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What Does the Wise Son Say?

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Of course, he tests positive. As in, he gets a P, the word that symbolizes optimism, in the form of blue ink on white paper, along with that look Charlotte gets when a life crumbles in front of her, and so her face must crumble too. His hands are shaking, jerking, more like, as if the air is a boiling hot surface Marvin had laid his palms against, and he can't help but contemplate how as he returned to his apartment last night he hung his coat on Whizzer's stupid coat rack, and how Whizzer is a dickhead, a complete asshole who cheated and left and returned and fucking died and fucking left Marvin with his tombstone and his bones and his virus, and Marvin should have thrown the coat on the fucking floor. 

"Well," he says. His voice is dry, because his throat is dry, and he absently remembers days of fetching Whizzer ice chips, how his skin was hot and clammy but his lips were cool, and Marvin refused to ever stop kissing him. "I guess this is romantic, in a way."

Charlotte is not amused by him, but he thinks that perhaps Cordelia will be. She was always one for dark humor. "Marvin, I swear to God –" she starts, and Marvin is tired already. When whizzer begun the long process of wilting, Marvin thought mostly about himself. Ways with which to feel his pain, ways with which to yield it, ways with which to hide it but not so much so that Whizzer would feel unloved. It's wasn't until Trina grabbed is hand one night, and told him, voice tight, that Jason had been praying, that he finally managed to – stop, just stop. What kind of father, he had wondered, could find solace in the thought: "At least I still have my kid," but not put much thought into the kid and his feelings at all. So Marvin is a parent, and Marvin will yield his kid's grief the best he knows how. But he will not touch anyone else's. Charlotte still had a lover, after all, still came home to the smell of weird, unappealing cooking and a person willing to smile at her and kiss her and hold her and love her. She can find her comfort there.

"Don't yell at me," he tells her. "I'm sick."

Charlotte is actually losing it. "You're morbid, is what you are. Christ, Whizzer –"

"I'm Jewish." He reminds her, and remembers, briefly, sinking into the couch in Mendel's office, telling him he's the reason his son had learned the word snide. "And my name is Marvin."

She startles at that, raising her hand to her mouth. He thinks, briefly, about how all her friends will eventually perish under her scalpel. His Rabbi, when he was still willing to speak with a Rabbi, before he turned to speak with Mendel, who seemed to have liked Marvin better at the time, had tried to tell him, when both of Marvin's grandfathers raced each other to side by side death beds, that you are not allowed to interfere with dying men. Marvin, a sinner in the eyes of God and a cynic in the eyes of his girlfriend, was a mild supporter of Euthanasia, and was not impressed with the way every last painful second of a shell of a man mattered in the eyes of God, since it meant very little to him. They weren't talking. Watching them breath was akin to watching torture being inflicted. Twenty years later, he'd have given any part of his life for ten more minutes of Whizzer's, in pain and without his dignity and without his abs and smile and some of his hair, but it still feels as if he's missing the point (he was never a good Jew. The knowledge that he had a good Jewish family used to be enough for him. That was the point, wasn't it?). Right now though, he mostly thinks that this is the sum of Charlotte's work, being the giver or taker of people's last weeks on earth, last days, last minutes. That it's probably the worst job in the world.

"Hey," he starts, and he wishes his voice could be soft, but his lover is dead and every act of affection reminds Marvin of him, and so he avoids soft, if he can, "at least we caught it early, right?" he tells her, "that has to give us some advantage here."    

When she looks at him, it's mostly with pity, and Marvin wishes, for a moment, to be plugged to a machine, so that he could reach out his hand and cut it off – fluids, oxygen, the beeping. "Marvin, I really don't know."

She's choking on something – defeat, probably, and he's not sure to tell her that it is better – seeing disease coming, that is, that it's better not to be caught unprepared and unaware and unassuming and happy, that in his mind, death can only win if you're surprised. He can only win if it hurts.

"Does Trina have anything to worry about?"

"Probably not, but better get tested anyway." Charlotte informs him.

"Fantastic." He sighs, raises his hand to run at his temples. His son was going to hate him for this one.

*

Charlotte's gift to Marvin was the word AIDS, for which Marvin was grateful. It gave him the choice of announcing, my lover died of AIDS, it gave him the choice of thinking, my lover died, period. Even with an empty bed and a tombstone, Whizzer's decay still seems like a bad dream, one where you slowly die into sleep, but not into actual literal death, as if Whizzer will soon wake up and realize he dreamt of fever and rash and wounds and pain because he accidently pressed his nose and mouth into the pillow. As if Whizzer will soon wake up.

It gives him the choice of announcing to Trina, I'm dying of AIDS, instead of simply: I seem to be dying, darling, and there is a slight chance that you are, too, and so it allows Trina the choice of placing blame, of praying, of knowing exactly what bullet she dodged.

She cries when he tells her, he knew she would, that's why he told her. That's why he ever told Trina anything. They were both martyrs, two miserable Jews nailing themselves (but not each other) to a cross, wondering why nobody will come for them. Her tears were better than her hugs, and Marvin used to search for them, to aim for them, thought that a person mourning for the pointlessness of his life was the best that can be achieved right until the point Whizzer agreed to use him for both money and sex.

She's clean, and so Marvin did not kill Jason's mother, did not kill Jason's psychiatrist, did not kill Jason's life, except this point might be moot, in the grand scheme of the blame placed on Marvin's shoulders, in the grand scheme of causing death by negligence. He could kill Whizzer, really, except Whizzer killed him first.  

This is how it goes: "I can't believe you're going to die," says his ex-wife.

"Will you miss me?" asks her ex-husband, who is an asshole, who doesn't really deserve her tears anymore.

"Go to hell, Marvin," replies the ex-wife, before she's taken over by a hiccup who turns into a sob and once again she's crying, crying, crying, pointlessly, since the person Marvin would have wanted crying over him is gone already, since she is more hysteric than sad, and hysteria passes, replaced by routine, replaced by Marvin's psychiatrist and his one-liners, replaced.

"We'll see how my death goes, huh?" the ex-husband tells her, rubbing circles into her left shoulder, even though he doesn't deserve to touch her anymore. He doesn't know how to tell her how relieved he is, how there is blood running up and down his family tree now, except it doesn’t do what blood is supposed to be doing, that he still feels as if their intertwined sometimes, that in his hold on her he can pass her on a headache or an STD or a cold. That he is terrified of waking up one morning and realize that Whizzer is something to be regretted instead of missed, and that he won't be up to the task. He just misses him, just feel that as any other form of pain, it must eventually be resolved, but it isn't, and it won't, and it will outlast Marvin, or so it would seem. When Whizzer pushes, Marvin pulls, and pulls, and pulls.

When Marvin was Fourteen, one year post an underwhelming Bar-Mitzva which did not mature him, per se, but had turned him erratic, dissatisfied with life and its unfulfilled promises of spiritualism and togetherness, his parents had taken him to Israel, for a Bat-Mitzva of a cousin that Marvin didn't know and did not care about. It was in the Western Wall, that had reduced Marvin's father to tears and Marvin himself to stress, that he remembers feeling like a fraud, walking backwards as he was pulling away, his face toward the wall, able to deposit his note beneath the stones as if it was a birthday wish but unable to pray, and he was a Jew but he did not excel in it, and will the men dressed in black moving back and forth as if in trance will be able to tell, will he be cast out as if he was that moron who arrived wearing a tank top? Marvin's dissatisfaction, cultivated in the span of years and held dear to his heart, was rooted in a strong, helpless feeling that nothing was right even though everything that Marvin has done was, in fact, the right thing. He then got hyperthermia for no fault of his own (except he did not drink or eat or wear a hat, and spent the entirety of his time underneath a sun that had burned brighter than it ever did in the East Coast). In the slow walk to the hotel, as Marvin was contemplating death, his aunt had outrageously chosen to pat him on the back of his head, and say: "There, there. It will pass until your wedding, dear." When Marvin seemed confused, she explained: "It's an expression we have." She then repeated it in Hebrew, and like the power of a foreign language only heard before during the act of prayer, it had seemed like a spell, and maybe that was what he had wanted from the Wall. He had wanted it to work.

In present day, raising his eyes to rest on Trina's face, Trina who had stopped crying and is now calculating, in all likelihood, how will her son react to the news, and what could she do to help him, and will they need to move, and will they need to catch amnesia and forget Marvin, and is it easier to just die, maybe, everyone else is doing it. The concept of a future wedding cannot cure homosexuality just like it cannot cure pregnancy just like it could not cure his hang over, the day after the wedding, and the day after that. Families present a set of rules and conditions just the way God does, and so Marvin is unhappy, and so Marvin says screw it, and screws over his wife, and screws Whizzer. He sees a psychiatrist who sees Marvin's agnosticism and raises it with an atheism of his own, in which he believes so completely, it was just plain annoying, who reacted to Marvin's queerness with a raised eyebrow and a: and how do you feel about that? Marvin had felt like shit, and Mendel had told him to stop. Mendel had given him permission to stop. Marvin didn’t, but he liked having the possibility.

As Marvin leaves, Trina his already with a phone in hand, in the process of calling her husband.

Marvin drives through the city, picks up some flowers – not roses, he's tired of roses – and throws them at Whizzer's grave. He then apologizes. He then sits there for two hours, thinking of nothing, wondering if anyone will do that for him.  

*

They have a family dinner on Friday nights, because Marvin's lover is dead and Marvin should not be alone, even though it was just fine by everyone when Marvin's lover was simply a dick, and was therefore separated from him for two straight years. Marvin is fine with it, a little because he'd missed Trina's cooking, mostly because he misses his son constantly but can't be constantly with him, and Marvin feels as if someone had turned an hour glass on him. He's short of time, short of breath, short sighted, ands short of coming clean to his son, there is really nothing he can do to even begin to fix any of that. President Reagan does not acknowledge a plague, Mendel does not acknowledge president Reagan, and Marvin does not acknowledge anything but his son, who is bored, who will be bored on the weekend as well, who will be forever bored until he meets a Whizzer and then he will be mad and then he will be the other sort of mad and then he will be happy and then he will die. Jason is a spoiled brat who likes to think that he's a victim, who failed to understand that the saying 'too smart for his own good' means, in fact, too smart for the good of other people, but these days, if Marvin could surround Jason in nothing but privilege, he would have. He would have done anything.

It's on one of those dinner when Jason asks: "Is having dad here a Mitzva?" making Trina choke on her drink.

"Jason!" she reproaches him, and Marvin can't help but laugh, helplessly, in a certain kind of despair reserved for the lonely and ill, for widows and orphans left alone in the world.

"You're my son," he tells Jason evenly, "you don't get to score points off me."

And Jason says, while vigorously chewing his chicken, "Are you dying?" he asks, suddenly. "Because if my father is dying, I get to do what I want now." And so once again, Trina chokes on her wine. And Marvin pales, and Mendel sighs, buries his head briefly in the palms of his hand, as if saying: what did you guys expect?

"Jason," he says, and he hates how soft his voice has become, as if this is the tone with which he will have to use until there is no use for communication any longer. "Where did you get that idea?"

Jason shakes his head, chewing at his lower lips. He reaches his hand forward, until he receives, from his mother, a glass of orange juice. "The news says that this is a disease for homosexuals, and you are one." He says, evenly.

"It actually is not –" Mendel begins, but Jason cuts him off.

"The news says it passes between people through the act of sexual intercourse." 

"That's not the only way – " Mendel once again begins, and is once again caught off.

"Whizzer had it," Jason concludes, "and so Charlotte will eventually force you to get tested, but if you haven't yet, if you are not just hiding this from me because you don't know how to tell me because you think I'm going to be angry with you, then go and get tested, dad." He finishes with a deep, shaky breath, that he doesn't quite manages to drown by taking a large sip of his orange juice. "This isn't my responsibility, you know. Taking you to see a Doctor." Another deep breath, and he almost chokes on the juice. "It's the other way around."

Marvin does not have any air left in him, does not have anything left in him, for a moment like this. Months later, Jason will ask Marvin whether he was scared, and Marvin will answer: What do I have to be scared about? What good is a father who is scared? Jason will consider this. He will tilt his head to the side and pull at the sims of his sweater and say: well, you were always sorta scared, and then he would laugh. 

He's not laughing now, though. He's angry now. There is blood running up and down Marvin's family tree, ill blood, and so he must begin the process of cutting branches off. "I'm not dead yet," he says instead, slowly, since the thought of Jason being scared for him seems, at that moment, like the greatest failure he ever achieved as a parent, "And I will do my best not to – die, that is. For a very long time." It's 1983. He had survived two years already. He's not sure how, or why. He knows that unawareness is the key, making promises that he can't keep is the key, walking around like a ticking time bomb with the Sign of Cain in his blood stream. He does not feel sick at all. It does not feel like he is lying,

Jason examines him. "Some scientists are looking for a cure." He tells Marvin seriously. "You could live until then, maybe."

 "I could," agrees Marvin. Mendel kicks him under the table. He feels hollow, empty of bones and vanes and meat, empty of words that could be said to his son, who is fourteen and a half and is awlays too tall for his jeans, who would have saved him if he could. "Jason," he settles, "Jason, could I get a hug, maybe?"

Jason stares at his plate, and Marvin imagines him raising a stubborn eyebrow and saying: "Not now dad, I'm eating." But he pushes his chair back instead, and then he kneels on his knees and wraps his arms around Marvin's chest, and Marvin's shirt is wet, and Marvin doesn't know how to tell him that he didn't mean to choose a way that will make him leave: experimenting with homosexuality, experimenting with dying, then leaving,

Mendel is holding Trina's hand, and she is crying too. Jason doesn't let him go for a while.

*

Later, as Jason is off somewhere, having scheduled a meeting with some friends and some girl, and not having the heart to reschedule on the girl, (who is not even Jewish, even your father's gay lover was Jewish, Jason, Trina informs him, surely you could reschedule a meeting with a girl who is not even Jewish. Jason, in response, mutters: Half Jewish. Whizzer was half Jewish. Trina is unimpressed.) they sit and discuss matters like grown up. That is, they sit, and Mendel is telling him that they handled everything wrong, while Trina is not listening and Marvin listens, and recognizes that he is right, and selects to ignore him anyway. In many way, it's as if he's in therapy all over again.

"Mendel," he tells him evenly, with all the confident of a person who has no one to disappoint or impress among the people currently present, "Could you perhaps wait until after I die to start planning the reeducation process of my child, so that I don't have to hear about it or see how it goes terribly wrong?"

Whizzer, sitting next to Marvin, arm draped across in thigh, would have said: "Might be too late by then," but Whizzer is gone, and Marvin shouldn't be aiming his insults meant for Whizzer's his league anymore, assuming the people around him could deal.

Mendel seems – guilty, and stunned, and Trina gasps, and they both mutter denial that is meaningless to him, and now he is mostly thinking about Whizzer, who usually meant to hurt Marvin but did not mean to hurt Jason, ever. Who was not the Fun Parent per se, but the calm one. Whizzer, who had welcomed drama and was known for expecting all sort of things from Marvin, could love the kid without having to depend on him, could interact with him without the crushing knowledge that if Jason is a stupid, uneducated, unhappy mess, then he had failed at everything in life, that if Jason doesn't love him, then he had failed at everything in life, that if Jason leaves him –

Whizzer could afford his calmness. Mendel can probably afford it too, wouldn't be able to handle the other option, either way. When he is gone, Marvin will leave the title of fatherhood to Trina, who can take the responsibility, who knows who Marvin is, who will raise Jason using the bruises and cracks Marvin had left on her personality, who will make sure that Jason remembers him. That Marvin is not, in terms of his son's creation, a Big Bang, an explosion of sort, rather than parent. "You are going to see my son grow up," he tells Mendel, he tells Trina, he tells Whizzer, then takes it back. "Could you show some humility, maybe."

And in time, Trina will twist her face and say: "The world doesn't stop just because you're on hold for dying, Marvin," and then she will once again gasp, and apologize, but will not cancel their trip to Prague, a trip that will not include Marvin but will include Marvin's son. But for now, facing the horrors of Marvin's life and feeling, in Trina's case, as if she was saved due to her fleeing a sinking ship, rather than Marvin simply pushing her over, they leave him be. They turn the TV on, and they watch baseball. And Marvin is thinking about Whizzer, helplessly, uselessly, the way he always had. He hates Baseball, the way he always had.  It'll do.   

*

Time is useless to him. Charlotte is working around the clock, and Cordelia is working, sort of, and Mendel offers to hung out because it's not as if they have other friends, and Marvin, who has his quality time at his home, who he had, at the time, allowed Whizzer to pick out of three apartments offered to him, sitting at a couch that Whizzer had picked, wearing a t-shirt that Whizzer had bought him, feeling small and lonely and unable to care for himself, and said no, and then had said yes.

Of all things, they sit and talk over coffee. As if them having a long conversation about life is a desired outcome.

When Mendel starts with, "So how are you holding up?" Marvin is tempted to leave, but is also looking forward to his coffee, and so he stays.

"Fine." He answers curtly. "Do you always take your worst patients out into the world and supplies them with caffeinated beverages?" he asks.

Mendel snorts. "Don't be self-centered, Marvin, you were not my worst patient. You are not even top ten."

"Oh, don't say that, you'll break Whizzer's heart." He replies, then catch himself, then doesn't take it back.

Mendel raises an eyebrow, but does not comment. Efforts of encouraging Marvin to move on and have a life were abandoned along with Marvin's diagnosis. These days, he's allowed to grieve in relative peace.    

Mendel rolls his eyes.

"Oh, come on," Marvin persist, "is it really fair to place me below the rest just because of your prejudice towards republicans –"

"I have prejudice towards them? Me?" he is speaking loudly, now, and really, what was Marvin thinking, taking this man outside, this man who yells inspirational speeches at Marvin's son in Baseball games as if the game is of consequence, as if there is need for emotion there. "You should talk! Do you know what they say about you?" he throws that next to Marvin's feet, and then seems to lean ever-so-slightly away, as if trying to asses which line he had crossed, how dangerous it is on the other side. 

Marvin bares his teeth in something resembling a smile. "Me?" he asks, "What do they have to say about me?"

Mendel sputters. "Oh, you know what – you know what they say about you, about people like you… That are also sick…"

Marvin raises an eyebrow. "Not all republican are anti-Semitic, you know."

"Oh, for Christ sake."

"See, now my Jewish soul feels under attack."

"Shut up, Marvin. You know what they do to you. You know that Reagan is letting you die, and that everyone allows him to do it. You know."

Marvin does know. Marvin knows that he feels a kindship to Cordelia and Charlotte, because Cordelia is not allowed back home, and if Charlotte will be out at work, she'll be cast out. He knows that Whizzer had considered himself a part of a community, a group that wasn't ethnic, that shared oppression instead of genes. He had met Whizzer at one of those bars. But that seemed suffocating the way his commitment to Whizzer never had. Conceding a life-style, conceding the sham of his marriage, declaring eleven years a mistake embodied by a child who's smarter than Marvin is and better than Marvin is, declaring that a family was not a goal worth perusing, declaring –

Well, he's being unfair. He was not asked to declare anything. But the assumptions had bothered him. He used to like the presumptions accompanied with being a Jew, with his fat bank account and crooked nose, not the presumption of sliminess but the promise of power, the assumption that he was well connected, and cunning, and a part of something bigger than himself, a community that had its own line to God. Marvin had valued his community, had valued his family, and the thought of being buried as a part of something else, being shunned to another part of the cemetery, angered him. It was probably his fault, not being able to fit his pink triangle upon his Star of David. Whizzer had no problem doing that, Whizzer didn’t give a shit, but his wife did not visit the Jewish center with her kid, who needed their Rabbi to attend his Bar-Mitzva. He was free to be a radical (which he wasn't, really), he was free to make changes.

"When he – " Marvin starts, then stops. "When I will…" he stops again. It's pathetic. "When those men die, they call them bachelors. As if it's some clever code."

Mendel, at once, seems interested. "As if they were alone."

"Yes." As if they arrived alone, and suffered alone, and died alone. "As if Whizzer did not die surrounded by people who loved him, as if I wasn't even there, as if I don't have a son who is smarter the God and an ex-wife who's still willing to put up with me and good friends who are like family – just, bachelors. Homosexuals and drug addicts." It doesn't suite him, that anger, that all-encompassing rage at the world. Marvin's pain is caused by injustice done to him by people.

Mendel is staring at Marvin as if he had made a tremendous break through. It almost makes Marvin want to take everything back. "You want the world to know that you were loved." He interprets quietly.

"Well, yes, that's what I said." Bachelors do not die the way Marvin eventually will, like Romeo and Juliet, trading poison with spit, following each other to early grave.

Mendel shakes his head. "What's happening to you is shit, Marvin. You deserve to be happy." A pause. "I say that as a friend."

Marvin's smile is thin. "You said that when I paid you."

"You deserved to be happy then, too."

"Really?"

"Wasn't all you deserved."

Marvin laughs, then. Because in retrospect, it is funny. Because when Marvin had confessed to Mendel his queerness, Mendel did not bat an eyelash. Mendel had asked questions. Mendel had encouraged him to explore. Mendel had used phrases like Heteronormativity and took messy notes on his writing pad and was not impressed by Trina and her meekness and her coldness and the specific way in which she combined the two. He wasn't on Marvin's side, per se. But he did manage to see it. Sixty minutes with Trina, and Marvin's side was eclipsed by Trina's tears. But whatever. Marvin can recognize that any defense he had at the time was circumstantial at best.

"Well," he eventually says, "you did ask if he would kill me."

"You did say yes."

After that, they speak about Jason's prospects for college. Jason, who is fourteen years old. It's comforting in ways Marvin cannot explain.

*   

He thinks about how close together Jason's birthday and Whizzer's death were, are, and how, if asked, his son would simply go to the graveyard with him and stare at Whizzer's tombstone and will quietly recognize, along with Marvin, how the world had stopped. How it is simply not moving anymore, and what use is Marvin's dying if the world is still, and what use is there to anything, except for his son, who is next to him, who can see how frozen life is. But Marvin does not ask, because that would be rotten, and they go to a ball game instead. Their team loses. Marvin humbly carries the blame of teaching his son to cheer for lousy teams, and they go and eat steak, and Jason asks to take a sip of Marvin's beer, which Marvin orders only so that Jason could ask. He watches his son blowing out his birthday candles which said son had specifically asked Trina to skip, and wishes that when he dies, it'll be Jason's life that he sees. His graduation, his other graduation, his wedding, his kids. If he could, he would feel every second of his remaining life with his son, hoping it'll push time forward, hoping he'll get to see it all. But that would also be rotten.   

When Trina finds him, Marvin in wound up too tight. Trina would not allow him to cut the cake, would not let him near anything that could cut, would not let him spill any blood in a house that was built on his blood, and money, and brain. Marvin, in the name of peace, does not tell her he could probably bleed to death by cutting himself of the sharp edge of her voice, on the sharp edge of her nails and her elbows.

"Soul is looking for you," she informs him.

He rolls his eyes at her. "He is not."

Trina's smile is smug. "Oh, but he is. He wants financial advice."  She reaches her hand to tuck a stray strand of hair behind her ear, and Marvin thinks about how she never had to dye it until Jason had turned five and started having existential tantrums, and feels a sudden urge to apologize. "Divorced for four years, and I'm still the one always sent to fetch you." Her smile is tight, her mouth quiver. Marvin, at this point in his life, knows that he must be a dick, being this… not bored, exactly, but unmoved, by her.

"Old habits die hard," he tells her absently. The first time Whizzer tried to cook in Trina's kitchen, he had burned rice in one of her stainless-steel pots, and Trina took one look at it, one look at Whizzer, turned off the gas, took that pot and threw it in the trash. She told Whizzer to go sit in the living room with the rest of the men.  

"That is a theme with you," she tells him, her voice tired, and Marvin knows it could be worst, that they have not yet reached shrill.

"If you're mad at me, Trina, please do tell me why." He says, unsure of why he's starting an argument in the middle of his son's birthday party, in the midst of relatives and friends and breakable things that can be thrown.

She tilts her head to the side. "And how would that help me?"

He smiles tiredly. Whizzer had called this his accountant smile, even though Marvin is not an accountant. "I could try and fix it."

She shakes her head once, a knee jerk reaction. "You can never fix anything," she says. "Everything is always beyond you." She turns away from him, looking at where Jason is, half-way grown-up and three years away from leaving. "You try your very best and then you leave and nobody is allowed to blame you."

Marvin can only stare at her.

"Jason is angry with you and he takes it out of me, as if I'm not already in pain. He could cut himself on her voice. He's not fully with her, though. A part of thinking how the scarf he left the house with belonged to Whizzer, and how it is now carelessly hanged at the entrance, where anyone can take it. "And you could have passed it to me, I could have passed it to Mendel, if you'd have waited two years to be a cheating scum you could have killed all his parents, but he's angry with me."

He has nothing to say to that. He knows that she is grieving him. He knows that it's maddening, in her eyes, that four years down the line, he still manages to tear her life apart. He wants to tell her that her husband his alive, so she can shove it. But that sort of pain is now passé. Marvin is now fully expected to cease grieving for his dead lover and start grieving for himself. Marvin does not want to grieve for himself. He wants Whizzer to do it. He wishes he was the last thing Whizzer saw before he died.

She waits for him a few moments, then sighs. "I have to go," she informs him, "and host this party." Even though the party is hosting itself just fine,

He spots Soul near the far edge of the room, sitting on Marvin's old arm chair, and so he beelines toward the drinks table, where Mendel is standing, looking thoughtfully at his Dr. Pepper.

"My wife is angry with you," Mendel comments.

"My ex-wife is angry with me," Marvin agrees easily.

Mendel ignores him. "She's just sad."

Marvin snorts. "By all means, Doc, let's not discuss the weather."    

Mendel raises his glass at him. "Come on," he says, "Let's go sit in the yard."

They step out, and they sit on the porch swing. He can imagine both Trina and Jason cornering Mendel at the dinner table one time. "Mendel, please tell Marvin to see a psychiatrist." The look of panic on Mendel's face. Mendel does not believe in Karma, but Marvin would be a major interference in his karmatic balance, had he believed it. He'll be reborn as teeny-tiny unkosher vermin, and then he'll still find a way to follow Trina around like some sort of a moron.

"Can you believe how much the kid has grown?" Marvin asks, smiling faintly. "He's almost taller than you now. Takes after me."

Mendel struggles to find a comfortable sitting position.

"His teacher tells me he excels at math, too. Math is my thing." Technically, Chess is Marvin's thing. And screwing Trina over, and following Whizzer around like some sort of a moron. But he's left with limited options, these days. As if he loves too little and too many things at once.

Mendel shifts, crossing one leg over the other. "He always said you two were alike," Mendel tells him, voice thin. "He was afraid it means he'll grow to be a homosexual when I first met him."

Marvin blinks. He takes a deep breath. He reaches out a hand to press against his temple. "I think at this rate Trina will prefer his best friend Jeremy over that girl, what's her name –"

Mendel smirks. "Maria."

"Of course it is."

"And I'm not sure she would, Marvin, to be honest."

Marvin shrugs. "Yeah, me neither."

"You know," Mendel tells him gently, as Marvin scoffs at him, because they have been talking about condescension, weren't they? Marvin had clarified that he does not approve. "Not all queers sleep with someone and then die."

Marvin consider this. When he speaks, he does so slowly, in a voice that had caused both Trina and Whizzer to throw breakable things against the wall. "See, but I have, and I will. So I don't give a shit."

Mendel does not throw breakable things, but he does sound strained, when he next speaks. "See, that's a problem, Marvin, since your son seems to have convinced himself that if you could just survive day by day you could pretty much drag the rest of your life for all eternity and die after he does, and by encouraging this line of thinking you are not helping him deal."

"Jason is too smart for that," responds Marvin automatically. That's how both him and Trina always respond when Jason is being blamed in an action that they consider to be absurd. They are usually wrong. Then, "Stop telling me how to raise my kid."

"You didn't say that when you were practically shoving him into my office –"

"That was when I thought it'll be a professional meeting, not a pseudo-date with my ex. Who was your patient also."

"Well maybe if you hadn't sent your entire family to my office to be fixed you wouldn't be stuck with me right now, Marv. I mean God, you'd have sent Whizzer there if he'd let you."

Marvin chokes on air. "Oh, trust me, I would not. He would have crushed you."

"I'm not that short."

"I mean your soul."

"Well," Mendel slowly responds. "Did he crush yours? Is that why you're accepting death so readily?"

For a few moments, Marvin simply stares at him. Because, what the actual fuck. "I'm not accepting death. It's not an RSVP event, you idiot."

Mendel is just gazing patiently at him. "There are five stages of grief –"

"Oh my god, not this. You sound like that priest who came to Whizzer's room with cookies and offered him to repent before God."

Mendel smirks. "I bet he did."

"He told him that his boyfriend is Jewish anyway, so he can't go changing religions now. "

"Of course he did." Mendel sighs. "So about your repressed grief over your upcoming death –"

"Oh God, leave me alone."

"Look, Marv. Look at me," Mendel sounds – serious, now. Not amused, or humoring, or bored. "You know he's not waiting for you there, don't you?"

"Who's waiting for me where – what are you on about?"

Mendel examines him carefully, as if wondering if he'd miscalculated, if he should have been more cautious. He usually did. He probably had. "Whizzer, that is. There is no heaven, and he's not waiting for you there, and so there is no reason to hurry. That's what I'm saying, Marvin."

Marvin swallows his spit. "You think that I want to die?"

Mendel shakes his head. "I think that you have crossed the four stages and reached acceptance far too quickly."

"I'm not – I don't –" There is a part of him the is chased by Whizzer's ghost. Not in the real sense, he's not psychotic, but there is a part of him that can't ever forget Whizzer. He'd see a guy, and he'd think, Whizzer was handsomer. He'd see a sunset, and he'd think, Whizzer would have liked that, and, he's prettier than that, too. He'd bring an entire Macy's Store to his grave, if he thought there would be a point, buried him like they did the Pharaohs, well-loved and well equipped for the afterlife.

"I have this dream, sometimes," he admits suddenly. "Where he comes back, but I'm too old for him." He's not sure why he's telling Mendel this. Maybe because it's just shallow enough to fit him, maybe because he wants to be clean of this. He remembers, in their first session, nervous and angry and untrusting of the concept of confidentiality, telling him that he can't seem to want to have sex with his wife. How Mendel had told him: "Love isn't sex, Marvin. Accept what you can give her." How relived Marvin had been. How it had become his Mantra. How Whizzer had taken that Mantra and took it apart and took Marvin apart and took everything apart, and now the world is not moving and he never wants to sleep again. "I know he's not coming back," he clarifies, because he is too smart for this. "And I don't believe in heaven either." As an afterthought: "Or hell, or - who knows where it is we go."

Mendel shrugs. "Same place as everyone." Then, slower. "You know how in movies, people die, and you can see their soul in mint condition, all young and healthy as if death is a do over for life and not a separate thing, or as if, if we even have a soul, it is not badly damaged by the slow, agonizing process of dying, as if heaven is full of young, happy people and not of old, bruised, disfigured people, sick people, children bald from chemotherapy –" he stops. No wonder he never talks about himself, he's a psychopath.

"I don't want to not fit him anymore," he concludes, slowly, voice like gravel. "I would stop time forever, If I could." Then, because he is too smart for this, because used to be that he desired a fight, so he fights, but with whom and what for and who the fuck cares, "I haven't accepted death. I don't accept –" he takes a deep breath. "The world owes me now, I think." He finishes. "So I'm going to see my son grow up." He remembers how about a month after Whizzer's death, Trina had said something along the line of – God, you can feel his absence everywhere, still. And Marvin had said: Oh, yes. That is the giant gaping black hole in my chest, thank you for noticing. Think we could wash it away with bleach? because he was drunk, and that was what he did. Jason had laughed – that was the most disturbing thing. Something short and brittle. Mendel, in response, had offered they all sit in the dark and stare quietly at the wall and contemplate life, like good Jewish people do. Jason had turned the TV on. Trina left the room.

"That's hard, Marvin." He swallows. "Gosh, that's –" 

That's when the back door opens and Jason steps out to meet them, steps wide, coming to a stop on front of Marvin. "Are you allowed to break up with a person on their birthday?" he asks.

Mendel makes a noise.

"I'm sorry?" Marvin says, meekly.

"Maria just broke up with me," he declares, and Marvin is taken aback, "It's my birthday. Is she even allowed to do that?" He appears to be outraged by the injustice of it all, the injustice of a girl wrecking his birthday, the injustice of a girl, that unlike is mother, is capable of leaving him to his own devices.

"Well," Marv in answers slowly. "There is no law –"

"I'm sorry to hear that, Jason. How are you feeling?" Mendel cuts him off.

Jason is looking between them, brow scrunched up. Then he turns to Marvin, "But there should be a law. There is, in fact, a law. It's a social law. It's unethical, what she did. You know, like that time you left me and mom in that restaurant and we later discovered that it was because Whizzer paged you he was actually free that evening –"

"What were her reasons for breaking up you, kid?" he cuts him off, voice flat.

Jason's shoulders slump. "I didn't ask." He admits. "I started shouting. Then  she just left."

Mendel sighs. "Oh, Jason."

"No offence," Jason says, eyes flicking briefly to Mendel, "but I feel as if my dad is the better options between the two of you on the matter of fighting with girls." A pause. "Or just people."

"Thanks, kids." Marvin says dryly.

"Less judgy, too."

"Yup, great. Thanks." 

And so Mendel leaves to get himself a drink, and Marvin allows his world to revolve around his son and his weird break up and his weird t-shirt for a while.

Trina hugs him before he leaves, palm digging sharply into his back, her breath loud near his ear, her perfume a different brand than he remembers. She doesn’t say sorry, and neither does he. He trips on the stupid dog on the way out. 

*

He dreams of Whizzer lying in bed next to him, his chest pressed to Marvin's back. One of his arms is hugging Marvin's chest, the other surrounds Marvin's shoulder, palm resting against Marvin's neck. "I thought we agreed after the Hepatitis that you'll be more careful, darling." He drawls.

He can feel Whizzer shrugs. "You dumped me, dear."

"Oh, like letting you stay would have changed anything." He often wonders, if it actually would have. Could have. If there was any way to take a different path together, not apart.

Whizzer snorts. "Petty."

"That's me." And then, "Say you're sorry, at least."

Whizzer buries his nose in Marvin's shoulder, his palm running up from Marvin's collar bone to his chin and back again. "You wanted me to love you." His breath is tickling Marvin's skin, and when he'll wake, he'll be amazed at how real it had felt. "You wanted to grow old and decay slowly and die with me." Then, softly. "How did that work out for you?"

"That's not nice."

"Death's not nice."

And Marvin would have said: "Stay." But he's too smart for that.

He wakes up shivering.

 *

Jason beats him at chess. It's not an insult, exactly. Jason would beat God at chess, probably, too stubborn to let him win even though it's probably wiser. Marvin, like God, is not a common subject of Jason's rare fits of mercy, and Marvin is not as upset as he thought he would be. For a start, Jason only wins some of the time, has now reached to Marvin's level, to Marvin's height, Marvin's uneven facial hair and lower range of voice and eating habits. Credit is where credit is due, and Marvin is certainly taking credit, for both nature and nurture, for both Jason's brain and Jason's thoughts. When Whizzer first saw Jason, he had said: "It's as if someone has shrunk you in laundry." Marvin had smiled, then, pleased, and so Whizzer added: "It's funny because you always shrink your clothes, Marv." And Marvin had scowled, but he feels shrunk, right now. A limb shorter, a person shorter, if there is a Whizzer shaped hole in his life and Marvin was always smaller, then what is left of him now? What is the use of a father that can't even beat his son at chess?

It's on a Saturday morning, just as Marvin loses his queen, that Jason says:  "I celebrated," Jason informs him. "My birthday, that is."

"You did," Marvin agrees. "I was there."

"It was fun," Jason tells him.

Marvin raises an eyebrow. "You were dumped. How could it have been fun?"

Jason's smile is a private one. "We made up afterwards."

"Oh, God." You grow up. You act like an idiot. You're then punished by watching your son, who was one of your mistakes, repeat all your mistakes. Or you might die from an STD before that. One can never tell, these days. "Don't get her pre –"

"- gnant. Mom already said." A pause. "And I'm not having sex. Nor would I tell you if I was." His hands are balled into fists. Marvin feels old. He would have stayed young for Whizzer's sake, but is there any point of that now? He feels old, and sick in the head, going to sleep, again and again, in 1981 and waking up in the future, feeling sorry for his future self. "And I'm not like you. And I don't love her."

Marvin snorts. "It's okay to love her."

"But I don't."

Marvin holds one of Jason's fallen Pawns between a finger and a thumb. "You know that love is the most beautiful thing in the world, kid." Trina had always smiled when Marvin said that. Whizzer used to scoff. Jason, on the other hand, would politely disagree.

"I think life is," he says. And then, "Check."

Marvin ignores the threat to his king. "What?"

"I think living is the most beautiful thing in the world," Jason says, evenly, somewhat apologetically. "Not love."

Marvin throat constricts. He thinks about how they had to buy Jason a new chess board, since it was lacking a white queen. He thinks about what it is he does, whether Jason absorbs both Marvin's love for Whizzer and Marvin's pain. If he won't let go because Marvin doesn't. He thinks of what Jason might feel when Marvin won't be there anymore. If it'll be a relief. If he could be himself then. He thinks of Jason, at the hours nearing Whizzer's funeral, had asked if they should call his parents, perhaps. Other relatives, maybe. How Marvin had said no.

He thinks of how scared Jason was of being gay. How scared he must be of dying.

Then, Jason speaks. "I think it might be my fault."

Marvin raises an eyebrow.

Jason continues. "That you might die. I mean, everyone is going to die, obviously." He shrugs. "But sooner, I guess."

Despite himself, Marvin is almost amused. Horrified, and scared shitless, and guilty, and amused. "How so, Jason, are you a God?"

Jason bites his lip. "No," he chastises. "And I won't be president either, thank to you." He adds, then remembers himself. "Sorry."

"No, kid, by all mean, blame me for the untimely demise of your hypothetical political career."

"I will," Jason promises. He bites his lower lip. Then, he says, "I could see that you were – lonely. And I knew that you missed him, specifically. I'm smart, okay?" he breathes in. "I see things. I just knew."

The way Marvin sees it, an astronaut could have seen how he'd missed Whizzer all the way from the moon. But he says nothing. He waits.

"I called him. And I asked him to come to the game and I made sure that you would come to the game and I knew that you will get on, because it always seemed like the only thing keeping you apart is not being in the same room, which was stupid, so –"

"Oh, kid."

"And then he gave you that –" Jason swallows. "That thing." His shoulders were shaking. He was reigning it in admirably, but they were. "I didn't mean for him to ki –" he stops. "I didn't mean to."

"Kid." He should probably hug him, but Jason is an island at the moment, and Jason's parents never get a visa. He should hug him anyway. He's rooted to his sit. He feels his heart beating, his blood pumping in his vanes in all its infected glory. He feels damaging, like a tree about to fall and knock down cars, and block roads, and cause blackouts. He reaches out a hand, and it lands on Jason's shoulders. He recoils. "Kid, I knew that." He shakes his head. "We figured that out, Whizzer and me –" his hand is beneath Jason's chin now, forcing him to look up the way Trina sometimes does. "It wasn't hard to guess, and –" he swallows. He remembers Whizzer, that first night, in his bed, asking: 'you were thinking about me constantly,' except it wasn't phrased as a question, and Marvin was blissed out and shocked and to helpless to lie. "We were grateful."

It was a strange, humbling feeling. His son, watching over him. His son, smarter than whip, smarter than him, smarter than God, forcing him forward, setting standards, making the rules. His son, making a bet, losing a queen, losing a king. The universe, shadow cast upon Marvin, announcing: "Check."

"Kid, it's not your faul –"

Jason tosses the board to the side, players scattering everywhere, and maybe Marvin's mistake was not teaching him to love solving the Sunday's crosswords puzzles instead. "I know it's not my fault. I just feel like it is. Do you know how much it sucks to feel this?" His voice is trained. "It's his fault, and it's yours, because you always leave with him, you always – and it's God's fault, because he doesn't bother with saving people anymore, and all I can do is go on with my life and think that I should hurry up and do things or you won't be there, and it's terrible, it's a huge burden to put on me and I don't deserve this, why would you do that to me?"

"Jason –"

But Jason was beyond him. Jason has myriad of islands. Jason is not here. "Is this so that I'll love you more? What did I do?" And then he stops – breathing, that is, he stops breathing and Marvin scrambles too his feet, to reach for him, to hug him, feeling useless and lacking and what Jason needs is air but he gets Marvin instead, Marvin, crushing him with his arms and his neck and his heaving, and what good is a father who can’t breath, what good is a father who's gone. "Jason," he says, "You're a miracle."

Jason scoffs. 'Every parent says that –"

"I'm not Trina. You're a miracle. You're the miracle."

And Jason nods into Marvin's chest, and Marvin will create an afterlife just for him, if asked. Marvin will make God exist just for him. Marvin will make him some tea, and buy him some books, and he'll leave him everything, when the time comes. He'll sit with him and watch The Return of the Jedi on tape and make popcorn and think about how Whizzer is handsomer than Harrison Ford.

 

*

He falls asleep in the middle. He dreams of Whizzer, regressing, decaying, already worm food, still pushing. Waiting for him.