Marcus didn't know his father's favorite color, and Katie thought that was crazy. He's your father, she said, how can you not know that?
I know other stuff about him, Marcus said. He wore briefs, not boxers. He loved vintage music and had a big collection of seventy-eights. He always bought American cars, even if they were crappy.
Katie posed a question: is your father right-handed or left-handed?
Marcus had no idea.
Katie was born on Father's Day. The way her mom tells it, Katie's dad was there for every second of labor and delivery, and wouldn't leave the room to urinate so he nearly peed his pants. When the baby was born he cried so hard, and for so long, that the doctor said he should take a lesson from his baby girl and calm down. He moved out a year later, which Katie's mom said was for the best.
Every year on Father's Day, Katie and her dad exchanged presents. He wouldn't be a father without her, so she got a little kickback. Of course, her birthday always fell around that time of the month, so they had a tradition there too. She had lunch with her mother and then she jumped on a train to the west suburbs and met her father for a dinner. This is the way Katie told it.
I know that every family isn't like mine, she said, but he lives right here in town. Why can't you make plans to see him tomorrow? It's Father's Day, for heaven's sake.
Marcus leaned over to kiss her, hoping that the conversation would end there. It did.
Katie had to work that night, so Marcus took the opportunity to shop for her birthday card. They had been together for several months now, but this was their first birthday together. He was worried that he would screw it up. Christmas and Valentine's Day went smoothly, but those were reciprocal holidays. This time he was on his own and he didn't know how elaborately to plan. He didn't know what kind of card to buy, or how many flowers.
The card shop in the marketplace didn't offer any answers, just possibilities -- sincere declarations of ardor, witty innuendoes, furry caricatures of lovey-dovey animals. Marcus picked them out, one after the other, and tried to imagine Katie's reactions. After a while, he got tired of thinking and gave up. He still had a few days to worry about it, anyway.
On his way out of the card shop, he passed a rack of Father's Day cards. Marcus surprised himself when he stopped to look at them.
Later, after shopping for groceries and picking out three bottles of wine, Marcus made his way back to his apartment complex. He always thought the place looked like pre-fab housing on a larger scale -- six identical buildings with sixteen units each, all lined up along a self-consciously winding road. He bitched about the place all the time but appreciated his proximity to the train station. A five-minute walk through the park and he could be on his way to anywhere in the city -- Katie's place, the grocery store, the office, wherever he wanted to go. That was the best part.
He struggled with the door lock at first, wedging the grocery bag between the wall and his hip while clumsily fishing the keys out of his pocket. Then he conceded that placing groceries on the floor was an acceptable way to get the door open. What's the point of juggling if no one is there to see your act?
He had fun putting groceries away with Katie but couldn't stand it when he was alone. When she helped him, the task became a social event. She made laundry day feel like New Year's Eve. That's the kind of woman she was.
After emptying the grocery bag, he put two bottles of wine in the refrigerator and opened the third for a drink. He poured a glass and took the bottle with him for a seat on the couch. He knew that Saturday night TV shows were lame without exception. He didn't want to go out to the bars, rent a movie, or read a book. This was a night for quiet reflection in solitude, with a bottle of wine to lubricate his thoughts.
Why Father's Day? he thought. Shouldn't a man be defined by what his accomplishments rather than what he has done in the past? A guy makes a baby -- so what? That's ten minutes on a waterbed. Does that deserve a yearly celebration? I think not.
For that matter, why are we so fixated on birthdays? It's just the day you happened to make your appearance in the atmosphere. Your mother did all the hard work -- why doesn't she get the presents? What about the political aspects -- why don't pro-lifers celebrate birthdays on the date of conception? That's the only time when mother, father, and child are truly connected. After that, it's bound to fall apart.
A man screwing a woman is real. A baby growing inside a woman is visibly evident. But all that is temporary. This is obvious, and so love is thrust in the wake of all that sweaty pulsing flesh. It gives us something to hold on to when the attraction fades, when the money runs out, when the baby crashes the car. Just like thoughts of eternal reward in heaven make the 9-to-5 workday possible, the concept of love makes human interaction tolerable. Pretty wallpaper on a crumbling slab of drywall.
Why is it my responsibility to be the good son? Why doesn't he take the time to catch up with me? Everyone has parents but not everyone has a child. I didn't choose him as a father -- he chose to have me. He's irresponsible. Why is that my fault?
The wine had been flowing freely for quite some time and Marcus's head was starting to spin. He knew from prior experience that sleeping on the couch would wreak havoc on his spine so he rolled to his feet and staggered to the bedroom. The wine bottle stood alongside Marcus's glass on the end table. The table lamp glowed softly. And the doorlock was unlatched.
Marcus dreamed of Katie. In one dream she had grown enormously fat and didn't seem to mind. Later, after her dream-self had inexplicably slimmed down, Katie mourned the death of her mother by tearing down a quarter-mile strip in a muscle car with Marcus in the passenger seat. Katie had never struggled with her weight. Her mother was in perfect health. Katie despised fast cars. These were just dreams.
The most intense vision involved Katie meeting his father. In the real world, this was unlikely. Marcus's father always told him that he was too selfish to have a girlfriend, told him that he was probably gay. He never saw Marcus go out on a date. But that's the real world.
In the dream, Katie and Marcus were sitting on a futon in the middle of a lush urban park, kissing each other's necks and talking (telepathically?) about the slang term "necking", when Marcus's father breezed into view. Before saying hello, he made bold proclamations about American foreign policy and its failure to commit to its high-and-lofty goals. Katie stopped kissing Marcus and introduced herself. Now they were all standing, talking about the horrible traffic delays caused by all the road construction downtown. Soon Marcus's father had to go, and he leaned over to kiss Katie goodbye. Marcus's dream-self lost his resolve. He screamed at his father, grabbed him around the throat and threw him to the ground.
Don't you touch her! he shouted. Don't ever think about it!
Just then, Marcus became aware of his sleeping body. Yes, he was indeed lying in bed and dreaming. But why were his sheets being yanked over his legs? What was that fuzzy voice?
Like a slamming door, Marcus's head brought everything together. He was awake. He was in bed. He wasn't alone.
Marcus made a scream like a scared little girl. The dark figure at his side jumped back.
Who the hell is that? Marcus bellowed, trying to sound masculine.
Oh my God, the figure muttered, where's Angela?
There's no Angela here, Marcus stammered. His heart pumped loudly, furiously. This is my place, he said, I live alone.
Oh my God.
Marcus's eyes started to adjust to the darkness. Here before him stood a stocky man with an obnoxious mustache, wearing a pastel-colored tanktop. Completely unfamiliar.
Oh my God, he said again. Is this apartment ten?
This is my place, Marcus said. Apartment ten is my place.
I thought this was Angela's apartment, the man said. God, I'm sorry.
I'll show you out.
Wait, the man said, let me get my pants back on.
Marcus shook his head in disbelief. The man struggled to pull on his jeans, struggled to maintain his dignity, while Marcus shook his head.
Marcus had a thought. Angela -- she lives in the next building. She lives in apartment ten next door. I get her mail sometimes. You're in the wrong building.
The man finished zipping his pants. God, I feel like an idiot, the man said.
I'll show you out, Marcus said.
They walked together into the front room. Marcus continued to shake his head.
My name's Dennis, the man said, holding out his hand in a gesture of friendship.
You better get going.
Can I put my shoes on? Dennis asked. A worn-out pair of sneakers were neatly placed next to the door.
Take them with you.
Okay, Dennis said. He shrugged his shoulders. Sorry about this. You shouldn't leave your door unlocked.
You're right, Marcus said. Good night.
Dennis took his shoes and skulked out the door. Marcus closed the door after him, locking the deadbolt and latching the chain, which he never did. Never.
It was three in the morning, and Marcus couldn't sleep. He squinted his eyes and listened to the pounding of his heart. The adrenaline rush trickled away. He thought about taking a walk in the early summer air, but where could he go? The trains wouldn't be running for over an hour. The papers weren't even out.
What's with that guy? Marcus asked himself. He walks into my apartment, a criminal offense, and then he tells me that I shouldn't leave my door unlocked. What's with that guy? And how come he was ready to jump into bed with Angela when he didn't even know where she lived? What's with that guy?
His thoughts trickled away.
Father's Day was here, and just like every year, it meant nothing to him. He didn't have a father. He just had the distant memory of a man who barged into his life just long enough to fuck everything up.
He woke Katie up. He knew she had to be up early, but he didn't care. She didn't answer the phone until the ninth ring.
What do you want, Marcus?
A man busted into my place. He tried to get into bed with me.
What are you talking about?
Some guy named Dennis. He thought he was in somebody else's apartment. He just strolled into the bedroom and took off his pants. My heart's still pounding, Marcus said.
Are you okay?
Yeah. The guy was embarrassed. I'm okay.
Good, Katie said.
Why would any man do such a thing?