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Lapham RisingA Novel
By Roger Rosenblatt
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Roger Rosenblatt
All right reserved.
Bang bang bang bang bang. I start to flip out of bed, forgetting that Hector is beside me. I roll over on top of him. He bites my ear. I attempt to bite his. Another perfect summer day begins in the Hamptons.
"Goddammit it, Hector!" I slap on a bandage, grab my clothes, and head outside.
"Taketh not the Lord's name in vain," he says, then flattens himself, tail and all, and returns to sleep. Nothing on earth is snootier than a West Highland white terrier, especially a pious one. The Westie in question happens to be a born-again evangelical.
I shamble off my porch toward the beach. Oh, what can that banging be? I do not need to ask as the overtime Mexicans detonate their salsa radios and continue the erection of the House of Lapham across the creek. Outer walls, inner walls, pool-house walls, gazebo walls, atrium, aquarium, arboretum, auditorium walls. Up up up. Bang bang bang. Ole.
"And what does Mr. Lapham require today?" I call over the water to Dave the contractor and his band of merry noisemakers. When I wish to communicate with them, I employ a cardboard megaphone purchased for that purpose at a junk shop in Eastport. Originally it was used for Harvard crew races in thelate 1920s; a white H on a crimson horn. When the men wish to communicate with me, they use a bullhorn. These exchanges constitute most of my social life.
"Senor Moment!" cries one of the carpenters, always happy to see me for purposes of derision. They call me Senor Moment -- "senior moment" -- which I kind of like.
"One more floor," Dave says. He shrugs apologetically. "I don't get it either. But that's what he wants: four floors."
"Because no one else has more than three," I suggest.
Dave is too tactful to agree. "Sorry for the disruption, Harry. But we're coming to the end."
"You have no idea." That I mutter.
My name is Harry March. I am the last and least of three generations of Marches who have lived year-round on this private and once-tranquil island in once-tranquil Quogue. The first two generations, teachers and doctors, were spared rude awakenings. They reared strong and handsome families in this house, which too was strong and handsome once, as was its current resident. (You'll have to take my word for that.) Now the old place molts shingles and its shutters tilt into commas and apostrophes. The effort that some people expend to achieve the distressed look in their homes is unnecessary here. Bang bang bang bang bang.
"I bet you'll make a novel out of all this," says Dave. He wants me to start writing again.
"What should I call it, Lapham Rising?"
"You can do better than that." He smiles.
"Not these days."
It is 5:45 A.M. on my island. If there were justice in the universe at this hour, if there were justice on the East End of Long Island at this hour, I would be alone with the egrets and the cormorants drilling the water in their birdy silence. I would be alone with the tides and the swales of the dunes, also silent, and with the pines speckled by splashes of early sunlight, and with the line traced on the sea by a distant ketch -- all silent. I would be alone with the oversexed ducks flying above me in their crazy syntax, and with the streaks of the reluctantly awakening red sky (sailors take warning), silent as well.
But the House of Lapham requires four floors. The House of Lapham requires a movie theater. The House of Lapham requires a state-of-the-art kitchen and a state-of-the-art toilet and a sundeck and a moon deck and a hot tub. Gaah. The House of Lapham requires a master bedroom with a view to die for.
Of course, the view they will die for -- Mr. and Mrs. Lapham propped up in their cherrywood sleigh bed, their heads resting against an Alp of fluffed goose-down pillows wrapped in white cases, further supported by yet more pillows encased in white shams, their safely tanned legs stretched out beneath white sheets and a white duvet in their bedroom for the master -- is me. Out their Andersen triple-pane picture window they will peer, only to see Harry March on his barren island in his shapeless house, sans air conditioners, sans Belgian tiles, sans everything but life, cracked as it is. The Laphams will die for the view of the one watching them hoping that they will die for the view of the one who likewise has them as a view to die for.
Bang bang bang bang bang. Do not concern yourself. I am not barking yet. Not yet. Hector does the barking around here. Religiously.
"Hombres!" I cry to the carpenters. "Good news! I've called the INS. Soon you'll be able to ditch your girlfriends and go home to your wives and their mothers!"
They laugh, as they do every morning. "The INS eesn't up yet, Senor March." They laugh some more. When Latins speak English with that comic lilt, they sound as if they're making fun of the language. They probably are.
"These early starts weren't my idea," Dave says. "He's pushing us, and he's paying for it."
"Lapham," I say, my voice as festive as an autopsy.
"Lapham," he confirms with a sigh. "Ten months is no time at all for a job this big."
"Ten months?" I spread open my arms in mock wonderment. "Has it been only ten months?"
Dave's a good guy. I have known him for some ten years. Local, in his forties; his people once worked as housemaids and chauffeurs for families whose fortunes have long since been dissipated and whose scions, half drunk and half dressed, now shuffle around the Hamptons villages in bedroom slippers, calling to one another in loud, patrician voices absent of gender. When employed, they curate the local whaling museum; the local scrimshaw . . .
Excerpted from Lapham Rising by Roger Rosenblatt Copyright © 2006 by Roger Rosenblatt. Excerpted by permission.
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