Uncle Ted

I remember his Buick convertible,
maroon and softly rounded,
chrome polished down to the portholes,
four big ones on each front fender,
and even though I was only a kid,
he’d park out by the street
whenever he came to visit
and let me pull it up
in the drive near the door when he left.

It was me in that leather front seat.
It was me behind the wheel.

Then he’d walk out the door with Aunt Rhonda,
red-headed Rhonda in diamonds and mink,
and he’d tip me a quarter.

Rhonda was his third wife, as I recall.
She smoked Kents and drank Manhattans.
Ted drank CC on the rocks.
He’d owned a railroad once.
“Just a little one somewhere up north,”
he’d say with a laugh.  And sometimes
when he and Dad would get to talking,
say on Christmas Eve,
I’d sit on the bottom stair in my pajamas
till almost midnight
hearing Ted tell about an eye
for opportunity and the killer instinct,
both of which you needed, he said
to make it big.  You could develop one,
but the other you had to be born with,
and Ted knew he had both.

My father never said much,
just filled the glasses.
My mother emptied the ashtrays.
Aunt Rhonda didn’t do much
except smoke her Kents. 
Next morning I’d find the butts
tossed out in the trash.
Even they seemed somehow important,
smudged with streaks of bright red lipstick,
each one crushed out
with the same downward twist.

Bigshot-itis, my mother called it,
and she hoped it wasn’t contagious
and didn’t run in the family.

To be honest, I still don’t know.
It might have been someone else’s father,
someone else’s Uncle Ted,
but I know he blew his brains out with a shotgun
one night when I was in college,
all over the walls and furniture
of his downtown apartment,
and his brother, my dad or a friend’s dad,
had to go clean it up.

I imagine him there with his bucket
and sponge and Mister Clean,
as he studied the blood-soaked walls,
the fleshy tufts of hair blown into the sofa,
wondering where to begin
and how much finally
he would ever be able
to wash away.

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