(The Rocket Scientist and I went on a Segway tour of Healdsburg a few weeks back, and brought back a couple of bottles of wine, and here are their stories. Maybe because it is winter, these stories turned out a lot darker than the first batch.)
“How bad?” She asked.
“Stage IV,” he replied, avoiding her eyes. He heard the shuddering intake of breath, and glanced up as she whispered “excuse me,” scraped her chair back so violently it crashed to the floor, and bolted for the bathroom. He could hear her coughing and retching, and dropped his head into his hands.
A few minutes later she returned, pale but composed. “What now?”
He looked at her for a long minute. Then he grabbed his cell and stalked out of the living room. His voice carried down the hall. “Yes, hi, I’d like an order of barbecued pork buns, sweet and sour soup for two, honey walnut prawns, and Szechuan beef. Oh, and white rice. For two, yes. Delivery, please.”
Chinese food, her favorite dishes, from her favorite restaurant, no doubt. She heard him rummaging under the kitchen counter, and then in the freezer. He walked into the living room with a full ice bucket into which he shoved a bottle with a wired cap.
“Champagne?” She gasped. “He drew himself up haughtily to his full 5’11”. “Champagne? Of course not.” The corner of his mouth twitched. “It’s prosecco.”
“Yes, I am. Look, I am not celebrating the cancer, or the fact that I probably don’t have much more time, or that you are going to be a widow at far too young an age.” He paused.
“You are going to be all right. It’s going to be hard, but we’re financially secure. The kids are grown and away. I’m going to fight as hard as I can, but realistically, there may not be much that I or the doctors can do.”
He smiled gently. “While I still can I want to celebrate the life I’ve had, the life we’ve had together. I may not live as long as I want, and I have my regrets the same as any man, but on the whole I have had one damned good time. And I refuse to spend one minute of however long I have left moping.” He handed her a full flute. She recognized the Waterford crystal from their wedding reception.
“L’chaim,” he murmured softly.
The young man shifted uncomfortably. These overstuffed leather armchairs had always made him sleepy. He shook himself awake as his father walked past and handed him a glass. “Let me know what you think of the port,” the older man said. “An amusing little wine, pretentious with overtones of overripe cherries and burning rubber tires,” his son replied, mockingly. Actually, it was a lovely port, if a bit sweet. He wasn’t much of a port drinker — bourbon and coke (or pot) being his preferred drugs of choice — but he was willing to indulge his father’s tastes, at least once.
His father had pleaded with him to come home. He had avoided the place for ten years, ever since the screaming match that had occurred in the aftermath of the car crash that had taken his mother and sister’s lives. His father told him in no uncertain terms that it was his fault because they had been driving to the county jail to bail him out (again) after an arrest for DUI. That they were killed by a drunk driver proved to the son that God was a cruel bastard, given to the nastiest sort of irony. He hadn’t even gone to the funeral.
His father sat down, avoiding his son’s gaze. He cleared his throat, and gulped, as though words were a foreign concept. After a long moment he looked directly at his son and said, in a voice so small as to be barely audible, “I’m sorry.”
The unexplained apology hung in the air. “Sorry for what?” his son responded, determined not to make it easy.
His father spoke more strongly now, his words tumbling after each other. “I’m sorry I ran you away. Mom and Beth’s deaths weren’t your fault. I knew that — I just needed people to blame. It should have been me who died: your mother went because I refused to. I wanted you to rot in jail, to feel the pain you were causing us.”
His son sat staring ahead in perfect silence.
“It gets worse,” his father continued. “The CHP said that while the other driver was drunk, your Mom strayed over the center line, causing the accident.”
The son exploded. “You knew? You made me feel like horseshit all these years about that accident and YOU KNEW about this?”
His father started crying. “I wanted… I don’t know. I wanted you to be afraid to drive drunk, I was scared you would kill somebody else’s wife and daughter. I wanted you to hurt so much over this that you would never drive drunk again.”
“You’re right,” his son said. “I have never driven drunk since then. I have sliced my wrists, and taken a month’s worth of Klonopin and washed it down with twenty-year-old Scotch, have spent weeks in ICUs and psych wards — you didn’t know, I wouldn’t let them tell you — but no, I haven’t gotten any DUIs.”
His father stared at him in horror, the shock stopping his tears. “Jesus Joseph and Mary, what did I do?”
The son drew a deep breath. “You destroyed me. There are things that are unforgivable. I don’t know if this is one of them.” He stood up, and headed for the door.
“Please don’t go,” his father whispered. “I love you, and I miss you.”
“Goodbye. Thanks for the port,” the son said sardonically. He closed the door softly behind himself, and walked into the rainy night.