Darkest Fear Page 45

Myron cleared his throat and put his hands on the table. “How you feeling?”

Dad gave a big nod. “Good. You?”


The silence floated down, puffy and relaxed. Silence with a father can be like that. You drift back and you’re young and you’re safe, safe in that all-encompassing way only a child can be with his father. You still see him hovering in your darkened doorway, the silent sentinel to your adolescence, and you sleep the sleep of the naive, the innocent, the unformed. When you get older, you realize that this safety was just an illusion, another child’s perception, like the size of your backyard.

Or maybe, if you’re lucky, you don’t.

Dad looked older today, the flesh on his face more sagged, the once-knotted biceps spongy under the T-shirt, starting to waste. Myron wondered how to start. Dad closed his eyes for a three count, opened them, and said, “Don’t.”


“Your mother is about as subtle as a White House press release,” Dad said. “I mean, when was the last time she picked up the takeout instead of me?”

“Has she ever?”

“Once,” Dad said. “When I had a fever of a hundred and four. And even then she whined about it.”

“Where’s she going?”

“She has me on a special diet now, you know. Because of the chest pains.” Chest pains. Euphemism for heart attack.

“Yeah, I figured that.”

“She’s even tried cooking a little. She told you?”

Myron nodded. “She baked something for me yesterday.”

Dad’s body went stiff. “By God,” he said. “Her own son?”

“It was pretty scary.”

“The woman has many, many talents, but they could airdrop that stuff into starving African nations and no one would eat it.”

“So where’s she going?”

“Your mother is high on some crazy Middle Eastern health food place. Just opened in West Orange. Get this, it’s called Ayatollah Granola.”

Myron gave him flat eyes.

“Hand to God, that’s the name. Food is almost as dry as that Thanksgiving turkey your mother made when you were eight. You remember that?”

“At night,” Myron said. “It still haunts my sleep.”

Dad looked off again. “She left us alone so we could talk, right?”


He made a face. “I hate when she does stuff like that. She means well, your mother. We both know that. But let’s not do it, okay?”

Myron shrugged. “You say so.”

“She thinks I don’t like growing old. News flash: No one does. My friend Herschel Diamond—you remember Heshy?”


“Big guy, right? Played semipro football when we were young. So Heshy, he calls me and he says now that I’m retired, I can do tai chi with him. I mean, tai chi? What the hell is that anyway? If I want to move slowly, I have to drive down to the Y to do it with a bunch of old yentas? I mean, what’s that about? I tell him no. So then Heshy, this great athlete, Myron, he could hit a softball a country mile, this marvelous big ox, he tells me we can walk together. Walk. At the mall. Speed-walk, he calls it. At the mall, for chrissake. Heshy always hated the place—now he wants us to trot around like a bunch of jackasses in matching sweatsuits and expensive walking shoes. Pump our arms with these little faigelah barbells. Walking shoes, he calls them. What the hell is that anyway? I never had a pair of shoes I couldn’t walk in, am I right?”

He waited for an answer. Myron said, “As rain.”

Dad stood up. He grabbed a screwdriver and feigned working. “So now, because I don’t want to move like an old Chinaman or walk around a godforsaken mall in overpriced sneakers, your mother thinks I’m not adjusting. You hear what I’m saying?”


Dad stayed bent, fiddling a little more with the railing. In the distance, Myron heard children playing. A bike bell rang. Someone laughed. A lawn mower purred. Dad’s voice, when he finally spoke again, was surprisingly soft. “You know what your mother really wants us to do?” he said.


“She wants you and I to reverse roles.” Dad finally looked up through his heavy-lidded eyes. “I don’t want to reverse roles, Myron. I’m the father. I like being the father. Let me stay that, okay?”

Myron found it hard to speak. “Sure, Dad.”

His father put his head back down, the gray wisps upright in the humidity, his breathing tool-work heavy, and Myron again felt something open up his chest and grab hold of his heart. He looked at this man he’d loved for so long, who’d gone without complaint to that damn muggy warehouse in Newark for more than thirty years, and Myron realized that he didn’t know him. He didn’t know what his father dreamed about, what he wanted to be when he was a kid, what he thought about his own life.

Dad kept working on the screw. Myron watched him.

Promise me you won’t die, okay? Just promise me that.

He almost said it out loud.

Dad straightened himself out and studied his handiwork. Satisfied, he sat back down. They started talking about the Knicks and the recent Kevin Costner movie and the new Nelson DeMille book. They put away the toolbox. They had some iced tea. They lounged side by side in matching molded-resin chaises. An hour passed. They fell into a comfortable silence. Myron fingered the condensation on his glass. He could hear his father’s breathing, moderately wheezy. Dusk had settled in, bruising the sky purple, the trees going a burnt orange.

Myron closed his eyes and said, “I got a hypothetical for you.”


“What would you do if you found out you weren’t my real father?”

Dad’s eyebrows went skyward. “You trying to tell me something?”

“Just a hypothetical. Suppose you found out right now that I wasn’t your biological son. How would you react?”

“Depends,” Dad said.


“How you reacted.”

“It wouldn’t make a difference to me,” Myron said.

Dad smiled.

“What?” Myron said.

“Easy for both of us to say it wouldn’t matter. But news like that is a bombshell. You can’t predict what someone will do when a bomb lands. When I was in Korea—” Dad stopped, Myron sat up. “Well, you never knew how someone would react …” His voice tailed off. He coughed into his fist and then started up again. “Guys you were sure would be heroes completely lost it—and vice versa. That’s why you can’t ask stuff like this as a hypothetical.”

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