Must-read writing by Sarah Lawrence alumnae/i, faculty, and students. This issue: An excerpt from Matrimony, a novel by writing faculty member Joshua Henkin.
Matrimony follows Julian Wainwright, his wife, Mia, and his friend Carter Heinz through college and the trials of young adulthood. After college, Julian eschews his father’s wealth to pursue a writing career, while Carter founds an Internet startup called Signet, fulfills his dream of getting rich, then goes to law school. In this scene, Julian has travelled to San Francisco for Carter’s graduation, and as they prepare to part ways—Julian to the airport, Carter to a formal dance—they confront the tension that has colored their relationship from the beginning.
They left Julian’s suitcase at the front desk and walked down Telegraph Avenue past the crowds. At People’s Park, they stood outside the playground where Carter had played basketball with his law school buddies. The courts were unoccupied, but a ball lay on the far end beneath the basket.
“How about it?” Carter said. In college, he and Julian had played basketball together several times a week.
“Heinz, you’re wearing a tuxedo.”
Carter removed his tuxedo jacket and slung it over his back. “Now I’m not.”
Julian pointed to Carter’s pants.
“Those will have to stay on.” Carter spun the basketball on his index finger, then transferred it to the middle finger and the one after that, going from finger to finger, hand to hand. “If law doesn’t work out, there’s always the Harlem Globetrotters.” He made a couple of foul shots, then handed the ball to Julian, who did the same. Sweat stains blossomed across Carter’s tuxedo shirt. “Should we play one-on-one?”
Julian took the ball out first and drove to the basket, but his reverse layup missed, and Carter followed with a missed shot of his own. For the next few minutes they went back and forth like this, the score locked at zero.
“Have you ever seen such ineptitude?” Carter said. “We’ve got the score of a soccer game here.” But then Carter spun past Julian for a layup, and finally someone had scored a point.
They were thirty-one and they’d slowed down since college, but what they’d lost in speed and buoyancy they’d made up for in know-how. There was no shade on the courts, they were sweating immoderately, and when the ball came loose they both dove for it. On one missed shot, Carter slipped and fell on his rear, and now he had a dirt stain on the back of his tuxedo pants.
The score was tied at five, and at seven, and at eleven again. The first player to reach fifteen won. Julian would elude Carter and get an offensive rebound. He was a better jumper than Carter, quicker and lighter-footed, but Carter was stronger and he had a deadly outside shot.
Julian slapped the ground to encourage himself. Carter was breathing heavily. He kept wiping his brow with the back of his hand, and now some sweat had dripped onto the ball, which got away from him momentarily.
Carter backed in, using his strength, and he put up a little leaning jump shot that swished in.
“I need a drink,” Julian said, and he walked over to the water fountain.
When he returned, he made a cross-over dribble to the left. He was a step ahead of Carter, he was going in for a layup, and Carter, coming at him to block his shot, kneed him in the thigh.
“Fuck.” Julian lay on the ground, and when Carter bent over to help him up, he batted Carter’s hand away.
“I’m sorry,” Carter said.
“Jesus Christ, Heinz!”
Carter missed a jump shot from behind the three-point line, and when Julian fired off a shot of his own, it rolled around the inside of the rim like toilet-bowl cleaner before popping out.
Carter had fixed his tuxedo shirt to the fence, and now he was wearing only his black shoes and pants, which he’d rolled up past his knees. He looked like someone about to enter the water, as if he were going fly fishing.
It was game point and Carter muscled in on Julian, but instead of spinning around toward the basket as he usually did, he propelled himself backward, lofting a fall-away jump shot that sailed over Julian’s outstretched arms and went in.
“Game!” Carter was lying on the ground. “Call the paramedics. Hook me up to an oxygen tank.” His tied-up tuxedo shirt blew languidly in the breeze, the cuff links jangling against the fence. “Good one,” he said. “A couple of lucky rolls and it would have gone the other way.”
Julian nodded noncommittally. Already he could feel his thigh tightening up. He pictured the plane ride home, returning to Ann Arbor at two in the morning, back from his friend’s graduation with a charley horse.
A teenager shouted something from a passing car, but Julian couldn’t make it out. He looked at Carter still lying on the ground. “That guy from Signet?” he said. “The CEO? What was that supposed to mean, calling me a sugar daddy?”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“I’m just asking what he meant.”
“He wasn’t even talking about you.”
“Oh, really, Heinz? Do you know some other Wainwright?”
Carter put on his shirt. The tuxedo jacket, which he’d taken off before the game, was the one piece of clothing no worse for wear, and he put that on, too. He examined his reflection in the metal pole that held the backboard up. “Your father’s the other Wainwright, if you have to know. He’s the sugar daddy.”
“I talked to him at college graduation, and he said if I ever needed anything I should give him a call. So a few years later, when Signet was looking for investors, I sent him our brochure and our financial plan.”
“And he invested in you?”
Carter shook his head. “He saw us as novices, a bunch of kids. But he told me he liked me and wanted to help us out. He gave us a loan of a hundred thousand dollars.”
“And we paid back every penny of it, with interest. The fact is, he’d have done a lot better if he’d invested that money with us. By this point, he’d have made it back tenfold.”
Julian was looking at Carter, shaking his head.
“Wainwright, would you get off your fucking high horse? So I asked your father for help. Tell me you don’t do that every day.”
“Actually, I don’t.”
“Are you kidding me?”
“Do you realize how many times my father has offered to introduce me to a literary agent?”
“Your father knows nothing about literature.”
“Maybe not, but he’s a businessman, and I don’t have to tell you he’s well connected.”
“But you’re too high-minded to accept his offer.”
“It’s not a matter of being high-minded. It’s just that, if I succeed, I want to do it on my own.”
Carter laughed. “You’ve never done anything on your own. Your whole life has been one big loan from him.”
Julian looked at Carter levelly. “I’m past apologizing for who I am. Jesus, Heinz, would you finally get over me?”
“I was over you years ago,” Carter said.
Now it was Julian’s turn to laugh. Christmas of freshman year, when Carter visited him in New York, there had been an hour when Carter was alone in the apartment, and when Julian came home he caught Carter stepping out of his parent’s bedroom, where he’d been showering in their seven-nozzled shower. Who cares, Carter seemed to say, about a bunch of spigots, but Julian could tell, looking at Carter, that he’d never been so covetous of anything. Years later, when Carter and Pilar bought their home in Berkeley, Carter insisted on redoing the master bedroom. Seeing the bathroom for the first time (“It’s not even called a shower,” Carter told Julian proudly; “‘wet room’ is the term of art.”), Julian understood that Carter had renovated because of him, that so much of what he’d done in the years since college he’d done because of Julian. No, Julian thought, Carter hadn’t gotten over him and, he suspected, he never would.
Joshua Henkin has taught writing at SLC since 2000. He’s the author of the novel Swimming Across the Hudson, and his short stories, essays, and reviews have appeared in many journals and newspapers. Matrimony was a Book Sense selection, a Borders Original Voices pick, and a 2007 New York Times Notable Book of the Year.
Excerpted from MATRIMONY by Joshua Henkin © 2007. Reprinted with permission by Pantheon Books, a division of Random House, Inc.