COPYRIGHT Paranoia by Joseph Finder. Copyright 2004 by Joseph Finder. All Rights Reserved. Sharing not permitted.
Part Seven: 66 (Cont'd)
"Actually, Dad, I happen to know a little something about CEOs. I just got a huge promotion—I was just made executive assistant to the CEO of Trion."
There was just silence. I thought he hadn't been listening. He was staring at the TV. I thought that might have sounded a little arrogant, so I softened it a bit: "It's really a big deal, Dad."
I was about to repeat it when he said, "Executive assistant? What's that, like a secretary?"
"No, no. It's, like, high-level stuff. Brainstorming and everything."
"So what exactly do you do all day?"
The guy had emphysema, but he knew just how to take the wind out of me. "Never mind, Dad," I said. "I'm sorry I brought it up." I was, too. Why the hell did I care what he thought?
"No, really. I'm curious what you did to get that slick new set of wheels out there."
So he had noticed, after all. I smiled. "Pretty nice, huh?"
"How much that vehicle cost you?"
"Per month, I'm talking." He took a long suck of oxygen.
"Nothing," he repeated, as if he didn't get it.
"Nada. Trion covers the lease totally. It's a perk of my new job."
He breathed in again. "A perk."
"Same with my new apartment."
"I thought I told you. Two thousand square feet in that new Harbor Suites building. And Trion pays for it."
Another intake of breath. "You proud?" he said.
I was stunned. I'd never heard him say that word before, I didn't think. "Yeah," I said, blushing.
"Proud of the fact that they own you now?"
I should have seen the razor blade in the apple. "Nobody owns me, Dad," I said curtly. "I believe it's called 'making it.' Look it up. You'll find it in the thesaurus next to 'life at the top,' 'executive suite,' and 'high net-worth individuals.' " I couldn't believe what was coming out of my mouth. And all this time I'd been railing about being a monkey on a stick. Now I was actually boasting about the bling bling. See what you made me do?
Antwoine put down his newspaper and excused himself, tactfully, pretending to do something in the kitchen.
Dad laughed harshly, turned to look at me. "So lemme get this straight." He sucked in some more oxygen. "You don't own the car or the apartment, that right? You call that a perk?" A breath. "I'll tell you what that means. Everything they give you they can take away, and they will, too. You drive a goddamn company car, you live in company housing, you wear a company uniform, and none of it's yours. Your whole life ain't yours."
I bit my lip. It wasn't going to do me any good to let loose. The old guy was dying, I told myself for the millionth time. He's on steroids. He's an unhappy, caustic guy. But it just came out: "You know, Dad, some fathers would actually be proud of their son's success, you know?"
He sucked in, his tiny eyes glittering. "Success, that what you call it, huh? See, Adam, you remind me of your mother more and more."
"Oh, yeah?" I told myself: keep it in, keep the anger in check, don't lose it, or else he's won.
"That's right. You look like her. Got the same social-type personality—everyone liked her, she fit in anywhere, she coulda married a richer guy, she coulda done a lot better. And don't think she didn't let me know it. All those parent nights at Bartholomew Browning, you could see her getting all friendly with those rich bastards, getting all dressed up, practically pushing her tits in their faces. Think I didn't notice?"
"Oh, that's good, Dad. That's real good. Too bad I'm not more like you, you know?"
He just looked at me.
"You know—bitter, nasty. Pissed off at the world. You want me to grow up to be just like you, that it?"
He puffed, his face growing redder.
I kept going. My heart was going a hundred beats a minute, my voice growing louder and louder, and I was almost shouting. "When I was broke and partying all the time you considered me a fuckup. Okay, so now I'm a success by just about anyone's definition, and you've got nothing but contempt. Maybe there's a reason you can't be proud of me no matter what I do, Dad."
He glared and puffed, said, "Oh yeah?"
"Look at you. Look at your life." There was like this runaway freight train inside me, unstoppable, out of control. "You're always saying the world's divided up into winners and losers. So let me ask you something, Dad. What are you, Dad? What are you?"
He sucked in oxygen, his eyes bloodshot and looking like they were going to pop out of his head. He seemed to be muttering to himself. I heard "Goddamn" and "fuck" and "shit."
"Yeah, Dad," I said, turning away from him. "I want to be just like you." I headed for the door in a slipstream of my own pent-up anger. The words were out and couldn't be unsaid, and I felt more miserable than ever. I left his apartment before I could wreak any more destruction. The last thing I saw, my parting image of the guy, was his big red face, puffing and muttering, his eyes glassy and staring in disbelief or fury or pain, I didn't know which.