Last Will and Testament, by Murray Dunlap

You don’t know this, but I did every­thing in my pow­er to con­vince my father to change his cocka­mamie will.  I’m a lawyer for christ’s sake.

It’s hard­ly a rea­son­able doc­u­ment.  Most of us will end up with noth­ing.  Noth­ing!  After all those week­ends in a drafty cab­in in god­for­sak­en Bar­lo, sup­pos­ed­ly hunt­ing.  Of all the cov­er sto­ries, hunt­ing!  Eleanor made it all sound fair­ly legit­i­mate, but Ben­nett only hunt­ed when he worked him­self into an angry drunk.  And at that point it wasn’t hunt­ing.  It was killing.  Dad­dy would drink all day and then some­thing insignif­i­cant, a dropped glass or bro­ken ash­tray, would send him into a rage.  He’d grab his rifle and ride the four-wheel­er down the swamp road with a high beam spot­light.  He’d see a pair of eyes and fire that damn can­non of a rifle.  What was it? A sev­en mil­lime­ter Mauser.  A can­non is what it was.  I have tin­ni­tus just from stand­ing next to him.  Some­times he actu­al­ly killed a buck, but most times not.  Fawns, doe, wild boar, coy­ote; Ben­nett didn’t care.  The game war­den was on the dole so he didn’t care either.  They’d call up some poor black guy from the squatter’s camp and have him drag the kill ‑what­ev­er it hap­pened to be- back to the cab­in, skin it out, and butch­er the meat.  They’d pay him off, send him on his way, and then cel­e­brate the suc­cess­ful hunt with a bot­tle of whiskey.

Hunt­ing, my ass,” I said.

I did the best I could with what I had,” Eleanor said. “There wasn’t much.”

I was try­ing to tell the oth­ers about the will, but the mind wanders.

Get on with it, Wal­lace.” Ren pumped his fist. “For God’s sake!”

Shane took off his shirt and wrapped it around his head like a sheik’s head­dress.  He sat with crossed legs on the pines­traw and placed his hands, palm up, on his knees.  He closed his eyes and took deep, even breaths.  He’s always been some kind of an alter­na­tive freak.

This is church prop­er­ty Shane,” Celia said to her son. “Put your shirt back on.”

You were a strip­per,” Shane said. “Beside, a lit­tle medi­a­tion might be just the thing for this place.  Wal­rus here could use it.  Ren too.  Look at his face.”

This heat is oppres­sive,” Eleanor said. “I’m going back to New Orleans.  Even Kat­ri­na didn’t stir up this much shit.”

But I put up with it,” I con­tin­ued.  “I greased the wheels.  I played the role of son.  I bought an olive green goose feath­er jack­et and act­ed like I gave a damn.  I thought it would all pay off.  I thought Ben­nett would rec­og­nize my loy­al­ty and leave me a fair share of his wealth.  His wealth.  What a joke!  He inher­it­ed every pen­ny and spent more than he made.  Which is pret­ty damn greedy when you think about how much mon­ey he had to begin with.  How can you start with twelve and a half mil­lion dol­lars and end up with sev­en?  How can any­one spend so much, make so lit­tle, and then leave every­thing to chance?”

Ren’s face was as red as a par­ty bal­loon.  He pumped his fist, lev­eled his eyes, and growled, “Spit it out, Walrus.”

I gave Ren my look that says don’t you dare call me that but I knew I’d bet­ter move on.  Even I was antsy to get this out.

A game of craps!”  I said.  “That’s his idea of a will.  All sev­en mil­lion dol­lars will go to the wife or son who throws the best dice.  I think Geor­gia gets a boat, but oth­er than that, it’s all or noth­ing.  Win­ner take all.”

What about me,” Celia said, her eyes sud­den­ly clear and focused.

What are craps?” Joy asked.

You roll like the rest of us,” Wal­lace said to Celia.

And what boat? What does Geor­gia have to do with this?” Celia asked.

Craps!” Shane shout­ed. “Excel­lent.”

I could kill him,” Ren said, his jaw grinding.

Too late,” Shane said.

Bax­ter jogged in place, eyes dart­ing from broth­er to brother.

One game?” Ren asked. “One roll of the dice for sev­en mil­lion?  There are two wives, five chil­dren, and sev­en mil­lion dol­lars.  Why not an even split?”

Is this bath­room humor?”  Joy asked. “I’ve nev­er gone in for bath­room humor.”

Didn’t even con­sult me on the legal ease of the doc­u­ment,” I explained. “Went to some oth­er lawyer up in Birm­ing­ham.  Some Mr. Bridges so and so.  And it’s bul­let proof.  I can’t find any way out of it.  We meet tomor­row at the cour­t­house at noon.”

We’ll sue the will,” Celia said. “Can you sue a will?  Did you say five children?”

It’s per­fect,” Shane said. “It’s the trea­sury of desire.”

I think you’re behind this, Wal­rus,” Ren said. “I bet this is your doing.  I’m bring­ing my own dice.”

I gave him my look again, but what more can you do at your father’s funeral?

Good idea,” Shane said.  “If we all bring loaded dice, we’ll all win.”

Shut it, Bud­dha boy,” Ren shout­ed.  “This is serious.”

Geor­gia is his daugh­ter?” Celia asked.  She opened her purse and took out a med­i­cine bot­tle, tap­ping out two tablets and swal­low­ing them with­out water.

This is all too much,” Eleanor said.  “Call me when you come to town, Wallace.”

Mr. Bridges will have the table and dice at the cour­t­house.  Ben­nett made the arrange­ments.  We could con­test it, but we’d all have to agree.  And if we did, it could take for­ev­er.  Plus, the judges in this town might not budge.  They think shenani­gans like this are hys­ter­i­cal.  Alaba­ma.  What in God’s name am I doing here?  I should be over in New Orleans play­ing the real game.  I should use my con­sid­er­able intel­lect for some­thing oth­er than these small town, south­ern shenanigan.”

My broth­ers shout­ed and paced.  Celia whined.  Joy mumbled.

Then Bax­ter sud­den­ly stopped run­ning in place.  He care­ful­ly slipped off his shoes and unbuck­led his belt.  Then he unzipped.

We all stopped what we were doing.

Bax­ter removed his pants.  Under­neath, he wore nylon run­ning shorts.  He put his run­ning shoes back on, took off his but­ton down shirt, and removed his under­shirt.  He stood before us bare-chest­ed, zero-per­cent body fat, shaved head, and eyes full of tears.

Hon­ey,” Celia said. “Are you okay?”

Bax­ter wiped his eyes and very calm­ly began to run.

The Porter fam­i­ly, if you can call it that, stood in silence as Bax­ter ran down the Church dri­ve­way, past the fence, and onto the main road.  I decid­ed at that moment that if I won the dice game I’d leave Alaba­ma for­ev­er.  Even if I didn’t win, I had big plans brew­ing in New Orleans.

Let him go.” Shane said. “Run­ning is his meditation.”

We watched in silence until he was entire­ly out of sight.

Then we start­ed fight­ing again.

murraydunlap1Mur­ray Dunlap's work has appeared in about forty mag­a­zines and jour­nals. His sto­ries have been nom­i­nat­ed for the Push­cart Prize three times, as well as to Best New Amer­i­can Voic­es once, and his first book, "Alaba­ma," was a final­ist for the Mau­rice Prize in Fic­tion. He has a new book, a col­lec­tion of short sto­ries called "Bas­tard Blue," that was pub­lished by Press 53 on June 7th, 2011 (the three year anniver­sary of a car wreck that very near­ly killed him…). The extra­or­di­nary indi­vid­u­als Pam Hous­ton, Lau­ra Dave, Michael Knight, and Fred Ashe taught him the art of writing.

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