A old drunk once sat on the steps outside our house, blocking our path,pulling
at our clothes: Have heart.
My father told us that the poor and crippled had a god-given purpose. They
were created to instill a sense of pity in us. He gave the drunk a similar
lecture and held out his hand to help the man up and off.
On one of the rare occasions that my father drank at all, he did an imitationof
that old man. H-h-h-have heart. H-h-have a heart.
He crawled around on the carpet pretending to look for change, shaking each
of us upside down in turn, twirling Marilyn around. We were all laughing;
he tickled us as he dug in our pockets. But when he got to Wystan, Wystan
put a pipe in his mouth and, standing up, began lecturing my father on the
uses of pity. He then held out his hand to help my father up. This made
us laugh even more but my father flushed an ugly red. He took Wystan's hand
but as he straightened his back, he suddenly lunged, hitting Wystan square
in the mouth. The pipe ash flurried the carpet. Wystan, was on the floor,
stunned, holding his jaw, putting his finger in his mouth to see if there
was any blood. My father's voice rang loud but measured: Get up. Come over
here. My father is blocking the staircase, hands on the banister. Wystan
gets up and takes a step towards my father. Then he shuts his eyes.
My father places both his hands on Wystan's face, pulling back the hair,
pulling the skin so tight the shape of the eyes and lips smear. With his
thumbs, he pushes open Wystan's eyes. My father then puts his own face up
to Wystan, so close that my father's lips move against his and the breath
crystallizes: Who's the funny one?
Wystan looks at him, hardly breathing, their eyelids touching. It's you,
he whispers, you're so funny. He says it so softly I only hear him exhaling.
Tears start falling from his eyes, his jaw trembles. The tip of my father's
tongue emerges, licks a tear off of Wystan's nose and the blood that wells
from the cut on my brother's lip. He then lowers his arms and Wystan stiffens
for a blow. Nothing. My father folds his arms and, looking downwards, begins
laughing softly to himself. A few minutes later, he's brimming over with
laughter, rolling, shaking my brother back and forth, gasping:
I'm the funny one.
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