COPYRIGHT Paranoia by Joseph Finder. Copyright 2004 by Joseph Finder. All Rights Reserved. Sharing not permitted.
Part One: 8 (Cont'd)
He lifted his hand, flung mine away. "What the hell kind of nurse is she anyway?" he said. "She doesn't give a shit about anyone else." He went into a long coughing fit, hawked and spit into a balled-up handkerchief he pulled out from somewhere in his chair. "I don't know why the hell you don't move back in. The hell you got to do anyway? You got some go-nowhere job."
I shook my head, said gently, "I can't, Dad. I got student loans to pay off." I didn't want to mention that someone had to make money to pay for the help that was always quitting.
"Fat lot of good college did you," he said. "Huge waste of money, all it was. Spent your time carousing with all your fancy friends, I didn't need to spend twenty thousand bucks a year so you could fuck off. You coulda done that here."
I smiled to let him know I wasn't offended. I didn't know whether it was the steroids, the prednisone he took to keep his airways open, that was making him such an asshole, or just his natural sweet nature. "Your mother, rest in peace, spoiled you rotten. Made you into a big fat pussy." He sucked in some air. "You're wasting your life. When the fuck you gonna get a real job, anyway?"
Dad was skilled at pushing the right buttons. I let a wave of annoyance pass over me. You couldn't take the guy seriously, you'd go whacko. He had the temper of a junkyard dog. I always thought his anger was like rabies—he wasn't really in control, so you couldn't blame him. He'd never been able to control his temper. When I was a kid, small enough not to fight back, he'd whip off his leather belt at the slightest provocation, whomp the shit out of me. As soon as he finished the beating, he'd invariably mutter, "See what you made me do?"
"I'm working on that," I said.
"They can smell a loser a mile off, you know."
"These companies. Nobody wants a loser. Everyone wants winners. Go get me a Coke, would you?"
This was his mantra, and it came from his coaching days—that I was a "loser," that the only thing that counted was winning, that coming in second was losing. There was a time when that sort of talk used to piss me off. But I was used to it by now; I barely even heard it.
I went to the kitchen, thinking about what we were going to do now. He needed round-the-clock help, no question about that. But none of the agencies would send anyone anymore. At first we had real hospital nurses, doing outside shifts for money. When he'd chewed through those, we managed to find a series of marginally qualified people who'd done two weeks' training to get their nursing-assistant certificate. Then it was whoever the hell we could find through ads in the paper.
Maureen had organized the harvest-gold Kenmore refrigerator so that it could have belonged in a government lab. A row of Cokes stood, one behind the other, on a wire shelf that she'd adjusted so it was just the right height. Even the glasses in the cabinet, usually cloudy and smeared, sparkled. I filled two glasses with ice, poured the contents of a can into each. I'd have to sit Maureen down, apologize on Dad's behalf, beg and plead, bribe her if necessary. At least she could stay until I found a replacement. Maybe I could appeal to her sense of responsibility to the elderly, though I figured that had been pretty much eroded by Dad's bile. The truth was, I was desperate. If I blew the interviews tomorrow, I'd have all the time in the world, but I'd be behind bars somewhere in Illinois. That wouldn't help.
I came back out holding the glasses, the ice tinkling as I walked. The infomercial was still going. How long did these things go on for? Who watched them anyway? Besides my father, I mean.
"Dad, don't worry about anything," I said, but he'd passed out.
I stood before him for a few seconds, watching to see if he was still breathing. He was. His chin was on his chest, his head at a funny angle. The oxygen made a quiet whooshing sound. Somewhere in the basement Maureen was banging stuff around, probably mentally rehearsing her exit line. I set down the Cokes on his little end table, which was crowded with meds and remote controls.
Then I leaned over and kissed the old man's blotchy red forehead. "We'll get someone," I said quietly.