Fortunately for Hal, who’d had a novel published to good reviews when he was fresh out of college, he came of age in an era when such things could be parlayed into a comfortable life. Hal was a tenured professor of fiction writing by the age of thirty-two and never had to worry about making a living after that.
When Hal’s father died, Hal got drunk. He got the news from his sister, who’d been at the hospital when their angry, hopeless father breathed his last. The old man was pissed off that Hal couldn’t make it back to the hospital to say goodbye one last time. Hal had been at the hospital all day, went home to make dinner for his daughter, and his father was bitter about that last bit too, according to his sister, who had no reason to lie.
Hal told his sister he’d see her the next morning and went into the kitchen where he kept the Scotch. He drank a good deal of that fine single malt, which the label said had been aged in a sherry cask. The warm feeling came over him. He sat quietly at the kitchen table, in a comfortable chair that could tilt any way he leaned.
When Hal’s daughter came in, her father was already drunk, that familiar blank look on his face. He changed his facial expression slightly as she came into view, but the effect wasn’t exactly a smile. She already knew that grandpa was finally gone. She’d had the text from her aunt. She went into her room, locked the door, and a few moments later, tweeted that she was going to kill herself.
“This is your autobiography, Al,” his friend Tova told him, walking in through the back door, gesturing toward the bottle, the daughter’s locked door. “As you have been telling your students for decades, even back when you were still writing, ‘all good writing is autobiography’.”
“Yeah, yeah. I was full of shit,” said Hal. “All bad writing is also autobiography. A meaningless cliche, like all the other ones in the vast imaginary forests of bullshit. Vanity. What the fuck was I thinking?”
“You made a good living,” Tova said.
“Yes, there was that,” Hal said.
Tova had a notification from her phone. She read the screen. “You’d better call David, your daughter is going to kill herself.”
David was still seven hours away, driving through the foggy night from upstate. Even in good conditions, it was a long and tedious drive. David was the only person who could talk to Debbie in a way that made any sense to her.
Hal found himself thinking of the family roots. His father had been the last of thirteen children, from some benighted hamlet in Poland nobody had ever bothered to put on a map. Just as well, everybody there was dead, murdered one chilly afternoon in 1943, by people smelling of vodka. Hal’s father was in the United States twenty years by then, the only one. Nobody had a crystal ball, or the money to consult one, otherwise they all would have tried to come to America before that madman marshaled an army of murderous zombies.
“Look, Hal,” Tova said, as she had many times, “I’m sorry you came from such a poor, shit family and got no rachmunis from anybody when they were all slaughtered, may they rest in peace. I, and I don’t need to remind you, I have the papers to prove my right to be fucked up, both of my parents got checks from the German government until the day they died, as you know. They were certified Holocaust survivors, I am a certified, official child of Holocaust survivors. You, on the other hand, are a melodramatic self-pitying drunkard masochistically fond of brooding on history that happened while you were in boot camp.”
“I could have been Charles Kushner,” Hal had taken to saying recently, “son of two Holocaust survivors who got out of Europe in time, their assholes crammed with enough diamonds to build a small real estate empire in New Jersey.”
Charles Kushner, the billionaire son of Holocaust survivors, begat Jared Kushner, who was so righteously outraged when his father was imprisoned briefly for simply hiring a prostitute and a filmmaker to make a video blackmailing his uncle, a man who was about to turn rat.
The blackmail video was necessary to shame Charles’s sister, who Charles believed wore the pants in her home (and, also, appeared to be susceptible to the threat of public shame). If she said the word, the fucking rat would not take the stand against her brother. Otherwise, her husband was scheduled to rat him out at the federal fraud trial that was about to start. Charles had been given no choice, as he explained to Jared in the weeks before he was convicted, sentenced and disbarred. The brother-in-law was the only witness who could really hurt him, and they seemed to be on the same page going forward, but the prosecutor flipped him.
“Fucking rat,” said Charles, when he gave the money to the scumbag who set up the whole ill-fated prostitute and surveillance thing.
“Who knew my fucking sister was also a fucking rat?” Charles later asked a pigeon sitting on the window ledge of his cell at the federal prison. “They never revealed if she’d worn a wire that day or not, the treacherous bastards…” The bird nodded.
“Why is Debbie going to kill herself this time?” Hal asked Tova.
“The tweet is vague on that,” Tova said.
“I haven’t been much of an improvement on my old man,” said Hal. “I have no clue how to help that kid.”
“I’m going to make coffee,” said Tova.
“To ruin a perfectly good buzz,” Hal said, pouring the last of the single malt into his glass.
“Buzz-kill is what they called me in college,” said Tova.
“You went to a top school full of smart bastards, didn’t you?”
“Not like the place you teach, professor,” said Tova.
“No, not like the place I teach,” said Hal, drinking up.
“No matter, David will be here soon.”
“Let’s hope he can stay awake on the highway this time,” said Hal, tilting back in his chair. There seemed to be no end to nights like this one, he thought.
(to be continued, or not)