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See the Child: A Novel

See the Child: A Novel

by David Bergen
What is more devastating than the death of a child? When Harry, the local cop, knocks on Paul Unger's door early one morning to give him the grim news — that his son, Stephen, has been found drowned — Paul descends into a grief that carries him to a dark and unfamiliar place.

See the Child is an extraordinary exploration of love and loss:


What is more devastating than the death of a child? When Harry, the local cop, knocks on Paul Unger's door early one morning to give him the grim news — that his son, Stephen, has been found drowned — Paul descends into a grief that carries him to a dark and unfamiliar place.

See the Child is an extraordinary exploration of love and loss: between parent and child, man and woman, grandfather and grandchild. Paul Unger has a comfortable life, but it starts to unravel when his son becomes involved with a provocative young woman, Nicole. Soon his world is overturned, Stephen is gone, and he is left to question his own role in the death. When, several years later, Nicole returns to town with a child who might be Paul's grandson, Paul imagines in both of them a path back to his son.

Set in small-town Manitoba and reaching to Montana and back, See the Child is a haunting and beautifully rendered observation of sorrow. Acclaimed Canadian novelist David Bergen brings to his landscapes a series of indelible portraits: Paul's wife, Lise, who tries to understand why he must leave her; Harry, who desires Lise but knows he cannot keep her; Sky, the child who seems to bear the imprint of the dead Stephen; Wyatt, the gun-toting lumberjack who wants Nicole and Sky; and Paul, a man who must first forgive himself before he can go forward with his life.

Written with tenderness, eloquence, and an exquisite sensuality, See the Child explores the healing power of time and the nature of love.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Bergen (A Year of Lesser) explores death, grief and guilt, and the interplay among them in this plaintive, deeply moving novel. Paul Unger, a prosperous middle-aged man living in a small town in Manitoba, wakes up one night to the news that his alienated teenage son, Stephen, is dead. Paul's resulting spiral of depression tears apart his marriage and drives him to isolate himself on his farm, where he throws himself into bee husbandry. When Nicole, Stephen's sluttish girlfriend, comes back to town with a child, Paul cleaves to them with a fierce intensity. While creating a powerful bond with his grandson, Sky, he also seeks solace and answers in Nicole: what exactly was her relationship with his son? Did she love him? Are her current intentions mercenary or genuine? The three form an odd family unit, living on the farm even as gossip swirls about in town and in the Unger family. Paul emerges as an oddly bifurcated figure. At times, his grieving is brought into sharp focus, and the pain of a father exposes itself as biting, guilt-ridden and ubiquitous. Yet he remains curiously dispassionate when confronted with danger, both physical and emotional. Bergen writes with a precision that reveals every detail, every action, carefully depicting Paul's emotional vulnerability and his need to determine how much he is responsible for his son's death and the fate of his grandson. Each of the secondary characters inhabits a tangible reality, whether it's the burly, rather menacing Montanan with whom Nicole trysts or the endearingly pathetic wife of the local constable who propositions Paul in a painfully awkward scene. This authenticity deepens the novel's perspective, allowing this compassionate tale of mourning to be told with graceful honesty. (May) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A keen sensitivity to the frailty of the physical body-and to the inescapable fact of mortality-subtly enriches this emotionally compelling tale by the Winnipeg author (A Year of Lesser, 1997, etc.). In the powerful opening sequence, Paul Unger, a middle-aged furniture-store owner living in suburban comfort in the Manitoba town of Furst, receives an early morning visit from a constable who informs him that his teenaged son Stephen has been found dead in a neighboring farmer's field. Stricken by grief and guilt (the reason for which is soon revealed), Unger goes through the motions of celebrating his daughter's wedding, then leaves his wife Lise and retreats to his remote northern "bee farm"-and to the calming influence of the natural world's dependably repetitive rhythms and rituals. He's joined thereafter by Stephen's girlfriend Nicole and the two-year-old boy, named Sky, whom she claims is Unger's grandson. Bergen presents the process of Unger's healing and the actions preceding it in efficient piecemeal fashion, circling around the central fact of Stephen's death, moving back and forth in time, echoing the circumstances of Unger's loss and the several ways in which it changes him. This moving story avoids monotony because its characters are drawn with meticulous care: the wanton Nicole impresses with her tough-minded determination to grasp a better life; Sky is quite charmingly portrayed; and pragmatic Lise, seeking elsewhere the intimacy her husband can no longer give her, is a thoroughly believable "strong woman" who has learned how to conceal her weaknesses. Numerous flashback sequences build an overwhelming impression of irresolvable distance and conflict (heated conversationsbetween Unger and the rebellious Stephen are particularly frank and searing), and the novel succeeds brilliantly in showing how people who believe they're solving problems and healing wounds are instead helplessly drifting away from one another. Mature and engrossing fiction, from one of Canada's best new writers.

Product Details

Simon & Schuster
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.76(w) x 8.78(h) x 0.84(d)

Read an Excerpt

from See the Child

In June of the year Stephen would die, Paul met Nicole Forêt for the first time. She was Stephen's new girlfriend and had been invited to supper. They shook hands in the foyer. Paul said, "Hi, nice to meet you," and Nicole nodded and said, "Hello," and then Lise said, "Forêt, I know your family. Jean Paul, ton père."

Nicole nodded and dipped her chin.

"She speaks English, Mum," Stephen said.

"It's okay," Nicole said. "I don't mind." She leaned towards Stephen. Her eyes were nutty-coloured and sleepy. A light blue vein ran up one side of her neck. She said to Lise, "Nice," and looked around at the house. Her tongue was pierced, three studs laid out like stepping stones to the back of her throat. Silver rings of diminishing size climbed the rims of her ears. Hair cut short, bleached, she wore sandals and her toenails were painted orange. Her hand moved about, touching Stephen's arm, her own face, while the other held Stephen's waist. She went up and kissed Stephen's jaw, below his ear, then she looked at Paul and smiled.

Paul turned away and back and said, "Come," and led them out through the patio to the pool where, before supper, the young people swam while Paul and Lise prepared food and watched from the kitchen window. Their daughter Sue sat at the edge of the pool while Stephen bounced on the diving board and talked to Nicole who floated on her back near the shallow end. The day was muggy. Earlier, low dark clouds had come in from the west, thrown down some rain, and then fled past the town of Furst, and by late afternoon the sky had cleared. Paul, watching the threesome, asked Lise, "What doyou think?"

"Nothing to think yet. She's pretty, and more confident than I expected."

"What'd you expect? A mouse?"

Lise went to the oven, lasagne in hand. "No, it's more the body language. Seems fairly mature."

"So you remember the family," Paul said. Earlier in the week Lise hadn't been certain who Nicole Forêt was, even though they both came from St. Pierre, a small French-speaking town twenty miles west of Furst.

She nodded now. Said she remembered Nicole as a child, the mother dying of some kind of hemorrhage, the father and daughter a peculiar pair on the streets. But nothing terribly odd. Just slightly different.

Lise was wearing a black tank top and jean shorts. Her legs were tanned. She was flushed from the frenzy of food preparation and Paul wished, at that moment, she would go up and kiss his jaw, as Nicole had done to Stephen. He ducked and smelled the top of her head. Said, "Maybe she'll make Stephen happier." The boy, in the last months, had been angry and reckless. He'd quit school and wasn't working and this worried Paul, who did not want a dull and shiftless son. The dinner had been Lise's idea; a new beginning, though Paul wasn't too hopeful.

Through the window he saw Nicole talking with Sue. Both of them were sitting on chairs now. Nicole was holding her knees with her hands. Stephen hoisted himself up beside the girls. Nicole pushed a hand through Stephen's hair, twisted her fingers round and round. Stephen ran a finger along her neck and down inside one of the cups of her bikini top. Sue was watching this. Nicole looked at Stephen and then back at Sue. Nicole spoke. Sue laughed. Stephen put his hand down at his side. The sun went behind a cloud.

They ate on the deck. Paul's parents, Jack and Beth, had joined them. The backyard was filled with the clatter of dishes and cutlery and the murmur of voices. Everyone was polite, too polite, Paul thought, and so he poured wine and offered beer and, at one point, pulled out the whisky which caused Lise to give him a studied look.

Beth wanted to know if Nicole was in school.

"Yes, grade twelve," Nicole said. She'd put on shorts and a white long-sleeved button-down shirt over her bathing suit. The wetness had come through the shorts but it was harder to see the dampness on the shirt, unless you looked carefully.

"Then what'll you do next year?" Beth asked.

Nicole shrugged. "I'll work."

Lise said, "I went to school with a Forêt. Bernadette."

"That's my aunt," Nicole offered. Beyond the pool, out on the golf course, a twosome passed by. Nicole lifted her head and watched them disappear. "It's beautiful," she said. "The view, the pool, the golf course. It's beautiful. And innocent."

"Innocent?" Paul's father asked. "What's that?"

Nicole's hand went up to her hair as if deflecting something. Stephen said, "She means we're rich."

"No," Nicole started, but Jack jumped in, "Of course, we're rich. There's nothing wrong with rich."

"If you're poor, there is, Dad." This was Lise, who seemed to have placed herself out of the fray, as if observing from above.

"That's jealousy," Jack said. "Pure jealousy."

"Grandpa," Stephen said, "you don't know that." He'd put his hand on Nicole's neck. Left it there as a form of protection.

"I don't mean rich," Nicole said. "I mean innocent, as if this is how it was, is, and always will be. It's all you know."

Sue, who was listening and taking sips from Paul's beer and picking the feta out of the salad, said, "That's true, that's true. I feel that sometimes."

"I remember," Lise said, "when I married Paul and moved here, I thought how simple everything was. It's not true, of course."

"I didn't mean simple, I meant innocent," Nicole said.

"They're the same, aren't they?" Lise turned to Paul.

He said, sensing a trap, "Can be, sometimes. Unless you mean blameless instead of innocent, then they're different."

"Yeah, blameless," Sue agreed, still trying to help Nicole. "That's what I would say. We think we are, anyways," and this time she turned red and stopped talking, sensing that she had blundered in some way. Paul squeezed her leg under the table. Looked over at Lise, who asked Nicole, "Where in St. Pierre do you live?"

"Behind Le Routier. My mother worked there and then she died and my father kept the house. It's small." She looked over at Paul's father and said, "We're poor," and then she laughed.

Jack laughed with her briefly and then said, "I'm sorry about your mother."

"Oh, don't be," Nicole said, "I was only three." She said the word "three" as if it held some significance.

Lise said, "Your father was a magician. I remember that."

"Still is," Nicole said. "His favourite trick is pulling caps off of beer bottles. All day."

Stephen smiled. Paul's mother had a pained look, as if things had gotten completely out of control. Lise said, "I remember my father. Gaston. You've probably seen him around town, Nicole. I remember him lining up bottles on bricks and shooting them with his rifle. Except he only shot one bottle at a time and only after he'd made love to my mother."

Paul said, "You never told me that."

Lise looked at him. She said, "One morning he was yelling and then he shot all the bottles at once. It turned out he was angry and had threatened my mum with no more sex."

Beth laughed. Nicole leaned her head towards Stephen. Lise said, "My mother was not upset, of course."

"Of course," Jack said.

"Is that true?" Paul asked.

"Oh, Daddy," Sue said, and she clutched his elbow.

Later, after dessert and coffee, they played water polo, Lise and Paul against the three young people, while Jack and Beth watched from the deck. Paul and Lise chose the shallow end so they could attack and rest. Nicole treaded water at the deep end, protecting the goal, an old plastic hockey net. Paul loved the physical contact, the scrambling for the ball, the frothing water, sliding under and rising, sucking for air, to seek out the elusive ball. Once, he received a long pass from Lise and in one motion snapped the ball towards the net. Nicole rose out of the water, the white slip of bikini like a thin strip of tape, her arms akimbo, Sue beside her, all limbs and hair, and Paul was startled by the possibility of family and love.

He swam underwater back to Lise who clutched his chin and drew him upwards and kissed him on the mouth and said, "There." And that night in bed she repeated that same move, "There," and Paul, sloping to take her left breast in his mouth, thought of Nicole and the gully of her belly button and the way her mouth moved when she said innocent and he wondered if Stephen understood Nicole, if he was in any way her equal. All these thoughts faded as Lise pushed him lower and his ears felt the comfort of her thighs.

In the night he woke to a cry. He opened his eyes and turned to Lise, who was still sleeping. He heard again a voice, laughter, another cry, and a splash. He climbed out of bed, went to the window, and looked out. Saw the outline of the trees and the fence. A figure at the edge of the pool. Paul put on his bathrobe and went down the hallway, downstairs, through the kitchen, out the patio door, and walked towards the pool. At the gate he stopped. Nicole was jumping up and down on the diving board. He could not see her properly but he heard her voice. She called out, "Nickel, nickel," and giggled.

Paul saw Stephen's head rise out of the water, his fist in the air. Nicole leaned forward and with a gasp and a scream she fell forward.

Both heads surfaced now. Stephen said, "Quiet."

Nicole laughed and pushed him under. He came up. Called out, "You're gonna drown me," and then Nicole pushed him under again. Stephen resurfaced, gasping, "Jesus, Nicole." Nicole went soft and said, "Here," and she helped him float. She swam under him. Treaded water and kissed him for a long time. Paul hadn't moved from the gate entrance but as Nicole and Stephen moved to the shallow end, he stepped back. Lifted his hand as if to say something, then lowered it.

Nicole drew her leg up and held her foot. Put it down again and said, "Ready." Stephen kissed her, then dived and stayed under. Nicole giggled. Her head went back briefly, her throat a dark silhouette. Stephen surfaced and held up his hand, triumphant. "There," he said, and she took what he had, threw it, and said, "Fetch." Stephen disappeared. Nicole turned and hoisted herself from the pool. She stood and walked towards the gate and as she drew near to Paul he saw that she was naked. She stopped and picked up a towel from the ground and, in rising, she turned her head and saw Paul. She did not seem surprised. She did not startle or draw the towel across her body. She looked at him and he looked at her. He saw the ends of wet hair at her shoulders and her long arms, hands at her bare hips, vague patch at her crotch, breasts which were small and dark in the shadows. She angled her head and appeared to laugh and it was Paul finally who turned away and walked quickly back to the house.

Later, when he'd regained the bedroom, he went to the window and looked down to where Nicole now sat at the pool's edge, one leg pulled towards her chest, knee pointed at the sky, and Stephen below her, in the water still, whispering and reaching with one hand to touch Nicole's mouth. Her head was tilted slightly and Paul imagined her gaze moving upwards to where he stood and he experienced a curious mixture of jealousy and anger. The jealousy surprised him and he shut the window and the curtains and sat at the edge of the bed. He waited, and when their voices carried up to him, he went again and parted the curtain and looked out at the pool. Nicole and Stephen were on the grass now. A flash of a bright limb. Her hair. The shadows. He thought he should go down, or wake up Lise, but he did neither. It would be much later, long after Stephen's death, when he would understand that it was Nicole, and not Stephen, who had kept him from acting. Finally, perhaps an hour later, he heard the sound of Stephen's car. Headlights passed across the window, and then they were gone.

When he woke in the morning, it was late. He got out of bed and showered and then, crossing the room to the window, he opened the blind and looked out onto the pool. Lise was swimming laps. Sue and a friend were eating at the table beneath the shade of the plum tree. The setting was serene. Unremarkable. Paul thought perhaps he had imagined the scene from the night before, though it was still vivid, especially Stephen's head being pushed underwater, and the shape of Nicole, her light giggles, the angle of her head as she stood before Paul and divined his presence. It seemed, now, a strange and predetermined event, as if Nicole had wanted him to watch.

Paul turned from the window. Dressed and walked down the hallway to Stephen's room. Knocked, got no answer, and entered. The bed had not been slept in. He crossed over, sat down, and surveyed the room. There were some trophies from Stephen's earlier years when he played soccer and baseball. There were banners of hockey teams and posters of rock stars, some now dead. In the corner sat Stephen's violin. He stood, lifted the case onto the bed, and opened it. Removed the bow. Tightened it. Then took out the violin. It was a half-size. Stephen had stopped playing at the age of ten. Paul had studied the violin with him and they had practised downstairs, beside the piano, Paul standing slightly behind and to the right of Stephen so as to give him room and to be able to observe his bowing and fingering. He had loved the way Stephen's face drew inward as he played. How easily the boy produced music, one shoulder hunched slightly, though for this he was reprimanded by his teacher, an older man named Horch, who had deep black grooves on the middle and index fingers of his left hand, and who spoke gruffly and had little patience for children. Still, Paul and Stephen persevered and by the second winter of lessons they were giving small concerts to grandparents and unsuspecting company, who were forced to sit through versions of Bach's minuets or Paganini's theme from "Witches' Dance."

Paul replaced the violin and crossed over to the window from where he could see that Lise had finished doing her laps and was now standing by the girls and talking. He went downstairs, poured himself coffee, sat at the dining-room table, and looked at the newspaper before him. He read the headlines and found no reason to read further. Lise came in from the outside. Her hair was wet and hung to her shoulders and water dripped from the ends of her hair and onto her black bathing suit where it disappeared. She had a white towel wrapped around her waist. She poured herself coffee and sat across from Paul and said, "You slept in. That's not like you."

"Bad night," Paul said.

Lise looked at him and then she looked at the paper. She turned it around so she could read. She said, "What was wrong?"

"Stephen didn't come home for the night."

"He went to St. Pierre," Lise said. "He stayed with my parents. I thought I told you."

"You're sure he was there?"

"Yes. I called this morning. He was still in bed."

"You slept fine."

Lise patted Paul's hand and said, "I always sleep well after sex. You know that." She pulled at the ends of her wet hair. It squeaked. She had brought with her into the room the smell of chlorine. Her nipples showed through her bathing suit. Paul looked at her hands; one of them held the coffee mug now, the other lay flat on the paper. The tips of her fingers were pruned from swimming. They were like Stephen's hands, nails neatly clipped, fingers long.

Paul said, "What'd you think? Of Nicole?"

Lise stood and put some bread in the toaster. Pushed it down and turned back to Paul. "Well, she's not innocent. Which we are, according to her."

"You didn't like that," Paul said.

"It was like she'd planned all along to tell us our faults. This morning I asked Sue what she thought and she hummed and hawed. Though she did seem to want to please Nicole." Lise paused, then said, "There was this girl I knew in high school. Georgette Ferland. She was amoral. It was act first and then deal later with the consequences. Needless to say, there were consequences. Nicole reminds me of her."

"That's not amoral," Paul said. "Just greedy."

"Either way it's bad if your son is going to get hurt," Lise said. "And I'd say she'll break his heart."

"I hope not," Paul said. He stood and buttered Lise's toast. Put it on a plate and handed it to her. Pushed down two slices for himself. He said, "Was that true? That story about your father?"

"Sort of."

"You didn't have to tell it."

"She needed some help. Seemed that way to me, anyway."

"Maybe she wanted to talk about her father. Maybe she wanted us to know the man's a drunk."

"I don't know," Lise said, and she bent to her toast as if they'd discussed Nicole long enough. Beyond Lise's head, past the window, Paul could see Sue sitting cross-legged by the pool. She was facing him and was bent over the bare back of her friend, applying lotion. Her hand circled the shoulder blades and slid down to the lower back. She talked and moved her hands up her friend's spine. She looked up at one point and studied the sky through her dark glasses and then she faced her friend again and said something. The friend turned onto her back and shielded her eyes with a hand. Paul thought about arms and feet and elbows and a leg bent so that the knee pointed at the sky. He thought about Nicole's shoulders and the colour of her breasts. He thought about Stephen's head going under and coming up and, later, dipping towards Nicole's thigh. The sum of so many parts, the trick of the mind. He watched his daughter Sue go onto her knees, toss her head, and flip her hair over her shoulders. "Hot," she said. He didn't hear it. He saw her mouth say it. He thought about Lise and himself. He remembered their courtship as brief and inevitable. Paul had gone off to college and returned in spring, brimming with assurance, planning to continue his studies the following year. However, this was not to be; Lise became pregnant, and by the end of summer they were married and Paul was working in his father's furniture store. The books on philosophy and linguistics to which, for a season, he so lovingly referred, were relegated to a drawer and eventually ended up in a box in the attic, beside a collection of pressed leaves and goldenrod that Lise had a fondness for in the first years of marriage.

A week passed. On Sunday, well before dawn, Paul drove out ten miles east of Furst to his land near La Broquerie, where he kept bees. And as he drove he remembered when Stephen was three or four and would come out to the bee farm. The straight strip of road, the rich landscape disappearing. The soil sandier, the trees scrubby and twisted, rocks growing out of the fields. Stephen would stand on the seat in the cab of the half-ton and look at the land sliding past. The boy was like a small bird, mouth open, head lifted, eyes wide. Later, walking among the hives, Paul pointed at the sorrel, clover, stinkweed, and wild roses, and called out their names to Stephen. He crouched before a willow blossom and held Stephen close and said, "Look, there, the bee. Its mouth is like a tiny straw. Sucks up the nectar and brings it back to the hive."

One night, driving home late, the boy fell asleep and Paul saw that children were so easy to love. He wondered if his own father had loved him as a child as deeply as Paul loved Stephen at that moment. Paul could not imagine that. He had no memory of his father's love other than the bungled swimming lessons and the occasional golf game that descended into disarray because Paul was more interested in wading out into the creek in search of lost balls than golfing. He supposed his father walked him to sleep as an infant but this he could not remember. He himself had walked many a night holding Stephen, treading a path across the rug, the child sucking on the crook of Paul's arm, perfectly calm until Paul stopped, and then Stephen howled, and Paul walked again.

He wished it were easier to love Stephen these days. Since last weekend Paul had seen little of him. One night he had found Nicole and Stephen sitting in the dark of the TV room. He entered, turned on the light, and saw that Nicole was crying and Stephen was leaning forward and looking at the floor. Nicole's obvious sorrow, Stephen's helplessness, this surprised Paul. All week he had imagined talking to Stephen but he had not done that; the boy's sullenness scared him. An impossible petulance.

La Broquerie appeared on Paul's left. A fog hung over the fields and the roads, a spotty brume that made the air damper, the dark darker. He arrived at his farm where he loaded seven hives and moved them four miles south, setting them up close to the Avery place beside a field of canola. Moving hives in the dark was easier because the temperature was lower and at night the bees were in the hive. Paul used a dolly and walked the hives up a ramp onto the back of the half-ton. Conrad ran out in the yard, barking at shadows and the night animals. They drove slowly out to the canola field, the hives swaying in the truck box. Conrad hung his head out the window and squinted into the sky which was threatening dawn. Paul unloaded the hives, spacing them six feet apart, in the protection of a windbreak, with the entrances facing away from each other. Each entrance was coloured, black, white, yellow, or blue, so the bees could see the hives. When Paul was done, the fog had lifted. A few stars remained in the sky. He drove home and the sun rose behind him and came through the rear window onto the back of his neck and head.

When he got back he washed beeswax from his fingers and showered. And then, falling into bed naked, he saw himself briefly as a man out of prehistory who was beating back the shadows from the cave. When Lise woke they made love and then he fed her breakfast in bed. The morning was infinite, time stood still, a raspberry seed clung to Lise's lower lip. Paul worked at home throughout the day, walked over to his mother and father's, drank lemon tea, talked about the store and the death of his mother's aunt, and then he came home to a cold supper in front of the TV. He went to bed with a sense of gratitude; for what, he was not sure.

That night Paul was lifted from a dream in which he was giving a speech to the local Chamber of Commerce. He broke through the ceiling of his dream and discovered the gentle prodding of Lise and her groans, "Phone, Paul, phone." She fell asleep again, one hand resting between the pillow and her cheek as if it were a precious leaf and required pressing.

He answered. It was Harry Kehler. "Paul, I'm sorry but you'll have to come down here. To your store."


"I caught someone breaking in."

"There? You have them there?" Paul's feet touched the floor. "Who?"

"Can you come? Now?"

Then, in the background, a voice, not Harry's. Harry hung up.

Lise was still sleeping. Paul found his clothes, knocked through the kitchen, worked his feet into boots, slid into a jacket, and stepped outside. A train whistled, miles away, near Giroux. The air carried the sound tight and clean. He drove to the highway, crossed the median and pulled into the store lot. The lights were on. Paul went through the front door, walked past the showroom and down the hall into the storage area where he found Harry taking pictures of the smashed-in door.

Harry took Paul by the arm and led him into the coffee room and nodded over at Stephen who was handcuffed to the door of the fridge. The boy had his head bowed.

Paul looked at Stephen, at Harry, back at Stephen. Then he said, "What the hell?"

He turned to Harry and asked, "Are you serious?"

Harry dipped his head. Lifted it. Said, "Yes."

"Son of a bitch," Paul said. He walked away to look at the door. Saw Stephen's car. The rear end had been slammed into the door. He re-entered the coffee room, went to Stephen, stood over him and said, "What are you doing?"

Stephen turned away.

"Look at me," Paul said. Stephen lifted his chin. His face ovaled whitely around his mouth.

"Hey," Harry said.

Paul asked, "Why is he handcuffed?"

"He tried to run."

"Great." Paul was looking at Stephen's head, the two ropes of tendon at the back of the neck, the short hair revealing the crown. He thought he might draw his finger along the gully between the two ropes. He didn't. He motioned to Harry and they walked out into the showroom. Stood by the front window and looked out into the night.

"What are we gonna do?" Paul asked.

"Not much choice. It's a break and enter. I have to charge him."

"What if you weren't here?" Paul asked. "What if I had found him?"

"You didn't," Harry said.

"I was wondering," Paul said, "if we should leave this between us. Not report it. Let me handle Stephen."

"I can see that's what you're thinking."

"It's only the door. He's scared."

"He's guilty."

"Well, sure, of course."

"I'd get fired."

"Nobody'll know."

Harry stared out at the rain which fell heavier now and with more force, so that it no longer all ran off into the gutter but stayed put and began to build its own depth.

"It's the truth, nobody'll know," Paul pushed.

Harry said, "You're my friend and that's the only reason I'll say this. I'm going to leave. I'll take the cuffs and walk away. I'll destroy the film. I never knew about this, I didn't phone you, I didn't talk to you. Okay?"

"Okay, that's good. Good."

Harry walked back through the hall and into the coffee room. Bent over Stephen. The key went snick in the cuffs. The claws separated. Harry stepped back. Stephen rubbed his wrists.

"I'm for sure an idiot," Harry said. He pointed at Stephen, finger like a big bone. "And you're an idiot."

"Everything'll be fine. Just fine," Paul chanted.

He boarded up the back door with a sheet of plywood retrieved from the back room. Found several bent nails, a hammer in the rear of his half-ton, and strapped the plywood with lengths of two-by-four. In the darkness he flailed at the slippery nails and hit his thumb. By the time he was finished the job he was sweating and thirsty. He circled around to the front door, entered and walked back to the coffee room where Stephen still sat.

"So?" Paul said.

Stephen looked at the floor.

"You gonna talk to me? Give me a reason?"

Stephen gave no indication he had heard.

Paul wanted to hit him. "Look at me," he said.

Stephen refused.

There was a lunch bag on the table with two oranges in it. Paul took out an orange and threw it at the wall. Stephen jumped and looked up, first at the wall and then over at his father, who had picked up the other orange and was rolling it in his hands like he was looking for the seams in a baseball. Stephen looked away and Paul said, "Jesus Christ," and he pitched again, lower this time, and the second orange hit and stuck on a nail protruding from the wall. Mounted, it looked permanent, like a quirk of design or the impaled head of a small animal.

"I'm angry," Paul said. "You understand that?"

Stephen looked up at his father finally. Then he turned away.

"Look at you," Paul said. "You show no remorse. None. Absolutely none. You drive into my store, using the car I bought you, and you try to rob me?"

Stephen shrugged.

"You've gotta talk. You can't not talk."

Stephen looked up and faced Paul again. Stared at him for a long time. Then he raised his hand to his pocket and took out a cigarette. He was going to put it in his mouth when Paul reached over and knocked it away. "No smoking," he said. "You know I don't like you smoking."

"I know," Stephen said. He took out another cigarette. His hands were shaking. He had trouble lighting the match but he succeeded and lit his cigarette. Paul let him.

Stephen said, "I know what you like and what you don't like."

For a brief moment Paul thought that he might be in the wrong here; it felt as if he had broken into the store, that he was the criminal. He shook his head and looked around. The orange remained stuck to the nail. There was nothing left to throw, so he said, "I saw you and Nicole. The other night. At the pool."

Stephen held his cigarette midpoint between his lap and his mouth. He appeared to study his hand, then he laid the cigarette down at the edge of the table and he sat up and looked over at his father and he said, "I know, Nicole said you were watching us."

"What are you talking about?" Paul asked.

"Like I said. You were watching. Nicole said you were watching. You didn't tell us you were there, you just watched." Stephen's voice fell away. Fright perhaps. Paul couldn't tell anymore.

Paul said, "I woke up and there you were. Frolicking like you'd discovered your own little Eden. Grow up, Stephen, I couldn't help but hear you. Like no one else existed. I'm sure the Courts heard you. And the Huberts. Everyone." Paul sucked a quick breath and leaned forward and his voice dropped to a whisper. "How do you dare have sex with a girl in front of the whole neighbourhood, on my property? And Nicole. Who is she? What does she want?"

"You don't like her, do you?" Stephen's head was still bowed but he lifted it to say this.

"That's not it. Not at all. It's you. You think you have the right to take whatever comes your way. Look at you. You break into my store. For who? For her? You think she's sweet and innocent."

"She's not sweet and innocent. I know that."

"What do you mean?"

"You've met her. You know."

"And she loves you?"

"I didn't say that. You always do that. Make up things I said when I didn't."

Paul wondered if that was true. He thought it wasn't. He said, "Well, you're sure willing to give up a lot for her." He was waving his hands now. This was not a good sign. He laid them out on the table and looked at the knuckles, the veins which formed an M near his left wrist.

"Can I go?" Stephen asked.

"No, you can't. Besides, where would you go?"


"Oh, so you'd go home. And everything would be forgotten and we'd never ever talk about this again and I'd fix the car and you'd drive it and ask me for money and then you'd have sex with Nicole on the ping-pong table or wherever you bloody well pleased, maybe our bed, hey, and then what? Hey? Where's the remorse? Where's the punishment? The forgiveness?"

Stephen looked as if he was going to cry and Paul saw hope in that possibility. Then Stephen said, "You were watching us. That's sick, Dad. You're sick." He was working his mouth. Paul saw that he was trying to grow a moustache but it was just a trace of something, like mould. Seeing this, Paul felt a great ache for his boy. He wanted to say, "I love you," but Stephen stood up and asked for his keys. He said, "I'm going. I won't go home. That's what you want, isn't it?"

Paul gave him the car keys. He kept the house keys. He looked up, hoping that Stephen would be crying, but he wasn't. Paul said, "Fine, go."

Copyright © 1999 by David Bergen

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