Time in a Bottle
I hate the mother-fucking bastard. I wish he would just die and go away.
Donna, please. You know I don’t like to hear that kind of talk.
I don’t give a good goddamn. I hate the mother-fucker and want him out of my life.
Who? Who do you hate?
DAD! The mother-fucker. He’s gone and busted Kevin for dealing.
Condie? I doubt that. More likely it was Mr. Randall or Mr. Sanders.
Who the fuck cares? They’re his buddies, and he’s the one that tells them what to do.
If you’re going to keep using those words this conversation is at an end.
All right. But you know I’m right. He’s the one they all look up to, even that evil old man Mr. Whitlock, he scares me.
That’s true. They do look up to your dad, even Mr. Whitlock.
So who’s next? Me? Yvonne? Kathy?
Hardly. I doubt that you have anything to worry about.
What? What are you saying? That dad protects us?
Well, think about it. Why do you think he didn’t bust Kevin until after he broke up with Yvonne.
Are you saying that dad knows we smoke?
Then why doesn’t he do something to stop us?
He knows better than to try. He hopes you’ll grow out of it before you do serious harm to yourself.
And what about Mr. Randall? Mr. Sanders?
You said it yourself, sweetie; they wouldn’t dare lift a finger against you or your friends without your dad’s say so.
Omigod. You mean, he … they … know about … us, and they don’t do anything? I mean … poker nights … and …
You catch on mighty fast, sweetie.
But, how long have they known?
Long enough. Even though your dad may appear to you to be clueless he didn’t survive all those years by being stupid. Part of what makes him so good at what he does is that everyone, even his daughters, underestimate him.
But what about the Brady brothers? They busted them. They were our friends.
Were they? Your friends I mean? Really?
It took me a moment to think this over. No, I replied reluctantly. No, they tried to rape me.
I know. Your father told me.
How did he know?
In the future, watch what you ask for, your father just might get it for you. Muzzie giggled at her joke.
But he scares me.
Who? Your father? Why do you say that? Has he ever touched you?
Ew! How disgusting. Of course not. Don’t be dense Muzzie. Don’t you remember the time he ran around the house in his shorts waving that loaded shotgun and yelling about how dead men have no worries?
Oh, that. Well, yes. But you need to cut him some slack. He’s never fully recovered, and anyway, he’s much better now than he was back then.
Recovering? From what?
The war, sweetie, the war; just that. You don’t remember but the first years after he came home from Germany, and before he went to Korea, he would wake up screaming every night and covered with sweat. He’s still holding it all inside and there’s nobody he will talk to about it, not even me.
What about Mr. Whitlock? They talk.
What passes for talk. In clipped sentences and some sort of code that even I don’t understand. It’s not the same as opening up to someone who can really help you, or someone who loves you.
Do you love dad?
Well, in a way. He wasn’t always like this, you know. When I first met him and fell in love, he was one of the kindest, most sensitive men I have ever known. The war twisted him. But then, it did that to a lot of men; I’m certain Mr. Whitlock is one.
You mean the first war, don’t you? I mean World War II.
Yes. He worked alone most of the time, behind German lines. Every day he had to fear for his life, what would happen to him if he got caught. It wouldn’t just be a quick death you know, the Gestapo wasn’t known for their kindness to strangers, even after they got everything out of them they could.
Well, like, what did he do as a spy? Except for the code he and Mr. Whitlock talk to each other he’s never told me anything.
He’s told me very little, which is a shame; I sometimes think that if he could only open up and share his demons I could help, or maybe know where to go to find help. Maybe even save us both.
So, why doesn’t he want to talk about it?
I don’t know, maybe he just can’t. All I know is that whenever I used to ask he would say that he had taken an oath to his country not to divulge anything he did during the war.
But that was over twenty years ago. It doesn’t matter anymore.
To your father it does. And anyway, he’s used to holding it inside by now. But it’s not very far below the surface, I’m afraid.
So he’s told you nothing?
Well, a few stories, but nothing of substance. Okay, for example, just after D-Day but before the Bulge, he was waiting for a man at a café in Berlin who was supposed to pass off an important code or something, I don’t know what, to your father. Conde knew the man by sight; this wasn’t the first time they’d worked together. Conde was sitting in a corner waiting. The man came in and sat across the room from your father but at a slight angle so they could see each other. He was supposed to have something to eat and then leave an envelope on the seat next to him in the booth when he left. The man’s food came and without thinking he picked up the fork with his right hand, started to take a bite and then realized what he had done …
What did he do?
Gave himself away. Only Americans eat with the fork in their right hand; no German would do it that way. That’s all it took. He put the fork back down and changed hands, but it was too late. He finished his meal, paid, left without hurrying, and was never seen again.
Did he leave the envelope?
No, silly. I assure you, the next person who sat down in that booth, even if they weren’t a spy, maybe even the waitress, was picked up and interrogated. Conde ordered another drink, waited ten minutes, and left without looking. He doesn’t know what happened to the man or the envelope. It was shortly after this that your father escaped across the lines before they could catch him.
How could he escape across the lines?
He was a spy. It was his job, and worth his life, to know how and where to get across. He even had exit strategies in Korea. His biggest concern was being shot by one of our side.
But he drives you to drink.
Oh? Hardly. I am perfectly capable of driving myself.
But he makes you drink!
No, my dear. Nobody, not even your father, makes me, or anyone else, do anything. I drink because I’m unhappy with my life.
Because of him!
Because I choose to stay with him; that’s my choice and I take full responsibility for it. As is my drinking.
Then why do you stay with him? Shirley and I would love it if you were to get a divorce.
I know, sweetie. But I promised him I would stay with him until you graduated from high school. After that, we’ll see.
No! You’re staying together just for me?
Well, for Terry, Yvonne, and you. Yes.
That’s crazy. He’s making your life miserable. You don’t have to stay for us. It’s only a year, why don’t you divorce him now? I release you of any responsibility.
Like you said, it’s only a year. I’ve come this far, and I intend to stick it out. My word is as important to me as your father’s word is to him, that’s just the way we were raised. After you graduate, we’ll see what I decide to do. In the meantime, your father has his demons bottled up inside; mine are in a bottle.