EXCERPT: 'The Kids Are All Right'

"What's wrong?" I asked.

She told me Dad died. She said that Dad was never coming back, and that God wanted him. And I started crying. We hugged and stuff like that. And that was that.

LIZ amanda decided to go to school the next morning, but the rest of us stayed home. Every time the doorbell rang, I'd shout, "I'll get it!" I was grateful to have something to do besides wander aimlessly through our suddenly huge and foreign house. Even Max sensed something was wrong. He accompanied me to the front door each time growling softly, his hair on end. It was either a deliveryman with another arrangement— lilies, tulips, roses, and carnations, all in muted shades— or a concerned neighbor dropping off a tuna casserole or a pineapple upside- down cake.

Mom remained in her bedroom all day, mostly on the phone. I eavesdropped, standing in her doorway or sitting outside on the steps going up to the third floor, and listened to her tell the story over and over again: "It was a car accident . . . He was on his way back home from Boston . . . He fell asleep at the wheel . . . He was only two exits from home."

No matter how many times I heard the words, the reality of what she was saying never sank in. I kept waiting for him to pull up the driveway, tooting the horn, laughing, "Ha! Ha! Ha! I really had you all going!" Dad was a joker. He loved a good prank. When the phone rang and he was home, he'd answer by saying "Ku- Ni- Chi- Wa" in a ridiculous Saturday Night Live Japanese accent. Or "Vinnie's Pizzeria," winking at whoever was nearby to include that person in on his joke.

Plus, he was still everywhere. His brown leather slippers were sitting at the foot of the green corduroy ottoman in his bedroom where he had last kicked them off, and his blanket- soft baby- blue cardigan was hanging on a hook in the mudroom. I couldn't resist grabbing it, burying my face in its soft folds. It still smelled of pipe tobacco and Colgate toothpaste, Dad's scent. If his scent was still alive, how could he be dead? In the fridge there were three cans of Ballantine ale and a half- eaten wedge of Stilton cheese wrapped in cellophane, which would stay there for weeks until someone realized, I'm not sure who, that Dad was the only person in our house who drank ale or liked Stilton cheese. And then there was the note, written in his choppy, left- leaning scrawl, all sharp angles and straight lines, pinned to the bulletin board near the phone: "Annie, I'm out in the barn."

I floated and fumbled through the day, lurking in hallways and listening to conversations, hunting for clues that would prove my hunch right. Dad was in the barn! That was what the note said! Or perhaps he actually took the plane and was waiting at the airport! We need to send someone to JFK! Or maybe to Newark? Or maybe the man who had died in the car crash was someone who looked like Dad. Uncle Harry, Auntie Eve's boyfriend, identified the body. He told Mom that Dad was unrecognizable. I overheard him say that Dad's head was so badly smashed that the only reason he knew it was Dad was because of the red, brown, black, and silver mustache smeared across his lip. I thought, lots of men have mustaches! And Uncle Harry said he was unrecognizable. So maybe it wasn't him. It couldn't be him. How could it be him?

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