They sit and talk of cars.
After long years without sight or word or picture – without any knowing – he seems unchanged. Older, of course, his neat, short hair trimmed with grey: wiser? Perhaps. Confident? Certainly. That nervous laugh is quietened now, no more than an eddy in the torrent of his words.
He talks of cars.
“It is a nice car,” his father tells him. “You should be proud to own such a car.”
He does not ask the question: he does not say ‘I cannot love you’ or ask if there is love in his son for him? Or try to explain why he could never really love him as a father should love his son.
It is a Mercedes, the car. It is new. The son has come from afar and the father knows all those miles were for the enjoyment of the drive, for the impression it would make, for his approval.
‘Yes’, the son agrees. “I have done well.’
There is business to speak of – the properties the son now owns, the achievements of time – time they both have lost. He listens, the father, his ears filled with his boy’s success, his mind filled with his guilt. He remembers a little childhood song the boy once sang for him, and counts off each of his betrayals, every one. All the ways he let him down; all the absence, the vanities, the anger. And he hopes in the spaces, in the brief moments of silence his son will hear his sorrow for them spoken, though he cannot say the words.
The son glances at his watch. He should know the father better than to expect such a gesture to be missed; but of course he doesn’t know him. He is half a stranger now.
And it is time to part. The father’s interview is finished, though he may have said rather less than a fistful of words. The son has visited his father and now he has another appointment. It is time.
The smiles of parting, the platitudes: they do not touch.
So much that is needed is left unsaid; for the father is old now, in the December of his life. There is no room left for more lost years, and the son will be too busy to cross the miles – ever to meet with him again.
But he will be able to recall their last meeting, and how they spoke of cars.