Story — From the January 2015 issue

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“After that, I could never quite get the image out of my head of my father not looking well for the first time, and because of me. Looking sick, really, as if he were having a heart attack or stroke. But I never apologized for it. And he never brought it up after or, I think, ever chased me again. No, he wouldn’t have, and I think he never even threatened me again. But for years — you know, it’d come every now and then — I wanted to tell him how sorry I was that I laughed or was sarcastic to him that time he swung at me and missed. And that I also wouldn’t do at first what he asked me to, whatever it was, and it couldn’t have been much — the truth is, they never expected much from me — or done it as fast as he wanted me to, if that was it. I don’t know why I didn’t, even ten to twenty years later, when it would have been harmless, if it was still on my mind so much. To say something — start it off with, ‘You probably don’t remember this, and God knows why it’s so important to me and keeps coming back, but a long time ago, when I was still an obnoxious pipsqueak . . . ’ and so on. Probably I thought he’d definitely forgotten about it — why would he remember it? — and what good would it do going over it if we couldn’t get a laugh from it, and I don’t think he would have. But that’s enough. Enough, enough. I’ve exhausted you with my little story, right? But what do you think?”

She said, “What do I think? It would have been good for you if you could have apologized at the time, or soon after, but you didn’t. All right. And you were a bit bratty — that’s obvious from what you said — but you turned out okay. It also would have been nice if your father could see you today. Married, children, making a good living teaching, and having time to do what you want: writing. But he can’t. So forget it. Why keep punishing yourself over it? I’m glad to hear, although you may have told me it before and I’ve forgotten, that your father never hit you with his hands, or any of his kids, true?” “Far as I know. Certainly not me. And I was the brattiest of us all, so if anyone deserved it, I did.” “Rubbish,” she said. “Nobody deserves it. Not even with a rolled-up newspaper. Because I don’t have to tell you that kids who get hit by their parents more than likely, et cetera, et cetera, with their kids. You never have,” and she looked at me. “Just that one time with Freya you know about, when she was two and a half, or a little more. And she got out of the Veblen Cottage on her own and walked up the driveway to the Naskeag road where cars and these huge lobsterman vans were zipping past. And just before I caught up with her, she was about to walk out onto it, or I thought she was, so I slapped her hand so she’d know —” “I know. But never any other time, I’m sure, either of them.” “Never. That was it. One slap. Admittedly, a hard one. I had to. So she’d remember never to do it again. Was I wrong?” “I don’t know,” she said. “You probably could have made your point another way.” “Yeah. But I still feel bad about my father. Humiliating him. Taunting him, you could say. And up till that time I never saw him look so weak or sick. He never looked weak or sick. I’m repeating myself, I know. I’m always repeating myself. And that I didn’t understand at the time I was taunting him and trying to humiliate him. Or maybe I did understand. I could have been that bad. Ah, I’m confused. But as you said about it — this business with my father — nothing I can do about it now.” “That’s what happens,” she said. “You have to face it. But you done?” “Yes,” I said.

She touched the mouse and the computer came back on. “You never had anything in your life like that with your father,” I said. “Never,” she said. “You were a much better child than I was,” I said. “And your father, a much better father than mine. Though your mother was great, too. I don’t mean to leave her out. I envy the relationship you had with them. Well, there was only one of you. But even if there had been six kids in your family, I can’t imagine your father ever so much as raising his hand to you or, if you had them, your siblings, and they were all bratty boys. And your mother never would have let him. She would have given him hell if he hit anyone. While my mother, I’m afraid — I don’t know why she did. Probably thought, better someone else, since it sometimes has to be done, because she wasn’t going to physically punish us. I should one day explore it. But gave my father and that housekeeper — Herta — license to hit us, Herta with her hands, my father kept to the rolled-up New York Times — whenever they thought we deserved it, by not saying anything to stop them beforehand or to reprove them afterward. But go back to your work. I’m sorry for bothering you with this, and for taking so long.” “Don’t be. I like it when you tell me things like that from when you were a boy. Anytime. When you talk about your life. You don’t tell me enough of them,” and she tapped her lips, and I bent down to kiss them.

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’s most recent novel, and his thirtieth work of fiction, His Wife Leaves Him, was published by Fantagraphics Books in 2013.

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