Jared Lipof
| Fiction
Statistically speaking, it was more likely that our mysterious bandaged man was a racecar driver, or a boxer, or a fighter pilot, or any number of other possibilities, rather than one specific bank robber on the lam. But we believed what we believed. We manufactured certainty out of thin air and headlines and wishful thinking. My father thought he could teach us a lesson, something about deception, about how you weren’t supposed to lie to people in order to get something you wanted. Especially your family. But we didn’t learn not to lie; we learned where our lies had met resistance. We got better at it. And that night we drove away from Shoemaker’s, safely contained in the Oldsmobile’s interior of cornflower blue.

Like a shuttled roll of microfilm, thirty years would scroll past with shocking speed and have their way with all of us, leaving rapidly growing masses in my father’s lungs.

On the same coffee table beside the same couch, I set the same board game down between my father and me, the one with the colored pegs and the plastic shield and the guesswork. Twelve moves to get it right. It’s not enough. You could have a thousand moves and still get it wrong.

An oxygen tank helps my father breathe. My mother naps in the bedroom, exhausted, her professional expertise now called upon at great length in the home. Clear plastic tubes loop over each ear. The periodic aerosol burst of the tank keeping the oxygen saturation in his lungs above a specific threshold. The rhythmically identical coughs lighting up his chest from the inside.

“This time I’m code-maker,” I say.

“Fine.” He coughs and says, “Let me ask you something. Remember that house?”

“What house?”

He shakes his head. “You know what house. Who was in it?”

“I don’t know.”

“You told your uncle it was Mickey Thurston.”

“I told him I thought it was.”

“What’s the difference?”

“I don’t know,” I say. “Certainty?”

“You were certain enough to call the cops.”

“There was a big reward. That kind of cash, what’s the harm in a shot in the dark?”

“No harm for you, but for the potentially innocent guy upstairs….”

“Everyone’s potentially innocent,” I say.

He chuckles, which induces another coughing fit. “Don’t make me laugh.”

“Sorry. Besides, they never found Ol’ Mick.”

“That’s not the point. My point is: the reward made it okay for you to take a leap of faith, as long you didn’t have to absorb the risk if it turned out you were wrong.”

“Why are you asking me this?”

“I think you know.”

We look at each other over the coffee table, the clean slate of Mastermind’s pegboard between us. This time I can see the answer but my father cannot. Or maybe neither of us can. Maybe nobody can.

The word regret comes from the Old French, fourteenth century, “to lament someone’s death; to ask the help of.” An impossible contradiction, asking for help from the last person on earth who can provide it. Right now I want invisible strings to yank my father up off the couch just so he can burst through the sliding glass door again, accompanied by his high-decibel cacophony, freed from the workday’s vaporous confines to prance around the apartment, loudly in charge again. I want to do the whole thing differently this time, without all the puzzles and deception.Nothing would slow the passage of time, but the time might be better spent.

Still awaiting his first move, I say "I don't know the answer."

And my father laughs again. And coughs.

And says, "Anyone who says they do is full of shit."

Jared Lipof is a sound engineer for documentary television programs. His work has appeared in The Los Angeles Review. He lives in Tallahassee, where he is at work on a novel.

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