My Father's Fear|
by Merle Drown
When my mother called me at work, I drove right to their apartment, thinking my father had had another heart attack. Seventy years old, he'd recouped from his coronary and gone back to selling cars, though they wanted him to retire. Quit, he called it. He wouldn't.
"He had an accident," my mother said. "With his demo," she added, as if I might think he'd wet his pants.
It was the first time I'd seen his fear. He just stood staring out the window at the new car's smashed grill, a punched out face. My mother explained he'd turned right on red, checked left, and smacked his demo into a delivery van that had stopped for a kid in the street.
"Damage the van?" I asked.
My mother shook her head. My father, a small man, clenched his fists, knowing he was no longer dangerous.
Because he wouldn't, I called the dealership. I told my father they agreed the accident could have happened to anyone.
They wanted him to bring the demo up. I smiled at him. He said, "No." and I didn't know what he meant.
For the first time in years I crossed him. When I got to the dealership in late afternoon, the managers, sales, service, and general, inspected the damage, each repeating that it could happen to anyone. They didn't ask why my father hadn't driven the car up himself. I wondered which demo I'd drive back but, instead, they brought out his personal car, an older sedan they'd been repairing for a month.
"All fixed," the service manager said. "Tell your dad no charge on the labor and just our cost on the parts."
"He's a great guy, your old man," the general manager said. "Tell him to take care of himself.
At the apartment my father looked as if he were trying to swallow his face. "They didn't send a demo?" he said. It was an accusation.
"They finally got yours fixed," I said. "And they're only charging—"
"Goddamned miracle," he said. "Didn't they say they would give me a demo?"
"They got yours fixed. Won't cost you but for parts and those at wholesale."
"Where's my demo?"
I was irritated and ashamed. I set his keys on the table.
"Now what am I going to do?" he said.
I hated them and understood them too. A month later they all came to his funeral.
Merle Drown is the author of stories, essays, plays, reviews, and two novels, Plowing Up A Snake (The Dial Press) and The Suburbs Of Heaven (Soho Press, 2000), trade paperback (Berkley Press, 2001). He edited Meteor in the Madhouse, the posthumous novellas of Leon Forrest, published by Northwestern University Press in 2001. Barnes and Noble chose The Suburbs of Heaven for its Discover Great New Writers series. He has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New Hampshire Arts Council. The father of three sons, Merle lives with his wife Pat in Concord, New Hampshire, where he earns his living by hook, crook, pen, and ink. "My Father's Fear" is from his collection-in-progress, Shrunken Heads, miniature portraits of the famous among us, or Balzac in a nutshell. Pieces have appeared in Amoskeag, Meetinghouse, Night Train, and 971 Menu.
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