Last fall, sitting across from each other in that Arizona coffee shop, Daniel teased me about my coat and tie. It was Saturday, and he said he didn't see the point.
"It's a medical conference," I told him. "I have a professional reputation to uphold."
He laughed at the thought of it. To him all these grown men and women acting and dressing in a manner that society deemed "professional" was ridiculous.
When we parted I tried to give him five hundred dollars, but he wouldn't take it. He said he was doing good, working odd jobs here and there. He said it would feel strange carrying that much money around with him.
"It'd throw off the balance, you know?"
The hug he gave me when we parted was full-bodied and long. His hair smelled unwashed, the sweet musk of the hobo. I asked him if he was sure about the money. He just smiled. I watched him walk away with a deep feeling of impotence. He was my son and I had lost control of him, if I'd ever really had it. I was a bystander now, an observer, watching his life from the sidelines.
When he reached the corner, Daniel turned and waved. I waved back. Then he stepped into the street and I lost him in the crowd. I hadn't seen him since.
Now, in the kitchen of our Connecticut home, Fran came over and kissed me on the mouth. Her hands were covered in flour and she held them up the way I had held mine up a few hours ago walking into the ICU.
"Alex got in another fight," she said.
"It wasn't a fight," Alex corrected her. "A fight is where you hit someone and they hit back. This was more like a mugging."
"Mr. Smart Ass has been suspended for three days," she told me.
"I plan on being furious," I told them. "After I have a drink." I took a beer from the fridge. Fran had returned to the pizza stone.
"We figured pepperoni and mushroom tonight," she said.
"Far be it from me," I told her.
Apropos of nothing Fran said, "Yes, the seven-fifteen flight to Tucson."
Tucson? Then I noticed the blue light.
"Yes, he'll need a car."
I started to speak, but she held up a finger.
"That sounds great. Will you e-mail me the itinerary? Thank you." The blue light went off. The finger came down.
"What can I do?" I said.
"Set the table. And I'll need you to take it out in ten minutes. That oven still scares me."
The TV was on in the corner, playing Jeopardy! It was another ritual in our house, this watching of game shows. Fran thought it was good for the kids to compete with contestants on TV. I had never understood why. But every night around seven our house became a cacophony of barked non sequiturs.
"James Garfield," said Wally.
"Madison," corrected Fran.
"In the form of a question," said Alex.
"Who is James Garfield?" said Wally.
"Madison," said Fran.
"Who is James Madison?"
I had gotten used to the nightly confusion, looked forward to it. Families are defined by their routines. The pickups and drop-offs. The soccer games and debate clubs, doctors' appointments and field trips. Every night you eat and clean. You check to make sure homework is done. You turn off the lights and lock the doors. On Thursdays you drag the Toters to the curb. Friday mornings you bring them in. After a few years, even the arguments are the same, as if you are living out the same day over and over. There is comfort in this, even as it drives you mad. As a virtual assistant, Fran was militant about order. We were her family, but also her ground force. She sent us e-mails and text messages almost hourly, updating calendar events in real time. The dentist appointment has been rescheduled. Glee club has been replaced by ice-skating. Armies are less regimented. Twice a week in the Allen household we synchronized our watches like a special-ops team tasked with blowing up a bridge. The occasional annoyance this raised in me was tempered by love. To have married once and failed is to realize who you are in some deep and unromanticized way. The veneer of personal embarrassment about your weaknesses and idiosyncrasies is lifted, and you are then free to marry the person who best complements the real you, not the idealized version of you that lives in your head.
Excerpted from The Good Father by Noah Hawley. Copyright © 2012 by Noah Hawley. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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