Before we get to the segment, I want to thank everyone who has taken the time to read my posts and inquire about Kingdom. Hannah, in particular, has been a magnificent hostess, and I am having trouble conveying just how important she has been in getting the message out about Kingdom.
The following is an excerpt from Chapter 11 of Kingdom. In this scene, Dylan runs into an ex-girlfriend, Meghan Morrison. Meghan is the proverbial “one who got away,” and this scene marks the beginning of a new chapter in their relationship, while laying the foundation for one of the trilogy’s most poignant story arcs.
Thanks again for reading
The sign above the entrance to the bar said Lazarus, which, all things considered, struck Dylan as pretty fucking ironic; it was the last place his father went before committing suicide. And so, once a year, on the anniversary of his old man’s death, Dylan sat at the bar, drinking Jameson and thinking about his father.
He picked the bar because he wasn’t interested in mourning; that was what cemeteries were for. Instead, each year he went down to Lazarus to perform a resurrection, to drag his father’s ghost out of the shadows and hammer it with questions that never got answered.
The first shot finished off the hangover from the previous evening; the second one was for his old man—it slithered through Dylan’s system, warm and familiar and sad, and Dylan was aware of how much he missed his father, of how little he understood the world around him.
Dylan signaled to the bartender for shot number three; it was the same guy every year—probably late 40s but thick with sleeves rolled up to reveal a bunch of tattoos, the most prominent of which looked like an asterisk in a circle. Somewhere in the background Johnny Cash played on an old jukebox, the sound ancient and unsettling.
“Next one is on her,” the bartender said, tilting his head toward the end of the bar.
Dylan looked up and almost fell off his stool: Meghan Morrison was walking toward him, a beer in her right hand.
Meghan raised her bottle and tapped the side of Dylan’s shot glass, taking a long swig from the bottle as Dylan did the only thing he could think to do: throw back shot number three; the sound of pool balls cracking together and Cash singing about atomic skies and capitals of tin were the only noise in the bar.
“I know tonight’s not the best night,” she began, breaking the silence. “But I’ve been trying to get in touch. I even came by your party the other night, had to practically beg that scumbag Russian to let me in.”
“I thought that was you,” Dylan replied. “I was trying to come over, trying to reach you…But then all that shit went down and frankly, I was so fucked up I started to doubt whether I had really seen you or was just…hallucinating.”
Dylan just shook his head, embarrassed, but Megan moved closer to him, the smell of her perfume—subtle but unmistakable—cutting through the stench of stale beer and vomit and cigarette smoke, reminding him of the last time he felt something—anything—that wasn’t selfish or chemically induced; of a time when things had been less complicated; of the summer he fell in love with Meghan Morrison.
They first met at a fundraiser for his father. He did boarding school in New England; she had spent the year in Switzerland.
She drank champagne straight from the bottle and smoked Winston 100s.
Who the fuck smokes Winston 100s, Dylan asked later that first night.
She just smiled at him and finished her drink.
I do, she said.
He fell in lust. He fell in love. They were 16. Life was good. Or as good as life would ever get. It was the beginning of summer, 2008.
Some nights, when there were no parties or maybe there were parties but the city was hot—too hot—and the buildings and neighborhoods seemed too narrow—seemed to press inward—those were the nights they would leave Tiber. She would climb on the back of his motorcycle and they would hit the highway and just go; blasting through the darkness and leaving everything behind, gobbling speed when they started to fade, then driving some more until they hit the coast and picked a random motel, making love until dawn before crashing in each other’s arms, the comedown from the speed warded off by the smell of her skin, by the steadiness of his hand on her back.
In the morning, he’d slip out while she was still sleeping, returning an hour later with breakfast—the most unhealthy, delicious stuff he could find: pastries and pancakes and mountains of French toast from whatever diner was nearest to the motel. He’d bring flowers, coffee, and a fresh pack of cigarettes and they’d sit on the floor of the motel, half-dressed, picking at the breakfast spread out in front of them, no cell phones, no laptops, just an old map or two, and talk about places in the world they wanted to go, about the different places they wanted to see. Dylan always argued for Tokyo; Meghan pushed for Jerusalem. Everything and anything seemed possible and sitting there on the beat-up carpet, they talked about the future—running a dive bar in Tangier, teaching private school in Wellington, skydiving in Ghent. The fantasies were indulgent and wild and naïve but they were 16 and in love and did anything else matter?
Most afternoons were spent walking up and down the empty beaches, staring out into the gray-blue nothing, somehow relieved that they couldn’t go any further, both taking quiet comfort in the limitations imposed by the natural world. They would sit side by side in the sand, drinking from his flask, a massive blanket draped across their shoulders, and stare at the ocean for hours, pressed tight together against the wind, watching solitary freighters crawl across the gray horizon.
She had a beat-up cassette with a bunch of old punk songs on it and in one of those beach towns, at a pawnshop, she found a boombox—bulky and gray and covered in stickers from forgotten causes—and some nights they would blast the tape until dawn, rewinding it over and over as they sat in front of the small fire Dylan would make on the beach, drinking and talking about bands that had long since broken up, bands they would never see live, bands whose surviving members still went on tour but Meghan swore she’d never go see them.
That summer he made love to her on the beach a few times, a blanket underneath them, protecting them from the damp, shifting sand; another blanket draped over Meghan’s shoulders, blocking out the cool night air as she moved on top of him. And although beach sex was never what the movies promised—they never told you how much sand Deborah Kerr got stuck in her ass—afterward, lying side by side on the sand, watching the night sky, was paradise. They were far enough away from Tiber City that the sky was clear and bright and Dylan could see all the constellations and even though he had forgotten the names of the stars and their stories, he and Meghan made up new ones, tracing warriors and animals and gods in the sky, imagining new mythologies.
The world seemed to melt away with a totality that eclipsed any drug Dylan had ever used; when she whispered I love you in the dark his heart sang and any feelings of separation and boundary vanished. The universe felt electric and new and the boombox blasted all night long, Iggy Pop and Joe Strummer and Patti Smith shouting down eternity until the tape wore out. They buried it at sea before ingesting more speed, hitting the highway just as the sun poked over the horizon, the land glowing and alive.
There was an old amusement park on the coast and toward the end of that summer Meghan finally convinced Dylan to go.
But I hate amusement parks, he protested.
But this one is different, she assured him.
And she was right; it was nothing like the colossal theme parks littering the East Coast. There were no superheroes, no movie tie-ins, no rides named after aging rock stars—just an old wooden roller coaster, a Ferris wheel, and a few other “vintage” rides, most of which were broken-down and roped off from the public. They went at night, after the families were gone and the park was almost empty—there were some homeless guys and chubby Puerto Rican girls but no one hassled anyone—and there were no lines and even though the rides were older and simpler and looked like shit, they were happy.
They snuck in a bottle of wine and wandered the main concourse, stealing sips and playing the rigged carnival games—ring toss, water gun air, whac-a-mole, skee ball—laughing as they lost in impossible ways. When the attendant wasn’t looking, Dylan snatched a giant stuffed whale off the prize rack and, on bended knee, presented it to Meghan. They made out for a while behind the bandstand—just kissing and groping—and the night was electric and then some old woman was yelling at them, telling them to get a room, and Meghan’s mouth tasted like cheap red wine and gum and lip gloss and then they were running back through the park, toward the Blue Comet roller coaster—a rickety beast of wood and steel, one of the last of its kind in America.
And then they were aboard the roller coaster, her hand on his thigh, as the cars began to climb the wooden track, their ascent heralded by a series of mechanical creaks and groans, and as they rose higher and higher he could see the lights of Tiber glowing in the distance; he could see the stars overheard. A gentle breeze blew across the car as, having reached the top of the loop, the ride slowed to a crawl.
What if I asked you to marry me right now?
Well that depends, she answered. Are you asking me to marry you?
But before he could answer the roller coaster kicked back to life, plunging down the backside of the track, and she had her hands up, laughing and screaming as the ride whipped around the track at breakneck speed. The rest of that night was a blur of wine and cigarettes and when he woke up in the morning, she was already awake, sitting up in the bed, watching him.
You know, she whispered, I would have said yes.
But in the end, the strain of his father’s suicide had been too great, pulling their relationship down like a weight around the leg of a drowning man, and things had fallen apart, like they always did.
“You know,” Dylan said, “you’re the only person I ever told about tonight, about how I come down here.”
“Look,” Meghan started, leaning up against the side of the bar. “Say the word and I’m out the door. I just wanted to talk to you, make sure you’re OK.”
“What?” Dylan asked. “Why wouldn’t I be OK? What are you talking about?”
“People are talking. A friend of mine said she ran into you last week at Ruin; said you were in really bad shape. And I saw those pictures in the Post; you looked awful. Your eyes were so…off. It scared me.”
“That’s pretty vague,” Dylan shot back, the effects of three rapid-fire whiskey shots starting to take hold.
“It is,” Meghan agreed, nodding, “But I don’t know. I was surprised how concerned I was, actually. I can’t really explain it.”
“Fair enough,” Dylan replied, first looking into her eyes, and then away, across the room, at an old cigarette vending machine stocked with brands discontinued last decade.
“Well, here I am,” Dylan said. “Now what?”
Shaking her head, Meghan smiled sadly.
“I’ll go,” she said. “I guess maybe you are OK. I just needed to find out. I hope I didn’t ruin tonight—I just didn’t know how else to get in touch.”
Dylan was suddenly aware that he and Meghan were the only two patrons in the bar. The television above the bar, which had been off when they arrived, was now on, displaying images from a riot that had broken out downtown at IDD Energy Stadium. The sound was turned down—Johnny Cash was still playing in the background, letting everyone know what happens when the man comes around—but the news crawl at the bottom of the screen added details to the images of riot police, of protesters with bandanas wrapped around their noses and mouths, of a young woman lying unconscious on the concrete, of Heffernan’s people spinning the day’s events, all while the stadium burned in the background.
“No,” Dylan said, signaling to the bartender, “I want you to stay. Let’s see if I have any stories about my old man you haven’t already heard.”