Wild Game My Mother, Her Lover, and Me - Adrienne Brodeur
A buried truth, that’s all a lie really is.
Cape Cod is a place where buried things surface and disappear again: wooden lobster pots, the vertebrae of humpback whales, chunks of frosted sea glass. One day there’s nothing; the next, the cyclical forces of nature—erosion, wind, and tide—unearth something that has been there all along. A day later, it’s gone.
A few years ago, my brother discovered the bow of a shipwreck looming from a sandbar. He managed to excavate an ample wedge of hull before the tide came in and thwarted his efforts. The following day, he returned to the same spot at the same tide, but all traces of the ship had vanished. Had he not saved that waterlogged slab of wood, knotted and beautifully gnarled, and left it to dry on his lawn, he might have imagined he’d dreamed the whole thing.
Blink, and you’ll miss your treasure.
Blink again, and you’ll realize that the truth you thought was safely hidden has materialized, some ungainly part of it revealed under new conditions. We all know the adage that one lie begets the next. Deception takes commitment, vigilance, and a very good memory. To keep the truth buried, you must tend to it.
For years and years, my job was to pile on sand—fistfuls, shovelfuls, bucketfuls, whatever the moment necessitated—in an effort to keep my mother’s secret buried.
Oh, what a tangled web we weave.
—SIR WALTER SCOTT
Ben Souther pushed through the front door of our Cape Cod beach house on a hot July evening in 1980, greeting our family with his customary, enthusiastic “How do!” In his early sixties at the time, Ben had a full head of thick, white hair and callused hands that broadcast his love of outdoor work. I watched from the hallway as he back-patted my stepfather, Charles Greenwood, with one hand and, with the other, raised high a brown paper grocery bag, its corners softening into damp, dark patches.
“Let’s see what you can do with these, Malabar,” Ben said to my mother, who stood in the entryway beside her husband. He presented her with the seeping package and gave her a peck on the cheek.
My mother took the sack into the kitchen and placed it on the butcher-block counter, where she unfolded the top and peeked inside.
“Squab,” Ben said proudly, rubbing his hands together. “A dozen. Plucked, cleaned, I even took off the heads for you.”
Ah. So the wetness was blood.
I glanced at my mother, whose face registered not a trace of revulsion, only delight. She was, no doubt, already doing the math, calculating the temperature and time required to crisp the skin without drying the meat and best coax forward the flavors. My mother came to life in the kitchen—it was her stage and she was the star.
“Well, I must say, this is quite the hostess gift, Ben,” my mother said, laughing, appraising him with a tilt of her chin. She gave him a long look. Malabar was a tough critic. You had to earn her good opinion, a process that could take years and might not happen at all. Ben Souther, I could tell, had gone up a notch.
Ben’s wife, Lily, followed close behind, bearing a bouquet of flowers from their garden in Plymouth and a bag of wild watercress, freshly picked from the banks of their stream, peppery the way Malabar loved it. About a decade older than my mother, Lily was petite and plain-pretty, with graying brown hair and a lined face that spoke of her New England practicality and utter lack of vanity.
Charles stood on the sidelines smiling broadly. He loved company, delicious meals, and stories from the past, and this weekend with his old friend Ben and Ben’s wife, Lily, promised an abundance of all. I’d known the Southers since I was eight, when my mother married Charles. I knew them in the way that a child knows her parents’ friends, which is to say not well and with indifference.
I was fourteen.
The cocktail hour, a sacred ritual in our home, commenced immediately. My mother and Charles each started with their usual, a tumbler of bourbon on the rocks, had a second, and then progressed to their favorite aperitif, which they called the “power pack”: a dry Manhattan with a twist. The Southers followed my parents’ lead, matching them drink for drink. The four of them meandered and chatted, cocktails in hand, from the living room out to the deck and then, later, across the lawn to the wooden stairs that led down to