Anything We Want
I hurried downstairs. Nature had called at exactly the wrong time, and I was sitting on the toilet when my father pulled in. I did my best, my fastest, and when I thundered down the stairs with my hands still wet, they were just taking their coats off.
Dana saw me and grinned, then Dad did the same, and in another moment Elenora saw me too, and she smiled. “Hi, Paul! We’ve missed you.”
I did a corny bow and said, “Welcome to our home. I hope you enjoy your stay. Would you like hamburgers for dinner? We have kumquats too, but not everyone loves liver and kumquat sandwiches.” I smiled at my father, “Dad does.”
He gave me a look, then sighed loudly and said, “Paul has an imagination. I don’t like liver, and if there is such a thing as a kumquat, only Paul knows what it is, and I doubt that it’s food.” He came to me smiling and held his arms out. When we hugged, he said, “I missed you, Paul. Everything’s alright?”
I held the hug and said, “Yeah, it’s fine. Mom and Ally left two tons of food, and I have a girlfriend.”
Dad backed off, took my shoulders in his hands, and looked right at me. “Your mother told me about Lisa. Will I meet her?”
I said, “You just try not to. Not tonight, ‘cause they went somewhere. Tomorrow.” I looked at him “Are you okay? It’s always about me.”
Dad touched his forehead to mine, then looked at me, his face troubled. “I’m fine, Paul. I’m more than fine. I just feel bad about being away so much. We really need to catch up on things.”
I said, “Good deal.”
Dana and Elenora were behind my father by then, and I said, “It’s just us tonight. We can hang around here, or go out and live large in old Sin City.” I noticed that Dana looked a bit uncomfortable, and asked politely, “Need the toilet?”
He nodded, and I pointed down the hall toward the back door. “Right through there. There’s a flashlight hanging on the right, and toilet paper right under it. It’s about forty feet down the path.”
Dad smacked the back of my head and chuckled. “Behind you, Dana. First door.”
Elenora said, “Maybe I’ll try the path.”
My father said, “There is no path. Paul, help with these bags. There’s another bathroom upstairs.” He picked up a couple of bags and led the way, followed by Elenora, who was looking around at the house as she walked.
I picked up three bags and followed, but I stopped when I heard the downstairs toilet flush. I called up the stairs, “Pay attention to the tile work in there.” Lisa’s father really was good at what he did. He had to tell me the bathroom was all crooked before I ever noticed it, because he’d tiled it so it didn’t look crooked at all.
I was right there when Dana came out, and he smiled when he saw me. “How you doing, anyhow?” he asked.
I looked him over and said, “I’m good. You cut your hair?”
He posed, his hand flat against the side of his head. “Had it styled. It’s not a lot different. You like it?”
It wasn’t a lot different: still on the long side, but chopped kind of shaggy. It looked different: good. I considered, and said, “Yeah, I do.
I was kind of jealous, actually. I always was of people with good hair. My mother has beautiful hair, so of course I got stuck with Dad’s hair gene. Mine is identical to his: flat, straight, and prone to cowlicks anywhere and everywhere. I usually wear a hat, just to keep my hair private. My mother and Ally spiked it once, since it was prone to self-spiking anyhow, and that was the one time it sat down. I just looked greasy. And geeky. Very, very geeky. A greasy geek.
I told Dana, “Let’s go upstairs,” and led the way, still carrying the three bags. He commented on the house on the way, but it’s not far. There was a bag in front of my door, and I thought to ask Dana, “Whose are these?”
“Not mine,” he said, so I put them at my father’s door, and led Dana into my room. My bedroom in that house is twice the size of Dana’s, but still a small room. It has a double bed with a roll-out bed under it, a nightstand, desk, dresser, chair, and a bookcase that also holds my television and a little stereo. My computer is under the desk, and the monitor is on the wall, so only the keyboard and mouse take up space on the desk itself. The good part is that it’s a corner room, and I have windows on two sides. That’s nice in the summer, because I can almost always get a breeze.
The room was looking good right then because I’d picked it up, so as to not frighten Dana. I cleaned up after school, and dusted with a sock. The normal use for the furniture in there was to hang clothes. The only reason I hung my clothes at all was that one day I stumbled out of bed, and my feet got tangled in sweats and underwear on the floor. I tripped and fell right into a metal handle on the dresser, which busted my head open. I learned the thinking behind tidy floors that morning, but never did see much value in many, many trips to the laundry room when just a few would have the same effect. I brought my winter things down for washing on alternating Sundays, and my summer things around Labor Day.
My furniture is nicer than Dana’s, but the room doesn’t outclass his. I just sleep there, and do my homework there sometimes. The only things on the wall are a picture of a ten-year-old me and my parents, smiling in our back yard on Cape Cod, a big, framed mirror behind the dresser, and a pair of scenic paintings of Paris that were donated by Ally.
Dana looked around for a bit, and he suddenly put his bag on my desk chair, unzipped it, rummaged round inside, and pulled out a video cassette. He held it out and grinned, “I told you about this. Wait’ll you see. It’s the best shitter ever!”
I wanted to see it, but my television has a DVD player, not a cassette player. “Downstairs!”
Dana was like me on stairs: a real clomper, so Dad probably thought there was an earthquake. I turned on the television and pushed the tape into the VCR, then settled back to watch. After a minute, it was clear that we weren’t going to see anything, because we were looking at blank space at the end of the tape. I looked at Dana and said, “I forget, too,” as I pushed the rewind button.
The machine clicked off in a minute, and I was transported back into snow country. The camera panned up a very steep section of hill, and stopped at the top of the steep. Then Dana crested the rim airborne, and even though I couldn’t see his grin, I could picture it. The boy knew how to make an entrance for sure, and when he touched down it was as light as a feather. Then something happened and it looked like Dana exploded, because there was suddenly just a huge cloud of snow shooting everywhere, and the snow-smoke continued its cascade down the mountain.
“Jesus!” I yelled, and that cloud kept going. I saw others running into the picture and chasing downhill. When the cloud stopped, Dana’s body sat up from the waist. He’d lost the face guard on his helmet, and his skis. He looked around abruptly, and didn’t swear or anything, but asked “Did you see that? I should be dead!”
It was there that I realized the video didn’t have sound, and Dana was talking. I pressed the rewind button to watch again, and turned to him. “What? Live fast, die young, and have a good looking corpse?”
Dana’s eyes widened at first, then his face crinkled into a little grin. “If I hit anything at that speed, I wouldn’t have a corpse. They’d have to put me in a bottle or something!”
I laughed, “You have such a way with words.” I changed the subject. “How’s the building coming?”
Dana said thoughtfully, “Downstairs is about done. They’re pouring the concrete for the outside ramp and deck next week. Inside is nice … you should see it.”
“I will,” I promised. “How is upstairs going?”
“Slow. I mean, we’re all set where we are, and the business comes first. It’s the same people doing both, and it makes sense to finish one thing.”
I smiled a little. My father was beginning to wear off on Dana, and what he’d just said was my father’s practicality echoing from Dana’s mouth. That was what Dana was hoping for, too, and I was suddenly pleased for him.
The phone rang, and I picked it up.
“Is this Lido’s Pizza?” a woman asked. We get a lot of calls for Lido’s Pizza, and they have to come from the really brain dead to dial the wrong area-code first.
“Yes it is,” I said. I normally only mess with callers when I’m alone, but Dana is family. “Before you order, I’m supposed to tell you about our new offerings.”
“Oh! How nice.”
“My parents came back from China with new ideas. Did you know that pizza was actually invented in China, and brought back to Italy by Marco Polo?”
“Oh, yes! In China, pizza has evolved for at least two thousand years, and it’s so much more interesting than the Pizza Hut variety. Shall I go on?”
“I’m glad you’re a connoisseur. You know, most people only want extra cheese. They don’t even ask if our cheese is real, which, of course, it is.” I grinned at Dana, who had apparently caught on, and was laughing hard, though silently.
“Oh, don’t be silly. We know your cheese is real, and that your recipes are authentic.”
“Okay, here we go,” I said. “We have some new meat toppings. Pupperoni is one, and cattanochi is another. We can make a nice combo, if you like. Oh, and I almost forgot. My parents love this Chinese cheese that’s flavored with vixen urine. You can’t buy it here, of course, so we make our own with local vixen urine.”
By then the line was dead, but I didn’t give up on the dial-tone. “My father says it’s worth the surcharge, because it keeps the I.R.S from your door. Hello? Hello?”
I grinned at Dana and said, “Wrong number. We get them all the time.”
He was red in the face from holding in his laughter, and he squeaked, “I bet you don’t get the same ones twice.”
I shrugged, “I don’t know.”
Dana asked, “Is that your standard speech? It’s funny.”
I chuckled, “No, it’s different every time. Sometimes I take orders, sometimes I yell at them. Usually I ask how they intend to pay, and if they say cash, I say we’ll need two forms of ID, so have it ready.”
Dana said, “That’s funny.”
I said, “Usually it is. Sometimes someone calls and gets mad at me because I’m not Lido’s.”
Dana frowned, “Now that’s kind of sick.” His look turned kind of earnest. “Where’s Tom? I’ll see the guys, won’t I?”
I grinned, “Tommy is at driving school. He just got his learner’s permit.”
Dana sat back and said, “I can’t wait.” His look brightened, “I’m driving the Jeep now, you know. Your dad is showing me on the back roads.”
I almost blurted that I’d been learning since I was eleven, but I gave Dana his moment. “Really? That’s a boring car, but I’d drive a tractor if somebody let me.”
Dana’s eyebrows lowered, “It’s a Jeep. That’s not boring! I love driving. I’m not supposed to say, but I drove all the way out to the Interstate on the way here.”
I smiled. That was my father, and he really was treating Dana like me, for whatever it was worth. I’d driven that stretch from the house to the highway a few times, and Dad pretended to sleep when I did, just so I’d know how confident he was in me. He’d still know, even supposedly sound asleep, to warn things like, “That left turn up ahead is banked funny, so take it slow.”
I asked Dana, out of the blue, “Do you bowl?”
“Bowl,” I said. “You know, you go put slippers on, pick up a ball of stone, and roll it at pins in another town.”
“Oh! Yeah. No. I mean I’ve been maybe twice. I suck at it.”
“Me too,” I said. “That’s what they do around here on Friday. I’d rather floss, if you want to know.”
Dana snickered, “Yeah, I guess.” He looked up, “So, it’s just us tonight?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I didn’t make plans because I don’t know if my father already did.” I tapped my cell phone and said, “If you want to go somewhere, we can find out what the guys are doing.”
Dana looked down for a moment, then said, “It’s just that it’s my first time here. I don’t know what to expect.”
“Don’t get your hopes up,” I said, as I rang Jim’s phone.
He picked up on the second ring, and answered with, “I thought …”
“I do,” I said. “Dana wants to see you guys. Anything going on tonight?”
Jimmy said, “Nothing special. I’m just gonna hang around downtown … naked, if it’s not too cold.”
I laughed, because that wouldn’t happen, not with Jimmy McNaughton. I looked at Dana and asked, “Feel like getting naked downtown?”
To my surprise, he said, “Naked is good. Isn’t it kind of cold out?”
Jim said, “I heard that. Yes, it’s kind of cold, but define too cold. That bar, Terra Cotta has outside heaters. It’ll be balmy.”
“Um,” I said. “Listen, Jim. We’re not allowed in bars, and I think getting chased away all bare-assed might be kind of scary.”
“It would,” he agreed. “Okay, let’s go bowling.”
I sighed, “Jim, call back after you bowl. I don’t know what we’re doing for dinner, but it won’t involve bowling pins. Better yet, I’ll call you.”
“Okay,” Jim said. “Be like that.”
Dana was waiting for me, so I didn’t follow my usual argument with Jim. “I’ll call after we eat, okay? If you’re bowling, we can invent new poisons with my chemistry set. We’ll live.”
Jim snorted, “You’re okay, Doodler, you know that? I have an assignment for you. One of these days, come up with an alternative to bowling.”
“What?” I protested. “Nose picking doesn’t count?”
“Of course it counts,” he said. “It just counts for gross points. Real points come from bowling.”
“Gee, bowl me over. You go, and tell me how it was, okay? Dana’s here, and he doesn’t bowl either. As a matter of fact, if it’s not late, come over after. Dana brought a video of him wiping out, and it’s a large kind of crash.”
“I can’t wait,” Jim said. “What’s too late?”
I thought, and said, “Nine-thirty is pushing it, ten is too late. Okay?”
“See you around nine,” he said, and we hung up.
I looked at Dana, and he had an odd look on his face. “What?” I asked.
“I was just wondering,” he said. “How far is Albany?”
I wasn’t prepared for a geography question, and had to think. “I’m not sure. Maybe like a hundred miles.”
“Due west, right?”
I shrugged, “Pretty much, I think. Want to look at an atlas?”
Dana nodded. I knew where ours was, because it didn’t fit anywhere, so it was leaning against the bookcase at the bottom of the stairs. I got it, and plunked it on the coffee table in front of Dana. I pulled the table closer, then sat beside him. It was a bit of a trick, because New York wasn’t grouped with Vermont; Vermont was on the page with New Hampshire.
I asked idly, as I flipped the pages to New York, “What’s in Albany?”
Dana swallowed, then said softly, “Maybe my real father. I don’t know. Maybe a clue about him, anyhow.”
I sat back and looked at Dana, whose gaze was on me, but kind of blank. “It’s important?” I asked.
He shrugged, “I don’t know.” He took on a pained look, “How can I know ‘til I know more? I don’t know. I just don’t.” His face was still a blank when he asked, “How can I know before I know who he is?”
“You’re right,” I said. “You can’t know, but do you want to?”
He seemed embarrassed before answering me. “I don’t know. It’s just all weird, and I don’t know. He doesn’t know about me, but I know I have a father somewhere, and maybe not so far away.” Dana stopped talking as he traced a finger across the map, then he said quietly, “I’m not just my mother’s son.”
He sat back suddenly and put his hand on my forearm. I looked at him, and his face was troubled. He seemed hesitant to speak, but finally mumbled, “I can have a father now, and he’s your father, too. He’s all I need, really, and I learn things every day just from being around him, and when we talk, he makes it seem so … so natural. He helps me look at things different ways, helps me think things out for myself.” Dana smiled sadly, “How’s that? I need help thinking. I don’t care, because I do need help, but I don’t need it from two people.”
He stopped, and I turned to him, crossing one leg over the other so I could face him better. “What’s your mother say?” I asked. “She just won’t tell you who the guy is?”
Dana shook his head. “When she left, she says, she left forever. She was getting a hard time from everywhere, and nobody would listen to her. I don’t doubt her, and they all wanted me to be aborted, so she left.” He smiled a little. “Know what I think? I think if she went home after I was born, it would have been different. I mean, nobody would kill a real baby, right?”
I shook my head a little. “I don’t think so. I don’t know what to say, either. I know kids whose folks are divorced and like that, but they know who both their parents are. I don’t get your mother, I guess. I mean, it’s been a long time. You’re pretty well grown up, so what’s the big deal if she writes or something?”
Dana frowned, “I think it’s pride. Like they had nothing to do with me, so why should they now? You know, I could feel that way, too, and I do sometimes. But I still have this history that doesn’t belong to me. It’s like my family started with my mother when I was born. I’m not like anyone else, who has clerks and farmers, and who knows what else in their family. Maybe murderers, but you know what? I’d take a murderer over nothing at all.”
I said, “Take it easy, man. Don’t go working yourself up.”
Dana’s eyes flashed with anger, and his voice rose. “Why shouldn’t I be worked up? You have a mother and a father, grandparents on both sides … I don’t know, probably uncles, aunts and cousins. I have me! Me and my mother, like she’s the Virgin Mary or something, and I just came to visit and stayed. It’s not normal, Paulie. It’s not normal.”
My father often called me Paulie, but nobody else ever had before Dana just then. I didn’t have a cute name for him. His mother addressed him as ‘Baby’ most of the time, but I wasn’t quite prepared to do that.
“Listen,” I said. “Listen to yourself, Dana. You know what you want, and you know how to ask for it.” I touched his shoulder, “Why don’t you talk it out with your mother and Dad? I can disappear for awhile.”
Dana looked at me, and said, “You stay, too. You’ll see when they stop hearing me, and you can say something to make them listen.”
That sounded fatalistic, and very unlike Dana. “Dana,” I almost whispered. “I don’t think they stop listening to you. I know my father wouldn’t.” I patted his knee. “I like your plan. Let’s both talk to them.”
“You don’t mind?” Dana asked.
“I don’t mind,” I said. “I’m curious myself, though I don’t have anything to lose. You know, if we at least find out who these people are, and where they live, maybe we can dress you in Dr. Dentons, put you in a basket, and leave you on a doorstep.” I laughed at my own wit, and at Dana’s surprised face. “Think they’d guess right away?”
Dana said, “That’s not funny,” with a wry smile on his face. “Well, it’s funny enough. I’ll …”
Dana stopped, and I followed his look to the stairs, where my father and Elenora were starting down, obviously only aware of each other. I nudged Dana and looked my question at him. He whispered, “You don’t know? They’re like … well, you know what they’re like.”
I smiled at Dana, then took a closer look at Dad, who had reached the ground floor and was headed our way, smiling like a just-fed puppy.
“Hi, boys! What’s up?”
I shrugged, “Just talking. What’s up with you?”
His rosy glow turned into a fierce blush, and he stammered, “Oh, j-just tired after the drive. Hungry?”
“Not really,” I said. “Sit down and say something. I haven’t seen you in weeks.”
He looked at Elenora and then back to me. “Well, okay. What’s on your mind?” They took seats in arm chairs that were only separated by a little table.
I looked at Dana, and he seemed to want me to start. “Oh, not a lot, really. What’s the bus to Albany cost?”
“Albany?” Dad asked, confused.
Elenora knew, though. I could see it in her face. Dana touched my arm, but I just looked at his mother. She took a deep breath and asked, “Alright. What do you know about Albany?”
I opened my mouth, but Dana spoke first. “Ma! I know about Albany, okay? I just don’t know what I know, but I know. You tell everybody but me about Albany, and now I want to know. I know your family is from there. I know I have a father from there. If you want to stay away from it, fine. Just give me a name, or an address or something.” His hand grip on my arm tightened, and he said fervently, “I want a history, Ma. Whatever it is. I don’t care if I meet those people or not, but I want to know who they are. I can read about them, if that’s what you want, but I need to know.”
Dad flashed me a look like he thought I had inspired Dana, and Elenora looked stricken at first, then just sad. She looked down, “Oh, baby, I know.” She fretted with her hands for a moment, then looked at my father. “Would you mind?”
Dad stood and looked at me, “Come on, Paulie. Is the grill out yet, or still in the barn?”
“What grill?” I asked when we were alone in the kitchen. I pointed to our built-in electric grill and asked, “This one?”
Dad shook his head, “Never mind. Just give them some space.”
Dad put a hand on my shoulder and led me to the kitchen table, and we sat looking at each other. “Paul, listen. Elenora has spent the last fifteen years protecting Dana from her family, and from his father’s family.”
When I drew a sharp breath, Dad smiled. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to sound dramatic.” He looked around the room, then out the window, and finally at me. “Elenora was hurt by her family, and I mean deeply hurt. She had a high-school crush and ended up getting pregnant. Everyone in her world wanted her to have an abortion, and that horrified her. So she took off on her own at fourteen years old, and with just the clothes on her back and what cash she could find in the house.”
“Shit,” I mumbled.
“She never went far, and she knew they were looking for her at first, so she’d just move to the next town. She never once left this area, and the family didn’t look forever, or maybe gave up on the home turf to look elsewhere.” He got up and put some tap water in a glass, which he plunked down between us.
“Dana was born in some kind of family services center, and the state wanted to take him away. Elenora took off again, and they bounced around all kinds of places. They found a commune, and it sounds like some good people, and stayed there until Dana started school. Then Elenora found a home in Stockton, and they’ve been there ever since.”
I just stared at my father for a long time, and finally said, “Okay, I get it.” I thought for a moment before going on. “There’s still Dana, and the kid doesn’t know who he is. Listen, Dad. I admire Elenora, I really do. Dana’s right, though. He said his mother isn’t the Virgin Mary, and she’s not! Dana has family on her side, and another family on his father’s side. I just … I don’t know. I don’t think it’s right to keep that from him.”
Dad said, “Paul, I’ve been spending a lot of time with Dana. I try to treat him like my own son.”
I sagged. “I know that, Dad, and it’s kind of beautiful.” I had a sudden wetness in my eye and wiped it off with my hand. “You are Dana’s father, and he loves you to death.” I focused, “You’re not his history, though. Not his … what’s the word? You’re not his heritage. His ancestor isn’t your grandfather, it’s somebody else’s grandfather. That’s what this is about. Dana doesn’t want to replace anybody, he just wants to know where he came from.”
Dad smiled his special little smile and asked, “When did you get so smart?” He looked toward the other room and added, “I hope Dana makes as good an argument as you.” He winked at me, “Let’s make dinner.”
My mother had left meats in the refrigerator. There were nice, thick steaks, pork chops, and five pounds of ground sirloin, which was enough for about six dadburgers. I told him the choices, and he said, “Probably best to use the hamburger first. Is there anything else in there?”
“Potato salad,” I said, “Ally’s.”
“Yum. Why don’t you cut up the rolls and fry some onions? Any tomatoes?”
There were tomatoes, and we both started in. Dad sat at the table forming very fat patties, and I worked at the counter, until we had onions in a covered pan, rolls ready to go under the broiler, and hamburgers on the grill. I don’t know where my mother found those tomatoes in Vermont, and so early in the year, but they were big, red and ripe. I’d sliced two into nice, fat slices, and I sprinkled one slice with pepper. I nibbled on that while we talked.
I caught my father up on the dance at school, the different projects I’d taken on, and I think he got the idea that I liked Lisa Mongillo more than a little bit. Dad’s a good listener, and it was fun just talking like that, but the food was done soon enough, and Dad ended up bringing a tray into the other room for Dana and Elenora. I think that embarrassed them a little, because he came directly back to the kitchen with the tray, and they were right behind him.
Once they were comfortable and had food in front of them, we started eating. Elenora picked up her burger, and her eyes went wide. She held it in front of her amused mouth, and finally put it back on the plate. She giggled, “I don’t think I’ve seen a hamburger like this before.” She picked up her fork and said, “I hope it’s okay if I don’t try to bite into it?”
Dad smiled indulgently, and Elenora picked up her knife and attacked the burger. My own burger was inches from my mouth, and I would ordinarily rejoice over the juice running down my chin. I mean, what’s the big deal? You have a puffy, toasted bun, a two-inch thick hamburger, a pile of grilled onions, a fat slice of tomato. Cheese. Damn!
I put mine down on my plate, took my knife and fork, and chopped the beautiful thing in half, then quarters, and I kept cutting, feeling oddly that I was chopping up my father’s favorite child. Even that thought gave me pause, and I looked at Dana, who was murdering his own sandwich. Was he the new favorite? Was I the hamburger? I’d never had competition, and had given my father to Dana without conditions. True to form, I never looked to the possible consequences.
Now my lovely, huge hamburger, which had been made just-so, was all in a mess on my plate, and I suddenly thought it was funny. One bite convinced me that the transmogrification from burger to mess did nothing to detract from the flavor, and I lost myself for a moment in the new dining experience. I kind of wished my mother was there, because she would have called my hamburger pate, and declared it special. I called it mess, but it was a yummy mess, especially after I added a glob of mayonnaise.
We only made the idlest chatter while we ate, and my only out-of-the-ordinary comment was when Dana poured a third huge glass of milk for himself.
I laughed, “Man, you’re gonna turn into a cow.”
“Bull,” he said.
“No, I’m serious. You drink more milk than anyone I know.”
He took his napkin and wiped his lips. “Last time I checked, cows were all girls. If I turn into something, it won’t be a cow. I’ll be a bull.”
“In a china shop,” Elenora added cheerfully. “Has Dana shown you his new skiing video?”
“Mom!” Dana warned. “Not a whole lot of people could have crashed like that. I held a tuck through that whole jump. I only lost it because I stopped thinking where I’d be next I was thinking on what I looked like, and forgot what I had to do.”
He looked around. “When I lost it, I still knew what to do, and where I had to end up if I was gonna live. You all saw that wreck! I didn’t even pull a muscle.”
I sat back and looked at Dana again. I felt a lot of empathy with him because, except for life circumstances, he was a lot like me. He’d just answered his mother about a fall on skis, which most would see as a failing, and Dana turned it into a strong point. That was my style, and it takes a lot of finesse.
I’m capable of just saying, “Oops,” when I do something dumb like butter-fingering my cafeteria tray, but when it comes to personal traits I don’t apologize. I mean, I’m me. If that’s a problem, then you apologize, because it’s you finding fault. I don’t run around looking for faults in anyone. I look on that practice as a bad trait in a person. I mean, it’s nobody’s job!
Still, Elenora seemed taken aback by Dana’s sharp response. I was used to their differences by then, and didn’t worry much about it. My questions were about their talk before dinner, but I’d wait for them to bring that up.
My father sat back and said, “Well, if everyone is done, let’s get things cleaned up”
I kicked Dana’s foot under the table and said, “That means us.” Then I stood and started picking things up. Dana helped me, while Dad and Elenora took off into the other room. The phone rang when I was scraping a plate into the garbage, and it stopped in the middle of the third ring, so I guessed Dad had it.
I got things ready for the dishwasher while Dana cleaned up the table, the counter, and around the stove. I’d forgotten that he was a bit ritualistic about cleaning, but the mess was minimal, and he couldn’t find a good reason to spend a whole lot of time at it.
We used up about fifteen minutes cleaning, then checked for omissions before I turned the dishwasher on.
“Ice cream?” I asked, and Dana nodded eagerly.
I made little sundaes with chocolate ice cream, chocolate bits, chocolate syrup, and chocolate whipped cream on top. I’m not the chocaholic, it’s my mother. I just used what we had, and it was good.
Dana toyed with his, and I asked, “Not hungry?”
He seemed surprised, and took a bite. “No, it’s good. He looked at me and said seriously, “I’m just waiting for you to ask what I talked about with my mom.”
Dana looked kind of nervous right then. I smiled, “Dana, I don’t think it’s my place to ask about your private business. I mean, I’m curious. I want to know what’s going on, but it’s your job to bring it up.” I grinned, “Since you did, what were you talking about? Does your father have a name now?”
Dana seemed relieved, took a bite of his sundae, licked his lips, and said, “He has a name.” Dana’s look clouded. “I don’t know, Paul. The guy was younger than us when he … when he … did the deed, I guess. If I listen to my mother, he doesn’t have a clue that she’s even alive, or that I was ever born.” He grimaced, “I think she worries more now about him, if she suddenly showed up with me.” He smiled sadly, then continued in his soft voice. “I’m the result of a mistake, Paul. It shouldn’t have happened, but it did.” His eyes clouded with tears, “You know, it’s hard to think of your real father as just a kid, but that’s what I have. Mom,” he sniffed, “She doesn’t think bad of him; like it takes two to tango.”
Dana looked so sad. I said, “Well, with a name you have a history, right? That’s what you really wanted, isn’t it?”
He swallowed hard, then took a bite from his melting sundae. “That’s what I thought. That’s what I thought for so long, but with a name I could just go visit.”
“That’s not a scary thought?” I asked.
“Too scary,” Dana said. “I would never, not in a million years, just show up at his house. I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s a want or a need, but I really want the guy who made me to know I’m here. I want him to know that I’m okay, that I can ski like a bandit, that … that …”
Dana put his head down, but it was back up before I could react. He engaged my eyes with his and asked, “Am I wrong? One second, I think it’s none of my business, and the next I think that I’m his business. I don’t know what to think now.”
“Dana,” I said. “Nothing changes ‘til you make it change. You have a name now. You can look it up and see if you even want to go farther.” I shook my head to think, then looked again at Dana. “I think you have the ball now. Just think it out, then do what seems right.” I added as an afterthought, “Work with your mother. You’ll think of the right thing.”
Dana sat back, dropped his spoon in to the dish with the half-eaten sundae, and said, “You’re right. Except, my mother wants me to decide about this. I guess she’s right.” He looked at me for a long moment, then asked “Is it okay if I talk about this?”
I nodded, and Dana seemed eager at first, but before he said anything he looked down. “When I was little, I used to wonder all the time why I didn’t have a father. I didn’t really know what it meant, but the other kids had fathers.” He glanced at me, and smiled quickly when he saw I had his eyes. “I guess … I guess, I don’t know. I knew kids who wanted to be just like their fathers, and I knew other kids who were afraid of the guys. I just didn’t have one, and I couldn’t compare. I had my mother and … oh, man.”
Dana looked through me for a moment, then said, “It’s okay. I mean, I’m not a murderer or anything, and I guess I learned enough by just being around teachers and the like. Until you showed up … until your father showed up, I just never really met a man I wanted to be like.” He gave me a sly smile. Now there’s Frank Dunn in my life, and it’s not possible that you love him more than I do, so I know what it’s like to have a real father.”
I said gently, “That’s real nice that you said that. My dad is kind of special. At least I think so.”
Dana nodded, and was silent for a long moment. “He’s more than special, Paul.”
Dana leaned back and looked up, and I could tell he was choosing his words. “You know, I always liked to dream about things: like what it’d be like to be older and bigger, what it’d be like to know what I don’t know, what it’s like to get the things you want.” He glanced at me, “It was always dreams. Like I could want and want ‘til the day went dark, but I’d never know. I’d only see other people with what I wanted, and not me.” He shrugged, “I guess that’s when I started to steal things. I mean, a lot of it was to help out with money, but some things I just wanted. Maybe not to keep, but to be able to have them, to touch them, to think they’re mine for at least a little while.” He shot a little grin my way, “I slept with a pair of skis one night, I so wanted them.” He looked at me again and swallowed, “They had the owner’s name engraved, so I brought them back. I don’t know, maybe he wanted them as much as I did. He must have, I think.”
I looked at Dana and asked, “You mean, he probably saved up for them?”
“I guess. Whatever it is, he had them, and I took them away, and that was one time I really felt bad about it. The first time, anyhow.”
“You felt bad?” I asked.
Dana’s eyes had mine. “Paulie, I took those skis to bed with me. I slept with them. I’ll tell you, I felt so weird the next morning. I mean, how fucked up am I to want a pair of skis that much … to want anything so bad?” He looked away, “I really felt like I messed up that time, because I thought about the guy who owned those skis, how he must have felt when they weren’t there.” He took a deep breath and looked right at me. “That’s when I knew what being a thief was like. Before that I just took things, and never thought much about it, but that one pair of skis … Jesus! I don’t know how to say it, but I had them in my bed, and I felt like I stole them from myself.”
I couldn’t help my snicker. “That was the end of your life in crime?”
Dana laughed easily. “Not hardly, but I never took anything I personally wanted after that. That was weird, like me playing both ends, and I didn’t like it.”
I laughed, “You know, I took money from my mother’s pocketbook a few times, but that’s where my life of crime ended. It’s easier to ask.” I decided to ask. “So, you know who your father is now?”
“Be subtle, okay? Yes. And I know who he is, at least what he does.”
I waited. Dana lifted his eyebrows and said, “My father’s last name is Daniels.”
“That’s a pretty common name, “ I said.
Dana said, “Probably common, but he’s an actor!” His eyes narrowed, “You won’t tell, right?”
I shook my head, and Dana said, “He’s Rhoderick Daniels, the actor. You gotta know him!”
I did, but my brain wouldn’t put a face with the name right then. Rhoderick Daniels. He was in some movies, but mostly a soap opera guy. I looked at Dana for a resemblance to some actor, and didn’t find one. I asked, “He’s your father?” and Dana nodded.
“You don’t think I look like him?”
I said, “Sorry, I can’t picture him right now. I know the name, though, and I know I’ve seen him.”
“Mom thinks he’s gay.”
I nodded, then when those words sunk in I opened my eyes wide and said, “No way!”
Dana and I looked at each other for a very long moment, and I felt that I was really seeing him as vulnerable and hurt, just like the first time we met. He was trying valiantly to smile, but he couldn’t hide his feelings, though I couldn’t tell what those feelings were.
He finally nodded. “Mom said she always thought he was different, but she thought he was just a nice guy, kind of sensitive. She says she didn’t know about things back then.”
I felt an empathy with Dana when I said, almost bitterly, “Neither did my father, I guess.” I looked at him and snickered, “I think maybe we have one more thing in common. Not in common, exactly, but sort of the same thing.”
“Dad told me,” Dana said, then added, “I mean your dad told me about that.”
I said softly, “I like when you just call him Dad. So, your father is kind of famous, and kind of gay. Does that mean anything special to you?”
Dana grimaced. “Special?” His expression became thoughtful. “I don’t know. I mean, I don’t. I don’t really know anybody gay … except your mother and Ally. I really like them, but they’re not gay men, so I can’t say. It’s not something I think about.”
“Well, as far as I can tell, it doesn’t rub of on us.” I grinned suddenly, as a thought came to me. “Not so fast! I mean, we both like TSO, and I think that’s very, very gay.”
Dana grinned and pointed at me. “That’s not even funny. Well, it’s funny, but it’s sick! All I’m sayin’ is that I don’t know gay. I hear the crap people say, and it’s the same bull they say about other things.” He leaned back, “I like to listen to people I know, people I trust. Why should I trust some preacher on TV, when the next thing he does is ask for money?”
I tried to get back on topic. “So, if this guy is your father, and if he’s really gay, you’ll be okay with that?”
Dana frowned. “I didn’t say that. If he’s my father, then where’s he been all my life? I mean, this is where I get pissed: not thinking about who he is, but where he’s been.” His eyes narrowed, “Your parents got divorced, but you still have the both of them.’ He smiled that sad smile again. “I have this … I don’t know, like this big thing missing in me. If he was like killed in a war or something, at least I’d know, and I could hope he thought about me before he died.” Dana’s face showed his sorrow. “Me? I have nothing where a father should be. Now I know who he is, and I’m supposed to care if he’s queer? I don’t think so.”
A flash of light from outside caught my eye, and there were headlights just turning into the driveway, I wanted to talk to Dana, but said, “That must be the guys. Listen, if you don’t want company, I’ll tell them to come back tomorrow.”
Dana shook his head, and looked somewhat relieved. He smiled, “No. I need time to think about this.”
I had the door opened before the guys got there. Jim, Dan, Tom and Shea were all there. They looked a little sweaty from bowling, and were clearly in high spirits.
Jim had a box in his hands, and gleefully announced, “We have pie!” then he said, “Hi,” as he walked past me.
Dan followed with a casual hi to me, then he smiled at Dana and said, “Hey, Dana! We get to see the man and the movie tonight?”
Tommy and Shea followed them in, and we headed to the kitchen, where I heard Dana proclaim, “Banana cream! This is the best pie!”
I managed not to feel left out while the guys bombarded Dana with questions, and we collectively finished the pie. It wasn’t good pie, honestly. It looked great, but the custard hadn’t really set up, and the only piece of banana in my slice was thin and rubbery. Still, even bad pie is better than most things, and it was gone before anyone thought to complain.
We went into the other room to watch Dana’s video, and the guys were loud and exuberant. I didn’t worry, because my father liked that. He’d know we were having fun, and there would be no suspicion over sudden silence.
Well, there was a sudden silence when Dana skied into the picture the first time, like a collective inhalation, and seeing it again when I knew what would happen, I wondered again at Dana’s grace on skis. When he was airborne, he was probably trying to line his feet up for a landing, but his movement looked like an aerial ballet for a second, and he was down, barely kicking up a puff of snow, then came his sudden and spectacular fall. The silence held until the Dana on the screen sat up, and he was comical as he looked around, seemingly surprised that he wasn’t in the next world.
Then the decibel level shot up, and it held while I rewound the tape four times to replay the scene. Dana was watching as closely as the others, but he reacted in different places.
After I rewound the tape for what I thought was the last time, Shea picked up the remote, and played the video in slow motion, which I’d not known the VCR was capable of. Slow motion made Dana’s flying entrance much more exciting, because we could pick up on his minute corrections in mid-air, and watch that perfect landing again and again. With things slowed down, I could see why Dana was adjusting his posture in mid-air, because where he touched down was crossways to a slight downhill slope, and he had to get his knees and ankles just-so, which he did. Even in slow motion, his skis barely kicked up a puff of snow.
We also watched Dana’s crash speeded up, which was kind of funny. Slow motion did nothing to enhance it, but that part of the video might as well have been black-and-white to begin with, so speeding it up made the whole thing seem like an old-time movie.
By that time, Dana looked like he was falling asleep. I said to the other guys, “Listen, I’m kind of beat. We’ll get together tomorrow, okay?”
Tom grinned, “You’re coming to our house tomorrow. Didn’t you know?” I think he saw my surprised look. “Well, Dad said he’d call and ask. Maybe he forgot. Anyhow, it’s an early cookout if the weather’s nice, or a cook-in if it’s not.” He recognized the hesitation on my face and snickered, “Don’t worry. Lisa’s coming, too, and these guys.”
I said, “Sounds great, then,” and yawned involuntarily.
Dan said, “Let’s go, guys. I’m tired, too.”
After they left, I asked Dana if he wanted to sleep on the couch or up in my room. I think he just wanted to sleep. He looked around and said, “Here, I guess. I just need a blanket.”
I said, “Sit. I’ll get it,” then went to the hall closet upstairs. I took a pillow, a couple of blankets, and a bath towel back down to Dana, who was already asleep, stretched out on the sofa. I pulled his shoes off, kind of crammed the pillow under his head, and tossed the blankets on him. I turned out the lights, then went into the next room and turned a lamp on so he’d be able to see if he woke up, then I went upstairs and crashed in my own bed.
It was after eleven, and it had been a long day. I was content, though, thinking about all the new people in my life. Dana was probably the easiest friend I ever made aside from Tommy. With Tom, it was mostly him. He didn’t take no for an easy answer, and if he liked you then friendship was in your destiny. Dana was harder to know, but I became more like Tommy in the trying.
The Luellens were the exact opposite until just recently. They were withdrawn and reticent for the first two years they lived up the hill. Now we knew why, and they turned out to be a wonderful family to know. I liked them all, and they seemed to like me. I had never spent much time with younger kids, especially as young as the little Luellens. They could be a pain sometimes, but it was generally fun having them around. Shea was fun to know. He was quiet, but fun loving, and had become a friend who I really liked.
I liked Dana’s mother too, and a lot. Elenora was at once poor and humble, yet a class act at the same time. She was from a good family, and she knew the difference between a lady and a tramp. I know she and Dana had their problems, but she and I had become friends. I guess it’s not surprising, since her education had been cut off right about when I was born. Elenora was far from dumb, and we saw most things in the same light: kind of like two fifteen-year-olds.
She was older though, and had done a lot more. I saw a lot in her, because my father once told me that even meager things, when they are hard-earned, are worthy of real respect.
That was Elenora. She had meager belongings, maybe, but she came to them honestly and through hard work. She had a family history somewhere that belied that, but it was the truth that Elenora was her own woman, and Dana was her son.
My first impression of Dana was that he was dead, and when he turned out not to be, I didn’t know what to think. Then I had a moment I won’t soon forget, when he was asleep in a dimly lit room, and his face, all cracked from the cold, made me think of an angel painting, like the kind you see in museums with the paint all cracked. Dana’s face healed up right away, but I’ll never forget that impression I had, and somehow, as I dozed, I still thought of Dana as some kind of angel.
It was an angel named Lisa who lured me into dreamland, though, and I know I was smiling when I drifted off.