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Fiction #346
(published September 6, 2007)
Persavich Twice Over
by Steven Gillis
He was, they said of Persavich, a good man to know. When he came on the scene things happened. He bought subprime securities before the market was hot, told everyone when to get in and when to get out, called the whole thing a trap door set, said trading on financially risky mortgages and credit card debt was fool's gold and sold high before the market imploded.

Oh, he was a clever fellow. Persavich owned properties in college towns, houses and apartments rented to students, adjuncts, visiting and tenured professors. He put cubicles and study carols, couches and computer stations into vacant stores, sold blank CDs for recording downloaded music. Students came and bought sweet rolls and coffee, found a place to nap and study. Persavich named his franchise Crash 'N Burn and quickly turned a profit.

Here he was then, Persavich stoutly framed, his features large as jam jars, his laugh like thunder. He was genuine and honest and best of all Persavich was kind. He believed in filial piety, took to heart what Vonnegut wrote and told all who cared to listen, "Ahh babies, we're here such a short while. Be good to one another."

Persavich kept an office on the ninth floor of the Chanze Building in downtown Renton where he wheeled and dealed away the hours. His wife, Lynda Gale, was a marketing analyst for Musina TransAtlantic, handling export sales for an energy consortium. They had two children, Tub and Bettie, both sweet round apples. When Persavich came to tuck his kiddies in at night his grin was near to bursting. On Tuesday Persavich had dinner with potential partners for the chain of bowling alley/laundromats he planned to develop. The night ran late, and rather than rush home after his pitch, knowing Tub and Bettie would be asleep and Lynda watching one of her shows, Persavich went to the bar and had a nightcap. "Cheers," he said and raised his glass to the three people seated across from him. "Here's to skiing long trails."

The woman had red hair, was formidable through the wrists and shoulders. "Cheers back at ya," she gave her glass a lift in turn. The two men wore matching blue shirts, their names threaded on breast pockets, above a Derelite Auto patch. Persavich changed stools, came closer to the others, signalled the bartender to, "Give these three another round of whatever they're having."

For an hour they sat and drank, the four of them like old friends as Persavich told and listened to stories. Here was the salt of the earth, Persavich believed, these good hearted people, working folk who came to unwind and extend the genuine fellowship between them. He imagined their days with envy, the camaraderie and ease, each in their prime and the world still as their oyster. Persavich bought another round, proposed another toast, said "Here's to what we have and then some," and drank merrily with his new pals.

At home he kissed his wife and checked his children. Feeling frisky still from the success of his meeting and his hour spent at the bar, Persavich undressed and came to bed. He nestled Lynda with black bear purrs, invited her to slide up on his giant chest and smooch him a hundred times over. Such a life, thought Persavich, as he fell asleep and dreamed of days much as they were. In the morning he came downstairs, weary-eyed and searching for coffee. He sat with his children, spoke with them as they ate bowls of honeyed wheat cereal before school. He checked the sports scores in the paper, read the stocks and business, turned to the front page headlines and scanned the pages within. On the cover of the Local News section was a photograph of a car demolished, the hood crushed and windshield shattered, the remains of a streetlamp bent and fallen onto the car's flattened roof. Persavich hated to read of such tragedies, did not treat with voyeuristic curiosity the misfortunes of others, felt sympathy for those who suffered and, in deference, then closed the paper.

He showered and dressed and drove to work. Music played on the radio and Persavich hummed along. When the news broke in, he waited for the weather. "Ahh me," he heard more about last night's crash, pulled over to gather himself. "How could this happen?" He repeated the question at his office, asked Mira to hold his calls, sat at his desk with the door closed and his head in his hands.

He phoned Lynda and told her, "It's all my fault." A big man like he could drink hard when he wanted. The risk never occurred to him. "Not once." He remembered the three from the bar, how they laughed and drank each round he ordered. "I shouldn't have," there was no convincing him otherwise. He went to Derelite Auto and spoke with the manager about the dead, asked for personal information, confessed as if in church. He attended the viewings and funerals, drove out and met with the families, explained everything and for everything blamed himself.

"If only," Persavich said to Lynda. "If only," he repeated to friends. What had happened to his good luck? Where was the favorable karma he supposedly had? The exposure was a harsh light. Persavich couldn't shake how bad he felt. To ease his conscience, he sent checks to the families, but the effort misfired, made him feel unexpectedly worse.

Lynda gave her husband time, waited to see if his mood would lift. When it didn't, she said, "What you need," then gathered the kids and arranged a trip. The first week of summer they boarded a plane, went to the mountains where they stayed in an enormous lodge. Everyone there came to relax, to hike and fish and breath the fresh air. Persavich felt the minor turbulence during their flight and was sure they were about to crash. He inspected their accommodations, warned the kids not to wander off on their own, to stay away from the woods and trails that ran too close to the mountains' edge.

The week passed without incident and Persavich was relieved. On the last night, he began feeling better. He went for a walk after dinner, held Lynda's hand while the children danced around them. "Here's the world," Persavich thought, "and all that's right with it." He felt fortunate again, his sense of luck returning until the flight home when Tub came down with a fever, and Bettie, too, by the time they landed.

"A minor virus," the doctor said, though it took longer than expected to bring their temperatures back to normal. During the days his children were laid up, Persavich worked from home. He made them soup and warmed their milk. The stillness and smells inside the halls foreshadowed a sense of loss. That week the market went down, the potential partners for his bowling alley/laundromat - Roll 'N Rinse - pulled out, while the number of maintenance and repair jobs at his properties suddenly doubled. "What can you do?" Lynda said, "These things happen. None of it's your fault. Things break. Kids get sick and people have accidents."

"Maybe so," Persavich felt weary. Tub and Bettie recovered and went back to day camp, while at his office Persavich tried immersing himself in new projects and proposals. He spent long hours reviewing his holdings, initiated negotiations with potential new partners for Roll 'N Rinse, checked the markets where he owned properties, gauged where to sell and where to buy. He planned another Crash 'N Burn in Chapel Hill and sent his hired associate, Mitch Farrell, to oversee construction.

Slowly the world seemed to settle into a more recognizable orbit, though Persavich was unsure. The market dipped a second time, then rose like a stubborn ship in a storm. Persavich maneuvered along the deck in slippery shoes. His expectations skittish, when he laughed his eyes looked hollow. The stories he told now lacked a center, his confidence misplaced. In pitching projects he spoke with hints of apology, said things like, "This deal, I think, maybe." Twice at night, on his way home from work, he stopped at the cemeteries where his pals from the bar were buried. He stood in front of each cool grey stone until a groundskeeper found him and said, "We're about to lock the gate, but you can come again tomorrow."

In the evenings he didn't arrive home with arms extended, came silently instead as if not wishing to disturb. When he asked Lynda, "How was your day?" he waited to be told the worst. Standing out back, watching his children in the yard, he grew nervous they'd cut themselves on thorny brush or fall and break an arm. The world was simpler before, welcoming and not complicated. Late at night, unable to sleep, he sat and watched tv. The programs on cable showed the world in violent form, animals eating one another, people as prey and hunter, crimes and chaos committed as a matter of course.

Mitch phoned from Chapel Hill and said dealing with sub-contractors and drawing permits for the new Crash 'N Burn was arduous, "But not to worry, Mr. P., everything's on schedule. I'll be back soon."

Persavich spent three days touring his properties in and around Renton. He made plans to meet with those managing his out-of-state interests, kept himself busy evaluating his portfolio, the asset-backed bonds he recently purchased and stocks in several overseas markets. Restless, he paced about, his heavy legs and broad belly set in motion like some massive freighter maneuvering through the hallways of his house. Tub and Bettie came for hugs and Persavich bent to sweep them up, held them hard against his chest until they squealed in earnest, "Daddy, daddy!"

Lynda pointed at chairs, told her husband to, "Sit. You're wearing a hole in the floor."

"Am I?" Persavich wondered. He went to his desk, again not able to sleep, his children in bed and Lynda less patient than before. He ran the numbers Mitch brought back from Chapel Hill, drew red circles around each expense. On Wednesday, Lynda left on business. Such trips were common and lasted a day or two. They had a nanny who helped after school and with the shopping and dinner, but mostly Persavich took charge. He missed his wife when she was gone, was never complaining or jealous and ignored at first how this time felt different. He cared for his kids, fed them and ran their baths, read to them and monitored the shows they watched on tv. In lulls he thought of Lynda going out to dinner with other men and what wine and distance could make happen. Such foolish concerns entered his head and Persavich chased them off. He repeated the process again and again until the mechanism wore down and he felt defeated.

The first night Lynda was gone, Persavich tossed and turned. He called her hotel twice and twice got no answer. The next morning, when she phoned and spoke with Tub and Bettie before they left for camp, Persavich asked, "So, how's everything?" He went back to their bedroom and searched the drawer where she kept her diaphragm, and finding the blue plastic box where it always was, suspected subterfuge and asked himself, "How hard could it be for her to buy another?"

Such a sorry spiral, Persavich felt himself skidding from bad to worse. He regretted at once his suspicion, knew it was not like him, and setting the box back in the drawer, went to the phone and left his wife a sweet long message. Lynda returned his call an hour later, while Persavich was at his office. "Darling," she said, her voice through the line cracked by static. "We're breaking up," she complained of bad reception, promised to catch the first flight out after the day's meetings.

Persavich spent the morning busy with his work. Diverting himself, he bought and sold, reviewed his cash flow and examined figures. At noon he met with the Eastside Renton Neighborhood Association which was battling the city over recent zoning changes. When he got back to the office Mira handed him his messages. A hapless stack. There was, it seemed, a shortage of capital in the account he set up to fund the new Crash 'N Burn in Chapel Hill. Two of the contractors were calling about their money. "I don't understand. Where's Mitch?" Persavich had Mira find him.

Such a day. The market took another dip. The maintenance company Persavich used for his residential properties called to say a small fire had started and there was damage. "Bad wires it looks like. These old houses." Persavich sat behind his desk. What another unfortunate turn of luck, all this. A third call came from Lynda. Her last meeting was set to run late and she couldn't get out until tomorrow. Oh she was sorry. "So sorry," she said. Ahh me. Persavich was tired and no longer knew what to think.

More on the list, too. The manager at the north side Crash 'N Burn sent word two students were found using a rear couch for something other than napping. A message from his broker questioning what appeared to be an unauthorized trade. The markets in Tokyo and London reported downslides only in spots where Persavich was invested. Such an ongoing string was too much. Persavich thought back to the night at the bar, when everything had changed. How sorry he was, truly so, but what could he do? He pictured the others at the end of the evening, how they sang to him, "For he's a jolly!" while walking to their car. It seemed unfair for things to go so quickly bad when he'd shown his remorse in spades. "What more can I do?" He asked again, and then decided.

He made three quick calls, had Mira get him the numbers and wrote down each address. This will work, he was convinced, and got back in his car. "Bull by the horns," Persavich said. If the universe felt oddly off, he would hoist her on his shoulders and resettle her on her axis. However much the world seemed different, surely he could fix it. What he intended was not a mere apology or the mailing of a check, but an ongoing cooperation. He pictured the families of the dead, the surviving spouses and children, all for whom he'd draw up a contract, create a legal partnership, open the city's first Roll 'N Rinse on his own and put the business in their names.

Here was a plan. Here was a personal investment. This was what the situation needed. Persavich again, could feel his luck returning. The universe was nothing if not self-mending, the course of all things regenerative. He drove with urgency, for the first time in weeks feeling lifted. He imagined Lynda flying home early, unable to stay away. He thought of Mitch and the logical explanation he'd have for the mix-up with the funds in Chapel Hill and the peculiar bit of trading. He saw his children, Tub and Bettie, and how sound a lesson this was, a demonstration of the best way to handle adversity, to meet it head on and be up to the challenge. A honk of the horn to underscore his point. What goes around and all of that. The world in perfect synchronicity. Persavich couldn't help but laugh at the absolute perfection as he gripped the wheel in his hands.

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