makes you work so hard? An old man like you should be resting.”
Laertes squinted at him, so Odysseus stepped closer, but still his father said nothing.
“Is this Ithaca? A fellow I met back there on the road told me that it was, but I thought Ithaca would be a grander place. A town at least. I thought it was a city.”
“This is it,” Laertes said, finally speaking. “The outskirts of it anyway. The city itself is a few miles down the road. You can see the skyline there.” He gestured to the north.
“I was hoping to find a friend here,” Odysseus said. “Maybe you know him. I met him years ago, a traveler who told me that Ithaca was his home. He said it was full of the most beautiful women, and that there were craftspeople who carved intricate furniture from the bases of old trees, and delicious wine, and lots of antique shops. He waxed on about the wide bike trails, and a city park with free summer concerts. But it looks more or less like an average town to me. A little beat down. A little rusty. The road is full of potholes!”
“This man you met,” Laertes said. “Who was he? How did you meet him? And where?”
“I met him in Crete,” Odysseus said. “We really hit it off, me and this Odysseus. He stayed with me for a few weeks, and when he left, I loaded him up with gifts—with golden cups, and handwoven rugs he said his wife would love. He took grafts from our fruit trees for his father.”
Laertes’ eyes filled with tears that threatened to spill down his cheeks. Perhaps he was being cruel, Odysseus thought, but he could not stop himself. “You know him? This Odysseus?”
Laertes tried to speak, opening his mouth a few times, but finally he just shook his head in silence. He leaned into the dirt on his hands and knees.
“Old man!” Odysseus bellowed. He approached and clapped Laertes on the shoulder. “It’s me, old man! It’s me! I am Odysseus! By god, I thought you’d know me, your own son! Your boy!”
Laertes looked up and squinted at him again. He wiped the tears from his eyes with the backs of his gloves. He stood up and leaned close to Odysseus, and closer, until Odysseus could feel his father’s breath in his face, and smell it, too, the many years without a dentist.
“Is it you?” Laertes whispered. “Odysseus? Is it you?”
“Look!” Odysseus said, and scrunched his pants up to his knee. “This scar! You know it! I got it hunting wild pigs when I was fifteen!”
Laertes took off his gloves and touched the pale halfmoon with two fingers as if he were reading braille. Odysseus was surprised to see that his father’s hands were clean and manicured, though his fingertips were calloused.
“That could have been a disaster,” Laertes whispered. “You could have lost your leg.”
“You know me then! What else?” he looked around. “These trees!” He pulled Laertes toward the edge of the orchard and pointed. “Cortland,” he said. “And over there: Pink Ladies. And down at the other end are the Romes. And the pear trees! They were not espaliered like that when I was young! You taught me their names, their leaves, the flavors of their fruits. You walked me up and down the rows until I knew them all.”
They stood for a minute, eye to eye, and it seemed to Odysseus that his father grew taller and straighter, as if he, Odysseus, were the sun, or maybe the rain, and Laertes was a thirsty plant. They embraced, and then Laertes did as Odysseus had feared and wept loudly onto his shoulder.
“My boy!” he sobbed. “My son! You’re here! You’re alive!”
When they stepped apart, Laertes gave Odysseus another long look, admiring his size, the proud tilt of his head. Odysseus was not a boy any longer, but a man with weathered skin and some extra heft. Laertes noted a new scar above Odysseus’ eyebrow, the gray at his temples. Laertes thought, not for the first time, that Tellie was now almost the age Odysseus had been when he left for the war, and yet Tellie seemed so impossibly young. He still barely needed to shave, and went by his childhood nickname, which was hardly fit for an adult man, but then, his parents had saddled him with such an elaborate name. Perhaps he could go by Machus, which had sharper, more angular sounds. Laertes wondered if Odysseus had seen Tellie yet, but he would save that conversation for later.
“Are you hungry?” Laertes asked. “We eat together every evening out here, but your arrival warrants an early quitting time, I’d say. A feast is in order!”
Odysseus said that he had already sent his men ahead to find the cook, to slaughter a pig or a goat. “Forgive the presumption,” Odysseus said with a nod.
“Of course!” Laertes did not tell Odysseus that he was vegetarian now, that many of the men who worked for him were also vegetarian. It was a special occasion, after all, and Laertes understood that many people associate meat with celebration. Laertes might even eat a little pork himself, he thought, but then he pictured his goats, his pigs, the animals he sometimes conversed with as if they could understand him. He had a number of animals butchered each fall, and sold the meat, but he had his workers do the dirty work. Have I not earned this complacency? he joked, but it was true that he did not like to look closely at pain. He couldn’t bear to kill the animals himself.
Laertes and Odysseus walked between the grape vines to the other end of the garden, a distance of nearly a half-mile, and turned to walk along the fence where the workers’ shacks stood.
“So much has changed,” Odysseus said. He gestured to the shacks. “These little hovels. I don’t remember them. They’re well-kept, if modest. And the plants! It’s an impressive plot, Old Man. Your green thumb has flourished while I’ve been away. The plants seem in better health than you, if you’ll forgive my saying so.”
Laertes smiled. “I take that as a compliment.”
They arrived at the kitchen where Teresa was presiding over the workers, preparing a meal. Luis was chopping onions and tomatoes for salsa. Ignacio was standing over the grill with a set of metal tongs. Everyone paused as Odysseus and Laertes approached. It was silent until Luis stepped forward and took Odysseus’ hand.
“Welcome home,” he said. “We are so honored to be here with you on this day. Your father has waited for this moment for so many years. I admit, we may not have believed it would come, but that makes it all the more joyful now.”
“Thank you,” Odysseus said. “I’m glad to be home.” Luis held Odysseus’ hand in both of his and bowed his head a little. Odysseus blushed, and Luis released him. Smiling broadly, he returned to his cutting board.
Laertes and Odysseus sat down in the wooden Adirondack chairs and propped their feet on the cinder block fire ring. The air was spiced with the smell of roasting meat that made even the vegetarians’ mouths water. People began to eat, and then some of the workers got out musical instruments, and Teresa brought Laertes his guitar, and soon there was music and singing, the occasional impromptu jig between plates heaped with roasted veggies and pork, endless cups of wine. Even Odysseus, who was not musically inclined, sang in a quavering voice about a long-lost sailor, and everyone clapped.
The feasting and dancing went on until dusk, when it was nearly time to wash up and get to bed, for there was work to do the next day. The workers drifted off into the night, but Odysseus and Laertes sat up beside the dying fire, sipping wine. There were so many stories to tell, and Odysseus told a few—the beach where his men had gotten stoned by eating flowers, the way he had outwitted a one-eyed man who had for some reason imprisoned Odysseus in his apartment. He began telling Laertes about a gorgeous woman who had magically seduced him in Bali, delaying his return for many years, but he kept forgetting parts of the story and backing up to revise things, until Laertes assured his son that they had time. There was no need to tell everything tonight. Mostly, Laertes assured Odysseus, he was just glad Odysseus was back with his family where he belonged.
They were sitting in silence when Luis returned and sat down on a stump beside Laertes and began to speak, quietly, as if worried about waking the others.
“Laertes, sir, I spoke with my wife this evening.”
“She tells me that my sister-in-law has been detained at the border with her two-year-old daughter, and that they have taken her daughter from her. They told her it was only for the night, for medical checks, but now they say they will send my sister-in-law back to Mexico. That they will keep the girl until her mother completes the appropriate paperwork. She has not seen her daughter since they arrived at the border five days ago.”
Laertes sat up straight in his chair. “What do you mean? They took a two-year-old from her mother? Who is caring for the girl? Where is your sister now?”
“I don’t know exactly,” Luis said. “What I know is that my sister-in-law is in detention with many others. They allowed her to call my wife once. And her daughter is not with her. She does not know where her daughter is or who is caring for her.”
“She’s in Arizona?” Laertes asked.
“Texas,” Laertes repeated. He stood up and began to pace. “Texas,” he said again. “What do you need, Luis? How can I help?”
“I think I must go to Texas.” Luis, too, stood up, but he did not pace. Hands on his hips, he stared into the fire, his expressionless face glowing with its light.
“Yes. You should go.” Laertes nodded emphatically. “Absolutely. You must go. Tomorrow?”
“How will you get there?”
“It will take days.”
Odysseus watched them from his chair, his feet still propped on the fire ring, eyes moving back and forth between Laertes and Luis. Neither of them looked at him.
“If you don’t get there until next week, your sister-in-law may be back in Mexico already,” Laertes said.
“I know,” said Luis. His arms fell limp to his sides.
“And it’s too long for her to be away from her daughter.”
“You should fly. I’ll buy the ticket,” Laertes said. “First thing in the morning, we’ll go to the airport.” He turned to Odysseus. “Son,” he said. “Can you arrange a car for us?”
Odysseus looked startled. He uncrossed his feet and sat them on the ground, giving a small cough. “I don’t have a car,” he said.
“Through the estate, of course,” Laertes said. “Arrange it with the driver. I don’t drive anymore myself. Or you could just call a cab.”
Odysseus pursed his lips as if preparing to speak, but he said nothing for a long time. It was unclear to Laertes if this meant he was thinking, or if he was saying no, he would not arrange the car.
“Never mind,” Laertes said, finally. “I’ll have Teresa call a cab in the morning.” He turned from Odysseus and put his hand on Luis’ shoulder. “I wish that I could say everything will be fine,” he said.
Luis nodded gravely.
“You should sleep. You should try to sleep.” Laertes hugged him and they stood that way for a minute, until Luis stepped away from him.
“Thank you,” Luis said.
“We will do what we can,” he said. “You will do what you can.” He squeezed Luis’ hand. “It’s a terrible thing that’s happening.”
Luis nodded and turned to walk back to his lodging. He could not talk about his worries. He did not want to name them aloud.
Laertes turned to Odysseus. “I’m going to bed,” he said. “I’ll show you where you can sleep.” Odysseus stood and followed his father.
For hours, Laertes lay awake in his hammock. Through the branches, he could make out the blurry stars, but they brought him no peace. He squinted, trying to bring them into focus, but they remained smeary and scrambled. He had only asked Odysseus to arrange a car, nothing more, and yet Odysseus would not do it. Laertes turned onto his shoulder, though the hammock was not comfortable that way. He got up to pace. Where had Odysseus been all these years? What had he seen? He had mentioned being imprisoned at least once, but if that were the case, would he not have more compassion for a woman imprisoned, a child imprisoned—a child alone? Laertes shook his head. What kind of monsters took a two-year-old from her mother in the name of political borders?
It was a scare tactic, he supposed. If word reached people in Central America that their children would be taken from them, surely they would not undertake the journey to the U.S., which was harrowing enough already. But that assumption was obviously flawed. Luis’ sister-in-law surely had not wanted to undertake that journey. Luis, for example, loved Mexico and missed his village and his family, but the wages were so low there that he could not feed his family. Laertes did not know what exactly had forced Luis’ sister-in-law to undergo a journey that she would have known would put her and her child in harms’ way, but he knew that no one would choose to walk through the desert like that unless they truly felt they had no other choice. And yet Laertes’ own son—a man who had spent twenty years wandering who-knows-where, encountering countless unknown cultures and different ways of life—had refused to even arrange a car to the airport so Luis could at least try to help his family. In all his seventy-three years, Laertes had never been so confused. Or maybe what he was feeling was anger.
Eventually, Laertes slept. He awoke as the sun was rising, and was brewing coffee in the outdoor kitchen, when Odysseus stepped out of the shack where he had slept, stretching and scratching and groaning, stripped down to a T-shirt and a threadbare pair of sweatpants. His feet were bare.
Laertes’ gloves were on the countertop, and Odysseus picked them up and began to inspect them, running his fingers over the neat stitches, examining the patterns of the follicles, rumpling them up and unfolding them again to feel how soft they were, how pliable.
“Where’d you get these?” he asked.
“They were a gift,” Laertes said. He reached for them, but Odysseus stepped back.
“They’re exquisite,” Odysseus said. He put one of the gloves on, flexed his hand, stretched the leather, pulling it taut. “Peccary, hm?” He pulled the other glove on and held his hands out in front of himself, stretching his ten fingers wide.
“Yes,” said Laertes. “You know your leather.” He poured hot water over the coffee grounds and inhaled the first smell of the beans.
Odysseus ran his gloved hands over his own face, rubbing the smooth skin of the gloves over the rough texture of his stubbled jaw. “These men you employ,” he said. “Where do you find them? Do they have visas?”
Laertes watched the water level lowering as it drained through the coffee. He avoided Odysseus’ eyes. “Is that any of your concern?”
Odysseus began to rub one gloved hand along his arm like a cat grooming itself. “Well,” he said, “this farm belongs to me. The estate, too. All of it. The kegs of wine. The stores of food. Now that I’m back, I’ll be overseeing things, you know. I need to learn the ins and outs of my investments, and this farm is one of my investments. So, yes, it is my concern.”
“On paper,” Laertes said, turning to him. “It belongs to you on paper.”
“Like I said, it belongs to me.” He stopped grooming his arm and clasped his hands together.
“As a business matter,” Laertes said.
“What other matter is there?” Odysseus said. “I don’t want to employ illegals.”
Laertes studied him. The sun was in Odysseus’ eyes now, and he was squinting, but he did not move to avoid the brightness that revealed the creases and age spots, the yellowed whites of his eyes. When Odysseus was gone, Laertes had imagined him as a lost animal, as a prisoner, as a ghost caught between life and death, but now he was here, whole and sunburned and barefoot. It seemed now that Odysseus had wandered by choice, a leisurely vagabond, while at home his family waited, his city waited. Perhaps it was Laertes’ fault for encouraging Odysseus to privilege pleasure when he was young? Perhaps Laertes had pampered him too much? Nothing else could explain this lack of compassion, this talk of business, of money and ownership, even as peoples’ lives were at stake, even as babies were taken from their parents’ arms and carried away to who-knows-where.
“The gloves,” Laertes said, reaching for them again. “They’re special to me.” Again, Odysseus stepped back, but Laertes persisted. “They were a gift from Ignacio.” Laertes’ shadow darkened Odysseus’ face. Luis would be up soon, ready to go to the airport, but for the moment, even the birds were silent, watching from the trees around the courtyard, and the sun seemed suspended in its progress into the sky. “He has become like family to me these last few summers. So has Luis, and all of the workers. And that is the other matter. Or the only matter, to me.”
Laertes took Odysseus’ hand in both of his, and held it for a minute. Then he stripped the glove from it, finger by finger.