The Dugans met at the Inspiration Academy, the school for at-risk kids where Craig volunteered. He was leading a tour for potential donors. The Academy was in a part of the city Ellie had never visited so she wound up ten minutes late, a little tipsy on her heels, with a lopsided smile and a sweet honking laugh. Craig desired her almost at once. She concurred. Craig was handsome and charming. When he nodded at the uniformed students who called out to him—Hey, Mister D! Mister Deeeee!—Ellie found herself a little out of breath.
Soon they were eating rich foods and drinking wine and making love with a fierce and procreative abandon. Why the hell not? Craig was forty, Ellie was thirty and change. Then Craig was on his knees in front of the school cafeteria where they first met, clutching a ring that had belonged to his Dutch grandmother. Ellie nodded and wept while a small chorale of at-risk kids, faces pressed to the windows, cheered wildly. It was like a fairytale, the happy part at the end where everything speeds up, and a few days later, or months—who knows? who cares?—they were getting hitched at her parents’ estate on the Cape, with a raw bar the size of the Great Barrier Reef and a lawn so vast and luminous it outlined the earth’s curvature. Ellie wore an off-white dress; this was her second wedding in five years, though nobody said anything about this or about anything that might intrude upon the sense of boundless good fortune that their union seemed to portend.
They had the babies, two in three years. The process left them bleary with gratitude, handing the little loaves back and forth in the cozy flat where Craig had lived for many years as a bachelor. Then Ellie wanted a house. Actually, she’d always wanted a house. The best her first husband could do was a condo in Vail. But Craig had inherited real estate from his father.
They argued, just a little at first. Ellie was a bulldog or maybe something closer to a Doberman. She felt their happiness depended on having space and family support, and wasn’t buying a home an investment? Wasn’t that the whole lesson of the Dugan legacy—that the market always goes up? When he finally relented, she straddled him and screwed him silly then scrolled through all the Zillow listings she’d saved. This went on for a month: real estate sex, the terminal stage of courtship.
They settled on a colonial in the town where her parents lived, a house Craig did not actually want to purchase, though he convinced himself it would make his wife happy and therefore him. They began to host cocktail parties and visited her folks, who had a pool the kids loved. This was in addition to Augusts on the Cape and holidays and little unannounced drop-ins from Grandma Beatrice, always with a gift in hand for the littles and sunny ideas about vacation destinations and interior design elements. Craig began to suspect that Ellie didn’t want to forge a family of her own. She wanted to be reabsorbed into the family of her youth, the summer afternoons marked by the idle industry of the rich: tennis, golf, the beach, the shops, the antic blur of cocktail hour.
Her father Hank was a marketing executive straight out of Cheever, a good-natured alcoholic who had had the temerity, a decade earlier, to sober up and leave Bea for seven harrowing months before returning, chastened, to bride and bottle. Every time they shook hands, Hank grasped his forearm, like a diver uncertain he would reach the surface in time.
Ellie starved off her baby weight and cross-trained. She had been a promising gymnast as a young girl until a gruesome dismount at age nine. The fall had shattered her orbital bone and caused nerve damage in her cheek. It had taken her months to recuperate, a steel plate, three cranial surgeries. She told Craig about all this early on. My Face Plant, she called it. It took Craig some years to realize that joking about a trauma wasn’t the same thing as dealing with it.
The yearning they once felt to touch each other waned. Ellie sought refuge in catalogues. Brown boxes began to appear on the porch and she opened them, opening a brief joy within her. The sweaters, the house, the master bath with heated stone floor, the five-star vacations—Craig gave her all these goodies, along with his resentment, which kept her on edge. She felt most keenly betrayed by what his resentment masked: a growing suspicion that he had chosen poorly, that he wished Ellie to be a more substantial person.
Craig considered her ungrateful but when you thought about it (and Ellie thought about it a lot) he was the ungrateful one. She had admired his altruism. He was a philanthropist, a giver, a builder of community. But it had come to seem like a performance: masochism masquerading as virtue. He treated resort staff more kindly than her family. He rode the gondola to the summit then whined about carbon footprints rather than taking in the view. Wasn’t thata waste, a kind of decadent sanctimony? What was he up to, anyway? Some form of penance? For what? If her pursuit of happiness had become perhaps a bit fanatical it was only because she had to enjoy life for both of them.
As for the babies.
Whatever love the couple withheld from each other, they poured into their two dumplings. It had been a turn-on, the expanding quotient of love, the butterfly kisses, the hours given over to milky verbs: suckle, swaddle, cuddle. But they discovered that adoration for offspring was not transferable to spouses. It was drawn from a separate account. Or maybe it was in a whole different bank.
Family outings flushed Craig with a queasy pride. They were a lovely family. They smiled and hugged in all the photos then flicked through them on their devices, a bit wistfully. The children were becoming beards for a failing marriage. The boy, Trent, turned defiant and a little cruel. His sister Daphne grew desperately cheerful and plump, which vexed her mother.
Tentatively, Craig and Ellie began to hate one another. They started with the small items (magazines, frozen foods) and worked inward. Soon they were airing grievances to other people, which widened the gulf. Their bed became a swamp of disappointment. They found reasons to sleep elsewhere. Ellie curled up with one of the kids. Craig took to the couch in his home office.
At odd moments, they felt the cauterizing lance of memory: Ellie popping by Craig’s office to flash her thong. The lucky licking! The stained blotter! Who were those people? Where were they? The lust that had once buoyed them rushed out, swift and flatulent. Maybe they had confused desire with esteem.
One Saturday, they argued over a visit to her folks. Ellie took the kids on her own. Craig wandered the house appraising end tables they did not need. Then he got in his car and drove south to the old cottage in Salter’s Point that his father had used as a weekend getaway.
Craig and his little sister had been taken on these trips occasionally. Their dad spent most of the day on unspecified errands, leaving them to explore the chalky cliffs above the beach, or dig for treasure in the garden. At dinner time, he would turn up, red and beaming, reeking of cigarettes and mouthwash, to cook them all steaks and baked potatoes and peas swimming in a buttery broth. He balanced the peas on his knife blade and sent them spiraling through the air, one after another, into his mouth. An old trick from the Navy. He became someone new to his children—carefree, joyous even. The sea air did him good, he said.
Craig found an old pint of bourbon and sat in the cottage, which reeked of disuse; dusk settled over him like a sheet. He hadn’t kissed his wife in months. They edged past one another. It was growing absurd, a plaque upon the heart, or a lazy cancer. He didn’t want to die. He didn’t want his wife to die either, though he sometimes imagined it happening.
He began to castigate himself then to pity himself. He sat in the stale darkness and remembered something his father had said to him once: “The fish aren’t gonna jump into your bucket, son.” Craig had another sip from his pint and tried to decide what it meant.
Out came his phone. He watched himself thumb in a search for “escort” and a few other vaguely illicit keywords. The outfit he settled on was owned and operated by women, sex positive, discreet, those were the bold-faced words—ethical prostitution, hookers with IRAs.
At home, he tiptoed into the bedroom and gently woke Ellie. He told her they needed to be kinder to each other, to get on the same team. His hand came to rest on her shoulder. She didn’t lift her head from the pillow.
“You’re a real asshole, you know that?”
“I did know that.”
“Thinking you can waltz in here and make it all better.”
“I wasn’t waltzing.”
“Lower your voice. Are you fucking drunk? Did you drive drunk? You smell like an ashtray. Oh gross, Craig.”
“I’m trying to do something here,” he said.
Or maybe that’s not how it went. Maybe he wasn’t quite so gracious. He wasn’t a practiced drinker. Perhaps this had distorted the distance between his intentions and his execution. Maybe, as Ellie later informed him, he had said something untoward about her mother.
Then he was in the lobby of a fancy hotel and he received a text message with a room number, which dissolved before his eyes. He could feel his heart pumping. The woman who opened the door looked like the hostess at an upscale bistro; her dress was lavender, a snug cotton blend. “Let’s take care of the business,” she said, “so we can focus on the pleasure.”
They seated themselves on the sofa of the suite area.
“You’ve read the FAQs.”
“The Frequently Asked Questions. On the website.”
“This is my first time,” he blurted.
“I get that a lot.” She smiled. “You’re not going to enjoy yourself if you can’t relax. We could take a bath. That might help you relax. Or we could have a drink.”
“Could we talk?”
“Sure. This is your time. But just to be clear. I don’t get paid to listen. It’s not my thing. Okay?”
Craig’s mouth had gone dry. “What is your thing?”
“Touch. I can touch you. I can touch myself. You can touch me.” She regarded him almost tenderly. “What should I call you?”
“Call me Ishmael,” Craig said.
“Okay, you can call me Candida.”
“Is that your real name?”
“No. My real name is Ishmael.”
They moved to the bed. She undressed him and inspected his body. “Nice.”
“You kind of have to say that, don’t you?”
“I don’t have to say anything.” She rose from the bed and fiddled with a few things and stepped out of her dress. No underwear. No nothing. She tapped at the phone on the bedside and she began to sway to the music. Sun streamed through the window and lit the edges of her body.
“Do you like to dance?”
Craig shook his head.
“Then you get to watch.”
They began touching. She smelled lotiony and had a bit of stubble under her arms and tiny coils of hair traced the back of her neck. He had to remind himself that he had hired her. He had paid $535, a fee which included gratuity, facilities, everything. The charge on his AmEx went to Physical Therapies Incorporated. He was a pervert and a hypocrite, a sponsor of whoredom. He felt terrible about all of it—the deception, the exploitation, the greedy throb of his glands—then she reached down and expertly suffocated such thoughts.
He began to weep. He wanted to talk more, to tell Candida about what had led him to this room. She reminded him, gently, that she didn’t provide such services, though she did rub his back until he closed his eyes. When he opened them again she was gone, an embossed card on the bedside. The card would allow him to rebook with her if he wished.
Ellie found the card not six hours later and did the necessary online sleuthing. He confessed instantly. How long had this been going on, Ellie demanded. How many whores had he visited? What had he done with all these whores? Had he been tested for STDs?
Craig, who had felt nauseous with remorse for the first ten minutes of her interrogation, began to realize how incompetent he had proved as an adulterer. In a world of infinite carnal possibility, he had received a single hand job, the most expensive one in history, as his mean bald lawyer would later joke. Then he had cried. Craig began to feel—by a certain moral logic—wronged. He could have had sex with Candida, maybe even anal sex. He could have retained a second Candida, or a third, though perhaps retained was dressing it up a bit.
Ellie kept slugging away. “You have a daughter!”
She must have said this twenty-five times, as if his employment of a Professional Touch Therapist (which was how he was thinking of Candida at this point) had doomed their daughter to a life of sexual slavery.
Craig said it wasn’t his intention to hurt anyone but that their erotic life together had gone dark.
“I don’t fuck people who hate me,” Ellie said.
“No, you just hate the people you fuck,” Craig said.
They both fell silent, slightly confused but also pleased at the vicious congruence of this exchange. It sounded like a vow of parting. Now they had a reason, a betrayal they could point to beyond their failure to like one another. It was a stupid and costly way to end a marriage, particularly if you were Craig.
They told the kids Daddy was going to live in another house for a little while because they were fighting too much and it wasn’t fair to anyone. They needed to figure out if they could get along again.
“How much time?” Daphne wanted to know. She was almost seven.
“We don’t know yet,” Ellie said.
“What if you can’t get along?”
“We’re going to try really hard.”
“We’ll be a family no matter what,” Craig said.
“They’re getting a divorce, you baby,” Trent muttered. His sister’s face flushed and Ellie practically screamed “We are not!” at which point Daphne broke into tears. Ellie scooped her up and carried her into the next room. Craig grabbed his son’s arm and demanded to know why he would say such a thing.
“Because it’s true,” said Trent, trying to twist away. “Ow! That hurts! Get your hands off me!”
“What’s going on in there?” Ellie shrieked.
Trent glared at his father triumphantly.
“You’re not even a person anymore,” he said.
For a few months, it looked like things might go okay. Craig’s new place was a mile away. He took the kids Monday to Wednesday. Daphne decorated her new room. Then one day Ellie called to report that Trent refused to get in the car. “I’ll come get him,” Craig said.
“He’s doing this weird thing,” Ellie warned.
“What weird thing?”
“He doesn’t want to call you Dad.”
Trent was in the backyard, skulking around the fire pit. He looked like Craig had as a kid, glum and spindly. “Want to tell me what’s going on?”
“You know the drill, T.”
Ellie had come out to the back porch.
“I don’t want to spend time with It,” the kid called out to her.
“What?” Craig said.
“I’m not going to Its house.”
“Are you calling me It?”
Trent stared hard at the ashes. “It can’t make me go,” he declared. “That would be child abuse.”
Craig wanted to kneel down and catch his breath. He also wanted to put the kid in a headlock and squeeze. But he knew the precariousness of his position, given the separation and its official cause.
For a month this went on, then another. They sent the boy to a psychologist, an anorexic PhD who insisted Trent’s behavior was “dynamically appropriate,” a term that filled Craig with rage. Oh to be young again, to be growing up in an era so deluded with empathy, where children enjoyed the right to torture their parents.
“He’s trying to exert what power he can,” the shrink said. “He doesn’t have the power to keep you at home, so he’s seized the power to cast you out.”
“He’s making the whole thing unbearable,” Ellie said.
“Perhaps the divorce feels unbearable to him.”
“We’re not even divorced,” Craig muttered.
Ellie glanced at him, not unkindly. They were in the same boat. They didn’t want to be married but they didn’t want to be divorced either. They had simply become embroiled in an elaborate misunderstanding, born of optimism and impatience, the admixture behind every dud marriage.
“Regardless of the legalities, Trent doesn’t want his father to move out. Transforming him into an indefinite pronoun makes the separation more bearable. It’s a baiting behavior. The key to avoiding long-term parental estrangement is neutrality.” The shrink looked at Ellie. “Neutrality and love. Keep the door open.”
They took a ski trip, just him and the kids. Trent refused to leave the lodge. He spent the weekend loafing around in bed, watching cooking shows centered around verbally abusive celebrity chefs. He was often naked, his unwiped butt leaving streaks on the sheets. The image haunted Craig.
In odd moments, Craig felt a queer pride in his status as an indefinite pronoun. Life wasn’t so bad as an It. Gone were the ineluctable burdens of personhood. It was tired. It slept. It was hungry. It ate liverwurst straight from the sleeve. It jerked off. Its son appeared, dizzy with the venom of sorrow, and attempted to provoke child abuse. It stood quietly, dreaming of a machine capable of sending the child back in time to the Irish Potato Famine.
Meanwhile, the family fortune bled out all over the pink marble lobbies of legal offices. Ellie presented him an annual budget worthy of a Hapsburg—designed by mother Bea. Bea, who shuddered at the vile notion that her son-in-law had visited a woman of the night. It was broad daylight, Craig wanted to scream.
Still, he admired Bea. She was a genuine battle-ax: titanium blade, combat ready. Ellie didn’t have her instincts, but she did have her counsel. Sometimes, in the midst of a mediation session, she would drop a phrase—social humiliation or disease risk—that he knew had come straight from Bea. Hank was staying out of it. He maybe wanted to help, but he also maybe just wanted a drink.
Craig soon realized he was going to have to sell one of his properties. His real estate attorney suggested the cottage in Salter’s Point.
“Do we still own that little shitbox?” This was his mother’s response. She had retired to New Mexico to paint landscapes and power walk. “Oh God. Your father’s redoubt. Sell it. By all means.”
The firm he hired to refurbish the place recommended gutting it and hauling the contents to the dump. But Craig opted to hold an estate sale instead. It was a sentimental decision, buttressed by cheapskate logic. Why throw away perfectly good appliances and furnishings when he could donate the proceeds to the Academy? He could visit the place one last time, before the old counters got ripped up, the closets looted of their secrets. Daphne might want to come with him.
But Ellie was taking her out of town for a spa weekend with Bea. “What about Trent?” she said brightly. “You could ask. He does love you, you know. He’s just upset about everything.”
Craig was suddenly furious at Ellie for her confounding decency.
In the end, Hank bailed as a sitter so neither of them had a choice. On the appointed Saturday, the kid appeared, puffy-eyed, sullen, as if roused from a crypt. He wore the football jersey of his favorite player, a garment that came down to his knees, and sat in the back seat, bent over his blipping phone, feeding chips from a canister into his mouth.
“When we get there, I’m going to need to spend a few hours in the cottage,” Craig said.
“What am I supposed to do?”
“You can help me out. Then we can go to the beach.”
“There’s rocks,” Trent muttered, a bit of intel from Ellie no doubt.
Once upon a time, Craig had issued the same complaints to his father. But that was an earlier age. Adults had called the shots and kids had obeyed.
“Why sell a bunch of old junk anyway,” Trent said. “It’s a waste of time.”
“Then hang out in the car.”
Craig spent an hour frisking the closets. He wasn’t sure what he expected to find—a cache of photos behind the badminton set, a handwritten letter tucked in the pocket of a moth-ravaged sports coat? There was only crud: promotional calendars, chipped ashtrays, a map of Buzzards Bay that came apart in his hands.
A local antique dealer had looted the furniture and appliances, snatching up the gems under the pretense of providing an inventory. The bargain hunters showed up at ten, folks who knew the secondary market for art deco fixtures and vintage blenders. But the cottage had been furnished in the eighties. The synthetic horrors of that decade prevailed: white laminate cabinets, cane chairs, an overstuffed sectional. Craig stood amid his crud, his failure. The cottage, which had reeked once of fishing tackle and his father’s cigarettes now smelled of synthetic tangerine.
It took him some minutes to notice that an elderly black woman had entered the cottage. She was stout and wore a yellow ruffled dress of the sort he associated with church. Perhaps she had come from church, a Saturday service or Bible study group. She circled the room, sneaking glances at him.
“Let me know if you see anything you like,” he called out.
“Oh no. Just looking, sir.” She was from somewhere in the Caribbean. “You selling this place?”
“That’s too bad.”
“Nothing lasts forever, right?”
The woman let her gaze settle on the dinky wet bar, the chrome ice bucket, the yellowing urethane tumblers. Thick braids sat atop her head like a crown.
“Not much of a bar set.” Craig laughed. “Got a lot of use from my father, anyway.”
The woman smiled. “You look like him,” she said quietly.
“You knew my father?”
Her eyes darted to the front door. “A little.”
“How did you know him?”
She shrugged, her great yellow ruffles crinkling. “I saw him around town.”
“You were friends?”
“He knew lots of people in town. Always laughing. He was a happy man.”
Craig could see that she had painted her face carefully for this encounter, summoning the outlines of her youth and its loveliness. He could see, also, that she had begun trembling.
He understood then what he had only sensed as a child: that his father drove down to the cottage in Salter’s Point to be with this woman. She had been his lover, the source of his buoyant moods, his boozy mirth.
He should have been angry. What gall. But of course his mother must have known, too. She was no fool. She knew he drank and smoked, that he acted up, to use her term. Hell, she was the one who urged him to head down to the cottage during their stormy periods. They hadn’t been happy as a couple so they’d made an arrangement, or fallen into one. And here was that arrangement, the remains of it anyway. Craig found that he had advanced upon her; he had some absurd idea that they would embrace. She looked startled.
“What’s your name?”
“It doesn’t matter,” she said, edging past him.
“Wait,” Craig said. “Please don’t go.” He wanted to offer her something that would stay her retreat—the bar set, the whole stupid cottage. But she was already through the door, moving down the driveway. Craig followed at a respectful distance, trying not to alarm her.
He saw her spot Trent, who was lounging in the car, one arm flung out of the window, the other cradling his phone like a drink. She seemed to recognize what Craig hadn’t until just now—how much Trent looked like his grandfather.
The boy looked up, which was enough to send the lady in yellow bustling off the property.
“Who was that?” Trent said. “What a dumb dress. She looked like a giant ball of butter. Why’re you chasing after her?”
Craig closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He hated his son so purely; the feeling impaled him. He tried to think of a Greek play in which infanticide had proved justifiable and satisfying. “Shut your mouth,” he said slowly. “Or I’ll shut it for you.”
It was something his dad had said to him, after a drink or two usually. The threat sometimes preceded a swat on the bottom and once, Craig now recalled, a slap to the face that stunned both of them. He was scared of me, Craig thought.
“Ooooooh,” Trent said. “It’s mad! When is Its dumb junk sale gonna be over?”
An hour later, Craig phoned the management company and left a message instructing them to donate the rest of the estate to charity. He made one last pass through the cottage, the little rooms where he had been a boy, dizzy with sun, stuffed with fried fish and ginger ale, in the thrall of a father he barely recognized.
It was no use. He was alone with it, his faltering life. His father had left him property, a hard asset the world mistook for prosperity, but nothing softer, no secret map, no wisdom. He gulped at his disappointment like a fish in a bucket. Then he walked outside to drive his son home. But the car was empty.
Of course. Trent was probably watching him right now, snickering from some shaded alcove. What will It do? Look, It’s panicking!
But It wasn’t panicking. It felt a surprising calm. It got in the car and started the engine and called out the window, “I’m giving you thirty seconds,” then began slowly backing out of the little gravel driveway. Ellie would disapprove but that was okay. The kid had his phone. He’d call Mommy, who would hire him a limo.
Craig turned onto Salter’s Point’s bedraggled main street, glancing in the rearview mirror, half expecting his son to skulk into view. On he drove, curving onto the cloverleaf that led to the highway north. It was at this point that he heard the thud: Trent’s phone had tumbled from the back seat onto the floor of the car.
The boy without his device? This was a Code Red in the parental playbook. Craig turned around and made straight for the cottage. He checked in at the gas station, the two convenience stores, the Pizza Hut that had replaced the general store where he and his sister had worshipped at the altar of the candy rack. Could Trent have been abducted? Who came to Salter’s Point to do such a thing?
But like every other parent in America, Craig had been engorged with the iconography of child abduction, Amber alerts, shots of remote fields dragged for remains, police sketches of men with wispy beards and soundproofed basements. He pondered a call to the local coppers. Then he took a deep breath and set off on foot toward the beach.
Trent was hunched on the cliffs overlooking the sea, his football jersey draped around him like a cloak. He was working industriously, shredding bulbs of red columbine and grinding them with a stone into a yellowish goop that resembled the entrails of a giant swatted fly.
Craig approached from behind, creeping to within a few feet, then released a yell of the sort he associated with an Indian raid.
The boy’s reaction was more severe than perhaps intended. He curled himself into a ball and reached to guard his skull and his hands shook frantically, as if palsied. He began shrieking with a terror so naked it was almost illicit to witness.
“Oh my God,” Craig said. “It’s just me, bud. Sorry.” He kneeled down and reached out to his son.
But Trent, now recognizing the source of his ambush and humiliation, flipped onto his back and crab kicked at his father. He began to hyperventilate then to cough. He rubbed his eyes furiously. Between breaths he launched little snot-choked salvos. “You stupid loser . . . Everyone hates you . . . I wish you were dead.”
Craig sat back on his haunches. He felt terrible. Or rather, he wished to feel terrible. But his dominant emotion was relief—relief and a certain vengeful glee. Trent had been broken. Carelessly, callously, but broken nonetheless. And now Craig could see what had been there all along: a boy in pain.
Trent continued to curse him, scouring the outer reaches of his playground vocab. Poopface. Diarrheahead. The genital and procreative imprecations awaited him, along with booze, pot, and Herpes Simplex One. Craig turned away. He began (rather horribly) to laugh, while Trent wept with rage, his lower lip going like a pinball flipper.
“You scared me,” Craig managed, “so I tried to scare you.”
With a glint of Oedipal malice, the boy took note of the rock in his right hand. Craig lunged, grabbed hold of his slender wrist and shook the rock loose. So now it was an actual assault. Trent whacked at his father’s shoulder but his knuckles came down on the bone and crumpled and now the boy was in physical pain, which was also not funny and should not have caused a loving father to laugh even harder.
“How can you be happy ?” Trent screeched.
It was a fair question. Maybe the central question in a human life.
Craig thought of the woman in yellow, the shock of hearing that word used to describe his father. Happy. He understood now why his father had come down here, to experience a part of himself that he could not find within the constraints of a failed marriage.
He understood, too, why he had married Ellie—because she had made him happy, had flushed him with the happy fiction that his sorrow could be drowned out by the energetic pursuit of its opposite. It had worked, too, for a while, until her pursuit revealed itself as a compulsion. Ellie: the little girl whose greatest passion had disfigured her face.
He didn’t love her anymore. Or he didn’t believe in her particular brand of happiness, which was maybe another way of saying the same thing. They needed to surrender the false dream of reconciliation. They needed to forgive each other and let something else begin.
Divorce was going to be a mess. But marriage was also a mess. To grow up in a household that was unhappy—that was the greatest mess of all. Craig had lived that. It didn’t matter what you gave the kids or what you told them. They weren’t interested in that crap. They watched what you did.
Trent was still blubbering away but his question had taken on a blubbery radiance. How can you be happy? It was an early summer late afternoon. The water shimmered greenly below them. Craig was starving. He wanted a cheeseburger. He wanted fish and chips and a Jacuzzi full of tartar sauce. But he was also enjoying the sun, the breeze off the bay, the steady rasp of the tide sucking at the stones.
“Well, friend,” Craig said after a time, “I am sorry for scaring you. But I can only apologize so many times. Right now, I need to scare up some food.”
“I’m not going with you.”
“That’s okay,” Craig said.
He found that he meant it. He climbed to his feet and smiled at his son. “Stay here if you want. I’ll let your mom know.”
“Nobody bought anything at your junk sale,” Trent said. “Because nobody wants anything from you.”
“I know.” Craig started walking back toward the car. He could hear the kid behind him, kicking at the ground, grumbling, making a little performance of his displeasure. That was okay, too. Trent would have to figure out how to forgive him. It was almost none of his business.
He could only try to build a happier life and keep the door open. His father hadn’t given him much help. He had hidden his joy away, made it something mysterious and illicit, not impossible but unreliable.
“Where are you going, anyway?” Trent grumbled.
“To find a cheeseburger.”
“I hate cheese.”
Craig kept walking. “A big juicy one,” he said, mostly to himself. “And fries. And a goddamn root beer float.”