duck-rabbit. A line drawing consisting of two open ovals, a circle and a dot representing an eye. Look at it one way, and you see a duck, the ovals as a beak. Look at it another way, and you see a rabbit, the ovals as ears. Nothing on the page settles the matter. Here were the lines on my page. A dirty magazine, Caleb’s accusations, and my father’s denials, nothing to determine which version was right. But unlike the duck-rabbit, this one mattered. Everything important to me depended on it. “I’m your dad, Iris. You can’t lose faith in me.” I didn’t want to lose faith in him. It would be easier if Caleb was the one lying. At ten, he had no idea how much damage he was doing. I could forgive Caleb. So, could my dad. But if my dad was the bad guy, I didn’t think I could forgive him. I looked into his face and remembered how I’d always seen him. A hero, hard, disciplined, sworn to protect the innocent and defeat the wicked. The Hustler made sense for a man and a widower. But the rest didn’t fit. Caleb must have lied. “I’ll talk to him again,” I said. “He’ll just lie again.” “I think I can tell when my son is lying,” I said. “It’s not rocket science,” He shook his head. “Let me know what he says.” “Sure.” I gathered my purse and keys. **** When I picked Caleb up from school, he seemed pleased to miss the hour long bus ride. “Does this mean that I won’t have to go to Grandpa’s anymore?” he asked as we pulled away. “No,” I said. “It doesn’t mean anything. I took a day off. But I have to work tomorrow. I have nowhere else to leave you.” “I could stay by myself.” I stopped at a red light. “You have to be twelve.” “You want me to spend my afternoons looking at girls’ twats?” “Caleb!” “It’s OK. You know I might start to enjoy it.” He giggled oddly. “Isn’t that what real men do?” I took my eyes off the road to stare at him. “I went to his house today.” The driver behind me honked. I resisted the impulse to give him the finger. I released the brake and set off slowly. “I figured out what happened.” I spoke with more conviction than I felt, the way they did on the late night cop shows.
“Oh yeah?” “You found the magazine in the bathroom.” “No.” He shook his head firmly. “And then he punished you and you got mad and wanted to get back at him by making up this story.” I watched Caleb out of the corner of my eye. He was shaking his head and staring out the window, not confessing and apologizing as I’d hoped. “Talk to me,” I murmured. I stopped at another light. “What’s the point? You never believe me.” He opened the passenger door. “I hate you.” He left the car, moved to the sidewalk, and stood contemplating his next move. I pulled over and watched him for a few seconds. He was too thin, all long limbs jutting at uncertain angles. I’d let him down again. I called through the open window, “Come back. I promise to listen to you.” He dragged his feet on the tarmac and then sat in the back seat. “You’re the only person I have. You have to trust me.” I turned around and gripped his hand. “Of course I trust you. But I trust Grandpa too. Look…I love him just like you love me. He was always there for me. It’s hard for me to believe that he did a terrible thing, especially when he says he didn’t.” I sighed deeply, and said, as much to myself as to him. “What am I supposed to do?” He pushed aside his too-long, copper hair and looked into my eyes. “Trust me. I’m telling the truth. And I’m your kid. You’re supposed to love me most.” **** Caleb stuck to his story, as did my dad. Neither of them ever admitted lying, no matter how often I questioned them. I suggested putting them in a room together to confront each other, but Caleb refused. I didn’t think I could bear it–hurting one or other of them. But in the end, I had to choose. I worked out a plan where Caleb took a bus to the Boys and Girls club in the afternoons. He didn’t like it much but he grumbled less than he had before and learned ping pong and made a couple of friends. When he turns twelve I’ll let him stay by himself for those few hours. My dad took my decision hard. I tried to tell him it didn’t mean I believed he was guilty, but he just rolled his eyes. One day we’ll get things back to normal.