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Only Son

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“Some are really crazy,” the nurse said. “Others are just pretending.”

https://www.guernicamag.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Nate-Lowman_smiley-face_600_2.jpg
Nate Lowman, Nate's Smiley Face Painting, 2010-2012. Oil on canvas, 55 x 83 in.

Ted Kelleher tried to focus on the present, on the lady at the check-in kiosk in the West Palm Beach International Airport terminal, whose cranberry lipstick had broken up into tiny flakes, and who Ted could swear just spit on him a little from the wide gap between her teeth as she explained how to get his ticket out of the machine.

“Touch the screen with your finger. Now swipe your card… The other way… Give me the card, honey. People are waiting.”

Failing was okay because Ted was still working his way through Dr. Mathis’s audio book, The Inside Track to Your Potential. Soon, living in the present would become intuitive. Yesterday, Robbie’s bubble-headed girlfriend, Bethany, called from Tucson and said she’d checked Robbie into a psychiatric hospital. Ted didn’t think about what might’ve caused his son’s breakdown because, as Dr. Mathis points out in Point Six of his Ten Points for “How We Get Stuck on the Outside Looking In,” reasons and possibilities usually lead to inaction. Instead, he booked the next flight out.

That was realizing his potential.

*                      *                     *

The last time Ted had seen Robbie was two years ago at his ex-wife’s funeral in Wequaquet. Robbie seemed to be doing well. He was selling copiers. As the bullnecked pallbearers carried away the casket, Ted watched Bethany tickle the back of Robbie’s neck with her long, painted fingernails. My boy’s going to be all right, he thought.

Not since Robbie was fourteen, and his mother sent him to stay with Ted for the summer, had the two spent any real time together. Back then, Ted ran a door-to-door business selling oil change discounts and tire rotations for local garages. Robbie was nearly 250 pounds. He had cigarette burns on his left forearm, the fleshless holes pink with crooked lines of red like in packaged chicken breast. Ted flipped the hat off his head and grabbed hold of his arm, then picked up the cap and twisted it like a wet rag, turned and walked toward the baggage claim. He couldn’t put his finger on why Robbie was this way. Maybe it was the divorce, Ted’s move to Florida, the women his ex-wife had surely told his son about; or maybe it was the boys at school making fun of him, the girls ignoring him; or those private moments that boys have, when they realize they are not like the others and that they must live inside themselves.

During the first week of his visit, Robbie loafed around Ted’s apartment watching television and eating Fritos. Ted didn’t live in the best of neighborhoods, but there was a school nearby where kids played basketball on the outdoor courts in the afternoon. On his way home from work one day, he bought a basketball and a pump and drove Robbie to the school and told him he’d be back in an hour. Robbie stood by the chain-link fence, holding the basketball as delicately as if it was his mother’s head. When Ted returned, he saw that Robbie had been invited to play. He was center, standing in the paint with hands raised like a stick-up man caught in a cop’s headlights. A tall, lean boy wrapped his arm around Robbie’s waist, using the blubber as a kind of catapult to jump up and score. That’s a foul, Ted said to himself. But you couldn’t call a foul during your first game. He knew that from playing ball in Boston where he used to sell paper products for Mobile Corp., just before he met Robbie’s mother. Sometimes it depended on whom you were playing with or even just one guy who looked a little off. You needed to sense that in people. During a game once, he didn’t call a foul, but tripped a player from the other team when he juked past him. The guy had a knife in his gym bag and cut Ted’s side and ran off. Ted picked up the knife. It was a little thing, a jailhouse instrument, the handle made of plastic with a shard of glass taped around the end. The bleeding stopped and there wasn’t any reason to go to the hospital, but it could’ve been a real knife and it could’ve killed him.

*                      *                     *

Oh geez. It was this pattern of thinking that drove Dr. Mathis absolutely nuts. In the chapter “You’re Driving Me Nuts!” he establishes common relationships between men and women, bosses and employees, parents and children, and explains how past conflicts impede our decision-making process during a current conflict so that we never give ourselves the potential for change. This is most evident in the way we deal with strangers. We attach to them the ideas we’ve developed about people we’ve known all our lives, so that nobody is different than anybody else and we end up living in a world we create, with its own logic and limitations.

After nights of intense Viagra-induced sex, she would practice her postures in the kitchen of Ted’s one-bedroom apartment, which she called “kitschy.”

Ted had taken a chance. His last, he felt. And he was struggling to find investors for UltraLife, an energy-boost supplement and non-smoking aid his college roommate discovered and took him in on when the door-to-door company went bust. UltraLife was unique because not only did it crystallize your surroundings and take the edge off during nicotine withdrawals, it was also designed to taste like your favorite fruit depending on which fruit flavor you bought. Or you could buy a bottle of mixed-fruit flavors if you were a fan of many different fruits. His old way of thinking would’ve told him that he’d gotten into this business two years too late, that the window of opportunity had closed before he’d even had a chance to look out of it. Dr. Mathis says that there is no such thing as a window of opportunity, that opportunity is endless and only fear and self-doubt can cause us to imagine otherwise.

At least he had something, which was better than most, and even if he had nothing, there was Lillian, at least. He never imagined that at fifty-six he’d be having sex with a 24-year-old yoga instructor who loved UltraLife and hated commitment. After nights of intense Viagra-induced sex, she would practice her postures in the kitchen of Ted’s one-bedroom apartment, which she called “kitschy,” while he drank coffee and read The Wall Street Journal he stole each morning from Starbucks. Last week Lillian showed him her headstand. “Watch,” she said, and put her elbows on the spongy mat and rose up into a reverse crouch, extending her legs straight and narrow like a diver, frozen at the moment her head touches the water.

“You’re going to break your neck if you keep doing that,” he said.

“Only if my center’s off.”

“Anything could throw your center off.” He nudged her thigh with his toes. “Even just a thought.”

She lowered her legs and rolled easily onto the mat.

“But my mind’s uncluttered,” she said. “That’s how I’m able to do it. I don’t think about anything.”

Ted envied her.

Lillian put Dr. Mathis’s book on a small contraption the size of Ted’s thumb. She showed him how to use it, where the volume levels were and how to switch tracks. She said she was sorry she couldn’t go with him, but everything west, except for California, made her feel “icky.” She had gone to a yoga retreat in Santa Fe once and an old Indian shaman had tried to molest her.

“I still see his beard in my nightmares,” she said.

Dr. Mathis had plenty to say about a situation like this, but Ted kept it to himself. Dr. Mathis also had plenty to say about realizing other people’s potential before your own.

*                      *                     *

As the plane charged up the runway, Ted took the tiny earplugs out of his ears and coiled the wire around his finger. There was nothing to be afraid of, he told himself. He closed his eyes and put his hands in his lap. The force of the ascent pushed him against his seat. He remembered a night in spring when he was twelve years old and a lightning storm cracked and shook the house. Ted had dropped to his knees and scurried underneath the living room table.

“What the hell are you doing?” his father had shouted. “Get out from under there and stop being such a pussy.”

When the plane leveled off above the clouds, the woman sitting next to him plucked at his sleeve.

“Your colors don’t match,” she said. “Did mother not dress you this morning?”

Ted looked himself over: a pair of blue khakis and a black polo shirt with “UltraLife,” in purple, stitched across the left breast. He didn’t see what was wrong with the combination.

“I guess I don’t have much fashion sense,” he said.

“Oh, you pull it off, though,” she said. “I’m Tanya.”

She had a strong-looking, flat face that accentuated her eyes and nose and lips, freckles on her cheeks, and a little dimple in the center of her chin. She was thirty-five, forty, maybe, had a smooth, lovely neck and perky tits and well-defined arms she probably kept toned with free weights and lots of cardio.

“And you are?”

“Sorry. Ted. Ted Kelleher,” he said, and awkwardly shook her hand with his right elbow pinned to his side.

“Hmm. Irish?”

“A mix.”

“Everyone’s a mix.”

“Where’re you off to?” he asked her.

“San Diego.”

“What’s in San Diego?”

“Two terribly sick giraffes.”

“And they call on you to take care of them?”

“Not exactly. I’m a physiologist. I specialize in the pulmonary functions of large animals. It’s solely a research project. A good excuse to get out of the swamp.”

For Ted, this was one of the joys of traveling, of meeting strangers who would remain strangers, defined only by their face and work; and Ted knew he was a stranger to them, too—he could be anybody he wanted to be.

“Are the giraffes goners, then?” he asked.

“That’s a crude way of putting it, but, yes, from the reports I’d say they won’t survive much longer.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. I hate for animals to suffer.”

“I can’t get attached. I did once, to a giraffe named Michael. He was the most gorgeous thing you’ve ever seen. When he died, I stayed in bed for three weeks. I grieved more for Michael than I did my own mother. Then one day I said to myself, It’s a fucking giraffe for Christ’s sake.”

He recognized that the pureness of the laugh was lost now that he’d chosen to analyze it.

Ted let out a pure laugh. Pure because he was listening and not thinking of what to say next, which was the first of forty-five levels in Dr. Mathis’s “Pyramid to Building Successful Relationships.” He recognized, too, that the pureness of the laugh was lost now that he’d chosen to analyze it.

“How about you?” Tanya asked.

“I’m on my way to Tucson.”

“Business or pleasure?”

“Neither. My son is sick.”

“Oh. I hope it’s not serious.”

“It’s a mental thing. He just sort of snapped.”

“It’s the times, I guess. How can anyone make sense of what’s happening nowadays?”

Time, Ted felt, was specific to age and memory, but he refused to question the difficulty of these times in relation to past times. According to Dr. Mathis, “Nothing is gained by going backwards, except a lot of misery and frustration.”

The seatbelt sign blinked off.

“Excuse me, I have to use the little girls’ room,” Tanya said.

Her legs were thick, packed tight in a pair of black jeans. The plane hit a patch of turbulence and she balanced herself on the headrest of a seat in the next row up. She looked back at Ted and tensed her neck muscles.

“Careful,” he said.

*                      *                     *

In the summer of ’86, Ted drove his wife and son out to Sandy Neck on Cape Cod, grilled burgers and hotdogs and swam to the thin, silvery sandbars a hundred yards offshore. During one of those late afternoons when the sun turned red as it dipped below the horizon, he saw Robbie eating a King-Size Kit Kat bar in the backseat of the Jeep and scolded him, said there was no way he was going to be any kind of athlete if he kept stuffing his face with junk. Robbie’s mouth was slightly open, a smear of chocolate on his bottom lip, his eyes big and scared as if he’d just been struck by a sudden, violent blow.

Ted had a lot of cash then. He bought and sold land in newly designed suburbs that had once been hunting grounds with names only those lost men of an ancient seaboard Massachusetts had known. He hired an architect and subcontractors to build houses on the lots when he saw how much they were going for, especially those along Route 3 and further north on the Red Line. He gave the subdivisions names like Lake of the Isles, Meadowlark Farms, and Seascape Commons. He drove Robbie out to the neighborhoods and let him have an extra donut. He showed him the houses he had built, and, because no one else was going to give him credit, he led Robbie to agree with him that what he had done here was special.

He left the woman out of what he later realized was pride, but at the time claimed was her bad breath and inability to cook a decent meal.

Five years later Ted lost his money in a development scheme outside Hershey, Pennsylvania. There were trees leveled, holes dug, and a manmade hole full of mucky water. He filed for bankruptcy. The contractors were notified. He began sleeping with an optometrist he met at a bar. No one knew his life better than he did, and not even he knew it. He needed a fresh start. He told his wife. They split up. He and the optometrist moved to Florida. She set up a practice there and he sold frozen steaks door to door. Then there was a bad case of mad cow disease and cattle prices went through the roof. He took a loan from the optometrist and went into business for himself, saved enough to put down a security deposit for his own apartment, and left the woman out of what he later realized was pride, but at the time claimed was her bad breath and inability to cook a decent meal. He could sell anything.

One morning, he stood on his balcony and watched as two old Chinese men performed knee bends and stretches out on the beach. They swung their arms around their bodies, faster and faster, until it was as though they were beating themselves in the back and chest. What was the point? Ted thought. When they were finished, they jogged toward the ocean and dove into the water. His ex-wife called later that day and said Robbie had developed some kind of tic. He’d begun repeatedly flicking the light switches on and off, walking backwards into the house, taking nearly twenty minutes to tie his shoes a certain way, because, he said, if he didn’t do those things then his father would die. He was smoking cigarettes, too, and really “packing on the pounds.” She suggested Robbie come stay with Ted for the summer.

“I think he needs a male figure in his life,” she said. “He needs a force.”

Ted had been swinging his arms around his body and his back and chest stung.

*                      *                     *

Tanya had an unpleasant look on her face when she returned from the lavatory.

“Some lady took a big shit in there,” she said. “She didn’t even flush it. Can you believe that? Who takes a shit on a plane?” She said this loud enough to embarrass whoever it was. Ted sympathized with the stranger. Once, at Fenway Park, when he was a boy, his father made him stand with four other men all pissing violently into the steel trough, urine splashing up on his clothes and Ted holding his tiny penis, unable to go. Now he used stalls instead of urinals, and every so often someone would nearly break down the door at the sight of his shoe heels. “Look at this guy. He can’t piss like a normal man,” someone once shouted at a truck stop off I-95.

The stewardess asked what they’d like to drink and Ted ordered water with no ice, and Tanya vodka with cranberry juice. Cranberry, Ted thought. That could go in the mixed-fruit bottle. He took the sample bottle of UltraLife from his carry-on bag and shuffled the dissolvable tablets in his palm, looking for the pinkish papaya-flavored one.

“What’s that?”

“Just a kick to keep me up.” He handed her the bottle. “It’s new. Actually, I’m a part owner.” He pointed to the product name on his shirt.

She unscrewed the cap and sniffed inside.

“It’s not on the market yet, but it will be soon,” he said. “That one there is papaya.”

“I love papaya—such a strange, sensual fruit.”

She popped the tablet in her mouth and sucked in her cheeks. Her left eye began to twitch as her lips pursed. She spit pieces of the tablet into her palm.

“That’s the most terrible thing I’ve ever tasted.”

“That bad, huh?”

“Really, it’s just the worst. I apologize. It’s your idea and everything. But that tastes nothing like papaya.”

Maybe he’d made himself believe it was papaya and in actuality he couldn’t recall what a papaya tasted like. In actuality, he had no idea what the tablets were made of, what chemical constructs and numbered dyes and artificial flavorings had been mixed together to create the illusion of freshly picked fruit.

“There’re other flavors,” he said, hesitating.

“Oh no, that’s fine.” She put the wet pieces in the vomit bag pinned in the netting attached to the seat in front of her, and drank down the vodka and cranberry in one gulp.

She smacked her lips.

“Ah, that’s better.”

After a few neck rolls, Tanya shut her eyes and let out a soft moan as she leaned against Ted. There was a bit of snot at the edge of her nostril, a wild strand of hair in the shape of a question mark. On long flights, his ex-wife would rest her head on his shoulder and nibble at his ear, but they would not make out on the plane or try to get off in the lavatory. Instead, he let the tension build from the plane to the cab to the hotel room, and the best sex he could remember was on those afternoons in a new city when he tipped the bag man and already his wife was undressing and the light was heavy and she seemed part of that light.

He thought about how common it was to criticize his wife, to notice her imperfections, as it had been early on to deny she was anything short of perfect. Those imperfections or the conscious examination of those imperfections is what he made himself believe was his reason for seeking other women. He had wished she would do something out of the ordinary, say something absurd, leave and come back a week later and not speak a word about where she had been. But she would never have done those things and only now did he respect that about her. A week before she passed, Ted had flown up to see her in the hospital. She was not all there, but he believed she saw in him the man he was in Boston, when they drove the shady, ill-lit sections of the city and he inspired in her a sense of fearlessness that he never truly had, as if giving her a part of himself he wished he could obtain. He sat by her side and rubbed her feet and said he was sorry.

*                      *                     *

When the plane landed in Phoenix, Tanya gave Ted her cell phone number and a peck on the cheek. He could smell vodka and something else, some staleness on her breath from the flight. He wished her the best in figuring out what was wrong with the giraffes.

“Who knows,” he said. “Maybe you can save them after all.”

“Doubtful,” she said.

He spent most of his hour-and-a-half layover looking for a smoking cubicle, but couldn’t find one. He vaguely remembered a Mexican restaurant he had smoked in years ago when he’d flown out to Arizona for a business seminar. He had tried to pick up an English professor from the University of Kentucky who had green eyes that seemed to be lit by some remote desire. She had said she was going to the bathroom and never came back. The bartender called her a dyke.

He remembered the terrifying scream his father made one night from his parent’s bedroom.

Tequila’s looked nothing like the place in the story he had told himself. There was no one smoking inside and the smell of beer and fajitas mixed with the floor wax in the terminal made him slightly nauseous. He popped two UltraLife tablets in his mouth and walked over to an empty gate area where a tall man was asleep across a row of seats. Outside, the Arizona sky was turning gray above the copper mountains. He remembered the terrifying scream his father made one night from his parent’s bedroom. Ted had inched out into the hallway, but it was dark and fear kept him in his room. He’d heard the scream again, followed by a round of muffled sobbing. In the morning, his parents sat at the breakfast table as though nothing had happened, his father the same stoic figure he had always been. But that scream lived with them in their house for years.

He plugged his phone charger into one of the outlets along the wall and called Bethany. She said she’d just been with Robbie and was now on her way to have a drink with a friend. In the background, Ted could hear a whooshing sound from Bethany having rolled down the window.

“You should see these people, Ted. They’re like from another world.”

“What about Robbie? Does he seem lucid?”

“I don’t know what that means. He won’t speak. He just like stares at me. I’m not sure what he’s thinking or if he’s thinking, which might be a good thing.”

“He’s not hurt, though, right?”

“No. They seem to be taking care of him. He stays in bed all day. I’m sorry, Ted, I’m at the place now. I need a drink in the worst way.”

Ted kept the phone in his hand while looking at the departures on a blue-lit screen above him. People were flying to Paris today, to Montevideo, Guadalajara, Detroit. It seemed to him that no matter how hard he had tried to change the course of his life, he was destined to end up right where he was.

*                      *                     *

While boarding the plane to Tucson, Dr. Mathis urged Ted to see the world through the eyes of a child. This was the last chapter of the book, “The Inner Child’s Unlimited Potential.” If he had the capacity to see the world this way, he could be curious and unafraid, always in the act of discovering life. A perpetual beginning meant never collecting any concrete idea of the past and using it to kill the present.

He sat with his head against the window, watching the baggage handlers outside toss luggage into a neighboring plane. A sweating, 400-pound man pushed up the armrest and squeezed into the aisle seat beside Ted. He took a napkin from his pocket and wiped at the sweat on his brow and behind his ears. Pieces of napkin stuck to his forehead. He shifted in his seat so that his chubby sides rubbed against Ted’s hip. “Who can get comfortable in these tiny planes,” he said with a nervous chuckle. Ted nodded with a slight smile. The man breathed heavily, like a boy just breaking the surface of the water after staying below a second too long, wanting to impress the girl who dared him to do it, only to find her giggling with her friends near the shore.

He was exhausted now. That’s what happens when you think too much, he reminded himself. Dr. Mathis says, “Watch how fast an athlete moves, how much concentration they have on what’s directly in front of them.” Ted closed his eyes and pictured Lillian’s neatly shaved vulva.

When the plane began its descent into Tucson, he unconsciously fell to the side so that his arms and face were on top of the fat man’s overhanging belly. His eyes opened to the sight of that massive, trembling head. He reached up and grabbed hold of the man’s meaty arm.

“You’re okay,” the man said.

Ted released his grip and patted the man’s shoulder.

*                      *                     *

As he drove out to the Pine Mountain Psychiatric Hospital in a rented two-door sedan, Ted projected a vision of his son tied down to a bed, doctors surrounding him, taking notes, lifting his eyelids, stuffing his mouth with a dry sponge. He parked the rental car and walked toward the hospital with its pale stucco façade. In the courtyard, two men sat on a bench, one hunched over holding his stomach, the other bleary-eyed as though seeing the sun for the first time in days. The one upright broke apart a cigarette and handed it to the other, struck a match and lit the ragged end.

The psychiatric ward was clean and smelled like lilacs, the hallway decorated with placid muses of sunflowers, trees in fall, the ocean at sunrise.

Ted sucked on a papaya-flavored UltraLife tablet and stood outside the hospital for a few minutes, staring at a saguaro cactus in the center of the roundabout. He could see Robbie shuffling from door to door in the residential neighborhoods of Palm Beach, dressed in his makeshift postal uniform with the flag decal on the upper arm of the sleeve so that when he knocked, and turned to the side, the person who answered would think it was the mailman. Robbie didn’t sell anything for a month. He’d had a strap of pimples from cheek to chin to cheek and sweated through his white shirt so that by the time he reached the end of a block, you could see his fleshy breasts and the big navel in his belly that came from his mother’s father. Ted bought a portable propane grill and a juicer he’d seen advertised on TV. They drank carrot and apple juice and ate skinless chicken breasts. By the end of the summer, Robbie had become one of his best pitchmen and had lost twenty pounds; he looked nothing like the boy he’d seen at the airport terminal three months earlier. According to his ex-wife, Robbie had kept the weight off, made the football team, and had a girlfriend who wasn’t beautiful but wasn’t terribly ugly, either.

The transition happened so quickly in Ted’s memory.

This is terrible, Ted said to himself, and spit out the UltraLife tablet.

The psychiatric ward was clean and smelled like lilacs, the hallway decorated with placid muses of sunflowers, trees in fall, the ocean at sunrise. Visiting hours were over, but Ted convinced the nurse to let him see his son.

“They’ve just had their snack,” the nurse said. Something about the word “snack” made his chest tighten.

All he knew of lunacy had come from the movies—there was pain, of course, but plenty of joy and laughter, too. Though, the people in the “common room” were speechless, indifferent, clutching small objects and bobbing their heads, or curled into comfortless fetal positions as if their pajamas and robes couldn’t help them from feeling naked. They were all wearing the same thick, wool socks.

“Some are really crazy,” the nurse said. “Others are just pretending.”

“Why would they do that?”

“It’s safer in here than it is out there.”

He thought to ask which she believed Robbie was—crazy or pretending to be crazy—but the nurse walked ahead of him and stopped abruptly. “There you go. One twenty-two.”

The door was slightly open. A tease of speckled light shone through the metal screens over the windows. On the mattress near the far wall lay a man who looked like a false prophet, with a long untended beard and a sunken chest. Robbie was lying on the bed closest to the door. His robe was spread open, revealing his big, spotted legs. He had a washcloth on his forehead and his eyes were closed. Ted could tell he’d put on weight. His face was rounder and his ears seemed smaller.

Ted sat down in a chair next to the bed.

“Hey kiddo,” he whispered, and touched Robbie’s shoulder.

Robbie’s eyelids rose slightly then lowered.

Ted felt he needed to say something thoughtful and loving and instructive, but nothing came to him.

The man on the other bed stirred and sat up.

“Hey,” he said. “Who’re you?”

“Robbie’s father.”

“Who’s Robbie?”

Ted gestured to his son.

“Oh. That’s my VP. I’m running for president, you know.”

“Oh, yeah.” Ted wasn’t sure how he was supposed to react to this lunatic. Be kind, he thought.

“Yeah, first a black man and now a Jew. Vote R.U. Kiddin for President.”

“That sounds promising. Would you mind keeping it down in the meantime?”

“R.U. Kiddin?”

“Me?”

“You said it.”

“Please!”

The man looked at him coldly.

“I don’t have to take this shit,” he said and hopped off the bed. His thin, amphibious body moved about the room with a slippery grace, collecting loose change and a hunter’s cap before darting out into the hall.

Ted took the washcloth from Robbie’s forehead, folded and placed it on the nightstand. Three empty pudding cups were stacked there, a book of crossword puzzles open beside them. He sat in the quiet and stillness of the room. He had never wondered what his son dreamed, where he went and what he did there. He tried now. He took up the end of Robbie’s robe and rubbed the cotton material between his fingers.

Minutes later, the nurse returned with the presidential candidate.

“I’m sorry, but it’s time for you to leave,” she said. “Our visiting hours begin at ten in the morning.”

Ted drew the sheet over Robbie’s legs and tucked it in around his waist.

He wanted to convince the two strangers standing there that he wasn’t a bad father; he’d tried his best; he didn’t know what he was doing, and he suspected that when other people’s kids turned out all right, it was because they were lucky. But the evidence was clear, and there was something inside Ted, something in the blood of his ancestors, that incited this kind of uncontrollable fear, which Robbie was unable to cope with. Or had it been Ted’s fault all along? Had his absence, his criticisms, his inability to express the kind of love he had for Robbie, led his son to self-destruct?

He walked back to his car. The sun was a deep orange color now, half buried below the horizon, its light spread across the desert sand and fountain grass. He drove to a La Quinta on Starr Pass Boulevard, checked in, and made a pot of coffee. He stood at the window, drinking his coffee, watching a group of children cannonball into the pool while their mothers smoked and read magazines and their fathers cooked steaks on the community grill. He couldn’t quite figure out if the sadness he felt was because he missed the family he had, or if he’d never enjoyed his family the same way these people seemed to be enjoying theirs. If the latter was true, then why had he tried in the first place? What was the point of those years? What did they mean?

Robbie was running toward him, falling, struggling to get to his feet, running, falling, getting up again. He was closer now. Soon he’d be in Ted’s outstretched arms. He would be picked up and held aloft. He would see his father from this new height, from a different angle, in a different light.

Ted carried his bag downstairs and asked the front desk clerk if it was possible to have his money refunded.

“Was there something wrong with the room?”

“No,” Ted said. “I made a mistake. I’m not supposed to be here.”

“Where are you supposed to be?” the clerk asked.

G

Author Image

Patrick Dacey’s debut collection, We’ve Already Gone This Far, will be released by Henry Holt & Company in February 2016. His stories have been featured in Zoetrope: All-Story, Bomb, Lumina, Salt Hill, and Pleiades, among other publications. He currently lives in Richmond, Virginia.

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