By David Jibson
“Gary, it’s Mother. Call me back as soon as you get this message.”
I had no idea who this Gary was, or why his mother would be calling him on my phone. The next day I was home when the same woman called.
“Gary Abbott, why didn’t you call me back?”
“I’m not Gary Abbott,” I told her. “You have the wrong number.”
“Nonsense,” she said. “I recognize your voice. I called to tell you that your father’s had another heart attack. He’s in a hospital in Boston and he’s been asking for you.”
“But, really, I’m not Gary Abbott. I don’t even know a Gary Abbott.”
“Now you listen to me,” she said. “You get yourself to Boston. I know how much you hate each other, but he’s your father and this is probably your last chance to make your peace before the poor man dies.”
This crazy woman went for a good twenty minutes, detailing everything I (or rather, Gary Abbott) had ever done wrong. I actually started to feel guilty.
“Yes, okay. I get it, Mother. I understand.” I finally convinced her to hang up the phone by telling her that I needed to pack for the trip to Boston.
The room was crowded with blinking machines that made ominous sounds. The lights were dimmed. A scrawny man with blue-gray skin lay in the bed. “I’m here, Pop,” I said. “It’s me. Gary.”
His eyes opened and he slowly turned to face me. After an eternity, he finally said, “You’re not my son. You don’t look anything like him.”
“It’s pretty dark in here,” I told him. “Besides, it’s been a long time.”
“Yes, it’s been a long time,” he repeated back to me. “Now tell me why the hell you’re here.”
“Mom said you’re real sick and you’ve been asking for me.”
“Bullshit! I’m sick alright, sick of that woman and her lies. I should have divorced her years ago. I didn’t ask for you. I wouldn’t expect you to come if I did.” Talking seemed to take all his effort and he had to stop to catch his breath. “Well, as long as you’re here, what have you been up to?”
“I’ve cleaned myself up, been straight going on four years. I finished law school. I’m taking the bar exam next month.”
“Lawyer, eh? I always knew you’d come to no good.” His eyes closed and he turned his face to the wall.
“Pop, I came here to tell you I’m sorry.”
“You’re sorry? What the hell are you sorry for?”
“Everything. I’m sorry for everything that’s happened, everything I’ve done. I’m sorry I haven’t been around, sorry I didn’t try harder, sorry I was such a disappointment.” The words coming out of me took me by surprise. They sounded sincere and I think they were. I could feel tears welling inside me. For the first time since I was eight or nine years old, the waterworks started and I could do nothing to stop them.
The old scarecrow in the bed was unmoved. “Never say you’re sorry,” he said, “even when you mean it. Now get out of here and leave me alone—and whatever you do, don’t tell your mother you were here.”
When I got home the next day, there was a new message. “Gary, it’s Mother. I called to tell you your father died in the night. I hope you’re proud of yourself. Why couldn’t you do as I asked just this one time? I’m through with you. Don’t ever expect me to call again.”