The Ritual

The new number one on my life-long "It'll come back to bite you in the ass" list: telling the old man I'm gay, just to get a rise out of the old you-know-what. Why? That's not important, really -- well, maybe it is, but who am I to say? All I know is we're in his garage one afternoon and he's checking the oil in his shiny 1968 Wheel Horse tractor that looks like it just rolled out of the factory and blowing me crap about something like he's blown it for 30 years and to shut him up I tell him I'm gay. No lead-in. No build-up. I just blurt it out.

I'm not. But he asked me once. Which is why I say it. Because I know it'll shut his mouth, and get him off of whatever part of my life he's criticizing in the first place. And maybe, deep down, I say it because I know it will hurt him deeply, as deeply as I believe he's hurt me. And somehow, somewhere, that makes me so cruelly happy -- call it an evil giddiness -- that I almost laugh out loud when I say it. Almost. Instead I just grin like Vincent Price finishing off a fresh corpse, licking his lips, reaching for his starched white handkerchief.

But the old man, he's ready, and how. He looks at me for a second, a crawling tired second so long that it seems like an hour by the time the oil has balled up on the end of the dipstick then dribbled off and splashed onto the shiny clean red hood of the tractor.

"I always suspected -- your old man was." He turns away, wipes up the oil. Like Sugar Ray Leonard going to a neutral corner while the ref counts out some bum who was socked by a lightning bolt he didn't see coming because he was trying to uncork one of his own. And I'm so out of it that I'm floating up out of my body. I grab onto my toes and hold on for dear life, but it's no use. I'm outside now, watching me watch my dad replace the dipstick, wipe his hands, and hang the rag on a nail just under the fuse box -- no, it's the breaker box. No more fuses. And now he turns back to me, and I'm still just standing there, arms spread out, shoulders up, mouth open, eyes bugged out, hating him for adopting me but still wanting to defend myself, trying to remind him of all the girlfriends I had in school, even the one he caught me with in the back of his old pickup truck but I had never mentioned because that was another bleeding wound of disappointment for him, and my wife, and my three children, none of whom like him, and my lifetime membership in the N.R.A., which is really a moot point anyway, because he gave me the damned membership for Christmas the last year I lived at home -- my senior year of college -- and I've never used it, probably lost the papers. But all that comes out is something that sounds like E.T. with a mouth full of peanut butter and crackers trying to hum "Ena Gadda Da Vida".

Then he says to just drop it -- there's nothing to say, nothing that can change what has happened and what I am, which he doesn't say but I know is a disappointment. And then I think about that episode of Seinfeld where Jerry and George are mistaken as gay and it gets into a newspaper and they go around denying it bitterly, each epithet followed by a raising of the hands and the statement "not that there's anything wrong with that." And maybe to some people there isn't but to me there is because I was brought up to believe a certain way and now the old bastard who raised me that way is telling me that none of it matters because I'm just a disappointment, anyway, not really his son, but blood and bones of another man, which makes my destiny immaterial because it's tainted. And it's the same argument we've always had, only he's never realized it was lurking there, under fights about school and jobs and beer, like Spielberg's shark, unseen but looming, controlling the action And when it finally breaks the surface, I'm the only one who sees the gaping maw clamping down on the boat...everyone else just thinks it's sinking because the mate's an idiot.

Then just when I'm about to drag this carcass up from the depths and wave it in the old man's face, and show him once and for all that I hate being adopted as much as he hates my being adopted, he leans against that shiny red tractor. I can see the fingerprints forming already.

"If you were, I wouldn't give a damn, because you're my boy. But I know you're just handing me a line of bull, so what does it matter? Now let's go in and get some coffee before your mother throws it out."

And that's where we always end up, because I'm his boy and he knows me inside and out and can see right through the mean things I say to bait to make it worthwhile. Just the way we like it.

About the author:

Terry Coffey's short fiction has appeared in print and electronic journals including Papyrus, Ancient Paths, Mountain Luminary, The Southern Cross Review (,, Weeds Country, The Oracular Tree ( and a future issue of Kaleidoscope, among others. A former public radio reporter/producer and past assistant editor at The American Legion Magazine, Terry currently pays the bills as a technical writer/publicist for an Indiana manufacturer. Terry spends the rest of his time writing, volunteering as an editorial assistant for Quaker Life Magazine, flyfishing and dreaming of living in New York and writing for Saturday Night Live.