FROM Seize The Day by Saul Bellow
“Ah, Father, Father!” said Wilhelm. “It’s always the same thing with you. Look how you lead me on. You always start out to help me with my problems, and be sympathetic and so forth. It gets my hopes up and I begin to be grateful. But before we’re through I’m a hundred times more depressed than before. Why is that? You have no sympathy. You want to shift all the blame on to me. Maybe you’re wise to do it.” Wilhelm was beginning to lose himself. “All you seem to think about is your death. Well, I’m sorry. But I’m going to die too. And I’m your son. It isn’t my fault in the first place. There ought to be a right way to do this, and be fair to each other. But what I want to know is, why do you start up with me if you’re not going to help me? What do you want to know about my problems for, Father? So you can lay the whole responsibility on me—so that you won’t have to help me? D’you want me to comfort you for having such a son?” Wilhelm had a great knot of wrong tied tight within his chest, and tears approached, his eyes but he didn’t let them out. He looked shabby enough as it was. His voice was thick and hazy, and he was stammering and could not bring his awful feelings forth.
“You have some purpose of your own said the doctor, “in acting so unreasonable. What do you want from me? What do you expect?”
“What do I expect?” said Wilhelm. He felt as though he were unable to recover something. Like a ball in the surf, washed beyond reach, his self-control was going out. “I expect help!” The words escaped him in a loud, wild, frantic cry and startled the old man, and two or three breakfasters within hearing glanced their way. Wilhelm’s hair, the color of whitened honey, rose dense and tall with the expansion of his face, and he said, “When I suffer—you aren’t even sorry. That’s because you have no affection for me, and you don’t want any part of me.”
“Why must I like the way you behave? No, I don’t like it,” said Dr. Adler.
“All right. You want me to change myself. But suppose I could do it—what would I become? What could I? Let’s suppose that all my life I have had the wrong ideas about myself and wasn’t what I thought I was. And wasn’t even careful to take a few precautions, as most people do—like a woodchuck has a few exits to his tunnel. But what shall I do now? More than half my life is over. More than half. And now you tell me I’m not even normal.”
The old man too had lost his calm. “You cry about being helped,” he said. “When you thought you had to go into the service I sent a check to Margaret every month. As a family man you could have had an exemption. But no! The war couldn’t be fought without you and you had to get yourself drafted and be an office-boy in the Pacific theater. Any clerk could have done what you did. You could find nothing better to become than a G.I.”
Wilhelm was going to reply, and half raised his bearish figure from the chair, his fingers spread and whitened by their grip on the table, but the old man would not let him begin. He said, “I see other elderly people here with children who aren’t much good, and they keep backing them and holding them up at a great sacrifice. But I’m not going to make that mistake. It doesn’t enter your mind that when I die—a year, two years from now—you’ll still be here. I do think of it.”
He had intended to say that he had a right to be left in peace. Instead he gave Wilhelm the impression that hp. meant it was not fair for the better man of the two, the more useful, the more admired, to leave the world first. Perhaps he meant that, too—a little; but he would not under other circumstances have come out with it so flatly.
“Father,” said Wilhelm with an unusual openness of appeal. “Don’t you think I know how you feel? I have pity. I want you to live on and on. If you outlive me, that’s perfectly okay by me.” As his father did not answer this avowal and turned away his glance, Wilhelm suddenly burst out, “No, but you hate me. And if I had money you wouldn’t. By God, you have to admit it. The money makes the difference. Then we would be a fine father and son, if I was a credit to you—so you could boast and brag about me all over the hotel. But I’m not the right type of son. I’m too old, I’m too old and too unlucky.
His father said, “I can’t give you any money. There would be no end to it if I started. You and your sister would take every last buck from me. I’m still alive, not dead. I am still here. Life isn’t over yet. I am as much alive as you or anyone. And I want nobody on my back. Get off! And I give you the same advice, Wilky. Carry nobody on your back.”
“Just keep your money,” said Wilhelm miserably. “Keep it and enjoy it yourself. That’s the ticket!”