Dad’s pipe was dead. He paused to tap it out and reload it.
“No, sir,” Will said.
“Yes,” said his father, “I”d be a fool not to know I’m a fool. My one wisdom is: you’re wise.”
“Funny” Will said, after a long pause. “You’ve told me more, tonight, than I’ve told you. I’ll think some more. Maybe I’ll tell you everything, at breakfast. Okay?”
“I’ll be ready, if you are.”
“Because…I want you to be happy, Dad.”
He hated the tears that sprang to his eyes.
“I’ll be all right, Will.”
“Anything I could say or do to make you happy, I would.”
“Willy, William.” Dad lit his pipe again and watched the smoke blow away in sweet dissolvings. “Just tell me I’ll live forever. That would do nicely.”
His voice, Will thought, I never noticed. It’s the same colour as his hair.
“Pa,” he said, “don’t sound so sad.”
“Me? I’m the original sad man. I read a book and it makes me sad. See a film: sad. Plays? they really work me over.”
“Is there anything,” said Will, “doesn’t make you sad?”
“One thing. Death.”
“Boy!” Will started. “I should think that would!”
“No” said the man with the voice to match his hair. “Death makes everything else sad. But death itself only scares. If there wasn’t death, all the other things wouldn’t get tainted.”
And, Will thought, here comes the carnival, Death like a rattle in one hand, Life like candy in the other; shake one to scare you, offer one to make your mouth water. Here comes the side-show, both hands full!
He jumped to his feet.
“Dad oh, listen! You’ll live forever! Believe me, or you’re sunk! Sure, you were sick a few years ago — but that’s over. Sure, you’re fifty-four, but that’s young! And another thing — “
His father waited for him. He swayed. He bit his lips, then blurted out:
“Don’t go near the carnival.”
“Strange,” his father said, “that’s what I was going to tell you.”
“I wouldn’t go back to that place for a billion dollars!”
But, Will thought, that won’t stop the carnival searching through town to visit me.
“Why don’t you want me to go there, Will?”
“That’s one of the things I’ll tell tomorrow or next week or next year. You just got to trust me, Dad.”
“I do, son.” Dad took his hand. “It’s a promise.”
As if at a signal, both turned to the house. The time was up, the hour was late, enough had been said, they properly sensed they must go.
“The way you came out,” said Dad, “is the way you go in.”
Will walked silently to touch the iron rungs hidden under the rustling ivy.
“Dad. You won’t pull these off…?”
Dad probed one with his fingers.
“Some day, when you’re tired of them, you’ll take them off yourself.”
“I’ll never be tired of them.”
“Is that how it seems? Yes, to someone your age, you figure you’ll never get tired of anything. All right, son, up you go.”
He saw how his father looked up along the ivy and the hidden path.
“You want to come up this way, too?”
“No, no,” his father said, quickly.
“Because,” said Will, “you’re welcome.”
“That’s all right. Go on.”
But he still looked at the ivy stirring in the dark morning light.
Will sprang up, grabbed the first, the second, the third rungs and looked down.
From just this distance, Dad looked as if he were shrinking, there on the ground. Somehow he didn’t want to leave him behind there in the night, like someone ditched by someone else, one hand up to move, but not moving.
“Dad!” he whispered. “You ain’t got the stuff!”
Who says!? cried Dad’s mouth, silently.
And he jumped.
And laughing without sound, the boy, the man swung up the side of the house, unceasingly, hand over hand, foot after foot.
He heard Dad slip, scrabble, grab.
Hold tight! he thought.
The man breathed hard.
Eyes tight, Will prayed: hold…there…now…!!
The old man gusted out, sucked in, swore in a fierce whisper, then climbed again.
Will opened his eyes and climbed and the rest was smooth, high, higher, fine, sweet, wondrous, done! They swung in and sat upon the sill, same size, same weight, coloured same by the stars, and sat embraced once more with grand fine exhaustion, gasping on huge ingulped laughs which swept their bones together, and for fear of waking God, country, wife, Mom, and hell, they snug-clapped hands to each other’s mouths, felt the vibrant warm hilarity fountained there and sat one instant longer, eyes bright with each other and wet with love.