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Literary Issue: Sins of the Father

by Shauna Brock

“And God spoke unto Abraham …” came a voice once booming and angry but now seeming tired and resigned to the world his god had placed before him. “Offer up to me your only son. I wonder what he would have done, Abraham that is, if he’d had to offer up both.” Reverend Thomas Gadling stood in the doorway, an actor in the proscenium arch. The show was almost over for the good preacher, Marc realized. His hair, once as black as Marc’s, was white and brittle. His eyes, once fiery with passion, were a dull green, almost gray. His skin held the hue of the old – pale even under the olive complexion that father and son shared. Marc saw his father and, for a moment, saw a future he would never have. He would never be as old as his father was now. “Or should I be quoting from the passage of the prodigal son? Only, you see, my sons return more than once and they keep coming back and they keep leaving. They don’t know what they want.” The Reverend paused, scrutinizing his son with eyes that could still reduce Marc to fear. “What is it you want, boy?” Marc found himself unable to speak. The Reverend changed the subject. “How is my grandson?”

“He’s good.”

“Good.” The word was soft. “Good.” Slowly, moving as if arthritis and age had finally caught up to him, Reverend Gadling took slow steps toward the couch and settled onto it.

For his part, Marc stared at the black and white image of his parents on their wedding day. Bile rose in his throat as he stared at the image of the father he held in such disregard and the woman he still worshipped. “You still have this up. Even after all these years.”

“Despite what you and your brother might think, I loved your mother. I still do. I cherish her memory and no, if you are curious, I don’t think God gave her cancer as punishment for her sins.”

“Why did you tell us that he did?”

“Because I was an angry man, Marc. My world was being taken from me and I had no idea how to raise two boys on my own. Because I am a sinner.”

Marc swallowed his anger. Did he think he could so easily ignore all the years of hate heaped upon his two sons? Did he think with a simple admission of something that all Christians were supposed to believe that Marc would suddenly forgive him and kneel at his feet, begging his own forgiveness for sins wrought upon the Gadling name? What would happen now? Now, when he revealed his own illness, would his father lash out in anger and say that he deserved this? “You?”
“Don’t act surprised, Marc. You know what a sinner I am.”

Marc didn’t bother to conceal his sudden flash of anger. “Does that mean you’re sorry for what you’ve said? What you’ve done? What I know you’re going to say in the future?”

“No.”

The single, bold statement hung in the air between the two men. Marc stared at him for a long moment. “Well, at least I can give you points for honesty.”

“Marc …” his father sighed and took a long, slow sip of the drink in his hand. “I can’t expect you to understand.”

“I understand that I am your son.”

“I can’t expect you to understand where I’m coming from. And I can’t try to understand you.” Reverend Gadling repeated. “I don’t even want to. You’re a grown man and you don’t need to come crawling back to your daddy for love.” A long sigh escaped the man on the couch. “Marc, sit down. I’m tired of looking up at you. Say what it is you’re going to say.”

Marc moved to sit opposite his father. He stared for a long time at the silver rim of the coke can before taking a breath and looking up. “Dad, I’m sick.” The words just came out. No pretense, no hedging. It wasn’t worth it to draw it out, to make either of them wait.

Slowly, Reverend Gadling sat forward. “Sick. What do you mean, sick?”

“I have AIDS.”

For a long moment, Reverend Gadling closed his eyes, breathing in and out. Once. Twice. Three times. Marc waited. Wondering. Watching. He recited prayers in his head. One Hail Mary. Three Our Fathers. Finally, Thomas spoke. “No son of mine …”

“Yes. Your son.” Marc stared at his father. “I’m sick, Dad.”

“I see. So it’s true then. That this thing, this HIV, this AIDS, it’s meant only for you gays?”

“No, Dad. No. I just got it because at some point in the last few years I was stupid.”

“How did this happen?”

“I don’t know, Dad.”

“Drug use?”

“I’m clean, Dad. I’ve been clean for years. But I wanted you to know about this before the story broke.”

“At least you gave me that dignity.”

“What about my dignity, Dad?”

“What about it, Marc? Answer that honestly. What about it? What about those years you spent in a near coma from your drug addiction and your drinking? What about that time you spent running around, half out of your head? The groupies and the gossip? What about your son, Marc? Have you no dignity left to give to him? What legacy are your sins going to leave him with?”
Marc was struck by the lack of anger in his father’s voice. There was only solemnity, a resignation. “I have what I have, Dad. And sometimes, it’s all that I’ve got. I’m not proud of a lot of things I’ve done in my life, but it’s my life. I’ve made my choices.”

“What about Luke, Marc.”

Again, he avoided the question. “Dad, I could live a long time.”

“And you could be hit by a bus tomorrow. What about Luke? You just fought a custody battle. You just gave him a sense of stability but now you are giving him a father who is going to die! Is that fair to him?”

“Living with me while he watches me die is still a better life than sticking him with his mother.”

“Do you truly believe that?”

“I do!”

“What about Luke, Marc?” Came the question a third time. “Who gets him when you die? What about Luke?”

The repetition of the question was not lost on Marc. He sighed and dropped his head, wondering if the carpet would give him the answers he needed. “I’ve already broken his heart, Dad. What more can I do to him?”

“You can die on him.” The words stayed in the air, floating between the two men with a truth neither wanted to formally acknowledge. Marc’s eyes drifted back to the wedding portrait on the piano. Had he ever recovered from his mother’s death? “You know what that is going to do to him.” His father’s words were tight; forced. Suddenly Marc wondered if his father had ever recovered from his mother’s death.

Dropping his head under the weight of the realization, Marc felt his body tremble. “I know.” But his father’s next words stunned him more than anything else his father had ever said.

“You never recovered from your mother’s death. Do you think Luke is going to recover from watching you die?”

The quiet acknowledgment broke a hole through Marc’s last wall. “Dad …”

Reverend Gadling sighed and sat up, matching his son’s pose. He stared long and hard at the amber liquid in his glass before raising it to his lips and finishing off the drink in one swallow. “No son of mine,” he repeated, his voice suddenly thick. “A father should never outlive his son. I only hope I die before you do. Even with this plague God has granted you, I hope I die before you. A father should never outlive his son.” Marc stared at him, dumbfounded. “No matter what you think of me, Marc, I love you. I always have. I hate your life. I hate what you have become. I hate that the devil has a hold of your soul. But you are my son and I’ll be damned before I outlive you. I’ll be damned if the devil drags your soul to hell.”

“You can’t control that, Dad.” Marc choked on the words, more from realizing that now he had something in common with his father more than the overwhelming emotion he felt in this moment. “You can’t control if I get hit by a bus tomorrow.”

“You’re going to get better, Marc.”

“There’s no cure for this, Dad. Not yet.”

“I’m not watching you die.”

“You might not have a choice, Dad.”

“I know.” He sighed and moved back to the couch. “Talk to me, Marc. About anything but this.”

Sins of the Father is an excerpt from Shadows in the Spotlight (as yet unpublished.)

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