“Now what in the hell do you think Snakes wants with that poor Bill Wolf?”
Kyle and his father exchanged familiar smiles as Patsy Harrison Grosen revved up the diatribe against her cousin. Cousin once or twice removed , or something like that. Kyle didn’t know how the relationship wove exactly. But he’d been weaned on stories about Snakes, known more widely as Powell H. Paulie, governor of the Great State of Illinois.
Snakes had not gained this familial nickname for the most obvious sounding reasons but because he’d carried a pair of dice upon his first visit to the far-removed relations in the south. He had been five, maybe not quite that, and knew how to shake the dice in his right hand and say “I want snakes, I want snakes,” as he rattled them.
Kyle didn’t misunderstand the unimportance of the connection to the man who rose from congressman to governor. “He doesn’t remember us, Honeybun,” Patsy had told her only child when he’d asked why her cousin never came to family reunions. He’d perhaps been ten when Powell Paulie began making big enough news that local talk about him revived. “At best Snakes remembers there were some distant relatives in a diminished past living down south.” In Kyle’s memory it was the first grown-up thing his mother had said to him, despite his equally strong memory of his chin in her hand as she told him this.
He’d grown to recognize, but not understand, how importance and unimportance were like two ends of a telescope. While the governor had little or no memory of his downstate connections, since running off to marry a Chicago man, Patsy Harrison’s grandmother’s sister had never fully dropped from the conversational circuits in Harrison or Haden counties. When the increasingly convoluted and risqué liaisons, marriages, divorces and elopements ultimately produced a governor, well how could the story help but grow?
“He doesn’t care shit from shineola about us,” Kyle told Shelby when she’d first confided in him that the governor was coming to her house.
“Well,” Shelby had said, annoyed that Kyle would – as usual – downplay the whole significance of it all. Act like he was something because he was related. “So what? So what that he doesn’t remember being five years old in good ole Harrison County. Would you want to remember getting dumped for the summer in a farm full of these inbred brats?” Shelby paused but couldn’t hold the pause for long before adding, “Present direct relations excluded, of course.”
“It has something to do with something,” Kyle had tried to explain the strange reverse telescope-thing. It was not the first time he had tried to engage her in conversations about how importance worked. He stopped when he realized she was becoming angrier.
“So what, Kyle? So what? The governor of the entire state is coming to my house to ask my dad to be lieutenant governor. Only you would want to ruin that for me.”
“And that is great for your dad,” Kyle said, knowing already that in his household that would not be the twist. “It’s just strange how that works. How he doesn’t even know about us and we know all about him. It’s symbolic or something.”
“Symbolism will get you nowhere in life,” Shelby snapped.
“Fact,” Kyle conceded.