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The Wentworths

They're standing in a police station somewhere in Los Feliz. It's three in the morning, cold and hostile. The fluorescent lights buzz. The guard on duty scribbles in a logbook and drinks his coffee. No one speaks. The mother clutches the father's arm; the oldest son stands off to the right with his arms folded across his chest. The daughter leans in close to her mother while the son-in-law stands behind, patting his wife's shoulder, wishing she would lean on him for support once in awhile. Judith and August Wentworth. Conrad Wentworth. Becky Wentworth-Jones. Paul Jones. Yes, WENTWORTH Wentworth. August is wearing a tie; Judith has on heels and one of her many elegant suits. Neither shows a hint of emotion. You have to know where to look if you want to gauge how they're feeling. Check the mother's hand. See how the tips of her nails are buried in the father's arm so deep that you can't even see her flawless French Tipped manicure? She's holding on for dear life. Looks like it would hurt, doesn't it?

Conrad, the eldest child, sighs and checks his watch. They've been waiting for over fifteen minutes. Five more and Conrad's going to have to start pulling some strings. Don't these people know who they're dealing with? Obviously not and if something doesn't happen soon... well, something better happen soon.

Becky wears an outfit almost identical to her mother's. Armani pant suit, gray instead of beige (he's one of their favorite designers). She stands next to her mother and from the back, you probably couldn't tell the two apart even though one is sixty-five and the other just thirty-nine. They have the same emaciated figure, the same perfectly straight hair, cut neatly at the chin. Becky is blond and while Judith has let some gray creep in you'd have to be standing pretty close to detect the difference in color. Judith and August are worried and a little scared, Becky is resentful. How dare she be called out in the middle of the night? She has a life of her own, you know. But Becky would be equally furious if they had left her out of this little crisis. She has an obsessive need to always be in the middle of things. Becky Wentworth-Jones, front and center. Drama is the wellspring of her life force.

Paul puts his arm around his wife but she stiffens and pulls away. The stress. Poor Becky is very susceptible to stress. It is an unfortunate situation but really, if she could just relax, everyone would feel better. Paul tries to rub her shoulders, release some of that tension.

"Knock it off, Paul." Becky adjusts her hair and smoothes her trousers.

Paul backs off. The sooner this whole thing is resolved, and he can get his wife home to bed, the better. Becky doesn't do well on too little sleep.

Here comes little brother Norman accompanied by a grim-faced policeman. At first glance you would swear that the Chanel suit he's wearing was his mother's except, of course, that he's much bigger than she is. He probably stole one of hers and had it knocked off--the parents keep him on a pretty tight leash and Norman doesn't have a lot of extra money to spend on clothes. He's carrying the pumps in his left hand--thank God. There are few things more unsettling than to see your son or baby brother walking around in high heels. One finds one doesn't know where to look when a young man like this is prancing around with his shaved legs stuffed in panty hose. The officer escorts Norman right up to the group then turns to go.

Judith stares. With the foundation and the artful highlights at the cheekbones, Norman could pass as her butch younger sister. It really is quite remarkable. Unfortunately, he hasn't completely wiped off his lipstick and there are red smears at the corners of his mouth. But his mascara is remarkably intact--must be waterproof. You've got to hand it to him; Norman knows his way around a make-up kit.

"Jesus fucking Christ." Conrad sticks his hands in his pockets and walks towards the exit then turns and rejoins the group. He finds it impossible to hold still in dicey situations like these. Hard to stand and be counted as part of a group like this--a family, his family--when one of the members is dressing up like Cinderella.

Becky takes her mother's hand and squeezes. Whether this is an act of support or a moment of need is unclear. Oh, the horror. Paul moves in to help but backs off when Becky bares her teeth.

August is working very hard to control his breathing.

Finally Judith says, "That's my good purse."

"I'm sorry." Norman starts unloading the purse. Careful Norm, don't want the parents to see that compact with your engraved initials. And uh oh, are those a pair of lacy crotchless panties? Don't let Becky get a glimpse of those. Norman stuffs his belongings in the too-small pockets of the faux-Chanel jacket. One of the gold buttons is loose but now's not the time to worry these things.

"Holy fucking shit." Conrad's off for another lap around the room.

Norman snaps the purse shut. "I borrowed these clothes from my friend Carol for the costume party but she didn't have a bag that matched." He thrusts the bag towards Judith, his peace offering.

"Costume party." August likes to restate the facts whenever possible. It grounds him, gives a nice sense of control. These family crises tend to knock August off balance.

"You know my friends Bill and Susan." Norman's picking up speed as if there's a time limit on this explanation. "This is just the most ridiculous thing in the world." They all feel that clock ticking. Norman rushes on. "It's an annual thing. I thought it would be a hoot to dress as a woman." Change of tone here. "I'm so embarrassed."

Now, Becky could point out that Bill and Susan live in Santa Monica, which is on the other side of town. (It would be far too cruel to announce that they are in fact in Europe until the 17th.) She could ask him why he was in the bushes with another man in the first place. But that's not her job here. Her job is to stand by and act as a supportive witness to whatever story they come up with. Marvelous fiction that will allow everyone to return to their regular lives.

Judith is staring at her empty purse. "What will my friends think?" she whispers to August then turns to Conrad, her eldest and brightest child, for the answer.

"It's covered, mother." Conrad clears his throat. "I've got people working on it right now. This whole thing will just go away. Never happened."

"But what if it doesn't?" Judith's beginning to get angry.

August puts his arm around his wife and squeezes tight. No one wants to see her explode. Her self-serving rage can fill a room in an instant, making it extremely difficult to breathe. August will have to hold onto her for the rest of the night to keep those noxious tendencies in check. "No one is going to find out about this, Judith."

"Mom, don't worry." Norman's attempt at being a man is seriously undermined by the pink lace bra strap that shows under his opened jacket. "It's a trumped-up charge. Nothing to be concerned about."

Conrad leads the way and the family heads out into the night, Judith roped in by August, Norman tiptoeing over pebbles and bits of broken glass in the parking lot, and Becky and Paul bringing up the rear. They all follow Conrad back to their cars. It's a quiet group now--Norm hasn't really worked his magic yet. There are huge holes in this story but it's three-fifteen, everybody's tired and it's cold. Paul hasn't contributed much and he's starting to feel a little left out. This group needs to be united.

"Can you imagine what it must be like for those unfortunate transvestites," Paul says. "They get this kind of abuse all the time."

Bingo. Everyone jumps on this. Yes, those poor people. Wouldn't it be awful? What a terrible life. Norman, of course is the most vocal. August shakes his head at the injustice of the world. Becky pats her mother's shoulder then gives Norman a little hug. Judith is still angry. She'd like to punish Norman for this, and every other outrage he has committed over the years, but she's exhausted and so she plays along. Conrad doesn't contribute to the healing process but he doesn't interrupt either. And so the Wentworths come together here in the parking lot of the Los Feliz police station. They hug and kiss (except Conrad, who just shakes hands) and say good night. Judith and August climb into the back seat and sit staring out opposite windows while Norman slips behind the wheel of the Bentley. Becky climbs into her Jaguar and starts the engine as Paul gets in on the passenger side. Conrad speeds away. This will all be cleared up by morning, never to be spoken of again.

Excerpted from THE WENTWORTHS © Copyright 2011 by Katie Arnoldi. Reprinted with permission by The Overlook Press. All rights reserved.

The Wentworths
by by Katie Arnoldi

  • Genres: Fiction
  • hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Overlook Hardcover
  • ISBN-10: 1585679992
  • ISBN-13: 9781585679997