Jan/Feb 2006  •   Fiction

Leaving on a Wide Angle

by Steven J. Dines

Father kicks his feet while I point the camera at him. I know he's only doing this for me. I'm using a wide-angle lens this time because it lets me get closer on the subject and yet still show everything, which I think is only right.

On the table behind him lie the remains of The Last Breakfast of the Carnevel's. A cooling battleground: toast soldiers in pools of poached egg yolk; burnt bacon strips, black and bent, abandoned plate-side. Nobody ate much except father, who relished every bite, while I ranted about injustice, and mother... she just pushed her food around with her fork. She's lost a lot of weight recently.

Right now she's standing off-camera, just as she's always done, flexing her fingers or fixing her hair for something to do while she hangs around to clean the table, put everything away, and lay a new, white tablecloth. I try not to feel angry, but I'm Hamlet. She's Gertrude, thinking of tomorrow when she's burying her Claudius today.

The cab will be here soon. We're not taking our car: mother can't drive and I'm too young at fifteen. Father can drive, but he says there's no point losing the old Chevy, too.

How can a guilty man be thoughtful? Or should I say: how can a thoughtful man be guilty?

He says soon I'll be old enough to take lessons. What I don't tell him is I don't want to drive his car. And I'll be tossing out his old shoes once he's gone, too. I throw mother a look—at least I'll wait that long, eh, Gertrude? She doesn't get it. Figures. She knows me as well as she knows Shakespeare.

"Anything you want to say, Dad?"

He nods, fixing on me through his thick glasses. "I want you and your mother to imagine I'm going on a long vacation and that one day I'll come back. Okay?"

Suddenly I can't hold the camera steady.

"What about you, son?"

"Me? I, uh... I wish we had no secrets."

Outside, the cab driver blasts the horn. I turn off the camera. Dad is first out the door.

When we get home without him, I head straight to my room. I ear-press my door, listening for the sound of stifled sobs from their—now my mother's—bedroom. But there's only silence: the pregnant kind, in which plans are hatched. I pray I'm not a part of them.

More secrets, I think, gazing at the video camera on my bed. Why is it that when one is revealed, another comes along to take its place?

That evening I skip supper to stay in my room, where I hook up the camera to the television. I lock the door and close the curtains to deter spies with ladders, long lenses, or wings. I know I'm paranoid, but I am all alone now, and I have to look out for myself. The tape seems strangely small in my fingers, and yet it holds eight-and-a-half minutes of footage that will be my father for the rest of my life.

I turned the camera back on during the cab ride over. Mother sat in the front seat, talking to the driver about the weather. Watching it back, I wonder if she flashed him her legs. I can't be sure because I was seated behind those two with Dad. He says he's proud I'm his son, and that I remind him of himself at my age. Look after yourself, he says, along with some other nice stuff. But I wasn't paying much attention at the time. I was aware only of the driver's heavy foot (did my mother ask him to floor it?) and of my Dad and me running out of road. Then Dad leans in close to the camera, and he's almost out of focus. If nothing else, I'm glad I went for the wide angle. It really let me get closer while showing everything.

My father says, "No more secrets, son."

But then the cab pulls up outside the courthouse, a building that's become too familiar to me these past few weeks, and Dad steps out of the car, out of shot, into the falling snow. I remember thinking, that's it, I'll never know.

"You two stay in the car. I don't want you inside."

I thought, it's over. Fade to black.

But then he leans down real close to the camera, which I'm poking out through the open window, and I can see snowflakes are melting on his glasses and running like tears. And I wish now they were on the inside, not the outside.

"I'll be happy not to be your father anymore," he whispers. "You deserved better."