I reached into my jacket pocket and drew out a folded stack of papers I’d printed out on my way to the airport.
I offered it to him, “Kyle, Mrs. Jenson’s son, sent me this. I thought we might as well take a look.”
Frank managed to peel one disinterested glance from the screen before he turned away. Not surprising; he’d spent most of my childhood staring at it, surfing aimlessly through the news. “What is it?” He asked.
“It’s from the funeral home,” I explained, and pulled open the paper myself. “They offered a few boxes included with the… service… but Kyle showed me a few more things they have. I thought it’d be nice.” I turned back to show it to him and sudden realized that he was focused on me with a tight lipped expression.
He held out his hand, wordlessly asking for the papers, and I passed them over without comment. I watched him pour over the pages for a moment, straining to see the small lettering with his failing eyesight. I hadn’t thought he’d take much interest in this sort of thing and hadn’t bothered to print it any bigger. I knew he couldn’t read it, though he was too proud to admit it.
I decided to take pity on him, and stood, “This is the one I liked. It kind of looks like that flower vase she kept in your bedroom.”
I flipped over to the back, where I’d circled a tall, white urn with two handles on either side and painted with rows of violets along the middle. Mom would have loved it. “It’s a bit more than we discussed,” I prompted, “but I can foot the extra expense. I don’t mind.”
And it would be nice to be able to do this last thing for Mom, even if it was something as simple as a pretty place to rest her ashes.
Frank ‘harrumphed’ loudly, angrily. “You sayin’ I can’t pay fer my own wife’s funeral.” It wasn’t a question.
I snapped back into my seat, stunned, “What-? No! Frank that’s not what I –”
“Sure, it wasn’,” he growled, still piercing me with cold, dark eyes, and thrust the papers at my chest, “Do wha’ver ya want, I don’ care. Just don’ ‘spect me ta help.”
“I said I’d pay for it,” I spat, and snatched the papers back. Frank turned to the TV and said nothing.
I stood and folded the papers back inside my pocket. “I’ll go help with dinner,” I said, and disappeared into the kitchen with Mrs. Jensen. The sound of the news broadcast followed me in and hovered like a carrion bird over my head as I worked. My father said nothing.
It wasn’t until the ninth grade that I really began to suspect that Frank wasn’t my real father.
It didn’t take a genius to realize that the two of us looked nothing alike, acted nothing alike, but there had always been something else too. A distance between us, a gap we couldn’t cross. Not that he ever tried.
The final nail in that coffin had been during a school project when we’d been asked to analyze our parent’s blood types and compare them with our own.
Frank had Type AB. I had Type O.
It wasn’t a definitive clue, or so I’d been told. Mom had argued that much and so had my friends. Even my science teacher had tried to reassure me, with long explanations about recessive genes and the complexities of DNA, that something like a different blood type didn’t mean that Frank wasn’t my father.
When I’d shown Frank the report, he only gave me a long, hard stare that made me shrivel back in fear. I’d asked him what it meant, for a straight answer.
He went back to his newspaper, and said nothing.
I stopped asking questions because it made Mom so upset, but the doubt planted by that cold silence only took hold and flourished, growing inside me through the years like a parasite. At one point I’d believed marrying Zoey and settling down into a comfortable, domestic life with my own family, without secrets and silences, would be enough to drive it away.
But it didn’t. It hovered over every aspect of my life, and only grew louder when he got sick, seeping through the walls and stitching into my bed sheets: was Frank Baker my real father? Was I doomed to help care for a rotten, old man just because he’d signed my birth certificate?
I couldn’t go on like this. I was going to have a child soon. I was going to have a real family. I didn’t need him messing that up.
I had to know.
Three weeks before Mom passed away I’d filled out a paternity test and sent in samples of my parents’ DNA for testing.
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