Today as I write this is Father’s Day. Lucius was never paternal toward me. That worked out for both of us. I had a father the first nine years I knew Lucius, an attentive, compassionate one, a psychiatric social worker, a marathon runner, an expert fly fisherman; he took me camping as a kid, never missed an important date; we practiced Spanish and traveled the Yucatan together. I didn’t lack for fathering. At first opportunity, Lucius told me how his own father tried to shape him into a writer and would beat him when he failed to recite Shakespeare correctly.
Not long after Clarion West, I picked Lucius up late for a movie. We still had plenty of time, but he hated to cut it close. He lectured me about this, and I said, “Sure, Dad. Whatever.” He grew perilously quiet then, and said, “Let’s make a deal. You don’t call me ‘Dad,’ and I don’t call you ‘annoying little f–.’ ”
I held up my end of the deal.
By December 31, I’d told my wife stories of how prickly Lucius could be. When the day arrived, gray but not cold, she dropped me off on the street. She’d arranged to fly to Mesa, Arizona, and visit her parents, who’d gone down there from Minnesota for the holidays; it was possible we’d cross paths.
She gave me a hug, and with a wry grin, she said, “Have fun driving Mr. Daisy.” I still laugh thinking about it. Neither of us had actually seen Driving Miss Daisy, but everyone had seen the trailer and old Jessica Tandy acting fussy. It was the kind of pithy shot Lucius might take, and would have made him smile over gritted teeth.
I hefted my bag. The door at the ground-level entry was unlocked, and inside was the narrow wooden staircase. Painted in white enamel, chipped and flaking, it led to a cluttered landing. l stepped around an exercise bike and an open box of Kalimantan author copies, a white tiger snarling from each cover. I’d noticed them during a previous visit. They wouldn’t move for years to come.
The interior door was open, but I knocked. Lucius made a gruff acknowledgment. I found him stooped in front of the main picture window, cramming wadded shirts into a duffel bag. A thin young guy stood off to the side. I didn’t immediately see the resemblance. I remembered how that summer a woman literary agent at Greg and Astrid’s house, ingratiating herself, had commented on Gullivar’s handsomeness; Lucius had acknowledged the “tall Shepard forehead.” Yeah, they shared that feature. Having recently seen pictures of Lucius in his own slender youth, it’s clear how similar they were, but it wasn’t Lucius’ beard and girth that threw me off. The difference was attitude. Gullivar struck me as contained. Lucius couldn’t keep track of himself. He’d obliviously drop money or receipts trying to cram them into his pockets; he’d casually share embarrassing personal anecdotes. Without fiction to revisit and redact, to center and order his wounds and passions, he might have fragmented like a camp of restless bats.
Still fighting the luggage, he nodded. “Hey…. This is Bob. Bob, Gullivar.” We shook hands over the dusty coffee table and then took interest in the scenery while Lucius stalked back and forth from his nearby den. My gaze ranged over old pizza boxes and a shelf holding a still-untouched bottle of Jack Daniels I’d given Lucius months before. A devil hand puppet stood on the TV set. There was a plaque at its base. Oh, yeah, it was covering his Hugo award.
Our ride to the airport showed up. Gullivar and I brought luggage downstairs. Lucius sent us back for a pillow. I lingered to make sure nothing had been left behind amid the wrack of DVDs, books, and old pizza boxes that littered the floor and spilled off the coffee table.
Minutes later we were on our way to Seatac to pick up the rental, and already, completely unaware, I’d seriously messed up.