LIGHTSPEED Presents: 'A Man Walks Into a Bar: In Which More Than Four Decades After My Father's Reluctant Night of Darts on West 54th Street I Finally Understand What Needs to Be Done' by Scott Edelman

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io9 is proud to present fiction from LIGHTSPEED MAGAZINE. Once a month, we feature a story from Lightspeed’s current issue. This month’s selection is “A Man Walks Into a Bar: In Which More Than Four Decades After My Father’s Reluctant Night of Darts on West 54th Street I Finally Understand What Needs to Be Done” by Scott Edelman. You can read the story below or listen to the podcast on Lightspeed’s website. Enjoy!

A Man Walks Into a Bar: In Which More Than Four Decades After My Father’s Reluctant Night of Darts on West 54th Street I Finally Understand What Needs to Be Done

My father was so honest, people often spoke of him in cliches. For example—you know the way someone will sometimes say so-and-so was so honest they’d walk five miles to return an extra nickel they’d been given in their change? Nobody means anybody actually did that kind of thing when they say it, of course—you and I both know they’re only exaggerating for effect.


Except in the case of my father.

My Dad had really done that.

Around the neighborhood, he was seen as so calm and understanding when compared to other fathers, other husbands—perhaps he’d arrived at his serenity due to those tai chi classes he’d sneak off to during his lunch hours a couple of times a week—some of the grownups jokingly referred to him as Saint Barney. One friend of my parents even had a one-of-a-kind T-shirt painted bearing that airbrushed nickname.


My mother would dispute that title from time to time, though she’d smile when she’d protest. I get it. Spouses see each other far too clearly to ever consider their partners saints. But hey, I don’t hold it against either of them. That was between them. But as far as I was concerned growing up, the description always rang true.

And now that years have passed and he’s gone (they’re both long gone now) ... it still does. I never received a punishment which didn’t seem to hurt him more than it hurt me. Which come to think of it, is also a cliche, one you frequently see in movies and on TV whenever a Dad reaches for the belt. In those cases, you could tell—the guys never mean it. It was just a thing they were supposed to say.


My Dad meant it.

But before I tell you anything more about him, I should probably get to why I’m bothering to tell you about my father in the first place.


Though—come to think of it—to fully understand the night in question—which we’ll get to, I promise—it would be helpful for you to first know this—


Donald Trump, on the other hand—

I know, I know ... how did we get from there to here, you might be asking yourself. And why did we even have to? But trust me—it will all make sense soon enough, I hope.


Anyway, as I was saying, Donald Trump, in contrast to my father, was so dishonest back when the encounter I’ll shortly be telling you about occurred—and yes, ever since, but let’s leave the details of the intervening decades for others to describe, or else we’ll be here all night—he existed in a realm beyond cliche, entering previously unexplored territories of deception, which meant those who bore witness to his lies were required to invent new ways of describing their equivocating nature.

But as those of us who lived through those times know, we weren’t the only ones who resorted to invention, for Donald Trump—perhaps because his obfuscations were so numerous it was impossible to contain them within a single human form—would pretend to be a PR flack named John Baron and use that identity to phone reporters hoping to score good press for himself.


Baron, by the way, was a name you might recall he’d choose to reuse many years later, doubling that middle “r” before handing it off to his son, which forged an uneasy connection to that fictitious second self. But that naming, too, lies outside the scope of what I need you to hear.

And as for the man’s anger, his cruelty, his vindictiveness ... no amount of tai chi could have ever smoothed that temper over. I can’t imagine him even making the attempt in a midtown Manhattan pocket park the way my Dad did.


But the deception which disgusts me the most—well, save for the stochastic terrorism which was to come, of course, even though the two aren’t in the same league as far as the scales of the universe are concerned—that was centered on a spot I knew quite well. It was not that far away from the Marvel Comics offices on Madison Avenue where I’d once worked. And no, that tangential sacrilege isn’t the main event of this story, which I’m slowly approaching in a manner I hope will make sense.

Here’s the deal—in the process of replacing the Bonwit Teller Building with Trump Tower, that vulgar Fifth Avenue monument to himself, when it came time for him to deliver on his promise to turn over to the Metropolitan Museum historic sculptures which were part of the older structure’s facade before unleashing the wrecking balls, he instead jackhammered that promise, destroying his supposed gift and any trust I might have had in him, which was fairly insubstantial to begin with.


But destruction runs in that family, you see, though how that clan was also responsible for shattering part of my childhood I wasn’t to learn until I was an adult. For—are you ready for this?—Trump’s father Fred—about whom Woody Guthrie, composer of “This Land is Your Land,” wrote a blistering song about how he was spreading “racial hate”—once hosted a demolition party at Coney Island where he invited guests to hurl bricks through the stained glass of Steeplechase Park. Ah, Steeplechase Park, land of dreams! My eleven-year-old self mourned, not knowing then who was responsible for that desecration, or how much worse was to be inflicted on us by that family.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Or maybe behind?

It’s getting hard to tell.

Once upon a time (but no longer), there existed an establishment on the island of Manhattan by the name of Ye Olde Tripple Inn. That bar (inn, bar, what’s the difference?) on the north side of West 54th Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue was known for many things—it was even a hangout for comedians for awhile—but the first I heard of it was when my father joined a darts club there which met once a week after work. He got quite good at the sport—I’d like to think the dartboard my brother and I chipped in to buy him one year for his birthday so he could practice at home helped—and eventually became the captain.


How and why he was made captain—whether it was earned through his ability alone or if he was elected more on the basis of his easy-going likability (which based on what I’ve told you already I hope you understand was truly a thing)—I will never know. And it’s far too late for finding out. But as the result of his reasonable leadership (I presume it was reasonable—I only saw him in action there once), the team took home several trophies from what he did there once a week, week after week, during the late seventies and into the early eighties.

Meanwhile, the other participant in the incident to come was from time to time spending his nights not that many yards away on the opposite side of 54th Street—at Studio 54, where behind a velvet rope the music was loud and the drugs flowed freely, where Halston and Jagger could be spotted alongside Warhol and Capote, all of them wanting to be hidden, all of them wanting to be seen.


Donald Trump wanted things, too, but they were things he could never have, for what he desired could not be bought. They couldn’t even be rented. Uncomfortable in his skin, the desperation for respect simmering, both of these conditions obvious to anyone who cared to look, he walked among the cool and was anything but. He was a visitor to a foreign land he could never truly inhabit.

When they danced, he did not, not really—he could not, though he tried—because whatever rhythms the universe beat out were beyond his hearing.


When they drank, when they drugged, he did neither, for the addiction he needed to feed was far more metaphysical.

So I’ll have you understand these were two very different men back then—and later as well—my father and Donald Trump.


One was accepting of life, and grateful for what he’d been given, even in the face of the many things he felt he had not. The other raged, feeling shortchanged even in the face of his privilege, deciding that for him to receive anything less than more than his share was to be cheated.

One, a surrendered and immoveable object; the other a petulant but irresistible force.


One, the accepted solidity of matter—the other, the anarchy of anti-matter.

One—to me, his son—an angel. The other—to the sons and daughters and many of the children of New York—a demon.


Some nights, after the team worked through a few rounds of darts and a few rounds of beer (though not my father for the latter, as he was not a drinking man), before Dad would take a late train back to Brooklyn, he and the rest of the guys would spill out of Ye Olde Tripple Inn to stare across 54th Street at the long line of hopefuls desperate to get into Studio 54. I never heard if they were able to gawk at anyone famous that way, as the In crowd was always let right in, but I was told many tales of how—mixed in with the usual leather- and leisure suit-wearing disco customers Dad was used to seeing back in Brooklyn—there’d be wild wigs and colorful face paint, young women with roller skates and angel wings, wiry men in sparkly swim trunks and gold body glitter. Those latter types—the ones who looked nothing like the types he knew—usually didn’t have to wait long before being waved inside.


Dad and the others would be puzzled as they peered across that great divide, not quite fully understanding the alien world which waited a dozen yards away—never has a mere dozen yards seemed so vast—then head back inside for a last round before the team broke up for the night.

I never heard my Dad mock those he saw. Maybe the others did—though if they did, he never relayed it to me—but not him. He was ... well, confused isn’t the right word for the feeling the sight engendered in him. It was just ... that was not his world, not his way. He spent his child and teen years seemingly afraid he’d be locked forever in working class poverty, and one way of climbing out of that, he decided—other than by polishing his early artistic talent—was his talent for fitting in, for passing as something more than what he was born to. He carefully cultivated his aspect and affect, not wanting to stand out, hoping to be taken for the class to which he aspired. So the thought of being performative in the attention-grabbing way of those who waited outside Studio 54 was incomprehensible to him. He knew on which side of the street he belonged.


He was a good man, and a loving father, but I think, even as he was proud of me, I always puzzled him a bit, too. But I’m OK with that. I understand.

One person who was never proud was Fred Trump, who saw kindness as a weakness, and wanted Donald’s role in his life to be, not one of a son, but a “killer.” He actually used that word.


My father’s father was a tough man, too. Dad doesn’t remember ever being hugged, or being told “I love you.” By his mother, maybe. But never his old man. And yet—he overcame that, mostly from sheer force of will that he would not carry within him the sins of his father. I’ve always been amazed by how far he traveled, and how he was able to pull it off.

Some are able to do that. Others can’t. Or don’t.

Or won’t.

Whenever I have cause to think of the debate over nature vs. nurture, I remember that, and how remarkable my father was.


In case you’re wondering, I want you to know—everything I’ve told you so far is true. You can verify the facts for yourself if you’d like. Well, except it’s too late to learn what a nice guy my father was, because he’s gone now, which is too bad, because you would have liked him.


So when I tell you my father told me something which happened one night at Ye Olde Tripple Inn more than four decades ago, and that what I tell you he told me is also true, well, he’s no longer here to say otherwise, and that makes it true, right?

That makes it true.

It was the end of a long night, and Dad and his friends had just beaten a visiting team from another bar, so they were in a good mood. Especially my father, because he’d soon be going home to my mother, and unlike with many a husband, he adored his wife. He was Saint Barney, remember? (They loved each other very much. Maybe I’ll tell you that story someday, too.) The other team had all left by this time, licking their wounds, and my Dad’s teammates were also slowly wandering off, when in the door came—


Well, you know who it was.

You know what all this has been leading up to.

For my father and his team hadn’t been the only ones staring across 54th street in wonder. Donald Trump, heading into Studio 54 that night on the other side of the street, had glanced across that asphalt chasm, and seen the logo of Ye Olde Tripple Inn. He broke stride briefly, and almost changed direction right then, caught between those with whom he thought he belonged and those on the other side, those he felt were the kind of people he could easily bamboozle. But that hesitation lasted only for a moment ... and then he continued into the club where he spent the night fuming in his discomfort.


But as that night was ending—a night spent surrounded by those he hoped to be but could never hope to be—he remembered what he had seen earlier, and after exiting the club and nodding to his driver, he passed by the limo and this time crossed that street.

He pushed through the door as my father was settling his tab, and when Dad looked up to see who was coming in after everybody else had left, there was a moment of cognitive dissonance, for after his many months competing there, he was familiar with all the usual faces, so recognizing that one had him momentarily thinking one of his teammates had returned, until he realized ... oh. (I might have responded with a “huh” myself had someone I’d only seen on the nightly news or the front pages of tabloids suddenly manifested himself.)


The only face Donald Trump saw at first, on the other hand, wasn’t my father, or the bartender, but his brother’s, the alcoholic, whose life was a dreadful warning keeping the unfortunately future president from drink. Don’t end up like me, his brother had told him. Though from our vantage point in the present, it would be difficult to deny we’d all have been better off if he had ended up that way.

But then Fred, Jr.’s face faded, and Donald Trump saw my father there at the bar, disassembling his darts and laying them back in the case. Trump watched the process of the pieces disappearing, then looked to the multiple boards spread across a wall.


“How about a game?” he asked my father, even though he’d never hurled a dart before. But how hard could it be? He’d seen it done, and was sure he’d be great at it, one of the best. He gestured toward a board as if tossing an invisible dart, then wiggled his fingers and pulled back his upper lip in an attempt at a smile.

My Dad shook his head, even though he suspected a round of darts against the famous real estate developer would make for a good story—but who would believe it?—thinking only of my mother waiting at home.


“Don’t be like that,” said Trump, a hint of anger in his voice. “You have time for one round.”

“Look, man,” said the bartender as he counted out the cash register. “It’s closing time.”


“Oh, really,” Trump replied, slapping a hundred dollar bill on the counter. “Maybe this will convince you to push that closing time back.”

My Dad didn’t like that kind of behavior. When he would tell me about that night, he’d frown as he got to this point. Because he’d seen that kind before. Though Trump was younger by more than a dozen years, he reminded my father of his own father—a man who was also used to getting what he wanted, even though in getting it, he usually lost everything else.


“I can make the game interesting for you, too,” added Trump, starting to pull further bills out of his wallet.

“You might be able to risk that kind of money,” said my father. “But I can’t.”

His job as an art director at McGraw-Hill may have raised him from lower to middle class and changed his collar from blue to white, but he knew he could not compete in Trump’s world, and didn’t expect he ever would. His journey had been extraordinary enough. (Once, when he thought he was near death—though that time, thankfully, he still had years to go—he apologized to me while on his back in an ICU for not having done better in his life. Not for himself—but so that he could have helped me more. I can’t imagine Donald Trump ever having that kind of thought for others in his head when he considered his own success.)


“How about I give you odds then?” said the future—never mind, I weary of thinking about that future. “Let’s make it ten to one. You can lop a zero off whatever I put up. I promise you you’ll never get a better deal than that.”

My father admitted to me he’d been tempted. He could always use a few extra bucks. That’s why he’d freelance art jobs most nights after getting home from work. And even though the idea of gambling brought up thoughts of his father-in-law, the bookie, and my mother’s conflicted feelings about that sort of thing—a relationship which would take an entire novel to lay out for you, so we’ll leave it for another time—my father almost didn’t consider this gambling. No, this would be a risk-free sure thing, he felt, because he was fairly certain there was no skill behind the bluster before him. He expected he could easily beat the real estate developer, so why not stay a little longer to make a big score?


On the other hand ... he knew that wasn’t the only pot he was playing for here. Accepting the offered terms, acceding to Trump’s rules, and staying later than planned simply because it was demanded would in itself be a loss, even if he ended up winning the match and bringing home a bundle. So my father kept his palm down on his sealed darts case and once more shook his head.

“No,” he said, mainly because it felt good to say no to someone who didn’t get said no to often.


“No?” Trump’s response was almost more growled than spoken.

Dad smiled.

“Not on those terms,” he said, uncowed. He knew what it was like to face down bullies. He’d spent his childhood running from them on the streets of Bensonhurst, but ran no more. “Here’s what we’ll do. If you’re up for a game, want to make it interesting, I’ll tell you what I’m willing to do. We won’t be playing for money. Money doesn’t matter.”


“Money always matters.”

“Not in here it doesn’t. Not now. Not tonight.”

Dad reopened his case, and began assembling the darts.

“Tonight, if you want me to stay, we’re playing for ... ”

And here my father paused dramatically. At least he hoped his pause dramatic. And intentional. Because he was actually pausing because he had no idea what to say next, and he was hoping Donald Trump wouldn’t notice. He didn’t have a clue where he was going with this.


But then it came to him.

“So here’s the deal,” my father said. “See that team trophy over there? If you win tonight, it’s yours. You can walk right out of here with it, and I’ll tell anyone who asks, you were the captain who got us there. But if I win—you owe me. Hey, I’ll even sweeten the odds. You won’t get to keep the trophy, but I’ll still tell people you were team captain. But you’ll owe me.”


“Owe you? Owe you what?”

“Don’t worry, it won’t be money. But someday, I may need a favor. Or my son will. It’ll be something no one else but you can do. And you’re going to do it for us, whatever we ask.”


Dad pulled one of his business cards from his wallet, turned it over, scribbled the letters IOU on the back, then slid it across the bar for Donald Trump to sign. My father said he was uncertain what was going through Trump’s mind as he flipped over the card, read my father’s name, then looked at him again hard. Dad didn’t like being on the other end of such an opaque stare. But finally, Trump shrugged, pulled a silver pen from his jacket pocket, signed, and dropped the card back on the bar.

“Why do you think he bothered?” I asked several times over the years. I knew, we all knew, Trump wasn’t a man who liked being challenged.


“I think he thought it was a joke,” Dad told me. “Meaningless. But it wasn’t meaningless to me.”

Nor to me.

“Now what?” Trump asked once the rules had been settled.

“Now we find out who gets to go first.” My father handed Donald Trump a dart from the many which had been set aside for visitors. “Whoever lands one closest to a bullseye wins the first throw.”


My father stepped up to the line and carefully let his dart fly. He failed to make his hoped-for bullseye that night, and the only reason for that, or so he told me, was because he was a bit nervous. But even with sweaty palms, he still managed to strike the outer bull, the second best, and he was fine with that. He doubted Donald Trump could ever pull off a bullseye, or even match him.

He was right.

When Trump stepped up and hurled his dart, it missed the board entirely, slapping to one side against the wall. It bounced back toward the two men, rolling along the floor until it stopped a few inches from their shoes.


“You distracted me,” Trump said. “I should get a mulligan.”

“There are no do-overs in darts,” my father told him. He enjoyed doing so.

When Trump bent to pick up the dart at his feet, or so my father tells the tale, he was so clumsy he bobbled it, and ended up pricking a thumb. As he sucked the dot of blood, my father pointed to his card on the bar.


“May I have that back now, please?” he asked. Trump pushed the card back along the bar, leaving a smear on the paper beside the signature.

While Trump waved over the bartender for some alcohol to dribble on his thumb—he was quite a germophobe, I understand—my father slid the card back into his wallet. It’s a card he carried in every succeeding wallet until he died. Ever since then, I’ve carried it in mine. More than four decades older now, the paper’s grown soft, the signature blurry, and the bloody thumbprint a darker red.


If we run into each other someday, ask, and I might show it to you.

Do I really need to tell you my father won that night?

And not just the first round. But also a second time when Donald Trump insisted they play for two out of three. And even a third game when he begged for best of five. But then that was the end of it, as Trump finally surrendered to the idea no amount of green could possibly convince the bartender to stay open long enough to change the outcome.


I could give you a play-by-play if you’d like, though ... actually, I couldn’t, not even if my father had given me one, because not being a player, even what few details he shared made no sense to me. All I know is—Trump’s darts did occasionally make their way to plant themselves in the circle of the dartboard, though apparently never landing where he wanted them to, and my Dad was happy as he headed home.

I’ve thought often of the man my father described as having met that night, though as time went on, he would only speak of the incident when prodded. And what has astounded me in the years since is that as bad as Dad’s Trump was, he was nothing compared to our Trump.


He was aggressive then, sure, and arrogant, too, and offensive, that as well, but nothing like the utterly outrageous Id unleashed I, we, were forced to watch him become. He even spoke in complete sentences on the night in question, or so my father told it, with paths from beginnings to ends that were actually diagrammable, his speech not having yet deliquesced into a gibberish word salad capable of melting the brain cells of any who were unfortunate enough to listen for long.

I am so sorry my father is gone, and miss him terribly, but I’m glad he only experienced the Trump who crossed West 54th Street that one night and not the horror which subsequently crossed the country to haunt us all.


He was luckier than us.

My father returned to my mother that night with a story she could barely believe, though that signed business card cast away all doubts, and Donald Trump returned ...


I have no idea. Who knows where Donald Trump goes when he goes?

We all know what happened next.

Well, I know all of what happened next. You, if you were paying close attention, only know the public half of it.


Here’s the part you don’t know—

My father continued at a series of art director jobs on business-to-business magazines you’ve never heard of, and after he retired, dedicated his life to what he wished he’d been able to do all along, painting. A dozen of his oils hang in my house right now—I can see five of them from where I’m sitting. He lived for several more decades past that night, but not enough of them, before he died in 2009. Neither we nor his doctors ever understood why, a mystery I try not to worry about too much as I approach his age. While he lived, he was good, and kind, and always made people feel better about themselves. I never doubted his love for me. What an amazing gift for a father to hand his son, and from what I have seen in this world, a rare gift as well. He survived until three days past the 55th anniversary of his wedding to my mother, the love of his life.


Donald Trump, on the other hand, has been involved in thousands of lawsuits, not even counting those which arose during and after his presidency, far more than any other person involved in the real estate business at his level. He used his political posturing to toss a match on the gas-soaked rags of America’s racial hatred, continuing in his father’s legacy, and as a stochastic terrorist, sent an insurrectionist mob to the U.S. Capitol where lives were lost and Nazi and Confederate flags flew. He is, at the time of this writing, still with us, and still married to his third wife. As for the words normally associated with the way he’s chosen to live his life, “good” and “kind” and “made people feel better about themselves” are not among them.

I carry the card from that night in my wallet the way my father did, and in recent times have often pulled it out to wonder ...


What was Dad waiting for? Why didn’t he ever call in his marker? There was no decade without a reason to ask for a favor, and a big one at that. And not just on behalf of himself, or his family ... but for all of us.

He could have told Donald Trump to stop discriminating against renters on the basis of race, as the Department of Justice alleged during the seventies.


Or to quit it with the undocumented workers, like the 200 Poles he hired to demolish Bonwit Teller in the eighties. (And to knock it off with the demonization of such workers as well.)

Or to stop using beauty pageants as creeper hunting grounds, the way he did in the nineties.


Or to cease any of the other trespasses he continued to commit before my father died and was beyond the opportunity of making demands.

Maybe he assumed it would be pointless—Dad used the word “meaningless” so many years ago, remember?—that Trump would dodge keeping his promise the way he dodged every other promise of his life.


Maybe he thought Trump would just say—“What the Hell are you talking about? I figured you’d want a loan, or help finding an apartment, not any of that. Are you nuts? Get lost!”

So maybe Dad got more pleasure out of the potential of a promise than the reality of a promise reneged.


Or maybe ... maybe ... maybe he wanted that uncalled promissory note to be part of my inheritance. He did tell me, after all, as I have already told you, that in his most vulnerable of moments, as he lay near death, he regretted not being able to leave me more. Did he take comfort in knowing he could leave me that?

And yet ... I have some nerve asking these questions about him. For who am I to talk? What did I do during the time the card was in my sole possession?


Was Birtherism not enough to spur me to action?

Was Trump assuring his supporters he’d pay their legal bills if they’d beat up protesters insufficient to move me?


Didn’t him telling white supremacist groups to stand by set off loud enough alarm bells?

I could have reached out after any of those incidents to wave the card, remind Trump of my father and that promise made on West 54th Street, and tell him to knock it off. But for some reason, whether similar to or different from my father’s reasons, I chose not to.


I chose ...

Excuse me for a moment.

I’ll be right back.

OK, so it’s me again.

I’m back.

It’s only been a few seconds for you, but for me, it’s been several hours. It’s gotten dark out, and I haven’t been able to bring myself to move and turn on the lights. That’s how much telling you all this has taken out of me. So I can only sit here holding that card in my hands, rubbing my thumb over the decades-old print smeared from a few drops of blood spilled in a bar, and continue to wonder.


I consider the card and the years since that print was made. The card is grimy from all those years first in Dad’s wallet, and then my own. There’s something grimy about the intervening years themselves since it came into our possession, too. And as I handle it, something occurs to me I should have understood long ago—and I’m sorry for that, because if I had realized it earlier I could have forestalled so much—but it finally becomes clear I have something my father didn’t—

A tool. A weapon.

A solution.

You see, I am a writer of science fiction and fantasy and horror, have been all my life. But if you’re reading this, it’s likely you already know that. Those aspects of the fantastic were things my father mostly did not understand. Oh, he tried to, but it just wasn’t his thing. When he chose to read, it was mostly mysteries and thrillers, maybe even a little non-fiction, biographies of famous men, or histories of war. Oh, he might have been willing to try a Stephen King book if everybody was talking about it, but he never really enjoyed the strange. And as for short stories, if his son wasn’t writing them, I doubt he’d have read even one.


But don’t worry about me, though. He was proud, and I always knew he was proud. So I’m OK. His lack of enthusiasm for my chosen subject matter didn’t bother me. That’s not really my point here. My point is this—

That I’ve walked this path means—

I know things. And what things I don’t know, I know people who know those things.


In order to write the stories I’ve written, I have researched killers and covens, genies and grimoires, morgues and magic, the raising of the dead, and the rewriting of memory. As with many writers, my search engine is a wonder to behold. And because of all my research, all that esoteric knowledge, I can do things of which my father could never dream.

Let us dream together, you and I.

If I have done this right, the things I have put into motion between the last sentence and this one, if I have used the gift my father has left me correctly, this will be the last time you will read this story, for it’s the only time you will be able to understand it. Because if the ceremony I’ve performed during the days between paragraphs using the blood the Edelmans have been carrying for decades did what it was intended to do, any attempt to start over will only confuse you. Because in rereading, you’ll probably find yourself thinking—


Donald Trump? Didn’t he used to have a TV show?

Or if the spell has truly erased the dark years brought on by that man—

Donald Trump? I remember him, I think. Wasn’t he in New York real estate? Why is Scott bothering to tell us about that guy?


If I have achieved that, made you forget one man and introduce you to another far better man, my father, then my guilt for not having done in real life sooner what I have so often done in stories can start to lift. I can still be forgiven.

So all I have left to say is—

I hope I have spoken the words properly, chalked out the lines the geometric pattern required, placed my father’s bloody business card in the true center, lit the candles in the correct order, concocted the elixir of indicated ingredients in the proper proportions, and then drunk it down at the appropriate phase of the moon.


I hope I have done every step of this right.

Please tell me I’ve done this right.

Please tell me.


—for Barney Edelman, 1932-2009

About the Author

Scott Edelman has published more than 100 short stories in Analog, The Twilight Zone, Weirdbook, Parsec, and dozens of other magazines and anthologies. Many of those stories can be found in his collections These Words Are Haunted, What Will Come After, What We Still Talk About, Tell Me Like You Done Before, and his recent Things That Never Happened, about which Publishers Weekly wrote, “his talent is undeniable.” He has been been a finalist for the Shirley Jackson Memorial Award, as well as the Bram Stoker Award eight times. He is also the host of Eating the Fantastic, a podcast which has allowed listeners to eavesdrop on his meals with writers and editors since 2016.


Please visit LIGHTSPEED MAGAZINE to read more great science fiction and fantasy. This story first appeared in the January 2023 issue, which also features work by Lincoln Michel, Maria Dong, Deborah L. Davitt, A.L. Goldfuss, Isabel J. Kim, Seanan McGuire, Jendayi Brooks-Flemiste, and more. You can wait for this month’s contents to be serialized online, or you can buy the whole issue right now in convenient ebook format for just $3.99, or subscribe to the ebook edition here.


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