When I am thirty-eight, I receive a phone call. The operator asks me if
I wish to accept charges from Theodore Russell, my father. I haven't spoken
man for at least nine years.
He's calling from the hospital. He's having an ulcer treated, he assures
me that it is nothing serious.
Then why did you call, I ask. My voice is so enormously bitter that
I am surprised; I stop.
There is a silence. Then my father replies, I called because I want to
forgive you. When I say nothing, he continues, I want you to know
I am not angry at you for deserting me and not talking to me for these last
years of my life. Are you listening to me?
Yes, I say.
I haven't been such a good father. There are things in life that are regrettable
but are probably for the best. Are you still there?
Yes, I say.
What I wanted to say was that I love you. I am always behind you in whatever
you do. If you need money I'll send you money. Do you need a car?
I'm fine, I say, I have a car. I've had one for years.
Is the weather nice there?
And what are you doing nowadays?
I'm on the junior faculty at this college. It's called Newpoint. I teach
Never heard of it. What else do you do?
I travel a fair bit. Just research.
Are you married?
Haven't you met anyone?
I haven't yet.
You're not overexerting yourself, are you? You sound tired.
No, really. Listen to your father. Take care of your body. Your mind will
take care of itself.
I am always behind you. Remember that.
Yes, I say, I understand. But I don't understand at all.
I lived longer than you, he says, I know these things. Trust me. And if
you ever need anything, just call me.
Suddenly, I know I do need something. My jaws stiffen. I can hardly say
it: I need to know--
What? he asks. What do you want to know?
Is he going to answer? Is he going to go deaf?
What? he says, Who? I repeat her name but my voice isn't louder.
Instead, it dissolves, I can't breathe, I close my eyes.
A sourness collects at the base of my mouth and I spit it out but
another pool is forming in my mouth.
Wait a minute, I say. I put the receiver down on the table and run to the
sink for nothing. It's simply dry heaves.
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