Dad picked the perfect time to try to kill himself. He had always had a flair for that sort of thing. Dramatic exits, comedic timing. I had never been able to keep up. That was probably one of the reasons why we weren’t speaking anymore.

I had just packed up my room when the call came in. I was sitting at my desk, looking down at the empty expanse of wood, waiting for something to happen. Nothing happened at first. But that was to be expected. I waited. I had nothing but time at this point. There was nothing left to do but turn in my keys downstairs. And yet I couldn’t do it. I waited a little while and then I waited a little while more. Waiting for the sun to dip a little bit lower and close the curtain on the latest chapter of my life.

And then it happened: my phone, which I always kept on silent, came suddenly to life in front of me. It was my brother, though he doesn’t usually call. Not that it’s his fault: we don’t usually talk. I had nothing to lose at that point by picking up.

My father had shut himself in the barn with his 1984 Spider Veloce running. He had also brought with him a kitchen knife and a poorly-tied noose, though he left these on his workbench without any evident intent to use them. In the front seat he had a bottle of Glenlivet, a photo of my mother, a March 1976 issue of Playboy, and a black-and-white glossy promotional image of the 1991 Superbowl champion New York Giants. The barn was bigger than the average garage, so it probably would have taken longer than usual for him to asphyxiate. There was even the question, raised later, if it ever would have happened, but we never looked any further into it. Fortunately, things had never progressed to that point. “Brooklyn” Joey Randazzo happened to be riding his horse down Purgatory Road at the time, and he went to investigate when he heard the distinctive backfire of the Spider Veloce in the closed barn.

“That son of a bitch,” I said. “I knew he’d pull some shit like this. I knew it.”

I was pacing the room from one end to the other, thrown into motion, unimpeded by any furniture or personal belongings.

“Michael,” said Lenny. “Let’s try to approach this calmly.”

“Calm! You want me to be calm? I have to rearrange my whole life for this, and you’re asking me to be calm? Why’d he do it?”

“According to the information provided by the hospital, he was trying to kill himself.”

I made a fist and spent a moment staring at the wall as if looking for weak points. But it was an old building, and I probably would have broken my hand if I tried to put a hole in it.

“And have you told Veronica?” I said.

“Yes,” he said. “I’ve already provided her with all the information available at this point in time.”

There was silence on the line. I stopped my pacing, leaning forward into the phone as if to listen better. Something had to happen next, and we were both pretty sure we knew what it was, but we didn’t know how to say it. I tried to wait it out for as long as possible. I’d spent my whole life waiting, and it didn’t hurt too much to wait a little bit more.

“So,” said Lenny. “This particular situation seems to demand certain exigencies. Certain attentions, certain details. In military terms, we might call it an MOS.” He paused and let out a sigh, unable to keep talking around the matter at hand. “If I were to put the matter frankly, without mincing any words at all, I might say that this particular situation demands that we make sure our father has someone near him at all times.”

“Okay,” I said. “How near.”

“I mean in the house. Within eyesight. Shouting distance.”

“And you automatically assume that that someone is me?”

“Michael, that’s not what I said.”

“Yeah? Who’d you mean, then? Brooklyn Joey Randazzo?”

“You happen to be the closest. You can’t argue that. I have duties here on base. Veronica, as you know, is in California.”

“Right. I’m the closest and the least important. Has it ever occurred to you that I might have certain duties? That I might be in school, pursuing a very important vocation?”

The words seemed sharper than usual, the timbre of my voice harsher without the dampening effect of posters on the wall or books on the shelf or furniture on the floor. I had one more box to put in my car, and one pair of keys to return, and after I handed them to the front desk it would be up to me to find lodging for that night.

“I will request leave at the next possible convenience,” said my brother. “Once my orders come in and my affairs have been settled I will be able to link up with you at the house.”

“Don’t worry about it,” I said. “Don’t fuckin’ trouble yourself. Don’t do me any favors, alright?”

And as I hung up, I realized, with a familiar twinge of disgust, that this was a phrase that our father was fond of using.


I drove north on I-87 for a couple hours and took the exit past the abandoned mall. The houses were built on plots that used to be farmland or ranchland, and the two-lane roads that snaked their way between the wooden fences were crowded further by the trucks and trailers of the landscaping companies pulled up onto the shoulder. People paid others to look after their lawns and walk their dogs. Had there been a way, I’m sure that they would have paid other people to live the rest of their lives for them as well. The fencing around my father’s property was newer than most, but still badly in need of maintenance: he hadn’t stained it or painted it or replaced any broken struts since he had built it 30 years before. Maybe he had at one time considered buying a stable of horses to keep up with Brooklyn Joey Randazzo, but he contented himself with a 1984 Spider Veloce that he could never get running right.

I pulled up to the farmhouse on the crushed gravel drive. It seemed to get smaller every time I saw it. So did my father. He was sitting in a corner of the porch with a blanket over his legs and a cigar in his mouth and a bottle of Chianti on the table in front of him. But before saying hello I first popped the trunk and pulled out a couple of suitcases. The Toyota was packed to the roof, the choice of suitcases was completely arbitrary—certainly they contained nothing useful, mostly books from the feel of it—but I was hoping it would help explain the situation to him. I stood at the bottom of the front steps, waiting for him to say something. But he was pretending not to see me.

“How’s it going, Dad,” I said.

He rolled the cigar from one side of his mouth to the other but still did not say anything.

“They let you out?”

“Yeah,” he said. “I told ’em I’d checked out of better hospitals than this.”

“You really showed them.”

He finally seemed to notice the suitcases at my side, giving them a long look up and down. “And you’re here what. To nurse me back to health?”

“To make sure you don’t try to take the Spider Veloce out for another spin.”

“Piece of shit. Couldn’t even kill me right.” He sat up and nudged his plate half an inch forward. “Here. Have some of this. Marty at DiMeo’s comped me some prosciutto when he heard I tried to off myself.”

I dropped my suitcases and walked up the stairs. The fresh mozzarella had already been sliced and paired with marinated red peppers, so all I had to do was add a cylinder of prosciutto to the first two.

“Bread’s good too,” said my father.

I mounted it on some bread, making sure to sop up some olive oil before lifting it up to my mouth. I took a long time chewing, the flavor so rich it seemed like it was sensed not in the tongue or in the stomach but in some organ hidden yet deeper in the body. I looked out over the horseless lawn dappled with autumn leaves, the heavily wooded hills on the other side of Purgatory Road. The landscape had already grown shadowed and shapeless, stranded at the wrong end of sundown.

“I’d offer you some wine,” he said, “but there ain’t any anymore.”

I finished chewing and started swallowing, thinking through the implications of this. “Is that what this is about?”

“Is that what what is about. Is what what this is about.”

“You drinking a bottle of wine every night and then trying to kill yourself.”

“Who says it’s every night. Who sold you that line. Maybe if I hadn’t tried to kill myself, I wouldn’t need to be drinking a bottle of wine right now.”

“A vicious cycle.”

“And if you’re so fuckin’ smart, maybe you can hop in your shitbox car and drive back to the seminary.” He took the cigar from his mouth and dripped dark spit onto the floorboards. “They don’t mind you being gone?”

“They said not to worry about it.”

“You’re gonna miss your classes.”

“I know. It’s an emergency. Isn’t it?”

“Why don’t you let me be the judge of that.” He peered over the porch railing at the packed Toyota. “Sure got a lot of shit with you.”

“I don’t know how long I have to stay.”

“And if you miss the rest of the semester?”

I shrugged. “I could make it up later. What’s another semester.”

“Or maybe you finally decided to come to your senses.”

“Why would I take life advice from you? You just tried to kill yourself.”

“You’ll see. The rest of your life is a long time.” He made himself a little sandwich of prosciutto and mozzarella and continued speaking with his mouth full. “It don’t make any sense. Somethin’ don’t add up. How’d you get permission to come home so soon? And come home for what? If I don’t kill myself by day 30, who’s to say I’m not gonna kill myself on day 31? You can’t watch me all the time. What if I do it early in the morning. Or if I wake up in the middle of the night. You’d never suspect a thing.”

“Well,” I said. I hesitated and chose the words carefully. “Are you going to try it again?”

He gave a shrug full of contempt and finished chewing his food.

“Wouldn’t you like to know,” he said.


“Spider Veloce” is an excerpt from Nick DeForest’s new novel in progress, Purgatory Road.