COPYRIGHT Paranoia by Joseph Finder. Copyright 2004 by Joseph Finder. All Rights Reserved. Sharing not permitted.
Part Three: 27 (Cont'd)
Later Dad was parked in front of the TV, hooked up to the bubbler, the tube in his nose.
"This arrangement is not working out," he said, scowling at the TV. "Have you seen the kind of rabbit-food shit he tries to give me?"
"It's called fruits and vegetables," Antwoine said. He was sitting in the chair a few feet away. "I know what he likes—I can see what's in the pantry. Dinty Moore beef stew in the big can, Vienna sausages, and liverwurst. Well, not as long as I'm here. You need the healthy stuff, Frank, build up your immunity. You catch a cold, you end up with pneumonia, in the hospital, and then what am I going to do? You're not going to need me when you're in the hospital."
"Plus no more Cokes, that shit is over. You need fluids, thin your mucus, nothing with the caffeine in it. You need potassium, you need calcium 'cause of the steroids." He was jabbing his index finger into his palm like he was a trainer for the world heavyweight champion.
"Make whatever rabbit-food crap you want, I won't eat it," Dad said.
"Then you're just killing yourself. Takes you ten times more energy to breathe than a normal guy, so you need to eat, build up your strength, your muscle mass, all that. You expire on my watch, I'm not taking the rap."
"Like you really give a shit," Dad said.
"You think I'm here to help you die?"
"Looks that way to me."
"If I wanted to kill you, why would I do it the slow way?" Antwoine said. "Unless you think this is fun for me. Like maybe I enjoy this shit."
"This is a blast, isn't it?" I said.
"Hey, wouldja check out the watch on that man?" Antwoine suddenly said. I'd forgotten to take off the Panerai. Maybe subconsciously I thought it wouldn't even register with him or my dad. "Let me see that." He came up to me, inspected it, marveling. "Man, that's gotta be a five-thousand-dollar watch." He was pretty close. I was embarrassed—it was more than he made in two months. "That one of those Italian diving watches?"
"Yep," I said hastily.
"Oh, you gotta be shittin' me," Dad said, his voice like a rusty hinge. "I don't fucking believe this." Now he was staring at my watch too. "You spent five thousand dollars on a goddamned watch? What a loser! Do you have any idea how I used to bust my hump for five thousand bucks when I was putting you through school? You spent that on a fucking watch?"
"It's my money, Dad." Then I added, feebly, "It's an investment."
"Oh, for Christ's sakes, you think I'm an idiot? An investment?"
"Dad, look, I just got a huge promotion. I'm working at Trion Systems for, like, twice the salary I was getting at Wyatt, okay?"
He looked at me shrewdly. "What kinda money they paying you, you can throw away five thousand—Jesus, I can't even say it."
"They're paying me a lot, Dad. And if I want to throw my money away, I'll throw it away. I've earned it."
"You've earned it," he repeated with thick sarcasm. "Any time you want to pay me back for"—he took a breath—"I don't know how many tens of thousands of dollars I dumped on you, be my guest."
I came this close to telling him then how much money I threw his way, but I pulled back just in time. The momentary victory wouldn't be worth it. Instead I told myself over and over, this is not your dad. It's an evil cartoon version of Dad, animated by Hanna-Barbera, distorted out of recognition by prednisone and a dozen other mind-altering substances. But of course I knew that wasn't quite true, that this really was the same old asshole, just with the dial turned up a couple of notches.