The night after my father and I came to blows in the kitchen of our house, he showed up at the bowling alley with a woman named Connie DeLucco. He'd been seeing this woman for over a year but I'd never laid eyes on her until that moment. I knew her name because I'd heard my mother say it countless times over the course of the preceding year in various states of anger and distress, the last time being before a judge of the family court.
From my position at the front counter, I watched my father and the woman move down the aisle—past the trophy cases, the lockers, the pro shop—and go into the lounge. It was Karaoke Night, our busiest of the week. Every lane was filled. All night long I'd been listening to people singing Jimmy Buffett songs. People loved singing Jimmy Buffett on Karaoke Night. It'd be another two, three hours before things quieted down.
I took off my smock and stuffed it under the counter. "I'll be back in ten minutes," I told the owner, Jerry Z. He was spraying a pair of size tens with a can of disinfectant. As I brushed past him, he glanced at his watch—which was what he always did when I went on break.
"Check the parking lot," he said. "Make sure everything's okay."
"Later," I said.
"I don't pay you enough? I ask too much?"
"After I get a drink."
"Drink smink," said Jerry Z. "Thirty-five years and no trouble. Now this."
He was talking about the vandalism. Flat tires, broken headlights, that kind of thing. Jerry Z's Econoline van—fifteen years old, covered in rust, with an engine that gurgled like a speedboat—had its passenger-side window smashed. But he was too cheap to hire a security guard or install outdoor spotlights. Instead he had me go outside every half-hour or so to take a look around. Usually I didn't mind. It was a chance to get some fresh air, away from the crash and clatter of ball and pins, away from the cigarette smoke. Everybody smoked at Jerry Z's Bowl and Dine. You practically had to squint to see the other side of the room.
I went into the lounge. The room was crowded and noisy and lit by tiki lamps, which glowed red onto everyone's faces. I nodded to Vincent the bartender, who flashed me a peace sign. I was nineteen and too young to drink, but Vincent did not abide by the laws of the State of Connecticut, especially not those relating to alcohol or narcotics. He poured a draft beer and placed it in front of me. "Look at that idiot," he said.
A businessman was on stage, belting out “Margaritaville.” Under the spotlight his face was flushed and shiny, and there was a big stain on the front of his white shirt. He moved back and forth on the karaoke platform like a cha-cha dancer, directing his vocals toward the tables up front, and the men and women sitting at those tables cheered wildly. Maybe he was their boss. We got a lot of office workers on Karaoke Night. The regulars—punks, junkies, sweetheart couples, VFW members; we got all kinds—sat in the back and smoked and watched the office workers make fools of themselves.
My father was in one of the rear booths. He and the woman—Connie DeLucco—were sitting side-by-side, holding hands above the table. I took my beer and approached their booth, thinking: People who are middle-aged shouldn't caress each other’s hands in public. They should get all that lovey-dovey stuff out of their systems when they're younger and better-looking.
"I didn't know you liked karaoke," I said, sliding into the vinyl seat opposite them.
"Is that what they call it?" said my father. He glanced at the stage and back at me. "I thought it was some sort of amateur hour."
"Maybe you should show him how it’s done," I said. "Get up there and sing one."
My father had a strong but off-key voice. He knew most Frank Sinatra songs by heart. We used to sing them around the piano when I was a kid. He said, "I don't feel much like singing."
"Why not?" I said. "You two look pretty cheerful to me, holding hands. Maybe you could sing a duet."
"Don’t be smart," said my father. "I didn't come down here to argue with you."
"Did you come to show off your girlfriend in her tight little skirt? Is that why you came down here, Dad?"
His arms tensed, and he raised a finger at me, but Connie DeLucco took his hand and brought it to the table and covered it with her hands. "Don't, Jim," she said.
He exhaled and eased back in his seat. He took his arm off the table and put it around Connie DeLucco. "That’s a nice shiner you got," he told me.
I said, "You got a sharp elbow."
"I didn't hit you with my elbow."
"You sure did," I said.
"Well I didn't mean to."
"The hell you didn't."
I slid out of the booth and turned away but the woman reached out and touched my wrist. "Don’t go," she said.
"I don’t know you, lady," I said, and pulled my hand away.
I'd moved back home six months earlier, after dropping out of college. This was in 1984, in New Britain, Connecticut, home of Pulaski Tools, where my father had made hammers and screwdrivers for thirty years. We lived down the street from the factory in a big, old Victorian that used to be a rooming house. After my mother left he'd allowed the place to get run down. The paint was chipped and peeling, the floorboards creaked, and the wind whistled through the cracks in the windows and rooftops.
My bedroom was on the third floor and my father's was on the second. He didn’t sleep much. Late at night I could hear him below me, coughing, clearing his throat, or getting up to go to the bathroom or down to the den for a whiskey. He didn’t bother to hide the bottle after the divorce, just left it on the table in the kitchen or den.
My father wasn’t a bad cook. He made steak and potatoes every night. We’d sit across each other at the kitchen table, chewing and cutting. Eating steak and potatoes put my father in a good mood. He’d say: "How’s that steak? Rare enough for you?" Or: "That’s a two-inch tenderloin. Cost you fifteen bucks for a cut like that in a restaurant, if you can find it." Or: "Potatoes the way you like em?" I’d grunt and keep my head down, shoveling the food into my mouth. Or if I felt like pissing him off I’d say something like: "Yeah, Dad. Just great. A fucking great steak and potato meal." Then I'd put my plate in the sink, grab my jacket and go out for the night.
I'd moved back home because it was summertime and I liked living rent-free, hanging around with my old friends. I spent the afternoons at Pulaski Park, playing basketball and getting stoned, and nights drinking beer at a college bar near where we lived. I thought: Time is short. Life is precious. Etc. There was no time to waste studying Ancient Civilization. I drank until last call, when all the pretty coeds made their blue-jeaned way back to their dorm rooms, calling goodnight to each other in their singsong sexy coed voices, and I stumbled home alone in the wind to my father's house and passed into beery oblivion on the same saggy bed I'd slept on when I was a kid.
His girlfriend—Connie DeLucco—didn't come to our house, but I knew a lot about her from listening to my mother. I knew that she was forty-five years old, that she worked as a bookkeeper for Pulaski Tools, and that she had two teenage boys from a prior marriage. (My mother called her a divorcee, among other names I'd been surprised to hear her utter.) Every other weekend—the days her boys stayed with their father—my father went over to Connie DeLucco's condominium and spent the night. He'd return from these visits a bit sheepish and talkative, like a kid who's done something wrong and wants to take your mind off it.
My father believed in the benefits of higher education. He had put fifty dollars in a special bank account for my brother and me every week for eighteen years. He hadn’t missed a week, not even when the toolmaker's union went on strike for six months back in 1975. He had made sacrifices to give us the chances he didn’t have, or so he told me, over and over. So when September came and I told him I wasn't going back to college, that my mind was made up and there was nothing he could do about it, he stopped making me steak and potato dinners and started calling me a lazy freeloading dropout son of a bitch, and I started calling him Jimbo. I'd say, "Pass the salt, Jimbo," and he'd say: "When I was your age I was carrying hod twelve hours a day. You think that was easy? You think that was some kind of free ride? Well it wasn't." I'd say, "Grab me a beer out of the fridge when you get a chance, Jimbo," and he'd say: "Get a goddamn job, why don't you? I'm sick to death of you hanging around the house like some kind of cripple. That what you want to do with your life? Watch TV?" I'd say anything, and he'd tell me to get a job.
This went on for a month. Then he barged into my bedroom early one morning and turned on the overhead fluorescent light. As a result of my bad habits, mornings were not something to look forward to. I was not accustomed to overhead fluorescent lighting at seven a.m. My nervous system did not know how to react. I squinted at the light, not feeling very well, and said something along the lines of: "Turn off that fucking light."
My father said: "Get out of bed. I don't care if you just sit at the kitchen table and read the newspaper. I won't have any lazy freeloading drop-out son a bitch sleeping till noon in my house. From now on I want you out of bed every morning at seven a.m., checking the want ads. That's the new rule around here, and if you don't like it, tough."
He repeated this performance every day for a week. I took the job at the bowling alley to get him off my back.
When I returned from the lounge, Jerry Z looked up from the eleven o'clock news and glanced at his watch. He kept the TV on at all times, an ancient black and white that got a scrambled picture no matter how you adjusted the antenna. He played the audio at very high volume, his good ear cocked toward the screen, but after a while you didn't notice the racket, just like you didn't hear the pins smashing and the office workers singing Jimmy Buffett songs.
He said, "You check the parking lot?"
I shook my head.
"You go fifteen minutes and don't check the parking lot? I got thieves in the parking lot and you don't look? I pay you for this? For nothing?"
"Don't break my balls, Jerry."
"This is not breaking balls, my young friend. If I wanted to break balls you would feel it."
Jerry Z was old and covered with liver spots and he had a large cylindrical wart on the back of his right hand which boys liked to make fun of when they paid for their strings. He spoke with a heavy Polish accent and worked twelve hours a day, more on weekends. Whenever people came to the counter to pay, Jerry Z took his pencil from behind his ear and examined their score sheets, checking off the number of strings they'd rolled. He suspected everyone—boys especially—of trying to get away with rolling more strings than they had marked on their sheets. He kept an eye on all twenty-five lanes, like a sea captain scanning the horizon, and he also watched me and Vincent the bartender and all the other minimum-wagers to make sure we didn't slip into the men's room or out the back door to get high, which we did as often as possible.
I said, "You want a hamburg?"
He said, "Why are you still here?"
"Does that mean you want me to check the parking lot?"
"How many times do I have to say it? Didn't I ask ten times already? I give you five minutes. You're not back in five minutes you might as well go home."
I went outside. November, the night air smelled like fallen leaves, cold and damp. I breathed deep, clearing my lungs.
Silas Deane Highway used to be the main drag, back in the late forties when Jerry Z opened the alley. They built all the buildings on the strip back then—hamburger shacks, diners, one-story motels shaped like the letter L or U. A hotel called the Grantmoor—it had heart-shaped waterbeds in every room, hourly rates—did good business, but most places were either boarded up or on their last legs. After midnight the gearheads took over the strip, drag-racing back and forth. You could hear the howls of the engines—GTOs, Trans Ams, LeManses—coming from miles away.
Jerry Z's Bowl and Dine was open twenty-four hours, Sundays and holidays included. Jerry Z hadn't closed the doors in thirty-five years—not once, not when JFK got shot, not during the ice storm of '73 or the blizzard of '79, not even when his own wife, Irmine, dropped dead one morning of an aneurysm. "I stayed opened then," Jerry Z liked to say, "and I'll stay open until I'm dead too." Whenever anyone called about our hours of business, Jerry Z always said the same thing: "We never close."
You'd be surprised how many people go bowling in the middle of the night. Like the Grantmoor, Jerry Z's always got a good crowd. People would come to roll a couple of strings, get a beer, play pinball machines in the arcade or just sit on one of the benches behind the lanes and smoke. The drunks showed up around three a.m., after the bars closed, and they stayed until dawn, when the third-shift factory workers replaced them, squeezing in a shot and a string before going home to their wives.
On Karaoke Night, the parking lot was full. Jerry Z's Econoline van was parked behind the dumpster. He thought the van would be safe there, that the vandals wouldn't see it. I walked the length of the parking lot, listening to the cars wailing in the distance. The dumpster smelled like rotten fish. I stopped and listened for a moment. Then I slipped into the darkness behind the dumpster and took my Swiss army knife out of my pocket. I opened the blade and pushed it into Jerry Z's left front tire above the hubcap, and when I took it out the tire made a hissing sound. I went around to the passenger side and got that tire too.
I didn't know then that that night would be my last working at the alley. The next day was my day off. I would spend it at the shore with Vincent the bartender trying to find a friend of his who had some Colombian for sale but we got lost and finally had to hitchhike home because Vincent’s car got towed from the private road where he’d left it, and the day after that I would stay home sleeping because I was very tired from not sleeping the night before, and the day after that I would spend getting my things together and packing my car and saying goodbye to a few friends, and the day after that I would come into the bowling alley at noon and ask Jerry Z for the paycheck he owed me from the prior week because I was leaving town and wouldn’t be working for him anymore and he would throw up his hands and say: "You expect severance pay? Fat chance. This is very simple, my young friend. This is the situation. You quit on me, I owe you nothing. Zero. Zilch. Understand? Nothing. Zero. Zilch."
But I didn’t know I was quitting when I popped Jerry Z’s tires. I waited until the air stopped hissing and the front of the van rested forward on the pavement. Then I put away my Swiss army knife and went back inside.
Jerry Z glanced up from the TV set. He said, "You see anybody out there? Anybody suspicious? Anybody looking for trouble?"
I said, "Nope."
My father was a drinking man. Whiskey was his favorite. He started drinking in the army—the day he landed at Salerno, to steady his nerves—and hadn't stopped since. He drank every day, but you'd never know it from his behavior. When he and my mother used to argue about the money he spent on booze, he would say, "You've never seen me drunk. Not once in your life. Never."
And that was true. All the time I was growing up, he never slurred his words, never stumbled or fell, never lost his temper, never missed a day of work, never did any of the things drunks are supposed to do. Each evening after dinner he used to sit in the den, watching TV and sipping straight whiskey (no water, no ice). When he finished the glass, he would pour himself another and watch more TV, or help my brother and me with our homework (he was good at math), or sing songs around the piano with my mother while my brother turned the pages of the sheet music and I kept the beat with a pair of maracas we brought back from Miami Beach when I was twelve, or do any of the things we used to do, and all the time he had that glass in his hand, smiling, sipping, setting it down or raising it to his lips.
I'd never seen him stumble into the house after work, like he did the night we came to blows. I had the day off from the bowling alley, and I'd been looking forward to one of his steak and potato dinners. We'd been getting along better since I'd taken the job. He still wanted me to go back to college and he lectured me on that topic often, but he respected the fact that I was working six days a week. He packed my lunch every morning before he went to the factory, for me to take to the bowling alley and eat on my break—steak sandwiches with mayonnaise on white bread. And whenever I brought home a bag of groceries from the Dairy Mart, he made a big deal out of it; he'd remove the food from the shopping bag—the carton of milk or eggs or packet of meat—and admire each item like treasures from Arabia. When I showed him my first paycheck, he pursed his lips and nodded, and said: "Two hundred bucks before taxes. Not bad. More than I was making at your age. You'll need that money when you go back to college."
But he was late, that night, and I didn't wait for him. I sat at the table, eating the last few bites of a TV dinner. Then he came through the door and staggered to the kitchen table. I thought he was ill, that he'd come down with the flu or something, and I asked him if he was feeling okay.
He steadied himself against the table. "Goddamn right I'm okay," he said. "Never felt better in my life."
His face was very red and he was sweating, even though it was a cold November night.
"You're drunk," I told him.
"Like hell I am," he said.
"You can't even stand without holding onto the table."
"Who do you think you are, calling me drunk? Where do you get off talking to me like that?"
I'd meant it as a joke. Being drunk was pretty much normal behavior for me. My father often kidded me about it, asking how my head felt on mornings afterward. Nothing worse than a beer jag, he liked to say.
I pushed my TV dinner away from me. "Admit it, Dad. You're drunk off your ass."
"You've never seen me drunk in your life. Not once. Never."
"Look at you. You can't even stand up straight. You can't walk across the room."
"You don't know what you're talking about."
"You can't hold your whiskey anymore."
"The hell I can't."
He moved with exaggerated dignity to the refrigerator and grabbed onto the handle and steadied himself. Then he opened the door and looked inside. "Where's my steak? You eat it all?"
"It's right in front of you."
"You ate it, didn’t you? Ate your father’s dinner."
"Maybe you're seeing two of them. That makes it harder."
"Don't get smart with me."
He reached into the fridge and knocked over a half-gallon of milk, which fell to the floor and started pouring out the top. "For Christsake," he said. "Who left that open?"
I rose from the table, bent and picked up the carton of milk, and as I straightened up my father turned and hit me above my right eye with his elbow. The blow rang in my head like a knock on a door, that same wooden sound. I stumbled backward and nearly slipped on the wet floor.
"What the hell?" said my father. "What are you trying to prove?"
I rubbed my head, feeling the pain radiate outward. I found myself holding the carton of milk, and I placed it on the kitchen table. He looked at me with a bewildered expression. He said, "What are you getting under me like that for?"
"What the fuck are you talking about? You practically knocked my eye out, you old drunk."
"You can't talk to me like that. I'm your father."
I said, "You're an old drunk, that's all."
"You watch yourself. I can still give you a strapping."
He closed the refrigerator door and began fiddling with his belt buckle. My father was thick in the chest and arms. He'd been an all-state football player, the commander of a company of combat engineers that fought in Italy. People who knew him from the old days used to stop him in the street to shake his hand. Seeing him stumble-drunk made me angry.
"Go ahead," I told him. "Try it."
He took off his belt and whipped, but I caught the leather and pulled it toward me and my father came lunging along with it. He lost his footing on the wet floor and fell against me, and we went down. He landed on top of me. I struggled to push him off, and he tried to pin me like a wrestler, the smell of whiskey on his breath, in my face, a smell that reminded me of childhood. I hadn't hugged him for years, for as long as I could remember; we weren't a family that showed affection. I clutched him to my chest, my drunk father, and rolled. In a moment I was on top of him. I grabbed his shoulders and pushed him back against the linoleum. I felt the strength drain out of him, and I pushed him down again, harder, so that the back of his head snapped back and struck the floor.
"Get the fuck off of me," I said.
He looked up at me with red-rimmed eyes, then turned his head so that the side of his face was resting in the milk that had spilled onto the floor.
I got up and took my coat off the back of the chair and went out.
Karaoke was still going strong when I came back to the lounge after puncturing Jerry Z’s tires. Someone was singing an off-key version of Billy Joel. I took up a barstool, and Vincent the bartender slid a draft beer in front of me.
He said, "Look at that piece of ass."
He nodded toward one of the tables of office workers. None of them looked pretty to me, but Vincent was not picky when it concerned women. He had a habit of making his fingers into the general shape of a vagina and flicking his tongue into the opening. He liked to say: "They all look the same when you get down to it, kid." In addition to bartender, Vincent was the hamburger chef. Hamburger was the only item offered on the Tiki Lounge menu. When a woman Vincent considered attractive ordered a hamburger, he would go into the mini-kitchen, place a patty onto the grill, unzip and piss on the meat while it sizzled and fried. The special sauce, he called it. He also regularly pissed on burgers that Jerry Z ordered, and I can't say I objected to this practice because Jerry Z was a stingy old Polack who docked you if you were ten minutes late and never gave you a day off when you asked for one.
"You got any blues?" I said.
"Sure I got blues. I got the keys to the cabinet, kid."
Vincent's eyes were bulging and alert. He had been a soldier in Vietnam. You could tell by the way he looked at you and everyone else in the world that something inside his brain was no longer functioning properly. Some nights he would drive to the shore and stare at the ocean for hours, seeing shapes in the black waves that no one else saw. Maybe it was all the speed he was doing. Speed, hash, pot, acid: he had whatever you wanted in the trunk of his '75 Impala. At the time, I thought him an admirable person. A few years later—a friend sent me the newspaper clipping—the police would find him in a ditch, beaten to death with a crowbar.
I took a drink of beer. The beer was cold and tasted very good because my throat was dry from breathing cigarette smoke. I looked into the mirror behind the bar and watched my father. He and Connie DeLucco were sitting in the rear booth, their bodies turned toward each other. She seemed to be telling him something, and he nodded slightly while she spoke. I knew they were talking about me, trying to devise words or kindnesses, and I knew that even though I would probably feel sorry about it later nothing they said or did could touch the person I had become.
Vincent tapped me on the shoulder. He said, "Here."
He placed a small blue pill in my palm, and I swallowed it.
Later that night he and I would drive south toward the shore in his '75 Impala. We would pass every car we came up behind but no matter how fast Vincent drove it was not fast enough. We drove with unbearable slowness at a hundred miles an hour. I didn't want to blink. So much happened during that instant of darkness. Vincent drove with the tape deck blasting, drumming his hands against the steering wheel. When we got to the shore he drove up and down different beach roads that all looked the same, trying to find the house of the guy who had the Colombian. Finally we parked, got out of the car, jumped over a fence and went down an embankment, reaching the beach. We walked along the shore in darkness, passing unlit and shuttered cottages, our sneakers sinking into the sand. We climbed rock walls and ducked under piers, and after a while the cottages began to thin. We came to a highway overpass, with cars and trucks going by above, headlights flashing onto the black ocean for an instant. Later, when the sun came up we found ourselves on a raised walkway above tall sea grass in a swampy inlet. The edge of the swamp was bordered on all sides by pines, off in the distance. A man drifted slowly past us in a skiff, holding a fishing net. He turned toward us, then turned away. The sun was very red against the water. I held my arms around me in the cold light, and Vincent said, "Where's the ocean? Where's the fucking ocean?"
But that happened later. When my father got up from the booth and walked toward the men's room, I took two whiskeys, went over and placed the glasses on the table in front of Connie DeLucco.
She said, "Your father's not drinking tonight."
"What about you?"
"Yes, I believe I will. Thank you. I don't usually but tonight's a special occasion."
"What's so special about it?"
My mother had called Connie DeLucco "cheap" because she was the sort of woman men might notice, with her tight skirts, her long dark hair. But up close you saw the web of lines around her eyes, the smile wrinkles, the streaks of gray in her hair. Her face was drawn and thin, her jaw sharp.
I slid into the booth across from her. "They almost got divorced once before," I told her. "Before you, I mean. Six or seven years ago."
"I didn't know that," she said.
"My brother and I wanted an in-ground swimming pool for our backyard. My father liked the idea, said it would save him the trouble of mowing the grass. He was always buying us stuff we wanted."
"Your father's a generous man," she said.
I said, "They were always fighting about money, but that time it was worse. That time she went to a lawyer and filed some papers against him."
"She was looking out for you kids."
"We didn't see it that way. We wanted that pool."
She reached across the table and brought her hand near my black eye but didn’t touch me. "Your father didn't mean to hurt you," she said.
The speed started hitting my bloodstream around then. It came on like a jolt, like waking up in the morning, that suddenly.
I said, "They always had their problems. You just came along, that's all."
She lowered her hand, and I sat back against the booth. I turned toward the men’s room, but my father was nowhere in sight. The office worker finished the Billy Joel song and everyone clapped, and three secretaries got onto the stage and broke into Barry Manilow.
She said, "Your father would never tell you this but I'm going to. He wanted to sell that house six months ago. Did you know that?"
I said, "That's bullshit."
"The only reason he didn't was because of you coming back."
"He told you that to keep you off his back. You probably been nagging him to move in with you."
She said, "You think he likes living in that big house all alone? He's not getting any younger you know."
"He's not alone."
"Of course he is."
I said, "Look. You've got your own family, your own kids. You've got nothing to do with us."
She took a sip of whiskey. "I don't blame you for hating me."
"My mother hates you. I couldn't care less about you."
She smiled, but her eyes welled up with tears. She said, "You know why you came back to town, don't you?"
"Why don’t you tell me?"
"To punish your father, that’s why. To punish him and me for breaking up your family."
"I just told you, I couldn't care less about you."
She said, "Do you like working in a bowling alley?"
"Sure. It's great."
"Is it? Your father says you were doing terrific at college. He says you got straight A's your first semester. He says you're twice as smart as he ever was."
I took the whiskey glass and drank it down, and the whiskey burned in my throat. A moment later I felt my father's hands on my shoulders. I didn't turn around. He patted me on the back and said, "I didn't mean to hit you."
"Forget about it," I told him.
He went around to the other side of the booth and sat down, and as he did I got up. "I got to get back to work," I said.
He winked at Connie DeLucco. "He's making two hundred a week before taxes. Twice what I was making at his age. You should see the groceries he brings home." He turned to me. "You coming home tonight?"
"Tomorrow. I got some things to do tonight."
"All right. We'll have steaks. I got a couple of nice London broils. Two inch thick."
I said, "Goodbye, Dad."
He nodded and I began walking away and even though I didn't turn back and wouldn't have been able to hear him over the music anyway I knew that he would watch me leave the room and then he would turn to Connie DeLucco and say, "He'll need that money when he goes back to college." And I realized then (or it might have been later when the speed speeded up the workings of my brain and I saw every particle of light like fishing twine hanging from the sky) that he was sixty years old and the only thing I could do for him was leave; and leaving took me away, farther away than I could have imagined that night.
I went out the back door to get some fresh air. It was past midnight. The trees behind the bowling alley were bare and dark. I leaned against the wall, listening to the distant rumble of cars on the strip and watching the branches tremble soundlessly in the wind. Within a week I would be gone. I would gather my things and pack my car one morning while my father was at work, and I would watch the town where I grew up—our house, the park, the factory where my father worked for thirty years—recede into the rearview mirror. Turning onto the interstate, I would picture him coming home that evening, finding the note I left for him on the kitchen table, how he would get out his reading glasses and sit down at the table and read the few words I'd written, how he would purse his lips and nod, like he always did when he knew something was true.