In a low gear, I turned into the mile-long dirt road Saul called his driveway.
Foot easy on the accelerator. Suspension sharing every bump and pothole. Hunched over the steering wheel looking for light, any light, coming from the old farmhouse.
I was trying to keep my wheels out of the ruts; big deep things, filling up with rain. From a truck, probably. Or what you call an SUV.
Always lights on at Saul’s place, you see, assuming Saul was there. Council said it was what you call an eyesore. There was a petition. A village meeting. After he’d finished the renovations – did it all himself – he surrounded the place with big external lights. Like you see on your churches, your museums.
Halfway down the driveway, steering wheel shuddering, no light.
Alright for him, course, living all the way out there. Has the motorcycle – loves it, big off-road thing. My old car was fit for ferrying the kids around, nothing more. How many times I’d told Saul about Tuesday, about Tuesday night: I collect David and Madelyn from school, Jules finishes work early, we all meet at home, Jules takes Madelyn to her friend Mary’s house, Madelyn sleeps over, I take David to practise, David stays at his friend Sean’s. The following week the kids’ friends stay at ours, so what you call date night happens twice a month. Saul knows this. I said to him, You need to check in before Tuesday, Saul. I mean it.
Nearing the driveway’s end, up and down, still no light.
Saul and me, we were going to be partners. Bernstein and Woodward. Course, Saul never married, I met Jules, became his “man on the ground.” So I was always sent to find him, whenever he did his disappearing act – usually in some bar at the bottom of a bottle, a hotel with a girl young enough to be his daughter. You’re too old for this, Saul, it’ll catch up with you. And you’re not what you call a popular man. Take your money, I said to him, what’s left of it, and go somewhere nice, play some tennis, write your memoirs.
End of the driveway, into neutral, not a light to be seen.
Rain drops long and straight in the headlights, cold on the nape of my neck. Collar upturned, engine still running, I ran for the porch. The front door was ajar. I opened it slowly; it creaked slowly.
Saul, I said, my voice coming back to me in the unlit hallway. It’s me, Saul. I gotta tell you …
I groped at the wall, feeling for a lightswitch. It clicked a hollow click.
Saul, are you there? You’re light’s gone out, Saul … I gotta tell you, I’m pretty pissed off, Saul.
If Saul was home he was only ever one place: upstairs study.
We have – Saul has – what you call carte blanche. Whatever he turns in – book, article, interview – we make it work. But what do I get from it? His “researcher.” I just check the spelling, another name in the acknowledgements.
Unsure steps up the dark staircase, tight grip on the banister. Shuffling along the landing’s creaking floorboards, one hand trailing the wall, the other palming the darkness. Saul’s study – third door on the left.
Saul? You there? Saul, for Christ’s …
I’d had enough. After this one, I was going to tell him … The amount of times I’ve told you, Jules cooks us something special, we open a couple of bottles of wine, pretend to watch a movie … Happens twice a month, Saul – rehearsing it in my head – happens twice a month. You can’t even make a phone call? No more, Saul. I quit.
The door was wide open; that side of the house, the study, swathed in moonlight.
Books stacked floor-to-ceiling, pictures of Saul smiling with what you call political types, pictures he never did hang, napkins and notebooks and coasters from bars, covered in scrawling shorthand, among all the things that pieced together to build a thirty-year career, a single candle, almost burned out, flickered beside a manuscript:
The Man Behind My Stories: Not What You’d Call a Silent Partner
By Saul T. Hennessy