by Robert Sachs
Barry Klein is sitting in the plush, dark wood lobby of the hotel on 42nd Street with his son, Noah. This son, who he is about to send off to university in Boston, came late in life to Barry. His first marriage had been a dreary affair, producing two beautiful children, now grown, to whom he is a stranger. He’s been chewing on the possibility of seeing them while he is in Manhattan. Tara is a pediatric oncologist and Don is a banker. Both have apartments in the city. This much he knows. He also knows they grew up calling someone else their father. Noah, in his eighteenth year, has never met either of his two half siblings, nor does he know they exist. This was Helen’s wish and Barry has honored it. But after he drops Noah at Grand Central, he can call these other children, offspring from a different life, and perhaps meet for a drink or—who knows—dinner. He had arranged to stay over a day for this very purpose. ‘Purpose’ may be too strong a word. He isn’t at all sure he’ll phone either of them. Call it a possibility, a maybe. He hasn’t done it during past visits to the city; why should this be any different? He wonders if it’s because Noah is going off to college.
‘Hungry?’ he asks his son.
‘No. I’ll probably get a bite on the train.’ The train is at two. It is now noon.
‘How about we get a drink? I assume you’ve experimented with liquor. They have a wonderful rooftop bar here.’ Noah agrees to have a beer with his father—their first together—and they take the elevator to the 20th floor. He asks if they’ll serve him. Barry winks. ‘Not to worry.’
It’s a beautiful day and they sit outside to take in the spectacular view of the city. Barry orders two beers and isn’t questioned about the young man across the table. He notices Mid-town at this height has a crisp sulfide smell, reminiscent of his summers by the ocean when he was a young child, and unlike the stale garbage odor down at street level.
‘That building with all the stuff on it?’ he says pointing. ‘That’s the Chrysler Building. Something, huh?’ They sit there for a while, face to face, sipping their drinks and enjoying the scenery. ‘I almost forget,’ Barry adds. From a gray canvas shoulder bag he produces a box of condoms. ‘A going away present.’ They both laugh. Noah blushes and puts the box in his bag.
‘Thanks, Dad. I hope I’m worthy of your optimism.’ Barry loves his son’s response. He loves everything about him; always has. Maybe it’s because he was so much older when Noah came along. His career at his father-in-law’s fintech business—his business now, since the old man died three years ago—is more behind him than in front, more history than future. He’s stayed on much too long, he can now admit. Next year, for sure, he’ll retire. He likes to tell Noah he’s ‘well off,’ that his son won’t have to worry about student loans or, for that matter, anything. He likes to think this contributes to Noah’s optimism and his enjoyment of life. But the boy is far from frivolous. He works hard at school, practices tennis—his sport of choice—with serious diligence and approaches his summer jobs with purpose and pride.
‘Have you talked to your roommate yet?’ Barry asks. The school had sent out a questionnaire. Noah’s answers were collated with the other incoming freshmen and from this they assigned a roommate from Kansas City named Norman. Norm.
‘Not yet. We’ll link up when I get there.’
Barry thinks about the expansion of his son’s world, which like the expansion of the universe, appears to be picking up speed. In the beginning it was just their home. Then a few square blocks around their neighborhood. Then pre-school, elementary school, high school. His drivers license opened up new worlds. Now living in another city, going to college. Who knows where he’ll land?
His life, on the other hand, seems to Barry as if it’s shrinking. They haven’t been on a driving trip in six years. It’s been a year and a half since he’s been on an airplane. It doesn’t appear that they’ll be going back to Europe any time soon. He and Helen don’t go out for dinner as much as they used to. His circle of friends gets smaller each year. He wonders if this has something to do with his renewed interest in meeting with his older children. He can hear his mother childing him that too much introspection can drive a person crazy. It is what it is, she might say.
He looks at his watch. ‘We should be heading over to Grand Central. Don’t want to miss that train.’ They hug before Noah walks down the steps to the train platform. Barry kisses him on the cheek. ‘Do good,’ he whispers. Noah nods.
Barry goes back to the bar at the top of the hotel and orders lunch along with his second dry martini. He’s Googled both Tara and Don. He has their telephone numbers and some background information. Neither uses his last name. They were six and three when their mother took them away. That marriage had slowly, painfully eroded until, like a glacier sliding into the sea, it was gone. She quickly married a man named Genson who moved the family to the West Coast. Barry’s attempts to see his children were met with a phalanx of lawyers hired by her father and he didn’t have the resources to fight back. That wasn’t the end of it, of course. He tried calling them, but numbers were changed or unlisted. His letters were either returned or ignored. He was very unhappy and a therapist advised him to let it go, to focus on the present and the future. ‘You need to make a new life for yourself,’ she said. He took her advice. Yes, he thought about his children, imagined what their lives would be like California, but he let go of trying to contact them, of seeing them, of them.
Now in his hotel room, Barry wonders—worries—whether his children would even agree to speak with him. He’ll try Tara first; she’s the older of the two and would have more of a memory of her birth father. Barry hates that phrase. He’s their legitimate father. Let the other guy use a descriptor. Second father or adopted father. Maybe father-come-lately.
Tara’s a physician. Probably busy. The last thing she needs now is to drag up old memories. Still, Barry muses, he’s only asking for a drink. He decides to write out what he’s going to say to her:
Hi, Tara. This is your father. Barry Klein. I’m in town for a day and I’m wondering if you’d care to take a chance and have dinner or a drink. I’d love to see you and Donny.
Short and sweet. And what if he gets her answering machine? He’ll say the same thing and leave his number. Or what if she answers and hangs up when she hears it’s him? Barry understands how much that would hurt. It would be devastating. Why put yourself in that position? a voice inside his head cautions. What about calling Don? Same thing. Surely, he was too young to remember much of Barry. His image of his father—if he had one—would have been formed by his mother. Not much of a chance he’d want to get together.
Barry realizes he should have written to them before driving up. At least that would have given them a chance to think about it, talk to each other, bounce it off their mother and adoptive father if they wanted to. Who knows what kind of relationship they have with them? They could feel about her much the same way Barry does. And yet, they’ve never in all these years picked up a phone to call him. Barry feels they very likely have written him off; a sunk cost of growing up.
It’s after five. Is it too late to make plans this time around? The safe thing to do would be to go home, write the letter and see what happens. He takes two small bottles of Scotch from the minibar, pours both into a plastic cup and finishes them off in two gulps. Their telephone numbers are on a small sheet of paper on the desk. Barry picks up the paper.
Noah calls. The train arrived on time. He took a taxi to the college dormitory ‘And I met Norm,’ he says. ‘I think we’re going to get along fine.’ Father and son talk for forty-five minutes. Noah’s enthusiasm buoys Barry. ‘I love you, Dad,’ Noah says.
Barry decides to have an early dinner and call it a night.
Robert Sachs’ fiction has appeared in The Louisville Review, Chicago Quarterly Review, Great Ape Journal, and Delmarva Review. He holds an M.F.A. in Writing from Spalding University. His story “Vondelpark” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2017. His story “Yo-Yo Man” was a Fiction Finalist in the 2019 Tiferet Writing Contest. Read more at www.roberthsachs.com.