Home for the Holidays
"You again?" he scowled. "What am I supposed to do with you?"
"Isn't there a story about this? They come home. Prodigal sons. And then you kill the fatted calf." I stood there with my hands in my pockets.
He sighed. "Huh. I think you're supposed to bring a contrite heart with you. You got one?"
"Well, I've got a beat-up one."
"Sure, sure, big surprise, bucko. I don't think that's quite the same thing."
"No. No, it's not."
I looked off to the familiar line of the Coburg Hills, with their radio towers. "But I'm stuck, Dad. My heart's not contrite. I'd do it all again. Hell, I am doing it all again."
"Yah. You think this is news to me?"
"No, I guess not. But what am I supposed to do?"
"What, you're asking me? How would I know? I gave you the plain road. You go off the map, you gotta find your own way."
"Yeah. Yeah, that makes sense."
"You bet it makes sense. You know, sometimes I think the stupidest thing I ever did was give you a gift for words. You don't just talk yourself into ridiculous things, you talk other people into them too. Plausible, lad. Glib and plausible. And the less you know the prettier you talk."
"Oh, come on. You gave me the gift. It's not like I try to misuse it."
"No. No, I'll give you that. I don't know, bucko, so far you're one of my big failures. I keep trying to make you come out right, but I made a mistake somewhere along the line. There's always something a little skewed, something a little out of true. Tell you the truth, I can't figure it out."
"Oh, great. So much for the All-Knowing."
He made a rude noise. "Not a claim I ever made. I didn't ask for this job. It's like Larkin said. We don't mean to but we do."
"Hmph. You know, this whole thing was a little easier back when it was all a little more formal. Awe and dread, you know. Fear and trembling."
"Piffle. What could ever scare you? You been pig-headed since day one. You always know better than everyone else, oh yes, no telling you anything. You think it was any different back in the days of the tents? Young men, they always know everything."
"Well, I'm not young anymore. And I don't know a damn thing."
"And you'd think" -- he jabbed a finger into his palm -- "you'd think that would make you less pig-headed. But glory, no! If anything, you're worse."
"Look, I didn't come here for insults --"
"Sure you did. That's exactly what you came here for."
I stopped a moment and looked at him. "What do you mean?"
Suddenly he looked very tired and very old. "I think it's time for you to ask someone else. I'm played out, bucko. I've done my best. It's time to move on. My stories won't help any more."
"What do you mean, move on?"
"You come back to me because you know I got nothing more. You come back because I'm familiar. You're scared, you're lonesome, you think: I'll go home and get me some insults. Then I'll feel better. But you're not going to feel better. I got the insults, all right, but they don't work like they used to. You can't nail something to sand."
I stared at him. "So no fatted calf."
"What did the calf ever do to you? Let the poor thing grow up. There's been enough suffering on your account."
"And where do I go?"
He scowled, and then grinned. "Over the hills and far away. That's how her stories always go, don't they?"
I smiled back ruefully. "Yeah. Yeah, except I'm supposed to be a handsome young man."
"Well, don't waste time then. What are you waiting for?"
"I wondered -- I mean, I know it doesn't make sense, but --"
He laughed, then, and shook his head. "I get you. God, what a piece of work you are. Go on, kneel down. Bless you. Now get the hell out of here."