Home Stories Easy Lay by Cary Barney

Easy Lay by Cary Barney


A woman attends the funeral of her former best friend, having fallen out with her forty years ago because of her brother’s bad behaviour.

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On a cold, clear November night in a cabin on a marijuana farm in eastern Colorado an aging propane heater malfunctioned, and Tracy, her current partner, and their dogs died in their sleep from carbon monoxide poisoning. They were discovered the next day by a couple of transient kids who’d been working for them. “She went peacefully,” Lena told her college friend Deb over the phone from her bakery in Annapolis. Tracy’s body was on its way back to her conservative Irish Catholic family in Massachusetts. Funeral home visiting hours would be the following Tuesday. “But I totally understand if you don’t want to go,” said Lena.

Deb thanked her and said she’d think about it, then ended the call. She sat back in her office chair at the nurses’ station and asked herself, well, why should I go? Then, on the other hand, why shouldn’t I?

Her hip was one reason. It was due to be replaced in a month, but in the meantime they’d taken her off the floor and stuck her behind a desk filling out schedules and counting meds. She was living on Ibuprofen and gimping about on crutches. A four and a half hour drive down from Bangor would be very uncomfortable, unless she could convince Walt to drive. And Tracy hadn’t been his friend, only hers. And not really hers anymore.

But they’d been best friends, from their first day as freshman roommates. At the end of sophomore year they’d moved off campus along with Lena, renting a rickety old house in the woods with a shifting population of students, failed students, never-students, assorted boyfriends, girlfriends and hangers-on. They were a generation late for authentic hippiedom, but there was always weed and the Dead played frequently. They’d all stayed in the house for a year after graduating, and even after Deb went off to nursing school and Tracy out west on the first of many motorcycles with the first of many biker boyfriends, they thought they would be best friends for life. But they hadn’t seen each other more than half a dozen times since then, most recently seven years ago now.

Deb closed her eyes and saw Tracy as she’d looked when she and Sid, her squat, grinning, bearded lump of a boyfriend, had rolled into Bangor on their way to Nova Scotia on their Harleys, meaning to stay a couple of nights at the house. “You look great,” Deb had said, but Tracy was alarmingly bony beneath her voluminous leather, reeked of smoke and oil, and wasn’t taking care of her teeth. Her flaming red hair was now a thick, dirty white braid from her helmet to her waist. Her green eyes, set in a face more freckles than not, took in Deb’s no-nonsense buzz cut with great amusement. As she riffled her hand over the stubble she let loose a loud, gleeful cackle. At least she wasn’t laughing at the weight Deb had put on.

Walt had never met Tracy, only heard about her, but Deb could tell within seconds that he didn’t care for her or Sid. He didn’t say anything, of course, letting Deb enjoy the company of her friend, only asking, when Tracy started to roll an after dinner spliff, that she take it outside, far enough away so that the boys upstairs in bed wouldn’t smell it. He stayed behind as the others walked the dirt road through the moonlit woods, Tracy and Sid passing the joint. Deb politely waved it away.

“How did you end up with someone like Walt?”

Deb weighed her words. Finally she said, “I didn’t end up with someone like Walt. I ended up with Walt. And he’s the best thing that could have happened to me.” She related how they’d met at a flea market shortly after she’d moved to the area, then married after the corniest of courtships and had the two boys in quick succession. They attended a Unitarian church, went to county fairs and Fourth of July parades, rarely drank and were always in bed by eleven. “I needed that kind of stability in my life,” she said.

“To each their own,” said Tracy with a shrug.

“You probably think I’m no fun anymore.”

“You’d never know it, but she used to be,” Tracy told Sid. “My parents blamed Deb for corrupting me.” Tracy regaled Sid with their exploits, how they’d peed in snowdrifts outside their freshman dorm when they forgot their keys, spent wine-fueled evenings talking about sex, kidnapped their English teacher’s Afghan and returned it with cornrows, invaded the library cubicle of timid Seth Lamott, who fled flustered when they flashed him their boobs.

“Deb probably saved my life,” said Tracy, and told Sid how Deb had driven her to the abortion clinic and stayed holding her hand the whole time.

“Hell of a place for a nice Catholic girl like you,” Deb said.

“I still am, in my own way.” Deb had noticed the prominent Celtic cross decal on Tracy’s helmet, amidst skulls, roses and Owlsley bears.

Deb smiled at the memories and reached her hand out for the joint. “What the hell,” she said, “for old times’ sake.” It was like getting back on a bicycle, drawing the smoke in deeply, holding it as long as she could, letting it out slowly, feeling the sweet buzz. She took another toke and they soon found the loose laughter they’d once shared. They put their arms over each other’s shoulders and Deb felt the old familiar the coat-hanger-in-the-mouth grin pulling at her cheeks. She didn’t need any more of the weed and let Tracy and Sid smoke it down. They joked and laughed, Tracy and Sid regaling Deb with tales of the road. Then Deb asked, as casually as possible, “What’s your brother up to?”

Over the years Deb had followed Gerry’s progress when Tracy had mentioned him in passing. He’d gotten into a large midwestern Jesuit university on a basketball scholarship, had an undistinguished NCAA career, been injury prone and never a professional draft prospect. He’d gone on to study law in Chicago, where he’d stayed and eventually passed the bar and been recruited by a prominent law firm.

Mid-toke now, Tracy couldn’t hold her laughter. “You’d never believe what a tool Gerry’s turned into.” He’d made senior partner, gotten rich lawyering and lobbying for agribusiness and petrochemical companies, and was a major contributor to conservative PACs. Deb smiled at the gleeful disdain in Tracy’s voice as she mocked his parroting of what sounded like Heritage Society talking points. “And my sister in law is a real fucking bitch,” Tracy said. “She thinks I’m a bad influence on their kids.” Again she let loose that loud cackle.

Suddenly the moment seemed right. Maybe it wouldn’t matter now, so many years after the fact. “Hey, Tracy,” Deb said with a chuckle, “wanna know what really happened that time he visited?”

As a high school senior on spring break, Gerry had driven up to visit his sister in the creaky house and stayed a few days of bong hits, Tequila and badly strummed guitars. “Meet my little brother the jock,” Tracy announced when he arrived, holding him close for a nuzzle and a noogie. Partying, he nodded and grinned along to the Dead like everyone else and said his hero Bill Walton, who had played his final two seasons with the Celtics, was a Deadhead too. Then he helped Deb to her room when she was too shitfaced to climb the stairs by herself, staying as if to make sure she was okay. Such chivalry. When she came to, her cutoff jeans were off, her t-shirt was pushed up above her boobs, and he was on her and in her. It took a long blurry minute for Deb to realize what was going on. Had she encouraged him? She was between boyfriends, after all. But her best friend’s brother? She wasn’t attracted to him, with his gawky frame, acne scars, vacant gaze. She sobered up quickly and saw his eyes open wide with panic as he realized she wasn’t unconscious anymore. She tried to push him off but he was too far into the act. He clamped a hand over her mouth, made a few final thrusts and came with a grunt. When he pulled out and rolled away he grinned sheepishly and looked for complicity in her eyes. She turned her head away and quietly said, “Get out.”

She was a long time in the shower. Though she was on the pill she washed herself out as thoroughly as she could. She felt sobs and screams rising within her but choked them down to whimpers that couldn’t be heard under the falling water.

Lena made pancakes for breakfast and everyone sat around the table gobbling them down. All traded knowing smiles, looking back and forth between Deb and Gerry, who were at far ends from each other. Gerry blushed and grinned and looked at his feet. Deb stared out the window, then excused herself to the bathroom, where she threw up the pancakes. She might have thrown them up anyhow, she told herself, with all she’d drunk the night before.

Later they all walked a mile and a half through the woods to a swimming hole where the creek widened between shelves of rock. Deb sat under a tree, unable to bring herself to strip down and jump into the frigid water with the others. Gerry kept his clothes on too and sat next to her.

“Hey,” he said.

“You fucking asshole,” she hissed.

He was silent, stricken. Finally he said, “Don’t…”

“I won’t say anything to Tracy if you leave today and don’t come back.”

He told Tracy he’d forgotten he had a shift at the restaurant in Boston that night and ran back toward the house. Tracy threw a comical pout in Deb’s direction. Gerry’s car was gone by the time they got back. That evening they sprawled on the grass passing a joint back and forth. “Hey, cradle robber,” said Tracy. “I think you might have had my brother’s cherry.”

“I doubt it,” said Deb, imagining Gerry gang-banging cheerleaders with his basketball teammates. She took a deep drag on the joint. “It will never happen again.”

Tracy said, “I understand. Wouldn’t want anything to complicate our friendship.”

“Me neither,” said Deb, and meant it. Tracy reached over and took her hand.

Later, on an emergency beer run, Deb told Lena to pull over and stop the car. There on the shoulder she told her everything.

“You should have screamed. You should have woken us all up,” Lena said. “Why didn’t you?”

“I don’t know,” said Deb.

Lena started the car again. “I’m taking you to the police.”

Deb stopped the engine and pulled the key out of the ignition. “I told you. I’m not telling anyone else. And you’re not going to either. Promise.”

“You have to tell the police.”

“Why would they believe me?” She gazed blankly out the passenger window. “I’m not even sure I believe myself.”

“I believe you.”

“He’ll say I started it.”

“His hand was over your mouth.”

“I know, I know…”

“So why are you protecting him?”

Deb was silent for a moment, staring at the dark forest outside the window and twisting her fingers into knots in her lap.

“Tracy would never forgive me. You hear how she brags about him? All those college scouts watching his game?”

“If it ruins his chances, he did it to himself.”

“Maybe it wouldn’t ruin his chances.”

“Oh, so in that case why bother, huh?”

“Tracy’s my best friend.”

“What kind of friends are you if you can’t tell her?”

“What kind of friends would we be if I did?”

They rode back in silence. Pulling up to the house they realized they’d forgotten the beer.

“Whoa,” said Sid. Deb was immediately sorry she’d brought it up. Tracy was silent. Then she stopped walking and turned to face Deb.

“You’re talking about my brother.”

“Well, yeah.”

“He would never have done that.”

“I’m sorry, Tracy, but he did.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“Why would I make this up?”

“Why didn’t you tell me then?”

“Because you wouldn’t have believed me.”

“Yeah, you’re right, and I still don’t.”

“Okay, forget about it.”

“Now I’m supposed to forget you called my brother a rapist?”

“I didn’t exactly call him that. But yeah.”

They walked on, arms no longer over each other’s shoulders. Then Tracy said, quietly, “Fuck you, Deb.”

“Whoa,” said Sid again.

“I was unconscious, Tracy.”

“Bullshit. You always were an easy lay.”

“Well, this,” Deb stammered, “what you’re doing now… this is why I never said anything.”

Tracy and Sid took off on their bikes that night without saying goodbye to Walt. Deb knew she would never hear from her again.

“Not much of a friend, is she,” said Walt the next morning.

Deb almost let this pass, but finally said, “It’s not her fault.”

Other, more local friendships had moved to the forefront of Deb’s life, hospital colleagues, parents of her sons’ friends, members of the Unitarian congregation. But the loss still stung. After the phone call from Lena she thought about writing something in the condolences section of the funeral home website. Maybe something with a hidden message for Gerry. But no. It wouldn’t be enough.

Walt was doing the dishes, letting Deb stay off her feet. “You’re gonna drive all that way with your hip?”

“You could come.”

Walt and his crew had backorders of canoes and kayaks to build. “Besides, I’d punch the guy out,” he said.

“I wouldn’t stop you.”

“You’ll just go up and take his hand and say you’re sorry for his loss?”

“Maybe I can avoid him,” she said, though she had no such intention. “He’ll sure as hell avoid me, if he recognizes me.”

Walt shook his head. “Don’t go.”

“It’s not going to trigger anything, Walt. It was four decades ago.”

“I still don’t understand why you never spoke up.”

“If he’s ever nominated to the Supreme Court, maybe then I will.”

“For all the good it would do.”

She called her supervisor at the hospital and said she’d be using one of her leftover vacation days. She’d have needed two for the funeral and burial the next day, but she wouldn’t be welcome there anyhow. One sharp jab of pain in her hip made her wince as she settled in behind the wheel of the Nissan, but the Ibuprofen would kick in soon. All the way down I-95 she listened to a Grateful Dead playlist in Tracy’s honor, though she’d always secretly found them monotonous. They became background noise as she went over, first in her head and then aloud, the speech she was planning to give.

She pulled the Nissan into the parking lot behind the funeral home, grabbed her crutches from the back seat and made her way toward the entrance. The marble foyer was a solemnized version of an airport arrivals lounge, with digital screens directing mourners to the many parlors. She found Tracy’s name and made her way down a hushed corridor, past groups there for other deaths, to the parlor marked “Devlin.” She reminded herself again of her aim: not to create a scene or disrupt the proceedings, but to cause just the right amount of discomfort in one specific person and then go. She hoped she’d be able to leave it at that. She took a deep breath and stepped through the doorway.

Lena had called again to say she wouldn’t be able to make it, leaving Deb on her own to face a sea of people she hadn’t or had only barely known. Loud honking Boston accents washed over her, guffaws of laughter and muffled sobs punctuating the murmur of it’s-such-a-shock and words-cannot-express. The large Devlin clan had turned out, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, and probably lots of neighbors and school friends as well. Everywhere she looked there were boxes of Kleenex. Deb immediately spotted Gerry, half a foot taller than anyone else if slightly stooped now and balding. He was at the far end of the room, back turned, in conversation with two elderly women Deb supposed were aunts. She’d get to him later.

Tracy’s parents sat in an alcove surrounded by floral tributes, Maureen on a dark blue crushed velour armchair holding the hand of Eugene, parked next to her in a wheelchair. Deb wanted to give them her condolences but reluctantly kept her distance in case Tracy had told them anything. But she had to look. Eugene had the oblivious look of Alzheimer patients Deb had dealt with. One of Tracy’s sisters stood next to him, held a Kleenex to his nose and quietly said “Blow.” Deb remembered his boisterous humor and habit of answering “You bet your bippy!” to almost any question. She wanted to kneel by his wheelchair, take his hand, ask if he remembered her. He probably wouldn’t have, but Maureen might have or pretended to, just as she’d once pretended to like her and Tracy’s other bra-less, presumably slutty friends. These were moments of warmth Gerry had deprived her of, as he’d deprived her of Tracy, and she felt anger rising. Keep it cool and get this over with, she told herself. She scanned the room again. Gerry was in the same spot but talking now to a priest. She’d keep track of his whereabouts and wait for the right moment.

Meanwhile she’d see Tracy. When Deb parted the curtain and entered the viewing room, what lay behind the pane of glass, encased in a silk-cushioned mahogany box with flowers all around, looked only a little like her old friend. The family had emphatically reclaimed her, laid her out in a long green dress with a lace collar and a rosary in her hands, rather than the spliff Deb knew she would have wanted. She gazed at the beautified corpse and felt no tears welling up. “I’ve been dead to you for years,” she said, “so this is nothing new, is it.”

The curtain parted again and in walked Sid. Deb stared incredulously. She’d assumed he was the nameless partner who had died with Tracy. Guess not. He looked the same, squat and pony-tailed, in neat black jeans, leather and boots, skinny black tie, biker funeral attire. He paid Deb no attention and stood with nose and hands pressed to the glass, weeping openly. She stepped closer and propped a crutch against the wall to put the other hand on his shoulder. He didn’t look around. Deb waited for his sobs to subside.


It took him a moment to recognize her. Then he said, “Whoa.”

“You probably didn’t expect to see me here.”


“We didn’t part on the best of terms, I know, but I wanted to say goodbye. Not that she can hear me now.”

“Maybe she can.” He told Deb he’d ridden nonstop from South Dakota to be here. “Yeah, we parted ways, took different roads, but I still loved this lady,” he said, sadly shaking his head. He went off on a reverie about everything she’d meant to him, how he’d found with Tracy something he’d never found with anyone else. “If she’d stayed with me, maybe she’d still be alive. Or maybe she would have died some other way. Maybe the two of us together. But death isn’t the end. It’s a transformation. The spirit evolves to another level. The road goes on. Tracy believed that.”

“That’s beautiful, Sid. I hope it’s true.” She turned again to gaze at Tracy, whose face radiated the false tranquility of the dead. “She ever say anything about me, Sid?”

He thought, then shook his head. “Not that I can remember.”

“You mean, not that you want to repeat.”

He grinned. “She had a mouth on her, you know that.”

“She ever say she was sorry?”

Sid looked around, searching for a way out of this. Then he said, “No.”

Deb sighed. “Oh well.”

Sid lowered his voice. “Between you and me, though, from the way you told it, I believed you.”


“And maybe she did too but she’d never say so. Family, you know?”

She wanted to give him a hug. Damn crutches.

Out in the parlor, Deb checked once again on Gerry’s location. By their body language, the conservatively dressed woman who stood with him was probably his wife. When the uncle they were talking to moved off Gerry and the woman had a few words – yes, definitely married – after which Gerry looked around. His gaze went right past Deb without stopping. Another couple came up to them, shook hands, hugged, and went into the condolences routine. Deb would still have to wait. To do what, say what? The speech she’d practiced over and over in the car was suddenly gone. Maybe she should be too.

Then Gerry’s wife was coming directly toward her. She passed by with the same curt nod she was giving everyone and headed into the ladies’ room. After a moment Deb followed her. Well, she had a reason. The pain in her hip was returning, so she quickly downed an ibuprofen with a cupped handful of tap water while eying the closed door of the stall behind her in the mirror. The flush came, the door opened, and Gerry’s wife stood at the basin next to Deb to wash up and check her makeup and hair.

“Hi,” said Deb impulsively. “I’m an old college friend of Tracy’s.”

“Nice of you to come.”

Deb took in the elegant pencil skirt and blouse and expensively styled hair. Another lawyer, she wagered. But she’d be out the door in a second if Deb didn’t detain her. “Tracy was one of a kind.”

“That she was.”

“I can’t believe this has happened. It’s such a shock.”

“I’m not surprised,” the woman said. “You move in those circles, opt for a wild life with no responsibilities, these things happen. She never grew up.”

Deb remembered what Tracy had said about this woman and felt it served Gerry right to be married to her. She suddenly felt protective of Tracy. “Maybe she was happy.”

“Who’s happy now?”

“Maybe she’s happy wherever she is. We’d all like to think so.”

“I’m sorry she’s gone, but she caused a lot of pain in this family. To my husband in particular. She said things, made accusations we could never forgive.” And with that she turned and left. Deb wanted to follow and ask, what things, what accusations? Had Tracy believed her after all? But she wouldn’t get any more out of Gerry’s wife and resigned herself to never knowing.

She returned to mill amongst the mourners, introducing herself and repeating the same such a shock line, all the while keeping an eye on Gerry. Then suddenly he was striding straight toward her. She had her smile ready, having practiced it in the car, and he smiled back but walked right past her. Either you don’t recognize me, she thought, or you’re pretending not to.

“Sean, my man,” Gerry called out. He and Sean, a tall, beefy three-piece suiter, thumped each other on the back.

“Good to see you, Gerr,” said Sean. Deb had been idly conversing with Maura, one of Tracy’s high school field hockey friends, also a nurse, but was now more attentive to the two men behind her talking lives, wives, grown children, careers. Gerry and Monica had just bought a third home in the Virgin Islands, oldest daughter just married, youngest a junior at Notre Dame. Both his and Sean’s kids had taken after their fathers and played basketball.

“Such a shame about Tracy,” said Sean. Gerry nodded and abruptly let out a muffled sob. Maura paused, then continued chatting as if listening in were impolite. Deb nodded and uh-huh-ed in feigned response but had already tuned her out completely and was trying to catch the words coming out of Gerry’s mouth. If only he’d been able to patch things up with her, was the gist of it. Now it was too late.

“What was the matter?” Sean asked, his arm over Gerry’s shoulder.

“Oh, she thought I was evil. That’s what she said. I took it as a joke but she was serious.”

Deb caught her breath.

“Evil? You?”

“She said I’d gone over to the dark side. Can you imagine that?”


“This patent case we were handling for Monsanto. GMO marijuana. She thought they’d come up with better weed and force small farmers like her to buy the seeds. Put them all out of business.”

“Some business she was in.”

“That’s what she said about me. No family loyalty, she said.”

“Aw, Gerr. That must have hurt wicked bad.”

Gerry sighed. “Tell ya, Sean,” he said, “law sucks sometimes.” Sean resignedly nodded along with him. Then Gerry shrugged and continued. “Just not most of the time.”

Oh well, thought Deb, so much for that.

When Gerry and Sean wrapped things up another blubbering old aunt got to him first. Deb waited patiently and went over her lines. Gerry looked over his aunt’s shoulder and obviously saw Deb, or whoever he thought she was. The aunt moved off and Deb stepped up.

“I’m so sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you.”

“She was an amazing person.”

“You can say that again.”

Not a glimmer of recognition. “I was a friend of hers. In college.”

“Oh, she told me all about those days.”

Go for it. “We lived together. In a big old house.”

“I remember that place. I was there once. And you’re?”


“Deb.” He cocked his head, trying to recall the name or look like it.

“You remember.”

“Yeah, I do.” He smiled. “Nice to see you again, Deb.”

“Is it?”

He was at a loss for words. Deb went on, quietly and calmly.

“I mean, I don’t look the way I used to. I’m fat, I cut off my hair, I walk around on crutches. You wouldn’t want to fuck me now, would you, even if I were passed out drunk.”

He stood there frozen, but quickly recovered. “We remember things differently.”

“I’m sure you do.”

“This isn’t the time or the place.”

“I know, but it’s my only opportunity.”

“Hope you enjoyed it.”

“Enjoyed what? This, or that?”

Gerry narrowed his eyes. “It was consensual and you know it.”

Deb had somehow known how he’d reply. “That’s what you would have said in court,” she continued drily, “and over the years maybe you’ve made yourself believe it, you piece of shit.”

He’d had enough. “I don’t know who you are or why you came here, but out of respect for the family and the occasion, and especially for Tracy, I think you should leave.” He strode away, swallowed up again by the crowd of well-wishers.

Deb was leaving anyhow. She could follow him and finish what she had to say, but words would never be enough now.

She sits in the falling dark in the Nissan, which she’s backed into a spot at the far corner of the parking lot. If you look hard you can see she’s there, low in the seat, watching, but most of the cars are up at the other end, closer to the building, better lit. She waits. She knows he must come out soon. When he does, she turns the ignition, slams the car into gear, burns some rubber. The squeal of the tires turns his head and he looks just as her headlights close in on him. Through the open window she screams: This is for taking away my best friend. She hits him, throwing his body to the asphalt, backs up, revs it again, runs him over, backs up again, runs him over again.

Any moment now.

Sid rides off on his Harley. A van pulls up, lowers its ramp, orderlies roll Eugene’s wheelchair into it, then take him away. Guests, couples, families come out, climb into vehicles, drive off.

Any moment now.

When Gerry comes out it’s with his mother, wife, daughters, brothers and sisters, in-laws. She could plow into them all, of course. Already she sees the headline in the Globe: “Family Slaughtered in Freak Parking Lot Tragedy at Funeral Home. Maine Woman Held.” At her trial Lena and Walt might tell what they knew, but the jury wouldn’t buy it.

They scatter to different cars and Deb watches them all drive away.

Has she waited here two hours for nothing? Would she have done it if he’d come out alone and she’d had a clear shot? She starts to laugh. Maybe it’s better not to know. Maybe it’s enough to know she could have and wanted to. Not a comforting thing to know about herself, but so what.

She starts the engine and heads out toward I-95 and the long drive home through the dark, to Walt, her boys, her new hip, her life. Flurries dance in her headlights as she crosses the bridge into Maine. Heavier snow is moving up the eastern seaboard, first big storm of the season. She’ll outrun it.


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