December 19, 2017


This story first appeared in Odyssey of Chaos and Other Stories, February, 2017.

My mother's demon only appeared at the mention of my father's name. But when that demon did appear, I feared my mother would abandon me just like my father did. So I tried to be a good boy and to never speak his name.

My best friend Todd who lived in the trailer down the street had two fathers, one who lived with him and one who didn't. My friend Jack lived on the other street in the trailer park. He had a father who came to visit him every few weeks and brought him presents. One time he brought him a red Super Streak bicycle. It had some dents, many scratches, and bald tires, but it worked fine. I must have been six years old when I decided I must have a red bicycle too. That and a father.

When I got up early one Sunday morning, a strange man was sitting at the small table in our trailer drinking coffee with my mother. Obviously, he had spent the night. "Hey, big boy. You're up," my mother said when I entered in my bare feet and pajamas. Her voice carried a lilt she usually reserved for me alone. She turned to the man, smiling. "Meet my son Donnie."

"Morning Donnie," he said, not unfriendly but not exactly excited to meet the little gentleman of the house. He even looked a bit surprised. Maybe he hadn't realized I existed.

Men were not a common sight around here, particularly so early in the morning. I didn't know what to make of it, but I was hopeful. "Are you going to be my new daddy?" I asked.

The man mumbled something that didn't sound like an affirmation. Instead, he got up from the table and put on his jeans jacket. "I gotta' go," he said, heading for the door as fast as he could.

"Call me," Mom yelled after him. He jumped in his pickup truck and floored it out, spinning his wheels in the gravel and nearly hitting the utility pole. Mom was quiet the rest of the day. I was confused but determined.

Over the next few months, I learned everything a little boy can learn about finding a new father. The first thing I learned was that I had to find a husband for my mother. That man would then be my father too. It was a package deal.

The next thing I learned was that church was a good place for a woman to find a used husband. So I begged Mom to take me to church on Sundays. She didn't go to church often, though we belonged to the First United Methodist Church on Second Street. We went there occasionally for the free meals they offered once a month to the less fortunate.  That included those of us "parkies" who lived in the trailer park by the river. The church was also where I got most of my clothes, used but serviceable.

Sundays were something different.  Mom worked hard six days a week cleaning houses. She also worked some evenings waiting tables in a small cafe. Sunday was her one day to sleep in and find a little peace. But if her son wanted to go to church, she would do it. She didn't understand when I insisted she wear her one good dress, earrings, and high heels. My mother was an attractive woman underneath, slender with a simple beauty poverty could not diminish. Even her name was beautiful - Lila. But fatigue and the pressures of providing for a little boy when she had no education took its toll. She looked twice her twenty-six years. Gray hairs already showed, and crevices etched the corners of her eyes. No amount of greasepaint and decoration could cover the shadow inside her.

Church didn't work out. Mom didn't get a nibble, and I got bored. So when spring arrived I tried taking her to Little League baseball games. There were lots of men there. I introduced myself to every one of them who looked like a good candidate. If he was friendly, I then introduced him to my mortified mother, who finally figured out what I was up to. When I encouraged her to spend some time in bars, she put her foot down. "I'm sorry, Donnie. I know you want a father," she said. "But I'm not in the market for a permanent man. Once is enough."

I was crushed, my plans destroyed, my ambitions demolished - no new father and no red bicycle. But defeat was not in my nature. I just needed to figure out a different way.

I knew I had a good thing. My mother loved me so much it sweetened my young life like the scent of baking brownies. She taught me to read and count, made sure I had all of the food I needed, bathed every day, and wore clean clothes. She ingrained a politeness which still defines me as an adult, and she hugged me all the time.

 If you asked anyone who knew her, they would have said Lila Schulman was the kindest, gentlest person they ever met. But if you mentioned the name of Sonny Schulman, her ex-husband, and my ex-father, talons emerged from curled claws, flames belched from distended nostrils, and hissing sizzled from between snarling fangs. I witnessed her demon for the first time when, one winter day in our trailer, Mom recounted to her best friend Marla how a process server came to the door trying to present Sonny with a court order springing from another swindle he ran out on.

Her demon broke out again when my grandfather tried to enter our life. One Sunday morning in May just before my eighth birthday, Mom answered the ringing telephone. Her usually mellow voice quieted to a biting whisper. She stared over at me and covered the mouthpiece of the phone. "Go outside and play," she snapped, using the tone of voice she reserved for those rare times I misbehaved. The demon was about to appear.

I sat on the step of the trailer, listening intently, smelling the frying bacon coming from Mrs. Murray's trailer one over from ours. She would give me a piece if I knocked on her door, but I didn't want to miss anything. Mr. Murray worked on his old truck in the driveway, black smoke belching out of the tailpipe when he revved the engine.

"No, no you can't," I heard Mom shout at the person on the other end of the line. Then she was so silent I thought she had hung up. I started to go back inside but paused when she began speaking again. Her demon crept back into its hole. "I'm sorry to hear that Deek. Truly I am. She was a good woman." After another pause, she spoke again. "Okay. But just this once. Next Sunday at ten o'clock. He'll be waiting out front. We live in the same old place."

It was my Grandpa Deek on the phone, my father's father. He wanted to see me, my mother explained. His wife, Grandma Claire, died three months earlier. Her last wish was that he make amends for the sins of his son. Until that moment, I didn't even know I had a Grandpa Deek.

My mother's own parents disowned her the minute she told them she was pregnant with me. She was nineteen at the time and had just completed her first year at the junior college. My father was thirty-one, still bumming around looking for action. Her fundamentalist mother and father shunned her even though she did the proper thing and married my father, and even after I was born six months later. Mom hadn't seen them or spoken to them since.

Grandpa Deek and Grandma Claire, on the other hand, took to their new daughter-in-law as if she were their own. They loved her right from the start and hoped she could straighten Sonny out where they had failed. They were quickly disappointed.

Sonny had been an adorable, model child from the moment he was born. Deek and Claire Schulman bragged that their son took the best from both of them. Then something happened; they didn't know when or how or why. By the time he reached the age of twenty-five, Sonny was drinking too much and having a hard time holding down a job. When I was born, they prayed it would wake him up to his responsibilities. It didn't. Deek never understood how Sonny could run off and abandon his child. I was only two at the time.

Neither Claire nor Deek ever blamed Lila for throwing Sonny out or for divorcing him. But Sonny was their son. They needed to do what they could to help him. So they took my father back into their home while he tried in vain to repair himself.

My mother was as bitter as every abused woman has a right to be. Claire and Deek understood that. They were on her side. But she couldn't forgive them for standing by my father. It tortured them when she refused to let them see their only grandson. They sent a check for me every birthday and Christmas, plus a little more in between. Mother cashed the checks but never replied. She didn't even answer Grandma's desperate phone calls in her waning months. Grandma and Grandpa finally threw Sonny out when he stole Grandma's jewelry and sold it to pay off gambling debts and buy more drugs.

As her end drew closer, Grandma Claire worried more about Grandpa than she did about herself. "You'll need Donnie as much as he needs you," she said. She made Deek promise not to give up. He promised.

MOM WAS A nervous wreck the whole week after Grandpa Deek's phone call. She couldn't decide whether or not she had made the right decision. I was anxious too, afraid she'd change her mind, and I'd lose the one chance I had to meet my grandfather - who might lead me to my father.

That next Sunday, I sat on the step of our trailer waiting, the sunny day so humid it could straighten a Brillo pad. Sweat soaked my slick-combed brown hair. Mom had me wear my best tan shorts and blue striped T-shirt, both freshly laundered. She made me take a bath, checking afterward to be sure nothing was missed anywhere. I smelled as fresh as a new bar of Ivory Soap.

I began obsessing about my father soon after my seventh birthday. If I couldn't find a new one for my mother and me, then I wanted the old one back. I pestered Mom to tell me everything about him, even suggesting that maybe she was the reason he ran out on us. At first, she was patient, answering my questions with bromides meant to comfort.  Unsatisfied, I kept at her. So she ignored my questions, warning me to stop. Finally, one day when she had had enough, her fearsome demon took over. She cursed, she stomped, and she slammed the kitchen counter with the palm of her hand. She shook all over. Tears streamed down her cheeks, and then down mine. We collapsed into each other's arms, exhausted, she begging my forgiveness over and over again.

The next day she poured her heart out to her friend Marla, who absolved her. "Sonny was a bastard," Marla spit. "And don't you forget it. Let him go to hell."

"But how could I yell at Donnie like that? It's not his fault."

"Someday Donnie will understand." She reached over and patted Mom's hand.

I understood enough already. But still, I ached to know more about my father. Who better to tell me than his father? But I worried that if he was such a mess of a man, how could his father - Grandpa Deek - be any different?

Butterflies battled with bumble bees in my bowels while I waited. Mom warned me that my grandfather was an old grouch, never smiled, and not to expect much. She said he was going to take me to the Starlight Diner for a hamburger and a milkshake, a rare treat. While that was all well and good, I had my own agenda.

Grandpa Deek drove north to Berkinbury from Scranton, about two hours away. If traffic was heavy on I-81, he could be late. But at ten o'clock, as promised, he pulled into our driveway in a brown Jeep Cherokee. Mom later said it was the same one he drove last time he came here five years before to pick up Sonny's clothes after Mom threw him out.

I rose from the step and looked back where Mom watched from behind the lace curtain covering the kitchen window. She nodded to indicate that this was my grandpa and it was okay for me to go with him. I ambled down the short cement walkway and cautiously opened the car door. Sometimes a kid just has to do what he's told to do.

"Hey, there. How you doing," Grandpa Deek said when I climbed in. His coarse voice sounded like he'd swallowed a load of gravel.

"Fine, sir." I buckled my seatbelt and then sat erect, eyes out the window.

My grandfather looked like every grandfather is supposed to look: big as a bear, square jaw, thinned gray hair and lots of wrinkles - everything except a smile on his thick lips. A Starbucks coffee thermos sat in the cup holder. A sniff of stale cigarette smoke lingered, butts clumped in the ashtray.

Grandpa Deek gripped the steering wheel with both hands, fixated on the road ahead. My mind whirled; my fingers fidgeted. I tried to think of something to say. Nothing came to mind. I coughed.

Grandpa Deek cleared his throat. "You don't have to call me sir," he finally said. "You can just call me Grandpa. How about that?"

"Yes, sir," I answered.

More silence. He really is a grouch, I thought, just like Mom warned. I was a little scared, a little bored, and about to give up on my quest to find out about my father. Right now all I wanted was for this to be over so I could get back home and watch cartoons.

We hit a jaw-shattering pothole. Grandpa Deek swore something under his breath about shock absorbers. He looked over at me after we turned onto Cemetery Street. "Where did you learn to be so polite?" he asked.

I looked over at him for the first time since I got into the car. "From my mother," I answered. "She said she didn't want me to grow up to be a friggin asshole like my father."

Grandpa Deek choked down an urge to laugh. "Does your mother let you swear like that?"

"No, sir. That's why I said friggin asshole instead of fuckin' asshole like she says." 

Grandpa Deek couldn't help himself. A big smile cracked his stone face. He patted me on the leg. Then laughed out loud.

"Look in the glove box," he said. "There's something in there for you."

I did what I was told. My eyes must have bugged out when I saw what it was. I slowly withdrew a triple-sized pack of Reece's peanut butter cups. I'd never held a triple pack in my hands before. "Are these for me?"

"Yes, of course."

"All of them?"

"All of them."

"Can I have one now?"

"You can have them all now if you want."

I unwrapped the pack as carefully as if I was pulling the white ribbon on a blue Tiffany's box. When I finished the first peanut butter cup, I wrapped the pack back up. "I'll save one for my mom," I said. "Is that okay, sir?"

"You're a nice boy," he answered.

That made me feel a little braver. "Mom says you're a grouch," I ventured. "But not to let that bother me."

Grandpa allowed that to settle for a moment. "That's what your Grandma Claire used to tell me," he said with a straight face. "Do you think I'm a grouch?" he asked, sincere.

"No sir." But he was, a little bit.

At the next corner, we turned right, onto First Street. It had once been the main shopping street in town, but now it quartered the same hodge-podge of derelict storefronts as many of the other old industrial towns of the northeast. Only a few people strolled the sidewalks. "I grew up here in Berkinbury," he said. "Same as Grandma Claire. This street is where all of the action was. Jewelry stores, clothes stores, two shoe stores, the army surplus store." He pointed to an empty shop on our left. "Kramer's Sporting Goods is where I got my first baseball mitt." His gaze swept back and forth. He spoke quietly as though talking to someone who wasn't there. "We had a Monkey Ward's over on that corner. And Newberry's Five and Dime with a lunch counter where they had the best ham salad sandwiches in town."

I wanted to know about my father, but something warned me it was too soon to ask. So I listened and pretended to look interested.

"I see the Temple Theater's still there," he went on. "That's where I took Grandma Claire to the movies on our first date. She let me hold her hand. Three years later I married her." He sighed, relaxed, and let the start of a smile curl on the corners of his lips.

I dipped my big toe in the water. "Was my dad born here too?" I asked.

He didn't say anything for a minute or two, his mind lost somewhere else. Then he came back to me. He acted as though he hadn't heard my question.

"So, are you married yet?" he asked, a twinkle in his eye.

"No, sir. I'm only eight years old," I answered. "You have to be able to cook dinner and have babies to get married." Grandpa Deek nodded his head, trying unsuccessfully to mimic my formal manner.

A half dozen cars bunched together in the parking lot of the Stardust Diner when we pulled in.  The diner served as the social hub of Berkinbury, the place where everyone went to see and be seen. I thought it was only for rich people. Mom brought me here once after she won the big jackpot at the church Bingo night, but that was two years ago. The exterior resembled the dining car of a stainless steel passenger train. It had seen better days.

Grandpa took my hand when we crossed the parking lot. His big, soft paw swallowed mine. I liked it. I wanted to shout to everyone: "Look, this is my grandpa." I had never had a grandpa before.

A veil of frying onions and greasy burgers met us at the door. Grandpa Deek nodded to the cook behind the counter and two guys seated in front, people he had probably known from a long time ago. We slid into one of the navy blue vinyl booths toward the back, next to a huge window. He planted his big arms on the marbleized blue Formica table top as though he owned the place. I did the same.

We both ordered hamburgers, French fries, and chocolate shakes. While we waited for our food, Grandpa told me more about Grandma Claire, and how much she loved me. "We were there when you were born," he said to show this was not his first presence in my life. I listened, hoping his stories would include some fragments about my father. They didn't. I primed myself to ask him directly just when the waitress brought our meal. The opportunity vanished.

We slathered our burgers in ketchup and then swallowed them as eagerly as if we hadn't eaten in days. Grandpa shoved fries into his mouth while he continued to talk, eager now to tell me everything about himself and Grandma Claire, phrasing everything as though they were one person.

"I used to write stories for a living," he said. "But I don't do that anymore."

"Why not?" I asked.

He looked down into his diminishing plate of fries, pensive, as though searching for something. "It's hard to explain." What he didn't want to say was that he stopped writing when Grandma Claire got sick, about the same time they finally had enough of my father and got rid of him.

Grandpa had been so happy a minute ago. Now he wasn't. I tried to bring him back. "Can you write a story for me?" I asked.

He smiled. "I don't write that kind of stories."

"What kind of stories do you write?"

"Mysteries. About bad guys and how the police catch them."

I didn't respond immediately, chewing my lower lip, contemplating whether it was appropriate to ask. "I'd like a story about a red bicycle," I finally said.

"Do you know how to ride a bicycle?" he asked.

"Jack lets me use his sometimes. His dad taught me how to ride."

"Maybe someday you'll have one of your own."

"I'd like a red one." I said it not as a request, but as a statement of unattainable yearning.

Just about then an immense bubble inflated in my stomach, the inevitable product of a greasy meal consumed too quickly. I let out an enormous uncontrollable burp that nearly shattered the window. Without a pause, Grandpa Deek answered in kind.  We both broke out in nonstop giggles that drew serious stares from a couple two booths away. Grandpa wiped his runny nose with his napkin, his eyes dancing.

When we settled down, Grandpa said, "You know, you and I have the same name? Donald Kendall Schulman."

"That's neat."

He reached across the table and tousled my hair.

"Does my father have the same name," I asked without thinking.

Grandpa Deek pulled his hand back. His face contorted, teeth bared, the same way Mom's did just before her demon emerged. The mere mention of my father seemed to have that affect on people. "No!" he growled.

"I'm sorry." I lowered my head, embarrassed.

He took a deep breath, and then reached across the table again and patted me on the arm. "It's not your fault," he said. But the cheerfulness did not return. He looked at his watch. "I promised your mom I'd have you home in a couple of hours."

When we walked back to the car, I reached up and took his hand. He squeezed back a little too hard, as though he was afraid I might vanish if he let go. Neither of us said anything on the drive back to the trailer park. He didn't take his eyes off the road ahead, and neither did I. We turned onto Cemetery Street, nearly home. This might be the last time I ever see him, I thought, my last chance to find out anything about my father. I had to chance it.

"Tell me about my dad," I demanded, a large lump in my throat.

Grandpa gripped the steering wheel tighter. He gritted his teeth hard enough to grind a gear. His full demon rose, smoke coming from his nostrils and the odor of onions from his breath. He floored the gas pedal, screeching around the corner into the trailer park. He slammed on the brakes in our driveway nearly hitting Mom's rusted red Corolla in the rear end. Then he turned his hulking body toward me. His massive right hand clenched into a white-knuckled fist.

My heart beat rapidly. I was about to be squashed by a monster. He unleashed a tornado of words I had never heard before, words like bastard, son-of-a-bitch, scum, gutter rat, psychopath, low life, and a few other choice descriptions. I tried desperately to get away but my hands trembled so violently I couldn't unbuckle my seat belt. When he reached his talon for me, I shrieked the shriek of those whose end had come. Tears burned down my red cheeks. At the last possible moment, the seat buckle snapped open and I burst out the door, running for safety. I ran into the trailer and into my mother's arms, too terrified to be able to utter a coherent warning. The front door stood wide open.

My mother screamed and grasped me in her arms. Deek Schulman stood in the doorway, contrite, head down, his demon nowhere in sight. Mom, knowing nothing about what happened assumed the worst and bellowed at him at the top of her lungs. "What did you do to my son? What did you do?" She let go of me and grabbed the broom she always kept by the front door. She swung it like a baseball bat, close enough to Grandpa's head to make him recoil and raise his arm in self-defense. He tried to explain, but she would hear none of it. "Get out of here, get before I call the cops. And don't you ever dare show your face around here again." For the first time, Mom's demon was on my side protecting me, and I was thankful.

Grandpa Deek tried to apologize. He looked like a mangy dog that had been beaten, but no apology could set things right with Mom. He fled to his car. "You Schulmans are all poison," she screamed after him when he drove away. Then she held me tight and gently stroked my hair for the longest time.

When I couldn't sleep that night, Mom was sure it was because Grandpa had done something terrible to scare me. There was no limit to her imagination. I tried to tell her it wasn't Grandpa's fault; it was mine for pressing him about my father - that I had simply panicked. She refused to hear it. Her demon began to show its fiery fangs once more and I retreated into silence.

For the next few days, Mom acted like a warrior who just fought a battle but wasn't sure who had won. I knew I had lost twice. I lost any chance of finding out about my father, and I lost my grandpa who I would have liked to have in my life. I heard Mom on the phone recounting the incident to her friend Marla. "I hoped he was a better man than his son," she said. "But he's not. He's just another Schulman asshole."

Mom rarely let sadness enter our home. This time she couldn't hold it back. Every time I tried to talk about it, Mom cut me off. "Enough of that," she would say. "Go out and play with Todd. Would you like to have him over for dinner?"

I thought about doing something defiant, like writing Grandpa a letter, or calling him, or even getting on a bus to Scranton to see him. But I didn't know his phone number or address. And besides, I wasn't a child likely to do something defiant, something his mother won't approve of. I surrendered to the inevitable and tried to settle back into my welcomed place as the apple of my mother's eye. I did my chores every day without being asked, and took a bath without complaint.

Two weeks later I came home early from Mrs. Mancini's house. She was a kindly gray-haired woman, almost a grandma, who lived three trailers down from ours. She watched me every day after school. When I opened the front door, I bent down and picked up the mail the postman had slipped through the mail slot in the front door. The top three envelopes were bills. The bottom one was bulkier. It was addressed to Mrs. Lila Schulman. The return address said Donald K. Schulman. I had accepted Mom's admonition to get used to the idea that Grandpa Deek was as gone as my feckless father. Now this. So he wasn't gone. I spent the next hour staring at the thick envelope trying to imagine what might be inside. Could it be something that would convince Mom to change her mind? I sure hoped so.

Usually, I left the mail on the counter top. This time I handed her the stack as soon as she walked in, the one from Grandpa on top. I tried to look nonchalant about it.

She took one look at it and her eyes narrowed into slits. She marched over to the sink and dropped the letter into the trash can underneath, unopened. Then she put the other three envelopes in the drawer where she kept the bills. She walked down the hall to her bedroom to change out of her work clothes before starting to prepare dinner. She didn't say a word.

My heart sank into my sneakers. How could she just throw the letter away without even looking to see what was in it? It wasn't fair. I went over to the trash can, dug out the letter, and opened it. Inside were three pieces of paper, typed on both sides and signed at the bottom - Grandpa Deek. I started reading, hurried, afraid Mom would catch me.

I was in third grade then, and the best reader in my class. I could understand most of what the letter said, but not everything made sense. Some of it I remember just as I read it at the time. Other parts I remember from reading it years later. Mom saved it for me. She said it was the finest piece of writing she ever saw.

Grandpa began by apologizing for his behavior and pleading for Mom's forgiveness. He did it eloquently, with heartfelt passion, and no excuses. Then he explained that he panicked when I insisted on learning about my father. He was afraid his grandson would mythicize a worthless bum. What he didn't say was that he feared even more that his grandson would follow in his father's footsteps. So he totally lost control amidst his determination to paint Sonny as the miserable man he really was.

Again he apologized for his behavior. He wrote how he and Claire had worked hard to be good parents, but he acknowledged that they had badly failed. He never would understand how things went so wrong. Cancer killed Claire, he said, but the worst part was she died with a broken heart. He could never forgive Sonny for that.

After spending many hours with his pastor, Pastor Mike, Grandpa accepted that some people are just born that way; good parents and a good home sometimes can't overcome nature. On the other hand, children like Donnie seem to be born with divine grace. He could see that in just the short time we spent together. He praised Mom for the wonderful job she was doing under impossible circumstances. He wanted to help ease her burden in any way he could.

Finally, he told her how much he loved his grandson. He would do anything to be allowed into my life. Donnie is the last piece of Claire I have, he wrote. He asked for a second chance. The last thing he wrote was, I will never stop loving that little boy no matter what.

When I finished reading the letter, I walked down to Mom's bedroom. She lay on the bed in her jeans and sloppy turquoise T-shirt, staring at the ceiling. She glanced at me with a sad smile when I walked in. Then she saw the pages of the letter in my hand. She sprang up as though ready to attack, her nostrils distended and the demon starting to show its terrifying face. I shuttered. But I stood my ground. If I didn't do something, I would lose my grandfather forever, just like I lost my father. That possibility was more horrible than the demon.

"Read it," I commanded, holding out the pages of the letter.

She grabbed them from my hand and started reading. I took a deep breath and waited, my tongue dry as toast. She seemed to take forever, studying every word. She flipped over the first page, and then flipped back to re-read something. The more she read, the more her tight lips softened. She sniffled. She wiped her nose.

That night after I went to bed, she telephoned Grandpa Deek. I couldn't hear what she was saying, but whatever it was she was saying it with the gentle kindness that was the best part of my mother. The one thing I heard her say clearly was that she was sorry for misjudging him. "All these years I've painted the whole Schulman clan with the same brush," she said. "It took your letter to make me understand that the best parts of Donnie come from you and Claire as much as from me." Then he said something that made her laugh, the first of many times I would hear her laugh at something Grandpa said. It was that night I realized nothing I did could ever make my Mom stop loving me, no matter what. And I learned I could do battle with my most ferocious fears and win. Mom's demon died that night too and never appeared again. The same goes for Grandpa's.

The next Sunday, I ran into Grandpa's arms as soon as he parked his Jeep in our driveway. He stroked my hair and hugged me. Mom came out to greet him too. They buried themselves in each other's embrace. Then he took me around to the back of his Jeep. He lowered the tailgate to reveal a brand new red Schwinn bicycle with all the trimmings. It seemed like every one of my dreams came true at once. The only thing missing was another hamburger at the diner. That came later in the day.

THAT WAS THIRTY years ago, but not a day goes by I don't think about it. Two months later Mom and I went to live with Grandpa Deek in Scranton in a real house. I still live there with my wife Mollie and our daughters, Emily and Teri. It's close to the school where I teach when I'm not busy writing detective stories and kids' books. A few of them have been published, to good reception.

Mom lives with us. She went back to school and became a paralegal, a job she still works at and loves. They say she's the best in Lackawanna County. I stopped looking for my real father soon after we moved in with Grandpa. Word has it that Sonny Schulman died in an Arizona prison many years ago. Mom never did find a new father for me, but I got something better - the best grandpa ever.

One afternoon he came home with a fat package in his hand. Inside was the first of the five children's books he wrote in the last years of his life, each more successful than anything he'd ever written before. I stared at the book with that same awe I felt on the day my red bicycle first appeared. There on the cover was an illustration of a boy with dark hair and dark eyes who looked amazingly like me. The boy in the picture wore the same tan shorts and blue striped T-shirt I wore on the first day I met Grandpa. Big letters sprawled across the cover - Donnie and His Red Bicycle. 

Now whenever writer's funk paralyzes me, Grandpa appears. He points toward the book, which holds a place of honor on my bookshelf. I read the words on the last page and my funk fades away: Donnie got his red bicycle and something more - a grouchy old grandpa who loved him beyond all imagination.

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