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I bounce the dowel in my palm, take a measure of its heft. First, a few fake tosses to inflame his desire. Then I commence what amounts to a countdown. Throw and return. Throw and return. Gradually, space and time widen. He runs further from me, he takes longer to reappear. I am forced to reflect upon the strongest memory I possess these days of my own fatherhood. He and I toss a football on our front lawn in Midland, a tetchy back-and-forth that passes for the conversation we’d both prefer not to have. Babs has tasked me to perform a dressing-down, his sixth-grade performance diagnosed as terminally shabby. I throw the ball harder and harder, edging him toward the street he’s known, since walking came to him late, never to cross. My attention wanders; I’m thinking about drilling holes in the skull of a certain adversarial oil-wildcatter who won’t buckle to my advances, and I over-muscle the ball. Into the street it goes, and him after it, his inflamed desire to catch my every toss rendering him oblivious to the speeding Cadillac.

That he was not struck and killed: a miracle. That Babs forgave me: also miraculous. So many miracles, and yet I wonder sometimes, if a certain fate—I won’t describe it as better—wasn’t thwarted.

Finally he drops the dowel at my feet and runs into the ocean to cool off. I watch with amazement as he swallows enthusiastic gulps of seawater. How many years, I do not say to him, have we been drinking seawater unsuccessfully? But if he has failed to learn, so have I; I do not move quickly enough when he returns whiningly to my side, vomiting a hot, briny gush onto my Top-Siders.

We stand there, the vomiter and the vomitee. It is no pure accident that Babs slips on occasion, calls him by my name. Such as the time we were waiting on the yacht-club dock with a foreign dignitary from a country that once considered me a friend, but now, as communicated by his wife’s crisp formality, viewed me as an accomplice to certain actions with which I had nothing to do. Ever the enthusiast for two-faced strangers, he hurled himself at the foreign dignitary’s kneecaps, knocking him into the harbor.

George, Babs yelled at him.

Or the time he very publicly peed on the already-filthy espadrille of an overweight woman in the Fourth of July parade, who marched with a sign that read, “Impeach that Son of a Bush.”

George, Babs yelled at him.


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