Excerpt

What to Do About the Solomons

Bethany Ball

April 3, 2017 
The following is from Bethany Ball’s novel, What to Do About the Solomons. Ball was born in Detroit and has lived in Santa Fe, New Jersey, Miami, and Israel. She now lives in New York with her family. This is her first novel.

The Pacific

The thing to do when your house is being searched, your husband arrested, and your bank accounts seized is to procure large amounts of Xanax. Dip into hidden reserves. Borrow from your neighbors. High-quality painkillers are even better. There is codeine. Percocet or Darvocet. The ultimate is oxycodone. If you have the will and the connections there are also street drugs that can send you into the oblivion you crave.

You are not paranoid. Your house, in fact, is bugged. Avoid marijuana.

You’ve seen the wives on the news. They stand beside their husbands, guilty husbands and husbands falsely accused. The women, stony, glassy-eyed. A lip trembles. Behind that pharmaceutical veneer is someone ready to bolt, if not for the children she is shackled to.

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* * * *

Carolyn lives with her family in Santa Monica, not far from the ocean. They moved five years ago from Connecticut. In the summer, the roads fill with cheery beachgoers and surfers. Carolyn walks her dogs along the beach before noon. She meets others like her. Their dogs walked on leashes. Their children tucked away in schools. There are waves and sunlight and gulls that lift the sunlight, and cast tracks and seagull shit across the beaches that run down to the sea. Coyotes come from the Santa Monica Mountains and ferret through garbage cans.

Carolyn sends the children off to school on the bus and settles back into bed with a mug of coffee and a to-do list. Often what she does these days, since she left her job, is read magazines and news and gossip on the Internet. Carolyn flips through cable channels. She clips her toenails. She thinks about going downtown and taking a yoga class.

Downstairs, someone bangs on the front door. The dogs bark. FedEx or UPS, probably. She runs down the stairs, pulling a cardigan over her camisole. The banging grows louder and more insistent. The dogs are falling all over one another. She shoos them away and opens the front door. A dozen or so men push into her house. They say, We are the LAPD. We have a search warrant. Your husband, Marc Solomon, and his business partner have been arrested.

The stream of their words hits her with the full force of a fire hose: Your house is now a crime scene. You must sit on the couch here in the living room. You must not get up. Would you like a glass of water?

The men open cabinets. They circle around the rattan table in the great room. They pick it up and set it down. Its glass top slides to the floor. They look up at her with sheepish expressions. They inspect the base of the table, searching it for a hidden safe. They are searching for drugs or diamonds. Money or meth labs. Perhaps they are looking for missing limbs and stolen organs. She has never read mystery novels. She doesn’t watch crime shows on television.

She is the daughter of schoolteachers. Her father is an art history professor in the Midwest. Her mother has died. Why has no one prepared her for this moment?

Carolyn thinks about walking into the cold water of the Pacific Ocean, fully clothed. Perhaps she would wear her husband’s heavy trench coat and his heaviest watch. She turns around and surveys her green lawn. Green in spite of the drought. Their water bills are astronomical. But it is raining now. When they release her and leave her house she will have no choice but to try and swim across the ocean until she reaches the islands. The lights of the Pacific Ocean will guide her, their soft white waves undulating. Through the mist, Carolyn sees a green light shining off the pier, or a boat. She has long been fascinated by women who swim across large, cold bodies of water. There was once a woman who swam all the way from Cuba to Miami. Why would they do this except to save their lives?

She has heard drowning is painful.

The chief detective holds her arm and walks her down the hallway. She is led to the bed and the detective sits on a chair across from her. He turns on a small lamp. The rain sluices down the windows and everything outside is wet concrete-gray. The ocean roils. A newspaper thuds onto the porch.

He says, We know you know what’s going on and what your husband has been up to. And, you realize, we’ve been good to you in spite of your criminal activity. You realize, by withholding information you are committing a crime.

Yes. But I am not withholding information.

He reaches over and holds her arm, pinching it gently at the elbow. His fingers are small and delicate. He says, We haven’t torn up your house. We waited until your children left for school.

She nods.

So now you have to tell me where the safe is. You have to tell me where the guns are and if there are drugs. If we find out you’ve been lying to us, if we find something you haven’t told us about, someone else will have to pick up your children. Not you. Do you understand?

The house and its objects. A vibrator in an upstairs drawer, a messy linen closet, email flirtations, nude photos, even a video. The spice cabinet is a mess. Some paprika spilled, there is rank orange powder all over the shelves. She has been meaning to get to it. There is probably a joint somewhere. An abandoned canvas and dried-up paints in a spare room. She used to smoke a little and watch the water on summer nights with Marc after the children had gone to bed. Where is the Xanax? Other secrets.

She shakes her head. No guns. No safe. No drugs. Her teeth chatter.

She says, I know every inch of this house. I haven’t been in the attic recently. But you were just there. Did you find anything?

She tries to remember what’s in the attic. Children’s clothing and artwork. Summer things. Old, moldy camping gear from her childhood. College textbooks. Her husband’s dress uniform. The medals in a plastic bag tucked into a pocket of the jacket.

The bottle of Xanax in her bedside table drawer.

He lets go of her arm and stares at her for a long while. She stares back. Another man walks into the bedroom and the two leave together. She sits very still on the edge of the bed. It is colder in the bedroom than in the living room.

Should she let her teeth chatter? Should she try to stop them from chattering?

She wills her teeth to stop chattering.

She tells herself: This is how you act when the police are searching your house.

One of the detectives sees her still perched on the bed. Need something? he asks. Glass of water? No? You can go back to the living room.

From the couch she watches the LA County detectives pick up the rattan table again and again. They remove the glass top and lean it up against the sofa. They flip the table over again and reexamine it. They knock on the table to see if it is hollow. She wonders if they will take a knife to it. Or bludgeon it. Or bludgeon her. The detectives blur together. She can’t tell them apart.

A cop stands beside the fireplace in his uniform. He is local and friendly. He asks her if she’s gone to the new breakfast place in Santa Monica. He tells her she has a nice house and a nice view. She probably pays a lot of property taxes, right? He asks her how many square feet the house is. He asks which school her children go to. He asks if she likes the schools. He asks if the rug on the floor was expensive. He asks if she likes to shop and where. This area is rich, he says. Takes a lot of money to live here. Me, I live in the Valley.

Again, they tell her how nice they are. They write down everything they take. Computers, laptops, tablets, and old cell phones are gathered in a heap in the foyer. There will be an inventory list to sign off on before they go.

Scenarios play out in her head. Where will they go, how will she support herself, what will the neighbors think? Her next-door neighbor who heads out every Sunday morning in her late model Cadillac presumably dressed for church. What will she think?

The heavy dogs mill around her feet.

The rain stops. Early March. The street holds a cool mist. A wind from the sea sweeps up and blows the mist away. Seven unmarked cars lined up along the front yard. The last is a Santa Monica police car. The neighbor’s Cadillac parked next door in the driveway.

The nanny will have to go.

They will have to cancel their memberships. The children.

She turns back to the window and looks out at the street. Carolyn’s neighbor walks her dog past their house. The dog sniffs at their bushes. Carolyn’s dogs bark in response. The neighbor’s face turns up toward her window. Her eyes meet Carolyn’s. The neighbor gives her a slight wave.

Carolyn’s mouth is dry. She smells bad. Gamey, like fear.

* * * *

The detective stalks around the house. He grows more frustrated with each pass through the living room. He talks on his cell phone. He whispers to the other men. He wears slightly baggy but otherwise well-cut jeans and heavy, black shoes. When he sits, his jeans hitch up and show white athletic socks. He wears a black T-shirt that stretches across well-defined muscles. He is short. He has a goatee. His black hair thins out on top and she can see obscene flashes of his naked skull.

He sits on the couch. Tell me. When will your kids be coming home?

The youngest two at three, the oldest at four.

I don’t want to have to tear your house apart, he says. We don’t want to be here when your kids get back. You have to tell me the truth.

I could never lie to you, she says, like a lover accused of infidelity.

The detective fidgets. His foot jiggles on his knee. He has an Italian name, like Gambello or Gambini. She didn’t catch it when he said it. He says, I believe you. You’re a good woman. He pats her knee. I know you don’t know what’s going on. I see you’re not involved in the things your husband is mixed up in. He says, Tell me, Carolyn Solomon, are you Catholic?

Yes, she lies.

A policeman comes to her holding a cell phone. She lifts it to her ear. It smells of his cologne.

On the line her husband says, It will be all right. Tell them everything. We’ve done nothing illegal and we have nothing to hide. It’s a mistake, Marc says. A misunderstanding. The lawyers will handle everything.

The police and detectives stand around her. When are you coming home? she asks.

I don’t know, he says.

They said they have arrested your partner—

We never said that, says the detective.

Never mind, Marc says. It will be all right. My lawyers are here. It’s just a misunderstanding. The detective takes the phone from her.

I love you, she says to the phone in the detective’s hand.

They leave one by one. The last to go is the goateed detective who tells her to stay put. Pick up your children. Don’t leave the house. Don’t make any phone calls. Do you know what I’m saying?

I have no idea what you’re saying.

His eyes are bored. Already conceiving his next case. Don’t leave the house, he repeats. Don’t call anyone. Don’t talk to anyone.

Then the house is silent.

So much of what had happened had been coded, encrypted. She hadn’t understood anything. It is a language no one had taught her. She has no working landline. The police have taken her phone. Carolyn heads out the front door and cuts through the hedge to the neighbor’s house. Before she can knock, the door opens. Her neighbor eyes Carolyn from behind a crack in the door. I know what this is all about, she says to Carolyn.Your husband is running a big gambling ring out of that fancy LA office of his. Those LAPD officers got the search warrant from the village hall. I know because Mrs. Gregory told me. I called to ask her what was going on over at your house. She works there half-days.

Can I use your phone? Carolyn asks.

You know, she says. It’s not that I don’t like you. You and your kids. Those boys playing basketball until too late at night and your goddamned ostentatious parties. Your husband goes to work every morning in his fancy sports car. You’re not from these parts. This used to be a small town, years and years ago, believe it or not, before you and your element moved here. I have lived here since 1955. Your husband is a foreigner. You don’t know anything about this community. The old coastline. You never lock your front door.

How do you know I never lock my door?

I checked.

Could I have a glass of water?

Yes, she says. You may.

I’m not a foreigner, Carolyn says. I was born in Ohio.

Carolyn follows her into the living room and sits down on a low leather couch. She is spry and moves easily but she is much older than Carolyn had thought.The neighbor brings her water in a paper Dixie cup. I’ll make you a cup of tea, she says. She is barefoot and her gnarled, veiny feet plunge into beige shag carpeting. She wears a robe over a jogging suit. Her hair, which is usually pulled back and severe, hangs gray and long around her face. She has beautiful hair.

The teakettle goes off and the neighbor walks to the kitchen. Carolyn hears a cabinet door open and shut. The furniture is old but the house is decorated tastefully. For a moment Carolyn imagines they become best friends. She adopts Carolyn and takes her and the children in after they’ve lost everything. The neighbor calls from the kitchen: Guess you don’t mind what kind of tea I give you.

No, Carolyn says. I don’t mind. She thinks to herself, so fiercely it’s as though she’s said it aloud: I have no mother.

The neighbor, who Carolyn remembers is named Grace, walks back into the living room and hands her the tea. Carolyn realizes again the rawness of Carolyn. She smells bad.

She asks Grace if she has a husband.

She has.

Was he there now?

Grace shakes her head no.

Carolyn tries to remember if she’s ever seen a man in or around the house. The Solomons’ house is new construction and bigger than all the neighbors’ on the block. When the Solomons had first moved in they’d built a high fence between the properties. Carolyn asks if she could use the bathroom and she is led through the living room. On the walls are bright matte paintings of sunbursts and spheres. The house is immaculate. There is a stack of Christian Science Monitor‘s fanned out on the coffee table.

They date back twenty years or more.

In the bathroom, the door shut and locked behind her, Carolyn opens the medicine cabinet. Inside is an old bottle of Secret. She removes the cap and inhales. It brings back her mother, dead now two years. There is a prescription bottle of antibiotics, a bottle of aspirin. An ancient box of Alka-Seltzer.

Carolyn shuts the medicine cabinet and flushes the toilet. She washes her hands and brings a limp, gray bar of soap to her armpits. She swipes the bar under her arms.

Shall I watch the children when they come home? Grace asks her.

No, Carolyn says. Thank you.

* * * *

They sit together until her tea is finished. Carolyn uses Grace’s phone to call Marc’s cell phone. Every call goes straight to voice mail. She knows no one else’s number by heart. She thinks about calling her father. She thinks about calling Marc’s father, Yakov, and decides against it. Marc will be furious if she tells his father.

Carolyn stands up. Thank you, she says, and heads toward the front door. As Carolyn turns to say goodbye, Grace takes hold of both Carolyn’s hands, opening her palms. Grace’s hands are soft and warm.

What is not in your hands, she says, you don’t have. She unlocks the dead bolt and the chain. Everything will be all right, she says. Remember. There are no bad people in the world. Only dark and stupid forces. You’re a good person, Carolyn Solomon.

* * * *

Carolyn wanders through the rooms of her house. For the most part everything is unharmed. Only the clothing in the closets is askew. Boxes of outgrown clothing have been upended. Toys strewn through the children’s rooms. DVDs scattered.

They’d searched in the old iron baseboard heaters, tearing off the pieces on the ends and reaching in. Their fingers inched toward the cash, guns, and drugs they knew they’d find. If only they searched hard enough. In fact, in the end, none of it will matter and they could care less what was really found, or even if the allegations they’d made were true. What they wanted they had already: the contents of the bank accounts, some jewelry. A Rolex. The business accounts. Guilty or innocent, it didn’t matter. They had their money.

They’d found condoms and scattered them across the floor of Marc’s office.

While the police were there, nothing worse could happen to her. There was something paternal in their bullying tone. Now she sat with thoughts that were hard. She would have to sit alone until the children came.

They would come home on the bus and expect dinner to be made and require help with their homework. Carolyn would listen with cheerful impartiality to all their stories of friends and teachers, malevolent, benevolent, and otherwise. By bedtime they would wonder where their father had gone. He was always home by bedtime.

 

 

From WHAT TO DO ABOUT THE SOLOMONS.  Used with permission of Grove Atlantic. Copyright © 2017 by Bethany Ball.




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