What I Wanted to be True

by Kelly DeLong

Dad didn’t like ice cream. Disinterestedly, he watched my sister and me lick our sugar cones in the parking lot at the take-out window of Friendly’s Ice Cream on Lehigh Street in Allentown. Saturday night. Dad’s girlfriend in bed with a painful period in the only bedroom in the apartment, he said we should get out somewhere, go for a walk or something.

            To get to Friendly’s we had to walk across Emmaus Avenue and the railroad tracks behind Papa’s Restaurant, then come up the Brass Rail’s parking lot and cross busy Lehigh Street.

            This happened the summer I turned fifteen, my sister thirteen, before she found a boyfriend and always had something to do on the weekends, and after Mom made Dad sell the house we’d grown up in to get her half of it, the house she had moved us out of. This happened when weekends with Dad had gotten confining, small, difficult. No backyard to run around in, no basement, no bedroom, no friends around. Just the TV and the sofa.

            By this point that Saturday night we had nothing to say, just time to kill. Dad was the one who said something, though not to us. He said it to a man with a woman who turned around from the take-out window with cones in their hands. The man looked at Dad suspiciously. “Yeah,” he said at Dad’s question, “I am.”

            Dad identified himself. “From high school,” he said.

            The man nodded but showed little, as if high school were a sore subject, or as if he remembered Dad too well.

            Neither reached out his hand to shake.

            “So what do you do now?” Dad said.

            “I’m a contractor,” he said.

            “You any good?” Dad said in his usual blunt manner.

            The man made a face as if Dad just told him he was sleeping with his wife. He stuttered out a “Y-yeah.”

            Dad nodded as if he approved. “I might have a job for you. I’ll be looking for a contractor soon.”

            The man looked at Dad.

            “If you’re any good, maybe I’ll use you,” Dad said.

            The woman tugged at the man’s arm. “We got to get going,” she said.

            We watched them get into a car.

            “We called him squirrel in school,” Dad said. “He was the small, jumpy type. How good of a contractor could he be?”

            My sister and I were nearly done with our ice cream. We started aimlessly making our way down the sidewalk on Lehigh Street. I was still thinking about squirrel and waited for Dad to explain to us the things he said to him. When he didn’t, I asked him what he meant when he said he might have a job for him.

            Dad stopped in front of McDonald’s, my sister and I on either side of him. “Alright,” he said, “I got something to tell you two. But you got to keep it under your hat. Okay? You can’t tell anyone.”

            My sister and I looked at each other. Dad wasn’t the secretive type. He’d tell anyone who asked about his sex life or how much money he made. And sometimes even if the person hadn’t asked.

            We started walking again. “Money might be coming my way. Lots of it,” Dad said. “You know the old guy John that lives above me? The one with the 1974 Grand Torino and the younger, fat wife?”

            We’d seen Dad out the window talking to him at his car in front of the complex.

            “I’ve been having long conversations with him,” Dad said. “He’s asked me a lot of questions. The other day he called me up to his apartment before I left for work.” Dad worked the night shift at the GE plant that made toaster ovens.

            “He said he had a private detective check me out to see if I’m who I say I am. The detective confirmed everything I said. It turns out John is rich. He owns a huge holding company that Reagan has tied up because he doesn’t like John. They know each other from before Reagan was president and John lived in California. Once Reagan lets John’s company go, he’ll be able to take control of it again. He needs a person to groom to take his place as head of it. He doesn’t have any children and has a bad heart that his doctor says could go out on him at any moment. He says he likes me. I remind him of himself when he was younger. Anyway, the bottom line is that it looks like we’re going to be filthy rich.”

            I didn’t understand everything he said, but I could tell Dad had just given us stunning information. It was like nothing he had ever said to us before. That’s why neither my sister nor I said anything. There were many questions that needed to be asked, but we didn’t know them. Questions show doubt, and we didn’t doubt Dad. Not when he told us stories about Bigfoot he’d read in the National Enquirer or about people who had been abducted by space aliens, or, even when he told us that Mom’s leaving him wasn’t his fault.

            As usual, Dad talked and we listened. He told us what it was going to be like when we were rich. As he talked, we walked down the street to the Mercedes dealership and Dad pointed to the car he was going to buy. “The convertible with the hard top for the winter. That’s it, this one, right here. I’ll get every option you can get. If you guys want one when you turn sixteen, I’ll get you one.”

            On our way back to the apartment, I reminded Dad about the psychic who’d told him that she saw him sitting behind a big desk and that she could tell he was going to be an important person.

            After Mom left Dad, taking us and most of the furniture and leaving Dad a note saying she had left him for another man, Dad, in an angry and confused state turned to drinking, sleeping with as many women as he could, as well as giving church a try, before he turned to the psychic for guidance. She told him she saw him overcoming all the things that troubled him. His life, she said, would get better than he could imagine.

            Even though it had been several years since he saw the psychic, I remembered his telling us about what she said because I wanted it to be true.

            On this night, Dad said, “Hey, that’s right! I’d almost forgotten about that. This has to be what she was talking about!”

*

Back at his apartment, Dad went in his bedroom and closed his door. My sister and I turned on the TV and sat on the sofa. It was dark outside. Sometimes I’d hear the bedroom door open and then the bathroom door close.

            After several shows, my sister fell asleep on the sofa. I covered her with the afghan and got ready for bed. I turned the TV off and brushed my teeth. On the floor in front of the sofa I dropped my pillow and blanket and lay on them.

            In the morning we’d wake up and try to figure out how to use up the rest of the time with Dad until Mom came for us at eight that night. For the time being though, before I fell asleep, I had my dreams.

About the Author

Kelly DeLong is the author of the novel The Poor Sucker and the nonfiction book The Freshman Year at an HBCU. His essays and fiction have appeared in many literary magazines.