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Icing on the Cake

I told Daniel when I took this story: my old man was a prick too.

But down here in the Gutter, it's never too late to win your father's approval...

Icing on the Cake by Daniel Luft




Dad had been drinking long before I got there. Carl too, and he was shaking his head at everything Dad said. The three of us were sitting around the pool like when we were kids except Billy wasn’t there. And Mom of course.
           
“She’da been seventy today,” Dad mumbled into his scotch. “
           
“I still miss her,” I said.
           
I could tell he was mad when he looked at me through his sunglasses. It’d been dark for hours but he still had them on. I could see the angry wrinkles in his tanned face.
           
“You miss her?” he said. “You were the shittiest kid.”
           
“Here we go,” Carl said.
           
“Donny you sucked,” he pointed a finger at me. “Never wanted to do anything. Didn’t go see your brothers play ball. Didn’t go camping. Didn’t go out for sports.”
           
“I lettered in track.”
           
“Track? Shit! Bunch of skinny kids running around and around all afternoon. Oh, and you never liked going to the movies.”
           
“I go all the time.”
           
“You like stupid movies. That DVD you brought over last Thanksgiving? Christ, it was long and I had to read the whole thing. Couldn’t you find anything in English?”
           
“Sorry you didn’t like it.”
           
“Whatever. You were a real shit kid. Every time I tried to beat a little sense into you you’d just run to Mom and hide on her lap like a sissy.”
           
“I’m not gay dad, just divorced.
           
“I know you’re not a homosexual. I know about PC shit. No, I called you a sissy like a mama’s boy. The original meaning. You’d do something wrong and run to her. I’d end up in an argument with her for the rest of the night instead of you.”
           
“Dad, it’s her birthday,” Carl said.
           
The wrinkles disappeared for a second. His face sank and showed its age. It was the middle of summer and he sniffled like it was February. Then he got mad again and pointed that finger at me.
           
“You had to become a fuckin’ writer.”

“What’s the matter with that?”
           
“I was a cop. News’ guys hate cops. Just want to trample over crime scenes and get quotes to make you look stupid.”
           
“That’s not the way it works, Dad”
           
“How many newspapers have you closed down now? Eight?”
           
“No, Dad, it was two and, besides, I work in radio now and you know it.”
           
“Who listens to the radio anymore?”
           
“Let’s talk about something else?” Carl said, which made Dad notice him again.
           
“And you, Christ, the one who wanted to be a doctor.”
           
“I am a doctor, Dad. I’m a medical examiner.”
           
“You really think you got that without your old man on the force, all decorated?”
           
“Dad, I’m licensed. I’m an MD.”
           
“Yeah, I’ve got a license to drive but I’m not in the Indy 500. Hell, could either of you losers even afford to live in this place you grew up in? I did this on a cop’s salary, paid off for twenty years. Billy’s the only one of you with any sense. Bet he’s busy at work right now.”
           
Carl and I looked at each other. Billy was the favorite, the strongest, fastest, just made partner at a firm in Boston.
           
Dad stood up to refill his drink. Just wearing his swimsuit I could see he still had his lean, leathery body. Could probably still kick my ass.
           
“Shit, the skimmer’s making that noise again.” He walked over to the pool. “Sorry if I’m pissing you boys off,” he said over his shoulder as he got on his stomach, his head and arms over the water. “But that’s the way it is. Remember when your Mom got her cancer? The first time when you were kids. I prayed that she got better. Promised to be a better husband if I got her back. And she recovered for a long time. And I was a better husband, better father, too. Tried to give you kids more guidance than before. You appreciate it? No.”
           
Carl and I mumbled into our drinks.
           
“Didn’t help a goddamn thing. So when the cancer came back I just prayed that God take one of you two instead.”
           
“What?” Carl said like he was sobering up.
           
“She had so much to give and you’re a couple of pricks.”
           
“You prayed for one of us to die instead of Mom?”
           
“Your mother was amazing. Most people are okay at best. You two are okay, I guess, but I’m going to my grave knowing I was too soft on you. Billy’s the only one with any drive. Christ, what’s the matter with the skimmer?”
           
Dad reached deep over the side of the pool to feel around the pump.
           
“Anything I can do to help, Dad?” I asked as I walked closer.
           
“What do you know about pools? You ever take care of this thing growing up?”
           
I knelt down next to him and grabbed ahold of the back of his neck. His grey hair was soft; I was surprised how it felt and wondered if I’d ever touched it before. That thought stopped me for a second. Then I pushed down and shifted my weight so I was right over him, so there was no chance he was coming up for air. His hands flailed and he did get ahold of me once but he was drunk, old and tired. He didn’t have a chance against his weakest, least successful son. It was over in about a minute.
           
I stood up and looked at Carl who was still in his chair. I shivered when we made eye contact.
           
“What should I do?”
           
“Toss him all the way in the water. I’ll call it an accident and the cops’ll agree. He was a lifelong drunk who went swimming on his dead wife’s birthday.”
           
“Can’t believe I did that,” I said.
           
“I guess that makes you the strong one and not Billy.”
           
“Too bad we can’t tell him.”


Daniel Luft lives in Somerville, MA, just north of Boston. He's had stories published by Spinetingler, Beat to a Pulp, Powder Burn Flash, and in the anthologies Action: Pulse Pounding Tales, and The Best New England Crime Stories 2012 and 2013. His criticism has appeared in Mostly Fiction, The Violent World of Parker and Mystery Scene Magazine.