“Daddy,” came the voice from behind as Mr. Levine tried to tiptoe quietly out of the room. “Can you tell me a bedtime story?”
Mr. Levine sighed heavily. He was a busy man. Overworked, prematurely gray at the temples, and still nursing a hangover from the shockingly heavy drinking he’d been doing at lunchtime, he had neither the time nor the inclination to tell a facile children’s story to the obnoxious cretin in the bed behind him, regardless of the boy’s insistent claim that he was his son. Anyway, hadn’t they video tapes for that sort of thing nowadays? At the very least, his so-called son could fall asleep listening to late-night television spouting tired one-liners that (Mr. Levine hoped) went sailing over the youngster’s head.
“Have I told you the one about the ugly, unloved, adopted boy who couldn’t take a hint?” offered Mr. Levine.
“Yes,” said the boy, with an eye-rolling moan. “I want a good story this time. A scary story.”
“Right before you go to sleep? Won’t that give you nightmares?” Mr. Levine said, pretending not to wish nightmares upon the child as he did every other night.
“Please? It’s Halloween. If you won’t let me Trick-or-Treat, or wear a costume, or eat candy, or talk to friends, or look at the color orange, or smile, at least let me hear a scary story.”
“Well, all right,” said Mr. Levine, and he told a scary story.
“Thanks, Daddy,” said the boy when Mr. Levine was finished.
“Can’t you call me Dad?” sighed Mr. Levine as he stood up to leave. “You are, after all, twenty-three years old. It’s bad enough that I’m still tucking you in and that, much like the boy in that other story, you’re not actually my son.”
“Daddy, I’m seven,” corrected the boy, shaking a loose baby tooth.
“Whatever,” said Mr. Levine, and closed the closet door behind him as he left.
“What took you so long?” said Mrs. Levine, waiting in the bedroom in a skimpy negligee.
“Nothing, dear,” said Mr. Levine.
“Say, who were you talking to in the closet?” said Mrs. Levine. “As your mother, the wife of the late Mr. Levine, senior–your father–I’ve a right to know. And stop calling me ‘dear,’ son.”
“Yes mother,” said Mr. Levine, whose head was really hurting now.
“Come on, now, get in bed so I can tuck you in and go have some special time with your new stepfather whose last name, coincidentally, is also Levine. Or did you think I was dressed in this skimpy negligee for you?”
“Care Bears!” said Mr. Levine, age five, while hopping jovially into his bed–which was indeed adorned with a Care-Bear-themed print–and bouncing a few times for good measure. “Wait, Mommy. Can I have a bedtime story?”
“Certainly, dear,” said an increasingly impatient Mrs. Levine.
And she told one.
“That was the worst bedtime story ever,” I said as my dad stood up to go.
“Take it or leave it, kid,” he shrugged, as he walked out and closed the closet door behind him.