Chapter Nine

A week later my parents told me a piece of news at the dinner table.

“Max,” my father said, “your mother and I are not going to live together any more.”

He was watching me closely, because he had no way of knowing whether I understood or not.

“Do you understand?” he asked.

I just sat looking at them.

“Son, do you understand?”

I just kept looking from one to the other.

“Your mother will stay here in the house with you,” Dad said. “I will be living with Nancy, and you’ll spend a lot of time with me there.”

I caught a look of anger in my mother’s eyes. This was not a situation she had asked for. I could see that she was almost as surprised as I was. That’s why she wasn’t talking.

“Max, it will be better this way,” Dad explained uncomfortably. “Karen and I have been getting more and more unhappy. We need a separation so we can sort things out. We don’t want this to affect or hurt you in any way.”

What could I say? I held the fork in front of my mouth, looking at the piece of macaroni impaled on it. All of a sudden I didn’t feel I could look at either of them.

“Max, I hope you understand,” my father said. Still my mother sat in stony silence.

I understood, but I hated the fact that this was happening. I particularly hated the fact that Dad had sprung it on me so soon after I met Nancy.

“School will go on just as before,” my father said. “We have no plans to move you…”

To move you. These words seemed to have a sting that his other words hadn’t had. They were moving me like a chess piece to suit their own convenience. They wanted me to be happy that I was losing my home.

I dropped the fork on the plate and left the table.

I heard their silence behind me.

A few days later Pam was babysitting for me while my mother was at the lawyer’s office. She was watching TV while I sat at the computer.

After a while we both got bored.

“Let’s go out to the park, Max,” she said.

I jumped up. I was always eager for a walk in the park.

Cars were going by as we reached the sidewalk. I had insisted on bringing my CD player with me. I heard the quiet soughing of the tires on the asphalt. Almost all the cars were occupied by only one person. One SUV had two children in it. A huge old sedan passed slowly, with two old ladies in the front seat. One of them was smoking a very long cigarette, steering the car with the heel of her hand.

Boys on miniature bicycles were careening all over the place, between cars, across intersections, across lawns. I wondered how the drivers avoided hitting them. One car honked at them. I saw one of the boys give the driver the finger.

The sky was turbulent, with little clouds hurrying across it and gusts of wind blowing this way and that. I saw trees and bushes abruptly pushed to one side, then to the other side, as though the wind could not make up its mind. The sun kept going behind a cloud and coming back out again. A shadow would fall over the world and then lift all at once, changing the look of things crazily.

We reached the park. Pam knew the way to my favorite tree because I had made her go past it a hundred times. We took the route I liked. Leaves and twigs were flying everywhere.

Pam pushed me on the merry-go-round, then stood on one end of the seesaw and held it while I went up and down.

“Let’s go to the pond,” Pam said. “Hang on tight, Max, or the wind will blow you away.”

There was a pond at the edge of the park, where swans and ducks lived. As we approached it, the clouds threw a shadow over the water and a ripple hurried over the surface.

I thought I saw a fish under the water, but it swam away so quickly that I wasn’t sure it wasn’t just a shadow.

The whole day seemed to be singing of impermanence. Everything was fugitive, everything was changing.

“Penny for your thoughts, Max,” said Pam. She was holding my hand. We sat down together on the bank.

I couldn’t say anything, of course. I tried to smile, but my smile was very weak.

“Something on your mind, buddy?” Pam asked.

I couldn’t answer. I stroked the tanned skin of her arm. I looked at the sky. I felt tears beginning to come, but I held them back.

“That’s okay, Max. It’s a hard time. Don’t be afraid to feel bad.”

I felt something building in me, a sort of nameless thing that twisted and hurt.

I thought of that tree falling in the forest without anyone seeing it. Why would a tree fall? Because it was dying. It was a dead tree.

If a marriage could die, and my sister could die, what was the point in struggling on the way I was? “Home is everything,” someone said once in a movie.

I looked at Pam, with her fresh face and her innocence. All of a sudden she looked as insubstantial as the twigs flying crazily through the trees. Almost as though she was disappearing. I even felt like I was disappearing.

After a while she stretched and said, “Come on, Max, let’s go.”

She didn’t see me drop the CD player quietly into the water.