me this magazine with pictures of ladies without their underwear.” He stopped and let out a big deflated sigh. “It looked like the camera went right up between their legs.” His pale skin colored under the freckles. “Grandpa said he enjoyed looking at those pictures and he said I would too–if I wasn’t a pussy.” I gripped the wheel, leaving fingernail scars in the fake leather. “No!” “You don’t believe me?” “I believe you… It’s just…” I couldn’t think what to say. “Come here.” He leaned towards me and I pulled him tight against my chest until he wriggled uncomfortably. “Go inside,” I said. “We’ll talk about this later.” He made a face. He deserved more of a reaction, but I needed to sort things out. I tried to remember the look my father had given me when I picked up Caleb – exasperated, amused, but surely not guilty. Caleb must be making this up. He’d lied before. But not more than Fairy most kids. And where would he get those details? A ten year old wouldn’t make up those images. Then I remembered the Playboy I’d found in my dad’s toolbox when I was twelve. I’d been looking for something, a Philip’s screwdriver, I think. Caleb wasn’t lying. I shivered in the moist heat like a long-term malaria sufferer. **** I stopped off at my dad’s place the next day. The lawn was crew-cut short. The hummingbird feeders were full and the paint on the siding and the trim looked new. The thought of him fixing things reminded me of the toolbox. My father, Jack Heller, answered the bell promptly and let me in. He was still lean with a small stoop and a gentle slope of a belly where he used to be ironing board flat. His military short hair was gray with
a hint of rust. He shut the door and cut out the electric insect buzz and bird racket. “What’s going on, Iris? Aren’t you supposed to be at work?” he asked as he ground the coffee. He waited, but I didn’t answer immediately. “You haven’t lost your job, have you?” “I called in sick.” He pursed his lips. “You know how I feel about lies.” I nodded impatiently, too old to be scolded. And anyway, Caleb’s story had made me sick. “If you’re short of money…,” he said in a gentler tone. He would lend me what I needed, he hinted. He’d helped me before. Was he just pretending not to know what was bothering me? Covering up by reminding me how much I owed him: money for the deposit on my shabby apartment, and free childcare every week day for almost a year. How could I ever repay him? I swallowed, suddenly not confident about the Michael Kleven phrases I’d been rehearsing on the ride over. I didn’t want to have this conversation. Perhaps I should just take Caleb and walk away, like my ex walked away, suddenly bonetired of the constant hassle without even the energy to make an excuse. But that wouldn’t work. I couldn’t afford to leave town. I had no job to go to, and no way to afford another apartment. And I loved my father. I owed him some sort of explanation and even a chance to defend himself. I wondered again if Caleb’s story could be wrong–some sort of misunderstanding or even a lie. The coffee dripped and hissed and filled the small kitchen with its rich, dark smell. My father watched me in the way I remembered: tender and protective. “What is it, Iris?” He poured two cups, and reached into the fridge for the half and half. “Caleb,” I said slowly. The coffee was very bitter.