Visiting

He had become used to the way Marc turned questions around. His son was like Superman in that way, catching bullets in his hand and redirecting them. His own father had never answered his questions. He was not sure which was worse, to be mocked or to be ignored.
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Owen Freeman

He brought in his shirt pocket the last photograph he’d taken of his son, an Instamatic snapshot: the carousel in the Park, wind in the boy’s hair, chocolate ice cream staining his smile, a pair of impossibly tiny blue jeans, striped socks, and a Yale sweatshirt snug across his chest. Jonathan had stood waiting in the grass for Marc to come around. The December day was warm, winter with a fever. Marc smiled, gripped tight the reins of his white plastic horse. This was years ago. Then, the visits were easy. Jonathan took the picture with him in case Marc wanted to see proof, evidence of a time when they had been able to maintain peace. Jonathan was not above superstition. His boy was a teenager now. They were separated by three miles, one river, one bridge, and two train transfers. The distance, he thought often, was far too great.

He stood on the street below the apartment, his head to the sky; he tried to find the 18th story, where Marc lived with his mother. Each window looked the same from the ground: the slotted vent of an air conditioner, ivy trained to the brick, small square glass panes in a grid. For nearly 15 years, Julia had lived on this block, with its old gingko trees, its gas lanterns, and its wide sidewalks. Steps away, in Central Park, children skated to Tchaikovsky on Wollman Rink, and through the trees he could hear the violins and the piano and the cymbals. This was, in every way, a better place than where he lived.

He’d rented a car for the afternoon. Parking had been difficult. He had lived too long in the city. From the sidewalk, he saw in the passenger-side window the reflection of his face and neck, streaked with the harsh winter sun, unflattering and bright. He had turned, at some point, into every man in his family. His mother had hoped that such a thing would not happen. She had said this, touching her hand to him, many years ago.

When he stepped into the lobby, he was met with a wall of warm air. He nodded at the doorman, and cleared his throat. “Could you let Marc know that I’m here for him?”

Jonathan waited on a small white banquette, and rested his hands on the tops of his knees.

The doorman pushed two buttons. “Mister Morris,” the man said. “Your father is here for you.”

The name Morris still sounded inaccurate. He’d fought over nothing but the name, and just to hear it here, in an empty lobby, spoken by a stranger, the softness of those last two letters, like something easy off the tongue, caused him to grimace. He’d wanted to leave his boy with some unimpeachable part of him, something concrete. Julia worked so hard to mold their son in her image. When they were married, she had done the same to him. “Few parts of you are truly unimpeachable,” she’d said.

He didn’t know his son well. He blamed this on Marc, who had always been quiet and distant, and on Julia, who did her best to inject their son with a subtle hatred for him. These were the clichéd, well-documented symptoms of divorce, and he’d expected them. What he hadn’t expected, though, was how much they would bother him. Twenty-four times a year they ate pizza in silence and then sat in the back row of a Times Square movie theater.

The elevator doors opened, and his son walked out into the lobby. “Johnny Cohen,” Marc called out. He never called him Dad. Marc made an overconfident swivel with his hips that to Jonathan looked vaguely sexual. He spoke too loudly, and in short bursts, as if he were screaming across a football field. He had headphones in his ears. “I’m. Like. Hungry. As. A. Horse.”

He wanted to give his son a hug. They had done this when Marc was younger, but not for years. He wondered whether his son could hear anything or whether his music disallowed, in its volume, any other noise.

“You look good,” he said.

Marc went out onto the street without stopping, pushing through the twin glass doors. When Jonathan followed him, he saw his boy’s handprint as it remained on the glass. Marc had small hands with fat fingers, as if the rest of his body had grown out of infancy and his hands had been left behind. Out on the street, Marc stood shaking his hips to the music in his ears. He wore tight black jeans that clung to the skin of his legs, white canvas sneakers, and a red hooded sweatshirt. Jonathan inspected his son for evidence of change. He was pained by how much about Marc seemed different every time they were together.

“Are those new?” he asked, pointing to Marc’s sneakers. “I used to have a pair of those.”

“Where are we going?” Marc asked, yelling over the clamor of his headphones. “I’m hungry for pizza.”

“We’re not getting pizza,” Jonathan said, walking to his rented car. He put the key into the door.

“What’s this?”

“It’s a car, Marc.”

“I know it’s a car.”

“Get in.”

“Fuck that.”

“I’ve told you not to talk to me like that.”

“So,” Marc said, tilting his head, putting a hand on the hood of the car. “Did you steal this? Because I thought you didn’t have any money.”

“Who says I have no money?”

“Mom says.”

“Well, I might not have the sort of money your mother has,” he said. “But I have some money. Now get in the fucking car, Marc.”

Jonathan drove north up the West Side Highway. The river glistened to his left. To his right, the city stretched out clean and blue. He had always loved Manhattan, its constant energies, the first day of spring in Union Square, nighttime below Canal Street; he only wished that he could afford to live there. His apartment in Brooklyn sat across from a middle school, and twice a day, at seven-thirty in the morning and at three in the afternoon, a rush of noise surrounded his house.

He tried to listen to the high treble coming from his son’s headphones. Marc shifted in the passenger seat, his weight on one side. He could see only the back of his boy’s head; he wondered what kind of music his son enjoyed. As they passed 125th Street, he saw, in the reflected glare of the window, that Marc was wearing black eyeliner.

“When I met your mother,” he said, pointing at his son’s eyes, “she used to do that.”

“What was that?” Marc said, touching a button, pausing the music.

“I said that your mother used to wear her makeup like that.”

“Maybe Mom was a homo.”

“Are you a homo?” he asked.

“You shouldn’t use that kind of language, Cohen.”

He had become used to the way Marc turned questions around. His son was like Superman in that way, catching bullets in his hand and redirecting them. His own father had never answered his questions, had let them dangle in the air and disappear. He was not sure which was worse, to be mocked or to be ignored.

The song in Marc’s ears ended, and for a brief moment the headphones were silent. When the music started again, another burst of noise, Jonathan reached out and grabbed the headphones from Marc’s ears.

“How about we give the music a rest?”

“Fine,” Marc said. He took a pack of cigarettes from the pocket of his sweatshirt. “Can I smoke at least?”

He saw that Marc smoked the same brand of cigarettes he had smoked when he was 15. They were cheap, and terrible, and he wondered whether children could unconsciously sense these things about their parents, a taste for nicotine, a particular way of applying eyeliner. Marc had been an infant the last time Jonathan had owned a pack of cigarettes.

“Of course you can’t smoke.”

“You smoke.”

“I do not,” he said. Years ago, he’d coughed strange black junk from his lungs for two weeks. Julia had come up behind him in the bathroom, looked into the sink, and whispered into his ear. “That’s your lung, buddy.” They were living then in the Village, on East 13th Street, above a bakery. They woke to the smell of confectioner’s sugar. Marc slept in a crib at the foot of the bed.

“Mom says you smoke.”

“I used to smoke,” he said. “Just like her. But I quit. I’m glad I did.”

“Whatever.”

His son sank into his seat. Before Marc was born, Jonathan was entirely confident that he possessed a paternal instinct, but after the birth he felt terribly unsure of how to hold his child, how to speak to him, how much food to give him. Child care had never become any easier. When Marc was a toddler, Jonathan had no idea how to quell the boy’s tantrums. Now that Marc was a teenager, Jonathan felt as if he were in the company of a ticking bomb. He was never sure how much time was left on the bomb, but he knew, sooner or later, that it would go off.

He turned off the Parkway and headed toward New England. From here, he could see the entirety of Manhattan. The sight was gorgeous from this angle, the city from head to toe, water everywhere. While Jonathan took notice, Marc was staring at his sneakers.

“We’re going on a trip,” Jonathan said.

“I see that we’re going on a trip,” Marc said. “I’m not, like, blind, Cohen.”

“You having fun?”

Marc shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t like cars.”

“That’s because you grew up here. If you grew up anywhere else, you’d love them.”

“Cars are for taxi drivers. Is that how you make your money these days? As a taxi driver?”

They drove the next five miles in silence. Marc fiddled with the tiny black box that produced his music. Jonathan glanced at the thing and remembered the enormous turntable he’d owned at 15. In his backyard, he’d built a solid oak cabinet to house the record player. He’d needed help moving it to his bedroom. It was a piece of furniture. Marc’s music player was smaller than a baseball card.

When they left the city, driving through the wooded, green stretch between the Bronx and Connecticut, Marc began to chew his fingernails. Jonathan turned the radio on. The Jets were playing the Patriots. The game came across the air.

“Turn it off,” Marc said.

“You don’t like football?”

“Where are we going, Jon?”

“Rhode Island.”

“What the fuck is in Rhode Island?”

“Why do you have to curse like that?”

“I’m cursing because you’re driving me out of the state.”

“We’re going to Rhode Island so you can meet someone.”

“Meet who?” Marc asked.

“Your grandfather.”

“Grandpa’s dead. He died last year. You went to the funeral. Remember? Biggest heart attack in medical history? Mom cried for, like, 10 weeks.”

“Not Grandpa Joe,” he said. “We’re going to see my father.”

“I thought he was dead too.”

“Well,” he said, squeezing the steering wheel very tight. “He’s not.”

Tucked into his jacket was a letter from his father’s lawyer. The old man was dying. After 18 years of silence, Jonathan had received a letter in the mail. He’d always wondered how his father might die.

Marc turned in his seat and said, “Look, I have to be back by six. It’s the law. If I’m not, then you’re kidnapping me.”

Two hours later they were in New Haven, passing by the long blue stretch of Long Island Sound. A slow rain started to fall. Marc pressed his nose to the window, as fat wet drops came down against the glass. Jonathan had done his graduate work in this city but hadn’t been through in years. He felt warm in his body as he drove by the water.

“Is that the East River?” Marc asked, pointing at the water.

“No, Marc. That’s not the East River.”

“Well, what is it?”

“When you get home, why don’t you look it up?” he said, unapologetically cribbing a line from his own father. He knew that Marc would never look it up.

His son sat back and huffed. “We’re far away.”

“Not really.”

He wondered whether Julia ever took Marc out of Manhattan. The city had a way of trapping people; it was a true island.

“So,” Marc said. “How is your painting going?”

Jonathan didn’t answer for a while. He watched the wipers clean the glass. The rain came down fast and then it came down slow. Marc had never asked him a genuine question before. As a little boy, Marc had asked none of the confounding questions that children tended to ask. Jonathan hated to feel sentimental about such things. A question was a question.

“I’m not a painter,” he said, finally. “I’m a sculptor.”

“It’s all the same shit, Johnny. How is your sculpting going?”

In profile, his son looked much the same as Jonathan had at 15: terrified, pimpled, and unmistakably Jewish. He wanted to tell him these things.

“It’s difficult,” he said. “It’s hard because there’s no real market anymore for what I do.”

“What is it you do?”

“Figurative sculpture.”

“Like people?”

“Exactly.”

“Do you do naked women?”

With his hands, Marc made an approximation of the female form that looked disproportionately top-heavy.

“Sometimes I do.”

“And they just come to your place and they take their clothes off and you sculpt them?”

“Not exactly,” he said. “I take their pictures. Then I sculpt them.”

“You know,” Marc said, turning to him, nodding his head, “I think I want to be a sculptor when I grow up.”

Jonathan felt improper laughing. He wondered whether his son had ever kissed a girl, and if he had, what kind of girl liked kissing the sort of boy who wore eyeliner. Just then, they passed the exit to Yale. “This is where I went to grad school,” he said, pointing to the sign. He had put himself into debt to go to school there, a fact that had caused trouble in his marriage.

Marc made a grunting noise that Jonathan took to be a sign of affirmation. Then, clearing his throat, Marc swatted his hair out of his face and said, “If you’re so smart, then how come you have no money?”

“Do you think that one thing has anything to do with the other?”

“I’m not sure.”

The city passed behind them. In the rearview mirror, the Sound looked cold. Marc had told him once, as a toddler, that he wanted to go to Yale: “Just like you.” Then, hearing that had meant a good deal.

“This is the longest conversation we’ve ever had,” Jonathan said.

“You think?” Marc asked.

“Yeah.”

“I guess.”

Jonathan drove into Warwick an hour later. The rain hadn’t stopped. Rhode Island, gray and old. Colonial homes, black shutters, elm trees like skeletons. He took the road by the water. The shell fishermen were out in the bay. His dad had hauled fish for years and had come home stinking of scallops and lobster. The ocean came in and out, swelling, releasing. Above the sea, the white thumbnail of the moon hung in the daylight. Marc rolled the windows down and let some rain in. They drove for a block, past the shuttered boardwalk and a Ferris wheel that hadn’t worked, as far as Jonathan knew, for decades.

“I just wanted to smell it,” Marc said, rolling up the window. “It smells better than Coney Island.”

Two old men walked the beach, swinging metal detectors over the sand. A flock of dirty gulls swooped over the seacoast road. One bird had a paper soda cup trapped in its talons. In a parking lot beside a liquor store, teenagers stood around in the cold, smoking and begging for drinks. The restaurant at Divinity Place was open for lunch, its neon sign alternately blinking the words Divinity and Lobster. Jonathan had worked there for a summer when he was Marc’s age. He’d lost his virginity in the stockroom with Marie Scarcella. She was 10 years older and smelled like Pert shampoo and Old Bay seasoning. Within a half hour everyone knew that he wasn’t a virgin any longer.

“So, what is this place?” Marc asked.

“Warwick, Rhode Island.”

“This is where you’re from, huh?” Marc asked.

Jonathan thought he detected a note of satisfaction in the boy’s voice, as if Marc had finally learned something that he had never considered. He was pleased that Marc would finally know that he hadn’t always existed in a dark, cold apartment in Brooklyn, but that he had lived here, near the ocean.

“Do you still know people here?” Marc asked.

“I used to,” Jonathan said. “But not anymore.”

“Besides your dad.”

“I don’t know anyone here. Certainly not my father.”

“Girls, I bet,” Marc said, laughing. “I bet you had lots of girls here.”

“Not really,” Jonathan said, thinking of Marie. He had no idea what had happened to her. “I left and I didn’t come back.”

He drove inland through the beachside neighborhoods. The sun was dull in his rearview mirror. He pressed his hand to the window, felt how cold the air had become. Strong winds pushed the car from left to right. The smell of the ocean came through the heating vents. Close to the road, each house they passed had a square yard, one tree, a breezeway.

He took the old roads; he still knew the way. His house looked just as it had when he left. A large oak stood in the front yard. When he was young, he’d used its enormous system of bulging roots as the base of a fort. His father had hated this, the imaginary life he created with that tree, had pulled him inside by the ears. The same lace curtains his mother had hung 40 years ago were still in the window. She had been dead since he was a boy.

“What are we doing?” Marc asked. He sat forward in his seat.

“We’re gonna park here,” Jonathan said, turning off the engine.

In his head, he’d imagined that he’d feel very different parking in front of his old home. Now, his palms were sweating. This had always been a problem for him. It made shaking hands difficult. He wiped his hands against his jeans and then through his thin hair. He wondered what his father would look like, whether his shoulders would still be stooped the way they were the last time Jonathan had seen him. He wondered whether his father’s stark white hair had lasted another 30 years, and whether his Polish accent would still be so pronounced.

“He’s not dead,” Marc said, fiddling now with his box of cigarettes. “You said he was dead.”

“He’s not dead,” Jonathan said, wondering whether bumming a cigarette from his son would be inappropriate. “Obviously. That’s his car.”

He pointed at a blue car. His father took pride in never buying a new car. He’d always claimed the ones others abandoned, put them on blocks, fixed them himself. Anything broken can be fixed. Buying new is a convenience for the lazy. That was his mantra. Their driveway was always stained with oil. This car looked new. A garden rake leaned against the house. He couldn’t imagine his father in the yard. He had done the math in his head for years, keeping track of his father’s age with each passing March. He would be 80.

“Does Mom know?” Marc asked.

“No.”

“He must be some son of a bitch for you to pretend like he’s been dead this whole time.”

“Yeah.”

“What’d he do that was so bad?”

Jonathan pulled his sleeve up to show Marc three long scars stretching along the inside of his arm from his wrist to his elbow.

“Ouch.”

“He did it with a fork,” he said.

He’d told Julia that he’d injured himself while shaving down a slab of marble. By the time he’d met her, he was long in the habit of pretending his father was dead. Marc ran his finger along the scars.

“It was a long time ago,” Jonathan said.

“That’s it?” Marc said. “He beat you up and you tell everybody that he’s dead?”

“Once you stop talking to somebody, to start talking to them again gets harder,” Jonathan said. “Momentum.”

For the 10 years after his mother’s death, he and his father had lived alone in this small house. He had long forgotten the circumstances that surrounded their fights. They all blended together in his head. He did, though, remember his father holding his arm against the kitchen counter as he dragged the fork across his skin. His father had spit on the wound. Jonathan was 18; he left the next morning.

“Are you sure that you don’t smoke?” Marc asked, taking a cigarette out of his pack. “Because this is stressing me out.”

Jonathan looked at the cigarette. “No,” he said. “If I have one then I’ll have another, and then I’ll be fucked forever.”

“Sounds like you’re already kind of fucked,” Marc said, lighting the cigarette.

They sat for a while. Since the divorce, he hadn’t spent a Christmas with Marc, an evening of Hannukah, a Thanksgiving dinner, a Passover seder. He sent a card to Marc on his birthday, and a small gift. His mother had so much, gave their son so much, that he never felt he could compete.

Marc held his cigarette like a woman, between the tips of his fingers. Jonathan reached, took the cigarette, and pushed it between Marc’s knuckles.

“If you’re gonna do it,” he said, “do it like this.”

“Look at you,” Marc said. He possessed a perfectly sarcastic sense of humor. “Mr. Expert Smoker.”

“He’s dying,” Jonathan said.

He stared at the oak tree and saw that it looked sick. He’d read years ago about a beetle infestation in Rhode Island. The bugs got inside the bark and devoured its insides. He was always searching for news about home.

“I got a letter from my father’s lawyer saying that he was sick and that I was his beneficiary.”

“What does that mean?” Marc asked.

He watched his son breathe in the smoke. Marc didn’t look like he enjoyed the taste. “That means I’m going to inherit his money.”

“Can’t be much,” Marc said. “This place isn’t exactly the Waldorf.”

“Hey,” Jonathan said, taking the cigarette out of Marc’s hand. “Watch it. He worked hard to get here.”

Defending his father felt strange. Hidden somewhere inside him was a faint trace of loyalty. That’s what had brought him here today, he knew. Death demanded company. He knew that he couldn’t leave the car and walk the short distance to the doorbell. Whatever certainty he’d possessed about this, about the short walk, about the few moments of reunion on the old doorstep, had gone. The cherry of Marc’s cigarette burned between his knuckles, and for a moment he considered putting it in his mouth. Then he tossed it out the window. The lights were off in the front room of the house. He could picture the inside of that room, the table lamp that sat on a tall slab of oak, the fake Persian rug, the framed photograph of the Temple Mount. Nothing would have changed. His father might have finally bought a new car, but he would never have moved the furniture.

The way Jonathan imagined the moment, they would sit in the kitchen, three generations of Cohen men, all beneath the hanging fluorescent lamp with their coffee cups, their cigarettes, their brusque dispositions. His father would look at Marc, squint his eyes, and say, “You look like us, kid.” Marc would laugh, touch his nose, and shift nervously in his chair. Jonathan’s father would pour a glass of vodka, light his pipe. For a half hour, Jonathan would feel like he’d done the right thing, bringing his boy to meet his father. Then they would leave, and perhaps, possibly, he’d feel some of the guilt lift off him.

“Why don’t we let him know that we’re here,” Marc said, reaching out and pushing down on the horn.

“Don’t,” Jonathan said, trying with his hands to stop Marc.

The horn was louder than he thought it would be, and sounded to him like one long blow from a trombone. Jonathan shook his head. “Why’d you do that?”

“Why’d we come if you were just gonna sit in the car?” Marc said. “That’s stupid.”

“I thought I’d want to see him,” he said. “That’s why.”

He felt foolish having rented this car, having driven Marc all the way to Rhode Island for something that he didn’t have the confidence to go through with.

A moment later, the curtains opened, and he saw his father: he didn’t look ill. He’d expected to find his father gaunt, the skin on his face wrapped tight around his skull. His father peered out, his hands over his eyes to block the sun; he’d always had great eyes. Jonathan felt sick in his stomach. His father shifted his weight from foot to foot. Jonathan hadn’t heard what his father was dying from. The letter hadn’t said so much.

“That’s him?” Marc asked.

“Yeah.”

“You think he can see us?”

“I think he can.”

“You look terrible, Cohen,” Marc said.

“I don’t want to do this,” Jonathan said. “This was a mistake.”

“Well,” Marc said, unbuckling his seat belt, “I’m going to say hello.”

“You don’t have to,” Jonathan said, wanting to put his hands on Marc’s legs to hold him in his seat.

“Hey,” Marc said. “My grandfather came back to life.”

Marc stepped out onto the yard. Jonathan watched him walk to the front door. Children from New York had a confidence that he didn’t understand. The front door opened. His father had on the same work pants he’d always worn, and a long blue button-down with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. On his head, he wore a wool skullcap. He still dressed like a fisherman. Marc stood on the front steps, shaking hands. His father had always tried to crush people’s hands when he shook them. One needed to prepare in advance to shake Isaac Cohen’s hand. He should have warned Marc.

He saw his father glaring over Marc’s shoulder and squinting at the rental car. He felt like waving. Then, at nearly the same time, he thought of driving away. The car’s engine was still running. Behind him, a thin stream of exhaust went up into the sky. He could tell that his father was staring at him. He had those bright Polish blue eyes that dug into people. In some ways, those eyes had never stopped looking at him, despite the distance and the silence and the separation. He tried to imagine the conversation that was occurring on the front step. He’d never felt like such a coward. He looked away, out across the street, concentrated on a knot in an oak tree.

After two minutes, Marc came back to the car, pulled the door shut, and touched him on the forehead.

“You’re sweating.”

“Am I?” Jonathan dabbed his fingers to his skin. “I feel freezing.”

“Turn the heat up.”

“Is he still looking?”

“No,” Marc said. “He went inside.”

“Are you sure?”

“I’m hungry,” Marc said, buckling his seat belt. “You never fed me.”

Inside Divinity Seafood, Jonathan took a seat by the window. He ordered a beer and a whiskey and drank them quickly. He had never been a good drinker, couldn’t stomach the taste of liquor. The drinks warmed him and calmed his nerves for a moment. Out the window, he saw a police cruiser idling in the parking lot. He watched a traffic light swinging high above the street. The cars on the shore road idled. He waited for his father’s car. Marc sat laughing on the opposite side of the table.

“I guess I’m driving home,” Marc said.

“I’m fine,” Jonathan said, looking around. “It’s just one drink.”

“I don’t want to die,” Marc said. “And you’ve had two drinks.”

“You don’t know how to drive.”

“I don’t know if you were paying much attention on the way up here,” Marc said, smiling widely, “but neither do you.”

The neon sign flashed behind Marc. His son’s face went red and white and red again. In the light, Jonathan saw that he was wrong: Marc didn’t look anything like him, or his father. Marc was a good-looking kid, or at least he possessed the ingredients that would make him later, in his 20s, a good-looking kid.

“I’m ordering lobster,” Marc said.

“It’s good here,” Jonathan said. “Or at least it was 20 years ago.”

“I’ve never had it before.”

“Really?” Jonathan asked. “How is that?”

“Mom says that they’re nothing but big bugs,” Marc said. “Aren’t they?”

“Kind of,” Jonathan said. “I’m not really sure. I’m a sculptor, Marc. Not a scientist.”

The inside of Divinity Seafood was just as he remembered it. On the table there were plastic bibs to tack to your clothing. Marc pinned one onto his red hooded sweatshirt. Lobster traps hung from the ceiling as decoration.

Marc put his hands on the table and then cleared his throat. “You’re Jewish, right?”

Jonathan smiled. “Yes, Marc. So are you, sort of.”

“Then isn’t lobster against the law?”

“Well,” Jonathan said. “Not an actual law.”

“You know what I mean,” Marc said. “That kosher stuff. I got Jews for friends, you know. I do live in Manhattan.”

Jonathan saw that his son didn’t have any evidence of facial hair, not even the faintest trace of the peach fuzz that had invaded his own face during puberty. He thought, watching his son fidget with a lobster-claw cracker, that Marc was a young 15.

“Your father—” Marc said.

“I don’t want to hear about it,” Jonathan said, waving his hands in the air, as if by doing this he could swat away anything that Marc might say. “I’m sorry we came, really.”

“He had the numbers,” Marc said, rolling up his sleeve and running his hand across the skin on the inside of his arm.

“Yeah,” Jonathan said.

“They’re in the same place as the marks on your arm.”

Jonathan nodded his head. “That’s true.”

He reached across the table and took a fresh cigarette from Marc’s pack. Those numbers. Marc furrowed his thin, black eyebrows; he looked like Julia when he did this. He rolled the cigarette in his fingers. Flakes of tobacco came off onto the table.

“I went to the door,” Marc said. “And I said that I was his grandson.”

Jonathan put the cigarette in his mouth. He stared at its tip, hoping not to hear what Marc was saying. Out the window, gulls were diving into the water. He never understood why sometimes you could see the moon in the daytime and sometimes you couldn’t. His father had tried to explain the reason when he was young, but he couldn’t remember what he’d said. His father had left Poland after the war. He knew things about science. Fishing was a way to make money. Their long silence, like radiation on a tumor, might have eradicated the good memories along with the bad.

“And he shook my hand and said he was glad to meet me,” Marc went on.

Jonathan didn’t want to listen. On the table was a basket of matchbooks. He took a box and struck one. He watched the flame shoot upward. He wondered if his father had crushed Marc’s hand. He saw that Marc was looking directly at him.

“You’re not listening.”

“Marc,” he said, sucking smoke into his mouth and lungs. “Please don’t. This is bothering me.”

“I told him that you were in the car. And that you wanted me to say hello.”

Jonathan looked over the edge of his cigarette. He felt angry with his son. How could he do this, just sit here so calm, filled with so much confidence, so much strength for so young a person?

“And he told me to tell you that he said hello,” Marc said, reaching out and grabbing the cigarette from Jonathan’s mouth and then snuffing it out in the ashtray.

Jonathan watched the front door every time it opened. Three bells were strung along the hinge, a short, slight melody.

“What are you looking for?” Marc asked.

“Nothing.”

“He’s not going to come in,” Marc said. “You can relax.”

After a long moment, Jonathan let out a loud sigh. He hadn’t realized that he was holding his breath.

White foam from the water sprayed the road. The traffic passed. The neon sign flashed onto the street, casing the road. People walked along the barrier wall. Jonathan had done this with his father when he was young. It was the only way he could be as tall as his father, standing on that wall, trying not to lose his balance, and still, even up there, so high that he could see the tide and the waves and the shells of the hermit crabs left on the sand and even the crown of the old lighthouse out in the bay at Narragansett, he was still not as tall as his father. He never had been.

Stuart Nadler is a recent graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Most recently he was the Carol Houck Smith Fiction Fellow at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. His debut collection of short stories is forthcoming from Little, Brown.
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Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.

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Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

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Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

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The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

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