‘You’re his father. You should be his hero.’
‘I’m your father too.’ Robbie’s hands were fists; he banged one down on the table. ‘And right now I’m ashamed of you. You’re an adult – you can ruin your own life as much as you want. It’s a waste, but you can do it. But you can’t ruin someone else’s.’
‘So now you’re going to take it out on my other son, are you?’
William shook his head. ‘That’s not what I was trying to do. I like Adam. He’s a good kid. I was just . . . I didn’t think he’d get sick.’
‘You didn’t think him all the way to the hospital!’
‘He’s not my responsibility.’
‘He loves you. That makes him your responsibility.’
‘I loved you.’
William looked surprised at the words that had just come out of his mouth. He’d been looking at Robbie before, but now he stared at the table again.
‘And I’m trying to help you,’ said Robbie. ‘But you don’t want any of it. And that’s your decision, but don’t drag Adam into whatever hell you’re going through. Into however much you hate yourself.’
‘I don’t hate myself. I hate you.’
‘You don’t know anything about me.’
‘I know you left. I know one day you were there and the next day you weren’t and you never said goodbye.’
‘And you know all the things your mother has said about me since,’ Robbie spat. ‘She’s been fair, I’m sure.’
‘Do you know what we were doing while you were living in this nice house in this nice town? We had a trailer outside Portland, Oregon. Mom worked as a waitress and I let myself in after school every day with a key I wore around my neck. We spent every Sunday all day at church talking about being saved but I never felt saved. I flunked out of school and I only started working at the marina because I couldn’t figure out what else to do and every day I hated it. I hated it, because it was what you used to do. Every single boat I worked on, I pictured you sailing away on it and laughing at me. Christ, I need a drink.’ William got up and went to the kitchen cabinets, opening them up as if he expected to find another bottle there. He opened one, then another, then a third, more and more quickly. ‘I could have forgiven you if you freaked out because of Nam or whatever. But no, all the time you were here with your nice house and your nice doctor wife and your nice soccer-playing son.’
‘Don’t take it out on Adam. All he wants to do is be your brother.’
‘He isn’t my brother. Because you’re not my father.’ William slammed the cabinet door shut. ‘I don’t want your fucking charity. All I want is a fucking drink. Give me some money.’
‘You owe me it.’
‘Not for this.’
‘Jesus Christ, you’re such a fucking sanctimonious bastard. Get the stick out of your ass and loosen up, will you? Give me money for some goddamn beer, I’ve got a headache.’
‘I hate you.’
‘Too bad. Because you’re just like me.’
William grabbed his cigarettes off the table and stormed out of the house.
When Adam was little, Emily could rarely take the day off work when he was sick. Even if she could reshuffle her appointments, women didn’t choose when they had babies, and it was almost impossible in a small hospital to find someone to cover. Robbie mostly did sick-day duty.
But sometimes she was able to manage it. On those days she would open tins of Campbell’s Chicken and Stars soup, and make sandwiches of Saltines and butter. She would make a nest of blankets and pillows on the sofa in the living room and she would put on Scooby Doo or Muppets videos and they would curl up together all day, ignoring the yellow bus trundling by on the way to school in the morning and on its way back in the afternoon. Robbie would find them there when he came home from work and he would climb in with them. ‘Are you so sick that you can’t be tickled?’ he would ask Adam, gravely, and the answer was always a shriek which meant ‘no’.
This time Robbie carried the television up the stairs to put in Adam’s room, just for the day. Adam had blue shadows under his eyes and he was penitent.
‘I’m so sorry, Mom and Dad,’ he kept on saying. ‘It was my own fault. Don’t blame William. It was me.’
Robbie had his own opinion about that, and Emily did too, which was not exactly the same as Robbie’s. When she’d come home with Adam late yesterday afternoon and settled him into his room, she’d found Robbie in his workshop out in the garage, and William on the porch, smoking cigarette after cigarette and tossing the butts outside on to the snow. She’d introduced herself to William. He’d hardly said anything, but she was still shocked at his physical resemblance to the Robbie she’d met in 1962. His denim jacket was even battered in the same places. But although William was even younger than Robbie had been then – just into his twenties, hardly more than a child, really – he had an anger worn into his face that she’d never seen in Robbie in all the time she’d known him.
She wondered why he didn’t leave. In hushed tones, in the hospital café, Robbie had had told her about their argument. But she didn’t ask William about it; instead she offered him coffee and a sandwich and when he refused, she told him to help himself to anything in the kitchen, and if he didn’t mind excusing her, she’d go straight to bed because she hadn’t slept very well in the armchair in Adam’s room last night.
He’d grunted and lit another cigarette.
‘It’s my fault,’ said Robbie when he came up to bed. She knew he hadn’t meant to wake her up but she had spent too many nights without him and as soon as he crept into their bedroom she woke up and put her hand on his side of the bed, the cool side, and waited for him to join her.
‘Adam’s old enough to make his own decisions about what he does,’ she said. ‘And William’s old enough to know better.’
‘I told him that he should have known better. I got angry with him. But it’s still my fault.’
‘Like it’s my fault that my mother died, and my father won’t talk to me, and my sister hates me?’
‘None of that is your fault.’
‘And since when did we have double standards in our relationship?’
‘It’s not different at all. If we think about it too much we’ll go mad, Robbie.’
He moved over to her side of the bed and took her in his arms. ‘I’m glad you’re back.’
‘I’ll never go away again. Not without you.’
This morning, Adam was too old for Scooby Doo but they watched stupid game shows together. He was propped up on pillows in his single bed and Emily curled up at the end under his quilt. She made microwave popcorn.
‘This afternoon you can go down to the yard and help your father,’ she said. ‘You might not be able to do much but the fresh air will do you good.’
‘All right.’ It was clear that Adam didn’t fancy it much, but he wasn’t going to argue with whatever she suggested for penitence.
‘We have a lot to talk about. But let’s leave it for another time.’