Lies My Father Told Me  

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Chapter VIII

   Empty houses are stark and lifeless.
   New paint, sweet and sickly, fills the bare room:
furnitureless, featureless, inchoate living space, emp-
ty to my child-high eyes, but for this woman, Annie,
my mother, and these two men: Harry, my father, thin
and tall; and the large one, bald, red-faced, sweating,
wiping his brow with a hanky. Nonstop talker. Fat
He wears a moustache, too. Moustaches are in style.
   "And this is the bathroom. New bathtub." He
points, like a chubby windmill. At everything. Point-
ing to the door: "Real imitation walnut"
The apartment is on Esplanade Street. Between
Fairmount and St. Viateur. Lower-middle-class apart-
ment residential.

   "Radiators." Fat arms flaying. "Front balcony ...   
it's a very good neighborhood," he tells us; and he al-
so tells us that Mr. So-and-so, the baker, lives next door.
   Harry, at last, is climbing. A home of our own.
Imitation stained-glass windows. Hardwood floors.
   The real-estate agent buzzes on. Pointing. "And
there's another cupboard. Lots of room." I could tell
he wasn't very intelligent. "Where's Ferdeleh going to
   The agent but-of-courses, "There's room for every-
I answer with disdain, "Ferdeleh's a horse."
   He leads us to the kitchen. The coal stove and the
icebox stand forlorn, but they'll be gone, he promises,
tomorrow, or the next day, at the latest, he promises,
and we can take his word.
   "There'll be a large new refrigerator. No more ice-
men, Mrs. Herman. And a large gas stove and oven."
Move with the times.
   But all this new paint will not buy me. "I'm not
moving herel I'm staying with Grandpa!"
   Harry gives an embarrassed look to Annie, and a
stern look to me. "You be quietl"
   The estate agent, just doing his job, tries to help.
He waddles closer to me.
   As he moves forward, I move back and brat him:
"I don't like you."
   "David!" Annie says sternly, blushing, while Harry
gets more irritated and embarrassed.
   "He's spoiled." Harry complains. "They all spoil
   "Ah, he's a good little boy, aren't you?" the fat
man says, and makes to pat my head.
   I punch his arm away.
   "Say you're sorry," says Annie.
   Though afraid of a possible spanking, I refuse.
"I'm not sorry! I'm not moving to his place! It smells."
   Paint. New paint. New paint won't buy me.
   Harry, embarrassed, angered, frustrated, motions to
the agent to move on to the next room.
   "Take him home, Annie, before I lose my temper!"
We are dismissed.
   Annie takes my hand.
   "Why do we have to move?"
"To live in a nicer neighborhood."
   "Who's going to feed Grandpa?"
   The question nonplusses Annie. She turns back to
Harry. In the doorway. At a doorway. "Let's not rush
into anything. Harry."
   "I'll attend to this, Annie. Show me the rest of the
house, Mr. Campbell."
   Sad eyes along the pavement
   We walk along the street with our heads hung low.
We are depressed. The emptiness in our chests spreads
to the streets, and makes the air a vacuum, the city
   "Why do we have to move?"
   Annie repeats "the answer" softly; to convince me,
to convince herself: to live in a nicer neighborhood.
   I look around me at this nicer new neighborhood,
but see nothing beyond the end of my world.
   "Who's going to feed Grandpa?"
   Mamma is despondent and trapped. Her eyes follow
the cracks in the pavement. She begs me, "Leave me
alone now."
   I try to soothe her. "Let Papa move alone."
   She weeps.

    The following Sunday is foggy. The wagon creaks.
And I am unhappy, though I sit beside Grandpa, who
is always my sunshine; and Ferdeleh, my moon, is
down there below my eyes, alive and huge and dear,
and near, and we play the game of games.
   Grandpa, too, is sullen.
   "Mama cried all night last night," I report
   Grandpa is silent.
"I heard her. It's because Papa wants to move," I
go on.
   A woman on a balcony calls out to us, showing
some old clothes to sell, but Grandpa gestures no, and
we continue to ride down the fog dismal lane. The
clotheslines are bare. Strings.
   "He doesn't care if I stay with you. Grandpa."
   "Of course he cares."
   "He told me this morning he'd be happy if I stayed
with you."
   Grandpa sighs.
   Earnestly I gaze into the old man's face, and en-
treat him. "Tell Mamma she doesn't have to move.
She'll listen to you. Grandpa."
   Grandpa sighs again, and shakes his head. Slow
waves of his negation pass down into his full white
beard, and anchor in his belly. "I have sorrowfully
come to the conclusion that your father is not the
brightest man in this world."
   Vigorously I nod my agreement. "And he's such a
terrible liar."
   "I told you you're not supposed to say that about
your father! I can say it, not you!"
   "But if it's true, why can't I say it?"
   "Because the Commandment says 'Honor thy fa-
ther and mother.' It doesn't say you shouldn't honor
them if they're fools or liars. It says specifically,
'Honor thy father and mother.' So honor them. He is
not, thank God, my father, so I can call him what he
is. But he's your father, so show respect."
   I strongly shake my head in opposition. "It's not
   Grandpa tries to soothe the wounds. But it doesn't
touch the disease. "You'll still come to visit. You'll
sleep over. I'll visit. It won't be so bad."
   I'm gazing at my white stallion's broad curved
back. "I won't be able to feed Ferdeleh every morn-
   Grandpa pulls me closer. Now he calls, "Rags ...
Clothes . . ." And pauses. ". . . Bottles." He nudges
me to join the chant. I can't. Our call, to me, is a
hymn of life. But I am not happy.
   "I can't do it alone," says Grandpa. He sings out
softly, ineffectually, "Rags ... Clothes ... Bottles." It
certainly seems that he can't do it properly without
me. "Rags." He waits. "Clothes." Softly, "Bottles."
   I try. "Rags ..." I sing reluctantly.
   "Clothes..." calls Grandpa, his voice rising.
   Doe-faced, I repeat it behind him.
   Grandpa smiles, sings, "Bottles," and I answer, a
little louder, "Bottles!"
   The wagon turns another lane, and we gather
   "Louder," sings Grandpa, "they won't hear us.
   "Rags! . . . Clothes! . . . Bottles! . . . Rags! . . .
Clothes! . . . Bottles! . . . Rags! . . . Clothes! ...
   We are shouting out the happy hymn. But we are
not happy.

Chapter IX