Methven - Day Fifteen - Part Four
"What is it?"
"Dad..look at me."
Slowly, he turned.
It was like looking into some chronological version of a funhouse mirror--like looking at an older, wearier version of myself. He had the same tousled, dirty-blond hair. Less of it, to be sure, and grayer, but the same hair. The same tangled eyebrows and the same solid chin framed my eyes, my nose and my mouth. Oh, his jawline wasn't as firm as my younger one, his nose and the mouth were connected by deeply-incised lines and his eyelids drooped in a web of wrinkles, but the resemblance was still unmistakable.
He looked exactly like he did the last time I'd seen him.
"'Why' what, Boy?"
There were so many "whys". So many..
"Why did you..? You knew what Mom was..what she was doing when you were gone.. Why did you let her?"
"How could I stop her?"
I couldn't keep my hands from shaking.
"You could have..could have..I don't know! Why did you even marry her in the first place?"
"Because she waited for me while I was away at war. And because I loved her."
"Then why were you gone so often?"
"I had a job to do."
"Is that why you killed yourself..? Why you drove through that guardrail..? Why you took Mom with you?"
"I did not kill your mother--and I didn't kill myself, either."
I wanted desperately to believe him--but I didn't.
"You expect me to believe it was an accident?"
He shook his head.
"No. It wasn't an accident."
"It was murder. Assassination, actually."
"I don't believe you."
"It doesn't matter if you believe me or not, Boy. The fact is that your mother and I were murdered."
"C'mon, Dad, give me a break. They recovered the Volvo with both your bodies in it. I ought to know--I was the one who identified you. They told me there was nothing wrong with the brakes, the only damage to the car was from you going over the cliff and there were no skidmarks. No skidmarks, Dad. None. How do you explain that?"
"I drove over the cliff, all right. But I had no choice in the matter."
"Because my mind was being controlled, Boy. So was your mother's."
"Oh, right..you expect me to believe that?"
"It doesn't matter what you believe, Drew. I'm telling you the truth, whether you choose to accept it or not. Your mother and I were murdered by enemies of my employer. I was forced to drive over a cliff and she was forced to accompany me."
"Uh-huh. And how come I never heard anything about these 'enemies of your employer'?"
"There's a lot you don't know about me, Son. I kept things from your mother and you--things you wouldn't have believed if I'd told you about them. Things it would have been dangerous for you to know."
"Things that got the two of you killed."
He nodded, his expression sober.
"Make me believe you, Dad."
He frowned and ran his open hand over the top of his head, smoothing down hair that hadn't existed in a long time.
"Did the police say whether your mother and I were wearing seat belts?"
I didn't have to think about that one.
"They did. You weren't."
"Think about that, Boy. What was the first thing I said to you every time we got in the car?"
I didn't have to think about that one, either.
"'Fasten your seat belt.'"
"That's right. And what was the first thing I did, every time I got in the car."
"You fastened your seat belt."
"Right again. So, why weren't we wearing seat belts?"
"Well..I..that's a good question, Dad. Why weren't you wearing seatbelts?"
"Because, if we'd had our seat belts on, we might have survived. And those bastards wanted to make sure we both died."
"I told you that already, Boy, 'Enemies of my employer.' I was in the way, so they killed me--and they made it look like suicide. Your mother was just an innocent bystander."
"So, why did they kill her?"
"She was home when they came for me. They couldn't afford to leave a witness, so they took her, too."
"Meaning she got killed because of you."
He looked away.
"Because I did what I had to do. What I thought was right."
"And what was that, Dad? What was so fucking important that it was worth getting killed over? Worth getting Mom killed over?"
His eyes blazed.
"Saving the world."
"From what, huh? The Red Menace? Well, I've got news for you, Dad, the Soviet Union collapsed last year. It's gone-- pfft. And it fell from the inside, not the outside."
He shook his head.
"I wasn't fighting the Soviets, Boy. I have nothing against communists. I fought alongside communists in The War."
"Then who? Who were you fighting, Dad?"
"Ask your employer."
"Dad, what the fuck does she have to do with you getting killed?"
"Think back, Boy. If I remember correctly, you were five years old. Your mother caught the flu and it turned into pneumonia, remember?"
I shook my head.
"Think hard. Your mother developed pneumonia and we couldn't get a sitter for you because so many people were down with the flu, so I had to take you in to work with me. Remember that?"
"Remember when the nice lady came to see me that afternoon? Remember you thought she was so pretty? Remember that?"
"Try harder. Remember what she looked like? How pretty her hair was? How red her hair was?"
Suddenly, it came back to me--the image of the pretty lady with the red, red hair bending down to tousle my own hair and tell me what a big boy I was getting to be. The pretty lady with the emerald eyes and the scarlet hair, all done up in a topknot.
Læ. The pretty lady who'd mussed up my hair there in my father's office when I was just a child was Læ.
I looked at my father in shock and disbelief.
"Jesus Christ, Dad!"
"You didn't really think she chose you at random, did you?"
"I..yes.. Yes I did. Jesus Christ, Dad."
"That's not the way she works. Those other boys might have been targets of convenience, but I'm sure she had you in mind right from the start."
"How..how did you..?"
"Come to be in her employ? You should ask her about that."
"I'm asking you, goddamnit!"
He shook his head.
"Don't be an ass, Drew. I'm not really here. This isn't some kind of magic trick--I'm just a figment of your imagination. I can't tell you anything you don't already know."
"But--you told me you'd been murdered! I didn't know that. I thought you committed suicide!"
"No, you didn't. You were told I committed suicide--or at least you were led to believe I did--but, deep down, you knew that wasn't the case."
"But you told me you were killed by 'enemies of your employer'. I didn't know that!"
"Your subconscious put two and two together, that's all. You knew I was a secret agent--it was easy enough for you to figure out that's what got your mother and me killed."
"I didn't know you were a spy, Dad! I thought you were in the import/export business!"
"You knew I served in the OSS in The War, because I remember telling you I did. Several times. And you've read enough James Bond novels to recognize 'the import/export business' as a cover."
I nodded. He was right. He had to be. None of the things I'd learned from my conversation with him and with my mother were true revelations--they'd all been there inside me right along, just waiting for me to lower my defenses long enough for them to emerge into the light.
My father, my mother, Rector, Alison--none of them were real. They were all just figments of my imagination; just me talking to me. Just masks.
My eyes filled with tears and I squeezed them shut and let the fat, salty drops cascade down my cheeks, unashamed. The time for shame was past.
When I opened my eyes again, I was alone. Darkness was falling on the valley below.
(Copyright© 1997, 1998 by Thom Stark--all rights reserved)