The next day, I went to see the attorney representing the old man's estate. Rodney Alcott III was a short, balding, myopic man in his late forties with a perpetual twitch. He looked like he'd been gene-spliced with a rat. Maybe he was one of dear old Dad's lab experiments gone wrong.
I had a hard time following the conversation. I found myself staring, wanting to offer him some cheese. Then I reminded myself that I was the real freak in that room.
“There were no other heirs,” Alcott explained as I leafed through the pages of the will, not really understanding the legalese, not really caring what it meant. The old man could have willed me the moon and it would not have made up for what he'd done to me.
“Your father left everything to you.”
My father. What a joke. “What about my mother?” I asked aloud. “She's not dead—just smart enough to get as far away from him as she could.”
“We don't know if she's dead or not,” Alcott said, tapping a pen nervously on the desk. “But your father had her declared legally dead last year.”
I don't know why that surprised me. “Without being certain?” I asked.
“For estate purposes,” Alcott said.
“Of course,” I said, not bothering to put a lid on the sarcasm. “After all, he only married her for the trust fund. Why wouldn't he rush the death certificate to finally get control of it?”
“I'm sure he loved both of you in his own way.”
I almost choked. “Love wasn't in his vocabulary, Mr. Alcott,” I told him. “If he ever loved anyone, it would have been the bastard he saw in the mirror every morning.”
Alcott tried to stay composed. “The house, the assets, everything is now yours,” he said. He was twitching like crazy.
“Sell the damn house,” I told him, “and everything in it.”
He looked surprised. “You don't want to live there?”
“No way.” I stood up and dropped the will on the desk. “I left there ten years ago to get away from that house of horrors. I don't care if I ever see it again.”
“And the personal effects?” he asked.
I shrugged. “Have a yard sale. Sell all of it. There's nothing there I'd want.” I flipped the will face down and wrote my address in Paris on it. Pay the bills, take your astronomical fee, whatever it is, and send the rest to me at this address. Just make sure I never have to come back here, okay?”
I walked alone through the cemetery, not sure exactly where the old man had been buried. It took me almost half an hour to find the grave, even with the directions I received from the caretaker. “I’ll bet you’d be surprised to see me here, wouldn’t you, Father?” I asked aloud, studying the grave marker dispassionately. “To be honest, I’m surprised to be here. Never thought I’d ever come back. Sure didn’t plan on it.”
I knelt by the grave. “Thanks to you, I don’t have a family, don’t belong anywhere. You never even told me who my biological father was.” I was silent for a moment. “People like me only have one true parent, don’t they?”
I found it appropriate that the marker bore only his name, date of birth and date of death. “No ‘beloved husband and father,’ no sentimentality. I know how you would have hated that,” I said, as if he could hear me.
“So how do I find out where I came from, old man? You destroyed most of your records--and what you didn’t shred, the authorities seized. Anybody who might have known has either been arrested or has dropped off the face of the earth.” I took a deep breath. “Andrew knew, didn’t he? Of course—Andrew always knew everything. You let him in on all of your experiments.
“What about Mother—Dorothea?” I asked. “Did she know the truth? Would she be able to tell me?”
I stood up again. “If I were to make any bets, I’d say Andrew was more likely to know the truth. Problem is, I have no idea where your favorite son has gone.”
I forced a smile. “Hate to cut this short, Dad, but I have no desire to end up a lab rat—and I’m pretty sure if they find me, they’re not going to just let me ride off into the sunset. They’ll probably dissect me to see if I’m really human. No, thanks. See you in hell.”
That night, I was on a flight back to Paris. I'd booked a round trip, never having had any intention of staying for more than a couple of days. As the plane climbed high in the sky over the Atlantic Ocean, I found myself thinking about the first time I ran away to Paris....
“Absolutely not!” The old man had exploded when I told him I wanted to be an artist, that I wanted to live in Paris and study art at the Sorbonne. “No son of mine is going to throw his life away on such foolishness!”
Dorothea had tried to intervene. “Joseph, if this is what he wants—”
“This is your fault!” he shouted at her. “Always dragging him to museums and galleries, even when he was too young to understand what he was seeing!”
“He's actually quite talented. All of his instructors think he's gifted.”
“Yes, he is gifted,” he said. For the first time, I thought he might surrender. "He is a genius. He is meant for more important things. Science. He will be my protege."
"I flunked biology in high school," I reminded him. I didn't give a rat's ass about any kind of science. I wanted no part of anything he cared about. Didn't he realize that? I'd spent my teenage years with long hair, riding a motorcycle, smoking pot—anything I knew would piss him off.
"You haven't applied yourself," he insisted. "Your mother fills your head with fantasies."
"I'm going to be a painter," I said, refusing to let him get to me. With or without his blessing, I was going to Paris. I wanted it even more now that I knew how much he hated the idea.
Dorothea came to me later, alone. It was that night I discovered that it was she who held the financial reins in their marriage. She gave me the money to pursue my dream....
Dorothea had been a good mother. She'd loved me...right up to the day she disappeared. For years, I wondered if the old man had killed her and disposed of her body. I knew the truth about their sham of a marriage. My so-called father had married her for her money. He'd married her for a green card. He had come to the US from Poland with a brilliant mind but no money, no prospects. He was about to be deported when he met her, the shy, plain daughter of wealthy parents desperate to find her a husband. A deal was made. He would marry her and produce at least one grandchild. He kept his end of the deal, and my birth made him a very wealthy man. Too bad my grandparents—Dorothea's parents—never knew they'd been duped.
I never understood until that day why she left us—left me. Now it all made sense. She'd discovered the truth.