"You said you'd be there."
"Christ, Susan. Alright, I'm the asshole again. I suppose it doesn't make any difference..."
"No! Don't do that bullshit martyr thing. Be fucking honest."
"You want honest? Real honest? You think I wanted to go to fucking Washington? You think I wanted to sit in the airport for four hours while the fucking baggers jerked off and..."
"You seriously don't get it, do you?"
"What? I was telling..."
"Fuck the delay. Fuck Washington. Why would you even cut it so close? Why did you even go? Why the hell do we have this conversation all the time?"
"I don't think we have this conver..."
"Oh, just shut the hell up. You're trying to get off on a technicality again. It's fucked up. Maybe we don't deal with this exact situation, but it's always something."
"And stop fucking saying my name. What, is that from one of your 'How to Be The Alpha Suit' monkey books? Make eye contact and always use your colleague's first names when you speak to them. I bet you didn't even bring it. You didn't did you?"
"I, uh...we're not colleagues, Susan."
"I know, you're nice to them."
"Wow, you are such an asshole! Do you even remember what you were supposed to bring?"
"It was your whole justification for this nonsense in the first place. I mean, of course I knew that you just had to schedule a meeting, but you said it was the reason. You told him..."
"OK, fine. Make me a dick. What did I forget?"
"Was the flight full?"
"What? You call me an asshole and then ask about the flight? What the fuck, Susan?"
"Did you eat? Do you want a snack? I can make you a sandwich."
"Why are you twitching your eye like that? What the fuck is wrong with you? Are you drunk?"
The sound was almost inaudible. A small toe shuffling on thick Berber carpet, softer even than the scruffling of the birds that made nests in the eaves. He turned slowly and looked down at the small face, expectant above long pajamas - the pajamas he had brought back last time. They were worn now and he could barely make out the dinosaurs his son loved so much. He wore the pajamas every night.
"Did you bring it, Dadda?"
It came back to him with a resounding crash. He'd promised he'd bring something else back from the Museum of Natural History - something with a dinosaur on it. He'd forgotten it the minute he said it. Now, he felt his eyes begin to swim as he looked at the boy's face, lower lip trembling.
"It's OK, Dadda. I know you were really busy. And Momma told me the plane was late."
He looked at the moving lips, but he couldn't hear a thing. There was a rage of static in his ears, he felt a bit dizzy, steadied himself with a hand on the wall. He tried to speak, but there were no words. He knew if he opened his mouth that it would all come out. All the shame. All the fucked up excuses he used. He looked at the boy and thought what he always thought. I am ruining you, and I don't know how to stop.
The boy looked concerned now, and the wide eyes broke his heart.
"Don't be sad, Dadda. I have lots of dinosaur stuff. We saved you a piece of cake! A middle piece like you like."
The boy was smiling now. He reached out with a small hand. John looked behind him, but Susan was long gone. He felt himself slipping away - he wanted to run, abandon them, cut the cancer out of the family. He was the problem. He knew it. Instead, he took the tiny hand in his.
He ate his cake without speaking. He could barely choke it past the thickness in his throat. It tasted like cardboard. The boy was talking about his presents. The games. All the people - names he did not recognize. John chewed and nodded and tried not to think about how many of the other fathers had been at his son's birthday party.