Nineteen is the number of times I stabbed my father. One in each forearm, shoulder, thigh, calves. Neck back stomach balls. Between two ribs the knife plunged and pierced one lung, two, and caught on a shard of bone, a tendon shred. Wrench tug free. I’d pictured each puncture in detail one by one. Not over and over on loop like some freak but while waiting for the bus or falling asleep I thought about the order of it, in and out and back in, the quiet shrill of it. Muscle rip against blade, bone scrape against metal.
For once, Audrey was glad Mason had worn that maroon knit cap his dad had given him. The wind swept low around them as they sat on the park bench, chilling Audrey while the bare tree tops remained still.
Her son did not look up from doodling on his hand as he asked, “What did the people at the garage tell you?”
“They think they know what’s wrong, but they can’t fix it until tomorrow.”
“How much?” Now he started on the other side, turning his hand before she could look at the ink splotches covering his palm.
“Enough to cut into our hotel money. No continental breakfast for us, kiddo.” One transmission leak leaves us scrambling, she thought.
My son and I meet in the City, dinner and talk. And drink. More and more drink as time goes by. He is quite the drinker, my son is, Old Overholt Rye on the rocks–a drinkers drink. None of those blends that people call Rye. Who am I to talk? When I was his age, twenty-seven, I was out drinking every night and my poison of choice was Tequila.
But it’s not the same. Sometimes I think he needs his golden anesthesia to tolerate our time together. We hug hello and goodbye and he never acts embarrassed to kiss me when he sees me. We never have a bad time, not like the old days, which were rocky as all Hell. That’s okay. Fathers and sons should have a little conflict to make them stronger and bond as more than just parent and child when they get older. By now we should be bonded at the hip, but I worry that he’s getting the Irish disease which is even worse for a Jew than for a Mick. I should know.
And now little Charlie is banging on the door. He doesn’t understand why his dad has locked himself in there, and neither do I. All I know is that I started looking at myself in the mirror and now I can’t get out. And I’m sweating through my shirt, my tie hanging undone around my neck. And I’ve only just realised that my trousers are down around my ankles. I’m ridiculous. A grown man rooted to the floor with his trousers down. Imagine if Charlie was to see that? He’d be traumatised, confused, even more than I am.
Tiny clots of tissue and intestine trailed down my driveway and snaked around to the backyard. Before the touch of day, I’d let Shiva out to run free from the house and I. Two hours later and still no sign of her. She’d usually come back to the front door scratching and whining to get back in; negative 42 degrees had a way of making animals panic. The cold couldn’t bother me anymore, but the sun still did—it was too bright. I grabbed a jacket anyway and headed out to look for her. She had no problem jumping the metal fence around the property. And when she didn’t feel like jumping, she’d dig her way to freedom.
Magnificently justified, she teeters on the parapet of her limestone tower. The herd lows below, and in the autumn air all stands still except for Tom, who has spied her from a distance and now is racing to her rescue. Her foot shifts and slips a bit, sending down a pebble cascade, but her heart is strong, and she refuses to be petrified. She stares straight ahead at the hillside, where leaves fall from their trees, drifting, dropping, like children’s valentines into makeshift paper-bag mailboxes taped to her classroom wall many years before. Cards of teddy bears with hearts, Hello Kitty with hearts, blooming flowers with hearts, circus lions proclaiming, “You’re purr-fect!” Suppressing squeals, children scurry. Others’ bags fill up. In hers, not one. Eyes anchored on the hillside, all she sees is disregard. That and the teacher frowning with pity for poor Samantha San Gabriel, so shy and so odd.
These were more than echoes, the soft sounds I was hearing from the rear of the barn sitting back from Route 182 in Franklin, Maine, half a dozen fat pigs to one side, corn as deep as Iowa on the other side, and the terrain across the road flush with blueberry bushes until a slow rise tipped the landscape in its favor… and in mine. In my son Tim’s favor, too. He lives by this barn. Perhaps I had lived waiting for its sassy voices.