"The situation," Peck explained, in the aggrieved tone of an irrelevant monarch, "is that you and I can't agree on anything."
This was true. I was trying, I really was. But to say it wasn't going well between Peck and me would be an oversimplification. The first three days had been, well, strained. Inheritances will do that, people tell me. Our circumstances weren't necessarily unusual: a beloved elderly aunt bequeathing a small second home to two nieces who must come together to settle the estate. Except the two nieces, half sisters raised an ocean apart by two utterly different women who'd both loved the same man, had a complicated relationship. And it was a house in the Hamptons. Southampton, to be specific. (Apparently there are nuances I couldn't possibly understand, being a foreigner.) Also, as Peck kept telling me, nobody calls it "the Hamptons."
Certain types of New Yorkers, I was to learn, and style-obsessed Peck, to her delight, was now one of these New Yorkers, go to the Country on weekends and in the summers. To them "the Country" refers to anyplace outside Manhattan, which is "the City." The City is where you live during the week. On the weekends, you go to the Country. Even suburbs like Larchmont and Scarsdale are the Country to such city people, as are Southampton, East Hampton, and Westhampton. These were the sorts of distinctions about which my sister was appalled to find I didn't already know.
"Literally." Peck often started a sentence that way. Lit-tra-ly. It was a verbal tic and could be contagious. She sped up and then slammed on the brakes as she cursed the driver ahead of us. "I don't see how we could be related. You have no sense of priorities."
This was a theme she kept revisiting. Peck felt vehemently that we should ignore Lydia's wishes—"It's not like she would know"—and keep the house we'd inherited. In her view, to trade the house for money was like looking a gift horse in the mouth and, therefore, terrible manners. I was far less prone to vehemence, but on this Lydia's mandate for us had been clear. And I had absolutely no interest in keeping what would only be a sad reminder that all of them, my father, my mother, and my aunt, all the members of that generation of Moriartys, were gone. Only Peck's mother was still around, and she was living in Palm Springs, "where she belongs," as Peck, who adored her mother, put it.
In her opinion, I should have immediately jumped to the obvious solution, one that involved my moving to New York, where everybody lives, allowing us to keep the house in Southampton for shared weekends and summers. Or I should go back to Switzerland, where, last she checked, the Hampton Jitney—an evocative name for what was nothing more than a big green bus that took people from Manhattan to the villages of the Hamptons and back—did not make any stops, and simply leave the house in Southampton to her. She didn't see why she should be forced to sell just because I was so determined to be, in her view, difficult.
"Lydia made it pretty clear in the will she didn't expect us to keep it," I said. "I'd like to honor her wishes." Whenever I pointed out that Peck couldn't afford to keep the house, that we couldn't afford to keep the house—even together, according to the lawyers, we couldn't afford to pay the taxes, let alone for any of the maintenance on the place—she would sigh dramatically and change the subject. "You know what your problem is?" she would ask, and then pause, as if awaiting a response. "You're afraid to live."
Now she made a sound like a harrumph. "Were you always so obedient?"
"I suppose so," I said.
We Hear You!