Elyse Friedman | Issue 22
An excerpt from The Opportunist: When the calls started up again, Alana ignored them. Ditto the texts and emails, including ones with red exclamation points attached.
Excerpt from The Opportunist
When the calls started up again, Alana ignored them. Ditto the texts and emails, including ones with red exclamation points attached. She had a part‐time job that felt full‐time and a daughter who required around‐the‐clock care. She had neither the hours nor the inclination to delve into family drama. And she already knew why her brothers were so desperate to reach her. The younger of the two, Martin, had been messaging sporadically for months about the “skank” their father had taken up with—a nurse, hired by the eldest, Teddy, to tend to the old man’s needs as he grew increasingly infirm and cranky. Nurse Kelly, a woman forty‐eight years their father’s junior, a gold digger, obviously, and a clever one according to Martin. Pretty sure she had him at the first sponge bath. Alana was more amused than disturbed.
She told her brothers she couldn’t care less. She had more important things to worry about. Eventually, they stopped contacting her.
Then a few weeks ago an oversized envelope had arrived in Alana’s mailbox. Thick creamy paper, her name embossed in swirling gold script—an invitation to the wedding of Edward Shropshire Sr. and Kelly McNutt. Ha! Clever indeed. She felt a fizz of satisfaction, even as she braced for the onslaught from her siblings who would be outraged at the prospect of losing any portion of their massive inher‐ itance. Alana hated her father and felt nothing but disdain for her brothers. She had no interest in “protecting the family investments” or “presenting a united front” or “having Dad’s back” or any of the increasingly urgent drivel that trickled in from her greedy siblings. She had been estranged from her father for decades and had no stake in this game. It was frankly a shock that she had been invited to the wed‐ ding. It must have been Kelly McNutt who insisted on that. The calls, texts, and emails started up again with renewed fervour. When Alana finally concluded that her brothers would not leave her in peace until she responded, she composed a simple three‐word text, not exactly a family joke, but something they would recognize and understand: BEYOND OUR CONTROL. She added a laughing‐so‐hard‐I’m‐ crying emoji and sent it to Teddy and Martin.
She stopped hearing from them after that.
It was a rough night. Lily’s BiPap alarm had gone off twice. She could breathe without the machine, but not as well, and Alana was programmed to leap into action from the deepest slumber. The first time it sounded, around 1:00 a.m., it was a mask‐fit alarm. A quick adjustment and back to bed. The second was more annoying: a leak alarm at 4:28 that took forever to rectify—no matter how much she fiddled, the alarm kept sounding. She finally got it fixed and Lily was able to get back to sleep, but Alana couldn’t. She lay in bed, her brain churning. At 5:40 she got up, made coffee, and bolted two cinnamon buns in quick succession, an act she immediately regretted, even as she was scraping the last bits of hard white icing from the aluminum pan into her mouth.
It was a workday, so she woke Lily early, helped her dress, and did her hair in French braids. Ramona was coming for the day and Lily liked to look nice for her favourite support worker. Unlike Alana, Ramona was big into girly stuff: hair, nails, fashion. She would give Lily mani‐pedis, and they would flip through Harper’s Bazaar and Teen Vogue and critique the outfits. Ramona had been with them since Lily was three years old, and Alana trusted her completely. She was hugely competent and a ton of fun. Lily was an earnest child, but when Ramona was around, she let herself be silly and boisterous. It would not be unusual for Alana to come home and find them both with teased‐up hair and full‐on glitter makeup, binge‐watching RuPaul’s Drag Race. Ramona was what Lily called “chill.” Pretty much the opposite of Alana, who was always stressed out and exhausted.
“What time will you be home?” Lily asked.
“If all goes well, five thirty.” “When does all ever go well?”
Alana laughed. “It’s rare, but it has been known to happen. I was home on time twice last week.”
“And you have Ramona.”
“OK. But try.”
“I always try, lovey. But if someone shows up out of the blue at four thirty, I can’t just leave. I have to help them.”
Alana worked part‐time at the RedTree Shelter, which offered emer‐ gency housing for victims of domestic abuse. It was a foolish job for her to have: low‐paying and high stress. Not what she needed in prac‐ tically her only hours away from managing Lily’s health. She should have taken employment that was easy on the soul, like flower arrang‐ ing—some vaguely pleasant, not overly cerebral activity that would give her time to refresh and restore. She often fantasized about becoming a professional dog walker or making perfect heart shapes in foamy cof‐ fees all day, but she stayed with RedTree. It was important work that made her feel a little better about herself. She sometimes wondered if her motivations were selfish at root.
When Ramona arrived, Alana kissed Lily goodbye and left for work. On her third try she managed to get her Stone Age Honda Odyssey to start and was backing out of the drive when a Lexus pulled in behind her, blocking her way. She tapped the horn—a polite “I’m actually leaving here” signal. Nothing. The car just sat there. She honked again, harder, wondering why it always seemed to be a Lexus or a Mercedes or a BMW that cut her off in traffic, or jumped its turn at a four‐way stop, or blocked her driveway when she was trying to get to work, for fuck’s sake. She curbed an impulse to ram her SUV into the shiny roadster, and instead left the Honda running while she strode toward the offending vehicle, getting ready to unleash years of pent‐up luxury‐car‐inspired fury on the entitled asshole behind the wheel. But before she could bang her fist on the tinted window, it slid down smoothly, revealing her brother Martin talking on a cell phone. He had it resting flat on an upturned palm held in front of his face. “OK,” he said. “I know. I’ll take care of it.”
“What the hell, Martin? I have to go to work.” It had been years since she had seen him, but he looked pretty much the same—a slightly higher hairline, maybe a few extra pounds. He was still conventionally handsome, fair and blue‐eyed with their father’s chiselled chin, but he now had the slightly puffy face of a drinker, the lightning‐bolt blood vessels on the side of his nose. He smelled faintly of good cologne with a top note of leather from the luxury rental car’s seats.
He gave Alana the “I’ll just be one second” finger. “Listen, Damian, I gotta go. I’ll call you in an hour.” Martin pocketed the phone and smiled at his sister. “Sorry about that.”
“What are you doing here?”
“You didn’t get my texts? I need to speak to you. You have a minute?” “Not at the moment, no.”
“I flew across the country to talk to you. You can’t give me two min‐ utes of your time?”
“I have to go to work, Martin. If you want to ride with me, you’re welcome to. Just let me out, then you can park in the drive and Uber back.”
Martin eyed the dented Odyssey that was belching out exhaust. “Why don’t I drive you and give you cash to cab home?”
He smiled tightly. “Fine.”
Alana returned to the SUV to wait for her brother. When Martin climbed in, he was carrying a stiff white envelope with a button‐and‐ string closure and an airport gift‐shop bag.
“Here, I got this for . . . your daughter.” “Her name is Lily.”
“I know that. Of course. You named her after Lillian.”
A demented‐looking doll with stiff blond ringlets stuck out of the tissue paper.
“Thanks,” said Alana. “She’s a little old for dolls though.” “Oh. How old is she now?”
“Wow. Time flies. But I thought . . .” “What?”
“You know . . . I figured she’d still be into dolls.” “She’s not slow, Martin. Her brain is fine.” “Oh. So . . . ?”
“She has a rare form of muscular dystrophy. Well, rare for girls, common for boys.”
“She’s inside, by the way. You want to meet your niece?”
Her brother looked confused and pained, as if she’d asked if he wanted to donate a kidney or breastfeed a cat. “I thought you were in a hurry?”
“I am. I’m just messing with you.” Alana eased the Odyssey out of the driveway. She knew Martin wouldn’t want to meet Lily. And she didn’t want Martin to meet Lily.
Excerpt from The Opportunist by Elyse Friedman ©2022. Published by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.
Elyse Friedman is a critically acclaimed author, screenwriter, poet and playwright. Her work has been shortlisted for the Trillium Book Award, the Toronto Book Award, the ReLit Award and the Tom Hendry Award. Her short story “The Soother” won the gold National Magazine Award for Fiction, and she has twice won the TIFF-CBC Films Screenwriter Award.
The Opportunist Elyse Friedman HarperCollins, 2022
A deliciously sly, compulsively readable tale about greed, power and the world’s most devious family, for fans of The Nest and Succession.
When Alana Shropshire’s seventy-six-year-old father, Ed, starts dating Kelly, a saucy twenty-eight-year-old, a flurry of messages arrive from Alana’s brothers, urging her to help “protect Dad” from the young interloper. Alana knows that what Teddy and Martin really want to protect is their father’s fortune, and she tells them she couldn’t care less about the May–December romance. Long estranged from her privileged family, Alana has no stake in the game, and as a hardworking single mom, she has more important things to worry about. But when Ed and Kelly’s wedding is announced, Teddy and Martin kick into hyperdrive, and eventually persuade Alana to fly to their father’s 900-acre West Coast island retreat to perform one small task in their plan to lure the “gold digger” away from their father. Kelly, however, proves a lot wilier than expected, and Alana becomes entangled in an increasingly dangerous scheme full of secrets and surprises. Will she be able to escape her brothers’ elaborate web of deceit? Just how far will her siblings go to retain control?
Issue #22 of Send My Love to Anyone
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