Darkest Fear Page 3

“He didn’t want to tell you,” Mom said. “You know your father. He still feels he has to protect you.”

Myron nodded, stayed in the leaves.

Then she said, “It was more than chest pains.”

Myron stopped.

“It was a full-blown coronary,” she went on, not meeting his eyes. “He was in intensive care for three days.” She started blinking. “The artery was almost entirely blocked.”

Myron felt his throat close.

“It’s changed him. I know how much you love him, but you have to accept that.”

“Accept what?”

Her voice was gentle and firm. “That your father is getting older. That I’m getting older.”

He thought about it. “I’m trying,” he said.


“But I see that For Sale sign—”

“Wood and bricks and nails, Myron.”


She waded through the leaves and took hold of his elbow. “Listen to me. You mope around here like we’re sitting shiva, but that house is not your childhood. It isn’t a part of your family. It doesn’t breathe or think or care. It’s just wood and bricks and nails.”

“You’ve lived there for almost thirty-five years.”


He turned away, kept walking.

“Your father wants to be honest with you,” she said, “but you’re not making it any easier.”

“Why? What did I do?”

She shook her head, looked up into the sky as though willing divine inspiration, continued walking. Myron stayed by her side. She snaked her arm under his elbow and leaned against him.

“You were always a terrific athlete,” she said. “Not like your father. Truth be told, your father was a spaz.”

“I know this,” Myron said.

“Right. You know this because your father never pretended to be something he wasn’t. He let you see him as human—vulnerable even. And it had a strange effect on you. You worshipped him all the more. You turned him into something almost mythical.”

Myron thought about it, didn’t argue. He shrugged and said, “I love him.”

“I know, sweetheart. But he’s just a man. A good man. But now he’s getting old and he’s scared. Your father always wanted you to see him as human. But he doesn’t want you to see him scared.”

Myron kept his head down. There are certain things you cannot picture your parents doing—having sex being the classic example. Most people cannot—probably should not even try to—picture their parents in flagrante delicto. But right now Myron was trying to conjure up another taboo image, one of his father sitting alone in the dark, hand on his chest, scared, and the sight, while achievable, was aching, unbearable. When he spoke again, his voice was thick. “So what should I do?”

“Accept the changes. Your father is retiring. He’s worked his whole life and like most moronically macho men of his era, his self-worth is wrapped up in his job. So he’s having a tough time. He’s not the same. You’re not the same. Your relationship is shifting and neither one of you likes change.”

Myron stayed silent, waiting for more.

“Reach out to him a little,” Mom said. “He’s carried you your whole life. He won’t ask, but now it’s his turn.”

When they turned the final corner, Myron saw the Mercedes parked in front of the For Sale sign. He wondered for a moment if it was a realtor showing the house. His father stood in the front yard chatting with a woman. Dad was gesturing wildly and smiling. Looking at his father’s face—the rough skin that always seemed in need of a shave, the prominent nose Dad used to “nose punch” him during their giggling fun-fights, the heavy-lidded eyes à la Victor Mature and Dean Martin, the wispy hairs of gray that held on stubbornly after the thick black had fled—Myron felt a hand reach in and tweak his heart.

Dad caught his eye and waved. “Look who stopped by!” he shouted.

Emily Downing turned around and gave him a tight smile. Myron looked back at her and said nothing. Fifty minutes had passed. Ten more until the heel crushed the tomato.


Too much history. His parents made themselves scarce. For all their almost legendary butting in, they both had the uncanny ability to trample full tilt through the Isle of Nosiness without tripping any gone-too-far mines. They quietly disappeared into the house.

Emily tried a smile, but it just wasn’t happening. “Well, well, well,” she said when they were alone. “If it isn’t the good one I let get away.”

“You used that line last time I saw you.”

“Did I?”

They had met in the library freshman year at Duke. Emily had been bigger then, a bit fleshier, though not in a bad way, and the years had definitely slimmed her down and toned her up, though again not in a bad way. But the visual whammy was still there. Emily wasn’t so much pretty as, to quote SuperFly, foxy. Hot. Sizzlingly so. As a young coed, she’d had long, kinky hair that always had that just-did-the-nasty muss to it, a crooked smile that could knock a movie up a rating, and a subconsciously undulating body that continuously flickered out the word sex like an old movie projector. It didn’t matter that she wasn’t beautiful; beauty had little to do with it, in fact. This was an innate thing; Emily couldn’t turn it off if she donned a muumuu and put roadkill on her head.

The weird thing was, they were both virgins when they met, somehow missing the perhaps overblown sexual revolution of the seventies and early eighties. Myron always believed that the revolution was mostly hype or, at the very least, that it didn’t seep past the brick façades of suburban high schools. But then again, he was pretty good at self-rationalization. More likely, it was his fault—if you could consider not being promiscuous a fault. He’d always been attracted to the “nice” girls, even in high school. Casual affairs never interested him. Every girl he met was gauged as a potential life partner, a soul mate, an undying love, as though every relationship should be a Carpenters song.

But with Emily it had been complete sexual exploration and discovery. They learned from each other in stuttering, though achingly blissful, steps. Even now, as much as he detested her very being, he could still feel the tightening, could still recall the way his nerve endings would sing and surge when they were in bed. Or the back of a car. Or a movie theater or a library or once even during a poly sci lecture on Hobbes’s Leviathan. While he may have yearned to be a Carpenters man, his first long-term relationship had ended up more like something off Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell album—hot, heavy, sweaty, fast, the whole “Paradise by the Dashboard Light.”

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