COPYRIGHT Paranoia by Joseph Finder. Copyright 2004 by Joseph Finder. All Rights Reserved. Sharing not permitted.
I got to my dad's apartment so exhilarated from my mini-date with Alana Jennings that I felt like I was wearing a suit of armor. Nothing he did or said could get to me now.
As I climbed the splintery wooden-deck front steps I could hear them arguing—my dad's high-pitched, nasal squawk, sounding more and more like a bird, and Antwoine's rumbling reply, deep and resonant. I found them in the first-floor bathroom, which was filled with steam billowing out of a vaporizer. Dad was lying facedown on a bench, a bunch of pillows under his head and chest propping him up. Antwoine, his pale-blue scrubs soaking wet, was thumping on Dad's naked back with his huge hands. He looked up when I opened the door.
"This son of a bitch is trying to kill me," Dad screeched.
"This is how you loosen the phlegm in the lungs," Antwoine said. "That shit get all gunked up in there 'cause of all the damaged cilias." He went back to it, making a hollow thump. Dad's back was sickly pale, paper-white, droopy and saggy. It seemed to have no muscle tone. I remembered what my father's back used to look like, when I was a kid: ropy, sinewy, almost frightening. This was old-man skin, and I wished I hadn't seen it.
"The bastard lied to me," Dad said, his voice muffled by the pillows. "He told me I was just going to breathe in steam. He didn't say he was going to crack my goddamned ribs. Jesus Christ, I'm on steroids, my bones are fragile, you goddamned nigger!"
"Hey, Dad," I yelled, "enough!"
"I'm not your prison bitch, nigger!" he said.
Antwoine showed no reaction. He kept clapping on Dad's back, steadily, rhythmically.
"Dad," I said, "this man is a whole lot bigger and stronger than you. I don't think it's a good idea to alienate him."
Antwoine looked up at me with sleepy, amused eyes. "Hey, man, I had to deal with Aryan Nation every day I was jammed up. Believe me, a mouthy old cripple's no big deal."
"You goddamned son of a bitch!" Dad shrieked. I noticed he didn't use the N-word.